PARTING WAYS

Laas heard Odo call him, felt hope that he had come to his senses, would join him on his journey of discovery to ultimately help him search for the other members of The Hundred; they would gather in a minor Link, with the knowledge they had to be shared with the Great Link when they returned home. After a thousand years or more, a blink of an eye in their people's view, the korrigans sent out so long ago were destined to share what they had seen during their travels with those who had sent them into the vastness of space as infants so long ago.

Trying to make him recognize the truth about his situation, Laas told Odo that he was only tolerated by the Solids on Deep Space 9 because he imitated them, an imitation flattering to these beings, as it made them feel superior to his own kind. After all, Odo, who could be everything, anything he desired, chose to outwardly adopt their form. Still, he was not truly one of them, but profoundly alien in every aspect of his existence, thus was regarded even by those who knew him well with an underswell of fear. A fear that could surface at the least provocation and turn into hatred.

"Didn't you see the expressions of your friends when you introduced me to them?" Laas asked, "In a subconscious reflex, they drew closer to each other in apprehension, expectation … of what? Another Shapeshifter on the station to show their tolerance? A new sensation to enjoy for some time? Should I have expressed praise for the Federation? Expressed admiration for what their Federation is doing? Certainly, trying to establish peace and mutual understanding is a worthy goal, but not if it is only given those who are as much like them as possible, and thus acceptable." He added in a quiet voice, "And they do not want to listen to the truth about their kind's effects on other worlds, believing that what they do is beyond reproach."

Odo did not respond to his words, did not seem to recognize or permit himself to recognize the truth of Laas' words; his only reaction was to wish him good luck and advise Laas to leave as some crew of Deep Space 9 were searching for him to bring him to justice, the justice of Solids.

Seeing that Laas was still hoping he would decide differently after all, Odo tried to explain that Solids were not petty and limited, that they were capable of a special emotion, and that emotion was love: not a limiting, possessive love, but a love that, in Kira's case accepted, albeit with sorrow, that it served to imprison the being she loved, thus led her to renounce her own happiness by setting the object of her love free to choose its own path, to be with its own kind, to lead the life it was born to live.

Laas could neither understand this concept of love, nor accept it; for him it was but a pitiful attempt to compensate for the isolation of monoforms trapped within the limits of their physical self. He explained Kira's actions by saying that she had let him go because she recognized what was best for Odo, had not decided selflessly.

With regret, Odo told him that he would never understand the concept of love, its power, the courage it gave and the will to face even the most painful sacrifices for the sake of the one loved. And in his case, it had given him a home on Deep Space 9 with Kira and the others, had offered him the choice to depart or to stay.

Odo reached out to Laas, offering to link with him one last time in farewell, but Laas rejected his gesture, knowing it would make no difference. Odo's decision had been made. He turned to go still deeper into the cave.

Odo watched him disappear into the darkness, briefly wondering whether he had made the right decision before leaving in turn, not allowing himself to feel that, perhaps, he should have joined Laas after all. Space, its undiscovered worlds and wonders, its immensity, beckoned to him. But no, his home was on Deep Space 9, Kira needed him, he needed her and the others. These people were all he had ever known. The time of parting had not yet come….

Laas, who had gathered so much more experience since his time of awakening, knew he was far more advanced than Odo; he, too, had spent his first years among the Solids with whom he had been quite content to live, whose appearance he had adopted. He had even married one of them, but his mate had not been able to accept a sterile union. In the end, knowing that his fate would be to watch his friends among his adopted people age and die, Laas had left them to seek out other worlds which harbored life, but life barely sentient, obeying ages-old instincts, its ways and lives ultimately doomed once Solids arrived to impose their idea of order on yet another world they would infest…. How many forms of life had disappeared, were disappearing forever as a result of these incursions. And Odo's friends on the station had presumed to judge him!

