The Fourth Reich, by Julad.
This is bleak, people. RL has been persistently kicking me while I'm down, so I've taken it out on poor Voyager. "NR", for those who are inclined to overlook those two little letters, means read at your own risk. I'll tell you there's no violence, but it's not pretty either.
* * * * *
B'Elanna died mid-sentence, hoarsely telling Seven everything she knew about the quirks of the warp-core. Chakotay died with the captain's lips on his forehead. I was in the labs with the doctor, working on a cure, so the others died alone.
But when Harry and Ling and Hiroshi all fell at once, and stayed alive a little longer than the hispanics on board, the pattern was noted, the cause identified, and the real, panicked search for a cure began.
We were calling it the Reaper, because it seemed to kill, fast or slow, loudly or quietly, everybody of every sex, age, and species. It scythed through the crew and the bodies fell in hallways and bathrooms and on the bridge. When we realised that it was taking out everyone who wasn't blonde-haired and blue-eyed, like the planet we'd just taken shore leave on, we started calling it the Fourth Reich. Well, *we* didn't. Not the survivors. The very idea sickened us more than those who were sick. They had nothing left to do but laugh until they died. We didn't think it was funny.
The stares of fallen crewman as we approached with water and blankets chilled us. They would look at our hair with something akin to envy. They cast their brown eyes downwards, covered their heads and faces with blankets in some cases, as if the virus could be fooled.
It wasn't a virus at all actually, for all the difference it made. It was more of a growing force-field, affecting DNA, not cells. When a humanoid life-form came within its range, it simply unbound any DNA which it didn't like, leaving an incapacitated body and cells incapable of regenerating, then moving outwards from the body, using energy from the release of chemical bonds.
For a while, we thought there'd be only six crew left out of one hundred and fifty. The thought was horrifying. But then it turned out that Roger Doldarn was naturally a brunette, and Ebbi was a little mousey - not blond enough for an uncaring plague. The doctor's program degenerated under the repeated stress and conflicts of priorities, and when I fainted from exhaustion in the middle of reprogramming him, Seven had to re-initialise him. It wasn't enough. He doesn't know who we are anymore, and seems incapable of getting to know us again.
It wasn't funny at all.
* * * * *
Naomi grows up so fast. She's eight now, but looks like she's sixteen, and acts like she's twenty-eight. We stopped thinking of her as a child so long ago, when she went days without sleep to bring water to the fallen; when she dutifully and tearfully recorded messages from dying crewman to be delivered to their families; when she blasted four fighters into cinders because we didn't have the time or the inclination to negotiate with them over tolls to cross their space.
Strangely, the fact that we're carrying a plague usually makes travel easier. The aliens we come across don't communicate, don't attack, don't come close. Enough drop us supplies - hoping we'll take them and move on quickly - that we get by. Some even give us technology or information which will get us out of their territory faster. And it's amazing how little damage is done to the ship when we're not in battles twice a week.
Of course, no race we've ever met has been able to discover a cure.
* * * * *
I'm the senior ranking officer on board, but at first, we ran the ship by committee, and captained it by rotation. There were only four of us; five if we counted the doctor, which we generally don't. All we really cared about was getting home, so we were in agreement so often that it didn't matter who was in charge.
These days, I let Seven be the captain most of the time. I think she loved Kathryn more than any of us guessed, because in her absence she acts exactly as the Captain would have, and nothing like the ruthless borg she really is. Sometimes she even seems to maneuvre Naomi into a knock-down, drag-out argument about individuality and relevence as she guiltily violates a prime directive she couldn't care less about, on the way to a planet she's never called home.
It's funny what we do in the empty spaces where our loved ones used to be.
* * * * *
Sam is the only starfleet left. When this ship left Deep Space Nine, it held over one hundred starfleet officers. Seven was borg, I was a criminal and Naomi was an embryo.
And really, I don't even know if Starfleet wants us back. We should have incinerated ourselves as soon as we realised the truth about the plague we carry - it's lethal, unstoppable, and can survive forever. We should have destroyed Urtyria, and ourselves, and the Fourth Reich with it.
But I know why I keep going. Having no dreams left of my own, I'm keeping Harry's dream alive. Even if I can never leave this ship as long as I live, I want to talk to his family, tell them about everything he did and the kind of man he became.
I guess that's why all of us still yearn for the alpha quadrant. We'll never set foot off the ship, we'll never see another humanoid in person again, but if their stories can get out, if their letters can reach their families, if their research can be published and their innovations distributed, some part of the crew won't have died.
If we can get what's left of them home, it will be the greatest achievement of our lives. It's the only thing we live for.
* * * * *
I'm trying to learn the clarinet. Sometimes I feel like it's the worst thing I can do to myself, my penance for staying alive. The fingering is easy but I can never get the airflow right, and the sounds are so awful that I have to stop; so unlike the music which flowed from Harry's lips that it hurts my ears and my throat and my heart to hear it. Yet over and over again, as I swear to give it up as a fool's game, I return to it.
And on the really bad days - and don't ask me how some days can be worse than others - I sit in Sandrines with music playing, and just hold the clarinet in my fingers.
It's a kind of peace.
* * * * *