Nik was only partially listening to Axum on the ride to his starship, lost in his own thoughts. Axum told him about the Force, which Nik gathered to be “magic”, and the proper uses for it--dark uses. The little boy didn’t know much about this Force, except that the women of his clan performed amazing feats with it--and that the Nightsisters committed atrocities.
The two were fast approaching a large metallic form. It was small, sleek, and Nik supposed it was also beautiful to some. It was a deep, rich violet, and had a small ramp extending from its side. Axum called it a starship. Nik had never seen one before. Axum told him that it would take them to their new home, a faraway planet called Telti.
Nik found the travel to Telti exhilarating. He especially found the travel through hyperspace intriguing. Axum let him enjoy himself, giving him pieces of information here and there about space travel. A casual onlooker would have thought it ludicrous to even try to explain the basics of a hyperdrive to a five-year-old. But then, a casual onlooker wouldn’t have known about Niko Kitana what Axum Senn did.
He was extraordinarily strong in the Force.
So strong, that when the boy had been approaching him on Dathomir, Axum had felt alarming ripples in the Force. The boy wasn’t corrupt yet, though, not yet. But the dark knight knew how to change that. He had been taught by a master of deception and darkness.
Senn had been trained as a young teenage boy by Brakiss, Luke Skywalker’s fallen knight. Axum had been one of Brakiss’s most trusted servants, one of the elite Dark Jedi. He had been second only to Zekk, the Darkest Knight. Darkest Knight, turned Brightest Traitor. Axum still seethed with anger at his one-time comrade, whom he believed was responsible for the failure of the destruction of the Jedi Academy, and the death of Lord Brakiss.
Axum was the last of Brakiss’s Dark Jedi. The last who was living, or not turned by Skywalker and his lackeys. This boy, Kitana, was the last hope for the order of the Sith. This boy could succeed where so many couldn’t. Exar Kun, Emperor Palpatine, Darth Vader, Kueller, Brakiss...the list could go on forever. But Nik was young, and he didn’t yet have lasting loyalties to others.
Axum smiled cruelly to himself. He vowed to train this boy if it was the last thing he did in this galaxy.
Nik sat rigidly in his seat across from Master Axum at his base on Telti. He didn’t know what to make of this man. He knew he was evil, and yet he seemed to have Nik’s best interests in mind. The boy’s twilight-blue eyes studied the other’s face intently, waiting for him to speak before he made a judgment.
Axum cleared his throat. “You have great power, Nik. Did you know that?”
“Yes,” Nik said softly.
“I thought you might. Did your mother, Tyns Ja, know?”
“She appeared not to.”
“But did she?”
“She said men did not have this Force you speak of.”
“But did she?”
Nik nodded slowly. “Yes.”
Axum leaned back in his chair. The boy was quick, and continued to astound him. But Axum was the master, and soon Niko would know that. “Do you know why she lied to you?”
A small smile spread across Axum’s face. He was ahead of the boy here. Here, he could manipulate him. “She was afraid of you. Of your power and potential. After all, a powerful male would ruin female dominance in your clan. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Nik was watching him intently. Was he right? Did his own mother value power so much that she would send away her own son? He tried to control it, tried to stop it. But the boy’s small frame was shaking with anger. He had power she wouldn’t recognize. He could rule just as well. Better.
Axum checked his grin. He could sense the boy’s fury. In his anger, the child was opening up channels in the Force that he had never experienced before. His power was increasing by the minute, by the second. This would be easier than he had expected. The man put a comforting hand on Nik’s shoulder. “No one likes to feel unwanted, Nik. The Force gives some a sense of belonging. I believe you belong here, Nik, with me. What do you think?”
Nik shuddered at the man’s dark touch. And yet, if not here, where did he belong? At least Lord Axum recognized his abilities. Nowhere to go, Nik thought. Nowhere good, anyway. And this man could help him learn about and develop his powers. And...
“Can I make them pay?” Nik asked quietly, almost to himself. “They doubted me, they sent me away. Can I show them their mistakes?”
Axum smiled, a small, twisted, mirthless smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Of course, my boy. Of course.”
Day broke on the moon of Yavin 4. Kurie had been at the Academy for four years, and had found that sunrise was her favorite time. It was nothing like that on Munto Codru in a way she could not describe. She always shared it with her two best friends at the Academy, Jayk Terro and Leara Sunrider. She and the young Bothan had formed a fast friendship from the start, and she quickly became friends with his human friend from Tatooine, Leara. Now the three sat at the top of the Great Temple, taking in the morning light. Tasio, Kurie’s faithful mishalope, sat on her shoulder.
The two ten-year-old girls watched the twelve-year-old alien boy rise to his feet. He lowered himself from the rooftop and walked away, brooding again. Kurie looked at Leara meaningfully. The human girl’s gold-brown eyes were brimming with tears. She leaned over so that her brown hair hid her face. Now she will tell me, Kurie thought hopefully. Leara knew what bothered Jayk every morning.
