Chapter 8

Cawdor was having another go at the communicator when Natasha returned with sandwiches and salad. She noticed the full sink, wash cloths and towels and knew that Cawdor was still struggling.

"Still nothing." Cawdor tutted. "I could beat Foley better looking for this crap." They sat down and picked at the salad. "Will you be going to see Dale?"

"Tomorrow. I called in on the way to the cafe. Murphy's been all over the Station looking for me. Dale's gone to Outpost Two for a scan. Don't panic! Perfectly normal and routine. Outpost Two is a dedicated medical facility and their scanners are of a higher spec that ours." Natasha explained.

"Why does he need a scan? Something's wrong." Cawdor panicked anyway.

"Nothing's wrong, Cawdor. The Doctor wasn't happy with the way his ribs were healing and suspected a fracture, that's all. He's fine! Dale told the Doctor to tell you he was being moved. The Doctor observed protocol and tried to find me first. You're an Ambassador." Natasha told them. "Eat your salad otherwise I'll have the Doc on your case."

"Wonder cure for the Bedlite Phase." Cawdor muttered sarcastically.

"Stop sulking." Natasha smiled. "Tell me about Bedlam. How does it function? It's obvious that Vanley is high up in the pecking order, you too."

"Vanley's high up in their own pecking order, always has been." Cawdor said childishly. "Our structure is defined by so many things it's unfunny. Seriously. It must be payback for being descended from a bunch of criminals." They pushed a lettuce leaf round the bowl. "We have ... strata ... but it's all based on the spiritual and the hormonal with a bit of genetics chucked in for good measure. I'm not sure if I know how it works, let alone anyone else. Obviously babies aren't born spiritual, or hormonal so all children are in the first, and largest stratum. These are Regs. Most Regs are just ... well ... Regular. A few are Capacitors and that means they have a very obvious ... something ... that means they're guaranteed to attain a further stratum. Heck I'm making a right hash of this."

"No. I'm still following you. Like a gifted child?" Natasha suggested.

"Yes, I suppose so but intellect or talent doesn't come into it. It's just a Capacity, a reserved space. Regs start their Phases at around thirteen but it's more like friendships at that stage, some closer than others. Many Regs are quite happy being Regs all their lives, even when it shifts from the platonic. We usually don't become sexually active until we're about seventeen, despite the trollopish behaviour." Cawdor smiled and Natasha laughed. "The next stratum is Ocer and in order to elevate to Ocer, a Reg forms an extremely strong bond with an existing Ocer. It's all in the head and difficult to explain. The bond isn't always sexual but it's always close and it's always trustworthy. There isn't a fixed point for elevation from one to the other. It just happens gradually and it's quite beautiful. Again, some are content with Ocer. It's like a fulfilment and you know when you've reached what you want. The whole shebang is repeated for the next elevation to Sor with one important exception. The bond formed for this is even stronger and much more intense. It invariably involves sex and the two involved stay very close for the rest of their lives. In our society, close, sex and bond doesn't necessarily mean monogamy, Natasha, but there's a high chance of it. It's also the first level with the capability to reproduce. Ocer and Regs don't have that capability. As you can imagine, the elevation to Sor from Ocer is a massive step and no one makes the decision lightly. It's not a large group." Cawdor tugged uncomfortably at the waist of their shorts and beads of sweat stood out on their forehead. Natasha stood up and went for a wash cloth.

"Cawdor, you said Sor. Sor as in Vanley?" Natasha held the cloth on Cardor's head.

"Yes that's right." Cawdor said casually.

"So if Sor is a title rather than a name as we all presumed, is Pril a title too? You are Pril Cawdor."

"Top of the class, Captain Crown. Pril is the smallest group of all and loosely translated it means Ultra Sexpot." Cawdor smiled. "Among other things. It's the highest rank of spiritual elevation possible. That's probably why I was oozing Aura all over the place and that's probably why I'm in this state, and affecting you too. No, we didn't think it out very well when I grabbed the Ambassador Hat. There again, the effects of all this mental mirth has never been seen on a human. You look close to a seizure, Captain." Cawdor took the wash cloth from Natasha's suspended hand.

"It's extraordinary." Natasha said in awe. "It sounds so beautiful, Cawdor! What it must be like to have a connection like that."

"It is beautiful, yes." Cawdor agreed. "Vanley and I had a head start though. We were both Capacitors. Vanley reckons they've reached theirs at Sor but I think they have more if they want that choice. I always knew I'd go right to the top and I did, by the time I was twenty one."

"So Vanley stuck with Kendrew?"

"For millennia. Vanley and Kendrew have been together since they were kids. Kendrew was the better suited to elevate in order to lift Vanley. Isn't that sweet? Kendrew is Pril now. Vanley's just lazy." Cawdor sniffed.

"So the higher the elevation, the bigger the chance of a monogamous relationship? Have I got that right?" Natasha was fascinated.

"So what happened to me. Yes?" Cawdor smiled. "Well it's not a hard and fast rule. Most of it's mental, like I said. I dare say it's difference in people. You have singles too."

