Edmund writes, as GM:
Down Coffee Lane, tucked neatly in between two slightly larger streets just off the Surrey Docks, it was rare to find good quality coffee. The lane, named, so rumor had it, either for the color and texture of the ever present mud or for the color of the runoff in the rain barrels after a good downpour washed the accumulated soot and debris off the roofs, was home to a variety of pubs and flops, and was known to cater to sailors of all varieties on leave from their vessels. The local constabulary seldom visited Coffee Lane without good reason, and the frequent, good-natured fist fights between solar sailors and their ocean-going rivals were generally settled without spilling out into the surrounding area.
About midway down Coffee lane on the North side sits an otherwise unremarkable pub with the rather unlikely (but true) name of "The Inn Next Door Burnt Down". The owner, previously proprietor of the aforementioned inn, had discovered after a fire consumed his previous establishment that he lacked the funds to completely rebuild, and so had sold off half the property and remodeled the former inn's carriage house into a pub catering to the needs of sailors from around the solar system.
Today the pub was filled with men and women from the four corners of the earth and beyond, as attested by occasional Martian or Venusian in the crowd. Their clothing marked them as sailors, and their dress indicated backgrounds with more than a dozen different shipping lines. Though of diverse background, they were universally showing signs of anger, bitterness, and anxiety.
Sitting at a back table, nursing a pint of Waggledance ale, Engineer (certified, First Rate) Eleanor Santiago took in the mood of the crowd, and frowned.
"It ain't right!" a nearby sailor muttered to his mates. "We had an agreement! British Solar needed sailors and we hired on. T'ain't no fault of ours that the bloody apiary is tits up!"
"Aye," nodded another, a bald man with several missing teeth. "If y'ark me tha' fookin' thing is nawt bu' a straw 'ive an' tha' design o' Coppersmith's is shite!"
"Point is," continued the first, "we was 'ere, n' ready, an' we 'ad made our marks. If the bloody ship had been ready on time we'd be 'alfway ta Mars now, 'stead of sittin' in port on 'alf pay. An' now wot comes up but some bloody Parliment nabob wants ta drop us like so much bilge an' bring in 'is own crew - from lord all knows where - ta replace us. All so 'ee can get a cut o' the pay an' fill 'is coffers
while we rot at the quayside like bloody bananas."
"Iht iss unfair," hissed the third sailor, a Venusian with a long knife scar down the left side of his face. "Ay hhave ffamilee thaht needss ffeeding, ahnd my tribe needss mmoney asss welll. Ay hhave reffussed good berthhs wwaiting ffor the 'Iriss' to ssail. Too be sstranded hhere would be hhardship!"
"Too right!" replied the first, "I've passed on good berths with Bucknall, Harrison and Cunard, all on the say so of British Solar. I've 'alf a mind to…." he stopped short as the fourth man at the table, an old salt who had appeared to be sleeping, roused himself to peer with watery eyes at his companions.
"The impoverished 'and… is diligent!" he croaked, his voice like stones rolling in the tide. He struggled for a moment, as though the capacity for speech had left him, then burst out "But the enriched hand is slack!" He took a long pull of his beer, then murmured "Proverbs, 1:14" before slumping back in his chair. The others at the table stared at him with near religious awe.
"Ee's right," said the first.
"Hhe alwayss iss," the Venusian replied, his bulbous eyes even wider than usual.
"'Alleluja," whispered the third.
"Well we can' jus' bloody stand for it, now can we? We gotta show British Solar that we're better bloody sailors than wotever twits that bastard Smythe-Peabody wants to bring in!"
"Aye, bu' wot ca' we do ta show um up? S'nawt loik we'zz goin' ta ge' a charnce. Th' bluddy Board'll make the' choice in some posh chinwag, 'n there won' be a manjack from belowdecks ta say nowt abou' it!"
With that the sailors fell silent, each wrapped in his thoughts. From the old salt came a gentle snore, like the creak of timber on the open sea.
