60,062 (Kurillian calendar)

At first, the shrines were packed to bursting with the devout. Whether services were in session or not, it didn't matter—Vorta were there, praying and celebrating; thanking the Founders for returning to them. Within days of the strange ship appearing in the sky, the Founder who had greeted them had patched into the interface and given a planetwide address, a formal greeting, to the Vorta. Most people, Weyoun and Eris included, watched from their local shrine. The silence as she spoke was absolute; the inside of the Athoun shrine, despite the present Vorta standing so close that their shoulders were nearly touching, was so quiet that it was possible to hear the candles on the altar spitting in the Founder's pauses.

After it was over, people dispersed more than they had in recent days. The monsoon had begun the afternoon before and so the shrine's large outdoor patio, with its picturesque view of Tira City's skyline in the distance and one of the Tir River's tributaries burbling beneath it, was unavailable. The shrine had a large basement, though, and a foyer with doors that led both outside and to the duraplastic-covered walkway that connected the building with its metro station. Weyoun and Eris let other Vorta flow around them as they slowly made their way to the locked patio doors.

"I can hardly believe it, still," she said, watching the rain and hail pound the paving stones outside. Turning to Weyoun, her eyes shining with emotion, she said, "Imagine—our child is going to be born into a world where the gods have returned to us."

"I can hardly believe it myself," he said.

She glanced back towards the window and murmured, "It's like a dream." Water splattered against the duraplastic, running in rivulets down the transparent pane, and their reflections stared back at them. Her image smiled slightly and Weyoun glanced at her as she said, "I know it will never be my place, but I'd love to ask them about some of the sites I've worked on over the years."

He returned the smile and said, "We'll probably never speak to any of the Founders. The clerics and the governors will do that—most likely, the Adjudicator will, also."

"I know the Founders won't trouble themselves with people like me, but you're in a position of power, at least. You might actually talk with them." Though he didn't voice his doubt again, it was still showing in his eyes, and Eris just shook her head at his lack of faith. "We'll find out soon enough." Then, flicking her eyes towards her wrist chronometer, she said, "We'd better go home if we're going to prepare anything for lunch."

"We can count on Deimos bringing something."

"We invited him over. We have to provide something."

When they arrived home, however, walking briskly up the covered walkway, they found Deimos already waiting for them despite it being well in advance of the hour they'd invited him for lunch. There was a large case of what clearly was food in his arms and an excited, almost frenetic gleam in his eyes. "My apologies for arriving so early—I brought lunch to atone for it."

Weyoun shot Eris a look that was half amusement and half smugness, and she smirked at him before waving her ID disc over the door panel and pushing the door open. "Come in, Deimos."

As they entered the house and went to the kitchen, Weyoun asked, "And to what do we owe the pleasure of your extremely early arrival?"

Deimos heaved the case onto the counter and waved a hand, and the question, aside. "I need a drink first."

While Eris opened a bottle of wine, declining their guest's offer to drink the one he'd brought first, Weyoun and Deimos set out the food, an impressive spread from an upscale city center takeaway that the two of them had frequented as young aides. Deimos downed a glass of wine before touching the food, though he gestured for the two of them to start eating. Then, once he'd poured himself a second glass and piled his plate, he said, "Kurill Prime."

Weyoun and Eris looked at each other. "I'm sorry?" Weyoun said.

"They're calling this planet Kurill Prime," Deimos said, his tone growing reverent. "The Founders. Officially, for them, we orbit the yellow dwarf star Kurill, we're living on the only habitable world in a system with six other orbital bodies." He paused to dip a vegetable roll in honey and take a bite out of it. "Think of it," he went on once he'd swallowed, "we're the Kurill system. People—aliens, across the whole galaxy, will call us that."

Weyoun and Eris had stopped eating at the beginning of this, staring at him, and in Eris's case, holding a vegetable roll halfway between the plate and her mouth. Her eyes were round as she asked, "You've spoken with them?"

Deimos drained his second glass of wine. "I don't know why you sound so flabbergasted by the idea—you were there at first contact, weren't you?"

"The Founder didn't address any of us individually," Eris said, glancing towards Weyoun, who shook his head, confirming this.

"She didn't actually speak to me, either," Deimos admitted. He reached for the bottle of wine and poured another glass for himself. "I only spoke with her bodyguard. Just before I came here. The aliens with her—they call themselves Jem'Hadar, say the Founders created them."

