Conversations stop abruptly and all eyes turn to the man entering the room.
The room is perfectly round and perfectly plain, with unadorned walls the same neutral gray as the hallway. At the center of the room, a plain fluorescent light fixture hangs from the ceiling, illuminating a round, leather-topped table. The air is stale and still but antiseptically clean.
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On the opposite side of the table, Mitt stands courteously. "Good evening, Mister President. How's the family?"
Newt covers his mouth with his fist and coughs loudly in a way that sounds suspiciously like "kiss-ass." Mitt narrows his eyes at him as he and Barack take their seats.
"Malia has a bit of a cold, but otherwise everyone's doing great," says the President. "Thank you for asking."
Newt drums his fingers impatiently on the table. Rick returns to sculpting his fingernails with a small silver file.
"Is he here yet?" Ron huffs.
"He just got in," Barack answers. "He needed to hit the head before we started. Shouldn't be long."
For the next few minutes, they loosen ties, crack knuckles, cross and uncross arms, and pick imaginary lint from their suit coats. Newt leans to his right, and a sound like air escaping from a small balloon emanates from the seat of his chair. Mitt scoots his own chair closer to Rick but doesn't say anything.
The door clicks, and all eyes turn to it as it opens.
A cart drifts through, hovering three inches above the floor. It carries six tall, wide cylinders, one an impenetrable black, the others a smooth, reflective silver. Each silver cylinder is engraved with a name.
Ushering the hovercart forward with only two fingers, Gordon enters the room and kicks the door closed behind him. Gordon (not his given name) is only five feet tall. Nearly half his height is accounted for by his massive, candy-corn-shaped head whose sickening light-green flesh pulsates sporadically in unexpected ways.
Mitt stands. "Welcome back, Gordon."
"Oh, sit down, Romney," Gordon says. His ethereal, gravelly voice warbles in complex ways, like the voice of a later-life Katherine Hepburn filtered through a wah-wah pedal. Gordon rolls all four of his massive blue eyes as he hikes up his ill-fitting, cut-off blue jeans, his only article of clothing.
Mitt sits down and looks at his hands.
Gordon levitates the cart around the table, distributing a silver cylinder to each of the five men. Then he removes the black cylinder carefully, holding it in front of him with both hands, and lets the cart bang to rest against the wall. He places his cylinder carefully on the table between Barack and Newt, in front of the remaining empty chair.
"Well, gentlemen," Gordon says. "Today is Presidents' Day, which means that this is the last time we will all gather here. The night will be long, and the outcome will be momentous, so we should not tarry. Are there any questions before we begin?"
Rick speaks up almost before Gordon finishes uttering his last syllable. "Do we really have to do this? I mean, it just seems wrong."
"Don't be a pansy, Santorum," Ron grunts.
Gordon closes his eyes, shakes his head, and almost inaudibly mutters, "Just like Jefferson Davis." He glares at Rick. "Like I told you last year: These are the rules. This is how the universe works. When people don't follow the rules, shit gets vaporized. Capiche?"
"Besides," says Obama, "I didn't hear you complaining when Perry was being disemboweled." Newt, Mitt, and Ron turn their heads away from the table, trying not to smile and failing.
Rick sighs and slumps. "Fine. Let's just get it over with."
"Good," Gordon says. "Tonight, gentlemen, the trials will be completed. Whoever remains at the end will become the next President of the United States. Please open your lockboxes."
Each of the politicians places his left hand flat on top of the cylinder. Each cylinder beeps, then clicks, and then opens up along a previously imperceptible vertical seam.
Inside the lockboxes, each man finds a collection of small, brightly colored disks, neatly stacked and arranged by color. Each one holds a different number and array of disks; Barack's and Mitt's cylinders, for example, are almost completely full of disks in a variety of colors, but Ron's cylinder contains only a dozen disks, all yellow.
Each of the humans nods in turn to Gordon, signaling a readiness to begin.
Gordon opens the black cylinder and removes a stack of glowing green cards. "We shall begin," he says, "with seven-card stud, nothing wild."