by Katie H.

Category: Short Story

“You look tired, General.”

Tired. Tired is an understatement. For eighteen hours they pursued the Raddus , and Hux slept for none of them--nor any of the hours since.

“Your concern is noted, Captain Peavey. I assure you, my mind remains as alert and focused as ever. Lieutenant! ”

Hux rounds on an officer working diligently at her console. She snaps at once to attention, her gaze pointed forward and hands folded neatly behind her back.

“What’s the status of our survey and recovery teams?” “Approximately thirteen percent of the total wreckage has been excavated, sir. Considering the

sheer size of the Supremacy , this places us well ahead of schedule.” “I didn’t ask for commentary , Lieutenant.”

“Yes sir.” The officer taps deliberately at her screen. “A significant amount of munitions and medical supplies have been recovered--”

“Any personnel?”

Another tap. “Eighty-seven soldiers, sixty-three maintenance officers--”

“Any relevant personnel?”

“No sir.”

“I want a second sweep of the Supremacy’s shuttle bay and bridge. Retrieval of high-ranking personnel is our top priority, Lieutenant.”

There are a lot of top priorities right now; a lot of urgent, unread messages blinking on Hux’s datapad, which he would gladly address, if not for Captain Peavey still hovering like a gnat.

“Sir, you’ve now logged twenty-two consecutive hours. A standard shift is eight.” “I am well aware of protocol, Captain!” Hux whirls on Peavey with such ferocity that a pair of nearby Stormtroopers reach for their blasters. “Are you aware that we’ve lost our flagship ? Has the wreckage escaped your notice?!”

Hux jabs a finger towards the Supremacy , visible just beyond their viewports. The once grand vessel of Supreme Leader Snoke is now a ruin drifting listlessly through space. Peavey opens his mouth as if to respond, but the General is not quite through with him.

“This is a critical time for the First Order, Captain. Much of our future will be charted in the next few hours, and I fully intend to helm its course!”

Against such an argument, Captain Peavey should have had no weapons. He should shrink away and bow his head, but no--instead, he holds the General’s gaze.

“Sir, I’ve had word from the Supreme Leader. He wants you removed from the bridge.”

Those words are like a sharp blow to the face. A lifetime of military training is all that keeps Hux from reeling back.

“Removed,” he echoes, not so low as the Captain, but neither so loud as before. “ From my own bridge .”

“By force, if necessary.”

Again, Hux notices the troopers station at the door, their weapons poised and waiting. Of course. That’s exactly what Ren wants--a show, a display of his newfound power. Where he and Hux once stood as equals, Ren--the Supreme Leader-- now stands so far above them all that he can remove the General with a mere word.

“A wonder he doesn’t come and drag me away himself.”

“I’m sure such matters are below our Supreme Leader, sir.”

“Oh yes, I’m sure! ”

With a final sneer--and no small amount of spittle--General Hux storms out of the bridge. No one dares stand in his way.

---

Hux’s quarters offer no comfort. They weren’t really designed to. Like Hux himself, his rooms are spartan and practical, containing no decoration, no clutter, no clothes on the floor or even an indent on the bed. It’s almost as if a machine lives here instead of a man, but alas, Hux is undeniably human.

Pulling off his gloves and boots elicits all the usual aches of a long shift, familiar and easily ignored. He removes his coat, then his shirt, and when fresh pain shoots across his torso, he tries to ignore that as well--but it’s too sharp, too intense. Hux has no choice but to examine himself in the refresher mirror.

The man who stares back at him is impossibly thin and pale. Pasty , the rebels had so charmingly called him. Against such a canvas, the bruises on his throat and side stand out in sharp contrast, mottling his skin with purple and sickly green.

Ren’s handiwork, of course. No doubt the first of many more to come. Hux earned the first set of bruises in Snoke’s throne room, when Ren wrapped a great, invisible hand around his throat. The bruise on his side must have come later, when Ren slammed him into a bulkhead.

Pressing a bacta-patch to his ribcage, Hux thinks distantly of Snoke, and how fascinated he had been with the color red. He liked to make Hux bleed, and aimed most often for his nose. But Hux had learned to endure those cuts and broken bones, and these bruises, too, would become familiar and routine. Nothing Hux could not endure.

Worse, by far, were injuries that no one could see. Food and sleep deprivation, harsh words and cruel insults--that had been Brendol’s way. From Hux’s earliest years, the man struck at him without ever raising a hand; he broke things that no medic could set, cut him in ways no bacta could heal.

