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Under the Ruins of a Walled City

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Though the transport’s interior is temperature controlled, Hux can feel it growing slightly colder as they continue south, other landships plentiful at first and thinning out more and more as the hours pass and they move further from the Resistance base. Despite the dropping temperature, the cloudless skies and the glare of the sun persist, and even through the shaded viewports this feels like an insult, because Hux has so long dreamed of seeing some planet’s sun again, secretly and perhaps ironically, and now here he is, under sunlight at last, and under arrest.

He’s seated between two uniformed guards who hold their industrial-sized blasters across their chests as if they might actually need to use them against Hux in his current pathetic state. As if he has any hope of trying to escape at this stage, or any place he could run to. Across from him is FN-2187, who keeps looking at Hux like he’s trying to begin some kind of speech. If he attempts to make Hux feel ashamed of himself, Hux will laugh.

“Hey, uh. Starkiller.”

Hux doesn’t have a timekeeping device on him at present, but he’s relatively confident that it’s taken FN-2187 approximately three hours to work up the nerve to speak to him. Hux slides his eyes slowly from the viewport, where rocky mountains have appeared in the distance. He says nothing and holds FN-2187’s gaze, waiting.

“That’s what they call you,” FN-2187 says.

Hux says nothing, stares. It’s a fine name for a weaponized base, and in fact one that Hux came up with himself, after treating himself to several celebratory glasses of whiskey when the ideal planet for that base was finally discovered, but when applied to a person-- to him --it sounds tacky and theatrical, more appropriate for someone dramatic like Ren.

“Anyway,” FN-2187 says. He seems nervous, which is absurd, considering Hux is the one facing his doom and FN-2187 appears to have been placed into a position of some authority within the ranks of the Resistance. Even Ren’s beautiful cousin seemed inexplicably fond of this traitor. They ought to be careful. FN-2187 is not to be trusted. “I might not get a chance to speak to you one-on-one again,” FN-2187 says. “And I wanted to ask you, because you were in charge of the stormtrooper program, uh. And since I defected, you probably reviewed my record at some point, and-- Do you remember where I was taken from? Originally? Even just which planet?”

Hux has an excellent memory and was particularly interested in this traitor’s record, so: yes, he does.

“Why?” Hux asks, though he knows. The guards beside him adjust their postures, as if even allowing the ‘Starkiller’ to speak is potentially dangerous.

“Because I’d like to try to find my parents.” FN-2187’s eyes harden as if he’s daring Hux to deny him this. “If they’re still alive.”

Hux raises his eyebrows very slightly and thinks of his father giving him leadership advice. When someone asks you for something they want, think of ten ways to use it to your advantage before you offer them an inking of indication that you might give it to them.

“I’ll certainly negotiate with your superior officers before any information of that sort is divulged,” Hux says, turning to look out the viewport again. “Though I doubt they’ll have any interest in such a small detail.”

FN-2187 sits back and crosses his arms over his chest, nodding to himself as if to say he should have expected that response. He seems to be trying to hold something else in and will likely fail to do so. Hux suppresses a twitch of his lips, something that may have evolved into a smile under different circumstances. This seemingly endless transport ride was excruciating prior to this entertainment. He supposes he’d better take this chance to hold onto the last remaining scraps of his sense of self while he can. Surely they will be stripped from him along with Luke Skywalker’s rags upon arrival at their destination.

“Rey told me to make sure they look after you when we get there,” FN-2187 says, speaking sharply now. Hux isn’t surprised to hear this. They’ll be worried about Ren having a tantrum, of course. “She says Kylo Ben will lose his shit if you’re not treated well.”

Hux thinks he misheard, then realizes that was a joke at Ren’s expense. So ex-stormtroopers are capable of being clever. It’s the kind of joke Hux would normally enjoy, but hearing this traitor call Ren by his the name his parents gave him is annoying, even sort of infuriating. FN-2187 scoffs when Hux offers no response, either because he resents having to offer Hux this tiny measure of protection or because he plans to ignore the order he was given. FN-2187 is skilled when it comes to doing that.

Hux closes his eyes and imagines being questioned by whichever surviving figureheads ostensibly run the New Republic. They’ll interrogate him about the stormtrooper program most thoroughly, he imagines, now that the function of the oscillator is no longer a mystery. Were both an equal failure? He had all those days of doing nothing in Ren’s little bungalow from hell, but he came up with no real conclusions about his life’s work. He was too preoccupied with anticipating his death at Ren’s hands, and perhaps this wasn’t such a bad thing to have been preoccupied with, since it nearly came to pass. Hux flinches with the desire to touch his neck, where he assumes the bruises are still visible. He hasn’t seen a mirror in some days, but he saw his reflection in this transport’s blacked-out viewports before the door was opened for him. He looks like a wild-haired wraith, and the sunlight had seemed to expose this tenfold, the image he saw in that reflection still burned into his mind.

“Tell me,” Hux says, opening his eyes when another hour has passed and he can’t resist any longer. He looks at FN-2187, who glares at him, his jaw set as if he’s preparing to deny Hux what he wants to know. Hux has a feeling he won’t. “Whatever became of the other stormtrooper who defected, the one who left just after you? UT-5278? I believe that was her number.”

As if he could ever forget it. Hux pretends to be half-bored by his own question. FN-2187 sits forward like he’s eager to tell Hux the answer, because he thinks it will hurt Hux. As Hux predicted.

“Oh, she’s with the Resistance now, too,” FN-2187 says. “She gave us some pretty useful information when she first arrived.”

“Did she.”

“Pella even found her twin sister fighting with the Resistance,” FN-2187 says, perhaps enviously. Hux laughs under his breath and looks away again. So they still don’t know, or anyway, this one doesn’t. “What’s funny?” FN-2187 asks.

“You called her Pella.”

“Yeah? That’s her name. Her real name, now, the one she gave to herself.”

He says so angrily, and Hux can’t hold in more laughter. He lifts his bound hands to cover his mouth, resisting the urge to tell him: I gave her that name, you imbecile. I sent her to kill you with that name.

He says nothing, because he doesn’t want to blow UT-5278’s cover, even now. Perhaps only for her own sake, even after the way she humiliated him. The true nature of her departure from the Finalizer could also be a useful bargaining chip down the road, though Hux can’t imagine what he would be spending it on. Begging to reside in their prison for the rest of his life rather than being executed? Or just a quick death by drugs as opposed to a more dramatic town square hanging that would bring gruesome closure to those who mourn five irrelevant planets?

He touches his neck without meaning to, then hurries his bound hands back to his lap, hoping no one noticed. Though what does it matter? Will they question him about what he was doing with Ren all this time? About the lingering shade of the bruises on his neck? Hux wouldn’t be able to answer those questions. His voice would die in his throat, as if Ren’s hands had returned to it.

He’s ashamed to note that he’s trembling when the transport cuts through snow-topped mountains and a massive tower in the distance comes into view, standing alone within a wide valley circled by steep mountain peaks. Hux has heard about this New Republic prison, the largest and the most heavily guarded of its kind. He did not know it was located on this planet, but it fits the descriptions he’s heard: a relentless spike of what they would call justice, cylindrical and very tall, perhaps a hundred stories or more, nothing but mountains surrounding the high wall that circles its base. Hux writes his trembling off as temperature-induced and also hunger-related, though he can’t imagine ever having an appetite again. It’s not as if he isn’t terrified-- he can admit that he is, though he can’t say what, exactly, he’s afraid to lose, since he’s got nothing left --but he’s not usually one for trembling, terrified or not.

“Home sweet home,” FN-2187 says when Hux makes the mistake of catching his gaze.

The transport passes through a massive gate that opens at the base of the wall that surrounds the Tower. Inside these walls there is nothing but the Tower and the barren ground that circles it, looked down upon by cannon-mounted guard stations that are placed every fifty feet or so along the top of the wall. Hux notes these details and files them away, though he knows it’s foolish to imagine he could escape from here on foot or by any other means short of Ren losing his mind and coming to collect him. Hux would refuse to go with him. Fantasies aside, he doesn’t want to be alone with Ren again. He couldn’t manage it. He would shiver himself to death in fear of the next moment when Snoke managed to take over. Even if Ren kills Snoke somehow, that’s all over. No more blankets or beds or other senses of false security that would only lure Hux further into ruin. It was a near fatal move in this game he’s always been playing, and it’s brought him here, back to very bottom of the ladder that everyone alive is climbing, all his weapons stripped away.

