Darrell Stewart didn't see the three spaceships until they slipped, one by one, from behind the asteroids that hid them. A split-second before he saw them, every alarm on his small ship went off.

"Damn!" he cursed, "they're after the princess!"

Darrell slapped all the 'off' buttons. "Lotta good you did!" he said, not seeing the blonde who rushed in. "What happened?" she started, then looked at the three ships on the viewscreen. "Good lord! I thought you said I'd be safe with you!"

"I thought you would!" he snarled back. "One ship wouldn't be as likely to attract unwanted attention. Info musta leaked. But," he added, "you aren't captured yet, Princess Mara."

Darrell punched in a command for a 180-degree flip of his ship, depending on his antigrav field to provide inertia to protect them from the change in momentum, then released a cloud of metallic filaments to interfere with his pursuers' sensors.

There was only one clear way out of the asteroid field. Only one, so he chose not to take it Too obvious. He also slipped by the first two chunks that were big enough to hide behind, for the same reason. Then he chose the third one.

"Get into your UBS," he snapped. He was already in his own Universal Body Suit; in fact, he wore it most of the time.

Mara, the Iswan princess, shook her blonde strands -- not in denial, but in disbelief. "I am not used to being addressed in that fashion! Just because you have the responsibility of delivering me --"

"--Puts me in charge!" Darrell shot back. "Your safety is vital to my mission, so get on your damned UBS!"

He spared a moment to watch her stiff, yet luxurious body as she left. "Shame she's a princess," he muttered to himself, "not to mention that I'm being paid to take her to her big wedding! Oh, well; that's life." Then he returned to the control board.

When Mara returned, the viewscreen was showing first one, then another of the opposing ships as they passed. "Good!" the princess said. "They're leaving." "Put on your faceplate!" Darrell ordered.

"Why?" she asked, still resentful of him issuing orders. "Your trick worked. They're leaving."

"Because I'm about to suck our oxygen out," he replied. "Then I'll turn off most everything and we go outside. I saw a cave where we can hide." As she opened her mouth, he continued, "Put on your faceplate if you don't wanna suffocate! There's lotsa carbon in that rock, which will mess up their life-detecters. And that's only two that have gone. Can't you count?"

Drawing herself up haughtily, Mara indignantly said. "I have mastered all the higher forms of mathematics! I was just assuming --"

"'Assume'," Darrell quoted, "'is making an ass out of you and me!'" Taking no heed of her royal response to his vulgarity, he continued, "This is just their answer to my trick. We want to offer nothing for them to detect. Snap on your faceplate!"

Angrily, Mara closed her faceplate. "Satisfied?" she asked, standing tautly upright.

Instead of bothering to answer, Darrell started the airpump. When they were next to airless, he turned it off and then switched off nearly everything else. He hadn't updated his UBS suits, so they only contained half an hour's worth of oxygen. That worried him, but he wasn't going to let her see. On the other hand, the grav plates on the soles of their shoes worked properly, keeping them steady on the low-grav asterpod. "Come with me," he ordered. When he was certain she wasn't watching, he set his cuff alarm to ring in twenty minutes.

Wordlessly, Mara followed.

Darrell led the way to the crystal airlock. "After you, Your Highness," he said, sarcasm thick in his voice. He watched Mara walk up to the airlock and thought, "At least she has sense enough on how to use an airlock!" as she slowly approached the crystal and stepped into it and walked through as the airlock substance folded around her. When she had exited, he followed.

He held one finger in front of his mouth to indicate silence, then motioned for her to follow him to the cave. As he entered it, he was surprised to find it went further than he had expected and, after a curve, there was a distant green glow. "Weird! Phosphoresence," he thought and, cautiously he went toward it, Princess Mara close behind.

Stranger yet, when they went through the faintly-glowing green hole . . . the saw that this huge chunk of rock was hollow!

Princess Mara gave a very unregal response. "WOW!" she exclaimed -- and then she screamed.

Darrell spun around to see something like a green snake that was wrapped around Mara's ankles and working its way up. "Dammit!" he thought. "No weapons!" Then he remembered there was one weapon -- his UBS. It gave him extra strength, which he used by planting one foot on the rock beneath him and, with the other foot, kicking at the green thing.

Almost a foot-long piece of the green separated from the rest of it and flew across the interior. The remainder withdrew.

