The Laser Fiction - An Equivalent Machine

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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 


Fiction



An Equivalent Machine
(part two)

She stood in position as her gaze returned to the building which seemed a little rough, but was coming together gradually. I decided to take a chance and walked onto the ice, nervously awaiting what seemed like an inevitable fall. However, it turned out that the icy surface had become stable, and traversing it wasn't as difficult as I feared. Instead, the path was clean, without obstructions. I walked on its smooth, yet stable surface carefully. Initially, it was difficult to keep my balance on the somewhat slippery lake, but after I became accustomed to it, I found the path clear, the path ahead was remarkably stable given the circumstances. its inner portion wasn’t slick at all. There was little chance of falling down. I began walking a little quicker until I reached the halfway point between our positions. I paused and took a second look at the building, and was surprised at what was revealed. Upon closer inspection, It looked strangely wet, as if it was made of paint that was in the process of drying and collugating into a cohesive form.

That explained why it still looked incomplete, its fine details unfinished. It also made me realize that she could take a narrower approach. She didn't need to worry about the bigger picture and could focus her energies on smaller aspects. This allowed her to add and subtract to the structure efficiently without having to start over each time. I decided to walk a little bit closer towards her position, waiting for a signal to indicate my next move. However, she was immersed in her creation, keeping busy making adjustments, large and small to its features. She cycled through several areas of the building until she had given most of it a final series of flourishes and adjustments. After several minutes of contemplation. After studying the structure carefully, she seemed satisfied enough to take a rest. She took a few final swipes with her brush and finally decided she'd had enough and folded up her machine, placing it back underneath her cloak where it could safely vanish from view. Standing back a few paces, she decided to soak in her workmanship. It looked surprisingly elaborate, perhaps the result of a vivid imagination.

She took a few minutes measuring it and approached the outer edge of the landscape. It seemed oddly still and somewhat lifeless but there was an unspoken emptiness that permeated the structure. It looked like something was missing. She looked it over carefully, and seemed to wonder how to proceed. Her eyes turned back towards me, looking to query me for advice. I didn't really know what her greater plan was, it wasn't obvious to me. I tried to wave towards the other side of the building, but this didn't seem like it would be particularly helpful and I decided to wait for her to make a decision. It took her a few minutes to figure out what she needed to do. I waited patiently and slowly moved closer to her location, standing just behind her on the left side. She didn't say a word to me, and I decided it would be best to stay quiet and continue to observe. Despite my desire to help her out, I knew that there was little I could add to the excursion.

After some time passed, her perception of our situation seemed to change. I began to move a little bit closer towards the building but she held up her arm and told me to stop. It was still far too dangerous to go there. We would need to wait a while longer. She pointed upwards into the night sky and drew my eyes towards the moon. It was sitting nestled between rivers of clouds, but was still quite prominent. It had begun its slow descent as the night slipped by and was sitting at an approximately seventy-five degree angle. Its beams weren't as bright as they would have been on a clear night, but they were still pronounced. She told me that it was aiding the process, though it was going slower than expected. I wasn't quite sure what she meant by this and decided to look closely to see what was going on. It wasn't immediately obvious what was happening and it took me a few minutes to catch on. I had to look closely and see how the moon and structure were responding to each other. When the moon slipped out from under the clouds, the process of coming back to life seemed to accelerate, and this varied in speed as the night sky passed through different phases. Their nocturnal energies were reinforcing and strengthening the newly-created structure.

