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Home is the Sailor, Home from the Sea

A Caregivers Adventure

By Heather O’Malley

With thanks to EE Nalley and RAH

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Tá Gráinne Mhaol ag go duill ar sáile

From: Oró, 'Sé do Bheatha 'Bhaile

 

Grace’s face rocked to the side, a red spot blooming on her cheek, turning with the force of the slap. Her body turned some as well, as the man who had slapped her had great upper body strength. Her pink jumpsuit was grabbed and she was lifted into the air. She flailed a little, but even with her mass it was no use. She felt herself cocked back and then was flying forward.

“Why me?” ran through her head, as she flew through the slight gravity to crash into some patrons who had hurriedly tried to catch her. With a loud oof, they braced her fall.

Grace rolled to her feet to face the lumbering man. Other patrons were moving in to intercept. This had to be dealt with now. “Stop!”

Everyone in the bar turned to look at the nearly six foot Caregiver. The braid her red hair was in was coming loose, with wisps floating in the slight gravity. Her eyes had gone from blue to green to the darker color of an angry sea. “I get tae deal wit‘im. Feckin’ gobshite.”

The other patrons backed away and the huge man snorted. To be afraid of a woman, even one as attractive as Grace was something his reptilian brain was unable to process. Sure she was solid, like a beautiful peasant girl with loads of freckles, but what danger could she hold.

Grace settled herself a little more solidly and took a deep breath to center herself. Her smile was almost feral as she moved in.

The other man was larger, had greater muscle mass but no formal training. Grace had all the benefits of the DeCorvin process plus some fine teaching in several different forms of combat, including a few modified for low gravity. She was trained, strong and could take a lot of damage. That and she was Irish.

When all was said and done, she had perhaps a few broken ribs and a nice shiner but the larger man was out cold. She sat down on top of him and faced the irate mob of Spacers who had gathered. She ran a hand over her fiery hair, trying to smooth out the tangled mess. It only sort of worked. “Gentlemen, ‘ear me out.”

The crowd stirred muttering.

“Dinna space this arse over this, please. First off ‘e’s new. And second, like you roughnecks wouldn’a like someone as strong as himself tae be doin’ tha werk?”

Grace smiled internally listening to the murmurs of assent to that. She just might manage to save this guy’s life. “Rough ‘im up some if ya wanna, but let ‘im know wha the deal is out ‘ere in space. Give ‘im a break. Please. For me.”

She smiled her most dazzling smile, her eyes more like the ocean in the sun then the rough waves of earlier. Once she got their murmurs of assent she thanked them all formally and left the bar, rubbing her sore jaw line.

She frowned as she was heading back to her ships berth. She knew that the Ship Mother was going to hear about this and that she would get in trouble for this, again. She was generally not the kinder and softer Irish lass but more like the old movie star Maureen O’Hara. She hadn’t been this way when she had joined Caregivers; it had come out all on its own after the Process. Not that she really minded.

She smiled as she headed back towards the ship’s bearth. It had been a good shore leave and she had enjoyed that fight, made her forget all of her troubles. Of course, the whiskey helped with all of that as well. She sang one of her father’s favorite sea chanteys as she wove her way home.

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Ships Mother Stevens rubbed her eyes as she looked at the personal file for Grace Ni Mhaille. The woman had been a Sister for a few years, but had never lasted on any one posting more than one trip due to interpersonal issues. Something had always happened and Grace left. The other ships hadn’t been angry over most of them, simply citing that it came down to personality conflicts. She did know privately that Grace and a Ship’s Bosun had gotten into it aboard The Pride of Jersey. That fight had not been pretty, according to all reports. And now this.

Maybe Grace wasn’t quite working out as a Caregiver? Maybe they needed to let her go once they returned to Mars? Surely a pilot as skilled as Grace could find work there? Couldn’t she?

Maybe…maybe not. If Grace was let go, she might never find a job with another company. What was really needed was someone rough enough to stand up to the girl but refined enough to wear down some of those rough edges that seemed to crop up after the fact. If Ships Mother Corazon wasn’t on a long voyage, she might be just the person, but who else could do this?

She wrote up the report, listed her recommendations and sent the file off to Mars. Hopefully someone there would be able to think of some way to tame the wild Caregiver. She certainly hadn’t been able to despite everything that she had tried. It would be a long trip back, especially with this hanging over her head.

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Administrative Leave was never as good as it sounded. Grace listlessly wandered around her apartment on Mars worried that maybe she had screwed up big time. She wasn’t sure why it was that her temper had gotten worse since the DeCorvin process had changed her, but it had. She seemed to grow upset at the drop of a hat now. It was like her emotions had become as changeable as the sea.

What was frustrating her was that everything she had known had changed so utterly when she had left her home in Clew Bay behind. The parish priest had blessed him when he had set out in the same manner that sailors going out into the Atlantic had been blessed for hundreds of years. When she had left home to find work she had been blessed, but since then she really hadn’t been back to church. She sighed. Maybe she should have stayed home and fished with her family?

She missed Clare Island. She missed the Earth but she also felt at home out here in space. It was difficult and she often prayed to St. Brendan the Navigator for guidance. Her father had insisted that he had to leave, that the seas were becoming dead things and that someone had to carry their ancient name to the stars. She had agreed to her father’s wishes and had tried to get into all of the Space Agencies to no avail. A fisherman and the son of fishermen apparently didn’t quite make the cut for the major companies.

She lay on her bed and stared at the ceiling, thinking back to how she got herself into this mess to start with.

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Brendan stood in front of his last hope to follow Himself’s orders. He prayed to his namesake, St. Brendan, that he could get hired. Sadly, the Caregivers Company was his last chance to get into space. He had an idea of what it might cost, but what else could he do? Brendan crossed himself and put his rosary back on and headed into the building.

“Guten Morgen, wilkomen zu Caregivers.” stated the receptionist as he walked into the beautiful lobby. The architecture was incredible and the large open atrium gave a felling of vastness. It was awe inspiring.

Brendan blinked. He had no idea what the woman had just said. He blushed in embarrassment as he asked, “Uhm…do ye speak English?”

“Yes sir. Welcome to Caregivers. Can I help you?” Her smile was bright and made Brendan think that all was right in the world.

“Aye. I was wonderin’ if there were any way that I could be applyin’ for a job wit ye’.” His accent grew deeper with his nervousness.

“Of course. Let me page someone from Personal to come down and speak with you. Please have a seat and someone will be with you in a moment.” Her smile never wavered.

Brendan sat there nervously wiping his sweaty palms off on his dungarees. His father had said that getting off Earth was a good plan but he wasn't too sure. And with the things he had heard about this company he wasn't sure he would be able to work with them. He shifted in his seat as he watched a few of the pink jumpsuited women walk by, uncomfortable by their presence. There weren't a lot of women out on Claire Island that even gave him the time of day. He wasn't used to the presence of a lot of attractive women and it made his palms sweat.

Just as he was about to bolt a strong contralto voice said, "Good Morning, welcome to the Frankfort office for Caregivers. My name is Gisa, can I help you?"

Brendan nodded nervously. "Uhm...I was wonderin’ about tryin’ tae get a job wit your company. Can I apply?"

The blond haired woman cocked her head and looked at Brendan questioningly. "Have you tried any of the other companies?"

He just nodded and brushed a stray strand of red hair from his face. He found it difficult to answer her, as beautiful women made him tongue tied as well.

Gisa looked down at him as if she were measuring something. Brendan just blushed redder. She seemed to make a decision when she said, "Please come upstairs with me, sir, and we can get this started."

He filled in paperwork and took several tests, on various things, some of which made little to no sense. His head was spinning even more when he headed off to the hostel where he was staying. He didn't have more than enough Euros to stay a few days in Germany. He collapsed into the thinly mattressed bed and slept the sleep of the dead. His days only got more confounding rather than less.

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She had woken up from the DeCorvin process feeling terribly out of sorts. Everything felt wrong and right at the same time. The Sister who was assigned to take care of the new Caregivers had smiled at her and urged her to sleep more. She had slept and ate for the better part of a week, slowly feeling better and stronger, her body filling out. She had headed back to see her folks but her father had not been able to deal with his only son becoming a daughter. The newly minted Grace had returned to Frankfort and had spent the rest of her recuperation time at a nearby hostel.

A lot of the time she cried, unable to bear the pain of losing her family. She had only done what Himself had said. Was that any reason to disown her? Because she had become a woman? After a red eyed week she told herself to stop being silly and to face the world straight on, as her family had taught her. Grace had graduated near the top of her class at Yotori Station and gotten picked up easily for her first job, as she held great pilot ratings. And that's when the trouble really started.

Grace got up from her bed and washed her freckled face. She needed to get out of the room, out of the apartment, out of her head. All she was doing was going over and over the same history that she had dragged behind her for years. She wanted to get drunk and maybe into a fight. That would help clear her head of the cobwebs and make her feel alive.

She made her way to her favorite dive. They had lots of alcohol to numb the pain and take the edge off the terrible pub food. In a way the Broken Throttle reminded her of home. Every night there was a fight and every night she could take home her choice of anyone in the place. She had done that occasionally, when masturbation just wasn't cutting it anymore. Tonight wasn't one of those nights.

Thankfully, she wasn't in her pink jumpsuit, a color she wholly detested, but really, there was no hiding that she was a Caregiver. Other women just weren't as beautiful, as desirable as Caregivers and she knew she couldn't hide out in a crowd. Her beauty all but screamed out that she was a transformed man.

She mellowed after the third Tullamore Dew that she drank and that made her relax more and enjoy the music. There was a guy with a squeezebox up front singing off color songs like "A Spacesuit Built for Two" and other delicate numbers. The crowd joined in on the chorus. Grace smiled. It could only be better if they were singing the songs of her home.

Up by the bar a fight broke out and she sat back and watched it. The two brawlers were big and strong and the crowd cheered them on. The fight spread and Grace was aware that the Spacers were keeping the fight from getting too close to her. It was gallant, but she would have been appreciative of any excuse to jump in. It was certainly not a private fight, but women didn't just jump into fights unannounced.

Sadly, the fight never got close enough to her to give her cause. She sighed and left the bar, to walk the streets. The stars shone brilliantly in the sky and Grace sighed as she looked towards Earth. She could see it where it hung in the sky, a bright blue green dot. It had been home, but Himself had made it clear that Grace was not welcome back in Clew Bay. And without home, what good was the Earth?

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"You have got to be kidding me?" Ships Mother Nakamura started after she had been told what she was being asked to do.

"If only. Grace is a talented pilot but she is anything but the standard image we try to present to the public. She has been in several brawls and shows no signs of stopping. We either manage to rehabilitate her on her next trip or she defaults her contract." explained Rei Yotori, looking up from the screen with Grace’s file on it. The freckled faced red head looked far more innocent than her record showed. "This is it. Do you think you can do this?"

Aoi Nakamura was unsure. In her entire time working for the Caregiver Company she had never felt this unsure about a job. It wouldn't be easy to soften the edges of this one and it wasn't as if she were one of the teachers. This would be trying and she didn't know if she really felt up to exerting the effort. But if she didn't, Grace would be fired from the company and would owe more than she could make given her record. She sighed and bowed. "It would be my honor to serve."

"Aoi, you don’t have be so formal with me. We’ve been friends since the Academy. Now, I have found a contract for the two of you which seems to be tailored for you both. Granted you would be working well under your rating to do this job but it is the only way I can think of to make this work. Do you know Captain Tobias?" asked Rei, sitting back in her chair.

"By reputation only. I heard that it’s a tight ship and they’ve has been able to deal with some of the worst and toughest jobs out there." Aoi thought a bit more on the issue. That ship might well provide the environment needed to help Grace. And it wasn’t like this would be her first time on a ship with a tough reputation. "It does sound like that may be just the sort of Captain that Grace will respond to. So do I have to use the carrot and the stick?"

Rei shrugged gracefully. "I don't exactly know on this one. All I know is that we lose a talented pilot if this doesn't work."

They both sighed. Then Rei brightened up. "Would you like some tea?"

Aoi nodded. Rei poured the tea and handed the cup over. They both bowed their heads over their glasses briefly and then smiled at each other. It was almost like old times again, back when Rei and she had been on Yotori Station learning how to be Caregivers. Things had seemed so much easier back then.

Rei had been one of the first people that Aoi had met after coming out of the DeCorvin process. They had spent bits and pieces of the next few weeks hanging out together, since Rei had recently gone through the process as well. It had been fun going on a vacation with Rei up to the mountains to one of those Hot Springs. She would never forget how much fun she had in her first month as a woman, all thanks to the woman sitting across from her.

She owed it to herself and to her teachers to try and help Grace to become the Caregiver she could bee and not the one she had become. They had all stressed how important the role of Caregiver was and Aoi had certainly taken it to heart. Now it was her time to pay it back.

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The doorbell rang again and again and again, burning through the haze of the whiskey. Grace looked up from her bed, expecting someone to be actually in her room somehow. She dragged herself to her feet and stumbled towards the door, pulling on a ratty bathrobe. She yawned, her mouth straining wide. "Comin'."

She opened the door and looked down at an Asian woman in a pink jumpsuit. She could tell at a glance by the flash that this was a Ships Mother. This woke her up and she tried to focus her bleary eyes. "Uhm...er...uh...Ships Mother...uh...Nakamura. Please tae be comin' in."

The delicate woman bowed her head and entered. Grace blushed as she could tell that the woman was scanning her filthy apartment. Red faced with embarrassment she asked, "Would...would ye like somethin' tae drink?"

