JEDI PRAXEUM; YAVIN 4
It was late into the evening the day after Zak’s vision. He was in his own room now, sitting at his desk rewiring old data consoles and computer boards so that they would function again as spare part replacement pieces. He checked his chronometer and was stunned to realise that he had missed the dinner he had been planning with his sister and friends only a few hours ago.
Then again, he knew that he could be like that when he got to work on something. It was what set him apart from Jacen Solo, whose main concern was always to make sure he had the right meals at exactly the right times and whose attention seemed to deviate easily.
Jaina had dropped by to see him after lunch to see if he was OK after his episode the previous day.
To tell the truth, he didn’t know how he felt. Something inside him whispered that it was important to keep what he had seen from her and Jacen, lest it prove to be just a dream he had had while unconscious, he had shared what he had seen with Luke Skywalker. He knew the Jedi Master would be more open to his assumptions.
He couldn’t help thinking about his conversation with Luke the previous day, right after having his vision.
I walked into Luke Skywalker’s office, half-dazed that he had even been expecting me. Just how powerful was this guy anyway?
The older man sat there in his soft padded chair, looking up at me kindly and gesturing to the not-as-soft seat opposite him and to the left. I couldn’t just refuse such an invitation from the Jedi Grand Master, now, could I?
I closed the door to the office to guarantee our privacy and sat down in the indicated seat, shifting my weight only slightly to get into a somewhat comfortable position.
“Now, Zak,” Luke started, leaning forward in his chair. He laced his fingers together in front of him on the smooth tabletop and gazed straight into my eyes. The look he fixed me with was somewhat unnerving, and I had to fight the squirming tendency. “You sure took your time coming to me. I have been waiting.”
“You—you know?” I stammered, in a state of shock. If I thought that seeing what I had seen in the shuttle had rattled me enough, then clearly I hadn’t been expecting this.
“I do,” Luke said kindly. It was hard to think of him as anything but the young Jedi he had been when we’d first met, and I found myself suppressing those memories before they distracted me.
“How?” I tried not to make it sound like a demand.
Luke dodged the question, but I could just tell that he would answer it eventually. I could wait, if what he said first was of more importance.
“Zak; in your studies so far, have you read anything about Seers?”
I wracked my brain. There had been a mention of the word in one of the texts about the Jedi Order that had served the Old Republic, but I hadn’t read much about them yet. Perhaps there was more information about these Seers in other texts that I had yet to read. I shook my head.
“I’ve come across the term, yes, but only in passing,” I said honestly.
“I see,” Luke said. He paused, but didn’t sit back in the chair, and kept his eyes locked on mine. I wanted to look away, not out of shame, but because I was uncomfortable with the constant eye contact. It made me feel like he was drilling into my thoughts and taking everything. I knew he wasn’t, but it felt like it.
“Seers have always been … rather uncommon in the Jedi Order, both old and new. I don’t recall a Jedi in the new Order that could have been classified a Seer.
“A Seer is a Force user who is strong enough in their prescient abilities that they can actually see events from the future play out in their mind’s eye. Strong Seers can accurately predict the future, while lesser skilled Seers can only predictpossiblefutures. And then there are exceptionally strong Seers, who can also see clearly into the past and present.”
“So whoever wrote that prophecy about the Chosen One …” I started, “He would have been a strong Seer?”
“I’m proud of you, Zak,” Luke said with a smile and an affirming nod. “You’ve done your homework.”
“I noticed that you provided me and Tash with a full account of Darth Vader’s life, including his role in the prophecy of the Chosen One,” I replied. Of course, Luke would have done such a thing. He knew that his father had personally hunted us down.
Then it occurred to me why Luke had brought up Seers. “You think I’m a Seer?”
“I know it,” Luke said with absolute conviction. “I had a vision of this exact conversation before I even knew that you and your sister were coming here. Needless to say, I was shocked at even seeing you again after so long, let alone that there would be … extenuating circumstances, but I knew that I would have to prepare myself for your arrival, even if it was onlypossible.”
“Your gloves.” Luke nodded to my waist where I taken to tucking my gloves in under the belt I wore. “At this stage of your Force development, your ability will be highly susceptible to touch. Those gloves should limit your contact with anything that may trigger a vision. Eventually, you’ll master enough control over it that you won’t have to wear them. Until you do …”
That was only advice Zak had been given regarding his strange ability. He had taken to it with little enthusiasm, and started wearing his gloves any time he was handling something or going to be around other people. He didn’t want to trigger any more disturbing images like he’d seen in the Sentinel.
