“Why do you want a Kylo Ren?”
Jason Smith’s parents were understandably concerned by his request for multiple reasons. Their son, aged ten, did not prefer to play with action figures. He owned none. He owned extensive sets of racetracks to build and re-build for his fleet of toy cars. If he asked for anything, he asked for puzzles or model kits. They expected that one day he would become an engineer.
And Kylo Ren was so unequivocally villainous.
“I’d really like a Kylo Ren,” Jason repeated. “I, uh, want to keep him on my desk.”
“You know he’s the bad guy,” said his mother.
“Yeah, I know,” said Jason.
“Why do you want a doll of him?” asked his father, suspicious.
“Action figure,” interjected his mother.
“Because Kylo Ren doesn’t have any friends,” said Jason.
To this, his parents shrugged, nodded, and grunted their “alright”s.
Jason’s older sister by six years, Courtney Smith, remained taciturn as she stared out the window of the diner and the dull grey colors of a small Texan city in December. There was no snow or anything else of real interest outside. She chewed a mouthful of potatoes slowly, nodding to herself. Jason had noticed that in the recent weeks, she had grown quiet, against her usual nature. She seemed anxious for the past month. Now she appeared deep in thought.
Later, when they were in the backseat of the family car on the way home, he asked her, “Did you like the movie?”
“It was okay,” said Courtney, but where most people would say “it was okay” with disappointment, Courtney sounded like she had expected The Last Jedi to be anything but okay.
Thus did Jason Smith come to give a Kylo Ren action figure a home on his neatly organized desk. Days passed. With the return of school, Jason learned that the toy was meant to be able to talk when used in conjunction with a different toy, sold separately. A classmate had one that he no longer wanted because, in his own words “it kinda suck[ed]”. Jason brought the gauntlet home, got Kylo to say a couple of things, and agreed that it did kinda suck. Upon learning that the classmate did not want it back he shrugged and stuck it in a desk drawer.
Jason had better plans for Kylo, anyway.
“Look, Kylo Ren,” Jason would say. “Fourteen can go into thirty-six twice, so we carry the remainder over… if Mary sweeps the floors and eats the brownie, that means Peter can’t eat the brownie and has to wash the dishes… and I think the main idea is just that their lives were better because they cared about each other. Do you think so?”
The toy thought nothing of it, because he could not make anything out of any of it. But it did not take Kylo Ren long to establish himself as the Supreme Leader of Jason Smith’s bedroom.
On the carpet, five toy automobiles – for Jason had built them a five-lane racetrack before leaving for baseball practice – presented themselves to receive his blessing. One was teal, one purple, one black with yellow accents, one red, and one the last one was a truck. Kylo, the only toy in Jason’s room made in the image of the humans, sat on Jason’s desk, dozens of times the height of a toy car. He towered over the cars even standing level with them. They spun their tires against the carpet, eager to compete. They knew that if they won, the Supreme Leader would thank them personally for their valor.
As for the losers, Kylo would be a poor Supreme Leader if he shamed any of Jason’s cars.
Races were somber affairs. Kylo did not speak, but lifted his plastic lightsaber in benediction to bid the racers take their places at the starting line. He held it aloft until they were ready, then counted backwards from three. Where he would have said “zero” he instead brought the tiny accessory down in a whispering whisk of a line, and they were off.
Obviously, it was not a real lightsaber. Kylo had seen The Force Awakens, accompanied by Jason’s commentary. He had also seen the ones he was not in, but Grandfather was in all of those, so he liked them just as well. Although The Last Jedi was not yet available to join the other digital tomes on Jason’s shelf of DVDs, Kylo had some recollections of what had happened. He spent the outset of his awareness in a state of confusion. What was this place? Who or what had cut him off from the Force? This could only be Hux’s treachery. Kylo had not been vigilant enough with the General.
It was not Hux’s treachery, because he was no more Kylo Ren than the lightsaber was a lightsaber. But as long as the other toys answered to him, and respected the lightsaber as a symbol of his authority, and as long as he held favor as Jason Smith’s counsel and confidant… being himself was sufficient. Or, as Jason would say, it was “pretty good”. He was no more the real Kylo Ren than his lightsaber was a real lightsaber, but the neither a real Kylo Ren nor a real lightsaber existed anywhere. They were fictions created by humans for the amusement of other humans. Kylo was a scaled-down copy of something that did not exist and never had – a copy made by humans for the amusement of other humans.
