Cognac And Conversation

Edmund writes, as GM:

Location: Whitechapel

Sir Guy Thatcher sat in an extremely comfortable chair, inhaling the scent of leather, fine cigars, and cognac. The invitation to White's, one of the premier Gentleman's clubs of London, had been no less welcome for being unexpected, and he had eagerly spent entirely more than he could immediately afford in order to be properly coiffed and attired for the occasion.

Around him such distinguished figures as the Earl of Dartmouth and the Duke of Devonshire went about their business or pleasure. He had hoped to catch a glance at the Prince of Wales, but that worthy appeared not to be in attendance.

Across from Sir Thatcher, slightly closer to the bow window, sat the man who had extended the invitation to visit White's — an invitation without which he would never have seen the inside of the building, let alone procured a spot anywhere near the prestigious window. Sir Quentin Winston Smythe-Peabody, MP, was a round-faced, somewhat florid man in his 50s, mostly bald, with an open face and an impeccably styled English mustache spreading like the wings of a bird from his upper lip. He sat forward in his chair, holding his cognac in one hand and a cigar in the other, the latter being waved about to emphasize his points as though by a fencer at a salon.

"And that, sir, is exactly why this whole state of affairs is ridiculous! Yes, England needs its old money — old money is the soul of England, and maintains our financial stability. But we cannot disdain the new money either! New money is the heart of England — it is what helped build our empire! And it is new money, I say that keeps our land not simply financially stable, but prosperous as well!"

Somewhat belatedly noticing that his gesticulations were attracting attention, he smiled (showing a faint shadow of schoolboy impishness, Sir Thatcher thought) and leaned back in his chair.

"Forgive me, old boy. I do sometimes leap straight into my bully pulpit, I'm afraid — and once I'm there I am liable to forget whether it's Christmas or Easter." Smythe-Peabody leaned back, took a quick puff from his cigar, sipped his cognac, then leaned forward again.

"My point, which I'm afraid my rank enthusiasm pulled me from, is that if England wishes to continue to not only survive but prosper in this new age, we must not be afraid of change, of innovation! You and I understand that, but regrettably many of our peers do not. I have had my eye on you for some time now, you know, and I was pleased to be able to exert my small influence on the Board of British Solar to get you assigned to command the Iris. You have that spark that so many of the old guard lack these days, and I feel certain that with you at the helm there are many discoveries to be made out in the aether — discoveries that will enrich our coffers, and strengthen the empire as well."

Once again Smythe-Peabody leaned back in his chair, setting his cognac on a small table beside him.

"I'm terribly sorry that the project has not gone as smoothly as we might have hoped. I thought when I brought you aboard that things were well in hand, but…" he shrugged theatrically, "you know how it goes — the boardroom is like a battlefield and all that. I think I have the labour problem in hand now, though it wasn't as delicately handled as I would have liked and we may yet have a spot of trouble from the Aetheric Sailors and Dockworkers Union Society on the matter. I should have a new crew of my lads aboard within a few days. The other difficulty though…" He shook his head, "Damn that Damian Hicks! The very idea of putting a Coppersmith Babbage engine on the Iris! I would suspect the man of trying to put the kibosh on the entire project if I actually believed that he had a duplicitous bone in his body. As it is, I merely think him a madman. And as long as he has controlling interest in British Solar, everything we put into it is at risk!"

"I know we talked about an historic maiden voyage — 'where no gentleman has previously ventured' and so forth — but you might want to consider more modest goals. Heaven help you if you get out past Mars and that monstrosity fails. Perhaps something more modest — Venus perhaps, or even Luna. Then when Coppersmith's folly gives up the ghost — and mark my words, it will — you should have assistance close at hand. And once you return we can see the wretched thing ripped out and a decent Babbage engine put in its place. THEN you can venture where none have gone before."

Mark writes:

Guy nodded respectfully and sat back in his chair, trying somewhat unsuccessfully to hide his disappointment with his right honourable patron's dumbing down of the Iris' mission. They had spoken before of the value of venturing into the unknown. They dreamed of new pathways to tread, new resources to discover and exploit, new money to earn, new glory for the Empire. Of course, there would be new glory for themselves as well. They had reflected together on how few captains were willing to take serious risks these days, and how even fewer financiers were willing to back those who were. "Opportunity," Smythe-Peabody had said himself not two fortnights ago, "does not walk up to one and introduce itself. No, opportunity must be sought out. Wrangled, as it were. Fortune favors the bold."

Guy had agreed wholeheartedly with him, and was excited at the prospect of being a part of a bold adventure. But now Smythe-Peabody was singing a tune of a decidedly different timbre. Venus? Luna? He had become cautious. Guy supposed that the combination of the labor troubles and the untried engine had unsettled him a bit. He hadn't thought someone like Smythe-Peabody could so easily become unsettled.

If Smythe-Peabody noticed Sir Guy's discomfort, he didn't show it. After taking a long pull from his cigar, he said, "Well, what do you think Captain? What are your plans?" Guy swirled his drink and looked down into it, trying to mask his face and form words that would hide his frustration. He wanted to say, "Oh yes, I have. Great plans, I had. Bold plans. But apparently your constitution is too delicate for such boldness, and so now I shall go have tea on Luna. How does that suit you?" But of course he didn't say that. Guy tended towards brashness, but he wasn't so hot-tempered that he would say the wrong thing to the wrong person and lose his commission.

"I am…" he began, "…considering my options. I think it best that I tend to the Iris now, and see that the installation of the new engine is going well. As you say, it wouldn't do to get stranded somewhere." Smythe-Peabody's eyebrows raised a little for a moment, as the cognac-soaked parliamentarian was trying to decide whether Sir Guy's abrupt departure was something about which he should be offended. After a moment, he smiled, decision made. "That's the spirit!" he slurred, "I see the Iris is in the hands of a gentleman who pays attention to important details. Let me not tarry you from your duties my good man."

Guy rose from his chair, bowed ever so slightly, and left. Were Smythe-Peabody slightly more sober, he might have noticed that Guy had started walking away before leave was properly given.

Edmund writes, as GM:

Smythe-Peabody may have had a bit too much cognac for his own good, but he was a man accustomed to privilege, and such men guard their station jealously. Moreover, as a Parliamentarian of many years, he was quite comfortable bending others to his will through tone of voice alone.

"Sir Thatcher, please be seated." The words were not uttered in a loud or menacing tone, but it was not a request.

Edmund adds: I haven't written up Sir Smythe-Peabody yet, so I will make this a static challenge for Thatcher using Savoir Faire + Diplomacy. I assume that Smythe-Peabody is fairly good at bending people to his will, so I will set the difficulty at 8. Failure means that Sir Thatcher suffers damage to his Grace, as he comes off looking like a boor in one of the most exclusive clubs in London. Success, I assume, means he walks away without embarrassing himself. Or he can choose to avoid the conflict and just sit back down.

Mark accepts the stakes. The die results (lowest to highest) are 2, 3, 3, 6. Sir Guy has a Savoir-faire of 2 and a Diplomacy of 2. As such he would take the second lowest of the dice for his Savoir-faire and the second lowest of the dice again for his Diplomacy. The second lowest die is a "3" so he gets a total of six, which means he fails by 2 points. Checking pages 141 & 142 of the rules ("Risk and Discharging Condition Batteries" reveals that when a character loses a check by a margin of 3 or less, he has been bested or suffered a misstep, and the appropriate battery is discharged one level. Consequently, Sir Guy's "Grace" is reduced by one level for the time being.

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