Diverted shipments were usually not the type of issue that the General took an active interest in. That didn’t mean that reports never came up on his datapad. Over the past two months small amounts of supplies that were supposed to be headed toward the construction of Starkiller Base had been lost. These sorts of discrepancies weren’t unusual, even the frequency wasn’t anything that would raise eyebrows, but in this case the numbers didn’t add up.
Or rather, they did.
Exactly, every time. As if someone was measuring the precise amount of supplies that would pass by unnoticed and then taking just under the concerning amount. Anyone else who looked at these reports would have considered these losses negligible, but this was one time too many for the General.
He held his datapad as he exited the small cruiser, then walked through the system of buildings as he carefully inspected the interiors of the warehouses for signs of tampering. He held up the pad to the screen alongside the entryway to see who had opened the bay where the most recent missing shipments had been last scanned.
The lights were always dim in the warehouses the Sonn-Bas Corporation used for their shipments to the First Order, as though the buildings themselves were secretive about what they contained. Ben hated having to either use the shoulder light attached to his jacket to highlight the labels on the shipping crates as he had to alternately climb and crouch to find the labels he was looking for. He and his father had been doing this particular run for a few months, and the credits they were making off of this grade of military tech (specialty tech made just for the Outer Rim group that was playing at being the old Empire way out there where no one cared, illegally getting weapons and vehicles and doing just about nothing with them) were some of the easiest credits they’d made since they’d had to divert from the usual runs. Enough to overcome Chewie’s protests to Han that if Leia found out...well, the actual description of what she’d do to Han was Wookiee specific, but the general idea was probably spot on.
Ben walked along the rows of crates, counting down as he looked for row J-12. He swore under his breath when he realized he was on the wrong side of the warehouse, huffing as he headed down the row. He paused to look more closer along the top edge of each crate to find the ones he wanted. While there were sentries who moved in their slow, scheduled shifts around the yard, he wasn’t expecting the door to open just then. Again choosing some creative curses from his large inventory, he ducked down to make sure he wasn’t seen by whomever had just walked in.
Hux practically followed his datapad into the storehouse, frowning at the screen. He glanced up after taking a few steps inside, brows drawn together as he looked around the rows of goods and technologies that were destined for the First Order’s new base. He hadn’t been in a place like this in years; it was grunt work.
Making a noise to express how annoyed and slightly disgusted he was by the sloppiness of the entire situation, Hux made his way over past each row. He walked slowly enough to count the columns of shipments. His pace slowed even further when he got to one of the areas where the shipments had gone sporadically missing.
Stopping in front of the J-12 marker, Hux frowned and looked at the very shipment that his datapad said hadn’t been logged into his system. He set his jaw, turning away from the warehouse shelves to review the log for a third time, confirming that there was no scan registered. Someone was taking First Order tech out from their warehouses.
It was the silhouette of the officer’s hat that Ben noticed first, distinctive with its peaked sides. Of course. It couldn’t just be some random yard worker, or even a pair of stormtroopers making the rounds. That might have been a little messy, but ultimately he could keep it quiet, even evade them without firepower. He wasn’t in this for a fight; he was in this to get out cleanly so he could keep the run as an option down the line. There was no way some uniformed First Order pretty boy was going to screw this up for him.
He knocked over a crate by the end of the row then kept to the line of shadows created by the tall stacks as he made his way down to where the other man had been standing. The clatter masked the sound of his boots, and Ben had his blaster out and already trained on the startled officer as he moved. The crates falling had the desired effect, Hux turned, his eyes narrowing in the direction of the disturbance. The general lowered his datapad, thinking quickly. There were only a few options, and he was sure that smugglers were behind this sort of product skimming. It was small, insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but it was a matter of principle.
By the time the noise had settled, Ben had already made it to the other side of the row and was squinting at the denta bean counter in the dark uniform. It was funny; in the half light, the warehouse worker almost had the look of a high level officer. It was weird, how the uniforms all looked the same. It was even funnier how the stripes on the other man’s heavy coat would have almost indicated…
His mother’s education helped him out at the strangest times. The man he’d taken for a datapad jockey was a general. A kriffing First Order general.
Well, that only made it more exciting, right? His internal Uncle Chewie voice roared at him in disapproval.
“Hands on your head, mouth shut,” he said in the stillness that followed the settling of the fallen crates. He made sure the light from the dim panels caught on the dented metal of his blaster while his own face was still in partial shadow.
Hux set his jaw, taking a few steps away from the noise, realizing that this was most certainly a distraction. Lifting his datapad with every intention of signalling the troopers that were waiting outside of the warehouse, he was faced with the muzzle of some cheap blaster and a tall, broad silhouette.
Hux knew that his own blaster was out of reach, that the comm on his wrist was unreachable, that he was essentially crippled in the face of this drift forager. Jaw tight, he raised his hands slowly, making the effort look casual and compliant at the same time.
