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Given that he hasn't been able to identify Vatrick's murderer, Odo expects Dukat to lose interest, round up the ten Bajorans Dukat said Central Command recommended, and order them executed. Maybe Dukat will be annoyed enough by Odo's failure to order him off the station, back to Bajor. Odo isn't sure how that makes him feel. Sorry for the ten unlucky Bajorans, yes, but it is a distant kind of regret, and distaste at the general injustice of it. There are so many Bajorans dying through Cardassian orders around him, directly or indirectly. It is hard to see ten more as separate from this, at least as long as the ten have no names and faces. Odo is aware he would feel differently if Dr. Mora was one of them. His feelings on subject of Mora have remained contradictory and violent ever since he walked out of Mora's lab.

Dukat says: "Well, that's unfortunate; I expected more from you," when Odo makes his report, and maybe it's because Odo has been thinking about Mora, but a surprising and altogether unwelcome sensation from the past arises. He feels embarrassment and shame at his failure, just as he did when Mora Pol said, ever so patiently: You managed the feathers of a bird, Odo. Surely a proper Bajoran face should be easy by comparison?

It's not that he cares one whit what some petty Cardassian official thinks of him. It's that he undeniably failed at something he should have been able to do. Maybe it is the result of spending all that time performing experiments, maybe is a conditioned response by now, but Odo hates failing more than he hates most things. Which is why he decides to demonstrate just what he's capable of.

"You expected everyone to be impressed by the fact you're taking the murder of a Bajoran seriously, and to see you as a stern and just ruler," Odo says, because as Cardassians go, Dukat is not that hard to read. "They are. It does not change the fact they hate you."

"Naturally," Dukat says, sounding amused and the slightest bit intrigued. "But I also expected and still expect not to be taken for a fool. Given we still have a Bajoran corpse and no culprit on our hand..."

He spreads his hands and lets the sentence peter out. Cardassians love their gestures and the sound of their voices. At least this one does. And yet, he remembered Odo from a lab visit two years ago and a few ridiculous demonstrations and correctly deduced Odo would wish to be more, would want to use his mind, not the body Mora was so fascinated by that he never stopped probing and prodding. No, it would not do to take Dukat for a fool.

"Who was your most promising lead?" Dukat asks, and the face of the redheaded woman comes back to Odo, in every exquisitely carved detail. By now, she must have left the station. He could name her without getting her killed. But this would be unjust; she committed sabotage, not murder. And if Odo names her, her face will be known as a resistance member to every Cardassian on Bajor. Undoubtedly, she would be dead soon.

We all have to pick sides, Constable, she'd said to him. And so Odo replies tartly: "The Ferengi barkeep."

After all, the Ferengi is clearly guilty of a lot of things. Lying, cheating, exploiting Bajorans in their hour of need. An altogether repellent individual. No loss there.

"Quark, hm?" Dukat says. "Pity. He's useful. Ah well, I suppose that brother of his will keep the bar going. And if not, there'll be a new Ferengi soon."

Undoubtedly, there would be. From what Odo has been able to observe on Terok Nor, Ferengi are as greedy and prone to show up everywhere there is something to gain as vermin. But Dukat's mention of Quark's brother has an odd resonance for him. He hadn't imagined the Ferengi as someone with a family. Someone who would miss him.

"He is undoubtedly a thief," Odo hears himself saying. "But I don't know yet whether or not he is a murderer."

Dukat swings his legs from his desk.

"Well, Constable," he comments, "you have one more day to find out."

