Despite all of Odo’s anxieties, the party had been a success.
The first obstacle was the food. Being a changeling, Odo did not eat. However, he was perfectly capable of imitating the consumption of food and drink, when social mores required it, by shapeshifting plates of food out of his own substance. As long as he was actually in contact with the dishes and cups, he could “eat” right along with the “solids.” He simply left his elbow on the table, touching the plate.
If anyone else had done this, it would have been rude. But when Keiko noticed, she inwardly thought it was a rather touching concession to humanoid habits.
Her husband Miles hadn’t noticed. He and Kira were too busy crawling around the floor, chasing three-year-old Kirayoshi in some kind of improvised game.
Kira and Odo had invited the O’Brien’s and their two children to their quarters as a sort of “housewarming.” Kira thought it would be the appropriate way to mark a new development in her and Odo’s relationship: They had decided to move in together.
Now dinner was over. Keiko, Odo, and eight-year-old Molly O’Brien were finishing their dessert – custard made with Owon eggs, and Jestral tea.
“Yoshi is certainly getting big, isn’t he,” Odo said, as the baby in question crawled under the table, pursued by Kira.
“Yes, Doctor Bashir says he’s five pounds heavier than average for his age,” Keiko said proudly.
He was also taller than average for his age, as everyone soon discovered. Yoshi crawled out from under the table, stood up, and grabbed the tablecloth for balance. Unfortunately, he forgot to let go of the tablecloth as he ran out into the room.
It didn’t take too long to clean up the mess. Kira told everyone good-naturedly that the mass of Owon egg custard that hit her was probably good for her hair. By the time the broken dishes had been disintegrated in the replicator, it was almost 20:00 hours, and past Yoshi’s bedtime.
Odo was picking up the last shards of china and depositing them in the replicator, as the O’Brien’s left. At the door, Kira hugged Yoshi. “Ohhh, it’s been too long since I saw you, you little sehlat. I wish you could live with Odo and me.”
“You and Odo could have your own baby,” Molly said. “Then Yoshi would have someone to play with!”
“Molly!” Keiko said. And then to Kira, “I’m so sorry if Molly embarrassed you.”
“Don’t worry, she didn’t,” Kira replied, smiling at the little girl. “It’s a perfectly natural question. Frankly, I don’t know whether Odo and I could have children. I’m not even sure whether to bring it up! Odo acts gruff, but he can be so sensitive about things.”
“Isn’t that true!” Miles said. “But, if you ask me, you shouldn’t worry about. I’m sure everything will work out for the best.”
Just then, Yoshi started to fuss and squirm. Kira transferred him to Miles’ arms just as he launched into a full-fledged screaming fit.
Keiko sighed. “He’s getting cranky. We’d better go.”
As the family left, Miles said over his shoulder to Kira, “Don’t be too disappointed if you can’t have kids,” and rushed down the corridor with his squalling son.
The next morning, Doctor Bashir was finishing up an examination of Morn. He advised the burly Lurian not to play “kometa keep-away” in the holosuites again for at least a month, or risk re-tearing his leg tendons. As Morn left, Bashir shook his head, knowing that a mere doctor’s advice wouldn’t be enough to dissuade Morn from going right back to Quark’s bar, and challenging all comers to a high-stakes round of the strenuous game. “What a character,” Bashir said to himself.
The next person to walk through the door was a surprise.
“Well hello, Odo,” Bashir said. “I don’t see you around here very often.”
“I suppose that’s because I’m always in perfect health,” Odo said.
“Nonetheless, it’s not a good idea to go years without a checkup. Don’t the Bajoran militia regulations require an annual physical exam?” Bashir asked.
“I doubt if any of their regulations would apply to me. Besides, you know how I feel about being poked and prodded and scanned…”
“Yes, you’ve made that abundantly clear. Well, if you’re not here to be poked or prodded or scanned….?”
Odo hemmed and hawed embarrassedly. “Err…Kira and I were talking. We had dinner with the O’Brien’s last night. Very nice couple. Such…polite children…a little on the messy side…but I suppose you have to expect that with children. .”
Bashir nodded, not knowing what Odo was trying to say.
“What I mean is, well Kira wanted to know, whether we could…I mean, Miles and Keiko seem so happy.”
Bashir smiled. “This may be a wild guess, Odo, but are you trying to ask whether you and Kira can have children?”
Odo grunted his appreciation. “Thank you for being so perceptive, Doctor. I find it hard to discuss these matters”
“Don’t worry! You’re hardly alone, you know. Medical science has been making great advances in inter-species fertility.”
“So there’s hope for Kira and me?” Odo said, with a hint of enthusiasm.
Bashir was taken aback and wished he hadn’t sounded quite so encouraging. “Well, um, Odo…you would be a particular challenge, I’m afraid. Being a changeling, your physiology is totally different from any humanoid species. I mean, to begin with, you don’t have the right organs…well, you don’t have any organs…it would be difficult to know where to begin.”
Embarrassed, Odo characteristically retreated into pessimism. “That’s all right, Doctor. I shouldn’t have asked. It’s obvious that it’s impossible.”
“Not impossible! It just requires more creative thinking than usual. But if you’ll let me work on this…I’ll need to do a few tests….”
Bashir started setting up his equipment. But Odo left abruptly.
Later that day, Odo and Kira sat at table in the replimat. Kira brought over a small bowl of food from the replicator, ominously glowing red, like lava. Kira sat down and took a bite.
Kira rolled her eyes. “It’s delicious! Dax was right – Klingon fire pudding may look….”
“Hazardous to your health?” Odo said.
Kira laughed. “Yes, but it tastes heavenly. Oh, it’s a little spicy -- no worse than some hasperat that I’ve had. But I don’t think I’ll ever get used to you just sitting there and watching me. I feel guilty eating all of this delicious pudding myself, like a pig!”
“Don’t feel bad – even if I could eat, I wouldn’t feel like it today.”
“It’s probably nothing. But I’ve been feeling strange all day.”
Kira was concerned. “What do you mean by, ‘strange’? Are you in pain?”
