Twenty-two

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 said.

"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.

"Nope."

Leia smiled. "It's nice to have you back. Both of you."


Epilogue

Dantooine

"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."

THE END