Fine Dining


Nikki Ciraulo
 

OLD:

“I was going to cheat and get something to eat on Rokar before the
reception. You know, use the old ‘sampling the local cuisine’ excuse
to not have to eat a bowl of writhing worms later.” Seeing an
opportunity to appear as normal to her as possible, he asked, “Have
you eaten yet?”

“Not yet, no.”

“Care to join me? Ambassador Tobryn told me where there were good
places to eat close to the First Minister’s official residence.”

NEW:

Rematerialising in an open area next to a park, Evan untensed the
muscles of his hand. He’d taken several dozen trips through
transporters with the glove on at this stage, but the expectancy of
pain was hard to shake.

He looked around. The park behind them was well populated. What
looked like a fair of some description occupied much of the far side,
hard-edged tents of the Klingon tradition and all. The hour of the day
meant that it wasn’t thronged yet, but there was already a good crowd
there, attracted by the unusual rides, games and frivolous
distractions it offered. The smells of hot food wafted through the
air, instantly encouraging a response from his stomach.

Closer to them, the First Minister’s imposing official residence
fronted a narrow thoroughfare leading away into the city. Music,
probably from the many artists and bands playing throughout the city
for the visiting crowds, fought a subtle battle with the more
rambunctious music of the fair, and he thought he could make out
several of the eateries Ambassador Tobryn had described.

“I think we’re down that way,” he said. He was hungry and the scents
from the fair were more immediately tempting, but he told himself he
needed proper food.

Briar’s nose pulled her away from the intended path and towards the
street food. She mused at the landscape of tents and rides and the
celebration outfits of Klingons who had added colorful silks to their
more dreary palettes. It was clear the colors had meaning and story,
although what meaning and story wasn’t apparent on the surface.
Possibly denoting what champions of which events they were supporting.

Briar wandered up to a burly man filling up a tiny food cart
window. “Do you have anything that isn’t meat?” she asked him. He
glowered and said something under his breath beneath his stringy
mustache. When he turned around he put together something like fries.
The tray was ‘warrior size’ according to the size chart. And that was
the smallest available. “Fifteen pathnaQ.”

“Oh, I…” Not having anticipated the need for cash, Briar looked
around for Evan.

“Make that two,” Evan said, stepping forward. The glower deepened,
but only until he saw Evan reach inside his duty jacket and pull out
several clips of currency. The man turned to retrieve a second helping
of the … whatever it was. “Ambassador Tobryn arranged some money for
me when I said I might go for a wander before the reception. Here,” he
said, and handed Briar some of the currency he’d brought with him.

She found herself forming her hands in a cup to catch the coinage.
It was dark and heavy and had a kind of carnelian red striping through
the metal. There were different impressions struck on them, of
terrible creatures with fangs or claws open. She found herself
momentarily in awe of the little tokens. “Thank you. I didn’t think to
ask for any.”

The tray Evan was offered was larger than Briar’s. Much larger, and
despite that it was still only labelled “warrior extra”. This is not
going to be fun, his stomach warned him. Should’ve ordered the same as
Briar, he agreed, but he smiled nonetheless as he accepted it.

Hesitating, Briar wasn’t sure if the correct denomination was the
one with the bird swallowing a live snake or the one depicting a boar
goring a deer was correct...

He saw Briar reaching for the currency he’d just shared with her.
“Your money’s no good here,” he said. “This one’s on me.” To the man,
he asked, “How much?”

“Forty pathnaQ.”

The smile wavered. Twenty-five for this? But he quickly counted out
the money anyway and handed it over.

The unfamiliar custom of a physical monetary transaction ended, Evan
picked up the nearly overburdened tray and moved away from the stall.
Now that he had the tray in his hands, awkwardly held and all as it
was, he was able to eye up the food more closely. “I’m not entirely
sure what this is,” he admitted.

“All I asked for was that it wasn’t meat.” As Evan carried it,
Briar sampled one of the fried sticks from her order on the tray. It
crunched pleasantly, even through it was a little tougher than a
typical fried potato. “Oh, the spices are interesting. Here—” She
took a second one, and as Evan had no free hands, held it out to feed
it to him. “Try one.”

“Oh. Ah ...” A little discombobulated by a balancing act that left
him defenceless against the approaching food, Evan had just enough
time to eye up the fried fare - and open his mouth to prevent its
collision with his lips - before it landed. He nodded his thanks,
chewed, then let the taste work its way around his mouth. “Yep,” he
said, and tightened his throat against a quickly building cough.
“Spicy.”

Briar took another and pointed out a multi stepped retaining wall
where a number of Klingons of various ages were sitting or milling
about. There was a little elbow room on one of the lower steps and
some street performers tuning nearby.

“Oh! A chance to try some Klingon music outside of the operatic sort.”

“There is such a thing?” Joke aside, he had a suspicion that there
was, and it involved lots of metal clanging against metal, but as they
neared the spot Briar had found for them, he realised that at least
some of the music he’d been hearing was originating from Klingons.
Besides the musicians readying their instruments, there were others
scattered along the wall’s length entertaining pockets of passersby,
with people moving from audience to audience as some new chord or tune
caught their ear.

Briar took her food. Picking up his own one-handed, he set the tray
down against the wall, carefully out of the way of anyone’s exuberant
feet, and tried another one of the fried, hot things he’d so
recklessly bought. “Mmm,” he said, anxiously waiting to see if his
eyes watered. “Fit for a warrior.”

An older man, with a sense of good humor in his eyes, and a long,
thin, white beard tuned a standing string instrument with only two
strings. He had some sort of strumming “claws” capping two of his
fingers. Beside him, another klingon, somewhat squat but tank-shaped
stood by, poised over a traditional looking drum with mallets and a
glare. Between them a woman with massive hair began to articulate some
lyrics on her own. It was haunting and almost spellbinding, until the
musicians joined her, the mood of the piece picking up some speed.
Each successive verse was more energetic and members of the crowd
joined in.