*****

Given that he really isn't getting anywhere with the Vatrick investigation, Odo makes it his business to find out more about this Quark. He does indeed have a brother, and a nephew who according to some Cardassian soldiers is a thief in the particular rather in the general sense. They all think Quark knows and encourages this, but when asked why station security, prone to send thieving Bajorans to the mines, does nothing about it admit that there is no proof, and besides, Quark is able to get them the occasional illegal item they want as well. The later admission always comes indirectly, with threats and seeking assurance that Odo's assignment for Dukat is just temporary. There is one exception; Glin Merek takes Odo's question as an excuse for an half hour rant about what a horrible offense to the honour of Cardassia it had been to watch a dirty Ferengi consort with a Cardassian lady, and how undoubtedly Quark must have blackmailed the woman in question, a journalist named Natima Lang, using who knew what secrets as leverage. "You should look into that," Merek ends meaningfully, implying that nothing less than starvation combined with revelations about illegitimacy would have brought a Cardassian to have a romance with a Ferengi, and if Quark was capable of this, murdering a Bajoran chemist would be just a trifle by comparison.

"I take it you offered your help to the lady in question."

"I offered myself, and she turned me down," Glin Merek roars. "What more proof is needed that she was being horribly blackmailed!”

Romantic and sexual relationships between bipedals are still something of a mystery to Odo, but he can imagine any number of reasons why someone would choose not to procreate with Glin Merek, whose Bajoran mistresses are covered in bruises. What he finds truly staggering, though, is the idea of a Cardassian, not a Bajoran in need for food to feed her family but a Cardassian, member of a people who seem to consider themselves superior to everyone else, having an affair with a Ferengi.

Maybe Merek is right for the wrong reasons. Maybe Quark has blackmailed the woman, but she appears to have left Terok Nor more than half a year ago, so Odo can't ask her. He decides to try the direct approach and ask Quark himself, but is thrown off track the moment he enters the distastefully noisy bar. Quark spots him, shoves the plate he's carrying at some other Ferengi and practically races towards Odo.

"Just the man I was looking for!" the Ferengi exclaims. "Look, maybe we got off on the wrong foot here, but you've got to help me!"

"I do?" Odo says, startled.

"You betcha. Some bastard has told Dukat I'm to blame for Vatrick's murder. Don't you see, you've got to help me clear my name. You're good at this figuring out stuff. Why, you knew I was lying about the redhead in no times flat! And hey, Dukat can't pay you much since you're still wearing the same clothes, so if you want some cash on the side for some nifty outwear..."

"I don't wear clothes," Odo replies coldly while trying to collect his thoughts. Quark gapes at him. "Why would I need to?" Odo feels compelled to point out. "What you see is my form in a shape that conforms with Bajoran standard clothing, which suffices for the current code of behaviour on this station."

"So what you're saying," Quark drawls, "is that you're running around stark naked, flashing your privates at us. Ha, I knew you must be getting your jollies somehow if you're not into food or drink."

All at once, Odo knows again why his previous two encounters with this individual have left him with a desire to strangle the Ferengi.

"So do you take the job? Clearing my name, that is. Never mind the clothing, I can negotiate you a better contract with Dukat, full stop. He hasn't even given you proper quarters yet. That old office is just good for backaches."

"My back never aches. And I do not have a contract with Dukat."

"You should get on that," Quark advises."A contract is a contract is a contract. Rule of Acquistion.”

Quite how his intended interrogation has turned into getting unwanted lifestyle advice from a Ferengi, Odo cannot say. Nor can he explain the niggling sense of guilt that tells him he shouldn't have offered the barkeep to Dukat as an easy culprit just because of his personal distaste for the man.

"My position here is just temporary," Odo says, wanting to clarify that much at least. "I hate leaving a task unfinished, that is all. A contract is not needed, since I have no intention of working for Dukat after this."

"Whatever," Quark replies dismissively. "Look, can we get back to how you're going to prove my innocence?"

Odo finds himself standing even straighter, which is a physical reaction the Ferengi has evoked in him before and which, in other circumstances, he'd find interesting if it were happening to someone else.

"You may be not guilty of murder, but you are not in any definition of the word innocent."

That sounded far better in his head than it did spoken out loud in front of Quark who looks unimpressed.

"And you are?" Quark shoots back.

"I..."

"Because the way I see it, if you frame someone to get a hottie off the hook, you're not innocent, either."

