She only had one bag unpacked when she pulled out her PADD to try to figure out the location of the closest student dispensary. The little waves of nausea and pain that had started when she got to her room and found it empty were now a steady pressure from the inside of her skull. Nyota had just highlighted the simplest route when the door opened.
A green woman with curly red head hair walked in and frowned, or something like it. "You're a human female," she said.
"Yes," said Nyota. "Excuse me, I have to go," she said, frowning back.
The green woman's scowl deepened and she flapped her arms. "One, two, three doors down, on the—," she looked down at her hands, extended her left one, "right, the human female with the darker hair, she's medical." The green woman shook her head, fingers running through the beautiful red curls. "You were supposed to be Vulcan."
Nyota stood and said, "Thank you," while carefully keeping her head still.
She pinged the indicated door and a human female, peach skin, pale white hair opened the door. Se blinked at Nyota, and then smiled, stood a little closer. "Hey. You lost?"
"No," said Nyota, sharp. "I'm looking for the medical student?"
"Uh, no." She stepped back into the room. "Chapel, a firstie's looking for you."
Another woman came to the door, with hair a darker, yellower blonde shade. "Hi," she said, with a small, confused grin.
"I have a headache and pretty bad nausea. Do you have anything?"
Chapel looked, if anything, more confused. "Come on in." She backed through the door. "I'm Christine, and I'm a biochemical researcher with a well-stocked pharmacy. Who told you I was a med student?" she asked, heading for the fresher.
Nyota rubbed at her temples, tried to remember the name from the pre-matriculation zip. "Guy-all, I think? She didn't introduce herself. I don't rem—,"
"You're roommate's an Orion?" The injector wobbled from Chapel's grip, and she lunged at it, then brought it to Nyota and jabbed two doses in rapid succession in Nyota's neck.
Nyota didn't answer right away, took a deep breath and hoped for the meds to hit her bloodstream rapidly.
"They shouldn't have assigned a human female to room with an Orion," said Chapel.
The door chimed and the computer announced, "Gaila Antapla."
"Enter," said Chapel's roommate.
The green woman came into the room, hand over her mouth, one of Nyota's uniforms held out in front of her. "I'm resetting the room," she said. "But it may take twelve hours before it's…empty."
"She can sleep here," said Chapel. "Do you want to as well?"
Gaila croaked and the hand in front of her face came down to rest on her collarbone. "I haven't slept in my assigned room since I got here, Chris. But thank you."
Nyota looked from one to the other and said, "What's wrong with the room?"
Chapel pursed her lips and looked towards Gaila.
Gaila's nostrils flattened almost completely as she said, "Come outside with me, and let's talk about it."
It took them a few minutes to find a patch of sun to Gaila's liking. They finally settled down facing each other, Nyota sitting tailor fashion while Gaila stretched out lengthwise, a little closer than Nyota would have normally chosen. Nyota watched Gaila fiddle with her shirt and skirt until she was flashing a lot more soft, green curves at the sky.
"What do you know about Orion pheromones?" asked Gaila.
"Not much," said Nyota. "There's partial conscious control, enough so that pheromone expression is studied as part of your communications, but not enough to be considered a formal language component; it's like facial expressions for human vocal languages. And your pheromones are powerful enough to affect other species with some—. There's no way for me to avoid getting a headache if we room together, is there?" Nyota leaned back on her hands, put the other woman's whole body in her field of vision. Academy Lesson #1: a pretty package can hide a dangerous package, she thought.
"There are ways," said Gaila, and she spread her hands wide. "The pheromones that are giving you a headache are territorial pheromones: they entice males and repel females from outclan when they enter a clan territory. Our neurochemical systems are similar enough that it affects humans much as it would Orion." She threw her head back and closed her eyes. "I requested a Vulcan roommate, because Vulcans are generally unaffected by our pheromones."
Nyota nodded. "So clan is biochemical, not ceremonial or genetic?"
"Behavior triggers biochemical changes, yes," said Gaila.
"What kind of behavior?" asked Nyota.
Gaila turned her head away, nostrils flat again. "What do you think?"
