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Posted on Dec 10, 2016 @ 4:03am by Finn Shackleton

Mission: Section 31



Location: The Circle Club, Mayfair, London, Earth
Stardate: [2.16]1209.2355
Scene: Baccarat Table

The noise was subdued and the background chat hung thick in the air of the Circle Club as hundreds of thousands of credits passed to and fro between the house and the myriad gamblers gathered there that night. It was a black-tie affair all round, naturally, and even the croupiers were dolled up to the nines in perfectly-pressed dinner jackets. The assembled players, male and female from every species, were wearing whatever passed for formal attire on their homeworlds, but given that this was Earth - the newly-free Earth, no more ruled by the Neo-Essentialists - almost everyone was wearing a tuxedo of some kind.

The decor at the Circle Club was old-world, luxuriant and decadent. Resplendent red wallpaper gave a lustful backdrop to the gold-plated fixtures. Chandeliers of crystal hung from the ceiling, catching a thousand angles of light. A deep, plush gold-brocaded carpet lay underfoot, cut meticulously here and there to accommodate the legs of the various antique gambling tables and chairs.

There were all manner of games being played, some centuries-old like baccarat, blackjack, and poker, and newer forms of entertainment such as domjot and dabo. In one corner of the casino floor was a lounge area, with holographic feeds showing live sporting events from around the Federation, accentuated by constantly-updating betting odds. The whole place was plagued with invisible money, a lingering gas cloud that everyone lived and breathed. Even in the money-less economy of the twenty-fifth century Federation, there was still such a thing as hard currency, and many people still had it, or, at least, had something they could convert into it.

In another corner of the room was what the management referred to as the 'high roller' section, but which to other patrons was simply known as 'Members Only', accessible only to the very rich. The people who frequented the high roller section weren't the sort of people to replicate the trappings of wealth - no, they already had it in spades, whether it was hard currency like gold-pressed latinum or that they had access to valuable-enough possessions that could be used as collateral in place of gold-pressed latinum.

At one table, three people sat in a triangle, two of them challenging fate and each other by turning cards over and back in a game of baccarat. The man in the middle was the croupier, a balding, middle-aged Human man who had been working in the Circle long enough to know to keep his mouth shut and his eyes open.

The croupier slotted a new deck of cards into the 'shoe' - a wooden box that held the playing cards - and eyed his players.

On his left sat a Human woman, a high-roller socialite named Elaine Adkins. She was nobility, the croupier reminded himself - the second daughter of a Duke of one of the Shires - and that meant that she was also loaded. Not that being a Duke's daughter meant much in these egalitarian times, but her family probably owned most of the land wherever she came from, and old money was the best kind of money. She looked to be around thirty years old, a ravishing brunette with milk-white porcelain skin and piercing green eyes. Her makeup was impeccable, softly accentuating her features, and her perfume was heady and feminine. She was wearing a stylish red gown that showed just the right amount of cleavage.

On his right sat a man whose eyes were flickering back and forth between Miss Adkins' cleavage and his own cards. The croupier did not remember seeing him before tonight, but he had apparently turned up at the front door earlier and bought a membership, just like that, and had spent the last hour swanning around the gaming tables and swilling the finest Irish pot still whiskey. He was tall and dark, dressed in an immaculate black tuxedo that made the croupier want to get down on his knees and promise the man anything. The man had presence, that was for sure, whether it was the easy smile that played on his lips, the cocksure superiority in his blue eyes, or the aura of self-confidence he seemed to exude.

The croupier dealt them a card each, face-down, and waited while they both had a quick look. Miss Adkins' eyes flashed in irritation, but the man on the croupier's right seemed cooler than ice. With a deft move, they each put in the mandatory bet - one thousand credits.

Miss Adkins looked at the croupier. "Card," she commanded.

The croupier knew by her tone that she had a bad hand. The variant of baccarat they were playing was simple enough - picture cards worth zero points, aces worth one point, and all other cards worth face value. Players were dealt one card, but could call for up to two more, each at the cost of the mandatory bet, but these new cards could only add to the player's points if they were of the same suit, making calling for a new card a balancing act between wasting money and gaining more points.

As was traditional, the croupier drew two more cards, face-down, and discarded them, passing the third card from the shoe across the table to her, face-up. It was the queen of spades, a wasted card because it was worth nothing. He turned to face the man on his right, waiting for his decision, but no decision was forthcoming, meaning that he was likely sitting on a high card.

The croupier turned to Miss Adkins to see if she wanted to play another card. She was down to her last thousand-credit chip, and was staring intently at her opponent. They eyeballed one another, then Miss Adkins shrugged and pushed her last chip forward. "Card."

The croupier discarded two cards and turned the third one over, a three of diamonds. Miss Adkins smiled in triumph and turned over her own card, showing the six of diamonds. "Madame has nine points," said the croupier, knowing that her opponent needed a miracle to survive on his lone card.

The man paused, like he was maximising the anticipation. Then he reached out and flicked his wrist, turning over the card. The croupier raised an eyebrow and Elaine Adkins gasped in frustration. The card was the ten of hearts.

"Monsieur wins," announced the croupier, using his paddle to move the chips to the right-hand side of the table. He made sure to keep his faux-French accent audible - management thought it was classy. "Would Madame like to remain in the game?"

Elaine Adkins was seething at having her win stolen from her. He breast was heaving like an ocean swell. "I'll need another ten thousand!" she snapped to the croupier, producing her credstick from her clutch purse. He quickly worked to confirm the transaction with the table's built-in financial computer, and counted out ten thousand credits' worth of chips.

The man on his right looked on coolly. He opened his mouth and spoke with a perfectly-neutral English accent. "I admire your courage, Miss Adkins."

She raised an eyebrow and gathered in her chips. "You know my name? Well, I admire your luck, Mister - "

The man on his right looked her dead in the eye. "Shackleton. Finn Shackleton."

Elaine Adkins smiled through her money woes. "Looks like you're out to get me, Mister Shackleton."

"Get you. What a good idea, Miss Adkins," he countered, smiling lasciviously.

The croupier was mildly disgusted, but tried to think about the tip he'd get, so he shut up and thought about the money.

Just then, one of the wait staff approached the table, bearing a small silver plate which held a card. He profferred the card to Shackleton, who took it. The croupier noted that all traces of flirtation immediately disappeared from his demeanour and he became serious.

"I'm sorry, I have to go," Shackleton announced. "My office. Important meeting. You understand."

"Just when things were getting interesting," teased Miss Adkins.

Shackleton smiled to her, and flipped a chip to the croupier. Then he turned on his heel and disappeared, striding purposefully toward the exit, pausing only to give the house bank his chips in exchange for strips of latinum.

The croupier turned to Miss Adkins, who was staring dreamily at the departing man. Then, the croupier noticed the card that the waiter had brought - it was lying on the floor where it had obviously been dropped by Shackleton as he departed. He knelt down and picked it up, turning it over and back, wondering what it meant. The card, supposedly from Shackleton's office, was blank on one side, and on the other was a picture of a gemstone. The picture was small and square and green.

It was an emerald.


NRPG: An introduction to Finn Shackleton and his (current) Section 31 code name. I completely shredded the rules of baccarat for the sake of brevity, and also ripped off the introductory movie scene of a certain world-famous not-so-secret agent ;)

Jerome McKee
writing the adventures of
Finn Shackleton
Code name "Emerald"
Section 31 Agent

"He speaks an infinite deal of nothing!"
- Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", Act 1, Scene 1.117



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