LI: Generations Aflame #5

This entry is part 5 of 15 in the series Lidecker Institute Volume 3: Generations Aflame
“This is remarkable.”Miss Brant said, watching the readings coming off the array of sensors she’d surrounded the lantern with. “Rapid, localized and spontaneous fission and fusion with no external stimulus. It’s like an entirely new type of reactor: one that makes its own fuel with amazing efficiency.”
If she expected the scientific angle to pique the interest of the normally studious girl, she was wrong. Maya remained where she had been since they’d reached the hard room’s control center. After rejecting a suggestion to meet in Miss Brant’s office with panicked talk about the carpet and wooden furniture, they compromised on the control center instead of sequestering Maya and the strange little flame in one of the hard rooms. As soon as they got there, Maya hopped up on a table in the corner and huddled as far back on it as she could get with a large bottle of water.
Miss Brant gave her a worried look before returning to the readout on her tablet. Maya had been informed of the truth; that her parents’ death was an arson, not an accident of her powers; and she had regular therapy sessions with Patricia Masters, but her attitude toward her powers hadn’t changed.
“It’s not exactly a fire either, except in the sense that it’s an exothermic reaction expressed was plasma and light. There’s a definite structure here: a carbon backbone at the core that’s constantly bonding with oxygen and then having those bonds break energetically. There’s a pattern to that too… almost like synaptic response to stimuli. That might explain why it’s waving at me.”
“It keeps doing that.” Maya said quietly. “And trying to get my attention.”
“That’s right, your extra sense. How is this different from other fire?”
Maya fixed her gaze on the little creature in the glass globe. “Fire sings. The song changes depending on what it’s eating and how much oxygen it has and all sort of other things, but there’s never words. It doesn’t talk; it hardly thinks… but this… Miss Brant, I think it thinks. Like a person. Maybe like a baby or something. I know it doesn’t make sense, but—”
“Actually no. It does make some sense. Maya, you told me you’ve done your own research about descendants; news articles, scientific papers and the like, right?” Miss Brant let her agree before continuing. “In all of that material, have you ever come across a phenomenon called ‘independent manifestation’?
Wracking her brain, Maya came up with a few mentions of the word, but couldn’t remember the context. “Not a lot, ma’am.”
“Then this might be right up your alley.” said Miss Brant. “It’s really fascinating. You see, some descendants have powers that create objects; usually from matter and energy in their environment; and we call those objects or any projected energy ‘manifestations’. This is very common and current research shows that many of these may be different applications of a single ability.
“What’s much, much more rare, however, is an independent manifestation: that is, a manifestation that moves and acts on its own, reacting to stimuli that the descendant that created them couldn’t have sensed, and in some cases displaying what some people would consider to be personalities.”
Unbeknownst to Maya, Miss Brant had first hand knowledge of such manifestations and it frustrated her that she couldn’t explain that to Maya.
Meanwhile, in her corner, Maya was already carefully analyzing those new bits of knowledge. “Then it’s… alive? Because of my powers?”
Miss Brant brought her tablet over for Maya to see the data for herself. “We would need a lot more research and, frankly, philosophical discussion before we can declare it ‘alive’ exactly, but one a certain level, it’s possible that this is a thinking being that is an extension of your powers.”
Taking the tablet, Maya took in all the readings listed there. “I’m not sure what that means. I can hear all fire, Miss Brant.”
“As you can see, this isn’t ordinary fire.” the older woman pointed out. “If I’m right, then it can reason, make decision on its own. But ultimately, it should obey you in more complex ways then ordinary fire would.”
Maya looked dubious, but directed that expression at the globe instead of Miss Brant. If she had any say in it, she never overtly doubted adults. “Would it listen to me and not burn things?”
With a warm smile Miss Brant left Maya holding the tablet and went to pick up the globe, bringing it over to the corner. “There’s really only one way to find out.”
Gripping the tablet to her, Maya cringed. She knew exactly how they could find out; adding command of the strange flame to her sessions in the hard room. “You’re not going to let it out, are you?” Gleefully and unwittingly mocking her fear, the little flame waved at her from behind the glass.