Ren won’t come for him, anyway. Enfolded in the arms of his family, Ren will be ‘Ben’ again before long, will be convinced that Hux is just more of his former self’s collateral damage, and will move on to reinventing the Jedi or some fantastic bullshit like that, probably only to inevitably repeat the cycle that is his family’s unenviable fate. Maybe Ren will next become obsessed with someone ‘good’ and will ruin them, more in keeping with Skywalker tradition. Regardless, whatever Ren does from now on won’t involve Hux. Of that, Hux is certain.

The transport enters a garage at the base of the tower. A dark tunnel empties into a windowless room on the interior, and Hux’s trembling intensifies, to his dismay. It’s automatic, something that seeped into his bones when he was held in that bunker. On that moon. In that room without windows. From what he’s been able to piece together, he was there for roughly seventeen days. The same amount of time he was in that house with Ren, incidentally.

A large man with a fat stomach and slicked-back gray hair waits for him in this windowless room, which is really more of a garage compartment for the transport. The guards take Hux by his arms and pull him to his feet, leading him from the transport. The fat man is flanked by two more guards in uniforms identical to those worn by the men who usher Hux toward him. The fat man is smiling, for some reason. He appears to be about the age that Hux’s father would be, were he still alive, and he’s wearing civilian clothes but sporting a badge that’s clipped to his coat. It says WARDEN.

“General Hux,” the warden says. “Welcome to the Tower.”

Hux isn’t sure if he’s expected to speak. He wants the damn binders off his wrists already. That pilot made them too tight, not cutting off his circulation but uncomfortably pressed into his skin for too long now. FN-2187 comes forward and puts out his hand. The warden stares at it.

“Sir,” FN-2187 says. “I’ve been sent as part of the special envoy appointed by General Organa. I was asked to convey the prisoner here personally and speak to you about, ah, some conditions of his imprisonment.”

“I received Organa’s holo,” the warden says, waving FN-2187 away. “All right,” he says, to the guards. “Bring him in for processing.”

“Sir?” FN-2187 says. The warden ignores him and walks through a thickly armored durasteel door that opens into a windowless hallway. Hux is paraded down this hallway by the guards, behind the warden. FN-2187 follows, perhaps unnoticed. Hux finds that he’s relieved about this, though he has no idea why. FN-2187 certainly doesn’t hold any sincere concerns for Hux’s well-being, and Hux has a bad feeling about the smile on the warden’s face. He suspects that even Organa’s pleading on Ren’s behalf won’t make much of a difference in how he’s treated here.

They take an elevator up ten floors and move down another, busier hallway, then into the warden’s office, which is surprisingly cramped and also windowless, located at the center of an administrative area. Hux tries to note details about the building’s organization, but his ability to concentrate on anything aside from his own dread is fading. He’s tired, his stomach is aching, and just keeping his posture somewhat respectable when he’s pushed into a chair across from the warden’s desk takes all of the energy he has left. The guards move back to stand against the wall behind Hux, and FN-2187 hovers near the door. The warden smiles again when he pulls up Hux’s file on the holoscreen that projects over the center of his desk.

“I should introduce myself,” the warden says. “My name is Maxim Stepwell. Maybe they’ve heard of me in the First Order?”

“No,” Hux says, earnestly. Stepwell snorts as if he doubts this is true.

“I run the Tower,” Stepwell says. “Home to the most captured First Order officers in the galaxy. Also holder of the record for fewest successful escape attempts in Republic history. Holding steady at zero.”

“Congratulations,” Hux says, though he knows he should shut up. Stepwell studies him, smile fading, then flips through the screens on Hux’s record.

“Elan Bartram Hux,” Stepwell says. “Former General in the First Order, known as Starkiller among the Resistance because he used a sun to blow up five planets. That’s cute, did you invent that? I heard your weapon self-destructed before the dust settled.”

Hux suppresses the urge to take that bait, longing to inform everyone present that it wasn’t a flaw in his weapon’s design but the Resistance’s bombs that destroyed the oscillator. He restrains himself, keeping any hint of an expression off his face.

“I hear from Organa that you surrendered willingly.” Stepwell makes a mock-impressed face. “I find that hard to believe, and the leadership of both the Resistance and the New Republic have a lot of questions for you. But they’re generously giving you a day to get settled in your holding cell prior to that, and then of course you’ll have your sentencing hearing. In the meantime, let’s go over the dirty details. Your prisoner number is 061-EBH. Think you can remember that? If you’re here long enough to make it to the commissary, you’ll need to give them that number when you pick up your toothpaste and so forth.”

“I can remember it,” Hux says when Stepwell seems to be waiting for an actual answer. A number instead of a name. As if he’s some kind of common foot soldier. Funny.

“The sixty-one refers to the floor we’ll be housing you on. There are one hundred and twenty floors in my walled city, but don’t worry, you won’t be needing a map. You’re an isolated, maximum-security prisoner, according to Organa’s direct order. That means you take your meals in your room, get your own special shower time, and if you survive your sentencing you’ll get an hour of rec time on the roof every day, all by yourself. Though I don’t think anyone in this room really expects you to survive your sentencing.”

Hux doesn’t refute that. Stepwell’s face changes, his chin lowering as he studies Hux.

“I thought you’d be a bigger guy,” Stepwell says. “Like your father.”

“You knew him?” Hux is surprised, frowning.

“Oh, I knew of him. And his school. Know all about your stormtrooper program, too. I blasted away my share of bucketheads when I fought in the Rebellion. Lost a lot of good men to the brain-washed bastards fighting for the Empire.” Stepwell’s eyes flick to FN-2187, and he frowns. “What are you still doing here?” he asks. “I told you, I received Organa’s holo message. No harm shall come to the little general here, prior to his sentencing. Would be bad for the New Republic’s image if it did, and for my Tower’s reputation. I get it. Who are you with, soldier?”

“I told you,” FN-2187 says, as insolent as ever, “I’m part of the special envoy--”

“Right, well. Has the general been frisked?”

“Frisked-- For weapons?” FN-2187 huffs a sort of laugh that makes Stepwell’s eyes darken. “Sir-- He was arrested in the presence of a Force user. General Organa’s niece, in fact. She would have sensed it if he had--”

“Get him up and frisk him,” Stepwell barks, and the guards hurry forward. “I don’t really go in for that spiritual crap,” Stepwell says to FN-2187 as Hux is yanked from his seat by the guards. “Not in the sense that I think it’s foolproof, anyhow.”

Having two guards yank his legs apart and pat him down in a simple if vigorous weapons search shouldn’t make Hux’s heart rate skyrocket and his breath shorten, but it does. He’s afraid he’s visibly shaken afterward, though he tries not to be, still standing, his bound hands braced on the back of the chair he’d been sitting in. Stepwell studies him, smirks.

“Can’t wait to read the transcript of your questioning,” Stepwell says. “You look like shit-- Was there a mutiny aboard your ship? Your precious indoctrination methods still not working out so great, huh? Get him out of here.” Stepwell gestures to the door. “Quara, Pintmo, you two know what to do. Tarum, Deetz, you’re back on duty in the garage. And you,” Stepwell says to FN-2187 as two of the guards take Hux by the arms and turn him toward the door. “You can take the first transport back to the base where you came from.”

“Yes, sir,” FN-2187 says. “But, sir, before I go, I have been ordered to confirm your personal assurance that this prisoner will be given special consideration, on account of the information that we’ll need to get from him and the fact that he is apparently, um, traumatized--”

“Traumatized, ha! Yeah, they’d all sell me that story if they could, every prisoner on one hundred and twenty floors.”

This is the last of their conversation that Hux is able to hear. He’s being marched down the hallway by the two guards, around a corner and into an elevator. Hux knew this would happen, so he fights off the disappointment. Of course Ren can’t protect him here. Not even with the threat of a tantrum. Ren has lost all his weapons, too, by confessing that he needs his mother.

