She arrived at the station security office fifteen minutes early, but Commander Markov acted as if he were already expecting her at any moment. He didn’t react to her youthful appearance. Maybe he’d been forewarned, or maybe he was just that poker-faced. Either way, she appreciated it.
“This way, Captain.” Markov led her down a couple of corridors, past two guard posts, to a small back room dominated by a reclining chair. She sat down and tried to relax as a helmet was lowered over her head.
The procedure was pretty much the same as it was the last time she’d been given a psych lock. That was back when she was an actual teenaged cadet, instead of a captain who merely looked like a teenaged cadet. They tested everybody to confirm that the mental inhibitor process worked on them. Every so often, they had to put an “openskull” mark in someone’s file, indicating that the candidate was immune and therefore disqualified from access to the highest levels of classified information.
Most officers never encountered an inhibitor device again, unless they went into Intelligence or high positions at Fleet headquarters. Even so, she’d only heard of one “openskull” making full commander, and none ever making captain.
Markov’s voice sounded in her earphones. “Just a moment while I make a few adjustments, and we can begin.”
Then she was alone in the silent dark for what seemed like hours. Finally, she saw... something. One moment the universe was all jumbled points of light. The next it was all impossible angles of darkness against darkness. It was hard to understand how she could see the angles when everything was the exact same degree of blackness, but they were undeniably there. After a while that could have been a second or an hour, she stopped trying to make sense of it and simply observed.
She could hear a voice. The exact words seemed to slip away when she tried to focus on them, but it was something about keeping the artifact’s existence secret. It was just background noise, telling her to do what she was going to do anyway. The message whispered in the background, noticeable only because there was absolutely nothing else to think about.
The impossible angles began to shift in some direction she couldn’t see or point out. Finally, a new thought arose. She was seeing space and time, actually perceiving the continuum that all those physics-class diagrams could only suggest.
The background voice changed, becoming more intense. It was directing her attention to a few spots in the continuum... spots that remained absolutely unmoving as everything else wavered and shifted.
“There are fixed points in the stream of time. They stand unchanging, unaltered. They are destiny.”
The static points grew to small islands, The continuum flowed around them, black against black but somehow clearly distinct. She could make out some sort of pattern in each island... a picture she knew was there but that she couldn’t quite make out.
“Very soon, you will view a part of your personal destiny.”
Bright points of light appeared next to each of the pictures. They began to flicker in a way that was not quite regular and not quite random.
“This is your future, predetermined and unalterable.”
The lights became brighter, and shifted colors in a way she couldn’t quite follow but found irresistibly fascinating. “This is a vision of what will be.”
“This is a vision of what will be,” she heard her own voice echoing.
“You accept the truth of this vision. What you observe is what will happen. What you see yourself doing is what you will do. It is what you will do without doubt. It is what you will do without change.”
The statements repeated over and over, alternately in the background voice and in her own. After each statement, she could almost see some image from one of the portals. Though she became more and more determined to see... more and more certain that she was looking into a moment of her foreordained future... they still refused to resolve.
Finally, the scene faded, from black points of stability against a black churning chaos into a simple black background. “Soon, very soon, you will see. You will know what is to be. You will know that you cannot change it. You will not attempt to change it. You will not wish to change it. You will accept it.”
“I will accept it.”
The next thing she was aware of was the too-bright light of the room as the helmet was removed. She blinked as Markov’s face came into focus.
“Captain?” She nodded. “As soon as you’re ready, Doctor Layden is waiting to see you.”
She stood up. “All right. Which way?”
“Ah, perhaps you should wait a few minutes, just to make sure there isn’t any residual disorientation—”
“I’m not a little girl, dammit!”
Markov took a half-step back. “Of course not, captain. This has nothing to do with—”
Fuchyda cut him off. “I apologize. I shouldn’t have snapped at you. It’s just that I’ve spent every day since I got out of physical therapy watching people doing double-takes at the fresh-faced little middie all dressed up like a real captain. And it’s been getting on my fucking nerves. It’s not your fault.”
There was an awkward silence, finally broken when Markov indicated a door in the rear corner of the room. “This way.”
She nodded and headed for her appointment with the future.