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Acceptable Losses

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Kylo sat in a chair during the morning meeting. In any other situation it would have garnered little attention from Hux. Sure, Kylo usually stood in a corner, but a man was allowed to sit every now and again. After last night Hux found himself casting wary glances in the man’s direction during lulls in the briefing. No one was very agreeable the morning after a bender; it was very disconcerting to think of what Kylo Ren with a hangover was capable of. Hux spent a distressingly large amount of the meeting trying to surreptitiously decide whether or not Ren had fallen asleep in his chair. He was awake by the end of the meeting, regardless.

A wave of dread rolled over Hux as the other officers left to go about their business.

Hux resisted the urge to try and vacate the premises before the room emptied; he steadied himself and within a minute or two found that he was alone with the Knight. He watched from the corner of his eyes as Kylo rose from his place at the long meeting table. An awkward blanketing hush fell over them and muffled their senses.

“I would like a word with you, General. This evening?” the tone wasn’t entirely a question, but it was still hesitant. Hux wondered how much of last night Ren remembered. From his passive body language Hux judged: very little. Or all of it. It was hard to tell with him. The strong form was slightly curved in on itself, as it was wont to do when Ren was uncomfortable.

“Certainly, Ren,” Hux said professionally, keeping his breathing shallow and steady. It was an odd sort of relief. He didn’t want to have that discussion this early in the morning. To be fair, he never wanted to have the conversation but he could acknowledge that it would have to be dealt with. Sooner or later. Kylo did an odd sort of two step, as if he were trying to leave the room without stepping back and away. Hux was suddenly aware of the fact that Kylo had been staring at him from behind his mask. Then the Knight pivoted abruptly on his heel and was gone. That habit of his was becoming increasingly annoying. It had a tendency of making Hux want to follow him. Hux shook his head and redirected his focus onto the morning’s reports.

 

They were uprooting pockets of resistance fighters on the planet’s surface. This week alone had seen a shipment containing medical supplies intercepted, two packages containing blasters and physical munitions had been shot down and seized and the communications department were making headway cracking through the scrambled jumble of code and nonsense that comprised the resistance’s link with their commanders. Captain Phasma’s security division had found two of the more enterprising members of the resistance on a stake-out, trying to establish the schedule of comings and goings of ships and people on board the Finalizer. And, as always, there were whispered rumors of a spy onboard the ship itself.

The rumors had made Hux’s stomach turn. They could not afford to let a spy relay any information to the enemy, regardless of its importance. Hux also refused to allow a witch hunt to occur under his command. It was a thin line to walk, he thought, staring down at his datapad. One wrong move and it would be more than just himself falling from grace. The destruction of Starkiller had crippled the First Order more than Hux was willing to allow to be made public. He’d had to put a strangle hold on the flow of information leaving the Finalizer. It had raised the value of said information enormously.

Their monetary backers were asking questions, a development which never ended well for military endeavors. Their myopic view of what the Galaxy should be disappointed Hux, but he bit back his distaste. In any case it was just as likely that the people holding the purse strings were sending in as many spies as the resistance.

So then.

How could one find a spy without acting like they were searching for a spy?

Hux had been born a bosom-mate of paranoia. The last time he’d allowed himself to trust in anything he’d been rewarded with Kylo practically allowing the destruction of Starkiller Base and one of his best Captains ending up in a trash compactor. He was accustomed to questioning the motives and machinations of every living creature around him—his knew his subordinates would doubtlessly find it trying.

During his ascent to General, Hux had called in quite a few favors that respect for his surname had earned him. He wondered if he had any left with the empire’s former intelligence agency. Not many of the Ciphers had been able to pass on their skills when the Empire fell and so those few who were known to the First Order were in high demand. Hux bit the inside of his cheek and brought out his datapad. He wouldn’t have a problem requisitioning an agent from the First Order’s ranks; it was a matter of pulling strings to make sure it was someone beyond competent.