For his part, Ben had learned that one of his greatest weapons in the face of something like this, any confrontation really (before the actual shooting began anyway), was to smile. Just slightly, just enough. And that was a lesson from both parents; he’d watched his mother in the Senate face down four Centrist Senators opposed to a proposal she intended to see passed and every single time, her verbal coup de grace was prefaced by that slight smile. He’d also seen his father get the better part of multiple deals (that he really, probably, if one was really being honest and truthful and all of that, didn’t deserve) by holding his shoulders back and relaxed and keeping that smile on his face. It only took one corner of his mouth anyway.
“Drop the datapad. Go on.”
Hux shifted, rolling his eyes, and leaned to put the datapad down on the nearby shelf, putting his empty hands back up. He stayed still, glaring at the unknown figure, tilting his head up.
Ben wasn’t surprised by the other man’s calm demeanor; it was that usual military calm (though the eyeroll was special), trained in and generally stuck to in any situation. He probably should have been impressed, but it just made him chuckle under his breath.
“How many bucketheads are waiting outside for you?” he asked, leaving the expected ‘general’ off the end of the question.
“Enough to take care of you,” Hux said quietly, not moving at all, his breathing low and shallow. Although he appeared composed, Hux was annoyed, not only with himself but the fact that this smuggler had the gall to put a weapon in his face, to point it at him. “Approaching me was foolish.”
“Hardly. You’re between me and the door, and I’m not keen on obstacles. What’re even doing in here? Sneaking around to meet up with someone?” Ben wiggled his eyebrows enough to make it clear what he implying.
Hux frowned, and it was the most surprised he had been the entire time. He shook his head once, gesturing towards the shelf. The action was basically involuntary; he had no intention of explaining himself to this lowlife.
“I’m not the only one in between you and whatever excuse you have for a ship.”
Ben stepped closer, weapon still steadily trained on the First Order general.
“First, you’re going to tell me how many troopers are out there so I can decide exactly how I want to deal with you. Second…” He leaned in, just enough to put his smirk into the light. “You probably don’t want to insult my ship.”
Hux wanted to roll his eyes again, but he took a deep breath instead, turning his wrists slightly. The frustrating part of this was that stormtroopers didn’t regularly inspect the insides of the warehouses, merely monitored the sensors inside the buildings. Since he had signed in, the sensors wouldn’t be triggered, though as the smuggler had gotten in he had managed to bypass them first somehow.
“They rotate. I haven’t memorized the schedules.” A lie, although not unbelievable. He was gathering more information about this man the longer he stayed in his presence. “I doubt you’ll even make it to your ship.”
Ben watched him right back, watched the way he held his mouth. That was actually a lie he could see; more than that, it was a lie he could feel. He extended the Force, fingers of his left hand reaching out slightly even as he held the blaster steady in his right.
“You’re lying. You know every man’s number and schedule.” Ben’s face relaxed a little and his smile came back. “How many troopers out there, general?”
Hux frowned slightly, surprised again. It was probably a record, considering how long he had been in this man’s presence. The general wouldn’t have immediately jumped to Force user, but the hand, the slightly arrogant tone, the way that he seemed to be concentrating rather than just reading some kind of data.
“I don’t know,” Hux said steadily, concentrating on being a politician for the moment. Technically, there was no way he knew for sure how many troopers were out there unless he could see them. Technically, someone could have missed their time, been delayed, sped up, or just missed their round entirely. It wasn’t unheard of, and although it was unlikely, General Hux made himself believe, fiercely, in his lack of knowing.
This time, Ben’s eyes narrowed slightly; it was easy to respect someone being a little difficult when faced with something like this, but considering it was the pale general’s face on the business end of the blaster in the smuggler’s hand, it was just stupid. And frustrating.
Ben didn’t like not getting what he wanted. And to be honest, nobody liked having their aims thwarted, but it was impatience that got to Ben most, no matter what his Uncle Luke had taught him over the years.
His hand came up again, letting him focus more easily. He exerted his will, knowing that the general was likely to be too strongly willed himself to give up everything. But between the Force and the blaster, it seemed like an answer would be forthcoming.
“How about an approximate there, huh? I’m running out of patience, I’ve got places to be, and I’m just thinking about whether you’re more fun as a hostage or a human shield.”
There, something, a hint of something. Not as collected, not as cool. Hux didn’t move but kept his eyes on the man. He frowned, feeling the intrusion, and his hands lowered a fraction. Ducking his head slightly, Hux started to breathe a little less regularly, taking a half step back.
This was harder. He swallowed, turning his head, the aborted gesture of a shake as he stared at the ground, not moving for a few seconds, his entire body tense as he tried think three ways at once.
“Two guards...patrol at a time.” There, mumbled, information, but not specific. He knew resisting was stubborn, but he wasn’t known for being accommodating.
Ben didn’t let up; this wasn’t just him getting smuggling info out of someone (which he never did, as the result of very strict lectures from his uncle on the draw of the ineluctable dark side), this was him trying not to get killed on his way back to the Falcon.
“How many are looking for you? How many know you’re in here now?” Ben heard his voice get a little lower as though it was someone else’s.