Hux frowns at himself in the mirror. He hasn’t thought of his father in some time. The man is long dead--Hux still has the medbay footage to confirm it. Though he would have preferred to witness it firsthand, the security cams caught every excruciating moment of Brendol’s mysterious death.

Well, not so mysterious. Not to Hux, nor Phasma. It had been the General’s wicked mind that planned the deed, and the Captain’s deft hand that carried it out. Poison, ultimately, proved Brendol’s undoing; quick, efficient and... so dreadfully unsatisfying.

A hundred times Hux had watched that security vid, frame-by-frame as his father’s body liquefied from the inside out. The poison quite literally dissolved him into nothing; no corpse, no evidence left behind. One moment, he was a man; the next, a memory. A scar that no one could see.

It had been a quiet death. A pathetic one, really. And when it was done, Hux couldn’t help but wish for a second chance at it. If only he could have looked Brendol in the eye when it happened, wrapped two hands around his throat, slipped a vibroblade between his ribs. Perhaps then the victory wouldn’t feel so hollow.

Hux pulls on a set of bedclothes and wonders if Ren is any more satisfied. He had the privilege of killing Han Solo with his own blade--and Snoke, too, if Hux suspects correctly.

But that suspicion is quickly silenced, like a soldier speaking out of turn. Much of Hux’s mind is organized like an army; his thoughts form ranks inside his head, and when one steps out of line, it’s charged with treason and executed. A handy skill to have when serving ancient wizards and mind readers.

Hux sits on the edge of his bed and drinks deeply from a cup of tea; his own mixture of Tarine and sleeptabs. Beyond a wide, arched window, he can see what remains of the Supremacy , and every small shuttle hurrying to recover their munitions and men.

What will Phasma make of their new Supreme Leader? Has she even been told? Will she tolerate his tantrums and outbursts, or is she already plotting against him?

Another thought steps dangerously out of line; in Hux’s mind, Phasma breaks formation to run her spear clean through Ren’s chest.

Hux smirks into his cup of tea. Ren won’t overhear these traitorous thoughts, so for just a moment, Hux indulges them. Phasma drives her spear again and Ren stumbles, his mouth open in a wordless scream--

BA-BEEP!

Hux jolts at the sudden activation of his comlink. All the soldiers in his head scramble to their posts, standing at rigid attention. The comlink blinks only once more before the General snatches it up.

“What is it?” he barks, as if to frighten the imbecile who startled him.

“It-- It’s Phasma, sir,” an officer replies. “She still hasn’t been recovered, but security footage from the shuttle bay reveals... something.”

“Send it. And flag the relevant timestamp, I don’t have all sodding night.”

Datapad in hand, Hux watches Phasma cross blades with the traitorous FN-2187; strange how so many of Hux’s problems trace back to him. The battle unfolds without audio or color, or even clear definition of the combatants. The security cam is so high and far away that the Stormtroopers look like miniatures on a Dejarik board, and Hux is helpless to guide his most valuable piece. As Phasma pushes her foe further and further back, Hux finds himself pacing. Something squeezes inside his chest; he’s nervous, though he has no reason to be. Phasma cannot be bested by such lowly scum.

There. The traitor is struck down. An unbidden Ha! escapes Hux’s throat, but the victory is short lived. The traitor rises up behind Phasma, and Phasma doesn’t know, doesn’t see . Turn around! Damnit, turn around before--!

It’s too late. Of course. Of course that treacherous piece of scum would resort to cheap, underhanded

tactics. Pathetic. Vile. So like a rebel--

The Phasma in Hux’s palm falls into flame and molten metal, and Hux deactivates the feed with a violent jab. This doesn’t prove anything. Phasma’s armor was built to withstand immense heat, and her helmet, to filter smoke. She could still be alive. This doesn’t prove anything .

“Commander!” Hux shouts into his comm. “Tell all rescue teams to widen their search to the planet Crait. It’s likely Captain Phasma boarded an escape pod. Map all possible trajectories along the planet’s rotation.”

Sleeptabs never provide true rest, but what they do provide is black and dreamless, efficient and reliable. But tonight... Tonight, Hux stands on a dias, raised high over Starkiller Base. At his feet, a thousand Stormtroopers march in perfect formation and his own voice declares victory for the First Order.

But then--a shooting star plummets to the ground, exploding on impact. Starkiller Base splits in two and every last soldier turns about face. They raise their blasters and rush at Hux; FN-2187 leads the charge. Hux orders them to their posts--he screams and screams but they won’t listen. They won’t listen!