Hux imagines his own mother hearing of his arrest. Surely it will be reported across the galaxy: his disgrace, his forthcoming punishment. His mother was never exactly proud of him for advancing in rank. She seemed to think it was inevitable, all down to nepotism, though she never said so out loud. Maybe she’ll think he’s gotten what was coming to him the way Brendols Sr. and Jr. did, while she continues to spend the family’s money on doing whatever she likes.

The guards don’t speak to Hux as they lead him down another hallway, just two floors up from the last one. This floor is quieter, and they bring Hux to a droid-manned desk before a row of rooms, read off his prisoner number and then march him into one of the rooms, the door closing with a hard click behind them.

“Okay,” one guard says, coming forward to remove the binders from his hands. Hux has forgotten the names that Stepwell barked; he supposes it doesn’t matter. He can’t really think straight at the moment, and could barely make his legs work on the walk here. “Strip,” the guard says, gesturing to Hux with his blaster.

Right. Sure, of course. Getting straight to it. This is why the pair of male guards were ordered to take him away, perhaps. One of the others was a woman.

Hux takes a moment to consider whether it would be more or less dignified to turn his back on the guards while he removes his clothes. In that bunker, on that moon, he wasn’t allowed to do this part himself. He remains facing them and pulls off Luke Skywalker’s enormous shirt-like thing, then pushes down the baggy pants, removing them along with the old boots from the house. That’s it: just three things this time. No gloves, no belt, no underthings. Lifting his eyes to the guards is not easy, but Hux manages it. He stares at them as blankly as he can, hands at his sides. He won’t scream, anyway.

“What are you waiting for?” the guard who spoke before asks. He gestures with his blaster. “Go, unless you’d rather be hosed off by medical.”

Hux frowns, turns. Behind him is a row of sanisteam showerheads. He somehow didn’t notice.

He holds in humiliated, grateful laughter as he moves toward the showers. Right, well. This is standard procedure in the Order, too. Prisoners are ordered to scrub off the most obvious of whatever foreign agents they might be carrying before being examined by medical to check for anything more insidious that could be passed on to the general population. According to Stepwell, Hux won’t be mixing with the general population. But anyway. This is what’s actually happening: showering. At least for now. He can do this. One humiliation at a time, and this one not as bad as it might have been. He turns on the sanistream.

The guards mutter to each other while the shower does its work. Apparently the sight of a captured general being steam-cleaned is not so very interesting. Hux lifts his hands to make sure the dirt under his fingernails is blasted away. He considers the fact that he hasn’t showered since Ren fucked him, and then can’t move for a while, frozen into a state of near non-existence that sometimes still seems like an appealing alternative to actually being alive. He forces himself to think about something else, anything but Ren, anything but that day, and for some reason his mother comes to mind. He tries to recall the last communication he had from her. It was before he was made General. She’d sent some disinterested holo from a planet with jungles and temples. She was always saying in her messages that the locals were strange, but she had hated First Order society, too. She had fit in easily enough, and made a nice-looking, functionally two-dimensional image at his father’s side, but--

“Hey,” one of the guards barks. Hux isn’t sure if it’s the one who spoke before or not. He feels somewhat insane when he turns, not wanting to leave the warmth of the sanisteam and almost ready to start some kind of fight he’d certainly lose. “Start the dry-off mode,” the guard says. “This isn’t a fucking spa.”

Hux does as instructed, tipping his face up and closing his eyes when the surge of warm air soaks over him, efficiently removing all lingering moisture from his body. He hasn’t been in one of these sanistream showers since the Academy. They don’t bring back great memories, but he’ll take any small mercies he can get at this point, still riding his relief about being asked to strip only for this, though he knows he can’t count on his luck continuing.

When he’s done he attempts to smooth his hair down, wondering if they’ll buzz it off, then if they’ll parade him naked to the station where he’ll be issued a uniform. Luke’s clothes have disappeared, deposited into some unseen laundry chute or incinerator. One of the guards goes to a panel on the wall and punches some information into a data pad there.

“Stand here,” he says, grabbing Hux’s arm and pulling him onto a square on the floor that lights up with a number after a few seconds: his weight. It’s not as low as Hux feared, but still not quite what he would call his fighting weight. The guard types this number into the data pad. “How tall are you?” he asks.

Hux tells him, surprised that they’re just taking his word for it, though he supposes lying about this would only result in an improperly fitting uniform. When his information has been entered, the wall panel opens, revealing a folded shirt and pair of pants. Pale gray, short sleeves, no pockets on the pants. Hux’s prisoner number is stitched onto the back of the shirt.

Hux dresses in these things gladly while the guards look on. At least these garments are clean. The shoes he’s given, meanwhile, are an insult. They’re soft, more like slippers than shoes, and they only fit him approximately. He thinks of his boots, trashed on that moon base, or maybe collected by whoever arrived to deal with the bodies Ren left in his wake. If anyone even bothered. Snoke certainly wouldn’t have. The thought of those men still rotting there, unburied and increasingly disgusting with the slime of decay, gives Hux a bit of needed cheer as he submits to the binders again, his wrists aching when the guard makes them even tighter than that pilot did. He’s marched down the hallway and back into the elevator, wearing fucking slippers in public.

As he predicted, he arrives at one of the Tower’s medical floors next. He’s examined in a curtained corner by a small, female doctor as the guards stand watching.

“What are these bruises from?” the doctor asks almost immediately, pulling the collar of Hux’s uniform shirt away to get a better look at them. She looks up into his eyes when he hesitates to respond, and seems unamused by his silence.

“Well,” Hux says. “As you might have guessed by the fingerprint-shaped ones, someone tried to choke me. Actually, I suppose he did choke me, rather successfully, except in the sense that he failed to kill me by doing so.”

“Your vocal chords sound healthy,” she says, frowning. “These bruises look old, but. In a strange way--”

“Yes. Here’s the more interesting part, maybe even from a medical perspective-- I was given some magical Jedi tea that lessened the bruising, and it also healed my throat.”

The doctor gives him another unamused look and continues with her examination. When she’s through he’s given clean bill of health, which is so preposterous that he might laugh, if he had any energy left. Ren really did heal seventeen days worth of injuries that should have killed him. Hux was afraid for the first few days in that house, paranoid that it would all be reversed somehow, as if Ren didn’t really know what he was doing, because whenever did he. Hux had held on to hope because that first injury Ren had inflicted and then healed on Hux’s throat had never reappeared, at least not in a literal way. In a more fatalistic sense, it has returned. It seems now like something Hux should have predicted.

“What’s that?” Hux asks when the doctor approaches him with a syringe. He has a bad association with syringes, though he can’t remember exactly why.

“This is just something that prevents the growth of facial hair,” the doctor says. “You’ll be given this shot on a monthly basis. They don’t trust the prisoners with razors, but they want the human ones clean-shaven, for sanitary reasons.”

“I know,” Hux says, staring straight ahead while she administers it. “I’m familiar with dexitoma.”

The Order uses it on the stormtroopers. It can cause dehydration and itchiness, but it was determined by the leadership-- by Hux, who reviewed the financials and relevant medical data himself --that neither reaction was severe enough in the average trooper to negate the value of using it on them. Hux is fairly certain that the dexitoma won’t take effect for at least several hours, but he imagines he can feel his skin drying out as he’s marched back to the elevator, still flanked by the same guards, and he would be scratching at his cheeks if his wrists weren’t bound.

He’s glad his father didn’t live to see him dexitoma’d like a common grunt. Officers don’t use the drug, of course. It’s a gentleman’s privilege to shave. A kind of important ritual. Hux will miss that. He’ll miss showering in a private stall under hot water, too. That was such a relief, when he was made an officer: the small shower that was just his, protected from onlookers, a kind of sanctuary, whereas the other kind had become a gaping arena of torment in his imagination, even after he’d built enough of a reputation for revenge that no one dared glance in his direction there. His heart had still beat too fast, every time.

