The Laser Fiction - A Reticent Constellation









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



A Reticent Constellation

Walking over the uneven surface, my mind wandered back over the preceding minutes. The process began tentatively because I wasn't entirely confident my skills were up to the task. It wasn't entirely obvious what she expected from me. Standing back, she allowed me flexibility without direction. I waited for an extended period before deciding which path to undertake. It took several attempts before getting up to the mechanics, but there was noticeable improvement when I attained proficiency. I wasn't entirely enamored of the finished project, its flawed extremities seemed to grow increasingly obvious the longer I looked at its disjointed surface. She appeared satisfied that I'd accomplished an indeterminate objective, but quietly maintained her remote approach. Numerous inconsistencies further tempered the resulting junctures, making its uneven quality apparent with even a cursory exposition.

I waited for further elaboration to flow outward from the inner depths, but I encountered an intractable stalemate, nothing significant or noticeable occurred despite my pronounced efforts. She waited alongside me, immersed in its intricate layers, following carefully. Progress stopped suddenly without warning, then never resumed to any significant degree. Quickly acknowledging my frustrated dejection after reaching a certain point, her response wasn't anticipated. She didn't offer the expected encouragement; her silence instigated uneasy calm. I looked in her direction, awaiting advice, but she didn't offer blithe words. Instead, she waved her hand across it surface, indicating that we'd expended enough time and energy in this pursuit.

Its elaborate creation had taken enough of our time and energy. We needed to train our attention elsewhere. Turning effortlessly towards the north, she began walking across the sporadically punctured surface. Slowly maneuvering across the surface, it appeared that she was hopping up and down, but this was the result of sudden changes in the elevation of the interconnected, intractably-combined, thick metal plates. I followed suit, attempting to forge a secure path while simultaneously examining the steel, metallic surface. They were strangely uniform in texture and composition, a seemingly endless sprawl of grey slate. Their odd sections pinched the surface, appearing without warning, then jutting in harsh directions with no apparent pattern or reason. There were strange echoes that emanated from the surface when we stepped on it too strongly. Knowing the delicate surface couldn't be fully-anticipated, we moved carefully across its surface which slowed progress significantly. Its inherent, disorganization and unpredictability made it difficult to measure and hard for us to gain momentum, causing us to move at a deliberate pace that was noticeably slower than our previous excursions.

Her tentative steps were measured by inches, not feet. It appeared that she was shuffling forward at a deliberately defensive yet unrelenting pace. The structures intersected with each other, their formations collided and looked like they were almost torn apart at the seams. The sharp edges and unvarnished surfaces would have dissuaded most from venturing further into the surroundings. She wasn't fazed by this and seemed to find a welcome its impediments. Instead of gliding over its surface lazily, I saw her feet maneuvering with surprising dexterity, navigating the uneven altitudes and portions at a steady rate. Following behind her was difficult initially, but I was able to manage to take her lead, which allowed me to move forward in the correct direction for the most part. The surface maintained its sharply-angled entanglements and didn't appear to let up. It appeared to structure in a heavily-mannered, chaotic form that wasn't easily traversable purposefully.

She recognized this counter-intuitive aspect of the surroundings before I did, which allowed her to anticipate its innumerable divergences without becoming discouraged. The landscape unfolding before us was relentless, but we maintained our focus for quite some time, darting over the convergent, surfaces and uneven pivots. She moved ahead carefully, but consistently. Despite lacking cartographic assistance, she was able to traverse its disconcertingly connected sections in stride. It wasn't clear how much time had passed, but as I looked up, it seemed that the light had intensified without warming the atmosphere. I looked down and saw my shadows lengthen but they weren't nearly as dark. I wondered what her objective might have entailed, but her focus trained completely on the immediate surroundings, there wasn't enough time to explain. I watched her trailing figure with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. There wasn't a tangible explanation but her steady determination offered reassurance.

Stretching into seeming eternity, the convergent sections appeared to go on forever. It was difficult for me to make sense of the situation but she remained unfazed. Her focus undiminished, she didn't hesitate to mark the path ahead, seldom looking back in my direction. Instinctively following in her footsteps, I kept a fairly good pace and was able to move across the uneven surface without dwelling on the individual partitions and getting distracted by their inscrutable forms. She managed to walk ahead for an extended period without any signs of growing tired or frustrated. It appeared that she had an over-riding mission that superseded any of the minor inconveniences and discomforts we faced. It seemed that the brighter light had reinvigorated her, the added visualizations made navigating the endless pointed-plates, sharp edges and unyielding ground slightly easier.

