COMBAT TRAINING CHAMBER; DUSK SPACESTATION
FIVE MONTHS LATER:
Neither Zak nor Jaina had heard any word of what had happened to Luke and the others after the Millennium Falcon’s failed attempt at a rescue. The despair Zak had seen on his older sister’s face had him to the point of tears that day, and their host had been ever so gracious as to beat it out of him.
Zak had lost hope of ever being rescued by his friends and family now. While Jaina refused to give up, and often chided him when he voiced his thoughts aloud, he could not help but to dwell on the news Brakiss had given to them. The entire station had jumped through hyperspace to a new location—a location unknown to any outside of the Imperium. The Republic ships were left to battle the defence fleet where the station had been, their intended targets for rescue now out of reach.
This much Brakiss had allowed them to know, with the reasoning that it would crush their spirits, their hopes of being rescued. Jaina never gave up, and it was her attitude, her zeal that kept Zak going through his most pessimistic days. Jaina had been through worse, hell, even he had been through worse than this, and he had always come out of it alive.
Brakiss expected them to come to know the station as their new home. And for now, Zak admitted that he occasionally thought as much. It seemed for now that they were not going to be going anywhere anytime soon, and they were given enough to live more or less comfortably in their cell. Though they could touch the Force within their prison, the two of them had come to the conclusion quickly that there weren’t that many places within the station they could sense, and they could feel nothing beyond the inner hull of the station itself.
Brakiss had started their training weeks after moving to the new location. He had decided that now that he would not be disturbed, it was the perfect time to start instructing his newest of students.
A brutal training program had been devised for them, involving both mental and physical exercises to increase their performance, as well as structured historical lessons—Imperial propaganda, Jaina called it—and other lessons to fill in the gaps. Those they listened to, and then made a point of forgetting later. Other than that, they had both begrudgingly agreed to cooperate … for the time being. Refusal meant severe punishment, which Brakiss had needed demonstrate only once to get the point across.
Presently, the two of them were in the middle of a lightsaber training exercise.
When they had first begun lightsaber training, Jaina had been adequately confident in her sabre skills; Brakiss had merely told her that they were unsatisfactory, again hinting at the incompetence of the Skywalker clan. He had been outwardly infuriated that the closest Zak had ever come to holding a lightsaber had been the night of his capture, and that his experience in using such a weapon was absolute zero. That he didn’t know that already led Zak to believe that the self-proclaimed Sith did not know everything there was to know about him. He found some small comfort in that.
Both of them had been provided with lightsabers to use. Neither Jaina nor Zak wanted to think about where Brakiss had obtained the weapons, as it became obvious that he hadn’t constructed them himself. Some days, the two would be pitted against one another until someone scored five decisive hits. Other days, they were to work together to defeat increasingly difficult combat droids specifically programmed for close combat against energy bladed weaponry.
In essence, Brakiss was using their imagination as a tool for their exercises, and it was no different with their mental exercises.
Zak swung the crimson blade of his provided lightsaber until it impacted the blue-white blade of the one Jaina held in her own hands.
Each of them looked up at each other, and then over to the combat droid that was headed towards them. Its lightsaber, also blue-white, was raised high above its head as it crept closer and closer to the young Jedi, its metal feet clanging noisily on the deck. Zak and Jaina glanced again at each other and nodded; their plan had been devised telepathically and each of them was ready for their own roles.
When the droid came within range, it brought its lightsaber down in a blue-white slashing blur, straight at Zak. Both Zak and Jaina repositioned themselves, keeping their lightsabers crossed, and raised their touching weapons up to catch the attack. Then they twisted and shoved it off to the side.
The droid’s superior grip didn’t release the weapon, but it was momentarily thrown off balance by the defensive move.
Then both Jedi spun on the spot, both coming around behind the droid.
In the split-second glance Zak was able to catch of the droid’s back, he saw an access panel there that had not been present on any of the previous droids they had fought against thus far. He sensed deception, and filed it away for any sudden adaptations to their strategy they might have to make.
