The governor of the Imperial planet Toskanus floated in the air, suspended a full meter above the marble floor of his private office. Three of his closest aides lay on the floor nearby, their throats crushed by the same power that held him up. At his desk sat the self-proclaimed Dark Lord of the Sith who was responsible for it.
"Governor Norgab, this is your final warning. Tell me where Admiral Daala is, or join your associates," Kyp Durron said in a voice that left no doubt about his sincerity.
"I... I told you. I don't know any Admiral Daala," Norgab replied in a tone of sheer terror.
"This planet has the last remaining Imperial supply and repair base in this sector. She must have come here to repair her ships."
"She wasn't here, I swear it!"
"Then how did she get her ship repaired so soon? She couldn't possibly get them repaired that quickly in the Maw."
"I don't know what you're talking about! I tell you, I don't know her! And what is the 'Maw'?"
The governor gasped as Kyp squeezed his throat through the Force.
"Please! I'm telling the truth!" he managed.
"Perhaps you're right," Kyp said calmly. He eased his grip. "Perhaps you really don't know her." He slowly lowered Norgab to the floor. "In that case, I apologize for my interruption in your busy schedule. I must be on my way. But when I come back, I expect you to have found out where she is. Good day, sir."
Kyp rose from the governor's chair and strode toward the door. Norgab stood dumbfounded, his mind reeling in confusion about what had just happened. But it was clear enough that this "Sith Lord" was an extreme danger that must be stopped. He spotted one of his aides' blasters nearby. His tormentor had just reached the door and made the mistake of turning his back on him. The scarred man in the black robe might be powerful, but he wasn't very bright. Within half a second, Norgab had picked up the blaster and leveled it at Kyp.
Kyp didn't even turn around. With a snap of his fingers, Governor Norgab fell to the floor with a broken neck before he could get a shot off. The blaster fell away from the body with a clatter. Kyp continued out of the room, having never slowed his pace.
"Or, I can expect your successor to tell me where she is when I get back," Kyp said to himself.
The hallway was littered with the bodies of the Governor's guards who had stood in his way. He glanced up and down the hall, the evil grin on his face widening. Nearing the door that would open to his impromptu landing platform, he reached out with the Force and found exactly what he expected: a dozen stormtroopers, making a futile attempt to stop him from reaching the Sun Crusher.
Kyp took cover by the side of the door and focused his thoughts on the Imperial troops. They were ready, all right. Just waiting for the door to open and the wrong person to walk out. But they didn't realize the extent of the power available to their quarry. Kyp concentrated, feeling the Dark Side wash over him...
Two stormtroopers in the center of the group suddenly dropped to the ground with the sickening sound of crushed windpipes. Before the others could react, another pair suffered the same fate.
The squad leader quickly ordered them to charge the door. If nothing else, it might get them out of range of the mysterious weapon that had already claimed four of his men. Before they reached the door, another stormtrooper gagged and fell to his knees under the invisible attack of the unseen enemy.
"Forget him. Keep moving!" the Lieutenant commanded. "Blast the door open!"
Kyp was ready for them. The stormtroopers charged through the charred door, missing him completely, having expected the exploding door to have at least scared anyone near it into running, if not killing them outright. But they weren't dealing with just anyone. They were dealing with the Dark Lord of the Sith. Once all seven were through the door with their backs to him, he attacked.
The stormtroopers screamed in terror and pain as blue lightning struck them. Kyp let wave after wave of intense Dark Side energy loose on them, chuckling to himself the whole time, reveling in their pain and agony. But it was over too soon. Kyp made a mental note to be sure not to let Daala off so easily. No, she must suffer much longer than these stormtroopers had.
He turned away from the smoldering, blackened, armored bodies and walked through the doorway into his landing site. He motioned with his finger and the Sun Crusher's hatch opened. Another motion and its ladder extended. Kyp climbed over the broken table of the meeting room to reach the ladder. He looked with visible amusement at the carnage his landing had caused. Yes, when you're the Dark Lord of the Sith with an indestructible ship, you can do anything you want.
He deliberately piloted the Sun Crusher into the firing range of the planet's orbital weapons platform, just to show off his invulnerability. He keyed the comm to address whoever was now in charge below.
"Attention, Toskanus! This is Kyp Durron, the Dark Lord of the Sith! I have seen fit to spare your world from the fate of Carida and the Cauldron Nebula. But be warned: when I return, you may not be as fortunate. At that time, you will tell me where Admiral Daala is and swear loyalty to me, or be obliterated. And don't presume to be in my favor because I spared your system this time. Just ask Governor Norgab. I'm sure he'll convince you of the validity of my words. And be sure to let other Imperial worlds know about me, so that they might show better hospitality when I choose to honor them with my presence. Until next time..."
With that, Kyp started up the Sun Crusher's sublight drives and headed away from the planet, unscathed by the weapons platform's turbolaser fire. Once outside the planet's gravity well, he made the jump to lightspeed.
