Club Goruq: Shung'Nak System, Klingon Empire
The sparkling backdrop at the rear of the art deco revival stage read, "The Marvelous Morka" in glitter-covered pIqaD. A Pheben woman wrapped in a tight, black-sequined cocktail dress slithered out seductively into the single spotlight. Her three eyes were ringed with golden mascara and her mouth silt was painted with red lipstick. The crowds sitting around the candlelit tables below went wild with applause as waiters and waitresses ferried plates of expensive delicacies from across the galaxy. The finest Earth Champagne, the choicest Aldebaran whiskey, and the rarest Romulan kali-fal flowed from the bar by the case.
Morka waved at her adoring fans one final time before wrapping her tentacles around the silver microphone stand. Then, she turned one of her tubular eyestalks towards the orchestra pit. With a wink to the conductor, the brass band started an upbeat tune. Right on cue, she started singing with a perfect ragtime harmony:
Cha'Hu'pu' law' paSlogh legh maw maH.
'ach DaH Quch maH je yepHa' Sov qeylIS, chaw' Hoch.
She seductively pulled the leg slit of her dress open and slithered out a silk-stocking covered tentacle. The crowd went wild again.
Through the glass window of the formal dining room above, Laria watched the musical display from Tigranian's side. She was dressed in a traditional golden silk kamakha and her husband was in black formal armor. The Bajoran and human sat in stark contrast to the other couples seated around the long table draped with red table cloth imported all the way from the Emirate of Orion
These Klingons didn't wear armor or weapons. They didn't drape themselves with medals, sashes, or baldrics. Instead, these men were dressed in crisply pressed dinner jackets and finely tailored tuxedos. The women wore 500,000 darsek evening gowns made from Tholian silk or Breen Satin. For the price of one of their shoes, Lady Elessa could exempt every single tenet farmer on the family estate from a year of rent. The amount of money sitting around this table was obscene enough to make the Ferengi Grand Negus blush. These were the oligarchs of the Klingon Empire, and they made Laria very uncomfortable.
The wealthiest couple of them all were seated at the head of the table: Goruq, Son of Talz and his wife, Riska. They owned Goruq Intergalactic Limited: a holding company that had its claws in almost every for profit endeavor in the Klingon Empire. This included the nightclub they were currently sitting in. The richest Great Houses in the empire had a few billion darseks to their name. The House of Goruq had trillions.
"Why are we here again?" Laria whispered in Tigranian's ear as waiters cleared the last of the dinner bowls from the table. They spoke Federation standard to keep the others from understanding.
"Because Goruq invited Lord Torlek and Lady Elessa, and neither wanted to come. I'm the younger brother, so it fell to us," he replied. Another waiter placed a pair of Andorian snow china cups in front of them filled with gourmet raktajino hand-picked from Qo'noS' southern rainforests.
"Is that all?" Laria said skeptically raising her eyebrows. Tigranian sighed.
"Goruq's freighter fleet carries all the KDF supplies from the empire to Cardassian Space. The contract is up for renegotiation next month. I think he believes that if he wines and dines the right people, he can convince the High Council to raise its offer by a few billion.
Ever since Chancellor Martok's reforms two years ago, these people have the High Council's House of Commons bought and paid for. However, they still need the upper House of Lords to grant their ascent. Hence, all this,"Tigranian said pointing to the opulence around them.
Laria scowled. She knew that, despite their wealth, merchants had always been considered the lowest social caste in the Klingon Empire. By the nature of their affairs, they weren't concerned with Kahless' martial virtues, merely with the acquisition of comfort and money. As a result, businesspeople were considered beneath everyone else who provided services to others. This included farmers, restauranteurs, trash collectors, and even legal advocates.
Space travel had changed everything. The priests of the state religion always declared merchants too impure to possess a piece of Mother Qo'noS. Only noble houses could own land on the homeworld. Then, the landlords would rent it out to tenets as they saw fit. However, that restriction was not extended to subject worlds.
Over the centuries, merchants traveled out into the stars and bought huge tracts on every alien world they landed on. The shipping hub planet of Shung'Nak in the Tau Dewa sector had become their crown jewel. Klingon ideals of warrior asceticism and stoic discipline didn't apply here. Every corner of this planet, from the gourmet restaurants to the palatial homes, was dedicated to showcasing absolute wealth and luxury.
