Ryton was walking home from school with Jake and Nog when he suddenly stopped dead.
"What is it, Ryton?" Jake asked nervously. "You're not going to run away, are you? Odo would kill me."
"Who's that?" Ryton demanded, his voice barely more than a whisper.
Jake and Nog followed his gaze. "That's Garek, the tailor. He's been back on Cardassia for the last couple of weeks. They had some sort of holiday."
"Remembrance of the Ancestors," Ryton supplied absently, still staring at Garek.
"Tailor, huh!" Nog scoffed. "Everyone knows he's a spy!"
"I've got to go." Ryton abruptly came out of his trance.
"Go? Where?" Jake demanded, alarmed.
Ryton smiled at him. "Don't worry, Jake. I just remembered something I have to do at the security office. If you don't believe me, you can walk me there."
"Okay," Jake agreed, still suspicious. "We will."
It wasn't until they had actually seen Ryton settled in his "room" that Jake relaxed. Nog, on the other hand, was highly unsettled whenever he was this close to a cell. "Can't we leave?" he urged Jake.
"You're really okay?" Jake asked one last time.
"Fine. Go on," Ryton agreed, waving them away. Jake departed, followed by a relieved Nog.
Odo was still talking to Sisko and O'Brien about how best to establish long-term surveillance on the decoy irridial when a high-pitched beeping attracted O'Brien's attention to his board.
"Odo, take a look at this!" he exclaimed after a single glance. "Someone's broken into the security arms locker."
Odo didn't waste time checking O'Brien's statement. He was already sprinting for the lift, Sisko at his heels.
O'Brien ran a security sweep of the Promenade and guided them to the stolen weapon over their comm links. They raced up to Garek's shop to find a silent crowd outside, watching as Garek desperately pleaded for his life. The phaser pointed straight at him never wavered, nor did the look of determination on Ryton's face.
"Ryton, what are you doing?" Sisko asked softly, pushing to the front of the crowd. Behind him, Odo had disappeared.
The boy ignored him. "Tell me, Cardassian, how many Bajorans did your people kill?"
Garek licked his lips and tried to smile. "Well, those figures have a way of being inflated, my boy."
The phaser bolt just missed his left ear, and a wall of his shop was vaporized. The crowd shrieked and scattered, leaving Sisko alone with Garek and Ryton. And the phaser, now aimed right back at Garek's heart.
"Ten million!" Garek shouted. "That's the number you Bajorans embrace!"
"And you ask me to spare your life? Where was your mercy, Cardassian?"
"I'm a simple tailor! Killing me won't -- "
"But it will, you see." Ryton told him, his mouth tightening. "It will be a start."
A mouse suddenly scampered across the floor, stopping in front of Garek's foot. Sisko spoke, anything to distract Ryton's attention during the morphing. "Start for what, Ryton? What do you hope to do next?"
This time Ryton heard him, and he turned his head very slightly towards Sisko, a look of concern flitting across his face. "Commander, tell Jake it wasn't his fault. I don't want him to think he could have stopped me."
"I'll tell him, Ryton." By then Odo's transformation was complete, and Ryton let out a cry of frustration as he realized that he had lost his clear shot at the Cardassian.
"Odo! Get out of the way! I don't want to hurt you!"
"Don't you realize that at that setting, the phaser will just vaporize both of us?" Garek hissed in Odo's ear. "You're not protecting me! You should have attacked the boy!"
Odo disregarded the Cardassian's complaint. "You're going to have to kill me to get to Garek," he said flatly. "So if you are going to do it, go ahead."
Now the phaser was dipping and moving as Ryton sought for an angle that would afford him a direct shot. "Odo, this has nothing to do with you!"
"It's on my Promenade!" Odo exclaimed indignantly. "And you took the phaser from my office!"
Ryton shifted his weight, and Sisko was encouraged. The boy's glacial calm had made him very, very nervous.. "Well, yes, all right," Ryton said, a hint of a whine entering his tone. "But I needed it. You know what they were like to us, Odo!"
