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Old March 25 2013, 08:48 PM   #3
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Re: DS9 Fic: Paternity

Deep Space Nine's computer woke me with a series of beeps. I stirred in my bed, dreading what was always a painful day for me. Seventeen years, and I still feel the sudden emptiness of that morning when I rolled over and realized Leruu wasn't breathing. The only comfort I had was knowing she died in my arms while we slept, and our unborn baby knew nothing but peace.

"May the Prophets hold you close, my darlings," I whispered into the darkness. The same words I said that morning. "I love you."

Then I wept to get it out of my system. Afterward, I cleaned up, filed my daily report to Starfleet and prepared to go about my day as normal. The aftereffects of last night's imbibing left me in a fog. I hardly noticed Doctor Bashir telling me about Odo's late night scans. My mind couldn't focus on anything beyond the ringing in my skull. Drinking like a teenager, how foolish! Yet I did it year after year...and I woke up miserable anyway.

The young doctor gave me something in a hypospray, and in seconds I felt reasonably better. Just in time for Odo to walk in.

"Now you'll see what I was talking about," said Doctor Bashir.

I chattered to Odo while I set up the biobed-- this took his attention away from the medical atmosphere-- and the holosuite program came up.

"It sounds like a nice program."

"Mm, yes." Odo hardly noticed my mentioning it. He seemed quite distracted. I observed how he tensed up while Doctor Bashir held a sensor near his chest.

I eyed him. "You're turning green."

Odo scoffed, shooting me a dirty look. "Nice try, Pol."

Hearing my given name gave me pause. The last time he used it was the night he left my lab for good. Now, he said it with a hint of a smile. No malice intended. I relaxed again.

Doctor Bashir interrupted us by clearing his throat. "Gentlemen, here is the latest on Junior."

The screen came to life, and Odo's eyes gleamed. We watched the baby Changeling form into a mound. Then it was a tentacle. It finally settled on a sphere.

"Oh..." Odo leaned forward. "It's grown since last night."

"Has it?" Doctor Bashir added that to his notes. "Does it still have noticeable regeneration periods?"

"Every three hours for thirty minutes."

Onscreen, the infant Changeling became a tentacle and slithered around the edges of its protective bubble like a curious child exploring its environment.

"Look at that," I whispered. "That must tickle."

"Yes." Odo looked down at his chest. "Heh, I guess reading you those detective novels was a bad idea. Sorry, you can't stage an escape just yet."

At that, the infant Changeling liquefied. I knew it wasn't really a response to Odo's words, yet the timing of it made me chuckle. Odo looked dangerously close to laughter himself.

Doctor Bashir joined our mirth. "Don't be too sure of that. It's taking up almost ninety percent of the pocket in its liquid state. The surface density of your chest cavity has increased by three percent as well." He met Odo's gaze. "You're fit for duty today, but try to take it easy."

"Hmph!" Odo stood up. "I'm not dying here."

Someone regenerated on the wrong side of the room this morning, I thought to myself as I watched Odo leave the Infirmary.

"Worst mood swing yet," Doctor Bashir remarked. "But, judging by the infant's size, it'll have to come out soon. If it grows any larger it will breach the pocket."

"Perhaps that will be the way it happens." I watched the shifting images on the monitor. "The only question remaining is the amount of warning we'll have before the birth."

"If we get any at all." Doctor Bashir folded his arms and stared at his PADD. "Let's hope he contacts us if anything feels different."

"I'm sure he will." I rubbed the side of my head. It still ached. "Blasted whiskey, it has a kick."

"Oh? Which kind?"

"Alderbaran."

"Eugh, I could never stomach that."

"It's an acquired taste." I replicated a glass of water and gulped it down. Re-hydrating made the headache retreat to a small knot in the back of my skull. "Don't worry, I'll be back to a hundred percent in a short while. That hypo really helped. I do think I'll rest for awhile longer. Contact me if anything changes."

"Will do."

I left the Infirmary in silence.

.o

Hours went by with no word from Odo.

Starfleet Command tried to reach me twice about my reports. Both times, I asked Doctor Bashir to head them off; I wanted to be fully focused on the fast-approaching birth of Odo's offspring. The young doctor dealt with Starfleet by claiming undue stress risked causing me a relapse. Starfleet wasn't pleased, but to my relief they complied.

With that weight off my mind, I decided to visit the Bajoran temple on the Promenade. I should be ashamed of myself for waiting so long, but too many issues came up.

Being alone with my thoughts meant staring into the chasm Leruu's death opened in my heart for the first time in seventeen years. Every year, I fled from it by burying myself in lab work and alcoholic drinks. Today, I had nowhere to run.

Grief and memories wracked my body. Her skin was so cold, her lips sickly blue...a shell devoid of its pagh. She became ill after a seemingly minor scrape on her foot became infected and spread pathogens straight to her heart. That last night, I told her we would see the doctor in the morning.

Oh, Leruu, my darling...I failed you.

"Bashir to Doctor Mora."

I opened my eyes and peered at the altar. Candles flickered all around me like stars. Deep Space Nine's temple wasn't as grand as those on Bajor. It felt sacrilegious enough seeing a Bajoran temple amidst Cardassian construction, yet I couldn't complain. The citizens here did the best they could.

Sniffling, I collected myself enough to reply. "Yes?"

"Odo is here. His physiology is showing definite changes. This might be it."

Light shone onto the void within my heart. Was this an answer from the Prophets?

I tapped my combadge after I exited the temple. "I'm on my way."

Then, I ran. The Infirmary doors opened when I reached them. There stood Odo, tall and imposing as ever.

"Odo!" I gasped, "I came as soon as I heard. How are you?"

Odo crossed his arms. His lower jaw jutted forward, telling me more about his condition than he cared to admit. Those icy blue eyes of his glanced my way. He grunted through the corner of his mouth. "I'm fine."

He wasn't fine. I know that stance, that set of his jaw and that tone of voice. He was in pain, and doing a decent job at hiding it from everyone but myself.

"The baby Changeling is putting pressure on the inside of its pocket." Doctor Bashir said. He showed me his medical tricorder screen. I saw the baby Changeling' tentacles denting the protective bubble, which had descended a small distance from its position between Odo's rudimentary lungs. It seemed restless with so little room to shape shift.

Doctor Bashir continued, "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."

I peered intently at the image. Odo's scans showed significant changes since he visited the Infirmary earlier. For one, the hollowed space within his chest appeared ten percent smaller. The density beneath the surface of his torso increased towards the air pocket. This thickening built up near his upper back and squeezed off his rudimentary lungs as it spread through his chest.