He thinks of Ren, not wanting to, as the elevator rises and rises and the pressure of this rapid ascent builds in his ears. Ren, who stepped so casually into that shower behind Hux, after that first fuck on the Finalizer. It should have been terrifying, in light of Hux’s lingering phobia. But Ren had just seemed to belong there, maybe because it was his room, his shower. And he got out when Hux asked him to. The second time he asked, anyway.

Hux allows himself one hateful thought about what Ren must be doing right now. Having cake with Mummy, doted upon by that cousin who somehow still seems to adore him, sitting in a sunlit mansion, surrounded by supportive family members.

He knows this is a simplification. He knows Ren would rather enslave himself to some new monster than face his mother and see the loss of his father in her eyes. But Hux clings angrily to this mental image of Ren laughing it up with family and friends, sipping the healing tea that those people know how to make, tearfully apologizing, being forgiven, forgetting that Hux is here in hell.

Ren did this to him. Ren had him arrested, caged. Hux keeps this firmly in mind as he’s lead into his cell on the sixty-first floor.

“Your attorney will meet with you in the morning,” one guard says. He removes the binders from Hux’s hands, turns toward his waiting colleague and walks out, the armored door shutting with a surprisingly quiet whisk behind them.

Hux flexes his wrists and rubs his thumb into one palm, then the other. It’s quiet in here, at least. He feels better, having showered, and hungry enough to eat whatever they’ll eventually bring him. He braces himself and turns to take in the room where he’s been imprisoned indefinitely.

The room is shaped like a slice of pie, which is unexpected and almost whimsical: typical, too, of the Republic. Design over function, even in a fucking prison. It’s much larger than he would have guessed, maybe four hundred square feet of floorspace with a relatively high ceiling. The narrowest part of the pie slice is the width of the door, the walls branching diagonally outward from there and arriving at a rounded far wall which is also a huge window, surely made of some material more sturdy than the average viewport. It looks out on the surrounding mountains. Against the left wall there is a sink and a toilet. On the right there’s a durasteel desk and chair, both bolted to the floor, a low bed and some empty shelves that are built into the wall. That’s all. Nothing to do but sit and think about what he’s done.

Hux considers what he’ll say when they question him. He’s surprised he’s being given an attorney, apparently. Prisoners of the First Order aren’t allowed one unless they’re fairly high ranking, and even then it’s just a charade of justice, the accused’s fate already handed down from whoever wanted him accused and arrested, as long as that person outranks him. Hux assumes that’s the case here, too, even if they dress it all up a bit more ornately. He goes to stand at the window, clasps his hands behind his back and surveys the mountains. They look merciless from here: high peaks, freezing temperatures, no hint of flora or fauna in sight. It’s strange that he’s allowed to have a view. He supposes all the prisoners here are, if every room is shaped this way. The New Republic must tell itself that this glimpse of the outside world is enough to keep its imprisoned population sane. Hux is sure it won’t be, in his case, but he may not have arrived here sane, exactly.

When he tires of standing he sits on the bed. There’s a blanket, a pillow. Both are on the thin side but also of a higher quality than he might have expected. The room is immaculately clean, sterile and dustless. There’s no sound.

He knows what will happen when he rests his head on that pillow and allows his heavy eyelids to fall shut. He’ll see Ren looming over him. The change in his eyes. The way he-- Snoke --had smiled. It was so strangely personal. As if Snoke actually hated Hux the person and didn’t just want to get the newest obstacle out of the way.

To keep himself distracted until sleep takes over and does whatever it wants with his unguarded mind, Hux goes over what he knows about First Order operations, which is voluminous almost to the point of being encyclopedic, organizing the information he might offer and that which should still remain guarded. He can’t deny that he was ready to abandon the Order and all it stands for when he sat on that speeder and held Ren’s face in his hands, but he is not there now. He needs to consider, carefully, all potential outcomes of his apparent cooperation with the New Republic upon questioning. They’ll be dangling his life over him as bait, surely, but they’ll probably want to execute him no matter what he says.

Realizing this, he feels foolish for assuming that what he reveals to them will matter to his own future. He’s probably got a month here, if that. If he can’t figure out a way to escape, he’ll be executed. Stepwell doesn’t seem like a man who makes empty promises, and Leia Organa surely can’t show mercy toward the mass murderer her son was fucking without risking an enormous backlash on a galactic level. Regardless, it’s probably not her decision. The Republic is not going to hand down a judgment that will amount to hosting General Starkiller in this relatively cozy pie-slice with a view, not after what he’s done. He didn’t just command the enemy army. He took worlds down with him. Bragged that he would do it and then did. Destroyed a sun. Executed billions without warning. He tells himself, when he can’t fight sleep any longer, that this means he’s not a failure. He left his mark, anyway.

He dreams of the estate on what he thinks of as his home planet, though he only lived on those grounds from the age of six until he left for the Academy. He’s spent more time living on starships than on land, but they never felt like home. Not the way that place did, when he first walked under pine trees alongside his mother. They were avoiding the Brendols, probably, or at least Brendol Jr., who was then just a year away from being fast-tracked into the junior Academy so that even his hapless nursemaids wouldn’t have to deal with his increasingly psychotic behavior. Hux would soon attend an elite pre-Academy school for the sons of officers, but he wouldn’t board there. That hell was a long way off, far away from that summer when they first moved into a real house with surrounding property. Still, Hux would be less and less in his mother’s company when he returned home from his school days. Whose decision was that? Not his, not at six years old. She pulled away, or Brendol Sr. separated them. Regardless, she let it happen.

He’s half-awake as he slips in and out of this dream about a pine-scented forest, still fighting real sleep. When he loses the fight he’s returned to the house on the cliff. Looking for Ren. Searching every room, panicked. He finds Ren crouched in the garage, in the corner, though he’s sure he already checked here twice. Ren is shirtless. There’s something odd about the long curve of his spine. He’s rocking on his heels, making some strange sound under his breath. Crying? Hux wants to tell himself not to do it, to get away, but in the dream he reaches for Ren’s shoulder.

He wakes up with a shout, scrambling away from the attack that came in the dream: Ren’s eyes black, face horribly scarred, Ren barring his teeth and hissing with menace as he sprang at Hux, his hands going to Hux’s throat.

But it was only a dream. The light from the window has faded. Hux pushes his hand across the bed, looking for the real Ren. He scoots forward, confused when his hand finds only a cool surface: a wall. This bed is not pressed against a wall.

Hux’s eyes are open, but reality comes back more slowly than his vision. He’s in a bed that is pressed against a wall. Bolted into it, in fact. The sheets on that other bed, in the house on the cliff, are cold now, still wrecked from their struggle there, and from what came before.

Hux rolls onto his back and touches his neck, trying to breathe and finding that he can’t. He rubs his hands over his face and allows himself, briefly, just for the sake of catching his breath, to imagine what it would have been like to find Ren next to him. The real Ren, that fool who intended to protect Hux, once. Had Hux’s searching hand found that Ren, he would have let his conscious mind stay mostly turned off as he settled against Ren in relief, would have taken a deep breath, would have allowed the scent and heat of Ren’s skin to calm him. He would have been glad to feel Ren in his head, even. Checking on him. It wasn’t like hearing Ren’s voice in his mind, not when Hux woke from some horrible memory-turned-dream and grabbed for Ren, half-awake. Then it was more like a different kind of touch, having Ren in his head. Like Ren was clinging to him there, too, needing to skim over everything to make sure it was all still healed. As if Hux’s mind ever had been.

There’s a sound from the door: a narrow compartment on the bottom opens and a tray is pushed inside. Meal time. Hux hears the whir of a droid moving away from the door as the compartment closes again.

He sits up and is faced with a brilliant sunset that has colored the sky outside pink and orange, some thin clouds streaked in dark silhouettes against this. Perhaps Stepwell gave Hux a room with this sunset view to mock him: tick-tock, 061-EBH.

Hux collects his dinner tray from the floor and brings it to the desk, which is closer to the window than the bed. He goes to the sink and finds a new bar of pale green soap, a flimsy-looking red toothbrush and a tiny tube of toothpaste. There’s a towel folded on a small shelf under the sink: basic and grayish like the ones aboard the Finalizer. That’s a strange comfort when Hux uses it to dry his hands after he’s washed them.

