Phoenix Rising
By Janet Lynne

Part 8

See Part 1 for disclaimers

-15-


Flight Day 53

The second largest planet in Sol system, the gas giant Saturn, hung before them in space: a glowing yellow-orange ball of roiling gases. It was still very far away, ten days travel time, but so large that it appeared tennis ball sized before them, its immense ring system appearing as a flat plate bisecting it. They were heading to Saturn's largest moon, Titan, on which a large scientific and military colony had been established, and more specifically to the large ring-shaped space station, Titan Alpha, that orbited it.

Kara peered at the giant planet thoughtfully as she sat in her partner's lap. They sat together in the large, soft armchair next to their bed. Devon held her small comp unit in one hand, studying it while absentmindedly stroking her mate's stomach with the other.

"Honey, this pirate problem proves that the Grays are right in withholding their more advanced technology from us, doesn't it?" Kara continued, not waiting for the answer. "Or do you think the problem is a symptom of that...an angry backlash against their not sharing?"

Devon shifted her gaze from the battle vid in her hand to her mate's profile. "Personally, I think it's the former. There is still a percentage of humanity that is not yet enlightened enough to warrant our receiving the tech. These devices are powerful tools in the hands of the sincere, but dangerous weapons in the hands of less savory beings. Hell, Kara, I would love to be able to jump to Zeta Ret. in a few hours, rather than have to take three months traveling out of system in order to jump safely with the less advanced drive...or make nearly instantaneous trips to Mars and Jupiter, Titan...but I fully realize the importance of our not receiving the tech too soon. I accept it."

She gazed out at Saturn as she continued, "The Sennaa have learned from past mistakes, you know. We're not the first less-advanced species that they and other members of the Federation have helped. They know, that for our own good, as well as for the good of the entire galaxy, they must not give us too much too soon. I happen to know that they believe we're making incredibly fast progress spiritually, despite the way that WorldGov and the Fleet are breathing down their necks, and despite the atrocious behavior of a handful of asshole pirates. I personally don't think it will be all that long before they decide we're ready for more tech. It may even be what this trip is about."

As they approached Saturn and its large satellite, Devon's thoughts returned to her first visit to Zeta Reticuli, or Sen as the natives call it, as Captain of her own ship. She had departed from Titan, as on this trip, having been invited to enter into free-trade discussions with the Planetary Council by her old friend, the Consul. The genderless being had a name, but it was not pronounceable by humans. When first introduced, Devon had received telepathically a sense of the being's personality, a "flavor," and that was how she identified it. Though at times it was difficult to differentiate between individuals by sight, Devon could always recognize and discern their individual flavors, and the Consul, the Reticulan, or Sennaa, Ambassador to Earth, was her oldest acquaintance among them.

She had arrived in the company of Jim and Rusty, her only crew at that time, and had been introduced at a Federation Council meeting. The humans had been represented on the Galactic Federation Council since the late twentieth century, when a couple of remote viewers had stumbled into a council session (and stumbled back out again, awed and not a little terrified). As accidental as it had been, it was proof enough to the more highly evolved races present that humanity had evolved enough spiritually that some at least, of their number, could project their awareness, and hence, could participate on the council. It had been almost sixty years, however, before Earth sent an official delegate, after the First Contact Event with the Reticulans.

Devon remembered how awed she had been after landing on the water planet, the seventh from the system's binary suns. The mighty oceans shone gray in the dim sunlight, and Devon was struck at how appropriate it seemed. The dim, gray light also accounted, she had thought, for the beings' huge eyes. She had set her ship down on a platform that sat high above a calm sea. There were islands scattered about, and on them she could just make out the shapes of thin spires reaching toward the pale blue sky. The Consul himself had greeted them and led them to a water-aircraft, which sped them above the surface of the sea to one of the large islands. Over the next few weeks, Earth time, they had engaged in friendly and extremely interesting and enlightening meetings with the gray beings, which had culminated in Devon's introduction to the Federation Council. God, I can't wait to show Kara around on Sen, and introduce her to the Consul. She chuckled inwardly. I need to tell her the story of my meeting with the Galactic Federation Council. God, that was strange...

Devon dropped her comp gently to the floor beside the chair and wrapped her other arm around her soft mate. Pulling her closer and nuzzling her ear, she whispered, "For now, I kind of like these leisurely trips to the outer planets. They give me lots of time with you...plenty of time to appreciate what I have."

"Mm," Kara breathed, grinning. "Do they?"

"They do." Devon's left hand joined her other one under Kara's tank and fondled the softness it found there. "Mm, hm. In fact, there's a lesson I need to teach you...how the body behaves in zero-g. For your own safety, you understand."

Kara stiffened as long, nimble fingers stroked her nipple, and it hardened in response. "Ahh...um, is that right? For my safety?"

"For your safety, baby, in case we're boarded or disabled and the sim-grav is shut down."

"Well, then...you'd better show me."

Devon took a moment longer to caress Kara's breasts, enjoying immensely the feel of her hardened nipples in her palms. "God, I want you," she breathed next to Kara's ear.

"I thought...I thought we were gonna have a lesson now."

"We are. Two birds with one stone. Come on." She deftly lifted Kara and settled her to her feet, then stood and grabbed her hand, pulling her out of the sleeping area and to the small door to the bridge.

