15 September 2258
There are several different kinds of pain, each with its own distinct tinge, different and specifically quantifiable. Gaila’s more aware of the variety than she would like, but that’s sort of the way of the universe when you’ve had the life experiences she’s had, honestly. Standard doesn’t really do the differences justice like Orion slave argot. Even when it doesn’t come to stuff like pain.
Nyota had once ranted (it was mid-term time, she was allowed) about how the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was best kept as just that, a hypothesis. Not being a linguist herself, Gaila had only followed the argument until it sank into theory around something called the Elgin structural awareness condition. However, in practical application, she was then and remains now pretty damn sure that language and thought shape each other well enough; in other words, terms only exist if they’re necessary.
Thinking too much about this hurts, so she sets it aside for now.
The Starfleet doctors that swim in and out of her vision (she had thought that was just for effect in two-d films and holos, but it’s actually fairly accurate) ask her to describe the pain on a level of one to ten, one being minor, ten being not answering without screaming her head off. Gaila wants to tell them that they should just come up with better words and implement them into Standard seeing as they’re the fucking Federation, but it hurts to much and she, as Scott would have said, cannae be arsed. (She tries not to think about whether or not Scott is alive himself, Engineering was that bad when she left it.)
What she does want to explain is that this pain is meyatoi--in loose translation, an indiscriminate deep internal pain--and underneath the dullness of what has to be pretty strong painkillers, there’s what threatens to be aryatoi, flaying pain, though she’s pretty sure she hasn’t been literally flayed this time, it not being much of a risk in Starfleet. In fact, the aryatoi is lurking just below the surface, threatening to emerge if she moves wrong. Like when you take painkillers for a headache, then turn too quickly, and everything swims in nausea.
Talking is moving, and she grunts something that could be ‘eight’ in Standard before it definitely is nine instead. Shit.
The doctors take note and do something with a hypospray, then kindly wait until she’s been dulled down to a constant throbbing to explain what’s wrong. Her Engineering workstation exploded with the force of Enterprise trying to reach escape velocity. They’ve kept her sedated until just now, now that she’s back in San Francisco, so it’s been several days, and fortunately her internal injuries are healing nicely regardless. Apparently Jim’s friend McCoy is highly talented in the field of combat medicine, who knew.
“So we’re not dead,” Gaila says, with a very soft snort that might have been laughter were there energy and emotion behind it. “That’s nice.”
The medical staff take this in stride, then explain the part they’ve obviously been keeping back: she’s been badly burned as well, which would explain the aryatoi. There’s only one Orion of her genotype nearby that’s healthy enough (read: didn’t get blown to shit around Vulcan) to donate for a graft, but that person has a family history of sarcomas, and they really don’t want to give her any cells that could be diseased. So they’re going to have to grow some from Gaila’s own skin, and that’ll take a lot longer.
The Tellarite dermatology specialist appears inscrutable, but the human doctor is sheepish, obviously. It’s easy to read Terran emotions via their faces; Gaila had cut her teeth on body language translation watching humans. Even the ones that were presumably such hardasses were like open books. This one is really sorry, then goes ahead and says it aloud, fucking hell. The human carries on with something about how they should keep some cells in storage for all species of active cadets and crew, and it’s all guilt guilt guilt until Gaila wants to tell per to shut.up. and get to the damn point.
The point is that they need her consent for this process, otherwise they wouldn’t have woken her up, they know the burn pain is very bad even with the morphenolog and oh, very sorry.
Gaila closes her eyes, because giving them crap is outside of her energy limits right now, and they cut to the chase: is it all right if they do this because they haven’t ever done it on an Orion before, though they think it’ll work (but the human’s face is slightly dubious) and does she accept that there will likely be permanent scarring and nerve damage?
“Yes,” she says in Standard, because the dullness is making it easier to sleep than to think, then says it, elo, in argot, then Swahili and Romulan and Tellarite for the specialist, whatever language comes to mind. yes yes yes yes yes.
