Ripple Effects

by Laura J. Mixon

John Montaño hadn’t been sleeping well as it was, but his last night on the Queen Margaret was a doozy.

It was early evening before the night shift, their last night aboard, and John was dreaming. He’d gotten lost in a big hospital and was wandering through the halls. Screams issued from the rooms he passed. People were trapped behind thick walls of glass. Their faces contorted as they pounded on the glass, trying to warn him. Someone had sealed them in there, and was now hunting him.

He looked to his left. His enemy stood there, face and body in shadow. John yelled—his enemy had hurled a whirling mass of glass shards at him. Then his alarm went off and he awakened to see—and feel—yellow fire streaming from his palms. His pillows were airborne; he’d attacked them in his sleep. “Fuck!”

He leapt off the bed, buck naked, as his flame struck the pillows in midair. One smacked into the wall by the bathroom and the other two bounced back onto the bed covers. Feathers scattered, trailing smoke. Flame residue dripped from his fingers onto his feet. He hopped back. “Ow!”

A fine fucking mess, Juanma.

Then his training kicked in. He marked the beat of his heart and made a wrenching twist around some corner of his mind. Spacetime spun away, carrying his body with it. Now he faced out into a different place entirely. The place where his ace powers grew.

John could still feel his body back there somewhere. His heartbeat—that meat metronome in his chest—had grown louder, and the atrial beat, the lub half, had ended as he’d twisted loose. But the ventricular beat, the DUB, came on languidly, and deepened to a pitch more felt than heard as it slowed almost to a halt. He was fully here now: outside of his body, outside of time. Now he could pause to think. To plan.

OK, he’d somehow had triggered his ace without meaning to and set the frigging room on fire. The headline sprang into his head, unbidden: “Chubb’s ace art detective fuels panic as flames spread through ocean liner.” Or, worse: “Nocturnal emissions! Candle’s nightmare flames burn down the Queen Margaret.”

He visualized the cabin in his mind. Pillows down there and over there—smoke detector up there—window there—door across the cabin. Burning feathers airborne. This called for red flame, he decided. And blue. Lots of blue.

John moved into the vast energy forest. Cables and spires of flame—reeds and bundles—columns and jets of fire sprouted up and vanished. They seemed to sense him, somehow, and moved as if responding to his attention. Or perhaps he was the one who moved. It was impossible to tell because nothing here behaved the way it should. Perhaps the flames floated in some arcane energy flow he couldn’t detect, the way kelp in an ocean current might (if those kelp were blazing-bright and multicolored, say; if they grew to the size of sequoia trunks and city ‘scrapers, and were supercharged with trillions of volts of raging energies . . .). Perhaps the cause of the movement was those unseen giants, passing through.


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Original Fiction from" • Illustrated by illustrated by Micah Epstein