Odo tacitly carried my luggage as he walked alongside me. We turned the corner and stepped into the airlock. Without a word, Odo inched closer to me, no doubt trapped between his prideful independence and a need for comforting.
He insisted on accompanying me to the transport shuttle for my personal safety. I saw right through his ruse. He grieved deeply for the baby Changeling. Its tragic demise caught us all by surprise, but he took it the hardest.
Honestly...I understood Odo's pain. I've been in a similar position. It's the most helpless feeling in the universe.
Odo pleaded with the infant throughout its last moments. I'll never tell him that I saw the first and only tears of his lifetime. He wouldn't appreciate it.
With the sadness came a bittersweet hope. In dying, the infant restored Odo's shape shifting abilities, and I could see the visible changes in him. His back was straighter. He didn't breathe as often. His eyes shone clearer. He looked 'normal.'
I asked, "How does it feel to be yourself again?"
"I just...wish it hadn't happened the way it did." Odo answered, his tone apologetic. He didn't believe himself worthy of the honor bestowed upon him.
"I am sorry," I said. Odo closed his eyes. I watched him struggle with his cognitive dissonance, and I offered the first comforting words that came to mind. "If it helps...think of it as a gift. Something the Changeling wanted you to have."
Odo inclined his head in a slow nod. He forced himself to look at me.
"I think..." He hesitated, suddenly self-conscious. "...I finally understand how much I meant to you, and what you must have gone through when I left."
I smiled a little. "You had to find your own way in the world."
For a few moments I could only gaze at him. At the incomplete-yet-exotic face and the hair styled just like mine. At the bright blue eyes screaming for solace and the brown Bajoran uniform that exuded strength. I felt a lump form in my throat. Is this how fathers feel when they see their sons achieve manhood?
Odo truly reached beyond all my expectations. He found his people. He found answers. And he did it without me. He was right to leave, even though he left in a way that wounded us both.
He furrowed his brow. "I should have included you in my life."
Even after all these bitter years, I remembered why I still loved him like a son. This experience truly brought him back to me. Not like he was. Never like we were. But I wanted to be part of his life again. How often do we get second chances like this?
My heart turned over. I'm a sentimental man...what can I say?
"You still can." I said.
Odo snorted softly. He offered me his hand. I accepted his handshake and pulled him close. It was the only way I could let him know I still cared deeply about him without saying so out loud. He stiffened...and accepted, letting his head rest on my shoulder.
With that gesture, something between us healed.
I hadn't held him in my arms since he ran to me to escape a group of Klingon children. He wouldn't tell me why they caused him such fright. I clutched him to my chest until he melted and slid towards his bucket.
There were so many wounds on our souls. Odo felt like a prisoner because of me, and I did everything to avoid facing my own personal demons. We hurt each other. We've been such fools. Holding him close again meant everything to me. I missed it. I really did.
If I could go back in time and do it differently, I would.
My throat ached. I needed to find the will to make my arms let Odo go.
"Take care of yourself, Odo," I whispered.
Odo cleared his throat and pulled back, which caused me to release him. Emotional displays were not something he enjoyed lingering on, but the look he gave me suggested he didn't mind it too much this time. He gave me my travel bag and politely dismissed me.
I took up my luggage, nodded in thanks and walked past Major Kira Nerys on my way into the shuttle.
"Where is the love that lets the sunlight in to start again?
The love that sees no color lines?
Life begins with love.
So spread your wings and fly.
Guide your spirit safe and sheltered.
A thousand dreams that we can still believe."
--Celine Dion, "Where Is The Love?"
Morning sunlight streamed into my windows as I poured myself a mug of deka tea. Its welcoming aroma and tangy flavor never failed to chase my grogginess away. Especially after an all-night session in the laboratory. I hadn't slept more than four hours a night for the past week. The Dominion threat loomed larger every day.
I sipped my tea while filing a daily research report to Starfleet. Changelings were becoming quite a problem for the Federation. Starfleet considered me an expert on their physiology and sought my assistance in weeding out Changeling infiltrators. Easier spoken of than done. The Founders are far better at shape shifting than Odo. Oh, he's good at turning into inanimate objects and certain animals, but he can't perfectly mimic another person.
I had ideas for less invasive and more secret means of Changeling detection, but as expected there were roadblocks. 'Bureaucratic red tape' as humans called it. I sighed and stretched, hoping to hear good news soon. I should be careful what I wish for.
My console beeped. "Incoming encrypted message."
"Acknowledged," I said. "Display."
