Kinarvon City, Planet Orion: Stellar Emirate of Orion
Tigranian and Katie materialized on the balcony of the Federation Embassy in central Kinarvon City. Two Federation Marines in full dress uniform immediately saluted with their phaser rifles. Tigranian returned their gesture of respect by quickly raising his hand to his forehead. He immediately felt for them. The heat radiating off the brown sandstone of the embassy exterior made the forty degree centigrade air even more unbearable as the mid-afternoon binary suns pounded the city with a double barrage of searing heat.
The captain and his security chief looked out on the incredible view of Kinarvon. Ancient stone structures and temples blended together with ultra-modern skyscrapers crafted from tritanium. Their transparent aluminum exteriors reflected the suns' rays and gave the entire city a glare so bright, it made Tigranian grateful he grabbed his sunglasses before beaming down.
The extreme wealth here was palpable and earned by over a millennia of trading along routes established throughout the entire known galaxy. The discovery of warp travel here wasn't scientific, but economic. It was financed by the unofficial union of the once nomadic Orion tribes composing the Jumayatti Oryanyun Binhabde Hide Talme, more commonly known by its Federation Standard name, "The Orion Syndicate." At the center of the urban oasis planted in the vast Orion desert was the massive multi-domed palace of the Shakti Binrabbat Sulasmuron IV, Emir of Orion. He was also the person who Tigranian had traveled across half the galaxy to visit.
"Captain Tigranian?" a voice sounded from the nearby doorway. Katie and Tigranian looked to see a twenty three-year old woman now standing between the pair of marines. She was dressed in a corduroy suit with shoulders far too big for her slender frame. Her sun-bleached brown hair was held back in a lose bun by a silver computer interface stylus. The sweat soaked, printed polyester blouse underneath her jacket made Tigranian wonder if the Diplomatic Corps actually mandated tacky attire.
"The 2260s called," Katie whispered into Tigranian's ear, "they want their outfit back…"
Tigranian cleared his throat and stepped of the transporter. He immediately started walking towards the interior of the embassy and slid straight past their welcoming committee.
"I'm Lydia Stolz," the woman said walking swiftly to keep up with Tigranian and Katie. "I'm the assistant to the Undersecretary for Visiting Dignitaries and the Foreign Service Officer who will be assisting you while you are on Orion…"
"Pleased to meet you, Ms. Stolz," Tigranian said curtly. "This is my Security Chief, Lieutenant Katherine Lexington. She will be accompanying me to the Shakti's palace. I'm also very pleased that the Diplomatic Corps now considers me a 'Visiting Dignitary'," Tigranian said sarcastically as he passed a row of large, native statues and potted plants adorning the brightly lit embassy atrium, "but I don't need anyone else's assistance for this mission. In fact, the less you know about it, the better." He still didn't stop walking. "Have you arranged transportation to the palace or do I need to call a cab?"
Stolz held back an angry sigh.
"There is already a hovercar waiting for us out front, Sir," she said attempting to pass him a PADD. "Starfleet informed the ambassador that you should be given full diplomatic courtesies during your stay, so I've also taken the time to prepare a planet briefing for you with the latest news dispatches of relevance, the Shakti's personal likes and dislikes, as well as a crash course on Orion etiquette. You are visiting a country's head of state after all. Perhaps you should act like it."
Tigranian stopped dead in his tracks. Katie blinked twice and looked back at Stolz. She quickly flashed the young Foreign Service Officer a look that screamed, "you shouldn't have said that."
"First off, Ms. Stolz," Tigranian began "there is no 'WE' in any of this," he said flashing an angry pointer finger between them. "I'm here on Starfleet business that doesn't concern the Diplomatic Corps beyond making sure that the Orion space patrol doesn't ticket my starship for an illegal parking orbit.
Second, just because it looks to be your first day on the job, don't assume that its also mine. Think about that while I'm gone. Keep the transporter warm. I'll be back shortly…"
He and Katie turned and began to move away.
"No!" Stolz's voice shouted back. Tigranian and Katie turned around to see her clutching the PADD to her chest. Her eyes filled with anxiety and her legs quivered, but it was obvious she was stiffening her spine for a confrontation. It intrigued the captain as he crossed his arms in front of him.
