It’s been a year since I’ve set fire to anything. Nothing burns here, and even if it did, there’s no darkness for me to turn into fire. My sterile prison floats in space, like an enormous glass marble with a puzzling interior of intersecting planes. Here inside, nearly all the surfaces are hard, walls made of shining melt-proof kersium, floors of softly gleaming white stone. Everything is inflammable.
I can’t see myself. It’s too bright up here and my eyes are closed to prevent them from aching. They’re designed for shadow and beautiful, nourishing darkness. My exquisitely translucent skin stretched tight over my still agile frame, my two legs and two arms with their graceful movements, my perfectly formed head, all are hidden away from me by the glaring light. Even my shadow usually hides, an occasional dulling on a wall, scattered by brightness from too many angles.
I’m in the upper quadrant right now. Usually, I try to avoid getting this exposed to the stars and their screams of light. The clear arc of the prison’s outer wall curves over my head, showing the sunny stars surrounding me closely, crowding their light into every corner of the room.
It’s difficult to keep my bearings, as the walls and floors are constantly shifting. New rooms are constantly created, old ones vanish. Every room, though, is crawling with light. When I’m tired I lay down and sleep, the brightness beating against my eyelids. The floors move up and down, side to side, but they never tilt.
Overall, the rooms moving around is maddening, but meets the guidelines set by the Galactic Council’s Compassionate Prisoner Treatment Edict. Every inmate serving a sentence longer than fifty percent of their remaining life must be presented with challenges and a stimulating environment to keep them entertained, interested, and/or learning. My warden decided that shifting rooms, with my food pellets dropping in different places around the prison, met the learning requirement.
In spite of the relentless light, I stand tall. The four suns that surround my prison are far enough away for the structure to be stable but close enough to shine endlessly on me. It’s terrifying, looking out onto the raging suns, feeling the warmth of their blaze, knowing that they will far outlive me. I can feel their malice. Their rage at what they perceive as my hubris. They are the true generators of flame and I have been caught trying to impersonate them.
But I am not a fraud. I can generate fire. I’m actually a higher being than these suns, with their reliance on chemical interaction. My fire comes from darkness, from the night. I long to slip into shadow for a moment and show these pitiful stars my power. Give me one moment of blackness and flames will explode from me, arrowing out, incinerating anything that can burn.
I used to roar with fire, shooting flames into the sky, crafting burning cyclones that whipped through forests and cities alike. Howls would fill the night air as I gathered darkness and wove it into light. Running at full speed I’d scatter coals of new life over still steaming ashes. I was a god.
Now I am merely a story. A series of brief mentions on the galactic news shows. The Firebug has been caught, put on trial, sentenced. The monster is now safely behind bars. But they don’t understand what it is to endure the endless light of these jealous suns. How difficult it is to never quicken life again. I bow my head and mourn the loss of fire.
Every room always has one clear outer wall that lets the light in, even if that means the prison forms a hallway that runs the length of the entire structure. There are shatterproof light meters tucked everywhere, monitoring the brightness levels, making certain they never dip into the slightest hint of twilight. If a room starts to dim, it shifts, opening up more to the outside wall, allowing more light in. I will never be in darkness again.
A food pellet drops onto my arm and shakes me from my reverie. The room feels infinitesimally cooler. Moving purposely, I inch over to the light meter in the corner of the room and cup my hands around my eyes to try and block the light. It makes no difference. Cautiously, I open one eye a bit and read the light level in the room. It shows ninety-eight, then ninety-seven point five, then ninety-seven. The light is dimming in spite of the raging suns surrounding my prison. Near as I can tell, every two weeks one of the suns becomes partially blocked by a planet. I think of this as sunset.
There’s still too much light to open my eyes fully but I fumble my way around feeling the walls and floor, determining which ones are slowly moving. My goal is to get to the center of the prison, where the light will be the dimmest, or drop into a room that is not connected to the outer wall. Since the rooms change at random, maybe once, just once, the light will fail enough for me to kindle flame.
Even if I do, there’s nothing here to burn. Even the food pellets are nonflammable. But maybe the walls can be melted, or the outer layer of the prison softened.
I turn my mind away from what could possibly happen after that. One step at a time. Find enough darkness to make flame, then find what I can do with the flame. My hand on the wall pulls away from me, and I move until I find the edge. I tap my toe on the floor, inching it forward until it’s past the moving wall. There’s no floor that I can feel on the other side, but if I wait a bit it will float up eventually. Instead of waiting, I move forward and drop down immediately, falling a few meters and rolling when I hit the floor.
I open my eyes to a squint, scanning the new room as quickly as I can. This new floor is still rising and there are gaps all around me, between the floor and the lower edges of the walls above. I pick the largest opening and shimmy quickly into a lower room before the space closes up. It’s a longer fall, but I manage to land well enough to avoid damage. I will have only a moment or two of dimness until the prison reacts to my new location and slams walls down to flood my blissfully shadowed room with cursed light.
It’s not enough time. I reach to gather the shadow but I only catch a bit of it and not nearly enough to generate flame. As I swirl around the room the walls shiver and retract, letting radiant sunlight in. I curse once as the fire slips away.
No matter. I have tried before and I will try again. I have my whole life to reach for the flame. As I stand, breath heaving from my efforts, I feel the light level increase. The room gets infinitesimally warmer. Sunrise has come.