A picture of Odo's bucket came up onscreen. Ah-ha, an old Bajoran trick of getting information past enemy listening posts by hiding text in images. A message couldn't be unlocked without a password, and the image itself offered a clue. I downloaded the image to my PADD and typed Odo's name.
I tried odo'ital.
Oh, of course. What went in the bucket?
I typed the word. Nothing.
Dabo! I was in! The message scrolled across the PADD screen. I really wish I hadn't taken a sip of my tea just then.
It is at Odo's request that I send this to you off the record. He is expecting. Please return immediately. Do not inform Starfleet.
I didn't just spit my tea everywhere. I also dropped the mug on my foot. The pain shocked me into rational thought. Starfleet expected me back on Earth tomorrow, but I knew this serendipitous development meant Odo needed me more. I required an excuse, fast. A sneeze from someone walking by outside gave me the perfect idea. Turning to the console, I initiated a priority one communication with President Jaresh-Inyo.
The President's craggy face appeared on my screen. I faked a cough. "Sir, I'm afraid I can't travel to Earth at this time."
He narrowed his eyes at me. "Mora, we need you."
"I'm aware of that and I am truly sorry. I'm afraid I've come down with Rugalan fever." I coughed again, for effect. "You know how debilitating the headache is."
"Eugh, I can't have you infecting us with it at such a crucial time. Contact me again for transport when you're cleared for travel. I hope you realize how inconvenient this is, Mora."
"I'm well aware. I'm just as put out by this as you are." I said "I'll keep filing daily research reports."
Everything fell silent after the screen went dark. I sat back in my chair and looked down at the spilled tea. It created a deep purplish-brown stain on the pale tan tiles. Sunlight from the oval window across the room gave the puddle a white sheen. A small hologram of a sprightly blonde female in a flowing red gown floated nearby. Her bottomless green eyes wrenched my soul. She stood in that oval of sunshine when I asked for her hand in marriage. Later, she sat cross-legged on the same spot to tell me I was going to be a father.
I still remember the morning when I woke up and she did not. My beautiful Leruu died from a terrible fever before we felt the child move in her womb. I threw myself into my work to avoid the grief. My mourning wasn't even a year past when I was handed the jar labeled odo'ital.
Odo's hologram hovered next to Leruu's. He was beaming in delight after noticing the first spring flowers on a shrub in my garden. I took several pictures over the years. My work with him required it. But that was the only one showing a smile. It disappeared as soon as he spotted me holding the holo-imager. He hated the reminders of being studied instead of raised.
I picked up my tea mug. The throbbing in my foot gradually went away.
Speaking of Odo-- I could hardly wrap my brain around the news! I knew nothing of how his people reproduced. Being able to study his physiology during this wondrous biological event meant learning a great deal more about his species.
I took a holo-image of my bruised toes, encrypted it with the word 'purple' and added my reply.
I will be on the first transport to your location.
Though I hated the deception, I sent my colleague, Doctor Weld, a message stating I was returning to Deep Space Nine for treatment of my "fever." That way he could truthfully claim ignorance in the event Starfleet discovered my plans.
Less than an hour later I boarded the transport shuttle bound for Deep Space Nine.
Doctor Julian Bashir met me outside the station's Infirmary. I found him to be quite a handsome young man with observant eyes and steady hands.
"I came seeking treatment for Rugalan fever," I said with a wink. "Can you do anything for this headache?"
"Ah, let's get you inside for a full physical and go from there." Doctor Bashir led me straight into his office. I stared in awe at the information he brought up on his console.
"This is the scan from seven hours ago," he told me.
I let my eyes rove over the data. Normally, Odo's humanoid form was a tightly packed gel with an overall surface density of one-point-four. That number never changed unless he shape shifted. The scans I was looking at now showed the surface area of his upper torso reading at two-point-zero. Inside that space, it measured one-point-six. The rest of his biology appeared normal.
Doctor Bashir showed me the image scan. I gazed at Odo's rudimentary lungs-- nothing more than two hand-sized air sacs that let him speak and regulate his temperature for easier shape shifting. Inflating these air sacs consisted of dilating the available space in his chest cavity, which lowered his internal pressure. To release the air, he simply contracted it. This movement created the illusion that he breathed like a humanoid.
And between those 'lungs', sitting where most humanoids have a heart, was the spherical pocket containing a tiny puddle of moving liquid.
"Well I'll be!" I clapped a hand over my own chest. "What is your hypothesis for this?"
Doctor Bashir showed me his notes. "It's all here. Please excuse me. Morn is contacting me about his foot rash again. One moment."
I nodded, moving away from the communications console to study the PADD in my hand.
