“I can’t tell if it’s disturbing or a relief to know that General Hux is as human as the rest of us,” Mandetat said, yawning into his hand. It was the second hour, well into the dead of the night shift as the two of them traveled down the empty corridor. “You know what I mean?”
“No,” Dopheld answered, holding a closed case under his arm. He fought the yawn himself. Dopheld still had not adjusted to his new schedule. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that even the General wants to get laid,” Mandetat said, snorting. He tapped his own case against his thigh as he walked. “Why else do you think he’s got his special guest all comfy and cozy two doors down from his quarters?”
“I don’t think they’re sleeping together any more,” Dopheld said, lowering his voice and looking over his shoulder. General Hux had made it quite clear that Lord Ren’s presence on the ship was total secrecy. He’d been dead serious when he said he’d shoot either Dopheld or Mandetat in the head if he even thought for a second they were going to tell. “Or at least not willingly, and the General isn’t that sort of man.”
“Sure,” Mandetat said, lifting his eyebrows.
“And you know as well as I do that the General used Lord Ren’s old quarters because no one goes in there and it’s got better security than General Hux’s room,” Dopheld added, feeling the need to defend Hux.
It was rather smart in a way to put Lord Ren where he’d been before. The other officers and stormtroopers on the ship had always been terrified of his quarters, afraid of whatever Force magic he might have enchanted the place with. There were rumors the man kept the ashes of his fallen foes in there (And Dopheld was sure he’d seen the thing in the corner!). If it wasn’t Force protected, it was haunted.
Dopheld cleared his throat. “Either way, we shouldn’t gossip about a superior officer.”
“Fine, but I’m just saying you don’t keep a traitor like that around unless you’re getting something out of it,” Mandetat said. His eyes narrowed, breathing in harshly through his nose. “And since Lord Ren isn’t swinging his lightsaber on the front lines for us anymore, that seems like the next logical conclusion considering how often those two went at it before Starkiller base fell.”
Dopheld pressed his lips together. How could he have been one of the only people to not notice the General’s little affair with their resident Force user?
Mandetat stopped in front of Lord Ren’s door, glancing both ways down the hall to make sure it was clear before entering the code. Dopheld shuffled closer, clutching his case, controlling his heart rate. He still wasn’t used to this. The door opened and they stepped inside Lord Ren’s quarters quickly before the door shut behind them again.
“I swear, these things eat better than the crew,” Mandetat muttered under his breath as he dropped his case on a side table. He opened it, pulling out the sweet, sugar-syrup mixture they’d been using to feed the General’s pets. He dumped it into the bowls, and refilled the automatic dispenser latched on the side of the case. “It’s ridiculous.”
“You really ought to be nicer to the only thing that’s keeping me in here,” Lord Ren said from his bunk. His eyes were dark, and the expression on his face was as unwelcome as ever. “Don’t you think?”
“I’m sure we would have managed,” Mandetat said, glaring right back.
Dopheld swallowed as he clutched his own case. At one point, Dopheld had always wondered what Lord Ren had looked like under that mask, but now that he’d seen, he desperately wished he hadn’t. Those eyes of his were terrifying, and the way he looked at people was like he was staring straight into their souls.
Lord Ren was scarier without the mask.
He didn’t know how the General could stand to visit the man as often as he did. Dopheld opened his own case and pulled out the ration bars and food they had smuggled in for Lord Ren. To keep suspicion down, they hoarded about a week’s worth of meals and delivered them at once to both Lord Ren and the Ysalamiri. The kitchen droids didn’t ask questions that way, and it cut down the number of trips they had to make to the room.
Dopheld approached the cell door and hesitated his usual three seconds to collect himself before tapping in the code to open the screen and give Lord Ren his food.
The man didn’t move off the bunk, but he did watch Dopheld all five steps to his table to put the food down, and the five very quick steps back out.
Mandetat put the cell door field back up and gave a lazy wave before leaving, with Dopheld fast on his heel. His back burned from the glare of Lord Ren watching. The door slammed shut behind them and Dopheld exhaled.
