Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"Swan Song"

by Melanie Miller

Part One

"Careful. . ._care_ful!"

Lt. Jadzia Dax smiled serenely at the warning. "You don't have to be so worried, Julian," she said gently. "I think the waldoes know what they're doing."

"Well, I don't!" Dr. Julian Bashir replied with some asperity. The chief medical officer for Deep Space Nine was hovering over a waldo carrying a stasis container, staring at the object nestled inside its protective field. "Really, Jadzia, I think you'd be more impressed that something this ancient is still in one piece," he continued. "Floating around in space for untold years--I'm simply trying to make sure it doesn't fall apart on us now."

The "something" he referred to was a coppery torus, 35 centimeters in diameter and seven centimeters in depth. A Bajoran scout ship had found it floating in the Denorios Asteroid Belt, Bajor's nearest stellar neighbor and the home of the galaxy's only stable wormhole.  After some evasive dickering with the Cardassians, the ship had managed to deposit the torus at DS9 for "further study."

Said further study, the science department had been surprised to find, dated the object as roughly 1.5 millenia old.

"And the sensors say it's semi-organic," Bashir continued to marvel, staring at the doughnut shape as it hung complacently in the
portable stasis container, glittering from the surrounding energy.  "Some kind of bionic symbiosis, I would assume."

"Perhaps," Dax replied thoughtfully. She was a Trill, a species comprised of a humanoid host body and a sentient slug nestled inside the host's abdominal cavity, and knew more about symbiosis than she cared to repeat. "However, I think we should hold off on classification until we can run some tests," she recommended. "In the meantime, you might want to let the waldo put the stasis container down."

Bashir looked up, flushing. "Yes, of course," he murmured hastily, moving out of the waiting carrier's way and bumping into a tray of instruments.

Dax restrained another smile out of kindness, keeping her attention focused away from Bashir. The young Starfleet physician
never ceased to amaze her--combining cool-headed medical skills and a ferocious intelligence with a child's rambunctious energy, he seemed to see the station and its mysterious neighbor as a never-ending adventure.  She sometimes thought that his post as Chief Medical Officer for DS9 was the perfect graduation gift from Starfleet Medical, just what Julian Bashir had always wanted.

Of course, he also wanted other things. At times, Dax was quietly entertained by the reaction her new physical appearance
produced in Bashir--he almost tripped over his own feet every time she smiled, he was so eager to romance her. _Of course, he wouldn't have been quite so eager a year ago_, she thought, amused. The Trill habit of moving from host to host tended to confuse unjoined lifeforms, and her previous host Curzon had been an aged male. _I wonder how well Julian would have liked that body. . ._

Ignoring both officers, the rumbling waldo deposited its burden inside one of the laboratory's examination booths. A larger containment field deactivated the portable field and sealed the artifact off from the rest of the lab, a safety precaution that would allow the artifact to be manipulated for tests. DS9's science staff would begin their real work then--trying to determine what new discovery the endless cornucopia of the wormhole had decided to bestow upon Bajor and the Federation.

Then again, cornucopias have been known to work both ways ..

The woman moved easily through the suggestive darkness of Quark's casino, taking a seat at the end of the bar where she would have a good view of the room. A bartender came up and muttered something--she responded, and was rewarded with a softly glowing drink which she sipped periodically as she peered around the room, jotting the occasional note on an archaic padd. An aura of calm untouchability surrounded her, an attitude learned in the countless other bars she had sat in through the years.

This untouchability was reinforced by her costume--a long navy robe, fastened securely at the neck by an odd brooch, with a deep hood throwing her face into shadow. The effect was very similar to an old religious custom called purdah, and she used it for the efficient secular reason: the added layer of clothing would normally discourage unwanted attempts at conversation.

Unfortunately, it hadn't been a normal evening. A rowdy bunch of Bajoran miners were enjoying an unusual run of luck at the tables, celebrating their winnings with the local synthale. A few station security offers could be seen circulating in the crowd in an unspoken warning, but they were outnumbered by the raucous Bajorans. As it happened, one miner had noticed the woman when she sat down at the bar--the backlight had revealed enough of her face to make her interesting. After a number of drinks, he woozily decided that the mysterious woman in blue was just the thing he needed for companionship.

Weaving badly, the miner made his way to the end of the bar.  "Hey, pretty lady," he slurred, "ya look like you're lonely. Howzabout lettin' me buy you a drink?"

The figure shook its head.

"Aw, now, c'mon," he persisted. "It's rude to turn down a free drink, dontcha know that?"

"I'm not interested. But thank you anyway."

The miner blinked, confused at the woman's accent. "Yer not from around here, areya?" he said. "Thass okay--I like foreigners too, lonely li'l lady. Now, why don't you take a drink?"

"I said no, thank you."

The miner decided preliminaries had gone far enough. "I said I wanna buy you a drink," he leered. "And I'm gonna. And you're
gonna drink it. Then maybe we'll have ourselves a li'l bit of fun, right?"

He grabbed for her arm, and promptly found his wrist held in a restrictive grip. The miner turned to face one of the station security officers. "I believe the lady said that she wasn't interested," the officer said humorlessly. "You don't have a problem with that, do you?"

Damn' Federation bootlickers, the miner thought, always breaking into a working man's fun. But not this time. "Nope, no
problem, off'cer," he said, trying to sound harmless as a fly. "No problem at _all_--"

The miner yanked his arm down, pulling the other man off-balance, and launched his other arm out in a roundhouse punch that
connected squarely with the security officer's nose. Blood spattered, and the dazed man tumbled backwards into the arms of the crowd, followed by the swinging miner. Immediately his friends jumped into the fight, followed by two other security officers, and an old-fashioned Bajoran donnybrook rapidly broke out on the gambling floor.

Sighing, Quark hit the security button under the bar for reinforcements. "Why does this always happen on payday?" he
muttered to himself.

The station's chief security officer was on the Promenade, heading for his office when his combadge chittered. "Security to Odo."

Irritated, the shapeshifter slapped his badge--he had been looking forward to a quick nap in his container. "Odo here."

"Sir, we have a situation at Quark's--a fight between some miners and three of our men. Apparently one of the miners didn't
understand the word 'no.'"

Which meant there was a female involved. Of course. "I'm on my way," Odo muttered, changing course for Quark's. Thinking about it, he should have expected something like this--not only was it payday, but the miners had produced a bonus quota for the period. He was surprised they hadn't gone straight on to their favorite stunt: zero-grav tetherwrestling off a docking pylon. _Hulking morons._

A few meters down was the garish entrance to the casino, and Odo marched in with an authoritative, "What's going on here?"
Unfortunately, the question was never answered as he ducked underneath a flying chair.

"Good move," someone called. In his peripheral vision Odo saw Quark scuttling out from the protection of the bar. "Now if you'd please stop ducking and DO something, I'd be even more impressed," the short Ferengi hissed.

"Any suggestions?"

"Yes--try arresting those damned miners before they take apart my casino!"

Odo scanned the room--as usual, Quark was exaggerating. His officers had gained control of most of the combatants, including the one who had hurled the chair, but one was still harassing a patron. He headed over to the couple, intending to immobilize the larger man if necessary.

What he saw next surprised him, as the woman calmly grabbed her assailant by the wrist. She stepped to one side in a deft movement, twisting his arm behind his back as she did so. Abruptly howling in agony, the miner dropped to his knees in an attempt to keep his arm in its socket. "Gods, lady, let goooooo!"

The constable admired the technique but couldn't allow it to continue. Regretfully, he stepped over the ruin of a table and
approached the couple. "Madam, let go of that man," he ordered.

The woman glanced up, her face hidden in the depths of her hood. "And who might you be?" she said pleasantly, still holding onto the miner's wrist.

"Chief of security for this station. And unless you want to be brought in on battery charges, you'll let that man go."

"As you wish." She dropped the man's arm and stepped back gracefully. Automatically, Odo noted defining characteristics--female, 1.8 meters in height, endomorph (although it was difficult to tell with the robe), low contralto voice with an odd accent. And, despite her familiarity with self-defense, she wasn't a local--an offended Bajoran woman would've broken the miner's arm. "I wouldn't want to interfere with your prerogatives," she added.

Odo glanced at her sharply before taking a set of restraints from his pocket and cuffing the miner. "I assume this man was harassing you?"

"Well, he _tried_, anyway," she said, her tone evenly amused.  "When he wouldn't leave me alone, one of your officers tried to assist me, and he," she nudged the miner with one booted toe, "threw a punch at the poor man. That's what started the fight, by the way."

Odo grunted. "We'll have to get a formal statement from you for the charges," he said, frowning when she moved her head in a
vaguely negatory fashion. "You _are_ going to press charges, aren't you?"

"Is that absolutely necessary?"

He was surprised by the question. "It's your choice, of course," he said gruffly, judging the amount of damage scattered around
the casino. The miners were going to be in enough trouble even without an added charge of battery. "But we can always use every piece of evidence we can get, including eyewitness accounts." Something occurred to him, and he stiffened a bit. "If you're worried about further harassment, I can assure you--"

"That never even crossed my mind." The hooded head bowed for a moment, as if considering something, then nodded. "All right. But I'll need to go to my quarters first."