Odo's brain still contained dormant morphogenic components while he was trapped in one form. Doctor Bashir suspected the dying infant Changeling sensed them when Odo poured it into its hands. By integrating itself into Odo's body, it reactivated those components and unlocked Odo's morphogenic matrix. Doctor Bashir speculated that the "conception" happened during the time Odo's body transformed from a solid humanoid to a Changeling again. The infant needed to pull matter and DNA from somewhere to heal itself...and what better way to stabilize its own morphogenic matrix than to latch onto Odo's?
The infant's DNA pattern suffered intense degradation after its radiation exposure. To compensate, it used Odo's DNA to fill in the missing markers. The process confused Odo's body enough to wall the infant off without completely rejecting it, and the infant's influence resulted in the increased surface density to prevent its fragile gestational membrane from rupturing too soon.
I transferred the information to my personal PADD, taking care to triple-encrypt everything. Odo wanted this kept secret, and I didn't dare ponder the outcome if Starfleet got word of his condition. Fear comes from what people don't understand, and people seek to destroy what frightens them. I'll take this secret to my grave if I must.
"Yes, keep applying the cream until the bumps go down. I hope it helps. And might I suggest better fitting boots? Ah, you're welcome. Bashir out." Doctor Bashir finished speaking to his other patient.
"Were you able to take any chemical readings?" I asked.
"Yes, here." Doctor Bashir brought up those results.
Just what I expected, I thought.
The infant depended on Odo for morphogenic enzymes, which kept all Changelings' morphogenic matrixes stable. A lack of this is why it apparently died in the first place. It couldn't leave Odo until it had enough of the enzymes in its system to produce them on its own and survive independently. I relayed this information to Doctor Bashir and we both added it to our notes. By tacit accord we didn't sync our PADDS.
"This is rather fascinating," the young doctor remarked. "What do you think?"
"A mother is essentially a life support system for the offspring, and that's exactly what Odo's body is doing." I said. My heart fluttered in my chest. "I'm surprised to see the infant already so active."
"I think it's been active for the past several days, and it's only just now big enough to notice." Doctor Bashir glanced over at me. "Is there anything you want to add?"
"Not at the moment, but don't hesitate to send for me if anything new comes up. Is Odo in his office?"
"He's always in his office at this time of day."
I smiled. "Then I'll pay him a visit. He's expecting me."
"Right. I'll see you later."
Doctor Bashir moved to let me exit the Infirmary.
A woman emerged from Odo's office as I approached. I recognized her by her auburn hair and red uniform. Major Kira Nerys looked amused, giggling to herself and shaking her head. She was heading towards Quark's bar.
"Major," I said politely to her.
Kira offered me a quick nod. "Doctor Mora. You're back awfully quick."
"Yes, something came up. Would you excuse me?"
"Of course." She kept walking, and I heard her giggle again in the turbolift.
I entered the still open doors. Odo sat behind his desk, surrounded by security consoles. Several PADDS were arranged in three perfectly neat piles and aligned so their edges followed the angles of the console. Oh, he could keep everything on one PADD, but that isn't his way. He always was obsessive about keeping things in order, and that included data. Even in the earliest days, he had trouble concentrating on his education in a cluttered room. I kept his lessons on separate PADDS to make them less daunting to him, and I found it interesting that he carried the habit over to his job.
Odo stood up for a proper greeting the moment I crossed his doorway. I noticed his outward appearance revealed nothing about the joyous secret he carried inside his chest. Emotionally, on the other hand...he acted genuinely glad to see me. That warmed my heart.
"Oh, Odo!" I smiled at him. "I came as soon as I heard!"
His expression briefly mirrored mine. He shrugged, sounding amused. "Well, I figured you would be delighted to be a 'grandfather."
A joke out of Odo? Fantastic!
"It's quite a miracle, isn't it?" I laughed and folded my hands together in front of me. "So, when are you off duty?"
"I take my final patrol at zero-hundred."
Odo shot me one of his long-suffering looks. "Crime doesn't only happen during the daytime hours."
His temper still ran hot as ever. Not wanting to spoil the positive atmosphere of our meeting, I acquiesced and gestured to his desk. "Yes, judging by the pileup. Which pile is the solved pile?"
Odo looked proudly at me. He tilted his head towards the largest pile and examined a PADD from the smallest.
"Well then, I'll be in my guest quarters taking a nap," I said. This situation required me at my best, and I couldn't give that on no sleep. "I'll be up again by the time your shift is over."
"Mmhmm," he glanced up from his PADD. "I'll see you later."
I departed to let Odo work. The few belongings I brought with me were delivered to my guest quarters by a lovely Vulcan woman wearing a Starfleet uniform. Seeing it reminded me to control my enthusiasm about Odo's condition.