While creating reasonable facsimiles, Odo has no mouth and throat to suddenly run dry. He is familiar with the sensation itself from tests Mora ran on him in order to find out more about Odo's regenerative cycle, but there is no localized phenomenon the way the Bajorans describe it. And yet he has a horrible feeling of being drained of humidity all the same.

"I'm not stupid," Quark says. "First you show up and bust an alibi for which, by the way, I didn't get nearly enough money, and she didn't even think to offer oomox, which was pretty rotten of her, if you ask me. But does Dukat call for a station wide redhead hunt? No. Instead, one of his guards tells one of my Dabo girls she'll get a better salary from Rom soon when he inherits the bar because I'm probably this secret terrorist leader running cells and killing chemists under the cover of being a barkeep. Doesn't take a genius to figure out who must have given the Cardassians that idea. Or a constable."

"I never said you could be a terrorist," Odo hisses when he finds he can speak again.

"But you did say I could have killed Vatrick. And that's why you owe me. Because you know damn well I didn't, genius. You just liked the hottie better than me."

This is shaping up to be the most embarrassing and humiliating day of Odo's existence, which given that his existence includes the performances of the Cardassian neck trick in front of the entire High Command is saying quite a lot. Somehow one of the most disgusting people he has ever met has managed to make him feel ashamed of himself, and he has the dark suspicion this was entirely his own fault.

"Whether or not I find the killer, I will make it clear to Dukat that you didn't kill Vatrick," he concedes.

"A fat lot of good that'll do if he needs someone to blame," Quark grumbles.

Odo makes a new attempt to regain the moral upper hand.

"It would be helpful if you told me the truth... about a lot of things. Given you were so ready to provide someone with a fake alibi and later offered alcohol to Dukat to compensate for this, you seem to be experienced in all manner of bribery and corruption."

He could be wrong, but it seems to him the Ferengi's chest swells with pride.

"I try," Quark says with fake humility.

"Did Vatrick ever pay you for something?"

"Ginger tea and some more... rare... stuff for the wife," Quark answers readily. "I'm good at getting all you could need, and then some." He eyes Odo. "He was a good customer. Good customers are rare as latinum. Treasure them. That's another Rule of Acquisition. Number 57."

Odo abstains from pointing out he is not interested in rules referring to greed instead of order.

"So you could say that his death meant a financial loss for you?"

"I guess..." Quark begins, then catches on to what Odo is getting at. "Oh yes! Absolutely! Blessed Exchequer, how I'll pay my taxes without him as my customer this month, I'll never know!"

A tiny part of Odo feels oddly light and Odo tries hard not to identify the sensation as amusement. He is most certainly not enjoying anything about this situation, conversation, or Quark.

"I wasn't aware you are paying taxes to the Cardassian Empire."

"I don't. I'm paying my taxes to the Ferengi Alliance. Like a proper Ferengi should."

"Meaning, undoubtedly, that you cheat. However, I do believe we have a credible reason as to why you would not have wished to see Vatrick dead. Unless, of course, someone was paying you more for his death than the things he acquired from you were worth." Odo narrows his eyes at Quark, an expression of Mora's he had always found very effective when used against himself. "What is the rate for murder on the black market, Quark?"

Quark stares at him. "I have no idea," he says flatly. "And even if I knew, you can bet no one would ever hire me as an assassin. Because I don't kill people. I wouldn't know how."

From what Odo has seen of the body, Vatrick has been killed by an energy weapon, and he's reasonably sure most people could do damage with one; no special training is necessary for that. On the other hand, the lethal shot was aimed with precision, and to kill that efficiently, without signs of a struggle, the assassin would have needed at least fighting experience. Quark could be lying about his own lack of it, or he could have passed on an assassination order to someone who did have experience, but somehow Odo doubts this. Perhaps it's the lack of wisecracks and of weaseling, but the Ferengi seems sincere, at last.

"But you do have enemies who hate you," he probes. "How do you protect yourself against them?"