They entered the dimmed space and Devon said, "Stay right here," as she left Kara standing by the door and approached the main console, leaning over it.

She watched her mate's fingers fly quickly over the controls, and suddenly, Kara was weightless. "Oh!" She squealed, surprised, and reached for a handhold on the wall behind her.

Devon turned with a grin and slowly rose, thrusting her arms above her head to stop her motion against the cabin ceiling. Her eyes glittered as her grin turned feral and she rasped, "Stay right there, baby...I don't want us too close to the console."

Kara smiled her agreement, feeling the fire of anticipation begin to burn within. Devon pushed off from the ceiling and floated toward her with a definite gleam in her eye. As she reached her mate and threw her arms around her waist, Kara murmured, "Why do I feel as if I'm about to be devoured?"

"Because you are," Devon whispered, her breath hot against Kara's throat. She nipped lightly at the soft, luscious skin that she found so tempting, and then sucked at it sensually, feeling a moan rumble just below her lips.

Kara gasped, "That's gonna leave a mark, honey."

"It won't be the only one, baby," Devon mumbled against skin that was suddenly flushed and hot.

"Mm, well two can play at that game, you know."

"I'm counting on it, lover."

"God, Devon," Kara gasped as hot hands thrust themselves under the waist band of her briefs, while a similarly hot mouth devoured her throat, making its way up to her waiting lips.

Devon mumbled against Kara's lips, "You can let got of the handhold...put your arms around me...I've got us."

Kara did so without hesitation, and felt them float gently upwards. Devon reached behind Kara and grabbed a handhold briefly, stopping their motion, and they hung together halfway between the floor and the ceiling. Devon's hands continued the removal of Kara's underwear while she captured Kara's lips ardently. Kara returned the passionate kiss and ran her hands up under Devon's tank. A few moments later, the tank and Kara's briefs were floating beside them, and Devon reached out and pushed them away. Kara chuckled as they lodged against the far wall.

"You like this, baby?"

"So far."

"Good," Devon grinned against her lover's mouth. Deftly, she pulled Kara's tank off and sent it sailing to join its mates.

Two lovely breasts stood at attention and Kara giggled as she glanced down at them. "I like this, honey...no droop."

"They don't droop at normal-g either, babe, take my word for it." Devon went for a breast, capturing it gently in her mouth. "Mm, Kara..."

"Uh, huh," Kara gasped as the wet warmth of her mate's mouth on her created within her a wet warmth of another kind. She ran her fingers through Devon's hair and tried to pull her head up for another kiss. Failing, she moved to the top of Devon's briefs and tried to pull them down. She was distracted however, by her lover's insistent suckling at her breasts. "Devon, get naked, please...I want to feel you against me."

"Mm," was the only verbal response but her lanky partner expertly pulled her briefs off with one hand and kicked them away. They landed unceremoniously on the steering yoke behind her

Devon pulled Kara tightly against her and the younger woman molded her lower body against her mate's as Devon continued her assault on her breasts. "God, Devon," Kara gasped again as an insistent fire began to burn in her belly. "I need to touch you."

"Touch me, Kara," Devon moaned, and moved Kara's right hand from her hip down in between them. Kara slipped her hand into the wet warmth between Devon's legs and gasped at a how wet she was.

"Jesus, Devon..." She began caressing her mate along the length of her sensitive cleft, feeling Devon's suckling waiver momentarily as she sucked in a breath.

"Yes, baby, right there..." Devon moved one of her hands from Kara's back to deliver the same pleasure to her mate that she was receiving, finding her just as wet and hard. "Fuck, Kara...you're so ready."

Kara gasped at the contact and nearly lost herself to the pleasure. The throbbing in her center was intense, rivaling her furiously pounding heart in intensity. It was almost as if her blood and her pulse had pooled there, rather than continuing to surge through her veins. "Devon, Jesus...I'm on fire," she gasped. The pleasure was so intense that it threatened to take her breath away.

"God, baby, so am I. Come with me, Kara," Devon gasped breathlessly. As they held each other firmly one-armed, right hands stroked in unison and they bobbed gently in midair, as if riding some unseen wave.

A few moments later, first Devon, and then Kara, arched and stiffened, each moaning her lover's name loudly. Devon pulled Kara close to her as the waves rolled over her, and she fell backward, turning in midair and bringing her mate with her. They somersaulted in freefall for a few moments, the sheer glee caused by the weightlessness adding to their delirium.

"Yes!" Devon screamed, carried away by the joy, the utter bliss. She let the spinning continue another few moments before gently stopping them by grabbing a handhold on the ceiling.

"Devon, my God!" Kara exclaimed when they had stopped spinning and she could look into her mate's eyes. "That was...that was..."

"Intense?" Devon grinned widely at her mate.

"That's not even the word for it, Devon." Kara pulled her close and rested against her as her heart attempted to slow.

"I know," Devon whispered, kissing Kara's damp hair. "I'm not sure exactly what goes on but it seems to affect the pumping of blood."

"Mm, definitely. I've um, read that studies have been done, but never read the studies themselves. I guess I'll have to expand my medical knowledge a little, won't I?"

"Well now you have first hand experience, love." She grinned widely again. "Isn't it a rush?"

