“Question,” Ray piped up, gesturing towards Andreveos with the butt of their spoon.
“Answer,” the lanky doctor replied, his familiar smirk momentarily flitting across his cheeks, one which only widened as Ray rolled their eyes in exasperation. “What’s on your mind?”
“I was wondering…” Ray began, but stopped themselves. “There’s something odd that happens…” Again, they cut themself off before they could actually answer the question. Their hesitation was masked, however, by particularly rowdy group of employees which were loping past their table, babbling excitedly among themselves. Ray took the opportunity to take another sip of their pumpkin soup and gather their thoughts. They opened their mouth to speak, then closed it again. They rocked back and forth on the edge of their seat, trying to ignore their supervisor’s thick eyebrow rising higher and higher by the second, the tips of their leather-shod toes barely managing to brush the ground. Eventually, they propped their elbows up on the table, steepling their fingers under their chin and speaking as decisively as they could muster. “How do your eyes work?”
Andreveos froze, the chunk of salmon impaled on his fork hovering in front of his face as he cocked his head slightly to the side. “My… eyes?” he said, fixing Ray with one of his focused, piercing stares, made all the more intense by the noonday sunlight streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the cafeteria. “Forgive me,” he continued, somewhat bemused, “but if I remember right, you’re the medical student here, not me.”
Ray sighed, running one hand through their short, mousy hair as they took another sip of soup. “You know what I mean.”
“I assure you, I don’t,” Andreveos shot back, reclining back in his chair enough to stretch his fuzzy-chested waistcoat taut. Unlike Ray, his long legs allowed him to teeter on just two of his chair legs with only his feet. “Last time I checked, I was a scientist, not a mind-reader.”
“Last time I checked, you were a ruoja,” Ray countered, the barb in their words undercut by the coy grin creeping across their face as their lilting accent momentarily intensified. “Or is it just me that you delight in messing with?” The smirk froze on their face as a cold spark of horror crackled in their chest – too much?
Fortunately, Andreveos seemed utterly unoffended, his ignorance of Finnish curses shielding him from the point of the barb. “Guilty as charged,” he chuckled richly, throwing up his hands in defeat, coming back down onto all four of his chair legs with a hearty thunk. “If you’re going to be so fun to mess with, of course I’ll take advantage of that.”
Ray returned Andreveos’ chortle with a cheery one of their own, before they refocused their attention sharply on him. In this light, his eyes looked almost as blue as Ray’s own, but they knew better than that. “I mean, how do your irises change colour? When you… well, you know…” They trailed off awkwardly.
“Oh!” Andreveos’ eyebrow crept upwards again, laying his fork down on the edge of his ceramic plate. “You mean this?”
A less attentive eye might have assumed that Andreveos had simply shifted his position, that some trick of the light was making his oddly-coloured eyes distort slightly. But Ray knew better. Instantly, they spotted his irises changing gradually, a ring of colour expanding out from his pupil and fading where it touched the sclera. First, the cool sea blue was wiped away by a forest green, and then again by a stony grey. Concentric halos, radiating outwards in a smooth, unhurried rhythm, the lines of muscle seeming almost to twist and ripple as the cycle continued. Blue, green, grey. It was a mesmerising sight, like watching ripples expand across a mirror-smooth lake, each causing the reeds to quiver in its wake, bands of colour flexing out, and out, and out –
Ray blinked, and looked sharply back down at their soup, taking a stiff, decisive sip. “Yes, that.” They were careful to keep their voice firm and focused. Andreveos certainly didn’t need to know how easily his eyes had drawn their attention like a magnet.
Andreveos’ face remained in a gentle, easygoing smile, revealing nothing. “It was a gift, to make it easier to hypnotise my test subjects,” he explained, his tone level and measured. He took another bite of salmon before continuing. “They figured they’d best test it out on someone who doesn’t ‘tise all that much instead of giving it to one of the proper ‘tists.
“Right, makes sense,” Ray nodded. They shifted themselves on the chair; although they were grateful for the amount of cushioning, the chair had clearly been designed for someone a few centimetres taller than them, forcing them to sit almost at the edge to prevent their legs from dangling. “And… how does it work, exactly?”
