1. Chapter 1 by Queenix
2. Chapter 2 by Queenix
3. Chapter 3 by Queenix
4. Chapter 4 by Queenix
5. Chapter 5 by Queenix
6. Chapter 6 by Queenix
7. Chapter 7 by Queenix
8. Chapter 8 by Queenix
9. Chapter 9 by Queenix
Constable Odo shoved his bound prisoner towards a waiting deputy. “Take that to holding, Ridia, and notify the magistrate.”
Deputy Ridia quickly seized the offender by his collar. “Y-yes, sir,” Ridia stammered. He dragged the prisoner away, giving Odo a wide berth as he passed.
If Odo could have seen the look on his own face, he might have understood his deputy’s fearful deference. The suspect Odo had just arrested was a special sort of scum, one Odo thought might actually merit a death sentence, and he couldn't keep the malice he felt from simmering to the surface of his normally placid features. This had been a trying case, and a difficult arrest, and the filth he'd just handed off to Ridia deserved whatever fate the Bajoran court threw at him.
As he watched the deputy haul their prisoner away from the airlock, Odo hands balled into fists. He squeezed them until his arms trembled with the strain. If the court had no ideas about how to punish Lephon Corixian for his heinous crimes, Odo certainly did.
The prisoner and Ridia moved out of sight. Odo sagged against a bulkhead and released his anger, letting it travel out through his entire form in a heated amber flash. It disrupted the template he was currently wearing, the one known to the residents of DS9 as Security Chief Odo. He reordered his shape loosely as his anger dissipated and tiredness took its place. There was a slight sheen on his skin, an indistinct blur about the edges of his features, but Odo didn’t bother to fix it. He’d worked for months on this case, and he was more than relieved it was done, and in the privacy of the now-vacant airlock, he let his body say openly what was in his heart.
For the last four years, right under the noses of law enforcement in four different sectors, Lephon Corixian had been trafficking the worst kind of goods. Lephon Corixian had been pedaling human flesh. He had been dealing in stolen people, had affect countless lives in the process, and no one had been able to stop him.
Until today, Odo thought. Today, I finally got him.
It was Quark who had given Odo the final piece of the puzzle he needed to set up this sting. Quark had lent Odo access to his broad network of nefarious characters, and Odo had put them to good use in hunting Corixian down. Even the Ferengi couldn't condone what Corixian had been up to, and Quark had actually been glad to help. He'd even waived the fees for his assistance. It annoyed Odo to no end that he owed Quark anything, but some things were worth the price. Things like seeing Corixian's face crumple as it was mashed by a Changeling fist.
“Odo?” a voice called. "Are you still in here?"
The familiar contralto pulled Odo back from his reverie. Colonel Kira was approaching the airlock. “I'm here,” Odo called. He righted his form before she rounded the corner. “Did you get the search warrant?”
Kira stepped over the rim of the airlock. “Here,” she said, handing him a data PADD. “We rounded up the rest of the crew. They're all accounted for, and in holding. We're clear to search the vessel.”
“Thank you, Colonel,” Odo said. “Excellent work.”
Odo reviewed the warrant and found it sound, as expected. Kira was no slouch. She was also no coward, but Odo still worried that this particular search and seizure might be too much for her. Odo knew Corixian still had hostages aboard, but had no idea what condition they might be in. However, it had been previously agreed that he and Kira would be the first ones to search the vessel. There were to be no blurring of lines legally speaking with the Federation. This was a Bajoran matter only if they wanted it resolved swiftly, or so said the magistrate when Odo told her of his plans.
Odo spied at Kira over the PADD, her attention focused on the still-sealed door of Corixian's ship. She looked a little pale.
“Are you sure you still want to do this?” Odo asked. “I can call one of the deputies to accompany me instead.”
Kira heaved a sigh and planted her hands on her hips. “I don't have a choice,” she said. “The magistrate said because of the nature of the crime, she wanted us both to document it in case anyone tried to dispute anything at trial. My rank will make my testimony carry more weight, at least according to her.”
“If Quark's sources are to be believed, Corixian brought all the evidence right to our door. There shouldn't be anything to dispute.”
“I agree, but the magistrate insisted." Kira huffed. "Odo, let's stop talking about it and just get this over with.”
“Agreed, Colonel,” Odo replied. He turned to unseal the door of the ship.
Colonel Kira swiftly came to regret her eagerness. She had read the warrant and knew what it was they were looking for. The Colonel had braced herself for what she might see, had convinced herself it wouldn't bother her. Hadn't she lived through so many terrible things for so many years during the Occupation? How much worse could whatever was on this ship be?
She watched Odo attach the lock-breaker he’d brought to the door of the ship. The device blipped twice as the frequency was found and the door opened, rolling back with a hydraulic hiss. Kira took a deep breath, lifted her chin, and stepped boldly forward, absolutely determined that whatever was on the other side of that door wasn't going to get the best of her.
Odo snaked an arm around her waist, halting her. “Wait, Nerys. I need to scan it first.”
“Oh, I...Of course.” She hung back and watched Odo run a tricorder slowly over the threshold.
Odo looked over the tricorder results and gave her a satisfied nod. “We're clear, but I'd appreciate it if you'd stay behind me. The tricorder might have missed something.”
Odo took palm light out of a near-by wall storage unit. He morphed a hook for it on his side and hung it there, keeping the tricorder in his hand. “Let's proceed,” he said.
The first thing that struck Kira when she stepped into the ship was the smell. It hit her like a punch, the corridor rank with odors of soured food, unwashed bodies, and burned warp plasma. She covered her mouth as she followed Odo into the ship, breathing shallowly against the miasma that threatened to spill her breakfast. There were other smells, too, faint but unpleasant scents that seemed familiar, triggering memories of her past she didn't want to think about in this dismal place.
Odo was a few steps ahead of her. He paused, noticing her lagging pace. “Colonel, are you alright?”
“I'm fine, it's just...It smells terrible in here, Odo. You should be glad you don't have a sense of smell.”
Kira closed her eyes and bowed her head down between her knees, willing the nausea to pass, and her fear with it. She needed to get it together. She wouldn't make a fool of herself, not here, not with Odo watching.
“You're not the only one having trouble, Colonel,” Odo replied. He turned to the wall of the corridor and reached out to touch it, tracing it carefully with the tips of his fingers. He closed his eyes and cocked his head to the side, as if listening for something. A long silence ensued. Kira wondered what he felt under his Changeling fingertips that had him so entranced, and tried to ask, when a motion from him told her to stay quiet.
Finally, Odo opened his eyes. “This is a terrible place,” he said. “Let's get this done, Colonel, and get off of this ship.”
“Fine by me,” Kira replied, and took a place two paces behind Odo.
As they traveled the halls, Kira took in the sorry state of the freighter. There wasn't a thing about the rusted hulk that said space-worthy. The bulkheads were buckled and in desperate need of shoring. Badly sealed wall joins oozed with slicks of pink mold, and leaking ventilation ducts dripped moisture on their shoulders as they passed. There was trash and dust and dirt in just about every corner Kira looked. If this crew didn't bother to keep the ship clean, who knew how the engines were kept. She wondered how the derelict thing had ever hit warp without flying apart.
Odo closed the tricorder. He reached for the wall, doing the same listen-touch as had before. “There is something interfering with the tricorder,” he said. “Radiation, maybe. I can’t get a clear signal, but we'll take the lift to the bottom level. I think that's where we'll find Corixian's cargo.”
“Right behind you, Constable,” Kira replied.
They came to the lift junction and stepped on. Kira hit the button that would take them to the cargo hold. The lift jumped to life with a lurch. Her stomach clenched as the aged equipment gave a loud, metal screech. Kira couldn't help but recall the last time a lift she was on had made a noise like that, and how it had almost killed her. This time, however, there was no sickening plunge, only a grinding, moaning hum as the machine descended into the bowels of the ship. Kira reminded herself to breathe, and loosened her death-grip on Odo’s shoulder.
At the bottom level of the ship, the lift doors opened. Kira's eyes tried to adjust to the gloom ahead. Odo held up his palm light, cutting a swath through the dim and illuminating yet another rusted, filthy corridor. The beam spooked something small, furry, and fast that scurried across the floor. Kira jumped back with a sound of disgust as it crossed her boot.
“Doesn't this junker have lights, Odo?”
“I'm sure it does, somewhere. I just didn't want to turn them on and disturb anyone-or anything-we might run into. Didn't you bring a palm light?”
Kira nearly smacked herself in the forehead. With all of the drama, she had forgotten she had a unit at her waist. She snatched it up and clicked it on, and stepped boldly off the lift.
Odo gave her a knowing look, and resumed the lead. His footfalls were silent in the eerie murk. Kira did her best to keep her own heels from ringing on the grated floor, but knew she had no hope of matching Odo’s stealth.
As they progressed, she noticed the stench was getting stronger. The temperature was also steadily rising the deeper they went. Odo stopped occasionally to touch another wall, following his instincts like a hound on a scent. Kira's sense of direction was strong, but Odo’s was infallible, and she quickly lost all track of where they were heading as she tried to keep up with him. Her head spun with turns and twists, and the increasing heat, Odo leading her endlessly on, taking them deeper and deeper into the maze of Corixian's freighter.
Finally, Odo stopped. In front of them was a large double door, big enough to pilot a shuttle through. The smell was strongest here, a draft coming through a gap in the door's seal and carrying it straight to Kira's nostrils. She caught blood and sickness in that smell, and her stomach roiled again. The hum of an idled warp coil reached her, like the drone of a distant hornet’s nest. They had to be close to the engine room, which explained the heat. Kira wiped the sweat from her brow and tried to keep her nerves from showing as Odo examined the door for a way in.
“Ah, here it is,” Odo said. His light was highlighting an access panel to the right of the door. He walked over and examined it. “Standard Rigellian locking panel. Easy enough.”
Odo made a couple of dexterous taps to the keys to override the lock. The doors slid back smoothly and silently, the only well-cared-for thing on board, and Kira smiled over the grim irony of it. Then she saw what lay behind them, and the smile slid off her face. Her mouth dropped open in abject horror. Quark's sources had been right, but they hadn't told them everything.
At first, they both just stood there, gaping at what their feeble palm lights could reveal. The rotten heart of the vessel had been exposed, its terrible secret laid open, its soured core revealed. Kira swiveled her light around the room, and kept repeating the pattern, reviewing the same spots over and over, her hand on automatic as her brain tried to process the horrid tableau before her. It couldn't be possible what she was seeing. It was too cruel, too much. No one was this evil, not even the Cardassians.
Everywhere she looked, each place her light touched, were children, dozens and dozens of children, all races and ages, huddled together in the dark, shirking the beams from their palm lights like Bajoran night-fliers hiding from the sun. The room was originally a cargo hold, but had been turned into an animal pen, the little bodies packed so tightly they could scarcely move. Their faces were streaked with offal and they wore ragged remnants in various states of tatter, their torn, weary bodies in the same condition as their clothes. There were scratches and scrapes, badly bound breaks, nit-laden rat's nests of hair and shed skin hanging like dried husks from scaled limbs. Kira saw exposed ribs and poking elbows, gaunt cheeks and hollowed bellies. They were all so starved it was a wonder any of them were alive at all.
And they were silent these captives, so silent. It was unnatural to see so many bodies in one room and not hear a single sound. It itched Kira’s brain, giving her a sense of disconnection, as if she were watching a holo-vid with the sound muted. Kira gripped her palm light tighter and resisted the sudden urge to throw it, just to see if it was all real.
“Colonel,” Odo said. He touched her shoulder.
Kira flinched. She flung a fist out blindly, not caring who she hit. Odo caught her fist and brought it to his chest.
“Kira, I want you to walk away from here. Call the station. Have security send back-up, and notify Dr. Bashir. He'll need to set up a triage facility.”
Odo's words were a transmission Kira couldn't quite hear, a garbled message stuck on a loop. She snatched her hand back and turned away from him. She stared into the cargo hold, her logic trying to frame it all into something she could use, something she could relate to. She tried cataloging the many worlds represented in the forlorn faces and battered bodies, and found she recognized only half of the species, but their blank expressions, their dull eyes, those were all the same. Kira knew that expression, knew it meant the wearer had no hope, no spirit left inside. The vedeks in the labor camps had called it pagh-death. To see it on children, on so many tender faces, nearly rent her in two. She bit her lip to keep from crying out, tears spilling hotly down her cheeks.
“Odo, I-I don't understand this,” she stammered. “Oh, Prophets, what is this?”
“Nerys, just do as I told you!” He cupped her face in his hands. “I don't want you to see this. You need to go from here. Now!”
The warmth of Odo’s hands drew her back to herself. Kira finally pulled her eyes away from the cargo hold, staring hard through the dim at Odo. How he could be so concerned about orders at a time like this? Kira was about to say so when she caught a strange glimmer in the dark. She tilted her light so it grazed Odo's face, but he didn't flinch from it. He angled his face into the beam, and let her see.
The Changeling wore his pain openly—raw, ragged, weary—carving jagged lines of misery into his brow and around his thin-lipped mouth. Rivulets of amber fluid were flowing down his waxen face. They looked like droplets of sweat. Or tears. Kira’s gaze followed as one trailed slowly down his cheek and dripped off his chin, reabsorbing into his tunic. So Changelings do cry, she thought, and the realization broke the spell she was under like a slap.
She was a Colonel. She had a job to do, and Odo needed her to do it. “Alright,” she said. “I'll go…But I'll be back.”
Kira swung away from Odo and marched down the corridor. The fire returned to her step, and her voice rang off the hull like a bell.
“And I swear, Odo! I'll kill that beast myself for this!”
Colonel Kira wasn't the only resident of the station that wanted Lephon Corixian dead by the time the day was over. The list grew longer and longer as the nature of Corixian's crime and the horrid condition of the children became known. Dr. Bashir and his staff had immediately hashed together a make-shift hospital in one of the station's cargo bays. It was where Odo found the doctor several hours later.
Dr. Bashir was sitting on the floor, his back against a wall. Dirty scrubs and a thick layer of dark stubble had left him looking far more haggard than his thirty-six years had a right to.
“Doctor,” Odo greeted. He handed down a mug of Tarkalian tea, and folded his body gracefully to join him on the floor. “You said you had the information I asked for?”
