Chapter 4

Natasha planned a late breakfast, then ruining Dale's rest days by going for a rant about Joel Foley and his antiquated opinions. Biskies was a hugely popular eatery on the Food quarter and frequently used by Station staff so she wasn't really surprised to see Dale himself in there.

"You're supposed to get away from routine on your rest days." Natasha smiled.

"Captain! Take a seat." Dale pushed a breakfast menu over to Natasha. "You'll never guess why I'm here." He grinned.

"To have breakfast, I'd presume." Natasha replied.

"No. Well yes, obviously. I'm meeting Cawdor." Dale said smugly.

"Are you?" Natasha smiled again. "That's very hospitable of you, Dale. I intended asking the Ambassador to dinner ... "

"All in hand. We're going to Cagney's." Dale nodded.

"Day planned out then?" Natasha raised her eyebrows at her Engineer.

"There isn't a problem with that, is there? Maybe I should have checked with you first." Dale frowned.

"Dale, I'm not your mother. Check with me? Don't be ridiculous." Natasha waved her hand at Dale. "I'm as jealous as hell."

"I've seen dozens of VIPs sail through the Cumberland but none as ... attractive ... as Cawdor." Dale elaborated awkwardly.

"Ah I see." Natasha looked at her friend. "You and half the Station."

"What? They're all gossiping? I've heard the engineering lads gossiping about girls and it's crass." Dale sniffed in disapproval.

"It's not just the lads, I assure you." Natasha said ruefully and Dale just looked at her. "Cawdor is simply an attractive and charming individual." She shrugged. "As well as an incorrigible flirt."

"Yes well that's just the Bedlite way." Dale said dismissively and Natasha smiled.

"Well I'm sure Cawdor ... er ... holy hell." Natasha's jaw almost hit the table and she gaped over Dale's shoulder. Dale, obviously, turned round.

"C ... Cawdor?" Dale almost fell off his chair. His breakfast date was standing at the door dressed in brown tanned boots, black leggings and a billowing white shirt. This shirt was open to the waist and belted and revealed a flat, very finely toned, male chest. The twisted braids had gone and Cawdor's long black hair was tied back in a simple tail. The heavy eye make up had been toned down drastically, but was still there. "Cawdor!" He stumbled to his feet. Cawdor waved a bangled arm and headed over.

"Sorry I'm late. I got my daft self lost."

"Not ... not a problem." Dale stammered, dragging a chair out for his guest. "I asked Captain Crown to join us. Is that OK with you?" He nodded furiously at Natasha behind Cawdor's back.

"Of course it is. It's her Station." Cawdor picked up a menu. "Now I'm suitably hidden behind this, I fear I've made some sort of gaff. I know I haven't sprouted a new head so would someone tell me what I've done?"

"Nothing at all, Cawdor." Natasha eventually unfroze. "However, if you're agreeable, may I suggest breakfast in my quarters? Nothing's wrong, I promise you."

"Breakfast in the Captain's rooms! We'll get talked about, Captain Crown. Thank you. I'd like that." Any shocked murmurings that were rippling around Biskies, increased tenfold when Cawdor slipped an arm through the arms of each of her companions as they left the eatery.

Once inside Natasha's quarters, Cawdor sighed loudly and sprawled on the couch.

"Cawdor ... "

"Yes I'm extremely stupid." Cawdor said glumly. "I took my head out of my arse on the way round here and noticed the population. You thought I was a woman."

"Cawdor you're a guest on my Station. I couldn't care less if you're a lobster. I suggested we come here because the patrons in Biskies were elbow twitching." Natasha explained.

"And I told Joanna Fawkes you were my breakfast date." Dale broke the mood by grinning broadly, much to Natasha and Cawdor's surprise. "If I choose to have breakfast with a man then I'll have breakfast with a man. As Captain Crown says, you're an important guest."

"Well I'm not a man either." Cawdor dunked a croissant into a mug of tea.

"Er ... that's fine too." Dale looked at Natasha in utter confusion. "Actually you don't look like a man, despite the ... um ... obvious."

"Or lack of the obvious." Cawdor wafted the loose shirt around, exposing more chest. "My attire yesterday was like a marquee otherwise you'd have noticed how shapeless I am."

"No you're not." Dale said automatically. "Is she, Natasha? He, I mean. Cawdor. I'll shut up." He did so and sat on the couch with Cawdor.

"Vanley and I didn't even think of this being an issue. Either arrogant or stupid, the pair of us. Bedlites are dual gender." Cawdor watched Dale and Natasha's faces go through every expression possible. "Part of our rapid evolution due to Fifeogen. We're also a rock full of flamboyant tarts, comparatively speaking. That's biological, by the way, not because we're all sex mad. Vanley would have a fit if they knew I was being so ... personal." Cawdor exhaled loudly. "I'm sorry, Dale. I'd never purposely embarrass anyone, let alone someone like you. My stupidity is an independent entity."

