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The Oracle

By LilJennie and Miki Yamuri

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Scene: Deep in a lost temple in the middle of an unexplored jungle

Dr. Patricia Santi sat at the work bench, among the many artifacts and tablets that had been gathered from the Temple. She had searched this godforsaken jungle for several years to find it. She was at last so near to finding the fabled Oracle Orb. Vickie Williams was very excited. She had jumped at the chance to do her postdoctoral work in the field ... especially under Dr. Santi. She couldn't believe they had actually found ... the Temple of the Oracle itself.

She walked over to Dr. Santi and said, "I want you to know how honored I am that you chose me to come with you. I know that John was a more brilliant student ... although not as creative.

Dr. Santi smiled and put her hand on Vickie's shoulder. "I'm glad you still feel that way, Vickie," she said, waving at some irritating jungle insects, "especially after all the mosquito bites." She stopped glaring ineffectually at nigh-invisible bugs and continued, "John is a brilliant scholar, it's true -- without his translation work we would never have gotten this far -- but translating the language and understanding the meaning are two different things. It seemed to me that your ability to creatively interpret the literary symbols would serve the project better in the field ... and we only had enough grant money to bring one of you. For example, your intuition told you that three rabbits might mean three days, and when we looked at various examples in the inscriptions, many of them became much more clear. 'We traveled west for two rabbits' doesn't make sense without knowing that metaphor."

Vickie hugged Dr. Santi around the neck and gave her a sweet kiss on her cheek. She backed off suddenly and blushed. She said in a very shy voice, "I'm sorry, Professor. It's just that I'm so happy you chose me. I can't believe we found this temple ... much less the actual Tombs and Oracle materials. The thesis alone ... I mean ... I ... we could be in the history books if we actually find the real Oracle Orb."

Vickie walked to the workbench and saw a small box that at one time had been ornately decorated. It was nearly covered by a scroll and had gone unnoticed until then. She took the box in her hands and dusted it off gently with the camel hair brush in her hand. She got wide-eyed as she stared at the box.

"My goodness," said Dr. Santi with a smile, "you're certainly enthusiastic! Now if we could only find a way into this structure, which I believe is the temple of ... what is it, Vickie? Did you find something?"

Dr. Santi moved behind Vickie to look over her shoulder at what her brilliant student was examining.

Vickie looked up at the doctor with a totally amazed look. She gasped, "I ... isn't this the symbol? I mean .. this ... isn't this the key to the Oracle room, Professor? I'm not sure, but I think that's the symbol .. isn't it?" She handed the heavy wooden box to Patricia.

"What?" said Patricia, suddenly finding herself holding the box, which they had only found that morning and had not yet begun to examine. "You see something here?" She took out a magnifying glass and took a closer look at the symbols carved on it. "Well now ... this is odd," Patricia said after a moment. "These symbols spell out the word for a bird's nest, which has nothing to do with a key ... or so it seems ... but what I think you're getting at is ..."

Vickie said quickly in an excited gasp, "Yes, yes ... it means .. the place babies are kept! A birds nest ... get it? Those are the keys to the Oracle room!"

Patricia stopped. "You think the Oracle room is symbolized by a crčche, and that is what the nest refers to? That seems strange, except ..." Patricia moved toward an ivy-covered stone wall, rich with carvings. "The inscriptions on this wall reference the 'nest' sequence frequently, so I'm inclined to agree."

Patricia pointed at one, two, three places on the wall where the same symbols appeared.

Vickie said excitedly, "Professor ... open the box! I know how to open that door. See those 3 indentations in that nest?" On the adjacent wall, beneath many years of vines and lichen growth, was a beautiful mural of a very old tree. Within its gnarled trunk and many leafy branches were depicted many animals and birds -- even men and women.

In the middle of the mural was a huge nest, and within that were 3 indentations where it appeared 3 eggs should be. Patricia cleared away the ivy vines from the next segment of wall and aimed her flashlight at the mural. Now the image of the nest was unmistakably clear.

"Well, I'll be!" she said as she set the wooden box down on the workbench and started looking for a way to open it without damaging the priceless artifact and its carvings any further. "Let's see ... if it's anything like this culture's more mundane containers, it's just very exactingly matched ... yes!" She found a tiny crack with a plastic tool, chosen because of its dullness and softness so as not to scratch the ancient wood. She worked the crack slowly open, and the lid of the box lifted easily off at that point.