Dr. Bashir wrapped his hands gratefully around the mug and sipped his tea with relish. He rolled his head back against the bulkhead and closed his eyes. “Final count, one hundred and twenty three,” he said, exhaustion roughening his cultured voice. “None of them in good health. All of them malnourished and presenting injuries consistent with physical abuse. Some are worse than others, but none were spared. Many are infested with parasites and have other ailments consistent with long confinement. Three have the Andorian flu. Two cases of unhealed fractures require regeneration therapy, and one had severe brain trauma. I've transported the worst off to Bajor.” Bashir ran a golden-skinned hand through his curling hair, the resulting muss making him look even more tired. “And all of them Odo, every single one, is breaking my heart.”
“Yes, Doctor,” Odo replied. “Be glad you didn't see the freighter.”
“I've seen enough, Odo. The state of these patients tells me enough. I've seen some terrible things during the course of my work, Odo, but this...This is beyond anything I've ever encountered. I hope you plan on keeping that...swine…and his crew in prison for the rest of their unnatural lives.”
“That's the idea,” Odo replied. “I'll need your full medical report for the Bajoran authorities. When do you think you could have it ready?”
“Perfect, Doctor, I—” Odo's comm badge chirped, and he cut off to answer it. “Odo, here.”
“Boss, we have a problem.”
“Yes, Ridia, what is it?”
“We've found one more child on the freighter. She's been hiding in the ventilation. When we tried to get her out, she went further in, and now we've lost her.”
Odo barely hid his irritation as he stated the obvious. “Transport her out, then!”
“We tried, boss. The duct runs over the engine room. The warp core is in sorry shape, and the radiation is keeping us from getting a lock. The vent access is too small for us to pass through. We were hoping, boss, that you would come back over here and…well...”
“Shift into something and go in after her?” Odo heaved a sigh. “I'm on my way, Ridia. Odo out.” He rose. “Doctor, if you'll excuse me.”
“Of course, Constable,” Bashir replied. He gave Odo a weak smile and raised his cup. “Thanks for this, by the way. And good luck.”
Back on the freighter, Odo looked up at the ventilation duct in question, situated over six meters from the ground, its access point a small three-by-four rectangle by the ceiling of the cargo hold. Its slatted cover was hanging by a tenuous single fastener. Odo couldn't help but wonder at the ingenuity and fearlessness of the child who had crawled up the bulkheads, using a cargo net to aid the climb, and crept along an abutment to get to it, effectively eluding the invading forces of DS9.
Odo looked at the deputies bunched uselessly behind him. “I'll be back,” he said, and morphed smoothly into one of his favored forms, a Tarkalian hawk. He pushed off from the ground with powerful wings and flew up. He landed lightly on the edge of the air vent. His talons made click-click sounds against the metal as he bird-hopped into the open rectangle.
Inside, the metal walls of the ducts were covered with years of dust, disturbed only by the recent passage of the girl. Odo's feathered head darted back and forth as he took in the prints and swipes made by little knees and little hands that lead farther in, made visible by the yellow service light along the top of the ducts. Another form would be in order to navigate the narrow passages and follow the trail, so Odo morphed from the hawk into one more suited to the task.
Odo soundlessly followed the spore of his quarry on four long, agile legs. He wondered why he didn't use this form more often. He had forgotten how much he enjoyed the lithe, lean stealth of the cat. It was perfect for covert ops.
Odo padded silently along the ventilation duct until it came to a cross. The dust trail ended with it. The intersecting air currents had wiped the area clean. He paused, considering. Should he take the right, or the left?
Odo decided to let his borrowed feline senses do the work. A quiver in the whiskers on one side of his head suggested the air was moving differently from that direction, so he followed his instincts, and went to the right.
Not much further down the duct he found the girl. She was curled into a tight ball, sound asleep, the thumb of a none-to-clean hand thrust in her mouth. Leave it to a child, Odo thought, to sleep so soundly in circumstances like this.
Odo moved delicately forward, again pleased with the silent grace of this form. His investigator's eye took in the details of the slumbering girl. She appeared to be four to five, wearing a now-filthy pink dress. She had long, dark hair and sweeping lashes that brushed too-thin cheeks. Pale, almost white skin, no visible nose or forehead ridges. Humanoid, but nothing he could place immediately. He padded even closer and crouched down, close to her face now, and listened to her soft breathing. There were dark, bruised circles beneath her eyes. Obviously, the girl hadn't been sleeping. It struck Odo that maybe curled up in an air duct was the first time in a while she’d felt safe enough to do so. The thought made Odo loath to wake her, but she couldn't stay here. Engineering had warned him the radiation in the area was close to toxic and that she had been in the vent too long already. Resigned, he set about his task of getting the girl to safety.
Odo nudged the sleeping girl with a fur-lined cheek, purring and rubbing along her head as naturally as any family pet would have done. He got the intended result. The girl stirred and opened her eyes. She blinked slowly at him in the dim.
Odo had to give the child credit. She didn't flinch or start as expected, and he recognized the same bravery that had gotten her all the way up here in the first place in her surprised but steady gaze. Odo gave her cheek one more cautious rub and darted back, sitting on his rump.
“A cat?” she piped. She came fully awake, rolling onto her stomach to peer at him. “How did you get here, kitty?” she asked, and silked a hand down his back. Odo had to resist the urge to roll over and bat at her hand. He decided he would take a further risk and answer her question.
“Why the same way you did, of course.”
The girl's violet eyes widened at this strange phenomenon, but she recovered quickly. She accepted a talking cat with the minimal skepticism of the very young.
“Why are you all the way up here, kitty?”
“I've come to get you out of here. You must follow me.”
“I can't. There's people down there, people I don't know.”
“You don't have to be afraid. They're good people. They're here to take you away from this place.”
“But Kitty, I can't let them see me. I’m not allowed to be seen. What if they're like the others? The ones that hit?”
Odo's feline form responded to the idea of anyone hitting this child through a sudden spike of fur, a flattening of ears, and a rumble from his throat. The child mistook his intent and scrunched away from him, wriggling further down the air shaft.
“Wait, I'm sorry!" he said, stretching out a paw. “I'm mad at the ones who hit, not you. I won't hurt you.”
She stopped moving and looked at him levelly. “You mean it?”
“Child, I would never hurt you,” he replied, purring for good measure. “I won't let anyone else hurt you, either.”
The girl weighed Odo’s words carefully for a moment. Then she reached up to scratch his tawny head. “I believe you.”
Odo purred again and rubbed her hand with the side of his face. “The people below are my friends, and we can trust them. We have to leave this place, and soon. It's bad for you. It will make you sick.”
“Oh,” the girl replied. “I guess that's why my tummy hurts so much.”
The radiation was affecting her. Odo had to get her out of here. “We need to go. Please, come with me,” he urged, and nudged her cheek.
“Okay, Kitty, okay” she said, giggling. “I’ll go with you.”
Odo lead the girl back out of the ducts with minimal fuss, going back the way he came. When they arrived at the vent access, he looked down from the heights on the deputies below. He was trying to decide the best way to introduce his true nature to the girl without frightening her. She also surveyed the crowd, sitting calmly next to him and dangling her legs over the side, heedless of the six-meter drop. She showed no fear of her precarious perch. Odo guessed this girl would appreciate honesty more than not, something Odo himself had always appreciated.
“Child, I have something to tell you,” he began. He curled his long tail around his feet. “I'm not really a cat. I'm a Changeling, and this form is borrowed. I'm going to have to change into something else to get us down safely.”
The girl heaved a disappointed sigh. “I kinda thought a talking cat was too good to be real. But I really like you, even if you aren't real.” She swept an arm around him, hugging him closer to her side. Odo tolerated it as he pondered their predicament.
The girl scrunched her brow and asked, “Does it hurt, Kitty?”
“Does what hurt?”
“Changing. Does it hurt you?”
“No, not at all."
“That's good. So what are you changing to?”
Odo absently licked a paw. “I'm not sure,” he mused.
“It was easy getting up here, but going down does look hard...I heard that monkeys were the best climbers. Maybe if you were a monkey you could get us down.”
Of course, Odo thought. Why didn't I think of that? “Then a monkey it is,” he said, and nosed her arm. “But it will have to be a big monkey. I don't want you to be scared when you see it.”
“I won't,” she replied.
“Alright, then. Here I go.”
Without further pretense, Odo went liquid, shedding the form of the cat as he oozed down the side of the wall. He formed a leathery black hand and gripped the ledge of the vent, allowing the rest of his mass to dangle freely as he finished his morph into a majestic silver-backed gorilla. He hadn't changed into an animal this big in years, and he reveled in the power of it as he swung high above the ground, enjoying the bunch and flex of the thick muscle of his new arm.
When he was sure of the form and his comfort in controlling it, he reached his free arm up for the girl. “Climb out. I’ll carry you down,” he said, and waited for the inevitable objections.
To his amazement, the child shimmied out of the vent and into his arms without a thought, none of the fear or distrust he expected in her motions. In fact, it seemed quite the opposite. She beamed with delight as she clung to his thick-haired hide and wrapped her arms around his neck.
“I like this, Kitty.”
“Me, too,” Odo replied. “Hang on tight, now.”
Their descent was managed easily. Odo's simian form made short work of climb down the cargo net, the girl holding tight just as she was bid. When they were safely on the ground, Odo set her down, and transformed back into the chief of security. His deputies moved immediately forward. The resulting shriek from the girl reverberated through Odo like a sonic ping. He quickly scooped her up, holding back the deputies with one hand.
“Wait,” he commanded. “I'll carry her.”
She buried her head in his neck, sniffling, taking doubtful peeks at the uniformed guard. Odo patted her back soothingly, if a bit awkwardly. “It's alright,” he said. “These are my men, and they won't hurt you. They want to take you somewhere safe.”
“I don't like them, Kitty.”
“Odo,” he repeated. “It's my name.”
“Oh-Dough... That's a funny name.”
“Yes, it is. Someday, I'll tell you how I got it. Do you have a name?”
She drew her brow, thinking. “I had one once, when I was with Mommy, but no one ever used it. I can't remember it anymore.”
Odo's form rippled slightly as he thought over her words, what they meant, and who they reminded him of. “Well, then,” he said, trying to keep his tone cheerful. “You’ll have to a pick a new name for yourself.”
“That sounds good…” The girl’s violet gaze met his, her eyes wet with unshed tears, and she touched Odo’s face. “I don’t wanna go with those people, Odo. Can I stay with you? Please?”
Looking down at the tender, hopeful face of this lost child, Odo quickly became lost himself. “Yes,” he found himself saying, before logic and reason could silence the answer from his heart. “You can stay with me.”
“Promise?” she asked.
“I promise,” he replied.
Oh, Odo, what are you doing, he thought as he carried the girl away. Nerys is going to kill you...
“Nerys, I know it's not procedure, but I couldn't leave her.”
“Odo, it's not like I'm going to report you or something. I just don't understand why you would bring her to our quarters, and not talk to me about it first.” Kira plopped on the edge of their bed, waiting expectantly for Odo’s response.
“There wasn't really time, love,” he said. “The decision was made before I knew I was making it. And it’s only temporary, just until I can figure out who she belongs to."
“I get it, but it's not like you to get personal, Odo. Besides, we're not talking about a puppy or houseplant here. This is a child. She likely belongs to someone, and they'll want her back. We have no business involving ourselves like this.”
“I know, but she's...different. Besides, I made her a promise.”
"Well, you might have to think about breaking it Odo," Kira replied. "You should've thought of that before you made it."
Odo’s foundling was currently sleeping on the sofa in the other room as the couple discussed her fate. The girl’s presence in Colonel Kira’s home had been a surprise, to say the least. Getting the rest of children safely off the freighter and onto the station, and getting them ID’ed and settled, had kept the entire senior staff busy. She had been on duty for almost fifteen straight hours. After the day she’d had, and things she’d seen, Kira had desired nothing more than to have her boots off, her belly full, and have some time alone with her husband. In that order. However, Odo apparently had made other plans for their evening.
When she stepped across the threshold of their quarters, Kira had been greeted by a chagrined Odo, who told her he had someone he wanted her to meet. Kira had already spied the child over his shoulder, sitting silently on their couch. The girl watched her with wary but intelligent eyes.
Kira shot Odo an arch look, and said nothing. She walked deliberately around Odo and slowly approached the child. Taking a knee before her, she smiled. “I'm Nerys," she said."It's nice to meet you.”
“Hello,” was the soft reply. The girl stuck her thumb in her mouth, looking back and forth uncertainly between Kira and Odo.
“Do you have a name?” Kira asked.
“Not yet,” she said around her thumb. “Odo says I get to pick it when I find the right one. He also says I get to stay here. He says you get to stay here, too.”
“Yes, I do. I live here. Are you hungry? Have you eaten?”
“We didn't get that far,” Odo interjected. “We got here just a few minutes before you did.”
“Well, then, let's get you fed, and get some new clothes, and Odo and I will discuss where you are going to sleep.” Kira stood and turned back to her husband. “I assume she’s one of the kids from the freighter, and I assume medical cleared her before you brought her here."
“Yes, and yes,” Odo replied. “They said she was underfed, but other than that, in much better shape than the others. They also said she was Terran and about five years old. She was treated for minor radiation poisoning and released. The medical staff have their hands full, so I don't think they thought much of it when I said I was taking her with me.”
“Probably not,” Kira replied. “What about Captain Sisko? Does he know?”
“I didn't have chance to tell him, but I will. I promise.”
“Odo, this all pretty irregular, and I’m pretty sure it’s a violation of some Starfleet regulation I haven’t yet heard of.” She planted her hands on her hips. “I’m gonna hold you to that promise. Sisko needs to know.”
“I’ll tell him, Nerys,” Odo assured her. “First thing tomorrow.”
Now, after the girl had eaten one of the oddest meals Kira had ever seen come out of a replicator, and after a warm bath for the girl and then for herself, Kira had to wonder what it was about this one child out of the many desperate children they had seen today that drew her husband. Odo had told the story of how he found her, but she still wasn’t entirely sure what had possessed Odo to bring the girl home with him. Kira remembered the last time Odo had let a case get personal, how he had brought someone home with him then, too, and how it had broken his heart. She prayed to the Prophets this case didn't end up the same way.
