Wanted - Dead or Alive
From a hilltop vantage point, Luke Skywalker scanned the green landscape with his macrobinoculars, finally sighing and lower the unit. "Not a thing."
"They're not coming," Han Solo stated firmly, folding his arms across his chest as he leaned against a large boulder. "I knew it. You can't trust a Trandoshan. Simple as that."
Princess Leia Organa shot a glare at the smuggler. "Klarr is a Saurin, not a Trandoshan, and his clan has been supplying the rebellion with information for months. We need those particle guns he promised to sell us."
"Months? Big deal," Han countered. "If Saurins are so much different than Trandoshans, then why did he ask directly about whether Chewie was coming along? They're all the same, if ya ask me. Nasty lizards that hate Wookiees."
"I didn't ask you," Leia responded. "He'll be here. He must have been delayed for some reason."
"Klarr didn't say Chewie couldn't come," Luke pointed out. "He just asked if he was coming with us."
"The way he phrased it, 'Will that worthless hair-covered beast that is incapable of speaking in basic be tagging after his master?' isn't implying he'd rather not have Chewie with us?" Han asked with a scowl. "Chewie wasn't happy when the rebel brass told him to stay at the base. He takes his life-debt to me serious."
"Seriously," Leia corrected the Corellian automatically, her mind already racing ahead to the myriad of reasons Klarr had failed to show.
"I ain't kiddin', Princess," Han said tightly.
Hearing his annoyed tone, Leia twisted her neck to gaze up at the smuggler. "I've never questioned Chewbacca's loyalty to you, Captain."
"Then why did you say that?"
"Say what?" Leia asked, her own irritation level rising.
Luke decided it was time to interfere before things escalated out of control. "She was just pointing out the correct word was 'seriously', not 'serious', Han."
"I don't need any lesson from Her Royal Grammarness," Han snapped.
"Apparently, you do," Leia replied, unable to keep the superior tone from her voice.
Desperate to forestall an argument, Luke held up his hands in a peaceful gesture. "Hey, it's just that we're all tired and hot, and that makes us say things we normally wouldn't say."
"Says who?" Han asked.
"Did you see that pretty little pond on the way up here?" Luke questioned, trying to change the subject.
"What about it?"
"Well, it looked like a nice place to cool off," Luke explained, motioning his bickering two friends to follow. "Wouldn't that feel good? A nice dip in a refreshing pond. It even had a waterfall."
"You're obsessed with water, Kid."
"It's better than what you're obsessed with, Solo," Leia said, carefully making her way down the rocky trail.
"What would that be, Princess?" Han asked with a leer.
Leia refused to take the bait. "We don't have swimsuits, Luke."
"Not a problem," Han said quickly, before Luke could answer. "We'll skinny dip."
The Princess's eyes widened at that comment. "Not a chance, Flyboy! It'll be a snowy day on Tatooine before you'll ever see me undressed."
By this point, Luke had led them back to the pond, and the young man was already grinning in anticipation of the refreshing bath. "We can swim in our underwear."
"Feel free to do just that, Luke," Leia said, plunking down on a suitable rock. "I'll sit and wait for you to have your fun."
"She'd rather have her fun watching us," Han told his friend with a wink. "Wet shorts get mighty revealing."
This time, Leia's temper boiled over. "How dare you!" She leapt up from the rock. "I'd rather watch a couple of Gamorrean mud wrestlers!"
"And to think that the boys back at base say you have no sense of fun," Han chided, shaking his head. He started to take off his shirt, waiting for the Princess's next reaction. It didn't take long.
"What are you doing?"
"Stripping down. You wanna watch?"
"Argh!" Leia spluttered out, feeling her face flush at the sight of the shirtless Corellian. "I'm going back to that dump heap of yours and wait there." She spun on her boot toe and stomped off through the thicket.
"Maybe we should forgo the swim and follow her," Luke said, looking over his shoulder at the inviting pond. "She shouldn't walk around alone. It could be dangerous."
Han continued undressing. "The Falcon is only parked about three hundred yards away, and we haven't seen a living soul since we got here. Her Holy Huffiness has a blaster and she can take care of herself. 'Sides, now that she's gone, we don't have to worry about modesty."
Luke knew from experience that Han spoke the truth – more than a few times in the past the spunky Princess had saved their necks, and not the other way around. Besides, that pond was very, very tempting…. "You're right. She'll be fine for an hour." Quickly, Luke peeled off his clothing, and cannonballed into the small lake.
In another pond, on another planet, in another time…..
"This does feels great," the blue-eyed blond-headed man said, dunking his head under the water. "I'm glad I let you talk me into taking this swim."
Another man, this one with dark hair and brown eyes, was currently swimming in the middle of the pond, and he settled into an upright bob to talk. "You've got to listen to me, Kid. I always know what's best, because I'm the brains."
The blond man gave a strained look over at his friend. "Hey, Brains. Have you considered the fact that while we're wasting time enjoying this cool dip, those bounty hunters are getting closer and closer?" He waved his hand toward their clothes, boots, and weapons sitting a few yards away, safe and dry. "I still think we should've worn our skivvies."
"Are you joking?" the other man replied. "I hate how wet woolens feel. First they get prickly, and then they get all dry and scratchy."
"Could've killed two birds with one stone," the blond said. "Our monthly bath plus a clothes washing." After a moment, he asked, "How do you suppose those men found out we were in town?"
The dark-haired man shook his head sadly. "Never trust a woman, that's what I always say."
"I don't think Clem is behind this," the other man argued. "She may not be opposed to blackmailing us on occasion, but she's still a friend."
"You still think it's a coincidence that right after we stopped by her place, all of a sudden Briscoe and his clowns show up in town? Well, I don't. She sold us out."
The blond was about to argue the point when he became distracted by a strong current of swirling water. "Did someone pull out the plug on this tub?"
