PROMPT: Star Trek XI (2009); Nyota Uhura, Gaila, Spock; Uhura's background - before she enlisted in Starfleet, her family, her interest in xenolinguistics, how she wound up in Iowa, how she became the person we saw in the film. Bonus points for including her friendship with Gaila.
TITLE: A Future Of Friends And Maybes
SUMMARY: With her hair drifting fine and ticklish around her face as she looks up at the re-engineered hang of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Academy's shuttle pad, Nyota is determined that, like her namesake, she will shine.
CATEGORY: character study, friendship
WARNINGS: Canon compliant (inasmuch as one can be compliant to Trek canon)...except where it isn't.
SPOILERS: Star Trex XI (2009)
NOTES: It's not quite the background that paperflowered was hoping for, I'm afraid - or if it is, it's woven into the present. I hope it works!
Much love and appreciation to ladyjax and skywardprodigal who read this through for me, nudged me in areas, and were fantastic about giving their opinions on this.
I mostly used Memory Alpha as a canonical reference, and where it was sketchy on details, I tried to fill the background in with my own ideas and takes, so any errors in canonical background are mine, and mine alone.
The salt-sea wind riffles through Nyota's hair as she steps off the shuttle in San Francisco Bay. Behind her, her little sister natters on about shopping and cute American guys to her mother, but her father pauses by her shoulder on the tarmac as the other seventeen cadets and their families unload.
"You're sure of this?"
Nyota does not tell him she has never been so sure of anything in her life. Instead, she simply nods. This was hashed out back home, among her family. Among the Uhura - the clan that takes its name from the freedom fighter of the mid-21st Century - no-one is permitted to tell Nyota what she may or may not do, but their arguments for and against were laid out for her consideration in a kind of round-table discussion.
"You will lack your family close by."
"The great-grandmother of Uhuru himself, Alijah Jackson, came to Africa in the 2010s," she reminded them. "She left her family behind her in San Francisco for new shores."
She did not remind them that Alijah's family died in the 'Sanctuary camps' that were intended to be shelter for the dispossessed of the Global Financial Crisis, but which gradually turned into slums and segregation camps for the poor and disenfranchised. It is not a relevant comparison: the African Confederation is a stable state unlike the United States of the twenty-first century, and the government of United Earth maintains careful balances between political freedoms and social change.
"You have never lived outside of Addis - and this is not merely Lomé or Ngobur, but another country entirely."
"They are people who live there, too," Nyota reminded them. "The change in culture would be no less for a student coming to study at the Engineering Academy in Bangui."
And she has an advantage over many of those who come to United Africa from the North Americas or Europe: citizens of the African Confederation are routinely taught of the many other cultures that make up the United Earth. From her studies, and in exchange of mails with mailpals in the North Americas, it seems that the study of other Earth cultures is considered optional outside the urban centres, while 'alien' cultures are considered necessary study.
The irony of the term 'United Earth' does not escape her.
"The path to Federation Fleet officer is not an easy one."
"What path worth following is easy?"
For a full day, they questioned her - a record in the history of the Uhura. When it was over, many congratulated her on her strength of character in standing up to the family's questioning and wished her well along her way. "You will make the Uhura proud," said Auntie Thandie - actually, the aunt of Nyota's grandmother, her eyes and wits sharp in spite of her advanced age.
The Uhura have been diplomats and generals, ministers and miners, engineers, physicians, scientists, and space explorers - one branch even turned to thievery and warlording back during a period of unrest in the 2140s. But almost all have lived and worked on the African continent since the time of Uhuru himself and none have presented at the Starfleet Academy for training.
Nyota will be the first.
With her hair drifting fine and ticklish around her face as she looks up at the re-engineered hang of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Academy's shuttle pad, Nyota is determined that, like her namesake, she will shine.
Nyota takes one step into her dormroom and stops, rocking on the tips of her booted toes.
The girl tapping her similarly-booted toes on the bare wooden floor looks up and a broad smile spreads across her face - her green skinned face. "Hi! I hope you don't mind that I've already picked my bed. If you have a preference, I can change - it's no trouble. I sleep anywhere. Oh, and I'm Gaila, from Orion."
A little bowled over by the easy effusiveness and the unexpected sight of an Orion girl at the Academy, Nyota takes a moment to gather her wits and dump her bags at the foot of the bed. "Nyota Uhura. And it's okay, whichever bed."
"Great!" Gaila stops tapping her feet on the floor and begins swinging her legs instead, an oddly happy, easy movement that's reflected in the slight bounce of vividly red curls. "I'm kinda excited about this - I've never had a real roomie before. They told me that I'd have to share, but this is nothing. I've shared with a lot more girls in rooms smaller than this. Have you come very far to reach the Academy? I heard there's a whole shuttle full of guys from the Emirates, and a few girls, although I haven't seen any of them yet."