But in a way, he was curious. He still wanted to know if he had been peering into future events. He still wanted to know who he had seen fighting, where it had taken place, and more importantly: when. What he had seen, he had shared with the Jedi Master, and Luke had seemed to mull it over himself before telling Zak that what he had seen could be from any time period, and likely a possibility rather than a certainty, as the universe was forever in flux.
The twentieth hour in the night ticked slowly into the twenty-first, and then the twenty-second as he worked on console after console and when he stopped, it was twenty-two thirty hours and he had seven consoles or boards in relative working order. He felt proud of himself for that achievement, as well as the secondary achievement of distracting himself.
Zak pushed himself up from his chair, tucked it back under his desk and flicked off the holo projector on the table top. He rubbed at his eyes to fend off the sleep, but knew he was losing the battle. So he allowed himself to lose. After the past couple of days he’d had, he felt that he could use a decent night’s sleep.
He tore off his robe, gloves and tunic, folded them, and deposited them in the laundry basket by the door before donning his bed clothes and falling atop the bedspread. It was chilly out, and raining, and the stones that made the building housed the cold a little too well, but he couldn’t muster the strength to peel back the covers before dropping down, nor to cover himself after. And for the first time in as long as he could remember, he was asleep seconds after his head hit the pillow.
His dreams were plagued with reruns of the visions he’d experienced on the shuttle. Over and over, they played through his mind, and each time it seemed to last a little longer, show a little more. He saw details now, but in the small ludic part of him that analysed the dreams as they came and went, he knew not to put stock in any of the faces he saw.
The first had been between Luke and his wife, then between an unknown figure with a strange headdress and Jacen Solo. Rebekah fought Luke Skywalker again, though the lightsabers remained violet and red. He saw Mara fighting someone he had never met. He saw Leia Organa Solo fighting Darth Vader.
And he saw himself fighting Tash.
He woke with a start, that last re-enactment still fresh in his mind. He had been missing an arm, fighting on a ship he did not recognise against his own sister, who seemed to barely recognise him. Tash had had a determined look on her face, a resigned one.
She hadn’t enjoyed fighting him, but she had done it because some part of her knew it had to happen, that there was no way around it. When he had pleaded with her to let him go so that he could save lives, she had denied him, slamming a thick, durasteel door down in his face and forcing him to fight her again.
He felt around his chest, searching for the fatal wound that had been given to him in the dream, and was glad to note that it wasn’t there, glad to have confirmation that it had only been a dream. Tash would never kill him. Tash would never even fight with him to the death like that. And he could never raise a blade to his older sister, no matter how much she vexed him at times.
It wasn’t long before he realised that he wasn’t going to get back to sleep any time soon. He tried, but to no avail. The memory of Tash driving that violet-hued lightsaber through his chest while he sent out a scream of warning through the Force–to whom, he had no idea—was still too disturbingly fresh.
“Fierfek!” He pushed out of the bed, frustrated, and tore off his bed clothes.
He remembered promising Luke Skywalker he wouldn’t wander like he had before. But his promise had been vague to the limits set. Luke had probably expected Zak to heed strictly to his words and just not wander around so late at all. But Luke had not known Zak long enough in the past during their brief crossings to have judged him so accurately.
He wouldn’t leave the building, he decided. That was how he would keep his word to the Jedi Master. He would remain within the walls of the great temple.
He threw his bed clothes back onto the bed and donned a pair of black slacks with a dark maroon top with a high neck and long sleeves that felt like nerf wool. He pulled socks onto his feet, followed by his shoes, and then pulled another black robe from his wardrobe to throw over the top to keep him warm. He then snatched up the gloves from his bedside table.
As he pulled the snug material over his hands, he noticed that the chronometer read a little past midnight. Though he might have fallen asleep quickly, he hadn’t slept for long, and it appeared to be staying that way. That displeased him, and he frowned. He picked up his room key from the notch he’d found scratched into the stonework by the door—a convenient hiding place for it—and locked the door behind him after he stepped out.
He was quick to make the lifts. One opened at his approach, as if it had been expecting him. Zak shook his head of the notion immediately; it was a silly thought. In moments, he was on the next floor down, and quickly around the corner when he was sure there were no patrols about to spot him.
Luke had made it a point to remind him that the astromech droids would be patrolling the corridors after his last stunt.
