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Hux woke from nothing, gripped by terror. He sat up in bed, sheets twisted tightly in his hands, breathing hard, eyes staring ahead into blackness as he tried to clamp down on his thoughts. He couldn’t remember why he was upset, but he also couldn’t remember where he was, or what he was doing-

He inhaled as the world fell into place. He was in his suite on the Finalizer. There was nothing wrong, he was in his own bed, whole. He ran his fingers through his hair, his clammy palms moving over his arms, his shoulders, his chest, verifying that he was present and whole. He tried to control his breathing and recall what he had been dreaming about, or anything of the night before. It wasn’t coming easily. He dug his fingernails into the meat of his thigh, trying to center himself on the pain. It wasn’t like him to wake up with terrors, to not remember what he was doing-

He frowned. The mission. He and Ren had walked into that cave, whatever wild nerf chase Ren had manufactured to fill his time, but…

He glanced over at Ren’s side of the bed. It was empty, and his frown deepened. He realized, belatedly, that his terror would have awakened Ren, and Ren would have complained bitterly. Hux would have tried to frame the complaints as concern for his well-being, and Ren would have started his day in a huff. They had a routine. Ren often woke from nightmares like this, but never Hux. He knew the difference between dreams and reality.

But today he was having difficulty dismissing his unease. The normalcy of Ren’s presence in bed would have been welcome. It would have felt less like something major was missing.

Which it was. Where was Ren? He wasn’t an early riser, and the room was still at five percent light, meaning Hux's alarm was at least an hour away from its usual ambient routines.

He laid back down and blinked in the direction of the dark ceiling, thinking of Ren and trying to gather himself. He also could have asked Ren about the mission. Hux couldn’t remember what happened after the cave. At all. They had gone through the diplomatic routine, yes, and the shaman or whatever had taken them to the entrance, and he and Ren had gone inside. It smelled overwhelmingly sickly-sweet, nearly giving Hux a headache. He could almost smell it now. It had been disgusting.

But there was a disconcerting gap in his memory after that. He’d never lost time like this before. He put a hand to his forehead and ran his fingers through his hair. It was damp with sweat, and he was nervous.  There was a low-level panic that he could not dismiss. There was something missing. Something other than Ren.

He was still thrumming with the residual terror from whatever he had been dreaming as he threw off the sheets, his skin prickling in the cold of the room. Sitting up long enough triggered the motion sensors, brought the lights up to fifteen percent and started the ticking of the heater. He let his eyes adjust to the light and tried to let the cold of the room settle his thoughts, tried to remember what the inside of the cave had been like. Had it been cold inside? Damp? Dark?

No, there was nothing. And Ren wasn’t here to ask. Glaring at Ren’s side of the bed, he spitefully rolled over to exit on that side. He did it often when Ren was there, to annoy him and wake him up.

But rather than granting him petty satisfaction, he was unsettled again when he realized that Ren’s side was not only completely cold, but undisturbed. As if he hadn’t slept in it.

Hux paused. He was wearing his sleeping things, loose black shorts and a sleeveless shirt, and his ubiquitous duranium ID tags.  He clutched them through his shirt now in reassurance. If he had no memory of going to bed, perhaps something happened to him on the mission. If anyone but Ren had treated him, he’d be in medbay, not in his quarters.

Therefore, Ren must have brought him here and dressed him. He’d done it for Ren on more than one occasion, having him sent unconscious via hoverlift from the medbay, but it hadn’t happened to him before. He never put himself in situations that would send him to medbay. And Ren had been with him.  He shouldn't have been injured.

That had to be what happened, because Ren was the only other person that entered these rooms. Not even droids came through unless ordered. So something had happened on the mission. Perhaps the cave had collapsed on them. That made sense.

He stood, the cold of the bare floor penetrating the soles of his feet, making them ache. He curled his toes and reassured himself. The cave had collapsed, something had probably hit him on the head, and Ren had pulled him out and brought him back to the Finalizer for treatment.

It made sense. But still. He rubbed the back of his head, finding no ache or sign of injury. And if Ren had brought him back unconscious, had treated him and dressed him and put him to bed, he would have stayed to gloat.

He looked at his hands, his arms, his legs. Had he been injured? He didn’t ache anywhere, didn’t feel sick.

Perhaps Ren had treated him and gone back planetside to do whatever it was he wanted in the cave, or whatever he did in general. Train. Nurse his grudges. That was very likely. He hadn’t wanted Hux with him on that mission anyway. Perhaps he had manufactured a cave-in or memory loss to get Hux away.

But it was unlike Ren to do it in a way that Hux wouldn’t remember.

He turned and grabbed his comm from the bedside table, realizing that he was being stupid. There would be a record of the mission, a message from Ren. Getting rid of this ridiculous panic was that simple.

No. He scowled again when he saw there were no comms or immediate explanations from Ren. And his panic only increased when he realized that the day’s worth of comms and reports that should have piled up while he was planetside were also missing. He had been gone three full shifts, an entire day cycle, so there should have been work to catch up on. The date indicated that this was the next day cycle. So whatever had happened… had just happened, he had blacked out, and Ren had brought him back and gone elsewhere. And perhaps Colonel Bariss had simply… not reported progress while Hux was away. An egregious error, but it happened. Hux would speak to her.

Was… whatever happened planetside bad, perhaps? Would that explain Ren’s absence and the lack of reports filed from Bariss? Hux honestly couldn’t say, couldn’t remember enough. He was still drawing a blank about that damn cave.

He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath of the chill air while gripping the datapad tightly in one hand, hard enough that he could hear the creak of plastic. He let out his breath, opened his eyes.

It was fine. Everything was fine. Something had happened, Ren had brought him back to the ship and returned to Ventu, leaving orders for a blackout. Hux would prepare for his shift, then comm Ren to find out what nonsense he was up to. It wasn’t out of the ordinary, it was typical Ren.

He entered the ‘fresher and stripped out of his sleeping things, tossing them in the chute and blinking blearily in the sudden bright light of the tiny room. He focused on routine, cleaning his teeth and stepping into the ‘fresher afterwards, setting the controls for real water. He felt the indulgence was justified this morning.

He went over the details of the mission as he recalled them. The cave had contained some religious relic, sacred to the Na’aa’ina. Ren had wanted to investigate both the relic and the religion as a means to supplement his own power.