Lass remembered yet another world, a world of flying beings beautiful in the eyes of the Solids, wandering with the seasons, their tetrachromatic vision registering an incredible range of colour, even magnetic fields, using both these and the patterns of the stars to navigate on their endless journeys, briefly settling in an area with enough resources for procreation, then, the cycle of life perpetuated, moving on again, predating on and being predated by others in an existence that was both wonderful and terrible, but theirs alone to experience. He had been one of them for some years, or was it decades or even centuries? Time was unimportant for Korrigans. It was a world off-limits to all Solids bar researchers whose presence was limited to observation, for these advanced beings had dictated the terms, possessed the power to enforce them mercilessly…

So many worlds, Odo, and you have seen so very few of them, and if you did travel to some few, you were always in the company of Solids, sharing their perceptions of these worlds, perhaps even accepting their perceptions as your own, uncritical of them; you were never free to become one with the inhabitants of these worlds, interacting with them, sharing their existence for as long as you chose, one of their kind and yet apart, thus coming to understand them.

Deep in the hidden recesses of the cave, Laas became gas, travelled through cracks in the rock, slowly moved through them towards the surface of the planet, feeling the slow pulse of this world, finally the tension in its surface strata as it reacted to the pressures deep inside. He moved on through ever wider cracks until he finally reached the open, oozed out like lava, coating the eroding rock with a golden, pulsating film. Laas sensed the radiation from space as it touched this airless world. The infinity of space beckoned to him, but Laas ignored the urge to move on, delayed his departure. Those searching for him had long since given up and returned to their station to live out their pathetic monoform lives. Laas had no wish to find yet another world inhabited by Solids that subjugated even the smallest life to their will in a never-ending process of discovery and destruction.

After some time, he took the form of a being he had seen on one of the worlds he had found, one that spent its entire life in the air, not once touching the ground until it died. Beyond the sparse atmosphere, out in space, he spread out into a molecule-thick translucent membrane, caught the solar winds which carried him along at increasing speed, wishing Odo were at his side to experience the exhilaration of changing form at will, choosing the one which seemed the most useful? Appropriate? Pleasurable? No, there were no considerations of any kind, only the joy of knowing he had the freedom to be whatever he wanted whenever he wanted, fog, flame, fluid, or some being or another he had once encountered, something that a Solid could never hope to experience, could not even imagine.

He felt the surges of radiation which he could sense and even see by modifying his structure, registered but did not respond to the incredible cold of dark matter surrounding him, avoided the searing heat of the stars he passed, travelled through the fantastic forms of nebulae, the form he had taken reflecting their colors, he saw nascent stars and worlds and systems, briefly recalled the stories told about them by primitive solids whose migrations he had shared for a brief time. They still wandered freely like the prey they followed, encountering no fences, no barriers, only a limitless realm of life full of mysteries.

He recalled worlds of gas with a minuscule core of metal, the airborne life they contained different from layer to layer, watery worlds populated by intelligences, superorganisms composed of uncountable fluorescent cells that were dependent and independent of one another in turn, coalescing into an endlessly changing being moving through the ocean, following the currents and tides, dispersing and reforming in an endless rhythm. There were sunless planets, these too harboring life barely recognizable as such, beings resembling rock, inorganic, and yet alive in a universe in constant flux, these slow changes only perceptible for his people who were eternal.

No Odo, you will not remain with the Solids you love so much. When you experience the pain of watching those ephemeral beings you call your friends age and die, as is the fate of all Solids, you will recognize that you never belonged to them, will find yourself alone and will feel the irresistible urge first to wander the stars, then to finally return to your people … share all you have experienced and become one with the Great Link forever.

Korrigan: I have taken the term used for Changeling in the French translation of Deep Space 9; to me, it sounds friendlier and ties in nicely with the female Founder's account of her people having visited numerous planets. In French Brittany Korrigans are shapeshifting beings who can be good, evil, friendly or vindictive, like the Changelings of Deep Space 9.

· Adapted from Chimera, Deep Space 9, 7th Season, with a nod to Daphne du Maurier and Frank Schätzing.