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.”