Light entered the box for the first time in centuries, revealing glints of something reflective. They both aimed their flashlights down inside and saw what appeared to be an ornate wood carving of a bird's nest, containing three golden spheres.

"A carved nest, with three stylized eggs," said Patricia. "Not actually egg-shaped. Interesting. But the three depressions in the mural ... what shape are they?"

Vickie walked over excitedly, sat beside the professor, and watched for a minute as Patricia carefully examined the box. Vickie asked, "Professor? That's the key ... isn't it?" Vickie shone her light on the wall as she exclaimed excitedly, "They are round, Professor, just like those. That's what we've been looking for ... that’s the key!"

"You might well be right, Vickie ... only one way to find out, though. We should be careful, because they're unique, but let's see if we can lift them out of the box and place them into the mural without harming anything."

Patricia and Vickie put on latex gloves so as not to leave fingerprints on the spheres or add undue oils. She reached into the box and carefully lifted one of the golden "eggs" out. There was no resistance, so they didn't seem to have been fastened in. She briefly examined its perfectly round, reflective, featureless surface with her magnifier and took a few pictures with the digital camera as Vickie removed another one.

"These don't weigh enough to be quite solid gold," said Patricia, weighing the third sphere on a scale. "I don't know what else they're made of, but I'm betting they're something else on the inside with a layer of solid gold on the outside. What's inside, I have no idea."

She paused. They both looked at the mural with its three indentations, shaped exactly like the three spheres they had. Patricia says softly, "Shall we?"

Vickie moved to the large mural. She carefully cleaned the wall of all the vine roots and other dirt or debris. When she was done with the camel hair brush, the mural stood completely revealed in all its glory. It appeared to be a perfect representation of this Mesoamerican culture's symbolic Tree of Life.

Vickie said softly in an awed voice, "You put the first one in Professor. It's your baby. Just let me put one in too."

"This is going to do wonders for both our careers, Vickie; don't worry," said Patricia. "I wonder if the order is important. Bottom to top, as a tree grows, east to west, as the sun moves ..."

Vickie agreed, "It's what that scroll we found in the antechamber meant. Told us how to order them."

She carefully put the first orb in the easternmost and lowest of the three indentations. There was a faint click, and when she released the orb, it stayed in place.

"So far, so good," Patricia said, nodding to Vickie, indicating for her to insert the next sphere.

Vickie walked slowly up to the mural. She looked at the smiling professor, who took a picture with her digital camera. Vickie reached up and placed the next sphere in the other bottom location. It locked in place like the first with a click.

Vickie said softly, "Ok, professor. the last one. Lets see if this .. Oracle Sphere .. is real."

"Last one," Patricia echoed, picking up the third sphere. She placed it in the topmost recession and heard the click again, stepping away.

At first nothing seemed to be happening, but then ... a low scraping, rumbling sound began, and the mural began to move, splitting into three angular sections, with one of the spheres at the innermost tip of each section. Slowly, the opening behind the mural came into view ... a dusty stairway descending into cobwebbed inky black darkness.

The stygian darkness on the other side of the door seemed to dare the torchlight to enter. Vickie slowly entered through the door and descended the stairs, the professor close behind. The sound of falling debris could be heard until they reached the end of the tunnel.

It opened out into a huge cavern. Their flashlights could not reveal the top or bottom; the bright cones of light disappeared into nothing. There was a narrow stone arch leading from the door they stood in out to the center of the cavern. The darkness prevented them from seeing where the end lay.

Vickie's voice was almost whisked away in the vast cavern as she asked, "It seems that's the only way Professor. What do you think?" Her voice echoed off into the distance.

"I think ... we didn't bring climbing gear," said Patricia. "We should get some rope, at least, so this doesn't turn into a one-way trip for either of us."

She turned around and went back up the stairs. "This is really unprecedented," she said. "There are no geological signs of any cavern this size under this area ... uh-oh."

As she neared the top of the stairs she discovered that the entrance had closed itself again. There were no latches, catches, panels, loose stones ... just a featureless wall.

"It's closed. Senza chiave ... keyless. The only keyhole is on the other side." She began to feel afraid. That stone doorway had looked pretty solid when it was open. But she tried to put on a brave face so Vickie wouldn't panic.

"Well ... I guess the only way to go ... is forward," she said, going back down the stairs and facing the narrow stone bridge over the vast abyss. "Perhaps there's a way out that way."

