1. Chapter 1 by PerseShow
2. Chapter 2 by PerseShow
3. Chapter 3 by PerseShow
4. Chapter 4 by PerseShow
5. Chapter 5 by PerseShow
6. Chapter 6 by PerseShow
7. Chapter 7 by PerseShow
8. Chapter 8 by PerseShow
9. Chapter 9 by PerseShow
10. Chapter 10 by PerseShow
11. Chapter 11 by PerseShow
“So,” Miro said, leaning forward over the table, “here’s the plan.”
It had taken them almost three weeks to regroup. Odo had encountered Miro again several days into his journey aboard the Cardassian ship, after Eeris had been beamed to Deep Space Nine. Miro, Odo had been surprised to find, was suddenly all too eager to have him on board the Challenger again. Though Odo didn’t understand the Trill’s change of heart, he had the sense not to question it. As long as he was wanted on the Challenger, he could stay near Eeris, and his presence in this quadrant would be of some use after all.
They hadn’t escaped from the Cardassians easily, of course. In order to jailbreak Odo, Miro had had to disable the Cardassian ship’s shields, beam on board, sabotage main power so that the holding cell’s forcefield dropped, and pretty much force their way out with a phaser in one hand and a gas mask in the other—of course because sabotaging main power meant life support couldn’t be trusted. They had managed to beam out with minimal grumbling from Miro over Odo’s refusal to use a weapon, just before shields had come back up. Then they’d snuck along the Romulan border in the Challenger for a few days, traveling slowly so as not to leave a warp signature, until Miro had finally deemed it safe enough to hightail it away from Romulan territory.
Why they had been in Romulan space, Odo had no idea. He’d had no idea whatsoever of his location in the galaxy until Miro had shown up. They had regrouped on Deep Space Nine, because that was where Eeris had been waiting—somehow, still alive and not starved to death.
All roads lead back to Deep Space Nine, Odo thought uncharitably.
The three had now gathered in the replimat, and it struck Odo oddly that they were even at the same table where they had met almost three weeks ago—almost as if they had come full circle. Miro hadn’t wasted a minute in grabbing them food from the replicator, which he was currently consuming mostly on his own as he launched into the subject at hand—their plans for the future.
“A plan sounds good,” Odo said. “Please, go on.”
“Odo,” Miro said, “this is gonna sound weird, but I need you.”
“You have seemed strangely eager for my company recently,” Odo agreed. “Why? What made you change your mind?”
Miro sighed. “Wish I hadn’t. You’re bad news. But the fact is, Viresa’s opening a new wormhole.”
“You’re sure?” Odo asked.
“Absolutely,” Miro said. “I saw it myself. I don’t know when it’s opening, but I just know it’s gonna lead to the Gamma Quadrant. I can’t prove it, but Viresa seems very sure of herself. It explains why she wanted that amber so badly, why her Cardassian lackies wanted you the moment they realized you existed. I spoke to her, and I think she has a lot of other ambers. Infant Changelings. Whatever. She’s going to trade them all with the Dominion for an alliance. And we both know how that will turn out.”
“It does seem as if the Dominion won’t uphold its end of any deal for long,” Odo said. “What about the amber? Do you still have it?”
Miro rolled his eyes. “Of course I do!” He reached in his pocket and opened his palm to Odo before hiding the amber again.
Odo sighed. “I had hopes that the Dominion would always honor the treaty it signed nine hundred years ago, but it’s clear the Founders have no wish to coexist peacefully with the rest of the galaxy. They killed the Prophets and closed the wormhole, after all.”
Miro glared at him. “No thanks to you.”
“I was under the impression we were moving past your…hard feelings,” Odo said.
“Yeah, I know. It’s just not easy, this is all a bit…too close to home.” He shrugged. “You know the Founders better than anyone else, Odo. You were one of them for almost nine hundred years. I need you on my side.”
“Your side?” Odo repeated. “I didn’t think you had a side.”
“Not usually,” Miro said. “But I have to admit, I can’t do this on my own. If I could, I would have put Viresa out of power years ago.”
“Years?” Odo examined the man before him. Miro couldn’t be older than his early twenties. “Surely you haven’t been at her throat for that long.”
“Not me,” Miro said. “Dax. Sizran, mostly. Viresa really only rose to power about fifteen years ago; I’ve been out in the galaxy for two. But the point is, we’ve been at each other’s throats for that long. We know each other. I’ve pushed back against her reign since the day she became a political figure. And look what’s happened. She’s won anyway. She’s the empress of the Romulan Star Empire, she knows it, and she knows I can’t beat her alone. Hell, even Iknow it!”
“What’s this plan of yours, then?” Odo asked, grateful to have a more defined purpose in this quadrant. He had come here to help Eeris, but it was still unclear just what needed doing.
Miro rested his chin on his laced fingers, elbows on the table. “I don’t have one yet.”
“We need to watch her,” Miro said thoughtfully. “Let her make the first move. That’s the plan, how about that? I need to get good at predicting her. We should probably close that wormhole, too.”
“If memory serves,” Odo said, “a couple photon torpedoes will do the trick.”
Miro shook his head. “We don’t know that. Who knows what this wormhole’s made of? Knowing the Romulans, it’s probably pretty tough stuff—they’ve been perfecting cloaking devices for centuries, they can even fire while cloaked. They’re masters of subspace phenomena. I’ve even known them to create a black hole or two, though thankfully, those were too unstable to last.” Miro shuddered. “The Romulans are paranoid. This wormhole’s perfect in structure, from what I saw. I don’t know how to close it, but one thing’s for sure, Viresa’s not going to let me anywhere near it.”
“That reminds me,” Odo said, “there’s something I’ve been wondering, ever since you engineered my escape from the Cardassians.”
“Why were we able to get away so easily?” Odo asked. “I mean, it wasn’t easy to break me out of that ship, but you have to admit we were mostly left alone once we were creeping along the border.”
Miro shrugged. “Viresa wants me alive. She knows my ship.”
“But…she has no reason to let you move freely.”
“Sure she does. She’s feeling overconfident, certain she’s beaten me already. She doesn’t think I stand a chance. She wants me to employ every tactic I can against her and still lose, and she wants to kill me when it’s all over, when I’m watching the galaxy collapse all around me with nothing I can do to stop it.”
“How do you know that?” Odo asked.
“She told me.”
“She told you?”
“We’ve got a long history together.” Miro grinned and popped a piece of fruit into his mouth. “We know each other.”
Odo harrumphed. “And you say she’s the overconfident one.”
“Well, she hasn’t defeated me yet,” Miro said. “And I intend to defeat her. That’s why I need you. If the Dominion comes through the wormhole, you know I don’t stand a chance against their combined forces.”
“Agreed,” Odo said. “But I don’t see what I can do to help.”
“See Eeris here?” Miro nodded at the Bajoran girl, who was sitting at their table with them and thus far hadn’t uttered a word. “Your job is to know them well enough to keep her out of harm’s way, while we all figure out a plan together. Not to mention, since you going back to the Great Link lines up with both Viresa’s and the Founders’ plans, I need you as far away from that wormhole as you can get. It’s not easy for me to admit this, but I can’t win this battle alone. Not this time.”
“Alright,” Odo said, nodding slowly. “I understand. I’ll do whatever I can.”
Miro smiled. “Okay, then. First order of business.”
He leaned to the side and rummaged in the rucksack he’d brought aboard Deep Space Nine with him. Odo watched as he brought out a familiar object and waved it at Odo, grinning wickedly. It was a book—a real, old-fashioned paperback book—and its cover was emblazoned with a couple gazing soulfully into one another’s eyes. Odo recognized it—he’d found it himself in the Nebez flea market.
Odo blinked. “It’s…that book. I…thought you sold it?”
“Nope,” Miro said, eyes dancing. “I’d make a better fortune on Earth. No one would pay me enough for it out here.” He tossed the book across the table so it landed on Odo’s side. “Enjoy!”
Odo stared down at the book, half expecting it to rear up and bite him.
Eeris muffled a giggle. “You really do want to read it, don’t you?”
Odo looked up, affronted. “Hmph! Of course not!”
Miro’s grin widened. “Aw, come on, you want to start me believing you can actually lie? You really think you want to lose my trust, Founder?”
Odo glared at him. “Don’t try that, Miro.”
Miro chuckled. “Go on. I don’t want it. It’ll take us a couple days to get to Earth, anyway, and longer to sneak around the patrol. You might as well have your fun while you can, Odo.”
Odo’s mind stuttered over Miro’s words—what patrol was he talking about? —but he quickly dismissed it. Surely, in all of Dax’s travels, he’d made an enemy or two. Odo turned his attention instead to the book, which he still refused to pick up. He didn’t know what had possessed him to grab it from that flea market in the first place. He’d told himself he only wanted it for its value. That had been their mission, after all—to grab whatever was valuable and bring it back to Miro so he could bargain the shopkeeper down. But this book…Odo hadn’t wanted it just for its value, and at the time, he couldn’t help but wonder if maybe it wasn’t worth Miro’s purchase, and he could keep it for himself.
It reminded him all too well of that time aboard the Rio Grande, when he’d been escorting Quark to a court hearing under the mistaken assumption that Quark was the one in trouble, and not merely testifying as a witness against the Orion Syndicate. In the unfortunately close quarters they’d shared, Quark had caught him reading a romance novel—quite an enjoyable one, though Odo had been loath to admit it—and had teased him about it mercilessly.
“I don’t want to read it,” Odo said.
Miro shrugged. “Fine, just hold it for me then, will you?”
“If you insist,” Odo grumbled, still not touching the book.
“Oh, I do inist.” Finally, Miro pushed his chair back and stood. “Shall we head back to the Challenger? Might as well get moving, we’ve got a couple days of travel ahead of us.”
“Fine by me,” Eeris said, standing as well.
“Well,” Odo said as he stood, reluctantly snatching the book off the table and following them, “I certainly never expected my stay here to pan out in…quite this manner.”
Miro laughed. “Neither did I, Founder, neither did I.”
“I did,” Eeris piped up.
Odo glanced down at her. Eeris had gotten exactly what she’d wanted all this time. She had escaped Bajor, ended up in Miro’s company, and now even Odo was coming on board—for an indeterminate period of time, no less. Odo wondered, though, if she had expected to find herself right on the front lines of a plot to wreck the already unstable Alpha and Beta quadrants when she had first set out from her home planet. It didn’t seem to bother her. So perhaps she was like Nerys in yet another way—largely unfazed by violence.
Odo shook that thought aside. No, that wasn’t possible, this early in Eeris’s life. And Odo resolved to keep it impossible. She wouldn’t lead the same life he or Nerys had. He’d make sure of that.
They boarded the Challenger in silence, and in no time at all, Miro had clearance to disembark and was piloting the ship smoothly away from Deep Space Nine. He aimed them in the direction of Federation space. With him busy at the controls, appearing to be lost in his own world as he stared out into space, Odo finally found the opportunity he’d been waiting for—to ask Eeris how she’d survived alone on Deep Space Nine.
Their relationship had definitely smoothed out over the past few days, but Eeris still seemed to have her reservations about him. He’d confessed his love for Nerys to her, sure, but that didn’t necessarily mean she understood him any better than before. At least she had stopped shooting him those looks—the ones intermixed with suspicion and revulsion. Odo would have taken it, coming from her, Nerys’s descendant, but he’d gotten enough of that nine hundred years ago—he didn’t need to face it again.
“Eeris,” Odo called from the mouth of the corridor.
Eeris got up from the copilot’s seat and walked over to him. He noticed as she moved that both arms were still gone. He’d noticed this from the moment it happened, of course—he’d been right there when the Cardassians had grabbed her—but it was still useful to note that she hadn’t gained control over her abilities and grown her arms back in the time since he’d last seen her. This, of course, only raised more questions. How could she have fed herself without hands? And even then, how could she have gotten ahold of food? She didn’t have any latinum on her, as far as Odo knew. And without hands, it would be difficult to steal, not that Odo would have faulted her for doing so to stay alive.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
“Sure,” she said. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Your arms,” he said.
She frowned and looked at the deck plating.
“We were gone for almost three weeks,” Odo said. “How did you manage to survive on your own?”
Eeris shrugged, a motion that looked a little queer without arms attached to her shoulders. “Divine intervention?”
Odo gave her a look.
She huffed. “I mean it! The Emissary looked out for me.”
“Not by hooking you up to a drip and feeding you through an IV,” Odo said. “Which, might I add, would require arms.”
“I lived,” Eeris said. “Isn’t that enough?”
“Not for me.”
“Odo, I’m fine,” Eeris said. “I’m alive, the Emissary is watching over me, and you two aren’t going to let me get hurt. So just let it rest, okay?”
Odo knew better than anyone that it was sometimes impossible to get answers out of someone who didn’t want to give them, but he didn’t want to give up that easily. Even he wasn’t above prying, especially where Eeris was concerned.
“I’m not sure that I can,” he said quietly. “If someone took advantage of you, hurt you, threatened you, even—”
“Odo, for the Prophets’ sake,” Eeris said. “No one took advantage of me or threatened me. “I just don’t want to talk about it!”
“Well, alright,” Odo sighed. “If you insist.”
“Can I go back to my seat now?”
Odo gave an assenting nod, and she turned on her heel and marched back to the copilot’s seat. He watched her carefully, wondering what she wasn’t saying.
Whatever had happened, it didn’t look like she was any worse for wear than she had been the last time he’d seen her. She didn’t look thinner, or even the least bit emaciated. He considered her explanation, what little she had given. Was it really possible that the Emissary had taken care of her? Odo didn’t believe that for a second. Much as he had decided to trust Captain Sisko for the time being, he didn’t believe his former commanding officer had the sort of power it would take to keep Eeris fed. What would that have entailed—magically making food appear within reach of her mouth? Odo shook his head, dismissing the idea. Whatever had happened, Captain Sisko was unlikely to have been responsible.
Odo did, however, believe that Eeris wasn’t lying. Whatever she had done to stay safe, it must have seemed like a godsend from her perspective. She was lost, alone, the only Bajoran he or Miro knew of to have left her homeworld in years. Compounding that was the fact that without her arms, she could barely even provide for herself. It was absolutely confounding. Whatever had happened, Odo hoped she would confide in him sooner rather than later.
3 weeks earlier
Eeris shuffled down the aisle of the transport, trying not to knock too hard into anyone or anything. She’d only just lost her other arm, so she didn’t quite trust her balance. Fortunately, the transport doors had been locked in the open position while the passengers were still offloading, so she was able to pass through them without needing to touch them. Eeris allowed herself a millisecond of hesitation before stepping onto Bajoran soil once more.
She didn’t want to be here. But she didn’t have a choice.
The Emissary had arranged things quite conveniently. Eeris wasn’t sure if he wanted her to come back home, or if he just hadn’t been able to manipulate events enough to let her stay away. One minute she’d been standing in that dark, dank prison cell with Odo, and the next she’d materialized on the promenade of Deep Space Nine. Only a few minutes later, a transport had docked, heading for Bajor. Her home planet was her only chance of survival. Not that she would ever admit to a soul that she’d come back here. No one needed to know. Not even Miro or Odo. Ever.
Although, maybe Miro would be interested in the Cardassians she had spotted hiding away in the shadows of the station…
Pushing that thought out of mind, Eeris strode away from the transport and toward the road that led to Hill Province. Her plan was to find her father. Her mother would likely be furious, perhaps enough to set the High Council on her heels. And that was the last thing Eeris needed. She’d come, beg her father for food and shelter, give Odo and Miro ample time to get back to Deep Space Nine, and then leave again. And if neither of them were able to get back in time, if at all…well, she’d just have to take her chances.
Eeris knew Bajor like the back of her hand. It had, after all, been her home for twenty-one years. So it wasn’t difficult to find her way back to Hill, and then down the odorless streets to her father’s office building. She was starved by the time she got there.
But not starved enough for the odd, prickling feeling on the back of her neck to escape her attention. She swiveled on the spot, her back to the building’s front door, and scanned the street. She knew Bajor well—she doubted she was imagining this feeling of utter wrongness. And that was when she spotted him. A Cardassian, standing on the corner between two streets.
Her head turned, and she spotted another one, this time under the awning of a one-story building, casually watching the Bajorans pass by with a gun slung over his shoulder. Once she’d begun to see them, she couldn’t stop seeing them. There was one across the street from the first one she’d spotted. One just another corner down. One on the nearest corner. One up the rise of a nearby hill, eyes sliding over the city activity below. One on the roof of a building across from her. Eeris jumped when she saw him, sure she’d seen his eyes lock on her. Her eyes swiveled up to the roof of her father’s building, and she stumbled ungracefully through the doors, tripping over her own feet in her haste to get inside and away from prying eyes.
She hadn’t thought about how she would actually get up to her father’s office. The elevator required pressing buttons, and her father’s door—damn it all—had a handle of all things. How was she supposed to work a handle?
One step at a time, Eeris supposed. She ignored the stares she caught as she crossed the lobby. She knew those stares weren’t just because she was a no-armed girl walking into an office building like it was the most natural thing in the world. They were also because she was Kira Eeris, the abdicated and likely criminalized successor to the Steward, returned from what must have seemed to her people like the dead. She had, after all, disappeared without a trace.
Serves them right, Eeris thought as she approached the elevator. They never cared about me.
And then the elevator doors glared down at her, the “up” button peering out at her in all its metallic glory.
Eeris scowled. Naturally, things couldn’t be easy for her. She’d abandoned “easy” when she’d chosen the life of a renegade, rather than that of a Steward, which had been all mapped out for her. Glaring back at the button, she turned and attempted to press her behind into it. Not good enough; the button didn’t even give. She considered head-butting it, but that would require bending down pretty low, and she wasn’t sure she’d be able to keep her balance and straighten again. Finally, she settled for crouching on her heels and pressing the button with one fat shoulder stump. At least her stumps had never needed healing; she felt no discomfort as the button gave and the elevator beeped at her in acknowledgement. Eeris sprang off her heels and stood before the doors, waiting for them to open.
Out of the corner of her eye, she swore she saw someone in the lobby reach for the wall intercom. Her heart pounded, hoping to the winked-out Celestial Temple itself that security wasn’t being alerted, and she wouldn’t find herself stumbling straight into the oh-so-welcoming arms of a Hill police officer. The elevator doors could not open soon enough.
At last, she found herself in the relative shelter of the elevator, isolated from prying eyes.
And of course, a second array of buttons—more expansive than the first—greeted her.
Eeris went with the same strategy, crouching down and pressing the button for her father’s door with her shoulder. It wasn’t as good as her finger and she had to try a few times before getting the right angle to press only one button. Finally, the elevator jolted up, knocking Eeris back against the wall. She counted herself lucky she hadn’t fallen on her back—it would have been quite a hassle to get on her feet again—and managed to regain her balance, standing on her feet and leaning against the wall for extra insurance.
The elevator dinged when it reached her father’s door, and the doors slid open.
Eeris walked out into the hallway and hurried down the corridor, vision tunneled and seeking out her father’s door. At last, she found it and considered how to alert her father to her presence.
First things first. She checked the light by his handle. Occupied. Good.
Now, to get the stupid door open.
She tried pressing down the handle with her shoulder stump, but it turned out it had reached the limits of its usefulness. She couldn’t get the right leverage, the right angle, or really the right anything. She gave up with a grunt and a sigh and straightened, glaring at the paneled wood. She’d like to kick this door.
And that was when it hit her. She could kick this door. It would be equivalent to knocking, and would most certainly alert her father.
Eeris grinned, hefted her foot, and kicked—hard.
And rebounded, falling flat on her back. The door towered over her.
Great, she thought. Just great.
“Hello?” called a voice from inside.
Eeris’s heart leapt into her throat. “Father!”
“Father!” she cried, past caring who else heard her. She needed him. “Help!”
“Eeris!” A long beat, and then the door whooshed open, revealing her father, standing tall in the doorway.
“Father,” Eeris whispered.
He stared down at her, brows furrowed in concern, a multitude of emotions flitting across his face one by one. Surprise—worry—panic. Eeris lay there, watching until his concern finally dissolved into his generally harried expression, making way for the tiredness that had plagued him for as long as Eeris could remember. He looked just as exhausted as the last time she’d seen him before leaving home, if not more. His eyes were still bloodshot, his hair looked like it hadn’t seen a comb in days, and he looked even older than before—older than he should have looked after only a month or so.
“What are you doing here?” he finally asked. “What happened to your other arm?”
Eeris shrugged, skin scraping against the floor. “Long story. Help me up?”
He tentatively approached her, knelt down, and scooped her up off the floor, steadying her. He held onto her for an extra second before letting her go.
Eeris longed to brush herself off, recover from her stint on the floor. “Thanks.”
“You should leave,” her father said. “It’s not safe here.”
“The Cardassians, you mean,” Eeris said.
He furrowed his eyebrows. “You know who they are?”
Eeris shrugged. “Ran into a couple of them while I was gone.”
“You said it was a long story,” he said, regarding her. “I have time.”
He gave her a look that brooked no argument. Acquiescing, Eeris followed him inside.
“Now.” He pointed to the guest chair and took his own for himself. “Begin.”
Eeris sat down. “I should probably preface this with the fact that I’m starved and kind of exhausted. I didn’t want to come back, but I didn’t have a choice.”
“Are you leaving again?” her father asked.
“Good,” he nodded. “This is no place for you, Eeris, not with the Cardassians here.”
Eeris frowned, mentally rewinding the last few weeks. Back in the replimat, before Miro had agreed to take Odo on board, she remembered him referencing a past occupation of Bajor—by the Cardassians.
“You think they’re here to stay?” Eeris asked.
“I don’t know,” her father said. “But I wish things were different—when you left before, I never imagined you’d come back only for me to have to push you away.”
Eeris peered at him. “You want me back?”
“Of course I do, Eeris.”
“Honestly?” she asked. “After all the trouble I’ve caused? I demanded your help and then left you. Barely even thanked you. Definitely didn’t say goodbye.”
Her father shrugged. “It was some time ago, wasn’t it?”
“It was the last time I saw you,” Eeris muttered. “I thought…”
“Ah, I see. You somehow got it into your head that your own father wouldn’t want to see you again, even after your disappearance just about gave him a heart attack.”
Eeris eyed him skeptically. “No, really.”
“Not literally,” he assured her. “But I can assure you, I never truly believed I was going to lose you until after you had already gone. And then, your mother assured me there was no way to contact you again.”
“There wasn’t,” Eeris said. “You spoke to Mother?”
“Naturally,” her father said. “She’s worried sick about you.”
“No, she isn’t.”
Her father raised an eyebrow.
“Raise that eyebrow all you want,” Eeris said. “You weren’t around. You never saw how much she hated me. She was glad I left, I’m sure of it. It’s the only way to explain why she paid for my transportation so readily.”
Her father chuckled. “Your mother feels many things for you, but not hatred.”
“Well,” Eeris said, “I hope she doesn’t expect me to walk right back into her house like nothing ever happened. I chose my life with Miro and Odo, and I don’t regret it.”
“Miro and Odo?” her father asked, eyebrows hoisted in that “dad” look he used to give her whenever she mentioned a masculine name. “Who are they?”
“Nothing like what you’re thinking,” Eeris scoffed. “They’re both at least nine hundred years old. Miro’s twelve hundred.”
“I’m not sure I like the thought of you gallivanting about with twelve-hundred-year-old men.”
Eeris scowled. “He’s a Trill, Father, and the man is twenty-one.”
“A joined species.” Eeris shrugged. “He’s got this worm in his belly, and it’s lived to see the rise and fall of the whole galaxy. It carries the memories of the other hosts. He’s just the current one.”