“I’m not sure – whatever this is, I haven’t felt this way before. I probably just have butterflies in my stomach, like you humanoids say, just from sitting next to you.”
“Don’t make jokes. This could be serious. I think you should see Dr. Bashir.”
“Hmmph. That wouldn’t do any good, believe me. He doesn’t understand my physical makeup any better than I do!”
That night, Kira came off her shift and returned to her quarters.
“Odo, are you here?” Kira yelled, and then recalled that he probably was in his regenerative phase. She went into the bedroom, and found Odo resting in his natural state – an amber liquid, the consistency of mercury -- in his bucket.
Blowing a kiss in the bucket’s direction, she said, “I’ll try to be quiet.” Kira wasn’t being silly – she knew that, depending on his level of consciousness, Odo could hear things even when regenerating.
Then Kira noticed something odd, in a shadowy corner of the room. She bent down to see what it was, and gasped. She straightened up, slapped her combadge and said, “Dr. Bashir, medical emergency in my quarters!”
Bashir was puzzled. He had run several tests on Odo, who was still liquid in his bucket. He re-calibrated the instrument in his hand, and scanned Odo for the third time as Kira hovered anxiously nearby.
“This test is negative, too. Nerys, there is simply nothing wrong with Odo!”
“Well, then how do you explain this?” Kira said. She pointed to a small beaker of gold changeling liquid on a nearby examination table. “It can’t be normal! I’ve known Odo for years, and I’ve never seen part of him just…break off like this, or whatever happened. Something is wrong, I know it!”
“Well, Odo’s due to come out of his regenerative cycle soon,” Bashir said. “Let’s just ask him when he does.”
Right on cue, Odo slithered out of his bucket and took humanoid form. He was disoriented at being in the infirmary, instead of in his quarters, where he expected to be. “Doctor, Kira…what am I doing here?”
Kira took his arm and said, “Odo, do you feel all right? You said before that you had been feeling strange.”
“Never felt better. Is something wrong?”
Bashir pointed to the beaker. “Maybe you can help answer that.”
Odo walked over to the beaker and examined it closely. “A changeling…where did it come from?”
“From you, evidently,” Bashir said. Startled, Odo looked up.
“I found it in a pool on the floor, near your bucket,” Kira said. “I thought you had been injured!”
Odo patted himself. “I’m all here!”
Kira pointed to the beaker. “So what’s that?”
Odo peered at the beaker. “I haven’t a clue.” A startling thought occurred to him, and he looked up at Kira. “Could it have been beamed into our quarters?”
“That occurred to me, too. But I checked the security logs. Nothing was beamed in.” Then Kira remembered their conversation from the previous day. “Are you certain this has nothing to do with you feeling funny earlier?”
“I don’t see how. I still think this changeling must have come from outside, somehow.”
“Could it be a threat?” Bashir said.
“I’m not sure,” Odo replied. “Judging from the size, it’s just a young one. It probably doesn’t even know how to shapeshift yet. It could be one of the other changelings the Founders set adrift years ago.”
“Just like they did with you,” Bashir said. “But what are the odds that in the whole galaxy, two changelings would end up in the same place?”
Odo’s suspicious side – which served him well as a security chief – came to the forefront. “The only other explanation is that the changeling is some sort of Dominion plot to infiltrate the station.”
“If it’s a plot, it certainly is a strange one,” Kira said. “What could this poor little thing do?”
“Plenty, even if it is only a baby,” Odo said. “Doctor, put a security field around the beaker, until I can get to the bottom of this!”
Bashir hit some keys on the control panel. With a slight hum and a brief flash of light, an unseen force field went up around the beaker.
“Odo, do you mind if I run some scans on the changeling to monitor its condition?” Bashir asked.
“It’s all right with me – it’s not my changeling. Incidentally, I would appreciate it if….”
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell Dr. Mora anything about this.” Bashir said.
Odo nodded. “Thank you, Doctor.”
That evening, Odo and Kira visited a holosuite re-creation of Emerald Pool of Cirrus IV, whose reputation as a romantic spot was well-deserved. Swimming there was a particular favorite pastime of Odo’s. It was reminiscent of The Great Link. But not too reminiscent.
As they descended the stairs into the bar, Quark walked by. “Dr. Bashir called. He wants you two to see him as soon as possible.”
Odo became anxious. “Did he say what he wanted? Is anything wrong?”
“Wrong with what?” Quark said, his interest piqued.
Odo had no intention of telling Quark anything about the infant changeling. “Did he sound worried?”
“No, not worried. More like excited. But you know how he gets. Probably discovered some new disease that does something horrible – like making your tongue fall out.”
“Hmmph,” Odo said. “We can only hope.”
Odo and Kira arrived in the infirmary. Bashir had the changeling beaker under a device that emitted a blue beam of light. Odo noted that, true to form, Bashir had not kept the changeling in a security field.
“Odo! Kira! I think I’ve figured out where our changeling came from!” Bashir said.
“Well, Doctor, don’t keep us in suspense!” Kira said.
Bashir started to say something, and then hesitated when he saw Odo’s skeptical frown. “Umm, I don’t want to look like a total fool here…it’s kind of crazy…Odo, can I ask you a few questions first?”
“Odo, when you were in the Great Link, did you ever learn how your people reproduce?”
“Well…no…I never really thought about it much.”
“In their natural states, they have no gender, correct?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Then the only way for changelings to reproduce is to divide – like amoebas – correct?”
Odo was getting annoyed by Bashir’s seemingly pointless questions. “I have no idea! You’re the doctor. But it sounds right.”
“Then that’s what happened! Odo, you…divided!”
Odo and Kira looked at each other in total amazement. Bashir dashed over to the beaker and gently picked it up from the blue beam. He was obviously very excited by his discovery. “When Kira said you’d been feeling strange, I started to figure it out. While you were in your liquid state, you divided, and the new changeling split off.”
Putting down the beaker, Bashir walked over to the stunned Odo and shook his hand. “Congratulations, Odo, you’re a father…well, a parent, anyway!”
