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Bright Children of the Stars

Chapter Text

Deirdre's serene expression was starting to grate on her nerves so much. How was she always so fresh, so... so... shining? Her flowing dresses were ill-suited for the harsh realities of the life on this new planet, and her bases couldn't be that different.

Her voice kept being soft and beguiling, even when she should have been angry, even when Santiago knew she kept raising hers, because couldn't the damned woman see reason? They had to combine forces to stop Yang from taking over the whole continent, and she had to realise it would only work if Santiago took the reins, because she was the one with the military mind, she was the one with strategic training, Deirdre could keep terrorising the others with her mindworms, but in the long run they wouldn't be the answer to the ever-developing technology.

So it wasn't a betrayal, no. It was all about survival. She needed to those resources and bases to effectively oppose Yang, and if Deirdre wouldn't see reason, then by the all that was holy, she would have to be made to give it by force.

It delighted Santiago to see her soldiers trample her precious gardens, sully her white walls and rip her worms to pieces. These people would be hers, but they would learn to embrace their ways, not this wishy-washy ecology. The planet was to be conquered, not coddled.

The swarms of mindworms kept coming, but the morality of her troops held, and in the end the Gaians had no place to hide, no direction to run to, and their soft, insipid leader was captured.

Santiago had her transferred to her HQ, where she'd lovingly prepared a cell, just for her. The shackles were the finest she could offer, the torture fields the strongest they had. No matter how horrible the native life on the planet was, their psi attacks weren't the only horror around. Good old physical pain had its place, and she was going to make Lady Deirdre Skye scream her name.

“Colonel, the figures from the...”

“Not now, Voki. I am busy.”

“Yes, Colonel.”

She changed her uniform to a fresh one, redid her hair, as if preparing for a diplomatic meeting with a fellow faction leader. She was, after all, and this kind of meeting was the kind she preferred. She couldn't wait to have her old boss in one of these cells... not the same quality as Deirdre, of course, she was a special quest.

The sweet, sweet sound of her screams greeted her from the door, and she smiled in delight when she saw the sweat running down that usually so serene face, the struggle ruining the perfect soft folds of her dress, torn in places so her creamy skin was on show.

Santiago switched off the neurotransmitters and the body in front of her sagged – in relief or exhaustion, she couldn't say. But the eyes that met hers were defiant as ever, and her smile widened. She hadn't wanted this to be to easy.

“Welcome, pact sister,” she said, mockingly.

“Die... in a fire,” Deirdre spit out, her voice hoarse from all that shouting, and it sent a shiver down Santiago's body. She liked the traces of pain in her voice, the slight tremble in her limbs.

It could be better, she decided, and tested the level of wear in her captive's clothes by tugging at the front roughly. The material ripped, falling to the floor in small waves. It was even better now, the streaks of sweat and dirt and blood marking the creamy white skin, her hair falling in dark tangles around her face, her breasts trembling among her body, the nipples hardened, like pebbles – or seeds, as befitting the greenness of their owner.

She ran a rough hand over her left breast, getting an instant reward in the form of a moan, torn from her prisoner's lips, no different than what she might have wrung out of her if she'd performed the gesture in different circumstances. It affected her as strongly in the dungeon as it would have in the bedroom, and she felt herself get wetter, her clit demanding attention.

Deirdre wore no underwear, or then it had been stripped off when she was captured, the guards leaving only her torn dress as a gift-wrapping for their leader. Santiago ran her hand down, over her flat stomach, towards the nest of dark curls, and Deirdre's struggles grew more insistent the closer she got to her goal.

She liberated her pistol from its holster, and cocked her head to consider its size, it's form. It was mostly ceremonial now, a relic of a bygone age when projectile weaponry was the norm, but she liked the weight of it at her hip. The muzzle was thicker than an average cock, and she wondered if her gentle guest could take it without preparation.

She wasn't in the mood for preparation. With the fingers of her left hand holding her folds open, she rammed the muzzle of the gun as deep as it would get, and the screams were beautiful, the tears leaking out of Deirdre's eyes, serenity long gone from her grimacing face, lips bleeding from where she'd bitten down.

Santiago leaned towards her to lick the blood off her lips, soft as flower petals, even after the abuse she'd subjected them to herself. She could feel Deirdre gagging against her mouth, and only pushed her lips open with her tongue, running it over her teeth, her tongue, which was trying to expel her, or avoid her, but she thrust in, reaching as deep as she could get, relishing the gagging reflex against her mouth.