"What are you babbling about now?" The other man tried to move toward shore, but immediately was pulled into deeper water, with his partner pulled along as well. "What's going on?"
"I was trying to tell you – Brains - that we're caught in some type of undertow!"
"That's not possible!" He frantically, and unsuccessfully, tried to swim toward the edge of the small lake.
"Try telling the lake that…"
Both men were sucked underwater.
"We'd better get back to the Falcon," Luke said, trying not to sound disappointed that the reprise was over. "Leia might have gotten in contact with Klarr."
"I hope not," Han muttered, pulling himself out of the pond. "I still don't trust a Trandoshan."
"Han," Luke said, his voice sounding a bit panicky.
"I… I can't swim closer to shore. There's some type of whirlpool swirling around me all of a sudden."
The Corellian noted that Luke wasn't kidding, and the younger man was being sent in a tightening circle toward the center of the pond by a menacing vortex. "Hold on, Luke. I'm coming." Han jumped back into the water and swam in confident strokes over to his friend. "Grab my hand!"
Luke grasped the smuggler's wrist, and desperately tried to pull himself free of the current. The only thing he accomplished was pulling Han into the whirlpool with him. "Now we're both in trouble," Luke gasped, trying to keep his head above water.
"You can say that again," Han agreed, thrashing about fruitlessly.
Seconds later, both men were pulled under the water.
Coughing and spluttering, Han and Luke both surfaced at the same instant, the swirling water once again quiet and still.
"Are.. are you okay?" Luke asked, retching from the amount of water he'd swallowed in those few seconds.
Han didn't immediately reply, since he was intent upon reaching the edge of the pond and safety. Dragging himself onto dry land, he helped Luke ashore. "That was a close call. I wonder what in Sith-spit caused the pond to do that?"
The younger man shook his head. "Maybe there was a small ground trembler, and it caused a rift to open up under the water."
"Strange that it would stop so fast, though," Han said. "If a fissure opened it seems to me all the water would have gone underground, and us with it."
"True," Luke conceded. "Let's be grateful we're still alive to discuss it."
"We're not telling the Princess about this," Han ordered as he stood up. "She'll just gloat over the fact she was smart enough not to go for a swim in the first place."
Luke stood up as well. "Leia wouldn't do that. She'll be glad we didn't drown."
"Only that you didn't drown," Han argued. "I doubt she'd care what happened to me."
Luke sighed. "The Princess likes you fine… when you're not being mean or saying hurtful things to her."
"Yeah, right," Han replied. He turned to pick up his clothes, and then frowned down at the ground. "What the hells?"
Luke quickly noticed what Han was looking at. "What happened to our clothes?"
Han reached down and pulled up a grayish, ratty, one piece outfit with a series of buttons down the front. "This stuff smells." He bent over and retrieved a black, wide brimmed hat, staring at the object in disdain. "I've never much cared for hats, myself."
The Tatooine native retrieved a gun rig along with the second set of clothes, and stared at the strangest looking weapon he'd ever seen. "What's this?"
"Looks like an antique blaster," Han replied. "I'll bet this is Leia's doing. She snuck back here when we weren't lookin' and replaced our clothes and weapons with this garbage. I'll bet she even took the time to spy on us, and enjoy the view."
"Great scenario there, except one thing – where did Leia get this stuff?" Luke held up the gun belt, a questioning look in his eyes.
"I…" Han stopped short, puzzled. "I have no idea. Maybe she ran into Klarr, the Trandoshan."
"Saurin," Luke corrected, then asked, "Why would a Saurin be carrying these things around?"
"They probably belonged to some natives, and Klarr ate them. By giving them to Leia, he's figuring on having the locals put the blame on us."
"You have got to be the most suspicious person I've ever met," Luke complained, right before a loud bang reverberated through the air, and a tree branch next to his head shattered into a thousand splinters.
"Someone's shooting at us, Kid," Han yelled. "Now tell me again how suspicious I am."
"Git yer hands up where I can see 'em, varmints," a man's voice yelled out from the bushes. "Or the next shot will be 'tween yer eyes."
Back on Dantooine, a second set of men pulled themselves out of the water, gasping and gagging.
"I am never going into a swimming hole again," the blond stated. "Tubs are safer."
"But not nearly as exciting," the dark haired man replied. He gave a wide, dimpled grin at his friend. "We'd better get dressed and riding before those Bannerman boys get close."
Nodding, the taller man headed toward their clothing, then stopped short. "Heyes?"
"What is it, Kid?"
"These don't appear to be ours."
"That's not possible," Hannibal Heyes argued as he stepped closer. He reached down and grabbed a white shirt, carefully inspecting the various alien looking clasps. "You're right."
"Thank you," Kid Curry replied sarcastically. He held up what appeared to be a gun belt. "Have you ever seen anything so strange in your life?"
Heyes whipped his head around, scanning the ground. "Where's our clothes? More important, where's our guns?"
"Looks like they've been stolen, and replaced by this garbage."
"What about our horses?" Heyes asked worriedly.
"We'd better go check on them," Curry agreed, pulling on some dark slacks that were embellished with a gold stripe down the outer leg. Then he picked up a shiny black boot and tugged it onto his foot before admiring the footwear. "Mighty fancy."
"Now what are you doing?"
Curry paused briefly. "Do you plan on running around Colorado naked?"
"Guess not," Heyes grumbled, then tugged on light beige pants and a loose white tunic. He struggled to understand the clasps, and when he finished, he held up a pair of shorts. "What are these for?"
"Maybe they go on the outside," Curry suggested. "To protect these fancy pants from getting holes rubbed in by saddles."
Shrugging, both men pulled the shorts over the their slacks. "I gotta say these are the softest clothes I've ever worn in my life," Heyes commented as he put on the dark, pocketed vest, and then admired the even stitching along the edges. He picked up the heavy gun belt, and pulled out the weapon. "It sorta looks like a gun, don't it?"
