sternel: (this bitch defined fierce)
[personal profile] sternel
Title: Muscle Memory
Author: [personal profile] sternel
Summary: “Tactical proficiency benchmark 4a: Cadets must successfully dis- and re-assemble a phaser within 50 seconds.” It’s not as easy as it sounds.
Disclaimer: All hail Roddenberry, Paramount, and the various people & corporate bodies who aren't me.

Notes: For the [ profile] where_no_woman Uhura Is Awesome ficathon, prompt: 5. Nyota Uhura can take apart a phaser and put it back together in 36 seconds.
A huge thank you to [ profile] fredericks and [ profile] nnaylime for magnificent beta work, and [ profile] athena4lynn, who is always my biggest cheerleader.

It has yet to be proven that intelligence has any survival value.
-Arthur C. Clarke

Nyota sat on the floor of her quarters, using her bed as a backrest. She stared at the practice phaser disassembled on the floor in front of her, schematic open on her padd. “This is ridiculous,” she complained, and from the other bed, Gaila scoffed.

“It’s not that hard. Just put it back together.”

“Easy for you to say; you’re an engineer.” She squinted at the padd and carefully started to reassemble the phaser, one component at a time. Putting the assembled unit down, she nodded in satisfaction. “Green light!”

“Way too slow. You’d be hanging off some bat’leth by now,” Gaila replied pleasantly, and ripped open a bag of chips. Nyota let her head fall back to rest against the side of her mattress.

“Not helping.”

“Oh. Sorry, you wanted some?” Gaila asked, and the bag of chips sailed across the room to land neatly in her lap.


The test on the Andorian pluperfect tense left the entire class slumped over trays in the Newton Hall café afterward, some people rehashing their answers, some people hiding behind earphones or in their padds. Nyota blocked out their chatter and second-guessing to focus instead on the phaser diagram open on her padd as she devoured a bowl of stir-fry. She had forty minutes before her next class, and if she finished lunch quickly enough she could go do another run-through.

“How was your exam?” Gaila sat across from her, a huge hero sandwich and an apple on her tray.

“What on earth are you eating?” Nyota frowned at Gaila’s tray.

Gaila carefully picked up the hero and took a bite. “Mmm.” She chewed, swallowed, and took a long drink of water. “This guy I went on a date with the other night was discussing the glory of the hero, so I figured I’d give it a try. It’s not life-changing, but it’s not bad.” She took another, smaller bite, a contemplative look on her face. “Perhaps if it didn’t have so much stuff in it.”

“So pull out some of the filling,” Nyota pointed out, and bent back over her diagram. “Exam was brutal. I’m hoping for a curve.”

“I thought you said Macmillan never did curves,” Gaila replied, reaching to snag a shrimp out of her stir-fry. She grinned when Nyota waved her chopsticks threateningly. “What are you studying now?”

“Just… stuff,” Nyota said, and Gaila half-stood to lean over the table and look.

“Nyota! Enough. You’re obsessing. Give me that.” Gaila snatched the padd away. “You think too much; you know that? Take a break for a day, and we’ll go over it tomorrow.”

Nyota swiped the padd back and smacked it on the table. “I don’t think so. The next round of tactical proficiencies is next week, and I haven’t even broken a minute on the phaser reassembly. I’m going to fail if I don’t get it.”

“You’ll get it.” Gaila switched to her native Orion tongue. “Mastery is certainty.” She frowned at her hero, and moved back into Standard. “I don’t think there’s a Standard equivalent for that.”

Übung macht den Meister, maybe? It’s German, though.“ Nyota shugged and scooped the last bite out of her bowl. “I gotta go; due in the sensor lab.”

Gaila shook her head as she got up. “Try not thinking about it.”

“That makes no sense,” Nyota told her, gathering up her dishes for the recycler. “You out tonight?”

“Maybe,” Gaila said with a grin and laughed at Nyota’s expression. “I’ll comm you.”

“Please? No surprise dates; it’s a buzzkill.” Nyota tugged one of Gaila’s curls affectionately and headed off, aware that as soon as she disappeared someone would slip into her abandoned seat to chat Gaila up. Never failed.


How do you not think so much? Gaila’s words were echoing in Nyota’s brain as she ran the next morning, passing slower cadets without even noticing. She drilled herself in her head, trying to picture each part of the phaser, how they all fit together, labeling every component. Battery, conductor, power coil, converter, insulators, trigger mech, housing, handle. She named each piece in her head over and over, and somewhere in the back of her mind, a song started chanting in time with the rhythm of her stride: Oh, the head bone’s connected to the – neck bone...

Maybe Gaila was right. She switched her focus to her breathing – in and out in time with her steps – and looked up as she crested a hill and the bay appeared in front of her, gleaming in the bright light of sunrise.

