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6. Unexpected Visitor

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Hot showers and new information solved everything.

Mora heard his stomach turn over at the scent of Aleexa's soup. He relished the pleasant smells while he read his PADD.

When the population is in severe decline and a Founder is ill, wounded or otherwise near death, they possess the capability to rejuvenate themselves through literal rebirth. The weakened Founder casts away its mass and injects a portion of itself into a willing parent unit, and there it is carried until its morphogenic enzymes become self sustaining once again, triggering the birth. Founders are reborn carrying their previous knowledge and need only to grow.

There are occasions in which the ailing Founder's memory is wiped, such as the Hundred who were sent out as blank slates to learn of other species. Genetic memory persists. Once the morphogenesis enzymes activate for the first time, this memory comes forth like an instinct. These specially-grown Founders always feel an urge to return to the Great Link where they may share their knowledge. Through them the Founders learn not only the appearance of other solid species, they also discover their customs and the possible threat these races may pose.

The process of conception and birth can, on rare occasions, result in a completely new individual. We learned this when we examined Kejal
...

Mora squinted and leaned forward. This was the information that would prove or disprove his theories about Kejal's existence!

In a normal case, a Founder's original genetic material remains intact during such an injection. The one called Kejal is highly unusual. His genetic material suffered massive breakdown after exposure to tetryon radiation, and could not sustain life on the molecular level. A quantum scan of samples taken from Odo and Kejal was able to reconstruct Kejal's conception.

Kejal's broken DNA latched onto Odo's as Odo shifted from a solid to a shape shifter once again. Their genetic material linked forever in that instant, and Odo became Kejal's progenitor. This explains Kejal bearing such resemblance to Odo and the protective instincts Odo displays towards Kejal. A birth such as this has not occurred since their ancient ancestors traveled the universe.

Diagrams came up on the PADD screen. Mora smiled at them and felt his heart beat faster. He was there the moment Kejal conceived himself in Odo's body, and no one had any idea!

Mora knew he could write a paper on this information. It proved the theory he suspected about Kejal ever since he heard about Odo's unusual pregnancy, and it added to the question he mulled over since his diagnosis ten years ago.

What is life?

He looked up and watched Odo pull the dining table out of the wall like the drawer.

"That soup smells delicious," said Mora.

Aleexa beamed. "It's almost done."

"It's making my mouth water."

"Don't drool on your PADD," she replied playfully.

"I won't." Mora helped himself up with the grab poles. It felt good to stretch his legs.

The front door opened just before he reached the kitchen. Kejal stepped in looking much happier than he had when he left.

"Father." Kejal hurried to Mora's side and embraced him. "I'm sorry about earlier."

"Shhh, Kejal, it's all right. This is an upsetting time for you."

"I know. Um...do you feel up to a visitor?"

Mora raised both eyebrows. "Yes, of course. Who is it?"

Kejal smiled, waving to Aleexa and Odo. "It's a surprise." To the door, he called out, "It's all right! Please, come in!"

The tall figure ducked through the doorway and pushed the rain hood off his head.

"Greetings, Doctor Mora. It is an honor to meet you in person."

Mora's heart skipped a few beats. Ambassador Spock was standing in his home! His presence created an air of quiet dignity in the middle of a torrential storm.

"Likewise, Ambassador Spock." Mora remembered how to speak. Professional decorum overcame his shock. "Please, come in and sit anywhere you like. We're preparing lunch-- you're welcome to join us."

Ambassador Spock folded his hands in front of him. "Thank you. Your hospitality is most appreciated."

Aleexa almost dropped her spoon. To her credit, she didn't stop stirring the deliciously scented soup. Odo calmly added another place setting to the table. He was the only one in the room who didn't act impressed.

Ambassador Spock shrugged out of his rain robe. Underneath, he wore a woolen blue jumpsuit. The normally loose-fitting pant legs were tucked into his shiny mid-calf boots to keep them dry.

Kejal dutifully took the robe and draped it on the couch.

Odo called from the kitchen, "Ambassador, will your security detail be eating with us?"

"I came alone," Ambassador Spock replied simply. "But thank you for your concern."

Mora gave Kejal's arms a squeeze and sat in the large chair by the oval window. "I must admit, Ambassador, this is quite a surprise."

At that, Ambassador Spock exchanged looks with Kejal. "Our meeting is definitely a fortunate twist of circumstance. Kejal informed me of your situation, and offered me an opportunity to meet you." He quirked a slanted eyebrow. "He spoke highly of you. I would like to personally commend you on your treatise regarding genetics and the formation of life within the Founders. I found it fascinating."