"I'm the gun expert," Curry pointed out, jerking the weapon from his partner's fingers. The outlaw aimed at a tree branch, and carefully pulled what he hoped was the trigger. A bright red flash emitted from the end of the gun, and the tree was left with a large, smoking hole in the limb. Curry threw down the gun, and backed away, wide-eyed. "What… the ..! Fire came out of the end! Did you see that? What kind of gun spits out fire?"
"I don't have a clue," Heyes whispered in awe. He pointed at the ground, where several other strange objects still lay. "I wonder what those things are?"
"Go right ahead and check them out," Curry said, taking a step back. "I'll wait over here."
Heyes sighed, and bent over to retrieve a box shaped object that vaguely resembled binoculars. Holding it up to his eyes, he could see nothing, so he discarded that and picked up a silver metal cylinder. "What do you suppose this could be?"
"Looks like another strange sorta gun, but I'm not testing it."
"Well, I'll try it," Heyes said as he pointed what he sincerely hoped was the dangerous end toward the still-smoking branch. He pressed one of the buttons and cringed. Nothing happened. After another cursory inspection, he tried again, this time with more success. A bright, blue beam of light shot out from the tube, and Heyes gave a startled yelp before dropping the light stick, which immediately turned itself off, although not before leaving a black scorch mark on the ground. "What is all this stuff?"
"I don't know, but I say we get to our horses, and forget we ever saw any of it," Curry said.
"Leave it?" Heyes shook his head negatively. "I don't have any clue what it is, but it might be valuable. Besides, that strange gun is the only weapon we've got right now."
Curry knew his friend was correct, and reluctantly retrieved the bizarre gun from the ground, while Heyes gingerly picked up the silver tube and the useless binoculars.
The men hiked up the narrow trail, eager to reach their mounts. As they entered the meadow where they'd left the animals, they were utterly astonished to see a very large, dish-shaped metal 'house' sitting on posts in the field instead.
A ratty looking human with several days' growth of beard and a gray hat slowly exited the brush, pointing a silver gun-type object in Han and Luke's direction. "You toss me them guns and put them clothes on, Heyes and Curry. My partners will be along shortly, now that I've fired off a warning shot." He spit a wad of brown liquid out from between his stained teeth and lips.
"These aren't our clothes," Luke tried explaining.
"That's the local I was telling you about," Han whispered to Luke. "Blaming us for Klarr eating his friends."
"I don't care whose clothes they is," the man growled. "I ain't interested in lookin' at yer nekked butts any longer than I hafta."
With a weapon pointed in their direction, Han and Luke obeyed the man. Luke wrinkled up his nose as he slid the shirt over his head. "You're right, Han. These clothes stink. I wonder when they were last run through a recycler."
"They're scratchy, too," Han griped. "We're going to get bit up by bugs, I just know it."
"Quit yer complainin' about bugs," the man yelled in annoyance. "Them are yer clothes, Heyes, so it stands to reason them bugs are yours, too."
"My name isn't Heyes," Han argued. "You've got us mixed up with someone else."
"Don't try corn-fusing me," the man snapped. "I heard ya calling him 'Kid' as in 'Kid Curry'," he waved his gun toward Luke, "and I heard him callin' ya Han, which is short fer 'Hannibal Heyes', so I ain't mixed up, neither."
"My name is Luke Skywalker," Luke tried to explain again. "And my friend's name is Han Solo. Han just calls me 'kid' as a nickname."
"I know 'Kid' is a nickname," the man ground out. "Whaddya take me fer, a fool?"
"Sorta," Han muttered rather loudly. He yanked on a narrow-toed boot. "This is too tight. It's pinching my toes."
Luke inspected the other pair of boots, and spun a little ridged disk with his finger. "What do you suppose these dura-metal wheels on the heel are used for? They look dangerous."
"You two quit yer jabberin', or I'll shoot yer dead," the man yelled loudly. "Yer both wanted dead or alive, and I don't right care which one it is 'bout now."
Luke frowned at the angry man. "How do you know about the Empire's reward on us?"
"Empire? Since when's the territory of Wyoming an Empire?" His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Are you in cahoots with them King's Redcoats?"
"King?" Luke questioned, confused. "Palpatine's an Emperor, not a king."
Han lunged forward, throwing himself at the man's ankles and tackling him to the ground. The gun fired again, this time into the air before Luke joined in and wrestled the weapon away while Han climbed to his feet.
"Stupid conversation, anyway," Han stated, pointing one of the weapons down at the grungy human.
The now-disarmed man glared up at the pair, seemingly unconcerned about this turn of events. "All this'll do is getcha a ride inside a pine box to Wyoming."
Han turned to Luke. "He said he had friends coming. My advice is… let's get to the Falcon, fast."
"Yer can run, but yer can't run fast enough," the man warned.
Leaving the unarmed, crazy local behind, Han and Luke hurried up the narrow trail, intent on reaching the safety of the battered freighter. As they entered the meadow where they'd left the ship parked, they skidded to a stop, shocked to see it was no longer there, and in its place were two large animals tied to a tree, grazing on the green grass.
"Have you ever seen anything like that in all your born days? Curry asked, scratching his head as he gazed up at the huge metal disk. "What do you suppose it is?"
Heyes rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "No, I haven't. Maybe it's part of a train, and it fell off."
"Fell off? From what?"
"From the rest of the train," Heyes explained, rolling his eyes.
"In the first place, there aren't train tracks around here, and in the second place, it doesn't have wheels, Heyes."
"I see that," Heyes replied, annoyed. "The fact it doesn't have wheels might be why it fell off to begin with."
"I reckon it's a new-fangled stagecoach," Curry mused aloud.