I stripped myself to the waist and practically collapsed onto the standard-issue bunk.
Odo exuded an aura of calm order as he patrolled the Promenade with his hands clasped behind his back. Nothing escaped his watchful eyes. He stopped a provocatively-dressed human female, reminded her of the station curfew and sent her scurrying. Then he walked straight towards me. I was standing outside the Infirmary.
"Doctor Mora," Odo regarded me politely. He glanced at the two deputies stationed nearby. "How is your 'fever' tonight?"
"The headache is impossible," I replied, rubbing the side of my head. "I hope Doctor Bashir has something to ease it."
Odo gestured to the door. "I'll accompany you, then."
With alibis for our presence there laid out, we slipped into the Infirmary. Odo reclined on the biobed. His jaw tightened and he closed his eyes. This wasn't easy or comfortable for him, not after the experiments I used to perform.
I patted his shoulder and gave him a serious look. "Tell us if anything is too much, and I will have it stopped."
He nodded once. "Get on with it."
"We will. Here comes Doctor Bashir."
"Is he ready?" Doctor Bashir asked.
"Mmhmm." I settled the sensor arch over the biobed and let him calibrate it. "May I borrow your tricorder?"
"Of course. Here."
I took the handheld sensor off the tricorder and scanned Odo while the biobed took more detailed readings of his density, body chemistry and even his temperature. Doctor Bashir ensured the sensors ignored the lack of heartbeat, respiratory gas exchange and blood pressure.
The pocket slowly appeared on the tricorder screen. A little blob in the bottom bubbled and shot fluid straight up like a mud geyser. Then it collapsed back into a liquid again, much to Doctor Bashir's amusement.
"Did..." He gestured to Odo and whispered, "...he ever do that?"
"Once, right after taking him out of the centrifuge." I answered. Then I faced Odo. "Odo?"
Odo opened his eyes to look up at me. "Yes, Doctor Mora?"
I turned the tricorder around. He squinted at it. "Is this a live scan?"
Odo's surly expression softened. "It looks like it's...practicing." Suddenly, he smiled, and I knew he fell in love with his offspring. "Just like I did when I learned to form tentacles."
I still remember the first tentacle slapping my hand away from a control panel. After that experience, Odo utilized them often to snatch tools out of my hands and knock objects off countertops. He became so violent I had to keep him in a containment field for my own safety. Those were the hardest days in the lab-- listening to the unknown sample slamming again and again into the energy barrier...
I shook off the memories.
"You sure loved to do that." I remarked, leaning forward to watch the tricorder screen. "Have you thought of a name for it?"
"I have," Odo said, briefly looking up at me. "I'm going to call it Kejal."
A perfect name. A beautiful name. One I wouldn't have thought up myself.
I patted Odo on the arm. "A wonderful choice. My goodness, I do feel like I'm about to be a grandfather."
Doctor Bashir looked up from the biobed screen and inquired about the name's meaning. I told him, "Kejal is our word for freedom, Doctor Bashir."
Onscreen, the tiny infant fell against the side of its protective pocket and dissolved into liquid. The tap was enough to make the membrane ripple.
Odo startled with a gasp. "Oh...did you see that?"
Doctor Bashir's grin mirrored mine. Odo's curious excitement proved contagious. The young doctor directed my attention to his latest findings on the pocket itself. He'd discovered why the images were so clear.
"The pocket is actually full of air, not liquid like I first thought." He pointed to the screen. "And it hasn't changed its size at all, but the baby Changeling's volume has increased by ten percent since yesterday." When I nodded, he turned to Odo and went on, "I suspect only two conditions will lead to it being born. One-- it outgrows the pocket and bursts free. Or two-- it can hold a shape long enough to work itself out of your body. Where it will emerge from is anyone's guess. Doctor Mora, what do you think?"
His speculations were sound, and I told him so. It explained why Odo's upper body changed density so drastically to protect the pocket. Scans indicated it was as soft as the plastic air bubbles used to pack delicate materials for land transport. But the birth itself...educated guesses were all we had.
I leaned on the biobed and peered at Odo. "I think, regardless of what triggers its birth, it will choose the path of least resistance. Unlike a solid species, that could be anywhere on your body."
Odo snorted at that.
Doctor Bashir cleared his throat. "Doctor Mora, a word?"
"Of course." I set the tricorder down where Odo had a clear view and stepped away from the biobed.
Doctor Bashir glanced at Odo. "Aren't you even a little worried? What if this condition is dangerous to him?"
