Title: A Nobler Race of Men
Author: Aeryn Alexander
Summary: The Enterprise is called upon to perform a mission of mercy for Star Fleet Command. Then things get really complicated: xenophobia, chess, and a terrible disease.
Rating: PG (Mild Language)
Genre: General/ Drama
Author's Note: For once I didn't want to write a shipper. I went out looking for substance. This, such that it is, was what I found. I swear that I did research. But I think my medical and chess terminology and my understanding of distances and location in the Star Trek universe may nevertheless be flawed. Bear with me, please? Read and review.
Special Note: The title may seem sexist, but if I put it in politically correct terms ... it would sound silly.
A Nobler Race of Men
You shall not change, but a nobler race of men
Shall walk beneath the stars and wander by the shore;
I can not guess their glory, but I think the sky and sea
Will bring to them more gladness than they brought to us of yore.
~ William Roscoe Thayer
Captain Archer had received only a few priority messages from Star Fleet after leaving his native solar system with the Enterprise, and yet somehow most of them came during the middle of the night, forcing him out of bed at the most awkward of hours. That could not be avoided, it seemed. That night, or early morning rather, was no different as Archer tugged a shirt on and scrambled to turn on the lights. As usual it was Admiral Forrest on the screen when he accepted the transmission.
"Admiral." acknowledged the captain, struggling to smooth his disheveled hair.
"I hate to throw this one at you, Jon, and I know you won't like it, but I'm ordering to backtrack a few dozen light years. We need someone out there to perform a mission of mercy for us." explained Forrest candidly as he clasped his hands in front of him. "Have you heard of science station three?" questioned the admiral before Archer could voice his natural objections.
"It was just completed six months ago, right? It's earth's most distant science station, orbiting Ohniaka Four, if I'm not mistaken." answered Archer, naming an outlying star system.
"You are as well informed as ever, I see." commented Forrest.
"I try to keep up as best I can."
"A report came in thirty-six hours ago concerning a sudden epidemic among the scientists and crew stationed there. The facility's medical officer was the first casualty of the deadly disease. Right now, they need supplies and medical personnel or ... we lose forty-seven good people out there." Admiral Forrest informed him solemnly.
"And there's no one else?" questioned Archer, all reservations fading from his mind as he imagined the consequences.
"The Vulcans have acknowledged this as a Star Fleet matter, Jon. They have made it clear that they don't want any of their people infected."
"Yes, and probably worse."
"I will have to consult with our chief medical officer, but I think we have the necessary supplies. I trust the coordinates of the station are in our database."
"Affirmative on the last part, but you need to rendezvous with the Vulcan cruiser Seleya a few light years from your last reported position."
Hesitation was written plainly on the face of the admiral. He looked down at his clasped hands and took a deep breath. Whatever he had to say wasn't going to be easy.
"For personnel, captain."
"I assure you that our medical staff ..." began Archer defensively.
"This isn't me talking, Jon. This isn't my opinion. Everyone answers to someone, and the general feeling here is that ... we want a human doctor to treat those people, not one of the galaxy's lesser known and more mysterious species."
Captain Archer felt his face flush with indignation as he told Forrest, "You listen to me. Doctor Phlox has done an exemplary job aboard this ship, and now you want to tell me that he isn't good enough to treat some scientists on a research station? My God, do you realize how insulting, how paranoid, how xenophobic, how unfair that is?"
"Like I said, Jon. It's not my opinion. I've read your reports. Your doctor is good at his job. That he is an alien just doesn't sit well with some people back home. I know he was your choice, and everyone else on the Command Council has respected that choice."
Archer was seething, but taking it out on Admiral Forrest was not going to change a thing. The man was adamant and the decision was made.
"Fine, sir." said the captain bitterly. "When are we scheduled for that rendezvous?" he questioned. He hung his head as he spoke. It was the only time Star Fleet or anyone in it had made him truly ashamed.
