“Ladies and Gentlemen.”
The Professor scanned the sea of faces with steady eyes, gripping the metal fence in front of him with such force that his knuckles turned white. He had already been sick twice in the past hour and was adamant to get through this demonstration. This was his first and possibly only chance at fame, fortune and glory.
The Professor, so nicknamed for his brilliance, was no stranger to pressure.
At age thirteen he had graduated from The Oxford Academy of Science, incurring the envy of both students and teachers, which he had long since surpassed. Two years later he became the youngest visiting professor at the Academy at which he advocated some ideas that had all but incited a riot during his class.
A year later he gave that same class again, only this time he had actually put his theories to practice the Academy had recognised his contributions.
The Professor had singlehandedly pushed forward the notion of steam technology by a decade or two.
And now here he stood; a young, brilliant mind, centuries ahead of his time, about to unveil his latest marvel.
“Energy is a fickle concept,” he began. “We do not see it, yet science has proven time and again just how vitally important it is. Energy surrounds us. It is the very thing that turns mere water into vapour, powering our locomotives and providing us with light in the darkest of hours. But let us dispense with the grim visuals.”
The crowd laughed softly, still unsure where the Professor was headed with his monologue.
“My point is, Ladies and Gentlemen, energy is vital. It is alive in all of us, in the form of electrical currents. For years, brilliant minds like Edison and Tesla, have sought to harness its power, but to no avail. That technology has been incomplete… until now.”
He waved his hand, drawing the crowd’s attention to a large spherical machine behind him.
A metal sphere, twice the size of a hansom, gleamed under the light of the laboratory. It stood inside a pair of rings, one vertical, the other horizontal, and both overlapping. The rings had coils around them, giving them the appearance of giant, metallic lengths of twisted rope. The entire contraption was held off the ground by a copper pillar welded into the vertical ring. Finally, surrounding the device, four electrostatic generators—pillars of brass ending in large, round heads—as large as the men who operated them, stood around the metal sphere.
The sides of the lab were lined with buttons, levers and switchboards, as well as a team of engineers all awaiting patiently for the Professor’s signal.
“Electro-Magnetic energy,” said the Professor. “We are all familiar with magnets: two ends repelling or attracting one another. In the course of my studies I discovered that this energy can also create electricity. It is the same force that Doctor Isaac Newton spoke of when he introduced us to the gravitational pull. It is the same energy that makes the Earth revolve around the sun, the energy that is creating the thunderstorm above us, and-” He extracted a compass from his lab coat pocket. “It is the same energy that compels the needle on this compass to point north.”
Awe resounded throughout the crowd and the Professor momentarily feared another riot. Ever since that episode at Oxford he had never been the same when facing a crowd.
“This machine,” he said, turning their attention back to the device behind him, “will allow us, for the very first time, to harness that energy.”
He nodded at the lead engineer who in turn barked an order to his subordinates. They all scattered to their stations.
“Tonight we make history,” said the Professor.
He smiled, completely enthralled in the moment. He met the eyes of one of the members of the Oxford Academy of Science. The Professor would debate for years to come what compelled him to utter his next words, be it hubris or mania, but he uttered them still and felt good about it.
“Tonight, we are gods.”
At the very back of the room, one of the country’s most influential lords leaned in and whispered in his man-servant’s ear:
“Is everything set?”
“Yes, my Lord,” replied the man-servant. “As per your instructions.”
The lead engineer pulled a lever, causing the electrostatic generators to crackle louder. It sounded like a locomotive had passed through. Bolts of lightning flowed from the four round heads and into the wires which powered the coils around the rings. As they hummed and glowed, the giant sphere spun at enormous speeds, until one could no longer tell if it was moving or had stopped.
“Ten thousand volts,” cried the Professor. Even over the ruckus of the machine, he could still hear the people’s gasps and applause. Cameras flashed—all the influential papers would put this event on their front pages.
Outside, the storm raged, with thick clouds spitting gallons of rain. Serpentine bolts of lightning illuminated the sky and were accompanied by the roar of thunder that shook glass, stone and wood like a far away earthquake.
But that wasn’t the worst of it.
Above the laboratory where the Professor was conducting his demonstration, the storm converged like the centre of a hurricane. The clouds were a sickly yellow and seemed to glow around the edges. Lightning crackled ominously over the laboratory.
“Stage three,” called the Professor. “Let us go for one million volts.”
He could tell the lead engineer did not like this. All previous attempts at going beyond ten thousand volts had resulted in damage to the machine. But the Professor wanted to mark this day in history.
Today was not a day for moderation.
The machine rumbled louder and steam pipes rattled. Two of the consoles exploded in a shower of sparks.
“Professor,” cried the lead engineer. “It’s overloading.”
“Just a few more minutes,” replied the Professor, looking at a gauge. So close; they were so close.
Less than a minute later, the machine exploded. But rather than a regular explosion something peculiar occurred. All that stored up electricity burst upwards, like a volcano erupting. Angry white light tore through the ceiling and was met with the yellow clouds of the storm—clouds that were far from natural.
As the storm absorbed the electricity, it exploded outwards. The entire sky glowed a sulphuric yellow, illuminating as far as the eye could see and beyond. Rain and lightning showered the world.
Then the laboratory itself exploded.
By then, most of the people had been evacuated, and the last few engineers only suffered minor injuries. Nothing a visit to the hospital wouldn’t fix.
But the lab was gone, leaving only a black scorch mark behind on the ground, covered in mortar, broken equipment and the shattered remains of the Professor’s vision.
History would remember this event as the Great Storm.
For this was the day that changed the world. But not as the Professor intended.
No, the change was more insidious—personal even, to those unfortunate souls that were affected. Because on this day approximately twenty percent of the Earth’s population began manifesting strange abilities of a paranormal nature.
This was the day Espers were born.