“I see,” her father said. “Twenty-one, then. I’m still not sure I approve, Eeris.”
“We’re not together,” Eeris snapped.
Her father raised an eyebrow.
“We’re not!” Eeris said. “For goodness sake, he’s like a father to me!”
The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. Eeris stared at her father’s stricken face, unsure what to say, for the five seconds it took him to regain his composure.
“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that you’ve found someone else to guide you,” he finally said. “Or even disappointed. I’m glad you’re safe, Eeris.”
Eeris glanced down at one shoulder stump. “Safe,” she scoffed.
“Should I worry?”
“Not at all,” she said. “Being unsafe’s the fun part. It’s okay. Miro takes care of me.”
“So,” her father said, “if you’re so content with your new friends, what are you doing back in my office? Surely you didn’t come to visit.”
“That’s right,” Eeris said, and if her father looked a bit hurt, she didn’t acknowledge it. “I need a favor from you.”
“Feed me,” she said. “And hide me from Mother.”
Eeris ended up spending all of three weeks hiding in her father’s office, squeezing herself into his oversized supply cabinet whenever he had a colleague or supervisor there. He never asked her more about what had transpired to bring her back to Bajor. The few times he brought up the topic of her second missing arm, Eeris found some way to change the subject, and he eventually stopped pressing her. Eeris figured he was just grateful she’d returned at all, and wasn’t pressing his luck.
He’d told her, in no uncertain terms, that he didn’t want her staying for too long—there was a chance of the nearby Cardassians poking into his office, and if they did, he couldn’t stop them from searching the place. And so they existed, for three weeks, him bringing her three meals a day and even going so far as to feed her, until they both finally got sick of the tedium and he managed to buy her packets of liquid sustenance instead. Those, she could hold between her teeth and suck up into her mouth.
On the twentieth day, she left. She had risked death for escape before, and she could take her chances again—besides, she had faith that the Emissary was watching over her, and he would bring Miro and Odo back to her. It was a foregone conclusion.
Her father drove her back to the transport station, as much to say goodbye as to prevent too much depletion of her energy levels. Left unspoken was his worry about leaving her at the mercy of the aliens in gray that stood on every corner, although she was certain neither of them failed to notice their watchers. At last, they stood on the transport platform, waiting for the doors to slide open. Eeris couldn’t hug him, but she wanted to. He seemed to understand and wrapped her up in a warm embrace, one that Eeris was all too aware might be their last.
“Go explore the galaxy,” he whispered in her ear as they parted. “I’m just glad we’ve had a proper goodbye.”
One that could be our final goodbye, Eeris didn’t say. She wasn’t sure why the thought troubled her so much. It never once occurred to her that she could stop all this and simply return home, stay in her father’s arms forever. She’d only have to make the choice. It was up to her.
But Bajor was dealing with problems of its own, problems that had nothing to do with its abdicated Steward. Armed Cardassians stood watch on the streets. This was no place for a girl with no arms and a wild streak. Besides, Miro and Odo would be waiting for her, and she couldn’t leave them without a proper goodbye. No, she couldn’t leave them period.
So she boarded the transport without another word, and searched out her father’s face in the crowd once she had reached her seat. He never once stopped waving, not until long after the transport had lifted out of sight and he was a mere ant on the ground, one spindly limb waving in the air like a disconnected joint.
“I’ll miss you,” she whispered, pressing her face to the window. But for her own sanity, and to alleviate the crushing sensation in her chest that almost convinced her to run right back into his arms, she would never admit it again.
She arrived on Deep Space Nine just in time. So convenient was it, in fact, that Eeris partially meant what she said to Odo about divine intervention. She only had time to look like she definitely had not just gotten off a transport from Bajor when she saw Odo and Miro entering from a nearby airlock, looking about as if searching for her. She quickly ran over to them, and was silent for the rest of their conversation there in the replimat, trying to keep her mind from inevitably wandering back to her father.
The Emissary had done this on purpose, she decided. There was no other reason for it to affect her this much, unless it had been important. She had been meant to see her father again, and even enjoy it. And even have a little niggling thought that maybe returning to Bajor, Cardassians aside, wouldn’t be so bad.
She quickly killed that thought. She was being ridiculous.
“I’m curious too,” Miro said to her in the cockpit, right after she returned to her seat. “How did you survive until we got back? All Odo told me before was that the Cardassians arranged for your transportation to Deep Space Nine. Which still surprises me, to be honest. Cardassians aren’t known for their generosity.”
Eeris smiled. “I guess you’ll just have to wonder.”
Miro eyed her beseechingly for a moment longer, but he—like Odo—had the sense to drop the subject. Still, he found a new way to prompt her about every five minutes as he piloted thChallenger. Eeris shook her head in amusement, still refusing to bend. Though she had to admire his persistence, especially when he pointed out that the Cardassians shouldn’t have been anywhere near Bajor in the first place, and if she held out on him she’d be denying him useful information.
“Hey, it never hurts to be curious!” he cried, when she accused him of prying. “For all you know, they’re staging another occupation!”
“Do you think they are?” she asked, hoping her tone didn’t give away her genuine worry.
“Nah,” Miro said, and she hoped she was imagining the way he wouldn’t quite meet her eyes. “I wouldn’t worry about it, kid. The Cardassians aren’t that foolish.”
Eeris nodded, hoping he was right.
Aside from that, they spent the trip in relative silence. Just because they had somehow forged a truce and agreed to work together didn’t mean they all liked each other, and Miro still made the odd derogatory comment about Odo. And as much as Eeris had begun to understand Odo through his love for Kira Nerys, she still found him to be frighteningly alien, and avoided him whenever possible now that they weren’t trapped together in a prison cell. All in all, most of the voyage passed without event, only a few occasional words exchanged with Odo.
Miro and Eeris, on the other hand, didn’t exactly stay distant. Eeris passed the time asking Miro about his crusade against chaos in the galaxy, and Miro filled her in with his usual excitement, spinning tales of battles against Cardassians and Tzenkethi and Klingons. He told her about his host Sizran’s underhanded exploits, doing her best to sail past the law, and Arvu’s unfortunate encounters with the Breen. For the first time, it hit Eeris how truly alien Miro was, beyond the pattern of spots that lined his forehead. She’d gotten good at looking past those spots, at forgetting them entirely. But to think of all the years he’d spent as entirely different people, and to hear him speak of Sizran and Arvu and the others as no separate from him, their memories his own—it was a bit more jarring than she’d ever admit to him.
Eeris knew now that she never wanted to be a source of pain for him. Usually, she didn’t care. She might as well have given her people the middle finger, for all the care she’d shown them. But Miro was different. He’d rescued her, he’d welcomed her presence on board his ship for the foreseeable future, he’d accepted her perhaps less than noble past, and still he didn’t pry. He never once asked her about the lengths she’d gone to in getting off her planet, even though he’d complained more than once about Bajor’s isolation and certainly knew it was no easy task. He even seemed to have all but forgotten that she’d once been her people’s next Steward, the very thing he seemed to hate most about Bajor. Eeris didn’t ask about these things. She didn’t want to push her luck, and see where his acceptance gave way to anger. But if he was willing to look past all of her imperfections, well, then…she was more than willing to do the same for him, and pretend she didn’t notice his alienness at all.
Eeris did have her limits, however, Prophets knew how long she’d be traveling with this man, even sleeping in the bed right below his. He was as closed off about the important things as he was talkative about the things that didn’t matter at all, and she knew that in order for her to keep trusting him and keep hanging around with him, something would eventually have to give.
When not chatting about past battles and biosurveys and regions of the galaxy Dax had explored in the not-so-distant past, they were silent. Miro lapsed into a quiet that seemed almost unnatural for him. Eeris had to remind herself that he’d spent years alone before meeting her. Eeris, loath as she was to admit it, lapsed into thought about her father. She imagined him worrying about her back home. She had so bluntly dismissed his concerns. She hadn’t exactly lied, per se—she hadn’t known the extent of the danger Viresa posed until their talk in the replimat earlier—but she definitely hadn’t given her father the whole picture. She hadn’t told him that she’d been trapped in a Cardassian holding cell for almost a week. She hadn’t told him that a metamorph who had once abandoned the Alpha Quadrant for his people, the Founders, was now their best chance at insider information about the Dominion.
Eeris hadn’t seen a reason to tell him. It wasn’t as if it would do her father any good—she wasn’t coming back home, so it would just needlessly worry him. But still, it was hard to shake her mind of him and the rest of the people she’d left behind.
She shook herself out of her thoughts. There was something approaching on the viewscreen—and it wasn’t Earth.
“Patrol ships,” Miro said. “Damn, I could have sworn I could avoid them.”
The ships looked like nothing Eeris had ever seen before, though that wasn’t saying much. They didn’t bear any resemblance to a Cardassian ship or the Challenger. They looked a bit better kept than the Challenger—no offense to Miro—and definitely less rugged than the one Cardassian ship she’d seen. They did, however, look like they had a few battle scars. They seemed a bit spindly for patrol ships, but then, Eeris wasn’t an expert.
“Well, it’s not as if they pose a threat, is it?” Odo asked, having joined them in the cockpit. “We’re not doing anything wrong.”
Miro didn’t answer, stabbing at the dashboard.
“Miro?” Odo asked. “We’re not doing anything wrong, are we?”
Another ship’s interior appeared on the viewscreen, cutting him off. It looked to Eeris like some sort of cockpit, but a fair bit bigger than the Challenger’s, and with much more open space. In the center stood a man who looked almost like a Bajoran—or a Trill, for that matter—except there was no sign of any nose ridges. She wondered if he was from Earth’s native species. Or was this some other alien, one she had yet to learn about?
“Miro Dax,” the man said, after checking something on the flat screen he held in one hand. “I have a warrant for your arrest, if you’ll please—”
“Yeah, I kinda figured that,” Miro said. “Look, can I pay you to look the other way?”
“Dax,” the man on the screen said, “you are in Federation territory. If you expect me to forget I ever saw you like some Ferengi looking to make a bar or two, you’re mistaken. I’m authorized to fire if necessary.”
“If that’s how you treat all your heroes, it’s no wonder you’re in decline,” Miro said, rolling his eyes. “You shouldn’t have even seen me. What are you doing off your designated patrol route?”
“That’s none of your concern. Now, Dax—”
“Look,” Miro said, “we both know whatever higher-ups you’re answering to are making a mistake. You know who I am, right? I’m the guy who’s trying to save your skin. Yours and everyone else in this galaxy. So how about you let me go? It’ll be our secret.”
The man frowned. “Dax, I don’t think you understand the gravity of—”
“Yeah, didn’t think so,” Miro grumbled. “See ya ‘round, Federation.”
With that, he cut the channel, and Eeris felt the deck plating rumble beneath her as the engines shifted. The distant stars panned across the viewscreen as he changed course, the little oddly-shaped patrol ships slipping out of sight.
“Miro?” Odo asked. “What are you doing?”
“I’ll just come in from a different angle,” he said, already plotting a course. “Really, this shouldn’t have happened. I’d hoped to avoid this sort of hassle, but…oh well.”
“He said he had a warrant for your arrest,” Odo said.
“Oh, please,” Miro groaned, “are you really gonna go all security chief on me?”
“I simply think—”
“…I should just surrender and turn myself over to the authorities?” Miro jabbed a few final buttons. “Yeah, think again.”
The words had barely left his mouth when the cockpit shuddered. Eeris stiffened in her seat, eyes darting from Miro to the trembling bulkheads and back.
“Miro…?” she asked.
“Don’t worry, kid, I can fight them off,” he said. He gripped the joystick in the center of the dashboard and swung around. “Alright, you two, hold on tight—arming phasers—”
Another rumble shook the cockpit, and a light on the dashboard blinked.
Miro reopened the channel. “What now?”
“Surrender immediately,” the Earth man said. “Cut your engines and disarm your weapons or we will open fire.”
“You’ve alreadyopened fire,” Miro said. “Care to think of a better threat?”
“Disarm your weapons,” the man said. “You have one minute.”
Miro rolled his eyes and cut the channel again. “This is ridiculous. Come on, you two, lemme get us outta here.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” Odo said.
“Ya think?” Miro punched something into the dashboard.
“Miro, stop,” Odo said. “Whatever you’re wanted for, I doubt you want to compound the charges by resisting arrest.”
“Figures you’d be on their side,” Miro said. “Look, the charges…they’re ridiculous. Petty. They’re a technicality. It’s nothing drastic. Honestly, what kind of guy do you think I am? Just because I’m a bit of a galactic troublemaker—”
“Exactly,” Odo said. “I have no doubt you’re somewhat…shall we say…downplaying the things you did.”
Miro scoffed in disbelief. “Really, Odo? I know I’m a stranger to you, but I thought you knew me better than that.”
He gripped the joystick and altered course again, but this time, they’d barely moved at all when a more violent shudder wracked the cockpit. Eeris froze, grateful when Odo’s hands grasped her shoulders to steady her. Miro cursed under his breath and punched at the controls, but another blast rocked the ship and Eeris heard something in the back blow out in a flurry of sparks.
“Damn!” Miro cursed. “They’ve dropped my shields. How did they even…?”
The comm light on the dashboard blinked again.
Miro glared up at Odo. “Just to be clear, I’m blaming you for this.”
“Go right ahead,” Odo said. “But during your hearing, just remember who it was these patrol ships had a warrant to arrest.”
Sighing, Miro opened the comm again.
“Disarm your weapons,” the man said. “This is your final warning.”
“Or you’ll what?” Miro snapped. “Blow my ship apart? I’m trying to help you, don’t you get it? You need me out there!”
“Miro, what are you—?” Odo began, but Miro cut him off.
“And how’d you drop my shields, anyway?” he demanded. “The Challenger is tougher than this!”
“I’m authorized to apprehend you using any force necessary,” the man said, ignoring the last of Miro’s questions. “If that means beaming you out just as your warp core blows? So be it.”
“Well that’s a bit excessive,” Miro said. “Considering I’ve only ever tried to help.”
“Dax,” the man said, “you may see yourself as a rogue, but you are still a Federation citizen, subject to our rules. Besides, it’s debatable whether your vigilante justice is doing any good. You’ve evaded Federation law for far too long. Your capture will do Starfleet a favor.”
“Fine,” Miro said. “But I still want to know how you found me—and how you got past my shields! This part of the patrol grid should have been open, I know the patterns! Well? Answer me!”
“Disarm your weapons and cut your engines,” the man said.
Miro let out a grunt of frustration and tapped in a command. “Done.”
“Good.” The man smiled. “Come quietly, and you’ll be afforded every courtesy.”
Miro rolled his eyes. “That’s sure comforting. What does that mean, anyway? Full room service in my holding cell?”
“We’ll lock onto your ship with a tractor beam,” the man said. “Enjoy the ride.”
“Don’t count on it,” Miro said, and cut the channel just as a low rumble reverberated through the Challenger’shull. He checked his instruments and grimaced. “Well, they’ve got us. No fighting back now.”
“Glad to hear it,” Odo said, leaning against a bulkhead and folding his arms.
“Oh, stop it.” Miro slumped in his seat.
“Miro?” Eeris asked. “What exactly did you do?”
“Nothing,” Miro said.
Eeris frowned. “Do you honestly expect me to believe that? They had a warrant.”
Miro laughed humorlessly. “Yeah, they would, wouldn’t they? Completely incapable of shoring up their borders with their own ships, but the minute someone stands up to help, he’s dragged in for vigilante justice. The Federation never did like the Maquis, and they sure don’t like me. They can’t comprehend the idea of wanting to split off from the Federation.”
“So they’re arresting you for trying to be a hero?” Eeris asked.
Miro grimaced. “Well, technically, the things I do are illegal. Civilians aren’t supposed to fly around the galaxy making a mess of politics and firing on people’s ships. The Challenger’s weapons are meant for self defense, that’s it. Good thing I had her upgraded once I left Federation space the first time, else I wouldn’t have survived most of the battles I’ve gotten myself stuck in.”
“You mentioned splitting off from the Federation,” Odo said. “Is that what you want?”
Miro shrugged. “Sure, yeah. Doesn’t matter, does it? There’s no legal process for it. It’s not gonna change anything, anyway. I’ll still keep doing what I do, no matter what they say. Maybe one of these days, they won’t call me a criminal for it.”
“So what’s the plan now?” Eeris asked. “You think the justice system will tie you up for long?”
Miro snorted, and only then did Eeris notice her choice of words.
“Long as they can hold me, probably,” he said. “Now that they’ve caught me, they won’t be eager to let me go.” His gaze drifted out into the middle distance. “Fate, imagine what Naral would say if she could see me now. Arrested for trying to play hero.”
Odo frowned. “Naral?”
“Never mind,” Miro said. “Look, you two, you’ve got to try everything you can to get me out. This isn’t just about me not wanting to be cooped up in a holding cell, though that’s part of it. There’s more important things at stake. Viresa. The galaxy.” He looked them each in the eye. “That won’t matter to them. I’m nobody to them. They look at me, and they’ll just see the vagabond troublemaker who slipped through their fingers not so long ago. It’ll be lock me up, try me in court, case closed, move on. We don’t have time for that—the galaxy needs me, now more than ever.”
Odo nodded. “We’ll certainly do what we can, Miro, but I’m not about to circumvent the law.”
“Course not,” Miro scoffed. “Forgot who I was talking to for a second there.”
“So,” Eeris said, “who was that, on the comm? Were those humans?”
Miro softened, features creasing into a smile. “Yeah, humans. It’s kind of funny, the way everyone calls bipeds like us ‘humanoid,’ as if Earth’s natives are at the center of the universe. And what’s more—early in their history, they even used to think that! They even have the nerve to call themselves humans. Not Earthans, not Terrans—though the mirror universe humans were smart enough to go with that—humans. I’m not even entirely sure where the word comes from. But somehow, the whole galaxy gets saddled with it. Next thing you know, it’ll be Romulanoids, what with Viresa’s thirst for power. I’m surprised she hasn’t spread that one around by now.”
Eeris smiled. “What about ‘Terrans’? Where does that come from?”
“Just another name for the Earth,” Miro said. “On a planet with hundreds of languages, it’s a wonder anyone calls it the same thing. They mostly just use Federation Standard these days, have since long before all these border wars, but…” He shrugged.
His mention of Federation Standard pricked at Eeris’s curiosity. “Hold on a second. Federation Standard? They were speaking Bajoran on the comm just a second ago.”
“Nah, you just heard Bajoran. That’s the universal translator for ya!”
“So…what did you hear? Trill?”
He shook his head. “No, I heard Standard. Grew up in the Federation, after all. Though if they spoke in Trill—which no one does, honestly—I’d understand it.”
“So let me get this straight,” Eeris said. “What if I spoke in…I don’t know…Romulan? You’d still hear Standard?”
“And Odo?” Eeris turned to him. “What are you hearing?”
“Bajoran,” Odo said, though everything about his stance suggested he’d rather not say any more on the subject.
Eeris nodded. “Right…okay. That’s kinda weird. Makes sense, though. It never occurred to me to wonder how anyone in this galaxy understood each other…”
Miro grinned at her.
“Hold on a second, though,” Eeris said. “We don’t have this ‘universal translator,’ as you call it, on Bajor. What if you spoke to me there?”
“Not that I’d ever beon Bajor,” Miro said, “but I’ve got an implant for that kind of thing. We’d still understand each other.”
“This is absolutely fascinating,” Odo said dryly, “but I believe we can expect to reach Earth soon.”
Eeris looked up at the viewscreen. Sure enough, a bright blue planet with swirls of white was drawing closer.
“Earth,” Miro said, shaking his head. “Sure never thought I’d end up coming back here.”
“You mentioned something about steering clear of the Federation,” Eeris said, remembering their conversation when they had first met.
“That’s right,” Miro said. “Though it sure wasn’t because they’d arrest me on sight. I’ve got other reasons to avoid them.”
“Such as?” Odo asked.
“Oh, nothing hugely important,” Miro said, leaning back in his chair and lacing his fingers behind his head. “The Federation’s shrunk down a lot since you last saw them. Reached their prime a couple hundred years ago, then Viresa struck out from the shadows and…well, they’re about as weak as they’ve ever been. Not important, in the grand scheme of things. Can’t get along with the Klingons, had to withdraw most of their ships from deep space…it’s not a pretty situation. At least they don’t have the strength they did when they wanted Bajor to join. If they did, I’ll be they’d be annexing worlds left and right.” He rolled his eyes. “Borg threat all over again.”
“That’s an…interesting way of looking at it,” Odo said.
“Anyway, that’s why I avoid them,” Miro said. “They’re not interesting, not worth my while, and a bunch of idiotic do-goodness besides. Funny, how far they’ve fallen. And to think, the Federation used to be a vast empire, spanning light-years and thousands of civilizations. Probably shouldn’t have expanded farther into the Beta Quadrant—I imagine the Klingon threat wouldn’t be so bad.” He scoffed. “Their borders are so close it’s unbelievable. You can’t make a warp jump without running into a bird of prey.”
“And yet somehow, we managed to make it here in one piece,” Odo said.
“Lucky you, you’ve got me on board,” Miro smirked. “I know my way around. Don’t cross the path of a wandering bird of prey if I can help it. Like I said before, Odo, I stay out of the little skirmishes—no sense seeking out the wrong sort of trouble when I could be mediating conflict elsewhere.”
Despite her best efforts to stay focused on the conversation, Eeris found her attention drifting. It was irritating, how easily that happened. The only way to learn more about the galaxy and ease her enforced isolation was to listen to Miro talk about things like this, and yet here she was, zoning out entirely. She supposed she should at least be grateful Miro and Odo seemed to be getting along a bit better than before.
Earth, she found, as the planet drifted ever closer, was a sharp contrast to the last planet they’d visited. Where Nebez had been all ruddy colors and swirling storms, Earth looked like a humanoid’s paradise, with its generally fair-looking weather and expansive blue oceans. Eeris marveled that two planets could be so different and yet still be home to humanoids. Even Bajor, she reflected, was worlds apart from this planet, with its hazy skies and dying farmland. And that difference was even more astounding—Bajor and Earth may have had little in common, but their people differed only by a few nose ridges.
They drew in so close that Earth’s gibbous fraction loomed below them, the curved line of the horizon encroaching across the viewscreen until it obscured the space beyond. The tractor beam released them with a jolt, and the comm blinked again.
Miro opened it with a tired sigh and rested his chin on his palm as the patrol ship addressed him.
“Our records indicate your craft can land on the surface,” the human man said. “Please proceed to Federation Headquarters. Transmitting landing instructions now.”
“Received,” Miro said. “Thanks, Federation.”
He cut the comm before taking the Challenger on a steep dive toward one of the continents in the northern hemisphere. He leveled them out just as they entered the atmosphere, and Eeris felt a familiar warmth envelope the ship. She remembered the feeling from their landing on Nebez, but something was missing. She sat quietly, musing, trying to figure out what was different this time. When Miro silently inputted a command, she realized what it was—all of the excitement Miro had shown before, the exhilarating thrill as they crashed in through the atmosphere and skimmed low over Nebez’s land, was completely absent. Miro was following the patrol ship’s instructions to the letter, and Eeris found she missed his exuberance.
He silently piloted the ship down to the join between two great land masses. Barely a tremor wracked the Challenger’s cockpit. They set down in a wide open area next to a tall marble building. To their left stretched fields of bright green grass of the likes Eeris had never seen before; to their right, an entourage of what appeared to be humans approached, marching over bare soil.
“Look at that,” Miro grumbled, nodding at the building. “Perfect condition. Never can admit they’re falling apart at the borders.”
A light flashed on the dashboard, and Miro sighed. “Looks like someone’s come to meet us.”
Resigned, he got up from the pilot’s seat and headed for the airlock. He tapped the code into the panel next to it and it rolled aside; just as had happened on Nebez, the gangplank descended until it touched the planet’s soil.
Outside, footsteps approached. Odo joined Miro at the airlock and Eeris followed, keeping the other metamorph’s body between hers and the outside.
“Miro Dax,” said the man in front. He wore a uniform that was mostly black save for the gold swath across his tunic, and an oddly shaped insignia glittered on his breast. “You’re under arrest. I assume you’re familiar with the charges?”
Miro didn’t answer. Eeris followed his gaze to a woman who stood near the front of the group, calculating eyes watching him. To Eeris’s surprise, she looked about Miro’s age—maybe a little younger—and even had a pattern of Trill spots sprinkled down either side of her forehead, unlike the humans standing with her. Her brown hair was pulled back over her shoulders and her eyes had an intensity about them that set Eeris on edge.
“Naral,” Miro whispered.
If Eeris had thought she’d seen Miro vulnerable before, every time she’d inquired about his past and he’d closed up on her, it paled in comparison to this. His jaw had gone slack, his eyes locked on the woman—Naral—as if they were the only two present. Absently, his hand fumbled for the doorway, and his fingers curled around the frame, knuckles white as he gripped it like a lifeline.
“Miro?” Eeris asked, edging toward him.
He didn’t seem to hear her. His mouth opened and closed a few times before he finally settled on silence.
Naral, on the other hand, seemed to have the opposite reaction. Her whole face lit up the moment she saw him, and she brushed past the leader of the security entourage. She ran across the dirt expanse that separated her from the Challenger and darted up the gangplank, the metal rattling beneath her feet.
“Miro!” she cried. “Oh, I missed you!”
She lunged forward and pulled Miro’s stiff form into a hug. Like lightning, Miro jolted out of his shock and shoved her backwards, chest heaving.
“Miro?” Naral asked, hesitating for the first time.
“Really?” Miro said with a flinty glare. “After everything, after…what you did, you still think you have the right to hug me?”
Her expression crumpled. “I love you.”
“Yeah, well, tough.” Miro cleared his throat. “That’s not what it looks like from where I’m standing.”
“Um, sorry,” Eeris said, “but who exactly are you?”
Naral looked Eeris up and down derisively. “I could ask the same of you.”
“Sorry, kid.” Miro’s eyes flicked to meet hers, the first time he’d noticed her presence since Naral had made her appearance. “She’s just someone I knew back on Trill.” He glared at Naral. “A long time ago.”
“I only ever wanted you safe,” Naral said.
“Is that why I’m here?” Miro snapped. “To stay safe?”
“I should have known you were behind it.” Miro shook his head. He addressed his next words to the security entourage, leaning around Naral’s shoulder. “So, I guess I’d better hurry up and face the music?”
Just like that, the moment shattered. Naral stepped back, blinking, and…were those tears in her eyes? Eeris glanced at Miro, half expecting to see him soften for Naral the way he often did with her, but he was refusing to so much as look at Naral now. The leader of the security contingent marched across the dirt expanse and up the gangplank to handcuff him, which was done briskly and with minimal resistance. Miro spared Eeris a comforting glance before allowing himself to be led down the gangplank and across to the other security officers, who soon moved off.
Naral, though, stayed at the top of the gangplank for a moment longer, staring down her nose at Eeris. Which was impressive, considering that they were close to the same height. Eeris was about to demand to know what her problem was when she left, retreating down the gangplank and falling into step a few paces behind Miro.
“Well,” Eeris said to Odo, “that was intense.”
“Somehow,” Odo said, “I don’t think she’s part of the trouble he was expecting.”
Eeris shivered, remembering the way Naral had looked at Miro…and then at her. There was something not quite right about that woman. Something Eeris intended to find out.
“I want to visit him,” Eeris said.
She and Odo had remained on the Challenger after Miro was marched away into holding. Naral’s parting glance at the two of them had sent shivers down Eeris’s spine, and she was all too eager to find out what had happened between those two.
Besides, she thought with a twinge of guilt, it’ll get me away from Odo for a little bit.
“I’m sure Miro would appreciate a visit,” Odo said. “Especially from you.”
Eeris nodded and stood. She’d gotten good at balancing, leaning forward a bit and pushing herself upright, so she could stand without the aid of her arms. She still missed them, though, and there was a little niggling seed of impatience growing at the back of her mind the longer Odo didn’t do anything about it. He’d claimed that he would do anything to help her, but so far he was just sitting around and letting events transpire as they pleased. She wished he would at least broach the subject, do something…
Shoving those thoughts out of mind for the time being, Eeris headed to the still-open airlock and stood atop the gangplank. It glimmered bright under Earth’s sun, and not for the first time, she noticed how vibrant this world was. It was nothing like Bajor, but didn’t quite compare to the complete chaos of Nebez. Where on Bajor, haze hung low in the air, Earth’s atmosphere was a pristine paradise. Off in the distance to the side of Federation Headquarters, she saw a faint, grayish undulation on the horizon and wondered what it was—until she realized that they were the shapes of mountains, and she could see that far on this clean planet.
The outdoors suddenly seemed terrifying, without Miro there to guide her. Her heart pounded as she looked down the gangplank, calculating how many steps it would take for her feet to touch alien soil. Her shoulder stumps hung uselessly at her sides, making her feel even more vulnerable.
“I’ll come with you, if you like,” Odo said.
Eeris nearly melted with relief, her earlier desire to put some space between them forgotten. “Could you?”
He smiled and stood. Or, at least, she thought he smiled—it was still difficult to read him, even at that most basic level, despite the fact that she’d spent about two weeks at his side. He approached and, after a moment of hesitation, offered his hand. Eeris shrank back and didn’t let it touch her shoulder. She was all too aware of how bigotry felt, and knew from their first conversation aboard the Challenger that she didn’t hide hers well. She didn’t exactly like being that way. It was just so hard to shake, when he was so alien.
At the sight of her discomfort, Odo’s smile disappeared. He didn’t say anything this time, though. He simply walked down the gangplank and paused on the ground, turning around to ask, “You coming?”
“Right, yeah,” Eeris said. She dashed after him, remembering the way she’d embarrassed herself on Nebez and correcting for the gangplank’s slant this time, and joined him on Earth’s soil.
And stopped. It was her second alien planet; how could she not?
“You alright?” Odo asked.
“Yeah,” she said, wiggling her toes so the soles of her shoes undulated against the ground. It didn’t honestly feel that much different from Bajor or Nebez, and she wondered why she’d expected it to. “Just getting a feel for the place. Prophets, I wish Miro were here.”
The line of Odo’s mouth twitched. “So do I. Well, hopefully, we can get this over with as quickly as possible. I, for one, have no wish to stay on Earth for long.”
“Why?” she asked as she started walking, and he fell into step beside her. “What’s so bad about Earth?”
He shrugged. “Nothing important. Just, I’ve had a few prior experiences here, and none of them were pleasant.”
She frowned, considering. “This was back when you and Miro worked on Deep Space Nine?”
He nodded. “That’s right.”
“What brought you this far out?” she asked. “I mean, we’re not exactly next door to Bajor.”
Odo chuckled. “No, we’re not. It had to do with the Dominion, actually. I was consulting for Starfleet at the time, and they thought it wise to work on ways to better detect Changelings. Unfortunately, it put me in the position of lab rat.”
“They did experiments on you,” Eeris said. Her eyes narrowed. “How is that in any way right? Did they even ask you first?”
“Oh, they asked,” Odo said. “That was the ironic part—that I would spend seven years wishing to set foot outside a laboratory, only to spend part of another seven as a willing specimen.”
She frowned. “Wait a second. You’re telling me you spent seven years in a laboratory? When was this?”
He shrugged. “It’s not important. Anyway, we’re almost here. Do you want me to wait outside, or go in with you?”
Eeris looked up; to her surprise, they were indeed almost to the building’s doors. “I wouldn’t mind the company.”
“In with you it is, then,” Odo said, and fell silent until they reached the doors. There, two armed guards—in gold uniform tunics just like the ones who had come for Miro—stepped forward from the sidelines and blocked their path.
“Identify yourselves,” one barked.
“I’m Eeris,” Eeris said, her voice small. “I’ve got a friend in there, I just want to see him.”
The guard nodded. “The Founder will stay.”
“I’m not a Founder,” Odo said.
“It makes no difference to us what you call yourself,” the guard said. “We don’t allow your kind around here. You’re lucky we’re letting you stay on the premises at all.”
Odo harrumphed. “And here I thought a peace treaty with the Dominion would actually do the Alpha Quadrant some good.”
The guard blinked, startled. “That was quite some time ago, Founder. Now, I would ask that you return to your ship. We will allow you to stay on the premises so long as you’re contained.”
“How generous,” Odo said dryly.
The guard rested the heel of his hand on his weapon where it was holstered on his belt. “Do I need to ask you again?”
Odo turned to Eeris. “You’ll be alright?”
“Course,” Eeris said, not quite believing it.
Odo assessed her a moment longer, but seemed to realize he didn’t have much choice in the matter when the guard drew his weapon an inch from its holster. He eyed the security guard one last time, reminding Eeris of a long-ago reference of Miro’s—security chief, he was—and she wondered if he was remembering what it had been like to be in this guard’s position. There was a strange look in his eyes, but as usual, Eeris couldn’t decipher it. Finally, he nodded once and turned on his heel to head back to the Challenger. The guard immediately relaxed, and his partner held open the door for Eeris to enter. She quickly crossed over the threshold, and the door thumped closed behind her.
Federation Headquarters was nothing like she had expected. From all Miro’s tales of how the Federation had been marginalized and wasn’t even worth a second glance, she had expected maybe a shabby interior, barely staffed, maybe even with flickering lights. But the sight that greeted her instead was far different. She was standing underneath a cathedral ceiling that reminded her of the High Council on Bajor. A wide hallway extended in front of her with numerous doors set into alcoves along the walls. She walked along, footsteps echoing in the vast emptiness of the place, hoping to find some sort of clue soon as to how to get to Miro.
She found it in the form of one of the hallway doors. It was guarded by another of the gold-uniformed officers, making her wonder if this was the security area. She walked towards it with more purpose than she felt and nodded to the officer before leaning her weight against the door, hoping it would swing in the right direction, and heading inside.
She found herself in yet another hallway, but this one ended quickly in a desk with a single computer monitor and another security guard in attendance. She approached tentatively, but the guard waved her on after scanning her with a device that made her wish Miro was at her side. She imagined him explaining what the scan was looking for, banishing the tension that had settled into her shoulders at the alien intrusion, making light of the fact that they were, after all, on another alien planet. And like on Nebez, Eeris was powerless here. She’d never realized how much she’d gotten used to being the center of attention until she’d stepped out into the wide open galaxy.
She headed on past the guard, through another set of doors that gave before her weight, and found herself in a broad room ringed with holding cells. She spotted Miro in one near the far right. He wasn’t alone—nearly all the cells had a prisoner or two of their own, and not all of them species Eeris recognized—but unlike most of the other prisoners, Miro was alone in his. Eeris imagined that was a plus, even if it couldn’t be fun to be stuck down here in holding.
“Miro,” she called as she approached.
“Eeris?” His eyes lit up and he stood from his bench, meeting her at the front of his cell. “What are you doing here?”
“Thought I’d come check on you,” she said. “Can’t be fun holed up in here, when you’ve got the whole galaxy to worry about.”
He grimaced, but it faded almost instantly. “Yeah, well, never mind me. Whaddya think of Earth?”
She shrugged. “Cleaner than Bajor.”
He grinned. “Yeah, that’s for sure. Less air pollution around here. Course, twenty-first century had all these people pumping so much crap into their atmosphere you’d think it would be poisonous to breathe, but that stopped soon enough—nowadays, it’s just clean air and water for everyone. Quite a step away from what you’re used to, huh?”
She smiled, unable to stay afraid in the face of his enthusiasm. “Yup. Very different. And different from Nebez.”
Miro laughed. “Ha! Not so many different aliens around here, are there?”
“Although, I was a bit surprised,” Eeris said. “The ground beneath my feet…I feel like it should feel different, each new alien planet we go to. But it mostly feels the same.”
“Same gravity,” Miro nodded. “And all the planets with life are generally the same underneath. Terrestrial, rocky, molten metal core…you get the picture. The difference is who decides to live there, and in Nebez’s case…it’s everyone! Course, Bajor’s just got you Bajorans, and the Steward, might I add, but Earth’s got some character itself…humans, yes, but a couple others, as you probably saw just within these holding cells. Not as many as before, though. Federation’s collapsed a lot in the last hundred years, lost some of their old territory, and some of the newer planets got taken over, annexed by other galactic powers. It’s a mess out there beyond the border, I’m telling you. Still, though. Earth’s just about as cosmopolitan as you can get.”
“You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you actually liked it here,” Eeris said.
Miro shrugged. “It’s not Earth I don’t like. It’s the Federation I stay away from. Thought it was worth it to make a few bars of latinum—that’ll teach me to swing anywhere near it in the future, huh?”
“All this wasn’t just because you hate the Federation,” Eeris said. “That…that woman, earlier. Naral, was it?”
Miro stiffened. “Yes.”
“Who is she?” Eeris asked. “To you, I mean?”
He looked away. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “I saw you when you set eyes on her. It was like you’d seen a ghost.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, well, maybe I did.”
“So tell me,” Eeris said. “I know something happened between the two of you. I’ve never seen you like that.”
“And a good thing, too,” Miro said. “Imagine that—me, Dax, explorer, surfer of all fate’s waves, the only tour guide you’ve got, cowering before every threat we run across like some kind of…” He shook his head in derision.
“Tell me,” Eeris said, stepping closer to his cell.
“Kid,” he said gently, “it’s fine. I promise you, it doesn’t matter.”
“The hell it doesn’t!” Eeris said. “She said she loves you!”
Miro winced. “I heard.”
“You heard?” Eeris blinked at him. “That’s all you have to say?”
Miro looked away.
Eeris huffed, spinning away from him. “You’re impossible, you know that? It’s like talking to a rock.”
“Yeah,” he said, “that’s kind of the point.”
She frowned. “Miro, I’m not going to forget about this.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet,” he muttered. “Can I ask you a favor, though?”
“You can ask.”
His smile was thin. “Don’t talk to her. Please?”
“Don’t talk to who, Naral?”
“There’s something about her that bothers me,” Eeris said. “I want to find out what’s going on.”
Miro shook his head. “Kid, please—”
“And stop calling me that!” Eeris said. “I’m not some kid you just picked up on your travels, I’m not even younger than you.” She paused, suddenly realizing. “But that’s how you see me, isn’t it? That’s all I am to you. Just a child, a damsel in distress!”
“Actually,” Miro said, “for once in your life, this has nothing to do with you.”
Eeris blinked. “What?”
“Naral and me,” Miro said. “It’s none of your business. And I don’t have to tell you anything about her if I don’t want to.”
“What a surprise,” Eeris scoffed.
“You never tell me anything,” she said. “And not just about Naral—you did this with Ezri, too! To say nothing of Kira Nerys! Everything that matters, Miro, you’ve kept secret! You don’t tell me anything!”
“Well, it’s not my fault all the topics you’re curious about just happen to prod painful subjects for me,” Miro said. “Seriously, Eeris, you need to back off.”
Eeris stared at him. “You’re seriously going to do this to me?”
“Oh, as if you’re the victim here!” Miro cried. “Here I am, sitting in a cell, nowhere to go, stuck listening to your attempts to wring answers out of me, and you think you’re the one that’s hurting?”
“You’re the one who won’t talk to me!”
“Fate, Eeris, and you say I’m impossible!” Miro said. “I should never have brought you along.”
In the space of an instant, Eeris felt as if her entire world stopped turning.
“What?” she croaked.
But he didn’t cave, his gaze hard. “You heard me. You clearly have no respect for my privacy. I don’t know what I was thinking, just inviting you along without even getting to know you first—I should have known I was signing myself up for disaster.”
“You regret that?” Eeris whispered. “But…you’re all I’ve got.”
He glared at her. “Tough, kid. My privacy is all I’ve got.”
Eeris swallowed hard. She had just told him how much she hated that nickname, and now he threw it in her face? She’d been wrong about him—he was just as bad as everyone else back on her planet who didn’t care about her at all. He probably didn’t stare at her shoulder stumps just because he was used to seeing aliens of all shapes and sizes. It had nothing to do with accepting her.
“Fine, then,” Eeris said. “If that’s how it is! I’ll just have to get the story from Naral.”
“Eeris!” Miro cried. “For fate’s sake, stop!”
“Why should I?” she returned. “You won’t tell me anything.”
His fists clenched at his sides. “Then get out. Now.”
Eeris faltered. “Miro?”
“I said, get out.” He pointed to the exit. “Now.”
Eeris stared at him for an extra second, trying to blink away her tears. But when his gaze didn’t relent, the muscle in his jaw throbbing as he stared her down, she spun away from him and ran out of the holding area.
Eeris was surprised when she ran into Naral not far from the doors to security. At the sight of her, the Trill started powering down the broad hallway, eating up the floor with long, angry strides. Eeris ran up to her and tried to fall into step beside her, but Naral’s pace made it nearly impossible.
“Hi,” Eeris said breathlessly. “Naral, right?”
“What do you want?” Naral asked.
“Well, I was just talking to Miro about you…” Eeris said.
“Who the hell are you, anyway?”
“I didn’t mean your name,” Naral said. “Who are you to him?”
“I…I don’t know.” Against her will, her eyes burned. “Nothing, I guess.”
“You don’t know?” Naral scoffed.
“Well, it’s not like we’ve defined it!” Eeris snapped. “Why do you care, anyway?”
“So you’re not together?” Naral asked.
“What?” Eeris exclaimed. “No! I mean…we’re hardly even friends! He doesn’t even talk to me—he literally just told me to get out! Said he regrets taking me along at all!”
Naral snorted. “Glad it’s not just me, then.”
“What’s not just you?”
“Why should I tell you?” Naral asked.
Eeris huffed. And she’d thought Miro was difficult. “Because Miro’s my only means of transportation across the galaxy, Naral. I just met him a couple months ago, and he offered to let me travel with him, just out of the blue. And I said yes, because I didn’t really have anywhere else to go. But now, I’m basically stranded without him. So what are you saying? Has he done this before? What exactly did I just get myself into?”
Naral sighed, finally slowing down enough that Eeris could match her stride. “You really want to know?”
“Obviously,” Eeris said.
Naral hesitated, looking her over, but finally relented. “Alright. Yes, he’s done this before. Miro and I…we were supposed to travel together. The Challenger’s mine, too, you know—we split the cost half and half. We were going to leave home and explore the galaxy. Well, that’s what he wanted. I never quite had his wanderlust, but I would have done anything for him.”
“He doesn’t seem to feel the same way about you,” Eeris said.
Naral nodded. “I’ve always known that.”
“That’s some…one-sided devotion.”
“Well,” Naral said, “he’s worth it.”
Eeris shook her head in amazement. Miro and Naral clearly had a past, and Eeris wasn’t going to get Miro’s side of it from talking to Naral. But from what she’d heard just in this conversation, Naral’s intentions were hardly nefarious. Miro had said her love didn’t feel like love, but what was love, if not the devotion to do anything for someone who didn’t feel the same way in return?
“You really do love him,” Eeris whispered.
“Of course I do.”
“So what changed?” Eeris asked. “I take it you two didn’t actually get around to exploring the galaxy.”
Naral snorted. “Hardly. He left me.”
“The Klingons attacked our home.” Naral blinked back tears. “There was nothing left. I saved his life, we managed to escape. He’s always hated me for it.”
Eeris shook her head, brows furrowed. “But…I don’t understand. Why would he hate you for that? Shouldn’t he be grateful?”
“I’ve always thought so,” Naral said. “He couldn’t even stand to look at me, by the end. We stopped planetside on Earth, he ran away from me in the Challenger. I swore then that I’d fight my way back to him, no matter what it took. I suppose I should be glad he’s done okay in the interim.”
“Okay?” Eeris repeated. “I can’t imagine him being not okay. I mean, there was that one moment when that alien on Nebez threatened him, but the most vulnerable I’ve ever seen him is when he saw you.”
Naral blinked. “When he saw me? That was his most vulnerable?”
Eeris nodded. “Well, yeah.”
Naral blinked again, and a tear actually trailed down her cheek. “I can’t believe it. All I’ve ever wanted is to keep him safe! And he looks at me like…like…”
“Like he’s seen a ghost?” Eeris supplied.
Naral’s eyes widened. “Exactly!”
“What did you even do to him?” Eeris asked. “I mean it, I have never seen him like that.”
“Nothing!” Naral cried. “I don’t know! I saved his life!”
Eeris frowned. “Well that’s not very fair of him. Making you out to be the bad guy, when he’s the one who left you.”
“Yeah, but…” Naral shook her head. “I can’t believe he’d do that to me. Not after everything we’ve been through. We were the closest of friends. We were partners in crime! It was us against the world. It didn’t even matter that he didn’t love me, I wouldn’t have traded our friendship for anything. I thought he felt the same way.” She paused. “Why would he blame this on me?”
Eeris shrugged. “I dunno, Naral. I’ve only known him for two months.”
“It must have been something else,” Naral whispered, almost to herself. “He couldn’t have been that upset to see me. We knew each other all our lives, all I’ve ever done is help him. Something else must have upset him, it’s the only explanation.”
Eeris sighed. “I’m pretty sure he was reacting to you, Naral.”
“But he couldn’t have been!” Naral cried. “I should talk to him. Find out what’s wrong.”
“More like give him a piece of your mind,” Eeris muttered. “Sure you don’t want me to do that? I wouldn’t mind a shouting match with him right about now.”
Naral shook her head. “No, I should do this. Thanks, though, Eeris.” She actually smiled, for the first time since Eeris had met her. “I’m glad I’ve got someone who can help him see sense. He’s entirely too much of a daredevil for his own good.”
Eeris nodded. “Yeah. I’ll just…wait outside.”
Naral shot her a relieved glance and darted back down the hall. Eeris sighed and plowed ahead. Who knew how long they’d be talking? In the meantime, there was no sense hanging around in Federation Headquarters. She decided to head back outside and join Odo on the Challenger. Now that they were stuck on Earth, it wasn’t as if she had anything better to do.
As she pushed through the building’s front doors and powered across the dirt expanse to Miro’s ship, her mind reeled back to the last words she’d exchanged with Miro. Her angry retort. His clenched fists as he dismissed her. Her hurt confusion…and his unrelenting stare as he pointed to the exit.
He had dismissed her.
Tears welled in Eeris’s eyes, unbidden, and she swiped at them with her shoulder stumps. Prophets, she should have known. He didn’t care for her at all. And why should he? She was just a Bajoran, just a member of that backwards, backwater society he refused to give the time of day, and as he kept driving home, she was just a kid to him. A burden. Someone he regretted taking along. She had been so desperate to trust the orb vision the Emissary had sent her that she hadn’t even thought to question Miro’s eagerness to take her on board.
The gangplank clunked beneath her feet as she stumbled up it and into the cockpit before slumping into her seat. The seat that wasn’t actually hers. Prophets, she’d gotten too comfortable with this life.
It suddenly occurred to Eeris how stupid she had really been. She had thought leaving her planet would solve all her problems. But she was still stuck in life. She was still at someone else’s mercy. The difference was that now, she had no idea how to get out. On Bajor, she’d had leverage—a father who cared for her, terrain and politics she’d known practically since birth. But her Steward training was useless out here in the galaxy. She didn’t have a ship of her own or latinum to support herself. She didn’t even have arms.
But the truth was, it was even worse than that. At least when she’d been stuck on Bajor, she hadn’t been surrounded by strangers. She knew that world, and she knew its people. And she knew they were bigoted idiots with no respect for the past, but at least she knew them. Miro, though…she didn’t really know him at all. She knew he was Dax, that he had the memories of twelve hundred years, that he’d known Odo and Kira Nerys, and that he considered himself the galaxy’s hero…but that was about it. He was a stranger to her. And she couldn’t keep going on like this, putting her life in the hands of a pilot she didn’t even know.
Maybe it was just as well that he didn’t seem to want her company anymore. But where could she go?
It was true, what she’d said to Miro right before he’d demanded that she leave. He was all she had. He couldn’t do this to her—it wasn’t fair. She swiped at her eyes again, annoyed at the tears that welled up.
“Eeris? Are you alright?”
Eeris jumped in her seat as Odo leaned out of the corridor.
“What?” she asked, trying to catch her breath. “Yeah, I’m fine…”
“You’re crying,” he noted.
“Me? No. Never!” She forced a grin. “Why would I cry? I’ve got everything I want, I’ve escaped my home, Miro’s gonna ferry us around the galaxy—”
Her voice broke on the last word, and she choked out a sob.
“Eeris?” Odo asked, quickly closing the distance between them. “Eeris, what’s wrong?”
She sighed. “It’s nothing.”
“It doesn’t seem like nothing.”
“Just leave it, okay?” she snapped. She couldn’t handle his gentle, calm voice. It grated against everything she was feeling inside. It seemed almost false to her ears. And how could he possibly care for her? No one did that. Not even Miro. Well, maybe except for her father, once upon a time. But she didn’t even deserve his love.
Another sob tore itself from her throat, and she hung her head, embarrassed.
“Eeris, please,” Odo said, sounding lost. “Is there anything I…”
“No,” she said. “No, there’s nothing you or anyone can do! Now leave me alone, will you?”
“I…if you’re sure,” he said.
“Damn sure,” she said. “This isn’t even your job! Damn it, it’s for my father to do!”
Odo went still for a millisecond. Then, “I suppose that’s…natural. But…he isn’t here, is he?”
“No,” Eeris choked, hunching in her seat. “He’s not.”
Odo crept closer and settled stiffly into the pilot’s seat across from her. He leaned forward, and Eeris’s eyes flicked up to meet his.
“Eeris…” He paused, sighed, and plowed ahead. “Listen to me. Your father may not be here right now, but I promise you, you are notalone. You may be far from home, but Miro will take care of you as soon as we get this legal mess cleared up, and I’m here. You have us, Eeris.”
She shuddered. “But that’s just the point, isn’t it.”
He tilted his head. “What is?”
“Miro’s not going to take care of me. He regrets even taking me on board!”
Odo straightened in surprise. “What makes you think that?”
“Because that’s what he said!” Eeris blurted. “He told me he should never have asked me along! And when I tried to protest, he yelled at me, told me to get out! Prophets, the way he glared at me. I’ve never seen him that angry. Not even with you.”
Odo frowned. “Eeris, what did you say to him?”
“What?” Eeris blinked. “You think this is my fault? He’s the one who won’t talk to me!”
“And with good reason, I’m sure,” Odo said. “I hope you didn’t treat him the way you treated me, when the Cardassians first captured us.”
Eeris’s brows furrowed in utter bafflement. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“His privacy,” Odo said. “Which, from what I can see, not even mine can equal.”
“Privacy?” Eeris repeated. “Prophets, you’re as bad as him! You do realize I’m stuck on Earth with you two, right? It’s worse than Bajor—at least when I was stuck at home, I had a way out. But you two—I’ve put my life in your hands, and you won’t tell me anything!”
“First of all,” Odo said, “this confrontation with Naral is hardly a life and death situation.” He tilted his head, his cool blue stare turning icy. “And second…are you telling me that your only reason for wanting transparency from Miro is to give yourself a way out?”
“Well,” Eeris said, “I have that right, don’t I?”
Eeris was certain, what with the way Miro had treated Odo from the moment they met, that Odo would agree with her. He himself seemed to share her desire to find out more about Kira Nerys, and her frustration with Miro for keeping that particular secret. So she was surprised when his icy stare became incendiary, burning like the hot blue flames at the heart of a fire.
“Kira Eeris, I’ve had just about enough of that attitude of yours,” Odo said. “I’ll tolerate a certain degree of prejudice from Miro, and even from you, but there is no excuse for such a blatant lack of consideration for others.”
“What?” Eeris squeaked.
“You know what I mean,” Odo said. “We both saw Miro’s reaction to Naral. We also both know he’s gone through a lot in the past. The difference is, I’m content to allow him his privacy, even on the matters I’m most curious about—in the end, it’s up to him what he wants to tell us.”
“What?” Eeris cried. “Odo, we’re rooming with a stranger! I have the right to press him for information—I barely even know him!”
Odo considered. “I suppose, given your lack of prior experience as Dax’s friend and colleague…”
“Exactly!” Eeris pounced.
“But it’s still no excuse,” Odo said. “Yes, you have the right to some information. The promise that he won’t leave you somewhere that leaves you with no means of escape, no means of living your life, for one. But any right you might have to pry into his past is considerably diminished by the fact that I’m here. I may not be Dax, but I think I’ve lived at least long enough to learn my way around the galaxy.”
Eeris set her jaw. As if that helped. She didn’t trust Odo much, either.
“Eeris,” Odo said, “I’m your insurance. But the fact is, secretive or not, Miro is still Dax. And I can promise you, whatever happens, however long we stay on the Challenger, he will treat you with respect.” He frowned. “Of course, I’m a different matter. But never mind that. My point is, you can trust him.”
“And can I trust you?” Eeris asked.
Odo’s expression hardened. “I think I’ve reached my limit for tolerating your prejudice.”
He held up a hand. “No, don’t. Clearly, you’ve been able to get away with a lot in your life—living as the future successor to the Steward must have afforded you certain luxuries. That of being completely isolated within the elite, I imagine. I can also guess that you were never very close to anyone—that’s obvious enough, from that you’ve told me about the prejudice you faced for your metamorphic abilities. And as a result, I’ve been willing to forgive a certain level of prejudice—”
“You said you weren’t angry with me,” Eeris said.
“I wasn’t, before,” Odo said. “But it’s clear you need firmer guidance. Eeris, you’re living in a galaxy full of aliens. My people are hardly the least humanoid of them all. Tholians look like insects. Gorns look like dragons. And many of these races are intelligent, sentient, and have grown to enjoy their place in a galaxy of diverse cultures. It’s alright for a 32nd-century Bajoran to be a bit xenophobic—your people always were, and for good reason. But you, Eeris? You chose to leave home, and you purposely sought me out. So until you learn not to question my motives simply because I’m a shape-shifter, I’ll be under no obligation to help you grow back your arms.”
Eeris stared at him, stunned, for what surely edged on a full minute. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, but no words came out. When she finally found her voice, it was an embarrassing croak.
“But you promised,” she said.
“I did,” Odo said. “And I’ll just have to trust that I’ll have time to teach you respect and consideration before Miro inevitably evicts me from his ship. Because I have no intention of breaking that promise.”
Eeris’s heart pounded as his words hit home. All that talk of her being undeserving of his help, and he still reached out to her, still promised to help her? Still trusted that she would change, just so he could keep that promise?
And it wasn’t just that, she realized. She’d done this before. When she was trying to escape home, she’d pushed and pushed, not even caring who she hurt. At one point, when she’d barged into Vedek Yaije’s straw retreat and demanded to see the orb, she’d actually had a moment of regret—she’d wondered if it was wrong of her to be so forceful. But she’d cast that aside in favor of keeping her goals in sight. She’d done the same with her father, and had seen how much she’d hurt him, had even apologized when she was back at home just recently, but still she left him and broke his heart. And now she did it with Miro. Refused to accept his privacy for fear that it would impede upon her own freedom.
Wanting to know him was a lousy excuse. A convincing one, at least to her, but this wasn’t about knowing him at all. It was about the fear that she was losing control over her life again, and demanding information to counteract that sense of aimlessness.
“Oh, Prophets,” she whispered.
Odo tilted his head. Most of the fire had gone from his eyes, leaving them icy blue again. “What is it?”
Eeris shook her head forcefully. It was one thing to admit her transgressions to herself; it would be quite another to admit them to Odo.
Odo sighed. “Eeris…”
“I can’t believe I’m pulling a Miro on this one,” Eeris said, “but I don’t want to talk about it.”
Odo eyed her. “As much as I understand a desire for privacy, I don’t know if I can allow that. That’s my friend in there, in that holding cell. If you go back to him, start demanding answers again…”
“I promise I won’t,” Eeris said. “I won’t even go back to him.”
“I really won’t,” she said, shaking her head again. Prophets, she didn’t even deserve to look him in the eye. She just wanted to be alone right now, so she couldn’t hurt anyone else. “I’ll…I don’t know, maybe I’ll wander the premises a bit.”
“Alright,” Odo said carefully. “But if I ever hear that you started hounding him again…”
“I won’t,” Eeris said. And, at a loss for another way to convince him without flaying herself open, she added, “I don’t want to ruin my chances at getting my arms back, do I?”
“I suppose not,” Odo said, sighing and shaking his head. “But I wish that weren’t your only reason.”
It’s not, Eeris thought. Prophets, it’s not. But I don’t know how to be any different. I don’t even know how to be around Miro right now without pressing him.
Outwardly, she just shrugged and stood. She headed down the gangplank, oblivious to the light drizzle that had started up and slowly began to seep through her clothes. She shivered against the cold as she started walking forward, no destination in mind, but at a loss for what else to do. If she couldn’t move forward with Miro, then at least she could walk.
“I said, get out. NOW.”
Miro’s own words still rang in his ears long after Eeris had spun on her heel and marched away. Some distant part of his mind, the part that had promised to keep her safe, registered the tears that had welled in her eyes, but mostly he was overcome with anger. It took a good few minutes to get himself under control, forcing deep breaths in through his nose and out through his mouth.
But the anger drained away, leaving him with nothing but the persistent ache that had been clawing at his chest from the moment Naral had approached him outside Federation Headquarters. He sank down onto his bench and buried his face in his hands. It was too much. First Naral had to show up, and now Eeris was hounding him for answers more than ever before. When he’d first offered to take her on board, he hadn’t expected that admirable tenacity of hers to lead to this. He supposed he should have thought it through more. But apparently this was what he got for making snap decisions in a moment of loneliness.
Suddenly, he heard the soft slap of footsteps around the corner. He looked up and instantly regretted it. It was Naral. He looked away immediately; he refused to give her the satisfaction of speaking to his face. Not after what she’d done, not after she had the nerve to drag him back down memory lane.
“Here to gloat?” he muttered.
Her eyes crinkled. “I can’t believe you think so little of me.”
“I know you betrayed me to the border patrol,” Miro said. “Safe to say my opinion of you isn’t too high right now.”
“Miro, I didn’t have a choice,” she said.
“The hell you didn’t.”
“I’m worried about you,” she said.
He laughed bitterly. “Yeah, you should be.”
“Hmm, I don’t know. What could possibly be wrong?” He shot her a scathing look. “Oh, that’s right. You’re here.”
“I don’t understand,” she said. “What did I ever do to you?”
“As if you don’t already know,” he said.
She glared at him. “How could I possibly know?”
He glared right back.
Naral sighed. “Maybe it was foolish of me…but I thought maybe…things would be different. I know you don’t feel the same way I do, don’t get me wrong, but I hoped…”
Despite himself, his gaze softened. She was his friend. Their differences had come between them in the last few months before everything had changed, but she had always been his friend, his partner in crime. Even a betrayal deeper than words could describe and two years of distance couldn’t dull those memories. It hurt to see her hurting, and he knew he should stop caring for her, but he couldn’t help it.
“Hoped what?” he asked, standing and tentatively approaching the forcefield of his cell.
She hesitated, then blurted, “I thought you might finally regret it. You know, running away from me, after I tried to help you.”
“Help me?” Miro retorted, most of his affection for her melting away. “How does leaving our home at the mercy of the Klingons in any way count as helping me?”
“I saved your life,” Naral said.
“Yeah,” Miro bit out. “At the expense of millions!”
“There was nothing you could do!”
“Well, we’ll never know that, will we?” he snapped. “Considering I was unconscious for most of it!”
“Oh, no. You don’t get to pretend you’re innocent in this,” Miro said. “Who was it who knocked me out in the first place?”
“I was trying to protect you!”
“Protect me, maybe,” Miro said. “Our families? Everyone else who died that day? Not so much!”
“Miro,” Naral said, “how many times do I have to tell you that’s not our job? That’s for Starfleet to do!”
Miro shook his head. “No, I’m not having this argument with you. Not again.”
Naral sighed. “You’re not going to stop, are you?”
“You’ll just keep playing the hero,” she said. “You’ll keep trying to throw your life away, no matter what I do to stop you.”
“Glad to see we finally understand each other,” Miro said.
Naral chuckled. “Yeah, but there’s something you still don’t realize. I never stopped loving you.”
“Oh, as if love is what you feel for me!”
“No, no. Hear me out.” She held up a hand, and he snapped his jaw shut. “I never stopped loving you. And that means I’ll always do everything in my power to keep you safe.” She paused. “Even if that means taking the Challenger from you.”
A lead weight dropped in his stomach. “What?”
“You heard me,” Naral said. “I’m taking the Challenger away from you. Clearly, you can’t be trusted to have a ship of your own—you’ll just keep diving into danger.”
“Naral, how can you?” Miro cried. “She’s all I’ve got, you know that! You can’t just—”
“If it means saving your life?” Naral said. “I can, and I will.”
“You don’t understand,” Miro said. “The galaxy isn’t safe! Viresa’s planning something, she’s going to dismantle everything I’ve worked for, she’s going to plunge this whole galaxy into ruin! You can’t leave me without a ship!”
“No, you don’t understand,” Naral said. “This isn’t about the galaxy. This is about you—and keeping you safe.”
“Naral, this is bigger than me,” he said, fighting to keep his voice even. “It’s bigger than the Federation. It’s bigger than the Alpha Quadrant! The whole galaxy is at stake!”
Naral frowned. “What do you mean, the whole galaxy?”
“I mean, the whole galaxy,” Miro growled. “Naral, the Dominion’s coming!”
“Now I know you’ve lost it,” Naral scoffed. “That’s not possible. We haven’t had any contact with them in hundreds of years.”
“No, I’ve heard enough. You just won’t stop,” Naral said. “There’s no way I can let you keep playing the hero. You’re a danger to yourself.”
Miro groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Naral,” he said through gritted teeth, “when will you get it through to your head that the galaxy needsme? Now, more than ever!”
“The galaxy needs Starfleet,” Naral said. “And the Klingon military, and the Cardassian military, and every other military force there is. That’s their job, Miro. To protect civilians like us. To give up their lives in the name of peace, in the name of freedom, so that wedon’t have to.”
Miro studied her, clenching his jaw against the torrent of emotion he’d been holding back since the moment he’d seen her. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard that argument from her. But back then, he’d still clung to that tiny, desperate hope that they could still be friends, that their values hadn’t already diverged so completely they’d never be able to see eye to eye again. That first time, when she had argued so fervently for him to stand back, to live a life of cowardice, and let Starfleet do its job, he hadn’t truly believed that he’d already lost her.
He saw that now, with the clarity of two years’ separation. It didn’t make it hurt any less.
“Naral,” Miro said carefully. “After all these years, after everything we’ve been through…do you really want to throw that away?”
“That’s why I’m doing this,” Naral said. “I want to keep you safe.”
He took a deep breath. “And there’s nothing I can do to stop you?”
Naral shook her head. “Nothing.”
“Well, then.” Miro shoved his hands in his pockets and looked her straight in the eye. “Go ahead, give me your worst. Because believe me, Naral, I’ve seen a lot of this galaxy. I’ve taken on foes you wouldn’t believe, fought in wars no one thought could end. You have no idea who you’re going up against.”
She lifted her chin. “Fine, then. If that’s how you’re gonna be.” She smirked a little. “Don’t think that whole ‘I’m so old’ speech is gonna scare me.”
Miro retreated back to his bench and sank down, barely catching her smug grin before she darted out of the security area. He scrubbed his hands over his face and sighed, wishing for the simplicity of his life just two months ago. He’d been alone then, after having traveled without Naral for two years. He’d begun to crave humanoid contact like nothing else, and it had impeded his judgement. Now, not only was he stuck in a holding cell with Naral and Eeris free to hound him as they pleased, but Benjamin was watching oh-so-subtly over his shoulder, Odo was hanging out just outside the building, and Viresa was ready to bring the galaxy’s unsteady foundations crumbling down any minute.
His life had never felt so chaotic. And that was saying something—he’d fought on the front lines of wars, watched the shifting tides of alliances, for twelve hundred years now. But at least his personal life had never felt thrown off balance. In the last century or so, he didn’t even have much of a personal life.
Miro had no real way to gauge the passage of time in this infernal cell, so he wasn’t at all sure how much time had passed before he heard a very distinctive trickle of liquid. He shot to his feet just as an amber column rose from the floor outside his cell and Odo solidified into humanoid form.
After traveling with Odo for the better part of two months, Miro was starting to get used to the way just the sight of the Changeling triggered memories of phaser fire in that Bajoran valley so long ago. It was a little annoying to be assaulted with flashbacks now after having controlled them perfectly for the last two years, but he could ignore them if he just didn’t close his eyes and focused on his real surroundings. Still, he was afraid that if he let Odo stay on board the Challenger for much longer, his control was going to slip.
“Oh, as if it’s not bad enough!” Miro cried. “What the hell are you doing here?” A second too late, he remembered their truce and added, “Sorry, sorry, I know, moving past.”
Odo glanced in either direction before tentatively approaching his cell. “It’s alright, Miro. I’m well aware this trip has awakened some…unpleasant memories for you.”
“Yeah, you can say that again.” Miro scrubbed one hand over his face with a groan. “But never mind that. What are you doing here, Odo? And what made you decide to sneak in like that?”
“Apparently the Federation isn’t too fond of Changelings,” Odo said. “I was stopped outside the front doors when Eeris and I tried to approach.”
“Ah, right, shoulda guessed.” Miro frowned. “But you still haven’t told me why you’re here.”
“I want to help you,” Odo said.
Miro blinked. “What?”
“Miro, you’re wanted for legitimate transgressions against Federation law,” Odo said. “And normally, I would side with the authorities. But like you said before, the galaxy needs you…and I have to admit, after the conversation I just had with Eeris, I think you need someone on your side.”
Miro sighed. “Ironic, that it’s going to be you.”
“I don’t suppose I can ask what I did wrong?”
Miro groaned. “What is it with everyone wanting to dig up my past today?”
“I’m sorry,” Odo said. “I shouldn’t have…”
“No, no, no.” Miro waved him off, in no mood to linger on the subject. “You said you wanted to help me. How?”
Seamlessly, Odo switched gears, and Miro had to appreciate the deep understanding his old friend had for privacy. “I’ve been doing some research,” he said. “Looking into loopholes that would allow you to escape a prison sentence.”
Miro straightened. “What’ve you got? Anything good?”
“It does look promising,” Odo said. “And I’ve found precedents that would allow me to represent you in court, if you appoint me.”
“Oh, good,” Miro sighed in relief. “Federation lawyers are rubbish.”
Odo gave him a discerning look that said he didn’t believe him, but wasn’t going to push the subject. “There is, of course, the small matter of my even getting near a Federation official, in order to announce my intention to represent you…”
Miro waved him off again. “Oh, never mind that. You got in the holding area, didn’t you?”
Odo looked at him evenly. “I’d prefer not to engender distrust around here.”
“Hell, that’s never gonna happen,” Miro said. “Nothing you can do about that. But since when do you need trust to represent me in court? I’ve never met a lawyer I trusted. You just have to follow the rules, and you’ve got the credentials to show them you will.”
Odo sighed. “I suppose you’re right, but…”
“No buts,” Miro said. “Now come on, tell me what you’ve found already.”
Odo’s response was immediate. “Starfleet’s case against you is strong. Vigilante justice is technically against the law, and you fit every stereotype. But their entire case rests on your status as a Federation citizen, since you haven’t even come near Federation space in all the time you’ve been acting as a vigilante. If we can get them to see you as a separate entity and not part of the Federation, they won’t have a case.”
“Well, I’m kinda screwed there, aren’t I?” Miro said. “I am a Federation citizen, whether I like it or not. There’s no legal process for splitting off.”
“Actually,” Odo said, smiling, “there may be.”
“What are you talking about?”
“What do you know about the Maquis?” Odo asked.
Miro frowned. “Your basic fringe group. You know who they are, Odo—they’ve been around since practically the beginning. We dealt with them back on Deep Space Nine.”
Odo nodded. “Yes, I remember. But I’m talking about the present day. What do you know about their legal situation?”
Miro shrugged. “The Federation hasn’t bothered with them in a few hundred years. They’re pretty much considered autonomous now—there were a few disagreements back in the day, but it’s mostly smoothed out. They’re not viewed as their own separate government like the Klingons or the Tholians or the rest, but they’re not subject to Federation law either. What does that matter, Odo?”
“It matters,” Odo said, an excited glint dawning in his eyes, “because that story sounds very familiar, wouldn’t you say?”
Miro’s brows furrowed. “You’re comparing me to the Maquis? First of all, there’s a whole group of them—I travel alone. And second, they’re dissidents, rebels. Not heroes. I don’t see them rising up to defend the galaxy from the latest crisis.”
“Which makes your case even stronger,” Odo said. “Like you said, the Federation has ignored the Maquis for several hundred years. They’re not considered a threat…and yet they’re definitely not trying the same heroics you are. You don’t just deserve the same legal autonomy as the Maquis—you’re better. I think the Federation would do well to consider you an ally.”
“You really think that’s gonna fly in court?” Miro asked.
Odo smirked. “Do you doubt my ability to present your case?”
“That’s not really the problem.” Miro swallowed. “You’re good, Constable. Best law enforcement officer there is. I’ve never doubted your ability to handle yourself in a courtroom. But representing me? You’re a little too friendly with the law.”
“That’s exactly what you need right now,” Odo said. “Miro, from what I’ve seen, you don’t like to follow the rules. And for the most part, that lifestyle works for you. But you may have just stumbled into the one situation that won’t be solved by outrunning the law. If you trust me, I can get you out of this. But if you don’t, there’s nothing I can do for you.”
Miro snorted. “How the hell am I supposed to trust you?”
“Trust the security officer in me,” Odo said. “And the part of me that’s still dedicated to our friendship, even if you aren’t.”
The reference to their friendship smarted, but Miro ignored his anger in favor of their truce—and Odo did have a point. “Yeah, I suppose. Don’t have a choice, do I? Someone’s got to represent me, and it better not be a Federation lawyer—I’d never stand a chance.”
Odo nodded. “That’s settled, then. Can I assume the dates and times of high-profile hearings like yours are still public record in the Federation?”
“Unfortunately,” Miro grimaced. “I mean, hey, at least if I lose, I’ll go out with a bang.”
Odo regarded him. “That’s not happening. Not on my watch.”
“So you keep saying,” Miro said.
Odo sighed. “Miro, I’ll look up when your hearing has been scheduled for. In the meantime, I think I’d better brush up on the fine print of Federation law. You never know when it could become crucial to a defense. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“You better be,” Miro said. “Don’t think I’m letting you plan out my entire defense yourself.”
Odo leveled him a speculative look, but if he was wounded at all by Miro’s lack of trust, he didn’t show it. “Of course.”
Odo turned around and melted back into a gelatinous golden column before shrinking back into the floor until his form was indistinguishable from the white tiling. Miro watched him go with a sigh, before settling back onto his bench and setting his chin in his hands. He wasn’t used to being this helpless. He was usually the one who swooped in on his ship to save the day. He didn’t ask permission, didn’t rely on anyone—he just did what he had to do. Now he was stuck in a holding cell, completely reliant on a being he didn’t even trust if he was going to get out of this mess and stop Viresa from sending the galaxy into ruins.
But Miro knew that if there was one thing he could trust, it was Odo’s dedication to the law, to order, to honesty. And in a world that didn’t trust him simply because he was a Changeling, he wouldn’t dare make a wrong move. Odo was too cautious for that, too wary of criticism. Miro would just have to hope that after nine hundred years, Odo’s skills as a security chief weren’t too rusty.
It wasn’t often that Odo spent his time on the Challenger anywhere but in the galley in the back. He generally avoided the cockpit, since he knew neither Eeris nor Miro were fully comfortable with his presence, and acceptance would only come with time. But the Challenger’s computers were up front in the cockpit, and besides, neither Eeris nor Miro were on board right now. He wouldn’t have to brave their looks of derision this time.
He waited until he was far out of sight of any Starfleet security officers before melting off the gangplank and assuming humanoid form in the archway of the still-open airlock. He then slipped inside to the cockpit, and had just entered the galley out of sheer habit when he remembered his mission with the Challenger’s computer.
Before he could step back out into the corridor, though, his surroundings undulated.
“Captain!” he called, recognizing the signs of a so-called “vision” by now.
Sisko appeared before him as if stepping out from a halo of light. Odo might have snorted at the ridiculousness of his entrance, but he was more preoccupied with worry—what could the captain need to tell him now? Had something happened to Eeris or Miro?
“You’ve done well, Odo,” Sisko said. “All is proceeding according to plan.”
Well, there went that theory. “Captain, I’m getting tired of this. If you have something to say to me, just say it!”
Sisko smiled. “I believe Nerys would remind you that the Prophets work in mysterious ways.”
“First of all, Nerys isn’t here,” Odo growled. “As much as I wish she were, she isn’t! And second, you’re not a Prophet. You’re my former commanding officer, and I would have thought that after all the time we served together, you’d recognize that I have little patience for this prophetic nonsense.”
Sisko sighed. “Still the skeptic, I see.”
“That’s not changing anytime soon,” Odo said.
“Well.” Sisko composed himself. “I suppose I can make an effort to speak to you as a human.”
A strange look flickered over his features.
Odo frowned. “Is something wrong, Captain?”
“No, not as such,” Sisko said. His smile was self-deprecating, and looked odd amid the vision’s hazy light. “It’s just, I never thought I’d say this, but I’m not sure I remember how to be a corporeal being anymore.”
Odo harrumphed. “You are corporeal, just suspended from my reality in some kind of pocket of space-time. And as soon as I see Miro again, I’m going to ask him what could be going on here. None of this can possibly be real.”
“I’m afraid it is,” Sisko said. “And I’m afraid that means there are still hearings in store for you.”
Odo rolled his eyes—he was used to this from the wormhole aliens, but Sisko had never been this cryptic. Maybe it was part of his initiation process.
“Enough with the cryptic messages, Captain! Just tell me what you want me to know and get it over with!”
“There isn’t much I can say,” Sisko said. “Time itself balances on a precipice; there’s no telling which direction it will fall. Everything depends on you, Odo. Remember that.”
Odo rolled his eyes. “That really doesn’t make it any more clear.”
“I’m sorry, Constable,” Sisko said. “Sometimes it isn’t clear, even to me. I’m not a full Prophet, you know.”
“Oh,” Odo said, “isn’t that surprising.”
“And one more thing,” Sisko said.
Odo sighed, shaking his head. “I’m listening.”
“There are trying times ahead,” Sisko said. “Even I can’t see what the outcome will be…but I have confidence in you, Odo. As one hearing begins, another ends. Be prepared, Constable.”
“And how would you suggest I do that?”
“You’ll find that out in time,” Sisko said.
“That’s what you said the first time I spoke to you!” Odo said. “And I still haven’t found out what you meant for me to do!”
Sisko smiled. “Are you sure about that?”
Odo faltered, jaw opening slightly.
“Good luck, Constable,” Sisko said, and before Odo could protest, he was gone.
The light flashed bright and dissolved, and Odo’s breath hitched as he came back to himself. His eyes flickered from side to side as he tried to get his bearings. He was inside the Challenger, near the replicator…
Odo stilled, his Changeling senses suddenly coming on high alert. Something was different…the sensation was dulled, since he was in humanoid form, but the vibrations of the Challenger’s hull plating definitely felt wrong. They didn’t feel like those of a ship safely landed on the edge of Federation premises. He tilted his head, concentrating, and was surprised to hear the faint hum of the engine…and then he realized the entire hull was shuddering, just slightly, as if the ship was in motion.
He crept up front, slowly. Surely if Eeris had come back on board, he would have noticed? Her altered balance from losing both arms had changed her gait, just enough to be noticeable. But no, he hadn’t heard a thing, lost as he’d been in Sisko’s imposed “vision.”
Odo cautiously peeked around the corner that joined the cockpit with the corridor, and was shocked to see the female Trill from earlier—Naral—sitting in the Challenger’s pilot seat like she owned the place.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded.
She jumped clear out of her seat and whirled around to face him, body pressing back against the dashboard as if to put as much distance between them as possible. Her eyes widened as she took him in.
“You’re a Founder,” she whispered.
“I’m not a Founder.” The words were beginning to seem like a hopeless mantra, but still Odo repeated them. Maybe someday, people would actually believe him.
“What do you take me for, an idiot?” Naral said. “Of course you’re a Founder. No one else looks like that.” She frowned. “Wait, Miro mentioned the Dominion was coming. I didn’t believe him.”
Odo sighed. He had no hope of convincing her that his presence didn’t herald the arrival of the Dominion. Instead, he said, “Those don’t sound like the words of someone who professed her love for Miro not even an hour ago.”
“Well, can you blame me?” Naral asked. “The wormhole’s been closed for nine hundred years! And besides, I’m certain that man’s half mad, gallivanting about the galaxy and diving headfirst into danger the way he does. I swear, he’s got a death wish or something. I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes up all the threats to galactic peace just to give himself a reason to do it.”
Odo frowned. “You don’t have much respect for him, do you?”
“Respect?” Naral repeated, gawping at him. “You’re kidding me, right? He’s a complete idiot with no respect for his own life! I’m trying to save him! But never mind that. What the hell are you doing on board? Miro would never allow an enemy on board the Challenger!”
“I’ll have you know, I’m not an enemy,” Odo said. “But I could ask you the same question.”
“I’m not an enemy, either,” Naral said.
“Oh? Then I suppose Miro’s reaction upon seeing you was…purely shock?” Odo said. “Miro doesn’t strike me as the type who’s easily rattled.”
“Well, I wouldn’t know,” Naral said. “Considering how completely he changed after he got joined. By the dead Prophets themselves, I hardly knew him after that. He was so driven. So convinced all of a sudden that the galaxy needed him.”
Odo sighed and shook his head in disbelief. That cleared up whatever lingering questions he’d had about Miro’s relationship with Naral. Clearly, Naral had no respect for the man she claimed to love, and given Miro’s reaction to her earlier, Odo doubted they had parted on good terms. And she seemed disturbingly eager to talk about Miro with someone she perceived as his enemy.
He folded his arms and leaned against the aft wall of the cockpit. “So, Naral—it is Naral, isn’t it?”
“Mind telling me where you’re taking Miro’s ship?”
“It’s not just Miro’s ship,” Naral said, shooting him a glare. “I own her too, fair and square. I can do whatever I want with her.”
With that, she plopped back into the pilot’s seat, looking for all intents and purposes as if she was completely absorbed in piloting the ship. But Odo had observed humanoid behavior for far too long to be that naïve, and he knew better.
“Don’t think you can evade me forever,” Odo said. “I can be very persistent when I want to be. Now, how about you tell me where we’re going?”
She glared at him over her shoulder. “Trill, if you must know.”
“Oh? And why would we go there?”
“That,” Naral snapped, “is none of your concern.”
“I don’t suppose I can convince you to fly us back to Earth?”
Naral laughed. “Are you kidding me? I’ve got to get back to Earth for Miro’s hearing. But I’ve got time now, so I’m not gonna waste it.”
“To do what?”
“To visit home, of course,” Naral said. “I haven’t been back in forever.”
Odo frowned. There was tension in her voice, probably unnoticeable to the average humanoid but unmistakable to him, that told him this was about more than a nostalgia tour. And he doubted that after all the years she’d been apart from Miro, she would choose now, right before his hearing, to “visit home.” There was something she wasn’t telling him, but Odo had no idea how to find out what. He had no more business prying into her past than he did Miro’s, no reason to ask her directly.
Odo had never been particularly adept at conversation, but he was trapped on the Challengerwith her for the time being. He figured he might as well take the opportunity to get to know her as best he could. “So, Naral, how long have you known Miro?”
“Oh, since the beginning.” She smiled. “We’ve been friends basically forever. We grew up together—we lived just a couple houses apart. It was us against the world, partners in crime. He’s the one who taught me to be a renegade, you know. Only reason I’ve survived in the galaxy this long without him. Turns out rule-following doesn’t work out here.” She chuckled. “If only young me could see me now. She’d never believe it.”
“How long has it been since you saw each other?”
“Two years.” Naral swallowed hard, the line of her jaw stiff. “Far too long.”
“He doesn’t seem to feel the same way,” Odo said.
Naral brushed her fingers across her eyes, wiping away tears. “He never has. Doesn’t change anything. I’ll always keep loving him. I’ll always keep saving him from himself.”
“What exactly does that entail?”
She shrugged. “What I’m doing now. I gave the border patrol the Challenger’s schematics so they’d know what to look for. I don’t have a ship, it would be too hard to go chasing him around the galaxy, and Starfleet doesn’t have the resources to send a starship out looking for him…but I could at least wait for him on Earth and make sure he couldn’t leave.”
Odo frowned. “You planned this?”
She nodded, a proud smile dawning over her features as her shoulders straightened. “That’s right.”
“Are you aware of what Miro’s trying to do for the galaxy?” Odo asked. “I’d be the last person to argue with the law, and Miro’s wanted for a legitimate offence, but even I have to admit he’s needed elsewhere. A prison sentence is the last thing he needs.”
Naral snorted. “Is that what he’s told you?”
“He didn’t need to,” Odo said.
“Then you’re just as crazy as he is.” Naral shook her head in amazement. “Seriously, I don’t know where he gets these ideas of grandeur. One of these days, I’ll get him to see that he’s a civilian, not a hero. It’s not his job to save the galaxy. The sooner he realizes that, the better off he’ll be.”
“And what about everyone in this galaxy he’s trying to save?” Odo asked. “You don’t think his cause is noble at all?”
“I think it’s foolhardy,” Naral said. “We’ve already got Starfleet out there. What good’s one more little ship gonna do? The Challenger isn’t even equipped with the phaser power for a battle. He’s gonna get himself ripped to shreds.”
“That’s not entirely true,” Odo said. “Miro mentioned to me earlier that he’d upgraded the Challenger’s defenses.”
Naral shrugged. “Whatever. You gonna hang out in the cockpit this whole ride? It’s gonna be a few hours, and I’d rather not have a Founder leaning over my shoulder.”
Odo sighed. He didn’t even bother to correct her this time, but he didn’t give her the satisfaction of seeing him leave. Instead, he slipped into the copilot’s seat and turned on the Challenger’s computer interface. He had promised Miro he’d be back as soon as he could, and maybe he couldn’t control when that would be, but he could at least get his research done in the meantime.
Naral looked at him mildly. “Really? That’s not much better.”
“Sorry to be such an imposition, but I have work to do,” Odo said. “I don’t have time for your prejudice.”
Naral blinked. “You say that as if you’re used to it.”
Odo rolled his eyes, a slight growl rumbling in his throat as he said, “Entirely too much.”
Naral didn’t seem to have anything to say to that, and Odo didn’t care. He ignored her completely, focusing on the computer screen as he called up the Federation’s public records of high-profile hearings. Once he had ascertained that Miro’s hearing would be held at noon the next day, relative to Federation Headquarters, he started looking deeper into Federation law. He had gleaned the basics before sneaking in to speak to Miro earlier, but Odo was a firm believer that one could never be too prepared. For the first time since he’d come on board the Challenger, he actually felt needed, beyond just a vague impression that Sisko had a job for him to do. He wasn’t about to let Miro down. And maybe, just maybe, Miro would trust him more after this.
Odo was so wrapped up in his research that he barely noticed the passage of time until he felt the shift in the deck plating as the Challenger dropped into orbit around Trill. He looked up at the viewscreen, and realized to his surprise that he’d never actually been to this region of Federation space before, let alone Trill itself. The oceans were a bit greener than what he remembered from Bajor—and, obviously, a far cry from the “ocean” he knew on his homeworld. The land had scattered continents similar to Bajor, but they were a good deal larger on Trill, close to the size of Earth’s major landmasses. As they drew closer, easing into a geosynchronous orbit, Odo noticed something strange. There was an enormous swath of land on one of the northern continents that looked to have been completely blackened. Most of the continent was still sheathed in darkness, so he couldn’t tell how far the devastation had spread.
Odo looked over at Naral, suddenly realizing. “That’s why you wanted to come back here, isn’t it?”
Naral followed his gaze to the region out the viewscreen and didn’t answer, her eyes crinkling with profound sadness. Odo wondered if she had been back here since the event. She looked as though she’d never seen the devastation here before.
“Who was responsible for this?” Odo murmured.
“The Klingons, if you must know.”
“Ah.” Odo nodded. “Yes, I heard something about them being at odds with the Federation these days…”
“Oh, not just these days,” Naral said. “They’ve been at each other’s throats for years. It’s what Miro and I grew up with.”
“Was that where you and Miro lived?” Odo asked.
Odo looked again at the burnt region. He wanted to ask Naral how many had died, but couldn’t bring himself to prod what was undoubtedly a sensitive subject. They waited in silence as Trill turned slowly into daylight, revealing more and more charred blackness. Naral seemed too lost in her memories of the event to hound him any more for being a Founder. It was some time before she finally spoke up, after daylight had spread across more than half of the burnt continent.
“Alright,” she said softly. “Should be close enough to morning where I want to land. I’ll take us in.”
Odo nodded distantly, distracted by the sight of the burnt expanse drifting closer. He was almost convinced now that it spanned the entire continent. What he could see so far stretched from coast to coast, with no end in sight.
Naral didn’t manually fly the Challenger in toward the planet like Miro had when they’d landed on Nebez, instead letting autopilot do all the work for them as they flew in. It wasn’t until they descended onto a flat, burnt patch of ground that she swept her hand over the control panel, powering the ship down all across the board, and headed for the airlock. She tapped in the code and the gangplank drew down as the doors slid open, letting Trill’s weak morning light come filtering in.
“You coming?” Naral called from atop the gangplank.
Odo stood and followed her. He stopped when he reached the ground, Naral standing just a short distance away. She turned slowly in place, taking in the vast expanse of the charred landscape. It was nothing like what he had expected. Where he had imagined the charred remains of houses, maybe a rogue brick chimney or two, only the most basic foundations remained. Everything was gone, as if the lack of houses or trees or other buildings had let the wind sweep through and wash the rest away, leaving the area a barren wasteland.
“The Klingons did this?” he asked, breath hitching on a gasp. “Seems more like the Dominion’s caliber.”
“Well, you’d know,” Naral said.
“Of course I would,” Odo said. “My friends fought in the Dominion War. I saw what my people did to others, not because I was a Founder, but because I was trying to stop them.”
Naral looked down at the ground, seeming properly abashed for once. But she gathered her composure quickly. “The Dominion hasn’t been around for nine hundred years. And the Klingons are a warrior race. Is this honestly so surprising?”
“They’re not just a warrior race,” Odo said. “They—when I knew them, at least—they placed honor above all else. Is that what this struck them as—as honorable?”
Naral laughed, the sound out of place in this bleak landscape. “The Klingons? Honorable? Where have you been living, under a rock?”
Odo blinked. “Well, not exactly.”
She huffed. “They used to be better. At least, I think they did. It’s all recorded in the Federation’s database, if you know where to look. You can still find stories of the days when they were actually allied to the Federation. But if any of that’s true, it was years ago. Decades, centuries even. It’s like everyone’s lost their aim these days. There’s no honor to fight for ‘cause we all know Viresa’ll win in the end. No use fighting for a better tomorrow ‘cause we all know it’s not gonna happen. The Klingons have entirely forgotten what peace means, and the Federation…well…we just don’t have the might to make any difference.”
Odo frowned. “And yet somehow, you think Starfleet can make a better difference than Miro Dax?”
“Of course I do,” Naral said. “That’s how I know his ‘cause’ is nothing but a death wish—if Starfleet doesn’t have the power to do anything, then he definitely doesn’t.”
Odo had to admit she had a point. The Challenger was only one ship, and hardly had the defensive and offensive capabilities of an entire fleet. But still, there was no sense trying to stop Miro from doing what was obviously very important to him. The galaxy mattered to Miro, and he was willing to risk his life to save it from Viresa’s rule and anyone else who dared to threaten it. Odo could stand behind that kind of determination and courage. He couldn’t stand for Naral’s blatant disrespect of the man she claimed to love.
“Are you ready to go back to Earth?” Odo asked. “We both intend to be at Miro’s hearing, and I’m fairly certain it’s only hours from now.”
Naral nodded. She took a deep, fortifying breath and drew her shoulders back before marching back up the gangplank and into the Challenger. Odo followed her and slid into the copilot’s seat, intending to use the time to continue his research into Federation law. Naral woke the Challenger’s controls and swept them up into the air, and before long they were trundling gently through space, silence stretching between them.
For a while, Eeris lost all track of time. She didn’t even feel the rain until her clothes were thoroughly soaked, her pants beginning to cling awkwardly to her body with every step. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been walking. Minutes, hours; did it even matter? She shivered, shoulders hunched against the cold, and wished fervently for her arms. But thoughts of her arms only took her mind back to the one place she was unwilling to go: Odo.
She wasn’t ready to face him again. His eyes had a way of seeming to drill down into her very soul, until she felt splayed open, her transgressions laid bare. And it wasn’t just that—she had the sinking feeling that she’d been right all along, when she’d guessed that her words did make a dent in his armor. He just had no intention of showing her how hurt he was, and every intention of being there for her regardless. He had vehemently defended Miro’s privacy, but made no such defense of his own. Eeris was beginning to think he never would.
She didn’t deserve him.
Eeris had been plowing through the untended brush behind the headquarters building for what seemed like ages when the thickness of the underbrush finally forced her to come to a stop. Now and then, she’d felt something hard and uneven beneath her feet; she suspected this area might once have been an open field, perhaps with concrete pathways, but there was no way to tell for sure. There seemed to be hundreds of years of overgrowth here. Tangled vines wormed their way across the ground and twigs snagged at her wet clothes.
She turned around, shivering. The overgrowth shielded her from the rain somewhat, but the water coating the leaves still splattered her. Through the curtain of rain ahead, she could see the vague shape of the headquarters building rising up ahead, not too far away. Eeris shook herself and started plowing back the way she’d come. It made no sense to stay out here in the cold and the rain, waiting until the chill sank into her bones.
Eventually, Eeris broke clear of the bushes and rounded the side of the headquarters building. She picked up the pace, knowing the Challenger was only a short distance away. She squinted, wishing she had a hand to shield her eyes from the rain, but couldn’t make out its shape. It was only when she’d spent several more minutes walking, still with no sign of the ship, that she started to worry.
It couldn’t be gone…could it?
Eeris broke into a run, trying not to panic, but there was still no sign of the Challenger. Honestly, where could a ship of its size hide? It was small, but it was still a whole ship, and she was certain it had been parked somewhere nearby. She should have found it by now.
The gangplank had been down when she’d left. Maybe if she called, Odo would hear her.
“Odo?” she called.
Her voice was lost in the crash of the rain.
Eeris’s chest rose and fell with the pounding of her heart. What had happened? Where was it? What was she supposed to do?
Her head whipped around to face the behemoth of the headquarters building, a dark shape rising out of the ground nearby. Miro was in there. Miro, the man who’d taken her on board his ship with barely any questions, who’d accepted her into his life and given her the out she’d wanted all her life. Miro, the man who’d promised to show her the galaxy and asked for nothing in return. Miro, the man who’d insisted on protecting her even when she said she didn’t need it.
She didn’t think. She just started running, her feet carrying her towards Federation Headquarters of their own accord. She passed the guards by, barely mumbling a plea before the doors were held open for her and she was ushered inside. Her feet pounded down the hallway as she made a beeline for the security area, heedless to the water and mud that trailed in her wake. She only stopped to catch her breath for the requisite security scan, and then she was pushing through the security doors, into the holding area.
And standing before Miro Dax. Who was now sitting on his bench, the picture of dejection, shoulders hunched and face in his hands. And she remembered that she had no business talking to him at all. Shehad done this to him. If he was hurting, she had no one to blame but herself.
She turned to leave, but it was too late. He’d already looked up at her.
“Eeris,” he said, standing.
Eeris shifted on her feet. “Hi.”
“What are you doing here?”
Right. The last thing he’d said to her…had been to get out. She hadn’t left of her own accord.
“Um…sorry,” she said. “I’ll leave.”
She turned to go again, but his voice stopped her.
She turned back to face him, frowning. After everything she’d said to him, after the way she’d demanded answers he had every right not to give, he asked her what was wrong?
But then she realized that she did need to tell him. It wasn’t about her. The Challenger was his ship, and he had a right to know she was gone.
“It’s the Challenger,” she said quietly. “It’s…it’s gone.”
For the space of an instant, his expression didn’t even shift. It was as if her words plunged it into an ice age, and the not-quite-smile he was giving her froze on his face, stopping just short of his eyes. And then his whole body seemed to melt, the light draining from his eyes and his shoulders drooping as he sank bonelessly onto his bench.
Eeris stared at him, not quite sure what to make of this, and certain any words out of her mouth would be hurtful.
“Is Odo gone, too?” Miro asked suddenly.
Eeris blinked, shaking herself. “I called out to him, but he didn’t hear me.”
“Well,” Miro said, “that certainly complicates things.”
“Are you alright?” Eeris asked without thinking.
He glared at her, the first eye contact he’d made since he’d ordered her out. “What do you think?”
Eeris flinched and fixed her eyes on the floor. “Sorry.”
She looked up, deciding to take a chance. “I really am, you know.”
“No, I don’t know.”
She winced. That was not a good way to phrase an apology.
“Miro,” she said, silently willing him to look at her again. “I’m sorry.”
She was gratified when he reluctantly met her gaze, but the sheer distrust swimming in those emerald depths almost made her lose her nerve. “Are you, really?”
She nodded. “Odo gave me a piece of his mind, believe me. Forced me to see how selfish I’ve been. Forced me to realize that I’d hurt you…not the other way around.”
Miro sighed and stood, shoving his hands in his pockets. He wandered to the front of his cell, and his casual pace reassured Eeris, but the dejection that still seemed to weigh down his every movement tempered her relief.
“Kid, I don’t even know what to say to you. I promised I’d show you the galaxy, and I promised I’d keep you safe. I’m not going to let you down. But I can’t trust you. I tried that with Naral, and you can see how that worked out. I promised myself I wouldn’t make the same mistake with you.” He smiled wryly. “And look what happened. I did it anyway.”
Eeris nodded, biting her lip and blinking back tears. She had earned this. She deserved this.
“Alright,” she nodded.
Miro blinked. “What?”
“Alright,” she repeated. “I don’t expect you to trust me. Why should I, after what I said to you?”
The corner of Miro’s mouth quirked up. “That’s not quite the fight I expected.”
“Yeah, well,” she said, shifting on her feet, “I’d like to think I don’t rebel all the time.”
Miro nodded, a small chuckle escaping. “It’s a start.”
Eeris allowed herself a tentative smile. Maybe she hadn’t ruined things between them completely.
And then she realized something else—maybe Miro wasn’t going to confide in her, but she could at least show him she cared. She had the perfect opportunity. For once, she knew exactly what was bothering him—the loss of the Challenger—and she thought she remembered Naral mentioning something about him losing his home.
“I’m sorry about the Challenger, too,” she said, taking an uncertain step forward.
Miro grimaced, but finally seemed to shake off the melancholy that gripped him. “Doesn’t matter. We’ll figure it out.”
“Pretty sure it matters to you,” Eeris said.
He shot her a warning look. “Eeris…”
She shook her head. “I’m not gonna press.”
“Not this time.”
Miro nodded slowly, watching her.
“I just…I know it’s not just about me,” Eeris said. “I’m not gonna press, promise. But Naral mentioned something about you losing your home, and I know what the Challenger means to you, and…” She broke off, eyeing the floor. “It’s just, I know you’re having a hard time here.”
Miro’s brows furrowed.
“I’m not asking you to talk,” Eeris rushed on. “I’m just saying, I know it’s not just about me.”
Miro nodded again.
“…Anyway.” Eeris shifted awkwardly and took a step back. “Maybe I should…go.”
“No, don’t go.”
She stopped, daring to look up at him. A soft smile, the first he’d given her in who knew how long, graced his features.
“And how are you doing?” he asked. “I know I’ve effectively stranded you.”
Eeris shook her head vehemently. “This isn’t your fault. You just wanted to sell a book. Naral’s the one who trapped us here. And I still don’t really know the full story there, but…”
She trailed off, suddenly remembering her conversation with Naral. Naral had implicated Miro in all this. Miro was the one who’d left her, after she saved his life. Miro was the one who took the Challenger and left her on Earth. Miro was the one who’d blamed her, when all she’d ever done was help him.
She frowned. None of that made any sense, and it clashed with what she knew about Miro. He could have left her behind on Deep Space Nine. He didn’t—he took her on board with barely a second thought. And he had shown that he cared for her. That didn’t sound like the man who’d left a friend behind.
“But…?” he asked.
Eeris looked up at him, curiosity and confusion warring with her desire to prove she could respect his privacy. “I just…don’t understand.”
He set his hands on his hips. “What else did Naral tell you?”
“That you left her behind,” Eeris said. “That she saved your life, and you’ve always hated her for it.”
To her surprise, Miro barked out a laugh. “Oh, for fate’s sake. I should have known she’d take any opportunity to twist up the story.”
“So what really happened?” she asked. Then she cringed. “Sorry. I shouldn’t ask.”
Miro chuckled. “No, it’s alright. Just this once. I might as well set the story straight.” He paused to retreat back to his bench, but this time, he kept eye contact. “She’s right—she might very well have saved my life. But that’s not why I hate her. And I don’t even hate her, really. I mean, in the strongest sense of the word, I don’t even hate Viresa. I’m angry with Naral, yes. But I don’t hate her.”
“Why, then?” Eeris asked.
Miro took a deep breath and clasped his hands, hunching forward. “She betrayed me.”
Eeris waited, loath to push him before he was ready. When he didn’t say anything else, she said, “Go on.”
He shrugged, looking up at her. “Isn’t that enough?”
Eeris looked away, kicking idly at the floor. “I just thought…”
Miro sighed. “Alright, fine. You said she mentioned we’d lost our home. What did she tell you?”
“That the Klingons attacked,” Eeris said. “That there was nothing left.”
Miro nodded. “Yeah, that’s about the size of it. And I could have saved them. Or maybe I couldn’t have; I’ll never know. I was just one ship, for all I know I would have gotten myself blasted to bits. But I could’ve tried. She didn’t let me. She knocked me out, dragged me onto the Challenger, probably saved both our lives.” He sighed, looking down at the floor. “At the expense of millions.”
Eeris felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her. Of all the things she had expected him to say, that hadn’t been one of them.
“I’m sorry,” Eeris said.
“Thanks for telling me,” she said.
“What the hell does Naral have against you?” Eeris asked. “I don’t understand why she’s doing this.”
Miro chuckled humorlessly. “Because she thinks she loves me.”
“You heard her, when we first landed,” Miro said. “She wants me safe. That’s all she’s ever wanted. She doesn’t care about what I want, or what I care about, or the kind of life I want to lead. She’ll do anything in her power to stop me from saving the galaxy, because in her mind, I’m just trying to throw my life away. In her mind, I’m being senseless, and idiot, irresponsible. Hell, she’d even go so far as to claim I’m disrespecting Starfleet’s sacrifice by putting myself out there. She believes it’s wrong, somehow. And all she’s ever wanted is to stop me.”
Eeris blinked. “That’s what this is all about? Stopping you from saving the galaxy? But—why would anyone want to stop you? We need you!”
“Yeah, that’s what I keep telling her,” Miro said. “It’s like talking a rock, kid. She’s convinced everything I have to say is a symptom of insanity. I’ll only ever manage to convince her she’s right.”
“Prophets,” Eeris said, huffing in amazement. “That’s just…I mean, that’s…”
“Ridiculous?” Miro asked. “Annoying? After two years, damn infuriating? Yup. Hammer on the nail.”
“I don’t get it, though,” Eeris said. “Did she take the Challenger?”
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Miro said. The corner of his mouth quirked up, but he scrubbed his hands over his face, negating its effect. “She did threaten to take it from me. I should have seen this coming.”
Eeris sighed and shook her head. A restless energy overtook her and she began to pace back and forth outside his cell. And to think that for a moment, she’d actually sided with Naral! She’d been so wrapped up in her frustration with Miro for refusing to talkto her, she’d actually let Naral give her the wrong side of the story, and she’d listened. That was the worst part. She’d been so desperate for information that she’d listened to whoever wanted to offer it, and had never considered that Miro might be completely in the right.
She still couldn’t quite believe he’d told her all this. She was grateful, but he’d had every right to deny her a confession. He’d been right—this was none of her business.
But now she knew, and damn it, she was going to try to be a good friend to him with everything she had.
“So what’s the plan now?” she asked, trying to get them back onto a more objective track. They couldn’t just sit here and wallow while Naral held all the cards. “Naral’s probably got the Challenger. Odo’s gone. It’s just us, then. But you’ve still got that book…right?”
Miro shook his head. “Still on the Challenger. Odo was holding onto it, remember?”
“Okay…no collectible. No latinum.” Eeris took a deep breath. “We could still start fresh. We could work, save up for another ship.” She braced herself. “You could take me back to Bajor.”
Miro scoffed. “Why would I take you back there?”
“I dunno…to get me out of your hair?”
“What makes you think you’re in my hair?” Miro shook his head. “And besides, kid, I don’t go to Bajor. You know that.”
Eeris frowned, biting back the question on the tip of her tongue. “Right.”
He studied her, mouth quirking up a little. “You weren’t kidding, when you said you weren’t going to press.”
Eeris shook her head. “Nope.”
He smiled, a real smile, for the first time since their argument. “Wow. I could get used to this, you know.”
Eeris smiled back. “Doing my best.”
His smile spread into a grin. “Well, keep it up, kid.”
“Pretty sure it’s gonna drive me spare eventually,” Eeris added. “I’m used to…well, I’m used to knowing my way around. I knew every nook and cranny of Bajor. I had to, to be the Steward. And now…I don’t know anything. You’re my only source of information, and…” She sighed and looked down. “Sometimes it’s scary.”
Miro softened. “Oh, Eeris. Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I tried,” Eeris said. “In the only way I knew how. I pressed you for information. When you refused to talk about something, I got angry and pressed harder. I blamed you for holding back.”
Miro sighed and rested his chin on his hands, elbows on his knees. “Kid, I’m not gonna open up overnight. But I’m sure we can work something out.”
Eeris perked up. “Really?”
“Really.” He smiled. “After all, I need my privacy, but it goes both ways. Long as you’re on the Challenger with me…or, for that matter, stuck in my general vicinity, your needs matter too.”
“And…how long will I be stuck in your general vicinity?” Eeris asked.
It was a question she hadn’t dared ask before. Until now, she’d been too afraid of the answer. She needed Miro, much more than he needed her. He was her transportation, her only ticket to freedom. But she couldn’t let that blind her anymore. Because he wasn’t just a ticket, or just a taxi ride around the galaxy. He was the closest thing to a friend she had, excepting Odo. And they couldn’t tiptoe around this issue anymore. She needed to know what her future held.
Miro’s smile was tentative. “As long you want to be.”
“You mean that?” Eeris asked. “Even after…everything?”
“Hey, I made you a promise, didn’t I?” Miro said. “Look, kid, if you’d come back here and started demanding answers again, I might have changed my mind. Gotta protect myself, after all. But you’re learning. We can make this work. And your company isn’t half bad.”
“Then can I ask you a favor?” Eeris asked.
She took a deep breath. “Stop calling me kid?”
He blinked. “That really bothers you?”
“I know you don’t mean it like that,” Eeris said hurriedly. “But it feels a bit…derogatory. Besides, you’re not actually any older than I am.”
Miro chuckled, but didn’t protest. She was glad he didn’t say anything about his twelve hundred years of memories this time. She wasn’t sure how she would have taken an argument from him.
“Tell you what,” Miro said, smiling. “You don’t pry into my past, I won’t call you ‘kid.’ Deal?”
Eeris nodded. She knew she’d still quest after information, and they’d need to work out some other kind of deal. But this would do for now.
“I’d offer to shake on it,” Miro said, holding back a smile, “but this forcefield’s kind of in the way.”
Eeris laughed. She was glad he seemed to have his sense of humor back.
“You sound like you’re feeling better,” she said.
He shrugged. “I’ll live.” He looked her up and down significantly. “Not exactly sure how I’m gonna show you around the galaxy, though.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Eeris said. “That’s not all you’re good for.”
His eyes lit up. “Yeah?”
She nodded. “Yup.”
The Challenger touched back down on Earth soil with barely any time to spare. Naral had taken her sweet time piloting the ship back, and Odo couldn’t help but wonder if she meant to give him and Miro as little time to prepare a defense as possible. He’d never outright mentioned to her that he intended to serve as Miro’s representative, but he’d caught her glancing at his research now and then. She knew he was brushing up on the fine print of Federation law. And she knew he was on Miro’s side.
When Naral finally powered the Challenger down and tapped in the code to lower the gangplank—a code Odo sorely wished Miro had told him, as he couldn’t even exit the ship without it—he wasted no time in striding across the dirt expanse to the headquarters building, just a few paces behind Naral. He didn’t miss that the guards let Naral go straight on through, but when he tried to approach, the doors were shut in his face. But this time, Odo had no patience for the guards’ prejudice.
“I told you before, I’m not here as a Founder,” he growled. “I once served as an officer of the Bajoran and Cardassian courts, and I’m here in that capacity now. I intend to represent one of your prisoners in court. His hearing is only minutes from now.”
The guards exchanged a glance, and Odo wasn’t at all surprised when they were completely unmoved. Rolling his eyes, he simply melted into his natural state, sunk into the ground, and slithered past their feet and under the door. Years back, when he had served on Deep Space Nine, Odo had been loath to take his natural form in public—he’d even been ashamed when his Changeling brother Laas had shown no discomfort with it and had become a layer of fog on the promenade. His natural shape was something private, something that belonged only to him—he might equate it to being naked for a humanoid. But over eight hundred years spent in the Great Link had changed that attitude. He was more comfortable with his liquid form than he ever had been, and his patience for prejudice—even Eeris’s and Miro’s—was quickly running out.
Odo pulled his cells back together into his customary semblance of a humanoid inside the building’s doors. He glanced behind him, but there was no sign that the guards even knew where he had gone—such were the advantages of being a shapeshifter.
Odo sighed, shaking his head. He’d never liked the fundamentally duplicitous nature of his people, and one reason he had always been cautious about shapeshifting in public was the distrust it engendered. For someone to be able to walk about as a humanoid one day, and sweep through the skies as a Tarkalean hawk the next…what was to stop such a being from changing their face constantly, deceiving Solids simply because it could?
But just this once, Miro was right. Odo needed his shapeshifting skills to get inside. And Miro needed him. Friends or not, Odo would not let him down.
He had learned from his research that Miro’s hearing would be held in a courtroom located just down the corridor from the security area. Odo consulted the floor plan he’d memorized as he walked briskly down the corridor. He found the entrance to the courtroom and walked inside. It was a large room, supporting a maximum occupancy of perhaps seventy-five people in the audience, and jurors lined a balcony over the judge’s podium. To Odo’s surprise, most of the seats in the audience were filled, and chatter swelled in the cavernous space. He’d known Miro was…high-profile, but he hadn’t realized just how much of an audience his hearing would attract.
Miro himself was already at the defendant’s stand, arms braced against the edge and knuckles clenched white. His mouth was a tense line as his eyes swept the audience. When they rested on Odo, they widened and his shoulders seemed to relax a little. He jerked his head, a tiny, barely-noticeable “come-hither” motion, but enough that Odo got the message. He headed down the aisle to meet Miro at the front of the courtroom.
“I apologize for the delay,” he murmured when he reached the stand. “Naral seemed to have her own ideas of how quickly she wanted to get back.”
“I’m just glad you’re here at all,” Miro said, glancing around. “When I saw Naral come in, and you weren’t here yet…”
Odo frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Eeris told me the Challenger was gone,” Miro said. “I assumed Naral had taken her.”
“She did,” Odo said. “But apparently not for long. She always intended to be here for your hearing.” He paused. “There’s no telling what she plans for afterward, though.”
“Let’s just get through this legal business first.” Miro briefly clenched his fingers around the corners of the stand, but then relaxed, forcing a grin. “Too bad we didn’t have time to plan a defense. You’re still representing me, right?”
Odo nodded. “That is, assuming it’s not too late to establish myself as your representative.”
“Hey, better late than never,” Miro said. He jerked his head in the judge’s direction, who had just mounted the stairs to her podium. “Go ahead and talk to Simler over there. Just to let you know, though, I don’t think she’s a fan of Changelings.”
Odo frowned. “How would you know that?”
Miro grimaced. “No one is.”
Odo sighed. “And to think I once believed that the peoples of the Alpha Quadrant would someday come to view Changelings as equals.”
“Go on.” Miro nodded toward Simler again. “I think the hearing’s about to start. You’re running out of time.”
Odo nodded and walked across to the judge’s podium. Simler’s eyes followed him as she peered down her nose at him. She was a human woman, tall and dressed in a dark gray uniform, with sharp, weathered features and curly light brown hair that perched atop her head. Odo almost snorted at the sight of glasses perched on her nose. Now that was truly archaic. He didn’t think there had even been such a thing as glasses when he’d worked on Deep Space Nine. They achieved what he assumed was the desired effect, though—Odo guessed that Judge Simler followed traditional, archaic methods, and her verdicts would not be particularly progressive for her time.
His job here would be to fight an uphill battle. But it was hardly the most difficult challenge he had ever faced. If he could stall in a Cardassian court long enough for the captain to find evidence exonerating Chief O’Brien, he had no doubt he could present Miro’s case in a court that was biased against him.
“Your Honor,” Odo said, approaching the stand.
“How did you get in here, Founder?” Simler demanded.
Odo tilted his head. “I walked in the front door.”
Her eyebrows climbed up her forehead.
“Your Honor, with all due respect, the manner of my entrance hardly matters,” Odo said. “I’m here at the request of the defendant, Miro Dax. He’s asked that I represent him before the court.”
“I will not have a Founder participate in my court,” Simler said. “Now, if you’ll please—”
“Miro has the right to appoint his own representative,” Odo pointed out. “My name is Odo. I worked as chief of security in conjunction with Starfleet for seven years. I suggest that you look up my service record; you’ll find that it’s spotless.”
Simler frowned and eyed him over her glasses as she tapped a command into her computer. Her frown deepened in displeasure as she skimmed the screen. “Your credentials are…impressive. You would seem to have the highest arrest rate in the sector for the duration of your tenure—even compared to Starfleet security officers.”
“That’s right,” Odo said. “I also have experience with off-world conflicts, as my duties often extended beyond basic station procedure. And I assisted Starfleet in matters of Federation security—specifically, its efforts to detect other Changelings.”
“Yes, I see.” Simler looked up at Odo. “This is a Federation courtroom. Can I trust you to keep Starfleet’s interests at heart?”
“I’ll do my duty as representative of a Federation citizen,” Odo said. “But I am Miro’s representative, not Starfleet’s. My first priority is his interests.”
Simler peered at him a moment longer, but finally nodded. “That should be satisfactory. Take your seat. The prosecution will go first. I’ll call you when it’s your turn to speak.”
“Understood,” Odo nodded.
He retreated from the podium, giving Miro a reassuring nod on his way to the tables just in front of the first row of seats. Miro relaxed ever so slightly at the stand. Odo approached the table nearest Miro, which he knew was reserved for the defendant—when not at the stand—and his or her representative. He settled stiffly into his seat and waited for Simler to begin the hearing.
“Order!” Simler called. “This court is in session!”
A hush fell over the crowd, and Odo noticed that Miro stiffened a little. He glanced around for Eeris in the audience, curious whether she’d chosen to attend (and, for that matter, where else she could be), but Simler spoke up again before he could spot her.
“Miro Dax stands accused of acting as a vigilante, against Starfleet’s interests. This hearing seeks to determine how the Federation should react to the…” Simler paused, peering down her nose at Miro. “…to the unique situation he presents.”
She nodded to the prosecution, a Starfleet security officer who was seated next to Naral at the table to Odo’s right. “Prosecution, you may question the defendant.”
The prosecution stood and approached the stand. “Miro Dax, I’m sure everyone in this room is well aware of your reputation. You’ve been all over the galaxy, making friends and enemies alike. Could you clarify for the jury why that is?”
“I’m Dax,” Miro said. “I have experience I can offer.”
“And that’s the only reason?”
Miro braced himself against the stand. “Not quite.”
“Then please do elucidate.”
“The galaxy’s falling apart,” Miro said. “That’s no secret to anyone. You don’t have to be twelve hundred years old to see there’s border conflicts everywhere, no one can reach peace. And the Romulan empress’s moves certainly don’t help anything.”
“And you believe you can offer a solution?”
“I hope so,” Miro said. “It’s not like you Federation people have.”
Odo grimaced. He should have known Miro would fight back, but a testimony like that was not going to make this easy for him.
“Your Honor,” the prosecution said, “it’s clear to me that the defendant has no respect for the Federation. He should be detained at once, before the threat he poses gets out of hand.”
“Objection!” Odo said, standing. “There’s no evidence that Dax has no respect for the Federation. His claim is true—the Federation hasn’t been able to make a difference in the recent galactic conflict, not by any fault of theirs, but due to the threat of the Klingons.”
The prosecution tilted his head at Odo, and odd smile teasing his mouth. “Statement withdrawn, Your Honor.”
Odo carefully lowered himself into his seat, keeping eye contact. The prosecution’s gaze didn’t even flinch. He walked steadily across the front of the room until he reached Miro’s stand again and turned his back to Odo. Odo frowned and leaned forward in his seat. This was about to get interesting.
“Dax,” the prosecution said, “what exactly do you intend to accomplish with your ‘vigilante justice’?”
“I’m trying to save all your necks,” Miro said. “Not that any of you apparently care about that.”
“Save ‘all of our necks’ from what, exactly?”
“Anything,” Miro said. “I’ve seen this galaxy when it was at its prime. And seeing it now…it’s a disaster. Viresa’s the main problem right now, obviously, and little wars like the dispute with the Klingons don’t help matters at all. But really…anything. Problem is, I can’t be everywhere at once, and no one seems interested in helping me out here.”
The prosecution clasped his hands behind his back. “You say you’ve seen the galaxy at its prime. Would you describe how it was then?”
Miro shrugged. “Does it matter?”
“Why wouldn’t it?”
“I’m not setting any specific goals,” Miro said. “I’m not trying to get the galaxy back to how it was. Who knows if that’ll ever happen. I’m just trying to stop us all from killing each other off. I’d go for galactic peace, but at this point, that’s a long shot. I’ll settle for just a little less wars, and maybe a Romulan Empire in decline.”
“If you’re not trying to get the galaxy back to how it was,” the prosecution said, “does that mean you don’t believe there’s any hope for such a turnaround?”
“A change that large-scale?” Miro said. “You’re kidding me, right? That doesn’t happen in one man’s lifetime. There’s no way I could expect to see that.”
“But you’re Dax,” the prosecution said. “You’ll live far longer than the rest of us. Don’t tell me you don’t have some idea of how things could be, some desire to see things through to a specific conclusion. After all, you seem plenty eager to enforce your own version of ‘galactic peace’ on all of us. Exactly what do you have in mind?”
Miro frowned. “I’m not some kind of plotting mastermind, if that’s what you’re asking. I’m not trying to micromanage. I don’t have a plan.”
“Ah. So what you’re saying is, you have no better idea of how you’re going to save the galaxy than the rest of us do?”
“Well, not really, but—”
“Then I fail to see why we should trust you, a man with little interest in allies or cooperation, to accomplish what entire fleets have failed to accomplish. In fact, I see no reason why you shouldn’t be tried for your crimes against the Federation. I think we can all agree that your actions are only likely to stir up conflict, attacking people left and right the way you do—”
“Objection!” Odo said. “No evidence has been brought before this court suggesting that Dax attacks people ‘left and right’.”
“Yes,” the prosecution said, smiling, “my mistake.” He turned back to Miro. “Well, Dax, what do you have to say to the jury? Is there method to your madness? How can we predict who you’ll decide is in violation of your own code of peace at any one time?”
“Whoever’s doing the firing,” Miro said.
“Then…if you approached a battle that was already well underway, you would consider both sides a threat to galactic peace?”
“If both sides were firing weapons?” Miro said. “Hell yes.”
“Even if one side was doing so only in self defense, and had no desire to inflict damage on the other?”
Miro frowned. “There’s no way I could know—”
“Ah, yes. Another example of why your ‘vigilante justice’ cannot be trusted. You don’t have the intelligence Starfleet or other military forces do, no way to know without seeing for yourself the reason behind one battle or another. What you call a pursuit of peace is in fact a threat to that very peace, and I submit that you should not be allowed free rein over this galaxy any longer.”
“I’m a threat to peace?” Miro repeated. “For fate’s sake—”
“Are you telling me you have access to intelligence?” the prosecution asked. “Or that you have the resources to defend the galaxy against the people you perceive to be threats? Or that you have the tactical training to make a difference in battle? Or that you have the reach to be everywhere you need to be?”
“Tactical training?” Miro scoffed. “Doesn’t seem to do you much good!”
The prosecution raised his eyebrows. “Oh?”
“And accusing me of not having enough reach?” Miro shook his head. “Please! As if the Federation does any better!”
“And don’t even get me started on resources,” Miro said. “I’ve seen how the Federation defends itself. I lived on Trill’s southern continent. I watched my home go up in flames when the Klingons attacked. Where were your resources then?”
“Why, Dax,” the prosecution said with a smile, “one would almost think you didn’t like us.”
Miro glared at him. “Starfleet let millions die. Can you blame me?”
Odo sighed, shaking his head.
The prosecution smirked. “I have no further questions, Your Honor.”
“Defense?” Simler said. “Would you like to cross?”
“Indeed I would, Your Honor.” Odo wasted no time in crossing the room to address Simler directly. “I’d like to bring to light just one important fact: Miro Dax is not the only rogue within the Federation. He is, however, the only rogue currently considered a threat, and I would like to contest that.” He paced over to the stand. “Dax, I’m going to cut straight to the true issue here. Have you made any attempts to sabotage the Federation?”
Miro blinked. “Why would I want to do that?”
“Are you telling me you haven’t?”
“Well, no!” Miro said. “That’d be a bit counter-productive, wouldn’t it? Why would I want to put the Federation in jeopardy? I’m trying to save the galaxy, not plunge it into further ruin!”
“Really?” Odo said. “Because from what you just said, it sounds as if you have little respect for the Federation.”
Miro’s jaw opened and shut, and Odo saw the exact moment he realized that he’d just inadvertently sabotaged himself.
“Whatever animosity I have for the Federation is purely personal,” Miro finally said flatly. “I don’t let it interfere with my…work. That’s what Viresa would love for me to do—help her plunge the galaxy into ruin. Help her destroy the Federation. I’m trying to stop her.”
Odo smiled. “Well, I’m glad we’ve gotten that straightened out. Now, Your Honor—” He faced Simler. “—I’d just like to point out the parallels between Dax’s situation and the Maquis.”
“Objection!” the prosecution called out. “That case has no bearing on Dax’s situation.”
“I’m inclined to disagree,” Odo said sharply. “Your Honor, the Maquis are rogues as well. They’re somewhat autonomous, a legal gray zone, if you will. They’re overlooked—a far cry from how they were treated almost a thousand years ago. The last time I was in this quadrant, they were seen as a source of tension, much like Miro Dax is now. They were seen as an unpredictable element and a threat to peace. Every effort was made to quell them. The end result? They’re now left alone.”
The prosecution stood. “I object! The parallels are there, but we cannot allow ourselves to be misguided by a coincidental correlation! Just because Dax’s case is similar to that of the Maquis does not mean he deserves the same treatment!”
“Indeed he doesn’t,” Odo said. “He deserves better.”
Chatter swelled in the audience until it reached a roar. Odo stood still, eyes on Simler, unrelenting. He would not be swayed by controversy.
Simler banged the gavel. “Order! Order!”
After several moments, the roar died back down.
“Odo,” Simler ground out, “I suggest you present your case quickly and succinctly, or I shall be forced to determine you unfit to serve as representative.”
“And I suggest you allow me to do my job,” Odo said, advancing on her. “You have no grounds on which to dismiss me. I’m only acting in the best interests of the defendant—and in this case, those interests align with those of Starfleet. I’m doing you a favor, Madam, I hope you don’t let this opportunity go to waste.”
Simler frowned. “What opportunity?”
Odo relented just slightly, backing up a step. “I’m so glad you asked. Your Honor, Miro Dax is not a threat. He may just be what the Federation needs. But first you will have to realize that he is not part of the Federation.”
“Objection!” the prosecution said. “That’s a direct falsehood.”
“Is it?” Odo challenged him. He turned to Miro. “Dax, how long has it been since you last crossed into Federation territory?”
Miro’s shoulders drew back a bit. “I haven’t. I left, and I never returned until now.”
“Why?” Odo asked.
Miro shrugged. “Just didn’t feel like sticking around, I guess.”
“Your Honor, this is absurd,” the prosecution said. “If every Federation citizen were allowed to dissociate simply on the grounds that they ‘felt like it’—”
“Was any effort made to apprehend Dax when he left?” Odo asked.
The prosecution blinked. “Well, no!”
“And might I inquire why?”
“We were engaged against the Klingons,” the prosecution ground out. “We didn’t have time to track down minor insurgents.”
“Minor insurgents?” Odo repeated. “Dax, have you ever in any way risen up against the Federation?”
Miro shook his head. “Nope. Like I said, fighting the Federation’s not my priority. Or even an interest of mine.”
“I stand corrected,” the prosecution said, his smile returning. “We didn’t have time to track down vigilantes.”
Odo frowned. “You didn’t have the time? Are you telling me you have the time now?”
“Of course not!”
“So why is Miro Dax at the stand?”
“Because he landed right on our doorstep.” The prosecution smiled at Miro. “Quite literally.”
“Then, you arrested him for returning home?” Odo said. “If that’s how you intend to encourage your citizens not to split off, it’s a wonder they don’t all leave.”
“We arrested him for vigilante justice,” the prosecution said.
“But you made no effort to track him down before now. Was he not that important to you?”
The prosecution hesitated. “We…simply don’t have the resources. We couldn’t scour the galaxy looking for him.”
“Why not?” Odo asked. “Where are your resources devoted?”
“The front lines,” the prosecution said. “The war with the Klingons. A much higher priority, I’m sure you’ll admit.”
“I see.” Odo paused for effect. “Are you telling me that you consider Miro Dax a threat to galactic peace, and yet you’re too preoccupied with your war against the Klingons to confront that perceived threat?”
The prosecution’s jaw opened and shut, but no sound came out.
Satisfied, Odo turned to address Simler. “Well, the situation is very clear to me. Miro Dax poses no threat to the Federation. He’s one man. He may not be capable of saving the galaxy on his own, but surely that goes both ways—how can he be capable of plunging it into ruin on his own? Why should the blame for chaos lay squarely on his shoulders, just because he’s trying to make a difference in the only way he knows how? And why should he even be bothered with, when groups such as the Maquis are largely ignored and yet are making no such contribution toward galactic peace?” Odo turned to Miro. “Dax, why don’t you clarify something I don’t quite understand. Why are you risking life and limb for a galaxy that has offered you precious little in return?”
“Because I see its potential,” Miro said. “I may never see it reach that potential, but I see it. And who better than a joined Trill—and Dax, no less—to fight for that potential? I know the galaxy better than anyone in this room. I’ve watched it flounder and rise and stumble. And if I can still see its potential after all this time…” He looked around. “Why should you stop me?”
Odo smiled. “I couldn’t have said it better. Your Honor, I submit that Miro Dax deserves the same legal autonomy as the Maquis. And as for the question of how the Federation should deal with the ‘unique’ situation he presents…” He looked up at Simler. “I think Starfleet would do well to cooperate with him. This could be the most fruitful alliance of the century.”
Odo glanced over at Miro as he said that, and noticed the Trill had and…odd…expression on his face. It was halfway between annoyance and gratitude. Annoyance, probably because Miro had never had any intention of working together with Starfleet, but gratitude because…well…wasn’t it obvious? Odo had defended him well, and they both knew it.
The prosecution smirked at him. “That may be…but only if Dax is mentally capable of the heroism you suggest.”
Odo frowned. “There’s no evidence that—”
The prosecution smiled. “Ah, but there is. Your Honor, I would like to call a new witness to the stand: Eella Kirel, Miro Dax’s therapist.”
Odo furrowed his brows…or, that is, what passed for them. “His therapist?”
“Odo,” Simler said, “if you have no more questions for the defendant, I’ll grant the prosecution his request.”
Odo’s frown deepened, before he nodded slowly. This kind of crucial information—the fact that Miro had ever had a need for a therapist—was exactly the sort he would have liked to have obtained from Miro beforehand. He needed to know this kind of thing. Perhaps this was why Naral had delayed their arrival on Earth. She might have known about a therapist, after all, if she’d known Miro before he’d left Trill.
“I have no more questions,” Odo said.
The prosecution nodded. “Then I call Eella Kirel to the stand.”
Of course Naral would use her against him.
Miro’s knuckles clenched white as he retreated from the stand and slipped into his seat next to Odo. Odo himself seemed infuriatingly calm, especially for having essentially surrendered the floor to the prosecution. His arms were crossed, but he was leaning back in his seat, looking almost relaxed as he watched the prosecution with interest.
Miro took a deep breath and closed his eyes as he heard the approaching footsteps. He forced them back open just as a wiry old Trill woman took the stand. She had silvery gray hair that was brushed back from her face and secured in a bun. Her blue eyes were kind and soft, too soft, and Miro clenched his jaw against the ire that rose within him. This was absolutely unfair. Why did she have to testify? She was about to dismantle his reputation before the whole court.
And before Eeris and Odo. He had never wanted them to see this side of himself.
“Kirel,” the prosecution said, “please state your occupation for the jury.”
“I’m a therapist with the Symbiosis Psychiatric Committee on Trill,” Kirel stated.
“And what is your connection to the defendant?”
Her eyes found Miro’s inevitably, and he railed against her compassion as she smiled at him. “I worked with him when he was first joined…quite extensively.”
Miro ground his teeth. There it was, stated before the entire court. Miro Dax, galactic hero, was a mental case.
“What was your impression of Miro Dax?”
“Determined,” Kirel said. “Driven. He was one of the best initiates I ever had the pleasure to work with. I want that clear, before any of his mental health records are brought before the court. I’m joined myself and I’ve known Dax for some time, though not personally. Miro here is the best choice for the symbiont there is.”
Miro blinked in surprise.
“More to the point,” the prosecution said, “how would you describe the condition in which Miro Dax came to you?”
Now, Kirel hesitated. “I really would say that Miro’s brilliance is part of the point—”
“Kirel,” the prosecution said, “please answer the question.”
Kirel sighed. “He wasn’t in a good place.”
“You have to understand,” Kirel said, “joining with a symbiont, especially one as old as Dax, is no easy undertaking—”
“Your Honor,” the prosecution said, “I request that the witness be ordered to answer the question directly.”
“Kirel,” Simler said cooly, “please answer the question.”
Uncertainty flickered in Kirel’s eyes. “Miro…was troubled. The symbiont…overwhelmed him. His mind…”
Images of a hundred therapy sessions flashed across Miro’s mind, and he gripped the edge of the tabletop as he forced the memories away.
“Continue,” the prosecution said.
Kirel’s eyes met Miro’s across the room as she spoke, as if in apology. “He struggled to find his sense of self. Dax’s memories consumed him. The symbiont had been subjected to trauma that should have been treated early on—about nine hundred years ago.”
The prosecution smiled, eyes seeming to glint as he glanced over at Miro. “Kirel, are you telling me that the man who claims to be the hero this galaxy needs is actually a trauma victim? And one who doesn’t even have a clear sense of self?”
“No,” Kirel stated clearly. “I’m not saying that at all. Yes, the symbiont—Dax—has suffered trauma. And yes, that’s trauma that Miro has learned to live with in his daily life. It’s something Dax’s hosts will never be completely free from. I won’t bore you with the scientific details, but the specific nature of the trauma means the more hosts Dax has, the more difficult things will get. But I would posit that only Miro can tell you how clear his sense of self is. That’s not for me to determine.”
“Then I’d like to call Dax back to the stand,” the prosecution said. “Unless the defense would like to cross?”
Next to Miro, Odo spoke up. “I think Kirel has made her point very clear. She doesn’t believe whatever the Dax symbiont has suffered in the past has any bearing on this case. I don’t know what else I can contribute to that.”
Simler nodded. “Then you will approach the stand, Dax.”
Miro tensed as he stood and took his place before the court. He barely registered the reassuring nod Odo offered him. He hadn’t just wanted to discuss his defense before the hearing because he didn’t trust the constable. This was part of why. There was no way Odo could have come prepared for this. For one thing, it wasn’t easy to find on record—the Symbiosis Committee had made sure of that. Always too busy protecting their reputation to leave valuable data behind where it could be found. And for another thing, Miro had never wanted Odo or Eeris—let alone a whole courtroom—to know about this particular part of his past. It was entirely too humiliating.
Odo was a skilled investigator. But he had no idea what he was dealing with here.
“Dax,” the prosecution said, “why don’t you answer the question I’m sure is on all of our minds? Just how mentally fit are you to save the galaxy?”
Miro’s jaw tightened, fingers clenching around the corners of the stand. “As fit as I need to be.”
“Define ‘as fit as you need to be.’”
“What do you expect me to say?” Miro demanded. “It’s not like there’s an aptitude test for it!”
“No…but I assume you have some idea of your competence as the galaxy’s hero, don’t you?”
Miro gritted his teeth. “Well, yes.”
“Then why don’t you tell us?” The prosecution wandered closer, eyes glinting with a devilish light. “Or are you too afraid of the answer?”
Miro glared at him. “I’m not afraid of anything.”
“Aren’t you?” The prosecution smiled and wandered about to face the audience. “I think you doubt your own competence. I think you don’t believe you should ever have been discharged from Eella Kirel’s tender care. I think you won’t tell that to the court because it’s an embarrassment to Dax. But you know what else I think?” He walked over to the stand and leaned into Miro’s space. “I think that deep down, you know Dax’s shoes are too big for you to fill.”
Miro swallowed, knuckles clenched white over the stand.
“Objection!” Odo called out. “He’s leading the defendant.”
“Sustained,” Simler announced.
Miro forced air through his lungs and blew it out in a controlled breath. He had the best law enforcement officer in the quadrant on his side. He could get through this.
The prosecution had taken a step back to give Miro space, but he rallied quickly. “Dax, I haven’t heard an answer from you. Do you doubt your own competence?”
Miro clenched his jaw.
“Dax?” the prosecution said. “I asked you a question.”
Miro swallowed. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out. Grimacing, he shifted in place, working his jaw as he tried to get his tongue to work.
“I’m waiting,” the prosecution said.
Miro cleared his throat. “Yes.”
“I didn’t catch that. Do you doubt your own competence, Dax?”
“Yes, damn it!” Miro yelled. “Fate, who wouldn’t? Just try stepping inside my shoes for once and you tell me how easy it is to fix an imploding galaxy! But you’re too busy trying to stop me! Well what’s the point? I don’t see you trying to get out there and make a difference!”
“I think we’re missing the point here,” the prosecution said. “Do you doubt your own competence because of your symbiont’s trauma?”
Miro’s jaw fell open. “I—”
Miro sighed. “Yes.”
The word felt odd in his mouth, like it had left a bad taste behind. Miro grimaced as he looked around the audience, surveying the damage. His eyes landed on Eeris, sitting in the front row and leaning forward with earnest attention. Her eyes were wide and concerned, and he flinched away, unable to look at her any longer. He had never wanted her to know this. He had never wanted anyone to know this.
Also in the front row, Kirel’s eyes caught his. She looked…disappointed.
Miro tore his gaze away from the audience. Damn her. Damn them all. This wasn’t right, it wasn’t fair. He risked life and limb to save a galaxy that was probably far beyond saving, and for what? Humiliation? He was little more than a public spectacle now. Not someone the people he tried to protect every day would respect.
“Pray tell,” the prosecution said, smirking, “if you doubt your own competence for such a valid reason, why are we here? Why are we even bothering? It seems to me, Your Honor, that this case should be open and shut. Dax is incompetent, and we should not be wasting our time with the notion that he might save us.”
His prosecution had probably just won this case, slam dunk. But the part that hurt the most was that he was right.
Miro wasn’t going to save the day. He wasn’t going to win. He wasn’t going to stop Viresa no matter how determined he was to risk his life. He’d never live up to Dax’s example—that had been set in stone from day one, the day he’d been joined and the memories of nine hundred years of hardship had rolled over him like a tidal surge, nothing like the revelatory experience his training had prepared him for. He was the first Dax host to suffer from the trauma nine hundred years back. He’d never be the same, never be enough. And he’d been a fool to think he could convince himself—or the galaxy—otherwise.
“If you have no more questions,” Odo said, “I’d like to cross.”
Miro sighed and sagged against the stand. Let Odo do what he could, but nothing could save him now.
“I have no further questions,” the prosecution said and retreated to his seat.
Nodding, Odo stood and approached the stand.
“Miro Dax,” Odo said, sounding far too confident for his own good, “I confess I’m a little bit shocked. I’ve known you for the better part of two months. And no, we haven’t always gotten along, but I’ve always respected you. Now you tell me that all these dreams of grandeur you have…are just fantasies?”
Miro glared at him. What the hell was Odo on about—was he trying to make sure Miro’s reputation was well and truly dismantled?
A slight smile lifting the corner of his mouth, Odo turned to face the audience for an instant. “Now, I like to think of myself as a fairly good judge of humanoid behavior. Wouldn’t you agree, Dax?”
“Dax?” Odo asked, looking him in the eye. “Wouldn’t you agree?”
Miro sighed. “Best there is.”
“I don’t think the audience heard you.”
Miro rolled his eyes, but projected his voice this time. “Best there is.”
Odo smiled. “The fact is, I’ve spent my life observing humanoids. I’ve never quite fit in with all of you—a consequence of the face.” He gestured vaguely at his features, the same unfinished ones Miro had known for so many years. “Every aspect of humanoid behavior, I’ve had to carefully observe and learn to emulate. None of it came naturally. And so when I tell you that I have never once observed indications of trauma from this man, I hope you’ll accept that as a valid and accurate judgement.”
“Can I just say,” the prosecution interjected, “it’s already been established—by the defendant’s therapist herself—that the symbiont Dax has suffered trauma. That isn’t in dispute.”
“No, of course not,” Odo said. “But I would dispute the fact that said trauma has any bearing on this case. This case only concerns the matter of how the Federation and Starfleet in particular should react to Miro Dax, and I’ve seen no evidence that this ‘trauma’ we speak of impedes his ability to defend us all.”
Miro blinked. That was…unexpected.
“And if I may,” Odo added, “I’d like to call to the stand someone else who’s had very close dealings with the defendant in the last couple months, and who will surely be able to comment on his competence.”
Simler inclined her head, respect dawning over her features for the first time since Odo had entered the room. “And who would that be?”
“A young friend of Miro’s,” Odo said, turning to face the audience. “Is Kira Eeris here?”
Miro frowned. Odo was calling on Eeris?
How the hell was she supposed to testify in his defense?
Granted, she’d shown a bit more sensitivity earlier, when she’d come back to inform him that the Challenger was gone. But Eeris didn’t understand him. Any respect she had for his privacy was just because of that chastisement she’d mentioned Odo had given her. And what was to say she’d even agree to testify?
The silence in the courtroom spoke volumes.
“Kira Eeris?” Simler asked. “You have been called to the stand.”
Miro waited, holding his breath. His eyes reluctantly found Eeris in the front row. She looked like a deer caught in headlights. Her gaze darted between Odo and Miro and back again, before she finally swung up to her feet and headed toward the front of the room.
Odo smiled at her encouragingly as she passed, and Miro surrendered the stand, returning to his table. By the time he was seated, Eeris had taken her place and was glancing about the room uncertainly, eyes wide and jaw set in defiance. She looked tense, afraid. And that was when Miro realized the true danger of the situation. She didn’t have control over this situation. In fact, by calling her out, Odo had truly cast her adrift and left her to flounder for balance. And Miro knew all too well how Eeris would react to such a loss of control. He’d seen it firsthand, and the results would not be good.
Miro noticed as Odo approached the stand to address Eeris that his entire demeanor changed. Gone was the impassive, gruff, stiff constable, and in its place was someone much more tender. He was trying to ease this situation for her. He knew the risk he had taken, and was doing his best to make Eeris more comfortable. Miro just hoped that it would work.
“Kira Eeris,” Odo said, “would you tell the jury a little bit about who you are?”
Eeris swallowed, and Miro could see her tension in the trembling of her shoulders and the set of her jaw. “I was Bajor’s successor to the Steward.”
“For those of you who are unfamiliar with Bajoran internal affairs,” Odo said, “the role of the Steward is to provide counsel to the Bajoran people.” He turned back to face Eeris. “But you’re not the Steward now, are you? Would you explain what happened for the court?”
Eeris bit her lip. “I refused the throne. I didn’t want power. I wanted to escape.”
“Well, clearly you succeeded,” Odo said. “But…if you’ll pardon me, that sounds rather impossible. Bajor is isolated. There’s rarely any transportation to and from other regions of the sector and the Bajoran system. How did you manage to escape?”
Now, Eeris looked at Miro. “Miro helped me.”
Miro couldn’t help it—he swelled a little with pride. Angry as he’d been with her, he knew taking her on board hadn’t been a mistake. He’d been lonely before, betrayed, isolated. He hadn’t realized how much that had affected him until Eeris came on board. He’d once believed she was a liability. Maybe that was still true, but there was no way he was listening to his better judgement and letting her go now.
“Miro helped you?” Odo repeated, raising his eyebrows—or, rather, doing a pretty good impression of it for someone who didn’t have facial hair whatsoever—and glancing at Miro. “How?”
“He took me on board his ship,” Eeris said. “Didn’t even try to get to know me first. He just took me on board, no questions asked. I was so sure it was too good to be true.”
“Well, that sounds rather…generous…of him,” Odo said. He turned to Eeris. “Now, Eeris, you’ve known Dax for how long?”
“Just a couple months,” she said. “Intermittently. We, uh, we were separated for a few weeks in the middle.”
Odo nodded. “I see. Why don’t you describe Miro Dax for the court?”
Eeris looked up at Odo uncertainly, but he only nodded his encouragement. She took a deep breath and drew herself up taller, and Miro watched with pride as her fear morphed into courage.
“He’s fantastic,” Eeris said. “He’s amazing. He’s…such a good friend, I don’t deserve him. He’s private, and he’s been through a lot, but who wouldn’t after over a thousand years? That used to upset me. It used to scare me, that he wouldn’t talk, that he kept so many secrets. Well, actually, it still does.” She straightened and swept her gaze across the audience, her jaw set in determination, the fire in her eyes brooking no argument. “But the thing is, that’s not what matters. Miro is the man who’s going to save the galaxy. He saved me, and he can save us all. He’s our hero. He risks everything to confront the most dangerous empress there is, and for what? What’s in it for him? Glory? Apparently not, if this court is anything to go by. You’d all rather drag him through the dirt for helping you. He’s just doing it because he believes it’s the right thing to do. And I think that’s noble.” She paused and cleared her throat. “But if you want to punish him for it, that’s up to you. You’ll realize you made a mistake when peace comes crumbling down around you.”
Miro stared at her, jaw scraping the floor, in the silence that followed Eeris’s speech. Had she just…had she said that? Was he hearing things?
She believed in him?
Why should she? He had never once shown her he could do this. She’d gotten captured by Cardassians, and it took him three weeks to get back to her, and why? Because he was too fixated on staying away from Bajor, and he’d prioritized confronting Viresa over saving her. If that wasn’t an indication that his past did interfere with his judgement, that he wasn’t fit to be a hero, he didn’t know what was. But she believed he could make a difference?
Miro felt a smile spread across his face, despite his best efforts to contain it. Eeris believed. She’d said so before an entire court. She thought it was a mistake for anyone to stop him.
She believed in him.
“Thank you, Eeris,” Odo said. “Now, there’s something else I’m hoping you can clarify for me. You’ve known Dax almost as long as I have…and have you ever once felt that he was mentally unfit to do what he wants to do for the galaxy?”
“Never,” Eeris said. “He’s private, yeah. But whatever nightmares he’s got to contend with, I trust him to work through them on his own. He doesn’t need anyone to coddle him. And he sure doesn’t need a court to rule against him.” She lifted her chin. “I’ll say it if no one else will. This is discrimination. And I know a thing or two about that. I…my arms.”
A low din of chatter rippled through the audience. Miro blinked slowly, struggling to comprehend this turn of events. He’d been willing to believe that Odo could get him out of this. He’d been skeptical, he’d been hesitant to trust the Changeling, but when it came right down to it, he’d known Odo was his only chance—and he’d never doubted that Odo could sway a courtroom. But Eeris? He’d never expected his most vehement defense to come from her. He’d been willing to forgive her, but he’d slammed the door on trust.
Now…he wasn’t so sure.
“I couldn’t have said it better,” Odo announced. “Your Honor, the prosecution’s concern is reasonable but completely unfounded. The question of Dax’s mental competence was not even raised until the mere fact that he once had a therapist was brought to light. We are not questioning his competency on the basis of any mistakes he has made to date, but on the basis that we fear he may make mistakes in the future. Well, I think that’s both ludicrous and foolhardy, when he’s offering the help the galaxy desperately needs.”
“Have you any further questions for this witness?” Simler asked.
Odo shook his head. “I think I’ve covered everything that needs to be said.”
Simler nodded. “Prosecution, any questions?”
The prosecution remained at his table. “No, Your Honor.”
Miro didn’t miss Odo’s smile.
“Then you may leave the stand, Kira Eeris,” Simler said. “Thank you for your candidness.”
Eeris wasted no time in dashing past Miro’s table and down the aisle. He watched her go over his shoulder, disappearing into some audience seat in one of the middle rows. He didn’t blame her. She’d been thrust into the spotlight with no warning whatsoever, and he couldn’t imagine that being at the center of attention was comfortable for someone who’d been discriminated against for her obvious lack of arms.
“Prosecution,” Simler said, “any more witnesses?”
“No, Your Honor.”
Simler looked to Odo. “Defense?”
Odo shook his head. “No, Your Honor.”
Simler nodded. “Then the jury will convene.” And she slammed the gavel down.
Miro was sentenced to two years of community service to make up for two years of vigilante justice.
He’d almost laughed when Simler had announced the verdict. She was archaic and traditional, and was maintaining order within the Federation in the only way she knew how: by refusing to admit that Miro was completely in the right, and the galaxy needed him. But “community service” was just her way of saying galaxy service, and the details were laughable. Miro was to work alongside Starfleet in its pursuit of galactic peace.
His punishment for trying to save the galaxy…was to keep trying to save the galaxy.
The downside was that, in a way, Miro had lost this case. For two years, he had enjoyed the neutrality that came with being not only a vigilante, but on the run from Federation authority. He had always known that if he wasn’t careful, this was exactly what would happen upon his return home. So he’d simply stayed away. And maybe that was partly out of resentment for the officers who hadn’t even tried to defend his home, but only partly. Emotion wasn’t something that tended to cloud Miro’s judgement. Trauma did, but emotion…not so much. He’d lived too long for that.
No, the main reason he’d stayed away was so that he could pretend, just for a while, that he truly was neutral. He could pretend he wasn’t a Federation citizen at all. He could pretend he had no attachments, no legal obligations, no authorities watching over his shoulder. Anyone who might want to lock him up was light-years away, and he wasn’t worth the effort to chase down. And neutrality definitely had its benefits. A lack of neutrality was exactly what had started the rapid decline of the galaxy nine hundred years ago. Having allies was dangerous—it made for a tangled web of political obligation that Miro had no interest in getting trapped in.
But he had to admit, a political obligation to be Starfleet’s vigilante-for-hire was better than being stuck in a cell doing nothing. Odo had done his best, and his best was pretty damn good.
Miro stiffened, fingers curling around the edge of his bench. He’d know that voice anywhere. Eella Kirel.
“What are you still doing here?” he snapped. “You did your job. Thanks for the sparkling review. Now don’t you have a patient to attend to?”
“Actually,” Kirel said, joining him on the bench, “I took a week off.”
“Hmm,” Miro said. “And who’s the lucky Trill?”
Kirel frowned at him. “Miro, were my services really so terrible?”
He looked away, shame at his callousness and irritation at her flooding him in equal measure. For all the friction between them, he knew she’d been invaluable to his recovery two years ago.
“No,” he muttered.
“Then I fail to see why you’re so resentful.”
“Maybe because you still look down on me, even after everything,” Miro snapped. “I saw the look on your face when the prosecution got me to admit that I felt…” He trailed off, clearing his throat. “Inadequate.”
Kirel softened. “Miro, my disappointment was in myself. I had no idea the symbiont’s trauma was still troubling you this much.”
“Yes, you did,” Miro said. “You knew it would always trouble me, and you prepared me for that. Now…” He sighed and looked away. “I’ve failed.”
“No, you haven’t,” Kirel said.
He scoffed. “Sure.”
“Miro, level with me. Are you still experiencing flashbacks?”
“Not often,” he admitted.
“Haven’t had one of those in quite a while.”
“Well,” Miro said, “I think getting disoriented when lots of people are firing at you is kind of normal.”
Kirel smiled. “Miro, two years ago, phaser fire would have triggered a flashback.”
He snorted. “You’re forgetting the panic attacks.”
“Indeed. Precisely my point. You are doing better.”
“I always believed in you,” Kirel said. “And that’s never more true than it is now. Do you think I would take a week off to attend your hearing if I didn’t believe you could be helped?”
Miro chuckled. “Kirel, you didn’t believe I could be helped two and a half years ago. You were all set to discharge me.”
“I was bluffing. I hoped you would recognize your own denial, and choose to stay regardless.”
“Sure you did,” Miro said. “But you weren’t bluffing. Admit it, you were desperate. You didn’t know what the heck to do with me.”
Kirel smiled. “I admit you were one of my more difficult patients.”
Miro smirked. “Glad to hear it.”
Kirel shook her head in amusement. “It is good to see you again, Miro. I’m glad you’re doing well. It’s not often I have the opportunity to follow up with my patients this far in the future.”
Miro finally favored her with a true smile. “Well…just so long as you don’t keep poking your nose in my business, it was good to see you too.”
Kirel’s smile reached her eyes. “You have no idea how gratifying it is to hear that.”
“I think I have some idea.” Miro straightened and waved a hand at her dismissively. “Now go, get out of my hair. Can’t you see I don’t need a therapist anymore?”
“That’s never been more apparent,” Kirel said and stood. “Good luck, Miro. I trust you’ll do this galaxy good.”
“No pressure or anything,” Miro muttered as she walked away.
What Kirel still didn’t know was that, two and a half years ago when she had been prepared to lay down her cards and discharge him, Miro hadn’t stayed because he believed he needed the help. No, he’d still been too deeply entrenched in his denial for that. He’d stayed simply to spite the Symbiosis Committee. He’d already been there for six months, which was all the time the Psychiatric Committee allotted its patients. Staying meant being granted a continuance, and it meant shaming the Symbiosis Committee. They didn’t like to admit that sometimes, the joining got messed up, and their patients needed more than six months of help.
As far as Kirel was concerned, Miro had stayed because she had put her entire career on the line for him when she begged the committee for his continuance. And Miro was just fine with that. It probably would have been his reason, if he had been in a less…shell-shocked…state of mind at the time.
After Kirel was gone, Miro stood from the bench outside the courtroom and started back down the hallway of Federation Headquarters. If anyone had told him twenty-four hours ago that he would voluntarily hang out in this building after being released from custody and declared a free man, he would have laughed in disbelief. But that was exactly what he was doing. Because stalling in a building where he was no longer considered a criminal was worlds better than facing Odo and Eeris on the Challenger.
But the universe, it seemed, was determined to throw obstacles his way regardless. Approaching him—and standing between him and the freedom of the outdoors—was Naral Prallax.
Miro tensed and came to a halt, glaring daggers at her. He’d told Eeris he was angry with Naral. Angry didn’t even begin to cover it. No, he didn’t hate her, but her perpetual desire to keep him out of harm’s way was really getting old, and it didn’t help that he couldn’t even look at her without imagining the screams as everyone he knew burned in the Klingons’ flames. And she had the nerve to approach him now, when it was her fault he’d gone through all this hassle—he could have avoided the border patrol routes, landed near a good pawn shop, traded in that book, and been out of there before Viresa even had time to plan her next conquest, if Naral hadn’t given him away.
“Naral,” he said as she approached.
Naral took one look at his expression and sighed, shaking her head. “One day, Miro, you’ll see I was right. Or, at least, I hope you will.”
“I wouldn’t count on it,” Miro said.
“This isn’t over,” Naral said. “That Changeling friend of yours…he was good. Better than good. I thought I had you beaten when I got you dragged into court—you never were good at playing nice with the law. Next time, I’ll anticipate him.”
Miro smiled. “Oh, Naral. He’s not the one you should be worried about. I was the wrong enemy to make.”
“Oh, is that so?”
His smile went cold. “Let’s get one thing straight, Naral. If you think my…sentiment…for our friendship is going to hold me back, you’re sorely mistaken. Yeah, I’ll probably always miss you, but that’s the worst part.” He paused. “I don’t take kindly to betrayal.”
“I haven’t betrayed you,” she said earnestly.
Miro nodded. He’d had a long night in a holding cell before his hearing to accept that she would always believe that, and he had lost her. “I know.”
Naral watched him with sad eyes as he brushed past her, but Miro’s expression didn’t shift and he didn’t look back. That was what he was best at, in the end—not looking back. Diving headfirst into the thick of danger and not looking back. Stopping one battle or another and not looking back. Trapping his enemies and not looking back. Losing his home…and never looking back.
Losing all his friends as Ezri, all those centuries ago…and for the love of fate, if he valued his sanity, if he had any hope of moving forward and accepting the memories he was stuck with, not looking back.
He had no doubt he’d always miss Naral. Walking away from her was like twisting a knife into his soul, because for all she had done, he still cared, and that was his curse. But fate, he knew he couldn’t afford to look back. He forced himself not to look over his shoulder, not to check her expression, as he continued down the hall. He picked up his pace until his footfalls filled his ears and drowned out the desire to run back in the other direction. He pushed through the front doors of Federation Headquarters, at last a free man, and let them slam behind him. He bulldozed his way across the dirt expanse to the Challenger, jaw set, eyes locked on his destination. He would not look back.
And as he pounded up the gangplank, he realized his mistake. He still wasn’t ready to face Eeris and Odo. Odo’s inevitable sympathy, even as he respected Miro’s privacy…or Eeris’s thinly veiled curiosity.
But it was too late to turn back. If he turned around now, still on the gangplank, he’d probably run straight back to Naral and beg her to stop pursuing him, to let him go, to stop this madness once and for all so they could be friends again. And he knew he’d be wasting his time. So he took a deep breath and stepped through the airlock, into the cockpit.
Odo was leaning against the aft wall, arms crossed, clearly having saved the pilot seat for him. Eeris, on the other hand, was sitting in her typical spot, hunched over the dashboard. To the untrained eye, she might have looked dejected, like she had lost a prized possession or something. But Miro saw the glances she kept sneaking in his direction. On one hand, he appreciated her effort to stay quiet. On the other, he hated the way she and Odo both clearly felt like they were walking on thin ice. Like one wrong step and he’d break.
For fate’s sake. He was private, not broken. Doomed, perhaps, but as long as he could still fly the Challenger, he’d happily go on pretending he wasn’t.
“So, you’ve got questions,” he said, leaning one elbow casually against the bulkhead. “Go ahead, shoot.”
Eeris blinked at him, finally looking him full in the eyes. Miro smiled. That was more like it.
Odo, however, cut off anything she was about to say. “I was beginning to wonder if everything was alright. We’ve been waiting for a while now.”
Miro shrugged. “Had a few run-ins, end of story. Now, you gonna let Eeris talk or what?”
Odo frowned. “I…thought you would want her to respect your privacy.”
“Well, sure,” Miro said. “But look at her. She’s clearly bursting at the seams. She’s not gonna change overnight, you know that.” He nodded at Eeris. “Go on, ask. If I don’t wanna talk about it, you know I’ll just say that. When have I ever let you pry?”
Eeris’s mouth quirked in a tentative smile. “True.”
“So, go on!” he said. “What are you waiting for?”
“Is it true?” she asked quietly. “You don’t believe you can save us?”
Well, that was not what he’d expected she would ask.
“Well,” Miro said, “it’s kind of a tall order, you have to admit. It’s a whole galaxy we’re talking about here. Well, three quadrants if you count the Dominion’s looming threat, but same difference.”
Eeris chuckled. “You know what I mean, Miro. What you said before, in the courtroom. About…”
“…believing I can’t do it, because of…the symbiont?” Miro asked softly.
She nodded. “Well…yeah.”
“I meant it,” Miro said.
“But what I said,” Eeris said. “About, you know, how you’re the one we can count on to save us. That you can do it, no question. Do you believe that?”
Miro shrugged. “Does it matter?”
“It matters to me,” Eeris said quietly.
“Because…” She hesitated, then sighed, shoulders slumping. “Because after what I did to you, I hoped I could make a difference.”
Miro smiled. “Well, say it enough, and maybe one day you’ll convince me.”
She looked up at him hopefully.
“Yeah, Dax has left me some pretty big shoes to fill,” Miro said. “No idea if I’ll ever be enough. But I can at least try, right? That’s what I’m doing, every single day. Least I can do, really. The galaxy’s always needed a Dax.” He shrugged. “Like it or not, I’m the best it’s got.”
Eeris chuckled. “Figures, that you could be impossibly self-doubting and amazingly arrogant in the same sentence.”
Miro tilted his head in a shrug. “You know, that’s not quite what I thought you’d ask.”
“Oh?” she asked. “And what did you think I’d ask?”
Miro braced himself, hoping she wouldn’t take this as an invitation. “What happened nine hundred years ago.”
Eeris shook her head. “I don’t need to know that.”
Miro raised his eyebrows. “You don’t?”
“Course not,” Eeris said. “It’s like this whole business with Naral. It’s none of my business.”
“Well, no,” Miro said. “But I still expected…”
“Miro,” Eeris interrupted, giving him a small smile. “You have no idea how tempted I am. So stop tempting me, okay?”
Miro broke into a grin. “Sounds good, Eeris.”
With that settled, he slid into the pilot’s seat, still unable to keep his grin off his face. Yes, he’d definitely been right to take Eeris on board, and he was right to keep her around.
“Miro?” she asked hesitantly.
He tried and failed to restrain his grin. “Yes?”
“Obviously it’s none of my business, but do you want to talk about it?”
Miro snorted. “No.”
He glanced at her, pressing his lips together, but he was sure his eyes still twinkled. “Maybe someday.”
Her eyes lit up. “Really?”
He outright laughed. “Don’t get your hopes up, Eeris.”
She quickly looked away, but he caught her smile on her averted profile. Still grinning, he returned his attention to the controls.
“Alright, you two,” he said. “Ready for takeoff?”
“Almost,” Odo replied, and Miro watched over his shoulder as the Changeling disappeared into the galley.
He glanced over at Eeris. “Buckled in?”
“There’s no buckles on these seats, Miro.”
He laughed. “Exactly how I like it.” And without warning, he yanked up on the joystick. The landing thrusters engaged and lifted them off the ground. Eeris gasped and pressed herself firmly against her seat, her shoulders tensing. Miro grinned and eased up their flight as he tipped the Challenger’s nose up toward the darkness of space above.
“I can’t believe you’re keeping me around,” Eeris said wonderingly.
“Oh, come on, why wouldn’t I?” Miro asked her. “You got any idea what it was like flying alone on the Challenger? I’ll put it simply—no fun at all.”
“So I’m fun, huh?” She shot him a side grin. “Even after trying to destroy your privacy?”
Miro shrugged. “I’m willing to look past it.”
“Why?” she asked. “Miro, that’s all you knowof me. I’ve been like that every minute you’ve known me. And I’m useless out here. I’m no help to you. I’m nothing but a burden.” She sighed. “I need you, but you don’t need me.”
Miro glanced at her. “You know, Eeris…”
She looked up at him hesitantly.
“What do you think was the hardest part of all this, for me?” Miro asked quietly. “Take a guess.”
“I dunno…getting cooped up in a holding cell?”
Miro scoffed. “Hardly.”
“Um…having to trust Odo as your lawyer?”
He shook his head. “That was hard, but definitely not the worst.”
“I don’t know. What?”
Miro clenched his jaw and looked straight ahead. “Losing Naral.”
“I don’t trust easily,” he admitted. “So when someone breaks that…”
“Oh, Prophets, I’m sorry,” Eeris breathed.
“No need,” Miro said. “I’m just telling you…” He sighed and shook his head in annoyance at his own inability to communicate. “Look, Eeris, I’m not super good at expressing this stuff, but you should know it’s there. I took you on board because I needed someone, alright? And maybe it was the mistake of the century to take on a random stranger, but you turned out to be one of my better split-second decisions. So no, you are not a burden.”
“But…I hurt you,” Eeris said.
“So did Naral,” Miro said. “Worse than you did. And you have no idea how badly I wanted to run back to her, even after all this.”
Eeris looked at him tentatively. “Can I ask…”
“Have you ever…had anyone else besides her?”
He shook his head. “Never felt the need for more than one friend. We were as close as it got. I didn’t need anyone else.”
“I broke your trust,” Eeris said. “What’ll it take to get it back?”
“I don’t know,” Miro said honestly. “But you’re making a good start.”
“I’m just glad you’re keeping me around.”
“Long as you want, Eeris,” Miro said.
“You really mean that, don’t you?”
He smiled. “Yup.”
He caught her grin out of the corner of his eye, but before either of them could say anything else, a light blinked on the dashboard. It wasn’t the comm this time—it was a different subspace channel, one mainly reserved for the news service. Miro quickly swept his emotions to the side and put it up on the screen, engaging autopilot as the Challenger eased out from Earth’s atmosphere.
Eeris stared raptly at the images on the screen. “What’s that?”
“News service,” Miro said. “I catch ’em when I can. There aren’t many reporters who dare to be out there on the front lines these days, but the ones who do—well, I can’t help but respect ’em.”
Eeris nodded. On the screen, several Cardassian warships whizzed past in the darkness of space. They changed course, and an all-too-familiar planet rose up into view. Miro would know those scattered continents anywhere, however hard he tried to forget them—it was Bajor. He swallowed hard as he watched the warships descend into a low orbit. A voice-over began, the volume just barely within Miro’s range of hearing. The joint Cardassian and Romulan fleets were mobilizing. Enough ships had been sent Bajor’s way to repeat history…all over again.
Miro sighed and rested an elbow on the dashboard, scrubbing a hand over his face. How exactly was he supposed to ignore this? If Viresa had chosen to back the Cardassians enough for an occupation, billions of lives were in jeopardy. He couldn’t just stand by and do nothing. But more likely than not, this was a distraction from the real danger. It wasn’t intended for him, or for Starfleet, or any other military—Bajor had fallen off the political map, after all. This was the distraction Viresa needed to keep the Cardassians busy long enough to open the wormhole and let the Dominion through.
And besides…Miro honestly wasn’t sure if he could face Bajor again. He hated that his past was impacting him even now, when lives were at stake, but he would be no use to anyone if he relapsed. Simler had freed him on the basis that he was fit to be a hero, and there was every chance he’d lose all the progress he made if he came near Bajor.
“Miro?” Eeris asked.
He glanced up at her, then up at the viewscreen, and finally rallied. The most important thing now was to keep his head screwed on straight, to stay focused, to not be pulled off course by his own doubts.
“I just…” She hesitated, biting her lip. “You’re not going to just sit here and do nothing, are you?”
“Eeris, I don’t know what I can do,” Miro said.
“This is what you do!” she cried. “What was that hearing all about? You’re supposed to fly over there and help them!”
Miro shook his head. “I…I can’t.”
“Why? Why not?”
“No, I have a right to pry this time,” Eeris said. “Those are my people, and I’ve already abandoned them twice. I won’t do it again.”
Miro blinked. “Twice? What are you talking about?”
“I…well…I went back home, when you and Odo were away,” she admitted. “That’s how I survived. But Miro, there were Cardassians on the streets. They were all over. My father was terrified of them. He didn’t let on much to me, but I know him, he was more frazzled than I’ve ever seen him. And I just left. I knew they were a threat, you said as much back on Deep Space Nine, but I just left them.”
Miro stared at her. “You knew there were Cardassians on Bajor already? And you didn’t say anything?”
“Well, when exactly was I supposed to do that?” Eeris asked. “When you were stuck in a cell? Because I’m pretty sure there was nothing you could have done from inside Federation Headquarters!”
“When we were on the Challenger on the way to Earth,” Miro said. “You had plenty of time then.”
“And would you have done anything?” Eeris challenged him.
“You just told me you can’t do anything! What would you have done, if I’d said something sooner?”
He felt completely lost, as if he’d been tossed out on the galaxy’s roiling seas and left to flounder. There was no reason to get upset at her for holding this back, he knew that. He cringed at the thought of all the times he’d told her that Bajor was none of his concern. He’d been that desperate to keep it none of his concern. But he shouldn’t have said that to a woman who’d grown up there, and he definitely shouldn’t expect her to understand how much he wished he could help, how much he wished he could just dive in and save the day. She didn’t know how much he wished knowing about the Cardassians she’d seen would have changed anything.
“Miro,” she said, “please tell me. I think I deserve an answer this time. Why can’t you at least try to save them?”
He sighed. She was right. She deserved an answer.
“Because I can’t go back to Bajor,” he said at last. “It’s not just that I won’t. I can’t.”
“Because it’s part of what happened.” He swallowed, forcing his mouth to form the words, despite every instinct screaming at him to clam up. “Nine hundred years ago.”
For what surely edged on a full minute, Eeris was silent.
“Alright,” she said. “So drop me off on the station.”
Miro blinked. “What?”
“I said, drop me off on the station,” Eeris said. “If you won’t help them, I will. It’s my responsibility, anyway, not yours. It’s my planet, and those are my people. I’ve got to help them…and you’ve got to let me.”
Miro frowned. Where the hell was this coming from? Since when was Eeris this caring? As far as he knew, she’d never felt accepted among her people, and as someone with little desire to be kind to those who had wronged her, he’d never in a million years expected her to want to go back.
But here she was, demanding that he let her save her planet. It was no less than he would do, for every other planet in the galaxy.
“Okay,” he said, watching her carefully. “If you’re sure.”
Eeris nodded. “I am.”
“Odo should go with you. You shouldn’t be alone, not without your arms.”
She nodded again. “Sounds good.”
Miro looked her in the eye. “Eeris, are you absolutely sure about this? I don’t know when I’ll be able to come back to you. Starfleet’ll have me busy, and I’m absolutely sure this occupation is just to distract the Cardassians from the wormhole. I’ll have my hands full with the Dominion soon enough.”
Eeris smiled. “Whenever you can come…I’ll be waiting.”
Miro stared at her, drank in the sight of the woman he had whisked away from her home planet, promised the galaxy, began to trust, doubted, and then started to trust all over again. The woman who, despite her fire and her temper and her painful lack of consideration, had carved out a place in his beaten heart. He couldn’t quite believe that he had only just accepted the loss of Naral, was about to say goodbye to Eeris, and was actually considering coming back for her. He’d be better off just letting her go. He never looked back.
His hand cupped her neck of its own volition, fingers brushing through the short hair at the nape. He looked into those sharp brown eyes, not entirely sure what he expected to see…and not entirely sure if he found it. But when she smiled at him, he nodded, satisfied. She would be worth the wait, no matter how long it might be.
“Alright,” Miro said finally. “To Deep Space Nine it is.”