She didn't know how long she had been unconscious but Mara knew where she was immediately upon awakening: an Imperial detention cell. She vaguely remembered being awake from time to time, but it was so hazy it could have been a dream. She stood up, and the dizziness and nausea hit her again. She fell back down onto the hard bunk. The feeling soon passed, and from the growling of her stomach, she deduced that she must not have eaten for at least a full day, and probably more.
But there was also an odd sensation of blindness. She could see well enough, and yet, something was amiss. Then it hit her: the Force was gone. She couldn't sense anything. Belatedly she remembered: the shuttle that had captured her had been just as Force-empty. Which could only mean...
The door abruptly slid open, and four stormtroopers entered, carrying ysalamiri on nutrient frames on their backs. Just as Mara suspected. An officer followed the stormtroopers in.
"Come with us."
"Why not. I have nothing better to do," Mara retorted, rising to her feet.
A stormtrooper gave her a quick jab in the side with the butt of his blaster rifle. She cringed, but refused to give them the pleasure of seeing her crumple to the deck in pain. Another trooper stepped forward to put binders on her wrists.
"You'd better change your attitude. It can get you into a lot of trouble where you're going. Now move."
They took her to the hangar bay and boarded a shuttle. Once inside, they placed blinders over her eyes so she couldn't see where they were taking her. But from what she could hear, it was obvious she was being brought aboard another ship, and not to a planetary surface. Once out of the shuttle, the long walk and long turbolift ride told her that it must be another Imperial Star Destroyer.
Her escort finally removed her blinders. They had brought her to what was probably the captain's personal quarters, below and behind the bridge. With a hiss, the door slid open, and they shoved her in, harder than her legs could adjust for.
Mara got back to her feet quickly, despite her bound hands. Her jaw ached from the impact with the floor. The dim lighting obscured the details of her surroundings, but enough was visible to tell her that this was not just a captain's quarters, but more like a personal command center, a sort of second bridge. She remembered seeing something like this before, but only once. Between that and the extensive presence of ysalamiri, she knew exactly what ship she was on: the Star Destroyer Chimaera, former flagship of the late Grand Admiral Thrawn.
"So the Emperor's Hand has decided to pay us a visit again. We are honored."
Mara spun around to see an elderly man in an Imperial uniform standing beside an Admiral's chair. She recognized the man, but it took a moment to attach a name to the face.
"Captain... Pellaeon, I presume. Oh, excuse me, it's probably Admiral Pellaeon now, isn't it?"
"Captain will do. Now, I believe we have a few matters to discuss, Emperor's Hand."
"Yes, of course," Mara replied, turning her sarcasm on high. "Since you acknowledge me as the Emperor's Hand, I assume you intend to bestow on me the authority and respect the title deserves."
"Is that so?" Pellaeon said, just as sarcastic.
"Yes. And seeing as how, as the Emperor's Hand, I hold rank over you, I order you to turn over command to me."
"Very funny, Jade. Enough of this chatter. We have more important things to talk about."
"Oh, all right. But before that, let me be the first to congratulate you on the fine job you've done keeping Grand Admiral Thrawn's fleet in shape. I'm sure he would be pleased."
"Indeed, he is," came a voice from the chair. A cool, familiar voice...
The chair turned around, and Mara gasped as she saw the glowing red eyes of the Grand Admiral himself. It took several moments before she could speak.
"B-but that's impossible! You're dead!"
"So I've been told. Strange how these rumors spread, isn't it?"
Mara staggered backwards, her face saying it all.
"No more witty comebacks? A pity. I was almost enjoying that. Of course, Captain Pellaeon is quite right. We must get around to your interrogation eventually."
Mara kept backing away from Thrawn, for whatever good it would do. She bumped into something and turned around to find a fierce alien face staring up at her. It had all become too much. For the first time in she knew not how long, she screamed in fright, cutting it off quickly as she regained her composure.
The alien never budged. Now calmed down a bit, she recognized it as a Noghri. A dead one.
"Rukh is still intimidating, isn't he? We were quite fortunate to have a good taxidermist among the crew. Now, if you're finished with your emotional outbursts, I have a few questions to ask you. To begin, where is Talon Karrde?"
Mara turned around to face Thrawn again. There truly was nowhere to run. No matter how well she cooperated now, she knew she would be subjected to a full interrogation anyway, then killed. But she didn't have to make it easy for him.
"Drop dead, Thrawn. I have nothing to tell you."
"Very well, then. Guards," he said into his chair's intercom, "enter."
Four stormtroopers came through the door and took positions around Mara, awaiting Thrawn's next command.
"It would seem, Emperor's Hand, that you must enjoy pain. I'm sure you know standard Imperial interrogation procedures quite well.. However, I don't think you're aware of our more recent innovations."
"Such as?" Mara asked, hoping to at least prepare for it as much as possible. A feeling of dread permeated her entire being.
"Just a few new techniques we've been considering," the Grand Admiral said. "It will be a learning experience for us as well."
"I am not going to be your lab animal!"
"You don't have a choice in the matter, Emperor's Hand. Guards: take her away."
Instantly the stormtroopers turned a neat about face. When Mara hesitated, one stepped forward to roughly turn her around and give her a hard jab in the back with the barrel of his blaster rifle to get her moving.