"No? No to what?" he asked glaring back at her.
"No, you will not be going to the Shakti's palace without me…Sir," she said meeting his stare. "I'm under direct orders from Ambassador Kilsyvas to make sure that the consequences of your visit do not damage Orion/Federation relations. I cannot do that sitting in this atrium. I can only do that right next to you!"
"Damage Orion/Federation relations?" Tigranian said with a chuckle. "Does that mean the Ambassador doesn't trust me?"
"Your words, not mine," Stolz replied. "Besides, how much do you know about this planet?" she asked. "I have no idea why you've come here, but it seems to me that you could use an expert's help to convince the most powerful Orion in the galaxy to listen."
"So, you're an expert on Orion culture?" Tigranian said furrowing his brow.
"I graduated Magna Cum Laude from Mars University with a double major in Xeno-Political Studies and Orion Language. I scored in the 93rd Percentile on the Foreign Service Exam…" she said briefly glancing down at the floor. "I volunteered to join the Diplomatic Corps and come to Orion to make a difference, but instead I've spent the last six months stuck in this embassy filing reports and getting other people coffee!" she said angrily.
Tigranian looked her over again.
"Do you think there's a reason for that?" he said flippantly before turning to walk away.
"I'm don't know," she called after him. "But I do know why I was assigned this mission!"
Tigranian turned around for a second time.
"And why is that?" he asked.
"Because you have the reputation across the entire Diplomatic Corps as being the most stubborn, obstinate, belligerent asshole in all of Starfleet, and no one else wanted the job!"
Katie placed a hand over her mouth in a desperate bid to hold back laughter. Tigranian pulled off his sunglasses and began slowly walking over to Stolz. She tried to keep her knees from shaking as she suddenly remembered that Daniel Tigranian also had the reputation of being the most violent man in Starfleet. She wondered if she had said too much.
The captain stared directly into her face.
"Really?" he asked intrigued. "The whole Diplomatic Corps?"
"It's a small organization…Sir," she said keeping her shoulders back. He reached up and took the PADD from her grasp. Then, he stepped aside and held out his hand.
"Please, lead the way, Lydia," Tigranian said with a smile.
Dumbstruck, she walked past him and began to lead the pair of Starfleet Officers towards the embassy's front entrance. After a few steps, Stolz leaned over and whispered to Katie:
"For a second there, I thought he was actually gonna hit me."
"Oh, don't worry about, Captain T," Katie replied with a dismissive wave of her hand. "It's mostly just an act."
"Really?" Stolz asked with a bit of relief.
"Yeah," Katie said grinning. "He only beats me when I ask him."
Stolz shot her head around and stared back agahst. Katie held back more laughter.
Outside, Tigranian replaced his sunglasses as they descended the twenty stone steps towards a circular driveway landscaped with heavily irrigated and imported greenery. A black hoverlimousine with diplomatic plates and two small Federation flags flapping on the hood was waiting in the harsh heat of mid-afternoon. Another marine in dress uniform crisply saluted as he opened the rear doors for the party to climb inside.
Just before he climbed into the car's interior, Tigranian returned the salute and stared up at two large flagpoles flapping next to the front gate. One held the blue banner of the Federation. The other fluttered with the green, gold, and black standard of the Emirate of Orion. A large holographic sign flashed towards the outside world in three languages: Standard, Standardized Orion, and the curves, loops, and dots of the native Orion alphabet:
Embassy of the United Federation of Planets
Faraholaya al Dulwatyi Federatysyun al Kuwaykab
As soon as the trio was resting in the leather-trimmed interior of the vehicle, the marine shut the door and the driver headed off towards the front gate. They briefly slowed as two more armed marines standing guard at the front gate dropped the security force field. Then, they zoomed off to merge onto a five-lane wide hoverbahn traveling at almost two hundred kilometers per hour. Soon, they were flying through the clean, ultra-modern center of Kinarvon City.
Tigranian immediately immersed himself in Stolz's reports. The young diplomat seemed genuinely surprised that the captain was studying so intently. It caused her relax enough to notice Katie. The security chief pressed against the window to take in the incredible sights of a commercial world so different than anything she had ever known.
