Genre: Drama, episode addition, character death
Archive: Please ask me first.
Disclaimer: Star Trek: Enterprise is the property of CBS/Paramount. All original material herein is the property of its author.
A/N: This was the first story I wrote for Strange New Worlds 10 last summer, and it remains one of my favorites. It inspired the little "Sim series" vignettes that I have been posting over the last few months, beginning with "Preview of Coming Attraction," and now we are coming full circle. Thanks to my betas boushh and TJ.
As Phlox straightened the instruments on his surgical tray once more, he noticed with detached fascination that his gray-gloved hands were shaking.
Playing God was a task not meant for mortal men.
Nevertheless, Phlox had resolved to be the best god he possibly could. He had given Sim a loving childhood, a stimulating home environment, and the company of friends. He had fed the lad's curiosity and nurtured his body and mind. To Phlox's delight, Sim had turned out splendidly—a man with the brilliance and kindness of Commander Tucker, as well as his memories. Yet Sim still retained the innocent, eager openness and untarnished wonder of a creature but eight days old. It would have been difficult enough to lose him after fifteen days, no matter how full a life he had lived, even if Commander Tucker were well and whole again.
Now Phlox stood in Sickbay, a pitifully flawed and broken god, waiting to destroy his sublime creation.
In thirty-eight years of practice, he had never performed a procedure designed to kill a patient. But this mad scheme to save Commander Tucker had been Phlox's own idea, after all. The assumption that Sim would survive the extraction of neural tissue that would repair Tucker's brain damage had been Phlox's inadvertent error as well. There had been no way to calculate the parameters for a human symbiot until Sim existed, and by then, it was too late. Now Phlox must put one man to death to save another, and he was at a loss as to how he would bring himself to do it.
As he picked up his hypospray, checking the premeasured sedative—again—he glanced across the biobed. Jonathan Archer stood silent, virtually searing a hole in Sickbay's wall with his grim stare. The price of playing God to save his chief engineer and best friend—to be creator, savior, and now executioner—had taken a terrible toll. As Sim had aged thirty-five years over the past eight days, so, it seemed, had Archer: his face was haggard, his chin rough with stubble, his eyes sunken for want of sleep, or from too many nightmares. This reluctant god had surely damned himself many times over for what he had set in motion, and for what was yet to come.
But what if he had done nothing, and Tucker had died? Phlox doubted Archer would be in better shape. His method of self-torture would be different, but the end result the same.
"I'm sorry." Archer's haunted eyes were trained on Phlox now.
"I'm sorry you're the one who has to do the surgery on Sim."
Phlox's gut stubbornly knotted inside him in futile protest against what had already been decided. "I'll manage," he replied. Though I have no idea how.
For a moment, Archer's stoic mask slipped, revealing a flash of agony in his exhausted green eyes. "If I'd known he wouldn't survive the surgery, I would never have ordered his creation."
Phlox smiled wanly. "If I had known he wouldn't survive the surgery, I would never have proposed his creation."
The two men eyed each other as the silence stretched out...surrogate father and surrogate brother, both remorseful gods.
Phlox heard Sickbay's double doors slide open behind him, and Sim's approaching footfalls as he entered the room. The low, grinding protest in the doctor's gut became a steady, wailing mantra: Don't do this, you can't do this, find a way not to do this...
He was struck by how very much alive Sim looked—full of nervous energy, balancing lightly on the balls of his feet. Adrenaline and steroids were no doubt surging through his system, the human stress response preparing his body to fight or flee for his life. But he was here to surrender his life.
He looked as if he were about to burst out of his skin. Phlox found the image poetically appropriate. A short time from now, Sim's physical body would be of no further use to him, and whatever made him uniquely Sim would fly free—
Phlox's thoughts skidded to a stop.
Does Sim have a soul?
The question had never occurred to him before this moment. Now he fervently hoped that Sim, despite his all-too-mortal creator, possessed a spirit that would endure beyond this fateful hour.
If that is the case, Phlox thought defiantly to whatever fellow gods might be listening, I would certainly expect his next incarnation to be properly long-lived. A soul can only tolerate so much injustice.
Eight days was hardly time enough to call a life, though Sim had filled his days with memorable experiences. He had become a favorite of the crew, he had performed a Tuckeresque miracle that saved Enterprise from disaster...and by his own shy admission during a late-night conversation with Phlox, he had even fallen in love. Though he had not named the lady, her identity wasn't difficult to guess. Phlox wondered if Sim had confessed his feelings to T'Pol, or if she realized that his affection for her sprang from the unconscious yearnings of Commander Tucker's own heart. Perhaps Sim had already succeeded in leaving an enduring part of himself behind, in the form of a tantalizing revelation.