“The man’s chained to the wall and without his powers. You don’t have to have a panic attack every time you go in the room,” Mandetat said.
“You’ve never been choked with the Force before,” Mitaka hissed right back, a very vivid memory of delivering bad news to Lord Ren having gone very wrong. Lord Ren hadn’t killed him, but he had left one hell of a bruise. “It’s not something you easily forget.”
“Right,” Mandetat said again. He rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. “Come on, Lieutenant. Let’s get some sleep.”
“I agree,” Dopheld said, tapping after the Technician (not that ranks meant as much as they did with their numbers so decreased) Mandetat was working the bridge of the Finalizer now with his old control panel post dust in space. “Let’s hope tomorrow General Hux manages to convince our Sister Destroyer to return to the fleet.”
“If anyone can, he can,” Mandetat said.
Dopheld couldn’t agree more.
Hux stalked down the hallway, his greatcoat bundled under his arm to hide Eudora from prying eyes. She squirmed under the material, but it was a short trip so he didn’t feel the need to adjust his grip and risk giving her away.
Two stormtroopers saluted as he passed and Hux nodded in turn, otherwise, the Officer’s hall was fairly empty.
He couldn’t wait to drop Eudora off, say hello to Ren, and then go back to his room and pass out. The only good thing about traveling around with Ren was discovering the benefits of sleep, and now he craved it. After a day like today, sleep was more than a welcome way to end it. Hux had spent the better part of the day arguing with Colonel Datoo that he should return at once to his position in the First Order and to bring the Star Destroyer he’d absconded with when the High Command split with him.
Colonel Datoo had always been so loyal; Hux wasn’t sure where it all went wrong.
But all was not lost, he was certain the man was close to breaking after a few more talks, and when he returned, they’d be one ship richer and have an extra 3,000 men at their disposal. It wasn’t anything that would conquer a planet, but it would certainly help.
Hux typed in the code to Ren’s door and let himself in. It was around the sixteenth hour, and usually Ren was either awake or napping. The man didn’t bother to look up when Hux entered, lounging on his bed, but awake. Ren’s empty plates waited by his bunk on the floor, which was a good sign. The man only avoided eating when he was feeling particularly petulant about the situation.
“I have company for you,” Hux said, unwrapping his coat. He hoisted the Ysalamir more comfortably in his arm and rubbed under its chin. He almost cooed at her, but caught himself in time. That wasn’t fitting behavior for a General. Hux held the Ysalamir up toward the cell forcefield. “This is Eudora, and she’ll be joining the others today.”
“One Ysalamir was enough for this tiny room by itself to suppress my powers,” Ren said, rolling over to put his feet on the ground. His hair stuck up, ruffled from sleeping on the stiff pillows. “Don’t you think three is overkill?”
“It would be if that was the intention,” Hux admitted. He set Eudora down gently into the case with Gertrude and Hester. She immediately went for the deep bowl of syrup, eating greedily. Hux patted them before closing their case again. “Millicent was picking on her, so I had no choice but to separate them.”
“She must take after you,” Ren said, almost amused.
“I did raise her from an egg,” Hux said, holding his hand to his chest. “She should take after me.”
“Are you going to come to your senses and let me go today?” Ren asked, as he usually did after a bit of banter. He rattled his chain for good measure. “This was fun maybe the first two nights, but it’s gotten really old after two weeks and I’m in a good mood today. I might actually let everyone live and just leave if you open these cuffs right now.”
“You ask that every time and every time the answer is no,” Hux said, opening the cell door. “And don’t change the topic, we were discussing parenting skills. Speaking of which, this is for you.”
Hux handed over the datapad from his inner pocket holding it out for Ren to take.
A flash in his eyes showed he recognized it, but he didn’t reach for it. Hux nudged it closer. “I didn’t mess with it, Ben. Just take it.”
“That’s my datapad,” Ren said, taking it from Hux’s outstretched hand. He clicked the screen on, immediately scrolling through the waiting messages. Hux took a seat across from him on the chair he’d brought in on day five (when Ren finally stopped throwing things). Ren glared up at Hux. “The connection is still active and all the messages are still here. What did you do to it?”