"Medical reasons," was the calm reply. "It won't take long. I'll come to the security section immediately afterward."

In the meantime Security would have its hands full processing the brawling miners. Odo sighed--he really needed that nap before he started slipping back to his normal form. "I suppose that won't be necessary," he said ungraciously. "I'll send one of my men to take your statement. Your name?"

For the first time she looked directly at him, eyes glinting in amusement from the hood's shadow. "Lucyna Chy Rell. _Professor_ Lucyna Chy Rell."

"Oh, this is just what we need," Major Kira Nerys said sardonically.

The Ops area for Deep Space Nine was a cavernous room, its architecture a reflection of the Cardassians' frame of mind--soaring, stark, and humorless. Lit sporadically by the glow from computer monitors and wall lamps, Ops didn't even have the wall lamps today-- another one of the station's various breakdowns had shorted out the room's lighting controls. "I suppose I should be grateful we haven't had to work by starlight before this," she added to the station's first-in-command.

Commander Benjamin Sisko tried not to smile--his first officer never responded well when she thought people were laughing at her.  "O'Brien is working on it," he said. "Apparently there was some kind of freak power surge in the capacitors which took out an entire routing panel." He glanced around the echoing room. "Actually, I think it's rather peaceful."

"You would." She paused. "Commander."

Sisko decided to let it pass. "Have Dax and Bashir completed their report on the artifact yet?" he asked instead.

"A preliminary one, yes." Kira picked up a padd, reading from it. "The torus is some kind of bionic construct, combining specialized cellular tissue with a nanomechanical base--although they're not sure how the base is wedded to the tissue matrix. One thing that they _are_ sure of, however, is that the torus contains a great deal of energy locked inside this matrix."

"Interesting. Could it be some kind of battery?"

Kira shrugged. "Dax is still working on it. She said she'd have another report by 1630 hours today."

"Hopefully we'll have light to read it by, then." As if in counterpoint to his words, the Ops lights flickered, then came on.
Sisko glanced at a station chronometer, then tapped his combadge. "Right on time, Mr. O'Brien."

"Thank you, sir," came the disembodied voice. "I'm still trying to track down the source of the power surge, though--the burn pattern on the panel is extremely strange."

Sisko grimaced at the ceiling. "This station was built by Cardassians, Mr. O'Brien," he said, allowing himself a wry tone.
"Strangeness shouldn't surprise you here. Keep me informed."

Temporary quarters on DS9 were a hit-or-miss affair. The station still didn't support anything approaching a true hotel due to its
location in the quadrant--and after the Cardassian retreat, Bajor wasn't exactly considered the vacation spot of the galaxy. Holosuites could be rented, usually at an astronomical mark-up, for overnight stays. But for researchers and traders on their way to the wormhole, the bunkrooms of their ships were usually the preferred place to stay.

Which made it especially odd that Professor Rell had chosen one of the ramshackle "rental quarters" for her stay, Odo thought. _Then again, who knows--maybe she developed a craving for a bar brawl._  He found the quarters that had been rented to the professor and touched the archaic doorchime plate. A moment passed before a low contralto told him to enter.

He stepped inside, and immediately noticed the music. His original introduction faded away, replaced by a surprised, "That's Earth jazz. Duke Ellington, isn't it?"

"Yes. I developed a taste for jazz during a seminar on Earth. I hope you don't mind."

He shook his head, noticing that in her quarters the professor went without her robe, dressed simply in a long white shift with deep temple sleeves. Her face--now that Odo could see it--was typically humanoid, with a small ridge running down the middle of her face and the edge of her jaw before joining to disappear down her throat. The skin was extremely smooth, reflecting the room's light as a pale glow that made her seem oddly fragile. The most curious feature about the professor was her eyes--large, almost hypnotic, and an unusual (for humanoids) shade of bright green. _Cat's eyes_, he thought suddenly, remembering an picture of a Terran panther he'd once seen. The catlike effect was emphasized by dark hair skimmed back from the broad brow and pulled into a knot. Apart from that one suggestion of wildness, though, Professor Rell was the picture of the classic academic.

_But classic academics don't start bar fights,_ he reminded himself. "Mmrph. You have excellent taste in music," he said gruffly.
"Now, about your statement--"

They sat down and Rell narrated a brief outline of the events leading up to the bar fight, correctly identifying all three Bajoran miners from pictorial records. This was recorded in the station's security log, along with her personal ID history for verification. "Is that all?" she finally asked.

"Yes. If we need anything more, we'll be in contact," Odo said, getting up to leave.

"If that's necessary, you should do it as soon as possible. I'm afraid I'm leaving in two days."


She paused, her face maintaining a smooth blank. "Personal business."

Odo frowned. "I'm sorry," he said firmly, "but I'll need to know where you're going. For the records."

Rell's eyes flashed once, almost in amusement. "I'm not being held on any charges, constable, and I've already given you my
testimony," she said, not unkindly. "Therefore, my destination is my own concern. If you need anything else, I will be more than happy to help you, but it must be within the next two days." She walked to the door, cycling it open for his exit. "Now, if you don't mind--"

Odo realized that he was being courteously ousted. Technically, there really wasn't any reason for him to know her destination--he had the deposition and she certainly wasn't being held on any charges. He was just suspicious as a matter of course, particularly when a woman decided to make polite evasions about a simple request. "And if I do mind?" he asked as a test.

"Then you should take me down to Security where we can debate this in a more formal atmosphere," she replied pleasantly. "Such as the presence of the station commander, perhaps--he might be interested in observing your interrogation techniques with crime victims." The green eyes clouded momentarily, and she pressed her hand to her throat. "Now, unless you intend to haul me off to the brig, I'd appreciate it if you'd leave. I have some health details to attend to, and they can be rather distasteful for innocent bystanders. _Male_ innocent bystanders in particular."

Considering his other options--hauling a supposedly ill female down to Security, dragging a Federation officer into what should be his baliwick, or staying there and witnessing some medical procedure that promised to be sickening--Odo finally decided on a semi-polite grunt of acknowledgement and stalked to the door. _Women. Infuriating creatures._

Wrapped in his thoughts, he didn't notice the door cycle closed behind him. Or the flash of light through the opaqued window.

Part Two

In the station school, Keiko O'Brien was demonstrating a cycle of chlorophyll function on the holoboard. "As you can see, plants with chlorophyll as their basis of light energy uptake requires an absorption spectrum of--Nog?"

Quark's nephew lounged back in his deskchair, rolling his eyes at the ceiling. "I don't know," he said sullenly.

"Did you do the homework reading?"

"No. I had to do something else for my uncle."

Keiko shut her mouth rather abruptly, managing a neutral face.  Among all her students, Nog was the one who tried her patience the most--his lying, cheating on tests, and subtly insolent attitude was becoming standard behavior despite all her attempts at discipline. And Quark wasn't any help--every time she had asked him to talk to Nog, he reminded her that Ferengi educational requirements were different from Federation ones. "If you want him out of your way, I'd be more than delighted to keep him home," he'd finish oilily.

And Keiko couldn't agree to that. If nothing else, she was determined to give Nog some sort of moral basis, a set of ethics that
Ferengi education conveniently overlooked in its focus on commerce.

_Even if it kills me,_ she thought, mentally gritting her teeth. "Plants that use chlorophyll require an absorption spectrum of violet, blue, and red wavelengths. I suggest you do your reading tonight-- we're having a test at the end of the week." She turned to the commander's son. "Jake, what are these three wavelengths in nanometers?"

Jake Sisko thought for a moment. "Um, the violet and blue wavelengths range from 430 through 480 nanometers," he said
hesitantly, "and red is. . .um. . .650 nanometers?"

"Right. The wide range of wavelengths are a result of chlorophyll a and b--"

The holoboard crackled once, its cutaway image of a geranium separating into static. Frowning, Keiko reached for the controls--and yanked her hand away as an electrical arc erupted from the panel. A stuttering buzz, then the sharp smell of ozone burst from the malfunctioning holoboard, nearly invisible flames licking out from louvered access doors.

The stink of ozone was replaced by a thick, searing smoke that clawed at the mucous membranes. Tears streaming from her eyes, Keiko fell back on Starfleet training as she gathered the frightened children and started shuttling them away from the burning holoboard.  _Get the kids to safety--the kids first._ The last of the students--a coughing Nog--passed her at a shambling run to the safety of the corridor, finally giving her the chance to hit her combadge:

"Ops--we have a fire in the schoolroom! Repeat, we have a fire!"

Chief O'Brien rummaged through the remains of the holoboard. "Here we go--that same char pattern," he said, pointing out the
blackened scrollwork to Sisko. "It's apparently the same kind of power surge, only this was much stronger." He looked understandably grim--as well as feeling that the surges were his responsibility he was also worried about Keiko, who had been taken to Sickbay for treatment. "Sir, I still can't find any excuse for these surges--I've checked the antimatter containment, the shield generators, even the tractor beam emitters. None of the ship's systems capable of putting out this much energy have had a glitch for at least a couple of days."