Elanor continued to nurse her ale, tyring to think of something to say to the sailors. It seemed her seat in the back was protecting her at the moment from them noticing her sitting there in B.S.E.V. uniform. Of course even if they did notice her, she recognized a most of the group from previous encounters and she didn't think they would take out their hostility on her. After all she had experience and had been hired on to the Iris from the beginning.
Should she speak up and offer to talk to the Board? It probably wouldn't do any good, but it might make these fellows feel a bit better. It wasn't like she could afford threatening to quit over their firing. Despite being a great engineer, she had never made enough salary to squirrel some away for a rainy day. If she lost her berth on the Iris she'd have to scramble for a new place to keep herself in warmth and food.
She was sorely tempted just to sneak out past the men as they were lost and thought and find a new tavern to haunt. She was in the process of doing just that when one of the men spotted her.
"Hey there, look who's slummin'. It's Miss Santiago," Billy Barnes cried. "You drownin' your sorrows with the rest of us poor souls." He looked thoughtful for a moment, or at least as thoughtful as a man throughly in his cups could look. "Wait a mo, I heard you still have employment."
Elanor smiled in what she hoped was a sympathetic manner and said, "It seems they decided the Iris won't fly without me. That's what my old Captain on the Helios claimed. I was sorry to hear the board went bonkers and fired all the experience crew. I'll put a word in for you, not that they'll listen."
"You know, Elanor, me lass," Billy said with a sly smile, "they would listen if something were to go wrong and the Iris couldn't fly. We were just talkin' about what we could do to show them board fellas that they need us. Are you up for a little sabotage? If you fix her engines so she won't go when the new crew comes aboard, I bet they'll be abeggin' us to come back aboard."
"Now Billy, you know I ain't one to be involved with that kind of thing. If I don't have my reputation, I don't have nothin'." When she got nervous, the posh accent she gained aboard ship tended to shift a bit.
"I'm sure you could do it so no would would ever know it was you."
"I would know, Billy, and that would be enough. Now if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment to keep."
Elanor tried to push past Billy, but he was blocking the way so she shoved him and made a run for the front door. She made it out to the street, but got caught in a sea of bodies and she turned to see the whole lot of them coming out the door after her. She started shoving her way through the crowd, constantly looking back at her pursuers. She was so busy looking behind her, that she ran into someone. It turned out to be Berenice Coppersmith.
"Sorry, Copperfield, but I'd suggest you run. I got a mob of sailors hot on my trail," Elanor said as she picked herself up and got ready to move again.
Edmund writes, as GM:
Berenice, intent on the trouble down the street, was caught unprepared as Elanor came barrelling out of "The Inn Next Door Burnt Down" and the pair went down in a heap. As they scrambled to their feet a dozen sailors burst through the door, led by Billy Barnes. To Elanor's surprise his face was contorted not by anger, but by concern.
""Ere Miss, there's no need for all that! We was just 'avin' a little talk 's all. Nuthin' ta get all bent crossways over." He peered down the street, to where the crowd of sailors was becoming increasingly vocal. "Eh, wot's that then?"
Eleanor studied Billy's face and decided he was being sincere. "Well now, Billy-me-lad, I would never of thought you'd suggest what you suggested to me. You can't blame me for taking it the wrong way."
She glanced at Coppersmith, wondering whether the other engineer would take what she had just said the wrong way. Then she realized that Billy was staring at some sailors down the street. These sailors did look angry.
"Do you know what they're on about, Copperfield?" she asked.
"Just a bit of discipline," Berenice said distractedly as she reached for Peabody and grabbed the neck of his coat, hoping he would slide out of it. "Young gentleman here should be reporting at his post, not traipsing about the streets of East London."
She gave a quick but significant glance to Santiago over her shoulder.
Here, the GM introduces a challenge: "I think that if you are going to attempt to rescue Peabody from his dire condition (particularly without input from Peabody) we are going to need a roll. I'd call it Acumen + Intimidation and set it at a Difficulty 6 Challenge. I think the stakes for success are fairly obvious (Coppersmith gets away with Peabody while leaving the hostile crewmen relatively baffled and/or unwilling to pursue the matter - at least for the time it takes them to get away). Any suggestions for stakes in case of failure?"
