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Production no.: 564
Written by: René Echevarria
Directed by: Steve Posey
Stardate: not given 
First satellite airdate: February 13, 1999
Garman Hertzler ......
John Eric Bentley .....
Joel Goodness ..........

Odo and O'Brien are in a runabout, returning to the station from a conference, and have just entered the Bajoran system. O'Brien sees that Odo has a pretty glass knickknack that he bought for Kira; this causes the Chief to kick himself for not getting anything for his wife. To make matters worse, Odo is also bringing Kira chocolates. Desperate, O'Brien offers to buy them.

Then a proximity alarm goes off -- there is something behind them, gaining fast. A large alien spacegoing creature resembling a fish seems to have taken an interest in the runabout. Suddenly it disappears, and there is a thud. As they watch, listening to slithering sounds behind the bulkhead, a mass of golden gel pours out of a vent. It's a Changeling, who morphs into the form of an alien man. He ignores O'Brien and his phaser; his attention is centered on Odo.

"You -- you are a metamorph." Odo confirms that he's a Changeling, and asks why the other boarded their ship. The Changeling says he sensed Odo's presence. "I had to see if it were true -- if I had finally found another metamorph." Instinctively, Odo realizes that this Changeling is not a Founder, but is like him: one of the hundred infants who were sent out into the galaxy as explorers. This answers a lot of questions for his newfound sibling, who has spent his life alone just as Odo did. O'Brien, still distrustful, suggests putting him in a containment field until they can verify his story. The Changeling tells Odo, "I will allow myself to be taken prisoner to show my good faith, but only if you vouch for my safety. I do not trust humanoids."

Back at DS9, Odo informs Sisko, who is understandably wary of this new Changeling. But Odo believes his story. For one thing, this Changeling does not have the disease that has afflicted the Great Link. "His morphogenic matrix is as stable as mine." Though he expresses strong reservations, Sisko decides at last to trust Odo, and releases him into the constable's custody.

Odo walks with the Changeling on the Promenade, having filled him in on their people and the Dominion. The Changeling says he can understand the Founders' distrust of humanoids, but he thinks it's better to avoid them than try to conquer them. In his experience, humanoids don't much care for Changelings. Odo points out that the people here have accepted him. "Have they?" the Changeling asks. "Is that why you've stayed?" "I told you, I want no part of the Founders," Odo reminds him. The Changeling seems surprised that Odo hasn't tried to find any of the other hundred infant explorers. "I have a life here, I have friends," Odo tells him. But the Changeling figures it's just that Odo has been taking humanoid form for only thirty years, while for himself, it's been 200. He too was fascinated by humanoid life in the beginning, but the Varalans (the people who raised him) never accepted him, since he couldn't fully mimic their appearance. "Humanoids are not very tolerant of difference."

Rising to the defense of humanoids, Odo remarks that there are dozens of species here who do tolerate each other's differences, but the Changeling makes the point that, aside from the odd physical feature or two, they're all still more or less the same. He and Odo are nothing like them. While they have the choice of being that way if they want, he chooses to do so as little as possible.

Odo takes the Changeling, who tells him that he's called Laas, to his own quarters; Laas can stay here while Odo will be "somewhere else". Laas detects dust on Odo's shapeshifting jungle-gym, observing that it hasn't been used in a while. He then finds a picture of Kira, and immediately deduces Odo's relationship with her. Laas had a humanoid mate too, once, but it ended because they couldn't have children. When Laas asks if children are important to Kira, Odo replies uneasily that they've never discussed it. "Neither did we, at first," Laas says.

Laas' question about their people's reproduction leads Odo to the subject of the Link, which he finds he has a hard time explaining. So Laas suggests that he show him instead. Odo does so; they meld together completely. Afterwards, Laas reacts to the profound wonder of the experience. "For the first time in my life, I understand how I was meant to exist. You've given up a great deal to remain here." "Yes, I have," Odo acknowledges. "But I won't have anything to do with the Founders and their war." Laas looks at him knowingly. "Odo, we Linked. I know the truth. You stayed here because of Kira. If it weren't for her, you would be with our people. War or no war, you would be a Founder."