Hux stepped back, his hands lowering further. His thoughts were becoming slow, but he was thinking clearly, thinking of the guards, thinking of the men on his ship, he knew that he was focusing on what the man in front of him wanted to know, and he hated it. There was a resistance to him, too, a sharp flare up of something like bull-headed determination and indignity turned to anger.
“They’re waiting.” A pause, another turn of his head, his eyes closed now. “Twelve, waiting on my ship. Just...the supply convoy.”
“On the ship, which is on the other side of the port from mine, and two by two the rest of them patrol around.” Ben lowered his left hand and smiled, though the blaster stayed up. “Well, let’s see how good at taking orders you are. I want you to undo that comm on your wrist and set it on the ground, slowly. Nice and slow so my trigger finger doesn’t get overeager.”
The fog lifted, and Hux flushed slightly. He was glaring up at the man, angry and humiliated. The last time he had been so compelled, so controlled, he had been a teenager. He swallowed, setting his shoulders before putting his arms out, very obviously pulling the comm link off his sleeve and setting it on the shelf next to his datapad. Not the ground, not quite obeying the command again.
“And where will we be going?” he asked calmly.
Even in the half light, the angry flush was obvious on the officer’s pale face. Ben watched him, jaw tensing at the obvious show of defiance.
“Well, considering you can’t follow simple instructions, where you’re going is going to depend on what you worship. Put the comm and the datapad on the damn ground.” There was no Force control behind the words, just the anger that was slightly dangerous when it managed to come through.
Hux had shaken off the effects of the forced entry into his mind by thinking fast, quickly cataloging all the details, the little nuances of the man in front of him. No detail too small. There was a temper, arrogance, a need to be listened to, not just obeyed. Demanded respect, ruthless (maybe), but at the very least unafraid to take risks. He reached over and gathered the two pieces of tech, unable to turn them on or send out an alert, then he crouched down to set them on the floor next to the shelves.
“Better?” He asked, his snide tone unwarranted for a First Order officer facing down a smuggler’s gun alone with no backup coming and really no way for him to reach his own weapon. He set his jaw, annoyed at the entire situation.
With an almost negligent movement, Ben put his hand out again and pulled both tech devices to himself. It wasn’t a gesture meant to show off; use of the Force like that was so natural it was the same to him as leaning down to grab them up physically. But this way he could keep the blaster on the general.
“A little better. Next, take your weapon off your belt and set that down too. And let me tell you, pretty boy, I can’t emphasize enough how quick blaster bolts go through First Order fabric.” The smuggler raised his eyebrows expectantly.
Hux made a noise, carefully unclipping his weapon from its holster. It was undignified, but he was pretty sure that this scum wouldn’t hesitate to make good on his threats. Instead of putting the gun on the floor, he held it out to the man, the muzzle pointed away from them both.
The fact that the taller man didn’t just have a blaster, but could make easy use of the Force was a good reason Hux wasn’t about to try anything particularly heroic. The general would have made a match for any average man, and a few different varieties of sentients, but he couldn’t fight against someone who would be able to throw him across the room, trip him from ten feet away or choke him to death with just a hand gesture.
There were limits to the sort of risk Hux was willing to take on. Tangling with a Force user in a deserted warehouse on a near-empty planetoid was not one of them.
Having stuffed the datapad and comm into the bag slung over his shoulder, Ben took the weapon from the general. It was nice, nicer than the one he was using. One of these new designs that the First Order was commissioning. Hush, hush, no one knew about that, right? When he came across this sort of thing in person, Ben often felt that little pang in his gut that he was pretty sure was guilt. He should be telling his mother. But that would put an end to his way of life as he got dragged into something else, and he didn’t want that. He didn’t want war.
Tucking the blaster into the back of his belt, he gestured with his own weapon.
“Go on, you can lead the parade. Stroll it nice and easy, general. Let’s see if our luck holds out.” He smiled, mouth closed but still half gleeful.
He still wasn’t exactly sure what to do with the general, truth be told, but obviously making it to the door was a priority either way.
The general shifted and began to walk towards the exit. He moved slowly at first, then resumed his normal stride, hands still up at by his head. He glanced back at the smuggler once and then kept his eyes ahead. Stopping as he reached the entrance, he gestured again with his hands, small turns of his wrists.
Ben blew a loose lock of dark hair out of his eyes as he got closer to the door, opening it with a wave. He peered out from their position just inside, eyes sliding carefully over the yard. The benefits of places like this were manifold, and lack of actual supervision was the biggest. He hated to be leaving here without the stock his father was expecting, but making sure the supply run remained intact was important too.
The best thing about stormtrooper armor, from the point of view of the other side, was how highly visible it was. The outer yard was quiet and the lights that were there didn’t glint off of any white armor. Maybe he’d make it back to the Falcon without any more mishaps.
“Out this way, to the right.” He nudged the general’s shoulder with the muzzle of his blaster then followed him out. The other man seemed smart enough not to make a run for it. Keeping an eye out for interference, Ben pulled the comm out of his bag and tossed it into the air. He caught it mid-flight with the Force, then gave the throw that extra bit of power behind it to drop it up onto the roof of the warehouse. “Go on, keep moving.”
