"Take a seat, kid," Miro grinned. "Alright, here we go…thrusters at full…hold on tight!"
As Eeris pressed her back into her seat for lack of a better way to hold on, the Challenger lifted up into the air. She wasn't sure how much of Miro's enthusiasm was because he'd resolved things with Naral, and how much it was because he'd essentially "flown the coop" on his prison charges. All had been according to plan—or, that was, his prosecution's plan—right until Simler had announced his sentence.
At first, it had been impossible not to be discouraged. Miro's sentence had come out to ten years in prison. But then Miro had shot her a daring look over his shoulder, grabbed her hand, and before she knew it, they were taking off for the door. They'd made it all the way outside the building before anyone caught up with them. Miro hadn't been able to escape without scoring a few punches, but Eeris had looked over her shoulder as they ran off and seen the security officers picking themselves up. They'd boarded the Challenger to screams of bloody murder.
Eeris's own smile bloomed as the Challenger soared up into the darkness of space, and she felt the telltale rumble from behind her as the ship shifted to impulse and Miro punched in a new course. All too soon, however, she noticed something else. Their third passenger was mysteriously absent.
"Where's Odo?" she asked. "We're not going to leave without him, are we?"
Miro grimaced. "No, of course not. But, um…Naral might have told me that she sort of marooned him on an alien planet."
"Apparently to keep me isolated," Miro said. "I took it she figured out who Odo was—I mentioned him often enough, back in the day. Must've taken a bet that he was on my side this time around."
Eeris shook her head, sighing. "Marooning him…she must've learned from the best."
"Yes, must've." Miro didn't sound amused.
"So…are we going to go get him?" Eeris asked. "Do you know which planet he's on?"
"Possibly," Miro said. "Why are you so eager to be around him all of a sudden?"
"He was there for me when I doubted you," Eeris said.
Miro nodded. "Ah, that explains it. Loyal till the end, isn't he?" He sighed. "Suppose we'll have to go after him, then."
"Just a few days ago, you were saying you needed him," Eeris reminded him.
Miro cringed. "Yeah, that's for sure. Unfortunate and annoying, but true."
Miro set a course, and Eeris leaned forward, trying to catch his eyes as they flicked over the dashboard.
"So," she said, "tell me, then. What planet is he on?"
Miro tensed. "Trill."
"Is that okay?" Eeris asked.
Miro shrugged. "Won't be fun, but I'll manage."
"You think you'll recognize the place?" Eeris asked.
"High chance I will," Miro said. "Also, Trill is one of two planets in the galaxy that have one place I never want to go, and I've spent an inordinate amount of time in both places these past two years."
"Well," Eeris said, shrugging, "what're the chances?"
Miro gave her a withering look. "Did you really have to ask?"
She laughed. "Don't tell me you believe in karma."
"Nah," Miro grinned. "But I'd prefer not to tempt fate…just this once."
She smiled, shaking her head.
"Seriously!" Miro said. "I come all the way out here, put myself through all that legal nonsense, just to make a killing on a book—and what do I get for it? No latinum, nothing! I could use some good luck right about now."
Eeris chuckled. "Then let's hope the universe will do you a favor."
The trip to Trill took only a few hours, trundling along at warp speed. Miro's obvious anxieties aside, Eeris was looking forward to seeing his old homeworld. It was a perfect chance to get a better picture of his past. And she hadn't failed to notice that of all the random bits of history Miro had rambled about before, his life on Trill hadn't been one of them. She couldn't help but wonder what they would find.
Once they reached Trill, they followed Odo's biosign down to one of the northern continents. Eeris wasn't sure what she had expected, but it wasn't this.
The land was barren. Out the view screen's narrow view, she could see a meager scattering of debris, but nothing to suggest this place was inhabited. The sky was overcast, reminding iris of the hills outside her society, the mostly uninhabited ones where she had found that religious stronghold. This place sent chills down her spine.
Miro powered the Challenger down and then turned the view screen off before letting his head sink heavily into his hands.
"Hey," Eeris said, by now recognizing the signs. "You alright?"
"Will be," he mumbled.
She stood and wandered behind him so she could brush her shoulder stumps against his back, wishing she had hands to touch him. It seemed to do the trick, though—he straightened and turned, flashing her a grin.
"Well, kid, no time to waste!" He bounded for the airlock. "The sooner we find him, the sooner we can get outta here."
They descended down the gangplank, and Eeris got her first good look at the landscape surrounding them. The ground beneath her feet seemed have been burnt to a crisp, and there weren't any houses in sight—just low, charred sprinklings of wood that littered the landscape as far as the eye could see. Eeris wondered if they had landed in the ruins of a forest of some sort. It wasn't until she saw Miro's pinched look as the ground crunched beneath his feet that she realized they weren't just little sprinklings of wood at all—they were the remains of houses.
"Oh, Prophets," Eeris whispered.
Miro sighed, shaking his head. "Not the Prophets. This was the work of the Klingons."
