When Gaila surveys the incoming freshman class of Starfleet Academy, she sees choice. 2,738 choices, to be exact. If she unleashed her pheromones (which she totally won't), all 2,738 of them would not only want her but actively long for her. Without the pheromones, she calculates that at least 1,700 of her classmates would bend her over a desk in a disused classroom right now if she asked them, and a further 500-700 would agree with a little persuasion. But what is she, a Vulcan? The exact number doesn't matter; what's really important is that even though all these people want her, she doesn't have to have any of them. She could turn down every single one and not have sex all year. But again, what is she, a Vulcan? Truth is, she probably won't turn down any of them. But she will pick and choose the same way she does food in the mess hall; she'll try everything, eventually, but only when she's in the mood. 2,738 people, free to choose her, free for her to choose. And each one of those choices will erase something from her past that someone else chose for her.
There are other choices too, not sexual but equally meaningful: uniform trousers or uniform skirt (she picks the skirt), space flight engineering at 8:30 or 11:00 a.m. (she chooses 11), Andorian or Tellarian or Romulan or Vulcan or Klingon 101 (she picks Vulcan), optional independent research study or not (she chooses not). All anyone asks on the first day at the Academy is "what do you want to do?"
"Can you believe they give us this many choices?!" she squeals to the cadet seated next to her.
"Uh, I guess," he mutters and she realizes that he must have grown up with so much freedom that he can take this for granted. She wonders what that would be like, spending your whole life being able to choose. She wants to ask but cannot think of a way to formulate the question.
Strolling home from a club late at night at the end of freshman orientation, she realizes that her choices are not limited to Starfleet. The city of San Francisco has literally millions of people to choose, hundreds of whom are on the street right in front of her. So she chooses one. But sometimes choices have unpredictable consequences. One minute, she's outside the club, riding the guy hard, and the next, they're both in the back of a police hovercar. It's all kind of sudden, but she can deal. Naughty policeman is her favorite game. Soon, she's lying naked in the backseat, wondering why her guy friend is hissing disapprovingly in her ear. She doesn't have to wonder for very long because -- get this -- the policemen are not playing a sex game. Apparently, public sex is a crime here, and offering to have sex with the police only makes things worse. Earth is so weird.
Back at the station, a public advocate explains the nature of her infraction. Cultural misunderstanding, he says, but they can't let her go. The city of San Francisco has promised to call Starfleet Academy if cadets are arrested.
"You had sex on the street?" her squad leader, Rodriguez, asks when she picks her up from the jail.
"Sidewalk," Gaila corrects.
"How drunk were you?"
"Not at all."
Rodriguez drops her at the dorm, looking more annoyed than angry.
"Look, we all party when we first get here," she says, "but I have better things to do than bail your nympho ass out of jail, so use a little common sense next time." She's gone before Gaila can explain that having sex with hot guys whenever they're available is common sense.
Still, she wants to do well here, so she tries hard to fit in. That doesn't stop her from getting another lewd public conduct citation two days later. At least it was in the Academy library, she tells herself glumly as she stares at the demerit automatically emailed to her personal padd. Everyone knows that the librarians are crazy and uptight, so she probably didn't really do anything wrong anyway. And, hey, at least she's not in jail!
Rodriguez asks for a meeting that night.
"Girl, you have got to learn to keep your pants on!" she says, waving a copy of the demerit.
Gaila looks dumbly at her skirt. "I don't ever wear pants."
"Yeah, well, maybe you ought to start."
Rodriguez waves her away before she can explain that she didn't think that a study carrel qualified as a public place. It was shielded on 3 sides, and they'd pushed it up against the wall so no one could see. Quite frankly, having sex in a space that small was a serious sacrifice, and she deserves some credit for trying so hard to respect human cultural practices. People here should meet her halfway by not coming to look at things they don't want to see. But even though she's totally right about the study carrel, she decides to accept that some places here are just no good for having sex. She can live with that, when there are so many people to choose.
