Deep Space Nine: Reflections, Chapter Five
Written by Karen Dunn
Little by little, Odo awoke and memories returned.
He remembered the crash and drowning in floods of relief when he realised that he had saved the lives of his friends. He remembered feeling duty bound to work out where they were and how they could get home before the others woke. He remembered walking into a wall of fatigue as soon as he tried to move.
Then there was nothing.
He didn't assume his comfortable humanoid shape straight away, instead taking a little time to examine the space into which he had puddled. He was aware of soft earth below him and the runabout above, though the expected low hum of the craft's generators was ominously absent. He formed part of himself into a slender finger and reached out tentatively, feeling the jagged metal edge of the runabout hull. So, he had slipped out through a hull breach. He did not waste time hoping that the atmosphere was breathable. If it wasn't, Kira and O'Brien were long dead and his efforts would have been for nothing. If it was, they would need his help making repairs.
He braced the "finger" against the floor of the craft and allowed himself to pool through the opening until he stood in his familiar form, a slight frown on his face as he surveyed the wreckage.
The runabout was completely irretrievable, though it looked like some-one had been attempting to access the main computer from the engineering panel; cannibalized wires and circuits tangled together in a hotchpotch of engineering that could only be O'Brien's doing. Of the Chief and Kira, though, there was no sign.
He stepped out into the late afternoon sun, shadows lengthening around him, and scanned the horizon, one hand raised to shield his eyes in an unconscious habit he had picked up from his days as a solid.
The grasslands around him led to a group of small hills some one hundred yards away, whilst behind him lay the remains of a copse of trees which the runabout had demolished when it crashed.
There wasn't a soul to be seen.
He tried to gather his thoughts. Kira and O'Brien had obviously gone to explore the area, but how long ago? The runabout was cold, stone cold. The jagged hull breach had none of the expected smuoldering edges of a recent crash. They must have been gone at least a day.
Which suggested they had run into trouble in some shape or form.
A thorough examination of the site turned up no clues as to which way they may have gone and Odo found himself feeling useless all over again. It would help if he didn't feel so wretched tired. The crash must have taken more out of him than he thought and a full eight hours of regeneration would do him the world of good.
But not just yet. For now, his duty lay in finding his friends.
He began walking.
An hour later he was ready to topple. The grassland had soon given way to hills that he would normally have jogged over. As it was, they may as well have been mountains. Fatigue he had only ever experienced as a solid was eating through him, and he knew that he would have to rest soon.
He didn't know how far he had come, but the shadows were long as the sun sank slowly behind the horizon and without knowing what creatures might find him, he did not relish the idea of regenerating in the open air.
So he forced his tired body up one more hill.
And found paradise on the other side.
Having known only the Cardassian Occupation for most of his life, Odo had never seen Bajor as it was at its peak. He imagined, though, that it must have looked something like the scene he saw before him.
A small stone house was nestled snugly into the hill, wisps of smoke twisting from the chimney in lazy spirals. A sturdy barn stood just beyond the house, its doors standing open as two small children played an obscure game of chase in and out of its musky depths.
Odo could make out what looked like chickens stalking bossily between the barn and the house, pecking fussily at the ground as they expertly avoided the children's' running feet; and from within the barn itself came the snorting whinny of horses.
Pulling himself up to his full height, he made his way carefully down the hill just as the door to the house opened and a large, dark haired woman stepped out. She was carrying a pan beneath her arm and stood just outside the door throwing handfuls of grain to the chickens.
As if sensing the stranger, she looked up and stared open mouthed at him for a moment before turning and calling into the house, "Lars!"
Odo paused for only a second at the panic in her voice, before fatigue screamed at him to get inside and sleep. He trudged across the grass towards the house as the woman gathered up the now curious children and shooed them inside just as their father came out.
Lars was built smaller than his ample wife, though he was an inch or two taller. His dark hair was cut straight across in a fringe whereas hers hung to the middle of her back in a heavy plait. They and the children were all dressed in simple overshirts, though the girl and her mother's were longer and Lars and the boy also wore trousers.
He met Odo halfway and regarded him with a cautious eye, "Can I help you, friend?"
Odo nodded wearily, "I would be grateful for a place to rest for an hour or two."
