Boats Against the Current
It was a beautiful spring afternoon, not a cloud in the sky, and the Dominion ship was expected at any moment. The banners were hung, the ceremonial band was ready. Of course, they didn't know who would step off the ship yet, but that was no matter. The committee appointed by the Federation Senate had drawn up a greeting despite that little matter.
Ambassador Kira stood in her spot and continued to look forward and tried to resign herself to the fact that whatever changelings stepped off the ship, it would not be the one she both feared and hoped for. If it was Odo that was coming, he surely would have been discussing the protocol via subspace, instead of having Vorta do it for him. No, it had to be some other changeling.
She desperately hoped that was the case, at least.
Beside her, the aide to the Vulcan ambassador shifted as her eyes caught sight of the Dominion cruiser entering the atmosphere, and her almost-passionate alert soon led the committee to look upward. Sure enough, there was a thin, shimmering shape decesnding at a rapid rate. Kira's eyes squinted under the bright light of Sol as she and the others watched every second of the landing.
The hatch rolled open slowly and three Jem'Hadar stepped forward and scanned the area warily. Although the Federation had not been keen on allowing any arms, on either side, attend any part of the conference, the Vorta had insisted. For the safety of the Founders, they had reasoned. The sight of armed Jem'Hadar made Kira tense, and she wished she had been allowed a weapon of her own. A quick scan of the party present and Kira could see that many felt the same.
A few Vorta stepped forward and spaced themselves to the side, and then finally one of the Founders stepped forward. She, and Kira was forced to remind herself that it needn't actually be any gender, was the most natural looking 'humanoid' founder she had ever personally seen. Her 'eyes' were a dark brown, and her skin was painfully white in the bright sunlight, with dark, raven hair flowing around it. What marked the form she took most, however, was her tall stature. Elongated fingers and arms folded over the plain white dress she had shaped.
Kira found herself struck by the beauty of the shape the Founder had took on that it took her several minutes to realize that there was another changeling, standing in the shadows of the landed craft. His form made her heart leap in her chest, and a sense of dread fill her so that she hardly noticed the band strike up the Federation anthem behind her. The brass of it co-mingled with her own, pounding heart.
It was Odo.
Nerys watched each step of her feet on the gravel path of the gardens. Senator Ssrasth was leading the group-Jem'hadar and all, on an informative talk about the history of the Federation and its ideals through the gardens at Versailles. The Vorta seemed to be listening, and the other Ambassadors were chiming in with details when they saw it necessary. Nerys herself didn't know that much about the history of the Federation-she hadn't been raised in the Federation school system, after all. Even know, she knew just the basics to get her through the day.
She felt someone watching her, and she raised her head, but Odo was looking the other way. She frowned. She had expected him to find time to sneak away and greet her somehow, but he hadn't. He's on the job, Nerys, of course he can't take time out for his... That had bothered her as well. She had wanted acknowledgment, but what was she to him anymore? She swallowed and forced her personal issues back down for a few more minutes, to concentrate on the meeting.
This talk was rapidly turning into a very bad idea, she reasoned. The other changeling looked more like Ssrasth herself on a bad day-more interested in the birds and flowers than in the conversation itself. From time to time she would look at her Vorta, whom would say something like "The Founder wishes to know about this plant." And then the historical talk would end as the Bolian ambassador, whom had knowledge of botany, would speak to her about its lifecycle, until 'she' nodded, and they went back to the historical talk.
The walk had been designed as a way to get the visiting Founders to understand a little more about the practices of the Federation, but Kira wasn't sure that mattered. The Founders had to be receptive to a peace agreement, otherwise they wouldn't have come. The talk had been the other members of the council's idea.
The Bolian Ambassador continued his current talk, about the lifecycle of the orange trees. A dry human historian from the museum in the rebuilt palace added in bits about how this particular tree had been raised from a seed saved from one of the trees that had existed on the grounds before the Third World War. The Founder didn't seem to be listening-she never had. She simply ran her hands on the trunk, and on the branch closest to her before turning to her Vorta and waving him off.
Kira leaned forward. Perhaps she would speak now. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Odo turn his head to regard the Founder. Kira found herself picking up on the fact that she must be his superior on this mission, otherwise Odo would have greeted her, and the other ambassadors. This she felt sure of.
"Our world used to look like this," She murmured more to Odo than the humanoids around her. Kira's mind spun, and she looked out at the other people to see if they had caught the importance of the line. By their looks, a few had. Kira didn't know if she was more shocked by the implications of the words, or at the fact she had finally spoken. Was the Founder before them really that ancient? "The trees did." She added.
Odo shrugged. "It is a nice tree." He added for no reason, as if he found her statement as uncomfortable as a Bajoran ronu chair. The other changeling looked at Odo, and then out at the council members. Her dark brown eyes lingered on Kira for a moment before she plucked a leaf from the tree, and handed it to her Vorta. The Vorta took it as if it were a holy relic.
She then said, "I'm sorry, I've kept your informative lecture too long. Please continue." Kira found her voice very soft, almost as if it wasn't being said at all, and wondered if the softness was something she afflicted, or if it was a true indicative of her emotions.
The Vulcan whom had been giving the lecture bowed his head, and then continued talking about the adventures of James T. Kirk.
Odo and the other changeling had entered Ssrasth's meeting room a short time before for a private meeting. The other council members had slowly exited the rooms- off to get meals, or to go rest for the next day. Tomorrow, the real work would start. Kira stayed behind.
The meeting seemed to be taking quite a while, and she couldn't imagine why. None of the members in there had seemed very chatty. It did give her a lot of time to think about her relationship with Odo, such as it was. And the odd look the Founder had given her in the garden. It wasn't a warning, she mused. She had received that look from the Founder who had run the war plenty of times, although she hadn't always known it at the time.
Of course, only arrogance suggests that this Founder can't have an entirely different look that means the same thing. This thought prevented Kira from totally throwing out the idea that it was a warning. It could just have been curiosity, at the solid that had...has held Odo's attentions. Kira had ruled out the idea that the Founder didn't know who she was-she would have learned that from Odo, one way or another.
The door opened with the customary sound of compressed air moving it aside, and Kira did her best to look nonchalant about still being here, by pretending to be engrossed in a PADD about the schedule of the next few days.
The Founder looked over at her, so she looked up. "Oh, hello ma'am," Kira spluttered. How to address someone with no given name had always plagued her.
"Hello. So you are Major Kira." She said, and for the first time Kira was close enough to hear the unusual language that she was speaking in under the translation. Kira folded her arms behind her back.
"Ambassador Kira now, actually." She corrected, gently. Behind her, Odo stepped out and the door slowly skidded shut. She looked up, hopefully, and caught Odo's blue eyes. All of her fears and doubts washed away, and she took in a short bit of breath. He quirked his lips and then nodded to the Founder, as if she was some sort of parent that they should behave in front of.
The Founder seemed to miss none of this. "Ambassador Kira. Of course, we forget that your people age far quicker than our own." Kira reluctantly met the odd gaze of the Founder, and nodded curtly. The Founder smiled faintly, and then said, "It is a pleasure to meet a solid that has so earned the trust of a member of the Link." She said before starting to walk away.
"I will be returning to the ship." She said, looking at Odo before stepping through the threshold with a rustle of the dress she 'wore'.
And then they were alone.
Onto Chapter Three