But he existed, and he got to tell all the cars what to do.
The cars completed their sixth lap, all within fractions of seconds of each other’s times. The tiny nyoom! nyoom! nyoo-nyoo-nyoom! reached his desktop perch – the only sound in the room. Had his hair not been molded from plastic, thought Kylo, and if he were standing next to the track among his other attentive subjects, the passing cars would have blown it.
They would never reach the tenth lap. The model robot appointed as sentry jumped down from the windowsill that overlooked the Smith driveway, beeping frantically. One of the Smiths arrived home earlier than expected. Kylo returned to his stand. The cars quickly drove themselves back into the cubbyholes of interlocking plastic bricks Jason built for them.
The door remained open as Jason left it. Kylo saw an oversized hoodie and a pair of jeans that had been through the dryer too many times. Courtney Smith came home from a purported trip to the library early. The parents went to work or to run errands almost every day. Jason went to practice baseball and soccer or to his friends’ houses after school. Courtney was supposed to go to the library, but since Kylo had to sit perfectly still and quiet when humans lurked nearby, he could not help but overhear the conversation she had with her Internet friends.
“Guys. Guys, I – you guys. I saw it a second time today. I think I really like it.”
Kylo could not hear specific words coming from the over-ear headphones that hung around Courtney’s neck, but he could detect a distinct tone of agitation.
“I know. I know! But think about it. It leaves Kylo and Hux in a really interesting spot."
It what? Kylo and Hux what? Kylo listened harder.
"We have a lot to go off of. I – no, he doesn’t want her. I think he did, but he doesn’t now, he just wants her dead. But… no, but listen… Look, what were you expecting?! Did you think it was gonna be soft Kylux?! You guys said you were getting bored with the ship, why are you – ”
A chorus of miniature screeches. Courtney sighed. About five minutes later, the muffled chatter out of her headphones ceased. Presumably, she had left the voice chat without saying goodbye.
“…should’ve just gone to the library… god… I’m gonna watch TV…”
Courtney passed Jason’s room and went downstairs with a distinctly heavier step.
Soon, Kylo was in Courtney’s room and had a car stationed at the top of the staircase to alert him if she returned. This was not the first time her friends frustrated her. Kylo noticed that the same thing happened with Jason on occasion when he understood something they couldn’t, but he would work on a puzzle or do his homework, whereas Courtney would go downstairs and watch something on the family television or else read. Nor was it the first time she brought up the General and the Jedi Killer. Kylo wanted the truth, and he decided he would not delay an investigation anymore.
Courtney left her sticker-covered laptop on and her web browser open. For the first of what would be many times, Kylo delved into her Internet history.
There was no such person as Kylo Ren, but a good portion of Courtney’s Internet history seemed to think there was. Kylo spent an hour or two scrolling and reading, shocked at first by what he found but as he persisted, his surprise turned to fascination. His repulsion turned to curiosity… intrigue… he left Courtney’s room more conflicted than he had ever been over the location of the Resistance or his inability to call upon the Force.
The next weekend, Courtney Smith returned to the library, Jason Smith went to his friend’s house, and Kylo returned to Courtney’s computer to keep reading. But alas, his path was blocked. He lacked the proper authorization.
Kylo turned to the source of the voice. On Courtney’s bed lived a rabbit, a koala, and a cat, all stuffed, all mismatched, and yet a perfect set who Kylo could not fathom belonging with any other toys but each other. They dwelt among faded pastels and stained purple-pinks – which could describe much of Courtney’s room. Jason’s room was fairly neat and angular, done in white, brown, and primary colors. Courtney’s was only grudgingly cleaned and grungy in its femininity, as though she fought to create a world of her own. Every inch of off-white wall was covered in posters, printed-out pictures, and drawings. When Kylo looked over to the bed, he saw two printouts over Courtney’s mass of pillows – one of himself, and one of (not to his surprise) General Armitage Hux.
They were unmistakably a matched pair.
“The password to Courtney’s computer is ‘yaoigang42069’,” repeated Cozy the Koala.