She has a moment to catch a glimpse of the human looking relieved, and then the looming face of a nurse with a hypo again, before she is on a wide dull sea of dark, thankfully and utterly alone. The dullness is a fair trade for not having to think, and soon, she dreams.
30 November 2258
She dreams of dullness, sometimes, still, then wakes to find the duvet wrapped around her closely against the slight damp of the room. The dullness is worse than the pain to her now, she’s grown used to the nerves that misfire and accepts them as part of herself even when they hurt. The dullness makes her nauseous.
She goes downstairs, then, even if it’s five in the morning, and does what is, in Mhari Scott’s words, ‘the done thing’, making herself a cup of tea. Often she is sitting there, wrapped in a blanket and looking out over the town and the city to the south, when Nyota wakes up to go for a run.
They exchange smiles in the dim light from the stovetop, for the sun won’t come up for hours yet, even if Nyota’s smile is worried. Gaila wants to tell her not to, that she’s enjoying the nip of the cold. It reminds her that she’s alive, and that that’s all right. If anything, she’s the one who should be worried, the mornings that she comes down to find Nyota already there, face a cleanly schooled blank, like she’s been taught by a Vulcan.
Because of that, Gaila decides she’ll join her in running to the docks and back, once she’s been cleared for exercise by the doctors at the university. It’s not good for Nyota to be alone for too long. It’s not good for either of them.
2 October 2258
This is the eighth time Nyota’s come to see her, or at least the eighth time that Gaila remembers and that Nyota was allowed access, listed next of kin or not, Enterprise or no Enterprise. (This has got to be eating up every last bit of her transporter credit, but whenever Gaila tries to bring it up, Nyota shrugs it off.) She was indeed That Badly Off, according to the human, Dr Ayala. Infection and skin grafts, says Dr Ayala, “the first week was really touch and go.”
Honestly, Nyota is good for her, bringing her book files and rosewater chocolates and entertainment that she can’t get on the hospital feeds...all of which are far more interesting and enjoyable when consumed with someone else who appreciates them as much as you do. She’s seen Gaila in all the different stages of Her Recovery, as Dr Ayala puts it, and Gaila can tell that she’s improving by the relief on her friend’s face, each time. Unfortunately, relief isn’t the only thing she sees there. It’s just that this is the first time she’s actually had the energy to deal with someone else’s pain.
“What’s wrong?” she asks, when the look actually emerges despite Nyota’s laughter at a send-up of the Federation President on the latest episode of Firewall. (Contrary to popular belief, Orion females are not all ruthlessly self-centred and solely focused on hedonism, which is something she’d like to tell the creators of Firewall, by the by.) When Nyota doesn’t respond, she makes an educated guess based on what she knows of her, what she knows happened and by what the media has, with its usual lack of accuracy, over-reported. “Spock, right?”
“Three guesses and the first two don’t count,” Nyota says wryly. “You’re too good at this.”
Gaila shrugs; being able to connect disparate concepts once kept her alive. Now, as an engineer, it keeps everyone alive. It’s a useful skill, abstract thought. But that’s beside the point.
“He’s debating whether or not to go to the colony on Melinko III,” she says, not bothering to make it a question. When Nyota shoots her a glance, she adds, “No psi here. It’s not exactly temporal physics to figure it out.”
“Sarek’s influence is pretty strong,” Nyota says, and she may be more than a little bitter but desperately trying to hide it. “And really, I don’t have any authority to tell him otherwise. I shouldn’t, because the situation’s just so...so...fucked up. But I want to be important, even if that’s so damn selfish.”
Gaila sits up, wincing only a little as she moves over to put her hand on top of Nyota’s. Nyota, as always, has warm, soft skin, and maybe she’s imagining being able to feel it, but there surely must be the reassuring pulse of a human heartbeat lingering below her fingertips. “Hey,” she says. “I think it’s okay to feel like that as long as you realize the conflict.”