“Not yet.” Miss Brant promised, “But eventually. For now, I have a homework assignment for you: get to know this little guy. Try to communicate with him more… give him a name.”
Despite her upbringing instilling in her a need to act respectful toward adults, Maya found it impossible to hide the incredulity in her immediate response. “A name?”
“Sparky?” suggested Eddie. He was cute and sweet, but not possessed of vast reserves of creativity.
The lantern with the still nameless fireling inside sat between them in a booth at Midnight Black. On Miss Brant’s suggestion, she’d been carrying it around openly all day, the lantern tied to the drawstrings on her hoodie. The fireling had spent all day waving to everyone who came within sight of it and basking in the attention that resulted.
It’s communication remained incredibly simple, but its vocabulary, for lack of a better word, had grown from just ‘hi!’ to expressing contentment when people doted over it. It was currently plastered to the side of its glass home, giving the impression of a dog pressing its face against the window as it stared at the basket of fries the two were sharing and expressing a ‘yum!’ feeling.
“I don’t know…” Maya said, trying to not sound critical while also ensuring she wouldn’t have to consider the name. “But I don’t have to name him right away; Miss Brant said that she understand that it might take me a while to be comfortable with it.”
She picked up a fry to eat, but noticed how the fireling tracked it, shimmying around in the globe to constantly keep it in sight. “I think its hungry.” She said absently.
Eddie lowered his head almost to the table to look at it. “Maybe it is. It is fire after all, and there’s not wood or anything in there for it.”
Cautiously, Maya picked up the lantern. There were wires that went over the globe and snapped into place along the frame. Removing those would allow access to where the wick used to be. There was also a vent up and along the bottom so that a normal flame could get oxygen. Those were closed because the fireling didn’t seem to need more oxygen and because Maya was afraid it would escape.
“S-should I feed him?” She wasn’t asking Eddie as much as herself. As scared as she was to give the little creature even the smallest avenue of escape, it seemed cruel to eat in front of it when it clearly really wanted a fry.
Now a veteran of weeks of knowing Maya, Eddie just stayed silent. He didn’t understand any of what was going on and he didn’t want to influence her choice and have it go wrong for his ignorance.
Maya, on the other hand, was carefully weighing the risks. It was a small flame, after all, and she should easily be able to control it. On top of that, she had Eddie’s supernatural luck on her side.
And besides, the fireling’s begging and constant yummy noises were starting to become endearing. The longer she looked at it, the more well defined it was becoming; all soft edges with two flipper-like ‘arms’ that were indistinguishable from the rest of its body except when it was waving at people. And if she looked very closely, she could almost imagine that the slight variations in color she was seeing near the top were cheerful looking eyes and a tiny mouth.
There wasn’t anything threatening about it in the least, which led to her sympathy to override her usually dominant caution. Gingerly, she thumbed open the top vent of the lantern and slipped the fry through it.
The fireling registered shock as it dodged the falling object, but this was quickly replaced by childish elation as it swarmed over to the fry and used its flippers to pick up the offering. To Maya’s surprise, it didn’t engulf the fry and consume it. Instead, it put one end of the food into the spot Maya thought she only imagined was a mouth and started gumming it like an infant, slowly blackening the tip.
Maya leaned closer to watch.
Upon noticing that it was being watched, the little creature tried to wave. It fumbled the fry in the process, causing the scorched tip to streak the glass with a line of soot.
“Weird.” she breathed at the fireling’s antics.
Maya had been so wrapped up n watching what was going on in the lantern that she’d almost forgotten Eddie was with her. A furious blush washed over her face as she realized that she was drawing a dangerous amount of attention to the strangeness of her powers. A distraction was needed.
“So… are you staying at the school for spring break?” She asked, hopeful both that he would let her change the subject and that they might spend the school holiday together.
Eddie frowned and took a fry, though he didn’t eat it right away. “No, I’m… going back home. Mom and Dad miss me and… sorry.” He finished lamely. Talking about his family was always awkward when it came to Maya, who had none anymore.
“Don’t be.” Maya lowered her eyes, not because it hurt to hear him mention his family, but because she hated when she made him uncomfortable. Shifting her gaze out the window at the cars parked on the street, she said, “So, Kura and Tammy have this trip planned and they wanted me to go with them. I was kind of hoping to hang out with you instead.”