Although it rankled him to be this compliant, it wasn’t as if he had much of a choice considering the cold metal of the smuggler’s weapon against his shoulder. An injury like that would cause major damage, could rupture his brachial artery, would make him useless for weeks.
He continued through the paved roads that connected all the warehouses, trying to think of the exact schedules when the guards would be coming by. Timing was everything, and he wasn’t sure that his men were the best hostage negotiators on the planet. Glancing around, he turned one of his wrists then looked back at the man for a second.
“Where exactly am I going?”
“You just keep on walking. Head around that warehouse with the blue sign on the side.” Ben was already going through his explanation to Chewie in his head, in the event that he actually brought the officer on board. Because, as he thought about it, he couldn’t just leave him here. That would definitely tighten up security, now that he knew. He also could tell the man was smart; he wasn’t likely to believe this was a one time thing, or even a first time thing.
He was holding off on thinking what either of his parents would think for now. That was likely to bring on a migraine.
Let’s just concentrate on getting to the ship, Ben, he told himself. His head turned suddenly, sensing something to their left. He pressed his mouth and nudged the blaster against the general’s side.
“Move a little faster, sweet cheeks.”
Setting his jaw, Hux tried very hard not to snap at the man behind him. Furious was not a strong enough word to describe how he felt right now. He walked down the roads, keeping his hands up, which should have been an obvious sign to any trooper that might come around that he was being forced along.
He turned at the warehouse that the smuggler had indicated, heading down the alley and glaring directly ahead.
“To your ship, then?” Hux muttered, momentarily glancing back at the man and turning slightly to get his body out of direct contact with the blaster.
Ben met his eyes and shrugged.
“In that direction, yeah.” Ben glanced away again. There were other people close, but he couldn’t quite figure out the direction. He didn’t have the luxury of putting all his attention into it. It was a skill he wanted to hone, and he figured he would practice with Rey next time his uncle talked him into spending a little time at the temple again. He looked back to the general. “What’s your name anyway, sweet cheeks?”
“General,” Hux said belligerently.
Ben broke into a broad grin that was totally at odds with the situation.
“Shit. You’ve got some mean parents.” He chuckled to himself then went back to scanning the area as they walked down the alley between tall warehouses. He didn’t like being funneled into a corridor like this.
The general rolled his eyes even though he knew that the effect would be entirely lost. He continued to walk along the narrow corridor, their boots making sharp noises against the asphalt-like material.
“I’m starting to doubt that you even have a ship,” he muttered, frustrated that not only had he not seen any stormtroopers, but that it appeared for all intents that this man was planning on taking him off-world at the most immediate opportunity. His men, unfortunately, would know better than to question his disappearance, but he did say that he would be back in half an hour. Hopefully someone would put the nature of his disappearance together.
“Oh, she’s here.” Ben breathed a sigh of relief when they hit the end of the long buildings set up side by side. The Falcon was just back around that tall wall of shipping crates (the back row of which should already be loaded up while his co-pilot had waited for him). All they had to do was make it around the-
“Halt. Turn around slowly and lower your weapon.” The voices through the stormtrooper helmets all sounded the same, Ben reflected as he turned to face them. He kept his weapon at about head level for the general, making it very clear to the two stormtroopers that their general would only have a split second. “Lower your weapon.”
“You know, I don’t think I’m going to do that,” Ben said in an almost casual voice. “As a matter of fact, I really think you two should be patrolling the other side of the yard, because you haven’t seen anything over here.”
Hux felt something like anger and panic rise, and he held his hands out in front of his chest, the universal indicator to halt. He had opened his mouth but it seemed unnecessary. He had read about this, a mind trick that old users were taught. Hux set his jaw, feeling frustrated and ineffectual as the troopers glanced at each other and lowered their weapons, turning smartly and leaving the two of them basically alone.
It was no surprise that they had rolled over so fast. They had been trained since they were toddler age to take instruction; their wills were unnecessary things. Hux took a deep breath, annoyed that this exact situation had never been accounted for. Force sensitives were rare, and Force-trained sentients were basically extinct.
Ben hit the comm on his wrist and spoke into it as he nudged the general to keep moving.
“Be ready to take off in a hurry, Chewie. I’m there in two minutes.” He was half jogging and making sure the First Order office kept pace as they headed around the crates and the Falcon’s lowered ramp awaited them.
Hux let himself be prodded into a double march, but when he saw the Corellian class light freighter he almost froze. These ships were notorious for being cranky, smuggler-favored pieces of shit and here he was about to board one as a kriffing prisoner. Ben’s blaster poked him in the side.
“I know, she leaves you speechless, but keep moving. You’re messing with my schedule and I have a drop off to make,” the dark-haired man said with a quick smile.
Hux ducked his head as he boarded the junker made of metal and prayers, dropping his hands as he walked into the curved hallway.
“Gods forbid I interrupt anything important,” he sneered, glancing around again. There was something familiar about all this, something not-right and off putting. Behind him, Ben hit the panel to close up the ramp, already moving forward and past the general.
