Fic: With All My Crooked Heart (Gaila, gen)

Words do not even begin to describe the joy of finding a completed fic slumbering in your WIP folder. I must have written for a where_no_woman drabble fest this summer and then never posted it.

Title: With All My Crooked Heart
Characters: Gaila, Uhura
Rating: PG
Summary: Uhura makes Gaila take a really boring literature class, and then Gaila tells her about the secret language of the slaves.
Notes: for the prompt I long for scenes where man has never trod; A place where woman never smil'd or wept.
Word Count: 1189

Gaila slumps so low in her desk that her shoulders are resting on the seat back and her butt is almost sliding off the edge of the chair. Professor Verbitsky emails a demerit to her padd without so much as looking at her. She pulls herself up, which puts her at the perfect level to give Uhura a dirty look.

"You didn't tell me this class would have an actual book."

She ruffles the pages balefully and thinks she can smell the dust rising off them, although that's probably just her imagination.

Uhura says nothing, so she hisses, "Dammit woman, I'm an engineer, not a librarian."

Uhura snorts low in her throat, too quietly for the professor to hear, and taps a note on her padd without taking her eyes off the screen at the front of the room.

What did you expect from a class called Pre-Warp Visions of Space Exploration? It's authentic.

Gaila opens the book even though they're supposed to be taking notes off the screen at the front of the room. She flips idly through the pages, picking out early models of Vulcan rocketships and Andorian poetry about the stars.

"There are no Orions in this book."

It's sort of a whisper, but loud enough to make Verbitsky glare at her.

"Ssssssssh," Uhura murmurs. She risks taking her eyes off the professor long enough to whisper, "I'm sorry."

Gaila slumps in her seat again, though not quite low enough to catch the professor's attention. Yet. It doesn't matter, she tells herself. She has to get the stupid literature and cultures credit, and she hadn't expected the class to be good. What does she want with Orions' pre-warp visions of space travel anyway? It's her species, but not her culture. When they say Orions, they always mean the rulers, but slaves like her had dreamed of space flight too, probably long before the ruling castes thought to leave their opulent palaces for the stars. But she would never know. Writing it down would have been too dangerous, even for the slaves like her who got taught to read and write, which meant it was never going to be in a textbook, here or anywhere else.

"Cadet," Verbitsky says, and nobody in the room doubts who she's looking at. Gaila looks up at the screen and realizes belatedly that she should be on page 394.

"Please comment on the following lines of poetry: I long for scenes where man has never trod; A place where woman never smil'd or wept."

"Why is it always the men who are doing and the women who are feeling?" she snaps. "When I explore space, I'm going to smile and tread."

And all the men who see me will weep with longing, she adds in her head. Even the anatomically incompatible ones.

Jim Kirk gives her a crooked smile and a couple people clap. Verbitsky tells her that her analysis of historic Terran gender roles is perceptive but that she won't get to explore strange new worlds if she doesn't get her lit and cultures credit. Then class is dismissed.

Back in their dorm room, Gaila paints her toenails gold while Uhura reads her a list of alternative classes to get her stupid literature and cultures credit.

"How about Literary Overview of Non-Aligned Species?" she asks. "There's a couple Orion novels on the syllabus."

Gaila shrugs her shoulders, copying the human gesture of indifference. What she really means is that she has no interest in reading the literature of her former owners.

"Oooh! Uhura crows triumphantly. "There's also Advanced High Orion! How did I not see that? I'll transfer in with you if you want me to. I'd have to shuffle around my Tuesdays to make it work..."

Gaila can hear the little beeps as Uhura flicks through screens on her padd, trying to rearrange her schedule. She doesn't really want to tell Uhura that she doesn't speak High Orion at all. It's not her fault that she doesn't know, but she doesn't like admitting her ignorance to someone like Uhura who always knows everything.

"Two generations to make a change. With education," she mutters, not looking up from her pedicure.

"What?" Uhura asks absent-mindedly, barely bothering to look up from her padd.

"I learned it in a Terran history course. It takes two generations to make a change, provided that there's sufficient buy-in from the government or ruling classes to educate the population. It's true for other species too. So if all the Syndicates' slaves were freed tomorrow, it would take nearly a hundred Terran years for people to believe they should be free, and probably a hundred more before they stop thinking that we should educate ourselves to become just like them."

