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Jan-Mar Runner-up: Calling Home

Ryoma Hoshino

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== Stardate 239004.01 ==

"Yeah, Mum, I've got it. Don't worry!"

Why was it that every time they finally got around to a subspace call, Ryoma was always left with the feeling of being nagged at? His mother's lips seemed to work themselves into a blur and her words phased out into a dull ringing noise deep with Ryoma's ears. He imagined switching off the display and cutting the conversation short, but he knew that option was restricted to the confines of his mind's eye.

"Do you want to speak to your father?"

That was all it took to bring him crashing back into reality.

"Dad... ?" Ryoma asked hesitantly, "I... sure." He swallowed a small bundle of nerves and tensed himself for a dressing down. The screen changed and the cold steely face of Tadanobu Hoshino, a man losing the war with his years, filled the small poster-sized screen.

"Hello son." He didn't seem particularly affected by seeing Ryoma's face on-screen for the first time in several months.

Ryoma smiled; a mask for a whole ecosystem of feelings reigning inside him. "Hi Dad, how are you doing?"

As the conversation continued, one couldn't really call it a progression, the unspoken tension stood as an impenetrable wall between them. This was the man who apparently disagreed with everything Ryoma had become.

To his father, Ryoma was a pawn of militarists, taken in by Starfleet's propaganda - to any man living on the Cardassian border in the past 50 years, it was difficult to see Starfleet as anything but the sharpest end of the Federation's stick. While they frequently protected Ryoma's homeworld of Lyshan VI, they were also the enforcers of Federation policy to resettle the neighbouring worlds ceded to the Cardassians in the inter-war period, and their very presence in the system made Lyshan VI the target of both Cardassian and Dominion invasions...

... but to those who grew up in the Dominion War, Starfleet was heroism incarnate. Against great odds, they fought for peace in the Alpha Quadrant. It was a belief that Ryoma Hoshino had bought into, but one his father could never contemplate. A lifetime of hardship and disappointment had left him numb to his son's perspective.

Ryoma had no doubt that the old man was just biting back his displeasure at seeing his son in uniform, and couldn't shake the feeling that bile would win over cordiality. He looked over at the ship's chronometer, eager to be anywhere else but taking this call.

"Dad, I've got to go. I have to attend a staff meeting." He didn't see any change in the older man's demeanour, the rather unexpected end to their conversation instead seemed to euthanise what was an already tiresome attempt to keep up the pretense of familial ties.

"Son, stay safe..."

Ryoma didn't skip a beat: "I will, Dad. Bye now!"

With a flick of a switch the conversation was over, leaving Ryoma staring at his reflection in the darkened panel as a sigh pushed past his lips. Why had his father even bothered attempting a conversation?

== Stardate 240004.01 ==

Eyes devoid of recognition. That was the hardest thing to reconcile. Nothing was harder than returning from a walk around his childhood home's beautiful wooded gardens and seeing that shrivelled-up old man in his chair staring at him in silent panic, attempting to call upon one of a multitude of forever lost memories.

Ryoma placed a hand on his son's back. "Ryo, we've got to leave soon, so why don't you go with Baa-chan and get yourself some biscuits." He smiled for the sake of his son, protecting him from the incredible heartache he felt clenching at his chest. Ever the good little boy, the littlest Hoshino went off to the kitchen with grandmother in search of homemade gingernut biscuits.

That left the two of them alone.

Tadanobu's deteriorating condition had left him little more than a ghost haunting the Hoshino household with an unknowable grief. A shell of a man who was still staring blankly at Ryoma.

"Hi Dad..." Ryoma said softly as he sat in the armchair opposite his father. He noticed the lip hanging loosely from the old man's face, wobbling with the waves of tremors that beset Tadanobu's body. "How are you doing?"

He smiled in a unthinking attempt to comfort his father. The returned smile was warm but brief, the old man's attention fluttering back towards the window.

He hadn't spoken for nearly a year now, and his memories had begun fading long before that. Doctors said it was the effect of a degenerative neural condition particularly common among the survivors of the Federation-Cardassian border conflicts that marred Tadanobu's early years on Lyshan VI. The disorder had hollowed out the very essence of this once proud man.

Ryoma looked over to the kitchen, meeting the gaze of his mother briefly before she returned to keeping her 9-year old grandson busy in the only way that grandmothers know how: excessive attention.

Then Ryoma's gaze fell heavily to the floor, lingered and then flicked back to Tadanobu.

"Dad... I... I am sorry I didn't take the time to get to know you better." He bit his bottom lip, stretching it out to keep it from quivering.

Tadanobu turned in an apparent attempt to see where the voice had come from, his face reacting to Ryoma's obvious distress.

"I thought for so long that disapproval of my job meant disapproval of me... I thought you hated what I'd become." He pulled a PADD from his jacket pocket and held it up. "I read your diaries, Dad... do you remember what you wrote?" Ryoma knew that he didn't, but he felt compelled to ask. "I never knew how you really felt, Dad..."

The old man's face was streaked with a tear, no doubt a basic empathetic response to the sorrow of a what must have seemed to be a stranger. Regardless, that tear sent a dagger through Ryoma's heart.

The younger man fell from the armchair and onto his knees, his hands forming a triangle front of him before his forehead moved to meet them. "Please forgive me!"

Seconds passed by, and Ryoma kept his eyes to the floor, tear drops flowing over the backs of his hands, when the lightest of touches brushed Ryoma's hair. The sensation grew firmer as fingers planted themselves on Ryoma's head, followed by the soft warmth of a palm.

"What's wrong, Dad?"

He raised his head, his eyes rising to meet those of the old man, only to find him looking away, both hands in his lap. He continued searching for the voice, his hand reaching for the one that rested on his head. His eyes met his son's and he pulled the child into an embrace.

"Ryo, I will always be proud of you, son."

Moments passed before Ryoma felt an unbearable pressure to make sure he wasn't freaking his son out. He took a deep breath and allowed Ryo to squirm free.

"Come on, it's time. Say goodbye to Baa-chan and Jii-chan."

Ryo's brief distraction allowed Ryoma to get to his feet and hide all evidence of his lapse of composure. He moved over to his father and kissed him on the head. "I'll see you soon, Dad."

He then moved over to his mother, hugging her with the full weight of the burden he had been carrying. "Sorry, Mum, but I'll be back soon, I promise."

Ryoma then looked down at his son: "Ready?" The young Hoshino nodded his head firmly. "Okay then, computer, end transmission."

The living room faded away to reveal the metal struts of the holodeck. Ryoma turned to see his the sofa where his father was sitting disappear into nothing and sighed deeply. His thoughts turned to his parents back on Lyshan VI, of his and his son's projections just fading away, and he wondered whether, perhaps, his father had felt anything as they did so.

There wasn't a communications tool in the galaxy that could break through the blocks in Tadanobu's mind... but being able to be with his family across the seemingly infinite ranges of space at least gave him chance to confront those hardest of regrets: the ones you can never hope to fix.
Ensign Ryoma Hoshino
Intelligence Officer
USS Discovery-C
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