Too late to stop the manoeuvre that they’d planned out, Zak and Jaina both swung at the droid.
Jaina swung her weapon high to the brace connecting its chrome head to its tough torso, while Zak swung horizontally at its midsection. The droid had recovered now from its failed attack and brought its lightsaber up and over its head to defend from Jaina’s attack.
Got you! Zak thought to himself smugly.
And then the trap was sprung.
Without warning, the access panel on the droid’s back that Zak had seen slid open and a small clamp arm extended, holding tightly to a second lightsaber.
This was the advancement over the previous model, and Zak frowned when he realised that it threw out the plan he and Jaina had made.
The clamp hand opened and dropped a second lightsaber, which it had been holding, into the left hand of the combat droid, which had bent back to retrieve it. It activated the second lightsaber with a bright flash of green-white and blocked Zak’s attack just as it had blocked Jaina’s.
Zak ducked and rolled between the droid’s legs to come up in front of it. As he rolled back onto his feet, he brought the lightsaber in his hands with him, hoping to cleave the droid in half. Instead, the mechanical monster had brought the second lightsaber back around to its front to defend and blocked the oncoming slice.
Zak sensed the clamp retract and the access panel snap shut just as the droid threw a leg up behind itself and launched its clawed foot at Jaina’s chest. She was sent flying across the room and Zak reached out with the Force to soften the impact as her shoulder slammed into the wall.
Both lightsabers were upon him now, with Jaina recovering. Zak swung his sole weapon up to defend himself from both at once, and then twisted the hilt of his weapon, releasing it only briefly and gripping it again a split second later in a backhand.
Zak lashed out with his free hand and exerted himself through the Force. He felt it channel through his entire being towards his outstretched hand, and the monstrous mechanical flew through the air away from him and crashed into the far wall near Jaina.
Jaina had managed to recover from her own flight and took over; she reactivated the lightsaber in her hand and swung it down at the recovering droid, severing its right arm from its torso at the shoulder support.
The arm fell to the floor with a clatter, the lightsaber in its grip shutting off. The droid’s second arm, brandishing the green-white blade, came down upon Jaina. She blocked several blows and then jumped backwards to land closer to Zak.
The combat droid had caught up to them by the time she had landed, and a fist swung around for Zak’s head. He ducked beneath the blow, rolled to the side, and felt Jaina do the same in the opposite direction. Both sprang back to their feet, and each charged at the droid from each side.
Zak reached it first, and swung his lightsaber in a downward slice to cleave off its other arm. He misjudged the angle, and it sliced barely half an inch into the metal; it wasn’t enough to take the arm off, and it swung around at him as if by reflex. The hardened steel connected with his jaw and sent him flying towards the wall away from them as Jaina entered the conflict a second after he did.
She kicked out at the droid’s chest plate, rebounded when its logic systems anticipated the strike and servos in its legs locked into place to maintain its balance. It followed through with a strike at her retreating leg, only to miss by the breadth of a hair and cut through the material of her pants instead.
Zak’s jaw throbbed, and he felt something warm on his face. When he reached up to touch it, he found his face tender, and blood slicking his fingers. He groaned, slowly pushed himself to his feet and tried to gently wipe some of the blood on the sleeve of his unwashed shirt. It stung, and the throbbing threatened to overwhelm his mental pain management. But he persevered.
He flicked the lightsaber back on, and slowly approached the droid and Jaina, assessing the situation. Jaina had patted out a small fire in her pants caused by the offending lightsaber, but she was limping slightly; the skin no doubt singed by the closeness of the blade.
He felt a sudden rush of power surge through him. His pain throbbed even more, but with each throb, it seemed that the power he felt flowing through his being increased. Somehow, it was feeding off the pain.
He decided he could accept that. If it meant that his pain was going to assist in his task, assist him in assisting Jaina, then he would welcome that very pain. He clung to it, urged it, stoked that fire until he felt his power grow a few increments more.
Then he lashed out. His left hand shot forward, and with a twisting motion that was almost instinctual, he commanded the Force to tear the connection servos within the droid’s left leg. He felt the metal give under his onslaught, felt the gears seizing up, the entire limb literally twisting and wrenching away from where it connected to the torso.
