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









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



A Gathering Storm
(Part Two)

We stood there and watched in silence, not quite knowing what had just happened. It wasn't immediately apparent what had gone wrong. One second, the experiment seemed to have been hugely successful only to collapse suddenly without warning. I watched them and they seemed surprised by the outcome, though not nearly as upset or angry as I though they would be. I watched the man's fingers curled around the steering wheel, gripping it strongly. He wasn't moving the wheel and seemed to be startled by its sudden demise. I looked beyond his position and observed the mysterious figure standing beyond him. Like him, she was still and silent but didn't seem to be quite as surprised by the events. She maintained a strange calm, ever so slightly changing her position, standing even further ahead, bravely at the front of the boat. She stood and scanned the skies with the machine, aiming its focus over the skies but finding no trace of the machine. She waited for some time, seemingly anticipating another signal but the silence didn't break. I watched her carefully, wondering if there was something that I had missed during the confrontation that might have led to this point. I looked but there was nothing immediately obvious in her demeanor or purpose. Deciding not to undertake any more efforts, he stood guard and patiently awaited her next command.

They'd escaped the storm and built a strange, glowing object that seemingly dissolved as quickly as it emerged. Offering us only transitory protection, its disappearance left us more vulnerable than before. They had expended a great deal of their efforts in its creation and stabilization and it wasn't clear how much, if any, energy remained in their machines. She held it upwards and tried to scan and create something again. Her beams glowed brightly as they searched the skies for a more appropriately stable and secure section. It ventured outward in many directions but the beam didn't connect to the right location, its light shooting upward in sharp, bright bursts only to vanish into vapors, without causing any visible reaction. She became increasingly frustrated after a few minutes and put it back in her cloak, Finally, she looked back towards his position and nodded for him to try. He followed her lead and tried. He traced some interesting forms out of the air, carving a path towards a distinct section. The beam brightened temporarily but then suddenly dissolved as it failed to arrive at a good connection. He'd tried a different approach for his scans but his effort was frustrated by the same resistant forces. Despite making an elaborate effort, the contrasting motions, experiments and, signals he devised only reinforced the same disappointing conclusion she'd arrived at earlier.

Unable to find another suitable location, it seemed that they'd hit an impenetrable barrier. They didn't seem to know what to do next. I waited for them to make their next move, but they stood silently, watching each other carefully. There were a few long, silent moments between them. A gulf seemed to emerge, quietly dividing them from each other, it seemed that they were drifting further apart. The breach seemed to emerge suddenly, and somehow there was nothing that could be done to avoid it. She turned and exchanged a look with him and she was increasingly angry and frustrated by the lack of progress. Sensing the strange shift, and with a renewed sense of urgency, he waved his machine around a few more times. Circling the skies and running it through its scans, he attempted to find something, reaching further upward in the skies. Nothing useful emerged from that approach - there was no discernable response or significant reaction. The energy surrounding us seemed to subside despite the increased intensity of their work. He looked to her but she wasn't able to help him, and looked like she was lost as to where to go next. She aimed her lines back towards the atmosphere, mirroring his movements and motions. The result didn't differ, though not for a lack of effort on their effort. Nothing seemed to be working. I noticed something unexpected. The clouds no longer churned and their threatening layers seemed to have dissipated beneath the docile atmosphere. The storm hadn't entirely vanished, but its power had diminished nearly completely, before it reached a point of near-complete surrender. The ocean currents beneath us seemed to have stilled, quieted down until we were completely stuck in place. Without realizing it, we had somehow fallen into a strange trap. Suddenly, we found ourselves stranded, standing alone in the middle of the ocean.

She seemed to have sunken down a little bit, slumped a bit by the setback. Her silent denouncement of the surroundings didn't go unnoticed. The ship seemed to wilt under her derisive attitude, its boards seeming to bow, almost bending beneath her. After a few minutes she began to pace back and forth in a fuming circle, her festering anger growing with each step. The front of the boat began to slouch downward in shame, it had left us without an escape route. I looked back towards the other figure who seemed like he'd given up. He took off his wrinkled jacket and threw it over the steering wheel, covering it and pushing himself back, standing away from it. She noticed his exasperated gesture and walked over the galley and stood in front of him. He walked a few steps back and waved his arms up in frustration. She looked annoyed and yelled at him not to give up so easily. She decided to take another shot at things and pulled out her machine. Taking its surface and spinning the dials, she tried another tactic, shielding her eyes, she pointed it straight up, directly at the skies. It didn't seem that she really thought about where it would connect, but it didn't really seem to matter at that point. She aimed it a little towards the southern portion of the sky and awaited something to happen. There was no response. It seemed to have taken her by surprise, but there was nothing she could do. She stood perplexed by the problem, unable to find a solution.