Mora folded his hands to disguise their trembling. Ambassador Spock read his theory and liked it? "Thank you, Ambassador. I may yet write another before my time here is over."

"Oh?"

"I've recently run across new information regarding the Founders." Mora glanced at Kejal. Then he refocused on the wise Vulcan in front of him. "And I'm questioning life itself."

"I'll be sure to read the new paper," said Ambassador Spock. His nostrils flared as a new wave of scent wafted from the kitchen. The schooled expression on his face did not change. "How long do you suspect it will take?"

"Hopefully, less than two months," Mora answered, chuckling.

Ambassador Spock nodded. "It will be worth the wait."

No pity or sadness crossed the Vulcan's face or eyes. Mora liked that. People often looked at him with sorrow upon learning his diagnosis.

"Gentlemen," Aleexa called from the kitchen, "Lunch is ready."

"Thank you, Aleexa. Ambassador," Mora got to his feet and gestured for Ambassador Spock to choose a seat first.

Kejal whispered something to Odo and Aleexa. They promptly separated and strategically set Mora up to sit next to the Ambassador.

They're sly...very sly, Mora mused.

Kejal formed a facsimile of a soup bowl. "So, Ambassador, mind telling us what brings you to Bajor?"

Ambassador Spock politely served himself. He passed the scoop to Mora.

"I was attending a scientific demonstration at the Bajoran Institute For Science. I stepped outside to ponder Doctor Weld Ram's speech. You showed up on the bridge not long after."

"Then it's lucky you ran into me. You might have spent the afternoon with an empty stomach."

The Ambassador turned to Kejal. "Luck has nothing to do with it, however I concur. Thank you for the invitation." Then, to Aleexa, he said, "Your cooking is commendable."

Aleexa's face achieved a new shade of pink. "Thank you, sir." She ducked her head and sipped the soup off her spoon.

"It may not be safe for you to walk around unaccompanied."

Ambassador Spock studied Odo. He cocked his head and quirked an eyebrow. "I'm quite capable of passing unrecognized when I choose to."

"Odo, don't interrogate our guest." Mora said with a smile. "I'm sorry, Ambassador. Odo used to work as the Chief of Security on Deep Space Nine."

"Yes, I know. We've met before."

Odo delicately sucked the soup off his spoon. "If you need someone low-key to escort you to the space port, Ambassador, I'll be happy to accompany you."

"Unnecessary, but again I thank you for your concern." Ambassador Spock took up his tea mug and sipped.

Odo had the sense to not be put off by the Vulcan's casual dismissal. It struck Mora, then, that Odo had become a diplomat whether he wanted to be one or not. There was so much about him that Mora didn't still know.

After lunch ended, Mora invited Ambassador Spock back into the sitting room.

"What made you choose science, Ambassador?"

Ambassador Spock's sharp eyes focused onto him. "It seemed like the logical choice at the time. As humans say, I 'have a knack for it.' And you, Doctor Mora?"

Mora folded his hands in front of him. "Believe it or not, Ambassador, I chose the field because of you."

The Ambassador inclined his head.

"I know this will sound emotional to a Vulcan such as yourself, but I found the theories you wrote about life forms and DNA quite moving. The intricacies of what makes life become life grabbed onto my mind when I was just a teenager, and I always tried to push even further into your research. What is it that tells a strand of molecules to become life? Just what switches it on?" Mora sighed to himself. "It's funny...I always had a brain for science-- I was never talented in the arts."

Kejal spoke up, "Don't be so modest, father. You have a nice singing voice."

"Not like yours." Mora glanced at Kejal, noticing the holo-imager in his hands. Then he shifted his gaze to Odo, who still sat at the table with Aleexa.

To the Ambassador, he went on, "I discovered that Odo was a life form when he was just a liquid in a beaker. The greatest reward of my career was watching him develop, and neither he nor Kejal would be here if it weren't for your writings, Ambassador."

Ambassador Spock's eyes crinkled at the corners. Perhaps the closest thing he allowed to a smile. "The differences in their personalities are fascinating."

Mora chuckled softly. "It's a long story, and I know you don't have the time for one."

"On the contrary, Doctor Mora," Ambassador Spock checked the digital chronometer on the wall. "My shuttle does not depart for another three hours and six minutes. Time does not pose the same issue to me as it does to you." He seated himself on the sofa. "As I find your work admirable, I would consider it an injustice to leave without hearing your words."

