After The Gryphon and I left the barbecue on Saturday, we headed for the home of The Cheshire Cat and The Paper, where the plan was to order some takeout and then play Confed, the role-playing game developed by The Cheshire Cat, who also serves as GM.
This was the first we'd played in a while because they'd been replacing the living room windows and couldn't have guests over until the work was completed. It was also the first time in a little while that The Court Wizard could join us. He was visiting for the weekend.
We ordered takeout from a local Mexican place, and I went with The Paper to pick up the food. I'd ordered a Fajita Salad, which consisted of grilled veggies on top of lettuce, with a little grilled shrimp. It was surprisingly good. We also tasted some brownies made by Batman. Later in the evening there would be homemade tiramisu, courtesy of The Paper. Good thing I'd eaten sensibly at the barbecue.
After eating, we got our character sheets and received our experience points (XP), from which we could buy new skills. The Court Wizard has been rebuilding his character, Katya, because somehow the original character sheet has disappeared. Fortunately, The Cheshire Cat has kept track of Katya's XP over the years, so The Court Wizard has been rebuilding her based on what he remembers about her skills. As he told me during the game, this is sort of Katya 2.0, and he's taking the opportunity to expand her character, to broaden her skills and enrich her personal background.
Participating in this session were myself as Carmella Maylock, a cheval trader (or gypsy) who's been made the default ship's captain; The Gryphon as Stephen Graff, a computer hacker extraordinaire contracted by the Confederation to do intelligence work; The Dormouse as Tim, a reformed pickpocket who'd been made a baron in the Rimhold Empire due to service to the emperor; The White Rabbit as Alauzhi, a large female cat creature skilled with weaponry, who is also a Rimhold baroness; The Court Wizard as Katya, a 6-foot tall female ex-Marine; Batman as Stephen's girlfriend, 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.
This time the scenario was a little lighter than the last couple of sessions. The Dormouse has been thinking of retiring Tim, an old character he hasn't played in a while. In fact, for the entire time I've been playing, I met Tim only once. For some time now, Tim has been engaged to a former jewel thief, Steffie Kohl. So he suggested to The Cheshire Cat that Tim and Steffie finally tie the knot, after which he'd retire Tim and start a new character.
In order to make it interesting, The Cheshire Cat came up with a challenge for the crew of the Vandervecken. Steffie wanted a big wedding on her home world of Freya, site of the emperor's palace for the Rimhold Empire. Meanwhile, Tim had long ago promised his mother he'd get married in the family chapel on his home world of Loki 4. Johann's suggestion was to simply move the Loki chapel to Freya, a very literal, if inelegant solution.
At this point , Carmella stepped in. As a cheval trader, she's always looking for business opportunities, and she'd already been touting her services as a wedding planner to Tim. While she is very skilled in business tactics, she's never planned a wedding all by herself. She has, however, been a bridesmaid in several family weddings, so she has been involved in wedding planning. Besides, Carmella likes a challenge, and she's good at thinking on her feet.
Carmella reassured Tim that it wasn't a big problem. She suggested having a ceremony in both places, in order to please both families. That, she said, should be relatively easy. They could have a small wedding on Loki and then a big blowout on Freya.
While planning two weddings could be intimidating, Carmella assured Tim that with her help, it would be possible. He began to see the need for her services and tentatively agreed to hire her. Of course, Carmella being a woman, she realized that Tim couldn't be the only one involved in the wedding planning. Since she's a good cook, she suggested inviting Steffie over for dinner. She'd make something special, and Steffie could meet everyone on the Vandervecken. Also, Carmella thought, she could make a favorable impression on Steffie and get her to agree to using her services as a planner.
Tim was happy to agree with this arrangement, and he called Steffie on the ship's radio. He was so awkward and stammering it seemed almost as if he was first dating her. This could be in part because of seeing her beauty over the vid phone. She resembles a Valkyrie, but without the battle gear. Also, when you think about it, this couple might not have had a lot of face-to-face time. After all, until recently, Tim had frequently been engaging in adventures with the Vandervecken crew, all over the known universe.