"God, Devon...yes!" Kara shook her head in disbelief.

A few minutes of peaceful silence passed as they held tightly to one another, enjoying the warm sensations playing through their bodies. Devon cleared her throat gently and mumbled against Kara's temple, "Are you, um, real tired, baby?"

"Not especially, why?" She turned her head and green eyes gleamed at Devon in the dim space.

"Because you have got to experience sixty-nine at zero-g. What'll it be...vertical or horizontal?" Devon leered at her even as she began turning to position herself.

"Oh, my God, Devon..."

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

Later, exhausted from their zero-g acrobatics earlier, Devon held Kara, as always, as they waited for sleep. They had been alternately talking quietly, about this and that, or just lying in silence, enjoying the peace that settled on them whenever they were together. At the moment, each was marveling at just how peaceful she felt while with her mate. It was a feeling unlike any either had ever experienced.

"Honey," Devon said quietly. "I want to tell you about something."

Kara turned slightly and nuzzled Devon's chest. "Sure, love. Go ahead."

"I want to tell you about the first time I participated in a Federation Council meeting." She glanced down and saw wondrous gray-green eyes looking up at her.

"Devon...you're kidding! You've been before the Galactic Council?"

"Mm," Devon nodded. "Yes. During my first trade visit to Sen. The Consul wanted to introduce me." She chuckled. "It was the strangest, most bizarre event I've ever witnessed."

"Tell me about it."

"Well, I was taken to the...well I guess it was equivalent to a WorldGov Senate Chamber. I remembered feeling very impressed at the fact that the Federation Council met on Sen...I thought, 'Geez, these guys are much more powerful than I had imagined.' Anyway, they took me to this huge chamber, but it was empty. As we passed through it, I felt an incredible energy in the room...a really heavy sense of good...of positive vibes. I don't know how else to describe it."

She looked down at Kara and added, "I liked it. Anyway, we went into a small room off of the huge chamber. It was dark, darker even than the normal dim, but I could make out several other people in the room, sitting on what seemed to be pillows or thick prayer rugs. There was a pleasant odor in the air, like their version of incense, but very different from what I was used to. And there was a very soft music playing. It reminded me of the themes for meditation that we had used in school: very calming, peaceful music. I like Reticulan music anyway, so I enjoyed it. So, I'm starting to wonder where the hell they're taking me, 'cause I knew the Council was waiting for me, and then my guide tells me to sit, get comfortable. So I did, and a few minutes later, the Consul joined me and sat beside me.

"It looked at me and said, 'Devon Andropoulos, please to calm yourself and enter fourth meditative state. I will wait for you.' And it turned away and closed its eyes. So I'm thinking, 'Okay, I guess they want me super relaxed before taking me in', so I did what it asked. When I reached that state, however, and my awareness left my body, it grabbed my ethereal hand and we disappeared from that room and reappeared in another room. A huge, brightly lit chamber with literally thousands of beings in it, seated in a semi-circle in front of a dais. Or rather, it was the consciousness of each individual being. Most of them were shimmering, some were translucent, but I could just make out what their physical bodies looked like. Gods, Kara, the body types! There were humanoids, but we were the minority. Every possible type of living being you can imagine was represented there, and a few that you possibly couldn't imagine. I mean, some appeared to be amorphous clouds of gas. But I could sense consciousness and great intelligence in each one as I looked at it. And benevolence."

She looked down at Kara again. "It was incredible honey! I felt so welcome there...they all made me feel so welcomed, so loved, that I would have cried had I been in my physical body. I communicated my gratitude to them, or tried to. They all seemed to be communicating telepathically, but seemed to understand what I was trying to get across. Many of them nodded to me. Then I felt a familiar presence nearby and I saw a human woman smiling at me. She reached out to me in greeting and our ethereal hands touched. She spoke aloud, or it seemed aloud, 'Welcome, Devon. The Council is honored to have such an honorable human among them. You are welcomed to the Trading Synod and invited to enter into discussions with any member regarding commencing trade relations.' Then she smiled and took my hand again and said, 'Good luck, Devon. I look forward to meeting with you on Earth one day soon,' and she floated back to her seat...or I guess her virtual seat."

"It was crazy Kara...these powerful beings...so advanced that they don't even have to meet in the flesh...were welcoming me to their group!" She chuckled again. "When the Earth Delegate referred to me as 'honorable', I nearly choked and laughed, and that's when I noticed that three beings sat at the front of the room, behind the long dais. The one in the middle...I swear to God, Kara, he looked like Buddha...shook his head at me, like a father berating a naughty child, and I heard, loud and clear, 'Honorable you are, human woman.' Jesus!"

Kara was too stunned to speak for a moment, and just gazed at Devon wide-eyed. Finally, she gasped, "My God, Devon...that is so incredible! How special. God..." She began to choke up as she squeezed her mate. "I knew the first moment I saw you that you were special...that you were in a one in a billion human being. I just knew."

"Oh, Kara, no, hon. I've just been lucky...made some good contacts while I was in the Military and lived long enough to make use of them."

"Devon Andropoulos, do not even try to sell yourself short to me. It is not gonna work. I know who you are, and what you are...better than anyone else. You are incredible."

