"It's all right. The baby Changeling is fine."
Doctor Bashir's tricorder flickered and beeped. He repeated his scan twice more. The results weren't going to be any different. Why did he keep doing it?
"The pocket has definitely moved. It's two centimeters lower than before. When did you first notice the tightness in your chest?"
"I've been feeling it since I woke up this morning, but it just recently became impossible to ignore," said Odo.
"You let this go on for six hours?"
Odo pinned the Chief Medical Officer with a glare. "Yes, so?"
"Odo!" Doctor Mora hurried through the Infirmary doors. He was out of breath. "I came as soon as I heard. Odo, how are you?"
Odo shrugged his shoulders and crossed his arms. "I'm fine."
"The baby Changeling is putting pressure on the inside of its pocket," said Doctor Bashir. "And the pocket itself has moved." He showed Doctor Mora his latest scans, "The extra mass he built up in his torso is pressing against the pocket. My guess is this will continue until the baby is forced out of his body."
"It stops when I resist it." Odo cut in. "It's no different than fighting to hold my shape after the Founders made me sick."
"But you may not be able to resist it indefinitely." Doctor Bashir folded his tricorder shut. "Odo, you're in labor, and I have no idea what effect it will have on your body. I suggest you relax and let us monitor you."
"This is so exciting," whispered Doctor Mora. For once, Odo agreed with the sentiment. He was going to bring Kejal into the world!
Odo's combadge beeped. An automated message informed him of rapid activity in cargo bay four. He stiffened. "I'm afraid I can't relax just yet. I'm overseeing a sting operation."
Doctor Mora gasped. "In your condition? I don't think that's wise."
"Odo..." Doctor Bashir stepped forward. "Let your deputies handle th-- "
"No! People will suspect something if I don't show up to assist." Odo frowned at them both. "I'll be heading to my quarters once the situation is neutralized. If you two don't mind, I prefer to give birth in the privacy of my own space. I won't have this event become a spectacle."
"Odo, please...we need to monitor y-- "
"With all due respect, Doctor Mora, it is my
body. I'll be fine. I've been holding it off for six hours. I can hold it off a while longer." Odo nodded once, reassuring himself. "Excuse me."
"No!" The heightened emotions made Odo's chest clamp down. Hard
. In shock and pain, he snarled, "If you lay a hand on me, I will personally throw you both into a holding cell!"
Doctor Mora stepped back and placed his hand on Doctor Bashir's shoulder. "Doctor...let him go. He's right. I took too many of his choices away. Let's not take this one away, too." He met Odo's eyes. "Odo? Go, but be careful."
Grateful, Odo hurried out of the Infirmary and into his office. He regained control of his body on the way.
"The Yridians identified as Slek Ygroness, Gron Pitrek, Lapniss Ykiln and Ashbock Jekmuss are present with Quark in cargo bay four."
Odo's eyes glinted. He tapped his combadge, "Odo to security team Alpha. Cargo bay four just lit up. Mobilize and prepare to move in."
He grabbed his PADD and patched in a video relay from the surveillance devices.
Quark stood beside several cargo containers. He put on quite a show of admiring their contents.
"Klingon leather...Vulcan silk. Oh, and I see you have Ferengi cotton! Where did you acquire this?"
Slek dipped his head, "I have an excellent dealer."
"He must be rich. So, how much for the cotton?"
"Two thousand," said Gron. "The Klingon leather is five thousand, and the Vulcan silk, the rarest, is ten thousand."
Odo shook his head. These fakes were gouging people. What amateurs!
He bent over his desk, tensing his body until it behaved itself. Afterward, still shaking, he left his office and took the turbolift to the cargo bay levels. Security team Alpha was a group of eight Bajorans armed with phasers set to stun. None of them could move until Quark 'legally' bought the materials. Odo told them it shouldn't take long.
But Quark, being Quark, just couldn't resist hamming it up, which slowed the whole operation to a crawl. Odo rolled his eyes, grumbling. The minutes stretched into an hour. He fought the pressure in his chest six times while he waited. The spasms happened frequently now, and they were harder and more painful to resist.
"Sir, are you unwell?"
Odo realized he was leaning back against the wall with his eyes closed. He straightened, refocusing on his PADD. "I'm fine."
Come on, Quark, make the deal and get it over with!
"You know..." Quark held up a roll of fake Andorian tulle. "This fabric will make great drapes for my personal quarters. Did you say it's nine thousand? I've seen bigger rolls in more colors for less."
Ashbok leaned into Quark's personal space and barked, "How much less?"
Quark flinched. "Um..."
"Bashir to Odo."
The security officers looked curiously at Odo. A few eyebrows went up.
Odo growled, "Not now, doctor!" He pressed his hand to the wall beside him and turned off his combadge.
