The Laser Fiction - The Dissolving Convergence - Part Two









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



The Dissolving Convergence (Part Two)

The rapidly shifting landscape beneath her and evolving skies above meant the moonlight intensified and diminished at random intervals. She couldn't rely on its transient protection for extended security. She remained committed to her impervious task and walked silently and stoically through the forest for the most part and didn't set off any alarms along the way. Moving continuously, she made quick progress without disrupting the pathway, making sure not to leave anything behind us. This gave us some protection from anything that might have been following us, though there was no evidence of this. We followed, taking instruction from her, careful not to get ahead or blocking her way. We finally reached a point far above the eastern shoreline, where we could view a clearing becoming visible, just beyond the thickets of trees.

When I planted my feet in the island sand, I felt a surge of relief and release. A long-awaited quiet and calm followed that further calmed and allayed my fears. The dreadful premonitions that permeated our excursion dissolved quickly, allowing a measurable release that lightened my burden. I sprinted quickly ahead but wasn't leaping ahead foolishly. As we passed the trees, their purpose changed. The heavily reinforced, interlocking branches resembled heavy gates blocking our entry, on approach, became barriers protecting us from outside malicious forces once we travelled to the other side. This had the effect of keeping anything at a safe distance from us. This brought some relief. I finally felt them releasing their grip. We walked a few steps inward and found ourselves standing at the edge of the field, our progress no longer impeded by clusters of trees and brush. We'd finally escaped their malicious clutches, They couldn't get at us here, we could finally explore the surroundings thoroughly, unafraid of pending attacks.

After making our initial inspection, we found the clearing decidedly empty. The short, clipped grasses underneath us offered little pull and the ground was rocky but the sharp edges weren't as pronounced. As we traversed onto the clearing, the land began to flatten it curve, with far fewer rocks until it was smooth and benign. There was an unexpected calm that seemed to over-run things. I looked at the two of them and their recessed shoulders gave them a much more casual look. They slowed down significantly, and stopped rushing forward. Their leisurely pace allowed the atmosphere to permeate their mindset; they no longer seemed in a constant state of defense. The flat surroundings encircling them gave them a measure of safety that they took advantage of. Looking up, they watched the moon slip slowly beneath the clouds, before re-emerging.

Drawing down into a slower cycle allowed me to catch my breath. The tranquil surroundings created an island within the beach, where nothing could break though. I kept an eye on them, looking for any warning signs but there were none to be had. Instead, the calmness reassured me; fear had slipped away underneath the night. She decided to recline for a brief period and crouched toward the ground until she was sitting on the surface. Brushing her hair back and closing her eyes, I felt an unexpected sense of calm wash over her. The other man remained vigilant, standing straight up and scanning things, but his watch wasn't nearly as intense. He didn't kneel, he couldn't allow himself excessive relaxation, but conserved energy by slumping slightly. He almost fell into things, but quickly released himself from the defensive posture. He retrained his focus after awhile until only his arms were resting comfortably at his side.

She realized that he was still watching-over her fastidiously, despite the temporary intermission. His innate motives might have been benevolent, it to bothered her. She took his constant surveillance as an intrusion into her personal space that impeded her focus and dispelled her energies. She turned to him and waved him off; she just wanted to have some space. After all they'd been through, she said that she deserved at least that much. He started to say something but relented when he realized she was right. He decided to turn away and pointed himself in a non-obtrusive direction. He wasn't focused on anything in particular, but remained watchful. This suited her just fine and the compromise allowed both of them the purpose and rejuvenation they desired.

I watched as she closed her eyes, shutting out the imposing, claustrophobic environment and its distraction. I saw the tension easing within her, briefly easing the pressures and allowing her lingering fears slide away for the time being. She soaked in the calming, cleansing air, allowing it to saturate her body. It helped to wash away the accumulated dread. After waiting patiently for several minutes, she seemed to have settled into a secondary position, where she wasn't expected to know everything. I waited carefully, somewhat confused and uncertain what to do next. Standing in place for an extended period without a defined plan seemed like a bad idea, and I wasn't entirely convinced that taking a hiatus, even for a few minutes, was the correct course of action. She needed some rejuvenation and I decided to give her that rare opportunity.
I'd consciously maintained a reasonable distance from her, waiting on the land and watched it subtly placate her unsettled nerves, expecting a significant movement to occur but not knowing when precisely this would happen. I watched her and she defied my expectations, again. I thought she would be upset by the temporary loss of her machine, but this wasn't the case. I waited for her to pull it out and start thrashing around with it, but she didn't even touch it. Instead of frustration with her diminished capabilities, she seemed resigned to them, almost relieved. This had given her the rare chance to contemplate things in a new light, and far from becoming a hindrance, its absence had instead acted as a conduit to refresh her expectations. This loss, paradoxically allowed her to reorient her perspective; rejuvenating her energy.

