Cawdor felt utterly horrible the following day. Their Phase was reasonably stable but far from comfortable due to all the non-Bedlites. Natasha hadn't put in an appearance but Cawdor understood she had a Station to run. It was maybe for the best that she wasn't there, given Cawdor's bedraggled appearance. Sweat soaked through their tunic and their hair hung in damp, ragged clumps. They spent the entire morning and a good part of the afternoon, shivering, sweating, shaking and vomiting. They were hanging over the wash basin when they heard Natasha, and Dale.
"Dale I've told you the score. I left nothing out! She needed me for a reason. Lieutenant Tanner! I'm still your commanding Officer!"
"Yes, sir. I'm sorry." Dale sounded drained.
"You can't charge in like a madman, Dale. At least let me go and ask Cawdor's advice on it. The last thing either of us want is for your presence to make their situation more uncomfortable. Maybe it won't. I don't know. At least let me check with the expert."
"Useless expert." Cawdor muttered and opened the door. Dale was clearly still in a bit of pain and didn't look too shining himself.
"Cawdor! Hell Cawdor look at the state of you." Dale had a major job stopping himself from running straight to Cawdor.
"Tatty little gargoyle, I know." Cawdor smiled weakly. "It's fine Natasha. You can both come in." Dale had to check himself again to stop him elbowing the Captain out of the way.
"Natasha's told me about everything. I can't believe it. It's just ... mindboggling." Dale just stood and stared at Cawdor. "Am I making it worse?"
"No of course not." Cawdor lied. "I'm pretty stable now thanks to Natasha"
"She told me about it. It's mindbending." Dale sat down, ignoring his sore ribs.
"Excuse me while I go get cleaned up. I stink like an old jock strap." Cawdor realised they spent more time in the bathroom than they did in the living quarters.
"Natasha can't we do something? They look terrible." Dale said desperately.
"We can't, no. I went through all this with Cawdor too. I came close to getting Dr. Murphy in behind their back. They need to be back on Bedlam, Dale. All us fixed bodies are playing holy hell with their system. Poor Cawdor." Natasha sympathised.
"Has Foley seen them? Has he actually been here and saw the state of an official Ambassador?" Dale demanded. "No of course he hasn't. I can't believe the stubborn persistence of the man! He's lucky Cawdor seems to be the more approachable sibling. I'm guessing Vanley would have gone for him by now."
"The way he sees it, his equipment on the cruiser is functioning normally. I doubt he was even aware it was damaging the shield until Vanley told him, via me. Cawdor themself said the Bedlites down there weren't in any danger. That just leaves Cawdor." Natasha explained.
"And one Bedlite isn't worth moving a whole cruiser for. I'd tell you what I thought of that if it didn't sound mutinous." Dale said in disgust.
"I'll soon have no skin left." Cawdor was back in clean leggings, but shirtless. Natasha immediately recognised this for what it was as she thought 'Pheromones. Pheromones. Pheromones.' It was a not so subtle attempt to 'put Dale off' with an undeniably male presentation. It didn't work. Dale went straight over and put his arm round Cawdor, not even noticing the bare chest.
"I could make Foley eat that blasted cruiser." He tucked a long strand of hair behind Cawdor's ringed ear. "Any news from Vanley?"
"Not today." Cawdor smiled up at Dale and their male aspect body painfully screamed 'HUH?' at them. "How was the scan? You had me panicking and Natasha threatened me with the medics."
"Oh sod the scan. It's fine. Cawdor I know you have to leave and I understand. Natasha explained the whole astonishing thing to me but I'd love to hear it from you too. Tell me all about Bedlam, about you. Tell me about Vanley and Kendrew and about elevation and Phase. I want to feel like I've been there so all I have to do is remember to be with you." Dale held both of Cawdor's hands and Natasha was in tears.
"I'm in my office if you need me." She left the couple before her composure went completely. "Officer Bright!" She got the attention of a security guard. "No one goes in there. Understood? If you're unsure, you contact me."
Natasha was staring at nothing, chin in hands, elbows on the desk. She could never remember such a distressing and stressful time in all her time in the fleet. Even though she was extremely annoyed with Admiral Foley, the situation wouldn't have been much different without the cruiser. Cawdor would still have to go back to Bedlam and Dale couldn't follow them. She knew she'd miss Cawdor a great deal so it must have been thoroughly awful for Dale and Cawdor themself.
"Captain Crown. Captain Crown are you there?" Natasha's office communicator came to life.
"Vanley? Is that you?" Natasha said in surprise.
"I can't get through to Cawdor's room. This channel is easier to access but riskier. The shield is stable."
"That's fantastic. Cawdor's really struggling up here." Natasha said in relief.
"Well it's not as perfect as I'd like but we can get them down. Kendrew is just running a few test lines. I'm sorry you had to deal with all this but I'm also grateful you looked after Cawdor." Vanley said.
"Vanley why are you apologising? This is the one and only opportunity we've had to meet a completely evolved race of people! More than that though, Cawdor's become our friend."