By the time the Professor had reached the end of the tunnel, Vickie had already begun venturing out on the narrow stone arch. She had gotten close enough to the center of the cavern that her light glinted brightly off of some shiny object in the direct center of everything. A slight rumbling could be felt. Suddenly a very bright shaft of light shone down on top of an object. It began to glow brightly, lighting up the whole cavern, but not so bright they could not look upon it. The bottom of the cavern was still lost in darkness far below.

Vickie said with a tinge of fear in her voice, "Professor ... what just happened?? It's bright as day in here."

"Extraordinary!" said Patricia. "What could the light source be? Did this civilization have a higher technological level than we suspected?" She edged her way slowly out onto the bridgelike arch. "You must have found the light switch, anyway!"

Patricia was trying to get to Vickie. She didn't want her promising young student to get hurt. Vickie had earned her PhD at a very young age, but she was still 19, and Patricia still felt rather protective toward her, over and above the fact that Patricia was supposed to be the authority figure responsible for this expedition.

Vickie asked with mounting fear in her voice, "Did any of the scrolls say anything about all this?"

As she carefully picked her way up the narrow arch, Patricia thought. She had studied those scrolls carefully. There were many references that she couldn’t translate and didn’t understand.

"There was a part that didn't make sense," Patricia said, "in one of the scrolls. I didn't understand. It said, 'You will see the light at the roof of the abyss,' but that's rough ... 'roof' could be 'ceiling' or 'top' or 'peak' ... Now what was the next line?"

Vickie shone her light towards the distant platform. They could see, sitting upon 3 large gold spheres ... The Oracle Orb.

Vickie said in awe, "It says something like, 'so shall the knowledge of the Ancients shine forth.'"

Thinking and stepping carefully, Patricia had almost caught up with Vickie. Whatever they discovered at the Oracle Sphere, they would discover together. The two of them stepped carefully onward up the narrow pathway. It was becoming more level and less steep, at least, though no wider.

Vickie had become very quiet as they approached the Oracle Orb. She began looking all around nervously. She knew someone, or something, was watching them; her skin crawled as she was sure their eyes burned into her flesh.

Vickie whispered softly, "Professor, I think we're being ... watched. It .. It's hidden in those shadows ... I think." Vickie pointed off into an ebony black area off to their right.

After fearfully watching and moving, they finally reached the central platform on which the Oracle rested. The women approached it slowly ... warily watching for some thing ... maybe unknown ... maybe very dangerous.

The Oracle Orb looked like a huge polished sphere of black marble, with veins of white and gold within it ... except they got the impression that the swirling veins gradually writhed and twisted within their dark cage as if they were a living thing.

The archway widened around it, making room for the pedestal on which the Orb and its three supporting golden spheres stood.

"Well ..." said Patricia, "here we are. If that's not an Oracle Sphere, I don't know what is." She took a few pictures of it with the digital camera. "Do you think this was all built by an earlier civilization, Vickie? Architecturally it doesn't match anything else they built."

Vickie had knelt down before the Sphere’s pedestal. She saw an engraving on the front. The markings were in a language neither had ever seen. She reached out and touched them, and they began to glow eerily. Vickie's eyes got big as she said, "Professor, I think I activated something over here. I think this technology had to have been built by a civilization far superior to our own." She stood as the symbols glowed softly and seemed to come alive as they moved and wiggled.

The Oracle orb's markings begin a rhythmic dance across the surface. From deep within the stone's dark core a white light began to shine, and the sphere seemed to become clear and filled with mist. A feeling of time standing still tickled their souls and made their skin crawl. Meanwhile, four sets of red eyes became visible within the deep darkness, far off in the shadows.

"I agree, you ... you seem to have activated something, Vickie," said Patricia, glancing at the symbols on the pedestal, unable to keep herself from staring out into the darkness at the four red lights that were looking more and more like eyes to her with each passing moment. Patricia took some closer pictures of the pedestal's strange markings with trembling hands, determined to have some record of this adventure, assuming they were able to escape with their lives.

Patricia reluctantly turned her attention to the strange change in the sphere's material, peering into the mist with its eerie light glowing in the center. She wanted to raise the camera and take a picture of this, but something drew her gaze. She wanted to keep an eye on the red eyes in the darkness too, but ... somehow ... she couldn't look away ...