I decided to follow her example and directed my focus elsewhere, temporarily. I focused on the surrounding meadows and trees. Without any visible signs of distress, lacking movement of any sort, gave me the opportunity to observe the island in a different light. It seemed far less frenetic on solid-ground than it had been on the water. There were no waves churning beneath my feet, giving me a firm standing to place my feet. I watched the clouds above, and they had slowed to a crawl, moving almost imperceptibly overhead. The moonlight stood in place and maintaining its consistency allowed at least some stability, where I could discern anything out of the ordinary. The most striking thing about our situation was just how quiet things appeared.
There weren't any discordant sounds from rustling leaves or crackling rocks in the clearing, the muted night produced little in the way of unsettling noise. I watched the two of them as they retained their silent vigil. Instinctively, I quickly realized that following suit wouldn't be a bad idea. I could have rushed ahead deeper into the meadow, running over the clearing and letting them catch up to me. This would have ruined everything. Instead, I implemented a counter-intuitive approach. Taking unforeseen approach, a measure of patience would probably be the best course of action. I followed her example and crouched down half-way, until I was kneeling. Everything was still visible and I was able to maintaining my focus, while still watching over the heads of the surrounding trees, guarding her without staring quite as intently.

Her mind wandered into unknown places while she stood still. There was no way of knowing where she might end up. I watched as she threw off the accumulated dread effortlessly, her repose coming to rest while she took her hands from her side. Brushing her hair for a moment, she swept the blockade from her conscience until reaching conclusion. Long held, the machine at her side didn't seem to work, yet no longer forlorn, it still had its uses. She held it in her hand and waved it across the barren landscape. It wasn't immediately clear what she was doing. She held it in a straight line and I noticed that It held an inner balance that, to a set of unique eyes, pointed the way forward. I looked across towards the other figure and he seemed perplexed as to how she was able to arrive at such an odd conclusion. After double-checking and making sure this measurement was accurate, she stood up straight once more and began walking across the clearing. Her footsteps were slower, yet purposeful. She seemed to have finally figured out the puzzle.

Giving her enough space to walk far ahead of us, we kept vigil, watching carefully as she embarked. There were no signs as to where she was headed. The island's inner core remained shrouded in darkness, and this lack of visibility didn't clarify things. I couldn't make out much beyond the immediate area. She was undeterred and continued moving ahead. I decided to pick up the pace and he followed suit, until we were only a shade behind her pace. There seemed to be very little ahead of us, nothing blocked our way, but no signals were evident either. It was baffling, but there was no slowing down. The empty land at our feet gave no clues but I had an unspoken confidence in her that I couldn't explain. I watched her walk ahead, moving in a relatively straight line, she had no map to guide her. We continued walking behind her for an extended period, occasionally looking backward to chart our distance. Inherently unconcerned by the lack of information, the other character continued walking, appearing somewhat at ease with her direction. We followed her path assiduously, giving her enough space to walk ahead, while maintaining her safety within our gaze.

It had been a long walk over the weeds and grasses of the flat clearing, and I was surprised by how vast the empty space we'd traversed had been. I was starting to feel it, my feet had grown a numb and heavy and I couldn't let that accumulated strain slow me down. However, these pressures were mitigated by the reality that it was mercifully quiet out there, even our footsteps seemed to be quiet. I let the silence soak into me, and this muted experience offered a pleasant respite from the dangerous experiences that had nearly consumed us. I watched her walking slowly, carefully though the land. Her lack of speed was a little concerning, but it made sense when he waved me down when I forgot and began jumping around. It was then that I realized what our mission was. We were searching for something significant, but had to be careful. She didn't want to disturb something she couldn't control.

Drawn out, the journey felt more contemplative than I expected, and despite the darkness, I examined the seemingly endless expanse of the clearing, measuring and cataloging it in my mind vigorously, keeping track of small things which might grow more important later on. I looked up and saw the moon slipping behind a particularly thick set of clouds. This consumed the surroundings, making them almost completely dark. I felt the ground beneath me becoming a bit rougher, the surface between my feet became rustic, with small patches of rocks and tiny boulders giving some insight. It felt that something had definitely shifted. I watched her walk ahead, still cautious but remaining determined for additional minutes. She didn't look back to us at that point and her focus was directly ahead. She maintained her momentum and direction for some time, walking over the landscape for several minutes until she came to a stop, suddenly. It wasn't immediately clear what happened. The darkness blocked my view and it wasn't immediately clear what stood in her way. We drew closer until we reached her side. A quiet serenity quickly gave way to an overwhelming sense of abandonment. We realized quickly that something had changed; her progress had been irreversibly Interrupted.

Directly in front of her, a large structure loomed, standing in her path, hanging over her like a thick blanket. It wasn't entirely at peace there and appeared inherently lost and out of place. My eyes began scanning its outside for anything that might portend its use. Nothing of its function came into view. It was impossible to know who'd built it and what their motivations might had been, nothing was immediately apparent. I looked at the forlorn structure carefully, but it was nearly invisible, almost hidden. Had we gone in a slightly different direction or arrived at an altered angle, things could have been different. We could have walked right by it without ever noticing its existence. There were no signs pointing towards it, and the structure seemed to blend into the night, sitting as unobtrusively as possible.