Almost beside himself now, Mora eased back onto his favorite chair. He began to tell Ambassador Spock the same story he told Aleexa-- albeit this time he focused more on the science.

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Having such a high ranking diplomat in the house made Odo more nervous than he let on. He couldn't stop scrutinizing every shadow, and his eyes darted routinely to the doors and windows. His tense body was ready to act the moment something appeared amiss.

Sometimes, I think Kejal is out of his mind! Odo groaned to himself.

Hearing his own story from Doctor Mora's mouth made him roll his eyes. Spock, on the other hand, listened attentively. Once or twice, Odo swore those pointy Vulcan ears twitched.

Spock and his accomplishments weren't unfamiliar to Odo. They met off and on after he left Deep Space Nine for the Great Link. Once or twice, he accompanied him through Dominion space for his safety. Nobody contested a visitor when he escorted them.

And his presence practically bowled Doctor Mora over.

The soup contained in a bubble inside his body spread warmth within his substance. He didn't let it distract him.

"You're so tense." Aleexa whispered. "Is something wrong?"

"Old habits," Odo muttered. "I haven't seen Doctor Mora this excited in a long time."

She kept her voice low. "Who wouldn't be? We had lunch with Ambassador Spock!"

"Yes..."

"Come on, let's leave them to talk."

To Odo, the suggestion sounded like being told to abandon a battlefield.

"They'll be fine." Aleexa touched his arm.

He reluctantly followed her into the study, which was just off the kitchen. Doctor Mora had dumped the PADDS littering the living room in there. They almost covered his entire desk.

Odo straightened them without worrying about rearranging alphabetically. Doctor Mora had his own sense of order, and Odo knew trying to contest it would instigate an argument. He settled for making the piles neat. At least, that way, the desk looked orderly.

Aleexa sat on the day bed by the window. Shelves full of PADDS and isolinear rods stood on either side of it. She tapped the brass gyroscope decorating one shelf, making it spin.

"How are you doing?"

Great. She brought him here for random conversation?

"Doing?" Odo grunted, folding his arms. "I'm doing fine."

"Pol is right. You don't like to give anything away." She leaned forward. "I'm talking about in relation to what is happening with him."

The inquiry made Odo uncomfortable. Or was it the vacuole of soup shifting in his abdomen? He circulated it to his left foot where it became less annoying. "I'm making sure his needs are met."

"And how does the situation make you feel?"

Ugh, why now? "I don't know. I'm tending his needs as they arise."

Aleexa stopped tapping on the gyroscope. Outside the window behind her, light rain fell.

"He loves you, you know."

Odo rolled his eyes.

"I'm still a specimen to him. He treats me with respect. He cares. But I'll never be a son to him. That's Kejal. I wanted Kejal to have everything I did not. He began life without experiments or loneliness. Having him was the most ecstatic moment of my lifetime." He stared at the desk, unable to meet Aleexa's eyes. "And Doctor Mora was there. He held my hand. I'm sure all he could think about was the paper he would write about me afterward."

Aleexa's hand touched his wrist. Instinctively, he met her gaze and cursed himself.

"You couldn't be more wrong, Odo." She said. "Kejal was born on the seventeenth anniversary of Leruu's death...did you know that?"

He jerked his head up, eyes slightly widened. "No...I mean-- I knew what date it was, but I didn't consider it while giving birth."

Her pink mouth quirked in a small smile. "Pol told me everything."

Of course Aleexa would sit and listen to Doctor Mora talk. Talaxians were known for their enjoyment of hearing and telling stories. They possessed a natural talent for it. His favorite detective novels were written by a Talaxian-- and they became the only two novels in which he needed more than three pages to figure out who committed the crime.

"Being a witness to your life changing moment meant so much to him." She went on. "And I quote him when I say, '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.'"

Feeling chastised, Odo shifted his weight from foot to foot. Everything else in the room suddenly got more interesting than looking into Aleexa's eyes.

"He also said this sort of talk makes you uncomfortable."

Odo gave a noncommittal grunt.

She leaned forward. "People at this stage in their lives start to withdraw from the world and reach out only to specific people close to them. There is no prediction for when this opening will happen. If you aren't receptive and miss it, you'll regret it."

"How will I know?" He asked without the intent to care about the answer.

"It's different for everyone." She stood up and shrewdly studied his face. "You'll just know when it's time to say what needs to be said."

Kejal peeked into the study. "The ambassador is preparing to leave."

"We're on our way." Odo replied.

Kejal grinned and practically ran back into the living room.

Aleexa nudged Odo's shoulder. "Your son is adorable. Has anyone ever told you that?"

