THE DEATH AND LIFE OF HAN SOLO
Really, really AU, one year post ROTJ
Mon Calamari Capital Ship
Deep space, outer regions
"Are you sure you don't want me to try it first, General Solo?" Wedge asked, trying to keep the envy out of his voice.
"Nope. I wouldn't miss this test flight for anything," Han said, grinning at Antilles as the pair entered the hanger. "And quit it with the General load. Groveling will get you nowhere."
"But it could be dangerous," Wedge persisted. "I think I should try it before you do."
Han stopped short. "So.. you don't think I'm capable of handling it?"
"No, no, that's not it. But the New Republic needs you, and Leia..."
"Wedge, you're just jealous 'cuz you're not the first to take her out. Admit it."
"Fine! But if you get killed, Leia will kill me. Not to mention Chewie will rip me apart," Wedge said, throwing up his hands in defeat. "I'm just trying to save my own skin."
Han laughed. "Chewie won't blame you. Too much."
"That makes me feel so much better, Han."
Han looked across the hanger at the sleek prototype New Republic one-man fighter. It gave him a thrill just looking at it, and the idea that he would be taking it out for its first test flight was even more thrilling. Of course, Wedge was right. If anything went wrong and Leia found out, there would be hell to pay. But what could go wrong? This new ship was designed and computer tested by the best engineers the New Republic employed.
Groups of pilots and engineers stood around on the deck of the Mon Calamari capital ship, anxiously awaiting this long anticipated moment. Chewie was among those standing around waiting, and when he saw Solo dressed in his orange flight suit, the Wookiee let out a large roar of greeting to his friend, startling those unaccustomed to the bellow of the Wookiee. "Hey, Chewie!" Han waved his friend over.
Chewie was no more eager to have Han test this ship than Wedge. Even if nothing went wrong, the Wookiee was not looking forward to Leia's reaction when she eventually found out. *Cub, are you certain this is a good idea?*
"Not you, too," Han said with an exaggerated sigh. "Nothing is going to go wrong. Trust me."
Chewie shook his head and gave Han a bone-crushing hug. *Be careful.*
"Hey." Han stepped back and gave his co-pilot a mock injured look. "It's me!" He gave his partner a wink and swaggered over to the shiny new ship, grabbed the ladder rung, and climbed onboard. The Corellian picked up his helmet, giving a wave to the small crowd gathered below. A resounding cheer went up and Han gave them a cocky grin before placing the helmet on his head, then hitting the switch that closed the top hatch of the fighter. Immediately, the pilots and engineers left the hanger for the safety of the observation deck.
Once the large hanger doors locked down, Han turned on the powerful engines, and expertly turned the nose of the ship to face the exit. It had been a long time since the pilot felt such pure excitement. The outer doors opened to the blackness of space and Han pulled the throttle forward slowly, guiding his ship out of the belly of the large Capital ship. The tiny ship was incredibly responsive to every command. As he got the 'feel' for the controls, the Corellian put the ship through harder and more complex maneuvers.
"How's it going, General?" Wedge's voice came clearly through Han's headset.
"Fantastic," Solo replied. "Every pilot's dream ship."
Wedge gave a deep sigh. "Sure. Rub it in."
"I'm going to take it for a short hyperspace hop, and then return. I'm sending the coordinates over to you now."
"Got them," Wedge replied. A moment later, the small ship disappeared in the direction Han had indicated. "According to Solo's coordinates, the hop should take two minutes in one direction, and two minutes back," Wedge said to the engineers standing next to him.
Two minutes passed. As the third minute began ticking down, one of the engineers asked, "What's that?"
"What's what?" Wedge snapped. Until that moment, he hadn't realized he'd been so on edge.
"That." The engineer pointed out the viewport. All eyes turned and looked in awe as a swirling crater opened in the middle of what had been, moments before, regular space speckled with stars. The crater grew rapidly in size, resembling a giant purple mouth with darts of crackling blue lightning along the edges. The Mon Calamari ship began bucking and straining against an invisible grip that suddenly was threatening to pull them into the hole.
"Helm!" Wedge screamed into the comlink to the bridge. "Pull back! Pull back!"
The crew of the ship quickly obeyed the orders, and the large ship turned and struggled away from the gaping anomaly.
"Sir!" a crewman from the bridge yelled over the comm. "We are breaking free, and clearing the pull of the hole!"
"Good," Commander Antilles responded.
Wedge snapped his attention back to the viewport. Han's small fighter craft had returned from its hyperspace jump. Close, far too close, to the maw.
"Han!" Wedge yelled into the comlink. "Pull up!"
"What the...." Han's voice crackled over the link. "Where in seven hells did that come from?"
"Pull up!" Wedge repeated frantically, trying to be heard over the howling Wookiee.
"I'm try...," he retorted. "I.... caught......" Han's words were breaking up. The crew watched in horror as the small ship was pulled ever closer toward the strange opening.
"Use the tractor beam!" Wedge ordered.
"We can't, sir!" a crew member responded. "We're too far away, and if we try to get closer we'll get caught in the pull."
A blinding flash lit up the room, and the crew of the cruiser instinctively threw up their hands to protect their eyes. A moment later, they looked back out of the viewport into the clear, star-dotted space. The vortex had vanished.
"Han! Han! Can you hear me?"
"Sir, the prototype ship is floating... dead in space!" another crew member answered.
"Get closer, and get a tractor beam on it!"
Chewie and Wedge barely gave the shield doors time to close before rushing into the hanger. The New Republic fighter sat on the deck, with no apparent damage. A ladder was quickly placed on the side of the ship, and Chewie climbed up before the crew had time to secure it.
"Chewie," Wedge called up, "What is it? Get him out of there!"
The giant Wookiee punched in the entry code and screamed again.
"Medics!" Wedge yelled, looking up at the Wookiee, his heart pounding in fear. "Get the medics!"
Chewie turned his grief stricken blue eyes toward Wedge and climbed back down the steps. Without a word, Wedge pulled himself up the rungs. Lying in disarray inside the cockpit was Han's clothing and his helmet. Shaking, Wedge picked up the flight suit. Like the ship, there were no marks on the helmet or clothes.
Han had vanished as if he had never existed.
Three years later.
Leia sat up in bed, her heart pounding. Not again! she thought as she shut her eyes. Once again, she had dreamt of Han Solo. For the past three years, it was always the same dream. Han was standing above her at the top of a dry mountaintop, reaching his hand out for her and calling her name. He was not dressed as Han was always dressed, in his standard white shirt and spacers vest, but in loose tan clothes Leia had never seen him wearing. Still, Leia knew it was Han, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't climb that dry mountain. Pebbles and rocks would slip out from under her feet, and for every step she took toward Han, she slid back down two.
Now she was two months away from becoming the wife of Prince Isolder. At first, Leia had resisted his proposal, coming so unexpectedly after her meeting with the Hapans. But, eventually, she had bowed to the pressure. What difference does it make? she had asked herself. It didn't matter to her that she wasn't in love with Isolder. The man she had given her heart to was forever gone. Only her memories remained - memories and the dream that would not reelease her from its grip.
Leia thought back to the day Wedge had called her with the news. It had seemed so unreal to her that Han was gone, that he had simply vanished. The five of them - Leia, Luke, Wedge, Lando and Chewie ― had spent months searching the sector where the vortex had so suddenly appeared, then disappeared. Sensors gave no indication of any abnormal readings in the area, and no amount of waiting and hoping had made the strange hole reappear.
The close friends had supported each other during the difficult days after Han's disappearance. He had meant a great deal, in different ways, to each of them. Han himself would have been surprised and embarrassed at the outpouring of grief and emotion at his memorial service, held one year from the day he had vanished.
Chewie had remained by Leia's side, her companion, just as he had been Han's protector. At least until her engagement to Isolder. Once she had accepted the proposal, her future mother-in-law had insisted that Chewie return to his home planet. "He is nothing more than a reminder of the past, Princess," the Queen Mother had told Leia. "It is unseemly that you keep him around now that you are engaged to another man."