"I have only satisfied customers," Quark retorts, and something of his former smugness returns to his tone. "And disappointed competition, sure, but seriously, if they wanted a piece of business on this station that much, they'd simply offer to buy me out. Everyone knows I'm not planning to stay. I'm going to have my own moon one day, you know. Just like my cousin Gaila."

Quark's cousin Gaila and Quark's designs of ownership of an asteroid aren't of interest to Odo.

"That may be true of other Ferengi, but what about Bajorans and Cardassians?"

"They fall in the satisfied customers category", Quark replies a shade too quickly, and Odo. seeing an opening, pounces before he can consider the wisdom of what he's about to reveal. But there is a matter which still defies explanation about Quark, and maybe this is a good opportunity to clear it up as well.

"Not Glin Merek", he comments, carefully watching Quark. "He really, really hates you. Something about a Cardassian lady, I believe?"

He is not sure how he expects Quark to react; most likely with a grin and a boast of his manly prowess, which would be in character, given Quark's behavior so far. What he doesn't expect is for the Ferengi to suddenly look concerned.

"Did something happen to Natima?" Quark asks. "I swear, if that bastard Merek made trouble for her I... look, it was I who used her access codes. She knew nothing about it. And it was just because Cardassians have better access to everything and there was this really good opportunity to make some profit. When she found out, she broke it off and left me immediately. She just didn't denounce me to station security because, well, we were... anyway, it was completely not her fault, it was mine."

This does not make much sense to Odo, except for one thing: it tells him that Quark is capable of taking the blame for something, and that he does so because of whatever emotion he feels for the unfortunate Cardassian female who apparently had been involved with him.

For every action, Doctor Mora once said, a reaction, and a dark Mora-like voice tells Odo that if he uses this Natima person as leverage and lies to Quark that she is somehow involved, he may get Quark to blame himself in front of Dukat, giving Dukat a convenient culprit and Odo a wrapped up case, after which he can leave the station and the whole sordid business behind.

But this would not be just. It would be corrupt, and vile, like he has believed Quark to be. Like he still believes Quark to be, Odo corrects himself, except possibly not in the matter of Cardassian women, and/or murder of Bajoran chemists.

"Glin Merek simply complained about the uncalled for attention you were paying this lady," Odo says gruffly. He's not used to reassuring other people, and certainly not criminals.

His usual vivacity returns to Quark's demeanour. "Unwanted nothing," he says and bares his teeth. With abstract fascination, Odo notes Ferengi teeth are even more irregular and hence more difficult to imitate than Bajoran teeth.

Downright cheerful, Quark continues: "So, now that we've cleared up Merek is a jealous prick, is there anything else you want to know?" With a smirk, he adds: "Like how to score with the redhead if you meet her again?"

He must have been crazy to think there was anything not base in the Ferengi.

"A useful observation about Vatrick's enemies would do, but apparently you're incapable of rational statements about something that is of no benefit to you," Odo returns icily.

"You really should ask Dukat for your own quarters," Quark says.

"What?”

"That's my rational observation. Because if you had your own quarters, you could relax in them now and then, if you don't want to do it here or in my holosuite. You know.... relax;, Quark emphasizes meaningfully. "It does wonders for the concentration and general happiness if a man can do that now and then. If you want vids for inspiration, I can sell those at a really good price, too."

When it finally dawns on Odo what Quark is implying, he's tempted to commit another murder on Terok Nor right then and there and leaves Quark's den of iniquity to remove himself from temptation.

****

 

He doesn't get far before a Bajoran worker ambushes him, claiming his ration was stolen and his foreman won't believe him, and before Odo can ask what he is supposed to do about it, the Bajoran has pulled him aside and whispers:

"Look, I know you helped Kira. She's safely off station, by the way, and says she owes you. That means you're on our side. I can't tell you how much this means. You have direct access to Dukat."

