Cawdor was dressed in jeans and a black T shirt the following day when Natasha arrived. Their hair was de-frizzed and tied back in a long tail and there was no trace of make up.
"You look better." Natasha complimented. "You seem ... different. Has Vanley been in touch?"
"No. I couldn't get through." Cawdor sat on the couch and put their feet on the table. "I've still got the cramps and the shivers but I'm not barfing anymore." They frowned and examined their fingernails. "Natasha? Will you stay here even if you feel ... uncomfortable?"
"What's going on?" Natasha sat down. "Tell me, Cawdor. If anything's wrong, I want to know. You mean a lot to me and I want to be here for you."
"I know." Cawdor looked at Natasha and smiled. "I seem different because I'm male."
"I don't understand. I thought ... "
"Male for now and that's because of you. I also can't help but find you attractive and that'll be reciprocated. I mean no disrespect, Natasha and I'd never question your standards. It's a biological process for Bedlites. I don't want you to feel ... awkward ... and not understand it. You'll have noticed I keep mentioning your husband, and that's why. You love him more than anything, even a striking thing like me." Cawdor tried to smile but Natasha's look of complete shock made it a weak attempt.
"So ... so ... what about Dale? You can't tell me all this when Dale's sick in the Med Wing!" Natasha exclaimed. "And yes I do love my husband. I ... I ... this isn't right, Cawdor."
"Shhh. It's OK, Natasha. It's a biological process for me. I can't help it. Intention and loyalties don't come into it. I wanted you here with me because I know Greg is the very top of your affection pile. Of course he is! Natasha, I knew you'd be safe and nothing would get out of hand. I'd hate that because I respect your marriage, you, and Greg."
"Rubbish. You have more control that that, biological or not." Natasha said flatly.
"Well of course I have! I'm talking about instinctive feelings, Natasha. You know? The Spark? Chemistry? Whatever you want to call it. For me, those are part of a real and physical process. I'm sorry. I shouldn't even be here. We can't even explain this shite to other Bedlites, let alone humans." Cawdor wandered over to the communicator and gave it a few idle prods.
"Can you try?" Natasha said gently. She knew exactly what Cawdor was referring to. The physical attraction she felt as soon as she entered the room was almost overwhelming and just as confusing. "I'm trying to understand what's causing all this distress. I'm the one who has to tell Dale, remember? I know we aren't automatically entitled to explanations, but we're your friends."
"Oh Dale, Dale." Cawdor sighed heavily. "He should never have been in the equation. That equation that expanded a bit because I got stranded here when I'm not meant to be." They turned round to face Natasha. "Dual gendered, as you know. We have both sets of physiology in a regressed state and that's our usual presentation. Every month we go through Phase where we drift towards one or the other and that depends on the other Bedlites who are in Phase in the immediate vicinity. If I'm in predominately male aspects, then I Phase to display the female aspect and vice versa. Does that make sense?"
"That's fascinating." Natasha said in wonder. "So you Phased to male because I'm female?"
"Absolutely." Cawdor risked a wink. "There's no drastic mutations or sprouting of organs for a regular Phase. The shift is subtle and down to what we call Aura. The Boffins call it pheromones. We also shift hormonally and our levels of testosterone and oestrogen change. I realised as soon as I arrived on the Station that the pheromones still waft out, even between Phases. Sorry about that. I didn't know."
"It lead to a lot of gender confusion." Natasha laughed. "So right now, you're throwing out male pheromones and you're testosterone levels are up. Is that right?"
"All for you, fair Natasha." Cawdor took a bow.
"And you chose me for this honour because you knew I was devoted to Greg." Natasha said and Cawdor nodded. "Dale would have had no such considerations."
"I'd have been a female Aspect." Cawdor shrugged. "More than that though. Dale and I already have the attraction. It can't happen, Natasha. My Phases respond to other, subtle, Phases. My system simply couldn't tolerate an inflexible, fixed gender. That's why I'm so naffed up just now. From Dale's side, it's pretty obvious. He can't survive Bedlam's Fifeogen, end of story. Like I said, Dale should never have been in the equation. Do you think he'll understand all this?"
