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From the Ashes, We Rise

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Rae Sloane has won. The Empire has lost.

Gallius Rax lies dead at her feet, his blood still pooling on the ground. The ruins of the Empire have been left behind in the sands of Jakku. Somehow, it is worse than Endor. She hadn't thought it possible.

Not five meters away, Brendol Hux stands aghast, face deathly pale although she can't be sure if it’s because of what’s happened to Rax or what occurred back on Jakku. She doesn't care. Instead, she bends down and cleans her vibroblade on Rax’s uniform, projecting an aura of cool she most certainly doesn't feel as it leaves behind red smears on the previously pristine white fabric. She raises an eyebrow as she straightens again, fixing him with a hard stare.  “Do we need to have this discussion?”

He shakes his head.  “No, you’ve made your point.”  Neither one of them so much as cracks a smile at his unintentional pun.  “The Empire is yours.”

“That’s right,” Sloane says.  “My Empire.”

Except there’s nothing left of it.

Only a handful of ships escape Jakku.  It takes her a few weeks to bring together everyone else who survived Endor but avoided Rax’s ill-fated Shadow Council.  Their numbers are soberingly few even if some of the names on her list are significant.  Fel… Pellaeon… Rogriss… D’Asta… Parck… Praji… There would have been more if Rax hadn’t lead so many to their doom and if others weren’t busy bowing and scraping to the New Republic, hoping for clemency. She doubts they’ll receive it.

They’re not supposed to meet for another hour but Sloane is already in the conference room, hands clasped behind her back as she stares out the large viewport, collecting her thoughts.  Even when alone, military posture comes natural to her.  She’s lived this life for so long that anything else would feel wrong.  The door behind her hisses open but she doesn’t turn.  “I see discipline is lacking.  The guards were under specific orders not to let anyone in.”

“Don’t be so hard on them.  An Admiral’s rank bars can be quite intimidating.”  When she does turn, she’s still surprised to see Gilad Pellaeon standing there, uniform pressed and white moustache neatly trimmed.  One would never guess the Empire he serves is in shambles. Politely, he salutes.  “Grand Admiral.”

“Admiral,” she says, returning the gesture.  “You’re far too early although by design, I imagine.”

He nods.  “I was hoping we could have a moment to talk.”  There must be some misgivings in her eyes because he spreads his hands in the galactic gesture of surrender.  “I just wanted to offer my sincere congratulations on your handling of Gallius Rax and his Shadow Council.  He seemed intent on dooming us all and almost did.”

Sloane raises an eyebrow. “I would have thought that you’d…”

“Side with them?” Pellaeon asks dryly with a half smile. “I’ve been in this galaxy far too long for that nonsense. Why do you think I kept my Chimera well away from his Shadow Council?”

“Honestly, I hadn’t given it much thought, Admiral,” Sloane admits.

“Please call me Gilad.”

Despite herself, she likes this older man who, perfectly pressed uniform or not, has a bit of a grandfathery look to him.  She gestures towards the table and they both sit.  “What else did you come here to say?  Congratulations don’t require such an early arrival.”

He hesitates.  “I’d like to offer my counsel.  I’ve served with some of these officers you’ve gathered since the days of the Republic and can judge how they might react to an extreme proposal.”  Pellaeon frowns when she says nothing.  “That is why we’re here, no?”

“Perhaps it’s not so extreme if you can guess it.”

“Radicalness depends on the ear of the listener.”

Sloane studies him for a moment, looking for any sign that this might be a trap.  Trust isn’t running rampant anywhere lately but she can’t spot an obvious one.  “If we want the Empire to survive, we have to admit defeat for now.  The New Republic trounced us at Jakku.  We have nothing left to fight them with except our minds and our loyalty to the Empire’s ideals.  We have to retreat and rebuild.”

“And who will lead us through this difficult period?”

It feels like a test.  “I will.”

It was. Pellaeon nods, clearly satisfied with her answer.  “Well then.  You have my support even if you’ll have to fight for it from some of the others in more than name.  You’ll need assurances from them.”

She frowns. “Obviously.”

Clearly she doesn't though. He says patiently, “No, Rae. You’ll need assurances. One from each family.”