"I... My family's from the African Confederation. They're out sightseeing in the city right now."
She'd wanted time to settle in, without her family looking over her shoulder - to meet her new classmates on her terms, as an individual.
"Oh, Africa! That's the really big landmass over the sea, isn't it?" The cheerful voice lowers slightly in pitch, but still manages to remain bright and interested. "I've heard tell that the guys there are bigger."
There's a question in the statement - one that leaves Nyota slightly stunned. On several levels. She thinks of herself as open-minded, willing to engage, but this degree of conversation at first meeting - and what it implies - is beyond her.
Meanwhile, in the back of her brain, her studies on the various alien cultures of the Federation are bobbing to the surface.
Everyone knows Orions have a unique social structure, and an equally unique physiology. Green or blue skin is the least of it - the females have immense carnal appetites and most are sold as slaves throughout the Alpha Quadrant.
From her forays into xenobiology and her reading of Dr. Phlox's studies on Orion physiology, Nyota is aware that a variant strain of Orion females have pheromones that aren't merely aphrodisiac, but also capable of controlling the males of many species in the guise of slaves.
She also knows that Orion physiology - both the standard type and the variant - isn't compatible with human female physiology. It's a competitive genetic trait - give the female a headache, offer her male partner sex with a willing and eager companion, and an Orion slave girl can start influencing her 'master' to her will, whether through the pheromones or simply with whatever leverage can be gained through sex.
Right now, Nyota's wondering who matched her up with an Orion, and whether it would be possible to make some very cutting comments to whoever stuck her with a roomie who's only going to be having sex all the time and giving Nyota a permanent headache. She's not a prude by any stretch, but she's come to the Academy for a reason.
She's got standards.
"I...wouldn't know," she says lightly, hoping her pause wasn't too obvious.
Maybe it was. The Orion woman stops swinging her legs and her expression goes slightly blank. "Oh. Are you...conservative?"
Nyota stares at Gaila for a few seconds. Then it hits her: the lowered voice, the hushed query, the way the Orion made it sound like some kind of communicable disease. She bursts into sudden laughter.
After a moment, Gaila joins in with an easy giggle that only spurs Nyota on, and the room rings with their twinned amusement.
So maybe the Orion woman needs to learn that humans come in all varieties, not just the sexual stereotype. But Nyota figures that if she's going to go into xenolinguistics, maybe she'll need the daily reminder that aliens are individual within their races, too.
She's still going to have a word with the housing dean about an Orion roomie.
Like everyone else on the planet, Nyota knows about the half-human Vulcan at the Academy. Son of the Vulcan Ambassador, but with a human mother, Lieutenant Spock is probably accustomed to the gossip that follows him on the first day of every academic year.
It's not until after the orientation-and-recruitment trip out to the shipyards in Iowa that Nyota actually sees the famed Vulcan. Or, more correctly, her friend Carina sees him while Nyota's relating her encounter with the blond hick - who turned out not to be quite as hicky as she'd initially implied - out at the Iowan bar.
"I don't know what you're being so cross about, girl," Carina sighs, one hand absently stirring the tub of melted ice-cream as they sit at a table out in the crisp fall air. One hand scratches at the root of her braid. "He sounded perfectly charming."
"Up until the point where his hands landed on my breasts," Nyota says dryly. Still, it wasn't intentional, and she also remembers the casual salute he cocked her when he climbed on board the transport. She won't deny that he had her attention once they hit their conversational stride, although she would never have let herself be seduced, and the bar fight didn't do him any favours. "Anyway, he was really too charming."
She doesn't trust guys who use their charm as weapons.
Carina rolls her eyes, startling blue in her face. "You're too picky, Ny. Maybe you don't have to be as promiscuous as that room-mate of yours--"
"Gaila's not promiscuous, Rina, it's her physiology."
It turns out that Gaila's only part-Orion - daughter of an Orion mother and a human father from Vega - hence her red hair instead of the customary black, and her presence at an Academy full of human men and women.
"So you don't need to be like Gaila, but you don't need to live celibate, either. I mean, there are dozens of good-looking, intelligent, personable…"
Rina holds up one finger with erstwhile solemnity. "Do not mock the charming," she intones. "One day, you will encounter a man who-- Oh!" She breaks off and leans forward. "Okay, so you're not gonna notice any of the guys at the Academy, but you have to look this one over."
Eyebrows rise. "He's not a piece of meat, Rina."