All the while her right hand kept pushing her weapon in her, then almost all the way out, then back in, in crude parody of fucking, and felt the liquid running over the hand holding the gun. Blood, most likely, but she let herself imagine it was not, that Deirdre was as wet as she was, that she was dying for the completion in her arms, that her trembling was her desperate to orgasm.

Well, Deirdre would come apart in her arms, one way or another. Santiago finished her kiss with a brutal bite to her lower lip, drawing more blood from the already open wound, lapping at it softly, before biting down again. It's not like she needed to to worry about blood borne diseases here.

Deirdre wasn't grimacing anymore, but her eyes were closed tightly, tears still leaking from beneath her lids, to mingle with the blood on her cheeks. She was quiet, too, and Santiago missed the screams.

She pulled the gun out, the muzzle a mess of blood and clear fluids, and seeing Deirdre open her mouth to gasp for breath used the opportunity to ram it into another orifice now, deep into her mouth, scraping against her teeth as she instinctively tried to close her mouth, and the sound of metal against teeth was refreshing, a familiar sound of battle, letting her picture teeth crumbling around her power, her prisoner now literally as toothless as she'd been as a faction leader.

She made her deepthroat the gun, the choking sounds delighting her almost as much as the screams had, but then pulled it back out, because as fun as that was, she wasn't ready to let her captive find release in death.

No, her domination wasn't absolute, her conquest wasn't finished.

She let the gun fall on the floor, wondering if she'd ever use it again. It was inexcusably reckless to go into battle with an unclean weapon, but could she ever bear to wipe off the stains of blood, saliva, and bile from it?

Maybe she'd use it to execute her other prisoners, the woman found clutching Deirdre in her final lair? What was her name? Blindly?

She knelt on the floor, did not like the reach, and looked around until she found a stool on which she could kneel, giving her perfect access to her target – the pussy leaking blood down the white thighs. She ran her tongue over her clit, in a cruel imitation of a lover's caress, and closed her lips around it to suck on it – harder than she knew any of her lovers had ever wanted it, but the noises Deirdre was making were curious again – not quite whimpers, not quite moans, and her lips were hanging open again, if only a little, and she was starting to gasp for breath.

She let her other hand travel up towards the still trembling breasts, running her fingers over the tight nipples, incredibly feeling new goosebumps forming in their wake. Her other hand she raised next to her own face, running the thumb over her other lips before slipping her finger in where the gun's muzzle had been short while ago.

Deirdre was trembling under her again, but differently, her thighs shaking, her whole being shivering, and then whimpers were turning into breathy moans, and Santiago returned to running her tongue over and over and over her clit until the moans got louder, the trembling forcing her to abandon the breasts to hold her hips tight, and every breath her captive took was a moaning gasp now.

This, this, this, even more than the screams, even more than the tears and the pain and the blood, this was the conquest she wanted, the utter capitulation to her being, the helpless way Deirdre was forced to accept the way her own body betrayed her, feeling pleasure in the hands (and mouth) of her enemy, her torturer, her better.

Deirdre gasped out her name, the final victory, and her hips jerked against their hold as she came, and Santiago finally sneaked a hand into her own uniform trousers, the finger still soaked with blood and fluids from Deirdre, and rubbed herself into a quick orgasm.

Chapter Text

Lady Deirdre Skye had been the one to propose it, and the one to achieve it, and she had risked everything and everyone on the word of the Planet. She had had to believe it was better than risking their very existence, the last of the humans, when the planet started a new cycle, if it was without them.

And now they were all one, with each other, with the planet, with the mind worms and the locusts and the fungus, and the air and the trees and the flowers and the water. But the consciousness in charge of moulding the next step in human evolution wasn't just Deirdre, because with her she brought another, as bright and glowing an individual, as strong willed as herself, as clear in her vision: the bright centre of steadfast loyalty and steely resolve that had known the name of Corazón Santiago. And instead of butting heads over the direction to take, they seemed to work together better than they ever had when still corporeal.

