Chapter 11

Cawdor sat in one of Bedlam's many research halls with Vanley, Kendrew and their Nerd Herd. They'd recounted their last conversation with Foley, and also recounted her own unqualified advice.

"Your advice was sound, Cawdor." Kendrew was a very striking looking person. Their pale skin, bright blue eyes and curly blonde hair made them look almost fragile. Of course, Kendrew was anything but fragile. There was no such thing as a fragile Bedlite. Vanley had jet black hair, like Cawdor's, but Vanley's waved and curled in all directions which drove them to distraction. "You did extremely well giving the explanation that you did, given your own state. You're all ... tangled." Kendrew said in concern while pulling their fingers gently through Cawdor's mess of hair.

"Can you not?" Vanley shuffled themselves between Cawdor and Kendrew. "Important matter at hand? Yes? Cawdor, you horror." Cawdor tutted and rolled their eyes. "You did do well Cawdor. It's not your fault he won't listen."

"I promised him I'd tell you lot. It's his granddaughter, Vanley. I know there's nothing we can do, but I said I'd tell the experts and I have." Cawdor scratched their head and Kendrew leant back to remove a particularly offensive knot.

"We'll review all the information we have, of course." Vanley said. "We won't do the running commentary thing with Foley. I think we all know it's a non starter. "Cawdor ... " Vanley paused to glare at Kendrew, who gave Cawdor's hair a good tug to free the knot, causing them to yelp loudly. "Finished? It's like bloody preschool. Cawdor go and get your manky self sorted out. Your Phase should taper off quite quickly now, according to Undris."

"Like Undris has been exposed to a plethora of fixed gender weirdos." Cawdor muttered and stood up. "Can Kendrew come and wash my hair?"

"No." Vanley said flatly. "Sod off."

Six weeks went by and the cruiser's equipment remained inactive. Admiral Foley was conspicuous in his absence. Natasha and Dale still had their duties to carry out but they frequently talked about Cawdor, and Bedlam, sometimes fondly, sometimes sadly. Dale knew that some attitudes towards him had changed but tried not to let it bother him. If a few people wanted to show how ignorant they were then that was their problem.

"Dale." Natasha came into the engineering room. "Admiral Foley's arranging to move the cruiser."

"A bit late but better late than never I suppose." Dale replied. "What about all the gear on board? Most of it will need dismantled and purged before transit."

"He's sending a team from here to sort all that. Engineer Morton is leading them." Natasha said quickly.

"Oh? For any reason in particular?" Dale asked.

"Yes. She's a good engineer."

"Absolutely. So am I. As the senior engineering officer of the Station, I should be there. That's serious kit on that cruiser." Dale reminded her. "Tell Admiral Foley ... "

"It wasn't Foley." Natasha interrupted. "I recommended Morton."

"Natasha I'm fine." Dale sighed heavily. "What do you think I'd do? Speed off in the cruiser straight for Bedlam?"

"No. No of course not." Natasha said heavily. "I wasn't doubting your reasoning and certainly not your ability. You can see Bedlam's mist from the cruiser. Did you realise that? I hadn't realised it was so close."

"Natasha I know Cawdor's down there, regardless of how far away the place is. I also know they're fine and I'm sure they think about me too. I'm thirty five, not fifteen." Dale smiled.

"Oh you're right." Natasha heaved a sigh. "I shouldn't have made the decision on your behalf. The rota isn't finalised. I'll have it amended."

"There's no reason why I can't do my job." Dale smiled. "So how many on this team?"

"Ten, including you. I wonder what happened with the Admiral? You know how insistent he was to begin with." Natasha frowned. "Do you think Cawdor had a hand in it? He saw them alone, if you remember."

"If we were meant to know, either from the Brass, or from Cawdor, then we'd have been told. As long as we're backing away from mining, that's fine by me." Dale nodded. "I'll go and pull the details of the kit on the cruiser."

The cruiser had been especially adapted for scientific research so it was predominantly one huge laboratory with the obligatory sleeping berths and bathrooms. There was also the all important command room that housed the master computers and the cockpit to fly the vessel.

