One of the first things we all did when we got here, aside from a third of us dying, was be transported to the Caretaker’s array. Most of the crew was thrown for a loop by what we found when we got there, but believe it or not, I’d attended one of those country festivals in my hometown before reporting to Voyager. It was the last “normal” thing I ever did, in fact, normal to me as a regular event in my hometown, anyway, something I always looked forward to, even after enlisting in Starfleet. No matter my assignment, I always managed to make it back home for the Cornhusker’s Rodeo. Most of my family couldn’t muster the same kind of excitement, especially after twenty years living there and experiencing it annually, like clockwork, but I came to accept it as part of my residential identity, which became more important when I found myself surrounded more by stars than farmland.
I entered Starfleet bent on making that kind of impact. Most captains aren’t all that well-known beyond the crews they command, but if I was able to obtain even that kind of profile, I figured I would have been satisfied, and never thought twice about it, until Voyager. It wasn’t until the botched attempt to integrate the Sikarian space-folding trajector that I realized I wanted to switch career fields. Subsequent encounters with the Kazon didn’t help, either. I quickly traded ego for security.
A lot of that thought process had to do with Captain Janeway. I haven’t been too kind to her so far, but there’s a lot to be said for someone who was able to keep this crew together even this long, the fact that she was able to convince a bunch of Maquis to obey her, or rather work with her, when she had no one to support her. A lot of what defines who I am would never have believed any of this was possible, and most of it is because of Janeway.
To start with, she quickly realized that this was an extraordinary mission, even before any of us realized it was anything but ordinary. Her security chief had been placed deep undercover with the Maquis, and her one goal was originally to retrieve him. She chose to facilitate its success by relying on Tom Paris, a Starfleet and Maquis failure who happened to be the son of her mentor. I should have known she’d be uniquely capable of figuring out this situation when she began placing the emphasis on family long before it was necessary. That security chief I just mentioned was a Vulcan named Tuvok, and he just happened to be a longtime friend of Janeway’s. She somehow is able to be objective and subjective at the same time. She still saw potential in Paris. Most of us only saw a bad echo of Nick Locarno, one of the most infamous cadets in Starfleet history.
I’m going to end up sounding like I’m contradicting myself, the more I continue this log, but I guess that’s how we normally experience things. The more I think about it, the more it all makes sense.
I do want to get back to the reception we received at the Caretaker’s array, but there’s so much to say about the family Janeway helped shape. Paris had started on the road to redemption by befriending a green ensign by the name of Harry Kim while awaiting final transport on Deep Space Nine. I had just been talking with the late Lt. Stadi, who had the privilege of escorting Paris to the ship. She told me all about Tom’s more lecherous impulses. She also told me about Harry Kim’s budding career, how he’d graduated top of his class in ship design. He probably knew Voyager better than I did, even though I had several months head start on him.
It’s true that I got to know Joe Carey pretty well, but I could see why Janeway would tend to go with another option for chief engineer given the opportunity. He was a competent engineer, but he was rarely up for a challenge. I should know. I used to care about challenges, before I was overwhelmed by them, before I became a member of the Voyager crew. It takes a special breed to thrive in the way a ship in this position needs. There came a point where everyone was given the chance to leave ship, to settle in a human colony, and word got around to me that a lot of people expected that I would take that chance. And in many ways, I would have done so, in a heartbeat, if only it had been five years earlier, five weeks earlier, five days. I began rethinking everything, you could say, the moment the new crew came together, with its singular mission, to get back home. It sapped my greater instincts, you could say. Where’s the challenge when the most you want out of life is to get back to the familiar?
I know, it sounds ridiculous. We have a long journey ahead of us, with plenty of possibility and danger inherent in that journey. That’s plenty challenge right there. But there’s a difference, I learned, between someone who sets a long-term goal and another person dedicated to the short-term. I’m a short-term kind of guy. I think that’s the difference. Janeway realized her kind of people were long-term. She had that friendship with the Vulcan, the project that was Tom Paris, and even the task of integrating crews that until recently hadn’t seen eye-to-eye in years. We realized we’d need to operate the short-term Emergency Medical Hologram long-term, too! How much metaphorical can you get? To say nothing about the Ocampan girl we took on with the Talaxian. Do you know Ocampans only typically live nine years? What am I saying? Of course you don’t. We’re the first ones to have ever heard of Ocampans, Talaxians, Kazon, Vidiians, Sikarians…In a short time, we’ve already made intimate contact with a record number of new alien races. You’d need a whole set of Xindi to match our record!
The Caretaker though…I think I was among the first to actually encounter him. He appeared as an old man playing a banjo. He reminded me of my own mentor, someone I left behind years ago. To be more accurate, my own Banjo Man died ten years ago, to the day. I suppose that’s why I’m writing this now. I owe it to him, to his memory.