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secrets for a buck

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Hux's datapad pings with a holonet alert. He has a series of them set to run when someone he finds of interest has news about them broadcast, indicated by a little green credit icon flashing in the top left corner of his display layout.

He abandons the stack of flimsi-copy permission slips he's been signing since last Tuesday it feels like, to slide the notification open and read the contents.

"A TARKIN MURDERED!" the news headline reads. Apparently, Lieutenant General Yech Tarkin of the Outer Rim military command has expired under mysterious circumstances. The Tarkin family requests privacy and understanding during this trying time.

"Fucking Tarkin," Hux hisses and chucks the datapad clear across the room into the opposite wall.

Ren opens one eye from where he's been sitting still and meditating on Hux's office floor, exhales a bit of laughter.

"Isn't that more my speed?" he asks, voice raspy from being silent for so long.

Hux stands from his desk chair and fiddles with the seam of his right-hand glove.

"I will murder you in your sleep."

Ren opens both eyes and rolls them. "You'd have to find me asleep, first."

Hux sneers at him, but Ren just closes his eyes and returns to his meditative state of calm. Why the bastard can't do this in his own quarters, Hux doesn't know, but the last time he tried to have him ejected the floor was warped into a funhouse mirror and Hux just doesn't feel like dealing with that degree of a repair bill again.

He stomps past Ren to where his datapad fell. He picks it up, checks the scuffed screen, then does an about face and chucks it back at the other wall.

. . .

"Our darling Yech was cut down in the prime of his life," Lady Fiona Tarkin emotes, dull-eyed. Her face appears to be frozen in an expression of disinterest, peering off at something elsewhere than the holoscreen. Hux mentally notes to check on the rates of Old Money families visiting cryogenic cell surgeons; purely to satisfy his own curiosity, of course.

"My profound sympathies for your loss, my lady," Hux says, tries to make himself appear concerned and is undoubtedly failing. Yech Tarkin wasn't a day under sixty year cycles and had the looks of a life of excess to the tenth power.

Lady Tarkin appears to not have heard him. "Yech was such a vibrant fellow," she continues, "and oh so generous."

"I only had the opportunity to meet with him once, at a dinner held by the Captison family two months ago," Hux says, "and I was assuredly struck by his good humour and congenial nature."

Lady Tarkin's eyes go sharp and pierce Hux straight on. He curls his fists on his knees under the table.

"My cousin always made such odd investments, his only failing," she murmurs.

Hux feels the writhing serpent of dread wake up in the pit of is belly. "I was unaware of any failings he might have possessed, my Lady."

She waves a hand. It is a very elegant gesture, hearkening back to the times of monarchs ruling the Core Worlds. "You didn't live with him for years as I once did, I'm afraid. Family always sees the foibles of their members, as you are already aware, I imagine."

The corners of Tarkin's eyes crease, just a bit, as she gauges how the below-the-belt jab hit. Hux does not permit his jaw to clench. It is a struggle against a very primal desire on his part.

There is a clatter of commotion on Tarkin's side of the holocall. The sounds of doors opening, footsteps. She doesn't look away from Hux, just smiles like a snake.

"I'm dreadfully sorry," she demurs, not sounding the least bit apologetic, "but a group of mourners have arrived. If you will excuse me, General?"

Hux inclines his head with a false respect.

"Absolutely, my lady. Again, I express my sympathies for your loss."

Her smile transforms from snake to deep sea creature with lots of sharp teeth.

"Thank you, General. We do so appreciate Yech's acquaintances taking the time to remember him."

The call cuts off, the screen goes black. Hux takes a moment to watch his reflection in the holoscreen as he seethes in his chair. The sheer gall of the woman to insult him through mention of his father. Who does she think she is?

She's a Tarkin, of course. He shoves himself up and refrains from kicking at the chair as it spins in place from the force of his exit. Then he stomps out of the conference room. He will be required on the Bridge in an hour anyway, and he needs to think this over before he reacts in an ill-advised way.

The circumstances of Tarkin's death are mysterious, he begins with. If they are mysterious, then that means there is a potential of scandal. If there is a potential of scandal, then there is a distant chance of blackmail material. He comes to a stop at the end of the hall and mulls that over.

The turbolift in front of him will deposit him right across the hall from the Bridge. He considers it, then choses to go the long way around. There's a staircase that will suit his needs for stomping nicely, so he sets off in that direction.

If there is a chance of blackmail, then all one must do is acquire said material, and the family will have no choice but to fork over the credits.

But how to acquire what he needs?

He can't send Ren, he decides with no lack of irritation. The man would probably set explosives prior to stepping in to wherever Tarkin was murdered, start up his lightsabre, then set off the bombs for dramatic effect. No one would be talking after a show like that. Hux saw him pull that stunt on Agamar and after he finished yelling himself sick he had to spend six hours filing paperwork in triplicate on the failed mission.

Perhaps a sanctioned information retrieval squad would work. He'd have to enlist Phasma's help, she knows which of her troopers could be gathered in a S-class shuttle and would actually get the job done after being sent out into the unknown. She could lead the charge remotely and report back to him every hour, two hours at maximum, and--

Hux grits his teeth. Phasma won't care about this; she'll outright refuse, in fact, all while citing her very valid commitments to the training regimen of the new divisions just brought in. He won't be able to force her into it, he won't even try.

Hux stops in the middle of the hallway. There's a gaggle of repair droids accusing each other of bigamy in droidspeak next to him, but he doesn't care. The horror of what he must do next stops him from bothering to even register that the droids are plagiarising a scene that occurred right in the officer's cafeteria last week when Lieutenant Relish and Lieutenant Prower had a marital spat standing in the lunch line.

There's no other option. He will have to go retrieve the information himself. If you want the job done right, and all that rot.

A shout occurs down the hall. Hux angles his body without fully turning around to see what the commotion is.

A group of off-duty stormtroopers stagger down the hall towards him, drunker than a soused sarlacc and apparently not noticing that the ship's commander is standing in their way. They're singing a rowdy song about necrophilia, they're being annoying, and Hux is already in a bad mood.

Hux squares his shoulders, then barks, "You there!"

The three troopers freeze mid-step, wobble, then shakily form a line and salute.

"M-me, sir?" the trooper on the far left asks.

Hux raises an eyebrow; his own form of sniffing out the blood in the water.

"Yes, you. Off to reconditioning with you."

"Uhm," the doomed trooper says.

Hux bares his teeth. "You heard me! Go!"

"Yes sir, of course sir!"

The trooper staggers backwards down the hall, three steps, then five. His two compatriots turn their heads away from Hux to watch him go, nearly huddled together.

"Bye, Fred," one of the troopers says.

"Yeah, see you," says the other.

Trooper Fred hesitates, looks back and forth down the hall. Hux crosses his arms and glowers.

"When I get back, can you call me something other than Fred?" Trooper Fred asks, folds his hands together in supplication. Combined with the helmet, he looks absolutely ridiculous. "I bloody hate that name."

The rightmost trooper nods. "Yeah, sure."

"Sometime this cycle, please," Hux calls, nearly sing-song.

Fred the trooper flees down the hall, leaving the other two to cower before Hux.

"Let that be a lesson," he lectures, "that if you make that much noise on my ship, you will get reconditioned. Understand?"

"Yessir," both troopers chorus.

He waves a hand to dismiss them, then remains standing in the hallway as they scurry off, alone once again. He notices the droids, who have moved on to banging on the backs of each other in a sort of mechanical circlejerk whilst humming a low bassline.

Hux watches them for a moment, then snarls and kicks a foot out at the droid closest.

"Oh, do get on!" he shouts as they stop their inanity and skitter away on squeaky wheels in all directions.

. . .

The Finalizer isn't stationed terribly far from the Hutt System, incidentally. They're on what would be considered the outskirts of Hutt Space already, guarding a First Order shipping lane. It's punishment from the politicians for Hux's muck of the paperwork for destroying Alzoc IV. Hux, for his part, just wishes some pirates would show up so he could order something new destroyed.

A cargo-class shuttle is being prepared for Hux's leaving, to be ready for departure as soon as Hux's shift on the Bridge ends. He sits at his desk during his lunch hour and pokes through recent intelligence on Nor Shaddaa while he tries to fork nutrient hash into his mouth one-handed.

Quite a bit of hash has fallen from his utensil to the tabletop. He doesn't like failure, but he's trying to not let this instance of it get to him.

The door to his office doesn't bother to chime before Ren stomps through wearing his full body armour and helmet ensemble. Hux flicks his gaze up to check that Ren isn't bleeding, then wordlessly goes back to his datapad. No critical injury equals no interest on his part, and that's the way it will hopefully always be.

"This plan of yours is stupid," Ren announces.

Hux sighs as he sits back in his chair, away from the research screen. "What plan?"

Ren's stance gets even more tense, much to Hux's amusement.

"The plan where you go play 'Chiss Cluedo' on a fucking Hutt moon, that plan."

"I have no idea what that plan is." Hux's lips twitch. "What are you--"

"I could feel you scheming from across the ship, shut up.".

Hux glares. He doesn't scheme, he plots.

"I'm just getting blackmail material," he snaps, "I'll be back within a standard week."

Ren makes a chopping motion with his hand, staggers forward two steps to loom at the edge of Hux's desk. "You're going to get yourself killed."

Hux unbuttons the top button of his tunic with a flick of his thumb, then fishes out the kyber chain around his neck. It's still glowing that obnoxious shade of orange that in no way matches his hair. He shakes it at Ren and grins meanly.

"Oh, has this run out of juice? Do you not believe in the Force to protect me any longer? Is your craftsmanship substandard?"

Ren growls through the vocoder. It makes him sound like a stuttering petrol engine commonly used on one of those smuggler planets.

Hux rolls his eyes and drops the necklace back under his clothing. The warmth seeps into his skin immediately, a shallow reprimand for him removing it in the first place. "I'm leaving Lieutenant Fibb in charge, by the way. Don't think you can do something horrific to the ship while I'm gone to try and teach me a lesson, or whatever motivates your more stupid bouts of insanity."