"You will be picking up Doctor Zeller in approximately seven hours. The Seleya is probably already at the rendezvous location. I hear that the doctor is an expert on epidemics and plagues. Studied briefly on Vulcan too, if I remember correctly."
"Well, at least we're getting an expert. I would hate to take a less experienced physician to the station." commented Archer acidly.
"I am sorry, Jon, doubly so, but we can't always choose our missions."
After that conversation Captain Archer could not simply go back to sleep. He sat pensively at his desk for the longest time, wondering what, if anything, he should tell his Denobulan chief medical officer. How would he explain to Phlox that prejudice hadn't really been eliminated on earth, that it had just changed into a different variety of the same old thing? It had become human versus alien instead of one race or gender against another. He considered not mentioning it to the doctor. This Doctor Zeller person was supposed to be a specialist. Why not capitalize on that aspect?
"Because someone would eventually tell him why he really can't handle
this crisis." thought Archer dejectedly. "And they might not do it very
tactfully." The captain sighed aloud and began getting dressed. There were
orders to issue, not mention his visit to sickbay, which had to be made
soon. "Well, misery is a communicable disease." he said aloud, having one
of those rare moments when he wished he had become a veterinarian or an
actor and not a star ship captain.
The captain issued the relatively simple orders from his quarters instead of making the trek to the bridge. The Vulcan vessel was not so far away, after all, and Archer didn't want to see the disappointed looks on the faces of the crewmen who guided the ship by night. It was bound to be bitter, despite the nature of the mission, which he divulged to them rather succinctly. Additionally, he would have to go over all of it again with his senior staff in an hour, perhaps less, depending on how the doctor took the news, and Archer did not believe it would be favorably.
The lights of sickbay were rather dim when Captain Archer walked inside. Phlox could rarely be found in his quarters. He never slept. The doctor seemed only to use it as a place to change clothes and store personal items. It reminded Jon very much of his own college dorm room. As Archer stepped into sickbay he saw Phlox playing chess alone by the light of a table lamp. He appeared to be absorbed in the game, propping his chin on one hand as he studied the pieces. His other hand flitted from piece to piece until he finally moved one and looked up from the board.
"Who's winning, doc?" inquired the captain with a smile that did not come easily.
"It may surprise you, but I am." answered Phlox, gesturing for Archer to have a seat.
"Where did you learn to play?" he questioned as he settled into the chair.
"On earth, of course. A friend taught me the game. Many of us in the medical exchange program played chess together when we had the time. They were only to happy for me to learn."
"Are you any good?"
"Before I left, I could hold my own with the other novices, but I could never beat an experienced player." he chuckled. "You don't happen to play, do you, captain?" asked Phlox with a slight gleam in his uncanny blue eyes. Archer strongly suspected that he was sandbagging in order to get him to play.
"From time to time." replied the captain, who felt that delivering the news over a game of chess might be the best available strategy.
"Would you care to play a friendly game then?"
"I would be honored, doctor."
As they set up the board for a game, Phlox shifted the white chess pieces to the captain's side. Archer looked a bit perplexed.
"You think I need the advantage of the first move?" he questioned.
"My friends always deferred to the ranking player, captain." replied Phlox candidly.
"I'm not exactly sure this is what they meant." said Archer, setting up his pieces nevertheless. A lot could be said for having the control of the opening.
When Archer had made his first move, which was rather predictable and conservative, the doctor, his eyes never leaving the board, said, "I know you didn't come here at this hour of the morning to play a game of chess with your chief medical officer, captain."
"True. I came here to talk." Archer acknowledged with considerable frankness.
Finally moving a pawn forward, Phlox looked up at him and commented, "It must be important."
"Everyone has his own definition of important, doctor. This is more ... difficult than important, if you know what I mean." said Archer, matching the move, but struggling to divide his concentration between the game and real issue at hand.
"Complicated then?" questioned Phlox, moving the bishop on his queen's side into the gap in his line of pawns rather quickly. He was clearly thinking somewhat ahead.