“Thank you,” said Kylo, and began to type. “Y… a… o… i…”
At first, the idea of Armitage Hux as his soul mate confused him. Although “as” Kylo he held an inclination toward self-absorption, as a toy he also held the belief that his identity as Kylo Ren was derivative. In the grand scheme of the real universe, it was a complete coincidence – and this did not bother him anymore.
But Hux? Sneaky, snakey, smirking… if Kylo’s lightsaber functioned (and was not in Jason’s room) he would have taken it to the laptop for its insolence, secrecy be damned. He thought that he ought to dismiss it. Perhaps he should expose Courtney Smith and her perversions to the rest of the family.
But he kept reading, and the stories made it all sound so nice.
He and Armitage – Hux! He and Hux had simply misunderstood one another. Hux had concealed a dark, tragic past from the Master of the Knights of Ren. It was a past far crueler than Kylo’s own. Not what Kylo expected. Wasn’t Hux some kind of spoiled Imperial brat? No. No, he was not. Kylo came to know the truth.
The details of this past varied from story to story, but consistently his monstrous father beat and mentally tortured him until Armitage had him murdered. Kylo liked that. Not the beating and the mental torture, but the murder. Rarely did Armitage kill with his own hands… so he would be grateful for a lover who killed for him… might look at him with something besides disgust… might throw his arms around Kylo’s neck… might praise him…
Unfortunately, not until years after this murder did Armitage tend (from story to story) to find his dark knight. The man of his dreams. His savior and his undoing. Kylo felt a twinge at these notions. He also felt important. He liked that, too.
He learned that they had both lived many lives and taken many names. They always found each other. The specifics about these alternate personas and their couplings were less of a concern to him than the idea of reincarnation itself. It could stand to reason that he could return in these forms. It could stand to reason, too, that there were numerous others like him. It could also stand to reason that whatever it was (perhaps even the Force itself) that kept bringing them together could, inevitably, in a reality wherein many Huxes had existed, bring Kylo the proper Hux for him.
On the third day of immersion in the sacred texts, when the magnitude of his newfound knowledge began to overwhelm him, Kylo instead retreated to Courtney Smith’s bed upon the prompting of Cuddles the Cat, Cozy the Koala, and Flopsy the Rabbit. The Three Goddesses, as he came to think of them, happened to be experts on subjects Kylo had scraped the surface of in the past three days. This was thanks to their proximity to Courtney. In spite of her common traits with Jason, Kylo had considered her something of a non-entity. Perhaps he could learn from these toys of hers. They knew about the science of astrology, the psychic potential of the mind (perhaps, thought Kylo, there was something to the Force after all...), the power behind different colors, flowers, and stones, the phases of the moon... and soul mates.
“Even if all you achieve in your life is the experience of love for another, your life is well-lived,” said Cuddles. “To truly love is the greatest accomplishment of the soul. This is our duty and our destiny as toys, to love our children and to be loved by them. To be changed by their love… and perhaps to arm them, with our love and with the memories we make together, for the trials of adulthood.”
“Even if they forget,” Kylo said solemnly.
“Yes. Even if they forget.”
Kylo thought that although sixteen year old Courtney no longer played with toys as such, the Three Goddesses lived this destiny simply by their presence. Jason never really even played with Kylo. They watched movies together. Jason talked to him about his homework, but also explained Kylo’s “past” to him. “Sometimes people just need to start over,” he said, once… but he had been talking about John B. from school and his terrible grades in the third six-week grading period.
“But,” said Cuddles. “Alone, it is an unequal love.”
Kylo bowed himself at the waist. To the unknown toy. “I am only a part of Jason Smith’s life. If I had not assumed leadership of his room and instead remained isolated on his desk, he would be my entire life. Toys must find camaraderie amongst ourselves.”
“And!” said Flopsy. “You are very fortunate, Kylo Ren! Your destiny surpasses love for Jason or friendship with other toys!”
The name still sounded strange to him. It did not seem to fit the Hux he remembered. But that was because Kylo only had memories of the side of Hux that he showed to others. The General’s past and his true self were hidden from him. Armitage was the name given to that other side – and to the complete entity.
“Yeeeees!” Flopsy keened. Rabbits tend to be excitable. She hopped onto Courtney’s pillow and bounced a few times.
“It is my duty to find him,” said Kylo. “I must bring Armitage to Jason’s desk to rule at my side. That is our shared purpose in this world!”