The woman ran up to join her husband, making no attempt to greet their visitor, "Lars! He's a deviant!"
Lars waved her away and smiled at Odo, "You look in need of a rest. You're welcome to stay."
He began to lead him towards the house, but the woman tugged at his arm, her voice a ridiculous whisper, "Lars!"
"The Creator teaches tolerance, Rissa. He's done us no harm."
"We should report him. It's the law."
Lars sighed, "It's an old law, Rissa."
"The law is the law."
Odo hesitated, warning bells ringing in his mind, and began to turn away, "I don't want to bring you any trouble. Your help has been appreciated…"
Lars shook his head, "Forgive my wife. We don't often receive visitors, Mr…"
"My name is Odo."
"Stay till morning, Odo. We've plenty of room and the night is too cold to spend sleeping beneath the stars."
Odo sighed wearily, knowing how good a full night's regeneration would make him feel, but unwilling to muddy the waters between this man and his wife, "Thank you, but no. I'll just rest for an hour or so then I must go. I'm searching for some friends. We were travelling together and got separated."
Lars smiled, "The night is setting in and it'll be dark before you've gone more than a mile. Rest a while and build your strength. We'll find your friends in good time and you'll be of no use to them if you're dead on your feet."
Odo considered the man before him. Honest and friendly he presented a direct contrast to his suspicious wife. He wondered briefly what she had meant when she called him a deviant and what sort of trouble his presence was liable to cause between them. He could see the children, both small and fair haired, as they peeked curiously from the door of the house, wondering who this stranger was who had gotten their mother so worried. The little boy flashed Odo his father's beaming smile and whispered something to his sister before they both burst into giggles.
Rissa turned and gave them a disapproving glare and they scampered back into the house as their mother turned to their visitor, "If you're staying, come in. The children's routine has been disturbed enough."
And she turned and walked away.
Lars patted Odo on the shoulder, "Come and meet them, Odo, before they burst with curiosity."
The evening passed quickly and unexpectedly pleasantly, taken up with bouts of song and childish games, mainly hide and seek which the seven year old boy, Darriel, won easily time after time; much to the chagrin of ten year old Lisha. As he allowed the boy to climb into his lap for the fifth time that evening, Odo realized with some surprise and more than a little guilt, that he had not thought about Kira and O'Brien for over an hour. Perhaps Lars had been right. Perhaps even the most single minded of people needed to rest once in a while. He certainly felt a lot better, though the fatigue still bubbled beneath the surface.
But what of them? What of the Chief and the Major? What were they doing whilst he was warm and comfortable and safe? He knew nothing of the people of this planet, but it was obvious that they had both religious beliefs and a structured system of law - a system of which Rissa was particularly fearful. Had they managed to stay clear of trouble or were they languishing somewhere waiting for him to help them?
Noticing his new guest's hesitation, Lars caught his giggling son up in his arms and ruffled his hair, "Time for bed. We have a busy day tomorrow"
Odo shook himself out of his reverie and stood, giving Rissa a short bow, "I'll sleep in the barn, if it's more convenient. I'll be warm enough."
The woman regarded him through narrowed eyes, then pulled a blanket off of the sofa, "There's hay in the loft. Breakfast is at sun up. You're welcome to join us."
He took the blanket and, with a nod to Lars, headed for the barn, closing the door behind him.
He lay the blanket out in the far corner of the hay loft, deep enough into the shadows that it could not be seen should anyone decide to enter the barn. He had enjoyed his evening in the company of the children, even if their mother was less than trusting of him. He understood her fears and the compromises she felt she was making in allowing him to stay and he promised her he would do nothing to give those fears a firmer grounding.
For now, though, he was achingly tired. He stepped onto the blanket and let go, allowing control to fade as his regeneration cycle began. As consciousness left him, he could hear Lars and Rissa arguing.
Morning came quickly and Odo stepped from the barn feeling better than he had in a long while. He shook the remnants of straw from Rissa's blanket and folded it carefully over his arm before heading for the house.
