A Gathering Storm - Part One - Fiction - By Michael Palisano - The-Laser.com









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



A Gathering Storm

It was a relief that we'd narrowly escaped an unrelentingly dangerous attack from merciless foes. The sudden nature of our departure was successful but this only created another frustratingly intractable problem. We were completely stranded and found ourselves adrift, floating directionless, moving unpredictably over its choppy surfaces. It felt like we'd gotten lost in the currents of an unfamiliar ocean without any real direction or clear destination. Increasingly large, unstoppable waves began to intensify and roll over us, hitting our vessel without warning. Completely exposed with nothing to protect us, there was nothing protecting us from the malevolent, swirling ocean. Relentlessly slapping out somewhat unsteady vessel, the choppy waters kept its masts swaying wildly and making its long sails ineffective. There seemed to be nothing we could do, there was no way to navigate past the storm. The ocean and its contrary winds systematically worked against their efforts, undermining any progress they might have made. There were unstoppable forces at work, systematically and relentlessly overwhelming any attempts to stabilize the situation. It grew stronger wish each moment, making it nearly impossible to gauge our position or counteract its malicious actions. Working tirelessly the savage ocean prevented any attempts we made. We had no control over its direction, it seemed to take its own course, regardless of what we intended. It was a dangerous situation to place ourselves in, but we didn't seem to have any choice given the imminent threat we'd left behind.

Hiding in the boat's middle offered little protection from the oncoming storm. I looked above at is cascading, darkening clouds and realized this was one encounter we wouldn't be able to escape from. We'd have to confront it despite our exhaustion and wariness. It seemed that our sole recourse was to keep focused, alert and prepare ourselves for anything that came next. I looked toward the figures and tried to gauge their actions, looking for some way to persuade the situation in our favor. Despite all I'd encountered, it felt that there was little I could do to respond. It was impossible for me to anticipate what would come next. I cautiously watched the mysterious man at the controls. His confidence began to waver under the pressure. He had to struggle to maintain his composure as control seemed to elude his effort.

He arms seemed to sink towards his side, as he frustrated himself with increasingly desperate attempts to contain the damage. His body slumped towards the ground, seemingly pulled down, unable to keep up with the unpredictable enemy churning beneath his feet. I stood back, and watched him as he desperately tried to maintain control of the steering wheel, landing his hands on its surface with increasingly disjointed angles. Despite his efforts, nothing he tried seemed to affect the vessel's course or change its direction. We had no way of knowing where we were heading. It had been a long struggle but we found the our victory had only been transient. Any confidence was quickly replaced by uncertainty as the storm clouds drew closer.

Deciding that standing place wouldn't help, I decided to try another spot where I could be in position to help. while staying far enough away to avoid interfering. I walked towards the center of the boat, where the waves seemed less powerful. I saw her moving in the opposing direction, until she was directly in front of the controls. She stood directly in his line of sight, her back turned to him. I watched her and she seemed surprisingly calm, standing firm against the churning waves surrounding us. Above her, the ships long brown masts seemed to calm as her presence, relaxing their motions, slowly becoming more predictable. Above them, I saw the skies far above us, clear and empty. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky to help us navigate through the curling, snapping, periodically shooting waves. It felt like we were being attack by some unseen force, lurking beneath the water.

A distant sun seemed to slip behind us, falling further in the distance as we ventured deeper into the unsettling seas. I looked downward in front of us, the churning waters looked unwelcoming, conspiring to stop our momentum, effortlessly destabilizing the boat. I turned my focus to the other figure standing ahead at the front of the vessel. I watched her carefully for any indication of what was going to happen. Despite the uncertainty of our unexpected situation, she didn't seem afraid or frightened. There was a strange calm that seemed to surround her, but I couldn't understand how she'd created a seemingly unshakable barrier. I walked towards her, taking cautious steps closer and tried to look over the man's shoulder to see what she was attempting. He was much taller than me and I couldn't get good view of here. He seemed to sense that I was close to her and he turned around. He looked towards me and waved me back, gesturing for me stand back and. He didn't want me to get in their way. I decided to take his advice, retreated towards the back, and resumed watching them from a safe distance.