Sisko knelt down next to the chief, gently stirring the charred remains. "I don't like this. I don't like this at all," he growled, abruptly tapping his combadge. "Sisko to Sickbay."

"Sickbay here, Commander."

"Dr. Bashir, do you have an update on the students?"

"None of them were seriously injured. Nog and Keiko were the worst--they suffered some smoke inhalation." In peripheral vision Sisko could see O'Brien's fists clenching. "We have them both on tri-ox and a tissue cleaning agent--they'll be released in a few hours. Everybody else is fine."

Sisko wasn't aware of the held breath he released. "Thank you, Doctor," he said, his voice low. "I have another question, about your artifact--the report I received stated that it contained a large energy storage system. Could it be responsible for the power surges we've been experiencing?"

"Unlikely. It's been in a stasis chamber since we brought it aboard, and I can't think of a way it could have transmitted energy
through an s-field."

"Understood. Sisko out." The commander stared at the damaged holoboard, scowling. "Well, there goes another possibility.
Can we rule out Cardassian interference, Chief?"

"I'm not sure, sir. If this was done by the Cardassians, though, they've gotten a lot more subtle with their sneak attacks."

"Understood. Keep working on it--I'll speak to Odo about possible security leaks." He left the smoky schoolroom, still masking the fear/anger he had felt when he first saw the damage. _Jake had been in there. If something had gone wrong with the door, if the surge had been stronger. . ._ He cut off that line of thinking, tapping his combadge instead. "Sisko to Odo."

"Odo here."

"Would you please meet me in my office ASAP? I want to talk to you about a possible security problem."

He could almost feel the offense coming over the comlink. "I'm on my way," was the short reply.

"Are you suggesting that I've allowed Cardassian sabotage to go on right under my nose?" Odo demanded, the aforementioned
appendage mentioned quivering with indignation. "If you are, I certainly hope you have some kind of proof to back it up."

"I'm not saying that," Sisko replied pointedly. "I am simply asking you about the possibility of Cardassians infiltrating the station."

"Highly unlikely. Passage on and off this station is constantly monitored, and the only Cardassian currently aboard is that supercilious clothier," the constable replied, unmollified. "I suspect he's capable of many things, but hi-tech sabotage isn't one of them."

Sisko grunted. "And O'Brien says that none of the station equipment capable of generating that kind of a surge show signs of a
power overload," he added.

Odo leaned forward, hands splayed on the desktop. "If I may say so, Commander, I wouldn't rely on the stability of the station
equipment," he said. "The Cardassians could've planted any number of time bombs on the station--after all, they'd know where to put them to avoid detection. And even if this isn't the case, Chief O'Brien could be mistaken about equipment integrity. I realize that he may be Starfleet's best fixit man, but the previous tenants didn't exactly build equipment to last."

For a moment, Sisko wondered if the constable was trying to shift blame from his department. _No_--Odo was only trying to sift through all possibilities as thoroughly as possible, and he'd been on the station much longer than the Federation. "I'm aware of that, and O'Brien is still running diagnostics on the core systems," he replied tersely. "In the meantime, however, I would like you to keep an eye out for anything unusual, especially anything related to the power systems. It's possible that this is simply some kind of freak problem with the generators, but I'd feel better if I knew we could rule out outside interference."

"Flattery, Commander, will get you nowhere," Odo said dryly.  "But I'll have my men tighten up security around access ports and Engineering." The constable had his mouth open to continue when the door buzzer sounded. Sisko glanced through the window at the security officer standing outside.


The officer entered, carrying a medium-sized envelope. "I'm sorry to interrupt you, sir, but this was delivered to your office with a request that it be given to you immediately," he said to Odo, handing over the envelope. The constable dismissed his officer and glanced once at Sisko, as if to say, "I have nothing to hide" before slitting one end of the envelope. Out slid a small audiodisk and a folded sheet of paper.

Odo picked up the disk, concealing his surprise. _It still exists._ The Terran remix of Ellington's 'Take the 'A' Train," in mint
condition. He had been searching for a copy for a number of years, without success. And now somebody was giving it to him--

"Something important?"

"Hmm?" The shapeshifter looked up from his reading of the note. "I don't really know. I believe. . .it's a peace offering." He bent over the paper again, a slightly confused look on his face. "And an invitation to dinner."

Sisko's eyebrows lifted in surprise. "A date? Well. . .that's nice," he said hesitantly, studying his security chief's expression. "I
take it you didn't expect this?"

"No, I didn't--especially not right after my shift." Odo ignored the "date" reference--_she couldn't mean that. Probably wants to admit where she's going. . .or something. . ._ The brilliant blue of his eyes clouded for a moment, looking inward at some unspoken past. _But she could've come to Security to do that--so why invite me to dinner?  Damn, this doesn't make any sense._ "I suppose I'll have to go--it's too late to cancel," he mused, before remembering where he was. His attention snapped back to the office, the curmudgeon facade back in place. "If that's all you have to say, I'll get my men to work on the increased security," he said, gruff again.

Sisko nodded agreement, and the shapeshifter left. Alone, the commander released a brief smile. "Too late to cancel," he repeated.  Odo's shift didn't end for another three hours.

"Are you sure you want to have drinks here?" Odo said with distaste.

Rell glanced around the casino in a judgmental fashion.  "Compared to some of the places I've done research in, Chief, Quark's
is a tea room. Besides, I assume I'll be safer this time," she added, smiling slightly. She and Odo were seated at one of the far tables ringing the second level of Quark's place, a location that gave them an excellent view of the casino and bar below.

"The drunks usually don't bother to climb up this far," Odo replied dryly. "And having the chief of security as your companion may act as a slight deterrent." He was surprised at his own response--there wasn't the normal edge he felt around strange humanoids. There was something about this Rell woman that was almost--relaxing. _Maybe it's just the fact that she isn't calling me, "Constable,"_ he thought, with some satisfaction. "While we're on the subject, may I ask why you gave me a valuable audiodisk and invited me to dinner? This isn't a bribe, is it?"

She blinked. "What have I done that would require a bribe?"

"Withholding information on your itinerary, for one. That could be interpreted as interfering with station security procedures."

"Chief, if you are so determined to find out where I'm headed, I'm sure you could wheedle your docking computer for the information. I do have a flight plan on file, after all."

Odo was silent for a moment, staring at her thoughtfully. "I did wheedle the computer, as you put it," he finally said. "You have
permission to travel through the wormhole."


"May I ask why?"

"It's a long story."

He gestured to the empty table in front of them. "I know Quark's--we won't see a waiter for quite a while," he said dryly.

Rell gave him another quiet smile. "You have a point. All right; I'm an Illia historian and exoarchaeologist. I specialize in arcane
civilizations, myths, and legends--things that most historians wouldn't touch with a ten-meter pole. The wormhole, quite simply, provides me with a shortcut to an area that is virtually unknown to academic study. As I probably have the largest background on Gamma Quadrant history through my studies, I'd like to make one last discovery, find that one race on the brink of historical extinction and save its records for posterity." She sighed, looking wistful. "I know it must sound a little opportunistic, but I'm almost at the end of my career. I have to grab for whatever I can."

End of her career? If she's much past the midline of lifespan, he thought, I'll eat this table. "That's understandable, but it seems a
little strange that someone your age is already reaching the end of their career."

She shrugged. "Bad choice of syntax. What I meant was, the Illiae has a tradition of spending a set period of time in exploration," she explained. "We're a very footloose people. And in my case, I'm almost finished with my travels."

He grunted. "Mmph. We run across a lot of races in this station, but I've never heard of the Illiae."

"Not surprising. We're not members of the Federation and our numbers are quite small. In fact, I don't think I've spoken to another in years. And even if you knew of us, you probably wouldn't have ever met an Illia. Along with being footloose, we tend to prefer solitary lives."

Odo raised his eyebrows. "And yet you invited me to dinner."

"In apology for my behavior in my quarters--I don't enjoy being rude." Her face remained solemn, but a twinkle of amusement appeared in her eyes. "I'm also considered to be something of an atavism. I seem to enjoy company."

"And the audiodisk?"

"Ah, that." The twinkle disappeared. "I know this may sound sentimental, but I don't know many people who enjoy jazz," she said slowly. "Taking something like that into an unexplored area such as the wormhole didn't seem to be--appropriate, somehow. And I suppose I wanted to leave it with someone who would appreciate the music." She hurried on, seemingly embarrassed at her gift. "If you don't want it, I understand perfectly. No offense was meant--I wasn't sure if you have any cultural taboos regarding gifts."

"That makes two of us," he muttered.

She blinked. "Excuse me?"

He shook his head at his ancient frustration, fed by the woman's--admittedly innocent--comment. "What I mean was, I'm the
only member known in this part of the galaxy," he replied, ignoring the old nagging pain of his story. "As you've already noticed, I'm not a Bajoran. I was found as an infant in the Denorios Belt about fifty years ago, floating alone in a strange spacecraft. The Bajorans who took me in were very kind and raised me as one of their own." He plucked at the pale beige uniform, the shape he had eagerly learned the day he had been admitted to security service. "But I was an alien then, and I'm still an alien now. With our new knowledge about the wormhole, it's only logical to assume that my people--whoever they are--live somewhere on the other side."

