"...The space battle was already ongoing when my team boarded the superweapon. Think we saw an Alliance warship get destroyed. Anyway, the torpedo got us aboard. The detonation took care of the initial hostiles, but we were attacked not long after landing," Elpsis reported.

A coalition of the willing had come to Csilla to save it from a horde of savages. A great battle had been fought in space, on the planet and the superweapon itself. They had come close to stopping the apocalypse. So very close. But, at the end of the day, 'close' was just a euphemism for failure. There were no do-overs, no second chances. Not in this life, at any rate. Now the planet was a barren husk, stripped of life. Its people were ashes. She had felt their deaths and heard their screams when their voices were silenced.

Elpsis' tone was mechanical as she relayed the details of their mission. It was her way of dealing. Some would feel a profound sorrow at the cruel murder of innocent life and. But the feeling she felt above all was just burning desite to kill the perpetrators and Sith in general. Grieving for the dead did not bring them back. Weeping for them was self-pity. Her faith postulated that death was not the end, but that rang hollow right now. She had not slept since embarking on the ill-fated mission. There were bags under her eyes. Her face sported fresh scars and bruises.

Sitting behind a table, she faced the officers heading the briefing. Of the two, her company commander spoke first. "Elaborate on your opposition. Characteristics, composition. This is the first time Firemane forces faced this Brotherhood," Captain Sha Rezz, a Rodian, spoke. She wore the olive green uniform of Firemane's ground forces, with the Order of Fire symbol on her chest.

"Savage, fanatical. Use wave tactics a lot. It's largely cultists and irregulars. Quality seems to vary a good deal, as does equipment. But they're backed up by plenty of darkside adepts - Ren, Sith. And they're zealots. One tried to suicide bomb me."
"Similar to the Bando Gora then," Rezz remarked to their mutual superior.
Colonel
Lucille Guyenne said nothing in response. Elpsis could not see her facial expression, but her aura was that of a woman who might as well have been carved out of granite. "Continue," was all the Colonel said.

"My squad was dealing with the horde when I was engaged by a Sith Lord. Sorceress type. I fought her. She summoned demons, threw lightning around...I was able to beat her. But," Elpsis paused. What she was about to say was difficult, not the least due to the memories it had awakened. But she had a responsibility that went beyond her ego.
"But?" Rezz prodded. "We're waiting."
"She was able to get in my head. Briefly. Messed with my perception of reality. Brought up bad memories...of Tephrike, my father."
"Get to the point, Lieutenant," Guyenne stated flatly.
She took a breath. "I went berserk. Blasted fire everywhere. Agent Dorne was injured. Shikoba had to help her. Corporal Diona managed to reach out to me and help me get my head in order, but she was stabbed in the process. She, Vykaris and Rhea held the line."

Guyenne frowned disapprovingly. "I see. Continue."
"The Sith was beaten by the end of the fight. Would've killed her, but a suicide bomber got between us. Many of the remaining minions had lost heart. My team had given them a real beating, but we'd all suffered injuries. We tried to patch each other up as was feasible. And shot any wounded Mawist that still breathed. Had to make sure they wouldn't ambush us with hidden explosives." And those who served a cause so vile did not deserve to live.
"Sensible," Guyenne commented. Leaning towards the droid keeping record, she added: "Phrase it as follows: removed risk from compromised enemy assets."

Meanwhile, Rezz continued the debriefing. "Your tactical objective was the main shield generator, correct?"
"Yes, ma'am. that's where we proceeded to."
"There were various other boarding parties aboard the superweapon. Were you aware of them?" Rezz asked.
"Aware in a general sense, but that's it."
"There was no attempt at coordination?"
"Honestly, the impression I get is that everyone just showed and went to fight a darkside adept or eliminate a target they thought would do damage. I can't speak for what went on in the fleet battle."
"That's what happens when you think you can win battles through bravura alone. I suppose it's to be expected from an alliance of people who'd shoot at each other on a good day. All wanted to swoop in and get the glory of destroying the next death star," Guyenne said caustically. "Their lack of intel is absurd. How could no one amongst the major powers have learned of this threat in advance rather than scrambling only once it was moving on Csilla?" she asked in a tone laced with scorn. "The unpreparedness is the natural result."

"Your coordination with allied forces was lacking. But it's clear that the problems started at a level far above your rank. The allied forces failed to impose a plan of action. Continue with your report."
"Yes, ma'am," Elpsis gave her Captain a curt nod. "We managed to storm the generator, and eliminate hostiles there. I assigned Dorne and Corporal Rhea to set explosives. Vykaris, Diona, Shikoba and I held off a Brotherhood counterattack. Dorn sliced the generator to set it to overload. We succeeded, but ammo was running short. And there were more enemy reinforcements en route. So I gave the order to pull out."

A decision that would continue to weigh on her. Had it been cowardly? Could she have done more? She would not allow herself to sink into self-pity. Stand in the ashes of trillions and ask them whether your petty feelings of guilt matter. Their silence would be the answer.

Perhaps Rezz sensed her thoughts. "Your personal commitment is not in doubt, Lieutenant. You evidently succeeded in sabotaging the shield generator, and brought your team back home alive. By all accounts, the battlestation's reactor and targeting system were failing, too. But Csilla was destroyed regardless. That makes the mission a failure."
"And we must learn from what happened and determine what went wrong, I get that," Elpsis replied. "My team was in a crappy state. Shikoba was probably doing the best among us, but she's a support player. Corporal Rhea wanted to fight on. But I made the call to pull out. I don't think anyone expected the Brotherhood would ram the damn thing into the surface. But assumption's the mother of defeat."