"What lesson could you possibly learn from the ventricle cannon battery cells being repurposed into fireworks for a children's hospital on Dagobah?" Ren replies, bland.

Then Ren sweeps from the room. The door doesn't bother to chime as it closes after him, either. Hux watches the Knight leave with the niggling feeling that he should have that lack of proper feature investigated by a repair droid.

Hux leans back in his chair and crosses his arms. He thinks for a moment while he regards the shiny brushed durasteel ceiling.

"No, that one is a bluff," he decides. "Absolutely a bluff."

. . .

The shift change at 2100 hours sees Lieutenant Fibb taking control of the Bridge for the first time ever and peeing himself when he sits on a carefully disguised belching cushion hid on his chair. Hux does not know about this blatant lack of regard towards ones' superiors because his shuttle is two hours out from The Finalizer and four hours away from a docking appointment on Nor Shaddaa.

He does have access to the intranet on the Finalizer for another hour, however, so he gets as much done as he can on reports and credit allotment to the Research and Development department in the time he has left. It's quite cosy in the nose of the shuttle with all the flying instruments pinging merrily along. He rests his legs, crossed at the ankles, on a stack of three medkits and has a grand time.

Eventually, as all good things must, the signal fades and he's left to his own devices. Hux decides that the purpose of his own devices is to tear apart the shuttle and make a mental inventory of everything they managed to cram into the ship, and make a separate list of what they forgot and will surely be sent to reprogramming for.

Unless whoever forgot something was Phasma. Hux would never reprogramme Phasma, just like he would never urinate on a classical painting from the Core Worlds or allow Ren into his refresher while he's using it.

That incident cost him quite a few injury reports on unnecessary drainage on the GR division personnel, but Hux managed to keep his boundaries in place. For now, he's considering the whole thing as a draw.

He finds that the ammo lockers are full, so are the gun lockers. There is a surplus of guns, actually, much more than one person would ever be able to use. Hux wonders who decided he needed triple the allotment of guns, and further, who he should be mean to when he gets back.

The conservator has two ration packs inside. Compared to the crammed-full weaponry containers, it's a bit of a shock to see so much space free. He shrugs and leaves them alone. He'll eat when he gets there, no use for it.

Inside a tall compartment is an assortment of folded uniforms, bland underclothes, First Order designated civilian clothing. He finds the largest size he can so the hem on the trousers don't ride up his ankles, but they're too big for him. He sourly refolds them and goes the next size down, changes quickly, methodically stows his greatcoat in the back of the compartment for safekeeping.

The mandatory table and two chairs are bolted to the floor of the living apartment, but angled improperly from the wall. It angers Hux that he's been given a shuttle with manufacture errors, and he vows to write a report that is both scathing and career ruining for whoever permitted this ship to remain with the First Order fleet.

An hour and a half out yet still, and he has yet to examine the explosives locker. The lock doesn't look to be properly attached, he should see about fixing it if he can't fix the table. But the first time he means to, he checks the water tanks instead. The second time, he finds himself trying to drag a footlocker out from under the bolted cot in the living quarters for an entire twenty minutes before he realises the thing is attached to the floor as well.

It bothers him that he's acting so scattered. He shouldn't be so tired he malfunctions in he duty.

Hux hesitates at the piloting console and wonders how he got there. How long has it been since he slept? He does some mental maths, finds that it's been over twenty hours, and sits down in the pilot's chair, defeated.

In the viewport Nal Hutta is coming into view. The speck that will turn into Nor Shaddaa is not in sight yet, probably in orbit around the other side. Hux takes up the top medkit from the stack and cracks it, rummages through the disorganised contents for a stim-shot.

If he's to get started immediately, then he needs to be sharp and clear. He jabs the stim-shot into the vein on his wrist, feels the rush from it before the plunger is even fully depressed. The edges of his vision sparkle, everything is in glorious technicolour and he really shouldn't have done this to himself.

The piloting console lights up with a transmission from the Nor Shaddaa docks. He has to stop swatting at the fluttering bits of glittery fluff in the air to focus on the standard welcome: Hallo, this is our area of Hutt Space, here's a list of available docks for you with the waiting times updated ten seconds before transmission.

Hux selects the dock from the list that is in the same sector as the cantina Tarkin was last seen in. The request transmits with a soft chime, and before he can lean back into his chair to wait out the immediate effects of the drug he took, a response trills with the autoresponder saying ETA Forty Minutes to Landing.

His assigned pad is TV-1337. It's like a stormtrooper designation! Wait, why is he excited about something so infantile?

The shuttle's software takes over the landing procedure with no input from him. He sits back in the chair and watches the processes list on the screen inlaid on the console. Someday he'll take a manual control ship out and land it somewhere, just to prove to himself that he still can.

A hallucinatory insect crawls down his leg, which he smacks at. Really should have left the stim-shot alone.

While he waits he pulls up the map of the sector on his datapad and tries to figure out where the cantina is in relation to the dock. Might was well get started right away, despite things. Sooner he gets this done, the sooner he can get back to Ren.

Get back to The Finalizer. Where Ren is surely breaking things.

Not just Ren, of course.

. . .

Greedo Memorial Cantina is clearly a local hotspot, but Hux cannot for the life of him get the aforementioned locals to take him seriously. He should have brought more blasters with him. He should have cracked open the explosives stash and loaded his pockets with the contents before he ever stepped out of the blasted shuttle.

"I dunno, mate," the Bothan bartender answers as he scratches at his prodigious nostrils, "We get so many murders in here, yanno? Can' keep track of 'em all."

"This one was fairly recent," Hux cajoles through grit teeth. His fingers are cramping from where he's clutching at his mug of local "brew", which he assumes is local dialect for "sewage". A headache from the stim-shot is banging about in his skull and the swill he tried to take a sip of earlier isn't helping. "An old empire family fellow, I can't imagine he kept that quiet."

The bartender inspects his fingertips, then reapplies himself to scratching with a renewed vigour.

Hux waits for as long as his patience permits, which is approximately thirty seconds. "Do you at least remember where the last few murders happened? A general area would be helpful."

A Falleen sitting two stools down at the bar leans towards Hux with a toothy grin. She slurs, "You looking to pick up some pointers, yeah? You looking to get in good with the Hutts?"

Hux sneers at the woman and releases his mug of swill before his hands are irreparably damaged. "Look, I know you people out here have no use for the law--"

The surrounding barflies break into raucous laughter at that. Hux clenches his jaw and takes steady, calming breaths through his nostrils.

The sounds of patrons drinking and arguing in the cantina abruptly cut out into an eerie silence. Hux turns away from the bar to see what the hell they're on about, and finds Kylo Ren in full Force Knight Regalia looming in the doorway with stray strands of beaded curtain straggling over his shoulders.

Ren appears to take in the room, then takes one heavy step inside. The curtain falls off his shoulders with a loud clatter, one that no one dares comment upon. Then Ren takes another step in, pauses while he swings his head around to look over the room, takes another step, repeats the process. Right up to where he comes to a stop three feet from Hux at the bar.

Hux doesn't say anything to him. He's torn between anger and bemusement, his normal mode when dealing with the man, and he would rather wait to see what Ren comes up with than incite unnecessary violence before it is needed.

A sensation hits Hux right between the eyes, as if he's being flicked gently by too-long fingers. Hux blinks in surprise, then Ren swivels in place and stalks through the silent room to a booth set under a window on the exterior wall.

The inhabitants of the booth move like they would very much prefer fleeing than staying in place. They jerk in their seats, which Hux knows is the Force settling against their limbs to keep them still.

A low murmuring conversation happens between Ren and the four Quarren males in the booth. Hux is too far to hear distinct words despite the quiet in the room, but can see the Quarren's tentacles waving at Ren as they talk. Hux shifts away from the bar, crosses his arms, and waits.

Ren turns at the end of his conversation, gestures at Hux with one hand, and then leaves without so much as a by-your-leave. Hux glares at everyone in his field of vision and walks as quickly as he dares after.

Ren has already barrelled down the street a ways, going back to the docks Hux put the shuttle at. Hux leaves his dignity behind him and sprints after the Knight, growling as he goes like he needs the motor noises for authenticity.

He catches up to Ren and snags the back of the man's cloak, yanks it back, is disappointed when Ren just braces himself and doesn't fall over.

"What the bloody hell are you--" Hux starts to hiss.

"Tarkin had dealings with a Hutt, is that enough for you?" Ren interrupts without turning his head to look at Hux. The vocoder makes him sound bored, but Hux knows the man under the helmet, and if anything, Ren is likely anything but.

"What? Which Hutt?"

Ren still won't look at him. "A legacy who has been cast out from his Kajidic."

Hux balls his fists in the fabric of Ren's cloak and thinks about ripping it apart right where they stand. "I need a name."

Ren starts to walk again. Hux is left following him, trailing after holding the cloak like a pestering schoolchild.

"At the shuttle," Ren says, and Hux drops his hold on Ren's clothing in favour of matching the man's stride and resisting the urge to kick him at the back of the knees.

It is not far to the docks Hux chose. There is a steady stream of bipeds lugging massive loads into and out of the cargo holds of ships at this time of the cycle. This late, everyone is tired and keeping their head down. No one looks up as Ren passes them, but Hux gives the evils to everyone just in case.

There are no new ships he can see. Ren leads them straight back to Hux's shuttle, which of course he would, it's unmistakable military, but Hux cannot for the life of him figure out how Ren got here.

"Did you take a taxi?" Hux asks, incredulous as Ren keys in the locking code to the shuttle's bay doors. "Did you have a damn taxi come to my ship to pick you up?"

Ren's helmet regards him without expression. The bay doors beep and drop open, Hux takes the initiative and shoves past Ren to enter first.

