The Vandervecken, for those who don't know, houses the characters involved in a role-playing game designed by and led by The Cheshire Cat. It had been many months since any of us had played, but we got together Saturday to start a new story line.
Participating were myself as Carmella Maylock, a cheval trader (or gypsy) who's been made the default ship's captain; The Gryphon as weapons expert and pilot extraordinaire Jenna Starfall; The White Rabbit as Alauzhi, a large female cat creature skilled with weaponry, who is also a Rimhold baroness; The Martial Artist as Taiwan MacGuyver, the idiot savant ship's engineer and my character's second cousin, twice removed (also a Rimhold baron); and Batman Tina Balthazar, a female mecha pilot who's a bit on the wild and crazy side. Also participating was, The Dormouse, who had previously been playing the now-retired Tim, and would be playing a very interesting new character from another species, soon to be introduced.
The Vandervecken crew was barely recovered from their wedding reception hangovers when they got a call to meet with an officer of the Rimhold Empire, Lieutenant Blanc. The emperor, he told them, wanted to hire them to assist a nobleman, Count Arlo, who ruled over a small agricultural planet. The count's two boys, ages 10 and 14, had been kidnapped and a ransom demand received.
Although the count had already hired a private investigator and enlisted the help of local police, he was also interested in hiring the Vandervecken crew, due to their success in dealing with various intergalactic political entanglements. While there were no outward signs that the kidnapping was related to a political goal, any time a nobleman is involved, that was a possibility. Since the count was on the outs with the emperor, he probably also felt it was a good move to hire the emperor's friends.
The crew docked the Vandervecken on a longship headed for the count's planet. If they'd wanted, they could have arrived faster by using the ship's Hail Mary Drive, one of the fastest known and also a top-secret Confederate military drive, which only the Confederate Navy knows the crew has. The crew only used it when absolutely necessary. At least the seven-day journey gave them time to recover from the wedding celebration.
Upon arrival, they were ushered into the count's palace, a fortified stone structure reminiscent of old European castles. A burly man greeted the crew, the tutor at arms for the the young boys, who served as both bodyguard and instructor in the warrior arts. He answered some questions for them about the details of the kidnapping.
But the crew was distracted by five animals seated in chairs at the table. They appeared to be some sort of wolfhound, and despite the fact that there were five of them, they moved and reacted in unison. Carmella, who loves dogs but had not seen one for ages, pulled from her pocket a stale biscuit she'd been carrying in hopes of meeting a new canine friend. Much to her surprise, the tallest dog replied icily, "I do not want a biscuit. And I am not a dog."
That's when the burly man introduced the dogs as the private investigator, who had a very long name but insisted on being called Sherlock, despite Taiwan's insistence he should be called McGruff (as in McGruff the Crime-Fighting Dog). Upon further questioning, the crew learned Sherlock was one of the races that make up the Imperiate, a bureaucratic empire which had been engaged in a cold war with the Confederation for about a century and had fought numerous shooting wars over several centuries with the Confederation allies the Rimhold Empire. The Vandervecken crew were all members of either the Confederation or the Rimhold Empire.
Jenna, a tactics person and hard-core military, was the most distrustful of this new associate. She asked him a number of questions that had nothing to do with the kidnapping, such as demanding to know why he'd left the Imperiate and why he was in the Rimhold Empire. He explained that he had left the Imperiate many years ago and was now a citizen of the Drikaar Alliance, a Confederate ally nation. As far as everyone could tell, he was telling the truth.
You may wonder about the pronoun "he" being used to describe five dog-like beings. This particular life form is a communal creature, with individuals bonding together and functioning with a group mind. They assist each other in tasks, and if they are separated grow considerably less intelligent and weaker. They must stay within 10 meters of each other at all times for maximum effectiveness.
Of course, the Vandervecken crew couldn't resist making a number of dog jokes. Even after they'd agreed to stop, Carmella had to cover her mouth to avoid laughing aloud when Sherlock talked about having once retrieved a shipment of platinum from the band of career criminals he suspected in the kidnapping. He suspected them, he said, because he's listened to the recording of the ransom demand and identified the voice of the group's leader. The gang has an accent unique to a nation called the Jurotovac Union, which consists of thousands of planets. "Dogs have really good ears," Carmella whispered to Jenna, a bit too loudly.
She also could not hide her fascination when the five individuals who made up Sherlock would work in concert to hold notes for the tall one to read or to worked together to type on a specially-modified computer.
The lordlings, they learned, had likely been kidnapped from a favorite locale in a nearby park, where they liked to play, slipping out after bedtime to their tree fort. The crew began by examining the boys' room, discovering some messages on the computer the two had exchanged, outlining their plans to slip out again the night they'd disappeared.
Next, of course, the crew headed for the park to investigate the tree fort. The team split up to examine different areas. Some examined the tree fort itself, while another team looked at a nearby rock cropping and another at a nearby ruins, both of which had a view of the tree fort. They recovered cigarette butts from the ruins. At the rock outcropping, they photographed and took a cast of an adult boot print, presumably left by either a man or a very tall woman. It was too deteriorated through time to tell much more. In addition, they discovered a recently-placed mount on the rock outcropping, presumably used to mount either a surveillance camera or perhaps a light weapon.