Devon didn't know what to say, other than a mumbled, "Thanks, baby. You're pretty incredible yourself."

"Mm," Kara mumbled as she buried herself more deeply into Devon's embrace. "That was a wonderful story, honey. Thank you for sharing it with me. I can't wait to see Sen with you."

"And I can't wait to show it to you. And marry you there. I love you, Kara."

"Love you, sweetheart. So very much."

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

Devon shrugged her flight suit on over her broad shoulders, pulling it closed to just above her cleavage. She glanced into the small mirror as she adjusted the collar and noted a red mark on her neck, and a smile blossomed, lighting her face. She sauntered into the adjoining sleeping area where her mate was pulling an "Andropolous Shipping" sleeveless crew shirt over her head.

Grasping the shirt by the hem, Devon settled it into place for her partner and grasped her hips, pulling her close. She mumbled, "You left marks on my body last night," as she moved in to kiss a matching mark on Kara's neck.

"Mm, hm. I told you two could play at that game."

"That may be, but I left more than you did." Her lips sought out another, just below the first, and then another on her chest, just above her collarbone.

"Mm, well, I was distracted. If you'd like more, I'll see what I can do about it later."

"You do that."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Mm, Kara," Devon muttered as her lips refused to leave Kara's breastbone.

"Honey, you need to, mmm...you need to stop that. We have to go on duty."

"God, I know, but I can't." Her hands found their way up under Kara's shirt and caressed her shoulder blades through her bra-shirt. "What is it that you do to me? Explain it to me in medical terms."

Kara laughed as she ran her fingers through Devon thick, silky hair. "I will...later. Why don't you let me fix your favorite pasta tonight and we'll discuss it over a bottle of that wine we like."

"That sounds great, baby, but what about right now?" Her large hands migrated around and aroused Kara's nipples as she kissed her throat.

"Jesus, Devon! Now we have to work...stop it, honey." She sighed as her mate's hands and lips continued their barrage. "Sweetheart, we made love once this morning already."

"No, we connected...it's not the same. I need sex, Kara."

"Honey, you do not. Now take a deep br...breath and let's...oh, God, Devon!" As one of her breasts was suckled through her bra, she threw her head back and dropped her hands to Devon's waist, pulling her close.

"See, baby, we both need each other."

"God, yes...but we need to make it quick."

Devon lifted her mouth from Kara's breast and smiled rakishly at her. "No problem... you won't even have to get undressed."

"God, Devon, love me, please."

"Mmm."

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

As Devon strode onto the bridge, carrying a pastry in one hand and her large mug in the other, Cyd attempted to not glance at the chronometer. But it was just too tempting. Thirty-five minutes. She grinned internally, glad that Devon's ship had thick bulkheads, as the bridge sat alongside her quarters.

"Not a word, Cyd. And feel free to take an extra half hour lunch break today."

Cyd grinned widely down at her console. "I'll do that, Devon, thanks."

"Do you mind a little music?"

"Not at all."

"I'm in the mood for Reticulan, that alright?"

"Yes, it's fine. I'm really beginning to enjoy it."

"Good. SysComp. Bridge. Music. Reticulan Symphony number...forty-three." The lovely, lilting music began and Devon commanded, "Music volume, twenty percent," before leaning back in her seat. She sipped at her mug quietly for a few minutes as Cyd busied herself with her morning checks. "Cyd, I've re-worked the sims of the last three pirate attacks to include the new weapons we'll have on board shortly. Care to try them out with me?"

"Jesus, yes!" Cyd replied enthusiastically.

"Good. As soon as you're finished with those checks, we'll get started. I've had quite a bit of military weapons experience, so I think I've been able to anticipate the systems they'll install for us, and I think I've recreated them fairly accurately in these sims. They'll be a start anyway."

Cyd nodded her agreement and Devon continued, "So, we'll fly the sims as before, but I'll have the SysComp take the role of gunner so you and I can get a feel for the flying we may need to do while fighting back. Specifically, a simulated Chad up here, and Jim back in Engineering."

Cyd grinned. "A simulated Chad, huh? I take it you've made improvements over the prototype?"

Devon laughed deeply. "Nope, I figured I'd better leave in the fallibilities and limitations so it would be realistic."

Cyd shook her head seriously as she said, "That's too bad," but then softened the statement with a grin.

"Ah, Cyd, he's not a bad guy."

"Oh, I know, Devon. He's just a bit immature for my liking."

"Many men are, Cyd, in my experience."

"My chief reason for preferring women, Captain. Though I should give him credit. He does seem to be shaping up lately."

"I think, for the first time in his life, he has a reason to, Cyd."

The co-pilot contemplated the Captain's words while she finished her tasks, and then they launched into one of the new simulations.

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

The young, blonde warrior-bard watched as her mate fought off the attackers, confident that she would prevail against the handful of enemy soldiers, and steered their horse into the brush. She guided the mare with one hand as she grasped her staff with the other. The soldier who was accompanying them stopped to watch the fight and the young woman stopped the horse as she called out to the man to follow her to safety.

Suddenly, the young woman felt a stabbing pain and fell forward onto her horse's neck as an arrow struck her back. Oh, gods, was her only thought as the piercing pain shot through her and she held tightly to the reins. She spared a brief look back and saw her mate following her on foot, running as fast as her strong legs could carry her, which was nearly as fast as the horse itself could run.

