House of Cards: Chapter 1


What is the real difference between new blood and old blood?

Jones gently massaged his right hand. Still sore.

And what has happened to you when you can no longer tell the difference between new blood and bad blood?

This room does not exist.

Not in the existential sense. Not in the nihilistic sense. Not in any sense of the mind, or in any of the body.

It was built to most careful blueprints and to exacting specifications, with every bolt and wire and every chip and circuit delicately placed within the walls thicker than your arm.

It was built decades ago, based on technologies we can’t even dream of today.

It is the innermost heart of the F.I.B., where the blood of the organization pulses outward in all directions, to all corners, and it does not exist in this frame of time and space, because that is how they built it.

There is nothing inside it worth mentioning. An ebony slab of a table. Thirteen short pedestals, matte-black like the rest of the room. Illumination comes from everywhere, but from nowhere visible.

Mr. Jones sits at the head of the table.

And it is a position he fears he will not continue to hold.

"The F.I.B. faces a crossroads," says the man he faces, across the table. "We were an organization built on a simple truth: that there are monsters in the world. And from the truth came the dictum: those monsters should not be.

"They are abominations upon the earth. We were created to unmake them all. But for the large part of the history of our organization we have done so in shadows.

"We have done so because they live in shadows. Because our enemy makes its home in darkness. Because they are the darkness.

"But now we have seen that we cannot skulk this way forever, jumping at their shadows while we are afraid of our own. They escape. They kill. We fail.

"And so I ask a simple question of the board: why do we walk in the darkness when we may carry the light in our hands?"

And Mr. White smiles a tight little smile in the room that is not.

Mr. Jones know they expect him to respond. Even as White is the vanguard of the new, he is the bastion of the old. He clears his throat.

"You ask why we do not expose ourselves to the world? The little we do show, we show as tabloids, television, supermarket novel trash, because that’s where our deepest truths become commonplace. You ask why we don’t show them the monsters we capture? The ways we capture them, keep them, torture them? Why we don’t admit to the world that we’re the only wall that holds back their nightmares? Why we don’t admit that we are a wall with holes?"

"I ask why we have those holes. I ask why we do not show the world their monsters, and tell them what we have done. We are older than the nation we live in. We have captured beasts older than the Pharaohs. Why do we stumble now?"

Some of the others nod at this. Mr. Jones does not look at them. He knows the ones who are with him, and the ones who are against him. He leans forward.

"Our strength is our anonymity. Going public would be loosing the Plagues."

"Or Prometheus. He who brings light to the people."

"Then call the vote. Try again. See if we are convinced of the rightness of your cause."

White stares at Jones for a moment, then nods once, solemnly.

All at the table touch one of the shallow buttons in the side of the table. A brilliant green light flashes before White, a dark red before Jones. A green or red before the rest.

Jones counts. Eight to five. He relaxes, a fraction.

White’s smile does not fade. "My day will come, Jones. Our day. And then the light shall be loosed upon the earth, and the shades of night will falter and fade."

Nothing can be read behind the blank squares of Jones’ glasses.

But in his heart, he knows that the votes will change, one day.

And then the light shall come…

* * *

"They don’t unnerstand us ‘cuz we don’t live like they do," Tim says, smirking. "Fantasy’s not a part’a their world. They don’t live where we do—in our heads."

"This is fascinating, Sir Tim! Explain to me again how sheep’s bladders may be used to prevent earthquakes?" Rikk asks, dressed in royal finery in a room with black walls but a white ceiling.

"Time doesn’t pass," says Tim who is now Shanna in a shark suit, "we just think it does. Time doesn’t even exist, except in a jam-jar in a dusty cupboard under the stairs in the house of an old man in Sunderland."

"So why do watches work?" says Rikk, now in a boat made of water on a sea made of knives.

"E’en the mind of transistors and wires finds something to believe in," says Katherine, who wears her crown again. Rikk wants to tell her to take it off, because it is made of fishhooks, but Katherine disappears and is replaced by a man made of shadows.