And then it hits her. “Ah.” The Empire needs children and now, it appears, so will she. “That feels...vulgar but it’s effective.” She raises an eyebrow at him. “Would that include you, Gilad?”

“I’m afraid that I never married.” She fixes him with a look and he smiles. “Any children I may have would be adults by now. Hardly any use as hostages. You’ll just have to trust me.”

She shouldn't but she does. Regardless, she has to ask, “What do you want?”

“A position of influence,” Pellaeon answers plainly. “I want a say in how the Empire is run moving forward.”

She frowns. “As what? My head of military? My second-in-command?”

He shakes his head. “Just as an advisor. I want to be a part of this and not just some old man waiting to die.”

“That’s rather bleak.”

“I’ve always been a realist,” he says with a shrug.  “I don’t think I’ll live to see the Empire rise to power again but it would be enough if I could help shape it.”

She hesitates only for a moment. “Agreed.”

Pellaeon smiles before nodding curtly. “I’ll take my leave of you for now then, Grand Admiral. You will have my wholehearted support during the meeting.”

Sloane believes him.

She is nothing short of blunt not long later when she sits at the head of the table with what’s left of the ranking Imperials seated around it. “The Empire has lost and it is foolish for any of us to tell ourselves otherwise. I will not have us continue it just for the sake of fighting until the last of us is dead.”

“So what?” Admiral Rogriss interrupts. “You want us to surrender to the New Republic?”

“No. We admit defeat and retreat out of Known Space. And then we regroup and rebuild.”

Voss Parck figures it out first. “For how long?”

“Years. Decades likely.”

Rogriss sucks in his breath. “That will finish the Empire.”

Sloane can’t stop the wry smile that sneaks on to her face. “We’re hardly an Empire if we have no planets to rule nor an Emperor to follow.”

“So you don’t intend to crown yourself then,” Pellaeon says smoothly even though he already knows the answer.

“No.”

“But you intend to lead us.”

“Yes.”

“Well then.” The old man looks around the table, locking eyes with a captain who appears ready to argue until Praji looks away first. “I’m inclined to hear more.”

In her mind, Sloane quietly files away how much influence Pellaeon seems to have with this group. She trusts him for now but he bears watching. For now, she turns to Parck. “You brought Thrawn into the Empire.” It’s not a question but he nods anyways. “Would the Chiss be open to a temporary alliance?”

He tilts his head, considering the question. “Potentially. It’ll require a delicate, diplomatic touch though. We’d have to make it clear that we don’t want to bring war to their doorstep or to infringe upon their territory. They’re happy keeping to themselves.”

Sloane turns to their ranking diplomatic corps officer and raises an eyebrow. In return, Zeta Traal nods. “I’ll need a briefing on their cultural customs first.” Her faint hint of distaste about working with aliens is not lost on at least some present. That’s a problem Sloane can deal with later though.

Slowly but surely, the room seems to be relaxing even if none of them are precisely happy. (How could they be when the Empire has lost?) No one challenges Sloane for her metaphorical throne although Hux sits at the opposite end of the table and looks as if he’s being poked in his ample gut with a vibroblade. In a way, she supposes that she is. He’s one of the few who didn’t agree to come here of their own volition. She would’ve happily left him to die with Rax but unfortunately she needs him to build a new stormtrooper program.

They don’t work out all of the details that day. It would be impossible and neither do they all agree. Everyone there has their own particular areas of interest and the power dynamics between them aren’t quite settled yet. She’s fascinated by how so many of them already seem intent on currying her favor though. Pellaeon had been wise to do so ahead of the rest, a fact that is clearly not lost on him given the slightly amused look on his face.

The conversation dwindles to its natural end and she rises to her feet, knowing that what she’ll say next will please none of them. “There’s one last thing,” Sloane says, aware of how she commands the undivided attention of the room.  “Many of you were able to save your families from the New Republic.  I congratulate you on this.  After all, the Imperial Remnant will need children.  I ask that you each give one of your children over to my custody once we reach the Unknown Regions.”