He turns to flee, and runs right into Phasma’s spear. She twists the blade inside his chest and Ren towers above them all.

Hux is still screaming when he wakes. He sits upright in bed, and his ribs give a sharp, violent protest.

It isn’t real. It isn’t true . Yes, Starkiller Base is gone, and Snoke’s flagship too, but the First Order still reigns supreme. He still commands their army, the largest this wretched galaxy has ever seen. He still has all the power. Except he doesn’t. He never did. He serves at the will of men like Kylo Ren. Like Snoke. Like Brendol Hux.

For a long moment, Hux curls into himself, forehead pressed to his knees. The Supremacy still looms beyond his window; debris outnumbers the stars.

“General?”

There’s a call at his intercom--not his comlink or datapad, but the wall intercom of his personal quarters. Only the highest ranking officers have such privileged access.

“What is it?” Hux says, addressing the open air.

“It’s Captain Phasma,” the officer says, the same Commander who sent Hux the security vid. “May we enter?”

Hux pulls on a robe with a stiff, high collar. At the helm of his mind, he tells himself that he must always look presentable, but on a lower level, one with wide halls and deep, echoing reccesses, Hux just wants to hide the bruises at his throat.

He meets his guests in a formal sitting room, though everyone elects to stand. The Commander tersely bows his head, as does a uniformed woman at his right.

“Apologies for the intrusion, General, but this is a delicate matter, one that requires your personal and immediate attention.” He gestures to his companion. “This is Chief--”

“What news of Captain Phasma?”

The Commander wets his lips, then quite simply steps aside. The woman holds a Stormtrooper’s helmet, nearly blackened to ash.

No--not a Stormtrooper’s helmet. Phasma’s.

Even cracked and burnt, it’s unmistakable. There’s the etching of her rank and the hole where FN-2187 struck. Hux steps forward just enough to take the helmet and stare into its one remaining eye.

“It’s certain, then?” he asks. “Unless she shed her armor before evacuating, sir.” Phasma, without her armor? Hux almost wants to laugh. He might have done, if not for the eye staring back at him, so wide, so empty...

Only now does Hux realize how much intelligence had been in this mask. Despite its unchanging features, Phasma’s strength and determination had always shined through. But now it’s hollow. More like a skull than a helmet.

Suddenly, Hux cannot stand to look at it. He places the ashen helmet on a low table before rounding on his guests, both hands folded neatly behind his back.

“What matter requires my attention?”

“I’m certain you are aware how damning this is for our image, sir. Captain Phasma’s death will need to be handled... carefully.”

“That’s where I come in.” The woman takes a bold step forward. “Chief Propagandist Ainsley, at your service. Captain Phasma was our poster-child, the embodiment of everything a Stormtrooper should be.”

Yes. Yes, she was. Hux turns away from Ainsley and stares out the window, where scrap metal and recovery ships weave across the horizon.

To the soldiers and officers, Phasma had been an icon, an image on a poster. She was the perfect soldier, an ideal , intangible and unknowable. But to Hux she had been something real and solid. An asset. A comrade. With Phasma as his weapon, he’d killed Brendol Hux, conquered entire worlds. She was his blade, his shield, but more than that--not just the weapon, but the arm that wielded it.

And now she’s gone. The arm, severed. Hux is hobbled and bleeding; yet another injury no one can see.

“--even if we martyr her, I believe this would diminish Phasma’s image of indomitable strength,” Ainsley says, somewhere far away.

“What do you suggest?” Hux replies.

“A new Phasma would be most ideal, sir. We could pass on her name, like a title. In this way, Captain Phasma will be immortal, stronger and better with each iteration.”

“It will take time to select candidates,” says the Commander. “And it will have to be done quietly, to avoid suspicion.”

“Yes, yes, very good,” Hux says, already turning towards his bedchamber. “Get on with it, then!” It takes but a moment for Hux to dress, and no time at all to return to work. He needs to leave this room; he needs to form ranks and plan battles and give orders. He shoves all thoughts of Phasma down, down into the cogs and pipes of his mind, demotes her to maintenance work and bans her from the bridge.

Speaking of which--

“General, I wouldn’t go in just now!” A rather brave lieutenant attempts to divert Hux from his own command deck. When he sneers in her direction she rightly shrinks back, but explains: “The Supreme Leader is in there. I don’t think he wants to see you.”

Well, we don’t always get what we want, now do we?

Hux sweeps onto the bridge with every ounce of importance and gravitas his rank affords. Officers glance up from their consoles then hurry to stand and salute. At the helm stand several Captains--and of course, the Supreme Leader.