Odo crossed the room to stand at their open bedroom door, leaning against the door frame as he watched the tiny girl sleeping on their sofa. The girl had declared a loud and distinct preference for not sleeping in the guest room alone, insisting she would sleep where Odo slept. The bucket thing had been too hard to explain, so this had been their compromise, leaving the door to their room open to her as she slept in the living area. She was wrapped snug in a blanket they had replicated for her, thumb still stuck in her mouth. Odo wore a tender look as he watched over his new charge, a softened expression Kira had never seen on his Changeling features before. It squeezed her heart, and any remaining irritation she felt over Odo's little surprise faded.
“Oh, Odo,” she said, going to him, ducking under his arm. She pushed up on her toes and kissed his cheek. “What am I going to do with you?”
The next morning, the senior staff were gathered in the conference room, each supplying updates on their part of the current crisis and discussing where to go next. Captain Benjamin Sisko sat at the head of the table.
“I've contacted Starfleet,” the Captain stated, “and they've promised to provide whatever aid they can. The Imperial will be here this afternoon with additional crew and supplies, and remain on stand-by. She's at our service until we get this situation resolved.”
“Well, that's a relief,” Chief O’Brien said. “The station’s already at capacity, and those little ones are hungry. The replicators are having a hard time keeping up. The drain on the power supply could start affecting critical systems. A star ship’s just what the doctor ordered.”
“Actually,” Dr. Bashir said, “I didn't order a star ship. I ordered a medical vessel. These children are in need of extended medical care, and we haven't the personnel to provide it. Bajor doesn't either, not on this scale.”
“The doctor is right,” Kira added. “We still have a barely-functioning hospital system. It's overburdened on a good day. The children are better off here.”
“I asked about your medical vessel, Doctor," Sisko said. "The closest is three days away and already on a mission, but the admiral assured me he would make DS9 its next priority." He swung his gaze back to the group. "In the meantime, people, we need to make it work. I'm asking each of you, except security, to review crew rosters with your department heads. See what personnel changes can be made to provide Dr. Bashir and his staff some support.” Sisko turned to Odo. “Constable, what's the status of the criminal case?”
“I’ve filed charges with the Bajoran government against Corxian and his crew. Things are moving swiftly since I notified Magistrate Bazaan of our plans before the arrest. She’s been most helpful in cutting though any red tape, and the hearing date is being advanced. However, since it falls under interstellar law until Bajor accepts the case, they will have to remain in the station's holding cells until it's announced.”
“Fair enough. How long?”
“Four days, at least.”
“Well, I guess were stuck with them,” Sisko said. “Dax, how have you been making out?”
“The bad news is most of these children are experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress and other psychological trauma,” Dax replied. “The good news is from a counselor's standpoint, they all have a good chance at recovery, with treatment. Right now, they’re mostly happy to be here and off that ship. We've recorded names and home planets for all of them and started contacting their homeworlds. Two families have already been found, and there are transports on the way. When word of this spreads, I think the station’s logistic problems will be solved. No one will waste any time coming for their child, Ben.”
“I agree,” the captain stated, “which brings me back to you, Kira. Ops needs to be at full staff for all three rotations. Docking is going to be hectic. As if it wasn't already.”
“It's already done, sir. I also had the comm power boosted to handle the additional traffic.”
“Very good, Colonel” Sisko said. “Now, if no one else has anything else to add, you're dismissed…Except you two.” Sisko looked pointedly at Odo and Kira. “I want a word with you both.”
Kira and Odo dropped back in their seats, exchanging a worried look.
Sisko waited until the room was clear. “I hear you have a guest staying in your quarters,” he began. “A very small one.”
Kira blushed, and looked at Odo. “You mean you didn't tell him?”
“I was going to, Nerys, right after this meeting,” Odo replied. He returned the captain's pointed look, crossing his arms over his chest. “Yes, Captain, we do.”
“Do you want to explain why she's in your quarters, and not with the others?”
“She seemed to have become attached to me, sir,” Odo replied. “I didn't want to be cruel, so I kept her with me. I don't really see the harm.”
“I don't either, Constable, except the harm to you. It's not like the two of you to make things personal. I understand you two were the first on the ship, the first to see what Corxian had done.” The captain's gazed softened, and so did his tone. “It's not easy, seeing something like that.”
Kira swallowed the lump in her throat. No, it hadn't been easy. She squeezed Odo's hand under the table.
“It was something neither of us will ever forget, Captain,” Odo replied.
“I'm sure,” the Captain said. “Frankly, the child is probably better off with you two than she would be with the group. I just want to know you're both prepared for having a child in your care that's been through the things she has.”
“Captain,” Odo began haltingly, “I…I don't talk about it much, but I can relate to these children on a most personal level. You know some about my life in the lab, but only Nerys knows the full extent of it. The tests, the things they did before they knew what I was, would be considered abuse were I humanoid. After they pronounced me sentient, they were far less cruel, but I still wasn't allowed to leave, to make my own choices... Did I ever tell you I was there for ten years before they took me outside to see the sun?”
Sisko's dark gaze filled with compassion for Odo, for what he'd been through. “No, Odo. You never told me that. I'm sorry.”
“Well, you didn't do it, so don't be. I tell you so you know, you understand, that I do indeed know what it's like for a child to be taken from their home and abused. To be locked away and treated like a prisoner. I know only too well what some of them must be feeling. The confusion, the fear, the loneliness-” Odo paused, struggling. Kira slipped a reassuring arm around his shoulders. “I know all too well,” he finished.
“Alright, Constable,” Sisko said. “Just so long as you take her to see Dax for counseling, to be sure the arrangement isn’t harming her in any way, I'm fine with it. And if you need any help, call me, day or night. I do have a few years' experience in the child-rearing department, and would be happy to lend a hand.”
“Thank you, sir,” Odo replied. “I'll keep it in mind.”
Sisko rose from the table, and Kira and Odo followed, walking behind him out of the conference room. At the door, Sisko turned back to Odo, giving him the sternest Captain Sisko stare he could muster.
“If Dax finds any reason for the child not to stay with you, her decision will be binding. No arguments.”
“Understood, sir,” Odo replied.
Lephon Corxian was isolated in the small cell allotted to him in DS9's brig. He was laying on the bunk on his back, hands folded behind his head, contemplating what to do about the force field that ran over the door of his cell. He couldn't see it, but he knew it was there, just the same. He knew that if he so much as brushed it, the resulting shock wouldn't be enough to kill him, but would be enough to cause considerable pain. He also knew that there was no other way out of this cell. If he had any chance of avoiding what was to come, he had to get a way around that force field and get back to his ship, and soon.
Corxian rolled to his side. He considered the trial he would face. It would be a formality at best. Even the most skilled advocate couldn't get him out of the mess he was in this time. Corxian knew his ship had been searched by now, and there was going to be no disputing the evidence. He had carried too heavy this time, the cargo had sat too long. His desperation to unload cargo already past its prime had led to sloppiness, and now here he was, caught like a rat in a trap.
Damn that oozy, creeping security chief, anyway. What business of it was his what Corixian did? Or any of the other security officers, or police, or constabulary, or other law enforcement on the various worlds he visited? Sanctimonious, two-faced bastards, the lot of them. Some of them had been his best customers, but pretended not to know him if they saw him about, even spitting in his direction or harassing him on the street as if he was a common sneak thief. Corixian was no minor player, and deserved more respect.
Until this day, Corixian had never been caught, a fact he took great pride in. Not once in ten years of hauling his illicit, exotic goods was his vessel ever intercepted or searched. His clients had always remained anonymous. He never turned on them, their privacy not for sale at any price. Corixian preferred to encode his buyer list in a special data base only he could access. His crew had been hand-selected from the finest career criminals in the sector, chosen for their skills and complete lack of scruples, but most especially chosen for their ability to keep their mouths shut. Corixian had needed to execute only two of his men over the years for talking too loosely, a track record he was rather proud of.
In return, the crew had been paid handsomely, and had their pick of any cargo left after a sale. Corixian himself hadn’t the tastes of some his crew. After all, a business man like himself should never do what he dealt. Once in a while, though, Corxian let his crew to choose first, allowing them to select from the inventory before letting the customers take the best picks, as sort of a bonus. Corixian found it helped boost moral to reward the crew in this fashion, the dangled carrot of possibility keeping them from spoiling any of his goods before they could get to port.
It never occurred to Corixian that what he did was wrong, at least not on the level the do-gooders of the universe thought it should. Yes, he dealt in live flesh, and yes, they were children. He knew it was low, even among criminals, but his skill set was suited to the work, and a man had to make a living. He had tried trafficking in women for a brief time, but an irresistible offer from a high-ranking patriarch had set him on a different course.
The man had offered ten thousand bars of latinum for the delivery of seven unspoiled young boys from a specific species in a neighboring system. Corxian had found the request odd, and knew it would be dangerous and delicate work, but ten thousand bars was too much to turn down. It would take him at least three times that many women to make a profit that large, so he’d taken the job.
That he had accidentally killed one of the children in his first clumsy attempt at kidnapping had bothered him only slightly, and only because the boy had been rather fetching. The lad would have caught a good price.
Corixian rolled onto his back again, and pondered his fate. A life sentence if he was lucky. Death if he wasn't. If he was going to get snagged, at least it was on a relatively soft world like Bajor, with their ridiculous religion and their milquetoast legal system. He would have thought a world long occupied by Cardassians would have picked up something from the spoonheads in the way of due process, and he almost wished it had been Cardassia that had arrested him. His trial, and his fate, would have been resolved with brevity, no time to sit in a cell and recount his mistakes.
But, he thought, eyes closing to reptilian slits as he considered the obviously young and obviously nervous guard standing outside his cell, he needed to look on the bright side. Bajor's need for thorough justice, and its inherent compassion, was giving him time to think. And maybe, just maybe, there still was a way out of this...
“What about Nerala?” Odo suggested. “It means 'little dove' in Bajoran.”
“No,” the girl replied. “I like it, but that's not the one.”
“Well, what should we call you, then?” Ezri asked.
“Gagh!” the girl exclaimed.
“Gagh?” Ezri returned, mildly horrified. “Why?”
“Because I like the way it wriggles. I can do it too! See?”
The girl proceeded to roll around the floor of the Dax's office, doing an impressive impersonation of the worm-like creatures featured prominently in Klingon cuisine.
Ezri looked to Odo, grinning. “Where in the world did she get that from?”
“Her dinner, I presume,” Odo replied. “Nerys lets her pick her own food. She picked gagh off the pictogram menu last night. Nerys explained what gagh was, but she insisted. She loved it, ate every bite.”
“All right, Gagh,” Ezri smiled. “Come sit on the couch like a good little worm. I'd like to talk to you.”
Ezri patted a place on the sofa across from her. The girl stopped her squirming, and looked uncertainly at Ezri. Rolling slowly up from the floor, still keeping a wary eye on Dax, she streaked passed the counselor in a streaming flurry of dark hair, and jumped into Odo's lap. Odo caught her with a mild ‘oomph.’
“No,” Gagh proclaimed. “I sit here.”
Odo shrugged, giving Ezri an apologetic look. “It's about the only place she'll sit in our quarters, too. Nerys says if I'm not there, she sits with her back in a corner. She won’t play. She won't talk to Nerys or let Nerys touch her, unless it’s time to eat, or to help her with her hair. That she actually seems to like.”
“Well, that's not so abnormal,” Ezri replied. “Children in these cases will display a whole host of unusual and antisocial behavior. Tell Colonel Kira not to take it personally, and let Gagh go at her own pace. She’ll come around…But maybe something about the hair grooming reminds her of this mother she mentioned. Has she said anything about her? About where we might find her?”
“No,” Odo replied, “and I’ve asked, several times, but when I do, she starts humming a song under breath and ignoring me. She won’t tell me anything.”
Ezri studied Gagh as she rested in Odo’s lap, not the least bit interested in the discussion going on over her head. She stuck her thumb in her mouth and laid her head on Odo’s chest, sighing contentedly.
“To be honest, Odo, I am a little worried about her quick attachment to you,” Ezri said. “Have you considered what will happen to her if we can't find her family?”
Odo looked down at the girl resting peacefully on his chest. “See those toys over there?” he asked her, pointing at Ezri’s play-therapy room. “Can you go play while I talk with the counselor?”
Gagh's eyes widened. Ezri's collection was impressive, and the lure of such bounty to a five-year-old was quite strong. Still, Gagh hesitated.
“Go on,” Odo encouraged. “I'll stay right here, I promise.”
Gagh stared at Odo for a long, assessing moment. Finally, she decided he was telling the truth. She hopped off his lap, and made a beeline for the playroom.
“Nerys asked me the same thing,” Odo said as Gagh scurried off, “but I really didn't have an answer. I've been so busy with this case, I haven't had time to think about it.”
Ezri decided blunt was the best tactic with Odo. He always related best to frank speaking. “Odo, if we can't find her family, she'll be sent to an orphanage.”
“Of course, I...knew that, I guess.”
“Have you and Nerys ever talked about having children?”
“We did. Before we were married. I can't give her children, and didn't want any illusions about it. We talked about adoption, but we both decided that neither of us were really cut out to be parents. We both work too damned much, and neither of us is willing to give up our careers.”
Odo didn't know it, but to Ezri, his actions and Kira's had already belied those statements. They had both taken exemplary care of this child, and more than just her physical needs. Ezri knew about the hoops they'd jumped through to arrange their schedules so one of them was home with the girl, and they didn't have to leave her in child care, or put her in the hospital with the others. The bond the child was forming with them was atypically quick considering the history of the patient, proving that Kira and Odo made better parents than they thought they did. But if the Kiras wouldn't consider fostering the girl long term, or adopting her if it came to that, it seemed pointless to let her continue to develop that bond.
“If that's how you both feel, Odo, I think you need to consider placing her with the other children. She’s in a delicate place right now. Her attachment to you will only grow. What will it do to her emotionally if she doesn't get claimed, and then what's worse, gets taken from you just when she's starting heal? Have you thought about that?”
Odo sighed heavily. “No. I guess I hadn't.”
“I'm not going to change anything today, Odo. The child is fine with you and Nerys for a few more days. But you need to go back to your wife, and have a long talk about this. We're still investigating, you're still investigating, but I'm feeling doubtful that anyone is going to claim her. So many of the children have been claimed already, but no one, not even the other children from the ship, knows anything about this girl. I took her holo-image to the hospital with me yesterday, and asked them, but they’d all claimed to have never seen her before. I also have a sinking feeling there aren’t any parents for us to find for her. And if that’s case, the sooner we find her permanent placement, the better.”
