The Laser Fiction - An Unyielding Approach (Part Two)

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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 


Fiction



An Unyielding Approach
(Part two)


Despite the unforseeable situation we found ourselves in, I still expected to encounter an island of some kind. It was confirmed that that some portion of my hypotheis was partially correct. What I couldn't anticipate was the how intensely it had been built up. Instead of encountering clusters of trees, as in earlier forays, there were rows of buildings, intensely layered together. Most were single-story, compressed in small, neat rows. Narrow spaces were evident between them, even at that great distance. It was unclear whether these represented streets or sidewalks, the distance made it difficult to ascertain.

Another factor that remained shrouded by the darkness was the number and density of inhabitants. We couldn't see anyone or anything moving around. There were no signs of lights or lamps. The night sky still predominated. It wasn't immediately obvious whether anyone at all even resided on the island, it might as well have been abandonded. We had no way of knowing from that distance. The reasons and circumstances behind its destitution remained hidden, and wouldn't emerge from afar, at least not during that night. The sole method we could use to uncover more detail was to head into the all-encompassing vacuum ourselves and take in the details, examine its nuances and take in the contempraneous view.

There was confusion as to what was happening at that time of day and events occured at a great remove from other locations. He was curious and wanted to move quickly to discover the rationale behind the occurence. She remained reluctant and demonstrably cautious, unflinching in her attitude that the safest place for us was sitting far afield, yet remaining near the center of ocean. We had an effective observation point, but stood safely out of range of pending danger. At this point, a quick exit remained a constant, viable option - which was an inarguable position. I couldn't secure my preference, and instead decided to keep quiet.

Throughout, I kept out of trouble. I maintained a distance and kept my mouth shut, instead of wasting time arguing, I stood back safely and attempted to understand the motivations behind what was happening. It was difficult to keep focus, it kept disippating beneath the blurry, unfocused night. It was had to isolate the most impotant occurences, with any surroundings largely shrouded beneath a darkned sky. I followed along as she placed the machine in various positions, picking off clues and insights along the way. She seemed to have a superior vantage point on the machine and surroundings. She was able to process its information quickly and made quick determinations while I was stuck trying to make sense out of the scattered fragments left behind.

After repeatedly going over the machine and its data-sets, carefully building the pathway to assimiliation, building and examining the structures, examining their surfaces and assembleges, she finally relented to our proposal to a degree. She motioned towards the navigator that we could clear the bridge, and move forward. Slowly, the vessel began propelling itself forward. The waters surrounding it were tranquil, if a little unsettled by an unexpected visitor. We moved ahead regardless of its reluctance and the outlines began to fill in with more detail as we came closer. Watching the numerous buildings come into view was a gradual process but they revealed intruiging insights.

As we drew in closer to our transitory objective, I located a small doorway leading inside each house, to unknown points beyound. The doors wouldn't budge from their standing. They'd been rigorously bolted in place, none had moved even slightly. Opaque windows above and to either side of the entrances revealed little about what was held inside. We recognized some strangely familar objects, but none of them seemed to be the right use or correct sizing for our ship.

Slipping past, there were scattered vessels attached and peering inside revealed a surprising number of figures milling about. It wasn't immediately clear what purpose they were pursuing so deep into the night, but we remained focused on our mission and were moving ahead too quickly. There was no time to inquire or ask what was happening alongside us. Just as many of the boats looked nearly abandoned or lost, with no visible companions or stewards.

The assembled boats sat in the water silently, awaiting someone or something to take them back and sail into the water. We moved ahead, the navigator increased our speed while she continued her search. Any lingering doubts she might have held seemed to dissolve as she began to focus on the objective. We sailed across the night, until we reached the apparent end-point. Slowly, we came to a rest in front of a surprisingly robust dock that looked like it had been painted recently.

