Phoenix Rising By Janet Lynne

Phoenix Rising
By Janet Lynne

Disclaimer: Xena and Gabrielle are owned by Pacific Renaissance/MCA Universal/USA Studios. I have only borrowed some of their identifying characteristics, as well as a few snippets of their adventures together, for this work of original fiction.

Sexual Content Warning: This story contains depictions of loving, consensual F/F, M/F & M/M sexual relationships, some of which may be explicit. If you are under the age of consent where you live or have homophobic tendencies, please consider not reading this story. Thanks! Reading this story at work is not recommended (smile).

Language/Violence: The uber Xena character, as well as a few others, use rough language occasionally and tend to become involved in violent altercations. Not my fault! If you are sensitive to such things, please skip this story.

Special thanks to my beta reader and soulmate. I will love you always and forever.

Thanks for reading! ? JL, Sept. 2001 janetlynne@earthlink.net

WARNING! This story is unfinished!

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-1-
Year 117 NE (2167 AD)
Doctor Kara Murphy pulled her lone bag closer as several more people entered the waiting area and sat nearby on the comfortable, upholstered blue seats. She shook her head and grinned wryly as she thought, I never would have imagined that all of my possessions would fit into one bag. All those that matter, anyway. Glancing at her timepiece, she noted that her flight would be leaving in about twenty standard minutes. Breathing deeply to dispel the nervousness that knotted her gut, she rose and made her way to the large windows that made up an entire wall of the spaceport, shrugging her large bag onto her shoulder as she did so.

She looked out over the desert landscape that surrounded the port, taking in one last glimpse of her home planet, burning it into her memory. It would be many long months, possibly years, before she returned. Previously, she had only ever made short space flights, lasting several weeks or less, to Luna and to Mars Colony. The harsh yellow-white hues of the hot, dry landscape, which normally did not especially appeal to her, pulled at her as a measure of homesickness settled in. I haven’t even left yet, for God’s sake.

She shook her head again, chuckling at her foolishness, and turned from the windows in time to see the impressive navy-suited figures of two crewmembers striding into the waiting area. Their trim, tailored navy-blue jumpsuits bearing chest and shoulder insignia indicated command staff and as she gazed at the taller of the two, a dark-haired woman who appeared to be in her mid to late thirties, she found herself irrationally hoping that they were assigned to her ship. Kara, you just ended a messy relationship do not even think about it. Please.

The two officers, deep in conversation as they passed through the room, stopped at the Port Master’s office and could be seen making entries into data terminals. The tall, dark-haired woman spoke briefly with the Master and then nodded as he indicated Kara with a pointed finger. She shook the Port Officer’s hand and nodded as she took his leave and she and her companion Officer left the office, approaching Kara.

As she approached the diminutive blonde woman, Captain Devon Andropoulos thought, well, if she’s as good a doctor as she is a looker, I’ll be pleased. And if she knows how to keep to her own business. When she reached Dr. Murphy, she extended her hand and introduced herself.

The tall woman pinned her with a deep, brilliant blue gaze as she said, “Dr. Murphy, I’m Devon Andropoulos. You’ll be serving on my ship. Welcome to the Phoenix. This is the ship’s engineer, Dr. Jameson Towner.” She inclined her head toward the fiftiesh, graying man standing to her left.

“Jim, to my friends.” The friendly man offered his hand to Kara with a sincere smile.

“Jim, pleased to meet you. Please call me Kara. Captain Andropoulos, I’m looking to forward to serving with you.” She smiled at the stone-faced woman before her.

“I can’t imagine why, Doctor. Well, shall we go? I believe the shuttle is ready and the rest of the crew have already boarded.”

“Lead on, Andy.” Jim gestured the attractive Captain ahead of them, toward the large hangar doors at the end of the long room.

As they approached the gunmetal gray doors, Kara was impressed, as always, at their sheer size. The four-foot thick, three-story tall doors sat open, revealing the squat space-going shuttle that sat just beyond. As they entered the immense space, the outer doors above the shuttle opened, admitting the hot, dry air and harsh light of the desert into the cooler, darker indoor space.

After passing her identity card through a scanner at the entrance station, Devon Andropoulos walked purposefully up the slanted boarding ramp into the belly of the large, white vehicle that sat waiting for them. As she followed her crewmates, Kara couldn’t help but feel a shiver of anticipation as she embarked on a new and completely foreign career. I hope this isn’t the biggest mistake I ever made. Nope, she corrected herself. Could be that dubious honor goes to my marriage. This could only ever be my second biggest mistake. She followed the Captain and Engineer onboard and was greeted by a flight attendant.

“Welcome aboard the Ferry Ship Ulysses. Please be seated wherever you wish and engage your harness. As there will be no artificial gravity generated on this vessel, you are asked to leave your harness engaged until we have docked with the station.
We will be leaving Earth’s atmosphere in exactly five standards, and the trip should take roughly twenty standard minutes.”

Kara nodded to the friendly man and seated herself a few rows behind the ship’s officers, who were seated in the first row, stowing her bag securely in the compartment above her head. She was surprised to note that they were the only passengers on board, and looked around the welcoming space. The comfortable, widely spaced seats sat in two long rows, separated by a wide central aisle. There were perhaps fifty seats in the passenger cabin, which was separated from the bridge by a thick bulkhead.

Porthole-styled windows were spaced at roughly every third seat, giving the welcome impression of there being more space than there actually was. On the back of the seat in front of her, a data screen reminded her of how to properly fasten her harness. She pressed the ‘mute sound’ button after a moment, when the overly friendly feminine computer voice began to drone into her consciousness.

She watched as Captain Andropoulos stood and punched a code into the keypad near the bridge door, entering after it slid open with a quiet hiss. As it closed behind the impassive, impressive woman, Kara found herself somewhat mesmerized by the tall woman’s bearing and classic beauty. Kara snap out of it what is wrong with you? The last thing you need is to be attracted to anyone so soon. She tried to physically shake herself from her musing, but was distracted when the enigmatic woman reappeared in the cabin. Kara found herself gazing openly at the extremely attractive woman as she talked with a woman who appeared to be one of the shuttle’s pilots. The dark-haired Captain nodded her head seriously and took her leave of the other woman, reseating herself beside her fellow Officer and engaging him in conversation.

Anyway, she doesn’t seem to realize that you even exist, so give it up already. You did not take this commission to become hooked up again. That is the last thing you need right now and you know it. She distracted herself by reaching into her pocket and retrieving a small, palm-sized computer, and began updating her personal files. She was still engrossed in her notes a few minutes later when the handsome flight attendant reminded her to stow her computer and buckle her harness. She grinned at him self-deprecatingly and nodded, then stuck the computer in the pocket of her jacket, zipping it closed, and pulled the six-point harness around her body, buckling it with a hearty click.

Devon and Jim huddled over the manifest displayed on her handheld comp unit, discussing the cargo, passengers, and crew. “Ten passengers: five for Mars Colony and five for Titan Alpha; all have elected to undergo hypersleep. Twenty-five metrics of cargo for Mars, fifteen for Titan. Crew is aboard,” the Engineer reported, adding, “The other new hire is co-pilot Cydona Mitchell, twenty-eight, on her first command posting.”

“Yes, she’s worked consortium ships the last five years…mainly in engineering and navigating. She wants to do more piloting and her record has been spotless, so I think she’s ready.” The Captain nodded over her shoulder at the doctor seated several rows behind them and said in a low voice, “She seems kind of young, doesn’t she?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Andy,” her old friend answered. “What does her file say?”

Devon called up Dr. Murphy’s personnel file on the computer she held in her large palm. “Mm, says here she’s thirty. Was stationed at the Intrepid Base, Mars Colony, until three months ago. She was doing research on the long-term effects of hypersleep on the human body.” The dark, attractive woman read farther along the file and noted aloud, “Hmm just finished a seven-year marriage contract to an Elana Anderson. Chose not to renew.”

“Ah, that explains her first space assignment then,” Jim offered perceptively.

“Mm,” the dark woman opined. “As long as she knows her job and does it well.” She handed the computer to her crewmember, looking straight ahead impassively. “And stays out of my hair.” She glanced at her crewmember with a raised eyebrow.

“Mm, hm,” her Engineer said, nodding. With an inward smile, he noted that his old friend, though she pretended to be tough and impassive, had a definite soft spot for blonde women. And men, for that matter, though he realized that he hadn’t been aware of her sharing her personal time with a male other than himself in quite some time…and most assuredly not intimate personal time.

“Passengers, we are readying for takeoff. Please secure your harnesses, and notify the attendant immediately if you have a problem,” said the familiar feminine, computerized voice.

Kara checked her harness and looked straight ahead. She had never been overly fond of atmospheric travel, preferring the relative smoothness of space voyages. She leaned back against the comfortable seat and felt it conform to her body, molding
itself to her shape in order to hold her firmly during the several-g journey to escape the bonds of the Earth’s gravitational field.

“Passengers liftoff in one Earth Standard Minute.”

As she looked forward, Kara noted the laughing, relaxed attitude of the woman Captain in front of her. Typical space jockey. She gets off on this stuff. The distaste she tried to experience at the thought was not forthcoming and she found herself instead more than a little intrigued and fascinated by the woman, and a warm buzz began to vibrate pleasantly through her body. Good God.

The unsettling thoughts were displaced by the usual brief jolt of fear that she experienced before being hurtled toward space as the shuttle’s twin engines ignited. Presently, she felt the first curious lightening sensation as the ship lifted straight up and made
its way out of the large hangar. It accelerated quickly, forcing her down into her seat, and before she knew it, and before a more intense fear could take hold, Kara noted that the suroundings outside the ship had changed from the comforting, familiar blue of Earth’s sky to the cold, alien blackness of space.

As she watched her beautiful home planet spin below her, Kara was again struck at the seeming fragility of it. Later, Gaia, my friend. I will return to you?and I will miss you until I do. She sent the silent goodbye to her companion, the feminine energy which inhabited the Earth, and felt a sharp wistfulness tug at her soul. Her enhanced healer’s psychic senses told her that her earthly friend was at that moment caressing her with a warm, loving energy, bidding her farewell. Thank you, my friend. Until we meet again?

She turned her gaze from the lovely, cloud-shrouded blue and brown planet and gazed out her porthole at the approaching space station. The immense circular structure turned silently as it hung in space and as the shuttle neared it, she noted the presence of several large and dozens of small craft docked at varying points around the structure: attached to it as if feeding from it.

“Passengers, we are holding for docking clearance. Please leave your harnesses engaged until the ship has docked and normal gravity is achieved.”

Feeling intuitively that they would have something of a wait before docking, Kara unzipped her jacket and grasped her computer. It slipped from her hand, however, and its upward motion carried it in the weightless space to the compartment above her head, where it hit with a bang.

Hearing the noise, Devon turned to see what had caused it and saw the young doctor gazing unhappily at her computer, which rested against the compartment above her, just out of reach. Scowling, the Captain unbuckled her harness and launched herself toward Kara, floating adroitly to where her comp unit sat. She plucked it out of the air and handed it to the doctor, saying with distaste, “Do you always follow orders this well?”

Kara, surprised, grabbed the unit and returned the scowl. “I’m not military, Captain.”

“Perhaps not, but you are under my command, and I will expect you to follow my orders. To the letter.” She directed a stony, pointed gaze at the abashed young woman. “Are you clear on that?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I prefer to be addressed as Captain.”

Kara nodded sharply. “Yes, ma’am.”

The older woman fixed her with a sharp glare and a raised eyebrow and turned, floating skillfully back to her seat. After she was seated and buckled again, Devon shook her head disdainfully.

“Oh, come on, Andy. I’ve seen you do that more times than I can count. Why aren’t you cutting her any slack?”

“Just getting her cut in, Jimmy. I will not put up with any insubordinate shit.” A small smile curled at her lips, however, as she added, “She is feisty though. That’s usually a plus on long hauls.”

Jim chuckled and nodded, noting that the small, pleased smile had not disappeared from his friend’s lips.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Kara slung her heavy bag over her right shoulder and exited the airlock, entering a small passenger waiting area. She followed the Captain and the Engineer out into the main concourse of the station, following the curving creamy white walls of the vessel around to where their ship was docked. As she walked, Kara listened with half an interested ear to the announcements being made over the structure’s public address system, each ending with, “Enjoy your stay on Andromeda Station.” I won’t be here long enough to do that, but thank you. She gazed with interest at the many shops, restaurants and hostels that they passed, sorry that she didn’t have the time to enjoy herself there. I could do with some distraction, she thought wistfully.

Following the command staff, Kara noted that as they talked quietly together, they enjoyed an easy familiarity. I wonder if they’re um… Well at least she’s friendly with someone. I wonder why she has such a reputation for being so hard to work for? Could it simply be her poor social skills? At this point, the point is moot, though, isn’t it? I’m contracted for at least this run, so I’ll have to make the best of the situation. Kara’s natural optimism asserted itself then and her mood lightened, allowing her to enjoy her brief stay on board the station, as she always did. She had a love of spaceflight and of space in general, having once even planned to become a pilot, before her love of and aptitude for healing captured her in her teen years.

Several minutes later, they approached a large hull window, through which a large cargo ship could be seen, where it sat attached to the side of the space station. As the Engineer went on ahead, the two women stopped and gazed out at the ship. The Phoenix was Devon’s pride and joy; the greatest love of her life, and she admired it’s lines as it sat against the station.

The large cargo hauler consisted of three sections. The largest was cylindrical and was comprised of the bridge, living, and passenger sections. Immediately behind it sat the rectangular cargo section, where artificial gravity was not maintained, and behind that sat the engineering section to which the main engines were attached. Engineering was also cylindrical, maintaining, as did the main section, artificial gravity by virtue of its rotation. At present, the cylindrical sections were motionless, enjoying the gravity provided by the ship’s attachment to the revolving space station. The ship’s outer hull was spotless, its Captain being in the habit of having it scrubbed during maintenance stops whenever they were docked, whether planet-side or station-side.

The off-white hulls, tinted plexi windows, and metal strutting gleamed in the harsh light of Sol, and on the fuselage under the starboard bridge window, was a painting of a large, mythical bird rising from flames. Phoenix. I’ve lived in both Old and New Phoenix and now I’m posted to a ship of that name…I should meditate and examine why that concept keeps entering my life. The bird carried within its beak the flag of the Space Shipping Federation, and within it’s talons the banner of Andropoulos Shipping.

Naturally empathic and psychically perceptive, Kara correctly intuited Devon’s feelings for her ship, as well as picking up for the first time the existence of an energetic bond between herself and the other woman, as her heart center vibrated pleasantly when in the other woman’s company. Whoa…what is that?

“She’s a nice ship,” the young doctor remarked quietly as she stepped next to the Captain and followed her gaze. “Interstellar Class?”

Startled, Devon looked down at the smaller woman and replied, “Thank you. Yes, she is Interstellar?modified dimensional, to be precise…but surely you knew that?”

“No, I didn’t. I was so pleased to have finally secured a posting that I didn’t research the position at all. Anyway, I didn’t have the time. I barely made it in time from Old Phoenix as it was.”

“Hmm,” the taller woman grunted. “I hope you haven’t gotten yourself into something you can’t handle. I’m not the easiest Captain to work for.”

Kara smiled warmly up at the older woman. “That much I knew. Tell me, why did your previous doctor break his contract?”

The dark woman gazed seriously into the warm, green eyes of the attractive woman and instead of biting off a choice remark to the effect that it was none of her concern, felt compelled, to her great astonishment, to simply be truthful. “Incompatible personalities. I require order and command structure on my ship and he didn’t care to consider himself subordinate to me.”

“I see. Well, Captain, be reassured that I am well used to working within a chain of command and can be counted on to know my place within the hierarchy.” She added, raising dark blonde eyebrows, “If I’m treated fairly, and if allowed to place the welfare of my patients at the highest priority at all times.”

The darker woman nodded, “Of course. I appreciate hearing that, Doctor. Perhaps we can work together after all. I must say that your resume was impressive.” As the blonde woman nodded appreciatively at the compliment, which she sensed were only rarely given, Devon glanced at the data unit on her wrist and remarked, “Well, we’re under a tight schedule. Shall we board?”

“After you, Captain,” Kara said as she motioned the Captain ahead of her. Devon passed her identity card through the keypad/scanner that sat on the wall next to the large doorway, which read it with a chirp and a display of a green light, opening the door, and she entered the passenger area. Kara followed her and they crossed the small space quickly, approaching the airlock that led to the docking hatch. Devon stopped at the keypad and swiftly entered an access code.

Turning to the doctor, she remarked, “After you board, you will be given your access codes, but had you been boarding alone, you would only have had to use this panel to contact the ship. They will have been made aware of the fact that you were enroute, due to your ident card accesses into the station’s systems. The ship’s computer is in direct contact with Station SysComp while we’re docked.”

Kara nodded, taking in the information, and the lens-like sections of the airlock parted, disappearing into the frame with a loud hiss. Devon stepped through and stood beside a keypad inside until Kara stepped in beside her. She deftly keyed in another code and the airlock closed, sealing them inside. Kara sighed as she experienced the mildly uncomfortable heightened air pressure within the lock and waited while Devon communicated with her ship, informing whomever had bridge duty that they were coming aboard. The inner airlock hissed open, commanded from within, and they stepped into the ship.

Kara’s first impression was a good one. The ship’s interior was as spotless as its exterior was, the inner hull walls lined with a comforting cream-colored paneling which housed continuous storage units, as well as the conduits for the innards of the ship’s systems. She stepped from the main hatch behind the bridge section into a corridor, which curved around the hull ahead of her. Several paces ahead, another hallway branched off to the left and right, traveling down the length of the ship.

“Doctor, if you would like to settle into your quarters now, we’ll meet the rest of the crew in the mess hall in ten minutes for a briefing. After that you will be free to set up your Medlab and meet your passengers as you please.” She nodded toward their left. “If you go down the main corridor, your quarters are the second on the right. The co-pilot’s quarters will be the first door on your right, directly behind the bridge.” She gestured to her right. “These are my quarters and the bridge is just beyond. The Medlab is next to your quarters, and the mess hall is directly across the corridor.” She looked down at the lovely blonde woman and added, “I think you’ll be pleased with the quarters. They’re quite large, curving as they do nearly halfway around the circumference of the hull.”

“Thank you, Captain, I’m sure they will be fine. I’ll see you in ten standards.” She smiled and nodded, then made her way up the corridor and turned to her left.

Devon watched the young doctor depart, feeling a warmth she had rarely felt in her life, which she immediately determined to resist and quash at all costs. She made her way to the bridge, entering through the sliding door to see her new co-pilot and navigator already seated at her console. Upon the Captain’s entrance the dark-skinned young woman jumped to attention, though as a non-military vessel, that was not required, and Devon smiled internally, careful not to let her pleasure show.

“At ease, Commander.” She extended her hand. “Welcome aboard the Phoenix. I trust you’ll find her a challenging first command. There will be a crew briefing in ten standards in the mess hall. Dismissed.”

“Yes, ma’am. How do you prefer to be addressed, ma’am?” The dark-haired, brown-eyed woman inquired.

Is she for real? Wonder who she’s been talking to? “Captain, please.” She nodded curtly and turned away from the young woman to seat herself at the piloting console, and immediately began checking readouts, becoming oblivious to the presence of the young Officer, who quickly left the bridge.

Ten minutes later, the Captain was addressing her crew as they sat around a large, round table in the mess hall, which also contained the small galley and doubled as the recreation room. Counters at the perimeter rimmed the large space, with a large vid unit occupying the corner opposite the doorway. Two comfortable couches sat beside each other in an “L” shape in front of the unit, and the area contained several soft chairs as well. The galley area was situated diagonally across the room from the vid area, and sported small food preparation surfaces, as well as cold storage, heating and cooking units, and a sink. Most of the food consumed on board was of the dehydrated variety, so very little food preparation was necessary, nor was space for storage of perishables, ingredients, or cooking utensils.

“Our two new crew members,” the Captain continued, “Are Commander Cydona Mitchell, on her first command posting, and Dr. Kara Murphy, on her first ship posting. Welcome.” She nodded to each of the women with a curt smile. “Commander, Doctor, meet your fellow crew members.” She indicated Jim Towner to her right. “I believe you’ve both met Dr. Towner, ship’s Engineer.” She then indicated the two beefy men sitting to Jim’s right. “And we have our cargo handlers, Rusty Schwartz, and Chadwick Lorenzo.”

While the middle aged red-haired man nodded politely to each of the women, the young hunk of a man with light brown hair and warm brown eyes sitting to his right stood as he extended his hand to Cydona. “Chad,” he said with a charming smile. He extended his hand as well to Kara, returning her friendly smile warmly as he let the handshake linger.

The Captain cleared her throat, “Okay, Chad, have a seat please.” She directed her gaze to her newest crewmembers. “I don’t know what you may have heard about the cargo handlers on other ships?but whatever you have heard, disregard it. Both Rusty and Chad are more than mere warehousemen. They both double as Engineering and Maintenance crewmembers, and both have Academy certification as such. They are to be treated with the same respect that the officers on this ship are afforded.”

Devon continued, “You may have heard that I run a tight ship. That is misleading. In fact, I run the tightest ship outside of the military, tighter even than consortium ships. So if you thought that perhaps by joining the crew of a free trader, you would have a lax command, you were sadly mistaken. I demand very high standards of performance from my crew and use a strict command hierarchy. Conversely, the rewards of doing your job well are high, as the wages and bonuses I pay are among the highest in all of the Space Shipping trade. Bar none. The biggest consortium ships included.” She looked down at the table and back up at her new crew. “As well, I occasionally take big-ticket, high risk runs. I want you to know that up front. If you wish to back out of your contract now, before we undock in three hours, you are free to do so. However, let me remind you that you will be very well compensated, and add that you will gain more experience here, on this ship, than on any other cargo ship in service.”

The strong Captain let her gaze linger on her two new crew, giving them the opportunity to speak up. Neither of them did. She smiled tightly and nodded. “Fine. Welcome aboard, then. I have just a few additional points to cover before I release you. First, your free time is yours. Do with it as you will. I appreciate the efforts my crew put out while working, and as such I am very lenient as far as recreational pursuits. I ask only that your recreational habits not interfere with your shift work. I keep well-stocked libraries of music, reading materials, vids and games, as well as a fully stocked bar.”

“As Rusty can attest to!” Chad offered, laughing.

“Right, pretty boy, and you never touch the stuff,” the older man grumbled.

The Captain offered a rare, charming smile and chuckled. ” I think that we all can attest to the condition of the bar. All recreational materials are provided by me, at no cost to you. This is not a consortium ship where recreational aids are deducted from your wages. I don’t operate that way, as I feel that a content, entertained crew is a productive crew and that a bored crew is trouble in the making. Feel free to request any materials that you require and we’ll see that we acquire them at the next port of call. Also, if you note that food or drink items are running low, let Rusty know. He handles all acquisitions for the ship.”

“Secondly, fraternization. I don’t care what you do or who you do it with?again, as long as it is off-shift and doesn’t interfere with your duties. Unfortunately, this is a very small crew and on most voyages all of the passengers elect to travel in hypersleep, so you may have to become creative in dealing with your second chakra needs.”

“Yeah, Rust,” Chad piped in, “That means not being too wasted to pull your…”

“Lorenzo!” The Captain snapped sharply. “Apparently you didn’t mind having your pay docked…twice…on the last run.”

“Oh, I did, Cap, believe me!” The affable young man admitted.

“Then can it! Save it for your rec time.” She directed her gaze back to the new crewmembers. “Now, continuing, generally, I allow free shore leave. Meaning that while the ship is in port, you are free to disembark the entire time, unless you pull ship watch, which is done by drawing straws. In that case, you will stay on board to mind the ship’s systems and are spelled by me for four hours each solar day to enjoy some leave. Occasionally, I elect to take ship watch, and you may do so as well, which your crewmembers will appreciate, believe me.”

“Thirdly, mind the signs on the bulkheads indicating which direction is up when we are docked. You will see, ‘Head Up’ accompanied by an arrow at every hatch and doorway. So when the ship is in docking configuration, when you disembark, you won’t be trying to walk on the station or port’s ceiling. As well, try to keep all items stowed away in your work and living areas at times of docking and undocking. Under ideal circumstances, three-quarters Earth gravity is maintained on board at all times, however, occasionally during docking procedures, gravity will fall out and then return suddenly, and unsecured items will fall from where they had been sitting. It can be messy and dangerous, as well as comical, so let’s try to avoid those situations. Questions?”

Kara took a breath as she looked to the new Commander, and seeing that she intended to remain quiet, spoke up. “Captain, with your permission, I would like to set up a small hydroponics bay in the Medlab for the growing of medicinal herbs.”

Devon nodded and waved her hand at the young woman. “Yes, fine. Jimmy see to that, please.” She gazed at each of her crew and then said, “Alright, since we’ve covered everything else, here is the itinerary.” She handed tiny data disks to each crewmember and they were all immediately inserted into their personal comp units. “As you can see, we are scheduled for a three week run to Mars Colony to offload five passengers and twenty-five metric tons of cargo, onloading ten metrics of cargo bound for Earth, no passengers scheduled at this time, but that can change right up until undocking, as long as we have the room. Oh, our capacity is ten passengers single occupancy, twenty double, thirty at triple, sharing crew quarters, but that will only occur in dire emergency situations, and yes, I do answer distress calls, when I deem it practical and not a risk to my own crew and cargo.

“Alright, after Mars, we have a two month run to Titan Base, offloading the remaining five passengers and fifteen metrics of cargo. We are scheduled to pick up fifteen metrics of cargo for delivery to Earth and ten for Mars, no passengers. After that, there is the possibility of an interstellar run to Z. Ret. However, the details have not yet been finalized, so that may not come to pass. Keep that in mind, if you don’t wish to do the interstellar, which is six months there and back, I will need two solar weeks notice before we reach Titan, so that I can secure replacement crew.”

“If we’re all set, you are dismissed. Undocking procedures commence in two hours plus fifteen, at 14:30 hours, and passengers arrive at 13:30. Doctor, please remain behind for a moment.” She nodded to her crew, who jumped to their feet and left the room to begin their preparations for takeoff.

Kara remained seated to Devon’s left and the Captain sat back in her chair and gazed at her with interest. “You’re an herbalist as well as an MD and a Psychiatrist?”

“Yes, I am.” Kara nodded.

“Empathic healer?”

Kara smiled warmly. “Yes.”

“Good. A multifaceted doctor on board is an asset. The last one I employed would have done well to have been as accomplished.”

“Thank you, Captain. I agree, though most healers now tend to be skilled in the psychic arts and use of traditional medicines.”

“It’s something that has been sadly lacking on this ship since the doctor before the prior one retired from service. I’m pleased.” She nodded curtly and consulted her comp unit, then added, “You will have thirty-six solar hours to prepare the passengers for hypersleep before we hit maximum velocity. I prefer that all passengers that wish to travel in hyper be ensconced in their units before we hit maximum. Understood?”

“Of course. I will meet with each passenger immediately and ascertain their wishes as to travel. There are bound to be some so uncomfortable with space flight that they will want to go under right away. For those who wish to experience some space travel,
I will notify them of your wishes that they be situated in their units within thirty-six hours.”

Devon nodded. “Fine. Oh, have Dr. Towner show you around the ship after he helps you with the hydroponics. You should know your way around in case you’re needed to handle accidents.” She returned her gaze to her comp and added, “Dismissed.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

Kara received a grunt in acknowledgment as she rose from the table. After the young doctor left, Devon sighed and laid the comp unit on the table, allowing herself to experience for just a moment the warm buzzing taking place within her body. Damn. Well, she may be a pleasant diversion during the run. As long as she accepts that it can be no more than that. Briefly, she allowed herself to envision the beautiful young woman pressed up warmly against her body during the long nights. The display on her comp unit shut itself down as she uncharacteristically lost herself in the pleasant fantasy.
-2-
Kara laughed as she lugged the heavy case onto the counter in her new Medlab. Jim rushed forward to help her, and she smiled at him. “Thank you. I’m glad I won’t have to requisition the hydroponics equipment and then wait until we reach Mars to receive it.”

“Yes, it’s fortunate that a former healer had one set up. I don’t frankly know why the last one dismantled it, though between you and me, the man was an ass.” He grinned.

Kara laughed. “Yes, Captain Andropoulos mentioned that she and he had a personality conflict.”

Surprised, Jim replied, “She told you that?”

“Yes. Um, shouldn’t she have?” Kara asked, confused.

“Oh, no, it’s not should she have, but would she have. She’s not generally so forthcoming with information like that. Not amongst her long-time crew, much less someone she’s known for only a few hours.”

“Oh.” She gazed openly up into the older man’s pleasant face. “She’s very in control of her emotions, isn’t she? I have a hard time intuiting what she is feeling.”

Jim laughed deeply. “You could say that, yes! I’m sure that the majority of her crew would swear under oath that she has no emotions.”

Kara smiled again. “But you know otherwise, don’t you?”

Jim returned the smile. “Yes, I do. I’ve known Andy all her life. I served under her father in the Fleet, and I served with her mother as well. When she left the military and put her own ship into service, I jumped at the chance to retire and work with her.” He added proudly, “She is, without a doubt, the finest pilot I have ever known.” He looked back at Kara and added, “But, yes, guarded does describe her aptly. She is very tough, and can be as hotheaded as hell, moody, morose, a complete pain in the ass at times, but there is no ship I would rather serve on. She will go to the wall for any of her people and has without hesitation. You could not have chosen a finer posting than this one, Kara.”

Kara nodded thoughtfully. “Why did she leave the Service?”

The older man hesitated before he said, “Kara, she is my friend. My best friend, and I’m not in the habit of either betraying her trust or talking about her behind her back, but I feel I can trust you. Am I right?”

“Yes, Jim. In my profession, I’m used to keeping confidences, but please, don’t tell me anything that intuitively you don’t think I have a right to know.”

“Oh, there are no great secrets. She didn’t fit in. Plain and simple. Despite being one of the finest pilots the Service had ever seen, and I thought she was Admiral material, like her father, I honestly did. But she wanted to fly. That’s all. She kept bucking promotions when they tried to get her out of the pilot’s seat and was finally called to task by the brass. She told them where they could stick all their fine, shiny medals and quit.”

Kara laughed. “Jim, I know that I just met her, but somehow, I feel that I know her, and that so sounds like something she would do!”

He joined her in laughter. “Yes, it made my day when I heard about it, I’ll tell you. A few years later she had secured enough operating capital to buy this ship, and then I was out of the Fleet and on her crew. Best decision I ever made, too.”

“Jim, pardon my asking, but you seem so close?you and she aren’t?”

“Oh, heavens to Jesus, no! She’s like a daughter to me, and well, frankly Kara, we both prefer to spend that sort of quality time with people of our same genders, though I have had two marriage contracts with women.”

“Oh. I’m sorry if that was prying, but you do seem so very close, while she doesn’t seem especially close to anyone else on the crew.”

“No harm, Kara. I don’t mind sharing this with you, because frankly, I feel that you might possibly become her second friend. She seems different, somehow, with you, believe it or not,” he chuckled. “It is my hope that you two become friends, at any rate.”

“It’s my hope, too, Jim. Let’s both hope together that Devon feels the same way some day.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Chad accompanied the new Commander back to the bridge, trying mightily to curry her favor the whole way. “So, Cydona, can I show you around the ship before we undock?”

“Yes, Chad, that would be fine, however, I need to finalize my procedures first. Can you give me an hour?”

“Yes, ma’am!” The handsome man said with a grin. “I’ll be back in an hour, Cydona.”

“My friends call me Cyd.”

“Cyd. See you in an hour, then.”

Cyd nodded as she pressed the door pad and it swished open, admitting her onto the bridge. No one else was present and she sighed, relieved. The Captain was very strict and made her uncomfortable. However, she thought, what she lacks in friendliness, the rest of her crew seems to make up for. She still felt mildly flushed from the attentions she had received from the handsome cargo handler. This may be much more pleasant than I had imagined. And the doctor is quite lovely, too. She smiled at her fortune and turned to her console, quickly becoming immersed in the pre-undocking procedures.

Devon sat in her quarters, going over her preflight checklist as she sat at her terminal. Her mind kept straying, however, to a certain cute blonde. She scowled and pushed back from her desk. Leaning back in her chair, she steepled her hands in front of her face and went into contemplative mode. She determined that the obvious strong desire that she felt for the woman was not good and would affect her command abilities if she didn’t try to waylay it. So she stood up and strode to her altar area, where she seated herself comfortably. She lit two sticks of incense and placed them into the holder, then sat back and began her meditation.

As she sat in peaceful, meditative silence, she let her thoughts have free rein, examining each as it made itself known and then letting it depart, leaving increased peace in its wake. However, as she thought of Kara, a strong vision entered her mind, clear and unbidden. She saw the two of them riding a horse together, dressed in ancient clothing and carrying ancient weapons, and she felt as well the intense love they shared. She let the vision pass quietly and then sighed as she opened her eyes.

So that’s what it is…a past life together. Shit. This may be very hard to ignore. God damn it! I don’t need this in my life right now, and I don’t want it. Stubbornly, as was her nature, she decided to fight what she was feeling and not give into the desire. To fight her destiny. She steeled herself, then bowed to her altar and stood, feeling somewhat cleansed and very determined, and returned to her desk to prepare to take her ship out of dock.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The Captain’s low voice clipped off the command coolly. “Mitchell, release docking clamps on my mark. Three, two, one, mark.”

“Docking clamps released, Captain,” came the assured reply as the co-pilot depressed a switch.

“Fine, now give her one quick, short burst and ease us out slowly.”

“Understood, Captain. One quarter burst at one eighth.”

Devon calmly spoke into her headset, “Andromeda Station, Phoenix. We are undocked and pulling away under manual control.”

The man at the console in the station’s control center chuckled as he remarked to the woman sitting at the next station, “Andy must be training a new co. I wish him or her luck.”

“She’ll need it! I met her. Seems on top of things. If she can handle Andy’s shit she can hire on with any outfit, still, she’s working for the best. Name’s Cyd.”

“Okay, Cyd, just keep her centered, watch the hatch marks, keep her lined up with the hatch until we’re a quarter click out.”

“One quarter click. Understood, Captain.”

Devon relaxed as she sat back into her comfortable seat, watching as the station slowly receded. The blackness of space beyond became visible again as they slowly backed away from the huge station.

“One quarter click, Captain.”

“Fine. Now slowly turn her one-eighty to starboard and lock.”

“Understood, Captain. One-eighty starboard and lock,” Cyd repeated as she keyed in the command. Shortly, as the ship came around and she locked their position, she said, “Holding at one-eighty, Captain.”

“Set course for one twenty-five by ninety.”

“One twenty-five by ninety, set.”

“Proceed one quarter power.”

“One quarter power, aye Captain.”

The ship resumed it’s forward motion and slowly left the vicinity of the space station, heading toward their first port-of-call, Mars.

“Nice job, Mitchell. That was flawless. When we’re one hundred clicks out, engage engines at three quarter power, then at two hundred, engage full power.”

“Aye, Captain. Three quarter at one hundred clicks.” She glanced quickly at her stoic superior. “The compliment is appreciated, Captain.”

“Enjoy it, Cyd, because they’re not given often.”

The young co-pilot nodded and returned her attention to her controls, feeling pride in her performance and eager for another opportunity to prove her skill to the celebrated Captain.

Kara watched through the large window in the mess hall as the ship pulled away from Andromeda Station, realizing that she wouldn’t see “civilized” space again for three weeks. She took a deep breath and let it out, dispelling some of the anxiety she felt. While in-system travel was about as safe as space travel could be, it still held some risk, namely from pirates, though there hadn’t been a reported attack in the Mars Sector for more than thirty years. The rogues seemed to principally inhabit the outer reaches of Sol System, out beyond Neptune in the Pluto and Omega Sectors.

As the ship slowly gained speed, the station receded to just another of the bright points of white light set against the black backdrop of space. Once the ship was traveling at full power, it would undergo a constant acceleration for a solar day and a half, achieving tremendous speed, then the engines would be shut down and the forward motion would continue at a constant velocity.

Kara turned from the window and stepped over to the galley. As she set about making herself a cup of tea, the Captain entered, carrying a large, royal blue tea mug with her company logo emblazoned on it.

“Hey, Cap, kid made a smooth exit, huh?” Rusty called from his perch on one of the couches.

“She did. I’ll make a pilot out of her yet,” she replied with a slight, crooked grin. The grin disappeared, however, when she noted the Doctor standing in the galley. She nodded curtly. “Doctor.”

“Captain. May I make you a cup of tea?” Kara smiled warmly at the cold persona of the woman beside her.

“Oh, yes, thanks,” she replied, surprised at the offer.

“Ginseng?”

Devon half smiled, despite herself and nodded. “Yes, please.”

The friendly doctor returned the smile, albeit a much warmer version of it, and chattered on as she prepared the tea. “I figured you would care for an energy boost, and ginseng does that without any unwanted side-effects, such as hyperactivity and sleeplessness.”

“Very perceptive, Doctor.” But if you were really perceptive, you would realize that I prefer solitude and do not wish to engage in idle chit chat with you. Or with anyone else.

Kara handed the full cup back to the Captain, and as Devon grasped it, their hands touched. They both felt tender jolts of electricity, which left pleasant tingles in their wake, and startled blue eyes looked down into surprised green.

“Well, um.” Kara stammered as her heart pounded.

“Thank you, Doctor. Carry on,” Devon snapped as she turned and left the surprised woman.

“Indeed,” Kara said to the thin air where the other woman had been standing. She shook her head and made her way out of the room toward her Medlab. There were seven, possibly eight, passengers who wished to enter hypersleep immediately, so she set off to prepare her lab and the cryo-sleep units. By the gray gods. What is going on between that incredibly sullen woman and me? She shook her head sadly. I’m no longer sure I care to find out. It’s too wearing and I need pleasant diversions..

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Kara got the last of her patients settled in his hypersleep chamber and gently sealed the clear cover. She carefully entered the commands on the keypad and watched patiently as his bodily functions slowed and the medical machinery took over his primary life functions. Satisfied that all was well, she turned away from the unit and sighed before leaving the compartment and keying in the security code, locking him securely within. She glanced down at the small data unit on her wrist. 23:50 hours. No wonder I’m tired. It’s been a long day.

She left the passenger quarters and checked back in at her Medlab, picking up her comp unit and switching off non-vital machinery for the night, and turned the lights down to a dim glow. As she exited the lab, she ran into Devon, who was entering the mess hall across the corridor.

Devon stopped, seeming somewhat startled. “Doctor, still working?”

“Yes, I just put the eighth passenger into hypersleep.” She smiled and waggled her hand as she added, “It’s his first flight and he was a bit unsure of the process, but apparently space flight, especially this constant furious acceleration, didn’t sit well with him.”

Devon chuckled, despite herself, as they entered the mess hall together, but then she sobered and added, “Well, Doctor, it sounds like you had a full first day. Well done.” She made her way to the small galley and Kara noted that she fixed herself a cup of herbal tea.

“Do you have trouble sleeping, Captain?” She asked perceptively, concern marking her gentle voice.

Devon appeared startled for a brief instant, but said nonchalantly, “Oh, a little. You know a Captain can never really relax completely.”

“I only ask because I read your medical file earlier and didn’t see any mention of sleeping problems.”

“Did you read everyone’s medical file, Doctor, or just mine?” She asked with a pointed gaze.

“Everyone’s, Captain. It’s part of my job. And I will be calling you into the Medlab within the next few days for a routine physical, just so you know. It’s part of my procedure when I start at a new base. I update everyone’s file with my own data.”

Devon ducked her head. “Sorry. It’s been a long day,as you know.”

Kara smiled. “No problem. Will you join me while you drink your tea?” She added as she moved to stand beside the captain in the small space, “I like to end the day with a cup as well.”

“Thank you, but no. I have some reports to go over before I can retire and I’d like to get right on them. Some other time, perhaps.”

Kara nodded, understanding. “Yes, perhaps. Well, good night Captain Andropoulos.”

“Good night, Kara.” The tough Captain quickly left the mess hall, cradling her hot tea in her hands, and headed back to her quarters. Kara? What the hell was that?

Kara. God, I love the way the says my name. She sighed as she picked up her mug. There is something either very special or something very strange happening here. The new doctor could be seen shaking her head at some internal discussion as she made her way quietly back to her quarters for the night.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

She held tightly to her mate’s waist as they raced across the meadow on horseback. With a glee she had seldom felt before meeting her soulmate, she threw her head back and laughed deeply. Her mate chuckled in front of her and she could feel the wonderful sensation both through the hands that were wrapped tightly around her partner’s waist and through her body where it was pressed against the strong warrior’s back. They galloped on, not having any particular destination in mind, but just going where the wind and their faithful steed took them.

Some time later, they slowed and stopped, and the warrior hopped gracefully from the horse’s back, reaching up to her smaller mate. She helped her to the ground and the blonde woman fell into her arms, where she was scooped into a tight embrace. They shared a deep, loving kiss, communicating their fathomless love for one another silently. They parted after a minute and with a huge, crooked smile, the warrior led her mate into the forest, to a clearing, where she gently lay her mate down in a small meadow of sweet, tall grass and began to make love to her. There, surrounded by beautiful summer wildflowers, they shared their love intimately until the sun began to set.

Kara sat up in her bed, startled awake by the intense dream. “Lights, low power,” she said quietly, and the always-listening computer system complied. She rubbed her eyes and looked around at the unfamiliar surroundings before lying down again. As the details of the dream reappeared, she sighed. Gray gods, it was Devon. And me in what must have been a former life. It was too intense and realistic to have been simply a dream.. Taking a deep breath and blowing it out, she thought, no wonder I’m feeling connected to her. I am…irretrievably. And I sense that she is feeling it too and is freaked out by it. Jesus, Buddha and Sennaat!

“Lights, off.” As she lay back in her bed, Kara breathed deeply to try to calm her pounding heart. She is my Twin Soul. The thought appeared unexpectedly, yet she knew instantly that it was true. Gray gods…no wonder I felt so drawn to accept this position without knowing anything about it. Destiny was at play, bringing us together yet again. She sighed sadly. But I’m afraid that my soulmate isn’t exactly willing…wouldn’t that be just my luck.

She turned onto her side and grabbed the spare pillow, hugging it to her body as she recalled the intense sensations awakened in her former self’s body at her mate’s touch. My God, I have never in this life experienced what I just experienced in that dream memory. As her heart continued to pound furiously, she felt her ancient warrior’s hands within her while her hot mouth devoured her, and her own right hand made its way down to her throbbing center, slipping under her briefs, where she caressed herself as she continued to recall the details of the dream. She relieved the incredible pressure that had built there as she relived the beautiful, exciting lovemaking session from a very long ago life, quickly experiencing a blinding orgasm, and lay stunned, trying to comprehend what was happening to her and to her formerly very well organized life.

Devon Andropoulos, who had long prided herself on her ability to remain detached in matters of the heart, slumped against the back of the shower stall as her right hand lay imbedded within her dark curls. Shit, that was a powerful one. Sennaat. How will I survive this trip with that woman aboard? At least she admitted that it was the small blonde that was affecting her so deeply. She sighed again, letting out the remainder of the tension that had plagued her all evening since she had run into the new doctor in the mess hall, and since she could not rid her mind of the vision of the doctor’s lovely face and body. No one has ever affected me like this, and it should not be happening now. I can handle this! I have faced down pirates for God’s sake! And beaten them at their own game! I’ve remained calm while my ship fell into Jupiter’s gravity well, I’ve dealt with corrupt port officials and incorrigible crewmembers. I can handle one small woman! She valiantly tried to convince herself as she finished her interrupted shower and emerged from the small unit, drying herself, and walking naked to her bed.

As she lay within the silky sheets, the vision image reappeared, stubbornly, intractably, and she angrily shook her head. No! I will not fall prey to this blatant romanticism! I can fight this, she stubbornly told herself as she turned over, willing sleep to claim her. But it didn’t, not for hours, and she awakened in a foul mood the next morning. Her crew wisely gave her a very wide berth all day.
-3-
“Devon, my good woman,” Jim said brightly as he plopped into the co-pilot’s seat. “Are you going to tell me about it?” He glanced over at his dearest friend and then back out the viewscreen to the void beyond.

His friend looked tiredly at him. “Tell you about what, Jim?”

“About what has you in this foul mood. Now, normally, you’re not the most jubilant person I know, but this is bad, even for you. What is it, Devon?” His concern showed in his eyes as he gazed at Devon.

She sighed and leaned back against the back of her comfortable chair. “I didn’t sleep well, that’s all.”

“Hell, Devon, you never sleep well. Why was last night so different?”

She turned and gazed pointedly at her Engineer for several long moments before replying, “It was the thoughts running through my goddamned space-warped brain, that’s what.” She returned her gaze to the course that lay before them and watched the unmoving presence of the stars that lay beyond their system…so far away that their position never changed when they traveled at in-system, less than dimensional speeds.

Jim waited for clarification, but received none. “Well?”

“Well what? Can’t my own goddamned, jumbled thoughts be my own?” She snapped.

He nodded. “Sure, Dev. Absolutely. I don’t want to pry.” He gazed back out at the stars and was quiet for a long while before adding, “Those thoughts wouldn’t be concerning a certain cute, young doctor, would they?”

“God damn it, Jim! Mind your own fucking business for once, will you?” Incensed blue eyes fairly pinned him to his seat.

“I would, Devon, if I didn’t think you were about to blow the best thing that ever happened to you.”

“What?” The woman screamed, incredulous.

“You heard me.”

“Towner, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” Devon grumbled.

“I know that she cares for you, and you must care for her too, since you’re acting like a goddamned idiot, and the only time you act this way is when you’re in love. Plus, I can feel the electricity between you too. You’re a damn fool if you don’t feel it and you’re a double damn fool if you try to ignore it.”

He stood up and gazed down at his sullen friend. “I’m only half psychic, but even I’m picking up on the connection between you two, and these things only happen once in a lifetime, if even that often, so think seriously about what you’re doing, Devon.” He moved to the door and palmed it open, then stood in the hatchway. Looking back at his friend he added, “You’ve only got one friend, Dev, and I’m not going to live forever…you should see about trying to get another.”

“Shouldn’t you be in Engineering monitoring the engines? We reach maximum velocity in a few hours.”

“Yes, I should be.” He turned and left the bridge, the door sliding shut behind him, leaving Devon in the solitude she pretended to love so much.

Then go do your job and leave me the hell alone.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Have a nice sleep, Mrs. Sakai. I’ll see you when we reach Mars.” The doctor smiled kindly down at her patient as she lay in the chamber.

“Thank you, Doctor. Have a nice voyage.”

“I’ll do that, thanks. I’m going to sedate you now and then I’ll seal the chamber.”

The woman nodded and Kara pressed a key on the pad, injecting the medication into the woman’s body through the I.V. in her hand. She watched for a few minutes as the older woman fell into a peaceful sleep. I wish I could make the rest of this run asleep.

She finished the tasks necessary to seal the woman safely in hypersleep and left the quarters. Her stomach let her know that it was past dinner time and she hadn’t eaten, so after stopping in Medical to update her file on Mrs. Sakai, she made her way to the mess hall.

As she entered, Kara saw that Cyd was sitting alone at the large table, eating, while Rusty and Chad watched a vid together on one of the couches. She waved a friendly hello to the co-pilot, who returned the wave with her fork, and went to the galley to heat her meal. She stood in front of the pantry locker and perused the selections. Hmm, beef, chicken, pork or fish? Chicken tonight, I think…with noodles. And juice. She re-hydrated her meal and put the steaming packet on a tray, then grabbed a cookie from the large storage jar on the counter and picked up her juice, joining Cyd.

“May I, Cyd?” She enquired as she stood by the table.

Cyd smiled widely as she said, “Yes, please!” And patted the table next to her. “It’s nice to have company. And pleasant company at that.” She winked at Kara and smiled warmly at her.

“Why thank you!” Kara said brightly. “I could say the same thing. What are you having?” She asked as she leaned over to gaze at her new friend’s plate.

“Beef stroganoff, and it’s not bad. Andropoulos apparently doesn’t spare the expense when she requisitions food.”

“Mm, that’s good, because I consider eating one of the greatest pleasures in life.”

“Not the greatest pleasure, I hope,” Cyd stated charmingly, eliciting a mild blush from Kara.

“No, not the greatest, but close!” She dug into her chicken, hoping the embarrassing turn to the conversation had run its course.

Devon walked down the long corridor that ran the length of the ship, preoccupied with thoughts that she would really rather not be having. As she neared the mess hall, she heard cheerful voices and happy laughter and was just thinking, I’m glad someone’s happy, when she entered the mess to see Kara and Cyd eating together and visiting merrily. She noted the happy vibes that were surrounding them and thought sullenly, good, maybe they’ll hook up and I’ll be off the hook…no fucking pun intended.

The Captain strode across the mess hall, pointedly ignoring her crewmembers and went into the galley. She wasn’t hungry but knew that she should eat something. She grabbed a food packet without noting what it was and prepared it as she spared a glance at the two women. Kara laughed at something Cyd said and touched her arm, leaning into her. Devon was struck by an irrational bolt of jealousy and she thought, she’s flirting! She’s fucking flirting with her. She shook her head and finished preparing her meal, too preoccuied with her morose thoughts to notice when Kara joined her in the galley.

“Captain, will you eat with us?” She asked brightly, laying a warm hand on Devon’s back.

“No, I will not. I’m on bridge duty. Good night, Doctor,” she snapped, leaving Kara standing in the galley. As she made her way back out of the hall, she said, “Mitchell, spell me in four hours, please. I need to get some sleep tonight.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Devon walked back down the quiet corridor toward the bridge, still feeling the warmth on her back from where the other woman had touched her. I need to avoid her. That’s all I can do. And if she doesn’t leave me alone, I’ll fire her ass and leave her to find her way back from Mars on her own. Her mood was not improved in the least when she thought about said ass, and how undeniably cute it was.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

I must be an idiot, or a masochist, Kara thought as she made her way to the bridge some time later. She was drawn to the dark woman, as both her concerned physician and as her friend…or at least, she wanted them to be friends. She wanted them to be more, actually, but she had begun to dare not even hope for that eventuality. She depressed the pad and the door slid open.

The bridge was dark, lit only by the glow from the controls on the console. The green and amber lights of nominally operating equipment provided just enough illumination for her to make out the tall figure stretched out in the pilot’s seat. It was turned slightly so that long legs could be stretched out more comfortably, to the side.

“You’re a half hour early, Mitchell,” the deep voice reported tiredly.

“It’s not Mitchell, Captain, it’s Kara,” she replied quietly.

The reclining figure sat up stiffly and turned back toward the console. “Doctor, what can I do for you?”

“I’m concerned that you’re not sleeping. Is there anything I can do?”

Other than curl up next to me and rock me to sleep? Sennaat… “No, I don’t think so. Doctor, it’s just the normal stress of beginning a new run. It will improve in a day or so, I’m sure.”

Kara leaned back against the bridge door, assessing the situation. She didn’t believe Devon, but knew she had to tread lightly with the complex woman. “I have a cup of chamomile tea for you. May I sit and drink mine with you?”

The Captain sighed audibly before turning her chair toward the doctor. She gazed at the small woman quietly, admiring her as she leaned nonchalantly against the door, the soft lights of the cabin highlighting her features most attractively. “Sure, thanks,” she said as she indicated the empty co-pilot’s seat.

Kara smiled, and Devon thought that it lit the cabin perceptibly. I have got to get a grip. She reached for the mug, her favorite, she noticed, and their fingers grazed again. Kara gently wrapped her fingers around Devon’s, just briefly, and smiled warmly when the woman looked sharply into her face.

“Thanks,” the Captain husked and brought the mug out of range of Kara’s reach.

“You’re welcome.” Kara sat and sipped from her tea and turned to glance at the huge console before them. “I’ve never been on a bridge before.”

“Never?” Asked Devon, surprised.

“No. I’ve actually done very little in the way of space travel. Only to Mars and the moon and back a few times. I, um, don’t fly well,” she added, somewhat embarrassed.

“Really? There’s nothing to it. It’s actually safer than traveling in aircars planetside.”

Kara chuckled, “Yes, I’ve heard that, but aircars don’t fall miles out of the sky, or disappear into unknown dimensions.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry when flying with me.”

“So I’ve heard.” Devon could feel Kara’s smile as much as see it in the dim space.

“Oh, and who told you that?” She asked, interested, as she sipped at her tea, enjoying it very much.

“A certain Chief Engineer. He was bragging about your success. He seems like a good friend, Devon.”

“Mm, yes. He is. I’ve known him all my life. He was, uh, a better father to me than my own was.” As she sipped at her tea, she realized that the younger woman had addressed her by her first name, but curiously, she noted that it didn’t bother her. In fact… “Sorry, did you say something else?”

Kara chuckled. “Yes, I said that Jim mentioned that your father was, or is, an Admiral in the Space Fleet.”

“Oh, yes. Is. He uh, wasn’t around a lot when I was a kid. My mom was in the Fleet too, and I usually shipped out with her.”

“I see. So you were a Fleet brat, huh?” She smiled around her cup.

Devon chuckled, a thoroughly pleasant sound, and said, “Brat is right. I’m surprised that some of my mom’s crewmembers didn’t space me. Sennaat, I was a pest.” She shook her head as old memories returned.

“Was she a Captain?”

“Yes, and a Commander. She, um, died several years ago…in service.”

“Oh, Devon, I’m so sorry.” The obvious concern and caring in Kara’s voice warmed Devon and she closed her eyes, letting the warmth permeate her being for a few moments.

God, this woman makes me feel good…”Thank you. It was very hard. Still is, actually.” She sipped at her tea and spared a glance at her friend.

“I know how it is…I’ve lost both my parents.” Kara offered sadly.

“What happened?” Devon asked quietly, shocked that she actually did care.

“An accident. Did you, um, hear about that bad shuttle accident seven years ago? At the San Francisco Spaceport?”

“Sennaat, yes…they died in that?”

“Yes. They were coming to my joining ceremony on Mars.” She added wistfully, “I should have taken it as an omen and called the thing off. It would have saved me endless heartache if I had.” She looked up into concerned eyes, their blue having gone violet in the dim light. “I’m sorry, you probably don’t want to hear the details of my personal life.”

Devon shrugged. “I don’t mind. If you want to share, go ahead.” She looked down into her tea, wondering just what the hell she thought she was doing.

“Thanks. I believe very strongly that talking things out is therapeutic.” She looked into Devon’s glowing eyes and smiled shyly.

“You would…being a Psyche, I mean.” She grinned, lighting her face from within and warming Kara’s soul as well.

Kara laughed. “Absolutely! Well, um, I was contracted for seven years. She’s not a bad woman, it was just a bad match. She basically just wanted me as support so she could do her research and not worry about supporting herself. I was in private practice and doing all right. I loved her, but I really didn’t want a seven-year contract. I tried to talk her into starting with a three-year, but she wouldn’t hear of it. I let her rope me into a seven-year. It ended three months ago and I can’t express how happy I was to be out of it.”

“Did she want to renew?”

“Oh, of course, even though we were no longer in love. But I stood my ground and left Mars….not before it got pretty messy, though. That’s why I jumped at the chance to take this job. I desperately needed a big change in my life.”

“I figured as much.”

“So, what about you…ever been married?”

“Oh, God no! I, uh, avoid domestic situations like the Reticulan Plague. No, um, not even any long-term dalliances.” She looked down into her drink again and back up into caring, dark green eyes. “I watched my parents badly abuse the concept of the marriage contract and decided at a very young age that I would never torture myself, or someone else, that way.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Well, um, this was good,” she indicated her empty cup, “And I do feel more relaxed. Thank you.” She checked the time readout on her console and said, “Mitchell should be here in a few minutes to relieve me.”

“Oh, I should go then. It is quite late. Captain, can we have breakfast tomorrow…or lunch if that suits you better?”

Devon looked down at her hands and sighed, then said, “Kara, I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I really don’t want any entanglements right now.”

“What is it that you think I’m trying to do, Devon?”

“Become friendly, obviously.”

“And you consider friendship an entanglement?”

“No…Sennaat. No, Kara, what I should have said is that I think that you want something from me that I can’t give you…something beyond friendship.”

Kara regarded her companion for a long moment before speaking. “Devon, since we’re being honest, I’m going to go out on a very short and fragile limb and speak my mind.” When no objection was forthcoming, she started, “Devon, I feel strongly that I need to tell you that I feel a connection with you that I’ve never felt with anyone else…ever. In fact, my intuition tells me that we have a very deep, very old bond and we didn’t meet by mistake. And yes, I would like to explore that with you, because frankly, I think it could be wonderful, and I mean mind-bendingly wonderful, like neither of us has experienced in this life. However,” she held up her hand as Devon tried to speak. “However, I am very perceptive and I do sense your unwillingness to become that close to me, so I will not push you. I care for you too much, already, to push you into something you feel you neither want nor need. I would like to be your friend, if that is possible, and I would ask you to please consider that option.”

Devon leaned back in her chair and ran her hands through short, black hair that just rested above the collar of her flightsuit. “Jesus, you do believe in honesty, don’t you? Kara, it’s um, not so much unwillingness as fear, and I’m only just now admitting that to myself, so I will need time and patience, and I do not react well to being pushed. We can try the friendship thing, and see where that takes us, but honestly, I don’t see myself being able to take that bigger step anytime soon. I’m sorry.” She added, almost in a whisper, “And I care about you, too.”

Kara’s heart leapt at that statement, and Devon felt it. She actually felt Kara’s emotion as she experienced a jolt of pure love for Devon. “Sennaat, Devon, I’m glad,” Kara whispered, her voice hitching as the intense emotion she was feeling rose into her throat.

Devon was quiet for a moment before asking, “Kara, do you broadcast? Psychically?”