Onscreen, Quark reached into the last crate. Finally! He lifted a yard of something heavy and thick. "Is this Vitarian wool? Er..." Within moments of touching the material, he recoiled. Then he groped it again. "Wow...I'm allergic to wool fibers. Makes me itch like I'm full of Klingon skin mites on contact. I thought this was real."
"It was treated with a hypoallergenic formula. So, what did you say you'll pay? Six thousand?" Slek's scars wrinkled on his lips. He whipped out a PADD.
"Oh? In that case...give me stock in all of it." Quark pressed his thumb to the PADD and sealed the deal. "It's a pleasure doing business with you, Slek."
"Slek!" Lapriss raced into the picture holding one of the surveillance bugs. "We're being monitored!"
Quark tried to run for his life. Slek seized him by the coattails and pinned him against the wall.
Time to move.
Odo crept to the door of cargo bay four. He counted down from three to zero using his fingers. Then he punched the command that opened the door. His officers burst into the cargo bay and screamed at the Yridians to put their hands up.
Odo tapped his combadge, reactivating it. "Odo to Kira."
"Major, I have our counterfeiters. I'm sure the Bajoran business bureau will want to hear about this."
"Acknowledged. Odo? Are you all right?"
"I'm-- " Odo ducked behind a crate at the sound of phaser fire. He choked with 'lungs' that wouldn't quite inflate, " --fine! They're armed!"
"I'm coming to back you up. Kira, out!"
Odo achieved a clear view of Slek from his position behind two large cargo containers. The other Yridians had been stunned by his deputies, leaving only Slek in a stand-off against the security officers.
Slek, being a coward, held Quark in front of him. He pressed a Klingon disruptor pistol to the Ferengi's head. Quark held out his hands and started babbling.
"I'm a victim in this, too! You know Odo, he's always on my case. I-I didn't know we were being monitored! I-- "
"Shut up!" Slek squeezed Quark's throat until his voice choked off. That was the only part Odo liked.
"So, Odo is the shape shifter's name? Heh, heh! Speaking of Odo, where is he?" Slek asked. "Maybe he's this bulkhead!" He kicked the bulkhead behind him.
Odo wiggled his fingers, smirking to himself. Suddenly, he leapt between the cargo containers and wrapped a giant tentacle around Slek's knees. A jerk of his shoulder yanked the Yridian off his feet. Slek lost his grip on both Quark and his disruptor. Quark bolted out the door as Major Kira rushed in.
"Odo!" Kira knelt and aimed a phaser rifle at Slek.
"I have it under control, Major."
"Heh, a little backup never hurt."
"I concur, and here is the criminal, his assistants and all the evidence necessary for conviction." Odo dangled Slek upside down over his head. "Slek Ygroness, you and your cohorts are under arrest for assault and possession of counterfeit materials with the intent to sell." He paused until he trusted his voice to stay steady. "I think the Bajoran business bureau will want to talk to you. Oh, and one more thing..." He narrowed his eyes, "...every single person you swindled will be paid back through your account."
"You can't do that!" Slek cried, kicking his feet. "You'll ruin me!"
That was the instant Odo let go. The Yridian crashed to the ground in a graceless heap.
"You'll ruin me!" He shouted again.
"I don't think so. You did a fine job of that on your own," Kira said coldly. She kept her phaser rifle trained on Slek until Odo's deputies handcuffed him. Then she handed it off to be put back in the weapons locker.
Odo ordered the computer to beam his deputies and the Yridians to the security station. His men could handle booking the counterfeiters and their merchandise for transport to a Bajoran prison facility. Thanks to Quark taking his sweet time, their entire inventory was recorded on file. Cataloguing it wouldn't take long.
Kira peered into one of the crates. "You didn't tell me they were setting up shop down here."
"I wasn't entirely sure until Quark made the purchase." Odo shook his head. He leaned back against the wall. "I suspect they wanted to plant counterfeit materials in Garak's shop. Think about it-- he takes the blame and they escape the station with their goods to swindle another planet."
"You really do
soak up those novels," Kira giggled. Her expression sobered. "Odo, are you all right?"
"I'm fine. I-- " Odo gasped and clutched the wall behind him. Staving off the pressure in his chest required his full concentration. He didn't talk until he regained control. "I'm just in labor. Nothing to it."
"Odo! How long ago did it start?"
"The spasms happen regularly every five minutes. I-- ahh-- have been fighting them off all day. They didn't require concentration until two hours ago. I...need to get to my quarters."
"You are so
stubborn, Constable." Kira said, moving closer to him. "Computer, two to-- "
"No! No beaming. I can't risk leaving any records in the pattern buffers."
"I'll be all right. They only just started to hurt." He straightened. "Let's go before I have to fight another one."
Nodding, Kira stayed close by his side. Together, they left the cargo bay and stepped into the nearest turbolift. She tapped her combadge. "Kira to Bashir."
"Kira! Where is Odo? Is he all right?"
