The Laser Fiction - The Deceptive Quotient (Part One)









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



The Deceptive Quotient

I felt her piercing eyes looking at my hands, scanning for any signs of lingering brittleness or unwarranted retrenchment. Even from her clandestine vantage-point, there was a piercing intensity that gave little room for error. I knew all the effort she'd put into opening the door had, to that point, been for almost nothing. It hadn't budge or even moved a fraction of an inch. She seemed frustrated by the situation, and possibly a little embarrassed given her experience and skill. It was unnerving to be watched assiduously but I had no choice. Her unblinking gaze wasn't going elsewhere, there was nothing to draw her attention away from my efforts. I had to be almost perfect. I moved the incomprehensible dials around in half-circles and odd angles, pretending that I knew what I was doing, and pointed the machine towards the strange building. In my hands, its level of response was minimal to nonexistent. There was the clicking of the dials as they turned but little else. No matter what I did, nothing seemed to happen. This got old in a hurry so I stopped fiddling around with the machine and looked back in her direction. I was looking for some kind of direction, but she offered me little to go on.
Either she knew what was happening but wasn't telling or she'd run out of ideas, herself. Her disposition didn't change any despite my unspoken plea. Her attention remained focused on my motions and manipulations. Her eyes carefully tracked even my smallest movements. I sensed a growing impatience as she waited for me to continue. I held the machine closely and tried to decipher the symbols on its sides. I took the machine up towards eye-level. The symbols were larger but no less obtuse. I pushed it horizontally towards the building and swung it around a few times, but nothing happened. Adjusting the dials again and again seemed to have little effect. She continued watching my every move carefully. I wondered what she expected from me. I swang it around and spun it in all directions, tiring my arms in the process, but nothing seemed to work. After awhile, I wondered if she had somehow set the whole thing up as a hidden test, attempting to discover if I'd actually learned anything after all that time.

I watched her for any sign that something might have gone amiss, but there was no sign that she was attempting to deceive me. Instead, she looked directly at the machine and pointed at it, apparently reinforcing her instruction to keep forging ahead. I cast those doubts aside and returned to the task in front of me. I examined the markings on the machine's surface once more, searching for anything that might clue me in which direction I should go. They resisted any attempts at unfurling their secrets, sufficiently satisfied that their secrets would remain close. I looked them over carefully a few more times, spinning the object to little avail. It wouldn't do me any good to continue helplessly spinning the dials at random, so I decided to take a different approach. I decided to try aligning the dials in some strangely logical fashion so their markings kind of matched up, at least the best I could determine. At first, the initial combinations I tried had little effect. It remained silent and unresponsive, not making any sort of noise or producing any visible change.

I worked to adjust its weight-bearing, tilting it at different angles and waiting carefully after each turn to see if anything happened. Jostling it around and twisting it dials repeatedly into formations and patterns, nothing seemed to emerge. I wasted nearly an hour of trying different configurations with no progress to speak of. I nearly gave up but something told me to keep at it. I decided to change my approach once more, and decided to keep the dials in place and instead attempt to point the machine in different directions. I flailed around with no real sense of direction or purpose. I was just going through the motions. Unexpectedly, when I held it in the opposing direction, almost reversed from its assumed front, I heard a sudden bing. It was small and short-lived but something definitely happened. I kept it at the same angle but moved its front dial a little towards the east. A slightly longer and louder piercing noise occured. I was finally getting somewhere. It could have been a function of fate or luck but after multiple attempts, something finally started to click into place.

I motioned towards her to convey my progress, but she was strangely unmoved by my success. This was puzzling, but I didn't let it throw me off guard. It was finally showing some signs of life and I wasn't going to let anything interrupt my progress. I decided to keep going and focused the radius of spins in its distinct area, until I reached a stronger signal where the machine's responses became more pronounced. It began buzzing with more consistency and the steady noise finally seemed to get her attention. She walked over towards me and stood at my side, looking over my shoulder. I continued moving the dials on the machine's surface until it reached a loud, insistent banging sound.

Somehow, I'd managed to find the sweet spot. It wasn't clear what I should do next, but she came up with an interesting idea. Motioning towards the structure, it quickly became obvious what I should do next. I pointed the machine directly at the door and unleashed a powerful burst of energy. Its light exploded on contact with the building, covering its surface in bright color, pulses that cycled brightly through a glowing spectrum. It was an impressive show, but one that didn't produce much of an effect.