“No, I’m not a telepath, why?”

Devon shook her head, unable to believe what she was thinking much less that she was going to voice it aloud. “Because I would swear that I just felt your emotion…right here.” She put her hand in the middle of her chest.

“In your heart center? Um, what did you feel?” She was almost afraid to know and not quite sure she wanted to hear it spoken.

“Um, well, uh…” she looked up and whispered, “Love.”

Kara closed her eyes and dropped her chin to her chest. Jesus, Buddha, and Sennaat… Not looking up, she replied, quietly, “My God, we must be linked. Um, yes, that would be the emotion I just felt, yeah. I’m sorry.”

Devon let out a breath and shook her head. “Don’t be. I’m not. But it doesn’t change anything, for now, and I’m sorry about that.”

Kara swallowed hard. “It’s okay, Devon. I understand.” She rose and stood before her friend. “You didn’t answer my question about breakfast.”

Devon smiled, a crooked grin that warmed Kara from the soles of her feet to the top of her head. “Lunch would be better.”

Kara returned the brilliant smile. “Lunch it is then. Sleep well, Devon.”

“You too, Kara.” Tentatively, she reached for Kara’s hand and when it was given, caressed if softly with her thumb, just for a moment. The tingling they experienced traveled up both women’s arms and quickly spread to the rest of their bodies, not to abate for quite some time.

An hour later, while lying alone in their beds, both women realized, at the same instant, that they had fallen in love.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Devon awoke feeling refreshed after a relatively good night of rest. It had been short, and the revelation she had made to herself just before falling asleep had unsettled her some, but not as much as she would have surmised. Strangely, after admitting that she loved Kara, a warm peace had settled upon her and as she nodded off, she felt as if things were as they should be…finally. It wasn’t quite a conscious thought on her part, but it was close and she settled into the peace happily, letting herself drift off into an uncharacteristically peaceful slumber.

As she stood in the shower and spread soap on her body, she recalled the dream that she had experienced just before waking. It was of that ancient life that she had apparently shared with Kara. They were on horseback, riding together as they had been in her vision a few days previously, but in the dream, she actually experienced what the warrior woman experienced…reliving it in the dream state. She and her mate, a small woman who looked just like Kara and had blonde hair just a little longer than Kara’s, were riding together and then stopped for an extremely pleasant interlude in some tall, sweet-smelling grass. She shivered as she remembered the erotic details of the dream/memory, realizing that though she had had wild, exciting carnal adventures in her life, nothing she had experienced approached what the warrior woman had with her partner.

She was still filled with the feeling of love she had felt for that long-ago mate, and was shocked at its intensity. I had no idea that it was possible to feel love like that. Devon was shocked further still when she realized that she was beginning to experience that same depth of emotion for the woman she had only just met three days previously.

As she thought about Kara, and pictured her in her mind’s eye, her hands began to roam over her body, and she gave into the desire, deciding to feel the emotion honestly. For a change. She was startled from her pleasant musing, however, when a message came over the communications unit set into the wall of the small head. She stuck her head out of the shower stall and loudly replied, “Andropoulos here.”

“Dev, Jim. I need you in Engineering when you have a moment, please.”

“Problem, Jim?”

“Not serious, but it requires your attention.”

“I’ll be right there. Out.”

She quickly finished her shower, determining that she would continue to examine the Kara situation when she had another spare moment to devote to it. The fact that she intended to continue to examine it was shocking in itself…she had tended, when in the situation previously with others, to run from it as fast as she could, both in her mind and physically, not wanting to become deeply involved. Never wanting to become deeply involved.

Stepping out of the shower unit, she grabbed a towel and dried quickly, then slipped into her bra shirt and briefs before shrugging into a fresh flightsuit. I’m glad I’m meeting her for lunch. I want to see her again. Jesus, Buddha, and Sennaat…do I know what I’m doing? She shook her head as she pulled on her boots and then left her quarters.

As she made her way down the corridor, she stuck her head into the Medlab to see what was up, or rather, to see who might be up, and was pleased when Kara looked up from her desk and smiled warmly at her.

“Good morning.”

“Morning. I um, am needed in Engineering but I’ll see you later for lunch, right?” The tough spacer asked almost shyly.

Her friend’s warm grin answered the question for her. “Yes, absolutely. I’m not letting you out of it!”

“I don’t want out of it. Bye.” She graced Kara with a charming lopsided grin and waved before striding on her way.

“Bye, Devon,” Kara said to the empty air where she had been standing, then sat back in her chair and enjoyed the rush of warmth that was flooding her system. Jesus…I’ve got it bad. She took a deep breath and tried to refocus on her work, but fifteen minutes later, she realized that she had read the same paragraph five times, and decided that a change of scenery was in order.

Devon strode purposefully down the corridor, past the passenger section where all of her passengers currently resided in hypersleep, and through the airlock into the cargo section. She slowed her pace and pushed off from the closed hatch, electing to sail across the large space instead of magnetizing her boots and walking across the metal floor. She reached the handhold at the far airlock and pulled herself to a stop, settling to the floor.

She exited into the Engineering section, feeling the drag on her body as gravity three quarters what it was on Earth reestablished itself in the revolving section. She passed the first door, which opened into Jim’s quarters and strode into the large open section, which was filled with consoles, computers, and equipment. Rusty and Chad both sat at terminals and were intently focused on some task or another.

Jim, who was hunched over a terminal near the plexi partition in front of the huge, twin ion engines, looked up as Devon entered and motioned for her to join him.

She greeted him brightly, saying, “What’s up, Jim?”

He looked her up and down, having been expecting to find her still in a foul mood, and finally, crossing his arms over his chest, he grinned, and said, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think that you’d been laid.” He was astonished at her mild blush, and his mouth dropped open. “No! You and Kara? Already?”

Devon frowned. “No!” But added with a small, abashed smile, “Not yet, anyway. What did you need to show me?”

“Not yet? Don’t leave me hanging with that one, my dear. Spill it.”

“Shit, Jim, we had a talk is all. Um, apparently you were right…there does seem to be some sort of bond between us.” She held up her finger and pointed it in his face as she added, “But we’re taking it slow! Now butt out of my business and show me whatever the hell it is that you need to show me.”

She was unprepared for the hug he gave her and looked positively put out by it, frowning deeply. “Christ, Jim…”

“Okay, back to business. I ran a diagnostic on the dimensional drive during the night last night and it identified a problem.”

“Oh, what is it?”

“Nothing major, actually, just an imbalance in the Reticulan-Tesla coils. I traced the problem to a faulty logic board. Unfortunately, I don’t have a spare on board. We’ll need to pick one up. I would highly recommend against doing a dimensional shift until it is replaced.”

“I should think,” Devon remarked dryly. “Okay, write up a requisition and we’ll take care of it at Intrepid Base.”

“Done, thanks, Dev.” He punched in a command and turned away from the terminal. “So, you want to tell me about this little talk you and the nice doctor had, over lunch, perhaps?”

Devon looked embarrassed, something Jim had never, ever seen her do, as she replied, “Um, sorry, but it seems that I’m meeting the nice doctor for lunch.”

Her friend beamed at her as he clapped her on the back. “Well done, Dev. Well done! Dinner then.”

“Dinner.” She nodded and smiled warmly at him before turning to leave the section.

My God, she is definitely in love, and not in a way that I’ve ever seen before. She’s a different woman. It’s about time. He smiled at his thought and returned to his computations.

Kara had decided that a little mid-morning exercise would provide her with the change of scenery she desired, so she headed to the mess hall to use the treadmill. She had inserted a favorite vid and was watching it as she ran. Her mind was not on it, however, as it had not been on her work. Her thoughts kept straying to the dark, beautiful, enigmatic Captain, and she found herself reveling in the revelation that she had fallen in love. I know she’s spooked by this, so I’ll be very careful, but I will not deny my feelings for her…to myself or to anyone else who may ask. I felt something the second I laid eyes on her and it has grown steadily into this wonderful, warm, fuzzy devotion. And desire.

She sighed as she ran, enjoying the rhythm of her footfalls on the soft, pliant surface. She fell into a relaxed rhythm as she pounded out the miles and didn’t feel the admiring eyes that were focused on her. Not right away, that is. As she ran, she began to feel a curious warmth in her heart center…her heart chakra…that was reminiscent of what she had felt in Devon’s presence since they had first met. She inclined her head slightly, trying to gauge what she was feeling. It’s Devon…she’s nearby.

Kara turned slightly and looked toward the doorway. There, Devon stood, transfixed, watching her run, and Kara gasped, “My God, I felt you watching me.” She shook her head. “I mean, I knew that you were nearby.”

Devon closed her eyes, then sighed deeply and looked at the floor before looking back up at Kara. “And I felt that you were in here as I approached…long before I heard the treadmill.” She shook her head and entered the room. As she strode toward Kara, she enjoyed immensely the sight of her in her tight bra-shirt and shorts.

Kara reached down to switch off the machine and grabbed the towel she had hung over the handlebar. Stepping off the slowing tread, she wiped the perspiration from her face. Looking at Devon sincerely, she quietly stated, “Our heart centers are linked, and not by a simple cord. This is something unlike anything I have ever experienced, even as a medical intuitive. We each can feel when the other is nearby, you can feel what I’m feeling…wait…Gods.” She looked openly into Devon’s beautiful face and whispered, “I can feel what you’re feeling, too.” She looked at the floor and swallowed hard before saying, “The feeling is very mutual, Devon.”

“Oh, and what feeling would that be?”

Green eyes sparkled up at her. “Do you really want me to say it out loud?”

Devon chuckled. “No, actually. I’m not sure I’m ready for that. But, um, I’m sure you picked up on the emotion correctly.” She pinned Kara with her deep, blue gaze, to the point where the blonde would have happily, joyously, drowned in it, and then smiled rakishly.

“Oh, my God, Devon, don’t smile at me like that.”

“Why not?” She asked jauntily.

“Because something will happen that neither of us are ready for…that’s why not.”

“Yes,” Devon stiffened. “Okay. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to tease. Especially when I’m the one who wants to explore this slowly. Supposedly.”

“Right. It’s okay. I, um, should get back to the Medlab. It’s about time to check the readouts on the cryo units.”

“Yes, and I really should relieve Mitchell. I’ll see you back here for lunch. 13:00?”

“That sounds perfect. Have a good day, Devon.”

“I already am, Doctor.”
-4-
Devon made herself a strong cup of black tea and made her way to the bridge, mildly preoccupied, but happily so. The door slid open before her and she stated in a businesslike fashion, “Status?”

“All systems nominal, Captain.”

“Fine, Mitchell. Get some rest and report again in six hours. Another night shift won’t be necessary, but I’d like to train you to run diagnostics and introduce you to some of my flight procedures.”

“Aye, Captain.”

“Dismissed.” She nodded curtly and took her seat, setting her tea on the console beside her chair as she heard the door slide shut. Devon’s hands began running expertly over the consoles, beginning her daily routine of checks and maintenance, so used to the routine that she could do it in her sleep.

“SysComp. Bridge. Music. Schumann’s Fourth Symphony.”

The bridge cabin was filled with orchestral music and she sighed appreciatively. “Music volume, twenty-five percent.” As the volume decreased slightly, she picked up her mug and leaned back in her chair, gazing out into the void in which she found so much solace, and retreated into her thoughts. Which were at that moment exceptionally pleasing.

Kara exited her quarters dressed again in her short, white lab coat over loose, comfortable flight slacks, which boasted numerous deep, zipped pockets. Returning to medical, she sat at her desk and resumed the work she had been trying to accomplish earlier. She was slightly more successful, but found her thoughts drifting to pleasant matters often. Rather than fight them, she let them be, reveling in the warmth they created, and then was able to refocus on her files for another short time.

“SysComp…location of crewman Lorenzo.”

“Scanning,” replied the mechanically feminine voice that inhabited the ship’s computer. After taking a few seconds to locate the chip imbedded in his ident card, the machine replied, “Crewman Lorenzo is in the mess hall.”

She resisted the usual urge to thank the machine and instead depressed a button on the comm unit. “Crewman Lorenzo, please report to Medlab at your convenience.”

A few seconds later, a reply buzzed over the unit. “Will do, Doc.” Thirty seconds later, the handsome young man bounded into Medical with a large grin. “Yes, Doc?”

Kara returned the grin. “I’d like to schedule a quick physical so that I can update your file.”

“Sure, no problem. Is now good? I’m on break.”

“Now would be fine. Have a seat.” She indicated a chair beside her desk and he sat. She called up his file and as she gazed at her monitor, asked, “Is there any new information to be added since your last physical? Any injuries or illnesses that may not be noted here?”

“Nope, Doc. I’m as strong as a horse.” He grinned rakishly at her and a small smile curled at her lips as she looked back at the screen. “All right, it is noted here that you haven’t had an update of your fertility suppressors in a little over six months. Would you like another?”

“Oh, yes, Doc, absolutely. We’ve got shore leave in a few weeks.” His winning smile tugged even at her decidedly non-bisexual heart.

“Fine. Do you need more hygiene aids?”

“Could always do with more of those.”

“Good, I’m glad you make use of them. There’s a new variant of Titan type d Syphilis making the rounds. I’ll give you a handful before you leave and feel free to ask for more whenever you need them.”

“Will do, Kara.” She looked at him from under raised eyebrows but smiled anyway before returning her attention to his file. “So, Kara. Can we share a meal some time?”

“Yes, Chad, I would like that. But, just so you know…I’m not bi. Any relationship between us would remain at the friendship level.”

“Well, Kara, I’m disappointed, but I appreciate your honesty. Still, friendship is fine with me. Does, uh, the Captain know of your gender status?” He asked with a sly grin and a wink.

“Why do you ask that, Chad?” She asked, knowing full well why, but wanting to hear it anyway.

He shrugged. “It’s no secret…she’s not bi either, mostly. Maybe you two can get together. Come to think of it, she’s partial to blondes. I wish she would hook up…she’d probably be a hell of a lot nicer.”

“Thanks for the information, Chad. Now, come sit on a bed for me, please.” She gestured toward the adjoining section, where five diagnostic beds were situated and followed him in. She proceeded to give him a quick medical exam, her pleasant thoughts of her newly rediscovered soulmate receding to the back of her mind for the time being.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Devon finished a tactical diagnostic and glanced at the time. 12:50. Good enough. I’ll finish this later. She keyed in the commands to note her place in the simulation and picked up her mug before standing. She gave the flight console a quick visual going over, then, satisfied that the ship was flying itself nominally, turned and left the bridge.

As she strode toward the mess hall, she felt an acute excitement and a little anxiety. Jesus, I haven’t felt like this since I was fifteen and visiting my first pro. She shook her head, disbelieving what she was allowing to happen, but also knowing full well that she couldn’t fight it. She, in fact, no longer wished to fight it. Sennaat…give me the strength to see this through without hurting either one of us, please. Grace to you. She nodded her head in reverence as she voiced the silent prayer.

When she reached Medlab, she peeked in, and noting Kara’s absence, continued on to the mess hall. Entering, she happily noted that Kara was in the galley, and unhappily noted that everyone else in the crew, except the presumably sleeping Mitchell, was at the table, eating. Jesus…everyone would take a late lunch today. Shit… She joined her friend in the galley and was graced with a brilliant smile that warmed her nearly beyond belief.

“Captain.”

“Doctor.” Devon glanced quickly toward the large table and seeing that they were all intent on their lively discussion, looked back at Kara and smiled winningly at her. In a low voice, she asked, “Kara, would you mind if we ate in the Medlab? I, uh, would like a little more privacy than this.”

“That would be fine. Actually, I’ve been delaying joining them for that same reason.” She grinned up at her taller friend. “They’re probably wondering what I can possibly be fixing that is taking so long.”

Devon laughed quietly. “Good. Well, um, why don’t you make your excuses and I’ll make mine and meet you there.” She pinned Kara with glittering sapphire eyes and an amused grin.

“Sounds good. I’ll see you in a few minutes, then.”

“Okay,” Devon replied with a very uncharacteristic softness. She watched as Kara exited the galley station and made her way toward the door.

“Hey, Doc, where ya going?” Chad called.

“Oh, I’m in the middle of updating my records…I’d like to get right back to it. I’m used to eating at my desk. See you all later.”

“Later,” he called as Rusty nodded and Jim glanced conspiratorially at his friend standing in the galley. She pointedly ignored the look she knew she was receiving and a few minutes later, she carried her tray toward the door.

“You too busy, too, Cap?” The friendly young cargo handler asked.

“Yep, running tactical sims.”

“Later, then.”

She nodded as she made a show of sipping at her juice and left the room. A moment later, she entered the Medlab and palmed the door shut behind her, then turned to see a smiling Kara sitting at her desk. She returned the smile and sat beside Kara in the chair indicated, setting her small tray on a clear portion of the desk.

“It was a good idea eating in here, Devon. It’s much quieter.”

“Mm, much less crowded, too. I have a great crew, but I don’t want to spend every minute with them, you know?”

Kara nodded as she added, “And, well, I wanted to eat with you alone.”

“Yes, well, there is that, too,” Devon added with a smug grin.

Their eyes met and they both noted the gentle, comfortable tugging at their heart centers before looking back down at their meals. They ate in companionable silence for several minutes before Kara, naturally, spoke up.

“So, um, I’m curious, Devon. You mentioned that we might make a run to B. Ret. Do you do a lot of trading with the Reticulans?”

“I do, actually. Early in my military career, I was assigned as a liaison in the Ambassadorial Office and I made some contacts there that have proven to be valuable. I’m still the only free trader that they do business with. I, um, respect them, and their ways, and of course, they know that, being telepaths, and they know also that I’m honest, so I’m welcome there.”

Kara nodded, interested. “I’ve noticed that you refer to Sennaat a lot. Do you practice their spirituality too?”

Devon nodded as she sipped her juice. “I entertain elements of the philosophy, yes, though I don’t really practice any particular religion. Though, I am adept at meditation and fighting arts, and I’ve attained pretty high levels of both.”

Kara’s eyebrows rose and she nodded. “Yes, so have I. And I feel pretty much the same way about my spirituality. I recognize the truth in the teachings of Sennaat, Buddha, and Jesus…realizing, of course that they were all the same energy! But I don’t identify with any of the organized religious factions or adhere to their practices.”

“Not so many people do anymore, since the dawning of the New Era…I mean, what’s the point? The Grays pointed out that we are all one; that we are all spiritual beings created by the same Creator; that we’re all engaged in karmic and reincarnational cycles, playing the “Human Game”, or the “Reticulan Game”, or the “Martian Game”, as the case may be; and all eventually return to the Creator and add our life experiences to the tapestry.”

“Mm, hm. Absolutely. I guess, at this point, almost a hundred and twenty years after First Contact, it’s the lesser evolved souls who cling to the old ideas out of fear.”

“Mm, yes. Fear of change. Also known as ‘stubbornness’.” Devon chuckled, but then cleared her throat gently before asking,
“So, Kara, if we do make the Reticulan run, do you think you would be joining us?” Devon’s tone was nonchalant, but she found herself holding her breath awaiting her new friend’s answer.

Kara looked down at her food for a moment, then back into the eyes she had grown to love in such a short time, answering honestly, “Devon, at this moment I am very much looking forward to spending as much time as I can as a member of this crew.”

Devon closed her eyes briefly and basked in the pleasure that Kara’s statement evoked. “Kara, I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear that.”

Kara covered her Captain’s large hand with hers as she remarked, “You don’t have to Devon…I can feel it.”

“Gods,” Devon breathed as the electricity elicited by their shared touched spread the length of her body instantaneously. She removed her hand from under Kara’s and lifted it to her cheek.

Kara leaned into the warm touch and sighed, “I know…I’m feeling it, too.”

Devon was overcome by the warm sensations flooding her body. Her furiously pounding heart aided the spread of the warmth, and her hand trembled where it touched Kara’s cheek. Softly, she said, “I need to explore this with you, Kara. I can’t believe it, but I do. This is a step that I’ve never in my life taken with anyone else, but I’m so strongly drawn to you that I can’t ignore it.”

“Then don’t, please,” Kara breathed.

Devon answered her by leaning forward slowly and kissing her softly. Though the kiss was very gentle, the passion it ignited was not, and Devon found herself quickly overcome, as a very long-dormant passion erupted from her heart and sexual chakras simultaneously. She broke the kiss and pulled back slightly, gazing into the green depths of Kara’s eyes for just an instant before leaning in again and capturing her lips more passionately. As she brought her hands up to gently cradle Kara’s face, she brushed her tongue gently against her soft lips, which parted, granting it entrance. Kara grasped Devon’s shoulders, pulling her closer as their tongues met and danced together. They savored and explored each other through the kiss for several minutes, until both women were breathless.

“Gods!” Devon gasped as she broke for air.

“Sennaat,” Kara breathed as she held onto Devon. A passion unlike any she had ever experienced was burning through her body, threatening to overcome her.

“All of the prophets, Kara, every damn one you can name.” Devon leaned into her friend again and rested her forehead against her temple, only to be pulled into a loving embrace. They sat together that way for many long minutes, both enjoying the warmth of the bond they shared and the blossoming love they had initiated.

Devon Andropoulos’ tortured soul was set upon the path of healing then, as she accepted the love of her soulmate. She took a moment to feel absolutely amazed, as did her guiding spirits, at how quickly she had succumbed to the undeniable love that was pulling at her soul.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Over the ensuing week, both the Captain and the Doctor were so busy with their duties that they hadn’t time to get together again, excepts for three shared tea breaks together, which included a few quick, stolen kisses, but nothing more intense. Devon was busy tutoring her new second-in-command on her ship’s procedures, as well as teaching her tactical and defensive flight maneuvers, while Kara was deeply involved in administering physical exams to each of the crew, updating her files, and creating her hydroponics lab.

On flight day seven, both women found themselves caught up with their work by the end of the work day and shortly before dinnertime, Devon called into the Medlab.

“Doctor, Captain Andropoulos here. Can you speak freely?”

Kara smiled. “Yes, Devon, go ahead.”

“Good. I’m finished for the day…you don’t happen to be free for dinner do you?” The anticipation in her voice was obvious, and Kara smiled.

“I am free, thank you. What do you have in mind?”

“Dinner, my quarters, 1900 hours?”

“That sounds just fine. May I bring anything?”

“Nothing, other than your lovely self. Do you like pasta?”

“Oh, yes!”

“Perfect. 1900 hours, then.”

“I’ll see you then. I’m looking forward to it.”

“So am I. Out.”

Goodbye, Devon. Kara nearly rubbed her hands together in glee. She had missed interacting with her new friend all week and felt a deep need to spend some quality time with her. Some intensely personal quality time would do quite nicely. She closed her eyes and felt once more the deep love for Devon that had all but consumed her.

Devon actually did rub her hands together gleefully. Kara had mentioned that one of the things she missed most about not living planetside was the lack of fresh produce, and Devon had a nice surprise for her. She was shocked at how pleased she was at the prospect of pleasing Kara: she had never before placed anyone else’s feelings or happiness before her own. But the thought of pleasing her new friend thrilled her.

Devon grabbed a quick shower and was putting the finishing touches on their meal when Kara buzzed the comm on her quarters door a few minutes early. Quickly licking a bit of white sauce from her finger, Devon made her way to the door and admitted her friend. The door slid open, revealing a smiling Kara holding a bottle of white wine.

Devon gestured her in as she said, “I told you that you didn’t need to bring anything.”

Kara laughed. “I know, but I don’t like to show up empty handed, and besides, this is my favorite wine and I’d like to share it with you. It goes well with pasta.”

“Well, thank you. I appreciate the gesture, and I will enjoy sharing it with you.” She stepped forward almost awkwardly and reached for the bottle, then kissed Kara’s cheek as she whispered in her ear, “I’m glad you’re here…I’ve missed you.”

Kara’s heart lurched at the feel of Devon’s breath in her ear and she leaned against her. “I’ve missed you too, Devon. Very much.”

Devon pulled her into an embrace and kissed the top of her head. “Yeah, it was one of those weeks. It should be pretty calm cruising these next few weeks before we make Mars.”

“Good,” Kara replied as she nuzzled Devon’s warm chest. They both basked in the love they were sharing and in the desire that that was beginning to cascade in their bodies, and neither wanted to move.

“God, Kara, you feel good,” Devon said as she held Kara close and caressed her back with her free hand.

“Mm, so do you. I’ve needed this, Devon.” She pulled back and looked up into Devon’s brilliant eyes. “I don’t mean to push, honestly, but I needed some contact with you.”

Devon grasped Kara’s chin gently as she said, “Kara, we are beyond the point of my not wanting to be pushed by you. I need you in my life and will not fight it anymore.” She sealed her statement with a tender kiss, which quickly began to deepen. “God,” she sighed after ending it, as a fire began to burn in her groin, and she felt herself swelling with need. She pulled back and grinned lopsidedly at Kara. “I’d better, um, finish dinner.”

Kara grinned up at her. “Okay, I’m hungry.”

“So am I,” Devon drawled as she turned and pulled Kara by the hand over to her tiny galley area, and Kara knew that she wasn’t talking about being hungry for pasta.

When they reached the counter, Kara saw the makings of a fresh salad strewn about the cutting board. “Vegetables!” Looking at Devon happily, she added, “You have fresh vegetables?”

Devon grinned widely. “I do…but only for special occasions and very special guests.”

“I’m so glad I rate. Thank you, Devon, so much. That’s a wonderful surprise. Here, let me chill that while you finish dinner. I’m sorry I was a little early.” She held out her hand for the wine.

“I’m not. I hope you like Alfredo sauce.”

“Oh, my God, yes. I love any type of pasta with any type of sauce, but I think Alfredo is my favorite.”

“Good. Funny…I had a feeling you would like it.”

“I guess you know me well already.”

“I want to, Kara…very much.” Devon replied seriously.

Kara wrapped her arms around Devon’s strong waist as she replied, “And you will, if I have anything to say about it.”

“Say yes.”

Kara grinned widely and exclaimed dramatically, “Yes, Devon…a thousand times, yes!”

Devon pulled her close as she breathed, “God, you are my kind of woman.”

“I’m so glad of that,” Kara said softly as she gazed up into Devon’s eyes.

“Sennaat, Kara…I may not get this dinner finished if we keep on like this.”

“Well, we can’t have that…I’m hungry. However, dessert may be another matter.” She added coyly.

Devon’s heart rate shot off the chart and she groaned as she closed her eyes. My idea exactly, Kara. No confection that I could whip up could even approach your sweetness. Kara helpfully turned her back around to face the counter and left her to her preparations, settling herself on the comfortable sofa.

Looking around her, she admired Devon’s quarters. The space was sparsely but stylishly decorated and seemed to suit her perfectly. The predominant color was navy blue, which matched her crew’s flightsuits and was represented within her company’s colors. Her decent-sized bed was tucked into the far corner opposite the entrance, behind a privacy screen, and a comfortable-looking chair sat next to it. The small head was tucked into the wall nearest the bed, and the opposite wall sported her desk and shelving units. Beside, them, tucked into the corner was a small altar area, which held a small, bubbling water fountain, a few quartz stones, and an incense holder. Across from that, off of the living area, sat the L-shaped galley area, with three tall chairs sitting at one of the counters. The main part of the living area contained the sofa and several soft chairs that surrounded a low table. Presently, thick pillows sat on the floor around the table, which was set with two place settings, sitting intimately side by side.

As she admired her attractive friend, who looked very nice in loose flight pants and sleeveless shirt, Kara remarked appreciatively, “Your quarters are very nice, Devon. They’re really very spacious.”

“Thanks, I think they suit me,” Devon said as she carried a tray to the low table and set it down. She admired Kara’s form as well. She was also attired in the comfortable white flight pants and a loose-fitting sweater.

“They do. Is there anything I can help you with?”

“Nope,” she said as she returned to the galley for the wine. She read the label as she carried it over. “Oh, Kara, I like this variety, too. Good choice.”

“Well, like you said, I thought you would like it.”

“I guess we both know each other’s tastes already.” She held her hand down to her friend and helped her to her feet.

“I guess we do,” Kara said as she looked into her new love’s beautiful eyes. She noted that Devon seemed shorter and looked down to find bare feet. “Hey, you’re shorter without your boots on. How tall are you, anyway?” She asked impishly.

“Just under six feet…without my boots. You?” Accompanied by a jaunty grin.

Kara grinned. “Just under five and a half feet…without my boots.”

“I like it.”

“Oh, you like that I’m shorter than you are?” Kara asked playfully.

“Mm, hm. Here, I’ll show you. Kick off your shoes.” She waited for Kara to do so and opened her arms, inviting Kara into her embrace, where she settled happily. Devon laid her cheek against soft, blonde hair and sighed. “See, perfect fit.”

“Yes,” said Kara as her head lay cradled against Devon’s shoulder. Her breasts fit perfectly beneath Devon’s and they complimented each other in size. “Perfect.” They stood together, enjoying the wonderful sensation of holding each other for several minutes, until Devon cleared her throat and stepped back.

“Come on.” She led Kara to the table and helped her to settle at one end, then settled her own long frame beside her, tucking her legs agilely beneath herself.

Devon poured first Kara’s wine and then her own, then picked up her glass and offered a toast. “Here’s to the beginning of a beautiful relationship.”

“Yes, to us.”

“To us.” As they sipped their wine, their eyes met and locked, and they both knew, without a doubt, that they were home. Finally, truly home.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Oh, my God, Devon…I’m stuffed. I couldn’t eat another bite.”

“Come on, one more bite,” Devon said playfully as she offered Kara a morsel of salad from her plate.

“One more, but only because you’re feeding it to me,” she said just before opening her mouth to admit Devon’s fork. The salad was followed up with a tender kiss. “Mm, that was the best part.”

“Well, here’s another then.” She leaned forward and shared another kiss with Kara, savoring her lips as she never had anything in her life. “God, Kara, you taste good,” she breathed after pulling back.

“So do you, my love.”

Devon closed her eyes and swallowed hard, and when she opened her eyes again, they were misty. “That is the best thing I’ve ever heard in my entire sorry life. Thank you.”

“Thank you, Devon, for taking the chance.”

“I had no choice in the matter, Kara. Absolutely no choice.” She leaned back against the couch and expelled a deep breath. “Wow. I’m stuffed too. I’m going to have to hold off on dessert for a while.”

“That’s fine with me, Devon. I’m in no hurry to leave…unless you would rather I didn’t stay late.”

Devon hesitated a moment before replying, “Since we seem to have based this relationship on complete honesty, I’ll tell you that
I am in no hurry for this evening to end, Kara.” She took another sip of her wine and added pointedly, “In fact, it can go on forever.”

“God, Devon…”

“Come on,” Devon said as she gracefully stood. Let’s sit where its comfortable.” She helped Kara to her feet and they settled together on the couch. Devon leaned forward and refilled both their wine glasses, emptying the bottle, and handed Kara hers before settling against the back of the seat and pulling Kara gently against her.

They sat quietly together in a comfortable silence, digesting their meals and just enjoying being in each other’s presence. Kara noted that the warmth she had felt previously in her heart center had continued unabated all evening and she realized for the first time that it was Devon’s energy signature. She was an adept, gifted in the use of energy for healing and diagnosis, yet had never encountered such a feeling before. She closed her eyes and centered herself, then reached out with her second sight, and when she opened her eyes again, she saw a brilliant golden glow linking her heart center with Devon’s. As well, the glow surrounded them, as if bathing them within it’s loving embrace, and expanded outward, nearly filling the living area.

“Sennaat, Devon,” she quietly gasped.

“What is it, Kara?” Devon asked, concerned, looking down at the woman resting against her.

“I can see our bond. It’s amazing. It’s…breathtaking. It links us, surrounds us, and fills most of this room.”

“I can feel it, Kara. It’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever experienced.” She kissed the top of the lovely head cradled against her and then nuzzled it with her cheek. “But there is something even more wonderful and beautiful that I want to experience with you…if you’re ready.”

Kara closed her eyes as she responded. “I’m very ready, Devon. So ready. I feel that I’ve been waiting my whole life for this.”

“I know I have, Kara. Of that I no longer have any doubt.” She set her wineglass down and removed Kara’s from her hand, setting it beside hers on the table in front of them. Gazing into her eyes, she declared softly, “I love you, Kara. May I make love to you? Please?”

Kara caressed the cheek of the woman she considered the most beautiful in the galaxy as she whispered, “And I love you, Devon. Yes, please let’s make love to each other.”

Devon pulled her love into a tight embrace as emotion and tears overcame her. “God…I haven’t cried since I was a baby…not even when my mother died…and look at me.”

Kara did look at her, and wiped away her tears as she did so. “There’s nothing wrong or weak about crying, Devon. Let it out. I’ve got you.”

Devon did let it out, for a short time, trusting herself to Kara as she had no other and eliciting tears from Kara as well, and they held each other as they let the strong emotion flow. A few minutes later, Devon pulled back and quietly said, “Thank you,” before kissing Kara.

Kara deepened the kiss, pulling Devon close, and hands began to roam sensuously as tongues played and explored. They necked passionately, getting to know each other and basking in the glow of the special love they shared. Devon ran her hands under Kara’s shirt and caressed the soft skin of her back, and Kara moaned into Devon’s mouth.

“I want you, Kara.”

“Yes.”

Devon stood, still kissing her younger mate and led her to the sleeping area. “Lights, low,” she commanded softly and the room complied. As they stood next to the bed, she kissed Kara again and pulled her close, running large hands tenderly down her body, loosening clothing as she did so. Kara raised her arms and her shirt was pulled off, revealing beautiful, full, pink-tipped breasts.

“Oh, God, Kara,” Devon breathed as she gazed at her, then pulled Kara close again and kissed her deeply, communicating physically the love she felt for her. Kara pulled at Devon’s shirt and managed to pull it off as well, only breaking their kiss for a brief moment. Lovely, full, dark-red nippled breasts crushed against her as their deep kiss continued. Devon ran her hands under the waistband of Kara’s pants and pushed them down, falling to her knees to help them to the floor, and pulling her briefs off with them.

She buried her lips against Kara’s stomach and moaned, then kissed her way up to a pert breast, running her tongue around the excited nipple. Kara buried her fingers in Devon’s hair and moaned, encouraging her, and Devon continued the loving assault before pushing Kara gently onto the bed. She deftly removed her own lower garments and lowered herself to her lover’s side.

Leaning down, she kissed Kara tenderly and reached a long arm down, gently caressing her skin in slow, downward moving circles. She gently, softly raked her fingers along Kara’s inner thighs, eliciting a loud moan and spread legs. Devon responded by touching Kara where her need was greatest, starting with gentle circular caresses which then quickly became sensual strokes.

“Yes, Devon, thank you,” Kara moaned, overcome by the pleasure sweeping her senses.

“My pleasure, baby. It’s my great pleasure. I love you.”

“Love…you…too. Oh, yes!” A gently inserted finger, accompanied by soft lips and tongue on her breast quickly sent her over the edge and she succumbed deliriously. “Devon…Devon…Devon…”

“Kara…” Devon was losing control just as quickly and took a deep breath to try to waylay the inevitable, just for a bit.

Kara perceived Devon’s problem, and before her own waves of satiation had stilled, she rolled them over and began suckling and stroking erotically at Devon’s breasts. “God, Kara…yes!” Devon fairly yelled, and Kara moved a loving hand down to tangle in soft, black curls. Her fingers skillfully found their mark and set Devon’s release into motion. A few short minutes later, Devon was calling Kara’s name…very loudly.

As her mate collapsed under her, weak and sated, Kara kissed her tenderly and remarked quietly, with a sly grin, “I hope the bulkheads are thick in this part of the ship.”

Devon laughed deeply, and her laughter became tears of joy as she held her new mate. They cried and laughed and loved, and laughed and cried and loved again, repeatedly throughout the night, finally waking in each other’s arms well into the next day shift, with a deep bond nearly as old as time reestablished.
-5-
Devon’s precious daily allotment of heated water was wasting, but at the moment, she could not have cared less. Her head hit the back of the shower stall and rolled from side to side deliriously as the intensely pleasurable sensations swept her body.

“Gray gods, Kara…”

“Mmm…,” was the muffled response as her lover delivered the strokes which were causing the glorious sensations.

The buzz of the comm unit startled Devon just before she heard, “Devon, Jim. Are you there?”

“Shit,” Devon hissed, and thrust a long arm out to angrily hit the switch.

“Yeah, Jim, what…what is it?”

“Just curious, Dev, as to whether or not you intend to emerge some time today and fly this ship? Or is it just your crew who have to keep to strict shift times?”

Jim thought he heard muffled laughter and then Devon’s voice grumbled, “Yes, Jim, I do pl…shiiit…” Her voice became muffled and he heard intense whispering, and then, “Sorry…yes, smartass, I’ll be reporting soon. Is there a problem?”

“Oh, no. I was just curious. You don’t happen to know where the good doctor is, do you?” The humor in his voice was obvious, barely concealing a snicker.

Giggling, Kara said, “Hi, J…,” before her mouth was unceremoniously muffled and more censorious whispering ensued.

“Dev, it sounds like you have your hands full there. See you two soon, I hope…the uh, crew is starting to wonder. Out.”

The long arm snaked out and hit the comm switch again, then returned to its perch on Kara’s shoulder. “Kara, gods, yes…” As her kneeling lover continued the loving assault, she lost control once again, and was carried away by yet another blindingly intense orgasm.

“Yes!” Reverberated around the small room and out into the Captain’s quarters and was soon followed by moans and a similar scream from a softer, somewhat more feminine voice.

Shortly thereafter, Devon helped to pull Kara’s sweater over her head and then pulled her close. “That was without a doubt the most wonderful, most exciting, sexiest night of my life. Thank you, Kara.”

“My feelings exactly, Devon. I, um, hope we can make it a regular occurrence.” She looked up expectantly into shining blue eyes and saw her answer before it was spoken.

“As often as possible, duties allowing, okay?”

“Okay.” She burrowed into her tall lover’s inviting shoulder and they stood together for several minutes, loathe to part.

Devon sighed deeply. “I feel such a part of you already, Kara. But I’ve never done anything like this before, and, well, I’m a little unsure of myself. Be patient with me?”

“Yes, absolutely, love. If I get too pushy, let me know, and I’ll back off some. I want to be with you, but I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

“Kara, remarkably, I don’t think you will. We both know about the past life and the bond we share, and that knowledge makes this easier to understand. And I want it…very, very much. But I need for you to understand that I have never made a commitment to anyone before, so I’m probably not good at it…but please know, Kara, that I want to spend as much time as possible with you, and only our respective duties will prevent us from being together…if that’s alright with you.” Please God, don’t let me freak and bail on this… this is good.

“Alright?” Kara laughed. “It’s wonderful, Devon. Thank you.” She kissed the shoulder in front of her and felt Devon’s deep devotion for her through the bond as she pulled Kara closer.

“Um, also, I would like to try to keep this under wraps for as long as possible…not because I’m embarrassed or ashamed, but just because I am a private person. Though I fully realize how quickly news of this sort spreads on this ship.” She smiled wryly.

“I understand, and I agree. I don’t like being the subject of gossip, either. But, honestly, Devon, I think that whenever we’re together, it will be pretty obvious.”

“Probably, but let’s try not to advertise it, okay?”

“Okay. Can we trust Jim to keep quiet?”

“Yes.”

Kara grinned. “You know this from experience?”

Devon shrugged and nodded. “Yes.”

“Okay. Well, my love, I have work to do in my lab, so I should be going. And, I’m still waiting for a certain Captain to appear for her physical.”

Devon smiled shyly. “Sorry, I just hate those things, Kara.” Her cute smile turned devilish as she added, “Besides, you recently made an extremely intimate examination of every square millimeter of my body…isn’t that good enough?”

“No, sweetheart, it’s not, I’m sorry. You’re going to have to endure the physical just like the rest of your crew did.” She pulled back slightly and leaned in again, gently capturing the peak of a breast with her teeth and stroking it with her tongue, leaving a wet mark on Devon’s flightsuit, and causing a deep moan. “But I would like to do some more exploration later.”

“Sennaat, yes, Kara. Here again? Right after shift? And meet for lunch at 14:00?”

“Yes, please.” She was pulled up by strong arms into an intense embrace and a long, deep kiss, and then they parted and walked together to the bridge.

As Kara left Devon at the hatch to the bridge cabin, she felt an acute sense of separation and had to struggle to push it down as she reminded herself that she and Devon would never be more than one hundred meters apart. She turned and gazed behind her, to see Devon still watching her and realized then that she was not only feeling her own sense of separation, but Devon’s as well. Their emotions, when they were experiencing similar ones, were effectively magnified…doubled. Gray gods…we are going to have to learn to deal with this. She smiled at Devon and waved, receiving a wave in return and then her mate turned and entered the bridge.

“Status,” Devon requested as she sat beside Mitchell.

“Nominal, Captain. I continued with the tactical sims you assigned yesterday and I have one left to complete.”

“Very good. Have you had a break this morning?”

“No.”

“Go ahead and grab one if you’d like, and thank you, Mitchell, for covering command this morning.”

“Aye, Captain.” She nodded and paused her simulation, then left the bridge.

Devon sat back in her seat and sighed, glad for the solitude. Before she dove into her routine, she allowed herself a few minutes to revel in the wonderful sensations that were still coursing through her body, not the least of which was the love she felt coming from her lover through the unique energetic bond they shared, which was literally bathing her with its warmth. Thank you for blessing me, Sennaat. Grace to you.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Kara set another seed tray into place and secured it, attaching the necessary clear, plexi piping to it. She had been working steadily for several hours and was nearly finished. All that was left to do was to set up the hydro-recycling unit and turn on the water supply. She stood back and gazed at her handiwork, satisfied. That’s a good job done…now in a few weeks, I’ll begin to see the fruits of this labor. She grinned. Literally.

As she continued to run through in her mind the steps of the process that would culminate in the harvest of the several dozen varieties of medicinal plants and several fruit and vegetable specimens, the comm unit buzzed and she heard her mate’s low, even voice say, “Doctor, can you speak openly?”

Through a wide smile, she replied, “Yes, Devon. Go ahead.”

Devon smiled as well, unable to contain her happiness. “Hi. How is your day going?”

“It’s going well…yours?”

“Status quo. Are you getting hungry?”

Kara grinned devilishly and replied, “Yes, of course! I’m always hungry.”

“So am I, baby,” Devon drawled, and Kara thought that she detected a jolt of lust coming through the interesting link they shared.

“God, Devon, did I just feel…”

She was interrupted suddenly with a staccato, “Very well, Doctor, thank you for the update. Out.”

Kara shook her head and grinned. Pesky co-pilot returned to the bridge, eh, Devon? She checked the time display and noted that it was only twenty standards until she and Devon had planned to meet for lunch, and returned to her task.

“Mitchell, how did that last sim go?”

“Fine, Captain. It was very interesting….tell me, do you design these based on actual attacks that you’ve been engaged in, or are they attacks that you anticipate as possible?”

“Both. That last one was based on an actual attack…the most recent and boldest one that I’ve encountered. My crew have successfully fought off every attack on this ship and I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve never lost cargo or passengers, and my crew have only ever sustained minor injuries.”

“That’s remarkable, Captain, though I do see how these simulations of yours would make for a very well-prepared crew.”

“I think that, even more so, it attests to the quality and skill of the people that I hire.” She gazed pointedly at her new co-pilot, making an inference that was easily deduced, and Mitchell smiled her appreciation. Devon returned the smile and nodded, then remarked, “I’m taking my lunch break now. Run a diagnostic, please, on the long-range scanning system.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Devon nodded to her as she stood, and left the bridge. She walked to Medlab and stuck her ahead around the doorway. Kara was at the back of the lab, faced away from the hatchway, elbow deep in the hydroponics bin. Devon grinned before quietly walking up behind her and wrapping long arms around her lover. She nuzzled her ear and whispered, “Time for lunch.”

Kara nearly jumped out of her skin. “Jesus, Devon! You scared me.” She fell back against the strong body behind her and grasped the arms that circled her waist.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to. Mm, you smell good.”

“I smell like lubrication fluid and plexi tubing.”

“No…wildflowers.” Devon breathed deeply of the scent that she could now identify as being uniquely Kara’s, relishing it.

Kara turned her head so that she could do the same thing. “And you’re spicy…I’m not sure what kind, but I like it.”

“Good.” She kissed the ear beneath her mouth and squeezed her new mate tightly. “Mmm.”

They were both startled a moment later when Jim strolled into the lab and declared, “Oh, my apologies, ladies!”

Devon sighed as she dropped her chin to Kara’s shoulder and turned them to look at her Engineer.

“No problem, Jim. We can, uh, trust you to keep this quiet, I presume?”

“Absolutely, Andy, but if you two want to keep this private, you may want to be a little more discreet.”

“Point taken.” She happily nuzzled Kara’s neck and added, “But that’s going to be goddamned hard, Jim…as crazy about this little lady as I am.”

“I’m glad to see that you finally accepted it, Devon.” He grinned widely. “Carry on!” He turned to leave.

“Jim, did you need something?” Kara called after him.

“Nothing that won’t wait until later, Doctor.” He smiled and waved before leaving the lab.

The two women shared a laugh, and then a hug and a loving kiss before leaving the lab together.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Kara took a bite of casserole, savoring the rich, spicy flavor, and asked, “So, you do actually have a problem with pirates?”

“Oh, yes. Kara, I’m sorry you weren’t aware of that fact. It is common knowledge in the shipping trade that all ships, but most particularly the unprotected free traders like ours have been coming under increasingly bold attacks the last few solar years. The news dispatches and alerts from the military have been fairly constant.”

Kara waved off her partner’s concern. “It’s all right, Devon. I realize that you didn’t deliberately hide the information from me. I have just been out of the loop as far as that sort of news is concerned. The last three, four years, I’ve had my nose buried pretty deeply within my research…trying to escape the realities of my horrible marriage contract. In fact, during the last year of the relationship, I slept in my office at the lab.” She shrugged.

“God, Kara, I feel terrible that you accepted a fairly dangerous position without being aware of it.” She grasped her love’s hand from across the table. “I don’t want you hurt.”

Kara turned her hand over and grasped Devon’s hand gently. “Don’t worry about it, Devon. I am exactly where I want to be. In fact, there is no longer any place in the known galaxy where I would rather be than here on this ship, with you, and I’m willing to face whatever confronts us.”

“Kara, I love that, but I’m not sure you know how serious these situations can be.”

“It doesn’t matter, Devon. I’m in this now, and way beyond simply what my job responsibilities dictate. I will not run from trouble, and most importantly, I will not leave your side. Not unless…” She looked down at her food packet and Devon felt her insecurity.

“Kara, I can feel what you’re thinking, and that will not happen. Ever. I’m more sure of that than of anything I’ve ever known…I will not tire of you or of our relationship.” She caressed Kara’s hand softly as she added, “This thing has grabbed hold of me like nothing I’ve ever experienced and I am committed…in my heart. I can’t imagine a day without you in it. I just can’t. The thought of doing so takes my breath away to the point of hurting.” She shook her head. “I just can’t imagine it.”

Kara graced her with a heartfelt look of love and gratitude as a single tear slid down her cheek. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“No problem. I’m in love with you, you know.”

“I know.”

“Okay, end of discussion. What would you like for dinner? Pasta again?”

Kara laughed as she wiped away the tear. “Yes. How are you with red sauce?”

“I am incredible with red sauce,” Devon delivered rakishly.

“My God, Devon…that conjures up an intense scenario in my mind,” she said fanning herself.

Devon replied in a low, sexy voice, “You’ll have to tell me about it later, then.”

“Oh, I’ll do more than tell you about it, my love.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

As the simulation ran, Devon skillfully provided commentary as she worked the controls. “Do you see how they broke and initiated a two-pronged attack? Designed to force us too near the gravity well?”

“Yes,” Cyd nodded. “Why would they do that? If we’re lost in the well, so is all the cargo.”

“Because they are expert at boarding and ransacking quickly. Getting in, taking what’s most valuable, getting out. They took a chance on being able to get in quickly and get what they wanted, and then getting out before the ship was lost down the well.” Devon outran the pursuers, as usual and paused the sim.

“Even tons of cargo?” Cyd asked incredulously.

“Yes. They have powered sleds that they can fly right into a breach in the cargo hold, load up, and fly out. They’re ingenious.”

“So the key defense, obviously, is to not allow them to catch us…so they can’t breach and board.”

“Exactly. Which is how I’ve managed to develop these flight maneuvers. We have been boarded a few times, but each time, they met with violent resistance and we prevailed.”

“Which accounts for the fully loaded weapons lockers situated in various locations around they ship?”

“Yes. As a matter of fact, I’d like you to start working with Rusty and Chad, doing some firing practice. Do you have any experience with plasma weapons?”

“No. I’ve only previously worked on company ships, which, as you know, rely on military protection.”

Devon nodded. “Right. Well, we have a practice range set up in cargo bay four, which we try to keep empty for that purpose. So, for the next few weeks before we reach Mars, I’d like you to spend part of your regular shift time, a few times a week, working with one of them. You can do it on your own time too, if you want, but I’ll ask that Rusty certify you before you try it alone.”

Cyd nodded. “Fine, Captain. I’ll set something up for later today.”

“Good. One or both of them are probably free several times during the shift.” As she turned back to face her flight console, she added, “I’ll want Dr. Murphy to take part as well. She may not be too willing, but I will require her to know how to defend herself.”

Cyd nodded her agreement vigorously. “Oh, yes, I agree. And, I’ll enjoy working with her.” A small grin tugged at her mouth as she ran her fingers across her controls.

Devon grinned at the cabin wall, then turned toward Cyd and gave an interested, “Oh?”

Cyd grinned. “Yes. I would like to get to know her better.” The Captain inclined her head, raising her expressive eyebrows with interest, so she added, “She’s very nice, and obviously quite attractive. She did indicate that she isn’t interested in a romantic relationship…she just ended an unhappy marriage…but I’m hoping that given some time, she’ll change her mind.”

“Mm,” the Captain provided noncommittally. “Shift is about over, Mitchell, why don’t we call it a day. You did a lot of good work today. Maybe you can talk to Rusty about setting up a practice schedule.”

“I’ll do that. Thank you, Captain. Have a good night.”

“Thank you.” Oh, babe, your doctor friend and I intend to.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Mmm, Devon…this is the best marinara I’ve ever tasted,” Kara exclaimed happily.

“I’m enjoying it too, baby,” Devon panted as Kara’s tongue licked the sauce from her body. “Sennaat, Kara…oh, Jesus!” Her lover’s tongue hit a particularly sensitive spot and she squirmed.

“Hold still, babe, so I can get it all.”

“Oh, you’re getting…shiiiit…getting it all, baby, don’t worry.” She gently grasped Kara’s head and guided it a little closer to where she needed it. “Oh, yes, Kara. Yes!”

The appetizer continued for some time, until after Devon had partaken as well, and a while later, they sat together at the low table in Devon’s living area, finishing the meal. “Mm, love, you really do have wonderful food on board,” Kara declared as she took a bite of her dessert.

“Only the best for my crew. And now for my lady, too.” She leaned into Kara and kissed her, receiving some chocolate in return.

She looked surprised. “That is good!”

“Especially when shared.” Kara took another bite and then kissed her mate, sharing it.

“Gray gods, Kara.” She sighed, shaking her head, and looked at her mate, amazed. “I didn’t know it could be like this. I had no idea.”

“I didn’t either, really.”

“Your marriage was never a happy one?”

“Oh, it was, I guess, at the beginning. But frankly, I was happier before the contract. I don’t think I’d do it again.” She shook her head sadly.

“You mean with her?”

“With anyone.” She returned her attention to her dessert, but then realized that Devon had become very still. “Honey?”

Devon shook her head and waved her hand. “Yeah, I understand.” She buried her face in her dessert again, trying to also bury the pain she suddenly felt.

“Devon, you didn’t think that we would…”

“No, Kara, don’t worry about it. Finish eating. I want to take you to the practice range later.” She fixed a serious gaze on her lover and returned to her meal.

Kara sat back against the couch. “Devon, remember that I can feel what you’re feeling. You’re hurt.” She reached out and caressed her cheek. “I’m so sorry.”

Devon swallowed hard and waved her hand again. “I told you. It’s okay.”

“It’s not. Devon, what I just ended was so unpleasant that even something as wonderful as what we now have didn’t allow the idea of another contract to occur to me. But believe me, if I were to want to marry again, it would be you…in fact, now that it’s been brought up, I don’t consider it a bad idea.”

Devon shook her head. “Kara, no. Don’t patronize me, please. If you don’t ever want to marry again, it’s okay. I understand. Frankly, I can’t even believe that the idea occurred to me at all. It never had before…not once. And Christ, we’ve only known each other for a week and a half.”

“Does that matter? Really?” Kara looked up at Devon, blonde brows arched.

Devon gazed into the questioning, vibrant green eyes and finally shook her head. “No. No, it doesn’t matter. What we have is pretty timeless.” She looked down at her plate and then back up at Kara. “Still, Kara. If you never want to marry, it’s okay…I really do understand. But, it’s just that I…shit…I can’t express myself. I’m not used to this!”

“It’s okay, love. Take your time. I want to hear what you’re feeling.” She picked up the large hand that lay dejectedly in Devon’s lap.

“I want you in my life, Kara. I’ve never wanted that with anyone else…and now, I can’t imagine a life without you. I guess that I equated that with a marriage contract…eventually. Some day.” She shrugged.

“Devon, that makes me so happy. Thank you. I want a life with you, too. And you know what? I think that a contract with you would be wonderful…I really, really do. What I have with you already is so much deeper than what I had with Elana, even after years together, that I really can’t even compare the two relationships.” She pulled the tall Captain close and cradled her head against her chest. “Why don’t we table this discussion until a later date, and in the meantime enjoy what we have and the commitments we’ve made to each other in our hearts?” She kissed Devon’s soft, black hair tenderly. “Okay?”

Devon nodded, answering quietly, “Okay, Kara.” Somewhat embarrassed, she added, “I’m sorry…I. God…I can’t believe I’m even having this conversation! But you mean so much to me, Kara.” She continued to shake her head in disbelief. “You know, Jim said once that we are never so vulnerable as when we’re in love, and I never understood that. I never had a clue what he was talking about. But now…Sennaat.”

She was pulled close again, and her lips were sought out. Kara held her tough partner and kissed her so deeply as to leave no question as to the depth of her love for her. Several minutes later, breathless, they parted. Grinning, Devon remarked, “Okay, babe, message received. There are a few things that I’d like to tell you too, later.”

Kara grinned widely. “I can’t wait.”

“But right now, let’s go to the cargo bay. I need to make sure you can defend yourself.”

Kara sighed. “Devon, I hate weapons…with a passion.”

“Why am I not surprised to hear that?” She pulled her mate into another hug. “Don’t hate what can save your life, okay? I will do everything I can to protect you, but I need to be assured that if I’m not nearby, you can take care of yourself. I love you, Kara, and I will not lose you.” She stood and held her hand out to her partner. “Now come on…Captain’s orders.”

“Well, I can hardly refuse then, can I?”
-6-
Devon led Kara down the main corridor to the cargo bays. As they passed the mess/rec hall, they saw the other four crewmembers watching a vid together. Cyd and Chad sat together on one couch, while Jim and Rusty shared the other.

As they quietly moved on, Kara asked, “Devon, do you think they find our absence conspicuous?”

“Possibly. Maybe we should spend some time in there before going to bed each night.”

“Good idea.” She wrapped her arm around Devon’s waist and leaned into her. “I like the idea of our going to bed together every night.”

“So do I. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t is there?” She glanced down at her smaller mate.

“No, except for being obvious about our relationship. Sooner or later, someone besides Jim will realize that we retire to the same quarters together every night.”

“Fuck ’em. Come on…magnetize your boots, or you’ll float to the top of the bay.”

“Ooh, could be fun.” Kara winked at Devon, who groaned.

“Gods, Kara, we’re here for weapons practice. Don’t be putting other ideas in my mind, please. Not yet, anyway,” she added with a smirk.

“Aye, Captain!” As soon as they stepped into the privacy of the bay, Kara’s irreverent salute was followed by a slightly inappropriate act between a Captain and her subordinate officer. Kara ended the passionate kiss with a flurry of giggles.

“Gray gods, Captain…you do know how to sweep the ladies off their feet!”

“Kara, I told you to magnetize your boots!” Devon said as she grabbed Kara’s leg and gently pulled her back down to the metal floor.

“Sorry, I got a little carried away there for a minute and forgot. Purely your fault, Captain…you just have that effect on me.”

“Mm, hm. Come on.” Devon led her partner to the large weapons cabinet situated on the wall next to the door, and keyed in a code, opening it. “Okay, are you at all familiar with plasma weapons?”

“Devon, I have never touched a weapon of any kind in my life,” Kara provided as she glanced at the array of guns with distaste.

“Well, baby, it’s time you learned, then. Your safety is primary to me.” She squeezed her younger mate and kissed her temple before picking up a small, hand held weapon and showing it to her. “Okay, this is a type one pistol. These are the simplest and easiest to use, so we’ll start with this one.” She handed it to Kara.

Kara grasped the weapon and held it loosely in her hand. The dull gray weapon was lighter than she had expected and felt well-balanced in her hand. Devon pointed to a small, countersunk button near the trigger. “This is the safety. Have it engaged at all times…only disengage it when you are under attack. Here,” she depressed the button. “Now it’s disengaged…see how the button sticks up?”

Kara nodded.

“Okay, now I’ll show you how to fire it. Engage the safety again.” Kara depressed the button and it returned to its previous countersunk position. “Now, over here.” Devon led her to the cargo bay door, which sat open, and then to the rear wall, where a panel was set into the gunmetal gray of the bulkhead. “This panel controls the practice sets. This control, ‘load’, loads the target image.” She depressed the button and the silhouetted image of a humanoid appeared on the opposite wall, approximately thirty meters away in the immense space.