“Nothing,” Hux said, leaning back in his chair. “I have not tampered with it, read anything on it, nor have I messed with it’s secure lines.”
“What’s the catch?” Ren asked, clutching it tighter to his chest.
“I had wanted to give some thought to the pros and cons of giving that back to you, and only recently had a chance to do so,” Hux said. He crossed one leg over the other and slumped in his chair, already exhausted after today. Hux almost sat next to Ren on the bed to lean against him, missing their closeness after all that time, but knew it was unwanted at the moment. He resisted. “The pros of giving it back won. There’s nothing else to it.”
“This is a direct line to my mother, Leia Organa,” Ren said. “And you’re just, giving it back, knowing that I’m going to tell her everything.”
“You don’t know where we are in space, and she can’t sense where you are thanks to those lovely ladies,” Hux said, waving his hand at the Ysalamiri enclosure. He reached up to smooth his hair back down. Hux shifted his legs back down to sit flat on the floor. “And as of tonight, I plan to carry Millicent around with me, so your mother can’t go looking for me in the Force, either.”
“She’ll still know what you did, and she’ll start looking the hard way,” Ren said. Hux rolled his eyes back and wondered why a man who’d been condemning the First Order to hell and back the past week would argue this so much. He should just take the gift and be glad for it! Hux inhaled slowly to calm himself. “How do you expect me to not suspect this is a trap?”
“I haven’t read those messages, but from the number of them that was indicated on the main screen when opened it to double check it was the right datapad, she already suspects I’ve done something horrid to you,” Hux said. “So whether she realizes you’re gone from your lack of a response, or if you tell her directly, it’s all the same. I have you in here because it’s necessary, not because I want you to be miserable. If getting to chat with your mother makes it more bearable, than I’ll put up with it.”
“Do your minions know you’re giving me this?” Ren asked, shoving the datapad under his pillow.
“No, and I wouldn’t recommend advertising it.” Hux relaxed, smiling a bit more openly. “Technician Mandetat is already at his limit of tolerance concerning you, and Lieutenant Mitaka can’t do this job alone if he decides to do something stupid.”
“Because he’s terrified of me.”
“You tried to strangle him.”
“One time, and I wasn’t actually going to do it.”
“He didn’t know that.”
Hux chuckled, and stood from his chair. He tapped the back of it twice before heading to the door. “Have fun catching up with your mother.”
Hux stumbled on the code to turn the cell forcefield. He hadn’t heard Ren say his name since he had the man chained to the floor. He swallowed, his throat thick. Hux managed to get the shield up after a second try. He managed to keep his voice even as he said, “Goodnight, Ben.”
Dopheld was absolutely certain that General Hux had one of those lizards in his greatcoat’s inner pocket.
From what he had observed of the ones in Lord Ren’s room, the Ysalamir were rather lazy things. They mostly slept or sat quietly when they weren’t eating. That was probably why no one had noticed the Ysalamir (Millicent? Dopheld could have sworn that was the favorite’s name.) yet. But if you watched closely, you’d catch the General be very careful of his right side, and every so often he’d reach inside his coat.
That was new behavior.
“Is something the matter, Lieutenant?” the General asked, staring at Dopheld. The man looked exhausted, having just finished another failed attempt to get Colonel Datoo to return. “You look distracted.”
“No, sir,” Dopheld answered, standing up straighter. He’d have to be careful with his observations in the future. “A little tired, that’s all.”
“So are we all,” the General said, looking over the skeleton crew running the bridge. He straightened his back, moving into a proper parade rest. “Stay strong, Lieutenant. We’ll all make it through this yet.”
“Yes, sir,” Dopheld said. He could see the postures of the men at their posts straightening, inspired by their leader’s words. His commanding presence did wonders for morale, just by being present.
Though Dopheld still had to wonder why the man had one of the Ysalamir with him now, when before he was content to leave it behind in his room.
Had something happened with Lord Ren?