Such errands were what the two of them had been reduced to since Starkiller’s implosion. They hunted any and all rumors of Resistance activity, but none of it had amounted to anything. The Resistance seemed effectively dead, gone along with the Hosnian System and that humiliating defeat at Starkiller Base, the remnants hunted down just after. Hux patrolled his quadrant in the Unknown Regions and broke up in-fighting among the planets, and Ren researched religion and culture. Aside from being a flagrant indulgence in his personal interests, it aided negotiations in hostile situations and material trading, which Ren was now in charge of.

But he also explored rumors of religious relics and sites of old practitioners, obsessed with finding some new way to access his Force through another system of belief. He frequently ordered the Finalizer on expeditions deep into Wild Space to investigate. Hux still made a show of protesting these trips, claiming that they should be advancing into the Mid-Rim. But others were doing that for him, with much smaller ships containing minimal Troopers and staff. They met no resistance from any of the planetary governments. Which of course they wouldn’t. Mon Mothma had ordered Republic space demilitarized decades ago, and the ease of the current transition was laughable.

With so little to do, Hux found Ren’s personal and very expensive expeditions to be more interesting than figuring out if a shipment of ore had actually been stolen by pirates or reported stolen to pad income in a corrupted system.

As Hux stood and let the hot water scald his skin and calm his nerves, he remembered. They had been on Ventu, which was rumored to have a cave that had some ritual attached. Hux couldn’t be bothered to listen to the details when Ren explained why they absolutely had to go so many parsecs out of the way of their regular patrol. Hux had gone out of boredom, but insisted that it was because Ren was too surly when he negotiated. Which was true, but they had a perfectly serviceable protocol droid, and Ren was generally more culturally sensitive than Hux. But Hux didn’t tell him that.

So Hux had sat through the tediousness of Ren meeting with the shaman on Ventu, and Ren and the protocol droid and the shaman had gone back and forth in whatever barking language they had there. It had been embarrassing, because neither Ren nor the Shaman had seemed to understand that you speak to each other, and not the protocol droid doing the translations. He hadn’t paid attention to most of it, though Ren seemed absorbed. Sometimes Hux liked to see him work. He was like another person when he was speaking of beliefs. They never failed to capture his interest, and it was one of the rare times he seemed at peace with himself. He hadn’t been like that in a long time.

Sometimes it was interesting, and sometimes it was infuriating. Why did it have to be these stupid, convoluted missions that made Ren happy?

Hux hadn’t paid attention to most of the details of the translated conversation, though. Snoke had commed in the middle, because of course he had. The planet smelled bad, like sweet flowers, so thickly that Hux felt like he was being choked. He remembered giant birds, the little red-skinned humanoids, the disgusting purple pollen that had gotten everywhere.

His recollection of everything was very clear. He and Ren had fought about the cave. They’d gone inside, it had been too dark to see and somehow smelled even worse. There’d been a moment where they talked about themselves, which never went well. He’d followed Ren further into the cave.

And then, nothing. Try as he might, Hux could not remember what came next. Just waking up in his bed, alone and frightened. Why frightened? Had it been a nightmare? Had it been something on the planet? Had the Ventu artifact in the cave actually held some sort of power?

He huffed, switching the 'fresher to the dry function, feeling the tug and clatter of the duranium ID tags on the chain around his neck as the streams of hot air blew down on him. He stepped out and began the calming process of pulling on his uniform.

No, it wasn’t that the cave had some sort of mystic magical power. But maybe it had been dangerous in another way. Native fauna, or that sweet smell had been some sort of biological contaminant. They’d scanned the surface thoroughly, but it wouldn’t be the first time something like that had happened. Perhaps they’d inhaled something that had disagreed with them, and Ren had brought both of them back, then gone back for his artifact.

But where was Ren, then? He’d obviously been gone for some time. It wouldn’t have taken that long for him to retrieve the artifact from the cave, unless it was large or required special extraction? Hux would have been involved in anything like that, Ren was terrible at planning anything that wasn’t a battle. He’d mentioned wanting to meditate alone, but Ren had never been able to meditate, and wouldn’t have done that for very long.

Maybe Ren had been injured somehow? That was a possibility. Hux left his quarters and used his datapad as he walked to the transport to check the records from medical. Perhaps Ren had checked himself into the suite.

He wasn’t registered, which was annoying. He might not be. Hux made a low noise in the back of his throat, then stowed his datapad in his greatcoat and programmed the transport to take him to the Officer’s medical facility. There was enough time before his shift that Hux could stop in and ask Ren what had happened.

 


 

“Has Ren checked in,” Hux asked the officer on duty brusquely, straightening his gloves as he walked purposefully into the medical unit. The lighting was always too high here, glinting off the white walls, the industrial durasteel counters, the windows that everyone insisted made the place less depressing, even though they only looked out into the gray halls of the ship.

The officer, a med lieutenant wearing a modified white-and-gray uniform with the square cap unique to the unit, looked baffled. Occasionally, younger officers would be overwhelmed in his presence, and it was tedious if it happened at the wrong time.

The Lieutenant straightened and did his best to look sharp. “..Sir?”

Hux thinned his lips. He could repeat himself and go through the usual star-struck routine with this lieutenant, but he needed to get on with his day. He was still feeling unsettled and vaguely panicked, and hated that Ren was the one that could undo the feeling. He didn’t have time for this.

“Nevermind. I’ll check myself. As you were.”

Without waiting for a response, Hux walked the length of the mostly-empty Officer’s medical wing. It was ridiculous to have all this space dedicated to it, when officers were rarely on the front lines. They sometimes used it for Trooper Command, just so it wasn't such a waste.

Ren used it, of course. Hux made his way to the very end of the hallway, where there was a private unit reserved for Commanders.

He saw the windows were dark, and something tightened inside him before he even opened the door to reveal that the room was completely empty. He didn’t bother raising the light level, and the small, cheerless med suite was illuminated by the square of light from the hall.

He turned to leave, laid his hands on the controls to close the door behind himself, then suddenly stopped, looking back with a more profound sense of creeping unease.

It was more orderly than the last time he’d seen it. Definitely. It was small things that caught his attention first, and then he scanned the room, looking for confirmation of larger imperfections, specific memories. All of it had been eradicated. The history of the room, of he and Ren using the room, was simply gone.

Granted, neither he nor Ren had been on a mission that had injured them in quite some time. These little diplomatic jaunts were rarely dangerous. And the last time Hux had needed this suite, other than the colossal failure at Starkiller, had been when the Taurian flu epidemic had swept through the ship.