Brightly painted cars shot past them on the hoverbahn in flashes of red, yellow, black, and gold: Ferrari Ultra-Sport Stellar Specials, Ferengi Vehicle Works Star Falcons, Romulan Motor Company ZX2928s. It was like commuting through the galaxy's most expensive auto race.
"Whoah!" Katie said pressing her nose tighter against the glass. "That's a Lamborghini Pulsar 9500! You could buy a starship for the price of that car!"
"And I bet that's not the only one the driver owns," Stolz replied. "The war was very good for Orion. It made an extremely rich planet even richer."
"Sometimes it pays not to have any principles…" Tigranian muttered not looking up from the PADD. Stolz grumbled something but turned back to look at Katie.
Suddenly, their vehicle passed out of the bright sunlight and into artificial shadow. Katie looked over to see a massive metal and glass spire looming directly in front of them. It was so high, it towered above the few whispy clouds hanging in the bright, blue sky.
"That's the Wardaj Kurafta," Stolz explained. "It's the tallest, free-standing building in the quadrant: over 1693 meters tall. Without its own structural integrity field, it would collapse under its own weight."
"Wow!" Katie said trying to crane her neck to see the top.
"Three years ago the Ferengi Ambassador was bragging to Shakti Sulasmuron about the Tower of Commerce on Ferenginar," Stolz explained. "The Shakti then stood up, walked over, and told him that 'no Ferengi will ever look down on an Orion while I rule.' The Wardaj was just finished last year. The observation deck on top offers the most incredible views of the Oryasdan Sea if you have time to visit before you leave orbit…"
"We don't," Tigranian interjected. "I never stay in a place that disgusts me for a second longer than I have to." Stolz thought she recognized a glimmer of disappointment on Katie's face, but to her credit, the security officer didn't say anything to contradict her captain.
"I guess she must be used to this…" Stolz thought to herself.
As soon as the hoverlimousine cleared the shadow of the Wardaj Kurafta, the driver took an exit that led directly into the heart of the Old City. Blocks of stone instantly replaced modern construction as the Federation delegation began winding through ancient streets barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other. Crowds of green-skinned Orion civilians wound their way past the town mansions of the high Orion tribes and cartel bosses of the Syndicate. Intricate gates of woven black duranium guarded lavishly furnished courtyards filled with gushing fountains and intricate statuary cast from solid gold and latinum.
Katie marveled at the crowds going to and from their places of business. Orion men wearing only trousers and vests laughed and smiled as they sat in front of cafes and smoked from water pipes. A few of the women darting to and fro barely wore anything at all, but most females were covered head to toe in long flowing black robes that only left their bright eyes visible. All of them were accompanied by male chaperones and armed alien bodyguards.
"What's with the Halloween costumes?" Katie asked. "Modesty is not something I normally associate with the Orions."
Stolz sighed as she explained one of the many contradictions of Orion culture.
"Free women are covered at all times when they leave their home compounds," the FSO explained. "It signifies that they are under the protection of a tribe and must not be touched. Slave women are only given the bare minimum of covering. It's not meant as an enticement to others. It's meant to humiliate them."
"What do you mean?" Katie asked confused.
"In Orion culture, the ability to protect oneself is seen as a virtuous sign of strength," Stolz replied. "Being almost naked is a constant reminder to slaves that they have no control over their own bodies and others can take what they want. Speaking of that, get ready."
"Get ready for what?" Katie said.
"We're about to pass by the Al Jumati Bisalnasri," Stolz said as her shoulders dropped. "The Grand Garden of Pleasure. It's the central slave market of the Emirate."
As the Shakti's palace grew closer, the hoverlimousine turned past a massive stone courtyard covered with dozens of stone posts. Most of them had naked Orion women chained securely by the neck. Holographic signs hovering above each piece of merchandise listed the current bid for the poor souls awaiting transfer into bondage. Crowds of Orion traders, alien merchants, and curious tourists crowed around the most desirable specimens as the slave women watched their futures fade with empty stares. Katie was even surprised to see a few Orion women in black robes bidding as well. She had to hold back bile in her throat as perspective customers were encouraged to come up by auctioneers and feel the "quality" of the merchandise with their bare hands on the flesh of the hapless captives. Tigranian knuckles turned white as he gripped the PADD like a vise.
