Owen sighed inwardly and casually scratched the side of his nose, his hand conveniently hiding the yawn that had been building for the last few minutes. The assemblymen were debating regulations on uniform for the enlisted ranks and had found a sticking point over the size of buttons for cuffs. He looked around the table, and smiled when he realised that General Timon was also scratching the side of his nose, undoubtedly hiding a yawn.
Germaine Vetch, one of four assemblywomen, banged her fist on the table, demanding she be allowed to speak, undoubtedly putting forward yet another argument for smaller buttons than Briony ap Gwyn had proposed. General Timon rolled his eyes, which seemed to go unnoticed around the table, and gestured that she speak. As she opened her mouth, her small brown eyes sparkling, the comms unit on the wall chimed.
"Ah, I was hoping we would be at a better point before this call came in," said General Timon, raising his voice slightly as Germaine refused to stop speaking. "However, I know you will all be very interested to hear what is to be said, so we must leave this debate now." He laid a hand on the shoulder of the lieutenant to his left and said something to him in a low voice. The lieutenant immediately stood up and went over to the comms unit.
"Lieutenant Barch will patch the call through to the room, but rather than leave this contentious point unresolved I shall exercise my right as Chairman of the Assembly. The buttons shall be as in the proposal, which had no flaws that I could perceive. The arguments here today have been over cosmetic issues, not practical ones. This matter may not be tabled for further debate for three meetings."
Germaine looked outraged, and reared up in her seat like a cobra ready to attack. As she leant forward, her tongue flickering around her lips, the lights to the assembly room dimmed and the holoprojector above the table hummed to life. For a long moment Owen thought that Germaine was going to talk anyway, but then she subsided back into her chair.
"Captain, are you there?" asked Timon conversationally. In the middle of the table a small image of a wooden room hung, motes of dust drifting slowly through it. There were high, narrow windows at the back of the room through which the sea could be seen.
"Er, the Captain's a bit, er, in disguise at the moment, right?" said a reedy voice.
"I think you probably mean indisposed," said Timon, "but I'm not happy to hear that. Who are you? Show yourself."
A young man with a wispy attempt at a beard clinging to his chin sidled into the image. His uniform identified him as a junior officer, and it hung on him like a winter greatcoat -- far too large for the skinny frame supporting it.
"I'm Officer ap Pendell. Who is this?"
The young man looked like someone had just killed his dog in front of him. His face blanched making his dark stubble stand out like a rash of measles and he started visibly shaking. Owen made a mental bet with himself that the young officer would wet himself before the call was over.
"Shut up. Where is the Captain?"
ap Pendell swallowed hard, his Adam's apple bobbing in his throat, and he pointed.
"Tell me, don't point."
"He's beating the shi-- the snot out of a woman. Sir!" Belatedly ap Pendell remembered to salute.
"What?" Germaine shot out of her seat this time and to her feet. As she was barely four feet tall, this didn't much change her stature at the table.
"Sit down, Madame Vetch, I will do the talking here." Timon glared at her until she was back in her seat. "Thank you. Now, ap Pendell, why is the Captain with a woman?"
"It's the witch sir, the Thorne one. She's done something funny to his eyes."
"I see," said Timon smoothly. "Well, I suggest you run and tell the Captain that I am waiting to hear about the results of the weapons test and that he should come here and talk to me, with or without his eyes."
ap Pendell vanished from the image so fast that he seemed to blur. Timon leaned forward, steepling his hands in front of him and staring off around the room.
"Well," he said, addressing no-one particularly, "it would seem as though our new weapon has side-effects already."