Hux had been fourteen the first time he fell in love.
Not that he’d had any inkling at the time that this was what had happened to him. It had been a particularly trying year; while all the other boys his age had already shot up several inches and developed unpredictably lurching voices and the occasional wispy facial hair, Hux had remained stubbornly unchanged, but when puberty did finally decide to show up it apparently intended on making up for lost time. He’d outgrown his uniform once already that year, and it needed to be let out in the sleeves again, exposing too much bony freckled wrist; his voice had become completely unreliable, and his face was a pointillistic masterpiece of pink and painful spots.
He was, in fact, about as awkward a specimen as one could hope to find, and had thrown himself with renewed fervor into his studies both to try and assuage his father’s evident but unspoken disappointment in him as a physical object and to take his own mind off the subject. It was only because he’d retained his skill as a pretty fair hand-to-hand fighter that the other boys hadn’t completely turned on him once he had gone from decent student to extra-credit swot, but Hux was not having a good time.
One particularly miserable afternoon he’d been waiting outside his physics master’s office to go over an assignment, wondering if washing his face a fourth, or possibly fifth, time every day might do something about the spots. Time passed, slowly. Hux had begun to wonder if the teacher had forgotten about the appointment when the door finally opened, and suddenly he could not move.
Music spilled into the hallway. Faint, but present, and what he could hear was so extraordinary Hux wanted more at once, all of it, wanted to hear it from the beginning. A woman was singing, her voice high and clear and breathtakingly sweet, almost painfully sweet, and sad; and under the glass-clear voice a complicated interwoven set of melodies somehow made up one single tune. He was so intent that the teacher had to say his name three times before he snapped out of concentration, blinking.
“...Hux?” Irritation was giving way to concern on Major Belkin’s face. “Are you all right?”
“Sorry, sir,” he said, and actually shook himself: a whole-body headshake. “I just...what is that?”
“What’s what?” Belkin blinked at him. “Oh, the music?”
Hux nodded, aware that he must look ridiculously eager, childishly eager, and that you absolutely did not nod to your superiors: you said yes sir. Major Belkin didn’t seem to mind, however; he was smiling a little.
“It’s Calumnus. Der Nebeljäger. Have you not come across opera before? Come in, we need to talk about your assignment.”
Slowly Hux got up and followed him into the office. The song had come to an end, and he was a little astonished at how much he wanted to ask Major Belkin to play it again. Of course he knew what opera was, it was big fat women yelling about things while people pretended to listen, but that...what he had just heard...that had not been music the way Hux understood music to be.
It took all his concentration and effort to focus on the physics problems Belkin was explaining, but he managed, and when--finally, finally the last one was completed, Major Belkin sat back in his chair and regarded Hux thoughtfully, with that little smile.
“You really liked that, eh?”
Hux nodded again before he could catch himself. “Yes, sir. Very much. What did you say it was?”
Belkin didn’t answer; he reached over and touched the datapad lying on his desk, and the song, or movement, or whatever you called it, started again from the beginning. The interwoven melodies were played on different sets of instruments, and Hux listened with mounting excitement as the organization and structure of the whole thing began to make sense to him--and then the woman began to sing over the rest of it and he couldn’t think of anything but how pure and how clear and sweet and somehow cold, like the sharp edge of a blade, she sounded. He had no idea what the words were, they didn’t seem to make any sense and anyway she was sort of...singing bits of them over again in a pattern, rather than saying a single line, but it also didn’t matter in the least to him that he could not understand.
Belkin played it all the way through for him, watching Hux with his head tilted, and when it was over he tapped the datapad again to pause the recording. “That’s Gerlinde’s Tiefe Brunnen muss man graben aria from the third act of Nebeljäger.”
“It’s beautiful,” Hux said, inadequately. “Sir.”
“You’ve never heard this before?”
“No, sir. Nothing like this. The only music I know is military marches and the stuff on the holoproj, Max Rebo, the Modal Nodes, that kind of thing, and my father, um, doesn’t like it.”
“Hmm.” Belkin tapped his fingers on the desk. “Would you like to borrow it? There’s...quite a lot more, it’s about three and a half hours long in total.”
Three and a half hours of that? Hux thought, staring. “Sir?”
“This is a particularly good recording,” said Belkin, and took a slipdrive from his desk drawer, fitting it into the datapad’s read-write slot. He tapped out a few commands. “Many people say it’s Calumnus’s finest composition, but I think her Starfall Cycle is even better.”
“There’s more than this?” Hux asked, and blushed, aware of how stupid it sounded.