"Careful," the Grand Admiral commanded. "I want her in good condition for the interrogation so she lasts as long as possible. Now go."
The stormtroopers continued out of the room, this time nudging a bit more gently with the rifle. Mara winced as the rifle hit her too close to her already bruised side, but she offered no further resistance.
"Captain," Thrawn said once the door slid shut, "have Intelligence find out where she has been recently."
"Sir, Intelligence isn't what it used to be."
"They found out about that slicer."
"Actually, sir, that information came through an outside source," Pellaeon replied.
"What kind of 'outside source,' Captain?" Thrawn asked, a sharp edge in his voice.
"A smuggler, sir. He's the best field operative we have who isn't on the actual list, and is considerably better than some of those who are."
"Then why hasn't he been recruited by now?"
"He said it has to do with his close involvement with the smuggler's alliance and being worried about getting caught in a lie."
"Worried about getting caught in a lie? What kind of smuggler is he?" Thrawn almost shouted at him.
"A very good one, I assure you. It's Jade that has him worried."
"Ah. I see," Thrawn said, calming down a bit. "Afraid her Jedi skills might pick up on it. I'm sure he will be quite relieved to hear that we have her in custody. Captain, contact this smuggler. Give him this assignment. I want to see how good he really is."
"Certainly, sir," Pellaeon responded, confidence in his voice. He was sure the Grand Admiral would be impressed.
"By the way, Captain, why wasn't I aware of this contact?"
"The contact was established about one and a half years ago, sir, during your recovery. I must have forgotten to mention it to you."
Yes, the recovery. Thrawn subconsciously moved his hand to his chest and felt the scar from Rukh's knife. Pellaeon had done an admirable job of bringing him back up to speed after his six month long coma. But, of course, Pellaeon was only human, and a few things were still hazy.
"Remember, Captain, I need to know all of the resources available to me," Thrawn started, before the door slid open.
A lieutenant took a step inside, then stood at attention in front of the door, waiting to be bidden forward.
"Yes, Lieutenant, what is it?" Pellaeon questioned.
"Sir, Captain Dorja sent me to deliver an item to Grand Admiral Thrawn himself," he said, sounding quite uneasy.
"Bring it here, Lieutenant," Thrawn commanded.
He quickly approached the Grand Admiral and handed him a 30 centimeter long box.
"Captain Dorja said this item was taken from the prisoner who was just transferred here. He felt it unsafe to send them together."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Return to your ship."
The Lieutenant gave a quick salute to Thrawn, then Pellaeon, turned, and left. Once he was gone, Thrawn opened the box to find a lightsaber.
"Interesting," Thrawn said. "I wonder where our Emperor's Hand found this."
"She could have built it herself, sir."
"No, I don't think so," Thrawn said, studying the saber handle carefully. "From the look of the materials used, it appears to be older than she is. And furthermore..."
Thrawn suddenly removed his gaze from the saber and stared past it. He remained silent for a few seconds, deep in thought, trying to piece together a memory that had just flashed across his mind.
"Sir, are you all right?"
"I've seen this before. Somewhere. Captain, leave me. Send Captain Dorja a message. Congratulate him on the capture of Jade, but be sure to inform him that I am still disappointed that he let the slicer escape. And contact your smuggler. Have him report on Jade's recent travels as soon as possible."
"Yes, sir," Pellaeon replied before saluting and departing.
With his private command center empty, Thrawn typed commands into his chair's computer console and set it to search through all available records for references to lightsabers. While the computer ran its check, he rose from his seat and resumed studying the saber. Finding the switch, he ignited it. A snap-hiss cut through the silence of the room, and the dim lighting was augmented by the shimmering blue-white laser blade. He waved it back and forth a few times, admiring the weapon. Indeed, a work of art.
In the background, the rigid form of his mounted Noghri trophy caught his attention. He approached the lifeless form. Nonchalantly, he gave it a swift jab in the chest with the light sword.
"Well, Rukh, it looks like we're even," Thrawn said aloud as he pulled the saber tip out of the Noghri. "However, the rest of your people have yet to feel my revenge. But don't worry. They will join you soon enough."
The Grand Admiral extinguished the saber and studied the handle again. He most certainly had seen it before, but there was something else with it. Something unusual that would certainly answer his questions. It hovered on the edge of recognition, just out of his grasp. A beep from his command chair announced that the computer records search was completed.
Thrawn headed back to his chair, hoping to find the information that would tell him where the Emperor's Hand had found the saber he now held. He stopped halfway to the chair.
Hand, he thought. Something about a hand. Of course, it was taken from the Emperor's Hand... No, that wasn't it. Someone else's hand, perhaps? While pondering that question, Thrawn looked at his own right hand, still holding the lightsaber handle. Recognition struck him like a blaster bolt.
He quickly returned to his chair and entered into the computer a new command to check the lightsaber references against severed hands. Within seconds, the search was done and Thrawn's hunch was proven valid.
He leaned back in his chair, a grin on his face. The Emperor's Hand owed him considerably more than he had first thought. Her interrogation would prove very interesting. He might even observe it personally.