San Francisco, 1883
Clem tapped lightly on the heavy wooden door that carried the brass numbers of '263'. The middle number 'six' had lost its top nail, and was hanging upside-down, giving the uneven appearance of the room actually being numbered '293', since the number nine was lower than the other numbers.
"Glad I never had to go to school in this dump," Han said, looking up and down the wide corridor. "It looks like a fire trap."
"He's not answering," Luke said to Clem. "Knock harder. Maybe he's got bad hearing."
Clem gave a much louder bang on the door, and it echoed down the quiet hallway. "He must not be here."
"Someone's in there," Luke insisted. "I can feel it." This time, Luke rapped loudly on the door, and called out, "Hello? Doctor Loveless? Can we come in?"
"Go away," a muffled, annoyed voice sounded from inside the door. "It's after three o'clock and my duties to this cursed school end precisely at three. I don't have to talk to any idiotic student that forgot to take their textbook with them when the class ended."
"We're not students," Luke replied. "But we really need to talk to you." This was met with a stony silence. "We've come a long way by train. All the way from Colorado."
"Further than that," Han muttered under his breath.
"I'm sure Colorado misses you greatly," the man replied sarcastically. "I suggest you return on the next train heading east."
"We need your help," Luke called through the door.
"My name is Clementine Hale, and you knew my father, Jonathan Hale," Clem added.
They could hear a click, and then the door opened slightly. Clem, Luke and Han all bent their necks as they were forced to gaze down at the man. The top of Loveless's head came to five inches under Clem's chin, and he wore thick spectacles, with shoulder length, thinning dark blond locks. And he was holding a gun, which he pointed in their direction.
"I despise Jonathan Hale," Doctor Miguelito Loveless Junior said bitterly.
This declaration surprised Clem. "What? You wrote him letters for years!"
"Sure I did, but when I was down and out, and needed some money to keep a roof over my head, he refused me! What kind of friend is that?"
"So I suppose this means you're not going to help us return to our galaxy?" Han groaned. "And after we took that long train trip here, too."
"Help you? HELP YOU?" Loveless repeated with a sneer. "I wouldn't consider it for one second." He slammed the door in their faces.
"We've got money!" Luke shouted desperately through the door. "We can pay you!"
"Now what do we do?" Han asked after a few moments.
The door swung back open, and Loveless stared up at his unwanted visitors, the gun no longer visible. "Your galaxy? Did I hear that correctly?"
"Yes," Luke said, his hopes raising slightly. "I'm Luke Skywalker, and this is my friend, Han Solo. We were on a planet called Dantooine, taking a swim, and some strange vortex pulled us through and we ended up on Earth. In Colorado."
"And my friends, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, must have ended up on Dantooine," Clem continued explaining.
"You're lying!" he screamed, his face turning red. "Those lousy Secret Service agents sent you to harass me, didn't they? West and Gordon can't leave me in peace! They drove my brilliant father insane by chasing him like a rabid dog chases a poor fox, and they didn't stop until they drove dearest father into his grave, may he rest in peace."
"Uh, no," Han replied, as he exchanged confused looks with Luke. "We're not really sure where Heyes and Curry ended up, but we're guessing it was on Dantooine."
"I suppose this Dantooine is some Xanadu, where everyone is beautiful, tall and lives in peace and harmony," Loveless muttered.
Luke smiled. "See? He thinks I'm tall."
"That doesn't describe Dantooine," Han explained. "I'm actually from a planet called Corellia. Luke is from a planet called Tatooine. We just happened to be on Dantooine when this strange thing happened to us."
The man's face perked up. "Planets? You move between planets? How is this possible? How long does traveling between planets take?"
"We use space ships," Luke supplied. "Once a ship gets into hyperspace, depending on how far we have to go, it can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days."
"My ship, the Millennium Falcon, made the Kessel Run in under twelve parsecs," Han bragged.
"That same old story again?" Luke complained. "If I have to hear it one more time, I'm going to scream."
"Parsecs happens to be distance, not time," Loveless pointed out suspiciously.
"Yeah, Han," Luke said, unable to keep himself from needling the Corellian. "Even Earth people know that."
"I've already told you how I shaved off distance on that run," Han shot back hotly.
"Can you please help us?" Clem interjected, pleading with Loveless. "We do have some money that we can use to pay you."
The little man's face took on a somewhat maniacal expression, and he rubbed his hands together. "Come in, then." He stepped aside, allowing them to enter his tiny classroom. Four chairs sat against the back wall facing a battered desk. A small, dirt-streaked window allowed a bit of sunlight to stream into the room, and dust particles could be seen floating in the light rays. "Have a seat, and we'll discuss my financial terms," Loveless said, pulling out a strangely large chair from behind the desk.
Luke, Han and Clem all sat down on the students' chairs, and noted how uneven and short the chair legs were. Even Clem had her chin practically resting on her knees. Leaning over, Luke could see that the legs had been roughly sawed off. Meanwhile, Loveless had dragged his chair in front of them, and had jumped up in his own seat. The little man was now gazing down at his guests, smiling benignly. "Tell me about your galaxy. I'd really love to hear all about it."
Leia opened her eyes, and released her grip on Heyes' and Curry's fingers. She turned around just in time to see an iridescent curtain disappear, replaced by a brick and mortar wall.
"It looks like a back alley," Heyes said, craning his neck and peering up at the brick wall to his left, and a clapboard wall to his right.
"Smells like one, too," Curry added, holding his nose and pointing at the garbage barrels lined up.
Directly in front of them, they could see where the narrow alley led out to a busy road, where horse drawn buggys and cable-cars mingled on the cobblestone street. They carefully made their way out of the alley, and gazed around in awe at the sight. They were standing on a high hill, and a large urban city surrounded them. To the right they could see a large expanse of water, while a bay sat on their left, with mountains rising in the distance.
"Where are we?" Leia asked, noting with concern her slacks and tunic looked extremely out of place, since all the women wore long dresses and ornate hats, and many carried colorful parasols in an attempt to keep the sun from their faces.
"It looks like it could be San Francisco," Heyes replied. "Why would we be in San Francisco instead of Colorado?"