Still. It wasn’t a medical suite they maintained, and none of these repairs or restocks were necessary. The more he looked, the more confused he was about who would bother with such things. The bed had obviously been replaced. The rails had been bent out of shape when Ren had woken up after that mission on Be’llx. Hux had been paged that time, to calm him down. They’d never fixed it. Someone, suddenly, had.

He turned and took in the whole window panel, looking out onto the hallway. He hadn’t bothered to notice when he came in, but it was obvious now. The pane wasn’t cracked, and the mechanism for obscuring the view into the chamber had been replaced. That had gone when Ren had tried re-starting his little Force order and had found his new recruits had simply tried to stab him in the back as he’d slept. That had gone very poorly indeed, for everyone involved. Ren had been rattled mentally and stabbed straight through the right side of his chest, and Hux had sat with him as the droids had worked on his lungs and stitches, calming him as Ren struggled in the restraints, obviously reliving bad memories and in a rage against the entire galaxy.

They’d simply tacked a cloth over the window after that. Neither of them had needed that “cheerful” view into the rest of the ship.

Idly, Hux turned up the lights in the room and checked the cabinets. They were well-stocked with bandages, bacta, painkillers, splints, and all the small implements - scissors, tweezers, gauze, antiseptic - that he and Ren regularly pilfered from here.

He stared into what looked to be an untouched cabinet of medical supplies, one he knew he’d personally depleted of bacta not long ago. He contemplated the regulation-perfect stacks of personal and emergency bacta patches for several moments, and then used his datapad to search for a work order.

There was none. The repairs in the suite had been off the record. Which didn’t make sense. There was no reason for that. Why would someone make repairs to Ren’s medical suite without his authorization, and then hide all traces of it? The uneasy feeling came back. Hux pushed it down with a firm hand. An administrative oversight like this was no reason to panic. It just had to be set right.

He walked quickly down the hallway, boots tapping in the stillness of the unused officer suite, and reached the on-duty Lieutenant at the reception desk. He gave the young Lieutenant a chilly glare, hoping to do away with the starstruck attitude quickly.

“Name and position.”

The officer straightened. “Sir. Lieutenant Holm, specialty admin.”

“How long have you been stationed here?” Hux knew, of course. The med staff hadn’t been rotated in a full year, and Hux vaguely recognized this man. But he needed to approach this situation carefully, and didn’t want the Lieutenant to get defensive.

“A year, sir. A little more.”

“When were the repairs to the Commander’s Suite authorized?”

“…Sir?”

“The suite has been repaired in my absence, Holm, and I want to know who authorized the expense.” It was a small thing, but they really weren’t operating on much surplus. Such unnecessary repairs needed to be addressed, and moreover, such things needed to go through him. Would Colonel Bariss really have done such a thing? She wasn't frivolous, and she no longer acted independently. And there also hadn’t been time to requisition and repair everything in a single day cycle.

“I… was not aware you were absent, sir, but I’m also not aware of any repairs to the Commander’s Suite.”

Hux blinked. He hadn’t expected this. “When was the last time you entered it?”

Holm shifted, looking more nervous. “It’s… been some time, sir. Visual checks of the suites aren’t part of the staff routines. But I can pull up the droid maintenance log? If… if that’s something that would help?”

Hux paused. Would it? Obviously Holm had no idea what Hux was talking about, and there was no record of it in the system. Hux would have to interrogate all of the Officers who were shifted in his absence. Or the entire admin staff, possibly going back to the last time he was in the suite himself.

He made a note on his datapad and began to leave the med wing, but stopped himself, turning back around just before he exited. A new dread crept into his thoughts, something else to worry about, and something twisted in the pit of his stomach as he turned back and asked an impulsive question that he knew he would regret.

“When was the last time you saw Kylo Ren here?” The information was functionally useless if Ren wasn’t here now. Still, some part of him needed to ask. Even if he got an irrelevant answer, it would somehow be soothing confirmation, a note of normalcy. He needed normalcy this morning.

“Kylo Ren?” That confused look again, which was increasingly making Hux want to slap the officer.

“Yes, Kylo Ren!” He snapped. “Supreme Leader’s apprentice, Master of the Knights of Ren, that Kylo Ren! The other Commander of the ship, the other person authorized to use the Commander’s Suite!”

The unwarranted outburst left Holm looking panicked and near tears. “Sir. I… I was unaware of another Commander. I’ve never… met Kylo Ren.”

Hux narrowed his eyes. He was sure he’d seen Holm on duty when he’d come here with Ren before.

Not to mention that it was impossible for active First Order personnel not to know Ren. He was used almost as extensively as Hux in propaganda. There was hours of footage circulating of Ren deflecting blaster bolts with his sword, bringing down opponents in the heat of battle, verbally threatening their enemies, anything that made them look strong.

“Have you been reprogrammed lately?”

Holm shrank back visibly, now completely terrified. “No sir, never, I’ve always been a loyal officer of the First Order.”

Reprogramming would have explained memory loss. Hux narrowed his eyes again, ignoring the wrongness that was now rising up his stomach and threatening to choke him. He pushed it back down. Mis-handled paperwork, an incompetent officer. It happened.

He made another note on his datapad for a thorough competence check of Lieutenant Holm of medical, and left the suite for the bridge.

 


 

The normalcy of the bridge was a comfort. Hux marched along the raised walkway with all the personnel monitoring the routines of the Finalizer in the pits below him, and he was able to dispel his worries from the med bay. All it took was the visual confirmation of routine, the sight of the ship moving ever onward through the quadrant, and suddenly Hux was back in control, the fantasies he’d woken up to forgotten.

He took several minutes to make a complete circuit, slowing and stopping at each station to observe the officers and staff at work. Once he was satisfied and feeling more himself, he sought out Colonel Bariss, who was finishing a course correction with the nav officer. He stood and waited, listening to the exchange and reveling in the banality.

“General Hux.” she turned to him when finished, offering him a crisp, regulation salute.

“Colonel, I’ve returned.” He paused, and to his horror, saw the same confusion as Holm cross her features, even if just for an instant before her training took over and she hid her expression.

That was all it took for his anxiety to return, crashing into him like a wave and tightening his posture incrementally. Ridiculous. It was a facial expression, and this was business as usual.

“Of course, sir. Would you like me to resume monitoring intelligence reports for the Weequay Lona Pirates?”

His own confusion, heady and unwelcome, hit him as he tried to understand her question. He had never heard of those pirates. But he stifled his confusion better than Bariss had, some instinct telling him not to ask her outright about it. The same instinct that he’d tried and failed to suppress when he’d asked about Kylo Ren earlier.