"I am not working for Dukat," Odo says, for what feels the hundredth time, and wants to add he's not on "their" side, either, if "our side" means the resistance, however much he may understand their goal, but he doesn't get that far.

"Of course not," the Bajoran says. "You were raised as one of us, right?"

He was experimented on by a Bajoran doctor in a laboratory. Not the same thing.

"But you have access for one more day. So here's the plan. We've gone off trying to kill him directly because of the reprisals each failed attempt produced, plus taking out smaller scale butchers is easier and creates more chaos. But you - you could kill him without anyone noticing! And then impersonate him. Don't worry, we'll talk you through the early days, tell you what his routine is, all of that. Central Command will probably figure it out anyway after a while, or they'll get furious and replace him, but not before you could liberate the camps, and get the resistance a whole lot of arms."

Odo stares.

"I wouldn't have trusted you with all of this that quickly," the Bajoran says uncomfortably. "But you helped Kira. And well, that leaves you no choice, to be honest. If you don't help us, Dukat is going to get a tip that you're resistance anyway. Same if you arrest me right now. I'll tell him you're one of us before he executes me. Look, he deserves it. He's a butcher. They all are, but Dukat's a smug hypocrite to boot. He doesn't just want us to lick his boots, he wants us to love him for it."

There are no taste buds in Odo's faked mouth, either. The sense of bitterness is spread all over his body.

"I see," he says.

The Bajoran looks him up and down. "When you've changed places with Dukat, make a public announcement which uses the phrase "the flowers on Elberon will bloom again", and we'll know", he says and slips away.

The obvious solution, Odo concludes, is to leave the station. He has not the slightest intention of committing murder on behalf of the Bajoran resistance, no matter how much objectionable Dukat and the Cardassian occupation in general are. Murder is murder. And it's not like anything is keeping him here, or could keep him here. Even if everyone on the station were suddenly to hunt him down, he could turn into the next leaving traveller's bit of luggage and depart. What is Terok Nor to him?

Not a laboratory; a place to stay he chose on his own. But no more than that. Bajor isn't his home. He's not Bajoran, he's not Cardassian, he doesn't have anything in common with these people and their obsession with inflicting violence on each other. Leaving is the obvious solution. He could even start searching for his people. Surely, somewhere in the galaxy there have to be other shapeshifters. He belongs with them, not with these flesh bound individuals.

But he has no memories of anything but Bajor and this station. He has not the slightest idea of where to go. At least this much, he needs to figure out. Somehow, he finds himself tracing his steps back to Quark's bar.

"Changed your mind about the holosuite?" Quark asks.

"No," Odo growls.

"Well, you certainly haven't found a place to relax in, either. And if you'd figured out the killer you'd have gone to Dukat, not me. Did I mention we're on the clock here?"

He won't be drawn into another ridiculous conversation.

"Have you ever encountered another shapeshifter before, and if so, where?" Odo asks, trying the direct approach.

It didn't work.

"How much would that information be worth, Constable?" Quark asks immediately.

"I thought I was supposed to prove your innocence."

"I thought that was what you owed me for making me a suspect in the first place. This is a new bargain. New rules."

Suddenly, Odo concludes he is too tired to play games with anyone anymore.

"I don't have any money," he says. "I don't have anything else, either, that could be of value to such a creature as yourself. Either you tell me what information you have on shapeshifters, if any, or you don't. If not, I'll take my leave."

"My, my, aren't we high and mighty. You know, you really should let me negotiate that contract with Dukat for you."

"I told you I don't work for..."

"Yes, yes, yes. And there's your problem. If you did, if you properly worked for him, you could boss me around instead of trying to hang out with me because you don't have anywhere else to go and whine about other shapeshifters. You could threaten me with taking my licence for this dump away if I don't tell you what you want to know. Now that would be a good bargaining position! Not walking around like a cloud of bad mood, because in case you haven't noticed, no one in this place is in a great mood. Well, other than the satisfied customers in my bar, obviously. But outside the bar, everyone is miserable, and guess what, you're not standing out with your my-latinum-turned-out-to-be-frozen-piss kind of face. So the way I see it, you have only two choices: become someone and scare the hell out of anyone else who gives you crap, or shapeshift away from the station already!"