“Chewie! We’ve got company!” he bellowed as he walked, voice carrying through the ship. The answering roar was headed toward the bridge. “Not exactly friendly, no. But we need to get out of here.” Another roar from the Wookiee. “Um...not exactly that either.”
Tucking his blaster back into its holster on his hip, Ben looked over at the general, who was looking around in undisguised distaste. The smuggler smiled disingenuously at him.
“Yeah, she’s a beaut, isn’t she? My father threatens to take her back every so often, but technically, I stole her fair and square.” He shrugged and gestured for the general to walk ahead. “Come on, sweet cheeks, let’s get strapped in for travel. And so I can keep an eye on you.” He reached over and snatched the cap from the officer’s head. “And didn’t anyone ever teach you any manners? No hats on in here.”
The Wookiee’s call through the ship was the final connection. An ancient, battle- worn Corellian freighter, a Wookiee, a trained force user who seemed more bravado than substance. He knew Han Solo (every good Imperial brat knew him), knew that he married the Princess-turned-General Leia Organa, that they had a son. As if he wouldn’t know every member, every weakness available to him when fighting the fledgling resistance. It all seemed so obvious, like the man had laid it out in front of him just to see if he would know. Although, perhaps that was giving this smuggler too much credit.
“Give it back, Solo,” Hux muttered, stepping forward to take the cover back from the young man, glaring at him as he continued through the ship, tucking the cap neatly into his belt, looking around. “I’ve heard stories about the Falcon. I’m surprised it turns on at all.”
“You’re not hearing the right stories then.” Ben could cover neatly when his bluff was called, and really, it made his chest swell a little with pride that his name was known. It was still a little shock to hear your name from someone you’d never told it to. He intended to return the favor. He looked back to the general, his dark eyes intense as his smile went a little distant. “General...oh fuck.”
He swallowed and licked his lips quickly. Arrik Hux. That was the name that had been right at the edge of his consciousness this whole time. Now that he’d reached out to grab it, he didn’t want it. He knew all the names of the old Empire (his mother had seen to that), and Brendol Hux’s name stood out when it came to war crimes. He guessed this wasn’t exactly a coincidence. Arrik Hux must have been his bouncing baby boy.
Hux’s eyes narrowed as Ben’s widened, and he knew, somehow, that his own little stunt had garnered some retaliation. He took in the man’s expression and glanced around, hands behind his back easily, then stared back at Solo as if he were a subordinate.
“Now that we’re acquainted, are you going to let me go or deliver me to your mother?” he asked softly, trying to get a rise out of the young Ben Solo.
The stream of obscenities running through Ben’s head would have shocked Lando Calrissian, who’d taught him many of them, though not necessarily in that order with those body parts in that combination.
“Well, I was going to just dump you off somewhere, but I’ve always been curious about the bounty life, so let’s see, huh?”
The general smirked, something about his face going beyond smug. “Of course,” he muttered, glancing to the side. He wondered briefly if Solo could hear his thoughts and decided to give the insult voice instead. “She must be so proud.”
Ben’s jaw tightened, even though he was very very consciously aware of what Hux was doing. It was an obvious attempt to rile him up, to get him to make a mistake, to say the wrong thing. But it remained a touchy subject for him: his life choices, the way he’d bounced between life with his mother as he tagged along behind the Senator in her busy work creating the New Republic, to the quiet, intense temple life with his uncle who believed his type of power needed to be trained and harnessed according to Jedi principles, and the wild, unstable life with his father when he returned to the old smuggling game after screaming matches with his wife. Throughout his life, he’d signed his name Solo, Organa, and Skywalker. So the general’s strident, smug voice, with those nasal vowels and sharply enunciated consonants pricked him more than he wanted them to let them.
“Are you kidding me, sweet cheeks?” He called up his father’s voice in his head. “I get a free pass for years if I turn in the rising star of the First Order.”
“I’m so thrilled to be your bargaining chip for your family’s favor,” Hux said, completely unimpressed. He gestured again, towards where he assumed the cockpit was, judging by the direction of the Wookiee’s roar. “I still haven't seen this ship move.”
“I know, I know, I’m supposed to be offended. If I was you, I’d be a little more worried about the fact that your little snooping got you into a heap of trouble topped by the fact that no one even noticed that you’re gone.” Ben walked past him again, making sure to knock him with his shoulder before sliding into the pilot’s seat. “Strap in, Arrik, we’re making a quick jump to hyperspace to get away from this forsaken planet. I mean, good choice for your evil plotting, but as vacation spots go, it’s a disappointment.” As he spoke, he was flipping switches and preparing the ship for departure. The old vessel rattled and gave a mighty wheeze as its engines engaged. Chewbacca spared one threatening look for the First Order general and roared at him. Whether or not he understood Wookiee, the intention was pretty clear.
“Yeah, I know, I’ve got it under control, Chewie,” Ben muttered, reaching above his head for one of the final switches. “Let’s just get out of here.”
