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LtJG Iniko Mpeba, "A tough call"


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((OOC: I’m making a new word, “lom” to be the diminutive casual equivalent of “boy/girl” for a lomale. This takes place later on, the day after the card game.))

((Deep Space 6, Promenade))

::The public call center on Deep Space 6 was nearly empty. Iniko could walk right in and make a call, no waiting in line. Jhe could also have simply made the call from jheas room on the Darwin. But that would have given too much away. Jhe turned away, thinking to put it off again. Jhe had already walked away twice before, unable to face this meeting. But jhe was running out of shore leave, and jhe suspected that this might be the last time jhe would try. If jhe couldn't go through with it this time, jhe didn't think jhe ever would. Fine, then. Just do this one step at a time.::

::Jhe approached the desk and asked for a private booth to make a call. Yes, real time. Yes, out of the system. To Duronis II. That name still felt odd in jheas mouth. Like jhe was mimicking someone else's voice, trying to fit in. Then again, wasn't that what jhe was doing? Jhe still didn't feel like jhe really belonged here in the galaxy at large, so far from home. Jhe added a final request, that the call be untraceable. It might be paranoia, but jhe wasn't going to risk everything on this call going well. The attendant stood and ushered jhea into a small booth, closing the curtains behind her as she left.::

::Iniko turned around, examining the room for any giveaways and finding it reassuringly generic. There was a mirror to the right of the screen to allow patrons to check their appearance before connecting. Jhe frowned at the dull brown cloak jhe wore, but it would elicit no comment from jheas mother, and that was its entire purpose. Jhe pulled the hood up to cover jheas short hair. It didn't hide it entirely, but hopefully it would be enough to forestall comment. Jhe turned to the console and took a deep breath. The painful flutter of anxiety in jheas stomach only increased, but jhe couldn't delay this anymore. A button flashed green, indicating the call was ready to connect, and jhe reached out to press it before jhe could think of another reason to back out. Jheas heart froze and jhe stopped breathing. Jheas stomach tried to turn inside out. The few seconds of waiting for the call to be picked up took weeks.::

::Chioma's face appeared on the screen, older than the last time they'd spoken. Her eyes widened in shock and she simply stared at Iniko in frozen open-mouthed disbelief for a minute or two. Iniko plastered a hopeful smile on jheas face. Jheas blood thundered loudly in jheas ears until jhe was worried jhe wouldn't be able to hear her when she finally spoke.::

Iniko: Hi Mom.

::Chioma blinked rapidly and finally a brilliant smile spread across her face. Iniko felt jheaself tense even further, and jhe leaned back away from the screen. It was terrible that a smile made jhea feel even more apprehensive, but it only made jhea realize how much jhe still had to lose. Jhe wasn't ready for this. Jhe shouldn’t have decided to do this, jhe could have put it off a little longer, but now it was too late and there was no escaping and it was all happening too fast.::

Chioma: Iniko? Is it really you?

Iniko: It's me, Mom. How are you and Dad doing?

::It was a desperate attempt to try to avoid talking about jheaself, and jhe knew it had no hope of succeeding.::

Chioma: Oh we're fine, but we've been so worried about you! You never contacted us. It's been years since we've had any word from you! How could you make us worry like that?

::Chioma’s scolding made Iniko feel like a child again, and jhe winced. Jhe didn't have any excuse to give her, not any that she would want to hear at least. Jheas voice when jhe responded sounded whiny and defensive in jheas own ears.::

Iniko: Effiom made sure you knew I was okay. You didn't need to be worried.

Chioma: ::scoffing:: You told Effiom you were okay. That boy doesn't know anything about what a lom needs to be okay. You could have been-

Iniko: Mom! ::jhe interrupted, not wanting jheas brother to get dragged into this:: I really have been fine. Everything is fine. I'm really very happy right now. I just wanted to . . .

::Jhe trailed off, not really knowing why jhe had called. There had been some vague hope of maybe reconciling, maybe actually being able to talk again. Properly talk, like family, like they used to, without the bickering and haranguing. Without the constant looks of incomprehension.::

Chioma: Nonsense, child. How can you be happy without your family? Without the coven? Without fulfilling the purpose you were born to? Unless ::her eyes lit up, and her voice took on an eager lilt:: you've found a new coven, haven't you? It isn't the same, of course. Who knows what sort of strange ideas they have there. But as long as you're still serving your calling, I suppose it's okay.

Iniko: No, Mom, I . . . I couldn't keep doing that. I tried to tell you, I just couldn't do it. I . . . I've taken a job as an engineer on a starship.

