HIJACK By Adrian Tullberg.

Situated: Just after Return of the Jedi.

The ship hung in the cold silence of space next to the asteroid, no lights visible, no scanners on - no indication that it was anything more than a derelict. Twenty metres in length, sporting several turrets which bristled with formidable energy weapons, a basic rectangle in size. Inside, however - the Heartstorm was very much alive. Independent generators kept vital life support systems churning over, without revealing it's status to any nearby ships. Micro-fusion boosters were hard-wired into the main engines, guaranteeing instant ignition of sub-light thrusters and full activation of weapon systems. It's crew were mean, viscous and impatient. This craft was a pirate ship.

On the bridge of the Heartstorm, only two individuals were present. One was Dakar Yaz, a man as old and as battered as the ship he was commanding. This human wore the colourful garb that a pirate was supposed to wear - but the clothes were either too large or too small, fitting badly. Dakar looked almost comical - laugh in his face, and you earned a quick trip out of the airlock. The other was younger, trimmer. Jaxis was a Correllian whose technical expertise earned him the unofficial position of second in command. Dakar was slowly fuming, the waves of impatience and slowly building anger almost visible in the confined bridge. Jaxis, however, was calm, making notes on his datapad, consulting the navicomp every few minutes in order to check the repair schedule he was compiling. Dakar looked at the power readouts for the twentieth time. "How much longer?" he muttered. Jaxis looked up at his Captain in surprise. "Take it easy Dakar. We stay on silent running on auxiliary generators near this asteroid until a large craft pulls out of hyperspace. We wait until they drop their deflectors when they notice that only a derelict is nearby. Then we hit them with the ion cannon and the rest. In the meantime - we repair the ship." Dakar glowered at his underling. "Jabba the Hutt is dead. The Emperor died three months ago - The Empire is too busy being destroyed by the Rebels....." "That's 'The New Republic' now, Dakar. They get very touchy about that. Remember that time on Dascar Four? That bar fight you started......" ".....and the Rebels are too busy mopping up the Imperial forces to perform normal policing of trade routes. This should be the best time to get rich in our lifetimes! But nothing for three weeks! Nothing! Jaxis shrugged at this tirade, examining the navicomp's report on power fluctuations in the heating elements. "If that Corvette hadn't gotten off that distress signal before you tagged it......this is a major trade route. They can't bypass the Outer Core Worlds forever." He patted Dakar on the arm as he got out of his chair. "Do something constructive - learn how to speak Ewok." As Jaxis left, Dakar scanned the instruments one more time - and slammed his fist down on the console.

Jaxis walked down the corridor, humming a popular tune from his homeworld. He could understand Dakar's desire for action - he had it, hell, everybody on the Heartstorm desired the simple thrill and chase that pirating afforded. Still, now there was a lull in the fighting, some maintenance could be performed - this rust bucket needed the work, being over twenty years old. Still, the morale of the crew was being effected - a long period of inactivity for a bunch of trigger happy andrenaline addicted mercenaries could be catastrophic. Jaxis resolved to deal with it - after all, he was the second in command. Jaxis entered the recreational room - a converted hold dotted with tables, chairs, and littered with the crew of this ship - consisting of twelve individuals, mostly human. They looked up at Jaxis as he crossed over to the far wall, and opened an access panel. Kildar, a young female human, was the first to speak. "Hey, Jaxis, whe do we see some action around here?" Jaxis looked briefly at her, while his hands automatically started stripping the wiring. "When the next ship comes along. Until then, we wait." Yikair, a two and a half metre high human, stood up abruptly, his chair kicked away violently. "Jaxis - you may be happy repairing this old tub for eternity, but we want to get some money. I want some action. Understand?" Jaxis closed his eyes in irritation. "I can't make our targets appear out of thin air. Wait and be patient." Yikair strode over to Jaxis, towering over him. "I say that if there's nothing here, we should go to the Outer Systems, attack a few outbound vessels." Kildar nodded her agreement. "We could attack the supply vessels for the outer posts - by now there should be tonnes of Governors heading to those Imperial bases far enough from the action - with the contents of their personal accounts." This comment brought a rumble of agreement from the rest of the crew. Jaxis was about to make a stinging reminder about how those fleeing Imperial Governors had the habit of arming themselves with a small battle convoy, when he froze. The crew looked carefully at him - not sure wether to interpret this action as a sign of fear, or to notify the medi-droid. Jaxis slowly started to display signs of animation, his face a flurry of both uncertainty - and excitement. "There's......there's a ship coming."