"He's fine. I'm with him. We're heading to his quarters."
"Doctor Mora and I are on our way."
"Understood. Kira out." And to the turbolift computer, she said, "Level sixteen."
The motion made Odo's head swim. He couldn't conceal his discomfort anymore. His body tried to clamp down before the turbolift reached its destination. Kira rubbed his arm and whispered soothingly until he regained control of himself. It was strange-- he felt perfectly fine between each paroxysm.
"We're almost to your quarters. Can you walk?"
"One moment." Odo grunted. He straightened, his face once again composed. "Ready."
Kira went ahead and opened the door to his quarters. Odo punched in the code to close it once he was inside. Doctor Bashir and Doctor Mora hadn't arrived yet.
Odo sank to sit against his computer console. He closed his eyes and instinctively resisted another tightening. The spasms would not relent. All day, he fought them. Now he no longer had the energy to keep doing so. He moaned and writhed like a skewered insect on a pin. How did Kira give birth through such discomfort? Was it a good idea to let her see him like this?
"Augh! Damn! Computer, lower the lights by fifty percent, and lower the temperature to seventeen degrees Celsius. Unh...damn. Damn!
Kira knelt on the ground beside him.
"Odo," she whispered. "You're fighting it."
"Have to," he grunted. "Painful."
"It hurts because you're tense. You need to relax. Trust me, Odo." Kira took his hand. "Computer, play soothing ocean sounds."
The hiss of foamy waves sizzled through the speakers.
Odo grimaced. Kira grasped his shoulder. "Here. Scoot forward."
He inched himself forward. She slid to sit behind him. Her cool fingers kneaded his shoulders and back. Not quite as skilled as the holosuite masseuse, but he had no complaints. Those were Kira's hands, and anything related to Kira felt wonderful to him.
"Lose yourself in the sound of the sea," she said. "Let your body relax. Computer, add Bajoran birth percussion."
Over the ocean sounds, Odo heard a Bajoran cabasa, a rattle and a gong. They gave rhythm to the waves.
"Mm...have you assisted like this before?"
"I did a few times during the Occupation."
"What did-- here comes another one."
"Relax. Let it happen."
The door chime rang. What annoying timing! Odo couldn't answer, so Kira did it for him. He was glad when she didn't move away. Her presence kept him calm.
"Doctor Bashir and Doctor Mora are here," she said. Then, to them, she went on, "Keep your voices low. He is starting the relaxation process."
Odo opened his eyes and met Doctor Mora's. The Bajoran scientist knelt by his left side.
"You had us worried."
"Yes...I apologize for that. I caught the criminal I was after."
"Only you would arrest somebody while in labor." Doctor Mora said, grinning. "Do you feel ready for this?"
Odo flinched. "I don't-- have much-- c-choice now."
"You're right about that. Your body made some progress while you were gallivanting around in the cargo bay." Doctor Bashir held his tricorder above Odo's chest. His eyes glimmered. "The pocket is five centimeters lower than it was earlier. Here comes a...I suppose I can call it a contraction."
Odo wanted to ask Kira what to do. The tightness slammed down like a tsumani, briefly preventing him from inhaling enough air for speech. He tensed his whole body. It hurt as bad as his transformation into a solid. No, it hurt worse than that. He thought his torso was about to explode.
"Relax. Breathe." Kira kept her voice soft, establishing a rhythm with the percussive sounds playing in the background. "You're a rock right now, but you need to be silk. Slow down. Relax your neck. Relax your arms. Relax your legs. Relax your back. Relax everything."
Odo let his head lay back on her shoulder. It wasn't easy, going against his own instincts. Carrying himself rigidly was something he always did in his humanoid shape.
"Think of how you feel on the massage table in the holosuite." Kira suggested. Her hands continued kneading his back and sides.
"I have painkillers on-hand," said Doctor Bashir.
"No...no drugs...might affect Kejal..." Odo shook his head.
Kira's massage was working. He let his limbs become as floppy as his natural liquid state. All at once things got easier. He could inhale during a tightening as long as he did it deeply and slowly. The pain of letting his body work was far less than fighting every wave.
For a time, no one spoke. Odo sank deeper into himself. Waves came and went, and Kira reminded him to keep his body loose through each one.
The tricorder whirred without disturbing the atmosphere. Doctor Bashir whispered something. Doctor Mora answered him. They both sounded far away. Only Kira's voice remained clear and distinct in his ears.
"That's it. One contraction at a time."
He felt a tiny pop. The air bubble caught in his throat. He burped just like a humanoid. Normally, it would embarrass him, but in his current condition he couldn't spare the energy to care about manners.
"The pocket ruptured," Odo said.
Doctor Mora gave his hand a squeeze. "It shouldn't be long now."
Another wave. Another breath. Doctor Bashir's tricorder flickered. He nodded, looking pleased.