"I think that was the word I was looking for." admitted Archer. "I received a priority message from Admiral Forrest at Star Fleet Command this morning." he elucidated further, matching the doctor's move with the bishop on his king's side, but moving one square farther. Both men were playing defensively, though that was not usually the strategy preferred by Archer. Win or lose, he liked a quick game.
"Go on." Phlox told him, studying the board with considerable care before moving a knight out to threaten one of his opponent's pawns, which was well defended.
"We are to rendezvous with a Vulcan cruiser before heading to science station three, which is well behind us. They are experiencing a medical emergency, an epidemic, at the facility, and our mission is ... to see that they are treated." explained Archer, his concentration wavering as he moved the knight on his king's side into a defensive position near his threatened pawn. It appeared, to the doctor, that he was overcompensating.
"It seems relatively simple, captain. But I do have one question. Why are we making a rendezvous with the Vulcan vessel? We are not in need of any medical supplies in so far as I am aware." said Phlox as he moved a pawn forward to free his queen.
"We are taking on a passenger." said Archer, moving his king and rook into a castle position that seemed almost indicative of his mental state. It was as though he were preparing for a sudden onslaught.
"A passenger? Of the Vulcan persuasion I take it." he said before moving his queen out just past the line of pawns, which remained almost unbroken. It was anything but a bold move.
"No, human, actually." said Archer, trying to remain conversational. He paused for a long moment, glad that they had no timer, and moved his remaining knight toward the center of the board. He mentally admonished himself for having gone several years without playing a single game. Chess was nothing like riding a bicycle. Sooner or later it all went away, every skill, every memorized gambit. "A doctor." he added as he set the piece down upon the board.
"Really? This must be quite an emergency if Star Fleet is sending additional personnel all the way out here." said the Denobulan, frowning and sounding uncertain of himself as he castled on his queen's side.
"Is that a legal move?" interjected Archer, hoping to deflect some of the anxiety that he already felt.
"Yes, captain, quite. It was a favorite of one of my teachers who did not like being boxed in, as he put it." replied Phlox, the uncomfortable doubt fleeing his voice at least momentarily.
"Good strategy." Archer agreed. He moved his bishop to threaten the doctor's knight as an additional distraction.
"What sort of catastrophe has happened at this station that they need two doctors and the Enterprise, no less?" inquired Phlox, perhaps more direct than he would have been without that sudden threat of attack on the board. He countered the captain's move by placing his own bishop in a similar position.
"Copycat." muttered Archer, trying to invoke humor, the last refugee of a man in an uncomfortable situation. He edged a pawn out to threaten the doctor's bishop. "I was told that is an epidemic." said Archer, raising his eyes from the board and answering the question put to him.
"Concerning a population of what size?" asked Phlox, taking a deep breath and leaning back in his seat for a better view of the chess board.
"In the neighborhood of fifty scientists and assorted Star Fleet personnel." answered the captain, waiting for his opponent to make his move.
"I see." said Phlox quietly, wagering to sacrifice his bishop in order to capture Archer's knight. It was a rather unequal trade, for Archer wasted no time taking the offending piece.
"It wasn't my call, Phlox." Archer told him.
The doctor looked at him rather oddly and said succinctly, "You have left something out, captain." He moved a pawn forward to threaten the bishop as Archer had done. His concentration was wavering too.
"It isn't easy to explain this without feeling like one of the bad guys." he confessed. Archer had lost all interest in the friendly game of chess that he had wrongly supposed would help him deliver the news. He was only moving pieces as he set into motion the same inglorious exchange that Phlox had made.
"It isn't easy to be the hero all the time." said the Denobulan, taking a white bishop in his hand as he moved forward the bishop that had lain in waiting for so many moves.
"Tell me about it." agreed Archer as he slid his queen forward a few squares.
