Heroes Save the World

Big Change, ch. 5: Ananya Sharma

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Monitoring: Ananya Sharma
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India

9:45 p.m. India Standard Time
Tuesday, December 31st, 2013
16:15 Coordinated Universal Time
Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Rewind—

This morning, Ananya thought that she would go into business someday, or maybe a sport of some kind. Her future was vague as far as the details went: she would attend university, get good grades, and go to whichever company was most determined to recruit her, at least as long as it was run by Indians and properly supported local workers. Or maybe she would do well on a rifle shooting team and become a professional, like Anjali Bhagwat. If that didn’t happen, then it was still a sure thing that she would at least find a good company to work for, so beyond that there was no reason to think about backup plans.

Then, on the way home from school, her plans for the future were irreparably destroyed. There was no doubt in her mind about the knowledge which had lit up within her on the bus. If it was not divine revelation then it was close enough that the difference had to be academic. No sooner had she gotten home than she consulted one of her books and ran off again to the local Mahesh Hardware Store for supplies.

Things after that had been anticlimactic. Ananya did her homework (probably a little too quickly, which she knew she’d pay for tomorrow), made sure that her supplies were ready for a demonstration, and ate coconut dhal with her mother and her siblings. Through it all she pretended that she wasn’t disappointed about her father still being out at work. As the daughter of a colonel, she was lucky that he was coming home at all. For at least two thirds of the year he was absent, and he had been forced to miss many of her birthdays.

Now the only thing left for her is to lay on her bed, staring at a plastic cup full of soda that she hasn’t touched since it was poured hours ago. Beside it is another plastic cup, with a blue can of the poorly-spelled “Thums Up” brand overturned inside it to drain. On top of it is a strip of aluminum that she sliced out of the can earlier.

Maybe she should just go to sleep and try to wait for another day, but a very loud part of her is determined to wait all night if that’s what it takes. Waiting, she looks at her hand, first this way, then that. There is nothing that looks different about it, or about her in general, but she has been changed somehow. She had never thought much about Brahma or any other deity or divine being before today, but she has clearly been blessed by one and the matter demands that she give it more attention in the days to come.

Her thoughts are interrupted by a knock at the door. Ananya bounds out of bed, nearly tripping over herself. “Father!” She opens the door. “I—”

“Have something to show me?”

She nods.

“Something that can’t wait till morning?”

“Aa,” she says. “Aa, yes, actually, sir.” She moves to the side to give him room to walk through. He closes his eyes briefly, then takes a seat on her bed.

“Okay,” he says. “Show me.”

Taking the strip of aluminum in hand, she bends it in the middle and at the edges so that part of it can dip down into the cup of soda. Next, she takes the two wires of the voltage meter that she bought earlier today and attaches one to each end of the aluminum strip. “Do you see that?” she asks. The meter reads three-quarters of a volt.

There’s a moment where he’s obviously torn between the desire to tell her that he woke up early this morning, is going to have to do so again tomorrow, and would have liked to go to bed, and the parental obligation to encourage her in whatever (productive) pursuits she has found herself in. “You made a battery.” There isn’t much enthusiasm in his voice, but he isn’t good at lying and she appreciates the sentiment behind the attempt. Anyway, the best is yet to come.

Ananya smiles as she dips a finger into the soda. She pauses long enough to make sure that her father is still watching, and then the number on the voltage meter slowly begins to rise. First a full volt, then two, then ten…

“Reduce it,” her father says, with the quiet calm of a man who is seeing the spectacular but has already seen horrors and learned to be still before those, and the number crawls down to four. She keeps it steady there for a few seconds, jumps it up to eight, then lets it fall back to three-quarters.

Her father is quiet for a moment, with a hand wrapped around the back of his neck like there always is when he’s thinking. “I can assume that this started today. I have to tell Rao about this.”

She nods. “There are others. There are one hundred of us. I don’t know who they are or where we can find them or what they can do.”

Her father holds up a hand. “Is any of this time-sensitive, or can it wait an hour?”

“It can wait.”

“Good.” He pulls out his phone. “I’m going to call Rao and get you to see him tonight. Whatever you’re going to tell me, you can say it when you’re in front of the brigadier. I’m sure that you’re going to have to repeat it many times anyway, maybe even in front of Prime Minister Singh.” He stands up to leave. “I’ll be back in a moment. Pack up your battery and get ready to leave.”

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