With a loud clang, the droid slammed to the floor, one leg less than it had been a moment ago. Zak brandished that lost leg in his free hand, examining it curiously for a moment before he tossed it aside and proceeded to approach the droid.
He barely noticed Jaina, a few meters away, her lightsaber held in the defensive posture as she watched him. His focus was on the droid on the floor, as it slashed feebly with its weapon to fend him off.
He battered the blade aside, finished the job he had started on the arm, and then spent the next two minutes slicing his way into every last square centimetre of hardened metal he could.
When the droid was little more than a pile of smoking scrap on the floor, the lightsaber switched off and also in pieces, Zak finally stopped himself. He took a step back from the droid, looked down at the lightsaber in his hands, covered in the lubricants sprayed by the failing droid as Zak had sliced his way through oil hoses and coolant lines without a care.
He tossed the lightsaber in his hand to the side and took a deep breath before collapsing to his knees. He was out of breath, and he fought for every lungful of oxygen he could get in that moment. When Jaina’s warm presence came to be beside him, he welcomed it, along with the hand she rested on his shoulder. She spoke, but he could not make out the words just at that moment.
A door hissed open behind him somewhere, but he did not turn to face it. In fact, he ignored it entirely as set about steadying his breathing, calming the anger he had felt, ignoring the surging pain in his face. He swiped at the blood pouring from his chin again, staining his shirtsleeve even more with crimson.
“Well done,” Brakiss’s cold, deep voice came from behind him. Zak half-turned to face him. Jaina slipped an arm around Zak to help him to his feet. Brakiss stopped just short of the pair and looked down into Zak’s eyes. “You are definitely improving, it would seem. Your ill-advised time-wasting with Jaina during your sparring sessions seems to be paying off. You were able to defeat this particular opponent far sooner than my I had anticipated. I may have to revise my assessment of your capabilities. May.”
“Infirmary,” Zak said hotly, ignoring Brakiss’s praise upon him. “Now.”
“I think not,” Brakiss replied calmly. “You’ll both go back to your cell, where you belong. You will heal with time. Scars will serve to remind you of what you have learned here today.”
“Zak needs needs medical attention, and we are not going anywhere until he gets it,” Jaina corrected, glaring into the Sith Lord’s eyes.
Zak knew that Jaina was taking a huge risk trying to demand anything from the older man. On numerous occasions, Brakiss displayed how little he cared for either of their wellbeing—to the point of injuring them himself whenever they openly defied him. But Zak was sure deep down that while he didn’t care about their health, he did want them alive. He’d never denied them access to medical facilities, no matter how much he protested openly. That gave Jaina just enough leeway to defy him a little, and to press her luck as much as she could until she found out where the line was between threat and act.
“And if I don’t?”
Instantly, Zak had his training lightsaber back in his open palm. He flicked the weapon to life and held it up, the red-white tip of the plasma blade an inch from the Sith’s throat. His lips curled back to show all of his teeth to the older man, trying to inject as much hostility into his features as he could.
He had never before felt such hatred towards anyone or anything before; not even the Empire when his home world had been destroyed. Part of him wondered briefly what had come over him to feel it now, while the rest of him simply didn’t care. He did not allow himself to lower the weapon.
“Infirmary,” he repeated angrily.
Brakiss closed his eyes and smiled in what Zak could swear was glee. He sighed, a long pleasurable sound snaking through his lips like a hiss.
“That’s it,” the man said, his smile growing. He opened his eyes, staring back at Zak with those disturbing yellow irises. “I can feel your anger. I can feel your hatred. Use them. Use them! Strike me down. Give in to your darker impulses, boy. I’m unarmed. Already you are well on your way to becoming the best pupil I’ve ever had.”
This sobered Zak.
He knew then why Brakiss was content to returning defiance with some of his own, even under the threat of death. He was goading Zak, drawing him in. The more Zak gave in to his anger, to the hostile feelings boiling beneath the surface, the closer he came to playing right into their captors hands and becoming like him.