“Okay, there’s your target. It’s best to assume the firing position…like this.” Devon took the gun and demonstrated a position with her weight evenly balanced over her slightly bent and extended right leg. She held her arms straight out in front of her, both hands on the weapon. “Here, Kara. Take the gun.”

Kara gingerly grasped weapon and mimicked Devon’s firing stance. “Good, honey. Now, disengage the safety.” Kara did so. “Now aim at the heart region on the image. Use the double set of sights…here and here.” Devon pointed to both sights on the gun, “If that helps.”

Kara did, squinting as she aimed down the length of the small gun to the image beyond. “Ok, babe, now fire. Don’t worry…the plasma discharge won’t destroy the bulkhead. That’s why they’re used on board ships.”

Kara smirked. “No, they only harm living beings…burned flesh is a lot less expensive to repair than breached hulls.”

“And breached hulls can kill everyone on board a ship, can’t they?” Devon pointedly addressed her mate. “Now, fire, Kara. Aim at his heart.”

“Why can’t I aim at his legs? Wouldn’t that disable him”?

“No. Not if he had a weapon…which he or she will, since you would only be firing at a vicious, unconscionable pirate. Believe me, Kara, they won’t give you the same consideration. You must shoot to kill, or you could be killed. Now fire.”

Kara blew out a sad breath and fired, emitting a white-hot bolt of energy and hitting the image nearly squarely in the chest. A red light flashed at the top of the target panel, indicating an optimum hit.

“Great shot, baby! That would have taken him down!” Devon said excitedly.

“Oh, wonderful,” Kara said sarcastically.

“It is, Kara. You just saved your own life and possibly others.” She turned the doctor to face her. “Look. I wouldn’t be making you do this if it weren’t vitally important for your safety. After we leave Titan, if we go out of system to make the Zeta Reticuli run, we’ll be heading into a sector that has become extremely dangerous…we are almost assured of being attacked. Even Saturn Sector isn’t completely safe any more…especially when there are no military ships in the area… and there won’t be.”

She placed her hands on Kara’s shoulders and looked her in the eye. “I need to know that you can defend yourself, Kara, or I won’t be able to concentrate on flying this ship fast enough, and smart enough, to outrun them. Do you understand?” Her serious gaze bore into Kara, and the message was driven home. Her concern for her mate was obvious.

Kara looked to the floor and back up into serious blue eyes. “Yes, Devon. I understand. Show me more, please.”

Devon hugged her tightly and proceeded to teach her as much as she thought appropriate for a first lesson. An hour later, Kara had fairly easily decimated most of the electronic targets, many of them moving, and they both felt assured of her ability. Devon replaced the weapon in the cabinet and taught Kara the command code to open it. “It’s easy to remember, Kara, if you know my birth year. Two-one-three-two omega nine. If I ever feel the need to change it, it will only be the last two digits. They both will decrease by one.”

Kara nodded her understanding.

“Okay, love. I think that’s enough for now.”

“Good. Take me to bed now, please and make love to me. I’ve had enough destruction for one night.”

“Alright, baby.”

A half hour later, under the large window in Devon’s quarters, two figures writhed together on her bed. Devon wrapped long, lean legs around the lover who lay atop her as they moved as one. Mouths met and joined ardently as sweat-slicked bodies slid together. Hands and fingers caressed, tongues danced, and voices moaned in unison as deep pleasures were coaxed from ecstatic bodies. They shared their love joyously, for the moment, not worried about what the future might hold, but simply living for that moment, before attaining first ecstasy, then satiation, and finally, sleeping soundly, wrapped in each other’s arms.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The Warrior stood at the ship’s railing, enjoying the bracing salt air. Unlike her partner, she thoroughly enjoyed sea travel and often found herself watching the sunrise from the deck. As the leading edge of the orange disc appeared above the eastern horizon, painting the sky in brilliant hues from the full spectrum of the palette, she sighed, feeling profoundly grateful to be experiencing a new day.

As she pulled the fresh, clean air deep into her lungs, she felt a renewed sense of exhilaration and silently thanked the gods, again, responsible for her latest resurrection. Thank you Aphrodite, Ares. Eli, thank your God for me, please. She bowed her head, feeling deeply a sense of love and connection for her small mate, who lay sleeping still below decks. She never gave up. She would have found a way to bring me back if it had taken years. She would never have given up on me…as I would never have given up on her. She shook her head, amazed and thrilled at the depth of her smaller partner’s devotion to her. She loves me as much as I love her.

At the thought of her partner, a slow, lopsided grin curled at her lips and she took one last look at the rising sun against the backdrop of the intense pink and orange sky, and then turned back toward the lower decks hatchway. She pulled the heavy wooden door open and stepped into the darkness, descending a steep stairway. Her sharp eyes could just make out their sleeping net against the far hull, swaying slightly with the ship’s motion. While still paces away, she could detect her partner’s steady, somnolent breathing. She quietly removed her boots and deftly climbed into the hammock, so skillfully in control of her body that it didn’t sway in the least, nor was her mate jostled.

The tall, strong warrior nestled beside her mate, who instinctively, even in sleep, cuddled up against her and received a protective arm around her. The dark woman tenderly kissed her lover and whispered, “I love you, Gabrielle.”

“Love you, too, Xena,” was whispered in reply, though the warrior knew that her mate was still asleep.

The low, white light of simulated dawn illuminated the entwined, sleeping forms at the same instant that their wake-up alarm chimed softly. Devon stirred first, becoming instantly alert, and stretched, partially dislodging the blonde sprawled across her body. Her small mate was not disturbed, however, and she grinned as she gently caressed Kara’s bare back.

“Hey, wake up,” she whispered softly.

“Mm?”

“Time to wake up, love.”

“Nope.”

“Oh? Why not?” Devon asked with a grin.

“Too nice here. Go back to sleep.” She settled more comfortably into her partner’s firm body.

“I have a ship to fly and you have medical duties.” She increased the range of her caresses, and they became more sensual as she cupped a small, soft behind, and nuzzled the blonde head tucked under her chin.

“Mm, Devon. That makes me want to stay in bed for another reason.”

She was answered by being gently pulled up so that her lips could be captured. Devon savored her lover with all of her senses and was quickly overcome by the passion she felt for her. She rolled them over, never breaking the kiss, and Kara wrapped her arms and legs around her.

The kiss became ever more fervent before Devon broke it and kissed her way down, slowly, tenderly, devoting attention to a cute chin, a luscious throat, over a prominent breastbone, to each of the two lovely peaks below.

Kara gasped as a hot mouth covered an areola, and thrust her fingers into Devon’s hair.

“Gods, Devon…”

“Mm, you taste so, so good, Kara. I can’t get enough. Will never get enough,” Devon mumbled against a taut nipple.

“I feel…feel the same way,” Kara murmured as strong, pleasant sensations began to ripple through her body. She closed her eyes and let the pleasure carry her away, reaching a climax several minutes later as her mate’s tongue and fingers delivered the intensely pleasurable strokes to her body.

As she felt the tremors shake her mate’s body, Devon lay between her legs and rested her head on Kara’s thigh, enjoying the sensations coursing through her own body, aided partially by the link they shared.

Kara let the waves of pleasure calm and settle, then sighed deeply and sat up partially, rolling over and placing herself atop Devon. She could feel her mate’s cascading desire and immediately reached down to tangle her fingers in her slick curls. The action was greeted by an appreciative moan, and Kara bent her head to suckle a breast at the same time. With loving strokes, she skillfully brought her mate to a very quick climax of her own and then they lay together, again entwined, as they basked in their love. Silently, they began a new day together in what would become habit for them.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Kara sipped at her tea as she watched Devon prepare their light breakfast. She admired her mate’s quick, assured movements, noting that she brought a high level of capability to everything she did. Kara also took a moment to admire her beauty. Her chiseled features were of a classic beauty, with a long, straight nose, high cheekbones, full, perfectly shaped lips, and of course, her brilliant, piercing blue eyes, all framed by shoulder-length, wavy black hair.

As her partner leaned on the counter and refilled her teacup, Kara murmured, “Devon, you are so beautiful.”

Her compliment was greeted by a lopsided grin and a nonchalant wave of her hand. “No, my love, it is you who are beautiful.” She picked up Kara’s hand and kissed it tenderly, then looked up from under comically raised brows. “And I’m not the only one who thinks so. You’ve uh, made quite an impression, it seems, on my co-pilot.”

“What? Why do you say that?”

“Oh, we had quite an interesting conversation yesterday. It seems that she would like to get to know you a lot better,” Devon answered with a grin.

Kara hung her head. “Oh, Sennaat…I told her last week that I’m not interested in her that way.”

“Mm, that’s what she said. She’s, um, determined, I guess. When you told her that you’re not interested, had we kissed yet?”

“No. It was on the second or third day of the flight. We were having lunch and she asked me to dinner. I, er, picked up on her vibes, shall we say, and said that I would rather not become involved and told her why.”

“Because you had just ended a relationship?”

“Yes, that’s what I told her, but the truth was that I wasn’t at all interested in her in that way. Anyway, a certain Captain had already caught my eye and I was having trouble thinking of anyone, or anything else.”

“Gray gods, Kara, I was in the same lifepod.” She leaned forward again and kissed her mate. “And now look at what we have.”

“Yes. I feel blessed. I was steadfastly against another involvement any time in the near future, but…” She shook her head humorously.

“God, Kara, so was I. I think you should know that the extent of my past relationships generally tended to be a few hours at most…and there were many, many of them. I mean, I’m talking every port, every planet call, and I almost never stayed until morning. I’m afraid I have quite a reputation, and I’m sure you’ll be hearing about it.” She shrugged as she gazed seriously at Kara. “I’m sorry.”

“Hey, it’s not a problem. You’re with me now, right?”

“In every possible sense, Kara, yes.”

“So, I’m not worried.” She grinned rather salaciously at Devon and added, “In fact, I won’t at all mind being seen with you on my arm.”

Devon grinned widely. “Is that so? Well, same here. All of the bar girls and guys where we make leave will be wondering who the gorgeous blonde with Andropoulos is. Not to mention amazed that we’re together for more than a few hours.” She sipped from her tea and added, “There is a very nice five-star hostel at the spaceport…are you familiar with the Olympus Inn?”

Kara shook her head. “No. I rarely left the Private Sector of Intrepid Base, and when I was at the spaceport it was only briefly.”

“Oh, baby, it’s so nice. It has large rooms with baths…”

“Baths? Jesus, Devon, what does it cost to stay there?”

“Don’t ask me that, Kara. I can afford it, and I’m taking you there. And the food, my God…you’ll be in nirvana.” Her large grin and infectious enthusiasm warmed Kara.

“Ooh, that does sound nice. I’ll have to be properly thankful for your hospitality, won’t I?” She reached across the galley counter and pulled Devon close again, bestowing an early, properly thankful kiss on her which lasted some time and left them both breathless.

“Shit, baby. Now I have to go sit on the bridge and think about that until we meet for lunch. That’s not fair.”

“Maybe we can take another long lunch,” Kara suggested coyly.

“Gods,” Devon groaned. “Stop it, now, or we’ll be late again.” She downed the last of her tea and walked around to stand beside Kara. “Time to go, babe. Give me a hug that will last as long as that kiss will.”

“Gladly,” Kara giggled as she hopped off the tall seat. She melted into Devon’s embrace and they held each other closely. “Have a good day, love. You’ll be in my thoughts constantly.”

“Mm, you’ll be in mine, too. Not to mention right here.” She tapped her heart center. “This link is amazing, Kara.”

“Another blessing, Devon.” She looked up into her mate’s shining blue eyes. “Lunch at 12:00?”

“Barring complications, yes. And, um, babe, I think we should make an appearance in the mess hall, maybe for dinner too. I’m sorry, but I do like to keep tabs on the scuttlebutt, and need to stay personally in touch with the crew.”

“Sure, I understand. I have been monopolizing your time recently.”

“Of which I am thrilled, believe me, Kara.”

“I know, Devon.”

They shared another, quick kiss and left together to begin their shifts, departing Devon’s quarters and parting at the long corridor that divided the ship, though Devon could have entered the bridge through the private door in her quarters.

The bridge was empty when Devon entered and she settled comfortably in her chair to begin her daily routine of fully checking all ship’s systems. A red light on a navigational array caught her immediate attention and seeing to it occupied much of her morning as they reached the halfway point in the journey to the red and green planet.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Kara entered the mess hall at shortly before noon to find most of the rest of the crew gathered near the galley.

“Doc, how goes it?” Chad asked with a smile.

“Oh, just fine, Chad. I’m settling right in.”

“Good.” He nodded.

Rusty emerged carrying a tray laden with a steaming meal packet, two cookies, and two drinks, prompting Chad to grin and say, “You trying to grow into the next size of flightsuit, boss?”

“Why don’t I put this tray down, Lorenzo, and me and you’ll go talk about it privately in the cargo bay, huh?” The older man challenged.

“Alright, you two, give it a rest, huh?” Came the sharp, yet somewhat amused command from the Captain as she entered the room.

“We’re just fooling around, Cap,” Chad replied with a half grin.

“It seems to be what you’re best at, Chad.” She nodded toward his overloaded tray. “Why are you eating double rations?”

He grinned as he replied, “Because I’m doing firing practice with Cyd later and catching dinner late. You don’t want me getting hungry and faint on duty, do you, Cap?”

“Absolutely not, crewman, carry on.” She gestured for him to have a seat at the large table and proceeded into the galley, joining Kara. She smiled warmly as she greeted her, “Doctor.”

Kara returned the warm smile and nodded. “Captain. What sounds good today?” Twinkling eyes and a burst of love-shrouded lust hit her heart center and she had to bite her lip to maintain her composure.

“Hm, I don’t know, Kara, what would you suggest?”

“The chicken a la King is very good.”

“Is it? I’ll give that a try then, thank you.” She nodded graciously to her secret love and reached around her to open the pantry unit.

Jim, from his seat at the nearby table, enjoyed the exchange with an inner smirk and turned to address Cyd. “How are the co-piloting duties going, Cyd?”

“I guess, like the doctor days, I’m settling in. This is a very comfortable ship to fly.”

“Yes, she is remarkably maneuverable for her size, and the controls are extremely intuitive.” Cyd nodded her agreement as she chewed. “How do you like Devon’s sims?”

She grinned. “They’re very challenging, but I feel I’ve learned a lot from them. As a matter of fact, I do believe that I’ve learned more in a week and a half on this ship than I did in three months at flight school.”

“I’m glad to hear that, Mitchell,” Devon said as she sat to Jim’s right, across the large table from her co-pilot.

Cyd furrowed her brows, as she added, “In fact, I was remembering the other day that I thought that I remembered an Andropoulos signature on some of the flight simulations at the flight academy…were those yours, too?”

Devon nodded as Kara sat beside her. “Yes. I was in the military before going freelance, and they had adopted some of my sims. After that, the commercial academies began using them as well.”

“That’s very impressive, Captain,” Cyd remarked.

“Not really. It’s just experience. I’ve endured many attacks and had to develop the flight maneuvers for self-preservation. As a result, I developed the sims for training, both for myself and for my co-pilots.”

Chad, sitting next to Cyd, remarked, “Cap, you are the only Captain I’ve ever seen who doesn’t take credit for being the galaxy’s best pilot, and the one who probably should make that claim.” He shook his head as he dove into his second meal pack.

“Trying to score some kiss up points, eh, kid?” Rusty grumbled with a half grin.

“Fuck you, old man,” Chad answered, also with a grin.

“You’d like to, boy, I can tell.”

“Get rid of about thirty pounds and you might get that lucky, Rust.”

Everyone laughed at the statement and Devon shook her head at the banter, feeling remarkably at ease with her crew for one of the few times in her memory. As she ate, a warm hand settled on her thigh and caressed it lovingly, accompanied by a warm jolt of love. She nonchalantly shifted her fork to her left hand and lowered her right to her thigh, covering Kara’s with it and intertwining their fingers.

The crew enjoyed their lunch break together and all benefited from the friendly presence of their usually stoic and distant Captain. The Captain’s friend and chief Engineer found himself marveling at both the change his new young friend had set into motion in his old friend, and in her obviously happy state, and said a prayer of thanks for Kara’s appearance into their lives.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Mitchell, try it now,” Devon grunted as she lay on her back under the flight console, struggling to fix the nagging problem with a sensor on the navigational array.

Cyd depressed a button, which lit red yet again. “No change, Captain.”

“Shit,” was the mumbled reply which floated up from under the board. She pulled herself from under the console and sat up. “I was afraid of that…it looks like the entire circuit is bad. Well, that’s why God and Engineers invented backups.”

Cyd grinned, agreeing with her superior officer.

“In the meantime, let’s just hope, and pray, that we don’t run into any pirates or anyone or anything else that would require us to plot another course in a hurry. I do not like operating without a backup in place.” She shook her head and deftly lifted herself to her feet. “Okay, Cyd, you wanted to take off for firing practice, am I right?”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Alright, go on, and stop at engineering please, and requisition a Cirrus type two navigational board…actually, make it two.”

“Two Cirrus type two boards. Aye, Captain.” She nodded professionally. “Good night, Captain.”

“Good night, Commander. Good luck on the range. Don’t, uh, shoot my crewman.” She grinned at her surprised officer.

“Even if he asks for it, ma’am?” Cyd asked seriously before a grin betrayed her.

Devon laughed. “Not even then, Commander…he may be an ass, but he’s an important member of this crew.”

Cyd grinned. “I know, Captain. He, uh, actually does have his uses.” Raised eyebrows punctuated her meaning.

“So I’ve heard. Have fun, Mitchell. Good work today.”

“Thanks, Captain.” She smiled warmly at the compliment, turned, and left the bridge. Jesus, she’s beautiful when she smiles. She may not be the hard case that everyone makes her out to be. I wonder if she ever fraternizes with crew… As she made her way to engineering, she found herself contemplating the lovely image of the Captain in her form-fitting flightsuit, lying prone on the floor of the bridge as she attempted to repair the circuit. Whew, it’s hot in here. Either that or I need to get laid.

Chad leaned roguishly against the bulkhead next to the cargo bay hatch. “Hey, lady, there you are. Ready to get fired up?”

Cyd shook her head. “Yes, Lorenzo, but I need to report to Engineering first. Captain needs a part requisitioned.”

“I’ll go with you,” the young man offered as he turned and keyed the hatch open. He ushered the lady ahead of him and Cyd stepped into the corridor, which continued on between the two sections of the huge bay. She carefully grabbed one of the multitudes of handles on the wall to keep from floating out of control while Chad keyed the hatch closed.

He grinned widely at Cyd, and said, “Let’s fly!” He grabbed her hand and pushed off from the closed door.

Cyd squealed as she let go and let herself be pulled across the space, enjoying the incredible sense of freedom the weightlessness gave her. She had only previously served on giant consortium ships, which were completely gravitational. A few even employed the new highly experimental, still cost-prohibitive, artificial-gravity systems, making the rotating sections unnecessary.

Halfway across the space, Chad looked back at Cyd and grinned charmingly, a skill he was adept at. He pulled her closer as he asked, “Ever fool around in zero gravity, Cyd?”

Cyd hung her dark head and laughed. “No, Chad, I can’t say I have…are you offering?”

“Well, I do happen to be skilled at it.”

“I’ll bet you are. Why don’t we wait until we’re off-shift sometime and discuss it again?”

“You know where to find me.”

They reached the other side of the section and settled to the floor before opening the hatch, then stepped into the rotating engineering section. They walked in place for a few seconds, until the section had rotated around and they were properly oriented with respect to the rest of the room. Cyd sought out Jim and made the required request, then joined Chad again and they made their way back to cargo bay four. For the short remainder of the shift, neither mentioned off-duty pleasures, but they made plans to meet privately for dinner to discuss possible future pursuits.

Kara shrugged out of her lab coat and hung it in the closet, then double-checked to make sure she had secured all implements and equipment before dimming the light. She left Medlab and keyed the door closed before heading into her quarters next door.

Just as she stepped in, she was pushed gently from behind, the door was keyed shut, and she was pulled into an embrace.

“God, I thought that shift would never end,” Devon groaned against her throat. Her hands began to roam gently and Kara collapsed into the warm embrace.

“Yes, it did seem like a long day. I think we may have been feeling each other’s need. This link seems to ah, um…” Her throat was being gently devoured, making coherent thought difficult, but she continued, “This link seems to magnify what we’re feeling…um, when we’re feeling the same thing.”

“Mm, I’ve noticed that, too. Can we eat each other before we eat dinner…please?”

“Well, stated so charmingly, how can I resist?” Kara asked, pushing back and raising her eyebrows at her mate.

Devon looked properly apologetic. “Sorry, I don’t know what’s happened to me…I really don’t.”

“It’s called, love, Devon.” Kara chuckled as she pulled her tall mate close again. “And I’m suffering from it, too.” She pulled Devon’s flightsuit open and began nibbling at her breastbone.

Devon threw her head back as she enjoyed her partner’s soft, warm lips, and the sensations they awakened. “Yes, Kara, that feels so good.”

“Hold onto your helmet, Captain.”
-7-
One week later, Devon and Cyd sat on the bridge as Mars hung before them in space, still appearing as a flat reddish disc, albeit now much larger than a pinpoint. Devon watched the readouts on her console and commanded, “Braking thrusters on my mark. Three, two, one, mark.”

Cyd depressed the large red button on the center console between them. “Braking thrusters applied, Captain. One burst, point five seconds.”

Devon carefully noted the numbers indicating the ship’s deceleration and replied, “Good. Our speed is decreasing. Maintain deceleration and notify me of any problems or changes. I’ll be in medical.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Devon stood and left the bridge, not seeing the smirk that had appeared on her co-pilot’s face. As she walked to her mate’s office, she felt an irrational nervousness. This is crazy…she’s your lover for Christ’s sake! And she promised you that there would be no needles. Big baby. She turned into the open hatchway and saw her mate tending to her herb plants in the back of the lab. Remembering not to sneak up on her partner, she cleared her throat gently and Kara turned around with a large grin on her face.

“Hi, love! I wondered if you’d come.”

“Kara, with that ultimatum you gave me this morning, you knew goddamned well I’d show up today,” her tough mate replied, slightly perturbed.

“Well, honey, if you had shown up for your physical the first three times I had requested it, I wouldn’t have had to give you an ultimatum.”

“Yes, but you didn’t need to make it so personal…you could have threatened mutiny like all my other doctors have.” She approached her lover and wrapped her arms around her waist, pulling her close. “You know I can’t do without…even for a day. You drive me insane with desire.” She nuzzled Kara’s soft neck and sucked an earlobe into her mouth.

“I did what I knew would get me results, sweetheart.” Kara closed her eyes and enjoyed Devon’s touch for a moment. “Mm, love, that feels way too good. Um, I’m glad you didn’t make me have to impose my penalty.”

“So am I. Can we make this physical last an hour so shift will be over? Then we can go be alone before dinner.”

“I think I can manage that, yes. God, Devon, stop that!” She slapped playfully at her mate’s roaming hands and backed away from her. “Now, come have a seat, please.”

“Yes, ma’am!” Devon replied playfully as she seated herself in the chair next to Kara’s desk.

Kara sat at her desk and called Devon’s medical file onto her data screen. “Okay, are there any illnesses and injuries that you need to report? Since…oh Devon, your last update was two solar years ago! That’s negligent. No wonder you fired that doctor.”

“Among other reasons. Yes, to answer the question. One point two solar years ago I suffered a broken right wrist and three broken ribs, right side.”

“Pirate attack?”

Devon nodded. “Yes. Then, let’s see, point eight years ago, broken bone in the hand…this one,” she pointed it out to her doctor.

“Pirates again?”

“Bar fight. But you should have seen him,” Devon said from behind a rakish grin.

“I’m glad I didn’t. And these things had better not happen while I’m around, or you can set and knit your own bones, Ms. Andropoulos.”

“Oh, yeah? Not while you’re around?”

Kara nodded.

“I guess I’ll never get into another bar fight again, then.” She leaned forward and kissed her mollified partner. “Next question.”

Kara gazed from her mate’s mischievous face back to her data screen. “Let’s see…fertility suppressors. It’s been quite some time since you’ve had any.”

“No need. Next question.”

“Hygiene aids…do you use them regularly and would you like more?”

“Not any longer and no. I am healthy and currently in a monogamous, long-term relationship with a similarly healthy woman.”

“Mm, she’s a very lucky woman.”

“No, I am. Next question.”

“Menstrual cycles regular?”

“No. Never have been. I’ve been told that I’m too active and under too much stress.”

“Do you feel that you are unable to handle the stress adequately?”

“No. I have recently become engaged in a regular activity that is extremely stress-relieving in nature.”

“Ah, the long-term, monogamous relationship.”

“Absolutely.”

“Would you classify yourself as happy?”

“Ecstatically so.”

The doctor grinned, despite herself. “Good.” She progressed down her list of questions. “Children…do you plan to have any?”

“No. Not myself anyway. I do intend to talk to my partner about the possibility of my providing the genetic material to create a child with her, however.”

Kara forgot for a moment that she was the doctor. “Do you?”

“Yes.”

“Wow. Okay. Good. Um…” She shook her head. “Where was I?”

“Kids.”

“Right. Devon…you would really want to have kids with me?” Kara asked, incredulous.

“I want a lifetime with you, Kara. Don’t you want kids?” Devon asked matter-of-factly.

“Yes, but I had thought that the time had passed. I resisted having them with Elana because…well, because.”

“Kara, I don’t intend to run cargo forever. I would like to settle down someday, preferably with you, and maybe a couple of kids. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Next question.”

“Um…no more questions. Go lie down, please.”

“I thought you’d never ask.” The statement was delivered with a jaunty grin and a single raised eyebrow, which had the intended effect of raising Kara’s blood pressure.

“Oh, you! Go lie down, please.”

“Only if you come with me.”

“I have to come with you, Devon, to examine you.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“If you don’t behave, you’ll be coming by yourself for the forseeable future. Now go lie down so we can finish this and retire to your quarters.”

Devon hopped up and was lying on a diagnostic bed in the next room before Kara could blink. Sennaat, this life you have blessed me with will never, ever be boring, will it? Not with her in it. Thank you. Shaking her head, she approached her mate. “Disrobe, please. There’s a gown…” Devon, not in the least bit modest, especially in front of her mate, was again, nearly before Kara could blink, nude. “How do you move so quickly?”

“I have many, many skills, baby.”

Kara sighed deeply. “So I’ve observed.” She stood before her naked mate and tried very hard to adopt a professional demeanor, but it was extremely difficult.

“What’s wrong, doctor? Like what you see?”

Kara scowled. “Christ…” I can do this.

She stood back and closed her eyes, then calmed and centered herself, taking just a moment longer than normal to do so, then stepped forward and opened her eyes. Holding her hands, palms down, about a quarter meter above the patient, she scanned Devon’s body psychically. Using her hands, she could feel Devon’s energy field and using her second sight, she could see her aura and etheric body. She ran her hands slowly from Devon’s head to her feet, picking up no signs of illness, imbalance or abnormality.

“Good, love. Now I’ll use the scanner.”

“I’ll bet your hands are just as good, Kara,” Devon remarked quietly.

Kara smiled her thanks as she adjusted the small hand-held unit, then ran it similarly over Devon’s body without touching her. Checking the display, she commented, “Good, honey, except for a slight calcium deficiency. You should increase your time on the treadmill slightly, and consume a little more soy.”

“I hate soy, and I have a new favorite exercise.”

“God, you’re a terrible patient! You will do as I prescribe, Captain. And the exercise needs to be weight-bearing…not flat on your back.”

“I’m sure I can come up with something suitably weight-bearing…care to explore the possibilities with me?”

Kara groaned, not knowing whether she was more upset or more turned on. She put down the scanner and placed her hands on her hips as she declared, “Jesus Christ, Devon!”

“What, baby? Come ‘ere.” She turned slightly onto her side and reached for her mate. “Are we done?”

“We’re done.”

“Well, come ‘ere, then,” she beckoned with another rakish grin.

Kara’s furiously pounding heart robbed her of all common sense as she gazed at her mate’s lovely body and she approached her prone partner. She was pulled down into a furious kiss and soon found herself lifting herself onto the bed beside Devon. Kara returned the passionate kiss, running her hands down Devon’s body as their tongues darted and danced playfully, but stopped suddenly. “Wait, Devon…someone could come in.”

“Then lock the door.”

Kara gave it only a moment’s thought before jumping up and doing so. “Lights, low,” she called as she returned to the diagnostic bed and shrugged out of her lab coat and impatiently kicked off her boots, and the room darkened.

As she leaned down to kiss her mate, she was unceremoniously pulled down on top of her. Devon’s long limbs wrapped themselves around her as her mouth devoured Kara’s. Strong hands pulled her dark t-shirt off over her head, leaving her in her sleeveless bra shirt.

Devon moaned, “I love you, baby. I need you,” as her hands slipped under the band of the half top and pushed it up.

“I’m yours,” Devon.”

“Gods, Kara…” Devon said as she sat up, pulling Kara into her lap so she could remove the bra the rest of the way. When Kara’s breasts were free, they embraced tightly and she wrapped her legs around Devon’s waist.

Kara captured her mate’s lips, less furiously, communicating love rather than raw desire, and savoring their taste and texture. Devon responded wholeheartedly, pulling Kara closer and returning the love. She ran her hands softly down Kara’s back, as Kara brought her hands up to tangle gently in Devon’s hair. As their love was shared by mouths and hands, it streamed through their link as well, bathing them in its rich glow.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Cyd entered the engineering section and called, “Hey, Chad, are you ready?”

Chad, sitting at a console, motioned furiously for her to join him. “Come here, come here, hurry.”

“What is it?” She asked, stepping up behind him.

“Devon asked me to run a check on the security system. I got a blip on one of the Medlab cameras and when I turned it on to check it out, look at what I saw.” He turned away from the screen so that she could see it.

Cyd gasped as she saw what appeared to be Devon and Kara sitting on a bed, kissing, tightly entwined. “Sennaat…is that the Captain?”

“Yeah, and Kara,” Chad grinned. “They were really going at it, but then the doc stopped to turn the lights down and lock the door.”

Cyd looked at her friend. “Looks like you were right about them.” She glanced back at the screen. “Um, turn it off, Chad, this isn’t right.”

“What? No way, Cyd, this is prime stuff. Oh, look she’s going for Kara’s underwear…”

“Lorenzo! What the fuck is going on?” The chief engineer bellowed.

Chad jumped from the chair and tried to flip off the screen, but Jim stepped between him and the console. Without sparing a glance at the writhing image of his friends, he cut the feed.

“You two just volunteered for ship watch duty when we reach Mars.”

“What? Jim, no…” Chad began to argue.

“Would you prefer that I allow the Captain to handle this incident?”

“No, sir.”

“No, sir,” Cyd repeated, shaking her head.

“Good. Now get the hell out of my sight. I don’t want to see you again tonight. Got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Yes, sir.”

Jim watched the two younger crewmembers leave and sat at the console. Andy, I’m going to have to have a talk with you.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Devon lifted Kara slightly so she could pull her briefs down, and did so deftly, dropping them to the floor. Kara settled in her lap once more and continued the deep, loving kiss before bending her head and kissing Devon’s breast. She left a trail of kisses around the curve of the breast before moving to the waiting nipple. Devon threw her head back as Kara’s hot tongue stroked her.

“Gray gods, Kara. I love that.”

Darkened green eyes gazed up into blue as Kara murmured devoutly, “I love you, Devon. More than I can express.”

“You’re doing a won…wonderful job of it now, my love,” Devon murmured, gently grasping Kara’s head.

Kara continued to lavish devotion on her mate’s breasts and Devon returned the favor just as thoroughly before their passion and desire cascaded out of control and fingers needed to seek out slick, throbbing nether regions. Some time later, they arched together as hands stroked deeply in unison, coaxing delirious ecstasy from tensed bodies, and they melted against each other as the rolling waves of pleasure swept over them, both murmuring words of love and devotion.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Devon strolled into the mess hall and sat at the “round table” with Jim and Rusty, followed half a minute later by Kara, who went directly to the galley.

“We’re on approach to Mars Colony, on schedule,” Devon briefed her chief Engineer and Head Cargo handler.

Jim nodded. “Good. I’m anxious to have those two problems taken care of.”

Devon nodded her agreement. “Absolutely. Are Lorenzo and Mitchell taking firing practice again?”

“I think so, yes,” Jim replied.

“Among other types of target practice,” Rusty volunteered with a smirk.

“Oh,” Devon asked with a grin. “Have they hooked up?”

“Looks like it,” Rusty replied. “Speaking of hooking up, Cap, are you’n the doctor gonna hold hands under the table again tonight?”

Devon’s jaw dropped and Kara dropped the packet she was preparing in the galley, as Rusty threw his head back in laughter. “I’m sorry, but it was getting a little ridiculous. Who the hell cares if you two are together?”

“Indeed,” Devon replied, looking over her shoulder at her mate, who was blushing fiercely. She cleared her throat. “Is, um, everyone aware of it?”

“Yep, Andy,” Jim answered.

Kara laughed and said, “In that case…what would you like for dinner, honey?”

Devon grinned roguishly at her crewmen as she said, “Well, I’ve already had my dessert, so I don’t care what the hell you fix…anything will be fine, baby.”

Rusty’s jaw dropped then, and the toothpick that had been bobbing merrily at the corner of his mouth dropped to the table.

“You dropped something, Rust,” Devon said as she got up and walked to the galley, where she scooped her mate into her arms and kissed her temple.

Just then, Cyd appeared, and glancing nervously at Jim said, “I’m, um, just grabbing some meal rations for, um, Chad and me.”

He waved her off and she entered the galley, only to stop abruptly as she ran into the embracing couple. She cleared her throat nervously. “Um, excuse me, Captain. I just need to get into the cabinet there.”

“Sure, Mitchell, sorry,” Devon said and stepped aside without releasing her mate.

Cyd quickly grabbed two dry meals and two drinks from the cold unit and hurried away.

Devon called after her, “Still working on the firing practice?”

Cyd stopped in her tracks. “Um, yes, Captain. We’re working on advanced tactical techniques now.”

“Very good. I’d like a briefing in a few days on just how far you’ve advanced. Carry on.”

Cyd nodded. “Yes, Captain.” And quickly left.

Devon directed her gaze at Jim. “Why’s she so skittish?” He shrugged in response.

“Here we go, honey, dinner’s ready.” Kara handed her mate a tray and set a drink on it for her.

Devon leaned down and sniffed at the steaming meal, saying appreciatively, “Mm, smells good. Thank you, Kara.”

“Any time, love.”

A grumble arose from the curmudgeon at the table. “Y’know, I think I might’ve liked it better when you thought no one knew about you. This mushy shit is gonna make me sick in a minute.”

“Crewman Schwartz, you may be happier eating in your quarters, then.”

Rusty waved off the suggestion and returned to his meal.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Cyd and Chad sat side by side, tethered into safety netting as they ate their dry rations. Chad shook his head comically. “I’ve gotta tell ya, Cyd, these rations suck, and having to do ship watch sucks even worse, but it was almost worth it to see them naked. Fuck me …they’re both babes.” He remembered the sight of their gorgeous Captain lying naked on the bed, beckoning to her lover…and then pulling her lover’s bra off. He sighed deeply as his body reacted to the memory.

“I agree, Chad, though technically, Kara was only topless. But Jesus…” She grinned at her friend. “I can’t believe you were right about them.”

“Shit, Cyd, haven’t you seen how they hold hands under the table? And they always sit together, almost always arrive and leave together…oh, hell, they might leave thirty seconds apart, but you could tell they were quartering together.”

“I guess I was blind.”

“Maybe you didn’t want to see it.”

“That’s true. I find them both very attractive, and not just physically.”

“Hey, they’re not the only attractive people on board, you know.”

Cyd looked at him coyly. “Well, that’s true, but Rusty is just a tad older than I like my men, and Jim prefers men.”

“Cydona!”

“What, Chadwick?”

Chad blew out a frustrated breath. “I thought you told me you were normal…that you like men too.”

Cyd made a decision then and acted on it, realizing that the pool of attractive, available mates had suddenly shrunk to one, and she didn’t want to spend the next year only getting pleasure from herself and from strangers at infrequent ports of call. She laid her hand on Chad’s thigh as she sad, “I do like men, Chad, and I like you very much. I just like to get to know people before I sleep with them.”

“Oh.”

“It’s an interesting concept, isn’t it?”

“Interesting, yes. Understandable, no.” He picked up the hand on his thigh and kissed it. “So, do you feel you know me well enough now?”

“Yes, I think I do.”

“That is so fucking great, Cyd,” he said with a huge grin as he pulled her gently into his arms. He kissed her, and as the kiss deepened, he unlatched their harnesses and they slowly floated upward in the weightless space.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

As Kara gazed out at the nearing planet, she leaned into the strong figure behind her, resting her arms on the arms that encircled her waist. “It really is a pretty planet, Devon. Not in an Earthlike sense, but in an alien sense. Though, I think as the terraforming continues and as the atmosphere thickens, there will be more and more similarities.”

“Mm, I think you’re right. Picture the images of it as it was thirty years ago, when we were kids. It was almost completely rusty red-orange, never any clouds, only the tiny polar ice caps. It really has changed remarkably in just thirty years.”

“Mm, hm, considering the scale, it’s been a remarkable accomplishment. When our children are grown, there will no longer be the need for domes. Maybe even sooner than that. It is incredible,” Kara said quietly as she caressed the strong arms that encircled her.

“Yes, even more so, the original inhabitants…well, their descendants…will be able to return, and not have to live below ground as their ancestors had to for generations after the satellite impact. Until the Grays evacuated them to Earth and other planets.”

“Yes, that is extraordinary. It will be a very special day when Mars is again an independent planet, presided over by a genetic Martian. I hope I to live to see it.”

“We will, love,” Devon mumbled against Kara’s hair, adding, “Maybe we’ll live there. Have you thought about where you’d like to live after we’re finished with spacing?”

Kara grinned, which Devon could easily sense. “Other than on some recreational ship with you…traveling the galaxy? No. It doesn’t matter. All that does matter is that we’re together.”

“Mm, agreed. Would you live on Earth again?”

“Sure. I think anyplace that isn’t too forbidding. Earth. Mars, later on. Zeta Ret., even.”

“Hm, no Titan Base or Ganymede Station, huh?” Devon grinned.

“No, thank you. Though I haven’t yet visited those bustling hubs of humanity.”

“You haven’t missed a thing, Kara.”

“I look forward to seeing them for the first time with you.”

“I look forward to showing them to you. But most of all,” she nuzzled the sweet-smelling neck in front of her, “I’m looking forward to vacationing with you on Mars…at the Olympus Inn.”

Kara reveled in her mate’s touch and the warmth flooding her soul through their bond. “Gods, so am I. Though I must say, these past few weeks have been very much like a honeymoon vacation for us. Work notwithstanding.”

“True. Did we make love yet today?”

“Mm, hm. In Medlab. How could you forget that?”

“Baby that is an encounter that I will not soon forget.”

“Good.”

“It was beautiful, Kara. And so are you.”

Devon held her mate tightly as they continued to gaze together at the planet they were approaching. It’s primarily reddish surface was now covered with several widely scattered large patches of green, with several very large accumulations of water. Large, white patches of frozen water covered its poles, as well. The planet turned slowly before them, growing steadily larger as their ship raced toward it. They would apply braking thrusters very gingerly several more times, gradually reducing their speed, and rendezvous with the primary base there in a little more than a solar day.

“Sweetheart, let’s go to bed,” Devon encouraged softly as she kissed her mate’s soft, blonde hair.

“Sure, love.” Kara turned in her embrace and snuggled into her strong chest. “I like hearing you call me sweetheart. The only other time I’ve heard it is in those ancient dreams. Which is strange, because we couldn’t have been speaking English, but I understand what’s being said.”

“Dreams? You’ve had more than the one?” Devon asked, interested.

“Yes,” Kara answered, looking up into Devon’s glittering eyes. “Almost every night since we met.”

“Jesus, Kara, so have I. I told you about the vision?”

Kara nodded.

“These are of the same life, but I experience the life as my former self did…not as someone looking on.”

“Yes, it’s exactly like having a regression done. We experience exactly what our former selves went through. It’s quite amazing.”

As she began to undress, Devon added, “I’ve never done a formal study of my past lives, so I’m finding this very interesting. Have you?”

“Yes. It’s a standard course of study now for healers, because so much of what we are can be traced to former lives. I had glimpses into that particular life, but nothing so intense as what I’m having now.”

“We’re soulmates, aren’t we, Kara?” Devon asked as she helped her mate off with her bra.

“Yes. Twin Souls, Essence Twins. I was told by an instructor that I would most likely meet my Twin Soul in this life, and complete important work with her.” She shook her head, embarrassed. “I thought when I met Elana, that she was it. I soon became severely disappointed, because I never felt a true kinship with her. I didn’t know if it was her, or me, or…” She sighed.
“I thought that the Universe had played a cruel trick on me in giving us so many grating personality traits that we couldn’t get along.” She pushed her briefs off and joined her mate in bed, snuggling into her place within Devon’s embrace. “But now I know that she wasn’t the one at all, and I thank all the gods, from the bottom of my heart and from the depths of my soul, that I have now found my true soulmate.”

“Jesus, Kara, so do I. I, of course, knew that most of us have Twin Souls… having so much contact with a race as spiritual as the Grays, how could I not? But I assumed that because we’d never met up, that she/he was not alive now…not having a lifetime concurrent with mine. You know, taking an astral break?” The blonde head nodded against her shoulder. “I never made the effort to find out for sure. That’s part of the reason why I was so reluctant to get involved with you. If I had known that my soulmate was living now, I’m sure I would have been more open to the idea.” She squeezed her lover and kissed her head. “Gray gods, I’m glad that the need to be with you was strong enough to overpower my stubbornness. I thank Sennaat for that. Every day.”

“Mm, yes. Thank you, Sennaat/Jesus/Buddha/Krishna. What do the Pleaidians call the Infinite Soul…do you know?”

“No. I’m not sure we’ve had enough contact with them to have learned that yet. But I’m sure they do have a prophet that visited their planet. There’s another interesting race. I hope one day that we open up trade together. I love visiting other systems and would love to go there.”

“I would love to share that adventure with you, Devon.”

“You will, my heart. Where I go, you go.” She grinned against Kara’s hair. “I hope you start liking space travel a little better, ’cause you’re gonna be doing lots of it for the rest of your life.”

Kara chuckled, warming her mate’s heart. “It’s not the space travel that bothers me, it’s the atmospheric travel. And Devon, nothing makes me happier than knowing that I will be spending the rest of my life at your side. Somehow, it feels like exactly where I’m supposed to be.” She turned and raised slightly to kiss her mate, and they shared their love gently and reverently for a few minutes as Devon’s ship carried them safely through space.
-8-
Devon’s alarm chimed softly as the lights rose, providing a low, gray illumination. She stretched and slowly tried to disengage herself from under her sleeping mate without waking her.

“Mm, baby. What time is it?” Kara mumbled sleepily.

“Oh-four-thirty, love. I have to be on the bridge.”

“Oh, Devon, can’t the ship stop itself?” Kara whined drowsily.

Devon chuckled quietly. “It can, but I prefer to do the complicated flying. We’re getting close now and I don’t want to take any unnecessary chances.” She leaned down to kiss her partner’s brow. “Go back to sleep. I’ll see you later.” She gently lifted herself from the bed and padded across the dark blue carpeting to the head.

A few minutes later, Devon sat at the helm, checking her readouts and equipment, when the private door from her quarters opened and a still-sleepy Kara entered, carrying two mugs. “Sweetheart, what is this?” Devon asked, surprised.

“You didn’t take the time to make your tea, and I want you to be wide awake while you’re flying this thing. Here.” She gently pressed the cup into her mate’s hand.

“Thanks, baby. Since you’re up, do you want to stay…keep me company?” Devon asked after sipping from her mug.

“Yep,” Kara replied as she sat in the co-pilot’s seat, tucking her legs beneath her. Devon thought she looked adorable as she sleepily cradled her warm mug in her hands.

“I love you, Kara. Thank you for completing me,” she whispered quietly.

The look of heartfelt devotion that Kara bestowed on her with a charmed smile and misty eyes warmed her astonishingly, and Devon had to sigh to release the emotion she felt. “Okay,” she breathed. “Time to apply braking thrusters again.” She set down her large mug and watched her readouts carefully, then depressed the large button to her right, on the console between them.

Kara felt a gentle lurch as the reverse thrusters behind them ignited, and then a noticeable deceleration. She followed Devon’s gaze and watched with interest as a set of numbers steadily decreased. “This is fascinating, Devon,” she remarked quietly.

“Mm, yes. I love it…always have.” She gave one final glance to the velocity indicator and turned toward her mate. “I was raised on bridges and never wanted to do anything else.”

“I used to want to be a, pilot, too, believe it or not,” Kara admitted with a smile. “Before it became obvious that I had an aptitude for healing.”

“Really? Would you like to learn to fly the Phoenix?”

Kara gazed at her wide-eyed. “Really? You would teach me?”

“Of course…if you’re interested. I think that since you will be traveling with me from now on, it will be a good idea if you know how to handle the ship.” She leaned forward, excited by the prospect. “Let’s do it, Kara!”

Kara grinned widely and grasped Devon’s hands. “Okay! It sounds like fun.”

“It will be,” Devon said as she brought their linked hands to her lips and kissed Kara’s fingers tenderly. “Something we can do together on the long flight out to Titan, and then if we go to Z. Ret. It will have to be when Cyd’s off shift, though, or occupied with other duties. I don’t want her feeling that she is in danger of losing her job.”

“Oh, of course. You need a full-time doctor on board, not two co-pilots…I understand.” Kara nodded and picked up her mug again.

Devon felt a peculiar hunger pain and just as she realized that it might actually be Kara’s pain rather than her own, Kara said, “I’m hungry, love. May I fix us a little something and bring it in here?”

Devon laughed. “Kara, if you just had a hunger pain, I felt it! And yes, some hot cereal and more tea would be nice.”

Kara stood and kissed her mate’s head. “Done, love. I’ll be right back.”

“Hurry back,” replied the tough Captain as she watched her mate depart the bridge. Sennaat…what has happened to me?

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Mars Control, this is cargo ship Phoenix, inbound for Intrepid Base. We are transmitting I.D. and manifest. Over.”

“Phoenix, Mars Control. Welcome back. We have received your data. Maintain course and heading. We will transmit orbital coordinates shortly. Over.”

“Mars Control, Phoenix. Maintaining course and awaiting coordinates. Out.” Devon crisply delivered the response and sat back, watching as the planet spun below the ship. They were still heading in, and would very shortly be receiving clearance to enter orbit around the planet, after which they would be cleared to land at the immense base on Amazonis Planitia, west of Olympus Mons.

Devon gazed around, gauging the traffic around them and remarked to Cyd, “Traffic is light today, but when it’s heavy, we can be directed to orbit for hours before getting landing clearance.”

“I don’t recall having to wait that long,” Cyd remarked.

“You wouldn’t have, on a company ship. Here at Mars they’re given preference over the free traders…most of the shipping consortiums being based on Mars. On the outer colonies and bases, though, it’s first come, first served.”

“Did you ever work company ships, Captain?”

“For a time, yes, just after leaving the military. A very short time,” she added with a smirk. “I soon found that the really big money could be made on free ships. Ships that did the most hazardous runs. Plus, they were always looking for good pilots, and I needed to make a lot of money so that I could buy my own ship.”

“So, you own this ship outright?”

“Lock, stock and gunwales.” Devon grinned. “I bled, sweated, and worked my ass off to get her, too.”

“Phoenix, Mars Control. We are transmitting orbital coordinates. Over.”

Devon checked the display on the SysComp and nodded as she replied, “Mars Control, Phoenix. Coordinates received. We are standing by for orbital clearance.”

“Phoenix, Mars Control. You are cleared for orbit. Proceed and contact Intrepid Control at zero-zero-two-niner. Out.”

“Mars Control, Phoenix. Understood. Entering orbit and contacting Intrepid at zero-zero- two-niner. Out.”

“Okay, Cyd. Maintain speed and set heading to,” she gazed at the readout, “Eight-seven by five-four.”

Cyd nodded. “Aye, Captain. Maintaining speed, heading at eight-seven by five-four.” She depressed the appropriate buttons and the ship responded, moving into an equatorial orbit parallel with the planet below.

“Steady, Cyd…good. Orbit achieved.” She depressed a switch near her left shoulder and addressed her crew over the comm system, “This is Andropoulos. We are in orbit and awaiting de-orbit clearance. Traffic is light. I anticipate landing in oh-thirty. Proceed with de-orbit and landing procedures. Out.”

Kara heard the announcement and began her preparations for bringing the five Mars- bound passengers out of hypersleep. She would wait until they had landed before awaking them, as it had been discovered that most people preferred not to experience the trauma of reentry and landing. She herself dreaded both procedures and she steeled herself both emotionally and physically for the trials. As well, she checked and stowed all equipment, making sure everything was in its place for the tumultuous reentry and trip through the small planet’s ever-thickening atmosphere.

Devon had invited her to view de-orbit and landing from the bridge, believing it would ease Kara’s mind to see that her mate had the ship well in hand, so she made her way back there.

As she entered the cabin, Kara heard, “Control. You are cleared for re-entry and landing. Proceed Intrepid pad niner-alpha. Out.”

“Intrepid Control, Phoenix. Copy. We are beginning de-orbit burn and proceeding Intrepid niner-alpha. Out.”

Devon turned and smiled at her mate, pointing her into one of the empty seats near the bridge door. “Have a seat and strap in, hon, we’re about to reenter.” She turned her chair the other way and spoke into the comm unit again. “This is Andropoulos. We are preparing for de-orbit burn. Strap in. De-orbit is in one minute. Repeat, de-orbit is in one minute.”

The comm unit crackled as Jim replied, “Engineering crew and cargo are in place. Is Dr. Murphy with you?”

“Check, Jim. She’s up here. Out.”

“Okay, Andy, out.”

Devon gazed back at her controls and then looked quickly at Kara. “Here we go. You okay?”

Kara nodded nervously and tried to smile.

“Don’t worry, love. We’ll be at Intrepid before you know it.”

Beside the Captain, Cyd tried to hide her grin as she watched her helm. God, she’s in love. Who’d have thought it possible?

“Cyd, orbital thrusters on my mark.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Devon watched her console sharply, glancing from display to display, taking in and processing the data in her sharp, quick mind. “Three, two, one, mark.”

“We have de-orbit burn, Captain.”

“Hold on, Kara. This is never smooth,” Devon remarked evenly, her calm voice soothing her mate. “Cutting cabin rotation.”

As she nodded, Kara saw the nose of the ship before her begin to glow orange and then white-hot. As they entered the thin atmosphere, the air around their speeding ship became superheated and blew by the cabin windows in what appeared to be white flames. They were buffeted sharply, seemingly bouncing on pockets and large bubbles of air, and Kara was very glad of the harness that secured her. As well, she briefly felt the loss of gravity as the bridge stopped rotating, but then they were immediately gripped by the pull of the planet below.

Devon deftly steered the craft as Cyd maintained their speed. “Okay, Cyd, I’ve got her…back off just slightly.”

“Aye, Captain,” Cyd replied as she cut their speed somewhat.

“Good. Maintain at one-five hundred,” Devon said as the ship raced down through the atmosphere. Rather than wings, the stubby craft utilized attitude thrusters and jets to provide lift and stabilization, and to gain and maintain velocity, and Devon skillfully manned the controls and aimed the craft at the barely visible Olympus.

“Aye, maintaining speed.”

“We’re right on. You okay, Kara?”

“Yes, Devon,” replied the white-knuckled doctor as she gazed over her mate’s shoulder. The nose of the ship had cooled somewhat, to a dull orange shade of glow, and she let out a breath. One down, one to go. She wasn’t much more fond of landing than she was of re-entry.

“Cyd, decrease speed to one-zero-hundred.”

“Aye. Decreasing speed.”

“Good, she’s holding steady.” Devon’s hands deftly executed a series of moves, steering and aiming the ship. Intrepid Base was notoriously easy to identify and approach, owing to its proximity to the giant mountain. As she deployed the attitude thrusters, the huge base appeared ahead. It was a wide, flat, white structure, which contrasted sharply with its red-orange and green surroundings.

“Decrease speed to eight-zero-zero.”

“Aye. Eight-zero-zero.”

“There she is, Kara. We’re almost down, hon.”

“Wonderful,” was the rather sarcastic reply and both Devon and Cyd grinned.

“Decrease speed to five-zero-zero,” Devon said as the base loomed ahead.

“Aye, five-zero-zero,” Cyd replied as her fingers flew over the controls.

“Good. Landing struts down.”

“Aye, struts down,” Cyd said as she depressed the button. She watched her screen for the indication that all struts had deployed. “Struts deployed, Captain.”

“Decrease speed to three-zero-zero.”

“Aye. Three-zero-zero.”

Kara could see the immense base looming straight ahead, and noted the sunlight glaring off the gleaming domes.

“There she is, babe. Are you ready for one of those baths?” Devon asked through a grin as her hands worked the controls.

“After we stop at a bar, yes,” was the shaky reply.

Devon laughed deeply. “Okay, we’ll do that. Cyd decrease speed to one-five-zero.”

“One-five-zero, aye.”

“Phoenix, Intrepid Control. Welcome to Mars. You are cleared for landing. Pad niner-alpha. Out.”

“Intrepid Control, Phoenix. It’s great to be back. Landing at pad niner-alpha. Out. Cyd, I’ve got velocity, preparing for hover in three-zero.”

Cyd relinquished control to the Captain and sat back in her seat, enjoying the view as forward momentum slowed and stopped and they hovered above the landing pad. Below, she could see a huge, “9-A” stamped on the surface.

“This is Andropoulos. Touchdown in one minute. Out. Cyd, read out altitude, please,” Devon commanded as she skillfully maneuvered the ship into an attitude above the pad.

“Aye, Captain. One-zero-zero. Nine-zero. Eight-Zero. Seven-zero.”

“This is Andropoulos, touchdown in three-zero seconds. Out.”

“Three-zero, two-zero, ten. Touchdown.”

Devon set down the ship so gingerly that only the slightest nudge was detected. “Cyd, begin shutdown procedures.”

“Aye. Begin shutdown.”

Devon blew out a breath and shook out her hands before unstrapping her harness and turning to Kara. Her mate was white-faced and trying to calm her breathing. Devon stood, then knelt before her love, unbuckling her harness for her. “We’re Down, Kara.”

“Thank all the gods. Can we get that drink now?”

Devon grinned and pulled her mate into a hug. “Yes, baby. As soon as I get the ship secured and check in with Port Control, and you wake up your passengers.” She turned to her co-pilot. “Cyd, can you handle shutdown?”

“Yes.”

“Do it, then report to the mess hall.”

“Aye, Captain.”

“Come on.” Devon stood and pulled her mate up, then threw her arm around Kara’s shoulders and led her from the bridge and into her quarters. As soon as they were within, she pulled the doctor into an embrace. Kara wrapped her arms around her pilot and soaked in the reassurance and love offered.

“Sweetheart, you’re going to have to get used to that, I’m afraid,” Devon mumbled against her hair.

“I know. It did actually help to see you in control.” She blew out a breath. “I’m sorry. Air flying always has bothered me, but after my parents were killed it got a lot worse.”

“That’s understandable, Kara. I’m so sorry it happened. I’m sorry I wasn’t piloting that shuttle.”

Kara pulled back and gazed at her mate. “So am I.” She sighed again. “Okay. Well. I’d better go wake up some passengers.”

“Do you want a drink first…a shot of something?”

“No, love, I’d better not. But thanks. I’ll see you in about a half hour.”

“Okay, baby.” She pulled Kara close and they shared a quiet kiss. “Mm, I can’t wait for more of that.”

“Later, my love. Unless I pull ship watch.” She frowned.

“You won’t. Both Cyd and Chad volunteered.”

“Did they?”

“Yeah, surprised the hell out of me…Chad has never volunteered once, in three years.”

“Wow, do you think they’re…”

“They must be.”

“Good for them.” Kara grinned. “Now we just need to get Jim and Rusty hooked up with with someone.”

“Um, love, Jim and Rusty keep each other company from time to time. You don’t have to worry about either of them.”

“Oh! I didn’t know that.” She nodded and smiled. “Okay, I’ll see you then.”

“Bye, babe.” They shared another kiss and parted company. Devon returned to the bridge and Kara made her way first to Medlab and then to the passenger section where her sleeping passengers awaited.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Come on, pretty boy. This is why we get paid the big bucks.” Rusty clapped his younger crewmate on the back and started down the corridor to the cargo bay.

“Yep, it is why the lady treats us good. We’re the best.” Chad followed his partner down the corridor, bounding lightly in the weaker gravity. At roughly one-third Earth G, it was less than half what they were used to aboard ship, and made their heavy work much easier. The mass of the cargo they had to move was the same, but it weighed much less.

Rusty entered the cargo corridor and keyed open the door to bay number one. He and Chad had worked together for a little over three years and had a smooth system worked out. They worked together quickly and nearly wordlessly, each understanding the other’s gestures and way of doing things. Once inside, Rusty shut the hatch and keyed another code and the immense cargo hatch in the side of the ship rolled open, letting in the glaring, pink-tinted sunlight. As the men began undoing the large tethers and systems of netting that kept the cargo stable during weightless transport, their Captain took care of the paperwork and payment with the port authorities.

Devon strode down the base’s loading dock and entered the bay, hopping two meters up onto a palleted cargo container. “Okay, guys. They’re using warehouse nine. Their guys will be here to help in about fifteen, so you can just offload it and leave it on the deck until they get here. They won’t be ready to load their stuff until day of departure.”