It is the most bizarre rant Odo has ever heard, and he has to strain himself to hear it, because the longer he talks, the faster Quark gets. The worst thing about it is that the longer he listens, the more it actually starts to make sense. Presumably even to breathe the same air as Quark is corrupting the mind.

"I take it this means you have not heard of any other shapeshifters," he says when Quark pauses for lack of breath.

"No, I haven't," Quark says sullenly. "And I've heard pretty much everything in this bar. You're on your own. Congratulations. Now are you going to get us out of the trouble you caused by kicking some ass already?"

"The trouble..."

Quark makes a sweeping motion with his hand. "Look around." Odo does. The bar is noticeably emptier.

"Nobody wants to hang out with a potential terrorist cell leader," Quark says sarcastically. "Except for you. Thanks, comrade."

Odo becomes increasingly aware of an additional problem. He's nearing the end of his regenerative cyle, and nowhere near the bucket he has hidden away in some unused storage quarters. He needs an hour at least, an hour in which to dissolve, or he won't be in a shape to do anything useful, for himself least of all. Even if he makes a run for it, he's not sure whether he'll reach the bucket in time.

But the idea of confiding in Quark, of all the people, is unspeakable.

"I changed my mind about the holosuite," he says abruptly.

"Oh really," Quark drawls. "Well, mine are the cleanest and most inventive in the quadrant. Do you want a beginner's reduced and very sensible fee? Except that you have no money, so..."

"I'll pay you from my salary," Odo says. "But I want the holosuite now."

"The salary that Dukat hasn't given you yet, since you don't work for him. Right."

"Now, Quark!" Odo yells, trying for scary and sounding pathetic to his own ears. But to his surprise, Quark looks him up and down, nods, and leads him to what actually is a clean holosuite.Quark enters a program that is apparently called "Pleasure goddess of Riix" and then exits with a smirk. As soon as he's gone, Odo locates the next best shape looking like a secure container, which happens to be the glass the "Goddess" is holding out to him, dissolves, and is wonderfully unaware of the horrible mess that is his life for an hour of fluid bliss.

****

When Odo is able to reshape himself into a bipedal form again, getting rid of the traces of holographic ambrosia while he's at it, he finds that the program has been running the entire time. The characters, left to their own devices and without instructions from the user about his or her preferences, have gone into default mode, which apparently involves silk and mutual ear petting. For a moment, Odo stares in morbid fascination and disgust. Then the goddess character thanks him for being such a great sport and filling everyone's ears, and Odo exits the program in horror and rage, not wishing to know what she means by that.

The bar is still not as well frequented as it used to be, but Quark, it appears, is in an excellent mood. "Don't worry," he tells Odo, "I already subtracted the price for that hour from your salary. No fuss, no bother."

"My -"

"The one I negotiated on your behalf with Dukat when I told him you want this Constable job on a permanent basis. You can thank me later. Dukat says you're supposed to show up at his office first."

The most frustrating thing about Quark, Odo decides, is that rage would be wasted on him. Such unspeakable gall is almost admirable, given that at least it doesn’t involve assassination demands. He crosses his arms.

"Why should Dukat believe you've turned from my suspect into my representative in negotiation?"

"Oh, I don't know," Quark says smugly, "something about you using my facilities. Which, by the way, I trust were to your satisfaction. Best program ever. I figured since you can do the Cardassian neck trick, scoring with the goddess would be no problem. She likes her men flexible and her women..."

"Quark," Odo hisses, "if you don't want my first action as Constable to be your arrest for facilitating sexual molestation of a sentient being, you. Will. Shut. Up. Now!"

Quark gives him a look, shrugs, and types some Bajoran letters in the pad he'd been using when Odo had left the holosuite, which usually serves as a bookkeeping device. Then he holds up the results of his typing for Odo to read.