She stood in front of it and tried to effort any of its mysteries, but the impenetrable structure gave nothing away. It's walls were indistinct, and it was difficult to make out whether it consisted mainly of steel, concrete or even thick wood. We remained at a safe distance, she didn't want to risk touching it. Strangely, the building's doors had been bolted shut, there were no keyholes. A lack of windows and other exterior features made it even harder for us to interpret. There were no indications of its purpose. Carefully, she walked closer and did discover some minor details, but they didn't offer much more. She contained her curiosity and remained a safe distance from it. She was gazing into its small indentations, trying to find anything symbolic written, designed or printed on its sides but was having little success. Her dormant machine meant that she lacked the ability to scan its surface and she couldn't penetrate its thick walls to see what lurked behind them. There were no signs of life and it wasn't clear why it had been left there in the middle of the island. Any inhabitants were long-gone, leaving us to feign answers. Wandering in the silence collectively surrounding us, there was nothing to respond to our multitude questions. We could only look into the indistinct outlines and heavy shadows of the darkened structure, going deeper would most likely constitute an unwise approach. The possibility of facing invisible dangers and sinister, threatening murmurs emanating from within made further exploration unwise.

She decided to stay within its field of influence, but maintained a safe remove from directly confronting it. She took a step back and placed her feet in a defensive posture, ready to run at a moment's notice. The, she held out the machine, and attempted to use the level to make tentative measurements. The lack of clear sight-lines and indistinct, obscure end-points made this task almost impossible. She tried several times, but was unable to make out its true dimensions. She settled for an approximation, that didn't really capture it. The structure was large, imposing and dark but didn't reveal much else. There was no point where it ended, and it seemed to extend outward, its edges fading with the night. Under the night sky, it seemed to become even more imposing, growing larger as we came closer. At the same time, it reinforced its defenses. Its thick walls began to converge and drew inward, wrapping layers inside itself until its sides had completely filled-in, creating secondary barriers within themselves. She scanned for windows, doors and other unseen entries. Any lingering openings seemed nonexistent, there was no visible point of entry.

The other figure joined her briefly but he quickly grew just as frustrated as she was. He quickly retreated a safe distance back from the building. unable to make any progress with it at all. I walked a few steps closer and attempted to find some answers. There may have been markings or writing on its walls, but this wasn't visible in the darkness. A forbidding fortress, it's doors, windows and exits permanently closed, steadfastly impermeable despite the nocturnal skies, the structure firmly bolted, sealed up, and retroactively shut from top-to-bottom. The reasons for its defensive solitude remained elusive. Despite our best efforts to understand its enigmatic barriers, It remained elusive. I thought about things for a minute but came to no good conclusion.

I surmised that if could ferret out a motive behind its construction, we might be able to undertake further exploration, but it remained decidedly unclear what it's purpose was. We stood a distance in front of it, collectively pondering its mysterious formation and appearance. I watched as she surveyed the monolithic assemblage of connected structures. It looked like she was configuring her machine, but it was completely drained of energy at that point. She waved it around in the air, seemingly randomly with little to show for her efforts. There was nothing further to be found. She wouldn't be able to unlock its secrets, they were locked away fastidiously. Attempting other methods and going at things from different angles engendered no response. instead, she found herself consistently stymied without resulting additional clues that could help us reach a solution.

Retracing our steps back a measure, we paused before walking a few steps closer, inward towards the structure, but continued to hold back a safe distance. There was no telling the dangers lurking within and not knowing what force had produced this unknown was intimidating. I looked it over as thoroughly as I could, but the ever-present darkness seemed only to reinforce its consuming reluctance. It wasn't divulging anything, and became increasingly repulsed, moving immediately against any of our inquisitive gestures. She repeatedly argued with it through her motions but it gave her nothing in return. He stood back a bit, occasionally throwing a theory or supposition into the wind, which would rise quickly only to find itself mercilessly blown apart. He was fortunate, my ideas about the enigmatic structure fared much worse. They flew straight into the night before almost instantly disintegrating under the slightest inquiry. This was frustrating and after consistently falling short, I decided to keep quiet rather than continually make a fool out of myself.

Producing answers from the isolated location where it stood imperviously would prove to be an exercise in frustration. Staring at it carefully took up an inordinate amount of time, yielding nothing in return. Indistinct, disconnected and unclear layers of thick walls protected its secrets flawlessly, but yielded only disappointment on our part. She stood there and attempted to understand what could have gone wrong. It had been an exhausting and manifestly draining encounter that had given us nearly nothing for our efforts. She waited outside the untold layers thick, heavy and deterring walls, unable to move forward into the breach, while not wanting to give up and head back either. She looked uncharacteristically stymied, and attempted to ascertain what might have gone wrong.