The type of shuttle Hux acquired for the trip has a loading bay and no other exterior entrances. This means that as he stomps inside and gets through the airlock, he finds himself in the middle of the cargo hold. He stops cold when he sees the mess.

There is twisted metal everywhere, the smell of burnt hair lingering in the air, and quite a few supply crates upended across the floor. Hux stares where the explosives locker once stood, whole and presumably full of high-grade baradium in small transportable cases that he could have used on this trip.

There are burnt slashes on the remains. The shadow of Ren's tentacle force staff is lying amongst them, innocuous and in wait. Hux considers giving this entire situation a thoughtful and dignified approach, then starts to kick at things instead.

Ren stumbles into the cargo hold behind him. The exterior doors clunk shut behind him with a bang. He takes his helmet off and watches Hux kick the locker's debris into a pile in the centre of the floor. "You're not going to get what you want from them. If anything, they'll try to sell you into slavery because you look different."

"You said this plan was stupid, but pray remind me which one of us stowed away inside the explosives locker for a seven hour trip when he could have just asked to come along?" Hux snarls. A sharp piece of locker door cuts into the side of his boot and leaves a long scratch in the leather, which infuriates him further.

"They don't like the First Order," Ren says, watches Hux kerb stomp the remaining bits of locker door hard enough to make the shuttle's floor groan. "You saw that from the people in the cantina. They're not going to help you on this!"

"I don't need their help," Hux says, "I need their information. They're certainly afraid of you."

Ren hesitates in pulling off his left hand glove and eyeballs Hux like a skittish shaak. "I can't forcebreak a Hutt. There's too much." He drops his glove to the floor in favour of motioning his hands around his head like he's fondling an invisible bubble. "There's too much blubber around the brain or something."

Hux is very unimpressed. To illustrate his severe lack of awe at Ren's oratory skills, he grabs the tentacle force staff still propped up inside the remains of the locker and proceeds to use it to shove the heavier bits of the mess into the pile he's working on.

"Already I've found out that Tarkin was indeed dealing in something that his family would consider embarrassing, Ren. The old families do not communicate in a friendly way with Hutts, no matter how profitable it might be. All I have to do is retrieve proof of this indiscretion of his and the credits for Starkiller II are in our coffers quicker than a hyperjump."

Ren watches Hux desecrate his weapon with a sullen expression and his arms crossed.

"We should go home. You could nap with your cat and I'll keep my pants on so you don't stress out, and you'll feel better at at the start of next cycle."

"I do not need a nap!" Hux shouts.

Ren points at how Hux is brandishing his staff. "Your thoughts are all jumbled and running into themselves. You're not normally like this, obviously you're compromised."

Hux whirls on him.

"You dare speak to me about compromised thinking when you bloody well chose stabbing your father over saving my superweapon?!"

Ren's lower lip trembles for a moment, then he sets his jaw and tilts his chin up. Hux feels his face contort in anger in response.

"That was a bad choice on my part, I admit it."

Hux stares at him, incredulous. "Oh, lets get an alert out on the holonet so everyone knows that Kylo fucking Ren admits he was wrong!"

"Not that I was wrong, just that I made a bad choice," Ren corrects with a wince. "I've since grown as a person and will not make the same mistake twice."

Hux very nearly groans.

"Please leave the self-help holovids alone."

"My Master told me to watch them," Ren sniffs.

Hux rolls his eyes and stabs viciously at a bit of locker insulation with Ren's staff. "Yes, and Snoke is all knowing, exactly."

Ren hesitates as if he doesn't quite know how to answer.

"Well. Yes?"

Except for the minuscule shards of debris that he'll need a vacuum or a broom to get at, Hux has successfully cleared the mess in the cargo hold to a manageable, treatable pile in the centre of the hold, directly out from the back loading doors. He props the staff up under his elbow and leans on it, then checks where the buttons to turn the damn thing on are and decides to throw the weapon at Ren instead.

Ren catches it with the Force and glares at Hux while it hovers next to him.

"This offends me. This entire situation offends me," Hux says. He stomps back into the living section of the shuttle to retrieve his datapad, then flicks over to BanthasList and browses to Nor Shaddaa's section with the intention of finding the closest landfill.

"Look, I can probably skim the minds of the Hutt's mercenaries if that will help," Ren says as he follows Hux, "but you have to stay here and out of the way."

Hux snorts at his datapad. "You would refrain from attacking these people when they refuse you an answer? You would restrain yourself when the urge to create a galaxy-wide incident occurs?"

Ren is silent. Hux looks up from his datapad to smirk at him.

"Yes," Hux purrs, feeling mean, "That's exactly what I thought."

"They don't like the First Order," Ren says weakly.

"I won't approach them as First Order, then." Hux flips through another landfill listing. There are more landfills than there are living quarters on this damn moon, it appears. "I can go incognito just as well as you or anyone else. But you simply cannot do the negotiations that I can, so I will be the one going."

"Did you hear me about your disorganised thoughts?" Ren shouts and fists his hands in his hair. "You're not yourself!"

Hux's lip curls, then a thought occurs.

"That's probably the stim-shot, actually," he admits.

Ren pauses in his dramatics to gape at Hux. "You're drugged?!"

"Not terribly," Hux says, shrugs. "I wanted to stay sharp."

"But you're not supposed to take those! The Galactic FDA said--"

Hux drops the datapad to the table and cuts Ren off.

"The vultures will say whatever they feel is best for their bottom line. Now leave it."

They glare at each other and only stop because a dent in the flooring in the cargo hold suddenly pops back into place with a loud bang.

Ren's mouth pinches and he begins to strip off his body armour, one piece at a time, all without breaking eye contact with Hux.

"You're being a child," Hux feels the need to point out.

"And you're being loose and fancy free with your health," Ren retorts, then pulls his belly shirt off over his head and kicks off his boots all in one go.

Hux mouths the words "fancy" and "free" in wonder while he watches Ren struggle with his suspenders. An inkling of a thought is growing in his hind-brain as he watches Ren drop his trousers, leaving him in nothing but off-white underpants and a massive amount of scarring.

"Hux?" Ren asks, looking at him oddly.

Hux startles, then decides to go to the clothing storage and rummage around. He's been caught staring, he's never caught staring. When Ren gets over his snit Hux knows that he'll never live this down.

The too large uniform is still folded neatly near the bottom of the slim closet, right where he put them a few hours ago.

He removes the tunic and shakes it out, considers the massive amount of fabric. He looks over his shoulder to consider Ren's frame, then thinks better of it and just holds the piece of clothing out towards the Knight.

"These will fit you, yes?"

. . .

The Hutt that Tarkin associated with runs an entertainment centre in the next sector over. Hux laments his poor choice in docking location, especially now that he has to lug himself down city streets wearing Ren's hulking ensemble.

"This was your idea," Ren says. His face is bland where it peeks out from under the wide-brimmed hat he found somewhere. At least the uniform fits him decently, it would be an embarrassment to the First Order if he appeared slovenly and unkempt like his usual for this meeting.

Ren glances at Hux in a side-eye fashion. Hux quickly directs his attention to the task at hand and not on how Ren's shoulders fill out a tunic made of regulation yet easily torn material.

The amount of mercenaries and rough trade characters in this sector is truly astonishing. Hux would never assume any part of Nor Shaddaa was family friendly, but this bit of it certainly will never rise to the task. The reassuring pressure of the blaster strapped to his back under the outfit's robes stops him from demanding they turn around and go back to the shuttle to pick up more explosives.

Ren for his part has that damn lightsabre of his tucked under his own jacket because he can't very well trundle in with the staff. It would give up the entire ruse in a heartbeat. Hux dearly wants to hate him for this entire situation.

Another left turn, and they're outside of Mondo-Mosh's Glitterspace Pit. Hux eyes the blinking lights that form the shape of a winking female Twi'lek and shudders.

Inside is indeed a space full of glitter, with a recessed pit in the centre where all the tables and dancers stay. Said dancers have poles they twirl around.

Hux watches one Falleen do a complicated set of manoeuvres on her pole with wonder, considers offering her a job in the S-Class. Under Phasma's training, that woman could be a very competent assassin. They'd have to work around the species restrictions that the First Order has in place, but Falleens are mostly humanoid anyway. And assassins rarely take off their masks...

Along the south wall of the interior is a massive mural painted in vibrant colours with thick strokes of the artist's brush. It depicts an elderly hut reclining on a divan of luxurious pillows, and elegant lettering on a flowing ribbon up near the roof that reads MONDO-MOD HERITAGE SPECIAL, with the cursive tagline below it, BECAUSE YOU'RE WORTH A DAMN!

A green Twi'lek woman is at the bar and startles at their appearance. Then she mutely holds a hand, signals wait in common biped hand-language, and quickly disappears through a door near the back. Hux decides to slouch uncomfortably against the bar to better look like Ren. The knight steps close and leans much too far into Hux's personal space for dignity's sake.

"Not much on the holonet about this one," Hux murmurs, tilts his head back to inspect the ceiling. It looks damp, how alarming.

Ren quirks his lips. "His legacy's Kajidic won't have anything to do with him because of some failure of his father's, so he accepts funding from humans for his own ventures."

Hux lazily looks around the room, flicks his fingers at a glass at the end of the bar. Ren glares at him and uses the force to make it explode. No one really notices, or at least appears to.

Ren leans in closer, pretends to be checking something ingrained on the bartop. "Stop that."

Hux looks away, back at that atrocious mural. "You told me to make it believable."

"I don't do that."

Hux is grinning from under Ren's mask; Ren can probably tell, which makes it even better. "What, indiscriminate property damage? Is that what you don't do?"

Ren stiffens in fury, then the green Twi'lek returns from the back room and gestures for Hux and Ren to come with her.

The back room is actually a wide hallway that leads quite a far ways in on a discrete decline. The carpet is crushed flat by wheels and has clearly seen better days. Hux has the out-of-character impulse to let Ren lead, which he fights tooth and nail in a grand mental battle that takes up the whole of their walking commute.

