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Log of the Month for February, 2022

Cultural Immersion
Posted on February 11th, 2022 by Emilaina Acacia and Kathryn Harper

Emily had taken a day of her shore leave to visit her Captain on Risa, and the two were strolling through a local shopping district, chatting as they browsed various shops. They found they had a lot to relate about these days, the two laughing and talking like old friends. As they passed the entrance to a large bathhouse, its edifice a grand marble arch over ornately carved wooden doors leading into a domed interior, Emily paused to look at it. “How about this? I could go for a bath,” she pointed to the word ‘bath’ on the sign, some of the basic Risan she had been picking up. In her head she was picturing the bathhouses of Japan on Earth, a more modest affair than a Risan bathhouse. 

Kate started to instinctively reply in the affirmative before catching herself to think for a moment as a warm breeze played with errant strands of red hair around her face that had escaped her braided side-twist ponytail. The two women were visiting a remote town that was not frequented by tourists, and this was a traditional Risan bathhouse. While the fact that it was Risan was obvious, Kate wondered if Emily knew what that meant in the sense of tradition, and if she would be comfortable with it.

“Emily,” she began tentatively, “this is a traditional Risan bathhouse and spa, meaning that there are customs that you may find unusual.” Searching her friend’s face to gauge her reaction, Kate tapped her own forehead ornament with a finger to indicate the one she had gifted to Emily so that she would not seem out-of-place in the small town with few-to-no offworlders. “Such as, in a traditional Risan bath, this is all that you can wear. No one in there will be wearing swimsuits, or care about covering up when out of the water. There will probably even be people having sex in the side rooms. Modesty is not a Risan concept, and this is all perfectly natural to us.”

Emily was very briefly surprised as she realized the implication, then switched right to a big smile as the idea didn’t seem to bother her. She rubbed the ornament on her forehead with her thumb as if for good luck, winking, “Well, when on Risa, do as the Romans do. Do we… strip inside, or at the door?” Emily had to chuckle at herself, wondering when she had gotten so comfortable with such traditions. She came from two cultures with a concept of modesty, but for a while now she had begun to relate to the Risans and their lack of it. It was freeing not to care as much about such things; Emily was even a bit intrigued at the prospect. 

Finding that she could sense a bit of genuine curiosity over whatever strange bond they now shared, Kate nodded and smiled, satisfied that Emily was truly at ease with the idea. “Inside. There is a communal changing room with storage for our clothes and bags, along with a place to shower off before entering the spa area.”

“Well, I only want to go if you’re okay with it,” Emily stipulated, wanting to be sure Kate was comfortable and not assume just based on her mood. 

Kate spent a brief moment considering her reply; despite not having modesty, she certainly understood what was considered appropriate aboard a Starfleet ship. “Well,” she started with a chuckle, “you are my doctor and have already seen most of me, literally both inside and out, but of course, this is different; as a matter of decorum, a Starfleet crew should not see their captain naked. Aside from Lexy, of course, only Kuari has been an exception, but our cultures have the lack of modesty in common, and she and I have been close friends for far longer than we have been in command.”

Her voice became noticeably softer as she continued, “But with all of that said, after everything that we have been through together along with the bond that we now share, I am perfectly comfortable dropping that guard around you, Emily. You are more to me than just my doctor or a member of my crew.”

Emily smiled warmly as she met Kate’s green eyes to sincerely return the sentiment. “And you are more than just my Captain,” she said softly. There was a lot behind those words, as she also felt the strong connection their shared experience had created, but didn’t have any better words to say so. She gestured for Kate to lead the way into the bathhouse, bowing her head.

With a warm, contented glow complemented by a hint of what she could sense from Emily, Kate did just that. A few minutes later, after checking in with the receptionist, they were in the changing area, a large, open stone and tile room with rows of storage that was clearly quite old, but had been updated with some more modern conveniences. Upon arriving at their assigned nooks, Kate stepped out of her sandals and then casually pulled her diaphanous teal off-the-shoulder Risan dress over her head and hung it up, followed by the pair of matching panties that was all she had been wearing underneath. Now naked except for her forehead ornament, she quietly said, “Time to be Risan for a few hours, my friend.”

Emily looked at the locker for a moment, nodding firmly and steeling herself. This was nothing, this was fine, this was just Risan culture. Her nerves were brief then faded fully, and she genuinely felt fine with this. She once again tapped the decoration on her forehead for luck with a smile, then proceeded to strip down nude and deposit her Risan dress and underwear in the locker. 

“Okay!” Emily placed her hands on her hips and smiled, feeling like she was actually fitting in, “There’s a shower first, you said?”

