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Author's Note: Written for the Where No Woman drabblefest prompt #6 "And as you dance/Always dance on that floor/Polished by the best/of you."
Know the truth
Orion Prime had had an advanced civilisation that had already fallen into ruin and decay when the first human beings were crawling out of the sea and thinking eventually opposable thumbs might be nifty. Orion texts and teachings stretched tendrils of knowledge all the way to the Delta Quadrant. Their advances and wonders were famed throughout the Galaxy.
But fame isn't the same as infamy. Fame fades and shifts with time and tide. Infamy, however, seems to outlast the truth by centuries.
Orion Prime had the Syndicate the way Old Chicago had Capone. That was the thing about infamy. You can have art, and architecture, history and music, whale-song and the stars close enough to touch. But all people know about the place was the St Valentine's Day Massacre, and didn't Dillinger's ghost still walk?
Infamy stretches further and longer into memory than starlight.
Gaila was one of exactly six Orion cadets in the graduating class of 2258: four in San Francisco, one in Paris, and one on Alpha Centauri. They know each other in passing, but don't spend much time together. For one, they're from completely different castes. For another, she's the only Freeborn Orion from a Syndicate-controlled colony.
Gero's mothers were Free Traders, and she was born in space where no-one remarked on her lack of grace in the dance. She has a hard time adjusting to life as a "dirt-walker" and still sent information packets via subspace to her mothers and sisters every week complaining about how slow days seem when they were governed by the rising and setting of a star.
Asharra's people were doctors on the Vega Colony and she is following in their footsteps as a medic. She wears her black curls slicked back in a tight bun and favours the unisex uniform option. She's skilled in hand-to-hand, but prefers playing the vrill and dancing to actual combat.
Dinevaa is in Life Sciences, and never meets Gaila's eyes when they run into each other on campus. Gaila thinks she is beautiful, and envies her just a little because she's smaller and more delicate, with exotic hazel eyes that are almost never seen on Orion Prime. Dinevaa is a better dancer as well, though Gaila has only ever seen her dance once, at a club in Paris when she first arrived on Earth. People mistake Gaila for Dinevaa sometimes, because like most Orions descended from the continent in the Eastern hemisphere, they have red hair instead of black. Gaila preens. But Dinevaa scowls, because she's higher caste and on Orion Prime that still means something, even if it means nothing at all on Terra.
N'eva is five years older than Gaila, and only joined Starfleet when their colony in the Beta Quadrant was nearly destroyed by the Breen. She has six sisters who died in the flames, and two daughters who attend a private boarding school outside the Presidio. Her daughters speak Standard fluently, and barely remember anything beyond basic greetings in Orion Prime.
Maarna is Command Track, and has no desire to actually command, but is one of the best pilots at the Academy. She is picked two years running as helmsman for the Academy Wargames, and in her spare time she teaches at a local flight school.
Gaila's mothers are tradeswomen on Alnitak. They trade and sell bolts of cloth and spidersilk from the Colonies. She is lower caste, but grew up in a fine house with over twenty sisters and sister-cousins, and the rest of her tribe. The Syndicate takes a cut of their business, but it is all anonymous, conducted over the Wires. It is just business, her Firstmother always says with a shrug. It is her cousin-sister Marne who used to gripe about it to Gaila as they sort fruit for morning meal.
Marne hates the Syndicate, and wishes they'd been born further out, where no daughters of Orion use the Dance to enslave anyone. Gaila, her mouth full of fresh nim-kadev, always nods because it seemed the thing to do. No women in her family have the strength to use the Dance to influence anyone, beyond the faint perfume of arousal. The Syndicate uses drugs and, secrets are whispered in the darkened rooms of her sisters' sleep chambers, genetic manipulation to subvert the Dance.
Marne is seven years older than Gaila. Marne knows everything.