Odo is in his office, lost in thought, when Kira comes in. She's heard about the Changeling, and asks what he's like; Odo replies, "He's...complicated." "Like you," Kira smiles, but then notices his faraway mood. "We Linked," he tells her. However, he hastens to reassure her that Laas is not a Founder, trying to lure him to the Dominion. "The Link is part of what we are. It comes as naturally to us as talking does to humanoids." "It's a little more personal than talking, isn't it?" asks Kira. At her request, Odo agrees to arrange a meeting.

That night, Odo brings Laas to the bar, introducing him to Kira, Bashir, O'Brien, and Ezri. All hopes of a friendly conversation are soon dashed, as Laas makes it abundantly clear what he thinks of humanoids. Not only are they limited, they disrupt the natural balance by polluting the environment, displacing animals, and exploiting them. "The truth is, I prefer the so-called primitive lifeforms. They exist as they were meant to, by following their instincts. No words get in the way, no lies, no deceptions." "We're not the ones who can disguise ourselves as anything we want," O'Brien retorts. Laas twists his words to mean that shapeshifters are not to be trusted; O'Brien says he trusts Odo. "Of course you trust Odo," says Laas. "Look at him. You've convinced him that he is as limited as you are." He adds that he is worried for Odo. "Odo can take care of himself," Kira declares.

Odo takes Laas away before things can deteriorate any further, and speaks reproachfully to him as they walk through the Promenade. Laas maintains that he was only speaking his mind. He spontaneously suggests that they Link -- right here and now. Odo balks, mindful of the fact that they're in a public place. Laas accuses him of being embarrassed. "You don't want to do anything to remind them that you're not truly a humanoid." "I don't go out of my way to point it out, no," Odo replies. Laas asks if he's afraid they'll reject him; Odo says, "I don't like to confront people with something that might make them uncomfortable." "So you deny your true nature in order to fit in," Laas reasons, but Odo tells him he's reading too much into it.

Laas asks when was the last time Odo assumed another form, and Odo's hesitation is all the answer he needs. Odo says defensively that he's been involved with other things lately. "Like what?" asks Laas. "Courting Kira? She can't even Link with you." He tells Odo with blunt certainty that it won't last. "The fact that your relationship failed doesn't mean that mine will," Odo retorts. "True," says Laas. "And if you're very lucky, you can watch her grow old and die." He softens his tone, speaking earnestly. "I don't want to see you make the same mistakes I made. You're wasting your time trying to be a humanoid. You're limiting yourself. Let's leave here, Odo. Let's find the others. A hundred were sent away, and they're out there somewhere. If we can find even a few of them, we can form a new Link. Think of it, Odo. We can exist the way we were meant to. As Changelings."

As they relax in her quarters, Odo and Kira talk about Laas' notion. "How did he take it when you said no?" Kira asks. "You did say no, didn't you?" Odo says he told Laas he would think about it, quickly adding that he simply didn't want Laas to take offense. However, Kira can't help but be troubled by the thought that perhaps Laas sensed some dissatisfaction in Odo, when the two of them Linked.

Odo does his best to reassure her that it's only wishful thinking on Laas' part, that the thought of going off together to explore the galaxy as Changelings is "very alluring -- to him." Kira catches the pause there. "Sounds like it's alluring to you, too." "I'm happy here," Odo insists gently, and Kira leans against his chest. In a soft, sad voice, she says, "I'm sorry I can't Link with you." Odo holds her closer and gives her the only answer he can. "It doesn't matter, Nerys. I love you."

When Odo returns to his own quarters to see Laas, he sees a flame floating in midair, and is surprised to realize that it's Laas, who asks if Odo even knew they could exist as fire. It doesn't matter; once they're away, he'll teach him. But Odo says he's staying here. "Why?" Laas demands. "So you can keep on pretending to be one of them?" However, he waves aside his disappointment in Odo, saying he'll send for him when he's found some of the others. He's certain Odo will change his mind eventually. But since it may be a long time before Laas finds another Changeling, Odo proposes that Laas stay awhile; Laas accepts, but warns that he has no interest in Odo's monoform friends. "After what happened at Quark's, I don't think you have to worry about an overcrowded social schedule," Odo remarks wryly. "Good," Laas says, and they Link once more.

