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  Suzanne Collins, Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, ISBN: - 9780439650762

  Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane

  BOOK TWO IN THE UNDERLAND CHRONICLES

  SUZANNE COLLINS

  SCHOLASTIC INC.

  New York Toronto London Auckland Sydney Mexico City New Delhi Hong Kong Buenos Aires If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."

  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher. For information regarding permission, write to Scholastic Inc., Attention: Permissions Department, 557 Broadway, New York, NY 10012.

  This book was originally published in hardcover by Scholastic Press in 2004.

  ISBN-13: 978-0-43965076-2

  ISBN-10: 0-439-65076-3

  Copyright (c) 2004 by Suzanne Collins. All rights reserved.

  Published by Scholastic Inc. SCHOLASTIC, SCHOLASTIC PRESS, APPLE PAPERBACKS, and associated logos are trademarks and/or registered trademarks of Scholastic Inc.

  12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 7 8 9 10 11 12/0

  Printed in the U.S.A. 40

  This edition first printing, May 2005

  The text type was set in 12-pt. Sabon Book design by David Caplan For Cap

  PART 1: The Mission

  CHAPTER 1

  When Gregor opened his eyes he had the distinct impression that someone was watching him. He glanced around his tiny bedroom, trying to keep as still as possible. The ceiling was empty. Nothing on his dresser. Then he saw it sitting on the windowsill, motionless except for the delicate twitching of its antennas. A cockroach.

  "You're just looking for trouble," he said softly to the cockroach. "You want my mom to see you?"

  The cockroach rubbed its feelers together but made no attempt to run away. Gregor sighed. He reached for an old mayonnaise jar that held his pencils, emptied it on the bed, and in one swift move trapped the cockroach beneath it.

  He didn't even have to get up to do it. His bedroom wasn't actually a bedroom. Probably it was supposed to be some kind of storage space. Gregor's single bed was wedged into it so, at night, he came in the doorway and crawled straight up to his pillow. On the wall facing the foot of the bed, there was a little alcove with just enough room for a narrow dresser, although you could only open the drawers about eight inches. He had to do his homework sitting cross-legged on his bed with a board on his knees. And there was no door. But Gregor wasn't complaining. He had a window that looked out on the street, the ceilings were nice and high, and he had more privacy than anybody else in the apartment. No one came in his room much...if you didn't count the roaches.

  What was it with the roaches lately, anyway? They'd always had some in the apartment, but now it seemed like every time he turned around he'd spot one. Not running. Not trying to hide. Just sitting there...watching him. It was weird. And it was a lot of work trying to keep them alive.

  This past summer when a giant roach had sacrificed herself to save his two-year-old sister Boots's life miles beneath the city of New York, he'd vowed never to kill another one of the bugs. But if his mom saw them, man, they were goners. It was up to Gregor to get them out of the apartment before her roach radar kicked in. When it was warm out, he'd just trapped them and put them out on the fire escape. But he was afraid the bugs would freeze now that it was December, so lately he'd been trying to stick them as far down in the kitchen trash as he could manage. He thought they'd be happy there.

  Gregor nudged the roach off the sill and up the side of the mayonnaise jar. He crept down the hallway past the bathroom, past the bedroom that Boots, his seven-year-old-sister, Lizzie, and his grandma shared, and into the living room. His mom was gone already. She must've taken the breakfast shift at the coffee shop where she waited tables on weekends. She worked full-time as a dentist's receptionist during the week, but lately they needed every penny.

  Gregor's dad lay on the pull-out couch. Even when he was asleep he wasn't still. His fingers twitched and plucked fitfully at his blanket, and he was muttering softly. His dad. His poor dad...

  After being held prisoner by huge, vicious rats far beneath New York City for over two and a half years, his dad was a wreck. During his stay in the Underland, which was what the inhabitants called it, he'd been starved, deprived of light, and physically abused in ways he would never discuss. He was tormented by nightmares and at times he had trouble separating reality from illusion even when he was awake. This was worse when he was feverish, which was often, because despite repeated trips to the doctor, he could not shake off a strange illness he'd brought back from the Underland.

  Before Gregor had fallen after Boots through a grate in the laundry room and helped rescue his dad, he'd always thought that everything would be simple once his family was reunited. It was a thousand times better having his dad back, Gregor knew that. But it was not simple.

  Gregor moved quietly into the kitchen and slid the roach into the trash. He set the jar on the counter and noticed it was bare. The fridge held half a carton of milk, a gallon bottle of apple juice with maybe one glassful in it, and a jar of mustard. Gregor braced himself and opened the cabinet. Half a loaf of bread, some peanut butter, and a box of oatmeal. He gave the box of oatmeal a shake and exhaled in relief. There was enough food for breakfast and lunch. And since it was Saturday, Gregor wouldn't even need to eat at home. He'd be going over to help Mrs. Cormaci.

  Mrs. Cormaci. It was strange how in a few short months she had changed from being their nosy neighbor into a kind of guardian angel. Shortly after Gregor, Boots, and their dad had returned from the Underland, he'd run into her in the hallway.

  "So, where've you been, Mister?" she asked him. "Besides scaring the whole building to death." Gregor had given her the story his family had agreed upon: On the day he'd disappeared from the laundry room, he'd taken Boots out to the playground to play for a few minutes. They'd run into his dad, who was on his way to see his sick uncle in Virginia and wanted to take the kids with him. Gregor thought his dad had called his mom; his dad thought Gregor had called his mom; it wasn't until they got back that they realized what a crisis they'd caused.

  "Hmph," said Mrs. Cormaci, giving him a hard look. "I thought your father was living in California."

  "He was," said Gregor. "But now he's back with us."

  "I see," Mrs. Cormaci again. "So, that's your story?"

  Gregor nodded, knowing it was pretty lame.

  "Hmph," said Mrs. Cormaci again. "Well, I'd work on that if I were you." And she walked off without another word.

  Gregor thought she was mad at them, but a few days later she'd knocked on the door with a coffee cake. "I brought your father a coffee cake," she said. "It's a welcome-home thing. Is he here?"

  He hadn't wanted to let her in, but his dad called out in a false, cheerful voice, "Is that Mrs. Cormaci?" and she'd bustled right in with her cake. The sight of his dad -- bone thin, white-haired, hunched over on the couch -- pulled her up short. If she had planned to interrogate him, she let it go right there. Instead, she exchanged a few comments about the weather and left.

  Then, a couple of weeks after school started, his mom came in one evening with some news. "Mrs. Cormaci wants to hire you to help her on Saturdays," she said.

  "Help her?" Gregor asked warily. "Help her do what?" He didn't want to help Mrs. Cormaci. She'd ask him a bunch of questions and probably want to read his future with her deck of tarot cards and --