The Laser Fiction - The Recalcitrant Vestibule









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



The Recalcitrant Vestibule

Awaiting her narrowly focused, yet expansively targeted examination of the surrounding stars was invigorating and resolute in theory but deceptively unnerving in practice. She maintained a complicated balance of rigorous and systemic exploration alongside serendipitous instinctive discovery, achieved with a vastly more assured level of effectiveness and competence than I could hope to command. She had a manner that was simultaneously steadfast and unplanned. Her eyes scanned the clandestine surfaces and traced the hidden lines, going back and forth seemingly at random, while maintaining an uninterrupted forbearance that I found difficult, if not impossible to anticipate. After several attempts at marking her maneuvers for signs of her conjoining objectives, it became apparent that her methodologies were intrinsically oblique; she was unwilling to elaborate on her unarticulated system any further.

Her inquisitive disposition was manifestly unflinching and defiantly resisted my inadequate predictive attempts. Instinctively, she'd avoided any significant mistakes but explaining her motivations and circumstances in more detail would've been counter-productive. Her magnificently obtuse arrays made sense, but only converged within her analytic imagination. I was welcome to observe, but not to inquire any further. There was a carefully maintained level of confidence that I knew better to interfere with. Despite several disjointed occurrences, utterly beyond reason or comprehension, there was no discernible reason for me to distrust her motivation. The intractable, unresponsive machine was firmly ensconced within a steadfastly concealed position but its assistance wasn't necessary. Mitigating its absence, she effortlessly managed to survey the distant surroundings with surprising efficiency, and quickly dispatched lesser possibilities in favor of more promising eventualities.
I watched her methodically summon her appointed queries without the slightest hesitation. She carefully evaluated their promises and faults in a broad sense; quickly resolving emerging confrontations from the untold multitude of constellations above until a finite group endured; their mute voices somehow loudest among many silent entreaties. It was a staggering task but she was able to perform a universe's worth of comprehensive evaluation and qualitative juxtaposition inherent without straining from their combined pressure. Massive sections of the visible starscape seemed to vanish and fell into the vast night quickly, leaving only broad directives highlighted; meeting her qualifications was jarringly difficult. She spent some time organizing her final set of deliberations. She began carefully placing their meticulously arranged laudatory elements against potentially dangerous entanglements. This created a complex, sporadically onerous task. Observing her closely while maintaining an appropriate remove allowed me some leeway where I could partially ascertain what exactly her esoteric approach entailed.

She finally, somewhat reluctantly, involved me just before arriving at the conclusion, almost dismissively asking what I thought. I remained a few steps away at first, but cautiously walked closer, then compulsively followed her lead without expressing any significant doubt. Without question, I nodded affirmatively and agreed instantaneously on completing the excursion towards the objective. We eventually acquired enough resolve to affirm and conclude the selection process. She pulled out the machine, and used its remaining residual power effectively. Not wasting a second, it responded instantly to her movements without delay. Highlighting the sole remaining objective with a wave of her machine, the newly-targeted location glowed a pronounced shade of blue, blinking sporadically to emphasize its relentless determination and unassailable predominance.

Without explanation, she stood back a few paces and built a strange doorway of the type we hadn't encountered before. Locked in place, its doorway was open, but it didn't seem to be as stable as the ones we'd walked through. Instead, it looked unstable, like it could collapse without warning. She sprinted towards the door but I moved towards it with great hesitation, not especially confident of its safety. Attempting to ascertain its functionality was a fruitless task, one that I needed some assistance in detangling. She partially obliged, giving me a fractious glimpse into her approach. She carefully explained that the machine wasn't completely functional, its energies unfulfilled, with little recourse available, given its distance and entanglements from the nearest watch point. She came a step closer and moved the machine across the sky, demonstrating that its residual energy wouldn't be enough to carry out the task of completing the energy field. We could manage to slip through, but we'd have to act quickly and carefully, maintaining a low profile and wait for the right sector to show up until we reached a more promising location where we'd restore the machine's assembled energies and resurrect its accompanying force-fields.