Sophie answers: "In case of failure of the die roll, the group of Peabody, Coppersmith and Santiago can't untangle themselves from the crowd before the two groups of men collide, with our protagonists in the middle."
The GM agrees, so Sophie rolls: 1, 2, 2, and 4. takes the third die (for Acumen 3) counting up from the lowest, a 2, plus no die for Intimidation 0, for a total of 2. She fails, and along with Peabody and Santiago, finds herself caught between two colliding mobs. Sophie narrates:
"Damn me eyes if it ain't that whelp o' Lord High-and-Mighty Smythe-Peabody's!" exclaimed someone from the Loftie Street mob.
"An' that crackpot beekeeper Coppersmith!" answered another voice.
Berenice's head was still turned when the blow came, so it missed her eye but glanced her temple, leaving her dizzy. She reeled back, her grasp on Peabody's coat went slack, and she stumbled into a rain barrel. She shook herself, trying to reach for an elusive silhouette, though for a moment she could not remember if it was Peabody or Aunt Diana she must keep a hold of.
Hands darted to catch the midshipman, and the voices of those standing further out egged on the men in the front row. "Get the little snot! Give 'im a good trashing, for once in 'is life! Let 'im see what it's like!"
The smaller crowd emerging from The Inn Next Door Burnt Down immediately erupted into anger and action. They might grumble against their officers and owners, but by God, they were still shipmates! The Irises yelled in anger. "Oy, Gillard, I see your weaselly face!" bellowed Billy Barnes. "Yer lookin' to rile folks up ta git some action fer yer stinkin' union. Don' do your job by pissing on the Iris' crew! Get yer hands off tha' child!"
The small group of Irises collided with the larger group of idlers, beached sailors, dockworkers and disgruntled union members. Fists flailed, voices rang, feet kicked — with Peabody, Berenice and Santiago in the middle, buffeted on all sides. Berenice tried to right herself against the push of the crowd, with little success. She decided it would be easier to use the momentum of the shoving around her to tip the barrel of filthy rain water into the street. The sudden flood and splash stunned the closest combatants and made the mud of the street even slicker and filthier.
Berenice took advantage of the instant of surprise to look around for her fellow officers. "Santiago! Peabody!" she called.
Eleanor could only watch as the loiterers started a riot. Billy Barnes and his boys joined in and she was surrounded by flying fists and kicking feet. Having grown up in the streets, she was no wilting flower and knew a bit about how to defend herself. She put in some good punches and tried to make her was to where she had last seen Coppersmith.
Unfortunately all of the men were bigger and stronger than she was so she found herself being pushed around the crowd. Somebody tipped out a barrel of water onto the street and everything got slippery. Eleanor wasn't able to keep her feet and went down in a tumble of arms and legs with a couple of Billy Barnes crew.
One of them managed to stand back up and help her to her feet as well. "You all right, Ma'am?" he asked.
Eleanor recognized the boy as having been slated to be in the mess crew, "I'm fine, thanks, Timothy. I think you should be getting on home to your mother and sister. I have a feeling the coppers will be along not too shortly to break things up."
Timothy tipped his cap at her and dodged through a few legs and on down the street.
Eleanor heard Coppersmith's voice through the crowd, "Santiago! Peabody!"
"I'm over here, Copperfield," she called back and tried to wave at the other engineer.
The GM writes:
All up and down Loftie street came the sound of banging shutters as the two groups of ether sailors set upon one another with a will borne of frustration. For the moment, the three officers were overlooked in the midst of the developing brawl.
"AVAST THIS NONSENSE!"
The voice was not particularly booming, but was pitched so as to reach every ear, stem to stern, in the midst of an Atlantic storm and carried easily over the sounds of the fight. The effect was electric, as almost every sailor in the mob froze for an instant and a hush fell over Loftie Street. In that brief silence, the sound of whistles could be heard — the constabulary approaching.