Hux gets it first.  “How dare you!” he huffs indignantly.  “You think to hold my son as a hostage?  You think that you can--”

“You’re hardly an exemplar of fatherhood,” Sloane cuts him off.  “I’ve seen how you treat your Armitage and heard how you speak of him too.  I suspect he’ll be far happier under my guardianship.” There’s no response that Hux can make to that and so he just gapes are her soundlessly, angrily.

“And for those of us who don’t treat our children like experiments?” Baron Soontir Fel asks calmly. He has more reasons than most to dislike this… three if she remembers correctly.

“The same request stands.”

“Except it’s not a request.”

“No. It’s not.”

“And is the intent to keep us from our children entirely?”

She shakes her head. “Absolutely not.”

Fel holds her gaze for a long moment before nodding sharply. “I don’t like this but I can understand why you’re doing it. Trust has to be built.” He pauses as a smile sneaks onto his face. “You’ll forgive me, Grand Admiral, if I direct all of my wife’s complaints your way.”

Sloane fights back a smile. “I look forward to speaking with the incomparable Wynssa Starflare at her convenience.”

Even as Fel mutters something inaudible, Praji clears his throat. “And for those of us without children?”

“Find a way to prove your loyalty to the Remnant,” Sloane says simply. “Hyperspace calculations will be sent to your ships. We depart in two standard hours. Dismissed.”

As one, they rise to their feet and salute her before filing out.

The Empire may be dead but this is her Imperial Remnant and she will not see it fail.

~

Rae Sloane has dealt with more than her fair share of struggles during her years of service to the Empire but never has she had one quite like this. Nothing in her training had ever prepared her to build a society from scratch. She feels overwhelmed and yet nevertheless she persists.

She also considers murdering Gilad Pellaeon.

Oh it’s not that he’s done anything wrong since they all fled (no, not fled: retreated, she reminds herself) to the Unknown Regions. He’s been true to his word--loyal and by her side throughout the day as she and the others work to find a viable way forward. The Chiss won’t let them stay forever and she’d prefer to not be forever beholden to them. His advice has been invaluable over the past few months.

It’s this damn children thing.

Sloane has never had children. It just hadn’t been something she’d wanted nor frankly ever had the time for. There had been people like Adea who she’d started to feel almost maternal towards but that is most definitely not the same thing as having children and now she has a dozen. It’s absurd and, quite frankly, entirely Pellaeon’s fault. She has no idea what to do with any of them and would prefer to dump the entire mess on his lap.

Thankfully, she’s not expected to take care of them but she’s now the guardian to a squadron of children who range in age from 3 to 13. The older ones are easy and are mostly just irritated (or happy in some cases) to be removed from their parents’ custody. The younger ones… this has all been a very big mistake.

But she needs assurances.

In a way, it helps her focus on the Remnant’s children first and start a fledgling Academy for all of the children across the fleet. The Empire needs children and the children will have to learn. That does nothing to help with the very young ones though. She hadn’t been wrong when she’d told Commandant Hux that his son was better off in her care but she isn’t entirely sure how right she was. Despite her discomfort, she tries her best to spend at least some time with all of them each day and slowly, very slowly, she starts to get to know them. And then she finds herself even liking them.

It doesn’t happen overnight. No, it takes years. A simple observation shows that Armitage Hux, Jagged Fel, and Feena D’Astra all warm to each other far faster than they do to her. She wouldn’t call them inseparable but rather allied. It’s tactical and she notices. They’re about eight years old when she begins to take a personal hand in their education. After all, there’s no such thing as being too young to learn about the history of the first Galactic Empire.

Armitage lingers behind one day. “Grand Admiral, I have a question.”

“About what?”

“The battle.” He waits for her to nod before asking, “Why didn’t the captain wait for confirmation that the Rebels were alone before he attacked?”

“Arrogance mostly,” Sloane replies simply. He doesn’t get it. “Too many people didn’t take the Rebellion seriously even after they destroyed the first Death Star. The captain assumed that the Empire was stronger no matter what even when it wasn’t.”

“Why?”

“Because that’s what happens when people are promoted who shouldn’t be.”

His eyes widen. “Why does that happen?”

She leans back in her chair. “For many reasons. Mostly they’re political.”

“I don’t understand, Grand Admiral.”

Something in her bends. “Why don’t you just call me Rae for now, Armitage?”