Andreveos opened his mouth, then closed it again. He scratched at the back of his neck, looking momentarily away. “To be honest… I’m not entirely sure,” he confessed sheepishly. “I know physchem like the back of my hand, but biochem was never my strongest suit. It’s something to do with some extra organelle in the iris pigment cells, but… well, I tried to read the research paper, but most of it went straight over my head.”
“I could try to read it,” offered Ray. “I don’t have your chemical insights, but… well, like you said, I’m the med student here.”
Andreveos’ eyes suddenly lit up with the manic twinkle which always made Ray slightly nervous. “Or,” he suggested coyly, “you could try to take a closer look now, see if there’s anything different to normal eye function.
“Right, and then you start trancing me the moment I start looking,” scoffed Ray. “You’re not nearly as sneaky as you think you are.”
Andreveos’ eyes widened as he placed a hand on his chest in mock affront. “Sneaky? Me? Why, I couldn’t possibly imagine where you got such an idea from.”
“Do you realise how many examples I could list off?”
Again, Andreveos raised his hands in defeat. “Okay, okay. How about this: only looking. I won’t say a word, I won’t move the rest of my body, I’ll just do the eye thing. Surely you can’t go into trance from that alone, right?”
Ray paused for a moment, considering his proposal. Then, they slid their soup aside, leaning forwards with both elbows on the table. “Okay, sounds fair. Go.”
Andreveos inclined his head in thanks, sliding his own plate aside. He bent down a little, hunching over the table to meet Ray’s gaze, propping up his chin with his hands. “Ready?”
Right on cue, the bands of colour began radiating out from Andreveos’ pupils again. First, a ring of green, then of grey, then of blue. Now that Ray was looking more closely, the shimmering filaments of ciliary muscle were indeed distorting with each ring. At the border between each colour, the muscles shifted, twisting aside to form a different shape. Within the repeating cycle of rings, there was another cycle, one of the synchronised back-and-forth of the fibres of sinew through which the colours passed. Green… the cilia arched tightly, forming an almost fan-like pattern of waves… grey… the cilia relaxed, settling into a slightly tangled web of fibres… blue… the strands pulled taut, radiating almost straight out from the pupil. And then the pattern began again. Green. Sharp, orderly arches. Grey. Relaxed, undulating curves. Blue. Ramrod-straight lines. Ray had never seen such fine control over individual muscle strands; they wondered if Andreveos was consciously aware of the delicate movements he was making. Green. Arches. Grey. Curves. Blue. Lines. A pattern, the colours pulsing outwards, the fibres drawing inwards. Rippling almost like fabric in the wind.
Ray blinked, shaking their head slightly. Even without words or any other movements, the shifting pattern by itself was alluring. They needed to be more careful to avoid being drawn in. They blinked several more times in an attempt to clear their suddenly slightly fuzzy mind before they refocused their attention, holding Andreveos’ intense gaze once more. They realised they hadn’t seen him blink at all in the… in the… how much time had gone past since they had started staring? Seconds? Minutes? They found themself unable to tell. Not that it particularly mattered; if Andreveos hadn’t blinked, surely it hadn’t been that long. And besides, their curiosity was not yet sated. Green. Arches. Grey. Curves. Blue. Lines. Ray leant in closer. Perhaps the pigment cells beneath the cilia were differently coloured, and the cilia hid certain cells depending on orientation? Green. Arches, fanning across the iris. Grey. Curves, tangled and weaving. Blue. Lines, bursting out from the pupil. Still, Andreveos did not blink. Were the colours slowing? Speeding up? They were… they were changing, somehow. Or were they just staring so intently their own eyes were beginning to distort? Perhaps they should blink again, look away, just for a moment to regain strength, but… they were so close to understanding, they knew it. They just had to stare. Hold the gaze. Just a little bit longer. Green. Arches. Grey. Curves. Blue. Lines. The world outside was fading, Ray’s focus shrinking down to just those two rings of shifting, shimmering colour, those two nests of twisting, undulating fibres. There was a pattern, they could see it. The secret, the understanding, lurked just barely out of view. Ray wanted to reach out and grab it, but it danced through their fingers. They needed to stare. Hold the gaze. Green. Arches. Focus. They could find the secret. Grey. Curves. They needed to find the secret. Blue. Lines. And to do that, they had to stare. They needed to stare. Hold the gaze. Keep the focus. Green. Grey. Blue. Green. Grey. Blue. Green…