"Tea please."

Grace hustled into the small kitchen to prepare some tea for the both of them. Her hands were shaking so she grabbed some teabags rather than the tea ball. She filled the mugs with the hot water and quickly returned to where Ships Mother Nakamura was sitting primly on the edge of a chair. Grace managed to set the mugs down without sloshing any of the hot beverage on anything. She blushed brightly in embarrassment.

The two women sipped their tea, one leisurely and the other bubbling over with nervous energy. With slow, precise elegance Nakamura-san drank and then set the mug down. Grace fought to keep from blurting anything out. She remembered that the tea ceremony was important and shouldn't be blundered over by someone like her.

Finally, Ships Mother Nakamura looked up at her with unflinching brown eyes. "Sister Ni Mhaille, your contract has been picked up and you are being sent out under my supervision. Let me make this clear to you so we understand each other; this is your last chance. If you fail on this journey than you will no longer be in the employ of the Caregivers."

Grace swallowed hard. She had feared this day. There was no way that she would ever be able to pay back the company for everything they had given her so far. The process was expensive and she had no idea how she could get the money. No words came out of her mouth so she just nodded in understanding.

Nakamura-san stared at her quietly, and then nodded. “In a week and a halfs time our vessel arrives in orbit. Two days afterwards it departs. Until then you are going to be working with me. Please make yourself ready to come with me to our offices.”

Grace nodded and got to her feet, her head throbbing in time with her heartbeat. She showered quickly and then turned the water from blisteringly hot to ice cold, back and forth a few times to clear her head. The mirror showed that her green eyes were not terribly bloodshot but she rinsed them as well with cold water.

Shivering, she toweled off briskly. She grabbed a clean pair of panties and a bra, slipping them on swiftly. She tugged herself into her jumpsuit and towel dried her hair. One French Twist later, her fiery hair was up and ready. She grabbed her purse and stepped back into the living room.

Once she passed inspection she followed Nakamura-san back to the Martian Offices. Getting the personal attentions of a Ship’s Mother was not a good thing normally, and Grace was sure that this was a rare event. She was in trouble and she knew it.

Once in the building, the two of them went into one of the unused rooms used only for meeting influential clients. Aoi took a seat and motioned for Grace to remain standing. “I have gone over your records and you have not done well anywhere except in your job as a pilot, where you have had extremely high ratings. You seem more interested in drinking and brawling rather than perform our duties. Now, I do note that you do well with a certain type of crew, but you are not ‘one of the guys’. So, we will be working on getting you back into being a Caregiver rather than just a female pilot. So, we shall start with the Tea Ceremony. Are you ready?”

Grace groaned. “Di’ we have tae?”

Aoi cocked up one eyebrow up at the large Irish lass. She held the other woman’s gaze until the red head blushed and looked down. “Shall we begin?’’’

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Grace fell onto her bed exhausted. Not only had they done the Tea Ceremony several times but also dancing and going over a number of the really embarrassing Intimacy issues that she would rather have avoided. Tomorrow she had to bring her harp in and play a few songs. She hadn’t touched her harp in something like eight months, so she was sure she was going to embarrass herself, again. She had also been told that if she was caught drinking alcohol any time soon, she would simply be fired and owe back all that money from her training.

She didn’t have the money for that so she had to do what she had been told. She had grabbed a gyro on her way home and ate it as she had walked, as she knew that she didn’t have anything here at home for her too warm up. It was barely enough to refuel her but it was the easiest thing she could get and not really take too much time. She had also been told that she needed to work on her cooking skills.

All she wanted to do was drink herself into oblivion, but that really wasn’t an option that was available. Apparently, Yotori-sama had sent someone to collect all the alcohol from the house while she had been working with Nakamura. The note basically stated what the Ship’s Mother had said, only this time with an accounting. Grace had shuddered at the size of the bill.

Lines in the ceiling gave her something for her to dance over again and again, letting her find and re-find the same patterns over and over. It had been something she had started to do as a kid out on the boat. She got to the point that she could find the stars in a particular direction quickly and have a rough idea how they had moved. It was a useful skill whenever the boats old electronics would futz out and they had to dead reckon their way home.

Her eyes danced over the ceiling, over and over until she finally drifted off to sleep, using the lines like sheep counting. Meanwhile, back at the offices Nakamura was talking to Yotori, “I think this issue is more than her just being unschooled.”

Rei looked concerned, “How so?”

“I think something may have happened to her right after she joined. Looking over her file, things just started to go down hill during training and only got worse. It is almost as if she is trying to be a guy again.” Aoi was looking off trying to figure out what could be going on with her student. “And there isn’t anything about her family anywhere. Could that have something to do with the way she acts?”

Rei rubbed her forehead in thought. “Perhaps. But isn’t that reading a bit too much into her actions? Just because she is acting that way doesn’t mean that she wants to be a guy. The nannites help with the process of self-acceptance.”

“But it isn’t perfect. All you can get then is someone who has changed but is still carrying the same issues from before.” countered Aoi.

“Yet nothing of that sort is present on the Psych profiles taken during processing.”

Aoi frowned. That was true. But something still was nagging her. “Could we have those run again? I want to see what is going on now.”

Rei shrugged. “I suppose. It can’t hurt really and may help us figure out what is going on with our wayward Sister. How is the training going?”

“Shaky. A lot of her skills have lost that polish that you leave with. I don’t think she really utilized about 65 to 70 percent of her training on any of her previous assignments. I have to go over things that she should have known. She seems to be running from the skills that are unique to our company and only focusing on the basic Spacer skills.” said Aoi, taking a sip of her tea. “She seems driven and haunted at the same time.”

“Do we need an exorcist or something?” laughed Rei.

“Maybe.”

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Grace tuned her harp carefully. She had to play something soothing and appropriate for relaxation. The harp was good for that, but it wasn’t something that she usually did. The sound brought too many memories of home with it. She wished she had chosen something, anything else as her instrument. She had chosen this before her transformation, since her father loved harp music.

But now…now it was just something she had to do. She sighed, trying to let her stress out with the exhalation. She counted in her head, setting the rhythm. The soft tones of the harp began to fill the air. It sounded good, at least to Grace.

“No, no, no. With feeling. What you are playing feels dead, like you don’t care anything about what it sounds like.” Aoi stood before grace. “Let your feelings flow through the strings.”

Grace gritted her teeth and tried again. She could feel her anger begin to swell and grow. She just wanted to smack the smaller woman.

“No! Honestly Grace, do you simply have no feelings in this?”

“Shut yer gob! Canna ya see I’m tryin’ tae do as ye asked?” Grace stood quickly, her face red with anger and frustration. Her eyes flashed the color of the ocean at storm. “I’m trying for feck’s sake.”

Aoi glared at the larger redhead, refusing to back down. “No, you’re not trying. And that is not the kind of behavior that we want from our employees. You will need to clean up your language as well, Sister Ni Mhaille.”

Grace looked down at the ground, embarrassed. It seemed as if all the wind had gone from her sails, resigned to something painful. Her eyes had gone back to blue, like the flat sea after the storm had passed. “Wha’ di ye wan’ from me?”

Aoi closed for a moment, counting to herself. There was just something about this girl that was making her crazy. “What I want, Grace, is for you to show pleasure and even joy in taking care of your clients.”

“Take care o’ them? Why? I’m jus a sally they can ride. Where be the pleasure in tha’? I’m jus’ some fancy fannyballs thanks tae nannites. I’m jus a fake piece o’slice tae them, somthin tae dip their wick in.” Grace dropped back on to the floor, where her harp was sitting. Her shoulders hung down and she stared at the floor. “Jus’ a feckin spare arse in space.”

Aoi could see that Grace was shaking with pent up tears. She crouched down quickly and hugged the younger woman. “Grace, you are not some sort of fake woman. You are the real thing. You can have children and everything. And you are not just a ‘spare arse’ in space. We serve more than just that function.”

Grace snorted. “Sure an I don’ believe tha’. Thas alla they wanted, a piece o’slice to keep them happy. Me da was right. I’m naught but a failure.”

Aoi closed her eyes. It was her family. Something they had done had caused all of this. She hoped she could do this, take care of Grace and help her past these issues. Corazon was much better in cases like this. “You are not a failure Grace.”

Again she snorted in response. “I’m a right fool for needin’ remedial help.”

“Grace, we can get past this. Your father is wrong and you can show it to him by becoming the best pilot you can be and by becoming the best Caregiver you can be. Don’t fight against yourself. Things are already tough enough out here in Space.” Aoi still hadn’t let go of the weeping woman.

Grace cried out her pain and frustration at everything. She had never been able to do anything right and this just proved it. What could she do but just accept this failure?

Aoi needed help, but letting go of Grace right now would be a bad idea. The larger girl needed someone more substantial to cling to. There was so much that she had to do for Grace and so little time to accomplish it. She was hoping that she could provide what Grace needed.

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The door was nice but there should have been no reason for Grace to be nervous about what lay beyond. She had been ordered to be here, at this time by Ship’s Mother Nakamura, and so she was. She was afraid and she hated it.

She knocked on the door gently, hoping to not be heard so she could flee. She wasn’t that lucky. “Come in.”

Grace opened the door and stepped into the softly lit room. There were candles everywhere and the air was rich with the scent of lavender and marjoram. There was soft music that was almost outside of her ability to hear. The room was well decorated with warm woods and brocades.

In the center of the room was a dark haired woman kneeling, dressed in a formal kimono. She bowed to Grace and said, “Please be welcomed here, Grace-sama. May I be of service to you?”

The Irish girl was stunned, unsure of what to do. She knelt and bowed back. “I am unworthy to receive your service.”

The woman in the kimono looked up and smiled, gesturing towards what looked like a massage table. “Dozo.”

Grace walked to where she was supposed to go. She undressed, folding her clothes and setting them aside. She lay on the massage table and covered herself up with the sheet.

“My name is Thuraiya. Please allow me the pleasure of soothing your woes.” The woman’s hands were strong and the oil was warm on Grace’s skin.

For a while she was drifting away, losing herself in the kneading of her muscles. Then the girl spoke, “I have been told that you have some trouble accepting who you are now. I will try to provide you with some aid in this.”

Grace tensed some at this and Thuraiya focused on those spots, working out the tension. Some of the places she rubbed made Grace think of things that had happened to her. Her fight with her father, the things he had called her. Other little moments arose that all led her to the conclusion that the Caregivers were nothing but whores. She started to cry.

“It is alright Grace-sama. Let the past and the pain flow from you.”

Again Grace found herself crying, sobbing out her pain as the other woman massaged all the tension out. She was drained and emotionally fragile from all her walls coming down. Thuraiya soothed Grace with her hands, strong and sure, unknotting long forgotten pain from her muscles.

Thuraiya helped her slip on a robe and she escorted Grace over to a dining area of the room. Grace sat in seiza while the Arabic girl served her. The food was light and good and helped to settle her back in the real world. When she was starting to relax even more, Thuraiya stood and held out a hand to her. “Dozo?”

Grace blushed as she took the woman’s hand. She was led to a futon bed and then undressed. After Thuraiya removed Grace’s robe she loosened her kimono, letting it fall.

The kiss was soft and reached deep inside of Grace. She shuddered partially in fear and then relaxed into it. It was something unexpected and wonderful.

“Please allow me the honor of awakening you to pleasure.” whispered the dark haired woman. Grace smiled softly and let herself be led to a different place.

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Afterwards, lying on the futon snuggled up to her sister Caregiver, Grace had a soft smile on her face. Life was good and she hadn’t really known that her body could feel like this. Her fellow Caregiver had taken her to higher and higher levels of pleasure until the waves crashed over Grace in a screaming, soul shuddering orgasm that seemed to last forever. Her body still tingled and trembled slightly from it. Maybe being a woman wasn’t that bad after all?

Thuraiya ran a hand through Grace’s red hair. “You really are beautiful Grace Ni Mhaille.”

Grace blushed again.

“You are troubled by old pain, but all you need to do is let it go. Who you are and what you do is chosen by you, not anyone else. If you want to succeed than all you have to do is chose to be the person you want to be and go after it.” The words were murmured into Grace’s ear.

“Thank you.” said Grace, turning to kiss the other girl. “I…you…Uh…you have given me something I never imagined existed. Thank you.”

“It is my pleasure. Just to see you relaxed and happy is reward enough to me. Your pleasure gives me pleasure.”

Grace wondered if maybe that could be true. Could she really be happy by making someone else happy? Would it really be all that bad? The idea was so foreign, like the idea that being a Molly wasn't worse than being a Bloke. It was just different, just a different way to move through life. It was radical to say the least.

She turned and returned the favor, trying to find pleasure in pleasing Thuraiya in everyway possible.

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“How is she doing?” asked Rei, through the monitor. She was heading back to Earth for work.

“I think she is doing alright at the moment. Thuraiya helped her through a very tough spot. Her bodywork is such a blessing to have. If it weren’t for her I don’t know if we would have gotten through to Grace. But she no longer thinks of us as whores, which is a great step. Now to nurse her back to health.” Aoi was pleased by the progress that Grace was making. She was smiling more, tentatively to be sure but smiling none the less. And that could also be seen through her movements.

“So, she will be ready when the ship arrives?” asked Rei, a bit surprised at what Aoi had achieved.

“Certainly. Ready enough if she were a new Sister fresh out of Yotori Station. I think this trip may well fix things for our wayward Sister. At least, I hope so.”