Mondo-Mush's chamber is opulent, also glittering like upstairs, and every hard surface is covered in gold foil. Pleasure Slaves writhe against the walls for unknown reasons. A squad mercenaries clearly employed by the hutt perch on stiff cushions littered around the floor.

"Come in, Force Monkey," the hutt commands from his sprawl along one wall. Like the mural, he's on a divan. Unlike the mural, he's not elderly or hocking rotgut alcohol.

Hux wonders if he should be offended by the Force Monkey title. Ren is still stiff with rage one step behind him, but that could be over anything.

"Mondo-Mush," Hux settles on inclining his head and keeping his voice even through the vocoder. "How insightful, since we are here on Force Business."

The hutt's eyes roll around in his head, the corners of that vast mouth quirk upward into what Hux hopes is a grin. "Do tell, no contradict."

Hux shifts his stance so he's standing at military attention. This is going to take some professionalism, something that the likes of these vagabonds have never seen. Hux hopes Ren is taking notes.

"You knew Yech Tarkin, yes?"

The hutt wobbles in place. One of the writhing dancers comes along and picks up a pitcher from the floor, upends the contents unceremoniously over Mondo-Mush's head, then replaces the pitcher in its place of origin and returns to her spot on the wall to writhe against.

This all goes uncommented upon, the hutt quivers his lips and waggles his stubby arms as the liquid rolls down his oily body.

"Tarkin was visionary. Visionary with troubles," Mondo-Much croaks, his eyes roll back in his massive head.

Is this some sort of sex thing, Hux wonders. He feels Ren bodily twitch next to him, a brush of the Force tapping at his collarbone near the kyber crystal necklace. He inclines his head to the hutt in false deference and choses to contemplate hutts and liquids later.

"We're interested in what sort of visionary action he took. His murder has greatly distressed his family, they would like to know of any..." he trails off, holds up one of his hands with the palm turned to the ceiling.

Mondo-Mush's eyes roll back around to focus on Hux. "Made people mad, he did."

A distant whisper of Ren's voice, which may or may not be spoken aloud, slithers into Hux's hearing. "He doesn't have to talk like that. He thinks we're idiots."

A mercenary on the floor, some sort of variant of Houk, rocks back on his cushion and claps his hands on his kneecaps. "He was stabbed in the back with a hydrospanner, mate. Had to make someone really freaking mad to get them to go to that trouble, yeah?"

Hux pauses. "How so? Are hydrospanners sacred in this culture?"

The Houk frowns at Hux. "Nah, it's just hard to use for... stabbing."

"Two family on Nor Shaddaa..." Mondo-Mush croons, apropos of nothing.

"What?" Hux asks.

Mondo-Mush begins to cry. The mercenaries on the floor take on alarmed facial expressions according to their species and temperament. Hux feels alarmed.

"That part is legitimate," Ren says through the Force, or however he's communicating right now.

"I saw to moonside run," Mondo-Mush wails, gulps for air, continues, "When I return, he gone!"

"Thank you for your alibi," Hux says quickly. "Is there anyone else you know of who might wish harm upon him?"

A Tunroth sitting closest to the door scoffs into his mug of brew or caf or medicated slugrot potion. Hux slowly turns his head to focus on the man and watches him get nervous, begin to flick his eyes from his sobbing boss across the room and the presumed Force User staring at him,

Hux slowly reaches up one gloved hand and flicks his fingers at the man. His head is tilted in a way that from the corner of his eye he can see Ren's nostrils flare with effort. Then the mug the mercenary was sipping from explodes in his face, a large piece of which lodges into his bulging left eyeball.

"He gone, he gone forever!" Mondo-Mush wails and thuds his arms against his body.

"Ow," the Tunroth, now sans one eye, says.

Ren slides a half step closer to Hux. "Tarkin's body is missing."

The strange echo of the trick he's using makes Hux's head hurt. He winces inside the helmet and looks at Ren full on. "What?"

A flash of an image, disjointed and from the perspective of a biped standing in a doorway, gives Hux the impression that there was once a cadaver on a slab in a white room somewhere, but it isn't there anymore.

"Oh bloody hell," Hux mutters.

"Gone!" Mondo-Mush wails, just in time for another Twi'lek to speed in through the door with a full pitcher and a haggard demeanour.

. . .

The shuttle has a piece of repurposed flimsi receipt stuck on the door with a bit of tape. It reads in sketchy binary, "Come see me in the office about your bill," and Hux tears it down with a snarl.

The setting artificial lights for Nor Shaddaa's day cycle are at just the right angle to make the pile of Ren's destruction glimmer meanly at Hux. The mere sight of it makes his temper worse, so he nudges the edges with his boots and grinds his teeth.

"What now?" Ren asks, coming in behind him.

Hux gestures at the pile of shredded metal and insulation. "We both have to live here, damnit, and I refuse to live in a slovenly mess."

Ren crosses his arms, leans against the wall of the cargo hold near the airlock entrance.

"Then why didn't you bring a droid?"

Hux whirls on Ren; the robe parts of the outfit keep whirling when he stops and slap against his knees. "Because you weren't coming with me!"

Ren hunches his shoulders and glares with his lower lip almost out in a pout, which Hux does not have time for, enough is enough. He points through the still-open airlock and the bay doors beyond.

"Go see what the man means about our bill and get a wheelbarrow while you're at it."

Ren narrows his eyes.


"If you don't, I will, as Kylo Ren, offer the hutt the chance of a lifetime. Now get out of here."

Ren is obviously betrayed and a host of other things as he leaves. Hux could give a shit, so he tries to remove the bolts on the table by hand and irreparably scuffs Ren's gloves for his trouble.

Twenty minutes later Ren returns with a wheelbarrow. It has a face painted on the front that is either an angry humanoid's mouth or a mechanical being's ominous expression of dissatisfaction.

Hux falls to his knees and scoops the debris into the wheelbarrow with his hands. Ren lingers by the open doors, watching avidly.

"The dock master has no idea what the flimsi was for," Ren mumbles, chewing on his lower lip. "He says he'll ask around."

Hux grabs at the sharp bits of the refuse carefully so he doesn't cut himself. "Did you get directions to that landfill?"

Ren narrows his eyes. "What did you do to my gloves?"

Hux flaps a hand at him. "Go get the directions, I'll meet you outside when I'm done here."

Ren stomps back outside with a snarl.

Hux quirks his head to listen. As soon as the footsteps are distant, he shoves to his feet and stumbles into the living quarters in search of a serving tray. There's one in the conservator, for whatever reason. He retrieves it, returns to the mess, and uses the tray as a shovel to get done faster.

When everything but the tiny, best-hoovered-by-a-droid parts are up, Hux tosses the tray to the side and moves the wheelbarrow out of the shuttle. Ren is already on his way back, looks angry and then alarmed when Hux points at the wheelbarrow.

"You get to push."

Ren's shoulders sag. "Why?"

"Because it wouldn't do for a Force user to push his own wheelbarrow, naturally."

Ren's face contorts. Hux's face is hurting from all the grinning he's been doing.

Ren roughly grabs the handles to the wheelbarrow and leads the way from the docks, out onto the main thoroughfare and along a deadlock of speeder traffic. He doesn't wait to see if Hux is following or not, but of course he is. Right on the man's heels, just like Ren does when he's on a lurking fit.

Hux peers down a narrow side street as they pass and sees a sloped building with an eerie blue light spilling from the windows and open door onto the pavement outside. There's a steady stream of patrons going in and out, some laughter rings from the general area along with a jaunty two-step tune.

"What if Tarkin went to other cantinas?" Hux muses aloud. "Or perhaps he angered someone in a hardware store?"

"I don't want to hear it," Ren growls and pushes ahead of Hux with his angry wheelbarrow.

It takes an hour to get to the landfill. In that time they pass more funeral processions, abandoned parks for children, and ship repair shops than could possibly be used; they only see one hardware store on their way, one Sherwin Hutt's that looks dusty and ill-used.

To dump their load of trash they must pay a small fee. Hux hands over the credit chip to the Operator, a blue Twi'lek with the nametag of PAUL clipped to his collar.

"Could I trouble you to borrow a hydrospanner for a moment, please?" Hux asks Paul.

The Twi'lek shrugs, removes one from his pocket, hands it to Hux. "Keep in full view, don' want you to walk off wi' it."

Hux has dealt with mechanics before and finds this to be perfectly reasonable. He acknowledges the terms with an incline of his helmeted head and returns to Ren.

"Does this match what killed Tarkin?" he asks, holds out the tool.

Ren gives it a dismissive glance while digging a splinter out of his thumb. "According to the Hutt, yes."

Hux raises an eyebrow.

"You don't believe him?"

"How would you drive it in? The end is blunt." Both ends of the tool are indeed not sharp enough for penetration. Hux chews on his cheek while Ren finishes, "I could see it as a bludgeon, but not for stabbing."

Hux gives the hydrospanner back to the watchful Paul, then they leave the landfill back to the road without another word.

Near the edge of the sector they come up to a temporary roadblock set to let a funeral procession have the right of way. A whole herd of sobbing humans stumble down the street around a large cart pulled by six domesticated taun-tauns, followed by more bland humans looking solemn and wearing dark robes.

"My idea is this," Hux says as he watches, "The hydrospanner is a lie."

Ren rolls his eyes. "No, really?"

"You know, if you don't have anything to contribute here you can very well stay at the shuttle next I go out."

Ren looks Hux up and down. Then he grins.

"And when they expect a show of the Force, you'll just wave a hand and it'll all go your way, that it?"

The temporary blockade is lifted; they continue along the route back to the docks. Hux instinctively leads while Ren smirks at him one step behind.