We waited for what felt like forever for the moon to fall further into the night sky, its diffused light gradually subsiding as it descended towards the horizon. Before we knew what happened, it had completely vanished, leaving behind what seemed like an endless vista of darkness in its wake. Standing in silent anticipation, she decided to move in towards the completed structure, making sure to move carefully, to avoid any lingering instability. She took out her machine from its hiding place and it looked silent, any residual energy having drained from it. She pointed it towards the sky attempting to capture at least some additional power, but it didn't seem to respond. It kept its silence and couldn't produce the slightest buzz or dimmest glow at all without anything to draw from. She seemed a bit flustered by this unexpected limitation and waved it around, watching hopefully for any signs of life. Spinning it around didn't seem to help and twisting its dials and switches had no effect either. After several additional attempts to coax some kind of response, she gave it one last spin before finally surrendering its power, rubbing its surface to clean it off before placing it under her cloak and letting it slip silently back beneath the night. I was confident that she had an alternate plan in mind, though it wasn't immediately clear what that could have been.

She walked backward towards me, taking measured, carefully spaced and fastidiously implemented steps. Gradually, the mysterious figure began moving away from the dissipated structure until she had walked a substantial distance. This seemed to produce an invisible, yet welcome barrier. This gave her some space that she used to allow herself additional time and space to consider what that next strategic approach might entail. I waited alongside her, and nervously anticipated what she might end up doing. There was a range of possibilities that went through my mind, ranging from the simple to the strange. I could never really predict where things might end up when she was around. I decided that the best thing to do would be to let her lead the way. She took her time and surveyed the surroundings. Apparently looking for some kind of clue, her eyes scanned the areas nearby for any signal that she might have overlooked. Nothing seemed to stand out from my perspective. The clusters of trees didn't seem to offer any tangible solutions, their quiet accompaniment gave no bearing or direction. Beyond them, set just out of eyesight laid numerous paths and trails that we could explore. I knew some of what that could entail, and was prepared to make another long hike through the shrouded terrain. I waited for her to make a move in any particular direction, expecting that it was probably time to move on. I was growing a little impatient and it was getting late. We could always come back to this unstable structure later on. She defied my expectations and stayed in place. Her feet didn't move and she maintained her position, her attention focused on the ethereal building she had created.

She watched over it carefully, and it seemed that she was guarding it in a manner until it had completed its construction and was able to stand on its own. She looked above and her gaze returned to the empty sky. She seemed to be watching for some kind of signal, though it was difficult to time how long this might be after the moon had vanished. She walked a few steps back towards me until she was astride my position. Her face reflected an unexpected calmness and it wasn't something I'd expected. She looked at me and somehow was able to pick up on my confusion. I couldn't understand what she was trying to do. It was an elaborately illustrated reconstruction of her old school, but it seemed to have little purpose or practical use. It seemed to be in an odd position, sitting right in the middle of a frozen lake. The tranquil surroundings belied the feverish pace of construction, and couldn't mask the dangerous situation we'd found ourselves in immediately prior. The memories of those violent, threatening creatures were still fresh in my mind and I couldn't let them go as easily as she did. I feared that they might re-appear at any moment, and take some form of unpleasant revenge on us. She seemed to sense my lingering fear, and took my hand firmly, attempting to dissuade me from dwelling on them. They had been defeated and were now safely out of striking distance. Besides, she was here beside me and wouldn't leave me vulnerable to further attacks.

This gave me some reassurance, enough that I decided not to cower back into the forest. Instead, I decided to stand at her side and await her next move. She paused for a moment before walking towards the mysterious structure. She looked it over at a much closer range and waved for me to join her. Nervously, I tread a few steps until I was at her side. At that angle, the door seemed to loom over us like a giant gaping tree with endless branches. Its wooden sides seemed twisted together, forming an impervious barrier that would be difficult for us to cross. I looked it over and saw a dilapidated sign to the left. While the characters on it seemed legible, I couldn't read them, the characters looked like they were written with some kind of alien characters, their meaning incomprehensible to my eyes. She walked over towards the sign and brushed her hand over it, careful not to disturb the surface for fear of wiping away the faded characters printed on it. She stepped away and turned towards me. This was the confirmation she needed, she had brought us to the right place.

