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“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.

“And Constable?”

“Yes, sir?”

“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...

 

 

 



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