The Laser Fiction - An Equivalent Machine









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



An Equivalent Machine

I watched from a cautious remove as her fingers effortlessly manipulated the mysterious machine. She carefully began spinning it around, its dials moving in a synchronized series of elaborate circumferences. Observing its radius shrinking and expanding at her will. Thoroughly under her spell, the re constructed device moved in a flawless tandem, working solely and completely under her command. Animated by her energetic motion, It began reflecting, mirroring, confirming, each step. It was silently tracing her movements while her legs seemed to glide over the icy surface beneath her. Reclaiming it from near complete entropy, it looked to take on a mind of its own, reaching kind of equilibrium with her until they looked to be on even ground. After a few minutes, there was an kind of detente, neither in charge or subservient, equally partnered in a strange dance. Exchanging movements, they seemed to fuel each other's pace, increasing their shared velocity. I watched them closely but didn't hear anything, but their was an undeniable type of communication taking place. After a few minutes, it was apparent that something I couldn't quite comprehend was occurring, right in front of my eyes. It didn't make sense at first, but the evidence of what was happening was there right before me. I hadn't expected anything like this to occur.

The machine itself consisted of various pieces, assembled from discordant elements, its scratchy, unvarnished form constructed in half-measures, only to resemble something slightly more elaborate than its origins from a discarded mess of broken parts. It was haphazardly patched-together, undistinguished amalgamation of scrap-metal, mis-matched second-hand dials, and odd-sized, ill-fitting bolts. Somehow, it had been reassembled by my clumsy, inexperienced hands into something approaching coherence, but it lacked energy and purpose. It sat lifeless in my pocket for a long time, nearly hidden. It needed someone who knew its purpose, and had a special touch. They had found each other at long last and, their partnership restored, lit up the dark night in unique fashion. She'd taken it from me, and proceeded to singularly operate its controls without pre-production. In the process, she discovered and unleashed its clandestine power. It was an elaborate process, her moves slowly untethering it from its constraints before finally allowing it to take flight. It seemed to take her alongside it, leaving the surrounding darkness behind, if only for a brief time. She seemed relieved to have found it, and the machine seemed happy to reunite with its true owner, and responded affirmatively. It seemed to be gradually waking up after slumbering, broken apart in scattered pieces, patiently waiting for return, for what must have been quite a long time.

I watched them closely while they floated across the surface, their feet apparently barely touching the ground. They seemed to come to an apex, where their energy was going full throttle. At that point, they looked to have risen even further, nearly floating above the surface. They shared parallel motions, responding and countering each other's movements at a rapid clip. It seemed that the pair were talking to each other, using an impenetrable, unspoken language only they understood. All the while, regardless of the machine's relentless onslaught, she continued to move across the ice, unimpeded. It was difficult for me to disentangle her method from its purpose, while also attempting to decipher their shared, entirely intractable language. Skating in unpredictable forms, disengaged from the surface of any comprehension or realization. Their singular dance reversed, collided, and untangled, before finally converging at a common position. None of it brought me any confidence. There was no reason for any of it to make sense. I watched carefully, inching carefully, observing from the sidelines. No matter how long I looked at her, I couldn't detect any motivation or consideration. I concluded, reluctantly, there was no pattern to what she was doing at the moment. I wondered, had there been any plan at any point prior, or had she been making it up as she went, playing with me the entire time. It was a doubt I didn't want to ponder but pondering that possibility that everything wasn't quite as it seemed was nearly unavoidable.

I drew a few steps closer towards her position but held back at the edge of the frozen lake. I knew not to get too close and instead decided on settling for an observational viewpoint where I would be able to watch from a careful distance without getting drawn into the pulsating, somewhat threatening maelstrom. Some kind of intense storm of energy felt like it was beginning to emerge over the ice. I would be at a safe remove, at least for a while. Their combined strength gave the pair a strange confidence, allowing for an insistence. They displayed a rapidly expanding confidence, they seemed to build on each other's increasing powers. They shared an unspoken bond that strengthened with every step. This went a long way in relieving my fear, to a large extent. It was undeniable, obvious, while also invisible, nearly imperceptible, converging and dissipating simultaneously. When I had reassembled the machine, it really hadn't struck me as anything special or unique. In fact, despite building it from scattered parts it felt really flimsy in my hands, like some kind of toy for little kids. On the other hand, she knew what she had the second she placed it in her hands.

