Once more, viewers spared American Idol finalist Jason Castro, who has secured a fan base with his sunny personality and pleasant, if unremarkable, vocals.
With the two Davids (Cook and Archuleta) safe and possibly headed for a final showdown, this left Syesha Mercado and Brooke White in the danger zone.
Brooke seemed to know, even before the result was announced, that she would be the one to get the pink slip. In her farewell montage, she confessed to having battled with confidence issues. And it was those very confidence issues that cost her a chance at the top slot.
She's not the most impressive vocalist in the competition, but she has her strengths. At her best, her lilting vocals and bright stage personality bring life to even the most overdone classic.
But she often over-thought her performances, and more than once she had a false start — even with a full orchestra, which is the sort of mistake that would lose you a high school talent show but is unforgiveable at this level. On those weeks, her fan base called in wildly to save her, but this week's middle-of-the-road performances failed to evoke the same response.
After touring with the top 10 this summer, perhaps Brooke will gain confidence. She has the potential to be a good singer/songwriter, if she only believes.
On Saturday we played Confed, the game that was created by The Cheshire Cat, who also serves as GM. This was a continuation of an earlier adventure, involving an assassination plot.
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; The Martial Artist as Taiwan MacGuyver, the idiot savant ship's engineer and my character's second cousin, twice removed; Batman as Tina Balthazar, a female mecha pilot who's a bit on the wild and crazy side; and Batman's roommate as Johann Wolfcastle, an eight-foot-tall genetically engineered goon with a cybernetic eye, a penchant for weaponry and a thick Austrian accent. Also, The Dormouse played a character I'd not previously met: Tim, a reformed pickpocket.
For this particular adventure, it's helpful to know that, while most members of the Vandervecken crew are citizens of the Confederation (except for Johann, who's a citizen of the Rimhold Empire), several of them (Alauzhi, Taiwan and Tim) bear the title of baron or baroness of the Rimhold Empire because of an earlier adventure, where the Emperor awarded them titles to thank them for their assistance.
The story so far: the crew of the Vandervecken was on the planet Velebit in the city of Sochi. They had captured suspected assassin Paulina Ivesk, a.k.a. Tracia Perk, in a bloody battle where she lost her arm. Ivesk had been associated with massacres of pirates and was suspected of plotting to assassinate the Grand Duke Sarlin of Zhykia at an upcoming Millennium Celebration. Such an action would no doubt throw that region of space into turmoil. While she'd been assumed to be a pirate, when she was captured, she was discovered to be wearing an expensive, rare type of military-grade, stun-proof body armor, which made the crew wonder if she had a far different employer, perhaps a government.
The other players caught us up on what happened in the session we'd missed. They had interrogated Ivesk's minions to discover who had hired her. Since all of her assistants were local and knew little, they learned nothing of value but were directed to a bartender who presumably had more information.
Entering the bar, fully armed, in the middle of the afternoon, which they assumed would be a slow time and therefore limit civilian casualties, they took a "stun first, ask questions later approach." Liang-Tze, the Shaolin monk played by The Dormouse, threw a stun grenade at the bartender, and was subsequently stunned himself by the consequences. You see, the local mob boss happened to be having lunch with his heavies, and they took umbrage at having their meal disturbed.
As he related the tale, Taiwan remarked that less than half of the goons were actually killed. And if I remember correctly, the bartender himself had his arm ripped off and was beaten to death with it, rendering him useless for questioning. Thanks, Johann.
"What is it with you and arms?" Carmella asked him. He replied that they stick out.
So at the beginning of this session, the crew first tried to track down information about the body armor Ivesk had been using. While it's by no means common, it's also not rare, as it is in use by Confed military and by anyone with enough money to buy it. They were able to track her specific suit to a given production lot, but 20,000 such suits were manufactured and sold that year, and there was no active registry of owners.
This meant the only obvous course of action was to speak to a trained assassin who would probably rather make pâté out of her own tongue than talk. The Vandervecken crew discussed the best way to approach her, and after consulting with the head of the baron's security forces, got permission to offer her a life sentence instead of the death penalty.
It should be noted that the Rimhold Empire, which is allied with the Confederation, has different standards of justice. They still use the death penalty, while the most severe Confed punishment is a mind wipe, where a person's memory is obliterated and they are relocated, to live out their life in normal society.
