The First Minute - Fiction - By Michael Palisano -

Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone




The First Minute (part two)

I walked closer and saw a small panel that was slightly open, just enough for me to look inside. I pulled it outwards and saw that there was a small dial hidden underneath the panel. I studied the dial carefully, with its buttons and odd symbols they seemed strangely out-of-place. Looking closely, I tried analyzing them for meaning, and then I realized that they were somehow familiar. This made my heart skip a beat. I knew in a moment I had arrived at the right place. It was difficult to see, but I was able to figure out their patterns and tried several configurations. Turning the dial clockwise, I cycled through them to little effect in my initial attempts. I spent a lot of time trying to understand the patterns, hoping that I would discover the combination that would open the door. I tried to turn it in several different directions but it the door seemed to be frozen in place. I tried pushing down on the symbols like buttons but there was no response, then either. It was growing darker by the moment, making it more difficult to see them. I paused for a moment and visualized some of the patterns I remembered from our previous encounters. I saw some similarities in this new group of symbols and tried to recreate the pattern she taught me in my head. I seemed to be missing something. I was frustrated and tried once again. I knew something had gotten me here and I wasnít going to allow a few strange little lines stand in my way. As the shadows grew longer, I noticed small dots on the edges of the lock and pressed them. They released a satisfying click. I was on to something and tried a familiar set once again. I was careful to make sure each symbol clicked and when I finished the sequence, it finally happened. There was a much louder noise and the previously impenetrable doorway reluctantly opened. Revealing its secrets, it stopped around half-way through and seemed ready to close again without any warning. I decided not to hesitate and jumped through the gap. This was a good idea. Once I was on the other side of the door, it nearly immediately began to close again, It seemed to have a sensor, and didnít want to be vulnerable or exposed to the outside for long. It closed quickly with a loud, resolute thud that shook the floor. Standing behind it, I could hear its heavy irons and gears settling back into place, returning to a docile guardian, it resumed stasis again, firmly pushing away any intruders who would dare cross its threshold. I stood there for a moment, not knowing whether this was a good idea or not. I found myself alone behind its thick walls and took a moment to catch my breath, and slowly started to survey the unfamiliar surroundings.

It seemed like a foreboding, mysterious place that few would find. There were obvious and hidden barriers on the outside to assure that would be the case. Once on the other side, those obstacles seemed to vanish. The door felt open with nothing really blocking the way forward. I turned ahead of and entered a long hallway lit with oddly spaced blue service lights that brought just enough visibility. The floors and ceiling consisted of concrete slabs. There were no flourishes like pictures or patterns, only the occasional light overhead to mark the way forward. As I walked, I could hear my steps echo down the hallway. The bounced of the walls and elicited no response, I felt a little nervous, not knowing where I was going or how Iíd be able to get back out of there. I decided to keep moving ahead and walked further into the mysterious place. I kept my feet light on the ground, trying not to make too much noise but every step reverberated across the walls. It took several minutes to get through the hallway, gradually moving deeper into the mysterious halls. I didnít see anything on the walls or floors that would give me any indication of what that place was. As I reached the other side of the hallway, I discovered another door. This one was unlocked however and I opened it easily. There was a flight of metal narrow metal stairs, and I followed them down several stories. I was nervous about what I would find. It felt like I was sinking, the chasm getting deeper with each step. Despite my efforts, my steps echoed even louder on the metal stairs. There was no way I would be able to hide, each foot giving my presence away. I kept going down and finally reached the end of the stair. There was a door at the bottom of the landing. It was sealed shut wouldnít didnít budge when I pulled its handle. I noticed a latch above it and pulled it, and for some reason there was no elaborate code to figure out, and it opened with surprisingly little effort. I peaked around it and saw some strange colors and shadows that intrigued me. Entering slowly at first, I walked inside carefully not knowing what was waiting inside.

I stepped inside and entered a surprisingly large room, lit in strange hues of pink, purple and blue.  It was a strange place, full of contradictions, one that felt both cluttered and organized. It felt closed to the outside, yet open in other ways. I looked around and took it around, measuring my steps carefully. Everything was deliberately arranged in some strange system that I couldnít understand. Its wooden floors surprised me, and my steps remained cautious. The room seemed rustic and the boards creaked loudly with each step. In front of me, there were things I didnít expect. The first thing I noticed was a large, elongated table. It was almost completely covered with an array of strange objects. Most of these appeared mechanical or technological in nature. I looked closer and examined them closely. They looked like they came from different times, with some looking like they could have been decades old while others seemed impossibly new, like theyíd come from the future. The older objects had rust and discolored edges while others glistened under the lights. What was stranger was how those unique objects were treated. They were assembled in a seemingly haphazard way on the table, as if theyíd been part of some experiment then casually discarded. I looked at them closer and saw some of them had strange markings that I didnít recognize. Many of objects looked ornate but also fragile and delicate. This made me reluctant to pick up or touch them.