"I don't think it is." I said with confidence. "This may be how his people reproduce. An old or dying Changeling integrates into one already living and is essentially reborn. It's a shame we don't know exactly how many Changelings exist or how long they live. That information would tell us the frequency of their reproduction cycles."
Doctor Bashir inhaled through his nose. "Or...this may be a one-off incident brought on by unique circumstances. Which means it might be dangerous." He chewed his bottom lip and ducked his head. "What if this infant literally sucks the life out of Odo? What if it takes over his body instead of being born as a separate entity?"
The possibility existed, yet I didn't want to face it. Not unless the infant Changeling's behavior within Odo's body showed signs of hostility. But how could it? Like Odo, it didn't know anything-- it was cast out into the universe as a blank slate.
"I can't fathom that happening. It would be too chaotic, and Odo's species favors order." I leaned closer, dropping my voice to a whisper. "And I also believe Odo would inform us if something felt wrong. He knows his own body better than we do."
Doctor Bashir remained skeptical, and I didn't blame him.
He said, "I hope you're right."
"It knows it's alive," Odo spoke, interrupting my thoughts. "I can feel its awareness. It is...like I was...ah..." His eyes fluttered shut, "...I need to rest."
Alarmed, I moved to his side. "Odo?"
Odo's facial features glistened. He looked almost exactly like he had the very first time he took his full humanoid form. The biobed registered several changes in his morphogenic matrix and biochemistry. His chemical makeup tended to fluctuate throughout the day, but never this much.
Doctor Bashir touched my arm. "Doctor Mora, it's all right. This is what I've been telling you about. Watch his torso."
Odo's extremities turned mushy and liquefied. His head followed, leaving just his upper torso laying there like a smooth rock poking above a pond's surface. Onscreen, his primitive lungs remained intact, albeit dormant. They were transparent rose petals wrapping themselves around the air pocket.
Part of Odo nearly dribbled off the table. I turned on the containment field and ran another scan. During regeneration, the surface density of Odo's chest showed a fifty percent increase, and chemical readings indicated morphogenic enzymes flowing through the piece of his torso that didn't melt.
"Remarkable," I whispered. "Odo, you never cease to amaze me."
"Look at this. I don't know how, but the scanners are picking up theta waves," said Doctor Bashir. "He's sleeping."
"Or maybe it's the baby."
He raised both eyebrows. "Could be."
Silently, I added, Or it's both of them, and they're dreaming about each other.
"It's been a long day. Odo will be fine until morning." Doctor Bashir covered a yawn.
Seeing him yawn made me do the same. "We should both retire, then. Good night, doctor."
He walked me to the door and handed me a hypospray in sight of the night deputies standing guard. "You shouldn't be contagious by tomorrow morning, but I suspect it'll take two weeks for your body to combat the virus. This will help you sleep. Come back tomorrow and we'll see how you're doing."
"Thank you, Doctor Bashir." I accepted the hypo, dipped my head politely and nodded to the deputy as I headed for the turbolift.
A Yridian raced towards the closing doors. I held them open long enough to allow him aboard. He peered at me, the scars on his face wrinkling.
"Level two." I said. The Yridian scoffed at that, so I responded, "Is there a problem?"
"No," he grumbled. "Going to be a long ride for me. I'm heading down, not up."
"Oh. I apologize if I'm making you late."
"If you say so." The Yridian turned his back. "Tch. Diplomats."
His impoliteness irritated me. Typical Yridian-- rude and ungrateful. I not-quite-accidentally pushed him aside once the turbolift arrived at level two. He called me something too offensive to repeat as the doors closed. Such a charming fellow. I put the whole incident out of my mind and entered my guest quarters.
Nothing on my console. Good. Starfleet wasn't on my trail yet.
I replicated a saucer of larish pie and nibbled on it while I prepared for bed.
Larish pie-- one of my favorite sweet treats. I still remember Odo trying to eat it the first time he took humanoid form. Three bites in, I realized he wasn't swallowing it. I managed to teach him how. He ate the whole slice and commented on its crunchy texture. Then he stood up after finishing and every single bite he took began to drop onto the floor. In the interest of science, I let him try my deka tea. He inhaled it, choked and expelled it all over me when he collapsed into his gelatinous state. I wiped the mess off my face and we both agreed: No eating or drinking.
The memory always makes me smile. My laboratory wall still has purple stains from that incident...I don't have the heart to clean them off.
I set my saucer on the replicator pad for disposal and dimmed the lights in preparation to sleep.
Story Notes: Note: This fic is a companion to For Freedom's Sake. There will be some scene overlaps happening from the POV of the character telling this story. Have fun!