Chapter 14

Dale remained in his restless state for four days. He didn't fully regain consciousness but when he did struggle to the surface, he murmured Cawdor's name. Undris' scans showed that Dale was in the early stages of mutation and there was no sign of any toxicity that would be abnormal to a Bedlite. Cawdor questioned themself constantly over this. Had they the right to make the ultimate decision over someone else's life? Dale would be dramatically and irreversibly altered. Did Cawdor have the right to decide that? Cawdor was in one such cross-examination when Anz came to their house.

"There's a problem, Cawdor. Dale ... " Anz never got to finish their sentence. Cawdor ran from their home to the hospital.

"Don't you dare barge in there." Undris warned from their computer.

"What's happened?" Cawdor was out of breath and their injuries reminded them that they weren't at full steam themself.

"Basically, his female physiology is too recessive. It's there, but it's underdeveloped and his male body is rebelling against what it sees as a foreign growth." Undris explained.

"Because he's been a fixed male all his life." Cawdor said.

"Yes. More than that though, it's his native form and obviously been like that for thirty five years." Undris explained.

"So ... so what do we do?" Cawdor asked in panic.

"We manage his pain, Cawdor. We make him as comfortable and ... "

"Palliative care? No. Just no, Undris. Don't try and explain because you'll never convince me." Cawdor began pacing the room.

"Cawdor, whatever you're brewing in that head of your's, stop." Undris said warily.

"So ... " A loud cry of pain from Dale sent Cawdor into a panic. They ran into the room and the poor man was contorted in agony. Undris altered the dosage of drugs going into his arm.

"He's on a high dose of this, and three others." Undris said.

"And he's still suffering? Up the bloody dose Undris!" Cawdor cried.

"And turn his innards to broth. He's on the maximum dose of everything, Cawdor. Increasing it would cause massive ruptures. The only thing I can increase is the sedative. It'll put him in a coma until ..."

"Don't you dare." Cawdor went to Dale and he looked awful. "I did this to you Dale. I'm so sorry. Don't give up. Give me chance to fix it."

"Cawdor." Vanley was standing by the door, Anz behind them.

"For shit's sake!" Cawdor erupted. "You do not have to send for Vanley every time I fart! They don't have to drop everything to come to me every five minutes and you lot shouldn't demand that of them. No induced coma, Undris. Pain relief, yes. The first stop before death, no." They headed for the door.

"Cawdor! Hey! Where are you going?" Vanley caught their arm.

"I have one last chance to fix this, Vanley. One. If it doesn't work then Undris must do whatever they see fit." Cawdor said. Vanley looked at Cawdor, looked into their eyes and noted every detail of the expression on their face, then they just nodded and Cawdor ran from the hospital.

For a population descended from criminals, Bedlam had very little crime in the present day. Their numbers had been so small, that they had no choice but to work together. As with any society, a few did to turn crime but what do you do with criminals when your home is a converted prison? The answer was to exile them to the wastelands outside the recognised urban areas of Bedlam. Outside of the prison. One such person was Drift. Drift was a pathological thief and an out and out fraudster. They'd been turfed out four years ago after many attempts to help them with their behaviour. Drift had since accumulated a gang of other reprobates and they resided in the lands just outside the main site of Bedlam. Cawdor saw the ramshackle tin huts first, then two of Drift's toadies.

"What do you want, Cawdor?" They obviously knew Cawdor, although Cawdor had no idea who these two were.

"Drift, obviously." Cawdor replied.

"Unlucky. Drift's asleep."

"Drift was asleep." Drift themself emerged from a shed. They were extraordinarily attractive and always had been. Not many Bedlites had wavy red hair and green eyes, for a start. "I don't like you here Cawdor. What do you want?"

"Proposition. Can we talk in your ... hut." Cawdor looked at the building in distaste. Drift stood aside to let them in. "This is snug." Cawdor commented on tiny, clutter filled cabin.

"Get on with it Cawdor." Drift sat on an upturned barrel.

"I'm sorry, Drift. Forgive me." Cawdor jumped towards Drift and clamped the back of their neck with both hands. Drift winced in pain as Cawdor aggressively forced a mind link. Only Pril could do this and only to Ocer or Regs. Sor and other Pril would be simply too strong and naturally they'd resist such a barbaric intrusion. Drift was Ocer and Cawdor could be exiled themselves for this assault. Cawdor sobbed as wave after wave of agony tore through them and Drift almost lost consciousness.

