AN: Much ongoing thanks to Luli27 and Skunk and Hedgehog for reviews. It is a bittersweet moment as I present to you the final chapter of "A New Hand for a New Century: Queen of Spades. Please enjoy. I love my reviewers.
Chapter Sixteen: Thieves, Pirates, and M
Daria followed Reed down a long flight of stone steps that led into the underbelly of the Museum. She shivered slightly, uncomfortable with the closeness of the stone walls that closed in around her.
"How much further?" she asked. Reed didn't answer until they had turned one more corner.
"We're here," he said, gesturing for her to precede him into an opulent meeting room.
The Tau'ka looked around. Bookshelves and paintings lined the walls, all highly decorated, and a long table surrounded by chairs dominated the room. At the head of the table sat a thin, almost cadaverous-looking man wearing a black suit, who tapped what appeared to be a playing card against the edge of the table. She squinted at the card, finally making out the image of a joker printed on its face.
The man stood.
"Welcome, Miss Noclaf, to the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," he said.
Daria frowned as she set the sheathed broadsword she carried on the table. "The League of… what?"
He smiled. "Extraordinary Gentlemen, my dear. At other times in Earth's history, there have been occasions that required the attention of groups of very singular men- and women."
"And you would be?"
Her host walked slowly around the table with a stride that suggested arrogance to her trained eye. "That is an interesting question, Miss Noclaf. I go by many names. My underlings call me Sir. My superiors call me M."
Her frown deepened. "Em?" She had never come across anyone on Earth referring to themselves by a single letter before.
M leaned casually against the table. "I understand that you go by many names as well, Miss Noclaf. Maria Nelson, for one. Oh, don't be surprised- I've heard all about you from another of your people. All good- you are remarkably accomplished for a Tau'ka your age." He gestured towards a side chamber. "It is time for you to meet your teammates- the ones who are already here, that is."
From the side chamber stepped a middle-aged man with dark skin, eyes, and a remarkable black beard. He stood an inch or two shorter than she, but made up for the height with the blue turban wrapped around his head. Daria noted his movement and stance, the semi-militaristic blue-and-silver tunic, and the sword- saber, really- strapped to his belt. Those features all told her that this man was a fighter. There was something in his eyes, too- a gleam of intelligence that was almost frightening. This man was smart, as well as a warrior. A dangerous combination, in her book. While he didn't seem particularly unfriendly, she doubted he would be the sort to go out of his way to make friends.
Sort of reminds me of Vader in that respect- the distant, battle-scarred warrior type, she thought. Actually, if I didn't know he was an only child from Tatooine, I'd say these two were related. Hm, maybe they are- in spirit.
"Miss Daria Noclaf, Captain Nemo," M said by way of introduction. Nemo inclined his head gravely, and Daria responded with a short bow, one of the greater shows of respect her people employed.
"An honor, sir," she said politely. Then she swore fiercely as something touched her from behind. Daria pivoted on the spot and froze for a second, seeing nothing.
A soft chuckle floated from nowhere. Daria turned her head, searching for the source of the laughter with her peripheral vision. Willful invisibility occasionally showed up among the Tau'ka, and those employing it could sometimes be detected as a faint blur in the air, like a heat haze.
She finally distinguished a slightly fuzzy, moving patch in the air and reached for it. Her hand closed around the figure's bare arm and twisted upward, prompting its owner to yelp.
"Oi!" a voice accented like a street child's yelped, though her captive was no child. "Easy there!"
"You ever do that again, and I'll break your arm," Daria growled. "Do you hear me?"
She released him with a look of disgust and glared at M, who seemed to be doing his best to contain his mirth as Nemo looked on with a raised eyebrow. "Another one of your 'extraordinary gentlemen?" she snarled.
M straightened and cleared his throat. "Yes, indeed."
"Then clearly the 'gentleman' part is optional."
"You're wrong there, luv," the invisible man chimed in. "'Ere, shall I introduce myself? Rodney Skinner, gen'lman thief."
Daria raised a skeptical eyebrow. "I didn't realize theft was considered an honorable occupation around here,"
"Course it is!" Skinner replied jovially. "It's one of the oldest occupations there is!"
"That does not make it an honorable one," Nemo said. Daria noted that he had a deep, grave-sounding voice.
"Gentlemen, Miss Nelson," M cut in. "Please-"
He trailed off suddenly and glanced at the door. Daria had already heard the twin sets of footsteps that were now coming down the stone steps. M smiled. "Ah, I see that another one of the League members approaches. If you will excuse me?" He went back into the main room and went around its perimeter, carefully turning down all of the gas lamps. Once all of the lights were dimmed, M returned to his chair at the head of the table.
Then the door opened, and an older man stepped in. He looked around at the dark room and frowned.
"I don't much like theatrics."
And this is where "A New Hand for a New Century: Queen of Spades" leaves off. Special Agent Daria Noclaf's adventures with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen continue in "A New Hand for a New Century: An Eight-Card Deck".
Mischief managed, my freaky darlings. Stick around for the sequel, coming soon to an LXG fanfic archive near you.