"Right before we stepped through, I heard Luke's voice, so they must be in this city," Leia said. It worried her a bit that she hadn't 'heard' Han's voice, but she refused to consider the possibility that they had separated at some point. Besides, finding Luke was more of a concern than finding Han, she thought. Right? A twinge of guilt welled up, and her internal reasoning seemed to fall flat.
Heyes grabbed the arm of a passing man. "Sir? Is this San Francisco?"
"Yes. It's Nob Hill."
"Can you tell us the time and the date?"
"It's quarter after noon on the 27th," the man replied, looking pointedly at his arm, which Heyes had not released.
"Not just the day, the month and the year, too," Heyes added.
The man frowned at the odd questions. "August 27, 1883." He jerked his arm free and hurried away.
"That's only two days after we left Colorado!" Curry stated in shock. "How is that possible? We've been gone at least five days."
"I'm not sure it matters," Leia said. "Time travel can alter those types of things."
"I always wanted to visit San Francisco," Heyes commented, gazing around. "I like it. Maybe we can stay here, Kid."
"First you have to help me find my friends," Leia pointed out. "We need to remember this exact spot. Vasha said she'd open the portal in exactly one day, right where we stepped out. That would be noon tomorrow. I hope it's one Earth day, and not one Dantooine day. I never thought to ask about that detail."
Heyes looked up at the corner post, and read the sign, "Top of Nob Hill, at the corner of Clay and Jones Streets. That'll be easy enough to remember."
"So which direction do we go now?" Curry asked the Princess.
Leia's eyes slowly tracked the sloping horizon, and when she spotted the fishermen's docks at the water's edge, the now-familiar tingle came back. "The wharfs," she said, pointing off toward the northeast. "Let's start there."
"I've heard those wharfs can be rough," Heyes warned.
"All the more reason to start there," Leia said. "Han and Luke attract trouble like honey attracts a grazer."
Doctor Miguelito Loveless Junior had listened to Han and Luke's long story for nearly two hours, only occasionally asking a brief question for clarification. He seemed keenly interested in Luke's description of the Force, as well as hearing about the remaining Sith and their current reign of terror over the galaxy. When they finally finished, he sat back, stroking his chin in thought. "Fascinating. A spherical space ship large enough and powerful enough to destroy an entire planet? Fascinating."
"Well, it's gone now. I blew it up," Luke pointed out, spreading his fingers and wagging them. "Kabooooom!"
"Only 'cuz I came back and shot Vader off your tail!" Han put in indignantly.
"There is no sound in space," Loveless said dryly, crossing his arms. "You two need to take my beginners class."
"Can you help us get back?" Luke questioned.
"Maybe I can," Loveless stated, jumping down off his large chair. "Come with me."
The three rose, wincing as their knees creaked a bit from their unnatural position. "Where are we going?" Luke asked.
"This noble, um, institution allows me to use their basement facilities, unfettered by prying eyes. It's my private laboratory," Loveless explained, waving that they should follow. "I've been doing a great deal of research with my pittance of a salary. I think you'll be impressed with what I've accomplished, given my extreme limitations." He spun around on his toe, pointing a finger up at Han. "And I'm not talking about my height, either. Don't think I don't know what's going on in your faulty cerebral cortex!"
"Quit smirking," Han muttered under his breath at a smug-looking Luke.
The scientist took a lantern and lit the wick before leading his guests down a rickety staircase. Cobwebs brushed against their faces as they held onto the wall for balance. At the bottom of the stairs Loveless paused, pulling a lever. Overhead lights flooded the room, and he blew out the lantern. "Electricity! Power, just like lightning from the sky above," he declared. "Soon, every building in the world with be lit up with this miracle. Right now, only the lucky and rich, or a genius like myself, can have access to it." He waved at a ratty sofa. "Have a seat, and I will give you a demonstration of my skills."
The three sat down, feeling wire springs inside the sofa poking them in unmentionable places.
Miguelito Loveless Junior seemed transformed now that he had an audience that could appreciate his talent. He removed a tattered quilt from a cone shaped object in the center of the room with great flourish. "Here is my greatest invention to date." It was silver, and had a series of pulsating blue and red lights running from the base to the point.
"What is it?" Clem asked, leaning forward.
Loveless pressed a button on the cone, and it peeled open like a metal flower, revealing a single seat. "My ion-magnesium-volcanic powered propulsion machine!"
"That clears it right up," Han said, nodding.
"This device," Loveless continued, not noticing Han's sarcasm, "is going to make me the richest man in the world! Do you have any idea what it can do?"
"Nope, not a clue," Han said, ignoring Luke's index finger poking his arm.
"My invention, which I have just now decided to call the Shake'n'Bake, can use the very energy that is sitting under our feet, and funnel it out. Did you know that San Francisco is one of the most earth-quake prone places on the planet?"
"No," Luke said, becoming concerned at the man's rapid breathing, and his dilated pupils.
"Well, it is! We are sitting on what scientists call 'the ring of fire', a large area surrounding the Pacific Ocean. All around this ring are volcanoes, and vast tectonic plates, waiting to unleash their fury on mankind! All they need is a little shove, and that's what this machine is capable of doing – shoving. I've been fine-tuning the controls since May, and now it's time for the world to understand my genius." He walked around the back side of his machine. "Watch this!" He jumped inside, sat down and pressed a button while Han, Luke and Clem looked at each other in concern.
"What's supposed to happen?" Clem finally asked.
Loveless frowned at his device. "There was supposed to be an earthquake." He pressed the button again, with the same result. Nothing happened. "I don't understand. It's supposed to work. Dang it." He fiddled around with the controls. "Then, after that earthquake, I was going to take my machine up to Mount Hood and set off that volcano. After that, I was going to blackmail the United States government into giving me millions to stop making earthquakes and volcanoes. Dang it."
"Oookkaay," Han said, carefully getting off the sofa and backing toward the exit. "I think we've seen enough."
Luke and Clem stood as well, trying to ease their way toward the door. "It was nice meeting you, Professor Loveless," Luke said. "Have a nice day."