The crew selected Jenna to lead the interrogation, since she's skilled in questioning. She was accompanied by Johann and Alauzhi, to act as security. Before she started, Jenna set up the room to her liking, including having Taiwan weld the stool to the floor, raising the temperature of the room, and putting red bulbs in, which are more anxiety-producing.
Johann, whose thinking differs widely from the rest of the crew on such matters, suggested using Ivesk's arm as leverage, promising to put her in a med bot where it could be regrown, if she would talk. The arm hadn't been regrown previously, primarily for practical reasons, since an appropriate med bot wasn't available. But the crew agreed that threatening to withhold medical treatment, even just as a negotiating tactic, was tantamount to torture.
The crew who weren't in the room were watching the events unfold, thanks to Alauzhi, who broadcast the proceedings via her wrist comm. Taiwan, in fact, was munching on popcorn and knocking back a few beers.
As the interrogation proceeded, I provided some "big brain" suggestions to The Gryphon, based on my observations. Confed is set far enough into the future that, through medicine and evolution, everyone is smarter and stronger. Thus, The Cheshire Cat allows us to share "big brain" suggestions with other players, with the idea that our characters would have the intellectual equivalent of several of us put together.
The interrogation began with Jenna offering the deal of life in prison, but Ivesk claimed that meant nothing to her. She refused to offer up any information they didn't already know. I noted that she seemed to be motivated by honor and by loyalty to her cause. This didn't make much sense initially, given that she was presumed to be a pirate.
In answer to the question "Who are you working for," she reacted strongly to the suggestion that she might be a mercenary. She scoffed at the idea of getting paid for doing her sort of work. In response to Johann asking a similar question, she sneered and said that "Your type don't get to know."
From this, Johann surmised that she bore a particular antipathy towards the Rimhold Empire and particularly towards military officers. He was wearing his uniform at the time (the only clothing he possesses besides a tacky Hawaiian shirt). Therefore, she was likely to be a citizen of the Western Worlds Alliance, which had ended its ninth war with the Rimhold Empire only a few years ago.
Acting on this hunch, he asked her, "So how many of your people have I killed?"
She answered, "Too many."
He accused her of being a pawn for the Imperiat, which is an interstellar alliance comparable to the former Soviet Union, peopled by non-human sentient beings. All the other interstellar organizations mentioned to this point have all been human. The Imperiat have been eager to start a war for some time, having had a bad history with the Confederation.
So was she acting on behalf of the Imperiat, serving as a rabble-rouser to shake things up and destabilize that part of the galaxy? Perhaps a deal was in place that would spare the Western Worlds Alliance in exchange for offering up the Rimhold Empire?
She reacted strongly, saying that she was operating from a higher imperative, which she refused to discuss.
Seeing that she wasn't getting anywhere, Jenna called the interrogation to a close, saying, "She can die now." After all, she was bound to be executed. Ivesk lurched at Jenna, but she was tackled by Alauzhi and Johann.
"Oh, so you don't want to die," Jenna said. "Maybe you should talk." But Ivesk would still not budge, except for confirming what was already known or surmised.
Right about the time it seemed there was nothing further to be gained, she took a good look at Alauzhi.
"Are you who I think you are? Are you Baroness Alauzhi of the Rimhold Empire?" When Alauzhi nodded yes, Ivesk said, "I need to speak to you alone."
Everybody else left the room. Of course, Alauzhi was still broadcasting the proceedings. After everyone else had left, she asked Alauzhi, "Do you want another war?" Alauzhi, of course, said no. "Well, then, execute me and drop this investigation."
No doubt, she'd planned this mission carefully, making her connection with the pirates well-known so that the assassination would be viewed as a pirate action and not a governmental action. If her secret became widely known, it could precipitate a 10th WWWA-Rimhold War.
Having gained this information, the Vandervecken crew reported to the head of intelligence for the Rimhold emperor, Lieutenant Blank. He said that he would discuss it with the emperor and get back to them, but in the meantime, they should speak to no one and remain on the ship.
Alauzhi promptly wrote a full report for the Confederation, which is in character, given that the Vandervecken operates as an intelligence arm or black ops arm of the Confederation. It would be sort of like the German chancellor asking a CIA agent not to reveal information about an international incident that could potentially lead to global war.
