Chapter Thirteen

Three days later

Things were beginning to get back to normal on the Enterprise. All of Phlox and Zeller's patients had been discharged, those who had survived none the worse for wear, including Zeller herself. The science station was up and running again, though at least somewhat understaffed. Approximately half of the scientists, researchers, and crew there had died of the Yellow Fever brought onboard inadvertently by their own CMO, who paid the ultimate price for his mistake. But the Enterprise and her crew had accomplished the mission that had brought them to the station.

On their last day at the science and research station, Captain Archer, Doctors Phlox and Zeller, and Lieutenant Alonso Nogales, the senior officer on the station, met in the docking area in preparation for the departure of the Enterprise.

"Lieutenant, I wish you well with your command. I imagine Star Fleet will be sending additional staff for the station as soon as they can get a ship out here." Archer told the young officer, shaking his hand. In many ways Archer was rather impressed with Nogales, whose diligence had kept the station operational until their arrival.

"I'm sure they will send a replacement for the late Commander Petrovich, captain, but I will try to enjoy it while I have it." said Nogales with a firm nod.

"Not if they listen to my recommendations." said Archer with a warm smile.

"Thank you, sir." he nodded. Turning to Phlox and Zeller, he thanked them as well, especially Astrid, who had risked so much for the well-being of his people and himself. "We need a chief medical officer, you know." he hinted to her.

"I am ... flattered, lieutenant, but I still have a long career ahead of me, I hope, and this just isn't the place to pursue ... advancement, if you understand." she replied, the arrogance in her voice not at all subtle.

"Of course." replied Nogales, still having a difficult time understanding how someone so brave and so professional could nevertheless be such a terrible person. As far as he was concerned, it was one of the great mysteries of the universe.

"Then I suppose we should take our leave of you. After all, we have only three days during which to rendezvous with the Vulcan science vessel Gol, which will take our esteemed Doctor Zeller back to earth." Archer informed him, relishing the thought of her departure.

"Yes, and godspeed to you, captain." said the lieutenant.

Archer thought the officer might have had an inkling of how eager he was to get rid of Doctor Zeller and put the entire business behind them.

Astrid followed Phlox back to sickbay, which was a quiet and pristine haven again. They had not discussed writing that report yet. Phlox surmised that she regretted making the offer. He was not far from the mark. If Doctor Zeller could have taken back her proposal, she would have done so in minute. She knew very well that there was nothing to be gained from the situation, no laurels and no praise from her peers, and did not wish to complicate the matter by publicly associating herself with a non-human. But the report had to made, and she was too proud to renege on the offer.

"So what are we going to put in that report to Star Fleet Command?" Astrid questioned, taking a seat at the doctor's own desk while he checked on one of his pets.

"I would begin with recommending that we transmit all of our data for future reference in the Star Fleet medical database." he suggested.

"Of course. After all, should anything like this happen again, it could easily reduce the mortality rate by half if the doctors in charge of the situation don't have to perform the kind of research you had to do." she agreed mildly.

"It always comes down to the numbers, doesn't it?"

"Are you throwing out the first barb of the morning, Phlox? I was sure that was my department."

"My apologies." he murmured.

"Care to play a game of chess? Sharpen your skills?" she inquired.

"I don't think so, Astrid. Not now." he answered.

"Well, I can hardly blame you. You may never defeat me on the board, but you did win the bigger chess game by curing an epidemic when I could not."

Phlox looked at her sharply and replied, "I would hardly call that a game, or even a competitive venture. We were on the same side, you know."

"No sense of satisfaction then, Phlox?"

"Certainly not in the way that you mean."

"Just as well, I suppose." she shrugged.

"Astrid I have wanted to ask you something since ... this affair concluded." he said, taking a deep breath. She looked at him blankly. "Hasn't this changed your mind about anything?" he asked her.

Astrid Zeller looked away and pondered his question. At first he believed that she would not answer such a revealing inquiry or that she was just thinking of something mean to say in answer to it.

"Privately, yes, I suppose it has, Phlox. I know that no more than five or six of those people would have survived without Denobulan medicine and the role it played in creating both a vaccine and remedy. But I have a reputation and a good name that I must consider. I cannot radically alter my stand when it comes to humans and aliens and so forth. I would never be taken seriously again."