"Of course the Founders created them," Weyoun said. "The Founders created us, too."

Deimos raised his eyebrows. "Not in the sense that they created us eons ago. In the sense that they created the Jem'Hadar in a laboratory. They bred them to be the way they are out of nothing. Have you noticed there aren't any women?"

Truthfully, Weyoun hadn't wanted to get close enough to the soldiers to notice anything about them, but their presence in Tira City—dour and prowling, their weapons held ready as though they expected to find a reason to use them around every corner—had precluded that possibility. "I'm not sure I'd be able to recognize one of their women," he said.

Deimos chuckled. "They're an intimidating bunch, I'll grant you that." He paused to eat some more, then went on, "Well, I spoke with one of them at great length on all things Jem'Hadar." Looking immensely pleased with himself—and Weyoun had to admit that the way Eris and he were staring, enraptured, was only adding to his smugness—Deimos went on, "He called himself Fourth Vitak'itlan. Apparently the 'Fourth' is a ranking; the leader of the unit is the First, the second in command is the Second, and so on. Vitak'itlan is six years old."

"Six?" Eris asked. "What in the world do the adults look like?"

"He is an adult," Deimos said. "The Jem'Hadar are bred to be ready to fight almost immediately once they're…born, or…however it is they come into the universe. Vitak'itlan says he was in his first battle when he was three months old."

Weyoun narrowed his eyes slightly. "Who was he fighting?"

With a shrug, Deimos replied, "I didn't ask specifically. 'Enemies of the Dominion' was what he said."

"Ah, yes," Weyoun said thoughtfully. "The Dominion."

Every Vorta had first heard of the Dominion when the Founder had gone on the interface to formally greet their people. Their gods, as it turned out, were not merely gods—they were also the leaders of some kind of interstellar empire ("Didn't any of us ever stop to wonder why we call them the Founders?" Eris had asked wryly after the announcement). There were already murmurings, which were surely not lost on the Founder and her soldiers, that this 'Dominion' was what had been promised to the Vorta all those millennia ago.

Quietly, Eris said, "It's a little overwhelming to think that there's enough life out there—" she gestured vaguely towards the ceiling, and the sky beyond, "for there to be enemies of the Founders."

"It's overwhelming to think that there are aliens out there who don't know the Founders are gods," Weyoun added. Both of them looked at Deimos, and Weyoun asked, "Did this…Vitak'itlan give you any indication of how large the Dominion is?"

"Large enough for the Founders to have whole fleets of starships." At the word, Weyoun raised his eyebrows, and Deimos said, "They don't call them orbitals. It would be a bit of a misnomer, wouldn't it? They travel between the stars, not just around a single planet."

"Logical," Eris said with a small smile.

"The Jem'Hadar are nothing if not that," Deimos replied. "I'm not sure how much imagination they have, either." Eating an entire honeycake in two bites, he added, "I wonder how they'll take it when the Founders allow us to take the place they promised us in the Dominion?"

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," Weyoun said mildly. "They may have changed their minds."

Eris looked thoughtful, and there was an academic gleam in her eye. "It's amazing—sixty thousand years ago, the Founders promised Kurill that the Vorta would become an important part of an empire. And now here they are with an empire, knowing they were here before and remembering what they told us. That sort of cultural continuity is incredible."

"They must live so long that they may as well be immortal," Deimos mused.

"Maybe they are immortal," Weyoun pointed out. "There's nothing that we know that suggests otherwise."

"There's nothing we know that suggests they are," Deimos said. "They're apparently vulnerable enough to physical injury, it stands to reason they'd be vulnerable to age."

Putting her empty plate to the side, Eris said, "I suppose that's why they have the Jem'Hadar. But I can't really understand why they'd bring them here."

Weyoun raised his eyebrows at her. "The first time they came to this planet, a Founder was almost killed. Is it particularly shocking that they'd want protection now?"

"That wasn't Vorta that did that."

"They couldn't know that we wouldn't do the same thing now that we're the dominant species."

"They knew we worshipped them," Eris pointed out.

He shook his head. "They knew we considered them gods. There was no way to know how devout we are."

"There was. They could have been watching us."

Deimos was watching the two of them, looking amused. "Do the two of you argue about normal things?" he asked, interrupting their conversation.