Finally, Odo found something worth chuckling at. "He didn't get that from me."

Her expression sobered. "He is struggling, too."

"I know." Odo started for the door. "We both saw Doctor Mora as practically invincible."

"That's how parents are."

Odo said nothing more on the matter. He let Aleexa leave the room ahead of him.

In the living room, Kejal managed to get Doctor Mora and Ambassador Spock together for a holo-image.

"It was an honor to meet you," Spock said to Doctor Mora.

Doctor Mora smiled and took a deep breath. "Ambassador, the honor was mine, too."

They shook hands. Spock raised his right one in the Vulcan salute. Doctor Mora mirrored the gesture, his eyes practically glowing.

Odo grabbed the holo-imager from Kejal and captured the moment.

Spock approached Kejal next. "Thank you for your invitation. This experience was extremely enlightening."

"You're welcome, sir." Kejal said back, smiling. "I can't say how much I appreciate your coming here. I know you're busy."

A corner of Spock's mouth twitched. Odo knew enough about Vulcan body language to recognize the Ambassador's amusement.

"Take care of your father," he said.

"I will." Kejal raised his hand in the Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper, Ambassador."

"Live long and prosper, Kejal." Spock seemed pleased as he returned the gesture.

Then, turning to Aleexa, he went on, "Thank you for the meal. I found it quite satisfying."

Aleexa dipped her head shyly. "You're welcome, Ambassador Spock."

Odo found himself fixed in the Vulcan's wise eyes. They were darker than Kejal's. "I will contact you if I need safe passage through Dominion space again."

"I'll make certain you receive it," said Odo. He nodded respectfully. "I'll see you out, Ambassador."

Spock pulled his rain robe over his head as they approached the door.

"I always wanted to salute a Vulcan," Kejal said in the background.

"Oh, that was such a moment." Doctor Mora answered him.

Their voices faded when the door hissed shut.

Almost on cue, a hover tram pulled up.

Spock pushed the hood off when he noticed the rain wasn't that heavy.

"Doctor Mora speaks highly of you," he said.

"He does that with everyone. I'm his favorite project."

"You are far more than that to him." For a moment, Spock appeared to hesitate. He looked up at the gray, swirling sky. "I was not able to reconcile with my father before his death. I spent much of my life believing he did not approve of me. He could not show the depth of his love for me until after he died."

Odo frowned and shook his head. First Aleexa, now Spock? He knew better than to spit out the 'mind your own business' statement burning the tip of his tongue.

"I...appreciate your observation." Odo murmured. He didn't offer Spock a handshake. Instead, he politely opened the hover tram door. "Have a safe trip."

Spock eased himself into the seat. "Thank you."

Nodding, Odo let Spock pull the tram door shut and stood back while the vehicle rumbled away. The moment it was gone, he stuck his foot out into the rain and emptied the vacuole of soup into the dirt.

Arms embraced him from behind. He chuckled, leaning forward and lifting Kejal's feet off the ground.

"You made Doctor Mora's day. That was nice of you."

Kejal swung his legs before he hopped down. "Father always said he wanted to meet him, but he never got the chance. I saw an opportunity and I took it."

"You never cease to surprise me." Odo wrapped an arm around Kejal's shoulders. "Come on, it's going to pour in a minute."

They stepped inside together.

Doctor Mora sat in his chair with both hands folded on top of his cane. He stared out the oval window, watching the brewing downpour.

"Come here, Kejal."

Kejal glanced Odo's way and approached the chair. Doctor Mora pulled him down and mussed up his orderly hair.

"You rascal," said the scientist.

"Hey! That's, ack-- not the hair!" Kejal squirmed, his voice expressing delight. "Watch the hair!"

Laughing, Doctor Mora smoothed Kejal's hair back into perfect order and encircled him in his arms. The wrinkles in his face deepened, especially around his eyes. "Thank you for today, Kejal. I had the time of my life."

Odo longed to protest that Kejal was too big to sit on anyone's lap, or that outsiders wouldn't understand. He turned away instead and went back into the study. Watching the rain fall outside became far more interesting than witnessing what he could not have.

.o

"Father?"

"Yes, Kejal?"

They still huddled together in the overstuffed chair. Outside, rain poured down in sheets. The deka tree acted like a filter that protected most of the garden from the onslaught.

"You already tried everything, didn't you?"

"Yes."

Kejal rested his head on Mora's shoulder. He felt his father's pulse tap gently against his brow.

"How do people get Delfeya syndrome?"