“And the conflict’s got to be far worse for him, I know.”
“Nyota,” Gaila says, in a tone that means her friend looks up, actually looks her in the eye despite her shame. “It’s not a crime to feel things when it comes to someone you care about. No matter what the situation is.”
Nyota laughs, turning her hand over to give Gaila’s a squeeze, and she gives what looks like an honest smile, if one that’s conflicted. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
23 December 2258
Sometimes Gaila finds herself awake in the flat in Newhaven, sometimes in Scotty’s arms, sometimes not. Those nights, she is certain that she is trash, nothing, never mind who she is and what she does now. Instead, in that half-place between asleep and awake, she is stuck in then, and in that life she’s become worthless.
She is a vase with a large discolored crack; the broad asymmetrical patch of skin, a swathe of vibrant green with curdled scarring at the edges, across her abdomen. Really only relevant when she’s naked, but she would never not be naked there. Nearly impossible to sell, far too young to have any other useful skills, she would be relevant only to those who marketed to those with interesting tastes.
It is a mindset that Gaila’s spent six years, two as an asylum-seeker, four at the Academy, with entirely too many hours of counseling, trying to eradicate, and she thought she’d been successful. But the situation has changed, the universe has changed, anxiety eating away at her defenses, and so her subconscious reverts a little against her will.
When she is awake, though, she shakes it off, collects herself, writes notes to bring to the counselor with the hard burr of an accent (Paisley, says Scotty) and the soft sweet brown eyes. Nyota has reminded her more than once that this is okay, that it’s all a matter of ‘cultural nuance’, their personal slang for the uninterpretable, the things that the majority refuse to understand. But for once, she doesn’t want to keep this Orion mindset. She wants the scar and the pain to be a badge of honor, a sign of triumph over the Federation’s enemies, a point of respect in the darkness. She’d rather she didn’t wake up in cold sweats at all. Not in a place, beautiful that it is, that’s so damn damp.
Space, she thinks now that she’s been there. Space will help. The expanse of it, the necessary work to be done to keep flying, to keep breathing and living in the great void. But, even if what Jim writes to her of San Francisco is true and not just kindness, space and a commission are a long way away.
She does not cry for it. She attempts to reconcile the past that she wants to keep and the present and future that she wants to have, to find the space, her home, in the dissonance.
27 September 2258
Jim comes to see her, though it’s like a dream when he does; he can’t come much thanks to being hounded right and left by the media and by meetings and debriefings and, frankly, lots of bullshit. He looks a little beat up and a hell of a lot older, though she doesn’t realize it until she has the energy to process her thoughts. By then, he’s long gone.
Instead of talking about the news or their friends, like the staff want to do, he brings a picnic lunch of bánh mì and a can of Wrengo brand phylox juice, which must have cost a fortune in import tax from Orion proper. Then again, if anyone can come up with the resources, it’s Jim Kirk.
He says something about how it’s late September and they really should be back at school, but she doesn’t think it’s funny until he tells her the context.
It’s Jim and his charm that talks the medical team into letting her drink the phylox, despite the doctors insisting that her stomach isn’t fully structured yet. Apparently he has research that McCoy dug up that shows consumption of native plant tissues benefits Orion skin growth due to the photosynthetic nature of their dermis.
Because of this, the Tellarite, Dr. Relg, ends up bringing some for her twice a week along to sip while she has her UV treatments, though it isn’t until later that Gaila finds out she does it with Kirk money via Nyota’s purchases.
And that is something, from Jim, and even more that Nyota Uhura even managed to work with him at all.
22 November 2258
Scott is not dead.
In fact, he is very not dead, hale and hearty when he comes to visit Gaila in her hospital room. Starfleet has kept him in San Francisco these several weeks, either debriefing him for weeks on end, or keeping him waiting to be debriefed for weeks on end. (He hasn’t been overly clear in his communiques, which means she’s not supposed to ask. Now that he’s got more than one regular conversation partner, Scott tends to, as he says, haver, and therefore him not saying much implies an inability to elaborate.)