As Eris gave him a wry smile, Weyoun said, "I'd hardly call that an argument. And yes," he said, shooting her a small smile of his own, "we have terribly normal arguments."

"You wouldn't believe the things he says about visiting my parents," she joked, still smiling.

With a shake of his head, Deimos scoffed, "Parents. That's exactly why I'm not married. My own parents are enough for me, the last thing I need is another set."

It didn't escape Weyoun's notice that the minute Eris had pointed out that their planet may have been under surveillance, the conversation had shifted in another direction. He let it. They lived on a different world than they had a week ago—and not just metaphorically. Kurill Prime. He'd have to get used to thinking of it that way, if that was what the Founders called their planet.

Brushing Eris's elbow with his hand, Weyoun gave her a smile that was probably too private for company, even Deimos, and said, "I think the trade-off has been worth it."

Shaking his head again, this time in mock-exasperation, Deimos said, "You know, if I'd had any idea that the two of you would be this insufferably in love with each other after all this time, I'd never have introduced you."

"And have we thanked you recently?" Eris asked sardonically.

"Not nearly profusely enough. Think of it, without me the two of you might never have found one another. You'll be naming your child after me, yes?"

Weyoun snorted and replied, "You can be the Bearer on the naming day, if that's satisfactory?" This was actually something Eris and him had discussed, but he hadn't found a good way to bring it up with Deimos. When they'd asked him to witness their marriage it had been awkwardly emotional enough—it was better, with Deimos, to simply announce these things to him and not give him a chance to go on about what an honor it was to cover up the fact that he was honestly touched.

Of course, Deimos couldn't completely hide that he was touched, but all he said was, "Yes, that would be fine."

The three of them finished their lunch and let talk turn to other things, most significantly the fact that Deimos was scheduled to go up on the first extraplanetary orbital in the coming months. Eris looked mildly horrified at that. "Aren't there a number of…" She glanced at Weyoun, who raised an eyebrow at her, before she went on, "…corners being cut?"

With a shrug, Deimos said, "I'd rather the orbitals get built. If we have to leave some non-essential items out because the money isn't there, so be it. The cold hard truth is that all of these secondary safety measures that we'd built in wouldn't do anyone any good once the ship leaves orbit. And," he added, "that's why I'll be on the first mission. I don't mind taking risks that I'd never ask my subordinates to take."

"I'll try to remain optimistic that you'll be here for the baby's naming day."

"That's the spirit, Eris." Deimos raised his glass to her, and for a moment the three of them were silent, content simply to enjoy each other's company.

Finally, Eris shifted on the sectional, pulling her feet up underneath her and placing her plate on the ground. "I wonder why they came?" she said quietly, and despite the fact that the conversation had moved on, there was no question that she was talking about the Founders. "Do they want to stay here?"

Weyoun nodded to Deimos. "You can ask your Jem'Hadar friend."

"Vitak'itlan?" Deimos made a face. "I wouldn't go so far as to call him my friend. I doubt the Jem'Hadar have friends, quite honestly, and I don't think he'll tell me why the Founders came here. But I can ask." He shrugged. "And if they're staying—there are far worse things than gods choosing our planet to live on, even if they did have to bring their dour genetic experiments with them."

"True." Weyoun raised his own glass. "To the Founders, then—if it's what they're looking for, may they find Kurill Prime a suitable home." Eris and Deimos echoed the gesture. Their world may have been very different, but it was, unquestionably, better.

Weyoun hadn't exactly gotten used to the Jem'Hadar. But he saw them every day and they never seemed to interact with anyone. They just…watched. Which was unnerving, but he no longer started upon rounding a corner in the skyways and seeing one, and he didn't go out of his way anymore to avoid passing them too closely. They were, of course, unsettling, the way they just stared without speaking, and their alien-ness was still jarring. But given several more months, he thought they might just become part of the scenery to him.

Then, one morning, they were in the Council chamber.

There was a mild uproar when Weyoun entered, and rather than be drawn into one of the many indignant discussions going on around the chamber, he made a beeline for the Adjudicator, who was deep in conversation with one of the Jem'Hadar. She waved him off when he tried to approach, but he was close enough to hear the Adjudicator say, "Of course we understand that you're here on the Founder's orders. But you must understand that we are peaceful legislators and we cannot have weapons in this chamber. It's perfectly acceptable for you to observe, but you must leave the…guns…outside."

