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Dreamed 1996/3/24 by Wayan

Star Trek. A huge station: Deep Space Nine. Shapeshifters are infiltrating. People disappear, than reappear... doubles, spies. Where are the originals? Dead, or prisoners?

The shapeshifters plan to invade through the hull. They're drilling in from the outside. We must discover where they'll emerge. A station official with a raspy drone of a voice (is he a machine?) says "My limit for sonar is only 30 feet and hearing about 50 feet. Odo, you're the only one who can hear the tunneling." Odo, the security officer, is an orphan shifter raised among humans. At last, faintly, he hears drilling in the walls. It's certain now. They're planning to invade.

Their advance spies market a powerful new drug to the dealers in the station's underground. It lets humans shapeshift temporarily! A medic analyzing a sample gives an endless speech of pseudoscientific blather explaining how this can be. I mutter "Quit justifying your premise and USE it! Get on with the story!" Those Trek writers...

Slowly, the drug spreads; underground artists love the effects. The shifters hope to spread confusion, I guess, but I'm all for it. A drug that'll let you become another person or creature, see life through different eyes! And it makes people friendlier to shifters, understand them better--we may be able to negotiate with our enemies, having become them.

But the drug's addictive, and has health risks. Still, there are worse drugs out there. So I propose to the station's officers, "Rather than suppressing the stuff, develop a safer version of it!" I risked trying the current version and look forward to an improved one.

Odo suspects that one of the true shifters is posing as a human drug-shifter. In his office, an oval room at one end of the station, above the Promenade, Odo questions a teen from the drug culture. The kid answers only with what first seems a rambling joke or a fable based on... Beowulf! The part of the saga where the monster sneaks into the hall at night. Only in his version, it's the warriors who sneak in, up through a trapdoor under the monster! Is he implying the shifters will invade the station via such a trapdoor? Odo asks him directly; the kid stays silent. He's said all he came for--he doesn't want the station invaded, but he has friends among the artists and doesn't want to betray them either. Odo looks at him and says "Thanks. You've behaved honorably in a difficult situation."

Once the kid's gone, Odo looks around the station's promenade for the trapdoor. Up on a ledge there's a patch of bright blue. A jacket? Odo climbs up to look. Next to the coat is a carpenter's plane. Odo knows instantly it marks the mouth of the planned tunnel.

The plane looks a bit like a huge snail, with its knobby handle for the shell, its blade for the body. And "snails" are the local slang for Changeling agents because you can't get rid of them--like snails in a veg bed.

Meanwhile, our young drug-user sneaks off to a meeting of the shifters, many of them probably the real thing, not mere drug-shifters like him. They meet in a curved concave wedge inside the walls. The curving shelves and ledges are ankle-deep in gravel. No... beans. Little spotted beans! Each member names himself, his lineage, then tells his deeds, ritually. The kid is bouncy, high on excitement at his secret, and introduces himself with boasts about his lineage having master changelings on both sides, giving him an unusual range. As he blows his own horn, it appears literally--a tuba with a wide bell-mouth. He pours beans into the bell as a measure of his deeds. But he pours out of his pride in his secret defense of the humans, not for the deeds he can openly name. Naturally, the others scoff at his vanity:
"Drugged-out kid dreams he's a hero!"
"Many beans, little deeds!"
"He's been corrupted by those one-shaped artists."

In the end he recants: the bragging-beans have clogged his horn. It won't play. He pours the beans back out of his tuba in shame.

Yet he WASN'T bragging emptily. His hint helps Odo stops the drilling in time. The station's invasion is over before it began. As the shifters leave the station, defeated, the Station Commander has a private talk with the kid who helped them: "You're welcome to stay, if you need asylum... after what you did you can have the run of the whole Federation if you like. Well, that's contingent on one thing you forgot. Where are the disappeared people? Are they alive? Are they prisoners?"

"Oh, yeah, I forgot. They're on your largest moon." It's a lonely, thin-aired desert, but survivable.

The scene shifts there; see two women with round faces, schoolteachers I think. Crossing the desert, they run into a man who's from the station too. They weren't sure where they were--few people visit this moon. But together, they deduce it. So they're not stranded for life, in some alien system. A mere million miles from home!. Eventually they'll be spotted, or find an outback station--the desert moon does have some research stations, even a few settlers.


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