Read The Talents Online

Authors: Inara Scott

Tags: #Fiction - Young Adult

The Talents (24 page)

BOOK: The Talents
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to the far corner of the room, where the flickering light cast long shadows on the books. Cam reached up to the top of a metal shelving unit, moved a book aside, and punched a series of buttons on a hidden keypad. A soft whirring sound began high overhead, and the row of books on the wall to our left creaked softly.

“It only stays open for a second,” he said. “You'll have to squeeze in right after me. Don't let yourself fall behind.”

As if spinning on some giant axis, the bookcase revolved about twenty degrees to the left; just enough for Cam to turn sideways and slip inside. As soon as I crossed the threshold, the whirring started again, and the bookcase swung back into place.

For a second, it was pitch black. I fought the desire to scream like a girl in a bad horror movie, until the absurdity of it all—a secret passageway behind a bookcase? You've got to be kidding me!—brought a smile to my face. A light turned on overhead, revealing a narrow corridor illuminated by glowing white lightbulbs. Cold air clung to sterile gray walls.

“Where are we?” I whispered, the smile fading. Something about the place made me feel like I was in a prison. Or a should-have-been-closed mental institution.

“Behind the library. We go up a flight of stairs to get to the other library. That's what I need to show you.”

He didn't sound like he wanted to chat, so I shut my mouth and followed him up a circular staircase with a cold metal railing and industrial-plastic steps.

Lights turned on above us as we climbed. Cam reached the top and disappeared from view. I gripped the chilly railing tightly, my legs shaking so badly I feared I would do something horrifically embarrassing, like trip and smash my face into the steps above.

We passed through a hole in the ceiling, my head emerging step by step as what had been the ceiling turned into the floor. That was when I got my first look at Cam's big secret.

It was another library. A small, narrow one, with books along one wall and deep window wells on the other, the windows covered by pieces of plywood. Everything was gray and a little dingy, as if the cleaning crew didn't get back here often enough. I got to the top of the stairs and walked slowly to the first shelf, tilting my head to read the titles.

The Science of Levitation

Using Your Talent for Shape-changing

Unlocking the Power: Turning Mass to Energy in Everyday Objects

A New State: Altering States of Matter Through Chemistry

“Delcroix isn't just a school for geniuses,” Cam said flatly. “That's part of what we do here, but only part. More important, we look for people like you, Dancia. People with special talents.”

I gulped. “What do you mean, like me?”

“Your power,” he said. “If you want to talk truth, here it is. We've known about your secret for some time. We recruited you because of it.”

I should have expected it by this point, but somehow hearing him say it out loud made me dizzy. I swayed toward the wall behind me.

Cam grabbed me around the waist and set me in a window well. “Put your head between your knees,” he commanded.

I dutifully obeyed, feeling like a complete idiot, peeking out to see his chest only inches away. When the world stopped spinning, I lifted my head. “I think I'll be okay.”

He gave me a half smile. “Sorry about that. I didn't mean to completely freak you out. I guess it's a bit of a shock, huh?”

“A bit.”

“I felt the same way when they told me.”

We sat for a minute in silence. I stared at the rows of books on the wall. Many looked old, with cracked leather bindings and gold edges to the pages. Others were relatively new, but all had been extensively used. Nothing on the shelves looked untouched.

My anger dissolved into something more like relief. As weird as it all was, a weight was lifting from my shoulders. I didn't have to pretend anymore.

“You knew about me all along?”

“Well, not exactly. We knew someone in Danville was using a Level Three Talent, but you only used it sporadically and somehow without attracting much attention. Most people can't get to Level Three without training, and we usually hear about those that do. You were harder to identify than most. It wasn't until the incident at the hospital that we could trace it all back to you.”

I leaned back against the window. “A Level Three Talent? What's that? How did you know someone was using one?”

He began to pace as he spoke, and I had the sense this was a speech he had given before. “Everyone at Delcroix—actually, everyone in the world—has a talent. Most talents are basic everyday stuff. They can be as simple as being a good cook or having a knack for throwing great parties. Those are Level One Talents. Level Two gets you noticed. Those are your geniuses, your computer hackers—the type we recruit for Delcroix. Level Twos are people like your friend Hennie, who can read people so well it's like she's reading their mind, or Esther, whose impersonations are incredible. Some Level Twos stay there, some can be trained to go even higher. If Hennie takes her talent to the next level, she'll actually be able to read minds. Esther could learn to shape-shift. You're a Level Three. Someone who can use her mind to do extraordinary things.”

“Esther could shape-shift?” I thought about how she said her pants got looser sometimes when she pretended to be someone. Maybe she was already a Level Three Talent and they just didn't know it. “Can you tell me how it works?” I whispered, both excited and terrified to finally learn about my power. “What it is I'm doing?”

He shook his head. “Not until we experiment with you a little. You know, ask you to do certain things and observe the results. But my guess is that you're playing with some of the forces of nature, perhaps with gravity. Everyone's talent is a little different, but they fall into some general categories. Earth Talents, like yours, can manipulate the chemical and physical forces of the earth. Life Talents have extraordinary powers to understand, persuade, and communicate with people and animals. Somatic Talents have extraordinary bodily powers—Trevor, for example, can see through walls. I have a Life Talent for recognizing other talents. I feel a resonance when someone nearby uses their power. It's hard to describe, almost like a vibration. And I felt that resonance over the past few years probably every time you used your power.”