Odo's posture stiffened. The extra mass receded again like the sea before a tsunami. I could tell this taxed him.

"It stops when I resist it," he said, sounding nonchalant. "It's no different than fighting to hold my shape after the Founders made me sick."

Doctor Bashir closed his tricorder. "But you may not be able to resist it indefinitely. 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."

Odo allowed himself a fleeting smile. His eyes met mine.

"This is so exciting," I whispered. I took a step towards him-- I wanted to feel the life move in his chest one more time before he gave birth.

His combadge beeped. He tapped it and listened to an automated message.

"Activity detected in cargo bay four."

Doctor Bashir and I exchanged looks. Horror filled his eyes.

"I'm afraid I can't relax just yet." Odo regarded us. "I'm overseeing a sting operation."

I stared at Odo in shock. Did he honestly want to leave the medical bay and risk having the baby in front of his deputies? What was he thinking?

"In your condition?" I reached out. "I don't think that's wise."

Odo's brow wrinkled.

"Odo." Now Doctor Bashir wanted to try, "Let your deputies handle th-- "

"No! People will suspect something if I don't show up to assist." Odo backed away from us. One step. Two steps. "I'll be heading to my quarters once this situation is neutralized. If you two don't mind, I prefer to give birth in the privacy of my own space." He lowered his eyes and spoke almost to himself, "I won't have this event become a spectacle."

The selfish part of me wanted to grab Odo's shoulders and shake sense into him. What good was he to his deputies if something went wrong? He could be shot by phaser fire, or worse. The idea of losing yet another mother and unborn baby was unthinkable.

I tried again to reason with him. "Odo, please...we need to monitor y-- "

He pinned me with a look that put Tarkalean hawks to shame. "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. Excuse me."

I felt the breeze of him brushing by me. Desperate, I called to him. "Wait!"

"No! Argh!" Suddenly, Odo jerked like someone struck him in the chest. He doubled forward. His hands grasped the computer panel, and his face became feral. The white stubs he passed off as teeth flashed when he snarled, "If you lay a hand on me, I will personally throw you both into a holding cell!"

Oh, Odo...

"I don't want to go. I don't like Cardassians!"

"Odo'ital..."

"No!"

"Odo'ital, you have to. This is the Cardassian High Command. They won't believe my report unless I show them the results once a month. Do you want them to take you away from me?"

"No."

"Then you need to do this for me. Please. Imitating their neck scales will impress them."

"They'll laugh. Cardassians always laugh at me."

"Cardassians laugh at everything."

"They laugh more at me."

"Please...for me? Not for them, but for me?"

"No! I said I don't WANT to!"

"Odo'ital! You WILL obey!"

"Fine! Fine! Here, here it is! Are you happy? Listen...they're laughing at me...listen to them laugh. Listen to it. Are you happy now?"

"Yes, you did well. Thank you."


My vision blurred. Odo looked as stricken now as he did back then. He suffered for years because of my ignorance. And other children...until he told me I had no idea he was bullied for being different. Chased, mocked, humiliated and assaulted. All my fault for not giving him choices.

Odo became the closest thing I had to a son once I realized his sentience. His presence gave me excuses to stay busy during Leruu's death anniversary. He was-- he still is my life. I taught him how to take humanoid shape. I taught him how to walk and talk. I taught him how to read and write. We worked together to seek his origins and his home. I watched him learn. I loved him with my whole heart.

And then I put him on display for a bunch of Cardassians.

Now, he stood before me in the grips of creation. I knew Odo wouldn't be able to give birth without completing the task he started, just like terminally ill people linger until they settle their final affairs. Preparations for both are much the same-- the body making itself ready to release something. Neither can take place without complete surrender.

I grasped Doctor Bashir's shoulder. There were no Cardassians to impress. This time, Odo called the shots.

"Doctor..." I said, "let him go. He's right. I took too many of his choices away. Let's not take this one away too." I looked into Odo's eyes. "Odo? Go, but be careful."

Gratefulness. He looked at me with gratefulness. A rarity from him. Then he was gone.

"Are you crazy?" Doctor Bashir rounded on me. "We can't just let him go like that!"

"We can. We did. He won't bring that baby into the world until he accomplishes his goal." I said back.

"How can you be certain? Didn't you see the scans?"

I leveled my gaze with the human's. "Did you see the look in his eyes? Did you see the fire there? This is Odo we're talking about. Everything has to be in order. He won't deliver until he is ready, and he won't be ready until he makes the arrest."

"I hope you're right, Doctor Mora. I hope you're right."

"He'll be fine."

"I'm tapping into his combadge to monitor him anyway." Doctor Bashir refocused on his tricorder. "Just in case."

Time began to pass.

I paced. Doctor Bashir tapped his foot. People walked past the Infirmary doors.

We both watched the readouts from Odo's body on the monitor. Six times now, we witnessed the density in his chest increasing. Each consecutive occurrence happened with more pressure and speed. This buildup touched the pocket the fifth time. On the sixth, it physically moved it before Odo forced the wave back.

Except, I realized, he wasn't quite able to fully normalize himself. His internal density remained elevated. He had just enough space to 'breathe.' And even that was shrinking.

"That's it." Doctor Bashir said. "I'm calling him back here."

"You can try, doctor."

I heard the response I expected. Odo barked a curt answer. What I didn't expect was Odo shutting off his combadge. There went our live readouts. Now we had no way to monitor him. Young doctors and young scientists-- why are they so impatient?

"Perfect," Doctor Bashir muttered. "Now what?"

I sighed, offering a silent prayer. "We wait."

"What if we aren't contacted in time?"

"Have faith, Doctor Bashir."

Doctor Bashir's brow knit. He walked in circles, his eyes rarely leaving the monitor screen. No doubt expecting the feed to suddenly come back online.

I took out my PADD and played a game of dom-jot. In science, patience is a virtue even while under pressure.

Exactly one hour later, Doctor Bashir's combadge beeped.

"Kira to Bashir."

"Kira!" Doctor Bashir nearly leapt through the ceiling! "Where is Odo? Is he all right?"

Kira replied, "He's fine. I'm with him. We're heading to his quarters."

I shot Doctor Bashir a knowing smile. He grinned back at me.

"Doctor Mora and I are on our way."

I don't think either of us stopped running until we reached the turbolift. On the way, I grabbed an empty salad bowl off a table in the Replimat. It was that or race back for a petri dish, and somehow I doubted Odo would appreciate seeing the infant in anything from a laboratory.

