Changed 
Perception

... continued ...

The next morning, Odo decided it would be prudent to leave with his houseguest early, in order to avoid a lot of questions from the O’Briens and various station bypassers who would be traveling the corridors somewhat later. As it was, he and his Bolian-seeming companion met few of the station’s residents as they headed for the Promenade, a fact for which Odo was deeply grateful as their conversation progressed.

He began to realize that his own experience of humanoid culture was vastly different than this changeling’s -- lonely as he had sometimes been, for all of the times he had felt like an outsider, he still had a colloquial experience of what it was to be a humanoid, to be a Bajoran, that this Link-reared changeling plainly lacked. For one thing, she had no sense of what was considered polite conversation by humanoids and what was not -- after a polite inquiry from Odo about how she had passed the night, she had replied brightly:

"It was very interesting. I found that by attaching myself to the surface of the door, all of the sound outside was magnified -- you coupled with the Solid, didn’t you?"

Odo winced as what felt like every ounce of blood he had rushed to his face. "I’m a Solid myself now," he sidetracked the question with a reminder. "You should learn to call my wife Major Kira, or Nerys."

"Not both?"

"No, not usually."

"Which is better?"

"Possibly Major Kira, unless she tells you otherwise. I don’t think she likes being called ‘the Solid’, though."

"Oh." The changeling considered this information solemnly. "I do not wish to offend. I will call her Major Kira, or Nerys if that is what she wishes."

"Thank you." Odo finally began to breathe easier.

"Major Kira -- you coupled with her, did you not?"

So much for being home free. "That’s not usually a question that humanoids care to be asked."

"Why? Are they ashamed of it?"

"Not exactly -- it’s difficult to explain. It’s just something they consider to be very private. Most humanoids have only one other person whom they link with. Coupling is something intimate that they share, as a sign of their link. It’s not the link itself."

"I will have to wait until I understand this humanoid way of linking."

They arrived at the Infirmary, and Odo drew a deep breath of relief. Dr. Bashir, whom Odo had contacted earlier with a rather cryptic summons, awaited them in his office, a mug of strong tea with milk steaming in front of him. His hazel eyes shone bright with interest, and he studied Odo’s acquaintance curiously.

"What's this about you having a patient for me, Odo? Are you the patient, Miss --?"

"I do not have a name."

"I see." Bashir flicked a puzzled glance at Odo, who nodded to the changeling beside him.

"Show him."

The changeling’s Bolian features blurred and refocused into a seamless mask much like Odo’s own face. Bashir’s eyes widened.

"A Changeling ..." The words came out as a long breath. "Who is she, Odo?"

"A Changeling who has been exiled from the Great Link. I’ve invited her to stay here on the station."

"How can I help?" Bashir looked at the pair curiously. "I still know next to nothing about Changeling physiology, I’m afraid."

"No, but you do know something about humanoid physiology. As you can see, she’s more adept at forming humanoid faces than I am, but she wants to form one that’s unique. I thought you might be able to help her with holograms and models of various humanoid features. Something -- appealing." Make it as easy for her as you can. Easier than it was for me, at any rate.

Bashir smiled his warmest, most charming smile. "I think I might be able to do that. I might even be able to help you come up with a name." He extended his hand to the Changeling, who took it wonderingly. Her own hand went liquid around Bashir’s for a moment, causing him to look startled, if not displeased.

"Thank you, Dr. Bashir," she said solemnly. "That will be appreciated."

Odo left the "patient" in the doctor’s capable hands, and exited the infirmary to the strains of an animated discourse on hair and eye color. He went to his office, and lost himself in a sea of dataPADDs, including one on which he recorded a careful report for Captain Sisko about his new ‘deputy’. It may be a few days before she’s ready for that. Still, it was with a strange sense of contentment that Odo went about his morning’s work. Another changeling was on the station, one who seemed eager to be his friend. It seemed like the Prophets had rewarded him after all.

Odo was still buried in the same reports two hours later, when the doors to Security <swooshed> open and an exuberant Julian Bashir bounded through the entrance. The doctor’s hazel eyes sparkled. He looks even more pleased with himself than usual, Odo observed dryly to himself. "Yes, doctor?"

"Odo, I have someone I’d like you to meet." Bashir stepped back and gestured to a figure that stood obscured behind him. "Allow me to introduce your new deputy."

Odo had prepared himself for accurate -- the female changeling’s representation of a Bolian had been quite precise. He had prepared himself for something acceptable, and even pleasing to the eye. He had not prepared himself for this.

The top of her head was level with Julian’s eyebrows, and crowned with a mane of dark auburn that poured like a river of blood down her back. Her skin was pure cream, sprinkled with rose petals where it stretched over her high cheekbones. Her mouth was generous, with a lower lip that looked like it had already been handed over to passion. Her nose was Bajoran, with four delicate ridges. Her eyes were enormous, wide-set, shining; twin jewels of clear, shimmering amber. Her hips were trim, her waist almost impossibly narrow, while her breasts, under a modest and non-descript blue tunic, were the kind that could make a man break into a sweat just from looking at them. Which Odo did as he got slowly to his feet, even though he somehow kept his mouth from falling open.

