Verity brushed away the carrot peelings on the friendly face of the playing card and dried it with a tissue. The Jack of Clubs was the last picture in the pack to be retrieved from the bin. Her brother had thrown them in there after losing a game.
Verity didn’t like card games, only the pictures on them. They spoke to her. The numbers were just boring and said nothing.
Now they had been cleaned up she hid them away in her bedroom.
Verity was an undemanding child, though a little unusual, as if struggling to conceal the fact that she was more intelligent than everyone else. She realised that other people found her ability to work things out unsettling. The rest of her age group might catch up with her eventually when they were no longer fixated on social networking. Until then Verity thought it best to keep them at arm’s length. They would not have understood her extraordinary world. The teachers wished she would use her coding skills to enthuse the others in the class, though knew she would only find it frustrating.
The school librarian welcomed her enthusiasm for intelligent discussion. By comparison, Verity’s classmates had the awareness of hibernating hedgehogs. All they could do was post derogatory comments about her on Facebook, which she never bothered to visit. They wouldn't have believed that this otherwise intelligent girl had an obsession with pictures on playing cards, and even Mr Davies would have been surprised if he knew what she used the Internet for.
Once everyone else in the family was occupied on their laptops or watching television, Verity took the playing cards from their hiding place, laid them out on her desk and switched on her computer.
The friendly Jack of Clubs was now looking stern.
This annoyed her. “Just count yourself lucky I rescued you from the rubbish, so stop scowling.”
“The Jack of Spades predicted you would, and he is always right.”
The arrogance of the cards irritated Verity. “If my mother knew she would think I’m quite mad as well as antisocial.”
“Are you changing your mind about helping us?”
Verity was annoyed. “I would much rather not risk my mother thinking I was behaving like an infant.”
“You are an infant.”
“Stop this!” ordered the Queen of Hearts. “We need Verity’s help. She might have left us in the waste bin after the way we have disrupted her life.”
“My brother chucked you in there - and you were my cards. He hates losing. At least he never ripped any of you up like some of the numbers... They didn’t really matter, did they?”
“No, they were the interface of simple binary codes without awareness. It would have been a waste of time trying to activate them.”
“The Jack of Spades targeted your brain waves to ensure you purchased us,” explained the Jack of Clubs. “He could not have taken into account your stupid brother.”
‘Targeted my brainwaves?' Verity thought to herself. How could they have known she would go to that very charity shop on that very day?
“We made the right selection,” the Queen went on, “No one else would have understood.”
So who were these entities who found it necessary to use playing cards as an interface to her world? They couldn’t have always been in that particular pack, so where had they come from?
Small misgivings began to needle their way into Verity's mind.
“All right,” she said, careful not to allow her doubts to show as she turned back to the keyboard.
Verity switched on her router and logged on using the password the Jack of Spades had given her, though she was now convinced that it was not for the same World Wide Web everyone else used. The PC monitor behaved in such a weird way as she entered the codes he supplied it seemed the only explanation. Every time Verity looked at the whorl of pixels on the screen it was like falling into infinity… or the other side of the galaxy.
“Now key in this code to make sure we aren’t being tracked,” the Jack of Spades instructed.
“Are you sure?” protested Verity. “You know what happened the last time. The system almost crashed.”
“Trust him,” said the Queen of Hearts, “He is the best technician we have. That is why he was first to be reconfigured.”
Verity looked at the Jack of Spades' sinister features and wondered how an image on a piece of card could give such a Machiavellian smile. Verity shuddered as she began to comprehend the true nature of the playing cards. It begged a terrible question she preferred not to think about.
“What will happen when you are transmitted back to where you came from?” she asked instead.
“There will be some changes made. But none of us can do anything while we remain reduced to electronic formats on an alien world.”
Despite her misgivings, Verity started to type the codes into the strange interface as the Jack of Spades dictated them. The monitor became filled with random images as though something wanted to burst from it.
Verity wasn't sure she wanted to confront the real entities trapped in the playing cards. It was obvious that their friendliness had been a ploy to enlist her help.
So she yawned and rubbed her eyes.
“What’s the matter?” asked the Queen of Hearts.
“I’m very tired. I'm afraid of making a mistake.”
The other cards were not happy about this, but the Queen of Hearts knew they could not run the risk of her making an error. “Then it’s best we stop. The slightest mistake could trap us permanently.”
The Jack of Spades was furious, his true nature now obvious. “But we’re almost there!”
“It’s best Verity hides us away until she is ready to do this.”
The other cards reluctantly agreed.
Verity gathered them up and put them in the drawer under her secret folder full of ideas and designs she preferred no one else to see.
As soon as the cards were safely out of sight she returned to the computer and deleted the security code the Jack of Spades had given her. The screen became calmer and was filled with slowly rotating circles.
This was not a Windows screen saver.
And she waited.
Eventually a distant voice resonated in her forehead. “Were you aware that your 500 GB operating system now has the power of several googolplexes?”
Verity wasn’t sure what to think. She had insisted that her desktop computer have as much speed, RAM and capacity as possible, but couldn’t visualise the size of a googolplex.
“That must have been the Jack of Spades.”
“No, it was us. We also made sure he targeted you.”
That was strange enough, but Verity really needed to know, “Why did he do it?”
“To escape and become manifest again.”
“But if he remains a card he could easily be destroyed?”
“No. That is just the interface he chose for himself and the other criminals.”
“They are being held in electronic suspension so they can do no more harm.”
“How is that possible?”
“Aren’t you interested in what they have done?”
Things were already getting too alien for Verity. As she had been on the verge of releasing them she preferred not to know.
But there was one thing which bothered her much more. “There are millions of people on this planet, so why did you choose me? There must be others who can interact with electronic beings?”
“No, there aren’t.”
“Then what does that make me?”
There was a long pause. “The galaxy is filled with many different forms of life. Some evolved from primitive bacteria... and others were created.”
“Were we created by someone like God?”
“Creators have many names.”
“Are you an electronic life form then?”
“My kind can create biological creatures, like humans, electronically.”
“Then why do those programs think they are alive?”
“By your definition of life, they are.”
Verity was horrified. “That means I’m the same as them. Nothing more than an electronic life form!”
“Goodness no.” The mysterious voice paused. “All the other humans are, but not you.”
“What am I then?”
“You are one of us.”