"Stagecoach?" Heyes scoffed. "Do you see anywhere to hitch horses to it? Besides, it looks way too big and heavy for horses to pull."
"I'll bet a dozen plow horses could pull it," Curry argued. "My idea is just as good as yours."
"It is not."
Heyes pointed to an opening in the metal object, with a ramp leading up to the inside. "I say we should go check it out. Maybe it's a bank, and they've got a safe with lots of money."
"We're trying to go straight," Curry pointed out. "Safe-cracking is on the list of things we shouldn't do anymore. Besides, what would a bank be doing stuck out in the middle of nowhere?"
"I never said it was a bank for sure," Heyes said, miffed. "I'm just trying to come up with theories." He started to move toward the strange 'house', and Curry reluctantly followed.
"Are you sure going inside is a good idea?"
"Of course it is," Heyes responded. "When have I ever had a bad idea?"
"When you pushed a safe off a cliff to try to get it to bust open, and it got buried in mud instead? Or how about the time you thought you were buying a horse, and it turned out to be a white elephant… literally? Or the time.."
"Shut up," Heyes snapped. "So I'm not perfect. Are you?"
"Never said I was."
Slowly and cautiously, they moved up the ramp and entered the dimly glowing interior. "Stinks in here," Heyes remarked, sniffing the air.
"Kind of like a wet dog that rolled in wheel grease," Curry said in agreement. "It sure isn't a bank."
"There still might be something valuable, though," Heyes said.
"I have a blaster set on high, so if you value your life you'd better put down those weapons and put your hands up where I can see them," a feminine, yet deadly sounding voice came from behind the two outlaws.
"What happened to my ship?" Han yelled indignantly, stomping into the meadow and causing the two animals to become skittish and snort. "The Princess must've stolen her."
"Leia wouldn't do that," Luke argued. "Something's wrong here."
"I'll say," Han agreed, scowling. "She was mad at me, so she left. I'm sure she thinks she's being funny, and teaching me some type of a behavior lesson."
"Han, listen to me for a minute," Luke insisted. "Do you see any imprint on the ground from the landing struts?"
"No," Han admitted, albeit reluctantly.
Luke pointed up to the trees. "Snapped branches? There were a few of those broken off when we landed here."
"No broken branches," Han said, looking up at the trees.
"The Falcon was never here."
"Then where is it?"
"I'm not sure," Luke confessed, then tilted his head. "Listen."
Han concentrated, and nodded. "Someone's coming. A whole lot of someones, by the sound of it."
"It must be the partners of that local guy," Luke said. "They're probably not inclined to calmly and rationally discuss this in a committee, either."
"We should get out of here, before it's too late," Han agreed. "Especially since they're not too concerned about whether they capture this Heyes and Curry alive or dead."
"I couldn't agree more," Luke said. "Let's get on those equinoids and see if we can find Leia. I hope she isn't in trouble with the locals, like we seem to be."
"We have to ride those beasts?" Han asked, pointing to the brown horses. "They look dangerous. And uncomfortable."
"From the sound of it, the natives are coming on equinoids," Luke stated. "Do you think we can outrun them on foot?"
Han gave a long-suffering sigh as he headed over to the jittery animals. "Calm down, boy," Han told the lighter colored of the two brown horses. "I'm sure this will be as bad for me as it is for you."
Both men did as they were told, then slowly turned to see a petite, dark-haired woman with a hair style they'd never seen before. She was wearing dark green shirt and pants. Pants! But what caught their attention was the fact she was waving the same type of fire weapon they had found next to the pond. "Howdy," Heyes said, giving his widest grin, the kind that always seemed to work on almost every female. "I suppose you might be wondering why we came into your house uninvited."
"No, actually, I'm wondering why you're wearing my friends' clothes, and carrying their weapons," the lady replied, her eyes flashing with anger. "If I find out you've hurt them in any way, I won't be responsible for my actions."
"What friends would that be?"
"Two men," the lady shot back. "Han Solo and Luke Skywalker."
"Han Solo? Is he Chinese?" Heyes questioned.
The woman frowned. "He's Corellian."
"From Corellia," the young woman explained tightly.
Heyes looked over at his partner. "That must some place foreign, like Constantinople. Or maybe Timbuktu."
"Where are those places?" Curry asked.
"Don't rightly know. I just recall reading the names in a fancy New York newspaper."
"When did you ever get your hands on a New York newspaper?"
"A while back," Heyes said. "Someone left it on a train we held up, and I took it when we rode off."
"Shut up!" the woman ordered, her face flushing with anger. "Where are my friends?"
Heyes and Curry eyed each other, then shrugged. "We don't know where they went. We found these clothes on the edge of the pond."
"And just felt compelled to put them on and steal them?" When she noted the men's arms were lowering a bit, she waved the gun again in a threatening gesture. "Put those hands back up."
"Well, no," Curry said, seeing that Heye's usual charm wasn't working. "We were swimming in that pond, and when we got out of the water, our clothes were gone, and these were the only thing left. We never saw anyone else swimming there. Honest."
"I don't believe you."
"Why would we lie to you?"
"I don't know," she snapped back. "Why are you wearing underwear on top of pants? Some things just can't be explained."
Heyes looked down. "Those short pants are supposed to go under the long pants? We didn't know that."
"We can help you look for your friends," Heyes volunteered.
"We can?" Curry asked, looking at his friend for clarification. "What about Briscoe's hired guns?"
"Who's Briscoe?" the woman questioned sharply.
"A very unfriendly fellow," Heyes explained. "Oh, I should introduce myself and my friend. Joshua Smith at your service, ma'am. My friend's name is Thaddeus Jones." When the young lady continued to glare, he added, "And your name would be?"
"That's a mighty pretty name, Leia."