Doctor Miguelito Loveless Junior didn't notice his company as they hurried out of the door, since he was too focused on trying to make his machine work.
Luke, Han and Clem hurried up the stairs, and headed out of the building.
"That was weird," Han said. "But we're no closer to getting home than before."
"Wait a second," Luke said, holding up his hand. "Leia!"
Han whipped his head back and forth. "Leia? Leia's here? Where?"
"I can't see her," Luke said. "I can feel her. She's very close to us!"
"How'd the Princess get here?" Han questioned. "Where is she?"
"Why do you care?" Clem asked, annoyed. "I'm your fiancée!"
"No, you're not! That was just pretend."
"Men," Clem sniffed. "You're all alike. You like to keep one woman on the hook, and all the while you wait for someone better to come along."
"Quiet!" Luke shut his eyes, concentrating. "Fish. I'm seeing fish."
"With your eyes closed?" Clem asked.
"Luke sees a lot of strange things with his eyes closed," Han informed her. "After a while, you get used to it."
"The wharf," Clem surmised. "There are lots of fish over there."
"Yes," Luke said, opening his eyes. "That's where we need to go."
The group hurried toward the docks, and in their distracted rush failed to notice that Miguelito Loveless Junior was surreptitiously following them.
Little did Doctor Loveless know that half a world away, on the Island of Krakatau in Indonesia, a large and powerful volcano, which had begun to awaken from its long slumber in May of 1883, blew its top. By sending underground vibrations along the 'ring of fire' the Shake'n'Bake had done the job its inventor had intended.
The wharfs were a loud, busy and odorous place, with hundreds of weathered, sea-weary men transferring the day's catch from their small boats to large wooden crates, where buyers would sort and check the seafood - most of which was Dungeness crab - then offer the boat captain a small sum of money for a large bounty from the ocean. If the fisherman made five dollars, it was considered a good week. With the thick haze of flies and mounds of fish intestines sitting in buckets waiting to be tossed off the pier, it was a far cry from the trendy, tourist destination it would one day become.
It was one of the merchants that first noticed Leia, dressed in her tan slacks and brown tunic, and odd, calf-high boots. "Hey, lady! What kind of crazy get-up is that?"
Another man paused at his fish inspection, frowning at the newcomers. "Couldn't be a real lady. Real ladies don't wear pants."
Curry stepped between the men and the Princess, giving them his best scowl, while putting his hand on the butt of the DL-44. He wasn't sure the locals would recognize the strange weapon as a gun, but he could always hope he looked intimidating. "I don't appreciate your implying our lady friend isn't a lady." He glanced over his shoulder, and noticed that Leia had pulled Heyes to one side, and was busy whispering in his ear.
The merchant refused to back down. "And I say, no proper lady wears pants. It ain't decent." He looked Curry up and down, checking out the shiny black boots, and the tight black slacks with the gold stripe up the side of the leg. "Those are mighty odd clothes you're wearing, too."
Heyes stepped forward, and said in an accent that sounded like a mangled version of German, "Iz dat idget inzultin' uz, Meester Jones?"
Curry wasn't certain what Heyes said for a moment, until it finally dawned on him, 'Is that idiot insulting us, Mr. Jones?' Oh, Curry thought as comprehension dawned. "He sure is!"
"De idget not unnderstandish de Prinzess from Constantinople?" Heyes continued, wilding waving his arms over his head as if he were trying to ward off an attack of crazed bees. "Ann Iz be der Prinzesses brudder, Prinzer Joshua! Iz dis der vey Ammurikans treat'er royalty?"
"Uh, yeah. What he said," Curry said, pointing his thumb at Heyes.
"I have no idea what he said," the merchant muttered. "You people aren't from these parts, are you?"
"No, no," Curry said hurriedly. "They're from, uh…"
"Constantinople," Heyes supplied. "Itz be faraway land o' fruit'n'honey, ann where'n all de ladies wear'n pantsers."
"Yeah, they're from Constantinople, and all ladies over there wear pants," Curry interpreted. At least he hoped he was interpreting correctly.
"Can't say I ever heard of that place," the merchant admitted reluctantly. "So where are you from, feller?"
The man frowned suspiciously. "Kansas?"
"Yes," Curry said, nodding as he got into the spirit of the game. "I'm a real United States Ambassador, and I was assigned to work overseas. That's how I got to know Princess Leia, and her brother, Prince Joshua, from Constantinople."
"That's a prince and a princess?" the man asked, frowning at Heyes and Leia. "So why are they here, instead of you being over there?"
"The Princess is my, err, my fiancée!" Curry declared suddenly. "After we got engaged, she wanted to see the United States. Allow me to properly introduce myself. Ambassador Thaddeus Jones, at your service, sir.." He held out his hand, waiting for the man to shake it.
The man scratched his chin, refusing to shake Curry's hand. "Why do I think you're lying?"
"I'm not lying!" Curry declared, pretending to be highly offended. "As a matter of fact, I can prove it!" He reached over and grabbed Leia around the waist, then planted a long kiss on her lips.
The kiss came to an abrupt stop as someone grabbed Curry's bicep, spinning him away from the Princess. Then a hard blow from an outraged Corellian's fist crashed against his chin, and he crumpled to the ground, moaning and holding his jaw.
"HAN!" the Princess shouted in surprise upon seeing her friends. "What are you doing?"
"A better question would be what are YOU doing?" Han roared, his face flushed red. "Me and Luke leave you alone with this cowboy for less than two weeks, and when we finally find you, you're sticking your tongue down his throat!"
"Wait a second!" the merchant said. "The Princess speaks English!"
"You're disgusting!" Leia yelled back at Han. "I wasn't doing anything of the sort! And, for your information, I'm the one that found YOU, flyboy, not the other way around!"
"She's got a point, Han," Luke said. "Our attempt to get home was sort of a wash-out."
"How can anyone call this a rescue?" Han pointed out, glaring at Luke. "From my viewpoint, all the Princess accomplished was getting trapped on Earth with us."
Luke nodded, looking at a very outraged Leia. "Well, I can see Han's point, too."
