The back room of the runabout was too small and too temporary to bring along a full-length mirror like the one Odo kept in her quarters on the station. Instead, she fashioned one out of her own hand and held it out in front of her, tilting it first one way and then another so that she could see all parts of herself.
Becoming a mirror was somewhat of an accomplishment for her. She could still remember the time, back on Bajor, when she'd first managed to form such a flawless, reflective surface. At first, she'd only become small, handheld mirrors. But as her shape shifting abilities had improved, she'd gradually learned to form larger, heavier mirrors. And eventually, she'd learned how to make one an extension of her own hand, as if she was actually holding it. It had become a point of pride for her. But as she'd looked into its surface for the first time, she'd realized just how wrong her body's proportions were.
She'd had trouble with her shape back then. Her shoulders were always too wide, her limbs too narrow. Dr. Mora had once said that she looked like a caricature of herself, or perhaps an unseemly cartoon. And whenever she'd tried to correct for those problems, she'd ended up overcorrecting. Suddenly, her body was too narrow and her limbs too thick. Her balance had been off because her arms were too primitive and ape-like, and they swung too much with every step she took.
Now, as she stared into that mirror, she heard Dr. Mora's voice in her head. Too slender. Too elegant. What's happened to your male form? If your intention is to appear female, is this really your best attempt?
Not again. She was back to square one.
She elongated her arm so as to hold the mirror far enough away that she could see herself from head to foot. It was all right, she decided. It was all right. Dr. Mora's voice in her head was just a voice. There was nothing altogether wrong with the proportions of this form, at least not that she could tell from her day-to-day experience with female humanoids. The problem was, it was so strange. So different. It wasn't the body she was used to. The uniform was the same, but it was the only thing that hadn't changed. Everything else was gone. Wiped away. Destroyed. Her formerly masculine form was a mere memory, a transient image in her mind. And the face that stared back at her…
It wasn't hers. It couldn't be. But it was. There was an added…softness to her features, a curvature that hadn't been there before. A set of well-defined lips graced her mouth, and her cheekbones were softer, slimmer, higher. But even with all of its minute adjustments, it was the same unfinished mask. Her people hadn't seen fit to teach her how to form a more humanoid face. We don't care about you, they seemed to say. But you are powerless before us. Don't ever forget that.
Not likely, after this change of shape.
Her gaze trailed down from her face. Her neck was more slender. Her shoulders were smaller, less muscular. That was odd. It seemed her mass as a whole had changed, had shrunk down. Shape shifting would be a whole new challenge now that her mass was thrown off. Everything was so much smaller. Well, except for her chest. The breasts were new…and they were throwing off her balance.
Farther down. Her stomach wasn't as tight. And then her waist. More slender, more curved. A wider pelvis. How were humanoids always describing females—as hourglass-shaped? Yes, that was it. She was hourglass-shaped now. She wasn't quite sure how she felt about being compared to a device made of glass and sand. But then, hourglasses were used to keep time, and that was a skill on which Odo prided herself. So maybe being hourglass-shaped wasn't all that bad.
Her legs…more slender. Her feet…smaller. How was it that she was trapped in this body? Was she simply imagining the drastic changes? She turned her head to the side, examined her gentler profile. Even her nose was smaller! She ran a hand down her cheek, over the softer skin. No, she definitely wasn't seeing things. She could feel the changes, too. Disgust slowly fell away to horror. No! She'd spent so long on her male form! She'd spent years learning it, practicing it, editing it, perfecting it—she'd become as familiar with it as, to use a humanoid phrase, the back of her hand—and now what? This was what she got for her efforts to understand her people and who she was! This was the shape she'd inhabit for the rest of her life! This was the shape whose quirks she'd have to learn, whose movements she'd have to adjust to, whose balance she'd have to develop—
And she'd thought she'd gotten past this part!
A slight gasp escaped her, and her hand slowly fell from her face, tracing along her body until it once again hung stiffly at her side. Her eyes widened in panic. It couldn't be. This could not be happening to her.
A light knock on the forward door startled her from her thoughts.
Kira. No. Not yet, not now! Odo whipped around to face the voice, afraid that her former girlfriend would consider herself welcome and simply walk in. But the door remained closed. Odo breathed a sigh of relief.
"Odo? It's Nerys. Can I come in?"
No. Not yet. Odo's mouth hung open, unable to voice the words. She caught her expression in the mirror she still held. She'd never seen herself so afraid.
That was the biggest problem, she realized. This face was so…expressive. Everything she felt was written there, on her fuller mouth and in her wide eyes. Her entire face had changed, had become more revealing. There was nothing she could hide, no inner insecurity she could keep private. Not until she learned the quirks and workings of her face.
Outside the door, Kira's footsteps retreated. Odo nearly called out to stop her and had to slap a hand over her mouth. What was she thinking?
She heard voices outside the door. Kira and Dax. She wondered what they were talking about. She wondered if they were discussing her—why wouldn't they be? —but she didn't want to find out. She didn't want to see the hurt and fear cross Kira's face, only to be hidden behindáthat firm wall of determination. She didn't want to see the genuine concern in Dax's eyes. She didn't want that mind-reading Trill to take a single glance at her expression. She didn't want anyone to see the undisguised pain there.
Her old face had one advantage. As ridiculous as it had appeared, it had kept her secrets hidden. Her features had left her at the mercy of prejudice, but at least they had helped defend her privacy. She'd even come to appreciate the impenetrable cover they offered for her innermost thoughts. Over the course of her life on the station, the worst of the prejudice had died away, replaced with a strange sort of respect, and she'd almost forgotten how different she looked. She was only reminded when she double-checked her form every morning.
The mirror dissolved in Odo's hand. Both hands came up to cover her face, to shield herself against all judgement. To pretend to herself that the featureless fašade she'd worn as a male hadn't changed. She hadn't lost her only means of protecting herself from the universe. She hadn't lost her talent for acting impassive, for hiding her emotions, for burying all that threatened her beneath that calm mask. She hadn't…
But with the fingers covering her eyes, Odo felt what she couldn't see. She had lost everything. And as the need to regenerate tugged at her, made her aware of each individual cell, she could feel the differences in her form. She could feel the slenderness of her arms and body. She could feel the impending slump of her shoulders that she so carefully held at bay. Her lungs struggled for air, seemed to fight against existence itself. She sucked in one shaky breath after another, her entire form trembling as weakly as a leaf in the wind.
It was time to let go. Her cells were tired. She'd held this shape for too long. She needed to rest.
With a sigh, Odo let herself dissolve into her natural state. Maybe the Founders meant this as a temporary punishment, more of a shock than anything else, and her body would be restored to rights in the morning.