Phoenix Rising
By Janet Lynne

Part 5

See Part 1 for disclaimers

-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.


Part 6

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