He dealt out the cards on the ground before him. They were no longer necessary, since he was already playing out entire games in his head, but they gave him something to focus on whenever his mind wandered too far and gave the unspoken message for any bystander to leave him alone. His mind working faster than his hands, he was already plotting out the current round.

The Queen of Clubs on the King of Hearts. The Ten of Diamonds and the Nine of Hearts to the free cells. The Six of Spades on the Seven of Hearts. The Nine of Clubs on the Ten of Hearts. The Seven of Spades on the Eight of Diamonds, then transferred onto the Nine of Clubs. “Well, at least now we know he isn’t retarded.”

Everyone had been convinced that he had some sort of birth defect until he surprised them all by trouncing gods two or even three times his age in all of the standardized intelligence tests as a four-year-old. When he did speak—something that did not occur often because he was so absorbed in his thoughts—he uttered complete sentences using words that sent some of the adults to consult dictionaries. Of course, this did not make him very popular among his classmates.

This card over here. That card to the free cell. Those cards to the empty square. Transfer this card. Done. “Just because you’re the teacher’s pet doesn’t make you something special, you arrogant little snot!”

He gathered the cards, shuffled them, squared the deck, and dealt himself a new hand. He didn’t understand why the teachers wanted him to spend less time in his own world; even they, despite admiring his work ethic, kept him at an arms length. Of all the denizens of Yggsadril, Kami-sama alone was nice to him, but all he could do to repay this kindness was to plunge himself further in his studies and meditations.

Those cards. That one. This one. Over there. That card needs those cards to be moved first. This frees up those cards to be moved. For each element a in the group G, there is a unique element b in G such that ab = ba = e.

Now he was almost always alone, just about living out of Kami-sama’s office as all papers were proceeded through there anyway. Since he sat in the corner in deep contemplation, few noticed him. He was fine with that; he was content with spending eternity meditating the secrets of the universe. Universes, he amended, recalling the time he deduced the existence of the Router just by the fragments of dialogue that happened to drift his way. It took a little more mind-work to figure out its purpose when Kami-sama’s brilliant Ultimate Force program did not seem to allow any deviation from the Divine Will.

One choice cascaded into a string of consequences. The possibilities that branched out were quickly eliminated in entire batches. Then the Solution presented itself. “Of course. How obvious. I should have realized it sooner.”

He was about to repeat the process again when a small hand laid on his. He blinked, startled, as his mind lurched for an explanation. He was more or less invisible to the large majority of those that he met, and those that bothered to notice him made their judgment beforehand, having heard of his reticence. The tiny, tiny remainder who attempted to reach him gave up after a few tries. Physical contact was almost completely out of the question. The experience did not compute.

He followed the arm upwards and found himself staring into a pair of wide blue eyes. At once he was lost in the clear, watery depths of her gaze, which was filled with genuine warmth. Another contradiction. Behind the masks of other smiles he had seen puzzlement, bewilderment, and sometimes pity, but not this. And whereas anyone else his age seemed to hate him for his smarts, she wanted to be friends with him and hoped he would initiate. She waited as if she had all the time in the world for him to answer.

“I am Shizuka,” he somehow managed without stammering. “What is your name?”

She beamed. “Haki. Pleased to meet you!”

It made no sense whatsoever. But somehow, he did not feel as bothered as he thought he would be.