Darriel and Lisha were playing chase in and out of the poultry, scattering fowl in screeching flurries of wings and feathers as they went. They called to him as he approached and Darriel abandoned the game to grab at Odo's legs in an unexpected and somewhat disconcerting hug. Although he had read up on infants and children, he had very little hands on experience with them and their curious, tactile nature was taking some getting used to.
He simply was not used to being hugged.
He patted the boy somewhat gruffly and walked with him to the house.
Rissa was cooking at the stove, adding plates of cooked meat and eggs to the already bountiful table. She looked up briefly and Odo held out the blanket, "My thanks. I slept comfortably."
When she made no move to take it, he laid it across the back of the sofa and stood somewhat awkwardly, looking at her back as Darriel climbed onto a stool and began to help himself to breakfast. Rissa turned and rapped the boy on the knuckles with the spoon, making him yelp, "Mama!"
"Fetch your sister and wash up before you eat."
With a grumble, the child did as he was told.
Odo moved to help Rissa as she turned with yet another dish, "Allow me."
She pulled it away, "I can manage, thank you. Help yourself to breakfast before it gets cold."
Odo sighed and gave up trying to get on her good side. He had seen fear induced bigotry before and knew he would not succeed. Having no need for food he began to look for another way out of this uncomfortable situation, "Where is Lars."
She didn't look up, "He left early. The harvest won't bring itself in."
Odo found Lars standing precariously astride an already full wagon, securing another armful of corn to the load. The man waved heartily when he saw him, wiping a sleeve across his sweating brow, "Odo!" He eyed the scythe Odo had found in the barn and held balanced in his unskilled hands, "Come to help?"
"I've never done this before, but I'll give it a try."
Lars jumped down off the wagon and slapped him on the back, "It's not that difficult. Darriel has got it licked and he's only seven."
"He doesn't help with the harvest?"
Lars laughed, "In a couple more years he might actually be taller than the scythe, then he'll help." He reached out and adjusted Odo's grip, "Hold it like this or you'll cut your foot off."
After an hour of trying to teach Odo how to safely wield the tool, Lars sat down on the wheel of the wagon and laughed, "Well, you were right about one thing. You're certainly no farmer."
Odo gave a gruff laugh, "Nature and I have never had a chance to get to know each other properly."
With a chuckle, Lars went to the front of the wagon and tossed a large basket to him, before tucking a second under his own arm, "Well, we'll start at the beginning, then." He plucked the head off of the nearest stalk of corn and dropped it in the basket, "Do you think you can do that?"
Odo growled, "I think I can handle it."
They walked up and down the rows of corn for the next hour, slowly filling the baskets with the fresh ears. Finally Odo turned to Lars, "Why does Rissa call me a deviant?"
Lars stopped walking for a second to look at him, then carried on through the corn, "You don't know?"
Odo increased his stride to keep pace, "I'm a traveller. I've always been a traveller."
"Your face, my friend."
"It's not that different from yours…"
Lars stopped again and gazed steadily at him, "It's different. In the eyes of the law, that's enough."
Odo nodded tugging at a stubborn ear of corn, "Then why haven't you reported me?"
Lars reached out with his knife and snicked the ear from the stalk, "You're a good man, Odo. The stories we're told as children paint all deviants as monsters, evil demons who come in the night and steal naughty boys and girls." He laughed nervously, "I've even told them to Lisha and Darriel." He shrugged, "The deviancy law is an ancient one, stemming from the war with the savages and our fear of anyone not of the people. The savages are long gone but the fear remains." He looked up at his new friend with a sad smile and returned the knife to his belt, "Not everyone around here will wait to get to know you before they judge you, my friend. And I have to think of my family first. It's' best you move on as soon as possible."
Odo nodded, understanding the man's reluctance to trust him too far. He reached out and pulled another ear of corn from its stalk and dropped it in the basket.
They worked in silence for a few minutes before Lars lowered the basket and wiped a sleeve across his dripping brow, "You have to understand, Odo. The law is strict on these matters…and Rissa…"
"I understand. I'll stay to finish the harvest and then I have to find my friends."
"You don't have to…"
"I owe you that much."
Lars pulled a canteen from round his shoulder and took a deep swig of the water, pouring a long stream over his already sopping hair. He gasped and shook his head vigorously, showering Odo with tiny droplets, "We'll go over the routes tonight, my friend. There aren't many places they could have gone."
