Shikara – 2: The Electrician

by Paul du Pré

Africa, in an alternate world.

A 9+1-part series.

“What are you doing?” she asks, leaning her forearms on top of the fence.

The man startles, and turns. His face is honest – broad, snub-nosed; a wispy beard left too long trellises his jaw. An easy smile ripens from his eyes, splitting to reveal two rows of even, white teeth, illumined by the gathered light, and startlingly lustrous in the setting of his earth-dark skin. “Hello! Who are you?” he asks. His voice large and round, a hint of grit in it – someone used to shouting greetings, or orders. Or reproofs.

“I’m Shikara,” she says, extending her fingers over the wall with that hesitation a sophisticated woman shows when she’s not sure if a man will respond with a crushing handshake, or click his heels and press her fingers to his lips. “And you are?”

“Bulumko,” he replies. And brushes his pinkish palm against hers; a limp and cursory gesture. “Your accent – you’re British?”

“I went to school there.”

“Oh. Very pohhh-sh…” Bulumko responds, drawing the word out, teasing her. Behind her cut-glass enunciation are hints of something he can’t make out. Durban Indian…and something else? he wonders.

“What are you doing?” she interrupts. “I don’t mean to intrude, but…”

“Hey, it’s alright!” And it is. It’s not that often, thinks Bulumko, you get a beautiful stranger leaning over your garden fence. “I’m sparking for Saleem Ibron tonight – heard of him?” Shikara twitches a quick denial. “Well, I’m practising my routine.” Bulumko turns, shows her his profile: “Watch!”

He gestures, and a stream of sparks condenses in mid-air, chases into a rotating ring that drifts away from them, pulsing through the colour spectrum from violet to red and back.

“Wow!” breathes Shikara.

“Be much brighter when it’s dark,” says Bulumko, pleased, as the sparks fade.

“You’re an Electrician!” she exclaims.

“Me? No,” he says. “You have to be celibate to join the order – if you want to make Adept, that is.” He grins: “I’m not celibate.”

Wonders if he’s gone too far.

“I thought you had to wear caps, with all those funny…looks like metal or plastic tubes, sewn onto them to work with electricity?”

“Caps? You mean capacitors? Ah… Yes! Caps, as in cloth caps. But with capacitors attached,” he amends, embarrassment deepening. “The ‘tube-things’ that trap and store electric charge.” She looks blank. “I don’t need them to concentrate atmospheric electricity – what I just did. But if I was working with a battery, I would need protection.” Shikara still looks blank – not playing nicely, and Bulumko fumbles for another gambit. “Hey, want to come to the show tonight?”

“No.” She flaps a languid hand. “I mean, explain. About the battery…and protection.”

“Uh, OK.” Bulumko glances skyward, taking a moment to regain his social balance. “Well, any battery worth having will have a voltage high enough for electrical sentience to be an issue. Uh, you do know that current above about 50 mili-volt/amperes is sentient?” Shikara doesn’t respond. “Well, the bigger the charge, the more intelligent it is. That’s putting it simply…” Bulumko thinks of the inscrutable behaviour of million-volt electrical storms – successive lightning strikes stitching geometric patterns into mountainsides, carving arches, spheres, and other complex shapes out of prominent rocks – but decides that this is not the time to share what he has gleaned of EASI theory (Electrical Autistic Super-Intelligence). He continues, “And, of course, the smaller it is, the less intelligent it is. Basically, that’s ‘electrical sentience’.”

Shikara is still looking disengaged (he will learn this is not a reliable indicator of her interest) and Bulumko hurries on, “But then, there’s also ‘electrical capriciousness’, which is inversely proportional to sentience… Uh, the smaller the current, the dumber and more unpredictable it is. So, to answer your question…” He takes a deep breath, resists clasping his hands behind his back like a schoolboy. “Normal ambient atmospheric potential, like here in this yard, concentrates so little current that it’s hardly aware. I don’t need protection to work it. Just talent. But, if I’m working with a voltaic pile that produces say, 60 to 80 volts, then the current will be sentient – just stupid and quite unpredictable. So, I need capacitors for protection – in case it turns on me…” Unnervingly, Shikara seems to be staring right through him. “Then, if things go wrong, I can use them to absorb the current.”

Silence…

Which stretches.

This girl is weird, thinks Bulumko.

“Yes,” she says. “I’d like to see the show. I’d like to very much, thank you.”

***

Image Credits

Woman underwater – Free-Photos on Pixabay

Disclaimer, Copyright and Permissions

Shikara is a work of fiction by Paul du Preez, writing as Paul du Pré. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are the product of Paul du Preez’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights are reserved, including without limitation, the right to reproduce Shikara and the original art or music associated with it, or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of Paul du Preez. Copyrighted 2020 by Paul du Preez.

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