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Grace had her gear packed and at the port, waiting for her new assignment. Apparently Ship’s Mother Nakamura and she were to be the only Caregivers for the ship. It had a crew of ten already and was in need of a few Caregivers. It was not a job that required a Ship’s Mother but apparently her ‘rehabilitation’ needed that more personal touch that Aoi provided.

Both she and Nakamura-sama were dressed in their jumpsuits, resplendent in their distinctive pink. It had been a traumatic week for her, laying bare a number of things about her life that she would rather have never thought about again. But she did feel better about who she was and what she was doing for the most part. Grace knew she was kind of shaky emotionally, but that was to be expected. This was her chance to turn her life around and she wanted to take it.

They felt the slight shudder of a ship docking. This would be their new home, the Variable Star. Grace knew the reputation of the ship, that they would take jobs that no one else would and always managed to succeed. They went out to explore, out beyond contact with other humans. It was a bit of an honor to work for such a ship. Supposedly this trip was to head out to Iapetus and to physically explore the moon of Saturn.

Heading out to Saturn and back would be a long voyage and an interesting voyage she hoped. They were going to be examining the hydrogen cyanide polymers and the potential organic compounds in the ice. It was a dangerous exploration mission but it was certainly something she was interested in doing. She had never gone out as far as Saturn.

Finally the hatch opened and a short man in a flight suit came out. He looked a bit grizzled, with his grey hair and five o’clock shadow. He looked over at the two Caregivers. “Ready to board?”

Aoi simply nodded so Grace did the same thing. “Good. I’ll get your gear loaded. My name is Eldridge. Head on inside and Donal will show you to your room. We don’t have the space on board for rooms for each of you, sorry. Oh and welcome to the Variable Star.”

The two women moved gracefully through the hatch and into the ship itself. On the other side was another guy, built like some sort of ancient Celtic warrior, even with the big moustache. Grace liked him immediately. “Welcome. I’m Donal. Let me get you tae your room so you can get settled while we finish the resupply.”

Their room was of a generous size and thankfully they did not have a bunk bed. Each of them had a separate bed to rest and work on. Aoi set down her stuff and turned back to the door. “Please start unpacking Grace. I am going to give my regards to Captain Tobias.”

Grace bowed and began to unpack. This was going to be her home for quite a while, months, so she started the task for making it her home. Her first step was to make the bed. She had just gotten green cotton sheets with a thread count near that of satin. If she was going to be here a while she at least wanted to be comfortable.

She put the gear she carried on with her away in the various storage areas provided. Once they got their baggage they would be able to make this room into something special. Maybe some of these other parts of the job wouldn’t be all that bad? Besides, Aoi had made it clear that she could refuse if the person really offended her and made her extremely uncomfortable. That was some comfort at least.

She wished that she had some Whiskey. A shot or two would be nice right about now. Since this whole thing started and Nakamura-sama showed up at her apartment she hadn’t had anything to drink. That was making her a bit crazy. Was this a sign that she had a problem? But she was Irish? Maybe Donal had some?

Shaking her head she sat down. Was Thuraiya right? Did she have all these problems that she was hiding from, including issues with being a woman? Did that mean her drinking was an attempt to hide from this, from everything?

Grace shivered some at the thought. Had she really been lying to herself this whole time? She gritted her teeth and clenched and unclenched her fists. Why wasn’t there anything that she could hit right there. Punching the bulkhead would only hurt her hand and she had done that enough to grow tired of it. She had gotten in trouble several times for denting her walls.

“Gah…feckin shite! Why me? Sweet Lord, why me?” yelled Grace, looking up at the ceiling.

“Ahem…have I come by at a bad time?” asked an unfamiliar woman’s voice.

Grace spun around quickly, blushing in embarrassment at being overheard. “No, not at’all. I…uh…welcome. I am Sister Grace Ni Mhaille. ‘Tis a pleasure tae meet ya.”

The woman in front of her was almost as tall as she was and just as solidly built. She looked to be in her early forties, but with use of the Fountain Grace couldn’t be sure of her exact age. She was a rugged woman but beautiful in Grace's eyes, lovely as the crags of Clew Bay. The woman's brown hair was threaded with grey but it only enhanced her looks, not detracted. "The same. I am Captain Victoria Tobias."

 Grace blushed at that. She had expected some rough and burley guy to be in charge of a ship with this record. Grace remembered her training and bowed formally, "’Tis indeed an honor and a pleasure tae meet ya Capt'n Tobias."

 "The pleasure is mine. Ship's Mother Nakamura told me all about you. You won't be causing any problems on my ship, will you" There was steel in the voice that expected to be instantly obeyed.

 "’T'will try me best tae werk hard fer ya and be a good addition tae yer crew." Grace controlled her voice as best she could. Her hackles wanted to rise at the tone of the Captain’s voice. Who was this woman to give her grief?

 Victoria noticed this reaction and watched the Caregiver carefully. "Thank you. Carry on. We will talk more later."

Grace fell onto the bunk, suddenly exhausted. She hadn't snapped back but it had taken a lot out of her. Her usual response would have been to show that she wasn't cowed by some mere ships Captain, but she was trying to act like a Caregiver should. She did like the fact that the job got her into space, and she was struggling to get past the personal ghosts that still haunted her. Maybe she could manage to deal with them this trip?

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There were a total of three pilots on the ship, with the addition of Grace. The Captain wasn't one of those and the two other gentlemen also worked in other areas of the ship. She had been surprised to see Eldridge there, as she had expected the grizzled man to do something else, like moving heavy boxes. Grace also had a secondary position on the ship, hydroponics. She had to work on making sure they have food and clean air.

Grace hated gardening. It made her want to scream and break things but she had promised Aoi that she would do as asked. But the smell of the fertilized water and the plants was really strong and Grace could think of over a thousand things she would rather be doing, none of which involved plants. Even sex would be preferable to this.

This whole gardening thing was supposed to teach her something but she had no idea what. It certainly wasn't helping with patience. But it did give her a place to grumble and vent her frustrations about the job. For the first week Aoi had Grace simply meet one on one with all of the members of the crew, to get to know them rather than just have sex. It made her rather uncomfortable, talking with some of them. When she was able to see them as just bodies it was easier to ignore their thrusting. Now she had to deal with them as people. It made her wish desperately for the sharp taste of Whiskey, to numb her enough to deal with them.

She had already knew someone who had a still, Donal had built one near his workstation in the engine room, but Aoi had been quite clear about things. If she drank she would be fired, confined to quarters and dropped off at the next available port. Grace knew that Aoi meant it.

 She was busy tending to some tomatoes when she noticed the time. She needed to get going if she was going to have time to get ready for her first client. Aoi had told her that this was just going to be talk and maybe some massage. Grace growled, thinking about the intimacy that spending the time meant. Her body was just this thing, not a real body to her, yet. To give the body meant nothing, to give anything else was too intimate, too personal.

She turned her thoughts somewhere else, to her fellow pilots. They each worked seven hours on and fourteen off, mostly heel to toe shifts. This was going to go on for the rest of the trip. Take out the eight hours for sleep time and that left her six hours where she had to eat, clean herself, practice and take care of clients. Personal time was in there somewhere. Six times a week the Captain worked a shift for one of the pilots, letting them have two days off a week. It was helpful, as the unchanging nature of the work would have made them totally insane in short order.

Grace wasn't sure what to make about the Captain. Virginia Tobias was utterly like and unlike what she had expected. A woman pilot was rare, except with either Caregivers or one of their competitors, and a woman Captain was rarer still. Her qualifications were amazing, what with multiple Doctorates in several fields. She also worked hard to keep the social dynamics on the ship working like clock work. Grace couldn't really get the woman out of her mind. She had never imagined that there could be a woman so competent, so impressive. Her Da had made it clear that women were lesser than men. Even the Parish Priest had been of the same opinion. Women were only trouble and under punishment for Eve’s sin.

The ship's clock told her the time so she headed off to her room, wanting to get cleaned. The shower was good and as hot as hot as she could stand it. After the kinks of her muscles relaxed, she turned down the heat and began washing up. The scented soap gave her a nice small of jasmine. She liked that.

Running her hands over her body was no longer something of an embarrassment. The Ship's Mother was doing things was helping to heal the cognitive dissonance that had arisen in her since the DeCorvin process had reshaped her. The science of the nannite process and the mitochondrial messenger carriers was well beyond her understanding. She was still a heart just a simple Irish fisherwoman. It didn't matter that she had become smarter and more able to remember all the information she needed for her jobs, she knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that she was not smart. She could never be like Aoi or Virginia. They were amazing and she was an idiot.

She dried off and chose her clothes carefully. She was going to be seeing 2nd Machines Mate Carson. The man had several interests and he was cross-trained in several other areas as well, like everyone aboard this ship. He was close to becoming a jack of all trades on this ship, knowing a much broader array of things than anyone else on the ship. It would certainly help when he finally left the Variable Star. This did mean that he was under a bit more stress than some of the other crew members. Massage was definitely a good part of the order of the day.

Once the clothes had been selected she set up the Essential Oils to add to the massage oil, the mix of Ginger, Bergamot and Geranium to be added to the carrier oil of Sweet Almond Oil should help with both physical and mental stress. Aromatherapeutic warmers were placed about the room. These combined smells should work to help with the process. She set the tea to warm and made sure everything seemed to be in its place. The chime for the door sounded and she exhaled slowly, letting her take on her Caregiver mask.

Later that night she played on her harp during dinner. She was getting more and more able to connect to her instrument and to coax from it the sounds she really wanted, not just technical precision but soul. Aoi moved from that place in all things. Grace had no idea how the older woman did that and she found that she really did want to know. But before she could put her soul into all her actions she needed to be able to put it into her music. Aoi had told her to find the emotional thread of the particular musical number and to try to feel that when she played.

Crew members smiled as she played, so she figured that she was at least doing this well. She was constantly fighting the urge to lash out and punch someone or something out of her frustration. Aoi had made her promise not to do that except when she allowed it. That was almost harder to deal with than the no drinking rule. She knew where the still was and knew who ran it, but again her word to Aoi stopped her. Instead of drinking herself away from her problems she tried to focus that into other things. It usually ended up with screaming in the hydroponic area when she was alone, but it was a start.

Things in accord with her relationships with the men were improving. She was finding that she was growing closer to some of the crew. She actually felt like she wanted to grow closer with some of them in that way and it scared her. She could tell some of her walls keeping her distant from the rutting of her body were crumbling. She was seeing them as people and seeing herself as real. Aoi held her at night when she cried herself to sleep, too overwhelmed to do anything else.

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"We're nearing Titan. We are going to stop in there for a spell, maybe a day or so, to resupply a few things and get ready to head out."

The Captain smiled as the crew cheered. Aoi and Grace sat there slightly off to the side. The two of them had fixed the meal that night and everyone was listening to the Captain give them excuses to keep them away from the food. Three times a month on the trip they had prepared the food, much to everyone's happiness. Aoi was the chef and Grace worked as her sous chef. Great acclaim had been heaped upon both of them, especially for the St. Patrick's Day meal that Grace had made, with fresh Soda Bread. A number of the crew had Irish descent somewhere in their bloodlines and it was a great excuse for a party.

The idea of Titan entranced Grace. She had been to some wonderful bars there and had gotten into a few rows with some of the miners. Those fights had made her feel alive. But now she was supposed to avoid drinking and certainly fighting, as it really wasn't part of the image of the Caregivers. Seeing someone in the pink jumpsuit beating down someone was not part of the corporate image. Grace needed to try harder to fit that image. She was nervous about going back into the world. Things were easier in the safe nature of the ship, where she knew everybody and they all knew her. And Aoi might not be able to help her reign in her usual impulses.

Grace took some deep breaths in the privacy of her room, two days out from Titan Base. She was fighting the growing shakes at the realization that she could get whiskey finally as well as find a nice tussle to work out her stress. Just how would she be able to do it without getting spotted by Aoi or any of the crew?

She didn't know and she could feel things building, waiting to explode. She was going stir crazy from not being able to act out. She just wanted a nice friendly fight, nothing with an agenda. Was that so wrong?

She didn't bring this up to Aoi as she was already dealing with a lot more than she should have. Grace knew that there had to be other ways to deal with this, their company was designed to keep this particular urge from happening, but while she was busy trying to reduce the tensions of the crew members no one was caring for her needs.

Grace disrobed and stepped into the shower stall, sliding the door closed behind her. Until they had gotten ways to help generate some gravity so a ship, bathing had always been a bit incomplete. She was just glad the she had the chance to soak her head in the shower as opposed to using hand towel sized baby wipes.

The water drummed steadily on her skull, trickling her red hair into her face as Grace stared at the floor. The heat of the water felt good and she luxuriated in it as it slid down her back and ass. She idly watched as streams of water separated and reformed over her breasts. Muscles unknit and she began the slow process of relaxing. Grace was finding it particularly difficult today as this was to be her first time with the Captain.

She still had several hours to get things ready. The room was tidy and she had her kimono hanging just outside the shower, so she could get changed easily. When she could feel the muscles unclenching the leaned back and began to wash. Her hands massaging the shampoo into her hair felt wonderful. Maybe this wouldn't be as bad as her fears had said.

Once she had finished and gotten dressed, Grace started the water for tea. She knew it was supposed to start out formally and could go from there. She was nervous. There was still that something about the Captain that she couldn't explain.

There was a knock at the door.

Grace swallowed heavily. What the hell could she do? Her heart pounded a mile a minute as she tried to calm down enough to speak. Finally she managed, "Please come in."