Walking back and forth in small circles didn't seem to do much at first but after a few minutes, she reached a disorienting conclusion. The stones and rocks beneath her feet seemed right while the angles and configured buttresses of the remote location was oddly familiar. However, there was a massive structure blocking our way. It took her a couple minutes until she figured out why we couldn't figure out what had gone wrong, despite our best efforts. We were looking at things from the wrong perspective. We wouldn't find immediate answers, instead we needed to take a look through time, and see not what was directly in front of our eyes. She explained that our timing was off, but our location was right. The abandoned structure was still in place; it simply hadn't been torn down yet. We'd just arrived too soon.

This unsatisfactory conclusion brought out a side of him I hadn't encountered previously. He grew increasing agitated and before I knew what was happening, he was pacing back and forth the shadow building. I could see the frustration edging into his eyes. It had been a long, unexpectedly perilous journey. He was growing frustrated and angry by the situation. She knew he was a bit confused and upset, but we'd come too far to change things. He grumbled under his breath; wondering out loud how she could have trusted a young kid like me with the controls. Generously, she reminded him sometimes, a shared objective required him to let somebody else learn the basics, for a brief time. It was good to have someone at the ready, just In case.

The dejected figure stood there demonstrably remorseful about doubting my abilities, his head tilting downward as his eyes pushed into the ground. He looked genuinely embarrassed by her lecture. Of course, he knew better, he reluctantly admitted. He should have figured out what she was up to. Desperate to make amends to us, he explained, as a means of plausible defense, that he'd thoroughly misinterpreted her motivation, she wasn't pushing him off to the side. It was merely the case of showing somebody new the ropes. Unable to process the situation thoroughly, and he decided to give his unfairly sharp criticism a rest. A temporary understanding having been reached, we resumed our mission. The path ahead seemed to disintegrate before our eyes, leaving us no trace to outline or follow. It had just vanished, without explanation. There was no clear objective. He resumed pacing and wandering in circles. She remained calm but there was an overarching uncertainty that permeated her actions. She resumed her examination, this time taking another approach. She put the machine back under her cloak and instead began waving her hands around in the air, making numerous half-circles in repeated futile attempts to coax something from the impenetrable walls standing defiantly in front of her.

Taking a minute to figure out our next steps was more complicated than it seemed. She had to consider how much time we had left. Knowing that any residual energy left behind was rapidly diminishing, making up her mind would involve trade-offs, and she didn't seem entirely certain what that might involve. She paused for a moment, and seemingly decided in an instant what to do next. Apparently deciding not to throw away all our hard work, she reiterated her determination by stomping her foot and firmly placing it back in the ground, facing directly ahead; not looking back. She was going to salvage our the remnants of our disrupted mission, notwithstanding the addition time it requires. She wasn't going to waste time backtracking. I watched her intently, observing closely ad she began to walk towards the structure, purposefully. Her resolve came back quickly, she wasn't dissuaded, instead walking over the drained surface with replenished determination to see things through. Crossing towards it western side, she walked in parallel to it for an significant distance, looking across towards the involved, she motioned with her hands for us to follow her, without delay.
At first reluctant, he slowly arrived at the obvious conclusion. He might have felt a bit stranded and separated from reality out there in the middle of nowhere, but she had found her a purpose and direction. Cultivating a shadowy presence behind her, his guard remained prominent. He walked across the structure, carrying lingering frustration alongside him, desperately hoping that she wasn't leading us into another dead-end, that would be even harder for us to get out of. She finally reached the far side of the vast, darkened structure and was initially set back to find only a thicket of brushed and weeds that blocked her path. She looked around somewhat dejected by the latest barrier but he arrived a few seconds behind her and wasn't nearly as discouraged by the blockade. There was a strange moment when they seemed to battle it out, switching places around until he finally prevailed and took to the lead. He looked over the clusters of branches and determined that the barrier might have been thick but it wasn't especially deep.

He took his arms and shoved them aside, revealing the steps of a narrow walkway. She stepped back and allowed him to quickly clear the rest of them from our path. There wasn't much space for one person to walk, but we could walk in single-file, following each other closely. This was harder than it seemed, since the thick brush at the edge spiked outward and sporadically poked at our sides, with the durable night making it difficult to avoid getting scratched-up. We forged our way ahead through the patches of sharp branches, ducking and twisting ourselves along the way. She became increasingly cautious, and slowed down so that she wouldn't get stuck on the way. I followed suit, giving myself some distance from her, though not falling too far behind. I determined that my efforts would be best spent observing them. Moving forward efficiently, the older man cleared plenty of overgrowth. His efforts didn't reveal much about the building standing nearly directly in our path. We continued gliding along its edges, searching for an entry of some sort, but finding no visible openings, despite taking a more ponderous route than we could've. At the farther edge away from the structure, things weren't nearly as dense but the distance and darkness meant the building would fall into shadow, giving us little to go on.