"No," Carina agrees, with a gleaming grin. "But you wanted to see the Vulcan, right?"
Curiosity turns Nyota's head – as it turns a number of others. Seeing them, Nyota feels self-conscious about her curiosity – if she were him, she would hate to be stared at as though she were a specimen in a jar.
He doesn't react to the stares and whispers, moving along the path with an easy stride that still conveys distinct purpose. Her first thought is that he seems very serious, the unsmiling line of his mouth almost primly set. Her second thought is that he seems very alone, as though the weight of his dual heritage rests heavy upon him.
"Lieutenant Spock," she murmurs to herself. The first Vulcan - or, at least, part-Vulcan - at the Academy, if not the first to serve in Starfleet.
"He's a bit of a dish, isn't he?"
Nyota snorts, amused at her friend's single-mindedness. "He'd be cold fish, Rina. Didn't you read up on Vulcan society and physiology?"
Carina shrugs, her dark eyes still tracking the Lieutenant across the yard. "You know, if he cut his hair differently, you wouldn't notice the ears at all and he'd pass for human."
Nyota mops up the last of her soup with her bread. "Perhaps he doesn't wish to pass."
Gaila might lack the pheromones that make Orion women both seductive and deadly, but she retains the legendary sexual appetite. Unfortunately for Nyota.
"But he was so cute and adorable!"
"I don't care if he's cute and adorable," Nyota says, exasperated. There's no harm in Gaila, no cruelty - but sometimes she wonders if there's any self-preservation either. "He's a dickhead who thinks you're his personal sex toy."
"But I'm fine with that," Gaila protests, her hands spread wide as Nyota tosses her notes on her bed and turns to face her roomie. "I'm not like you, Nyota - and we need to get you laid, because all that stress isn't good for you--"
"There will be no 'laying'!"
"Sure there will! And I like sex. And I like sex with Rashid - when he gets all hot and intense in bed..."
Nyota protests her roomie's casual sharing, hands lifted. "No details!"
"Okay, well, he's really good. And he can keep up - which most other guys can't."
"Does he know about the other guys?"
In three years, Nyota's never known her roomie to have less than three partners 'on the boil', whether Academy personnel, 'really cute guys' who do bar work out in the city, or random strangers - male and female - that Gaila takes a liking to and starts sleeping with.
"Well, sort of. He thinks I'm giving them up for him."
"Oh, Gaila..." Torn between laughter and tears, Nyota wonders if she's worrying too much.
Orion slavery certainly has its dark side - in the course of the Orion Syndicate's expansion through the Alpha Quadrant of the galaxy, the number of part-Orion children has skyrocketed - and so has their value in slave markets. Tactful inquiries have uncovered that half-blood daughters like Gaila are particularly coveted, possessing all the sensual traits of Orion females and being unlikely to have the control pheromone - if it even exists anymore.
Either way, Gaila spent five years as a sex slave, from the moment she reached puberty, with no hope of freedom until she was sneaked out by an 'underground railroad' organisation who specialised in giving part-blood Orion girls the options the cartels and syndicates denied them. She's casual about her time as a slave, delights in her freedom, and is completely carefree about whom she sleeps with now that the choice is entirely hers.
Still, Nyota's had to explain the concept of 'choice' to a couple of guys who didn't realise the semantics of the word 'no' when it came to an Orion woman. As Gaila once noted, perhaps a little sharply, just because she's always up for sex doesn't mean she's always up for sex with them.
"You really don't like me bringing them back here?"
She thinks about saying she doesn't mind. But the fact is, it's downright annoying to never be sure if she's going to walk in on Gaila and one of her lovers - and it's always uncomfortable for both Nyota and the lover, since Gaila makes no apologies for her sexual appetite and Nyota wouldn't expect her to.
When she explains this, Gaila shrugs, her expression easy. "Okay, I won't bring them back here. I'll go to their place instead."
That decided, Gaila stretches out on the bed, her bare green feet crossed at the ankle as she stretches her arms above her head and wriggles her hips, somehow managing to make it incredibly sensual. "So how're your 'private lessons' with Commander Spock going, Ny?"
"He's my thesis advisor," Nyota says, keeping her calm as she sits down on the bed and begins shucking off her boots. Her roomie's been like this for a while - teasing her about Commander Spock. And even though she knows Gaila's only yanking her chain, she can feel the blood warming her cheeks. "And they're going fine."
"I find myself intrigued by your counter-proposition that the contour tonemes of the Romulan kushunnui dialect drew their development from Vulcan tone sandhi. Please explain your argument."