He was already aware that one of them was not R2-D2, for the droid would remember him well enough to have stationed himself on Zak’s floor to catch him leaving.
He waited by the second bank of lifts a little longer for one to reach him. The sound of rotors spinning alerted him to the approach of a patrolling droid seconds before the lift door opened and he was through it. The door closed, and the lift descended.
When he made ground level, he eased up slightly. In the quiet, dark, cavernous chamber that was the hangar level, he could hear no sounds of patrolling droids. That in itself was slightly odd. Did Luke figure that the patrols would catch people on the first two levels only? Surely he would have thought of a third line of defence.
“You’re absolutely right,” a voice came from the darkness, startling him. He spun around back toward the lifts to see someone coming from one of the bays in the side of the hangar.
“Who’s that?” he whispered cautiously.
“It’s only me. Catch.” Something in his mind tweaked all of a sudden, and he could feel a slight pressure in the air, movement, something arcing from one place to another, losing altitude.
He snatched it from the air before it hit him in the head, felt the firm, cool skin of a fruit he favoured, fresh from a preserver in the kitchens, no doubt. “You skipped dinner,” Jaina Solo said pointedly when Zak shot her a look.
“Uh, thanks. I guess …”
He turned away from her, started walking toward the middle of the great starship lift in the middle of the bay. He tossed the fruit once in the air and caught it before he took a bite. Juice ran down his chin, and the crunch of the fruit’s flesh was satisfying. When it was all eaten, he felt a little better and his dreams were a little further toward the back of his mind.
“Can’t sleep?” Jaina had followed him, remaining a few paces away respectfully.
“No,” Zak admitted after a moment of saying nothing. “Bad dreams.” True to what little he knew of her thus far, she didn’t pry into it, didn’t ask him for details. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, he felt, it was more that she respected his privacy.
“We all have those from time to time,” she said. Something in her voice told Zak that even she was not immune to such discomfort.
They stood there in silence for a while. Zak peered around the hangar, trying to discern details. But it was dark. He could see some around himself, but distances were harder. He suspected that if he had greater control of his abilities, his potential to use the Force, perhaps it might have aided his sight. He was still a ways off from learning something useful like that.
“Right about what?” he asked Jaina.
“Hm?” He’d caught her off-guard.
“What was I ‘absolutely right’ about?”
“Oh,” she responded, flustered. “Usually, Uncle Luke does have droids down here. Either on sentry or repairing some of the ships in the bays.” She indicated the mentioned bays on either side of the hangar.
Zak couldn’t see what was in them, but he took her word on there being ships there. From the size of the bays, he would have judged fighters to be resting in each. X-wings, Y-wings, A-wings. He’d love to have seen them. It had been a rare occurrence during the war. He’d seen Luke Skywalker’s X-wing once or twice, but he hadn’t seen many of the ships at once. Nor had he seen them in action, which wasn’t something he was sad to have missed, he realised.
“I sent them away.” It was a simple answer. Why hadn’t Zak thought of it himself? Not that he could have tried it. But he should have thought that Jaina would be able to. After all, she was family to the Skywalkers, and they ran this facility.
“Makes sense,” he offered. Again, silence. Then, “What are the fighters for?”
Jaina actually laughed. And she was right to. It was actually a silly question. Zak blushed at having voiced it aloud. But in his studies, he had discovered that the Republic and the Imperial Remnant had signed a non-aggression treaty. For all intents and purposes, there was peace between the two governments now. The Remnant didn’t have the military might to threaten the New Republic, so in part it made sense for a question like that to be voiced. But then Zak remembered that the Imperial Remnant was likely not the only threat in the galaxy.
“I’m sorry,” she managed when she calmed down from her fit of giggles. “It’s just such a naïve question. Oh no,” she added when she caught his scowl. “It’s refreshing. I often forget that there are optimists out there that assume that peace means there’s no need for a defence force. We’ve had our share of trouble here specifically over the years. I’m sure my uncle will let you in on it in more detail at some point in your training.”
“You’re talking about the Shadow Academy, aren’t you?” he asked, surprising her again by the look on her face. “Tash isn’t the only one of us that can read, you know?”
Jaina chuckled. “Yes. Suffice to say, we can’t afford not to be able to defend ourselves in a surprise situation like that again. It’s not much. We have twelve ships, fourteen pilots. Two are backups in case a couple of us can’t fly. Everyone here receives basic flight training as part of the Jedi programme … but those actually handpicked by Uncle Luke and Aunt Mara to join Striker Squadron receive special training. Advanced manoeuvres, aerial and stellar combat procedures, emergency protocols.