Scott, Scotty, has good timing, today being one of those days when Nyota can’t come. Gaila is well enough now to feel shitty, emotionally shitty, when she has nothing else to do but wait on cellular regeneration. Therefore he’s with her when they come to tell her she can be released tomorrow. In Dr. Ayala’s words, ‘go home’, as long as she can get in for regular checkups.
Engineers need the ability to notice detail, and while Scotty may be one who’s on the side of obliviousness when it comes to other beings instead of machines, he can’t miss the way she tenses up. Going home, for Gaila, is going back to an empty dorm room at the Academy, in a building that’s haunted. Going through the effects of so many deceased cadets is an arduous process, and so many of the rooms, she hears, still contain ephemera from young lives, now gone. The living have gone too--classes have been suspended this term, for good reason.
The idea of living in that void, obviously, isn’t pleasurable, and Scotty knows it.
“Well, you know,” he says, scratching at a patch of stubble where he’s missed shaving. “I’m done here now, and I was going tomorrow morning. You can always come stay at the old ancestral home, Mum and Shona’d not mind, loads of space. Uh...don’t think I’m being forward, I’d already asked a couple others, like. Keenser’s got nothing going, and Cadet Uhura’s never seen Scotland. Now Kirk’s a bit busy but I did tempt him to come for New Year, a bloody raucous time of it, right his thing from what I hear...”
He’s rambling, a little, and blushing, and it’s really cute in a way. So Gaila sits up, carefully, wincing a little, before leaning over and kissing his cheek. She likes Scotty, likes him a lot, because he’s both adorable and utterly competent; both of these things are prerequisite for being with her, for a start. If things had gone another way (that is, a way where there hadn’t been an exploding console tearing up her insides) she probably would like him a lot better by now. And maybe this is a chance to get to know him more--if anything, he makes for a really good professional reference. She’s not above that.
Besides, if Nyota is going, it’s a deal. The only other place she’d consider staying is with Nyota at home, but she’s been to Mombasa several times, and it’s hotter than a marindi’s armpits this time of year and getting more so by the day. Which would be fine, were it the nest where she’d grown up, but public nudity is reserved for human subcultures and her best friend becomes utterly mortified when Gaila suggests it, particularly in Nyota’s hometown. She won’t be tempted in Edinburgh, that’s certain.
Maybe it’ll stop Nyota from constantly looking like someone had kicked her pet targ. Gaila’s wanted to offer her assistance in that regard, but they made an agreement a long time ago about that, and there have been no signs that Nyota cares to change it.
“Sure,” she says, smiling as much as she can. “If that’s okay.”
8 December 2258
When she is cleared to do so, they run, even in the wind and rain that threatens to push them into the sea. They run in the moments of sunshine that add green to Gaila’s face. They run when there is snow and sleet that cakes to their shoes. And on the way back, they sit and have coffee in the little cafe near the Scotts’ building, the wet dripping and leaving new stains on top of the old ones, decorating instead of marring the ancient wood floor.
It’s there that Nyota tells her how she and Spock have agreed it’s logical to see other people as well as each other, for the time being. Logical, but not necessarily without pain, for Nyota Uhura, and Gaila can’t help but suggest she come down to the university and find some supremely attractive Andorian to sleep with. This makes Nyota laugh, though she does share something truly crude she’d once heard about antennae.
They don’t go into the city. Instead, they run together, back to the sea, matching their stride, until their ears and noses turn chill from the wet. Eventually Gaila’s injuries catch up with her, and her side clutches up. Nyota holds her up when she gasps, wipes her face of melting snow, helps her home. Her arms, though not very large, are strong. And they are, Gaila realizes, entirely welcome.
