From his place in the darkness, his face visible only by the light of the computer display before him, Neuf laughed. It certainly was entertaining, listening to Ace yell and rant, watching Zes ignore him. How the pitiful creatures could servive, could live their entire lives without realizing his presence, confused him. It stupefied him.
The chair squeaked a bit as he turned it around, his eyes catching another of the dozens of screens hanging on the walls. He could see the entire house from here, from this one room. It had taken years to plant the cameras, but now his sight was perfect. No one escaped his watch, no one could get through.
Although, Neuf thought with derision, that really isn’t true, now is it? He’d let them get through, somehow. He must have made a mistake somewhere, because even his perfect observations couldn’t help him detect the traitor in their midst.
But Neuf was content, because here, in this room, in this house and city and, really, the whole world if he wished it, he was a king. This was his domain, this network of wires and circuits, of digital displays and firewalls. Outside he was just another middle-aged, overweight geek who’d misspent his youth playing with electronics.
But the Ace of Hearts had seen his potential, back when they were college roommates. He’d seen, and he’d known, even before he was Ace. Neuf could remember the way he’d felt when his roommate had asked him for help, had brought him into their circle.
Now there were so few left, so few of the Old Order, as Neuf liked to think of them. Only himself, Deuce, Vijf, Bara, and the Queen of Hearts remained, those brought in before even the reign of the previous Ace. The rest were children playing at being adults. Even the twins, whose escapades provided not a little entertainment for Neuf, were only twenty. The rest were even younger.
Although, Neuf was not sure where Deuce belonged. He’d been inducted as a child, brought into the organization in the same generation as Neuf, but now he chose the new. He followed the Ace of Spades like a lapdog, scraping and catering to his every whim.
That the Ace of Spades was the son the Ace of Hearts and his Queen didn’t really matter. Neuf had said it before his election and he still said it now. The boy was too young. He was not ready to make the necessary sacrifices. He could never be an Ace because he believed that they were a family, that they were all friends.
Basically, he believed the lies his father had shoved down his throat as a child. But Neuf knew the truth. He’d seen it here, on these screens that showed the whole world. He’d seen the ruthlessness necessary to triumph, the blood that must be shed for success.
Tattooing a spade onto his face hadn’t made Whit Savage a man, hadn’t made him a leader. Forcing his brother to dye his hair hadn’t made him strong. He was still the child he’d been years ago. Quiet and solemn, yes. Cunning, clever even. But not ruthless.
The way he berated Zes only proved it. Back when his father had reigned with an iron fist, any disobedience, especially of this magnitude, would have been punished with death. Wasn’t that Deuce’s purpose, after all? Was that not the entire reason for his being? Nevertheless, it certainly would not have been met with a simple lecture.
It was not often Neuf truly missed the old way. He rarely gave himself time to remember it, between watching for threats, funneling information from police and government networks, and watching the Queen of Hearts.
That was something of an obsession of his. He’d watched her since he’d joined, and when she’d married his friend, he’d been hurt, betrayed even. But Neuf had understood. And, most importantly, it hadn’t dampened his fascination in the slightest.
She lay there now, sprawled like royalty on a lawn chair, his face turned up to the faint morning sunlight. Neuf watched the way the light caught her skin, the way her blonde hair shone. The Queen of Hearts was still beautiful, more so even than her children. They had too much of their father in them, their faces too narrow. Hers was properly angled, her cheekbones high, nose sharp but delicate.
Watching the Queen lay there, Neuf could almost remember her name.
That was the tragedy, of course, that had accompanied his life. Neuf had been a part of the Order for so long, he’d forgotten many things from his life before. He could barely remember his own name, sometimes, and had saved it in several different files just in case he ever did misplace it. Sometimes he opened them, looked at the few things he’d bothered to bring with him through his life.
“Name: Bradley Smith.” And that was it. The entire file. Neuf knew he ought to have saved the Queen’s name before he’d forgotten.
Because this life had robbed him of many things, and the name of the girl he’d loved since childhood had been only one of the casualties.