A message flickered to his attention across the top of his datapad. Ah. The resistance fighters were talking. It was anyone’s guess if they were saying anything worthwhile. If the questioning was being done right then they were most likely only giving away what would be common knowledge. If it was being done wrong then they were saying whatever it was they thought would make the ‘questioning’ stop. Hux debated attending the interrogation for roughly five seconds. Ren would be there, if not actively interrogating then at least observing the torture. Hux’s mind stuttered for a moment trying to decide if that was a good or bad thing. He decided against it; his next meeting would be starting soon in any case.

Roughly ten days ago Snoke had sent Kylo somewhere. Hux hadn’t even been made aware of when the Knight was meant to return—he hadn’t chanced questioning Supreme Leader about it. Hux had staunchly refused to admit that he’d felt a flicker of deepening concern each night that Kylo had been away without a sign. And then Ren had returned with a small datachip. Some ancient looking thing that radiated evil in a way that had made the marrow of Hux’s bones vibrate in primal fear. It was an artefact of the ancient Sith. When Kylo Ren had produced it Snoke had sent the Knight away from the chamber, leaving Hux alone in his flickering presence.

Contained within the chip, embedded and coded and protected by layers upon layers of encryption were schematics for something. It was nowhere near as large as Starkiller; whatever the plans detailed seemed to be no bigger than the Finalizer itself. And yet if preliminary studies were to be believed, somewhere in the vicinity of being ninety times as powerful as Starkiller. Snoke informed him that activating it would be powerful enough to collapse matter into a black hole.

Snoke bid Hux ‘build it’ and the General would obey. His palms had itched at the thought of the power under his fingertips. He would never need to use it; the threat alone would be enough to bring the corrupt and loathed “Republic” to cow-tow.

Hux was torn from his thoughts by an officer entering the room and saluting him smartly. She waited passively for him to acknowledge her, which he did with a curt nod, and then she relaxed her stance. Chief Engineer Hale was one of three people on board who had unrestricted access to the weapon schematics. During the construction of Starkiller she had proven herself to be a woman of numbers, hard facts and an unrelenting belief that if something could not be built it was because the builder simply wasn’t trying hard enough. The thought of this new project had excited her at first. It was easy to see that now it weighed heavy on her mind; there was more grey in her hair, more lines around her eyes.
Hux did not envy her; he would suffer is she failed, but the brunt of this project was on her shoulders. If the weapon failed in any way, shape or form, Chief Engineer Hale would lose more than respect or her job. She stared at the just wall beyond his head.

“General Hux, sir,” her voice was steady.

“Sit,” Hux motioned to a chair on the opposite side of the table from himself. “I understand that you’ve been studying the plans?”

“Yessir,” Engineer Hale was at least a decade older than himself and yet the woman was clearly uneasy in his presence. She was a shorter woman and was nearly as broad across the shoulders as she was tall. It had the effect of making her look like a middle-aged cube. Hux acknowledged and then ignored his approval of her discomfort and set the datapad down on the table.

“And?” the General leaned forward, elbows on the table, fingers lacing together in front of his chest. “Can it be done?” Hale leveled her gaze to meet his. It wasn’t quite fear in her eyes. It shone more of anxious resignation—well. That didn’t bode well. People like Hale did not become anxious easily; numbers and metal did what they were told to do and everything else in life was superfluous detail.

“Not with the resources we have now, sir,” she replied evenly. Hux held her gaze, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It never came. Hale stared back at him, face etched in wary regret. In any other situation it was clear she would have someone else to deliver the bad news—but there was no one else to send. There was no one else on the Finalizer beyond herself, the chief architect and Hux who had full, working knowledge of this plan. Hux exhaled slowly through his nose. He’d been expecting that.
“In what areas are we lacking?” he began, keeping her pinned with his gaze.