"When I came here, I had a plan on getting back to Dantooine," Leia said snidely. "Unlike the non-existent plan you and Nerfherder had when you tried rescuing me on the Death Star."
"I'll have you know that rescue worked out just fine!" Han roared out, then pointed at Curry, who was struggling to his feet with the help of Heyes. "And he's got my blaster, too! I want it back, right now!"
"THIS blaster?" Curry asked, whipping out the DL-44 and pointing it at Han. "Come and take it from me."
Han whipped out the old-fashioned slug-thrower, and aimed it at Curry. "I'm more than willing, pal."
Luke stepped between the combatants, trying to make a gesture of peace. "Let's not be hasty, everyone." He held out his hand toward Curry. "Please give Han his blaster back?"
"Well, I want my gun back," Curry said, annoyed, and tossing the gun at Luke. "And my hat and clothes."
"Fine!" Han said, taking off the gun belt and throwing the rig and cowboy hat at Curry. "I want my clothes back, too."
"Fine!" Curry yelled, then started to take off his shirt as Han began to unfasten his belt.
"HEYES! CURRY!" Clem yelled, pushing her way past a gathering of local fishermen.
"CLEM!" Heyes shouted, throwing his arms around his friend, and swinging her around in a circle, before giving her a big kiss on the lips. "How did you wind up in San Francisco?"
"What happened to your accent, Prince?" the merchant questioned, tapping Heyes on his shoulder.
"I was trying to help these two space cowboys get back home, so I could find you and Curry," Clem informed Heyes, as they all continued to ignore the poor local man.
By this time, a large group of curious fishermen and merchants had assembled around in a loose circle, watching the bizarre scene in silent curiosity.
"Uh, Han?" Luke said, looking around at the wide-eyed locals. "Maybe we should do this clothing exchange somewhere a bit more private?"
Clem stepped over to Han, and took his arm. "Darling, Luke is right. Undressing in front of this stranger isn't proper, especially since you're my fiancée."
"You're engaged to that man?" the merchant asked, confused. "Why did he punch the poor Ambassador instead of Prince Joshua? Prince Joshua was the one kissing you, not the Ambassador!"
Clem finally looked at the merchant and asked, "Who's Prince Joshua?"
"The man you were just kissing!" the merchant replied, pointing to Heyes and stomping his foot on the ground. "The brother of the Princess!"
Luke was pretty sure Leia was about to have a serious meltdown at this point. "Clem was pretending to be Han's fiancée," Luke tried explaining. "And I was pretending to be her brother. Just like you were pretending to be Heyes' sister, and Curry's fiancée. Isn't that funny? Ha, ha... No? Okay, how about ironic?"
"Han's a very good kisser," Clem said quickly, patting Luke's hand. "But you're a good kisser, too, Luke."
"Wha…what?" Leia spluttered out indignantly. "Luke? You've kissed that woman?"
"Just once," Luke explained, realizing how lame that sounded. "It wouldn't have been right to kiss her after we started pretending to be siblings."
"You were kissing that guy," Han snapped at Leia, pointing to Curry and irritated at his own irrational feelings of jealousy. Why was Leia upset that Luke kissed Clem but not him, anyway?
"The Kid just had to come up with a good excuse to kiss her, because he's been jealous of me ever since I kissed Leia," Heyes pointed out.
"You've kissed BOTH of them?" Luke asked Leia, completely surprised.
"I kissed Heyes for good luck, just like I kissed you for good luck back on the Death Star, and so what?" Leia yelled. "Clem just said she kissed both you and Han!"
"Let me get this straight! You've kissed Luke, Heyes AND Curry, but you've never kissed me?" Han yelled at Leia. "That's not fair!"
"Why would I want to kiss you?" Leia yelled back. "Clem can have you, the poor thing."
"If she ended up with me, she'd be the luckiest woman in the galaxy," Han protested hotly. "Hells, BOTH galaxies!"
"That's not right," Heyes stated firmly. "Clem's my girl."
"Clem's my girl," Curry argued. "She always has been."
"In your dreams," Heyes shot back.
"Wait a second," the merchant inserted into the heated exchange. "How can Clem be your girl, Ambassador? I thought you were engaged to Princess Leia!"
"You're already engaged to Curry?" Han asked hotly. "You've only known the guy two weeks!"
"Curry?" the merchant questioned. "I thought the Ambassador's name was Jones?"
"Who is this guy?" Han asked, jerking his thumb toward the merchant. "I'm starting to suspect he's related to Goldenrod, since he's really starting to annoy me."
"Let's go find a hotel, rent a room, and catch up on our adventures in private," Clem suggested.
"That's a very good idea," Luke said agreeably, trying to gently push the Princess away from the crowd of speechless fishermen. "We need to discuss this calmly and rationally. Right?"
"Right," Leia said tightly, finally allowing Luke to escort her away from the docks.
With the money Han had 'won' in Reno, they were able to afford to rent small rooms in the Hotel Washington, located on a street with the same name, and only one block over from Clay Street. Once the men had exchanged clothing and weapons, the group of four men and two women went downstairs to a dark dining room and sat around a fairly secluded table, trying to get past their inauspicious beginning. In an attempt to better blend in with the locals, Leia was wearing one of the new dresses Clementine had purchased back in Reno, although Clem had made it abundantly clear it was merely a 'loan', and she fully expected the dress returned to her, undamaged.
"If they have something called Rocky Mountain Oysters on the menu, whatever you do, don't order them," Luke instructed the Princess.
After the food came, Leia finished telling her story. Han leaned back, lacing his fingers behind his head and looking smug. "So, you're admitting I was right all along."
"Our contact was Bossk, the Bounty Hunter, and he's a Trandoshan, not a Saurin." He was unable to stop himself from adding, "I told you so."
"So you were right one time in your life," Leia griped. "I wouldn't count on it becoming a regular occurrence."
"Where's my ship?"
"Threepio flew it -."
"WHAT?!" Han roared. "You let Goldenrod fly my ship?"
"It was necessary," Leia snapped out. "He only took it out of the Star Destroyer's sensor range!"
