“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.