I barely caught my breath by the time we reached Odo's personal quarters. Doctor Bashir rang the chime. The door opened, allowing us entry. The lights were low and the temperature cooler. I saw Odo sitting on the floor. His legs were stretched out in front of him. He sat propped up from behind by Kira. She massaged his shoulders and let him know we arrived.

"Keep your voices low." She said, nodding to me. "He is starting the relaxation process."

My ears picked up the ocean waves and birth percussion. He chose the Bajoran way...but I could tell he still struggled against the pain. Delaying the birth must have put his body through a great deal of stress. Typical Odo, always doing things the hardest way possible.

Doctor Bashir replicated birthing scarves for himself and me. I slipped mine over my head and noticed Odo shape shifted his boots away. He loved to be barefoot before he left the lab for good. Seeing him that way again brought back fond memories.

"Look! Feet! I have feet!"

"Ah! Odo'ital, that's wonderful...now, can you wiggle your toes?"

"Like this?"

"Ha-ha! You're doing better every day."

"Are you happy with that?"

"Yes. Very much."

I knelt by Odo's side. His eyes met mine.

"You had us worried." I said.

"Yes...I apologize for that." He quirked his mouth in a half-smile. "I caught the criminal I was after."

"Only you would arrest somebody while in labor." I chuckled, "Do you feel ready for this?"

Odo shifted his legs. His 'breath' came in short spurts and his face twisted. "I don't-- have much-- c-choice now."

Behind him, Kira whispered something and rubbed his shoulders.

"You're right about that." Doctor Bashir already had his medical tricorder out. He scanned Odo thoroughly. "Your body made some progress while you were gallivanting around in the cargo bay." He studied the readouts. "The pocket is five centimeters lower than it was before. Here comes a...I suppose I can call it a contraction."

I watched the density increase happen on the tricorder screen. The pressure forced the air out of Odo's air sacs, and he had to work harder to inhale. Odo looked like a man taking his dying breaths. Wrinkles formed on his brow. He writhed, groaning, and I felt his pain in my soul. I had to look away.

Oh, Prophets, please make this easier for him.

Kira murmured to Odo again. I focused on them together. The way she held him and spoke quietly into his ear reminded me of how I used to hold my wife. The role reversal amused me, yet the beauty of their togetherness warmed my heart. Odo really has grown so much since his days as a jar of liquid.

Whatever Kira said, it worked. Odo let his head fall back onto her shoulder. He slowed his breathing efforts. His expression still showed distress. He never was good at relaxing.

Doctor Bashir ran another tricorder sweep. He raised his eyebrows at Odo's discomfort. "I have painkillers on-hand."

Odo refused them for the infant Changeling's sake. The question never came up again.

"The extra mass is taking up twenty percent of his torso now." Doctor Bashir told me. "It's a good thing he finished that sting operation when he did."

"I concur." I nodded my acknowledgement and took Odo's hand in mine. He didn't pull away. I rubbed the pressure points in his palm that normally made a Bajoran mother's uterus contract better. It seemed silly once I realized what I was doing. Then I decided it didn't matter, maybe it would help Odo just the same. He wasn't objecting.

His hand felt unusually mushy under my fingers. I asked Doctor Bashir to scan Odo head to toe, and my findings were confirmed. Some of the extra density in his torso came from what he normally allotted to his limbs.

"This is an interesting pattern." Doctor Bashir whispered. "The density isn't receding like before, but getting thicker in gradual increments."

I looked at the screen again. The baby-- Kejal-- appeared intent on maintaining a spherical shape inside its safe little pocket, which was being overtaken by the growing thickness in Odo's chest wall.

"He stopped resisting it," I said to the young doctor. "Be sure you take chemical readings. I suspect you'll find high concentrations of morphogenic enzymes in his biomolecular structure...his body produces them when he changes shape, and he reabsorbs them again once he's finished the shift. Taking on difficult forms or excessive shape shifting means more enzyme production. They keep his morphogenic matrix malleable. He can't maintain a shape without them."

"That's what supposedly killed the baby Changeling before, isn't it?"

"Yes. The radiation rendered it unable to continue producing morphogenic enzymes, so it used them all up and died as a result. Or would have, if not for...this." I massaged Odo's hand again. No response from him, and I didn't expect one. I continued, "I've never seen Odo's system fully saturated before."

Doctor Bashir adjusted his tricorder settings. The glint in his eyes told me I was right. He smiled. "His enzyme levels are up fifty percent."

Fifty percent already? I tried not to appear too surprised. There was a chance, a small one, that an excess of morphogenic enzymes were just as dangerous as a lack of them. Odo's biomolecular structure never went through constant, prolonged stress like this before.

We'll wait and see. Odo, I trust you'll speak up if something goes wrong.

I continued applying pressure to Odo's palm with my thumb. "Keep monitoring it, doctor."

Doctor Bashir mumbled an acknowledgement and transferred his latest findings to his PADD.

Odo offered me his other hand. I rubbed it for him. We alternated hands a few times. Then I massaged them both simultaneously. Kira maintained her constant kneading of his shoulders and back. We smiled at our teamwork. It seemed to help Odo retreat into himself. The only tension in him was a wrinkle in his forehead. In time, even that smoothed away.

Amazing. I've never seen Odo look so peaceful.

My focus went to the lovely Bajoran woman behind him. Kira Nerys-- I saw everything so clearly by glancing at her face. She loved Odo as much as Odo loved her, and like him she didn't want to risk their friendship by confessing. They were so blind to each other, yet the obvious was there in how she held him, offered comfort and guided his relaxation through every single tightening.

Odo's hands almost turned into putty in mine. My thumbs distorted his knuckles, yet he pressed his palms against my fingers whenever I stopped massaging.

"You'll be all right," I whispered to him, but I don't think he heard me.

I leaned over to check the tricorder. The space in Odo's chest cavity was half its usual size. Incredible pressure squeezed the tiny air pocket surrounding the baby. Odo's 'lungs' continued to steadily inflate and deflate. Somehow, he figured out how to lower just the 'floor' of his upper torso. His air sacs expanded downward in a motion identical to diaphragmatic respiration. He timed his breaths to the birth percussion playing in the background. Whenever the gong sounded, he inhaled.

The pressure increased again. Odo let it empty his 'lungs' without the struggle he put up earlier. Stillness overcame him. He appeared dead-- head back and mouth open. A minute went by. One minute stretched into three minutes, and three minutes stretched into five. Details in Odo's fingers started to disappear. Fingernails first. The folds on his knuckles went next.

