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.