The man reaches out a hand, and then he is his hand, and then the hand is made of snakes. The snakes curl over Rikk, wrapping around him and squeezing out his breath and breaking his bones and rotting his muscles and he tries to scream but he can’t he can’t he can’t but he loves it all the way down

Rikk woke up, panting, opened his eyes and looked down the bed.

Alisin, wearing the darkest black shirt she had—just the shirt—looking the way she always did in the morning when she hadn’t yet put on her face—beautiful, to Rikk, and normal, to everyone else—had found her most creative way of waking Rikk yet.

One elbow was on his chest, slowly but surely pressing on his lungs, and the other was down the front of his pants.

"All right, Alisin," Rikk said, turning varying shades of red, green and a delicate lilac, "I’m awake."

"Cool. Wasn’t sure if that’d wake ya up ‘r just kill ya."

"Would you have been sad if I died?"

"Would you?" Alisin said philosophically. She removed her hands from their sundry locations and wriggled up next to Rikk. "I mean, don’cha ever get sick of yer life? Bein’ head cheese to a buncha weirdos?"

Rikk smiled. "If it ever does, I just remember that I’m a weirdo too. Was there a specific purpose to waking me up, or do you just like to watch me squirm?"

"Do I hafta choose?" She gazed into Rikk’s eyes with the sultriest look she had and traced her fingernails (very sharp, Rikk noticed) over his chest. "I mean, it’s just the first day’a break f’r you…"

"No, really."

Alisin pouted. "Okay. Later. But I hafta pee, now."

"You woke me up for that? I though you were a big girl, Alisin."

"Funny. Yer blockin’ the way down."

Rikk moved his feet. Alisin clambered down the ladder and hastened out the door. "Hey," Rikk called after her. "Don’t leave the dorm, remember."

"Yeah, I know. I’m not s’posed to be here. I won’t forget."

She moves like a cat, Rikk noted, making only the faintest of noises on the creaky wood floors. And even that faded into the dim background hum and hush of the beginning of winter, a paper-thin layer of powder snow wrapping up the whole world in cold white, a silver-gray bow on top made of the slowly twisting clouds of an unborn snowstorm.

Snow? In Billberg? Rikk was surprised. Stranger things had happened around here, but usually only the Club was privy to them.

The college had declared a two-week break from classes while they cleaned out the recently-discovered mold in some of the buildings. Rikk had felt dizzy and overly sleepy in some of his classes, but put it down to the quality of the lectures (low) and the nights he’d been spending with Alisin (long).

In any case, the classes were off, and Rikk and all the rest of the Club had found themselves with a week of nothing at all. The proposition at last week’s meeting of a MiSTing marathon was voted down because, frankly, everyone just wanted to breathe easy and collapse into their bed.

Or, in Alisin’s case, someone else’s bed, which was why Rikk was still dizzy and sleepy, even without the mold. What was it Kath had said? ‘The most dangerous tigers are the caged ones.’ Probably got it off a cereal box…

‘Tiger’. Now there was a nickname with irony. Rikk had, prior to college, thought of himself about as fearsome as a bucket. And if there was anyone who resembled a large feline…come to think of it, Alisin even had sharp teeth…

Rikk had often wondered what he’d done to deserve her, which usually followed into an argument between his brain and his—well, his libido, over whether he should have done it, whatever it was.

His brain usually lost.

Rikk closed his eyes again.

Rikk dreams.

In the dream Rikk stands in a room dark as pitch but he knows is bigger than the world. There is a lit candle in the center of the room but it gives no light, just heat.

There are mirrors at the edges of the room but they are so far off.

Rikk looks at himself. He is real. He looks up.

There are teeth and there is bone, there are muscles tuned like violin strings and eyes clear like crystal balls—

Rikk woke up, again. He rubbed his head.

"Why can’t it just be Dotty again?" he said ruefully. "At least those I could understand…"

He checked the clock, and was shocked to see that forty minutes had passed.

He looked to his left.

Alisin wasn’t there.