"Gabrielle!" Her warrior gasped as she reached her partner and gently lifted her from the horse's back. "Stay still!" The strong warrior laid her partner gently on the ground and then sat beside her, pulling her into her arms. She sent the Spartan soldier accompanying them off to make a fire and examined her mate's wound.

Writhing with pain, the younger woman collapsed against her mate. "It's not...it's not that bad."

"This is going to be painful," the warrior said softly as she prepared to remove the arrow. Grasping it in both hands, she broke it in two and then pushed the shaft through, and it exited through her mate's chest.

"Ahh," the small blonde screamed as the pain lanced through her.

The warrior turned her lover gently and grasped the shaft, pulling it the rest of the way through the front of her mate's shoulder. She quickly covered the bleeding wound with her hand as her partner bravely proclaimed, "I hardly felt a thing."

The strong woman brought the arrowhead to her nose, sniffing at it.

"What is it?" Her injured mate asked.

"Poison," her warrior replied darkly.

Kara awakened, sweating and trembling. She could still feel the burning pierce of the poisoned arrow, and the agony of having it removed. Gods. I hope this wasn't a prescient dream. She took a deep, calming breath and willed her pulse to calm, not wanting to disturb her sleeping mate. Sleep eluded her for some time, as she quietly attempted to divine the meaning of the long-ago memory, and why she had been gifted with it.

-16-

Flight Day 63

"Okay, Cyd, apply braking thrusters on my mark. Three, two, one, mark."

"Aye, Devon. Braking thrusters applied."

"Good," Devon remarked as she eyed the approaching gas giant. Titan's orbit currently carried it below Saturn's ring plane, though it was quite a distance from the beautiful, but dangerous structures. With her practiced eye, Devon could just make out the dark shadow of the moon against the bright planet behind it. "Alright...we will apply braking thrusters again in three hours. Until then, I'll be in bay four doing weapons practice with Kara."

"Aye, Devon." Cyd nodded as she returned her attention to her console.

Devon stood and stretched out the kinks, as was her habit, and turned and left the bridge. Before entering the Medlab, she popped into the galley to grab two juices. Pulling open the cold storage unit, she perused the selections, grabbing two bottles of white grape, knowing it was Kara's favorite flavor. Smiling to herself as she felt her mate's proximity, she strode out of the mess hall and across the corridor to the Medlab.

Kara felt Devon's approach and sat back in her chair. She was gazing at the hatch when Devon entered and smiled a warm greeting. "Hi, sweetheart."

"Hi, babe. Are you ready for that weapons practice?" She asked as she pulled up a chair next to Kara and offered her the juice. Kara stole a kiss before accepting the drink and Devon leaned forward and stole another, prolonging it a bit. "How long until shift is over?" She asked as she gazed into Kara's eyes.

Kara chuckled and glanced at the time display. "Three hours. We shouldn't meet during the day like this, honey...you know how dangerous it is."

Devon chuckled as well. "I know. But it couldn't be helped today. God..." She blew out a breath and willed her pulse to slow. It didn't however, nor did the pulsating in her groin. She took a long swig of her cool juice, and when Kara did as well, they both grinned at each other from around the plastic bottles.

"We're sunk, Devon. Both of us. Maybe we can develop some meditative techniques to combat this."

"We may have to, Kara. I can't be burning for you while trying to concentrate on flying this ship out of the grasp of pirates."

"Do you really think you'll have a problem? You're very focused when you need to be."

"If you're nearby, Kara, I feel you, and my desire for you, over and above whatever else has my attention. Hell, landing and launching from Mars...as intense as that was...I felt you." She looked thoughtful for a moment. "I can probably get some advice from the Consul. The Grays are nothing if not expert at putting aside sexual feelings."

"Honey, they had to alter themselves genetically to achieve that. Do you think they can give you advice?"

"I do, because now that they have evolved beyond their sterility somewhat, it is an issue that they are dealing with again."

"Oh, I didn't know they had come that far." She giggled as she added, "No, um, pun intended."

"Right," Devon drawled. "Yeah, they're not as bad as they once were...their sexual drive isn't nearly what it was...I mean not to the point of destroying their society again...and never will be, but they have developed techniques to help them focus when they need to."

"Good. I look forward to learning them with you."

"Mm. Come here, though and give me another one of those sweet kisses, and then we'll go shoot the hell out of some simulated pirates."

"Gladly, love," Kara said as she fell forward into Devon's embrace. She captured her mate's lips and savored them, giving Devon a long, wonderful taste of her sweetness. Devon had to be pulled forcefully to her feet afterward and pushed down the corridor toward the cargo section.

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

"Okay, baby, now, use your sight line...good. Now, squeeze the trigger gently...never hard. In zero-g or low grav, you want the rifle to be as steady as possible so the beam stays straight."

"Okay," Kara replied as she hefted the large, but lightweight weapon and squinted down the length of the barrel.

"I'm not going to tell you before I start the sequence, so be ready. The first few shots will be live plasma so you can get a feel for it, but after that, they'll be laser bolts to preserve our ammo stores." She pointed to the clear gauge on the top of the gun. "See, it shows only two bursts left," then stepped back to the wall behind them and waited a few seconds before starting the practice sequence.