"True. I didn't mean to be so intrusive. I'm sorry. You talk about Vanley alot. You must have known them quite a while." Natasha shifted the topic.

"We're siblings. Vanley is a year older." Cawdor laughed when she saw the surprise on Natasha's face. "Full siblings too which is a novelty in a varied society like ours. Monogamous parents, one Pril and one Sor. Which sibling does that remind you of? I'm much more fun."

"And the bigger headache I'm guessing." Natasha laughed.

"I'm offended! Vanley's hard work and as stubborn as Admiral Foley! You want to know a real headache? One of my parents was that little girl who lived." Cawdor exhaled loudly.

"You're joking! Seriously? Cawdor that's ... just remarkable!" Natasha was hugely overwhelmed. "So how does all that work with the Phases and stuff? Yes I'm being intrusive again. I can't help it."

"Well I told you earlier that an ordinary phase was all auras and hormones, remember? No sprouting organs. It just isn't necessary or practical to have it all sticking out all the time." Cawdor sniffed and Natasha started to laugh. "It isn't! They're reproductive organs, necessary for reproduction. The clue's in the name. Ours stay where they are until needed, either to reproduce or ... or ... pleasurable reasons. Natasha Crown you're making me blush and it's virtually impossible to make a Bedlite blush. Obviously if a pregnancy occurs, the female aspect stays that way for six months until the baby's born, then six months for weaning and what have you. Doesn't sound very appealing to me."

"So ... hang on while I join a few dots." Natasha frowned. "Only Phasing Sor and Pril change physically?"

"If we want to. It's controllable and optional at that level. You didn't notice?" Cawdor raised their perfect eyebrows.

"No! Er ... well yes now you mention it." Natasha flapped. "I didn't know all this, did I? Stop aggravating me."

"I was starting to think I wasn't as irresistible as I thought." Cawdor sniffed. "I told you I wan't being vulgar or crass or disrespectful as soon as you walked in this morning. I hope all this makes some sense."

"It does." Natasha smiled. "You've given me explanations way beyond the necessary and I'm so very honoured, Cawdor."

"You had to know. Dale has to know. Maybe peoples' opinions aren't important to some, especially Bedlites, but I couldn't bear for you and Dale to think badly of me for just taking off. Call it a side effect of being an ultra mental Pril"

"I'll call it being a compassionate and sensitive person." Natasha corrected.

"Same thing." Cawdor blew a strand of hair off their face. "Vanley's said for years that I should find a nice mate and settle down. No wonder that never happened. My idea of a nice mate is having his innards scanned on Outpost Two. How could I have involved him like that? Arrogant bitch that I am."

"Cawdor, Dale involved himself because he wanted to. Even when he knew you were different to us, he stayed involved. It can't be easy, I know that. He will understand. Trust me on that one." Natasha took Cawdor's hand and her head reeled.

"Pheromones. Pheromones. Pheromones. Remember?" Cawdor smiled and withdrew their hand. "You daft bat."

"Cawdor!" The communicator spluttered and frightened the life out of Natasha and Cawdor.

"Vanley." Cawdor jumped for the communicator. "What's the score?"

"Still working on it. Why is that pile of shite cruiser still there?" Vanley's voice hissed and crackled feebly. "Didn't anyone tell that old fart what's going on?"

"Captain Crown did. He knows you lot aren't at risk so he won't move it. He's checking his gear." Cawdor told them.

"His gear isn't faulty, for crying out loud. This is the normal effect it has on a magnetic shield. We stuffed it up for a while too remember? The vapour condensers?"

"Yes and we had no one to tell! How would they know the effects on a magnetic shield? Bedlam is the only place that has one." Cawdor said testily. "Stop insinuating he's doing it on purpose, Vanley."

"Huh? When did I do that? You in the Foley Fan club now?" Vanley snapped amid the static.

"Don't talk cobblers. Look Vanley I'm not at my best just now. Just get the bloody thing fixed."

"Oh I'm sure we'll get round to it. Cawdor? How are you bearing up?"

"Fair to hellish. Captain Crown's been an amazing help, Vanley, really she has."

"And the engineer? Dave, was it?"

"Dale. He's ... not here. I'll tell you all about it when I get home. Put it this way, I'm going to need you and Kendrew."

"Oh Cawdor, you fool. All dreams and no sense. You've never been any different. We'll get you back home soon. We're working day and night." Vanley crackled.

"I know. Love to Kendrew. Oh you too I suppose." Cawdor smiled at the communicator.

"I think I'll just leave you there. Hang in there." The line went flat again.

"They're certainly pulling out all the stops for you." Natasha commented.

"I'm lucky to have them." Cawdor nodded, pressing their temples.

"You need rest."

"I'm OK."

"My Station, I make the rules. Don't make me pull in the medics." Natasha bluffed.

"No ma'am. I'll go wallow in the shower first." Cawdor conceded. "Thanks Natasha."

"After all you've shared with me? I thank you, Pril Cawdor."

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