Yet, just because merchants were reviled, didn't mean they weren't necessary. An uneasy symbiosis had developed over the centuries between the ruling warrior caste and the oligarchs. The merchants needed the Klingon Defense Force to keep the shipping lanes open and the High Council to pass laws favorable to their business practices. The warrior caste needed the merchants to finance the shipyards, banks, and credit lines that kept the Klingon economy solvent. Very few noble houses had the liquid currency necessary to purchase their warships and equip their soldiers without applying for loans. Not surprisingly, these often came at exorbitant interest rates. Even the House of Torlek had run into trouble during the downturn of the late 23rd century. It was only Torlek's meteoric rise through the officer ranks and Lady Elessa's keen management that finally pulled the family out of a pattern of unsustainable debt.
"I don't really feel comfortable here, Daniel," Laria whispered again. "I'd like to leave as soon as we can."
"It should only be another hour or two,"Tigranian replied while placing a calming hand on the small of her back. "They want the folks with knives out of there playground as soon as possible too."
"Please Lord and Lady Tigranian," Riska called out from the head of the table in tlhIngan Hol. "You're our guests of honor. There's no need to speak in foreign tongues here. We're all Klingons, aren't we?" she said with a laugh filled with condescension.
"My apologies, Mrs. Goruq," Tigranian replied. "Lady Laria was merely remarking on the atmosphere of your fine establishment."
"I'm sure she was…" Riska muttered.
Laria looked over at their hostess and immediately regretted it. Riska was wearing a moderngown of cream colored Tholian silk. Her body was absolutely dripping with jewelry: latinum, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires glittered from her fingers, wrists, neck, and ears. However, the woman didn't take her eyes off the Bajoran's forehead. Laria was wearing a golden tiara bearing the crest of House Torlek. Since she was a commoner, Riska wasn't permitted to wear one. She could buy a planet, but her money still couldn't buy a title. It made the Klingon woman bitterly jealous.
"Lady Laria," Riska said taking a delicate sip of her coffee, "it must be very difficult for you to adjust to life among the Klingon nobility. All the traditions and customs must seem very unfamiliar to a woman from the Federation, no?"
Laria narrowed her gaze and stared right back at her.
"Mrs. Goruq, why exactly do you ask that of me and not Lord Daniel?"
"Oh, come now. We both know that Klingon warrior men have it much simpler than women do. They just have to know which direction to point their disruptors. Women constantly must prove how they deserve to be where they are…"
"Riska…" Goruq cautioned under his breath. His concern had nothing to do with Laria's feelings. He was simply worried that his wife's jibes were complicating his imminent deal.
"You are correct, Madam," Laria said more haughtily than she expected. "However, despite my humble beginnings, I have yet to meet a challenge I have not conquered. There's a reason why some women earn a tiara and others don't."
Riska's nose flared with obvious disdain.
"Laria…" Now it was Tigranian's turn to advise caution. They were, of course, completely within their rights to kill every unpleasant person at this table. However, killing a commoner with as much influence as these could still come with more complications than he wanted to deal with.
"Cigars and cigarettes for the ladies? YIvjebol for the gentlemen?" said a female attendant who walked into the dining room with a silver tray of assorted after-dinner tobacco products. There were several Darian cedar boxes with cigars of different size and vintages. A golden case held expensive, hand-rolled cigarettes from the Ytrias system. A platinum bowl was filled to the brim with fine, Klingon chewing tobacco.
The attendant walked over to the Tigranians and offered them first pick. Laria immediately waved the selections away. Tigranian longingly eyed the yIvjebol, but politely declined as Laria was seated right next to him. Then, the attendant made her way around the table to the other guests. Most of the women selected a cigar or cigarette while the men took a pinch from the chewing tobacco. Another attendant followed right behind with a cigar cutter and burning cedar strips to light the women's stogies. A waiter appeared and distributed small, silver spittoons to each of the men.
