"Emperor's Hand" is a short story leading into the events of Starbuggers: From the Logs of Captain Maloney. The story follows Mara Jade - the "Emperor's Hand" - as she encounters Rebel Alliance fighters Kyle Katarn and Jan Ors on Basteel.
- Darth Vader (Mentioned only)
- Dent (Appears in a hologram only)
- Jan Ors (First appearance)
- Jareb Merrick (First appearance)
- Jerec (First mentioned)
- Kyle Katarn (First appearance)
- Luke Skywalker (First mentioned)
- Mara Jade (First appearance)
- Morgan Katarn (First mentioned)
- Palpatine (First mentioned)
- Palpatine's body double (First appearance; albeit in a hologram only)
- Rocket (First appearance)
- Standish (First appearance)
“Left starboard’s been hit!”
Mara Jade, known to many as simply the Emperor’s Hand, grabbed ahold of the chair of the pilot, Jareb Merrick, as their Imperial Lambda-class shuttle was hit by laser fire.
“Blast…what about the Emperor’s ship? How is it?” she asked, gazing out into the void. The similar-looking white shuttle that the Emperor was onboard looked fine, but she had to be sure. The shuttle’s co-pilot, a man who she knew only as Standish, turned to look over his shoulder.
“Scans are showing that it is fine,” he mumbled in his raspy voice. “But we’re not. Our engines have been hit.”
Merrick muttered a curse from an alien language as he tapped a few keys. From under her breath, Mara grumbled: “Now I really wish that the Emperor would’ve let me be on board his ship…”
“Ma’am, a new ship is coming out of hyperspace,” Merrick said, his fingers dancing along the keys of his console. “It is identified as a rebel ship we’ve been looking for…the Raven’s Claw.”
Recently, Mara’s life had been jumbled up. She had always been told of the Alliance’s cruel and dangerous methods towards the galaxy and the Emperor’s safety; that was one of the main things that motivated her. But then, on a mission to the planet Umbara, she met the Jedi-in-training Luke Skywalker…and she, for the first time, did two things: realized what the rebels really were doing, and fell in love.
She and Luke had spent a number of days surviving in the wilderness together—Luke had even used his Force powers to save her. But she still felt she had a duty to protect and serve the Emperor, and couldn’t leave him. But ever since those days, she had always had a new feeling when she encountered rebels.
Kyle Katarn and Jan Ors, the crew aboard the Raven’s Claw, were top marks on the Empire’s wanted list. The former was the son of a Force-sensitive man, Morgan Katarn, who had been killed by the Inquisitor Jerec. Katarn had served with the Empire for many years, believing that the Rebellion had been responsible for his father’s death, but was pulled over to the Alliance by saboteur Jan Ors. Now, the duo was known for handling top-secret missions that were vital to the Rebellion’s survival.
Mara’s holoprojector disk beeped. The Emperor’s Hand grabbed her communications device, holding it out leveled before her. As she squeezed it, a transparent blue image of Commander Dent, who was currently at the destination she and the Emperor were headed, sizzled into view. Dent had the reputation of being the right-hand man of Darth Vader onboard the starship Behemoth, but had been sent to base duty on Basteel.
“Ma’am,” Dent said, standing tall. “I can’t get a comm signal in to the Emperor. I have a vital message: a squadron of rebel X-wings are headed to Outpost Nine. Do not come; I repeat, do not come! You need to warn the Emperor to—”
Before he could finish, the Imperial commander’s hologram disappeared. “Commander Dent? Commander Dent?!” Mara barked, squeezing her comm unit over and over.
Mara shouted out as she stormed back to the cockpit where Merrick and Standish were piloting the shuttle behind the Emperor’s. “I need a line open to the Emperor’s shuttle immediately!” she barked, clasping her hand around Merrick’s shoulder.
The dark-haired pilot, who had served with Mara multiple times, knew that when she touched you, it wasn’t a sign of happiness: she was mad. Furious, even. Merrick nodded. “Affirmative, ma’am.”
Mara sighed, crossing her arms. She hated people calling her “ma’am,” but all of her attempts to steer them away from the word’s usage ended with no change.
So she just didn’t say anything and ignored Merrick.
“Comm line opening up, ma’am,” Merrick said as the voice of the Emperor filled the room. Mara could’ve sworn she saw both Merrick and Standish shudder, even though both men had been members of the Emperor’s Royal Guard before this mission. Apparently, even those red-robed centurions were frightened by their master.