Forces of nature. Gravity. That sounded right.

“Can a person have more than one talent?” After all, Jack had said he felt something when I used my power, sort of like what Cam described, but Jack could also change the form of things.

“Yes, but usually one talent is more powerful than the others. I'm a Level Three for recognition, Level Two for persuasion. It's why people always vote for me to be class president. I could probably use my persuasion to be a really good politician, but not much else. But if it was my primary talent, I could learn to control people's minds. Mr. Judan's a Level Three for persuasion.”

I shivered. I knew there was something spooky about Mr. Judan. “Is there a Level Four?”

He stopped pacing. “After Level Three, it gets messy. There have been reports in the past of Level Fours, but there aren't any around today, so we can't be sure. But you're already a strong Level Three, and you haven't even been trained.”

“How does it work? Your recognition thing, I mean.”

“The first time I touch a Level Three Talent, I get a vibration. I think you may have felt it when we first shook hands.”

I nodded. “It felt like a shock. I always wondered about that.”

“Normally, you wouldn't even feel it. It's a…meeting of energies.” He shrugged helplessly. “I don't know quite how to describe it. We typically don't even try to identify Level Threes until midway through freshman year, and the candidate doesn't even know what's happened. But with you and with Jack, things were different from the start. When I touched you it was a hundred times stronger than anything I'd ever felt before. You jumped a mile. Mr. Judan even saw it. That's when we knew how powerful you were, and how important it was to get you into Delcroix.”

“Why don't you tell the”—I fumbled over the word—“candidates…what Delcroix's really all about?”

“We can't go around training just anyone to use these kinds of powers. What if they were to use them for the wrong purposes? Can you imagine how dangerous that could be? We make them take the pledge to get into Delcroix, but we can't stop there.”

I nodded. He looked so grave, so serious, that I got a little scared. If I could put someone into a coma, and I didn't even know what I was doing, think about what I could do with a little training.

Cam continued his explanation. “Before we start formal training, we subject candidates to significant stresses and challenges, and we investigate their reactions. We cannot risk training someone who will use their powers for evil. So we watch and wait. That's why we do the wall and other group experiences. At the beginning of sophomore or junior year we invite those students who show they can be trusted to join the program.”

He approached my seat in the window well and put a hand next to my knee. Then he leaned forward until I could feel his breath on my face. There was so much information coming at me, I could barely take it all in, but at that moment, all I could think about was Cam saying that the reason he hadn't tried to be more than friends was because of the Watcher thing.

It was enough to make me dizzy all over again.

“Throughout all of it, we have a network of Watchers monitoring the progress of each candidate. Some are teachers, like Mr. Fritz, who watch candidates in the classroom. Most are other students, like me and Trevor and Anna. We each get assigned a handful of candidates, and we find ways to spend time with them. We participate in activities with our candidates, offer to help with homework, and observe them in the dining hall. Although each of us is assigned specific students to watch, we work together closely so we don't make anyone uncomfortable. For example, Anna might keep an eye on you during cross-country, while I might be there for you at lunch.”

I swallowed hard. “So someone's watching me all the time? Pretending to be my friend and then taking notes about the things I say or do?”

“You're making it sound worse than it is. Most candidates don't know about their talent, but they do know they're different. They've often been ostracized or bullied for the very gifts that we want to encourage. They need extra attention. We're giving them that attention. We don't watch because we want to hurt anyone. We watch because we care about our candidates. We want to be there for them. And if they start going down the wrong path, we need to know that too.”

I wasn't entirely convinced, but Cam's face was so open and sincere, it was hard to doubt that he believed what he was saying. “Does everyone have a Watcher?”

“Not exactly. The teachers, advisers, and team leaders do some reporting on every freshman. Technically, you're all candidates. But the reality is that most people never get past Level Two. Only a handful of candidates will be brought into the program, and we usually know who those people are before school even starts. Those are the ones who are given an individual Watcher.”

“Are you watching Jack?” I had to ask, even though his very name felt like taboo.

“We all watch Jack,” Cam said grimly. “We know too much about him not to. But officially he's assigned to Trevor.”

My gaze darted around, meeting his and then pushing back, like the wrong end of a magnet bumping against another. “Okay. So what's the program?”

“Different things for different people. There's basic lessons, learning more about how talents work, the forces that they utilize, that sort of thing. After that you specialize. For me, it's learning how to read the vibrations I feel, how to identify more about a candidate than simply whether they have a Level Three Talent or not. They think maybe I can learn to tell from the time I recruit someone whether they can be trusted in the program. You'll learn about the forces you can control, and make sure you know exactly what you're doing so your talent doesn't end up hurting anyone.”

That made me shudder. I had hurt people. For years, I had hurt people every time I used my talent. Did Cam know that? What would he think of me if he ever found out?

“What happens to the ones who aren't asked to join the program?” I said.

He turned around and rested his back against the edge of the windowsill, staring forward as he ran his fingers through his hair. “Most of them never figure out what they could have been. They go through Delcroix, get trained in a lesser talent, and go on with their lives. The ones that do figure it out, well, that's why the program exists in the first place. To protect the rest of the world from the ones who would do harm.”

I looked down at my hands. “And you think I could do that? Help protect people?”

BOOK: The Talents
4.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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