"I doubt you can provide a place that I would feel secure leaving our weapons," the Jem'Hadar said, a hint of a mirthless smile on his face. So they could smile. Interesting. It was a shame that this demonstration of that fact wasn't particularly friendly. "I am concerned that your people might see our superior technology and take it for themselves."

Weyoun could see the Adjudicator drawing herself up in outrage, but she, like the rest of them, wouldn't argue too vociferously with any Jem'Hadar. After all, they were the Founder's envoys. If what Deimos had said was true, then the Founders had created them wholesale. That made Weyoun wonder, suddenly, if the Jem'Hadar knew that the Founders were gods. Wouldn't they have to?

The Adjudicator looked towards Weyoun. She would know that he could hear this conversation. She held one of the most powerful positions in the government, but it was even possible for her to do the wrong thing and for her to lose that position. Angering the Founders' servants might just be that thing.

She sighed and nodded to the Jem'Hadar. "You have nothing to worry about. However, I understand that our customs are unfamiliar to you and that you're in an alien place. You may keep your weapons—this time."

The Jem'Hadar gave her that same mirthless smile and, before he turned around to march up the center aisle, he said, with an air of vague and cryptic insult, "I have been in much more alien places."

Vorta were well-attuned to such subtleties, and there was no doubt that the Adjudicator recognized the barely-concealed contempt in the Jem'Hadar's voice. However, she didn't say anything as he went, instead just looking at Weyoun and snapping, "Please take your seat, Senator Uldron. Proceedings will begin shortly."

He nodded and did as she said, and for one of the few times in his career, barely paid attention to the daily proceedings. He suspected he wasn't alone—many of the senators seemed more focused on the five Jem'Hadar standing stiffly at attention against the walls than on anything that was being said in the session. Weyoun made himself stand up and say something that felt important when he was considering it, though afterwards he couldn't have said what it was.

Even though the Jem'Hadar were too far away to be able to clearly read their facial expressions, he could see that that the one that had been…disagreeing with the Adjudicator—was he in charge? The First, as Deimos had said the leaders were called?—staring intently at him. He wasn't sure how he felt about being the subject of such intense scrutiny by a Jem'Hadar.

When the session came to a sputtering end, Weyoun joined the throng of senators as they filed into the corridor, many of whom were still muttering about the intrusion of the Jem'Hadar. In the end, they hadn't really been much of an intrusion, but politicians were experts at finding problems.

He was about to turn down the hallway that led to the side stairway closest to his office, when a tall and imposing form stepped in front of him.

"The Founder wishes to speak to you," said the Jem'Hadar First who had just blocked Weyoun's path. He sounded as though he couldn't imagine why—not that Weyoun blamed him, as he couldn't either. "Come with me."

Weyoun didn't move. "The Founder? What could she possibly want to speak to me about?"

"That is irrelevant," the Jem'Hadar replied. "She has ordered your presence. Follow me."

Without saying another word, the Jem'Hadar began walking away. There was no choice but to follow him. As they walked, Weyoun's heart gave a thump of mingled excitement and trepidation. He had no idea what he'd done to catch the attention of the Founder. Did she want something from him? It was a worrying thought. What could he possibly do for a god?

Whatever it was, he was about to find out, because he turned a corner, trailing the Jem'Hadar First slightly, and saw that the other four Jem'Hadar who had been in the Council chamber were standing around a much smaller figure. The Founder. He felt his steps falter, but then he reminded himself that he wasn't a coward and followed the Jem'Hadar until he was standing in front of his god.

"The senator you asked for," the Jem'Hadar said to her.

Immediately, Weyoun bowed and spread his arms out. "Founder," he said reverently, hardly daring to look at her.

There was silence for a moment, and he flicked his eyes upwards to see if he could read her expression.

He couldn't. Her face was devoid of any of the tics that he normally was so adept at deciphering, and that made something in him shy away in alarm, despite the fact that he'd been worshipping her people for his entire life. She was so alien. Even though the Jem'Hadar were unlike him, he could understand them at a basic humanoid level. But she was different, and that same unsettled feeling that had come over him at first contact snaked through him now.

"Walk with me," the Founder finally said in a calm, cool tone. Weyoun hesitated, then fell into step beside her. He tried not to let the Jem'Hadar make him nervous as they silently kept pace behind the two of them. "Do you have a name?" she finally asked him in the same calm tone, once they'd walked in silence for several minutes.