The Captain entered the room, smiling at Grace. Grace bowed formally and said, "Welcome. Won't yae please join me? Dozo."

The Captain nodded and knelt by the low table where the items for the tea ceremony were laid out. Grace nervously picked up the bowl to start the process. She had been trained to ground herself before going through this, as there was more emotion and self mixed in the tea than most people expected. She took a deep breath, held it and let it out slowly and steadily. She began the tea ceremony.

They both shared their drinks in silence, letting their thoughts drift away. It was restful and calm, which was a different enough feeling from before, when her Da ran things. There had always been work to do, knots to repair, areas to caulk. They really only rested for meals, sleep and holy days. Even Da would not argue with Father McBreen.

Soon the tea was drunk and they sat briefly looking at each other. Grace broke the silence. "I have always wondered Captain,"

"Call me Tori. I really don't want to be Captain Tobias right now."

Grace nodded as she had been taught. "Alright Tori, 'ow did ya end up a Captain?"

Captain Tobias smiled. "Not terribly difficult. My husband and I both bought this ship. He was the engineer that actually designed this bird. There are a couple of secret parts of this ship, which make what we can do fairly unique and allow us to get paid without having to haul ore. When he died, I was in sole control of the ship. I just kept going, since space got into me. After you look into the Deep for a while, it takes you in and you become a part of it."

"Tha' sounds just like 'ow I felt as a sailor. 'twas the pilot fer me Da's trawler. We had tae gae deep intae the ocean tae find a catch. The sea drinks ya in and the roll o'her waves becomes yae. I know the feelin." Grace smiled and looked down. She hadn't guessed at any of this, especially to the connecting to the Deep like that. She was starting to hear it again, that sound of the roll of waves, to feel the Deep like it had been on Earth.

"That feeling is really calming. That's one of the reasons I stay on the pilot rotation, so I can look out at the stars and to feel them looking back."

A quiet moment stretched out between them. Then Grace remembered what she was supposed to do. She really had no idea why she felt all flustered. Her eyes shifted colors, unsure of what she felt. "Would yae like a massage?"

Victoria nodded her head. Grace stood smoothly, a move that took her countless hours and repetitions to get right. She offered Victoria a hand up. When the other woman was standing Grace gestured over to the table where things were prepared. "Dozo."

She helped Victoria undress, an act that made her heart race faster than before. Once Tori was naked and under the sheet of the massage table, Grace grabbed the fragrant oil that had been in the warmer and began with Tori's feet.

The muscles were tense and took some work to get them to relax. The Captain hummed happily through it all. Then Grace began to work her way up Tori's body, looking for those little knots that always seemed to cause little areas of tenderness around the body. Tori began to moan happily under Graces strong and sure fingers.

When she finished, Tori turned and gazed gently at Grace, a look the caused her stomach to flutter in nervousness. Her mouth went dry and her oily palms began to feel sweaty. She shyly smiled back. It wouldn't be the first time that Grace had slept with a woman, but there was something about Victoria that made her feel different. She couldn't figure it out so she just reached down and tugged on the sash of the green and white kimono. It fell in a pool of silk at her feet. The gaze she returned to the Captain's was inviting and hungry, wanting something and hoping that Tori could fulfill that. "Dozo"

Victoria smiled and got to her feet. She took Grace's warm and oil slick hand and followed her over to the bed. The Caregiver pulled slightly on Tori and Tori moved into her arms. She began to kiss and bite gently Tori's neck. 

Tori moaned deep in her throat, the vibrations trembled through Grace's mouth, making her shudder happily. Tori soon turned thing so that she was in control. She finally lay the Irish Caregiver down onto her back and drifted lower. Grace's screams of passion echoed slightly in her cabin.

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It had been perhaps a year or more since Grace had been to Titan. The large moon held a fairly good sized colony of people taking to the Loony mindset, only with a different planet to gaze up at. It was a wide range of people from scientists to miners, all the races of man were represented here. The dry dock facility, where major repairs could be done to any ship, was one of the more major facilities there. It wasn't as grand as Mars but it was often much closer for the miners who worked the asteroid field.

The landing had gone smoothly and she got her purse. Aoi was going to be busy with something else and she could get out there and have some fun. She wasn't sure what to do, because she didn't want to embarrass Tori.

Something had happened that first time that pulled strongly on Grace. Something that her classes hadn't really prepared her for. Something she had never felt before and something that was affecting everything she did. Her face always broke into a smile whenever she saw Tori, and Tori did the same. They didn't spend all their time together, as the work of keeping a ship alive in space was never ending, but the time they did spent was wonderful.

Grace was able to smile more as she worked with some of the other crew. She took to the sheets with them happily instead of dreading it. And her music seemed to blossom. She had often found herself alone with her harp, playing in the hydroponics lab. Life had changed.

She walked through the hatch and into the port area. The smell of Titan was strong and reminded her a little of Luna and Armstrong City, but there was more of a scent of machinery. Grace loved it. It smelled nothing like the harbor.

She felt tempted to go shopping and tempted to go find a bar. She stood there trapped by indecision. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She would try to spend some of her hard earned money on things she wanted and food items she could share with the crew. Maybe some new spices?

The merchant area was large and varied, and Grace wandered about browsing and occasionally picking out some things and having them get delivered to the ship. She took her time when she went to a lingerie store. She kept wondering what Tori would like to see her in. She found a few items that she thought would look good on her and would be fun to take off of her. She smiled.

Out on the street, she looked around and realized that she was a bit hungry and could use something to eat. What she wanted was a nice bit of corned beef and cabbage and some chips. She knew that there was a great pub that served wonderful corned beef. The problem was that it was one of the pubs she had frequented earlier, when she drank all the time. She took a deep breath and felt sure that she could eat her meal without having a drink.

She headed into the rougher section of the complex, where the tavern was. It hadn’t bothered her before, to come to a place like this, but now, now she felt uncomfortable. She focused on getting to the place before anything happened, extremely glad that it was day cycle right now.

The pub was right where it had always been. She entered and noticed that there were only a few small groups of people in there. That made her feel better for some vague reason even though it reduced the possibility of a good tussle. She strode up to the bar. “Scuse me, but if I ‘member correctly yae guys serve the best corned beef ‘n chips on Titan?”

The barkeep, a heavyset bald man, sort of leered at her. “Well, we do have plenty of beef here, if that’s what you’re looking for. As for the corned beef, yeah, we still serve it.”

Grace nodded, smiling. She understood this guy. She knew what he wanted and how he saw her. This was what she was used to. This was what was normal, understandable. “Can I get a plate o’tha ‘n an ale?”

An ale couldn’t hurt her. It didn’t have as much alcohol as whiskey, so surely it wouldn’t be a crime to have one with her food. Besides, it did taste better with the slightly bitter taste of the ale. Helped bring out the flavor and contrasted nicely with the malt vinegar. Surely just one would be fine.

The ale showed first. It had a good head on it and a nice rich color. It was more of a red ale style, but that was alright. It was a shame that they didn’t have a nice Bittter. She took a draught, and the flavor was delightful. She drank it down in a pull that got longer and longer. It was a deep satisfaction that filled her as the ale poured down her throat. She had missed this.

When she set down the empty glass she gestured for another. This was better than she thought. By the time food arrived she was half way through the second one. Her food was good and she enjoyed her third ale with it. She wasn’t feeling well, but blamed the food rather than the red ale. The idea of a fourth ale to wash down the meal had some appeal, so she ordered another one as well. She felt all warm and happy, smiling at everyone.

Her fifth ale sloshed a little on her but her sixth actually spilled. She didn’t mind, but her stomach was lurching. She stumbled outside and down the street some before everything rose up and burst out of her in a spray of vomit. She knelt on the ground, heaving all the ale and food up. The bile burned as it tore up her throat.

Grace collapsed, not passing out but rather ready to give up. She began to cry, the vile taste in her mouth, the pungent smell, all of that fueling her loathing. She had failed to keep from drinking, a promise she had made to Aoi. What good was she? She should just space herself rather than return to the ship in this state.

Her body shook, dragging her hair through the vomit, as she sobbed. This was too hard. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t change, couldn’t become someone better. It hurt too much.

When she felt someone begin to lift her, she didn’t resist. If some rock hauler wanted to take her off and rape her, who cared? She just kept weeping, waiting for her pain to end. Her head was spinning and she felt light headed and she slowly gave into it. She turned her head and vomited again.

A sigh was all she heard, a masculine sigh that seemed familiar. It didn’t matter anymore. She was going to be fired so what did anything matter? Her head spun so much that she was glad just to have her eyes closed and not have to watch the world go by in one long blur. She heard doors open and close, some of them pressure locks. Honestly she didn’t want to know and didn’t care.

She was finally laid down on a bed, where she just curled up into the fetal position and just shook, all out of tears but still able to sob. Her thoughts kept turning in a spiral of pain and disappointment, upset for failing Aoi and Tori. She had been trying but obviously that wasn’t good enough to get better or to learn from her mistakes. She was a joke. All that had been done for her, to help her find a life out here in space and she couldn’t keep her promise to Aoi. If the ship went on and left her here Grace knew she wouldn’t blame them.

What could she do, left alone on Titan? If she was kicked out of Caregivers then who would trust her? Who would want to take a risk on her? She would probably have to get married to some sort of miner or even a group of them just to survive. The idea of that made her shake in fear. Grace wasn’t sure she could do that, wasn’t sure she could handle anything like that.

A hand on her shoulder turned her. She opened her eyes to look up at Aoi. She clutched at her and started bawling again, having found a new source of tears. Aoi gently untangled herself and helped Grace to her feet. She had to undress Grace and balance her at the same time. Grace didn’t argue, just kept mumbling “I’m sorry” over and over again.

The water was soothing and Aoi climbed into the shower as well to wash Grace’s hair, as there was plenty of vomit in it. Grace clung to Aoi, sobbing and apologizing back and forth. Finally, Aoi couldn’t take it any more and turned the water onto cold. Her ears rang from the scream but Grace seemed to calm down some afterwards. Aoi left the shower and said, “When you’re ready come on out so we can talk.”

Aoi wrapped a towel around herself and sat down on her bunk. Maybe this was a bit more complicated than she had thought? What if Grace was an actual alcoholic? That meant a different approach and chaperoning her when going about Titan, or pretty much anywhere else. It would be frustrating, but as they were going to be here another eight days before planets aligned a bit better for launch to Iapetus, she had to do something. Getting off the ship would help Grace, and having someone chaperone her would help with keeping her from drinking. What else could she do to help the girl? She had looked so pathetic after Eldridge had dragged her back that her heart went out to the girl. She could do no less than her best to get Grace back to some sort of balance.

Grace came out of the shower, blushing furiously, obviously embarrassed about the whole situation. As she started to apologize Aoi cut her off with a raised hand. “Don’t apologize. That you are not happy about this is obvious. What is more important is that we can get you past this. I had thought that you just liked to drink. It may be that you have a much more serious problem. So we will work out a way for you to stay sober while you get better about things. Okay?”

Grace stared at the beautiful Asian woman surprised, her bottom lip trembling. “You’re…you’re not goin tae be leavin me?”

Aoi looked surprised at this, “No. Why would I?”

Grace stared at her feet, her voice barely more than a whisper. “Cause I broke the promise I made ya.”

Aoi smiled. That spoke well of Grace and probably explained a good deal of the state that she had been found in. “Grace, I asked that of you before I knew all about the problem. It seems like you are an alcoholic, so my threat was unkind. That is a disease and not just a choice. Did you find it easy to stop drinking, or did you just keep drinking more and more?”

“I kept drinkin.” admitted Grace, still red faced.

“Then we need to approach this from a different angle. It will be okay. You have worked hard on the trip out; showing a lot more talent and drive than your last two Ship Mothers commented on. Getting you past all of the stuff you have been dwelling over is helping. I believe in you and I will help you get to where you need to be, okay?” Aoi offered what she could, hoping that Grace would take her up on this.

“Ye’ll be helping me?” The disbelief and hope in Grace’s voice almost broke Aoi’s heart. After everything, the young woman still didn’t believe that she was worth caring about.

Aoi hugged Grace, tightly, trying to let her body say what words themselves never could. “Of course. I’ll help you everyway I can.”

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“Forgive me Father for I ‘ave sinned. It ‘as been three years since me last confession. In that time I ‘ave done many things I am ashamed of.” said Grace, as she knelt in the Confessional, feeling awkward after all this time away.

“What sort of things, my child?” The man’s voice was strong and seemed filled with warmth and compassion.

“I ‘ave been a drunk, started fights, caused trouble amongst me crew mates and…” Grace swallowed heavily. This would be the hardest thing of all to confess. “…I have refused tae accept who I am.”

“I see. This matter of acceptance of self, I take it that you are a Caregiver?” There was a slight sound of wry humor in the voice.

Grace looked up at the screen, startled. The Priest gave a short laugh, “Surely you don’t think that you are the only Catholic in your organization?”

Grace felt her face grow warm. She really hadn’t thought about that. “Sorry Father. And aye, I’m a Caregiver.”

“I see. So you have not really dealt well with the whole transition thing?”

“No Father.”

“Is this lack of acceptance of yourself the cause of those other sins you mentioned?”

“Aye Father.”

He was quiet a moment and Grace was a bit afraid of what she might have to do for penance. She had done so many things and was sure that she would be punished by God for these things. Finally the Priest spoke, “My child, what you have done is to suppose that God did not want you to do this, that somehow his back had been turned on you. Is this correct?”

