He had not known what to expect but, standing at the top of the ramp of their shuttle, Cylden found the Zakuulan space station disturbingly similar to those he'd seen in the Core Worlds. It was cleaner than some, and more efficient than others - if the silent drone of droid mechanics rolling to and fro where any indication – but the differences seemed minor in comparison to the similarities.
The teen shoved his hands into the worn pockets of his drab prison garb and hesitated, keenly aware that the next steps forward would land him on Zakuulan soil. I don't belong here! The realization hit him hard and he almost panicked then. If not for the bulk of the Zakuul Knight standing behind him, he might have withdrawn, but Sehkhuut was there, his presence threatening and reassuring at the same time. There is no turning back was the message that silent presence conveyed and Cylden drew himself up, raising his chin with an arrogant tilt that reminded of the rank he'd once possessed.
“Have a good stay!” Maddie's voice came from the cockpit, cheerful and friendly. It was enough to give him pause, creating a crack in the wall of arrogance and pride he'd raised around him. Shut up! he thought, I don't need this! Vehemently rejecting the pilot's kindness, he closed himself off, recognizing the danger that lurked behind the pilot's warmth and friendliness.
He remembered her smile when she had first greeted him, remembered his surprise to find not just a human pilot but one that welcomed him on board without prejudice. She had been nothing like the soulless, programmed drones he'd come to associate with Zakuul and hearing the warmth in her voice reminded him that not all Zakuulans were the enemy he needed them to be.
He didn't need kindness. Not from her, or anyone. And certainly not from a Zakuulan. Had he learned nothing in that prison?! Had Sehkhuut's promises of a fresh start and a shining future dulled his mind that much?
His thoughts went back to Corgon II, to the despair and torture he'd endured. They had stripped him of pride and dignity, left him with nothing but a frantic hope that obedience might bring reprieve. 'Correction', they had called it and Cylden bristled at the memory. Never again, he decided, for the umpteenth time. I won't give them cause to send me back, but I won't forget. I won't forgive!
“Come, boy.” Sehkhuut stood behind him, urging him forward. So far the Knight had been waiting patiently, allowing the sixteen year old time to take it all in, but Sehkhuut wasn't a patient man by virtue and although Cylden's temper flared at the command, he knew there was no profit in risking the man's anger.
“Yes, Sir,” he replied, masking his irritation with a docile smile. The Dark Side stirred inside, eagerly fuelling the young Sith's resentment.
He remembered being roused from sleep in the middle of the night, obeying their commands without hesitation. Like a pet, he thought. A stupid, well-trained pet.
Enough! Don't go there. he told himself as he descended the ramp, Sehkhuut close behind. While the Knight had been nothing but kind during the trip, Cylden needed no reminder of the man's ready cruelty. He was no fool and the young Sith suspected keenly that underestimating Sehkhuut might prove a fatal mistake .
No, he wouldn't let his anger ruin his chances. Not now. Not when he had come so far. This is what you wanted He clung to the thought, embracing the illusion of free will.
They passed customs without incident and Sehkhuut dropped an armored hand to Cylden's shoulder, steering him towards an office. “Registration,” he explained at the boy's questioning look. “After this, you will be a true citizen of Zakuul.”
Cyl turned his gaze to the office door, coming closer with every step. A new life lay beyond that door. A fresh start with opportunities he'd never dreamed of.
Sehkhuut had assured him that his past wouldn't matter on Zakuul. He would no longer be the Sith he'd been trained to become. Not Darth Saizen's apprentice, but not the beggar from Nar Shaddaa either. Neither would he carry the burden of Darth Maladict's heritage, or the shadow of the mistakes he'd made. No more 'demon child', as Lord Sci'itar had called him – just a citizen.
That's what the Knight had said and although Cylden wanted to believe him, the all too familiar doubts gnawed at him, fuelled by the darkness that even six months re-education had not tamed. Pasts were not that easily forgotten, and whatever he said to Sehkhuut, Cylden believed that if he was anything, that he was Sith.
Not that this would stop him from accepting the chances Zakuul offered … On the contrary, the desire to learn, to grow in power and improve himself had been part of his reasons to embrace the Eternal Empire's offer.
But more important than any promise of change, more compelling than Sith Doctrine or his Master's teachings, had been Sehkhuut's promise to remove the shock collar that clenched around Cylden's throat, preventing the young Sith from using the Force.
Just a few more hours, perhaps even less, and it would come off. And until then, Cylden was content to play along. He smiled and obeyed, remained courteous and docile, and replied to Sehkhuut's directions with a respectful 'Yes, Sir' whenever the situation called for such.
But this time, there was no deception in the eager, sunny smile Cylden cast up at the armored knight. “I can't wait,” he replied.