Rell was silent, her expression unreadable. "I'm sorry. I didn't know," she said gently.

"It's nothing to be sorry about--it just happened."

"That's a very courageous attitude, Chief. But I'm still sorry. I chose my solitude, but yours was thrust on you against your will." Her expression blazed for a moment. "Your ability to survive and grow, even flourish, in an alien society--that's an incredible achievement. Has anyone ever told you that? You should be congratulated, admired."

Flustered by the unexpected praise, he shook his head. "I don't want admiration," he demurred.

"Or pity, I assume--not that I would insult you with that." She nodded, the faintest blush of pink tinting her cheeks. "But you're still an incredible man, Odo. Even though it took a bar brawl to do it, I'm very glad I've met you."

In a comforting gesture, she placed her hand over his.  Something clicked, then, a cellular memory key sliding home into a lock. Rell's eyes widened, and shocked by this burst of insight Odo found himself staring into the deepest, greenest pools, almost drowning in jungle tones. _How lovely,_ he thought almost absently, _how indescribably lovely._ The color seemed to intensify, then, refracting a spectrum of green, then yellow, red, blue, until the entire rainbow was held captive in her eyes. The rainbow wrapped around him, fragmenting as it did into a cloud of sparks, each with its own color and shape. He was pulled farther into the void, will and determination forgotten now as he was led along by a delicate glowing tether, the energy pure and strong, loving and alive----

when a bateared shadow fell across their table. "Is it my imagination, or is the unapproachable Odo actually here with a female?"  Quark squawked delightedly.

Rell gasped, jerking back. "Oh. . .oh, Goddess," she muttered.

The spell snapped. And Odo was back on the second level of Quark's, the glowing void already draining from memory. "What. .what the hell are you doing here?" he blurted angrily.

"I own the place, remember?" the Ferengi said, rubbing his hands together in a dry rasp. "My heartiest congratulations, constable.  I never thought you had it in you."

Never in his career had Odo ever been so tempted to strangle someone. "You'd be surprised at what I have in me," he said, barely managing not to make it a snarl. The vision was almost gone now, and across the table Rell sat with her head bowed, visibly shaken. "Is there a specific reason why you're annoying me, Quark, or are you just doing it out of habit?"

The Ferengi flashed a carnivorous smile. "It's a host's duty to make sure that his customers have everything they need," he said
expansively. "I simply wanted to make sure that you and your lovely companion were. . .satisfied." The lecherous pause, complete with a stare at Rell, sent an obvious message.

Abruptly, the professor snapped out of her fugue. "Considering that we haven't even seen a waiter yet, I can hardly say we're satisfied," she said icily, gazing at the Ferengi with an expression usually reserved for observing intestinal bacteria. "The decor seems to have been lifted from a Nausican brothel, the floor could use a good cleaning, your choice in music for the public rooms is apparently designed to deafen your customers as quickly as possible, and I can only assume you _do_ have a waitstaff somewhere that is capable of taking a simple order. In other words, Mr. Quark, I wouldn't suggest prancing around here and dropping your unappealing innuendos until you've demonstrated you know how to run a business."

Quark recoiled. The Ferengi-specific insult had hit its mark.  "I'll--I'll send a waiter over immediately," he said ungraciously, his
wrinkled face creasing even more in outrage. "And if I may say so, Odo--you've found your perfect woman."

They watched the Ferengi stalk away. "Somehow, I don't think he meant that as a complement," Rell said mildly.

"Somehow, I think you're right."

Part Three

Despite the owner's pique, the drinks were delivered quickly. Conversation turned to the Jazz Renaissance, a deliberate move on both their parts. Whatever had happened between them--that awesome descent into mystery--was too intense, too personal to be corrupted by words. The relative merits of Maynard Ferguson versus Miles Davis was a much safer topic, by far.

_Definitely safer,_ Odo thought, trying not to be distracted by the woman in front of him. _Definitely. Dammit, man, you must look like an idiot. There's nothing special about this woman, nothing at all._  Except for the fact that, for the first time in his life, he actually felt--comfortable? Yes, comfortable with a humanoid. There was none of the grudging resentment of having to maintain this strange bilateral form just to communicate, none of the prodding from her that seemed to classify all of his social interactions with women as "a monumental waste of time." Around Rell, he felt as if he could relax.

And how long had it been since he'd been able to do that?

He considered this as a weary-looking Dax and Bashir took a nearby table. Outgoing as usual, the doctor waved at them.

Rell noticed the gesture. "A friend of yours?" she asked.

"Not quite." Odo formed a polite smile, and immediately regretted it when Bashir took it as an invitation to come over.

"I must say, constable, it's good to see you out and about," he said easily. "I've always felt you spend too much time by yourself."

"I prefer it that way," Odo replied caustically. From the corner of his eye he could see Rell bowing her head to hide a smile.
"However, I'm a little surprised to see you and the lieutenant together--I didn't think you two were an item."

Bashir actually blushed. "Oh, ah, we're not," he stammered. "I mean. . .we're just taking a break. Together." He shook his head.  "What I mean is, we've been working on an object we retrieved from the wormhole," he explained, describing the torus and its energy storage system. "But we still can't determine how the system operates, or what it's supposed to power in the first place."

"It may not be intended to power anything," Rell said seriously, introducing herself. "Since I specialize in unusual artifacts, Doctor, I might be able to help you identify this object. If you'd like some help, that is. . ." she trailed off delicately.

Bashir glanced over at Dax, regret evident on his face. "Any help at this point would be extremely welcome," he finally said. "I
suppose we can always finish our drinks later."

The group reached DS9's science lab and Dax led them towards the stasis chamber. "We've kept it in stasis under Commander Sisko's orders," she explained. "With the amount of stored energy the torus contains, it seemed to be the prudent thing to do."

"Prudent?" In the pale pink glow from the chamber Rell's face seemed blank, washed clean from shock. "More prudent than you know," she said faintly. "That's a M'adux starmine."

Odo started, both at the definition and at the fear in her voice.  "It's a bomb?"

"A very powerful smartbomb. This torus can easily destroy a large planetoid or a space station. The stored energy you've been
reading," she tapped the monitor with its deadly data, "is only a fraction of the bomb's real power--it's actually used to start an uncontrolled nuclear fusion." She turned to Odo. "According to the histories I've read, these were supposed to have been destroyed millenia ago," she said urgently. "I don't know how one survived--it must have been overlooked somehow, before falling into the wormhole."

"And landing in our back yard," the constable said, examining the terminal data with a scowl. "Do you know how we can disarm it?"

"I don't think you can--the cellular matrix has a computer attached to it that activates the reaction. It also acts as a very sensitive
booby trap. If someone tries to take it apart or shut down the primer, they wind up scattered across a large portion of space." She touched the controls, frowning as data scrolled across the screen. "Goddess--it's already been primed. If you've been conducting invasive scans, I'm surprised your station is still in one piece."

"The stasis field," Dax said suddenly. "It must be keeping the activating mechanism damped."

"It must be," Rell agreed. "And if I were you, Lieutenant, I'd make damned sure that you had a redundancy power supply for that field--it's the only thing keeping us from turning into radioactive dust."

"Already on it," Dax snapped, sitting at the terminal and typing in commands. "I'm also slaving telemetry output to displays in Ops and Security for backup observation, in case we're not here." She glanced up at Bashir and Odo. "We have to tell the commander about this immediately."

"Excellent idea. You should also--" Rell coughed, wincing slightly as one hand came to cover her throat. "You should--" This
time she couldn't continue, her face contorting in pain.

Automatically, Odo put an arm around the professor to steady her. "Rell, what's wrong?" he demanded.

"Nothing--it's nothing." She controlled the pain long enough to give him a strained smile. "Do you have any sanitary facilities in this lab?"

Before he could answer Bashir grabbed for a tricorder on a nearby table and started scanning her. "Professor, I think we should get you to Sickbay," he said professionally.

"No, just leave me alone for a few minutes." Then she noticed Bashir pointing the tricorder towards her. "Don't do that, Doctor!" she snarled.

"I'm a physician--"

"No, you don't understand--" And she _moved._ For the slightest instant, Odo could've sworn that her body mass had somehow disappeared, dissolving from under his hands. Then it snapped back.  "The facilities--where are they?"

Quickly, Bashir pointed to a small door at the end of the lab and took her arm in the same gesture. "Do you need any help, any kind of medication?" he asked.

"No," she blurted. One hand closed over his own, and he was shocked by the skin's blazing heat. _She must be burning up._ "Just leave. . .me alone. Take care. . .of the mine." With Bashir and Odo's help she staggered to the small room, closing its door with a definite slam. The lock clicked.

Alone, the officers stared at each other in mute confusion, before Bashir started at an unexpected beeping noise--the tricorder's DATA INTERRUPTED signal. He touched a control to replay what the machine had managed to record and frowned. "This isn't making any sense," he muttered. "That sudden fever, the pain--Odo, do you know what's wrong with her?"