“I think it’s a folk ballad.” Briar shouted. With all of the
enthusiasm she was getting into the mood of it and began to clap
along.

Evan realised his foot was tapping. It was a good performance. The
rhythm was building, but certain strains were repetitive, even if each
of the singer’s verses differed. “Reminds me a bit of the music you’d
hear at a céilí back home in New Berlin,” he said, hoping he was
speaking loudly enough to be heard. The man with the drum was giving
it socks.

It was only when he noticed Briar’s quizzical expression, he
claried. “A bit of a hooley,” he explained, then realised it wasn’t
much of an explanation. “Lots of Irish music and a lot of traditional
dancing. Good craic, even when the songs were sorrowful.”

Hooley, craic, céilí… Briar half smiled, more curious than
anything. Her family had more of a distanced, intellectual and
critical bent to global culture, she’d felt more like an observer than
a part of it. It did her soul well to see Evan caught in the sway and
sharing his nostalgia.

Speaking of craic … Evan noticed a small band of Klingon warriors
moving through the crowd. They didn’t seem particularly interested in
anything around them unless it tried to stare them down. He made out a
family emblem on their arms - the House of Gorok. Warily, he looked
around but couldn’t see anyone from the House of K’mlar. With any
luck, that meant nothing “interesting” would kick off.

As with many things in life, however, it was that component of a
situation that was least considered by the observer that dispelled his
hopes of an uncomplicated interlude when the Gorok warriors, spotting
the two Starfleet uniforms in the crowd, took an interest in them.
“Here we go,” he murmured.

Briar looked up in the direction of Evan’s concern, her own clapping
fading, as she became uncertain of the situation.

Evan popped another one of the fries into his mouth, wiped his hands
clean and turned to face the Klingons just as they arrived, all
scowling expressions and teeth. “nuqneH,” he greeted them.

“Hello,” the biggest of the Klingons, because of course it would be
the biggest, said in that deliberately laboured way some people whose
preferred language was not Federation Standard used to show their
disdain for the whole concept. Then, for added measure, he added,
“Starfleet.”

This is going to be fun. Evan kept his expression neutral. “I’m
Captain Evan Yearling of the starship Hiroshima. This is my Second
Officer, Lieutenant Commander Elin.”

The big Klingon looked them over. “Hurketh,” he spat.

For a moment, Evan thought his universal translator had
malfunctioned. Was that an insult? But he quickly realised his
mistake, and mentally warned himself against inciting trouble by
expecting it. “Greetings, Hurketh.”

“Hello.” Briar wasn’t brave enough to try at speaking Klingon.
Instead she held out her fries to one of Hurketh’s friends. “Care for
some? They’re still warm.”

One of the Klingons chuckled. Another sneered. Hurketh just stared
at them. “Should you not be monitoring the games from the safety of
your starship, Captain?”

Sooo much fun. “We’ve been invited to attend a reception at the
First Minister’s residence,” Evan said, ignoring the bait. Hurketh
bore the rank emblem of Sogh, or lieutenant. It was a senior rank in
the IDF, which meant Hurketh probably held a senior position in his
house as well. “Will we be seeing you there?” he asked, beginning to
put the pieces together. This was the same Hurketh who was a younger
son of the old, and now dead, governor of Rokar.

“The First Minister’s desire to smother our thirst for battle in
peaceful civic engagements is well known,” Hurketh said to the
amusement of his comrades. “But the House of Gorok has always been a
dutiful overlord to the Rokarians. I will attend.”

“Oh excellent. I was afraid I wouldn't know anyone else there.”
Briar crunched one of her fries as she considered Hurketh’s disdain
over the games. It was a reminder of just how much of a powderkeg the
situation really was, and not even below any surface. Right out on
their leather clad sleeves.

The Klingons behind Hurketh looked perplexed at the remark. One even
muttered something to a colleague and even pointed at Evan in
confusion, and he thought that, for all that some Earth-based
xenoanthropologists enjoyed likening Klingons to the Vikings of old, a
sense of sarcasm was definitely something the two peoples did not have
in common.

“There’s an old expression where I come from,” Evan said before
anyone with a knife decided they needed to take umbrage. “‘The more
the merrier’. We look forward to seeing you there.”

“You would not care for Klingon ‘merriment’ right now, Captain,”
Hurketh said. The look he then threw Briar’s way was enough to tell
Evan that the meaning of their remarks hadn’t eluded him as it had his
comrades.

Before Evan could say anything, Hurketh barked an order to his men.
The band pushed past the pair of Starfleet officers, the conversation
ended.

Briar recovered her balance as she was shoved, thrice. She looked
down with some disappointment at the fate of the rest of her fries in
the dirt. “Was it something I said?”

Evan responded with a smile as the House of Gorok warriors left,
forcing bystanders aside by force of presence almost as much as force
of arms. “I think they’re just nervous about the party.”

“Nervous?”

“Yeah. You know - meeting new people, awkward conversations, no
bloodshed, worried about what they’re wearing and what to do with
their hands. That kind of thing.”

She couldn’t help but laugh.

Caught off guard by a happy sound that brought back memories of less
complicated times, Evan looked around to see Briar smiling. Then he
saw her food trampled on the ground. He picked up his own and offered
it to her. “To fine dining,” he said.

Nerves assuaged, Briar accepted the offer, “And finer diplomacy.”

JP by Capt Evan Yearling and LtCmdr Briar Elin
(2119 words)

Join main@OFHiro.groups.io to automatically receive all group messages.