“But how can you be sure?” Odo said. “I can assure you, this has never happened before!”
“Well, there’s always a first time,” Bashir replied. “You were discovered about sixteen years ago, in a form very similar to this young changeling here. There’s no way to tell how long it takes changelings to mature. You may have been simply too young to reproduce before now.”
“WHAT?” Kira yelled. “You mean Odo wasn’t an adult…until now?”
Bashir stopped babbling as he realized that for Odo and Kira, this wasn’t just an exciting medical discovery. “Well, uh, Odo certainly functions as an adult…he’s obviously intelligent and responsible…but evidently, changelings just mature at a different rate than other species. I know this must be a shock to both of you…”
“That’s putting it mildly!” Kira said.
“I’m sorry, Doctor, but before I can believe this incredible story, I’ll need proof,” Odo said.
“Of course, I thought you would” Bashir said. “I have an idea how I can get that proof. I’ll call you when I figure it out.”
Odo and Kira left, still dazed. As they walked along the crowded promenade, Odo felt confused and slightly annoyed. But Kira started to see the humor in the situation.
“I hope Julian keeps his mouth shut about this!” Kira said, giggling. “They’ll all be calling me Kira, the cradle robber.”
This made Odo even more uncomfortable than before. “Nerys! I don’t know what’s so funny…”
“Oh, Odo, don’t you see, it’s hilarious! I should be arrested!”
Odo smiled, and put on his “official constable demeanor.” “That would be awkward, since it would be my job to arrest you.” Both of them burst out laughing, causing people on the promenade to stop and stare.
Kira wiped tears of laughter from her cheeks. “Oh, Odo. I really hope Julian can prove the changeling really is your offspring.”
“I kind of like the idea of being a mother. Oh, come on, Odo. Don’t you like being a daddy?”
“I know what I don’t like, and that’s surprises! This is all very…uncomfortable. I thought I knew everything I needed to know about being a changeling. It makes me wonder what other strange events might be in store for me!”
“You’re acting like you grew a tumor! It’s a baby. You should be happy!”
“Hmmmph. I suppose I am. But we shouldn’t let our guard down just yet. It still could be a Dominion trick….”
“Odo, you’re incorrigible. Listen, we can’t keep pacing around the promenade until Julian calls us. Let’s play springball.”
“I do need a distraction. I don’t even mind if you beat me – again.”
“Just keep trying. One of these days, I’m sure you’ll surprise me.”
Odo smiled. “Today wasn’t a big enough surprise for you?”
Kira and Odo walked off to the holosuite, laughing.
Kira was beating Odo, 27 – 2, when her combadge chirped.
It was Dr. Bashir. “I have good news! I definitely can prove the infant came from Odo.”
Kira lighted up immediately. “Odo, this is great!”
Odo was nonplussed. “Well, at least it’s not a Dominion….”
Kira punched Odo’s arm. “Stop it and be happy for once!”
Odo spoke into Kira’s combadge. “How can you be sure?”
“It’s complicated. Come down to the infirmary and I’ll explain.”
“We’ll be right there,” Kira said.
Odo gestured to the tight-fitting, bright yellow springball gear they were wearing. “Shouldn’t we change first? We can’t go out on the promenade dressed like this!”
“I can. And you can shapeshift back into your uniform, if it bothers you. Let’s go. Computer, arch!” As the holosuite computer revealed the hidden door in the simulation, Kira grabbed Odo’s hand and headed out of the room.
They went down the stairway into Quark’s bar. They had almost made it all the way out of the bar, when a familiar voice called from behind.
“Odo! Let me be the first to congratulate you on the birth of your son.”
Odo whirled around. Quark was holding a small, elaborately decorated box, which was open. Inside were stacks of small, silver bars.
“How did you know….?” Odo sputtered.
Quark winked. “Well…I don’t want to get anyone in trouble…but one of my waiters is seeing one of Bashir’s nurses, and you know how rumors spread on a small station.”
“Hrmph,” Odo snorted. “Don’t believe everything you hear. We’re just on our way to discuss this…event…with Dr. Bashir, and the evidence is far from conclusive.”
Kira interrupted. “Odo, everyone is going to find out sooner or later. Yes, it’s true!” she said to the gathering crowd. “We think we’re parents!”
If Odo wasn’t embarrassed enough before, now he wanted to sink through the floor. Everyone was talking at once and asking what happened.
Quark held the small box over his head and yelled above the hubbub. “And on this joyous occasion, in the finest Ferengi tradition, let me present to the happy parents with Baby’s First Treasure Chest.”
Usually Kira would have had little patience for Quark’s schemes. But today she was too happy to care. “Quark, what is that?”
“This is the traditional Ferengi gift for new parents. A set of twenty miniature strips of latinum. Look,” he held the box up for Kira to see, “they’re just the right size for little fingers.”
“And I suppose we’re expected to pay for this ‘gift’?” Odo said.
“It wouldn’t be a Ferengi gift if it were free!” Quark replied, slightly offended.
“How much is it, Quark?” Kira said.
“It’s usually twenty-five strips of latinum. But since we’re friends, I’ll let you have it for twenty.”
“Hah. Twenty full-sized strips of latinum, for twenty miniature ones. What a bargain!” Odo said. “Come on, Nerys, we shouldn’t keep Dr. Bashir waiting any longer.”
As Kira and Odo left, Quark yelled through the crowd, “All right, nineteen strips! Come on, Odo. Think of your son’s future!”
When Kira and Odo entered the infirmary, Bashir was considerably calmer than he had been before.
“Come in. I think I’ve figured out how to prove that the changeling really did come from Odo.”
Odo folded his arms. “I’m listening.”
“Ordinarily, I could use DNA to match parent to child.” Bashir said. “But, as we all know, Odo doesn’t have any DNA. But he does have a distinct cellular matrix when in liquid form.”
Odo nodded. “Yes, all changelings have a unique matrix. That’s probably how we can merge in The Great Link without losing our ability to re-form into our individual selves later.”
“Exactly! I had the same thought – so I tested the baby changeling, and its matrix is, indeed, different from Odo’s.”