He invited her over for dinner and then added, "It won't just be us. It will be the entire crew." She asked why, and he said, "They'd like to meet you." Sounding a little reluctant, she agreed. When she asked what people would be wearing, Tim faltered.
Carmella, who happened to be passing by, called out, "Nothing too fancy, but we're going to clean up a bit." Tim repeated that, word for word. This, of course, still gave people plenty of flexibility but at least made clear to Steffie that it wasn't a formal event.
Meanwhile, Stephen, who had agreed to serve as the officiant, since he is equivalent to clergy in the Shinto religion, was busy researching the two cultures he'd be bridging. In addition to coming from two different planets, Steffie's side was Baptist, while Tim's side was Catholic.
Stephen was also striving to help with another aspect. The main problem of holding a wedding in two places on opposite ends of the galaxy was travel. The Vandervecken is equipped with a secret drive that allows it to travel more quickly between worlds. However, this is information that is classified and which they don't want to become public knowledge. So they couldn't simply invite the wedding party to hop on board the Vandervecken for a trip, at faster than expected speeds, to Loki 4.
At the close of a previous adventure, where the Vandervecken crew had freed some kidnapped political refugees, the emperor of the Rimhold Empire told the crew they could have anything they wanted as a reward. Stephen had simply requested a favor to be named later, to which the emperor reluctantly agreed. So Stephen contacted the emperor, with the idea of securing his help. He set up a meeting for that evening, after the dinner.
Carmella was very excited about the meal, and she and Katya made plans for the menu. Katya offered to make her special borscht, a recipe from her home world. They also decided on a Rimhold-inspired main course of sauerbraten, along with biscuits and side dishes. Tim handed over a prized family cookbook of 101 potato recipes, from which Carmella selected one.
Tina had also offered her services in the kitchen, and at first Carmella was going to agree. But then Tina offered them a bite of something she'd just whipped up: sausages covered with sweet caramel. Absolutely nasty. Carmella suggested maybe she help clean the ship instead.
Johann volunteered to run to the local market to pick up anything they needed. So Carmella and Katya developed a list. When asked what was in borscht, Katya replied, "Beets, more beets and still more beets." So those were the first three items on the list. They also requested cabbage, three heads (cabbage, not human); a sack of potatoes; flour; a dozen eggs (chicken, not alien); beef of sauerbraten quality (ask the butcher for advice); four bottles of Riesling, vintage 3700 (it being the year 3702, and 3700 was a good year for Riesling); and for dessert, Space Strudel from the best bakery on the planet, according to Katya, that being Ludovic Ludovic's. The list was explicit so literal-minded Johann wouldn't get confused.
When they handed the list to Johann, he examined it with his cybernetic eye and then stepped outside. He's relatively new to the ship and didn't realize ship's funds would be available for his shopping run. Instead, he assumed he have to pay for it out of pocket.
But when he looked at the list, he realized much of the list would be available from the commissary at the local Rimhold military barracks. He walked in and spoke to the person in charge, using his status as a sergeant to requisition the produce and the eggs, to be delivered to the Vandervecken at its dock in a wing of the emperor's palace. The Vandervecken has a private docking area there, because of all the work they've done for the emperor.
While he was there, he also asked where he could procure the Riesling. The commissary staffer told him about an exclusive vintner who only supplied wine for officers, requesting only that he bring back an extra bottle of wine for him. The commissary staffer also agreed to have someone order the beef from a local butcher.
When Johann stopped by the vintner to place his order, the vintner was impressed that the order was going to the emperor's palace for a special meal for one of the barons of the realm. In fact, he was so impressed he gladly threw in a couple extra bottles and promised to have the wine delivered within the hour.
