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."
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."
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.
"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?"
"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."
"Would you classify yourself as happy?"
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?"
"Wow. Okay. Good. Um…" She shook her head. "Where was I?"
"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?"
"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?"
"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," 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?"
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."
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."
"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."
"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?"
"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.
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."
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."
"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."
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."
"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?"
"Do it, then report to the mess hall."
"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."
"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."
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."
"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."