"It's a terrible twist of irony when a country's most valuable export is its own people…" Stolz whispered.
"And we have diplomatic relations with this country?" Katie gasped in horror.
"It's the Prime Directive, Lieutenant," Stolz continued. "We do not judge other cultures by our own standards of morality. However, if we ignore these places, we'll have no positive influence at all. We can only hope through our own example, others will see the light and reform…"
"Orions don't give a flying Qu'vatlh about your example or your morality," Tigranian said suddenly looking up from the reports. "All they care about are two things: wealth and power. If you don't have either, they'll rip your clothes off and chain you to one of those posts so fast it will make your head spin. Human women go for quite a bit of money, I hear," he said trying to rankle her. "Quite exotic in these parts."
"The Orion culture is a lot more than slavery, Sir," Stolz said. "It's over six thousand Earth years old. They were making advancements in mathematics, science, and medicine when many humans were still trying to cure diseases with blood-letting and leeches."
"So says the Orion expert…" Tigranian muttered. "What good is science and mathematics if you only use it to cause pain and suffering?"
"So says the Klingon expert…" Stolz replied with a deliberate verbal jab. Tigranian clenched his jaw. "So…Sir…besides sweeping generalizations about an entire species, do you have any more finite evidence to back up your claims?"
Katie glanced at her boss nervously. Tigranian put the PADD in his lap and sighed.
"Seven years ago, I was serving aboard the Klingon ship, IKS Sk'oh," he began slowly. "We were patrolling the Klingon frontier along a route commonly used by pirates and gun-runners to smuggle contraband goods through the Empire. We picked up the trail of a Lissepian freighter that was a known smuggling ship. It was on course for the Son'a Confederacy on the far side of the Briar Patch. The ship had been stopped several times before and caught red-handed with weapons, drugs, and other assorted low-level stuff. Everything illegal was always in crates covered with Orion writing.
These pirates always had their cargo confiscated, were slapped with a trivial fine, and then sent on their way. However, the profits from smuggling were too much to resist, and they would pick up another cargo and just try again a few weeks later.
Captain Torlek decided we better do a snap inspection, so we decloaked and caught them in a tractor beam. When we beamed aboard, they were predictably indignant, but cooperated just enough to keep us satisfied. We were about to leave when one of our Bekks swore he heard a sound coming from one of the cargo containers in their hull. It was marked, 'Ratruscan Radishes: Handle with Care.' The Lissepians begged and pleaded for us not to break the seal. They said it would "spoil the cargo." We did it anyway…"
Tigranian trailed off for a second as he covered his mouth with his hand.
"Inside were fifty Orion lodubyaln…slave girls…en route to be sold to the Son'a…"
The captain visibly held back emotion as his two companions listened in stunned silence.
"They were cold, starving, and absolutely filthy. The Lissepians threw them just enough food and water to keep them alive, but several were already on the verge of death. They had been in that container for almost six weeks. Six weeks!
I'll never forget their pleading eyes, like they just wanted someone to care whether they lived or died, but what I'll really never forget is that smell…" He looked back at Katie and Stolz. "At the same time the Enterprise-D was sailing around the galaxy like a floating luxury hotel spreading our Federation ideals of enlightenment, horrors like that were happening every day just out of their sight. I patronized several lodubyaln before that day, and I felt so guilty and disgusted with myself that I didn't touch a woman again until I met my wife."
"What did you do to the pirates?" Katie asked almost afraid to hear the answer.
"We transferred the Orionsto our ship, and then Captain Torlek decided to send a message." Tigranian slowly closed his eyes. "What we did to those Lissepians…sometimes I can still hear their futile screams for mercy in my ears…but it definitely sent the message. Their frozen bodies are probably still floating out there somewhere."
Katie and Stolz were silent for a few seconds. Then, Stolz looked up at him.
"Did your brutality actually do anything to help other victims, or did it just satisfy your need for revenge?" Stolz asked plainly.
"Before we massacred that ship," Tigranian said, "an average of four humanoid trafficking ships passed through that sector every month. Afterwards, it was zero. So, Lydia, you tell me?"
"If you're so sure it was the right thing to do, Sir," Stolz said confidently, "why does it still haunt you?"
Tigranian didn't have an answer.