Kira looked up at me, alarmed. Odo suddenly inhaled again at the six minute mark. He resumed his slow, deep breaths as though the pause never happened. I saw Kira close her eyes in relief.

"That's normal?" she mouthed.

I nodded reassuringly. "His body did a little readjusting. He may do that a few more times."

Doctor Bashir squinted at the readouts. "I'm not sure I like the look of this. The pocket is exerting resistance against the growing density. It's going to make the process stall pretty soon."

I shook my head. "No. See how it's slowly wrapping around the pocket? Breaking it now might harm the baby."

"I'm not sure I'll even know if a complication is arising. This is so far out of my league..."

"He'll tell us." I said. "What are his enzyme levels?"

"Seventy percent," Doctor Bashir looked at me. "And still rising. His temperature is rising too."

I saw Odo furrow his brow. That became the only sign of the happenings inside his body. Kira helped him sit up a few centimeters higher. Odo flopped like a rubber marionette in her arms and she had to support his back with her body. He offered no resistance to the change in position.

I could not believe my eyes. Odo was relaxed. She successfully got him to relax!

"That's it," she whispered in his ear. "One contraction at a time."

"He's having a big one," said the young doctor. "I can't see the pocket anymore."

I watched a ripple move through the jelly-like thickness surrounding Odo's 'lungs'. Odo moved his head. Did he just burp?

"The pocket ruptured," he whispered.

I gave his hand a squeeze. "It won't be long now."

"Breach confirmed." Doctor Bashir took another tricorder reading. His frown dissipated. He nodded, showing me the screen. The baby Changeling now moved freely in a new hollow within Odo's chest cavity. It looked like a paramecium swimming in circles. The space surrounding it continued to shrink.

"There it is. Little Kejal," I said, grasping Doctor Bashir's arm. "It's so alive, doctor...it's so tiny and so alive."

"Doctor Mora? Are you all right?"

"Doctor Bashir, I've never felt better."

A growing ache filled my throat. My bottom lip quivered. Odo didn't know what a gift he bestowed on me. He was turning a day representing misery and darkness into joy and light. I wanted to hold him in my arms and never let him go. Instead, I kissed his hand. He chose Kira's arms, not mine, and I did not begrudge his decision. Just being there, watching him create life, was enough for me.

"Breathe, Odo," Kira whispered, still kneading his shoulders. "Stay relaxed."

"It...it's moving." Odo took a breath. "It's linked with me...I am telling it...not to be...fearful. Nerys, it isn't afraid."

"Good," she said, her hands now working on his upper arms. "You're doing fine. Take it slow. There's no hurry."

Doctor Bashir changed the settings on his tricorder. "Odo, do you know where it's going to emerge?"

"Don't worry about that." I showed him the bowl. "I brought a container."

"Shhh!" Kira hissed, shooting us both a glare.

Odo gasped twice and groaned. Vocalizations usually signaled a shift in the labor pattern-- for Bajoran women. I wasn't sure what it meant for him. He didn't look distressed.

"The density increase is accelerating," Doctor Bashir said to me, keeping his voice low. His lips twisted to the side. "I can't imagine this will take much longer."

"And the infant?"

He let me see the screen again. The baby Changeling remained active, although it no longer had the space to flit back and forth. Its edges blurred. I found it impossible to distinguish its life signs from Odo's.

"Enzyme levels?" I asked.

"Ninety percent and still climbing. His extremities are still heating up. Doctor Mora?"

"He's all right," I replied, pointing to the tricorder. "See? His limbs are getting warm, but his torso is staying cool."

Kira let her cheek rest against Odo's ear. She kept whispering too softly for anyone else to hear. He shifted his weight. She focused on massaging his sides.

The tricorder flashed red. Odo's morphogenic matrix was completely saturated by morphogenic enzymes. I held the bowl ready in case he liquefied. Odo remained solid, bringing me to the event horizon of how much I knew about his physiology. He licked his lips and rolled his head side to side on Kira's shoulder. No pain registered in his expression.

Doctor Bashir looked around the room. His eyes returned to the tricorder in his hand. He adjusted it twice and balked at the data.

"That's odd..."

"What?" I grasped Odo's hand again. Like holding a hot water bottle-- barely solid on the surface and completely liquid inside.

"Look at this." The young doctor showed me the chemical readouts of his latest scans. It was the most remarkable reading I've ever seen! Odo's morphogenic enzymes were being produced in such vast quantities that they bonded into a molecular structure akin to endorphins. Doctor Bashir told me as much.

I covered my mouth to keep myself quiet. This explained a great deal! Odo's serene expression, the total relaxation and the diminishing pain. He was ready to climb the walls when I first entered his quarters. Now, he almost appeared asleep. And the elevated temperature? His body's means of keeping its own surface solid! The utter simplicity nearly made me weep.

You are so remarkable, Odo. So remarkable!

"Keep scanning," I told Doctor Bashir.

"Will you two please whisper?" Kira hissed at us, her hands now on Odo's shoulders. "If he can make something similar to endorphins, then he'll stop if you don't quiet down."

My face heated and I ducked my head. She was right. "My apologies, Major."

Her sharp expression melted into a soft smile.

I looked guiltily at Doctor Bashir. He couldn't decide between focusing on Odo or his tricorder.

Odo opened his eyes. They were glazed. He made a small noise before his voice came out.

"Ahh...oh my..."

"Easy." Kira prevented him from undoing his own relaxation. "What is it?"

"Odo?" I leaned forward.

Odo stared off into space. "So close..."

I watched his eyes darken as his pupils dilated. His lips remained parted. It wouldn't surprise me if he was hallucinating something beautiful, and I didn't dare interrupt it by speaking to him.

I nudged Doctor Bashir. He smiled at me.

"I told you," I whispered, "He's fine."

Tricorder readings showed the infant Changeling just centimeters beneath Odo's chest wall. His body was creating a passageway. Pressure behind the baby kept it in a tube shape and slowly forced it forward. The surface density in Odo's chest plunged over the area of highest morphogenic enzyme concentration. His upper torso began to glisten and ripple.

My heart pounded. Kira hardly batted an eyelash at the change. Doctor Bashir nodded, looking pleased.

Odo grunted a few times. He let his head fall forward, inhaled and laid it back on Kira's shoulder again.

"It's right under the surface," Doctor Bashir said to Odo. "Odo, you're doing fantastically. Are you uh..." He checked the tricorder again, "...pushing?"

Somehow, Odo managed to glare. "No, my body is doing it on its own."