Kara held her weapon at the ready, feeling more relaxed each time she engaged in the practice. Suddenly, a target image appeared ahead of her and to her right and she swung around, squeezing the trigger as she locked on. A red light flashed, indicating a prime hit and she stayed relaxed and focused, opening up her vision, waiting for the next image. It appeared to her far left, and she shot, triggering a yellow light, which indicated a less than optimum hit on the subject's left shoulder.

"Relax," she whispered to herself. "Focus. Zen shooting, remember?"

The next image appeared directly in front of her and moved to her left, and she tagged it beautifully.

"Nice, babe!" Her coach shouted, even as the next image appeared far to her right, and Kara hit it well, swinging around adeptly and squeezing off the shot.

After five more shots and optimum hits, she took a breather and as Devon programmed in the next series she asked, "Honey, when you use this rifle, you shoot from your waist...can I learn to shoot that way? It seems to improve reaction time and conserve motion."

"Yes, it is the advanced stance. You're doing well using the sights, so we can try it the other way. It may take you a while to get a sense of how to target, but once you get the hang of it, I think it will become second nature...like it is for me. You seem to have a natural aptitude for this."

"Yes, how ironic," Kara responded dryly.

"I couldn't be more pleased about it either, Kara. I told you...I need you safe. Hippocratic oath or no."

"I know, Devon, I understand. My drive to protect you seems to be just as strong as yours is to protect me. Let's do this."

"Okay, babe. Now, hold it so it's comfortable. Get a feel for how it feels in your hands. You're not bracing it against your shoulder, so lock your right elbow into your side. Good, now get ready. Bend your knees slightly and balance your weight evenly over both legs if you can. I find that stance works best with the large weapons. Good, honey. That looks good. Okay, here they come."

Devon punched in the command and the targets appeared quickly, one after the other. On her third shot, Kara got a feel for the targeting and made a clean hit, and all the others after it were as well.

"Yes!" Kara yelled excitedly when the round was complete. "I did it!"

"You sure did, love...great job!" Devon reached for her mate, but stepped back, advising, "Whoa, babe, engage the safety, please!"

"Oops, sorry." Kara grinned. "I guess at this range that laser bolt could burn a little."

"Um, yeah," Devon agreed with a grin. "I know from experience. Um, in my own leg."

"Oh, God, honey!"

Devon nodded, somewhat embarrassed. "Yeah, and I was level ten certified at the time. My C.O. said he felt like demoting me three levels."

Kara gave her weapons instructor a very coy smile. "So, have I advanced another level yet?"

"Oh, I think I can certify you to level five now, yeah." Devon's face broke into a wide, warm grin. "Great work, honey. I'm very proud of you. And more importantly, I'm confident that you can defend yourself. That means so much to me...I can't express how much."

"You don't need to love...I can sense it. I'm so glad to be able to give you that peace of mind. That makes me feel very good."

"Mm. Know what else makes me feel very good?" Devon said with a rakish grin as she took the rifle from Kara and set it in the open weapons locker.

"I think I have an idea, yeah."

"Yeah?" Devon asked as she wrapped her arms around Kara's waist and pulled her close. As she nuzzled Kara's throat, she murmured, "De-magnetize your boots, baby."

Kara did as requested without a word, as did Devon, and then she pushed off from the floor, launching them toward the top of the bay together.

"Devon! Whoa!" Kara squealed as they rose quickly.

Devon stopped them with a long arm against the ceiling, and then gently pushed them down a bit so they hung about three meters off the floor of the large bay. Kara, giggling, said, "Honey, we're still on duty, you know."

"I'm aware of that, my love, which is why we're just gonna make out a little. We'll have some more intense zero-g play time tomorrow when we're docked, okay?"

"Yes, okay!"

"Mm, I like that enthusiasm," Devon muttered just before her lips met Kara's.

"Mmm," was the only response as they kissed deeply. Devon loved to communicate her love to Kara through sensual kisses, tasting and savoring her while not letting the passion become too rough or too raw. Kara always responded in kind, feeling a depth of love for Devon that she had never experienced before and wanting to communicate the fact to her mate. The messages, both of them, were always received as intended, as they shared their love reverently.

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

Kara leaned against Devon's pilot seat as they watched their approach to the space station orbiting the large moon, which in turn orbited the immense, ringed planet.

"It looks very much like Andromeda Station," Kara remarked.

"Yes," Devon said with a nod. "Same generation. The only difference is the addition of the large dry dock facility here. We'll be docking there instead of in the cargo section so we can have the military modifications made. There won't be gravity there, so we'll stay on the station and come back here for the zero-g and EV suit training."

"Mm, okay. What's the station like? It's not strictly military is it?"

"No, it's administered by the Fleet, because of the large military presence, but it also has a large private sector...mainly serving the scientists and miners on the base on Titan below." Devon squinted at the circular station, which appeared to be rapidly approaching. "I don't see any Fleet ships docked." She shook her head. "I don't understand why they're not stationing Cruisers here peramently, what with all the pirate troubles."

Cyd remarked dryly, "Because there's no consortium trade right now, and they're what matter. I'll bet they were given leave to return to Earth Sector."