Strange comforts. They do still exist, he’s found. Such as that tea brewed by Luke Skywalker. Hux could swear he felt sunlight through wind-tossed pines when he drank it, along with the relief in his throat. He felt something akin to what he’d felt when Ren healed his ear, too, though not so intensely. That had been unique. He’s not sure why, even now; maybe because the healing energy sunk into him so deeply, though Ren had repaired his bones before.

Hux goes to the desk, opens the little carton of blue milk on his meal tray and resolves not to think about Ren, that uncanny healing, or any of it. Not yet, anyway. He has more pressing concerns, such as whether he should trust this attorney who will apparently meet with him in the morning-- probably not, he thinks --and how likely it is that someone in the kitchen staff here might be eager and able to poison his food. He supposes the only real option is to eat what they serve him and find out. He’s tried living without food before, against his will. It’s not something he longs to attempt again.

The food is not good, especially after weeks of Ren’s bizarrely enjoyable meals at that house, but it’s not bad. Much higher in quality than what the Order feeds the stormtroopers, never mind their prisoners, who get a maximally cost-effective serving of gruel twice a day, as far as Hux knows. This tray contains some kind of dry meat with a gravy sauce, mashed root vegetables that were almost certainly made from a powder, and a largely tasteless salad with on overly acidic dressing. There’s also a little bar of something orange-ish that is surprisingly sweet when Hux bites into it. He doesn’t care for sweets but eats it anyway, because there’s nothing else to do.

He wonders when and how they will collect the tray. It annoys him, sitting there on the desk, littered with crumbs and congealing gravy. At that house by the shore, Ren had barked at him once or twice for leaving his dirty plates around. Hux doesn’t like the sight of dirty dishes either, but at every other stage of his life he’s had them whisked away by a staff of some sort before he could really take notice.

As the sunlight disappears outside, no lights come on in his cell. He remains at the desk, rubbing his hand over his eyes, not wanting to sleep again. He wishes they would give him an off-network data pad or even a paper scratch pad and a pen to use for making notes about his strategy going forward, though he supposes it would be dangerous to have anything in writing. He’s got to try to hold all of it in his head, which is not in the best condition to hold onto anything at present.

But he’ll try. He’s not giving up. He made that decision on the cliff outside of Skywalker’s house. He’s not even really sure why, but he was raised never to stop trying to rule the galaxy, no matter what the circumstances are. Hux saw the First Order rise from almost nothing throughout his childhood. He saw it grow powerful enough under his own guidance to destroy five planets with the press of a button.

He’s got to start pretending not to count that as an achievement. He still has his pride, but he’s not stupid. He knows how to lie. It’s not his sharpest skill, but it’s one that no student graduated from his father’s Academy without.

The night passes in uneasy fits and bursts of sleep, every half-restful stretch interrupted by dreams about Ren transforming into a monster, and not the friendly kind who let Hux ride on his shoulder in that idiotic fantasy that Ren apparently witnessed. Hux is shaking by daybreak, huddled under the blanket on the bed in a way that he told himself he would never do again, like a frightened child. He pushes it away and sits up when he sees the light of the sun climbing over the mountains, throwing the long shadow of the Tower over them as it rises.

When he considers his forthcoming meeting with an attorney he gets out of the bed to dress, only to remember that he has no closet, no clothes. He goes to his mirror and touches his still hairless face, noting a slight pink coloration high on his cheeks. It doesn’t itch, exactly, but his eyes feel overly dry and he blames the dexitoma. He brushes his teeth, washes his face, and straightens his hair as best he can with damp hands. By the time the guards come for him he feels halfway human, though also very hungry and still embarrassed by his footwear as he shuffles through the hallways in the grip of his jailers, his hands bound in front of him by a new set of binders.

He’s surprised when the guards again convey him in silence. He expected that warden to have instructed them to taunt him as much as possible, as Stepwell seems like the type who would encourage or at least allow that sort of juvenile behavior in his lessers. These guards are not the ones from the day before: one is a tall woman with a thick chest, the other a man who is on the scrawny side. Hux hasn’t seen any non-human personnel at the Tower yet. He wonders if Stepwell shares Brendol Hux Sr.’s suspicion of all other high-functioning species. Hux bought into that, once, but when he heard rumors aboard the Finalizer that Uta had some non-human blood he found that he didn’t care and continued to promote her. Anyway, her appearance was human enough, and that was mostly what people feared, irrationally: some lifeform that looked different from them. That was what Ren had counted on when he covered his humanity with that mask.

Hux tries not to think about the first time he saw Ren’s face. Those memories aren’t useful here, now. And yet: he remembers being surprised. Not just by one thing but by everything: Ren’s youth, his unguarded eyes, the plump lips, that annoyingly luxurious hair, and the fact that Ren didn’t even try to hide that he was sorry Hux had seen him as he really was. Ren had ducked away slightly when Hux caught him speaking to Snoke without the mask, had lowered his face like a child who couldn’t conceal his shame.

The elevator arrives on the twentieth floor today. Hux wonders how many of the lower floors are devoted to administration and how he might find out. He’s a bit insulted, when he considers it, that he’s been placed on the 61st floor, though he’s not sure it signifies anything. It seems to him that the very worst criminals would be at the top or the bottom, and 61 is such a middling number here, unless all 60 floors below him house administrative departments, which seems unlikely.

The guards bring him into a pie-shaped conference room with a window that looks out over the mountains on the other side of the Tower. A plump man wearing what probably passes for formal clothing in New Republic society sits at the end of the table inside, furiously typing on an over-sized data pad. He’s about Hux’s age, maybe a bit older. He looks up when they enter and beams, as if Hux has arrived for his birthday party.

“Oh!” he says. “Already, wow, that was fast. Thanks, guys.”

Hux is surprised when the female guard removes his binders, though he supposes he has no reason to attack his attorney. The guards retreat to the hallway, behind a soundproof door with a window that looks into the conference room. The man in the suit-- Hux’s lawyer, presumably --hurries over to shake his hand, still smiling. His cheerful, fat-cheeked face is unnerving, but Hux shakes with him, though he’s always hated this greeting custom and his father once told him never to submit to it. It’s a Republic-originating thing.

“I guess they told you who I am,” the man says. “Jek T. Porkins, the third. Your defense attorney for the sentencing.”

He sounds a bit as if he’s introducing himself as Hux’s waiter for the evening, and the way he walks over to pull one of the six big chairs at the conference table out for Hux furthers this impression.

“You said your name is-- Jek?” Hux says, sitting. “Jek-- Porkins, that’s your actual name?”

“The third!” He grins and returns to his own chair, looking as if he’s missed the insult in this question.

“And were the two previous Jeks attorneys as well?” Hux asks, not sure what else to say in this situation.

“Oh no, no. Dad was a pilot, flew in the Rebel fleet back in the Imperial days, lots of decisive battles. Died in action, highly decorated, all that. And Grandpa Jek was a professional athlete, back when U-Ball was big on Coruscant.”

“Okay.” Hux watches Jek typing something into the data pad. “How did you get stuck with this job?”

“I’m something of an activist,” Jek says, still typing, as if Hux has interrupted him in the process of drafting his holofiction. “Vehemently opposed to the death penalty, no matter what the crime. So you’re sort of the ultimate dream case, for me.”

“Delighted to be of service.”

“Okay!” Jek closes whichever document he was working on and sits back, sort of rocking in the chair that he fills completely. There is something about him that is-- round, generally. Too smiley. Hux stares at him, awaiting his advice. “First off,” Jek says. “I take it you’re not objecting to the nature of the sentencing hearing. You’re not denying that you gave the order to destroy five planets, that is.”

“Well,” Hux says. “I might try to if it were feasible, but I take it that the Republic has got hold of the footage of the speech I gave in the presence of thousands, which was broadcast to millions, where I enthusiastically take credit for the crime.”

“They have,” Jek says, nodding, still rocking in his chair.

“In that case. Sentencing it is.”