“What does that prove?” Odo asked. “It just means that it’s a changeling. It could have come from anyplace.”
“I thought of that!” Bashir said. Now he was getting excited again. “But I remembered, we have a record of another changeling – one that we know is unrelated to you, Odo!”
“That’s right,” Odo said with a trace of sadness. “That changeling that Quark brought to the station, the one who died….”
“We still have the records of its matrix. I compared it to your matrix, and to the new changeling’s. Odo, you and this new changeling are much more similar to each other, than either of you is to the dead changeling!”
“So that means they are related.” Kira said.
“Yes. And the degree of variation is just what you’d expect to see from one generation to the next,” Bashir said.
“So, is this conclusive?” Kira asked, hopefully.
“Conclusive enough! At least, I think so,” Bashir replied. “Odo…?”
Odo unfolded his arms. “All right, all right. You’ve convinced me. I just hope everyone isn’t going to start acting…strange because of this. There’s already been an unfortunate scene in Quark’s.”
Kira winked at Odo. “I guess this means we’ll have to buy Baby’s First Treasure Chest after all.”
Odo finally smiled a little. “Hrmph. Well, I suppose. But I’m not paying any more than 15 strips of latinum for that ridiculous thing.”
“Well, you two,” Bashir said, gesturing to the lab where the changeling beaker still sat on the exam table. “Let’s go in and meet your new baby.”
It was very late when the Andorian trader walked into the bar. Quark pointed him out Morn. “See him? That skinny, blue guy. Those Andorians – they think they’re sharp businessmen. But I’ll tell you their weakness.”
Quark pointed to the Andorian’s antennae, perched above his abundant, snow-white hair. The antennae were moving about, sensing heat, movement, and changes in the atmosphere. “It’s those antennae. They’re so proud of them. But in negotiations, their antennae give them away, every time. Remember the 234th Rule of Acquisition: ‘You can always tell what an Andorian is thinking, by his antennae.’”
Morn gave Quark a surprised look. “Really, you can!” Quark said. “It’s a Rule, it can’t be wrong.”
Morn shrugged. Quark shook his head and polished a glass. “There’s no talking with you, Morn. Never interested in anyone’s opinions but your own.”
After quickly glancing around the nearly-deserted room, the Andorian walked to other end of the bar, and yelled to Quark. “Hey, you! Ferengi! I’m on my way to the Endicor system. Do you have anything interesting to trade?”
Quark whispered to Morn, “Just watch me – he won’t know what hit him.”
Taking the “friendly” approach, Quark said, “Well, well. A long way from home. What’s your name?”
“Tebbey Mok. Just call me Tebbey.” Quark started to reply, but the Andorian cut him off. “I know your name, you’re Quark.”
“I guess my fame precedes me!”
“I read in on the sign outside. It says ‘Quark’s bar.’”
This guy is pretty rude for an Andorian, Quark thought, testily. “Anything to drink?”
“Warp core breech.”
Ordinarily, Quark would have been overjoyed at the thought of negotiating with someone who had consumed this notoriously potent drink. But Andorians were almost as famous for their resistance to intoxicants as they were for their antennae. Quark set the glass down on the bar. Tebbey drank it in one gulp, as orange smoke billowed from the glass.
“Not bad. Needs a touch more Regulan gin.”
More Regulan gin? Quark thought. That one had enough in it to knock out a targ.
Now the haggling started. Quark brought out a variety of exotic items from his storeroom – not the best things, but not junk, either. A statuette of a sacred Bajoran bantaca. A rare, signed copy of a Jacqueline Susann novel from ancient Earth. A necklace made of beads fashioned to look like Horta eggs. And a living Folnar jewel plant.
Quark noticed Tebbey’s antennae drooping and sighed. He’s not going to pay a fair price for any of these, Quark thought. What is he after, anyway?
“The war has shut off most of my sources.” Quark said apologetically. “Too many Federation ships in the sector. Makes honest businessmen nervous. The only other thing I have to trade is this.”
Quark reached under the bar and picked up a small chest. He set the box on the bar and opened it.
“What is that?” the Andorian asked.
“Baby’s First Treasure Chest. I got it -- at great difficulty I might add -- for friends of mine. They just had a son.” Quark chuckled. “Well, the father had a son…pretty strange, you know. He’s a changeling.”
Tebbey’s antennae perked up at that. “You mean, like the Founders?”
“Yes, he’s one of them,” Quark said, fingering the small silver bars in the box. “Well, not really one of them – I must admit, he has a pretty good personality, for a Founder. Of course, that’s not saying much. But he’s cheap! Wouldn’t even buy this fine gift for the boy. Business is cutthroat, you’ve got to start training them young. Just ask my brother. That was the mistake he made with his son, Nog…and now he’s in Starfleet. A disgrace to the whole family.”
As Quark looked up from his rambling monologue, he caught a glimpse of the Andorian leaving the bar. Quark yelled after him, “Wait a minute, I forgot to tell you – I have 12 bottles of kanar – flavored with fish juice! Very rare, hard to obtain since the Cardassians sealed the border…oh well.”
Quark walked back over to where Morn was still sitting. “I should have told him about the fish kanar first. I don’t suppose you’d buy it….”
Morn gave Quark a surprised look and shrugged.
“Yeah, fish kanar is certainly an acquired taste,” Quark said.
Bashir was used to working long hours, but even he couldn’t compete with the stamina of a changeling. Needing only two hours of sleep out of every eighteen left Odo plenty of time for coaching the infant changeling in the delicate and difficult art of shapeshifting.
As Bashir walked into the infirmary that morning, he found Odo and the changeling still there, having been up all night. Two weeks had passed since the birth, and already the infant had progressed from forming simple geometric shapes, and had gone on to more complex organic forms. At the moment, the young shapeshifter was doing a surprisingly good imitation of an apple.
Kira poked her head into the infirmary. “I’m on my way to Ops. Just thought I’d see how the lessons were going.”
“The changeling seems to be making progress,” Bashir said. “And it has quadrupled in size. That must be a good sign.”