"From everything you've said about them, they sound horrible."
"Well, can't seem to make peace with the Federation, but I can't blame them for that, can I?" Miro said. "I mean, they did destroy my home, but aside from that, they're really not that bad. They've got their own motivations, everyone does. Only one who's really bad is Viresa. The rest—they're just unwilling pawns in the galaxy's game."
Eeris's eyes widened, taking in the burnt expanse. "This place…this was your…"
"Yup!" Miro said, entirely too much false levity in his voice.
"I'm sorry," Eeris said.
He glanced at her. "It's fine."
"No, it's not," Eeris said. "You used to live here. I'd never want to return to Bajor, but if Lohnar burnt, Prophets, Miro—"
"I said, it's fine," Miro snapped. "I don't want to talk about it."
This time, Eeris let it go, realizing that unlike the other bits of his past he'd faced in the past twenty-four hours, asking him to relive this for her might be a little bit much. Despite his promise to be more open, Eeris had a feeling this was one thing he wouldn't budge on. And why should he? He had left this place behind, turned up his nose in the face of authority, hadn't even escaped legally—and this was what happened.
"Where'd you live?" Eeris asked, unable to stop herself.
He pointed in a direction in the distance to their left. "Right about…there."
Eeris scanned the land he'd indicated for any sign of having once been lived in, but it was the same as the rest of the area—charred, burnt, dead. Abandoned.
"How could this happen?" she asked. "I can't imagine what kind of weapon would do this much damage."
"You'd be surprised how much havoc a ship's phasers can wreak," Miro said. "Oh, look—there he is."
Eeris looked up, and sure enough, there was Odo, walking toward them like the devil himself was after him.
"Miro!" Odo called. "Have you seen Naral? Is everything alright?"
"Yeah, she was on Earth, last I checked," Miro said. "Why? What happened?"
"She's determined to hurt you," Odo said. "She shot me with her phaser so that I wouldn't return to Earth with her…all to deprive you of your allies."
Miro frowned. "I was right, about her getting more determined."
"I was beginning to think you'd been sentenced to prison," Odo said. "I didn't expect you to return for some time."
Miro shrugged. "Yeah, well, I sort of was sentenced. Couldn't escape most of the charges. I'm here now though, aren't I?"
Odo frowned at him. "You were sentenced? Should I expect us to be dragged back to Earth again whenever we risk passing through Federation space?"
Miro grinned. "Oh, yes. Which is why I don't plan to pass through it in the first place."
"Well," Odo said, "you don't seem to be avoiding it now. Last I heard, Trill was part of the Federation."
"Like I said a couple days ago, I need you," Miro said, and turned on his heel. "Well, you feel like chancing your luck or are you coming?"
Odo shook his head in what might have been exasperation. "You know, Miro, there's one thing that hasn't changed about Dax. You're still just as stubborn."
Miro raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think that?"
"Oh, nothing in particular," Odo said. "Just…why do I get the feeling you're not quite as uneasy about my presence as you were when we first met?"
"In your dreams, Odo," Miro smirked. "Well, c'mon. Ready to save the galaxy?"
"As I'll ever be," Odo said.
As they all boarded the Challenger and Eeris took her seat in the cockpit next to Miro, she couldn't help but feel that they were finally underway. It had taken weeks on end to get here, but now they were on track, doing what they were supposed to do, and at last allied under the same cause. And Eeris knew she wasn't going to go doubting Miro's friendship anytime soon. They were in this together, and they would be till the end.
A light blinking on the dashboard brought her out of her thoughts. As she looked up in curiosity, Miro pressed a button, and the viewscreen came to life with images. Eeris wasn't sure what she was seeing at first—it looked like they were in space, watching as several unfamiliar starships whizzed past, but she knew they were still sitting solidly on Trill's surface.
"What's that?" she whispered to Miro, just as a voice-over began.
"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, the ships changed course, and a planet she recognized rose up into view. She'd know those scattered continents anywhere—it was Bajor! And now she recognized the starships that were heading towards it. They looked a lot like the one she and Odo had been dragged on board back on Nebez.
Eeris had spent most of her life wanting…more. In the beginning, she was never quite sure what she wanted—she'd known nothing but what her people had taught her. She'd known to worship the Steward or expect recrimination from the High Council. She'd known to respect her mother or lose that of her society. And she'd done a pretty good job at pretending she was okay with it—after all, what else was out there for her? What opportunities did she have? As her mother had so succinctly put it not so soon after the beginning of her rebellion, her destiny was her only choice. Eeris's sole goal had become to rise beyond that, to prove to herself that there was something else for her in this life, something besides the Steward. Her goals had never been to betray the Bajorans. She had never wanted to hurt her people, no matter how inevitable it had become.
And now the skies above her world were filled with deadly-looking starships, armed to the teeth and on a steady descent.
"Those are Cardassian ships," Odo said, behind her.
Miro was frowning. "No…this shouldn't be happening!"
