The Laws of Nature
On Monday afternoon at Beachwood High School, Mr. Pierce, the balding, portly biology teacher, stood at the front of his classroom. He wrote the word mimicry on the board and stood back.
"There are a lot of species in this world that have extraordinary abilities to hide their true natures," he said, gazing around the room. Someone made a snoring noise. Someone else was making a new iPod playlist, concealing the device on his lap. But when Mr. Pierce pulled a giant photograph of a predatory snake from behind his desk, the whole class sat up with interest. The snake had a raised head, focused eyes, and its neck was fanned out like it was ready to strike. "Cool," a guy at the back whispered.
"Take this snake," Mr. Pierce said. "What do you think it could do to you?"
"Dude, that's a cobra," someone said. "It could paralyze you."
"Make your throat swell up," someone else volunteered.
"Send you into cardiac arrest," a final voice called.
"You're all wrong." The teacher smirked. "This snake's bite would hurt, but it wouldn't kill you. This is a false cobra—a perfectly harmless snake. It has, however, developed very special qualities: It can raise its head, spread its neck into a hood, and make a hissing noise just like a real cobra." He put down the first photo and held up another. It was of a snake that hardly looked any different from the first photo. "This is a real cobra. And, yes, this guy could kill you. Predators usually can't tell the cobras from the false cobras—so they think they're all poisonous. Pretty nice trait to have if you were an animal in the wild, huh?"
The class murmured in agreement. At the back of the room, one boy hung on to the teacher's words even more so than the rest. The boy had short, messy black hair; piercing blue eyes; and an intelligent expression. His name was Kyle, and by now everyone had heard of him. No one knew where Kyle had come from—not even Kyle himself—but word had it that Kyle was supersmart. He'd solved the math problem on Mr. Miller's board, after all—the one the MIT grad students couldn't even crack. By those standards, Kyle didn't have to take math for the rest of the school year.
Only, Kyle wanted to take math. Just like he wanted to take English and history and art and . . . well, everything. He loved learning. It was like his brain needed it, the way he needed food and water and sleep. And although Kyle was technically a sophomore, this was only his twenty-first day of school—that he remembered, anyway.
Kyle stared at the image of the real cobra. It reminded him of his earliest memory—which, since he suffered from amnesia, had occurred only two short months ago. He had opened his eyes in a cool, green, shady place—later, Kyle found out it was called Victor Falls and was right outside Seattle. A thick, pinkish goo had covered Kyle's entire body. He had no idea where he was, who he was, or even what he was. As he had stood up, a snake had approached, hissing dangerously. Somehow, Kyle had grabbed it and kept it from biting him. Kyle had no idea how he'd done it—there was a lot Kyle did that he couldn't really explain—but when Kyle let the snake go, it sulkily slithered away, as if Kyle had conquered it.
Kyle looked around the classroom. Mr. Pierce's scribbles were all over the board. There was a large periodic table poster along the back wall, and pictures of famous scientists—Einstein, the Curies, Watson and Crick—by the windows. At the back were the lab tables, and behind them were glass cases holding Bunsen burners, graduated cylinders, beakers, and centrifuges. Kyle was dressed like the other kids in the classroom—in a blue T-shirt; jeans; and blue, black, and white sneakers. His backpack, gray and yellow with a mountain peak logo patch on the front pocket, was identical to a few other boys' in this classroom. But while Kyle looked pretty much like everyone else, he didn't feel like everyone else. Not quite, anyway.
Kyle's eyes met Mr. Pierce's. The teacher gave him a tiny wink and a smile, and then put both of the snake photos behind his desk. "Okay, guys," Mr. Pierce said. "That's enough for today. Read chapter five tonight. It's about other mimicking creatures. I think you'll enjoy it."
The other students in Kyle's class began to pack away their books, when suddenly the PA speaker at the front of the classroom crackled. "Can I have your attention," a boy's voice boomed.
All the students looked toward the PA speaker. Kyle followed their gazes. His amnesia hadn't just made him lose his memory; he'd also seemingly lost all grasp of the rules of the world. He'd quickly learned to follow everyone else's lead, however—by doing what everyone else was doing, he could blend in. For instance, when kids looked at the PA speaker, Kyle looked, too. He knew the speaker connected to a complex system of cables and wires that ended up in the principal's office, so whenever there was a PA announcement, it was always something very important.
"Attention, students. This is Justin Katz, your senior class president. I just want to remind everyone that Wednesday is the last day to buy tickets for the Monster Mash. So buy early and buy lots—and get ready for the scare of your life!"
As the PA clicked off, the class erupted with excitement. "Do you have your costume?" a brunette girl asked her redheaded friend a few desks over.
"I heard the haunted house is going to be awesome this year," a boy said to a group near the front. Kyle turned right and left, eager to ask what was happening—what was the Monster Mash?—but the bell rang and everyone jumped up before he could inquire.
Excerpted from Kyle XY: Nowhere to Hide by S. Wilkens Copyright © 2007 by S. Wilkens. Excerpted by permission.
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