It wasn’t often Hux spent time with Kylo Ren; not if he could avoid it. Their meetings with the supreme leader aside, Hux had made it priority to avoid the other man. His tantrums were a pain, his skulking an inconvenience, and his attitude towards him an annoyance. A man in a mask that was made to seem intimidating and important was not a man Hux wanted to be sociable with. He could respect power and he could respect a forceful presence, but he could not abide by the superiority complex of a man who had no claim to it.
Hux did not respect Kylo Ren, and Ren hated him for it. It was no secret to them or anyone in their presence.
The fact that Snoke had deemed it necessary for the both of them to travel down to the planet’s surface to check on operations was irritating to both of them. Hux had a sneaking suspicion that their irritation alone was the reason for it. Perhaps a lesson he intended to teach them. Hux had no interest in learning it. He could act civil and tolerant when he needed to, and while he was snide when speaking to or about Ren in the Supreme Leader’s presence, he still put on his best face. Perhaps the lesson was for Ren alone. Hux did not like being played as a pawn in Snoke’s game, he was a General and above such things. But he could not go against the Supreme Leader. Not if he wanted to keep his rank, not if he wanted to live.
So here he was. In a small shuttle from the Finalizer headed down to this planet’s surface with Kylo Ren in the co-pilot’s seat. Neither were controlling the ship, it was set to auto-pilot them to the surface; it was a trip made by many crewmen and women before and no particular skill was needed. Algu-S B638, commonly just referred to as Algus, was an ice planet with a molten iron core that was used as a factory for the First Order. Something had been delaying production, and reports were coming in less and less. Hux had intended to send a lower ranking officer down for the inspection, but Snoke had insisted he and Ren personally see what was wrong. Perhaps to scare the workers into moving quicker. Though Hux could not see what sending a madman with a penchant for destroying things in a fit of rage could possibly do to help production.
He watched Ren out of the corner of his eye, though there was not much to observe. He hunched in his seat, stared straight ahead with that damnable mask covering his face. Hux had never seen him without it. His gloved hands rested in his lap, perfectly still as the rest of him. It would be easy to mistake him for asleep, but that would be a foolish assumption. Ren would never allow his guard to lower so much, especially not in the presence of Hux.
The command console beeped for attention, and Hux left his observation of Ren to see what it was. A storm was building in the upper atmosphere of the planet. It would not affect their descent, but it would delay their departure of the planet by a considerable amount. Hux sneered at the warning and closed it. He knew Ren was looking at him, but he ignored it and opened a holo-feed to the bridge of the Finalizer.
“Shuttle FZ-3 to Finalizer.”
“Go ahead, General.”
“Corporal. Inform Captain Phasma and Colonel Braxton that Lord Ren and I will be on Algus longer than initially scheduled. There is an oncoming snowstorm that will delay our departure. They are to continue plans as scheduled.” Hux continued to ignore the look he was getting from Ren. He couldn’t see his face, but the mask had turned in his direction. He was sure there was a question there, but he didn’t feel so inclined to answer it.
“Yes sir. Shall I update your return time?”
“Length of delay unknow at the moment. I will contact the ship again when we are at the base for updates.”
He closed the comm link, the holo-feed shutting down with a soft whirr, before turning his attention to Ren who was still looking at him.
Ren said nothing, but Hux got that familiar chill up his spine that came with the feeling of the Force being used to seek out his thoughts without his permission. Not that Hux would ever allow him into his thoughts. He was not some weak-willed Trooper trained from birth to conform and obey. Even before he had met Lord Kylo Ren he knew of the tricks used by Jedi and Sith alike, of the mind tricks and the forced coercion. While he could not stop the physical assaults, the mental ones he had prepared for. Closed doors and locked corridors made up the images in his mind, none left open for Ren to search and exploit.