When Gaila is six and twelve, Orion Prime officially abandons their carefully cultivated Neutrality. Whispers say it is because the Klingons and Breen were growing daring enough to attack Orion colonies—even Syndicate-controlled colonies. Whatever the reason, the Orions apply for membership to the Federation, so heavy cruisers with the latest weaponry would come and patrol their borders the way they do the Vulcans, Andorians, Terrans and Tellarites, and all the other member-worlds—a dozen more just since the destruction of the Kelvin. Orion Prime had seen which way the wind was blowing, and the colonies sheltered together to weather the inevitable storm.
Marne had wanted to join Starfleet, but their Firstmother forbade it. So Marne helped Gaila sneak to the capital, even loaned her the fare to get off-world. Gaila still used all her subspace credits to comm Marne on Alnitak III, where she had established her own House once she became a Firstmother.
Gaila choose Operations because she liked getting her hands dirty. Life Sciences had their share of programmers, but it rarely was practical, whereas Engineers were up to their elbows and that to Gaila seemed like Heaven. She knows she's supposed to find the Engineering Track coursework difficult, but it's no harder than what she studied as a youngling on the Colony. What challenges her more are the core curriculum courses like Anthropology, Stellar Cartography, Basic Linguistics and all the skills every cadet has to master no matter what their focus. In contrast, hand-to-hand is easy. Hand-to-hand is just the Dance, but with sharp edges. She excels at hand-to-hand.
The thing about infamy, however, was that all anyone ever seems to want to talk about were the Syndicate.
Orion Pirates are legend in this part of the galaxy. The colonies where Starfleet made first contact were all Syndicate-controlled, and the first thing any human Gaila has ever met learnt about Orions were lurid tales, four generations old, of the slave markets.
Nevermind that Gaila had never seen one on Alnitak. Never mind that there were two dozen colonies of Orion Prime where the Syndicate had never been able to gain more than a foothold.
Never mind the art and architecture. It was Al Capone people wanted to hear about.
The only Dance they'd ever seen were archive records of a slave the Orion colony on Verex III. The Dance had been the simple version, the one taught to children. The Dancer hadn't even been very good at it, Gaila had scowled at the vidscreen the first time she'd seen her. But something about it had captured human imaginations for decades, and there was no point in explaining the Dance was a lot more than just those six minutes of archive footage, the music half drowned out by the jeers and catcalls of the traders.
Gaila stops rolling her eyes, and decides if people look at her and always see that anonymous Dancer older than her Firstmother's firstmother... then perhaps infamy is better than fame. Then perhaps fame is better than truth.
So she performs the Dance as part of her Anthropology final, her second year. All 51 minutes of it, with the incense and just the reed flute, the way it had always been performed in her House. She isn't the best Dancer in her tribe. That would be her sister-cousin Lere, who always made Gaila weep with the way her movements were like reeds bending in the wind, or knife-blades sharp enough to cut. But she does her best. She does her best to show rather than explain.
She's been told, in whispers, that tricorder recordings of that Dance are floating around the Wire here on Earth. She tries not to smile too brightly, but it makes her dance inside just a little when she thinks of it, even now.
After the battle of Vulcan, there's just Gaila and Dinevaa in the graduating class of 2258.
Maarna's died on the Farragut, killed instantly. Asharra was on Enterprise but was on deck 6 when the hull was breached. N'eva's daughters are orphaned when the Antares' saucer was sheered off by Romulan weapons seven seconds after coming out of warp above the planet.
Gaila was lucky. Gaila knows she makes her own luck. Gaila Dances one last time, the week after Enterprise limps home, her Medbay full of Vulcan Elders with a lost look in their dark eyes that Gaila understands too well for someone whose world still spins in the distance.
She Dances on the grass in the Academy Commons, without the incense or the reed flute. She Dances for her sister-cousins, and for the dead, and for herself.
Dinevaa watches her Dance, and for once, joins in. And it doesn't matter that they are from two different worlds, two different castes, two different Houses.
They are sisters, and they are dancing, and that is all that matters.
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