Synonyms: insignificant, unimportant, nonessential, irrelevantIn the world of genetic mutation, Gypsy’s talent of knowing a person’s age of death is considered a failure. Her peers, the other Cavies, have powers that range from curdling a blood still in the vein to being able to overhear a conversation taking place three miles away, but when they’re taken from the sanctuary where they grew up and forced into the real world, Gypsy, with her all-but-invisible gift, is the one with the advantage.The only one who’s safe, if the world finds out what they can do.
When the Cavies are attacked and inoculated with an unidentified virus, that illusion is shattered. Whatever was attached to the virus causes their abilities to change. Grow. In some cases, to escape their control.
Gypsy dreamed of normal high school, normal friends, a normal life, for years. Instead, the Cavies are sucked under a sea of government intrigue, weaponized genetic mutation, and crushing secrets that will reframe everything they’ve ever been told about how their “talents” came to be in the first place.
When they find out one of their own has been appropriated by the government, mistreated and forced to run dangerous missions, their desire for information becomes a pressing need. With only a series of guesses about their origins, the path to the truth becomes quickly littered with friends, enemies, and in the end, the Cavies ability to trust anyone at all.
The library is one of the bigger rooms in the house, converted from what used to be the upstairs parlor. The Professor looks out a window that overlooks the back lawn. Shelves, sagging with dusty books, cover every inch of the light blue, fifteen-foot walls. The morning sunlight still lingers around the front of the house, making this space dim, but motes of dust twirl and waltz like members of a royal court on the pale, reaching beams.
All at once, happiness floods my bloodstream, as though someone smacks good cheer into my chest cavity through my shoulder blades. The strange desire to burst into song hums along my nerve endings, as though I’m a Disney princess summoning her bird and varmint attendants at the window. It takes serious concentration to bite back the urge.
The abrupt change in mood announces another Cavy’s presence, but as hard as I try to glare at Pollyanna, my mouth refuses to cooperate. Her mutation, a reverse empath alternation that allows her disposition to affect the moods of people in close proximity, is more…invasive than most. Losing control of my own mind never fails to make me feel icky.
And given her insistence on cynicism and anger, she’s not aptly named. Not at all.
“Feeling good, Gyspy?” She shakes out her long, blond hair and pins me with china-blue eyes. The faux-happy shroud crawling from her to me dissolves and my smile finally falls away. Polly nods. “That’s better. You look weird when you smile.”
“Pollyanna, we have spoken at length about the perils of using your gifts on your fellow Cavies.” The Professor’s patient, tired voice reprimands the youngest of his students, if only by several months.
The Philosopher, who runs Darley, took us in before we were three months old, and we all arrived between sixteen and seventeen years ago.
She’s not sorry, but his chastisement and her apology are part of our daily routine. Of all the kids here, Pollyanna is my least favorite. She’s everyone’s least favorite, and even though she knows it she doesn’t change. I guess she doesn’t care.
“Sorry for what? Fucking with people again?” The voice bleeds out of thin air before Haint shimmers into view around it, face first. She leans against one of the bookcases once her shoulder appears, examining her nails as she waits for her daily reprimand.
The Professor doesn’t disappoint. “Language, dear.”
He says nothing to me, not even hello, nor does he issue a warning to Haint about using her ability to go invisible. It’s not dangerous. Pollyanna could make any one of us walk straight off a cliff if she felt particularly suicidal that day.
The twins Athena and Goose arrive together, a tornado of rough-housing elbows and flashes of reddish hair, loosing half a shelf of books onto the floor and toppling an end table before getting themselves under control. The Professor ignores them, having long ago resigned himself to their antics.
We’re all here now, at least those who are expected. Mole is still enduring his weekly brain prodding and so is Reaper. They’re our lethal Cavies, and are kept for testing more often and for longer than the rest of us. We’re categorized according to our level of usefulness, the details of our mutations and abilities listed in records the Philosopher hopes might convince the government we could be potential assets as opposed to threats.
Three Operationals, two Substantials, one Developmental, three Unstables, and one Inconsequential. That’s me. The one who will never be an asset to anyone but can’t be locked away and forgotten like an Unstable, either. They don’t know what to do with me, so I shuffle along with the group.
“Everyone sit down, please.”
The Professor’s command sounds more like a genteel request, and we drop into a circle of cross-legged teenagers on the oval Oriental rug that smothers the center of the room. He paces behind us, passing binder-clipped pages into our waiting hands.
I grab mine, excited as the title filters through my eyes and into my brain. It’s a thesis, written by the Scientist back in the 1960s: Genetic Mutation and the Human Brain.
He died before any of us were born but his thoughts and experiments, his studies, help the scientists at Darley Hall figure out what might have caused the mutations that resulted in our “gifts.” Maybe one day they’ll figure out how to switch off those screwy genes and I can touch another person without at least one layer in between us. Without the protection, touching someone means seeing a number in my mind.
The age the other person is going to die.
My “talent” is creepy at best, totally useless at worst, and being able to get rid of it has been a hidden desire for the whole of my life.