Eventually the chill dissipated and Ren looked away again. Hux snorted, rolled his eyes, and returned his attention to the command console. They would land on the surface in five minutes, just missing the beginnings of the storm that would hold them there. At least they would be inside for the worst of it. Still, Hux was thankful for the parka he had brought along. Inside the base the chill could still chase him, only in the factory where the molten core was exposed thousands of feet beneath them would be warm. He, however, had no plans to stay anywhere near the sweaty workers for any longer than necessary.
They landed on the planet with a soft bump and a alert from the console that they had reached their destination. Ren stood immediately and left Hux alone to wait impatiently at the hatch. For the sheer fact that it would annoy Ren, Hux took his time shutting down the engines and putting the shuttle on standby power before grabbing and securing himself in his parka. He thought Ren a fool to go without one, but the man was stubborn at the best of times and would no doubt rather freeze than show his lack of strength even against the cold.
Pulling his hood up, Hux smiled to himself. While his parka had fur lining the hood to keep the face warm and shielded, it took away his peripheral vision. To think that this was how Ren saw the world at nearly all times just made him think he was even more foolish. Though he had the advantage of his Force sense, to leave himself blinded by a mask and hood was ridiculous. Ren seemed to pick up on his train of thought as he made an impatient noise through the mask while shooting Hux, well, what he could only assume was, a biting glare. Hux turned his smile on Ren for the briefest of moments before opening the shuttle door. Ren stormed out ahead of him, trudging his way through the snow covered ground towards the doors of the base. Hux had no qualms with this as he stepped out and the shuttle door closed behind him. He followed the path Ren had dug out before him like this had been his plan all along and caught up to his side as the base doors opened to let them in. They stepped in together, and Hux was sure Ren was seething over it.
“General, Lord Ren.”
The man who greeted them was short and round with a receding hairline and serious face. Hux had only met him once before and struggled to recall his name.
“Commander Liev,” Ren supplied, as though he knew Hux struggled and wanted to show him up, “The Supreme Leader is most displeased with the delays in production. Explain yourself.”
Hux bristled, both at Ren’s brashness and the fact that he had remembered the name he could not. He pulled down his hood as the man before them overcame his initial startled look and rushed into his explanation.
“Yes, of course. Forgive me, my Lord.” He said quickly, with the slightest of bows before looking at the tablet in his hand that held the numbers and details he needed. “A sickness has overcome a large number of the staff. While we are doing our best to compensate for the loss and have requested more medi-droids, people are getting sick faster than we can make up for the already lost labour.”
Hux held out his hand for the device and it was given to him without complaint. While Ren exuded the air of impatience that was so common of him, Hux looked through the data presented. The numbers of the sick, how quickly the sickness was spreading, the amount of medi-droids currently on base and how many were en route. The snow storm would delay that progress, of course. It seemed a third of the personnel were sick, and that was no small number. Production was being delayed significantly, this annoyed Hux’s need for order and punctuality. His brow furrowed as he put in a personal request for more personnel as well as doctors to assist the medi-droids. Something here was wrong and he was not going to let it continue on.
Handing the tablet back to the Commander, Hux folded his hands behind his back. “Show us what you do have to show for your delayed production. I would personally see it to pass on to the Supreme Leader.”
“Of course, General.” Commander Liev bowed again, clearly unsure how to behave in the presence of a General - and thrown off by a man with the title of Lord. He was quick to straighten and turn on his heel to lead them to the work floor. For such a short man, more than a foot shorter than Ren, he walked with a quick pace that was a comfortable stride for both Hux and Kylo.
As they walked Hux took note of those pulling double duty, how exhausted they looked. It wouldn’t do well to have overworked labourers, their work would become shoddy and unusable. He made mental notes as they walked, not actively keeping these thoughts closed off. He only noticed Ren start to attune himself to his mind as he began to nod in agreement to some thoughts. He offered no opinion, just agreed with Hux. It was a rare occurrence, so Hux allowed it instead of closing off his mind. It did come in handy to let Ren skim the surface, to know his thoughts so they appeared as a unified front. The two leaders of the Finalizer, the only two to speak to the Supreme Leader. They may have hated each other, but that was a weakness they could not show in front of the troops.
