There is a strong preference on this ship for the forward lounge, and I suppose that's normal, being an exploration vessel. Most people prefer to look ahead, to where they're going, to watch the stars approach and fly by.
But me? At the moment, I'd rather sit in the aft lounge. It's emptier, the bartender less busy, and the music a little more subdued. Besides, we're two days out of Pendor, and Ian is taking it a little more slowly than usual. He's cautious, but more than that he knows that in two days all this that has been built on his ship will end. 1107 people crammed into a microscopic society, much of us very dependent upon the decisions Ian, Wendy, and the Engineering crew make. We depend on Wendy to make sure nobody does anything stupid, like double-cycle an airlock, or overcharge the carbon releases into the s-space fusion drives. We hope Ian negotiates properly, and that the navigator won't aim us right through the heart of a star or something. To quote, "That'd end your trip real quick, wouldn't it?"
But more than that, we've come to rely on each other to maintain the semblance of sanity we call "ship's role." With only 1107 people to choose from, and nowhere to go to get away from everybody else, there's a lot of need for understanding, compassion, and tolerance. Especially since there are ten-plus different races on board, everything from Ian to the delphin s-space pilots. 648 days may seem like a long time, but it can seem longer if you're not just getting along. And if you're like me, trying to manage or juggle your relationships takes effort, practice, and a really quick tongue.
So I like the aft lounge. It lets me see where we've been, when our forward-looking attitude becomes almost a parody of what we are. And in two days, all these relationships come to an end. We'll be home. And some won't reapply for another trip out, and new people will be on board, and when we land we'll be surrounded by people we knew when we left, people who, like us, have gone through over two years of change. Ian knows all this, and gave us two more days to talk it out, peacefully, under real calm Corrane-I drive that requires virtually no engineering crew and literally no bridge crew. This is a time for us to be together, before every relationship on board comes crashing down.
Like mine. And Kathy's. As I watch the stars recede, I waited for her.
I don't remember how long I was waiting before I heard her voice. It wasn't that long. "Hi."
I looked up at her young and pretty face. Only eighteen years old now, I wondered what she was going to do when we got home. Kathy's a spacer, there's all there is to her, and I know when she gets home she's going to walk right into Ian's office and say, "please?"
"Hi yourself, beautiful. Sit down?" I motioned to the chair opposite my own. In the subdued lighting she looked magnificent, her long blond tresses glinting merrily.
She smiled. "Sure." She sat and ordered herself a tall mug of Orc Tea.
"How can you drink that stuff?"
"What? Iced Mate'? It's good."
"It's boiled tree bark."
"Oh, yeah, and this is coming from a human who drinks kfi."
"Hey, I like kfi. But I suppose our eternal argument about what is and is not good food isn't really why you asked me to meet you here after your shift."
She smiled again. "No, it isn't."
She paused, staring off at the far wall for a few seconds, then she sighed and said, "In less than two days, we're going to be in orbit around Pin. We're already inside Pendor Controlled Space. We passed the Oort cloud about an hour ago, it's on the PBBS."
"I suppose this is the discussion that's going all over the ship. What are we gonna do when we get home, right?"
"Well...Yes. And no." I raised my eyebrows. "I know almost exactly what we're going to do when we get home. You're going to go back to P'nyssa and M'Ress and Paul and your home and settle down for another century or so, until you get bored again. And we both know that I'm going back out into space as soon as possible, although I'd love to go with Ian if I can. He likes me, and I like him, and all personal feeling aside, he's a great captain. Wait, please, I can see you're dying to interrupt me. I love you, Ken. You know that, and I know that, and I love you, too. The times we've had aboard the Eldarfaroth are unforgettable, and in my case, pretty indelible."
I smiled. The rings I'd pierced through her labia were constant reminders, to both of us, just how far we'd explored her need to give, and my strength to control. I wore the keys to her heart, almost literally, around my neck.
She continued. "So don't tell me what you feel, and that it'll be all right, and give me all of the Shardik bullshit you're so good at, and you know it." I kept smiling, and nodded.
But she didn't say anything further, so I said "So?"
"So." She smiled. She rested her elbows on the table and leaned over to me, and in a soft voice she said, "I want one more thing from you..." and she whispered the last word, "master."
I raised my eyebrow again, and said, equally softly, "And what would that be, my slave?"
"I want a brand."
I paused. I wasn't sure I'd heard that right, so I played her words over again in my mind. I'd heard it right.
"You want a... brand?"
She nodded. "Mm Hmm."
"Like in a burn mark?" My voice was a little closer to stage whisper now.
"Yeah." And when she said that, her eyes lit up, like they had when she'd asked for the piercing.
I thought about it for all of three seconds. I could see in those eyes that there was no way I was going to talk her out of this one, like I hadn't been able to talk her out of the last one, the piercings. Okay, then. I said, "What kind?"
"Eldar, four stars." She smiled back.