Odo took in Ezri’s words, frowning. His glance moved to Gagh as she played happily with Ezri’s toys, and his scowl deepened. “Of course, Lieutenant. You’re right. I’ll do as you ask.”
“By the way, Odo,” Ezri said. “There is one major mistake you've made so far as a foster parent.”
Odo swung quickly back to Ezri, his expression aghast. Ezri smiled broadly at him. “Jadzia would’ve been appalled. You can't let that poor child eat replicated gagh. It's an abomination.”
A grin spread slowly over Odo’s face. “It's an abomination when it's unreplicated, Lieutenant. But next time, I'll take her to the Klingon restaurant instead.”
Odo left the counselor’s office, and returned Gagh to a waiting Nerys. After their first disastrous attempt to leave the child with a sitter, in which the girl bit the sitter three times, the Colonel had decided to take second shift in Ops for a couple of weeks until they could get a more permanent solution worked out. Sisko had approved of this arrangement, grudgingly. They were, after all, in the middle of war, and the current crisis was only one of the station’s many worries. Odo and Kira had both stood behind the decision, however, not to leave the girl in child care. She wasn’t ready. She’d also bitten Nerys twice in the two days they’d had her, and was prone to strange fits of rage and other emotional outbursts. Mainly they were triggered if Nerys got too close to her without a direct line of sight, or without the girl’s permission. Putting her with the other children had seemed unwise.
Ezri had spent some time with the girl during their appointment, watching her play, making her counselor’s assessment. The girl was underweight and undersized for the age the Computer had estimated. She wouldn't answer Ezri's questions about her background any more than she would Odo's, but she seemed familiar with using a children’s computer. Ezri set one up for her with some cognitive testing, disguised as games, and the girl seemed perfectly at ease using the computer on her own. She could read on a much higher level than she should be able to, yet her math skills were far below par. Spatial orientation, logic and reasoning skills all seemed on the level, if not above. She failed all of the social sciences tests.
Overall, Ezri concluded that the girl was behind her peers on most levels, her social skills immature for her age, her interactions with anyone but Odo stunted, and therefore, she was in need of behavioral therapy. Her education was also behind, and incongruous, but it had nothing to do with the child herself. She was bright, very bright, and Ezri attributed her lack of development to neglect. Whatever parents she’d had before Corixian stole her had to have been to blame. She couldn’t have been with him for long, because she wasn’t anywhere near as traumatized as the other children from the freighter, and her physical condition was much better. It might also explain why the other children didn’t recognize her. Ezri encouraged Odo to continue as he and Nerys had been, and to try to get whatever information he could out of the girl. Ezri also encouraged Odo to ask questions of the one other person on the station that might know something about her.
That, of course, was Lephon Corixian.
Odo and his deputies had interrogated Corixian’s crew over the last two days. Their statements alone were enough to hang Corixian, no matter what that scum had to say for himself. Each of them had turned on Corixian and had given full disclosure of the activities on the ship, likely thinking to save their own hides. As if it would. Odo still needed a full statement from Corixian, however, and had been saving the worst for last. With his own feelings in this case so close to the surface, Odo had put off the interrogation, wanting to be sure he’d be completely objective when he conducted it, and besides, he wanted the rest of the crew’s statements first so he could keep Corixian boxed in a corner when he did talk to him. Now, however, with the need to solve the mystery of his new charge taking a spotlight, Odo decided it was time he paid Lephon Corixian a visit.
Odo tapped his comm badge and had Deputy Ridia meet him in security. Ridia was his best deputy, his right hand, and Odo wanted his best with him when he dealt with Corixian.
When Odo got to security, Ridia was waiting at the doors. They entered security and checked in with the deputy minding the fort at Odo’s desk. Odo grabbed a data PADD, and he and Ridia headed for the holding cells.Corixian was right where Ridia had left him, locked up in isolation. They hadn’t dared put him with the other crew in common holding. Odo also knew better than to escort him to an interrogation room, giving him the chance to get out of his cell. They would have their little conversation right here in the hall. Corixian had his back to them, laying on his bunk, but Odo didn’t bother to get his attention. They’d have it soon enough. He made an adjustment at the comm panel next to Corxian’s cell so audio could pass through, and began his interrogation.
“Computer, begin recording. Mark date and time stamp. Security Chief Odo, Deep Space Nine, interrogating suspect Lephon Corixian. Witness: Deputy Ridia Sy’laal. Corixian was arrested on stardate 07663.9. Corixian is charged with one hundred twenty-four individual counts of kidnapping, child abuse, child endangerment, solicitation of a minor, enslavement, and one count of assault on a Bajoran officer.”
“Computer, recognize,” Ridia added. “Deputy Ridia Sy’laal, witness.”
The computer chirped its acknowledgement. Corixian rolled over on his bunk and sat up. His eyes went straight to Odo, and he smiled, a leering, derisive sneer exaggerated by the scar above his upper lip.
“Well, well,” Corixian said. “The Man himself. I was wondering when you’d show up.”
“Computer,” Odo continued, “merge data from Corixian’s medical scan with interrogation file. Repeat basic details on audio.”
“Lephon Corixian, Terran, aged forty-seven years and two months. Place of birth: Non-allied Terran colony on Praxis II. No current homeworld on file. Lephon Corixian is currently in good health. Lephon Corixian is cleared for residence aboard Deep Space Nine.”
“Fancy that, Corixian,” Odo said. “Cleared for residency, even if you never asked for it. And how has your residency been so far?”
“Can’t complain,” Corixian said, still holding his arrogant smirk. “Three hots and a cot. Though it is a little small in here.”
“Speaking of small,” Odo returned, “let’s skip through the little details, like your ship’s registry, and your status as its captain. That’s all on interstellar record, and you can’t dispute any of that at trial. It’s your ship, your responsibility. Do you deny ownership of the freighter?”
“Nah,” Corixian replied. “Old bucket’s mine.”
“Let’s talk about what wasn’t yours, then,” Odo began. “Let’s talk about what we found on your ship that had no business being there. One hundred twenty-four children, from multiple species, ages ranging from five to thirteen, all of them accusing you and your men of kidnapping them and imprisoning them on said ship…Do you deny the accusations?”
Corixian sat up straighter. “One hundred twenty-four, you say?”
“Yes, Corixian,” Odo returned, his irritation rising. As if the trash didn’t know. “One hundred twenty-four children stolen from their homes, abused, starved, neglected, and in some cases molested by members of your crew. Do deny the accusations of these children?”
“We both know I can’t, security man, so get on with it.”
“What was your intent in kidnapping these children?”
“Why they were for sale, of course.”
“To many, security man. To many. To whoever would give me the best price for a pound of…tender flesh.”
Odo deliberately ignored that remark. “Why were you holding so many at once?”
“Had a deal with a guy,” Corixian said. He rose and made the short stroll to the door. “He was supposed to buy one hundred units for labor on Serus. It fell through, and I got stuck with them. We were planning on dumping the excess into the Badlands. It takes a long time to gather that much stock, and most of it was going bad. Frackin’ warp reactor coil wrecked that plan, and I had to stop here first…And then I got the privilege of meeting you.”
Privilege, indeed, Odo thought, holding back a smile. This is where Quark had come in. Odo had arranged for a Dopterian contact of Quark’s to trail Corixian, sneak onto Corixian’s ship at the right port, and sabotage his engines, leaving him no choice but to divert to DS9. At exactly the appropriate time, of course.
“Serus? “ Odo repeated. “The children were being sold into the silk industry, then?”
“Maybe. Maybe not. You know I can’t tell you that, shifter. It would take you too close to my buyer. And I never sell out my buyers.”
“What about the rest, then? Who were they for? Who were their buyers?”
“I told you, security man. Many. Self-important son of targ like you would be so surprised at some of the people on my list. Rattle your shape-shifter cage, it would. I even have clients here on Bajor. But as I said, you won’t get their names from me, so you’re just wasting time.”
“You know it is a simple matter for me to arrange for a telepath to come here, and find out what it is you aren’t telling me.”
“And you know as well as I do, you can’t do that, or this whole thing’s a bust. You had me arrested under Bajoran law. Using telepaths in legal proceedings is against the law on Bajor. Try again, security man.”
Odo exchanged a brief look with Ridia. Corixian was right, of course, and had called Odo’s bluff. The dirtbag was smarter than Odo had given him credit for. However, considering it had taken him this long to get caught, Odo shouldn’t have been surprised. He let go of the hope of getting Corixian’s buyers the easy way.
“You’ll be pleased to know,” Odo intoned, “all of the children you’ve taken are being returned to their homes.”
“How nice for them,” Corixian sneered.
“There is one, however, I need to ask you about.” Odo pulled up a holo-image of his foster child on the data PADD, and turned it around for Corixian to see. “Who is this girl?” he asked.
Corixian stepped forward, and took a long look at the PADD. Odo watched his leering, pasty face carefully, waiting for a lie, looking for a tell. Corixian didn’t give one. He was still wearing that same smug smirk as he studied the image.
Corixian looked up at Odo, and said, “Never seen her before.”
“She was on your ship, Corixian,” Odo said. “What planet did you take her from?”
“Dunno,” Corixian replied, shrugging. “My men find new stock every time we stop in port. She could be from anywhere. I’m sure you’ve checked my navigational computer by now. Why don’t you look there, see if you can trace our path back?” Corixian made a mock smack to his forehead. “But wait! Oh, that’s right, security man. We erase those records every stop we make…Guess you’re outta luck.”
“When did you get her, then?”
“No idea,” Corixian replied. He looked at the photo again. “She looks Terran, doesn’t she? But then we Terrans occupy over fifty planets on non-Federation worlds, never mind the ones that are. Sounds like you’ll be busy trying to figure this one out for a long time.” Corixian’s gaze shifted up to Odo. “But why, security man, are you so interested in this girl?”
Odo didn’t answer, careful to keep his expression neutral.
“She’s a cutie, isn’t she, security man? Pretty, even. Gonna be a looker when she grows up…But maybe you’re like my buyers, security man. Some of them are cops, too. Maybe you’re just like they are, and you like your girls before they’re all grown up, when they’re still so small and so sweet…If you like her so much, maybe we can make a deal. I swear I won’t say a word to that smoking-hot wife of yours.” Corixian licked his upper lip lasciviously, and grinned. “In fact, maybe we can make a trade...”
Odo was careful, so careful to keep his expression calm, not to give Corixian the satisfaction of goading him.
“What’s the matter, security man? Child got your tongue? Or did she get something…bigger?”
Odo’s form went perfectly still, as if stopped dead in the middle of real time. His glare was ice cold. Ridia knew that halted stance, that frozen stare. It meant that on the inside, Constable Odo was anything but cool. Someone was about to get served a massive dose of Changeling fury. He laid a hand cautiously on Odo’s shoulder.
“Stay chilly, boss,” he muttered. “Don’t let him see you sweat.”
Odo took a deep breath, held it, and blew it out slowly. “Corixian, I will give you one last chance. Who is this girl?”
Corixian’s glance flashed down at the holo-image, and up to Odo. “I told you, shifter,” he snarled, “I don’t know!”
There…His left eyelid, Odo, there’s his tell. “You’re lying!” Odo returned. “You know exactly who she is, and you will tell me!”
Corixian stuck his hands in his pockets. He sauntered back to the bunk and sat down. “Actually, I won’t,” he smiled.
“Tell me, and I’ll drop the assault charge.”
“Well, how generous, security man, considering it was you that I punched. But we both know that charge is the least of my worries. No deal.”
“Boss, this is going nowhere,” Ridia said. “Let’s file what we got, and I’ll see what I can do with it. We can come back later and try again. This asshole’s not going anywhere anytime soon.”
“You’re right, Ridia,” Odo replied. He kept his gaze locked on Corixian, and said, “Lephon Corixian is indeed going absolutely nowhere I don’t personally send him…”
After leaving Corixian behind to rot, Odo and Ridia got to work. At Odo’s desk, they started a computer search to extrapolate a point of origin for the girl with what little Corixian had given them. They set the search parameters to cover all star systems, allied and non-allied, within a plausible radial distance from the station, and then crossed that search to match any official record of a female Terran child reported dead or missing in the last two years. They added the girl’s profile from her physical to the search, and sent the Computer look for a needle in a haystack.
“Ridia,” Odo said, “you and the other deputies are to interrogate the crew again. I want those buyers. This whole vile business needs be purged from the sector, at every level. If Corixian was as smart as he thinks he is, he wouldn’t have given me that detail about Serus. It gives us a place to start, because what else would someone on Serus want child labor for, but the silk fields? Put the squeeze on his crew, hard, and get me Corixian’s contact there.”
“On it already, boss,” Ridia replied. “I had the Computer call Sona and Greyson back to the office. You’ll have a new report first thing tomorrow.”
“Very good,” Odo replied. Odo couldn’t have picked an interrogation team better himself. Deputy Sona was almost as good at questioning suspects as Odo was, her patience even more enduring than his. Sona could ice out the worst of them. And as for Greyson, he was over two meters tall and weighed in at one hundred forty-five kilos. All he had to do was stand there and look gigantic, just as nature had made him. Paired together, they were a force to be reckoned with.
Odo checked the time and rose from his seat. “I’m heading home,” he said. “Nerys is due in Ops. Let me know if the Computer finds anything.”
“You got it, boss. I’ll see ya tomorrow.”
Odo left security, disappointed and a little worried that he wasn’t doing this work himself, even with the capable deputies he’d left in charge. He’d love a chance to take another crack at some of these men- and Odo used the term loosely- in Corixian’s employ. His deputies were good, but there was a reason he was their chief. They might not pick up on some of the details Odo would, and thereby miss some key leads. Normally he would never have left something this important to others, but he had no choice. It was his word that had put him and his wife in this situation with their duties, and Odo would keep his word, to Nerys and to Gagh.
As he crossed the Promenade and boarded the turbo lift, Odo decided his first order of business when he got home was to try and talk the child out of that ridiculous name. That was also his fault. He had told the child she could choose anything she wanted as her name, but, having had no prior experience with children, Odo never realized just how far a kid could run with that.
When Odo arrived at his quarters, he was greeted by shouting, and the sight of his wife pacing angrily back and forth across their living area. Spots of color burned her cheeks and her hands were planted on her hips as she shredded Ensign Briggs over the comm. For what, Odo had no idea, but at the fire in his wife’s eyes, his sympathies were with the poor ensign.