Kira put her arm around Odo’s shoulder. “What a lovely apple,” she said to the infant changeling. “You’re doing fine. I can’t wait until you shapeshift into a cute little baby!”
Odo was surprised. “Why do you think it should imitate a baby?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Kira said. “I just seems natural. I mean, it would be strange for our child to just be an adult all of a sudden!”
“Well, the first humanoid form I took was an adult,” Odo said. “I was imitating Dr. Mora. Hrmph, he was the only humanoid I had ever met. I suppose I didn’t know any better.”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Bashir said. “I hope I’m not being too forward, but Kira could be right. Perhaps the infant shouldn’t immediately take adult form. It stands a better chance of adjusting to life among the ‘solids’ if it progresses through a normal childhood.”
Odo thought about it. “You could be right about that. Understanding humanoids is no easy task for a young changeling.”
“Or for an old one, right? Kira kissed Odo. “Gotta go. See you both this evening.”
For the next few hours, Bashir saw patients in the infirmary – a technician with a minor burn from a plasma field and a Bajoran father who brought in his son, complaining of stomach pains (which turned out to be caused by an excess of jumja sticks). Then, citing some obscure reason for being needed in Ops, Bashir left. Now that the novelty of the changeling had worn off, Odo suspected that staring at an apple for hours on end was not the doctor’s idea of fun.
Odo didn’t mind. He liked the peaceful solitude of the empty infirmary.
As usual, Odo spoke to the changeling. At some point, he knew the changeling would gain enough consciousness of its surroundings to understand.
“I’m proud of the progress you’ve made so quickly,” Odo said. “I suppose I’m really not the best teacher you could have. There’s so much about my people – our people – I don’t know. I was taught by a humanoid named Dr. Mora. He tried to do his best. But he really didn’t know how to raise a shapeshifter properly. I hope you turn out better than I did. I’ve never really fit into humanoid society very well.”
The apple on the table shimmered and melted into a golden liquid as the changeling rested. Then it began to take another form. To Odo’s surprise, it emerged as a small boy, about six years old. He was a small version of Odo – straight, blond hair and piercing blue eyes under the distinctive changeling brow ridges.
Astonished, Odo said. “Very good! It took me months to assume humanoid form.”
The boy slowly looked around the room. Odo knew he would be disoriented for days, as he got used to perceiving the world through humanoid senses. Then, for the first time, he spoke.
“Is this the form you had in mind?”
“I’m not sure what you mean,” Odo said.
“Is this what a humanoid baby looks like?”
Odo realized the young changeling was trying to fulfill the expectations that he had heard expressed over the past few days.
“Well, not exactly…but don’t worry about it. A baby is not a form you’d want to take.”
“Why not?” The child’s blue eyes blinked, but otherwise he was strangely still.
“They make too much noise. You’re fine as you are.”
After that evening, Kira would never again complain about Odo having no sense of humor.
Odo told the boy to sit in the living area, in a chair Odo usually occupied. Then Odo hid around the corner in the bedroom and waited for Kira to come home.
After living with Odo for a few weeks, Kira was used to strange sights.
“What are you doing, Odo? Did you go swimming and shrink?” she said.
The boy said nothing, and Kira became worried. “Are you feeling all right?”
Then Odo jumped out into the room.
It took a while for Kira to calm down, and a while longer to pick up the various objects she had thrown at Odo. But when Odo finally told her the identity of the small stranger, her attitude changed completely.
Kira took the young changeling’s hand, and showed him everything in their quarters, explaining each object’s history and purpose. The child absorbed everything and said nothing. When they came to Kira’s Bajoran shrine, she said “And this is where we worship the Prophets.”
“Who are the Prophets?” the boy said.
“That would take a long time to explain. You’ll understand when you start attending the temple services with me…um…Odo, what’s his name?”
“I don’t know – I suppose he does need a name,” Odo said. “Hopefully not a name like mine,” he added, remembering how he had been given his own name as a cruel joke.
“What’s wrong with your name?” Kira asked. “Oh, I know the story. But I like ‘Odo’…let’s call him Odo, Jr.”
“Absolutely not!” Odo said, with surprising vehemence. “What I mean is – he needs his own identity and his own name.”
“How about Kira, Jr. then? Just kidding!”
They thought for a while. “We could combine our names,” Kira said. “Why not Kiraodo?”
“Hrmph. That’s a mouthful.”
“Then let’s shorten it to ‘Kirdo.’ It’s a Bajoran word, meaning ‘happy surprise.’” She bent down towards the child. “Would you like your name to be Kirdo?”
The changeling said nothing. “I don’t think he understands what a ‘name’ is, Nerys,” Odo said.
“I understand,” the boy said.
“Then, first thing tomorrow, we’ll go to the temple and have an earring made for you, as a symbol of your spiritual pagh. Don’t worry, Kirdo. The vedek will explain what that is.”
Odo never liked crowds. But it was understandable that someone like Kirdo would attract plenty of attention.
As word spread that a young changeling was in the Bajoran temple, many of DS9’s Bajorans who had let their spiritual life lapse suddenly found religion. This morning, the temple was packed with curious throngs. Many of Kira and Odo’s friends from the station’s Federation contingent – including the O’Briens – attended as well.
Standing near the altar, Odo fidgeted. Besides one time when he had been investigating a crime, he had never been inside the temple. Kira stood at the other side of the altar, and between them was Kirdo.
The Bajoran Pagh Rites were usually conducted for infants in the first year of their life. But, of course, Kirdo was a special case. The vedek intoned the ancient words, asking the Prophets to guide and protect Kirdo.
The last part of the ceremony would determine the exact configuration of Kirdo’s ceremonial earring. The vedek bent down to grasp Kirdo’s right ear and concentrated for a moment. Then with a puzzled expression, he spoke to Kira and Odo.
“I’m not sure I know how to interpret this – I have never encountered a pagh such as this child has.”
“What do you mean?” Kira asked.
“All I can tell is, Kirdo’s life will take a very unique path,” the vedek replied.
“Well, that’s understandable,” Odo said. “He’ll have his work cut out for him, just fitting in.”