Han groaned. "I'm gone two lousy weeks, and Threepio flies my ship, and we have a Star Destroyer waiting for us in orbit. I'm so looking forward to getting back to Dantooine."
Clem leaned over the table. "I know I am."
"What?" Luke asked, frowning.
"I'd like to go with you to Dantooine," Clem told him excitedly. "I've wanted to do that ever since we left Colorado. Will you take me with you?"
"Uh, I…" Luke stuttered, unable to think of an appropriate response. "Why would you want to leave Earth?"
"Yeah," Curry said. "Dantooine's not all that much fun. They have cannibals and poisonous insects that have it in for us humans."
"It sounds very exciting," Clem insisted. "You survived going there. Besides, if we all went back, you wouldn't have to worry about those Bannerman Detectives chasing you anymore."
"We'd just have to worry about Darth Vader, stormtroopers, and lizard men bounty hunters, instead," Heyes pointed out. "I'm not sure it would be an improvement."
"I still want to go," Clem said stubbornly.
"I'm not sure that would be a good idea," Leia said, trying to be diplomatic. "The portal won't open up until tomorrow, at noon. Let's get some sleep, and I'm sure in the morning you'll have changed your mind. After all, everything you know is on this planet. You need to consider the consequences of leaving it all behind, forever."
Clem stood up, tossing down her napkin. "I won't change my mind. You don't want me to go back with you because Luke and Han like me better than they like you!"
"That's not the reason," Leia responded tightly.
"Sure it is," Clem snapped back. "I'm going for a walk, so don't wait up for me…Princess."
Curry stood, reaching out for Clem. "You shouldn't go out alone. It's going to be dark pretty soon, and this is a big city. It could be dangerous."
"Curry is right," Luke said. "If you want to go for a walk, someone should go with you."
"It may be a big city, but I'm a big girl," Clem said. "I can take care of myself, boys, and I'll be back before it gets dark." She smiled down at Leia. "See? They all like me."
With those words, Clementine Hale trounced off.
Clementine wandered around the busy street, peering into the store-front windows and admiring all the exotic merchandise. "I wonder which bonnet would look good on Dantooine," Clem mused aloud. "The pink one with flowers is cute."
"I prefer the blue one," a familiar voice said from next to her shoulder.
Startled, Clem looked down, surprised to see Miguelito Loveless Junior standing next to her. "Why are you here?"
"Coincidently, I just happened to be dining at your hotel's restaurant, and I might have accidentally overhead a bit of your conversation."
"No one was sitting near our table," Clem informed him.
"Okay, I was hiding under the table next to yours," Loveless groused. "It was very difficult to hear everything that was being said under there, too."
"You were spying on us?"
"Yes, but it was a good thing I did," Loveless said quickly. "I believe I can help you, if you agree to help me."
"You said you wish to go to this galaxy," Loveless said. "And I can't say that I blame you. It must be very advanced, and the women probably make all the laws."
"They might," Clem said. "The men are sure good-looking."
Loveless nodded, grinning. "Those two might even be the runts of the litter."
"What do you want?"
"I want to go with you," Loveless stated. "Their society must be highly evolved, and I am so very weary of living among the backwards, mindless masses on Earth. I was born for better things! I was born to rule, and not just a single, insignificant speck of dust, but HUNDREDS of worlds, perhaps even THOUSANDS of worlds! Worlds that have ships that can move through space, worlds that will finally understand my genius, and bow before my superior greatness!"
"I'd like to point out that your Shake'n'Bake machine wasn't very impressive," Clem said, rolling her eyes.
"That is because I had to work with inferior tools. If I had properly advanced equipment, I could create a machine that would make their Death Star look like a child's toy!"
"So you get to rule over this galaxy, and I get…?"
"All the good-looking men you want, Clementine Hale! You can even be my Empress, and sit on a throne next to me."
"You want me to marry you?" Clem asked, looking appalled.
"A small price to pay for having Solo and Skywalker as your private pets, my dear."
"I'd like to own Heyes and Curry, too," Clem said, a wicked glint coming to her eyes.
"Variety is the spice of life, or so they say," Loveless said agreeably. "So how about it?"
"What do I have to do?"
"Listen carefully, because I have a plan…."
Very early the next morning…
Han woke up to very loud banging, and for a moment thought he had a hangover. No, I didn't even drink last night… so what the kriff is all that racket?
He rolled over and looked at the other bed, and noticed Luke wasn't there. Sighing, he flung off his blanket, and quickly tugged on his pants. My very own pants…
Then he opened the door, and peeked out. Luke was standing in front of the room across the corridor, which Leia and Clementine were using, and pounding madly on the door. "LEIA! CLEM! Where are you?"
"They aren't answering?" Han asked, just as Curry and Heyes exited the room next to theirs, looking sleepy and disheveled.
"What's going on out here? Do you know what time it is?" Heyes questioned, sounding quite annoyed.
"It's five thirty," Curry added, rubbing his eyes. "No normal person starts pounding on someone's door at five-thirty. I don't know about where you come from, but on Earth it's considered rude."
"Something's wrong," Luke insisted. "I woke up, and the Force was telling me Leia and Clem weren't in their room. So I got up, and they aren't answering!"
"I know that Clem got back to the hotel long before it got dark outside, because I talked to her," Heyes stated. "She seemed to be in a much better mood than when she left."
"Open up the door," Han told Luke, becoming concerned as well.
Curry wiggled the handle. "Locked."
"That's not a problem," Luke replied, pulling out his lightsaber and turning on the weapon. He pushed the tip of the saber into the key hole, and the door swung open.
"I sure could've used that kind of thing back in my safecracking days," Heyes said, nodding in admiration.
The four men hurried into the women's room, and noted it was indeed empty, although the beds were unmade. "Where do you suppose they went this early?" Han questioned, confused.
"Maybe we should read the note," Curry said, pointing to the flimsy resting against a pillow.
Heyes snatched up the paper, and read, "If you ever want to see your lady friends again, you will meet me in Chinatown, at Madame Wong's House of Pleasure, at precisely 7:08 a.m. Failure to do so will result in your female companions being sold into slavery and shipped to China on the next boat. Sincerely, Doctor Miguelito Loveless Junior, Genius at Large."
