turn your face towards the sky--
turn your face towards the sky--
and it'll be the stars that change your mind
and it'll be the stars that change your mind
and it'll be the stars that change your mind
these are all the things we should never forget
these are all the things we should never forget
these are all the things we should never forget
turn your face towards the sky--
turn your face towards the sky--
and it'll be the stars that change your mind
and it'll be the stars that change your mind
and it'll be the stars that change your mind
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The Dark Side

Face-to-face with her old friend Zekk again, Jaina could find no words. Her breath refused to move in and out. It seemed to have frozen in her lungs like a chunk of winter. Her heart raced, and her palms grew steady.

Zekk didn't move.

Luke came forward to stand beside Jaina. On her other side, still partially supported by her, Lowie voiced a soft growl. And behind her, Lowie voiced a soft growl. And behind her, Jaina suddenly felt the presence of all the remaining Jedi trainees - people who had never met Zekk before today when he had led the attack against the Jedi academy. They saw him only as an enemy, without a glimmer of his being anything else.

Her eyes still fixed on Zekk's mud-covered face, Jaina said, "This is up to me, Uncle Luke. I need to handle this alone."

Luke hesitated for a moment. Jaina knew that her request was difficult for him. His voice held an undercurrent of warning when he spoke. "This isn't a broken machine that you can tinker with and fix."

"I know," she said softly. "I'm not sure he'll listen to me, but I know he won't listen to anyone else."

"I remember thinking the same thing," Luke said, "when I set out to turn Darth Vader back to the light side. It's a dangerous thing to attempt…and success is so rare." He sighed, thinking of Brakiss.

Jaina tore her eyes away from Zekk and turned to look at her uncle. "Please let me try," she said. Luke studied her for a long moment and then nodded.

Jaina focused her full attention on Zekk now, shutting out all other distractions as Luke took Lowie away across the courtyard. She drew strength from the Force, but was at a loss as to what to say to the young man.

Where did one start when talking to a Dark Jedi?

Zekk, she reminded herself. This was her friend. She took a step toward him and raised her voice, though only enough so he could hear. "The fighting's over now, Zekk. We just need to get inside to tend our wounded."

Zekk shuddered from an inner chill. He backed up a step and spread his arms across the temple entrance. "No. There'll be a lot more injuries if you don't stop where you are."

Jaina balked at the threat. She would need to try a different track.

Zekk's eyes darted from side to side, as if he were assessing the strength of the Jedi trainees, with their various wounds, wondering how many he could kill before they took him down.

"Let me be your friend again, Zekk," Jaina said. "I miss being your friend." He flinched as if he had been struck. "Let go of the dark side and come back to the light. Remember the fun we always had together, you and Jacen and I? Remember the time you salvaged that old slicer module and we tapped into the computers at the holographic zoo?"

Zekk nodded warily.

"We reprogrammed all of the animals to sing Corellian tavern songs," she went on. A wistful smile tugged at the corner of her mouth at the memory.

"We got caught," Zekk pointed out quietly. "And the zoo restored the original programming."

"Yes, but so many returning tourists requested it that a few months later the zoo added our singing animals as a separate exhibit." Jaina thought she saw some flicker of acknowledgement in his emerald eyes, but they became hard as chips of green marble.

"We're not those children anymore, Jaina," he said. "We can't go back to the way it was before. You don't understand that, do you?" His gaze darted around the courtyard and he rubbed one hand across his forehead and eyes, smearing the mud there.

Jaina said, "All right, I don't understand. Explain it to me."

Zekk took a deep breath and began to pace in front of the dark doorway, like some wild creature trapped in an invisible cage. "There's no place where I belong anymore, Jaina. The Shadow Academy became my home. It's gone now - completely destroyed. Where can I go? The dark side is a part of me."

"No, Zekk," Jaina said. "You can give it up. Come back to the light."

Zekk laughed, a sound filled with anger and a touch of madness. He clawed at his cheek with one hand and held out his fingers so that she could see the mud there. A wound on his cheek seeped blood, but he seemed not to notice. "The dark side isn't like this mud," he said. "You can't just wear it for a while and then scrape it away - wash it off like some child who has finished playing in the dirt."

Zekk wiped his hand on his tattered cape. "I'm a different person now than the uneducated street kid you knew on Coruscant. I don't belong there anymore. Where could I belong? I've been trained as a Dark Jedi." His expression turned bleak. "And now my teacher is dead, too. He taught me and believed in me, gave me skills and a purpose."

"Peckhum always believed in you, too," Jaina said in a gentle voice.

Zekk put a muddy hand to his matted hair, and a wild look came over him. "But he's dead, too - he must be. I saw the Lightning Rod go down."

Jaina felt as if she had been rammed in the stomach by a mad herdbeast. The Lightning Rod had crashed? The Jacen could be badly injured.

"I failed my teacher, Brakiss, and he's dead," Zekk said. He gestured as he spoke. "I led the Shadow Academy into battle, and all of my comrades were killed or captured. And if Peckhum's dead, then that's my fault too." Zekk's eyes looked glassy and feverish; his breathing was fast and shallow.

Jaina set her jaw in stubborn determination. "Well, Zekk, I don't want to see any more people die because of you. Just let me into the temple so we can take care of our wounded."

Zekk stopped pacing and whirled to look at her. "No! Stay back."

Jaina took a step forward. "Zekk, there's nothing left to fight about. What can you possibly hope to gain?"

Zekk shook his head. "You never did listen to my advice. You always thought you knew better." Despite his obvious agitation, Zekk's movements were eerily smooth as he drew his lightsaber from his belt and ignited the glowing red blade with a snap-hiss.

Then, in a move so instinctive that a moment later she couldn't even remember it, Jaina found her own lightsaber in her hand, its electric-violet beam humming and pulsating.

A feral grin spread across Zekk's face, almost as if he was glad that it had come to this.

"You see, Jaina," he said, taking a step toward her and twitching his energy blade from side to side, "once you let it in, the dark side is like a disease for which there's no cure." He lunged toward her, and their two blades met in a sizzling struggle of red against violet. "And the only way to remove the disease" - he lunged again and again and Jaina parried - "is to" - thrust - "cut" - thrust - "it" - thrust - "out!"

Jaina spun away and kept a wary eye on Zekk while she circled, waiting for his next move. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Luke watching the battle with calm acceptance.

At that moment Jaina realized that she had been trying to force Zekk to turn to the light side. She had been trying to fix him. But she couldn't. It had to be his choice. She drew a deep breath, letting the Force flow through her, and backed away from Zekk.

"I won't fight you anymore, Zekk," she said, switching off her lightsaber and tossing it to the ground. "There's still good in you, but you'll have to decide which direction you want to go - starting now. It's your choice, so make the right one for you."

Surprise and anger and confusion chased each other across Zekk's face. "How do you know I won't kill you?"

From the corner of her eye, Jaina saw Lowie step forward as if to protect her, but Luke put a restraining hand on the Wookiee's shoulder.

Jaina shrugged. "I don't know that. But I won't fight you. Make your choice." Jaina pushed back her straight brown hair and looked directly into Zekk's eyes with calm assurance - not assurance that he wouldn't harm her, but assurance that she had done the right thing.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" she whispered.

With slow deliberation, Zekk raised his glowing red lightsaber over Jaina's head. (191-8)





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