There was nothing to hold them back anymore, the differences in their ideologies and strategies, their very different goals and the methods to reach them, they were all gone now, irrelevant, and the part of the consciousness that had been Deirdre almost gleefully let herself be merged in what the other woman now was – a part of her, yet separate; known, yet delightfully different from her; something to get to know, to taste, to merge with.

Here, with everything distilled to ideas, the very core of their beings, they found unity and similarity of spirit in abundance, and when the new life form was formed, it glowed with the contentment and love of their perfect union – no distracting desire to possess flesh, just the mental joining of compatible minds, the complete submersion of one in the other, equal in a way their physical union could never have been, because this time there was nothing to hide, nothing one could hide, nothing that needed hiding.

The joy was incandescent, and shared with all the other parts of their shared consciousness, all the other concentrations of the memories of selves, and the consciousness was curious to realise there were many of them in the union – that all these millions of humans that had risen with the planetlife had kept a little something of what made them human, separate – individuals, even among the great unity.

And all of those concentrations of consciousness shared the joy of the union, as part of it but separate, their presence less formed than the two: separate, but together, joined but with many voices, and even if words were a thing of the past, of more indirect communication, in this form they breathed poetry.

Chapter Text

“Hand-fasting?” Colonel Corazón Santiago asked, raising her eyebrow.

“Yes. It's like a marriage with the centuries of Christian oppression taken out,” Lady Deirdre Skye replied with a smile way too serene for the mischief lurking in her eyes.

Christianity meant nothing to Santiago besides the crazy Miriam Godwinson and her fanatics. Following her train of thought she said, “And then we start with eradicating the Fanatics from the face of the planet? Miriam keeps testing my borders in the west, and even if her technology is behind ours, she does have the people to keep pouring out troops on us.”

“The safety of your people will be as important to me as mine now, dear Corazón, as soon as we seal the deal.”

“But why a... personal union? Why can't we just agree on a contract between our factions?”

“Like you and Yang?”

“Obviously not, as him I defeated fair and square. This is different, a deal between equals.”

“And I'm proposing an even more equal deal.”

“How would it even work? You may have full access to my bases, as I to yours, but I will not move into your capital. And if we are not... in the vicinity of each other, why bother with matrimony?”

“We could start a new base, a shared one, with your people and mine, maybe somewhere on our shared border.”

“It will have to be well defensible,” Santiago said before realising that implied agreement. Still, she did not... dislike the idea. “And it will not be named like your bases. I would get hives sleeping in a place called The Flowers Preach.”

“As long as it doesn't have 'Fort' in the name.”

“We'll write that in the contract,” Santiago promised solemnly, as if this crazy scheme was a done deal. Might as well play along to figure out what the other woman was really after.

“How about... Unity?” Deirdre suggested.

Santiago couldn't always tell when the other woman was serious, and when joking – she presented herself like a holier-than-thou killjoy most of the time, but her smile and the glint in her eyes hinted at gentle mockery of her fellow humans, if not herself.

Still, she liked the idea. A nod to their roots, a middle finger to the other factions by claiming the name, and a word play on the union they were creating.

“And in our personal lives? What do you expect of our... unity?”

“Companionship, mostly. It gets so... lonely, on the top, doesn't it?”

“I am too busy to consider such matters.”

“Are you? Are you really? Late at night, when you take a breath before going to sleep, do you plan troop movements? When you lay down on your bed, do you instantly go to sleep, and have no time to feel the coldness of the sheets? When you take your meals, and everyone around you is there because of duty?”

She painted a grim picture, and Santiago couldn't deny the truth in some of what she said. She wanted to protest that she was friendly with her staff, had a good working relationship with her underlings, but the other woman would pounce like a predator on the key words there: her staff, working relationship, her underlings.

She did, sometimes, wish for... companionship. More than just a shared conversation with Deirdre over the comm. More than Voki, who still was under her in hierarchy and thus... expecting anything would be problematic because of the chain of command.

Deirdre was her equal in rank and position, here on the planet, unlike they had been all those years ago in the Unity. They shared the experience of the burden of command, and now, if they were to share that burden...

“I am not against companionship,” she admitted, bowing her head slightly, to concede the point.

“Maybe even... shared meals? With discussion not always concerning our duties?”

“Now you are just being silly.”

“No, I feel it's important for us to discuss these things openly, to have a clear view as to what we are agreeing on.”

“In that case, where do you expect us to sleep, in relation to each other?”