He decided to try and break the barrier and took his jacket, brushed it around and swung it back on his shoulders. He began spinning the steering wheel rapidly, turning it faster and faster until his fingers could barely keep up with its velocity. After it increased to enough velocity, he took his fingers off it and let it spin on its own for awhile, hoping it might cause some reaction. I watched them struggle against the impenetrable ocean, trying desperately for some solution that would bring us back to something resembling safety. Sensing that there was something missing, I decided to make a bit of a stand. I walked towards them and looked closer at what they were trying to accomplish. The closer I got, the more it became apparent that they hadn't drafted an effective response. They were trying different techniques and styles but it seemed that none of them would work. The ocean had been tamed, its storms thoroughly dispatched. They were still fighting the maelstrom but that wasn't actually the problem we were facing. I decided that the best thing to do was to try a different approach, hoping it would give us a sense of direction or a even just clearer objective at the very least.

I took a few nervous steps closer towards them and carefully stood close enough for them to notice me. At first, they were oblivious to my presence, consumed by their faltering mission. I stood quietly but firmly in place, not wanting to get in the way, but hoping closer observation might reveal some clues as to what we could do next. I had a strange idea, but there seemed to be something that they were overlooking. I wanted to tell them, but didn't want to be rude or pushy about it. I decided the best way was to draw closer and see what they were doing. It took me a bit of effort to work up the courage to get in their way. I was intimidated by the both of them. Complicating this was the unclear nature of their relationship. I wasn't sure how they knew each other, where they had met and what they were doing together. I was worried if I made the wrong step or seemed too pushy, I'd drive them away. Conversely, I was focused on the mission at hand, which didn't seem to be going as well as they had planned. I decided to walk even closer until it would be almost impossible for them to ignore.

She noticed me standing within range and my close proximity seemed to startle her. He turned around and immediately noticed her distraction and quickly focused his attention firmly in my direction. He looked upset and angry. I'd unwittingly transgressed into his space, crossing an unspoken barrier I wasn't supposed. Even though I didn't mean to, I had interfered with the project, taking their attention from their mission while delaying one more frustrating, final push forward. He quickly waved his hand, growing increasingly frustrated and motioned for me to stay in the front. Berating him, she looked angry - there was no time for arguing. I turned away and descended towards the back of the boat. I felt my heat sinking a bit but decided to remain patient. I only needed for the right time to try out my idea. It would come much sooner than I thought. She continued to work on the project until it seemed she reached a turned back towards me and said that she wasn't expecting to find me in such an active state. I didn't understand what had happened and attempted to think of things that could help our situation. She seemed surprised by the strange responses she was receiving and couldn't quite understand what the problem was. She decided to try another approach. Unexpectedly, she walked back toward me, grabbed my the hand and escorted me towards the front of the vessel.

I didn't know what she was trying to accomplish, but I knew she had something important for me to do in mind. She walked around, searching for something until she found what she wanted me to see. It was nearly hidden from sight by the shadows, but she'd successfully located a strange indentation on the bottom of the boat. She knelt down and shook it loose until it snapped upward, revealing a small metal handle. Taking it and pushing it towards the right, it loosened immediately. She pulled it upwards until the false board popped open to reveal a hidden compartment. I looked at it closely, and it looked to undisturbed by the storms surrounding it. She stood back and motioned for me to join her, inviting me to open it. I was nervous and didn't know what to expect. The other figure had walked closer in the interim, and was watching us now. I removed the lid and took deep breath. I was quite surprised and it took me a moment to figure out what was inside. It hesitated for moment, not completely sure if I was supposed to have been the right one. I looked at her thinking there might have been some mistake but she seemed relieved that I had found it. I carefully took the machine out of its hiding place and held it in my hand. Examining it closely, it seemed to be a little smaller than the ones they used, and its single dial was placed towards the side making it easier for me to spin. It seemed like it had been created especially for my use. Its shape fitting me exactly. I was surprised that its construction seemed to be perfectly suited size for me. I held it in my hand, and it seemed to slowly assimilate to me, quickly bonding with my fingers and hands until it felt like it had belonged to me forever.