When she got back to the room, Gaila had just gotten up and was curled up in bed with a padd and a cup of coffee. “That was fast,” she said as Nyota kicked off her running shoes.

“I was out there for an hour,” Nyota pointed out, amused. “You were still fast asleep when I left. Good date?”

“Oooooooh yes,” Gaila said, stretching out with a grin, but it vanished. “Kind of. Unfortunately he has a girlfriend and didn’t bother to let me know that. I don’t care, really–but she did, and that means he was taking advantage of both of us, right? This Terran sexual morality gets complicated.”

“She walked in on you, didn’t she?” Nyota asked, although it wasn’t a question, really. This wasn’t the first time that had happened. She peeled off her sweaty tee shirt and dropped it onto her laundry pile.

“Yeah. Not until after, though, so at least I had a good lay out of it. I don’t think he’s getting sex any time soon, though.” Gaila shrugged. “I have to remember to ask about these things, because obviously Terrans have a really hard time conforming to their own standards.” She sipped her coffee, frowning. “She was really upset; I feel bad.”

Nyota gave her a little smile and reached over to steal her mug, helping herself to a sip of coffee. “The fact that you feel bad means you’ve got a better handle on this Terran sexual morality than you think.” She took another sip. “But I’m still going to kill you if you ever use my bed for sex again.”

“Oh, I have no doubt,” Gaila said, reclaiming her coffee. “Go shower. You smell like you spent the last hour running.” She laughed at the glare Nyota gave her, and pinched her nose until Nyota gave in and headed for the bathroom.

In the time it took Nyota to finish her shower, Gaila had made Nyota her own mug of coffee, and was back in bed busily tapping away at some assignment or other, surrounded by an even larger pile of padds. “Your comm dinged while you were showering.”

Pulling her robe tight, Nyota padded across the room in bare feet to open up her inbox. “Excellent! Advanced CommSys is cancelled today. Professor Marcos has a family emergency–well, I hope it’s nothing serious.”

Gaila shrugged. “If it’s bad enough to cancel, probably is. That’s a shame; Marcos is nice, for a Vegan. But now you have the whole afternoon free.”

“Which I need; I still have to pass the last of the tacticals,” Nyota muttered, and took a deep drink.

“You’ll be fine,” Gaila said absently, her attention already back on her programming assignment. “You’ve passed just about everything.”

“Not everything; I haven’t tested out for hand-to-hand yet,” Nyota said, starting to comb her hair back. “And–the phaser certification.”

“You dropped me in barely a minute when we practiced the other day,” Gaila pointed out with a snort. “I still have a bruise on my side, by the way. It is not attractive.”

“Go to Medical, and they’ll heal it for you if it bothers you that much,” said Nyota with a smirk.

Gaila demonstrated her knowledge of an old Terran visual obscenity, lifting a finger and waiving it at Nyota. “Badge of honor - what I receive, I return.”

Nyota dug around in her dresser for fresh underwear and started to dress. “You and your Orion proverbs.”

Laughing, Gaila finished her coffee with a flourish. “You love it. And… I have an idea for your phaser certification. My lab today only goes until 1500. Meet me at the gym after, and we’ll see if it works.”

Pulling her undertunic over her head, Nyota turned to look curiously at Gaila. “Oh yeah? I’m all ears.”

“You and your Terran expressions,” Gaila teased back. “You’ll see when you get there. Get dressed and get out. Commander Spock hates tardiness.”

Nyota looked at the chrono and jumped. “Shit, you’re right; I’m going to be late!” She shoved her feet into her boots. “1500, you said?”

“Yeah. Flirt with Spock for me!” Gaila called after her as Nyota scooped up her bag and ran out the door. She paused just long enough to flip Gaila off in return. As she dashed off to class, she could hear Gaila’s laughter ringing out into the hallway.


“All right,” Gaila said, standing in the middle of the small practice chamber with her hands on her hips. “This is just an idea. But it’s how I learned…things, before I came here, and it always worked.”

“Things?” Nyota asked, putting her hands on her hips, mockingly.

“Things,” Gaila said firmly, and held out – a blindfold.

“What the hell is that?” Nyota snapped, glaring.

“Around the eyes,” Gaila said, waiting with impatience on her face. “You’re thinking too hard and you are trying to process too many thoughts at once. So we’re going to eliminate some input. Cover the eyes, no cheating, and I’ll break the model down.” She watched Nyota eyeing her and laughed. “No tricks. I promise.” She sat cross-legged on the floor once Nyota took the blindfold, and grinned when Nyota echoed her.

“I don’t know if this is a good idea,” Nyota said, hearing the doubtful tone in her voice.