Despite the vivid display, there was no visible response after the initial burst of energy subsided. This wasn't expected. I wondered what I was doing wrong. I examined the surface of the machine, looking for any indication of what to do next. I tried reading the markings on it with no luck. Instead, relying on instinct and luck, I carefully moved its dials around making slight adjustments, until there was a sudden loud beep. It felt a bit different, slightly lighter. It produced a narrower, focused wave of energy that I was able to directly train on the door. I focused its beam on the small locked key on its edge for a few seconds. Suddenly, there was a loud boom as the clasps gave way. The embedded locks opened pushed apart until its doors followed suit and began to separate. This created a narrow but passable entrance that could be traversed.

I looked to my side and glanced towards her position, seeking some kind of direction or advice. She wasn't forthcoming, but strangely enough, wasn't entirely surprised by this turn of events, somehow it seemed that she'd expected it. I surveyed the door and while it was open, its dislodged sides looked a little unsteady, like it could slam back shut at any time. It didn't look like it would be safe to approach it, and she appeared to hold back a little. I walked over towards her and we stood together, looking at the structure carefully. I decided to take the machine out for another approach, and began to point it back towards the building. It might be safer if I opened the door further, giving us a larger path.

Before I could complete setting the dials and implementing my commands, she snatched her machine out of my hands, sharply hitting my arm in the process, immediately reclaiming it from me. This caught me off-guard, I wasn't expecting such a severe interruption; her action was puzzling. I watched her take the machine and place it back into her cloak. I wondered why she decided to take it away just as I reached the conclusion of my experiment. Unfurling her cloak, offered a fleeting glimpse that revealed she was carrying a number of obscure machines. They looked to be in different stages of development and completion. It seemed that particular machine had a special place and purpose, which explained her desire not to let it out of her sight for long. Another thought crossed my mind, though it didn't really make sense in light of the disparity between our experience and skill.

Strangely enough, I thought it could have been an unforeseen bout of envy that made her grab it back. Maybe she was jealous that I had succeeded quickly when she was met with frustration. Maybe she didn't trust such power in unproven hands. Her motives weren't clear, and her lack of anger only made her actions all the more perplexing. I tried to figure it out but she stayed quiet for a moment. I was confused and somewhat angered by this. At first, she was silent, offering no explanation, leaving me standing there without direction. I looked at her and felt strangely lost and unexpectedly confused. She stood there for a minute, apparently deciding how much she wanted to tell me. She took a long, hesitant pause before cautiously explaining a few of the basics. Most importantly, the machine's power was rapidly diminishing, the lack of available moonlight made it absolutely imperative to preserve its energy for as long as possible. She then lectured me about thinking ahead. I'd been impetuous and rushed ahead. I didn't realize that nothing more needed to happen to maintain the entrance's stability.

There was ample inherent energy within the structure to keep it open for quite some time. Her voice slowed as she told me that we could go inside, without risk. There was enough space, and more importantly, expanding the opening could possibly destabilize the structure. This could be quite dangerous, since neither of us could know what was beyond the door with any certainty. I needed to be more careful, before charging ahead recklessly. She decided that I'd taken enough risks and she had to draw me back a little, at least for the time being. Most importantly, she explained to me that she didn't want me growing accustomed to using the intractable device as a short-cut to get through difficulties without putting in the proper effort.

I realized she wasn't going to relinquish it permanently, but I needed to wait a while longer before I developed the ability and knowledge to use it correctly in proper relation to the problems I'd face. She went silent once again, and stood silently across from the structure. Apparently deciding this was enough, she paused and gave me a couple minutes to think about it. I didn't expect her to tell me everything at once, but that gave me enough to go on. I was still taken aback by how she snatched the machine from me without warning. I decided not to take it too hard and continued our encounter without taking it personally. She decided to take a few steps forward until she was standing almost directly in front of the entrance. Her hands rose and singalled for me to follow her path towards the entrance. There was no telling how long its temporary portal would stay open.

I defied my fear and took my place at her side, and looked into the building nervously. I couldn't see much in the way of detail or realizations, and had to take it on her faith that something worth the risk was waiting for us on the other side, into the approximated school building. She knew I was nervous about crossing the threshold and unexpectedly took my hand before we walked inside. It was surprisingly cold and stiff, which given the frigid surroundings wasn't a complete surprise. I tightened my grip slightly and closed my eyes before we walked inside. I felt a strange rush of energy surround us for a brief moment as we crossed the invisible barrier, walking underneath the doorway. I took a few steps inside and felt the surprisingly strong concrete flooring beneath us echoing softly from the reluctance of our tentative footsteps.