Kira soothed him by rubbing his sides. "That's it. Relax. Breathe."

Yes, Odo, stay out of your own way, I thought. If he started over-thinking now, he'd spoil everything.

"Mmh..." Odo settled against her again. He had this placid little smile on his face, and I saw Kira offering one right back.

I couldn't help myself-- I took out my holo-imager and snapped an image of them. I'm glad I did. Not a moment later, Odo spoke up.

"It's moving again." He blinked slowly, slurring his speech as if drunk. "It feels...I-I feel so good. Nerys, what is happening?"

Kira smoothed his hair with a pass of her hand. "You found your center. You're ready." She gave his upper arms a squeeze and began the midwife's part of the welcoming ritual. "Awake, child..."

And Odo spoke the mother's words, "...w-we await you with love..."

"...and welcome you into the world." I said the father's incantation.

I felt a hot lump in my throat. Odo's torso liquefied completely, maintaining only a vague semblance of form. His toes fanned out and his hands closed into fists. He grimaced, but I knew he wasn't suffering.

"Let it happen, Odo. Don't think." Kira whispered to him, her fingers stroking his brow. "Relax and let it happen."

Odo rested his head on Kira's shoulder again. His gaze met hers in a look of complete and utter love. His breathing accelerated, and his shoulders hunched. Kejal became visible for the first time while Odo stared deeply into Kira's eyes.

I took another holo-image. Odo was completely open. He tried to say something to Kira, but his voice wouldn't work. His toes started to curl and his fingers gripped at the floor beneath him. The only sound in the room became his ragged panting. Moments later, even that fell silent.

Doctor Bashir slid closer to me. He could scarcely hold the tricorder.

"It's about to happen, doctor," I covered the device with my fingers. "Witness with your eyes, not your machinery."

Kira touched my arm to get my attention. She understood.

Odo's eyelids fluttered. A look of utter peace fell across his features. Then, suddenly, he threw his head back, his lips opening in a soundless cry. Kejal emerged a millimeter at a time, its gelatinous body rippling. Kira whispered something in Odo's ear. Odo smiled so blissfully while Kejal was only halfway out. I had my holo-imager ready...and I now have that moment captured for all eternity: Odo grinning in the middle of giving birth, and Kira watching him in awe.

I didn't notice I forgot the bowl until Kejal fully separated from its mother. The baby Changeling piled into Odo's lap like gel squeezed out of a tube.

My vision blurred. I clasped both hands over my mouth. Odo...he brought Kejal into the world in one push, and he did it without pain!

For several seconds, Odo remained poised, gasping, overcome by the incredible miracle he created. His torso gradually returned to normal. He blinked twice, looking quite dazed.

Kejal hadn't moved since it separated from its mother. It, too, probably needed time to process its experience.

Kira gave Odo a slight shake. "Odo? Are you all right?"

Odo mouthed the affirmative with a nod. His fingers relaxed and his toes uncurled. He wiggled them as he peered at the pile of goo in his lap.

Kejal lifted part of itself towards Odo. The wondrous expression on Odo's face burned itself into my memory. He cupped his hands around the infant and lifted it off his lap. Kira leaned closer, her brown eyes glittering. She squeezed Odo's shoulders when the baby morphed its raised tentacle into a primitive copy of its mother's face.

Blinking, Odo lifted Kejal to eye level. Mother and child met, yet not for the first time...

"Hello," he whispered. Then he smiled, forgetting about everyone else in the room.

Kejal looked Odo straight in the eyes and smiled back. It tried to speak, but couldn't make a sound. Then it looked up at Kira. The infant briefly morphed her features as well. Moments later, it liquefied in Odo's hands.

And what used to be a day of misery for me changed forever. I leaned back, letting my joyful tears wash the desolation off my soul.

"Oh, Odo!" Kira cried, her voice trembling. "Congratulations!"

I patted Odo's arm. He looked dazedly at me, his eyes not quite focusing.

"That was the most fascinating thing I've ever seen in all my years as a scientist." I said to him.

Nodding, apparently at a loss for words, Odo gently placed Kejal in the bowl I brought with me.

Kejal wasn't inert like Odo had been when we first met. It bubbled and spread out like an amoeba to explore its new environment. I heard it making quiet noises. Chirps and whines. I remember Odo doing something similar before he took form. Changeling baby talk, perhaps?

Odo met my eyes. Mine were still watering. He gave me the briefest twitch of a smile before lowering his head for a moment's rest. I shed another happy tear for us both.

Not even Doctor Bashir was immune to the emotions of the moment. He blinked the excess moisture out of his eyes and took a careful tricorder reading. "It's healthy, if I compare its readings to Odo on a normal day." He smiled. "I think I agree with you, Doctor Mora. That was remarkable. How do you feel, Odo?"

Still shaken, Odo replied, "I'm-- fine. I'm fine."

I cradled the bowl, watching Kejal ripple. It filled the entire bottom of the container. By sight alone, I suspected it was about two hundred and fifty milliliters. A glance at Doctor Bashir's tricorder confirmed my visual assessment. Odo was exactly that size when he came into my care.

This truly is a new start.

I let Doctor Bashir take the bowl and run a few more health scans. In the meantime, I peered at Odo and Kira. They were on their feet now, standing close together and whispering quietly to each other.

"Nerys," Odo said, "Thank you...I-- "

"You're welcome, you did great." And I watched her take his hands. The gesture, or perhaps her smile, made him stop breathing for a split second. She said, "I should be thanking you for sharing this with me. Birth is a vulnerable time for anyone."

"I..." Odo looked down at his feet. He stammered, "I had a baby."

His feelings were so obvious. Couldn't she see it?

Kira giggled and squeezed his hands. "You sure did! It's a shame you want to keep it a secret."

He sighed. "I know. I have to until the war with the Dominion is over."

I saw her glance my way. "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 nodded. He made a noise like clearing his throat. Yes...finally...he was going to tell her!

Kejal made a groaning noise. Tentacles stretched towards Odo. I saw Doctor Bashir in the corner of my eye. Before I could move to stop him, he handed Kejal's bowl to Odo. Completely oblivious to the moment he interrupted!

"Odo, I think someone is looking for you."

"Oh." Odo accepted Kejal and his walls snapped back up like starship shields. A check on the tricorder showed his pseudo-endorphin levels were falling, which meant a return of his inhibitions.

I reached for the PADD I tucked into Doctor Bashir's medical bag and began typing out everything I witnessed for my personal notes.

"Life always prevails," I said to myself.