She increased her momentum with an added resilience, and began moving ahead with increased confidence. I remained cautious and found myself slipping back behind her pace until she was noticeably farther ahead. After carefully navigating the surface, I encountered an unexpectedly subtle but welcome respite. Once reaching that remote point, I paused falling further behind and looked backward over the distance in order to estimate and take a measure. I guessed that we'd travelled about a dozen treacherous miles over the assemblages, but couldn't be precisely sure. I wasn't impetuous enough to risk falling or tripping, the surroundings were too dangerous. While the thinner, brighter air made the atmosphere seem less threatening, there was residual trepidation. It was difficult to disengage my inner defenses when the surface itself appeared resistant to us simply walking over it's slanted surface.

I walked patiently behind her for an extended period, despite a lack of indications of what her purpose might be. She moved further ahead of me and without realizing it, she had taken a long lead without missing a step. It seemed that she wasn't going to wait for me. Deciding to release some of my lingering fear, I began walking at a faster pace, attempting to close the expanse without creating excessive risk or clumsiness. It made me nervous, but I saw her moving ahead with increasing speed. As I walked ahead, I noticed the lines and fissures under my feet had become less pronounced. There was a greater distance between the ruptures, which made it noticeably easier to navigate the surface. This increased rate of speed allowed me to come back into alignment. Sprinting ahead, then almost running, my reinvigorated steps were able to collapse the extensive divide between our positions quickly. It didn't take long until I was roughly the same length behind her location as I'd been earlier. At this point, I'd grown weary and took a brief respite, slowing down to resume a languid, relaxed walk.

Allowing myself a tentative disengagement seemed appropriate, and I remained engaged to the surroundings. Wandering a bit off-course, I walked slowly towards the east, embarking on a quick divergence to see if there was any foreshadowing of what was to come. Walking in a somewhat disconnected line, I approached the surrounding area without the same level of trepidation. Looking around revealed intricate layers and elaborate formations away from the narrow path she forged for me. I walked carefully on the tilted plates, trying not to disrupt their odd balance; protecting them by not standing on one of them for too long, while keeping enough focus that would hopefully bring some insight. I walked over the hard-surfaces with a greater sense of appreciation, thankful that she'd allowed me at least a temporary window of freedom. Taking advantage wasn't terribly difficult, I was able to keep at least some restraint and didn't diverge too far from the path. I looked at the askew plates and surfaces, clashing and clasping in strangely alternating patterns.

Attempting to make some kind of pattern, or understand their residing purpose would be an impossible task given their limited scope. I couldn't see beneath them, or beyond their uneven borders. Only the visible surface could be seen, and the random boundaries offered few indicators. Instead of dwelling on their inner mystery, I decided to take a more productive angle. I walked a few paces and decided to jump over the disconnected pieces. My first few attempts weren't as precise as I would have liked, but I was able to gradually make progress, successfully dodging the partitioned lines, leaping slightly and in a subsequent position on their flat surfaces between. This increased speed and momentum made the excursion immeasurably easier while the low heights and compact structure offered little resistance. The hard surfaces didn't buckle or give way to my pressure, and the resolute strength they displayed gave me added confidence that I wouldn't break them, so long as I didn't overdo things, remaining safely inside expectations, leaping ahead with respectful velocity.

I was making what felt like significant progress and momentum, covering a lot of ground but not uncloaking much of the hidden mysteries lying beneath the surface. I had no tools or desire to dig deeper beneath my feet and instead stayed focused on the immediate surroundings. Deciding not to move heedlessly proved to be a smart idea, since I encountered larger, deeper gashes in the surface as I drew further away from the main road. These quickly grew too large to jump over and it quickly became apparent that I wouldn't get much further without endangering myself or the mission. I decided to pause for a minute and looked up towards the skies. The resulting wave of solid blue completely overwhelmed the residual night skies, causing the remaining shimmers of scattered stars to vanish beneath the brightened atmosphere. I turned back in her direction and while it wasn't obvious at first, something unexpected had occurred. It wasn't obvious at first, but it seemed that she'd stopped and was standing in place without explanation. I knew something had occurred, but couldn't quite understand what it could have encompassed.

Quickly navigating back onto the main path, after several recalcitrant minutes spent retracing my steps, I eventually found myself standing resolutely alongside her. My eyes clandestinely, yet expectantly peering ahead while carefully maintaining a remote position just in case, leaving ample space in her wake. I tried to change angles, couldn't see exactly what blocked her. She stood directly in front of the object, almost entirely putting it out of reach. Taking a few steps closer, I was able to peek around her location and was surprised what we confronted. It appeared that she was staring at a short, implacable object completely blocking the path beyond, which offered no visible route to walk around its docile persecution.

