James T. Kirk has seen pictures in the ancient history books, the ones he's not supposed to have read yet. He saw dirty skeletons with hollowed eyes and striped clothes falling off their emaciated bodies. Eleven million men, women, and children murdered because one man decided they didn't have the right to live. People still refer to it like royalty among genocides, if there can be such a thing. There hasn't been anything like it since, and for once it seems like humanity has learned from its mistakes.
There are picture of survivors, angry-eyed men glaring at the camera with captions like, "Dachau survivors on the day of liberation," and he can't help but wonder why they don't look happier now that they're freed. He flips through the book in a sort of horrified fascination, learning about gas chambers, and number tattoos, and police who don't protect, just kill. Kill, kill, murder. It's foreign to him. His father was Star Fleet, his mother is Star Fleet, and space is in his blood. Those who fight do so to protect; he respects them, even when he rebels against the rules that have been set.
He sets aside images of war, tries to forget the faces of tiny frightened children staring up at him from the pages of a book. He tells himself it was a long time ago; these were different men with different morals, and they were punished for it.
When he drives his father's old car off a cliff into a quarry and his stepfather snaps, he still innately believes that those in charge are good. When his mother sends him to Tarsus IV he doesn't even argue that much, letting his sullen silence say everything for him.
He's surprised to find that he likes it there. His aunt and uncle are kind, but not overly interested in what he gets into. There's no frightening stepfather with heavy hands and a quick temper. There's no mother with tired eyes and just enough time to be disappointed with him before she leaves again. Best of all, no one really knows who his father is, and Jim Kirk embraces the role of JT wholeheartedly. He plays with other children and laughs, and essentially is just a child for the first time in a long time.
Jim knows good things don't last. He knows that better than anyone. Still, he's enjoying himself, so he really can't be blamed for not noticing when things first start to go wrong. Eventually though, he realizes that people are starting to look thinner. One night his cousin asks for seconds, and his aunt looks like she's about to cry. He goes to bed that night with his stomach rumbling and his head buzzing. He cousin cheerily thanks Jim for giving him his extras, and goes on obliviously. Jim likes Calvin. He's normal and fun and family, but sometimes he can't help but look at people and wonder why don't you see?
From then on he notices that the fields aren't the same warm gold-green-health-shine they were last year at the same time. They're scraggily, with brown patches and drooping stalks. He hears the adults talking softly in low voices, thinking he doesn't understand. Auntie goes out for food and comes back with two cans of tinned vegetables, one eye gleaming with victory and the other bruised and swelled.
From then on it just gets harder. Before a month passes people are desperate. Neighborhoods close ranks, working together in small groups, feeding each other and watching outsiders with wary eyes.
When Governor Kodos gathered the colony and his voice came over the speakers Jim was relieved. Finally, here was someone in charge. He would tell them rescue was on the way, tell them they only had to hold out for a little while longer. He would give them tips, probably procured by someone else, but still useful information for surviving. Instead, his world fell apart.
"The revolution is successful…"
Oh god, those words. Jim knows he'll never forget them. He could recite it in his sleep, he's sure of it. The nightmares follow him enough.
"The revolution is successful. But survival depends on drastic measures. Your continued existence represents a threat to the well-being of society. Your lives mean slow death to the more valued members of the colony. Therefore, I have no alternative but to sentence you to death. Your execution is so ordered, signed Kodos, Governor of Tarsus IV."
Four thousand people were sentenced to die so that four thousand more could live. The names were chosen by one man who thought he had the right to decide who was more valuable, who had more right to live. The colonists had been split into two groups for the speech, ostensibly to give them all a clearer view. Notes had been delivered to each household with a list of the names of those present, and the location they were to report to.
Jim was thirteen years old, not even an original settler, and he knew damn well just how useless he was in the grand scheme of things. He'd been told it enough.
The proud men in uniform opened fire on the crowd, and the man who was supposedly to lead them to safety watched, impassive, as his citizens screamed and cried and begged for mercy. Jim had dropped to the ground as soon as he had registered what Kodos had meant, and around him he saw others dropping as well. To his right, his cousin Calvin crumpled to the floor, eyes open wide in shock.
Jim didn't stop. Calvin was dead-gone-useless and Jim had to keep moving. People were fleeing, pressing up against the line of Star Fleet officers blocking their escape, and oh god, wasn't that a laugh, pressing and fighting and falling dead with blaster wounds when finally they broke free.
Jim fought his way to his feet and ran. He jumped over bodies and ignored the people crying on the ground because if they didn't get up that meant they'd given up and Jim wasn't foolhardy enough to risk his life on a lost cause. Not now.