Hale shifted. “All of them?” she chanced and cringed as she said it. “Sir,” Hale added as an afterthought. Or a forethought, as she continued. “We need materials—and nothing so simple as steel and cable; we need laborers and supplies for those laborers. We need large amounts of space; and not just in terms of ground coverage. We’ll need medical supplies and practitioners for the inevitable accidents. And none of that is considering the actual building materials. I only got halfway through calculating how much magnesium we’ll need before I had to have a lie-down, not to mention the lumber and sand,”

“Lumber and sand?” Hux repeated. He arched an eyebrow.

“Yessir?” Hale’s eyebrows furrowed slightly and Hux sent her a look that indicated the he’d spent his time constructing a legacy, not corridors. “Yessir, lumber and…,” she paused. “Large amounts of rhodium and what I think to be…uh…iron oxide,” the rhodium would be difficult, even Hux knew that. It was one of the most expensive elements in the galaxy. His brain was distressingly good at remembering which things would have him crawling back to the First Order’s funders. The rest of what Hale had said managed to make itself known.

“What you think to be iron oxide?” Hux had a tendency to repeat things when he wanted a further explanation, but didn’t want to seem like he needed to ask a question. It didn’t fool anyone, but he did it anyway out of habit.

“Yessir,” she said miserably. Hux’s mind managed to slot the words into a more recognizable space.

“You think ‘rust’ will be required? In large amounts?”

“Yessir,” Hale looked like she was physical pain. “At least that’s what the schematics seem to indicate,” a headache behind Hux’s eyes began to throb in sympathy. He’d taken a glance or two at the first translations off of the datachip and had earned himself a migraine for his trouble.

Hux leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Can you do anything with what is available now?” Hale was back to politely staring at the wall over his shoulder. It was an even older trick than repeating someone else’s words. Subordinates used it, officers used it; Hux had used it on occasion when speaking with the Supreme Leader. Keep the gaze close enough to the face to be respectful, avoid eye contact to keep the other person from seeing in. Her mouth moved soundlessly for a moment before she replied.

“I could build you a rather nice raised sound-stage, sir,” Hux glared at her but failed to find any sign of a joke in Hale’s face. Her gaze on the wall didn’t flicker for an instant.

“If we can manage to get the resources we need—can it be built?” Spies and sand. Just how many favors did he really have left? The time to find out was at hand.

“Our people can build anything, sir,” Hale replied, for the first time during the meeting, with confidence. Hux appreciated it. He found he had something of a cousin of faith in Hale’s abilities; it was reassuring to see that she apparently returned it in spades towards her workers.

“Then I’ll need an itemized list of everything you think necessary,” Hux was asking her to walk a fine line without really asking it. She’d have to hedge for every contingency without being overly zealous AND without cutting corners. “Consult with Chief Architect Dershev before you submit it to me,” he began and then added, “If you’re able,” the professional respect he felt for Chief Engineer Hale was more than overshadowed by his personal distaste for Chief Architect Dershev.

Whereas Hale prided herself on economy of everything, Dershev had troubling ideas about form dictating function and not the other way around. Dershev was the sort of person who drew curly spirals and fern designs around the borders of floor plans and spoke of the need for color coordination and debated loudly with himself about the merits of certain column styles. Hux preferred to deal with Dershev at arms’ length at all times because Dershev was also the sort of person who argued against the use of hand railings along elevated walkways because they ‘ruined the aesthetic’. From Hale’s expression it was clear that she shared Hux’s unspoken opinion of the architect i.e. that his input on this project was less than necessary. But appearances did matter, at least when it came to backers and the public, so an architect’s eye was occasionally required.

On the table Hux’s datapad lit up once more. Hux cast a brief glance at it and kept his face as motionless as possible.

“You are dismissed,” he said and tried to keep his eyes and voice from betraying him.

“Yessir,” Hale rose in one fluid motion filled with relief at the thought being able to end this meeting. She saluted smartly and strode from the room with the knowledge that although her future held a great deal more of Dershev than she would’ve liked it also held the prospect of being able to get her work done.

