I suppose I’ve delayed long enough. This whole mess really started, I guess, when we encountered the second Caretaker, the one who was nothing like the one who brought us to the Delta Quadrant in the first place. This one didn’t play the banjo, I can assure you. I should know.
Originally, the Caretaker some of us have taken to calling Banjo Man introduced himself to the Starfleet crew with a simulation in which he attempted to hide among a bunch of country bumpkins as an old man playing, as you might assume, a banjo. While most of the crew, including Captain Janeway, only tangentially experienced him until he was ready to introduce himself, it was yours truly, Walter Baxter’s pleasure to be introduced earlier. I guess I was just in the right place at the right time. In fact, where everyone else was thrown for a loop by his simulation, I guess simply because I was more familiar with the scenario, I could sense that something was wrong, that it wasn’t as authentic as he might have guessed. Probably because it was my mind that he drew it from in the first place.
I can still hear the faint thoughts he must have inadvertently transmitted to me, mutterings, really. “Must put them at ease.” “Can’t let them suspect!” I only wish I could have known more of how exactly he was thinking, but he was so desperate at the time, I can’t imagine that he was really in control anymore. He’d spent four and a half millennia providing for the Ocampa after inadvertently wrecking their home world. He and his mate, the second Caretaker, had been explorers. I think a part of me, my dedication to Starfleet, imperfect as it was at the start of this crazy mission, must have touched a nerve with him. He’d found an unlikely kindred spirit. That’s the only way I can explain it. He never had to tell me what he was. I found myself drawn to him.
I could sense, as I said, that something was wrong from the start. The moment I arrived in that country farm, I guess I started looking around, until I caught the element that didn’t belong. Much as he tried to appear otherwise, Banjo Man didn’t belong. He’d tried too hard. Where the other elements of the situation were desperate for my attention, he attempted to be inconspicuous, but then, he’d taken the form based on my mentor, my friend, and my father. How would he not have guessed I’d figure him out? My father never approved of my decision to join Starfleet. He wanted me to be a gymnast (which is probably the reason I pushed myself so hard in the early months of our voyage home). He’d play his banjo as an accompaniment to my floor exercises, playing faster the more he thought I needed to concentrate. I’d constantly rebel. I’d literally bounce off the walls. He died of a heart attack the day I started at Starfleet Academy.
Banjo Man had a pained expression in his eyes, and that’s what gave him away. I’m not going to say he took the form of my father, but there was more than enough resemblance. I wanted to ask him so many questions, but I didn’t have the heart. The truth is, I didn’t have that much more experience with him than anyone else. It was the second Caretaker, Suspiria, who communicated more directly with me, has made me rethink all of this. The encounter with her was a little more routine for a seasoned Starfleet officer. It seems to be standard material for star voyagers to confront beings of terrible power who enjoy abusing it. They never seem to realize how human they’re being. Suspiria didn’t play the banjo, but she did understand that a link had been formed between me and her departed mate. She was slower to reveal her hand to the rest of the crew than Banjo Man had been, which left all the more time to torment me.
She accused me of killing the Caretaker. “Caretaker,” for the record, was never a term I used for Suspiria. She’d taken some Ocampa with her, helped them revisit the vast potential of their ancestors, but she was only using them. She wanted to find her own way home. I don’t think it exists anymore. I think she and Banjo Man were the last of their race, and that I inadvertently helped her realize it. She wasn’t very appreciative. I still don’t know how I came to learn it myself. I guess it became intuitive. If Banjo Man had had the power to contact his own people, he could have died happy. He had been anything but, and that’s, ultimately, what helped our crew overcome Suspiria.
But it didn’t help us get home, obviously. We’re only at the beginning of that journey, and I have no idea if I’m ever going to see home again. I stopped visiting the gymnasium. I should probably say now that Banjo Man left a gift behind for me, and I’ve been using it more and more lately, probably ever since I switched career fields. I find it soothes me, even though I’m not any good at it.
Well, you can’t have everything…