After a few minutes, their attention turned back towards the task at hand. I couldn't see what she was doing so I decided to see if there was something else I could do to improve our standing. I took a deep breath and tried to make sense of the strangely familiar vessel. Examining the boat, my perception began to shift as I looked closely. There were a few odd things that resembled earlier vessels. Its wooden planks were strong and thick, but its construction felt older, making its surface creak, the boards shifting and somewhat unstable. The narrow planks were narrow, giving only a constrained pat, there was little room to walk around or explore. There didn't seem to be any hidden areas or compartments hiding secrets. I waited careful to see what their next move would be, but they didn't reveal their plan. I needed to be patient. The boat continued to float, slipping forward towards an unknown objective. I stood silently watching the waves crashing just outside, and occasionally running over the railings, sloshing over the railings, filling the inside side, further flooding and inundating the slowly sinking and submerging galleys just beneath our feet.

I looked ahead towards the front of the boat and watched them patiently. They seemed to have acquired renewed confidence. I watched her extend her arms in front of her and she looked like she was pointing towards an unseen object or destination. What or where exactly was something I couldn't figure out. I stood nervously and dug in my feet. I tried to understand how we had come under pressure. It was unclear and I had no ide what she had planned. I turned my attention ahead, there were taller and stronger waves ahead, aimed directly in our path. She didn't seem afraid, but I almost buckled inward, watching them band together. headed for an almost certain conflict with us.

Increasingly strong, the next configuration came towards us as intense waves continued slapping at the surface, until we took a direct hit. The vessel shook and seemed to nearly collapse it was struck. This pushed it nearly towards its side, nearly buckling its masts and posts. I nearly fell over and buckled as the ocean began swiftly convulsing, rocking wildly from side to side. The currents began to intensify. and much larger waves formed, intensifying their assault. I lent back a little and anchored my feet to the planks, anticipating sharper and stronger waves. I took my hands by my side and extended them out to pre-emptively balance, awaiting additional bursts from below. The ocean grew stinger, fighting us at every turn. I watched helplessly as the cresting waves got larger. It seemed that he was trying to glide over the waves, but they were too numerous. He tried different directions and paces, spinning the steering wheel and moving the levers in different combinations, but made little headway. Nothing seemed to work against the ocean forces allied against us. Despite our efforts, it seemed that we hadn't really escaped after all. An unseen force or energy had located us and was quickly closing in on our position.

She remained steadfast, unflinching against the gathering forces. Waiting patiently for her moment to arrive, she was unwilling to surrender to the bristling waters. Swerving and buckling, the boat's masts began to swing overhead, seeming to bend nearly horizontally under the pressure, their sails wrapping and flailing under the wind. Until the storm passed, it seemed the only thing we could do would be to make a stand, and not engage in distractions. She didn't glance back at me during the entire occurrence, remaining at her position seemingly unmovable, standing straight and firm, unable to be dislodged. Wavering above her, the canvas sails gave in, succumbing quickly to the storm. He watched her as well and seemed to take heart by her consistency. Taking his hand from the wheel, he seemed to relax his grip, taking the respite to recalculate and revise his strategies and approach. He took out his strange machine from his pocket, and effortlessly focused its energy and quickly aimed its light into the skies above.

He allowed it to drift and search, seemingly on its own at first. I watched him carefully adjust and calibrate the dials on the machine several times while the machine performed its mysteriously opaque tasks. It wasn't clear what he was aiming or searching for but he began scanning through the clouds, moving in circular motions until its beams seemed to break through the thick overcast, going towards the darker portions beginning to develop in front of us. Its light brightened and focused until it stabilized. Despite the growling winds and stirring waves surrounding us, the machine seemed impervious and focused on its task. After a few minutes, I began to focus on its movements and journey, which helped me to overcome the consumption by fearsome storm, I watched its beam jumping through the clouds and seemingly divided the skies into a strange grid-like pattern with an array of horizontal and vertical line beginning to emerge. Its light beam was strong and firm, and I watched its lines build into a larger grid, which created a strange clash in appearance between natural and artificial.

This seemed to catch her attention and she responded by taking her laser out from its shadow. She began turning its dials and pointed towards the same general area. She began testing the lines he'd made, retracing their paths and trying to confirm what he might have discovered. Her machine started to glow and its lines got stronger until they equaled the intensity of his, owing perhaps to their shared objectives. The combined energy also seemed to have the possibility of somehow dissolving or at least calming the storm. I decided not to make a sound or move at all while they assembled their beams into different shapes. I glanced downwards and saw the seas still raging, but in a more predictable and non-threatening manner. Their waves crashed into the boat, but lacked the force they had only a few minutes earlier. It seemed that their attempt to constrain the storm was working, though I had no idea how they'd accomplished that using only their lasers.