The vedek ordered a ceremonial earring to fit the boy’s “unique” pagh. With its concentric loops connected by a diagonal bar, the earring was unlike any the Bajorans had ever seen.
When the ceremony was over, Kira and Odo guided their son through the crowd and out of the temple. They boarded the turbolift with the O’Briens and the rest of the station’s senior staff, who were returning to Ops.
“I’ll get off at the habitat ring with Keiko and the kids,” Kira said. “Then I’ll join you in Ops later, when Kirdo is settled.”
After a short ride, Kira and the others disembarked at the habitat level. The turbolift continued on to Ops.
“Well, Odo. How does it feel to be a father?” Sisko said.
“Strange!” Odo replied.
“Well, you didn’t exactly go about it in the usual way.” Dax said. “Now, speaking as a person who has been both a mother and a father…”
“You must make sure your son follows the proper path,” Worf interrupted. “And spend enough time with him that he understands how he should behave! I did not do so with my own son, Alexander. It was…a mistake.”
“Worf, that’s terrible advice!” Sisko said. “Now look at me and Jake. I wanted the boy to go to Starfleet Academy! Hell, I just assumed he would. But Jake isn’t me, any more than Kirdo is Odo. Just let the boy find his own path.”
“Believe me, he will,” Dax said. “I’ve had enough children to know that they never do what you tell them to, anyway.”
Miles O’Brien had been conspicuously silent. “What about you, Chief?” Odo said. “Don’t you have an opinion on the subject?”
“I just wish my kids were as well-behaved as Kirdo! He’s a little angel. My two kids are bloody terrors.”
Back in the O’Brien’s quarters, the scene was pandemonium. Yoshi was screaming at the top of his lungs, and Molly had knocked over a pile of storage boxes, looking for her paints. Finally, Keiko got Kirdo and Molly settled down in Molly’s room. “Molly can paint for hours,” Keiko said to Kira. “Thank goodness she’ll be occupied.”
Keiko put Yoshi in his bed and finally managed him to calm him down. They went back into the main living space.
“That earring the vedek made for Kirdo was so beautiful,” Keiko said. “I’m so impressed that he hammered and cut the earring right there in the temple!”
“It’s very important that everyone see the earring being made, so they understand the child’s role in the community,” Kira said. “Although I’m not sure anyone can interpret that earring.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter. Kirdo is healthy and happy – and he’s lucky to have such loving parents.”
“No, I’m lucky!” Kira said. “To tell you the truth, I never knew if I would make a good mother. Or if I even wanted to be a mother. But now I am, and I love it! It’s wonderful being able to share the things that are important to me with Kirdo. He understands everything. He’s an amazing child. I just feel so guilty being able to have Kirdo, without having done all the work.”
“Nerys, you already did the work – carrying Kirayoshi. Not having to be pregnant with Kirdo seems only fair.”
“No, I mean -- not having to go through the terrible three’s.”
Keiko rolled her eyes and looked ruefully in the direction of Yoshi’s room.
Molly came out of her room and said to Kira, “Kirdo has a surprise for
Molly took Kirdo’s hand and led him over to the adults. Kirdo shimmered as he changed form – his yellow hair darkening to match Kira’s auburn brown, and his nose ridge wrinkling like a Bajoran’s. He still retained the strangely smooth face and brow ridges of a changeling.
“How do you like it?” Molly said, enthusiastically.
“Molly told me that humanoid children look like both their parents,” Kirdo said. “So I changed to look more like Mother.” Overwhelmed, Kira hugged her son.
After a few days, things on DS9 had settled down. Most of the station’s inhabitants were Bajoran, and they found it charming that the young changeling had taken on a “half Bajoran” appearance. Odo was impressed and slightly jealous that Kirdo seemed to already be better than him at shapeshifting.
At Bashir’s insistence, Odo brought Kirdo into the infirmary for an examination.
When the examination was complete, Bashir asked Odo to join him in his lab. Kirdo remained in the other room.
“Is there something wrong, Doctor?” Odo said.
“No, Kirdo is just as healthy as ever. But there is something troubling me, Odo. When did Kirdo change his appearance?”
“A few days ago. It was a surprise for Kira. The O’Briens’ little girl suggested it – so that Kirdo would look more like his mother. I thought it was a very thoughtful gesture.”
“I hope I’m not butting into something that’s none of my business,” Bashir said . “It just seems odd that he would make such an abrupt change from his original form.”
“He’s only imitating Kira and me,” Odo said. “He’s intelligent and eager to please, and likes to try new things. Isn’t that natural for a humanoid child?”
“That’s the problem, Odo. He isn’t a humanoid child, and I’m not sure what is normal behavior for him. He seems to absorb the suggestions of anyone he talks to – you, me, Kira, even Molly. Is he just a ‘blank’ personality, waiting to be told what form to take? And won’t he eventually resent being manipulated this way?”
“Doctor, this is ridiculous,” Odo said. “No one is ‘manipulating’ Kirdo.”
“Well, it’s just that Dr. Mora assumed that you were a ‘blank personality’ once. But eventually you became resentful at being controlled,” Bashir says.
This stopped Odo cold. He didn’t know what to say.
“Maybe I’m being over-sensitive about this,” Bashir said. “The parallels to my own childhood are so strong, I’m just projecting my own experience onto Kirdo….”
“No, Doctor, I think you may be right,” Odo said. “I really don’t know how a changeling should be raised. And my own history is hardly any model I’d want to follow with Kirdo. I…have to talk with Kira about this.”
Later that evening, Odo was reading security reports off the computer, in their quarters. Kira kept hovering around the bucket where Kirdo was ‘sleeping.’
“He’s been regenerating for three hours now,” Kira said. “Is that normal?”
“When I was young, I needed longer regeneration spans, too,” Odo said. “Don’t worry, it’s just a phase.”
“All right. I guess I should stop worrying about him so much.”
Odo fidgeted. He hadn’t brought up his and Bashir’s conversation with Kira yet, and he wasn’t quite sure how to begin.
