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Alice Bee and Erin Highberg.
One year after the Battle of Yavin (36:2:2) in the Ringali nebula: Ringali Station and Vegranian.
Emi Shinohara and Commander Iyah Xergo.

Sorrow hung over the crew of the Vegranian on the return flight to Ringali Nebula. Derek Atio was dead. The realization hadn't fully settled in over Commander Xergo. In fact, her mind was still pushing forward. Jelena was free...well, semi free. Riley and Jason were in charge of ensuring that the whole damn crew didn't blow up thanks to the device planted inside of the Rodney girl. Iyah's top priority was making sure she didn't hazardously crash the ship in an emotional storm. Each time she blinked, she processed what had happened a little more. Looking through a soldier's eyes, what Derek had done was heroic. People had received medals and recognition for less. In the eyes of a girl who had run from the Empire into that very man's security, it was idiotic. She was angry! What had he given his life for? A noble brat? It seemed like Rodneys had been causing all kinds of trouble in her life. First Julius, and his inability to keep his cock in his pants. All she wanted to do was crawl back to Blue Haven. There, she could hide with her family and pretend that Derek hadn't died.

She brought the ship down much more smoothly than she thought she was capable of. The sight of the converted gas station was relieving compared to what she had come from. The mission wasn't successful ... not fully anyway. Was one life worth another? Now came one of the most daunting tasks, relaying that Derek had died to Emi. With her head held low, she killed the engines. She said nothing to Jelena as she departed from the ship. She wanted to rip this part off like a bandaid. After that, she could go home and lick her wounds.

Emi Shinohara, Commander in Chief, sat in her seat in the control room. A mission was underway, and she really had hoped to hear more about it through standard communication. A little under dressed for the occasion, boots, khaki pants, a grey tunic. That dark hair was up in a simple ponytail. She was waiting, unable to sleep in hopes that those people that put their lives on the line to protect and serve would all come back, that the mission had been a success. Emi was looking out a viewport, small little white dots covered that blanket of black sky. The vastness in which they lived, conducted their duties, served the people and all the reaches that they could. Her elbow rested on the armrest of her chair as her feet rested on one of the ledges of the many buttoned control tops. Chin rested in her palm as she sat in thought for a good part of the time she had to herself. Heavy lids began to shade over those mocha colored eyes. In her own thoughts she had managed to drift off to sleep. Perhaps it was too much thinking that did her in for the time being, she'd always been a light sleeper though. With her job, it wasn't hard.

Commander Xergo felt like a zombie at this point. She wanted to find a cave where she could hibernate for roughly the next five hundred years. The deathly, sickening stench of her uniform seemed to bother her now more than ever. Suddenly she felt guilty for mentally laughing at Derek's ripped pants. Maybe she should have helped him cover up. She would spend the rest of her life second guessing everything she had done to help rescue Jelena. No soldier left behind? No. Iyah had left Derek's body behind. It would make his death even harder for those who had not seen it to comprehend it. Her booted feet carried her towards the control room where she found Emi. It seemed like this was a sleepless night for all. She approached her slowly. "Ambassador, we have rescued Jelena." She stated as robotically as possible. Her emotions were held back by a weakening dam. It looked like she'd been through something. Her uniform was messy. Her slick, black hair was a mess. Half of it was contained in her ponytail, while the other half looked like it had been yanked out by the stressed Commander. Her brown eyes diverted away from Emi's. "We... We had a casualty." Iyah's words stopped there. She couldn't say it. Saying it would make it a reality. The words formed behind her lips. They sat at the tip of her tongue. In her mind, she said it so easy; *Derek is dead*. She could even imagine herself saying it like she was detached from the situation. She inhaled.

"Derek..." His name came out in a squeak. All at once, the dam broke. Emotions came crashing in. They were massively overwhelming. Iyah's heart ached. There were tears streaming down her cheeks. There was nothing more she could say to explain the situation, not right now anyway.

Those boot covered feet grew louder as she could almost seem like that drowsy sound was the sound of her own heart beating in time with Commander Xergo's steps. Emi heard a voice as those eyelids fluttered open and she gave a slight snort as she came to. "I'm... awake," Emi insisted as she saw the silhouetted figure that belonged to Commander Xergo now in front of her. She heard those words and gave a nod. Those boot covered feet moved from the panel to the floor as she began to stand up from her seat. Casualty. There was that word she never wanted or ever liked hearing. She could already feel a lump grow in her throat as her eyes shot up at Commander Xergo. "My condolences to your crew..." But before she could even offer her any further words, the name came out.

*No. No. No. No. She's mistaken. It can't be.* Denial, the first stage.

"Commander Atio?" Eyes shot wide open before she could even really react. Immediately she scrambled to her feet as she looked at Commander Xergo and let those nostrils flare. "How? Who's fault was it? Who blew the mission? *Tell me*!" Anger, the second stage.