All eyes turned towards the man who had briefly silenced the mob was neither large, nor imposing, but he had a way about him that indicated that he was in individual used to giving orders and having them obeyed. Though dressed in a frock coat and coachman's cap, his face was lined and darkened from long years aboard ship, and he carried himself like a commoner. In one hand he held a walking stick, somewhat more sturdy than most. In his other he held the leash to a large Alsatian hound which surveyed the crowd as though selecting a choice morsel for a meal.
"Well now. It appears that you men have determined to make it your purpose in life to make mine difficult. That's as may be — I've never backed down from a challenge. However, I would take it as a personal favor if you managed to avoid being thrown into the lockup at this particular time — whatever I may be able to say and do, British Solar will not be particularly interested in hiring on sailors it has to bail out of prison."
He paused, scowling. The whistles were getting nearer.
"So my lads, I would take it as a personal favor, as well as of benefit to your wives, husbands, girlfriends, aged mothers, tribal extended families, and sprats, if you were all to shove off to some far off location — there to stay, quiet and unobtrusive as mice in the pastor's pantry — UNTIL I CAN BLOODY WELL GET YOU YOUR BILLETS BACK! Now off with you! The lot!"
As the thoroughly chastised crewmen scrambled to their feet and began to disperse, the man turned and walked over to where the two Engineers had at last managed to meet. Switching the leash to the hand holding the cane, he doffed his hat.
"Ladies. Please forgive the men. They are exuberant, but a good lot overall. A bit put out at the moment, what with losing their billets and so forth. Still, absolutely unacceptable. That sort of behavior — no good ever comes of it." Reaching into his coat, he produced a rather plain business card, which he proffered. "Acton Hatcher, representing the Aetheric Sailors and Dockworkers Union Society, at your service." He glanced benignly down the rapidly emptying Loftie Street, reaching down to absently scratch the head of the Alsatian.
At that moment, Engineer Coppersmith once again spotted the bright bonnet of her Aunt, breasting the current of fleeing sailors like a ship coming up the Thames.
GM NOTE: I leave the fate of Midshipman Peabody entirely in the hands of the players. And of course any seamen you need to have stick around, such as Billy Barnes and Timothy, are certainly still available if you want them to be.
Berenice was staring somewhat fixedly at the newcomer, a touch of crimson rising to her cheeks, but the plumed fuchsia bonnet brought her back to reality. "Aunt Diana!" she exclaimed, taking a couple of steps in that direction. She paused almost as quickly and whirled, first to look at Eleanor Santiago, then Peabody, then Acton Hatcher, then back at Santiago with an expression of urgency.
"Engineer Santiago, ma'am, can you take the Midshipman with you? I… I need to catch up with my aunt," she asked distractedly. At the merest indication of a nod from Santiago, she started again without waiting. "Aunt Diana!" she called again.
But she stopped again in her tracks, dipping into a half-curtsy for Hatcher; then remembering that she was wearing trousers, changed mid-way for a bow but found herself out of balance and stumbled a bit. "Delighted to make your acquaintance," she muttered, now scarlet with embarrassment. Without meeting Hatcher's gaze, she raced to follow the bright bonnet.
Sophie's Note: I'm pulling in Berenice's "Unmarriageable Bluestocking" thematic battery in order to charge it one more level. I would like to roll Berenice's Savoir-Faire (normally a 2, demoted to 1) and Etiquette (a 1) to try to waltz past Hatcher without everyone noticing that that she is flustered by him. Why? Because it's in theme for Berenice to have a crush on the wrong man for a while. I know from the situation engineering that he is in fact the wrong man, at least on the face of it. And who knows what plot twists may bring…
The GM answers: Very well. Let us have both Engineer Santiago, Mr. Hatcher, and Aunt Diana make Acumen + Etiquette rolls. Anyone who scores higher than Berenice will notice her flusterization.
Sophie rolls 3, 3, 4, 5, for a total of 6.