He flicked a glance at her from under lowered eyelids, unable to tell if this was sarcasm or a genuine query. The Founder herself didn't seem to have a name. Weyoun supposed gods didn't have need of them. "It's Weyoun," he said.

"Weyoun," the Founder repeated, as though the sounds were strange to her. They probably were. He wondered how often she took this form, how often she spoke out loud. "And you serve in the Council, Weyoun?"

"Yes," he said, keeping his eyes lowered deferentially.

"Are you an influential member of it?"

"I'm only a junior senator—"

"That is not what I asked. Are you an influential member of the Council?"

He hesitated, then replied, "I'm Tira Exarchate's junior senator. It's a powerful province. So—yes." The Founder nodded but didn't say anything else, and for what felt like a long time, they continued walking in silence. Weyoun followed her, unsure where she was going but unwilling to take the lead. Finally, however, the silence began to unnerve him. Glancing at her from beneath his lowered eyelids, he began hesitantly, "You speak our language very well, Founder. So do the Jem'Hadar."

The statement seemed to amuse her. "We have been observing your planet for some time," she replied. So Eris had been correct on that count. "I suppose I have absorbed it inadvertently. As for the Jem'Hadar, I asked them to learn your tongue. We must communicate somehow."

Suddenly, she stopped walking, and for a minute she studied her surroundings. They'd stopped in the Complex's entryway, a huge, domed space, built to impress. The Founder didn't look particularly impressed, though she said, "I take it that this is where the public enters your capitol building." When he nodded, that seemed to amuse her, and she said, whether to him or just to herself, he couldn't tell, "Solids—so very predictable." Even if the statement had been directed towards him, he was quite sure that she didn't require or want an answer. He remained silent until she addressed him again, which she did after gazing around for a few more moments. "Tell me about this planet," she said.

Weyoun blinked at the unexpectedness of this question, then lowered his gaze and said, "Forgive me, Founder, but if you've been observing us, I don't know what I can tell you that you don't already know about us."

"I wish to hear it described in a native's words. The Jem'Hadar are limited by their nature, and I have not spent enough time here to become enough of a Vorta so that I can know it more directly."

He wondered what she meant by that. However, there wasn't time at the moment to think about it, because she was staring at him, not expectantly, because that would have required a capacity for expression that she didn't possess, but with the unmistakable expectation that he was going to answer her, and quickly.

How could he boil his entire people and planet down to a single sentence, or even several sentences? Who were the Vorta? He'd never had to think about it before. There was nothing else. Now the universe was closer than it had ever been and the Vorta were just one of innumerable species spread throughout the stars. They were nothing special. They were not unique. The Founder and her Jem'Hadar may have—probably had—seen people like him hundreds of times over.

Still, she'd asked, and he needed to answer.

"We worship the Founders," he said. "We worship you, and your people, and try to lead the lives you'd want us to lead."

"But how could you possibly know what we want?" she asked, sounding amused, and not in a comforting way.

It had been a presumptuous and arrogant way to put it, he supposed. "We can't," Weyoun admitted. "But—we try not to harm each other or other creatures, after what happened the first time your people came to our planet."

"Because you think that's what we would want?" she asked, still sounding amused.


The Founder stared at him. "And what if I told you that we do not care what Solids do to each other? That you are all the same to us, and we view you the same way you view your dairy animals and bees and fowl?"

He felt his face freeze. For all his politician's diplomatic skill, for all the times he'd felt his way through a conversation on the strength of his ability to read other people, he was at a loss here. Even if she wasn't a shapeshifter, she was his god. It was all he could do to speak, let alone contemplate a statement that could profoundly shake the foundation of his faith. At the heart of that faith was the basic belief that they cared—that they had made a promise to Kurill all those millennia ago to return and to raise the Vorta to a higher place in the universe, and now that they'd kept half that promise, the rest of it wasn't far behind. Because hadn't the Vorta been good worshippers? It had been sixty thousand years and they'd never wavered. Was her question a thinly veiled statement of truth, or was she testing him, somehow?

She was studying him closely. "You would rather not hear such a thing," she observed.

"I…no, Founder. I would rather not."