"Precisely seven-o-eight?" Han questioned with a scowl. "What kind of stupid time is that?"
"That's only five hours before our portal opens," Luke pointed out worriedly. "How far away is Chinatown?"
"Probably ten blocks to the east," Heyes said. "It shouldn't take very long if we go by cable-car."
"Poor Clem," Curry said. "She's probably scared out of her wits."
"Leia's not the type to let someone catch her unaware," Luke said. "I wonder how he got the jump on her?"
"Who knows? But I'd say by the time Leia is through with Loveless, he's gonna be the one scared out of his wits," Han remarked.
"You'll never get away with this," Leia snapped, glaring at the small man who was pointing a slug-thrower weapon in her direction. With her wrists and ankles tied to a chair, all she could do was glare, although she wanted to wrap her fingers around his throat. Clem's throat, too, for that matter. The local woman had stolen Leia's weapon after she'd gone to sleep, and then opened the door for this insane little lunatic to enter and kidnap her.
"It appears that I have already 'gotten away with it'," Loveless replied, smirking. "Soon, your male companions will be going to see my dear friend, Madame Wong. They will think you are being held in Chinatown, and of course, you are here in my very own apartment, a mere five blocks from your hotel. Madame Wong will give your friends a note, and that note will take them to another location in the city. There, they will find another note, and so on, and so on.."
"What's the point of this?" Leia demanded to know.
"A simple trade," Loveless replied. "While they are busy running around like chickens with their heads cut off, time will be rapidly running out for them to return to your own galaxy. In the meantime, we will go to wait at your portal. When it opens, we will enter."
"I won't leave without Han and Luke," Leia said stubbornly.
"The last note will tell them to head to the portal," Clem said. "If they hurry, they should make it. Exhausted, out of breath, and desperate… but they should make it."
"They should arrive at the portal with seconds to spare," Loveless said, throwing his head back and laughing. "They certainly won't have time to negotiate your release, Princess. If all goes according to plan, ALL of us will jump through the portal at the exact same moment! Muahahahaha!"
"What if I refuse to tell you exactly where the portal is located?"
"Then I will live up to my threat," Loveless said, his face growing hard. "I will sell you, body and soul, to the next boat leaving for China, and you can entertain the sailors on the long voyage over the ocean." He wagged his finger at the Princess. "Plus, I still have to put my last note to your friends in its place, and unless I know the location of the portal, they will never make it back in time. You'd better consider the consequences of your refusal, or all of us will be stuck on this boring planet forever and ever. We wouldn't want that, would we?"
Leia shook her head in disgust. "Why did you go along with this, Clem?"
"Because you told me you wouldn't take me to Dantooine," the other woman replied. "I want to go, and Loveless said I could become his Empress to his Emperor, and I could have Luke, Han, Heyes and Curry as my pet love slaves."
The Princess could hardly believe what she was hearing. "Loveless wants to become the Emperor of our galaxy? And you're willing to marry him?"
"Oh, it will be a political marriage," Clem replied lightly. "He'll be too busy running the galaxy to have time for a wife, and I'll be too busy with my slaves to bother with a husband. Do you have grapes in your galaxy? I've heard love slaves are supposed to feed their owner grapes."
"This is unbelievable," Leia muttered in disgust.
"What's so hard to believe about it?" Loveless snapped. "I'm a brilliant genius! The people of the galaxy will be privileged to have me as their benevolent ruler."
"I'm not sure Emperor Palpatine will be thrilled with your plans," Leia said dryly.
"He can step aside," Loveless said dismissively. "Perhaps I can find a place for him in my Cabinet."
"It's going to take way more than a cabinet to hold a Sith Lord," Leia responded. "This is a really stupid plan, even for an insane diabolical genius. It will never work."
"We won't know until we try, will we? Play along nice, and you can become one of my wives," Loveless informed Leia. "I'm sure I'll have hundreds."
"Hey!" Clem protested. "You're going to have lots of wives? I still get to be the Empress, right?"
"Of course," Loveless reassured her. "The first wife is always the Empress."
"Good," Clem said, nodding in satisfaction.
"Now," Loveless said, leaning closer to Leia's face than what could be considered polite. "Tell me the location of the portal!"
Convinced the raving lunatic's plans didn't stand a chance, Leia capitulated. "It's in an alley, at the corner of Clay and Jones Streets."
"Great!" Loveless said, clapping his hands. "Now I will formulate my final note." He grabbed a piece of paper, and spent long minutes doing detailed mathematical formulas.
"What are you doing?" Clem asked, curious.
"Planning out the precise time it will take four able bodied males to get from Point Lobos to the corner of Clay and Jones."
"That was the last note's destination," Loveless explained. "Now be quiet! I need to concentrate." He scrunched up his nose, and kept scribbling, until he was finally satisfied with his calculations. "There! They should arrive in the alley at the corner of Clay and Jones at exactly eleven fifty-nine and forty-two seconds. Now I just have to send the note over to Point Lobos."
"Are you going to take it there yourself?" Clem asked. "I can hold the gun on the Princess until you get back."
Loveless frowned. "Do you really think I'd trust you enough to leave you two alone? Ha!" He walked over to the only window in his apartment, and rang a tiny bell. In a few seconds, a small, red-faced monkey wearing a little cap came jumping through the window. "There you are, Mr. Newton." Loveless gave the monkey a peanut, which it promptly cracked open and ate. "Now, take this note to Point Lobos, and place it under the rock next to the big Gum Tree. Do you understand that, Mr. Newton?"
The monkey gave a squeal, and snatched the paper from Loveless's fingers, then disappeared.
Leia gave a sigh of despair.
Madame Wong's House of Pleasure in Chinatown was precisely that, and Madam Wong herself was an ancient lady of one hundred and two, barely able to speak a word of English. After the men spent a great deal of time and effort attempting to communicate, at exactly eight minutes after seven. she finally gave them a toothless grin and handed them a rolled up paper that she was keeping under her ornate red and gold tunic.