“Much more.” The slipdrive flashed green, and Belkin removed it. “And, well. Listen to the rest of Nebeljäger and see what you think. You may find it rather heavy going at times.”
Hux sat up a little straighter at the implied challenge. Major Belkin held the slipdrive out, and as he reached to take it Hux felt a strange brief sense of intensity, as if the air in the room had somehow grown more dense for a moment. Then it was over, and Belkin leaned back. “And work on the problems I gave you,” he said. “I expect your answers on my desk before the next class.”
“Yes, sir,” Hux said, the thin plastic of the slipdrive hot and somehow alarming in his hand. “Thank you, sir.”
“Dismissed,” said Belkin, and Hux found himself almost hurrying to leave, wanting…needing...to get back to the dormitory so he could plug in and listen. The thought that his father might not approve flickered across his mind, but this was Major Belkin’s music, surely Brendol Hux couldn’t disapprove of an Academy master’s music, right? And anyway it wasn’t as if he was listening to Sy Snootles wailing Lapti Nek on the holoproj. This was...this was culture.
He cried, that night. The tears came as a surprise to him, but they were completely unstoppable, no more under his control than his stupid voice or the disaster that was his complexion. He had listened to the entire opera after dinner, and while some of it did make his throat close and his eyes sting while he was listening, it was only after he’d gone to bed that Hux found himself actually crying. He was not sure why, even as he turned over to press his face deep into the pillows in case anyone should overhear.
The next time he saw Major Belkin, he had a list. “I looked it up, sir,” he said. “Calumnus. She wrote fifteen operas? And all this other...I’m not sure what it is. Concertos. Sonatas. Do you have that too, sir?”
Major Belkin regarded Hux with an expression he was to see on a number of faces, over the coming years: a combination of slightly baffled approval and what looked a bit like unease. “I don’t have all of it,” he said. “But I’ll copy what I do have for you. The central library should have the rest. And there are...many other composers. Many.”
Hux felt, for the first time all year, as if his miserable body didn’t matter. The prospect of more of this, of more than this, was almost unbearably exciting, and it pushed his rather unoriginal day-to-day woes into comparative insignificance. “Thank you, sir,” he said, fervently. “Thank you. Very much.”
Here is Hux, at sixteen, returning from his father’s funeral: he has moved all day in the rigid embrace of ceremony and honor and principle, white to the lips--the faint ghost-scars of adolescent acne still marring chin and cheeks, livid against his pallor--but perfectly squared away nonetheless. He sets the folded First Order flag in its official presentation box upon his desk, stares at it, dry-eyed, not sure what he ought to feel. He can hear his own blood roaring faintly in his ears, pulsing behind his eyes. He has almost decided he feels nothing at all when abruptly, desperately, he presses a hand to his mouth and bolts for the fresher.
Afterwards, shaking and paler than ever but feeling somehow less disconnected, he lies down on his narrow single bed, perfectly made this morning as every morning, and it is not until he takes out his datapad and scrolls through a collection that now tops six hundred individual files to find Umir’s String Quartet 15 in A minor that at last the tears come.
He lies with his eyes shut, feeling himself rocked gently back and forth, like breathing, like a slow tide drawn through a great dark heart, on the notes; and he is not weeping for Brendol Hux the distant and unforgiving father or Brendol Hux the legend of the old Empire, but for himself, and for the understanding that all creatures born must eventually die. He holds the datapad face-down on his chest, feeling as well as hearing the music as it plays; it seems to him that Umir has said everything, in these slow but insistently interwoven lines, that need be said, and that his own tears are perhaps--just this once--acceptable. They slip from beneath his closed eyelids, tracing small hot lines down his temples, to be caught one by one in the delicate cups of his ears.
Here is Hux at twenty, already rising through the ranks: at each promotion, each change of title and insignia, it is he himself who sews the new rank badges to his uniforms with tiny perfect stitches, because he knows that no one else will do it right. As his needle glints and flashes in the focused light of his desklamp he is listening to Vallora’s Piano Quartet in C minor, the almost vanishingly rare Amaranth Conservatory recording, for which he has paid more credits than he has spent on any single object for years. It is worth every decicred. If Hux were perhaps a little more self-aware he might be conscious that what he is doing is in some sense sewing the notes into what he carries with him every day, making them a tiny part of what he is; but at this point in his life he merely understands that Vallora’s music feels as if it were written purely for him, with him in mind, and to no other purpose.
He now has over four thousand files on a handful of nanodrives he keeps locked in a secure metal box. Each time he moves, or is reassigned to different quarters, Hux allows nobody but himself to carry the box.