The shapeshifter could only shake his head. "She said something about a medical condition earlier," he said tersely. "No
details, just that it required privacy."

"That's ridiculous. And her insistence about the mine. . ." The doctor glanced over at Dax. "You do have that under control, don't you?" he asked.

Her fingers were flying across the touchboard, rerouting command paths. "Yes--triple redundancy power loop, linked directly to station generators. It's as stable as it can get, Julian."

Bashir didn't look very reassured, but turned his attention back to the tricorder's information. "This just isn't making sense," he

Odo repressed an urge to shake the slight man. "What exactly are you reading, Doctor?" he said through clenched teeth.

"Well, I'm not sure--that's the problem. Dax, you didn't expose this tricorder to the mine, did you?"

"No, why?"

"Because these readings--"

He was interrupted by a click, as the door opened and a pale but calm Rell walked out, the wrenching pain gone from her features. "I'm very sorry about that," she apologized, her hands clasped demurely at her waist. "As well as embarrassed--with all the excitement about the starmine, I completely forgot about my condition."

Bashir took her hand gently--all traces of that killing heat were gone, now. "Nothing to be sorry about, Professor," he said, masking his confusion. "But I'd still prefer you to come to Sickbay for an examination."

"That won't be necessary," she said faintly, hands moving to smooth her cloak.

"I'm afraid I have to insist."

"And I'm afraid I have to decline. I appreciate your concern, Doctor, but there's nothing you can do about this. For my race, it's a perfectly normal reaction."

"To what?" Odo asked, incredulous.

She smiled, then, the expression slightly sad. "My impending death."

O'Brien was hanging almost upside down over one of the coupling junctions surrounding the DS9 docking ring. He was
struggling to reach a control panel set on the inside of the junction's shielding, cursing under his breath at long-armed Cardassian designers.

"I can't get at the bloody thing," he finally snarled to the yeoman holding his equipment pouch. "Give me an 0.2 spanner--if we have to, I'll take a chunk of this damned plating off."

Overland maintained a straight face as he handed the chief the requested tool. O'Brien adjusted the grip, lengthening it until it would reach the panel, then stuck his arm inside the junction again. "Okay ... okay ... got it." Obediently a nearby panel swung down, revealing one of the ring's main power conductors. Puffing a bit, O'Brien slid down from the junction's plated form. "I'll never understand how the Cardassians managed to get into space with this kind of engineering," he grunted, staring at the panel. "All right, plug into that grid and run your diagnostics."

"Yessir." The yeoman removed a small control box from the pouch, running two red wires from it into the conductor's exposed
circuitry. Bleeps and bloops sounded in the narrow access corridor as the probe sent delicate filaments of energy into the conductor.  "Readings are nominal," Overland said, scanning the results. "Sectors 1, 2, 3, 4 report no sign of unusual power loads." The yeoman frowned a bit. "Sector 5--"

The chief waited for a report, got none. "What is it?"

"I can't get a firm lock on sector 5, sir. It keeps fluctuating."

With the internal stabilizers? O'Brien wondered. That power flow shouldn't be able to fluctuate-- "Disconnect the probe!" he

"But it's stabilizing--" The words were cut off when Overland snapped stiff, his eyes bulging as a strangled scream whistled through his throat.

Without thinking O'Brien launched himself at the yeoman, knocking them both away from the still-connected probe. Even so, he still caught a nerve-shorting edge of the power overload that had nearly electrocuted the yeoman. The men tumbled to the deck, protected by armored support panels from the electrical hell suddenly snarling above them. As O'Brien watched in horror, blue spikes of energy leapt from panel to panel, crisscrossing the upper half of the corridor in a lethal web of energy. The surge continued on through the ring's service corridor, branching off into the six docking pylons as if following a damp trail of fuel. Aged circuitpanels melted under the onslaught, slagging into their original components--stunned onlookers swore later
that the entire system seemed to shriek.

And with that final shriek, the docking ring shut down.

"You're sure this is a bomb," Sisko said intently.

"The internal structure doesn't fit any kind of explosive device known to the Federation," Dax explained. They were the only ones in Sisko's Ops office--Bashir had gone to Sickbay to treat incoming wounded from the docking disaster, Odo had escorted the professor back to her quarters, and an increasingly harried Kira was doing her best to maintain some sort of control over the station's other systems. "But its energy storage could definitely do a great deal of damage if handled improperly. Without further data, I would have to agree with Professor Rell's opinion."

"Can we get it off the station?"

"I don't know if that would be wise." Dax touched a control panel and a graphic of local space formed on Sisko's desk screen.
"With the docking ring down, we have two options; one, to transport it to a specific point in space; two, to load it into a photon torpedo shell and blow it away from the station. If the mine is as powerful as Professor Rell claims, neither transporter nor torpedo range are enough to move it safely away from the station. We'd also have to consider what effect an explosion of that size would have on the wormhole."

"Damn." Sisko fell back in his chair, raising a fist to his mouth.   "So you're saying we should just keep it in SciLab?"

"For the moment that would be safest, Benjamin. Once power has been restored to the docking ring, we can take it off-station on a runabout."

He turned away, mentally churning over the recent events. The surges that had damaged the schoolroom and disabled the station's docking ring, resulted in five people, including O'Brien and Overland, landing in Sickbay; the mysterious Professor Rell with her knowledge of Gamma Quadrant explosives; Odo's unusual friendship with the professor--none of them seemed to be related in any obvious way, but there had to be a connection. "None of this is making sense," he growled softly, staring across the room. "And I'm rapidly losing people who can provide me with answers."

Dax nodded, understanding what her former protege was thinking. "O'Brien only received a superficial shock, although the
yeoman with him is in critical condition. And Odo is with Professor Rell at the moment."


Dax frowned. "Talking, I think."

Sisko turned at that comment. "What do you make of that relationship?" he asked intently. "I mean, doesn't it seem strange to you that Odo would pick this particular time to make friends, especially with a woman he's only known for two days."

The Trill turned thoughtful, trying to synthesize what she knew of Odo with his recent behavior. "I think we may be dealing with a unique situation, here," she said gently. "I agree, the relationship seems to have developed rather quickly, but try looking at it from his point of view--despite his gelatinoid physiology, Odo has become indoctrinated in Bajoran culture, even to the point of taking on the gender identity of a male. However, reconciling this identity with his unknown background--his basic _alienness, if you prefer--has been extremely difficult for him. This difficulty has turned into an automatic barrier with people, especially females--after all, Odo doesn't naturally have the instincts we use to guide us through the dance of the sexes."

He snorted at her lyrical description. "What does this have to do with Professor Rell?" he said sardonically.

"Rell is an unusual woman--intelligent and helpful, but also quite reserved. She's extremely protective of her privacy, and seems to come from a rather isolated background. Does that sound familiar?"

Sisko raised his eyebrows. "Birds of a feather, you mean?"

"Perhaps. This could simply be a case of two solitary people finding common ground in each other."

"Common ground?" he repeated. "Or deliberate planning?"

"Unknown. But. . .I would hope for the former. For Odo's sake."

"Odo's romantic happiness isn't my main concern at the moment," he said curtly. "I've already asked Lt. Primmin to do a
background sweep on the professor, see if we can find any kind of
grudge against Bajor or the Federation--she's been out in space long
enough to have formed any number of alliances. In the meantime, I
don't want her anywhere near that bomb. Is that clear, Dax?"

Dax favored him with a serene smile. "Of course. I'm old,
Benjamin, not deaf."

Moving gently, Dr. Bashir finished running the tissue
regenerator over the yeoman's chest. "Well, that's that," he said to no
one in particular.

On one of the medbeds O'Brien was sitting up, wincing at the
bandaging around his hands. "Is Overland going to be all right?" he
called, an unspoken fear in his voice. _The boy was a good worker, a
good lad. . ._

"We'll have to wait and see, Chief," Bashir said, programming
a series of commands into the bed. Humming obediently, the
biomonitor swung back into place over the yeoman's body. "He
suffered second degree burns on arms and torso and some shock
damage to the cardiopulmonary system," the doctor continued, turning
back to his other patient. "Luckily, we got to him in time for
resuscitation and treatment. The only thing we can do now is wait."
Bashir paused for a moment to consider the weary man in front of him,
then made a decision. "Chief, if you're feeling up to it, I'd like to ask
your opinion about something."

O'Brien gave the still form a last glance, then nodded. "I'm all
ears, Doc."

Bashir picked up the tricorder he had taken from SciLab,
adjusting it so that O'Brien could see the readouts clearly. A touch on
the controls, and delicate waves scrolled across the instrument's tiny
screen. "These are bioelectric wave readings from a humanoid woman
on board the station," he explained. "I took them when she had some
kind of a seizure."

O'Brien examined the data, whistling. "That looks more like the
power output from a warp coil," he ventured. "Are you sure your
tricorder's working properly?"

"It checked out normal. These levels are correct," Bashir replied
insistently. "This amount of bioenergy is absolutely unheard of in a
humanoid lifeform. Now, watch what happens during the seizure." He
tapped another control, and a chronological reading appeared over the
waveform. "She wouldn't let me record all of it, but I extrapolated a
curve from the data I already had. Look at the time when the seizure
reached its peak, and then look at the electrical output."