“Oh, shit, Cap. Why do they always pull that here?” Rusty complained.

“Because they can, Rusty.” She spread her hands powerlessly. “What can I do?”

“You can tell ’em to ship their crap next time with a consortium for less profit, less safety, and with less speed and efficiency.”

“I just did, Rust.” Devon grinned. “Hey, offload it and leave it sit on the deck, for all I care. They just signed off on it and once it’s off the ship, its off our hands and off our minds.” She started to pull a tether from around the container. “Come on, guys. I’ll give you a hand. With the three of us, it’ll only take about an hour and then you’re free to enjoy leave. One of you, anyway,” she added as she smirked at Chad.

“Thanks, Cap. You just had to remind me. Anyway, Cyd’s taking first watch. I’ll relieve her in four.”

“That’s big of you, Chad. You’re not trying to get into her pants are you?” Devon smirked again.

“Already been there, Cap, and it’s a fine place to be.” He grinned lecherously.

Devon shook her head and laughed deeply. “Come on, let’s get this done.”

“Oh no, Devon. You get out of here. Take that little lady of yours out on the town here. We’ve got this covered. The port monkeys’ll be here in a few anyway.” Rusty offered a hand up to her. “Come on down…I mean it. You pay us to do that.”

Devon, wide-eyed, grasped Rusty’s meaty hand and jumped to the deck. “Thanks, Rusty, but are you sure? I don’t mind.”

“Devon, God damn it, I’m not gonna say it again. Get out!”

“Now who’s trying to kiss up, Rusty?” Chad grumbled as he ambled by his bosses and leapt easily up to the pallet where Devon had been standing.

Devon laughed as she pulled her gloves off. “Thanks guys. Have fun. Oh, you’ll find your accounts have been credited. Good work.” She waved and bounced out of the bay and down the corridor to the mess hall.

She entered to find Jim at a comm console talking with someone planetside. He signed off and turned to Devon. “Okay, Dev. I’ve got those parts ordered and will pick them up in a day or two. You want their techs to install or would you rather we did it ourselves?” He grinned, knowing the answer.

“Are you trying to piss me off, Jim? When was the last time I paid a tech to do something that I can do better, and quicker?”

“Just checking, Andy. I thought maybe you’d be too busy showing Kara a good time.”

Devon chuckled. “Good point. I do want to make the most of these three days.”

“How about I take care of the installs, then? You and Kara have fun. Rest. Relax. Screw.” He waggled his thick, gray eyebrows at her.

“Jesus! That’s exactly what I had in mind, but uh, tell me, Jim…why is everyone being so damn nice to me all of a sudden?”

Her old friend sobered somewhat. “Maybe we’re all glad to see you happy, Devon. It is about time, you know.”

She bowed her head and then gazed openly at him. “Yeah, I know. Thanks, Jimmy. I appreciate it.”

“Yeah, well, a happy Devon Andropoulos is a helluva lot easier to put up with than an unhappy one.”

“Asshole!”

Jim shrugged. “Hey, Dev, there is one thing though. Um, you may want to work on the discretion a little.” At her questioning look he added, “I was checking a blip on a security camera the other day…Medlab camera…and I saw a bit of a very private encounter.”

Devon winced. “Oh, shit. Sorry, Jim.” She rubbed her head, embarrassed. “We, uh…”

“Devon, you don’t have to explain to me about being in love. Hell, I’ve had sex I think in every possible place and position a human can. It’s natural. Just, um, take some better privacy precautions next time.”

She nodded, with a grin. “We’ll do that, Jimmy. Thanks.” As she heard Kara coming down the corridor, she whispered, “Don’t tell her about this, okay? She’ll be mortified.”

“Sure, Dev.”

“Hey, are we all set?” Devon asked happily as she grabbed Kara around the waist. She stole a quick kiss, making Kara blush in front of Jim.

“Yes. I just released the five passengers. All are fine and happy, if not a little drowsy.”

“Good work, Kara,” Devon said, full of pride at her mate’s ability.

“Yes, Doctor Murphy. A fine first run. Say, can I take you two to the Olympus for a drink? I think we have a few things to celebrate.”

Devon looked at Kara, who nodded. “Sure, Jim. That would be nice. Our reservation is there anyway. Let us go clean up a little and we’ll meet you in a few minutes.”

“Okay. In a few.”

A few minutes later, Devon packed a small bag while awaiting Kara. As she threw a few pairs of flight pants and tops into the bag, she realized that this leave would be vastly different from every other she had ever taken. In the past, leave meant finding someone, quickly, to spend a few intimate hours with, then go out to eat, drink, and find someone else to have sex with, returning to the ship to spell the crewmember stuck with ship watch so that she wouldn’t have to stay the night with whomever she had picked up.

She sat on the bed and contemplated her situation. I never, ever, thought I would be in this position. But I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Not all the gold in the galaxy. Hell, the Universe. Her mate’s soft hands slipping around her neck interrupted Devon’s silent musing as Kara sat beside her on the bed and pulled her into a kiss, reinforcing everything she had just been thinking.

“Christ, Kara, let’s get out of here so I can have more of that.” Devon stood abruptly and held her hand down to her partner.

Kara slipped her small hand into Devon’s large one. “I’m ready.”

“Hold onto your helmet, baby.”
-9-
Devon and Kara, each shouldering their bags, strode hand-in-hand along the wide corridors of the Spaceport Sector of Intrepid Base. Jim walked beside them as they negotiated the crowded port, passing first shipping and maintenance offices, then the administrative area, and entered the public sector, which contained restaurants, shops and hostels. The lodging establishments they passed ranged from the traditional inexpensive dormitories to inns boasting four and five-star accommodations. The Olympus, their destination, was the only five-star inn located off-planet from Earth, and Devon had previously only stayed there once, when her crew had bought her a stay there on her thirtieth birthday, five years earlier. She had generally tended to prefer the lowest priced places, feeling that she only had need of a bed, and then usually for only a few hours.

As they strolled along the brightly lit corridor under a transparent, domed ceiling, Kara gazed with wonder at the establishments they passed. Everything a traveler could possibly desire was obtainable within the confines of the spaceport: food, drink, rest, sex, and entertainments of nearly every possible variety were available. They walked along the pleasant corridors beneath the immmense dome, which linked plant-lined courtyards that were also ringed with shops. The air was filled with the scents of the many blooming flowers, giving the interior of the base situated on the cold Martian plane a feel of the sub-tropical regions of Earth. The multitudes of plants were functional as well as beautiful: they accomplished much of the cleansing and recycling of the air within the base.

As they passed a hostel with a flashy exterior, Devon halted, saying, “I need to take care of some quick business here. Do you want to wait, or should I meet you at the bar?”

Jim looked up at the glitzy neon sign and frowned. “Here, Devon?”

“Yes. I need to settle my account.” She raised her eyebrows and looked from Jim to Kara, awaiting an answer.

“I’d like to go with you, Devon.”

“Honey, this is a brothel…would you rather stay with Jim?”

Kara grasped her mate’s arm and pulled her inside. “Nope.”

Jim called after his friends, “I’ll get a table at the bar.”

Devon and Kara entered the bright, gaudily decorated space and approached the long desk, pointedly bypassing the many attractive men and women lounging in the lobby. A few called out to Devon by name, receiving quick, curt nods in return.

“Devon Andropoulos! Welcome back to the Tigress,” the jovial man behind the desk exclaimed. He eyed Kara lasciviously as he asked, “Will you be wanting a special again today?”

“No, Hector. I’m here to settle my account.”

“Settle? Devon, you know that this is the finest, safest, cleanest pleasure establishment on all of Mars.”

“Yes, Hector, I agree, but I’m no longer in need of pleasure services. Do I need to call Annie?”

“No, Devon, of course not.” He turned to his data screen. “Let me just call up your account.” He touched a series of keys, producing Devon’s image and identification information, along with an itemized statement. “It hasn’t been all that long since you settled up a large bill, are you sure…” A pointed glare from the Captain stopped the question in its tracks. “Yes, fine. Two thousand, five hundred credits should do it.”

Devon handed over her ident card. “Make it an even three, Hector. You’ve treated me right over the years.”

He nodded graciously. “Thank you, Devon.” Quickly, he scanned the card through the computer and punched in more figures, then handed it back. Shaking his head, he added, “You’re going to disappoint a lot of my ladies, Devon.”

The tall Captain replied, “They’ll live. It was nice doing business with you, Hector. Give Annie my best.” Devon turned and she and Kara headed for the door.

“Alright, Devon. You take care. Come back to say hi at least.”

Devon turned and nodded, then left with her mate, never looking back. As they walked away from the popular brothel, she wrapped a long arm around her lover’s shoulders and pulled her close. Kara wrapped her arm around Devon’s waist and nuzzled her shoulder affectionately.

Devon kissed her hair as they walked on, saying, “I’m sorry about that, Kara. I’m sorry I was such a…”

“Devon,” Kara interrupted. “It’s alright. It doesn’t bother me. I’ve been with other women too, you know. We’re normal, healthy humans with normal, healthy needs. I believe in monogamy, but I don’t have a problem with casual sex when between serious relationships.”

“But I took it to an extreme, Kara. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been terrified of commitment, and, well, reacted by sleeping around.”

“Maybe we should sit and talk about it some time. As psychiatrist and patient. Would you like that?”

Devon stopped walking and looked down at her partner. “Yes, I would.” She started walking again, heading them toward the looming façade of the Olympus Inn. “I’m sure it’s related to feelings of abandonment by my father,” she added quietly.

“Sweetheart, we’ll get to the root of it, okay? Some time soon, if you’d like. Whenever you’re ready. It could also relate to a past life trauma, so we’ll look into it from that aspect as well.”

“Okay, my love. Gods, how did I get so lucky as to have you come into my life?” Devon gazed openly at her mate, her love and devotion for Kara clearly written on her lovely face.

“We were born for each other Devon. Again. Now come on, let’s start our vacation. I could really use that drink Jim promised us, and then,” she leaned into her mate’s side and whispered, “I want to engage in some intimate pursuits with you.”

She pulled her smiling partner toward the glamorous inn. As they approached, Kara craned her neck to gaze up at it. At five stories, it was lower only than the spaceport control tower, its top nearly touching the tallest dome that covered the base. Each room had a plant-covered balcony that looked down over the spaceport and the corridors below, and presented a very attractive appearance. Devon guided Kara toward the front doors, which parted with a soft hiss, admitting them.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Devon threw her head back and laughed deeply, then took another sip from her large mug of ale. Jim’s tales of his military adventures never failed to amuse her, and the current one was one she hadn’t heard before. She looked at Kara, who was wiping the tears from her eyes.

“And this from the man that I consider a father figure.”

“No wonder you turned out like you did, honey,” Kara giggled.

“I know…I didn’t have a chance, did I?”

“Seriously, Dev, after that I learned my lesson about brothels. How to know which to visit and which to avoid…like the Reticulan Plague.” He took a large gulp from his mug, downing the rest of his ale, and asked, “More, ladies?”

Devon looked at Kara and as a silent communication passed between them, said apologetically, “No, Jim, thanks. We’re, um, kind of anxious to, well…”

Jim laughed his pleasant, deep laugh and replied, “Say no more. I understand. You two take off and have a nice time. Dev, if you’ll buzz me and let me know where you are, just in case I need to reach you, I’ll appreciate it.”

“As soon as we get to the room, Jimmy. Where are you staying?”

“Ah…I’m leaving my options open, my friend. As soon as I light somewhere, I’ll buzz you, too.”

“Sounds good, Jim. Have a good time. Be safe,” she added with a serious gaze.

“I’ll do that, Dev. I’m too old to go looking for trouble anymore.”

“Never, Jimmy!” Devon laughed. She clapped her oldest friend on the back and he rose to leave.

“Goodbye, Jim. See you in a few days.”

“Yes, Kara.” He leaned down and whispered, “Take care of my girl.”

“Always, Jim.” She turned her gaze from Jim’s face to Devon’s and whispered, “Always.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Oh, my God, Devon! I can’t believe this place!” Kara gasped as she turned in a complete circle, looking around at their rooms.

Devon grinned widely, pleased beyond measure at her mate’s glee. “Pretty nice, isn’t it?”

“Pretty nice?” Kara approached her mate and grabbed her about the waist. “Honey, this is world-class.” She giggled. “I guess I should say, ‘worlds-class’!” She let go of her lover and ran to the large window. It overlooked the spaceport below, and Olympus Mons beyond. “My gods, this view is gorgeous!” She sighed and turned from the window, then noticed the bed through an open doorway to her left.

She went into the bedroom and sat on the immense bed, bouncing slightly. The mattress conformed to her curves, and she settled into it with a sigh. When Devon entered the room, Kara jumped up and ran to her side. “This is wonderful, honey. Thank you so much.”

Devon pulled her close as she said, “I’m glad you like it. I thought you would. Come ‘ere.” She pulled Kara by the hand into the adjacent bathing area.

Kara stepped into the room and gasped, “Sennaat!” Before them sat a large oval bathtub, set into the floor. Separate sonic and water showers sat to either side of the tub as well. “Oh, Devon, this is beautiful. Can we, um, use it now?”

“Before we eat? You should be pretty hungry by now,” Devon teased.

“Can we combine the two?” Kara asked coyly.

“Oh, yes, baby, we certainly can,” Devon drawled. She pulled Kara close and suggested, “Why don’t you get things ready in here, and I’ll buzz down for some dinner to be sent up.”

“Sounds wonderful, love.”

“Good. I, uh, hope you’re hungry, Kara.” A dark eyebrow lifted sensuously as her mouth curled into a leer.

“Starving.” The sensual jolt Devon received through their link told her just exactly what it was that Kara was starving for, and she briefly considered putting dinner off until later. Instead, when she got onto the computer to order their dinner, she promised a five hundred credit tip if it was delivered within fifteen standards. It arrived in ten.

Devon carried the tray with their food on it into the bathroom, to find her mate sitting on the floor beside the tub, playing with the sudsy water as it neared the top. She grinned widely as she set the tray next to Kara and said, “I think that’s full enough babe.”

Kara leaned over to hit the control pad on the wall, and the water stopped flowing from the wide, flat faucet. Gazing at the tray her mate had set on the floor, Kara noted that it was overflowing with an assortment of fresh fruits, cheeses, meats and breads. A bottle of champagne from the Earth region of the same name, and two long-stemmed glasses completed the dinner. “Oh, yum, honey. That looks so good.”

“So do you,” Devon said as she reached down to her mate. Kara let herself be lifted to her feet and fell into her strong mate’s embrace. Devon nuzzled Kara’s head with her lips, mumbling against her sweet-smelling hair, “I love you so much, Kara.”

“I love you, Devon. You are everything to me.” Misty green eyes gazed up into darkened blue and Devon bent her face to Kara’s. Their lips met softly as their tongues caressed lovingly, then more passionately as hands began to roam. Still kissing Kara, Devon pulled her dark crew shirt from her pants and ran her hands up under it, caressing her skin tenderly.

Kara did likewise with Devon’s sleeveless black shirt, pulling it from her flight pants. Hands began to roam possessively and Devon gently pushed away from her mate and lifted Kara’s shirt off over her head. Her small lover had decided not to wear her bra and when her lovely breasts were freed, Devon gasped with pleasure.

“No bra today, baby?”

“Why bother, love?”

“God, Kara.” Devon kissed her collarbone as she mumbled, “You didn’t wear one the first night we made love, either.”

“Like I said, my love, why bother?” Kara murmured against Devon’s soft hair.

“Ohh,” Devon groaned. She stepped back and pulled off her own shirt. She had not bothered either and Kara grinned widely before leaning in and capturing a red nipple gently between her teeth.

“Gods, Kara!”

“Mmm,” she murmured as she began stroking the delicious nipple. Devon grasped her head gently, encouraging her to continue, and Kara reached for Devon’s pants as she did so, pulling them open and pushing them down.

Devon had also not bothered with underwear and as Kara stopped her stroking to grin up at her, Devon returned the grin rakishly and shrugged. Kara’s eyes gleamed as she stepped back and removed her own pants, pushing them to the floor. No underwear.

“Shit, Kara, you’d think we’d just been married and couldn’t wait to start our honeymoon.”

“Mm, what a nice idea,” Kara replied as she dropped to her knees to pull Devon’s pants all the way off. Devon stepped out of them after kicking her boots off, then reached down to lift her mate up. She hugged her tightly, kissing her neck, then picked her up.

Kara squealed as Devon held her in her arms and walked the few steps to the tub, stepping down into it gingerly. “I will marry you one day, Kara,” she declared just before kissing her deeply.

“Promise?” Kara breathed when the kiss was over.

“Promise.” Serious blue eyes met green as Devon sat at one end of the oval and Kara straddled her lap.

“Love me, Devon.”

“Forever, Kara.” She captured Kara’s lips again and savored them before the kiss deepened, tongues danced, and hands began roaming anew. As one, right hands reached down to tangle in black and golden curls respectively, beginning tender caresses that very quickly became vigorous. As the sensual touches awakened burning passion, their bodies began to gyrate together, and dark nipples caressed pink.

“Kara,” Devon moaned, and her name was echoed by her mate as their bodies and hands began moving frenetically. The electric passion surged up their spines and both panted, “I’m close,” at the same time.

“Come with me baby,” Devon breathed as she felt herself begin to slip over the edge.

“I’m coming, Devon, I’m coming,” Kara answered breathlessly, and as one they stiffened and arched together, breasts crushing together as they called out each other’s names loudly. Both slick bodies were overcome by waves of pleasure as inner muscles clenched around stroking fingers. Devon rocked them slowly as the satiation bathed them, body and soul, mumbling words of devotion into Kara’s ear, which her mate echoed lovingly.

Slowly, the spasms faded, even breathing returned, and bodies stilled. Devon sank deeper into the warm water, pulling her slumping mate with her, and they lay for long minutes enjoying their sense of oneness, both feeling utterly complete. The special, timeless bond between two souls was strengthened, and became permanent. Their physical joining sealed their bond, and both sensed it. After that night, each would think of the other as her wife, though their legal bond would come at a later date.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Chad keyed his access code into the pad outside the main hatchway. As the hatch opened, he looked up through the clear dome to the darkening pinkish-blue sky above. He loved Mars and felt a jolt of enthusiasm at being home, but it was immediately tempered by the thought that he wouldn’t be spending time with his new friend there. I fucked up good this time. That’ll teach me to get my jollies at the Captain’s expense. He shook his head disgustedly as he took one last look at the late afternoon sky. We could’ve had fun here together, Cyd and I, but I blew that. He shrugged as his internal dialog continued and he stepped into the ship. There’ll be other runs to Mars. If she stays on.

He keyed the hatch closed and bounded down the corridor toward the bridge, turning right at the intersection of the two corridors, which brought him to the bridge door. He palmed it open to see his friend sitting in the pilot’s seat, running a sim. Her body was in furious motion as she attempted to outrun the simulated pirates, whose image was projected onto the viewscreen in front of her. She executed a deft maneuver, banking and turning, first sharply to starboard, then to port, and the pirates raced past her and were caught within the clutches of the gravity well of the giant planet spinning below them. She watched as the simulated pirate ship fell out of control and disappeared into the swirling, toxic clouds of Jupiter.

“Yes!” Cyd yelled as she pumped her fist in the air. She had just successfully completed the mission for the first time, copying exactly a maneuver that Devon had executed in real life, saving her ship, passengers, and millions of credits worth of cargo.

“Cyd, awesome move, lady!” Chad yelled, startling the co-pilot.

“Chad, Jesus! You about scared me shitless,” Cyd gasped, clutching at her chest. She checked the time readout on the console. “What are you doing here? You’re not due for another hour.”

The crewman held up a clear plexi bag. “I brought you dinner.”

“What?” Cyd asked, astonished. “Chad, why aren’t you in one of those big pleasure houses making the ladies swoon?”

“I wasn’t in the mood for that, Cyd.” He seated himself in her usual seat. “I’ve got Chinese and Italian here. What d’ya feel like?”

Cyd blinked, astounded. “Jesus, thanks. I am hungry.” She reached for a bag. “I’ll have whatever you’re not hungry for.” He handed her the Italian and she nodded her thanks, sitting back against the comfortable chair. They ate in silence for a few minutes before she asked, “Chad, tell me please…why aren’t you out having fun?”

He gazed seriously at her. “I like being with you, Cyd…you’re a lot of fun. And shit, we made it so many times the last several days, that I don’t need to get laid. Is that okay? I mean, I don’t want to sign a contract or anything, but what we have is pretty damn good…isn’t it? It’s fucking great sex, Cyd, you’ve got to admit.”

Cyd grinned. “Chad, I do believe that you are growing up.”

“Ah, shit, Cyd, there’s no need for insults.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Mmm, yes, baby, yes,” Devon moaned as Kara had her way with her. She squeezed her thighs around her lover’s head as she leaned back against the wall. Kara was in the tub, partly up out of the water as she stroked Devon deeply with her tongue. Devon grasped her head, pulling her mouth closer. “God, baby, yes…I’m so close…”

“Mmmm,” Kara’s voice rumbled against Devon’s inflamed cleft, while her tongue lapped up her sweet juices. “I taste you, love…come all the way for me now.”

“Oh, shiiiittt!” Devon moaned as her body was wracked by the climax. “Yes, Kara…yessss!” She writhed hard against Kara’s face, as the spasms overcame her and the delirious pleasure gripped her for the third time that evening. She rocked against her mate, letting the pleasure take control, and Kara continued to stroke her, drawing out the pleasure for her beloved, and letting it spur her own climax on.

She panted against Devon’s hot, silky-wet inner folds, “I’m coming too, baby,” and her mate, sated, fell into the tub and pulled Kara onto her strong thigh. The blonde mounted her and rode her mate as her muscles clenched and she lost control. She gasped for air as she felt her nipple sucked into a hot mouth, and cried out, “Yessss! God, Devon, yes!” and rode out the climax as her lover pulled her close.

Devon whispered hotly in her ear, “I love you Kara…God, I love you.”

Kara, completely spent, mumbled against her throat, “Love you too, Devon. So, so much.” She began to cry softly as her mate held her close and rocked her gently in the lukewarm water. When Kara pulled back to gaze at her mate, she saw that her tough partner had been crying too, and reached up to wipe away her tears. She asked quietly, “This is forever, isn’t it, Devon?”

“Yes, it is. Always and forever, Kara.” She sighed. “No more words for a while, okay?”

Kara nodded and was pulled back into a tight embrace. No words were exchanged for quite some time, but none were needed. Their dinner tray sat nearby, still holding most of the food and an empty champagne bottle.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Devon held her mate tightly while within the throes of the dream. She rode her horse swiftly down a dusty road, the mare’s hooves kicking up yellowish dirt and pebbles as she was pushed on. The warrior had been gripped by a sudden sense of urgency as she searched for her lost mate, and was pulled by some unknown force toward the east.

She kicked gently at her mount’s flank. “Come on, girl, hah!” As they raced on, her sharp eyes scanned the countryside rushing by them. They were in a temperate region, near the sea, and cool forest rose up on either side of the road. Up ahead, the road forked and she knew instinctively to take the left fork, taking her more deeply into the forest, just as she knew minutes later to dismount and continue on foot along a little used trail.

She ran long the narrow trail, unsheathed sword in her hand, drawn toward…she dared not hope. She had been searching for so long. As her boots trampled the forest growth and dried leaves beneath her, she was aware of everything around her. Senses on alert, she pushed on: her ears picked up the slightest shift of a leaf in the wind, her nose detected the presence of individual animals, her eyes picked out dark shapes hidden within the brush, and her second sight made her aware of the energy fields of every living thing around her.

Suddenly, she felt it, and knew what had drawn her there. A weak warmth caressed her heart center. Gabrielle! She stopped for a moment and reached out with her senses. She felt pulled toward the east and pushed on again, sending her lover a silent message through their bond. I’m coming, Gabrielle. As she raced toward her partner, the strong warrior rejoiced at the feeling that her nearby mate awakened in her. Her heart chakra, again connected to it’s twin, pulsated, and warmth flooded her system. I’m coming love, hold on!

The tall, dark woman pushed through the trees, into a clearing, and stopped, raising her sword as a figure appeared. There was her mate, who had been lost to her for so long, stumbling toward her, dazed. The shorter blonde woman stopped as she spotted the warrior, seeming confused, and the tall woman rushed to her.

“Gabrielle? Gabri…is that you?” The tough warrior dropped her sword and pulled her mate close as tears of joy fell. “Oh, sweetheart.”

Her partner’s touch seemed to shake the younger woman out of her daze and she cried, “Xena.”

“I’m here. I’m here, Gabrielle.” As she touched her beloved’s face, unsure whether or not she was real, the warrior said, “I searched for you. I searched for you.”

The young bard stated, “You thought I was dead.”

The former warlord nodded, overcome with joy as she held her mate, silently thanking all the gods, but one in particular, and she led her mate to a log and sat her down. The two women embraced and held each other close, rejoicing in their reunion, and the warrior gently cupped her mate’s face in her hands. “I love you, Gabrielle. Welcome home.” She kissed her lover tenderly, communicating her love and devotion as she could not with mere words, and her smaller partner melted into her embrace as she returned the kiss.

Their special energetic bond, which had been stretched to its limits by the minions of evil, separating the soulmates cruelly, was renewed and strengthened as they shared their love.

Devon awoke with a start and sat up, instinctively holding her mate tightly so that she wouldn’t roll off the bed.

“Devon,” Kara mumbled, drowsily confused. “What’s wrong?”

Devon inhaled deeply, then exhaled the fear she had re-experienced through the dream. “Lights, low.” They were gently illuminated and she continued, “A dream…from the ancient warriors life.” She shook her head, trying to clear it and lay back down, pulling Kara with her. Kara embraced her tightly, feeling Devon’s warring emotions through their link.

“It was a nightmare?” She asked quietly.

“Yes,” Devon breathed, “At first. You…my wife…were lost and I was searching for you.” She looked down at the small woman in her arms. “I was frantic, Kara. I’ve never experienced that feeling before, at least not that I can remember.” She swallowed. “God, the pain…in my heart center…was intense. I can still feel it.” A tear slid over a high cheekbone and down her cheek, landing in her partner’s hair.

Kara turned in her embrace and kissed her tenderly, then said softly, “But it ended happily?”

Devon sobbed, “Yes!” And smiled through her tears. “Yes, I found you and you were okay. I don’t know why we were separated and you didn’t seem to be hurt, but I got the sense that you had been…dead. I thought you were dead, Kara,” she whispered with a sob and looked up at the ceiling as she wiped the tears from her eyes.

“It’s okay, Devon. It was a very long time ago, and we were reunited. It’s okay.”

“God, Kara, the joy I felt at seeing her again. I can’t describe it.”

“I can feel it, honey. You’re feeling it right now, aren’t you?”

Devon smiled and nodded, and Kara kissed her again, soothing her mate better than any balm she had within her healer’s supplies. Devon commanded the lights off and as they curled up together, traced soft circles on Kara’s back as her mate fell back to sleep. She, however, was too troubled by what she had relived, and sleep eluded her for hours. The pain of being separated from her soulmate had been so great that she determined to never, ever, let it happen in their current life.
-10-
A soft, pink glow illuminated the sleeping figures as the sunlight seeped in through the partially opened slats of the window shutter. Kara had left it open the night before, because Phobos was visible and she enjoyed viewing the small moon.

Uncharacteristically, Kara awakened first, finding herself sleeping face down on top of her mate. I’m glad she doesn’t mind being my pillow. I love sleeping on her like this. She gazed at Devon’s face, so beautiful and relaxed in sleep. My big, tough spacer…with a heart of pure gold. She smiled and settled into her pillow once more, enjoying the feel of her mate’s soft, but muscled body and a long arm reached around her and settled on her waist as its owner still slept.

Before drifting back to sleep, Kara contemplated the recent changes in her life and said a little prayer of thanks to the Universe. She had not been looking for love, in fact had been looking to avoid it for the foreseeable future, but found herself pleased beyond all measure that she had been reunited with her soulmate. As she lay, drifting between the physical and astral planes, she realized that had she not met and married Elana when she had, the circumstances might not have existed in which to meet her twin soul years later.

When Kara had become contracted in marriage at the young age of twenty-three, Devon had just left the military and was doing very long hauls on company and borderline-mercenary free ships, and their paths had not a chance of crossing. If Kara had not married unsuccessfully, and felt the need to leave Mars and that entire life behind, it’s likely that their paths would not have crossed for many more years, if ever. The last thought that crossed her mind before she fell asleep was, it was another miracle of serendipity. Love is truly what binds this Universe and drives it.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Devon, God!” Kara yelped as she held onto the dash in front of her for dear life.

Devon chuckled gleefully as she plunged the small ship into the huge caldera of the immense, extinct volcano. “Honey, this is great! Look at the…”

“Devon, please just keep both hands on the gods be damned steering yoke!”

Devon, practicing her own unique brand of tough love, grinned at her mate and leaned back in the pilot’s seat, removing both hands from the yoke and resting them on her stomach.

“Devon!” Kara screamed, terrified. She looked at her mate with such wide-eyed terror, that Devon immediately felt guilty and quickly grabbed the yoke again. Kara sat back in her seat and closed her eyes, visibly trying to calm herself.

“Devon, that was not nice, and I can’t believe you did it,” the small blonde said quietly, with sadness marking her words.

Shit. “I’m sorry, Kara. I was just trying to show you that I am in complete control, and that you shouldn’t be afraid.”

“But I am afraid, Devon, for very rational and logical reasons, and you knew that.”

“Kara, you don’t ever…ever…have to be afraid when flying with me. I am still the highest rated pilot that the Fleet has ever produced, and you are the most precious cargo that I’ve ever had the privilege to carry. You don’t have to worry.” Devon returned her attention to her flying and the atmosphere in the ship became very quiet.

Shortly, Kara replied, softly, “I’m sorry I got mad, Devon. But I really was terrified.”

Devon glanced shyly at her mate. “And I’m sorry I scared you. I thought that this flight would help you to overcome your fear.”

“It will, Devon. It will help. But it won’t happen at once…I’ll need to take many more flights before I’m comfortable with the process.” She leaned over and laid her hand on Devon’s. “I guess I’m very blessed to have the best pilot in the system as my own personal chauffeur.”

Devon grinned lopsidedly over at her. “Best pilot in the galaxy, but who’s keeping track?”

“Oh, and modest, too.” Kara let her love for her mate flow to her through their bond and sat back, trying to enjoy what was left of the flight. “I, um, do feel a little better. I can actually look out of the viewscreen without becoming paralyzed with fear.”

“Good, honey! I’m glad. Look down there, Kara, at the focus of the caldera.” Devon pointed to the bottom of the volcano’s many kilometer-wide crater. Slightly off-center was a smaller crater, with a bulge at its center. Devon chuckled. “I always thought it looked like a nipple,” she remarked as she flew along the bottom of the volcano’s crater. The debris-strewn red ground looked as forbidding as almost any planetscape she had visited.

“You would.”

“Hey, can I help it if I was born a breast woman?” Devon glanced at her partner and grinned.

“Nope, no more than I can.” Kara grinned and caressed the large hand that sat on her thigh. “Honey, have you always preferred women?”

“Mm, hm. Preferred, yes, but never limited myself to. Basically, though, I knew as a kid that I wasn’t bi like the other kids. I have always had a strong preference for women.”

“Mm, me too. And I’ve always been strictly homo…I’ve never been with a man.”

“Jesus, never?”

“Well, no more than heavy kissing. I was born this way…men just don’t make my lifepod float, Devon.”

“Okay, babe. Do you think that at some level we each knew our soulmate was female?”

“Yes, I do. Our higher selves knew, of course, and probably steered us in that direction. Since not only are we soulmates but obviously have a mate agreement as well.”

Devon was pensive for a moment before remarking, “A long time ago…I was in my early twenties…a psychic counselor told me that I had made only one mate agreement for this lifetime, and that is highly unusual. Most people now make upwards of eight or ten or so.”

“That is unusual. I only had two, and I thought that was unusual.”

“And, I um, have three waiting child agreements. You?”

Kara turned to face Devon, green eyes shining with love as she smiled and said, “Three.”

“Sennaat,” Devon muttered and returned her attention to the red ground that was skimming by below them. “If we needed any more confirmation of what we both think is a lifelong bond, I think that’s it, Kara.”

“Yes, love, I think you’re right.”

“God, I wish I could set this down and make love to you down there on the mountain,” Devon said with a heavy sigh.

“One day. Before our three kids are grown, we should be able to walk out there without suits.”

“Let’s plan on it, Kara.”

“Done.”

They reached the far side of the volcano and Devon skillfully flew up to the crater wall and climbed along it, giving Kara a close-up view of the red, craggy face. “You can see where the lava flows were.”

“Yes,” Kara nodded. “And the ancient water flows. I loved studying Martian topology when I was a kid. I always wanted to live here. When I did live here, once a month or so I would venture out and explore.”

“Really? I like to do that too, on strange worlds. Ever been to Io?”

“No, never farther than here, actually.”

“Oh, gods, honey. We’ll have to go there. It’s very forbidding, but so interesting. To stand on the surface and stare at the wall of Jupiter before you is almost like staring into the fires of hell.”

“Devon, don’t you have to come awfully close to Jupiter’s gravity well to land on Io?”

“Yep.”

Kara dropped her chin to her chest and blew out a breath. “And just how often do you make that foolish decision?”

“Just about every time I’m in the area, babe.”

“Not any more, Devon. You have a partner now who wants you around for a good long while, and a life to return to.”

Devon was silent as she steered the small atmospheric ship up and over the side of the rim, emerging from within Olympus Mons. She aimed the vehicle down the long, rather gentle slope of the gigantic mountain, giving Kara an up close look at the ridged lava flows. “Alright, Kara. Maybe I should also reconsider making some of the dangerous runs that I’ve always done: Ganymede Base, Callisto Station, the Neptune Outpost. Hell, Z. Ret.”

Kara sighed as she caressed her mate’s large hand again. “I don’t want you to feel that I’m taking control of your life, Devon, or that I’m coming along and turning it upside down, telling you what you can and cannot do. I would just like you to realize that there is someone who depends on your presence now.”

“I understand that, Kara, and I agree with it. I’ve never had to think of anyone but myself before, but frankly, I like it.”

“Are those runs really as dangerous as hopping onto Io?”

“No, but they take skilled piloting, and you don’t like to run into pirates out there.”

“Then I don’t mind if you continue those runs. I just don’t want you doing things that are so extreme…just for kicks.”

“Okay, love.” Devon smiled at her mate and was warmed thoroughly by the return smile. I want to marry her. With a lifetime contract. Jesus, Buddha, and Sennaat. She flew on, down the length of the hundreds of kilometers of mountainside to the plane below. Intrepid Base, the largest off-Earth structure, lay before them, it’s white expanse and clear domes reflecting the weak sunlight brightly. Devon steered them back toward their temporary home, back, she hoped, to some more activity of the honeymoon variety. She sighed as a warmth born of lust shot through her body.

“Um, Devon, maybe we can do more exploring later, or tomorrow. Right now, can we go back to the inn and, um…”

“Yes!” Devon grinned at her mate so widely that Kara laughed.

She shook her head. “Neither of us can hide what we feel any more…do you realize that?”

“Makes for a damn honest relationship, doesn’t it?”

“It sure does. We’re very lucky.”

“The luckiest in the galaxy.” Devon lifted Kara’s hand to her lips as they approached the base. She flew to the small shuttle port near the inn and set the craft skillfully down on the pad. They sat and gazed into each other’s eyes as they waited for the port worker to pull the umbilical hatch up to the ship so that they could disembark. “Come here.”

Kara grinned coyly as she climbed into the indicated lap and wrapped her arms around her mate. They were kissing deeply as the hatch hissed open and the port employee’s environment-suited face gazed in the window.

He gave a thumb up signal and depressed the comm unit on his helmet. “Honeymooners, huh? Enjoy your stay at the Olympus Inn.”

Devon grinned from behind her lover’s mouth and returned the thumb up.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Several flickering candles provided a warm glow of illumination as a stick of incense burned in it’s decorative holder, its thin, white plume of smoke rising and filling the room with its relaxation-inducing scent. Kara sat, straddling her lover’s backside as she lay on her stomach, and rubbed warm, aromatic oil on Devon’s smooth back.

“Mm, Kara, that feels so good,” Devon moaned as Kara’s talented hands massaged muscles which tended to stiffen after weeks of sitting in the pilot’s seat. Devon sighed deeply, releasing pent up stress. “Gods…”

“Glad you like it, love,” Kara said quietly as she leaned forward, massaging her mate’s muscles deeply, moving from her shoulders, down her arms, feeling the toned muscles ripple beneath her fingertips. “You’re in marvelous condition, honey. Fighting arts?”

“Mm, that and yoga.”

Kara grinned as she replied, “Yoga, yes. I have noted that you possess knowledge of Tantric principles.”

“Oh? And have you enjoyed my Tantric techniques?”

“Immensely. We’ll have to share what we know with each other.”

“Absolutely, baby. And become adepts together.”

Kara squirted a few more drops of the warm oil on Devon’s lower back and scooted back to straddle the backs of her thighs. She gently spread the oil around Devon’s back and began to massage down to her buttocks.

A chuckle accompanied clenched gluteus muscles and Devon murmured, “That’s definitely an erogenous zone.”

“That’s good to know,” Kara muttered as she leaned down to kiss an oiled shoulder blade.

Devon flinched. “Gods, with you, my entire body is one huge erogenous zone. Don’t forget the other side.” Kara complied, knowing full well that what Devon was most enjoying was the fact that her breasts were caressing her back at she leaned down. “Mm, baby, yes. Is it time to do my front yet?”

“Just about, love. This is a full-body massage, remember? Let me finish your legs.”

Devon took a deep breath, more to waylay the desire that was building than to relax. “Okay, baby, but I’m getting a little anxious here.”

“Breathe. Do your yogic breathing.” She leaned down again and whispered, “After that we can do some Tantric breathing…together.” She kissed Devon’s earlobe and Devon shuddered, moaning deeply.

“Yes,” she breathed.

Kara continued the massage, finishing the backs of Devon’s strongly-muscled legs and paying special attention to her feet and toes before sitting back and saying, “Okay, love, turn over now.”

In a flash, Devon was on her back and grinning up at her mate rakishly. “I’m ready.”

Kara closed her eyes as she took a deep breath. “Gods, so am I.”

She straddled her mate’s stomach and calmed herself, then squirted more oil into her palm and rubbed it gently onto Devon’s chest. Starting at her heart center, Kara massaged up between her breasts and out, along her shoulders, then down her arms. She paid special attention to tense shoulder muscles and massaged each arm thoroughly down to its fingers before returning to Devon’s heart center. She sat back a little, straddling Devon’s pubic area, and both woman sighed as she settled into place. Devon took a deep, calming breath, trying to slow her pounding heart.

“Baby,” she drawled quietly. “This would be easier for me if you weren’t so wet.”

“Sorry.” Kara grinned down at her. She picked up the warm tube of oil and brought it to Devon’s breasts, squirting them liberally, then gently began the more sensual aspect of the massage. She caressed each breast, kneading it softly as she circled its nipple with her thumbs.

Devon moaned, and Kara reminded her, “Breathe, sweetheart. Enjoy the process.”

“You’re taking my breath away, Kara,” Devon answered honestly as longing for her lover began to course through her body.

Kara leaned down to kiss her softly, her breasts caressing Devon’s, and Devon wrapped her arms around her mate and pulled her close, deepening the kiss. Presently, Kara murmured, “Is the massage done?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.” She pulled back and stroked a nipple lovingly with her tongue.

“Gods.”

“Mmm,” Kara murmured, paying devoted attention to Devon’s dark nipple. She caressed it with her tongue before sucking it gently into her mouth, thoroughly enjoying the taste and feel of her lover. She spent several minutes on each nipple and Devon struggled to maintain control, reminding herself to breathe deeply, allowing the pleasure to build more gradually, rather than rushing quickly into orgasm.

Kara finished with her mate’s breasts and her tongue began a slow, sensuous descent, stopping to pay devoted attention to Devon’s navel. Devon gasped and spread her legs so her partner could settle between them. Her head rolled against the pillow as Kara’s tongue descended once more and licked gently at her curls.

“Gray gods, Kara,” she gasped and Kara rewarded her with a swipe of her tongue along her cleft. Devon’s hips bucked and she moaned loudly, clutching at the silky sheets.

“Kara…gods, baby…lick me, please.”

“Mmm,” Kara replied as she stroked the swollen little bud. Devon’s moans encouraged her and Kara began to stroke and lick her rhythmically. In very short order, she felt Devon’s inner muscles begin to clench and tasted the release of her sweet nectar as she plunged her tongue more deeply within her beloved’s body.

“Oh, God, Kara, yes!” Devon gasped as she was gripped by the intense spasms. She moaned deliriously as Kara continued to stroke her and after several minutes, collapsed against the bed. She reached down and pulled Kara up by her shoulders to lay atop her. Devon whispered, “I love you,” and followed it with a searing kiss, tasting herself in her mate’s mouth.

“Love you, Devon,” Kara whispered just as she was gently rolled onto her back.

“My turn,” Devon delivered with a devilish grin as she looked down at her, and Kara shuddered. Devon kissed her again, slowly, deeply, with devotion, before moving down to her breasts.

Kara ran her fingers through Devon’s thick, silky hair as she murmured, “I love that, Devon.”

Devon grinned around a taut, happy nipple and proceeded to spend nearly an hour showing Kara how much she was loved, finally allowing her to experience a blissfully intense orgasm.

The rest of the night was spent in similar fashion as they shared their deep love physically, strengthening the already powerful energetic and emotional bonds they shared.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Captain Andropoulos strode purposefully through the domed cargo-loading bay with her partner at her side. Shortly before they reached the ship, they turned into a small office.

“Captain Andropoulos,” greeted the man behind a counter. “Good morning.”

“Good morning, Mr. Jensen. Is your cargo ready to load?”

“Yes. You can alert your men to begin loading.”

Devon smiled winningly at the man. “I don’t think so. We’ll load it just before departure.”

“But,” the man started to sputter.

“I’m sorry, but my men are on leave. Perhaps next time you’ll have your load ready when we arrive.” She turned to leave, adding over her shoulder, “I’ll see you at 1900 hours.”

They left the office and Kara glanced back to see the man talking furiously to an image on his data screen. “I don’t think he’s too happy with you, honey.”

“That’s just too damn bad. They pull this shit every time we come here. They think that because we’re a free ship that they can prioritize us behind everyone else. They’re wrong. They need our business as much as they need consortium business, and it’s about time they treated us with a little more respect.” She looked down at her mate. “When they do this, Kara, it ruins our last day of leave, and my crew deserve better than that.”

“I agree honey. I’m glad you realize it and treat them as they should be treated.”

“Why wouldn’t I, Kara?”

“The consortiums don’t.”

“I’m not a consortium.” Devon pulled the tiny computer from her pocket and punched in a brief command. It buzzed and she heard Rusty’s gruff voice.

“Yeah?”

“Rusty. Leave ends at 19:00. Enjoy the rest of your stay. Out.”

“Thanks, Cap. Out.”

As they approached the ship, Devon glanced up at its bulk to see scrubber bots busily scrubbing the accumulated space dust from its hull. Sunlight shining in through the retractable clear dome above glinted off their sides as the small machines slowly and deliberately made their way across the ship’s hulking mass.

They reached the hatch and Devon keyed in her code. After they stepped in, she wrapped her arm round Kara’s shoulders. “A few hours, then, love?”

“Yes. That should be plenty to check the hypersleep units and run my diagnostics.”

“Okay. I’ll send Cyd and/or Chad off to enjoy some leave and we’ll resume our vacation after lunch.”

“Sounds great, honey.”

Devon pulled her close and they enjoyed a long, slow kiss, during which Cyd and Chad exited the bridge and nearly ran into them.

“Go for it, Cap!” Chad encouraged.

Devon ignored her crewman and gave Kara one last, loving swipe of her tongue before parting from her. “Bye, babe. See you in a bit.”

“Bye.” Kara grinned, first at Devon, then at Chad and Cyd, and moved off down the corridor. All three of her crewmates enjoyed the view as she walked away from them.

Devon addressed Chad. “Did you say something, Lorenzo?”

“Uh, no, Cap.”

“Good. You two are relieved for three hours. Be back by 12:00, please so I can resume my leave.”

“Thanks, Cap. No problem. C’mon, Cyd,” Chad said as he grabbed her hand, grinning.

“Thank you, Captain,” Cyd said as they retreated.

Devon nodded and waved, then shook her head as she turned and entered the bridge. She sat at her console and immediately ran a check of ship’s systems, even though she felt reasonably sure that Cyd had maintained ship’s systems at optimum. She was pleased with the performance of the younger commander, impressed with both her enthusiasm and her sense of duty.

“SysComp. Bridge. Music. Reticulan Symphony number one hundred fifty. Aural and visual.”

As the ethereal tonal themes filled the cabin, dancing patterns of light appeared on the viewscreen, pulsating and merging in time to the beat. Devon sighed and sat back, enjoying the performance for a few minutes before tending to her duties.

Kara checked the readout on the fourth cryo-unit. Frowning, she noted a red warning light blinking. “Damn,” she muttered. “It’s a good thing I decided to check this again today.” She walked to the comm unit on the wall of the passenger bay and pressed the ‘speak’ button.

“Devon?”

“Yes, Kara?”

“I’m in passenger berth four. I have a battery on a cryo unit that is nearly depleted. It must be experiencing some sort of power drain. I’ll need to replace it.”

“Okay, those are in Engineering. I’ll be right there and we’ll grab one. Out.”

A moment later, Devon strode into the bay and joined Kara. “Show me.”

Kara pointed to the readout on the unit and Devon knelt to read it. “Yes, nearly gone. Let’s run a diagnostic on the unit and then replace the power source and run another. I want to be sure the problem is in the battery and not the unit.”

“Good idea. I’d like to make sure this is running as it should be before we head out to Titan.”

“Yes, definitely. Let’s go, babe.”

Devon grasped her elbow and led her from the berth, then out of the passenger section and down the long corridor to Engineering. They passed through the quiet corridor between the cargo bays and entered the open hatch to the Engineering section. Devon led Kara to a storage unit above the main console on the hatch wall.

“All medical equipment is kept here. ” She opened the unit and grabbed a portable power unit, then walked across the section and opened another storage bay, retrieving a small handheld diagnostic unit. “This should do it.” She handed the equipment to Kara.

“Thanks, honey.”

Devon grabbed the part she had requisitioned for the bridge’s navigational array and they left the section.

“Can you handle those, Kara, or do you need me to do it?”

“I can handle it. You go get your equipment replaced so we can get back to our big tub.”

Devon smiled widely. “Oh, is that the plan for this afternoon?”

“It is.”

“Great. I can’t wait, my love.” She deposited Kara at the passenger bay, where they shared a quick kiss and she returned to the bridge. A few hours later, they were striding happily back through the busy corridors of Intrepid Spaceport toward their room and its large whirlpool bathtub.
-11-
Devon sat quietly in the chair, elbows resting on the arms, hands steepled in front of her face. The gel-filled fabric conformed to her body, supporting her comfortably as she watched her mate meditate. Kara sat in the lotus position on a small pad on the plant-lined balcony, still and silent, her face relaxed and composed as she communed with her higher self. The shifting, orange-pink hues of the late afternoon sunlight played across the younger woman’s peaceful features, and as she gazed at her mate, Devon was filled with a sense of peace as well.

She realized, for the first time since meeting Kara, that she felt inner peace. For the first time in her life, she was completely content: the restlessness that had plagued her from her earliest memory was gone. It had slipped away without her knowledge while she had been preoccupied with falling in love with her soulmate. The realization created in her a strong emotion, emerging from her power chakra and expanding up through her heart center and into her throat. Her eyes misted as she thought, Sennaat, you have truly blessed me. Grace to you.

A few meters away, Kara floated in a peaceful haze. As she had fallen deeper into her trance, the physical plane had withdrawn and she had become aware only of herself, her breath and the shifting energies that swirled around her. She phased gently into the next dimension and became aware of the watchful presence of two of her spirit guides.

The first energy, a vaguely humanoid-shaped presence of varying hues of golden light, communicated telepathically, “A new journey awaits you. New growth, new avenues of learning.”

“Be open to them,” added the second, blue-tinged energy. “The higher-evolved species will assist you.”

The thoughts rang clearly in her mind, and she acknowledged them with a deep sense of love and gratitude. Thank you, my friends. As the companion energies faded into the swirling mass of background energy, she became filled with a deep sense of peace and of purpose. A thought swirled in her mind, and as she grasped at it, it took on cohesive shape and the image of a Reticulan face appeared: gray-hued skin highlighted by large, almond-shaped, black eyes, small, thin mouth curled into a very slight smile, conveying warmth rather than the typical neutrality. The Sennaa, she thought, surprised. I have work to complete with the Sennaa. Devon and I.

While still trying to assimilate the surprising information, she suddenly felt a burning warmth enter her heart center. It was so dramatic that her awareness was shifted back to the physical plane, and she opened her eyes to see Devon gazing at her with tears flowing down her cheeks.

“Devon,” she gasped quietly, rising gracefully to her feet. She crossed the several paces to where her mate sat and fell to her knees as she grasped Devon’s hands. “Honey, what is it?”

Devon tried to bravely blink back the tears and shook her head, unable to speak. She pulled Kara up and into her lap and embraced her tightly. She let her link with Kara communicate physically what she couldn’t verbally, concentrating hard to try to impart the emotion to her mate.

Kara gasped as she gazed into Devon’s misty blue eyes. “I feel it,” she murmured reverently. “Devon, you feel complete.”

Devon closed her eyes and nodded, then pulled Kara’s head down onto her shoulder. “Yes,” she breathed. “Thanks to you. Thanks to your presence in my life. I’ve never felt this before, Kara.” She sighed deeply, letting the emotion out. “God…” The tears began again and she sobbed into Kara’s hair.

“It’s okay. Let it out, Devon…I’ve got you. Let it go.” Kara wrapped her arms around Devon and held her securely, feeling a peace in doing so that was completely new to her as well. This is what we were born for. This bond, this relationship…and the things that we will accomplish together. As she held her mate, her emotion was freed as well, and her tears joined with Devon’s. They held each other, supported each other, for long minutes, finally forced to part by the buzz of Devon’s computer.

Devon grinned wryly at Kara as she disengaged one arm from around her lover and reached for the unit. The display read, “Incoming data transmission. Stand by.”

Devon looked at Kara, surprised. “I think this is from the Grays,” and wiped her eyes as she gazed at the small display. After a moment, the computer beeped and the message began to scroll across the screen.

“Devon Andropoulos. Come please to meet on Sen at earliest convenience. Reply is awaited. Out.”

Devon’s eyebrows rose up into her bangs as she said quietly, “Well, it looks like I’m wanted on Zeta Reticuli. Fancy a dimensional trip to a nearby solar system?”

Kara grinned as she replied, “I do, thank you. Especially since while meditating a while ago I was told that I have business with the Sennaa.”

“Jesus,” Devon muttered. She added wryly, “I guess I’ll tell them to expect us,” and began keying in a message. She spoke into the unit, “Record message for data transmission. Dimensional transmitter. Encrypted. Highest Priority. From: Devon Andropoulos, Captain of the Earth cargo ship Phoenix. To: Sennaa Consul, Zeta Reticuli. Message: Message received. Departing Sol System three Earth months for immediate dimensional arrival. Lifemate, Dr. Kara Murphy to accompany. Cargo capacity one quarter full. Out.”

Devon sent the message and continued to look down at the small unit in her hand. She could feel Kara’s wonder at her use of the term, “lifemate” and felt a bit embarrassed. Quietly, she muttered, “It’s their term, Kara. I wanted them to know that I have bonded and that you will be coming with me.” She shrugged and added, “It felt like the thing to do…they’re uh, big on such things.”

Kara pulled her close and kissed her temple. “It feels very, very good to know that you consider me your lifemate. I’m honored. Thank you.”

Devon smiled, an almost shy, self-deprecating smile and started to say something, but Kara interrupted her, saying quietly, “Yes, Devon. I consider you my lifemate as well.”

“Gray gods…”

“Mm.” She settled against Devon’s strong body and the warmth and love that passed between them enveloped her, body and spirit. “Gray gods is right.”

The last, long rays of the far away sun slanted through the top of the clear dome and illuminated them with a fiery orange glow just before it set beyond the curving red horizon.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Report,” Devon commanded crisply as she strode onto the bridge and stood behind her pilot’s seat.

Cyd turned from her data screen and reported, “Systems are nominal, Captain. I’ve run diagnostics on all vital systems and all report as nominal as well.”

Devon leaned forward to check the readout flashing across her own data screen as she asked, “The navigational array?”

“Also nominal, Captain. I ran it through an advanced diagnostic algorithm and it performed as expected.” She turned away from the Captain briefly to flick at her console, bringing up the test figures on the dark blue display.

Devon noted the results and nodded. “Good work, Cyd. You saved me the trouble of having to do it. Long-range scanning?” Her eyes skimmed Cyd’s face expectantly.

“Nominal,” her second-in-command reported.

“Run an advanced diagnostic on it, please, and on communications, as well. We have two hours before we launch and I want to make sure we’re in good shape before we leave.”

Cyd nodded crisply, turning to her console, “Aye Captain.”

As Devon turned to leave the bridge, she said, “There will be a crew briefing in thirty minutes, mess hall.”

Cyd nodded, not taking her eyes from the figures scaling across her screen. “Aye.”

Devon hit the door control with her palm, and as it slid open, she stopped and turned. With a degree of humor, she said, “Cyd, I appreciate your professionalism, but you don’t need to be quite so formal.”

The Commander’s hands froze over her console and she half-turned toward Devon as she replied stiffly, surprise measured in her glance, “I’ll keep that in mind, Captain.”

Devon smiled and nodded, then turned and left, and Cyd was left staring blankly at her data screen. What the hell was that? Since when don’t you require formality? She shook her head and returned her attention to the readouts on the functionality of the scanning system.

Devon bounded down the soft-floored corridor toward the rear of the ship, enjoying, as always, the bounce that Mars’ gravity put into her step. It matched her mood at the moment. In fact, she thought, she couldn’t remember ever feeling so light and carefree. The reason for her light mood warmed her heart center as she approached Medlab, the link with her mate betraying Kara’s proximity by causing her heart chakra to vibrate pleasantly.

Devon popped her head through the open hatchway to see Kara tending to her hydroponic garden at the back of the lab. Some of the plants had grown large enough to be cultivated, and Kara was snipping at them carefully with small scissors. As she nipped a few sprigs from a feverfew plant, she sensed a special presence behind her and was smiling as she turned.

“Hi,” she greeted her partner affectionately, her eyes warming as they not only took in her partner, but reflected the love that Devon’s eyes declared for her.

“Hi, baby. It looks like the garden is coming along nicely. Your kit will be full of herbs very soon.” She took a deep breath, enjoying the fresh, woody aroma that the plants gave off and threw an arm around Kara’s waist, pulling her close as she gazed at the plants growing up along small trellises formed from plexi tubing.

“Mm, yes, as soon as I can prepare them. I’m much more comfortable treating illnesses and injuries when I have natural remedies at hand. Modern meds are great, but I find herbal cures, when used in combination with them give a more predictable outcome, as well as being more subtle…gentler.” She set her scissors on the counter and placed an arm around Devon’s waist.

“It’s a concept I’m comfortable with, too, though I’m not sure why,” Devon stated as she gazed at the lengthening vines and stems.

“You were a healer in our warriors life.”

“Was I?” Devon asked, surprised. “I haven’t seen that.”

Kara nodded. “Mm. I had a dream in which I was injured…in battle, I believe…and you treated me with herbal salves and brews.”

Devon frowned, feeling a sense of protectiveness toward her mate. “Sennaat, Kara, that seems to have been a dangerous life.”

“Any more than this one, my brave pirate fighter?” Kara asked impishly, eyes glittering playfully.

Devon chuckled and the act made her appear years younger. “Somewhat, yes. However, I do have a new dispatch regarding that that I need to share with the crew. I’ve called a briefing for,” she glanced at the tiny data unit on her wrist. “Twenty minutes in the mess hall.”

“Oh, okay, that gives me just about enough time to finish up here.”

Devon nodded and leaned in for a quick kiss. She allowed herself to linger just a moment, then bit playfully at Kara’s lower lip before pulling away. “See you then, sweetheart.”

“Okay, love. Um, save that thought for later, okay?” She asked with a jaunty grin.

“Absolutely,” Devon replied rakishly as she patted a cute, round behind and turned on her heel.

As Devon left the Medlab and continued toward the cargo bay, she took several deep breaths to try to quell her pounding heart and the gentle throbbing that had begun between her legs. Later, without a doubt, my love. Jesus Christ…the slightest touch, or glance, even…from her awakens such a need in me.

She strode through the open hatch into the cargo section, and heard the sounds of heavy loads being stowed. The hatch into bay one was open as well, and through it she could see Rusty and Chad, as well as Jim, maneuvering a large, palleted container into place. Rusty sat in the small loading vehicle, manning the controls which lifted the heavy loads into place, after which Chad and Jim secured them.

Rusty drove the machine out onto the dock to pick up the next pallet and Devon stood on the metal floor, gazing up at her crewmen.

“How’s it going, guys?” She asked, shielding her eyes from the bright ceiling lights.

“Securing the last pallet now, Cap,” Chad replied as he depressed a wall switch and the metal-strengthened netting closed tightly around the large container.

“Excellent. Crew briefing in the mess when you’re done.” She looked up at Jim, who stood on a shipping container several meters above the floor. “Jim, got a minute?”