She began walking towards the ethereal doorway, but I stood back and watched from a careful remove. Noticing my reluctance, she waved me onward confidently motioning for me to walk ahead. Standing in place cautiously, it would take a bit more convincing for me to feel secure following her path. Now turned around completely in my direction, she wasn't going to allow herself to take all the risk. Unexpectedly. she walked close enough and grabbed my wrist, yanking me out of position until I was standing at her side. She told me to walk ahead, there was no time for us to become overly cautious. I decided, after my residual indetermination evaporated, that she was correct. Walking directly towards the doorway, I noticed that tears and rips were beginning to appear on its left side, growing in proportion with each step, they quickly enlarged until it was barely holding itself together. We found ourselves at its periphery, only a step outside its rapidly diminishing frontier, and stopped momentarily. The bright light it had only recently given off had become diffused with dark patched that began to form a kind of barrier we needed to step around in order to pass through.

I was significantly smaller and weaker than she was but found myself moving ahead at a consistent rate. I found myself carefully navigating past the sporadic yet increasingly prominent and dangerous black splotches until I was standing inside a temporary sheathing. The remaining light gave off enough stable energy that I was able to take a quick look behind and noticed that she had quickly sprinted until she was standing beside me, awaiting my next move. I looked at each side and quickly ascertained that the most-promising path forward lay directly ahead of us. I looked at her and she nodded in assent, and we walked ahead deeper into the portal. I looked back briefly and saw that the doorway we'd passed through minutes earlier had begun to decay further, the black spots had entered the final stages of consuming the doorway completely. She retained her cautious disposition; we'd managed to get through the portal just in time, but there was still a significant distance ahead to traverse.

Expecting things to go quickly was probably not a good idea. I walked slowly through the brightly-lit interregnum proficiently enough. Attempting to keep a relatively straight-line throughout proved more difficult than I expected, the ground wasn't as steady or clean as I'd encountered during our previous transitions. She seemed to take her time navigating the uneven surface, trying not to stumble along the way from the pervasive sense of instability. After a period of stymied procession, I decided that it would be better to move in tandem with her, neither getting too far ahead or falling behind. We walked in rough parallel for the remainder of the extension. She managed to move at a steadier clip as we went further into the paradoxically deserted, yet simultaneously cluttered expanse. I tried to mark progress, but there was little for me to use as an indicator. There were no signs of progression to implement, and the near-silence that accompanied us was only interrupted sporadically by occasionally forceful footsteps. Inherent to our approach, a quiet deliberation informed our sense of direction. We attempted to stay on a narrow path but found it difficult to maintain significant or consistent momentum without a tangible manner that could assist in measuring distance or length. After all that happened, I trusted her implicitly but lacked confidence in our surroundings.

I looked at her insistently. But received little reassurance. She looked forlorn, like she was stranded out there. This definitely wasn't familiar territory for her, and she became momentarily indecisive as to her next move. I found myself growing fatigued by the long length and lack of an end-point to our journey. I'd somehow kept a small reserve of energy with enough strength to continue onward, but found myself becoming increasingly wary from the unsubstantiated anxiety the fraught circumstances surfaced. Sensing my wariness and pending exhaustion. she took the lead with a firmer grip. This allowed me to hold back. standing on the fringe of her eminence giving her a chance to survey the surroundings unobstructed. Welcoming this respite from my questioning and distracting manner, she more fully committed to the task in front of her. I watched stop suddenly, without consulting. This pause allowed her take the measure of the environment, contemplate where she wanted to resume, eventually moving ahead without hesitation.

I couldn't measure how far exactly we'd travelled and couldn't measure how long it had taken, but knew by the soreness in my feet and the changed direction of the ambient light, that it had been quite some time. A process that might have taken at most a few seconds previously, had now become an extensive hike, taking at least an hour. The weakened condition of her occasionally luminous, now marginally dormant machine meant we had to take on an unanticipated, consistently arduous route. This alternate-approach required a magnitude greater level of endurance and a steady persistence than I wasn't typically accustomed to expending. She didn't seem to mind the added exertion.

I paused for a second and closed my eyes. I needed to disseminate the new-found facts and attempted to reconcile my experience to that point with some bizarre suppositions that didn't consistently make logical sense. The more I thought about our strangely convergent circumstances, it appeared increasingly likely that she might have known more than she appeared to. Perhaps, she had reconciled herself to going through what amounted to an extended practice session to reinforce basic techniques that might have atrophied. Maybe it didn't matter as much if the danger we faced was actually imminent or a product of our imagination.