One week later, she meets Admiral Archer's granddaughter, who has long, shapely legs and a body that curves like a violin. Naturally, she chooses to fuck her. On his desk. And it turns out that she's only 16. And on earth, initiating a child into sex is not considered an appropriate way to thank a mentor, so the shit really hits the fan. At first, Gaila is excited about the opportunity to use this extremely vivid Standard metaphor, but that's before she realizes how much trouble she's in. There's a whole big disciplinary hearing, and she can't even remember how many letters of apology and "statements of intent regarding future behavior at Starfleet Academy" she writes. Captain Pike sticks up for her though, and apparently a lot of people respect "that green chick who made the veins in Archer's forehead actually explode!" She tries to be excited about the influx of new lovers. "You are my cloud's silver lining!" she coos to one of them, always eager to test out a new idiom.
The thing is, Gaila just can't get excited about sex. Sure, there's plenty on offer and some of it is extremely creative. Jim Kirk, who'd introduced himself to her with a wink, a drink, and "I hear you're my kind of lady," really is up for anything, even wearing her pink silk panties under his cadet reds. When she's with him, she almost feels like she's back home, even if his cock is a strange shade of pink and doesn't pulsate as well as a proper Orion one. And it's not like she's wanting for extra partners of varied genders and anatomical configurations. It's all the freely chosen sex she'd ever dreamed of. Plus, she'd even worked up a questionnaire for potential sex partners so she can watch out for family connections, and she totally checks ID before she goes down on anyone. Really, she should be so incredibly proud of herself for all these creative ways to get off while respecting Earth law.
But it's not just about memorizing Earth sexual laws anymore; it's about understanding the culture they come from, and that's something she just can't do. It bothers her. No matter what other people might think, her mind has always been her best asset. Her mind liberated her from slavery, found ways to keep her body free, successfully enlisted in Starfleet, and it's going to make her a damn fine officer one day. She wants to know that her intellect, so adept at solving engineering problems, can untangle these complex problems of people and culture too.
So she starts asking questions. "Is this indecent?" she asks Cadet Sulu while she licks his balls. "Is this conduct unbefitting a Starfleet officer?" she asks Lieutenant Commander Richardson while he spanks her on his desk. Their response is always the same: "oh yes, baby, you are a bad, bad girl" and then they come. Although she appreciates this new orgasm technique, she thinks they're missing the point.
Asking in the heat of the moment doesn't seem to work, and really, how can she ask about each individual act she performs anyway? Better to ask after the sex is done, she thinks. The next time she and Jim are twined together in her bed, each wearing the other's underwear, she asks, "what does lewd conduct mean?"
"Nothing to worry your pretty head about," Jim says, licking a stray bit of whipped cream from her nipple.
Gaila narrows her eyes. "You think I'll stop having kinky sex with you if I understand Earth cultural norms," she accuses. The flicker of guilt on his face proves she's right and goddess, she has never felt so insulted in her life. "Out!" she shrieks, batting him with a pillow. "Out! Out! Out!"
"Baby!" he protests with his patented hurt-but-still-charming face, but she's having none of it. She doesn't even give him time to gather his clothes before she locks him in the hallway wearing nothing but her feathered thong. No man will ever accuse her of losing her sexual appetites and get away with it.
The next morning, she shuffles into Vulcan class nearly half an hour late, which earns a raised eyebrow from Commander Spock, but whatever. The man's dry as dust, she's got her hands full with mastering idiomatic Standard, and dammit, she's an engineer, not a linguist. When she's really had enough of Vulcan verb conjugation, she plunges her hand into the air and asks, "do Vulcans practice monogamy?"
Half of her classmates look interested. The other half sigh and roll their eyes. Silently, Gaila tells them to go close their vaginas for six weeks, the Orion equivalent of telling someone to go fuck themselves. The class title says language and culture, and she wants to know.