"There are other disguises than this one," he snarls, then winces as the feedback from the vocoder crackles right in his ear. "You're the one who wanted to come along and keep track of me. If I go solo, then--"

Ren grabs Hux by the shoulder and adjusts his gait to keep right on Hux's heels as he hisses into the side of Hux's mask, "Don't use that word."

Hux shrugs off Ren's grip. "What word?"

"Solo. Don't use that word."

Hux's step hitches but he manages to soldier onward. He takes a moment to marvel at the streets and the populace and the situation he's currently in. "Of all the inane--"

Ren darts ahead of him to cut him off in more ways than one.

"We should go to where the body was kept and ask the people there!"

Hux tries to grab Ren by the shoulder but the Knight dodges.

"Don't distract me, damnit, I was about to verbally abuse you for being an idiot."

. . .

KEPLER HUTT SANCTITY CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL is printed in block letters over every exposed inch of free space on a building across the street from the morgue, it seems. The end effect is a miasma of angry advertising that has Hux feeling slightly angry. Would it hurt them to put in a picture of a smiling sickly child for effect?

He's quite glad he'll never have to go inside such a place. He has no children to subject to the horrors of Hutt medicine. If he did, he'd space the whelp the instant it sniffled as a mercy killing.

Ren peers at Hux with an odd expression. Hux ignores him and proceeds Ren into the building that once housed Yech Tarkin's body, a sombre duracrete affair with a simple sign saying BODY DISPOSAL AND STORAGE placed discreetly in the front door's window.

The opening foyer was once a stark white but is now smudged with dirt and smoke to an extreme amount. A cluster of unpadded chairs line the walls with sharp edges clearly on display, and a counter is set into one wall with a transparisteel pane above to show a clerk stationed. One hallway opens from near the counter and veers sharply to the left. Another is across the room and is marked clearly as an expedient route to the public bathrooms.

Hux moves to approach the counter but something goes squish under his boot on the third step that makes him pause. The floor is, on inspection, covered in mushrooms and the husks of rodent corpses. He turns to Ren, who is also staring at the floor, and says, "If you hadn't ditched our explosives I could blow this place sky high and cite health code violations on the report."

Ren narrows his eyes and kicks at the corpse of what might be a dead juvenile exoslug. "I didn't leave all of them."

Hux squares his shoulders and resumes his trip to the counter. The clerk's head is bent to read a holorecord lain flat on his side of the barrier. Hux raps on the transparisteel to get the insectoid Colicoid's attention.

The clerk's mandibles click as he says "Yeah" without lifting his head.

"Third party investigation on the death of Lieutenant General Yech Tarkin," Hux answers through grit teeth.

"That a humanoid, then?" the clerk asks. He raises one leg to scratch at his nose and stares at his holorecord with such devotion that Hux has the urge to shoot it with a blaster.

"Yes, he was a humanoid," Hux says instead of giving in to his fantasy of violence.

"You want archivals. Down the hall, fifteenth door on the left. Can't miss it, smells like dirt and moonshine back there cos it's next to the lav."

"We want the incident report, don't you have that readily at hand?" Hux asks. He eyes the drinking fountain built into an alcove near the hall that's supposed to lead off into their oncoming scavenger hunt. If Ren causes it to explode with the Force, will they go fetch the information for him?

The clerk flicks another leg at his holorecord. A different brightly coloured graphic takes up his screen. "Once a body is out of building they shove the paperwork there. Won't find it anywhere else."

"How do you know it's out of building?" Ren asks, finally taking part in things. He's still staring at the floor, but a different bit of it.

The clerk bobs his head to the side, as if to shrug. "You want it in one piece, it's gone already."

Hux exchanges a look with Ren. That certainly doesn't sound promising.

Ren takes point down the hall with one hand on his belt. It's obvious he's holding himself close to his weapon, but because the lightsabre is hidden under his coat, it looks like he's comforting himself with an imaginary one.

They pass three doors, alternating on either side. Hux randomly opens one for kicks and is presented with a wrought-iron landing for a twisted staircase going down. One storey below is a processing plant, masses of machinery and workers, all lumbering from point A to point B with body parts.

This must be where the unclaimed bits go, Hux marvels. On the other side of the room is a grinder that takes in arms and legs, spews out ground chuck into unhygienic packing crates.

Ren tugs Hux backwards by the robes and closes the door so they're alone in the hallway once more. Then he tugs Hux along, who sees no need to argue right now and follows without much thought.

"No more random doors," Ren says. He's not looking for confirmation so Hux doesn't give any.

Archivals is a heavy door at the end of the hall. It has a bevelled glass window set into the door, with etched lettering across the front. The glass looks outrageously dirty, Hux's skin crawls just looking at it. Ren doesn't knock, he opens it and steps inside without so much of a by-your-leave, and Hux is left following.

The room is simply a twelve by twelve space full of cardboard boxes and an unlit corner incinerator. A box nearby has no lid and shows reams of flimis and single-use datachips.

"Is there a sensation stronger than disgust?" Hux asks no one in particular.

Ren doesn't answer; he crouches at a box that looks relatively new and starts to rummage. The outside of the box is marked in pictographs, it's a language Hux cannot read.

"Is there any place on this bloody moon that has a legitimate function?" Hux finds his own box to poke through. The one seems to be full of batch orders for some sort of service. "If I get it into my head to go traversing off to a place like this again, please stop me."

"I tried to stop you," Ren says. He stands from his box and holds two stacks of glossy flimsi stock in his hands. He holds out one stack to Hux. "You told me to fuck off."

Hux takes the stack. Autopsy photographs, how glorious. "Use the Force, then," he hisses.

"You lock me out of your rooms when I do that," Ren says, simple, as he begins to examine his own stack.

Hux grunts and starts to look at his own pictures. There's nothing to argue there, he locks Ren out regularly, generally when the man refuses to wear pants.

The photographs are of dead bodies, species of every persuasion, all naked and cut into and with marker drawn cartoon faces over where the collective corpses expression of terror should be. Hux rubs at the marks with his thumb and they don't come off, so it must be a permanent sort of ink. No wonder they want to burn these things.

Each dead body has a set of six pictures in sequence. Hux finds two humanoids in the batch who are obviously not high-born, then a third with a tool from some hardware store wedged between his shoulder blades while he's lain face down on the examination table.

"Found the bastard," Hux announces. He drops the rest of the photos into the closest box and keeps the ones of Tarkin. There's a gaping cavity in his back from where whoever murdered him hit him with enough force to puncture skin and spinal cord with a tool not commonly known for murder. The other pictures show his assorted bruises, long thick lashes that wrap around his arms and legs, a peculiar smudge of purple on the small of his back.

All in all, an ignominious ending for an ignominious man.

Ren continues to page through the photos while Hux pockets the hard copies of the Tarkin corpse. How irritating that they have no records on a timeline for when the body supposedly vanished. He can't blackmail the Tarkins with the supposed knowledge that their cousin was ground up in a chop shop, he'll be laughed right off the holonet.

Hux starts for the door but stops when Ren makes a shark intake of breath. He's holding a series of three photographs in his shaking hands, the rest of the stack scattered on the floor; his eyes are wide, a cold sweat has broken out on his forehead.

"Someone you know?" Hux asks, not really interested.

The back of the bottom picture has scratchy binary written on it that Hux can read, "Female hutt and baby." Hux steps around a dismembered box left between then and looks over Ren's shoulder at the scraps of glossy flimsi stock.

If there's a baby in that mess, Hux can't see it. He holds onto Ren's wrist to try to stop the shaking, but it doesn't work. Still can't tell where the head is on the hutt, though.

"Kajidic politics, I suppose," Hux murmurs, steps away. He's a little surprised, to be honest. Don't hutts have extremely low birth rates? Shouldn't that female have been protected by a legion of mercenaries if she truly was an expectant mother?

"They reproduce?" Ren croaks. He sounds like his mind is about to break; Hux has heard that waver enough after sessions with Snoke to be properly alarmed.

" do you think they keep their civilisation going, exactly?" he asks, tentative. "A spontaneous coming into being?"

"They keep slaves, I thought they just..." Ren waves the photographs at him. "With vats or something!"

Hux slowly, methodically, raises one eyebrow.

"After all you've done and seen, you're disturbed by a dead baby. Will you ever cease to amaze me, I wonder."

"It's not the dead baby! I can't even figure out where the dead baby is in this!"

That makes two of them, then. Hux leaves the room, he cannot deal with this anymore. Ren follows, still clutching the gory pictures, shouting. "It's the reproduction part! How do they do it?!"

Hux rolls his eyes.

"The way the rest of us do it, I suppose." He quickly holds up a hand without looking back. "That wasn't an invitation, by the way."

They spill out into the waiting room. The clerk is gone from the counter, a sign left in his place reading "back in ten minutes". Hux starts for the door.

"What do they need the slaves for, then?" Ren asks, nearly on his heels.

The door opens to blissful artificial moonlight and a vast ground free of health code violations. Hux basks in the ghastly glow of the streetlight and doesn't even let the aggressive advertising on the building opposite get him down.

"One of the ways barbarians subjugate conquered people is to take slaves," he tells Ren, who now has the pictures held close to his chest and is still looking stricken around the eyes. "Have you never had any lessons whatsoever? I know you've had schooling, did you sleep through it?"

Ren grabs at his shoulder, grips him nearly high enough to jab him in the neck if he's not careful. "They don't need pleasure slaves if they have women who think they're.."

A gaggle of female Quarrens walk past, heads swivelling to myopically take in the sight of their argument. Hux smacks Ren's hand away and wrenches the photos from his clenched fist, stomps over to a public rubbish bin set near the lamp post.

"They're what, Ren? Think they're what? Attractive? Maybe the hutt women all have headaches. I certainly would get one in that situation."

"..they shouldn't need pleasure slaves," Ren says, bleak. "For that."

Hux yet again wishes he could rub at his face, just to let some of the exasperation out. He settles for cramming the photographs deep amongst the refuse of the bin.

