Lieutenant nee Cadet Nyota Uhura stands on blue-flecked grass, face upturned and tricorder half-forgotten in her hands, basking in the saffron light of an alien sun. Menkent V is quite similar to Terra, right down to the chemistry of its sky, but its parent star is distinctly orange, tinting the sky from familiar blue to rich cyan. Dappled blue and purple vegetation surrounds her, inhabited by strangely iridescent insects and translucent lizards and little skittering things whose chitinous gleam is their only resemblance to anything familiar, and the whole effect is uncanny, one color-shifted remove from what she knows. She inhales deeply, the air fresh and rich but laced with unfamiliar vegetal notes, and tries to will her heart to slow from racing as she stares up into the shimmering blue-green sky like an overhead ocean.
Nyota's on a planet beyond Earth's Sun, standing in the light of a different star. This training cruise on the USS Qín Jiŭshào has taken her further from home than she's ever been in her life.
"Nyo-- Lieutenant!" Gaila calls behind her, and she doesn't jump, but it's a near thing. Pulse ricocheting under her skin, Nyota takes one more headspinningly deep breath -- hyperventilating won't help, she reminds herself -- and turns as smoothly as she can. With her red uniform and green complexion, Gaila looks as incongruous against the teal sky and blue plants as Nyota feels, and she wonders if that's just a mental artifact of familiarity or a connection whose logic she hasn't teased out yet.
Then Gaila steps closer, smile fading to concern, and Nyota sees that Gaila's blue eyes have caught the sky's deep aquamarine hue. "You should see yourself," Gaila says before Nyota can give her those exact words. "I've never seen you look... awestruck like this." Still, they crinkle and sparkle exactly as they should whenever Gaila smiles. "Well, sometimes when Commander Spock --"
"Gaila." Nyota puts a hand on her hip, secretly a little relieved that some things never change. "Ensign," she adds more properly as Gaila reaches her, and Gaila of course just grins. "Any developments?"
Gaila shrugs, tossing her garnet hair, both deeper and brighter under this reddened light. "Periwen still says she's too hot, the Qín Jiŭshào says we should see pretty aurorae tonight and that they can't transport down any blankets, and, oh, Lieutenant Quintanilla told me the funniest story about Cadet McCoy!"
"I didn't mean gossip." Nyota attempts sternness, but it doesn't work very well between Gaila's sly smile and her own amusement. "It's the one about him on the shuttle, right? When she had to make him sit down?"
"Yes, that one; how'd you know?" Gaila rests a hand on one tree-fern trunk, curving herself to fit its crooked diagonal as she leans against it.
"I took that shuttle on my way through Riverside, coming back for our second year." He was the in-flight entertainment, she could add, but in truth Nyota likes Cadet McCoy now that he's cleaned himself up.
"He must have looked so different, all wild hair and crazy eyes," Gaila muses, and then smirks speculatively. "I wonder if he looks like that when -- you're rolling your eyes."
"Of course I am," Nyota says, because someone has to, and watches Gaila laugh. "McCoy hangs out with Kirk, so of course he's crazy." Gaila dimples, and Nyota goes on as severely as possible, "Meanwhile, we are on an away mission under an ion storm, and we'll need more to warm ourselves with tonight than speculations on handsome cadets."
"So you do think he's handsome?" Nyota folds her arms and doesn't dignify that question with a word from any language. "All right," Gaila says, spreading her hands, but Nyota doubts she's conceding so soon, "your taste in tall and straight-haired tends more towards the Vulcan, I know."
Nyota doesn't giggle. Somehow. "You are terrible," she tells Gaila, who does. "We really should get ready for tonight. I came up here to forage but I haven't seen anything worth scanning."
"It's not as if five minutes will really make a difference." Gaila waves to the blue vegetation all around them. "It's your first new planet, you should look at it for a little longer if you want to." Nyota could argue that she's not provincial, could point out that she's been to Mars and Ceres Base, but this is her roommate Gaila, smiling at her with ancient aquamarine eyes. So she nods, and Gaila adds, "Besides... does this light feel different to you?"
Nyota blinks, and regards at her arm in the warm light, still much same sienna as always, then Gaila's, still evidently leaf green. "Not really, no, but I've been concentrating on how unusual it looks--"
"And you don't photosynthesize," Gaila concludes. "The Orion Sun is pretty similar to Terra's Sol, so the chlorophylls are essentially identical, but Menkent's spectrum feels way off to me." She lifts her arm overhead in a dancer's curve, as if she can watch her chloroplasts at work. "For this light intensity my skin feels like it should be -- busier, sucking in more photons. It's a little confused."
"So is mine, and I don't even photosynthesize." Gaila looks from her arm to Nyota, and she has a million different smiles, but Nyota's fairly, warmly certain this one is just for her.
Gaila's smile widens into a grin as she spins once, arms thrown wide. "Well, it feels good, weird spectrum and all, and at least we're stuck somewhere pretty. Too bad the planet doesn't come with an instruction manual, carved on someone's ancient ruins for you to translate and figure out our way out of here."
"The universe is written in mathematics," Nyota replies, remembering how Commander Spock said as much, and by the look of Gaila's smirk she knows who Nyota's thinking of. "Though it would be nice if I had a meteorological tricorder to track that ion storm. Remind me to bring one on all our away missions after we graduate." They may or may not be assigned together, but she can always hope.
"Yes sir!" But then Gaila's eyes unfocus and she stares up at the sky for a moment, holding her breath, and finishes up with a happy little shriek. "Oh, Nyota, that's brilliant!" she shouts, and hugs her.
"Report, Ensign Gaila," Nyota says, glancing sideways as Gaila presses their cheeks together and squeezes her tightly.
"I have to comm Planetary Sciences!" Gaila lets go, bouncing on her toes. "When this hemisphere of Menkent V hits night those ionization rates have to reverse, don't they? Before predawn there should be a transport window!"
Gaila runs off downhill, back towards their camp. "Gaila, be careful!" Nyota calls, as if she isn't running after her, as if she isn't laughing with an alien breeze whisking through her hair, amidst the waving blues and purples beneath the cyan sky.