“Yes ma’am.” There’s no trace of irony in his face nor in his voice with its almost perfect Coruscanti accent. She has to strain to hear the last few traces of Arkanis. He learns fast. It’d taken her at least two years to lose the dockyard of Ganthel.

It’s fascinating just how quickly his brain works as she explains the role of politics within the military to this eight year old child whose own father once described him as useless. As he makes connections that most men four times his age wouldn’t, it’s hard to understand how anyone ever could have. She’s glad more than ever to have removed him from Brendol’s care.

It’s with reluctance that their conversation comes to a halt as there are other demands on her time. She’s not surprised when Armitage lingers behind after another class and then another and soon their extra lessons become a regular occurrence. Sloane finds herself invested in this boy’s future and wonders if this is what motherhood feels like; mother to a fledgling Empire and a bastard boy who came to her as a hostage.

Slowly, she starts paying more attention as all of her children grow. (When did she start thinking of them as hers?) All of them have their own strengths that reveal themselves in time. In addition to strategy, Armitage has an affinity for engineering. Likewise, Jag must be dragged away from the flight simulators and Feena has a better understanding of hyperspace theory than people twice her age.

Sloane encourages it all. Officers can be trained. Talent must be cultivated.

Forget the old ways. The Admiral’s Lot (they think she hasn’t heard the nickname but she has) are the way forward. They are the future.

~

It’s been nearly twenty-five years since they left the Known Regions and yet to Sloane, it feels like a lifetime ago. So much has changed that sometimes she can’t even quite remember what it felt like to be a youthful Star Destroyer captain with her first big assignment. She’s seen the Empire rise and fall and now, perhaps, she’ll see the First Order rise from its ashes and sweep aside the New Republic.

They’re the First Order now. (At some point, even she had to give up on the Imperial name. A fresh start is better anyways.) Their spies bring back plenty of news from the more familiar parts of space including tales of a floundering New Republic. She can’t help but think it’s partially because they tied themselves to a story of failure. The First Order will not do the same.

Her hair has more grey in it now than she’d like to admit and she’s most certainly feeling every last one of her decades especially when she looks around and see all the youthful faces surrounding her. That includes Armitage Hux.

He’s taller than her now by more than a few inches but, much to his chagrin, has never lost his narrow frame. Just shy of 30, he’s ambitious and has an even quicker mind than in his youth. As he walks across the Star Destroyer’s bridge, his posture is Academy perfect and he has a presence to him that makes people pay attention and not just because of the shock of red hair on his head. In her mind, Sloane takes credit for instilling this in him. He stops several feet away and salutes. “Grand Admiral.”

“Captain Hux,” she greets him, returning the salute. “What do you have for me?”

“He’s here,” Armitage says simply.

“Already?” He nods and Sloane suppresses a sigh. “Summon the usual people and let’s go deal with him.”

“Already done,” he says, falling into step with her. “I put him in the conference room on the fourth deck with a pair of stormtroopers guarding the door.”

Sloane nods. “Good. You’re thinking three steps ahead as always.”

“That’s my job as your aide.”

She can’t dispute that. Instead, a hint of a fond smile sneaks onto her face as they stride through the Finalizer’s metal corridors. “One day, Armitage, you’re going to grow bored with being at my beck and call and I’m not sure who I’ll find to fill your boots.”

“You’re our Grand Admiral and our leader, ma’am. This is a position of honor.” Beat. “Although I wouldn’t say no to commanding this ship.”

She smirks. “With ambition like that, perhaps you’ll be the one to command the First Order when I’m gone.”

“Maybe.”

Neither one of them says anything but they both know it’s not just banter. She’s been grooming him for it ever since she realized his potential. He may not bear her name but she thinks he will be her legacy. And she knows he wants it.

“There was one thing I wanted to bring up, ma’am,” Armitage says as they exit the turbolift on the fourth deck. “Snoke has someone with him this time--a human male I think although I couldn’t say for certain with the robes and mask.”

That makes her pause. “Mask?”

“Black. More like a helmet really. It reminded me of--” He breaks off abruptly. “He had a lightsaber on his belt.”