Her tears didn't dry up, however, Emi's reaction pounded a crazy button inside of Iyah's mind. She had endured so much over the past week. Her fiance nearly lost his life for the sake of a dying old man. Her mentor had been killed before her eyes. It was then that an inevitable *snap* happened. "No one blew the mission!" She bitterly snapped at Emi, taking a step into her personal bubble. "The god damn Inquisitor showed up! She *sensed* Jelena. She knew we had her!" Iyah's voice had risen much more quickly than she realized. "He stupidly gave us the out by sacrificing himself. He got himself killed for *her*! Her!" Iyah's cheeks had turned red. Her blood pressure had exploded. "And there was nothing we could do!" She stepped away from Emi, slamming herself in typical teenager fashion, into a chair. Her fingers raked through her hair in pure frustration. She could have taken Derek's place. She could have done this...she could have done that. Ultimately, nothing had ended in the way she imagined it. Iyah was actively crying. Even as she was furious, her nose was stuffy. She was so mad at him. It was his fault! She had no idea how she could even return to Delaya. She didn't know how she was going to relate all this information to anyone else. She would rather bury the hatchet right here and never talk about it again. Her head fell into her hands. It was too much weight for her to hold up anymore. Her shoulder slunked. Her back was shaking while she cried. Some Commander she was. Some Commander.

Emi blinked a few times, staring at the Commander. A ringing in her head, as if it was put there as a failsafe to anything she didn't want to hear. Head moved from side to side as she shook her head. Her hands dipped behind her to steady herself back into that chair as her whole body began to shake. Commander Atio was her friend. Not just someone she worked closely with, but someone she looked to for inspiration. Was he really dead? Was this some elaborate hoax? Maybe if she stepped down as Commander in Chief... Bargaining, the third step.

"Of course ... he..." she couldn't even finish the sentence. She gave a small gasp as her hand moved to cover her mouth. The way Commander Xergo was acting, there wasn't any way she was lying. Those brown eyes shaded once again by falling lids. Another small gasp was let out as those olive toned cheeks would have tears streaming down them. Caught in the right light, they could be seen. A sob or two escaped her lips from under her hand as she slumped back into that chair. She could feel her whole body shake slightly as she soon would bury her head in her hands. Depression, the fourth stage.

The scene in the control room was dim. Both women were shaken by the death of a friend. Iyah was already trying to place the whole thing under a magnifying glass. She couldn't accept things as they were. Surely she could wind back time. Surely she would wake from her sleep. Her face briefly withdrew from her hands. It was hard to focus on Emi, especially in the dark. She could see that she was also crying. She was hurt by all of this too. Many tears would be shed for Derek. Despite his death, they had to keep moving forward. It was necessary to make his sacrifice worth something. As badly as Iyah wanted to race home and take the childish route of hiding in her blankets, she knew she had to keep going. Still, her tears weren't ready to stop. The more she brushed away, the more replaced them. Weakly, she forced her feet beneath her. Standing upright, it seemed like her body had gained the weight of another person. She had become less aggressive. Now she was raw.

She approached Emi with slow, cautious steps. When she was within arm's reach, she planted a hand on the woman's shoulder and squeezed. What more could they do? They had to support each other. "I'll be returning to Delaya within the next few hours. I can return Jelena back to her family there." Her voice was only somewhat steady. She didn't know what had happened while she was gone. What she *did* know was that her little girl would be waiting for her. And what of her husband to be? He had to be losing his mind without her to scare the mess of Rodneys away. Mentally, she found a happy place clinging to those she loved. The tears, once more, needed to wait.

Emi took a long moment. It hit her, hard. Her friend was gone. Killed in the line of duty. Before she knew it, she felt a squeeze on her shoulder. Palms pressed against her eyes as she wiped away those tears. Palms placed at her knees as she wiped those tears from her palm to those khakis. A lone nod was given to Commander Xergo as she pushed herself from her chair. She was still shaken. Emi cleared her throat in an attempt to try to get the lump out. She had a job to do. "Do what you have to do, I'll release the information to the proper people and begin to work out a service. I'm guessing there is no body?" She got a bit weak in the knees as she asked that question. Something in the look of Commander Xergo's eyes, she knew that she wasn't lying. She was. Just as in shock as she was. "Thank you for completing the mission. War isn't war without casualties. Commander Atio knew what he was doing when he signed up. We have to be as strong as him... as he was." That last part stung. "We must all be willing to die for our cause. Please, do what you need to to gather yourself and reach out to anyone you'd need in returning Jelena to her family. I will take care of the rest here. You are welcome to bereavement leave if you need it. We shall be in contact soon. Until then, may the force be with you." She had to get out of the control room as it started to get smaller. And without so much as a nod, the woman made a beeline for the exit and to her chambers.

*Acceptance*. The fifth and final stage of grief.

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