Kylo Ren sat on his bed, still in his ash-stained clothes. He hadn’t moved a muscle in the past hour. What he had gone through on Mustafar made him feel contradictory emotions. Going there had been a mistake, he could feel it deep within himself. While the Sith holocron had shown him what he wanted, it had also confronted him to his biggest fear. And he couldn’t make his mind move away from that. Conflict raged in Kylo Ren. He stood up and started pacing around the bare, dark room. His cape fell to the floor, as did his outer tunic, leaving him in a simple black outfit. There weren’t any mirrors in his room, but if there had been, all he’d see would be… well, nothing more than a man. But he wasn’t any man. He was the Supreme Leader. He clenched his fists. He was the Supreme Leader. He would not be swayed. He had to succeed. And he would. He opened a panel in the wall. Inside, a clean tunic. He put it on, draped his long, black cloak around his shoulders, and left the room. He was the Supreme Leader, and he had business to attend.
General Armitage Hux was the last of his colleagues to arrive in the polished Supreme Council conference room. Their heads briefly turned to watch him enter before returning to their individual datapads. Without a single word he gave a brisk nod to no one in particular, and took his seat, directly facing General Enric Pryde. The older man had been recalled by Ren after Supreme Leader Snoke’s untimely death. His posting in the Unknown Regions had made him an almost legendary figure. Although he had had very little contact with the man, having only met him once or twice, he knew that Pryde, as a former Imperial, commanded respect in ways that Hux himself didn’t. His troops didn’t equal Phasma’s in ability, but their loyalty knew no bounds. He had brought with him a few dozens of Star Destroyers, including the one they were all currently living on: The Steadfast. Hux missed the Finalizer. It had been his own. And Ren’s. But mainly his own. The Batuu incident had enraged him to no end, and he had loathed each and every moment that he had passed on this ship. His own troops were outnumbered, here. This would not do. This would have to change. Pryde’s eyes were fixated on his face, his expression neutral. As uneasy at it made Hux, he remained as calm as he could, holding the gaze for a few seconds, then looking away in feigned boredom. Around the table, the others’ faces were still bathed in the light blue hue of their datapads. Griss, Engell, Parnadee, and Quinn: all had been handpicked by Ren himself to help him realise his vision for the galaxy. For only a fraction of a second had Hux wondered why he had been chosen to sit on the Supreme Council. It made perfect tactical sense, on Ren’s part. In the First Order, there were no friends to keep close, only enemies.
In the past months, the First Order’s expansion had led to the capture of the most important systems of the Mid Rim and the Western Reaches, and they weren’t done yet. What happened next was the subject of today’s meeting. They spent the next few minutes in a silence that only the datapads dared interrupt. And then, the doors opened.
Tall and dark and brooding, Supreme Leader Kylo Ren entered the chamber. They all rose. He sat on his chair at the top of the table and looked at each of them in turn. Hux forced himself to hold his gaze, hoping that Ren wouldn’t see through him. He had no difficulty admitting to himself that Ren’s possession of the Force scared him. The things these people could do… Hux thought of Ren’s phantom fingers on his throat, back on the Supremacy, after Snoke’s murder by the scavenger girl. He swallowed, just to see that he could. Something still didn’t sit right with him about that day, but now wasn’t the time to think about it. Ren addressed Pryde and Griss on the topic of their campaign to take hold of Colonies and the very few pockets of resistance that they still encountered in the Expansion Region.
“Great progress has been made, Supreme Leader” said Pryde in his Core accent before Griss could even open his mouth. “The latter will be in our control in a matter of days. As for the Colonies, we should be ready to launch a full-scale coordinated assault in ten standard days. Many of our Resurgent-Class ships are ready and at your command, but some still need to be fitted with our newest ion cannons. Kuala-Entralla has been most… collaborative and forthcoming with new technology.”