“Ah, but now that you have overcome your internal conflict, the true challenge remains: how will you, a toy, find him, also a toy?” asked Cuddles sagely.
“Oh, that’s easy,” said Kylo, and jumped off Courtney's bed.
When Jason returned home in the late afternoon, he found the toy gauntlet lying next to Kylo Ren on his desk.
“Hey, Courtneeeyyyy?” he called.
“Were you in my roooom?”
“I was at school!”
“Were Mom and Dad in my room?”
“I don’t know!”
Courtney looked tired. She woke that morning with her hair in a still-damp ponytail and a day of drying only made it worse. After a long, exasperating day of public high school, she dragged herself down the hall to poke her head in Jason’s door to deliver her question. If their parents had been home they would never have yelled down the hall at each other.
“Oh,” said Courtney. “Is that one of those Force Link bracelets?”
Kylo noticed that she sounded more interested than she wanted to let on, or than Jason noticed her letting on.
“Yeah,” said Jason, picking the gauntlet up. “It’s John’s, he let me borrow it and then he didn’t want it back.”
“Nah, John S.”
“Why didn’t he want it back?”
“‘Cause it kinda sucks,” said Jason. "He used it, like, twice. It was in the drawer, but when I got home, it was on my desk.”
“Well, I promise I wasn’t in your room,” said Courtney.
“No, I believe you,” said Jason. “We were both at school all day. Maybe I just forgot taking it out.”
Courtney eyed Kylo. “…can I try it?” She asked him almost as though she did not want him to hear her question.
“Yeah, I’ll show you. It might take you a couple of tries, but you can do different things to make him say different stuff.” Jason pushed the button, and Kylo spoke:
“Where is Hux?”
Now, what neither Smith sibling knew was that Kylo took the AAAs out of the gauntlet before either of them got home. It never occurred to them to check, because it never occurred to them that an action figure had the ability to take action.
Courtney Smith stared at Kylo incredulously. She stood behind her brother, who had no reason to turn and look at her.
“Huh. He didn’t say that last time. You can also do this,” said Jason, shaking his arm as though to slam his fist on a table (or a lightsaber into an expensive piece of equipment) in frustration.
“Bring the General to me at once.”
Courtney blinked slowly at the doll in her brother’s hand.
“…or, uh… you can hold him against this thing…”
“If you fail to find Armitage… pray that I don’t find you.”
The name sent Courtney reeling back. Somehow, without the Force, Kylo knew that she saw all of what she hid from her family flashing before her eyes. She plummeted down a well of her sins, reliving one after the other without reprieve. Her heavy breathing finally caused Jason to turn and look at her wide eyes and mouth opening and closing with unformed words.
“Is this real?” she mumbled. Could it be a hallucination brought on by school? Was she still asleep in class?
“I swear I didn’t make him do that,” said Jason, looking between Courtney and the doll. “You think it’s weird too, right?”
“We can’t ask the Internet about this,” she blurted. “They won’t believe us.” And they would call her a stupid fujoshi…
Jason carefully took off the gauntlet and laid it on his desk far away from Kylo. “Why don’t we get him a Hux?”
“No!” shouted Courtney.
“Maybe he wants another friend,” said Jason. “I’m not here much. Maybe Kylo is still lonely.”
Courtney repeated a mantra she had practiced many times: “But Kylo and Hux aren’t friends!”
“You think they’re friends,” Jason countered.
“I just said they’re not friends!”
“Then why did you buy matching pictures of them, Courtney?”
He tilted his head and puffed out his chest until he could look down his nose at Courtney, who stood much taller than him. Courtney was like an animal, wounded, exhausted, and cornered at the end of a hunter’s spear. Generally, the Smith children had an amicable sibling relationship. But today, Courtney was caught in deception, and lesser kids than Jason had succumbed to the temptation of gloating.
“Let’s go get him an Armitage Hux to be friends with,” Jason said, quite plainly.
“You’re not supposed to know about that,” Courtney hissed.
Jason suppressed a laugh. Courtney slumped, gripping the footboard of Jason’s bed. She had failed in her duty to protect her younger brother from the evils of the world.
“I don’t really mind,” said Jason, still grinning. “Come on, Toys R Us won’t be around forever, we should get him a Hux while there’s one we can walk to.”