"The war is over," Sisko said quietly.
"Not my war," Ryton said fiercely. "I never declared a truce."
"You can't fight the entire Cardassian empire alone, you silly child!" Garek snapped unwisely.
"I can, one Cardassian at a time," he retorted.
Sisko took a moment to report the events back to O'Brien and Dax at Ops. While he did that, Odo fixed Ryton with a piercing gaze. "I'm getting impatient, Ryton. Either shoot or put down the phaser."
"I don't want to hurt you!" Ryton said, angry tears beginning to well up. "This was going to be so easy! Then you had to get in the way!"
"You decided to do it on my Promenade. No one gets killed on my Promenade, unless I do the killing," Odo informed him loftily.
"Odo, please," Ryton begged. "Just step out of the way. He's a Cardassian. He killed my parents."
"I did not!" Garek objected, frenzied. "I never killed anyone! I never held a military position in my life!"
"It doesn't matter! You're a Cardassian! You're all the same!"
"So you intend to kill all Cardassians?" Odo said.
Ryton's chin came up. "All I can! And it would have been clean and simple, if you hadn't come along."
"Don't be ridiculous," Odo snapped. "You've lived long enough and hard enough to know that nothing is 'clean and simple'. You've heard Garek say he never killed Bajorans, yet you're willing to kill him. Is that 'clean'?"
"He's a Cardassian," Ryton gulped. "They're all guilty, morally at least."
"Should all humans be held accountable for the atrocities in their Eugenics Wars? Should all Klingons be exterminated for the massacre of the Terrans at Bondia IV? How far back should this collective guilt go? Should all Vulcans be killed because of the savagery in their distant past?"
"Stop trying to confuse me!" Ryton yelled. "I don't know about those others! I just know that the Cardassians killed my parents, and they're going to pay for it!"
"Ryton, there comes a time when people have to agree that the violence has gone on long enough," Sisko reentered the conversation. "Bajor and the Cardassians reached that point."
"So you'll kill every Cardassian you can?" Odo sneered. "That's not justice; that's indiscriminate slaughter!"
"They killed Bajorans that way!"
"We did not!" Garek protested. Odo shot an elbow backwards and silenced him.
"Are all Cardassians interchangeable to you?" Odo demanded. "What of Medol? If they're all the same, why didn't you kill her? Surely in all that time you had the chance."
Ryton's tears began to spill over. "That's not fair!"
"If you kill him, it might destroy the truce that has been worked out. The Cardassians could use this as an excuse to retaliate and subjugate Bajor all over again. Is that what you want?" Sisko demanded.
"I may be young, but I'm not an idiot!" Ryton snapped. "One death isn't going to launch a war!"
"You have no idea how fragile this peace is," Sisko protested, sweating. He didn't see Ryton's resolve weakening.
"This is ridiculous!" Odo snapped. "Come along, Ryton. Make a decision! Either kill me or give me the phaser!"
Ryton's hand started to shake, and Sisko wondered whether Odo could morph around the phaser beam. Even as the thought crossed his mind, he knew it was useless. Odo would never save himself when the person he was protecting would die.
"Odo, I have to do this." Ryton struggled to explain, to obtain Odo's understanding, if not his approval. "It's for my parents."
Odo snorted. "They're dead," he said with the brutal honesty Ryton had come to expect. "This isn't going to help them. It's going to make you feel better, by assuaging your guilt."
The phaser was shaking so badly now that Sisko was amazed it hadn't yet gone off. If Odo wasn't careful, he'd goad the boy into a collapse that would kill both of them.
"Your parents are gone," Odo repeated, but his voice was a little softer. "And you were too young to prevent their deaths. That is what you must accept; this ridiculous idea of a one-man war only allows you to evade the real issue."