“Of course. And how long has this chase been going on now, Colonel?”

Another confused expression, there and gone in the blink of an eye. “About three standard weeks, sir.” She paused. “We’re very close to capturing them at the site of a theft. I believe I may have them within another standard week, if the course corrections work out.”

“Of course.” He paused, feeling sick, not sure how to pursue this. Then inspiration struck, as he brought his datapad out. “Are all the reports up to date in the system?”

“Yes, sir, up through the beginning of your sleep shift, after I took command.”

He glanced at her briefly. The extra clarification wasn’t necessary, but it was also true that she’d been in command for over a standard day. Perhaps she meant the beginning of his sleep cycle was the beginning of her active shift on the bridge. Which would have been strange, but perhaps she thought it worth noting for some reason.

Setting that aside, he punched the Weequay Lona Pirates into a search, not expecting a hit. He nearly dropped the datapad when a long list of reports came up. Lists of surveillance, crime logs, profiles, various intelligence reports from across the Unknown Regions. All backdated two or more months.

His hands started shaking incrementally, and he forced them to stillness as he lowered his datapad again, dropping it back into his greatcoat and stuffing his hands in his pockets to hide the tremor. “And where are your reports from my absence?” He asked more sharply, trying desperately to get his bearings, to get control of this situation, which had been lost in some unfathomable way that was obvious only to him.

“Your… absence?” This time, Bariss didn’t bother hiding her confusion, or the contempt that curled her lip. Hux and Bariss had history, and she was smart and clever, but Hux knew she was looking for a place to slide the knife into his back, and he hated the thought of presenting her with one now.

“I haven’t filed my report yet, as is regulation. I will do so within thirty minutes of the completion of my command. Sir.”

The ‘sir’ couldn’t have borne more sarcasm, and Hux blinked, deciding to ignore his gut feeling and push through. He gathered his own contempt to himself and mustered a look of scorn.

“And what about the other shifts, Colonel. I was gone for three standard cycles. Certainly reports should exist from that time?”

Bariss’s eyes widened, and he noticed that other work had stilled in the area to more easily accommodate eavesdropping. Bariss looked at the nav officer beside her, who turned to meet her gaze. They both turned to look at Hux for a moment. Hux hated it. The anxiety rose to choke him, and he felt the beginnings of a hollow ache in the back of his head.

“All due respect, sir, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The silence spread, and something in Hux was warning him, a klaxon ringing across his mind, to navigate this situation carefully. He lowered his voice, took a step in closer, tried to be as imposing as possible.

“Perhaps it somehow escaped your notice, Colonel, that you’ve been the paramount on board the Finalizer for three standard shifts, while I was on a mission with Kylo Ren. Where are your reports?”

Bariss gave him a long look, before turning to the nav officer. “Lieutenant Hoyt, bring up the timestamp of the General’s last course correction.”

“Right away, Colonel.” As the Lieutenant tapped at the console, Bariss’s head remained turned toward him, but her eyes never left Hux.

“Last course correction by General Hux authorized fifteen hours, seventeen minutes ago. Navigating into the Varrian-Gorta Trade Route. Heading six nine dash-”

Enough,” Hux snapped, stepping forward and scrolling through the search that the Lieutenant had made of his headings. The search went back two weeks, and indicated normal activity, all orders given during his scheduled shifts.

Except he hadn’t been here for shifts scheduled fifteen hours ago, or thirty hours ago. But there they were, orders authorized by him. What was more unusual…

None of the headings matched where the Finalizer was in space. They were in the Realis sector of Wild Space, but this showed-

“The Varrin sector,” he mumbled. It wasn’t even in his quadrant. He turned to Hoyt, noticing that more than just Hoyt and Bariss were staring at him now. But the situation was growing more absurd by the moment.

“How long have we been in the Varrin sector.”

Hoyt seemed at a loss, looking from Hux to the monitor. “Months, sir. I couldn’t say. We’ve been… we’ve been tracking the pirates here. Do you want a precise date?”

“No.” He stepped backwards, cut a sharp glance to the Colonel, whose expression was currently guarded and watchful. None of this made sense. There was a low buzzing noise, like static, cutting through his thoughts now, as his officers, the filed reports, and even the Finalizer were undermining his own memories. Questions roared through his mind. He knew better than to ask them in public. And yet. He had to.

“Where is Kylo Ren?”

Bariss’s look went from wary to tired. “Who is Kylo Ren, sir?”

Hux blinked, then turned to the Nav officer. “Lieutenant Hoyt, when was the last time Kylo Ren was on the bridge?”

Hoyt shook his head. “I don’t know any Kylo Ren, sir. What’s his rank?”

Hux took a step back, more frantic now, turning toward the nearby comm array. “Major Bligh. Where is Kylo Ren?”

Bligh, who was the main point of contact for Ren on his missions, shook her head. “A person? I couldn’t say, General.”

He took several steps over to the TIE fleet control, aware that he was making a spectacle of himself, but unable to stop.

“Major Goen. When was the last time you saw Kylo Ren?”

Major Goen had ordered the preparation of their transport to Ventu, and had seen them off in Hangar 9. She was the officer in charge of maintenance on Ren’s TIE, his transport, and the rest of his personal equipment.

She gave Hux the same blank stare, concealing who knew what. “I’ve never met anyone named Kylo Ren, General.”

He took several steps over to the internal comm station. “Lieutenant Mitaka. When was the last time you saw Kylo Ren?”

And Lieutenant Mitaka, who was actively terrorized by Ren and avoided him at all costs, a man who had suffered abuse at Ren’s hand, shook his head. “Never, General Hux.”

He stared around the bridge, and almost all eyes were on him. He was speechless. He looked to Bariss, then to Captain Peavey, who was his second in command for alpha shift. He swallowed. Bariss stepped forward.

“You are unwell this morning, General. Perhaps a trip to medical?”

He’d been to medical. He did not wish to return. “No, Colonel, unnecessary,” he snapped, maybe too harshly. Bariss thinned her lips and stood at attention, looking him up and down. Hux felt like fleeing his own bridge. The ache at the back of his mind grew worse, the humming static noise louder. He looked from face to face, staring at him in open curiosity. The General, breaking down in full view of the Command staff. Truly a spectacle.

He had no idea what was going on, but it was Ren’s fault. He couldn’t command the bridge like this, though. Not after this outburst, and not with so many unanswered questions.

“Captain Peavey, I am leaving the command to you. I will be in my office.”