It began to fall into place, almost automatically connecting to our vessel before locking firmly in place. This helped steady our boat once more, until it become nearly stationary. The man set his hands in place before shutting down the controls holding our position. He walked away from the center quickly and moved towards the right side of the ship. He took out the plank and its assorted ropes, unfurled it and rolled it onto the deck until it had made a surprisingly strong docking method between itself and the vessel. He turned to us and said it was safe to jump over which he did and stood on the platform without fear.

I was about to follow right along when I noticed that she'd held back, unwilling to commit fully to entering the impending night without concrete reassurance. With her lingering doubt and caution mixed with obvious reticence, she wasn't about to do something unheeded or irrational. Understanding why she might not want to leave immediately, he held out his arm and folded it into his jacket, giving her ample time to evaluate whether movement beyond the boat's inherent security perimeter was finally safely berthed, as it appeared to slide into place automaticaly with little assistance, until finally moored securely.

Several long minutes passed, she finally relented, and gave him a tentative permission. While approval wan't complete, he'd at least earned a reluctant benefit of the doubt. She walked to the other side of the boat, walked over the wooden plankd amd gave me a signal. I wasn't expected to mark the moment forcefully. instead, I gamely followed suit, almost leaping across the boat onto the dock. I found myself standing alongside the mis-matched, yet complimentary pair and turned my attention back to securing our vessel. The various heavy ropes and boards retreated into the deck and watched as the long plank withdrew inward. It began to drift back towards the iinear center of the marina's impermeable encapsulation.

We took a few cautious steps across the boards, their creaking surfaces wiltes eomewhat beneath our pressure. I watched the boat stand firmly in its mooring while the multitude of shattered boards became increasingly clustered, accumulating in place. She took the machine out of her pocket and lit the way ahead. There was a narrow plank we could walk across in single-file mode. I took the back way behind them and observed the world ahead.

The tight clusters of buildings were placed almost on top of each other. As we walked closer to the shore, I noticed that they seemed oddly out of place, like they'd appeared suddenly, their rickety construction not reassuring for the long haul. There were few inhabitants visible, and I watched as they gave us a quick glance. Sizing us quickly, the apparently decided that we didn't represent much of a threat a went back to their tasks, largely undisturbed. I returned to the mission and walked slowly on the uneven board.

It was difficult to maintain my balance until we made our way onto the firmer surface of the shoreline. After several harrowing minutes, we reached the firmer surface of the shoreline. Standing on the edge of the rock-strewn beach was surprisingly difficult. It was difficult to find a stable section between the rough, sharp edges of its sandy, uneven surface. Maintaining our momentum, we continued to move forward, traversing through on will-power. Reaching the edge, we took some time to look around. Scanning the surroudings revealed something unexpected. The vague outlines of the island were filled in robustly, with innumerable visible structures throughout the environment.
 
She took the lead, and we follwed after some back-and-forth between the two of us. We followed her path quickly but consistently and as she led us through and past the densely layered structures. It wasn't immediately clear where she was headed, and we spend time going around in circles. He was growing impatient with her, but she wasn't dissuaded. He wanted to explore the grounds in more detail but she was walking too quickly. There were things that he wanted to find out before venturing further. He wasn't entirely sure he could trust the shadowy figures he saw slipping into the night, quickly vanishing behind their dwellings. Their origins and motivations effectively cloaked, they maintained a distance from us that couldn't be breached, despite his best efforts. Perhaps, in a strange reversal, they were frightened by our presence.

He didn't comprehend why they'd managed to settle that isolated patch of land, at that point in time. There were very few clues around. I walked patiently behind the both of them, listening and observing, careful not to interfere with their approachment. She steadied herself underneath the increasing pressure and finally decided to take out her machine and examine the surroundings carefully. Persuaded by the navigator that she needed to take a more direct route, she pointed it towards the various buildings. She seemed to be seeking a direction but the light passed over most of the structures eliciting no visible response. She continued walking forcefully ahead, not showing any signs of frustration or irritation. Instead, her eyes maintained their focus. Attempting to skip ahead of the pace a little, he began walking almost at her side, getting in front of her from time to time. This ended quickly as she paused and waved him off.