"Your new assistant said to tell you that he hopes the buds of Elberon will flower soon. Or something."

Giving Quark the satisfaction of asking for further elaboration or a description of the supposed assistant would invite a new round of Ferengi chatter, and Odo is not about to make that mistake. Besides, he already knows who it had to be; the resistance fighter who is attempting to blackmail him.

Enough is enough. It is time to take the initiative instead of letting events continue to spin out of control in an ever more bizarre fashion. Odo goes to the room Dukat has given him as a preliminary office when he entrusted him with the Vatrick investigation, enters a few basic descriptive data and has tracked down the Bajoran in question in a short time and with a minimum of fuss. The man currently goes by the name of Lor Kelet, though undoubtedly that is as fake as his humility towards the Cardassians as he pretends to be one of the repairmen in charge of reconstructing the sabotaged equipment that had been targeted by the resistance two days ago.

“We shouldn’t be seen together,” he murmurs softly but unmistakably annoyed when Odo approaches him.

Odo gives him the approximation of a smile. He still has trouble with those; Mora used to say he didn’t come across as humorous. All the better now, since he does not mean to in this particular case.

“I thought you were my new assistant?”

“I just wanted to remind you of what is at stake.”

“As my new assistant,” Odo says, ignoring him, “I’m sending you on your first mission. Away from the station. Now. There is an ongoing problem of smuggling to and from Terok Nor and a flourishing black market. I’m sending you on the next transport to Bajor to investigate. If I still find you here an hour from now, I’ll present you as my first successful arrest. Presumably Dukat will be profoundly grateful. He does not take kindly to assassination attempts, I hear.”

“I told you we will….”

“Yes. You told me a lot. But denouncing me as someone who helped you before would mean your comrade’s name and face will immediately be on the Cardassian’s most wanted list. I even made a recording of her voice when I interrogated her here, while she admitted to sabotage, and an imprint of her biosignature,” Odo adds, though the last two aren’t true. “She could never enter any area on Bajor outside of the mountains without being immediately identified as a resistance member. Something tells me she would not thank you for this kind of publicity.”

Lor Kelet opens his mouth and shut it again. Then he takes a deep breath.

“Damn it, man! The future of Bajor is at stake! What’s one Cardassian butcher’s life against Bajor’s salvation? You should regard it as an honour to help us, help your home against the tyrants that...”

“Bajor,” Odo says coldly, “is not my home. I am not of Bajor. Nor am I one of you. And whatever I am, I do not allow anyone, Bajoran or Cardassian, to use me for murder.”

In the silence that falls between them, he can sense the barely subaudible hum of the machines that keep Terok Nor spinning, keep the temperatures at the level the Cardassian like, too high for Bajorans to be comfortable in, not that anyone cares about Bajoran comfort here.

“If you work for Dukat, you’re allowing him to do just that,” Lor Kelet replies bitterly at last. It is an admission of defeat, and they both know it. Still, this time Odo doesn’t protest that his assignment for Dukat is only temporarily.

“We will see,” he says instead. “Or rather, I will. You won’t, if you’re still here when we meet again.”

With this, he turns his back on the Bajoran and walks away, very aware of the possibility that becomes true within ten steps. Lor Kelet draws one of the energy weapons Bajorans aren’t supposed to have and fires at Odo. It is curious how all bipedal species assume that if you imitate their form, it necessarily means you are also subject to their limitations of hearing, seeing and listening, that you can only see with what looks like their eyes.

Odo evades the shot without effort and allows one of his arms to become a lash in order to knock the weapon out of Lor’s hand. Unfortunately, by this time the Cardassian guards have become alert, and when they see a Bajoran with a weapon, they act immediately. Their own, legal weapons are drawn without hesitation and with far greater fire power. Lor Kelet breathes his last as Odo reaches him again.