He turned and left with as much authority as he could muster. But the klaxon warning was still blaring through his head, along with the panic and fear and everything else he’d been trying to dismiss. He may as well have woken up in a different fleet this morning.

Ren. It was something to do with Ren. It was his fault. Hux just had to find him to put a stop to whatever this game was.

 


 

Finding him proved to be difficult. It was clear that Ren was the architect of all Hux’s problems today. Ren had somehow brainwashed every crewmember aboard the Finalizer. Hoping to move ahead of the rumors of his humiliation on the bridge, Hux had commed departments around the ship, including several officers in the TIE bays, a few different departments that dealt with Trooper training, and even the alternate medbay near the hangars. He’d met with confusion when he’d asked if Kylo Ren had given orders recently, and he cut the exchanges off immediately when he sensed they were leading nowhere.

Ren had, of course, taken his tracker offline and done Hux the favor of erasing himself entirely from every record on the ship. No source of information, including mission briefs and past propaganda, had any mention of Kylo Ren. He was also beginning to suspect that the chronometers had been tampered with. There was no way Ren had managed all this in what must have been only hours between the end of the mission and when Hux had woken up.

The thought of all the effort Ren had put into such an obvious deception had Hux seething. Why would he waste such a colossal amount of time and effort on this?

It wasn’t the same as Ren’s usual nonsense. This was far more ambitious, and on a much larger scale. Hux’s panic had mostly receded when he’d realized that only Ren could have done something like this, but he couldn’t completely dismiss his anxiety, or the feeling of wrongness. Ren could, but would he?

Perhaps Snoke. That was a different matter. But Hux couldn’t imagine what Snoke would get out of this, either. Snoke rarely bothered with Hux, and had always been clear about expectations. This kind of senseless, baroque punishment wasn’t his style.

And though it wasn’t Ren’s style either, Ren was much more a creature of whim, and always had been. So that was the only answer. This was Ren’s doing, and the reason behind it was yet unclear.

He made all his inquiries to the various departments as he rode the transports across the length of the Finalizer. While the comms grew more and more frustrating as evidence of the conspiracy piled up, Hux became more certain all of it would end when he reached his destination. Ren had to be there.

Hux was enroute to what was officially the “Commander’s Health Suite,” but it was mostly just the rooms Ren exercised in. If he was on board the ship and not scheduled, he was either here or sleeping. He spent hours of every day sequestered here by himself. Hux continued to insist that the suite was for both Commanders, and that he used it too, but he rarely did. The main area was cavernous, extending up three levels that had originally contained part of the fabrication plant for Trooper armor. It now had a ground floor full of mats and droids that Ren used primarily for his saber training, a series of catwalks on the second level that held a variety of equipment that Hux claimed was for himself but was likely still used most by Ren, and a track on the third level. This was what Hux made use of most often, and Ren not at all. Ren felt that running was ‘useless’ and ‘the bare minimum of what you should be doing,’ and ‘why even try at all.’

There were also showers and dressing rooms for each of them on the ground floor, including a ridiculous giant tub with water jets shared between both bathing suites. Ren had insisted on it, and Hux still felt guilty about having such an indulgence on a Star Destroyer. To justify the installation, he used it quite often, most of the time with Ren.

As he approached the large double-durasteel doors, Hux worked himself up to a fury, though one that was tempered by a kind of triumph. This was the end. Ren would be here, and Hux could eviscerate him and then find out what all this was about. Ren would explain, and unload whatever petty grievance had caused this. Was it the fight they’d had in the cave? Probably. Hux shouldn’t have said those things, but Ren knew him well enough to understand that Hux was aware he’d crossed a line. And besides, Ren had cornered him.

As he began keying his security clearance into the door panel, he pictured the scene in his mind - The gym smell of the room, which Hux could not eliminate no matter how many cleaning droids he sent through. Ren, barechested, going through his saber forms at this time of day. He’d have worked up a sweat by now, and his hair would be hanging in wet curls, sweat running down his neck and back, catching in the low light that Ren insisted on. If he was in enough of a mood to pull this kind of elaborate ship-wide stunt, there would likely be some equipment casualties, various battle droids and sim pods sparking on the floor in pieces, which would be collected and reassembled on Hux’s order-

He stopped, dimly aware that his personal security code had failed twice. He frowned. He’d thought he’d somehow mistyped it the first time, but was sure he’d entered it correctly the second time. He entered it very carefully a third time, only to be greeted with a pending system lockout message, a call for security Troopers.

Pausing with his hand over the pad, his thoughts ground to a halt. Then, as if he was watching someone else do it, he observed his left hand drifting to his breast pocket, taking out one of his security cylinders, and scanning that instead.

The doors slid smoothly open, even though they shouldn’t have. They weren’t on the general security circuit. They weren’t keyed to his cylinder. He was still thinking of that, still watching everything as if from a distance, so it took a moment to see that the space was not, in fact, a cavernous empty gymnasium, poorly-lit and containing only Ren and his lightsaber. The room instead contained the three-story armor fabrication plant, the giant machinery standing dark and dormant, the only light falling on a group of consoles just inside the door, in a small command area.

His personal codes had failed because this was not a personal recreation area. This was a secure manufacturing area.

Hux stood, lips slightly parted, staring into the darkness of the third level of machinery. Dimly, he heard the security doors beginning to chime, indicating that he needed to step through to make the area secure again. However, the warning chime was nothing compared to the clamor of his thoughts, desperately trying to make sense of this. The expense. The time investment. The impossibility of all this machinery being requisitioned, shipped, received, and installed without his notice.

He stepped through the door, and the chime ceased, though the buzzing static in his head grew louder, the ache in the back of his mind more persistent. The ache formed around an absence, something that was missing and was increasingly filling him with dread.

“Sir!” In the command area, two Sergeants and a five-Trooper security detail were clustered around a console. They all stood abruptly from what appeared to be some sort of card game, saluting, the pair of officers looking uneasy. Hux blinked at them stupidly for a moment, wondering why they were here instead of his hot tub.

“What is this,” he asked sharply, gesturing to the room, a voice inside screaming that he needed to play along, to not make a scene. But he couldn’t. He suddenly needed to use that tub very, very badly, and neither the tub nor Ren seemed to exist.

“Sir?” one of the officers managed haltingly, gazing back up to the machinery as if searching for the flaw that the General had come to see to personally.

“We’ve received no orders,” the other officer filled in more helpfully, interpreting Hux’s implied displeasure as some sort of communication failure. Hux nearly laughed, because it was that, in some sense. The entire ship was somehow failing to communicate with him this morning. Presumably because they had already communicated with Ren.

