The next day, Kurie and Jayk were still helping Zekk. The Redeemer had had a hard couple of years. They insisted that Nik go ahead without them. It was closing in on the race day.
So Nik boarded the Krayt Rider as Leara brought it up. He plopped down next to her in the copilot’s seat. They had a newfound respect for each other following their duel. Nik also felt that some of his shyness when talking to her was gone.
“Would you like to pilot?” Leara asked him after a moment. Nik looked at her in surprise. “You need practice for your race,” she explained. “Come on, it’ll be fun.”
Nik rose from his seat and switched with her. He took a moment to familiarize himself with the controls. When he was satisfied, he engaged the hyperdrive from the course to Telti Leara had set in the navicomputer. Efseven blooped cheerfully behind him, then trundled off to the back hold.
Leara looked at the Firrerreo, admiring his handsomely boyish features. She leaned forward and said, “Pretty good for a rookie.” And with that, she planted a quick kiss on his lips.
Nik blinked in momentary confusion and surprise, and then grinned weakly at an ironic thought. “You’re the one who dumped droid fluid on my head.”
* * *
Nik was feeling pretty confident as the descended the ramp. In fact, he hardly thought about what he was doing as he instinctively headed for his old office. Leara and Efseven followed.
Leara gave him tips as to what parts would be best, especially for computer directing systems. With Efseven’s help, and making several trips, the companions quickly gathered all the parts that would be needed. Nik and Leara traded jokes, and were having fun until they headed to the docking bay.
Before them in the hallway stood the spirit of Axum Senn, grinning hysterically as he always had. Leara gasped and Nik stopped dead in his tracks. They had been so close. He’d almost made it...
“Dear apprentice,” the spirit hissed. “How I hoped to see you again. You’ve become weak since our duel. When you killed me, you had reached the peak of your potential. You could have ruled.
“But no. You have gathered so-called friends about you, and now you are a weakling Jedi. You disappoint me, apprentice.”
“Don’t call me apprentice,” Nik growled.
“No, I’m handling this, Leara.” The Firrerreo turned to Axum’s spirit. “Don’t taunt me, Sith scum. I am Arkon’s Padawan, and I am ready to be a Jedi Knight. You can’t ruin it for me now.” Nik fixed the specter with his twilight-blue gaze. “And you are dead.”
Closing his eyes, the boy fixed his powers of light on the evil spirit. As he did, he spoke. “I was wrong to kill you, Axum. I was wrong to turn. But I have been assisted by my friends and Masters, and I have returned to the light. Your spirit alone cannot change me.”
The spirit began to flicker. Axum’s slippery voice gained a hint of panic. “Apprentice, stop. You forget all you learned. You were so strong.”
“I am not strong,” the boy replied unflinchingly. “The Force is strong. And the light is stronger than you.”
At that moment, the spirit of Axum Senn wavered violently. Finally, it disappeared with a loud pop.
By the next afternoon they had returned and set up the parts for construction. They worked in the cool, moist atmosphere near the waterfall. Before they had begun, Arkon had wanted a detailed description of Nik’s encounter on Telti. Afterwards, Leara talked with him. Zekk had received a transmission from Ennth around the same time, and was needed for an emergency evacuation. He needed some others to accompany him whom he could trust, and Leara and Kurie were chosen.
“Sorry, Nik,” Leara said. “We’re among the only ones Zekk trusts enough, and lives are at stake. We didn’t want to back out on you.”
“Don’t worry, though,” Kurie added hopefully. “Jayk’s great with mechanics. You’ll do fine.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Nik said, hoping he had masked his disappointment thoroughly enough. Not that it would matter. They sensed it. “I understand.”
He embraced Kurie first, and then Leara. “Good luck,” he called after the girls and Zekk as they boarded the Redeemer.
“You, too!” they called back in unison. And then they were gone, with Jayk standing alone behind him.
The young men worked silently together in the cool mist of the waterfall. The pod had barely taken form, as they were working on making the cockpit sturdier and more maneuverable. Nik was nervous around the older boy, of whom he knew little. He knew that the Bothan was his sister’s best friend, and that Leara had known him and been friends with him for many years. But beyond that, he knew nothing of the seventeen-year-old.
Nik was afraid to break the silence, for Jayk appeared to be in deep thought. Therefore, he continued his work, listening to the peaceful rumbling of the waterfall. Finally, the Bothan began to speak. When he did, his deep, soothing voice startled the Firrerreo so that he almost dropped his hydrospanner.
“Leara tells me you have done a great thing on Telti.”
Nik looked at him, confused. “What, with Senn? I had plenty of time to think of what I would do if I ever encountered him again in such a way. Trust me, the thoughts were once not so pleasant. But I have been changed. The praise for that great thing is owed to you three, and Master Arkon.”
Jayk smiled his gentle, Bothan smile. “But you conquered your fear on your own. That was a private battle that even the great Master Arkon could not help you with. You honor him with acts such as those.”
Nik smiled back. “I sure hope so. He is the greatest being I have ever known.”
They worked diligently for the next few hours, simply enjoying each other’s company. When they spoke again, it was Jayk who once more instigated the conversation.
“It seems to me that the Force chooses those who are destined for struggle to be its servants.”
“My parents are also dead. I know it came as quite a shock to you to find out your true heritage.” Nik nodded, and Jayk proceeded to tell him about the Imperial at sunrise, and how, with his Masters and friends’ help, he had finally conquered the memories in the construction of his lightsaber. “It is moments like that when you are whole again. Moments like when you finally dispelled Axum Senn with light.”
“The hole in my heart was partially filled by that, yes,” the other boy allowed. “But it can never be filled unless I succeed on Dathomir."
In sympathetic response, the older boy clapped his furred hand on Nik’s shoulder. After a moment, they resumed their work.
A subtle but earnest camaraderie formed over the months between the Bothan and the Firrerreo. They talked extensively sometimes, covering deep meanings in the Force or sharing stories of Leara and Kurie. Nik was especially intrigued to hear of Zekk’s discovery of the young Kurie. He also learned of their personal trials in the Force, and the formation of a friendship between the three. Jayk talked often of funny things Tasio had done. Nik talked mainly of the recent past, unwilling to discuss what little he remembered of Dathomir, or his disastrous childhood on Telti. Still, when there were silences, they were comfortable.
The boys worked quite hard and efficiently up to a month before the race. After completing the cockpit, they went on to forming Nik’s personal engines, made of any and all parts suitable for such a purpose. They had formed a design plan together, and carried it out with a precision that surprised even themselves. The cables to connect the engines to the cockpit came next, and were tested several times for their sturdiness. They later installed the energy binders to connect the engines together.
The final task was the computer and technical systems. While these were the hardest, they found it was easy to adapt old starfighter consoles to the purpose. Jayk installed them, and Nik tinkered until he was satisfied they would meet all of his demands during the race. The repair systems were included, although because starfighters have shields instead, they were forced to design these out of old Academy computers mish mashed together.
The finishing touch, which they saved until last in case there was not enough time, was to paint the cockpit. The faithful Efseven assisted in this. A beautiful reddish-orange paint was used for the intricate design.
On the final workday, Jayk and Nik stepped back to admire their finished work. The final product was a cockpit hexagonal in shape, with a rising sun painted on either side. Mirroring Nik’s idea, the engines were shaped like two enormous rancor teeth, tips facing out and curving toward each other. The young men grinned at each other triumphantly.
It was time to head for Dathomir.