"Yes," Commander Spock says simply and resumes his boring, incomprehensible lecture on the subjunctive.
"Excuse me, Commander," she says loudly without raising her hand. "Could you tell me why Vulcans practice monogamy over polyamory?"
Spock pauses for a moment, lifting both eyebrows in a tiny gesture of surprise.
"Your course description states that we will learn language and culture, but 87.6% of our class time has focused exclusively on grammar," she prods. Actually, she pulled that percentage out of her ass, but Commander Spock seems to respect numbers that end with decimal points. The strategy works. He quirks an eyebrow at her one last time, perhaps calculating the accuracy of her statistics, and then answers the question.
"Monogamy is a logical method of maintaining social order by preventing destructive emotional urges such as jealousy. In addition, monogamy allows for efficient family planning and ensures that the identity of both parents is clear. This in turn maximizes children's opportunity to receive adequate financial and educational support from both parents. Do you have further questions?"
"Is that why Vulcans never sell excess offspring to slave traders?" she asks. Spock tilts his head inquiringly, as if she's suddenly become much more interesting, and then he answers the question, sounding faintly puzzled.
"Selling children is illogical for a variety of reasons," he says, "however, careful family planning facilitates maintenance of the family unit. You may come to my office hours if you have additional questions."
The next day, she takes Spock up on his offer and appears at his office promptly at 13:00 hours.
"You have come to discuss your exam?" he inquires mildly, and she flushes a deeper shade of green. She'd gotten a 37% on that one and no, she does not want to talk about it. Ever again.
"Actually, you said I could come to you with more cultural questions, and I want to understand what 'lewd' means," she says, undaunted. "I got charged with lewd conduct a few weeks ago, and I'd like to respect the law, but the word is so vague that I can't understand what behavior it prohibits."
"A reasonable difficulty," he replies, taking her question seriously when another professor might have laughed it off. "Lewd refers to sexual acts which humans find offensive when performed in public, however, to my knowledge, the word has no more specific definition."
"Well, that's frustrating, but thank you for taking my question seriously at least."
His eyebrows lift inquiringly and she explains, "I've tried asking other people, but they get embarrassed or act like it's a come-on. And I really need answers if I'm going to function here."
"I see," he says simply. "I believe you will find that most cultures are shaped by an array of unspoken and frequently conflicting customs. My own culture makes it difficult for me to comment on your specific question."
This time she raises her eyebrows a little bit -- he seems to like communicating that way -- and he elaborates. "Through Vulcan eyes, most human sexual behavior appears...lewd. However, an informal study may clarify behavioral norms not visible through casual observation. As an engineering student, I trust that you will be able to design a suitably scientific approach."
It wasn't the answer she'd been expecting, but the next day she divides her padd into a column for each location she frequents: dorm room, mess hall, classrooms, simulators, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and city streets. For the next two weeks, she's wired to her padd, jotting down observations about human sexual behavior all day and reviewing them at night, even though this means she's neglecting both her Vulcan homework and her cleaning duties. On the rare occasions she looks up from her notes, she sees that her dirty laundry has escaped its usual pile and merged into a colorful trail connecting both sides of her bed to the bathroom and the closet. Her roommate is going to be annoyed.
"Are you actually studying? And it's not even midterms?" Nyota asks after her 8th night of carefully cataloging sex notes.
Gaila could imagine the question as a friendly rib, but not when Nyota says it in that tone of voice. She flares, then mutters, "It is not logical to be upset about an accurate assessment of my study habits."
"What was that?"
"Your hostility is a logical result of my failure to respect our agreement regarding cleanliness." She slides a thong under her bed with a toe. "I mean, I'm sorry I don't clean up after myself."
"Okay, who are you and what have you done with my roommate?"
That question at least sounds friendlier, and Nyota's sitting companionably on the bed, so she finally looks up from her padd.
