Fire Alive!


by John Steiner

Fire. The light by which we tell our stories and mythic tales. It kept the night at bay for hundreds of thousands of years. It guided humanity's migrations across the globe, and became mankind's first weapon of mass destruction.

What if fire developed a mind of its own?


Firefighting is already a tough job even in 2026. Captain Duane "Longhand" Longhurst and probationary firefight Malcolm O'Connell of Salt Lake City's Station 8 discover it's going to get much harder. A phenomenon of particle physics called Self-Propagating Organized Thermotroph or S.P.O.T. emerges to burn whatever they can to ingest the heat that fuels their semi-living existence. Breaking in a new enigmatic probie, and struggling with memories of past fire calls, Captain Longhurst has to now take on the blazing entities.



~ Primal Forces ~


No clouds obscured a nearly black background. Hanging low in the sky, half of the moon’s face glowed. Yet, not every light in the Rub’ Al-Khali Desert beamed from beyond the atmosphere. Hundreds of meters away fires, fueled by gas leaking from the earth, burned. Jabir’s father specifically chose this place to camp because of it.

In Rub’ Al-Khali winter nights even animals shivered. Three years ago, a ten-year-old Jabir asked his father why it was too cold for the flocks and herds. He then learned that Allah left these everlasting fires as a gift for those who submitted to His Word, that they might stay warm no matter how cold the night came.

Watching the sheep and camels from afar, Jabir long since realized it to be true, as the animals never strayed too close to the fires, for fear of being burned. Only God could create sense for the animals, as if His own hand held them back.

Or maybe they didn’t like the oil wells a few kilometers out. Sitting with his knees up and rocking to stay warm, Jabir could see lights from towers and platforms bright as stars on the horizon. He knew older boys in other Bedouin families, many of whom gave up traditional living to get jobs in the cities. He’d heard stories of Bedouins straying too close to production facilities. Those herders were beaten up by other Saudis or foreign workers on the unfair presumption they came to steal oil or destroy machinery.

Surely, God would punish people for such cruelty.

The oldest of three sons, Jabir only spent every third night watching livestock. He passed the time reciting those passages of the Qur’an he could remember. His father said that reading the Qur’an would arm him, particularly when in cities. Places where dishonest men had you sign papers without reading details of the deal. Especially important this year, as God had been generous to his family with newborn sheep.

Those sheep huddled together, catching intermediate sweeps of warm air from gas fires. Jabir marveled at how the heat distorted his sight of everything behind them. One invisible stream of fire danced and waved from a place closer to the sheep than others. Something about it didn’t seem right to Jabir.

Leaning forward, he realized there was no flame under it. Wait! It seemed closer than just a moment ago! Standing up to improve his perspective, Jabir realized it kept moving. It lacked both outline and color. He couldn’t get a sense of shape in the swirl of light-bending heat. Intensely studying where fire should’ve been, he noticed the thermal phantom sprang up from three points on the ground.

Those spots moved!

"Fire Alive!" by John Steiner






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