“Sure, Dev. All finished here.” He deftly jumped to the floor, belying his nearly sixty years, and Devon shook her head incredulously. He stepped in at her side and she wrapped her arm around his shoulders as they exited the bay and walked to the Engineering Section.

Jim keyed the hatch open and they stepped inside. He removed his gloves and tossed them onto his desk a few paces away, then gazed expectantly at Devon.

Devon’s friendly countenance turned serious and she asked, coming right to the point, “Is the dimensional drive repaired?”

Her Engineer nodded. “Yes, I installed the new board yesterday and ran a series of diagnostics all night. Everything checks out fine. I had the base maintenance crew run a double check, too. She’s ready to go, Devon.”

Devon nodded seriously. “Good, because we’re go for Z. Ret. I got the message a while ago.”

Jim nodded, “Okay. What ‘s the cargo, do you know?”

Devon shook her head. “No. I didn’t ask, but I assume it’s more heavy equipment.”

Jim grinned. “I think they just like to see you, Dev. They enjoy having you visit.”

Devon laughed. “Jimmy, I’m not sure you’re too far off base with that. I’ve suspected for some time that I function in more of an ambassadorial capacity for them than as a simple cargo hauler.”

“Devon, my dear, you are anything but simple, but I agree with that sentiment. It’s been a while since we’ve been there…do you think that perhaps they’re ready to share more technology with WorldGov?”

Devon shrugged and sighed. “Who knows, Jim? They’re nothing if not a very mysterious race. I mean, they proclaim complete neutrality, yet they’ve been benefactors of humanity through much of our history: carefully guiding us into the New Era and the Interstellar Age, doling out their technological secrets carefully to coincide with our growth as a species, aiding in our spiritual knowledge and growth, sponsoring our admittance into the Galactic Federation.”

Jim chuckled. “Yes, right. All this from a species who claim to be as emotionless as the mythical Vulcans were.”

“They may be emotionally detached, but they have a highly refined moral and ethical sense, and frankly, Jim, I find them refreshing. I always enjoy being in their company. They’re so open and without pretense.”

“I suppose a species that communicates primarily telepathically never developed the ability for pretense or affectation,” Jim provided thoughtfully.

“So they say.” Devon gestured toward the hatch. “Shall we brief the crew?”

Jim grinned and made a show of chivalry. “After you, my dear.”

Devon shook her head, never having understood the concept of men allowing women to precede them.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Devon leaned on the table as she addressed her seated crew.

“Okay. Prelaunch will get underway as soon as we finish here, for launch at 2130 hours. I’ve made an addition to the itinerary. After Titan Base, we will proceed directly out of system for a dimensional shift to Z. Ret. I received the request earlier this evening. Cargo is unknown.” She directed her gaze to her commander. “Cyd, I’ll remind you that if you don’t want to make the six-month run, I’ll need to know no later than six weeks from now.”

Cyd waved her off. “Captain, I can tell you right now that I’m staying on. I’ve never been there and am looking forward to it.”

Devon nodded, pleased. “Good. I’m glad to hear that.”

“Shit, so am I, Dev!” Chad piped in, and everyone, including the Captain, laughed as Cyd’s dark, attractive face revealed a blush.

“Okay,” Devon said, waving to calm them down. “Another matter. This morning I got a dispatch from Fleet Headquarters.”

“Oh, shit,” Rusty grumbled.

Devon nodded grimly. “You’re right on, Rusty. Oh, shit. It seems that there have been several bold pirate attacks over the last several weeks, inside of Saturn Sector.”

“Inside?” Jim exclaimed.

“I’m afraid so. And right now, there are no military ships farther out than Jupiter Sec., and those that are, are inbound. In fact, the consortiums have suspended their runs until this will hopefully blow over in a few months.”

“Fuck,” Chad muttered.

“I agree, Chad. So, I’m requisitioning more weapons. Rusty, I have a list for you and I need it taken care of right now, before we depart. As well as rations and extra backups of vital equipment for the long run.”

He nodded as Devon handed him a data disk, then slipped it into his comp and gazed at the small screen as the list scrolled. “Jesus, Devon, type one cannons? Magna rifles?”

“Yes. Military, as a matter of fact. You’ll see a special dispensation there from the Fleet to purchase them here.”

“That was big of them,” the large man grumbled sarcastically.

“Well, Rust, I guess they figure that free trade is better than no trade at all, and they’re hoping that if someone can blast the hell out of these guys, that they’ll get the message and lay off for a while. They’d like to do the blasting themselves, of course, but they don’t have any ships closer than a month away, and with the decrease in far-system trade, frankly don’t want to make a special trip.”

“Not to mention that they really wouldn’t mind seeing us blown out of the sky,” Jim remarked dourly.

“That too,” Devon agreed. Addressing each of her crew in turn, ending with her mate, Devon added, “Look, I have every confidence that we can make it by these fuckers, or we wouldn’t be going. You all know my record, and with the bigger guns, and the training we’ve all been doing, I really am most confident.” She pinned her gaze on each of her crew in turn again. “However, if anyone wants out, let me know right now.” Her gaze was met only by steely resolve and she grinned. “As I expected. Alright, from this point on, I’m paying hazard pay.”

“Yes!” Chad yelled as he pumped his fist in the air.

“I’m glad you concur, Lorenzo. Any questions?” She was greeted by shaking heads, so she added, “Okay, commence prelaunch. Rusty, get going on those requisitions. Jim, can you spare Chad to help him?”

Jim nodded and waved. “Yes, absolutely.”

“Okay, get going you two. I want to launch in one thirty hours.” She dismissed her crew and sat down at the table as they left. Her lover stayed behind, however, and came up behind her to rub her shoulders.

Devon dropped her head forward and moaned quietly. “God, that’s nice.”

Kara was silent for several minutes before remarking, “I feel your worry, honey, and I can’t help but think you’re more worried about me than about anything else.”

Devon chuckled. “Sennaat, it’s like being married to a Gray. My feelings are an open book to you.” She sighed. “You’re right, Kara. I’m terrified, frankly, of you’re getting hurt, and I know it’s irrational. I know that we can beat these guys…we always do…but where you’re concerned, all rationality seems to float right out the airlock.”

“I appreciate that, honey, but you know…I can take care of myself. You said yourself that I’m doing very well with the weapons, even reaching first level military certification.”

“Despite that, Kara, I just seem to have this irrational need to make sure you’re protected.”

“It’s not irrational, honey, it’s a sign of love. It’s a normal reaction when you love someone.” She leaned down and kissed the dark head below her, then nuzzled the soft, black hair with her cheek. She added thoughtfully, “And I’m also relatively sure that your need to protect me is Karmic in nature.”

“Probably. It’s so damn strong.” She half turned and reached back for Kara’s hands, pulling her around to her side. “I have to get this ship ready to fly. Give me a kiss to last until we go to bed in six hours.”

Kara grinned down at her impishly. “Is that an order, Captain Andropoulos?”

“It most definitely is,” was the sexy, raised-eyebrow reply.

“Yes, ma’am,” Kara said as she climbed sexily into Devon’s lap and wrapped her arms gently around her neck. Their lips met softly before parting to allow exploring tongues, while hands roamed gently. When soft moans were torn from both throats, Devon ended the kiss reluctantly and rested her forehead against Kara’s.

“Gods, what you do to me. And it’s going to be a short night.”

“Then we’ll have to make the most of it, won’t we?” Was the coy reply, and Devon laughed deeply as she nodded her agreement.

“Jesus, I love you, Kara. You have become my Universe, baby.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Devon stood and stretched her long limbs. “Okay, Cyd. We’re ready to launch in thirty. I’m going to Medlab to check on my wi…Dr. Murphy’s preparations. Continue prelaunch.”

“Aye, Cap…uh, Devon.” She glanced shyly up at the Captain and received a lopsided grin in return.

“Devon’s fine, Cyd. Carry on.”

Shit. The woman amazes me. Cyd shook her head as she returned her attention to her console, not wanting to contemplate the beautiful, enigmatic woman who had just left the bridge. Whoa, double shit…she almost called Kara her wife…

Devon strode purposefully toward Medlab, but slowed as she turned in and saw Kara sitting at her desk, obviously deeply engrossed in her work. Devon leaned against the hatch and watched her mate quietly. She was gazing at the large display on her desk, which currently showed video and technical readouts from each of the five occupied hypersleep chambers. The lab was lit only by the glow from the large data screen, and Kara’s features were subtly shadowed and softened by the bluish light.

My gods, she’s beautiful. Devon felt a stirring from deep within her being as she gazed at her lifemate. The warmth which was the signature of Kara’s energy field wrapped itself around Devon as her body reacted physically to the sight of her mate. Her heart began to pound urgently, sending her blood coursing hotly through her body, and a secondary pulse began in her groin. Her skin began to tingle and her breath shortened. She took a deep, calming breath to try to still the reaction and was only mildly successful.

Kara, typing notes quickly into her comp as she glanced from it to the large screen, suddenly felt Devon’s love wrap itself around her heart…a feeling as comforting as a warm blanket on a cold night. She stopped typing and looked to her left, where she saw her mate watching her from the doorway.

Devon grinned lopsidedly. “I guess I can’t sneak up on you anymore, can I?”

“No, thank the gods. What are you doing?” Kara pushed her comp aside and sat back in her chair.

Devon approached and sat beside her. “Just came to see how you’re doing.” She glanced at the screen. It showed the still faces of each of the sleeping passengers, and Devon noted the nature of the data scrolling under each person’s image. “Doing electro-stimulation?” She looked back into Kara’s face. “I’ve heard of that, but never seen it done. None of my other doctors used it. It’s a relatively recent development, isn’t it?”

Kara nodded. “Yes. Actually, it was developed by my team at Intrepid Lab just a few years ago. Our studies indicated that a fairly large degree of muscular entropy occurs during long hypersleep periods. Keeping their muscles stimulated electrically is almost as effective as if they were exercising them themselves.”

Devon’s face clearly showed the pride she felt at her mate’s accomplishment as she said, “That’s remarkable, Kara.”

Kara shrugged. “Thanks. It’s what I specialized in. Actually, I’m continuing my research now. I’m running continuous scans, collecting loads of data.”

“Ah, something to keep you occupied during the long run ahead?” Devon grinned at her lover.

“During my shift time, anyway,” Kara replied with a warm grin. “Every minute of my off-shift time will be devoted to my lifemate.”

“Jesus, maybe I’ll shorten the shift length, then.” She leaned forward and kissed Kara’s temple.

“Honey, I’m curious about something. Why do people take berths on ships like this? I mean, no offense, but it’s not nearly as safe as a berth on a passenger liner.”

“No offense taken, love…you’re right. It’s because we’re cheap and fast. I can get them there for roughly half the cost of a passenger ship, and one-third what they would pay a consortium cargo ship. Plus, we’re much faster, and I have a spotless safety record…despite the pirate troubles. I am currently the only free-trader who is accepting passenger fares, however.”

“I see. Well, I’ve come to the conclusion that these passengers who choose your ship are quite bright indeed.”

“Oh, yeah?” Devon asked through a large grin.

“Yeah. They have the best pilot in the galaxy getting them safely to their destinations.” Kara replied as she pulled Devon’s hand into her lap.

“Not to mention the most dedicated doctor.” Devon scooted closer and pulled Kara into a hug.

“Thanks love. Mm, this is nice.” She reveled in the feel of her mate’s strong arms wrapped around her and turned her head to gaze at Devon. “I can’t seem to get enough contact with you. And um, I felt what you were feeling when you were watching me.”

“Oops, sorry,” Devon apologized, grinning. “But I can’t help that. My body reacts instantly to the sight of you. It’s completely out of my control.”

“I know the feeling, Devon.”

Devon prolonged the hug for as long as she could, but then separated, saying, “Well, love. I need to get us launched from this red rock. Do you want to come to the bridge for launch?”

“Absolutely. Just give me a few minutes notice.”

“Done.” She leaned forward and captured Kara’s lips gently, again, prolonging the contact somewhat, but finally parted from her and stood. “I’ll see you in a bit, love.”

“Bye, sweetheart.”
-12-
Devon watched as the two halves of the retractable dome above the ship slowly moved apart, clearing the way for them to exit. When they were fully opened and only the thin sky separated them from space, the comm buzzed and the controller spoke, “Phoenix, Intrepid Control. You are cleared for immediate launch at previously transmitted trajectory.”

Devon spoke into her headset, “Intrepid Control, Phoenix. Copy. Launch underway. Out.”

“Good trip, Phoenix. Intrepid Control out.”

Devon turned slightly to her left to speak into the ship’s comm unit. “This is Andropoulos. We’re go for launch. Report.”

The unit buzzed and she heard, “Devon, Engineering and cargo are secure.”

“Copy. Bridge and Medical are secure. Orient main engines for launch thrust.”

Jim, from his post in Engineering depressed a switch and watched as the huge engines slowly rotated into position. “Copy. Main engines oriented.”

“Stand by for ignition.” Devon turned to her copilot. “Cyd, ignite engines on my mark.”

“Aye.”

Devon turned her chair to face her mate. “Kara, are you ready?”

Kara looked at her confident partner and smiled weakly. “Yes.”

Devon sent her a strong, silent burst of love and winked before turning to face her pilot console. She manned her steering yoke and checked her thrust controls, then said, “Okay, Cyd, ignition in three, two, one, mark.”

“Ignition,” Cyd said as she depressed a large green button, and the ship shook under the force of the powerful engines as they burst powerfully to life, and then slowly lifted from the hangar. Devon maneuvered them up and out of the hangar and then initiated computer control to achieve their proper trajectory.

The ship lifted from above the Mars Colony spaceport and began a heading north-northwest to achieve escape velocity. Kara hung on to the arms of her flight chair as if for dear life as the ship shot skyward, the rumbling from the powerful engines buffeting her within the tight harness. She looked straight ahead, over her partner’s shoulder, out the front viewscreen, too uncomfortable to look out the side window beside her. The lights of the sparsely populated planet below were already no longer visible; she could only see the near-black of the evening sky and the thin bluish band of the atmosphere on the horizon which separated it from space.

The nose of the ship tilted up, and the g-force thrust Kara heavily into her seat. She closed her eyes and grasped the arms of the chair more tightly, until her fingers and knuckles were white with strain, then gritted her teeth, willing the launch to be over. Her heart pounded furiously, its throb warring with the pounding of the blood in her skull. Ninety seconds…ninety seconds. That’s all it is. Calm…breathe. She repeated the words silently, like a mantra. Devon has it under control. She’s the best, she’s the best….

At the thought of her partner, Kara shook herself from her paralysis and realized that Devon was speaking.

“Continue maximum thrust, Cyd. We will have escape velocity in seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. We have escape velocity. Cyd, I’m taking over manual.” Devon spoke into the comm, “Jim, we have escape velocity. Reorient engines to forward thrust and initiate rotation.”

“Aye, Devon. Reorienting now and initiating rotation.”

As the huge ion engines were reoriented to provide forward thrust, the ship’s trajectory changed from an upward course to forward motion. Suddenly free of the bonds of the planet’s pull, the three bridge passengers lifted slightly in their seats as they became weightless. Their harnesses held them securely in place, however.

“How are you doing, Kara?” Devon asked, not taking her eyes from her console.

“Oh, just fine,” Kara squeaked, breathing a sigh of relief.

“We’re up, honey, free of Mars’ gravity. Cyd, initiate cabin rotation.”

“Aye, Captain, initiating.” The cabin began rotating, providing a measure of artificial gravity and the passengers settled into their seats once more.

“Cyd, set course for one-eight-five by six-seven and maintain maximum thrust.”

“Aye, Captain. Setting course for one-eight-five by six-seven and maintaining maximum thrust.”

Devon’s hands flew over her controls as she set the flight systems and checked readouts. “All systems nominal. Setting main engine shutdown for t minus thirty-six hours. Cyd, maintain course and heading, and set long range sensors to maximum. I’ll be right back.”

“Aye, Devon.”

Devon unbuckled her harness and turned toward Kara, who appeared to be praying. She stood and approached her mate. “Kara, honey…are you okay?”

Kara took a deep breath and opened her eyes. “Yes. I was just trying to calm myself.” She added wryly, “You sure know how to show a girl an exciting time, Captain Andropoulos.”

Devon grinned charmingly as she drawled, “So I’ve been told, baby.”

Cyd, sitting at her console, coughed and tried to look like she was busier than she actually was.

Devon unlatched Kara’s harness and pulled her to her feet. “Come on, Doctor. I’ll walk you to Medlab.”

Kara threaded her arm through Devon’s and leaned against her as she replied, “Why thank you!”

“Don’t mention it.” Devon palmed the door open and walked them swiftly to Kara’s lab. As soon as they were within, away from prying eyes and ears, she pulled Kara into an embrace. “Christ, baby, I felt your fear. It’s okay now. We’re fine.”

“Oh, I know, Devon. I don’t know what it is about takeoffs and landings. I become nearly paralyzed by my fear. I’m wondering if I shouldn’t talk to someone about it, though I know the fear is tied to my parents’ accident.”

Devon rested her cheek against Kara’s head and suggested, “Maybe flying with me will help you. You’ll see that I have things under control, you’ll do some flying yourself, and you’ll see that there really is very little to fear.”

“Possibly honey. Thank you for understanding.” She nuzzled Devon’s flightsuit where it opened at her collarbone.

“Kara, I wasn’t very understanding when we were flying down on Mars yesterday. I’m so sorry. If I had realized how truly terrified you were, I never would have fooled around like I did. God, I can be an asshole.” She shook her head, disgusted with herself.

“Devon, it’s okay. It’s over. Now that you do know, like you said, you can help me.” She wrapped her arms around Devon’s waist and pulled her closer as she kissed the skin accessible through the “v” of her flightsuit. “Mm, you smell good. I wish we could crawl into bed together right now. I need to be lost in your arms for a while.”

“Hold that thought, Kara, for just a while longer. As soon as I make sure the ship’s flying herself like she should, I’ll be in. Why don’t you wait for me?” She pulled back and gazed at Kara and a thought struck her. She inclined her head as she asked, “Hey, um, why don’t you consider moving your things into my quarters? You’re there every night anyway…and that way you wouldn’t have to leave to get dressed in the morning.”

“Mm, I like that idea, but are you sure? Have you ever shared your quarters with anyone before?”

“Yes, I am, and no I haven’t. But I want you there. Okay? It just makes more sense, Kara.”

“I agree, and I would love to share your quarters. Thank you.” She stood on her toes to kiss her tall mate, but was pulled up by strong arms instead.

“You’re welcome. Give me another one of those wonderful kisses, please, so I can miss you terribly for the next few hours.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Kara said with a grin as she wrapped her arms around Devon’s neck. She captured her Captain’s lips fiercely and didn’t relinquish them until Devon was breathless.

“Jesus, Kara! Do you know what you do to me?” Devon gasped. She shook her head as she felt most of the blood in her body race to her pelvis.

Kara smiled coyly as she replied, “Oh, I have a pretty good idea, yes. I’ll be waiting in your bed.” She turned her tall partner around and pushed her out of the Medlab. “Bye, sweetheart.”

A somewhat shell-shocked Devon mumbled, “Um, yeah, bye.” Before returning to the bridge, Devon needed to stop beside the door and take a calming breath, a fact that was not lost on her watching mate, and which pleased her immensely.

“Status,” Devon requested as she returned to her seat.

Cyd tore her gaze from one of the data screens as she replied, “Captain, I just got a blip on the long-range sensor.”

Devon instantly forgot the singing blood in her veins and said, “Show me.”

Cyd depressed a series of keys, replaying the signal she had just observed. “Hm, far side of Jupiter Sector. It could be military…it’s not likely that it’s anyone illegal, this far in. Let’s wait until it’s a little closer and see what transpires. They should be within comm range in about three hours.”

Cyd, confused, furrowed her brows and looked at Devon. “Far side of Jupiter Sector? How can we possibly scan that far out?”

Devon raised a single expressive eyebrow and half smiled. “Reticulan-assisted technology, and that information goes no farther than this ship’s hull, Cyd.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Cyd answered seriously, nodding. “Can you share the details of the technology with me?”

Devon made an instant decision, relying on her gut instinct, to trust Cyd, and she nodded. “Alright. The sensor is outfitted with a device that attaches the scanning signal to a tachyon beam, making it faster than light. I also have FTL communications capability, utilizing the same technology, but I can’t use it with Earth ships, because it would be detected.” She added dryly, “The military would not take kindly to the fact that a non-military cargo ship has subspace communications capabilities. So, even though I know that a ship is out there, and I would very much like to read its broadcast ID, and better yet, communicate with it, I have to wait until it’s within normal comm range.”

“Jesus,” Cyd muttered. “The Grays must trust you implicitly.”

“They do. With good reason. They know that I’m honest, and loyal to a fault.” She added wryly, “There’s no way to deceive a Reticulan.”

“I guess not,” Cyd agreed. “I’ve never dealt with them…will you be briefing us on how to interact with them, or will you be handling all of the dealings?”

“No, I think you should all interact with them. They really are a remarkable species, Cyd, and I think you will come away from the experience feeling enriched. I have a standard briefing that I give my crew. You and Kara will receive it before we arrive.”

Cyd nodded. “Good. Um, Devon, there isn’t any other alien technology on this ship that you haven’t made me aware of is there? An advanced dimensional drive perhaps?”

Devon chuckled. “No, I’m afraid not. They don’t even trust me enough to give me one of those.” She became thoughtful for a moment, then added, “Actually, it isn’t so much a matter of trusting me as being terrified of it falling into the wrong hands. I mean, let’s face it, if, Sennaat forbid, we lose a battle with pirates and we have an advanced drive on board, the entire known Universe is in danger. At least until one of the more advanced species can track them down and squash them like the bugs that they are.”

Cyd laughed aloud at the visual. “Yes, right. That I would gladly pay a year’s wages to see.”

“You and me both,” Devon relied coldly. “I take great pleasure in both defeating them and in seeing others do so. Fucking scum.”

Cyd winced. Ooh, that hit a nerve. She asked gingerly, “Um, I know you’ve never lost any cargo to them, have you lost friends?”

Devon stared straight ahead, out at the black void, and replied in a voice as cold as that black space, “My mother. End of discussion, Cyd.”

Cyd nodded. “Aye.”

After nearly three hours of stilted silence that made the rather large cabin feel very small, the other ship’s ID was picked up on the comm system. “Military,” Devon declared as she read the data. “F.S. Battle Cruiser Schwartzkopf.” She grinned. “Good. I know the Captain…unless he pissed off the brass one two many times and has been replaced.”

She keyed in a message, identifying their ship and destination, and sent it off, then waited until it should have been received and began a verbal message. “F.S. Schwartzkopf, cargo ship Phoenix. We are outbound for Titan Base. Requesting relevant tactical information. Over.”

Devon sat back and watched the time display, having calculated in her head that it should take exactly one point five minutes for the message to be received.

Exactly three minutes later, the response crackled over the comm system. “Phoenix, F.S. Schwartzkopf. Switch to encrypted frequency gamma. Over.”

Devon, still in possession of military encryption codes, punched in the command and responded, “F.S. Schwartzkopf, Phoenix. Go ahead. Over.”

“Andropoulos, how the hell are you, you beautiful pirate? Still pushing cargo for the large credits, huh? Well, Devon, enough of the bullshit. We are inbound from Neptune Sector where we engaged a group of five hostiles. One was destroyed. The other four escaped. We suspect that at least one of them engaged a dimensional drive. Repeat, we suspect that at least one engaged an advanced dimensional drive while still in-system. Over.”

“Fuckin’ shit,” Devon muttered, and it was echoed by Cyd. She began her reply, “Jeff, I was better before I heard that news. Shit. After dropping my load at Titan, I’m outbound for Z. Ret. May I relay a message? Over.”

She awaited the answer and listened intently when it arrived. “Yes, Devon. I’m sending over the details of the engagement…what’s not classified…you understand, and inserting a message to the Consul. I’ve already sent it to them subspace, but I would also like a copy hand delivered. Dev, we suspect that these assholes took out a small Gray Hopper and lifted the drive. As you can imagine, this is a political nightmare. I’m sure WorldGov is falling all over themselves trying to rectify the situation, but I know for a fact that both sides would appreciate any assistance you can provide. Also, Devon, the ship that hopped out was bearing black and red colors. Over.”

Devon’s face suddenly paled and she collapsed back against her seat. She felt an icy cold creep upon her, accompanied by a firm resolve. She sat up stiffly and relayed her response. Her voice was hard and cold as she spoke, “Jeff, the motherfucker is mine. You can tell that to both WorldGov and the Sennaa. They will not be making another hop after they have met up with me…count on it. We are now carrying military ordinance…I am relaying a list with this message. Over.”

A few minutes later, the reply arrived. “Copy. Data received. Thank you, Devon, but be careful. A Fleet battle group is outbound at this time, should arrive Uranus Sector about when you return to the system. Don’t be a hero, Devon. Officially, I’m advising you to just do your job and let us do ours. Unofficially, I hope you are successful in kicking all of their sorry asses to hell. Oh, and Devon…the battle group is being commanded by Admiral Andropoulos. Over.”

“Will do, Jeff. Give my best to Sari. Phoenix out.”

“Give us a buzz when you’re back on-planet, Dev. I’m off for twelve months when I get back. Godspeed, Phoenix. F.S. Schwartzkopf out.”

Devon sat back against her seat, letting its familiar surface envelop and comfort her. She felt drained, emotionally and physically. Her old commanding officer’s words rang in her head: Devon, the ship that hopped out was bearing black and red colors. Black and red. Like a black widow spider. She sighed and closed her eyes as she was gripped by a resolve borne of hatred and vengeance. They are mine, and they are dead.

“Captain?” Cyd’s concerned voice interrupted her dark musings.

Devon opened her eyes and gazed tiredly at her copilot. “My mother commanded a battle cruiser. It was destroyed in an engagement with pirates. The ship that destroyed her was black and red…painted to look like a spider.” She stood abruptly and rubbed her eyes. “We’re at war, Cyd. Set all sensor and communications functions to immediate relay into my quarters and go get some rest. I’ll see you at oh-eight-hundred. Good night.”

“Aye, Captain. Good night.”

Devon entered her quarters through the private door from the bridge. It was dark except for the small light on her desk across the living space, which Kara had thoughtfully left on for her. She leaned against the door, feeling a combination of anger and shock. But mostly, feeling the need to touch her lover. To be touched, and held. Christ, what has happened to me? It was becoming a familiar sensation: this urgent need to touch her mate. She walked the short distance to her sleeping area, shedding her clothes hastily as she did so.

When she reached the bed, she stood at the foot of it briefly. The soft glow from the small computer/comm unit set into the hull above the headboard illuminated Kara’s sleeping features. I’m sorry, baby, but I need you, Devon thought as she leaned down and gently pulled the sheet from her sleeping mate, uncovering her naked form. The vision before her shook her to her core. She grinned ferally as her blood began to course hotly through her veins and she knelt on the bed and crawled toward Kara, lowering her body to lie atop her mate.

Kara stirred, with a quiet moan, and Devon captured her lips, silencing her. Her partner’s arms immediately wrapped themselves around Devon, pulling her closer, and Devon moaned into her mouth, communicating her need. Now fully awake, Kara responded to the rough kiss, feeling Devon’s pain and turmoil, even through her own escalating desire.

Devon lifted her upper body up, thrusting her groin into Kara’s and brought one hand up to caress a breast. Kara moaned deeply at the doubled contact and rocked into Devon, initiating tandem, rhythmic gyrations that quickly became fervent. Devon supported herself with one hand as she let the skyrocketing passion carry her away, until she was just on the verge of release. She squeezed her eyes shut and grunted loudly as she contracted her belly muscles, thrusting against Kara one last time, and was overcome by the explosion of ecstasy.

“Kara!” Was torn loudly from her throat. “Oh, fuck, Kara, yes! Yes…”

Below her, Kara was moaning deliriously and Devon felt her stiffen just after she did. She screamed Devon’s name, almost as loudly, and continued to rock against her as the spasms rolled over her.

“God, Devon, yes, yes…”

Devon held her mate close as their bodies stilled and their breathing approached normal again, then stretched her long body out over Kara’s and kissed her, tenderly this time. “I love you,” she murmured against warm, soft lips.

“Love you.”

Devon scooted down slightly and laid her head on Kara’s shoulder. “I needed that. Thank you.”

Kara gently enveloped her lover in her arms and tenderly caressed her back. “You’re welcome. You okay?”

“I’ll tell you in the morning…okay?”

“Okay. Good night, my love.” Kara kissed her hair and wrapped her tall lover in her arms, wanting to protect her and willing the strength of her love to soothe Devon’s ache.

“Good night, Kara.” Devon settled against her mate. She had not allowed anyone to hold her since she was a child and was amazed at how comforted she felt.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The next morning, in a manner not in keeping with their regular routine, Devon and Kara did not shower together. Devon had cited the need for expediency, wanting to get immediately to the bridge. However, they did find the time to make love again. Devon had awakened to find herself sprawled across her smaller mate’s body, Kara’s arms resting protectively around her shoulders. Opening her eyes to find that she lay between two luscious breasts had been much too tempting, and Devon had taken full advantage… to Kara’s great delight.

Kara also got her to sit and scarf down a light breakfast, and was able to pull from her the details of what had upset her the night before. Devon washed down the dry toast with a swig of tea from her large mug. She didn’t feel like discussing the matter with Kara, but didn’t want to keep anything from her, and besides, she had promised to tell her. She reported in a detached manner,
“I had a communication with a military ship inbound from Neptune Sec. It seems that they engaged a group of hostiles, destroying one.”

Kara could sense that there was much more that was not being said. She could detect an unnatural tenseness in Devon’s jaw, and could feel the turmoil raging within her, though outwardly, she hid her emotions extremely well. Most likely, her mate was the only person in existence who would have known that Devon was upset. Kara inclined her head and asked, “And?”

“And what?” Devon pretended nonchalance as she took another bite of toast.

“Devon, something upset you tremendously last night. The military engages pirate ships all the time. What was so different about the news you received last night?”

Devon chuckled, despite her low spirits. “Jesus fucking Christ, Kara…I shouldn’t even try to keep anything from you, should I?” She was both warmed by the realization and startled by it.

“No, honey. Even if we weren’t so bonded, I am empathic, remember? And honey, please don’t use ‘Jesus’ and ‘fuck’ in the same sentence…it bothers me.”

“Sorry, Kara.” She sighed deeply, resigned to the fact that she would have to share more information, but oddly comforted by it. “Okay. I also learned that one of the hostile ships apparently has a stolen Reticulan drive on it…they hopped out while still in-system.”

“Oh, my God,” Kara gasped. She grasped Devon’s hand, fully understanding the ramifications of the situation. “Honey, that is very, very scary.”

Devon nodded seriously. “Almost too scary to comprehend, Kara. I can imagine that they’ll lay low now for a while, but they’ll be back eventually, wreaking God knows what kinds of havoc. They’ve got to be stopped,” she added determinedly.

Kara was beginning to understand where some of Devon’s stress was originating. “Don’t you think that the Galactic Federation will do something about them?”

“Sure, but like I said, they’re probably lying low.” She turned her hand over and held Kara’s within it before looking up into her eyes. “There’s another thing,” she added quietly. “The ship with the stolen drive matches the description of the ship that destroyed my mother’s battle cruiser five years ago.”

Devon looked down at their linked hands and swallowed hard as she was gripped by the icy pain of her loss. Her mother’s death had been extremely painful for her; they had been very close. She had felt from a very young age that her mother was the only person who truly understood and accepted her. The awful, gnawing pain of her loss had barely lessened in five years. It had simply become an icy shard in her heart, and a thick, angry lump in her gut.

Kara felt Devon’s pain as a sharp ache in her heart center, as well as both the ice and the gnawing, powerless sensation in her third chakra. “My, God, baby.” She brought their hands to her lips and kissed Devon’s fingers as she looked into her eyes, stating, “And now you want to go after that ship. You’re actually hoping that we are engaged by them, so you can blow them away.”

Devon nodded. “Yes. For all of those various reasons, Kara…not just to seek vengeance, but justice, and to ensure the safety of this system and countless others in this galaxy, not to mention my desire to help out my small, gray friends. So, yes. That is exactly what I want to do. And I’m capable of it, too. Count on it.”

“Oh, of that I have no doubt. Okay, when the time comes, just tell me what to do.”

“What do you mean,” Devon asked, confused.

“I mean just that. I want to help in any way I can. I intend to fight at your side,” Kara stated pugnaciously, as determined as her mate was.

“Kara, you’re a healer, I don’t want you…”

“Stop, Devon! Don’t shut me out of this. I may be a healer, but I am also a member of this crew and I will do whatever I have to to get us safely past those criminals. And, I will do whatever I can to support you…to do any less would be to deny both who I am and what we have together. I will fight at your side.”

Devon found herself charmed by Kara’s declaration, and believed that she meant it with all of her heart. She pulled Kara close and kissed her hair. “Okay, love. Thank you. I’m not sure I could do it without your support.” She looked down at Kara. “I’ve become a different person since meeting you. I no longer exist only for myself. But it’s more than that. I…it’s like we’re two parts of a whole…we complement each other perfectly, and I need both your support and your presence. Am I explaining this with any degree of clarity?”

Kara grinned. “Yes. I understand you perfectly. I always do, because you’re right. We are two halves of a whole. Devon, we were created at the same instant, to be forever bonded. Do you remember your spirituality lessons from grade school? We’re Essence Twins…Twin Souls. We share the closest of all soulmate bonds, and once we met, we were no longer separate entities.”

“God, Kara, yes. That is so obvious to me now. Um, along those lines, I know now is not the best time, but let me just ask this while I have some courage.” Devon licked her lips and took a deep breath as she gazed into Kara’s eyes. “Kara, will you sign a marriage contract with me? Please? You can pick the term…it doesn’t matter to me…because frankly, I know I’ll want to renew every time anyway.”

Her beautiful, deep blue eyes were so imploring that Kara’s breath was pulled from her chest. “Gods,” she gasped. “Um…yes!” She regained her composure somewhat when she saw Devon close her eyes briefly in relief. She pulled Devon into a fierce hug and whispered hotly, “Yes, Devon, I would love that. And I choose a lifetime contract.” She pulled back to gauge Devon’s reaction and saw only joy in her eyes.

“Yes! Kara, baby, thank you! That means so much to me. Gray gods…” Her eyes began to mist and she was pulled close again. Kara held her tough mate for as long as she could keep her still, then sent her off to her Captain’s duties with a long, loving kiss that stayed with her until they met again hours later for lunch.
-13-
Kara made a final entry into the computerized record and checked the time display on her data screen. Time for lunch. Time to see my baby. She grinned as she stood and shrugged out of her lab coat, settling it on the back of her chair. She recognized a familiar warmth and her grin grew wider. Devon was nearby…closer than she usually was, anyway, while on the bridge. I wonder what she’s fixing us for lunch? Her stomach rumbled hungrily as her blood tingled in anticipation of spending time with her mate. She left Medlab and crossed the corridor to the mess hall, and was greeted by her crewmates.

“Hey Doc,” Chad greeted with his trademark wide grin. Beside him, Cyd lifted her fork in greeting.

Kara returned the smile with a wave, “Hi, Chad, Cyd, guys.”

“Doctor,” Rusty grunted, not looking up from his meal.

“Hey there, hon,” Jim said as he tilted his glass in greeting. “What’s on the menu today?”

Kara grinned as she joined her mate in the galley. “I don’t know…let me see what my partner here is cooking up.” She wrapped an arm around Devon’s waist and looked around her to see what she was preparing. “Hi, love. What’s cooking?”

Devon looked down at her mate with a large grin as she continued to prepare two meal packs. “Hi, babe. Pasta.” She added with a leer that only Kara could see, “With red sauce.”

“Ooh,” Kara said saucily. “My favorite.”

“I thought white sauce was your favorite.”

“Not anymore.” The dialog, both ends of it, was so saucy that the room’s other occupants understood fully what was really being discussed.

“Christ, you two…can you leave your bedroom secrets in the Captain’s quarters, please?” Rusty grumbled.

“Crewman Schwartz, my Medical Officer and I are simply discussing meal ideas,” Devon provided innocently.

“Uh, huh. Whatever you say, Devon. But I wouldn’t have minded being a fly on the wall of your quarters the last time you two discussed pasta sauce.”

As Devon laughed and Kara blushed furiously, Cyd and Chad both nearly choked on their food, and received a pointed gaze from Jim.

“You two alright?” Their Captain asked.

“Yes, Cap. This is just a little spicy,” Chad provided.

“You’ve got that right,” Cyd muttered under her breath.

“Commander Mitchell, perhaps you’re not aware of the fact that I have extremely sharp hearing. Care to elaborate on what you meant by that remark?”

Cyd froze and blanched visibly. “Um, Captain…I mean, Devon…I just meant to agree with Chad…this Szechwan chicken is quite spicy.” She buried her face in her meal, hoping that the discussion was at an end.

“Mm, hm,” Devon drawled, but let it end. She finished the preparation of their meals and turned to her mate, grasping her about the waist and pulling her close. “Mm,” she whispered. “I’ve needed this all day.”

Kara squeezed her tightly and buried her face against Devon’s shoulder. “Me too, love.” She took a deep breath, pulling in Devon’s scent along with her essence and letting it fill her senses.

“Hey, uh, you two wanna get a private room?” Rusty suggested around a mouthful of beef with noodles.

Devon looked up from her beloved’s lovely face and commanded sharply, “Crewman Schwartz…shut the fuck up.”

“Shutting the fuck up, ma’am.” He returned his attention to his meal and Devon returned her attention to her mate’s neck.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Devon finished her last bite of pasta and wiped her mouth before pushing her tray away and leaning back in her chair. “Okay, since everyone’s here, I’ve got some business to discuss.”

Her mate’s hand took up it’s normal position on her right thigh and she smiled at Kara as she grasped it. “Last night, I had a communication with a Fleet Battle Cruiser inbound from Neptune Sec. They recently engaged a group of five hostiles. They took one out, but the others escaped, including one,” she gazed pointedly at each of her crew, “With an illegal dimensional drive. They hopped out.”

“Shit,” gasped Chad and the sentiment was echoed by everyone else at the table.

“Are they sure it was an advanced drive?” Jim asked.

“Yep, the Captain relayed the battle data to me. Its signature was strictly Reticulan, and the Grays had reported the loss of a small hopper recently. Its pilot was killed.”

“Oh, Christ,” Rusty exclaimed, shaking his head. “WorldGov must be shittin’ all over themselves.”

“I can imagine that they are, and that the more reactionary politicians are fearing war. But fortunately, we…you and I…know the Grays better than that. We know that they basically expect that sort of behavior from humans, even still, and that they have no fear of death. However, I can imagine that they do want the situation taken care of as expediently as possible, so I’m thinking that I now have some idea of why we’ve been called there. Also, unofficially, the Fleet has given me wide latitude in dealing with this. It, um, seems that the ship that hopped may have been the one that destroyed my mother’s cruiser.” She looked down at the table, knowing that her eyes would be reflecting the pain she was feeling, and Kara rubbed her thigh tenderly.

“Well, Cap,” Rusty said with conviction, “I’m ready to take down the motherfuckers, how about you?” He looked her in the eye and then turned his gaze to each of his crewmembers as well.

“That’s where I stand, Rusty. How do each of you feel about it?”

Jim stood and rested his hands on the table. “Devon, I think I can speak for the whole crew. We are behind you one thousand percent. You get us engaged with the bastards and we will help you to take them down. Am I right?” He addressed Cyd and Chad, knowing where Kara stood by virtue of her obvious support of her mate as she leaned against her.

Cyd and Chad both nodded vigorously. “Yes, absolutely.”

“Hell, yeah.”

Devon nodded and smiled. “Thank you. Okay. Well, in that case, our orders are changed somewhat. We have been approved for exterior-mounted cannon, and will pick them up at the depot on Titan Alpha.”

“Yes!” Chad yelled as he jumped to his feet. Jim and Rusty nodded, both very pleased with the news.

“God, what is it about men and big guns anyway?” Kara remarked to Cyd, who shook her head with a grin.

“It must have something to do with feelings of inadequacy, don’t you think, Doctor?”

“It’s quite possible, Commander. Especially in the case of these three.” She grinned to soften her words and Devon laughed deeply.

“Alright, you women. I haven’t seen any of you refusing to do your share of the shooting, have I?” Rusty asked. “Especially you, Cap. What are you rated again? Level ten, eleven?”

“Fifteen, actually,” Devon answered with a smug grin.

“Jesus, and they let you fly instead of command ground battalions?” He shook his head, then added, “Yeah, well, Dev, no one ever confused you with a mommy’s girl, now did they?”

“Nope. Okay, enough bullshit. When we reach Titan Alpha, we will be outfitted with the new weaponry and we will all be spending time learning the system while outbound. Let’s just hope we don’t engage the bastards before we reach Saturn Sec.”

Everyone at the large, round table muttered their agreement. “In fact, I think we’ll step it up a little. Jim, can we go to one hundred ten percent maximum on the engines? Say for a twelve or twenty-four hour burn? It would be nice to cut a few weeks off our travel time and blaze through those sectors faster than they can follow and engage.”

“I think we might manage that, Dev, but I’ll have to run the numbers to be sure. We’re in great shape equipment-wise, with plenty of backup capability.” He stood as he said, “I’ll go run those numbers now and get back to you in an hour or so.” He looked at Chad. “Crewman, if you’re finished, you can give me a hand.”

“Sure, Jim,” Chad said as he stood and gulped down his juice. He squeezed Cyd’s shoulder as he picked up his tray in his large hand and walked it to the galley.

“Okay, guys, thanks. I appreciate the support. As you were.” She stood and picked up their trays and Kara joined her in the galley. Kara could feel the tension within her mate, though she appeared outwardly calm, and rested her hand in the center of her back as Devon disposed of their trash.

“Come on,” Devon said, feeling the transfer of affection through her mate’s hand. She grasped Kara’s hand and pulled her behind her out of the mess hall and across the corridor to the Medlab. She palmed the door switch and as it closed behind them, pulled Kara close. “Give me that hug that you know I need.”

“Gladly, love,” Kara said as she melted into Devon’s embrace. She pulled her mate close and rubbed her back gently. There was much she wanted to say to support her mate, but let her touch and their bond communicate it silently. The love passed between them, strong, loving and supportive, and Devon let it wash over her, renewing her confidence and her conviction. She kissed the soft, blonde head that rested against her chest. “Thank you, baby. You feel so good.” She grasped Kara’s shoulders and pushed her gently away so that she could gaze at her. “You give me exactly what I need, Kara. Thank you.”

“I love you, Devon. I will be, I will do, I will provide you with whatever you want and need, always. And with great pleasure. You are my Universe.”

“And you are mine.” Devon pulled her close again and bent her head to kiss her. They enjoyed a long, loving kiss and let it deepen briefly, as a promise for later. Devon ended the kiss with a deep sigh and murmured, “I have got to marry you soon, lady.”

“Name the date, my love, and I’ll be there with bells on.”

Devon looked deeply into Kara’s eyes as she said seriously, “Three months from now, give or take a day, on Sen.”

“Three months from now, on Sen,” Kara repeated, as she choked up with emotion and tears began to fall. “And I’d like to take your name, too,” she whispered, no longer able to trust her voice.

“Gods, Kara,” Devon gasped, as the emotion of the moment caught up to her. “Thank you, love. Thank you so much.” She pulled Kara into a tight embrace and didn’t let her go for long minutes. She was so filled with emotion that she didn’t think she could handle seeing anyone else, so she stood, holding her mate quietly in the dimmed Medlab, as the quiet, soothing sound of the water in the hydroponics system accompanied their embrace.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Shortly thereafter, Devon sat on the bridge, distracted by thoughts of her mate and of what they had promised each other, when her comm buzzed and she absentmindedly reached over to flick at it. “Yeah?”

“Devon, I ran those numbers and I can give you one hundred twenty-five percent for twelve hours.”

Devon ran the calculations quickly through her head and responded, “That’ll clip off what, twelve, fourteen days?”

“Fourteen, and I’d hate to push her any harder than that, Andy.”

“Understood. Thank you, Jimmy. I’ll go ahead and punch her up now, rather than wait until we reach current maximum.”

“Aye, Devon. I’ll watch the numbers here on my end. Out.”

Devon punched some figures into the ship’s comp and glanced at her co-pilot. “Okay, Cyd, on my mark increase thrust fifteen percent.”

Cyd nodded. “Aye.”

“Three, two, one, mark.”

Cyd initiated the sequence and two sets of eyes watched the readouts on their data screens. Several minutes passed while they watched the readouts and numbers carefully. Devon’s sharply tuned and very experienced ears detected the slight hint of strain that the engines were working under as she felt the increased velocity.

Devon nodded, satisfied. “Engines are nominal. On my mark, increase thrust by ten percent and hold.”

“Aye, Captain.”

“Three, two, one, mark.”

The ship’s velocity increased noticeably again, and Devon’s eyes locked on her readouts.

The comm buzzed and Jim’s voice floated into the cabin, “She looks good, Dev. We’re well within parameters back here. Out.”

“Copy, Jim. It looks good up here, too. Thanks.” She swiveled away from the cabin wall and faced her console. “Cyd, I’d like to keep a close eye on these engines while we’re pushing them so hard…I don’t want to leave them unmonitored. If you’ll finish off the shift, I’ll take night watch and perform shutdown.”

“Fine.”

Devon ran through a few maintenance checks and then sat back and rested her hands on her thighs. “Well, then. I’ll see you at the end of shift.”

Cyd nodded as she loaded a sim. “Okay, Devon. I’ll brush up on these advanced sims of yours while I’m here.”

Devon stood and smiled down at her co-pilot. “Good. I’ll see you.”

She turned and left the bridge through the main door, striding toward the back of the ship. When she poked her head into the Medlab, she didn’t see her mate, so she continued on toward Engineering. As she passed the passenger section, she thought, Kara must be checking on her patients, when she felt the warmth that signalled her soulmate’s proximity. Not wanting to disturb Kara, she strode past the passenger berths and palmed the cargo section hatch. Before stepping inside, she kicked at the left heel of her boot with her right toe, engaging the magnetizing function, and then did the same with the right heel. Her boots locked onto the metal floor as she stepped onto it and she carefully strode across the length of the section, making sure to not lift one foot until the other was securely on the floor. Reaching the opposite hatch, she de-magnetized the boots and floated up slightly as she palmed the hatch open and stepped through.

Jim looked up from his console to see the Captain enter and wait until she was right-side-up with respect to him, then she strode toward him.

“How’s it look, Jim?”

“They’re humming right along, Devon. Running like the proverbial train.”

“Let’s have a look at the numbers,” Devon said as she gazed over his shoulder. Graphical readouts showed all engine properties well within the normal operating range. “Good, Jim. Let me know if any numbers begin to approach redline, huh?”

“Will do. You’ll be staying on shift until shutdown, I presume?”

Devon nodded seriously. “Of course.”

“Right. So will I. I may have Chad relieve me briefly, but otherwise, I’ll be right here.”

“I’m going off for a while, but I’ll relieve Cyd at end of shift.”

“Okay, Dev. Sounds like we’ve got it covered.”

“Mm,” Devon agreed. “Carry on. I, uh, think I’ll go see what Kara’s up to. Later, Jimmy.”

“Devon, you are becoming entirely predictable, my friend,” Jim said with a sly grin.

His friend blushed and shrugged before turning away and leaving the section. My God, she’s fallen hard. Couldn’t have happened to a couple of nicer ladies, either. He shook his head with a smile and returned to his monitoring.

Devon slowed as she approached the passenger section. She wanted to check on how busy Kara was, but didn’t want to bother her. As she strode through the door, she knew absolutely that her mate was within, because their link started throbbing fiercely. Jesus, this thing is weird. Nice, but weird.

Before Devon had even fully entered the berth she was in, Kara turned, surprised. “Honey, hi! What’s up?”

“I’m off for several hours…taking over watch again for seven at the end of shift…I just thought I’d see what you’re up to.”

Kara grinned widely. “Ah, you missed me, huh?”

Devon looked embarrassed and glanced behind her toward the corridor. “Shit, Kara, not so loud…I’d hate for anyone to hear that.”

“Oh, not good for the Captain’s reputation, huh? I see.” She grinned crookedly as she set her comp unit down on the chamber beside her and approached her mate with open arms, wrapping them around her waist.

“Not a bit good, no,” Devon said as she willingly pulled Kara close and buried her face in her hair.

“I’ve got news for you honey…everyone knows how hard we’ve both fallen.”

“Oh, baby, no…”

“I’m afraid so.” Kara kissed the shoulder next to her and sighed. “Mmm, this is nice. So, do I, um, have the Captain’s permission to end my shift a little early so I can eat dinner with my partner?”

“You certainly do.”

“Thank you.”

“No problem.” Devon bent her head to kiss her lover and enjoyed her taste until they were both more breathless than they should be while still on duty. She rested her cheek against Kara’s head and said softly, “Sorry, Kara. I know we shouldn’t be doing this, but I just can’t help myself.” As she felt the stirrings of the sweet fire within that Kara always managed to stoke, she pulled away. “I’d better leave so you can finish what you’re doing.”

“Honey, it’s okay. I don’t mind in the least…I needed a break anyway. And um, I’m almost done here, would you like to stay? I only have one more chamber to check after this one.”

Devon’s face broke into a warm smile. “Yes, I would. I enjoy watching you work and don’t get the opportunity to do it often. Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” Kara said, matching her warm smile. She leaned forward and brushed a quick kiss against warm lips before turning back to her job. Devon settled into a chair against the wall of the small berth and watched as her mate returned to her task of checking readings and collecting data.

As she watched her partner leaning over the large cryo-unit and then kneeling at its side to check readings, Devon admired her professionalism. She’s every bit as accomplished in her career as I am in mine…maybe more so. She has two M.D.’s for Sennaat’s sake. She shook her head, wondering how her mate had managed to accomplish so much at such a young age. She remembered a conversation they had shared on one of their first nights together.

They were lying together, drifting in the warm, wonderful space between lovemaking and sleep, and she had asked Kara if she had been with many women before her. She had never asked anyone that particular question before…had honestly never cared about the answer…but this time felt that it mattered for some reason. Kara had shared openly, having no desire to be anything but completely honest with her new mate.

“Well, let’s see…my first time was at University, while I was studying premed. I was young…I had taken accelerated courses and entered University at seventeen. I felt pretty lost at first…I had never been away from my parents for more than two nights. My first roommate was very nice. She was two years older…a year ahead of me at school…and made me feel comfortable right away. We discovered that we had some shared interests and bonded pretty quickly. Within a few weeks, we started to sleep together. Her name was Lara.”

“Mm, an older woman showed you the ropes, huh?” Devon asked quietly, squeezing her affectionately.

“Oh, yes, an older woman. She was all of nineteen,” Kara chuckled. “She was my first sex partner and really, my first serious relationship. We were together for about five months, until a handsome doctor caught her eye. Which was alright, because I was feeling a bit trapped by then. After Lara, I had some casual encounters, and then another somewhat long-term relationship when I was doing my residency in Old Phoenix…a doctor at the hospital there…Maren. After that there were several more casual flings, and then I met Elana when I accepted the post on Mars. She was dark and exotic and caught my eye right away. When she was assigned to co-lead the hypersleep project with me, we became close, and, well…you know the rest of the story.”

“Mm,” Devon had said, pulling Kara up to meet her lips again, “That I do. I especially like the part where you left her and found your soulmate.” The kiss had deepened and they had made love again, both falling into exhausted sleep immediately afterward. Devon shook her head and grinned as she recalled the disheveled state that they had awakened in the next morning when the alarm had chimed.

“What’s funny, love?” Kara’s soft voice pulled her from her reverie.

“Oh, um, just recalling that morning when we woke up on the other end of the bed.”

“Oh!” Kara grinned. “That was comical. We, uh, engaged in some pretty acrobatic feats the night before, if I remember correctly.”

“God, Kara, that we did. Jesus.” She shook her head and gazed comically up at her mate.

“I’m finished here, love, and just need to check the chamber in the next berth.”

“Okay,” Devon exclaimed, jumping to her feet. “Let’s go, babe.” She wrapped her arm around Kara’s shoulders and walked her into the next compartment. A half hour later they could be found in their quarters, engaging in more of those acrobatic feats as their crewmates guided their ship safely out of Mars Sector.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Devon leaned back in her pilot’s seat. The Bridge was dark, illuminated only by the readouts flickering across the equipment. The ship utilized a twelve-hour day/night system, which roughly simulated the diurnal/nocturnal patterns of Earth and Mars. Devon felt that the simulated day and night made her crews feel more at ease…more at home aboard ship. So, ship’s lighting systems were partially dimmed from 1900 to 0700 hours, and brightly lit from 0700 to 1900.

When she worked evening shifts on the bridge, Devon preferred to keep it darkened. Therefore, she sat in the soothing dark, which closely matched the space outside, monitoring the ship’s systems, the lights of the equipment reflecting off her face and light eyes. She kept half an eye on the readouts while most of her brain replayed the recreational pursuits she had enjoyed earlier with Kara. She closed her eyes and smiled as a vivid memory, accompanied by sensory stimulation, played across her awareness.

Laughing, she had rolled them over and Kara had crawled down the length of her long body, kissing and licking all the way, finally turning and situating herself straddling Devon’s face. As Kara had settled her golden curls against Devon’s face, Devon had moaned blissfully as Kara buried her face delightfully in her mate’s dark curls. They had commenced licking and stroking in unison, delivering delirious pleasure to one another, and had finally stiffened and arched as one, climaxing together. Afterward, they had lain entwined until roughly one minute before Devon was due to relieve Cyd on the bridge. Not wanting to part. Never wanting to part.

Devon shook her head as she recalled the pleasure they had shared, and her body shivered in remembrance. Gods, what her touch does to me. One look, the slightest touch, awakens the sweet, liquid fire that races to every part of my body at once, and pools in my groin until she relieves the pressure. She sighed deeply and blew out a breath. I have never felt so complete. It’s because she completes me. I could never have been complete until we had met. Now…gods…I’m part of a whole, a partnership, and I know, without a shadow of a doubt that I need her to continue to feel complete. She chuckled quietly. My Gray friends, as stoic as they are, will be having a laugh over this. I do believe that I once told the Consul that I could never exist tied down to a single person. It’s laughter in my mind had been so loud that it was almost painful. Gods, I wonder if it knew…

As she allowed the pleasant thoughts free rein, she glanced at the chronometer. Two hours until shutdown. Gods, I need to be in bed, holding my love while she sleeps. She sighed again and was beginning to think about what she could do to take her mind off of where she would rather be when the door from their quarters slid open quietly, the subdued lighting from inside briefly illuminating her.

Kara stood in the doorway holding two tea mugs. She spoke quietly, “Want some company, love?”

“Gods, Kara, yes. But why aren’t you sleeping, baby?” Devon said as she reached for her mug. She caressed Kara’s fingers with her other hand as she grasped the cup.

“Couldn’t sleep. I, um, don’t think I can sleep alone anymore.” She shrugged, looking excruciatingly cute as she did so.

Devon sipped at her tea and nodded. “I doubt that I could either, Kara. Jesus, what has love done to us?”

The question sounded serious but Kara knew it was meant in jest. “You mean other than making us feel completely fulfilled, joyously uplifted, and completely physically satisfied?”

“Yes, my cute little smart-ass, other than those things.” Devon grinned widely from behind her mug. “I’m talking about myself morphing into a quivering mass of completely dependent, romantic mush.”

Kara winced and scrunched up her nose cutely. “Ooh, honey, yuck. I like my description better.”

“So do I. Come ‘ere.” Devon reached out to her with open arms and a lopsided grin and Kara carefully set her mug on the side console before settling in Devon’s lap. She nuzzled Devon’s soft hair as she breathed, “Is this proper bridge conduct?”

“It is now,” Devon said as she nuzzled Kara’s cheek in return. They sat in that position, mostly quiet, but sharing occasional small talk until it was time for Devon to shut down the engines. Then, as the ship maintained its velocity and shot through space toward Jupiter, Saturn and the outer planets, they retired to their quarters to sleep soundly for the rest of the short night.
-14-
Three weeks later, as the Phoenix passed through Jupiter Sector, halfway to its next destination, its all too human crew were engaging in the activity that most adequately dealt with the effects of cabin fever.

The Captain and her Medical Officer stood in the darkness before the large window in their quarters, writhing together. Devon was pressed up tightly against Kara’s back, reaching around with one hand to stroke her intimately while her other hand caressed a breast. Kara’s hands lay on each of Devon’s, pressing them more tightly against her body as she arched back into her lover.

“You’re close, baby, come for me,” Devon whispered.

“You too,” Kara whispered as she dropped her right hand and reached back to find Devon’s damp curls.

As Kara’s fingers skillfully found their mark, Devon groaned loudly and bucked against the small hand. “God, Kara, yes…” A few moments later, they were writhing almost spastically as the tremors overcame them, and both sets of knees buckled. They ended up in a tangled heap on the floor as they tried to catch their breath. Devon stretched out on the floor and pulled her mate against her, needing to feel her in her arms.

“Jesus, Kara.”

“Mm.”

In the Chief Cargo Handler’s clean, but cluttered quarters, a tenor voice moaned in unison with bass-timbred grunts as Rusty leaned over the bent-over Chief Engineer, thrusting gently to deliver exquisite pleasure-pain. One hand rested on Jim’s back as the other reached around to stroke him. The two male voices rose briefly in a crescendo as their passion exploded and after regaining themselves, Jim was turned and pushed down onto the bed, and then pulled into an embrace by the tough cargo handler.

The lights from the several control consoles in the quarters illuminated the figures as they slept together, the many metal-mesh bags of equipment hanging on the walls casting odd, distorted shadows around the space.