And when he realised that, he deactivated the lightsaber and, again, threw it to the ground.
“No,” he said.
“So be it,” Brakiss snarled. He struck Zak hard across the face, and the last thing he saw before he lost consciousness was the deck.
DETENTION BLOCK; DUSK SPACE STATION
When Zak woke the next day, he was in serious pain. His head was pounding, from what he couldn’t say, and his back had been jarred from what he could only guess was the careless shoving of guards trying to get his unconscious form back into the cell. The last thing he could recall was Brakiss backhanding him across the face and falling hard to the deck as a result.
Jaina was unconscious next to him, which he was a little worried about. Getting to his knees, ignoring the fact that she was half naked before him, he shuffled to her immobile form and began checking her vitals.
Her breathing was even, and her pulse steady. She seemed to be unhurt. He considered the possibility that she was just asleep.
His nose detected the familiar, pleasant fragrance of bacta coming from her.
Despite his cruel demeanour, Brakiss had once again had them taken to the medical facilities to be treated. Brakiss wasn’t stupid, and he knew that Jaina’s life was the only thing at the moment keeping Zak more or less in line, and his life was all that kept her more or less in line.
Zak looked around, and spotted Jaina’s clothes clean and folded into a neat pile nearby. Though he knew that there was no point in submersing her in a bacta tank while fully clothed, he frowned at the thought of Imperial guards taking perverse pleasure at the sight of her semi-exposed form as a medical droid undressed her.
He pushed himself to his feet, shaking the dizziness from his head and, out of habit, dusting off his slacks. His robes lay in a heap in the corner of the cell; Jaina’s too. Hidden amongst the robes, away from prying eyes and—as far as either of them knew—unbeknownst to their captors, was Zak’s greatest construction achievement to date.
When they couldn’t help but talk about it amongst themselves around their captors, they referred to it as a “skimboard” and act as though they were talking about something he had been building back on Yavin 4.
Zak turned and checked through the ray shield to see if the guards were in sight, and then ducked over to the pile to check up on his construct. Positioning himself in between the ray shield and the corner, he dropped to his knees and lifted up his own robe to deposit it on the floor beside him.
During their time on the station, Jaina and Zak had been able to map out just how much of it that they had access to was off-limits to them in every way. Their cell, and the chambers they had their lessons in, were all opened up to the Force. As for the rest of the station, there was perhaps one more open area, but they didn’t know what it was for as they had never been there.
Jaina had explained to Zak later that it was due to the presence of small reptilian creatures called Ysalamir, which could project a bubble of anti-Force around them at a minimal radius. While Zak had not seen any such creatures aboard, Jaina assured him they were there nonetheless, as it was the only way she knew of that they could have been cut off from the Force in so much of the station.
He reached out with his mind as far as he could; kept his other senses alert and attuned to disturbances so he would have warning before anyone entered the cell block. His hearing, thankfully, was not affected by the anti-Force of Ysalamiri, and since he could touch the Force inside his cell, he could use it to slightly enhance the range of his hearing.
Zak hefted the object in front of him and turned it over in his hands. It was still incomplete. It needed some vital components that neither of them had yet been able to steal without being noticed. Most of the metals and wiring had been lifted from combat droids they’d destroyed, and some of the other pieces had been stripped from training lightsabers.
Zak had been working on the device for over two months so far to get it just the way it was, far too long under ordinary circumstances.
The object in his hands was under a meter long, made of steel and other metal composites. In its centre was an open gap where a piece of cover panelling was still needed, and Zak could see the inner half of both of the object’s power cells which would power it when finished. He ran his hand along the casing that was there, over all the grooves and bumps and buttons and the magnetic clips on the underside.
The device had four black buttons on it—two on each side of the centre of the shaft, spaced evenly apart; the two outer-most buttons were paired with a small power dial. The buttons were connected to activation circuits within the device, which in turn triggered the activation of the power cells. When triggered, the power cells would direct power straight through an energy gate into a pair of small crystals, which he was still missing, and then through a secondary crystal which focussed the energy through a channel and modulator circuits to the emitters at the ends.