It was only when Hux noticed a couple of the workers coughing, despite being masked, that it occurred to him this sickness could be spread through airborne contagions. Ren had his mask that filtered the air so he would be safe from the sickness, whatever it was. But he had nothing, not even the luxury of getting sick. His brow furrowed at the thought, and from the corner of his eye he noticed Ren turn ever so slightly to look at him.
At that Hux shut everything out, locked his thoughts up behind a door that Ren could not open. Ren turned away and Hux’s frown only deepened.
As they reached the door to the factory floor Hux put aside the thoughts of sickness, of a possible weakness, and focused instead at the task at hand.
“Three days.” Hux seethed, speaking between his teeth to attempt to keep an otherwise calm facade.
“Yes, sir.” The woman at the console said. She had not been introduced so Hux could not internally curse her by name. “We’re hopeful it lets up enough by then that shuttles can both enter and exit the planet.”
Before Hux could voice any other concerns, Ren put his hand on his shoulder. Touches between them were rare and only strictly when necessary. Hux didn’t shrug the touch of on principle alone, but he understood its intention. Calm yourself, General is what it seemed to say. Ironic, coming from Ren.
“I should hope, Commander,” Ren said, turning to their portly guide, “That proper accommodations can be made for our stay?”
The subtext to Ren words, the subtle threat underlying them, was that he would not tolerate being bunked with the regular crew. It was too cold to return to their shuttle, not that it had much space for them to stay anyway. He did not care if Hux was comfortable or not, only himself. But they had to remain that united front, even if those on the Finalizer or even on Starkiller Base could see through the ruse at this point.
“Of course, Lord Ren!” Liev said, nodding vigorously and turning his attention to the tablet in his hand immediately. He shuffled through a few listings before looking back up. “While we haven’t got room for individual quarters, we do have one empty commanders suit. It is large enough that you should each have sufficient space, and has an opaque divider that can be lowered and ---”
Before the man could finish his sentence, Ren had lifted him to his level with a Force Choke, causing the Commander to go red in the face and drop his tablet as he scrambled to pull at the invisible hand at his throat.
“That is not acceptable.”
“Lord Ren, put the man down.” Hux snapped, equally frustrated with the proposed accommodations as well as the man’s behaviour. “Ren! Put him down now!”
Ren did not immediately listen to the command, apparently finding it beneath his station to take orders from the General. But he did eventually drop the man, letting him collapse to the floor and struggle with his breath.
“I’m sorry My Lord, please forgive me. We are already full, I have nothing else to spare.”
“Save your apologies, Commander Liev.” Hux sighed, trying not to sneer down at the man. “It is not ideal, but it will do. Unless, of course, Lord Ren, you would prefer to camp out in the shuttle?”
Ren snorted, which sounded utterly ridiculous through the voice modulator. His hands were clenched into tight fists at his sides, but he said nothing. He looked at Hux, then straight ahead. Perhaps he was too angry to speak, not the Hux minded. At least he wasn’t destroying everything in sight. He didn’t have the luxury to here.
“Show us the way, Commander.” Hux said, not trying to hide his smirk at Ren’s silence. The Commander hurried to his feet, careful to avoid Ren, and lead them out of the command center.
The living quarters for all crew were located closer to the factory than the command center was. It was to help keep them warmer without having to expend the extra energy. This sort of cost cutting design was not entirely flawless, but Hux could appreciate it’s value.
They passed Trooper barracks that held 8 to a room, crewmen and laborer rooms that held 4 to 6 to a room, then the command quarters that held 2 to 3 to a room. The room they stopped at was the last one of the hall, though it was closer to the mess hall and common lounge rooms than any of the others. Hux had no real plans to be sociable with the people based at Algus, but he would make a point to show his face if only to show them he was there and scare them into working faster. He did not feel much for their plight of sickness, they had a schedule to keep.