“Are you really talking about sleeping, or other activities spouses might engage on in a bed?”

“You rather sound like a Victorian etiquette book,” Santiago said, snorting, “And surely it does not require marriage to 'engage' in those 'activities'.”

Now Deirdre bowed her head, conceding her point.

“Do you wish to share that, too?” Deirdre asked, too casually to actually be casual.

“What are we supposed to present our union as, to others?” she countered with her own question. “If purely a business matter, a question of strategic negotiation, surely out lives won't intermingle that much. If not, if it is to be something more... personal, we cannot be seen to consort with others, lest our people will view it as a sign of weakness in the union. In us.”

“True. I would feel better having a more personal union, as you called it.”

“Does that mean you wish to share my bed, then?”

“Our bed, surely.”

“Semantics.”

“Legalese.”

“Our bed, then.”

“Maybe even the shower, sometimes.”

Now she was just mocking her, surely. No matter. “I draw the line at public places,” Santiago said with conviction.

“I do have a private garden.”

“Won't the green things get stuck on your skin?” she asked, too curious and weirded out by the idea to not bring it up.

Deirdre threw her head back and laughed out loud, her whole body visibly relaxing. Did that mean the other woman felt like she'd gained the upper hand in the the negotiation? Or... had she gained what she wanted, all along. Could it be that easy?

“Are you... is this whole thing about... courting me?” she asked, frowning. She expected the other leader to laugh and declare she thought too much of herself, but Deirdre only smiled in an impish way.

“Deirdre...”

“I did want access to your scientific research as well?” she suggested, trying to suppress her smile.

Santiago shook her head and let her own smile escape. “And my troops.”

“And your troops. And lands. And your mind, and experience, and your body. But I'll share our knowledge of the planet in return.”

“And the experience of your body?”

“Any time, dear Corazón, any place.”

“Except out in public.”

“Shake on it?” Deirdre asked, her smile openly happy now, and Santiago took her hand only to use it to pull her closer to herself, until their bodies were flush.

“Seal it with a kiss,” she decided, and proceeded to do just that.

Chapter Text

Deirdre's frequency was the only one Santiago used. She had no interest in contacting anyone else on the goddamn planet, the less she heard from her old superior the better, and she had no interest in what the others were doing, but... Deirdre Skye was a name that had stuck with her.

She had had little contact with the chief botanist working in hydroponics in the ship but their paths had crossed before the mutiny, and the name – and the face – had stayed with her.

So she initiated contact between their factions, and as ridiculous as she found the whole “Lady Deirdre Skye of Gaia's Stepdaughters,” she had to admit their adapting to the conditions of their new home planet were impressive.

They were cordial, if mistrustful in the beginning, but they kept in touch, discussing the location of the other factions, their demands and successes, their wars and odds. They even shared some findings of their scientists, although Santiago held on tightly to the military adaptations, and Deirdre – Lady Deirdre – to their successes with the alien life forms.

At some point, Santiago realised she was looking forward to those calls, to sharing the news with Deirdre, hearing about her faction, her life. While she couldn't really appreciate the sentiment behind her trying to grow trees of their old home planet, she could admire the excitement in her voice, the way her serene façade was usurped by the glowing excitement of a youth, the hairs escaping from her messy bun dancing around her face.

It was only natural she'd check her own appearance in a mirror before each call. She was Colonel Corazón Santiago, and she had to represent her people with dignity. And maybe a new, shiny uniform.

When they made contact, and came to an agreement about the placement of the border between their areas (and Santiago didn't even reinforce her negotiation position with strategic troop movements, as she had with Lal and Zakharov), they started to skirt around the issue of a face to face meeting.

It was a reckless risk to take, Santiago knew that – the only way she was willing to be in the same space with any of the other faction leaders was if they were shackled in her dungeons. Not that she was planning on doing anything like that. Or had, with the crazy fanatic, Miriam. It wasn't like she had a specially crafted cell just waiting to house Yang in it.

She had to admit that their conversations had started to have less and less to do with diplomatic negotiations and more with touching base with... a friend? A friendly acquaintance, a non-threatening sounding board? In any case, the conversations had shifted, and she could only be glad. It was lonely being a leader, and the companionship over the comm lines was appreciated.