Dakar was busy cleaning a blaster carbine when Jaxis ran onto the bridge. "There's a ship coming!" Dakar looked at his younger officer with puzzlement. "You're out of your.......there isn't a ship within one planetary span of here. The passive sensors would have......." Jaxis crossed over to the sensor controls, and calibrated the passive scanners to a specific direction and distance - and almost instantly, the staccato ping of an asteroid mass locater filled the cockpit. Dakar looked at the sensor readout in amazement. "You're right - three-fourths of a planetary span away - deliberately reduced power on it's active scans in case of people like us........how did you know?" Jaxis shrugged. "I just knew, okay? Let's get after it!" Dakar hit the automatic ignition control - immediately bringing one hundred per cent engine and power output on line to propulsion and weapons systems. The Heartstorm swung around to intercept the unknown ship. The Heartstorm's interior was a flurry of activity. The crew dragged weapons out of storage, donned environmental suits, manned the various weapons that the pirate ship sported. Dakar piloted the ship while Kildar activated and read the active scanners. "It's a small craft - ten, fifteen metres - low hyperspace capacity - one human lifeform. May not be worth taking." Dakar snarled as he pawed the control which jammed communications outside fifteen kilometres. "After three weeks of sitting down listening to Jaxis, I need to kill something! Shut up unless it's important!" Dakar looked outside - it was a small shuttlecraft - too small for interplanetary travel, too small for shuttling between ships. He activated communications. "Unidentified craft! This is the ship to your port bow! We intend to board you - give up, and we may let you live!" Dakar closed communications, and activated controls for the turbolaser battery. He wanted - needed the blood released in battle. Suddenly, the ship slowed, and stopped. Dakar didn't know wether to feel satisfied or snubbed - the pilot was giving up without a fight. He decided that economics took precedent over battle lust, and began to initiate docking procedures.

In the anteroom adjoining the main airlock, the entire crew complement - except for Kildair, who had been posted as pilot - was ready, brandishing the largest and most lethal looking assortment of weapons that they possessed - with Dakar at their head. The leader of this vessel firmly believed in a strong show of force - the more guns behind you, the better. The clang stating that the ship had docked with the smaller ship rang through the Heartstorm's hull. The rush of andrenaline within the confines of this small room intensified ten fold. Jaxis, was hanging back, suddenly full of trepidation. His stomach was churning, his head swimming - how could anyone be afraid with these odds supporting you? Every sense, every instinct was screaming leave this one, run, run, run! Jaxis knew that if he voiced a fraction of these emotions, he would be either laughed into submission, or thrown out the airlock. The airlock inner door began to open - and inside was a tall grey haired man. Clad in black clothing which reeked of money, he walked towards the pirates casually, using a silver cane. What struck everyone at first was his eyes - bloodshot, with irises so pale that they nearly matched the normal whites of his eyes. Dakar strode up to confront him - this stranger was stealing the initiative. "Surrender the security codes for your vehicle!" The man in black looked oddly at Dakar, like a child which has found a particularly interesting insect. "And why should I give you those codes?" He announced, with a reedy voice. Dakar's ice-thin patience cracked, as he pointed the muzzle of his blaster into the stranger's face. "Because I have a gun which I am pointing at your face, moron! These men behind me are also armed! Is that fact a little too complicated to deal with?" The man in black smiled arrogantly - considering that a gun was being pushed into his nose, this indicated incredible skill. "What, rob me? I have very little - the clothes on my back, a few days of supplies, two droids.....still, if you persist in this foolishness, you must see I stand no threat to you. Please - lower your weapons. Lower your weapons......" The stranger's persistent voice resonated throughout the room - everyone's face took on a peaceful expression as opposed to the aggressive mentality displayed earlier. A grey haze slowly settled in Jaxis's mind, his gun lowered a few centimetres downwards - then the fear stabbed him in the lower regions of his bowels, like a dash of cold water. He watched as the crew were lowering their weapons, some placing them down on the deck plating. Jaxis started shouting ; "Look out! He's doing something to our heads......" Too late - the man in black pressed a button on his cane, and most of it clattered to the ground, leaving a thirty centimetre Rod in his hands - enemating a blood red energy beam a metre long. He immediately decapitated Dakar with a leisurely slash and impaled an alien before anybody could react. Two seconds later, the stranger deflected three energy bolts back at their source. The remainder of the crew backed away, and opened up a massive barrage of energy. The stranger simply stood still, opened up his arms, and let the massive amount of energy smash into him, his face full of exultation and triumph. Jaxis slowly backed away, and moved through the exit, closing the hatchway. As he stared through the plexiglass set at eye level, Jaxis watched as the man in black's face turned from the joy of battle into boredom, and turned his head towards the still open airlock doors. There was a sharp series of cracks, and the smaller ship docked to the Heartstorm suddenly detached itself from the larger vessel, exposing the room to the vacuum of space. Jaxis watched his fear growing as he saw the crew of the vessel being dragged along the floor clutching at anything and everything , but still being flung into the uncompromising reaches of space. And the man in black stayed where he was - as if the enormous air pressures were nothing more than a summer breeze. Then the stranger looked directly at Jaxis, making instant eye contact. Whatever nerve the pirate possessed broke, and he ran for his life down the corridor, towards the bridge. The only escape pod on the Heartstorm had to be unlocked from the navicomp. Behind him, above the sound of his own frantic breathing - Jaxis heard the latches to the hatchway snap unlocked behind him.