Hux was a little surprised that there wasn’t a single holding cell and that he was expected to follow Solo through his ship to the cockpit. He secured himself in the rickety seat, sitting behind the Wookiee. The smell was horrible. It might have been more merciful to have just killed him in the damn warehouse.
The lack of restraints also screamed arrogance. Clearly this boy had no reservations about letting a First Order General have some amount of autonomy while on the ship. He supposed in between Hux’s own lack of weapons, a Wookiee stronger than either of them, and Solo’s ability to move things with his damn mind, it was a pretty safe bet that Hux wouldn’t be able to cause too much trouble. The assumption annoyed him, despite the fact that he was probably right.
Ahead of him, the viewscreen showed the stars around them. Although the old ship sounded as though she wasn’t going to survive the jump into hyperspace, Ben and Chewbacca didn’t act in any way surprised by the noises and were seemingly unconcerned by the jerky movements as the ship got underway.
“What an incredible piece of junk,” Hux muttered, shifting to try to feel a little more secure even as his seat made his teeth rattle.
Ben glanced back at him for a second, then at the control panel in front of him when something started to beep (he had just fixed that, it wasn’t supposed to make that slightly honking noise anymore), then made a hasty adjustment before engaging the hyperdrive. Hux’s eyes widened, and he was sure in that minute he was going to die on this scrapheap. The viewscreen was a tunnel of bright streaks as the stars fell away behind them, and as if that had just been a needed warm up, the Millenium Falcon steadied. Ben punched a few buttons and puffed his cheeks out as he exhaled, knowing exactly what was coming.
Behind the two captains, Hux crossed one arm over his chest, his face in his hand, his eyes closed.
Chewbacca’s displeasure was immediately made known in the cockpit. Ben let him talk for a bit; none of it had been wrongly predicted in his head.
“He was snooping around the warehouse; this was the only way out. If I’d shot him, they’d have tightened up security even more. Chewie-” Ben rubbed his hand over his mouth as his co-pilot continued to harangue him. Sometimes making runs with Chewbacca made him think his father was right there alongside him. “Chewie. We’ve got half the load, and that’ll still be more than Kento is looking for.” He let the Wookiee go on a little more. “Yeah, I know. Trust me, I know. I got it. I’ll sort it out or we’ll just...open the port and drop him. I don’t know! No...no, ripping his arm off is just going to make a mess. I’ll go stow him. I’m good.” Ben stood up as he turned his seat around. “Okay, General, Chewie doesn’t like the smell of your hair product, so why don’t you come with me and I’ll stick you somewhere for the ride.”
Hux looked up at him with his pale eyebrows up raised and his head slightly to the side. His entire demeanor screamed ‘this is embarrassing,’ and he shook his head as he unbuckled himself and stood up, brushing off his pants before exiting the cockpit.
“Fantastic,” Hux muttered, standing up straight once he was in the hall. He glanced over at Ben. “You have got to be one of the most ill-equipped kidnappers in the universe.”
“I’m generally not transporting people. That’s not really my thing. I don’t go in for stealing kids and stuff, that’s more your line of work, right?” Ben took his time as they walked, feeling the mounting annoyance from the man at his side. “Besides, you haven’t even said thank you yet.”
Hux shook his head again. He was being baited, and it was infuriating. He wanted to be back on his ship, and not just because it meant he would be away from the stench of Wookiee.
“Giving you a ride on the Falcon!” Ben’s grin was crooked and a little self-teasing, but the pride he felt for his ship was genuine. “What do you think of her?”
The general stared at Ben, not saying anything for at least five seconds. He glanced around the ship as if taking it all in again.
Ben’s eyebrows just about hit his hairline.
“If we were really talking size, sweet cheeks…” He shook his head and looked around. In fairness, after that last run to Iridonia, a bit more dusting could probably do the Millennium Falcon a favor. He looked back to the general again. “You’ve got those new ships that Sienar-Jaemus is making. Don’t look surprised; I like to poke around into stuff. Brand new TIEs. Have you ever flown one? No, you don’t look like a pilot. But tell me, what do you have that’s bigger? What’s your personal ship there, Arrik?”
Not looking at the smuggler, Hux shrugged. It seemed useless to keep information from this man, especially information as readily available as his ship assignment.
“I’m the commanding officer on the Finalizer,” Hux said, allowing his mild curiosity to take reign as he walked past the smuggler, into the main den area of the Falcon. “It’s a Resurgent-class Star Destroyer.”
Ben couldn’t keep himself from frowning. For a Victory kid brought up at the forefront of the New Republic, he knew exactly what that meant.
“A Star Destroyer. Where’d you find one of those old things? You’re going to mock out the Falcon, while you’re flying around in some rickety old Imperial piece of junk?” He shook his head. “Careful with that. The cannons aren’t stable on those anymore. There have been cases of downed Destroyers spontaneously exploding when the cannons went.” The unspoken question was there in his condemnation of the old class of ships. What in the three- layered hell made it Resurgent class?
