Title: The Starfarer
Disclaimer: I'm a fan, not a thief.
Summary: Neelix's goodbye story. My thoughts on Neelix's thoughts in the Tag of "Homestead."
I'm leaving home.
That's what Voyager has been, for a long time now--not just a flying battalion, comfortable transportation, or a means to an end--but home. It happened somewhere along the star road that leads from Kazon-Ogla, where Captain Janeway made her choice. I never thought I'd put down roots again, after Talax was destroyed, lost forever in one night of fire and tears. It was a beautiful land--a plentiful land--when I was a boy, long before the Haakonian war. I still go there in my dreams, to walk again by the Xelon shores…to smell the fragrant fellin bush that grew wild in the forest… to hear the high, sweet voices of my lost sisters. I dream of us all seated around the great, rough-hewn dining table, sharing stories and tales of the wood. Kes is there, too, the way I like to remember her, pretty as a pixie and unbroken by life. Everyone I've ever loved, or lost, or left behind sits at my dream feast, where there is no death, or destruction, or parting of the ways. New faces will appear there in the days to come, when I return to Voyager only in memory. Dexa and Brax might become my new family, but it's so hard to let go of this one, to say good-bye when we've shared so much and for so long. There will be times when I'll long for the solid trust of Captain Janeway, the wisecracks of Tom Paris, or the fine spirituality of Commander Chakotay, who comforted me when I feared the nothingness.
Captain Janeway has mustered the troops, and I puff up with pride seeing how many line the hallway, a gauntlet of familiar faces. They've come from the Bridge, and Sickbay, from Engineering, and Astrometrics. They've left their posts, and their noonday meals, abandoned their rest, and set aside their play, just to see me off. Me…a former junk dealer and army deserter, a knockabout who never wore the uniform. Neither did Kes, but she had an explorer's heart, that yearning to go higher, always higher, and find the very birthplace of stars. I wasn't nearly as brave, curious, or understanding as she. Not in the beginning, when Captain Janeway's methods had me shaking in my self-protective shoes. The gleam in her eye was terrifying to behold. That was in the beginning, before I had faith, in her talents as a leader, a fighter, a trickster, and a brilliant strategist.
I'd never met people like Captain Janeway and her intrepid crew. They were bold and daring, starfarers, all. In time, my wariness evolved into admiration and an infant understanding of how remarkable it is to be the first to go, a moment that will never come again. Their enthusiasm, their vigor, and their high spirits are infectious, like a fever in the blood. Strangely enough, I'll look back on these years with joy and a twinge of longing…years I've spent in combat, battling hostile aliens, clinging to a buffeted starship, running for my life, and flying headlong into terrifying nebulas. I was a junk dealer, a deserter, and a knockabout until I found Captain Janeway, fought alongside her people, and became one of them, a voyager and a starfarer.
Words fail me as I pass through the corridor. Beyond the doors, my new life awaits, the chance to live out my days and die among my own people. Isn't it for the best? Isn't that why Captain Janeway set a course for earth, and never looked back? It should be easy to go, but these are my people, too. I've studied their cultures, shared their struggles, prayed for their souls, and soothed their broken hearts with tea and sympathy. They stand proudly now, my people, more at peace with themselves and this journey. Maybe, just maybe, I helped them achieve that strength of mind and spirit. I'll take that thought with me to my new life, to make the going easier. My work here is done, and I leave with greater knowledge and a richer spirit for having come. I can calibrate the warp core, speak a dozen, obscure languages, play poker, and make peanut butter sandwiches. I've been a talk show host, a guide, a chef, a diplomat, and a surrogate father. I've learned so much--never provoke a stressed Captain, fall asleep under two Narcadian suns, or cling to the ones you love too tightly; they'll just slip away entirely. I take a moment to look at each face, wishing my mouth could form the good-bye words that have been swirling through my mind since Captain Janeway offered me the choice to end my journey here or remain onboard, an ambassador and a starfarer.