After a few minutes they seemed to have gained the upper hand, and the aside from the occasional stray jumper, the waves began to calm. I was able to stand up, and moved towards a higher position on the boat. I could see them exchanging looks, and they walked towards each other. It seemed that they'd be collaborating on their project. At this point, it seemed that they'd reached the end of the first phase but they quickly began work on their next task. Their machines began to change their beams from blue to green. They started rendering a series of familiar shapes, some of which I recognized from our previous encounters. At first, they dissolved too quickly for me to understand what their meaning was. Looking for clues outside their energy beams, I focused once more on them. I wondered what they were planning. I looked above and saw more shapes joining the extended sequence, noting the order and size of each. It seemed that they were tiring to over-write the message they were trying to convey, one word replacing another, scrambled up then disappearing. Then more shapes emerged from the air, subsequently vanishing as additional figures came into view, making it difficult to discern their significance. It was unclear what was happening but it looked like it guiding us towards some unknown objective.

I waited from a safe distance as the construction of intersecting beams began to fray and dissolve, their energy began to overload and clash, and it seemed to drain the machines of their power. I watched the symbols above slowly fade and dissolve, until they were no longer visible. The two mysterious figures walked towards each other and began speaking. I couldn't understand what they were saying. After a few minutes they decided to try another tactic. It seemed that they arrived at a solution. It would be better to focus on only a few sections of the skies at a time. Having let several minutes pass, it seemed to have rejuvenated the machines, and they resumed their scans and created symbols, on a smaller scale than before. The mysterious symbols seemed to appear for longer periods and were somewhat brighter, making it easier for me to see what they were trying to communicate. It was an elaborate design, for a much larger machine, or technology that was beyond my understand.

The figure expanded until it had created an impressively large, smooth chassis. It surface was covered with an array of small, ovular switches protruding from its side. It began to spin and swirl above as they gradually filled in its details and mission, it was an odd creation, one whose purpose and standing I didn't fully comprehend. They focused on it intently, collaborating and changing its size and functions, going back and forth across the skies. It seemed to be a kind of travelling device or a transport, a mixture of deliberate contradiction. I wondered if they were showing me what it really was or whether they were obscuring its true purpose. I watched them paint the skies, almost forgetting where I was for a moment. The vessel seemed to be far from ideal for such an elaborate experiment, its unsteady surface lacked the necessary construction. Perhaps, this was their way of camouflaging and hiding it from unfriendly eyes. This was the last place and time any of our opposition would expect.

Gradually, the scattered outlines the elaborate design coalesced, forming a sturdier and sharper construction. If they hadn't created it out of their own fingers, it wouldn't have made any sense. After tweaking and changing the design they finally seemed to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. The phantom device loomed above us and seemed to grant us a temporary shield from the oncoming storms, its shape at long last finished, it probably appeared menacing to anyone standing on its bad side. She took a step back and admired the accumulated machine, and seemed satisfied by its completed form. She asked the man what he thought but he wasn't as impressed and ran his arms up, skeptically pointing out its indivisible flaws. Frustrated by his lack of confidence, she quickly turned her machine on. She pushed its levers and began infusing it with additional energy and light. He watched for a moment and reluctantly followed suit, composing a complimentary line pointed at her exact position. They held their hands calmly, and held steady for several minutes. We watched patiently as the beams worked together to reinforce and strengthen its surface. Slowly, Its shape began to sharpen and its surface started to glow with a newly-resolute shade of green. The man ahead of me took a deep breath, relieved that his advice seemed to have worked. She stood silently, watching the development carefully. I stood back a little bit further and felt the force building at a cautious distance. The distant machine drew in more energy and began to intensify, its light illuminating the skies, pushing the storm out into the ocean. The clouds began to dissolve, and their ominous forms began slowly drifting further from our position.