“You’ve misunderstood,” Hux said mildly, keeping his pride out of his voice. “My ship is new. It’s based on the old Imperials, just...” he glanced over at Ben, frowning slightly, “better.”
“Your group’s too small to manufacture them yourselves; you don’t have the equipment. Sienar-Jaemus doesn’t work that big either. Who’s building them for you?” Ben wasn’t sure why he was asking. Personal curiosity, or his mother’s need to know?
Hux shrugged and went over to sit on the booth’s cushions, eyebrows creasing further as the cushions let out a squeak. “We have another company.”
Ben remained standing, arms crossed over his chest. He stood a little differently when he was asking questions like this.
“Who?” Any company doing it was in a gross breach of the act that had demilitarized the remnants of the Galactic Empire. Obviously the First Order had been having illegal dealings for a while (ahem, that was precisely where the weapons they were currently hauling had come from), but it was one thing to give some Outer Rim whackjobs crates of blasters and another thing entirely to design and build Star Destroyers for them.
Glancing up at Ben, Hux quickly weighed his options. Giving him simple pieces of information even some of the lowest ranking NCO’s knew seemed a small price to pay to dissuade Ben Solo from pushing into his mind again.
“The same people who made them for the Empire.”
Ben’s face had gone still again, and he inhaled slowly as he raised his chin. This, really, had nothing to do with him. It wasn’t as though there was any profit to be made from knowledge like this, and he wanted to stay out of it. But with Kuat-Entralia back in their old game, that wasn’t the sort of vessel that would be made for little shows of petulant power out on the borders of the Unknown Regions. That was a war class ship. AS the name implied, that was a ship meant to destroy.
“How many are there?” He’d asked it before he could help himself.
Ben was as easy to read as a fresh-made officer. Hux shifted again, the booth protesting loudly, and he made a noise in return, disgust and annoyance.
“Enough,” he said, looking back to Ben. “I’m not in charge of fleet production.”
“Can’t be that many,” Ben returned, shrugging and trying to recover his blase attitude toward the whole situation. “The First Order doesn’t have that type of funding.”
Hux sighed, crossing his arms and sitting back. “If that’s all, I’d like to be taken to whatever semblance of a cell I’m to be kept in.”
“Yeah? You’d like that? Then get up already.” Ben uncrossed his arms and walked closer to him. “You’ll be bunking over here.” He waited a few seconds for the general to rise then walked him around to one of the small doors that led off the main concourse. He had to hit the button twice to make it open. Mentally adding that to the ongoing list of maintenance items, Ben gestured for Hux to walk into the small room. It had a bunk that folded down from the wall, a shelf that doubled as a small desk, and a chair that had seen better days, along with a tiny wash basin fixed to the opposite wall. There were also crates of various goods that Ben had collected and hadn’t known what to do with, liked to have, or which had ended up being totally worthless. “There you go. I’m sure it’s not up to your usual standards, but I figure you Outer Rim types are good at adapting to situations nobody wants to be in.”
If there was a word for shocked, disappointed, angry, and embarrassed, it would have described Hux’s feelings almost perfectly. He glanced around the room, hands behind his back as he looked over the ill-kept berth.
“The legendary Falcon does not disappoint,” he said sarcastically, eyebrows up as he glanced back at Ben before walking into the small room and sitting on the bed. The general looked down at the foam padding, realizing that there was no insignificant amount of dust covering it. This entire thing bordered on ridiculous, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that Solo was a skilled Force user, he was sure that this would have gone differently somehow.
“Where are you taking me?”
Ben shrugged, leaning negligently in the doorway. Now that he had the general here, he wasn’t sure what to do with him at all. Obviously, he had nothing personal to gain from having him here. There was no reward for bringing him in. General Hux was the errant son of a dead war criminal, part of an organization the New Republic denied the existence of. The information Hux had wasn’t anything a smuggler could use, apart from maybe the dates and locations of a few key supply shipments. By and large, the information he had would best suit the Resistance. Another group people ignored. It was a weird situation to be in.
“Not sure yet. I could still dump you off on some random planet. Endor’s nice this time of year.” He watched the other man for a minute. “Hey, do you have anything on you that’s trackable?”
Hux’s eyebrows went up. He didn’t move, his posture something tense and wary. It was far too obvious for a trained general, but he didn’t want Solo thinking him too clever. Honestly, trackers should have been the first thing the man looked for, and Hux didn’t think it imperative that he reveal them.
However, the lack of answer was the answer. Ben pushed himself off the doorframe, standing up straight.
“You’re going to want to give me those now.” He was mentally kicking himself for not thinking of it first, but, as he’d said, capturing war criminals wasn’t his usual thing. He held his hand out, palm up. An invitation for Hux to do this the easy way.
The general frowned, expecting to feel some kind of compulsion. There was nothing, and he wasn’t so arrogant as to assume that he was simply resisting the Force involuntarily. He stood up, taking off his thick wool greatcoat, and pulled off the three code cylinders attached to his uniform.