"I'm absolutely certain of it. Dale is the most intelligent and understanding person I know. I now know what you meant when you said Bedlam's distance was never measured in miles." Natasha said sadly. "You have no choice but to be localised. The continuation of your population depends on it."
"I might have known you'd think of that." Cawdor smiled. "Not many Bedlites think that one out. Numb sods. We're so physiologically different to everyone else. You wouldn't think we were all human a mere fifty years ago. That's Fifeogen for you."
"How did they survive? The original ones, I mean." Natasha was intrigued.
"Oh now you did ask." Cawdor took a seat and sat on their hands to stop them shaking. "Basically, we don't know. Our geneticists theorise that those who worked in the mines built up a limited tolerance. That could possibly be combined with a natural tolerance. At the time, they couldn't care less. They were alive, raging against the Commonwealth, and free. That didn't leave much time to ponder the reasons. They stuck together through necessity and obviously, kids were born. That was when they all flew into a rapid development mode. Some kids were born dual gendered, almost certainly to do with the toxic atmosphere. Amazingly enough, these kids were healthy. There was no complications at all related to their internal organs. Sadly, the babies who were born single gendered, like their parents, all became sick and died. This sad situation carried on for about twenty years and our own scientific research developed in leaps and bounds. A baby was born that threw everyone into chaos. Its parents were dual gendered, but the baby wasn't. It was a little girl. The parents prepared themselves for her death. The child contracted a blood disorder and her desperate parents insisted on a transfusion. Who would refuse a request from the parents of a dying child? No one had faith in it's success. The child became extremely ill, but not in a way that was expected. She mutated and became dual gendered, and lived. That set a precedent and transfusions were set up by people for their single gendered friends and family. Soon it moved up a notch and organised transfusion centres were set up. Our atmosphere sustained the mutated state of its own making, and simply killed off the rest. Within five years of the little girl's transfusion, the population of Bedlam was completely dual gendered, either by transfusion, or natural birth. And here we are." Cawdor had to rest back on the couch and massage their pounding temples.
"I ... I'm speechless. I don't know what to say. And the Admiralty are totally ignorant of all this?" Natasha was stunned.
"They haven't a clue. The Bedlites were left down there, Natasha. They went through unimaginable pain and tragedy. There was no reason, or inclination, to share their short history with the Commonwealth." Cawdor went to the sink to splash their face. "Yes, there's a lot of hostility but there's a lot to forgive."
"I see that." Natasha said in shock. "So are all your babies born healthy now?"
"Healthy and bouncing and wonderfully promiscuous by the age of thirteen. We'll just blame the Fifeogen for that too." Cawdor smirked. "I don't mind if you take a few notes."
"Notes? I could write a book! I do appreciate you're telling me this in confidence."
"It's important to me that you understand me and it's important to me that Dale understands my actions. I'd never just use either of you." Cawdor said sincerely.
"I know. May I ask questions?" Natasha asked awkwardly. "I can't just let you go back to Bedlam. This is the first time in history that we've ever encountered a completely evolved race. I swear I'll never make any of this public. I respect you too much for that."
"Ask away. I told you, it's important to me too. Let me go and change first. Clothes not genders." Cawdor sniggered. "I'm sweating like a blacksmith's armpit."
"I can come back later if you've had enough." Natasha offered.
"I'm Bedlite. We can never have enough." Cawdor quipped and went into the bathroom.
"Pheromones. Pheromones. Pheromones." Natasha had a go at the wash basin herself. "Pull yourself together you daft bat."
"Seriously, I understand if you need a break." Cawdor was back wearing loose shorts and a baggy vest. "Ran out of nighties."
"Compromise. I'll take fifteen minutes and go and get us some lunch. Deal?" Natasha said.
"Deal." Cawdor agreed.