Suddenly, a wall of liquid light descended all around the women and seemed to solidify. Nothing from the other side of the wall could be seen. A soft alien voice highlighted with a tinkling sound spoke, "From before the dawn of time, I have awaited. You have finally returned to the nest."

A beam of bluish silver light fully covered both women from head to foot. Vickie felt intense waves of pleasant sensations run through her. It was so intense that her head became dizzy. Patricia suddenly felt herself ... seeing. She could feel nothing, hear nothing ... it seemed like everything she was experiencing was through her sense of sight. Even the alien voice she somehow seemed to experience through her sense of vision rather than hearing. And now ... starting slowly but building in intensity ... she was seeing waves of energy, feeling through sight as they grew and flowed through her. It was not an unpleasant sensation, but it was an entirely unfamiliar one.

Vickie was totally drawn to an image within the Orb that grew but remained just out of reach of her understanding. She struggled hard to see ... to feel, to touch ... She had to know ...

Suddenly ... The women were standing in front of the mural. The professor held the box, which now had four keys nestled inside. The women looked around, stunned.

Vickie said in a small voice, "I ... I think ... I think I am hallucinating." She looked around, stunned that they seemed not to have opened the passage yet.

"Are ..." Patricia was confused. "Are we hallucinating now ... or were we hallucinating before?" She went over her memory of past events. "We opened the box ..." She put on gloves and reached inside. "Took out the keys ..."

She looked at the key sphere in her hand, astonished. It wasn't gold. It was jet black, black as ebony, with veins of gold writhing like captive lightning across its surface.

"That's different ..." she said ... "And there are four of them, not three ... what about the mural?" She pointed her flashlight at the nest mural. It had four receptacles. She looked at Vickie. "Maybe we'll get our names in the Journal of Hallucinatory History for this one."

Vickie took each golden sphere and placed it in the same spot as before ... she placed the ebony orb in the new location .. to the left of the nest. There were tremors deep beneath their feet ... They could feel waves and waves of deep sound below their ability to hear. They could feel energy growing as it danced all around them and sparkled off their skin.

A glow appeared before them. It grew and became liquid ... and took the form of a person. It seemed to be a liquid light image of a very beautiful woman ... her tinkling voice resonated from their souls sweetly as she spoke, "You have returned to the nest. No greater gift can be given, than forgiveness of the present ... and to start again anew from the nest."

The light show ended ... and the women were sitting at the workbench, with everything scattered in its normal place on the table.

Vickie grabbed the edge of the table suddenly as she gasped loudly. Her eyes were large as she looked at the professor and said in a voice tinged with fear, "I think I'm losing my mind ... weren’t we just in ... in another ... I mean ... another place?" She laid her head on the table, causing a small unnoticed scroll to fall between them.

"Returned to the nest? What does that ..." Patricia was asking, but now she found herself asking nobody. Only Vickie was speaking, no strange alien voice. She stopped, blinked, looked around, and said, "Did you see some kind of liquid light that turned into a woman, who talked to us about returning to the nest? If you did, then you're not losing your mind ... or we both are."

She thought for a moment. "I wonder how much of the experience was real. Well, the mural is there ... but the spheres aren't in it. Four indentations, like the last time. Are you OK, Vickie?"

Vickie replied with fear in her voice, "I think, besides losing my sanity, I'm otherwise ok. Then you saw that liquid light thingy? I have never seen or ... dreamed anything like that before."

Vickie sat up and looked at the mural. There were four indentations. She looked down at the box. Within were the three golden spheres and the ebony black one with the mysterious moving gold veins.

She saw the small scroll on the table that had fallen and asked, "Professor, have you seen this scroll before? It has a ... baby on its seal."

"Scroll? One of the antechamber scrolls?" Patricia looked at the scroll on the table. "No ... this is something new. Are we still hallucinating? Or ... have we been transported? Perhaps we're not where we started."

The Professor picked up a GPS device from the table. Its readout was going crazy. "Lots of interference of some kind."

Patricia looked at the scroll more carefully. "It looks new. What would the emblem of a baby mean? It seems related to the idea of a nest ... birth, nascence, something new ... I have to assume we're interacting with the Oracle Sphere. Perhaps this is its way of communicating. Clearly we're not dealing with an ancient religious artifact. This is something unprecedented. And if so ..." She opened the seal on the scroll and continued, "I think this is what it has to say to us next."