"Maybe the posse had something to do with your friends' disappearance," Heyes suggested. "They're the sort that shoots first and asks questions later."
Curry nodded. "If they only saw two men taking a swim, they might have thought it was us from a distance."
"I guess that's a possibility," Leia conceded. "Which means, once again, it's up to me to rescue those flyboys' sorry butts."
Heyes and Curry glanced at each other, confused at the young woman's terminology. "We'll do whatever we can to help, right Thaddeus?"
"Right, Joshua," Curry said unhappily.
"Mistress Leia?" a prim voice called out from around the curve of the corridor. "Is everything alright? My audio receptor is unable to identify the voices you are conversing with in the corridor." The golden droid came tottering stiffly around the corner, and came to a stop. "Oh, so I am correct. We do have visitors."
Eyes wide and mouths agape, Heyes and Curry tried to turn and run away. Unfortunately, they only managed to trip and knock over a barrel-shaped object that emitted a loud, squealing whistle as the two humans tumbled to the floor.
"Ow, ow, ow…" Han complained as they bounced along, their rears slapping up and down against the hard leather saddles. "This is painful beyond words."
"I wonder who these equinods belonged to," Luke asked from his mount, which was currently in the lead. "They might be really mad at us for stealing their animals."
"I'll tell them it was all your idea," Han replied before asking, "What makes you think these are called equinods? I'm thinking they're more closely related to a pulga."
"Don't you mean bordoks?"
"No, I'm pretty sure they're called pulgas."
"At least they seem to be vegetarians, unlike arqets."
"You wouldn't catch me trying to ride an arqet," Han agreed as he swiped the sweat from his forehead. "Now I know why the locals wear hats. That sun is hot."
"We should see if these equinoids can go any faster," Luke said.
"FASTER? Are you crazy?"
"No, I'm not," Luke replied, glancing back over his shoulder. "Those locals are catching up." Giving his animal a gentle nudge with the Force, he was gratified when the beast broke into a much faster run. Han's animal immediately increased its stride to keep up.
"It's not as painful at this speed, is it?" Luke yelled over at Han.
"Not until we fall off," Han yelled back. "Kid?"
"Do you have any idea where we're going? Or how we're supposed to find Leia? Or what we're going to do for food or water if this search takes a while?"
"Glad to hear it."
The faster pace seemed to do the trick, and the sound of their pursuers faded in the distance. After long moments of silence, Han asked, "So, just asking, what made you decide to head in this direction? The Force told you so?"
"No," Luke replied. "It's the direction my equinoid wanted to go."
"Our entire future lies with the whim of some brainless pack animal? How reassuring."
"Animals usually have a good reason to head in a particular direction. I'm hoping he's a sensible equinoid." A few minutes later, they crested a hill, and Luke pointed. "Look. There's a little village. The equinoid knew what he was doing."
"Yeah, leading us right into the heart of an angry mob with pitchforks and torches," Han muttered.
As they neared a small, wood-frame house at the outskirts of the town, both equinoids came to a stop. "Home, sweet home," Han said.
The front door banged open, and a dark-haired woman rushed out. "Heyes! Curry! You have to hide… " She skidded to a stop near the animals, looking up in confusion at the two riders. "You're not Heyes and Curry."
"Well, you don't look like Princess Leia, so I guess we're even," Han grumbled.
The woman whipped a gun out from behind her long skirt, and pointed it at Han. "We're only even when I say we're even. Now get off those stolen horses before I put a hole in you."
"First thing that comes out of your mouth and you go insult the lady," Luke grumbled as he dismounted. "Good job."
Han looked over at Luke as he slowly and painfully crawled off his animal. "This isn't my fault. I only said she didn't look like Leia. How was I to know she would act like her?"
"Now what did you do to poor Heyes and Curry?" the slender, dark haired female demanded, brandishing the pistol in their direction. She was wearing a long dress, and wore her hair up on top of her head.
Luke groaned. "We've never met those two guys. You've got to believe us."
"I don't have to believe anything," the lady snapped. "You coming riding up to my home wearing their clothes, riding their ponies, and carrying their weapons. I wasn't born yesterday. What I do believe is that you killed them. That's a hanging offense in these parts."
Han scratched his chin. "That guy that was shooting at us when we got out of the pond said someone named Briscoe was after Heyes and Curry, and those two were wanted dead or alive. Even if we did kill them -which we didn't - it doesn't seem to me the law would hang us. In fact, they might even give us some credits."
At first the woman seemed dismayed at that comment, then she smirked. "Unfortunately for you, Briscoe was the only one in that posse that could've recognized that you weren't Heyes and Curry, and he's currently indisposed." She tilted her chin up defiantly. "And I won't be corrected them, if that's what you have in mind."
"Indisposed? In what way?" Luke asked, becoming concerned.
"Right after he rounded up the local men, he got a telegram from Denver, claiming he was urgently required back at the Bannerman detective headquarters. I don't know the details, but he ordered the hired men to find you, and then took off on the next stagecoach like he had a burr under his saddle."
"Eventually someone will figure out we're the wrong guys," Han argued, not bothering to ask what a 'burr', 'stagecoach', or a 'telegram' was, since it would only side-track the conversation.
"If you're shot dead by the posse, will it matter?"
Luke decided to try a less confrontational approach. "What's your name, by the way? Mine's Luke Skywalker, and my friend is Han Solo."
"Was it a good idea to tell her our real names?" Han whispered out of the side of his mouth. "She might be an Imperial informant."
"I didn't think about that," Luke admitted.
"Those are mighty strange names," the woman replied. "And you both talk funny, too. You're not from around these parts, are you?"
"Uh, no," Luke answered. "Dantooine is pretty far from where we come from."
The woman looked puzzled. "Dantooine? Where's that?"
"It's the name of this planet," Han said, shaking his head. "I've heard the locals are backwards, but I didn't think they were this backwards."