“Where are Kylo Ren’s training quarters?” Hux tried, regretting the question as soon as it left his mouth.

Now even the Trooper’s careful attention postures were beginning to relax and waver, and Hux’s lip curled at their concern.

“Kylo Ren?” The officer that had been searching the room for defects turned back around, still confused, apparently unable to do anything but parrot questions back. Hux wanted to execute him on the spot. His memory helpfully supplied his name: Kerran, cadet class of 27.

“We received no orders from Kylo Ren,” replied the other officer, apparently bypassing the part of the question that didn’t make sense to her. This was Ely, cadet class of 24. Hux vaguely remembered shaking her hand, she had been top of the class. Why was she posted here? His mind began to wander down that more concrete, rewarding path of inquiry rather than why there was a dark fabrication plant in his gym.

Apparently he had contemplated this for too long, staring at the woman, and she shifted, growing more visibly agitated.

“Sir. Do we need to begin preparations to run production? Are we getting another unit of Troopers?”

She grew more hopeful at this, and the other seven stood more attentively, obviously hoping for confirmation.

Hux managed to master his thoughts, finally shaming himself into hiding his shock and panic and doing something that at least looked sensible. He feigned annoyance as he brought out his datapad.

“When was the last time this plant ran production, Sergeant?”

“Forty-two cycles ago, General. The last time we received a unit of Trooper recruits.”

Her reply indicated that the answer was obvious. Hux’s hand paused over his datapad, and he glanced at her quickly before he could stop himself. He hoped it came across as annoyance at her insolent tone.

But her answer was nonsense to Hux. It hadn’t been forty-two cycles since they’d recruited. They received a regular transport of three hundred recruits nearly every week on the Finalizer alone, more elsewhere. Refugees, rescues, the children of First Order personnel, all of whom were now trained at five different Destroyers across the fleet, to Hux’s exacting standards.

He kept this to himself, instead calling up the last Transport manifest on his datapad. He found verification for what the Sergeant had said. There were no weekly recruit transports, and the last one had indeed been forty-two cycles ago. Scrolling back through, they were similarly irregular before that, few and far between, and holding about the same number of bodies as the standard weekly transports.

“And you have been sitting here doing nothing since the last production run?” Hux asked sourly, glancing up at Ely, then back down at the datapad as he ran more numbers.

“We have been on call, General,” her tone once again bordering on insubordination. “Someone has to sit here and watch the equipment. We test it every few days, guard it from the Resistance, run the regular maintenance schedule. As ordered.”

Hux glared at her, because the last part held nothing but sarcasm. She gave him a sour gaze back, clearly not happy with her posting.

“It must be taxing, Sergeant.”

“Until the day you order production of a Trooper armor stockpile in the event of a sudden influx of recruits, here we sit.”

Hux tapped his datapad to bring up more reports. The production thresholds indicated that these facilities not only existed, but that they were exactly as the Sergeant indicated - they were only run for a week’s time, to manufacture armor whenever a Trooper transport arrived. Occasional production runs were ordered to refill reserves, when armor wore out with training, action, or a number of other ways. These supplementary runs only happened once or twice in a standard galactic year.

His hands began to shake, and he maintained the edge to his words as he spoke to the insolent Sergeant.

“There are no new transports arriving.” He stopped, waiting for something sharp to come to him, some reason he would be checking in here, in Ren’s gym. Which wasn’t Ren’s gym, just an empty fabrication plant.

Nothing came to him.

“As you were.”

And with that, he turned and dismissed them, not wanting to see their reactions, and used his cylinder to exit the room.

He glanced around the hallway. The Commander’s Health Suite was in the manufacturing area of the Finalizer. Between shifts, the hallways were nearly empty, but there were still a handful of people seeing to tasks, enough that he could not take the private moment he so badly needed. A few petty officers were already looking curiously at him, as if his presence was unusual. It was. Hux had officers to check manufacturing and production for him, and he only appeared if there was something big happening. Or if he wanted to exercise or talk to Ren in a room that did not exist.

He managed to keep his steps steady as he made his way back to the transport, his mind going almost numb with the low static hum buzzing in his head that seemed to increase along with his anxiety and fear. He stood, not allowing himself to think, simply falling into that hum, until the transport arrived. Deciding his reputation was shot for the day, he ordered everyone off so he could have the car to himself.

Then he allowed himself to think.

The fabrication plant was too elaborate for a spur-of-the-moment tantrum. Everything about this was too elaborate, though he wouldn’t put it past Ren to brainwash everyone on the ship. But such a task would be difficult and time-consuming. From what Hux understood of Ren’s mind control powers, it took time to work on an individual. To exert his will on all ninety thousand souls aboard was… more of an undertaking than Hux would have believed Ren’s temper able to withstand. Unless Ren had somehow been able to wave his hand and make it happen. Hux had yet to see such a display of power, but Ren was always full of surprises.

But the fabrication plant was more disturbing than that. Not only would it have taken some time to bring in and build all that equipment, but…

The report forging. Ren wouldn’t know how to do that. Hux brought his datapad back out and looked through the transport records, the production logs, and even the profit and loss predictions on recruitment, production, storage, wear and tear, and other minute figures.

All of it was accurate. Down to the last figure. Every single figure Hux could think to pull up supported this fantasy he was seeing with his own eyes.

Ren wouldn’t know the data for this kind of deception, nor could he possibly predict how many different reports and figures Hux would check to verify the authenticity. He could have had another officer help him with it… but who would do that? To what end? Who else would know what Hux would look for in the data? Another one of the Generals? One of the Colonels? They would all be terrified of Ren, but might do something like this in order to overthrow Hux’s authority.

Colonel Kor Bariss might, if Ren approached her. Bariss could fabricate this, and would likely jump at the chance. And Bariss would tolerate Ren for the sake of bringing Hux down once and for all, in a permanent way that would likely lead to Hux being re-conditioned if he wasn’t very careful about what he said and how he investigated this.

Yes. Bariss might do this, and she would be one of the few who would tolerate Ren and his whims for the sake of a power grab. But the reverse wasn’t true. Ren hated Kor, and Hux had stopped Ren from executing her on more than one occasion. Bariss was too good an officer to sacrifice to Ren’s temper, though Ren was right to distrust her motives.

Hux closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall of the transport. There was a part of this he was avoiding, something he was refusing to see, because if it were true, then the whole situation was even worse. But it was there, taunting him whenever he tried to find sense in Ren doing this.