So Chewie was back on Kashyyyk, while Luke was on Yavin with his Jedi students. Everybody was getting on with their lives. Except in her heart Leia did not feel as though she was moving on, even if she was now engaged. She knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if Han were to reappear on her wedding day, she would leave Isolder at the altar for the Corellian that still held her heart.
The sticky Yavin atmosphere made the clothes cling to Luke's body as he jogged along a narrow path. He couldn't stop thinking about his sister and her upcoming marriage. Leia had not been the same person since Han disappeared. She had lost her vibrant, outgoing personality, and acted like she was operating on autopilot. The notion of marrying someone you didn't love, just for political reasons, seemed very wrong to Luke. He'd tried to talk Leia out of the idea, but she had been resigned to the idea of a loveless marriage, claiming it was for the good of the New Republic. Short of kidnapping her, there wasn't much Luke could do to stop Leia from making this mistake.
Luke stopped and sat on a boulder, placed his hands on his knees, and shut his eyes. He felt the Force flowing all around him, in the foliage, in the insects and animals. An image appeared in his mind. A dry, orange tinted mountain range, surrounded by hot sand. Focusing his thoughts, he let himself drift over to the mountains, as if he were floating above them. One mountain in particular stood out - with a tall, narrow peak that hooked to the right. Near the top of the peak was a cave opening. Luke mentally willed himself toward the cavern. Peering into the dark interior, Luke could see a swirling, crackling maw. And even stranger still, he could hear a familiar male voice calling his name from inside the hole.
Luke's eyes snapped open. Somehow, somewhere, Luke had always believed Han was alive. Now he felt this was true with an overwhelming sense of urgency.
Hapes, two weeks later
The holocom was flashing when Winter walked into the room. Pressing the button, she was not overly surprised to see Luke's image shimmer into focus.
"Winter," Luke began. "It's nice to see you. How are you doing?"
"I'm fine," Winter said with a small smile. "Hold on for a second, while I get Leia."
Moments later, Princess Leia's image appeared. She looked tired and unhappy, but greeted her brother with a big smile. "Luke! It's so nice to see you." She meant that in the deepest sense. Other than Winter, Leia was completely alone on the Hapan world, while her future mother-in-law busily prepared Leia's wedding day, never once consulting Leia or asking her opinion. It was all so completely different than what Leia had always imagined her wedding would be like, and every time she tried to picture herself standing before the guests, in her mind's eye Isolder always faded away and was replaced by Han.
"It's nice to see you, too, Leia."
"If you're calling to ask me if I've changed my mind, the answer is no," she said with forced cheerfulness.
"Actually, I'd like to know if you could take a short trip with me," Luke asked carefully.
"A trip? Where?"
Luke hesitated for a moment. "The outer regions."
"The outer regions?" Leia frowned. "This had better not be about Han. I can't take anymore, Luke."
Luke knew exactly how his sister felt. They had all clung to hope for so long - even after the memorial service they had chased vague clues in the vain hope that something, anything at all, would lead them to Han. Luke immediately felt guilty for asking Leia to try again. "I understand," Luke said quietly. "I'll contact Chewie." Asking Chewie would not be much better. *It's time to let my cub rest in peace, Skywalker,* had been Chewie's last words on the subject of chasing false leads. "I'll see you in a month, for your wedding," Luke told his sister as he reached for the switch.
"Wait!" Leia leaned forward while Luke waited. "Come and pick me up. I'll go with you," she said quickly. I am making a mistake. This is only going to break my heart again, she thought sadly. But if she didn't try, one last time, she would regret it for the rest of her life.
"You can't be serious! Our wedding is in six weeks," Isolder protested, incredulous. "What if you can't get back in time?"
"Luke said it is only a short trip, and I'm sure he'll get me back in plenty of time," Leia soothed her fiancé.
The tall prince frowned in disapproval. "Why do you need to go with him?"
"He said he heard about some Force-sensitives living on a planet the New Republic hasn't established relations with, and I need to talk to the leaders and smooth things out, politically," Leia lied, feeling only slightly guilty. "You know Luke is not a politician, Isolder."
"Well, this is the last time you are playing politician for the New Republic," Isolder said hotly. "And if Skywalker tries pulling anything like this again, I'll take him on myself, Jedi or not."
"Yes, dear," Leia said, trying to keep the annoyance out of her voice. Han, after everything I have been through since you disappeared, if I ever do find you, you might want to vanish again!
Luke had gone to Kashyyyk in his X-Wing before picking up Leia, and had asked Chewie to come with them for one last attempt to find Solo.
*You are welcome to use the Falcon, Luke,* Chewie had said with a shake of his head. *But I don't think I can join you in this search. It is too difficult for me to handle when we fail, time after time.*
"All right," Luke had agreed. "But I hope I can explain it to Han why you aren't with us when we find him."
Chewie had gone with Luke, knowing the Jedi had managed to manipulate him one more time.
"This is the exact location where the anomaly occurred," Leia said as she checked the coordinates. "We've been here a dozen times before, Luke. What is the difference this time?"
"My vision is the difference," he answered his sister. "I saw a mountain, with a cave. If we can find that mountain, we may have a place to start looking."
Leia felt herself grow cold. "A mountain?"
Her brother turned in the pilot's seat to look directly at Leia. "Yes. A dry mountain, sort of orange colored, with a hooked peak."
The Princess shut her eyes. "I've been dreaming of that mountain for three years. Han is always standing at the top, calling my name. As hard as I try, I can't reach him."
"I'm not sure it is a dream, Leia," Luke said gently. "Maybe it has been a Force vision."
Guilt overwhelmed her as she whispered, "Then I've been ignoring Han this entire time?"
"I'm not sure, Leia," the Jedi replied. "You can't blame yourself for whatever happened to Han."
From the co-pilot's seat, Chewie gave a bark of surprise. "What is it, Chewie?" Luke questioned, reading the translator on the panel. After all these years, both Luke and Leia had learned to understand Chewie much better, but it was still a good idea to check the translator, just to be certain.
*A planet.* The Wookiee pointed to his sensors. *It was not there the other times we have been in this location.*
Luke studied the coordinates carefully. "I think it was... but the alignment of the planet's primary kept us from seeing it. Still, it's odd that it's not on any charts. I think we need to check this out."
An hour later.
The planet was mostly ocean, but it had a variety of continents with different climates, and each continent contained a few villages separated by vast distances. They landed the Falcon near a small town, then Luke and Leia set out for the settlement, leaving Chewie with the ship. Since this particular town was populated by humans, Leia guessed that humans and non-humans might not get along on this planet. It appeared by the sensors the local populations lived very segregated lives. If a Wookiee entered the village it might create a problem they didn't need.
Even without Chewie, the villagers stared openly at them as they entered the town. "They aren't too accustomed to off-worlders, are they?" Leia asked under her breath, as she observed that the people wore dark grey or black tunics, with head coverings. Each person dressed precisely alike, and all the buildings were brown, with straight sides and flat roofs. The town was remarkable by its sheer dullness.
"I sense a great deal of fear and hostility toward us, Leia," Luke remarked softly. "It's not like they have never seen an off-worlder before, they just don't like them."
"That doesn't bode too well for us finding someone to help us."
Using the Force to seek out someone with less hostility than the others, Luke approached a middle-aged woman. "Hello," he began politely. "My name is Luke Skywalker, and this is my sister, Leia. Is there someone in charge we can speak to?"
"Why?" she asked in heavily accented Basic. "Off-worlders are not welcome here."
"We've gotten that impression," Leia remarked lightly.
"The Priest is in charge," the native replied. "You can find him in the center of town, in the largest building." She turned and hurried away.
Luke knocked on the flat door. This was, by far, the largest and oldest building in the town's center. The twins hoped it was the correct building - no one else would talk to them after the brief conversation with the woman. After a lengthy wait, the door swung slowly open. A bent over old man, with long gray hair, stood at the entry, watching them warily. "What do you want?" he snapped out.
"We would like to see the Priest," Luke replied.
"Follow me." The old man turned and hobbled off at a surprisingly fast pace, forcing Luke and Leia to hurry after him. Not only was the building very old, it was not very well maintained. Stacks of old books, disks, and broken pottery littered the interior of each room. They followed the man down a long hall, until they reached the last door. The old man pulled the door open, indicating Luke and Leia should enter. He followed them in, slamming the door shut behind him. "What do you want?" he repeated, his lined face betraying suspicion.