Johann got in line at Ludovic Ludovic's to order the strudel. This is an extremely popular bakery, with customary long lines, and even though Johann probably could have pulled rank as a military officer and jumped the line, he waited patiently. As he was waiting, The Court Wizard joked that the strudel is special because it's made in a very special way: taking a single molecule and replicating it within a force field. I jumped in and added, "Yes, you thought it was called Space Strudel because it's made in space. In truth, it's made FROM space!" From our combined effort, we got a couple laughs.
Back on the ship, Carmella and Katya were talking while doing prep work in the kitchen, and Katya regaled Carmella with stories from her home world. On the planet from which Katya hails, they've perfected communism so that it actually works. However, since there is no longer any need for political prisoners and pogroms, they just have really awkward dinner parties in the city of New Moscow. For example, she told about the time she and her unit were imprisoned for a year because their commander used the wrong fork.
Tina had programmed the scutters (which are little all-purpose robots, similar to those on the British comedy series Red Dwarf) to clean the ship while also performing music from a Disney musical. She danced merrily along with them, pleased with her whimsical programming.
As Johann returned to the ship, Stephen overheard Johann telling someone that he would be happy to take care of work around the ship while the dinner was taking place. Stephen told him that he was not only invited but welcome. Johann revealed that he felt awkward socializing with people he considered to be his social betters, such as a baron (Tim) and baroness (Alauzhi). In the Rimhold empire, a hierarchical society, that was simply not done. By contrast, citizens of the Confederation are more egalitarian and regard leadership positions as indicators merely of career level, not of personal worth or relative social importance.
An astute observer and a snappy dresser himself, Stephen noticed that Johann had a rather limited wardrobe, consisting of his military fatigues, his dress uniform, a gaudy Hawaiian shirt, and a truly abominable pinstriped suit. So he took him under his wing and offered the services of his computerized wardrobe, which builds clothes to spec from a number of patterns. Of course, when he measured the 8-foot-tall Johann, the computer asked him several times, "Are you certain these measurements are correct?" But he did manage to convince it to build a respectable sport jacket, shirt and trouser combination.
When the vintner's courier arrived, he was fairly intimidated by being in the emperor's palace. Apparently, he had a little trouble getting in, because nobody had bothered to tell the palace guards to expect any deliveries. Tina offered to escort him back out and took the opportunity to give him a healthy tip to thank him for his trouble. The beef arrived next, and while working on the sauerbraten, Carmella began to fret about the rest of the ingredients. As it turned out, they were shipped from the military commissary the moment that the extra bottle of Riesling arrived for the commissary staffer.
As the food arrived, Carmella took charge of the kitchen. Alauzhi, at her direction, carried the heavy items into the kitchen, then helping in the kitchen wherever she could. Katya worked on her borscht, while Carmella focused on the main course and the side dishes. Between the three of them, they cooked a delectable dinner.
After choosing a suit that wasn't a polyester leisure suit, at the insistence of the other crew members, Tim asked Stephen if he could borrow his hover van, promising to wash it. Unbeknownst to Stephen, Tim used a product called Pimpmobile Space Nanowax, which in addition to cleaning the van, also turned it into a lowrider with spoilers, fancy rims, a tricked out paint job and all kinds of bells and whistles.
Hearing this, The Cheshire Cat tried searching for the term "Pimpmobile Space Nanowax" on Google, saying that it sounded like good opportunity for a "Googlewhack," or a search that yields only one result. Indeed, he found none. I told him, "Wait until Thursday" and then carefully wrote the term down so I could use it in this write-up.
As Tim arrived on Steffie's doorstep, several of us made different doorbell sounds, including lounge music and a sonorous, "You rang?" We joked that Steffie's father has a sense of humor, and so all of those combined sounds were the doorbell. He also has a singing fish on the wall of in his living room, we decided.