"What's wrong?" Eeris's heart was in her throat. "What's happening? Why are there Cardassian ships headed for Bajor?"
Miro swallowed. "I don't know if you're a visionary, kid, or if this is just a huge coincidence, but it looks like that occupation you were worried about is happening."
Eeris nearly choked on the words she was desperate to say—that it hadn't been coincidence, that she'd known about this, that she'd seen those Cardassians on the streets—but how could she tell Miro that, and admit to having lied to him? She knew his trust in her was flimsy as it was. He'd only just begun to open up to her. When she had insisted that she hadn't been on Bajor more recently than he was aware, she had no idea that her honesty would be put to the test. Besides, what was the point in getting worked up over this? Miro had already said he wasn't going to help Bajor.
"You okay, kid?"
She realized Miro was looking at her with concern. She swallowed and barely managed to squeak, "Yeah, fine!"
He raised an eyebrow. "You sure about that?"
"That's my home," she whispered.
He softened. "I know."
"Those are my people," she whispered. "They're in trouble. We can't just…"
"Sorry, kid," Miro said, shooting her a sympathetic glance. "There's not much we can do."
"They can't even defend themselves," Eeris whispered. "I abandoned them, hurt so many people…and it's not like I want to return, but how can I just let this happen? They've fallen off the map, like you said—they don't matter—no one else is going to help them! Not the Federation, not the Klingons, not the Ferengi, no one!"
Miro nodded. "Yup, likely no one will even blink an eye."
"And you're just going to let this happen?" Ereis asked.
"Kid," Miro said softly, "I know it's hard. Believe me, the last thing I wanted was to surrender my home to the Klingons…but there was nothing I could do. And really, you're luckier than me—the Cardassians don't have the strength for an occupation, remember? They'll pull out before long. It'll be fine."
"I know," Eeris said, sighing. "I know."
"If Cardassia lacks the strength for an occupation," Odo spoke up, "then why are they doing this?"
"It's Viresa," Miro said, shrugging. "It's just a distraction, so they're up to their necks in Bajorans and don't even notice when she betrays them."
"Then, if Bajor is a distraction," Odo said, "what is Viresa planning to do now?"
"I'm guessing the wormhole will open soon," Miro said. "And we all know what happens then. I, for one, don't wanna be lingering around Federation space when the Dominion comes through. Probably shouldn't go anywhere near Bajor, either."
Odo frowned. "What happens if the Cardassians don't get distracted? What happens if they notice when Viresa betrays them?"
Miro's brow furrowed. "They won't. Why would they? They've got Bajor to deal with."
"But what if they did notice?"
"Well," Miro said slowly, "I imagine things wouldn't go as smoothly for Viresa, then. What are you suggesting, Odo?"
"I'm suggesting," Odo said, folding his arms, "that we don't allow this occupation of Bajor to happen. Eeris is right—it's her home, and no matter where her loyalties lie, she has every right to be concerned. Besides, I for one have no interest in standing by as Bajor is plundered once again. I did nothing when the Cardassians took over the first time, and I even joined Deep Space Nine's ruling council when Dukat returned with the Dominion. I've done enough standing by. Now why don't we step forward and stop this while we still can?"
Eeris shot Odo a grateful look.
"Distraction or no distraction," Miro said, "Viresa still has the power to execute her plans. I say we make sure we're ready for her."
"We will be ready," Odo said. "It looks like she's putting Bajor on the front lines, if this third occupation is anything to go by. And like I said, I have no intention of standing by and watching this happen."
"Wait a second," Miro said. "What did you just say?"
"The same thing I've been saying for the past five minutes," Odo said. "That I have no intention of—"
"No, no, before that," Miro said. "Something about Viresa putting Bajor on the front lines?"
Odo nodded. "It certainly seems that way, doesn't it?"
Miro's jaw dropped, eyes going wide.
"What?" Miro asked. "Miro, what's going on?"
"Oh, fate," he whispered. "I can't believe I missed this."
Eeris frowned. "Missed what?"
"I spend so much time remembering what the whole galaxy has gone through, trying to forget all about Bajor, that I don't even realize what's right under my nose," Miro said. "And what was it I realized just after I faced Viresa earlier? We can't just dismantle her power, knock her down from her throne—we need to find a new power to take her place. Otherwise, the galaxy will plunge into chaos. We need to keep balance, otherwise it's no use toppling Viresa, we'll all be doomed."
A slight smirk graced Odo's mouth. "Are you saying what I think you're saying?"
"I'm saying," Miro said, fear in his eyes even as his jaw set, "that it's time we forced Bajor to the front lines. It's our best chance. It's so marginalized, it hardly has a reputation anymore. And that's what we need—for someone to stand up and hold the galaxy in equilibrium, someone who isn't involved in who knows how many unnecessary border conflicts. We need Bajor."
Eeris's eyes lit up. "Really? We're going to save it?"
"Not us," Miro said, eyes falling on her, and the intensity of his gaze frightened her. "You."