"Both parents have to carry the gene in precisely the same spot in their genetic makeup, and their offspring has to inherit two pairs of the gene in order to develop the disease. That is why it's so rare. Perhaps one in ten thousand Bajorans will match up genetically, and one in one hundred thousand children are conceived with two pairs of the gene."

Mora spread his hands. "On the molecular level, life is a gamble. A veritable slot machine of genes and proteins. Sometimes, you lose everything." He squeezed Kejal's arm for emphasis, "And sometimes, you win."

Kejal closed his eyes and listened to the rain outside.

"So the only cure is to remove it right at conception."

"Right now?" Mora sighed. "I'm afraid so."

Kejal's face twisted and he buried it against Mora's shoulder. The idea that this unstoppable, busy man was mortal reminded him of how different they were.

Solids...they get old. They die when their cells can't sustain them anymore. My people are almost immortal.

"I don't know what to do," he muttered. "I need to do something."

Mora didn't speak for a long time. Outside, the rain lightened. Kejal counted the water drops falling into a puddle beneath the oval window.

At last, Mora replied. "You can help me plan for the end. If you're willing, I would like you to sing at my burial."

Burial.

Kejal flinched at the word. It sounded so final.

"I haven't decided on a coffin yet. I know I want something simple and biodegradable."

The dread in his substance expanded.

"And I would prefer to be buried at sunset. I think-- Kejal?" Mora gripped Kejal's wrist. "Kejal, relax. That hurts!"

Kejal realized he gripped too tight and lifted his hand off Mora's arm.

"Eventually, you will have to let me go," said Mora, his voice gentle.

"I don't want to."

Mora's sigh ruffled the hair above Kejal's ear. "No one does, but it is inevitable."

"I'm afraid to watch. No, I'm terrified."

"Terrified? Why?"

Shaking his head, Kejal sat up to look his father in the eyes. Shadows crossed his face. "It's the unknown. What if I see something horrible? What if we make a mistake and bury you alive?"

At that, Mora broke into a small, sad smile.

"That's still two months away. Don't worry about that moment until it comes. You'll be ready for it by the time I reach that point. I promise you. I'll make sure you're prepared." He paused, squinting one eye. "Let me make you another promise, Kejal."

"Like what?"

"I'll give you a sign when I die. There won't be any doubt in your mind that my pagh escaped to freedom. No guesswork needed."

"How?"

"I don't know yet," Mora shrugged. "But you'll know it when you see it. I swear it."

"I-- " Kejal jerked backwards. "Ew! Your nose is bleeding."

"Ah, blast it." Mora snatched up the napkin he was using as a coaster for his tea mug and pressed it to his nose. "This isn't going to hold it. Go replicate me a handkerchief."

Kejal ran to do that. The napkin was almost stained through by the time he got back. "Does that hurt, father?"

Mora wrinkled his nose. "No, it's annoying." He leaned forward, letting the blood run out of his nostrils and onto the black handkerchief.

"This is what terrifies me!" Kejal burst out. He did not care if his exclamation sounded childish. "This, right here! What if this is how you go? Humanoids die if they lose too much blood! What if you develop a nosebleed that won't stop?"

"Uh-oh, nosebleed?" Aleexa appeared at Kejal's side. "They don't cause significant blood loss. Bajorans have about three thousand and six hundred milliliters of blood in their bodies." She studied Mora for several seconds. "Looks like you're a pressure bleeder."

"Hm?"

"Your nosebleeds always coincide with changes in the barometric pressure." She tilted her head. "And Bajor's shifts around a lot when one season is transitioning into the next."

"It doesn't change that much."

Chuckling, Aleexa made no move to help him. "True, but try explaining it to the capillaries in your nose. Is it slowing down at all?"

"Mmhmm. They rarely last long. Kejal, I'm all right." Mora blew his nose, folded up the handkerchief until nothing wet would be accidentally touched and let Aleexa dispose of it. He smiled. "Don't look so worried. See? I'm fine."

Kejal rubbed the back of his head. His skin was shiny, giving him the appearance of profuse sweat. "Okay. You're fine."

"You aren't." Mora pulled himself upright and patted Kejal's shoulder. "You look shiny. How long have you been holding your shape?"

"Too long." Kejal sighed.

Before anyone said a word, he poured himself into the large container by the wall and tried to forget the images of his father's face covered in blood.

Chapter End Notes:
**Chapter soundtrack**

Surprise Guest/Odo's Anguish: https://app.box.com/s/cwvj96dlvcgezf4ntfde

Kejal Panics: https://app.box.com/s/beduvqqu1jnt3453x8bh

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