The Laser Fiction - The Deceptive Quotient (Part Two)









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



The Deceptive Quotient (part two)

She cautiously walked along side and examined the boat closely, nervously eyeing its details. Her obvious lack of enthusiasm was something I wasn't expecting. Her eyes turned back to the mysterious man, and she looked him over carefully, keeping a distance for the time being. She held out her hands to make some space. I stood between them and waited nervously while she sized him up, deciding what to do next. She carefully walked around me and only made a halting step towards the figure, standing a noticeable distance removed before halting. There was an impassible chasm between them that couldn't be breached. Restraining his progress was an unspoken barrier standing between them that she wouldn't let him cross. He stood back and remained calm throughout this. Finally, he began to apologize, for an unknown transgression but it didn't seem adequate for the situation.

There was an uneasy silence for a few minutes as she contemplated her odd circumstance. She apparently decided to make a tentative peace with him. She greeted him warily with a mix of recognition and caution, but there was a lingering distance between them that wasn't immediately broached. She remained at a remove, not really going into his space as she'd previously walked. There was another cursory greeting from his direction that helped their temporary reapproachment.

It was going to take awhile to regain his standing. He seemed to accept third. She hesitatingly thanked him for the aid and protection he'd given us in the past. She undercut this by asking where he'd been more recently, during our last confrontation. He was silent and this lack of a convincing explanation partially explained why she wasn't entirely pleased to see him. Perhaps, something else had occurred during the intervening time that I hadn't been aware of. It seemed that they hadn't been in contact for quite awhile, but something seemed to have changed in terms of their connection. She looked at his model and admired its detail and construction, but her eyes didn't intrude on his accumulated papers. He stood up and gestured towards me to come into their small circle. When I stood at her side, he pointed at us and said he was happy to be back in her presence after all this time. It wasn't clear exactly how much time had passed, but it had clearly been an extended period apart. She nodded, acknowledged the paths they'd travelled but remained obviously unsettled by his unexpected appearance.

I wondered if she knew he would be waiting for us, but she didn't let anything on. She stood nearby and didn't really make any moves towards him at first. There was an odd reticence on her part, a wary reticence that seemed that she didn't really take part in his mostly one-way conversation. She soaked in his minor rant with a degree of patience, but there was an unspoken skepticism that under lied her presence. It was a strange enough to be back there, inside a rough approximation of the old school, but this only led to more mysteries. I wondered why he was back there, how he'd opened the sole class inside, where he was waiting in the interim, and other dislocations that probably wouldn't add up during normal circumstances.
After a few minutes, his temperament seemed to change. HIs easy accent slipped into something more serious. He'd noticed that she seemed unusually quiet and inquired if he'd done something wrong. He apologized profusely if he'd done anything, even unintentionally to set her off. She nodded her head and quickly explained that he wasn't the problem. She turned and pointed at me, saying that we'd just been through a lot. He asked her what happened. There was another encounter with the monsters, she explained but, this time they came a little bit too close for her liking. She was worried that they'd return. He nodded his head and seemed to know what occurred. He took a deep breath and reassured her that she was safe for the time being, that she didn't need to worry.

She seemed somewhat convinced by his words and this seemed to take some of the pressure off her. Relaxing a little, she took a deep breath and recounted the story of how she'd finally found me and the irregular path she'd taken and to get there. He asked how she knew where he was. She said she knew long beforehand and thanked him for his patience and loyalty. After clearing up the lingering confusion, they returned to their conversation effortlessly. I looked on hoping to figure out what they were up to. Apparently, they hadn't seen each other in a while and had some catching up to do with each other. She earnestly praised him for his robust body of work and the things he'd accomplished in the intervening time. He returned her kind words with a compliment of his own, telling her that he appreciated all the work she'd done mapping the various galaxies, planets and stars inside the universe.

She was unexpectedly surprised to hear this account and was taken aback by such a grandiose statement. It hadn't occurred to her that she was doing something like that. He seemed to not understand her confusion at first, and sat back down in his chair. He leaned back, took a quick swirl in the chair and came to a stop. He reached into the stack of papers and ruffled through them. It didn't take long for him to find what he was looking for and he pulled it out and unrolled it on the table. The map was obviously quite large and filled nearly the entire length of the table. On its surface, numerous spots were pointed out with extensive, elaborate traces and intricate paths connecting them to each other. It appeared that it had been updated and scrawled on frequently. He'd been watching her and staying current on her travels. She was taken off-balance and surprised that he was hitching alongside her journeys, completely unaware that he was following her excursions.