In cargo bay three, a hand-scribbled note requesting that anyone entering buzz the comm first, had been hastily attached to the keypad by the hatch. Inside, two entwined figures gyrated together skillfully as they hovered near the ceiling, the bright light from the recessed fixture above them glaring off of slick skin. Chad held Cydona securely about the waist as he thrust into her, eliciting delirious moans.

“Are you close, baby? ‘Cause I am,” the young man panted as he squeezed his eyes shut.

“Yes,” was the breathless reply. “Can you…”

“Ohh, yes, baby, yes,” Chad panted as he pulled out. “I know wh…what you like.” He withdrew and caressed her outer folds with his member, providing the clitoral stimulation that she needed. After just a few seconds, they were both moaning loudly as their hips bucked wildly together. As their cries of passion reverberated off the metallic walls, their motion threw them into the cargo netting surrounding a large container, and as Chad thrust out his left hand to stop their motion, he caught his hand in the metal netting.

“Ughh,” he cried as his wrist was snapped back, while his body continued its forward motion.

Cyd, cradled against his chest and aware of little else other than the waves of pleasure still rolling through her body, whispered, “You’re not coming again, are you?”

“No, I think I br…broke my fucking wrist,” Chad gasped through clenched teeth.

Cyd’s eyes flew open when the words finally registered, and she gasped as she saw Chad’s wrist hanging in the netting at a grotesquely unnatural angle.

“Chad!” She screamed and pushed at his chest to try to push him back closer to the netting. “Hold on…I’ll get you out.” She got them close enough to grab the netting and pull them in, and then frantically tried to free the tangled hand. Her stomach turned as she freed the limb and his hand hung limply from the obviously broken wrist. “God, Chad, I’m sorry…I need to get you down and to Medlab.”

As Cyd pulled him close and pushed off from the ceiling toward the floor, Chad managed a pained smile. “S’okay, Cyd…it was worth it.”

She scowled mildly as she settled them on the floor and helped him to grab a handhold with his good hand, then launched herself back toward the ceiling to retrieve the articles of their clothing which had scattered all over the huge space.

“Just grab my briefs, Cyd, and get them on me…I don’t need anything else.”

Cyd nodded from where she hung against the far wall and grasped her pants and shirt, leaving her underwear for later retrieval. She pushed off and floated back down and slipped Chad’s briefs over his muscled legs and thighs, blushing lightly, even though the two of them had become very close.

When they were both somewhat more decent, Cyd punched the comm and requested, “SysComp…location of Dr. Murphy.”

“Scanning…Dr. Murphy is in the Captain’s quarters.”

She punched in a code and spoke, “Kara, we have a slight emergency…can you meet Chad and me in Medlab, please?”

Kara’s voice floated over the comm unit shortly. “I’ll be right there…is it life-threatening?”

“No.”

“Okay, out.”

Kara rested her cheek against Devon’s belly for a second before saying quietly, “Sorry, love. May I finish this later?”

Devon grinned down at her lover devilishly. “Absolutely, baby. You’d uh, better wash your mouth before you leave, though.”

Kara remarked coyly as she hopped off the bed, “And you’d better wash your hands. I know you’re going to want to accompany me.”

Less than two minutes later, Devon and Kara, dressed identically in black tanks and flight pants, strode quickly into Medlab. Cyd stood beside Chad as he sat on a diagnostic bed cradling his left hand in his right. Kara could see immediately the extent of the injury and sucked in a breath. As an empath, she was acutely aware of her patients’ discomfort, and even her professional detachment didn’t adequately protect her from feeling for them.

“What happened?” She asked softly as she gently grasped his arm and examined the broken joint.

“Well, Doc,” Chad grunted. “D’you want the details or just the gist?”

“How about the gist for now, Chad, and you can provide me with the details later,” Devon replied for her mate.

Cyd continued for Chad, “He got it caught in some cargo netting in the bay.”

Two black eyebrows rose toward the ceiling as arms crossed in front of the Captain’s chest. “Oh, this is just too good. I think I’m gonna wanna hear the details now, please.”

Cyd’s chin fell to her chest in embarrassment as her injured friend managed a pained chuckle. “Ever had zero-g sex, Cap?” He grinned despite the searing pains shooting up his arm.

“Lorenzo, who the hell do you think you’re talking to?”

“Oh, sorry, yeah…of course you have. Well uh, things got away from us and we drifted into the netting…I reached out to stop us and it got caught.”

“You’re lucky that’s all that got caught, Chad. Jesus Christ…you know how dangerous that can be.”

The young man grinned arrogantly. “Not when you’re as good as I am, Cap.”

“Right, Chad, that’s why you’re sitting in your underwear in Medlab with a broken wrist,” was the deep, sarcastic reply. She addressed Kara. “How does it look, hon?”

“Not too bad…it could’ve been worse. At least it’s not a compound fracture.” She laid the wrist gently in Chad’s lap and closed her eyes, visibly calming and centering herself before saying softly, “I’m going to do a little energy healing first to help with the pain, then I’ll give you an anesthetic before setting it and using the knitter.”

“Okay, Doc,” Chad grunted, then took a deep breath. Cyd moved behind him and laid comforting hands on his shoulders.

Devon smiled mildly at the sight and shook her head, then took on a look of wonder as she saw her mate hold her hands on either side of the injured wrist, cradling it very gingerly. Kara’s expression was very focused as she concentrated on delivering the healing energy to her patient.

“Shit, Doc, your hands are as hot as fire,” Chad remarked, astonished.

“It’s a good fire, Chad. Just hold on for a few minutes, okay?”

“Okay, Doc.” He received a reassuring squeeze from Cyd. A few minutes later, he looked wondrously at Kara and said, “Kara, it doesn’t hurt…it’s throbbing like a son of a bitch, but it doesn’t really hurt.”

Kara smiled. “Good. That’s the idea. I conducted tachyon energy through my body into yours and it has initiated healing already. We still don’t fully understand the exact mechanics at work, but we do know that in addition to promoting healing on a subatomic level, it also eases pain better than any topical or systemic agent.”

“Jesus, Kara, I wish you’d been on board the last time I was injured in a pirate attack,” Devon remarked.

“Yes, love, not to mention the bar fight a few months later, right?”

“Too right, love.” Devon grinned.

“Okay, Chad. Just sit here for a moment, please, while I get my scanner.”

“Um, Kara, if you can heal with your hands, can’t you see with them too? You know what I mean?”

“Yes, I could scan your energy field but that won’t really tell me anything that I can’t already see with my physical eyes. I need the scanner to see what skeletal structures, tendons, and musculature are involved. I’ll be right back.”

Devon, leaning casually against the adjacent diagnostic bed, said, “Tell me, Lorenzo, Mitchell, what lessons have we learned from this little incident?”

“Um,” Cyd started to say but Chad interrupted her.

“To brace ourselves better against the ceiling if it looks like we’re gonna come together, Cap. Or do it closer to a corner of the room.”

“That’s not quite what I had in mind, Chad, but if you were as experienced as you claim to be, you would have known that already.” A single raised eyebrow punctuated her point.

“Point taken, Cap. Got any tips you want to share with me?”

“Not on your fucking life, Chad. Just be more careful next time, okay?” She turned to address Cyd. “Maybe you should try to get some of that abundant common sense you seem to possess to rub off on him.”

“It couldn’t hurt, Captain,” Cyd replied sardonically.

“Nope, it couldn’t. Chad, listen to your lady for once, huh? She won’t steer you wrong.”

Kara returned with her diagnostic scanner and ran it over the injury, wincing as she viewed the image. “Sorry, Chad, it looks like a multiple break. That must have hurt like hell. Okay, I’ll need to anesthetize the area before I set it. The Reiki energy I gave you hasn’t numbed it quite enough to protect from that pain. Then I’ll use the bone knitter.” She addressed Devon and Cyd. “This will take about an hour.”

“I’d like to stay with him, Kara.”

“That’s fine, Cyd. Why don’t you have a seat, then.”

Cyd did, sitting behind her friend and picking up his uninjured hand. He graced her with an appreciative smile and leaned against her slightly, hoping no one else noticed. Devon did, but magnanimously decided not to comment.

Devon walked up behind Kara as she prepared the syringe and said quietly, “Babe, I think I’ll go back to our quarters and get a little work done.”

Kara remarked over her shoulder, “Sweetheart, you don’t need to wait up…why don’t you just go back to bed?”

Devon glanced quickly at the other two who were sitting several paces away and then whispered, “You know I can’t sleep without you. I have some battle data to study…I don’t mind waiting for you.”

“Okay, baby. See you then.” She turned and kissed Devon quickly, then approached her patient again.

Both Cyd and Chad were wearing smug grins and Chad said, “I’ll try not to keep her here too late, Cap.”

As Devon left the medlab, Chad was greeted by a grin and the hand gesture that, it turns out, translates to “fuck you” in nearly every sentient language in the known galaxy.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The next morning, the rest of the crew were gathered around the large table when Chad entered. His left arm, from his knuckles to his elbow, was wrapped in thick, white bandaging and rested in a mesh sling.

Rusty chuckled as his companion settled his tall frame into one of the chairs, wincing slightly as his arm hit the table. “So, I hear you had a little problem last night, kid.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet you’ve heard all about it by now, Rust,” the younger man groused. “Where the hell were you, anyway?”

“Since when do I need to make my whereabouts known to you? No, Chadwick, I hear you had a little trouble managing a simple zero-g maneuver.”

“Fuck you, old man.”

Rusty laughed deeply. “Now I’ll think twice about letting you do me!”

“Alright, you two, give it a goddamn rest already, huh?” Requested the lounging Captain. She sipped at her tea and glanced at her partner, shaking her head.

Kara met her glance with a barely perceptible grin and addressed Rusty. “He’ll need to be on light duty only for the next week, which I don’t think is a problem, is it?”

Rusty shook his head. “Nope. No cargo to on or offload for a few more weeks. He can just sit on his ass at one of the engineering consoles and run all the maintenance diagnostics I’ve been putting off.”

“Aw, shit, Rust…”

“Hey, too fuckin’ bad, loverboy.”

“Yeah, well, where were you and Jim last night, Rust?”

“Making out better than you did, boy,” Rusty replied as Jim nearly doubled over with laughter.

“Aw, fuck you all…”

“Chad, what can I get you to eat?” Cyd said as she stood, feeling sorry for her friend and more than a little guilty over her part in the accident.

Chad’s warm eyes brightened at the offer and he replied, “Coffee and a couple pastries would be nice, Cyd.”

“Okay.” She squeezed his shoulder and headed to the galley.

“Ah, ain’t that sweet,” Rusty chided.

“It is sweet, Rust, and you’ll never know that sweetness like I do.”

“Jesus! Give it a goddamn, fucking rest I said!” Devon snapped. “Can’t you two come up with some decent, friendly conversation, just once? I’ve got a damn headache and your bickering is making it worse.”

Kara immediately moved from her chair to the couch where Devon was reclining. “Honey, you didn’t tell me you had a headache. I thought you were just tired.” She sat beside Devon on the edge of the seat and laid a soft, warm hand on her forehead.

“It’s just tension, I’m sure, Kara. I get these when we move into pirate territory.”

“Have you ever tried yogic breathing to deal with them?” She asked as she caressed Devon’s brow. The audio from a vid playing quietly in the background effectively masked their conversation.

“Once in a while. I usually just pop a couple of pills…it’s easier.” She shrugged.

“Breathe with me for a few minutes,” Kara urged her quietly.

Devon grinned slightly. “Okay. You know I can’t turn you down.”

Kara leaned forward and kissed her forehead tenderly. “And I’ll take advantage of that fact whenever I need to.” She sat up and said, “Okay, with me now. Take a deep breath and hold it.”

Devon did, and Kara silently counted to eight, and then said, “Now release it slowly.”

Devon did and they repeated the cycle for several minutes. As Devon rested against the sofa, looking much more at peace, Kara gently picked up her right hand and applied pressure to the meridian between her thumb and index finger. The combination of deep breathing and acupressure effectively took care of the headache and Devon’s eyes fluttered open to gaze with wonder at her mate.

“Sennaat, Kara. You’re a wonderful healer,” she breathed.

Kara’s features glowed at the praise and she whispered, “Thank you, but it’s what you pay me for.”

“It’s not nearly enough. I’m gonna have to make you a partner in this operation.” She picked up Kara’s hand and kissed it, her bright blue eyes never leaving Kara’s misty green ones.

“Thank you, my love. Nothing would make me happier,” Kara said softly.

“Done, baby. When we get married on Sen, I’ll transmit the contract to my accounting and legal people and let them know that I’ve taken on a partner…in every sense of the word.” She chuckled. “Maxwell will probably shit himself, thinking I’ve lost what’s left of my bearings.”

“Honey, if it’s a problem for you, legally or financially, we don’t have to go through with it. You are what I really want…all that I want. All that I need.”

“I know that, Kara. But I very much want to do it. The thought of sharing everything that I have with you makes me feel very good…I’m shocked at just how good. It’s not something I ever gave any thought to before.” She shook her head, surprised at the depth of her pleasure. “I shouldn’t be shocked though, should I? Since you came into my life, nothing should shock me. You complete me, Kara.”

“And you me, Devon.” She leaned down and captured her mate’s lips, very softly, lingering there until a cleared throat behind them made them separate.

“What is it, Jim?”

“If you’re feeling up to it, I’d like to go over some of the new weapons specs with you.”

“Sure, Jim. My personal physician here has cured me…body and soul.” She pulled Kara close for another kiss before sitting up and settling her feet to the floor. “I’ll see you for lunch, babe. What do you feel like today?”

Kara grinned at her coyly. “Why don’t you surprise me?”

Her coy grin was matched by a rakish one as Devon replied, “I’ll do that. Bye.”

“Bye.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Devon and Jim sat hunched over the large data screen, examining the ship’s exterior layout. Rusty stood behind them, leaning on Jim’s chair.

“What do you think, hon?” Jim asked, glancing back at Rusty.

Rusty scowled at him, and Devon chuckled. “Oh, now I know why you two weren’t around for the excitement last night.” She clapped Jim on the back. “You’re always mellow for days afterward…so are you, Rust.” She grinned back at the large man.

“Shit, Devon, then you should be mellow all the goddamn time now, shouldn’t you?”

“Mm, that’s right. I should be.” She grinned again.

“If I had a sweet little thing like her around, I’d be taking full advantage… two, three times a day advantage.”

“What makes you think I’m not, Rust?” Devon said with a leer.

“Right, hon…haven’t you noticed the change in our skipper here?” Jim asked with a large grin.

“Goddammit, Jimmy, why d’ya have to be so damn candy-assed? Can’t anything be private on this damn ship? You know I only like you to call me that in private.”

Jim reached back and laid his smaller hand on the large one sitting on his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Rust. You know I wear my heart on my sleeve.”

“Like I said, baby…candy-assed.”

“And how else would you like me if it’s not candy-assed, big man?”

“Um, okay…why don’t you two discuss this further in private…say later, over a nice bottle of 2085 Merlot that I’ve got stashed?” Devon asked, suddenly feeling acutely uncomfortable.

“Dev, that sounds like a fine idea. Rusty?”

“Sounds damn good to me. Now show me where you think that front cannon array should go.”

Devon breathed an almost perceptible sigh of relief and returned her attention to the blueprint on the screen.

“Right here,” Jim replied, pointing to the struts separating the control cabin from the living section directly behind it. “It should be on a section of ship that doesn’t rotate. I did a little design work while I was in the Fleet, and this proved to be the best location for the front array. We can install a control console on the bridge, that way the conduits don’t have to run very far.”

“Good,” Devon said, nodding. “There’s plenty of room in the cabin for another console and seat, and I’d like to be aware of how the battle is going while I pilot.” She looked at Jim seated beside her. “I’d like to have Chad manning that console, if you concur. Rusty, I’d rather leave you free to handle repairs in the event of a breach.”

“Sure thing, Devon. I’ve pretty much got that down to a science now, anyway.”

“That you do, Rust.” Devon nodded thoughtfully. “Okay, Jim, how do you feel about manning the aft weapons console back in engineering? I know you’ve got enough to do as it is when we’re engaging pirates, but only Cyd and Kara are left, and I really need a co-pilot when the battle gets hot, and Kara…”

“I know, Dev. I doubt she’d be comfortable manning a cannon. I can plan on handling it, but I think she should be trained as my backup.”

Devon nodded. “Yes, good point. We’ll all be trained to man the new systems…even though Fleet may not let us keep the weapons beyond this run.”

“Well, Dev,” Rusty remarked, “We’ll just see if your little Gray friends don’t have something to say to the Fleet about that.”

Devon grinned lopsidedly. “Oh, you think so, huh, Rust?”

“I do, ma’am. Okay,” he continued as he placed a meaty finger on the screen. “We’ll run the conduits from this point to here, and through the bulkhead here, above the cabin hatch.”

“Looks good,” Jim agreed.

“Right. Well, I think we have the placement all worked out. Jim, I’d like you to shadow the Fleet grunts while they install this…make sure it’s done the way we want it.” She smiled apologetically as she added, “I know you don’t enjoy vacuum work, but you’re due to renew your environmental suit certification anyway.”

“Alright, Andy,” Jim said with a sigh. “You’re right. I do have to keep those skills sharp. Hey, does Kara have any EV suit experience? Or zero-g?”

“No, I don’t think so, and I’ve been thinking that we need to get her trained. I think I’ll take care of that myself. Do it while we’re sitting on Titan…since it’s going to be a longer than normal stay now anyway…while we get those weapons systems installed.”

Jim and Rusty nodded their agreement, and Devon said as she stood, “Good work, guys. I’m feeling better about engaging those assholes all the time.”

“We’ve got it handled, Andy…don’t you worry.”

Devon looked her oldest friend in the eye and said softly, “I wouldn’t, Jim, if I didn’t have such precious cargo this run.” She turned and left, leaving her crewmen staring after her silently. At the hatch, she turned and added thoughtfully, “I’d like to take care of all the bastards once and for all and make local space safe again.”

Her crew had no doubt that she, more than anyone else, could accomplish that.
-15-
Flight Day 53
The second largest planet in Sol system, the gas giant Saturn, hung before them in space: a glowing yellow-orange ball of roiling gases. It was still very far away, ten days travel time, but so large that it appeared tennis ball sized before them, its immense ring system appearing as a flat plate bisecting it. They were heading to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, on which a large scientific and military colony had been established, and more specifically to the large ring-shaped space station, Titan Alpha, that orbited it.

Kara peered at the giant planet thoughtfully as she sat in her partner’s lap. They sat together in the large, soft armchair next to their bed. Devon held her small comp unit in one hand, studying it while absentmindedly stroking her mate’s stomach with the other.

“Honey, this pirate problem proves that the Grays are right in withholding their more advanced technology from us, doesn’t it?” Kara continued, not waiting for the answer. “Or do you think the problem is a symptom of that…an angry backlash against their not sharing?”

Devon shifted her gaze from the battle vid in her hand to her mate’s profile. “Personally, I think it’s the former. There is still a percentage of humanity that is not yet enlightened enough to warrant our receiving the tech. These devices are powerful tools in the hands of the sincere, but dangerous weapons in the hands of less savory beings. Hell, Kara, I would love to be able to jump to Zeta Ret. in a few hours, rather than have to take three months traveling out of system in order to jump safely with the less advanced drive…or make nearly instantaneous trips to Mars and Jupiter, Titan…but I fully realize the importance of our not receiving the tech too soon. I accept it.”

She gazed out at Saturn as she continued, “The Sennaa have learned from past mistakes, you know. We’re not the first less-advanced species that they and other members of the Federation have helped. They know, that for our own good, as well as for the good of the entire galaxy, they must not give us too much too soon. I happen to know that they believe we’re making incredibly fast progress spiritually, despite the way that WorldGov and the Fleet are breathing down their necks, and despite the atrocious behavior of a handful of asshole pirates. I personally don’t think it will be all that long before they decide we’re ready for more tech. It may even be what this trip is about.”

As they approached Saturn and its large satellite, Devon’s thoughts returned to her first visit to Zeta Reticuli, or Sen as the natives call it, as Captain of her own ship. She had departed from Titan, as on this trip, having been invited to enter into free-trade discussions with the Planetary Council by her old friend, the Consul. The genderless being had a name, but it was not pronounceable by humans. When first introduced, Devon had received telepathically a sense of the being’s personality, a “flavor,” and that was how she identified it. Though at times it was difficult to differentiate between individuals by sight, Devon could always recognize and discern their individual flavors, and the Consul, the Reticulan, or Sennaa, Ambassador to Earth, was her oldest acquaintance among them.

She had arrived in the company of Jim and Rusty, her only crew at that time, and had been introduced at a Federation Council meeting. The humans had been represented on the Galactic Federation Council since the late twentieth century, when a couple of remote viewers had stumbled into a council session (and stumbled back out again, awed and not a little terrified). As accidental as it had been, it was proof enough to the more highly evolved races present that humanity had evolved enough spiritually that some at least, of their number, could project their awareness, and hence, could participate on the council. It had been almost sixty years, however, before Earth sent an official delegate, after the First Contact Event with the Reticulans.

Devon remembered how awed she had been after landing on the water planet, the seventh from the system’s binary suns. The mighty oceans shone gray in the dim sunlight, and Devon was struck at how appropriate it seemed. The dim, gray light also accounted, she had thought, for the beings’ huge eyes. She had set her ship down on a platform that sat high above a calm sea. There were islands scattered about, and on them she could just make out the shapes of thin spires reaching toward the pale blue sky. The Consul himself had greeted them and led them to a water-aircraft, which sped them above the surface of the sea to one of the large islands. Over the next few weeks, Earth time, they had engaged in friendly and extremely interesting and enlightening meetings with the gray beings, which had culminated in Devon’s introduction to the Federation Council. God, I can’t wait to show Kara around on Sen, and introduce her to the Consul. She chuckled inwardly. I need to tell her the story of my meeting with the Galactic Federation Council. God, that was strange…

Devon dropped her comp gently to the floor beside the chair and wrapped her other arm around her soft mate. Pulling her closer and nuzzling her ear, she whispered, “For now, I kind of like these leisurely trips to the outer planets. They give me lots of time with you…plenty of time to appreciate what I have.”

“Mm,” Kara breathed, grinning. “Do they?”

“They do.” Devon’s left hand joined her other one under Kara’s tank and fondled the softness it found there. “Mm, hm. In fact, there’s a lesson I need to teach you…how the body behaves in zero-g. For your own safety, you understand.”

Kara stiffened as long, nimble fingers stroked her nipple, and it hardened in response. “Ahh…um, is that right? For my safety?”

“For your safety, baby, in case we’re boarded or disabled and the sim-grav is shut down.”

“Well, then…you’d better show me.”

Devon took a moment longer to caress Kara’s breasts, enjoying immensely the feel of her hardened nipples in her palms. “God, I want you,” she breathed next to Kara’s ear.

“I thought…I thought we were gonna have a lesson now.”

“We are. Two birds with one stone. Come on.” She deftly lifted Kara and settled her to her feet, then stood and grabbed her hand, pulling her out of the sleeping area and to the small door to the bridge.

They entered the dimmed space and Devon said, “Stay right here,” as she left Kara standing by the door and approached the main console, leaning over it.

She watched her mate’s fingers fly quickly over the controls, and suddenly, Kara was weightless. “Oh!” She squealed, surprised, and reached for a handhold on the wall behind her.

Devon turned with a grin and slowly rose, thrusting her arms above her head to stop her motion against the cabin ceiling. Her eyes glittered as her grin turned feral and she rasped, “Stay right there, baby…I don’t want us too close to the console.”

Kara smiled her agreement, feeling the fire of anticipation begin to burn within. Devon pushed off from the ceiling and floated toward her with a definite gleam in her eye. As she reached her mate and threw her arms around her waist, Kara murmured, “Why do I feel as if I’m about to be devoured?”

“Because you are,” Devon whispered, her breath hot against Kara’s throat. She nipped lightly at the soft, luscious skin that she found so tempting, and then sucked at it sensually, feeling a moan rumble just below her lips.

Kara gasped, “That’s gonna leave a mark, honey.”

“It won’t be the only one, baby,” Devon mumbled against skin that was suddenly flushed and hot.

“Mm, well two can play at that game, you know.”

“I’m counting on it, lover.”

“God, Devon,” Kara gasped as hot hands thrust themselves under the waist band of her briefs, while a similarly hot mouth devoured her throat, making its way up to her waiting lips.

Devon mumbled against Kara’s lips, “You can let got of the handhold…put your arms around me…I’ve got us.”

Kara did so without hesitation, and felt them float gently upwards. Devon reached behind Kara and grabbed a handhold briefly, stopping their motion, and they hung together halfway between the floor and the ceiling. Devon’s hands continued the removal of Kara’s underwear while she captured Kara’s lips ardently. Kara returned the passionate kiss and ran her hands up under Devon’s tank. A few moments later, the tank and Kara’s briefs were floating beside them, and Devon reached out and pushed them away. Kara chuckled as they lodged against the far wall.

“You like this, baby?”

“So far.”

“Good,” Devon grinned against her lover’s mouth. Deftly, she pulled Kara’s tank off and sent it sailing to join its mates.

Two lovely breasts stood at attention and Kara giggled as she glanced down at them. “I like this, honey…no droop.”

“They don’t droop at normal-g either, babe, take my word for it.” Devon went for a breast, capturing it gently in her mouth. “Mm, Kara…”

“Uh, huh,” Kara gasped as the wet warmth of her mate’s mouth on her created within her a wet warmth of another kind. She ran her fingers through Devon’s hair and tried to pull her head up for another kiss. Failing, she moved to the top of Devon’s briefs and tried to pull them down. She was distracted however, by her lover’s insistent suckling at her breasts. “Devon, get naked, please…I want to feel you against me.”

“Mm,” was the only verbal response but her lanky partner expertly pulled her briefs off with one hand and kicked them away. They landed unceremoniously on the steering yoke behind her

Devon pulled Kara tightly against her and the younger woman molded her lower body against her mate’s as Devon continued her assault on her breasts. “God, Devon,” Kara gasped again as an insistent fire began to burn in her belly. “I need to touch you.”

“Touch me, Kara,” Devon moaned, and moved Kara’s right hand from her hip down in between them. Kara slipped her hand into the wet warmth between Devon’s legs and gasped at a how wet she was.

“Jesus, Devon…” She began caressing her mate along the length of her sensitive cleft, feeling Devon’s suckling waiver momentarily as she sucked in a breath.

“Yes, baby, right there…” Devon moved one of her hands from Kara’s back to deliver the same pleasure to her mate that she was receiving, finding her just as wet and hard. “Fuck, Kara…you’re so ready.”

Kara gasped at the contact and nearly lost herself to the pleasure. The throbbing in her center was intense, rivaling her furiously pounding heart in intensity. It was almost as if her blood and her pulse had pooled there, rather than continuing to surge through her veins. “Devon, Jesus…I’m on fire,” she gasped. The pleasure was so intense that it threatened to take her breath away.

“God, baby, so am I. Come with me, Kara,” Devon gasped breathlessly. As they held each other firmly one-armed, right hands stroked in unison and they bobbed gently in midair, as if riding some unseen wave.

A few moments later, first Devon, and then Kara, arched and stiffened, each moaning her lover’s name loudly. Devon pulled Kara close to her as the waves rolled over her, and she fell backward, turning in midair and bringing her mate with her. They somersaulted in freefall for a few moments, the sheer glee caused by the weightlessness adding to their delirium.

“Yes!” Devon screamed, carried away by the joy, the utter bliss. She let the spinning continue another few moments before gently stopping them by grabbing a handhold on the ceiling.

“Devon, my God!” Kara exclaimed when they had stopped spinning and she could look into her mate’s eyes. “That was…that was…”

“Intense?” Devon grinned widely at her mate.

“That’s not even the word for it, Devon.” Kara pulled her close and rested against her as her heart attempted to slow.

“I know,” Devon whispered, kissing Kara’s damp hair. “I’m not sure exactly what goes on but it seems to affect the pumping of blood.”

“Mm, definitely. I’ve um, read that studies have been done, but never read the studies themselves. I guess I’ll have to expand my medical knowledge a little, won’t I?”

“Well now you have first hand experience, love.” She grinned widely again. “Isn’t it a rush?”

“God, Devon…yes!” Kara shook her head in disbelief.

A few minutes of peaceful silence passed as they held tightly to one another, enjoying the warm sensations playing through their bodies. Devon cleared her throat gently and mumbled against Kara’s temple, “Are you, um, real tired, baby?”

“Not especially, why?” She turned her head and green eyes gleamed at Devon in the dim space.

“Because you have got to experience sixty-nine at zero-g. What’ll it be…vertical or horizontal?” Devon leered at her even as she began turning to position herself.

“Oh, my God, Devon…”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Later, exhausted from their zero-g acrobatics earlier, Devon held Kara, as always, as they waited for sleep. They had been alternately talking quietly, about this and that, or just lying in silence, enjoying the peace that settled on them whenever they were together. At the moment, each was marveling at just how peaceful she felt while with her mate. It was a feeling unlike any either had ever experienced.

“Honey,” Devon said quietly. “I want to tell you about something.”

Kara turned slightly and nuzzled Devon’s chest. “Sure, love. Go ahead.”

“I want to tell you about the first time I participated in a Federation Council meeting.” She glanced down and saw wondrous gray-green eyes looking up at her.

“Devon…you’re kidding! You’ve been before the Galactic Council?”

“Mm,” Devon nodded. “Yes. During my first trade visit to Sen. The Consul wanted to introduce me.” She chuckled. “It was the strangest, most bizarre event I’ve ever witnessed.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Well, I was taken to the…well I guess it was equivalent to a WorldGov Senate Chamber. I remembered feeling very impressed at the fact that the Federation Council met on Sen…I thought, ‘Geez, these guys are much more powerful than I had imagined.’ Anyway, they took me to this huge chamber, but it was empty. As we passed through it, I felt an incredible energy in the room…a really heavy sense of good…of positive vibes. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

She looked down at Kara and added, “I liked it. Anyway, we went into a small room off of the huge chamber. It was dark, darker even than the normal dim, but I could make out several other people in the room, sitting on what seemed to be pillows or thick prayer rugs. There was a pleasant odor in the air, like their version of incense, but very different from what I was used to. And there was a very soft music playing. It reminded me of the themes for meditation that we had used in school: very calming, peaceful music. I like Reticulan music anyway, so I enjoyed it. So, I’m starting to wonder where the hell they’re taking me, ’cause I knew the Council was waiting for me, and then my guide tells me to sit, get comfortable. So I did, and a few minutes later, the Consul joined me and sat beside me.

“It looked at me and said, ‘Devon Andropoulos, please to calm yourself and enter fourth meditative state. I will wait for you.’ And it turned away and closed its eyes. So I’m thinking, ‘Okay, I guess they want me super relaxed before taking me in’, so I did what it asked. When I reached that state, however, and my awareness left my body, it grabbed my ethereal hand and we disappeared from that room and reappeared in another room. A huge, brightly lit chamber with literally thousands of beings in it, seated in a semi-circle in front of a dais. Or rather, it was the consciousness of each individual being. Most of them were shimmering, some were translucent, but I could just make out what their physical bodies looked like. Gods, Kara, the body types! There were humanoids, but we were the minority. Every possible type of living being you can imagine was represented there, and a few that you possibly couldn’t imagine. I mean, some appeared to be amorphous clouds of gas. But I could sense consciousness and great intelligence in each one as I looked at it. And benevolence.”

She looked down at Kara again. “It was incredible honey! I felt so welcome there…they all made me feel so welcomed, so loved, that I would have cried had I been in my physical body. I communicated my gratitude to them, or tried to. They all seemed to be communicating telepathically, but seemed to understand what I was trying to get across. Many of them nodded to me. Then I felt a familiar presence nearby and I saw a human woman smiling at me. She reached out to me in greeting and our ethereal hands touched. She spoke aloud, or it seemed aloud, ‘Welcome, Devon. The Council is honored to have such an honorable human among them. You are welcomed to the Trading Synod and invited to enter into discussions with any member regarding commencing trade relations.’ Then she smiled and took my hand again and said, ‘Good luck, Devon. I look forward to meeting with you on Earth one day soon,’ and she floated back to her seat…or I guess her virtual seat.”

“It was crazy Kara…these powerful beings…so advanced that they don’t even have to meet in the flesh…were welcoming me to their group!” She chuckled again. “When the Earth Delegate referred to me as ‘honorable’, I nearly choked and laughed, and that’s when I noticed that three beings sat at the front of the room, behind the long dais. The one in the middle…I swear to God, Kara, he looked like Buddha…shook his head at me, like a father berating a naughty child, and I heard, loud and clear, ‘Honorable you are, human woman.’ Jesus!”

Kara was too stunned to speak for a moment, and just gazed at Devon wide-eyed. Finally, she gasped, “My God, Devon…that is so incredible! How special. God…” She began to choke up as she squeezed her mate. “I knew the first moment I saw you that you were special…that you were in a one in a billion human being. I just knew.”

“Oh, Kara, no, hon. I’ve just been lucky…made some good contacts while I was in the Military and lived long enough to make use of them.”

“Devon Andropoulos, do not even try to sell yourself short to me. It is not gonna work. I know who you are, and what you are…better than anyone else. You are incredible.”

Devon didn’t know what to say, other than a mumbled, “Thanks, baby. You’re pretty incredible yourself.”

“Mm,” Kara mumbled as she buried herself more deeply into Devon’s embrace. “That was a wonderful story, honey. Thank you for sharing it with me. I can’t wait to see Sen with you.”

“And I can’t wait to show it to you. And marry you there. I love you, Kara.”

“Love you, sweetheart. So very much.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Devon shrugged her flight suit on over her broad shoulders, pulling it closed to just above her cleavage. She glanced into the small mirror as she adjusted the collar and noted a red mark on her neck, and a smile blossomed, lighting her face. She sauntered into the adjoining sleeping area where her mate was pulling an “Andropolous Shipping” sleeveless crew shirt over her head.

Grasping the shirt by the hem, Devon settled it into place for her partner and grasped her hips, pulling her close. She mumbled, “You left marks on my body last night,” as she moved in to kiss a matching mark on Kara’s neck.

“Mm, hm. I told you two could play at that game.”

“That may be, but I left more than you did.” Her lips sought out another, just below the first, and then another on her chest, just above her collarbone.

“Mm, well, I was distracted. If you’d like more, I’ll see what I can do about it later.”

“You do that.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Mm, Kara,” Devon muttered as her lips refused to leave Kara’s breastbone.

“Honey, you need to, mmm…you need to stop that. We have to go on duty.”

“God, I know, but I can’t.” Her hands found their way up under Kara’s shirt and caressed her shoulder blades through her bra-shirt. “What is it that you do to me? Explain it to me in medical terms.”

Kara laughed as she ran her fingers through Devon thick, silky hair. “I will…later. Why don’t you let me fix your favorite pasta tonight and we’ll discuss it over a bottle of that wine we like.”

“That sounds great, baby, but what about right now?” Her large hands migrated around and aroused Kara’s nipples as she kissed her throat.

“Jesus, Devon! Now we have to work…stop it, honey.” She sighed as her mate’s hands and lips continued their barrage. “Sweetheart, we made love once this morning already.”

“No, we connected…it’s not the same. I need sex, Kara.”

“Honey, you do not. Now take a deep br…breath and let’s…oh, God, Devon!” As one of her breasts was suckled through her bra, she threw her head back and dropped her hands to Devon’s waist, pulling her close.

“See, baby, we both need each other.”

“God, yes…but we need to make it quick.”

Devon lifted her mouth from Kara’s breast and smiled rakishly at her. “No problem… you won’t even have to get undressed.”

“God, Devon, love me, please.”

“Mmm.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

As Devon strode onto the bridge, carrying a pastry in one hand and her large mug in the other, Cyd attempted to not glance at the chronometer. But it was just too tempting. Thirty-five minutes. She grinned internally, glad that Devon’s ship had thick bulkheads, as the bridge sat alongside her quarters.

“Not a word, Cyd. And feel free to take an extra half hour lunch break today.”

Cyd grinned widely down at her console. “I’ll do that, Devon, thanks.”

“Do you mind a little music?”

“Not at all.”

“I’m in the mood for Reticulan, that alright?”

“Yes, it’s fine. I’m really beginning to enjoy it.”

“Good. SysComp. Bridge. Music. Reticulan Symphony number…forty-three.” The lovely, lilting music began and Devon commanded, “Music volume, twenty percent,” before leaning back in her seat. She sipped at her mug quietly for a few minutes as Cyd busied herself with her morning checks. “Cyd, I’ve re-worked the sims of the last three pirate attacks to include the new weapons we’ll have on board shortly. Care to try them out with me?”

“Jesus, yes!” Cyd replied enthusiastically.

“Good. As soon as you’re finished with those checks, we’ll get started. I’ve had quite a bit of military weapons experience, so I think I’ve been able to anticipate the systems they’ll install for us, and I think I’ve recreated them fairly accurately in these sims. They’ll be a start anyway.”

Cyd nodded her agreement and Devon continued, “So, we’ll fly the sims as before, but I’ll have the SysComp take the role of gunner so you and I can get a feel for the flying we may need to do while fighting back. Specifically, a simulated Chad up here, and Jim back in Engineering.”

Cyd grinned. “A simulated Chad, huh? I take it you’ve made improvements over the prototype?”

Devon laughed deeply. “Nope, I figured I’d better leave in the fallibilities and limitations so it would be realistic.”

Cyd shook her head seriously as she said, “That’s too bad,” but then softened the statement with a grin.

“Ah, Cyd, he’s not a bad guy.”

“Oh, I know, Devon. He’s just a bit immature for my liking.”

“Many men are, Cyd, in my experience.”

“My chief reason for preferring women, Captain. Though I should give him credit. He does seem to be shaping up lately.”

“I think, for the first time in his life, he has a reason to, Cyd.”

The co-pilot contemplated the Captain’s words while she finished her tasks, and then they launched into one of the new simulations.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The young, blonde warrior-bard watched as her mate fought off the attackers, confident that she would prevail against the handful of enemy soldiers, and steered their horse into the brush. She guided the mare with one hand as she grasped her staff with the other. The soldier who was accompanying them stopped to watch the fight and the young woman stopped the horse as she called out to the man to follow her to safety.

Suddenly, the young woman felt a stabbing pain and fell forward onto her horse’s neck as an arrow struck her back. Oh, gods, was her only thought as the piercing pain shot through her and she held tightly to the reins. She spared a brief look back and saw her mate following her on foot, running as fast as her strong legs could carry her, which was nearly as fast as the horse itself could run.

“Gabrielle!” Her warrior gasped as she reached her partner and gently lifted her from the horse’s back. “Stay still!” The strong warrior laid her partner gently on the ground and then sat beside her, pulling her into her arms. She sent the Spartan soldier accompanying them off to make a fire and examined her mate’s wound.

Writhing with pain, the younger woman collapsed against her mate. “It’s not…it’s not that bad.”

“This is going to be painful,” the warrior said softly as she prepared to remove the arrow. Grasping it in both hands, she broke it in two and then pushed the shaft through, and it exited through her mate’s chest.

“Ahh,” the small blonde screamed as the pain lanced through her.

The warrior turned her lover gently and grasped the shaft, pulling it the rest of the way through the front of her mate’s shoulder. She quickly covered the bleeding wound with her hand as her partner bravely proclaimed, “I hardly felt a thing.”

The strong woman brought the arrowhead to her nose, sniffing at it.

“What is it?” Her injured mate asked.

“Poison,” her warrior replied darkly.

Kara awakened, sweating and trembling. She could still feel the burning pierce of the poisoned arrow, and the agony of having it removed. Gods. I hope this wasn’t a prescient dream. She took a deep, calming breath and willed her pulse to calm, not wanting to disturb her sleeping mate. Sleep eluded her for some time, as she quietly attempted to divine the meaning of the long-ago memory, and why she had been gifted with it.
-16-
Flight Day 63
“Okay, Cyd, apply braking thrusters on my mark. Three, two, one, mark.”

“Aye, Devon. Braking thrusters applied.”

“Good,” Devon remarked as she eyed the approaching gas giant. Titan’s orbit currently carried it below Saturn’s ring plane, though it was quite a distance from the beautiful, but dangerous structures. With her practiced eye, Devon could just make out the dark shadow of the moon against the bright planet behind it. “Alright…we will apply braking thrusters again in three hours. Until then, I’ll be in bay four doing weapons practice with Kara.”

“Aye, Devon.” Cyd nodded as she returned her attention to her console.

Devon stood and stretched out the kinks, as was her habit, and turned and left the bridge. Before entering the Medlab, she popped into the galley to grab two juices. Pulling open the cold storage unit, she perused the selections, grabbing two bottles of white grape, knowing it was Kara’s favorite flavor. Smiling to herself as she felt her mate’s proximity, she strode out of the mess hall and across the corridor to the Medlab.

Kara felt Devon’s approach and sat back in her chair. She was gazing at the hatch when Devon entered and smiled a warm greeting. “Hi, sweetheart.”

“Hi, babe. Are you ready for that weapons practice?” She asked as she pulled up a chair next to Kara and offered her the juice. Kara stole a kiss before accepting the drink and Devon leaned forward and stole another, prolonging it a bit. “How long until shift is over?” She asked as she gazed into Kara’s eyes.

Kara chuckled and glanced at the time display. “Three hours. We shouldn’t meet during the day like this, honey…you know how dangerous it is.”

Devon chuckled as well. “I know. But it couldn’t be helped today. God…” She blew out a breath and willed her pulse to slow. It didn’t however, nor did the pulsating in her groin. She took a long swig of her cool juice, and when Kara did as well, they both grinned at each other from around the plastic bottles.

“We’re sunk, Devon. Both of us. Maybe we can develop some meditative techniques to combat this.”

“We may have to, Kara. I can’t be burning for you while trying to concentrate on flying this ship out of the grasp of pirates.”

“Do you really think you’ll have a problem? You’re very focused when you need to be.”

“If you’re nearby, Kara, I feel you, and my desire for you, over and above whatever else has my attention. Hell, landing and launching from Mars…as intense as that was…I felt you.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “I can probably get some advice from the Consul. The Grays are nothing if not expert at putting aside sexual feelings.”

“Honey, they had to alter themselves genetically to achieve that. Do you think they can give you advice?”

“I do, because now that they have evolved beyond their sterility somewhat, it is an issue that they are dealing with again.”

“Oh, I didn’t know they had come that far.” She giggled as she added, “No, um, pun intended.”

“Right,” Devon drawled. “Yeah, they’re not as bad as they once were…their sexual drive isn’t nearly what it was…I mean not to the point of destroying their society again…and never will be, but they have developed techniques to help them focus when they need to.”

“Good. I look forward to learning them with you.”

“Mm. Come here, though and give me another one of those sweet kisses, and then we’ll go shoot the hell out of some simulated pirates.”

“Gladly, love,” Kara said as she fell forward into Devon’s embrace. She captured her mate’s lips and savored them, giving Devon a long, wonderful taste of her sweetness. Devon had to be pulled forcefully to her feet afterward and pushed down the corridor toward the cargo section.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Okay, baby, now, use your sight line…good. Now, squeeze the trigger gently…never hard. In zero-g or low grav, you want the rifle to be as steady as possible so the beam stays straight.”

“Okay,” Kara replied as she hefted the large, but lightweight weapon and squinted down the length of the barrel.

“I’m not going to tell you before I start the sequence, so be ready. The first few shots will be live plasma so you can get a feel for it, but after that, they’ll be laser bolts to preserve our ammo stores.” She pointed to the clear gauge on the top of the gun. “See, it shows only two bursts left,” then stepped back to the wall behind them and waited a few seconds before starting the practice sequence.

Kara held her weapon at the ready, feeling more relaxed each time she engaged in the practice. Suddenly, a target image appeared ahead of her and to her right and she swung around, squeezing the trigger as she locked on. A red light flashed, indicating a prime hit and she stayed relaxed and focused, opening up her vision, waiting for the next image. It appeared to her far left, and she shot, triggering a yellow light, which indicated a less than optimum hit on the subject’s left shoulder.

“Relax,” she whispered to herself. “Focus. Zen shooting, remember?”

The next image appeared directly in front of her and moved to her left, and she tagged it beautifully.

“Nice, babe!” Her coach shouted, even as the next image appeared far to her right, and Kara hit it well, swinging around adeptly and squeezing off the shot.

After five more shots and optimum hits, she took a breather and as Devon programmed in the next series she asked, “Honey, when you use this rifle, you shoot from your waist…can I learn to shoot that way? It seems to improve reaction time and conserve motion.”

“Yes, it is the advanced stance. You’re doing well using the sights, so we can try it the other way. It may take you a while to get a sense of how to target, but once you get the hang of it, I think it will become second nature…like it is for me. You seem to have a natural aptitude for this.”

“Yes, how ironic,” Kara responded dryly.

“I couldn’t be more pleased about it either, Kara. I told you…I need you safe. Hippocratic oath or no.”

“I know, Devon, I understand. My drive to protect you seems to be just as strong as yours is to protect me. Let’s do this.”

“Okay, babe. Now, hold it so it’s comfortable. Get a feel for how it feels in your hands. You’re not bracing it against your shoulder, so lock your right elbow into your side. Good, now get ready. Bend your knees slightly and balance your weight evenly over both legs if you can. I find that stance works best with the large weapons. Good, honey. That looks good. Okay, here they come.”

Devon punched in the command and the targets appeared quickly, one after the other. On her third shot, Kara got a feel for the targeting and made a clean hit, and all the others after it were as well.

“Yes!” Kara yelled excitedly when the round was complete. “I did it!”

“You sure did, love…great job!” Devon reached for her mate, but stepped back, advising, “Whoa, babe, engage the safety, please!”

“Oops, sorry.” Kara grinned. “I guess at this range that laser bolt could burn a little.”

“Um, yeah,” Devon agreed with a grin. “I know from experience. Um, in my own leg.”

“Oh, God, honey!”

Devon nodded, somewhat embarrassed. “Yeah, and I was level ten certified at the time. My C.O. said he felt like demoting me three levels.”

Kara gave her weapons instructor a very coy smile. “So, have I advanced another level yet?”

“Oh, I think I can certify you to level five now, yeah.” Devon’s face broke into a wide, warm grin. “Great work, honey. I’m very proud of you. And more importantly, I’m confident that you can defend yourself. That means so much to me…I can’t express how much.”

“You don’t need to love…I can sense it. I’m so glad to be able to give you that peace of mind. That makes me feel very good.”

“Mm. Know what else makes me feel very good?” Devon said with a rakish grin as she took the rifle from Kara and set it in the open weapons locker.

“I think I have an idea, yeah.”

“Yeah?” Devon asked as she wrapped her arms around Kara’s waist and pulled her close. As she nuzzled Kara’s throat, she murmured, “De-magnetize your boots, baby.”

Kara did as requested without a word, as did Devon, and then she pushed off from the floor, launching them toward the top of the bay together.

“Devon! Whoa!” Kara squealed as they rose quickly.

Devon stopped them with a long arm against the ceiling, and then gently pushed them down a bit so they hung about three meters off the floor of the large bay. Kara, giggling, said, “Honey, we’re still on duty, you know.”

“I’m aware of that, my love, which is why we’re just gonna make out a little. We’ll have some more intense zero-g play time tomorrow when we’re docked, okay?”

“Yes, okay!”

“Mm, I like that enthusiasm,” Devon muttered just before her lips met Kara’s.

“Mmm,” was the only response as they kissed deeply. Devon loved to communicate her love to Kara through sensual kisses, tasting and savoring her while not letting the passion become too rough or too raw. Kara always responded in kind, feeling a depth of love for Devon that she had never experienced before and wanting to communicate the fact to her mate. The messages, both of them, were always received as intended, as they shared their love reverently.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Kara leaned against Devon’s pilot seat as they watched their approach to the space station orbiting the large moon, which in turn orbited the immense, ringed planet.

“It looks very much like Andromeda Station,” Kara remarked.

“Yes,” Devon said with a nod. “Same generation. The only difference is the addition of the large dry dock facility here. We’ll be docking there instead of in the cargo section so we can have the military modifications made. There won’t be gravity there, so we’ll stay on the station and come back here for the zero-g and EV suit training.”

“Mm, okay. What’s the station like? It’s not strictly military is it?”

“No, it’s administered by the Fleet, because of the large military presence, but it also has a large private sector…mainly serving the scientists and miners on the base on Titan below.” Devon squinted at the circular station, which appeared to be rapidly approaching. “I don’t see any Fleet ships docked.” She shook her head. “I don’t understand why they’re not stationing Cruisers here peramently, what with all the pirate troubles.”

Cyd remarked dryly, “Because there’s no consortium trade right now, and they’re what matter. I’ll bet they were given leave to return to Earth Sector.”

“You’re probably right, Cyd, but that doesn’t mean I like it. Typical narrow-minded military.”

Kara chuckled. “Honey, I don’t know how you managed to stay in it as long as you did.”

“There wasn’t a comfortable moment, babe, I can now admit. God, that was not my cup of tea.”

“Well, honey, you’re a very old soul. Old souls march to the beat of their own drummers, remember? It’s very hard for us to fit into strict military hierarchies.”

“True. Yet I run my ship based on that model.”

“Out of necessity. You need to have a command structure in place because of the dangerous nature of the runs you make…it’s perfectly understandable. You need to be comfortable in the knowledge that the orders you give will be followed to the letter, to ensure everyone’s safety. And we all trust you in that regard.”

Cyd nodded her agreement as she added, “Yes, and compared to consortium ships, this posting is a dream. You may think you’re strict, but you treat your crew very well…and I must say, Devon, that it is very much appreciated.”

“Right, honey,” Kara agreed.

“Well, um, thanks,” Devon stammered, embarrassed. “It’s good to hear that I may be doing it right.”

“There’s no question, love. So, um, how long until we dock?”

“We should be hearing from Alpha Control any time now. I’ve already sent over our ID and manifest. If there’s no delay…and it looks like there won’t be because there’s no traffic…we should dock in about an hour.”

“Okay. Well, I guess I’d better prepare my patients then. They should need a little more time to get acclimated than my Mars patients did.”

“Okay, love. Later, then.” She turned her seat so that Kara could lean down for a quick kiss. She took two and then stood and gazed once more at the view before them.

Most of the viewscreen was filled by Saturn and its beautiful ring system, which served as a backdrop to the large orange ball of Titan below, and the white, circular space station that hung above it.

“Gods, it’s gorgeous.”

“And deadly toxic, babe. And the rings, as delicate and fragile as they appear, are made of billions of sharp chunks of icy rock. Not a hospitable place. And Titan, despite it’s nitrogen–rich atmosphere isn’t much better. The comparatively small amount of methane in the air makes it unbreathable for us. Then there are the lakes and rivers of methane planetside. It’s a beautifully alien place…interesting to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here.”

Cyd chuckled. “Not like the mad scientists and crazy miners who do, huh?”

“They can have it, Cyd. Give me a nice M-class planet, or a comfortable ship to fly through the galaxy.”

“Same here, love. Well, guys, I’ll see you later.”

“Bye sweetheart. Hey…docking should be a breeze, but I’ll buzz you when it’s imminent.”

Kara smiled warmly at her mate’s thoughtfulness and as she said, “Thank you,” quietly, sent her a jolt of love through their bond. The look on Devon’s face was priceless as she received it, and sent a jolt in return.

God, I love you Kara.

As Kara left the bridge, she felt Devon’s words ring telepathically in her head, and stopped, shocked, and turned to look at the closed hatch to the bridge. Jesus, Buddha, and Sennaat…

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Phoenix, Alpha Control. You are go for docking. Set for automatic guidance and stop rotation. Over.”

“This is Andropoulos. Prepare for zero-grav. Zero-grav in thirty seconds.” She depressed a control and a flashing yellow light bathed the interior of the ship, from bridge to engineering.

“Okay, Cyd, I’m cutting rotation and releasing manual control…now.” Devon depressed a switch and spoke into her headset, “Alpha Control, Phoenix. Copy, we have negative rotation and automatic guidance set. We are go for docking. Over.”

“Phoenix, Alpha Control. Automatic docking underway. Out.”

“Alpha Control, Phoenix. Copy that. We’ll see you on board. Out.”

Devon and Cyd both leaned back in their seats and relaxed somewhat as the space station’s guidance system took control of the ship, guiding it safely into a “dry-dock” berth. As they floated into a gigantic hangar-like structure of support struts, Kara entered the bridge, using handholds to steady herself.

“Wow…this is amazing!” She exclaimed as she stood behind Devon and rested her hands on her mate’s shoulders.

“Isn’t it?” Devon asked, glancing back at her lover and placing her hands on Kara’s. “It’s the third largest dry-dock facility in the system…after Earth and Mars.”

“It’s incredible,” Kara said as she watched the huge ship settle into a berth.

The dry-dock facility wrapped halfway around the outermost ring of the space station. The stationary outer ring comprised the shipyard and maintenance sectors of the station, while the two inner rings comprised the military and private sectors, and rotated, providing simulated gravity. There was a gentle lurch as the ship settled against the hatch and was latched into place.

“Okay, we’re in. Briefing in thirty.” Devon addressed first Cyd and then Kara before turning and making a similar announcement over the ship-wide comm system. Then, standing and wrapping an arm around her mate, she led them from the bridge. They entered the main corridor, staying at the edge, where the floor was metal, and Devon turned to face Kara. “I have ship business to take care of…I’ll see you in a while.”

“Okay, love. I’ll get my passengers offloaded and see you at the briefing.” She was pulled up for a quick kiss and then they parted to handle their business.

Devon punched her code into the keypad at the main hatchway and stepped through the opening and into the long airlock that attached the ship to the docking facility. The light inside was a dimly flashing yellow, warning of her entry into a zero-gravity section. A sign on the wall indicated the same. She scanned her ident card at the other end of the airlock and entered the station.

She made her way along the gently curving, utilitarian, military-gray corridor of the large station, passing maintenance bays and offices, arriving finally at the office of the Port Officer. Inside, she handed her ident card to the officer at the desk, who nodded curtly as he accepted it.

He scanned her card and glanced at his data screen as he said, “Captain Andropoulos. Your ship is scheduled for military weapons modifications, to commence at the start of gamma shift. The modifications should be completed within four to five standard days. You have lodgings reserved for six crew in the private sector…two singles and two doubles. The Chief Cargo Officer has requested a meeting ASAP…you can use the terminal here if you’d like.” He pointed to a private cubicle to his left and Devon nodded. The young man returned her card as he said, “Enjoy your stay on Titan Alpha.”

Devon nodded as she said, “Thank you,” and stepped into the adjacent cubicle. She scanned her card and keyed in the Cargo Officer’s number. The image of a middle-aged, blonde woman appeared on the screen.

“Captain Andropoulos, welcome back to Titan. We’re very glad to see you two weeks early.”

Devon smiled and nodded. “Thanks, Ms. Johnson. It’s good to be back.”

The woman glanced at the data scrolling across the bottom of her screen and then looked back up into Devon’s image as she said, “I see that you have military orders. I’m sending a shuttle to retrieve your cargo, departing in fifteen minutes.”

Devon nodded. “Good. I’d like to have it offloaded before the Fleet starts to work. Also, I’ve had an itinerary change. I’m not inbound after all, but heading out to Z. Ret. Please advise as to whether or not you still want to onload inbound cargo. I’ll take it now, but it won’t be delivered until I’m back in-system in several months.”

“Alright, I’ll check with my Earth and Mars clients and advise within two hours. Where are you staying?”

“At Solarwinds.”

“Alright, I’ll track you down when I have the information. I am processing your payment now. Have a good stay. Out.”

“Thanks.” The woman’s image nodded politely and winked out. Devon retrieved her card and exited the cubicle, then made her way back to the ship.

As she approached the mess hall, she ran into Kara. “Hi, babe. How are the passengers?”

“Groggy, but very happy to be here two weeks early. How long before their shuttle arrives?”

Devon checked the readout on her wrist unit. “About twenty minutes…will that work?”

“Yes, just about perfectly. I don’t want any of them trying to maneuver in zero-g before then.”

“Good, then you just have time for my briefing. Come on.” She led Kara into the hall, where everyone else was gathered at the round table.

“Okay, I’ll make this as brief as possible, because I know some of you don’t enjoy zero-g.”

“Then again, Cap, some of us do,” Chad said with a grin.

Devon laughed. “Even still, Chad? You just be careful, huh? That wrist is just recently healed and I may be in need of a gunner soon.”

“You can count on me, Devon,” Chad replied seriously.

Devon responded with an appreciative nod. “Okay. We’re all booked into the Solarwinds…”

“Nice, Dev!” Jim exclaimed, interrupting.

“Yeah, Cap, what’s the occasion?” Rusty asked.

Devon furrowed her brow, slightly embarrassed. “The occasion is that I appreciate this crew. Now shut the hell up so I can continue and we can start our leave.”

“Aye, Captain, shutting the hell up,” Rusty responded irreverently, receiving a glare for his trouble.

“As I was saying, the modifications should take four to five days…I’m leaning toward five to six, knowing the Fleet as I do…and Jim and Rusty, I’d like you to supervise, please, at least at first. I will too. While we’re here, I want everyone getting re-certified in their EV suits and in zero-g procedures. I’ve set up a training schedule.” She handed everyone a data disc. “A shuttle is arriving imminently to offload the cargo, and incoming cargo is still a question mark. When I know the status of that, I’ll buzz you.”

She eyed each of her crew. “Okay, I’ve been paid, so you have too. Enjoy your leave, but let’s keep in mind that we’re in all likelihood heading out to battle, so don’t screw up on the training I’ve set up. This is serious, people, and we need to act accordingly. That’s it.”

