"Not the success that we were told it would be," said General Timon, knowing he was being aggressive but judging the mood right for it. "A surprisingly high attrition rate, especially for a project where an attrition rate was never even mentioned. Thomas, perhaps you could explain some of this for us?"
A middle aged, heavy-set woman with a rather masculine jaw squared her shoulders and cleared her voice daintily. She was sat on the same side as the table as the General, towards the end by the doors the Assembly had come in by.
"I think perhaps you mean Theresa, General?" she said. Timon had the grace to blush, and looked down the table at her, leaning forward to see round Lieutentant Barch and make eye-contact.
"Of course, Theresa, I had forgotten. It has been very recent..."
Theresa Wilson waved a beringed hand casually and half-smiled. "Thank-you General. Obviously much of what I'll say now is speculation, as the bodies will need to be examined; and as some of you are aware I have been away from work for about three months, returning barely four weeks ago, so I should point out that there may be data that I was not apprised of..."
Owen looked down at the table, tuning Theresa out. Thomas Wilson had been a petty man, and now after his operation she was a petty woman. He knew how this would go: there would be a lot of waffle explaining that she couldn't possibly know everything that was going on, then there'd be a lot of waffle saying that she'd be speculating since she hadn't been there herself, and then there'd be a lot of waffle that, if you teased it out carefully enough, would say that she didn't know. It was clear that Petrus was only asking for a report to meet the formalities of the assembly.
However, he mused, Timon would not be able to order the tests stopped on the strength of this alone. Owen was appalled that the tests had ever been approved, but that people might die as a result of this technology -- well, he ruefully amended, people on the wrong side in the war -- had never been considered. While this was an abuse of human rights to begin with, people being killed made it an atrocity.
If you were Thorne. And that led back to that rueful little thought again. What were the sides in this war? Technically the Faethorn empire was at peace at the moment, and this was supposed to be a deterrent, a way of staying ahead of any arms race that anyone might think of starting. Hidden weapons of great power that could be rolled out at a moment's notice. A way of telling any poseurs that, actually, we can blow you out of your cocked hat and back into nappies if we want. So where was the war that justified this weapon?
"...we were aware that certain gerontological stresses were unfavourable, and we issued guidelines that emphasized the use of transdermic buffer solutions of 18% or less as a precautionary measure," said Theresa. Timon held his hand up.
"Thank you, Theresa, As I understand what you've said there, you don't know and won't know until you've seen the bodies."
"Well, not even then necessarily, General," said Theresa looking enthusiastic at being able to duck even further away from any blame.
"Wait." Germaine had sat up again. Owen raised an eyebrow in discreet surprise. Normally the Assemblywoman didn't listen to anything anyone else had to say. "This buffer solution you mentioned--"
"Yes? It's a transdermic seleno-saline solution with certain impurities added in. We make it all within our own labs, so the formula is guaranteed to be secret."
"Whatever. I read the initial report you put out. There seemed to be some data missing, but I never got round to pursuing it further at the time. What happens when the buffer is made up at between, say, 24% and 30%?"
Theresa stared at Germaine, twisting her rings on her fingers in a steady, rhythmic pattern, first the forefinger, than the little finger, then the middle and finally the ring. She'd pause there, then start again.
"Theresa?" General Timon craned his neck again to look at her.
"You foul cow!" Theresa leapt to her feet, her chair falling over behind her. "I'm every bit as much a woman as you are! How dare you treat me like this?" Theresa pointed dramatically across the table at Germaine, her hand trembling and her eyes ablaze with fury.
"Wha--" Germaine looked as shocked as the rest of the assembly around the table.
"You think that you're so superior because you were born that way! I can do just as good a job as you, and I can prove it too. I don't have to put up with this kind of abuse, just because I've had to do it all the hard way. I've worked to become what I am, I've not had it handed on a plate to me. Not like some people!"
Theresa dropped her arm, and started for the door. Lieutentant Barch immediately started to speak, and Theresa burst into tears, still walking quickly to the door. Barch stopped, and looked back to the General for help. Timon shook his head very gently.
Theresa slammed the door behind her, and it seemed like the Assembly collectively let out a breath they'd been holding.
"What the hell was that?" said Owen.
"A diversion," said General Timon.