It was said that 2020 was to be the Year of the Prodigy. On February 20, I, Jessa McKinley, strengthened their theory.
I could read and write by the age of three. I was doing second grade work at five. I ensured my "freak" status at four when I memorized the French alphabet and rattled it off to my shell-shocked kindergarten teacher.
That was also the year my mom started homeschooling me.
Neither of us could have expected the following years to happen the way they did.
The whole mess started the week after my sixth birthday. I was sitting cross-legged on my bedroom floor, experimenting with sound. First, I played a hand game with the air, and then moved onto just clapping. It was completely harmless until I started snapping my fingers.
The first two or three fumbled, emitting a dull thudding sound. But, I finally got a decent one, and I got more than just the sound. At the tips of my fingers, I saw sparks, shiny blue sparks, dance for a second and then disappear.
I froze, my fingers poised for another pass at it. Had I actually seen that? There was only one way to find out. I snapped, and now the sparks were green and more pronounced. Being an impressionable kid, I wasn't going to keep this to myself.
"Mommy! Mommy!" I shrieked, careening into the kitchen.
My mom was making dinner, and she jumped a mile in the air, dropping the spoon into the boiling water.
"Jessa! Are you alright?" my mom asked in a breathy, frantic voice.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. You've got to see this." I begged.
"Sweetie, I'm busy. Can't it wait until after dinner?"
"No, Mom, you have to see it now!" I was now the frantic one. I was worried that my discovery was fleeting and wouldn't last until after dinner.
Mom turned around from the stove, looking impatient. "Go ahead." She prodded.
I scooted over next to her, holding my fingers at the ready right under her nose. "Watch close." I instructed, and snapped. The sparks were now hot pink and formed a complete arc that lasted only a second. When the effect faded, I examined my mother's face.
All I saw was sadness and fear.
"Oh, honey." She moaned. "Oh, sweetheart."
That was the moment I realized that my discovery was not fleeting, and that I wasn't just a freaky smart kid anymore.
I was a Different.
Before that day, the Differents had been just a story to me, the kind my mom used to tell me when I'd wake up in the night. Now, a race of humanity long believed to be extinct had resurfaced in the guise of an impressionable child.
The Differents had first come to light around the turn of the last century. Several individuals began to display latent, extraordinary abilities, as varied as the people behind them. Unfortunately, their gifts were not accepted. Instead, anyone who came forward claiming to possess a gift was met with only persecution, from social isolation to death threats. Crime rates escalated at an alarming rate, mostly due to a vast number to assaults and domestic disturbances. Slowly but surely, people stopped coming forward, and eventually, the phenomenon was all but forgotten. Society was glad to put the whole shenanigans to rest, aside from a few bedtime stories.
Obviously, the Differents hadn't disappeared, simply gone into hiding.
Needless to say, my newfound gift was hardly the topic of conversation between my mother and I. I suppose you could say that I was mad at my mom for not being there for me. For almost two years, I was forced to perfect my ability in secret. I don't know how many times I scorched my bedroom ceiling when I lost concentration.
Despite failed attempts, by the age of ten, I could create a sphere of electrical energy the size of a marble, and I could both throw it, thus creating a mid-air detonation, and I could roll it. For the last one, I practiced outside so I wouldn't scorch the carpet.
The only two downsides were the strained relationship with my mom and the fact that now I was an even bigger outcast. I shied away from human contact, preferring the peace of our small apartment. I think that's what made my mom decide that I needed a change of scenery.
Her proposition came out of nowhere.
"Jessa, how would you like to go live with your uncle?" my mom asked one evening when we were cleaning up from dinner.
I was taken aback. I had seen my uncle Adrian only a few times when I was very young, and we hadn't exactly hit it off. He was a big shot politician, and he didn't seem to have time to forge decent relationships.
"What?" I asked.
"He's been offered a position as commander of a new space station. He and I were talking on the phone last night, and I mentioned your recent problems."
Problems, I thought. That's what she's calling them now. Problems.
"He thought it might be a good idea for you to spend some time with him on the station. It doesn't have to be permanent; he just thinks you would like that change of scenery."
Maybe it was because we weren't on good speaking terms, or maybe I really did need that change in scenery. Either way, I made the decision that would change my life course forever.
"Okay." I responded.