::Jhe hadn’t meant to make that last admission, but the words came out in a rush. Chioma stared blankly at jhea for a moment, then her face turned blotchy red and she stared at Iniko in disbelief. When she spoke her voice was a whisper.::

Chioma: An engineer . . . what? You’ve turned your back on the coven? You’ve gone so far astray? Did someone . . . ::her words dissolved abruptly into hiccuping sobs::

::Iniko sighed and looked away, fighting down jheas guilt. Jhe was happy with Starfleet, and never would have been happy back there. There was just no way jhe could give in, no matter how it made jheas mother feel. Chioma had always believed that the outside influences from the rest of the galaxy would be the downfall of their civilization, and Iniko had gone and joined their ranks. Jhe knew it would be hard, but watching jheas mother cry, knowing it was jheas fault, was intense. Jhe should have just lied and made her happy. Kept quiet, just let her keep thinking whatever she wanted. It was too late for that now. Jhe squirmed uncomfortably, trying to think of something to make it better.::

Iniko: Look, I know you never understood, but you always knew this was what I wanted to do, right?

Chioma: ::sniffing:: What did I do wrong? Did I not spend enough time with you, telling you about our traditions? Was it that school I sent you to? I knew I should have taught you at home. So many alien influences.

Iniko: Why does this mean you did something wrong? I’m happy. I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do. It’s a well respected career. Why does this have to be a bad thing?

::Iniko stared at her pleadingly, begging her to listen. To just try to understand. But she just shook her head angrily.::

Chioma: That’s ridiculous. This is no decent career for a lom, child. How could you turn your back on your people like this? It’s obscene! There’s no future for you in a place like that. I didn’t raise you to act like this. Gallivanting off into space, deserting your duty. This is ridiculous. You will come back home right now and leave this selfish nonsense behind. It isn’t just about you, you know. You have an essential part to play for your people.

::Iniko sat back, stunned. Jhe had known she would react badly, but jhe had hoped for some attempt at understanding. Expected that at least she would hear jhea out before declaring that jhe was wrong. Instead, she was simply shutting jhea out, refusing to believe jhe had anything useful to say. In that case, there was no more reason to continue the discussion. This call had been a failure, and a mistake to begin with. Jhe blinked back tears and set jheas shoulders, determined not to cry until this was over. Jheas words when jhe spoke were harsher than jhe meant, rough with unshed tears and anger.::

Iniko: Mother, I’m not coming home. I’m not a child anymore, and I have made my decision.

Chioma: Listen to me-

Iniko: NO! I could never have been what you wanted. I understand that now, why can't you? I’m just sorry I spent so long trying. Don’t try to find me. Just . . . just let me go if you can’t accept me. Goodbye.

::Jhe flicked off the transmission before Chioma could respond, and sat back, staring blankly at the black screen. There were no tears. Jhe was too shocked for that. Shocked at jheaself more than anything. Had jhe really just said all of that? Jhe had just shut down all possibility for communication between them. A shudder ran through jhea as jhe realized the finality of it all. It wasn’t too late, though. Jhe flicked a finger in an abortive gesture towards the call button. Jhe could reconnect the call, apologize . . . and then what? Go home? Submit to the coven again? Make some more babies, that jhe would never see? Fall in love, just to be rejected over and over again? No, what jhe had said to jheas mother was absolutely true. Jhe could not live that life. Jhe never should have tried.::

::Iniko stood and left the call center in a daze, shrugging out of the heavy cloak. Jhe stuffed it into a recycler on the way back to the Darwin. No need for it anymore. Jhe had expected to feel rejected and bereft if this call didn’t go well. Jhe hadn’t expected to feel lighter. The finality of the separation took away a weight of uncertainty that jhe had been shouldering for far too long. There was nothing at all pulling jhea back now. Jhe truly was free.::

::The removal of that weight had not been without cost, though. For all the years that jhe had lived without jheas mother’s input, jhe had always assumed that one day they would make up and she would understand. It was more a loss of hope than anything else that jhe was mourning right now. And it was mourning, jhe realized. Jhe noticed the tears streaming down jheas cheeks, and wondered how long jhe had been crying without noticing. Jhe ducked into a turbolift and held it. The sobbing, once jhe let go, shook jhea with surprising force, leaving jhea desperate for breath. Jhe felt lost and alone. Jheas emotions were a riot of guilt and anger and abandonment.::

oO Why couldn’t she try to understand? Why did I have to confront her and force her to make a choice when I knew she wasn’t ready? How could she be so stubborn?Oo

::Jhe slowly stopped shaking with sobs, exhausted rather than consoled. Jhe slid to the floor and hugged jheas knees close to jheas chest. Someone would want the turbolift soon, jhe couldn’t stay here long. Jhe scrubbed at jheas eyes, hoping to make jheas emotional state less obvious. Just need to get back to jheas room, then jhe could be alone for a while. Jhe hadn’t yet moved quarters, but Manius was staying on station to take care of the Captain, so jhe would have space. Jhe blew out a long breath and stood up. Jhe just needed to keep moving. Just keep taking one step after another, and soon the pain would be less raw. The guilt jhe wasn’t so sure about. Jhe couldn’t help but think that if jhe could have just kept quiet maybe they could have reconciled. It was wrong, jhe knew it, but it kept coming back, pounding away at jheas fragile composure. Maybe being alone now wasn’t the best idea. Jhe needed to find someone to talk to.::

Lieutenant JG Mpeba - Engineering Officer, USS Darwin NCC-99312-A

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