"Seriously, though, please tell me you are not sleeping with Commander Spock."
"Nope," she says truthfully. She'd tried, of course, but he was the first person on Earth to turn her down. Well, except for all the police officers. She probably needs to explain where all the logic is coming from though, so she adds, "I've just been hanging out in his office hours a whole lot. He gave me this project."
Nyota squeaks. "He gave you an outside project? Oh my god, you are so lucky! He must really respect you!"
She thinks it's more like pity, or some logical Vulcan equivalent, but Nyota seriously looks like she might have an orgasm just at the thought, so Gaila doesn't want to disillusion her. Turning to her padd, she writes, miscellaneous cultural observation: being envied for something other than my boobs is fun. This totally makes Nyota think she is even more studious, which is awesome. Their relationship's a little rocky, and Gaila's up for any opportunity to forge new bonds, even squealing about an unsexable Vulcan.
"So, tell me everything," Nyota exclaims. "How often do you go to office hours? Is he easy to talk to? What do you talk about?"
Only Nyota could gossip about academics the way most girls gossip about boys.
"He just answers my questions," she says, "all of them, no matter what they are." It's true. He helped her with a computer programming project a couple days ago, and she got the best score in the class. She'd tried to thank him, but he'd just said that helping cadets excel was a part of his job. She gets a little teary-eyed when she thinks about the other thing. Even when she'd hacked the access code to his office so she could wait for him naked on the desk, he'd just looked away and told her to "please put on your clothing and do not neglect zippers and other fastenings." Afterward, he had sat down behind his desk as if nothing had happened and invited her to take her usual chair.
"While I recognize that some instructors engage in clandestine romantic and sexual relationships with students, I adhere to my professional duties and the teachings of my culture," he'd said with no trace of rancor or embarrassment. "If you are to succeed in Starfleet, you must recognize the validity of a variety of lifestyle choices, regardless of the differences from your own."
"Yes, sir," she'd whispered, looking at the floor, overwhelmed with the knowledge that she'd betrayed the professor she'd admired most.
"Shame is not a logical response to mistakes, Cadet," he had said. "Indeed, as I know from personal experience, mistakes are inevitable when one is the only member of one's species at the Academy. They must be regarded as learning experiences."
Clearly, he was trying to tell her that he wasn't pissed (another new Standard term - she liked how it meant angry in America and drunk in Britain), but hearing him forgive her didn't mean she forgave herself. She knew enough about Vulcans in general and Spock in particular to know her advances would be unwelcome, but she'd gone right ahead and done what she wanted anyway -- even though he'd shown her far more consideration and understanding than anyone else had. She had worked her whole life -- risked her whole life, even -- to become a member of Starfleet, and now that she was here, she was acting against its most basic mission by trying to force everyone to live the way she thinks best.
Shame made her skip office hours until he made a general announcement to the class that "failure to accept extra-curricular instruction from willing faculty members" was "an illogical rejection of academic as well as cultural opportunities created by Starfleet, which instructors desire as much as students ought to." After that, she'd come to him with a sticky astronav problem and he stayed late to help her untangle it. He spoke to her as if nothing had ever happened between them, and that day had shown her more about tolerance and inter-species cooperation than any politically correct training manual ever could.
And shit, she really must be getting teary-eyed because Nyota hands her a tissue.
"Gaila," she says quietly, "speaking of questions for Commander Spock, there's something I've been wanting to ask you." She stops speaking then and looks at Gaila questioningly, waiting for permission to continue. Gaila nods.
"When you asked about Vulcans selling their children, was that because your parents sold you?"
"Yeah," she says. "Thank you for asking." She means it.
"Has nobody asked you that question before?"
"No, not really. They ask where I'm from, but nothing else. I think they all assume that I was freeborn." She doesn't add the other half: that when she tells people the truth, conversation stops because no one has any idea what to say.