“Right, Cap. There’s the shuttle now,” Rusty said as the comm unit in the hall buzzed.

“Good, Rusty, Chad, get to work and then enjoy your leave. Rust, Jim, meet me here at the start of gamma shift, please.”

“Will do, Andy. See you then. Cyd, I promised you a drink, didn’t I?” Jim said charmingly as he placed a protective hand on the co-pilot’s back.

“Yes, you did,” Cyd responded with a warm smile.

“Well let’s go. I intend to enjoy the next four hours before I have to report back here.” They strode out of the hall and launched themselves down the corridor toward the front hatch.

“Well, honey. I’d better see to our passengers.”

“I’ll go with you, hon, and see them off, and we can start our leave.” Devon’s eyes held a twinkle as she addressed her mate and herded her toward the doorway.

“Devon, I’m getting the distinct impression that you have something specific in mind for our leave.”

“Oh, what gives you that idea?”

“Several things, all psychic in nature…shall I name them?”

Devon laughed. “No, Kara, no need. Come on…let’s get those passengers taken care of. I happen to know that there is a bathtub waiting with our name on it.”

“Oh, honey! Thank you!” She leapt into Devon’s embrace just as they entered the carpeted corridor and floated in midair.

“God, Kara, save some of that appreciation for when we arrive at the hostel, please.” Devon laughed.

Kara wrapped herself around Devon and held her close as they floated toward the passenger section. “You’ve got it, my love. In the meantime, you be thinking of ways that I can thank you, all right?”

“Gray gods, Kara…”
-17-
Kara held her mate’s hand as they passed the huge maintenance bays on their way to the inner sectors of the station. She slowed as they approached an open bay where a sleek cruiser sat.

“Wow, honey. Look at that,” Kara murmured as she admired the lines of the fast looking, silver space yacht.

Devon grinned as she stood beside her lover. “You like that, huh?”

“It’s beautiful. Looks fast, too.”

“Oh, she is. Her twin engines can propel her to roughly four times the Phoenix’s maximum velocity.”

“Why is it so sleek? That doesn’t matter in space.”

“She’s atmospheric, too. Cruises at mach ten. A very nice ship to have planetside.”

“Mm, I’ll bet.” She grinned up at her mate. “Do you think you’d enjoy owning one like her?”

“Oh, yes. I plan to. Come on, babe. Our bath awaits.” Devon urged her curious mate on, eager to get to their destination.

“You plan to? Devon, I don’t think I can even comprehend how expensive a ship like that must be.”

“About twice what I paid for the Phoenix,” Devon reported matter-of-factly. “I’ve got nearly that much invested. This run will give me more than enough to buy a yacht like that. Come on, love…I need some alone time with you.”

Kara’s jaw dropped, nearly hitting the metal floor as she was pulled toward the corridor leading to the inner sectors. As they left the section lit by flashing yellow lights, her lover looked at her comically as she said, “You can de-magnetize now, babe.”

“Devon, just how lucrative is the free-shipping business?” Kara asked as she stopped and kicked at her heels.

“Very, Kara. But it’s offset by the danger, isn’t it? Not that we’re at risk,” she added confidently. “We aren’t. Now, are you coming, or am I going to have to enjoy that bathtub by myself?”

Kara shook her head, both in disbelief and to shake herself out of her surprised state. She looked at her playful mate and said, “Devon, tell me honestly that you could enjoy that bathtub without me.”

Devon stopped and faced her mate, grinning. “Oh, you know I couldn’t. Come on, baby.”

Kara returned the silly grin. “I’m right behind you.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

As she cupped warm, soapy water onto Kara’s back, Devon was struck once again at how completely her life had changed in such a short period of time. She shook her head as she said quietly, “Kara, sometimes I can’t believe how completely my life has changed. Three months ago I was a devout loner, but now I’m here…with you…happier than I had ever dreamed possible. And to think that I nearly blew it.”

“What do you mean?” Kara asked quietly, leaning back against her mate’s chest and resting her arms on Devon’s knees.

“I almost didn’t give into the love that I knew I was feeling. I mean, even though I was attracted to you…hell, I was attracted from the first moment I saw you…I was determined not to fall. I thought that I didn’t have room in my life for a relationship.” Devon shook her head again and kissed Kara’s neck. “Stubborn. But you melted my heart…right there on my bridge that night you brought me tea so that I could sleep…and I think, frankly, that I was just too tired at that point to fight it. I let you in, and that’s all it took. It was all you needed, all my heart needed.”

“Still, Devon, you took the chance.”

“I didn’t have a choice, Kara. Not really. I knew it was my destiny. I had had the vision, and then the dream, and you were so sweet, despite my behavior toward you. You kept trying. So thank you. It was you, Kara, not me, who allowed this to happen.”

“Honey, thanks, but it was more than that. It was our destiny, as you say, and I know that your guides must have given you a nudge.”

Devon chuckled and wrapped her arms around Kara’s stomach. “Well, that’s true. My buddy Jim gave me kick in the ass too. But I know for a fact that my guides nudged me. After uh, after we kissed for the first time, I meditated. I asked for strength and guidance and all three of my principal guides showed up and, um, basically, applauded me. It was so funny, Kara. I was humbling myself, asking for their guidance and one of them…she was my grandmother…shook her head and said, ‘I have warned you before of the trait of stubbornness. This time you listened to your heart, and I am proud. But it will always be a challenge for you.’ She reminded me to try to operate in the positive pole of stubborness, which is determination, rather than falling prey to the negative pole of obstinacy.”

“Mm, honey, that sounds like wonderful advice.” She glanced back at her love and grinned coyly. “I’ll have to help you to remember that.”

“You do that,” Devon said as she caressed Kara’s stomach softly.

“Mmm, that’s nice, love. You know, I was determined not to fall in love so soon again, too. I think that the first time I saw you I had to tell myself not to even think about it.”

“Oh yeah? You liked what you saw?”

“Oh, Jesus, yes. Gods, Devon, you striding through the spaceport in your flightsuit, with those long legs and cute butt, nice breasts. God, I didn’t have a chance. Then when we met and I saw how beautiful you were, and you spoke to me with that deep, sultry voice. Not a chance. I didn’t have a chance.”

“How soon did you start fantasizing about me?” Devon asked jauntily.

“That is privileged information.”

“That quickly, huh?” Devon grinned. “Don’t feel bad, Kara, so did I. Gods, and on duty, no less. I thought I was losing my mind.”

“Our hearts. It was our hearts that were lost. And I’m so very, very glad.”

“Me too,” Devon mumbled against Kara’s soft neck as her hands began to wander gently.

The warmth of Devon’s touch started the sweet fire that she had come to know so well, and Kara caressed the arms that encircled her. “Why don’t you show me how glad you are?”

“Your wish is my command, Kara,” Devon said as she gently encouraged her mate to turn and straddle her lap. “Observe,” she muttered as her lips closed the distance between them and captured Kara’s.

Very shortly, Kara knew, without any question, just how glad Devon was that she had lost her heart to her soulmate.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Fifteen minutes before the start of the space station’s gamma shift, Devon strode onto her ship. She kicked at her boots and launched herself toward the bridge, flying adeptly to the main corridor and pulling herself around the corner to the bridge’s hatch and keying in her security code. The display showed a green light and chirped positively before the door slid open, and Devon sailed inside, grasping a handhold directly above her seat and pushing herself down and into the chair. She deftly pulled her harness around her and set about checking the status of the ship’s systems.

As she ran a check on the scanning system, the comm buzzed and Jim’s image appeared on the small screen.

“Jim, come on in,” Devon replied as she punched the code to open the outer hatch.

“Thanks, Dev. Rusty’s with me.”

Devon nodded as the image winked out. A few moments later, the cabin door slid open and her crewmen floated in.

“The grunts are right behind us, Dev. Shall we show them how we want this done?” Rusty asked.

Devon grinned. “Sure Rust, we might as well give it a shot.” She turned her seat toward the cabin wall to the left of the door. “I’d like the forward console installed there.”

Rusty nodded. “Okay. Jim, let’s take a look at where we want the console in Engineering to go.”

“Lead the way, Rust. Dev, I’ll suit up and observe the installation up above, and you and Rusty can supervise onboard.”

“Sounds good, Jim. And, uh, tether yourself off, please. I don’t want…”

“Yes, Andy, I know…you don’t want a repeat of the Ganymede incident, but I’m not drunk now, am I?”

“I don’t know, Jim, what have you been doing the last four hours?” She grinned at her friend.

“Devon, I can vouch for his whereabouts and the fact that he has not been drinking,” Rusty provided helpfully.

“Oh, you can, Rust? That’s interesting. You two aren’t becoming an item now, are you?” She leered gently at her friends.

“Cap, if that’s not the pot calling the kettle black, I don’t know what is. And pardon me for saying so, but it’s none of your goddamned business.”

Devon gave him a lopsided grin and held up her hands apologetically. “Okay, sorry. Get going, then and show those Fleet grunts how to do it right. I’ll see you two later.”

“You’re, uh, not leaving already are you? I know she’s a sweet little thing, Cap, but don’t forget who you are.”

“Thanks so much for the reminder, smart ass. No, I told you, I’ll supervise up here until I’m satisfied that they’re doing it to my specs, and then I’ll return to my sweet thing.” She swiveled her head toward the comm unit as it buzzed, saying with a decided leer, “By that time I’ll be in need of some more of her sweetness.” She noted the presence of three E.V. suited figures and buzzed them aboard. “Now get out of here you two, and do your jobs.”

“Yes, ma’am!” The two irreverent men left the bridge and a moment later, a weapons specialist joined her there. She proceeded to discuss the installation with him, receiving nods of agreement, and a few minutes later, led him to the corridor to show him where she wanted the conduits for the wiring placed. He agreed and jotted notes into the data unit affixed to the wrist of his dark blue spacesuit, then left to begin the installation on the exterior of the ship.

Devon, satisfied that the job would be done to her liking and that her crewmembers were capable of handling the matter, secured the security codes on all of the ship’s systems and then left the bridge, leaving the hatch open so the soldiers would have access. She was eager to return to her mate, and, with some embarrassment, noted that she missed Kara and felt uncomfortable at having left her alone. What the hell is wrong with me?

She shook her head as she left her ship and then made her way through the maintenance sector, minding the signs cautioning people to walk in that sector, rather than float, for safety reasons. Impatiently, she hurried her pace as much as she could, angry because she could fly a lot faster than her magnetized boots could carry her. She came to the “sleeve” that provided access to the inner sections and proceeded toward the Solarwinds Hostel and her waiting partner.

As she approached the retail sector, a thought struck her and she slowed, glancing in the windows of the shops she passed. Ah, yes, she thought happily as she noted a display of fine articles, and entered the shop. Nearly an hour later, she exited, fingering the small package in the pocket of her flightsuit. She felt very warmed at the purchase she had made, and thanked her guides silently for reminding her. Thank you, my friends. I had not thought of doing that here, but I think my love will be pleased. At least, I hope she is. She took a deep breath and blew it out nervously. Gray gods, what has that little woman done to me?

Devon strode along the wide, tidy corridor, lost in her thoughts and oblivious of the people and activity around her. Finally, she reached the hostel and entered as the tinted glass doors slid open. She made her way to the lift and scanned her ident card, stepping inside when the door hissed open. It stopped at her level and she exited, making her way down the inviting, carpeted corridor to their room. She scanned her card again and the door swished open.

Kara was seated at the room’s comm console, near the window that overlooked the center of the station and provided a partial view of the immense planet behind it. She looked up from her data screen and smiled at her mate, stretching her arms above her head.

“Hi, honey. How’s the install coming?”

“Good. It’s a nice system…state of the art…and should give us all the peace of mind we need.”

“Good.” She rubbed her stomach and glanced at the time display. “Gods, I’ve been working all this time. Are you hungry, hon?”

“Mm, hm,” Devon murmured as she approached. She pulled Kara from the chair and into her arms. “God, Kara I’m pathetic. I miss you when we’re apart.”

“That’s not pathetic, Devon, it’s sweet, and I feel the same way.” She wrapped her arms tightly around her mate and reveled in the feel of her firm body. “God, you feel good.”

“So do you.” Devon buried her face in Kara’s hair and mumbled, “I wanna take you out to eat…is that okay? I know a good place.”

“Yes! I’d love that.”

“Good. Why don’t we get ready…it’s past dinner time.”

“Great…I’m starved.”

Devon pulled back and gazed down at her mate with a smile. “Kara, you’re always starved.”

“Hey, keeping up with you is very demanding…I have to keep my energy up.”

“I can’t argue with that, baby,” Devon delivered with a rakish grin, turning Kara’s heart to mush.

“God, Devon, that smile…”

“You can show me later how much it turns you on.”

“Definitely. Come on, let’s get dressed.”

Devon looked down at herself. “I am dressed.”

“Honey, you look great in your flightsuit, but it’s a flightsuit. Why don’t you wear that nice, blue tank that matches your eyes, and a pair of flight pants?”

“Okay, but only if you wear the green top that matches your eyes.”

Kara grinned up at her mate. “Deal.”

Twenty minutes later they were walking hand in hand down the corridor of the retail sector. Devon turned them into an inviting inn with an old-fashioned façade, which gave it the appearance of an old English pub. “They have good brew here and great food. I think you’ll like it,” Devon provided as she ushered Kara ahead of her.

They were greeted by a tall man behind a sim-wood counter. “Captain Andropoulos, it’s good to see you again.”

Devon nodded politely. “Thank you, Sims. It’s good to be back. Do you have a quiet table…”

“Yes, Captain, right this way,” the man interrupted and led them to a table in a corner of the room. Devon helped Kara to her seat and nodded her thanks before seating herself with her back to the wall. Old habits die hard, it seems.

“Captain, what may I get you to drink?”

“Well, Sims, to start, I think we’d like two mugs of your house ale and with dinner a bottle of your finest champagne…2152, if you have any.”

The man nodded appreciatively. “We do. Very good choice. I will return with your ale momentarily.”

Devon nodded and turned her attention to her mate with a smile.

“Champagne again, honey? What’s the occasion?”

Devon picked up Kara’s hand and kissed it tenderly as she gazed into her eyes. “The occasion is that I love you.”

Kara sighed and then pulled Devon close for a kiss. “I love you, too. With all that I am.”

A short time later, their meals arrived and the waiter opened their champagne. He started to pour it into the two long-stemmed glasses, but Devon waved him away. “That’s alright, I’ll get it. Thank you.”

He nodded and left the two women alone. Devon gracefully filled first Kara’s flute half full and then her own, and held it up. “To my future wife. I love you.”

“And to mine. I love you, sweetheart.”

They each sipped from their glasses, eyes locked, and Devon pulled from her pocket a small, velvet box and set it on the table in front of Kara.

“Devon, what’s this?”

Devon looked down at the table, then back into Kara’s shining eyes. “We didn’t talk about this, so I hope you don’t mind…but I saw these and they seemed perfect.” She nodded toward the box with a smile. “Open it.”

As Kara reached for the box, Devon said quickly, “If you don’t like the idea, I’ll take them back…it’s not a problem.”

“Honey, I’m sure whatever it is, I will love.”

Devon shrugged and waited with anticipation as Kara picked up the box and looked, surprised, into her eyes. “Devon, this isn’t…”

“Open it, Kara.”

Kara took a breath, suddenly feeling she knew what was inside, and opened the box. She gasped as she saw a lovely set of golden wedding bands. “Oh, Devon…”

Devon whispered, “Do you like them…are they okay?”

“Oh, my God, Devon…they’re beautiful. I love them, honey.” She looked up into Devon’s eyes as tears began to flow. “They’re perfect, and so are you. Thank you.”

Devon released the breath she had been holding and gasped, “You love them?”

“I love them, Devon.”

“Gods, I’m glad. Um, the Sennaa don’t exchange rings as part of their joining ceremony, but I um…well, I really wanted to wear a wedding band. I hope you do too.”

“I do, Devon. Very much so.”

“I’m glad, Kara. Um, do you, um…do you think we should…”

“No, I don’t want to wait. I’d like to wear mine now…if you don’t mind.”

Devon beamed. “No, I don’t mind. I would like that too.” She gently picked up Kara’s left hand and tenderly kissed her knuckles, then picked up the smaller of the two rings and slid it on her ring finger. Looking up into Kara’s eyes, she said softly, “Kara, this is a promise…to marry you on Sen. I love you.”

Kara gasped as Devon slid the ring onto her finger, unable to speak. Silently, she picked up Devon’s ring and inserted it on her finger. She whispered, “Devon, I make the same promise…I love you so…so much.” She brought Devon’s hand to her lips and kissed it tenderly before laying it against her cheek. “Gods, Devon…”

“I know, Kara.” A sob found its way up from her throat and she brusquely wiped a tear from her cheek before grabbing her champagne flute and downing the rest of the amber liquid.

Kara laughed, sobbing quietly. “Devon…”

Devon leaned over and pulled her into an embrace, and they kissed, lingering as long as seemed appropriate, given their location. Devon pulled back and cleared her throat. “Well, okay, let’s eat then, huh? I suddenly have a dire need to get you back to our room.”

“Yes, love, let’s do that.” Kara sighed as she picked up her fork, staring at the beautiful ring of white and yellow gold on her finger. The golden band was etched with lines of white gold, creating a very lovely two-tone effect. “My God, Devon, it’s beautiful. When did you do this?”

Devon cleared her throat again. “Um, today. There’s a Tiffany’s not too far from the hostel.”

“This is from Tiffany and Company?”

Devon shrugged. “Yeah. A, uh, a lot of people live and work here and a lot of money flows through.”

Kara smiled wryly and asked, “Do you still have enough money for that ship you want?”

Devon grinned lopsidedly. “Not anymore, no. But this was a necessity. That’s a luxury item for when we retire from shipping.”

“Mm.” Kara nodded sagely, then grinned. “You are something else, Devon Andropoulos.”

“So I’ve been told. Eat. Dessert awaits us back at our room.” A lifted eyebrow told Kara what Devon had in mind for dessert, and she dug into her meal, finishing it in record time.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Devon scanned the card, which opened the door and toggled the lights. “Lights, low,” she commanded as she gently pushed her mate toward the sleeping area.

“Captain, I think that you intend to have your way with me.”

“I most certainly do,” the Captain replied as she tugged at her partner’s shirt, pulling it from her pants. Kara wrapped her arms around Devon and grasped the back of her tank top, pulling it out of her pants so that she could run her hands up along Devon’s back.

Devon threw her head back, enjoying Kara’s touch, and exclaimed, “God, why do I need you so much?”

“For the same reasons I need you…but let’s examine them later, okay?” Kara asked as she pulled up on Devon’s shirt, removing it.

“Hey, I thought I was seducing you,” Devon muttered, surprised, as she stood before Kara in her bra.

“You are. And quite successfully.” She leaned forward and kissed a prominent breastbone, then moved down, eliciting an intake of breath.

“And so are you,” Devon muttered as she brought her hands up to run through Kara’s hair. She sucked in another breath as Kara’s lips moved sensually over her bra, while her hands found their way under the band of the tight garment and attempted to remove it. Devon helped her, impatiently pulling it off and flinging it aside, then guided a grinning Kara’s mouth back to where it had been.

“Mmm,” Kara mumbled against Devon’s inflamed skin. “You taste good.”

“God, and you feel good. Come here, Kara.” She pushed Kara back toward the bed and sat her down, then climbed into her lap as she pulled off her shirt. Kara’s hands went around her waist and down under the waistband of her pants, and Devon moaned as she sat back and undid the pants. Kara pulled them off and Devon slipped out of them, then attended to Kara’s bra, removing it quickly and laying her down.

She covered Kara’s body with hers and found her lips, tasting her deeply. Small hands wrapped around her back and raked short nails gently along her ribs, settling under her briefs. As Devon deepened the kiss, she ran long fingers down Kara’s sides and worked at her underwear. “Get these off…I need to feel you.”

“Yours too.”

Devon rolled off Kara and quickly removed both sets of briefs, then returned to her place above her mate. Kara wrapped herself tightly around Devon as their mouths met again and hips began moving together. They began a passionate, gyrating dance, while lips and tongues tasted and fingers caressed. Before long, both cried out and then their bodies slowed and stilled, and they lay entwined. After a few minutes to catch their breath and soak in the sated bliss, Devon rolled them over and kissed her way down to Kara’s curls, beginning the dance anew.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The low, gray light of simulated dawn awakened them and Devon stirred, jostling the small woman sprawled across her chest.

“Who set the alarm?” Kara mumbled drowsily against Devon’s chest.

Devon kissed the tousled hair beneath her chin and answered, “I did. Sorry, baby. I need to check on the ship.”

“What time is it?”

“Oh-eight-hundred.”

“Mm, you slept in, huh?”

Devon chuckled and kissed the blonde head again. “Yep. You’re having a very bad effect on me.”

Kara crawled up and captured Devon’s lips intensely, then broke it and whispered, “Not bad. Good. Admit it.”

“I admit it,” Devon breathed and pulled Kara close for another kiss, which deepened and intensified until Devon broke it and gasped for air. “Jesus, Kara! That was quite a wake up call.”

“I wasn’t tying to wake you up, I was trying to keep you in bed.”

Devon grinned rakishly up at her. “Well, I need to wake up and go check on the ship, but why don’t we compromise and take a shower together?”

Kara’s answer was to jump up out of bed and offer a hand down to her mate. Devon grinned up at her. “Shit, honey, I didn’t know you could move that fast in the morning.”

Kara returned the grin with a raised blonde eyebrow. “Given the right incentive…”

As she gazed up at her naked lover, Devon received all the incentive she needed to arise and join her in the shower. An hour later, they were strolling toward the ship together, hand in hand, feeling more connected than ever, and blissfully in love.

As they neared the airlock to the ship, they could see out the observation window several mechanics standing/floating atop the cabin section of the ship. They had partially attached a gun mount and wiring from it stood out at odd angles. Devon nodded, pleased and keyed them into the airlock.

“Want to walk or fly, babe?”

“Fly, of course!” Kara answered with a grin.

“My little daredevil. I knew there was a reason why I fell in love with you.”

“I aim to please.”

Devon groaned. “Oh, gods, Kara, and you do. Believe me.” Before entering the ship, she pulled Kara close and exchanged a sweet kiss with her. “Depending on how things go here, wanna get lunch at the pub again?”

“Mm, yes, since we didn’t take the time to eat breakfast.”

“Ah, but we did have dessert.”

Kara giggled as they separated. “Which was very tasty but not terribly filling.”

“But oh so satisfying, Kara.” Devon grabbed her hand as they passed through the hatch and launched them toward the bridge.

“Mm,” Kara agreed.

They sailed through the open hatchway and grabbed handholds. The outer shell of a new console sat beside the doorway, and wiring ran up through it, the various colored wires splayed at odd angles, waiting to be attached to equipment and electronics.

“Looks like they’re making good progress,” Devon remarked.

“Yes. I wonder how it’s coming along in Engineering?”

“Let’s go see.”

Devon offered her hand and Kara grabbed it, letting her mate launch them down the long corridor toward the aft end of the ship. Halfway to the cargo section, Devon got playful and spun them around so that they were lying horizontally in midair. She leaned over Kara as she whispered, “I like this position.”

“Mm, so do I. Maybe after we do our EV training we can, um, go into the cargo bay and lock the door.”

“Sounds like a plan.” She leaned down and kissed Kara, pulling her up against her, and their legs entwined. Just as they ended the kiss, the cargo section hatch opened and Cyd and Chad floated out.

They made their way past the two women hanging prone in midair and Chad offered nonchalantly, “I see I’m not the only aficionado of zero-g sex, am I Cap?”

“Did I ever say you were, Lorenzo?” The Captain grumbled as she righted herself and her mate.

“Nope. We’re going to get some lunch…wanna come?”

Devon surprised them by answering, interested, “Where are you going?”

“The Bull and Bear…near the hostel?”

Devon nodded. “Yeah, that’s where we were going too. If I can get away from here, maybe we’ll meet you there.”

“Great, Cap. Hope you do. See ya!” Chad waved and Cyd grinned as he pulled her behind him.

“I hope we can meet them, honey. It’s fun to get together off-ship.”

Devon grinned and nodded. “I know. Even though we’re cooped up together here for months. But don’t tell them I said that.”

“Oh, no, never. They’ll never hear from me that Devon Andropoulos enjoys their company. Or that she’s really a big softy with a heart of mush.” Kara giggled.

“Kara! I am not!” Devon responded, mildly incensed.

“Sorry, honey, you are. Why do you think I love you so much? But don’t worry, I won’t tell. Your secret is safe with me.”

“It had better be.” She pushed Kara ahead of her into the cargo corridor, and the Doctor proceeded to somersault her way across the space.

Devon sailed by her and hung by the opposite hatchway, remarking wryly as she watched her approach, “Well, I can see that more zero-g training isn’t necessary. I think I can rate you as space-ready.”

“Thanks, honey!” Kara embraced her and planted a kiss on her cheek, and they tumbled into the Engineering section clasped together.

“Holy shit!” Rusty exclaimed with a belly laugh as they tumbled through the air toward his new weapons console. Devon stopped them before they could damage it and scowled at her mate as she settled them to the floor. It was short lived, however, when Kara mollified her with a sweet kiss.

“Honey!” Devon hissed, but smiled weakly, unable to feel angry with her partner for more than a millisecond.

“Devon Andropoulos…acting like a schoolgirl in love. Never thought I’d live to see the day. But I’ll tell ya’…I’m glad I did.” Rusty shook his head in wonder.

“Very funny, Rust. Show me the new setup, please.”

“Sure thing, Dev. It’s only partially in, as you can see.” He pointed to a console in exactly the same condition as she had found the one on the bridge to be in.

“Okay. Where’s Jim?”

“Topside, supervising. Making sure they only put the minimum number of holes in my hull.”

Devon grinned and nodded. “Good. I appreciate that, Rust. Do you guys want to break for lunch? We’re meeting Cyd and Chad at the Bull and Bear.”

Rusty rubbed the red stubble on his chin. “Yeah, that sounds good. We’ve been here since oh-seven-thirty hours. Let me call the boss in.”

“Rusty, I didn’t expect either of you to have to be here for the entire installation.”

“I know, Cap, but we wanted to keep an eye on things. You never can be too sure. Not unless you’re doing it yourself.”

“That’s true, generally, Rusty, but the Fleet is good. These guys know what they’re doing.”

Rusty nodded his agreement, “Yeah, they seem to. Let me buzz Jim in and we’ll take off.”

A half hour later, Devon and her crew were sitting together at a large table, enjoying good food, good brew and much laughter, appearing more like a family than a work crew.
-18-
“Oh my God!” Cyd gasped, and her mug of ale stopped short of her mouth. “You’re wearing wedding bands!”

Devon immediately lifted her mug to her lips, blushing behind it and Kara beamed with pride and love.

“Devon, Kara, what is this?” Jim asked, shocked. “Did you…”

Devon waved him off. “No, no. Not yet.” Looking at her mate beside her, she added, “We’re, um, getting married when we reach Sen. They don’t do rings, so we thought we’d get them now.” She cleared her throat before adding, “You’re all invited. To the ceremony.”

“Well I’ll be fucked,” Rusty exclaimed, shaking his head. “I guess the wonders will never cease. Congratulations Dev.” He reached around Jim beside him and clapped Devon heartily on the back. “Kara, I don’t wanna kiss her, but I’ll give you a peck…come here, cutie.”

Kara, blushing furiously to match her mate, stood and leaned across the table to accept the congratulatory kiss on her cheek.

“Right, Devon, Kara, congratulations!” Chad added. “And I’ll kiss you both!”

“No you won’t, Chad. A handshake will do it,” Devon provided with a grin as she wrapped a protective arm around her mate and extended her hand to the young crewman.

“Ah, Dev, come on. This is a special occasion.”

“Shit…” Devon mumbled as she stood and pulled the handsome young man into a hug. He wrapped his arms around her tightly and kissed her cheek.

“I’m happy for you, Devon.”

“Thanks, Chad.”

They separated and he opened his arms to Kara, who stood and accepted the hug. She received a quick peck on the lips, to her mate’s displeasure, and Chad grinned widely at his boss.

“Alright, Chad, give her back to me, please.”

“Sure, Cap.” He sat down again beside Cyd, receiving a mild glare, and pulled her close, trying to mollify her with a kiss to the cheek.

“So,” Cyd asked. “What contract length are you getting?”

Kara beamed again as she grabbed Devon’s hand. “We’re talking about a lifetime one.”

Devon added, “Yeah, um, discussing it.” She looked almost shyly at Kara and kissed her fingers.

“Well, I think this calls for another round!” Jim declared with a goofy smile. He stood and waved to get the waiter’s attention.

“Jim, I said I was buying today,” Devon reminded him.

“Devon, shut the hell up please. You’re getting married for Buddha’s sake and we’re celebrating. You are not paying for this round.”

As her friends continued their raucous celebration, Devon sat back in her chair and grabbed her mug, mildly displeased, and Kara joined her, leaning against her and wrapping an arm around her waist.

Devon mumbled quietly, “I hate displays like this. Maybe the rings weren’t a good idea.” She looked over into sparkling green eyes. “But, um, I’m not saying the wedding’s not a good idea.”

“I know what you’re saying, Devon. And the rings were a good idea, because we both wanted them. We both feel married already, don’t we?”

Devon nodded. “Yes.”

“Then the rings are a good idea.” She held up her hand and gazed at the ring. “It’s beautiful, and it symbolizes a beautiful love. I love my ring, Devon.”

Devon gently grasped Kara’s hand and stared at the golden band, which shone dimly in the low light. “I love it too. I’m sorry.” She looked around at their friends, who were sharing a laugh over a joke they had missed. “I just don’t like having a fuss made about me.”

“I know. I feel the same way. But let them be happy for us.”

“Okay.” She pulled Kara close and they shared a long kiss.

“Devon Andropoulos.” Devon took her time ending the kiss and looked up to see who had addressed her. “Long time.”

The sight of the tall, shapely blonde caused an inward groan and Devon drawled, “Rachel Sterling. Not long enough.” She picked up her mug and took a long draught.

“Devon, is that any way to greet an old lover?”

“Be happy that’s the greeting you got, Rachel. What do you want?”

“I just wanted to see you how you’re doing. What has it been? Five, six years?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t give a damn. If you’ll excuse me, this is a private party.”

“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your little friend?” She looked down her nose at Kara as she added, “You must have found her at one of the lower class brothels.”

Devon exploded from her chair and stood nose to nose with the woman as she growled, “Get the fuck out of here, Rachel. You’re not welcome.”

“Really, Devon, I know you can do better than her. Remember what I did for you. What I can still do for you.”

“Rachel, you fucked me. Hard, and I don’t mean physically. When I didn’t do what you wanted, you used me and tossed me aside when you were finished. Now, if you don’t leave, I’ll have you thrown out.”

The woman laughed darkly, which made her look older than her forty years. “Please, Devon, my father’s consortium owns half of this base. I’d like to see you try.”

“It’s either that or I’ll kick your ass through the door myself.” With that statement, Kara stood and grabbed Devon’s hand, and Jim, Rusty, Chad and Cyd stood as well, offering their Captain their support.

“Well, I see that your taste in friends hasn’t changed.” She inched closer to Devon again. “Think about it, Devon. I’m running Sterling Shipping now and still offering you a partnership. You can be very, very rich.” She reached into her small bag and retrieved a small data crystal, then tucked it into Devon’s cleavage. “Contact me.”

Before the woman could turn away, Kara reached down into Devon’s bra and retrieved the crystal, then dropped it to the floor and crushed it under her boot before looking up and defiantly stating, “My wife is not interested in your offer.”

The tall blonde’s eyes widened briefly and then flitted to Devon’s hand, taking in for the first time the expensive ring on her finger. “Wife? Why Devon, you stupid bitch. You refused to marry into the wealthiest shipping family in the system, but you’d marry a little tart like this?”

Rachel never saw the punch coming. All she knew was that she was suddenly on the floor, spitting blood from her mouth. “Ahh!” She screamed. “You fucking bitch!” She brought her hand to her mouth. “I will own you Devon! I promise you!”

As she struggled to stand, Devon knelt beside her and said in a calm, but hard-edged and menacing voice, “There are plenty of witnesses here whom you don’t own that will testify that you provoked me. Now, go away and crawl back into your slimy hole, or I swear to Sennaat, Rachel, I’ll blow you away.” She stared pointedly into the woman’s angry, brown eyes as she added, “I can do it, too, with the guns my ship is now authorized to carry.” She reached down and grabbed the woman’s chin roughly. “Don’t push me, Rachel…you’re no match for me, and you do not want to make me angry. Now, my wife is a doctor, would you like her to see to your jaw?”

“Fuck you!” The woman screamed as she used a chair to lift herself to her feet. “You’ve made a huge mistake, Devon, and I intend to make you very, very sorry for this.”

“You’re welcome to try,” Devon said smoothly as the woman hurriedly left the pub. She turned back to her friends and received a round of applause. Waving them off, she pulled her protective little “wife” close and received a warm squeeze.

Devon looked down into misty green eyes. “Wife, huh? I liked the sound of that, Kara.”

“Good. You’ll need to get used to hearing it. Are you going to tell me later…about her?”

“Anything you want to know.” She kissed the soft hair below her and sighed. “Jesus, Buddha, and Sennaat…and it was such a nice day, too.”

“It still is. We’re not going to let a…a.”

“Bitch?”

“Yes. Like her ruin our day are we?”

“No. We are not.” She reseated herself and pulled Kara into her lap. “Jim, where’s that refill?”

As Jim refilled her mug from the large pitcher of ale the waiter had brought, Devon kissed her mate deeply, savoring her future wife’s beautiful, loving essence and wondering briefly how she could ever have been attracted to a self-centered, vitriolic user like Rachel Sterling. The difference between the two women was like the distance between the stars. Like the difference between a bright shining quasar radiating light and warmth and a dark, black hole, sucking the energy from everything that falls within its grasp.

Devon chuckled and shook her head at the analogy. “Gods, Kara, my taste in women has improved astronomically, hasn’t it?”

Kara smiled warmly and Jim answered the question for her. “Absolutely, Devon. Without a doubt.”

Devon smiled her thanks and pulled Kara close again, enjoying the feeling of holding her and not caring who saw it or what anyone thought. “Well, people, shall we continue this party?”

The question was met by a chorus of, “Yes!” and Devon grinned as she called the waiter over again.

When she had the man’s attention, she stated loudly, “We need more food and ale here. Everyone, tell him what you want.” With the arrival of platters of food and pitchers of ale, the party continued for several more hours. Devon and Kara were extremely pleased to share their happiness with their friends and both enjoyed themselves immensely.

Over at the long, simulated-wood bar, a man sat quietly the whole time they were there, nursing two drinks. He surreptitiously watched the happy group and occasionally made notes into his data unit. As inconspicuous as he was, his presence did not go unnoticed by the sharp-eyed Devon, who recognized him and began to formulate a counter-attack to the attack that she now knew was coming.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“Whoo, Kara…baby, this is bad. I should be on my shi…ship…checking readouts, make…making sure it’s secure…um, and something else,” Devon slurred as she furrowed her brows, trying to remember just exactly what it was that she should have been doing rather than getting drunk with her crew. Kara got them into the room and the door slid shut behind them.

“Lights, low. Nonsense, love. We were celebrating.” Kara giggled as she added, “Some of us more than others…but it was great to see you relax.” She pulled her tall mate over to the bed. “Now come here and let me love you.”

“Oh, yeah. Love me, baby,” Devon tried to drawl but wasn’t quite successful at it. Kara helped her to the bed and she flopped down on her back. Kara removed her boots and pants for her before crawling onto the bed next to her. “Mm, yeah, undress me baby.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t just rather sleep, honey?”

“No, baby, no. I want to love you. Come here, Kara. Let me lo…love you.”

“Okay, but would like a stimulant first?”

“Kara, I don’t need a sim…stimulant. Just kiss me. That’ll wake me up.” Devon reached up to caress the lovely face gazing down at her.

“Whatever you want, my love.”

“I want you, Kara. For the rest of my life.”

“You’ve got it,” Kara whispered as she leaned down and captured Devon’s lips. She shared her love with her mate, affirming her love for her and awakening Devon’s passion.

Devon returned the kiss fervently, surprising Kara, and rolled them over so that she was on top. “Let me show you how happy I am to be engaged to you.”

“Please do.”

Very gently, Devon began to remove Kara’s clothes, planting tender kisses on each area as she bared it. She kissed the curve of a breast, and then licked at it gently, and Kara moaned, pulling Devon fully atop her. “Yes, Devon.”

“I love you, Kara,” she mumbled against a nipple before licking it and sucking it into her mouth.

“Mmm, Devon, love you.”

“God, you taste good. Have I told you that before?”

Kara giggled. “I think so, yes.”

“Mm. Good, ’cause it’s true. What’s this?” She playfully twirled her tongue around the other nipple.

Kara gasped and giggled. “That’s the other one, silly.”

“Mm, oh. It tastes good too.”

My God, she’s a silly drunk. Who’d have thought? “Oh, my God, Devon, yes!” Kara gasped as long fingers suddenly found their way under her panties while a hot mouth attended to her breasts. Jesus, how can she be so good when she’s drunk? Kara thought just before she lost herself in the pleasure that Devon was delivering to her. It was some time before she had recovered enough to repay the gift to her sobering mate.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The next morning, Kara awakewned to the pleasant sensation of long fingers caressing her skin from the backs of her thighs to her shoulder blades. “Mm, honey, that’s nice. How do you feel?”

“Fine, love. Why?”

“Why? Honey, you were just a tad drunk last night.”

Devon furrowed her brows. “Was I? I don’t remember that.”

“A classic symptom, love.”

“Hm. Well, I feel okay. That’s good quality ale. I can usually hold four or five pints with no problem.”

“Jesus, honey…that’s a lot.”

“Nah. I’m a big girl.”

“Mm, yes, you are. Do you, um, remember what happened when we got back here last night?”

“I do. We made love, and it was so good, Kara.”

“Mm, hm,” Kara agreed with a grin. She snuggled against her living pillow as she added, “What’s the plan for today?”

“Fool around in the bathtub, check on the install, eat lunch, do some EV suit training, get dinner, secure the ship, fool around in the bathtub, go to bed.”

“In that order?”

“Yep.”

“Sounds like a perfect day. Let’s get started.” Kara hopped out of bed and held her hand out to her mate, mimicking her behavior from the previous day.

“Can’t wait, huh?” Devon grinned rakishly as she grasped Kara’s hand.

“Nope. Come on.”

Devon hopped adroitly out of bed and embraced a naked Kara from behind. She whispered in Kara’s ear, “I’m right behind you.”

“Gods, what a nice place for you to be.”

A short time later, after wearing themselves out playing, “Where’s the soap?” and assorted other sexy water games, they lounged together in the bubbling, lukewarm water.

“Honey, I thought we had settled on getting a lifetime contract.”

“Kara, it’s what I want, but I don’t want to trap you. I’m not sure you fully understand what a spacer’s life entails. Especially a free-trader like me.”

“Devon Andropoulos, I know exactly what I’m getting and I want it for the rest of my life. End of discussion. Now, tell me about that woman yesterday.”

Devon let out a sigh. “Yeah, all right. She’s an ex of mine, obviously. An ex-lover…I never had any steady partners or girlfriends. Her father is a shipping magnate…the Sterling Consortium…and I worked one of his ships for a while. I had several lovers while I worked the Charleston, and she was just one of them. I didn’t treat her any differently than I did any of my other lovers just because she was the owner’s daughter, though she thought I should.”

Devon kissed the soft hair in front of her and continued. “After we’d slept together a few times, she asked me to go into business with her…she wanted to set up her own consortium and needed talented pilots…but I had already decided to try to go mercenary. I hated the way the consortiums operated and wanted no part of it. When I told her that I wasn’t interested, she upped the offer…asked me to sign a marriage contract with her. Again, I told her I wasn’t interested. She was upset, but she let it drop. Also, it seems that she was having a disagreement with her father at the time. He wanted her to enter into a marriage contract with the son of a competitor, for business reasons, obviously, but she couldn’t stand the guy, so she used the fact that she was sleeping with me to piss them all off. She blatantly came after me, and other women, but mainly me, using me to get at her father.”

“When he’d had enough of her behavior, he fired me and had me blacklisted from all consortium ships. I was not able to find work for almost a year…until I finally found a free ship that needed a pilot. After about six months, I was broke and I went to her for help. I proposed that we set up our own free ship. She laughed in my face…said that there was no way she could stay rich running a free-trade ship and said it would have to a consortium partnership or nothing. I opted for nothing. She had a fit and threw me out. That was the last time I saw her.”

Devon shook her head sadly. “She really screwed me…both literally and figuratively. She was nothing but a conniving user, and I’m ashamed to admit that I used her too, for sex. Gods…”

“Honey, it’s okay.”

“No, Kara, it’s not, and I’m glad I’m a different person now. But you know what? I wouldn’t be if not for you.”

“Devon, that’s ludicrous. The woman I fell in love with is ethical and honest. Jesus, Devon, the Grays do business with you and only you.”

“That may be, Kara, but until I met you, I was still using women wantonly for sex.”

“Devon, they were adults, weren’t they? They were capable of making the decision to sleep with you. Weren’t they using you just as surely as you were using them?”

Devon shrugged and her breasts caressed Kara’s back. “I guess. But it was so…unfulfilling…and I did it anyway.”

“You’re human. I’ve had more casual sex than I care to admit, too, Devon. We’re human.” She turned and straddled Devon’s lap. “But now, we’re monogamous. Joyfully, blissfully, wonderfully monogamous.”

“Yes, we are. Don’t forget happily, ecstatically, absolutely contentedly,” she added with a grin.

“Mm, nice adverbs, honey. Yes, we are. The past doesn’t matter. It has helped to shape us, but it doesn’t define us.”

“Mm.”

“Are you worried that she’ll try to hurt you somehow?”

“I’m pretty sure she will, knowing her like I unfortunately do. I saw one of her henchmen in the pub yesterday, so I know he was keeping an eye on me. But don’t worry, Kara. I can handle anything she throws at me, believe me. She has a lot of bravado, but not a lot of intelligence. I’ll be watchful.”

“You’ll be careful.”

“Okay, baby, I’ll be careful.”

“Promise me, Devon.”

“I promise, Kara.” She wrapped her arms around her soft, slippery mate and pulled her close. “I’m not doing anything to endanger this ship, its crew, my cargo, my love, or my upcoming marriage contract. Believe me, Kara.”

“I believe you, Devon.” She sealed her statement with a tender kiss, which as usual, deepened, and they were somewhat later getting a start on their busy day than they had planned.
-19-
Devon leaned back against the side of the tub and sighed deeply as the warm, wonderful sensations played across her body. Kara wrapped herself around her mate, melting against her as similar sensations bathed her body.

“God, Devon, you do know how to begin the day,” Kara muttered against Devon’s chest.

“Mm,” was the only reply Devon felt up to uttering.

Their shared reverie was interrupted a few minutes later when the comm on Devon’s comp unit buzzed.

“Shit,” Devon mumbled as she disengaged her clinging mate and pulled her long body from the warm water. She grabbed a towel as she walked naked into the next room. Picking up the small unit, she pushed the ‘audio only’ button and grumbled, “Yeah?”

“Captain Andropoulos, Amara Johnson here. I have two matters of extreme importance to discuss with you at your earliest convenience. When can we meet?”

“We can’t do it over the comm?”

“I would prefer not, Ms. Andropoulos.”

“Half an hour?”

“That will be fine. Johnson out.”

Shit. Now what? She pulled the towel from her shoulders and began drying herself as she walked back to the bathroom. Finding her mate stepping from the tub, she grabbed another towel to wrap around her before pulling her close. “Sorry about that, love. The station’s cargo manager needs to see me. I told her I’d meet her in a half hour.”

“Okay, that gives us just enough time to pick up a bite and some tea on our way.”

“Are you sure you want to go? It’s probably just about boring cargo issues.”

“I would like to, if you don’t mind. Since I’m going to be your partner soon, there’s a lot that I need to learn about the shipping business. I’m interested.” She shrugged as she looked with bright eyes up into Devon’s.

“And then there’s the fact that we hate to be apart,” Devon provided cheekily.

“Well, yeah, there is that,” Kara agreed with a smile, and gave Devon a tight squeeze. “Mm, thank you for that wonderful little interlude. That was nice.”

“My pleasure, Kara, believe me. But I had a somewhat longer encounter in mind. I’m sorry that didn’t work out. After the meeting with Johnson, we should go on to the ship and do your EVA training.”

“Yes, I guess we should. Well, let’s get going, then. I need to put something in my stomach.”

“Of course you do, baby.”

Thirty minutes later, tea mugs in hand, they strolled into Amara Johnson’s office. The receptionist sitting at the front console nodded and stood to escort them to the inner office.

As the door slid aside, the blonde Station Cargo Manager, who appeared to be in her mid to late forties, stood and welcomed them.

“Captain, thank you for coming so quickly.”

“Not a problem. Ms. Johnson, this is my Medical Officer and partner, Dr. Kara Murphy.”

Amara extended her hand to Kara and nodded. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise.”

“Please, be seated.”

Devon and Kara took the comfortable chairs across the large desk from the woman. “May I serve you a beverage?”

“No, thanks, I still have tea,” Devon said as she indicated her mug and Kara smiled as she held up hers.

“Yes, I’m sorry to call you in so early, but two urgent matters have come to my attention. First, my clients on Earth and Mars would still like to have you deliver the cargo we had previously scheduled, as well as a client at Luna Base. The delay caused by your trip to Z. Ret. is not a problem for them. Part of the Luna cargo is perishable, but you have shown in the past that you are more than capable of delivering it in optimum condition after a long run.”

Devon nodded. “Fine.”

The woman looked down at her desk and was frowning as she looked back up at Devon. “The other matter is a bit sticky.”

Devon, concerned, leaned forward in her seat as she asked, “What is it?”

“I’m afraid that some rather serious charges have been leveled against you. ByŠ”

“Rachel Sterling,” Devon supplied with distaste.

Amara nodded. “Yes.”

“What did she charge? Simple assault? Assault and battery?”

Amara frowned deeply, confused. “No, I’m afraid they’re somewhat more serious than that. She has accused you of space piracy.”

“What?” Devon and Kara both gasped.

“That’s absurd!” Devon added.

Amara held up her hands as she nodded her agreement. “Yes, Devon, I suspect that it is. However, they are serious charges and they must be looked into.”

“The fucking whore,” Devon hissed.

“Ms. Johnson,” Kara asked as she lay a comforting hand on Devon’s thigh. “What exactly has she accused Devon of doing? And what proof has she offered?”

“Her accusation involves stated proof that the Phoenix was seen in the area of recent pirate attacks in the Neptune Sector.”

“Jesus!” Devon exploded. “That’s impossible. I’ve been outbound from Earth the last two plus months, which my logs clearly show.”

Amara nodded. “Yes, and it’s highly fortunate for you that you turned your logs in when you arrived here. As you know, they are unadulterable, and should clearly prove your innocence. In addition, the fact that you are working under orders from the military is fortunate for you. I’m sure that the Fleet will urge the Magistrate to conduct a speedy investigation. In fact, he has already requested and received my copies of your logs.”

“Good,” Devon stated with a nod. “There are Fleet soldiers crawling all over my ship right now, tooŠhave Station Security board as well and conduct a full search if they wish. They won’t find so much as a bootleg vid. Well, not unless they thoroughly search my junior cargo handler’s quarters,” she added with a small chuckle.

“I will suggest that to the Magistrate. It can only help your case.”

Devon shook her head angrily. “The bitch! She knew this charge was ludicrous, but figured she could hold me up here for a few weeks while it was sorted out, and endanger my contracts. Not to mention my reputation.”

“Devon, let me assure you that your reputation is nearly beyond reproach. We’ll get this sorted out.” She leaned back in her chair and smiled. “So, shall I take it that you and Ms. Sterling have had an altercation?”

“Shit. Just the latest in a long series, yes.” Devon sighed and reported, “She provoked me yesterday in the Bull and Bear, and I’m afraid that I hit her. However, I am not sorry I did it.”

Amara nodded her agreement. “I would imagine not, especially now. Devon, it’s very fortunate that you turned in your logs upon arrivalŠdid you expect this from her?”

“No, I didn’t even know she was here. I haven’t had any contact with her in over five years. I’m not sure why I turned the logs in right away, except possibly because this is an extended stay and I saw no need to wait until we left.”

“Well, in any case, it bodes well for you, and like I said, I’m sure that this will be straightened out rather quickly. Again, I apologize, but it does need to be looked into.”

Devon waved her hand. “Oh, no need to apologize. I understand, and I agree that any charge as serious as this needs to be investigated. It’s ironic though, because I’m outbound with orders from the Military approving engagement of pirate ships. As the weapons being installed on my ship will attest.”

“It is very ironic, and a fact of which I’m sure Ms. Sterling is ignorant.”

“It’s not the only thing she’s ignorant of,” Kara muttered.

“Ms. Murphy, I think I agree with that statement. Well, Devon, Ms. Murphy, thank you for stopping by. You will be hearing from the Magistrate on the further developments on this case. I sincerely hope that this is straightened out very soon, as do my clients.” She smiled as she stood and Devon stood and nodded.

“Thank you, Ms. Johnson,” Devon said as she shook the woman’s hand firmly.

“Thank you,” Kara repeated with a friendly smile.

“You’re welcome. It was nice to meet you, Ms. Murphy.”

“And you,” Kara replied.

“Devon,” Amara said as Devon and Kara turned to leave. “I didn’t know that you had taken on a partner.”

Devon smiled and pulled Kara close. “Officially, I haven’t yet. We’re to be married in a few months, when we arrive on Z. Ret. At that time, Kara will become my business partner as well as my life partner.”

“Well, congratulations! I’m very happy for you.”

“Thank you,” Devon replied sincerely.

Kara’s smile echoed the sentiment and they left, hand in hand.

“Oh, my GodŠthe nerve of that horrible woman!” Kara exclaimed as they left the Manager’s office.

“She’s got a lot of fucking nerve all right,” Devon murmured. “She always was a spoiled baby who threw tantrums when she didn’t get what she wanted. And in this case, she will never get what she wants.”

“No, because she wants you, and you are very, very taken.”

“Yes, I most definitely am.” She pulled Kara close and kissed her head as they passed into the maintenance sector. They clicked on their magnets and strolled casually to the umbilical airlock that connected their ship to the vast space station.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Devon backed into the hanging, bright red Extra Vehicular Suit, thrusting her arms into it and then stepping into the legs and settling her feet into the boots. “See, hon? Just like this. Then you close it up and grab the helmet.” Devon slid the closure on the front of the heavy suit closed to the Teflon ring at the neck and grabbed the helmet from the rack behind her. She settled the helmet on the neck ring and twisted it securely on, then held her hands out to her sides and said in a slightly tinny, amplified voice, “See? Piece of cake.”

“Devon, I think I may have forgotten to mention the fact that I’m mildly claustrophobic.”

Devon’s grin was clearly visible behind the clear plexi screen in her helmet. “Nearly everyone is, babe, the first time they meet their EV suit.”

Kara scowled mildly, not at all looking forward to the task at hand. “If you say so, Devon.”

“I do, and I’m Captain, so what I say goes. Now, come on, love. It’s really a blast.”

“Oh, right. This from the woman who actually enjoys being thrust into space with two million pounds of explosive thrust up her ass.”

Devon laughed deeply. “That’s right, I do, and before you know it, you will too. Now come on, Kara. I’d like to get this over with. There are other, more pleasant ways that I’d like to spend my leave time.”

“Oh? And whom do you intend to spend that time with?”

“KaraŠ”

“All right. But Devon, you’d better not let go of my tether for even a millisecond, or so help meŠ”

“Ooh, you’ll do what?” The sparkle in Devon’s eyes fairly lit up the interior of her helmet, and Kara smiled despite herself.

“I’ll think of something,” she provided mischievously.

“I can’t wait,” she drawled and beckoned for her mate to join her.

Kara sighed resignedly and backed up against the smaller suit, entering it as Devon had hers, easily pulling it closed. The thick, cushioned material was surprisingly comfortable and flexible and Kara had no problem reaching up for her helmet. She screwed it on and took a breath, feeling only mildly closed in.

Devon continued her instruction. “Okay, your air controls are on your left sleeve, see them?”

Kara touched the control pad on her arm and nodded.

“Punch the button marked,’O2′, and then the one below it with the recirculating arrows.”

Kara did so and nodded again.

“Do you feel the air coming in? You might hear it, too.”

“Yes.”

“Good, now you’re set. The temperature control is automatic; the suit senses whether you’re in sunlight or not and maintains a constant temperature, but if for some reason it goes on the fritz, you can set the controls manually. See the ‘heat’ and ‘cool’ buttons?”

Kara replied, “Yes.”

“Now, look down at your utility belt. At each side and in the back there is a tether with a latch on it. Topside, you can tether yourself to the tether hooks or to the handholds. Before you leave the airlock hatch, I want you to tether yourself to a handhold inside.” She stepped forward, pulling the suit gently from its perch and Kara did likewise.

“Good. Okay, love, you’re all set. We checked the air supplies before we got into the suits, so we can disembark now. You can use any hatch, but it’s easiest to use this one in the cargo bay because it’s on the top of the ship and this section doesn’t rotate. Follow me.”

She forcefully pulled up her magnetized boots and floated up to the hatch, where she punched in a code. It opened with a hiss and they floated into the tiny airlock. Devon closed the inner hatch and gazed at the keypad. “Before opening the outer hatch, be sure to press the ‘depressurize warning’. It will flash a warning in here and outside the cargo bay hatch that an exterior hatch is opening and the airlock will be depressurized, and it will let the SysComp know that an outer hatch is open. Obviously, you also want to try to be sure that there is nothing unsecured in here, or it will be spaced.” Devon punched in a code as she added, “I like these new suits. The gloves are very dexterous. You should have seen the old onesŠpractically useless for fine tasks. Okay, love, tether yourself to this handhold here and hang on to another.”

Kara did so, as did Devon and the hatch hissed open. Above them, beyond Devon, Kara could see the support struts of the hangar that surrounded the ship. Through the struts, she could see the black space beyond. Devon carefully exited, pulling herself slowly out of the hatch. She cleared it and stood on the hull plating.

“Okay, honey, the sun is up so pull your tinted shield down, and come on up, moving slowly. When EV, always move very deliberately, even if using multiple tethers. Try not to make any sudden or quick moves.”

“No problem there, Devon,” Kara replied shakily as she pulled herself up and out of the hatch. “Oh, GodŠoh, my GodŠ” As she cleared the hatch and stood up, she saw the immense bulk of Saturn beyond the adjacent space station and was gripped by fear. She turned her head very slightly in the other direction and saw only the infinite black void beyond the hangar struts.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Devon soothed. “I’ve got you. I’ve got you, Kara, see?” She looked down at their linked hands. “And you’re tethered to the inner airlock. Now, honey, grab your right tether and pull the line out of your belt.”

“I can’t Devon. I can’t move,” Kara replied, paralyzed by her fear.

“Take a deep breath Kara. You’re doing fine. This is the hardest part for everyone. Everyone feels this the first time. But you’re perfectly safe. You’re tethered to the ship, your boots are holding you magnetically, and I’m not letting go of your hand. Come on, love. Look down at the hull if it helps.”

Kara took a deep breath, and then another and slowly moved her right hand down to her utility belt. She found the hook of the latch protruding and pulled it gently. A thin, strong line followed, and she pulled it out a few dozen centimeters. “Okay.”

“Great, honey. Good job. Now, bend over slowly and hook yourself into the hull plating. See the tether hook there by your right foot?”

Kara looked down and nodded. I can do this. I can do this. She tested the magnetic seals of her boots and found them holding tight, so she let go of Devon’s hand and bent over slowly, grabbing the hook. She brought her right hand around and secured her tether, then slowly stood upright.

“Yes! Great job, Kara! You just completed the hardest part of your EVA training. Now, I’ll unhook you from the airlock and I’ll do the same, and then we’ll walk along the hull a little way. Try to look around a littleŠthe sooner you get used to the immensity of the space around you, the easier it is to acclimatize.” She bent over and secured her tether to the hook next to Kara’s, then unhooked both their airlock lines and, grabbing Kara’s hand again, took a step forward.

“Wait, Devon. Let me have just a minute, okay?”

“Sure, hon. Take your time.”

Kara took another deep breath, and holding onto Devon for dear life, looked around her. The blazing yellow bulk of Saturn beyond the station captured her gaze and nearly astounded her. “Gray gods,” she breathed.

“It’s incredible, isn’t it? Gods, the rings blow my mind every time I see them. I will never get tired of the sight.” The wonder in her voice was evident and she squeezed Kara’s hand softly.

“They are something. Devon, it’s so peaceful out here.”

“Yeah, it is. That’s one of the first things that hits you. Saturn is interesting because from this distance, you can see the atmosphere roiling, but it’s absolutely silent. I try to imagine what it would sound like if I were immersed in it.”

“Ever been in a hurricane?” Kara grinned.

“Nah, that’s more like Jupiter, hon. Saturn’s atmosphere seems more peacefulŠnot as violent. Of course, the probes we’ve lost there have said otherwise. Are you ready to walk, baby?”

“I think so, yeah.”

“Let’s go.” Devon stepped forward and Kara followed suit. “You have to lift your legs with some force to break the magnetic seal, but it’s not too bad. After several hours it can be tiring, but the safety aspect is unbeatable.”

They walked slowly along the hull of the huge ship, toward the aft section where the cannon was being mounted on the support struts between the Engineering and cargo sections. Two suited figures floated above their task and Devon waved at them.

“Lieutenant, how’s it going?”