“Mara Jade,” the Emperor’s icy voice spoke. “What is it?”
Mara quickly responded: “I just got a communication from Commander Dent at Outpost Nine. He said that they’ve been attacked by a squadron of X-wing starfighters and told us not to come.”
The Emperor let out an “hmm.”
“Very well. Get the ships ready to leave. We’ve got to—”
But before the Emperor could finish, a pounding noise sounded from the top of the Imperial shuttle Mara was onboard. Standish’s eyes flicked upwards. “What in the blazes was that?!”
Mara huffed, drawing one of her blasters. She wasn’t going to use her lightsaber unless she absolutely had to. “I don’t know…I’ll check it out.” She stomped into the passenger quarters, where a small legion of specially-marked red Imperial shock troopers stood with their blasters drawn.
“You,” she said, pointing to one of the trooper’s dignified by a unique color pattern and shoulder pauldron. “What’s your name?”
The officer stood at attention. “Sergeant TX-943—” he started, but Mara cut him off. “No, no—a name. What do they call you?” she asked, motioning to the other shock troopers behind him. The sergeant—TX-943—nodded. “Oh…well, ma’am, they call me Rocket.” He motioned to a disassembled Imperial-grade missile launcher in the corner. “Eh, you can see why.”
Mara nodded. “Yes. Anyways, Rocket; you take your best men and come with me.”
The stormtrooper sergeant saluted Mara. “As you wish, ma’am.”
In quick succession, Mara led Rocket and his choices of troopers—he had chosen four—and climbed out, onto the top of the shuttle. As Mara clambered up on top, she sneered at Kyle Katarn and raised her blaster.
Katarn was standing firmly, his shimmering lightsaber hilt held downwards in his hand. His customized sidearm was holstered at his hip, and it looked as if he had recently been in a mission; his padded leather clothing was covered in scuff marks.
“Well, if it isn’t Mara Jade…the Emperor’s Hand.” Katarn offered a smile as his hand held still. “I suppose it wouldn’t be wild to guess that the Emperor is in that shuttle up ahead, then?” When Mara simply stared on blankly, Kyle chuckled and spoke to no one in particular: “Jan, I’ve got a confirmation on the Emperor’s location. He’s in the other shuttle; blast it!”
Mara’s teeth bared. “No!” Even though she had been in mixed feelings about the Rebel Alliance, she still had a duty to the Emperor and would carry it out, even if she had to take a few rebels with her. Stretching out her arms, she pushed out with the Force as Kyle did the same, keeping her at bay. While he did so, one of Rocket’s troopers flung off of the shuttle as the other three, as well as the sergeant himself, braced for the Force push’s impact.
“Blast him!” Rocket yelled, firing his rifle. Kyle quickly ignited his elegant blue blade, blocking the laser shot back at the stormtroopers. The shot skimmed Rocket’s shoulder as the troopers continued to fire and Mara fired her weapon.
Kyle slashed downwards, deflecting a series of shots towards Mara, Rocket, and the other three stormtroopers. Another man’s red-and-white armor was splintered apart as the laser seared his armor, and he simply screeched as he flew down into Basteel’s mountainous abyss.
From up above, the Raven’s Claw—piloted by none other than Jan Ors—soared past Mara’s shuttle towards the Emperor’s. The freighter’s laser cannons hammered down upon the white shielding of the Emperor’s ship as Mara’s eyes opened wide. “NO!” she yelled again, this time throwing her pistol over the edge.
Kyle smirked as she held out her right hand, summoning the Force to it. Her lightsaber hilt tore from her belt and flew into her hand as she stood tall, the weapon’s purple blade gleaming from the end of the hilt. The Jedi raised up his blue saber, letting the light illuminate his face. “Let’s see if you’re as good as they say.”
Mara gritted her teeth, charging Katarn. The man bent down, bringing up his weapon to crack it against hers, sparks sizzling off into the ship’s white hull. Mara brought up her knee, allowing for a crack to sound as her knee connected to his nose.
As Kyle staggered back, rubbing his bloodied nose, Mara huffed. Her red hair had been shaken around by their quick duel. “Is that enough?” she asked, twirling her weapon in her hands. Kyle shook his head, chuckling. “No…enough will be once your sick master is dead!”
Quickly, Katarn let out a battle cry and slammed down with his saber with both hands. Mara gripped her weapon’s hilt with her left and right hands, blocking Katarn’s onward assault.