Mara threw her arms around him and held on tightly. "Thank you, thank you! What was that . . . whatever it was?" As she said it, a big blob of green dropped on them from overhead and enveloped them.

Before the princess could scream again, Darrell snapped, "Keep quiet! Be still." He found his arms around Mara's supple body, and obeyed his own instructions, holding her tightly against him. The extremely tough skin of the UBS was also surprisingly thin, Through it, he could feel her beart beating. He risked whispering an explantaion: "If we're still and quiet,it might go away. It can't penetrate our UBS."

"Al . . . alright," Mara managed. He was proven right when, in minutes that seemed like days, the strange material oozed away and rippled off. Looking around, he saw other places in the enterior where blobs dropped and moved about. "We've got to go back," he whispered.

Glancing about, Mara asked, "How?"

Darrell saw what she meant; there was no nearby entrance, only green slime. "Slowly," he said. "Back this way."

They edged along through the mess and then Darrell stopped. "I think it was about here," he said, putting a hand to the wall . . . and touching rock. At the same time, more slime poured over them.

Mara didn't scream, and Darrell admired her courage. He was ready to scream himself, and shout a thousand curses. Then he felt something coil around his ankles. "Damn!" he exclaimed, and reached down and tore the snakelike thing loose.

The slime tightened around them.

"Okay," he snarled, "no more Mr Nice Guy! Duck, Mara!" He still had the piece of green snake-thing in his hands, and he started swinging it around. "Your UBS gives you extra strength, remember!" he told Mara. "Just follow me. . . when I make room."

He wasn't sure how long it took but he did hear his cuff alarm go off. "Damn!" he thought. "What next?" He kept flailing away, but it didn't seem they were making much headway.

"Was that an air alarm?" Mara asked, showing she was more savvy about the UBS than he had guessed.

"Still got plenty of time," he said, batting away more green slime and running one hand along the rock wall. Every time he did, more slime wrapped about them. Moving was like struggling through green mud -- thick green mud.

At last, he found the exit. "Here!" he gasped. "They don't seem to like the outside."

The slime didn't follow them.

Straightening, Darrell leaned against the side of the cave, breathing deep. . . or he tried breathing deep.

Air wouldn't come. He collapsed.

"Your air!" Mara cried. "You've used it all up! I can't get you back in the ship, because I don't know the code! --I know!" she said, kneeling beside him. She pressed her faceplate against his and, in brief seconds, the plates melded and her nose was pressed against his. Wonderful air rushed in.

In seconds, Darrell pushed her off. "Get away from me!" he said. "I'm supposed to be taking care of you!" Getting to his feet, he added, "Come on."

Back in the ship, Darrell closed the control room door and let air in there only. He opened his faceplate and luxuriated as the blessed stuff filled the room. When Mara put up her own faceplate and kissed him solidly, he didn't resist.

When they separated, he held her and looked into her warm eyes. "How did you know what to do?"

"I've been in space quite a bit," she explained. "All the activity you were doing used up your air, while I was just tagging along. I knew the faceplates would meld and that I had plenty of air." She smiled. "Okay?"

Darrell held her again and returned her kiss. "Very, very okay," he said. Engrossed as he was in the kiss, he still noted the viewscreen showing the departure of the last ship.

For the remainder of the trip, Mara was relaxed, no longer the stiff and haughty princess.

+ + +

When they landed at their destination planet, Darrell leaned back. "That's where you get married," he told Mara, who was seated on his lap.

"We escaped the attackers," Mara said. "We escaped the slime. Isn't there some way we can escape this?"

The same thoughts had gone through Darrell's mind -- and he saw only one solution.

He shook his head.

"But. . .I thought you loved me," Mara said.

"I lusted for you," Darrell corrected, leading her to the airlock. "You are a very sexy dish. I'm sure you would be very good in bed. Don't read too much into that."

The princess paused, then shook her head in disbelief. "I didn't. . . I couldn't --"

"--Imagine anyone could avoid falling for your lovely ass?" Darrell sneered.

"Well!" Mara said, stiffening. "Very well. I shan't bother you again!" She turned and stalked regally through the airlock.

Darrell sighed, his throat constricted, as he watched her leave. "Sorry, Mara," he thought with heart-felt regret. "Didn't like being so rough, but it would never have worked out." Shaking his head sadly, he turned and went back to his control room.
CONTENTS

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