Brother and sister exchanged worried looks. Perhaps the man was senile. "We would like to see the Priest," Luke repeated his request.
The old man stepped up close to Luke and poked him in the chest with a sharp fingernail. "I am the Priest, you idiot. Now, what do you want?"
"I'm sorry," Luke stammered out. "I did not mean to offend you. We are looking for a friend who disappeared near this system three years ago. I thought you might be able to offer us some assistance."
"Why would I know anything about that?"
"I'm not saying you know anything about his disappearance, but maybe you have seen similar anomalies occur in your system in the past," Luke continued to explain.
The Priest narrowed his eyes. "What kind of anomaly?"
"It was a large maw that suddenly opened up in space, with an intense gravitational pull. My friend's ship got too close, and he disappeared. Except the odd part is, his ship was still there."
"No," the old man answered shortly. "I know nothing. Go away."
"You're lying," Luke said without thinking. Indeed, the Force was screaming at Luke that this man knew exactly what he was describing.
"How dare you accuse me of lying!" the man spat out at Luke. "You are off-worlders! You must leave!"
"I am a Jedi, and the Force is telling me you are lying," Luke replied calmly.
"You don't have to be afraid of us," Leia added quickly. "We only want to find our friend, and we mean you no harm."
"You may not want to harm us," the old man whispered. "But they will want to harm you. The same way they harmed your friend. You are the ones that need to be afraid."
"They? Who are 'they'?" Leia asked the old man.
"We don't know what they call themselves. We call them The Collectors," he whispered, as he leaned in close to the Princess.
"Yes, they have lived in the mountains for millenniums. Long ago, when there were still Jedi, we used to be able to communicate with them, and all was well. Now all is silent until they want memories," he said fearfully.
Leia and Luke exchanged a confused look. "Memories? What does that mean?"
"The Collectors have no bodies. They only have minds, powerful minds that can do horrible things. The people of Terrall used to be able to provide them with companionship, back when there were Jedi, but no more," he said with a rueful smile. "Now, to keep ourselves safe, we live as uneventful lives as possible. That way we won't be taken."
"I'm afraid we still don't understand," Leia said softly. "Where were you taken?"
"The Collectors began taking our memories.. for their amusement. Then they would discard our bodies, as useless shells," he muttered with a sad sigh. "Since we try to live such boring lives, the Collectors have had to set traps in space to find more interesting memories to capture."
Leia struggled to find her voice. "Is that what happened to Han?"
"It appears to be the case," he agreed. "You must leave immediately. Coming here puts our lives at risk. You give us interesting memories. We can't have that... not if we want to stay alive."
"We need to go find these mountains, where the Collectors live," Luke said firmly. "We intend to get our friend back."
"It is too late for him," the Priest said sadly. "If you do not leave, they may take you, and you will become like your friend."
"We'll take that chance," Leia replied. "Please, give us directions, and we will leave your village quickly."
The old Priest shook his head. "Fine. I will give you a map to the correct location. But you cannot say you weren't warned."
The map the Priest provided directed them to a desert area in the southern hemisphere of the planet. The Falcon skimmed close to the ground as Luke guided it to the mountain range.
"There's the mountain," Leia whispered as the curved peak came into view. She shivered, unable to believe that after all this time it was real.
Luke nodded and set the Falcon down as closely as possible to the peak. Still, it was going to be a climb to get to the very top, where the ominous looking cave peered out like a dark eye overlooking the lifeless desert.
They exited the ship and were greeted with a blast of furnace hot, dry air. "This is even hotter than Tatooine," Luke said, a bit surprised by the intensity. "Can you two handle the hike to the top?"
*I am right behind you, Skywalker,* Chewie nodded.
Leia looked up at the peak. It was just like her dream, only now Han was not there reaching for her. And this time, she would not be slipping back down the rock slope. Giving Luke a small smile, she started the hike.
It took over an hour to climb to the cave entrance, and by then they were hot and exhausted. The cooling shade of the cave looked inviting rather than frightening.
"I'll go in first," Luke instructed. "Give me a minute to check it out, or we could all end up trapped."
Leia frowned at her brother, but couldn't think of a good reason to argue with his reasoning. "Be careful."
Luke grinned at Leia. "Always." Carefully and slowly, he made his way into the opening, using his lightsaber to light the interior. The young Jedi was surprised and disappointed; it was just a large, empty cave, with a high ceiling and smooth walls. "Leia, Chewie," he called out. "I think it's safe to come inside."
Moments later, Leia was at his side. "There isn't anything in here," she said, the disappointment evident in her voice. "This isn't any different from any of our other searches."
"I don't understand," Luke said, frustrated. "This is the cave in my Force vision." He turned to his sister. "The Priest wasn't lying about the Collectors, Leia. I could feel his fear."
"Well, maybe they left," Leia responded.
"Why has a Jedi come to this One?" a rumbling voice spoke.
Chewie gave a startled roar, and the twins looked at each other in surprise. The voice seemed to be coming from all around them. "Who are you?" Luke asked carefully. "I can't sense your presence in the Force."
"My name is Baxjaqua. You cannot sense my presence unless I choose it." Luke gave a jump as he suddenly felt the other's presence appear to him in the Force. Reaching out with the Force, Luke could only sense sadness and loneliness radiating from the cave walls. The being called Baxjaqua meant them no harm, Luke was certain.
"Are you one of the Collectors?" Leia asked nervously.
"That is what the beings of this universe call me."
"They said you collect memories of people, and then kill them," Luke said slowly. "Is this true?"
"I do not kill," the Voice replied. "I re-place, after I take the memories."
"Replace? What does that mean?"
The being called Baxjaqua was silent for some time. Finally he answered, "I put them in another time, in another place, so they can gain new memories. I re-place them."
"And what about the memories you take from them? What happens to those memories?" Leia questioned.
Suddenly, the wall of the cave started glowing and thousands of glowing crystals appeared lodged into the stone. "They are stored, for my amusement."
Leia stepped closer to Luke, and he put his arm protectively around her. "The Villagers said there were Collectors, as in more than one of you. Are there more of your kind?"
The Voice gave a heavy, weary sigh. "Once, there were Ten of us, now there is only this One."
"What happened to the others?"
"They ceased to be, just as I will soon cease to be," the Voice said sadly. "And when I cease to be, so will the memories I have stored for so long."
"Are you ill?" Leia questioned.
"All things must end, and soon I must end."
"How do you know so much about the Jedi?" Luke asked.
"Once, we considered the Jedi our friends. They understood the Ten existed only through the Force, and only the Jedi did not fear us. When there were no more Jedi, we had no more friends. So alone, we were. It was then we started collecting memories, so we could feel. But even these memories could not keep us from our end. One by one, our existence ceased to be."
"Did you take the memories from our friend?" Luke prodded. "Did you re-place him?"
"His name is Han Solo," Leia added.
"Ah, Solo, his memories were so full and rich. He is one of my favorites."
"We need him back," Leia begged. "Please."
"I cannot return him to you. If you wish him back, you must go to the place I have put him, and return him to this cave."
"How do we do that?" Luke questioned.
"You must step through the portal, and return through the same portal. It is dangerous, and I cannot guarantee your success. It has never been done, bringing back a re-placed being."
Leia shook her head in frustration. "How can you put someone in another time and place, and with amnesia? How do you expect them to survive?"
"Yes, when someone can't remember who they are, or where they came from, it's called amnesia," she explained tightly.
"You do not understand me, human. I send them to a different place, as infants."
"Infant?" Leia gasped. "You mean Han is a child again?"
"How can we return him to this place, and return his memories if he is a child?" Luke asked, feeling a rising sense of panic.
"I do not understand your question."
"If we go through this portal, to retrieve our friend," Luke tried again, "we can't put the memories of an adult into the mind of a child."
"Time is relative."
"What does that mean?" Leia snapped. She was becoming angry at this ...Baxjaqua. She felt Luke give her arm a gentle squeeze, reminding her that this being held great powers. It would not be wise to anger it.