"You mean even if you took an Orion culture class, it wouldn't really be about you."

"We have our own dialect you know. The slaves, I mean. The masters understand just enough to order us around."

At that, Uhura's head snaps up like Gaila's would if she saw a guy with a really nice ass, or perhaps an engine with a really nice bit of warp coil.

"Will you tell me about it?"

"You're not, like, going to publish a thesis about it, are you?"

She wants to tell Uhura, she really does. And she trusts her. Mostly. It's just...Uhura's from a world where knowledge is never dangerous, and everyone can know everything any time they want to. Orion wasn't like that.

Uhura nods slowly.

"That would be dangerous, wouldn't it? Your language has to stay secret."

Gaila nods back, looking Uhura hard in the eye. They're friends, and she doesn't like to challenge her this way, but Uhura has to know she means business.

"I wouldn't endanger your people, Gaila. I promise."

Gaila looks down at her sparkly gold toes, feeling a little guilty, but Uhura leans across the bed and touches her shoulder.

"It's okay. You had to ask. You can tell me as much or as little as you want."

"Well," she says, licking her lips just like she does before she says something really good and dirty, "there are five different cases depending on how big a secret you're telling. And different tones for saying something you don't really mean."

Like wow, your penis is so big. Sometimes she says it to human men here, and she's a little sad that no one here can be in on the joke.

Uhura, meanwhile, is typing frantically in her padd, eyebrows furrowed in consternation.

"Orion isn't a tonal language. I'm sure of it."

Then she looks up, her eyes gleaming.

"Gaila, that's brilliant. Your - your masters don't even know it when you're saying something you don't mean."

"They just think we're idiots who can't pronounce things."

"Gaila, please. You have to teach me."

"No," she says, using the tone that makes it mean 'yes.'

She smiles at Uhura, wondering how long it will take her to figure out the game.
This is so good I don't even know what to say. It's just so *true*. Next time I'm writing about Gaila I will remember the slaves' dialect, whether it comes up in my story or not.
Thank you so much! I hope you do play with the slaves' dialect; it begs for expansion, but I just don't have the bunnies now.
Eeee, this is so wonderful! I'm really glad you dug through your WIP folder. It is just marvellous how you mixed Gaila's general joy in life with her insights into culture and gender/race stereotypes. Nyota's reactions are spot on. Thank you for sharing. ♥
This was wonderful. And I am now incredibly interested in this whole secret culture that is basically unknown outside of Orion - so Gaila can learn about Orion culture, but it isn't her culture. <3
Thank you! I have a vague memory that I didn't post this because I had wanted to expand it into something larger, but whatever bunny I had for that hopped away long ago. Maybe it will come back!
This is such a clever, fascinating idea! Much like Uhura, I'd love to learn more about this whole other Orion language/culture that Gaila was raised in.
Thank you very much! I have a vague memory that I held off on posting this because I wanted to expand it into something bigger, but for the life of me, I can't remember what. I hope the idea comes back!
Hee hee
Mark Liberman just wrote this post on Language Log:

Oh great
   For those who think that irony "is almost always indicated by tone of voice", a little quiz:
six short samples of spoken English
Which of these are literal (positive evaluation of something) and which are ironic (negative evaluation of something)?

Go to the post to hear them, read the rest of the post, and compare your opinions with other peoples'.

Edited at 2010-12-29 08:59 pm (UTC)
This is fantastic. I love stories that use Uhura's linguistics, and the way you describe Orion and Gaila is perfect.
How do you write such amazing, insightful stuff that feels so damn real??!! No, I don't want to know. I just want to enjoy.
Oh, that's awesome "Like wow, your penis is so big. Sometimes she says it to human men here, and she's a little sad that no one here can be in on the joke." Brilliant... Languages are so interesting!
Beautiful! And what a great story concept - it makes perfect sense in the context [and from everything I've read in "The Orions: The Book of Common Knowledge" and it's sister book "The Book of Deep Knowledge"]
Oh, that's great. Really. I always love your Gaila but I'm so glad you found this in the WIP bucket. :)