Jeremiah and Shanda awoke late in the afternoon. The room was stifling hot and the sun burned brightly in through the window. It cast dark shadows across the floors and walls. Shanda opened her eyes to the gape in the ceiling. She quickly sat up. The place looked much different than it had the night before. It looked so much more friendlier... and much cleaner. Shanda’s eyes crept down to where Jeremiah’s blankets were neatly folded on the floor.
“Jeremiah?” Shanda called, looking around. She got up quickly and ran towards the door.
“I haven’t been carried away, and I haven’t jumped on the first transportation to escape from here, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Jeremiah said, emerging from the small room off to the side, with a toothbrush stuck in the side of his mouth. He had washed up and he looked terrific.
“Get dressed. We’ll go out for breakfast.Then we’ll find a way to get off this rock and back into business,” Jeremiah said.
“To Earth,” Shanda said.
“To Earth,” Jeremiah responded and retreated to the sink to finish up on his teeth. Then Shanda washed and got dressed. She combed her hair back from her face and glanced at her reflection in the mirror. Even though she wasn’t wearing anything unusual, she felt she looked different. She shrugged her shoulders and went back into the main room.
The two of them went quietly down to the restaurant. It reeked of rotten food and dirt.
Shanda scanned the room with immense disgust. “Do we have to eat here? It’s a hole of rot!” she whispered.
Although he did not say so, Jeremiah readily agreed. He felt this hole, as Shanda had called it, was no place for a girl like her.
Different species were scattered throughout the room, all gibbering in strange languages. A group of gamblers stood around a large broken table. One of them was human.
“Why stay here if you didn’t have to?” Shanda wondered.
“I don’t know. Look over there. See that guy? I want to go speak to him.” Jeremiah walked towards the man who was putting down a handful of money. Shanda followed. As they approached, the man looked up.
“Hi,” Jeremiah said. The man acknowledged him with a nod. “We were wondering how much it would cost to get off this... planet.”
“Sixty regs,” the gambler returned gruffly, turning back to his game. “And another hundred to get wherever you want to go, with most pilots.”
“Are you a pilot?” Jeremiah tried again.
“Depends,” said the gambler, not turning.
“On the cargo, cash, and mission.”
“Two humans, one-seventy regs, and Earth.
“First two I have no problem with. Earth, no way,” the gambler said, returning to his game.
“Well, do you know where I can get a ship? I happen to be a very good pilot.” Jeremiah couldn’t help but boast.
“There’s a man in the next village. His name is Orlacc. He has a few ships, but he likes money.”
“Don’t we all,” Jeremiah mumbled to himself.
“He lives in a big ruby-studded mansion,” the gambler continued. “Knock four times and tell him Trac sent you.”
“Is that you?” Shanda asked.
“Does it matter?” the man said in a low voice, raising one eyebrow at her.
“Come on, Shanda. We gotta get outa here,” Jeremiah said, passing the gambler twenty dolc.
They went to their rooms and packed up everything. Shanda wrote down, Orlacc. Ruby-studded mansion. Knock four times. Trac, and shoved the twisted paper into the pocket of her trench coat, saying to Jeremiah, “Let’s get out of this dump.”
“Sure thing, Sweetheart,” Jeremiah said, grabbing her arm.
“Don’t call me Sweetheart!” She shook off his hand.
They took off down a dark road which obviously was the only one around. The luminous trees, which were crooked and broken, hung above the two. The path was bumpy and jutted with holes. It curved through muddy swamps, over which a grimy piece of steel or rotten wood had been placed. The sky was shrouded with brown leaves and limbs which reached out with their long fingers toward the clouds.
It was late when the two reached the next town. The sounds of animals and laughter filled the air. The smell was different from the one of the other town, but it was a different kind of smell that Shanda didn’t recognise. They continued on their way to Orlacc’s. Shanda noticed the long house covered in rubies first, and they moved toward it. Shanda shivered and pushed Jeremiah ahead. He knocked four times slowly. They waited until the huge door creaked open.
“Are you Orlacc?” Jeremiah asked.
“Who’s to know?”
“The name’s Handell. And this is Shanda Blore. We were sent by Trac.”
The old man looked them over thoroughly, glanced around outside and then let them in. They followed him down a dark hallway leading into a surprisingly light room. Smells of sweet food met Shanda which seemed strangely familiar. She took a good look at her host. He motioned for them to sit down while he sat down slowly. He wasn’t what Shanda expected. His white hair stood up from his head and his white eyebrows were bushy. His tanned face was lined and tough as leather. He was staring at them intently, and the only thing that belied his imposing stature was a pair of twinkling silver eyes. Shanda felt at ease at once. Something about those eyes made her feel comfortable.
“What is it that you’ve come for?” he said, gruffly.
“Are you Orlacc?” Jeremiah asked.
“Yes, I guess I am,” the man replied.
“Well then, our business is a good, fast ship to get us to Earth. I’ll give you a hundred-and-seventy regs to rent one, more, of course, to buy.”
“Why are you going to Earth?”
“I really don’t know. Ask the lady,” Jeremiah said. They both looked at Shanda.
“I--I can’t tell you. But it is very important. I must get to Earth,” she pleaded. “Please, Sir. It’s important."
The old man stood up and looked out his window. Time ticked by. Then he turned and said, “Bring your belongings to Hanger 182. I’ll meet you there at nine O’clock tomorrow morning,” and he left the room.
Jeremiah and Shanda sat for a moment until they realised that he was not coming back. Then Jeremiah picked up their stuff and they went through the dark hallway and out the door. It took a while for their eyes to adjust to the darkness, and then they were on their way. They needed a place to stay for the night, which they did find, down the road from Orlacc’s. It was neat and clean and inexpensive. They went to bed once they had a room and were settled. Like before, only one room was available, much to Shanda’s exterior dismay and her inner contentment.
Jeremiah’s voice whispered out in the dark. “Does this have something to do with Xailier? I mean, Earth isn’t the kind of place for a vacation. It is the Police base. If it does, it’s not for you to be doing. Let that careless princess figure it out. It’s her doings. She let it happen.”
“You really think so?” snapped Shanda.
“I guess what she does there in her little castle is beyond me. Her hardest problem is what colour shoes to wear with her diamond earrings!"
“Oh, I see,” Shanda said quietly. How dare he! She was working as hard as she could. But he didn’t know that she and the careless princess were the same person. She turned away towards the wall.