Gaila rolled her eyes. “Because what you were doing already worked so well? Give it a try, what can it hurt?”

“All right.” Nyota stared at the blindfold, and slowly wrapped it over her eyes and tied it on. “Now what?”

“Just relax. Take a deep breath, and listen.” Gaila fell silent, and Nyota took a deep breath, like she was about to sing, imagining the air spiraling into her lungs and back out again. There was a popping sound and some cracks, and then she felt Gaila take her hand. “All right. This is the casing. Memorize the way it feels, where the opening is, the top and the bottom.”

Gaila took her on a tour of phaser components: explaining what each one was, pointing out what all the edges and components were as Nyota ran her fingers over them, and how each one fit with all the other pieces. Nyota tried imagining the diagram in her head, to match each piece to its place in the schematic. She held the power coil in her hand, and thought for a moment, and reached out, patting the other pieces until her fingers fell on the dense rectangle of the battery, and snapped the two together.

Now you’re getting it!” Gaila said, delighted. “What’s next?”

“Converter?” Nyota asked, frowning. Gaila tsked.

“I’m not telling you, find it and see.”

Nyota grumped, and reached out to pat at the neat line of components again, feeling for the converter wires. It took her a minute to figure out where it fit together, but when she went to snap it into place it slid home cleanly.

“Yes!” cried Gaila, and clapped her hands. Nyota grinned and pictured the schematic again, reaching for the insulation and casing. Then the power set, the firing crystal, and finally the trigger before the other half of the casing fell into place. She ripped the blindfold off, rose to one knee, and aimed at the wall. The red laser of the practice model glowed on the padding, and she whooped.

“I got it!”

“And you didn’t have to consult a padd once!” Gaila cheered, and gave her a tight hug. “Now, guess what?”

Nyota handed her the phaser model and grinned. “Break it down, we go again,” she said, and pulled the blindfold back on.

Gaila hissed a Klingon battle cry (or an invitation to intercourse, depending on the context; naturally, Gaila’s favorite). “No hesitation this time,” she announced, and as Nyota adjusted the blindfold she could hear the cracking sound of the phaser casing being split.

“Start keeping time,” she said, and Gaila laughed.


They drilled it another fifty times, and by the time their room reservation had expired, Nyota could identify every component by feel, and was down to two minutes. She talked Gaila into some quality time in the weight room to burn off her adrenaline, and they spotted each other on the machines. Other than counting off reps for each other they didn’t say a word, and Nyota let her mind shut off, focusing simply on the stretch of muscles as she worked. They left the gym on wobbly limbs, tired and sweat-soaked.

“So,” Nyota said quietly as they drifted along the path back to their dorm. “How’d you learn that technique?”

“As a child,” Gaila said, even more quietly, and shrugged when Nyota looked up in surprise. Gaila never discussed her life before she’d come to Earth, and Nyota had never had the balls to ask. “I grew up on a smuggling ship; even the children had to earn their place. I was small and agile and I could wiggle into the engines to fix things better than anyone else. The lighting was always poor, so my – so they would have me practice with old broken parts and a blindfold until I could do it perfectly without looking. I knew the entire ship by feel.” She looked up, into the cloudy dusk, and ran her tongue over her lips. “Sometimes in the labs, I have to close my eyes and do things like that, by feel. I’m not used to relying on vision. And – it’s stupid to think you’d always have the light to do so anyway. What if your power is out, or you need to switch out a phaser battery during a landing mission while you’re on a planet’s night side?” She glanced over at Nyota. “I figured it was worth a try, and it worked.”

“It did.” Nyota reached for her hand and gave it a quick squeeze. “Thank you.” She meant for all of it, and when Gaila squeezed back she knew she’d been understood.


As Nyota had predicted, Macmillan did not curve the Andorian pluperfect exam, and she stared at the results list in despair. Despite being one of the top scorers in the class, she still barely had cleared 50%. When Commander Macmillan announced they would be resitting the exam the following week, she sagged in relief, and started slotting extra review time into her schedule.

Of course, that guaranteed that she would have to change it. She had just walked out of Sato Hall when her padd buzzed with a message from Gaila. More phaser practice? I have two hours until Warp Mech.

Hitching her bag up higher on her shoulder, Nyota tapped back a reply. 20 mins. Bombed Ando. exam, need coffee & maybe choc. Retake next mon.

Her padd buzzed again seconds later. Café in Newton has choc croissants today, bring one for me! Can pretend phaser targets are cmdr M. get moving.

Nyota laughed, and turned around to walk back to Newton Hall.


“You’re ready. Sign up.” Gaila crossed her arms when Nyota glared at her.

