“Human ability is remarkable. We all learn and mature and become contributing members of society. And yet, everyone has their own ability. No two people share the exact same set of strengths and weaknesses. Scientists and doctors have studied human ability for generations and have created a way for us to develop our strengths further than we could before."
These are the words I hear during orientation for my own talent evolution. I barely pay attention to the rest of Mayor Karnstein's opening speech. It’s not like I’ve never heard these things before. I’ve heard them in every history class ever, and in every talent preparation class leading up to now. Not to mention all the talks we’ve had at home, given my parents work for the International Association of Talent (I.A.T.), the government group responsible for monitoring the talented. They sit on my right and pay far more attention to Mayor Karnstein than I am able to. I can tell that my neighbor to the left is just as lost to the world as she plays with the ginger curls in her hair.
Ainsley and I have been friends since our moms both started working at I.A.T. and threw us together in daycare. That’s how I know her mind is far away as she twirls her hair around her finger. If this were something other than a talent evolution orientation, she’d be sitting with a sketchbook and pencil. She has always been able to focus better with a drawing utensil in her hand.
Something in Mayor Karnstein's tone sounds final so I tune back in to catch the end of his speech.
“If you decide to go through with the evolution, you become responsible to your community and society to use your talents for good. Every talent, great or small, can improve the world around you. Let’s repeat the talent motto together, shall we?”
“Accountability accompanies aptitude,” the auditorium recites. Ainsley snaps out of her daze and quickly mumbles the motto as everyone finishes. I laugh under my breath.
Everyone claps as Mayor Karnstein takes his seat. Then President Mercia takes her place at the podium to address us. She runs our city’s Center for Human Talent Development, where we go through our evolutions and learn to develop our talents afterwards.
“Thank you, Mayor Karnstein. I sustain your inspiring words. Students, I hope you will all leave this orientation more prepared for your evolution and life after it. Should you choose to augment your talents next week, you will become acquainted with a whole new way of life. We have informational classes set up for you and stations in the cafeteria where you can ask any questions you may have. Refer to your schedules and let us know if you need directions. We so look forward to working alongside you future leaders.”
As President Mercia leaves the podium, the auditorium buzzes. I turn to Ainsley, who has already jumped out of her seat. I stand to join her. We’ve been sitting for far too long since we came early to get good seats, more for the benefit of our parents than ourselves.
“I don’t know about you,” Ainsley chirps, “but I need to use the ladies’ room. I had one too many glasses of apple juice with my eggs this morning.” I laugh.
“Of course you did,” I reply, sarcastically rolling my eyes. Ainsley loves apples. Everything and anything with apples. It’s lucky she was raised on apples.
“I think I’m gonna stick with my parents for now. See you at the end? In the cafeteria?” I ask.
“Sounds like a plan.” Ainsley gives me a thumbs-up and darts out of the row, leaving her parents scrambling after her.
“Catch you later, Flecks!” Ainsley’s dad calls to us as they rush out. I turn to face my parents, who look positively edified by the speech I mostly missed.
“Always good to hear from Mayor Karnstein,” Dad says. “What a good man to have in office at a time like this.”
“He’s done a lot for this community,” Mom adds. “It’s nice to see him again.”
I don’t have anything to add about this particular topic. Obviously I don’t appreciate politics as much as Mom and Dad. They like to talk all the time about issues from work and leaders in the community. What could Dad have meant by 'a time like this,' anyway? Is the grass too green?
The three of us trickle out of the auditorium with the rest of the crowd. I practically memorized my schedule in the extra time I had waiting for orientation to start, so I know that my first activity is a tour of The Center. My parents and I look for a sign that says “Group 1” in the outdoor hallway. We meet with other families whose last names start with A through F. I step out onto the grass for a moment while we wait for the rest of our group to gather. I look up and see the clear sky, taking in all the sunshine.
“Welcome to orientation!” A perky twenty-something standing under the Group 1 sign cheers. “My name is Tira and I will be your tour guide this afternoon.” She looks at a tablet in her arms. “Looks like we are right on schedule. If you’ll all follow me.”
There are about fifty of us in the group, with parents included. Not every student has both parents here though. My parents are just too eager about this kind of thing. They left my little siblings, Gage and Kesi, with a sitter so they could both be here.
“This is the original Center for Human Talent Development. It was built eighty-seven years ago when talent evolution was first offered to the public. Of course, there are now seventeen others around the world, one in each city.”
