Ryta Layden smiled. “Hello, Captain Fuchyda.” She waved toward the left side of the room. “I’m sure this all sounds like some sort of mystical hocus-pocus.”
Fuchyda’s eyes followed the gesture. There were two chairs with a small table between them. On top of the table was a gray rounded object sitting in the middle of an assortment of electronic equipment. In front of the chairs was a computer and a large viewscreen, with a bundle of cables connecting it to the tray.
Layden indicated the gray thing. “Here it is—the alien artifact. The rest of it is an array of signal pickups and sensors to interpret its output and maybe get a few more clues about how it works.”
“I saw the pictures, but I was expecting it to look more...” She wasn’t quite sure what she expected. The only word she could think of was “alien,” but that would sound stupid. Childish.
“Yes, impressive.” That didn’t sound stupid, or at least not too stupid. “So, Doctor Leyden—”
“Call me ‘Ryta’. I’ve found that the fewer psychological barriers there are between me and the person whose future we’re trying to look into, the better it works.”
Well, she’s the expert on this thing. “All right, Ryta. The report said that we both touch a flat surface on top of the artifact.”
Ryta nodded and directed her to one of the chairs. “Just have a seat there, Janice....”
She raised an eyebrow.
“It’s all right if I call you ‘Janice,’ isn’t it? It helps—”
“...helps reduce the psychological barriers,” she said, echoing the earlier comment. She shrugged, “OK, fine.”
Damn, I sound like a teenager. Feeling a bit annoyed, and wanting to get this over with, she sat down and placed her left hand on top of the device.
Ryta sat in the other chair. She placed right hand next to Janice’s left, close enough that her little finger arched over Janice’s.
They sat still for almost a full minute. Finally, the screen displayed two sets of numbers, followed by the labels:
1: Near Volyani 3 — 3.83 Days — 5.8 Minutes
2: Javellos Station — 7.28 Days — 32.1 Minutes
Ryta turned to Janice. “Well, it seems that the artifact has locked onto two scenes from your future: a short one showing what happens when you get Volyani 3 and a longer one of something that happens after you get back.”
She faced toward the display unit. “As soon as you’re ready, we can begin.”
Ryta pressed a button on the far arm of her chair. Blinking lights appeared at the corners of the screen. The pattern looked strangely familiar to Janice. “The lights from the psych lock session,” she thought.
After that, she thought of nothing other than to focus her attention on the display... and within a few seconds she stopped thinking even about that, and simply absorbed the sounds and images.