His words hit like a meteor to her heart. She started to cry softly, nodding her head, as it was too difficult to speak. The priest continued, his voice soft and soothing, “The Lord Almighty does not turn his back on his children. His grace is there for all who come to him. If you read the story of the Prodigal Child you would know that God would welcome you back with open arms, just the way you are.

“The form you are in is not a sin against God. You were following the path set out for you by God, to aid and succor your fellow man, out here in Space. You chose an important calling and that speaks well of your compassion for your fellow man. Why wouldn’t God be proud of you for making a difficult choice to leave your home, to come to Space and help others?

“Your body is the scared vessel that holds your soul. When you changed your body it did not affect your soul but rather gave you a form that enabled you to better share the gifts of your soul that the Almighty has given you. You act as Mary Magdalene, a balm to others souls, and to do so you needed her form. To not cherish your body is to think that God has made a mistake with you. He certainly hasn’t done that.

“Those acting outs because of your lack of acceptance are serious. Since it has been a long time since you have tried to deal with this I want you to do an Act of Contrition, 33 Rosaries, 4 Stations of the Cross, and 1095 Hail Marys. That is one for each day you kept away from God.

“Aye Father. I understand.” replied Grace, stunned by what was being asked from her.

“In addition, I want you to turn more often to Mary in prayer, both the Holy Mother and the Magdalene, as they can be sources of guidance for you.”

“Aye Father. I am sorry for these and all the sins o’me past life.”

“Now, I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen. Give thanks to the Lord for He is good.”

“For his Mercy endures forever.”

Grace left the Church after doing her Stations of the Cross. Saint Joseph of Cupertino’s church was impressive, even though it was somewhat small and had pressure locks for doors. It had been carved out of the rock of Titan, similar to Petra. She had never been before, despite having been to Titan before. She felt better for having done this. She felt lighter, less weighed down by worry. The Absolution felt like being washed clean of a stain she thought would never come out.

She sighed and just leaned against the wall. Maybe she should just accept things and move on. Thuriya had awakened her understanding of her body and Aoi had brought her back to everything as well, but this moment in the church Grace had recovered something she thought was lost once her father had banished her. Maybe Himself was in the wrong here? Maybe it wasn’t her fault?

That thought carried her happily back to the ship.

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“Grace, you better head on up to the bridge. The Captain wants to see you.”

Grace thanked Rodriguez and started to head up to the bridge. She was nervous. Surely Tori had heard about what had happened the other day? Was she mad? She really didn’t know and that was making her rather crazy. When she thought about Tori being mad at her it made her stomach ache. Her stomach began to ache now just thinking about it.

She entered the bridge through the double airlock. Few ships had that level of security on them, one of the things that made the Variable Star an amazing ship. The redundancies and protections were something out of the early days of manned space flight, when things were more likely to fail. It was one of the reasons that the ship had survived several crazy missions, including a comet flyby.

Tori was alone on the bridge entering a series of numbers into one of the stations. She looked up to watch Grace enter the bridge and looked back down at the numbers. After a short span of silence, save for the sound of the keys, she looked up again. “Grace, I was wondering if you would join me in town for dinner?”

Grace blushed a little, relieved at this and pleased, “Certainly. ‘twould be me pleasure.”

“Good. I’ll come get you at 8. Okay?”

Grace nodded. “See ya then.”

Grace headed back to her room, feeling amazingly nervous and she didn’t know why. What should she wear? Should she go with a Kimono or something else? What about Makeup? How good did it have to be? Should she wear her heels with whatever she wore? What the hell should she do?

She really wanted a shot to help her calm down. It would certainly settle her nerves. She took a deep breath, exhaled slowly and decided to call Aoi.

“Yes?”

“Aoi, I am tryin tae keep from drinking. The Captain asked me out tonight and the whole idea has me flange tangled in me panties. I wan a drink so bad I can taste it. Please help?” begged Grace as she paced nervously around their room.

“Take a deep breath Grace. You’ll be okay. I’m on my way back from Engineering.” The connection cut off and Grace knew that Aoi would be there soon. She wanted to head off to where the still was and just get a little. It would be so easy, especially since they were docked and Donal was out getting supplies.

The door opened and Aoi hustled in, a smudge of grease on her face and her coverall had a few smears as well. She looked worried when she saw the fear and desperation on Grace’s face. “Okay, why not sit down?”

Grace pondered that for a minute or so and then dropped onto her bed. “I can do this…right?”

Aoi hugged her. “Of course you can. You just need to deal with this one day at a time and you can get through it. Now you said that Teri is taking you out tonight?”

Grace nodded; trying to stop thinking about the taste of Whiskey or the taste of that ale she had a few days ago. She took a few deep breaths and tried to relax the way that Aoi had shown her. It took time but it worked. When she opened her eyes again she was definitely less panicked.  She smiled weakly.

“Come now, let’s pick your dress. You want to look good tonight, yes?” asked Aoi, moving towards the closet area. They had a number of outfits packed in their trunk, in vacuum sealed bags to make them less bulky. The two of them went through the dresses, glancing at the pictures affixed to them.

Aoi pulled out a little black dress that would look really good on Grace. She had a set of cultured pearls she had been given by her mother when she had first headed off to Yotori station. They had been a gift, from mother to daughter. It had been the first sign of complete acceptance that Aoi had seen from her folks. The pearls had been in the family for a few generations so far and were going to be for several more if Aoi could manage.

Now she was loaning them to a girl who was too troubled to accept her own beauty and move on with her life. Her actions the other day showed that she was trying but that it was going to be a difficult fight. Anything she could do to help Grace was well worth it.

“Will this really look okay on me?” asked Grace, worried.

“You will look wonderful. Now let’s get you ready. Let me give you a quick massage first. You’re way too tense right now. You need to just relax and enjoy yourself.” Grace nodded and headed towards where they had the massage table stored.

The short massage relieved some of the tension and Grace was able to focus on getting dressed and doing her makeup well. She wanted to look good for Victoria, because she really was interested in the Captain, in a way she had felt for no other person. Her thoughts raced as she tried to figure out what she felt for Tori and was worried about what Tori felt for her.

She was finished a bit early so she got out her rosary and got to work on her penance. She still had a great number of those prayers left to do and it was making her feel better about herself. She was calmer after she said the last prayer of her rosary. She kissed the cross and put it back on her pillow.

The knock on the door announced that the Captain was here for her, so grace stood and walked out to meet her. Both ladies were in black dresses and looked similar. The two of them laughed over this as they made their way out of the ship and towards the restaurant.

One of the good things about space development was the fact that it expanded other people’s options. There was a chef here on Titan, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, who had always dreamed of space. He had made his way out here and had set up his restaurant on Titan. He had developed a number of cooking devices that helped in cooking food in space, like covers for pans that kept the food in the pan while you were flipping it. He was famous for his work and innovations to the way food was prepared in space. Gaston’s was five-star dining at the borders of human expansion.

The two women entered the restaurant, chatting about inconsequentials. Since Captain Tobias had a reservation they were seated right away. Right after they were handed menus, Tori handed hers back and said, “We’ll be having the Chef’s tasting please.”

Grace was a bit confused and it showed. Tori smiled and said, “A Chef’s Tasting is when the chef chooses what they think are the best items on their menu that night and that’s what comes out to the customers.”

“Oh. Sounds good.”

“It is. I come here every time I am on Titan. It is well worth the cost, and the cost isn’t that bad. It’s affordable but amazing.” Victoria looked excited about sharing this place with her and that made Grace smile. It certainly looked like tonight would turn out to be less scary than she had feared.

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Grace worked hard in the hydroponics area. The vegetables were ripening and Grace felt good about how everything was growing. She was glad that they were gone from Titan, because it would be easier on her to avoid getting drunk on the ship. Aoi would make sure that didn’t happen.

She checked the water in the squash bin, making sure the mix of nutrients was okay. They seemed fine, just needing a bit more nitrogen. She took care of that and headed over to the sink and washed her hands. The work here was done, at least for the day. The lights were good and the water fine.

In about twenty minutes she had an appointment with Mokono. She was a bit worried about it, as the thought of sex with a man still bothered her. She said a Hail Mary and that helped her to stop worrying. She was in this body and this body served a sacred purpose. The realization was starting to sink into her bones. The Priest at Saint Josephs had been right.

She had time to take a quick shower and get the smell of hydroponics out of her hair if she hustled. Mokono liked just sitting and talking and Grace had been surprised at how gentle the solidly built African had been. Everything in her had said that someone like Mokono would but rough and tough and using their strength to get what they wanted. Her surprise at how wrong she had been was incredible. It shook her like lots of other things had shaken her on this trip. At least this was already a voyage she would never forget.

She stepped out of the shower and grabbed a clean jumpsuit and underwear. Mokono would be there in a few minutes and she wanted to get everything ready. The electrical engineer was a fan of hot rock massage, so Grace had been warming them for a few hours, so they were filled wit the heat. She also laid out the ginger oil. It would help warm Mokono’s muscles and smelled really good when warmed.

She did a final check of everything, making sure everything was ready. Making Mokono feel better would be nice. He always treated her so well and was a gently lover. She loved his kisses and the feel of his calloused hands on her body. They were a nice mixture of rough and soft. It made her all excited just thinking about that and that scared her. She was still so not used to this, to this way of finding happiness.

She sat on the bed, with the clean fresh sheets that she put on there each time she had an appointment, knowing that nothing felt quite like climbing into clean sheets. She said a quick Hail Mary for strength and to center herself. She was going to be able to make it through this; she was just sure about that. Now she just had to concentrate on making Mokono feel happy and relaxed. After that she could have a cuppa and think about things.

Life was getting better but she was still worried about her father and what he had said. The priest had given her absolution but she was still desperate to get past this. Her father had made his choice in telling her to leave. She had done her duty as his daughter and as his son. What more could she have done?

She had done the best she could with what she had, and that was the best anybody could do. If she just did what she was supposed to she would be able to get healthier and get past her father being a complete asshat. If he got mad at her for doing what he had asked, who was really at fault here? She shook her head to clear it, she didn’t have time for such thoughts. Her appointment would be here soon and she wanted to be able to give Mokono her very best. That had been what her da had taught her to do afterall.

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“Captain, approaching orbit for Iapetus.”

“Very good. Let me know when we have achieved stable orbit. Prepare scanners for surface analysis.”

The atmosphere on the Bridge was a bit tense, as they wanted to get an efficient polar orbit in order to maximize the scanning of the surface. After the initial analysis was complete then they would head down to the surface in order to check to determine the feasibility of mining or some other surface work. The results of this work was going to net the ship quite a nice paycheck, if they could finish the work.

Grace maneuvered the ship into a decent circumpolar orbit. Once the computer chimed that stable orbit was achieved, with no signs of degradation, she relaxed. Now all they had to do was to wait for the moon to rotate and for their orbit to slowly cover the entire planet with their scans. It would take a few days but that was alright, since they had to get everything ready for the surface portion of the trip. There were various things to double check in addition to suits, such as hose connections on the Roundabout and the seals on the portable tent. That would enable their surface time to be greater than it would be otherwise possible to have.

Thankfully she had been picked to take the shuttle down. That made her nervous, but they would analyze the landing site well and then establish a geosynchronous orbit over the spot, to reduce distance needed to be traveled. Hopefully the surface would be smooth enough for a decent landing and launch.

Grace double checked her screens, making sure everything had been done correctly. “Orbit achieved.”

“Very good. Begin scanning.”

The tension in the room dropped at that and Grace could almost feel the relief. This also meant that her shift was over. “Permission to be relieved?”

“Granted.” Grace could hear the smile in Tori’s voice. It made her look up and smile at her lover.

She needed to get going as Aoi and her were making a celebratory dinner for everyone tonight and she was going to be playing the music tonight. Aoi had several collections of decorations in with her baggage that were used for these events, various banners and streamers, cloth napkins and placemats. It was really impressive. Grace new that she would want to start building something like that herself for any other trips she ended up making, just to supplement other peoples gear.

Aoi was down in the galley, getting started with the meal. She was making Paella, enough for the whole crew to have several servings and maybe have leftovers. She had used her mass limit to get some rabbit and seafood for this particular dish. The saffron had been expensive but certainly wasn’t very heavy, being flower stamens. Aoi had assured her that this dish would be delicious, since she had gotten the recipe from Ships Mother Corazon. In fact she had been practicing various Spanish tunes for her harp from the area where the sons of Milesius had emigrated from. She thought she sounded pretty good.

She stopped by the cabin to grab a few things she would need and hustled to join Aoi in the kitchen. The knock she used was what they had discussed to keep everyone else out until they were ready for them. Aoi opened the door and hurried back to the food, making sure it was turned when it needed it. Grace closed and locked the door after she slipped inside.

The smells that permeated the room stopped her in her tracks. It smelled so wonderful. The meats and other things filled the air with a mouthwatering aroma. Obviously stunning the crew was part of their design for tonight’s activities. “Aoi, what do you need me to do?”

“There are some lemons, limes and oranges I need you to slice up. I have a non-alcoholic Sangria that I want to make a bit tastier. Could you take care of that please? They need to be somewhat small sections.” Aoi barely glanced up from the big pan where the food was cooking.

“Sure.” Grace got out a santoku knife and got to work. She chopped those up and made up the pitchers of the sangria punch. Grace had never been all that into wine before, so it didn’t draw her like ale or liquor would have done. Perhaps that’s why Aoi did it that way. Probably.