"If the slavery bothers you that much, do something about it," he snaps, then stalks down the street, hopefully in the correct direction to get back to the shuttle.

. . .

The durasteel table is still improperly angled on the floor. Hux tried to procure a autodrill machine from the Docks Manager so he can unbolt it and move the damn thing to its proper placement, but the dullard had already lent his out to a party of Triffian dandies and hasn't gotten it back yet.

He sits in one of the chairs and eats his meal anyway. Ren ordered noodles with strips of mystery meat on top for delivery from a local establishment. It could be akk dog for all he knows; the meat is certainly gamy enough.

A series of local news bulletins reporting on Yech Tarkin's "charitable contributions" are loaded on his datapad. He skims the first three paragraphs of one before flicking to the next. There's nothing on the holonet that he can find about Tarkin's supposed funding of a Hutt's delusions of grandeur, but then again, you never know about some people.

Ren is sprawled naked on the floor. His promise of putting on trousers to reduce Hux's stress was a horrible lie, of course.

The temperature control turns on and blows some cold air into the living section. Ren shudders, then visibly forces himself to relax.

"Can we please go home now," he whines.

Hux doesn't look up. "I need to find the man's body."

"It won't do you any good."

Hux shivers at the temperature drop, but he'll be damned if he turns the heat up. Ren would think it was for his benefit, and Hux cannot afford the time to deal with that misconception right now.

"Mmm, how so?" he asks, discards this article on a park being constructed on Endregaad that is to be named after Tarkin. Utter hogwash is what it is, no one goes there for the parks.

Ren rolls over onto his stomach and props himself up by his elbows. "What will it prove for blackmail if you find it? That he died where they dismember corpses and grind them for medicine? Will that really help the Tarkins reconsider?"

Hux chokes on a mouthful of food and nearly gobs all over his fragile electronics.

"I am never getting sick in the vicinity of Hutt Space," he wheezes, "I'll sooner expire by my own blaster fire."

Ren drops his face onto his crossed arms and groans.

"Are you even listening to me?"

Hux coughs to finish clearing his airway, then flicks to the next report with his thumb. "Oh valiant voice of reason, I hear ye but do not obey," he combination croaks/chants.

The report that loads is a feature on a new wing being added on to a children's hospital, one in a long line of donations made by one Yech Tarkin. He wasn't present to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, but a stock photograph of him attending the opening of his contribution on Nor Shaddaa is used to give the article legitimacy.

Hux blinks at said photo. The building looks disgustingly familiar. The food in his stomach roils without permission and he drops the datapad to the table in favour of covering his mouth with both hands.

"How did you plan on making those fireworks?" he asks.

Ren lifts his head to look at Hux with a twisted mouth and scrunched nose.


. . .

They approach the monstrosity of aggressive adverting and bad architectural design sense from the front door. Hux leaves Ren to set the explosives and walks inside on his own, powers on the very lightsabre he has no idea how to use properly as soon as everyone in the waiting area turn to look at him.

"The Kepler Hutt Sanctity Children's Hospital is now closed for repairs," he yells through the vocoder. No one moves, they just stare.

Is something in the water on this moon, Hux wonders. Why is everyone so cognitively thick?

The explosives Ren fashioned out of the shuttle's cannon battery cells go off at the two front corners of the building, make the ground shake and bits of ceiling crumble down on their heads. Hux points the lightsabre at a family of five sitting closest to him in the waiting chairs.

"Now will you imbeciles move?" he asks, truly curious.

The Twi'lek mother stiffens in outrage.

"There are children here!"

"And do you want them to die?" Hux is yelling now because it's been a long week and he really can't help it at this point. "No? Then move!"

The waiting room rises and evacuates as one living mass. Hux presses himself against the wall so he won't get swept up into the flood, but Ren has no problem wading through the screaming children and angry parents to reach Hux.

"Admissions is a front for their financial offices," Hux tells him, then leads the way into the bowels of the hospital. Hux just has to hold the lightsabre before him and the clerks and doctors they come across run shrieking in the other direction.

Down two flights of stairs and after Ren uses the force to toss an angry mortician down a turbolift shaft, they find the tomb that is records. All kinds of records. Oodles and oodles of records.

One cubicle is labelled as FINANCES, so Hux powers off the lightsabre and replaces it on his belt and sits down in front of the terminal. Ren stations himself in a direct sight from Hux at the door to the records room itself. He looks bored, toys with his staff while he waits.

Hux tries to turn the terminal on the usual way, which is punching the thing in the general area of the on switch. The screen immediately lights up and reams of data start to spiral across the screen. The heading DONORS flash across the top like a cheap bar sign. Hux hits the carriage return to try and speed it up, all to no avail.

"How many bloody donors does this place have?"

Ren is focusing on whats going on down the hall.

"I think the Sector Rangers are here," he says.

The data finally stops scrolling and Hux type into the search box 'TARKIN', which immediately loads thirty results. Some of them are even sourced from a folder called 'BUDGET', oh joy.

"Found him," Hux announces while he plugs in the datachip for the files to copy on to.

Ren is not listening. "They're carrying Heavy Tracker 16s, so I was right. The Sector Rangers are definitely here."

Hux opens one credit transfer receipt, then another. He checks the address on both, snorts out an aborted laugh.

"The address for Tarkin's funds have the same street number as that landfill we went to yesterday."

Ren stops peering down the hall to peer over at Hux. "What does that mean?"

Hux shrugs. "Oh, credit laundering. The usual tricks."

A loud bang happens. Hux jumps in his seat.

"What the fuck was that?" he asks Ren, tries to get his breathing under control.

"The Sector Rangers," Ren says.

A modulated voice calls out from down the hall. "Come out with your hands, tentacles, paws, or any other applicable blaster-handling appendages, up!"

Hux rips the datachip from the port on the terminal and shoves the entire thing off the table in his haste to get up from his chair. He steps on the remains of the machine for good measure as he approaches where Ren is standing sentry at the door.

"Shall we visit the garbage pit again?"

Ren hands Hux his staff and unclasps the lightsabre from Hux's belt in return.

"Are you asking me or telling me?" he asks, then powers on the lightsabre.

Ren leads the way through the halls by cutting down everyone wearing official law enforcement clothing he can find. Hux meanders after him, carries the staff propped over his shoulder. At one point back on the ground floor he lazily checks the wall terminals for functionality while Ren gets cornered by a whole unit at once.

The back door is unguarded, and Ren stumbles outside covered in a thick coating of blood and viscera that clashes horribly with his Officer uniform. Hux looks both ways down the street before he follows him out into the open.

While Ren tries to shake off the more persistent gobbets of gore, Hux peers at the sky for possible flying machines and finds none.

"They really didn't care to engage, did they?" he muses.

An invisible finger pokes Hux between his eyes. Hux swats a hand at his helmet and growls in Ren's direction, who doesn't look at his face. Ren clips the lightsabre back onto Hux's belt almost gently, with reverence, and takes the staff back while Hux thoughtfully considers clouting the man upside the head with his fist.

Ren points in the direction of the abandoned noodle stand down the street. "Landfill should be that way."

. . .

Paul the Twi'lek Trash Operator is on shift again. He watches them approach with a stoneface and crossed arms. If such a menial worker could be legitimately unimpressed by more business, Hux will eat Ren's helmet.

There is no communication between Hux and Ren as soon as they get in range. Ren stomps ahead and proceeds to bludgeon Paul with his staff without a word. Hux sidesteps the violence and squealing to go inside the maintenance shack and examine the place.

Hux pokes around the desk, checks under the rugs on the floor, and is moving a bookshelf full of flimsi periodicals when Ren finishes up outside and comes inside too.

"Don't we need to go look further in?" Ren asks. Blue blood is dripping from his hair, Hux notes. It makes him look like a spice-drugged teenager in a bad part of town.

"Do you sense lifeforms around?" he asks instead of mocking Ren. Daylight is wasting, as the saying goes.

Ren concentrates off into the distance, his mouth goes slightly slack, his eyes glaze.

"...down," is what he comes up with after a couple of minutes.

Hux goes ahead and just knocks the bookshelf completely over.

"Then no, we don't need to go further in."

The small door set in an alcove that was hidden by the bookcase is durasteel make, probably older than Hux, rusted along the bottom as if it sat in water for a few years before it was installed. Hux removes Ren's lightsabre from his own belt, powers it on, uses the blade to cut out the lock before he kicks in the door entire.

A yawning black expanse greets them. The door falling down some steep stairs make a horrible clatter of metal on metal.

"The cover-up portion of my training would insist on a service entrance to the compactors," Hux says while he reattaches the powered off lightsabre to his belt.

Ren stands next to him and peers into the dark.

"You've been trained a lot," he mumbles.

Hux grins. "Hmm, yes. Well, it is one of my strengths."

He leads the way down the narrow hallway, but is shoved to the side into a slimy brick wall by Ren before he gets even ten steps down. He grunts, Ren takes the lead, and they descend at least two stories worth of stairs before the light starts to brighten and Hux can see a bit of their surroundings through the helmet.

The walls are indeed slimy, and a light coating of it is along one of the armour's shoulders. He isn't as upset about this as he would be if it were the greatcoat, mainly because Ren will be the one who deals with it.

They don't speak, and eventually the stairs level out to a straight hallway, technically wide enough for three men to walk abreast but the walls are covered in so much technical piping that they have to walk single file anyway.

Hux tries to shift the helmet up a bit so he can breathe some fresh air and is foiled by the latching mechanism. Ren comes to an abrupt stop before him, then steps to the side so he can see this main thoroughfare-like corridor they've suddenly come across.

"Lifeforms to our left," Ren says, looking in that direction.

Hux peers that way as well. There's some kind of clashing metal noise down there, chaotic but faint. He points straight ahead of them, where the narrow corridor continues.

"How about in front of us?"

Ren's focus goes glazed for a handful of seconds.

"Some, but far ahead and further down."