It looked like a strange thing to do, and she was caught by surprise. He saw that she was upset by this and came up with an explanation that proved his motivation was. She had been vulnerable and fate seemed to have placed her under his watch. He said that he considered it kind of his job to protect her from malicious forces, even from a remote distance. It seemed to make sense and her defenses quickly gave way again. That wasn't the end of it. He took his papers and shuffled them around, searching for something else he wanted to show her. There was a second map, much smaller and simpler than the one he'd rolled out on the table.

It wasn't immediately clear why he brought it out. She didn't understand why he was showing it to us. It took her a few minutes of looking at it carefully before she realized what he was showing her. Apparently, it was one that she had drawn when she was a little kid. It was a bit rough and somewhat inaccurate but it seemed to mirror and portend places she would go later on. She asked him where he'd found it, she assumed it had been lost or destroyed forever when she graduated and moved away. He said that it had been given to him by one of her former teachers for safe keeping.

Despite its age and delicate paper, the map was preserved almost perfectly. Its near flawless condition, more than anything else, seemed to surprise her the most. She said she didn't recognize it immediately, but slowly she remembered. He watched her fingers trace the lines and paths with her fingers gliding over the surface. She was very careful at first given its fragile state, but became less cautious as its unexpected resilience became obvious. In order to get a better perspective and ascertain all the details, I took a few steps closer and stood at her side. I kept a distance but was close enough to see what was going on. I soaked in its many paths and looked on as she traversed the universe with her fingers. It was impossible to expect that she'd actually gone to the untold thousands of points on her maps in real life, each representing an entire world. It was impossible not to wonder how many she might have actually visited. I knew it was even less likely that she would tell me.
Beyond that ponderous dimension, the map looked cluttered, sketched-out and confusing. There didn't seem to be much of a pattern behind the scrawled, disconnected lines and dots, but some consistency visualized if you looked at it long enough. We took some time to soak it all in and I was impressed by the level of detail, but she seemed disappointed that she hadn't tried harder, the end result not up to her expectations. He moved to the other side of the table to gain a different perspective. He remarked that the level of detail and foresight evident in her early sketches was far beyond what he'd ever encountered. He said it was all the more remarkable, considering that she didn't have a machine to use in measuring distance or length. He explained that in order to plot out the map, she had to rely entirely on her own experience and memories, which would require someone with exceptional abilities. She laughed at his explanation.

She wasn't thinking too highly of her skill-set and accused him of excessively drumming it up because he wanted to placate and flatter her. It didnít seem to work and might have backfired. She seemed to form a wariness about him that didnít subside for a long time. She looked at the map, carefully retracing its paths and lines. After examining closely, she began to notice and dwell on its flaws. It seemed that she was somewhat embarrassed by its obvious simplicity, shallow depth and lack of context. She became critical of herself after soaking in its detail. There really wasn't anything that special about what she'd done. The mysterious map unfolded on the table was actually a rudimentary diary of her daydreams when she was young, nothing more. The man countered that she was underestimating herself, and not to berate herself from minor inaccuracies and small mistakes.

They were talking past each other and making contradictory conclusions despite looking at the same map. This was confusing and I wasn't sure which explanation to believe. Perhaps, there was an element of the truth in each of their perspectives. Maybe both of them were partially correct. It was difficult to draw any concrete answers. I was stymied by their arguments. I finally decided to settle the dispute myself. I walked towards his desk and allowed myself a closer look. I traced the mapís lines and paths in several different sequences attempting to get to the central disagreement. When I drew closer to the map, my mission was thwarted.

I was overwhelmed by the unrelenting density, incomprehensible complexity and wavering accuracy of her deceivingly primordial work. I couldnít really decide and was left with more questions about its true origin and purpose. He told me that the technical details didnít really bother him. That was easy to adjust for; numbers and positions could be revised. The one aspect that he truly didn't understand was why she didn't bother taking credit for her elaborate construction. She had the chance, after many years, to receive long-neglected praise for her work. He offered her a pen and waited. She could finally sign her name. She thought about it for a moment but declined gracefully, not even bothering to take the pen in her hand. She explained that she didn't need or want credit. We knew it was her design and that was enough.