There's so little time. I need to thank Captain Janeway for all she did for me, and for Kes. Poor, sweet Kes, who lost her way. She was gifted, and that kind of incandescence, if not channeled, runs wild. No one is to blame, certainly not the Captain, who loved Kes like her own child. Oh, the stories I'll tell Brax about Captain Janeway! Why, I'll regale all the children with tales of her life and journeys. I'll tell them how she blew up the Caretaker's array, fired on a Malon garbage scow, and sent the Borg Queen flying in disarray. I'll recall, with a fond tear in my eye, how she ended a nuclear winter, fought her way across Bomar space, and led us out of the void. She took big chances and made hard choices, but it was all for the uniform, and in the name of something higher. May she remain homeward bound.
Commander Chakotay and I are alike in many ways. Oh, I'm not dashing and handsome like him, but we were both homeless, before Voyager. Our worlds were destroyed by creeping conflict that exploded into full-blown war, taking all we loved in a night of blood and tears. We both survived the end, and know just how much it cost. He is a peaceful man, the kindest man, but loyal and brave. I'll never forget how he made the agonizing journey to the Quarren homeworld to bring our people home. May he reach the bones of his people, and rest there.
I need to tell Tom Paris that he will be the best father, because he's naturally kind and giving, I misjudged him mightily at the start, but Kes knew a good man when she saw one. In our years together, Tom has surprised me everyday with his courage, his compassion, and his humor. I'll tell the children Tom stories, too: how he bamboozled the Kazon, built the Delta Flyer, and pursued Lieutenant Torres across a galaxy. B'Elanna and I have both faced the truth of ourselves on this adventure, and gained new families as a result. Should I ever have daughters, I hope they'll be as smart, strong, and loyal as B'Elanna Torres, the rebel girl turned wife and mother. May they cherish every moment together, until it ends with the last breath.
Little Naomi--I'll always think of her that way--grew up but forgot to tell me. Her need for me has passed, along with the desire for bedtime stories and endless games of Kadis-Kott. She can learn more from her mother now, and B'Elanna, and even Seven. They're growing up together, in a way, stepping side by side into the complicated world of womanhood, where there is no turning back. After girlhood, things fall way, like Flotter, and Treevis, favorite uncles, and dreams of being the "Captain's assistant." May Naomi's future be colorful, bright, and sweet, like a field of myrtle flowers. May her spirit be strong, like heartwood.
Why, Commander Tuvok is dancing--or something like it! Too be his friend was all I really wanted; to earn his respect was all I ever dreamed. With a slight movement of his foot, Mr. Vulcan has given me my wish, and it makes the going easier. I wonder why he thinks well of me, and when it happened. It certainly wasn't my "piquant" plomeek soup, my Talaxian folk tales, or our brief stint as roomates. He didn't want to share in the first place--Vulcans are very private--then Officer Ch'Regha and I rolled on his lute and broke it. May he walk the deserts of Vulcan, again, and think of me in the Kal-rek season.
Who will give tea and sympathy when I'm gone? Certainly not the Doctor. It's not in his nature. That's as it should be. The Doctor is unique: pompous, dedicated, and full of joy. He cares, underneath the scathing sarcasm. I saw it in the mess hall, after Ensign Jetal's passing, when he ranted about life and death and a hologram's choice. The way isn't easy, but he continues. The Doctor will remain, long after the rest have come to dust. May he remain a doctor, not a singer. Opera hurts Naomi's ears.
Harry Kim, the youngest of us. I should tell him not to be in such a hurry to fall in love. It will happen in good time. He's come a remarkable distance, for one so young, but there is far to go. When I think of Harry, I'll remember a kind-hearted boy who always chose life, even when the door to the other world was near. I'll remember a fine officer who fought the Hirogen, ventured onto Borg cubes, and played a mean clarinet solo. May he remain strong and unbroken by life.
The doors close behind me, and it ends, this journey that Kes and I began together, somewhere on the star road from Kazon-Ogla. If Kes had stayed, she would be old now. I would be helping her prepare for the next voyage, the final one and the best. We would both be on Voyager, speeding toward Kathryn Janeway's earth. Instead, I'm leaving with stories to tell, tales of my time on Voyager.
I was Mr. Neelix, for a time. No one ever called me "Mr." before, or likely ever will again.
Mr. Neelix, chef and ambassador…
…a voyager and a starfarer.