Hux sighs, gestures to their left. Ren once again takes the lead, staff held ready to be turned on at a moment's notice.

The noises get louder as they approach. A set of closed doors stop the corridor cold with two hallways going opposite directions to their sides. The metal on metal clashing doesn't sound the slightest bit mechanical, and Hux has a very good idea on what they're about to walk in on.

Ren steps forward and places his left hand flat on the steel. He gets that faraway look in his eyes as he concentrates.

"Not immediately on the other side," he says, removes his hand from the door. "Down a bit."

Hux feels a trickle of sweat travel from his hairline down the side of his face. It irritates him. "Everything is down with you today."

Ren gives him a sullen look as he opens the doors. There's a faded light on the other side, stadium seating that leads far down from where they top out, a boxed statue set on display over some open doors down near the ground. Which, incidentally, is quite far down.

The place is a bloody underground gladiator ring. Mondo-Mosh is on a chair on a platform built directly over where the door with the statue is, preening like a king at the gaggle of slaves down below. They're in the process of beating the shit out of each other on the hardpacked dirt floor.

A good half of the stadium is crammed full of an audience, where sloven creatures roar and make bets and chew on haunches of what Hux hopes is thoroughly cooked meat.

A sign on a pillar close by says "NOSEBLEED SEATS". Hux reaches over and tears it down on principle. They're so far up that if they stay in the dark parts, there's a reasonable expectation of not being seen by Mondo-Mush and his ilk.

Hux crumples the sign up in his hands and edges the lighted seating to watch the bookies mill amongst the crowd, advertise their chosen profession with a wave of the little reams of tickets over their heads.

"That bloody betting ring!" he snarls.

Ren looks over Hux's shoulder and in the same direction Hux is looking. "What?"

"It was a cover for the money," Hux seethes, "He pays taxes on piddling amounts while all the real action and income happens down here. The hutt comes off with all appearances of legitimacy, and he can stockpile resources over time."

Ren considers him with a tilt to his head.

"You know a lot about hutt practises."

Hux wishes he could take the helmet off to glare properly.

"I know a lot about tax evasion, Ren. Say it with me now. Tax evasion."

Down in the arena a furred hulking Whiphid wearing a very tiny bikini bottom stomps on a much smaller slave's head into jelly. Then it prances both feet up and down on the corpse. The joyful squealing of the creature glorying in its destruction is tinny but audible even all the way up where they are.

Hux tries to rub at his forehead, ends up smacking at the helmet instead.

"If I ever want to shut this down, all I have to do is call in some Species Rights Activists. They would have a field day down here."

"There are no Species Rights Activists in the First Order," Ren points out. "You'd personally contact the Republic with this?"

"It is called an anonymous tip, Ren."

Ren ignores him and turns back to the door. "We're looking for Tarkin's money. It's not here."

Hux tosses the wadded up sign down the steps. Littering is a small pleasure of his, might as well give in. It's been a really shit day so far. He looks over to Ren, says dry as Jakku, "Daresay I am becoming Force sensitive. Is it... down?"

Ren grabs him by the arm and drags him backwards through the doors, back out into the corridor. The doors close shut by will of the Force or, as far as Hux can tell, a stiff breeze out of nowhere.

The corridor goes back the way they came, straight ahead, but also branches off to the left and right, both leading on a downward slope. Hux shakes off Ren's grip as he checks the floors for tripwires, the walls for grates that could leak out gases, the ceiling for Cartesian Dropbear cages.

Instead he notices a series of metal-plated cables running along the ceiling down the right turn. They run into a box the size of a stormtrooper helmet every 10 yards or so, embedded into the ceiling tiles in a very slipshod manner.

He smacks Ren in the shoulder to get his attention, then points at the ceiling.

"Fibre optic neuron cables. Old fashioned, but they work."

"Is the box a bomb?" Ren asks. He doesn't look terribly worried, so Hux smacks him in the arm again.

"It's a transmission terminal. If we follow the cables we'll run straight into the hub."

Ren props his staff on his shoulder and gestures for Hux to lead. Hux is suspicious of this, but accepts the wordless proposal as his due and tries to confidently stride down the hall.

They walk past three sealed doors and one empty vermin trap, then a door on their right bursts open and out tumble a murder of guards wearing full armour and all carrying blasters on their hips.

It's hard to tell who is the most surprised. The six guards stand there blinking at them. Hux considers their options, then points at the guard furthest from him.

"You!" he shouts.

Ren immediately forcechokes the guard Hux points at, who falls to the ground with a snapped neck.

Hux turns back slightly to look at Ren and says, low, "I meant to ask him a question."

The remaining five guards watch with blinking beady eyes and sweaty skin. Their buzzard heads weave from side to side, hopefully in fear. Ren hitches one of his shoulders up in a shrug, then twirls the staff over his head and slams it into another guard's faceplate.

Blasters fire over Hux's head. He fumbles the lightsabre off his belt and clicks it on, then swings the blade at the closest guard's kneecaps. Dirty tricks are the best tricks as far as Hux is concerned, especially when it makes someone fall to the ground yelling wildly.

He ducks out of Ren's way and uses the lightsabre to cut off the downed guard's head for insurance. On the other side of the conflict is Ren, who wields his staff like a hammer and cracks the business end of it over the head of another guard.

Hux turns to face one of the remaining two guards. Then the lightsabre sputters, cuts out, and the guard shoots him in the face.

The necklace on Hux burns hot in a quick flash. The bubble of protection pops up and repels the blaster bolt to the ceiling, leaving sparks to rain down on everyone's heads. Hux smacks at the handle of the lightsabre then thinks better of it because of possible unwanted explosions.

Ren stops his rampage, staff held aloft, and looks at Hux. "Your robes are on fire."

Hux bats at his own clothing. It's only a little fire, goes out with three swats. Again, he is very glad this is not his armour to deal with, because the handing this over to a cleaning droid would cause the poor thing to malfunction and die at this point.

"That wasn't the Force," the guard who shot at him says.

Hux wills the necklace off. The orange light winks out and leaves the hall much darker than before.

"Of course that was the Force, you piece of shit," he snaps.

The guard shakes his head. The blaster trembles in his two-handed grip. "That was a device, I saw it activate."

"The Force is a device upon which mere mortals have no guide on how to operate," Hux says, as grave as he can manage.

Ren lowers his staff to beam at Hux with approval. Hux sees this and desperately wants to shoot himself in the head to get away from it.

The guard Hux is facing off from seems to recover quite nicely from his fear. He clicks to reload the blaster and aims it directly at Hux's helmed head.

"You're a phony!"

The other guard shifts his weight from foot to foot. "Huppa, come on."

"What do you mean, come on?! He's a phony!"

Hux rolls his eyes; he really doesn't have the time to deal with this circus. He waves a hand at Ren and says, "Kill them both."

Ren steps forward to crack one end of his staff into the face of the guard standing before him, then he twirls it and sends the other end into the neck of the one by Hux. Both crumple to the ground like ruined puppets thumping away from their master.

Hux watches Ren breathe heavy for a moment, then picks up one of the guard's lost helmets and chucks it at Ren's head.

"You couldn't feel them sneaking up on us?!" he yells.

Ren points at the guards, uselessly. They're all Hiitians.

"Not very well, no."

Hux clutches at the helmet he's wearing and stoops as if under a great amount of pain. Mostly he just wants to illustrate how frustrated he is with Ren in a way that Ren might actually understand. He's tried talking it out with the oaf, he got nowhere and is not willing to try again.

Ren gently plucks at his robes and uses the force to nudge Hux back into walking. He points at the neuron cables, still running merrily along the ceiling and veering sharply into a doorway on the left.

"The cables turn into that room. Should we go in?"

Hux yanks his arm out of Ren's meek grasp and stomps in that direction. The stomping feels like hell on his knees but he's busy channelling Ren right now so he might as well indulge.

No one is in the room except a running terminal attached to a massive wall of databoxes. A single chair sits dusty and unused before the keyboard hooked to the setup. Hux checks the ceiling for missed poisonous projectiles and finds none.

He sits down, wary and annoyed, on the chair. It creaks under his weight but no rampaging akk dog chimera pops out from a trapdoor on the floor. Ren settles in a lean against the far wall, just back enough that Hux has to turn his head to see him.

Hux sighs, removes the helmet, and keys open the terminal by banging on the escape key until the screen clears.

"You shouldn't take that off," Ren says, idle.

Hux bangs on the escape key harder. The password prompt comes up and he taps in five zeroes then hits enter. The welcome screen loads with the message, "Welcome, Mondo-Mush, sir!" A translation in Huttese runs along the bottom of every line of binary, cluttering up the screen.

His lip curls. Typical.

The Finances folder is a mere two clicks away and shows a mishmash of unordered documents with random strings of keywords as file names. Hux sighs, plugs in the datachip, selects all and hits copy.

"If these were in any sort of order, I would have fallen over in a dead faint from the shock."

"Copy all of them and lets go," Ren snorts, taps the end of his staff against something metal and hollow-sounding.

The progress bar of the copying procedure is in full view along the top of the screen and says three minutes, so Hux doesn't dignify Ren's childishness with an answer. He backs out of Finances and decides to randomly look inside Budget Cuts for the fun of it.

There's a single video file in the folder. Hux selects it and chooses the Play option.

The video file shows a candlelit bedroom, silk curtains pulled closed over presumed walls, rich tapestries of wealth from the Core world displayed on the walls, and Mondo-Mush grunting and slavering over the naked form of Lieutenant General Yech Tarkin, who for his part is groaning and taking it like a real military man of distinction.

A rhythmic squelching thuds from the speakers associated with the terminal. Hux slowly brings up one hand to cover his mouth, finds himself saying without any permission from his brain at all, "Well, you were wondering how they reproduced."

Tarkin's moan cuts over the squelching noises. Mondo-Mush's answering groan is both profound and not the slightest bit erotic. Something across the room from Hux, he doesn't know what it is but it sounds like hallow metal, loudly compresses with a sickening squeal.