He cautiously moved closer towards us and watched closely, nodding in a strange unspoken understanding. He looked as I held the device and tried swinging it around, attempting to mimic the moves they performed earlier. I aimed at the sky and crossed it through the same paths they had made. I didn't get much of a result from my efforts, but I didn't mind. I felt its energy building as I held it, transferring a bit of myself into it while it reinforced my strengths in return. After a few minutes of cautious experimentation, I got caught up in the excitement. I began spinning it around and aiming it in all directions, crossing the skies with random, chaotic beams of light clashing and battling with each other across the horizon. She noticed my lack of control and quickly grabbed my hand, and warned me not to get carried away. I took a deep breath and held back a little bit, tracing across the skies carefully, I watched the lines close in on each other and build strange patterns, unexpectedly. They seemed to react in ways I didn't anticipate and didn't want to throw them off. They began to build into more complex shapes and forms, building on each other's design. I waited for a few moments to be sure they were stable and tried to make more complicated forms, trying not to get too far ahead of myself. As I anticipated, they weren't as stable as the earlier designs and would quickly dissolve, evaporating back into the air.

I tried several times to achieve a fraction of what they created. I carefully looked over the horizon, looking for a safe spot that they might have missed. Nothing really held together. I didn't find anything initially, but kept on going. trying to keep up with the machine's pace. I took a few simple readings to get the hang of things but there wasn't much of a response for me, either. I played around with it for awhile until I became a bit frustrated by things. I decided that perhaps I wasn't using its functions properly. I scanned around the edges of the atmosphere, hoping that something might turn up. She watched me the entire time and observed my attempts carefully, making sure not to get in my way while hoping I didn't mess up. My lines seemed to wander aimlessly, pointing nowhere while I adjusted its position and intensity to little effect. I glanced around after a few minutes and tried to figure out if there was something that might have been overlooked.

I looked at the back of the boat and saw nothing, while the front revealed nothing. After searching patiently in every direction, I decided to look upward. That's when a solution arrived that didn't seem nearly as complex as it could have been. During the storm, the vessel's sails had come unwrapped and unfurled above us. The stretched out above us, creating a strange canopy. They combined to form a continuous surface, laying out huge swaths of empty canvas, flowing elegantly in the wind. This sight could have been intimidating but I saw the opportunity it presented immediately. It seemed like they had been waiting for me the entire time. So much time had been spent trying to engage the entirety of the skies when a simpler solution was hiding in plain sight. I took a step back, and decided to take a chance. We were stranded in the middle of the ocean with no means of escape. There was nothing more for us to lose.

I'd waited patiently for that moment to arrive and didn't hesitate. I took a deep breath, gripped the machine firmly and aimed it directly at the billowing canvas. I turned the dial all the way until its was indicating due north. It pressed it down and aimed it directly at the center of the largest sail. There was an instant reaction, the light hit the sails and began radiating an intense burst of multicolored-light. It seemed irrational and uncontrollable at first, but I was able to quickly narrow its focus until it created a single sharp line. The sails responded to the adjustment almost immediately. They began the fill with renewed purpose. They began flowing and shifting reacting with intensity. This created a strong gust that propelled us forward at a great velocity. The boat came to life quickly and we began speeding across the surface in a deliberate direction. I watched the navigator step away from the controls and sit down, deciding not to fight and enjoy the ride. I stood back and felt a strange momentum building quickly, the ocean currents gushing under our feet.

The ship resumed its forward motion, continuing an unrelenting journey forward and we moved quickly towards the horizon. She took out her machine and resumed tracing our path forward, projecting our route onto the clouds. I looked at her and she was seemed pleased, almost happily so, with my haphazard solution and its irregular lines. We were making substantial progress towards the horizon. We seemed to have gotten away from the storm and escaped the intractable situation that followed. It was an unconventional idea that almost fell short, but somehow managed to succeed and propelled us outward. The boat rushed forward, jumping through the waves and slicing lines that seemed to chop any resistance to disjointed, ineffective pieces. I was surprised that such an unconventional technique had managed to succeed despite the adverse conditions.

The sea had managed to swallow up any remaining doubt, washing away any lingering residue without too much effort. She looked towards the newly promising horizon and waved her machine upwards, scanning the atmosphere for any lingering danger. She didn't find anything waiting for us and seemed to relax when she realized that there weren't any malevolent impositions hiding behind the clouds. Her eyes glanced back towards my direction, seemingly pleased with our shared progress, though somewhat muted by the danger we faced. I'd been patient and observant, while learning techniques and solutions that would be useful in unhook a short walk and finally took my place, standing towards the front of the boat just behind their positions, placing myself within range of approaching their space. It was an arduous journey but when I felt the clean ocean breeze flow over me, I knew it had been worth the trouble.

- Michael Palisano