He was taken aback by her humility and seemed not to understand her lack of ego. It was a strange contradiction that he couldnít quite wrap his head around. He re-examined the map and attempted to decipher some of its scrawling sketch work but wasnít quite able to fully make all the points connect. Sensing his confusion, she leaned over his shoulder. Getting from one point to another would require leaps that werenít immediately obvious and occasionally, there were sections that werenít completely mapped. It would be better to skip those than to attempt solving the unknown.

This seemed to help him understand her logic to a degree, but there were still many unanswered questions her old map presented. She further elucidated that it was far from complete, and that maintaining and building a full inventory of the skies hadnít been her intention. It was actually a rough guide for her own use when travelling the starscape, either in-person or remotely, but the project had grown far beyond its original scale. He considered what to do next and decided that it might be better not to force the issue. Despite their rough appearance, they were surprisingly accurate. He scanned them and declared that they would probably be useful down the line. He decided to fold them back up and placed them back onto his stack of papers, letting them slide out of view. He tried to bring some levity to the situation by laughing it off. He admitted that he probably tried too hard to decipher and trace their seemingly endless intricate paths. He was impressed by the mapsí elaborate renderings and design, which explained why he spent so much time trying to figure them out. It took an abundance of trial and error to figure things out but there were unarticulated elements that mystified him about her methodology.

She had made elaborate plans and the intricate paths she laid were probably somewhat mystifying. It wasn't clear how long she'd really been at it, and he hesitated to ask. On the chance that she might have seemed a little bit reticent, he'd improvised several different alternate theories and approaches, none of which were entirely satisfying to his needs. Surmising that there wasn't much more he could do, he seemed to have pushed it aside, hoping however remotely, that she might arrive.

He seemed surprised that I'd unexpected re-joined her and didn't seem to know how to respond to my presence. It did feel a bit strange being in their presence and I tried not to get in the way. There was a sense that somehow, I wasn't entirely certain of this, that she had come across me accidentally and wasn't expecting to find me again. Despite everything, she remained calm. Steadfast in her mission, he wasn't about to see it derailed by a couple of unexpected events. Inserting very little into his monologue, she listened to him, then calmly gave him a few clues to the origins and workings of the maps. She didn't reveal enough to completely unlock all of its secrets but there was enough that he could gain added use to them. At this, he seemed to draw a small measure of relief.

He sat back in his chair and rolled it behind the desk, seeming to release a lot of accumulated pressure. The navigator seemed a little lost for the moment and didnít seem to know exactly where to go in response. Closing his eyes for a moment, he took in the admonishment and looked to be internalizing her words. It took a minute or so but he seemed to reach an equilibrium and decided on a course of action. He spoke and said he had it figured out and knew exactly how heíd make it up to me. He motioned with his arms for me to join him. I nervously walked towards him, and he began rifling through the drawers beneath his desk. I wasnít that angry about the joke and it seemed that they had over-reacted. Still, he insisted that something needed to be done to make things right. He didnít find what he was seeking inside its main compartment and decided to check out the opposite right drawers. He leaned down and looked inside until he located the objects he sought.

He pulled out a pair of small, seemingly ancient machines. Both looked surprisingly beat up, their scratched sides and dented surfaces made them seem thoroughly beaten down. They were about half the size of her machine and lacked dials and switches. No markings or symbols were visible on their sides, either. Despite their rough appearance and heavy use, they exuded an undiminished power. He placed them on the desk side-by-side and examined them carefully. She walked up beside me and proceeded to look at the pair with her own eyes. She took one of them off the table and spun it around a few times. Its response was relatively muted but immediate and unmistakable. She declared both of them to be in good working order and fully functional. They were slightly different in terms of design and color, but looked roughly equivalent. He was pleased with their resilience and strength as he waved them around. After a few minutes, heíd thoroughly tested them and proven that they met his standards.
He carefully placed them back on his desk and asked me to pick one. They seemed roughly equivalent and it didnít seem like it would make much difference so I decided on the silver and blue one. I took it and handed it to me. It was a lot lighter and narrower than her machine, making it easier to maneuver. I held it in my hand and quickly got the hang of using it. I waved it around the room a few times, it was nearly empty so I didnít have to worry about knocking anything over. I felt a strange sense of recognition but couldnít quite place where It was coming from. I waited for her to say something to me, but she watched silently. I turned back to the mysterious man and thanked him for his gift. He corrected me immediately; it was a loan. I was expected to return it to him in the same condition Iíd received it. He told me not to squander its energy on frivolous actions. It was a special object, and finally, he emphasized this forcefully, there was only a limited time when it would function. There was no clock; Iíd have to figure that out on my own. I looked over the machine carefully and despite its limitations, I hoped I could make something of it.

