ZEKK JERKED HIMSELF awake. He sat up in bed, sucking in huge gulps of air. He slid a hand across his forehead to wipe away the sweat and glanced around. The Lightning Rod. Home. He sighed, climbed off his narrow cot, and stumbled to the refresher.
One look in the mirror revealed his trouble sleeping the past few nights. Dark rings hung under his eyes, and his hair was tousled and matted against his head, sticky with salt. He stared into his own eyes, greener than the foliage on . . . Yavin 4.
He splashed his face with cool water. Droplets of sweat were instantly replaced by the clean liquid. After drying his face, Zekk didn't feel like going back to bed.
He walked slowly, on legs that felt too old to be his, to the cockpit and melted into the copilot's chair- the one usually occupied by Jaina Solo. The small cargo ship had been originally built as a one-person vessel, but he and Jaina had installed another seat shortly after he'd decided to stay at the Jedi Academy. That was almost three years ago now. And now Jaina wasn't with him. Now he was going it alone. Funny, he thought. When he'd begun his Jedi training again, he'd sworn that was the end of his "going-it-alone."
But facing his past was part of deciding his future. He had to know who he was, where he came from, before he'd know where he was going. And that was something he had to do on his own. Since he'd finished all the training Master Skywalker could give him and left the academy, he'd been searching for what he was meant to do with the rest of his life.
Zekk gazed out the front viewports at the dark grey sphere of Ennth, the planet he'd been born on. His parents died down there. Coming back here two years ago to help evacuate people from the earthquake-ravaged planet hadn't eased his spirit at all, but he'd hoped rebuilding would be more comforting. That's what Master Skywalker had suggested, at least. He'd said it might help Zekk come to terms with his childhood. And besides, the New Republic ambassador from Ennth would be retiring soon; they'd be in need of a new one . . . .
Obviously, even Jedi masters weren't right all the time. Zekk had returned to find only some slight reminders of the home he'd known, back when his parent were still alive. But those reminders didn't last. He'd fixed some machinery for the townspeople, helped a family build a new play area for their nine-year-old son, something they'd never gotten around to after returning to their demolished homeworld.
All the time he was working, though, Zekk couldn't help but think that in just a few years, all that he and these people had accomplished was going to be destroyed again. After only two weeks of work, it already seemed so futile.
That's when the dreams had begun.
Frightening visions that, even though he was asleep, had him hearing his own heart thumping against the inside of his chest. Dreams of TIE fighters, white armored stormtroopers, and explosions from TIE bombers.
The memories kept coming back, and he couldn't stop them. One minute he'd be standing in the docking bay of the Shadow Academy, surrounded by fighters and Dark Jedi, then the next he'd be caught in the middle of the burning Yavin 4 jungle. Every time he fell asleep, he dropped back into the dizzying vision, forced to watch all the raids, all the attacks, all the massacres he'd helped instigate. Forced to listen to the screams of his friends being slaughtered, to Jaina . . . .
Sometimes he'd wake up screaming himself.
"No," he choked. "That's over. It's not going to happen again." Explosions from his dream still echoing in his head, Zekk glared down at Ennth. He'd led that attack on the Jedi Academy, had murdered many Jedi and been proud of it, had come very close to killing Jaina. "But I didn't," he reminded himself.
Ennth. It was just as much a part of his past as the Shadow Academy. A past it was time to forget about. Well, maybe not forget, but move away from. Maybe being back at Ennth, away from his friends, was what was giving him the nightmares.
Zekk eyed the navicomputer thoughtfully, thinking things over. He'd promised never to let the Dark Side hurt anybody he cared about ever again. But everybody he cared about was back on Yavin 4, staying behind to help train students in the months following their "graduation."
He lifted his head to stare at the stars outside, but they only stared back, as if questioning him. All right, Zekk. What happens now? He'd left the place that had become his new home in order to help the people he came from, but Ennth's endless cycle was just so pointless to him . . . . You can't be everywhere at once.
Zekk sat up straight in the seat and began punching buttons. This is it. Goodbye, Ennth, he thought, not even bothering to look one last time at the place he'd been born. The Lightning Rod turned and shot into hyperspace.
* * *
Zekk loved hyperspace travel, and decided he should do it a lot more often; that is, if he ever really had anywhere to go. The stars all blended together in streaky smears around his ship, and he could sit and watch them for hours. Too bad this jump was almost over.
Too bad? He chided himself. He was go to see Jaina for the first time in weeks. He should be happy. And he was.
Pulling himself away from the cockpit, Zekk strode to the refresher one more time. He sized up his appearance in the mirror. Eyes, hair, clothes. Everything seemed good. Well, it was at least better than it had been when he woke up. Simply amazing how deciding to actually do something seemed to go hand-in-hand with feeling (and looking) better.
Several short beeps from the cockpit controls warned him that the hyperspace jump would be over in a few minutes, so he sat back down in the pilot's seat. He wondered about Jaina. He missed her more than he might like to admit, even to himself. Well, the wait was almost over. The Lightning Rod slid out of hyperspace and headed straight down towards the glowing green globe of Yavin 4 to land in the Jedi Academy's personal landing bay. Boy, is everybody gonna be surprised.