“I was talking with Doctor Bashir earlier today…and there is something about Kirdo we should discuss…”
Kira was alarmed. “What? There isn’t something wrong with him?”
“No, no! It’s…well, the Doctor is worried that Kirdo isn’t forming an identity of his own. Instead, he’s just imitating humanoid forms, behavior, culture…”
“He lives with humanoids. There’s nothing else for him to imitate.”
“But – is it natural for a changeling…?” Odo began.
“Odo, what’s ‘natural’ for a changeling is to go live in The Great Link with the Founders! You don’t want Kirdo to do that, do you?”
“I’m not sure…maybe we’re doing the wrong thing.”
Kira became agitated. “Odo, are you insane? Do you want Kirdo becoming a Founder?”
“Well, just for argument’s sake – why not?”
“For one thing, they’re…well, maybe not evil…but they’re paranoid and hostile. They think that the only way they can be safe is to enslave or kill all us ‘solids.’ I couldn’t bear to see Kirdo learn those kinds of values.”
“The Founders could argue that we’re just doing the same thing – ‘corrupting an infant changeling’ by making him adapt to humanoid society.”
“If that’s what you believe, what are you doing here?”
“Nerys, I just want to point out that – we could be putting our needs before Kirdo’s.”
Kira calmed down. “I never thought of that. To me, the Founders are the enemy. It’s like saying my son should be raised by Cardassians! We just have to trust our instincts, and have faith that we can do what’s right for Kirdo.”
Sisko called Kira and Odo into his office. Quark was already there, arguing with the Captain.
“Well, how was I supposed to know he was a Dominion spy?” Quark said, arms flailing. “People come through my bar all the time! And it’s not like I know any Federation secrets!”
Odo smirked and said, “Now what has Quark done, Captain?”
Sisko looked grave. “This is serious. I received a transmission from Cardassia. The Founder and Weyoun are on their way here, under the flag of truce.”
“That’s good – right?” Kira said.
“Not for you two. Unfortunately,” Sisko glared at Quark, “a Dominion spy posing as an Andorian trader came into Quark’s bar. Somehow, he found out about Kirdo.”
Quark defended himself. “Why is everyone so surprised to learn that the Dominion has spies? And it’s not like this station has very tight security,” he added, looking pointedly at Odo.
“I never thought I’d hear you complain about lax security,” Odo responded.
“The Founder claims we have no right to keep Kirdo here,” Sisko said.
Kira jumped up. “What? That’s ridiculous. We’re Kirdo’s parents. All right, I suppose they wouldn’t regard me as Kirdo’s parent. But Odo certainly is!”
Odo looked worried. “That’s not how the Founders would see it. They probably think of young changelings as belonging to the whole society.”
“What else do you know about how Founders raise their young?” Sisko said. “It could be important.”
“I don’t know anything about young changelings! When I was in The Great Link, I didn’t sense any young ones among them. I think – this is a rare event.”
“If that’s true, each infant changeling would be very valuable to them,” Kira said.
“And they wouldn’t give one up easily,” Odo said.
Sisko slapped his hand down on his desk. “Well, neither will we! They can come to the station, and discuss this. But they have to come alone, without Jem’Hadar escorts or warships.”
“Do you think they’ll agree to that?” Kira asked.
Sisko leaned back in his chair. “They already have. I wouldn’t have agreed to the meeting otherwise.”
“They must be very concerned about Kirdo’s welfare to take such a chance,” Odo said.
“I’m concerned about his welfare, too!” Kira said. “Is there any chance they might try to kidnap Kirdo?”
“With those two, anything’s possible,” Sisko replied. “We need to move Kirdo to a secure location.”
“The holding cells! He’ll be safe there,” Odo said.
“Odo! We can’t put a child a holding cell!” Kira said.
“Why not? It’s by far the safest place on the station,” Odo said. “No one can lock onto him and transport him out of there.”
“But he’ll be frightened…” Kira said.
“Nerys, it’s not like he’s a humanoid child,” Odo said. “He’ll understand.”
Sisko broke in, impatiently. “Listen you two, it’s simple. We’ll have someone stay in the holding cell with Kirdo, all right?”
“Yes! I’ll stay with him!” Kira said.
“If there’s anything I can do to help…” Quark volunteered.
“Oh you’ve done enough already, Quark,” Kira said.
Sisko, Worf and Odo waited at the airlock with heavily-armed security detachment, as the Founder and Weyoun arrived.
Predictably, the first words out of Weyoun’s mouth were sarcastic. “Oh my, all this attention for just us. You’d think we had brought along a whole squadron of Jem’Hadar.”
“Just standard security procedures,” Sisko said.
“I would like to speak with Odo alone,” the Founder said.
Sisko glanced at Odo, who nodded. Odo and the Founder left, down the corridor.
As soon as the Founder and Odo were out of sight, Weyoun’s manner towards Sisko changed unexpectedly. “Would it be possible for me to see the young Founder?” he asked obsequiously.
Weyoun persisted. “What possible harm can I do by myself? Please, this is very important. The young Founder may be just another sentient being to you, but to me, he’s a god. I just want to see for myself he’s being well cared for.”
Weyoun’s apparent sincerity overrode Sisko’s skepticism. “Worf, take a security detachment to the holding cells. And keep a close eye on Weyoun.”
Worf nodded. “Consider it done.” Glaring at Weyoun, he said, “Follow me, Vorta.”
In the security area, Kira sat in the holding cell with Kirdo. The young changeling had progressed in his studies and was now learning how to duplicate various textures. Kira had brought along a variety of objects for Kirdo to practice on, which were scattered around the holding cell.
Kirdo had morphed into a near-perfect facsimile of Kukalaka, Bashir’s old teddy bear, when Weyoun and his escorts came into the holding cell area.
“He insisted on seeing Kirdo,” Worf said.
Weyoun glanced around the cell anxiously. “I don’t understand – where is the Founder?”
“He’s practicing his shapeshifting,” Kira said. “He’s the teddy bear.”
Puzzled, Weyoun scrutinized the two bears – one real, one changeling. Kira thought he looked disturbed about something.
