Sunlight, ch. 2: Ananya Sharma

Monitoring: Ananya Sharma
Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, India

3:20 p.m. India Standard Time
Sunday, October 19th, 2014
9:50 Coordinated Universal Time
Sunday, October 19th, 2014

Fast forward—

Ananya shuffles the card back into the deck and draws another index card. “Next question: What are the aims of the Indian Ocean Rim Association?”

With additional children in the program, a makeshift educational program had been established. Ananya and the others have been mostly allowed to manage themselves, so long as their test scores keep up. The decision could have been due to any number of things: a lack of interest in running classes (maybe, but that implied an inability to find teachers who could be given security clearance or even a halfway decent cover story, which was less likely), trust in their capabilities to educate themselves (possible, especially since they all seem rather bright and able to learn under the proper circumstances—a noteworthy fact in itself), or an attempt to give them some measure of independence and at the same time keep them occupied and out of trouble (also likely, though it is a small source of conflict for Ananya, as she isn’t sure whether she ought to take it as a patronizing manipulation and feel offended).

The curriculum is a little nonstandard. There is an emphasis on international relations. Ananya has a feeling that some of it is more advanced than what most fourteen-year-olds get up to.

“All of them?” asks Aadhya, and Ananya nods. “Okay, aa, economic development, disaster risk management, maritime safety, cultural development, scientific development…” She stops, and looks at Ananya. “Still more?” she asks, but Ananya doesn’t respond. Aadhya bites the edge of her lip. “Oh. Environmental conservation.”

They had been relocated again, this time to Hindon Air Force Station. Nobody is sure exactly what why, except that it has something to do with one or more of them, but they all have their theories. Being prepared for an immediate mission isn’t possible (or at least it shouldn’t be, if their superiors have any sense of timing and forewarning), and Ayaan would be better-suited to a factory than a hangar if they were trying to improve on the assembly line that been set up for him. Kyra and Aadhya’s powers, to remove herself from people’s memories and to slip objects in and out of a small extradimensional pocket, respectively, didn’t seem like they required any kind of location change to take advantage of.

Maybe Rudra? His ability to touch a humanoid object—dolls, mannequins, statutes, it didn’t matter, though there was apparently a point where it no longer looked human enough to count as a valid target—and animate it was interesting, but not incredibly useful, seeing as it turned lifeless again as soon as he was no longer in contact with it. After a few tests a couple of months ago, the military seemed to have lost interest in him and Ananya isn’t sure why they would need him here now. Ananya had thought up a couple of applications herself, but wearing a humanoid shell as armor wasn’t all that great next to Ayaan’s ability to make any outfit tougher than kevlar and lighter than a feather.

“Okay, and what’s the ultimate aim of the IORA?” she asks Aadhya.

“By promoting sustained and balanced economic development across the region, India itself is bolstered and the region as a whole becomes invested in the current order. Stability therefore increases, which is better for everyone, everywhere. Eventually,” Aadhya adds, a tone of uncertainty entering her voice. She’s probably thinking of the people who are hungry now, if past conversations are any hint. Ananya can’t say that she blames her, but…

For that matter, the relocation was possibly for Ananya herself, if Hindon was better-suited to being a power plant than any of the alternatives (an important consideration, Ananya notes to herself, is defensibility; she can’t generate electricity for anybody if a foreign power finds out and decides to bomb her). Recent tests showed that she had a capacity to provide power to at least a million people if their usage was kept to a reasonable level, and the government might have decided that it was finally time to capitalize on her potential in a way that warranted putting her under security.

Nobody has set her up in front of a power station yet, however, so if that’s the plan then they’re taking their time in putting on the finishing touches. It’s been two days already.

Ananya slides the card to the back of the deck. She’s about to read off the next one when a tapping sound grabs her attention. It’s her father, rapping his knuckles on the door.

“There’s a show ready,” he says. “They’ve been working on something.”

“What did they do?” asks Ananya, but her father only motions for them to follow, so she and Aadhya slip off the couch and exit the room. They collect Kyra, Ayaan, and Rudra and then take an elevator to another floor, where her father leads them to a vast. The ceiling looms over them, at least eight stories high, and the chamber stretches out far in either direction, the largest room that Ananya has ever seen in her life. She can’t imagine how many planes this is supposed to hold, but there are only a few of them here, plus one unidentifiable mass that’s hidden beneath a large brown canvas.