O'Brien took in the information, then glanced up at the doctor,
comprehension in his eyes. "That's when the power surge hit the
docking ring," he said slowly.

Bashir nodded. "I think I'd better have a talk with Professor
Rell, don't you?"

Part Four

"Why didn't you tell me?" Odo demanded.

Rell sat in lotus on her quarters' narrow couch, quietly watching
the shapeshifter pace. "I don't normally go around telling people that
I'm dying," she explained, clasping her hands in her lap. "If only
because it's usually not appropriate to the conversation."

"Spare me the humor."

She bowed her head. "I apologize," she admitted. "If we'd had
more time, I would have told you. But I didn't think--Odo, will you
please stop pacing?"

He jerked to a halt.

"Sit. Please." She patted the seat next to her, and he reluctantly
took it. Her paleness of earlier had deepened into the translucence of
fine porcelain, limning her face in a delicate light. "I'm sorry, Odo,
more than you know," she continued in a calm voice. "I never thought
something like this would happen, not so close to my termination."

"That's what I don't understand, Rell," Odo snapped. "What
exactly happened at Quark's? Why. . .why am I so confused about
you?" He stood up again, striking one hand against his thigh in
frustration. "Two days ago, you were simply someone whose
deposition I took. True, I admired your taste in music and your ability
to handle yourself, but that's not enough to make me--" He paused,
scowling. "Take an interest in you."

Rell was silent for a moment. When she spoke again, her voice
was sad. "Odo, have you ever been in love?"

He spun to face her, fists trembling at his sides. "That's none of
your business."

"Yes, it is. Because I'm afraid. . .oh, damn it." The pale
porcelain of her skin flushed for a moment, her expression wavering
between joy and resignation. "I've fallen in love with you, Odo--dear,
grumpy Odo," she said quietly. "I didn't mean to, and I had no right to
involve you like this. But in Quark's, when we Touched. . .I felt like I
had shared my soul with you. I couldn't help myself."

He snorted. "You've only known me for two days."

"Yes, and I've spent more time with you than I have with
anybody else in decades," she replied evenly. "Illia are alone so much,
they learn to make accurate character judgements quickly. You're an
intelligent and courageous man, even with your fear of intimacy--"

"Now wait just a minute!" he interjected. "I am not afraid of
intimacy--I just prefer to be alone."

"Really?" She nodded once. "All right. Then leave. I won't
hold it against you in the least--it's the most logical answer to this
problem. Just walk away, no strings attached."

Odo's mouth worked as his glance swung between Rell, and the
door, then back to Rell. Frustrated, he sank back onto the couch
platform. "I can't," he said plaintively. "I can't leave you." He made a
hopeless gesture, hands clutching at the air. "I don't want to leave you.
And--I don't understand it, but I don't want you to leave me."

The doleful look on his face caused her to smile. "I don't want
to, either," she said, still smiling. "But Odo, even if I wasn't dying, I
wouldn't be able to stay with you."

He scowled. "Because I'm not human," he said, suddenly

"You're. . .what do you mean?"

Odo realized she'd never seen him shapeshift, never seen him as
anything but the humanoid security officer. Sudden hope burst into life
inside him, and just as quickly turned to ash. _What she's seeing is a
lie,_ he told himself harshly. Once he shapeshifted to his normal form,
she would know what he really was--a true alien among strangers.

He stood up, carriage erect and proud. "This is what I mean,"
was all he said, before his flesh began to melt, shifting through the
spectrum to a warm amber as his body mass quickly deformed into a
gelid puddle on the deck. The puddle quivered for a moment, then
started forming a series of shapes--a Klingon targ, a large armchair, an
arch support column--before finally growing to man-size again.
Features formed out of the gel, colors shifted, until Odo was standing

"And now you know," he said simply. He waited for the
expected reaction--shock, amazement, perhaps disgust--that even his
colleagues demonstrated when he shifted. But Rell sat there, her eyes
wide and luminous. Finally she unfolded her legs and stood up,
allowing her gown to flow around her like a waterfall of milk.

"I should have guessed," she said. "You seemed--familiar,
somehow. I knew I'd never met you before, but I still felt comfortable
with you."

"Comfortable? What do you mean?"

"I mean this." And she began to shift. Her outline seemed to
grow darker, more defined. Body mass shrank up to the center of this
definition, while the space left behind was filled with a brilliant,
coruscating light. Finally, she appeared to be nothing more than a hole
in the space of her room, woman-shaped and leading into the interior of
Eternity, when the outline abruptly collapsed.

And Odo was faced with a being of pure energy, rounded into
the approximation of a sphere and gently strobing with all the colors of
the rainbow. Astounded, he could still hear her voice in his mind. _As
you can see, I'm not human either,_ she projected, laughing gently.


_Of course. We're more similar than I thought, after all._

"I can see that," he murmured in awe. "And this is your natural

_What there is of it, although I can form a corporeal body when
necessary._ The sphere stretched, extruding a tendril of light towards
him. Cautiously, he extended his hand, not knowing what to expect.
The tendril curled around his wrist, feeling like a warm ray of sunlight
turned malleable. _I should've guessed the truth when you explained
about being found near the wormhole. I knew there weren't any
humanoid species matching your description. If I'd only seen your true

Hope returned, fired by a new thought. "You've seen my kind
before?" he demanded.

_Of course._ The thought carried a sensation of knowledge,
something specific that she understood about him. She paused, another
tendril snaking down in a comforting caress. _But you wouldn't know
that--Odo, the Illia are from the sector of space you call the Gamma

He could feel his jaw sag open from shock. "My God . .how?
How did you get here?"

_The same way you did--through the wormhole. It was an
accident, and I didn't understand the phenomenon then._ The light
almost seemed to shrug. _It wasn't important--after all, I was supposed
to be researching unknown civilizations. When I reached the Alpha
Sector, I took the form of a humanoid female for convenience, and I've
been continuing my studies ever since. Then, when I heard about the
wormhole, I knew it would allow me to return home when I was ready
to die." A chord of blue and violet rippled across the sphere, washing
over him with the colors of a Bajoran sky. "And so here I am, ready to
go home when I meet you. On this side of the wormhole, of all

The certainty in the disembodied voice sent a thrill through him.
_Odo, your people and mine are cousins of a sort. Don't you remember
anything about them?_

He shook his head. "I was an infant when the Bajorans found
me. The only thing I remember isn't a memory so much as a feeling--of
the importance of justice," he said eagerly. "That's why I went into law

_Of course. How appropriate, considering what happened--_

She was about to continue when the door chime sounded. The
sphere flashed, sending out more projections until Rell was standing
next to him again, still holding his hand. "Come," she said before he
could object.

The door slid open and Dr. Bashir entered. "Oh, Constable," he
said, nodding politely. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but I'm afraid I have to
talk to Professor Rell about her tricorder scans."

Rell squeezed Odo's hand, wordlessly urging him to patience,
before waving the doctor to a chair. "I suspect you've found something
unusual about my bioelectric output," she said calmly, seating herself on
the couch.

Bashir looked taken aback. "Well, yes," he admitted. "But
that's not exactly why I'm here. You see, I compared notes with our
chief of engineering--I'm afraid the timing of your seizure coincides
perfectly with the timing of the last power surge. Considering the
massive energy readings I obtained from you, I have to assume that
there's some correlation."

Rell's throat tightened. "I had hoped. . .Goddess, I didn't
expect it to happen so quickly," she murmured. "Doctor, I assure you I
wasn't aware that my outputs were affecting the station."

"Understandable." The physician looked distinctly
uncomfortable now. "The problem is, O'Brien and I have made a graph
of the previous surges and they show a steady increase in intensity. If
you remain on board, I believe you'll produce enough energy to destroy
the station within the next three seizures."

"Oh." She clasped her hands in her lap, resignation leaching
into her posture. "I understand. I'll leave immediately."

"No!" Odo blurted.

Surprised at the outburst, Bashir shook his head. "That's the
other problem. The last surge knocked out the docking ring's power,"
he said, almost apologetic. "You can't leave in your vessel, and there
won't be any ships near enough for transport for at least three days.
Unfortunately, I don't think we have that long."

Rell looked serious for a moment. "Hmm, I see." She finally
nodded. "Then there's no other way. I'll have to be beamed out into


Odo shook his head violently. "Out of the question!" he barked.

"I'm sorry, Odo, but it has to be this way," she said firmly. "I
can't endanger your station, you must understand that."

"Understand? All I understand is that you're planning to commit
suicide by transporter!"

"You're forgetting what I really am," she said quietly, reaching
out to lay a hand on his arm. "I'll be perfectly fine in vacuum, I assure
you, and with any luck I'll make it through to the other side of the
wormhole before my last seizure. Given the choice," and here she
looked slightly embarrassed, "I _would_ like to die in my own part of
the galaxy. Melodramatic, I know, but true."


"Hush, Odo. It's for the best." She smiled at him, and all the
galaxy seemed enclosed in that smile.