Weeks ago, this baby Changeling was dying, and today its rebirth proved us all wrong. Life finds a way.

"It's healthy as can be," Doctor Bashir confirmed my thoughts. "No instabilities." Then, to Kira, "And how is your postpartum period?"

She touched her abdomen and answered, "It's better than I thought."

A tiny tentacle startled her. Odo began to apologize. She waved him off and wiggled the finger that held Kejal's fascination. "I really think it'll choose to be a boy."

Some of Odo's old curiosity surfaced. He cocked his head. "What makes you say that?"

"It has a strong grip like Kirayoshi." She gave a contented sigh. "I should go. Everybody is going to wonder where I've been. Will you be all right?"

Odo looked between Doctor Bashir and I. Until then, I don't think he realized we were still there. I saw the sad realization on his face. Tomorrow, I would be leaving with Kejal while he stayed behind, empty-handed. He clearly was not all right.

"Yes, I'll be fine." He said.

"Good luck, Odo." She freed herself from the tentacles grasping her fingers, touched his arm and quietly left.

Odo watched her go. To the bowl, he muttered, "Someday, Kejal, you will understand what you just witnessed."

I let myself lean on him. His limbs didn't feel mushy anymore.

There was still a chance to get him to talk. I had to keep my question as impersonal as possible and hope he felt like elaborating.

"How are you feeling?"

"I feel just fine. No pain...no ill effects." Odo shrugged, his focus staying on Kejal. The baby Changeling's tentacles gripped his thumb and partly liquefied. Odo's thumb melted too. Glistening ripples passed between the points of contact.

A wayward tentacle touched my hand. It felt like warm, sticky putty, yet no residue remained when it slid across my palm. The tentacle turned fluid. My hand tingled, and I experienced a comfort unlike any I've ever known. It lasted until the writhing appendage re-congealed. Kejal had to be wondering why it couldn't link with me. And I realized I just felt the peace one only feels in the womb.

That must be what Odo misses the most.

Odo forgot himself for a moment or two as he watched Kejal interact with me. He started to smile until Doctor Bashir cleared his throat. His annoyed sigh said it all.

"Tell him to get his scans over with. I know he wants to."

Odo never changes. I laughed, beckoning Doctor Bashir over. Odo set Kejal's bowl down and lights from the tricorder sent flickering colors across his chest.

"It looked like it hurt when Kejal emerged," said the young doctor.

Turning, Odo regarded him coolly. "Actually..."

"Your eyes were rolling back-- "

"Doctor," Odo snapped.

Doctor Bashir peeled himself off his tricorder. He raised a brow. "Huh?"

"Ugh," Odo rolled his eyes, "Never mind."

Doctor Bashir finished taking his readings. An amused smile flitted over his lips. "Ah...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's glanced at me. Then back at Odo. He asked, "Are you sure you want him to take Kejal? I'm sure we can set up a facility to raise it here."

Oh, Julian, you fool...why did you ask him that?

The young doctor meant well. I fully believe his intentions were to prevent the separation, however his poor choice of words opened the door into a supernova. I don't think he noticed Odo adding two inches to his height, but he certainly couldn't miss the fire in his eyes.

"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." He growled. "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."

Odo stepped forward during his tirade. Doctor Bashir paled and backed away. He looked at me. I held my hands up-- I did not want to be pulled into this. He put himself on the spot by setting Odo off!

Fortunately, Odo caught himself and stood down. He never liked people seeing his emotional outbursts. "I-I... thank you, doctor. You can go if you like. I'll contact you if anything goes wrong."

Doctor Bashir sagged in relief. He closed his tricorder and put it away. "Take care of yourself, Odo." He picked up his medical bag. "Doctor Mora?"

"I'll be right there." I said, giving the young doctor room to exit.

Odo visibly relaxed once Doctor Bashir left. He peered at the bowl. At what he once was before I came along...and probably recalling all the ways I hurt and helped him.

"Well, that was quite an experience." I said. "Kejal already has a head start thanks to you."

Odo avoided meeting my eyes. His hand went to his chest, which must have seemed so empty to him now. "Kejal won't begin the way I did-- alone, unaware of myself and my abilities."

I couldn't deny that. Kejal bubbled audibly in the bowl. No wonder I heard Odo laughing the other day. I've missed hearing his laughter...

"And how did it feel?"

"What?"

"When you gave birth. How did it feel?"

My inquiry made him uncomfortable. I knew he wasn't in pain when Kejal left his body, and he knew that I knew.

Odo blinked, looking everywhere but at me until he found an answer. His face shone, a man screaming for faith in something higher than himself, yet unable to leap the barriers of his disbelief.

"Transformative," he said at last, "and I am the only one aware of it."

He reminded me of a pond after someone threw a pebble into the water. It looks no different on the surface once the ripples die away, but the landscape underneath is changed forever.

Shaking my head with a smile, I said, "It's a shame you aren't religious...experiences like that are special. Maybe it was the Prophets reaching out to you."

Kejal bubbled at us.

Odo smiled halfway. "Perhaps...but it could just as easily have been the pseudo-endorphins Doctor Bashir said I was producing." He shrugged his shoulders. "Major Kira is the reason the pain stopped. She helped me relax. She...can make anything negative become positive."

Major Kira again. I didn't miss how his eyes sparkled as he said her name. He really has come so far-- from a lost, confused being to someone hopelessly in love.

In all honesty, at the beginning, I didn't think he was capable of such deep emotions. Once, I believed his displays were him parroting what he saw and heard. I didn't realize my error until he understood the Cardassians ridiculed him. Before his realization, he greatly enjoyed showing off his shape shifting abilities. Then he started resenting it. And I was ignorant to it until he made it impossible not to see. The rage in his eyes on the night he left...he knew leaving would make me suffer.

The past is the past, and I learned from it. Kejal won't face its mother's misery.

My mind returned to the present. To the sight of Odo staring longingly at the doorway Kira went through.

"Are you ever going to say anything to her?"

Odo stiffened, grumbling low in his throat. Then he sighed. "I don't know, Doctor Mora."

Deep down, I hoped he would. I patted his shoulder and smiled at him. "Someday, then. Good night, Odo."

He nodded to me. I left him alone to bond with his newborn.

.o

Sleep eluded me most of the night. I spent the sleepless hours going over the tricorder readings Doctor Bashir generously sent to me. We knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I felt grateful to the human doctor for his attention to detail throughout the birth. I took great care to encrypt every piece of data. I didn't know Starfleet's plans in regards to the Founders, but I had a feeling I wouldn't like them.