Kira noticed Odo and gave him a curt nod. “Ensign, I’m on my way to Ops now, and if you can’t get that docking schedule back in line like I had it, then you’d better not be in Ops when I get there! Kira out!”
The comm chirped off, and Kira huffed, relaxing a fraction. “Hi,” she said, rubbing her brow.
“Hi yourself. Bad day?”
Kira threw her hands up to the ceiling and started pacing again. “You have no idea, Odo! They are morons up there! They’ve made a total mess of the docking schedule I set up. We’re over two hours behind, and ships are piling up on top of one another. I don’t know how much longer this arrangement of ours is going to work. I need to get back on first shift, and soon, before the whole station falls apart!”
Taking his time, careful to make no sudden moves, Odo walked towards Kira. He set his hands on her waist. The tension in her slim frame eased immediately at his touch. “I know,” he said, “and thank you for your patience, Nerys. I’m working on it.” He heaved a sigh and rested his head on her brow. “As a matter of fact, I just finished interrogating Corixian.”
“Bad?” Kira asked.
“Bad enough,” he returned. “He didn’t give up much, but what he did give, we’re using. I’ll get this straightened out as soon as I can.”
Kira smiled and stroked his cheek. “I know you’re doing your best, Odo,” she said. “You always do.”
Odo pulled his wife into a hug, holding her tight for bit, banishing what he'd left behind in security. As he released her, Kira placed a light, lingering kiss on his mouth. But, as often happened between them, a simple kiss rapidly escalated into a lightning storm, their passion quickly deepening. They clung desperately to each other as their mouths met, swiftly becoming lost in one another and completely blocking out the rest of the universe for a hazy space of time.
With a sad moan, Kira came back to reality first, but didn’t release her hold on her husband. “Prophets, I miss you,” she breathed. “This is another reason this has to get settled.”
“Agreed,” Odo mumbled, kissing his way down her neck.
“Odo, I have to report to Ops.”
“Mmm-hmm,” he replied, still nibbling her neck. His hand slid past her waist, heading lower.
Kira stopped his hand before he went too far. “Odo, our girl is watching.”
Odo froze. Damn. How could he have forgotten? He looked over Kira’s shoulder to see that their girl had indeed been watching. She was at their dining table with a computer interface, and Odo had missed her presence, distracted as he had been by a fired-up Kira Nerys. The girl was sitting quietly, chin in hand, staring back at him, her expression mild but curious. Odo was stymied. What should he say? What should he do?
Kira disentangled herself from her husband and made for the door. “I gotta go,” she said, tucking her feet into her boots. “You two be good while I’m gone.”
“Nerys, wait,” Odo called. He jogged over to meet her. In a low voice, he said, “I need to talk to you tonight. About the girl. About…her future.”
Kira drew in a nervous breath. “Alright, Odo” she said. “I’ll do my best to be home on time.” She gave him one more quick kiss. “I love you. I’ll see you soon.”
“I love you, too, Neyrs,” Odo replied. He watched, smiling, as his wife dashed off down the hall to break some skulls in Ops.
Odo turned back to his tiny charge. “So,” he began. He folded his hands behind his back, and cleared his throat. “What, uh…What should we do tonight?”
Gagh scowled at him, her glare accusing. “You didn’t pay her.”
“The Nerys-lady. You put your mouth on her, but you didn’t pay her first.”
Odo’s eyes widened, but he swallowed his shock at this strange statement. His investigator’s instincts took over. Despite the death-stare, he sensed he was being presented the chance to gain more insight into his charge. He moved to the dining table, and eased himself into a seat across from Gagh.
“Why would you think I needed to pay her, Gagh?”
“Don’t call me Gagh anymore,” she pouted. “I don’t like it now. It gave me a tummy ache.”
Well there was one problem off his plate. “Alright,” Odo replied. “But you need to answer my question.”
“Because you don’t touch until you pay,” she snapped. “That’s what Mommy told them. She let men do things with her, like you did, but they had to pay her first.”
Odo paused, rubbing a hand over his mouth. He considered calling Lieutenant Dax. It seemed he was about to get into a depth of questioning he had no experience in handling with a child. However, considering the girl hadn’t seemed so eager to talk with Dax in her office, he decided against it. He didn’t want to miss his opportunity to get some information.
“And all the men your mother saw gave her money?” Odo asked.
“Yes,” she replied. Her voice lifted to a sing-song. “Always get the money first, baby...”
“And you were there? When the men touched your mother?”
“For the money part. They went in her room after that. I wasn’t allowed in there.”
“Did…did any of the men ever touch you?”
“No,” she replied. “One tried once. Mommy poked him in the tummy with a knife.”
“What about on the ship? Did any of those men try?”
“I was a good girl. They didn’t see me.”
Odo leaned back in his chair and spanned his temples with one hand, relieved and horrified at the same time. This child had been kidnapped, enslaved, exposed to prostitution, and was witness to a possible murder, all by the ripe old age of five. This girl should be a lot worse off than she was. Her mother, despite her obvious lack of parenting skills, couldn’t have been all bad with the child. There were ways Odo could help them both, if he could find her.
“Did you like living with your mother?” Odo asked.
“Sometimes,” the girl mumbled, fiddling with her own fingers. “Sometimes she was nice. She brushed my hair for me. She sang to me, when the men weren’t there…But I didn’t like it when Mommy ate the stuff.”
“Brown stuff. Looked like little round rocks. She would get all funny and sleepy and when she woke up, she was mean. She hit me sometimes and called me names, but I know it was the stuff that made her do it. She told me.”
The girl's mother was a Spice addict then, another scourge of universe Odo had managed to keep off the station. It was a popular drug of choice in certain sectors, and it gave him another piece of data to add to Ridia’s search. He would contact Ridia as soon as he could.
“Do you know what planet you and your mother lived on?”
“We lived on a city, not a planet. It was big. And stinky. And loud…It rained a lot.”
“Do you know if your mother still lives there?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “She got sick. Then she gave me to the man. She said I had to go with him.”
The girl looked down at her feet as they swung back and forth underneath her chair.
“You need to tell me,” Odo encouraged. “What was his name?”
The girl suddenly flew up from her seat. She gnashed her teeth at him. Odo watched with hidden horror as her innocent face twisted into a killer’s leer. She brandished an imaginary knife and drew it across her throat.
“Kill you, little rat, I’ll kill you if you tell!”
“Child, no one is going to hurt you,” Odo soothed. “I won’t let them, I told you that.”
The girl’s fists balled at her sides as she glared angrily at Odo, her lower lip thrust out and beginning to tremble. “I don’t believe you anymore!” she cried, tears welling in her eyes. “I thought you were good! But you’re not. You didn’t pay. Only the bad ones don’t pay.”
“Child, Nerys is my wife. We love each other. We don’t pay to love each other. What your mother did with those men is not the same thing as what you saw.”
“How?” she demanded, her tears spilling over. “How is it different? It didn’t look different!”
Odo huffed a breath, and pinched the bridge of his nose. He had no idea how much of marital affection he should explain to a five-year-old. Or how to explain it.
“It just is,” he replied. “You’re going to have to take my word for it. Trust me, little one, no one touches Kira Nerys unless she says they can. We’ll go see Counselor Dax tomorrow, and you can ask her about the difference, but for now, you’re going to have to accept my promise that I didn’t do anything wrong to Nerys…Can you do that?”
She sniffled, and swiped her nose with her sleeve, kicking at the carpet.
Odo ducked his head to meet her eyes. “Have I broken any of my promises to you so far?”
“Then you know I mean it.”
She sniffled again, and nodded. Odo leaned back in his seat, thinking he had the current crisis resolved, but then the child’s face started to crumple, and her chest began to hitch. Before he could say anything, she threw herself into Odo’s arms.
“I m-miss my m-mommy!” she sobbed.
Listening to those big, gulping sobs, feeling her tiny arms wrapped around his neck and her hot tears falling on his tunic, Odo’s heart broke for this girl. He wanted nothing more in the universe than to promise this child he’d find her mother for her, but this time, logic won out. He knew that wasn’t a promise he could necessarily fulfill, and had no place to make. He mumbled some platitudes, and shushed her, awkwardly patting her back. She calmed and he rocked her for a while until her tears dried up. When she was done, he stood her straight and wiped her face.
“Are you alright now?”
He got a begrudged nod to the positive.
“It’s past your dinnertime. Are you hungry?”
A hiccup, and a more emphatic nod was the answer.
He rose from his seat and stretched out his hand. “Well, then, let’s go see what the replicator has on the menu tonight.”
As they looked over the replicator menu, Odo remembered her mention of a stomach ache, and steered the girl toward plomeek broth. As he recalled from his brief stint as a solid, the Vulcan standard was very mild, and very nutritious. As the girl loudly slurped her soup, Odo pried her with more questions, and tried to get more information out of her, but she wasn’t budging. Finally, Odo gave it up, deciding the girl had said all she was going to for this night. Cracking this one small child’s silence was proving to be as difficult as dealing with a hardened criminal.
After dinner, Odo set up a sonic shower for her and left her to it, waiting outside the door. She returned to him clean, but with her nightgown on backwards. Odo held the collar up off of her shoulders as she pulled her arms back in, and then turned it around for her and did up the fasteners. Together, they then selected a children’s story from the Computer’s data banks, and Odo read it to her. By the end of the story, her thumb was in her mouth and her head was lolled on Odo’s chest.
Careful not to wake the girl, Odo let his form go gelid. He slid off the couch, letting the girl’s body fall slowly into a resting position. She didn’t stir at all. Sometimes there really were advantages to being a Changeling. He reformed, found her blanket, and tucked her in. Then he moved to his bedroom to call security. He got Ridia.
“Ridia,” Odo ordered, “narrow our search down to larger cities with rainy climates. Add ‘big, stinky, and loud’ to the parameters.”
“You heard me. Also, narrow it down to areas where Spice is still bought and sold, and start a new search based on those parameters, looking for any recently deceased prostitutes that had children.”
“Shouldn’t you be off duty by now?”
“Uh, yes, boss. I’m leaving. Soon.”
“See that you do,” Odo replied. “Odo out.”
Odo dropped down on the edge of the bed and scrubbed his hands over his face. A deceased prostitute. Was he so sure the girl’s mother was deceased? He could be complicating the search with his assumptions, but it sounded like she had to be, given the girl’s statements. Corixian had to be this man she mentioned, or maybe one of his crew. The girl’s mother must have sold her to Corixian when she became ill. There was a possibility lurking in the back of Odo’s mind that the mother hadn’t actually been sick, but had been in withdrawal, which for a Spice addict was a very nasty business. In some cases, it did cause death. Spice was also expensive, and lack of it could drive an addict to do something so extreme as to sell her own child. Such a person had no business with a child, but these were only educated guesses on Odo’s part, not facts, and for the girl’s sake, he had to try and find this mother, alive or dead.
Odo heaved a tired sigh, and his eyes strayed to his bucket by the side of the bed. A strong pull in every cell he had encouraged him to shed his solid form, and let this day go, and all his unanswered questions with it. But, he needed to wait for Nerys. He settled for laying out on their bed instead, resting his form in a more humanoid fashion, and waited for his wife to come home.
As it turned out, Odo waited for his wife in vain. Nerys hailed him close to the time she was supposed to be off shift, to inform him she wouldn’t be off shift, and had no idea when that might happen. Odo hid his disappointment from her, and accepted it. He’d really wanted to have that talk with Nerys that Dax had suggested, and get some of the many things on his mind settled before another busy day separated them. But, there was no help for it. Odo knew better than anyone that Nerys would’ve been home if she could’ve been. On the bright side, at least now he could get some rest.
Odo checked on his charge one last time, finding her still sound asleep on the sofa. She had rolled onto her back, her arms akimbo, one leg thrown off the edge. Odo moved her leg back onto the sofa, and tucked the blanket around her again. She stirred, and sucked in a deep breath, her eyes still closed. Odo smoothed her dark hair and watched over her for a bit, making sure she was still asleep. He didn’t want her to wake up and find him gone. If the child was going to continue to stay here, he really needed to teach her how to wake him out of a regeneration cycle, but with everything else going on, he hadn’t thought of it. Until now.
The girl slipped gently back into dreamland, her brow smooth and peaceful, so Odo returned to his room. He gratefully let his solid form go, pouring himself into his bucket, and slipped swiftly into sweet oblivion.
The next morning, at the appointed time, Odo’s cells stirred to waking. He bubbled around in his bucket for a moment, enjoying his last few minutes of formlessness, and readied his matrix for a shift. It was a little sluggish this morning, so Odo took the easy route and poured himself on the floor before starting his change. He gathered himself together and turned into DS9’s security chief, uniform and all. He turned immediately to the bed, expecting to find his wife still sleeping in it. She wasn’t. The covers were tossed back and rumpled, showing she had been there, but obviously she was already up.
The hum of the sonic shower clued Odo in as to where Nerys was. The fine idea popped into his head that he should go and join her. Smiling, he approached the bathroom door, but then hesitated. They had just enough time to share a quick moment together before he had to report for duty, but there had to be a reason Nerys was up before him, and besides, they were never quick when they were together. If he went in there, one thing would lead to another, and, knowing the appetites of his wife which he was always willing to indulge, yet another, and then he'd definitely be late.
With a regretful sigh, Odo turned away from the bathroom, doggedly resisting temptation. He distracted himself by making the bed. He smoothed one last wrinkle out of the covers, satisfied with his work, and then took a seat in a chair near the bed and waited.
A few minutes later, Kira walked out of the bathroom, wrapped in a short, white towel that barely graced the tops of her thighs. The hem shifted as her legs moved, giving him a stealthy peek. Odo again had to keep himself from going to her, his fingers positively itching to take that towel away from her. He gritted his teeth, and gripped tightly to the arms of the chair instead.
Kira did a small double take when she saw him, and gave him a full smile. “Good morning, husband.”
“Good morning, wife," Odo returned. "Why are you up so early? You couldn't have gotten much sleep.”
“I didn't,” Kira replied, smile fading. She leaned against the door frame and chewed her lower lip. “I have to report to Ops this morning, Odo. Captain’s orders.”
“Then what are we going to do with our girl? I can’t stay home with her today. I’ve got her kidnappers to convict.”
“It’s gonna have to be the childcare center. I’m sorry.”
Odo heaved a sigh and looked down at his folded hands. “Don’t apologize, Nerys. It’s my fault we’re in this situation.”