Grace began to hum and sing softly, quietly, to herself. Aoi smiled happily. Things had to be going better for Grace to actually be relaxed enough to be humming to herself. This was a good sign. Since leaving Titan, Grace had really been working on getting more in tune with her body and it was nice. The woman had actually started to tell her about how much fun she was having sleeping with various crew members. Maybe she had actually done it? Saved Grace from herself?

Another thought drifted through her mind. Maybe it also has to do with Victoria? The Captain and Grace had been spending a good deal of time together, and since it wasn’t affecting her work as a Caregiver Aoi had said nothing. Since Grace hadn’t really talked about their time together, Aoi suspected that something special was going on between them. That was a good thing as far as she was concerned.

Grace turned back to Aoi after she had finished that prep work. “What else can I do?”

Aoi glanced around the kitchen quickly, seeing if there was anything left to do. “Uhm…what if you process the vegetables for the salad and sides?”

Grace nodded and got to work. She built a big communal salad in a large bowl with nuts and gorgonzola cheese. She decorated the top with sunflower seeds in a nice pattern. She covered it up and added it to the rest of the things in the fridge. She then took care of the vegetable mix and had it ready to go when Aoi finished with the Paella.

She then turned to the decorations and quickly go to work, hanging things and setting the tables. This was going to be fun. She was looking forward to the stunned and happy expressions on the faces of the crew. Just thinking about it filled her with a warmth she had never really felt before. It brought her up and she tried to grasp what was going on. It seemed like this was making her happy, that she was happy just being and doing things for others. She started to tear up at the realization. Thuraiya had been right. She cared about these people and wanted to make them happy in everyway that she could manage.

Aoi hustled over as Grace began to cry. The food was good and could hold on, but this was more important. She embraced the Irish girl and was simply there for her as all the tension and frustration and pain came out. Grace slowed her tears and hugged Aoi back. Grace pulled back some and looked at Aoi, holding her mentor’s face. Tears still rolled down her face but she leaned forward and kissed Aoi softly on her lips. “Thank you Aoi. I love you and I can ne’er thank you enough for helping me.”

Aoi began to cry as well, her own heart beating furiously. “You’re welcome dear heart. You just needed a little help to get over some bumps in the road. I am sorry we didn’t do this for you earlier. I apologize.”

Aoi bowed, her head touching the floor. Grace bowed as well, so that their heads touched. “Thank you.”

They both looked up and smiled.

They stood up, hugged and got back to work. Tonight was supposed to be special for the crew, after all of their hard work to get here. The food smelled good and everything was perfect. It made Grace feel like she had just completed something important. Maybe she had?

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Grace let the slight gravity of Iapetus pull the shuttle from the bay before she lit the engines. She headed down towards the landing spot that was blinking on her map of the area. The Variable Star had created the map from the recent data collected that gave all the important topographical information that would be needed for an effective landing on the surface, especially with all the craters on the surface.

They were landing on the dark section of the moon, made from the lag of sublimated ice from the warmer section of the moon. That was where most of their work would be done. Research seemed to show that this area contained organic compounds and they were here to verify that and to look into the existence of hydrogen cyanide polymers. Those two items would certainly justify mining operation on the surface. Hydrogen cyanide use in mining still occurred, especially in the Asteroid belt. There were also large areas of carbon dioxide in the dark area as well, which would have lots of uses as well.

After searching this area they were going to shift to the equatorial mountains, to check on the conditions there. Their last stops would be in the light areas of the surface, to see what they could see there. The Cassini-Hyugens flyby back in 2007 had indicated that there could be water available for processing, which meant that they would be able to extract the oxygen and create atmosphere in a mining colony, saving a huge amount of money. This mission had the potential of making all of them very wealthy.

Grace was more worried about landing without getting trouble from a microcrater on the surface than any of that right now. The scans indicated that there should be no issue with that, as this was an area large enough to land with very little surface damage. The very little part is what worried Grace the most. Very little could turn out to bend a landing strut and cripple the ship.

“Variable Star, ‘tis Shuttle One, we are away and flyin free.”

“Very good Shuttle One. Take care of our boys Grace, they’re in your hands.” Victoria sounded like she was smiling to Grace, but without visual confirmation she wouldn’t know for sure. But it sure sounded like that.

“Roger Variable Star, proceedin’ tae landin’ site.” replied Grace, smiling herself.

“We are monitoring your flight and all systems are go.”

Grace nodded, knowing that the bridge couldn’t see her, but knowing that the last message did not really need a response. The flight to the surface was brief, especially as there was nothing resembling an atmosphere to create drag or extra heat. Grace made it to where the beacon had been set on the map and used the maneuvering jets to make the controlled fall a gentle one. The landing struts gave slightly under the force of the landing but nothing buckled. Grace sighed and let go of the thrust control she had been gripping just in case. “Shuttle One tis down. Startin’ camera’s and data recorders.”

“Roger Shuttle One. Good Luck.”

Grace turned and went back to the crew area. “Alright boys, ‘tis show time.”

Grace smiled back at the four male faces smiling back at her. It had been decided that the first person to step onto the surface of Iapetus was Grace. She was flattered by that and had blushed furiously when it had been announced. That had amused a number of crew members to no end.

One of the boys undogged the hatch and swung it wide. Grace looked out at the surface of the moon of Saturn and was awed. She was going to be the first human being to step foot on this unexplored moon. It was a wonderful and humbling moment for her. She made it down the ladder without any difficulty despite the image she had of her falling down the stairs onto the surface. Granted it wouldn’t hurt, as Iapetus only had a surface gravity of .223 meters per second as opposed to Earth’s 9.8 or Mars’ 3.69. If she fell she would more than likely bounce. Even Luna had a 1.622, so walking her was going to be a bit different that on any other body. Grace stood there and just took in the view of Saturn.

“Uhm…Grace…could you move, just a bit, so we can get off the shuttle.” Eldridge asked sweetly.

Grace blushed and moved off to the side. “Sorry gents, but the view tis feckin’ incredible.”

The others chuckled and stepped off the shuttle. They went about gathering their gear and working on analysis of the surface. They were all hooked to the shuttle by safety cables due to the weak gravity of the moon. None of them were particularly interested in drifting around Saturn for a while.

Grace stared a little bit longer and then shook her head. She had work to do, along with the others. She went and examined the landing struts for any damage as well as the surface, in case there was slight cracking along the crust. She was already sure that it would be a bad thing to use the rockets for take off and landing but with the low surface gravity came the equally low escape velocity. At .572 km/s she was sure that the maneuvering jets would provide enough lift to get them back into actual flight.

Once she had examined the struts, Grace returned to the shuttle interior and grabbed containers for the samples the others were collecting. She clipped them onto the wire with the attached carabineers and let them hang there. They would get filled soon enough.

There were core samples being taken, surface scrapings and the like, all to discover what there was on the moon that could prove valuable. This was a first exploration flight, meant to be on the surface for a short while, to get some closer readings than spectrography had been able to provide. After she had gotten that taken care of she got out the landing beacons that would actually make it easier to land, providing an exact radio beacon to follow in. She was basically going to make a triangle for the shuttle to land in.

She got out and clipped herself to the wires attached to the outside of the shuttle. It took a while to make it carefully to the three points so she could plant the beacons. She was trying to avoid leaving the surface if she could help it. Already two of the others had needed to be reeled in like big fish and she didn’t want to get that embarrassed. She had noticed that the excitement of standing on the surface had gotten her excited in many ways, including sexually. This was something that worried her, but not too much. She had an appointment with Captain Tori when she got back and the prospect of that made her even more excited.

She got back to the flight deck and began working on all the things she needed to check for her pre-flight. She heard another yelp and the grumbling that reeling someone back had generated. She smiled and went back to the checklist. Soon enough, everyone had finished their tasks and had returned to the ship. After a quick walkthrough of the compartment to make sure everything was stowed she turned, and smiled at everyone. “Please get comfortable and enjoy your flight. There will be no in-flight movie I’m afraid.”

The others laughed as she turned and climbed into the pilot’s seat. The trip back up to the ship was quick and they debarked the shuttle. The others got to work in their respective labs to go over the samples they had collected. That data would determine how much time they needed to stay at the site.

After Grace had gotten out of her suit, she headed to her cabin. She wanted to wash the sweat and suit funk off of her and be clean for Tori. Things had been getting more and more serious with Tori and Grace was excited by the prospect. She got all tongue tied whenever she was around Victoria and only wanted to make her happy. Grace got ready as fast as she could, still revved up from the surface. Once she had everything ready she sat in seiza in her Kimono.

Exactly on time there was a knock at the door. Grace smiled broadly and then called out, “Please come in.”

Captain Victoria Tobias stood in the doorway, slightly backlit. She was smiling as well. The sight before her was lovely. The room had been tidied and was down up like a Japanese room. Grace sat there in a green kimono and her red hair was down from its usual braid she wore when she was working. Tori walked in and closed the door behind her.

They both shared some tea in silence, letting that help relax them. Once that was finished Grace brought out some food and played some music while Tori ate. She seemed to be enjoying the treats that Grace had made the night before. Once Tori finished the meal the harp stopped playing. Grace came over and sat next to the Captain. “What would you like now Tori?”

Victoria took one of Grace’s hands and held it gently. “I would like to marry you.”

Grace sat there stunned. Her mouth fell open in complete surprise and one hand rose to cover her mouth. Her heart was pounding like a trip hammer. What should she say? What could she say?

She started to cry in happiness. She really was wanted by someone, just like Aoi said. “Yes. My answer is yes.”

Victoria and Grace embraced tightly and kissed. Grace melted into Tori’s arms. Tori stood and led Grace over to the bed. She tugged on the obi until it came free. Grace dropped her arms and the silk fell around her feet, just like Thuraiya had shown her. Victoria bent her head and took a nipple in her mouth, sucking and nibbling, listening to Grace’s moans of pleasure. Tori’s hands cupped her ass, squeezing them.

Tori bent her knees and kissed her way down Grace’s freckled skin, down to the downy fine red thatch that covered her. Tori paused to inhale the scent of her love and then began to let her tongue travel around the area. Grace was moaning and swaying, trying to remain upright while Tori licked her. It was getting harder and harder for her to think. Finally Tori broke it off and quickly stood, kissing Grace deeply and hungrily.

Grace realized she was falling just before she hit the mattress. Tori fell on her and the two women licked and caressed and sucked and nibbled each other through several orgasms. Finally, spent they collapsed into each others arms, sated.

Grace had her head on Tori’s shoulder, feeling safe in the other woman’s arms. Tori idly ran her hand through Grace’s hair. She turned and kissed the red head on the forehead. “I do love you, Grace Ni Mhaille.”

Grace smiled. “I love you as well Victoria Tobias.”

“Good, it all works out then.”

“Yes. Yes it does.”

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The move to the mountains was fairly easy and they managed to find a good space to set up the work facility. It was hard work getting core samples from the rock, but the crew kept at it. Most everyone was one the surface, with a minimal crew to maintain orbit on the Variable Star.

Grace sat in the Bridge, bored out of her mind. She scanned the monitors quickly; making sure everything was still alright. It was. Orbit was still maintained, still geosynchronous. Tori was down on the surface with the crew working on the collection of samples. The computers on the ship were trying to get the most detailed images it could, in order to plan where a habitat could be easily built.

Aoi was still one the ship as well, making sure everything else was working alright. Grace was wondering if she had finished her checks so she could come back to the Bridge. Grace wanted to talk with someone about everything, all the things she had gone through and what was going one with her now. Her life was certainly getting different.

She had realized that she wasn’t as angry as she had been before. She wasn’t as upset over who she had become now. Through lots of prayer she had forgiven her father for what he had said and done. She was even enjoying the skills of a Caregiver that she had tried to forget. She even was enjoying sleeping with the members of the crew, having grown close to most of them. And then there was Tori.

What she felt about Tori was pretty obvious. She loved the woman in a way that made her yearn for the woman’s touch. When Tori smiled at her, her heart soared. Why hadn’t she found anything like this before? If she had, maybe she wouldn’t have gone through the Process. But then again, without the process, without becoming a Caregiver, she would never have found Victoria and never have coped with her life. She scanned the monitors again, to make sure nothing had changed in the last few minutes.

The laughter was unexpected, she really hadn’t thought she was going to start laughing, but she did. It started as a chuckle, but grew until she was laughing heartily at herself. Looking back at her life and what she had chosen to do, all she could do was laugh. She heard the sound of the airlock opening and in walked Aoi, in her spacesuit, as was standard for the crew. “Grace, are you okay?”

Grace turned and smiled at Aoi, “Yes. I just realized what an arse I hae been. I’ve been acting the maggot for a while now. Thinkin’ about things hae made me realize that I been so upset over nothin’ that I forgot tae live. So, that’s funny.”

“I guess I can’t see the humor, but that’s okay. I’m just glad to see you smiling and not getting into trouble. I’m happy for you.” replied Aoi. “So how are things going with Tori?”

“I think things hae been goin’ well. She and I…love each other. I…I ne’er expected somthin’ like this tae happen.”

“It’s okay. Life is never what we plan it to be. You never planned on becoming a Caregiver, yet you are one. You never planned on being a woman, yet you are one. You never planned on falling in love, yet you have. Back in Ireland I am sure you never thought that you would be out here, in orbit around one of Saturn’s moons, working as a pilot. Life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans. I know my life has certainly gone down paths I never expected, so it’s okay.” Aoi took a seat and looked out the window at Saturn and the stars. She sighed and said, “Life is an adventure, waiting for us to pay attention to it. You were running from your life for a while and now you are thrust into this new world, this new life that you can’t really remember getting here.”