Twice, I tried to lay down and rest. I only managed two hours before I gave up. My excitement proved too great.

I pulled out my old notes on Odo. Back from when I didn't understand him like I do now. In the beginning, he formed himself into a one hundred and eighty-three centimeter tall humanoid with the mind of a child. He took humanoid form to better understand the world around him. I thought I satiated that by giving him an education. We worked together to seek his origins. He asked me about emotions, and I was a fool. Oh, my own ignorance pains me...

I believed him to be a life form that only mimicked. Then I learned he was so much more. But for too long, I missed it. I missed the obvious.

"Doctor Mora?"

"Yes, Odo'ital?"

"Why did water come from that man's eyes?"

"He was crying."

"Why?"

"Sadness. Sometimes it makes people cry."

"Can people get sad without crying?"

"Yes, they can, and they carry the deepest sadness."

"Why do people feel sad?"

"It's complicated."


And then, years later...

"I didn't like that party. Cardassians are idiots!"

"I know, Odo, but we've been over this matter. I have to show them your progress."

"When do I get a choice in this? Am I not a sentient being capable of making my own decisions?"

"Of course you are! But-- "

"'But' nothing. I am not your science fair freak. I am not a scapegoat for ridicule. Most of all, I am not a laboratory animal to be studied, poked and paraded around like a trophy. Starting now, I am taking charge of my life. I'm leaving."

"You can't be serious. Odo, you're so young!"

"I have never been more serious. I trusted you to protect me, and you let them humiliate me month after month."

"The parties are awful-- I admit that. But they are necessary. And if you think Cardassian parties are painful, then you have another thing coming. It's a dangerous universe out there. People won't understand you. People will fear you. I'm the only person you can trust!"

"Hmph. I don't need to trust anyone. Especially not YOU."

"I resent that...I really do."

"Good!"

"I did not bring you up to speak to me this way!"

"Oh, now you claim you 'brought me up?' I don't feel 'brought up' at all. Fathers don't experiment on their children, do they? I am not your son. I'm your specimen. Why listen to the specimen? It doesn't have feelings, it just mimics them. I heard you say that to Gul Dukat. Well, that's fine with me. I'm finished pretending for you or anyone. I'm hurt, and I won't put up with it a microsecond longer."

"We can work through th-- "

"They still call me Odo'ital. It is all I've ever been to you, isn't it?"

"You know full well that isn't true."

"Hah! This is useless. You're dying to test my emotional capacity, aren't you? Every new development sends you running for your scanners. You can't tell by looking? The way normal people see others?"

"Of course I can tell!"

"Liar. Tch, this is going nowhere. I'll see myself out."

"Odo, if you walk out that door..."

"What? You'll what? That's right. You can't stop me."

"Why are you doing this? Why are-- "

"Do my feelings matter to you?"

"I...oh, damn it, Odo, yes. Don't go. Think about what you're doing."

"I did, and I'm leaving. We're no closer to discovering my origins than we were when you first poured me into a petri dish! I'm better off alone."

"It's a big universe out there. Where are you going to start?"

"I'll figure it out. I'm sure I'll make more progress out there than I do here. How can we move forward when I have to drop everything and provide Cardassian entertainment?"

"You'll be lost without me."

"No. YOU are the one who will be lost without ME. And don't you ever forget it. Let's see how YOU find your way without your sideshow bucket of slime."

"I-- "

"Enough. I'm going now."

"Please..."

"You never answered my pleas, so why should I answer yours?"

"Grr...fine! Go ahead! Leave! You always had to do things the hard way! When you come oozing back to me, I'll remind you that I told you this would happen! Go on! Get out!"

"I won't be back. Mark my words, Pol."


I still remember that night like yesterday. Odo walked out into one of the worst storms to strike the continent. I can't say for certain how long he stood in the rain-- I honestly thought he would change his mind and come back into the lab. But he left, and his departure reopened the wounds of losing my wife and unborn child.

Looking back now, I think Odo did us both a service by leaving. He made a life for himself, one I never imagined him having. I loved him. I still love him, and I failed to show it when he needed it the most. I won't make that mistake with Kejal. Prophets strike me down if I fail again!

My combadge beeped. "The time is now oh-four-twenty. Your shuttle departs in forty minutes."

Sleep was definitely out of the question. I needed to be on the transport to Bajor by oh-five-hundred, but I wanted to stop by the temple one more time first.

Getting ready took only moments. I entered the temple, said a quick prayer and lit candles for my late wife and child. Then I ventured towards the docking ring.

"...I still think it'll choose to be a boy," Kira's voice filtered into the corridor.

"You sound so sure of that." Odo said in reply.

She asked, "How long until we find out if I'm right?"

"Ah...I don't know. I suppose we'll have to wait and see."

I could see Odo from my location at the end of the hallway. He chose a cremation urn to carry Kejal. Oh, the irony-- new life in a container for death. He cradled it so gently to his chest, the small silver oblong brilliant against his brown uniform.

Odo paced, gently rocking the urn in his arms like any infant. Kira walked with him. Her eyes were so kind, so understanding of his pain.

I couldn't delay any longer, so I approached as though just arriving. Odo noticed me and I didn't miss him pulling the urn closer to himself. Remarkable...he had true maternal instincts towards Kejal. I hated to take that baby. Even though he asked me to, I wished I could spare him the separation.

"Good morning, Doctor Mora." Odo said, sounding casual while looking anything but.

I smiled at his brave front. "Good morning, Odo." Then I regarded Kira, "Good morning, Major Kira."

"Doctor," she replied, dipping her head.

I respectfully returned the gesture. Each time I moved, Odo gave the slightest recoil. I can't blame him...I really can't.

"How did things go last night, Odo?"

Odo shrugged his shoulders at me. "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." I winked. "But this time, no zapping."

"No zapping." Odo said, more to himself than me. His eyes focused on the tiny silver urn.

Kira eased into his personal space, and he didn't move away. Did she realize he let almost no one stand that near to him? That she had a privilege offered to very few besides herself? She rubbed his back while he pulled the urn closer and closed his eyes. His fingers curled against it.

"I love you," I heard him whisper to the urn. He looked over at Kira, his eyes large and pleading. Then he refocused on his precious cargo, stroking it with a shaking hand. "Someday, I will see you again. I promise, Kejal." His lips pulled in a grimace. "I promise."

The computer sounded off. "Shuttle three-one-two for Bajor now departing."

Odo's breath hitched. The only difference between his weeping and a humanoid's was the lack of sobbing and tears. Kira may have missed this little subtlety, but I did not.