"Just spit it out, captain." suggested his chief medical officer, who was growing more uncomfortable and weary of the chase. Despite all of that, Phlox still had the presence of mind to threaten Archer's queen with his remaining bishop.
"Admiral Forrest informed me that Star Fleet Command doesn't want you to treat those people because you aren't ... human." Archer told him, absently moving a pawn between the bishop and queen.
It was difficult to gauge the alien doctor's reaction. He nodded slowly, softly that he understood, or rather that he had heard. By no means did he understand in the full meaning of the word. He had worked among humans for a significant amount of time, those serving aboard he Enterprise especially. He almost intrinsically assumed that it was a matter of trust, and he found that particularly wounding. Phlox lifted his eyes slowly from the chess board and looked at Archer.
To the captain's credit, he looked so sufficiently devastated that the expression was easily read by the Denobulan doctor, who uncharacteristically patted his hand before telling him, "I am aware of the chain of command, captain. I know it wasn't your decision to ... exclude me from this ... assignment." Even as he spoke, the captain realized that he was not angry. The doctor was instead phenomenally disappointed. "When will my resignation from this post be required of me?" questioned Phlox solemnly.
"Your resignation, Phlox? No one is asking for you to resign. You were my choice for the position of chief medical officer and no one is questioning that." said Archer.
"But really, captain, isn't it only a matter of time before they do?" he asked his commanding officer with a sad expression on his face.
"Phlox," said Archer firmly, "if they want your resignation, they will have to be prepared to accept mine as well. I won't stand for anyone yanking people out of my command, especially for such backward, xenophobic, and ... and damn dishonorable reasons."
The doctor was surprised at the conviction in the voice of Captain Archer. He was reasonably certain that Archer objected to the orders he had been given, but he was unaware of his commanding officer's underlying strength of character and integrity in such matters. He had no desire to see Archer risk his career on his account, but it was comforting to know that the captain would have been willing to do so out of principle.
"Thank you, sir. Be assured that I will do nothing to stand in the way of this mission. If you would like, we may consider the discussion closed and continue with our game." said Phlox, although the captain could tell that he was still slightly disturbed.
"Of course." agreed Archer, much relieved. He had expected it to go
worse somehow. "Your move." he prompted the doctor.
"That was a terrible game." said Archer, shaking his head as he walked to the lift with Phlox two hours later. "Remind me to practice before I play anyone else."
"You didn't lose, sir." the doctor pointed out.
"It was a stalemate, doc. Nobody won."
When they stopped at the lift, Phlox questioned, "Are you certain that you want me at this briefing, captain?"
Before they had left sickbay, Archer had alerted his senior officers that there would be a briefing in the situation room in twenty minutes. Most of them were already preparing for the beginning of their shift. The rendezvous was only a few short hours away, and he wanted them well informed before that time. The assignment was not at all difficult to understand, but as with everything Star Fleet had ever asked of him, not that they had given him many directives, there was always a hitch. If they had simply asked him to go to science station three and have his own people treat the epidemic, then it would have been an only mildly frustrating mission with a simple resolution. Unfortunately, they had to complicate matters as xenophobic tendencies arose among the upper echelon of Star Fleet Command.
"Of course I want you there. You are my chief medical officer, and, as ever, I'm sure your input will be valuable." Archer told him. "Besides, everyone else would insist that you be there, regardless of circumstances or even orders. You are just as much a part of this crew as anyone else." he assured Phlox.
"Thank you, captain. I knew when I came aboard that the idea of an alien serving onboard a human ship was novel. Even joint fleet operations with the Vulcans had met with limited success. The crew was slow to warm up at first, but they grew accustomed to an alien in their sickbay. Or rather, they are continuing to do so. I appreciate that they have all given me a fair chance, but what you have told me this morning has caused some concern." explained the doctor cautiously.
"The same here, Phlox. It has made me very concerned about the people back home, but I have every confidence in my crew. We've been out here long enough now for me to say that without reservation." said Captain Archer.