"You have a very accute sense of what’s appealing, Doctor."

"Oh, come on, Odo!" Bashir smiled broadly, and put his hands on the shoulders of his ‘creation’, turning her around so she could be viewed from every luscious angle. "It doesn’t hurt to be beautiful, especially for someone who’s trying to fit into a new situation. Why not give her that advantage?"

"Is something wrong?" The infinitely kiss-able lower lip of the young changeling trembled.

Odo forced his own lips into a smile. "Of course not. I wish I could shapeshift as well as you obviously can." He sat down and nodded at the chair across from him. "Thank you, doctor, for all your help."

"Happy to oblige." Bashir came out with his sunniest grin. The changeling looked at him over her shoulder, and asked anxiously, "You still plan to teach me about humanoid linking, don’t you? I don’t want to make any mistakes."

"Why ... umm, yes, of course." Bashir obviously realized what his earlier promise must sound like, and he had the grace to blush. "I have a number of dataPADDs on the subject -- I’ll make sure you get the information." The doctor beat a hasty retreat as Odo asked, "So, did you think of a name?"

"Not yet." The changeling shook her head sadly. "It is such a foreign concept -- this separateness. Perhaps I can find something appropriate in the stations data banks. Will you help me?"

The incredible amber eyes were pleading. Odo started to answer, when he heard a laugh outside on the Promenade. Nerys ... Kira came into view through the transparent security doors, engaged in a cheerful discussion with a smiling Miles O’Brien. There was an unconscious tilt to her head, and glimmer in her brown eyes as she looked up at the human male beside her -- even knowing what he did, and understanding the cause, Odo felt a flare of resentment as he saw his wife flirting with another man. Then Kira looked up and saw him, and her smile grew even wider as she hurried toward the door as fast as her pregnant body would allow, O’Brien closely in tow.

"Good morning, Odo!" she called as the doors opened to admit her. "I thought I’d come by and see if you could join me for --" Kira stopped, and stared at the additional occupant of Odo’s office. O’Brien, coming up behind her, took one look as his mouth fell open.

"My blessed Aunt Maggie!" O’Brien tore his eyes away to look at Kira. "This is your other changeling?"

"I’m not sure." Kira looked to Odo for confirmation.

"That’s right. I’m sorry I can’t come up with a better introduction, Chief, but our guest still needs to decide on a name."

"What is an Aunt Maggie?" the changeling inquired curiously.

"Oh, that." O’Brien chuckled a little. "An aunt is your father or mother’s -- your parent’s -- sister. My aunt, Mary Magdalen O’Brien was my father’s sister -- she had hair that color, when she was young. My mum was always a tad jealous of Aunt Maggie because Aunt Maggie was so pretty."

The changeling considered this information for a long moment, her wide, smooth brow furrowed in thought. "Mary Magdalen O’Brien -- is that a good name?"

"It’s a fine name, at least in my family." O’Brien grinned.

"May I be Mary Magdalen O’Brien?" The changeling looked to Odo for confirmation.

"With that nose you’ll need to be O’Brien Mary Magdalen," Kira interjected. "Bajorans put their patronyms first."

"It might be a little confusing for the chief to suddenly acquire a Bajoran relative," Odo observed.

"Why don’t you just use Meri Magdalen?" Kira asked. "You’ll have the same patronym as half the people in Recantha province."

"Meri Magdalen." The changeling seemed to savor the words. "Meri Maggie." She smiled. "That can be my name. Meri Maggie."

"Well, I suspect there’ll be plenty o’ fellows to help you with the ‘merry’ part." O’Brien laughed at the new ‘Maggie’s’ bewildered and totally enchanting expression. "Did Odo help you choose that form? Constable, I didn’t know you had it in you."

"Dr. Bashir helped me. Is there something wrong with it?"

"Julian? Well, that explains it!" O’Brien burst into a series of chortles while the newly-named Maggie looked increasingly anxious.

"There’s nothing wrong," Kira finally assured her, after giving the chief an exasperated look. "It’s just that your form is one that will be considered extremely beautiful by most of the humanoids on this station."

"Dr. Bashir said that it will help me to be --" Maggie paused and considered the term "-- popular. And to make links."

"You’ll have no trouble making links like that!" O’Brien agreed, still chuckling, but in a kindly tone. Maggie stood and looked at him eagerly.

"Do you think so? Would you like to link with me?"

It was Kira’s turn to snigger while a look of absolute panic crossed O’Brien’s face. Finally he opted for honesty. "I could link with you right now, but I think my wife would kill me. It was a pleasure meeting you, but I’m needed in Ops." O’Brien sketched a nod, and made his escape. Clearly disappointed, Maggie stared out the door after him.

"I hope that Dr. Bashir will hurry and teach me about linking."

"I’m sure he will," Kira said dryly. She looked at Odo. "And we’ll be sure to let him, won’t we, sweetheart?"