“Sorry.” Eddie said again. “I’d invite you to come back to Vegas with me, but I don’t think my parents would go for it.”
Maya nodded. “It’s okay. We can always call each other a-and text.”
Eddie smiled at her. “We can defiantly do that. So where are you going?”
“They were still trying to decide.” Maya relaxed now that they weren’t talking about her. “Even though they only have about a week to plan now.”
“I guess that’s how they work best. Besides, from what I hear, Kura’s parents have a lot of money, so ‘last minute’ doesn’t sound like it’ll be an issue for them.” He leaned slightly forward with a curious look in his eye. “If you got to pick, where would you go?”
Maya nibbled on a fry and shrugged. “I don’t think I’ve thought about it in a long time. There’s places I’d like to visit; like the Henderson Genomics Ranch in North Carolina, but that’s not really a place you stay like Hawaii or something.”
“What’s so special about the ranch?” Eddie asked.
That caused Maya’s face to light up. “It’s where they made Beazley! I just read about it last week on the BioBlog: Beazley is a triceratops—actually a triceratops that’s been genetically modified to survive in our modern climate and atmosphere. You’ve probably heard about the mammoths and the rhinos, but those are really recent species and don’t need that much help to survive, but this…”
Even though he only understood a small portion of what she was saying, Eddie let her talk. It was just so wonderful seeing her speak with confidence, which she only seemed to do when talking biology. And on occasion, he also learned something.
On any other subject, Maya was as quiet as possible, but once she got started on biology, she couldn’t stop. She went from the various improvements Beazley needed to survive and why, to how those could be used to develop better livestock and fight disease, to how, theoretically, humans could benefit from the same.
By the time she started to skirt the line between revolutionary breakthroughs to ‘crimes against god and man’, Lucy arrived with their orders; a burger for Eddie and a platter of grilled cheese sandwiches for Maya. The diner owner smiled and greeted them as she did all her regulars, and then her attention fell on the fireling.
Without supervision, it had figured out that the burnt fry could b used to make pretty designs on the glass and was drawing bloby little smudges all over it.
“That’s just adorable.” She cooed that the flame. “How is it doing that? Some kind of hologram?”
Maya stiffened up again and actually pulled up her hood to hide her face. “N-no. It’s me. Or my powers. Something. I’m not sure yet.”
“Miss Brant wants her to name it.” Eddie said helpfully.
Lucy raised and eyebrow. “Name it? Like a pet?”
Eddie nodded again “It’s a descendant thing.” He aimed a bright smile at Maya. “Pretty rare and special too– it’s like a part of your powers turns into something like your familiar in Sorcerous Vow.”
“Is that a movie?” Lucy asked.
“No, video game.”
“I don’t really do video games.
Eddie thought for a moment before coming back with. “Like Eve’s cat in Spirit Detective Eve.”
“Oh, I remember that show.” Lucy nodded and then turned her grin on Maya as well. “That’s very cool, Maya. And he’s so cute.”
“He might be dangerous.” Maya said quietly, but without much conviction. All this time, she heard the cheeriness of the little fellow and it was nothing like the mindless song that fire left n her head. It made her doubt her own fears.
“Well he looks like he’s pretty happy drawing.” noted Lucy. “… and eating his pen.” Sure enough, the fireling was gumming one end of the fry even as it tried to draw with the other.
Maya couldn’t help but smile at its antics. “I-I might be wrong. But I’ll keep an eye on him for a little longer to make sure. For now, I really think it’s safer to leave him in here.”
Lucy chuckled softly. “If you leave him in there long enough, you’re not even going to be able to see him; just the soot. Ha, you know, I had a cat named Soot once. He was all white and my sister thought it was funny to name him that.”
A look went from Eddie to Maya and then both of them looked at Lucy.
“Miss Black?” Maya asked shyly.
“Would you mind much if I named him that too?”
Lucy’s smile broadened and she reached out to pat Maya’s hooded head. “I think that would be just great, Maya.”
And inside his globe, the newly named Soot suddenly noticed Lucy, having been distracted by his new toy, and waved.
To Be Continued…
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About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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