“Here we are.” Commander Liev said, stopping outside the room. “I best be getting back to my duties now, gentlemen. I’ll leave you to it.”
His exit could best be described as scurrying away as fast as his fat little legs would carry him. Even Hux could see the fear radiating off him as he passed Ren. Ren muttered something under his breath, his modulator distorting it to a point that Hux couldn’t understand the words, but understood the tone of disgust. He didn’t even spare the Commander another glance, instead entered the room as soon as the doors whisked open with that familiar mechanical whirr. Hux followed him in, both pausing in the entrance to survey their temporary room.
It opened into a shared foyer and living space with a couch and a couple of chairs surrounding a small table. There was a small domestic droid in the corner that was in standby mode waiting to be activated as it was needed. Towards the far side of the room was a small buffet that had a few bottles of liquor and a small variety of drinking glasses. One either side of the table were doors leading to the sleeping quarters.
Without hesitation Ren moved to the door closest to him. It slid open as he approached and closed behind him. Hux was unsure if he’d even see him again for the duration of their stay. It wasn’t uncommon for Ren to lock himself away after a tantrum and not be seen for a few days. Idly Hux allowed himself to hope this would hold true.
While he initially entertained the idea of doing some work, he was exhausted from having to deal with this troublesome base and Kylo Ren for hours on end. Making his way to the unoccupied room, Hux shrugged out of his parka. The room was nothing to boast about, a desk in one corner, a wardrobe against the far wall, a bed placed center room against the back with a nightstand and light next to it, and a door leading to a private washroom.
Throwing the parka down on the end of the bed, Hux was grateful that the wall separating the rooms was dark. Opaque was such a broad term he had entertained small worries that he and Ren might see each other. Though he was sure it was adjustable, the Commander had been saying something about it before Ren silenced him forcefully, he had no interest in looking for a control panel. The less he saw of Ren the better.
Hux made his way to the desk, activating the built-in workstation. While he wasn’t planning on working at that moment, there would be all day for that tomorrow, he did want to check in with Phasma. It was 2200 Imperial Standard Time, though it was still considered early on the planet, and Braxton would be off duty at this time. Phasma was always up much later than her shifts called for.
The holopad beeped as it connected, and Phasma’s face appeared. It was rare for her to take off her helmet, but she may have been in her private quarters at this time.
“Phasma. I’ll keep this call brief. I trust you heard Lord Ren and I may be stranded on the surface for a time?”
“I did sir, I also heard there is a sickness amongst the crew that is delaying production times?”
“There is, it is frustrating to say the least. I have been informed this storm will keep us here three days at best. I trust you and Colonel Braxton to keep order in my absence, and report to me if anything is amiss.”
“Of course, sir. I do hope to see both you and Lord Ren return in one piece.” Her tone was joking. It was rare for her to be humorous, but she always took liberties with Hux. He didn’t mind. He offered her a mildly amused smile in return.
“A hope we share, then. That is all Captain.”
“Very well, General. Good night.”
“Good night.” Hux replied before cutting the holo feed. He liked Phasma, she was a good Trooper and was often good company. It was a pity it wasn’t her he was trapped down on this planet with. Hux shut down the workstation and spared the wall that separated Ren and himself a glance before turning his attention to the wardrobe. Though the room was empty, everything in it was standard issues. Except the liquor, but Hux was not going to discourage his officers from partaking in a nightly drink. Some nights it was the only way he could lull himself to sleep after all.
The wardrobe held the standard issue lounge pants and shirts, both in the standard black. It was nice to get out of his uniform after a long day and into something more comfortable. He even grabbed a new pair of socks to pull on. Closer to the warm crater of the factory that seeped warmth from the core or not, Hux still felt a chill.
And if he pulled his parka up over his blankets as well, well no one was there to comment.