"I can send you through the portal to whatever time you wish..... your friend can be as a child, teenager, adult.. "
"So you can send us to him, and he can be the same age as when you snatched his memories?" Luke inquired. This was incredibly confusing to him, but this strange being seemed to take such things in stride.
"When can we leave?" Leia asked and looked over at Chewie as he roared his agreement.
"Whenever you desire. Your non-human friend cannot go... this place has only sentient humans."
Chewie seemed about to disagree, but Luke stopped him. "Chewie, if the people aren't used to seeing non-humans, it could cause major problems .. for all of us."
"We'll bring Han back, Chewie," Leia said as she hugged the Wookiee. "I promise."
"Do not take too much time, humans." The Voice spoke quietly. "My end is near.... if this were not the case, I would not allow you to try and retrieve your friend. But if I cease to be when you are gone, the portal will not open for you, and you will be forever trapped in another time and place."
On the opposite wall from the memory crystals, a swirling hole opened. The edges crackled and sparked.
"Remember.... you must locate the same shaped mountain on this other-world. It, too, will contain this same cave, and the portal will appear to you in the cave. If you fail to find it, you will not be able to return."
Brother and sister looked at each other, then held hands as they stepped into the maw.
"I'm right here, Leia," her brother replied from beside her. Leia opened her eyes into bright, afternoon sun. Leafy green trees shaded the well kept park where both sister and brother now stood.
"Where are we?"
"I have no idea," Luke admitted. "There are lots of people surrounding us, but I don't sense any hostility coming from them."
Leia looked around and saw a path that led toward the sound of human voices. "Let's try the path," she suggested.
Luke nodded, so they walked a short distance, until they reached a clearing. Young humans, male and female, busily walked in different directions, chatting and holding what appeared to be actual books. A short distance further, strange black vehicles roared past each other, making both loud noise and emitting disgusting smells. "This is all so primitive," Luke whispered. "These people actually use fossil-based engines!"
"And we're being stared at," the Princess whispered back. "No one is dressed like us. All the women are wearing dresses."
Luke looked down at his dusty, dark clothing covered with his Jedi robe, then appraised his sister's white slacks and sleeveless tank top. He noted the young men wore loose slacks and short-sleeved shirts, many with pullover vests, and most with a strange rope hanging around their necks. Leia was right - they were not dressed to blend in with the locals. "Maybe no one will notice," he said hopefully.
"We've been noticed, trust me," Leia commented dryly.
"Well, at least we have clothes." Luke grinned. "Han's were left in his ship, remember?"
Leia glared at her brother. "I remember. Can you sense if Han's close?"
Luke shut his eyes and concentrated. After a moment he opened them, smiling. Although Han may not have retained his memories, his Force-sense was exactly the same as before. "That way." He pointed across the street to a grouping of old brick buildings, covered in greenery.
Ignoring all the blatant stares from the men and women, the pair made their way carefully across the busy street. Horns blared at them, and a man leaned out his window, shaking his fist at them. "Haven't you ever heard of a crosswalk, you stupid morons!"
Luke pulled Leia safely to the other side. "What's a moron?" he asked his sister.
The twins made their way into a building near the back of the campus, and walked down a quiet corridor. Each room they passed was filled with young men and women, obviously listening to a teacher. It was very apparent they were at some type of training facility.
"Han is very near," Luke indicated as they turned down another hallway.
"Do you suppose he is one of these students? I thought that Baxjaqua was supposed to send us to him when he was the same age as when he was stolen from us," Leia muttered in disgust.
"Well, maybe he misjudged," Luke replied. "After all, human ages may not mean much to him and these people are fairly close to our age."
"If it turns out he is younger than me, I'm going to be very annoyed."
Luke only laughed, and then he came to a stop in front of a door. "He's in this room."
After three long years, Leia could barely contain her joy. Not only was Han alive, he was only a few feet away. A loud bell rang, and she jumped back, startled. Was everything so noisy on this planet? The door flew open, and students, overwhelmingly female, poured out of the door. Luke pulled Leia against the wall, out of the way of the rushing people. "Class must be over," he remarked with a grin.
"You think?" she asked sarcastically. Leia looked carefully at each exiting student. "Where's Han?"
"Still inside the room," Luke answered. "Come on." With the last student gone, Luke pulled his sister into the large room. It was filled with desks, and against one wall was a larger desk with a green, flat board behind it. Han Solo was sitting behind the large desk, wearing a clean white shirt and a strange brown patterned jacket. Around his neck, like the other males, he wore that odd rope. And he was wearing something on his face that sat on his nose in front of his eyes. Leia seemed to remember from ancient history holos that people used those to correct vision, eons ago. She couldn't remember what they were called, but it didn't matter. Han was here, alive and well. With her heart hammering in her throat, Leia noted his hair was shorter than usual, but he was the same age as the last time she had seen him.
He looked up from his flimsies, and removed the wire vision thing. A puzzled expression crossed his face as he took in the strange appearance of the young man and woman. "Excuse me?"
Luke and Leia exchanged worried looks as they realized their friend had no idea who they were. "We didn't think this through, did we?" Luke asked his sister. He turned to his long-time friend. "Hi, my name is Luke Skywalker, and I'm here to rescue you."
A frown appeared on Han's face as his puzzlement increased. Leia could have killed her brother. Luke's attempt at levity was not making things any better. Quickly she stepped forward and held out her hand. "My name is Leia Organa," she said before Han could respond to Luke's strange proclamation.
Han stood up slowly, and grasped her outstretched hand. "And my name is Dr. Indiana Jones. Can I help you?"
Indiana Jones? What kind of strange name is that? Leia thought to herself. But whatever he was calling himself, it was definitely Han, down to the scar on his chin. It was all Leia could do to keep from throwing herself in his arms and kissing him. Instead, she asked curiously, "You're a doctor?"
"A professor of archeology, actually," he answered with his familiar, lop-sided smile. Perhaps these were foreign exchange students. It might explain their strange dress and behavior. "If you're looking for Student Registration, you're in the wrong building."
"No, we are looking for you, Ha - Dr. Jones," Luke inserted. "Do you have time to talk to us?"
"I suppose so," Jones remarked cautiously. "That was my last class of the day. You can come with me into my office."
The siblings followed Dr. Jones into a small office, crowded with books and artifacts. There was barely room for a desk and chair, but the professor pushed aside some boxes and hauled in two wooden chairs, placing them in front of his small, very messy, desk.
Luke and Leia sat down, waiting for Jones to clear a space on his desk and give them his attention. He finally looked up. "Ok, go ahead. I'm listening."
Leia had never felt such a loss for words. She didn't even know where to begin. "Dr. Jones, we used to know you."
"Really? I can't recall ever meeting the two of you. When was this?"
Leia swallowed hard. It was difficult to look at Han, without any sign of recognition on his face. "Three years ago, you disappeared. We've been looking for you ever since."
"Disappeared? I haven't exactly been hiding. I've been teaching at this university for eight years."
"Han, you don't understand," Luke put in. "You aren't supposed to be here. This isn't your place, or time."
"You're right," Jones agreed with a frown. "I don't understand. And why do you keep calling me Han?"
"Because that's your name!" Leia raised her voice in panic. "You're not from this galaxy!"
Indiana Jones started laughing. "Did Brody put you two up to this? I'm starting to think that man has too much time on his hands."
"This isn't a joke," Luke replied earnestly. "You need to come back with us, before it's too late."
Dr. Jones shook his head, irritation flickering across his face. "I really don't have time for this. You need to leave before I get annoyed and call Campus Security."
Luke and Leia looked desperately at each other. "Are you adopted, Dr. Jones?" Leia asked.
The sudden change of subject caught him off guard. "What? No."
"Are you absolutely sure of that?" Luke said as he leaned forward.
"I'll tell you what," Dr. Jones responded with a conspiratorial whisper, as he copied Luke's posture. "Next time I see my dad, I'll be sure to ask him."
"Are you married? Do you have any children?" Leia questioned him, afraid of what his answer might be.
"No, and no," he replied with a shake of his head. "And I'm pretty sure you are too old to be any long-lost offspring."