In a dreamlike state, Courtney went with Jason. Thanks to hoarded lunch money from uneaten lunches they brought Kylo’s true love to him.
(But Jason had to promise to pay her back later.)
They took Kylo’s true love out of his packaging and set the two of them next to each other on the desk, then stood around like they expected something to happen. Kylo stood in agony. How he yearned for something to happen. How he wanted to turn just ninety degrees to his right and proclaim, “Armitage! The Force has united us!” But under the watch of the humans, such ecstasy was denied to him. If they stood there forever, Kylo would stand forever as well, mere centimeters from the highest spiritual fulfillment and yet inexorably barred from it.
“KIDS! DINNER’S READY!”
“Oh, crap,” muttered Jason, and he and Courtney ran to wash their hands.
At last, alone. Kylo turned to look at him. Him. His Hux. His Armitage. The one fate brought to him, because this one was his, this was the one who Kylo would be teacher and student to, as was their fate in any life, bearing any name. He had not yet awakened. He stood plastic-still and stiff.
“Armitage,” Kylo said softly.
“Ren," said Armitage, and Kylo knew in that moment just how high his destiny truly was.
“Armitage,” Kylo said again. “You don’t have to call me by that name anymore. This is a new life. There’s no war here. We can – ”
“Ren, what is this?! Where are we?!” Armitage snapped.
“I’ll tell you everything soon,” said Kylo. “Just think about the fact that we’re together, Armi – ”
“Don’t call me that!” Armitage barked. “I don’t wish to be anywhere near you.”
Kylo reached for him and found a toy blaster pointed at his face. It might horrify anyone else to have what they knew was their soul mate pointing a blaster at them – even a toy one, because it was really the thought that counted and Armitage clearly thought the thing was real – but Kylo reminded himself of all the times in all the stories Armitage tried to kill him before accepting the truth.
“You said something about ‘there’s no war here,’ did you not, Ren?” asked Armitage.
“It’s true,” said Kylo. All he wanted was to unite with him, but he dared not aggress. “No war, no Resistance, no Force – ”
Armitage perked up. “No Force?”
“No Force,” Kylo affirmed.
Armitage tried squeezing the blaster to fire on him. He tried several times with mounting frustration.
“It’s not real,” said Kylo. “It’s just a piece of plasti – hey!”
Armitage hurled the piece of plastic at Kylo’s head and proceeded to scuttle down Jason’s desk away from him. The toy blaster fell to the carpet. Kylo gave chase. Armitage doubled back around and kicked the unguarded toy lightsaber off the desk by flicking his leg at the hip joint. Kylo saw them for a moment, lying some distance apart, on the thick beige carpet. Poetic.
“Why can’t I move my knees?!” the General roared.
“I couldn’t move mine either!” said Kylo, on impulse. In his mind he thought it might make Armitage feel better.
“You did this!” Armitage accused. “You must have done this. I wish I could say I’m surprised!”
“I did not do this,” Kylo denied. “However, I find it fitting that I, who murdered numerous children, and you, who brainwashed and enslaved innumerable children, have returned in the forms of playthings meant for children.”
“What!” Armitage shrieked. “We what!”
But it was then that they heard someone coming up the stairs. Unskilled in being what he was, Armitage clattered rigid on the desk. Kylo had more self-control. He quickly dragged Armitage back to where Jason left them and pulled him upright. When Courtney peered into the room, there was nothing suspicious to see except the blaster and the lightsaber lying on the floor. Kylo remembered them as her head poked through the door. He would never have had time to retrieve them. She saw neither, anyway, and returned to her own room.
He remained still rather than risk being heard, but Armitage whispered to him: “As soon as I can move again, I’m going to throw myself over the edge. I’m ending it.”
“You can’t,” muttered Kylo.
“Oh, I believe you will find that I can,” said Armitage. “And I believe I will find that if I plunge to my doom, I’ll wake up in my quarters.”
“It isn’t a nightmare,” said Kylo.
“I know a nightmare when I see one!” whisper-scoffed Armitage. “Furthermore, when I wake up, the Supreme Leader will be alive and well, and the Resistance will be squirming under our heel, breathing its last!”