There are a few other people present, a general and some other officers, a few enlisted members, and a couple of people who aren’t in uniform and might be contractors of one sort or another or just politicians that she doesn’t recognize. For the first time, it really strikes her just how large an operation it is that they’re running. Hindan is the largest airbase in on the continent; India might be concealing the exact capabilities of its “empowered humans” (as Ananya overheard somebody calling them), but they’re evidently not being too paranoid about it all.

“Are you ready, Rudra?” asks her father, and he nods and heads to whatever is concealed under that canvas. Someone that she doesn’t recognize hands him goggles and a pair of gloves, and he disappears beneath the canvas.

“What is this?”

“Wait and see,” answers her father. His expression is…not grim, exactly, but severe. Not angry or disgusted or sad, but less than pleased. She only catches it in profile, because he doesn’t turn away from the canvas when he answers her and she doesn’t lean away from his side to see more of his face.

A mass shifts beneath the canvas. As it begins the rise, the cover slips away, first revealing a hand, then an arm, then the whole body of a huge sculpture, nearly tall enough to reach the ceiling. Its hands are wrapped in cloth that, by its garish purple coloration, must have been altered by Ayaan at some point. The thing’s face is monstrous, with bulging yellow eyes and huge tusks jutting out from a shallow mouth. A recessed viewport sits in its chest, and covering it is another shirt of Ayaan’s, transparent rather than colored but presumably as resilient as anything of his other alterations.

“It’s big,” Kyra whispers, and Ananya nods wordlessly. The more amazing thing to her is how smoothly it moves. She had seen Rudra animate smaller things, dummies and action figures and the like, but those had been small. It made intuitive sense that they move so, but some part of her keeps expecting for this giant to be a lumbering brute. This is nothing like that, however. There is some uncertainty in its movements, definitely, but that clumsiness seems due more to Rudra’s own unfamiliarity than any fault on its part. Rudra draws a hand close to the viewport, so that he may examine it, and as its fingers flex and clench they move like quicksilver, as though there were many hinges in them.

Most eerily of all, the thing itself doesn’t make noise. She expects it to creak, like something under pressure, not move in silence. Oh, sure, there are sounds as its feet land on the hangar floor, great booms that echo off the walls, but its movement does not make noise in itself, more like a living being than a machine.

“This is just another prototype, isn’t it?”

Her father nods. “He won’t be able to hear in there, and an alternative to a window, however shielded it might be, would be appreciated.” He frowns.

“How big can it get?” Ananya asks him, as Rudra’s stone body stalks across the hangar floor. Again, the ease with which its body moves is striking, but more startling is how it accelerates and then stops on a dime.

“We don’t know. Steel and concrete alone could advance us far enough on their own, but there are other unknowns. Most of them have to do with the fact that there’s a limit to how much we can do to a frame before Rudra becomes unable to animate it, and our lack of knowledge about how he’s altering it. Look at how it seems to flow as he directs it. He isn’t just propelling it. There are changes being worked upon it, and we aren’t sure how those might affect, for example, the tensile strength of the concrete. We don’t want to build a twenty-story suit only for it to trip, shatter, and kill him.”

A metal rod is in the stone figure’s hands, plucked from a pile of materials that had been left beside its original resting place. The rod bends in its hands, despite being as thick around as its wrists.

“He still isn’t very useful. This is still nothing compared to a nuclear weapon,” Ananya says, and she marvels internally at how the world has gone down such a path that she could be saying these things as a reassurance. Even as that, though, it fails. Her father shakes his head, and she tries again. “It isn’t very good even to help out with construction. Maybe as a symbol, but you don’t need to send him out to battle to do that.”

“They’re going to keep looking.” He frowns and glances away. “When somebody hands you a tool that you don’t recognize, you don’t set it down and forget about it. You find something that it’s useful for, and if that doesn’t work then…” He pauses. “Then you give up, if you have any sense. But sometimes you make a situation that it’s useful for. I didn’t join the Army and spend most of your life in far-off places so that my country could make a child soldier out of you.”

“I just make electricity,” she says, and for the first time it seems like another blessing that she would had to try so hard to devise a military utility for her abilities. She mentions nothing of those plans, of course, though they still lurk at the back of her head, waiting while she tries to be useful in other ways.

Her statement doesn’t seem to comfort him very much, and she can understand why. “He could be my son as easily as you are my daughter. Any of you could be my children.”

“I don’t want that to happen,” Ananya says, unsure whether she’s lying, or by how much. “But if India does need us…”

His hand clenches at his side, nearly—but not quite—forming a fist before it relaxes. “I won’t let it come to that.”

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