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.