Curry snatched the paper, and opened it up. "You've reached your first destination. Time to head to the peak of Mount Davidson. At the highest point, tacked to a big red oak, you'll find a new note. Arrive no later than eight fifty-nine, and things should be fine. But if you are late, this entire trip will seal your fate!"
"Now he's turned into a poet?" Han asked in disbelief.
"A bad poet, too," Heyes added.
Luke looked at his wrist chrono. "It's seven fifteen. We don't have much time."
They ran off, jumping on the nearest cable-car, then hopping off and running to a horse-drawn buggy, and offered the owner five dollars to take them the rest of the way to Mount Davidson. Although Mount Davidson was only nine miles away from Chinatown, it took them a long time to climb up to the nine hundred and twenty-five foot peak, and hunt for the note. Gasping for air, they finally located the oak tree, and ripped off the paper that was tacked to its side.
"Congratulations, you silly little fools!," Luke read as he held his aching side. "Now hurry over to Lake Merced, the exact location where Supreme Court Justice Terry shot Senator Broderick in a duel!"
"What?!" Han croaked out, flopping down on the grassy lawn.
"If I recall this correctly," Heyes told the men, "back in 1859 those two prominent citizens got into an argument, and they had a pistol fight. Broderick lost."
"Can we find this exact spot?" Luke questioned.
"I suppose someone over there would know where it happened," Heyes said.
"What time is it now?" Curry asked.
Luke looked again at his chrono. "Eight fifty-eight. We're a whole minute ahead of schedule."
The men dragged themselves down the mountain, and purchased another buggy ride over to the inland lake four miles away, arriving at nine-thirty. It was only through good luck that their driver knew exactly where the duel had occurred, and took them to the precise spot. It was there they found yet another note. Heyes read, "Still hot on the trail, I see! Now go quickly to Point Lobos and find the big rock next to the Gum Tree!"
"As soon as we find Loveless, I'm shooting him," Han groused out.
"Only if you can outdraw me, because I'm first in that particular line," Curry countered.
At fourteen minutes after ten they arrived at Point Lobos, then spent over an hour hunting for the correct tree, turning over rock after rock before finally finding the next note. It read – "We'll be waiting in the alley at the corner of Clay and Jones Streets. If you can't make it by noon, well, it was nice knowing you."
"That's where we came out of the portal!" Heyes said.
"Yeah, and it's only two blocks from our hotel, too," Curry complained.
"At least he didn't bother with the stupid rhyme this time," Han said. "Hey, that rhymes!"
"Uh, guys?" Luke said. "We have less than forty-five minutes to make it to the corner of Clay and Jones, or we're going to miss the opening of the portal."
The citizens of San Francisco never saw four men run faster.
Doctor Loveless forced Leia at gunpoint to the corner of Clay and Jones Streets, keeping the weapon hidden under his coat, which he had casually draped over his arm. "Which alley?"
"That one," Leia nodded to the familiar buildings, and the narrow strip of bricks running between them. She would have pointed, but her wrists were still tightly bound with rough ropes, and Clem had covered Leia's restraints with a knitted shawl.
"Fantastic!," Loveless whispered in awe. "Soon, Clementine, you and I shall behold worlds filled with wonders beyond our wildest fantasies! My father would be so proud of me if he only knew that I was about to become the Supreme Ruler of an entire galaxy! James West and his worthless sidekick Artemus Gordon won't be around to stop me! No one will be able to stop me! Maybe I will rebuild that Death Star weapon, fly it over here to Earth and blow up this miserable planet. This is so thrilling I could wet my drawers!"
"It is exciting," Clem agreed. "I sure hope those boys make it on time." She looked at Leia. "Are all the guys in your galaxy as cute as Luke and Han?"
"No, they happen to be the cutest," Leia stated. "In fact, all the rest of the men in my galaxy look pretty much like Doctor Loveless."
"Really?" Clem asked, eyes wide. "Are they at least tall?"
"Nope," Leia said. "Now that I think about it, most of them are way shorter than the two of us. Shorter even than Doctor Loveless."
While this bit of information startled Clem, Loveless looked pleased. "Good!" he said, nodding in approval. "The new Emperor should be the tallest man on the block. As soon as Clem's love slaves are removed from the eyes of polite society, everyone will admire my good looks and soaring height."
"That'll happen," Leia muttered under her breath.
They headed down the alley, and reached the brick wall at the end of the narrow path. "Right here?" Loveless questioned.
"This is the place," Leia replied.
He looked at his pocket watch. "Twelve minutes to noon. I wonder if your friends will arrive in time?"
"Why does this cable-car have to stop at every corner?" Han complained, bouncing up and down on his toes with nervous energy. "What time is it now?"
"One minute after the last time you asked me," Luke replied. "We've got eight minutes."
"We're never going to make it," Heyes said. "Not at this pokey speed."
"Maybe we should press a gun against the cable-car operator's ribs, and order him not to make any more stops," Curry suggested.
"We are not threatening innocent bystanders," Luke snapped. "I'm a Jedi, and it's about time I started acting like one."
"Oh, sure," Han groused. "Now he wants to act like a Jedi."
"I should have been acting like one all along," Luke informed his friend. "I have to stop allowing myself to be influenced by other people."
"Hey! If we wouldn't have won that money in Reno, we wouldn't have had the money for a hotel room, or all these horse drawn buggy rides, or food, or…"
"I get it," Luke interrupted. "It still wasn't right. I can't allow the ends to justify the means. Not if I want to stay true to the code of the Jedi."
"Fine, Kid. Stay true to your code. How many minutes do we have?"
"One minute less than the last time you asked me."
In the dark alleyway, Loveless kept his eyes darting from the brick wall, then over toward the alley's entrance. Glancing again at his watch, he smiled. "Two minutes. They have two more minutes."
Leia bit her bottom lip in concern. If Luke and Han failed to show, she had decided to struggle against going into the portal. Let Clem and Loveless go alone. The odds they'd make it out of the cave alive were slim, and the odds they'd ever be able to cause Vader more than a second's worth of trouble was even slimmer. Leia was certain the Rebellion would continue on without her. Hopefully, the Rebellion would survive without their last Jedi.
