Star Wars: Dark Emperor by Brendon Wahlberg

"When rage leads directly to results, a sense of the omnipotence of expressed rage grows. Vader felt this sense of power, but he and I did not use it in the same way. I have truly learned to control my anger, while Vader could only partially control his. Like a berserker, he always struck out with his rage, but I am like a furnace. My rage burns deep within, contained and concentrated. Mine was ever the greater strength, for this reason. Many of my enemies were fooled by my apparent lack of defenses. But rage, focused within and controlled, is a devastating weapon that can be used at any time, and without warning."

-From The Book of Anger

Standing on the bridge of the Eclipse, Admiral Dal reflected that his career had certainly had its ups and downs while serving Emperor Palpatine. Dal had first come to the Emperor's attention in the early days of the Empire, for his part in the massacre that ended the threat of the Zingali. He had climbed in the ranks swiftly, becoming an Admiral by the Battle of Endor. He remembered that day vividly. His Star Destroyer had been in a great fleet, trapping the Rebels between them and the Death Star. Evidently, a madman's order was given within the Rebel fleet, for the Rebel frigates and Mon Cal cruisers had flown directly into their midst and opened fire at point blank range. It broke all the rules of Capital Ship combat, and it was horrible to behold.

Most of all, Dal remembered the explosions of the Star Destroyers. The city-like ships almost brushed up against the Rebel cruisers and the tiny space between them was like a lace work of turbolaser bolts. Twin rows of fireballs blossomed along each hull as deflector shields crumbled and the pent-up hatred of years of conflict was given a savage outlet. A dying Mon Cal cruiser had aimed itself directly at Admiral Dal's bridge, but another Star Destroyer, spinning out of control, hit it first. Their collision had nearly taken Dal's ship with it. Dark and disabled, they had drifted away from the battle. A while later, the blackness of the bridge had been lit up by the distant annihilation of the second Death Star. Dal and his surviving crew had joined with another ship and escaped the Rebel mopping up action.

For one year, he had defended the shrinking Imperial territory. Then, to his mystification, he had been assigned to the Eclipse project. He couldn't believe it was still being funded. Nor did matters become clear when he was in the midst of the project. The source of the funding was hidden in a bureaucratic tangle he could never hope to unravel. The available evidence pointed to a powerful Imperial leader somewhere, but those who inquired too closely into the matter tended to vanish. A few weeks ago, just after the completion of the ship's hyperdrive and prime weapon, Dal had received orders to take the unfinished Eclipse into the Deep Core. He had obeyed, hungry to penetrate the mystery.

Perhaps the last thing Dal expected was to find the Emperor reborn awaiting him. Dal knew absolutely that it was the Emperor, but how could someone return from death as a younger man? Dal couldn't conceive of it. Like a proper Imperial, he had never believed in the Force. His grip on reality had begun to slip. Then he was told that he would be taking the ship to destroy several uninhabited Deep Core worlds for the Emperor. Enveloped by a sense of the surreal, Admiral Dal had agreed. Perhaps he had died at Endor, and he and his Emperor were carving out a new Empire in the afterlife. It didn't matter, so long as he could serve. Without service, Dal instinctively knew he would find a kind of living death.

The Eclipse emerged from hyperspace, pulling Dal into the present. The bridge crew went smoothly into action, placing the vast ship on a course for a nearby world, visible as a tiny blue sphere on the main screen. Dal admired his crew. They were some of the best remaining officers in the Empire. They were efficient and skilled, and completely loyal to the Emperor. Dal was really only comfortable on the bridge itself, surrounded by his human officers. Elsewhere on the Eclipse, he was unnerved by the presence of the alien dark side adepts. They filled him with a deep revulsion and sent a chill through him whenever he saw them.

The small planet ahead continued to grow in the viewscreen. Dal turned to look behind him at the special platform above the bridge. There sat the Emperor, on one of his technological thrones. He was in something called a meditation trance, supposedly in contact with the Force. The Emperor had told Dal privately that destroying the planet ahead would increase his power. Dal was struggling to include the Force in his view of reality, but after seeing the Emperor reborn, he believed many things were possible. He looked forward to reclaiming the Empire and erasing the New Republic from existence.

The Eclipse moved smoothly into firing range. "All crew stand ready," called out the Admiral. He glanced once more at the Emperor's still form. "Commence primary ignition." The Eclipse began to vibrate subtly. It was the barest indication of the incomprehensible forces about to be unleashed. The power of his ship intoxicated the Admiral. Very soon, the planet ahead would simply cease to exist. Dal hadn't served on either Death Star, but this more than made up for it. His prime weapon was stronger than those that had come before. Now he would see it in action at last. And just maybe, before too long, he would see it used on the worlds of the New Republic.