"Listen to me." Dale turned to face the Ambassador. "You have not embarrassed me, or anyone else. Yes I thought you were female but so what? That was my mistake, not yours. You're still the same Cawdor, just with a change of clothes." Dale smiled and shrugged. Natasha was hugely impressed and very proud of her friend. It was still pretty obvious to her that Dale was still attracted to Cawdor, despite this impactive revelation. It also explained why Cawdor was causing such a stir among her staff, male and female. Pril Cawdor was dual gender. Despite Dale's 'so what' comment, he must have been as stunned as Natasha was.

"I'm not sure if I've addressed you as 'she' or 'he' previously." Natasha got more tea. "Sorry if it sounds trivial, but how do I refer to you? Hell that sounds awfully insulting. Please forgive me." She grimaced.

"Something else those thick Bedlites didn't think of." Cawdor sniffed. "Down there, we just refer to each other as 'they'. This is all Foley's fault anyway. All this coercion and rushing into things meant no groundwork. I do like his 'tache though. So did he think I was girl too?" They smirked at Dale.

"I'm not sure." Natasha recalled Foley's bigoted comment on Cawdor's behaviour. "I think you threw him a bit when you winked at me as well as Dale."

"Heck I'm such a trollop." Cawdor sighed and both Dale and Natasha snorted a laugh each. "Vanley often says so. It's OK for them down there, all cozy and homely with Kendrew. Oh that's Vanley's mate. Yes, well I think I've done your heads in enough without getting into all that. I'll choose a neutral-ish outfit for the meeting with Foley. I don't want the old fart keeling over at the sight of my torso."

"I'm sure he'd appreciate your consideration." Natasha tried not to laugh.

Cawdor kept the leggings and boots but replaced the revealing shirt with a glitter covered, multicoloured tunic and an assortment of sashes and scarves.

"After much discussion at the highest possibly level, we, The Admiralty, have decided to post a research cruiser in The Hazards. We are of the opinion that our technology can refine the methods we've already developed and we will mine Fifeogen. The legal structure we discussed at our previous meeting will remain in place as a security measure for you." Admiral Foley stated flatly.

"And The Blockades?" Cawdor asked. "Trust me, Vanley doesn't bluff. Useless at poker."

"We took the liberty of informing The Blockades of our activity in that area. Our project will be overseen by representatives from their area." Foley looked evenly at Cawdor. "It's called a strategic pre-emptive strike, Pril Cawdor."

"It's called you being too anally retentive to heed a warning." Cawdor replied. "Grant me one small favour, Admiral Foley. You said a research cruiser. For everyone's sake, use it for research at the most thorough level. Find out every single detail you can about Fifeogen, right down to the last atom. My offer of advise and information still stands, should you choose to take it. Excuse me please. I must contact Sor Vanley and tell him what a knobhead you are."

"Not possible. The channels are locked." Foley said flatly.

"Really? Get a clue." Cawdor scraped the chair across the floor, then strode out of the conference lounge.

It took Cawdor all of three minutes to contact Bedlam from the basic communicator in their suite.

"I told you it was a waste of time." Vanley snapped. "They're without doubt, the most ignorant and arrogant people in the cosmos!"

"They aren't, Vanley." Cawdor turned on the shower and kicked of their boots. "You can't judge them all based on Foley. Captain Crown is fantastic, you said so yourself, and Dale is ... is ... well you'd like him." They looked at the reflection in the bathroom mirror, flat chest, regressed genitalia and all. "How's Kendrew?"

"Brilliant, as always. They've been rummaging in those dusty archives. Do you realise there are spiders down there? Actual, living spiders! How?" Vanley said in horror.

"Maybe they like Fifeogen as much as we do." Cawdor shrugged on a bathrobe and sat on a plastic stool. "So was Kendrew just hunting arachnids?"

"Ugh. Don't. I made them go to the decontamination units. One of the original prison guards was called Foley. Driscoll Foley. He'll be of an age to be Joel Foley's father, if he's still alive." Vanley said.

"It's possible. Does Kendrew think it's of some importance?" Cawdor asked.

"Probably just a curiosity. You know what Kendrew's like. These odd little foibles appeal to them." Vanley replied. "There again, they don't usually mention things unless it's puzzling them. I don't suppose Admiral Arsehole is up for a bit of genealogy?"

"Doubtful. I won't have time anyway. I'll have to come back within the week. I don't think inflicting my weird self on the Station any more than I have already would be constructive." Cawdor sighed heavily.

"You befriend people far too easily." Vanley chided. "Get yourself home and let them get on with digging their own hole."

"And burying their dead." Cawdor replied glumly.

"Cawdor, we tried." Vanley said patiently. "We tried our best and gave it our best shot. We can't do anything more."

"I know. I'll stay on for a few days. It's not everyday you get to meet a different species. Captain Crown's given me a nice new space shuttle. The other one's in the bin. I'll contact you to get me down."

"Behave yourself up there." Vanley signed off and Cawdor went for their shower.

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