There were signs that things were changing for Deirdre as well, like when she called because her intelligence reports had told her of the Spartans' recent losses in a war against the hostile lifeforms of the planet.

“I heard about the recent mind worm attack... Santiago, I want to share our research on the local fauna with you, so that you can better protect yourselves from them.”

“And what do you want in return?” she asked, because despite the worry in the other woman's face and voice she was still a faction leader – as ruthless as any of them when protecting the interests of her own people.

“Nothing!”

“Really?”

“Maybe I want your people to not die, that's what I want in return!”

That's when Santiago knew she could risk the meeting. That she wanted the meeting. Because friendships were not conducted over a comm.

- - -

Deirdre looked so different here, without her uniform, in a flowing, shapeless dress that seemed to shimmer and flow around her. Her hair was in her characteristic messy bun, and her skin was as smooth and unlined it had been back at Unity, as if it had been mere weeks ago. She was smiling, and it wasn't the annoying little thing she wore in the beginning that vacillated between serene and smug, but something far more genuine and personal.

Santiago had known Deirdre wished this meeting, had worked to secure it for what felt like centuries, but to actually see her look happy to be meeting her... it was heady.

The self-declared Lady took Santiago (and her bodyguards) to her pride and joy, the garden filled with plants from Earth.

It should have felt like something else than just weird, but Santiago did not miss the Earth, or feel nostalgic about it because she remembered the pain and the hunger and the strife it represented. And suddenly the only thing she could think of was, I met you in a garden.

It was their pride and joy in the Unity, the few green trees and plants they'd managed to keep alive in space, and the chief botanist had apparently spent all her free time there. So when the young security officer came looking for her, officially for a statement, unofficially to sound the mood about the hydroponics labs, she was directed to the garden.

She had been in uniform, then, but her science whites where a sharp contrast to the security black. Her hair had been shorter, and the bun more orderly, hiding the curls in her hair. She hadn't smiled when Santiago first saw her, her face almost pensive, like she was already feeling the burden of command, but it had turned into a smile when she noticed the other woman. It was a polite smile, true, distant and impersonal, but I changed her face from petulance to beauty.

She noted it in an impersonal way back then, but now, when the smile was directed at her, and the uniform had been replaced by a dress that seemed to hug her body when she moved, despite its apparent shapelessness... Now she wasn't sure her noticing was impersonal. Or even friendly.

On a whim, she dismissed her bodyguards.

“How can you stand being constantly shadowed?” Deirdre asked, and Santiago scoffed.

“I'm not followed in my HQ.”

“Ah. We are a threat then?”

“You are as yet unknown in person. I mean no disrespect.”

“Oh, I didn't take it so. I just thought... well, it's much nicer to be able to ditch the formality of being a leader every now and then, isn't it? When everything you say isn't being evaluated?”

Santiago bowed her head in a slow nod, because she did agree, but did not want to appear too eager to do so.

They spent a pleasant afternoon in the garden, only referencing their negotiations in passing, and while with anyone else Santiago might have used the time to gather data to use against the other, now all her unconscious mental notes concerned the way Deirdre looked in a certain light, or the foods she mentioned liking a turn of phrase she enjoyed using.

She had not even mocked the other woman for her poetry, although luckily Deirdre had not forced too much of it on her.

It wasn't really that surprising that they'd get along in person too. They had so much in common, regardless of their different backgrounds, their seemingly different goals. But they were both leaders of their people, willing to fight tooth and nail for them.

That was one thing she had recognised almost instantly on the other woman – the charisma of a leader. Lieutenant Commander Deirdre Skye was more than just the head of the biology department, she was the leader of her side of the ship, the person these people looked up to, and if she herself had her followers, so did this woman.

Santiago did not know back then whether it would be relevant to anything, but it had not surprised her that much that Deirdre had been at the head of one of the groups commandeering a pod for a landing on the planet.

She had maybe been surprised how many people followed herself, even from Yang's own troops. Not that she'd blame them, but she admitted to certain level of bemusement – she hadn't realised how highly she was regarded by the security forces. She had been ready to go at it with just a few loyal people, her own co-workers and underlings, but in the end her starting base rivalled Yang's in size.

Deirdre had also done well for herself. Even though Santiago placed no value on sentiment herself, she had to admire the tenacity of growing Earth plants on the planet surface, as well as the harmony she'd reached with the planet life itself.