Leia sighed and stood up. "Come on, Luke. This isn't getting us anywhere."
"Wait!" Luke exclaimed. "Will you believe us if I can show you proof that we're not from this galaxy?"
"What kind of proof?" Indiana asked, his eyes narrowing suspiciously.
Luke took out his lightsaber and being very careful not to point it at anything in the tight confines of the room, he ignited the green blade. He watched in satisfaction as Dr. Jones stared in awe at the humming weapon.
"What is that thing?"
"It's called a lightsaber," Luke replied. "Are you convinced yet?"
"Not really," Dr. Jones mumbled, annoyed that these kids had managed to impress him. "But you have my attention. I'll give you fifteen minutes to tell me your story."
The twins walked away from the ivy-covered building in defeat. "At least he didn't call security after he heard our story," Luke said slowly.
"He didn't believe a word we were saying," Leia remarked sadly. "I think we need to take more drastic measures."
"What are you suggesting?"
"Kidnapping," Leia said simply.
That stopped Luke in his tracks. "We can't take him back against his will, Leia."
"Because..." Luke trailed off, thinking. "Wouldn't that make us just as bad as Baxjaqua? Taking his memories of this life away, as if they don't matter, just so we can have Han back. It's not right."
Leia glared at her brother. "Don't go all Jedi on me, Luke. We're not going back without him."
"Fine," Luke sighed. "But just what do you suggest we do after we kidnap him? We have no credits, no transportation, and we don't even know where to find this mountain. I think this might require some planning."
"You'll think of something, Luke," Leia smiled. "After all, you're the brains."
"Yes, Indy?" Marcus Brody said as he looked up from his newspaper. He watched as Indiana Jones entered his office and sat down in an old leather chair.
"Am I adopted?" Earlier, Indy had laughed and dismissed the statement made by the two strangers, but he had not been able to get the question out of his mind. Asking his friend Marcus Brody, someone he had known his entire life, would ease his concerns, even if Indy suspected Brody would get a chuckle at his expense.
Marcus sat back in his chair, a shocked expression appearing on his face. "Who told you?"
That was not the answer Indy had expected. Denial - yes, laughter - probably. But not, 'who told you?'
"I am adopted?" he asked, stunned.
"This isn't my place, Indy," Brody said quietly. "You should talk to your father."
"Apparently, I don't have a father," Indy shot back hotly. "I guess this explains why he never liked me."
"Henry loves you, Indy," Marcus replied calmly. "Your parents tried having children, and it was just not to be. So they adopted you. Why is that so bad?"
"I should have been told long before now," Indy answered, not knowing whether he was angry or hurt. "Who were my real parents?"
"The people that raised you are your real parents," Marcus returned, getting irritated at his friend. "The orphanage where you were adopted said you were a foundling. Your mother was undoubtedly unmarried and poor. She probably thought she was doing the right thing by leaving you. I'm sorry you found out like this, but it doesn't change who you are now."
"I think it might, Marcus."
Late that night
"It sure gets cold here at night," Leia said as she rubbed her bare arms to try and warm her skin. "Do you think he'll let us in?"
Luke gazed over at the small, tidy house that Dr. Indiana Jones called home. "All he can do is call the authorities on us. Maybe then we'll get a bed and a meal."
The Princess sighed, marched up to the house and knocked on the door. Luke followed her up the sidewalk and tried to put on his most innocent, farmboy look. Maybe looking pitiful would have an effect, since telling the truth had failed so miserably.
The door opened and Dr. Jones stood in the doorway. He was no longer dressed in the dark brown suit, but instead had on a light tan shirt and brown loose-fitting slacks. It was the same clothing Leia had always seen him wearing in her dreams. "Why am I not surprised to see you here?" Indy said with a shake of his head.
"We don't have anywhere to go," Luke said from behind his sister. "And we don't have any credits."
"Money," Leia amended, hoping that word made more sense.
"Ah, the space travelers don't have Earth money," Indy said, trying to keep from rolling his eyes. "Of course not." He stepped aside, and waved his hand to indicate they should enter. "Welcome to my humble little Earth abode, oh wise space travelers."
"It's good to see his sarcasm level has stayed the same," Leia remarked over her shoulder as she stepped into the living room.
"Thanks for letting us in," Luke added quickly, before Indy could change his mind about inviting them inside.
As they made their way into the small house, Leia noted the room was filled with more old books and artifacts, just as his office had been. She turned and looked up at the wary expression on his face. "Do you have anything to eat?" It had been a full day, and Leia was starving.
Indy grinned down at the short, spunky woman. She reminded him so much of Marion, it was uncanny. "You get right to the point, don't you?"
"The kitchen is over here," he said as he led the way. "I'm not much of a cook, but I can make a mean peanut butter sandwich."
"Anything is fine, I'm sure," Luke nodded. The idea of food was sounding better and better. The pair sat at a small table and watched as Indy prepared "sandwiches" and poured some white liquid into glasses. Tentatively, they tasted the food and liquid, surprised at how good it tasted. They devoured the meal without talking, while Indy watched in amusement.
When they were finished he asked, "How did you know I was adopted? Until today, I didn't even know."
"I thought we explained that," Luke replied.
"Yes, I know. I'm from another time and place, and some strange thing threw me here on Earth after stealing my memories. Oh... and turned me back into a baby. Do you have any idea what that sounds like?"
"I know it seems strange," Leia said, wiping her lips with a small napkin. "But it's true. And this 'strange thing' that put you here is dying. If we don't get back to the portal, Luke and I will be trapped here on this planet as well."
Indy shut his eyes and leaned back into his chair. "Why is this Han person so important to you?"
"Because I love him," Leia answered quickly, watching his reaction.
The sincerity of her words took Indy back. "So you want me to give up my memories and put Han's back? That doesn't seem quite fair."
Leia turned her face away, and blinked back tears. Indy was saying the same thing Luke had said earlier. She knew they both were right, but admitting it would mean losing Han forever. Leia didn't know if she could stand it, but it was becoming increasingly apparent that she would have to learn how to deal with that loss.
"I guess you're right," she said slowly. "It wouldn't be fair to you."
"Can you help us locate this mountain, the one with the portal?" Luke asked. "We need to get back, even if we aren't bringing you back with us."
Indiana sighed. Somehow, in this very short amount of time, he had come to like these two very strange people. And they obviously needed his help. The one thing Indy could never resist was a good adventure, especially if it involved helping a pretty lady. "I'll help you find your mountain."
The next morning.
"It's only two weeks until summer break, Marcus. You can take over my classes that long," Indy said stubbornly. "You owe me."
"I owe you?" Brody asked, astounded. "Because I told you the truth about being adopted? You wanted me to lie to you?"
"You have been lying to me, for my entire life!"
"No, I haven't," he argued back. "How was it my place to tell you that you were adopted?"
"Marcus, please," Indy pleaded. "This is important."
Brody sighed and rolled his eyes. "It is always important with you, Indy."
Indiana walked into his house, and smiled at the two young people staring at the radio as jazz music wafted from the speakers. By their expressions, it appeared they had never seen anything quite like his Philco. Indy had to give them credit - they certainly knew how to play their parts. He threw several packages down on the sofa. "I bought some clothes for you. You might as well blend in with us Earthlings."
Leia sorted through the bags and pulled out several modest blouses and loose slacks. She handed Luke the packages meant for him then walked off to the bedroom to dress. Luke picked up some gray slacks and a white shirt. "Thanks," he said softly. "I know you still don't believe us, but I appreciate the fact you are willing to try and help."
"After you get dressed, we'll head to the library," Indy informed him. "You can look through photos of mountain ranges, and see if anything looks familiar."
"That sounds like a good idea," Luke agreed.
Five hours later, Leia had a headache. She slammed a book shut and plopped it on the table in annoyance. "Why don't you people have computers?"
"All libraries should have computers," Leia snapped. "This world is so primitive, I don't know how anyone manages to stay alive."
"Well, pardon us Earthlings for living," Indy said with a smirk. It was getting rather amusing to argue with this woman, and Indy was finding it easy, and fun, to make her mad. "If we don't find something soon, the library is going to close. Besides, I need to get home and rub a couple of sticks together and get a fire going. We don't want to freeze tonight, do we?"
