With a hoarse wheeze, Monarch gloated, “You won’t escape.”

Ranger set Kira down, twisted on his heel and stomped to Monarch’s twittering, mutilated form. He didn’t bother to hide his contemptuous sneer.

“I don’t have time to play any more of your little boy games.”

Monarch’s confused expression revealed he didn’t expect Ranger’s sharp retort. With an effort at regaining the upper hand, he cried out, “I destroyed your ship. My drones will finish you off.”

“Don’t bet the asteroid on it.” Ranger gave a calm flick of his arm, exposing a small object strapped to his wrist. He pressed a button, then smirked at Monarch. “You really must be insane to never consider I’d present a decoy.”

“D-decoy?”

“My hover craft --the true one-- has remained cloaked at D exit. And I just gave the command to my onboard computer to fire neutralizing rays at any drones that might still be floating around.” Ranger snapped a hand to his forehead in a mock salute. “Farewell, Lieutenant.”

Monarch sputtered in rage. “No! You can’t defeat me! Drop her!” he yelled when Ranger cradled Kira in his arms. “She must tell me the location of the new energy source!”

“Forget it, bastard.” Turning his back on Monarch, Ranger hugged Kira close to his chest and darted beneath the raining shards of exploding drones. Kira stirred, moaning. “The paralysis is fading, but…” Her eyes widened. “What did I miss?”

“Only the completion of my assignment. Monarch is destroyed and I’m bringing you back alive.” Ranger reached for the cuff of a knee-length boot. “Activating the jets. Hold on.”

Kira tightened her arms around his neck. Together, they soared near the ceiling as he maneuvered them through the chamber, and out into a wider expanse. A metallic shape came into view, a sliver appeared in its side, then a door yawned open. Ranger headed inside, gently landing Kira on her feet. Quickly, he took the pilot’s seat and punched on the console.

“Belt in,” he directed without looking at her. “We’re leaving at warp twelve.”

“Twelve!” Kira hurried to strap herself in. “This vehicle will burst apart from the stress!”

Ranger threw her an utterly attractive grin. “Not with me at the helm.”

The ship rose so smoothly that Kira had to blink twice to believe that terrain she saw through the window was actually the swiftly disappearing globe of Tekron II. She sat straighter.

“The whole asteroid is burning! What’s happening?”

“My last orders. Strategically set bombs on a precise timer.” No regret sounded in Ranger’s firm tone. “Tekron II is no more.”

With a small sigh, Kira relaxed in her seat. “But I don’t have the information on that energy source to relay to Base Command. I encrypted it when Monarch’s magnetic beam caused my ship to crash.”

Ranger swiveled his chair and faced her. He gave another of those disarming grins. “Got you covered, Scientist Level 3 Kira. I found your ship and retrieved the data. It’s safely been transmitted already.”

“My,” Kira murmured in approval. “You’re certainly thorough. You’ve proven to be the man that every girl needs.”

“Maybe I only want one girl to need me.” Ranger leaned closer, his ardent gaze speeding her pulse to an alarming rate.

“Hm.” Kira gave a non-committal shrug while she watched him through her lashes. “There’s something I want to know. Don’t you have a name?”

He gave a deep, throaty chuckle. “First things first.” Gloved hands framing her face, he lowered his head, taking his own sweet time to travel his warm, sensuous lips over hers.

Below, the asteroid that once was Tekron II flared with the brightness of a million lit candles, then dimmed into the nothingness of cold black space.

The End