Vickie stood and walked over beside the Professor and looked at the scroll. She put her finger on several of the symbols and said, "This nest here, shows eggs hatching ... " She moved her finger to the next symbol, "This is a picture of ... a grown man? or woman?" She moved her finger to the next and stopped. This picture represented the adult, standing in an egg in a nest.

Vickie asked, "I'm not real sure what this one means. The script underneath appears to be ... Babylonian? Or something very close."

Vickie saw a movement off from a shadow behind a pillar. A jet black mist seemed to flit from shadow to shadow, and she got a good look at it. There was at least one ... and they had glowing red eyes.

Vickie patted the professor on her shoulder and pointed as she said in even more fear, "I think .. we have company ... and their eyes .. glow red."

Patricia had been looking at the script, but then she heard Vickie's warning and put down her magnifying glass, staring at the trees and columns.

"Red eyes? We saw those even before you activated the Oracle Sphere," Patricia whispered to Vickie. "That means ... either we were hallucinating already, before you even turned it on, or they exist both in reality and in this hallucination ... or we're not hallucinating at all."

She continued watching, occasionally getting a glimpse of a shadow moving behind a column, just enough of a hint to tell her that Vickie was right.

Vickie stood up suddenly. There was still fear in her voice, but also resolve. She said loudly, "This is like one of my favorite Sci-Fi programs on TV." She put her hands to her head and said, "What ever you are, we have no weapons ... if you're going to get me .. here I am!"

She walked towards one of the corners of shadow, where both women could see red eyes.

"Vickie! Don't! This isn't a TV show!" whispered Patricia hoarsely with fear. But Vickie had already stepped forward. Vickie walked as close as she could get herself to walk. She was so afraid ... she had wet her panties. A wet spot appeared on her bottom. A mist seemed to ooze from the shadows. It never really formed into anything ... but wafted in a dark ebony black ... with glowing penetrating red eyes.

In a creepy, vaporous and soul chilling voice said, "We had come to warn you ... not harm you."

Vickie looked to the professor with obvious fear, her eyes huge. Patricia had gotten up to follow Vickie ... she didn't know how, but she wanted to make sure no harm came to her student.

"W-what are you?" Patricia asked. "And what are you here to warn us about?"

The creature said in the same voice, the temperature in the room seemingly dropping, "We are ... watchers. We guard the stream of that which was and shall be ... or might be. We tried to stop you from ... returning to the nest."

Vickie said in a wavering voice, "What do you mean ... returning to the nest?"

There was a moment of horrid laughter coming from many places. Apparently there were many creatures, and they were amused.

The one visible said in its eerie voice, "You will return to your nest instead. The Oracle gives life ... but it takes it away as well. Now all I can do ... is tell you what will be." It vanished into a shadow and was gone.

"Return to the nest?" Patricia asked, but the creature was no longer there. "More about nests and eggs and spheres ... what does it mean? Are they gone?" She looked at Vickie. "I think they're gone. Warnings and mysteries ... this stuff just doesn't happen in archeology! Only in the movies." Patricia looked at the scroll again. "Vague warnings don't get us many answers -- maybe this will."

The Professor held the scroll up so Vickie could see it too as they both studied its markings, which seemed to be in many languages.

Vickie said in a more normal voice, "It seems to be telling of a discovery ... made by ... some godlike people millions of years ago. I'm not real sure of the direct translation ... but it seems to indicate it offered ... longevity." She opened the scroll a bit more, "And here is that weird baby symbol again, and a bird's nest with the adults in the egg."

Vickie still looked fearfully over her shoulder for anything else that might happen.

"A longevity discovery," Patricia said. "Adult inside eggs ... well, a longevity device or process might well involve some kind of rebirth or resetting of the biological clock. I can't believe I'm even taking this seriously, but on the other hand ... this has been a very strange day."

Patricia took a deep breath. "I suppose the question is: what we do now." She looked around at the surrounding ruins and the outside jungle beyond the opening arch of the Temple. "Unless something strange happens to stop us, we could probably just leave. We have pictures of the Oracle Sphere." She turned toward the mural, showing its intricate carving of a nest. "Or we could open this door ... again. See what's inside this time. Apparently it's a door that doesn't always lead to the same place. Just learning how they managed that could make us famous. What do you think, Vickie?" turning to her student.

Vickie stood up and began to walk to the mural to examine it once again. More by habit than realization, she pulled her pants up by the back. She had to do this several times before she reached the mural.