Another tree with a view of the tree fort had bark missing at a level that might have been a good place for a would-be kidnapper to surveill the tree fort.
They found no signs of an aircar having descended in the immediate area, since it would have left depressions on the ground if it had landed. They did, however, find an area along the nearby river bank where it would have been possible to tie off a boat.
Much to Carmella's disappointment, Sherlock did not put his noses to the ground an sniff for clues.
The crew returned to the palace to analyze the evidence and conduct further investigations. While Jenna analyzed the cigarette butts, Tina visited the local space port to inquire what ships had left since the kidnapping 14 days ago. She learned a ship that claimed to be carrying farm goods had taken off about two weeks ago, hailing from the Jurotovac Union. Taiwan questioned denizens of a boat yard and learned a boat had been stolen about two weeks ago and was never found. Alauzhi and Carmella spoke to the park ranger and retrieved an aluminum pole from the lost-and-found box that looked like it might have fit onto the mount they'd found at the rock outcropping.
All the evidence pointed towards two particular members of the Five Stone Wardens, a name Sherlock suspected was another name for the Yevis Gang, named after its leader, Cole Yevis, a skinny guy. His second-in-command was a big guy with a broken nose, Gavino MacEdin, who had met his partner in crime while both were imprisoned on burglary charges as teenagers. Today, they were looking for a bigger score, having demanding 7 billion crowns from the count, far beyond the ability of even a nobleman to pay. Based on information they'd gathered, they used a computer to age-progress their teenage mug shots to an image of what they might look like by now. When Taiwan showed this to both a guy at the docs and the sailor whose boat was stolen, tracked down at home, they both said immediately, "That's the guy who was snooping around before the boat was taken."
After the initial round of investigations, Carmella volunteered to see what she could find out from the local underground factions. In her interstellar travels before joining the Vandervecken, she'd been a free agent, selling goods and working deals for clients of all stripes. Therefore, she was skilled at speaking to such types. This time, however, this went a bit pear-shaped.
Carmella located a bar where they could seek information. Spotting some thief markings on the wall, she realized it was a place where contraband could be bought and sold. She sidled up to the bar and placed a drink order to herself and her companions, Jenna and Tina. At first, everything went well. She claimed they were looking for some contacts of theirs they'd been supposed to meet two weeks ago: "A big guy with a broken nose and a funny accent."
The bar owner proved more than willing to cough up information when Tina presented him with a 1,000-crown tip. He admitted to having seen the broken-nosed guy with the strange accent, along with a skinny guy. He said they'd been trying to hire local muscle but hadn't had enough money to make it interesting. The last he'd seen of them was 15 days ago.
However, having spent so much time with the Vandervecken crew, Carmella was starting to sound too much like an undercover cop. Tina could tell the bar owner was getting suspicious, and she pulled Carmella aside, telling her, "He's onto us. We have to get out of here!" So Carmella signaled to Jenna, and they beat a hasty retreat.
Not far from the bar, badness caught up with them. A streetlight went out, and a voice from the shadows told them he didn't like "off-worlders" snooping around. He'd come here to talk to them about it.
"So talk," Carmella said.
He said that he knew there was something big going on, due to the increased police activity over the last two weeks. He demanded she tell them who they were working for.
"None of your business," she replied.
The voice from the shadows correctly guessed Carmella and her crew were working with the police, not interested in money or underworld deals.
"We have all the money we need," she told him. "What is it you want from us?"
He told her that he'd heard about the kidnapping through underground channels, but he also knew that local had nothing to do with it. "Get the police to stop leaning on us," he demanded.
"I will if you can provide some proof that it was off-worlders," she replied.
As a good faith gesture, he told her about a field of the botanical that gets converted into jade, a highly-addictive drug. Secondly, he told her to look for a sunken boat near the spaceport. (Unbeknownst to Carmella, Taiwan had gone looking for a such a boat himself and had just found it by scanning the river from an aircar.) These bits of information, he said, were a good-faith gesture to prove the locals were not involved. "Now get the police to lay off," he repeated.
"I will," she promised. "If you come out here, I'm willing to shake on it." He declined her offer and slipped away into the shadows. A short time later, the streetlight came back on, and Taiwan arrived in his aircar, having received a distress signal from Tina's wrist com.
NOTE: If you're wondering why someone with as much skill at underworld dealings as Carmella would trip up so badly in the bar, I'll let you in on some game mechanics. Basically, I'd rolled a zero on Carmella's "low society" skill, which is considered a critical failure, or a "crit fail." Things naturally took a tailspin from there. However, having role-played my way out of the sticky situation without a shot being fired, as the local crime lord slipped away, I tilted my head to the side and said, out of character, "Who crit failed?"
The detective in charge of the kidnapping investigation, upon learning the new information, agreed to check out the jade patch and, if that and the sunken ship checked out, to stop hounding the locals about the kidnapping. In the morning, The Vandervecken crew raised the boat to the surface. Forensic evidence (in the form of more cigarette butts in the cabin) tied the stolen boat to the suspects.
At this point, there was no doubt where the investigation would lead next. When the Vandervecken crew adventures continue, a broken-nosed guy with a funny accent is sure to get some company.
I'm often at my best when I have no idea what words are coming out of my mouth next.
Earlier Confed adventures:
Confed Adventures Index