"I'm sorry but your father has lost his life in the line of duty."
Phobos stared uncomprehendingly at the messenger standing in front of her as she stood at the door of their apartment wearing an apron. "What?"
Taking off his cap, the mousy haired cadet held it to his chest and bowed deeply towards her. "Your father… he has made the greatest sacrifice for the Empire. I'm sorry for your loss."
Phobos clutched the door for support. The messenger's words seemed to come from miles away. "Oh…" she managed to say.
Noticing her distress, the messenger put his cap back on and saluted her. "Requesting permission to depart, Captain."
Casting a worried glance at her, the man – barely more than a boy – took his leave leaving Phobos standing there at the doorway staring at nothing. After a moment, she mechanically closed the door, leant her back against it and slid down to the ground. Hugging her knees, she leant her head back against the sturdy wood and stared up at the ceiling, scrutinizing it for cracks to distract herself from the messenger's words.
For a time, silence blanketed the apartment except for the muffled sounds of sizzling oil in the kitchen.
Phobos had been cooking. A full-course meal to celebrate mother's promotion to Tier 5.
Suddenly, with a jolt, she got up from her crouch and hurried to the kitchen. She had left the greens on the stove. It wouldn't do if they started charring. The stubborn stains were nearly impossible to scrape off the bottom of the pan.
Taking up the spatula she stirred the vegetables, spreading them apart and flipping them over to evenly distribute the heat. Once the onions were a golden brown, she poured in the sauce and stirred again so everything had an even coating before pouring the water in and letting it boil, stirring all the while.
Scooping up a bit of the soup, Phobos blew upon the spoonful of steaming liquid before sipping to have a taste.
"A-re… I was sure I got the salt right…" she muttered absentmindedly as she stared at the empty spoon.
There, distorted by the concave surface, was her reflection staring back at her. Raising her free hand, she touched her cheek. Her fingers came away wet.
Distractedly, she licked one.
"Oh… so that's why."
She tried to take another spoonful of the soup for another taste but the spoon hit the edge of the pan and sprang out of her hand, plopping into the bubbling broth.
She stared blankly at the broth for a moment before her face scrunched up and a great, heaving sob forced its way out of her chest.
That was how Deimos found her as she rushed back to their apartment upon hearing the news –hunched over the bubbling pan; her tears flavouring the broth.
Epione Felidae was angry.
It happened very rarely. Despite her irritable personality, she usually kept her emotions within the range of annoyance and frustration. Anger was generally something she avoided. People made rash decisions when they were angry.
Like, right now, she wanted to strangle the cadet who had delivered the news of Phobos' father's death to her. And she wanted to strangle the supervisor of the communication tower who had authorized it. Definitely something to be considered very rash if she actually went through with it. But she really couldn't bring herself to care.
Judging by the pulsing of the light around her, she was on the brink of eruption.
Really, what kind of fool though it would be a good idea to inform every family member separately by sending out multiple couriers. And what level of insensitivity was required to feel that sending a young, tactless cadet to inform the main stakeholder of the matter was a good idea?
She shot a glance at the door of her children's bedroom. Mars was currently pacing before the door, his brows twisted into a lump, as Deimos and Ceres tried to console the hysterical Phobos within it. She felt her anger leave her at the sight, only to be replaced by a deep disconsolateness.
For this to happen right after she had promoted successfully… it was like a proverbial slap on her face. Wasn't preventing the occurrence of just this kind of situation the reason for her to rush her advancement?
She sighed and got up from the sofa and walked up to her son.
"You'll wear a rut in the ground with all that pacing," she said as she halted him with a hand on his shoulder.
He turned to her with a plaintive expression, "Mother," he entreated.
Epione's eyes darted across his features. He'd grown up a lot in just a few months. From a sheltered boy to a man worth entrusting with responsibility. Her eyes took in the creases on his forehead. Reaching up, she smoothened them out with her thumbs.
He'd grown up too fast. He'd had to.
Seeing the man he'd become revert to a boy as he asked her for help so desperately tore at her heart. The flame of anger that had been tamped down burnt prosperously yet again in her chest; this time tinged with the colour of hate.
She hadn't had much contact with Edward but his wife Grace was like a soul sister to her. They had been boudoir honeys in their teenage years, idling afternoons away immersed in gossip and discussion of the latest book they'd each read.
Knowing her, she wouldn't remarry after Edward's passing.
She cast a glance at the locked room. The poor girl hadn't lost one parent. She had lost two.
Turning back to Mars, she cupped his cheeks and stared him in the eye. "Trust your mother. I'll see that Grace gets to choose her final battle even if I have to storm the capital to ensure it."
Seeing him nod, she patted his cheek lightly and let go. Turning on her heels, she marched out of the apartment with hard eyes.
"Pack up and get ready," she said. "We've done enough here. Now, we go home."
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