Sim hesitated as he faced Phlox. "I'm sorry I doubted you, Doc," he said at last.
Phlox didn't know what he had expected—a plea for more time, perhaps, or another case made for the experimental enzyme that had the barest chance of extending his lifespan. Even a condemnation wouldn't have been a surprise. But this? He felt terribly humbled. "There's no need to apologize."
"Yes, there is." Sim's expression warmed with affection. "I don't just remember Trip's childhood...I remember mine. You made a damn good father."
Phlox smiled as he tried fruitlessly to hold back the tears that tightened his throat and welled up behind his eyes. "You were a damn good son," he replied firmly, to keep his voice from breaking.
Sim's demeanor became more formal, but no less sincere, as he turned to Captain Archer. "You said to me once that commanding a starship was what you were meant to do. I guess this is what I was meant to do. Good luck, Captain."
"Thanks." Archer had hidden away all trace of the wrenching pain that had peeked through before Sim's arrival. Now he was stone-faced. Phlox was disconcerted by the captain's lack of compassion; it was most uncharacteristic of him. Could it be that there was an ocean of emotion behind that stern visage, just barely held in check? It would be more in keeping with the Archer whom Phlox knew. If it were so, and the captain allowed his mask to crack, it might shatter completely, unleashing a flood of remorse and sorrow. He might even keep Sim from continuing with the surgery. Then both Sim and Tucker would be lost, and Archer's heart along with them.
So this would be the captain's last act as god in this grotesque play: to withhold comfort from a man about to die. Sim, for his part, seemed to take Archer's reticence in stride, as if he understood why the captain could give him no more.
After Sim took his place on the biobed, Phlox approached, hypospray in hand, and gazed down at his son of eight days. There was so much he wished to convey—affection, respect, despair—but words were feebly inadequate. As Sim looked steadily back at him, Phlox saw forgiveness in those guileless blue eyes. The doctor may have been the creator, but it was Sim who possessed a god's grace.
Very well, then: if Sim believed he was meant to do this, then Phlox would be helping him to fulfill his destiny. It was a small comfort, but it would be enough. And he knew I would need it. How impossibly thoughtful of him. Sim's speech must have been more for the doctor's benefit than for his own. It was precisely what Phlox would expect of him—or of Tucker.
The hypospray hissed softly against Sim's neck. Father and son held each other's gaze as the sedative took hold. A kind of peace settled over Sim as his eyes gently closed for the last time...a peace that Phlox felt within himself as well. He knew it would sustain him long enough to accomplish the task ahead.
He glanced at Archer. The captain looked even older now, as he stared somberly at Sim. Phlox wanted to spare him more punishment. "You need not stay, Captain."
Archer didn't move. "Just tell me where I won't be in the way."
Phlox accepted Archer's self-imposed penance without protest. He instructed the captain where to stand, and began. His hands didn't shake at all.
Archer observed Tucker's surgery as closely as he had followed Sim's. Phlox had the captain assist, now that he would be helping a man to life rather than death; the doctor thought it important for the captain's healing to begin as well.
After the procedure had been completed, Phlox induced a coma in Tucker. "It will help his body recover from the shock of brain surgery and facilitate the initial healing stage," he explained to Archer, as they both washed up. "I'll keep him unconscious for twenty-four hours, at which time I'll evaluate his condition. If his recovery is proceeding satisfactorily, I'll awaken him then."
The captain nodded as he toweled his hands dry. Then, wordlessly, he took up his position once again at the commander's side.
"There's nothing you can do here, Captain," Phlox said.
"I can wait," Archer replied tersely.
Phlox approached the biobed. "No," he said, his voice steely. "You cannot."
Archer gave him a dangerous glare. "Doctor—"
Phlox didn't budge. "Captain, if you don't get some rest now, while you have the chance, you won't be any help to Commander Tucker. You will return to your quarters, pet your dog, and get reacquainted with your bed. Is that clear?"
"I won't sleep," Archer said, almost defiantly.
"I don't care," Phlox replied, matching his tone.
The captain appeared on the verge of arguing further, but his better judgment seemed to fight its way past his fatigue and take hold. With a scowl, he stalked to the double doors. As they parted, he looked back. "You'll call me, when—"
"I'll call you."
That seemed to satisfy him, and he left.
With Commander Tucker stable and resting comfortably, Phlox turned to the task of taking care of Sim.
A wave of refrigerated air greeted him as the glass door to the small morgue room opened. At the sight of the sheet-draped body on the gurney, Phlox felt a sharp stab of grief—the first sign that his own mourning was beginning. He drew the sheet away, looking down into the serene face of the man to whom he'd grown closer in eight days than two of his own Denobulan sons, from whom he was still estranged. Odd, the ironies that flitted through one's mind in unguarded moments.