Our trajectory gave us the opportunity of finding some sort of resolution to the quagmire that had ensnared us. After expending quite some effort on the narrower, less inviting path, we came to the end of the structure. There seemed to be nowhere else to go, everything ahead of us was completely locked in place. Solid, thick walls rooted deep into the ground meant we had nowhere further. She looked from side to side and at first found nothing. However, she was able to discern a slender, nearly invisible means of passage quietly emerge from the darkness. it wasn't immediately apparent but she located a small sliver open to the west that we could slip through. He decided to go first and while there was plenty of noise from rustling leaves and cracking branches, silence immediately followed. After a few minutes waiting for him, and getting no response, she became nervous. She held her hands up and waved them in the air to draw his attention, hoping to elicit any response from him. There was a distinct lack of follow-through. As the silence dragged on, it became increasingly unsettling. Turning directly in my direction, she instructed me to stay in place and not follow her immediately, and only attempt entry if I received a signal. She'd made up her mind to go in after him.

Carefully but resolutely, she sprinted ahead undeterred. Reaching the entrance, she ducked down and squeezed through the diminished, breach. I waited for a few minutes and at first, there was no response from her, either. It was unnerving, but I maintained my composure. There was no use rushing into a dangerous situation of unknown origin. I tried not to think about what might have happened. I made do crossing my legs and walking in nervous half-circles to pass the time. It took what seemed like an eternity, but was in reality only minutes, to receive a signal. I heard a somewhat distant, yet still audible, instantly familiar voice call out my name. Anticipation had built long enough and I was eager to see what was happening on the other side. I followed in her footsteps, took the branches out to the side, crouched down into a near feral position and then nearly crawled underneath the brush. A few minutes' struggle gave way to simpler effort; turned into the final bend effortlessly. There was a fleeting sense of relief but this didn't last long. When I reached an unexpected clearing, silently emerging from behind the building, I found an unwelcome sight that completely stopped me in mid-step.

Wrapped in rigid circles and closely organized into a large, swinging layer, I immediately recognized its distinctive features. Despite cloaking from the darkness, its layers of claws and sharp teeth were all I needed to see. My blood froze, and I couldn't move for a minute, startled by its unexpected appearance. I nearly ran right back in the other direction, but their instinctive guard kept me from jolting. The pair stood there silently, watching fearfully just outside its slumber, with a mixture of fear and admiration. Observing but not interfering, they stood a careful distance from it. Attempting to gather details on this unexpected intruder was made nearly impossible by the all-permeating night and its inherently defensive posture. It was unclear how it had found itself in that place, hiding behind the building, unseen for all that time. I watched closely, for any sign of what it's plans might be.

It wasn't moving at all, and I surmised that it might have perished and fallen back to earth, possibly long before we'd arrived. Unfortunately, subtle signs emerged as I walked towards it and examined it closely. I was disappointed and frightened to discover that its body wasn't completely still. I could see breathing patterns emerge, gently moving up and down, the creature was very much alive, we'd been fortunate to find it in a slumbering or possibly hibernating state. Despite its docile manner, it remained manifestly terrifying. It could have awoken at any second, at which point, we'd probably be finished. I stood back and tried to conflate some of its detail with the earlier creatures that had come across our path earlier. The murky surroundings made this almost impossible, though it didn't seem inherently different from the ones we encountered in the first wave. After a cursory observation, the reasons for its inarguable similarity quickly became obvious. This particular creature was cast from the same era and species. Unlike the others, who seemed to attack us at random, simultaneously, this creature was strategically smart. Moving independently without being coaxed by her or anyone else in our immediate vicinity, it had successfully found the perfect location to rest and hide.

Hidden and secure, the creature controlled this portion of the island by its own power. It was almost-completely isolated in its location, but still required abundant energy to maintain functionality. Its purposely made it difficult for anyone to find without taking a great effort, thus allowing it to slip underneath the darkness, subconsciously soaking-up adjacent power sources while remaining almost completely undetected. I noticed the navigator pulling out pages from his pile, attempting to reference the creature's origin, its inarticulate screams were a good place to start. However, despite searching each page, there were no signs of our previous encounters. With the chaos the accompanied them, he'd overlooked indexing and archiving them.

He couldn't find anything at all. His instinct told him to correct this omission, and he quickly unfurled a long blank page from his pile. This would give him plenty of room for observations, reserving a dedicated page all its own to this distinctively menacing creature. I moved closer and clandestinely looked in his direction. I was able to monitor his actions and observed briefly as he began making rough sketches of its elements, scribbling out those disconnected pieces he could see that peeked-out beneath the night's shroud. He attempted to sketch out a complete illustration but there wasn't that much to go on. Lacking proper light, he quickly abandoned this part of the mission. I looked back towards her and noticed that she hadn't moved closer, remaining at a relatively safe distance. Given her dormant machine and lack of mechanical firepower, I worried how she'd counter its menacing, unverbalized threat. Laying passively on the ground, it blotted out a massive area, managing a scale we couldn't begin to comprehend. Fighting against it or taking an aggressive posture was out of the question; it would maul us without thinking the moment it awakened.