It appeared our stranded disposition wasn't quite as forlorn as it appeared. I watched resume walking forward without residual uncertainty gnawing at her feet and impeding her momentum needlessly. It had clearly been awhile but she enjoyed the added challenge. She wasn't caught off-guard by the sudden reversal, instead finding herself invigorated by the reversal in expectations. Through an unlikely combination of serene premonition and unyielding determination, she managed to forge a distinct path; simultaneously invisible and yet objectively inevitable upon closer examination. I didn't anticipate this abrupt change in focus, but she didn't seem entirely surprised by the unexpectedly elaborate advance planning.

The more I thought about it, I became increasingly convinced that someone knew we were coming, what route we took and what we'd find along the way. This appeared to be one explanation, that someone or thing had the entirety already planned, watching serendipitously from afar. Despite our efforts and discoveries, everything seemed, in a flash, to twist from random wandering to knowing what would occur, even before we foraged through the darkness, into the unstable light and made our first step. I looked into her eyes and asked her directly; she didn't respond with an firm answer either way. It seemed that I was either correct, or my wandering mind was just seeing things again. She reiterated that motive, either hers or somebody else's was irrelevant. We needed to concentrate on the task in front of us.

This required a nearly all-encompassing focus to predominate; there wasn't much farther to walk, all we needed to do was follow through on its promise, not diverging from our clearly delineated map by any significant degree. This was especially true given the great distance we'd traveled. The elusive answers I sought would become increasingly obvious, or completely irrelevant in retrospect, our destiny either forged from luck and persistence, or predetermined well in advance Either appease shouldn't materially affect the outcome. This wouldn't matter in the end, what did was where we'd eventually wind up landing. The only aspect not immediately clear was who had decided our path. The unexpectedly long journey represented an unexpected gift for her, instead of having things handed to her instantly. From my perspective, I worried that my increasingly sore feet wouldn't survive much longer.

Unperturbed, she continued walking unabated, maintaining a consistent speed that became increasingly difficult for me to keep up with. She moved forward into the breach without the same degree of uncertainty she displayed earlier, her confidence seemingly reinforced with each step. I found myself slipping farther behind until I was ensconced a good distance from her, I could barely make out her outline, her mysterious outer covering nearly vanishing into the horizon. It took me awhile to work up the courage to yell out something, but I finally managed a rather weak plea; could she please slow down a little. She paused and looked back in my direction, responding with acknowledgement and understanding of the disorienting circumstances and unexpectedly trying encounters that I found myself enduring.

She held back some of her accumulated energy; realizing that I was smaller and weaker than she was. Inherently compassionate, she turned around completely and looked in my direction. Awaiting my efforts bring myself back to pace; she quickly removed her billowing, suffocating outer cloak; it had become obtrusive and was getting in her way. I watched her kneel down and smooth out the thick, dark camouflage layers she'd been hiding under clandestinely. She carefully smoothed its rough edges, folded it up and meticulously placed it inside her satchel; avoiding getting it caught on anything. Standing back up with renewed assurance, she'd become unencumbered instantaneously. I noticed immediately how different she appeared - deceptively powerful, manifestly unyielding and effortlessly resplendent in her unmistakable attire.

By this point, I'd managed to take place just behind her, standing a few steps in back of her position. She seemed to have grown taller, or at least was standing fully straight up. I couldn't see much beyond her towering presence, she seemed to have increased in height as she moved closer towards me. Her looming presence was intimidating, but also reassuring. There was innate strength and perseverance in her disposition, highlighted by her consistently calm expression, she motivated by an unwavering sense of obligation and innate understanding. These elements were inherent to her disposition, and I had no real explanation for her motivation. She seemed to anticipate the unexpected events that caught me off guard better than I ever could. Realizing that the situation appeared dire, she reassured that her presence wasn't going to evaporate, she wasn't going anywhere despite what was occurring in our immediate area. She moved ahead confidentially. I took some time and held back a few paces. I was still uncertain as to what lay ahead and didn't want to take any unnecessary risks that I didn't need to. This made her get too far ahead of me, and she seemed a bit frustrated when she turned around and saw how far I'd fallen behind her.

She paused for a second, then reached up and waved her arms quickly. It was getting a little late, there was no time to waste. She moved a few steps closer back towards me and reiterated her explanations. It took a minute for this surprising approach to sink in. Her insistence seemed to work eventually, motivating me to keep walking onward until I was only a few steps behind, without the same amount of hesitation. At that point, I'd decided not to question her motives or rationale. Instead, maintaining a successful habit of allowing her to lead us through the endless swath, patiently following her lead until we arrived; usually reaching our objective swiftly and securely. She knew that we didn't have forever and couldn't waste time with excessive neuropathy. We had to resume move ahead without delay, she admonished me. I looked back and saw the distant tears and ruptures becoming increasingly prominent. If we stood there too long, there was no telling what might happen if the visible fault-lines on the periphery caught up with us. The surroundings remained bright, but lacked directives.