Rikk lay very still for just a moment. There’s a hundred explanations, he thought to himself. She got lost. She went out to get some breakfast. She went to see the rest of the Club. She’s just waiting right behind the door, so when I come out looking for her she gets to scare the pants off me…literally…

He told himself these explanations, but none of them helped. Rikk got out of bed and went to the door.

"Alisin?" he said, cautiously.

He opened the door. The hallway was empty, because it was an hour no sane college student would ever be awake at without a very necessary reason.

He went to the bathroom. The sign on it, like the all the signs on this floor, said Men, but Alisin didn’t care. Rikk pushed open the door.


The lights came on when he walked in. Those things had a twenty-minute timer, which meant Alisin must have left more than twenty minutes ago. She must’ve left.

Rikk, feeling very self-conscious, checked under the doors of every stall. He didn’t see any feet. He didn’t see Alisin.

In the fifth stall he saw Alisin.

He tore open the stall door. The lock was closed, but his muscles didn’t care.

Alisin was curled up on the floor, her fingers clenched so tight blood poured from her palms. Tears dripped from her nose and mingled with the red on the floor. It was spreading.

"Alisin!" Rikk dropped to his knees and grabbed her by the shoulders. She didn’t respond. Her eyes weren’t open.

"H-help!" His mouth wasn’t working. "Please! Someone help me!"

Alisin’s face was drawn tight into itself in pain, her teeth locked together, biting her lips hard, cutting them open.

"Someone! P-please!"

Rikk tried to remember first aid. Lay her down. Raise her head. Raise her knees. Get a pencil between her teeth. Spread her hands and bandage her hands. Get her breathing, get her talking, get her awake. Ask her what’s wrong, ask her name, get her moving keep her calm lift her chin feel her pulse fold her hands across her chest check her pupils don’t panic don’t let her panic don’t let yourself panic

Rikk held her as tight as he could.

* * *

The man who came into the bank was ordinary in that he was completely normal because he was nothing special. He was in a plain black suit and pants, an overcoat hanging on his left arm. His shoes were not wingtips, but that’s on the right track.

He went up to the teller. "I wish to claim a safety deposit box, please." His voice was pointless to describe.

"Certainly, sir. I’ll need your name and account number."

"Here’s the account number." The man passed across a slip of paper. The teller read it and punched it in.

"And the name?"

"Thackerabilitus Sieughieweicz. The late Thackerabilitus Sieughieweicz."

"Yes…I have date of death as…over a year ago." The woman peered at the screen. "And how are you related to Mr. Sieughieweicz?"

"I was his attorney and am empowered to act on behalf of his estate." He pulled out a piece of paper. "Here is a letter signed by my client at the time of my hiring."

The woman checked the letter. Everything was in order, the date nearly five years old. She ran the signature through the computer, and it was a perfect match. It was meant to be. A team of specialists had worked on it for three months.

"All right, sir. I just need you to sign this form here…" She passed the form to the man, who signed it with a signature devoid of personality, of a name even less interesting.

The teller led the man to the vault, in back, pulled out a metal container a bit longer than a shoebox. The man produced his own key, which had been constructed very carefully.

"Do you have a private room where I can look at this?"

"Certainly." She led him to a room with a table, chair, and dust. "I’ll leave you alone, sir."

The man inserted the key and opened the box. At the very top was a square of plastic, a floppy disk, as the man was expecting. In terms of what Thack had access to, it was an utterly insignificant amount of memory, but it was just large enough for what he had placed on it. And better still, it was not connected in any way to another computer, and had not been for several years.

Underneath the disk was something else, the other thing the man had came for. It was a squat plastic box, the general size of a Rubik’s cube but only about half as tall. It was pale beige, slightly heavy, and was very shortly to become one of the three most important things in the world, and the disk would be another.

The man tucked these two things in his pockets and walked out. Had he been shot by a passing ruffian and left dead in the street many painful and dangerous events would have been averted. But he wasn’t, and by simple logic, they weren't.

The sun was very bright that day, reflecting off the new snow, but shortly it would have no right to be this beautiful.

Prologue Chapter 2

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