“S’truth. I ne’er expected this life, but…but I do love what it hae become. Sure I am doin’ the same thin’ I did back home, workin’ as a pilot, but tis certainly a different world.”

Before Grace could say anything else the comm buzzed, “Emergency.”

Grace turned to the systems and after a quick scan realized nothing was wrong there. It had to be from the surface. “This is Variable Star, what tis the emergency?”

“Get the med bay ready. Injured crewman on the way up in the shuttle.” Victoria sounded worried.

Aoi leapt up and hustled out of the Bridge and towards the med bay. Grace checked everything to make sure the ship was in proper alignment. Once she was done with that she hurried to the shuttle bay, ready to assist with getting whoever was injured to the med bay. She was nervous and scared. Since Victoria had called in the emergency it couldn’t be her. So who was it?

She hooked back into the comm system and called out. “Prepared fer dockin’. Aoi tis standing by in the med bay.”

The only response was a terse, “Roger.”

The wait was terrible. Finally she heard the docking being completed and the airlocks working. She pulled open the door to make it easier for the others to get through. A group of them burst out, carrying a stretcher. She saw the face of who was injured, Eldridge.

“Oh my God, what happened?”

“We’re not sure. We heard him say, “Oh shit” and then the emergency beacon went off.”

Grace stopped at the door to the med bay. She knew just basic first aid and this was way beyond any of her skills. There was nothing se could do to help except wait. She walked up to the Bridge and resumed her watch. She sat in the chair and started crying. Why did it have to be Eldridge? He was a nice guy and treated her kindly, even before she started to feel better about herself. He had been one of the people who had really helped her in her recovery. She couldn’t wipe her tears away because of the helmet, so she just cried.

When she got relieved she headed down to the med bay to see how things were going. Everyone had come back up from the surface and were clustered in the hall. Only Aoi and Garcia, the doctor, were in the room. The tension was terrible. Grace felt her heart go out to these men, who had worked together for so long. She went through and gave hugs and a hand on their shoulder, to show that she shared their pain at this. Victoria stood there tense and focused on the door.

Grace wanted to go over there and give her a hug, but Tori was being all Captainy at the moment and it wouldn’t help things. They all just stood there, waiting. Finally Garcia came out of the med bay. The look on his face said all that needed to be said. Eldridge was dead.

Grace didn’t know what to do. Her crew was obviously distraught and she couldn’t pull them all into a hug. She started crying. Eldridge was dead and she felt so helpless, unable to do anything, unable to make a difference. She hated that and it made her want to punch the wall and scream.

When Aoi left the room she looked close to tears as well. Grace and her hugged tightly. Then Aoi let her go gently, “We have work to do. Just try to sit with them and let them talk. It’ll help.”

Grace nodded. She didn’t want to do it, but Aoi was probably right. It would just be too much for her to bear alone. The deep breath centered her and she headed off after the crew, determined to do what she could to help with this.

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“…and now let us release our friend out into the black of space. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

The body bag was released into space. It had been shoved out with enough momentum the have it move away from the ship slowly and steadily. It was going to be caught up in the gravitational pull of Saturn after a while and after it entered the atmosphere who knew what would become of it.

Victoria turned after the ceremony and headed directly towards her cabin. She had been really withdrawn since the accident and Grace was getting worried. She wanted to comfort her but Tori didn’t want that. Grace went to Aoi for help, as she couldn’t think of anything else that she could do.

“Aoi, Tori seems closed off, ‘tis if this accident were fault o’herself. I can’na get her tae open up and talk ‘bout it. What can I do?” Grace was nearly frantic from the worry, her eyes glistening with unshed tears.

Aoi hugged her fellow Caregiver. She was also worried about the Captain. “The only thing I can think of if for you to just be near her. Sit with her and wait for her to open up. It’s clear that you both love each other, so you just being there will help.”

Grace nodded. “I think I can do that. Thank ye Aoi.”

“Your most welcome Grace. Go take care of her, I can take care of the rest of the crew.”

Grace nodded absently as she turned and went in search of the Captain. It took her a while to find her, as she hadn’t been on the Bridge or in her cabin. She eventually found her in the hydroponics area, sitting in a corner sort of hunched over. Thinking of Aoi’s advice, Grace walked over and sat on the deck by her, touching her leg gently. Victoria didn’t react at all.

It was difficult to do, but Grace just sat there, one hand on Tori’s thigh, just being there with her. Grace had been on ships that had lost crew members before but none of them were like Variable Star. She hadn’t cared and hadn’t really known any of them. But she had known Eldridge, had slept with him, eaten with him, had grown close to him. She couldn’t imagine what Tori was feeling, since she had known Eldridge for years.

Time passed , the quiet heavy. Finally Tori began to talk. “You know, originally I hated Eldridge. He always bugged the crap out of me. I wanted my husband to fire him but it never happened. But Eldridge turned out to be nothing like I thought he was.”

Grace hugged Tori across her shoulders. “Tell me about ‘im?”

For the next several hours Tori told stories about Eldridge and the things he had done. Grace had figured that waking him would be better than simply going on. She shared a few of her experiences with him and Tori smiled at those. It helped her sorrow as well.

Tori reached over and brushed a hand across Grace’s face. “Thank you for this.”

“’tis not a problem. I love you and I wanna see ye happy.” admitted Grace, blushing.

“You do make me happy Grace.” She leaned over, cupping Grace’s head and kissed her gently. “I’m not sure I would be able to do this without you.”

“I could say the same to you.” The two women hugged, letting their shared grief and happiness fall with their tears. They held each other into the night.

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The survey took a little longer to complete without Eldridge but they did it. The crew was slowly returning to their usual jovial state as the days turned into weeks. They now knew all about Iaepetus and it’s riches. Mining would be very profitable here, especially if they worked in the areas that the crew had noted.

They had already sent in notification of their work on the moon of Saturn and listed their claims. This was one of the reasons that the crew was so wealthy, having claims on various places where mining started. Exploration for profit. Grace was pleased to discover that both she and Aoi were going to be included in the division of the spoils. With the size and amount of the mineral and other veins on Iaepetus they would be looking at a great deal of income for a long time to come.

The trip back to Titan took a while, due to the path they had to take to get there. The rotational speeds were different and they worked out a path that would get them back to civilization in one piece. It was just going to be a longer trip, which didn’t really faze anyone. Though the crew members were certainly looking forward to eating something different for a change since their rations had to be used differently due to the fact that things took longer than they had planned.

Grace was spending more and more time with Tori, especially in her free periods, when she didn’t have appointments or shifts on the Bridge. Their engagement hadn’t bothered anyone, in fact they were happy for the both of them. They had already made arrangements to have the ceremony at Saint Joseph of Cupertino. The priest had been pleased by the announcement and had sent out a list of questions that the two had to answer. Grace had never expected to be doing her marriage counseling in a craft out in space.

She sang to herself in Gaelic, from an old song about Grania Ni Mhaille, the Pirate Queen of Ireland. She was one of her family’s most famous ancestors and to be able to sing about her made Grace pleased. If only her family could see her now, happy with her life even though they had rejected her.

She was busy working on the dress she was going to be wearing for the ceremony. She had decided against wearing the formal Kimono that she owned and wanted something more traditional. Aoi had helped, by having some fabric and such loaded as part of her weight allowance. They both worked on the dress in secret, as Grace wanted to surprise Tori with it.

A game of Rock, Paper, Scissors had settled the detail of who was going to walk down the aisle. Grace had won and was getting all nervous and excited over things. After a deep breath she returned to her work on the dress. It would not be a good plan to screw up the dress due to her inattention.

Grace thought about her last time on Titan and how much had changed since then. Thinking back farther, back to Mars, she realized that her memories almost felt like they were someone else’s life and not hers. Aoi’s patience and guidance and Tori’s love had taken her a long way from where she had been. Life was funny like that sometimes. She had never planned on this but she loved her life just the same, probably better. She had become herself and that was wonderful.

If only they could get to Titan faster so she could marry and get on with her life.

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“So Donal, how is the information coming along?” asked Grace, honestly wondering about all the data they had collected on the planet. It was a lot to go through and that was the main thing that everyone would be doing until they got home.

“It’s going alright. Eldridge was the big number cruncher but we can manage. Thankfully you don’t have tae go through all that data tae make the reports. It’s a real pain.”

“Reports?”

“Yeah, we make two. The first is an initial one which we send out with basic information, not enough to give away anything but enough to get investors interested. The second is all the data, compiled into an easy to use format for anyone who buys it. The problem with the first is condensing and sanitizing. Got to make the report interesting and informative but not too informative. Captain Tobias is really good at that part.”

Grace nodded at that. “I can see that.”

She got up and headed over to the kitchen area to get a drink. She called out, “Donal, did ya want anythin’?”

“Sure. Can I get a cuppa?” Grace nodded, having planned on getting herself some tea as well. She got out an extra tea bag and added water to the mugs. The microwave quickly heated the water and soon the golden liquid was steeping. She fixed both cups just like each liked theirs and put the lids on. With those a sudden loss of gravity wouldn’t cause tea to be splashed everywhere.

“Here ya go. Well, I need tae head back tae me bunk tae get ready for an appointment. Bye.” She briefly hugged him and then walked from the room.

Aoi was in the room when Grace arrived. “Hey there. Coming to get ready?”

Grace nodded. “Carson will be coming by in a bit and I wanted to get ready for him.”

Aoi watched as Grace moved about the cabin, humming to herself. Comparing the woman before her to the woman she had first met on Mars, it was like they were completely different people. In the months that this trip had taken Grace had gone through so much and had grown into a lovely woman. The pain in the ass that Aoi had met was gone, especially since Titan.

Aoi was still a bit worried about Grace’s drinking problem, but she seemed to be okay now, even to the point of Donal not worrying about locking the room with the still anymore. Between her work and the influence that Tori had, Grace seemed to grow stronger and more able to keep from turning to the bottle. At least the girl had found other ways to work out her stress.

Aoi excused herself, letting Grace have the cabin, in case Carson needed a more physical release of his own stress. The fact that this didn’t seem to make Grace nervous was incredible as well. From what she had heard from other crew members, Grace had certainly enjoyed them and herself in those encounters.

Grace finished up her prep work and smiled. Carson would be there soon and they were planning on strip poker. Grace had just the lingerie for this, which should certainly distract Carson from his game play. However the cards fell, Grace was sure she was going to win.

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“Rei, you should get this message soon. Things seem to be going well with Grace and I should be able to get reassigned after my return to Mars. You would not recognize her anymore. She has found herself and it shows in all of her work. I think she will be a great asset to the company from now on, though I doubt you will be able to pry her away from the Variable Star. The crew seems very fond of her and Captain Tobias seems to be very much in love with her.

“My guess that this had something to do with her family was right. Her father had said some terrible things to her when she returned home after her transformation. That was further exacerbated by her parish priest saying some less than kind things as well. This got her into a spiral of despair and depression which led to her drinking and self-destructive behavior. We may want to start mentioning that if the newly converted have issues at home that they should come back and stay with us, if only to avoid a repeat of this.

“I look forward to seeing you again. You owe me dinner for this, as it has been a difficult assignment. It has been very gratifying to have witnessed her transformation, but I need something a lot less stressful for my next assignment. Well, talk to you later, Aoi out.”

Aoi turned off the recorder and prepared the message for burst transmission. The laser relay would get this to Rei in a short while, going from the ship to Titan, Titan to Phobos and then on to the Moon if necessary. It was a lot of work to get a simple message out but it was better than any other option. Passing messages from this side of the asteroid belt was a bit trickier than on the near side. Hopefully there would be a reply waiting for her when they reached Titan.

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“I now pronounce you both married. You may kiss your Bride.”

They both kissed gently but passionately and a great cheer rose up.

The ceremony had been incredible. Tori had looked beautiful in her gown but the Captain’s eyes had nearly popped out looking at Grace walk down the aisle in the wedding dress that Aoi and Grace had made. Grace couldn’t stop smiling and reaching out to touch Tori, as if this were some dream ad not quite real. She did notice the Tori was doing the same thing.

The reception was wonderful. Aoi had coordinated with a few other Ships Mothers for help and had put together a band. There was also plenty of food, thanks to the people at Gaston’s who did the catering. Everything was perfect.

A few of the Caregivers who had had the misfortune to work with Grace before were flabbergasted by how much Grace had changed. They were even more stunned when Grace apologized to them for how she had treated them. That was the only time that Grace hadn’t smiled. She had cried, truly sorry for her actions before.

Now she and her wife were alone in their room, ensconced into a room in one of the hotels on Titan. Grace and Tori were locked in an embrace, kissing deeply. When they pulled back Grace brushed Tori’s face, “Me wife.”

Tori beamed. “My wife. You know, after my husband died, I never thought I would get another chance at love. Thank you for that.”

“I ne’er thought that I ‘twould e’er get married. Thank tae ye I hae found me happiness. I love ye.”

“I love you too. Let me show you just how much.”

Tori slowly began to undress Grace, slipping the beautiful dress from her revealing the lovely white lingerie that she wore. Tori started kissing Grace’s neck, nibbling softly. Soft moans slipped from her lips as Tori brushed one of her breasts with a free hand.

Grace broke free of the kisses long enough to get Tori into the same state of undress that she was in. Tori stepped out of the dress and resumed what she had been doing. Soon they moved to the bed where Grace slowly undressed Tori, lovingly unwrapping her best present. Once Tori’s bra was off, she kissed and sucked on her nipples a bit. She then moved down kissing her way to the soft panties that covered Tori.