Impressed that Emily had gone through with it, but having felt that she would, Kate smiled and nodded. “Right this way!” came her cheerful reply as she gestured onward. As they left their clothes and shopping bags behind, the storage area gave way to a steamy room with rows of showers and several people in the process of ensuring their cleanliness before entering the various pools. The water was always the perfect temperature despite the facility’s age, and soon, they were also clean and making their way into the central baths, a massive marble chamber with an intricately-crafted dome of mosaic tile. Large columns offered structural support between the baths of various sizes and temperatures, and parts of the mosaics in the dome were mirrored at the bottom of the pools, easily visible through the crystal-clear waters.

Many nude Risans spanning the gender spectrum were relaxing in the baths or moving between them, but due to the sheer size of the place, it was not crowded. Several doors lined the main chamber, offering private rooms with lounge furniture and their own small hot baths, some of which were in use as evidenced by their closed doors, Passageways led off to the massage parlor and saunas, and staff circulated around, offering refreshments to the patrons, whose many voices of different pitches in indistinct conversations echoed through the grand halls. Kate instinctively started toward one of the colder pools before turning to ask Emily, “I usually go cool before hot, and then a massage, but what do you think? A stay in the sauna before getting in the water could also be nice.”

“I want to try everything,” Emily grinned, observing the ornate surroundings with awe, “So I think the sauna would be a good place to start.”

“This way, then!” Kate led Emily past a few of the pools and into an arched passageway. Wooden doors branched off of it into saunas of different temperatures, and Kate pushed through one into a room that was kept slightly warmer than usual. Finding no one else in the sauna, she shrugged before sitting on the warm wooden bench and stretching out to relax in the dry heat.

Emily looked around and noticed that they were alone, adopting a similar lounging pose to get a nice stretch on her spine. She marveled at the construction of the sauna, “This building is much bigger on the inside than it looks from the street. There is so much here! And massages after a bath—your people really know how to party.”

Kate chuckled and sighed contentedly as the heat started to sink in. “We certainly do, yes. Here, our core philosophy is that life should be enjoyed as much as possible, and that axiom permeates much of our culture, although our focus on sexuality was also influenced by our species’ naturally low fertility. But here is another Risan language lesson for you: the ultimate insult for us is to be called a jama-na, which would translate as ‘pleasure-denier’.”

“Oh, ‘pleasure-denier’…” Emily chuckled, “I’d hate to be called that.” She took a moment to breathe in the heat, finding it both overwhelming and satisfying, her head tingling a bit, “I’ve read about the Risan fertility issue. Less of a problem these days, but I can see how that would influence a culture to focus on sexuality. Fascinating stuff, the history of this planet. It was hard-fought to become the premier tourist planet of the Federation, but I would say it’s deserved.”

“Extolling our hospitality is one of the highest compliments in our culture, so, thank you. After all, that is a point of Risan pride.” After mulling for a moment on the knowledge that Emily was aware of the fertility problems her people suffered, Kate closed her eyes and added, “I just wish that our free sexuality was not the first thing people think of when it comes to us, but suppose that I understand it being seen as novel. Still, that is just one part of who we are and what Risa is.”

The pair finished up their time in the sauna and sauntered out refreshed, wandering back through the main area to find an unoccupied bath. Emily was amazed by the variety of hair washing and bath products available, and ended up letting Kate pick for them both. 

They settled into one of the small, regularly filtered baths in the main room and Emily dropped in the sparkling bath bomb, bubbling and coloring the water as well as giving it a sweet smell. Smiling and enjoying the sensation of the warm, fizzing water, the two women undid their braids and then helped to wash each other’s hair with the appropriate floral-scented Risan shampoos and conditioners that Kate had chosen with their individual types of hair in mind. While attending to each other’s hair, they traded compliments and appreciated how they differed, one set of tresses red and straight, the other black and curly. Afterwards, they both mostly washed their own bodies with the herbal body wash Kate had selected, though they helped each other reach their upper backs with the perfumed soap. 

The two women once again quickly showered to avoid cross-contaminating the baths, then made their way to the large communal hot pool, which seemed to be a runoff of an actual hot spring. Emily stepped in slowly, then sank fully into the water and smiled softly at the sensation. She continued to make small talk as they enjoyed the water. 

“Were there any shops we didn’t get to visit that you particularly like? We could stop by on our way out. I don’t want to miss anything this planet has to offer,” Emily mused happily.

Feeling the water’s heat start to sink into her muscles and relax them, Kate languidly replied, “I did not notice any more shops, no, but I did see a restaurant that smelled divine and looks like it will have a wonderful view for dinner.”

Emily’s stomach released a gurgle at the prospect of food, and she laughed at how noticable the noise was. She nodded happily, playing with the hot water between her hands as she enjoyed the sensation, “That sounds perfect. I need to learn more Risan cuisine, after all. The replicators get mad if you’re as unspecific as ‘Risan dinner’, even if I know that’s what I want for whatever reason,” she acknowledged, but they both knew what ‘whatever reason’ was. 