Odo placed his basket next to Lars', refusing the offer of a drink with a small shake of the head, "Your help is much appreciated…"
A cry from the distance cut him off and they turned as one and ran back down the track in time to see Lisha come crashing through corn stalks that were taller than she was, her face a crumpled red smudge of tears and dirt. Dropping the canteen Lars knelt down and caught his sobbing daughter in strong arms, "What is it, Lisha?"
"Darriel…" She paused gasping, trying catch her breath through the tears, "He was collecting berries on the cliff path…"
Lars was off and running before she could finish the sentence.
They could hear Rissa calling long before they reached the edge of the corn field; and Odo recognised the suppressed panic of parental anxiety as she tried to reassure her son without frightening him.
He knew what they would find at the cliff edge, but the sight of the big woman stretched out on the grass, leaning precariously over the precipice, arms reaching desperately for the child they could not yet see, filled him with pity.
His experience with children was limited in the extreme, but he remembered all too well the heart rending feeling of helplessness he had gone through when the Changeling infant he had been caring for died in his hands. That the infant had given back to him the gift of shape-shifting with the last of its strength, had touched him deeper than anyone would ever know.
He had spent the day as a hawk, soaring high above the promenade, screeching his melancholy cry of mourning, in the vain hope that whatever remained of his charge would know what it was to be a bird. What it was to be truly free.
That night, he had wished for the first and only time to be solid again, so that he could cry for a life that was never to be.
Secure in the knowledge that he could not stand by and watch some-one else go through the same nightmare, he lengthened his stride and reached the cliff top a good ten metres ahead of Lars. Rissa looked up at him in desperation, her fear of him momentarily forgotten, unshed tears glistening in her eyes, "It's Darriel."
He knelt next to her and peered over the edge.
The boy was balanced on a protruding ledge far below them, the wind that had seemed so refreshing in the fields, biting into his tear stained face like a knife. His arms were stiff as he tried desperately to grip onto the rock face as if fear itself could pitch him over. Perhaps if he were a little older, a little more in control of his fear, he would have stood a chance; but at seven years of age, his body trembling, his scrabbling hands finding no purchase against the sheer cliff face, Odo knew it was only a matter of time before he slipped. With only the rocks of the quarry floor to break his fall.
He laid himself out full length, stretching as far over the edge as his current form would allow and called to the child, "Darriel. Can you hear me?"
Darriel didn't move, his eyes tight shut as he tried to blot out what was happening to him, hoping against child-like hope that if he ignored his plight for long enough it may just go away. Odo sighed and edged forward a fraction of an inch, "Darriel, I know you're afraid, but you have to listen to me."
The boy's head turned just a little, as if he were listening which Odo took as a good sign, "I need you to lay yourself down flat on the ledge, Darriel. The wind won't feel as strong."
Darriel's fingers whitened as he hugged harder at the rock face and Odo heard a small whimper as the little head shook, "I…can't…"
"Yes you can." His mind raced as another whimper, louder this time, trembled through the child's body. If he allowed the boy to give in to fear now, only tragedy would follow, "Remember how you hid in the cupboard last night? I couldn't find you, could I? The cupboard was so small that I didn't think anyone could possibly hide there. But you did - you made yourself smaller. That's all you have to do. Do you hear me, Darriel? Curl up as small as you can and hide from the wind."
Slowly, ever so slowly, Darriel lowered himself to his knees, his imaginary hold on the cliff face never breaking, as Odo silently willed him on. He heard a sharp intake of breath from Rissa as she got to her knees, "He'll fall!"
"No, he won't."
The panic, held in check for so long, began to betray her, and she gripped Odo's arm, "He has to keep still! Why are you telling him to move?"
He tried to slip the hold on his arm without hurting her, but her nails were digging into his Changeling skin and she wouldn't let go. He reluctantly turned his attention from Darriel to Rissa, prising her fingers away one at a time, "While the wind is buffeting him he will panic. If he makes himself as small as possible the effect will be lessened. We have a better chance of getting to him safely if he is calm. Now, please.."
Lars reached out and took his wife's shoulders, pulling her gently away, "He knows what he's doing, Rissa, leave him be."