"That must be hard. Being separated from your past, I mean," Nyota says, and Gaila silently reprimands herself for not appreciating Nyota's perceptiveness before. She nods to show Nyota that she's right. She'd expected that her history would be her foot in the doorway, her way to prove that she truly knows what Starfleet and the Federation are all about. But before she could really talk about who she was, she'd gotten arrested and fucked a bunch of people's boyfriends, and people hadn't thought to ask questions before calling her a whore.
Nyota looks uncertain for a minute, then draws herself up like she's resolved to say something hard.
"I'd like to hear your story. You might have to tell me how I should react afterward. I don't know how Orions comfort each other, or if you even want comforting. But I'd like to hear it."
"It's not a sad story," she says, and it's true. The slavery was done to her -- inflicted on her -- by someone else, but her escape was something she chose. Ever since the first uncertain days following her escape, she's known that she will never waste a second of freedom crying over what someone else chose for her, not when she proved that she could rise above it with the sheer force of her will. Putting that into the right words, especially in another language, is hard though, not that she's tried very often. Which, she has to concede, is probably why she doesn't have any close friends at the Academy.
"What happened to me was awful," she says, "but I choose to remember how I reacted rather than what they did to me."
"So what did you do? How did you get out of there?"
"I learned, as much as I could. I stole padds from my customers and hacked the databases at the freeborn university. I learned enough about transporter technology that I figured out how to beam myself aboard an ore hauler, and I stowed away in the garbage bin till we got to Deep Space Six." She had arrived emaciated and vomiting after two weeks eating trash, and the doctor had told her she would've died if she'd been there much longer, but she leaves that part out. She wants to be sure that the first time she tells her story, Nyota will have no reason to pity her.
"But you didn't live in the Refugee Relocation Center there?" Nyota asks, and damn, she is perceptive.
"How did you guess that?"
"Well," Nyota says carefully, "when you came here, it seemed like your exposure to interstellar sexual practices was...limited. All the arrests and demerits and the foursome with the tentacle guys on my bed..."
Actually, it was just a threesome, but Gaila can see how all the tentacles would have confused her. But that is so not the point of this conversation, so she continues with her story. She can feel the pride burning in her voice and shining from her eyes now. This is her favorite part, the part where she'd proven to herself that she was right to believe her mind was worth as much as her body.
"What other people give you, they can take away," she says. "I wouldn't be free if I had to depend on some faceless bureaucrat for money and food, so I left Deep Space Six as soon as my request for asylum was granted, and I got a job as a mechanic on a cargo hauler."
"Oh," Nyota says. "That explains about the sex."
Gaila sighs happily. Nyota is so right! Sex there had been way less confusing than on Earth, although she can see now how a deep space cargo crew is a little more permissive than most humans. She'd had her first freely chosen sex in the captain's chair with a guy named Tank who had pierced his cock in a very intriguing way. She wants to take a moment to relive it, but Nyota is still beside her on the bed, looking expectant, so she forces herself to keep talking.
"The only rule there was not to have sex on food preparation surfaces. Those guys were up for pretty much anything. I thought that was how all humans lived because I couldn't imagine having that much freedom and wasting it."
She makes a mental note to write Tank and the boys. Maybe they can have an orgy for old times sake over summer hols. But she's getting distracted again. She re-focuses on Nyota, who's sitting bolt upright again like she wants to say something else important. Maybe she knew what Gaila was thinking about before, and she wants to write a new contract about acceptable sexual practices in their dorm room?
"Look, I think I owe you an apology," she says instead, taking Gaila by surprise. "You've lived your whole life fighting for the freedom I take for granted. You're the bravest and strongest person I've ever met, and I acted like I was better than you just because I studied all the time. I didn't know that all the...um..."
"Wild sexcapades?" Gaila supplies helpfully, and Nyota smiles.
"Anyway, I didn't know you did all that because you wanted to know what it was like to be free."