There was a look on her face that unnerved him until he realized it was a smile—but even then, that was small comfort. She began walking again, tracing a slow circle around the foyer. There was a wide, clear path all around them, and Weyoun tried to ignore the stares their small group was drawing. Later, if this went well, he could use this as leverage. At the moment, though, he wasn't sure it was going well at all. "Then I will not tell you that," she said, and he wondered if it was because it wasn't what she thought, or if she pitied him.

He glanced back at the Jem'Hadar, none of whom were looking at him. And yet, they were clearly watching him, making sure he didn't threaten the Founder in some way. Their hostility was obvious, even if they were aliens. He wondered if it was something about him, considering Deimos had struck up a conversation with one of them. But then again, the First had been openly contemptuous to the Adjudicator. Deimos was probably the anomaly. His ability to make people talk to him was unparalleled.

Was she going to ask him anything else? Had he passed the test, if, indeed, she was testing him? This moment of silence seemed to be stretching forever, and all he could do was think of questions, some that he'd never ask her, and others that he desperately wanted to. Her divinity—and the Jem'Hadar—stopped him. But when she turned her head to stare at him, something made him take a deep breath and say, "May I ask you something, Founder?"

To his surprise, she nodded. "You may."

Weyoun flicked his eyes upwards, glancing at her face but unable to meet her eyes. "Do you have a home? A…planet…where the rest of the Founders live?"

She looked at him, the same impassive expression on her face that she'd worn throughout the conversation, but the same sense of vague amusement exuding from her, as well. With an abrupt, sickening certainty, he knew the question had been a foolish idea, and he opened his mouth to apologize for his forwardness; extricate himself from this conversation somehow, but then the Founder said, "The Great Link does reside on a planet, yes."

The Great Link. It was a tantalizing and unfamiliar phrase, and though Weyoun knew it wasn't his place to ask her, he still found himself saying, "The Great Link, Founder?"

"That is the name for our…" She seemed to be searching for the word. "…collective."

"Is it very far from here?" he asked, still not meeting her eyes.

There was a pause, and for a second Weyoun was sure that he really had overstepped his bounds. The Jem'Hadar behind them loomed larger and more hulking than ever. But miraculously, the Founder didn't seem offended or annoyed. In fact, she stopped walking momentarily to look upwards towards the skylights ringing the foyer's dome, and he took the opportunity to watch her. "Far enough," she said, and then she looked back towards him, surprising him into meeting her eyes.

Just for that instant, he felt blasphemously as though he understood her a little, despite having only spoken to her for a few minutes, despite the fact that she was a god and her thoughts and motivations were beyond his comprehension. But he saw, in her eyes, a being who loved her people and her home and felt every moment away from both acutely. "Though to the Jem'Hadar," she added, "it isn't far at all."

She began walking again, and Weyoun moved to stay in step with her. "I believe my homeworld is visible in your night sky," she said without further prompting. "It is located within the Omarion Nebula."

Weyoun started and without meaning to, met her eyes again, though this time he quickly averted his gaze. "We…just call it the Nebula," he said. Incredible. He'd been staring up at his gods' homeworld for his entire life. "We can't see anything else," he added. "Just the moons and the Nebula, so it never seemed to need a name, I suppose." That sounded ridiculous when said out loud, but then, if the Founders had built an empire amongst the stars, they probably had heard quite a number of ridiculous things from the other races that were part of that empire.

The Founder, however, didn't have much of a reaction at all, except to say, "I'm surprised you have not made adjustments to correct your eyesight."

"Why would we?" he asked, confused. There were no corrections to be made. Vorta eyesight was what it was, and there was remarkably little variation in it. Occasionally a Vorta would have better vision than normal. It tended, for some reason, to be women.

She stared at him for a moment, then replied, "I was under the impression that your people have an advanced understanding of genetic research."

Hoping it wasn't immodest, he replied, "We do. But—forgive me, I'm not a scientist—I think what you're suggesting would require major genetic therapy, and that isn't legal."

"Not legal?" the Founder asked, sounding surprised.

He opened his mouth to begin to explain the labyrinth of reasons and mores and legalities, but then closed it, hesitated, and finally said, "It's been illegal my whole life. I understand there were some beneficial medical procedures that came from the research, but on the whole…" He hesitated again. "I suppose it didn't seem…right…to change ourselves."

"Yet you clone yourselves."