She had to admit one thing she hoped to gain from these meeting, these negotiations, was a deeper understanding of their relationship with the planet. If the fungus could be a tactical advantage instead of a hindrance, if the mind worms could be allies instead of a monster from childhood fairytales... the things they could achieve on this planet, if they only worked together!

“I doubt that vine interests you so, as I saw only politeness on your face as I showed off our treasures. What is on your mind?”

“Are you sure you want to hear it?”

The smile was warmer now, almost intimate. Did she expect sweet nothings, or deep confidences?

“I was thinking of... joinings,” she said, and maybe she didn't meant to phrase it so flirtatiously... or maybe she did.

“Oh?”

“I see how you've blended the planet life with our earthly plants, how it all grows in harmony here, in this little protected sphere. How do you think they'd fare if taken out, exposed to the real world?”

“Maybe they would be overgrown, or maybe they would survive. One could never know without testing these things.”

“Maybe it is enough to hide them here, then.”

“Are we still talking about the plants? Or are you suggesting our friendship should also remain here, in this protected sphere, and not follow us into the negotiation table?”

“Can one leave something so integral behind?”

“I thought your pragmatism would demand it.”

“Keeping this little garden in balance requires ruthless hand in weeding out the unwanted and needless sprouts. I think we are evenly matched in that sense if not others.”

“Touché.”

“Shall we leave this sphere, then?” An instinct made her offer her hand to Deirdre, who took it without hesitation. She did not know if that was an agreement or encouragement to buck the gloomy vision she'd painted with her words.

“Maybe we could take the protection of this isolation with us?” Deirdre suggested, as they reached the gate.

“I fear we are getting too metaphorical for a simple soldier like me,” Santiago replied, already regretting the symbolical conversation.

“I shall speak to thee plain soldier, then.”

“That was a quote, wasn't it? Should I know it?”

“It's Shakespeare.”

“A dead white man, you surprise me.”

“The Bard knew the magic of words well enough.”

“I am no poet.”

“But you are a diplomat to your people.”

“As I must.”

“We could achieve so much were we to combine our strengths!”

And there it was. The official portion of the visit had arrived, or maybe it had been present the whole day, just hidden under the pretty surroundings, and the double speak. Plain soldier, indeed.

“What was the Bard's 'plain soldier' speak, then?”

“I don't think we are quite there, yet.” Was there something wistful in her tone, Santiago wondered, or was it as put on as the flirtation earlier. Had Deirdre decided her charms would help her with the negotiations? And was she right? “Although I may admit that his words do echo in my mind.”

“You have me at a disadvantage then, hearing someone else's words,”

Santiago said, almost dismissively.

“I might wish they were yours,”

Deirdre countered, with a sidelong glance at her, and Santiago found herself amused despite herself.

“Should I guess, then?”

“If your mind is where mine is, I think we would know. Should we take our evening meal now, and maybe compare notes from our scientists while we are at it?”

“You offered to me the findings of your scientists regarding the mind worms, earlier.”

“And the offer stands. I can't bear to think of your people needlessly dying in agony when I have the means to aid you.”

“But you must expect something in return.”

“Your gratitude?”

“And what would you trade it to?”

“Your time.”

“As a leader, or as a soldier?”

“As a friend?”

“A friend.”

“Why do you think we are meeting like this? I wouldn't let the other leaders into my base except in chains.”

“Maybe you mean to chain me.”

“By words?”

“They can build a prison sounder than any metal.”

“You surprise me yet again, Corazón. You reject rhetoric yet come up with a metaphor like that again. Maybe you do have a soul of a poet inside you.”

“There's no cause to insult me,” she said, trying to sound stern, but the image amused her greatly. If Deirdre could see poetry in her plain soul, that might not be a bad thing. After all, the woman seemed to appreciate pretty words. “You really do not expect the technology of our superior weaponry in exchange? No credits, no troops, no aid in your wars?”

“Only in the mental level – I hope to have your ear when I need to unwind, to forget my position for a while, to... chat with a friend.”

“And you are trying to, what, quantify that friendship and pay for it in kind?”

“Well, truly in kind, by friendship – you have my ear when you need it.”

“It is a pretty ear, but I'd rather you keep it. You might look lopsided without.”

“I have plenty of hair to hide the lack. And I can't believe you can say things like that with a straight face! That is the most basic kind of humour, taking everything at the face value.”