“Nominal, Captain. It’s a pretty basic install. We’re about to the point where we can begin the internal hook-up.”

“Good,” Devon said with a nod. “I’ve got a new crewmember here who needs EV training, but we’ll stay out of your way.”

The young woman nodded and returned to her work and Devon turned around. “Feel ready for a little floating?”

“Noooo,” Kara answered. “I do not. Can’t we, um, do that in a future lesson?”

“Sorry, babe, there’s not time for that. There’s really nothing to it. You can hook up your other two tethers if you want.”

“JesusŠoh, I want. Give me another minute, please.”

“Take your time, love. You really are doing well, Kara.”

Devon could hear the smile in her voice as Kara answered, “Thanks, Devon.” Kara took another moment to gaze around at the wonders that surrounded her, surprised that much of her fear had dissipated. Would I feel as brave if a certain tall, dark, and gorgeous Captain weren’t up here with me? No way. She chuckled at herself and prepared herself for her next task.

“Okay, love, let’s give it a try.”

“Great, Kara. Okay, pull out your left tether and bend over again, slowly. Good. Now hook inŠtry a handhold this time. It’s bigger, so the hook will slip when you move, but it won’t come loose. Great, honey, now pull out your rear line and hook into the same handhold. You’ll have to bend a little.”

Kara did as instructed and Devon added, “Now, instead of straightening up, bend your knees and kneel on the hull.”

“God, DevonŠ”

“It’s okay, you’re secure. I’m right here. Fall to your kneesŠslowly.” Kara did, frantically grabbing another handhold. “Good, Kara! Now stay there and I’ll join you.” Devon expertly dropped to her knees and looked over at the mate.

“Show off.”

Devon shrugged and chuckled. “Experience. Okay, now, it’s easier if you de-magnetize your boots, but you don’t have too. If you don’t they tend to be pulled down toward the hull.”

“I’ll live with that.”

Devon chuckled again. “That’s fine.” She kicked at her heels and let her boots float up. “Okay, lift your feet and stretch out, like this.” She demonstrated, stretching out horizontally over the hull and floating above it.

“Jesus Christ, Devon, is this really necessary?”

“Absolutely. I wouldn’t put you through it if it weren’t. Take your time, Kara. You’re doing well, and I won’t push you.”

Kara took another few moments to calm herself and gather her courage, and then lifted first one boot and then the other.

“Great, baby! You’ve got it! See, there’s nothing to it. Just hang there for a minute and enjoy the weightlessness.”

Kara did, and she found that she did actually enjoy the sensation of floating. “Okay, Devon, um, this is kind of nice.”

“Mm, hm. Now, let go with one hand and reach for the next handhold.” She demonstrated, moving slightly ahead of Kara.

“Hold on, Devon, please. Wait for me.”

“I’m not going anywhere, love. Just take your time.” She waited for Kara to move alongside her. “Great. Now, slowly, let’s move up a handhold at a time.”

Together, they pulled themselves along the top of the ship, right up to the edge of the cargo section. They stopped and floated at the edge, beyond which support struts separated it from the round passenger and living section. “Okay. Now look back. See how far we’ve come? That’s only about an eighth of the total length of our tethers. It’s harder maneuvering over the curved surface, so I think we’ll skip that. Let’s go back to where we’re hooked in and I’ll show you one more thing.”

“Okay.”

“Turn around slowly, and I’ll follow and we’ll go back together.”

Kara did so and they slowly made their way back to the handholds near the hatch. “Great, Kara. You’re doing so well. Okay, this time, we’ll hook in to the tether cable, and use just one tether. That allows for much more freedom and flexibility. Like you’d need if making external repairs.”

“Okay,” Kara replied, a little breathless.

“Let’s stop here and take a breather.” Devon let go of the handholds and floated in place.

“Devon, please hold on. That makes me very nervous.”

“Honey, I’m safe. Don’t worry.”

“I can’t help but worry, Devon. It’s my job.”

“Well you don’t have to worry about me.”

“So you’ve told me, honey, but I can’t help it. I love you, you know.”

“I know, baby. Thank you. Are you ready to fly?”

“Ughh.”

“Come on, you’ve done great so far. Unclip your rear tether.” She waited while Kara did so. “Good. Now, grab onto the tether cable with your left handŠgoodŠand with your right unclip your right tether and clip it into the cable. Good, Kara. Now unclip the last tether from the handhold. Good, love. Now you’re only clipped into the cable.”

Devon did the same, clipping herself to another cable that ran a few meters to Kara’s right; parallel to the cable Kara was clipped into. “Okay, Kara, now we’ll float along the hull here. Pull out your tether to about a meter’s length and engage the lock. Good. Now give yourself a little push and move forward. Your clip will slide easily along the cable.”

Together, they floated along the hull, tethered to the ship by the strong, thin lines. The sensation of flying was intense, and Kara soon found a wide grin on her face. “Devon, I like this!”

“I thought you would, babe.”

They floated the length of the long cargo section and returned to the hatch. Devon magnetized her boots again and they stood up and embraced. “Kara, congratulations. You are now rated for EVA work. Great job, honey!”

Kara held onto her mate, barely feeling her solid body beneath the bulky spacesuit, but reveling in the feel of her anyway. She felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment, and even more so, a great pride at pleasing her mate.

“I love you, Kara.”

“Love you too, Devon.”

“Well, baby, this is a first for me: exchanging ‘I love you’s’ while EVA.” She shook her head comically and Kara could just make out her shining eyes behind the tinted plexi shield

“Needless to say, it is for me too, love.”

“Come on let’s go in.”

She knelt down to climb down into the open hatch and tethered herself to the airlock before undoing the cable tether. As soon as she was fully within the airlock, Kara followed, and a moment later, Devon closed the hatch. She opened the inner airlock hatch and they pushed themselves down into the bay.

Pulling Kara tightly against her, Devon said happily, “Kara, you were magnificent, baby. I truly believe that you were meant to live with me in space. Gray gods”

Kara laid her helmeted head against Devon’s suited chest. “I know I was, Devon, and pleasing you makes me feel so good.”

“Pleased is not the word for what I am right now, Kara. Let’s get out of these suits.”

“Gladly.”

Devon helped Kara out of her suit and climbed hurriedly out of hers as well, letting both suits and helmets float beside them, uncharacteristically careless about stowing them properly. They hung together briefly, facing each other, both barefoot and clad only in their underwear, and then Devon reached out and pulled Kara into her arms.

She closed her eyes and sighed, then said, “Kara, there are times when I just can’t express what you mean to me.”

“I know that feeling very well, Devon. In fact, it’s overwhelming me right now.”

They held each other tightly, feeling as one, yet wanting to be even closer. “I need to love you again, Kara,” Devon said almost apologetically.

“And you’re sorry about that, love?”

“No, Kara, but I worry that you’ll tire of being mauled so frequently.”

“Mauled?” Kara chuckled. “That’s not how I think of it. And frankly, Devon, it’s not often enough. I love you beyond what words can express and sometimes touching is the only way to convey the depth of my love for you. So no, I will not, ever, tire of your touching me. You are welcome to touch me now, if you’d like.” She grinned coyly up at her future wife.

“Oh, gods, I want.”

Devon kissed her, softly at first to convey her deep love, then let it deepen as she was overwhelmed by the passion she felt for Kara. As their tongues danced, she slipped her hands under Kara’s combination half-shirt/bra, and then broke the kiss so she could pull it off and fling it aside, and yanked hers off too. She reached down and pushed Kara’s briefs down and Kara kicked them away with a giggle, then bent to remove Devon’s.

Naked, they came together again, embracing tightly as their legs entwined. As she kissed her lover, Devon mumbled, “I want to make love to you for hours, but that isn’t possible here.”

“Then love me fast and hard, Devon, and then we’ll go back to the room for some long, slow, Tantric lovemaking in our bed.”

“Oh, fuck, Kara.” Devon thrust her tongue deeply into Kara’s mouth and groaned as Kara brought her legs up and wrapped them around her waist, thrusting their centers together. “Yes, baby, that’s perfect.” She leaned back, thrusting hard against Kara and gasped, “Hold onto my hand and lay back.”

Kara grasped Devon’s right hand with her left and lay back, shifting slightly so that one leg was above and one below Devon’s body, and they began thrusting together. She was already aflame and arched her back as Devon set the pace of their thrusting. “Oh, God Devon, yes,” she moaned as the liquid fire began to build and move up her spine. “God,” she gasped. “I’m soŠclose.”

Devon opened her eyes and looked across her flat stomach to where her dark curls were thrusting against Kara’s golden ones, and saw a flash of bright pink flesh. Beyond, the fleshy mounds of Kara’s breasts jiggled in time to her thrusts. “Oh, God, yes! Yes, baby, come with me, Kara. I love it whenŠoh shiiitŠwhen you come with me.” She gently grasped the foot that hovered near her face and kissed it.

“Yes,” Kara gasped as she was consumed from within. She felt the first tremors begin and sat up, pulling Devon up against her. She took a deep breath, enjoying the sweet, liquid fire that burned in her spine and panted, “Breathe with me, DevŠDevon. Synchronize your breathing withŠwith mine.”

“God, Kara, I can’t. Let me come, baby.”

“Trust me, baby. Take a deep breath, right now, and feel the buŠohhh…the burn.”

Devon trusted in her mate and took a deep breath, and was shocked at her body’s response. “Jesus!”

“Breathe with me now. It’ll align…align our chakras.”

Devon did, synchronizing their breathing as they continued to thrust together, now face to face. “God, Kara, this is tooŠtoo intense.”

“No, baby, breathe. Now, hold it and clench your belly muscles.”

Devon did as requested and they both convulsed at the exquisite pleasure. “Yes, Kara! GodŠ”

“Do what I do, love.”

Kara led Devon in a sequence of breath and muscle control, drawing out the orgasm that they were both experiencing, until the pleasure was so great that they felt as if they would pass out. The fire rose up their spines and finally, Kara allowed the explosion to take place. She thrust hard into Devon and sucked a hard, aching nipple into her mouth, releasing her mate to the pleasure that awaited her. The kundalini exploded from the tops of their heads simultaneously and they screamed their pleasure as they arched against each other.

The waves rolled over them for several minutes as they bobbed in midair, entwined tightly together. Finally, completely spent and utterly sated, Devon gasped, “Oh, my fucking God, Kara. What did you just do to me?”

Kara murmured into Devon’s sweat-soaked hair, “Some of that Tantra I promised you.”

“Kara, shitŠI know a little Tantra, but it’s never been like that.” She rested her face against Kara’s temple. “Gray gods.”

“Mm.”

Devon pulled away slightly and looked Kara in the eye. “I’ve, um, never wanted to be close enough to anyone to share Tantra with them. I’ve mainly used it for self-pleasure.”

“Well, then you’ve learned something new today, too.”

“God, Kara.” She leaned in and captured her lover’s lips sweetly, savoring her. Appreciating her. Then pulled back again and gazed into Kara’s eyes. “Take me to bed and show me more, please.”

“With pleasure, my love.”

Devon closed her eyes and sighed, pulling Kara close again, and they hung together for a long while, simply letting their love flow between and around them.
-20-
Devon launched herself toward the far corner of the bay, where a pair of briefs, size small, hung near the ceiling. She chuckled as she reached for them and remarked, “Kara, that’s some kick you’ve got, baby.”

“I played goalie on my high school football team varsity, three years,” Kara responded as she pulled her bra over her head.

“Christ, no wonder. I played too, at the Academy. Was All-Sector two seasons.”

“Wow, honey you actually did something other than fly?”

“Yep, surprisingly,” Devon answered with a grin as she settled on the floor next to Kara. “Here, babe.”

“Thank you, honey,” Kara said sweetly as she kissed her mate’s cheek before slipping into the briefs.

“Kara, I will happily retrieve your underwear for you any time.”

“As well as remove them, no doubt.”

“Oh, no doubt.” She reached for her EV suit and helmet and pushed off toward the small alcove near the hatch. “Let’s get these put away so I can undress you again in our room.”

“Okay,” Kara giggled and sailed toward where Devon stood.

As she hung her suit back on its perch, Devon commented, “I didn’t show you the thrust unit while we were out there, because it’s too dangerous to play around with.”

“Thrust unit?”

“Yes. There is a set of small thrusters here,” she pointed them out on the back of the suit Kara held. ” The controls are here, on the side of the air unit. It’s in case of an emergencyŠspecifically if your tether breaks or comes loose. There’s enough gas to thrust you back to safety. I’ve also used them to retrieve drunk crewmembers who forgot to install a second tether before unhooking from a cable. Not something that I can recommend,” she added dryly. “We barely made it back to safety.”

“God, Devon, what happened?”

“I think I’ll let Jimmy tell you the story. I will say that it almost got his ass fired, our long history notwithstanding.”

“You’re kidding!”

“I wish I were. Have you about got that, babe?”

“Yep,” Kara replied as she set the helmet marked, “Murphy” on its hook. “All done. Now,” she said, grabbing Devon’s arm and linking her hand through it, “Let’s get dressed so we can undress each other again, like you said. It’s my turn to be instructor now.” She grinned coyly up at Devon and received a groan in return.

“Shit, Kara. Let’s get going. I’m already starting to throb again.” She pulled her tank on quickly and stepped into her pants, pulling them up as she stepped into her boots.

Kara bent down to latch her boots, and caught Devon’s for her while she was down there, then faced her mate as she said, “Just hold on, tiger. Your gratification will not be instant this time. However, it will be incredibly satisfying.”

Devon could only groan again as she pushed her mate through the hatch into the corridor.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Devon rolled over onto her side, taking her mate with her and spooning up against her. She mumbled into soft, blonde hair, “Jesus, Kara, I should be doing something productive.”

“Like what?” Kara asked, scooting back against Devon and caressing the arm that encircled her waist. “If you feel like I do, you’re completely spent.”

“Yes, not to mention perfectly content. But still, I should be doing something. I do need to check the ship, and I should stop by and see the MagistrateŠsee if I can’t get this bullshit cleared up.”

“Honey, we just had an incredibly joyous romantic encounter, can we not think about bullshit right now?”

Devon kissed the soft neck in front of her. “I’m sorry, love.”

“Though, if you’re really worried about the situation, let’s go see what we can do about it.”

“I’m not, really. Because it’s just that, bullshit. There are some things that I should do to protect myself, though, that I shouldn’t hold off on. As soon as this clears, she’ll probably try something else. Actually, it’s something else I was expecting from her.”

“Something like what?”

“She has powerful friends, not to mention her father, who is one of the most powerful men in the system. I expect her to try to ruin my business contacts, maybe try to get my assets frozen, or at least tied up in litigation. I need to get them protected.”

“Jesus.”

“Mm.” Devon was quiet for a minute, obviously lost in thought. “Kara, why don’t I transfer what I have into your name?”

“What? DevonŠ”

“No, really. I’m making you a partner in two months anyway. Why don’t we begin our business partnership now?”

“Honey, I’m fine with that, if you’re sure, but I don’t think you should transfer your personal assets into my name.”

“Why not? I trust you with my life, Kara.”

“I appreciate that, Devon, I really do, but you’re a better businesswoman than thatŠI know you are. That is very dangerous.”

“It’s not the least bit dangerous, Kara, because it’s you we’re talking about. I can’t imagine doing it with anyone else, the Consul and Jim included, but I’m absolutely sure about you.”

“Honey, that is so sweet, but at least discuss it with your counsel, and protect yourself.”

“I’ll do that. But you’re agreed about beginning our business partnership now? I can make you a half partner of Andropoulos Shipping?”

Kara sighed. “Yes, if that’s what you really want to do. Sure.”

Kara felt Devon stiffen behind her, as she said quietly, “Now you don’t sound sure.”

Kara turned to face her lover and kissed the tip of her nose. “Devon, I’m thrilled with the idea. I just don’t want to see you do anything that could endanger what you’ve accomplished. I know absolutely nothing about the shipping business. I want you to be completely comfortable with the idea.”

“Oh, I am Kara. I was a month ago when I first thought about it. Shall we change the name of the company too? Tell me what you want, Kara.” She caressed her lover’s face softly as she awaited her answer.

Kara grabbed the hand that was caressing her and kissed it, then laid it over her heart. “Sweetheart, I’m taking your name, so there’s no need to change the company name.”

“Okay, baby, it’s settled then. Let’s go into the cargo sector and make some subspace calls.” She gazed at Kara with blue eyes twinkling so brightly that her heart lurched.

“Okay, my love. Let’s do that.” She leaned forward and kissed her excited mate, very tenderly, then rolled out of the bed that they had shared for several blissful hours and held her hand out to Devon.

Devon smiled warmly up at her and allowed herself to be helped to her feet.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Devon scanned her thumbprint onto the final data transmittal and passed it over to Kara, who depressed her thumb next to it on the plexi document.

“Okay,” Devon said as she scanned the document, then sat back and gazed at the image of her legal counsel on the comm screen. “That’s it, Maxwell. Thanks for taking care of this for me.”

“Devon, it’s what you pay me for. I’ll transmit these to Ms. Murphy’s counsel immediately and get these filed with the commerce authorities.” His eyes flicked to the top of his screen and he added, “It’s mid-morning here, so I’m fairly certain that the change in ownership will be recorded by the end of the business day today.”

“Great. Thanks again, Max. When we return to Earth Sector, Kara and I will treat you to dinner at your favorite restaurant.”

The large, graying man grinned. “I’ll look forward to that, Devon. Though the bonus you just transmitted is plenty, believe me.”

Devon presented a nonchalant wave. “Hey, this was above and beyond, and I appreciate it.”

“And I look forward to meeting you, Mr. Abrams,” Kara remarked from over Devon’s shoulder.

“Likewise, Ms. Murphy, and it’s Max, please.”

Kara smiled warmly, a gesture the warmth of which wasn’t lost over the billion kilometers of space that separated them. “Thank you, Max, and please call me Kara.”

The attorney nodded sincerely. “Kara. Well, ladies, I have several dozen documents to transmit, so I’ll sign off. Devon, it’s been surprising, but a pleasure nonetheless, as always. I’ll buzz you when the changes are final. And hey, congratulations again. I want to see the vids from your joining ceremony when you return.”

Devon chuckled as she nodded. “Okay. Thanks, Max. Talk to you soon. Out.”

Devon swiveled the chair and grasped the hands of her new business partner. “It’s done, Kara. Equal partners. Congratulations.”

“Thank you, love. For everything. I can’t tell you what it means to me that you have so much faith in me.”

Devon pressed their hands to her heart center. “You don’t have to, Kara. Besides, it’s exactly how I feel about your trusting your heart to me. Thank you.”

A tear fell from misty green eyes and Kara sobbed, “You’ve made me cry again, Devon.”

Devon pulled Kara into her lap and enveloped her within her warm embrace. “Same here.” They sat together in the private communications cubicle for several minutes, letting the emotion of the moment wash over them, then gathered themselves and departed the bustling communications center.

Their next destination was the Office of the Magistrate, Titan Alpha’s preeminent law enforcement and judicial officer. They strode into the spacious office, which was located on the innermost ring of the station, and approached the front desk. A security officer with the rank of Sergeant adorning his white uniform sat at the main console and nodded as the two women stopped before him.

“Devon Andropoulos and Dr. Kara Murphy to see Magister Perez if he’s available.”

The young man nodded curtly. “Certainly. Have a seat and I will inform him of your presence.”

“Thank you.”

Devon led Kara to a nearby waiting area and they had a seat. Less than a minute later, the desk Sergeant said, “Captain Andropoulos, Dr. MurphyŠthe Magistrate will see you now.”

Devon glanced quickly at Kara as they stood, and raised her eyebrows. Kara gave her a quick, comforting smile and they followed the Sergeant into the inner office.

“Captain Andropoulos, this is not unexpected. It’s good to see you again.”

“Magister Perez,” Devon greeted him as she grasped his offered hand. “This is my partner and Medical Officer, Dr. Kara Murphy.”

“Pleased to meet you, sir.”

“And you, Dr. Murphy.” Addressing Devon, the tall, handsome man commented, “I wasn’t aware that you had taken on a partner, Captain.”

“It’s a very recent partnership.”

“Well, good. Have a seat, please. May I offer you a drink?”

“No, thanks,” Devon replied and Kara shook her head, smiling. “Magister Perez, I’d like to address this ludicrous charge against me, if I may.”

The Magistrate smiled and nodded. “Yes. I supposed that you would. However, there is no need. The matter has been dismissed. My Head of Security and I reviewed your logs yesterday, as did the Fleet Commander, and found them to be in order. They prove without a doubt that your ship was nowhere near the Neptune Sector at the time of the alleged incident.”

Devon sighed, obviously relieved, and started to reply, but the man held up his hands, silencing her. “Also, I must make a request of you.”

Devon sat back and raised her eyebrows, awaiting the request.

“Since regular shipping has been halted for the time being due to the pirate difficulties, the outer colonies are in dire need of emergency supplies. I must ask you to drop cargo on Uranus Beta and at Triton Base.”

Devon furrowed her brows and looked down at her hands. She knew that making those two stops would add nearly a week to their travel time, but felt that she couldn’t refuse. Looking back up into the Magistrate’s serious gaze, she nodded. “Yes, that will be fine. I’m in rather a hurry to reach Z. Ret., but I understand the problem. And, I appreciate you’re handling of this mess with Rachel Sterling.”

The man sat back in his large chair and nodded. “Yes, well, the charge was among the most absurd I’ve had to deal with. Your reputation is such that her evidence would have to have been extremely compelling. As it was, it was nearly nonexistent, and I must say, very poorly created. It was a hatchet job, pure and simple, and frankly, she’ll be very lucky if I decide not to press fraud charges against her.”

“I’m afraid it would be a waste of time if you did. Her father has extricated her from worse legal scrapes.”

“Yes, I know,” he relied sourly, apparently having dealt with the Sterlings in the past. “At any rate, Ms. Andropoulos, your ship has been cleared by this office to disembark, pending Fleet approval. The Station’s Cargo Officer will be in touch regarding the emergency cargo, but I don’t anticipate it holding you up at all. You will also be compensated, on delivery, at hazard rates.”

“Fine, thank you, Magister.”

“Thank you, Captain, for agreeing to the special duty. Good trip.”

Devon nodded. “Thank you.” Kara nodded as well and they left the office.

As they emerged onto the main corridor, Devon threw her arm around Kara’s shoulders and pulled her close. “Whew, that’s a load off my mind, Kara, I’ve got to tell you.”

“You didn’t expect the charges to stick, did you?” Kara asked, looking up into Devon’s eyes as they walked along.

“Not really, no, but you can never be too sure when dealing with powerful, unethical people. I don’t expect that this is the last I’ll hear from her, either. She really is a spoiled brat and I have prevented her, once again, from getting what she wants.”

“Then we’ll have to be on our guard, won’t we?”

“That we will, love. That we will,” she added thoughtfully as she steered them into the corridor leading to the outer rings.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Saturn’s mightiest moon, Titan, spun below them as Devon and Kara gazed out the large view window. “Would you like to go down there, Kara? It’s actually a very interesting base.”

Kara sighed. “Not especially, honey, unless you’d like to. You know how I feel about atmospheric travel, and I’ve heard that that’s a pretty hairy landing.”

“Well, that’s true. No, I have no need to go down there. I do occasionally make runs directly there, bypassing the station here, but not often. Once down, I think you’d like it. From a scientist’s viewpoint. And the gravity is very low, which should be experienced at least once, just for the sake of having fun.”

“Oh, really? Do you mean to tell me that the famous, tough, cynical Devon Andropoulos actually does things just for fun?”

Devon pulled Kara close as she whispered hotly in her ear, “You know I do, baby.”

“Gods,” Kara breathed. “Yes, I do.” She leaned into Devon’s embrace as they watched two shuttles leave the station and head down, taking a circular route, to the large, orange moon below. “Some day, Devon, I will go down there with you. Let me get my space bearings set more firmly into place first, okay?”

“Deal.” They watched until the ships were no longer visible and then, with a sigh, she disengaged her mate and stepped away. “Come on. We need to check on our ship.”

Twenty minutes later, they floated through the airlock onto the Phoenix. Two EV suited soldiers were exiting the bridge and the more senior of the two stopped to address Devon.

“Captain, the installation of the forward gun is complete, and the aft weapon will be fully operational in a few hours. I’ve been instructed to set up an orientation meeting with your crew.”

“Fine. When?”

“Tomorrow, start of beta shift?”

Devon nodded. “That will be fine. I’ll alert my crew. Will we be cleared to disembark after that?”

The young woman nodded. “That is my understanding, yes, but the Fleet Commander will have to release you.”

“Fine. Thank you, Lieutenant.”

“Aye, ma’am.”

“All right, Kara, finally! We can get off this rotating doughnut and get on our way to Sen.”

“Mm, yes. And um, into the hands of pirates?”

“Pirates who don’t stand a chance against us, Kara, especially now. Don’t worry, love.”

“I’m not worried, actually. I have great faith in you, Devon, and in my fellow crewmembers.”

“As do we in you, Doctor.”

“Thanks, love.”

“I’ll tell you one thing, Kara. The additional runs to Uranus and Neptune virtually guarantee our running into the scum. And I’m ready for them. Come on,” she said excitedly. “Let’s check out the weapons console!”

“Oh, God, honey. You’re like a little boy with a new toy gun.”

“Goddamn right, Kara,” she replied with a huge grin.

“Ugh,” Kara groaned as she followed her mate onto the bridge.

-21-
Flight Day 100
Devon addressed her assembled crew. “I’ll try to make this brief. We’re cleared for launch at eleven hundred hours, and I want to get off on time. First of all, we have another itinerary change. I have been asked by WorldGov to make emergency runs to Uranus and Neptune.” She handed over the data disks that reflected the changes and they were inserted quickly into personal comps.

“Triton, huh, Andy? That’s always a fun drop,” Jim remarked sarcastically as he scanned the small screen in his hand.

“Right,” Devon replied dryly. “Under the circumstances, I couldn’t refuse. The circumstances being that a certain bitch who runs the Sterling Consortium, whom I had the good sense to deck in your presence a few days ago, filed a charge of space piracy against this ship.”

“What?” Jim exploded, as Rusty guffawed. Chad and Cyd simply sat stunned.

Devon nodded. “It was treated as the piece of ludicrous bullshit that it was, thankfully. Apparently, her ‘proof’ was pretty shoddy. The Magistrate is, um, slightly perturbed and considering taking action against her.”

“Good,” Jim remarked. “Arrogant bitch.”

“Oh, she’s much worse than that, Jim, but it’s an adequate description, to start. I fully expect another asinine maneuver from her, so I’m on my guard. One thing that I did do to protect my assets was to make my fianc饠my business partner, effective yesterday. She would have received half ownership of my assets in three months time anyway, as the party in a lifetime marriage contract?we just did the deed a little sooner.” She smiled warmly down at her lifemate as she declared, “So, Dr. Kara Murphy now owns an equal partnership in Andropoulos Shipping.”

After a grinning Kara was congratulated by her crewmates, Devon continued, “Okay, so, the trips to Neptune and Uranus virtually guarantee our meeting up with the assholes?and I couldn’t be happier about the fact. In about a week, once we’re well clear of this system, I plan to reduce velocity and begin broadcasting a plea for help. We will run at three-quarters maximum and claim to be underpowered, asking for mechanical assistance. Fleet knows this is a ploy and will stay away, as does Titan’s Magister Perez. Hopefully, we’ll present a nice, fat, slow target and lure them in.” Devon eyed her crew seriously as she added, “I know this adds several months to our travel time, and I apologize for that, but it’s out of my hands.”

“Dev,” Jim remarked. “I doubt any of us have any other pressing engagements. We’ll come up with plenty to keep ourselves occupied, and I know you will, too. Don’t fret about it.”

Devon smiled her thanks as her crew nodded their agreement, and continued, addressing her cargo handlers. “Rusty, Chad, the cargo shuttle is enroute?let’s get the load stowed as quickly as we can. It includes an additional load for a run to Luna after we return from Z. Ret?perishables.”

“Right,” they both replied, nodding.

“Okay, I take it everyone is now comfortable with the new weapons systems?” Receiving affirmative nods, she continued, “Good. That orientation yesterday was very informative, and both consoles are now linked to my sims. Feel free to use your spare time to have some fun. That includes non-essential shift time. I’m loosening up my duty requirements so we can all feel ready to engage these pricks. Rusty, Cyd, Chad, just let Jim or I know when you’d like to put in some time. Kara, your duties allow you to take the time whenever you’d like.” The tall Captain glanced down at each of her crew. “All right, any questions?” She received only negative responses, so added, “Good. Let’s do it. Departure is in one thirty hours. Carry on.”

While most of her crew filed out, Devon’s Medical Officer lingered behind. She picked up the Captain’s hand and quietly asked, “Do you feel like sharing what’s on your mind?”

Devon chuckled and looked down at the floor, then settled in the seat beside Kara. “I may as well, since you probably know all about it already anyway.”

“I can only sense feelings, Devon, I can’t read minds.”

“Not even mine?”

“Well,” Kara said with a grin. “We are getting there, aren’t we?”

“Mm, hm. By the time we reach Sen, we may be as telepathic with each other as the Grays are. I wouldn’t mind that, Kara.”

“Neither would I.”

Devon blew out a breath. “I’m worried about you is all. We’re going into battle, for all intents and purposes, and you’re no soldier. I am, so I’m not worried about myself, or even the ship. But you, Kara.” She shook her head. “It’s not that I don’t have faith in your ability to defend yourself, it’s that damn oath you took when you became a doctor. I can just see you rushing to help one of us and not taking care to defend yourself.”

Kara was thoughtful for a moment before she asked, “Devon, is this based on a dream memory?”

“Yes.”

“I thought so. I think I recently had the same dream. How was I injured?”

“An arrow, because you were more concerned about someone else’s safety. And that’s the way you are in this life, Kara. I know you?as well as I know myself.”

“I won’t lie and tell you that I won’t put my patients’ safety above my own, Devon, but I will promise you that I will be as careful, as mindful of my own safety, as I can be. All right?”

“No, but it’ll have to be, won’t it?”

“Yes.”

Devon was quiet while her emotions warred within her, then, very uncharacteristically, gave into the emotion she was feeling and said, quietly, “God, Kara, if anything happens to you?I’ll die. My heart, my soul, will be dead and I will have no reason to go on.” She looked Kara pointedly in the eye as she reiterated, “No reason.”

“I can understand that, Devon. It’s the same for me. So, we’ll have to make sure that we’re both okay, won’t we?”

“At the sake of all else if it has to be that way, Kara, yes.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

As the ship left Titan, and the relative safety they had become accustomed to, Devon sat back in her seat as she watched her mate handle the simulated controls. No one else was on the bridge, so Kara was having another flying lesson.

“God, honey, it’s so realistic,” the Doctor remarked as her simulated ship tried to achieve escape velocity.

“That’s the idea, Kara. So that when you do it for real, you’ll be well used to the process and the sensations.”

“But the bridge even shakes like it does under maximum thrust, and I feel the g-forces on my body. How is that possible?”

“I installed a Fleet-grade simulation system. The same as they use at the Academy and at the best flight schools. It’s paid off in the battle-readiness of my crews.”

“I guess.”

“Okay, hon, look at your readouts and tell me what your next move is.”

Kara studied the altimeter and velocity readouts, as well as the graphical representation of the simulated planet’s, in this case Mars, gravitational field, and reported, “I’ve almost achieved escape velocity, so I ready attitude thrusters and notify Engineering to reorient main engines.”

“Good. You handle the attitude thrusters and I’ll take Jim’s job of turning engines. Give me a countdown.”

Kara responded confidently, “Reorient engines on my mark. Three, two, one, mark.”

“Main engines oriented for forward thrust,” Devon delivered as Kara used the attitude thrusters to balance the ship as the huge engines turned. “Good, Kara! Nice job. See how you backed off slightly at the end there? You leveled us off beautifully this time.” She turned to look at her mate. “You’re really getting the hang of this, honey. You have a nice touch.”

Kara grinned as she replied, “So I’ve been told!”

“I mean for flying, goofy.”

“Oh?that too!” She paused the simulation and leaned over the console that separated them. “Thank you, honey.”

“You’re welcome, baby. Give me a kiss.” Kara did and they forgot their flight lesson for several heated moments, until Devon pushed away from her mate. “Okay. That was not part of the lesson, I’ll have you know. Um, is it dinner time yet?”

“Why, love, are you hungry?”

“Starved. And you know it.” She checked the chronometer. “Come on, Kara, shift ended ten minutes ago. End the simulation.”

“Aye, Captain.”

The tall Captain stood and ordered, “Follow me, please. I’ll be debriefing you in my quarters.”

Kara giggled. “Heh, literally! Aye, Captain.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
Flight Day 140 Outer Saturn Sector
Devon blew out a breath impatiently and glanced at the pedometer. Five more kilometers shit. She inhaled, pulling cool, recycled air deeply into her lungs, and pushed on, enjoying somewhat the movement of her body and the rhythm of her stride, but preferring to be elsewhere. As she pounded out the miles, accompanied by the steady sound of her footfalls on the treadmill, she ran over in her mind the logistics of the flight ahead. As much as she could, anyway, under the great uncertainty that hung over their heads.

I hope they engage us in Uranus sec. More satellites to confuse the issue, and I know them all like the back of my hand. She closed her eyes and visualized leading the black and red pirate craft into Uranus’ gravity well slingshotting around Titania and skipping off Umbriel’s thin atmosphere, past Ariel, then pull a delta-g and let them shoot past into the well. Or better yet, crash onto Miranda. At the speeds they would be traveling, it was a distinct possibility. She nodded, pleased with the scenario, and had just decided to plan it out on her comp later, when she felt Kara’s warmth wrap itself around her heart.

Before she could open her eyes to look for her mate, she felt someone step onto the treadmill beside her, and grinned widely when a warm hand caressed her back as it’s owner jogged into stride next to her.

“Hi.”

Devon opened her eyes to the beautiful sight of the grinning face of her wife to be. “Hi, sweetheart.”

“You looked about a million kilometers away, love.”

“Mm, I was. About five hundred million, as a matter of fact?in Uranus Sector. I was visualizing the destruction of my nemesis.”

“Ah, creative visualization. A worthy endeavor. If you’ll share the particulars with me, I’ll work on it too. We can meditate on it together.”

“Sounds good, Kara. We haven’t meditated together in a week or so. We should do that soon.”

“Sure, love. We can use some of that new incense I got on Titan?the Myrrh?”

“Mm, I like Myrrh. And it’s good for manifesting. Great, baby.”

“We’ll plan on it then. So, how far are we running?” Kara asked, glancing at the pedometer as her shorter legs’ quick steps easily matched Devon’s long strides.

“Five k’s. I’ve already done five.”

“Good girl?following doctor’s orders.”

“Absolutely.”

“I’ll bet it’s the first time ever,” a male voice to their left provided.

“Lorenzo, are you eavesdropping on us?” The Captain bellowed.

“No, Cap. Just came in for some juice, honest. You can’t blame me for stopping and enjoying the show, now, can you?”

Kara giggled beside her mate. “He’s got a point, honey. We are in our underwear.”

“Yeah, well, he always seems to know when we’re in here running, and if he knows what’s good for him, he’ll stop ogling my girlfriend.”

“Honey, Fleet-issue underwear isn’t exactly sexy lingerie. It’s probably just like what he’s wearing?minus the bra, I mean.”

“I don’t know Kara, you never know?,” Devon provided wickedly.

“Hey! I like to be with a nice looking guy once in a while, I’ll admit, but I’m no cross-dresser,” Chad provided defensively.

“Whatever you say, Chad. Now, get out of here and let us have our run in private,” Devon said as she placed a warm hand around Kara’s waist.

“Shit,” Chad mumbled as he left the mess hall.

“Honey, I don’t mind if he stays. He’s harmless.”

“I mind. He was practically salivating over you.”

“How do you know he wasn’t salivating over you? You look pretty hot, you know,” Kara remarked as she eyed her partner lasciviously. Her sweat-soaked bra-shirt was leaving very little to the imagination and Kara’s heart rate increased in response. Her eyes traveled down Devon’s muscled body. Flat, tight abs and strong, rippling upper body, thigh and leg muscles fairly took her breath away.

“You think so?” Devon asked with a lopsided grin.

“You know I do. Reach out with your senses, Devon and try to pick up on what I’m thinking right now.”

Devon grinned rakishly before closing her eyes and concentrating, trying to psychically scan her mate. She breathed deeply, letting the rhythm of her breath and of her steps lull her into a relaxed state, and sent her awareness toward her mate. Suddenly, she felt a throbbing lust coil in her gut. It spread out, a pleasant fire, traveling to every part of her body instantly, and she heard clearly in her mind, I want you now. Her eyes flew open and captured Kara’s desire-clouded gaze.

“Jesus, Kara.” She sighed deeply and tried to pull in more air. “Gray gods?” Reaching forward, she punched a command into the machine’s control pad, and it responded by slowing. They jogged for several minutes, gradually slowing their pace as Devon attempted to slow her surging blood. The tread slowed to a crawl and Devon pulled Kara off and into her arms. “That was intense,” she breathed, gazing at Kara. “It was more than just empathic.”

Kara nodded, smiling, and raised an eyebrow. “We’ve added a telepathic component to our bond, Devon. I’ve sensed that we were close.”

“Christ.”

“I think Sennaat is the proper prophet to call on in this situation,” Kara said, amused.

“Yeah, um, right. Let’s go to our quarters and explore this, shall we? We can catch dinner later.”

“Good idea,” Kara said as she pulled Devon’s face down to her level and captured her lips ardently.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The next evening, Chad returned the favor, and Devon and Kara, as well as Cyd and Jim, had something pleasant to watch in addition to the vid that played. As Devon and Kara lay together on one of the couches, Cyd and Jim shared the other while Chad put in ten kilometers on the treadmill. His tall, lean, but muscular body stretched out most attractively as he ran, wearing only his Fleet-issue briefs.

Devon had plotted several hypothetical attacks and was watching as they played out on her small comp unit. Kara reclined against her, between her legs and against her chest, as she read data from her research. Devon sighed and put her comp down, then rested her chin on Kara’s shoulder and glanced at her data.

“By using electro-stimulation you slowed muscle atrophy an average of eighty-five percent in your passengers?” She asked, impressed.

“Yes. Atrophy was actually somewhat lower for the younger passengers. It is markedly higher as age progresses, even if the patient is taking the recommended anti-aging supplements. I think that I will focus my next course of research on older subjects.” After a few thoughtful moments, Kara added, “There are a few additional herbal supplements that I’d like to try. I’ll need to pick some up before we do another run with passengers.” She glanced back at her mate. “Space travel seems to be a popular pastime for retired people.”

“Mm, hm, yes. It is.” She kissed the neck in front of her as she remarked, “I’m very impressed with your research. I think it will benefit many people. Hell, I know it will.”

“Thank you, honey,” Kara breathed quietly, enjoying the feel of Devon’s warm lips against her neck.

Jim, across from them, commented, “Hey, you two are starting to give off some decided vibes. Either cool it, or retire to your quarters, please.” Beside him, Cyd chuckled.

“I don’t know, Jim?I’m enjoying the show, myself,” Chad panted from the treadmill.

“You would, Lorenzo,” Devon grumbled. “I had an interesting report from the Head of Security. I invited him to scour the ship while we sat on Alpha. His report listed several not quite legal items found in your quarters.”

“Shit, Cap?he didn’t confiscate them, did he?”

“He left them in my possession.”

“Jesus, you scared me there, Cap.” Chad grinned charmingly.

“What makes you think I’ll be returning them to you, Chad? I thought I might hold onto ‘Hot Babes on Lesbos, volume 135’.” She wrapped her arms tightly around Kara’s waist as she murmured in her ear, “What do you think, baby?shall we retire and watch Chad’s vid disk privately?”

Kara’s answer was a flurry of giggles.

“Devon, come on?what’s the problem? I know you don’t mind sex-vids?so what if I use a non-standard supplier?”

“Because I run a clean, honest ship, Chad. Plus, I pay you well?there’s no reason why you need to save a few credits buying bootlegs. You can get the same titles from an authorized distributor.”

Chad slowed the machine to begin his cool-down as he replied, “I grew up poor, Devon. I guess it’s hard to break old habits.” He sighed. “I’ll stop buying the illegals. Sorry.”

“I’m glad to hear that. You can have your vids back. But I paid the licensing fees on them, and that’s coming out of your pay.”

“Thanks, Cap.”

“No problem. I already have that particular vid anyway.” She grinned and winked at the young handler.

“Honey! You don’t!” Kara gasped, half turning in her partner’s arms.

“I do. Wanna come watch it with me?” Devon leered, heating up the entertainment space almost perceptibly.

“Well, um?” Kara raised an eyebrow and grinned.

“Jesus Christ?you two don’t need sex-vids?you could make your own,” Jim provided, shaking his head.

“True,” Devon agreed. “How about it, babe?” She grinned rakishly against Kara’s neck.

“Devon!”

Cyd cleared her throat. “Um, is it hot in here?”

“Yep, and it’s not because the environmental controls are wacky.” Chad stepped off the exercise machine. “Thanks, Cap, Doc?now I’m gonna need a cold shower.” He wrapped a towel around his shoulders as he left the mess, remarking over his shoulder, “Later, guys.”

“Yeah, um, me too,” Cyd remarked as she hopped up and followed him out.

Kara laid her head back against Devon’s shoulder and looked up at her, grinning. “Look what we’ve done.”

“Couldn’t be helped.”

“I hope you two are proud of yourselves,” Jim said as he switched to another vid remotely.

“Very,” Devon responded with a self-satisfied grin. She whispered into Kara’s ear, “And very horny.”

“And that’s different from every other night how, babe?”

“Come on, sweetheart. I’ve done enough battle planning for one night. Let’s go to bed.”

“Happily,” Kara said with a smile as she hopped off the couch. “‘Night, Jim.”

“Goodnight, guys. Have a good one.”

“Without a doubt, my friend.” Devon patted her oldest friend’s back as she passed behind him.

After enjoying a very loving and intensely satisfying interlude, Devon and Kara sat side-by-side in front of their small altar. The babbling of the water in the small fountain provided a calming atmosphere for the peaceful exercise as each sat in the lotus position, readying for meditation.

Devon inhaled deeply, then released the breath slowly. Quietly, she murmured, “Honey, instead of trying to manifest a battle, let’s try something more positive tonight. I have a feeling the pirates will appear when the time is right.”

“Okay, love. I agree. Would you like to focus on something specific?”

“Yes. Why don’t we do a past-life regression?look into a significant life together that may give us some guidance in what we’re dealing with now?”

“Ooh, love, that’s a good idea. Whose turn is it to guide?”

“Yours, I think.”

“Okay. Let’s get centered.” She closed her eyes and took a deep, calming breath. “Breathe…relax.” When she felt centered and sensed that Devon did as well, she continued in a soft, calming voice, “Let your awareness go to the first stage.” Both women easily attained the first level of expanded awareness and rested there for a few minutes, enjoying the peaceful sensation. “Now, rise to stage two.” As their awareness expanded, they both floated in a virtual sea of swirling energy, leaving the physical plane behind.

A few minutes later, Kara finished, speaking very quietly, “Stage three. Now, now hold the intention that we wish to share a vision of a significant past life.”

“Mmm,” Devon hummed, feeling a deep sense of contentment.

“Now, we’ll advance to the Akashic Plane. Let’s view a life that is significant to this one that we’re having together now.” Kara spoke very softly, barely whispering, and Devon heard her as much in her mind as she did physically.

“Yes. I’m there,” she replied.

Where are we, Devon?

Devon’s past self opened her eyes as her awareness registered Kara’s thought. She and her soulmate were standing outside, on a deck, next to a beautiful Alpine lake. In the mountains, she thought.

Kara looked to her right and saw Devon, dressed in twentieth century clothes. Before them stood a woman in flowing, white robes. As she gazed at her mate, Kara realized that she was crying, and so was her partner; but they were tears of joy. This was our wedding.

The Reverend looked at them and smiled warmly. “Ryan and Janna, I now declare you married. Please seal your joining with a kiss.”

Ryan looked down at their still joined hands and back up into Janna’s deep green eyes before leaning down and capturing her lips tenderly. They both prolonged the kiss just a bit, relishing the loving contact and letting it ground them.

When they finally parted, their guests applauded and the Reverend beamed as she declared, “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Ryan and Janna Norden-Zamora.” Ryan pulled Janna happily into her arms and kissed her again before they turned and faced their loved ones.

As a popular romantic song played, Ryan and Janna were congratulated by the Minister and then walked between the rows of chairs back toward the house and were mobbed by their family.

The early morning sun rose steadily, warming the chilled air through the thin atmosphere, and Janna felt as if she were floating several feet above the ground: as if her new wife’s grip on her arm was keeping her from taking flight. Ryan and Janna Norden-Zamora?

Ryan had not told Janna that she had intended to take her name, wanting to surprise her.

Surprise her she had. After Kim made the pronouncement, it had taken Janna a few moments to realize what she had said.

They were already surrounded by their guests, who were wishing them well, when Janna turned to Ryan and said, “Ryan, what did she say?”

Ryan maintained a serious expression. “I present to you, Ryan and Janna Norden-Zamora.”

Her cute features looking puzzled, Janna asked, “Um, she didn’t mean Ryan Norden-Zamora, did she?”

“Yep, I think she did, love.” Now she grinned and her smile lit up her beautiful face.

“Ryan!” Janna threw her arms around her wife, nearly knocking her over.

Ryan grasped her wife about the waist and held her in her arms. “Shall I take it that you approve of the idea, Janna?”

“Oh, Ryan?” Janna finished the statement by kissing her soundly. When the kiss ended, she pulled back somewhat, and smiled as she said, “You’re just full of surprises today, aren’t you?”

Ryan smiled, pleased. “I am, baby. Are you happy?”

“Deliriously, Ryan. I’m absolutely deliriously happy!” She gazed deeply into her new wife’s deep blue eyes. “I love you Ryan Norden-Zamora.” She kissed her wife again and Ryan continued to hold her, not letting her feet touch the ground, either literally or figuratively. They stood together, kissing, oblivious to the presence of their guests, who stood around wondering what to do.

When the kiss finally ended, Ryan addressed no one in particular when she said, “Sorry, but we just got married!”

Kara smiled as she felt the deep, luminous joy of her past self, and then whispered, “Good, love, now let’s go to another significant event in that life.”

“Yes,” Devon murmured, smiling.

Kara found herself sitting in what seemed to be a hospital setting. The place had the antiseptic smell of a healing center, and was appallingly white. As she sat alone, feeling a deep, gnawing pain and fear, her friend arrived and sat beside her, wordlessly embracing her.

“Janna, how is she?” Her concerned brown eyes conveyed her depth of compassion for Janna and Ryan.

“They don’t know yet, Georgie. She has some broken bones and a concussion, and they suspect internal injuries. They’re trying to stabilize her now for emergency surgery.”

Georgie closed her eyes in pain and sighed. “Honey, can we send her Reiki? Are you up to it?”

“I hadn’t thought of that, Georgie?I’ve been too upset. Let’s give it a try?though I don’t know how effective I’ll be.” Janna gazed at her friend with green eyes dulled by grief. Georgie nodded and hugged Janna briefly before setting herself to the task of visualizing the healing symbols and sending the energy on its way.

As she and her friend sent the powerful, loving energy to her mate, Janna felt connected to Ryan for the first time in the half hour since she had been injured, and it served to soothe her own aching heart center. It was reassuring to again feel Ryan’s familiar warmth, if only just a spark of it. Along with the Reiki, which flowed from her palms, Janna sent her love to her mate through their heart chakra link. She visualized it washing over her mate, encompassing her body and soul with the full breadth of her love.

The Reiki energy flowed exceptionally strongly for both women, as it tended to do when most needed. Janna received the distinct impression that her beloved’s body was eagerly soaking up the healing energy. They had been running the energy for a full fifteen minutes when a nurse approached Janna and informed her that Ryan was being taken up for emergency surgery, and invited her to follow them up.

Janna jumped to her feet and held out her hand to Georgie, who grasped it as she stood, and followed Janna down the hallway. They stopped outside of Ryan’s trauma bay and watched as the team hurriedly pushed the gurney out.

As Janna got a glimpse of her mate, her gut clenched in fear and horror. Her beloved’s beautiful body was a mass of bruises, contusions, and bloody bandages. Her entire left leg, from foot to thigh, was dressed and splinted, and her head was wrapped in a wide bandage, with blood seeping through on the left side of her head. There were wires and tubes protruding from what seemed to be every part of her body, and to top off the horrifying scene, her torso was uncovered immodestly, as a thin sheet covered only her pubic region.

The team pushed the gurney quickly past the patient’s wife without so much as slowing down and hurried into a waiting elevator. One of the nurses accompanying Ryan motioned for them to wait for the next lift and Janna was left watching her soulmate as the elevator doors closed her out. As she lost sight of her mate, Janna burst into tears and Georgie threw an arm around her as she hustled Janna onto the next elevator, hurriedly punching the second floor and “Close Door” buttons.

When they arrived at the surgical suite the doors were already swinging shut and Janna could only stand and watch them close. She suddenly felt totally defeated and dejection overcame her, as she was wracked by powerful sobs.

Simultaneously, Kara and Devon sighed deeply, both feeling the intense pain and trauma that their past selves had felt. Kara’s pain was both emotional and physical, while Devon’s was purely physical; a white-hot pillow of pain seemed to have enveloped her, and she could barely breathe.

“Breathe, honey. Let’s advance to a happier time in that life.”

“Please,” Devon murmured, eyes still closed.

Devon sat behind her mate in a birthing bed. She and her wife were both exhausted and sweating and she seemed to be sharing in her mate’s physical pain. “Push, Janna, she’s almost completely out. Here come her shoulders. I need you to push, Janna?now!”

Janna bore down and put every remaining bit of her energy into the effort, and the baby finally, mercifully, slipped out.

The masked doctor sitting between Janna’s knees declared, “Good, Janna?she’s here?great job. Ryan, can you see her?”

Ryan craned her neck around her listless but crying wife, and saw the baby lying in the doctor’s hands.

“Oh, Jesus, there she is Janna. You did it, baby! You did it! Oh, God, baby, there’s our Halley!”

“It’s done?”

“Yes, honey. She’s here,” Ryan cried.

“Oh, God,” Janna sobbed.

The doctor lifted the baby onto Janna’s belly then as she said to Ryan, “Mom, do you want to cut the cord?”

Ryan gazed at her wide-eyed and nodded dumbly. The nurse handed her a pair of scissors and showed her where to cut. Very carefully, Ryan reached forward and gingerly cut the tough cord, crying as she did so. The nurse deftly tied off the umbilical and settled the baby more comfortably on Janna’s belly as the doctor delivered the afterbirth.

“God, Ryan, she’s beautiful. She’s so beautiful.” Janna was filled with a love for her child unlike any she had ever experienced. Ryan too, fell instantly in love with her daughter, and the tough cop sobbed openly as she reached around Janna to touch their daughter.

“Janna, God?she’s perfect. Just like you?I love you so much, honey.” She embraced Janna and felt her love returned to her through their bond.

“I love you, Ryan. So much.” Janna turned her head toward Ryan’s and they kissed gently, their tears of joy intermingling. They both gazed back down at their daughter and cried quietly, sharing an intense, almost overwhelming joy.

Kara, feeling more deeply touched than she ever had, sobbed as the vision ended, “God, Devon?” She remembered to breathe deeply and willed herself to remain in the trance-state.

Devon, still deeply within the trance, quietly said, “Let’s see the end of that life, sweetheart.”

“Yes.”

Devon saw herself, as a very old woman, lying stretched out on a bed. Shafts of light from the late afternoon sun slanted across the still body. Her face was marked by the solitude of death as her hands lay folded at her waist, and her dark, deeply lined face exuded peace and the sense of someone who had lived a long, happy life. Her long, white hair was pulled into a single braid and lay on the pillow beside her face.

Her mate, also very old, entered the room and quietly closed the door. She shuffled slowly to the bed and leaned over, placing a gentle kiss on her wife’s lips. Then she took off her sweater, folded it neatly, and laid it on the small table beside the bed. She sat on the bed and removed her shoes, leaving them on the floor, and lay down beside her mate.

She gently laid her head on her wife’s shoulder and very tenderly, wrapped a wrinkled arm around her waist. “I’ll see you in a few minutes, my love,” she whispered, and closed her eyes. Tears slowly made their way down her cheeks and she murmured, “I’ll love you forever.” A few minutes later, her respirations slowed, and then stopped, as she joined her soulmate in death.

Suddenly, Devon and Kara experienced an almost blinding white light surrounding them. Devon saw her mate approach and felt filled with joy. “You came.”

Her soulmate embraced her as she whispered, “Of course. It’s time, my love. Let’s go.”

“Yes.”

Together they crossed over into the light, feeling as one. More so than they had ever felt in life, though they had been as close as two humans could be.

Kara felt Devon grasp her hand and slowly ended the trance. After several minutes, her eyes fluttered open and she looked over at Devon. Her tough mate’s face was wet with tears and as she was pulled into a tight embrace, Kara reached up to wipe her soulmate’s tears away, and then collapsed, sobbing, into her arms. They held each other, sitting on the floor in front of their altar, filled with gratitude for the gift they had just shared, and for the deep, timeless love that bound them.
-22-
Flight Day 200
Devon slept soundly, wrapped around Kara’s warm, soft body. The low light from the comm unit above their bed illuminated the sleeping figures softly, painting their features in an aquamarine glow. As a shared dream played in both minds, a red warning light on the panel began to flash, intruding on their peace as a low, shrill alarm began to sound.

Devon was instantly alert, sitting up and calling out, “Lights, low,” simultaneously. The lights came on and she looked sharply at the comm. The button marked, “Sensor” was glaring brightly. “Shit,” she mumbled and glanced down at her stirring mate.

“What is it, Devon?” Kara mumbled.

“A blip on the long-range sensor?I need to check it out.” She leaned down and kissed her partner’s shoulder. “Go back to sleep.”

“Not on your life. I’m up.”

Devon chuckled as she swung her legs off the bed, letting her mate’s adorably rumpled state lighten the tension she suddenly felt. “Sure, babe.”

She hopped up and made her way to the head, emerging less than a minute later to find Kara sitting on the edge of the bed, yawning.

“What time is it?”

“Oh-four-fifteen,” Devon replied as she pulled her robe closed around her. She grabbed Kara’s matching robe and tossed it to her. “Here, love. I’ll be on the bridge.”

“Mm,” Kara replied as she yawned again. As she stood to slip into the robe, Devon had already left their quarters. Two minutes later, Kara entered the bridge to find her lover hunched over the large data screen at her console.

“Do you know yet what it is?”

“I think so. It appears to be several small cargo ships, all running silent.”

“Silent?”

“Not making their ID known to queries. When another ship is detected in the same space, you’re supposed to be able to send an invisible query to pick up their ID. I have a much longer range, and a more stealthy query system than other Earth ships, except for military, yet even I can’t read their ID. It’s illegal to run silent?it’s dangerous and unethical.”

“I see. Then you’re fairly certain that they’re pirates.”

“Yes.” Devon glanced at her screen and noted their location. “We’re in Uranus Sector, outer edge, and they’re close in. I estimate that we’ll be within engagement range in about a week, unless they have a nasty trick up their sleeve.”

“Like engaging a dimensional drive?”

“Yep, though it’s highly unlikely they’re accomplished enough to use it accurately, and certainly not safely. Unless they’re complete fucking idiots, they won’t use it inside a planetary system. And I know for a fact that they can’t read the markings on the equipment, or any of the telemetry…I’ve seen it.”

“Okay. What do we do then?” Kara asked as she sat in the co-pilot’s seat.

“We get good and goddamned ready for them. We lure them into our web and pounce on them. They shouldn’t see our guns until it’s much too late.”

“Do you think they’ve seen us?”

“Not unless they’ve stolen Gray comm and sensor tech as well. They’ll know we’re here soon enough when they pick up our broadcast?maybe in a day or so. We’re basically prepared, now all we can do is wait for them. As soon as they make us, they’ll probably run hot to get to us before we drop our cargo at the base. Cyd and I will be manning the bridge full time from now on.”

Kara turned her chair to face her mate. “I can be up here with you when she’s not, can’t I?”

“Sure, honey, even while she’s here, but it will be pretty boring.”

“Devon, being with you can never be boring.”

Devon grinned widely, warming Kara’s heart as she said, “Thanks, baby. Feeling’s mutual.”

“Do we, um, need to stay here now?”

“No. They’re not close yet, and I’ve got the sensors set to buzz me wherever I am, so, for right now, we can go back to bed. After start of shift this morning, though, Cyd and I will split a twenty-four hour rotation.”

“Great. Come on.” Kara stood and grasped her partner’s hand. “Let’s make the most of the next several hours.”

“I’m there, baby.”

They left the darkened bridge to its solitude and returned to their quarters.

“Devon,” Kara said as she ran nimble fingers tenderly along her lover’s ribcage. “I’m a little scared.”

Devon already knew what Kara was feeling; had sensed it. “I know,” she replied softly. “But Kara, I’ll protect you. I’ve been thinking about that lately. I mean, I know that you’re a very capable, grown woman, strong, independent, but still, protecting you seems the most natural thing in the world to me. Almost?almost like I was born to do it.”

“Mm, well, we’ve visited a life in which you were my protector, and I yours, to some extent, so I believe that it is a valid theme for us. Honey, it feels very good know that I have such a capable protector.”

“And it feels very good to protect you.”

“Make me feel very good right now?” Kara asked.

Devon’s only answer was a smirk as she rolled over and atop Kara, pinning her first with a deep gaze and then with an even deeper kiss, and proceeding to make her mate feel very good indeed.

 

This story will most likely remain unfinished.

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