"Only when infertility is an insurmountable problem."

"Which," she said, "it seems often to be."

With another hesitation, he replied, "Yes. It is."

She didn't reply to that, and after a moment, one of the Jem'Hadar approached her and said something in their language. She responded shortly and with a nod, and then replied, "My loyal guard points out that I have been away from my ship for too long."

"Of course," Weyoun said, bowing his head.

Her eyes slid away from him as though he'd never held her attention at all, and she began to walk away with the Jem'Hadar. Then, unexpectedly, she turned and stared at him. "We must be very different than what you've always thought we would be," she said.

He realized, abruptly, that she was far more intimidating than the Jem'Hadar, and that he was terrified of saying the wrong thing. "I never had the imagination to think of what you'd be like," he replied. She stared at him, that tiny smile on her face, and walked away, the Jem'Hadar behind and in front of her. He knew she hadn't believed him.

The last place that Weyoun expected to find himself, three days later, was standing in the Adjudicator's office with Soltoi and Foros, arguing with the leader of the Council about what appeared to be an arbitrary and ill-advised rescheduling of their budgetary session. The three senators from every exarchate held a budgetary session once a year with the fiscal committee. At that time, funds were allocated to each exarchate for the year, making it one of the most important meetings a senator would attend. And Tira Exarchate's session had been delayed.

It was one of the few things that could unite even Tira's adversarial senators. Tira was a wealthy exarchate, but it needed money, and all three of them were very aware of it.

"This is outrageous," Soltoi said coldly, staring at the Adjudicator. The three of them had already been butting heads with her for a quarter of an hour. They had tried reasonableness. They were quickly devolving into irritation. "We've already had to delay the budgetary session, and now you're telling me—us," she allowed, nodding at Weyoun and Foros, "—that it will be delayed again? Tira is approaching a fiscal crisis and we cannot afford to keep putting it off."

Foros held a hand up and Soltoi stopped speaking, looking at him. "If I may?" he asked her, and she nodded curtly. "Adjudicator," he said, "Tira Exarchate's local government is going to be facing a shutdown if we can't supply a budget, which we obviously can't until we hold a session with the budget committee. I understand that the Founders' return has thrown everything somewhat…out of sorts, but our government must continue to function."

"We do still have a functioning government?" Soltoi asked the Adjudicator with a sarcastically raised eyebrow.

Weyoun, his arms crossed over his chest while he watched the thin line of the Adjudicator's lips tighten further with each word, said pointedly, "In case you've forgotten, most of the money to combat the Kiyu Riots came from our budget. That wasn't tenable then and the entire Council knew it, and now we're being put on the hook for it without opportunity to re-draft our budget."

"I am not going to debate fiscal policy with the three of you," the Adjudicator said, clearly trying to maintain her calm. "A plenary session has been called for tomorrow morning and Tira Exarchate's budgetary session will be rescheduled. This is not up for discussion." When the three of them all began arguing at once, her eyes hardened and she smacked a palm down on the table. The violence of the action, more than the sound itself, subdued them, and when the Adjudicator spoke again, she sounded markedly more severe. "Are you legislators or are you children?" she demanded.

There was an awkward silence, and then Weyoun said, "Our apologies, Adjudicator. My colleagues and I simply want to do what's best for our exarchate. Surely we can find some solution to this…dilemma?"

"The solution," the Adjudicator replied, "is for the three of you to attend the plenary session tomorrow. We will reschedule the budgetary session at a time that is conducive to all of you and the committee." Before any of them could object again, she picked a padd up and held it out. "As you can see, I have very little choice in the matter."

Foros took the padd and both Weyoun and Soltoi moved in to see what was on it. The first half was taken up by lines and roundels with crescents cut out of them, connected by horizontal lines. Below that was, Weyoun realized, a translation into Kurillian.

"The Founder will be addressing the Council at 10:00," the Adjudicator said, and it was clear from her tone that they were being dismissed. "I have therefore called for the session to begin ten minutes earlier."

There was another heavy silence as all three of them considered, and then dismissed, the idea of arguing further. There had been an unspoken command in the Adjudicator's voice, and, unwillingly, they finally obeyed it and tacitly filed out her offices.

"I must admit," Soltoi said curtly, once they'd stepped into the quiet section of corridor where the Adjudication offices lay, "that this is not what I expected when I watched that Jem'Hadar ship fly across the sky."

