All Three Books in One
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Book One
Available FREE (ebook) at:
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Book Two
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Book Three
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Sample Chapters

Mother's Heart (Book Three)

by Alan Tucker, ©2011

Chapter Two

Jenni flew several slow sweeps around the temple grounds, then landed amidst the ruins that once housed the Oracle of Delphi and resumed her normal human shape.

She felt the weight of, not only the impressive stone columns around her, but the history of the venerable structure. For centuries, personages of many cultures visited the Oracle seeking wisdom and advice. Kings, to military leaders, to farmers and peasants, came from all over to ask questions of the women — the Oracle was always a woman Jenni had noted in their research — who resided in the temple at Delphi in Greece.

Time, conquerers, and earthquakes had each taken their toll on the site. A circular stone slab lay surrounded by the broken stumps of what had once been ornately carved columns. Only three remained intact to provide a picture of what the famous building had looked like in its prime. A second circle, inside the first, was roughly outlined by stone blocks that had formed the walls of the Oracle’s residence. Two tiers of stone served as either tables or benches around one quarter of the circle.

Jenni sighed deeply in the chill air as the night’s exertions caught up with her. “I need to rest. Is there any place around here I can take a nap without worrying about being seen?”

“Xenia says there is a system of small natural tunnels and caves underneath the ruins. If you can fit through one of those holes in the floor ahead of you, she can guide us to a sheltered area,” Neseus offered.

Jenni peered into the gloom and did see two rectangular holes at the base of the stone benches. Tight, but doable, she decided. Jenni concentrated and shrunk herself to the size of a flying Faerstrastenai and crawled through one of the openings, dragging a small pouch with their few possessions behind her.

Xenia directed them through the warren of tunnels using Jenni’s sensory net of air. By creating different densities and currents, Xenia drew simple pictures and gave directions that Jenni could feel with that part of herself she used to find her way through the darkness. By the time Jenni entered a cramped, underground cave with a rivulet of water running through it, she had become quite adept at reading Xenia’s messages.

Jenni relaxed, becoming herself once again. She couldn’t stand, but there was enough room to lay down without getting wet from the tiny stream. After replacing the soldier’s communication device in her ear, she worked on trying to mold the hard stone into something more comfortable.

“Neseus, did you find out anything from the stuff in the van?”

“Yes,” he answered. “But I’m not sure what much of it meant. The letters ‘NATO’ occurred many times throughout the information I saw. Does that mean anything to you?”

Jenni considered briefly but drew a blank. “Not really. Maybe it’s French for something. Anything else?”

Neseus paused. “It seems my error took place when we spent the night at the lodging in Rome.”

Jenni thought back to their time in Italy. They had investigated the Colosseum, and even did some searching around the Vatican, but had come up empty once again. Weeks of sleeping in barns, on rooftops, and in caves had worn her down, so they’d decided to risk staying in a hotel for a night to let Jenni freshen up and get a good night’s rest.

“What ‘error’?” Jenni asked.

“It seems someone discovered my falsified payment to the inn.”

“But, you said you tricked the machine into thinking we had paid.”

“Yes,” Neseus admitted. “I tricked it by using one of the numbers your Mrs. Osorio had stored in my music device — er, player.”

“Neseus! You used a credit card number! They can trace those!”

“That fact has become abundantly clear.”

Jenni groaned, exasperated. They had lived for months, traveling through Europe, not drawing undo attention, while they investigated sites they considered likely candidates for a doorway to Mother. One moment of weakness — the desire for a hot shower and a soft bed — had rendered all the previous suffering meaningless.

She suddenly had another thought. “Neseus, was there a name attached to the number you used?”

“Bertrand Stephenson. That name also appeared frequently in the correspondence I saw.”

Of all the numbers Mrs. Osorio probably had in there, he had to pick that one! “Great. That’s just perfect.”

“I’m sorry, Jenni.”

Jenni sighed and dropped her head back onto the only slightly less hard rock floor. “Ow!” She rubbed the sore spot and concentrated anew to soften the ground beneath her. Colonel Stephenson probably suspected Jenni was back on Earth from the credit card use, and with her displays earlier in the night in front of the soldiers, he’d have proof. More men would come looking for them, that much she could guarantee.

“Jenni,” Neseus interrupted her dark musings. “Who is this Bertrand Stephenson?”

Her thoughts drifted back to Idaho and home.

No, she decided, not home any more. Colonel Stephenson had taken that away when he’d captured Jenni, her parents, and Crank, hauling them across the country to the U.S. Army’s medical laboratories.

In truth, Jenni had been unconscious most of the time at the base and hadn’t ever met Stephenson. Crank had told her of his encounters with the man during their time on the island waiting for Brandon to recuperate from his sickness and injuries.

“The only thing I really know about him,” Jenni said in the darkness, “is that he won’t stop at anything to find out about me and my abilities.”

“He sounds like a formidable adversary.”

Jenni chuckled briefly. “I seem to attract those. What are we going to do? We can’t access the internet any more without being discovered. We’ve been searching across all of Europe for months and haven’t come across anything like a doorway back to Mother.”

“Right now, you should get some sleep. We can consider our difficulties after you’ve rested.”

Jenni exhaled in defeat. “I guess. Wait, didn’t some of that stuff we read before about this place say there were toxic gases or something here?”

“Indeed, some of your scientists postulated the existence of hallucinogenic gases to explain the visions of the Oracle, but Xenia says she hasn’t found any trace of harmful substances.”

Jenni paused. “So, it’s safe?”

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t you just say that?”

“I did.”

“Ugh. Goodnight, Neseus. Goodnight, Xenia.”

“Goodnight, Miss Jenni.”

Jenni felt a brush of air against her cheek as she drifted off.