She shook him off, fury replacing fear as she squared up to her husband, "What kind of man are you that you leave your son's life in the hands of a deviant?"
He reached out again, "Rissa…"
"No!" She slapped his hands away, her face reddening as she stepped closer, "If he falls you will be to blame…"
The small man did not flinch, matching her fury with a little of his own as he grabbed her arms and blazed at her, "Who was it allowed him to play so near the edge? How many times have I told you…"
With one smooth movement Odo pushed between them, treating each to a taste of his most malevolent glare, his voice like thunder, "This is not helping."
The silence which followed was almost tangible, broken only by the quiet sobbing of Lisha as she sat a little apart from the warring adults, her knees hugged to her chest, her face buried in her arms. Rissa spared her husband a final flash of anger before going to her daughter and gathering her into her lap, whispering words of love and comfort into her hair.
Lars made to join them, but Odo stopped him with a hand on his shoulder, "Lars…"
The man looked up at him and Odo saw fear and distress fighting for dominance in his eyes. He would never understand this solid need to hurt some-one you loved just to make yourself feel better and he knew that Lars and Rissa would have much to talk about once this was over. For now, though, he needed the man's help. He kept his voice low as he led him back to the cliff edge, "I'm worried about the stability of that ledge."
They lay flat and peered over once more.
Darriel was now curled up in a tight, motionless ball, leaning slightly into the minimal security of the rock as far away from the edge as possible and Lars realised for the first time how precarious his son's position was. Had it been anyone else who had fallen, the ledge would have given way long ago. He scrambled to his feet, "I'm going down to get him."
Odo stopped him again as he actually began to swing his legs out over the precipice, "Fetch a rope. I'll lower you down."
Lars pulled himself to his feet, "There's rope in the barn. I'll be two minutes."
And he set out across the grass as swift as a hare.
He missed it at first, and it was only when the small cry came for a second time that he realised Darriel was calling to him. He leant out as far as he could once more, "I'm here, Darriel."
The boy did not uncurl himself, some inner self telling him that he would be safe if he stayed still, and his voice was muffled, "…are mamma and papa fighting..?"
"Not any more. They were a little bit scared. It's nothing to worry about."
There was a pause, "…mr odo…"
"…I'm scared too…"
Odo smiled softly, reminded of the time Molly O'Brien had gotten herself lost on the Promenade and had crept into his office, bottom lip trembling, to tell him in a very direct manner that she was scared and about to cry and would appreciate it very much if he found her Daddy for her, "I know you're scared, Darriel, but we'll have you out of there soon. I promise."
"…when my grass lizard got caught in a spider trap papa promised that it would be all right, but it died…" Another pause, "…I don't trust promises…"
"You can trust mine."
Darriel fell silent for a moment as he considered this and Odo heard Rissa join him at the cliff edge, her voice quiet, her temper reigned in, "Is he all right?"
"As well as can be expected."
"I've sent Lisha back to the house. It's best that she's not here."
Odo sighed, "He is not going to fall."
She flashed him a resigned smile, "I'm not a child, Odo, I heard what you said about the ledge. Now I will thank you to leave me alone with my son."
With just a moments hesitation and one last look at Darriel, he left Rissa to stammer calming platitudes to her son, knowing deep down that the boy had wisdom beyond his years and was not expecting to survive his ordeal.
And knowing just as certainly that he, Odo, did not make promises lightly, had never broken one, and did not intend to start now.
A cry from the cliff edge snapped him out of his reverie and he bolted back to Rissa's side. She was stretched out on the grass again, almost toppling, screaming her son's name over and over.
Odo threw himself flat next to her and looked over the edge. As he feared, the ledge had given way, though, to his utter amazement, Darriel was clinging on to the few jutting fragments, legs kicking at empty air, eyes streaming with silent tears as they locked onto Odo's and pleaded with him to keep his promise.
In that second of contact, Odo knew that it was time to stop pretending, to stop lying to these people. As Darriel's hands began to slip, he called out to the boy, "Close your eyes." And in a final act of trust, the child did just that.
Rissa watched in terror and amazement as her son lost his tenuous grip on the rock face and fell. As something shot down at breakneck speed and wrapped itself in amber coils around his waist, snapping him to a halt.