The crew took care to dress for Steffie's arrival. Carmella opted for a look that struck just the right balance between business and casual. Steve and Johann were dapper in their sports jackets, while Katya and Tina found civilian clothing that suited them. Alauzhi, likewise, struck the right balance between casual and dressy. When Tim brought her, Steffie arrived wearing a cute summer dress, and Carmella greeted her cheerfully.
After the introductions, Carmella took charge of serving the appetizer of borscht, explaining that it was a recipe from Katya's home world. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, as well they might. All the food was hella good. One of Carmella's less advertised skills is cooking.
The conversation started off innocuously enough, with Steffie and Johann chatting about his service in the Rimhold military. The conversation turned, then, to tales of some of their recent exploits, at which point Steffie chided Tim about putting himself so frequently into danger. She seemed genuinely upset about it, and Tim's response was to weakly declare that, "Well, it's not always dangerous..."
In an attempt to steer the conversation to a more positive note, Carmella served the main course. Steffie was temporarily distracted by tasting some of the delicacies of her home world. After all, the dinner was primarily planned to please her.
Everything was going fine until Tim brought the conversation around to the wedding. Much to Carmella's surprise, he hadn't yet told his fiancee about the plans to have two weddings, on two different worlds very far apart. Despite Carmella's insistence that, with the proper wedding planner, it's just as easy to plan two weddings as two, Steffie was livid. She noted that the combined travel time between those worlds was several weeks. "Do you expect me to ask my family to travel for six weeks just to attend a second wedding ceremony?"
Tim stared down at his sauerbraten as he asserted, quietly, that the crew of the Vandervecken had achieved far more difficult things when they put their mind to it. "Yes, why only last week, we stopped an assassin... ooh, that's classified," someone offered. This, of course, only reminded Steffie of the dangers of serving on the Vandervecken, and she reiterated her criticism of his dangerous profession.
Johann, who had gamely been participating in the dinner party, began to look visibly uncomfortable. He tried to leave the room but got a locked door instead. Taking pity on him, Carmella asked him to help her in the kitchen, where they dished out the space strudel.
As they emerged from the kitchen, Steffie was glaring across the table at Tim, who was shifting back and forth in his seat, reasserting once more that he was sure they could find some way to do both. Stephen, who hadn't yet spoken to the emperor, didn't say anything; after all, he didn't want to get anyone's hope up, should his plans fall through.
Carmella, though, saw that everything was quickly going south, and she endeavored to save the day. After all, she wouldn't get a commission as a wedding planner if the fiancee broke things off before the wedding! She reassured Steffie that, as their wedding planner, she would make certain everything went smoothly.
Then, from under her chair, she produced an album full of wedding photos from family weddings. She said, "I think you'd look great in a dress like the one my second cousin Jade wore."
Steffie regarded the dress quietly and said, "Yes, I think I would look good in that." After a little more thought, she said, "Fine, you can meet with my mother tomorrow to talk about the wedding."
Still, the atmosphere at the dinner was still tense, as Steffie threw withering glances at Tim until, one by one, the crew members excused themselves. Katya and Carmella, after agreeing that the couple needed some space, announced, "Well, we've got orphan pirates to save... orphans to save from pirates. Or something."
Out of earshot, Carmella sunk her head in her hands and exclaimed, "It's like third cousin Rita's wedding all over again. I hope this one gets resolved without gunfire." She left for her room to do some computer research on wedding planning so that she could have some ideas when she spoke to Steffie's mother.
Passing by Tina in the hallway, Tina smiled broadly and said, without a hint of irony, "Well, that went well." Then, she slid Carmella a high-powered stunner and said, "For when you meet with Steffie's mom tomorrow."
As Tim was getting an earful from his fiancee, Stephen snuck out for his meeting with the emperor. We were joking that the emperor was wearing a nightcap, in the middle of brushing his teeth, and that he spit into a royal spittoon before speaking. In fact, the whole room was filled with spittoons, just for such occasions, we joked.