"Breathe, Odo," whispered Kira. "Stay relaxed."
Odo became acutely aware of the infant Changeling's mind. It wondered who and what it was, the same way Odo did while trapped in a jar.
You won't begin alone like I was, little one. You won't spend your life wondering what you are or what you're supposed to do. Your name is Kejal, you are a Changeling, and you are about to be born. Don't be afraid. I am with you
Odo's body clamped down again. His lips parted. He inhaled against the onslaught, letting it pass painlessly through him. As he did, he sensed the infant linking with him while his body moved it forward. Such a tiny, innocent mind. Such contentment
"It...it's moving," Odo murmured. "It's linked with me...I am telling it...not to be...fearful. Nerys, it isn't afraid."
Kira rubbed his upper arms. "Good...you're doing fine. Take it slow, there's no hurry."
Doctor Bashir scanned him again. "Odo, do you know where it's going to emerge?"
"Don't worry about that," said Doctor Mora. "I brought a container."
Kira shushed them both. That instant, in her arms, Odo felt safer than he ever did in his life.
Another wave. Rougher than the last few. This one had two crests. More followed right behind it. He bobbed against them like a flotation device in a stormy sea.
Why did he feel so good?
Doctor Mora took Odo's hand. "What is it, Doctor Bashir?"
"Look at this. His morphogenic enzymes are bonding into a chemical similar to endorphins."
"Will you two please whisper?" Kira massaged Odo's shoulders again, a gentle reminder to stay calm. "If he can make something similar to endorphins, then he'll stop if you don't quiet down."
Odo worked through the next surge. He was hardly aware of the world beyond Kira's arms. His whole body tingled and his eyes flew open. The pressure had changed. It concentrated on one point.
"Easy," Kira caught him before he sat up. "What is it?"
Doctor Mora leaned forward with the bowl. "Odo?"
"So close," Odo gasped. There was no
"He's fine." Doctor Bashir smiled and showed Doctor Mora his tricorder. Then he met Odo's eyes. "It's right under the surface. Odo, you're doing fantastically. Are you, uh...pushing?"
Odo's forehead wrinkled. "No, my body is doing it on its own."
"That's it." Kira started rubbing his sides. "Relax. Breathe."
Sighing, Odo returned his focus inward and let his body work. He was bringing life into the world while in the arms of the woman he secretly loved.
"It's moving again. It feels...I-I feel...so...good
. Nerys, what is happening?"
"You found your center. You're ready." Kira gave his upper arms a squeeze. In a lower tone, she began, "Awake child..."
"...w-we await you with love..." Odo heard himself say.
"...and welcome you into the world," Doctor Mora finished.
The sensations in Odo's body were almost too much to bear. The front of his torso began to liquefy. His mind told him to stay solid. His body wanted to release itself.
"Let it happen, Odo. Don't think." Kira's hand stroked his brow. "Relax and let it happen."
Odo tilted his head and looked into Kira's eyes. The next wave came. He didn't fight it.
A tiny, viscous bulge appeared on the center of his chest. Doctor Bashir and Doctor Mora gasped. The tricorder beeped and whirred. Odo hardly noticed. The baby was hesitating just beneath the surface.
Little one, it's time. I understand why you're afraid, but don't be. There is so much to experience. We'll do this together, all right? You and me
. Odo focused on how safe he felt in Kira's embrace. This feeling is what awaits you
Fear became acceptance. The infant pressed upwards, and ecstasy bombarded Odo's senses. He planted his hands on the floor, opening his mouth in a silent cry as he threw his head back in total surrender. The room spun around him. His vision went white. He felt every ripple of the baby Changeling leaving his body. It was raw. It was powerful. It was visceral
Afterward, he remained poised, gasping. His eyesight cleared. Something extraordinary just happened, but it took his mind a moment to stop spinning and process his amazement.
He had given birth
The room fell silent enough to hear a pin drop.
Odo was the first to move. He blinked. Twice.
Kira grasped his shoulders. She gave him a slight shake. "Odo, are you all right?"
Unable to speak, he nodded and focused on the new life lying in his lap.
Kejal didn't move at first. It laid motionless like toothpaste squeezed from a tube. Suddenly, one "tip" lifted itself up.
Odo's eyes softened. He scooped Kejal into his trembling hands. It held its shape. The tip closest to him bulged outward and became a primitive copy of his face. Tiny, colorless eyes met his.
The infant-- Kejal --knew
"Hello," Odo said softly. His chest felt empty, but his hands were full. He beamed at the tiny newborn.
Kejal mirrored Odo's mouth movements and smile, but it didn't make any sound. It tilted its "head" towards Kira and its features shifted to vaguely match hers. Then it melted into a puddle in Odo's hands.
"Oh, Odo!" Kira squeezed him from behind. "Congratulations!"
Doctor Mora patted Odo's arm. His face was streaked in tears. "That was the most amazing thing I've ever seen in all my years as a scientist."