Commander Spock sits back, his hands folded in his lap, not one dark hair out of place. To someone else, he would seem forbidding and remote; experience has taught Nyota that this is a foil. He will engage in discussion with a lively intellect and a wry humour that gives lie to the 'cold fish' she described to Carina back in her first year.
And Nyota enjoys the challenges he sets her - the endless pursuit of self-discipline and excellence that marks out everything he does.
Within minutes of her first class in xenolinguistics, Nyota knew that she'd found her niche.
She'd always loved languages - meaning, context, signal, grammar. The sound of it - like music, the variation in it - so wholly human with its rules and regulations, and yet its exceptions and clauses.
There were still hundreds of languages within the African Confederation, thousands of dialects, and every child in the Confederation is bilingual at least - most are multilingual.
Part of that decision was influenced by the African diaspora who settled through the continent as part of the Africa Development movement. Many had never spoken anything but English, although they exerted themselves to the local tongue; ultimately, their children learned the language as native speakers from native speakers.
Swahili might be the lingua franca of the continent, but the international language of politics and trade is still English.
Spread that out to a galaxy full of sentience, and suddenly there are tens of thousands of languages to learn, each with their own syntax and grammar, each with their own meaning and inflection, and all with the purpose of making oneself understood to another sentient being.
Not that it matters much what you speak these days: the universal translators do an excellent job at keeping everyone understood - an excellent job for a machine, anyway. To Nyota's thinking, the universal translator will never be a match for a mind when it came to context, tone, and interpretation.
Plus, political advantage and status is accrued when you can hold your own on a stranger's ground.
Starfleet Command agrees, and requires all students at the Academy to take a base course in linguistics - along with Earth history, socio-political interactions, engineering, environmental, physiology, and interplanetary culture - before allowing students to narrow their specialisations in later years.
Advanced Phonology, with a co-degree in Advanced Acoustical Engineering may not sound particularly fascinating, but Nyota thrives on it.
"And so," she concludes at the end of her argument, "with a ninety-eight percent match on nouns in the same or similar classes, there's a significant statistical lean towards an influence from one language to the other."
She watches his face, the pale angles of it stark against the black of his razor-sharp hair, the cool flick of his gaze as it sweeps across her notes and lifts to her face.
"A significant statistical lean is not quite the concrete link on which an argument should be developed."
"But it suggests further study of the details in order to more firmly form an argument."
Nyota enjoys these sessions with Commander Spock. His mind is brilliant, his patience immense, and there is a part of her that enjoys watching the delicate play of expression across features that so many others have described as emotionless, ruthless, stiff, forbidding.
Maybe it's familiarity that softens him - maybe it's familiarity that renders her more perceptive - but Nyota's never found Spock cold.
Although sometimes she wonders what it would be like to see him relaxed.
"Perhaps. However, I should warn you that your argument fails to take into account the initial direction of the Romulan splinter group when they first left Vulcan. Being aware that they could never truly be Romulan until they had left all Vulcan behind, they reverted to an older form of the language as it was at that time and chose to take their development in another direction entirely."
"And yet the dialectic similarities suggest that in spite of the attempt to diverge from Vulcan, the Romulans still ended up taking elements of their language in similar directions."
One eyebrow rises in query. "You wish to propose that Vulcans and Romulans share a genetic linguistic memory?"
"No," Nyota said. "But perhaps a cultural one."
He watches her for so long that she wonders if she's said something wrong, insulted him in some way. What the schoolbooks never told Earth children about Vulcans, she's learned through experience, and sometimes by first making the mistakes.
Spock would let her know if she's given him an insult. At least, she thinks he would.
She hopes he would.
Then his mouth curves slightly, a subtle humour that softens the harshness of his face, makes him seem...well...human. "An interesting theory. Write up the framework of your argument, Cadet Uhura, and I will consider it during the week."
That he's willing to entertain it all is a compliment. Nyota takes it as such.
Once again, a flush tinges her cheek, unseen.
Most of the crowd in the Iowa bar are workers from the nearby shipyards - hull construction engineers, drives design, engine assembly. A starship's too finicky to put together accurately in vacuum, but too big to build entirely on the ground, so the original Committee For Human Space Programs called for planetary manufacture, framework, and parts-fitting, and then full-section assembly out in space.
Why they chose Iowa for the shipyards is beyond Nyota.
Why Kirk chose the Iowa bar to 'celebrate' his exoneration, his promotion to Enterprise captaincy, and their rescue of Earth, Nyota can guess. Kirk vanished for two hours and came back, grim-faced, with the clear intention of getting absolutely plastered.
He's well on his way to it now, sliding in beside a young woman who looks too dewy-eyed to be anything but local, and laying the famous charm on thick.
