The Unasked Question by Brian Warfield

The Unasked Question by Brian Warfield

Wearing a latex suit two sizes too large for him. Not latex, some kind of polymer. Protective, potentially. Hills an unmeasurable distance. Discrete hills, measurable in number. Otherwise expansive terrain expanding. Objects, items, edifices placed before him. For his scrutiny. Inside outside, he is scrutinizing with a hand-held machine he holds in his hand. His palm inside a glove feeling the pressure of the machine which warms itself and his hand. He presses a button. Inside outside a box which is empty which he is scrutinizing which is made of some kind of metal which he does not know is empty. Analyzing the material.

A large empty room, a large empty building, a terrain, himself.

Face facing outwards through sheen of glass, not glass, plastic, or something he breathes inside the air in his suit attached to his back. His body and the body of the suit, two bodies working in tandem, scrutinizing he doesn’t know what.

The information scrolling along the screen of the machine in a code he is not privy to. Of the contents of the molecular structure, of the systems, of the construct. The building is made of. And inside, the walls are. And the floor he walks on, feels numbly through thick soles.

Nothing he touches.

He draws the bead of the laser of the analyzing machine all along every surface he must not touch. Probably yards and yards, immense space. Echoes, probably. A courtyard of bunkers. One more than a dozen. Inside each a configuration. Of trunks boxes, crates, these things, an amount of them. Systematically, he analyzes them. Transmitting data across empty regions, upon waves. He descended upon a wave and rose up. The words scrolling across the screen.

Alone, one man, a mission, no level of danger, no known level, what he is there to find out. His hands upon the latch of one. Direct orders not to touch or tamper with.

His base camp set up in the middle of a clearing. Eons from help or threat, supposedly. He had not opened his mouth except for food or yawns in months. Repeat process. Check for other data strings of numbers, a download.

“numbering mechanism” (image via Flickr user artnoose)

Numbers feeding into his oxygen tank, nutritional supplements.

In the large barrack, one tomb-like carapace. Hinges louvered over a curved surface latched down on the perpendicular. His thumbs upon the latches.

In his bivouac, long nights without any kind of distraction, one image like a plague or lantern or mirage or miracle burns, burning before him, shining upon the walls he himself constructed. One image of a shape of a tomb. An encasement something potentially holy or hidden, the one thing he might almost be sure of. Is the actual secret something of his being there. All else a subterfuge. Everything placed in concise sequence to confuse him. Placed upon a place to discover but not uncover, to actually hide, to bury in an onslaught of information. Strings of meaningless numbers, a code, a chorus of human voices, he can hear them chattering, telling him commands, commanding him not to touch, voice of his superiors, his thumbs on the latches, nothing to be seen for miles in any direction except buildings and specific number of hills something hidden up there maybe watching him.

His thumbs feel the texture of the latches. Feel able to move, he thinks about. The machine is back in the bivouac chattering numbers to itself. The sky is above him he feels pressing down upon the roof of the barrack, probably one hundred yards in every direction from the tomb.

His thumbs. He slides. A click. A sound he cannot hear inside his too large latex or polymer suit. An ancient groan. A peeling back. The enormous wasteland. The emptiness of everything. An exhaustion. An exhalation. The breaking of a seal. Hinges unfold in series upon themselves rolling up. The chatter of humans silenced. The aching revelation. He stands before it. Of the manifestation. Unto the holy answer.

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Brian Warfield lives in Philadelphia where he writes short stories.