Until the smile turned to a grimace. "Oh, no. . ."

Her face seemed to collapse under the onslaught, and this time
her entire body followed suit, convulsing in pain. "Doctor!" Odo

"I'm on it." Bashir grabbed Rell by the shoulders, easing her
thrashing body into a reclining position. Odo took his position, holding
her down as gently as possible, as the doctor moved back to snap out
his tricorder's wand and pass it over the woman's convulsing body.
"Energy patterns peaking again," he said urgently, replacing the wand
with a hypo from his uniform pocket. Leaning in, he injecting the fluid
against her neck. "This is metabonil--it normally slows body functions
for hypersleep. I'm hoping it acts as a damper on her energy output."

"I wouldn't count on that." Odo quickly explained about Rell's
true form.

"Gods. Well, if she's currently in a corporeal form, there's a
chance that the metabonil will still work on that matter," Bashir said,
scanning the tricorder's readings. "Yes, something's happening--the
seizure isn't as intense as before. But--"

His next words were cut off by a vibrating tone rising in pitch.
When it seemed too high to stand, Rell snapped rigid, her eyes turning
into glowing spheres.

"Odo--let her go!"

The shapeshifted obeyed, just in time to avoid an outline of
white light springing out from her body. The aura seethed with streaks
of blue static, crackling in the suddenly electric air; a energy tendril
abruptly broke away and streaked for the room's power outlet.
Instantly the aura followed, almost blinding the others with an actinic
flash of light as it flowed into the station's power system.

Dax tapped at the computer controls, reviewing data from her
last scan of the starmine. She was as impressed by the brilliant
engineering as she was repulsed by its purpose--to use organic tissue in
killing other organics seemed the height of obscenity, somehow.

The screen wavered for a second. Dax frowned more deeply
when the graph she was studying reformed, then broke up again.

"That isn't--" she murmured, before the lab was enclosed in a
huge pulse of energy. The stunned Trill was thrown back against the
far wall from the blast that shorted out, then slagged her monitor.

Above the unconscious woman, the starmine sat in its stasis
chamber, protected from the direct force of the blast by its s-field. The
energy consuming SciLab's main terminal sent random tendrils of
destruction throughout the room, shorting out equipment wherever they
touched. The tendrils were reflected as pinkish highlights on the mine's

Highlights that abruptly turned to copper as the stasis field died.

"Sisko to Dr. Bashir."

Bashir looked up from the now-reformed body of Rell, slapping
his badge. "Bashir here."

"Doctor, we've just recorded another power surge in SciLab--do
you know if Lieutenant Dax was still there?"

"I don't know, Commander--oh, my God." Blood drained from
the young physician's face. "Do you know if the surge knocked out the
stasis field around the starmine?"

"All systems inside SciLab are down," Sisko growled, staring at
the reports on his screen. "We have to assume that the stasis field is
gone. Where are you, Doctor?"

"I'm in Professor Rell's quarters with Odo."

"Good--I want all three of you down at SciLab. Now. Sisko

Bashir turned to the reclining woman, her eyelids fluttering now
as she woke up. Her physical form had returned as soon as the
discharge was completed, but she was still woozy. "Professor--" he
said gently.

"I heard, Doctor." She swallowed, allowing Bashir and Odo to
help her into a sitting position. "Goddess, I'm sorry. I never should've
come here--"

"Don't say that." Odo took her hand gently, the intensity of his
emotion evident in the simple gesture. "The surges weren't your fault.
You couldn't have known about what would happen to the station," he
murmured, blue eyes staring intently into green. Ever so briefly, a
twinkle appeared. "Besides, if you hadn't come here, you never
would've met me," he murmured. "And that would've been a horrible
loss, right?"

She chuckled once, in gratitude. "A horrible loss, indeed." A
nod, serious now. "All right. If the stasis field failed, the starmine
must have been activated. And that _is_ my fault." She waved off a
protest from Odo. "It is, and you know it--I should have told you to
blow it off-station immediately. Since I didn't, I'll have to defuse it

"Can you do that?" Bashir asked. "I mean, are you strong
enough to do something like that?"

"I don't know, but I don't have much of a choice, do I?" She
shook her head, her exhausted expression changing to a bitter
resolution. "I have to try. I won't have the death of this station on my

The scene outside SciLab was chaos. As firefighters and
technicians worked on sealing off the corridor from the rest of the
station, Sisko studied the glowing sheet of energy blocking off what
should have been the entrance to SciLab. Next to him, a frustrated
O'Brien--cursing the synthskin on his hands--worked on one of the
control panels.


He turned. Bashir, Odo, and a recovered Rell were standing
behind him, all three of them grim. "Is Dax in there?" Bashir asked.

"Yes. And we can't get to her." The commander gestured at the
partially dismantled control panel beside the door. "When the surge
went up, a restraining field sealed off the lab. Security sensors that
weren't on SciLab's power grid are now reading the starmine as an
uncontrolled energy source and won't release the field."

"Can't somebody override the sensors?"

"I'm trying," O'Brien grunted, hands buried in the panel. "But
it's not going to be easy--bloody Card engineering took so many
shortcuts, it's almost impossible to rewire the sensor controls without
shorting out the entire panel."

Sisko's dark gaze fell on Rell. "Professor, can you explain any
of this?"

"It's a long story, Commander, and Odo can give you a report
on it later." She peered past the shimmering field, trying to see where
the starmine had been stored. "With the loss of the stasis field, the
mine's probably begun a countdown," she said, pitching it to be heard
above the background of hissing circuitry. "If the historical data is
correct, we have about twelve minutes before it detonates."

A muscle jumped in Sisko's cheek, his only evidence of
agitation. "And we can't even evacuate the damned station," he
growled. "O'Brien?"

"I'm trying, sir. The sensors are refusing all override
commands, and power inputs are shielded. I can try cutting through--"

"We don't have time," Rell interrupted. She glanced at Odo
once, before moving past Sisko to the barrier. "I can open a hole in the
field--once I do that, Odo, you go through and get Dax. Then we'll see
about the mine."

Before the others could object she spreadeagled herself against
the field and began to shift. Instead of collapsing into a sphere, the
woman-outline seemed to adhere to the energy wall, spreading out until
it formed a multicolored blotch. The blotch became a circle, then a very
thick doughnut, its center irising open until it was wide enough to admit
Dax's body.

_Now, Odo_

The constable shouldered past Sisko and dissolved into a fluid
gel. With an energetic burst the fluid arced gracefully through the hole,
gathering into a puddle on the other side. Odo quickly reformed,
picking up Dax's limp figure in his arms. "What happens if she touches
the edges?" he shouted over the noise from the lab.

_I'll protect her from the field--hurry_

Dax slid through the opening into Bashir's waiting arms,
followed by Odo's again-gelid form. As soon as they were clear the
hole irised closed and the blotch drifted free of the field, this time on the
inside. It floated purposefully to the starmine, settling like a glowing
fog around the torus. _The countdown's farther along than I thought--
we only have two minutes until detonation. Please time this at. .
mark,_ the sourceless voice said. Sisko tapped the time into a wall
chronometer, and a soft monotone began chanting the remaining
minutes. _Commander, how far can we throw the mine into space
using a site to site transport beam?_

"Twenty-five hundred kilometers."

_That won't be far enough._ The fog shifted, became thicker.
_There's only one other way. What's the most direct path from SciLab
to the hull?_

"The air shafts," O'Brien said immediately. "Those louvered
panels near the ceiling--they vent directly into the main exhaust ports."

A pseudopod snaked out from the fog, slapping the cover off
one panel. It slipped into the exhaust system, feeling along the walls
with blinding speed until it located a shielded baffle leading into the
main port. Energy flexed--the baffle melted, allowing the tendril to
snake out into space. More energy was pumped along the tendril,
expanding it to an immense size. If there had been observers on that
side of DS9, they would have been treated to the bizarre sight of the
station acting as a "pot" for the bell of a huge, softly glowing flower.
The plantlike form seemed to orient on the wormhole for a moment,
before turning away to an uninhabited area of space.

_I've formed a shunt for the energy which will send the
backwash out of the station towards coordinates 007-28-66_ Rell
explained dispassionately to the station's staff, her formless body
turning darker around the starmine. _The nearest inhabited planet in that
direction is three light years away, so there's no chance of injury--
energy from the explosion should dissipate harmlessly into space._

"Are you sure?" Sisko shouted. "About the station?"

_I'm betting my life on it._

He recoiled. "What's going to happen to you?"

The fog pulsed for a moment. _That, I'm not sure of,_ she
finally admitted, _but it doesn't matter now. Now, please, all of you,
back away from the field._

The others began exiting into the corridor. Only Odo remained
at the field. "I'm staying," he said stubbornly.


"I don't need to remain in human form--the light won't damage
me," he insisted. "I'm not leaving you."

"Constable, you can't stay here!" Sisko commanded.

"I'm not in Starfleet, Commander," Odo reminded him. "This is
a Bajoran security matter, and I'm staying with it."

The two glared at each other in a silent battle of wills. Finally,
Sisko gave him a curt nod. "Be careful."