It seemed to have been brought to a strange life all its own and this only seemed to intensify the longer she held onto it, becoming increasingly powerful and magnificent while its true origin remained shrouded by time, its energy derived from an unknowable source. There was an unspeakably powerful force shared between the machine and its first creator, undeniable and clandestine, both at the same time. There was a strange confluence between them, with reasons that seemed to have been made deliberately opaque. She was almost dancing with it, lighting the surface in an eerie hue, creating waves of light that seemed to vanish almost as soon as they appeared. I needed to keep a close watch or I'd miss what the signal was supposed to mean. She moved a bit further away and began to head towards the center of the icy domain, slowly reaching what seemed to be her goal. Undeterred by my presence, she continued to move alongside the machine, seemingly without trepidation. I was tempted to join her on the ice, as I had previously, but her feet were moving too fast which would make it impossible for me to keep up. Instead, I decided to let her lead the way on her own, and let the motions draw me in. I looked over her head towards the forest on the other side. The branches and leaves emanated a serene calm. They formed a closed in circle that surrounded us, their surfaces forming a kind of natural barrier that would keep anything, protecting us from the most dangerous unspeakable creatures, their treacherous, relentlessly malignant claws held at bay.

This effectively secured the surroundings from any intruders, giving us a fleeting moment of security and freedom that allowed her to move freely and experiment. I was still a bit nervous about things and stood at the edge of the lake, nervously scanning up and around for any signs that our supernatural world had been breached or was under threat. The trees stood tall and strong, unswayed by any of the unwelcome encounters. They seemed to be mesmerized by her dance and looked on with quiet appreciation. She maintained her distance from me and spun around with the machine. It became increasingly difficult to make out what she was doing, her obtuse maneuvers seemed to only grow more elaborate. Each step added another piece to an already complex puzzle, the trails of light increasingly building on their own contradictions became nearly impossible to follow with any sense of clarity. She wasn't concerned by this and carried on without pausing for explanation. It was baffling to me but she was in her element at long last, triumphantly returning to what felt like home, or at least familiar territory.

I looked closely and as her dance intensified, she seemed to take the upper hand. The machine was clearly responding to her directions at that point. Subsuming itself to her commands, its glow light trails grew stronger and more consistent. Trails of light left in its wake seemed to last longer and became increasingly stable. I watched closely but there was still no pattern emerging, despite what seemed like an hour. I hesitated at the edge and stood in the same spot, not wanting to disrupt her action or get in the way. Taking a step out of my area might cause her to lose momentum and I didn't want that to happen on my watch. I knew that I didn't want to interfere. Instead, I focused on the intangible elements. Watching closely for several more minutes, a sense of purpose began to materialize in a gradual building of momentum.

At first, it looked like she was running the machine around randomly, but as she continued waving it around, her motives became somewhat more noticeable. She was feeling the machine out, maintaining an ordered, systematic approach that wasn't as scattered as it appeared. Maintaining a running system, she was exploring and cataloging the machine's functions and capabilities slowly learning its intricacies. Her random movements and the disjointed light streams they produced were scribbles in the air, something to get the feel of the machine's function. It wasn't obvious at first, and it seemed that there wasn't any particular approach, but as I watched, the fluctuations seemed to follow a kind of pattern, though it wasn't immediately clear. After realizing that she was only practicing to get the hang of things, I wondered what the end result of her sketches might be. I had no idea what she was working on, but the form it was taking began to clarify.

While her motions might have seemed to defy logic, I sensed a shift as she moved further out onto the ice until she was almost directly centered on the plain. After she reached the center, she stopped and looked around. Surveying the immediate area there was nothing in proximity that would challenge or interfere. She looked towards my direction and seemed to be reassured that I was the sole onlooker, no one else would be able to see what was happening. She stood silently, and waited patiently for the lingering beams of light to subside. Fading away into darkness, this seemed to clean her canvas. She began to move the machine around again. The second round looked more deliberate. Apparently headed towards a defined point, she wasted little time and began creating a tangible, defined object. Initially, it wasn't clear what she was designing, I couldn't make out what it could have been from my somewhat distant vantage point, but slowly a shape began to emerge. It looked rectangular, and came out a little uneven, its edge sloping downward towards the left in uneven fashion. I couldn't be sure what exactly she was making, and her strangely expressionless disposition gave nothing away. The elaborate experiment she was conducting had reached its peak.

The elusive yet deceptively capable machine began reacting with increasingly strong bursts of energy. Its previously diffuse amalgamation of disconnected paths of light began to coalesce, combining strength and accumulating energy with increasing confidence. The streams began to narrow and focus until they resembled lasers. Their sharper edges began to form what almost looked like shapes. Her movements, which were elegant despite their puzzling aspects, became increasingly fluid. As the dance evolved, I saw something that surprised me. She was no longer holding a clunky machine giving off disconnected, random bursts of light that faded away quickly. Its resemblance changed into something I hadn't expected. This became even clearer when she walked back towards my position and began moving the machine around with a renewed approach. I realized, almost instantly, that she had unlocked its true function. Its purpose was clear, everything had changed. It looked like she was holding a powerful brush that she was using to create an elaborate, exceptionally intricate painting.

