Book One: The Darkness and the Light: Consolidation (2380 -2400) Prologue The Changeling abhorred the humanoid form. Maintaining it was no great hardship, of course, but it was by no means a pleasurable experience. This was unfortunate, for shape-shifting was supposed to be a joyous, liberating act. Like all members of the Great Link, the Changeling relished the chance to take on myriad forms and did so as often as possible. By assuming other forms, a changeling assumed the very essence of life itself. Indeed, one could spend a lifetime imitating everything from a simple shape to a Zirellian octopus and never feel anything but complete, perfect bliss. But imitating a humanoid? That was different. The act of assuming the humanoid form perverted the sheer joy of shape-shifting into something ugly…something sinister. Taking on the shape of the despised enemy was a truly repulsive concept to any Changeling. In the end, however, ample experience had proven that humanoids could only truly relate to others like them. The Changeling remembered the great persecutions of the past, and like all the other members of the Great Link, it was determined to never let them happen again. There was no doubt in the Changeling’s mind that humanoids had an instinctive hatred of shape-shifters. History had proven that the fundamental differences between Changelings and Solids could simply never be reconciled. Left unchecked, the humanoid species of the Galaxy would snuff out the Great Link. Therein lay the need to conquer their civilizations, to subjugate their populations, and to deprive them of any chance to harm that which they could never understand. If the price of security included the occasional inconvenience of an unpleasant form, then so be it. Security. The need for security was the very raison d’etre for the Dominion. The Dominion existed solely to protect the Great Link. The safety of the Link was always paramount, and the only way to guarantee its safety was to impose order on any and all threats. Humanoids could never be trusted, so they must be kept under the yoke of the Dominion. That was the order of things. The Changeling had journeyed all the way from the Gamma Quadrant to personally assume control of the former capital world of the late, great United Federation of Planets. It was a task the Changeling did not look forward to. Spending a great deal of time among solids would be immensely taxing. The Changeling already yearned for the comfort of the Great Link. No matter; Earth and the business of consolidating the Dominion’s hold over the conquered Federation beckoned. But the Changeling had other business to attend to first. ********************************** Jupiter Station, Sol System, Dominion Occupied Territory Stardate 57121.1 (September 18, 2380) Flanked by two Jem’Hadar guards, the Changeling entered the interrogation chamber of the sprawling space station. Once, this room had been used as an office for a Federation Starfleet admiral, or so the Changeling had been told. It did not matter. By serving its current purpose, it served the Dominion. That was all that mattered. In the center of the room, a naked human woman was shackled by the wrists to a steel suspension rack attached to the ceiling. A spotlight shone on her still, slumped form; the rest of the room was shrouded in darkness. The Changeling could barely conceal its annoyance. “Turn on the lights,” it ordered, and one of the Jem’Hadar said in a low monotone, “Computer...lights.” As the chamber filled with light, a door swished open on the opposite side of the room. A Cardassian military officer strode into the chamber, followed closely by a Vorta field supervisor. “Founder!” The Vorta approached the Changeling, bowing his head slightly and reaching out his hands in supplication. “You honor us with your presence. Is there some way we may be of service?” “You may explain what has transpired here,” the Changeling replied coldly. The Vorta turned to the Cardassian and gestured at the human woman. The Cardassian said, “Three days ago, a Jem’Hadar squadron on patrol in the Oort Cloud detected a spatial anomaly. Upon investigating, a rogue Starfleet vessel was found and captured.” The Changeling circled the human woman, noting her pallid skin. “What was the nature of this spatial anomaly?” “It appeared to be a wormhole, most likely originating somewhere in the Delta Quadrant.” The Changeling couldn’t help but show a small amount of surprise. “Is this wormhole stable?” “No, Founder,” the Vorta replied. “The wormhole collapsed only seconds after it was detected by the Jem’Hadar. The Starfleet vessel’s warp signature was picked up immediately after the anomaly was picked up on sensors; there’s no doubt the vessel traversed the wormhole.” “Are you sure only one ship came through the wormhole?” “Yes, Founder.” “And would you