"There's nothing too complicated here." Dale told his team. "It was all assembled here on the cruiser so the assembly maps are all with their pieces of respective equipment. I'll put these details in the master systems anyway, just incase you need to access any of them. Karen, Phil and Dan can start over there. Matthew, Steve and Gemma over there and Val, Ellie and Scot over there. Easy stuff." Dale grinned and headed for the command room. He had to stop and take a few deep breaths when he entered it. The cruiser was pointed towards Bedlam and it's green, swirling atmosphere was clearly visible through the viewing window. Cawdor was under that mist somewhere. Cawdor who emerged backside first out of a beat up shuttle and wanted a moustache like Joel Foley's. Cawdor who complimented Natasha's figure, and Dale's. Cawdor who turned up for breakfast wearing that shirt. Cawdor who beat the giblets out of two thugs. Cawdor who'd held Dale until he fell asleep after they told him they loved him.

"Sir?" Dale hadn't heard his colleague come in.

"Karen. Dale, please. What's up?" Dale busied himself with the computer.

"You left the schematics for kit C on the desk." Karen put the chip down. "You miss her."

"Miss her? Who?" Dale laughed.

"Ambassador Cawdor." Karen elaborated.

"Oh! Yes of course I do. Her? You did see Cawdor didn't you?" Dale said warily.

"Yes I did, a few times. She never seemed male to me, not even in that shirt." Karen smiled. "Who gives a rat's anyway? She'll be OK, Dale."

"I've no doubt about it." Dale looked at Bedlam's smog again.

"I'll be getting back." Karen was less that six feet through the doors when the warning sirens began wailing and red alert lights began strobing. The door to the command room slammed shut automatically and the hazard lights came on.

"What the ... " Dale slammed the communication emergency channel. "Station Cumberland! Station Cumberland this the research cruiser. Cumberland! Do you read me?"

"Dale!" Natasha responded. "Dale what's going on? We have your alerts monitored here."

"Shit. Natasha the sensors are detecting Fifeogen."

"Detection confirmed. Oh my god. Dale I've sent out an emergency code red. You're in the command room and the others are in the main lab. I have your vitals. Dale is the door sealed?" Natasha watched in absolute horror as two life signals in the lab faded to grey. "Dale? Dale can you hear me? Dale!"

"Report!" Admiral Foley strode into the communications room, still fastening his uniform.

"Five dead sir, all in the main lab. Four very weak signals, again in the lab. One is stronger but not by much. Sir that's Dale. He's sealed in the command room." Natasha pointed at Dale's signal. "What happened? The shuttle's been inactive for six weeks! I'll send out a rescue squad."

"Those four have gone, Captain." Foley said quietly. All nine engineers in the labs were dead. "There must have been samples already on the shuttle. Oh good god."

"You knew that crap was on that shuttle?" Natasha sobbed.

"I certainly did not. I deactivated that equipment and brought out the men! I ... I ... stopped. I was going to recall the cruiser!" Foley said in complete shock. "The whole thing's toxic. Seal of that area."

"What? Sir engineer Tanner is still alive! We can't leave him down there!" Natasha exclaimed.

"Listen to me, Captain. A rescue squad of that calibre consists of at least twelve men. Then what? Another twelve, then another? Seal that area." Foley shouted. "Any vessels entering it will be perceived as unauthorised and hostile and you, Captain Crown, report to me. Understood?"

"No sir, it is not understood!" Natasha got to her feet. "My engineer is on that cruiser. A cruiser full of Fifeogen because of an oversight on your part! The Admiralty abandoned citizens to the poison once before. I'll not stand here and see you do it again."

"You are suspended from your position Captain Crown! Effective immediately." Foley bellowed.

"Don't bother. I resign, effective immediately." Natasha stormed out of the room and into her office. "Arsehole!" She ranted, swiping a stack of computer slides onto the floor. "To hell with you Foley." She sat down and activated her communicator. She saw the tell-tale blue flecks flickering through the communicator's vents and knew it was being monitored. Natasha swore horribly. She needed to contact Bedlam, the Fifeogen experts, before time ran out for Dale.

Two security guards ran into the shuttle bay after Captain Crown.

"Sir, all vessels are grounded. There's an emergency out in the Hazards."

"Let me through, Pemberton." Natasha glared at her security guard. Pemberton stayed put.

"Dale Tanner is out there. Dale who flew you to Ambrix in his own time when your mother died? Dale who stayed there with you and your family because you were all devastated? Dale who babysits your kids, Tucker." Natasha looked at the other guard. "Dale who looks after this Station when he's working and looks after it's population when he isn't. Remember him? You stop me taking that shuttle and he'll die." Pemberton and Tucker exchanged glances, then turned and walked out of the shuttle bay.

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