Thursday, August 25, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager - Banjo, Part 5

Even Starfleet officers tend to think of normal in exactly the kind of why you’d expect. “Normal” is exactly the firsthand experience you grew up with, and everything else is anything but. In theory we’re supposed to have dedicated our lives to exploring, to eradicate once and more all any meaningful definition of “normal”…but the truth is, we’re just as petty as the next guy. We want everything to be identifiable, to be interesting, sure, but in a word, safe. It’s an embarrassing admission, and by no means do I want you to assume it belongs exclusively to yours truly, Walter Baxter, but it’s as universal a truth as you’re likely to find within the ranks of the venerated Starfleet.

I try to look back at its history and try to discover where it all began, and I always fail. I know plenty of people who like to believe that Starfleet began with James T. Kirk, but that’s simply not true. He wasn’t even the original commander of the Enterprise, and I’d say its previous captain, Christopher Pike, had a far more interesting fate, voluntarily stranded amongst telepathic aliens who shaped Pike’s illusions to suit their own aims. Kirk died recently. It’s a little difficult to explain, but I kind of respect it. He gave up a similar delusion he never asked for, in order to save the universe, one last time. It’s probably the only real respectable act of his career, if you ask me. He was always about bravado. He owns the most cherished ego in Starfleet history, but maybe in another life, he was a better man. No, Kirk’s not the place to start. There’s also Jonathan Archer, captain of the original Enterprise, who stumbled his way to helping found the United Federation of Planets, the wider organization Starfleet ended up serving under, inadvertently setting one precedent after another, at a time when humans found very little respect among other cultures, least of all the Vulcans. I’d say maybe that’s when it all began. Vulcans hated us. We decided to like ourselves all the more in return. It’s true humans founded Starfleet, but that doesn’t necessarily explain why they still make up the bulk of the fleet.

No, “normal” means human, the human experience. In a lot of ways, Starfleet is about making everything feel a little more human, even the incredibly alien things. I’m as guilty as the rest of them. Hell, the Maquis were a bunch of Federation colonists who reacted so poorly to the Cardassian War, even though they had blatantly settled near Cardassian space, that they rejected their Federation membership, became rebels, and even managed to recruit from within Starfleet. Now that I’ve set the context, can you really find that so hard to believe? So in many ways, it really wasn’t such a difficult thing to accept those Maquis into the Voyager crew. They weren’t as different as they seemed.

A lot of Starfleet thought is dedicated to its own myth, that its core values interpret “normal” more liberally than most people. Truth is, Starfleet is a conservative organization disguised in liberal language, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, because it allows a lot of moderate thinkers to mistakenly embrace it, and thus blur those lines a little. I like to think I’m one of those people, even though I’m constantly battling with myself. Take, for instance, the Ocampan, Kes by name, we took aboard thanks to Mr. D.

Ocampans live for nine years. It’s such an absurdly brief lifespan many of us didn’t believe it when we were first told. That’s the whole point I’ve been trying to reach. I learned a great deal about why they die so young from Banjo Man, that they became so reliant on his assistance that they simply gave up actively participating in their own lives, giving up incredible telepathic abilities in the bargain. A risk-free life is apparently a short one (though a risk-filled one is, too). Some of the other members of the crew learned some of it on their own, and that only added to their dubiousness. I know when Kes actively defended the EMH to me, my first thought was to dismiss her beliefs, simply because her very existence seemed absurd to me.

As I think I’ve noted, a lot of the crew doesn’t entirely respect the holographic doctor we’d been forced to rely on, simply because, technically speaking, he doesn’t exist. He’s just a combination of programming and photons, a personality meant to give the appearance of consciousness. Kes was the first one to champion his existence on any other level. I believed she was spouting nonsense. I knew all about the android Data who’s been serving with Picard for years, but there are plenty of individuals in Starfleet who don’t acknowledge even his right to autonomy, even though he serves aboard the flagship (also called, conveniently enough, the Enterprise); by the time I took the Voyager assignment, life of that kind should have been old hat.

Some of the crew also likes to complain (as does Mr. D!) about all the excursions Janeway likes to take, exploring just like we’re on a regular cruise, which sometimes gets us into trouble, into all kinds of weird situations. We encounter aliens like the Vidiians, and some of us stop believing in an benevolent deity, at least those who believed in one to begin with. The longer I’ve been aboard this ship, the more the captain has me believing in the Starfleet ideal again. What can I say? It seems to be a veritable conspiracy. But then, I know plenty of others for whom the opposite is true. I call them reactionaries. Maybe I really am becoming a better person. I consider Kes “normal.” I’m accepting a lot of things as normal these days. I switched career tracks to security, not out of fear, or self-preservation, but in the hope that we’ll all survive this. I know what people think of me, what my reputation is. I hope to make good.

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