Odo is working in his office when a mild commotion outside catches his attention. The Promenade is covered in fog. O'Brien and Bashir, standing in it, think the environmental controls are out, but Odo tells them it's Laas. "What's he doing?" asks Bashir. Odo replies tartly, "Being fog. What's it look like?" It's not really hurting anyone; still, O'Brien thinks it's creepy. After they leave, Odo calls a halt to Laas' antics, and the other Changeling reforms, contending that he was just relaxing. "Did I embarrass you?"

Just then, a pair of Klingons walk up, incensed at seeing a Founder in their midst. Laas' attitude does not help matters any, and things escalate until one of the Klingons pulls a knife. "Mine's bigger," announces Laas, morphing a longer knife from his hand. Odo disarms and restrains the first Klingon, but when the second makes a motion, Laas extends his knife and impales him.

When discussing the incident with Sisko and Worf, Odo contends that Laas killed the Klingon in self-defense. Unfortunately, Sisko says Martok and the Klingons are arguing that Laas was not justified in responding with deadly force, since he knew he couldn't be hurt by a knife. The fact that the Klingons are filing charges in this case (something Klingons never do) smacks of prejudice to Odo, as does the accusation that Laas "surrounded them menacingly". "Is it a crime to shapeshift on the Promenade?" Odo challenges. "It's not a crime, but it's obviously not a good idea," replies Sisko.

Odo angrily realizes that Sisko is going to let the Klingons extradite Laas, knowing he won't get a fair trial. He can't help but suspect his captain of bias, especially when Sisko mentions Martok's concern about Odo being in charge of the prisoner. "Because you were a witness to the alleged crime," Sisko tells him. Odo fixes him with a sardonic look. "That's a relief. For a moment, I thought you were going to say it's because I'm a Changeling."

Odo is seething when Quark catches up to him. The Ferengi unexpectedly agrees with Odo that the Klingons would be facing charges themselves if they had attacked anyone but a Changeling. But he says the fog episode didn't help. "You never pulled a stunt like that. You're smart enough to know that people don't want to be reminded that you're different. Who wants to see somebody turn into goo? I hope you don't do that around Kira." "Why shouldn't I?" demands Odo, irked. Quark tells him bluntly, "If she's anything like me, she'd rather you didn't. Don't you get it, Odo? We humanoids are a product of millions of years of evolution. Our ancestors learned the hard way that what you don't know might kill you. They wouldn't have survived if they hadn't jumped back when they encountered a snake coiled in the muck. And now, millions of years later, that instinct is still there. It's genetic. Our tolerance to other lifeforms doesn't extend beyond the two arm, two leg variety. I hate to break this to you, but when you're in your natural state, you're more than our poor old genes can handle." Quark isn't excusing the Klingons, he's just saying why it happened. "Watch your step, Odo. We're at war with your people. This is no time for a Changeling Pride demonstration on the Promenade."

Odo goes to see Laas in his cell, though he's not allowed to be alone with the prisoner. Laas feels that the humanoids' response to his actions bears out his opinion of them. And Odo is beginning to think he's right, as it's all too obvious that a magistrate will not take Laas' word over that of a humanoid. He expresses his regret at having convinced Laas to stay. "My only consolation," says Laas, "is that this may finally make you understand that you don't belong here. You saw the hatred in that Klingon's eyes. Perhaps now you'll recognize it when you see it hiding in the faces of your so-called friends. They tolerate you, Odo, because you emulate them. What higher flattery is there? 'I, who can be anything, choose to be like you.' But even when you make yourself in their image, they know you are not truly one of them. They know that what you appear to be does not reflect what you really are. It's only a mask. What lies underneath is alien to them. And so they fear it, and that fear can turn to hate in the blink of an eye."