We had to maintain our determination, regardless if there were any reassuring signs She began moving quickly, nearly sprinting ahead almost skipping and jumping ahead. Her pacing was more deliberate than it had been earlier and I realized that she'd engaged herself with the surroundings in a different way. After several minutes, she began to slow down gradually until she'd stopped in her tracks completely. It didn't seem like she could move forward at all and it wasn't immediately clear what blocked her progress. The unfolding world was uniform white at this point and didn't reveal what it could have been. It was only after I moved closer towards her position and stood at her side that I realized what happened. After traversing an immeasurable distance, we managed to reach what appeared to be a dead-end. There was a solid wall in front of us, with no apparent way through to the other side. There were no doorways or windows; not even scattered gaps that we might slip through. Our search for any hidden writings or symbols was stymied; there were no visible markings on its surface.

We stood in front of the unexpectedly resilient barrier and studiously examined its surface for an extended period. Looking for weak-points while simultaneously attempting to understand its function; discover clues to its origin, gaining insight into its actual purpose. Perhaps, if we were fortunate, measuring its dimensions and demolishing the ensuing constraints, we'd then succeed in unraveling its accumulated defenses. That approach could reveal a path that might subsequently construct a rational escape route for us to follow, allowing us to more easily pass through the daunting arrays of obtuse, rapidly diminishing walls standing astride our tacitly vulnerable position. She took a few steps ahead and got close enough to maneuver her fingers thoroughly, looking for any signal that might emerge as she slid across its non-committal surface. She worked tirelessly, without slowing down; unfortunately discovering nothing tangible despite multiple passes over its disarmingly smooth, sleek surface. If there were any hidden secrets contained within, the harsh blockage and its repulsing manner was determined to conspire against discovery. This approach completely assured that any mysteries contained within remained submerged underneath its innumerable concrete layers.

This presented a severe obstacle that she didn't seem to know how to breach, it became obvious that her usual techniques and methods wouldn't be of much assistance. Examine the wall intently, she looked it over thoroughly, cataloging its few divergent points without locating any switches, buttons or levers. I walked closer and stood directly at her side, and began looking for a solution on my own. There was little to go on, but I wondered whether we'd somehow wound up at an incorrect point. I looked in her direction, this seemed to be a reasonable conclusion, but she nodded against this supposition. We were unquestionably at the right location, what we couldn't locate was something that couldn't be ascertained or verbalized in a traditional sense. She decided that we wouldn't retreat and instead maintain our position. We explained that we could fortify ourselves without budging, building strength unexpectedly through patience and resilience. Her summation made coherent her approach, but I wondered what would occur. We could stand and wait in place, immovable and unbothered for what could have been forever, but it was unclear what end result might entail.

Before realizing what was happening, the disorder had spread until it surrounded us on all sides. There was no way out; we'd fallen into its trap. We spent so much time worrying about what was blocking our forward movement, that we'd largely neglected what was occurring behind us. The resulting effect had been a destabilizing menace that became manifestly inescapable. The shreds, rips and tearing the grew in the atmospheric fabric had grown gradually, almost imperceptibly until it had finally reached our back; expanding the gaping maws of darkness before impending itself to almost completely surround us, blocking us from moving, impossible barriers now stopped us from maneuvering in either direction. We couldn't move ahead and discover new engagements or challenges, nor could we retrace our steps and correct any mistakes we made. There wasn't enough space so even if we managed walking backwards, it might not be enough to do anything good.

Without realizing our mistake we were trapped from both ends without any means of escape. Trapped between a pair of disparate worlds, it appeared that we'd been stranded permanently. Looking around for any clues or reasonable solution from either side didn't offer any reassurance. Both sides of the barrier instead seemed to be conspiring against us, working in tandem, with apparent but unspoken belligerence to aggressively ensure our captivity. It was inarticulate and unspoken; but the provisional fortress was pleased, and took full advantage of our mistake. It was an almost gleeful occurrence for the nascent prison; triumphant in knowing that that we'd remain stymied, held under its sway indefinitely. Marooned in place, we found ourselves unable to move either forward or back in any sense. Its walls unbroken on either side, it mocked our attempts to break through, instead giving just enough transient hope to reinforce our motivation while discernable progress remained frustratingly distant and elusive.