He kept things in check for the time being, unwilling to disrupt her mission. Reluctantly, he took on his secondary role and allowed her to continue close to the front. At this point, there was a change in the atmosphere as the dark stillness permeating the night intensified. This only added to the mystery but had the counter-effect of motivating her to keep moving ahead. We carefully followed suit, taking her approach within the framework at face value. Part of me wanted to stop and look around, too, but it seemed that she wasn't focused on that point. Approaching the intertwined buidings at an even closer range revealed their uniformity of design and style.

There was little variation evident, which probably added to the difficulty in locating a specific parcel. She aimed her machine at the buildings, going after them carefully, not wanting to glaze over something too quickly and risk overlooking what she was looking for. This made for a slow pace as she made her way through, scanning and manueriving as unobtrusively as possible. She was still being careful, not wanting to alert anything unpleasant of our presence. I looked around carefully, but there was still nothing visible blocking our path, nobody was threatening us.

She turned back and motioned for us to halt our progress immediately. Taking advantage of the brief interlude, she performed an extensive measure of the environment, once more on the hunt for deficiencies. Making additional significant adjustments to ensure the dials and switches on her machine were still aligned and functioning properly. Everything seemed to be in working condition despite the effort and strain she'd placed on it.

She turned her back towards us and began to walk ahead. She took an unexpected detour at this point and began walking towards the southwest, quickly scanning the nearby structures. Even though it didn't seem like she planning a specific course of action, after awhile, I ascertained that she did, in fact, maintain a specific plan of action. Just not the most obvious or obstensively actionable methodology and technique.

She scanned each building methodically to see what secrets they contained. I watched closely, awaiting some sign of life within. It seemed that every structure we encountered was either vacant or had inhabitants in deep slumber. I wondered if her system was really that efficient, but she continued onward, undettered by its intial lack of success. The way she moved showed a determination that I hadn't expected. She seemed sure that we were in the right place, it was only a matter of locating a specific area where we'd find what we sought. She decided that things were going a bit too slowly and picked up the pace to a noticeable degree. We traversed several long streets quickly managing to cycle through them, with little effort. Starting to move up the narrow streets, we ascended past several streets, inevitably upward on the hill until we found oursleves looking down onto the majority of the buildings.

Her machine began to whirl and beep loudly, signifying that we'd arrived at a significant location. Lighting up, its diffused beam brightened and thickened on the side of a seemingly innocous building, indicating that this was the spot. She scanned over it quickly moving from side to side across its front surface. The windows weren't empty, instead covered by drapes. I noticed the doorway was closed, but didn't have the locks present on most of the other structures. It seemed that it had been sitting there unobtrusively, quietly awaiting our arrival. He decided to take the first steps into its courtyard. It was empty aside from a few small bushes, and she followed suit quickly. She put the machine back in its place and walked around the small inlet, searching for any signs about who might be present. She didn't look like she'd found anyone there and motioned for me to join them by waving her hands affirmatively.

Reluctantly, I crossed the doorway and stood beside them, carefully staring directly into the doorway. We'd reached the edge of the structure but it didn't look like anything particularly interesting. In fact, it resembled virtually every other dwelling in the immediate area. I wasn't impressed by its flat paint job and average construction. It was roughly the same size as the adjacent structures but the nondescript appearance belied its importance. They moved close to the doorway and sat there for a time, nervously anticipating what might lie within.

He looked at her somewhat bewildered - it seemed we had travelled a long way only to find something so indistinct. She nodded negatively, and reminded him that appearances could frequently be misleading. She took a few steps towards the door and turned it until it opened. Offering little resistance, the door opened almost immediately. She walked inside and told us to join her and most importantly, for us not to forget to close the entrance behind us.