She stepped back and looked back towards the door, which stood unmoved by our approach. It yielded nothing in the face of our visual inquiries, giving us no way in which to secure our entry. We'd have to find our own way inside. She stood across from it silently for a few moments, before giving me an explanation. She began by ascribing its excessive security to a healthy wariness, reminding me of the unforeseen attack we'd just endured. I took this to mean that this wouldn't be as simple as knocking on it or unlocking a key-hole. She thought about it for a moment and decided to take out her machine. She began by turning the dials and aiming the reticule at the door's surface. There was no response. Trying a different configuration, the machine began to buzz slightly and she waved it around a few times. I heard the machine make a popping sound for half-a-second which gave me some hope, but this wasn't reciprocated. It stood silently in our way, its steep height and narrow diameter resolutely blocking our path. She tried additional methods and combinations, but all her work seemed to come to nothing. Despite her best efforts, the door wouldn't budge. It seemed that she could use a million different approaches, moving the machine around and trying different combinations of switches, but nothing would dislodge it.

She completely gave up after several frustrating minutes and closed the machine back up. It was nearly lifeless now, most of its residual energy seemed to have been used up. I could hear it struggling to keep functioning, straining to draw additional strength from the darkness, it seemed to be holding on for dear life and barely succeeding. She began to put it back underneath her cape when she seemed to come on to an unexpected idea. Catching something out the corner of her eye, she turned back towards me and looked directly at me. This wasn't something I'd anticipated and it was a little unsettling. Without saying a single word, she took the machine and extended it in my direction. I stood nervously for a second, feeling a sudden fear. This wasn't something I was prepared for and I hesitated. The lingering fear in the back of my mind was still nagging at me, and it was difficult to shake the dread I felt. Losing patience with my unwarranted reluctance, she thrust the device even more forcefully in my direction, almost throwing it in my hands. At that point, I knew that I had choice in the matter. I took the machine in my hand, and felt immediately anchored downward since It was much heavier than I anticipated.

At first, I didn't think I could take on so much responsibility. My hands were trembling and shaking from its surprising weight but I quickly became accustomed to it. I looked over its dials and markings, which seemed to have taken on a new significance. The random pieces had fastened together in unexpected ways and formed a strange system of symbols that were simultaneously alien yet familiar to my eyes. Its characters weren't immediately legible but they had an unexpected rhythm and pattern that could be ascertained. I closed my eyes and remembered some of the things that had appeared at earlier points in our travels. Some I'd seen in passing glimpses, recalling them from seemingly inconsequential formats, consisting of scattered, somewhat disconnected portions. I studied them carefully,looking for the familiar while trying to decipher the unknown. I carefully began moving the dials in circles, making small, careful rotations. I didn't want to retrace any mistakes if things got far out of range, there wasn't endless energy. There was little room for reckless maneuvering and careless wandering.

With renewed confidence, I began pointing its extronscope towards the structure and turning its surreptitous dials in different directions. Attempting to size up its dimensions and associated responses was difficult at first, but I was able to figure it out with some practice. It took awhile for me to discover what angles were most effective and which positions would lead nowhere. I attempted moving it up and down, and back into range. I began viewing it in different light and complementary angles, looking carefully at how its internal energy-field would respond to different conditions. I tried various distances and moved it towards different angles. I was hoping a more deliberate intensity would help me uncover its hidden secrets. I tried to mimic her movements but fell a little short in terms of pacing and intensity. I decided that attempting to match her speed, dexterity and knowledge would be impractical. Deciding to take a different approach, I decided to go at my own pace. I held it out and slowly moved it, careful to observe and internalize any reaction; positive, negative or indifferent. It took a few turns in order for me to make some sense of the elaborate system of markings on it. Slowly, it began to make a kind of sense and I made out a few things from watching her move it around. I waited for her to give me permission, and I looked in her direction, seeking approval. She didn't need to say a word. I already had it. I decided that it was finally time for me to make a move. I'd worked up just enough courage. It was time to perform an experiment of my own.

- Michael Palisano