She wasn't worried by the obstruction and conversely seemed relieved by its appearance. Contrary to my expectations, it appeared not to be a deterrent, but a destination. Walking closer, I realized what the object represented. Shorter and more confined than expected, it surprised me with its purposeful construction. Quickly realizing that the container was actually a kind of box located in an unobtrusive location, placed of the way and difficult to find. We could have easily over-looked it or walked right by without noticing the diminutive form. It appeared to be a small block of rock, its crown barely rising breaching the surface. Luckily, she managed to spot it out of the corner of her eye, and went straight towards the location without hesitation. It had taken her a surprisingly long time to locate its exact place, but she appeared satisfied that the effort would prove worthwhile. As we drew closer, its purpose and function clarified. It wasn't accidental in approach, but it remained unclear what it contained. The locked box didn't reveal its secrets and consisted of a series of latches. This would have intimidated other travellers but she wasn't thrown off course. I wasn't surprised that she was able to open them quickly and methodically. She managed to work through these methodically until there was a loud clasping noise, followed by the unlocking of an inner construct. Finally, the door clicked a measure of inches outward until it dangled at a slight angle, its edges slipping outward.

Waiting behind her using an inherent remove, I watched cautiously during the process, careful not to intrude on her progress. She managed to open the door and it seemed to be the right dimension and style but there didn't appear to be any indication of what she was searching for within its dimensions. She walked towards the door and pulled it further ajar until it was nearly half-way open. I took a few steps ahead and stood just behind her in order to achieve a better look. Haltingly, she told me to stand back and took a step before reaching inward. She appeared to find something and pulled it out. I was surprised that there was another canvas. Furthermore, it had been filled with what appeared to be an elaborate construction. It was initially unclear what it might have been attempting to convey. There was a strange assemblage of somewhat abstract objects on its surface, arranged in strange configurations, unlabeled without elaboration. She held it up towards the light sun and the unframed picture appeared to transform. Previously invisible objects appeared on it surface under direct illumination. These additions marked a noticeable change that brought a distinctively purposeful form to the previously disjointed objects.
As the light drew in, the painting's true purpose gradually emerged. Withdrawing its defenses quickly, it appeared to be an elaborate map but of what specific area it might have encompassed still wasn't clear. Walking closer, it appeared to be an elaborate chart, marking the positions of the surrounding stars. It seemed to be an outline, roughly building the immediate surroundings into a sketched, unfinished approximation of a tentative astronomic chart. The constellations seemed strangely unfamiliar, their positions and locations scrambled in direction of untoward standards, expanding erratically without measuring concrete distance and circling within uneven directions. Inconsistent with expected approaches. I wasn't sure what the reason for these altered positions might be. I attempted to look above but, the bright sun blotted out any residual stars, there was nothing for me to compare its strange constellations with. It appeared the stars had been painted almost randomly, without purpose or direction. Glancing over in her direction, this inconsistency didn't seem to shake her resolve. Instead, she appeared intrigued by the painting's apparent determination, unbowed by the usual constraints. Whether this was the result of constrained time or lack of focus was unknown.

Stepping closer, I noticed that the painting was unsigned, and the resulting contradictory, largely untraceable paths seemed to imply its composer intended to remain hidden, its routes remaining largely unknown. I watched her survey the painting where the edges converged and followed its intangible paths through the outer-reaches of the skies without comprehending how exactly we'd be able to follow them. She didn't appear unsettled by the lack of direction and determined there was enough promising to explore further, going further into the stony compartment. She placed the initial painting on the surface, standing upward against the building.

Venturing inside, her hands retrieved additional paintings and sketches. More interested in the accumulation she placed them rapidly in rough order, creating a succession of interconnected drawings. The quickly converged to form what appeared to be an elaborate chart. Extracting them in groups, she placed them alongside each other until they formed a large stack of seemingly interconnected pictures, which might have converged to form a more complete survey of the interstellar surroundings, or perhaps a strangely fanciful illustration. It wasn't completely clear whether these conflicting approaches were correct. She took additional paintings from the container's protection, until it appeared she had collected all of them. Waiting for further elaboration, I was disappointed that nothing more was visible, just a dark recess that revealed nothing. Looking carefully, there weren't any tools to we could use, it seemed further cartography and additional mapping would have to be done internally.

