They were forced to set down on a tiny, backwater planet, silvery-blue with three minute moons orbiting it. The ship fought Kylo all the way down through the atmosphere. Circumstances had compelled him to pilot them in manually, and the controls tugged and bucked in his gloved hands. Hux was half-sprawled in the seat next to him, nominally his co-pilot but in fact deeply asleep despite the way the ship was jolting. It wasn’t surprising; he was exhausted. Hux had demanded to man the comms for the first eight hour watch while Kylo catnapped, the ship’s course locked in and uneventful through empty space. Before that, Hux had supervised the evacuation of the 400-soul Tarkin, and then, despite the simmering rancour that defined their fledgling personal relationship, he had gone back for Kylo. The two of them, in the small escape craft, had been the last to leave the dying ship. By the look on this face as they had flown away, Hux seemed to have wanted to stay on board as the Tarkin burned and cracked apart.
Hux blamed himself, that much was obvious. His lips were still set in a thin, tight line, even in sleep. He had watched the Tarkin crumple in a series of flaming sighs from the escape craft’s rear viewport. As the ship’s carcass faded from view, Hux had snatched off his severe officer’s coat and hung it on a hook. Kylo had not missed the way Hux had folded one side across the other, so that the Captain’s insignia of rank on the shoulders were hidden. To Kylo’s surprise, he had become quite familiar with the sparse nuances of Hux’s carefully-guarded expressions during their voyage.
The three-month mission barely merited the title; it was nothing more than a border patrol, tracing the edge of First Order space with the assiduousness of a fragile new political power. Kylo’s own presence was a bare concession to importance. An apprentice of Ren, unnecessarily robed and masked, to lend the affair a little legitimacy. Kylo recognised his appointment to be a sinecure. The rank and file were tolerably impressed with him, if only as an unusual spectacle breaking up the daily tedium of work. Some of his fellow apprentices had coveted his opportunity to enjoy time away from the stifling, ritualised discipline of the compound: a real job. Kylo, though, was under no illusions. They were a routine patrol with a raw young captain.
At 23, only a handful of years older than Kylo himself, Hux exhibited a tender combination of pride and uncertainty in his position. His manner was as crisp as his uniform, his knowledge of ship’s protocol exemplary. And yet, in flickers around eyes and mouth, Kylo had divined touches of worry and self-doubt. Hux was infinitely more controlled than Kylo, and Kylo could not repress his jealousy over that fact. But Hux was not a machine. Kylo could read him. He watched Hux’s face now, reflected in a telemetry panel. Hux stirred from sleep slowly, the slightest frown between his brows. A soft twist to his mouth; confusion, at waking in his escape vessel.
‘We’re almost through atmo,’ Kylo said, and Hux’s face resolved itself into an attitude of clarity and calm. The landing was competent, if hard, Kylo’s usually deft hand made heavy by Hux’s unwavering scrutiny. When Kylo killed the engines, the silence washed over them.
‘We’ve drifted significantly off course,’ Hux said, examining the onscreen map. Kylo shrugged.
‘We had no choice. It’s a long way for the shuttle, but we’re only just into the Outer Rim.’ He could not help but prod back at Hux, irked to be chided as though he hadn’t just brought them through an unmapped asteroid belt as neatly as his - as any pilot could have.
‘Habitable, at least,’ conceded Hux. He pulled up a directory of known planets. ‘And inhabited, it seems, if barely.’
‘I did check,’ said Kylo. He stood, crouching a little under the low ceiling. His helmet brushed the top of the shuttle with a metallic scrape. He pulled it off - no need for the protection now that they had landed. ‘I prioritised our need for oxygen over your personal comforts.’ Hux ignored him and read the sparse planetary directory entry.
‘Last survey was forty years ago. Planet designation is T-667 - doesn’t even have a real name.’
‘It probably does,’ Kylo said, deliberately contrary. ‘If people live here.’
‘Assuming no contact,’ Hux said, raising his voice over Kylo, ‘we could be dealing with anything.’ That was the brutal truth of it. Kylo didn’t need Hux to tell him they were in trouble - he’d thought of little else as he piloted their tiny craft here - but coming from him it had an unpleasant air of certainty.
‘We’re out of fuel,’ Kylo said. He tapped a finger against the gauge. ‘Auxiliary power is limited. A few hours, maybe, enough to to charge up lamps, make a hot meal. I sent out the distress beacon before we hit atmo, but it might be too far away to get picked up.’ Kylo didn’t need to tell Hux about the comms capabilities of the shuttle. He didn’t want to say out loud that the beacon had been their best chance to make contact. In the best possible circumstance, the First Order would have unmanned ships out looking for survivors and the distress beacon would still be in orbit around this planet. That was best case. Kylo thought that their chance of rescue was about 25%. ‘Planetary day is just eighteen standard hours, and it’s past midday already. The shuttle power won’t last through the night.’’
‘We’ll eat while we can and take advantage of the power, then get moving,’ Hux said. He turned in the co-pilot’s chair and opened lockers until he found two blaster pistols and a long knife. He proffered a pistol to Kylo. ‘Will you take one, or will your magical sword suffice?’