"Get off me!" Drift tried to prise away Cawdor's hands. "You're hurting me and yourself, you psychotic arsehole!" They tried to kick the door to alert the goons.

"If they come in here, you're dead, Drift." Cawdor gasped through the pain, a pain shared by Drift. "Don't fight. It'll be easier if you don't fight me."

"Fight you! I'll gut you for this." Drift began panting heavily as the waves of pain lessened. "Why, Cawdor? Couldn't you just wait?" They were gradually being forced into an unnatural Phase, as was Cawdor. One, massive surge of torture almost blinded them both as Cawdor hormonally blocked Drift's male aspect. "C ... Cawdor ... why?"

"I'm sorry, Drift, I really am." Cawdor struggled to breathe as their induced Phase shifted to the male aspect, as Drift shifted to the female, a process that should have taken a day or two, naturally. "Quickly, while I still have the bond. Do you want elevation? Quickly, Drift!"

"You're trying to reward me after assaulting me? Raping me?" Drift hissed angrily.

"I haven't raped you. Assault, yes and I'm deeply sorry."

"You almost have! Is that why you asked me? Consent? I don't understand!" Drift tried to jerk free from Cawdor.

"You break contact, I lose the bond. Last chance, Drift. Do you want elevation?" Cawdor felt testosterone surge through their body. "I can't ... "

"Yes!" Drift grabbed Cawdor's slackening hands and pressed their forehead against Cawdor's. "Yes, I want you to elevate me."

Drift's guard eventually sensed the auras seeping from the cabin. They immediately ran towards it just as Cawdor burst through the door. Both guards pulled, roughly made swords.

"Leave them." Drift ordered from the door. "Get off my turf, Cawdor." Cawdor sprinted off without being told twice.

Cawdor charged onto the hospital and Vanley, Kendrew, Undris and Anz almost keeled over en masse.

"Cawdor! Holy hell you only need a beard! Where have you been?" Vanley blinked in shock at their very masculine sibling.

"Don't worry about it. I need you all to leave me alone with my mate and their first Phase." Cawdor began closing shutters and dimming lights.

"Your ... who? What?" Vanley stammered. "Cawdor what have you done? You weren't in Phase an hour ago. What have you done?" Vanley asked warily.

"You don't need to know everything Vanley. Please, just leave it. Dale needs to develop the feminine. Well now we're both in Phase." Cawdor said.

"Both being abnormal." Undris pointed out. "Your's is ... out of time and Dale's is severely imbalanced."

"Oh yet another issue that could kill us?" Cawdor shouted. "Are you serious? All of you? I'm sick and tired of you all telling me he's as good as dead, then him pulling through. If you don't like it, any of you, then just bugger off and ignore it. Go on, go away the lot of you!" They marched into Dale's room and slammed the door.

"Undris?" Vanley just looked at the physician.

"Up to now, Cawdor's already saved his life twice. They've been more use than I have." Undris let out a worried sigh.

"Will it work? Dale's system is hugely underdeveloped." Vanley was a nervous wreck.

"And Cawdor's is hugely overdeveloped." Kendrew pointed out. "Hell I almost got a nosebleed and I'm not in Phase."

"Can you save the Cawdor admiration song for later, Kendrew?" Vanley said irritably.

"Oh stop squawking, you tart." Kendrew snapped. "I meant, will Cawdor's overdeveloped state be enough of a stimulant for Dale's underdeveloped state."

"It's my guess that's what Cawdor's going for, Kendrew." Undris nodded. "Vanley they're Pril, a very advanced Pril at that. There's no one more qualified for this and there's no one with that amount of mental control. I'm sure Kendrew would agree with that." Kendrew nodded. "I'm staying right here in case they need me. Anz, you're welcome to take a break if you like?"

"I'll stay." Anz replied.

"Me too." Kendrew nodded. "Vanley?"

"Of course I'm staying. I don't know what Cawdor's done but I bet it wasn't nice. Cawdor isn't nice." Vanley grumbled and Kendrew smiled.

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