I decided to admire them from a distance. At first this was enough. I resisted the temptation to examine them closer but I couldnít overcome my curiosity. Choosing between them was difficult, but I decided to be very careful and methodically examined them. I searched for the least delicate one on the table. I picked up one of the objects that seemed to be the least complicated. It was heavier than I thought it would be. It seemed strangely mundane but it still puzzled me. I spent several minutes attempting to find our exactly what it did to no avail. I pressed some of its buttons, shook it around, turned it in several directions and got no reaction. I looked at it closer and it seemed like it was actually small component that went inside something larger. I tried to get somewhere but my attempts didnít do anything. I carefully put it back down, hoping not to disturb any other nearby objects. I felt my hands shaking a little and decided it would be best not to touch anything else. These definitely werenít toys or games, and none of it was mine to play with. I didnít want to take the chance of breaking anything, even by accident. I looked closer at some of the objects and they seemed to have different functions. As I looked closer, their distinct shapes came into view. Some were short with sharp edges, while others were almost completely circular with softer permeable surfaces. I tried to make connections between them, and there were some similarities but their real function eluded my inquiries. I examined them and looked closer. I saw additional symbols emerge and they seemed to indicate that each object had a unique purpose. I wanted to know more about them but didnít know where to begin. The methods in discovering their secrets, examining them and what discovering the mysteries they held were beyond me. I had no idea what that actually entailed and their purpose wasnít obvious. Some of the items appeared to be in various states of completion or had been taken apart, which further obscured their origins. I had no idea how to put them back together. I stood there for a few minutes and examined them, and slowly came to the realization that I wouldnít find any satisfying answers. I decided to explore other sections on the room, knowing I could return later to discover more.  

I walked around the other side of the table and saw another similar group of strange objects in various states of completion and readiness. I examined these as well and began to wonder who would need such a strange collection of items, and wondered what they were doing all the way down here, hidden from view. I moved away from the first table and looked around the room, trying to figure out what its purpose was and why it had drawn me there in the first place. On the near wall, I could see someone had drawn and written on a large blackboard. I walked closer and tried to decipher the writing. I could make out what seemed like sentence and fragments, letters and symbols. I didnít understand them at first and tried to find some correlation between all of it, and I had to find at least some answers after all the effort I had put in just to get there. I stood there and tried once again to understand the strange words and odd symbols. It came to me that I might have been looking at the assemblage in the wrong way. It seemed like it might have been written purposely to camouflage its secrets. I took in the entirety of it as I looked back and suddenly, it came to me. I wasnít looking at words but formulas and directions, to what purpose I didnít understand. Suddenly, it started to make sense. I looked around and saw the walls on the other side of the room were covered in tangled cords and wires which ran from the floor to ceiling. Walking closer to them, the cords seemed heavy and thick, completely covering the wall behind them. I turned around and saw another table, this one was much neater and there were only a few smaller objects on it. I walked closer and bent down to examine them. One of them stood out to me immediately and seemed strangely familiar. I picked it up and looked examined itís strange symbols, which somehow I knew. I clicked its buttons and suddenly I remembered something from the past summer. Things started quickly falling into place in my mind. It felt like I was standing off the ground and my head felt light. As I reached that realization, my concentration was broken. I was startled by something completely unexpected. I felt someoneís hand on my shoulder. I wasnít alone. 