Here is Hux at twenty-five, a brigadier general, Supreme Leader Snoke’s recognized favorite. He is busy, which suits him: he is the kind of person who is most efficient when kept busy. The prospect of the Starkiller Base project is vast enough to knock even Hux’s ambition back a bit, and he is working hard to wrap his head around the sheer scope of the thing they are to attempt--no, not attempt: achieve. He is still young enough to be excited by this even as he is in awe of the responsibility involved. At night, while he studies the plans that are being developed, he listens to Issata’s Planets Suite, and years afterward as he passes through physical corridors and structures memorized in their planning stages he will hear again the Planets’ bombast and ceremony, the brash martial strut, the bright exuberance by turns. To him, the symmetry of the oscillating-field generator, seen from above, will always call up the trumpets and strings of Issata’s Corellia.
His collection has been transferred several times from storage medium to storage medium, and is now somewhere around eight thousand files. The box is getting worn around the edges and corners, but Hux refuses to replace it; by now, the box itself has taken on significance of its own, as if by proximity to the things it has so long kept protected.
Hux at thirty: Lieutenant General--and if rumor is to believed, soon to be just General--and spread increasingly thin over the Starkiller project. Since the advent of Lord Kylo Ren (and the Knights of Ren, to whom he is careful never to refer publicly as the Backup Singers of Ren), Hux is sleeping less, eating worse, and losing his patience much more quickly. The work is proceeding more or less on schedule, but each inevitable setback hits him perhaps more personally than he would like. He has also begun to have the kind of headaches Brendol Hux had occasionally suffered from, and while they are not incapacitating, they are inconvenient. They are brought on by stress, as he knows perfectly well, and nothing relieves his stress so efficiently as locking the door, turning down the lights, closing his eyes, and listening to the Adagio of Novotai’s Serenade in B flat major.
His aides know better than to think of disturbing him at times like these, after one unfortunate incident early on; the word around Starkiller is that Hux listens to music whenever he is particularly tempted to freeze someone to death with his eyes, and those who have survived that glare admit that it is much, much worse than the accompanying verbal excoriation. He is always cold, and this is rumored to be because after so many years on Starkiller the ice has actually sunk in and become an integral part of him: how else could you explain the glacial chill of those pale eyes? Hux has the music on has become unofficial shorthand for watch out.
General Hux, at thirty-four, on the brink of completing his magnum opus: everything has intensified. The work, the responsibility, the pride, the determination. Ren’s lightsaber tantrums. Everything seems to be happening almost too fast now, event following event with no time to stop and breathe between them. Snoke is narrowing his focus on the search for Skywalker, and Ren is taking a flamethrower to Hux’s nerves, and the only thing that helps is the locked doors, the dimmed lights, and Novotai’s Requiem in D minor turned up almost to the limit of the soundproofing. Alone, in his private sanctum, Hux takes off his coat and gloves, rolls up his sleeves, and with fierce and athletic intensity air-conducts the Dies Irae. He is panting, flushed, and damp with sweat by the second play-through, and the pounding drums and furious strings and sharp-voiced brass and the massed choir echo in his head even after he turns it off.
The day of wrath, he thinks, collapsing into a chair. That day will come. It will come soon, and it will come with glorious and terrible power, and it will dissolve worlds in ashes at my--at Snoke’s--command.
When Hux falls in love for the second time, it will be as unexpected--and as life-changing--as the first; and in fact he will be able to recognize it as such only because of what his first love has taught him, over the years. He knows what music does to him, and so it is astonishing and rather terrifying to comprehend that a person is capable of producing the same effects.
Hux has never thought of himself as alone: how could he, when in his collection he has ten thousand files to keep him company? Each of those pieces of music is a companion. They have been with him through everything, as constant and unchanging as the perfection of digital storage itself. They are the one thing in his world that is glorious disorder--and yet not disordered: music, to Hux, is the result of creative thought caught and framed within a perfectly organized structure, subject to a code of rules, subject to the laws of mathematics and physics. It speaks to him the way the equations describing orbital mechanics speak, tracing out the measured dance of suns and planets in a stark and beautiful transcription.
He rescues two things from Starkiller Base: Kylo Ren, and his collection. And even after everything is over, after so many years of his life have vanished into the heart of an infant sun, Hux’s grief and anger are tempered by the knowledge that he has lost only unnecessary things. All that you love will be carried away, the line had read; but all that he loves he has held, has brought with him out of the past, and not for any power in the galaxy does he intend to let them go.