“Ah.” The imagery invokes a memory from deep within her brain and it isn’t one she likes.

Apparently she stays silent for longer than she realizes and Armitage asks with a note of concern, “Grand Admiral?”

“Keep your eyes open in there,” Sloane says simply, squaring her shoulders before nodding to the stormtroopers to open the door. Everyone’s already assembled inside, waiting for her. Snoke sits at one end of the long table and her officers are assembled on either side of it. All of them rise when she enters the room. Snoke does not. With a wave of her hand, she gestures for them to sit and does so herself. Baron Fel has taken the seat to her left and the Reige siblings have claimed the two on her right. (Even now she finds it odd that neither Vitor nor Mira have taken their father’s surname but Gilad had maintained the illusion that he was without family right up until his death five years prior. She’ll never understand why.) The rest of her officers, including Brendol Hux, have arranged themselves according to whatever ridiculous hierarchy they’ve settled on this week. Armitage remains standing just to her right, a counterpoint to Snoke’s mysterious, hooded companion. The Darth Vader comparison is harder to shake now that she’s seen him. She suspects that it’s intentional. “Master Snoke,” she greets the humanoid across the table. “We didn’t expect to see you for at least another two months.”

“Plans change, Grand Admiral,” Snoke says without preamble.

She raises her chin and looks towards the would be Vader. “Who is your companion?”

“This is Kylo Ren but we are not here to discuss him.” His tone is curt enough to border on rude.

Soontir reacts first. “You’re a guest here, Master Snoke. It would be in your interest to remain polite.” Sometimes, Sloane is still surprised by how genuinely loyal the Baron has turned out to be.

“A guest with an offer.”

Sloane interjects. “Which is?”

He pulls out a small, flat, silver disc and tosses it onto the center of the table, the device activating as he does. Schematics for what appear to be a battle station shimmer into existence. “I call it Starkiller. It pulls energy from a nearby star and converts it into a beam with enough power to take out an entire star system. A weapon like this can assure you victory over the New Republic faster than any fleet.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Armitage learn forward, clearly intrigued. She is less impressed. “And in return?”

“Give me leadership of your First Order and the plans are yours,” Snoke says bluntly. “You’ve done well for yourselves out here but I can take you further and faster to victory against the New Republic.”

“How?” Sloane asks, unable to entirely suppress her sneer. “With this new Death Star? The Rebel Alliance destroyed these twice already. I fail to see how another will make a difference. It’s the literal definition of insanity.”

“It’s more powerful than the Death Star ever was,” he counters. “I also have the Knights of Ren at my disposable. With Skywalker in hiding and his Jedi destroyed, the Republic will have no way to respond to them.”

“The Force does not guarantee victory. If it did, Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader would still be with us.” At the mention of the Sith Lords, Ren shifts in place. Sloane makes note of it. “Why should your leadership yield anything different?”

“The New Republic is weak and complacent. Their Senators keep their head in the sand even though rumors of our return grow. If our opening blow is also a finishing one, they will fold.”

“A weapon like this is not hastily made,” Sloane points out. “It would take at least three years if not more and that assumes your plans are flawless.”

Vitor Reige interjects in his usual disinterested drawl, “How do we even know this station of yours will work? Building it won’t be cheap.”

Snoke frowns. “Have your engineers examine and test the plans. See if they find a flaw or if they think it worth the expense. Kylo will ensure that you make no copies.”  He glances around the table and sees more intrigued faces than Sloane would prefer. “What do you have to lose, Grand Admiral? Your throne?”

“There is no throne within the First Order,” she responds tightly. “And we could stand to lose all that everyone at this table has fought so hard to build.”

With a shrug, Snoke summons the device back to his hand with the Force. “Or you could win. I’ll remain on your ship for several days. Have your engineers examine the plans and then give me your answer regarding our continued partnership.” The last word is said tauntingly.

Sloane neither rises to the bait nor blinks. “Captain Hux. Escort Master Snoke to the guest chambers and bring the plans to our research team.”