Later that night, when the handful of people who'd escaped disappeared in the woods and Jim had hidden the two children he'd found after escaping deep inside the cave they'd found, he finally slowed down.
He isn't Jim anymore, he decides. He is JT and these kids are his and goddammit Kodos had just tried to kill them. He tries not to remember that he saw Calvin's body, and tells himself that the dead woman in his aunt's dress might just have a similar taste in clothes (and hair… oh god her hair, sunflower blonde and spread out around her head like a halo and redblooddustdirtdeath) or the fact that his uncle would never leave his wife and son behind.
He fights so hard not to remember the massacre that he finds himself remembering a different one instead, and his mind fills with pictures of prisoners of death camps in Germany who look like they shouldn't be alive. He looks down at his own body and notices for the first time how skinny his wrists are now. His clothes are handing off of him and he realizes in a single moment of stark clarity, that he is one of those dead-eyed long gone children of the Holocaust now.
As time goes on JT gets skinnier but he fights like hell to make sure his kids don't. The group gets larger and they have to move base but they're still all his, even the ones that are older than him. He gets captured a handful of times and at first he needs to remind himself that Star Fleet uniforms are not safe, are not to be trusted, but he makes it through.
The first time JT loses a kid, he stands there, hollow-eyed and skeletal with clothes hanging off one emaciated shoulder and stares at the tiny little body, curled up and cold with death and thinks of books he wasn't supposed to read and the thought comes that humans really can't learn from history after all. It strikes him as funny for some reason, and he has to try very hard to keep completely inappropriate and more than a little hysterical giggles from escaping.
He tells his kids to get moving, and when they protest he gives them the cold glare he could never have pulled off before this whole mess started that gets everyone moving.
He comes back later that night, after getting his remaining kids settled, fed, and sleeping. He comes back and finds Laila's tiny body right where they left her. Scavengers haven't found her yet. He spends an hour digging a grave; she was only four and it doesn't need to be big. They weren't supposed to die before him. He was supposed to keep them safe, they trusted him to keep them alive and oh god he's sorry, he's so sorry.
JT doesn't cry, but he does find a shiny white rock to use as a headstone.
By the time the Federation ships come, nearly all the survivors have been hunted down and culled. JT's left with scraggly little remnants of his band of children, their numbers halved and all of them mere wisps of their former selves. He's seen Kodos' face, now. He's been captured and escaped and saved those trapped with him. He's done horrible, horrible things that he doesn't think he will ever forgive himself for, but he knows he will never regret. He did whatever it took to save his kids.
They come from the sky in huge ships, wearing clean uniforms and looking so healthy and god, did he really look like them once? They're wearing Star Fleet uniforms and all he wants to do is run because those colors mean death in this new, desperate world; death and betrayal and shame. But his kids need food, and they're telling them that Kodos is dead, so he rounds up his kids and stands guard over the place they've been given to sleep. He snarls at the nurse who asks his name and all his kids will tell them is "He's JT and he's the reason we're still alive." JT doesn't feel like that's much of a good thing.
He thinks again of dirty prisoners in tattered clothes, photographed as soldier come in to "save them." He remembers thinking that no one looks very happy, and isn't that strange because haven't they just been freed?
Now he stands on bone-legs held up by will-power and vitriol and watches the fleet congratulate themselves on a rescue well-done. He wants to tell them no, no, no! This isn't a rescue, you're too late; we're already gone. You haven't freed us because we can't leave. Not anymore. Tarsus IV isn't just a planet, they weren't just colonists. They weren't even really survivors.
They were sad, broken people too stubborn to die, not knowing that history will mark this forever. All they knew is panicrunhelphunger and they stare out at the world with dull eyes, skin stretched tight over their heads, until all you can see is eyes in a skull, staring. Accusing, saying why weren't you better? JT doesn't have an answer for them. Jim doesn't either.
A decade later he sits in class at the Academy, still distrustful of those in charge but goaded into giving it a shot, and cracks open a book to see a wide-eyed, withered, waif staring back at him. He's angry and defiant, and staring at the camera with dead eyes even as he hugs a little girl to his side. He thinks, "Holocaust?" but no, this class is focused on modern disasters and... oh.
Jim's stunned for a moment; he looks around and sees the others starting their assignment, ignoring the horror that was Tarsus IV. They didn't know. He takes a breath and reminds himself that they're all still so young and they weren't there, so how should they know how important this is. He takes another look at the page, and to his horror he recognizes his own face, unidentifiable in its gauntness but oh god so familiar because he never really left Tarsus IV. No one did.
The caption says, "Unknown survivor on the day of liberation."
Jim gets up and leaves.