“Good!” Jek drinks from a cup of what smells like caf. Hux wouldn’t mind some of that, or a cigarette. He hasn’t smoked since the Academy. It was a habit his father detested, but Hux hid it well, like everything else. Something about being institutionalized yet again is making him long for that old comfort. “So I’ll go ahead and explain how the sentencing process is going to work,” Jek says, pulling up what looks like Hux’s file on his data pad. There’s an outdated picture attached. Hux can only see the reverse of it, but it appears to be his Academy graduation photo.

“I take it there’s really only one debate involved in this sentencing,” Hux says. “To kill me or not to kill me.”

“That’s right,” Jek says. “Hence my involvement.”

“I’m surprised they’re bothering to debate it at all. Is this legitimate, in your opinion? Not just a pageant? They’re actually considering-- Life imprisonment as an alternative, I assume?”

“That’s right. And I believe the hearing is legit. It’s quite rare for this governing body to sentence someone to death. I typically have a much more traditional defense practice. But you’re, you know. A special case. People have a lot of ongoing pain and anger.”

“People have a lot of ongoing pain and anger,” Hux says, repeating this as dryly as he can. Jek just goes on smiling faintly, enjoying his special project. “Yeah. I guess you could say that.”

“So before we talk about some theories of defense, let me tell you the details about the sentencing Committee,” Jek says. “It’s a specially appointed Committee made up of five surviving representatives from the planets that were destroyed, one from each planet, and then there’s the Chief Justice of the New Republic. That’s probably the only lenient vote we can really count on, because he’s typically not in favor of the death penalty. And then the Committee Head is General Organa. She only gets a vote if there’s a tie, and in that case she would cast the deciding vote.”

“General Organa.” Hux withholds laughter, or maybe it just doesn't quite materialize. He shouldn’t be surprised. Nor amused. “Really.”

“Yeah, I think they sort of pressured her to do it, because of Alderaan, you know, her personal connection with planets being destroyed by superweapons. Needless to say, this sentencing hearing is a big to-do in the press. You’re the biggest celebrity in the galaxy right now, sort of uniquely infamous.”

“Terrific.” Hux wonders if he should mention his own ‘personal connection’ to General Organa’s recently wayward son. It may be the only bargaining chip they have, though it’s a paltry one and could in fact be a liability in some way that Hux hasn’t yet foreseen. Much to do with Ren was, after all, and Hux has a history of figuring out the actual way that his association with Ren will screw him over only when it’s too late.

“The Committee will hear from the Republic’s appointed prosecutor,” Jek explains, “And then from me. I’m not sure if I want to have you testify before the Committee, but it’s likely the prosecutor will move to force you to do it. Would you consider yourself a charming person?”

Hux waits for Jek to crack a smile, but he appears to be serious now.

“That’s a real question?” Hux says.

“Yes-- I mean, notwithstanding what you’ve done. I think it’s obvious that our only real defense here is that you surrendered willingly because you saw the error of your ways-- which is a great start! --and that you were born into the First Order and pressured to become a General, to use the superweapon-- I’m told you answer to a greater authority, but apparently there’s some confusion about who that is exactly?”

“We called him Supreme Leader.” Hux touches his neck. “He’s-- Mysterious, by design. I never had a personal audience with him outside of calls on a holo channel, but. I know someone who did.”

“Great! Are you still in touch with this person? Can they prove this Supreme Leader exists and that he handed down the order to destroy the planets?”

“Um.” Hux sits forward and puts his elbows on the table, more unprepared to talk about this than he even realized. “Do you think you could get me a pack of cigarettes?” Hux asks when he looks up at Jek, who appears concerned. “The auto-lighting kind, since I assume they won’t allow me a firemaking device of any sort.”

Somewhat to Hux’s surprise, Jek says he’ll see what he can do and goes to speak to the guards. Hux stares at the back of Jek’s data pad, at the reverse image of the picture of himself in his Academy uniform, and tries to envision Ren’s testimony at his hearing. No, it won’t happen. Ren’s mother will keep him far away from this apparent media circus. Anyway, the weapon wasn’t Snoke’s idea. Hux invented it when was still a captain, seven years ago, based on an idea he’d been working on since school. His promotion to General was supposedly due to the weapon’s acceptance to production. Surely the prosecution will be sharp enough to dig up some intelligence gathered by the Resistance as proof of that.

“Well, that was easy!” Jek says when he reappears, a pack of cigarettes in his hand. “Keep those discreet,” he says, passing them to Hux. “I said they were for me.” He winks. Something about this reminds Hux of Ren, though there is literally nothing about this man that resembles him.

“People just hand you things you ask for?” Hux says, opening the cigarettes. “Just like that?”

“I’ve been told that I’m a charmer. So we’ve got that in our corner! Anyway, we’ll get back to composing a witness list later. My point about asking if you’re charming is that you’re gonna have to grovel like never before, and you don’t look like a groveler to me. If you’re willing, I can arrange a pre-sentencing interview with the prosecutor and enter the transcript into the record, and in that transcript we would include details about how you were brought up, what your indoctrination experience was like, and anything about how you were mistreated within the system that created you. If that’s something that happened. Mistreatment, I mean. Based on what I know about the Order, I tend to assume everybody has some horror stories?”

Hux can’t get the hang of these auto-lighting cigarettes. They’re different from the ones he smoked as a boy, which required actual fire. He flicks at the end with his thumb again and again, waiting for it to catch flame. His hands are shaking.

“What?” he snaps when he looks up to find Jek staring at him. “No, I-- I was Commandant Hux’s son. Of course I wasn’t mistreated. There would have been consequences.”

“Can I get that for you?” Jek asks, nodding to the cigarette when Hux continues to struggle to light it.

“No. I can do it myself.”

Hux’s hand is still shaking terribly when he manages to light the damn thing, and he drags on it like it’s a lifeline, coughing most of his first inhale up. Jek is still giving him a searching look. Hux hopes this fucker isn’t ‘Force sensitive’ or whatever they call it. He won’t be entering a word of what happened to him at school onto any record. He would rather die. Perhaps he will, in consequence, but at least he’d go to his grave without submitting to a therapy session in a public forum while he’s the biggest celebrity in the galaxy.

“I need you to think about that a little more carefully over the coming days,” Jek says. “Because to establish that the, let’s say, less desirable elements of your character were shaped by the First Order is very important to our case. Essential, I’d say. I mean, you’re an engineer, right? You’re a logical guy. But I’m sure you can understand that these people hate the Order. You’ve left the Order, and they want to hear now why you hate it, too. The more personal you get, the better, because these representatives from the the five planets that were destroyed? This is as personal as it gets for them, obviously. So you’ve got to be able to rise up to meet that if you want to survive this. You get me?”

“I get you,” Hux says, muttering this around the end of his cigarette. He’ll find some other way. Make up some other story.

“In my research on you I found some rumors that there was a mutinous faction within the crew on your ship,” Jek says. “Can you tell me a little bit about why you left the First Order? What was your primary reason for defecting?”

Hux glances at the conference room door. He drags on the cigarette again, the relief of it filling his lungs pleasurably this time. His reason for leaving the Order was Ren, twice over. Hux ran straight into the trap Snoke had set because he was told Ren needed him. Then he left, finally, for good, without meaning to, because Ren had arrived to slay his captors. That was the leaving Hux did. Carried away in Ren’s arms like a half-dead thing, not yet aware that he was still just some wriggling bait for Ren to chase.

“I saw the error of my ways,” Hux says, sharply, when he turns back to Jek. “That’s what they want to hear, right?”

“Never mind what they want to hear, we’ll work on that later. I have an absolute, unbreakable responsibility to maintain confidentiality while serving as your attorney. Unless you tell me some information that represents a direct, imminent danger to the Republic, I would be disbarred if I ever divulged anything you told me in confidence to the Committee or to anyone else.”

“So?” Hux says, still sharply.

“So I need you to tell me the reason you left the First Order. The real reason. And we’ll work together to shape the facts we have on the table into something they want to hear.”

