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The Host (The Host #1)

By´╝ÜStephenie Meyer

floods through me as I race forward. There is a way. No way to survive, but perhaps a way to win.

No, no, no! This thought was all mine, and I fought to pull myself away from her, but we were together. And we sprinted for the edge of death.

"Please!" The shouts are more desperate.

I feel like laughing when I know that I am fast enough. I imagine their hands clutching for me just inches behind my back. But I am as fast as I need to be. I don't even pause at the end of the floor. The hole rises up to meet me midstride.

The emptiness swallows me. My legs flail, useless. My hands grip the air, claw through it, searching for anything solid. Cold blows past me like tornado winds.

I hear the thud before I feel it. . . . The wind is gone. . . .

And then pain is everywhere. . . . Pain is everything.




Make it stop.

Not high enough, I whisper to myself through the pain.

When will the pain end? When . . . ?

The blackness swallowed up the agony, and I was weak with gratitude that the memory had come to this most final of conclusions. The blackness took all, and I was free. I took a breath to steady myself, as was this body's habit. My body.

But then the color rushed back, the memory reared up and engulfed me again.

No! I panicked, fearing the cold and the pain and the very fear itself.

But this was not the same memory. This was a memory within a memory - a final memory, like a last gasp of air - yet, somehow, even stronger than the first.

The blackness took all but this: a face.

The face was as alien to me as the faceless serpentine tentacles of my last host body would be to this new body. I'd seen this kind of face in the images I had been given to prepare for this world. It was hard to tell them apart, to see the tiny variations in color and shape that were the only markers of the individual. So much the same, all of them. Noses centered in the middle of the sphere, eyes above and mouths below, ears around the sides. A collection of senses, all but touch, concentrated in one place. Skin over bones, hair growing on the crown and in strange furry lines above the eyes. Some had more fur lower down on the jaw; those were always males. The colors ranged through the brown scale from pale cream to a deep almost-black. Aside from that, how to know one from the other?

This face I would have known among millions.

This face was a hard rectangle, the shape of the bones strong under the skin. In color it was a light golden brown. The hair was just a few shades darker than the skin, except where flaxen streaks lightened it, and it covered only the head and the odd fur stripes above the eyes. The circular irises in the white eyeballs were darker than the hair but, like the hair, flecked with light. There were small lines around the eyes, and her memories told me the lines were from smiling and squinting into sunlight.

I knew nothing of what passed for beauty among these strangers, and yet I knew that this face was beautiful. I wanted to keep looking at it. As soon as I realized this, it disappeared.

Mine, spoke the alien thought that should not have existed.

Again, I was frozen, stunned. There should have been no one here but me. And yet this thought was so strong and so aware!

Impossible. How was she still here? This was me now.

Mine, I rebuked her, the power and authority that belonged to me alone flowing through the word. Everything is mine.

So why am I talking back to her? I wondered as the voices interrupted my thoughts.

CHAPTER 2

Overheard

The voices were soft and close and, though I was only now aware of them, apparently in the middle of a murmured conversation.

"I'm afraid it's too much for her," one said. The voice was soft but deep, male. "Too much for anyone. Such violence!" The tone spoke of revulsion.

"She screamed only once," said a higher, reedy, female voice, pointing this out with a hint of glee, as if she were winning an argument.

"I know," the man admitted. "She is very strong. Others have had much more trauma, with much less cause."

"I'm sure she'll be fine, just as I told you."

"Maybe you missed your Calling." There was an edge to the man's voice. Sarcasm, my memory named it. "Perhaps you were meant to be a Healer, like me."

The woman made a sound of amusement. Laughter. "I doubt that. We Seekers prefer a different sort of diagnosis."

My body knew this word, this title: Seeker. It sent a shudder of fear down my spine. A leftover reaction. Of course, I had no reason to fear Seekers.

"I sometimes wonder if the infection of humanity touches those in your profession," the man mused, his voice still sour with annoyance. "Violence is part of your life choice. Does enough of your body's native temperament linger to give you enjoyment of the horror?"

I was surprised at his accusation, at his tone. This discussion was almost like . . . an argument. Something my host was familiar with but that I'd never experienced.

The woman was defensive. "We do not choose violence. We face it when we must. And it's a good thing for the rest of you that some of us are strong enough for the unpleasantness. Your peace would be shattered without our work."

"Once upon a time. Your vocation will soon be obsolete, I think."

"The error of that statement lies on the bed there."

"One human girl, alone and unarmed! Yes, quite a threat to our peace."

The woman breathed out heavily. A sigh. "But where did she come from? How did she appear in the middle of Chicago, a city long since civilized, hundreds of miles from any trace of rebel activity? Did she manage it alone?"

She listed the questions without seeming to seek an answer, as if she had already voiced them many times.

"That's your problem, not mine," the man said. "My job is to help this soul adapt herself to her new host without unnecessary pain or trauma. And you are here to

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