The interior was eerily silent and deserted, it hadn't been inhabited by anyone yet, leaving a strange emptiness for us to explore. Its walls were barren, there were no clippings of announcements, projects or arts to be seen anywhere. No locks held anything inside the narrow lockers, whose doors were sealed shut, no one was intended to actually use them. There were no signs of life - no kids roaming halls, or teachers yelling after them. The deserted rows of classrooms left us with little to explore, the lights were on but rather dim, offering little in the way of illumination. She walked ahead of me, apparently on some kind of mission, but I had little forbearance of what might lie in front of us. She walked down the corridors quickly, passing by each empty room without pausing to really take a look inside. I glanced at them and their neat rows of desks and chairs were arranged perfectly, creating a flawless image in some ways, but resembling an incomplete, unfinished piece of work in others. It felt like we were walking through a beautifully illustrated but incomplete picture. Everything was arranged fastidiously in what seemed like its proper place. Great care was taken in even minor aspects but something was missing.

She walked through its deserted halls and empty corridors somewhat blithely, unconcerned by its inability to produce anything meaningful beneath its surface. The furniture inside looked like it had never been touched. The empty, surreptitiously clean blackboards had no residue or lines of chalk on them. No clusters of paper clogged the drawers, no signs held any messages. It was quiet wherever we went, the doors on each room were sprinted half-way, each in the same general position. After a few minutes, we reached the end of the main hall and it branched out in two directions. She paused at the junction, taking a moment to examine the surroundings. She looked both ways carefully, looking for some sign that would help her decide where to head next. There were no visible markings on the wall that would distinguish a direction. She closed her eyes for a brief moment, and apparently on instinct, decided to traverse the eastern corridor. At this point, she became more cautious and went a little slower down that path. Attempting to more comprehensively survey its rooms, she stopped and looked inside each classroom briefly but didn't locate what she sought. This didn't seem to discourage her and she kept going, determined not to end our excursion prematurely.

The possibilities inside the long hallway diminished with each doorway passed, there was an increasing likelihood that this would end up as a complete waste of time. Each room presented an opportunity that was quickly dashed by its hollow interior. Her pace slowed as we neared the half-way point of our expedition, its impeccably designed interior walls quickly exposed their deception. There was nothing behind any of them. We finally reached the end of the hallway, and reached its final room. At first, it seemed that it was just another empty space but upon closer inspection, something was different about it. Unlike the other partitions, this particular room's door was closed and sealed off. This was strange yet also intriguing. We walked a little bit closer towards it until we stood right outside its narrow landing, in range to get a better view. The lights inside were turned on. burning with unexpected intensity. We took a few steps closer and heard some noise, scattered but definitely audible. The conclusion was unmistakable; we'd discovered what she sought. I thought she might be nervous or afraid, but she didn't hesitate and almost jumped forward, turning the doorknob and opening it wide open. I was startled by what I saw. I knew almost instantly. Someone was expecting us.

He sat in the chair and swiveled in our direction almost at the second he heard the door open. I was surprised to see him again, but he wasn't caught off-guard by our arrival. His suit had been pressed, its sharp angles gave him a sleek and professional appearance. His hair was neatly combed and there was little sign of the ordeal we'd faced against those hideous creatures. His eyes lit up at the sight of her and he quickly stood up to greet her. She seemed relieved by his presence and her disposition seemed to lessen its guard to a degree. I looked at his desk, and it seemed like the others at first. Somewhat empty though upon closer examination, there were a few odd aspects to it. It seemed messier and less organzied as I walked closer.

There was a strangely familiar model, a recreation of an otherworldy, inexplicably resilient boat. It was carefully constructed. It was complete down to the smallest details, even it sails looked functional. When I looked closer, I quickly realized that it was a small-scale recreation of the boat he'd navigated through the rough seas alongside us. It didn't seem to diverge from its inspiration, though it did seem needlessly implacable, its sails unable to carry wind, firmly held in place with a mixture of adhesive and determination. I couldn't help admiring the care and fastidious nature of its construction, much care had obviously gone into it. He spotted me looking at it and beamed with pride at his accomplishment. The other major object on his desk was a stack of papers placed carefully in order, which had been folded up neatly. Each page was perfectly aligned for easy navigation, unruffled and carefully placed in proper sequence. The only question I had was whether my methodology would actually work and produce the results I intended them to have.

(Continue to part two)