"What is that?" Ren asks, voice shaky. "What-- what is that?"

"I think this is what it looks like when a bantha mates with a whomprat," Hus answers. This entire spectacle is beyond fascinating, but he also has to keep his mouth covered in case something unfortunate happened across the keyboard. "I've heard of the phenomena, but never imagined I'd see--"

Ren's voice provides a wild yelling from somewhere else, somewhere distant. Hux swivels in his seat to find the room empty, the door open, and sounds of violence occurring from down the hall.

Hux calmly faces the terminal again, stops the video. It pauses mid-picture of Tarkin's eyes rolling back and his mouth open, same to be said of Mondo-Mush on top of him. He closes out the media player, selects copy, sends it to the datachip as well.

The progress bar speeds along, and he removes the chip from the terminal when it is done.

He sets a small incendiary device of baradium on the top of the monitor before he leaves the room, stopping only to pick up the helmet from the floor and gently close the door behind him.

As he drifts down the hall towards the vicious thudding, screaming, and wet dismemberment noises that herald Ren having once of his fits, Hux unclips the lightsabre from his belt and holds it properly, to be turned on at a moment's notice. He doesn't really have much thought in his head, is acting on instinct and the primal need to find something else to burn as overlay into his retinas.

The hall veers sharply to the right after venturing on a decline, then trundles through a cathedral ceiling type of tunnel that has many openings on either side. He ignores the open cell doors and handler caves to venture out into the Gladiator Arena proper, where Ren is busy killing Mondo-Mush's assembled guards, mercenaries, and the more violent of the slaves.

The audience in the stands are cheering and placing bets, as usual. A couple Rodians wave at Hux and whistle when he appears. Hux sidesteps the battle to better see the hutt's podium, and finally get a proper look at the statue over the doorway.

Mondo-Mush is still up on his divan, waving his arms as expressively as his limitations for his species permits. His translator H'drachi is next to him, furred snout covered with his spindly hands.

The statue is actually a clear casket case for a humanoid creature, edges gilded in cold, and displays Tarkin in regimental uniform. Condensation beads on the surface of the transparisteel cover to indicate cryogenic preservation. That, or it's something that's been splashed onto it recently enough to leave it slick and dripping.

"Well, he certainly found the body for us," Hux muses. If he ever lost it in the first place, of course.

Ren shoves his force tentacle staff down the throat of the itty bitty golden bikini-wearing slave and cruelly turns it on. Force tentacles poke out of the Whiphid's throat and cause purple blood to geyser from the wounds like a sprinkler system.

"Stop this!" Mondo-Mush's interpretor shouts from up on the podium. Mondo-Mush bellows Huttese words at random, the translator echoes him in binary. "You are ruining my legacy! My father's ghost will spurn your ashes and brutalise your women!"

Hux can't look away from the hutt's dead lover, suspended in death looking like he's just smelt something very bad and wishes he could do something about it. The exactness of how Tarkin was in life is uncanny.

"Hmm, two families in Nor Shaddaa..." Hux drifts.

He is ripped from his contemplation by Ren Force-exploding a humanoid's head into a huge squiring mess of gore. Hux drops the helmet but holds onto the lightsabre and throws his arms up to protect his face much too late to make a difference.

He is now covered in yet another layer of blood and brain matter. Why is this how it always goes with Ren, they're bloody Commanders of the most powerful military force in the galaxy and they always end up covered in gore.

"You know you can stop now!" He seethes at Ren. "We're already crusted in blood, must you add chunks of flesh to the ensemble!?"

Ren ignores him, twirls the force tentacle staff over his head, lops off the heads of two approaching bulky Twi'lek guards with that single move.

Hux picks up a rock from the ground. Finds out it isn't actually a rock, it's a skull with decomposed muscles crunching against the bone. He lobs it at Ren and hits a fleeing hanadak trying to regain his footing instead.

"We'll be stopped in the streets on our way back!" Hux yells.

The hutt on the podium above shrieks something in Huttese, another wave of guards flow in through the gates that they came in from, and Ren bellows his bloodlust loud enough for the population back on the Finalizer to hear.

Hux gropes for the dropped helmet and prepares to use it as a bludgeon. Then he powers on Ren's lightsabre, bares his teeth at a surprised Bothan wearing hutt guard regalia, and growls deep in his throat.

"My legacy!" Mondo-Mush's translator yells.

"Sod your legacy, just like you sodomised Tarkin!" Hux yells back, then begins to wade through the fray to at least try and keep Ren from injuring himself.

. . .

The shuttle is now junked and in three pieces drifting through the Gamma Shipping Lane, right where Hux ordered it to be left. The report he filled out was a joy to see, full of explanations like "necessary overuse of force regarding storage containers" and "accidental explosive usage." He didn't even have to blame it on Ren this time.

Hux folds his hands on the conference table before him and tries to look solemn, but it's so hard when presented with Lady Tarkin doing her best impression of a desiccated mynock specimen.

"Yech Tarkin's embalmed body was found on display as a Patron Saint of Credits in a Hutt gladiatorial ring, upon which the fighters spat upon for luck before each match."

He spreads his hands out, palms up, as if to say these crazy hutts, what are you going to do? "Except for the free-for-all matches. I have been informed that no one is permitted to request luck during those."

Lady Tarkin looks on in quiet fury. A palm tree waves in the breeze behind her. Apparently, Hux sees, her period of mourning is over and she is now relaxing in a gazebo.

Finally, she asks, "Which Hutt had him on display?"

Hux inclines his head, pretence at deference. "You know as well as I that all Hutts are the same, my lady."

He feels a spark of amusement unfold in his ribcage as Tarkin's face nearly twists into rage but stops itself just in time. These old Empire families are racist to the core, and here he is, using it against her. And the best thing is, she knows what he's doing.

"I can, of course, retrieve the body for your family," he says with no uncertain amount of badly hidden glee. "This indignity will not reach a single soul beyond the two of us."

Fiona Tarkin's face does the almost-rage-twist again. Hux is impressed.

"What a kind offer, General Hux," she nearly spits. She says his name in particular as if its a flow of poison eking from her lips.

Hux shifts forward, looks her dead on. No pretence here, not anymore.

"I also have in my possession the paper trail for the Lieutenant General's finances in relation to the hutt," he says, a boulder dropped in a still pond.

Tarkin leans back in her chair. A breeze ruffles her carefully done hair, some type of avian creature makes a croaking noise in the distance, comes out tinny through the holoscreen's speakers. She tips her head back just a bit, slumps her shoulders just so, and Hux glories in it.

After a moment, finally, "We simply must reward the First Order for such dedication to our family," she says mostly to the gazebo's ceiling.

Hux is gracious in her defeat. "It is our honour to assist, my lady."

Tarkin lifts her head and glares at Hux. Her face muscles actually move enough to provide an expression of irritation; Hux reviews his mental note about the cryogenic surgery and replaces it with a consideration of the possibility that old Empire families are just that well trained.

"No, no," she bites out, "We insist. If you could be so kind as to have our dear Yech delivered within the next month so we can have him interred in the family temple, I personally would be oh so appreciative."

Hux inclines his head again, deferential right down to the last farce.

"He will be on his way to you within a standard Imperial week, my lady. Unmarked ship, manned by transit droids."

"You are so kind." Her lips pulls back a small amount. The sneer is weak but stubborn on her face. "If you will excuse me, I have to prepare for his arrival."

Hux hits the data transfer confirmation on his datapad without looking at it. Tarkin's eyes follow his motion, that's enough for him.

"Of course, my lady. Thank you for accepting my call."

Her eyes glitter with contempt; Hux knows that particular brand of disdain quite well from his Academy days. She reaches over to stab at something below the screen, and the call disconnects.

Hux leans back in his chair and stares at the ceiling, does not grin despite really wanting to.

His datapad pings to signal the end of packet transfer. He arranged the files before he had started the call just for the dramatic purpose of coolly sending the order while Tarkin twisted in her own chains of elegance.

The original datachip is still in his pocket. He removes it to hold it to the light and inspect the way the blue veins of the drive shimmer against the lights. Everything is off it and sent to the Tarkins except for the recording of Mondo-Mush and Tarkin mid-coitus.

He only has an inkling of why he didn't send the video as well. He doesn't really want to think about it, so he doesn't. But now he's left with something that sent Lord Ren himself into a paroxysm of terror, and a weapon such as this should not be wasted.

Well, he could always send it to the Resistance as a terror tactic, he thinks.

Another ping from his datapad: The transfer of credits to a First Order-approved bank account on Naboo has been completed. It is the exact amount promised to Hux by Tarkin in a liquor-fuelled dinner party haze from hell.

He examines the transfer line to see that it has been completed on both ends; if a line is left open, the Tarkins could retract the transfer and leave him penniless, so to speak. But the status is complete and final, and Hux now allows himself that desired grin.

The datachip crushes in his hand with little effort. Some bits embed in the leather of his glove, he brushes them off vigorously to the floor. Some repair droid can take care of it, not like this bloody ship isn't back to being covered in the things.

He has better avenues to spend his time than throw away energy pondering a doomed cross-species relationship, anyway.

That phantom jab between his eyes from a ghost happens again. Hux allows a wince. Any stronger, and he's going to get headaches from this treatment. The jab occurs a second time after a few seconds, and Hux rolls his eyes, picks up his comm, thumbs through the address list to find the one he wants.

He presses the call button, and the line is answered immediately. "You could just call like a normal person," he says.

"I could feel you scheming again, stop it," Ren replies.

Hux gets up and leaves the conference room, says, "I don't bloody scheme, damnit. Shouldn't you be comatose in the bacta tank? Who let you out?"

He steps over a droid on its way into the vacant room behind him. Before the door slides shut, the sharp crack of a shaky droid hoover starts up, a nice little fanfare for trace evidence removal and one less thing for Hux to worry about.