"My personal symbol." My brows knitted. I thought about it. It made sense, but I didn't like it. Every lover she'd ever have would know that at one point somebody had burned Shardik's personal symbol onto her, probably Shardik myself. In any event, they'd be sure to ask about it. Not many people walk around with brands, to be sure. I've never heard of one. More painful than tattoos, I imagine. I wouldn't know, I've never had either.
"Yeah." Was all she said, and her eyes again lit up.
All I could do was nod. My slave had more control over our relationship than I did.
It was a different beach, on a different planet, in a different part of the universe. The sand was crystal white this time, and the ocean really was blue, and the trees were your standard palms. This is Pandora, a green world of my desire, made because Pendor lacks some things, things which we can live without, but I'd rather not. Pandora adds to the system that is Pendor, allows for a special kind of variation that is absolutely necessary. Without Pandora's gravity, Pendor would never have tides and her beaches would be stagnant and unwashed. Pandora also has something unique... sunrises and sunsets. Pandora is deliberately geologically unstable, kicking overlarge amounts of volcanic dust into the atmosphere, so depending on where you stand, the sunsets are spectacular blue-greens or red-yellows.
And tonight's sunset was magnificent. A spectacular blue sinking into the horizon, the momentary green flash as it refracted in the atmosphere and finally disappeared out of sight. I paused to watch it, and then sat and waited. This time there was no shimmer of transport. We were within Pin's rays, and everything was accessible by stepping disk. Kathy merely appeared to my left, on the beach. Naked, she fell to her knees.
I rose from the sand and approached my thrall. She kept her head down, her hands in her lap, waiting for the pain she had requested I inflict. I walked around her, admiring her beauty, not for the first time, and as I walked behind her, I slid my fingers under her hair and grabbed a handful. She gasped, a delicious shudder running through her. "Slave, crawl."
She lifted a knee and slid forward. On her knees, I directed her over to the unlit bonfire that I had erected on the sand. "Stop." She did, and I said "See that? Tonight, in there, is your request. A mark, a sear to remember me by as you travel back out to the stars. Is that what you want?"
I barely heard her over the surf. "Yes."
"Then watch." I gestured, and a small charge in the center of the bonfire lit, flicking about, light the rest of the fire. We sat, waiting, as the flame grew. I spread a blanket on the ground near the flame, and directed her to it. A large foam wedge supported her head and back, and I spread her legs. With a small watercolor pen, I marked a small dot on her thigh, about two inched below her cunt, right where I was going to put the tiny brand I'd had fashioned. A Ssphynx I trust, who makes his own leaded typesets, made the design for me, and another smith, this one a Uncia, made the brand for me from Maccus' design. I had built the fire in a tepee design, so that inside lay the small alloy form, less than an inch high, of the Eldar, my symbol, heating until it was glowing white.
As the fire blazed, I slowly stripped off my clothing. I don't need all that absurd costumery most purveyors of D&S seem to feel I do; she was my slave, she had been for almost two years now, and that was that. I glanced over at her, leaning against the pillow, her legs carefully and deliberately splayed open. I had long ago removed her pubic hair as an impediment, and her excitement was hotly evident in her swollen inner lips and the firelight glistening of her juices.
I reached back behind my neck and undid the clasp of the chain. The tiny key on it slid down into my hand. I crouched down between those lovely legs and with one hand lifted the lock closing her labia while with the other I slid the key into place. She sighed silently as I slid the lock out of its place of honor. I stroked her between her lips with one finger, parting those inner lips, passing over her vagina, but I didn't penetrate her, not yet. That was for later.
I reached back into the bag with which I'd brought all of tonight's paraphernalia, and brought out the black sash. She looked up at me, and I allowed it, as I slowly tied it around her eyes and secured at the back of her head, threading it partially through her hair. The last I saw of her eyes before I put the cloth on, they were bright and wet and afraid, but they also trusted me. She began to sob quietly, a small tear slowly leaving a trail down her cheek as it dropped from behind the blindfold. I leaned over and lightly kissed her cheek, and she turned her head to meet my lips, but I was already on my way down her neck, and her back arched towards me, encouraging me to lick her nipple, but just before I reached one I pulled away. She sobbed anew in frustration. I smiled.
I rarely blindfolded Kathy. There was something in my nature that said she should always be allowed to see what was going to happen to her, but tonight that sort of personal taboo made violation all the more delicious. I was pulling out all the stops tonight. It was our last, most intense night in a long list of intense nights and I wanted her to feel the fear, love, pain and pleasure we always shared, more than ever.
I reached into the bag again and took out the extension tongs and the small wooden block I had brought to hold the brand. Deep inside the fire, it was glowing and ready.
"Yes Master?" she replied, the fear in her voice thick. She'd asked for this, but even she knew that she didn't really know what she'd asked for.
"Are you ready?"
"I...I think so."
"Not gonna back out on me, are you?"
"No, master. I will not."