Kira gave her husband a knowing look, and sauntered across the bedroom. She smoothed her towel over her backside and perched on his knees. “Odo,” she gently admonished, “you have nothing to be sorry about. I’m the one who’s reneging on our deal, but orders are orders. Besides, it’s not like we’re leaving the station. If something happens, they’ll let us know.”
“I know…I just…worry.”
“You? Worry? Never,” she teased. “But if what you wanted to talk to me about last night was long term, this was going to come up eventually.”
Odo's eyes met hers, and he gave her a long, steady look. “And if I can’t find any relatives for the child, would you be willing to consider it? Long term?”
“I already have,” Kira replied. “Even though you and I haven’t seen much of each other the last few days, I think I can guess where your mind is at. But mine’s not so sure. This is a big deal, Odo. Look at how much it’s affected our lives already. And we both know our lives are never completely ours, given what we do. I’m not sure we’re the right people for this girl. Besides, you still haven’t explained why this child is the one, out of so many that want homes, and why you've had such a sudden change of heart. Until this week, I thought our positions on this were decided.”
Odo's hand slid up Kira's thigh, finding the swell of her hip under the towel. It rested comfortably there, but his expression grew pensive. “Well first things first, she’s not afraid of Changelings. Which is a plus.”
“True,” Kira conceded. “What else?”
Odo didn’t answer. Instead, he pressed his lips on Kira's bare shoulder, and then pulled her further into his lap. Kira shifted her body, snuggling in, resting her head on his shoulder. They stayed quiet for a time, Kira patiently waiting until her husband was ready to speak.
“She’s…She’s been through so much, Nerys,” he began. “I got some more of her past out of her last night, and it’s not pretty. She’s been tossed around the universe like she doesn’t matter. Yet she’s still…alive. She has spirit. She’s brave, and tough. She’s capable of overcoming her past, of having a life, of being loved, if she finds the right people to love her. She deserves all of that, as much as anyone does. You say you’re not sure we’re right for her, but she reminds me a great deal of both of us. After all, the universe has tossed us around quite a bit, but so far we’ve managed to survive, and be here together...in love.” Odo hugged Kira even tighter. “So, so much love, Nerys.”
“Prophets, Odo, you sure know how to turn a girl to mush.” She half-sniffled, half-laughed. “Though no one else would believe that if I told them.” She sat up and cupped his face in her hands. “You’ve sold me on your end, Odo, but I’m still not one hundred percent on mine. Give me a little more time to think…Okay?”
“Of course, Nerys,” he smiled.
Kira smiled back, and leaned in to kiss him. The Computer chirped, and she stopped short.
“The time is zero five hundred hours, thirty minutes.”
“Dammit," Kira groaned. " I have to finish getting dressed, or I’ll be late.”
“Dammit, indeed,” Odo agreed. “I’ll go wake our girl and give her the bad news.”
Kira stood up from Odo’s lap. “Raktijino and toast?” she prompted. She tossed her towel on the bed and scurried towards her closet.
“You got it,” Odo replied. He watched his wife's lush, full, and currently bare backside disappear into her closet, and really wished he could follow it. But duty called. Double dammit. He shot up from his seat and left the room before he could change his mind.
It turned out their girl was already up, too. Kira had closed their bedroom door before she bathed, and the girl was camped on the sofa, wide awake, facing it. Her blanket was wrapped over her head so that only her face peeked out. As usual, her thumb was in her mouth.
“Good morning, little one,” Odo greeted. “Are you ready for breakfast?”
The girl's violet eyes went wide, and she popped her thumb out of her mouth. She flew off the couch and made a beeline for the replicator. The blanket came, too, shrouded around her like a cloak and trailing the ground behind her. Odo winced as she tripped on the hem, but she caught herself before she fell. She made it to the replicator interface without further incident, and turned back to Odo, bouncing up and down impatiently.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Odo said, and helped her pick her breakfast.
Kira joined them a few moments later, dressed now except for her boots. She sipped her raktijino and dunked her mapa toast in it as she helped Odo explain their change of situation for the day. At first, their announcement was not well received. Upon hearing the news, the girl plunked her fork back in her bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, flinging sauce in the air, narrowly missing Kira's clean uniform. Then she crossed her arms over her chest, and pouted.
"Look, Odo," Kira quipped, "she's taking after you already."
Odo rolled his eyes at his wife, and turned his attention to the girl. "I'm sorry, but we have to leave you in the childcare center today. We don't have a choice. Nerys and I have to work, and no one else can stay here with you."
"Don't wanna," she said, still pouting.
"They'll have toys there," Odo said. "Like there were in Counselor Dax's office."
That got a slight response. Her eyes lit, but was she careful to keep her frown in place as she rearranged her spaghetti.
"How about this," Kira said. "If anything bad happens, or if you get too scared, you just have to ask one of the people at the center to call me and I'll come get you. We'll come back here instead." She tilted her eyes at Odo. "Or maybe you'll get to start your Ops training early. It depends on Captain Sisko's mood."
After a long pause to consider this offer, and after more marinara was used to decorate the dining table, the child reluctantly conceded.
"Okay," she said. "I'll try."
The girl had a few uncertain questions about being in childcare, which Kira and Odo readily answered, with the reassurance that one of the monitors in the center would help her call Ops if she needed anything. When everyone was in full agreement, Kira took the girl off to de-sauce and help her dress. When that was done, the three left their quarters and headed down the hall of the habitat ring and on to the turbo-lift.
At the turbo-lift junction, Kira and Odo paused. A brief conversation ensued about who would walk the girl to the childcare center, and later pick her up. The girl watched the debate going on over her head for a few moments, listening to both sides, and then, with an impatient huff, decided for herself. She took Kira’s hand and stomped her foot, once, ending the debate.
“Alright then, have it your way,” Odo teased her. He kissed Kira’s cheek. “I’ll see both of you later.”
“Hey! Me, too,” the girl said, tugging on his tunic.
“You, too, what?”
She turned her cheek, and pointed at it.
Kira laughed as Odo made a show being mock-exasperated by this demand, rolling his eyes and throwing his hands up to the ceiling. “Oh, well, fine,” he teased, “if you insist.” He took a knee, and kissed the girl's cheek exactly as instructed. “Be good,” he reminded her. “No biting. And remember, if you get too scared, ask to call Ops.”
“I won’t be scared. And I’ll be good.”
“I know you will,” Odo said, and tucked her hair behind her ear.
With a last round of goodbyes, the triad separated to face the day ahead of them.
When he arrived at security, Odo found Ridia already in, seated at the main desk and glowering at the computer terminal. Ridia looked tired. Odo wondered how much later he’d stayed the night before, and then swiftly kicked himself for being part of the reason Ridia had to stay. But, there had been no help for it. The sooner they got this case wrapped up and their prisoners off the station, and the sooner Odo’s questions were answered about the child, the better. Then they could all get some rest.
“Ridia,” Odo greeted, “how did we make out?”
Ridia vacated Odo’s seat, and moved to stand behind his chair. “The Computer is mostly done searching. I pulled up the preliminaries, and there are sixteen possible matches for your big-city dead prostitute. Out of those, ten cases have children that are accounted for. I tossed out two women that had only male children, so that left us four names.” Ridia leaned over the desk, did a couple taps to the keys. “And these are it, boss."
The files Ridia selected flashed up on the screen. Odo arranged them into a four-square pattern so he could compare the images. The first woman he dismissed immediately, as she was part Rigellian, and some of those physical traits would have passed to her daughter. The second had been dead too long for her child to have any memory of her. He paused on the third, skimming the data summary. There was enough similarities in the facts that she could be the one, but Odo had to be sure. Then he moved onto the fourth, and froze.
The woman on the bottom corner of the screen had to be the girl’s mother. Odo immediately recognized the black, sleek hair, the violet eyes, and the same shade of pale, almost white skin. Had her skin and her mouth not been ruined by Spice, this woman would have been beautiful, and she had certainly passed her features onto her daughter. Odo’s charge was nearly a spitting image. He tapped the woman’s picture and pulled up the complete file.
Lavida Renn, deceased, was aged twenty-seven at the time of her death. The date of death was only five weeks ago. She was Kromian, which explained a lot. Kromians were close enough to Terran genetically that it was often hard to tell the difference, even in a computer scan, but the white skin and violet eyes were a national trait. Had Dr. Bashir been in the infirmary at the time Odo brought the girl in, it would have saved them all a lot of time. This detail, Bashir would have caught, even when Odo himself had missed it.
The woman’s autopsy had revealed that she had given birth at some point, but no child was in the residence where her body was found. Neighbors reported having a seen a child in Lavidia’s company, but they hadn’t seen either one of them for weeks. Toxicity reports revealed high levels of Spice and other opiates in her system, as well as trace amounts of other illicit drugs, but not in any combination that would have killed her. Lavida Renn’s cause of death was Corellian sleeping sickness.
“Look here, Ridia,” Odo mused. “Corellian sleeping sickness. That’s perfectly curable. Why would she have died of that?”
Ridia looked over Odo’s shoulder and skimmed the readout. “She lived in Grech’noct City on Kromia. Their planet is rough, and that city’s gotta rep for being one if its worst. Kromia’s run by planetary capitalists. She probably didn’t have the money for a doctor. Judging by the tox report, though, it looks like her money was going other places. Worst part is, garbage like she was taking is a whole lot cheaper and easier to come by than the real stuff. Lots of self-medication going on in places like that.”
Odo turned back to the screen, his face grim. It was barbaric, letting a young woman die of something so easily treatable just because she lacked the funds for medicine, even if she had been a drug addict. Hell, Odo thought, that could’ve easily been treated, too. He and Nerys had done plenty of complaining about the Federation over the years, but something like this wouldn’t have happened on one of their worlds. A child wouldn’t have lost her mother and been orphaned, over something so small.
The rest of the file contained various statements by the city police regarding their investigation, and the search for the child. The death investigation itself was open and shut. Even Odo would’ve handled that the same way, but they’d made very little effort into investigating the child’s disappearance. Very little effort. Odo found no information that could tie her to Corixian, and no information that would recommend the competence of the Grech’noct city police, either. It would, he concluded, be useless to call them and try to get anything beyond what was contained in the file. Obviously, they hadn’t cared all that much about a prostitute’s missing daughter, but it didn’t matter, because she was found now. Instead, he looked up Lavida Renn’s social serial number and pinned it to a request for birth records and a genetic profile. He signed his security clearance to it, and transmitted it to Kromia.
The file also told Odo that Livida Renn had no known relatives, and that she had been interred at the public’s expense. Her family were listed as deceased, or unavailable. Dax had been right. So far, unless they found a father in those birth records, his girl was all alone.
And it would be him that had to tell her.
Odo left off the child’s case, having gotten as much information as he could for now, and moved on to that of Corixian and his crew. He turned to Ridia.
“Do you have that report for me?”
“From Sona and Greyson? Yeah. File index is right there."
Odo pulled up the file Ridia pointed at, and read it through. Sona and Greyson hadn’t gotten much of anything new. They’d managed to squeeze some more names and few ports of call out of the crew, but Sona’s recommendation had been to basically treat it all with grain of salt. Odo harrumphed as he read. As if he ever approached anything in his work without that doubtful little grain.
He heaved a sigh, and rose. “Work with what Sona and Greyson got us, and see where it goes. I’m heading out for a patrol. I need to clear my head, and put everything I’ve read together, and then I might have some other ideas for you.”
“Sure thing, boss,” Ridia replied.
Just as Odo was getting ready to step out onto the currently empty Promenade, a transmission came in from Magistrate Bazaan. Odo returned to his desk to take it, and spent over an hour catching up the Magistrate. All of their reports had, of course, been copied to her office, but the Magistrate wanted Odo to clarify a few things for her personally, and she wanted play-by-plays of the interrogations. The case was moving steadily forward on Bajor’s end, but extradition hadn’t yet been approved, so Odo would have to hang on to his prisoners for a day or two longer. Odo assured the Magistrate the prisoners were going nowhere, and signed off.
Odo decided since he was still stuck at his desk, he’d better check his messages. Still nothing from Kromia, but he hadn’t expected a quick response. Capitalism and paper-choked bureaucracy often went hand-in-hand. There were several more messages, most of which could wait, but he opened a memo from Dax, copied to the Prophets and everyone that announced that all of the children (except one) had been reconnected with family, and that DS9 was down to thirty-two still awaiting transport. Federation vessels remained at the disposal of those families needing assistance. There was also an attachment from Colonel Kira, outlining DS9’s docking procedures, adding that the station was there to serve during this dark time.
Well, at least it was mainly good news.
By the time Odo was done with messages, the Promenade had woken up. He’d missed his chance for a quiet patrol, but there was at least one advantage to the delay. He stepped out of security, and took a long look around. Half a grin turned up one side of his mouth. Quark’s was open by now. It had been days since he’d had time to harass his least favorite Ferengi bartender, and annoying the daylights out of Quark might be just the thing to clear his head. It was, after all, one of Odo’s favorite pastimes.
Odo crossed the Promenade and stepped into the deserted bar. Even Morn hadn’t made it in yet. The only bodies in the place were Quark’s team of Ferengi waiters who were setting up for the day, and one lonely Dabo girl who was looking in a hand mirror, applying a layer of screaming yellow lipstick on her mouth. Odo balked at that crazy shade, and then spied his query behind the bar, digging around underneath the counter.
“Quark!” he roared. His voice echoed ominously in the empty bar.
Quark jumped, and smacked his head on something. Even Odo winced as lumpy, bald head met whatever-it-was. But Odo was careful not to show any sympathy.
“Frack it!” Quark cursed, rubbing his head as he rose. “That hurt! What in the---Oh. Odo. Of course. Who else would darken my doorstep this early?”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Quark. Would you like me to leave?”
“Too bad,” Odo retorted, and slipped onto one of the bar stools. He folded his hands on the bar top in front of him, and smiled.
Quark scowled at him, flapping his hands. “You can’t sit there, Odo.”
“And why not?”
“Because you’re not going to order anything, and-before you ask-I’ll tell you how I know you’re not going to order anything. I know you’re not going to order anything, because you never order anything, and therefore you never pay. I’d appreciate it if you’d leave the seats at my bar open for paying customers.”
Odo raised a brow, and looked around the bar. “Quark, your bar is empty. I’m the only one here.”
“Paying customers, Odo,” Quark snipped. “Are you going to order something from the bar, and then pay for it?”