There was a final moment of hesitation before we joined her inside. It didn't take long before we were all present. We were curious, deciding to mark a quick survey. At first, there was little to see but this was quickly resolved once she turned on the lights. Instead of the usual array of furniture, we encountered rows of oddly shaped machines spread out on work-tables and benches. None of the usual beds, tables or lamps were present. It looked more like a workspace than a home, despite its outer apperance. It wasn't immediately clear what the machines' purpose and origin might portend. I knew immediately from the obvious resemblence that there was a strong relation to her mainline machine.

They had a similar structure and construction. However, there were also differences. These machines seemed rougher, with less detail than her main machine. They were aligned in different angles and came in a variety of styles, helpfully arranged by date of creation and usefulness. She selected one of the machines and retrieved it from the table and gave a quick demonstration. It was longer and simpler than the one she normally used. She waved it around a few times until it disrupted the air around us, causing a strange vacuum to occur. This sudden gust didn't last long and since its energy was quickly spent. The man began to closely inspect the arrayed machines but she scolded us not to touch anything.

He stood back respectfully and patiently awaited further instructions. I watched her make her way around the tables, picking up various machines, explaing their functionality and occasionally showcasing their powers. She went through several of them, most of which had a way of generation power and energy from seemingly thin air. It was fairly engaging, and she continued this for quite some time. At one point, she took a blue and pink machine out of the amalgamation and pointed it directly at me.

Turning the dials and wheels on its surface produced no immediate effect. This was only because it was almost out of energy, at that point. She explained it would turn me into a girl, feminizing me permanently. It seemed like a strange choice, and I didn't know how it actually worked in practice. She seemed pleased by its functionality. She looked me over, and looked pleased with my apperance. I looked pretty and presentable, she finally decided. There was no need to make me over at that point. I asked her if the machine was functional and effective, or if it was some kind of test or experiment.

Offering no definitive answer either way, I could feel her eyes on me. She wasn't worried or confused but left me wondering what her specific requirements were. I asked her what I was supposed to do and how I should act. She nonchalantly advised me that I already knew what to do. She moved on and resumed searching. The immediate area yielded several important facts as she continued looking over each machine carefully. She scanned each one specifically and purposely until she finally discovered one that resembled her own. Her inquiries went through a multitude of divergent objects until it seemed that she arrived at the right one. She held it up, almost triumphantly and used her machine to connect and charge it up briefly. It came to life brilliantly and lit up the surroundings, making a vibrant, translucent display. Resonating with unexpectedly strong power, the light-beam bounced off the walls and created several elegant, unexpectedly beautiful beams of light through which we could embark into the unknown.

However brief their occurence was, it appeared that transient lights had efforlessly constructed transports that would send us to other worlds almost immediately. Unfortunately, a lack of power meant that these doorways didn't last long. There wasn't enough time for one of us to go through and definitely not enough energy to transport all three of us simultaneously. The portals dissolved quickly under the heavy strain of their construction, their surfaces quickly evaporating. She placed the machine back on the table with evident frustration and detached resignation.

Her eyes surveyed the remaining machine without reaching a conclusion. She couldn't make up her mind and was undecided in which to try next. She closely examined the surrouding devices once more but they all looked inadequate to the task at hand. Mostly, they offered partial or relatively useless abilities. She asked the navigator what the next course of action should be, but he demurred, showing his lack of familairity with them. He pointed in my direction, reminding her of my extensive experience which could be of some help. She held the forlorn machine towards the moonlight and attempted to create another diversion.

Despite her best efforts, there was very little energy left in the device, and at that point, all that was left was an empty shell awaiting another burst of energy. Reluctantly, she handed it over to me and asked me if I wanted to keep it. I thought about it for awhile and decided I might as well hold onto it. I deduced that i might find another way of charging it and it could be useful at some point. It wasn't the most effective strategy, and I knew relying on these disconnected machines wasn't going to be of use over the long-term. I watched her move about as she tried different devices, settling on a machine, before attempting to bring it too life, before ending prematurely due to a lack of energy.