A grunt of not quite pain from Odo pulled her gaze back to him and she screamed again. His arms! His arms were gone. Replaced by undulating rivers of …she knew not what. She backed away as fast as she could, "Sweet Creator…"
Odo ignored her as he concentrated on pulling Darriel safely back to the top of the cliff. He was aware of her scrambling away from him, of running feet, and knew that his time in this idyllic haven was over. He set the gaping child on his feet and released him, allowing himself to reform into his familiar humanoid shape.
Rissa was gone. He could see her running towards home, her skirts flying. He looked down at Darriel, "I think it's time I went."
The boy was gazing up at him in awe, "How did you do that? Is it because you're a deviant?"
"I'm not a deviant, I'm a Changeling."
A frown, "I don't know what that is."
Odo gave a short, gruff laugh, "Thank your Creator for that."
"Are you here to hurt us?"
"I'm a law enforcement officer. I don't hurt people, I protect them."
Darriel scratched his head and frowned, "Than why do you need to run away from us? You saved me from the cliff, papa and mamma will want you to stay."
The boy tugged at his hand, "Of course they will!" He led Odo back towards the house just as his parents came into view, Lars running full pelt ahead of his wife, "You shouldn't worry so much, Mr Odo. Mama says there are enough worries in the world without us inventing new ones…" And then he was being scooped up in his father's arms, the breath squeezed out of him as the relief filled hug intensified, "Papa. You're hurting me!"
Lars released his son and turned to Odo, "Thank you. Thank you, my friend."
"You're welcome." He paused, "I can explain…"
Lars held up his hands, "You've given me my son's life, Odo. How you did it is not important. Just remember what I said earlier. Not everyone will understand."
They walked back to the house together, Rissa's eyes never leaving Odo's back as she walked hand in hand with Darriel. They were almost home before her courage allowed her to approach the strange man, "I'm sorry. You scared me. I wasn't expecting…"
He shook his head, "Apologies are not necessary."
Lisha met them half way, shouting and pointing excitedly, "Papa! Horses!"
Across the grassland they could see a posse of horsemen, still little more than specks in the distance. With his keen eyes, Odo could make out more than the farmers, "One of them is carrying some kind of standard."
Lars looked at him in shock, "Are you sure?"
There was a strangled gasp from Rissa, "Oh, Creator…"
"What is it?"
She backed away, shaking her head, "The merchants. I forgot about the merchants."
"Merchants? What about them?"
She looked up at him in wide eyed shock, "Oh, Lars, I was afraid…I was afraid for the children…"
Lars stared at her aghast, "Rissa. What have you done?"
Tears welled up in her eyes and spilled unchecked, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry! I sent word to town last night. I told them about Odo."
"You did what?"
Rissa took his arm, pleading with her husband, begging him to see what to her was obvious, "He's a deviant, Lars."
He shook her off, fury sparking in his eyes, "He saved our son's life!"
She faltered, her voice a pitiful wail, "I didn't know that would happen, I didn't know."
Without another word, Lars ran to the barn and untethered two of the horses, flinging simple saddles onto their backs before leading them outside. He handed one of the tethers to a somewhat startled Odo, "Quickly. I can get you to the next town. I've friends there."
Rissa helped the inexperienced Changeling fasten the saddle securely, her face wet with tears of fear and shame, "Odo, I'm sorry."
Swinging himself into the saddle, her husband glared down at her, "Look after the children, Rissa. I'll be back by nightfall."
"What should I tell them?"
"Tell them the deviant left at sunrise and that I've gone into town for supplies."
As Odo pulled himself cautiously astride his mount, Darriel ran up to him, raising his arms to be lifted. The Changeling hoisted the boy into his lap and succumbed to the now expected hug, "I'll see you again, Darriel."
Odo smiled, his flat-lipped smile, "Promise."
Darriel nodded and Odo returned him to the ground.
The child looked up at him with earnest eyes, "Remember, if you get in trouble make yourself small."
And then Lars was at his side, his mount tugging impatiently at the reigns.
With a final look at the little house and its family, Odo followed his friend over the hill and out of sight.