31 December 2258
Gaila doesn’t cook much as a rule, as it was never a skill she was taught, but it seems to be the done thing in the Scott household during this nebulous period called Christmas (apparently once a religious festival?) leading into the oddly named Hogmanay. From what she can gather, it involves a lot of eating, carousing and a ridiculous amount of drinking, but she can’t really drink much yet, thanks to her livers being still on the mend. In light of that, the boys and Shona have gone out for a while, swearing to be back not too long after the arbitrary changing of the new year. Gaila isn’t sure why the latter is particularly relevant in this day and age, but if they’re wanting to engage in archaic cultural habits, by all means. She is hardly going to complain, but will happily impose cultural habits on them in return.
In light of not drinking, she is cooking, as real as she can get with the stuff from the off-planet expatriate supermarket in the Southside and a few substitutions. They’ll feast on aybuto, even if she had to use skate instead of the correct buti, but she cooked a little and the flavor’s close enough. It’s perfect for preventing hangovers and keeping off a winter chill, even if that wasn’t exactly its intent on Orion.
“I didn’t ever need to see James Kirk dressed and still know he didn’t have underwear on,” Nyota says, startling her a little and smiling an apology. She’s wearing a beautiful gold dress, fabric meeting her in just the right places and creating shadow in others, showing off her legs. It’s more than her usual special event attire, and Gaila has no idea who she’s looking to impress...it sure as hell isn’t Jim. Regardless, it’s good to see her smile, and so Gaila smiles back.
“He did threaten to do the traditional lift of the tartan to prove it,” she agrees, laughing. “It’s a little hard to miss.”
Nyota starts chopping some of the reconstituted vegetables without being asked, almost like she’s got latent psi, except for the fact that if she was really reading Gaila’s mind, she’d likely blush and change the subject. “I couldn’t care less about Kirk’s anatomy.”
“That’s still a pretty nice dress for someone saying that,” says Gaila, who isn’t sure if she’s jealous because she’s currently wearing a sweater, worn trousers, and a cooking smock, or because of something else entirely.
“Maybe it’s for Scotty,” Nyota says, and her voice is as sharp as the knife, Gaila accepting the blow without retort. It’s true, she’s been seeing Scotty, but it doesn’t mean much to either of them. Not like this, this friendship, the best she's ever had.
Nyota, meanwhile, keeps cutting the veg, the gold ribbons woven into her hair flashing with each movement, and doesn’t stop even when her eyes well with tears from the orgal fumes. At least, Gaila assumes they’re from the fumes, until they remain after she dumps the vegetables into the pot.
Shit. Stupid jokes aren’t going to help. Especially stupid jokes about wanting to appeal to Jim Kirk. “I’m sorry,” Gaila says, wiping her hands before going to wrap her arms around her.
The other woman is stiff for a second, then softens, leaving a damp patch on the smock before she sniffs once and pulls back to look Gaila in the eye. “It’s for you,” she says, bright in a moment of anger before it dissolves into laughter. “It’s been for you. Didn’t you get that?”
“No,” Gaila says, and it ends up that she’s laughing too. And then Nyota is kissing her, and Gaila startles for a second before she is all too happy to kiss back. In all honesty, she’s forced to admit that sometimes she can’t read humans worth a damn, or maybe sometimes she just doesn’t want to. It’s simply the way things turned out, and she can’t complain about that.
1 January 2259
They go for a run in the chill of the night, Nyota slipping on trainers that clash with her dress, Gaila bundling up in a ski jacket. They run together, matching their stride, ignoring the wind, until they reach the docks, the scent of the sea warming them. It’s not long to wait, but they find a way to pass the time, among the crowds of couples doing the same.
“Happy new year, I guess,” says Gaila, against Nyota’s lips.
“Let’s just hope it’s better than the last one,” Nyota replies, before kissing her again.
As she does, the pyrotechnics that light the sky are almost as bright as the sun, bringing life to the Earth. The fireworks, Gaila decide, must therefore be their own sunshine, the carriers of a new story for all of them, in the year to come.