After a deep breath of the rising steam followed by an arching stretch that cracked her back, Kate acknowledged that reason as she settled low into the water, “At least they are better about drakberry tea.” So many little quirks that had once belonged to just one of them were now shared due to the lingering effects of Emily’s empathic intervention in Kate’s death while they had been stranded in the past. Emily had been able to lessen the pain of dying from severe radiation exposure, and even though her death itself was erased from the timeline, their memory of it and the lasting effects of their temporary shared consciousness persisted. 

“They were strange, at first,” Kate began as she raised her head to find Emily’s black eyes. “But now, I admit, I enjoy discovering these new things about me, especially knowing where they come from.”

“I’ve gotten a few idioms wrong,” Emily admitted with a chuckle, “I was also surprised at first, but now it makes sense. I’ve always been one to take small pieces of culture that I like and make them my own, but I never expected Risan to end up on that list. It has been… an interesting experience, occasionally having one of your memories surface as if it were my own.”

“Knowing my memories, I imagine so,” Kate snickered. “Just try not to think too hard about my Academy days; you never know what might surface. It was certainly a surprise to me when I realized that I could sense a hint of your emotions.”

Emily blinked, surprised to hear that. She wondered, having never shared such a connection before, just how much more intense it was for having occurred as time was unraveling around them. It wasn’t shocking that Kate could sense her emotions, just unexpected, “I am better at sensing your emotions now as well. It’s like we’ve been friends forever,” she remarked, “or, at least, longer than we have.”

“I feel that way as well,” Kate said with a nod of agreement as a thought of their earlier conversation entered her mind. “Emily,” she continued, her voice taking on a hopeful tone, “I have a favor to ask, of a somewhat personal nature… but it is nothing immediate. May I?”

“Of course,” Emily replied expectantly. 

“You said that you had read of the fertility issues my people have, and with your specialty in genetics… what I want to ask is that if — and this is a big if — Lexy and I decide that we want children in the coming years, will you help us with making that possible?”

Emily was a bit taken aback, not having expected that. It was certainly a personal request, and one that tickled her interest in inter-species genetics for sure. She exhaled sharply as she formulated a response that came out earnestly, “Of course. I would be happy to do that for anyone, but especially you!”

A smile of overwhelming gratitude erupted onto Kate’s face as she began to talk even more rapidly than the fast, clipped cadence of her usual speech. “Thank you so much, Emily! I do not know if I’ll ever get to take you up on that, though, since I’m not even sure if Lexy wants kids, but the idea has been on my mind lately, and to know that you would help us is reassuring. It truly means so much to me that you are willing!” Still smiling, Kate opened her arms and offered a hug, her eyes shiny with moisture that had nothing to do with the steam.

Emily grabbed Kate into a big hug, forgetting for the moment their state of undress. She gave Kate a squeeze before releasing her, wiping a tear from her own eye at the prospect of being trusted so much by someone. Once the emotional moment passed, the two agreed to get out of the bath to escape the heat, making their way to the massage area and laying down on a pair of tables next to each other to allow the massage artists to do their work. 

“You know, a massage after a bath is something I could get used to,” Emily quipped, groaning happily at the skill of the Risan man massaging her.

It took a moment for Kate to be able to reply as her masseuse worked away a tight spot in her neck before resuming the efforts of his strong, oiled hands on her freckled back. “I highly recommend it,” she finally managed. 

The two barely managed conversation as the skilled masseuses did their work. When it was all over they returned to the lockers to retrieve their clothes and to brush out their wet hair. Emily once again noticed that she had been fine with the experience, and had to laugh at herself. Why had she ever been nervous about nudity, when it was basically nothing? She had never felt so clean; the Risan traditions obviously had merit. She paused on their way out to buy a bottle of the shampoo she had used and a few bath bombs for good measure. 

“So, that restaurant?” Emily breathed, her hair down for once as it was wet, which had caused the sometimes-curls to spring up, and she was once again wearing the dress she had picked up from a Risan vendor. 

“Of course! One works up an appetite after hours of being pampered, after all.” Kate led the way to the restaurant, and pausing outside, she pointed out its sign, written in her native script. She absently tossed her hair, also down and starting to dry in the breeze, while waiting for Emily to decipher the alien language.

Emily considered the sign for a long moment then wagged a finger at it, “The Captain’s Table?” she half-guessed, still only having a very loose grip on the language. 

“Naturally,” came Kate’s reply, accompanied by a gesture to herself and a silly grin before leading Emily inside.

Once they were seated, Emily did review the menu but when the waiter came, she waited for Kate to order then said, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

After their delicious meal of hyper-local fare concluded, the two women raised their wine glasses for a toast.

“To friendship,” Emily toasted, then smirked, “‘Til death do us part.”

“And to death, for bringing us closer together,” Kate grinned as their glasses clinked.

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1 Comment

  •  Alexis Wright says:

    An interesting look at the intimacy that comes from having a telepathic connection during such a traumatic event! I like that they are embracing the weirdness rather than letting it become something awkward between them. It’d be interesting to see how they explain that intimacy to Lexy without bringing up the whole death thing. Well done!

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