Leara did not miss the pleading glint in Kurie’s eyes. “No,” she told her friend. “He must tell you himself. It is not my place.” Leara’s heart ached as Kurie lowered her head in defeat. She put a hand on her shoulder. This one thing, this secret Jayk was keeping from her, was going to tear apart their beautiful friendship. “Just ask him,” Leara offered. “You two are close. He won’t hide this for ever.” Then Leara left to let Kurie think.
The Firrerreo took Tasio into her arms and stroked his fur absently. She had taken his name from the Firrerrese word tassionnea, which meant to be healed. He hadn’t left her side since she found him. Everyone at the Academy accepted him as an extension of herself, and never thought twice about his constant presence at her side. But right now, she was too worried about her Bothan friend to reflect much on her faithful pet.
Rising slowly, the girl descended from the temple and set off after her friend. They needed to talk.
Kurie found him, as usual, at the Jedi graveyard. Buried there were all the brave Jedi who had died honorably and whose bodies could be recovered. Jayk never visited a specific grave. He just wandered the grounds until he was finished thinking, and then he returned to his friends.
Kurie came up beside him and matched his walk, stride for stride. She watched him for a while, taking in her best friend’s features. Although he was a good foot taller than her, he wasn’t likely to get much taller. Bothans were naturally short. He had sparkling emerald green eyes, pointed ears and golden fur. His fur-covered hands were folded before him. He was always cheerful--except in the morning. Kurie told him that if he wanted, he didn’t have to come with them in the mornings anymore. But he always came. He knew how important it was to Kurie to share the sunrise with her friends.
Finally, Jayk stopped walking and turned to her. He opened his mouth, then shut it again. Kurie decided to start. “Jayk,” she began. “What’s been bothering you so much? Please, I must know. I feel like we’re getting farther apart.”
Jayk swallowed hard and turned his gaze away. Then he walked over and sat on the low, stone ledge surrounding the cemetery. He motioned for her to join him.
When Kurie was seated beside him, he looked at her intently. His golden fur rippled in an expression Kurie recognized as sorrow. He began to speak in his calm, soothing voice that seemed deeper than it should have been coming from a twelve-year-old. “Did you know I used to love the sunrise? When I lived on Bothawui, I never missed one. I got up every morning at dawn just to see it. It always mystified me, although I could never explain why.” The young Bothan paused before continuing.
“Something happened to me one morning, something so crushing and traumatic that I can replay the whole thing in my mind like a videochip. Master Skywalker says that certain Force-sensitive children have the ability to retain extraordinary memories in this way, both good and bad. When I was five, my parents were killed by a maniacal member of the Imperial Remnant. I can’t forget it. I never will.” Deep anguish choked his voice.
Kurie looked shocked. “Isn’t...isn’t there anything you can do?” she asked hopefully.
Here, Jayk hesitated. If he told her, of course she would want to go through with it. Just as Leara had. But he knew it was senseless to try it, and he would tell her so. “There...is a way. But it is silly and weak. It adds burdens where there were not before, and does little to help the problem.”
“Anything has to be better than the way you’ve been lately,” Kurie said bluntly.
The alien boy shook his head. “Long ago, Leara and I discovered a way for me to share the burden of my memory. By linking our minds through the Force, I transferred my memory to her. This made me feel slightly less overwhelmed by the memory. However, it also pained Leara. I have realized the selfishness of my act, and vowed never to do it again.”
“Jayk,” Kurie pleaded. “Friend. Let me share some of this pain.”
“I could not possibly ask of you--”
“You don’t have to,” Kurie interrupted. “Please. It’s important to me.”
Jayk lowered his head and sighed. Uncertainty and misery contorted his face. Then he nodded. He pressed his fingers gently against her forehead. “Put your fingertips of one hand to my forehead.” She did so, and both closed their eyes. The Force flowed between them, connecting them closely, enforced by their friendship.
Suddenly, Jayk’s voice and images in his mind were transmitted into Kurie’s.
I was five years old, living on Bothawui. I left my house early one morning and went down the road to watch the sunrise. It was beautiful, like every sunrise on Bothawui. I loved to watch the sunrise, every morning. That day, I returned to my home to find it smoking and the door smashed in. My parents lay on the floor. They were absolutely slaughtered. They had been burned to death, and nothing remained but their charred, smoking bones.
Somehow, I stayed somewhat calm. It must have been the workings of the Force. I explored the house, making sure they were gone. I found a lone, portable computer console on the ground. I picked it up. They must of forgotten it. It bore the markings of the Imperial Remnant. Officials later discovered he was a renegade lunatic, not even accepted by his own people, the Imperials. I kept the computer, the only thing in the house that wasn’t burned to ashes or smashed to unrecognizable pieces.
After that, Zekk and the Jedi took me in, and I moved to Yavin 4.
When it was over, both were crying. Jayk held Kurie as she wept into his fur. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he whispered. But she only shook her head.
“No, no, it’s okay,” Kurie told him. “I’m glad you told me. Now...now I understand why you can’t enjoy Yavin mornings.”