Vickie complained, "These pants seem to have gotten too big for me as I wore them .. never gonna buy another pair of Crews."

The professor took another of the many hundreds of pictures she had already taken. The images appeared on her laptop in order of progression. There were noticeable differences in both of them, according to the pictures ... since they had taken the first pictures at the first Oracle Orb.

Then Vickie discovered that ... she couldn't reach the lowest of the indentations now.

"We do seem to have our pictures of the Oracle Sphere," said Patricia, "so we really did find it ... probably ..." She paused. "Wait a minute. This is odd. Here we are opening the door for the first time ... then at the Sphere ... then opening the door a second time ... and here's one I just took." She held the laptop up for Vickie to see. "Do you think we look any ... younger?"

She looked up to see Vickie struggling to reach the indentations. She also saw something else. "Vickie, do you feel like you've gotten ... shorter? And ... I don't mean to embarrass you, but ... are your pants wet?"

Vickie stopped trying to reach the indentation and turned suddenly. She put her hands between her legs and said in a shy and embarrassed voice, "I ... I couldn't help it Professor. I was ... so ... so scared I had an accident. I can't reach those indentations anymore ... my clothes seem to be too big for me too. I can't keep these pants up, and the belt is as tight as it goes."

"Looking younger, getting smaller, and having ... accidents -- this is a lot like what the scroll said," said Patricia. "Longevity ... via rejuvenation! But what are we supposed to do? ... The only thing I can think of to do is ... open the door again!"

She grabbed the key spheres from the box, not bothering with the latex gloves this time, and started placing them in the same order in the indentations, hoping that the process either was not affecting her or hadn't shortened her too much yet, since she was older than Vickie.

Vickie watched the stones slide apart ... again, there was stygian blackness on the other side. Vickie took her pants by the back belt loop to keep them up with one hand, and grabbed a large flashlight with the other.

She said, in a voice that was starting to sound different, "I don't know if I can stand going through another ... episode."

She walked up to the open door and shone the light in. As far as the light penetrated the inky blackness ... nothing was visible but passageway as far as the cone of light reached.

Vickie continued, "What do you think is going to happen this time Professor? A wizard or something?" she giggled.

"I don't know, Vickie," said Patricia. "What happens seems to be different every time. The first time, we came back and there wasn't a way to open the door from the inside ..." Patricia thought. "I'm going to see if I can find a way to block the door open."

Looking around on the floor, she saw nothing ... although she did notice that her hair had lost the occasional strand of gray that had developed through teaching undergraduates.

The only item she saw that might work ... was the workbench itself. She dragged the seat from the workbench over and placed it staunchly in the way of the opening.

"There. If the door closes, it will have to crush that. Best we can do."

Patricia took a length of rope this time, along with the flashlight, camera and her backpack. She looked down at Vickie, who was looking quite a bit younger now, and wondered how far this process of rejuvenation would go, before taking Vickie's hand and starting carefully down the dark stair.

The passage seemed to go on forever. The only reality was caught within the bubble of light cast by the two flashlights. Vickie kept having trouble with her pants. They had now become too big for her to keep up without difficulty.

She stopped and whined a bit as she said, "This is awful. I can't keep my pants on!"

She let them go, and they fell to the ground, along with her panties, which were now many sizes too big. She was standing in just the oversized T-shirt she had on. She continued, "If this gets any worse, I won't be able to keep up."

Vickie and the Professor looked at each other for a bit. Vickie felt the professor knew something ... she just wasn't telling her yet. She was already afraid, and that look told her volumes that confirmed it. She could tell that the Professor appeared to be many years younger than she should be ... this too added fuel to her trepidation.

"I understand, Vickie," said Patricia. "It's OK. Just don't panic. Something's going on. We have to find out what. And how to stop it."

Vickie whined in a cute little-girl voice, "What happens if ... we can't stop it, Professor?"

She turned and saw the Professor. She had become a very young woman. Vickie began to stare. The Professor now appeared to be ... younger than ... she gasped. Younger than the 19 years of age that Vickie had originally been.

"I guess ..." Patricia swallowed nervously. "I guess we have to face that possibility. Let's keep going ... no answers here, but there might be some ahead."

Patricia held Vickie's hand and pointed the flashlight down the stairs. They continued down the passageway until they reached an opening that was similar to the one that had been at the bottom of the stairs the first time they had entered, but not quite the same. There was an archway over this opening, with markings carved into it.