Hux opens his mouth, half-determined to say all of it out loud. Why not, as he’s already being marched toward his Committee-approved death? Even if he could get the vote of a single sap from one of those destroyed planets, there’s no way in hell the majority of them will be won over by whatever sob story he concocts. Even if he told the real story, or both of them, since he supposes he really has two petty personal nightmares to offer them in exchange for their exploded home worlds, what would they care? Hux would need at least two of their votes to even him bring him to Organa’s tie-breaker, and that’s only if Porkins is right about the Chief Justice being unwilling to vote for a death sentence. Two people whose planets Hux destroyed would have to decide, on behalf of whomever else remains of their blown to hell culture, that Hux deserves to live. And then Organa would lower the ax anyway, because why wouldn’t she? Even if she wanted to spare him for Ren’s sake, to do so would be political suicide and an insult to her own blown-up ex-planet and those scallops that don’t exist anymore.

There’s no chance for him, is what he’s hearing already. So he might as well tell part of this story, at least. The sanitized version. Just for the entertainment of seeing how far it will get him.

“Look,” Hux says, calming a bit after another drag on the cigarette. “I was a spoiled kid. I had a privileged upbringing and enjoyed advancing in rank. Inventing weapons like the one I used was my true passion. I left the Order because the leadership turned against me. Snoke, they call him. He was angry because I allowed the Starkiller base to be destroyed by the Resistance. He didn’t turn on me right away, but once he had secured my replacement, he got rid of me. Arranged to have me killed as slowly as possible. I had only one ally at that point-- The former apprentice whom Snoke had also turned against. Together, we ran. When Snoke found us, he nearly killed me.” Hux pulls the collar of his uniform shirt away from his neck and points to the bruises. “Ren-- Snoke’s former apprentice --is powerful, however, and we managed to escape. Lest we be overtaken by Snoke again, we fled to the only safe harbor available: Skywalker’s little hut on that island. I don’t know how much of this you’ve already heard?”

“Nobody’s told me any of this,” Jek says. He’s recording Hux’s statement on his data pad. So it’s out now, that part already on record in a sense. Porkins might claim to be working for Hux, but he’s a New Republic citizen and he now has Hux on record saying he likes inventing weapons that destroy planets. Perhaps Hux is fucked anyway, but confessing that bit to anybody, ever, and especially at this point, probably wasn’t the wisest move. It would seem that his ability to withhold information only until he’s absolutely certain that it can be played to his advantage has been compromised after spending weeks alone with someone who could read his mind.

“Please,” Jek says when Hux just sits there, probably looking horrified. “Continue.”

“Well, that rather brings us up to the present, doesn’t it?” Hux says. “Ren is also known as Ben Solo. Organa’s son. He’s with them now, I presume, and I’m here. Arguing for my life. I’m afraid those are the only facts we have to work with.”

Jek blinks, stares. “Are you serious?” he asks.

“Yes. Is that look you’re giving me a good or a bad sign?”

“It’s-- I don’t know, I guess it’s just shock. In what sense was Ben Solo an apprentice to this Snoke person?”

“Oh, you know.” Hux takes a long drag and exhales through his nose. “The Force, or whatever. The power-hungry, murderous side of it. He was an apprentice in that sense.”

“Why did this Snoke person turn on Solo?” Jek asks, typing notes now.

“That’s between them.” Hux really needs to stop talking about Ren. He can’t control the course of the conversation well enough, already isn’t sure if he’s said too much. “I don’t really know him that well,” Hux says. “Ren, I mean. We hid together out of desperation, but he’s not the talkative sort. Nor am I, despite my current inability to shut up. Anyway, it seemed prudent to keep what we knew close to our chests, lest it be used against us.”

“This is fascinating,” Jek says. “Ben Solo, wow. I’d heard gossip, but-- People thought he was dead.”

“You cannot pass this information on to anyone,” Hux says, newly terrified by the fact that he’s revealed even this thinly drawn truth about what happened. The near-complete loss of his mind is confirmed, he supposes.

“You can rely on my complete confidence,” Jek says, cheerful again. “Just like I explained. Don’t you have confidentiality laws in the First Order?”

“They’re more unspoken and usually involve quietly murdering the one who betrayed your confidence.”

“Oh.” That takes the wind from Jek’s sails. He’s typing again. “I wonder if Organa will step down as Committee Head when she finds out her son was involved with all this, in a sense.”

“She-- How would she find out, Jek? You just told me--”

“Not from me! From him, right? You said they’re together?”

“Well. Yes, I assume. He’s with his cousin, anyway, and some man called Wedge.” Hux snorts. For a moment his eyes are almost wet. He drags on the cigarette, not sure what’s come over him but glad for the moisture there, to combat the dryness. “But Ren might not be too keen on talking to his mother,” Hux says. “Though I suppose she might be able to read his mind. They do that, you know.”

“Uh-huh.” Jek is still typing notes. “Okay, speaking of mothers. You said you had a nice childhood? That’s great for you, but less than ideal when it comes to our case here.”

“Nice might be a bit of a stretch,” Hux says, muttering.

“I’m going to subpoena your mother,” Jek says, casually. Just as Ren told him that she’s still alive, that day. “She’s your only living relative, correct?”

“I-- Yes, but. She’s not-- She won’t respond to your subpoena.” Hux laughs, or tries to, suddenly feeling like he’s dragged too deeply on the cigarette again. “She doesn’t reside in the New Republic.”

“Sure she does.” Jek frowns and pulls something up on his data pad. There’s no picture, just text. “Elana Levchen Hux, fifty-four years old, occupation is listed as ‘floral assistant.’ She’s not on this planet, but she’s not far, should be able to get here in a few days. She defected to the New Republic, let’s see-- Three years ago. Applied for amnesty as a political refugee and had it granted. So, hey! Maybe you can get some tips from her. Anyway, her defection and successful integration as a Republic citizen is great news for us. This is one reason I want her on the stand as a character witness. She was unhappy with the Order, and you’re her son, and now here you are seeking refuge, too. Obviously you’re defecting under very different circumstances, but. It’s a good personal angle. It’s a start.”

Hux has to stop himself from flicking his cigarette into this man’s jolly face. He drags on it instead, looking away. No, well. No, he can’t deal with any of that right now. He’ll think about it later.

“How is your relationship with your mother?” Jek asks. “I take it it’s strained, since she--”

“She abandoned me when I was fourteen years old,” Hux says, more loudly than he’d intended to. “Because my father was fucking a pilot named Boma. My mother left me when she left him, without a care, and never looked back, beyond sending a few disinterested holos here and there. When I blew up those five planets I thought maybe she could have been on one of them, and I kind of liked the idea. That’s how my relationship with my mother is, Jek.”

Hux forces himself to calm down before he looks at Jek, who is smiling again, though now in a way that makes him look almost clever.

“Now we’re talking,” Jek says, his fingers flying on the data pad.

“Excuse me?”

“Your mother left you! And she clearly has regrets. This is sympathetic stuff. How about your father, the Commandant?”

“What about him? I’m not going to defame him. He didn’t beat me. Or my mother. He mostly just worked. We never went hungry. Not even in the early days, when some families like ours did.”

“Were you close to your dad?”

“How could that be relevant?”

“This is the kind of stuff that’s going to make or break your case,” Jek says, his expression growing serious again. “As small as it may seem-- Small is good. All you really have left in your defense, having done this enormous violence that you can’t take back, is the sense that you’re not really the face of all the evil the First Order has done, not just some symbol. You’re one small person who has lived an individual life. And believe me, they’re going to want to know the details of that life. Not just the Committee but the public in general. Your hearing will be broadcast to multiple planets, live.”

“Right. Of course. I’m an individual now, got it. But as I’ve ended the lives of billions of individuals, what does anyone care if my father spanked me or not, or whatever the hell you’re getting at?”

“It matters. We have to show them that executing you would make them no better than you were when you pressed that button. And they have to see you as a distinct person before that can happen.”

“I didn’t press any buttons. I gave the order.”

“You know what I mean, Elan.”

“Don’t call me that.” Hux tosses his cigarette into Jek’s cup of caf and glares at him. “Nobody calls me that.”

His mother does, actually. Or she did, last time she sent a holo. Jek peers into his cup as if to make sure that Hux really did throw a half-smoked cigarette into his innocent caf.

“I’ll call you Hux, then?” Jek says. He actually seems apologetic. None of this makes any sense.

“Tell me,” Hux says. “Do you actually believe I deserve to live? After what I did?”