Odo glanced, startled, into Kira’s eyes, and felt a bemused stab of pleasure. Nerys is jealous. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her jealous before. He smiled. "Yes, tiena, we will."

Kira’s smile bloomed like a flower. "I think my coffee break’s about over -- lunch, Constable?"

"Lunch, Major." Odo smiled in return, and felt a sudden stab of anxiety. Perhaps I should talk to Bashir about a more handsome face. Nerys deserves someone far better looking than I am. Perhaps --

"See you at lunch then, gorgeous." Kira winked at her husband before she disappeared through the automatic doors. Odo stared after her, and felt like his heart would explode with love.

"Why does the -- why does Major Kira not want you to link with me?"

Odo looked across at his changeling guest. "What we consider linking here is the ‘coupling’ you asked about before. It’s something you only do with one special person in your life."

"Oh." Maggie gave the matter some thought. "Then why does Chief O’Brien think that Dr. Bashir will want to link with me?"

Damn. I should have known. "Sometimes -- sometimes humanoids link as a means of -- of becoming closer. Especially when they’re -- physically attracted to someone."

"Coupling. It is part of their drive for procreation, is it not?"

"Exactly."

"Then why would Dr. Bashir want to couple with me? I cannot procreate with him."

"Well, you look like someone who can. Besides, I imagine he feels very close to you, after helping you select a whole new form to present to the world every day."

"I must go tell him my new name," Maggie said solemnly. "He said to tell him as soon as I thought of one."

"I’m sure he’d like that." Odo smiled.

"He wanted to call me ‘Eliza Doolittle’. I was not sure that I liked it, so I decided to wait. I do not want to do little."

"But you like Maggie?"

"It is -- easier, I think. It is a nice little word. I think Dr. Bashir will like it."

"No doubt." Odo searched awkwardly for words, at a loss for what he should do with this new -- acquaintance? Friend? Responsibility? He winced a little as he thought of the last, but he couldn’t help it -- he did feel responsible. His people might have disowned him, but they were still his people, and this na´ve young female was one of them -- one who was willing to be a friend to him. The last who remained among his people who still wanted to link with him.

That thought was one that Odo put aside hastily. Instead he got to his feet, straightened his uniform, and announced, "I should take you to meet Captain Sisko. He may have some questions for you. At any rate, I’m sure he’ll want to meet you."

The female changeling -- Maggie, Odo silently corrected himself, her name is Maggie -- stared at Odo fearfully. It’s all so new to her. In some ways I was lucky -- I got to get used to all of these strange solid life forms being around me before they ever realized that I was sentient as well.

"There’s nothing to be worried about. There are a lot of new people for you to meet, but they’re good people." She was raised in the Great Link. She may not think that there are good people, at least not among the ‘solids’. Odo cast around for a more disarming topic. "First we may want to access some data files on fashion for you -- what you look like you’re wearing right now is a pair of Infirmary pajamas."

"They are Infirmary pajamas," Maggie said helpfully. "Dr. Bashir thought it might be easier for me to just have one humanoid shape, and then dress it. See?"

Maggie whipped the pajama top off over her head before Odo could begin to get out a protest. You can’t say Dr. Bashir doesn’t pay attention to detail, Odo said silently, before he turned his head away. "I think you’d better put that back on, don’t you?"

"Is this not right?" From the corner of his eye, Odo could see Maggie look down sadly at her chest. "Are they not shaped right? Should they be smaller? Bigger?"

"Definitely not bigger." Odo sighed, and turned back to face her, keeping his eyes resolutely fixed on Maggie’s face, and away from the tempting delicacies below. "They look fine. It’s just not typical for a person to show those parts of her anatomy to someone who -- someone she’s not linked with."

"I showed them to Dr. Bashir."

"Well, Dr. Bashir is a doctor. It’s different with doctors."

"So I should only show them to people I link with, and to doctors?"

"That’s right." Odo breathed a sigh of relief as Maggie pulled her shirt back on over her head. "In the meantime, then, I suppose we should take you to see Mr. Garak."

"Mr. Garak?" Maggie became oddly still, her eyes darkening to a more opaque light brown. "He’s a Cardassian."

"Yes. He’s also a tailor."

"The Cardassians -- they tried to destroy our homeworld."

"Some Cardassians tried to destroy our homeworld." Odo pushed Garak’s little attempt at sabotage out of his mind as he made the firm correction. "You must never judge an entire group of people by the actions of a few individuals."

"Is that what the solids say?"

"That’s what I say."

Maggie bowed her head and seemed to think. Finally she nodded. "You’re right, Odo. I have much to learn about solids."

"I’m sure you’ll learn very quickly." Odo forced a wry smile. "Shall we go meet the captain now?" As he watched Maggie precede him with unconscious, undulating grace, he added silently, Let’s hope that the solids are just as quick to learn about you.

... to be continued ...

I'm afraid that's all for now (let's hope that work will slow down enough for me to at least write during lunch time! :-D). So, now what? Any ideas?

I'm looking forward to hearing YOUR opinion at odofiles@aol.com.

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