Side effects

The Captain strode into the image cast by the holoprojector on the table and faced the General.  Timon's face didn't change, but the people on the same side of the table as the General were much less insouciant; several drawing breath sharply, and a couple recoiling back in the seats with short, choked exclamations.  The assemblymen and -women on the other side of the table craned their necks, trying to see round the image to see what about the Captain's eyes was causing consternation.

"Captain; thank-you for your time," said Timon, his voice conveying the irritation his face hid.  "I believe you were indisposed by a woman."

The Captain's face twisted into a grimace at someone off-camera, then slowly untwisted itself as he remembered he was on holophone.

"Sir," he said, saluting slowly and formally, "I was interrogating the most likely suspect for the change you can clearly see about me."

"Your eyes seem a little bluer than I recall," said Timon.  "I trust you haven't forgotten that standard interrogation protocol requires three senior officers present and does not permit any kind of intimidation, mental, vocal, ...or physical."

The Captain shifted his weight slightly and put his hands behind his back, throwing his shoulders forward.

"Of course, General.  I was part of the committee who put those proposals forward."

"Ah, yes, I think I do recall seeing your name on the document.  Very good Captain.  I know that we will be needing to debrief everyone who participated in this experiment."

"That won't be possible," said the Captain levelly.  "Not all of the animals survived the initial lasing."

Timon said nothing, gazing intently at the Captain, noting that even through the holophone the blue fires in his eyes seemed to sit deep inside his skull.  Next to him again, Lieutenant Barch leaned slightly forward and said in a too-loud voice,

"There were no animals involved in the test, Captain.  There were the crew under your command and the... volunteers."

Again the Captain grimaced, his face untwisting more slowly this time.

"The... people we used as fuel for the laser did not all survive the initial blast," he said.  "The test was a success as far as results go: we estimate that we converted 15% of the iceberg to water vapour, most of which formed a short-lived sea fog.  The iceberg has since calved and split into four much smaller bergs, mostly we suspect as a result of stresses formed in the ice by the sublimation of material.  Of two hundred fuel cells below decks, eighteen died during the test.  We have converted a below-decks cabin into a mortuary and put the bodies in there along with ice from one of the new 'bergs, for further analysis when we return to port.  This projects a nine percent attrition rate, which, in my own opinion, renders this weapon unusable except as a special recourse.  Sir!"

"And your eyes, Captain?"

"So far, Sir, I have not managed to extract a reason for this change from the witch in charge of the volunteers.  I believe it is an act of spite.  I can still see, and there is no obvious other damage to myself or the crew."

"Very good, Captain.  Bring the ship back to port, and have the corpses sent straight to the military hospital at...  you'll be returning to Carr Gwyllon?  Or Latinus Tiberius?"

"Carr Gwyllon is closer by four hours, Sir."

"Return to Latinus Tiberius then, the hospital there is better staffed for now."

The Captain saluted again, and Timon waved a hand over the image, cutting the holoprojection.  The assemblymen who had gathered, standing, behind his and the people near him to see the Captain's affliction, shuffled back to their seats.  Timon waited for the assembly to be all seated and quiet again before starting to speak.

The End

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