At this point, I believe it was Tina who thought of a last bit of business: to go to Ivesk's local base of operations and clear it out, so that no information could leak out. Alauzhi got the information from her about where she'd been staying, a dive hotel. While they waited for a reply, Tim found the floor plans and forged some work orders to do electrical work in the room.
When Lieutenant Blank replied, he told them to bring Ivesk to the Rimhold Empire home planet, Freya, for the emperor to handle (presumably to be executed). They were to file this information "under forget."
Carmella was anxious to get out and do something, because she hadn't done much but helped brainstorm, so she forged some electrician identification passes for them. She didn't tell them that she had a spotty record when it comes to forgery: she'd been in trouble for an attempted forgery on Freya at the time that the Vandervecken intervened, thanks to Taiwan, and got her accepted as a member of the crew. This time, however, the forgeries were spot on.
Wearing work coveralls, they headed for the building. Carmella and Tim entered, because Johann seemed to think that "two cute girls" — i.e. Tina and Carmella — could be seen as suspicious. He was rewarded with glares from both girls, as well as from Jenna. Tim held up the work order at the front desk , and they were given a key to the room. They let the others in through a back door.
After checking for booby traps, they entered the room and did a full examination of contents, including checking for forensic evidence. They confirmed the information they'd already learned. Yes, she'd been in the room, but no, she hadn't left any identification behind. Interestingly enough, she hadn't carried I.D. on her, so the question remains how she managed to enter the planet without identification or where, in fact, the identification might be. Perhaps there's a safe-deposit box or other hiding place somewhere? If so, the Vandervecken crew didn't find it.
She had left a high-powered pistol equipped for long-range use, presumably her assassination weapon. Jenna was immediately intrigued and claimed it for her own, presuming she was allowed to keep it.
After Carmella suggested they look under the mattress, they discovered a pile of gold bars, which they knew Ivesk had been using for currency, in order to avoid using credits and thus stay off the grid. They determined that, split evenly, they would receive the equivalent of 42,000 credits each.
Tina asked everyone to pitch in 500 credits, and she and Carmella made one last stop on planet, giving a cut to Opilka, the gold dealer who gave them the information that led to Ivesk's capture. Tina had promised her 40 percent of a nonexistent bounty on the pirate's head. Now that there was, quite literally, found money, it was a good idea to follow through.
Opilka was happy to receive the gold and equally happy that Ivesk had been dealt with. You see, she had the idea that the mob was unhappy about her passing gold with a badly forged bank mark, which she'd received from Ivesk. She got this impression from Carmella and Tina. So it was only right that they reassured her everything was now OK.
They checked in one last time with Lieutenant Blank, who wasn't happy to hear about their report to the Confederation but said that he would speak to the Vandervecken's higher-ups and urge them to "file this under forget." He showed no interest in the guns or the gold and urged the crew not to mention them again. Tim and Carmella, by the way, found no reason to mention the gold in the first place, but Taiwan had blurted it out.
Fortunately, they got to keep the money, because Carmella's been wanting some concealable body armor. Tina, though, suggested just getting a long coat so that you can hide anything, including body armor. So maybe a long, leather duster, like you see in some of the classic westerns.
On the two-week trip to Freya, they began to discuss Tim's upcoming nuptials. He has been engaged for some time, and his fiancée was working on finalizing details for a wedding on Freya.
Carmella, who has skills as a business woman and who, until this point, had made her living by zipping around the galaxy seizing opportunities, offered her services as a wedding planner. She mentioned that she'd attended and helped plan the weddings of many of her cheval trader cousins, some of which Taiwan had attended.
That's where we'll pick up next time. The Dormouse hasn't played Tim for a long time and wants to retire the character. But before he does, he wanted to have him marry his longtime fiancée. For one reason because it's a neat ending. For another, the last Confed wedding was apparently a lot of fun.
I've already checked the dates, and hopefully, we'll be able to attend and participate in the wedding frivolity. First order of business: a shopping trip. After all, there's booty — I mean, a bounty — to spend.
Anyone willing to go down for her cause isn't a pirate.
Further adventures from Confed: