Miro was led up to the front of the courtroom, where he resumed his seat next to his useless lawyer. He braced himself as he prepared for the court to resume. He had an uneasy feeling about this court session—it was time to face the one charge he was innocent of, theft of the Challenger. He knew that wasn't true, and with Naral here, he had a feeling he knew who had accused him. And if she was making the effort to be here, and seeming so confident, he had the worst feeling that she had a trick or two up her sleeve. He was going to lose his ship.
Simler banged the gavel. "This court is in session. We now address the charge of theft of a Federation vessel. Will the prosecution please stand?"
A lawyer Miro didn't recognize stood. Miro's heart pounded in his throat.
"You may call your first witness."
"Your Honor," the lawyer said, "I call Naral Prallax to the stand."
Miro shut his eyes. No.
Naral gracefully stood from her place at her lawyer's side and walked up to the stand. She looked so confident standing there that Miro knew something was up. And if what he suspected was correct…
"Please identify yourself for the jury," Naral's lawyer said.
"My name is Naral Prallax," she said, smiling. Miro couldn't help but notice the way she projected her voice—like an A student giving a presentation to her class. "I'm from Trill, as you can see by the spots."
"And would you state your relationship to the accused?"
"I was his best friend," Naral said. "We traveled together. He stole my ship and left me on the planet Ebenen with no resources, no chance of escape."
Miro couldn't help himself. "Objection!"
At his side, his lawyer startled. They had agreed he wouldn't be doing the speaking.
Simler narrowed her eyes at him. "Make your case."
Miro stood, on a roll. "I didn't steal any ship. We owned it together, half and half! And she agreed to stay behind when I took the Challenger!"
"Is that true, Prallax?" Simler asked.
"No, Your Honor," Naral said calmly.
"Overruled," Simler declared. "Prosecution, you may continue."
Clenching his hands into fists, Miro fell woodenly back into his seat. This could not be happening.
"You claim that he stole your ship," Naral's lawyer said. "For clarity, please identify your ship for the jury."
"It's called the Challenger," Naral said. "And I've landed it just outside. I have its registry and ownership records with me."
"You can't possibly!" Miro cried. "What good will that do you? You know she's half mine too!"
"Hearsay," Naral said.
Simler banged the gavel. "Order!"
Miro was practically vibrating in his seat. Fate, how he ached to run out to the Challenger and stand in her cockpit once again…that was all he needed. He just needed his ship back.
"Prallax," Simler said, "you will present evidence of your claim before the court."
Naral lifted her hand, a thin piece of paper fluttering in her fingers. And Miro knew the instant he saw it what her plan was. It was the Challenger's ownership records—the old ones. The ones with only Naral's name on them, because Miro hadn't gotten his own name on the ship until later, when he'd saved up more latinum. But those records had been destroyed in the Klingon attack, and Naral knew it.
"Naral," Miro whispered. "No."
He ground his teeth. This was absolutely intolerable.
Naral's lawyer approached the stand and retrieved the documentation. Miro's nails dug into his palms as he fought to keep hold of his sanity, which was slipping away like the tide. He wouldn't help his case any if he couldn't control himself.
"Your Honor," Naral's lawyer said, approaching Simler's table and handing over the paper, "I submit that the witness, Naral Prallax, does indeed own the Challenger in full, as stated here."
"Objection," Miro said weakly. "Those records are outdated."
Simler looked at him with interest. "Sustained. Can you produce more recent documentation?"
Miro's mouth opened, but no sound came out. This was it, Naral's final victory.
"It was burned," he said.
Simler raised an eyebrow.
"No further questions for this witness," Naral's lawyer said. "I call Miro Dax to the stand."
Miro stood and did as he was told, more confident now. He barely spared Naral a glance as she surrendered her place and resumed her seat, too angry with her for words.
"Miro Dax," Naral's lawyer said, "please state your plea for the jury. Did you or did you not steal the Challenger?"
"No," Miro said. "She was half mine, and Naral agreed to let me take her. I know that's hearsay, but it's also true."
The lawyer steamrolled over him. "And yet you also claim that the records of your joint ownership have been destroyed."
"They have," Miro said, jaw tight. "We escaped during one of the Klingons' attacks. There were fires everywhere. I was barely aware of my surroundings—I must have left the paper in the house, I don't know. All I know is, once we got up into space, it was gone."
"Objection," Naral said. "I don't believe Miro was in any fit state to remember that."
"Explain," Simler said.
"He may have been cleared with the psychiatric committee," Naral said, "but that doesn't mean he was alright. He was huddled on the floor, rocking back and forth like a child when I found him. I had to ease him out of a panic attack. He was so distracted, he couldn't pilot the Challenger, and then he was upset because he watched our home burn while I was piloting. His memory's distorted, Your Honor."
"Sustained," Simler said.
"My memory isn't distorted," Miro ground out. "I know I own half the Challenger!"
"Then present your evidence," Simler said.
"I can't," Miro said. "Don't you get it? The paperwork burned! But of course Naral won't tell you that, she means to take her from me!"
"Objection!" Naral said.
Miro's fingers scrabbled at the corners of the stand, unable to believe his ears. But there was a dark, hopeless part of him that very much did believe it, and he felt that part of him rise up in earnest, before he could stop it. Despair clutched at his heart and he gripped the stand for dear life, battling with his legs to stay standing for five more minutes. He would not show weakness in front of Naral and the rest of the court, he simply would not.
"Dax," Naral's lawyer said, "can you or can you not prove that you have joint ownership over the Challenger?"
"I can't," Miro whispered.
"Then I submit that the outdated paperwork be treated as the most recent record," the lawyer said to Simler. "There is no reason to believe that it has changed, even if it is outdated."
Simler nodded. "The jury will convene." And she slammed the gavel down.
"I'm gonna lose her," Miro said.
He sat on the bench outside, back hunched and chin resting on his manacled hands. He clasped his fingers so tightly his knuckles were white.
Eeris leaned against him. The comfort was small, but he appreciated it, especially since it was all she could give with her lack of limbs.
"Maybe Odo's still on board," she said. "He won't let her take off without us."
"I wouldn't be so sure," Miro said. "He used to be a security officer, remember? Think he'll have any pity for the accused?"
"You're innocent," Eeris said. "You didn't steal her. You just can't prove it."
"Which means I'm as good as guilty," Miro said.
"Hey," she said, "stop this. It's not like you to be so…pessimistic."
"I am capable of realism," Miro said. "Been around long enough."
"Then let's try a little optimism, okay?" Eeris asked. "It'll be alright, Miro, you'll see. The galaxy needs you. We'll get the Challenger back, and we'll go save the day."
Miro couldn't help but smile at the hope in her voice. Even if it was false hope, it was still hope, and he adored her for it. Eeris was the girl who had spurned destiny and chosen her own life among the stars, no matter how difficult it might turn out to be—and what was more, she'd chosen to join him. It was no wonder she could find hope in the most desperate of situations; it hadn't been that long since she had broken free of her own shackles and taken on the universe. For him, it seemed like eons ago, and he hadn't even felt nearly that much hope.
Silently, they watched the clock tick by. They were due back in the courtroom in five minutes, and Miro didn't want to waste a minute of it.
"Suppose it doesn't matter, does it?" he mused. "I can always buy another ship."
Eeris smiled. "You could get a job. Save up."
"All the while Viresa springs her trap on the galaxy," Miro said.
"You'd catch up to her."
"And imagine how much fun she'd have if she could see me right now?" Miro raised an eyebrow. "Look at me. Miro Dax, chained to the Earth. Even my ship's gonna be taken from me."
Eeris shook her head. "She'll never know."
"Oh, she will," Miro said. "She'll notice when I stop buzzing in her ear. I'm like background static for her. She'll notice when it's missing."
"And then what?" Eeris asked.
"And then she'll strike me where it hurts," he said. "She'll plunder the galaxy bit by bit, and she'll do it while I'm trapped here and powerless to stop her."
"I thought you didn't care about the galaxy," Eeris said. "I thought it was just…obligation."
"Obligation's still obligation," Miro said, jaw tightening. "And in my case…duty." He snorted. "Look at me. Talking about duty when I'm probably about to serve time in prison while my ship gets taken away from me."
"I don't know if this will work, but I've got an idea."
He raised an eyebrow. "I could use a good idea right about now."
"Talk to Naral," she said.
He blinked. "What?"
"Talk to her," Eeris said. "Not that I know her very well, but I know that when you opened up to me, even a little, it made a world of a difference. What's to say talking to her won't do the same thing?"
"That's insane," Miro said.
"Naral told me you never told her what really happened between you," Eeris said. "And you haven't told me the whole of it, either, so I can believe it. What if you told her? What if you really explained? Think she'd hate you so much?"
Miro's hands shook. "Eeris, can't you understand that I can't talk about that? I can't even think about it!"
She shook her head. "No, just tell her the basics. Like you told me. And if there's any way you can tell her more than that…you should try."
"That's assuming I can even say it, kid. It's stuck. You've seen me, I can't…"
"Try," Ereis said. "If you want to get your ship back."
Miro frowned. "If I want to get my ship back?"
"Well, yeah," she said. "That's the whole goal here, isn't it?"
"Bit of a heartless one," Miro said, hunching forward and staring into space.
"I thought you said she deserved heartless."
"I never said that," Miro said. "Maybe I implied it…all I said was it wasn't all me, she did plenty of damage too. But I already paid her for that, by leaving her behind. By cutting her out of my life. By cauterizing the wound, so to speak. I tried to forget about her. Doesn't make marooning her a good choice—I should never have done that. Just as I can't just manipulate her into giving me my ship back now."
"So…what's the plan?" Eeris asked.
He frowned, straightening. "You're right. I should talk to her. But only because she deserves it. It's not like I have to keep being her friend after this."
Eeris peered at him. "You don't even like her. She's never done you any favors, from what I've heard. Why would she deserve this?"
Miro looked at her. "Look, kid, I'm sure you haven't had it easy. I'm guessing you haven't really been accepted or loved, and you deserve better. But that's the point—everyone does. Why do you think I'm still on a crusade to save the galaxy even after it's done no favors for me? I've never met a soul who wasn't flawed, but that didn't change that they deserved the best. I'd even save the Klingons, if it came down to it. And Naral…she used to be my friend. We've got history back on Trill, even if we can't ever go back to that. I can't just…" He shook his head. "I marooned her. And now you want me to manipulate her, too?"
Eeris was silent for a long moment. Then, "I guess I'm not really cut out for the Steward, am I?"
Miro laughed. "No, kid, but you're learning."
"So," Eeris said, "you gonna talk to Naral, then?"
"You bet." Miro pushed to his feet, suddenly determined. "I'm calling for a recess."
He didn't miss Eeris's smile as he turned and went to speak with Simler.