"None of us knew what to expect," Foros said.

Weyoun stared down the hallway distractedly for a moment, his mind elsewhere, before he turned back to his colleagues. "What could the Founder want to address all of us about?" he asked.

Soltoi's lips thinned as she looked at him, though when she spoke, her tone was bland. "Why don't you tell us? You are the one, after all, who had a private conversation with her."

"When a god wants to speak with you, you don't say no," Weyoun replied, trying to keep the edge out of his voice as well as Soltoi had.

Her expression twitched, but she nodded curtly. "I suppose I'll see the two of you tomorrow," she said. "Let's hope that the Adjudicator deigns to reschedule the budgetary session soon, or there won't be any point in any of us coming to work at all." With that, she strode off down the corridor, leaving Weyoun and Foros standing outside the offices.

Foros glanced at him. "I don't suppose you do have any idea what the Founder's address might be about?"

Shaking his head, Weyoun replied, "If I could tell what the Founder was thinking, I'd be much more than a junior senator on a world that's apparently something of a galactic backwater."

With a chuckle, Foros said, "I suppose that's true." Then, he sighed. "We'll see tomorrow." There was an edge to his voice that sounded too much like trepidation, but Weyoun ignored that and told himself he was misreading his mentor. After all, if the Founder was addressing the Council, there was nothing to be anxious about.

At the best of times, only about two-thirds of the Council was present. Votes could be sent in via interface; senators didn't always feel like attending every session. So when a plenary session was called, the din in the main council chamber was enormous. With three hundred and twelve senators from all one hundred and four exarchates present, in addition to as many runners and aides that could stuff themselves through the side door, and all of them unable to stop talking, the level of noise was painful.

The Adjudicator did nothing to silence it as she normally would have, she simply sat at the podium, her hands folded in front of her, and stared out at the chamber. Weyoun, watching her with half an eye while most of his attention was focused on the conversation he was holding with Foros, wondered how many senators knew what Tira Exarchate's did—that the Founder had asked her to call the session. He glanced discreetly at his wrist chronometer, noting that the scheduled minute for the Founder's remarks was drawing near, and then looked up quickly as the chamber fell silent in a wave, Vorta nearest the entrance quieting and the hush spreading outwards through the chamber from them as the Founder, with her ever-present escort of Jem'Hadar, entered.

Every eye in the chamber stayed locked on her as she made her way up to the podium. The Adjudicator stood, bowed briefly, and then stepped down, yielding the floor to the Founder. That, in itself, was a sign of the Founder's divinity—the Adjudicator never left her place in the chamber, never allowed anyone to occupy it in her stead.

When the Founder had taken the Adjudicator's place at the podium and the Jem'Hadar had arrayed themselves in front of her and to either side, she stared impassively around the chamber for a long moment before speaking. There wasn't a sound. Weyoun could hear his colleagues' breathing, even their heartbeats, as they all waited.

"I will be brief," the Founder said into the deathly quiet chamber. There was another long silence while she stared out at all of them. "We have traveled among the stars for many eons," she finally said. "In our travels, we have learned much of the universe, and of the many beings that inhabit it. The galaxy, even this small part of it, is a dangerous, chaotic place."

She paused to let these words sink in, but no one moved. "This is why we formed the Dominion—with our Jem'Hadar allies, we can protect ourselves from the many dangers the universe holds. We can bring order to the chaotic and savage wilds of space."

Placing her hands flat on the podium, she went on, "We do not offer membership spuriously. A people who become part of the Dominion must bring something to it. And that is why I am here today." The entire Council seemed to hold its breath waiting for her next words. "Your people's cloning expertise would be a great asset to the Dominion, and as such, we are prepared to offer Kurill Prime entry."

A low murmur that even the presence of a god couldn't contain immediately filled the chamber, and the Founder let it go on for a moment before holding up a hand for silence. It fell again immediately. "We do not demand your answer at once. Discuss it. Come to your decision. We will be waiting, and we hope to welcome you to our empire."

With that, she stepped down from the podium. The Jem'Hadar re-formed around her, and she walked swiftly out of the chamber. The doors banged shut behind her, and then no one could remain silent any longer as the chamber erupted into loud conversation.

And Weyoun knew, without speaking to anyone, that the Vorta would join the Dominion. He would see to it, no matter what the cost.