"I could make a suggestion what else you could do with those sticks," Leia muttered, glaring at Indiana.
Indy made a shocked expression. "Now, now! Are all females as unladylike as you... in this galaxy you're from?"
Luke made a strangled laugh. "Leia, do you always have to argue with him?"
Indy picked up another large book and handed it to Leia. "Keep looking. This mountain is your ticket home, honey, not mine."
Leia snatched the book out of Jones's hand and opened the dusty volume. There, in front of her eyes, was a black and white photo of a curved mountain. "Luke," she whispered as she passed the book to him.
"This is it," Luke agreed. "Our mountain."
Indy got up and walked over to stand behind Luke. Looking over his shoulder, Indy frowned at the photograph. "This mountain is in the middle of the desert.... in Australia!"
"Is that a problem?" Luke asked as he turned and looked up at Indy.
"No, no problem," Indy grumbled with a dramatic sigh. "I don't have anything else to spend my entire life savings on, besides dragging two crazy people halfway across the Australian Outback. No, no problem at all."
"A week?!" Leia exclaimed in disbelief. "It's going to take an entire week to make an interplanetary hop?"
Indy stopped his packing to look over at the woman. "The train trip to Los Angeles will take about four days, and the plane trip to Australia will take two. The plane needs to stop and refuel in Hawaii and the Marshall Islands. So yes, to answer your question, it will take about a week to get to Australia. And then we will need to spend several days, at least, traveling the Outback to this mountain of yours."
"Leia, I don't think there is anything we can do about it," Luke tried to calm his sister. She had been upset ever since coming to the same conclusion Luke had - they could not expect Indiana Jones to give up his life for Han Solo. While she knew this was not Indy's fault, she nevertheless lashed out at him as if somehow he were to blame for breaking her heart.
Indy looked over at Luke, grateful for the support. Like Luke, he understood where Leia's anger was coming from. She must have loved this Han Solo very deeply, and the fact Indy looked just like him was hurting her emotionally. Indy still did not believe these two people were from a different galaxy, but they obviously were ... odd. And that was enough to get Indy's interest peaked. Besides, this mountain may very well have some sort of archeological history, and if it did, the trip would be worth it. Indy picked up his Webley and checked the chambers before putting it in the holster.
"Nothing like a good blaster at your side?" Luke questioned, as he nodded at the old weapon.
"That's what we call sidearms in our galaxy - blasters."
"Oh. Yeah. Well, I wouldn't be alive today if I didn't have this gun," Indy remarked. "And this." He picked up a coiled bull whip and grinned at Luke.
"A whip?" Luke asked, incredulously.
Indy gave a lop-sided grin that made Leia's heart ache. "It comes in handy sometimes, trust me."
"Do you know how to use it?" Leia questioned.
Indy looked around the room, then walked halfway across the room, placing a rolled up newspaper in a jar. He walked back to his suitcase, and casually picked up the whip handle. Faster than Leia's eyes could follow, the whip lashed out and sliced the newspaper cleanly in half, leaving the jar still sitting. "Yes, I know how to use it," he answered as he put the whip back in the suitcase.
Los Angeles, four days later.
The three weary travelers stood in the airport terminal, watching as the plane taxied in. The train trip had been long and hot, especially for two people who were not accustomed to unregulated air temperatures. Even though Indy had assured them that the American southwest got much hotter later in the year, it had been plenty warm to Leia. And now we are going to die in that contraption, Leia thought with dread as she watched the noisy propeller-driven machine Indiana called an 'airplane' pull up.
They walked out onto the runway and climbed the metal stairs. Inside the airplane were rows of seats, much like the inside of the train. A perky woman directed Leia and the men to their row, and Leia quickly sat down next to a tiny window. "Do these things actually stay in the air?" she asked as Luke and Indy took their seats next to her.
"Most of the time," Indy replied calmly.
Leia was beginning to hate this miserable planet.
Two days later.
The airplane had actually managed to stay in the air. Luke admired the beauty of the tropical islands where they had stopped to refuel. It amazed him that more people did not choose to live on those islands, but when he considered the difficulties of actually getting there, he understood. Now, they had finally reached the continent called Australia, and according to Indy, the trip through the Outback was not going to be easy. Luke had no idea what an understatement that was going to turn out to be.
Indiana Jones looked up from his breakfast menu as Luke and Leia came into the dining area of the hotel. "About time you two got out of bed. We have a train to catch."
Leia groaned and sat down. "Another train?"
"This mountain of yours is about six hundred or so miles northwest of Adelaide, in the middle of nowhere. Once the train gets us to Adelaide, we are going to take another train to a town called Coober Pedy. Once we get to that lovely destination, we are going to need to find other transportation. Hopefully someone will lease us an automobile. I'm sure the roads, if they even exist, are going to be rough. You are going to be remembering trains with fondness once we head into the Outback, all alone."
"How long is it going to take us to get to this, um, Coober Pedy?" Luke asked as he looked over the strange menu.
"Three or four days, depending on the train schedules," Indy replied, unconcerned.
The waitress came over and took their orders. The three travelers didn't notice the two men in the corner, staring at them.
After the clerk behind the counter handed Dr. Jones his three train tickets, Indiana found a bedraggled Luke and Leia, sitting in the hot train station. He sat down next to them and handed them their boarding passes. "The Ghan leaves in three hours, so if you want to look around Adelaide, here's your chance."
"The Ghan?" Luke questioned.
"That's the name of this train that runs between Adelaide and Alice Springs," Indy informed him.
"How cute," Leia said with her eyes shut. "They named the train."
"Us Earthlings like to name things, what can I say?"
"Would you quit it with the Earthlings business?" Leia snapped.
"Why? All of a sudden, you're not from another galaxy?"
"No, we are from another galaxy," Leia opened her eyes, and looked at Indy. "And so are you, Dr. Jones."
Indy grinned widely at her. "Some days, I wish I were."
Leia glared at him, and the remainder of the wait was in silence. When they boarded the train to Coober Pedy, the same two men followed them onto the train.
When Luke stepped off the railway platform in the tiny desert town of Coober Pedy, he felt right at home. Sure, the landscape was redder than Tatooine, but the vast dry desert reminded him of home. The small town was a mining settlement. Apparently, according to Indy, the people of this planet valued rocks called opals that were dug out of this dry ground.
"We need to find a hotel for the night," Indy informed them as he picked up his small suitcase. "It's too late to find an automobile right now, and I need sleep."
"I think we all need a good night's sleep," Luke agreed. "This type of travel is very tiring."
The three checked into two separate rooms. Dr. Jones had complained his funds were running low, so Luke would share a room with Indy, while Leia had her own room. Indy collapsed, face down, on one of the small beds as soon as he entered the room. "I could sleep for a week," he mumbled into his pillow.
Luke grinned as he headed for the refresher.
Leia had been looking out of her hotel window at the nothingness that was Coober Pedy when a knock on her door made her jump slightly. "Luke? I'm coming."
Opening the door, she started to ask, "Are you already tired of his comp..." The two men standing at the door smiled at the Princess, and she stopped talking.
"G'day missy." The taller one nodded.
"Can I help you?" Leia asked warily.
"We certainly think so," the smaller, stronger looking one replied as he grabbed Leia by the arm.
"Hey, let me go," Leia protested, as she tried to wrench her arm free.
"Yer coming with us, for a little ride," the taller man laughed. He pulled out a white cloth, and stepped behind Leia, grabbing her around the waist. A second later, he pushed the rag into her face. The cloth reeked of chemicals, and immediately Leia felt lightheaded. Struggling, she bit down as hard as she could. "Ow, the wench bit me!"
"Luke!" she screamed before the rag was put back over her mouth. Leia brought her knee up into the short man's groin and he gave a grunt and released her. By this time, the room was spinning. She tried to pull out of the taller man's grasp, but felt her knees give out. A second later, blackness overtook her.
"Luke!" The young Jedi had been soaking in a tub, with his eyes shut, when Leia's scream reached his ears and her fear reached his Force-sense. Grabbing a towel, he jumped out of the water and ran into the room. Indy was already standing, his back pressed against the wall next to the door, holding his gun. Indy eased himself slowly into the hallway, then jumped back as a loud bang reverberated through the building.