Finally, the attendant reached the Goruqs. The husband took his yIvjebol while Riska selected a cigarette. She took out a long, slender holder made from polished sabre bear ivory. Laria highly doubted the posh woman hunted that particularly dangerous animal herself.
Riska placed the holder in her teeth. Her attendant gently placed a cigarette in the end and lit it with a silver table lighter.
"It's quite funny," Riska mused before blowing two puffs of smoke out of her nostrils, "Lord and Lady Tigranian have faced so many dangerous opponents in the name of our empire. Ye, they are both intimidated by a few burning leaves…"
The other guests all laughed at the quip. Laria gritted her teeth.
"HIghoS," Laria said waving for the tobacco attendant to return. The woman presented the tray to Laria who selected an aged Qo'noS Hov Chu'Cha'el Special Reserve: the largest, most expensive, and most potent cigar on the entire tray. The other women at the table murmured skeptically. For a Bajoran of Laria's petit size, a smoke like that could easily put her on the floor.
"What are you doing?" Tigranian whispered nervously as the attendant skillfully cut the cigar's end and presented it Laria. "You don't smoke. Those aren't for beginners."
"DabuQlu'DI' yISuv, Daniel," Laria said as the attendant held up a burning strip of Darian cedar. Laria tried to remember how Lady Elessa managed to light her cigars. She leaned forward, placed the tip of the roll into the flame, and confidently turned it in her fingers while sucking in a few deep breaths. Then, she leaned back in her chair and stared right into Riska's gaze. Laria blew a huge puff of smoke right across the table in her direction.
"You have no idea what it takes to intimidate me," Laria grinned while rolling the cigar in between her index and middle fingers, "but you're welcome to keep trying."
The other guests gasped with muted astonishment. Riska was about to offer a retort when Tigranian's aide-de-camp suddenly walked through the door and handed the general a PADD.
Tigranian read a few lines of the dispatch before climbing to his feet.
"We have to go," he said firmly to Laria. "Something has come up."
She put her cigar in an ashtray and jumped to her feet. A noble lady rising obligated the other guests in the room to stand as well. Suddenly, Laria's head started spinning from the rush of the Chu'Cha'el's nicotine. She grabbed the edge of the table and steadied herself.
"Are you alright?" Tigranian whispered.
"I'm fine…" Laria said as she took a deep breath and did her best to follow her husband towards the doors without falling over.
"Lord Daniel!" Goruq said desperately. "We haven't had a chance to discuss the freighter contract yet. I regret if there were any 'misunderstandings'," he said flashing an annoyed glance at Riska, "but if I could just have a few more minutes of your time…"
"I'm afraid not," Tigranian said cutting him off and holding up the PADD. "A matter of state security has arisen that is far more important than your freighter contract. Besides, I, nor my brother, sit on the High Council. Perhaps your…hospitality…would be better spent on the lords that do."
"I told you we should have invited the House of Kahnrah instead…" Riska muttered. Goruq slammed his fist onto the table right in front of her.
"However," Tigranian added. "I may inform Chancellor Martok that the House of Goruq is forgetting that money alone does not make one worthy of respect in the Klingon Empire. Perhaps, if he gives the freighter contract to someone else, your family may remember that," Tigranian saidglancing towards Goruq's wife. "Qapla'."
As the lord and lady exited the dining room, "The Marvelous Morka" was just finishing her set. More thunderous applause echoed from the well-lubricated audience.
"I shouldn't have permitted her speak to you in such a way," he said as they walked down the Vulcan fire marble stairs towards the club's entrance. "It doesn't matter if they own half the Klingon Empire, she's still beneath us."
"She's not beneath us, Daniel," Laria said as her head pounded. "Riska's just insecure. Without our titles, we still have honor. Without her money, she has nothing." She then turned to Tigranian. "That message has something to do with the rebels, doesn't it?"
"How did you know?" Tigranian asked surprised.
"Something in the tone of your voice," Laria replied. Then, she started swaying as the room spun out of her control.
"Are you sure you're fine?" Tigranian said nervously as a pair of Ferasans in livery held the club's main doorway open for them. "You don't look fine."
Oh Prophets," Laria said quickly putting her hand over her mouth. "I'm going to be sick."
"For your honor and mine, please don't throw up until we get back to the ship…"