Watching her carefully sort through the haphazardly arranged drawings and illustrations with trepidation. The painted works looked like they should remain private, despite the compositions rendering open skies and constellations. She didn't appear worried about these quandaries and continued searching, her tactical examinations and hasty determinations unclouded by opaque motivations. Assuredly taking the measure of each in her hand and dispatching the majority of them quickly, I couldn't see a defined pattern emerge. Unlike the structured, deliberate sequences she'd created, these didn't resemble maps or charts, instead encompassing a seemingly random arrangement of stars and figures. Smudged across the canvas, they appeared indistinct, unfocused. I couldn't male out some of the objects. I wondered if these might have been early drafts or whether their lack of precision might have been purposeful obfuscation.

Her attention resolved around discharging the illustrations systematically and she'd resolved herself to maintain a consistent approach for the duration. I observed her eyes which were decisive, undistracted by the undulating and distractions inherent in the pronounced, quietly DE saturated surroundings. She had an unnatural intensity that allowed her to dispatch the entangled, focusing her attention on the more tangible aspects of the paintings. The dim sunlight detracted color from the canvases, which made organizing them into any coherent order or form a difficult task. This impediment only seemed to increase her resolve, nothing seemed to interfere with her intrinsic gaze. I watched from a respectful angle while she worked tirelessly to form the basis of coherent explanation. Her focus sharpened to a resolute form when she attempted to determine justifications for her unyielding exploration. Unbowed and somewhat recalcitrant, her approach to her mission was simultaneously grounded and defiant, she looked askance at some of the pictures, apparently finding them lacking detail.

She further scanned the paintings in order to uncover further insight. This revealed hidden deficiencies in style and insight that weren't immediately visible. This became frustrating after occurring frequently, but she worked tirelessly to sort through the lesser examples. She found herself ahead of the pace, intuitively anticipating the next formation before it appeared in front of her. This consistently thorough approach allowed her to measure and engage, making unexpected connections from their collective design without consternation and time-consuming complexities.

Her silent, unflinching approach and demonstrably effective techniques weren't immediately apparent, but they were efficient. She waded patiently through the canvases, placing them in piles indicative of their relative utility, importance and relevant. This allowed her to discard the excessively elaborate, yet unfocused renders, smudged messes and partial sketches without delay. They seemed similar to one another, rendering the skies above in a plain, unvarnished manner. She didn't dwell on their less significant aspects and skipped over a surprising number of them without comment, throwing them on the discard pile quickly before moving onto the next painting or illustration. The portfolio appeared to veer into different materials, techniques, styles and meanings without reason. One possible explanation was that there might have been a deficit of materials and their creator had to mark the surface with whatever was close at hand. Many of the paintings appeared to have been hastily assembled in piles where no attempt was made to sort the various drawings. However, there was an odd consistency and unified appearance despite the lack of organization. It was quickly apparent that most, perhaps all, of those varied pieces were created by from the same hand.

However, we couldn't figure out who could have painted the elaborate illustrations, or what their purpose might be. There was no signature visible and the inconsistent approach made it difficult to assign a known artist to the pieces. Attempting to draw connections between the inconsistent determinations was an impossible task. Repeated inquiries yielded little insight into who exactly might have been responsible. She appeared unconcerned and instead continued searching for a specific picture in the assemblage instead. She worked quickly, viewing then dispatching the varied work to little affect. She maintained a good pace until she had gotten through most of it and finally reached the last few pictures until coming across something that appeared insignificant. The front was almost completely blank, with only a few minor markings on the front. This particular rendering might have been easily overlooked near the bottom of the pile. I watched her examine the dispersed remnants carefully, while intently looking for a depiction of a specific constellation, but she had a different objective.
That deceptively consequential painting was rather small, and its nondescript size and function wasn't promising. It didn't seem she'd located her quarry, despite our elaborate, time-consuming and somewhat exhausting efforts. Appearing frustrated, she pensively seemed to give up. In one last desperate act, she turned the mostly-empty canvas over. Without warning, her hands shook and she nearly dropped it. I couldn't see what she did, but she appeared somewhat startled, nearly gasping. From that distant angle, I couldn't process what might have appeared within its borders but the unexpectedly malevolent illustration stopped her progress instantaneously and completely.