Odo placed Kejal in the bowl Doctor Mora brought. Doctor Bashir watched. His face looked a little red, like anyone trying to stay professional. He moved the tricorder over the tiny Changeling.
"It's healthy, if I compare its readings to Odo's on a normal day." He grinned. "I think I agree with you, Doctor Mora. That was
remarkable. How do you feel, Odo?"
Odo was still trying to make sense of his experience. "I'm-- fine. I'm fine."
Kira helped Odo to his feet at the same time she got up. Odo met her gaze and shifted his weight. He was sure that if he still had blood running through his body, his face would be flushed as red as her uniform.
"Nerys, thank you...I-- "
"You're welcome, and you did great." She took his hands. Her smile warmed the same space Kejal just vacated. "I should be thanking you for sharing this with me. Birth is a vulnerable time for anyone."
Oh, if only you knew how hard it was to not say 'I love you,'
Odo thought. "I..." He blinked. It hit
him fully, right then. "I had a baby."
Kira giggled, squeezing his hands. "You sure did! It's a shame you want to keep it a secret."
"I know. I have to until the war with the Dominion is over."
She looked down and nodded. "Doctor Mora will take good care of it. But, Odo...letting that baby go will be hard. It will hurt. Even though you're doing this to protect it."
Odo hung his head. He stared at their intersecting fingers. Shakaar or no Shakaar, Odo felt it was time. "Nerys-- "
"Odo, I think someone is looking for you," said Doctor Bashir. He was holding the bowl. Inside it, Kejal waved three tiny tentacles in the air.
Odo had to let go of Kira's hands in order to cradle the silver bowl on his forearms. He only half-heard Doctor Mora recording a personal log entry about the birth. That Bajoran hadn't changed a bit, but Odo trusted him to keep the baby safe.
"Life always prevails," Doctor Mora muttered to his PADD.
"Yes, Doctor Bashir?"
The young doctor smiled, "It's healthy as can be. No instabilities." He nodded to Kira, "And how is your postpartum period?"
"It's better than I thought." Kira answered. She jumped when a tentacle wrapped around her finger. "Oh!"
"Major, I'm so sorry if-- "
"No, Odo, it's all right." She wiggled her finger. "I really think it'll choose to be a boy."
"What makes you say that?"
Kira looked amused. "It has a strong grip like Kirayoshi." She sighed, "I should go. Everybody is going to wonder where I've been. Will you be all right?"
Odo glanced at Doctor Bashir and Doctor Mora. They were dying to scan him. He could tell.
No, he wasn't fine. Not really. Not when he knew he had to say goodbye to Kejal in a short while. He composed his expression. "Yes. I'll be fine."
Kira stepped back. "Good luck, Odo."
Odo nodded once. He watched her leave without knowing his feelings for her. Then his attention returned to the tiny ball of goo in the bowl. "Someday, Kejal, you will understand what you just witnessed."
An arm wrapped around his shoulders. He felt Doctor Mora leaning against him. The contact made him uncomfortable, but he tolerated it.
"How are you feeling?"
Shrugging, Odo let Kejal's tentacles grip his thumb. "I feel just fine. No pain...no ill effects." He glanced at Doctor Bashir. "Tell him to get his scans over with. I know he wants to."
Doctor Mora laughed and beckoned Doctor Bashir over. Odo set the bowl down to prevent interference with his readings.
"It looked like it hurt when Kejal emerged," said Doctor Bashir.
Odo faced him fully. "Actually..."
"Your eyes were rolling back-- "
"Ugh, never mind." Odo let his hands fall at his sides and followed the tricorder with his eyes.
"Anyway...your body absorbed the pocket. It looks like the density in your torso is still high, but I imagine it'll return to normal the next time you regenerate."
"Good. Is that all?"
Doctor Bashir cast a sidelong glance at Doctor Mora. "Are you sure you want him to take Kejal? I'm sure we can set up a facility to raise it here."
Odo's eyes hardened. His glare put a Tarkalean hawk's to shame. "Kejal will not be a lab rat living in a facility
. Doctor Mora and I agreed-- Kejal is to be raised in a home
, not experimented on in a laboratory
. It is going to be cared for, nurtured and allowed to grow up in a safe environment. Far away from proton decompilers, cytoplasmic separators, centrifuges and vacuum chambers."
He didn't realize the effect his speech had until he noticed Doctor Bashir backing away. The young doctor exchanged glances with Doctor Mora.
Embarrassed by his own display of emotion, Odo cleared his throat. "I-I... thank you, doctor. You can go if you like. I'll contact you if anything goes wrong."
Doctor Bashir closed his tricorder. His face became a mask of professionalism. "Take care of yourself, Odo. Doctor Mora?"
"I'll be right there," said Doctor Mora. He moved to let Doctor Bashir exit Odo's quarters.