“Isn’t that clever,” Weyoun said. “How old is he? A few weeks? And already he’s mimicking complex forms.”
“He’s practicing textures,” Kira said.
“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Weyoun said. “Can I get a closer look?”
Weyoun approached the teddy bear. Suddenly, he lunged forward, but Kira caught his arm just in time.
Prying the Vorta’s fingers open, Kira found a communicator badge. “Nice try, Weyoun. You were going to pin this on the bear and have him transported up to your ship, right? I’m afraid I can’t let you do this. Julian was nice enough to lend me Kukalaka, and I don’t know how I could break it to him, if his teddy bear were taken prisoner by the Dominion.”
“What?” said Weyoun.
Kira gestured toward the two bears. “Kirdo is the other bear.”
Worf grabbed the Vorta’s arm. “Just as I suspected. You are not trustworthy!”
“Don’t worry, Worf,” Kira said. “The holding cell area is surrounded by an energy grid that prevents transport. It wouldn’t have worked, anyway.”
“But he could attempt to injure Kirdo!” Worf said.
With surprising strength, Weyoun struggled out of Worf’s grip. The Vorta was trembling with rage.
“I would never injure a Founder! You are injuring him! Forcing him to imitate these…ridiculous things for your amusement.” Weyoun grimaced at Kukalaka. “This ‘teddy bear’ – no Founder should assume such a grotesque form.”
“What? You’re out of your mind,” Kira said. “It’s a teddy bear! It’s perfectly innocent. Humanoid children play with these as toys.”
“The young Founder is not a humanoid child. You’re trying to shape him into something that he is not. When the Leader told me what was happening, I couldn’t believe it. But it’s true. You’re trying to warp a god into something debased, perverted…something on your level! Just like you did with….”
“Odo?” Kira said coolly.
Weyoun hurried to cover his error. “That’s not what I meant. It is not for me to question a god.”
“Oh, come on. It’s obvious you think Odo has been ‘warped’ by contact with ‘solids.’ And you’ll do anything to prevent the same thing from happening to Kirdo.”
“Where the young Founder is concerned – yes, I freely admit it. I think you people are dangerous to him.”
“Fine, you’re entitled to your opinions,” Kira said. “So go back to Cardassia, where someone might care what you think. But this visit is over. Kirdo and I have things to do. We’re already going to be late for services at the Bajoran temple.”
Weyoun’s strange blue eyes seemed to blaze. “Why is the Founder going to the temple?”
“For services, I said! It’s really none of your business. Now go – we have to get ready.” Kira picked up Kirdo’s earring from the chair.
Weyoun turned purple and looked like he actually might have a heart attack. Assuming Vortas have hearts, Kira thought.
“What? I can’t believe this!” Weyoun said. “You’re not saying you’re teaching him…a god…to worship these, these ridiculous Prophets of yours!”
“Why not?” Kira said. “The Prophets actually are gods!”
Weyoun wasn’t listening. “This is the worst, most vile, act of sacrilege I have ever heard of…”
Worf grabbed Weyoun with a grip no Vorta could break. “It is time for you to go.”
As Weyoun was taken out of the security area, Kirdo re-formed into a child. “Who was he?” Kirdo said, confused.
“A Vorta. Oh, Kirdo, there’s a lot we haven’t told you yet.”
“Why did he want to steal me?”
“He didn’t mean any harm, I suppose. It’s funny. If I were in his place – and believing what he does – I would have acted just the same.” She tousled Kirdo’s hair, and smiled. Then her smile faded. “And I would never give up.”
The Founder and Odo had gone to the wardroom to talk.
“I wish you would reconsider, Odo,” the Founder said. “You have been sadly crippled by being raised in humanoid society. You can’t shapeshift properly, and your misguided loyalty to the solids has forever cast you out of The Great Link. If Kirdo stays with you, he will become an exile as well. Odo, do you really want that to happen?”
“That’s not a very convincing argument,” Odo said. “Whoever raises Kirdo will shape what he becomes. If we turn him over to you, and he joins The Great Link, you’d be shaping his future just as much as we would be.”
“I had hoped you’d be more flexible, Odo,” the Founder said. “But I have a compromise.” She placed a glass jar on the conference table, containing a living amber liquid.
“Let Kirdo have a taste of The Great Link,” she said. “Let him learn what he will give up, by remaining with you. This contains a sample of the matrix of millions of Founders from the Link. The Founders in this quadrant have used this to form our own, smaller link – not very adequate, but better than nothing. Let Kirdo live in the link, for as long as he desires. If he decides of his own free will to re-emerge as a solid, then I will bow to his decision.”
Odo looked at the amber liquid and realized he had to let Kirdo make his own choice. He nodded his agreement.
As the Founder left, Odo said, “What will you use for your Link now?”
“I have no way of linking now. And with the wormhole blocked, there is no way for me to return to the homeworld.”
Odo realized what a great sacrifice she had made.
Kira had had a hard time accepting Odo’s bargain with the Founder.
“I don’t know, Odo,” Kira said. “Should we do this? You’ve told me how strongly changelings are drawn to the Link.”
“True, but that’s because it is in our nature to join the Link,” Odo said. “We can’t ask Kirdo to ignore his own nature until he’d had a chance to see for himself.”
Odo put his arm around Kira. “Don’t worry. He may come out of the Link. After all, I did.”
Picking up the Link jar, Odo walked into Kirdo’s room. Kira followed him.
Kirdo was sitting on a small couch in his room. Odo placed the jar on a nearby table, and Kirdo walked over and gazed into it.
“This is what a Link looks like?” Kirdo asked.
“Yes,” Odo said.
“It’s not too late to change your mind,” Kira said. Then she added quickly, “But do what you need to do.”
Kirdo took off his earring and gave it to Kira. Then he hugged both his parents. Seeming to melt, Kirdo changed into liquid, flowed across the floor and up the table, and then into the jar.
Kira placed the earring next to the jar. Brokenly, she said, “Whether you want to come back for this – Kirdo – it’s up to you.”