"It's okay," Gaila says. "It's not like I told you. And doing it with those tentacle guys in your bed was pretty passive-agressive. I totally should have washed the sheets."
Telling Nyota she should have washed Maltakian semen-slime off her bed doesn't really cover how grateful she feels for this conversation though, so she adds quietly, "Thank you for this. It's good to say who I am. I need to do it more often."
They spend the night giggling together like the girlfriends Gaila always thought they could be, and she's barely even disappointed when they don't have sex. Best of all, Nyota proclaims her sexual research project "fascinating," and promises to help her write up a final report. They drift off to sleep -- in their own beds -- sometime around 4, and Gaila's final thoughts are to count her blessings. She's gotten a mentor, a close friend, and plenty of people to fuck, all in the course of a few weeks. There is no way the year could possibly get better.
Except it does, when Nyota comes in from her morning run waving a flier for optional freshman research project applications. At first, this sounds like a serious incursion on her sexreation time (sex recreation - she's been experimenting with making her own slang), but then Nyota explains that if they turn her sex research project into a real proposal, Starfleet will give them money to study how other cultures have sex.
She bounds out of bed and jumps up and down, forgetting that Nyota doesn't like to see her naked boobs bounce around, especially first thing in the morning.
"You mean we get to go to bars and clubs all over the Federation and watch people pick each other up? And we get academic credit?" Maybe she'd underestimated the humans' appreciation for sex.
"Mm-hm. It's a valid xeno-cultural study, and important for diplomats and tourists to understand. All we have to do is write up a proposal to expand your project to 3 or 4 target cultures and find a faculty advisor to approve it. I think Professor Maa'vitik in the Xeno department would be up for it, her dissertation was a comparative analysis of pick-up lines across several linguistic groups..."
But Nyota is totally missing the obvious choice. There is only one person at the academy who's completely rational about sex. She knows that from experience.
"Hello!" she says, interrupting Nyota's more polished academic discourse. "Commander Spock would be totally perfect! He's the one who gave me the project in the first place, remember?"
"No. Absolutely not." Nyota flushes so red that she's almost purple. "We are not going to spend a semester talking to Commander Spock about sex."
But Gaila is already dashing out the door and across the quad, feeling very proud of herself for remembering to put on some clothes. This is the perfect way to thank Commander Spock for everything he's done for her this year -- by showing him that she's gotten so good at thinking logically that she even knows how to design whole independent research studies. She can interact with people without using sex after all!
Nyota catches up to her before she's even halfway to the linguistics department. Damn all those morning runs. It wouldn't be so bad if Nyota would quit fucking hissing in her ear like an angry goose.
"Shut up!" she hisses back in the corridor outside Spock's office. "Vulcans have better hearing than humans. Do you want him to hear you kvetching all the way down the hall?"
Gaila gets about three seconds to be excited about using her new Yiddish word, which she'd picked up when a Jewish cadet had inadvisably taken her home to his mother, before Nyota stiffens herself into academic robot mode. "If one of us is going to talk to Spock about sex," she says, "it's going to be me." And she's striding confidently into the office before Gaila can even protest that the research study is at least 50% her idea.
"Commander Spock, we apologize for visiting your office outside normal hours, however, we wanted to begin work on our optional research project immediately, and finding a faculty advisor is the first step."
She takes a moment to bask in Spock's small look of approval at her academic eagerness before she continues, "We propose to conduct a comparative study of public sexual behavior in three key Federation cultures. Although such a proposal may sound frivolous, an understanding of these matters is vital to avoid private misunderstandings, legal confrontations, and possibly interstellar diplomatic incidents. My colleague Gaila's experiences this academic year clearly demonstrate that. Yet, no information regarding acceptable public sexual practices is included in Academy intercultural briefing materials."
Nyota is totally stealing her thunder, but Gaila supposes that she should let her get away with it. After all, Nyota hadn't complained about her naked jumping this morning, which was a real landmark for her.