"Well, that was quite an experience," he remarked. "Kejal already has a head start thanks to you."
Odo ducked his head, avoiding the scientist's gaze. He touched his own chest and smiled to himself. "Kejal won't begin the way I did-- alone, unaware of myself and my abilities."
"And how did it feel?"
"When you gave birth. How did it feel?
Blinking, Odo finally found a suitable description. "Transformative, and I am the only one aware of it."
He saw Doctor Mora shake his head and smile. "It's a shame you aren't religious...experiences like that are special. Maybe it was the Prophets reaching out to you."
Odo allowed himself a small half smile. "Perhaps...but it could just as easily have been the pseudo-endorphins Doctor Bashir said I was producing." He shrugged. "Major Kira is the reason the pain stopped. She helped me relax. She...can make anything negative become positive."
"Are you ever
going to say anything to her?"
His back stiffening, Odo turned his head and refused to answer. He calmed himself down. This wasn't a time for anger. "I don't know, Doctor Mora..."
Doctor Mora patted his shoulder. He had that annoyingly knowing look in his eyes. "Someday, then. Good night, Odo."
Then he left, and the room fell silent.
Odo sat down the floor and placed Kejal's bowl in his lap. Every minute he had with this brand new life was precious.
"Today was quite an adventure, wasn't it?" He reached into the bowl and touched the baby Changeling. It was warm and bubbled at him like it did before birth. That made him chuckle.
Kejal oozed towards Odo's fingers. When Odo lifted his hand, Kejal hung from it like a piece of wet cloth drying on a line. Odo let the baby slosh into his palms. He held it the same way he did when it gave back what the Great Link took away.
"I want to thank you for returning my ability to shape shift. Your gift means everything to me, Kejal. I won't take it for granted."
The tiny face formed again. This time, a hand came with it! A feeling of gratitude touched Odo's mind. Kejal was thanking him too.
Odo grinned as he felt the hand grasp his thumb. Then it dissolved into liquid again. New forms were more tiring than familiar ones. Hands could be especially difficult. So many joints and appendages to account for. Faces weren't easy either. Odo's was still a work in progress.
"You're learning faster than I did," he sighed. His smile slipped. "Kejal...ah, this is too hard to say, and you're still so small...but life won't be easy for you. People may laugh at you, or treat you as entertainment. Others will fear you, because it is the nature of solids to fear what they don't understand. Some will be curious, but others will shun you for being different. It happened to me, and it was painful, but it doesn't have to be that way for you. I-- ugh, as Doctor Mora says, I'm not 'using my words' very well, am I? Here...let me tell you this way."
Odo set the bowl aside and relaxed. His form melted, surrounding the baby Changeling. Kejal's hungry mind reached out. Odo fed it everything he could offer. He pleaded for forgiveness, and Kejal gave it without judgment.
And there is one more thing I want to show you
Seconds after reforming, Odo looked down at the tiny cube on the floor in front of him.
"Fascinating, isn't it?" He smiled and patted the cube. "Now, we both had quite the day. Are you ready to rest for the night?"
No response, of course, but Odo didn't need one. He closed his eyes and relaxed, letting his form liquefy. Kejal reverted itself and shifted until the edge of its puddle touched Odo's. Odo moved to surround the infant, holding it close.
Docking port two was quiet in the wee hours of the morning. Odo got to it first. In his arms, he cradled a silver cremation urn shaped like a tiny photon torpedo case. Kejal was inside, and the urn would serve as cover for the infant Changeling's journey to Bajor. Urns were rarely scanned unless suspicions arose. Odo made sure he purchased it at a time coinciding with cremations taking place on the station.
Carrying life in a container symbolizing death. The irony didn't escape Odo. He caught himself rocking and patting the smooth little urn while he paced around near the airlock.
That morning, when his regeneration finished, he found two bowls sitting on the floor. One wasn't quite as reflective as the other. Still, a dingy but glistening bowl was
pretty good for a Changeling so young. Odo himself didn't manage anything shiny until just before he left Bajor.
And Kejal still hadn't mastered keeping its shape when startled. All Odo needed to do was pick up the bowl and it liquefied in his hands.
"I'm sure you'll find this urn fascinating once Doctor Mora lets you out," Odo whispered. "The shape you're in right now is called an oblong. It is a hybrid between a rectangle and an oval. Can you feel the rounded edges?"
Footsteps prompted him to stop talking. He glanced over his shoulder.
"You're up early," he said.
"I know." Kira leaned against the docking bay doorway. She walked up to Odo and held up a long white stick with a large blue ring at the end. A red bow glistened beneath the ring.
A Bajoran baby rattle.
"I thought the little one might like this."
"Oh! Thank you, Major." Odo accepted the gift. "Kejal...listen." He shook the rattle a few times. "This is for you. The shapes will be good practice."