Hux held his statuesque position until Hale was clear from the room before he grabbed the datapad and pulled up the message. It was from Ren, a rare sight in and of itself; the message sent bile rising in Hux’s throat.

Urgent. Interr—room 2. Trouble.

Shit. The only trouble Kylo would bother telling him about would have to do with the information the questioning had revealed. And even then…Hux cursed under his breath.

Hux was surprised to see one of the Knights of Ren waiting outside of interrogation room 2. Her arms were crossed firmly over her chest in a stance that was half threatening and half dismissive. She’d been told to guard the door and because she was a fighter and not a guard had promptly gotten bored. Security detail required the sort of mind and body that could be occupied with staring at the opposite wall for hours at a time. He watched her as he made his way down the hall. Even with her face covered by the mask and her form concealed under heavy robes it was clear that she didn’t want to be there. Every syllable of her body language said that she’d rather be out shooting something.

She straightened when she saw Hux approaching but not to her full height. The Knights of Ren were not under Hux’s jurisdiction and she did not salute. If Hux hadn’t been preoccupied by wondering what was going on in the room behind her he would have wondered if she was the same Knight who’d been thrown against the wall. She rapped her knuckles against the door and moved with it as it slid open.

The first thing to hit Hux was the smell. It stank of fear and sweat and industrial strength cleansing fluid. This was a room that was disinfected and scrubbed on an hourly basis when it was in use. Hints of fresh blood played into the mix.

It took a moment for Hux’s eyes to adjust to the low lighting but when they did he focused on the young man who was strapped to a raised table. He was covered in sweat and grime and spots of blood were beginning to edge through parts of his fabric clothing. The blood would have been from the initial interrogation.

The face, twisted in residual agony, couldn’t have been more than twenty. The resistance was using children? Teenagers at the very least. Panting heavily, tears streaming down his cheeks and saliva dripping down his chin, Hux determined that Kylo had been assisting during the questioning. Presumably when the drawing of blood had proven to be ineffective. Hux made a half turn and saw the Commander in question, cloaked and helmed, just halfway in the shadowy corner. A hungover Ren with license and motivation to torture something nearly made Hux’s stomach turn. His mind took the sensation and instantly relabeled it as a valuable, if temporary, asset.

The actual interrogator, a lieutenant with bad skin, was next to him with panic clear in his eyes. He caught Hux’s gaze, saluted shakily and then abruptly turned to ensure the door was secured. The locking mechanisms clicked and the pressurizer hissed, sealing the entrance shut. Whatever was about to be revealed would only leave in the minds of those present. That was not a reassuring thought.

The wheezing of the prisoner on the table kept the silence from being oppressive.

After a moment of waiting in the tense air Hux could take it no longer and finally snapped.

“Well?” At the sudden noise Lieutenant Skin Condition hopped away from the door. He looked sheepishly at the wall. Hux followed his gaze and saw that the wall in question had a slight recess into which several rather archaic items rested in personal grooves. They were the sort of things only that only a very clear thinking, sane and completely depraved mind could come up with. The General didn’t allow his gaze to linger there. They were necessary evils. His mind would not apologize for them, but that did not mean he had to focus on the streak of vermillion on one of the sharper, curved tools. Or the way it caught the light. Or how it.

Kylo Ren stepped forward and extended a hand towards the restrained man on the table. The General’s attention was on him in an instant. Then Hux had to tear his eyes away from the motion; had to convince his mind to not imagine the flexing of the muscles hidden beneath the black fabric. Now was very much not the time for that. The captive made a noise not unlike that of a severely wounded animal, high and desperate and keening. His young face contorted in unrestricted pain as if every nerve fiber in his body was being drowned in pain. Perhaps they were. It was a wrenching sound to hear come from a human being. Kylo then brought his hand down to hang apathetically at his side, clearly satisfied with the information he’d pulled from the boy.

“It appears,” he met Hux’s gaze with a cold voice, “that there is a spy in our midst, General,”