Carefully walking towards the painting, I stopped cold. My feet completely froze about a dozen steps behind her position. I stopped and gazed intently, observing the forlorn object with increasing trepidation. She picked it up from the ground and held it upward, taking a second, longer look at the canvas. I walked several steps closer when something unexpected appeared, that I couldn't anticipate. It appeared that she hadn't foreseen the painting's contents, either. She couldn't rush past it, and throw it back on there ground. It appeared that she wanted to, and as I drew closer the reasons became clearer. She didn't initially recognize the undetailed outlines until it was too late to conceal them from my eyes. I still wasn't sure exactly what it might entail. I maneuvered several tentative steps closer. Looking in her direction revealed an unlikely combination of fear and resolve. It appeared that the intractable, conflicting approaches were reinforcing one another, their contradictions attempting to forge a coherent resolution.

Immediately recognizing the intimidating circumstance wasn't anticipated, I needed to adjust expectations and construct a response almost immediately without leaning on her for much assistance. There were visible indications through her defensive posture but I had to look closely in order to decipher the scattered appearance of intangible deficiencies. She attempted to remain outwardly calm, but her hands were visibly shaking. This undermined the unfailing confidence she exuded to some degree, but only temporarily. She quickly resolved her doubts, regained her bearings and made a determined effort to resume the mission. Her posture still revealed mixed emotions, alternating between unarticulated anxiety and defiant determination.

There was abundant uneasiness alongside the need to confront something significant yet decidedly unpleasant. It quickly became obvious that this diverged from the expected series, it was a discordant painting. Even from that angle, It appeared to be clearer and elaborately defined. The canvas was significantly more detailed and I ventured towards the object with increasing reluctance. I was curious as to what it might contain, but her uneasiness made me afraid to find out. This certainly wasn't an undefined picture of the surrounding star fields and constellations. The unusual illustration didn't resemble what I encountered earlier, but exactly what it aspired to represent remained unclear.

Each nervous step closer towards her position revealed what had unexpectedly taken form. This inexorably drew me inexorably towards an involuntarily increased defensive engagement immediately. Unsettled by the outlines, I proceeded somewhat nervously. Walking several reticent steps closer, I measured my steps carefully until I was right behind her position. Attempting to gain a better look was frustrating, I was still just a few steps out of tangible range. She seemed to become uneasily defensive in disposition, with undiminished determination. I remained unsure how to proceed and walked closer with increasing trepidation. Something had come to the surface, it wasn't immediately clear exactly what it might have been revealed, but it appeared to grow increasingly prominent when I drew closer. There was a sudden shift as the discordant composition expanded in scope, overwhelming and discharging the surrounding paintings effortlessly.

After retracing my steps inward, then taking circular patterns and making little progress, I managed to transcend the unseen impediments by forsaking my excessively cautious demeanor to follow a more practical approach. It took several minutes before I was able to break out of the recurring cycle. I struggled across the uneven terrain, but remained undaunted by its obstacles. Consistent motions began to unravel the tangled blockade ahead. It required unexpected exertion but was worth pursuing. Once regaining momentum, it wasn't long until I stood alongside her position again, this time with an unobstructed viewpoint. I couldn't anticipate the entanglements that followed. Any sense of accomplishment quickly submerged beneath the resulting degradations overflowing from an unlikely source.

I found myself vulnerable, disoriented and, unprepared for the ferocious intrusion brought to life with enmity. The intimidating visage was shockingly accurate with redolent, yet menacing details infused with relentless unfettered anger. Its angry eyes conveyed rage that was immediately familiar. Unlike the blurry, somewhat erratic star fields that appeared in the preceding paintings, that rendering was in this one was robust, evincing an unrelenting anger just beneath its surface. A recalcitrant, unsettling figure leapt off the canvas with determined fury. Its sharp claws created an unforgettable sight, neatly coiled in ordered rows, ready to spring without warning. Its piercing eyes signaled a deliberately malignant intent. The menacing form was ready to pounce at the slightest provocation, instantly without remorse.

Its unrelenting force brought forth by the clandestine artist's terrifyingly sharp brush strokes and temperamental detail. I recognized its sharp, menacing claws, steely eyes and, endless rows of sharp molars instantly. Within seconds, I felt myself lurching backward several inches defensively without thinking. My involuntary defense delivered imperceptible results, the remote position offered pensively nonexistent relief. There was no mistaking what it represented. An immediate chill raced down my spine until I felt my legs freeze from the lingering dread. It remained unclear who was behind the painting but the resulting apparition was unnerving. The seemingly fanciful illustration created an unmistakable reality. Someone else had encountered one of the malicious creatures.

- Michael Palisano