Nyota turned her head to the sky, eyes traveling the San Francisco fog that she found to be yet another strange new thing amongst a cavalcade of new experiences. She wanted, just a little, to run her finger along the side of Gaila's nose and feel how the muscles worked there. "I think culture builds up around biological necessities, and creates rites and requirements that don't always make sense when your context radically shifts."
Gaila drew in a very deep breath, then said, "I'm not sure that it can be done with a human woman. Your chemistry won't change to match mine."
"So what would you do with an Orion?" asked Nyota.
"You…the proper way to do it is to blood bathe in the clan hold," said Gaila. "But the informal way is to have sex on a regular basis. And the quick way is to body drink."
Nyota looked down at Gaila. "Your idiomatic expressions are not translating to Standard. What's blood bathe and what's body drink?"
Gaila moved a muscle on her upper chest for which Nyota couldn't picture a human analogue. Her limbs relaxed as well. "The bloodbath is the clan's niclal, its identity and its, uh, it's both a speaking to each other place and a deciding place. But it is a bath, a huge artificial pool, and you cut yourself before you enter it. Ancient nictals have blades in the floor of the entrance. Modern ones have blades in the cleanbathing room. The pool fluid is mostly the sap of the ancestor plant, which is a mild anti-coagulant."
"What else is in the pool?" asked Nyota out loud. In her head, she was…reserving judgment, as hard as she could.
"Enough oil to make the sap liquid instead of a gel, usually. Maybe something to affect the mood of bathers, depending on what there is to decide." Gaila turned on her stomach, suddenly. "We couldn't do that. The refreshing cabinet is set up for sonic cleanbathing; there's no liquid basin."
"So what's body drinking?"
"You cut yourself and smear the blood across her niclal."
Nyota pulled herself up straighter, back rigid. "Where's the niclal?"
Gaila's index finger traced a line in the air over the muscle she had moved and Nyota hadn't recognized. "Blood drinking is an adoption bond. You use it to break her ties to other women, to start a new clan."
"So," said Nyota. "We don't know each other well enough to found a clan, I think. So we either create a clan bathing pool, or we have sex."
"A lot of sex," said Gaila, quietly.
"What's a lot of sex for you?" said Nyota, and then immediately followed that with, "I'm sorry I said that or thought about you—."
"19.2 Standard hours."
Nyota said nothing. She was trapped between inconsequential, practical thoughts — does that include breaks for food and drink? what would you do with all that time? — and a more visceral mix of desire and disgust. Aliens making you do it was a trope from her grandmother's password-protected leisure files, not anything that was supposed to happen in real life.
"Breathe," said Gaila. "I can use a suppressant and apply for a room transfer." She leaned forward and let her head hang low. "Maybe this time they'll understand that 'no biochemical effect on Vulcans' is not a personal challenge."
Nyota shook her head. "Unless there's actual danger, they won't change roommates for the first term. 'The ability to compromise with people from whom you differ greatly socially, culturally, and physically is a fundamental skill for a Starfleet Officer.' If you can use a suppressant, and it won't cause permanent physical damage…." Nyota shrugged eloquently.
Gaila pulled in on herself, body hunched with the nictal pulled to the center. "It's crippling. I have a choice between Starfleet and having one hand tied behind my back." She croaked, but this was more staccato than before, more like a warning. "Well, I won't have to use the suppressant that long. I only spread territorial pheromones where I feel at home, and that will never happen sharing a room with a human." She bent forward even more, until her hair fell over her face, baring the nape of her neck.
The skin at the back of her neck wasn't soft, as Nyota had expected from the dull, matte appearance. It was, instead, vaguely irritating, like a very fine velcro enclosure. "I won't live with someone whose miserable for an entire term. There's too much to do," she said. "Let's go back to the room and get started."
"There's an assembly in three hours," said Gaila, turning on her side, face away from Nyota. Her shirt rose and showed the strong muscles of her back, the shallow valley of her spine. "If you still want to do this after the evening meal, we'll have enough time between then and when we're due for the medical evaluations." She rolled further, rose to her hands and knees, then pulled herself to her feet. There was something odd about the way her knees hinged, but Nyota couldn't tell what.
"I'll meet you in the room after dinner," said Nyota.
Gaila said nothing, just walked away.