With a gentle tug, they soon were on the floor. Grace breathed in her fragrance deeply, loving the scent of her wife. Victoria exchanged places with Grace and repeated the same actions. Naked they fell onto the bed, kissing and fondling each other, raising their passion.

Their screams of climax went on and on until they both collapsed naked on the bed, sheets scattered everywhere, spent. The slept in each others arms, satiated smiles on their faces. Lying there in wedded bliss.

The next day they awoke and smiled at each other. “Good mornin’ wife.”

“Good morning yourself wife.”

Breakfast had been delivered and they sat down and enjoyed it. Some of the food was wonderful but the champagne was a nice touch.

“When we get back to Mars, I am going to make sure that you are permanently assigned to the ship. If I have to pay extra it would be worth it.” Tori kissed Grace on the forehead. “Let’s head there. Besides, after this trip I figure the crew could use a month or so on solid earth.”

“Makes sense. I can help pay for this if I need to.” offered Grace.

“No need. Remember wife, that I do have a lot of money. Exploring is profitable, if you do it right. So, here’s to an uneventful trip back to Mars.”

Grace and Victoria clinked glasses of champagne and returned to their breakfasts.

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“Got any nibbles on the information yet?” asked Aoi.

“A few.” replied the Captain, between bites of supper. “It seems as if the big mining consortiums are wondering if they want to go so far a field. None of the smaller companies have the resources to make the venture worthwhile.”

“Story of the little man’s life,” quipped Mokono.

Grace smiled. It had been another successful meal that Aoi and she had prepared. Aoi had planned this before they had reached Titan and had messaged in an order for the supplies. The paella was good and the chilled cervezas that a few crew members were drinking seemed to make a few people mellow. Grace was content with her water with lime juice added. She was tempted but not enough to risk falling off the wagon. Life was too good right now to make such a sacrifice.

“So, are you really leaving us Aoi?” asked Donal.

Aoi nodded. “I am. There is a new ship that needs a crew of Caregivers and I am to be the Ship’s Mother. I am looking forward to the challenge.”

“Well, we’ll be sad to see you go.” said Carson, speaking for the rest of the crew.  

Aoi smiled, “Not to worry. Grace will still be here and you’ll soon have another Sister onboard to help. Surely you have all gotten tired of my cooking by now?”

Numerous protests arose from the table, some talking around mouthfuls of food. Grace giggled, as did Aoi. That Aoi was leaving did make Grace a bit sad, but she was still awed by the fact that she and Victoria had gotten together so completely. Grace smiled all the time now, which pleased Aoi to no end.

“Seriously, you will be missed. Thank you for all your help with this trip.” said Victoria.

Aoi laughed. “I’m not off the ship yet. We’re barely a week out from Titan, with a few months left to go. It’ll be fine.”

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The odds for man to journey successfully into space are tremendous. They are even smaller for other things that occur, such as small pieces of debris to intercept a ship in flight. Yet such things do happen.

The ship bucked and shook from the impact. Aoi was tossed to the ground by the violence of the event. She hit her head on the edge of a table and went to the floor dazed. She blinked the stars from her eyes and grabbed her head.

The cockpit was not so lucky. Several small pieces of asteroid drove themselves through the metal and tore into the fragile control units. A few pieces even tore through the soft bodies of the few crewmen up there. Precious air belched into space through the hole in the cabin. Captain Tobias' voice barked over the intercoms. "Stations! Damage Control crews find and fix whatever is wrong. Move people, we may be venting atmo!"

Aoi got to her feet a bit shakily. "Captain, I think the Bridge took massive damage and we're in a tumble. I can't shut the gyros off from here. And the guidance computers are fragged and I can’t get the backups online."

"Get us in there! We need to correct the spin and make sure everyone is okay." yelled Victoria, worried about the crew up there, especially the pilot.

Aoi pulled on her suit, knowing that there might be work needed for outside the ship, or if there really was an atmosphere leak somewhere on the hull. Once she had her gear on she realized that it had been Grace's shift in the Bridge. She fought the urge to run as her heart went into overdrive and went to her assigned station and started her job of assessing the equipment for malfunctions or damage. Her board was green. The basic engine functions seemed unaffected.

Her primary duty done and reported Aoi rushed up, through the ship towards the bridge. What had happened to Grace?

There was a crew up there already trying to check the door information, to see if the space beyond was vented to space. Aoi could tell at a glance that something was wrong. One of the techs, Mokono, said, “It looks like the panel fried. Maybe their whole electrical system surged and burned out at impact.”

“Try to raise the bridge. Maybe they’re alright and just trapped in the room?” said Aoi.

“We’ve tried. We can’t get anything from them and the ship is tumbling. I don’t know what we should do?”

“As long as the Gee Dampers are still online, we’ll be fine. But the controls to correct that are in the Bridge.”

Mokono frowned. “You keep working on this. I’ll go get those Dampers online. That was Eldridge’s station and I bet no one covered it.”

The large man sped down the corridors. Aoi looked at the blank panels and the door lodged into place. They had to get that open and find out what had happened on the bridge.

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Grace exhaled, growing light headed. The others on the Bridge were dead, their bodies limp at their stations. She tried to get up after she shook her head to try and clear it. When she moved, pain flared up in her thigh, a burning sharp pain. She had a shard of metal lodged deeply in the meaty part of her thigh, pinning her to the pilot seat and yet she couldn't feel any pain otherwise. She could taste a metallic salty flavor in her mouth that was familiar. Blood. What the hell had happened?

She turned her head and looked towards the door. The light of several electric sparks allowed her to see that there was some debris clogging up the doorway. It didn't look like anyone would be able to get in anytime soon. They could make it through the door, but there were a lot of other things collapsed in front as well. Things didn’t look good.

The stars seemed to tumble through what was left of the viewport. They could have made her dizzy if her head weren’t already spinning. She glanced towards the monitors which looked back at her blankly, all the screens dark and a few with screens spider webbed with cracks. Everything seemed to be off or perhaps broken, which was certain doom if she couldn’t fix things.

She jiggled the control column and got some response. At least that was working. It meant that she might be able to stop the spinning of the ship. She reached out for the throttle. It seemed to take forever but her hand closed around it. When she moved that she could feel the engines respond. She had control of the ship, at least manually. That was something.

"Aoi? Tori? Anyone?" Her voice sounded weak in her own ears. She had to try, had to see if anyone was left.

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The comms crackled, and the familiar brogue said, "Aoi? Tori? Anyone?"

Aoi was worried, Grace sounded injured. “Grace, are you alright? What’s going on up there?”

“Anyone?”

Aoi all but yelled into the comms, as if volume would make it through. “Grace! Grace, can you hear me?”

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There was nothing, not even static. Maybe the Comm System was down. Regardless, she was alone. Everyone onboard could be dead besides her and she had no way of knowing. They could be alive and rushing to save her. It didn’t really matter, as she was still fundamentally alone.

She pulled up her atmosphere data on her visor. She had been near the end of her shift and her internal air was running thin. She moved some, to see if she could reach one of the others, to get access to their air. Her leg burned, growing hotter and hotter, tearing some inside. Her vision grayed out.

When she could see again, she looked out at the spinning stars. She brought the throttle back, stopping the thrust and stabilized the ship, getting them out of the spin. Once they were no longer spinning out of control, Grace scanned the stars visible through the port. Nothing seemed familiar. If they had tumbled free for a while there was no knowing where they were heading at this point. She nudged the ship with the maneuvering jets trying to find something familiar. She wanted to go home.

Every so often she would call out of the radio, but there was no answer. Dead air was all she had. She said what she was doing, hoping that if nothing else the flight recorders would get this.

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“Corrected the tumble. The screens are all dead. Mitchell and Thompson are dead.”

Mokono and Carson were working quickly to set up a temporary airlock, so they wouldn’t be venting the ships atmosphere when they got the door opened. Tori was feverishly working on the communications, hoping to get something through to Grace, to let her know that they were on their way.

Aoi treated the minor injuries of the other crew members, when they had a moment. The tension was heavy as everyone focused on getting into the Bridge.

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She was alone, possibly the only survivor of the ship and she was pinned to the pilots chair. She needed to find home. She looked at her oxygen levels and exhaled heavily. “With all the systems dead, I have no idea how far we tumbled or even if we are headed in the right direction. I am going to scan the stars to see if I can find something familiar.”

She began to slowly and methodically scan the stars, trying to spot something. Finally, after what seemed like forever, she noticed a familiar pattern of stars. This she recognized. She stopped and centered her vision on the faintly red dot they had been moving towards. Mars. Home.

She realized that she was going to die, alone and forgotten in space. Even if anyone were alive, if they got her out of the chair she could bleed out before they could get her back to the med bay. What could she do? Even if she could get the ship headed towards Mars there was nothing she could do to stop the bleeding, no way to clear the door, to eat, to refill her dwindling oxygen supply. All around her hung the bodies of her two shipmates, one belted into their chairs, limp, and the other hanging in the air. Soon she would join them. It didn’t really scare her anymore.

She shook her head slightly to clear it and took a sip of water from the helmet. That helped some. She drank more, her head clearing slightly. If only she could get some food.

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Aoi ran up to Victoria. “Tori, I can get out onto the hull and make my way up towards the Bridge. I can see if we can get her out that way.”

Tori absently nodded. “Go.”

Aoi raced to the air lock. Once she had the safety line ready she hit the button to open the outer door. The door opened about halfway and then stopped, the metal groaning painfully. Aoi screamed in frustration. Maybe she could crawl under it and make it out?

The space was still too small, even for a person her size. She could have done it with room to spare, if she hadn’t been wearing the bulky suit that kept her alive. “Outer door is jammed, I can’t get out.”

The door groaned as she hit the release, hoping to close what she had just opened. The door shuddered and slowly began to make it’s way back down. “Come on, come on…”

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A glance around the monitors showed that they were still off. If they were going to get home she would have to get them there without computers. She would have to dead reckon their way to the planet, something so complex that it took computers to calculate it quickly. She could have done the math for the course if she knew their heading and speed and other bits of data that had been in the computer. There was nothing that she could do.

Her ancestors had sailed the unforgiving ocean with no instruments, trusting to God to get them back home. Time and again, with no instruments they traveled out into the deep of the sea and returned home. She had done it herself, back when she had been a boy. Maybe she could do the same here? At this point could it really hurt?

She felt a bit faint, guessing that she was slipping deeper into shock and that she must have lost a lot of blood. Her oxygen saturation in her blood was low, 82%. If she didn’t do this now then she wouldn’t be able to do it at all. “I am going to attempt to dead stick guide us towards Mars. I have no idea if this is going to work. With the panels dead this is all I can do to save the ship. Aoi, take care of yourself, you were my best friend. Victoria, I love you and I only wish I had a chance to spend more time with you. You have my heart Tori, and just the hope that you could be alive gives me the strength to try this. Goodbye love.”

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Victoria had tears streaming down her face. She had to get the damn comms working, before Grace was gone. She had to tell Grace that she loved her.

Mokono had finished the instillation of the emergency pressure door. He moved through the door with Donal, both with crowbars. If the two strongest men aboard the Variable Star couldn’t open the door then what hope was there?

Slowly the door gave and the two men strained with all their might to make it in. They had the cutting torch ready and pressure bandages for when they got Grace off of the pilot’s seat. They were going to do this.

Aoi banged on the slowly descending outer door. The sound of the groaning metal vibrated through her suit. “Faster damn you, faster.”

Carson had raced back to the bay for their shuttle. Maybe he could get out that way? There was a safety feature, preventing the outer door from opening when the ship’s engines were thrusting but he knew the override. He had to get in there, had to save Grace. He clipped wires off and struggled to manually override the security feature.

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“St. Brendan, please intercede for me and my shipmates. We are lost out here in the great black and want to return home. Please help me to find forgiveness for my sins. Please extend your blessings to my wife, Aoi and all the crew. May the Lord help me to find our way home. Amen.” After she prayed, she aimed the ship until it felt just right. She pulled back on the throttle and hopefully sent the ship home.

Her hand dropped limply from both the stick and the throttle and she gazed out at the stars. They were bright and steadfast, shining as they always had. It was a beautiful last sight. “Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou above women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of death. Amen”

As her voice faded, Grace took once last look at the stars. She smiled slightly, knowing that whatever happened she had done her best. “Aoi, Tori, everyone, I love you. Thank you for saving me.”

She exhaled slowly, inhaling the scant oxygen till her eyes gradually drifted closed.

Requiem
Robert Louis Stevenson

UNDER the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you 'grave for me:
Here he lies where he long'd to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

Epilogue

The sound of docking clamps onto the hull was the sweetest sound that Aoi had heard in weeks, ever since the accident. They were going to make it after all.

It had taken a while for the members of the crew who remained to reach the bridge. Carson had found himself thwarted, as the holes had been too jagged and small to make it through. Finally it was Donal and Mokono who had made it into the Bridge, all but popping the door out on alignment.

Clearing the bodies had been a somber job and it had taken a cutting torch to get Grace free. The bodies of the dead were laid out in the storage bay, covered in the black of bodybags. Only the Bridge crew had died in the accident.

Aoi and the Captain were waiting at the airlock for their saviors. Tori and Aoi held hands, worried about everything. Grace had done the impossible and had sent them on the path home. Her gift for flight had been what they had needed to get somewhere where they could be found. The cobbled together radio had finally made contact with another ship and soon they would be able to limp home. The ship would survive.