She looked the sleeping creature over and thought about what could unlatch its energy without causing additional trouble. Growing frustrated, she pulled her hands and waved at the sky in a kind of defensive surrender, but the creature didn't fall for it, and pitched the impasse, its apparently intractable stand-off with her wasn't sustainable. He grown somewhat emboldened and walked until her was standing alongside her, which might have given the impression of solidarity. When he began speaking, his tone was vastly different than I expected. He didn't like being placed in danger unexpectedly. His barely concealed anger boiled over, plainly visible on the surface. He looked at her accusingly and asked her why didn't she zap the creatures with her laser machine when she had the chance. She shook her head dismissively and responded decisively. That wasn't why she was here.

Their raised voices had unintended consequences. In moments, I could see an instantaneous change in the creature's posture. It had been drawing breath quietly and consistently, but its pace quickened suddenly. Its air drew shorter, and it began cutting and slicing into the air with heavy breath until it awakened from its slumber. It seemed annoyed at first, but quickly agitated with those who'd interrupted its repose. Immediately locating the source of the disturbance, it looked directly in our direction. We froze in place and watched it open, unfurling its many claws from within. It stretched out and rose until it screamed into the night sky, quickly shattering the fragile nocturnal alliance. Its screams quickly became deafening, as it expanded outward until its uncompressed form, towered above the nearby building, then exceeding the highest tops of the forest trees, immeasurably distressing in its unnatural scale.

Initially, the creature stayed docile, resting a relative distance from us, threatening but not decisively. Lurking just beyond reach, the fear grew as it extended its many claws outward. As it came closer, I could see the vague outlines of its sharp crown, arranged into endless layers, unspeakably dangerous. Vaunting inward, its teeth encircled and reinforced each other. It closed in towards our position but held back slightly, accidentally giving us respite. Retreating without confronting the dreaded creature quickly diminished our options. It had grown unspeakably large, until it stood tall and unrepentant, far too quickly for us to counteract. It filled the majority of the clearing at that point, leaving little room to maneuver. I couldn't see much of it beyond its extended claws, and the distinctly menacing eyes possessed an untamed fury directed at us. It seemed to circle around us, readying its final assault.

She'd found a mysterious reservoir of strength and perseverance. It wasn't obvious what she had planned, but she withstood its aggressive onslaughts of screeching whirls and snapping claws with surprising resilience. He grew increasingly terrified by its approach and stepped back, quickly heading back towards the building, but this offered no protection. This only gave him the appearance of thoroughly cornered prey. The creature encircling him, with its arms consisting of nothing but sharp, mutli-layered claws surrounding him. Unequivocally trapped, he found himself standing exactly where it wanted him between its sharp claws and the inescapable building. There was no way out, we'd fallen right into its trap without realizing it. The creature's malignant arrangement couldn't have gone better if it had the encounter planned in advance.

Notwithstanding our exceptionally vulnerable period of duress, the mighty creature swayed aggressively against the black night. Triumphantly, it screeched and shouted into the night, knowing it had won a long-sought victory against us. We tried moving and dodging in different directions, with no effect. It resisted our futile attempts to bring it into submission. Unwilling to take our word, it continued to threaten us. Countering our tactics, it decided to keep us at bay, and not attack us directly. It wanted to keep us waiting and worrying for as long as possible. It was unclear whether it was waiting for reinforcements, or expecting us to tire eventually. Beyond this, its plan was deceptively simple. It was basically waiting for the perfect moment to strike. In addition, it seemed to take pains not to fall into the traps that ensnared many of our adversaries.
It took refuge in the darkness for extended periods and wouldn't allow any extraneous, vulnerable light sources to graze over its outer skin. It took pains to make sure that it wouldn't suffer the fate of becoming another haphazardly scrawled page in someone's stack of disordered papers. He or she made sure to let us know that there would be little time for any of our scientific examinations. The creature wasn't giving us the time or space. There would be no time for us to catalog it or define its physical characteristics. Most importantly, it wasn't our place to arbitrarily name it. We had no choice, it had been lying in wait for us the entire time, we attempted to locate a marginal means of escape, but there was none to be found. Deciding not to strike immediately gave us protection. But only for as long as it would tolerate us.

She waited on its next move, not revealing what her plan might entail. We watched her carefully, as she took a step forward, placing herself in a dangerous position between us. It maintained a relentless fear, not letting us forget for one second that it lurked over us. It wouldn't take its eyes off us for a second, and its unblinking entropy quickly became unnerving. I watched it clutch the sides of its innumerable long arms, a multitude of claws protecting itself from any attempted assault we might be able to muster. Continually agitated, it periodically snapped at us, charging into our space without warning, to disrupt any peaceful interludes. I felt my knees buckling from the fear and looked over to see him shaking and cringing from its relentless pressure. Looking at things from her perspective, she remained immovable, completely steadfast, barely budging despite its ferocious attacks. Defiantly, she didn't change her footing in response to its irrational, untamed and, discordant intrusions.