"They've got Leia," Indy told Luke. "I can't shoot back, or I might hit her."
Luke was quickly pulling on his clothes. ""Why are they kidnapping her?" he questioned the older man.
Indy raised his eyebrows. "How would I know? What do you have that they want?"
Instantly, Luke understood the implied meaning. Dr. Jones was suspicious that they had lured him out here, and had enemies that were chasing them. "They can't be after us, Indy," Luke replied as he tucked his lightsaber into his belt. "But there must be some reason they took Leia."
Indy put his hat and jacket on, carefully looking outside of the door, "It's clear... come on."
The two men ran down the stairs and out the front door of the lobby. "I don't see anything," Indy remarked as he looked up and down the street.
"They're around this corner," Luke said as he ran off to the right. A second later, a dusty black sedan skidded around the corner, firing shots randomly out of the window. Indy tackled Luke as the bullets flew harmlessly over their heads.
"Do you have a death wish?" Indy hissed in Luke's ear, as the car faded into the twilight.
"I could have stopped them!"
"With what? That fancy sword of yours?"
"The Force," Luke groused as he got up and brushed the dust from his shirt.
Indy struggled to his feet. "Force? What does that mean? You were going to reach out and stop the vehicle with your bare hands?"
Luke threw his hands up in frustration. "No, the Force is something I can control. It's a power."
Indiana stared in disbelief at the young man for a moment. "Which asylum did you and the girl escape from?"
"Listen," Luke yelled, angry and upset. "Just because you don't understand something, or can't explain it, doesn't mean it isn't real!"
"For your information, I've seen a lot of things I can't explain," Indy shot back hotly. "But nothing surpasses the load of elephant dung you've been dishing out to me since you walked into my classroom!"
Luke glared at the man for a second before turning and walking off a few steps. He knew it wasn't Indy he was truly angry at - it was the men who kidnapped Leia. He could sense Dr. Jones standing behind him, waiting. Luke turned back to face him. "We can't wait until morning. We need to go after the kidnappers right away."
"I agree," Indy replied calmly. "Let's find a local saloon. It'll be the best place to find information."
Nearly two hours later, Luke and Indy were heading off into the night in a rented old Ford. The locals had claimed ignorance when it came to the men who kidnapped Leia, but more than a few were willing to rent, for an exorbitant price, an automobile to the strangers. It had cost Indy more than half his remaining cash, and he was getting worried about his ability to fund a return trip to the States. Fortunately, there was always Brody - provided he wasn't too annoyed at Indy to wire him more money.
"I hope they didn't double back on us," Indy said over the loud engine.
"They didn't," Luke answered confidently. "We are heading in the right direction."
"This Force-thing is telling you this?"
Indiana just shook his head and continued driving.
When Leia woke up, her head felt like it was about to pound out of its skull. The last time she had such a headache was after her torture on the Death Star, a memory she didn't care to dwell on very long. She struggled to move her arms, then realized she had been tied up, and placed in a small, dark area. And wherever she was, it was noisy, smelly and very bumpy. It took her a few seconds to figure out she was in a moving automobile, and from the confines, it must be what Indy referred to as the trunk. Although Leia was not well-trained in using the Force, she used her fundamental skills to reach out for her brother. "Luke? Can you hear me?"
"I'm coming, sister," Luke's reassuring reply reached her thoughts. "Are you hurt?"
"No, but I'm not having fun. Hurry."
Leia felt the automobile slow and turn. The road got even more rough as they crept along. I'm going to have more than a few bruises tomorrow, Leia grimaced to herself.
She felt the vehicle stop and several long minutes later, the trunk opened. Leia found herself staring into a bright beam of light.
"Get out real slowly, missy," one of the men ordered. "Try anything cute again, and you'll be the one bleedin' this time."
Leia struggled to get out of the small confines - with her hands tied behind her, it wasn't easy. The men roughly grabbed her arms and pulled her into a surprisingly large house. The inside of the home was even more surprising. It was obviously the home of a wealthy person, with gleaming hardwood floors, large rooms, and beautiful furniture. The men dragged her through a doorway, and pushed her down into a chair, then tied her securely to the back and legs of the chair. The room was filled with books and sculptures, and a portly man sat behind a desk in front of Leia, watching as the two worked at tying the ropes. "That will be all, Peter," the older man said, dismissing his employees when it was apparent they were done.
"You sure, boss?" the tall one asked. "She's a real handful."
"Don't you ever, ever, question me, Johnson," the man behind the desk growled in a low, deadly tone. "Now, get out of my sight."
"Yes, boss." The two men quickly hurried out of the room, leaving Leia sitting in front of the desk.
"Why did you kidnap me?"
The man gave a laugh. "A better question might be, why are you traveling with Dr. Jones?"
The question caught Leia off guard. She knew she couldn't answer the man truthfully, and racked her brain to come up with a plausible lie. "We're students of his... and, um, he asked us to help him with, ah, finding some old thing. You know, some.. archeology thing."
"Really? How interesting," the man answered her with a smirk. "I can't recall Dr. Jones ever taking students with him on a search."
"So you know Dr. Jones?"
"By reputation only. I have studied his career with great interest," he replied. "Dr. Jones is known for being, shall we say, difficult? Sometimes holding a little insurance helps make a man more cooperative."
Leia glared at the round-faced man. "What do you need his cooperation for?" I should have known Han's new life would involve more than being a teacher!
"I need him to retrieve an artifact for me," he replied easily as he rolled out from behind the desk in a chair that had wheels on each side. "I would do it myself, but I'm afraid I'm no longer half the man I used to be."
Indiana squinted through the gloomy night at the large house in the distance. It had surprised him to see that anyone would build an expensive home in the middle of nowhere. "I guess people will live anywhere," Indy mumbled under his breath.
"Nothing," Jones replied. "You're sure Leia is in there?"
"Positive," Luke said with a nod. "Her Force-sense is coming through, loud and clear."
Indy turned his head to Skywalker. "Right. Force-sense." He turned his face away before he rolled his eyes, and then said, "We'd better leave the vehicle here. If we drive any closer, we might as well announce our presence with a marching band."
"Nothing. Come on," Indy said as he climbed out of the car and headed off toward the house. Luke climbed out and followed.
The ropes around Leia's wrists were getting sticky with blood as she worked to free herself. The men had done a good job tying her up. So far, her efforts were not bringing much success.
"You're wasting your energy, my dear," her captor told her, looking up from a book he was reading.
"When my brother gets here, you are going to regret ever being born," Leia snapped at him.
"I already do regret my parents' lack of restraint." He sighed. "So that young man is your brother?"
The Princess wondered if she made a mistake telling him that, but it was too late now. "Yes, he's my brother. And he gets very upset when people try to hurt me."
The man laughed. "I'll take your warning into consideration."
"Australia is crawling with poisonous snakes," Indy whispered to Luke as they made their way to the house on foot.
"I know what snakes are," Luke said, relieved that he finally understood something Indy was talking about. "I wouldn't worry about snakes. They are more afraid of us than we are of them."
"Want to bet on that?"
Luke grinned in the darkness. Confessing a fear was not something Han would have been inclined to do, and sometimes Luke forgot that he wasn't dealing with his old friend.
Approaching the home, the men crept up to a well-lit window. Luke carefully peered in, before dropping back down next to Jones. "She's in there, tied up. Some old guy is in there with her."
"Did you see any weapons?" Indy asked.
"No, but we have 'em, mates," a voice said from the darkness.
Luke could have kicked himself. He had been concentrating so hard on Leia, that he had missed the presence of the two men, standing near them and pointing guns in their direction. Ben, you would be so disappointed in me, Luke shook his head in self-disgust.
"So this Force-thing doesn't work all the time?" Indy questioned with a smirk. Luke felt like punching him.
The guards quickly confiscated Indy's gun, and Luke's lightsaber. Although they had no idea what the metal tube was, the fact that it looked like something that could be used to hit someone over the head made the men decided to act on the side of caution. They prodded the captives forward and then into the library.