"If you'd pushed on and disabled the engines, you might not have made it off the station. But casualties are an inevitable byproduct of war."
Elpsis' milky-white eyes did not waver from Guyenne's visage. "I'm ready to sacrifice myself, ma'am."
The Colonel brushed her words aside. "No one doubts that, considering the eagerness with which you throw yourself into every fight Firemane has a vestigial interest in. But you have trouble sacrificing those under your command. It's the mark of an officer to know when to send a subordinate to their death."

"A larger team might've helped. You took the most experienced members of your first squad. That was sensible. It was no place to send trainees. but a backup team drawn from the other squads could've been of use," Rezz interjected.
"I chose the most experienced that were available on short notice, but yeah. Could've split and coordinated via Enlightenment. But it was difficult to get off the station, as is. The enemy sealed off the hangars and threw hordes of cultists at us, so we had to fight our way out. Shikoba had to summon ghosts to get the horde off our back on the way to the airlock, and then the team held off another attack while Vykaris and I made a door. We spacewalked to the rendezvous point and activate the locator signal for pickup."

She paused, picking up the glass of water to take a sip from it. She purposefully used her organic hand. The cybernetic one still had the unfortunate habit of crushing a glass. Besides, it was still missing two fingers. "When we boarded our ride, we saw the death star race towards the planet. The fleets hit it, but nothing they attempted could stop it."

There was a moment of silence, ere Guyenne broke out. "This battle was a defeat. Your team completed its assignment, but no honours were earned here. This impromptu 'coalition' failed." She looked at Elpsis seriously, her grey eyes seemingly boring into her. "Captain Rezz knows this mystical stuff better than me, but I understand a Force-User like you would've felt these mass deaths?"

"Yes, ma'am. I felt it. But I had a squad to take care of. That's more important than my personal feelings," Elpsis responded sincerely. "I'm an empath, so I've get to a grip on blotting out people's suffering from early on. Otherwise I'd be unable to function."
"You are capable of fulfilling your duties then, Lieutenant." It was phrased as a statement rather than a question.
"Yes, Colonel."
"Good. Because the coming months will be very trying. High command will be breathing down our neck to scramble our meage resources to do...something. Not that the chairwarmers have any clue of what we should be doing. Hit back against mad cultists, somehow accommodate desperate, traumatised refugees we lack the means to help. The last thing this command has time for is a junior officer who doesn't have her head in the game."

Elpsis' expression was cold and hard. Her words were terse. "If I needed any motivation to get my head 'in the game', Csilla has given me plenty, ma'am. I'll do whatever it takes."

"Your susceptibility to the Sith's mental hocus pocus, however brief, must be addressed. That you managed to shake it off and beat her is to your credit, but you endangered your squad. That is on you. You're fortunate they had enough confidence in you not to shoot you. Assuming the Sith survived the explosion, she'll reflect on the confrontation and work on fixing the flaws in her technique. You must do the same. I expect you to be better equipped next time a Sith crawls into your head. Your unit is your responsibility. I need an officer, not a psychological basketcase. Captain, I trust you can arrange the necessary sessions. Make sure the Lieutenant faces whatever voodoo Forcers use until she's fixed the problem."

There were bosses who gave you a pat on the back and said it wasn't your fault. Guyenne was not one of them. Which was good in Elpsis' books. A boss who acted like they were her friend just wanted to use her because of her family name. And she did not want someone to mother her. She already had two mothers. One was a comatose despot, the other a luxury-obsessed coward. She was the only Kerrigan-Alcori still in the fight.

"I'm ready to face and do whatever's needed." There was no doubt in Elpsis' words.
"I'll see to it myself. I have a certain expertise in the matter. More efficient than trying to make arrangements with OOF HQ."
"I'm ready. Can we start today?"
Rezz shook her head. "It's no use pushing you right now when you're already a mess. You look like crap, Lieutenant. I'll see you tomorrow at 0500."
"You're dismissed, Lieutenant Kerrigan," Guyenne spoke.
Pain shot through her leg her when Elpsis got to her feet. Nonetheless, she snapped to attention and saluted, with near bone-cracking efficiency. Then she limped out of the briefing room.

Outside
Natalie was leaning against the wall, smoking. "You still look like crap, Red. How'd the grilling go, only light scorch marks - like you gave me?" The dig was clear, but Elpsis let it slide. To push back would be petty. "Anyway, I'm in next, though not sure why a Colonel wants to talk to me. Must be that I got some technical readouts from this station. Maybe Firemane wants to build one for 'protective' purposes, call it the Firestar or some dumb name."

Elpsis snorted. "I'm fire-proof. Wouldn't put it past 'em. I'm afraid building and maintainig it is a little beyond them though. Probably for the best."
Natalie took a drag from her cigarra, then slowly let out a stream of smoke. "Personally, I'd use one to blow up all those cursed hellholes Forcers go on a power binge on. Korriban, Ziost, Malachor. Anyone who lives there is crazy anyway."
"Sith are like roaches. The moment you think you got rid of them, they're infesting the neighbourhood again."
"Maybe it's because someone hasn't gone far enough."
"I told them about what happened on the station between us. It's on me. Gonna go through additional training."
"Good on you. Make sure your head gets screwed right."
"I was fighting back, you know. Not like you were immune when Xiangu messed with your mind."
"No, but I didn't try to run you over. And I'm not a Forcer, just a squib. Good on you to take responsibility. Instead of blathering about how you lost control and we should feel sorry for you."
"Standard excuse for any Jedi or Sith. I'm not like them."
"No, you're not. But you use the same drug. You know it's funny. When a normal spice addict goes overboard, nine times out of ten, he just hurts himself. But when you Forcers do it, tons of people die."
The door opened and a protocol droid stepped out. "They're ready for you, Agent Dorne."
Natalie put out her cigarra and tossed it into the trash. "Catch you later, Red." And then she was gone. Elpsis limped away. She needed something to hit.