"Which made them unsuitable for the job in the first place. Forgive me, Captain Crown. That statement wasn't meant to sound rude. I meant in a ... practical ... sense. I know Cawdor. They seem to have formed an attachment to you and moreso to your engineer, Kyle."
"Dale. Cawdor is an amazing person, Vanley. It's inevitable that friendships and attachments are formed." Natasha said tactfully.
"You'd better go and tell them about the shield. We'll detect them at the atmosphere's edge in seven hours. That gives us a bit of time to make it as safe as we can." Vanley sounded worn out.
"I'll go straight away. Seven hours." Natasha ended the communication and hurried out of the office.
The sight that Natasha found in Cawdor's quarters almost broke her heart. Cawdor was sitting on the floor, propped up against the couch, Dale was next to them with his head on their lap. Both were asleep.
"Crap." Natasha tried to withdraw so she could knock, something she should have done to begin with.
"Captain." Dale woke and started to get to his feet.
"Relax, Dale. That's probably the first time Cawdor's slept in days." Natasha said quietly. "Vanley has the shield operable." She chewed her lip.
"But?" Dale asked warily.
"They didn't sound happy with it's function. Vanley said stable, not fixed. I've no doubt they know what they're doing down there, they are the experts, but ... but ... " Natasha looked at Cawdor.
"We have to trust Vanley on this, Natasha. Cawdor can't stay here. It's torturing them." Dale said miserably.
"Vanley wouldn't dare stuff up. I'd make their life hell." Cawdor opened their eyes. "How did they contact you?"
"My office communicator. Apparently it's easier to access." Natasha rolled her eyes at such a lack of effective security. "They say they'll detect you at the edge of the atmosphere in seven hours. Kendrew's running last minute tests. Cawdor, how safe do you think it is? Vanley sounded far from satisfied."
"As Dale said, I haven't much choice." Cawdor sighed wearily. "Hell I'm knackered."
"We're going to see Foley." Dale stated. "This is ridiculous! We're risking sending Cawdor through a lethal atmosphere with a semi functioning navigation system. All because he won't move that cruiser, or even deactivate his equipment." He looked at Natasha. "He has to listen once he sees the state of them."
"Anything's worth a try." Natasha nodded. "Cawdor, are you well enough? We'll use the conference lounge, it's closer."
"I'll go and drag a brush through my hair." Cawdor tugged at their limp locks.
"No you won't." Dale said. "He has to see what all this is doing to you, Cawdor. He probably doesn't realise the impact of it all."
"But I'm a heap!" Cawdor objected.
"Oh you are not. Come on." Dale put his arm round Cawdor and steered them out of the room, Natasha following.
Admiral Foley came into the lounge mood first.
"Yet another meeting on hold." He barked. "I told ... Ambassador Cawdor?" He noticed Cawdor and Dale. Cawdor still bare chested and bedraggled and Dale still with his arm in place.
"Excuse my appearance, Admiral. I'm feeing a bit queer."
"Cawdor. Behave." Dale nudged their knee. "Sir I thought you should see for yourself how ill Cawdor is. As Captain Crown told you, it's because they're out of their own atmosphere."
"Vanley has configured the magnetic shield. I heard the illegal communication to your office, Captain Crown." Foley glared at Natasha.
"In that case, sir, you'll know that the shield is still only semi functional." Natasha spoke up. "I've no idea of the scale of the risk but there is a risk. If the Bedlites lose control of that shield then Cawdor will be engulfed in the atmosphere. Waiting until Bedlam reconfigures it completely will prolong Cawdor's condition. Sir, they need their own people and their own physicians."
"Is this ... condition ... potentially fatal?"
"What?" Dale exclaimed. "Look at the state of them!"
"Dale, chill your beans." Cawdor sat forward and Foley eyed them warily. "Honest answer? I have no idea. My condition has never been rampant away from Bedlam before. How the sod would I know? I do know I feel like Marauder Zen's bed pan and we all know about his predisposition for self-enemas. You suggested that I call in Dr. Murphy. He saw me three days ago and I was fine. I'm sure he and the medical board would be interested in my deterioration."
"Ambassador Cawdor, I was unaware of any deterioration. Captain Crown should ...
"Don't you dare." Cawdor snarled. "My medical welfare is not Captain Crown's responsibility, nor is it Dr.Murphy's so close your mouth. Captain Crown told you that my condition was directly related to my environment. She told you most definitely that your atmosphere was making me sick. You hampered my return to my home where you knew I'd recover. Shall we list the illegalities? We'll start with you mining Fifeogen."
"I can assure you ... "
"Oh clock off." Cawdor heaved. "Do you really want to get into legalities with me? We're all descended from criminals, for naff's sake! Bedlam's vaults is full of abandoned legal literature written by the Commonwealth. Your own Law, Admiral, and Bedlites start studying it as soon as they can read, even if it is just to get round it."
"I need to speak to you alone, Ambassador." Foley sat down and suddenly looked very, very old.
"Why?" Dale asked immediately.
"Dale, it's fine." Cawdor rested their hand on Dales arm and the Admiral turned away. Natasha still saw his expression. Dale nodded uncertainly and he and Natasha left.