"Luke!" the Princess exclaimed in shock. She had expected her brother to be able to track her, but she was genuinely surprised that he had not been able to get into the house unobserved.
"Are you all right, Leia?"
"I'm fine, but I am sure glad to see you," she replied sincerely.
"Why don't you gentlemen have a seat," their host said, as he pointed to a sofa. "I insist." The two men holding the weapons smiled and looked eager for any excuse to use them.
Indy shrugged and sat down, while Luke reluctantly sat down next to him. "Why don't you untie the girl," Indy said, nodding toward Leia. "It looks like her wrists are raw from the ropes."
"That is her own fault, Dr. Jones," the man answered.
"You have me at a disadvantage," Indy said. "Have we met?"
"Unfortunately, no," the man replied. "Let me introduce myself. My name is Sir Roland Walsh, and I have been an admirer of yours for many years, Dr. Jones."
"I would hate to see how you treat people you don't admire."
Mr. Walsh laughed. "Ah, Dr. Jones, such a sense of humor you Americans have. As you can see," he went on proudly, "I am somewhat of an amateur archeologist myself." He waved his hand at the various pieces of pottery in the room.
"Just what the archeology profession needs - more amateurs," Indy said with a snort.
"Don't make him mad, Jones," Leia snapped.
"Why did you kidnap Leia?" Luke asked. "If you wanted to talk to Dr. Jones, you could have just asked your men to invite us."
"I couldn't take a chance he might turn down my invitation, young man," Walsh returned quickly. "After all, I require his considerable talents, and I'm not the kind of man that takes 'no' for an answer."
Luke stared for a moment at the guard who was holding the lightsaber loosely in his hand. Throwing himself sideways off the sofa, the Jedi called his lightsaber from the fingers of the startled guard and into his own hand. Quickly, Luke rolled into a standing position in front of Leia, igniting the blade, and raising his left hand between himself and the men holding the ancient weapons.
It took half a second for Indy to realize what the young man had done, then he reacted. Indiana dove the opposite direction, and in one fluid motion pulled his whip off his belt. The men holding the guns tried to track the fast moving targets, but they were far too slow. The whip coiled around the wrist of the taller man who had the misfortune to be standing closest to Jones - the gun flew out of his hand and skidded across the room.
The burly short man stared at Luke and the humming lightsaber, confused by the glowing green blade and uncertain what to do. Walsh had been very specific in his instructions not to harm Professor Jones or the girl. The orders regarding the young man were less clear. The man's momentary indecision was all the time Luke needed. Using the Force, the young Jedi ripped the gun from the man's hand and it went sailing into his free hand.
Indy quickly tackled his opponent, who was holding his wrist in pain from the whip lash, and with a fast, hard punch rendered the kidnapper unconscious. He pulled his own weapon from the man's belt, then turned to face Walsh, who was trying to comprehend what had just happened in the last seconds. "Next time you send out party invitations, try to be a little more friendly," Indy said with a growl.
Luke quickly cut the ropes that held Leia. She stood up rubbing her sore wrists, glaring at Walsh.
Walsh held up his hands. "Dr. Jones, you misunderstand me. I was only asking for your kind assistance."
"Yeah, right," Leia said with a snort. She turned to her brother. "Can I shoot him with that thing?" Leia asked, pointing to the gun Luke was holding.
"I don't think that would be a good idea," Luke replied. "Revenge is of the dark side."
"I prefer the old saying, 'revenge is a dish best served cold'," Indy said as he walked up to Roland Walsh and shoved the barrel of the Webley under the man's nose. The fear that flashed through the man's eyes gave Indy a certain satisfaction. "You'd better give me a good explanation, and make it fast. If you really know so much about me, you know I don't bluff."
"Of course you don't bluff, Dr. Jones," the man sputtered. "Please, if you'll allow me to go to my desk, I'll show you what I need your help finding."
"Go real slow, and if you try anything funny...."
Walsh rolled slowly over to his desk, unlocking the bottom drawer. Indy stood next to him, watching his every move. The man carefully removed five large pieces of what appeared to be opal. One side of each of the pieces was very smooth, the other sides were ragged. "This is what I wanted you to see, Dr. Jones."
"Pieces of opal. Big deal," Indy shook his head. "I'm less than impressed."
"Wait," Walsh said. He proceeded to fit the five pieces together, until they formed a pyramid about eight inches high, except the top piece of the pyramid was missing. "Do you know what this is, Dr. Jones?" the man whispered in awe when he was done assembling the object.
"A broken souvenir from a confused opal carver?" Indy laughed. "He should have at least carved a kangaroo, and not an Egyptian pyramid."
Walsh glared at Dr. Jones. "You are mocking me. My father found these pieces nearly fifty years ago, buried deep in his opal mine. I've spent my life researching this pyramid. Do you know what I've found?"
"This pyramid was worshipped by the ancient Australians for thousands of years," Walsh said as his voice lowered in awe. "The complete pyramid is supposed to hold the power of healing. And I want the last piece - more than anything else in the world, I want that last piece."
"You want to find this piece so you can walk again, Mr. Walsh?" Leia deduced, as she stared at the iridescent pyramid. For some reason she could not put her finger on, it looked familiar to her. "What happened to your legs?"
"Polio, my dear," Walsh answered sadly. "I've been in this blasted chair since I was eleven years old."
"I think you're grasping at straws, Walsh," Indy said bluntly, then asked, "How did you know I was in Australia?"
"I am a very wealthy man, and not much escapes my attention. I have informants in Melbourne that kindly let me know if anyone of interest arrives. You can't deny you aren't intrigued with this piece, Dr. Jones."
"And what if I am?" Indy replied with a shrug. "How am I supposed to know where to look for this missing piece, if you've spent fifty years researching and haven't found it?"
"Did I say I didn't know where it was, Dr. Jones?"
Luke turned off his lightsaber and walked up to the desk to put his hand on the fractured pyramid. "This object is radiating in the Force, Leia," he told his sister. "But Walsh is right - it needs the final piece."
"We don't have time to go running off looking for this, Luke," Leia reminded him.
"The Force is telling me we should help find it," Luke insisted.
Dr. Jones sighed. "I'm not saying I'm going to try and find this piece for you, Walsh, but where exactly do you think the missing piece is located?"
The man smiled, and looked over at his employees. The man who Indy had punched was finally getting to his feet, rubbing his chin and glaring at Jones. The burly man that had been pointing his gun at Luke was still staring in shock at the Jedi, trying to understand how the kid had taken his weapon. "Would you be so kind as to take your leave now, gentlemen? Things seem to be back under control." The two hurried from the room without looking back. Then Walsh returned his attention to Jones. "Ayers Rock."
"Ayers Rock is a big thing," Indy said, sighing in annoyance. "Any particular direction - north, south, east..."
Indy gave him a disgusted look, then glanced back at Luke and Leia. "All right, I've heard enough. Let's get going."
"Dr. Jones, please," Walsh said, imploringly. "Hear me out."
"I am not digging under a mountain to look for a two inch piece of opal. My lifespan isn't long enough."
"You don't have to dig, Dr. Jones," Walsh replied hurriedly. "You only have to walk to the top, and find the entrance into the mountain."
"Yes," he answered, suddenly eager. "According to legends, Ayers Rock is filled with secret passages, and the correct passage will take you into the heart of the rock. There, the last piece of the pyramid waits - protected and safe."
"How would we know which passageway to take?" Leia asked curiously.
"Each piece of this pyramid act like keys, and each key will fit into a space," Walsh instructed them. "As long as you put the right key into each slot, the passageways will open safely and lead you to the last piece."
"What happens if we put the wrong piece into a slot?" Luke questioned.
"I wouldn't recommend doing that," Walsh replied with a grin. "The corridors are supposedly well protected from invaders."
Indy groaned. "Booby-traps."
"Will you do it?" Walsh asked, leaning forward.
Indy looked over at Luke and Leia. "Well?"
"I think we should try," Luke replied.
Both men turned to look at Leia. "I appear to be outvoted," she grumbled, but deep in her heart she felt relieved. The opportunity of spending a little more time with the man she still thought of as Han outweighed her concerns about finding the portal with enough time for the return trip home.