“Then go! I have better things to do this morning than waste my time dealing grumpy Changelings.”
Odo was sure to keep his face poker-straight. “Station regulation number two-zero-seven, regarding the operation of businesses on the Promenade, states you cannot ban anyone from entering the bar, unless they are disturbing the peace, or have committed a crime. Have I committed a crime, Quark?”
“Does assault count?” Quark barked, pointing at the minor red mark on his head. “This is your fault. I could have a serious brain injury! As a matter of fact, I think it would be in my best interest to file charges. Against you.”
“I would certainly be happy to help you with that,” Odo replied. “But your ‘assault’ will be ruled accidental, Quark.”
“Well, isn’t that convenient.”
“Yes,” Odo smiled. “It is.”
Quark heaved a sound of frustration. “You couldn’t have come in here just to annoy me, Odo, and cause personal injury. Tell me what the heck you’re after already so I can get rid of you, and get on with my day.”
“I never said I was after anything,” Odo replied.
“Then why are you here? Doing another one of your surprise inspections? Gonna cite me for a wobbly chair leg again?”
“Why, Quark? Is there a wobbly chair leg I need to cite you for?” Odo turned around on his stool, and started to rise. “Maybe I should have a look around, and-“
“Uh no, Odo, don’t do that,” Quark said, grabbing Odo’s sleeve. “There’s, uh, there’s no need for you to go to all that trouble. No wobbly chairs here, they’re all quite stable.”
Odo yanked his arm out of Quarks grip, and settled back in his seat. Slowly. He crossed his arms over his chest, and gave Quark the best Constable Odo glare he could conjure, holding it until Quark started to squirm.
“Oh, c’mon, Odo,” he begged. “The chairs are fine. You can’t be serious.” He put his hands together at the wrists in the Ferengi fashion. “I swear, Odo, really. No wobbles. I checked all the chairs myself after your last inspection.”
“No wobbles,” Odo repeated, still keeping his glare on ice.
“No, Odo. No wobbles.”
Odo was about to say something else, but stopped when Quark’s first customer entered the bar. “Morn,” Odo greeted.
The Lurian trader gave Odo a half-hearted nod, and lumbered to his usual stool. Quark turned to the taps and poured Morn’s first drink of the day, plunking it on the bar before Morn even sat down. Odo waited patiently until Morn downed the first glass, and was served another. Casually, he moved two stools over, and took a seat next to him.
“Morn,” Odo began, “let me ask you something. Have you noticed any issues with the chairs around here lately? Any malfunctions, or abnormalities? Anything that could be hazardous to one of Quark’s paying customers...For instance, have you noticed any…wobbles?”
Morn opened his mouth to answer, but Quark cut him off. “Now how would Morn know that, Odo? He never leaves this stool, the lump, and you and I both know I had it reinforced for his safety. Morn is our best VIP customer, he’s like family. We always take care of our family here at Quark’s. Don’t we, Morn?”
Morn rolled his eyes, and belched.
“So,” Odo prompted. “About those wobbles, Morn. Have you noticed any?”
Morn cast a dour eye at the Constable. He shook his head to the negative, and raised his glass for another round.
“There, Odo, you see?” Quark crowed. “No wobbles, like I told you.”
Odo could do this all day, but he really did have better things to do, and so did Quark. He rose slowly from his stool. He put his hands on the now vacant seat, glaring at Quark, and fake-tested it.
“No…wobbles…Quark,” Odo growled.
“I got it, Odo. No wobbles. You have my word.”
Odo turned to go and let the Ferengi off the hook, but Quark had to add one last thing.
“Odo, is that really what you were after? Wobbly chairs?”
“I told you when I came in here, Quark,” Odo groused, “I wasn’t after anything.” He gave Quark a scathing look, and a harrumph, and headed out the door.
“Well…fine!” Quark sputtered. “But don’t think I’ve forgotten you still owe me one! You owe me, Odo!”
Odo chuckled to himself as he exited the bar. Really, there were times he felt almost guilty. Sometimes Quark made this way too easy for him.
A chirp from his comm badge sounded, ending his fun. Odo answered. It seemed there was an issue of possible contraband on an incoming freighter, and Ops wanted his eyes on the problem. Odo acknowledged the message and headed for the pylon.
It was from there that Odo’s day descended into darkness.
Odo did indeed find contraband on the freighter. Twenty kilos of tritanium explosive compound were in the ship’s hold, with no explosives permit on file, of course. Twenty kilos was enough to blow the entire station out of the stars if it was handled wrong, and it was more than three times the amount needed to charge the ship’s captain with arms smuggling. They went with Federation law this time for the charges, so he didn’t have to bother with a full warrant. Sensor scans and Captain Sisko’s go-head were enough.
Odo called in a security team to help him detain the crew, question the passengers, and start a search and seizure. This was going to take hours, Odo realized, and he was going to be stuck on this pylon for the rest of the day. His holding cells would be fit to bursting by the end of it. And he was fresh out of unoccupied deputies. For once in his career, he was grateful for the Starfleet back-up team that had been assigned to him. He tapped his comm badge, and had ten Starfleet security agents deployed to help monitor the station while he dealt with DS9's latest headache.
Odo was monitoring the safe removal of the explosives from the freighter, as well as a few other items that were also conveniently missing from the ship’s manifest, when his comm badge sounded.
Odo rolled his eyes. Oh, for Prophet’s sake, now what? "Odo, here,” he answered.
“Boss,” Ridia gasped. “Boss, you gotta get down here!”
“Ridia? What’s going on? Are you injured?”
“I got stunned, I’m fine, but…Corixian and his crew…They’ve escaped!”
Odo closed his eyes for a few brief seconds, and muttered a few curses under his breath. Here we go, Odo…
He heaved a breath, and said, “I’m on my way.”
The constable barked some quick orders to the team at the pylons. Then, he turned away, and started running. He long legs rapidly flew him through the corridor to the turbo-lift junction. He tapped his comm badge as he went. “Odo to Kira.”
"Kira, here. Odo, what's going on? We've got reports of phaser fire on the Promenade."
“Set the station to code blue. We have a jailbreak. Stop all docking, no one leaves, and shut down transporters. Leave the lifts on for now. Dispatch any available crew to protect the civilians.”
“I’m on it, Odo. Do you need me to come-“
“No! You and Sisko stay in Ops, and lock that down, too. I need you up there more than I do out here, and I don’t want any command hostage situations. We’ve got twelve possibly armed suspects on the loose.”
“Understood, Odo…And be careful.”
“Acknowledged, Colonel. Odo out.”
Odo jumped on the turbo-lift, tersely requesting the Promenade. He gripped the rail tightly as the lift sped him through the station, the trip seeming to take three times as long as it should have. He tapped his foot impatiently, and gritted his teeth. How could this have happened? How could they have escaped? And on his watch? He punched the wall of the turbo-lift, and snarled, spitting out a few more choice words. However this had happened, someone’s head was going to roll for it.
The Constable collected himself as the lift doors opened, and he bounded off, taking a quick survey of the Promenade. It was packed, and panicked, Starfleet and Bajoran security forces trying to keep order. People grabbed and pulled at him, trying to get his attention, but Odo ignored them, plowing through to his office. He noted a few injuries as he went, a few phaser hits to some of the walls. Their escaped convicts were definitely armed.
Ridia was at Odo’s desk, sprawled in the seat, his normally tanned skin a sickly shade of grey. There was a scorch mark in the middle of his chest. Thank goodness for the new protective plating they were wearing under their uniforms now, or Ridia might not have been sitting in that chair at all. The bodies of a few more of his deputies and some Starfleet were on the floor. Odo had no idea if they were dead or alive, and judging by the state of the Promenade, no time to find out. He tore his eyes away from the fallen men and focused on Ridia.
“Ridia,” he began, “what happened?”
“Jan’nel got conned somehow,” Ridia replied. “I don’t know why, but he opened Corixian’s cell, and then the rookie got himself killed. Corixian choked him, took his phaser, shot the rest of the guards, and set his crew loose. That’s when I got shot. I blacked out. Thompson found me and filled me in.”
“He paged medical, and went after them.”
“How many of them are armed?”
“I don’t know, boss.”
Odo tapped his comm badge. “Odo to Lieutenant Thompson.”
“Yes, sir. Thompson here.”
“Where are you?”
“In pursuit of three suspects. We tried to contain them on the Promenade, but they all scattered like locusts. I have no idea where the rest are.”
“Is Corixian with the ones you’re after?”
“No. I can’t talk right now, we’re in a fire fight. No, I- GAH! DAMMIT!”
“Computer,” Odo called, “locate-”
“Childcare center three to security!”
“Security chief Odo, here.”
“Oh-thank-God-it’s-you-Odo. This is Krista. Odo, we’ve been attacked, there was a man, he had a scar on his face, he had a phaser, I think Grenda is dead, he shot her, she’s not breathing, he...She tried to stop him and…” Krista’s voiced broke off in sobs. “Oh my God, Odo, he shot her, she’s DEAD!”
“Krista! Take a breath, and talk to me. Are the children alright?”
“I-I don’t know, we need help, they’re not hurt. But Odo...the man that shot Grenda...He took your foster child.”
The chaos around Odo faded to background noise, blanked out and washed white. His mind went empty. Corixian had the girl. He had taken her…
Well, Odo, a part of him spoke up. Are you going to sit here and panic like an idiot? Or are you going to get her back?
The white cloud around Odo’s senses hazed red. Oh, he was going to get her back, alright. There was no question of that. And he would get Lehpon Corixian back, too. In a cell, where he belonged.
“Krista, stay where you are. Help is on the way. Odo, out.”
Odo sent medical to the childcare center, and dispatched the closest security forces. He ordered a general pursuit of the rest of the crew, for any free agent not already doing so. Then, Constable Odo took a moment to think.
He had to get this situatuon under control, which meant he needed to use his head, not start running blindly around the station chasing shadows. Corixian had the girl, and if he got backed into a corner, he might do something rash. Odo had to handle this carefully. The crew would be rounded up, he trusted the others to do that, but he knew Corixian was a different animal.
Why had the crew disbursed instead of staying together? Corixian had to have ordered them to as a diversion, knowing they’d get shot or picked up. But diversion from what? The childcare center? Why would Corixian go to the trouble of going for the girl? There were at least three hundred other people on the Promenade he could have taken as hostages, and the childcare center was out of the way. Why did he go there at all? Why this one girl, and not one of the others?
And then, every little clue that had been laid out for Odo all along clicked into place. All the parts of the web, the delicate threads, the faint connections that seemed like coincidences but almost never were. All the in-betweens Odo usually caught when no one else did. The clues in this case that were written as clearly as words on a page that Odo had been too busy to see.
The girl hadn’t been housed with the others. She hadn’t been left to the mercies of the crew, either. Her better physical condition had nothing to do with time, as Dax had thought. The child had never seen that cargo hold until she crept into the ventilation. ‘I’m not allowed to be seen,’ she had said. All of it, the child’s reaction when Odo had pressed her for a name, Corixian’s behavior when Odo had asked about her, his attempts to distract Odo from the question, had pointed him to the truth. If he hadn’t been so damned close to this case, he might have put this together by now. Still, there was absolutely no excuse for having missed it.
This child wasn’t parentless. Her father was still alive. Her father was Lephon Corixian.
And Odo knew exactly where Corixian was taking her.
“Odo to Kira.”
“Go ahead, Odo.”
“Set Corixian’s freighter to drift. I know where he’s heading. And be advised, he has a hostage…He has our girl.”
There was a beat of silence. “Acknowledged, Odo. I’m releasing the docking clamps now.”
“Have station sensors track Jan’nel’s phaser, and give me a location.”
“Give me a sec…He’s in the turbo-lift…I can’t override the controls, he’s locked them out. The lift destination is…level seven, section ten.”
Two medics arrived in security, one going straight to Ridia. Odo cut off his transmission as she flipped her tricorder open and ran a scan.
“Ridia,” Odo said, “are you fit for duty?”
“Yeah, boss. I’m good.”
“No, you’re not,” the medic said.
“I’m good enough!” Ridia retorted. “What do you need, boss?”
“Stay here, and coordinate the rest of the round-up. I’m going after Corixian myself.”
“Go get him, boss,” Ridia said, his face grim. “Let him have it. For Jan'nel. No staying chilly this time.”
Odo gave Ridia a terse nod, and exited security.
On the Promenade, things were still a madhouse. Odo again cut his way through the confused, grasping crowd, less courteous this time as he shouted for people to move. He managed to get to the lift doors, and as he boarded, he got another transmission from Kira.
“Odo, we have reports of a break-in. Weapons locker two, located on-“
“-Level seven,” Odo finished. “Acknowledged. If there are any security on that level, have them meet me.”
The weapons locker. That would explain the scenic route Corixian had chosen to get to docking. Odo wondered how the scum knew the station so well that he could accomplish all of this so fast. There were certainly no reading materials allowed him in his holding cell, so he must have studied DS9 and its layout at some point in his miserable life, perhaps before being forced to dock here. It was advanced thinking, a very clever move. Something Odo would have done himself.
A different animal, indeed.
The lift stopped, the doors opened, and Odo immediately broke into a run, hurrying his way to the weapons locker. Maybe he could catch Corixian there, although with an entire weapons locker now at his disposal, Odo would have to be awfully damned careful. He ran through the corridor junction, swung left, and arrived just in time to see Corixian and his hostage ten meters ahead of him, boarding another turbo-lift.
Odo streaked passed the open door of the weapons locker, skirting around a fallen security guard, and ran for all he was worth to stop the lift. He didn’t make it. The doors were closed and the lift was running before he even got close.
Odo kicked at the lift doors, and cursed. He briefly considered having Kira shut the lift down, but if he did that, he trapped his foster child on the lift with a heavily-armed sociopath. It would be better for her safety if Odo could get them out in the open, so he called Kira and had her tell him the lift’s destination, and then placed a call for back-up to meet him at their next stop.
Odo took the next lift to section two, level one. Outer docking.
The doors opened, and Odo geared himself up for another run, but stopped short. Corixian and his was daughter were three meters in front of him.
They didn’t notice Odo at first. Corixian had a phaser rifle in one arm, and the girl was hanging off the other. She dug her heels in the carpet, leaning her weight back and away from Corixian, yelling and sobbing as she tried to break free. Corixian’s face pulled into a snarl. He yanked the girl a few centimeters off her feet, and flung her into a wall, as if she had no weight at all. Odo watched in horror as her head bounced off the metal of the bulkhead. Her cries stopped.