“I told you so,” the man says, breath becoming a rattle. “Butcher. Servant of.” He makes a few more unintelligible sounds, and is dead.

Odo sees the body become still and can’t decide whether what he feels is regret or relief, or even a dark satisfaction. He only knows he does not wish this undone.

 

****

“And thus Vatrick’s killer dies before we can find out his motives,” Dukat muses when Odo delivers his report. Blaming Lor Kelet for Vatrick’s death might not be the most honest tactic, but it does mean nobody else will die for this particular murder. One day, Odo will find the true culprit, who now, believing himself or herself to be secure, might make mistakes. But not now. “How inconvenient.”

“Is it?” Odo asks blankly. “Then maybe you should instruct your guards not to kill at the slightest provocation and aim to disarm first.”

Dukat, sitting behind his desk this time, steeples his fingers.

“Do I detect sarcasm, Constable?”

“I am not yet familiar with all modes of audible conversation,” Odo returns, and one of Dukat’s eyeridges shoots upwards.

“Oh, I think you are. In any case, you will be the one doing the instructing. If I put you in charge of station security, that is. I must say, I hadn’t expected you to let a Ferengi negotiate a salary for you, Odo. I do like a man who shows initiative and originality, but if I’m really supposed to pay you that much, I need to know you are committed to the job.”

The affable manner Dukat has employed until now vanishes as if swept away by the wind. Instead, he’s as harsh and unrelenting as the steel that made this station as he continues: “Are you?”

Is he? He could still leave. But the truth is that there is something in him that responds to the need to install order in chaos. To prevent not just murder, but all kind of anarchy. To punish crime, if it has been committed or planned. It gives him a satisfaction which was lacking not just in his time as a laboratory experiment but that drifting, searching time afterwards, as he was wandering between Bajorans and Cardassians, observing them and being regarded as a neutral oddity. Trying to find Vatrick’s killer, even if he hasn’t really succeeded, tracking down Lor Kelet, turning the tables of his attempted blackmail on him, all this is giving him purpose in a way nothing else has so far.

“I never do anything that I am not completely committed to,” Odo replies, and apparently this is all the answer Dukat needs, because he nods, and then enters Odo’s voice into the station data so Odo can fulfill his function. There will be access codes as well if Odo’s work bears out his claim, he adds. Lastly, he names the exact salary Quark has demanded for Odo.

“You’re aware the Ferengi is just trying to butter you up, I hope. He’s practically running the black market here, and having the chief of security turn a blind eye to it…” Dukat shrugs expressively, and smiles, all benevolence once more.

Like you’ve been doing, Odo thinks. Out loud, he says: “I do not intend to be blind. To anyone’s doings.”

“This is going to be so entertaining,” Dukat says and dismisses him.

After leaving Dukat’s office, Odo finds people looking at him, noticing him, the way they didn’t before. Not just with a look that says something is wrong about his face, but with a wariness that could indicate respect or loathing; he can’t decide. Either way, he is seen. It’s something to get used to.

Somehow, he ends up in the bar again. Well, his temporary and now permanent office is practically opposite it. The report of Lor Kelet’s death seems to have brought Quark’s customers back, and with them a noise level that is nearly deafening, but he can spot the Ferengi without trouble amongst all the people anyway. Quark notices him as well, and looks him up and down. There is neither wariness nor respect nor loathing in his gaze, just amusement and satisfaction.

“Thanks for kicking ass, Constable,” he says cheerfully. “Thanks ever so. I’d offer a drink, but you told me you don’t, plus it was still your fault anyway. How about a turn on the dabo wheel, though?”

“I have not the slightest intention of ever accepting any kind of favours from you, Quark,” Odo says, just to make that clear. “And I don’t play, either.”

“We’ll see about that,” Quark says, unaware Odo has used the same phrase towards Lor Kelet. A coincidence, Odo thinks, but still isn’t able to reply, and the fact Quark got the last word leaves him with the disquieting sensation that this will not be the last time. His future has started; he has no idea what it will lead to.