Ren nodded, his face an impassive mask. The others were then asked to give updates on their various areas of responsibilities. They calmly obliged. Hux studied them all. They were all so comfortable, so at ease. Clearly, none of them had yet had the misfortune of displeasing him because of their mere existence. Hux kept his yes on his hands, joined before him on the table, and waited for the meeting to end.
“And what about your troops” he heard Ren say, “General Hux?”
Hux looked up at the Supreme Leader. The man’s eyes were usually so dark that he was afraid to maintain eye contact for too long. This time however, Hux saw something different, or at least thought he did, but only for a fleeting moment. He cleared his throat.
“As you know, Supreme Leader, the combined loss of Captains Phasma and Cardinal has greatly impacted our program.” He had a thought for Phasma. She had been a most precious ally. He knew that she would have gotten rid of him if it had meant advancement, and he could not help but think that he would have done the same. “But the last few months have been focused on the harvesting of more children from the occupied systems. I have personally appointed new instructors to turn them into compliant cadets in the briefest of times.”
“Are you still uninterested in a clone army, General?” Ren asked. He got up and started walking around the table. “I’ve heard that the FN-2187 incident has occurred again, and that this time, six troopers have deserted.”
Of course, he knew. Hux had hoped that Ren’s occult obsession with Force artefacts would have somehow kept him away from the day to day business of the First Order. He should have known that he had made an exception for him. Ren had him under a constant, close watch. He had also started to long for the old days, when Kylo Ren wore a mask. It was unsettling, but at least he didn’t have those eyes burrowing into his soul like this. Ren was standing behind Pryde, and Hux could have sworn that the other General’s thin lips were drawn in a smile. His hands were hot and sweaty under his gloves. He blinked several times, opened his mouth and started to speak in a voice that wasn’t so firm as it had been seconds before.
“Yes, sir, TZ-1719 and JL-4410 among them, but I can assure you that–”
Hux’s windpipe closed. Looking up at the Supreme Leader, he gasped for air. This time, however, he fought the reflex to bring his hand to his throat. Ren’s humiliation and torture were painful to undergo but somehow paled in comparison to what he had gone through as the bastard son of Brendol Hux. He could take it. His father’s abuse had been daily. Hux could now spend days without seeing Ren. He could take it. Ren let go, and Hux filled his lungs once more. See, he thought, I can take it. Ren resumed his walk around the table, taking his time to arrive behind Hux.
“For your sake, General, I hope that this never happens again.”
“It won’t, Supreme Leader.”
And he left the room. The other generals looked at each other, looked at Hux, then got up and left the room as well.
When Armitage Hux returned to his quarters, he triple-checked that the door was locked before doing or saying anything. He went to his bedroom, closed and locked that door behind him too, and then he screamed his frustration and pain to his indifferent walls. He screamed and screamed until his throat hurt, and then he screamed again. In his mind, he went back to the Supremacy. He had been so close. So close. His subsequent attempts had all failed, but they had been too shy. He knew it. He would have to think of something better, something that would make the Parnassos beetle look like a childish ploy. The time would come.
Kylo Ren walked faster than usual to return to his room. This meeting had been exhausting. He had only understood half of what his generals had told him. Hurting Hux had been unnecessary. It had brought him no pleasure. He had done it out of habit, to maintain appearances. The six troopers didn’t matter. He still had tens of thousands. The final image of the vision was still on his mind. She was still on his mind. Kylo took off his cloak and let it fall on the floor. He felt a little lighter without it. Standing in front of the bed, he closed his eyes and reached out through the Force. Whatever planet she was on, distance didn’t matter, for she was just behind the door that she had closed on him. He knocked on the door, but there was no response. He knocked louder. She felt it, this time. He turned around and opened his eyes. All he could see was a blurry silhouette that dissolved in a matter of seconds. She was still refusing him. Hopelessness fell upon the Supreme Leader of the First Order, so he sat on his bed and took his face in his hands.