Moulded to the ends of the device above the magnetic stabilising rings were a series of hooks—three in total on each end. Each hook was over an inch long, spaced equally from each other around the rings and was hooked inwards in a way that they would be bare millimetres from the stabiliser field of the device’s energy blades when it was activated.
It was extremely well built, as Jaina had told him when they had last inspected it together. She had said that some of the concepts were commonplace, but that she knew of no Jedi that had considered constructing a lightsaber that was dual-bladed, let alone one where each blade was powered separately. In fact, she mentioned that even her uncle could not recall a Jedi that possessed such a weapon.
Looking at it now the way he was, he realised that it was not just a testament to his skills as a tinkerer and a mechanic, but it also reflected his growing competence and skill as a Jedi—or Dark Jedi as Brakiss would prefer.
He was proud of the fact that in the areas of the station that were opened up to the Force, he was able to keep the knowledge of the weapon hidden from Brakiss. He considered it highly probable that if Brakiss had known about it, he would have had it destroyed, and Zak severely disciplined.
He carefully wrapped the lightsaber up in his robes before placing it gently back in the corner on top of Jaina’s robes. He turned around to see that Jaina was still unconscious as he had left her and he crawled over to her side on his hands and knees.
An hour passed before anything happened, an hour of silence. He had spent that time sitting cross-legged on the deck next to Jaina with his eyes closed and his mind relatively open, meditating for all the good it would do him. In truth, he reflected quite heavily on the visions he had been experiencing infrequently since the first occurrence on Yavin 4. The images disturbed him, but he desperately wanted to make out some detail that would give him a hint as to what they were trying to tell him.
And, mostly, he just wanted to do something that didn’t involve staring at Jaina.
He had toyed with the thought of dressing her before she awoke to discover the horror, but couldn’t bring himself to do it, lest she wake up mid-dress and jump to the wrong conclusion. So, instead, he had covered her with a set of robes.
But now Jaina had awoken. He could sense it, not so much see it, as his eyes were still shut, and he hadn’t heard her move a muscle as yet.
“I had the most peculiar nightmare,” she groaned.
“What was it?” Zak asked her curiously, opening his eyes and looking down at her to see that hers were still closed. He, himself, had not dreamt when he had been unconscious. He found it mildly interesting that Jaina had.
“I dreamt that a madman had returned from the dead and kidnapped us from the academy, and that we had been held captive by him for months.” She opened her eyes and looked around. “Oh fierfek!” she cursed. “Not a dream?”
“Afraid not,” Zak clarified grimly. When she looked at him, he pointedly nodded to her and watched as she directed her gaze downward to see how little she was wearing.
Jaina swore again.
She scrambled to tug her clothes back into place, and Zak heard the distinct sound of the door to the cell block hissing open. He strained his ears to hear who it was.
The dulled thud of comfortable, non-military boots told him that it was Brakiss that entered the block, and the clustered thuds of military-issue boots gave away his usual four-trooper entourage. Brakiss paused for a moment before he strode over to their cell languidly and stopped on the other side of the ray shield to look down at them both.
“Well,” the Sith started, sounding a little amused. He couldn’t possibly have heard what Jaina had just said, Zak deduced. “It looks like the both of you are awake and still more or less in good health.” He smiled at them, revealing a few chipped teeth.
“What do you want?” Zak hissed.
“To talk,” Brakiss said calmly. “Just you and I, Zak. Without the … erm … negative presence and input of your girlfriend.”
“She’s not my girlfriend,” Zak said through gritted teeth as Brakiss turned his head to the right and nodded to the grey-uniformed security officer still standing at the cell block security station by the door. The ray shield glowed and then snapped away.
Zak eyed the older man suspiciously and didn’t get up from the floor just yet. “I only want to talk,” Brakiss said. “You have my word.”
With an almost apologetic look at Jaina, Zak got to his feet and walked toward Brakiss and the stormtroopers.