After exchanging blows for a few seconds, a boom from above caused both lightsaber duelists to look back. Smoke began to trail from the Emperor’s shuttle as it began to dip down, spiraling into one of the ravines of Basteel.
Rocket’s sudden shout caused Mara to look back to the sergeant. She had completely forgotten about him and his two comrades!
“What?” Mara barked as Rocket raised a hand. “Look out!” Acknowledging her lieutenant’s remark, Mara snapped her head back, only to see Kyle charging her with his saber drawn. The Emperor’s Hand wasn’t fast enough to block Katarn’s attack, and his saber seared into her right shoulder.
Mara let out a cry as she collapsed on the deck and the stormtroopers began to fire their blasters. Looking up, Mara saw Kyle begin to bat bolts back and forth, and one shot sent a trooper flying off. Rocket and his one man continued their battle as the Jedi closed in.
Stumbling to her feet, Mara heard the shout of Rocket’s companion just as Kyle jabbed inwards, impaling him in the chest. As the stormtrooper flew off into a crevice down on Basteel’s surface, Rocket’s attack was shortened when Kyle slashed with his blade, cutting into the trooper’s stomach and searing up into his shoulder, leaving an orange, fiery gash on his torso.
Mara yelled out, drawing her second blaster pistol. Firing three shots in rapid succession, two caught their mark in Katarn’s back. The man cried out in pain, collapsing to the white hull of the shuttle.
Holstering her blaster, Mara stepped forward, igniting her lightsaber. The purple blade hummed near Kyle’s head, and the Jedi could feel its heat prickling the hairs on his neck. They each stood on edge.
“That was for Rocket.” She raised her blade as Katarn rolled over, lifting himself up. He rubbed one of the seared holes where a blaster shot had hit him. “This is for the Emperor.”
Mara slashed with her lightsaber, catching Kyle in the gut. With all of her strength, the Emperor’s Hand threw him off of the edge, and the Jedi hero flew off of the shuttle, down to Basteel. Mara let out a huff as she collapsed down, clipping her saber’s hilt to her belt.
From behind, Rocket’s body shifted. “Ma’am?” he struggled to say as Mara turned quickly, catching sight of the injured trooper. “Rocket!” she cried out, scrambling towards him. The sergeant looked down to his cut torso, then back up to Mara. “Is he…dead?” he asked.
“I doubt it…Katarn’s a skilled warrior.” The hum of the Raven’s Claw signified that she had been correct. “See? They’re going to pick him up before he smacks down into a mountain or something.”
Rocket shook his head. “No, ma’am—I meant the Emperor. Is he dead?” Mara smirked. “Nope.” The stormtrooper sergeant motioned to the place where the Emperor’s shuttle had been flying before it had crashed. “What do you mean? He couldn’t have survived that!”
Mara chuckled. “He could’ve; if he was here. But the Emperor’s off meditating at a private location.” She smiled to the sergeant. “It’s classified.” The trooper nodded. “Ah…I see.” Mara looked down. “That was one of the Emperor’s decoys—he has many of them, and no one even knew that he was a decoy, besides the Emperor, the decoy himself, and me.”
The stormtrooper stood, dusting off his legs. He cringed as he tried to straighten up. “Here,” Mara said, resting a hand on his back. “Let’s get you inside. We’ve still got work to do.”
- - -
Kyle Katarn leaned back in the chair onboard the Raven’s Claw. Jan had been able to pick him up as he plummeted down to Basteel’s surface. He thought that it was a beautiful site, but he didn’t want to help decorate it by becoming a red splotch on some random mountain.
Jan sighed, leaning back in her own pilot’s chair. “That was a success,” she said with a smile, propping her feet up against the ship’s console. “Even though that Emperor’s Hand still made it out, the Emperor himself didn’t.”
Kyle stroked his bearded chin. “I wouldn’t be too sure of that. The Alliance has been hearing of the Emperor using decoys to carry out special missions. I doubt he’d ever leave that old Imperial Palace on Coruscant.”
Jan’s feet flung off of the console, her hands slapping to her legs. “What?! You mean that whole thing was pointless?”
The Jedi shrugged. “I wouldn’t say pointless…we did get rid of one of his decoys.” Jan let out a chuckle. “Sometimes, you amaze even me with your calm attitudes.”
Katarn leaned back in his chair, letting out a sigh. “Eh, keep your amazements to yourself, Jan; I’ve gotta get some sleep. I did some real work out there today.”