Phoenix Rising
By Janet Lynne

Part 10

See Part 1 for disclaimers

-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 onŠlet'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 godsŠ"

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 teamŠvarsity, 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, honeyŠyou 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.
 

To be continued in Part 11

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