Odo expected Kira to duck out again and go back to sleep. Instead, she gestured towards the urn Odo was holding. "Goodbyes aren't easy, are they?"
"I...I agree. They aren't." Odo looked down at the urn. He remembered something he saw O'Brien do. "Would you like to hold it?"
Kira's expression softened. She came forward without hesitation and let Odo settle the urn in her arms. She cradled it like any other infant.
"He's heavier than last night. He-- oh...I feel silly calling Kejal an 'it.'" She rocked the urn the same way O'Brien rocked his newest baby. "I can't imagine you ever being this small."
"I know, it's remarkable how far I've come." Odo looked amused. He formed a pocket on his pants and tucked the rattle inside for safekeeping. "But shape shifters such as myself grow as we exercise our abilities. I don't think it will take Kejal long to reach my size. And I hope it doesn't grow up to be like me."
"Hey, you aren't so bad." Kira nudged him with her elbow and grasped the urn at both ends. She handed it back, saying, "I still think it'll choose to be a boy."
"You sound so sure of that," Odo mused.
"How long until we find out if I'm right?"
"I don't know. I suppose we have to wait and see."
More footsteps echoed through the corridor. They stopped at the doorway. Odo faced the sound and unconsciously held the urn a smidge tighter.
"Good morning, Doctor Mora."
Doctor Mora looked tired. No doubt the excitement of last night didn't let him sleep much. He smiled when he saw Odo. "Good morning, Odo. Good morning, Major Kira."
"Doctor," Kira dipped her head respectfully, a gesture that Doctor Mora returned.
"How did things go last night, Odo?"
Odo shrugged. "We linked. Kejal can take on basic shapes, but needs practice holding them. Same as me at first. It's quite curious about the world and wants to try everything at once."
"I'll make sure it learns as much as possible. But this time, no zapping." Doctor Mora winked one eye shut.
"No zapping," Odo agreed. He stared at the urn in his hands.
Kira scooted closer. Despite his best poker face, she knew what this moment was doing to him.
"I got into this because the O'Briens needed my help. I never wanted a baby. But now? I wish I could just hold him in my arms and never let him go."
Odo brought the urn closer to his chest. Right over the spot Kejal emerged from at birth. His throat didn't ache the way it did during his time as a solid, but his emotions were the same. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
"I love you," he whispered. The very words he wished he could say to Kira. He tried to say them again while looking at her and they refused to form. Funny, he did everything to hold them back while in labor. But now, with a clear mind, the declaration stuck somewhere in his throat. His hands quivered. He gave up and stroked the urn. "Someday, I will see you again. I promise, Kejal. I promise
The computer sounded a departure notice. Odo clenched his jaw. Kira reached up and patted his back.
Doctor Mora came forward. "It's time, Odo."
Odo wanted to clutch the urn and flee the docking bay without looking back. He stood there like a statue as Doctor Mora gently lifted the metal container out of his arms.
"Kejal enjoys being swirled in a bowl," He said, trying to fill the sudden emptiness. "It likes to be poured into different shaped containers, too. Make sure you talk to it often so it gets to know your voice. And when the war is over, let it go if it wants to look for me."
Doctor Mora nodded, squeezing Odo's arm. "I promise I will do all of that."
"All right." Odo nodded. Somehow, he kept himself composed when he walked Doctor Mora through the airlock. He started to leave, stopped himself and turned. "Oh, and Doctor Mora?"
Odo took a last look at the silver urn. "Teach it about the Prophets."
Both Kira and Doctor Mora tilted their heads. They smiled at each other. Doctor Mora nodded.
"Goodbye," Odo replied.
Kira waited with him until a loud click indicated the ship's departure. Odo stared at the airlock door. His back was towards Kira. He grimaced and his face twisted, but he lacked the ability to cry.
The baby Changeling he called his own was gone.
"Odo? Are you okay?"
Kira's voice startled him. He schooled his expression and stood up straighter. This was for Kejal's safety. A good life awaited it. A good life without the Founders or experiments.
"I...it feels so empty." Odo sighed. He knew his job would distract him once he went on duty. "I'll be all right. You know how I am. Shall I walk you to the turbolift?"
Exactly thirty minutes from that moment, Odo completed his patrol of the Promenade and walked into Quark's bar. The Ferengi was nowhere to be seen.
" He bellowed.
"Ow!" Quark smashed his head on the rim of his own bar. He clutched the sore spot and glared. "I'm right here! No need to yell! So, what is it this time? The barstools are too high? Are the lights too bright?"
Odo dropped a hundred slips of gold-pressed latinum on the bar. They hit with a bang that made Quark jump. His face remained a mask of seriousness.
"Actually, Quark, I came to say thank you for helping me."
"Fine, fine," Quark rolled his eyes. "I'll get right on th-- what?
"Thank you," Odo said again.
Odo straightened. "Ferengi Rule of Acquisition number seventy-six. Have a nice day, Quark."