Armitage did not get his chance to attempt to wake himself up until all the Smiths left the next morning. The General stood teetering on the edge, boots half-on and half-off of the desk, savoring the feelings of dangling above the infinite and having every single one of Jason’s cars pay him rapt attention. Kylo had told them and Armitage all about his heart’s desire. It did not change his mind. Armitage cared nothing for tall tales of soul mates reborn and love beyond the stars. Kylo could get bent as far as Armitage cared.
“Your Supreme Leader!” he bellowed. “Is nothing more than a child in a man’s body in a small plastic figurine’s body! He seeks power over you not to better life in the bedroom of the Smith boy, but to appease his fragile, overinflated ego!”
Vrmm vrmm vrmmm? Vrmmmm? The toy cars wheeled to and fro on the carpet. Could this be true? Could this even be a false Armitage Hux? This was not the spectacle they were promised. This was not part of the plan. Nothing in the choreography they practiced allowed for this.
“I stand forever loyal to the First Order!” Armitage went on, despite the fact that his plan was to stop standing in a few seconds. “I shall not submit myself to the illegitimate reign of this tyrant! This madman! This populist hack!"
"Take care, dark Ren!”
With that, Armitage flung himself from the edge of the desk. Kylo watched with only mild concern as his body fell away and plopped harmlessly onto the carpet. He bounced once.
Armitage lay amid silence from Kylo, the cars, and the toy robots, beneath a hanging model of the Death Star. When he stood the first thing he laid eyes on was a life-size toy replica of Kylo’s lightsaber – and of this, he did not approve. Fuming, he waddled off into Jason Smith’s closet, to retreat to the backmost dark corner and mope.
It was all real. There was no way out. Armitage was a toy, and wounded worse by embarrassment than by existential crisis. Kylo knew the exact feeling. He also knew that in many of the stories, he had to work hard to prove his love to Armitage, who frequently did not believe him or thought that Kylo had ulterior motives. And so, after giving him a long moment alone, Kylo ventured after him.
“You know no Armitage.”
“I just came to tell you that my offer of co-Supreme Leadership still stands,” Kylo told him.
“I do not care.”
Armitage sat with his legs rigidly in front of him, facing the dark corner of wooden edging in the closet. When Kylo approached him, he did not turn around.
“We could rule together. Side by side.”
“I can teach you how to move your knees.”
“…I must decline.”
“You can boss the cars around. With me.”
Armitage did not immediately refuse. His head swiveled by millimeters, but then he caught himself and turned it back. “How do I know you’re telling the truth?”
Kylo threw up his hands. “How can you deny the truth anymore?! You’re not the real – !”
“No!” Armitage hopped back to his feet and rounded to face Kylo. The only light came from the open closet door, where Jason’s toys waited and listened. “I mean, what guarantee do I have that I won’t be mere accessory to you, Supreme Leader? This storytelling bent you’ve gone on with your subjects – without my permission! – how do I know you’re not just… just using me?”
Armitage scowled at him. Kylo frowned too, looking around at Jason’s closet – because he truly didn’t know how to answer him.
“I suppose you don’t have one,” he admitted. “What… would you want to do? As Supreme Leader?” It occurred to Kylo that as Supreme Leader, he never did much of anything in the way of governance.
Armitage huffed, then immediately tried to blow something away from his face in disgust. “This area is filthy. Who’s responsible for it?”
“Jason,” said Kylo. “But he doesn’t care about the dust. He’d rather meet the bare minimum requirements for completing his chores and make use of his time elsewhere.” Kylo admired Jason’s sound priorities.
Armitage straightened up. Purpose renewed his spirit. He strode back to Kylo’s – their – subjects, and announced that “An organized and dedicated effort to purge Jason Smith’s bedroom of all dust, dirt, and debris will commence at once! The state of your living area is unacceptable, but unsurprising under the solo rule of that!” He twisted his head in Kylo’s direction.
“This is my new co-Supreme Leader, Armitage Hux,” Kylo added, which was completely unnecessary and he knew it. “You are all to respect his authority as you do – ”
“Ren!” he barked. “Divide them into suitable pairs, so they can hold each other accountable and learn the value of camaraderie!”
Not long after, Armitage looked at the clean room with satisfaction. “A job well done.” Then he added, either as though the thought just occurred to him or as though he hesitated to say it, “Thank you for your assistance.”
”You’re welcome, Hux.”
“You may call me Armitage if you wish.”
“You’re welcome, Armitage.”