“Uncle Luke doesn’t really want us to end up fighting experienced pilots, though,” she added, sighing. “But he knows that there may come a time when there won’t be any choice in the matter, so he wants us prepared, just in case.”
Jaina stared at the bays in a strange way. Zak couldn’t quite pin what it was he saw in her gaze. Was it longing? Regret? He couldn’t tell; he didn’t know her well enough to judge her expressions.
He nodded, his next question already upon his lips when something in the back of his mind set off an alarm that made him twitch uncontrollably.
He recognised the sensation at once. It was the Force—but it wasn’t one of his new senses that he was just starting to attain some ability in. This sensation he felt was one that he had had for as long as he could remember. It was a feeling his sister experienced as much as he had, during their life on the run from the Empire. It was a warning of imminent danger, and it was close enough to trigger the alarm in such fierceness that his eyes darted from side to side as wildly as he had ever seen Rebekah’s in the jungle.
Jaina noticed his distress, and lay a hand gently upon his shoulder, sending him soothing emotions through the Force in order to try and calm him down.
The sound of something soft—at least two dozen soft somethings—touching the stone floor caught Zak’s attention. He looked around wildly, trying to find what it was. But it was so dark that he couldn’t see much.
“They’ve got us surrounded,” Jaina whispered.
“What?” Zak couldn’t see, and he was briefly amazed that she could make anything out, until he remembered that she was much more advanced in her training as a Jedi.
Harder sounds touched down around him. Booted feet on the stone. One dozen, two, and one more set. Each sound was calculated, almost instantaneous. Each was heavy, as if each something was carrying a decent amount of weight.
“Stormtroopers!” Jaina hissed over her shoulder. Her back was pressed against his now, and he could still see nothing in the darkness.
The sound of energy being released suddenly drew his attention, and Zak saw a glow from the corner of his eye suddenly light up a space several meters around him. His attention, however, was not centred on the stormtroopers that the glow revealed—their skeletal armour still heavily reminiscent of the Empire he knew, but with obvious changes here and there to mark the passage of time, the change of design that someone had thought necessary—it was on the glow that revealed those troopers.
It brought back to the fore all of his misgivings regarding the so-called vision he had experienced. The colour of Jaina’s lightsaber was indistinguishable from the one he had seen facing down that one-armed man. He just could not believe he was seeing it. Had it been her after all? Had she been fighting someone, killing someone with one arm and a red lightsaber? The future? Or the past?
Then he realised something even worse, he was having those thoughts with her right there. Had she seen them, as she had seen his earlier thought about the sentries? Or was her concentration so focused on defending herself from this surprise assault that she had missed it.
He clamped down at once, unwilling to let her see them. He could not possibly explain to her why he had kept it from her and Jacen, and why he still felt it necessary to do so. He couldn’t just explain that pure feeling inside him that insisted that only Luke know.
“Put down your weapon, Jedi,” a voice said from behind Zak, somewhere in the direction Jaina was looking.
“Go plug yourself into your own damned power conduit,” Jaina snapped in reply. Zak could barely contain the laughter. “You have no business here. The Republic won’t stand for the Empire trespassing on her territories.”
“Oh my,” the voice of the antagonist responded. “Such a foul-mouthed little girl. And such a clueless one at that.”
Zak looked over his shoulder to see a man standing there in a navy-blue officer’s uniform resembling that of the Empire. But the colouring was all wrong, and the security tags that granted him access to portions of the Empire’s starships were mostly non-existent—only the one in his cap still remained. In his hand was a standard issue blaster, but Zak couldn’t see what setting it had been set to.
“I said to put down the weapon, Solo!” the Imperial snapped, raising the blaster toward them. “I won’t warn you again. You are both now prisoners of the Second Imperium.”
“The Imperium fell apart when the Shadow Academy was destroyed!” Jaina hissed angrily.
“And that, young lady, is where you are mistaken.” He gestured to take in all of the troopers, most of whom were armed with standard military rifles and all aiming at either Zak or Jaina.
Something touched his ankle gently, and he looked down to see Jaina’s foot tapping him there, drawing his attention. While he was looking down, she twisted slightly, making it look to the Imperials as though she was just shifting her focus. Her lightsaber remained steady in her hands.
But Zak got the hint quickly. While they were all focussed on her, he took the small blaster from a hook on her belt near the back, checked the setting to stun.