"Good." I took the tongs and reached into the fire. I turned the hot metal over so that the insert was face up, picked it up in the tongs and brought it towards me. I held the block of wood in my left hand and pressed the insert tab into the hold in the block and turned, securing it onto place. I turned and shifted the searing cast to my right hand, and I leaned over and aimed at the mark I'd made earlier with the pen.
And I pressed.
She screamed, a pure, pealing thing of pain and terror, even as I watched with fascination at her flesh vaporizing away in wisps. I removed the brand, tossed it carelessly into the ocean. I'd never need it ever again, didn't want it ever again.
With a bottle of alcohol, I cooled and cleaned the small mark. As the alcohol evaporated, I examined my work. It was small, clean, and clear...a perfect Eldar, four small dots around that may as well have been stars. My sign. Burned into her flesh. I cursed a little wryly at my erection, betraying the fact that somewhere deep inside, I had enjoyed the pain I'd inflicted.
I reached up, and tears were streaming down her cheeks when I reached for the blindfold. I slowly untied it and took it off. I reached out for her and she rushed into my arms, crying. She sobbed for a long time, and I slowly leaned her back against the cushion. On top of her, I parted her legs and slid my erection into her.
She sighed, her eyes closing in pleasure, her arms wrapped around my neck. I held there, my cock nestled up gently against her cervix. She opened her eyes and looked into mine. "So good," was all she whispered.
"I'm glad." I replied, slowly stroking myself into and out of her, her satinlike sex holding onto me. She wrapped her legs around me as I began to fuck her, watching her face glow red with pleasure, the heat of our bodies starting to outwarm the fire.
I supported my weight on my hands and pushed up to look at her, lowering my head to lick and tease her nipples, and small groans of pleasure escaped her.
"I love you, Kathy," I said, my tempo increasing, my need to come growing.
"I love you too," her voice rising in pitch, in need. Her hips began thrusting against mine, and the sensations running along my cock were growing, becoming stronger, and I could feel the tightening in my chest. Faster.
Faster, harder, fucking my slave, my thrall, my beloved. She became my universe, my attention focused on her, her open mouth, breathing hard as we pushed against each other. I could feel it more, now than ever.
I began to pound. I felt I was going to hurt her, and as I passed the point of no return I stopped and stared into her eyes, my cock positioned to thrust one last time. I felt like I as on the edge of a great cliff.
I pushed. I fell. I screamed, releasing into her, coming. She sighed as I collapsed on top of her, my last desperate thrusts pushing my orgasm on and on. I felt I was dissolving. I was losing consciousness. I was going.
Deep in the back of my mind, the circuits kicked in, saying "I will not pass out" over and over, and I shook my head to clear it. I smiled, and looked down at her. She smiled back, and we laughed and wrapped our arms around each other, holding and laughing until tears streamed from our eyes. I slowly raised myself back until I was kneeling on my knees and looked down at her, lying against the cushion. She pushed herself up into a sitting position and looked down at her right thigh. She trailed a finger slowly over the blackened burn. "What do you think?" I asked.
She hummed a little, a sigh maybe, and said, "Oh Gods, Ken, I think it's incredible. I don't think I can ever come close to telling you how wonderful it is."
"I'm glad you like it."
"Like? I love it! And I love you. Thank you."
"No, Kath, thank you. You've been wonderful to me."
"And you to me."
EPILOGUE 171 / 0413
I stood out on the balcony of my domicile. I'd been home for almost two months now, but Kathy and I hadn't seen each other because she'd been busy taking her academy exams. She'd shown up last night in her active duty uniform, with Ian's personal signet on her chest, to tell me that Ian had accepted her as an engineering research trainee, and that she was shipping out tomorrow. That is to say, today. In fact, according to my watch, the Eldarfaroth transits to hyperdrive in four minutes.
P'Nyssa came up behind me and I heard her put two glasses of something down on the table. She wrapped her tens around me and leaned up against me. I leaned back, still looking up the night sky. I know, it's illogical to look up since there was no real way to know what direction the ship was going, and the ring points in but Ian's headed out, but still I looked up at the stars showing beyond the rim of the ring. Stars I might have been to. Stars Kathy might be headed to.
Nyss rested her head on my shoulder and sighed quietly. I echoed her sigh, and said quietly, "It is impossible to love your wife without loving all women somewhat."
"Uncle Robert. Yeah."
"You're going to miss her, aren't you?"
"A little. No, that's not true. I'm gonna miss her a lot. Our affair may have been a bit... strange, but I did love her, and I know she loved me, too. I don't think anybody could have done for her what I did, and vice versa."
"I don't think so either."
"I know we haven't talked much about it, but does it bother you what we did?"
"No, I don't think so." She smiled a little. "I know you well enough to know how you express yourself. You're too smart for that kind of bullshit."
"You know what, Nyss? It's been a few hundred years since you moved in, and I've never been happier to see you than today."
She smiled again, pulled back, and handed me my glass.
"I know," was all she said.