"Planet?" The woman frowned. "I may be backwards to you city boys, but I know where I'm standing. This isn't Dan... dan..."
"Dantooine," Luke supplied.
"This is the town of Booneville, in the State of Colorado," the woman informed them. "Colorado's been a state since 1876, I'll have you know. It's never been called 'Dantooine' either."
"Whatever," Han groused. "You haven't seen a Corellian YT-1300 freighter lately, have you?"
"My ship," Han explained, growing impatient. "The Millennium Falcon."
"I haven't seen anyone toting a ship through town, but if they did, the only place they could've taken it is to one of the local lakes," she said. "Boone Lake is the biggest one around, and it hardly is big enough to hold a teacup sized boat, much less an entire ship."
"No, not that kind of ship," Han said, grinding his teeth. "The kind that flies."
"Up in the air? Through hyper-space?"
The woman took a careful step back, her eyes growing wide with alarm. "You two haven't escaped from that institution in Denver, have you?"
"My friend is joking about flying ships," Luke said quickly. He had to gain this woman's trust. He gazed around at the scenery, his Force-sense tingling. Something about this place seemed different, off in some way he couldn't quite put his finger on. "You still haven't told us your name."
"Clementine Hale. My friends call me Clem."
"Nice meeting you, Clem."
"Did I say you were a friend?" Clem shot back. "Heyes and Curry, now they've been my friends since childhood."
"I apologize," Luke said. "We'd like to help you find your friends."
"We would?" Han asked in disbelief. "Are you forgetting something? What about Leia? What about the Falcon?"
"We can help each other," Luke insisted. "The Force is telling me where Leia is, so are this Heyes and Curry. Find one, and we'll find them all."
"Force?" Clem questioned. "Who's that?"
"Don't ask," Han said with a groan.
Clem looked past the men, toward the horizon. "That posse's coming. Believe me when I say they're gonna think you're Heyes and Curry, and I won't be able to convince them you're not."
"So what do you suggest we do now?" Han asked. "Keep running?"
Clem tapped her chin with the barrel of the pistol. "That won't work. That posse's way too close. Get your horses inside my barn and take off their saddles. Then hide up in the hayloft."
"Did you understand any of that?" Han questioned Luke.
"And a hayloft would be..?" Luke asked Clem politely.
She rolled her eyes. "You are two of the greenest greenhorns I've ever met. There's a ladder that will let you get up above the horse stalls. Is that clear enough?"
"Clear as mud," Han muttered, pulling his horse along as he followed Luke toward the barn.
"She's got some of them Knights of the Round Table, right here in Colorado. Let's get out of here before we get run through with a sharp pole!" Heyes screamed from the slippery floor, trying to push his friend out of his way.
"What do you think I'm trying to do , Heyes? Taking the time to scrub the floor?" Curry yelled back, pushing fearfully at the short, blue and white can that was busy shooting painful bolts of small blue lightning at both men.
"Is he referring to Master Luke becoming a Jedi Knight, Mistress Leia?" Threepio piped up over the shouting humans. "But the only round table he ever seems to sit at is Captain Solo's dejarik table."
"What are you doing?" Leia yelled at the scrambling men, as they tried to claw their way out of the corridor. "Stand up this instant!"
"We're trying to, ma'am," Curry gasped. "Please turn off your metal barrel weapon. It's powerful painful."
"Artoo, please stop zapping my guests," Leia ordered. She hadn't yet stopped pointing the gun at them, either, and finally both men regained their footing and raised their hands above their heads again. "I don't understand what's upsetting you so much."
Heyes pointed, his eyes wide with fear, at Threepio. "I've read about the Knights. Are you Morgan Le Fay?"
"Who?" Leia spluttered out. "What are you babbling about?"
"Yeah, Heyes, what are you babbling about?" Curry agreed, getting annoyed at his friend.
Heyes sighed. "Don't you ever read, Curry? Morgan Le Fay is the sorceress from the King Arthur legend."
"I'm not a sorceress," Leia snapped. "Wait a minute! Why are you calling each other Curry and Heyes? Didn't you say your names were Jones and Smith? Which is it?"
"Yeah, Heyes," Curry goaded. "Explain that one."
Heyes glared at Curry, then looked at Leia. "Well, ma'am, it's never a good idea to tell someone that's got a gun pointing at you what your real name is, is it?"
"Only if you have something to hide," Leia stated.
"Yeah, Heyes. What are we hiding?"
Heyes dropped his arms to his side, and took a menacing step toward Curry. "You're coming mighty close to getting a serious pounding, Kid."
Curry backed up, and grinned at Leia. "My name is Kid Curry, and this here is my cousin, Hannibal Heyes. That's the honest truth, too."
"Listen up, boys," Leia ordered. "You promised to help me find Solo and Skywalker. You're not backing out, are you?"
"You still haven't explained the metal man," Heyes said.
"My name is C-3PO," the droid said politely. "I am a protocol droid, and I am fluent in six million forms of communication. Although I do have to admit some of your terminology leaves me flummoxed."
"Threepio isn't a human," Leia tried explaining. "He's a machine made to look like a man. I know Dantooine is a bit out of the way, but surely you've at least heard of droids."
"That must be where the confusion lies, ma'am," Curry said. "This is Colorado, not Dantooine."
"Your train must have made a seriously wrong turn somewhere," Heyes added. "I've never even heard of Dantooine. Maybe it's in Mexico?"
"No, it's not," Leia argued. "But I really don't have time to stand here and argue endlessly with you. I've got friends out there, and they're in trouble." She looked at the droid. "You are to stay here with Artoo, and keep the ship locked up and pay attention to the comlink."