Instead of handing them over to Ben, he dropped them on the floor and crushed them with two quick stomps of his boot, reducing them to useless bits of scrap. Granted, his tracking device had been in one of them, but so had First Order aquisitions, travel documents, passcodes. Destroying them meant that nobody could use his cylinders to access files or high-security areas. His cylinders would have been incredibly valuable, as they allowed him access to all the files regarding the new Starkiller Base. He glanced up at Ben, eyebrows up, his expression as neutral as if he had just tossed away a used tissue.
At the question, the frustration that had come through earlier made another appearance, even as Ben fought it down. The hand by his side was already a fist, and as his eyes widened slightly, the tendons in his wrist tightened as though he wanted to do much more.
“No. Do you have anything else? Are you sure?” The smuggler took a deep breath and regained his outwardly calm demeanor, masking his temper rather than actually soothing it.
“You took my datapad and my comm already. I wasn’t expecting to leave the planet on a different ship than the one I arrived on,” Hux said, slightly annoyed, holding his hands out. “I don’t have anything else.” But, at the very least, he had prevented all of those sensitive materials from getting too far out of the Order’s grasp.
“You’re not what I expected,” Ben said finally after another long minute of silence between them. “You’re younger. More...petulant. Not quite how I see a general.”
Hux’s eyebrows came down quickly, and he glared at Ben with more annoyance than anger. He swallowed, and a dozen insults darted through his mind, each more personal than the last. The general finally shook his head, tilting his chin up slightly.
“I don’t need to prove myself to you,” he said, almost sneering.
That reaction made Ben smile again and he was pleased to feel his anger receding. That dark part of him crept up more and more lately, and there wasn’t exactly anyone around to talk to about it. He couldn’t imagine bringing that up to his father. He’d take some time to meditate tonight, go through the exercises his uncle had taught him and continued to ask him about every time he saw him. That should do it.
“No, you’re right, you don’t. I’ve brushed up against a bunch of different flavors of fanatics, but your’s is sort of new. You lot paint a target right on yourselves.” Ben leaned in and tapped the First Order insignia on Hux’s uniform, with its toothed concentric rings of black and red and white.
Hux took a step back, still glaring at Ben.
“Maybe you’re the one with a target,” he responded, not looking away.
Yeah, that was the sort of threat he could live with. Ben laughed a little and stepped back out of the doorway.
“Oh, yeah, you’re right, sweet cheeks. Now you’ve got me quaking in my boots. Why don’t you have a nap, dream up your revenge?” He tilted his head. “Maybe I’ll bring some food by in a couple hours. I mean, obviously it won’t be what you’re used to, and I’m guessing you’re pickier than a barely weaned Huttlet, but maybe you’ll be hungry enough to suffer through it.”
Hux gestured as if he were dismissing a petty officer on his ship.
“As you were,” he muttered, taking another small step back and turning away from Ben, brushing off the bed before picking up his greatcoat, folding it neatly. He sat down again, looking around. “No books?”
“Afraid you’ll get bored?” Ben’s good humor had actually been restored by the general’s silly, baseless threat, and he was feeling a little generous. “Here.” He walked into the room, reaching to open one of the crates. He rooted around in it without even looking, pulling out the data stick he was looking for. “Here you go.” He handed it to Hux, then pointed to the panel by the desk. “You can access it there. And don’t think you’ll be able to contact anyone through that. It’s not comm enabled. We’re not complete rubes.”
“Well I would never assume that,” Hux said, almost rolling his eyes again as he took the data stick from Ben distrustingly.
“You act like that’s going to bite you. Relax. It’s just some holo stuff to keep you entertained.” He smirked at the other man. “I don’t know if you know what that means, but we generally use the word ‘entertain’ to mean something you’ll actually like or enjoy. Give it a shot.”
Hux raised his eyebrows, looking down at the little data holder.
Ben reached over and punched his shoulder with a camaraderie that was all for show.
“That’s the enthusiasm we want.” He walked back to the door, then turned to face him again. “Trust me, I’m as keen to off load you as you are to get off my ship.”
The general didn’t respond but he glared at Ben’s shoulder as he retreated. He shifted, kicking the broken parts of the code cylinders with the toe of his boot. He just wanted to be left alone, out of the presence of this infuriating man. To Ben, all of this was pouting. The younglings training with his uncle acted that way when they hadn’t gotten their way.
“Then I’ll see you later, general. Enjoy your stay.”
Hux made another dismissive gesture, pulling his greatcoat up and lying down to watch the ceiling, his head on the neatly folded woolen fabric. He didn’t say anything, lacing his fingers together on his torso and staring upwards.
Ben closed the door behind himself when he left the small room (this time, at least, it hadn’t taken extra coaxing) and made sure to lock it. The last thing they needed was that man wandering the ship. He walked back to the central area and pulled the general’s datapad out of his bag, powering it up curiously. He couldn't get it to unlock, and after a few minutes he put it aside. He had his business to worry about, Ben still needed to figure out how to deliver the weapons, explain the General to his father and stay a three steps ahead of the First Order. Even if they didn't know where Hux was they had to know he was gone. He sighed. Tomorrow this would make more sense.