I turned around suddenly, dropping the small metal case back on the table. I knew I was in trouble. I wasnít supposed to be there, messing around with someone elseís stuff. I didnít quite see who it was at first since it was dark and the other person jumped back a bit. I heard a voice and suddenly realized who it was. She called out my name and suddenly it became clear. It took a moment but we knew immediately. I stood back and saw her standing in front of me once again. I should have expected our paths to cross again, but it was still surprising. My fears subsided and I held out my hands, and she quickly took them into hers. I felt a sense of relief. It had all been worth it, I had been right all along and I wasnít crazy. My head began to spin at what felt like a million miles an hour. What had felt like an ethereal dream suddenly seemed real once again. My heart began to race and my feet no longer felt sore. She was radiant and mysterious as I remembered but seem largely unchanged from the last time Iíd seen her. In some ways, it was like time had stood still even though many months had passed. I didnít know exactly what she was doing or why she was there, but I knew she was surprised to see me. I donít think she expected me to be so persistent or to figure out so much. I watched her move effortlessly towards me, holding one arm back and held her hands out towards me once again. Quickly releasing my hand, she relaxed her position and moved back into the roomís central area. She motioned for me to join her. We stood there for a moment, looking at each other in the strange light. I looked towards her tables and their various gadgets strewn about and she nodded her head, I had seen enough and she didnít want me messing with it. I waited for a moment and looked towards the blackboards dotted with odd symbols. She looked at me and nodded negatively again. Perhaps, I wasnít ready or couldnít comprehend their true purpose. Taking a deep breath, she seemed to relax and smiled slightly. She looked at me with a sense of relief, I was not some unwelcome intruder in this place but she warned me to be careful, not wanting to make me unhappy, I walked around carefully with my arms at my side, giving the tables and their esoteric, mysterious accumulations enough space so I wouldnít knock anything over.  

We stood together in the large room with suddenly large space in its center. We looked at each other for a few moments. We didnít have to say anything to each other and I knew immediately that there was something we needed to do. There wasnít a lot of space between the tables so she decided to move some of them towards the edge. I helped her and we carefully lifted them up, moving them to each side and clearing an opening where would have some space to move around. She went back to one of them and retrieved a familiar-looking antique radio from the table. I watched as she tried to turn it on but it still didnít work. She opened it up and quickly saw what was missing. She slipped away into a door behind the wires for a moment while she looked for a battery then disappeared for a while behind a door and emerged with a new battery. Finally, she placed the battery inside and it finally sprung back to life. She looked at it for a moment and began tuning its dials until she found a channel that had a good reception. The radio was playing an odd song that I had never heard before. She walked towards me and took my hands. This was something familiar and I immediately took a step towards her and we began to dance slowly, mimicking the awkward pacing and strange rhythm as best I could. Even though I had been practicing in secret anticipating another moment like this, I wasnít quite up to the task. At first, I couldnít get my tired feet ramped up the right speed and she looked down at my shoes. Motioning towards her right, she challenged me to reverse my movements. This took me off guard but I decided to follow along as best I could. I tried the new maneuvers but it took me awhile to get into the rhythms. I tried to lead with my right foot but it was too sore after my long journey. It felt awkward, and the moment I began to arrive at a closer approximation of the songís tempo, I started to lose my balance. After a few minutes of this we both decided that weíd had enough. She went over to the other side of the room and turned off the radio. I was greatly relieved Ė it took the pressure off me. Her expression seemed to change quickly, as if she had thought of something. She walked towards me and smiled mischievously. Motioning with her hands, she pointed me towards the other side of the room. She needed to show me something.

This made me nervous for half a moment, I didnít know what to expect but in the end, I decided that I trusted her. She took my hands once again and we walked towards a tall sliding door. Moving her hand over a small switch created some rumbling noises. Suddenly, the wall slid open and a large compartment slowly emerged from it. It opened up in sections, revealing a series of small components that locked into each other, almost automatically. After a few minutes, the various pieces combined into a powerful and mysterious machine. Dominating the room, it created a super-structure that nearly ran the length of the wall. It looked it had been assembled from different parts over a long period of time and seemed to consist of multiple parts. She walked over towards it but told me to not to get too close and stand behind her. She examined its main structure and slid some of the dials and switches around. She took a large metal stand, assembled it and placed it in the center of the floor. The metal stand made a creaking noise and groaned like it would collapse from the weight. She adjusted it a little bit more, carefully setting it in place until its center stabilized. Going back to the main frame, she rustled around between its wires for a few minutes. I had no idea what she was looking for. After a few minutes of searching, she pulled out what looked like a long metal tube and placed it carefully on the stand. I could see that it was quite heavy and she spent a few more minutes making sure to balance it properly so it wouldnít collapse to the ground. I stood behind her towards the wall and silently watched what she was doing. She was unusually focused and the device was difficult to run effectively. I didnít want to get in her way and it seemed dangerous to get in its path.