I waited for her advice and direction, but she offered no discernable guidance. She was quiet and still, defiantly unsettling in her pre-emptive calmness. Countering the encroaching danger, she refused to yield to panic. Keeping a firm grasp on the situation, without succumbing to its pressure, she held ground and stood in place stoically. An outwardly hopeless situation didn't result in anger, resentment or sadness on her part, she defied expectations and met the challenge with calmness and serenity, barely budging from her steady position. At this point, I'd grown accustomed to her superlative calmness and unexpected serenity in the face of pending destruction. I waited at her side and watched as the disturbance strengthened relentlessly. Its surface became increasingly diminished, the shattered remnants became increasingly scattered, their sporadic residue falling into the ether.

Observing its dissolving inner walls collapse with an intangible sense of distance, she waited patiently as the fragmented surface spread even further until it began reaching around in front of us. Looking directly ahead, the engorgements and surface cracks became increasingly prominent. They began unavoidably denting, bashing and scratching the surface until they predominated, slowly overcoming the solid exterior until it fell apart with little resistance. Any residual anger or resistance on the part of the barriers dispersed rapidly. As it gave way, the previously impermeable surface weakened significantly. Its unassailable position became predominantly indefensible, losing power with every passing second. The sporadic breaks and ruptures on the increasingly disheveled walls in front of us began to converge and shattered any cohesion, leaving a quickly darkening. yet decidedly more traversable expanse in their wake.

Looking above, gazing towards the skies revealed other significant changes. Different hues of black, blue and green began to appear on the horizon and these contrasting areas made it much easier to navigate. We managed to quickly traverse the circumference, as a steadier, inherently stable path becoming increasingly visible, and profoundly less threatening. I was able to make out objects and occasional dips and bends in the way. Remaining on this modified path was much easier, with a simplified route finally unfolding. Obstacles that were previously impassable shrank in size and deterrence, making them easier to avoid, enabling faster momentum. We responded intuitively depending on the immediate surroundings.

We found ourselves released from self-limiting captivity; no longer held back by fear. We stopped reacting blindly and stumbling through our journey. Forsaking excessive movement to every small defect we'd encounter on the surface we implemented a change in perspective. The increased visibility saved much effort and consequently reserved the majority of our attention for a vastly more important purpose. Auspiciously, the rapid divergence and consequential dissolution of the remaining barrier wall occurred completely independently, without any input or assistance from us. It appeared that she'd been correct in remaining defiantly passive. A function of her inherent strength that allowed events to unfold sequentially without excessive pre-determination on our part. The encroachment had reached near-total collapse, undermined by its own internal pressures. I sensed its dissipated anger but any residual vengeance, inexplicably directed towards us, was no longer sustainable. She only needed a modicum of patience and measured yet consistent endurance to withstand its deceptively malignant confrontation.
I attempted to mimic her, trying to maintain a stoic disposition in order to deflect its tenuous entwinement, but her motions had greater effect. Her inherent distance from the threatening surroundings allowed her to stand patiently and watch objectively, while I remained unsettled and disoriented; notably nervous as the walls collapsed around us. She'd managed to transcend our seemingly untenable circumstance, confidently awaiting the counter-intuitive process where they'd break apart. I watched cautiously as they surrendered of their own accord without putting up any viable resistance. It seemed strange that she was able to break through the walls without doing anything, but she knew its weakness resulted from its over-confidence.

This didn't seem like an entirely efficient approach, but it effectively separated us from an imminently dangerous situation. We looked beyond the parameters, which assisted greatly in preventing us from becoming permanently surrounded inside the threatening vestibule. Successfully defeating our entrapment, she breached the barriers without resorting to wasting energy on needlessly aggressive tactics; out-maneuvering the encircling walls wasn't her predominant focus. The previously impassible structures gradually transformed into rubble. This resulted in leaving only a minor hindrance behind that we'd effortlessly skip over. As the last vestiges scattered into the ground, collapsing into irrelevance, attention turned to our immediate surroundings, that had become inexorably altered. They took on a manifestly different form. The parameters of our subsequent exploration gradually emerged from the debris. I couldn't anticipate that the environment and objective that encompassed our secondary mission's mysterious expanse wouldn't resemble what I expected in any tangible form.

(Continue to Part Two)