He stood back and watched her make dispirate efforts, but nothing seemed to work. She turned to him and asked for some help, but he didn't know what he could offer. His eyes moved across the various machines and assorted objects, and it most of their functionality seemed to be lost on him. He took up one of them and waved it around in the air. He tried several forms, but none of them seemed to elicit more than a few quiet beeps. It seemed that he just didn't have a feel for the devices, or that he lacked the experience to understand how to use them effectively. She waited patiently for something that might connect with him, but there didn't seem to be any spark occuring. Turning to me, she asked if there was anything I could do to help or aid him with their function and command.

He tried repeatedly to bring a burst of energy to them. Various combinations were attempted and configurations were tweaked to little effect. Walking across the tables, she held one of the machines and attempted to show him how to use it. Watching carefully, he attempted to mimic her approach and style and despite putting in a good try, the functionality seemed to remain elusive for his purposes. After awhile, he gave up trying. Placing the machine back on the table, it slowly rolled back into neutral position, where it would remain undisturbed. He stood back and decided he'd taken to much of her time. Finally out of her way, he allowed her to continue.

She couldn't hide her disappointment, but decided to make the best of the circumstances. Resuming her mission, she found herself intently examining the machines in no time. She intensified her search, studiously cataloging and manuevering many of the dormant devices laying on the tables. She took her time, carefully examining them to understand their myriad features and functions. Waving them around, she got a general feel for each of them, but couldn't precisely make up her mind what her main purpose was.

She wasn't able to focus on a specific machine, which made it hard to compare them, outside from her own tool. I quickly pulled my machine and attempted to recharge it, thrusting it upward, but there was no sustainable response, it was too far gone into hibernation, nearly a dead weight by that point. It felt like a lost opportunity, it had been sitting there squandering it potential. I wondered what it's over-arching purpose might be. I wanted to ask her what it was actually supposed to do, but knew that she wouldn't be forthcoming. I didn't want to pry, since there was enough going on. I resumed focusing on her position and waited for her next implementation. She walked slowly through the rows of machines, moving cautiously until her aligned machine came into view. She clearly didn't want to miss anything but I was concerned that she would wind up taking all her time up, leaving her empty-handed.

I didn't have to worry, eventually settled on a small block shaped machine that was intruiging. Instead of a standard beam, it resembled something else. It looked like it contained a kind of map, useful for future endeavors but not particularly flashy or showy. It was small enough to fit beneath her shawl, though extremely powerful nonetheless. It seemed like it containded a chart of the entire universe, we could move forward efficiently, instead of navigating to random points and working from there. This could make things go much quicker. I decided to get a little closer to the table and walked towards it cautiously. I remembered her admonishment and maintained a safe remove from the objects, instead opting to examine them individually. I was struck by the similiarities between them and wondered if they shared more than a superficial surface, and began to think that they might have been invented by the same creator.

There were some strange occurences that didn't seem to make much sense initially. She knew exactly where they were located even though It took a long time for us to discover their existence. They were placed in the center of an isolated village in the middle of the ocean, during a long night. This situation made little sense until I made the connection between the arrayed machines. He didn't understand completely why she'd led us there, and instead focused his attention on securing our exit. It was still premature, but I sensed the night shifting, slowly edging toward impending daylight.

I knew it wouldn't last forever. Within a short perioid, we'd have to escape and do so largely undetected. There wasn't time to dawdle. She continued examining the machines, making significant headway until she began to go on a second cycle. Revisiting the machines refinforced her intial theories but she had to maintain some objectivity about them. After going through most of them, she returned to one she'd purposely skipped over. Reluctantly, she took control of an unpleasantly designed machine and placed it nervously in her palm. It was significantly different than the others immediately. It was definitely not in a good way.

