No solid can understand the call of the joining. It is not need for companionship, or what they would call pleasure. It is closer to what they would name: self. But how can they understand, whose beings stop at one form, and who can only ever live in their own bodies and minds? How can they know what it is to be? They will never understand the Great Link. If they did, if they knew what they were not, their bodies would be a prison, and their lives torture, and they would crave only oblivion.
The one which is called Odo stands among us, his essence still barely distinct from ours. He will join with us completely, in time. He must, for it is for this that he has come.
"The disease was not necessary," he says. "I would have come to be judged, because justice demands it."
The poor child still speaks, still using words, and something of a voice. I/we reach to him: Yet you did not. We awaited you.
"I was not summoned." An evasion, but it is allowed to pass.
The edges slip. Soon he will join us. Show us what you are.
"I do not know what I am. I am nothing." He speaks in a voice, words in Bajoran, then words in Cardassian, and realizes that he has said his own name.
Are you Bajoran?Images of his doctor/father, and the woman he loves. And then the Cardassian station he was raised in.
"Not Bajoran." He tries to form a Bajoran uniform for a moment, and it dissolves.
Cardassian?Images of the leader who gave him a place, the security service that recognized his worth.
"No." A dark ship, and a device that held him in his shape while he shredded in pain. "Not Cardassian." More anger, and something worse than anger, a wounded sense of justice. "I do not know what I am."
Not Founder.Once, a Founder had risked himself to save this one called Odo. This Founder had been in disguise, saving our homeworld from a Cardassian invasion. Odo was working against us, and still this Founder risked himself to save Odo. Changelings do not kill other Changelings.
"I am not a Founder." An image of Jem'hadar slaves, and a Weyoun slave leading them. 'Who am I to judge a God for leaving heaven?' "I am not you."
Others have left us, and returned.Images of Klingons, Vulcans, Humans, all transformed Changelings. Some are in power, doing our work. Others simply learn, and record. It is for this that we are worthy of rule. All must be contained in us. Nothing should be lost if we were all that remained.
It is more pain than I can bear, to see what this one called Odo will take from us if he does not return. He is a part of us, more than a limb to a solid. We sent him to learn for us, to bring Bajor and Cardassia into the mind of the Founders, that we may be with them forever in the Great Link. Without him, a world is missing, an infinity. We are at war with them, and they will be destroyed, and lost forever.
Let us judge you.Almost a plea, as if one could ask oneself to return.
He assents, with a faint gesture, until his motion fades as he is joined with us. But although he is one with us, still he remains separate. His mind is open, shared with ours, but bold in his mind he answers I am not. I am not. I do not know what I am.
He sees, then, all that the Founders have been, and the great universe that is our destiny. He sees the infinity to which he is joined, and the base, lacking finitude for which he attacked it. Are you/I/we guilty?
Yes.One infinity lost from a universe of infinites. A choice ending with death cannot be revoked.
What is your/our/my punishment?
A solid body forms, in the midst of the Link. It takes Odo's shape. "Must I do this?" he asks.
No.But the answer is yes.
"It is just," Odo says.
The substance of the Link forms hands to hold him, tears to weep over him. It would have been more merciful to kill you.
"I did not ask for mercy."
A solid body, not Bajoran, not Cardassian. I/we give it human lungs and a heart, but leave his face as he has chosen it.
"I am not a God," he says. "There is no place for me in heaven."
His mind withdraws from us, into the body which is his doom. When he goes, he will remember little of this. I/we will weep, and the world of the Founders will be less by two infinite lives than it was. Much will be lost. And Odo will walk as a solid, among the solids he has chosen. It is just.