My own eyes stung as I reached towards him. "It's time, Odo."

Somehow, Odo found the strength to stand up straight and let me take the urn out of his hands. Typical Odo-- a pillar in quicksand who flounders and falls, but never crumbles.

"Kejal enjoys being swirled in a bowl," he began, clearing his throat. "It likes to be poured into different shaped containers, too." He took another shaky breath. "Make sure you talk to it often so it gets to know your voice." Finally, he met my eyes. "And when the war is over, let it go if it wants to look for me."

Anything to make this easier for him...anything. I nodded and gave his arm a comforting squeeze. "I promise. I will do all of that." I promise not to make the same mistakes again...

"All right." Odo pulled his emotions back. Where did he find that power? Was it Kira, who stood loyally by his side in total understanding? Was it the hope of a future without experiments and suffering?

We stepped into the transport together. Odo was curt, as usual, and didn't stay once we were inside. At the door, he turned.

"Oh, and Doctor Mora?"

I looked over my shoulder. "Yes?"

Odo's eyes moved to the urn I carried. He shocked the life out of me with five simple words.

"Teach it about the Prophets."

Kira and I exchanged smiles. Odo wasn't religious himself, but he wanted his child to have everything he never did. How could I deny him that?

I nodded, leveling my eyes with Odo's. I wanted him to see my silent oath to grant his wish.

"Goodbye, Odo."

"Goodbye," Odo replied.

The transport doors slid shut. I glimpsed Odo's face in the airlock window. I saw everything but tears, and again I shed a few on his behalf.

I seated myself in the back of the transport ship. My only luggage was the travel jacket I wore, the reheat container, a few PADDS and the urn.

My stomach protested its neglect. I opened the reheat container and ate the last of the shrimp alfredo. It tasted fantastic, yet brought so little comfort. I set it aside after I finished and took the urn in my arms once again.

"Bless you," said another Bajoran traveler when he saw the urn. If only he knew.

I heard shuffling noises near the replicator station. An Andorian family slipped into the seats in front of me. Two parents and a young boy. I think the female was pregnant, but I dared not ask. Women are sensitive about such matters.

The child twisted in his seat. His antennae twitched when he saw me.

"Ohh, are you a shape shifter?"

"W-what?" Not the kind of question I expected! I laughed. "No, what makes you think that?"

He pointed to me. "You have hair like Security Chief Odo."

I ran a hand over my hair and smiled at the boy. "No...but I knew Odo when he was little. He copied my hairstyle."

"That's neat! What else can he t-- "

"Zhry'malath, don't bother the nice man," said the child's mother. She turned to me, her blue face gentle. "I'm sorry if he's troubling you."

I held up a hand. "He isn't, ma'am."

Then I sighed, watching the family whisper amongst themselves. The father reached across the boy's seat to slip his arm around the mother. He embraced his family as close in the physical realm as he did in his heart. Through the window beside them, I saw the rings and spires of Deep Space Nine retreating against the stars.

Deep Space Nine, a place of miracles, new beginnings and hope.

I closed my eyes to rest for just a moment, and before I knew it someone gently shook me awake.

"Sir?" The Andorian man said, "We've landed."

My goodness, that was more than a nap! I thanked him while I gathered up my belongings. The boy took the urn off my seat and handed it to me.

"Is someone special in there?" he asked.

I knelt to his level and nodded. "Yes. Someone very special."

"People are usually sad when somebody dies." The boy tilted his head.

I straightened, amused by his curiosity. "I was, once. Until a miracle happened."

My answer perplexed him. He raised both eyebrows and his antennae pointed two different directions. Then his mother took his hand. He still had wonder written all over his face when his parents ushered him off the ship. I didn't disembark myself until I made certain I was alone.

A transport vehicle waited outside to take me to my residence. Within the hour I walked into my home to a priority one message from Starfleet. I set my belongings down and accepted it.

"Doctor Mora," Admiral Strickler appeared. He seemed haggard from the lack of sleep.

"Admiral." I kept my tone cordial. "I'm sorry if I kept you waiting. I've almost fully recovered and I'll be able to get back to work on the-- "

"I'm pleased to hear of your recovery. However, after extensive discussion about your reports, I regret to inform you that Starfleet decided to go a different direction. They feel the sensors you proposed will be too expensive to produce and calibrate. It wouldn't be practical."

Why didn't I feel surprised? I only spent months in a sleep deprived haze, pouring out every ounce of Changeling information I had for their sake. No, I didn't feel surprised. Not a bit.

"Oh?" I hedged. "And what direction is that?"

"I can't disclose that information, Doctor Mora. I'm sorry." The Admiral kept his voice neutral.

I crossed my arms without disguising my annoyance. "How unfortunate. I do apologize for the inconvenient timing of my illness. I was told it happened due to overworking myself on your project."

Admiral Strickler pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. "We've all been working too hard. I'm sorry this didn't pan out. Good luck, Doctor Mora. Thank you for your assistance."

"Mmhmm, good day." I ended the communication without a formal farewell. So...Starfleet chose another path? Fine with me. Let them miss out.

I reached for the urn. There were two panels on each side that, when depressed simultaneously, let me pull the urn apart in two pieces. Kejal burst free from its container and oozed into the oval of sunlight cast by my sitting room window. It spread itself out across the faint tea stain still present on the tiles.

"We're on my home planet, which is Bajor," I said, sitting down on the floor. "Your mother entrusted you to my care. No doubt he already explained it by linking with you, however he asked me to talk to you. I never talked to him at this stage in his life...and I should have. I made many mistakes back then, but this time everything will be different." I swirled my finger around in the goo puddle. "I don't know how much you comprehend right now, little one...but I'll make every effort to grant your mother's wishes."

No reaction to my voice or my touch. Kejal couldn't speak yet, obviously, but I was curious. Then I remembered how I convinced Odo to prove his sentience beyond all doubts.

I drew my hand back. "Kejal...if you understand what I'm saying, shape shift into a cube."

Fifteen minutes passed. Enough time for the sun's light to move off Kejal. Nothing happened-- perhaps it needed a reminder.

"Here, I'll help." I reached down and pushed the puddle into a vaguely square shape. "This is a square. A cube is a three dimensional representation of that. Take your time, Kejal...take your time."

Then I let the infant rest while I put my travel supplies away. The moment my back was turned, I heard a familiar wet swishing sound. I looked over my shoulder and smiled at the tiny cube sitting once again in the sunlight.

.o
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