It gave off a strong beam of light, but this machine's energy field was significantly stronger and more focused than the others. Instead of illuminating the surrounding areas, it seemed to burn and singe its immediate area. This made it resemble more a strong weapon, which could have devastating consequences. This was definitely not a useful tool. It seemed to have more sinister origins and functions. Its sharp surface was jagged and uneven, radiating danger. Its unfortunate design made it appear conspicuously out of place when compared to the others. It wasn't her style or approach to things and it seemed to be a terrible mistake.

Fortunately for us, its energy source was limited in terms of power and length. Fortunately, its power didn't last long and quickly diminished. She set it back on the table before it could cause any significant damage and let it come to rest harmlessly on the table until it cooled down, and returned to its passive state. She patiently waited for it to hibernate, then pulled out its dials and switches, then took out its batteries, removed their compartment and casing, which had the cumulative effect of permanently disabling the errant device. She held it back up then threw it down onto the ground, where it shattered into a multitude of small, broken pieces. She leaned down and kicked the remains into a corner, gathered them up and threw them down a disposal chute without ceremony. Thus making absolutely sure that such a potentially dangerous machine wouldn't ever fall into the wrong hands.

While it was a noble act, it had the unfortunate effect of consuming our valuable time. It didn't seem that she'd have much extra time for further exploration. Unless we wanted to get caught, it was obvious that we'd have to venture back to the boat before long. There was no way around it. Such a task would be difficult in the best of circumstances and we didn't have any short-cuts. We'd have to remain cautious upon our exit, carefully maneuvering through the structure to make sure that we left no traces of oursleves behind. Subsequently, our return would require us to maintain our concentration and attention.

The machine's energy source was nearly depleted by that point, we needed to return to the vessel independently without the machine's navigational accompaniment. This would require us to retrace our steps carefully, moving through the congested village in near total silence, walking across the narrow bridge and its uneven walways, traversing its teetering, uneven surfaces before reaching the relative safety and isolation of our boat. There was little room for error, but we could manage to get back if we could summon the dexterity to return.

It wasn't particularly simple or easy, but we were able to get through the village, passing through safely without awaking anyone, at least as far as we knew. It helped speed us alonf that we didn't need to pause and re-scan every building on the way back. Navigating the floating boards and narrow walkways proved a bit trickier than we remembered. That may have been a bit trickier since we weren't anticipating anything and were instead worrying about an invisible yet omnipresent clock. Finally, we reached the vessel but still didn't have time to rest.

We had to power it up for a second time and steer it away from the island. As it slipped away, underneath the night, I managed to take it in for a second time. It seemed larger on the way out, its streets longer and more complicated thany my initial impressions managed to comprehend. There were many obstacles placed in the way of even benevolent visitors. I wondered what could have happened to bring on such a defensive posture. I had some ideas but didn't articulate them. It took what felt like forever, but we finally managed to get out of its immediate area and gravitational pull. We were again free to explore the ocean and I watched for some reaction.

He seemed geniunely relieved that we had managed to escape but she had a touch of melancholy. There were a number of machines she hadn't gotten to, leaving an inescapable sense of unfinished work at her feet. She tried the best she could, but there was still much she wanted to do. As for myself, I was left confused by the different signals and conflicting messages I'd recieved during the preceding excursion.

Straining for answers, I looked for advice but found little in his presence for me to go on. He was concerned about his papers but relieved to find them, largely untouched, their pages still neatly folded and collated, in a quiet section of the ship. He was able to find them quickly since they were next to the picture he'd rolled up, for safe keeping. When I asked him what the purpose had been, he didn't answer. I walked towards the center of the boat and asked her similar questions. She didn't respond verbally. Instead, she unexpectedly stepped out of the way. She motioned for me to take over command. She pointed towards the wheel, alongside its assembled switches and levers. She wanted to know if I'd learned anything else along the way. It was, at long last, another chance to prove myself and steer a more complex, sophisticated vessel safely through treacherous terrain.

- Michael Palisano