"Don't know how he does it," says Hikaru Sulu from the chair beside hers. Across from him, Doc McCoy is telling young Lieutenant Chekov what a transporter does to your insides. "But the man's a mover. You gotta admire it."
"Only if you're not the recipient," Nyota points out.
Sulu's brow arches as he lifts his beer to his lips. "Been there, kissed that?"
"Actually, no. I planted my fist in his face, though," she says, and smirks as he chokes on his beer.
"Do you know what that does to the nerves in your brain?" Doc McCoy asks Sulu before taking a sip from what's probably a glass of whiskey.
"Don't tell," Nyota says. She doesn't want to know, and she guesses that neither does anyone else. Instead, she turns the conversation back. "He tried to chat me up, a couple of acquaintances tried to flex their muscles at him, he got smart, they got punchy..." She shrugs.
"And you just waded in there?" McCoy demands.
"Only after he laid hands on."
"That," says a voice over her shoulder, "was an accident." Kirk lays his hands down on the table between her and Lieutenant Page - Nyota's second in Communications. "You know, I thought we were getting on pretty well that night."
Nyota laughs at the unabashed arrogance of the man. "You laid down the moves and I rejected you. Yeah, that's pretty smooth."
"Ouch," mutters Sulu, cleaned up and back to nursing his beer.
"We all have our rough patches," Kirk says, snagging one of Lieutenant Page's colourful shots and tipping it back before he settles the glass on the table with a wink at Nyota. "You could dump the Vulcan and smooth out mine. That is an invitation, by the way."
She'd find it more amusing if she wasn't so unsure of where her relationship with Spock stands. In the wake of Vulcan's destruction, Spock made the decision to remain among his people and help the rebuild. Even a half-breed male would be needed among such a small population, and if a relationship isn't out of the question, it won't be what either of them hoped to have.
Friendship might have to be enough.
Still, Nyota manages an snorting laugh in Kirk's direction. "You don't ever give up, do you?"
"When I give up, I'll have been dead at least a week," he says easily, but Nyota already knows that when it stops being a game to either of them, he'll let it go. That's the kind of man James Kirk is. "Who's up for drinks? McCoy? Sulu? Page, I owe you. Chekov, don't ask for a vodka, they'll get their licence revoked if they serve underage. Uhura, if you don't pick a drink, I'll pick one for you."
He argues her into a vanilla bourbon, and since he's paying for it, she lets him. He's on captain's pay now, he can afford it, and he's paying for everyone else at the table, too. Then he swaggers off to the bar.
"If he stops even after he's been dead a week, I'll be surprised," says McCoy roughly. "The man's goddamned insane."
"Aren't you guys best buds or something?"
"Or something. Jim grows on you."
"Like hair or like a cancer?" Nyota asks, and Sulu nearly chokes on his beer again. Page slaps the table, but McCoy grins. Only Chekov doesn't say anything.
"Friends do that," Chekov says, softly. "They grow on you."
And, that swiftly, the mood chills. They all lost friends on the temporary fleet. Nyota thinks of Gaila, of Carina, of Beijide, and Anna, and Kiah, of other people who weren't friends, but were familiar faces she saw every day and now will never see again. She knows the others are thinking of people they knew - maybe even loved - who died at Vulcan, destroyed by Nero in his anger and bitterness.
The better part of three graduating classes. Seven starships. Thousands of personnel.
If not for Kirk, the Enterprise would have joined them.
A tray lands on the table, jarring them up. "You know, you all look pretty long-faced," Kirk says. "Have a drink."
Nyota takes hers silently, as do the others. Oddly, Kirk seems to catch the tenor of the moment and doesn't try to jolly them out of their mood. Then again, no-one's ever accused him of being stupid; just reckless.
It's Sulu who lifts his beer and looks around the table, the mobile features solemnly set. "To absent friends."
"They won't be forgotten," says McCoy, and they all drink.
The bourbon slides down her throat, rich and golden, and in it Nyota tastes both the bitterness of loss and the sweetness of life. She thinks of Spock, determined to help his people, and knows she wouldn't ask anything else of him. Love doesn't work that way.
Love isn't the only way either.
She'll miss him, but her life is more than Spock, just as his is more than her.
Her voice surprises her, easy above the noise of the bar. "And to new friends and new beginnings." She meets their eyes - her fellow officers aboard the Enterprise and the man who'll be captaining their ship.
She almost expects Kirk to make a leering comment, but his mouth only quirks faintly and he lifts his beer with the rest. "To new friends."
Maybe they're not friends yet, but they could be. Maybe.
In truth, they have a future of maybes laid out before them, and which way they'll go is another matter.
- fin -