Jaxis burst on to the bridge for the second time in less than half an hour. "Kildare! We have to activate the escape....." He stopped dead, as he saw Kildare dangling from mid air, hands desperately clutching at her throat, legs thrashing impotently around her. Finally, there was a sharp, liquid cracking, and she slumped, limbs suddenly loosing all their power. Then her corpse crashed to the ground, with a dull crump. It was a testimony to Jaxis's will that he didn't go insane there and then - he hurriedly de-activated the escape pod security lock , and ran towards it, making odd noises in the back of his throat. "You can't escape, Jaxis......." Intoned the disembodied voice of the man in black. Jaxis cringed as he pelted down the corridor. "I knew you sensed me - because I sensed you. " Jaxis careened off a wall, as he neared the escape pod dock . He looked - and slumped to his knees as he watched the escape pod fly into the void of space, the automatic thrusters activated. "Jaxis - you can't escape an Emperor's Hand......" The young man turned around, to see the man in black walk casually towards him - somehow he had reassembled his cane. "I know you have the power to harness the Force. Join me - let me teach you how to use your gift. The Empire may have dropped a rung or two in power, but the darkness that clouds men's hearts and minds will be forever, and it is inevitable that it will rise to dominate again. Join me." Jaxis looked up at the dark avatar of his fears - and summoned up his last piece of willpower. "G.....go....to...hell......" The Emperor's Hand smiled paternally - and in a blur of movement, had his hands around Jaxis's neck and skull, and savagely wrenched. Jaxis felt a sickening pain along his neck and back - and the last thing he ever heard was the Emperor's Hand's offhand comment...... "After you, of course...."

The Emperor's Hand watched the cadaver that was once Jaxis slump to the deck plating, idly thinking. He knew that in time, this young man would have come around - but there would have been a chance that Skywalker could pop along and bend this promising candidate to the ways of the light. After all, he did it to Vader. He turned his head towards his vessel, still drifting in space, and mentally activated a series of commands to the navicomp to dock again with this vessel. Still - no need to turn this little detour into a complete waste. He had practically dropped everything when he sensed the Emperor's Death, and commandeered the first available interplanetary vessel on the outpost he was stationed at. He still didn't know why the Emperor had given him a rendezvous point to go to in case of his death, but - the Emperor's Hand was loyal to the last. His fresh supplies on his craft were growing stale, and there could be some replacement stocks on board this unusual vessel. Maybe some equipment, weapons - who knew? In sudden good spirits, The Emperor's Hand began to examine his bounty.

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