"One more minute," Loveless said, jerking Leia by her arm, and forcing her to face the wall. "Fifty-five seconds…." The wall began to shimmer, and the iridescent curtain reappeared.
"There it is!" Heyes shouted, waving at the other three men as they ran full tilt down Jones Street. "That's the right alley!"
"Are you sure?" Han asked. "We don't have time to check another alley if this one isn't it."
"It's the right one," Luke said. "Leia's down there… I can sense her!"
They rushed down the narrow alley, and as they approached the back end, they could see Loveless holding Leia's arm, and Clem waving them forward. The portal had already formed.
"Leia!" Luke shouted, still running at her. "Are you okay?"
"Luke! The portal is only going to stay open for another few seconds!" The Princess attempted to reach for Luke and Han, only to be jerked backwards by Loveless, and found herself falling through the shimmering veil. Immediately, Luke grabbed Han's wrist and launched himself forward. The young Jedi shut his eyes, concentrating on the Force and following Leia's presence through the cold void.
Clem had run several steps back to Heyes and Curry, grabbing their hands and trying to urge them toward the portal. "Hurry! We have to hurry!"
Both cowboys skidded to a stop, forcing Clem to stop as well. "No, Clem. We can't go back. It's not our time or place," Heyes stated.
"I want to go there! I'll go without you, then." She released their hands, and turned in time to see the portal disappear. Clem dropped to her knees, wailing, "NOOO!"
Inside the secret cave on Dantooine, four humans reappeared through the portal. Leia jerked her arm away from Loveless. "You're here. I hope you're happy."
"Ecstatic," Loveless said, spinning around and staring at all sides of the chamber, not even caring that Luke snatched the gun from his fingers.
"Should I shoot him now, or later?" Han questioned, untying Leia's wrists.
"I haven't made up my mind," Leia replied, rubbing the tender skin where the ropes had rubbed her flesh. "I wonder what happened to Clem, Heyes and Curry?"
"They stayed behind," a soft voice replied. "In their own time and place."
Luke turned around, and took a deep breath as he nodded at the serene woman dressed in Jedi robes. "Hello. My name is Luke and I'm pleased to meet you. Leia told me all about you."
"I am pleased to meet you, as well, Luke."
"Thank you for allowing Leia to use the portal. We appreciate it."
The woman inclined her head slightly. "You are most welcome. I am pleased you were able to access the portal as intended."
Luke frowned, suddenly aware that he was unable to sense the woman through the Force. "Are you real?"
"My name is Vasha Billaba, an Adept of Chalacta, and sister of Depa Billaba. She was a powerful Jedi that fell to the darkside many years ago. This portal has been placed under my watch, so I may make atonement in the name of my family."
"You already told me that," Leia said, looking in confusion at Luke.
"I apologize for causing you confusion," Vasha responded. "It is not my intention."
"Leia, she isn't real," Luke said as he slowly walked around the woman. "This is only a holo-gram."
"That can't be," Leia argued. "She answered all my questions."
"That's what she's programmed to do," Luke explained. "She listens for key words, and then supplies the right answers. Somewhere inside this room there must be a droid brain. Isn't that right, Vasha?"
"You are very observant."
"How can we get safely out of these tunnels?"
"When you leave, the doorway will shut. Wait for a moment, and the way out will become clear. May the Force be with you, and always guard against the darkside."
Just as Vasha disappeared, the huge round door reappeared, and swung open. The group hurried out of the cave, and Leia was surprised to find that Seviss was still waiting. Then a large boulder shifted to the right, allowing a bright, distant beam of light to shine down, illuminating a stone stairway to the surface.
"Seviss!" Leia cried out, throwing her arms around the Dantari. "You're still here?"
"Seviss wait here only few moments," the Dantari informed her, frowning in confusion. "Where Heyes and Curry?"
"They're back home, where they belong," Leia said, smiling with relief. "These are my friends, Luke and Han. Luke, Han, this is Seviss. He's been very helpful to me in getting you back home."
"Thank you, Seviss," Luke said, shaking the man's enormous hand. "We will be forever in your debt."
Seviss nodded. "Seviss hope Luke and Han nice like Heyes and Curry."
"They are," Leia reassured the big man. "Well, at least Luke is nice."
"Hey!" Han protested. "I'm nice!" Then he looked around in surprise. "Where did the crazy guy go?"
"Little man?" Seviss held his hand about waist high. "This high? He sneak past, minute ago. He say something like, 'Loveless soon rule galaxy."
"I don't think he was too interested in waiting around for you to shoot him," Leia told Han.
"Should we go look for him?" Luke questioned. "He might cause us trouble, later."
"Let him find his own way out," Leia said, leading the way toward the stairs. "All I want to do is get back to base, and take a long, hot shower."
"I'd like that, too," Han agreed. "Maybe we could conserve water and take that shower together."
"You can never stop annoying the Princess, can you?" Luke complained to Han.
Leia smiled. "It's nice to have you back. Both of you."
"Who is responsible for allowing that freighter to escape from Dantooine?" Vader hissed out, furious at the report that the Millennium Falcon had jumped safely into hyperspace. He turned his black visor toward Bossk, the Bounty Hunter. "You are an incompetent fool!"
"It issss hardly my fault your troopsss failed to find where Sssoloss ssship wass hidden," Bossk responded, while fearing for his very life. "I did my part by luring them here."
Vader knew the bounty hunter spoke the truth, and killing him would only result in instilling too much fear in other bounty hunters to allow them to be recruited by the Empire. "Go to your ship, Bossk. Consider yourself lucky that I am willing to allow you to continue to aid the Empire in its hunt for rebels."
The bounty hunter nodded, then turned and hurried away. Vader watched him go, then spun around to head back to his own shuttle. Unexpectedly, a very short human stepped out from behind a bush, grinning. Vader could tell this was no local human, even though his clothes appeared to be very primitive.
"Who are you?" Vader demanded.
"Allow me to introduce myself," the man replied, stepping closer and holding out his hand for Lord Vader to shake. "Doctor Miguelito Loveless Junior at your service."