He wanted to blame Ren. But in the deepest and most logical part of his mind, Hux knew Ren would never do this to him, couldn’t do it by himself and wouldn’t do it with someone else. Ren was many things, but he was ultimately fiercely loyal, almost as zealously as Hux. Just as Hux would never do anything to oust Ren from whatever it was he enjoyed about his position, Ren would never collaborate with someone else to replace Hux in the First Order. Not even Snoke. Ren would die before he betrayed Hux to Snoke.

Because our lives are bound.

But that was ridiculous. He couldn’t think about Ren anymore. Not right now, anyway.

He distracted himself with Sergeant Ely. This was a sane avenue of inquiry, a marginal distraction, and there was some incident involving her that Hux was forgetting.

She had been top of her class at the Officer’s academy, and one of the most promising young officers in the army. Hux recalled choosing her personally to staff the Finalizer as… yes, she had been a hand-to-hand tactical specialist.

Scrolling further through her record, Hux found what he was looking for: she’d shot her Commanding Officer in the back during combat training one day, a Major Teal. Pulling up his record, Hux found him to be an Imperial leftover, someone who’d crawled through Wild Space to find them, then had thrown his considerable ancient weight around to get what he wanted. In other words, a friend of Brendol’s.

He’d been incompetent, making mistake after mistake that he managed to convincingly pin on his subordinates. Hux scrolled through the various incidents that Major Teal had been indirectly involved with, right up until the day he’d been shot. He’d apparently put two Trooper trainees with mismatched experience levels at an Placement and Advancement Evaluation. Hux frowned. This was gross negligence, and usually resulted in the death of one of the Trooper cadets, as competition for these spots tended to be deadly.

He remembered now. Ely had shot Teal in the back, rather than lose one of the Troopers. Hux had been delighted by the execution, as Teal had been a blight on the First Order for years, just not enough of an active impediment for Hux to have bothered with. Yet. It looked bad to execute too many of the old Imperials at once, and Hux had been going about it slowly over the years, through various ‘accidents’ that he suspected had yet to stand out in any major way. They were all old, after all. Accidents happened.

Ely had done himself and the Order a favor, but there was nothing Hux could do about the blatant insubordination. She’d done it in front of the Placement and Advancement Evaluation Board, so he couldn’t spin it, erase it, or otherwise alter it to make her come out favorably. He’d had to remove her from her position, to…

Yes. He’d put her in charge of maintaining the weapons tech. On record, this was little more than keeping the weapons in storage warmed up on a regular maintenance schedule, to make sure they wouldn’t malfunction when used. But he’d had her do it with a rotating unit of Stormtroopers, to make sure her hand-to-hand tactics didn’t go to waste.

No such position appeared to exist. Ely’s record reflected the execution of her Commanding Officer, just as Hux remembered it, but she’d been stationed to the inactive production facilities instead. When Hux brought up more of the elaborately doctored records, he saw far less weapons in storage than the Finalizer held. Only an eighth of the number. Ensuring that they were operational would have been a simple monthly duty for the maintenance staff.

He cleared the screen of his datapad and closed his eyes again, allowing himself to slump back in the seat of the transport. It had slowed and stopped, but because he’d used his security clearance to keep it private, the doors wouldn’t open, nor would the transport advance without additional instructions from him.

The humming in his head wouldn’t stop. It increased, along with the dissonance between his own certainty and the evidence of his eyes and ears. Regardless of Ren’s role in this, Hux still felt that finding him would explain everything. There were a few more places he could check for Ren. He obviously wasn’t on Ventu, since they were nowhere near that planet.  He had to be onboard.

Hux’s hand crept up to his chest, to where his ID tags hung hidden against his skin. A sudden, rather horrible thought struck him. He clenched his hand, and then dropped it.

No. This had to be some elaborate plan of Ren’s. What else could it be? Perhaps Ren altered his memories? Was he somehow, even now, directing him through some sort of nightmare vision?

Ren had never directly manipulated his thoughts like this. As far as Hux knew, he’d never seen evidence Ren could do this. But it still made more sense than… anything else. That Ren had thought to doctor all the files, that Ren had taken the time to alter entire rooms and the memory of every soul aboard the Finalizer. That Ren would collaborate with someone else to betray him. None of that made sense.

The transport had arrived at the starboard residential area, which contained Ren’s Commander suite. Ren had his own personal rooms, but never used them. He sometimes retreated to sulk there, if they were in the middle of a disagreement.

Hux stood and went to the door of the transport, but froze with his hand partially to the panel. Panic swept through him, the certainty that this Commander’s suite was, somehow, not Ren’s.

He didn’t want to confront that possibility just now. So he entered a new destination for the transport, the Trooper Training Facilities, where Ren might be more likely to spend his time.

 


 

 

Hux disembarked in one of the active simulation rooms. It was on a level that Ren had retrofitted to his particular needs, combining three of the large sim rooms to make more space, and to run more than one sim at once with the unit of Stormtroopers he was often training with.

It was, of course, back to being three individual training rooms. Hux entered a dark observation booth in the centermost room, one broad wall taken up by durasteel windows showing an overlay of the holosim that the Troopers were currently working with. There were several duty consoles scattered throughout, along with Officers standing to observe at the windows. The Officers merely glanced at him when he arrived, then went back to the consoles. The General was much more likely to be in this area of the ship, his presence less strange.

He composed questions in his head as he observed the Troopers. He was done looking like a fool today, so his questions needed to skirt the Ren issues while still seeming to address real concerns.

But he frowned as he watched the sim, slowly taking in what he was seeing. It was several years out of date, an old simulation of Lannik, meant to train for group defense. They’d since conquered Nyalta and Selvort, and updated their tactics appropriately with superior strategies from those insurgent forces. He saw several holes in the defenses, and turned sharply to the interior of the dark room.

Captain Phasma was standing at the other end in full chrome armor, blaster balanced between her feet, watching the sim silently. As expected.

“Captain,” he called, and her helmet turned toward him. He could see the distorted reflection of his pale face and red hair from across the room. He realized he had left his command cap on the transport. That was unlike him, and it threw him suddenly off-balance.

He hated speaking to her unnecessarily. Phasma was an apex predator, one of the most dangerous creatures on board the Finalizer, second only to Ren himself. Hux was extremely careful how he handled her. He showed no weakness.

This would be a delicate conversation.

“May I speak to you in private?”

Phasma inclined her head, and followed Hux out to a small conference room across from the sim facilities, usually used for one-on-one analysis with the Troopers.