We make our way through a long clear tunnel, further into The Center. We approach a desk and what looks like a large waiting room. “One week from now, you will all arrive here and check in. From here, you will be led to one of the back rooms and put under an induced coma. In the room, you will receive an injection of amisteride. As you know, amisteride is the drug which attaches to your DNA and kickstarts the talent evolution.”
Tira leads us past the waiting room through multiple doors. As we approach a big sealed door, Tira’s long black hair fans out around her as she spins to face us. “This is our next stop.” Tira scans a badge and the doors pull apart.
We all gather inside. Unlike most places in the city circle of Manhattan, there are no windows in this room. It is a massive room, though. There are rows and rows of large cylindrical tubes between us and the door at the other end of the room. Even though this room is so spacious, the absence of natural light makes me feel a little claustrophobic.
"This is the holding chamber," our tour guide explains. "After you've received your injection, you will be brought to this room while your body transforms. You remain here in one of these stabilizing capsules for a period of ten days. There are trained nurses who will monitor you during this time and note any changes that start to appear." I look next to me at the nearest capsule. I don't want to think about my unconscious body laying in one of these. I know it's normal, but it makes me feel a little skittish.
“Now time for the exciting stuff,” Tira announces. She gathers us to the other door in the chamber and swipes her badge once more. Leading the way down a corridor, Tira continues. “After ten days, you are brought to an individual waiting room and woken from your coma. There, you will be tested and monitored closely for a period of twenty-four hours, in which Manhattan’s top experts will put together everything they have examined during your initial evolution period. From this data, they will create your Talent ID, which will list initial findings about your talents, including any physical and mental capabilities, as well as strengths and weaknesses.” Tira navigates through a series of sterile white hallways.
“After you’ve been given your Talent ID, you will be escorted here.” Tira pushes through a set of double doors and we all flood through. “The Center’s Training Facility.” We step into an expansive circular room. Looking up, I see skylight streaming in from a glass ceiling. There are multiple floors above, and hallways all around the circle that lead deeper into the facility.
“Go ahead, take a walk around the courtyard. Get familiar with it now, because you’re going to see this place a lot when you are enrolled at The Center.” I hear a few parents chuckle in agreement.
“Just like I remember it,” Mom sighs, lost in a memory. She grew up in Manhattan’s circle, so this was the Center she attended. Dad grew up in Parisia, but I can tell he still sees his own memories in this facility.
I walk up to a tree that’s planted in the center of the courtyard. Leaning against it, I stare up at the sky, counting the number of floors I see. Twelve. I look away when I start to get dizzy.
“I can’t believe you are going to be in The Center, Halcyon!” Mom bounds over and squeezes me. “When did you get so old?”
“I think you mean, when did you get so old,” I add. Dad chuckles.
“Hey!” Mom protests, squeezing me tighter. I shrink out of her arms, hoping no one sees her display of affection. Not in front of my new classmates.
After a few minutes, our group gathers at the other side of the circle. “Okay, just a few more stops,” Tira calls, directing us through another set of doors. “I’m just going to give you all a peek at some of the rooms we have here. Parents, unfortunately we can’t visit all your old hangout spots but we will be hitting the essentials.”
After winding through what seems to be a maze of hallways, I wonder if I will ever find my way around this place. Tira shows us the classrooms, gym, and library. These stops are similar to what you could find at my alma mater—Adelphia Secondary School—except each room is completely different from a regular school. These rooms are tailored for the talented, ready to welcome budding abilities and shape them into unique powers for each student.
Seeing this facility in person brings mixed emotions. When I graduated from Adelphia Secondary a month ago, I knew everything our schools had to offer in history, science, writing, and the other basic subjects. I was comfortable with my life as a regular student. Now I am starting to realize that on top of evolving physically and mentally, I will also need to evolve as a student. Instead of studying for the next math test, I will need to train in the gym for a physical talent, or meditate for a mental talent. Instead of reading about the development of the talent evolution, I will be living it and developing my own talent.
Not only that, but I will need to train for a job and a place in society. I will only have two years to complete all of this training before I’m sent out in the world to whatever city needs me and the talent I have developed. It’s a lot to take in. I am beyond ready to know what my talent will be, but I am also terrified. I want to know that I will be okay, that my talent will finally give me a future I can plan on. So much of my life has been dependent on this evolution. I just want to get it over with.