"I will. Now get out of here." Odo turned back to the field,
sensing the turmoil in Rell's now-churning fog.

_Thank you._

He nodded once, allowing his body to shift into its natural form.
Internal sensory systems, released from their artificial form of eyes and
ears, spread out over the surface of his external membrane and provided
a constant flow of stimuli. He could "see" that Rell intensified her
form, no longer light fog but a thick, orange smoke that seemed to crawl
over the surface of the bomb.

"30, 29, 28. . ."

"Everybody out of the corridor!" Sisko ordered. The techs
headed for the still-open exit, followed by O'Brien and Bashir carrying
an unconscious Dax. The commander was the last to leave, slapping the
mechanism that would seal the geared door.

Wondering if he had just closed the hatch on his security chief's
death chamber.

Part Five

The Rell-smoke's tint raced up the tendril, out through exhaust
ports into the external bell. The "flower" now turned a glowing orange,
forming an eerie silhouette against the surrounding starfield.

"19, 18, 17. . ."

Bioflow adjusted to damp and channel the coming deadly flow,
the consciousness that was once Lucyna Chy Rell aligning with its
memory stream. Events stuttered past in tiny, bright images, recalling
all the days of her past with the purity of a hologram.

"11, 10, 9. . . "

And at the end there was regret for the damage caused to the
station, delight in the complexity of a jazz riff, the bittersweet tang of

"7, 6, 5. . ."--

and an unexpected happiness--

"3, 2. . ."--

finding one of them out here, who would have imagined it--


The starmine detonated. And Odo was bathed in a brilliant white
glow; light, almost unbearable in its intensity, poured a ferocious
lifeheat into every corner of the corridor, stabbing into him with a
glorious ferocity. Membrane sensors spread wide in surprise,
absorbing the radiation with a unexpected thirst, an eagerness only half-
remembered from dreams.

_Ahhh, yes, this is what it was like,_ he found himself thinking.

Outside, the flower contracted, then surged open in a burst of
nuclear flame. Starmine energy belched from the flower's throat,
streaming out from the station like a firestream from one of Earth's
ancient chemical rockets. DS9 had acquired a deadly comet's tail that
would light that corner of the quadrant for days to come.

The unexpected thrust was enough to rock the station from its
orbit. In Ops, Kira swore under her breath as the room jerked to one
side from the blast, guidance computers chittering data on the orbit
degeneration. "Fire thrusters 3, 4, and 5!"

Guidance thrusters on the side opposite from SciLab came on,
creating a steady burn against the explosive force.

"Thrusters holding, sir," an ensign reported.

She studied the guidance screens, not realizing that she was
holding her breath. The thought _Cardassian engineering wasn't meant
to take this kind of punishment_ kept running through her mind, a
triphammer slamming at her until the guidance sensors registered a
stable tri-axis again. As the thrusters cut off she realized what she had
been doing, and released the breath with a gasp. A little breathlessly,
she shouted, "Will somebody tell me what the hell that was?"

The ensign at the Guidance controls looked up, his face slack
with disbelief. "Major, I don't think you want to know."

Seconds clicked by, turning into minutes before the nuclear hell
streaming out of the Rell-flower finally died. As its fires dimmed the
flowerform began to crumple in on itself, turning black at the edges as it
drew back from the glowing cloud it had spurted into space. Slowly at
first, then gaining momentum, the form slid back into the station's
exhaust shaft, fusing the burst edges as it went.

Until it pooled on the floor of SciLab, an exhausted ball of
energy come home to rest.

With the starmine gone the sensors dropped the containment
field. Odo pooled into the room, not bothering to reform until he knew
that Rell was still alive. He huddled around her amorphous form, afraid
to touch her, afraid _not_ to touch her. *Rell--Rell, please--*

The glow seemed to struggle, bleats of color streaming through
the mass. It edged out towards a humanoid outline, then sank back in
exhaustion. Tried again, gaining the barest edges and losing them.
Hesitantly, the amber mass moved closer, gliding along the energy's
perimeter like a shy oilslick. The distance between them shrank to a
centimeter, to half a centimeter, a millimeter as the shapeshifter strained
all his senses to hear the faintest pulse.

Then, faintly--_odo?_


The slick lunged at the glow eagerly. It flowed over it, around
it, encapsulating it in a joyous shellform of relief. For the first time in
his life he didn't need vocal chords to speak, or hands to touch, or any
alien sensory limb to communicate with--they Touched. And a gentle
rainbow light coruscated wherever matter and energy touched, as the
forms writhed together, communicating everything through this most
basic sense.


_you understand_

*oh, Rell*

_like this_


The void burst open again for both of them, its glittering trail
wrapping around them like an otherworldly caul. Formless, they found
form within the other, and for an endless moment----

they were----


*oh, yes*


The void receded again. And the glow struggled again, drawing
strength from its partner to form a human outline. Carefully Odo
continued to feed her energy, until she could maintain enough coherence
to form a body again. Then, and only then, did he reform, kneeling
next to her.

"Rell," he said, gathering her in his arms with uncommon
gentleness. "Please--"

She shushed him weakly. "Thank you for staying with me,"
she whispered. Even in this alien form he was grateful that he could
still Touch her, feel her spirit move within his. "I'm glad. . ." She
moved her head the slightest bit, a last flicker of life in her eyes. "Have
to tell you, love. . .your people. . ."

He was silent, straining to hear her words.

"Your people. . .they're looking for you, Odo." Rell smiled,
Touching his cheek. "_They're looking for you._"

And with that smile, she died.

They found Odo later, crouched over an empty space on the
floor. The physical remnants of the being known as Lucyna Chy Rell
had leached away, off to rejoin the energy constant of the universe. But
in that spot, he thought he could still Touch her, feel her laughter move
within his mind.

A humanoid put her hand on the constable's shoulder. "Odo?"

He flinched violently from that contact. It wasn't Touch.
"Leave me alone," he rasped

Obediently, she did. And he stayed there for while longer,
oblivious to the movement around him.



Quark's eyebrows came up almost to the tips of his ears. "You
never cease to amaze me, Odo," he commented as he placed the drink in
front of the constable. "I thought you didn't like drinking."

"I don't." Gazing steadily at Quark, he picked up the tankard
and drained it in a gulp. "Another one."

A rare moment of insight touched the barkeeper, and he
understood. "This is about the professor, isn't it?" he said cautiously.
When Odo didn't reply, he continued, "She was a lovely woman, in
spite of her temper. I actually thought you two looked good together."

A single, murderous glare convinced the Ferengi that the other
end of the bar was a much more congenial spot. Moving down as
casually as possible, he missed Kira's entrance into the casino.

She approached the shapeshifter with care. "Odo?"

He turned, silently acknowledging her presence.

"Security said I could find you here," she continued, not sure of
what to say next. She'd always been blunt with the constable, a
directness that they both appreciated. This time, though, something told
her that a softer approach was needed. "I'm. . .I'm sorry about
Professor Rell," she finally said, almost shy. "You two seemed to get
along well."

"Well?" Odo contemplated the synthale in front of him, wishing
for a quicker oblivion than it could provide. "I suppose you could say
that. For a female, she was remarkably tolerable."

In the end, he had found, that was the only way he could live
with the memories--keep them submerged beneath the surface, tucked in
mental pockets he would only examine in his dreams. Subconsciously,
Rell was One he had Touched. Consciously--

Well, she had been remarkably tolerable for a female.

Kira's smile flickered briefly at his comment. "We've finished
categorizing the materials in Rell's ship for shipment to the Daystrom
Institute," she continued. "She left behind enough artifacts and
datadisks to start a museum--a lot of historians are going to be very

"Good for them."

The Bajoran decided to get it over with as quickly as possible.
"Rell also had a large music collection," she said, businesslike. "Fairly
eclectic, and a lot of of it is scheduled for the Institute. But she kept a
separate section--all jazz. It was marked to be delivered to you."

With that, she picked up the small case she had brought with
her, putting it on the bar. Odo turned his head slowly, focusing on the
case. He picked it up, as if searching for something, then laid his palm
across the smooth surface. A terrible tension seemed to drain from him,
then, eased by this last gift from the mysterious professor. "Jazz," he
murmured, just loud enough to hear. "She did like jazz."

Kira could sense Quark moving down towards them, drawn by the intensity in their attitudes. "Um, if you want to talk, or anything ..."

"She knew what I am," he said abruptly, his voice clear and
low. "Who I am." He turned to the major, dim barlight reflected in pale
blue eyes that seemed to hold an endless pain. "All she told me was that
that my people were looking for me. Now she's gone." He touched the
audiodisks with a curious gentleness. "And Gods, Kira, I don't know
which I regret more."

Kira glanced at the Ferengi, then back at her friend. "Let's go," she said gently, tugging at his arm. "Somewhere. . .where we can talk."

Absently, Odo nodded. Reaching into a pocket for some
credits, he tossed them onto the bar in front of Quark. The Ferengi
glanced at the credits, then at Kira. He grimaced once, before pushing
them back.

"This one's. . .on the house," he grunted.

Copyright 1993 by Melanie Miller. All rights reserved.
This means you.

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