Whether or not the General was sleeping with the man still, there had been something fragile in his voice when he’d asked they kept the man’s imprisonment a secret. Dopheld turned his eyes to his work, mind whirling. Fragility and weakness were not becoming of the cold General. Dopheld tapped open the next line of paperwork on his todo list. He might have to keep an eye on things.
It wouldn’t do for anything to happen to the General after they just got him back.
Armitage had been right.
About ten messages after Ben’s last answer, his mother’s tone had turned from “How are you doing? What did that man get up to now?” straight to “If that bastard has done something to you, I’ll kill him.” They only proceeded to get progressively more violent in their threats, and substantially more worried as they continued to stack in Ben’s absent replies.
He was half impressed she gave him at least a week of no responses before jumping to the conclusion Armitage had done something.
Ben looked over his rather lengthy update letter on the past few weeks, making sure he had all the important parts included: Armitage had gotten the Ysalamir eggs from Han’s Ysalamir (He almost didn’t include that, scared of what his mother would do to his father for getting the thing in the first place), told how Armitage had met up with his old crew on a planet Ben had been led to by the Force, and well, a brief summary of Ben letting his guard down to be captured.
“It’s not going to get less embarrassing, just send it,” Ben muttered.
He clicked the transmission button and dropped back onto his bed. He clutched the pad closer to his chest. Armitage didn’t usually drop the ball this badly when it came to his plans, but then Ben wondered if maybe the man had something else going on to have it covered. For all Ben knew he’d just helped the man set his mother up for a trap. Armitage might do something that convoluted if he were getting desperate. Ben covered his eyes; he was overthinking.
This was a kind gesture to ease Armitage’s guilty conscious and nothing more.
Leia replied, her answer breaking Ben out of his thoughts. He held the datapad up over his eyes, reading the response. She started with relief at hearing from Ben, and then she went straight into business. There was a good chance she was bottling her anger up for when she actually found Ben and Armitage, because her response sounded far too calm for having just heard Ben was shackled in a First Order ship prison cell (even if it used to be his quarters).
She listed everything they knew right now about where the First Order had last been spotted, though none of the sightings had been of the flagship Finalizer. Ben replied that if anyone slipped even the slightest hint of their location, he’d let them know.
In the meantime, Leia assured Ben that they were looking for him and that they’d contacted Lowbacca to have him start searching around Kashyyyk’s system. She assured Ben that the Resistance had made the First Order their top priority again with the word that Armitage had reestablished control.
Ben set the pad on his chest, covering his eyes.
“I’m returning order to the universe, Ben,” Armitage had said on his third visit, back when he still thought he could convince Ben that working for the First Order was in his best interest. “Why won’t you help me?”
“Because you’re trying to take over the galaxy and restore the tyranny of the Empire!” Ben yelled back.
“You’ve been brainwashed by that Resistance,” Armitage had said, huffing. He paced back and forth and repeated the same old propaganda that had been fed to him since he was a child. “But don’t worry. You’ll see that this is the way things need to be if the Universe has any hope of peace.”
“If you take a close look at your Order!” Ben had shouted, throwing his food tray across the room. “Maybe you’ll notice that what you’re aiming for isn’t peace.”
Armitage had left after that, stomping hard enough that he scared his lizards in their case. He didn’t stop by for two days after that, before he eventually showed up again for a few minutes. They hadn’t brought up the Order in any serious discussion, aside from asking to be released, and Ben wasn’t sure if he was grateful or not that at least they’d stopped yelling.
Ben rolled on his side, looking at the newest message on the datapad: “Stay strong Ben, and may the Force be with you. We’ll be there soon.”
He clicked off the datapad, replacing it back under his pillow. Ben covered his eyes again with the crook of his elbow, and breathed. He would get some sleep, and go back to planning with his mother in the morning. She’d come. Ben had full faith that she would, and bring everyone else with her.
He had to have faith.
The Ysalamiri behind him hissed as they woke to eat, clattering the bowl against the side of the glass tank as they ate. Ben groaned, rolling over onto his stomach and covering his head with his arms.
He really hated those things.