She went back into the wall, examined the machine and began to look at what appeared to be its control panel, though I couldnít be sure exactly what it was. It had multiple rows of dials, buttons, keys and other controls which lit up when she touched them. I didnít know how she knew how to control the device, but it looked she knew what to do. It was a strange device, like something she assembled specifically for the task. She stood in front of it and I couldnít see what was on it, though I recognized some of its symbols. She took a few minutes and typed in codes, turned a few dials and seemed to get lost in its mechanics. I watched the machine and its interlocking parts start to move as it slowly started warming up, and it began to activate. It started to make a groaning sound and I felt the wood boards beneath my feet shake. I thought that something had gone wrong and moved farther away from it. She looked back toward me and smiled. This was normal, nothing to worry about. She took her eyes off the machine and looked at me for a moment. I didnít want to get in her way, so I acted like it didnít really bother me. She turned and resumed running the device. She adjusted more switches and turned more dials on the machine until it was completely on line. In a moment, it seemed to almost explode. The metal tube began to shake and it released an array of colors that filled the room, immersing the surroundings in bright light. The space filled a quick succession of blue and purple bursts. It was overpowering as the colors permeated everything. I could feel their intensity saturating my eyes, nearly blinding me. I couldnít stare directly at it and had to turn my head down towards the floor. Realizing that this was not the intended action, she ran back towards the machine and turned it off, frantically pressing its buttons and grabbing hold of the stand to stabilize it. She studied the tube again and went over it closely, examining it and trying to figure out what had gone wrong. It didnít seem like she knew what to do next. I stood there perplexed. This was a little beyond my understanding, but I had an idea. I remembered that metal case which resembled the one I found buried in the sand the previous summer laying on one of the tables. I had given it to her, but I had nearly forgotten about it until it appeared on the table.  I had an idea that something inside of it might help. While she was figuring out what to do, I walked back to the other side of the room and took it off the table.

I held the case up to the light and saw its familiar markings and symbols. I was surprised to see and hold it again. Part of me thought that whole episode was an elaborate dream, but here was solid proof in my hands. I knew it was the same case, the one I accidentally found half-buried in the sand, seemingly at random. I walked back to the other side of the room and showed it to her. She looked at it for awhile and looked at it closely, going over its surface with her hands. She opened it up and it revealed two small lenses. She rubbed her fingers over them for a moment and shook off the accumulated sand from them. She held them up to the light and examined them. I looked at her and felt relieved. She held the lenses in her hand and walked back towards the metal tube. There was a small compartment on its left side. She opened it and carefully put the lenses inside which clicked into place. She moved the metal stand forward a bit and tilted it slightly upward. Waving her hands quickly, she made me stand behind her and I watched from a distance. She went back to the machine and I watched as she tested a few different configurations. I stepped back a little back and looked on while she turned and pushed until she arrived at a combination she was satisfied with. At first, the results were the same as before. It would start buzzing erratically; the room would fill with waves of bright light for a moment, then quickly become unstable and dissolve. Silence would follow and Iíd hear her fingers moving methodically over the keys, attempting to enter the right code. She seemed frustrated but was determined to keep at it. After a few more tries, she finally to hit on a configuration that worked. The machine almost instantly whirred to life but this time it produced a quick bright flash, almost like lightning. Instead of chaotic waves consisting of disconnected colors, the machine produced a singular beam of light that cut through the air. Its compressed energy formed a visible line in the going directly to the wall on the other side. It seemed remarkably stable in comparison to its earlier state. She examined it and walked through it for a moment and seemed relieved. Its energy was strong, but not dangerous. Taking hold of the controls once again, she quickly aimed the device at the blackboard. She used it to illuminate some of the symbols she had written on it. She didnít hesitate this time and she quickly found the correct sequence. I didnít quite understand what was happening, but was glad that I helped her in some small way. I walked towards it but she told me not to stand too close. She walked towards the back of the machine and made some more adjustments. There was a sudden surge in power and the line became exponentially brighter. I didnít anticipate what happened next.

She aimed it towards the symbols, lighting them up in quick succession. She did this deliberately and quickly. I saw something very strange begin to occur. As its energy coalesced in one small area it created a small force field that began to glow at its end. There was an otherworldly disruption on the wall. At first, it looked like a tiny glowing ball. It grew quickly accumulating size and scale until it coalesced into what appeared to be a small window. She moved it around its edges and then moved it back to its center. She waited until it expanded in size into something that resembled a door. She turned the machine off and looked at me with a huge smile. I watched her walk towards it and she motioned me to join her, extending her hand. We walked towards the gateway. I hesitated as we reached the threshold. There would be no turning back. I took her hand nervously and walked with her through the door. It was impossibly bright so I closed my eyes as we made the first few steps together. After a few moments, we had traveled together into another place. We kept walking for awhile and I held onto her hand tightly until she told me to it was safe to look around. She released my hand and my eyes opened. I stood there with her and surveyed our surroundings.

In that moment, I realized immediately where I was.

 - Michael Palisano