"You're probably right, Cyd, but that doesn't mean I like it. Typical narrow-minded military."

Kara chuckled. "Honey, I don't know how you managed to stay in it as long as you did."

"There wasn't a comfortable moment, babe, I can now admit. God, that was not my cup of tea."

"Well, honey, you're a very old soul. Old souls march to the beat of their own drummers, remember? It's very hard for us to fit into strict military hierarchies."

"True. Yet I run my ship based on that model."

"Out of necessity. You need to have a command structure in place because of the dangerous nature of the runs you make...it's perfectly understandable. You need to be comfortable in the knowledge that the orders you give will be followed to the letter, to ensure everyone's safety. And we all trust you in that regard."

Cyd nodded her agreement as she added, "Yes, and compared to consortium ships, this posting is a dream. You may think you're strict, but you treat your crew very well...and I must say, Devon, that it is very much appreciated."

"Right, honey," Kara agreed.

"Well, um, thanks," Devon stammered, embarrassed. "It's good to hear that I may be doing it right."

"There's no question, love. So, um, how long until we dock?"

"We should be hearing from Alpha Control any time now. I've already sent over our ID and manifest. If there's no delay...and it looks like there won't be because there's no traffic...we should dock in about an hour."

"Okay. Well, I guess I'd better prepare my patients then. They should need a little more time to get acclimated than my Mars patients did."

"Okay, love. Later, then." She turned her seat so that Kara could lean down for a quick kiss. She took two and then stood and gazed once more at the view before them.

Most of the viewscreen was filled by Saturn and its beautiful ring system, which served as a backdrop to the large orange ball of Titan below, and the white, circular space station that hung above it.

"Gods, it's gorgeous."

"And deadly toxic, babe. And the rings, as delicate and fragile as they appear, are made of billions of sharp chunks of icy rock. Not a hospitable place. And Titan, despite it's nitrogen–rich atmosphere isn't much better. The comparatively small amount of methane in the air makes it unbreathable for us. Then there are the lakes and rivers of methane planetside. It's a beautifully alien place...interesting to visit, but I wouldn't want to live here."

Cyd chuckled. "Not like the mad scientists and crazy miners who do, huh?"

"They can have it, Cyd. Give me a nice M-class planet, or a comfortable ship to fly through the galaxy."

"Same here, love. Well, guys, I'll see you later."

"Bye sweetheart. Hey...docking should be a breeze, but I'll buzz you when it's imminent."

Kara smiled warmly at her mate's thoughtfulness and as she said, "Thank you," quietly, sent her a jolt of love through their bond. The look on Devon's face was priceless as she received it, and sent a jolt in return.

God, I love you Kara.

As Kara left the bridge, she felt Devon's words ring telepathically in her head, and stopped, shocked, and turned to look at the closed hatch to the bridge. Jesus, Buddha, and Sennaat...

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

"Phoenix, Alpha Control. You are go for docking. Set for automatic guidance and stop rotation. Over."

"This is Andropoulos. Prepare for zero-grav. Zero-grav in thirty seconds." She depressed a control and a flashing yellow light bathed the interior of the ship, from bridge to engineering.

"Okay, Cyd, I'm cutting rotation and releasing manual control...now." Devon depressed a switch and spoke into her headset, "Alpha Control, Phoenix. Copy, we have negative rotation and automatic guidance set. We are go for docking. Over."

"Phoenix, Alpha Control. Automatic docking underway. Out."

"Alpha Control, Phoenix. Copy that. We'll see you on board. Out."

Devon and Cyd both leaned back in their seats and relaxed somewhat as the space station's guidance system took control of the ship, guiding it safely into a "dry-dock" berth. As they floated into a gigantic hangar-like structure of support struts, Kara entered the bridge, using handholds to steady herself.

"Wow...this is amazing!" She exclaimed as she stood behind Devon and rested her hands on her mate's shoulders.

"Isn't it?" Devon asked, glancing back at her lover and placing her hands on Kara's. "It's the third largest dry-dock facility in the system...after Earth and Mars."

"It's incredible," Kara said as she watched the huge ship settle into a berth.

The dry-dock facility wrapped halfway around the outermost ring of the space station. The stationary outer ring comprised the shipyard and maintenance sectors of the station, while the two inner rings comprised the military and private sectors, and rotated, providing simulated gravity. There was a gentle lurch as the ship settled against the hatch and was latched into place.

"Okay, we're in. Briefing in thirty." Devon addressed first Cyd and then Kara before turning and making a similar announcement over the ship-wide comm system. Then, standing and wrapping an arm around her mate, she led them from the bridge. They entered the main corridor, staying at the edge, where the floor was metal, and Devon turned to face Kara. "I have ship business to take care of...I'll see you in a while."

"Okay, love. I'll get my passengers offloaded and see you at the briefing." She was pulled up for a quick kiss and then they parted to handle their business.

Devon punched her code into the keypad at the main hatchway and stepped through the opening and into the long airlock that attached the ship to the docking facility. The light inside was a dimly flashing yellow, warning of her entry into a zero-gravity section. A sign on the wall indicated the same. She scanned her ident card at the other end of the airlock and entered the station.