“Who says I was joking?”

“Your laughing eyes.”

“I will not part with them, either.”

“I don't want you in parts.”

“But you do want me?” She hadn't meant to be so abrupt about that line of questioning, but she was what she was, she only had so much patience for the pretty word games of diplomacy.

“So very much,” Deirdre replied simply, and she looked so earnest, so guileless, in that moment, one might be forgiven to forget she was centuries old, and carried the scars of the dying Earth with her, just as deeply as Santiago herself.

“I am what I am,” she said, spreading her arms.

“I speak to thee plain soldier,” Deirdre quoted again, with a soft smile. “If thou canst love me for this, take me.”

Santiago merely looked at her, but the other woman had to see something responding on her face because her smile widened. “And I would take you, any way you allow me to.”

“Are we talking sex already?”

“Your sense of humour will be my death.”

It was lightly said, but Santiago baulked at the idea. She'd lost so much, so many, on Earth, during the voyage, and on this planet. She would not lose this shining person who had become the bright point of her existence here. Their talks had sustained her for years, and to be offered more...

“I'll refrain, then,”

she said, simply, hoping even something of her thoughts were visible on her face, as she lacked the words to share them, unused to being so open, leaving herself so vulnerable.

“Never be anything but you in my presence,”

Deirdre admonished, as if taking her words at their face value in her turn.

“In our little protected sphere?”

Santiago suggested.

“We'll never flourish unless we test our shared strength against the real world.”

“Pact sisters, then, to sweep all others from our way?”

“Bonded pair, working to better all our people's lives – your pragmatic spirit of survival, combined with our way of living in harmony with the planet – who could oppose us?”

“Many will try.”

“So let's make an example of Lal.”

Santiago let the smile she'd been fighting for the last minutes to finally break free. “I love the way you think.”

“Mama always told me to wait for someone who'd love me for my brain.”

“And you waited centuries to find that?”

“I waited centuries for you, Corazón. You had me at my garden in Unity, when your scorn to my little experiments turned to respect for me as a leader. Your faith in my abilities in that moment gave me strength to lead my faction to the Planet surface, and into this harsh existence.”

Santiago was speechless, at the honesty, the sincerity, at her openness, as well as the plain content of her words. For a moment she was truly shocked to silence.

“Yours was the first comm frequency I tried,” she said, a little inanely. “You were the only one I wished to locate in this wilderness.”

“Have we wasted centuries?”

“We have many more left.”

If she had any say in it, forever. No one knew the limits of the longevity treatments, except that they hadn't reached them yet.

“Could you see yourself living here?”

“We'd need to make a few changes. A Command Centre for a start.”

“And that defence field surrounding your cities, does that help against worms?”

“It helps against anyone trying to attack us.”

“Let's have one of those, too.”

It was absurd, the speed they were moving but what was the alternative? Wait for decades more to be able to meet like this again.”We'll have Tachyon Fields in all your bases – it should help with Lal chipping away your troops at the eastern border.”

“And you shall have your own mindworms at every base, and preserves to slow down the ecological damage that causes so many of the attacks.”

The garden she could live with, Santiago decided, with a little more surveillance around. And her own troops residing in the command centre, air centre and naval yard. They could rule over their factions from here, jointly. She could take care of the troops, and the fighting side of it, and Deirdre could concentrate on the efforts to get everything out of the Planet in the most optimal way. They could deal with the other factions together, and make life safer and better for all of their people.

It felt like an ending in a storybook, a fairytale her abuela had told her centuries ago back on Earth. Yet it also felt like the soundest tactical decision she had ever made, the best strategy for survival here.

No, not just survival. Something that could give value to survival. Their protected sphere. And that reminded her...

“But the most important question remains. Where would we sleep?”

Deirdre's sparkling laughter speeded their way towards her personal quarters, and to Santiago's private but heart-felt relief the other woman had an actual bed instead of a meadow or a pile of pillows on a floor, or anything like that.

“I cannot promise you'll get a lot of sleep, though” Deirdre said with false solemnity, before pulling her closer for a kiss.

Santiago had had enough of flowery phrase and suggestive lines, and quickly and efficiently divested the other woman of her clothes, even as she returned the kiss with interest before replying, “Like I give a damn.”