‘My lightsaber is all I need.’
‘Suit yourself.’ Hux turned back to the planetary directory. ‘Maps are partial, planet is 90% covered in water.’ He peered at the transparisteel windscreen, but they’d ditched nose-down in the dirt and the windows were already misting with humidity. Nothing but dark, shadowy edges and fog.
‘One big landmass and a smaller chunk on the other side,’ said Kylo. ‘Saw it all coming in. I landed us right in the middle of the continent.’
‘There’s a lake to the north - or at least, probably to our north, if you landed us anywhere near where you think. Fresh water likely means a settlement.’
‘Eat, strip the shuttle, start walking?’
‘Obviously,’ Hux told him, and he stood and headed to the back of the craft to pull out the emergency ration packs. Kylo hovered momentarily, and then he reached up under the control panel and found the sparse toolkit, emptying the contents out onto Hux’s chair to survey them.
All directory information indicated that T-667 had no major spaceport and probably no long-distance spacecraft. With such a small area of useable land, it didn’t take Hux’s academy training to recognise that high-quality craft components would be saleable. Indeed, although Kylo’s education had been less formal, it was infinitely practical in its own way. As far as it went, anyway. He started pulling panels off the walls and dismantling parts, packing certain small pieces into the toolbox. The wires were light and fine; stripped of their protective sheathing they could be coiled tightly for travel. The craft had yards and yards of it. Tiny, colour-coded circuit connectors from high-grade conductive materials, small and multi-purpose, went into the box too. Hux came over as Kylo was carefully peeling the insulation from the inner shell of the craft and gave him a strange look.
‘Is this some kind of arcane Force ceremony? You’re supposed to be finding things we can use, not ritually flaying the shuttle.’ Kylo snorted a laugh despite himself and folded the sheet of insulation into a neat square. He picked up a few of the connectors from the box and showed them to Hux.
‘Wire, connectors, insulation - it’s all lightweight and used in ship construction. This is high-grade stuff. Take it out carefully and it’s good as currency on backwater planets. There are places where a handful of these will get you a meal.’
‘How the hell do you—?’
‘Is the food ready?’ Kylo interrupted, to block out the image of a pair of hands showing a young Ben how to strip wires.
The food was ready. The high-calorie ration packs were state-of-the-art, combining all the necessary nutrients a soldier might need with the exact blend of fat, protein and starch for optimum field performance. Hux had heated them, ripped off the tops and detached the flimsy spoons from the packages.
‘Eat up,’ he said wryly, handing one to Kylo. They manfully chewed their way through the mediocre contents and shared a liter of water. Half a day’s calories per pack. There were six packs left.
Hux threw three meals into each of the lightweight synthetic backpacks in the storage cupboards, and added a water container to each, too. Water would be the main concern. They had enough for three days each, if they were careful. Thin, emergency blankets. A rechargeable lamp each. The blaster pistols for Hux, and the long hunting knife for Kylo. Strong cord, a waterproof tarpaulin and a navigation kit. A water purification unit. A rudimentary medkit, with bacta and bandages and painkillers and adhesive stitches. Distress flares. Kylo’s stash of saleable ship parts. It was a meagre collection, but if the planet was even remotely habitable it would keep them alive for a few days. If no rescue arrived within a standard week - well, it was best not to dwell on that.
The nav kit, a precious thing containing a compass and a digital unit with mapmaking software and a planetary directory, was lying on top of Hux’s pack. He picked it up and switched on the datapad, finding their planet. The entry was short.
‘Not much use to us,’ griped Kylo, and Hux shot him a hard look.
‘Maybe, but there’s enough data to align the compass. And we can map the land as we go.’
‘Did you want to go round in circles until we run out of water?’ Hux pressed a combination of buttons on the datapad and the electronic compass lit up in red around the face. ‘Good. Now we have a north.’ They looked at each other for a moment, the silence growing. Kylo sensed the spiral of doubt creeping out from Hux, just the same as his own. The work had kept them busy enough but now…
‘Four hours of light left,’ said Hux by way of agreement, and he slipped the compass into his pocket, carefully clipped the metal clasp to the pocket hem, and shouldered his rucksack. ‘We’ll head north towards that lake. If there’s no settlement, it’s at least likely to be a steady source of water.’
The lights in the shuttle were flickering their last as they left, the power finally drained. Kylo found himself closing the hatch behind them, as if they’d be returning. Hux cast him an inscrutable look as he did so, but said nothing; their earlier bickering had lapsed into a wary, quiet truce. Neither of them needed to point out that they were now reliant on one another for survival.
They were in a forest, or perhaps more a jungle. It was warm and humid and the air was alive with the sounds of myriad creatures, clicking and buzzing and calling. Kylo had somehow expected it to be cold, but he immediately prickled with sweat under his robes. His mask was in his pack and he was glad of the air on his face. Hux checked the compass in a neat gesture, holding it balanced on his thin fingertips, and then pointed off through the trees.
‘This way,’ he said, and he started walking, pushing boughs and vines out the way. Kylo hesitated for a second, adjusted his backpack straps, and followed into the jungle.