“Just so you know,” he whispered in undertones he hoped couldn’t be picked up by the Imperials’ gear, “I’ve never actually fired a weapon before.”
“Let the Force be your guide,” she hissed back without looking at him. “I get the impression it’s helped you out in the past. Don’t control your own actions too much, just point and shoot when it feels right.”
Zak nodded without another word. But, to be honest, he was worried that this mystical Force wasn’t going to guide him like she’d guaranteed. He couldn’t remember an instance in the past when it had actively helped him. The warnings were fine and all, but he’d have given his left leg to have had the power to fling invisible waves of power at Darth Vader when he had been on the run from the indomitable cyborg, if only to slow him down.
The Imperial officer sighed, somewhat bored Zak thought. “Take them alive, but not necessarily uninjured.”
And then chaos.
A blaster somewhere to Zak’s left opened up on him; blue bolts sizzled through the air towards the middle of his chest. A flick of the wrist from Jaina sent a blur of purple motion before his eyes and the bolt fizzled out against the blade of her lightsaber. When the blade was clear, Zak held his own weapon out, aimed square, and squeezed the trigger.
There was a slight jerk backwards when it fired, but the stormtrooper fell when the bolt hit, a burn hole visible in the armour. But he wasn’t dead. Zak had made sure the weapon was set to the non-lethal setting. He couldn’t bring himself to kill even Imperials. Especially in a time of supposed peace.
Jaina, it seemed, had no such qualms. Three of the troopers in the ring had foregone their blasters in favour of steel blades Zak didn’t recognise. All of them charged Jaina from different angles, each hoping that the charge of their squad mates would distract her enough that they could get her.
It almost worked. An urging inside of Zak caused him to spin his aim around and he fired at one of the oncoming troopers, catching them in the knee-join. The trooper went down hard to the knee, dropping his blade, and Zak took him out with a second shot to the chest.
Jaina, meanwhile, was sorting out the other two. Their blades came in at her, but not at the exact same moment. And in that split-second lull, she had just enough time to slice up towards one, battering it away, before dodging around the other and battering it down to the stone. Her blade spun, flicked, and stabbed through the chest plate of one of the troopers before she withdrew it and sliced in a downward angle through the armour of the second.
Both troopers went down with a clatter, but neither moved again.
More blaster fire came in at Zak, and Jaina’s blade swung around them both—his back was still pressed up against hers—to slap the shots away before they could hit either of them.
The spinning of the blade so close to his face made Zak flinch. He knew that her training with the lightsaber must have been pretty extensive, but it was his instinct to remove himself from that kind of danger. It wasn’t the Force that he obeyed this time, it was his own human drives. And those drives told him not to take the risk.
The next time a shot came for his side, he dropped flat to the stone, wriggled out of the way, and then rolled as far from Jaina as he could without actually reaching the ring troopers that surrounded them.
Alarm rang through his brain, and somehow he knew it was coming from Jaina. When he got back up to his knees, he aimed four well-placed shots at the nearest four stormtroopers, felling them quickly, before he chanced a look back.
Her eyes were wide with surprise, and she was striding in his direction. Her attention focussed on his immediate need for defence, she missed the shot that took her in the small of the back and sent her crashing in an undignified heap on the stone right before his eyes.
Her lightsaber, deactivated when she fell, rolled from her slackened grip. Zak reached for it. He had never used one, never even handled one before. But it had to be a better means of defence than wielding a blaster in an open chamber surrounded by the enemy.
His fingers just brushed the hilt of the weapon when a boot came down on top of them, crushing the tips against the metal of the weapon painfully. He hissed, tried to wiggle his fingers free, but they were stuck tight.
His grip slackened on the blaster in his other hand, and he looked up to see the arrogant, self-satisfied smile of the Imperial in the navy-blue uniform. The officer looked down at him with a curious look before pointing his blaster at a spot right between Zak’s eyes.
“I really do feel like killing you right now, you know; retribution for making us search the entire building for you when you were already down here waiting for us.” He paused, stroked his smooth chin with an idle finger, and then sighed again, disappointed. “But orders are orders. Say goodbye to the Yavin system.”
Angry with himself for having fallen prey to his long-hated enemy after so long eluding them, Zak swore loudly, picking the foulest word with an Alderaanian origin as he could think of in order to surprise the officer whose accent originated from that very same place.
He watched helplessly as the officer’s finger squeezed the trigger, and then everything went black.