"I would never ridicule you. Nor would Captain Archer, Crewman Cutler, or Doctor Lucas. Many people would accept that you could change ..." he began to say, but she held up a hand to stop him.

"Spare me, Phlox." she said simply.

"All because of pride?"

"For some people it is all that we have. Our pride, and the reputation that we have made for ourselves."

"Astrid, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but everyone considers you to be a xenophobic individual, and not in a nice way. It would be a great relief if you ... changed." sighed the Denobulan doctor.

"There are people who do believe me, who do listen to my theories."

"Theories that, I imagine, you put less stock in now than before you first boarded the Enterprise."

"Point taken."

"Then you are only being dogmatic."

"Yes." she sighed softly. "Let me up, I've had enough. Would it be all right if we drop this, Phlox?"

"Very well." he acquiesced.

"We should get down to business then."

Crewman Cutler had been given the week off to recover from her illness and recoup the energy and strength spent while working double and triple shifts onboard the station during the crisis. She was very relieved when the Enterprise put science station three behind them. The mess hall was empty that afternoon when she stopped by for coffee and perhaps a leftover dessert. Being off-duty had both its advantages and its disadvantages. Other than catching up on her reading, she had nothing productive with which to occupy her time.

As she settled into a seat with a view of the stars, the door to the mess whisked open to reveal Doctor Zeller, who had just finished writing that report with the good doctor of the Enterprise. Astrid filled a cup with hot tea at the beverage dispenser and joined Cutler without invitation.

"I hope you don't mind the company. After spending four straight hours in contention with an alien, it would be nice to spend a few minutes with a human." said Astrid as she took a seat.

"What's with you?" demanded Cutler, finally losing her temper. "You should be, I don't know, a little more gracious. Phlox saved our lives, after all."

"I am only being honest, crewman. I prefer the company of my own kind, and I am not afraid to say so." countered Zeller.

"You know, he isn't all that different from us."

"But that doesn't make him any more or less human, and members of our species should stick together."

"I don't buy into the one race, one planet, one nation thing, doctor."

"You're an idealist."

"You bet I am! And one day idealists like me, like Phlox, like Captain Archer will triumph over xenophobes and racists like you. Instead of earth being the only home of humans, there will be many worlds, and on some of them aliens and humans will be able to live together in peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding. We may even form alliances with other alien worlds, binding the galaxy in a great federation of peace and brotherhood."

Astrid hung her head and chuckled quietly for a moment before looking the young crewman in the eye again. The doctor wasn't laughing at her. In fact she wasn't even sneering any longer.

"Your generation just might do that, crewman. I ... wish you all of the luck in world." said Astrid, tipping her cup of tea in Cutler's direction.

Yet another two days later

When the Enterprise docked with the Gol, a small vessel by Vulcan standards, the trio of Archer, Phlox, and Zeller ventured to the docking area once again. The captain felt that it was his responsibility to see her off, although he would have done almost anything to avoid seeing the woman again. Phlox on the other hand had the genuine desire to see her leave. The officers aboard the Vulcan ship, possibly holding the belief that greeting passengers is illogical, sent no one to meet her or to escort the doctor aboard their vessel. The airlocks merely opened, and she was expected to enter in a timely fashion.

Astrid stood in the doorway looking at them for a moment before saying simply, "Captain, if you ever decide to trade him in for a human ..."

"I know where to find you." Archer finished for her, not wanting to hear the words come from her mouth.

"But, frankly, captain, I think you are better off with Phlox. He's more suited to your kind of work." she said unexpectedly before turning and walking into the airlock.

"Was that supposed to be a compliment?" asked Archer incredulously.

"I think it was the best she could muster, but perhaps as heartfelt as anything she has ever said to either of us."

"Don't tell me you're going to miss her!" exclaimed the captain as the doors all hissed closed and the Gol prepared to get underway.

"I may miss our chess games. I may miss her medical expertise. But I cannot say whether I will miss Astrid Zeller or not. She made life ... interesting."

"Difficult, you mean."

"Yes, captain, and quite challenging too."

The End


Author's Notes: That's it! It's over! Thanks to everyone who read and double thanks to everyone who reviewed.