"Hey! Hey, hold on! That's not fair! You just cost me the hundred slips you paid me! Odo!"
Odo turned away from Quark and smiled as he exited the bar. On the Promenade, he spotted Malath running into the arms of two adult Andorians. They embraced him tightly, and if they were still angry it didn't show. The female had a small but obvious pregnancy bump.
Malath noticed Odo. His antennae twitched. He hurried towards the gruff Security Chief.
"Thank you so much." Malath dug into his pockets and took out a slip of latinum. "I had my allowance converted. I want to help pay for any damage I did. Is this a lot?"
Odo knelt to regard the boy on his level. Now, he understood what Malath's parents must have gone through. They were looking on that very moment, worried, because their child was talking to someone so different
"Keep your money," Odo said, closing Malath's hand around the latinum slip. "You helped me catch the Yridians behind a new counterfeiting ring. They're going to be in prison for a long time. For that, I should thank you
"Mmhmm." Odo stood up again. "Now run along. Your parents missed you."
"Right! But, um...wait."
Malath hugged him. "Oh, your chest isn't bubbling now."
Odo stood stock still. He finally gave the boy a brief pat on the head. "The cause of that is gone now."
"Oh..." Malath stepped back. "You know, I want to be a security person like you when I grow up." He grinned. "Goodbye!"
The young Andorian darted towards his parents. They waved without coming any closer, something else Odo was used to. Odo folded his hands behind his back, offering a curt nod in reply before heading into his office.
Something rattled when he sat down. He blinked, looking around for the source. Was it his chair? His desk? He tapped his foot and the noise came from his pants.
Odo realized he forgot to pass along the rattle Kira gave him. He took it out of his pocket and turned it over in his hands. His eyes glistened with renewed feelings of loss. Then he smiled, knowing what a good life Kejal was going to have, and placed the rattle on a shelf behind his desk.
It isn't goodbye forever...not this time.
Odo thought to himself. Until then, Kejal, this rattle will remind me of you
Ten years later...
The Great Link was Odo and Odo was the Great Link. Time had lost all meaning since he returned to his people, averted their extinction and forgave their misdeeds. He told the Link about loving Kira. He shared all of his experiences among the solids. They knew everything he knew, felt everything he felt and lived everything he lived. And with him, they anticipated.
No one could be certain of exactly what date a Bajoran ship passed through the atmosphere. Someone called for an investigation, and the volunteer surfaced.
Odo emerged from the Great Link and stood upon the only piece of land on the planet. He wore a plain tunic and boots like the rest of the Founders. It seemed appropriate.
A shrill keening sounded overhead. Odo watched a Tarkalean hawk circle through the clouds. His eyes opened wide. The ocean of Changelings around him churned as the bird landed on a rock. It shifted into a seated humanoid form, its outer skin fashioning a tunic like Odo's. Odo saw his own facial features looking back at him. The Changeling had Kira's brown eyes and dark auburn hair slicked back like Doctor Mora's. There were even faint wisps of eyebrows.
Odo stared in awe. If he had a heart, it would have pounded.
Kira was right
"I've waited my whole life to say this back to you." Kejal got to his feet. He took Odo's hands, looked right into his eyes and smiled. "Hello. I love you, too."
Odo's breath caught in his throat. He beamed, pulling Kejal close to his chest. "Oh, Kejal, I've waited for this
moment for ages."
The female Changeling took shape beside Odo. Facial expressions didn't come naturally for her, but her husky voice was warm when she spoke.
"You must be Kejal."
"Yes," Kejal replied. He had such a happy sounding voice-- similar to Odo's, but not as gruff.
She lifted her head. "We have been waiting for you."
Odo slipped his arm around Kejal's shoulders. He kissed him just above the ear, his mind flashing back to the ecstasy he felt when he brought Kejal into the world. That moment changed his life.
The Female stepped back into the sea of Founders. She spoke over her shoulder, "Come. It's time to join the Great Link." Then she liquefied and disappeared.
"I'm ready," said Kejal. He grasped Odo's hand. "Mother?"
... Odo closed his eyes. He let his arm melt. Kejal did the same. Odo saw Kejal growing up, making friends and praying to the Prophets. Doctor Mora doted over him like a son. When he fell ill with the morphogenic virus, Doctor Bashir sent Doctor Mora the formula for the cure. The illness was the only suffering he experienced. Everything else...
Kejal lived a happy life among the solids, yet he always longed to know his mother.
And you will know me, Kejal. You will know us all
Odo tilted his head back and slipped into the Great Link. Kejal did the same, spreading his life experience to everyone around him. He was hungry for knowledge. The same hunger present at his birth. Now, it would be fully satisfied.
For the first time in his life, Odo felt complete. He rejoiced with the others as the Great Link, a living ocean of memories, welcomed its last droplet home.