This resistant approach only served to agitate the creature, which attacked her with increasing ferocity. Its unstoppable assaults became increasing unhinged, almost random in their intensity but, for all the effort expended, they didn't affect her in the slightest. She maintained her cool resolve, implementing a defiantly detached approach. I couldn't understand the impetus for her innate confidence, it would be terrifying to face a cascade of terrifying assaults completely defenseless and unprotected. I couldn't imagine standing up, all alone, in opposition to this monstrous beast, suddenly emerging fully-formed and unnaturally aggressive from its nocturnal slumber. Watching closely didn't reveal her source at first. I was getting a little afraid for her as the creature came ever closer but she didn't waver. She waited patiently for a few minutes, awaiting his next attack, until it inevitably struck at us with a devastating final blow.

It jumped out from the darkness and came within breathing distance of her position. This time was different, and she finally countered his move in an unexpected manner. She pulled out her machine and waved it towards the creature. It wasn't anticipating this and stopped in its path. It examined her machine and quickly retreated after recognizing it from previous encounters with her. She waved it around in an expanding motion until it encircled us as well, forming an invisible layer the creature wouldn't cross. It didn't make sense that it would be frightened by the dormant machine, but then I realized something. The creature probably didn't understand that it had been surreptitiously drained of its accumulated energy; for all it knew, she could turn it on at any moment and bring forth a devastating attack.

This gave her the ability to create a strong fear within her opponent, but it had a physical advantage. Any escape route we might try was blocked. The two of them looked each other over for a few minutes, neither one willing or able to cross or break the barriers separating them. It seemed that they'd arrived at a stagnant truce. Neither one could move ahead, and neither one of them wanted to concede defeat and wouldn't step back from the brink. They stared each other down for an extended period, which grew more painful for us with each passing second. Unable to take another approach, the creature kept randomly brushing against the edges of her defenses, attempting to break through them, while she wouldn't let her guard down even briefly.

When it attacked, she was prepared. Without indication, she raised her machine, releasing it from its perch and swung it around in ever wilder motions, letting the creature know in no uncertain terms that it would be in deep trouble if it attempted to move on us. This seemed to work and kept it from seriously attacking. It continued to howl and screech in our general direction, but she was unmoved. I watched her distinctive methodology in dealing with the creature and couldn't help but find myself admiring her forbearance and resilience. He watched her closely as well, but looked a bit baffled by this counter-intuitive approach, finding her seemingly incapable of attack, relying almost solely on defensive maneuvers. He seemed to overlook her strength, and watched uneasily as the distance between them narrowed. A hastily constructed, invisible barrier separated them, but it slowly shrunk until it could be measured by inches, not feet. They were inside each other's space by that point, neither conceding any space to the other.

She raised the machine in its direction, attempting to force it from its perch but the creature wouldn't budge. This required her to take a slightly different approach and swung the machine in a directly contradictory, opposite direction. The machine grew much more menacing, with its reticule pointing directly in its eyes, leaving it nowhere to hide. She waved it around forcefully, creating a chasm in the air that immediately set the creature into a defensive posture. Almost immediately, it sensed the increased danger it faced. Taking evasive action, it spiraled backward until it was further back from our position. Letting out a loud shriek, it gave of an unexpected aura of fear and dread. After much effort, she'd turned the tables on it. She walked a few steps closer and waved the machine around intently once more. It actually trembled when she did this, becoming increasingly afraid of the laser's capabilities. It didn't seem to realize that the machine's energy was depleted, and began to recoil in fear. Anticipating a brutal attack from her end, it withdrew into its corridor, apparently seeking a technique that would end their encounter.

She waited for it to resume its attacks, but she'd silenced the creature. We waited on the edge of our feet for it to figure out her deception, but it didn't seem to understand what she was up to. It stood silently for awhile, before finally deciding it was safer to get out of her way. It held its breath, inhaling deeply, stocking up on air before crouching down, converging its body inward quickly, focusing its energy. Without warning, it unspooled and jumped upwards. Gliding rapidly into the sky, it dragged itself upwards into the night sky. Watching its path, it went straight up, apparently desiring to leave as fast as it could. Quickly tearing into the night sky, its visage shrunk precipitously as it flew into the night, before vanishing from view somewhere behind the clouds. Within seconds. it had completely slipped away, vanishing without leaving any evidence behind as it flew out of range, escaping to comparative safety.

It took awhile for our collective defenses to dissipate, I still felt my body shaking despite the reality that we'd managed to escape the creature's threat. Nothing was visible but we couldn't completely relax, initially. Quickly surveying the surroundings didn't reveal anything else lurking behind the building. I watched her move around cautiously, unwilling to stir up more trouble. Still lacking the machine's supernatural abilities of examination, exploration and creation, she walked in a careful range, not wanting to rouse another round of trouble. He was somewhat disheveled by this point, and I noticed pronounced wrinkles in his suit, visible despite the darkness. His shirt was untucked and his tie was loose. I noticed that his hands were trembling, his stamina noticeably unnerved by the encounter. I waited for them to calm down, while looking above repeatedly, for some sign that it might return. We'd dispatched one of them, but I knew that many more could arrive if called. I worried that it might attack again and bring reinforcements. She didn't seem worried; her victory was durable. She rolled her hands over the machine happily and cleaned it off thoroughly, satisfied that her clever ruse had succeeded.