Armitage nods curtly and escorts the two strangers from the room, a gleam in his eye that she’s not sure that she likes. The doors are shut behind them for all of three seconds before the entire room erupts into raucous debate. Sloane remains silent, letting them yell. Soontir argues against Starkiller as does Mira while Thion Parck leads the charge for it with Brendol Hux supporting him. With dismay, she notes that far more seem in favor of accepting the offer than she would have thought. It’s mostly the young who seem to want this Starkiller; the young who don’t remember the Death Stars and only know the stories of the glory of the Empire. Perhaps this has been a flaw in their Academy curriculum and too much has been made of the Empire’s strengths and not enough of its failures. It’s one she’ll need to rectify.

She lets them shout at each other for a few minutes before firmly yet loudly saying, “Enough!” Almost instantly, chatter dies away but they are slow to take their seats. “There will be no debate on this until we even know if these plans are viable.”

“And if they are?” Mira Reige asks, clearly still worked up.

“Then a decision will be made at that time. Until then, I will hear no discussion of this matter outside of this room. Is that understood?” Most of the men and women do not meet her eyes and so she rises to her feet and leans forward, knuckles pressing against the cold metal of the table. “I said, is that understood?”

A chair or two is knocked backwards as they all scramble to stand and variations of, “Yes ma’am,” echo around the room.

“Good.” She holds them there for a long minute. “Dismissed.”

As they all file out, Fel lingers behind. “I don’t like this, Rae, even if it does work. We’ve been down this path before.”

“I’m not just giving him everything that we’ve worked for,” Sloane says quietly yet firmly. “Have Cherith keep an ear out amongst the ranks. You saw who needs to be watched as well as I did.”

“Not Jag?”

She shakes her head. “No, he’s too close to me. They won’t trust him.”

“I’ll speak to my daughter immediately,” Soontir says, moving towards the door before hesitating. “Rae… you saw…”

“I know.” He doesn’t need to tell her what she saw too. “I’ll handle it. He’s loyal to me.”

“Of course.”

It’s another two days before she has a chance to speak candidly with Armitage about this Starkiller. He’s spent every waking moment that she can spare him with their research and development team, looking for some obvious flaw or trap within these schematics. “Rae, it’s beautiful!” he says enthusiastically, forgetting his military decorum in his excitement. She doesn’t mind the lapse in protocol. These moments are infrequent at best and always indicative of his true feelings escaping from behind his careful military mask. “There are improvements that we could make but the principle is sound and every test scenario we’ve run has been successful. Using residual kyber matter… it’s brilliant! I wish I had thought of it.”

“It’s still just another Death Star,” she points out. “Both of those failed.”

“Because of Tarkin and the Emperor’s arrogance, I know.” Armitage waves off her concerns. “We can learn from them though and besides, this station doesn’t rely on external shields like the second Death Star did. We can fortify it from within. Any fleet in orbit would just be extra protection.”

“I’m not sure it’s worth the cost.”

He’s incredulous. “Not worth the cost to destroy the New Republic?”

“The First Order’s coffers are hardly overflowing and destroying entire planets can’t rest easy on a person’s conscious,” Sloane points out. “I wouldn’t think you’d be so eager to see me removed from power.”

He blanches. “Of course not, ma’am.”

She forces him to hold her gaze for a long moment before sighing. “Give me a full report by the end of today, Captain. I’ll render my decision to Snoke tomorrow.”

“Ma’am.” Rebuked, he salutes and leaves.

As always, his report is thorough and well argued but it doesn’t change her decision.

Sloane doesn’t like how her meeting goes with Snoke the next day. Too many faces around the table appear displeased and there’s a sense of something pressing down on her that she wants to blame on the brooding Force user bodyguard but can’t prove. She politely yet firmly declines the offer of Starkiller but reaffirms their alliance. Outwardly, Snoke seems unaffected. She doesn’t trust such a subdued reaction but they agree that he’ll depart tomorrow, giving them more time to re-establish the conditions of this now uneasy partnership. It’s a fatal error.

It’s later that evening when Snoke makes a move against her. She expected it really, prefers that it happens now instead of when she’s complacent but she never thought it would happen quite like this.

“I wouldn’t try to run,” a voice says, interrupting her work. “The stormtroopers outside are under strict orders to shoot you if you try and flee.”

Sloane doesn't need to turn to know who has a blaster pointed at her. No one else has access to her office and the voice is all too familiar. “I thought you were mine, Armitage.”

