- PROLOGUE. Inserted
- CHAPTER 2. Overheard
- CHAPTER 3.Resisted
- CHAPTER 4. Dreamed
- CHAPTER 5. Uncomforted
- CHAPTER 6. Followed
- CHAPTER 7. Confronted
- CHAPTER 8. Loved
- CHAPTER 9.Discovered
- CHAPTER 10.Turned
- CHAPTER 11.Dehydrated
- CHAPTER 12.Failed
- CHAPTER 13.Sentenced
- CHAPTER 14.Disputed
- CHAPTER 15.Guarded
- CHAPTER 16.Assigned
- CHAPTER 17.Visited
- CHAPTER 18.Bored
- CHAPTER 19.Abandoned
- CHAPTER 20.Freed
- CHAPTER 21.Named
- CHAPTER 22.Cracked
- CHAPTER 23.Confessed
- CHAPTER 24.Tolerated
- CHAPTER 25.Compelled
- CHAPTER 26.Returned
- CHAPTER 27.Undecided
- CHAPTER 28.Unenlightened
- CHAPTER 29.Betrayed
- CHAPTER 30.Abbreviated
- CHAPTER 31.Needed
- CHAPTER 32.Ambushed
- CHAPTER 33.Doubted
- CHAPTER 34.Buried
- CHAPTER 35.Tried
- CHAPTER 36.Believed
- CHAPTER 37.Wanted
- CHAPTER 38.Touched
- CHAPTER 39.Worried
- CHAPTER 40.Horrified
- CHAPTER 41.Vanished
- CHAPTER 42.Forced
- CHAPTER 43.Frenzied
- CHAPTER 44.Healed
- CHAPTER 45.Succeeded
- CHAPTER 46.Encircled
- CHAPTER 47.Employed
- CHAPTER 48.Detained
- CHAPTER 49.Interrogated
- CHAPTER 50.Sacrificed
- CHAPTER 51.Prepared
- CHAPTER 52.Separated
- CHAPTER 53.Condemned
- CHAPTER 54.Forgotten
- CHAPTER 55.Attached
- CHAPTER 56.Welded
- CHAPTER 57.Completed
- CHAPTER 58.Finished
- CHAPTER 59.Remembered
- EPILOGUE. Continued
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To my mother, Candy,
who taught me that love is the best part of any story
Body my house
my horse my hound
what will I do
when you are fallen
Where will I sleep
How will I ride
What will I hunt
Where can I go
without my mount
all eager and quick
How will I know
in thicket ahead
is danger or treasure
When Body my good
bright dog is dead
How will it be
to lie in the sky
without roof or door
and wind for an eye
with cloud for a shift
how will I hide?
– May Swenson
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 Waters.
Irritation was even rarer. However, because Fords Deep Waters lived inside a human body, irritation was sometimes inescapable.
As the whispers of the Healing students buzzed in the far corner of the operating 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’s 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 her poor, broken body had been in when the Seekers had brought her to the Healing 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 exciting for them, that’s all.”
“The soul we implant today deserves more respect than 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.” By this, he did not mean the gawking. Fords heard the sharp edge return to his voice.
Darren patted him again. “It will be fine. The Seeker needs information and -”
At the word Seeker, 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 red, 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 were possible to ask her.”
“Who among us would not volunteer if 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 were rising now, getting louder with their excitement.
“She’s lived on six planets.”
“I heard seven.”
“I heard she’s 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 on the Origin.”
“Really? The Origin?”
“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 one another.
“Let’s get on with this, Darren.”
Everything was prepared. The appropriate medicines were laid out 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 on 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 on 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 ready, Fords,” Darren informed him.
“So am I. Bring her.”
Fords felt Darren at his elbow and knew without looking that his assistant would be prepared, his hand stretched out and waiting; they had worked together for many years now. Fords held the gap open.
“Send her home,” he whispered.
Darren’s hand moved into view, the silver gleam of an awaking soul in his cupped palm.
Fords never saw an exposed soul without being struck by the beauty of it.
The soul shone in the brilliant lights of the operating room, brighter than the reflective silver instrument in his hand. Like a living ribbon, she twisted and rippled, stretching, happy to be free of the cryotank. Her thin, feathery attachments, nearly a thousand of them, billowed softly like pale silver hair. Though they were all lovely, this one seemed particularly graceful to Fords Deep Waters.
He was not alone in his reaction. He heard Darren’s soft sigh, heard the admiring murmurs of the students.
Gently, Darren placed the small glistening creature inside the opening Fords had made in the human’s neck. The soul slid smoothly into the offered space, weaving herself into the alien anatomy. Fords admired the skill with which she possessed her new home. Her attachments wound tightly into place around the nerve centers, some elongating and reaching deeper to where he couldn’t see, under and up into the brain, the optic nerves, the ear canals. She was very quick, very firm in her movements. Soon, only one small segment of her glistening body was visible.
“Well done,” he whispered to her, knowing that she could not hear him. The human girl was the one with ears, and she still slept soundly.
It was a routine matter to finish the job. He cleaned and healed the wound, applied the salve that sealed the incision closed behind the soul, and then brushed the scar-softening powder across the line left on her neck.
“Perfect, as usual,” said the assistant, who, for some reason unfathomable to Fords, had never made a change from his human host’s name, Darren.
Fords sighed. “I regret this day’s work.”
“You’re only doing your duty as a Healer.”
“This is the rare occasion when Healing creates an injury.”
Darren began to clean up the workstation. He didn’t seem to know how to answer. Fords was filling his Calling. That was enough for Darren.
But not enough for Fords Deep Waters, who was a true Healer to the core of his being. He gazed anxiously at the human female’s body, peaceful in slumber, knowing that this peace would be shattered as soon as she awoke. All the horror of this young woman’s end would be borne by the innocent soul he’d just placed inside her.
As he leaned over the human and whispered in her ear, Fords wished fervently that the soul inside could hear him now.
“Good luck, little wanderer, good luck. How I wish you didn’t need it.”
I knew it would begin with the end, and the end would look like death to these eyes. I had been warned.
Not these eyes. My eyes. Mine. This was me now.
The language I found myself using was odd, but it made sense. Choppy, boxy, blind, and linear. Impossibly crippled in comparison to many I’d used, yet still it managed to find fluidity and expression. Sometimes beauty. My language now. My native tongue.
With the truest instinct of my kind, I’d bound myself securely into the body’s center of thought, twined myself inescapably into its every breath and reflex until it was no longer a separate entity. It was me.
Not the body, my body.
I felt the sedation wearing off and lucidity taking its place. I braced myself for the onslaught of the first memory, which would really be the last memory-the last moments this body had experienced, the memory of the end. I had been warned thoroughly of what would happen now. These human emotions would be stronger, more vital than the feelings of any other species I had been. I had tried to prepare myself.