It remained dormant and lifeless but she held it up triumphantly nonetheless, it's form radiated against the moonlit sky. After a minute spent soaking in her victory, she began putting it back in hiding, placing it safely beneath her clothing, camouflaged beneath her dark blue and black polka-dot dress. She walked toward us and seemed relieved by this unanticipated turn of events. I was happy as well, until I thought of the long journey ahead. I thought back, and retrofitted the distance between our current position before rejoining our mysterious boat. The thought of retracing our steps to such an extent made my sore feet ache; I dreaded the prospect. Her feet shuffled nervously when I brought this up, she hadn't anticipated this task. She didn't know what to do and looked towards the navigator for advice.

He shrugged his shoulders, advising us that we'd just have to endure it again. Perhaps, he mused, we could go slower on the way back which would be less taxing. We stood in the darkness, refocused our attention and began moving towards the darkened, inscrutable structure. I looked beyond the building and the path ahead seemed significantly longer than I remembered. Reluctantly, we pushed ahead back towards the structure with no choice whether to proceed. It was dark and quiet, reinforced by their exhausted silence. We moved slowly but productively back over the clearing for a few minutes until we reached the back portion of the building's wall. We stopped there for a moment to pause and take stock. Unexpectedly, the laser came back to life, emitting a loud buzzing, affirmative beep accompanied by a singular beam of light, shining brightly, unmistakably piercing her elaborate cloak.

She jumped up in excitement, this wasn't something she'd anticipated. I was focused excessively on the creature before us, and didn't really figure out what she was doing. The navigator was caught off-guard by its unexpected manifestation. She always had a way of getting out of things, but he wasn't expected her to make it look so simple. We watched as she maneuvered the device around in the air a few times, aiming it in a particular section. It only took her a few minutes before she managed to locate the specific area she was looking for. She turned the machine on but found that it hadn't completely powered-on. It's partial energy meant its beam of light wasn't particularly strong, but there was enough juice left to get us on our way. Methodically, she was able to build the outline, then fill in, the dimensions of a small temporal window. It was, in fact, much tinier than I expected. We'd have to crawl through it, and only had a brief period to get out of there. The two others exchanged glances; it seemed that they knew the creature would return momentarily, most certainly to bring reinforcements alongside. We couldn't be trapped again and find ourselves standing there without any real defense, vulnerable to their attacks. They'd be angrier, more aggressive, she surmised. He agreed with her theory. What limited knowledge he had told him that they attacked with much greater violence in groups. We'd gotten fortunate with the sole adversary, but lacked the ability to take on more than one simultaneously.

We stared at the window and she pulled out her mapping device. Its functions seemed to work well enough, but the objective and destination weren't clear, but it was assuredly a safe distance from which we could get out of its path quickly. She hurriedly constructed the remaining portion of the window and we waited somewhat patiently while the energy converged. After a few minutes, it finally stabilized enough for us to climb through it, but we had to be careful. It wasn't immediately clear who would go first, but he eventually decided to take the initial plunge. He walked towards it, quickly crouched down and took a small leap into the breach. She hesitated for a moment, not certain what was on the other side. She yelled in his direction and waited. It took too long for him to holler back, but when he did, it was surprisingly reassuring. He didn't seem worried or afraid, and instead gave off an energy of someone who'd replenished his energy. Despite this optimistic streak, she still wasn't entirely convincing, retaining her defensive posture for a significant time. She wasn't leaving anything to chance but the lingering threat prevailed. I watched her ponder her choice but then noticed that the window was starting to warp under an immeasurable pressure.

Its waning energy made certain that we couldn't wait forever. Eventually, she came to the conclusion that she had little choice. She proceeded to crawl through the window assiduously almost tripping on its slender ledges, but regaining enough balance to slip through. She'd vanished to the other side, and I was alone for a brief period. I waited the proximate time to call on them and make sure everything was all right. It took several harrowing minutes before he responded, somewhat warily, to my call. Everything was fine, but it was gusty. I needed to be careful not to get blown off-balance when I reached their side. This unexpected friendly advice from him caught me off-guard, but it didn't really bother me. I stepped in closely and examined the window for a brief period. It was slowly but surely destabilizing, and I could tell that its structure was gradually dissolving. I kneeled down towards the window and closed my eyes. I pushed my ankles down and inward, paused for a moment and sprung upward; jumping into the window suddenly. bursting through almost heedlessly, without even looking or knowing where exactly I was going. Thanks to her ingenious plan, we'd managed to evade its assault largely unharmed, but there was no time to rest and bask in our accomplishments. Despite everything we'd been through, our true mission had barely commenced.

- Michael Palisano