"But the Cardassians can't get away with it," Ryton was gulping air and hiccuping. "I can't let them just -- just walk away from killing my parents."
"If you're interested in justice, you might as well give up now," Odo told him crisply. "You'll never find the people who killed your parents. And if you're driven by revenge, then you'd better stop citing your parents as the reason why. No Bajoran I know would wish this sort of life on their child."
"R-revenge -- "
"This is a very amateur form of revenge, Ryton," Odo snapped. "Frankly, I would have expected better from you. The whole point of revenge is to destroy your enemies while escaping scot-free. Anything less is not only self-defeating, it's also inept."
Ryton's shoulders drooped. "But Odo, what else can I do?"
"For one thing, you can give me the phaser!" Odo held out his hand commandingly.
Sisko held his breath. Would he? Sisko had begun mentally writing the request for a replacement Security Chief when Ryton sniffled and let out a deep sigh. "Okay. He can go."
Garek didn't wait to be urged. He streaked away from Odo and dodged around the nearest bulkhead.
"Very good," Odo said cautiously, watching Ryton closely. "Now give me the phaser."
Ryton shook his head. "There's no point, Odo."
A horrible new possibility chilled Sisko's spine. "Ryton, what are you going to do with the phaser? Give it to Odo."
Ryton ignored him. He turned the phaser over in his hands, toying with the lethal instrument. "Revenge is all I've thought of ever since I can remember. What else is there?"
Odo stared at him, for once at a loss. Then a quiet, carrying voice from behind Sisko said, "Maybe I can answer that."
Sisko turned to look, just as Ryton's jaw dropped. "Vedek!"
Kira, her eyes filled with worry, stood beside Vedek Bariel at the entrance to Garek's shop.
No wonder Kira's looked so relaxed these last few days, Sisko thought to himself, then guiltily brushed the stray thought from his mind.
Bariel stepped forward, shadowed by Kira who kept her eyes fastened on Ryton's phaser. The tenseness of her body told Sisko that she would tackle Bariel at the first sign of phaser fire. "Your question is one that confounds many of our people," Bariel told Ryton gently. "Won't you come and explore the answers with me?"
The boy glanced from Odo to the Vedek, then down to the phaser still in his hands. "It's so hard..."
"Too many of our children have died already," Bariel said softly. "Put your trust in the Prophets. This is not the destiny they have chosen for you."
"Are you sure?" Ryton asked, then blushed. Who was he, to ask such a thing of a Vedek?
Bariel smiled, and the warmth of it touched them all. "Yes."
"You have many talents to share, Ryton," Kira added, her voice more gentle than Sisko had ever heard it. "Don't waste them."
"Anyone who can outwit the Cardassians and Star Fleet has a bright future ahead of him," Odo put in.
The trace of a smile flitted across Ryton's face. "But I couldn't outwit you, Odo."
"Everyone has limitations," the shapeshifter retorted, the ghost of a twinkle gracing that stern countenance.
"Bajor needs people like you," Kira said. She and Bariel were now almost as close to Ryton as Odo was, and Sisko could see how tautly she moved. She was walking on eggshells lest Bariel be hurt! Sisko realized with a start just how close his two friends had grown, and he wondered why he, like Dax, hadn't realized it sooner.
"Ryton..." Bariel looked at him expectantly, and he nodded obediently.
"Yes, Vedek." But it was Odo to whom he gave the phaser, and Odo against whom he sagged.
A very startled and uncomfortable Odo enfolded him in a rough hug. "Yes, well, there, there." Sisko hadn't seen the Constable so unnerved since Lwaxana Troi's last visit.
"I'm sorry, Odo," Ryton said penitently, his head buried against the Constable's chest. "Really. This time I mean it."
Odo tilted the boy's chin up until he reluctantly raised his eyes. "Don't do it again."
The others exploded in the noisy, giddy laughter that accompanies huge relief, and even Ryton grinned. "Okay."