Kira tries to calm an agitated Odo as he paces his quarters. He's sure Laas will be extradited, and that if Laas weren't a Changeling, Sisko would find a way to intervene. Kira observes that he's sounding like Laas. "Maybe that's because I'm starting to see things more clearly now," Odo says. "...Look at me, Nerys. What do you see?" "I see you," she says, puzzled. But Odo tells her, "No. This is just a form I borrowed. I could just as easily be someone or something else." "I know that," Kira replies, taking his shoulders. "But this is what you have always chosen to be. A man -- a good and honest man. The man I fell in love with. Are you trying to tell me that he never really existed?"

"I don't know," Odo answers painfully; Kira is stunned and hurt. He continues. "I care for you more than anyone I've ever known. These last few months have been the happiest of my life. But even so, part of me wishes that Laas and I were out there right now, searching for the others, existing as Changelings. Because that's what I am. Not a humanoid. I'm a Changeling." There is a moment of anguished silence. Then Kira says quietly, "Well, then, maybe you're right. Maybe you do belong out there."

Kira goes to the holding cells, where the deputy on duty lets her talk to Laas alone. After facing him silently for a moment, Kira turns off the forcefield, and directs Laas to go to an abandoned mine on the third planet in the Koralis system. She will tell Odo to meet him there. Laas asks if this is a trick, but Kira counters, "Do you want to get out of here or not?" She points out a vent that will lead him to an airlock. He studies her, puzzled. "Why?" "I love him," Kira answers simply.

Soon afterwards, Kira calmly lies through her teeth to Sisko, Worf, and Odo, saying she saw Laas turn into plasma energy and force his way through the containment field, disappearing into a vent. "By fleeing, the Changeling has demonstrated his guilt," Worf opines. Odo puts in, "Either that, or his lack of faith in our justice system." Sisko orders all runabouts to search the sector. "Good luck," Odo says under his breath.

In the turbolift as she and Odo are leaving Ops, Kira turns to him. "You said you wished you were out there with him. Well, it's not too late." She tells him where Laas is waiting for him, and Odo is astounded to realize the truth, that she helped him escape. "I don't want you to stay here under some sense of obligation," Kira says. She takes his hands, and kisses them. "Good luck. I hope you find what you're looking for."

Odo finds Laas in the old mine. "This is a new beginning for us, Odo," Laas exclaims happily. "A new beginning for our people. You and I are about to embark on the adventure of our lives." However, Odo tells him he's not going. He came to say goodbye. Laas' satisfaction turns to anger. "Don't be a fool. What are you holding on to? Kira? Even she knows that this is what's best for you. Why else would she have helped me escape?" Odo looks at him with pity. "You really don't know, do you? You have no idea what it means to love someone enough to let them go."

"She let you go so that you could find out where you belong," Laas says. "I know where I belong," Odo tells him. For the first time in his life, he's absolutely certain of this. "Laas, humanoids are not the petty, limited creatures you perceive them to be. What Nerys did should prove that, even to you." "Love conquers all, is that it?" Laas says scornfully. Odo is sorry that his brother can't understand. "You've done many things, been many things, but you've never known love." "Compared to the Link," declares Laas, "it is a pale shadow. A feeble attempt to compensate for the isolation that monoforms feel because they are trapped within themselves." "Perhaps the fact that it's not easy is what makes it worthwhile," Odo counters.

Laas makes one more plea. "Odo, the Founders are dying. This could be your last chance to exist the way you were meant to. Don't throw it away." But Odo is firm; his choice has been made. "Good luck." He offers his hand for one last Link, but Laas doesn't take it. "And to you, Odo," he says. "You'll need it more than I." With that, he walks away.

Kira is in her quarters, praying to the Prophets to watch over Odo, when he enters. He tells her simply that he couldn't go. Kira gazes into his eyes. "If I ever made you feel that you couldn't be yourself with me, I'm sorry. I want to know you. The way you really are." Slowly, Odo places his palms against hers, and begins to morph, transforming into a shimmering golden cloud. In awe and rapture, Kira spreads her arms to embrace her alien lover as he wraps her in light. She smiles. This is their Link.