I looked in her direction and she began to play around, jumping and skipping a little in silent pirouettes, marking her steps with abandon. The machine continued to glow, but its motions became increasingly untethered to her movements. It was almost as if it had woken up, asserting itself. It seemed to draw in an unseen energy and began quickly drawing a life of its own from the surroundings. She was a little far out from the surface but I could see that her machine was starting to shake and shudder, like it had a mind of its own. She maintained her grip on it throughout and it responded with an inexplicably passionate connection. It began responding in what seemed like a synchronized dance, almost swooning, under her guidance. This affirmation was unexpected; it seemed that the machine had been waiting for her arrival to come to life. Accepting its partnership with a surge of light and energy,

The enigmatic yet immensely powerful machine began to rise and floated upward, lifting towards the nocturnal light. It didn't get very far as she maintained her hold over it. Instead of fighting with it, she cycled through and reset its controls and it quickly cycled back in her command. She aimed it at the emerging structure and replenished its transient barriers, fortifying itself until it seemed to steady, building reinforcements within its own walls. Patiently, she watched it assembling over a period of time, without taking additional direction from her. Standing back a distance seemed to make it work quicker, and it increased the speed at which it constructed the walls, until they became almost impermeable, making themselves into something that was both immediately familiar yet inescapably strange. Initially, it was somewhat difficult to make out what she was trying to build, but it quickly became visible. What began as a simple object became more elaborate and complex. I had a difficult time figuring it out at first. It seemed to change from a fortress, then migrated to a strange type of castle before achieving its final form. She had rebuilt, in miniature fashion, a portion of her old school. I moved a couple steps ahead and recognized the distinctive summer-themed boat above its front door. Many of the other elements were missing or present in reduced form.

She took a measure of the small school and decided it needed more work. She aimed the machine at it and continued to elaborate on the design. Adding detail an flourishes, it began to more closely resemble the building I'd encountered many months earlier, but it let off a different style, nothing seemed to be completely as I remembered. It was a different shade and its smooth walls weren't covered. The building seemed to have shrunk in terms of overall scale and size. It's construction seemed less stable, its windows seemed narrower and the shrunken doors looked much less inviting. She pointed her machine at its eastern side and began to focus its energy at a specific point on its surface. It wasn't immediately apparent and I had to take a step closer to understand what she was doing. A small port-hole began to open along its surface, alongside a window and closing latch that quickly shut into place. She moved the machine's light back to the center of the structure and added more details to the main entrance. A keyhole and doorbell became visible and there was a second window which quickly emerged, seeming from nothing, to complete the main doorway's initial construction. Taking a step back from the structure, she carefully surveyed its volume and density, somewhat pleased by its nearly-finished appearance.

Despite its smaller scale, it was an almost perfect recreation of the building we'd explored earlier. One small thing seemed a little bit odd about it, the building's colors were a bit brighter and more robust than the original. When I looked at it closely, as it began to slowly stabilize and solidify, I noticed elaborate carvings on its walls. This seemed like a strange flourish, which was only enhanced by the glass in its windows, which seemed to shimmer and reflect the surrounding light with an unexpectedly robust energy. She took a few more steps back and moved towards the perimeter of its east side. She began pacing around the building at a fast, nervous pace.

At first, I couldn't understand why. Everything looked perfect in my eyes. She was much less forgiving, and noticed small imperfections and minor problems with the structure. It seemed that she was searching for something that might have been hidden, or perhaps a piece of the building had gone missing or been overlooked during its creation. It was seemingly perfect, but missing a few key details. When she moved further away, its appearance could be seen in a different light. It wasn't an exact copy, after all. It appeared fuzzy, somewhat lacking in detail. Strangely enough, what she created instead was something different. Standing back and outlining its intricacies, the building more accurately resembled a painting of her old school.

She saw something attached to the building that I'd overlooked. There was a sign on the door that I couldn't read, but she understood. Something was written on it in what looked like a strange alien language. while I didn't comprehend what that meant at first, I was able to detect a small, devious grin on her face when she looked back in my direction. Ahead of her, the school was nearly complete in its strangely illustrated form, there were a few elements left for her to sketch out in her canvas, but her composition was mostly complete. She waved for me to come closer, that it was finally safe to follow her onto the ice. I hesitated for a moment, not wanting to leave my safe, somewhat protected perch on the outskirts of the lake. She stared directly at me and noticing my reluctance, started waving at me emphatically. There was no time to dawdle. We had to get moving.

(Continue to part two)