 

* * * *

 

Jenni woke feeling cramped and stiff in body, but fresher in mind. She was also starving.

“Man, what I wouldn’t give for a cheeseburger right now.”

She leaned over and collected some water in her hands from the small flow running through the cave. The bracing chill served to shake any remaining sleep from her thoughts.

“Neseus,” she called into the dark. “Any idea what time it is?”

“I can feel the sun is up in the world above, but my sense of time is rather skewed from yours. I do not know how long you slept,” he replied from the device hooked to her ear.

Jenni nodded. “Doesn’t really matter I guess. Are we ready to go?”

“Xenia went to explore the rest of the cave system. She should be back soon.”

Jenni made herself small again to avoid bumping into the cave walls and ceiling, then took another drink of the chill water. Winter in the Mediterranean was milder than what she was used to in Idaho, but it was still cold, especially deep underground as they were. Her body heat hadn’t done much to raise the temperature, even in the small space.

Her curiosity about the time reminded her of something else she’d meant to ask before they’d escaped the soldiers. “Did you happen to see what day it was?”

“I believe you call it ‘friday,’ though the names you have for the days of the week make no sense —”

“No,” Jenni cut him off. “I meant the date. I’ve completely lost track of time since we got back.”

“Oh. I think it was the eighteenth day of November.”

November 18th!? I missed my birthday? “I missed my freaking sixteenth birthday,” Jenni said aloud.

“I’m sorry, Jenni,” Neseus said. “Happy Birthday.”

“Thanks,” Jenni responded absently. “It was two days ago.” Sweet sixteen. Most girls would have been busy with big parties, getting their driver’s license, and wondering if their parents might spring for a car as a present. Jenni had been flying over the Adriatic Sea, on her way to Greece from Italy, unknowingly followed by military agents whose mission was to capture her so she could be dissected and studied.

Not exactly typical.

“Jenni!” Neseus shouted from the communications unit that was very awkward for her ear at her reduced size. “Xenia thinks she’s found something!”

“Really?” Jenni shrank herself further, simultaneously expanding a web of air around her to feel for her venti’i friend. She put Neseus’s earpiece in the pouch with their MP3 player, a small piece of the stone case Matt had made to hold Tolenton’naie that Jenni had kept for sentimental reasons, and the cigarette lighter she’d picked up from one of the soldiers.

Jenni soon felt Xenia’s presence and followed her directions through the maze of tunnels and burrows, dragging the pouch behind her. Xenia led her through several more caves — some large, some small — until they came to a place where Jenni realized her eyes had become as useful as her sensory net once again.

The natural cavern was not spacious, but it was large enough that Jenni could resume her normal size and stand comfortably. A small pool, perhaps five feet wide, sat mirror-like to her left while several hefty rocks lay strewn about near the right wall. All this Jenni was able to see because of many small points of light that seemed to float aimlessly about the space, like a hundred lazy fireflies trapped in a stone bottle.

“It’s beautiful,” Jenni whispered.

A faint noise from the pouch in her hand interrupted her amazement. She suddenly remembered Neseus and hooked the device back on her ear.

“Jenni! There’s a doorway here. We can feel it!”

“That’s fantastic! Where is it?”

“We’re not sure. Xenia hasn’t been able to locate it precisely. It’s either in the water or somewhere beneath it she can’t reach directly,” Neseus said.

Jenni took a few steps over to the pool and peered in. Lights reflected from the surface, but it looked as if there were more floating within the water as well. Bright as they were, they weren’t sufficient to penetrate far into the gloom of the apparently deep pool. She sat on the floor to consider their options.

“I can make a stone ball for Xenia to ride in like we’ve done before, and I should be able to protect the electronics within myself, but can you tell how big the opening is?”

“Not as such,” Neseus answered. “But if it’s powerful enough for us to sense, it should be big enough for us to pass through.”

Jenni laughed as a thought occurred to her. “All this time searching and I never even asked if you guys wanted to go back.”

Neseus chuckled in response. “While we remember the Earth fondly, and it has become a truly amazing place in our absence, we no longer have a place here. My daughter and I are just as determined as you to return to Mother.”

Jenni nodded with satisfaction and reached for some of the rock and earth of the cave floor. It resisted her will to reshape it. Concentrating harder, she overcame the slipperiness she felt from the stone and fashioned a carrying case for Xenia.

“I think this place has been here so long it doesn’t feel quite like Earth anymore,” Jenni said. “Xenia, whenever you’re ready.” She felt movement in the air around her.

“She’s in,” Neseus confirmed.

Jenni focused her thoughts again and closed the stone case. She placed it, and her other few possessions in a sealed pack she created on her back. Next, Jenni molded a casing of leathery skin over her ear and Neseus’s communications piece. As she slipped into the frigid water, gills and powerful fins completed her transformation.

Underwater, her eyes adjusted and she indeed saw more of the floating pinpoints of light in the deep pool. “I just realized,” Jenni said in a watery voice, “these lights look like the ones that appear whenever we make the trip between Mother and Earth with Mr. Kain and the others.”

“I’d say that’s a promising sign,” Neseus said with a smile in his voice.

Jenni swam down thirty feet or more before the vertical sides of the pool began to expand. Tiny globes of light continued to move aimlessly through the water.

“To your right and down some more,” Neseus instructed.

She followed his direction and soon noticed the lights seemed brighter and more numerous. Before long, she had to close her eyes and let Neseus’s voice guide her.

“Just a little farther.”

The desire to sleep, to simply drift away, was incredibly strong. She didn’t have the speed moving through this doorway she’d possessed traversing the oil reservoir under the Atlantic Ocean back in June. Jenni poured all of her focus into listening to Neseus. She couldn’t afford to lose consciousness so deep underwater.

Jenni felt the transition like a ray of warm sunshine on a cloudy day.