"Yes, Mistress Leia, I will most certainly do what you request. It is a much better plan that I stay here, inside the ship, rather than attempting to follow you outside, where I would undoubtedly get in the way and slow you down. It would also seem to me that, based on the reaction of Master Heyes and Master Curry, that the local humans are not accustom to seeing droids, and they might be inclined to do something rash, and that would be bad for my circuits," Threepio stated.
Heyes gave a pained look at Leia. "He's a bit annoying, isn't he?"
"Always," Leia agreed.
Han pulled a sharp piece of straw from under his collar. "What if she betrays us?"
"She won't," Luke replied, staring down at the stables through the narrow wooden slats.
"How do you know that? We've just met her, and if these guys are wanted by the law, there's undoubtedly a reward. By telling those bounty hunters that we're Heyes and Curry, she could not only collect the reward, she could also buy them time by betraying us."
"Eventually they'd find out we weren't the guys they're looking for," Luke pointed out.
"And then they'd discover we're wanted by the Empire, instead," Han argued. "That's not an improvement."
"The Empire doesn't exist here."
Han let out a snort. "Dantooine might be in the outer rim, but the Empire still exists."
"I can't explain it, Han, but somehow we're not in our galaxy anymore. Nothing feels the same through the Force. Besides, Dantooine doesn't have any permanent settlements, just wandering tribes. Did you notice a village on the scanner when we first landed?"
"Exactly. This isn't Dantooine," Luke stated firmly.
"How did that happen?"
"I don't know," Luke admitted. "I think that whirlpool must have been more than what it appeared to be."
"Are you saying there's some vortex, some portal that we got sucked into?"
"Yes," Luke replied. "And unless I miss my guess, this Heyes and Curry got pulled into our universe."
"So they're with Princess Leia right now?"
Han laughed. "Poor guys. I feel sorry for them."
After allowing the cowboys a chance to rearrange their borrowed clothes, Leia led the men down the path, back to the pond. "This is where I left them. And you never saw them? Are you sure?"
"Positive," Heyes said. "We just got caught up in a whirlpool, and when we freed ourselves and swam to shore, our clothes were missing and these were there instead."
"Whirlpool?" Leia questioned. "What whirlpool? You didn't mention that before."
"I didn't think it was important," Heyes admitted.
"They could have drowned," Leia said, feeling panicky. She gazed around the pond, feeling a bit of relief that nothing seemed amiss. Although that didn't discount the possibility their bodies were trapped underwater.
She was about to suggest they walk the edge of the shore when a blaster bolt came zinging out from a thicket of trees, narrowly missing her head. "Someone's shooting at us!"
Both men ran behind a tree, pulling the Princess along with them to safety. "Who would have another fire gun?" Curry questioned in shock.
A gravelly voice called out, "Give up while you can, Rebel ssscum! The Imperialsss are on their way and you're worth more alive than dead." A tall, well-armed reptilian sentient stepped out from behind his cover, and fired another blaster shot before ducking back behind the large rock.
"That can't be what I think it is," Heyes gasped out, clutching his chest. "That pond water must've been mixed with locoweed juice."
Curry blinked and rubbed his eyes. "We wouldn't be hallucinating the same thing. That is a giant talking lizard."
"Klarr?" Leia spluttered out in surprise. "Is that you?"
"Klarr never exisssted, you gullible fool," the voice hissed out. "I am Bossk, the Bounty Hunter."
"I hate it when Solo is right," Leia muttered in disgust.
"They're hiding right up in the hayloft," Clem's voice came drifting up through the rickety floor. "Come on down, boys. It's no use hiding. They've got you dead to rights."
"And dead it'll be, too, if yer try any more funny business," said the same cowboy that had almost captured them earlier.
Han glowered at Luke. "I thought you said she wouldn't betray us."
"Apparently, I was wrong," Luke muttered.
"Worthless Force. Nothing but hocus pocus."
"It is not," Luke insisted. "I'm still a novice at using it, but it's real."
Both men climbed down the ladder, and held their hands up above their heads as they were now surrounded by eight grungy and angry looking men, all pointing slug-shooters in their direction. "Why don't you tell them we're not Curry and Heyes?" Luke asked Clem, trying to appeal to her better nature. "What is this going to accomplish?"
"I've already told you, Kid," Han groused out. "She wants the money."
The young lady gave a cheeky grin. "Why, Heyes, you know perfectly well it's a crime to aid and abet criminals. Surely you aren't implying you'd rather I go to jail?"
"Better you than me," Han grumbled.
Another man stepped forward, holding up a torn piece of flimsy, and after inspecting the flimsy and gazing intently at Luke and Han, he addressed the first guy. "This here wanted poster sure don't look much like them, Fred."
Fred shook his head. "So it was drawed up by a bad artist. I told yer I heard them callin' each other by their real first names, 'Kid' and 'Hannibal'. 'Sides, Miss Hale's swearin' these are them, too. I ain't been born yesterday, Wally."
Wally stepped forward, and the rest of the men quickly grabbed ropes and tied up Han and Luke. "It was mighty polite of you boys to head back toward town. Now we can all sleep in our own beds tonight, instead of swatting at skeeters."
"Well, we'll be able to sleep in our beds tonight," Fred inserted, waving his pistol at Luke. "Ya'll be staring up at the stars through iron bars. I told ya yer couldn't outrun us."
"Briscoe will be so proud of you," Clem told the posse, even taking the time to give Fred a peck on his scruffy cheek. "All these months of trailing the two most cunning outlaws in the west, and it took your brilliance to finally capture them."
The posse men beamed with pride as they hauled Han and Luke off toward the nearby town, and the waiting jail house.
"Lizards can't talk! Lizards don't grow that big," Heyes argued with his friend. "Lizards don't wear clothes! Lizards can't shoot fire guns!"
Curry waved his hand toward the boulder. "Try telling all that to the Lizard Man."
"You have some explaining to do, missy," Heyes said, wagging his finger in Leia's face.
