The Host Online


Prologue: Inserted

The Healer's name was Fords Deep Waters.

Because he was a soul, by nature he was all things good: compassionate, patient, honest, virtuous, and full of love. Anxiety was an unusual emotion for Fords Deep Water.

Irritation was even rarer. However, because Fords Deep Water lived inside a human body, irritation was sometimes inescapable.

As the whispers of the Healing students buzzed in the far corner of the operation room, his lips pressed together into a tight line.

The expression felt out of place on a mouth more often given to smiling.

Darren, his regular assistant, saw the grimace and patted his shoulder.

"They're just curious, Fords," he said quietly.

"An insertion is hardly an interesting or challenging procedure."

"Any soul on the street could perform it in an emergency. There is nothing for them to learn by observing today." Fords was surprised to hear the sharp edge marring his normally soothing voice.

"They've never seen a grown human before," Darren said.

Fords raised one eyebrow. "Are they blind to each other's faces? Do they not have mirrors?"

"You know what I mean - a wild human. Still soulless. One of the insurgents."

Fords looked at the girl's unconscious body, laid out facedown on the operating table.

Pity swelled in his heart as he remembered the condition the poor, broken body had been in when the Seekers had brought her to the Heeling facility. Such pain she'd endured...

Of course she was perfect now - completely healed.

Fords had seen to that.

"She looks the same as any of us," Fords murmured to Darren. "We all have human faces. And when she wakes up, she will be one of us, too."

"It's just exiting for them, that's all."

"The soul we implant today deserves more respect then to have her host body gawked at this way. She'll already have far too much to deal with as she acclimates."

"It's not fair to put her through this." Bythis, he did not mean the gawking.

Fords heard the sharp edge return to his voice.

Darren patted him again. "It will be fine. The Seekers needs information and-"

At the wordSeeker, Fords gave Darren a look that could only be described as a glare.

Darren blinked in shock.

"I'm sorry," Fords apologized at once. "I didn't mean to react so negatively. It's just that I fear for this soul."

His eyes moved to the cryotank on its stand beside the table. The light was a steady, dull read, indicating that it was occupied and in hibernation mode.

"This soul was specially picked for the assignment," Darren said soothingly.

"She is exceptional among our kind - braver than most. Her lives speak for themselves. I think she would volunteer, if it was possible to ask her."

"Who among us would not volunteer if we were asked to do something for the greater good? But is that really the case here? Is the greater good served by this?"

"The question is not her willingness, but what it is right to ask any soul to bear."

The Healing students were discussing the hibernating soul as well. Fords could hear the whispers clearly: their voices was rising now, getting louder with their excitement.

"She's lived on six planets."

"I heard seven."

"I heard she never lived two terms as the same host species."

"Is that possible?"

"She's been almost everything. A Flower, a Bear, a Spider-"

"A See Weed, a Bat-"

"Even a Dragon!"

"I don't believe it - not seven planets."

"At least seven. She started at the Orgin."

"Really? The Orgin?"

"Quiet, please!" Fords interrupted. "If you cannot observe professionally and silently, then I will have to ask you to remove yourselves."

Abashed, the six students fell silent and edged away from another.

"Let's go on with this, Darren."

Everything was prepared. The appropriate medicines were laid our beside

The human girl. Her long dark hair was secured beneath a surgical cap, exposing her slender neck. Deeply sedated, she breathed slowly in and out. Her sun-browned skin had barely a mark to show for her... accident.

"Begin thaw sequence now, please, Darren."

The gray-haired assistant was already waiting beside the cryotank, his hand resting on the dial. He flipped the safety back and spun down the dial. The red light atop the small gray cylinder began to pulse, flashing faster as the seconds passed, changing color.

Fords concentrated on the unconscious body: he edged the scalpel through the skin at the base of the subject's skull with small, precise movements, and then sprayed the medication that stilled the excess flow of blood before he widened the fissure. Fords delved delicately beneath the neck muscles, careful not to injure them, exposing the pale bones at the top of the spinal column.

"The soul is