The Captains notice Hux at once, and bow their heads in fear and deference. Ren, meanwhile, doesn’t even bother to look at him.

“General Hux.” Ren’s voice is deep and measured, yet dripping with contempt. “I don’t recall allowing you on my bridge.”

Hux sneers at the back of Ren’s head. “Much has happened since the former Supreme Leader’s death,” he replies. “I imagine there are

a great many things you do not properly recall.” Every officer on the bridge goes still and silent; no one but Hux even dares to breathe. There’s a

pause, the most awful, horrible silence before Ren whirls around, expression livid.

A wave of Ren’s hand sends Hux flying backwards. He hits the ground hard, limbs sprawling, but for once a scream does not escape him.

Hux scrambles to his feet. He does not speak, does not shout. He merely holds Ren’s gaze, both of them shaking with rage.

You killed Supreme Leader Snoke. You are a traitor and a liar ! You’re nothing but a stupid , spoiled son of a smuggler --! There are a thousand alarms blaring inside Hux’s mind. He needs to fall in line, snap to attention--but he won’t. Not this time. Every thought, every insult once hidden away is now loaded into the cannons and fired at Ren, exploding inside his head even if the words are never said out loud.

Comprehension flickers across Ren’s face. The Supreme Leader bares his teeth, raises a single hand and clenches it tight.

An invisible fist closes around Hux’s windpipe, blurring his vision and robbing his lungs of air. The bruises on his neck scream in fresh agony, but both of Hux’s hands remain at his side, white-knuckled and trembling. He won’t beg. He won’t kneel. He’ll die before he gives Ren the satisfaction of--

But something inside of him breaks. Not his bones, not his body--but something deeper, truer. It always breaks, this thing inside him; it broke when his father beat him, when Snoke beat him, and now here, with Ren.

Something weak and mewling bursts out of Hux, some pathetic, lowly creature that humbles itself at Ren’s feet, sobbing, wailing, whimpering , his lips swollen and eyes ringed with red. Please, please, I don’t want to die. Please, Supreme Leader. Yes, Supreme Leader. At your will, Supreme Leader.

He hates this. Hates himself , more deeply and bitterly than he ever hated Ren. He hates how weak he is. Hates how quick he is to crawl and beg, hates the high pitch of his voice and his entire wretched existence.

Ren straightens to his full, considerable height. His hand drops and the invisible fingers fall away from Hux’s throat.

“ Get him off my bridge .”

Two Stormtroopers grip Hux by the underarms. He doesn’t have the strength or will to resist them. Not long after, Hux finds himself in his quarters, unable to sit still. He paces the floor, tugs at his hair, grasps for something he cannot see or touch.

Phasma’s helmet stares at him from the table, blank and expressionless. There’s nothing inside. Nothing. No one.

She’s gone. She’s gone, and he’s still here , still trapped, still ground beneath the heels of stronger, better men. He needs something--some one --stronger than himself, someone to kill who he could not, hurt who he could not, be it rebels or Ren or the whole damned galaxy --

But he has nothing. He’s alone, unguarded, no blade to defend him, no armor to shield him. He has no Starkiller, no soldiers--one by one they will turn on him, just FN-2187, just like Phasma .

She left him. Betrayed him. “Traitor,” he says, low at first, but gaining strength. He sneers down on that blackened, empty

helmet. “ Traitor! ”

He drops to his knees, snatches up the ashen helmet and raises it high. It comes down hard , right where FN-2187 struck. Hux lifts the helmet over his head and slams it down again, then again and again, over and over. His arms reverberate with each blow, his fingers threaten to snap and break and it hurts but he can’t stop. She’s a traitor, they’re all traitors, good soldiers form ranks, good soldiers stay in line --

The helmet shatters. A thousand black pieces explode across the floor, and Hux slams his empty fists where the helmet used to be.

Traitor . Traitor . Traitor . ---

Two rotations come and go. General Hux stands at the window of his private quarters; no longer can he see the Supremacy . Perhaps the wreckage has been fully excavated. Perhaps Hux’s ship has merely turned away from it.

His clothes are pressed and his boots, polished to a shine. There’s not a hair out of place nor a bruise visible on his person, at least not with layers so thick nor a collar so high. He scrolls through the alerts on his datapad, until Ainsley’s voice chirps through his comlink.

“General, the candidates have been gathered for your appraisal. I’ve also sent concepts for the new armor, attention Phasma 2.0 .”

“On my way.”

Hux deactivates the comm and marches from the room, crushing bits of ash beneath his boots.