I held the strange device in my hand and waved it around a couple of times. It didnít respond the way I anticipated, and let off a series of almost subliminal blips, not the usual booming sound Iíd grown accustomed to. There was only a fraction of the energy I was used to working and it would be a challenge to scale back my expectations It was easier to hold and it fit my hand surprisingly well, which I thought I could use to my advantage. Swinging it around in circles like the other machines seemed to help bring a renewed force and the machine responded by throwing out brief, narrow bursts of light that illuminated the room. It wasnít immediately clear what I was supposed to be doing but I had a premonition. I looked back towards them and their eyes were trained directly on me. This was surprising and caught me off-guard. I wondered what they expected to learn from a novice like me. Entering the front of the room alone was a little unsettling enough, but their expectations only made me more nervous. I watched them observing me and knew I couldnít make any mistakes. I searched their faces for any guidance, but neither of them was forthcoming.

I had to figure things out on my own. They stood at a safe remove, just out of reach, behind my back and waited for me to make up my mind. The first thing I decided was that I needed some time to learn its technique and skills. It took me awhile to get the hang of things, but with a little practice, I was finally able to get into something resembling a rhythm. I began chaining some of its motions together, and this resulted in small gasps of energy that popped into view. These only lingered in the air for a few seconds, but they represented encouraging progress. I tried not to get too excited or overly ambitious, there was much I didnít know. I tread onward, and slowly built increasingly large beams until they began to form outlines that filled into shapes. It seemed that I was making noticeable progress, but it was going too slowly for my liking.

I looked at my nascent works and was pleased on some level but also disappointed in the lack of concrete forms. Finally, I realized that things might go quicker if I focused my energy on a specific area. The empty wall on the opposite side of the classroom seemed like a good fit. There was no one standing in there and nothing to block me from building something. I put a few beams together and began to build a small portal. My initial attempt was haphazard, its borders were shaky and not well-defined. This rushed approach didnít appear to produce lasting results and its exterior would quickly disintegrate after a few moments. I looked back in their direction and while she remained quiet, the navigator was nodding his head. He didnít say anything but I knew it was time to take a different approach. Instead of trying to recreate her intricate design, I thought it would be better to take on something less ambitious. I began the process and held back on flourishes and focused more on making something that would last. The design I came up with was functional, kind of clumsy and not very artistic. It wasnít nearly as elaborate as the painterly structure we found ourselves in. However, it seemed to bring an increase in stability. This allowed me to focus on what exactly I wanted to accomplish.

Moving closer towards the empty wall made it look more like a blank canvas. It was open and I was entirely free to do what I wanted. I decided not to try anything out of scale and instead settled for just creating a small door. It wasnít entirely clear how large it should be, but I thought of my companions sitting back in the room. It needed to be large enough to support three of us, if only briefly. Our eventual destination was clear..After a few minutes, I began to sketch out a firm design. The machine gave me a somewhat accurate guide if I held it steady and focused its beams on a specific section. It didn't take long for it to begin filling in and I was confident it would work. The energy it produced was somewhat limited and we needed to get beyond the breach before its light dimmed on us.. I called back to them to join me. Before I knew it, they were both standing at my side. It seemed that they had anticipated what would happen. They somehow knew what Iíd decide before I did. The navigator had gathered his papers and held them together with small clasps, hanging to them tightly. She was typically calm and quiet, her eyes not reflecting any particular sense of urgency.

On the other hand, I was eager to move forward and explore the capabilities of my newly-acquired machine. I returned to focus on its creation and was surprised that it had grown substantially in size even though I had only looked away from it for around a minute. I walked towards the door and aimed the machine squarely inside the emerging portal, reinforcing its structure and maintaining my focus. It hit full throttle in a hurry and the doorway rapidly concluded its materialization. She took a step ahead and looked it over. It seemed to have taken on a stable form and it was safe to cross its threshold. Motioning towards the mysterious figure, she signaled it was time to leave. She held out her hand and grabbed mine. He came beside us. There was an unspoken agreement to breach its barrier simultaneously. I gripped her hand firmly and we both closed our eyes. We passed through the door without much hesitation. After a few seconds, there was an unexpected sensation. Oceanic waves were rolling under my feet and within moments, warm salt-water replaced the chilly atmosphere weíd surreptitiously escaped. I opened my eyes and looked around. It was immediately apparent that weíd landed on a perfect location.

- Michael Palisano