"You are correct that this matter, while somewhat unusual, is a necessary aspect of intercultural training. Your proposal is a logical method of remedying the deficiency in our curriculum. Please return within three days with a formally written application and budget. I will then complete the necessary authorization procedures." Spock's tone is as even as ever, but Gaila thinks she detects a faint green blush along his cheekbones. And is he breathing a little faster than usual? This study just keeps getting more interesting.
Spock, of course, makes good on his word, and the academic year that began in jail cell ends with more freedom than Gaila ever thought possible. Two weeks after submitting their proposal, she, Nyota, and Jim are sitting in a public house on Andor, watching Andorians try to get laid. Nyota had been appalled when Gaila secretly listed Jim on the research proposal, but she'd had to make up with him somehow after tossing him out wearing nothing but her thong. Nobody else at the Academy wanted to wear her underwear, and he was so good at organizing orgies. Now that she's learned so much about interspecies cooperation, she realizes that her behavior had been a bit harsh. Really, she should have just explained that telling an Orion girl that she's going to stop being kinky is like telling a human man that his penis is shrinking. Jim would have understood completely and he never would have said it again.
Anyway, thank goodness Jim had been willing to accept her peace offering because he's a valuable addition to this study. Even Spock had agreed, although he had been very reluctant to concede. No other human understands sex as well as Jim, and here on Andor, they need all his expertise. Their hotel clerk had identified this bar as the place hot young singles came to hook up, but all three of them are baffled by the silence and sedate music. The temperature here is barely warmer than outside, and the thick parkas make it impossible to tell who has a nice body. Figuring out who has a nice personality seems equally impossible, since friends sit together in groups of two or three, talking quietly, and sipping a warm, non-intoxicating beverage. At first, they'd been sure the drink had been some kind of aphrodisiac, but they were wrong. Nyota had scanned with a tricorder and Jim had pounded back 8 of them just to double check. Nothing had happened, except that Jim peed a lot.
"Still nobody hooking up in the bathroom," he'd reported after his fourteenth trip.
"How do you think they decide who they're attracted to when everyone's covered up to their eyeballs and no one's talking?" Nyota asks, temporarily setting aside her hatred of Jim in the name of academic progress. Gaila will have to remember to thank her later.
Jim scans the bar silently. The look of deep concentration is a little disconcerting, even for Gaila, who knows he's way smarter than he lets on. Suddenly something sparks in his eyes.
"It's the antennas! Look!"
And sure enough, once they start looking, it's obvious that some Andorians have nicer antennas than others. Uhura scrolls through the Andorian fashion magazine she'd downloaded earlier, looking excited.
"You're right. Look, all the models here have long, slender antennas with ovoid tips. Now we just need to identify women with similar antennas and see if they hook up first."
Nyota kind of sucks at the subtle checking out, but luckily, Gaila and Jim have lots of expertise in that area. Sure enough, the women with the best antennas leave the bar most quickly, and most often with a similarly attractive man. Now they just need to figure out why they agree to leave together without even talking.
Lost in thought, Nyota idly toys with a bright orange flavoring packet on the table.
"That guy is totally checking you out," Jim says, flicking his eyes toward a man with a pleasantly lithe pair of antennas.
Nyota puts the flavor packet down and looks up, but the guy is already looking away.
"Wait a second. Pick that up again."
Nyota does, and suddenly the man is riveted again.
"It's the flavor packets!" Gaila squeals. "Orange means I want you!" She scoots the whole tray of orange packets across the table, and suddenly every eye in the bar is on her.
Nyota studies the writing on the old-fashioned paper wrappers. "It's a spice mix," she says. "It's supposed to be warming."
"If I poured all of these in my drink, do you think the whole bar would leave with me?" Gaila asks, feeling positively gleeful.
"Only one way to find out." That was Jim, of course.