“I still haven’t met the requirements,” she pointed out, and Gaila huffed and snatched the blindfold out of her hand, dropping the phaser to the floor.

“That’s the setup. Starting the clock in three…two…one…mark!”

Scowling, Nyota dropped down to the floor, broke the phaser down, laying the pieces out in a line, and reversed, reassembling it in efficient motions. She slid the other half of the casing home, looked for the green light, and turned smoothly to fire at the far wall. Gaila called “Time!” as the red laser appeared on the padding.

“Forty-seven-point-three-one seconds,” the computer announced in its monotone, and Gaila crossed her arms across her chest again and smirked.

“Requirement is fifty seconds. You passed. Sign up.”

Nyota stared at the phaser in her hand in disbelief, and looked at Gaila. “No way. Again.”

Gaila laughed. “Fine. Ready? Mark!”

The second time, she did it in 45.8 seconds.

The third time was 47.1.

After the fifth successful drill, Nyota had to admit that maybe, just maybe, she’d nailed this thing, and agreed to sign up. Gaila had a smug smile on her face the entire walk back across campus. Even having to listen to Nyota drill Andorian verbs for the rest of the night didn’t do a thing to her satisfaction, much to Nyota’s amusement.


Nyota walked out of Sato Hall the morning after her the tactical prereqs exams feeling like a million credits. Macmillan was even in a good mood, but that was probably because the results on the second Andorian exam were so much better. Nyota wasn’t entirely thrilled with her 84%, but it was well into passing, and pushed her to second in the class, and that was excellent.

“Congratulations, Uhura,” someone said as they passed her, and she frowned. “Huh? Thanks.” She kept walking, but – why would a random third year cadet be congratulating her over a linguistics exam? She shrugged it off and turned onto the path towards Newton to meet Gaila for lunch.

“Good job, Cadet,” somebody else said, and she stopped short, but whoever it was had turned a corner and she couldn’t tell who’d said it.

“Thank you,” she said to the air anyway, and turned to keep going, nodding as people congratulated her along the way. When Kirk, of all people, stopped her outside the door to Newton, she snapped.

“This isn’t over Macmillan’s exam. What on earth is going on?”

Kirk laughed, and she thought, not for the first time, that it was a shame that she hadn’t gotten a punch in when she’d had the chance. But then he held out a padd, and all thoughts of beating on Kirk vanished.

Starfleet Academy
Department of Tactics
Cadet Certification Exam: Phaser Mechanics
Stardate 2253.182

*Denotes new Academy record

1. Cadet N. Uhura, 36.2 seconds*
2. Cadet J. Kirk, 39.1 seconds

She stopped reading after that, eyes returning again and again to her name.

“We both broke the record,” Kirk said, dragging her attention from the list. “But you left me in the dust, Cadet.” He held out a hand for his padd, and she handed it back. “Looking forward to seeing what you do in hand-to hand.” He grinned and waggled his eyebrows in what she could only assume was supposed to be suggestive, and she had to laugh.

“I’m not selfish. You can go ahead for the record on that,” Nyota said, and returned his grin. “But I think I’ll keep this one,” she added, dryly.

“I think you will,” Kirk said. He was still grinning, but his voice was serious. “Gonna take a lot of work to break that record. Really nicely done, Uhura.” He gave her a lazy salute, and turned and loped down the steps, calling after his doctor friend, who waved a hand at Nyota when he saw her. She returned it, and headed inside.

Gaila was waiting at a table, with a huge mocha already in front of her that she shoved over to Nyota. “Congratulations!” she squealed, and Nyota laughed and picked up the coffee, holding it up in a toast as Gaila jumped up to embrace her. “You set the record!”

“If it wasn’t for your blindfold I wouldn’t have had a chance of even passing,” she told Gaila, and Gaila laughed as she sat back down.

“You realize how kinky that sounds?”

Nyota rolled her eyes and held the mocha out for Gaila to take a sip from before she stole it outright. “And? I passed Macmillan’s retest. Second in the class.”

“You should ask Commander Spock out,” Gaila said, mischief in her voice as she passed the coffee back. “Today is clearly your day.”

Nyota sat back in her chair and let out a long slow breath, feeling tension draining out of her back as her smile grew. “It really is, isn’t it?”

Gaila laughed again, and stole the mocha for another sip; Nyota had to claim it back. She dug her padd out from her bag and opened up the Subspace assignment due for her next class and settled in, content.

“My roommate. Set an Academy record,” Gaila repeated, and Nyota kept smiling as she sipped her coffee. “Nyota Uhura, fastest assembler of phasers in the whole Academy.”

Nyota’s smile grew. “You know, that has a nice ring to it.” She bent over her padd, but her smile never went away.

She didn’t even try.


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December 2012

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