Corixian held the girl's dazed body up by the front of her dress, and raised the rifle, pressing the muzzle into her cheek. “Shut-up, you little rat, or I’ll blow your goddamned head off!”
Corixian froze, and turned slowly towards Odo.
“Security man,” he smiled. “There you are. Come to see us off?”
“You’re not going anywhere, Corixian. Release the girl, and drop your weapons.”
Corixian looked Odo up and down, and smirked. “And just how are you gonna make me do that? You’re by yourself, and you didn’t even bring a phaser. From where I’m standing, it looks like I’ve got the upper hand. Try again, security man.”
Odo glared at him, and took a step forward. Corixian yanked the girl back against his legs, keeping the phaser rifle pointed at her.
“Ah-ah-ah. Don’t do that, security man. Someone might get hurt.”
“You’re not going to hurt her,” Odo replied. “I know who she is. I know she’s yours.”
“Figured that out, did ya?” Corixian said. “Took ya long enough. But you’re still not so smart, security man, if you think I wouldn’t blow this little rat to bits if it got me off this heap. Why do you think I took her in the first place? I remembered how much she caught your eye. There’s still time for us to settle this like gentlemen, you know. We can still make that trade. You let me get to my ship, and let me go, and you can keep this sweet little piece all to yourself.” His hand slid up the girl’s shoulder, and to her face, squeezing painfully. He shoved the nose of the phaser rifle into her side. “What do you say, security man? Do we have a deal?"
For a brief moment, Odo actually considered it. He would do just about anything at this point to get the girl back, but there was no way to be certain Corixian would keep his word, and once Corixian made open space, apprehending him would be exponentially more difficult. Odo needed to stall, and buy security some time to catch up with him. For someone who claimed to be so discrete, Corixian was talker, so Odo just needed to keep him talking.
“Why was this child with you in the first place, Corixian?” Odo asked. “Why would you accept her mother’s offer, if you weren’t going to sell her?”
“Who says I wasn’t going to sell her? Look at her,” he said, squeezing the girl's face again. “Looks just like her dumb-whore mother. I was a client of hers for a while, back in her better days, but I stopped doing business with her when she let her face go rotten. No one wants to pay for spoiled goods, right? But this one, she’s still pure. Still fresh. Figured I’d let her grow a little longer, let some things…develop. In certain sectors, she might be really worth something then. This one was what you would call a long-term investment.”
“And did her mother know all of this when she gave her to you?”
“Dumb whore, security man, like I said. Told her I was in the finance industry and she bought it, the idiot. Besides, loose lips sink ships. I never talk about my work, especially not with a whore so stupid and doped out that she would’ve forgotten her shots, and let herself get knocked up. If she’d had any brains at all, she would’ve had this little rat taken care of before it was born. Ain’t that right, little rat?”
Corixian shook the girl's shoulder, but she didn’t answer. He wound the girl’s long, dark hair around his hand, and pulled her head back, forcing her to look up at him. The girl cried out, and he yanked even harder, silencing her.
“No, security man,” he said, staring down into his daughter’s eyes. “Her Spice-for-brains mother had no idea just what I was going to do with her little girl…”
“No!” Corixian snarled. “That’s enough talk. Are you gonna let me get to my ship, and keep this whore’s get for yourself, or are you gonna make me splatter her guts all over this corridor?”
Odo risked a glance down at his foster child, at her tear-stained, bruised face. She looked steadily back at him, her faith, her trust in Odo shining through her fear. It was time, Odo decided, he gave Corixian exactly what he was asking for.
“Fine, Corixian,” Odo said. “You have a deal. Head to the airlock. I’ll follow.”
Corixian took his rifle off the girl and raised it at Odo. “Not too close now,” he warned.
Odo nodded. Corixian kept his fist bunched in the girl’s hair, using it to drag her backwards down the corridor, her feet tripping and stumbling to keep up. He kept the rifle tagged on Odo as they went, taking quick glances over his shoulder. The Constable was careful to keep his distance, to keep his pace deliberately moderated, but he kept his eyes locked on Corixian and the rifle. In this fashion, the three slowly crept their way to the airlock where Corixian’s ship had been docked.
Corixian hit the panel on the wall. The inner airlock doors rolled open. He carefully backed over the lip. He grabbed the girl by the back of her dress, and lifted her up and over, and then dragged her backwards through the short hall of the airlock, still keeping the rifle raised at Odo. Odo followed, hanging close to the inner door, still keeping his distance, hoping yet again at least one of his deputies would catch up with him.
At the outer door, Corixian raised his hand to the panel to unseal the outer airlock, but looked through the window first. He saw only empty space.
“What? Where is my ship?” He swung around to Odo, his arrogant sneer gone. “Where is my SHIP?”
“Adrift,” Odo replied, leaning against the door frame. “I set it loose some time ago. If you look hard enough, you might see it sitting off the station’s hull, being tractored. I told you before, Corixian, you weren’t going anywhere I didn’t send you myself. Right now, that’s back to holding, with a few new charges added to your already-impressive list. In fact, this might be the right time to tell you that Arbiter Els Renora has been assigned to your case. Arbiter Els is old, and traditional. She is also merciless. She likes to do things the old fashioned way, and the old fashioned way of dealing with scum like you is to hand you over to the Klingons, where you’ll be their guest on the penal planet Rura Penthe. If you want me to put a word in with the Arbiter so you don’t end up freezing to death as you do some very hard labor for the rest of your days, you’ll give me the girl, and give this up.”
Corixian threw his head back and roared, his face twisted with rage. His skin flushed purple-red and he raised the rifle even higher, his arm shaking and the rifle shaking dangerously with it. Odo kept his cool gaze on Corizian’s contorted, angry visage, readying himself to dodge phaser fire. The men stayed still, eyes locked, tensely waiting for the other to make a move.
To Odo's amazement, Corixian gave ground first. Slowly, he lowered the gun, and dropped it. He took a calming breath, the rage dissipating from his features, and moved the girl squarely in front him.
“Poppet,” he said, resting a hand on her head. “Why don’t you show the security man what you have in your pocket?”
The girl’s wet, violet gaze was trained steadily on Odo. She reached into the pocket of her dress, and pulled out a small, round metal ball. She held it out in the flat of her hand.
Corixian snatched it from her, and said, “Not good business etiquette, security man, falling through on a deal like that. It doesn’t foster trust. But, it’s not the first time that’s happened to me. You always need to have a back-up plan. This,” he said, holding up the ball between his thumb and finger, “I’m sure you’re familiar with.”
Odo substance roiled nervously. He was most definitely familiar. It was a standard Federation-issue tricobalt hand grenade. That one small grenade in Corixian’s hand had enough payload to destroy half this level, and take several thousand lives with it.
“This,” Corixian said, “I will arm, if you do not have me, and my darling daughter, transported to my ship. Right now.”
Odo’s body was still, his expression blank, but his mind was running at full tilt, scrambling to find a way to safely get the girl from Corixian, and get that grenade. He wished for the umpteenth time his back-up would arrive, but then quickly let go of that hope. If they weren't here by now, they weren't going to be. Odo was on his own, and he had put an end to this himself.
Corixian rolled the ball between his fingers, and then flipped it in the air, catching it in his hand. Odo’s eyes followed as he rolled it across his palm with his thumb until the detonator was face-up. Corixian pressed down, and the device beeped twice. It lit up, and armed.
“Time’s up, security man,” Corixian smiled. He tucked the grenade in his pocket. “You have thirty seconds to meet my demands, or then we’re all dead.”
No, Odo thought, readying his matrix for a shift. Not all of us. Just you…
What happened next went so fast, even Odo himself had trouble explaining it later. At a speed no human eye could follow, an amber blur streaked across the airlock and snatched the girl from Corixian, knocking him back against the outer door. Odo pulled the girl across the airlock, and shoved her behind him. He let the rest of his form go in a rapid burst, quickly reforming into a duranium bubble and encapsulating the girl against the bulkhead within it. Odo sealed the edges of his metal bubble airtight, sinking into the wall, becoming part of it. A tendril of living mercury crept across the wall, found the airlock interface, and hit the panel, closing the inner door. Odo felt Corixian pounding against him, screaming and kicking uselessly at his durable shell, the girl sobbing in fear and confusion from inside of her metal cocoon. When the inner door hissed closed, Odo hit the panel again, and released the outer airlock.
There was a horrible pull, a sucking, grasping, cold force trying to peel Odo off the bulkhead as the airlock depressurized. His grip started to slip, and he dug deeper into DS9’s bones, every cell he had clinging to every cell he touched as space tried to vacuum him and the girl into its freezing, empty depths. A massive BOOM sounded, a deep, painful thundering that threatened to dislodge him again, rocking him and the girl and the station all together. He dug even deeper into the wall around the girl, and slid that stray tendril of his substance carefully, so carefully across the panel, still fighting against the pulling force of space as he felt for the close icon.
After what felt like small eternity, Odo found it. The airlock door shut, and after a few heavily weighted seconds, the area re-pressurized.
It was done. It was over. His girl was safe. Corixian was dead.
The metal shell around the girl melted, pooling on the floor. Her sobs stopped and her eyes widened. She looked down in confusion and shock at the amber puddle gathered around her feet. Slowly, the puddle slid away from her, huddling against the bulkhead, and started to glow. As she watched, the puddle pulled itself together, and formed into a shape vaguely resembling DS9’s chief of security.
The girl ran to Odo, and threw her arms around his neck. Odo moaned with pain. She let go and scrabbled back.
“Odo, did you get hurt?”
“Yes,” he wheezed, pointing at his comm badge. “Call Nerys…”
The child tapped it delicately. “Nerys-lady?” she sniffled. “Odo’s hurt. We need help.”
“I’m here, sweetheart. Stay where you are, I’m on my way.”
After being found by his wife and a security team in the airlock, his foster daughter waiting patiently by his side, Odo ended up spending a few hours in the infirmary for monitoring. His matrix was having difficulty maintaining cellular cohesion after his battle with the universe. There wasn’t much Dr. Bashir could do to treat a Changeling, so he prescribed rest, which, with the way Odo felt, he was fully on board for. Odo’s foster child was also treated by Dr. Bashir, having sustained minor head trauma, and a few bumps and bruises, and she was also prescribed rest. Colonel Kira tried to take her back to quarters to do so, but she vehemently refused, saying she would sleep where Odo slept. After the day’s events, no one wanted to argue with her, so they let her sleep in the infirmary with a beaker full of Odo on a table near her bed. Dr. Bashir assured Kira he would personally watch over them both.
Colonel Kira then left the infirmary to help Captain Sisko clean up the mess, along with help from Deputy Ridia. As the day drew to a close, DS9’s holding cells were full again. All of Corixian’s crew were caught, except one who was shot and killed during pursuit. And of course, except for Corixian himself. The station populace was rattled, and there had been casualties, there would be grieving, but once the current crisis was resolved, most of the station went back about their business. The gossip mill embellished the true events of the day with dramatic flair for those that had missed it, creating an exceptionally profitable night for Quark’s, and in true DS9 fashion, by the end of the day, life was pretty well back to normal. After all, it wasn’t the first time there had been blood on the Promenade.
As her day went along, Kira got a more details out of Ridia about the girl, about her mother, and about just what kind of life she had lived so far. Odo was right. It wasn't pretty. And somewhat auto-biographical. She mulled it all over in the background of her thoughts as she worked, adding it to what Odo had said to her in their quarters, and adding in her own new experiences in caring for the girl. Kidnapping and hostage-taking aside, Kira never thought it would be as simple as it was to care for a child, or as rewarding, or that it was possible to have so much affection for someone she'd only just met. And she was amazed at how easily that affection was returned. Sure, there were some bigger complications that went with parenthood, but her fears of not being right for the girl vanished. Like any child, all this girl really needed was a safe home, a safe place to grow, and people to give her love, to be there for her, and she would be able to blossom into the person she was meant to be. Kira herself had those things when she was the girl's age, even if they had been brief. It was a big part of what made her who she was now, despite everything that had befallen her since.
Colonel Kira ceased all of her musings, and decided that she'd done enough thinking. Somehow, she and Odo's positions on this had gotten reversed. When making a weighty decision, it was usually Odo that pondered through his many doubts, and Kira who stepped boldly forward and ignored hers, so Kira decided to get back in character and pick a path, plow ahead, and see where it went. Tomorrow, she and Odo would tell the girl about her mother, with Dax's help. Then she could take all the time she needed to decide if staying with them was what she really wanted. In the mean time, the girl would have a home with Kira and her husband for as long as she needed one.
After her day was done, Kira returned to her quarters. She was glad to see her husband had beaten her to it. Odo was in one corner of the sofa, the girl tucked under his arm with her thumb stuck in her mouth. They both still looked a shell-shocked. Odo glanced up at her, and Kira shared a long gaze with her husband from across the room. They said everything they needed to say about this day, without any words. Finally, Kira moved across the room to join them.
“Hi,” Odo greeted. He lifted the girl onto his lap so his wife could sit next to him. Kira took her spot, snuggling in next to her husband. The girl stretched her legs out over Kira’s lap.
“Hi yourself,” Kira said. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine,” Odo replied. “I’m still tired, though, and sore. Remind me to never again get in a fight with an airlock.”
“Yeah, I’d rather you not repeat the experience myself.”
“Me, too,” the girl added.
Kira chuckled at that, and wrapped her arm over the girl's legs. “You should probably be in bed. We have another big day tomorrow. We need to see Counselor Dax about some silly paperwork, and then we can get you signed up for school. And we need a private sitter. No more childcare, that’s for sure.”
Over the girl's head, Odo cast a quizzing look at his wife. Kira grinned at him, nodding once. Odo smiled back, and hugged her tighter.
“Have you decided on a name yet?” Kira asked. “Little girls who want to go to school need to have a name.”
“Actually,” Odo said. “I have a surprise for you. I found out what your name is. The name your mother gave you.”
The girl’s thumb popped out of her mouth, and she sat up, anticipation lighting her face. Odo cupped his hand around her ear, and whispered it to her. The girl’s face lit even brighter, and she gasped, then grinned.
“That’s it!” she said. “I remember! That’s my name.”
“Well,” Kira said, “are you gonna keep me in suspense? What is it?”
“Hope,” the girl smiled. “My name is Hope.”