With care, Phlox washed and dressed the body. He chose a crew uniform rather than the nondescript gray jumpsuit Sim had worn in life, reasoning that Sim had more than earned the right to wear Starfleet blue. As he adjusted the height of the zipper over Sim's chest until it looked just right, his vision blurred. Through the fractured haze, he saw tears falling onto the crisp blue fabric. Do gods weep? Surely they would be immune to heartbreak. Phlox folded Sim's hands neatly atop his waist, then sank into a chair beside the immaculately laid-out body and cried. It was a relief to be merely mortal again, and let his tears soothe his grieving soul.
He didn't know how long he'd been sitting there—the lights had dimmed for nighttime, and his aching eyes had run dry—when he heard the morgue door slide smoothly open behind him. He turned and saw, framed in the dark doorway, a darker silhouette: Archer.
The captain spoke quietly, his voice rough with regret. "I wish I'd spent more time with him."
"You spent time with him, Captain," Phlox replied softly.
Archer drew nearer. He was cleaned up and wearing a fresh uniform, but his eyes still betrayed his weariness. "At first, maybe. It was like a gift, seeing Trip when he was young—seeing the man I knew, in that boy's eyes."
He was standing beside the gurney now, looking wistfully down at Sim's peaceful face. "Part of me—the part who isn't the captain, who's just Jon—wanted to spend every second with him. Time was so short..." He leaned closer, almost as if he were addressing Sim directly. "It would have been easy for the friendship to happen all over again. But I couldn't let it happen. Don't you see?"
With an anguished grimace, Archer turned his back on the body and began to pace the tiny room. "I had to pull out that captain I've been perfecting since we reached the Expanse—the selfish, single-minded bastard." His pain was palpable in his voice, choked with self-hatred. "To him, Sim was just a walking corpse with a head full of valuable neural tissue waiting to be harvested. I wanted to figure out how to be Jon too, but I couldn't do it..." He faltered and stopped, his hands balled into fists, knuckles fiercely white.
Phlox rose and laid a hand on the tormented man's shoulder. Archer's muscles were tense and knotted, like his hands...like Phlox's gut had been, hours ago. "Rest assured, Captain, Sim wasn't alone," he said soothingly. He wished he could say the same for Archer. A commander at war, however, seemed condemned to isolation.
After a long moment, Archer sighed softly and nodded. "I'm glad." He turned back, venturing another look at Sim.
Phlox sensed a void that still needed filling. "When Sim was two days old," the doctor offered, "he wanted to play with the animals in my Sickbay menagerie. So he let them out of their cages...all of them. At the same time."
Archer began to smile. Phlox went on, "The Pyrithian bat flew up into the Jeffries tube, the snow beetles got into the machinery of the diagnostic chamber, and the osmotic eels latched onto the Thracian silkmice and refused to let loose." Phlox rolled his eyes. "It took us hours get everyone put away. Young Sim told me he had a wonderful afternoon."
Archer was chuckling. Phlox pulled up a chair for the captain. "When he was three days old, he took it upon himself to teach me the fine art of harmonica-playing."
"How were you?" Archer asked.
"Dreadful," Phlox replied succinctly, and Archer laughed. The doctor smiled as he sat beside the captain. "At five days, he was quoting lines from his favorite movies. 'Klaatu barata nikto!'...'Louie, I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship'...'The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle'—"
"—'The chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!'" Archer quoted along with him. He was laughing out loud now. Phlox thought he'd never heard such a marvelous sound.
The impromptu wake for Sim continued far into the night, bringing a comforting warmth to the sterile little room as Phlox shared his memories, and Captain Archer gratefully drank them in.
"Don't expect too much at first, Captain," Phlox cautioned, as he administered the stimulant to the sleeping Tucker. "He's recovering from a severe brain trauma. He might not recognize you. He might not even be able to speak."
"I understand." Archer stood at the foot of Tucker's biobed, unmoving except for his hands, which were clenching and unclenching nervously.
Slowly, Tucker opened his eyes. He glanced fuzzily about, disoriented, his brow creasing in confusion. Phlox had expected it; likely the commander didn't even remember the accident that had brought him here. As Archer moved to his friend's side, Tucker's eyes found him, gradually focusing on him, as a newborn baby's would. The engineer's face relaxed into a faint smile. His mouth worked for a moment, then carefully formed a word. "Cap'n..."
Archer returned his smile. "Hey, Trip."
Inwardly, Phlox heaved a sigh of relief, promptly upgrading his patient's prognosis. But as for tears from the captain, Phlox saw none. Behind that encouraging smile, there remained a lonely god, unable to weep. Jonathan Archer still had a world to save.