They maintained their position and focused on the task at hand, making minor adjustments while waiting patiently for some unknown meter to fill. It was remarkably quiet despite everything the was happening, none of us seemed to have words to say, but there was nothing we could really add. We waited, and maintained our position probably for another two minutes or so. It seemed like an eternity to wait but patience paid off as an unexpected layer of protection emerged, the sky and machine seemed to form a bond, and a barrier began to coalesce, its function finally seemed to emerge only when it came close to completion. They seemed to take their success in stride, pausing only for a minute to take it in, observing the results of their hard work. The machine began to brighten and hum, in a kind of reciprocation, spinning above us as it began its final ascent, taking its rightful place in the sky. It consumed the atmosphere surrounding it, pushing the dark clouds apart while silencing its unceasing winds. The seas began to calm, rolling gently under our feet. It wasn't completely formed yet, there were still unfinished portions but, it was quite effective.
They stood together and worked cooperatively to finish the job. The duo synchronized their beams and maintained focus. Systematically, they filled the ethereal machine with light, increasing its consistency until it looked nearly solid. I stood back and admired their skill and persistence, watching them build and maintain the machine until it became nearly immovable. They'd managed to build a startling complex and elaborate machine, created from strands of focused light, in a matter of minutes, without causing too much strain on their own energy. Both of them remained unnaturally calm despite the vast, seemingly supernatural object they'd created. It was like a strange dream, come visually to life. I observed the machine and it only looked like it was getting stronger; I waited for them to emerge from their triumph in some kind of celebration, but they didn't seem to be as impressed by their work as I was. She instead moved on to the next task and concentrated on the machine's energy on the surrounding areas, making sure that everything was working as she'd planned.

The man took the wheel of the boat, firmly in hand and began to change its direction into a more promising direction away from the successfully contained storm rapidly diminishing behind us. It only took a few minutes before the boat was effortlessly gliding over the ocean and began increasing speed and momentum. As we gained speed, the force began to intensify and it carried us into the ocean, the ship taking on its mission effortlessly. I walked back towards the rear of the boat and looked backwards and saw the object lurking above. It seemed to have slowed down a little bit, but maintained its hold over the skies. I watched it slowly begin to rise farther into the skies until it had ascended almost to the upper horizon, nearly vanishing in the upper layers of clouds. It began to change colors rapidly until it began glowing in a bright yellow, pulsing and shifting position upward. It looked like it was heading even farther up into the atmosphere. It looked like it would never stop expanding and continued rising until it became almost impossibly large, blocking everything else from view. We watched carefully for several nervous minutes, observing even the smallest changes.

Periodically, she repositioned the machine's trajectory and aimed a reinforcement beam towards its flickering surface, which would scan the distant object for flaws while testing its resilience. It wasn't clear how long the testing and experimenting would continue or whether the object actually needed our continued monitoring. She seemed to have grown a bit tired from the task and took her machine, swirled it around, turned its dials and placed it back inside her cloak with a triumphant flourish. At last, she had finished with the project; her extensive, yet somehow obscure experiment was finally completed. The other man took her lead and did the same. He returned to his navigation duties and guided the vessel forward. It looked like the danger has passed, and we needed to continue to our next objective. I took another look and examined it closely. As we moved away from it, the energy within began wavering a bit as its distance. It was still spinning rapidly but looked a little less stable than it has when we were closer to it. It didn't seem to be as bright as it had previously. After a few minutes, it gradually subsided as we slipped further from its position.

I tried hard, but couldn't avert my eyes from the denouement, and wondered what was happened. They had stopped giving it fresh infusions this stopped its expansion. Slowly fading from view, its energy diminished it had slowed down significantly. This continued for another minute, until it came to rest and was finally, after finishing its task, completely still, reflecting the calm waters beneath it. It began to waver in its position, seeming to shake and shudder. Their was a final gasp, causing sudden surge, creating an unexpected burst of energy, followed by an unexpectedly silent gap. This seemed to drain its last remnants of energy. The beam began to struggle, held down by its massive weight. It was obvious that it couldn't sustain its position for much longer. This effort quickly consumed its remaining power. I saw tears forming on its edges which gradually ripped through its surface. The machine suddenly began to dissolve, seeming to collapse in on itself and began to dissolve. It seemed to break apart under the pressure. I watched as its pieces plunged towards the ocean, disintegrating as they reached the ocean. The machine's fragments left little in their wake as they splashed down into the water, creating small ripples that quickly vanished. After a few minutes, all traces of the machine had disappeared, leaving nothing behind.

(Continue to part two)