Odo turned to Bariel. "Normally at this time, I escort Ryton to my office, but I will place him in your custody if you prefer."
The Vedek nodded gravely. "Thank you. I believe I can guarantee his behavior."
"I hope so. Sir." Odo added the honorific after Kira's outraged gasp. Bariel himself seemed delighted and amused, and Ryton stepped to his side.
Now that he was safely in the fold of Bariel's arm, Ryton felt secure enough to tell Odo one last thing. "Odo?" His tentative voice halted the Constable's exit.
Ryton moved a little closer to the Vedek's sheltering presence. "There's one other thing I should tell you about."
Odo looked impatient. "Yes?"
"It's something I took off the ship that brought me here. I was going to take it back to Cardassia with me, but," he glanced up at Bariel, "since I'm not going to go there now, maybe you should do something with it."
Odo got it first. He took two huge steps towards Ryton, who retreated with a squeak of alarm. "Which ship did you come on?"
Now Kira, Sisko, and even the Vedek were staring at him with the oddest expressions. Ryton was taken aback. He'd expected Odo to be annoyed, even though this theft had preceded all the others, but why was Sisko looking so irate?
"The Orion one!" Sisko answered before Ryton could. "Sisko to O'Brien, about the irridial -- "
"Yes," Ryton nodded, bewildered. "I think it's some kind of explosive. I heard two of the crew talking about it in the hold, so I took some with me when I left the ship."
Sisko and Odo were glaring at him so fiercely that Ryton was very glad Bariel was there to shield him.
Kira took it surprisingly well. She was the first to speak, after a moment of stunned silence. "I'll alert the Council, and tell them to release the Orionite captain from jail," she said philosophically. "I suppose this might teach the Council not to be so convinced that an enemy is hiding in every shadow."
Sisko tried very hard to modulate his tone. "Do you have any idea," he asked Ryton, "how many man-hours of work and energy and worry you caused?"
The Vedek was actually chuckling. "Now Commander, please. It's not fair to blame the boy for nearly precipitating a governmental crisis. The politicians bear a share in this as well. And as Nerys -- Major Kira -- says, perhaps they will learn something from this."
"Did I really cause a crisis?" Ryton asked, awed.
"YES!" Sisko shouted, his control slipping.
Bariel raised a hand in a calming gesture, but Ryton could feel the laughter that still shook his body. "Commander, the Teachings of the Prophets specifically forbid corporal -- "
"Ryton," Odo addressed him, and the others stopped talking.
"Yes, Odo?" he said timidly.
"Is there anything else you need to tell me?"
"Then I will say goodbye. I hear Chief O'Brien's footsteps approaching, and I believe I need to intervene before he gets any closer."
Bariel glanced at Kira. "We should be going."
She nodded immediately. "I'm sorry, Commander. This trip really should be short."
"Can I say goodbye to Jake and Nog and Mrs.O'Brien?" Ryton asked as they turned to walk to the runabout pad.
Kira threw a glance over her shoulder to where she could just make out a furious O'Brien expostulating with Odo. "No, Ryton. But you can come up and visit them whenever you want."
Only the Vedek's presence stilled Sisko's tongue.
"What's Bajor like? It's been so long since I've been home."
"It's beautiful," Kira told him, falling into step alongside him and Bariel. "And the monastery, where you'll be staying, is full of flowers and trees and..."
"Commander," Dax's voice interrupted his thoughts.
"Gul Dukat is calling. He wants to speak to you about the 'unprovoked attack on a Cardassian citizen'."
Sisko turned to look after Ryton. If the boy could cause this much havoc when he was even younger than Jake, what would he do as an adult? "Dax, what are the odds that we'll still be here in ten years?" he asked, still watching Ryton's receding back.
"Not very high," she replied, startled. "Star Fleet usually rotates its personnel more frequently than that."
"Good," he sighed with relief. Then he shook himself back to the present. "Tell Dukat I'm on my way." There was enough to do right now!