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 Natural Selection

Adaptation - 1.5


Malinda Lo

It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life.

—Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species



Kurra is a planet of oceans and mountains, all vertical ascent or plunging drop to rock-strewn waves. Out on the water, floating cities spread like silver lattices over deep blue.

My family comes from the mountains, and that’s where we live. My mother told me that her great-great-great-grandparents built our house. It’s perched on the edge of the mountain called Isi Na, a ten-minute cable ride from Isina’uru, Isi Na City, which is anchored to the mountain with long metallic ropes like a spider’s web.

I stand at the edge of the deck, leaning against the glass and steel railing, and look out and away. I imagine I’m a bird soaring high above the water, the islands tiny dots below. But there aren’t any birds here—not exactly. Not like on Earth.

I was born on Earth, not Kurra. I’m not human, even though I try to be. My people, the Imria, think I’m a little unusual because of that. They call me an Earthsider: as if I’ve crossed a line, chosen a side. Gone native.

“Be careful,” Ama warns me. “Don’t lean too far over.”

I look back at my parents seated at the table behind me. “I’m not going to fall,” I say, irritated. Ama’s always telling me to stop doing things. I think all her years on Earth have dulled her Imrian sense of adventure.

Aba—one of my fathers—reaches for Ama’s hand as he says, “She’ll be fine. She has to learn how to watch out for herself.”

Ada, my other father, glances over at me. Ada has heard Aba and Ama argue over this too many times to count, and lately he’s been siding with Ama. “Be careful,” he tells me.

I sigh but pull back from the edge a bit as I look down toward the city. I see the bright sheen of it on the mountainside below, the buildings gleaming in the sun. I haven’t been to Isina’uru in a week, and I wonder what’s been going on at school. I’m so isolated up here, cut off from my friends and their lives. It’s startling to realize that I miss them, that I’ve become part of their world—this world.

Eight months ago, when Ama and I returned to Kurra after four years on Earth, I felt like a freak. I looked like a freak, dressed in my clothes from Earth that are totally weird here. I realized soon enough, though, that my Earthsider status was exciting as well as strange. We Imria have been going to Earth for so long, but I’m the first one to be born there, to grow up there. On Earth, I had to keep all that secret, but here on Kurra, it makes me sort of a celebrity. I never expected that.

“… remember what it was like when you were her age?” Aba says.

“Of course,” Ama replies, snorting. “I was reckless.”

“And you survived,” Ada says.

“I only want what’s best for her,” Ama responds.

I stiffen. My parents have started in again on what they think I should do with my life. It’s another old debate. I think they like arguing about it; they don’t even seem to notice I can hear them.

“We have to let her follow her interests,” Aba says. He always says he wants me to be free to do what I want, but I know he really wants me to be a painter, like him. Ama wants me to be a scientist—preferably a geneticist—like her.

“Only within the confines of her duties,” Ama says. “She knows that.”

“I don’t see why we need to impose that on her,” Aba objects.

“Within the confines of her duties, our daughter can choose how she can best serve,” Ada says. He’s never said flat out what he thinks I should be, but I know he wants me to be like him: a diplomat. “She’s young. She has plenty of time to decide.”

But Ada’s wrong. I’m turning fifteen in a few days, and then I will have to make a choice. Who do I think I am? I will have to know by then.



When I was thirteen, at the end of eighth grade back on Earth, I went on a school-sponsored camping trip to the Coconino National Forest near Sedona, Arizona. I was at the Hunter Glen School then, a private academy outside Flagstaff, because I couldn’t exactly live with Ama at Project Plato on Area 51. As far as her US government employers knew, I didn’t even exist.

At Hunter Glen, the end-of-eighth-grade camping trip was kind of a legend. There were all these stories about kids wandering off in the mountains and falling down hidden ravines in the dark, but I suspected it was a bunch of crap. The Hunter Glen School did not take chances with their charges, especially when their parents paid so much to make sure they were safe.

On the hot Friday morning in May when we gathered in the Founders’ Hall parking lot to leave, I wasn’t surprised to count five adult chaperones—our two science teachers, Ms. Lucas and Mr. Santos; two parents I didn’t know; and a cook who was in charge of preparing all our meals. In addition to the five adults were the dozen members of the Nature Club, including myself. A special bus had been chartered to drive us to Coconino National Forest. It read SEDONA OUTDOOR ADVENTURES on the side and had tinted windows.

I dragged my gear over to Morgan Jacobsen’s and said, “Somehow I don’t think we’re going to experience much nature this weekend.”

Morgan was my best friend. She had wavy blond hair and a perfect smile, and the only issue I had with her was her continuing obsession with Zach Montgomery, who was, in my opinion, a jerk. Morgan tossed her ponytail and shrugged. “I’d rather spend the weekend at the Four Seasons, anyway.” Morgan’s parents were loaded. “I wish you could come with us in June,” she said.

“Me too,” I said, feeling depressed. Morgan’s birthday was in June, and her parents were taking her and her closest friends to Scottsdale for a girls’ spa weekend. I really wanted to go, but in June I was returning to Kurra with my mom.

Morgan gave me a sad smile and put her arm around my shoulders, hugging me briefly. “I’ll miss you! Don’t forget to call.” She thought I was moving to California, because that’s what I had told her.

I wanted to lean into her, rest my head on her shoulder. Her hair smelled like strawberries. Okay, I kind of had a crush on Morgan. But I knew better than to ever bring that up. There were no out gay kids at Hunter Glen, and I didn’t want to be the first. I knew there was nothing wrong with me—Imrians don’t care about that stuff—but humans could be a little weird about it. I also knew there was no chance I was ever going to be able to call Morgan from Kurra. But I said, “I’ll try.”

“All right, everyone, let’s get packed up and head to the mountains,” said Ms. Lucas, consulting her clipboard as she moved down the line of students and their gear. I saw Zach roughhousing with his friend Brian on the edge of the parking lot, and I wished he wasn’t coming. But of course he was. Zach was the only reason Morgan agreed to join Nature Club with me in the first place, and she was watching him out of the corner of her eye. Any second now, I knew Morgan was going to be hit with the Zach Effect. She’d get all moody and start whispering in my ear about how she didn’t understand why he flirted with her all the time but never asked her out. I pulled away from Morgan before I sensed too much of what she was feeling.