But Gaila's kind of worn out from the warp lag, and it would be rude to leave the other women with no one to fuck, so she makes eye contact with the best set of antennas at the bar and pours the spices into her drink. Sure enough, the man twitches an antenna in the direction of the door and she joins him, leaving Nyota and Jim to test out the meaning of the other flavorings.
They rendezvous in the morning, each with PADDS full of notes and Jim with a black eye. Apparently, he'd tried to use the flavor packets to set up a two-girl one-boy threesome between him, Nyota, and a model with long periwinkle antennas. Poor Jim. Gaila had tried several times to explain that Nyota's personal sexual mores do not accommodate simultaneous, non-monogamous sexual relations with multiple partners, but he just hadn't listened. Some people just can't learn how to see out of the narrow confines of their personal lifestyle choices. On the bright side, her academic Standard is getting pretty awesome.
They make it through three more research stops with no further physical violence, so maybe there's hope for Jim after all. But then they encounter Klingons on an independent trade base just outside Federation space, and violence becomes inevitable. Klingon courtship rituals aren't really within the scope of their study, but they all agree they shouldn't pass the opportunity up, especially since it's so easy to see how Klingons hit on each other.
"I've always wanted to do a Klingon babe," Jim announces, eyes alight, before he strides across the bar and head butts the biggest man at her table.
Nyota looks horrified, but Gaila is quick to reassure her.
"Klingons seduce each other by physically besting a worthy opponent among the companions of a desired male or female," she explains, proud that she kept practicing academic Standard instead of saying "beating the shit out of each other."
"Do you think we should intervene?" Nyota asks, wincing as Jim takes a punch to the kidneys.
"Of course not!" Opportunities to bang a sexy Klingon don't come around that often, and Gaila's not about to cheat Jim out of one. He would have gotten beaten up when one of the Klingons tried to seduce her anyway.
But then Jim careens into their table, muttering something about a no-win scenario and gushing blood out of a stab wound and a cut in his head. Three Klingons are really too much for one unarmed human male to take on. Gaila shouldn't have let him. Luckily, the fractured skull heals quickly and the ceremonial dagger missed all the major arteries, so Jim recovers quickly enough, but his doctor boyfriend won't let him go on any more research expeditions.
"I don't think they're together that way," Nyota says. "Not every relationship is sexual."
Anyway, even though she misses Jim, their research is done in no time and their finished paper is so well-received that they're invited to talk about it at next year's freshman cadet orientation. Captain Pike starts to hand the mike to Nyota, which is probably wise, but Gaila snatches it first. She's not letting her thunder get stolen again.
"Last year, I thought I was going to drop out after I got busted twice for indecent exposure and nailed an Admiral's grand daughter on his desk," she begins and sees Pike wince. Oh well. Humans need to learn to tell it like it is. "But my Vulcan language instructor helped me design an experiment to understand human sexual behavior, and then he helped us get a grant to find out how aliens pick each other up. Now there's a whole packet in your orientation folder about how to get laid on lots of different worlds. So, in conclusion, Starfleet rocks, interspecies cooperation rocks, and both of them can help you have more sex!"
When cheers drown out the rest of her speech, Gaila knows she's found a place to belong after all, and she figures it can't get any better than this. But it totally does when Spock calls her to his office the next day.
"Witnessing your intellectual and academic development last year was most gratifying," he says. "I hope that you will continue to return to my office hours although I am no longer your instructor.
Gaila beams, perhaps a touch too gleefully because Spock's eyebrows contract and he adds, "However, I hope you will recall that sexual relations, sexual advice, and direct discussion of either of our sexual experiences is outside the purview of our academic relationship."
"I'll bring Nyota with me next time I visit," she says, just for the pleasure of watching him flush faintly green before she practically skips out of his office.
She wonders if Spock knows that this is the best compliment she ever could have received. If a Vulcan professor is seeking her out exclusively for intellectual discourse, all of the best things she believed about herself must be true. Not that she's ever really doubted them to begin with.