The emperor, in actuality, greeted Stephen properly and asked him what he wanted. Stephen explained the circumstances and asked for the emperor to make good on the favor he'd promised. He requested the use of some of the Rimhold's fastest military ships for the purposes of transporting the wedding party at top speed between the two worlds. This would cut the total round-trip travel time from several weeks to a few days. He also requested that the emperor assist them in the wedding on Freya, in whatever capacity he could.
After careful consideration, the emperor expressed surprise that he'd used his favor for something relatively minor. "I thought perhaps you had a friend in jail or something," he said. He was happy to assist, including offering that the ceremony be performed in St. George Chapel at the palace. In gratitude, Stephen invited him to attend both ceremonies. The emperor said he'd definitely attend the one on Freya but would have to think about the other one.
When Stephen returned to the ship, he stopped in Carmella's quarters. She was frantically typing on her computer, and her printer was whirring with pages she was printing. Seeing him, she put them neatly aside and asked him what was up. He told her about the good news, and she jumped to her feet, overjoyed. They walked down to Tim's quarters to tell him. Tim was still looking morose, muttering to himself, "I know we'll come up with something."
"About that wedding on Freya. How does St. George Chapel sound?" Stephen asked.
"Well, that would be great, if we could get it. Do they rent it out?" Tim responded, then thought for a minute. "You don't mean..."
"Yes, the emperor is allowing us to use it, free of charge. And how about several military transport ships, at our personal disposal for two weeks, to whisk the wedding party to Loki 4?"
Tim immediately looked relieved. "Thank goodness! I knew we'd come up with something." He called Steffie, whose icy countenance melted perceptibly at the news, although she still seemed a bit skeptical about the Vandervecken crew's ability to engineer two perfect weddings. (Because, of course, they must be perfect!)
Afterwards, Tim called his mother, who had a distinctly Midwestern accent. "Oh, hi, dear!"
She seemed somewhat pleased about the news but far from impressed about the emperor's role in it. As a typical Confed citizen, she was raised to believe that royalty was barely more than a silly affectation.
The next morning, a call came in for Carmella, which turned out to be a Rimhold protocol expert by the name of Boris. They set up a breakfast meeting at a nearby sidewalk cafe, which Carmella recognized as one of the "it" places. When Johann volunteered to come along, she invited him to join her. After all, he knows Rimhold culture very well and would no doubt be an asset. When they greeted Boris, who was dressed in a very stylish jacket, she introduced Johann as "Sergeant Johann Wolfcastle" and mentioned that he would be handling security arrangements on behalf of the baron for the weddings.
Boris was very businesslike, seeking to find out just what Carmella knew about Rimhold wedding customs and asserting that he would be aiding her as a protocol expert on behalf of the emperor. He had some reservations about a Shinto officiant, but she assured him that Stephen would be more than happy to work with the priest at St. George Chapel to make sure the customs were properly represented.
She also told him that she'd be meeting with the mother of the bride that day and asked if there was any information in particular he wanted her to ask. He said that she should just find out about her expectations, which was, of course, what she intended to do. He seemed pleased with her answers and gave her a contact number, saying facilitating this wedding was his top priority.
Meanwhile, a similar protocol expert was calling Tim on behalf of the Confederation, having read in the society pages about the impending nuptials. Tim is something of a media celebrity, with his adventures featured in a series of penny-dreadful style novels, and just about anything he does is likely to generate media interest. The Confederation representative, a Lindewall (the same sort of catlike being as Alauzhi) was much more relaxed in her approach than Boris had been. She assured Tim that she'd help him to facilitate the wedding plans from her end and that she'd work with his parents on protocol, just in case any high-profile guests, such as the emperor, should attend.
As Carmella and Johann parted ways at the ship, he said as an afterthought, "Oh, you're meeting with the mother of the bride today? Here, take this." He handed her one of his decidedly non-stunner weapons.
At this part Carmella wondered, "Just what have I gotten myself into?" She would have to wait for a later time (and a later gaming session) to learn.
You shouldn't spring things on a Valkyrie.