mind enlightening me how this vessel survived the war, let alone how it was able to travel back and forth across the galaxy?” “From what we can tell, the ship was in the Delta Quadrant before the war began,” the Cardassian said. “The ship is called Voyager. It was reported lost in the Badlands nearly ten years ago and presumed destroyed.” “Founder, we are very hard at work researching the captured Starfleet archives for more information,” the Vorta said. “If this ship is more than what it appears to be, you will of course be the first to know.” The Founder could not help but feel unsatisfied. “Where is the ship now?” “The vessel is currently docked at the Utopia Planitia shipyards, not far from here,” said the Cardassian. “Interestingly enough, it was constructed there as well,” the Vorta commented cheerily. The Changeling pointed at the human woman. “And who is this? A member of Voyager’s crew? I would expect that interrogating surviving crew members would prove more fruitful than...researching archives.” The Vorta nodded nervously while the Cardassian folded his arms and smirked. “That,” the Cardassian said contemptuously, “is the captain of the Voyager, Kathryn Janeway…or at least, it was. It was my understanding—based on personal experience, I might add—that Starfleet captains were made of sterner stuff. This one barely lasted through one interrogation session.” The Changeling choked back anger. “You let the captain of this vessel die?” “I’m afraid so, Founder,” the Vorta replied. “Legate Madred’s methods of interrogation proved to be somewhat…extreme, considering—“ “There was nothing wrong with my methods of interrogation,” the Cardassian said sharply. “The human simply proved too weak for—“ “She was already wounded,” the Vorta snapped. “Surely you—“ “Enough!” The Changeling turned away from the human woman and stared directly at the Cardassian. “I earnestly hope you have more prisoners from Voyager to interrogate, Legate Madred, or I’m afraid we may have to…reevaluate the rank structure in this facility.” “Of course,” the Cardassian replied. “The rest of the command crew and many of the lower-ranking complement remain alive and are currently imprisoned in this station’s brig.” The Cardassian took note of the Changeling’s withering glare and noted, “No harm shall befall them until you give the order, Founder.” “Good.” The Changeling turned its attention to the Vorta. “You would be wise to exercise more control over the ‘methods of interrogation’ that our Cardassian allies are practicing in this facility." The Vorta lowered his head. "Of course, Founder. Rest assured that I will supervise each interrogation personally." The Changeling nodded. "I would hope so. I want to know everything about this vessel. I want to know how it reached the Delta Quadrant. I want to know the nature of the wormhole that brought it back to the Alpha Quadrant, and I want to know how this crew was able to harness it. Am I making myself clear?” “Perfectly clear, Founder,” the Vorta said. “We will redouble our efforts to obtain information from the Voyager crew immediately.” “Good,” the Changeling replied. “I will be on Earth. Contact me when you have obtained some…useful information.” “Of course.” The Vorta once again bowed his head slightly. “Good day, Founder.” The Changeling nodded, took a moment to glare once again at the Cardassian, and left the interrogation chamber. ********************************** En route to the Jem’Hadar vessel, the Changeling reflected on the ingenuity and skill of Starfleet personnel. It was hard to imagine anyone else being able to find a way to cross a galaxy in mere minutes. Certainly the simple-minded Cardassians or the obsequious Vorta would never be able to accomplish such a feat! No. Starfleet, and humans in particular, had proven to be worthy adversaries… and a small part of the Changeling couldn’t help but admire them. But in the end, all of their ingenuity and skill had not saved them from the onslaught of the Dominion invasion. It was just as well. The Federation had clearly posed a great threat to the Great Link—much more so than the comparatively weak Klingons or Romulans. Their protestations aside, the humans and their allies had been a grave threat to all that the Dominion stood for. The conquest of the Alpha Quadrant was just one more step in securing the Great Link from all external threats. One day, the Dominion would reign supreme over all the humanoid species of the galaxy…and then--and only then--could the Great Link finally breathe a collective sigh of relief. Truly, that was the order of things. ********************************** As the Jem’Hadar ship carried the exalted Founder to occupied Earth, the Changeling took the form of a Tarkalean hawk and flew masterfully throughout the spacious corridors of the warship. It felt so good to be free!