She made her way along the gently curving, utilitarian, military-gray corridor of the large station, passing maintenance bays and offices, arriving finally at the office of the Port Officer. Inside, she handed her ident card to the officer at the desk, who nodded curtly as he accepted it.

He scanned her card and glanced at his data screen as he said, "Captain Andropoulos. Your ship is scheduled for military weapons modifications, to commence at the start of gamma shift. The modifications should be completed within four to five standard days. You have lodgings reserved for six crew in the private sector...two singles and two doubles. The Chief Cargo Officer has requested a meeting ASAP...you can use the terminal here if you'd like." He pointed to a private cubicle to his left and Devon nodded. The young man returned her card as he said, "Enjoy your stay on Titan Alpha."

Devon nodded as she said, "Thank you," and stepped into the adjacent cubicle. She scanned her card and keyed in the Cargo Officer's number. The image of a middle-aged, blonde woman appeared on the screen.

"Captain Andropoulos, welcome back to Titan. We're very glad to see you two weeks early."

Devon smiled and nodded. "Thanks, Ms. Johnson. It's good to be back."

The woman glanced at the data scrolling across the bottom of her screen and then looked back up into Devon's image as she said, "I see that you have military orders. I'm sending a shuttle to retrieve your cargo, departing in fifteen minutes."

Devon nodded. "Good. I'd like to have it offloaded before the Fleet starts to work. Also, I've had an itinerary change. I'm not inbound after all, but heading out to Z. Ret. Please advise as to whether or not you still want to onload inbound cargo. I'll take it now, but it won't be delivered until I'm back in-system in several months."

"Alright, I'll check with my Earth and Mars clients and advise within two hours. Where are you staying?"

"At Solarwinds."

"Alright, I'll track you down when I have the information. I am processing your payment now. Have a good stay. Out."

"Thanks." The woman's image nodded politely and winked out. Devon retrieved her card and exited the cubicle, then made her way back to the ship.

As she approached the mess hall, she ran into Kara. "Hi, babe. How are the passengers?"

"Groggy, but very happy to be here two weeks early. How long before their shuttle arrives?"

Devon checked the readout on her wrist unit. "About twenty minutes...will that work?"

"Yes, just about perfectly. I don't want any of them trying to maneuver in zero-g before then."

"Good, then you just have time for my briefing. Come on." She led Kara into the hall, where everyone else was gathered at the round table.

"Okay, I'll make this as brief as possible, because I know some of you don't enjoy zero-g."

"Then again, Cap, some of us do," Chad said with a grin.

Devon laughed. "Even still, Chad? You just be careful, huh? That wrist is just recently healed and I may be in need of a gunner soon."

"You can count on me, Devon," Chad replied seriously.

Devon responded with an appreciative nod. "Okay. We're all booked into the Solarwinds..."

"Nice, Dev!" Jim exclaimed, interrupting.

"Yeah, Cap, what's the occasion?" Rusty asked.

Devon furrowed her brow, slightly embarrassed. "The occasion is that I appreciate this crew. Now shut the hell up so I can continue and we can start our leave."

"Aye, Captain, shutting the hell up," Rusty responded irreverently, receiving a glare for his trouble.

"As I was saying, the modifications should take four to five days...I'm leaning toward five to six, knowing the Fleet as I do...and Jim and Rusty, I'd like you to supervise, please, at least at first. I will too. While we're here, I want everyone getting re-certified in their EV suits and in zero-g procedures. I've set up a training schedule." She handed everyone a data disc. "A shuttle is arriving imminently to offload the cargo, and incoming cargo is still a question mark. When I know the status of that, I'll buzz you."

She eyed each of her crew. "Okay, I've been paid, so you have too. Enjoy your leave, but let's keep in mind that we're in all likelihood heading out to battle, so don't screw up on the training I've set up. This is serious, people, and we need to act accordingly. That's it."

"Right, Cap. There's the shuttle now," Rusty said as the comm unit in the hall buzzed.

"Good, Rusty, Chad, get to work and then enjoy your leave. Rust, Jim, meet me here at the start of gamma shift, please."

"Will do, Andy. See you then. Cyd, I promised you a drink, didn't I?" Jim said charmingly as he placed a protective hand on the co-pilot's back.

"Yes, you did," Cyd responded with a warm smile.

"Well let's go. I intend to enjoy the next four hours before I have to report back here." They strode out of the hall and launched themselves down the corridor toward the front hatch.

"Well, honey. I'd better see to our passengers."

"I'll go with you, hon, and see them off, and we can start our leave." Devon's eyes held a twinkle as she addressed her mate and herded her toward the doorway.

"Devon, I'm getting the distinct impression that you have something specific in mind for our leave."

"Oh, what gives you that idea?"

"Several things, all psychic in nature...shall I name them?"

Devon laughed. "No, Kara, no need. Come on...let's get those passengers taken care of. I happen to know that there is a bathtub waiting with our name on it."

"Oh, honey! Thank you!" She leapt into Devon's embrace just as they entered the carpeted corridor and floated in midair.

"God, Kara, save some of that appreciation for when we arrive at the hostel, please." Devon laughed.

Kara wrapped herself around Devon and held her close as they floated toward the passenger section. "You've got it, my love. In the meantime, you be thinking of ways that I can thank you, all right?"

"Gray gods, Kara..."


Part 9

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