Another blaster shot went whizzing past. "Right now?" Leia asked. "We seem to be a bit busy." Keeping the smaller blaster for herself, she thrust Han's larger DL-44 toward the man. "What kind of aim do you have?"
Heyes immediately handed the weapon over to Curry. "He's the gunfighter. My talents lie more toward card games and breaking into safes."
When Leia could see that Curry seemed reluctant to use the weapon, she tried reassuring him. "It works just like a slug thrower. Point and pull the trigger."
"I've never actually killed anyone, ma'am," Curry told her.
This surprised Leia. "Really? And you're considered a gunfighter on your planet?"
"He's never had to kill anyone," Heyes explained. "By the time his opponent gets his hand on the grip, the Kid has his gun out of the holster, pointed and aimed. The Kid's never been outdrawn – not even close."
The Princess wondered briefly how Curry would fare against Solo in a gun draw contest, before telling the man, "You might be required to break that streak of not killing anyone. Bossk isn't shooting a stun charge at us."
"Besides, Kid," Heyes said lightly as another blaster shot was fired at them. "It's a giant lizard. I'm not sure killing a lizard will even count against you."
Squinting down the blaster's sights, Curry squeezed off a shot, sending a shower of pebbles off the top of the boulder. He admired the weapon with a grin. "I could get used to this new-fangled gun."
"You cannot sssucceed, Rebelsss," Bossk shouted at them. "Lord Vader's Ssstar Desstroyer isss arriving."
"Vader," Leia whispered, her face growing pale.
"Do I dare ask who Lord Vader is?" Heyes questioned worriedly.
"You can," Leia said distractedly as she pulled a small metal tube from her utility belt. "Threepio? Can you hear me?"
The droid's voice came over the small speaker. "Yes, Mistress Leia. It appears to me that, according to the Millennium Falcon's sensors, you are under assault by blaster fire."
"We're aware of that, Threepio," Leia said dryly. "Do the sensors indicate any incoming space craft activity?"
"I have not been monitoring that particular readout," Threepio replied. "Would you like me to do so?"
"Yes, Threepio," Leia said, trying to control her temper. "Please."
"Oh, dear! It seems that a Super Star Destroyer has just entered the system's sensor range! We should probably leave now. Have you located Captain Solo and Master Luke yet?"
"No, not yet," Leia said. "Threepio, listen to me carefully. We're cut off and can't get back to the ship, so you'll need to fly the Falcon to the far side of Dantooine. Keep the ship as low to the surface as possible, and move away from the Destroyer's sensor range. Find a place large enough to hide the ship, turn off all of the electronic systems except for the ability to monitor incoming communications, and wait there until I contact you. Do you understand these instructions?"
"It might be possible that Captain Solo will be perturbed if I move his ship. He seems to be rather possessive of the Millennium Falcon, and if I recall correctly, he even refers to this ship as a 'she', which would imply he considers this ship a living entity with the ability to think independently, rather than an intricate electrical and mechanical system of interconnected parts, which enable the ship to perform a myriad of programmed tasks simultaneously."
"Yes, Mistress Leia?"
"Don't make me hurt you."
"It appears that Artoo is already busy starting the preliminary lift-off procedures, so I will obey your orders and wait until you contact me. Take care, Mistress Leia, and please do your best to locate Master Luke. I have become rather fond of him."
The comlink went mercifully silent, and moments later the roar of the engines from the Millennium Falcon sounded as the battered ship could be seen over the trees lifting into the air. For a moment the Falcon tilted precariously to the left, then overcorrected too far to the right. Leia swallowed hard, and sincerely hoped she hadn't made a huge mistake by ordering Threepio to fly Han's precious ship. Then, to her vast relief, the ship straightened before making a partial turn and shooting off into the distance.
"It's a good thing we're not drinking men," Curry muttered in awe upon seeing this sight, "or we'd be hitting the bottle hard, and never letting it leave our fingers."
"Don't count that out yet, Kid," Heyes replied, staring up at the darkening sky. He was about to point out that there were two moons in the evening sky, but then decided there wasn't any point. After everything that had happened in the past few hours, the sky suddenly having two moons seemed rather quaint.
The alien bounty hunter yelled out, "Sssending your ssship off will not help you esscape your fate."
"So, what's the big plan?" Heyes asked. When Leia only frowned, he gently prodded, "You do have a plan, don't you?"
"I'm thinking, I'm thinking," Leia grumbled.
"She's as good at this as you are, Heyes," Curry said, grinning.
"Why don't we see if this Lizard Man has a horse. He had to get here somehow, and I'm not above borrowing his ride," Heyes suggested.
Leia pursed her lips in thought, and glanced down at a small rectangular shaped box with blinking lights strapped to her belt, and twisted a few dials. "That's not such a bad idea." She put her fingers to her lips, then crouched down and indicated the men should follow.
After a few long minutes they came upon a rather odd-looking bike with no wheels. "What is that?" Curry questioned.
"A Starhawk speeder bike," Leia whispered. "Although it only has one passenger seat, we should all be able fit on it, even it is a bit crowded." She flung her leg over the forward seat, and waited for the men to follow her example. Curry gave a shrug and mounted the bike behind the Princess, leaving Heyes to crowd behind Curry on the passenger seat.
With a quick twist of her wrist, the bike roared to life and lifted off the ground. "Hang on," she yelled over her shoulder. With that warning, she hit accelerator and the machine lunged forward at a high rate of speed.
"Ahhhh!" Heyes screamed, holding onto Curry's waist for dear life. "What did you call this thing?"
"A Starhawk speeder," Leia yelled back over the roar of the wind. "It's considered a very reliable bike, so hopefully it won't break down."
"It can break down?" Curry asked in concern.
"Don't worry," Leia replied blithely. "You can always get off and push if that happens."