When the door closed behind them, Hux turned to speak, indicating that this would not be a seated conversation.

“First, I’d like to know if you’ve seen Kylo Ren today.”

Phasma’s helmet tipped to the side, and Hux watched himself in the front of it as Phasma considered her response.

“I have seen no Officer or Trooper by the name of Kylo Ren, today or any other day.”

Hux nodded, and once again clenched his hands to stop himself from shaking. Phasma wasn’t the kind of weak-minded individual that Ren could manipulate. Neither was Hux. But Phasma would not be party to a deception like this. Phasma was much more likely to simply shoot Hux where he stood and space his remains if she stood to benefit from it, rather than acting in some convoluted plan. He had no doubts she would do it here, in this room, if the situation was in her favor. Which was why he normally went to great lengths not to be alone with her. He kept his hands steady, clenched behind his back and away from his blaster, despite her rifle still being held at parade rest.

Phasma would have actively resisted Ren if he’d tried to manipulate her mind, and neither would have come out of that confrontation unscathed. But as far as he could see, Phasma was fine. So either she was lying to him, or she had somehow defeated Ren and hidden the evidence of their struggle. 

Phasma could and did lie to him, and she might defeat Ren in a moment of weakness. But there was no benefit to her doing so. Phasma seemed to have no interest in overall strategy, just in developing battle sims and field work. She would never seize power, and would continue to function well as the ruthless commander of the Stormtroopers, as long as Hux made it clear that there was nothing better available.

It was, in fact, how he had convinced her to murder his father and follow his own orders instead. Hux never forgot her willingness to do so, when the opportunity presented itself.

His response was only a second late in coming. “Very well. I will alert you to his presence when he is available to share his insights.” Hux lied smoothly, then continuing with his careful questioning. “How old is the sim that the Troopers were running just now?”

“Seven years,” Phasma answered without hesitation. “It was built on the data from the invasion of Palesia.”

“Yes, I recall. Particularly to test group defense in a situation where we fight against a high number of unarmed or poorly armed opponents.”

“Indeed.”

He paused again, unsure how to phrase the criticism, alone in a room with Phasma. “How have you observed the scores on the sim over time?”

“Steady, General. We’re consistent with the scores. We make sure every Trooper can complete it perfectly, of course.”

Of course. It was how all their training sims were run. But this one…

“Have you observed any… flaws with the technique over the years?”

“Flaws.” Phasma shifted slightly. “No. Have you found a way to update it?”

“I have,” Hux answered easily. It was such an old sim that Hux could demonstrate the flaws in the defense himself, something he never did for an audience. “But before we move on to that, can you tell me your opinion on the more recent updates to the sim program?” He paused, knowing that this was an unusual question, and scrambling to come up with a reason he was asking it. “Frankly, of course. As I said, I’ve been considering re-evaluating some of the older programs.”

Phasma paused to consider, standing silently. As always, Hux found any conversation with her that he didn’t control with an iron fist unnerving. And he was unable to predict her reactions, her subtle shifts in opinion.

“They are all functioning as expected. The newest we’ve added from Great Peygo was a good way to replace the older routines from Noor-Hall, showing us many flaws in our strategies that we are still attempting to train out. I would say the same of the Rostan sims as well, in relation to the older Jen sims and our previous strategies related to uses for personal shielding.”

Hux fought to keep his expression under control. The two newest sims she’d mentioned were at least five years old, their techniques far out of date. He resisted the urge to pull out his datapad to verify through the system. He’d found that to be rather fruitless today.

He didn’t understand, though. They always added new conquests to the system, were always adding data to tweak their strategies, train their troopers, update their simulations. It was what made Hux’s program better than his father’s. He wasn’t content to rest in the old ways and call them good enough.

So what, exactly, was this? It undermined everything he’d worked so hard for. He saw those Troopers reacting. It wasn’t just playacting, and it wasn’t anything Ren had done to the surface of their minds. When they trained the Troopers, it was deeply ingrained. They had all been conditioned, again and again, to defend against the kind of holes in their defense that Hux spotted. For them to feign that kind of ignorance so smoothly, in a single room of the Finalizer that Hux just happened to walk into, was inconceivable. They just wouldn’t. They couldn't. Hux had tested them on this point again and again for decades.

Sure to keep his voice steady, he commented on Phasma’s observations. “So you find the newer material to be the most helpful.”

She hesitated before she answered, and Hux could sense her scenting his weakness, probing the situation for what was wrong. “Of course. We go to great pains to gather that information whenever we assimilate a new planet. It is always a boon to the program.”

“Yes. It’s been my… goal to keep the program updated like that, over the years. Of course.”

“We’ve talked about this before.”

Hux could feel the sweat gathering below his collar. He needed to do something drastic to get this conversation back under his control.

“I feel the progress isn’t as rapid as I like lately. If I show you what I perceive as the flaws in the program, will you have the sims adjusted to correct them?”

“Of course, General.”

“Then follow me.” Hux brushed past her out into the hallway, a deliberate move to lead her into the next room. Still, he could feel the chill of her armor through the sleeves of both tunic and coat, and he stifled a shiver.

He went back to the sim observation room and watched for several more minutes, growing more angry with the flaws he was observing. It was intolerable. After a time, he couldn’t stand to watch anymore.

“Captain. Go in and begin a Gerralti defense. Set your rifle to stun. Tuck and roll when the Troopers begin returning fire, then aim upward, fire intermittent and in a fan pattern. Sweep up, then down at their legs.”

He hadn’t turned from the observation window as he’d barked the order. The whole room went silent, the cool dark air thrumming with the small chimes of electronics and the low humming in Hux’s head. He could sense all eyes turning to look at him. He continued to stare resolutely out the observation window, not wanting to look at them. He knew what this looked like. Perhaps it was flattering, in a way. At best, from their perspective, it was nonsensical.

Then again, this was not a day for sense.

He heard Phasma leave the room, the swish of the doors and her heavy tread in the hallway. It was a relief. He was not sure what he could have said if she’d questioned his orders, asked where they’d come from.

He watched as the holoprojection cut out, replaced by Captain Phasma in her imposing chrome armor. She did as Hux ordered, stunning every single one of the Troopers to the ground. After the last soldier fell, she stood, looking through the observation window.

Hux turned on his heel and left without speaking to anyone, the humming in his ears nearly deafening. He did not wish to discuss the matter further, no matter what it would look like to Phasma. She and the technicians could take matters from there.