His lips curl into a sneer. “I’ve always been my own man.”

Sloane shakes her head as she pivots away from the console to face him. “This is has your father’s fingerprints all over it.”

“Why would it?” he demands. “He’s always thought me useless and hardly worth acknowledging.”

“And this is how you intend to show him that you’re worthy of his name?”

“No.”  It’s a lie. They both know it. “This is how we take the First Order forward.”

“Forward to where?”

“Back to glory.  Back to power!”

It’s in moment like these when Sloane feels her age.  She’s heard all of this before. There’s no suppressing her sigh. “I taught you better than this, Armitage.  I raised you better than this.”

“Raised?” he scoffs.  “I was a hostage!”

“As were Jag and Feena and Asori and all of the rest and yet I see none of them standing here with you,” she points out. “What did Snoke offer you?”

For the first time, Armitage hesitates. “A position of power.”

She gestures grandly towards her office. “You have that already.”

“No. This is your power,” he snaps. “I make no decisions. I command no fleets.”

“You’re still young. That comes with time and experience.”

“Snoke offers it to me now. He offers us the New Republic on a silver platter.”

“He offers you promises and possibilities. Those are worth nothing without certainty. Did none of my lessons stay with you?”

There’s a flash of uncertainty in his blue eyes for the briefest of moments. “He said he’ll make me a General and put the fleet at my disposal.”

“As will I,” Sloane counters cooly. “One day. When you’re ready. When the First Order is ready for outright war.”

For a moment, she thinks she has him but then anger takes hold again and she knows she’s lost him. “The First Order has already laid in wait for too long while the weak Republic maintains control of a galaxy they do not deserve! You cling to the old ways but have nothing to show for them except our survival. If Snoke wants to lead us in name, I find it worth the cost if it brings us victory!”

Silence hangs between them for a long minute. Sloane is unmoving while Armitage struggles to control his breathing again, clearly worked up about the entire matter although his oratory skills are wasted here without a holocam to capture them. Finally, she asks, “So what do you intended to do now?”

He hesitates again. “I’ll take you down to the holding cells. You’ll be kept prisoner until either you see things Snoke’s way or until your life ends.”

She shakes her head. “Oh no, Armitage. I’m afraid it won’t be that easy.” He’s confused. Even though she’s lost him, she can still tell. “I’m afraid that this must end here.”

“What?”

Sloane nods towards his blaster which has fallen to his side during their conversation. “If you’re committed to this course of action, I won’t be party to it and neither will I go meekly into a cell. You’ll have to kill me here with your own hand.” He’s wavering now and she presses onwards. “Mutiny’s far easier in thought than in action, isn’t it? It’s the same with killing another person. But you don’t have to continue down this path. Lay down your weapon, turn from it, and we can pretend this never happened.”

“I won’t do that. This is for the good of the First Order,” Armitage says. “We cannot stay tied to the old Empire and if you won’t lead us forward than you must be removed.”

“Another planet killer won’t do that.” He says nothing. “I thought you were loyal.”

“My loyalty to the First Order comes first!”

“Then do it,” Sloane says, reaching for his wrist and pulling it so his blaster is aimed at her again. “If your belief in this Starkiller is stronger than your faith in me, shoot me now. I won’t stop you.”

His eyes flit between hers and his blaster, his mind clearly working through what he thought would be an entirely different scenario. “It doesn’t have to end like this.”

“It does if you side with Snoke.”

He aims and his eyes close as his finger curls towards the trigger. “Open your eyes, Armitage,” Sloane says firmly. “I won’t have someone who I loved like a son kill me for the First Order without looking me in the eye while he does it.”

His aim wavers but he complies and she thinks she detects tears beginning to well within them even as he fires, the sound deafening within the confines of her office. As she crumbles to the floor, a part of her is surprised--surprised that he betrayed her and surprised that this is how it finally ends. Surprise mixes with worry for the future of the First Order and for those still loyal to her that she leaves behind along with an odd hint of pride that Armitage has done this himself.

Sloane’s last thought before the darkness engulfs her is that it was her Empire. Now it’s someone else’s First Order.