“I’ll put it this way,” Jek says. “I don’t think I deserve to decide. And then when I consider: who does? Nobody, in my opinion. Nobody has the right to make that decision.”

“Even though I made that decision for billions.”

“Well, yeah. Even then. And I don’t think it was entirely you. Even if it was your weapon, your order. What happened to those planets was really the will of many, of everybody in the leadership of the Order who stood by and let it happen, and everybody who came before them, the ones who gave birth, literally and figuratively, to your generation. It’s never as simple as one man, and it’s disingenuous and even dangerous to pretend that it could be.”

“So you don’t find me disgusting?” Hux says, daring him to say no.

“Maybe I do,” Jek says, glancing into his ruined cup of caf again. “But I don’t really know you yet. That’s the point. That’s what we have to show this Committee. The real you, the whole picture.”

“They wouldn’t like it.”

“Well, that’s why you have an attorney. We’ll showcase the better parts.”

“This is absurd,” Hux says, but he remains in the meeting with Jek for another hour, going over the process that will begin tomorrow, when Hux is questioned by the Resistance about the First Order’s plans and operations. This will be private, in a windowless room, and not broadcast anywhere, live or otherwise. As it’s a matter of highly classified military security, Hux will not be allowed to have his attorney present. Jek advises Hux to give them as much information about the First Order as he can, in order to sway the Committee’s sympathy in his favor. This seems very obvious, and yet Hux can’t escape the idea that it would be extremely foolish, too, though he supposes most everyone still with the Order would kill him on sight for what he’s done already, and divulging specific secrets won’t make a difference in that sense. He still can’t shake a stale but persistent sense of loyalty to the Order that recoils in horror at the thought of giving their secrets to the New Republic, as illogical as that may be in his present situation. He’s certainly not offering any real loyalty to the New Republic, whatever he might have to say to save his neck.

“The sentencing hearing starts in ten days,” Jek says when he’s packing up his data pad. “So we’ll have some time to prepare, but I suspect the New Republic will question you for the majority of at least two of those days. I’ll prepare as best I can while you’re with them. Of course, the prosecutor will be preparing her case, too, gathering evidence that she’ll intend to use to show that you deserve to die. I suspect there may be a few skeletons in your closet?”

“A few.”

“We’ll talk about them next time we meet,” Jek says, and he puts his hand out again. Hux shakes it, again not wanting to. “It was good to meet you,” Jek says. He seems to mean it.

“Do you meet many mass murderers?” Hux asks.

“I’ve met a few in my time.”

“And how many have you saved from the death penalty?”

“Well, none, personally. I’ve worked on cases like this before, but I’ve never been lead attorney on one. Let alone the only attorney.”

“You-- What?”

“I’m not exactly a big shot in the legal world here,” Jek says, giving Hux a sheepish smile. “I just, uh. Well, to be honest with you, nobody else wanted the case. But I did! So here we are.”

“Here we are indeed.”

This feels like confirmation of what Hux already knew: whatever this perhaps well-intentioned buffoon called Jek thinks, this entire ‘sentencing hearing’ really is just a show for the masses, where the five representatives from those planets will each have their turn to tearfully tell Hux what he’s cost them before they sentence him to death in a gesture of beautiful galactic healing, or however they’ll try to sell it. Organa might sit there sad-faced, but she and Ren will likely get over it rather quickly. Onward to bigger and better Skywalker disasters. There’s no way Organa’s tie-breaking vote will need to come into play, not even close, probably to her great relief. That is, if she doesn’t step down as Committee Head as soon as she hears from Ren that Hux wore her old socks in that house on the cliff.

Hux hides the cigarettes inside the waistband of his pants before following Jek out into the hall, where one of the guards puts the binders on his hands again. They bring Hux to the elevator and back to his cell. A breakfast tray is waiting on the floor, and Hux nearly trips over it as one guard removes his binders. When the guards are gone and the cell door has locked him inside, he squats down to examine the tray, then just sits on the floor like the wretch he now is and eats a piece of chewy bacon, several forkfuls of rehydrated egg-like material, and a block of some kind of nutrient bar that is tasteless on its own and not much improved by the too-sweet berry goop that’s served on the side. Hux opens his milk and gulps it down. Only one thing remains to be done for the rest of his day, until the next meal arrives: there’s a little roll still on his tray, swirled into a tight circle. It looks sweet.

He picks up the roll and stares at it. He’s still sitting cross-legged on the floor, still trying not to think about his mother and what was said to him in that conference room, things that can’t be true. A political refugee? A bloody floral assistant? He can’t even decide which is more preposterous. She’d never worked a day in her life, when he knew her. Though he supposes he never really did know her at all, particularly considering this new information about where she’s turned up.

His eyes are wet when he bites into the roll. He wonders where the room’s security monitor is hidden. Surely he’s being watched, always. Perhaps footage of him crying on the floor while eating a sweet roll will be entered into evidence during his hearing-- But would it be evidence for or against his right to live? Hux might vote against, were he on the Committee, after being forced to watch some idiot blubber on the floor of his prison cell as he struggles to swallow his breakfast.

He wants to find the security monitor, wants to glare directly into the recorder and tell whoever’s watching that he’s not crying because he’s afraid for his life. He’s not even crying, really. Something is happening to him, a terrible ache. It’s this little tray of food that’s doing it, and the memory of Ren bringing him a bowl, a spoon, some stupid soup he’d made himself. These people-- his fucking jailers --are feeding him the way that Ren did. It’s not precisely the same, but it’s too similar to keep Hux’s face from getting wet, his eyes burning now. And that man with his ridiculous name, fucking Jek, who wants to bring Hux’s mother here to save him. It’s as if they all really do care, somehow. They’re not even denying Hux the sweet roll that might have been left off his breakfast tray. It could have been swiped and eaten by a bitter kitchen maid. Why wouldn’t she take whatever she could from him? Hux would have taken it from her.

It’s too absurd and confounding to bear. He’s weeping with confusion. He wishes he could explain. Surely someone is watching, wondering, and wishing him dead, regardless of whatever explanation he might manage to stutter out as he wipes his face and licks the sugar from his lips.

He pulls himself together, cursing under his breath, and washes his face in the sink. It’s probably just more torture, like before, like that interlude with Ren: Get comfortable, enjoy your lovely view, have something nice to eat, curl up inside your blanket. Then lie back, complacent, as we choke the life out of you.

Hux tells himself he’ll be ready this time. But he told himself he’d be ready last time, and he let himself get comfortable anyway, at least enough to think he could have one more kiss, then one more, one more. He dries his face with his greyish towel and looks up into the mirror, at his pink eyes and splotchy cheeks. When he was younger, especially when he was at the Academy and drying his face after a secret meltdown, he would stare hatefully at his reflection and tell himself that he would rule the galaxy someday, repeating it over and over in his mind-- a silent mantra, lest anyone unseen hear it out loud and laugh at him.

You will, he tells himself now, glaring at his reflection as if he can crack the mirror with his silent rage. You will crush your enemies under your boots again before you die. Believe it. Believe it, you weakling.

He can’t, but that doesn’t mean anything. He never believed it, not fully, not once, but he still stood before thousands and watched the power he’d created from nothing streak through the sky and crush billions under his boot. He’s not dead yet. He’s still winning this game that will surely put its hands around his throat again before it’s done with him. He tries not to think about the fact that it was Ren who wrenched those hands away last time they nearly cost Hux his chance to keep playing. He tries not to think about Ren at all, but there’s just so little else to do, and Ren has always crept into his mind so easily.

Hux closes his eyes and wonders if Ren could reach him here, through the Force. He shakes his head when the idea terrifies him. He needs to be alone with his thoughts and fears if he has any hope of being more than Ren’s battered little charge again. Ren nearly ruined him, but even Ren’s power combined with Snoke’s couldn’t bring Hux down, not entirely. He opens his eyes again and stares at his reflection.

“You’re alone,” he says, aloud but softly. “At last. It’s a gift.”

He can’t believe that either, but he still hopes, like he did when he glowered at his tear-stained reflection during those early Academy days, that wanting to believe it counts for something.