Dal was just about to give the order to fire, when he felt a startling and frightening constriction at his throat. His breath was choked off, and panicked, he grabbed at his neck to force away the hands that held it so painfully. There was nothing there. Terror surged up inside him, but there was nothing he could do. The Force was killing him, he realized in his final moments. He dimly saw that the officers around him were stricken as well. Irrationally, he thought he could see Lord Vader standing nearby. That makes sense, he thought as his mind cut loose from his pain-wracked body. Vader often punished people like this. But he had heard Vader was dead. On the other hand, the Emperor was still alive, was he not? Perhaps no one really died at all. Perhaps this wasn't the end, but only a beginning...

Palpatine let the Force flow through him. He could sense the balance of the dark against the light. Soon, he would disrupt that balance in a violent assault against nature itself. The new strength of the dark side would be shared with him, and once again he would become its greatest servant. But his servitude was not slavery; it was a position of ultimate mortal power. He was far above all other living beings. This was given to him to know by the dark side itself. This he believed absolutely.

The world ahead was full of life. Its oceans and continents were teeming with non sentient forms. Its loss would be strongly felt by the light side. Not only would the existing life be lost, but also all the potential life. Just as all the potential death had been lost with the destruction of the Death Star, weakening the dark side.

Despite being in a trance, Palpatine was partly aware of his surroundings. He heard the command to commence primary ignition as if it was spoken at a great distance. This was it. He was ready to reclaim his title as Master of the dark side, a title that meant more than Emperor to him.

But wait -

Something was wrong.

The command to fire had not been given.

Palpatine reached out with the Force and saw two things at the same moment. The entire bridge crew was dead, and he was completely surrounded by black-robed figures, their human and alien arms raised as if to reach out to him. He had a moment of utter clarity to realize that this, at last, was the source of his recent fears. It was his death.

Then, devastating waves of Force Lightning slammed into him from the ten adepts that ringed him. He was the center of a bright wheel of agony, its spokes twisting through fiery arcs that burned into him. The air shrieked, or perhaps it was Palpatine. He was off the throne, then falling from the platform, but there was no relief as the ten figures moved with him, their circle shrinking as they closed in. The writhing bolts illuminated a bearded human face here, a tentacled snout there. Hands, claws, and other appendages pushed hateful sizzling death at their betrayer.

Palpatine had no chance against so many. Barely able to think, he rolled his tortured body towards one side of the circle, seizing on a final, desperate plan. His hand thrust into his robes, and when it emerged, a hot orange lightsaber blade extended suddenly from it. He thrust it full into one of his attackers' hearts. As the adept died, the circle was broken, and Palpatine dragged himself to his feet. His respite lasted no longer than that. Recovering from their surprise, the other nine adepts unleashed another barrage of lightning at Palpatine's back. The lightsaber flew from his grip as he was hurled violently into the crew pit. The adepts advanced to deal the killing blows.

But Palpatine was right where he wanted to be. He brushed aside the dead hand of the Imperial gunner next to him and grasped the firing lever of the prime weapon. With pain-filled fingers, he drew it towards him.

The Eclipse became a titanic energy weapon. An unbearably bright bar of light appeared between the ship and the planet, bisecting the blackness of space. For an instant, the ship and the planet were linked, then the planet's surface boiled away like a ball of wax hurled into a fire. The small world's rocky core lasted a moment longer, then it, too, wavered within the bar of light and was gone.

On the bridge of the Eclipse, the dark side adepts ignored the spectacle and relentlessly pressed their attack. Palpatine had kept his design a secret from his adepts because of his premonitions, so they knew nothing of what he hoped to gain by his action. One last act of defiance, perhaps? A world they would never rule over?

Their Lightning arced towards Palpatine one final time, carrying their justice with it.

The bolts never struck him.

A shimmering sphere had appeared around Palpatine, a coruscating globe of light that completely encased his prone form. The Force Lightning smashed into the sphere, but did not penetrate it. The wild play of fierce energies turned the sphere into a ball of flame. A moment later, all the power of the attack was hurled back at the adepts, vastly increased in magnitude. As one, they turned to flee, but shock waves of heat overtook all of them. Nine vaguely man-shaped masses of char and ashes spattered to the deck.

There had not been any chance to scream.

Silence settled over the bridge. The sphere continued to shimmer for a few minutes, then it winked out. Revealed within was the battered form of Palpatine. He was sprawled on the floor, nearly unconscious. His slitted eyes glowed with a baleful light, and black flames seemed to play along his limbs.

The Force was with him once more.


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