Patricia read the carvings; they were in the language that was on the box and the nest mural outside. "'Welcome to the Nest,' it says. I guess we'll find out what all this nest stuff is soon."

Vickie hid behind the professor like the little girl she was becoming and watched her open the door. Looking back up the stair briefly, and then down at Vickie, who looked like an 8-year-old girl by this time, Patricia faced forward and saw the chamber ahead ... which did not contain a bridge over a yawning abyss, but a huge circular room with a domed ceiling and many stylized murals on the walls and floor.

"Vickie, I think we're getting younger," said Patricia, "but I don't think we're losing our memory ... not exactly, at least. I still remember writing the grant proposal for this expedition, and I remember opening the door for the first time ... but I don't remember this room looking like this before."

Vickie came out from hiding behind the Professor. She shined her flashlight around the room. The murals all over the walls appeared to represent ... a birds nest. Ahead of them, sitting on 4 smaller spheres ... was another Oracle Stone. A white glow could be seen in the heart of its dark crystal. The veins in the stone moved with a mysterious life of their own. The base was made of 3 golden spheres, and one ebony black one with many gold veins. There was again a panel with different inscriptions on it, apparently written in pure gold.

Vickie said softly, "Professor, this one is different. The inscription says something about ... babies?"

"I'm not sure I like where this is going, Vickie," said Patricia. "But the only thing that seems to be able to do anything in here is ... that."

She walked toward the Oracle Sphere as Vickie followed timidly behind. Patricia looked into the white glow inside the orb. Again she seemed to make some kind of connection with something.

She tried speaking to it. "Is there any way to stop what is happening to us?"

A bright light illuminated the area, similar to what had happened before. The light seemed to condense out of the air, flowing like liquid, again forming a human-like figure ... the figure of a woman, as before.

"To return to the nest is to begin anew," she said, in a voice seemingly accompanied by the tinkling of crystalline chimes. "You have chosen to return to the nest." The entity seemed to notice Vickie. It bowed its head slightly and said softly in the same voice, "To return to the nest ... by one so young ... is indeed an honor.” It turned to the professor and continued, "A life is taken ... but a life is given as well, and there in lies eternity."

Vickie asked, "What do you mean ... given and taken? What's going to happen to us?"

It turned to Vickie, and a smile creased its face. It said in a very soft, sweet voice as before, "Which came first child ... the Nazrak .. or the egg?" It bowed slightly and continued, "And which was first to return to the nest?"

Patricia asked, "How much younger will we get?"

The figure of light angled its head toward Patricia and answered cryptically, "There is no growing younger, for time's arrow points only forward. You are returning to the nest. Your genetic structures return to the turning point."

Patricia looked down at Vickie, who already seemed smaller than the last time she had looked at her. "Is she near the turning point?"

"Much nearer than you," said the entity, "for she leads the way. There is always one who leads. Thus proceeds the path to the nest."

"Does anybody ever leave the nest?" asked Patricia. "Once they have reached the turning point?"

"Some choose to remain," said the entity. "Some choose to leave. Those who choose to leave ... have always returned."

Vickie looked at the image of light. She looked down at herself and the huge shirt she was wearing. She said, in a very cute voice, "I small nuff now ta be a 5 year old. How much smaller do we get?" Vickie's face changed suddenly as she remembered the glyph of the adults in an egg ... in the nest. With big eyes she looked at the professor and said with fear in her voice, "Professor, I know what's happening! Remember the glyph ... of the adults in the eggs? I .. I'm .. I'm gonna be a baby .. aren't I?" She looked fearfully at Patricia.

Suddenly, a small bit of moisture ran down Vickie's leg ... to make a small wet spot on the ground. Vickie looked down, grabbed between her legs, and looked at the Entity of light with definite fear on her face.

"Oh, Vickie," said Patricia, "poor child, I'm afraid you're right ..." And I'm afraid I'm next, she thought to herself, but she felt so badly for little Vickie and tried to help her, taking a towel out of her backpack and drying off Vickie as best she could, holding the towel between Vickie's legs like a diaper and picking the now-little girl up.

She turned to the entity of light, holding Vickie protectively in her arms. "If we're going to be babies," she asked, "is there anybody here to take care of us? Protect us? Feed us?"

"Those who return to the nest are always well cared for," said the being. "If they were not, the return would be without purpose."

"Well, Vickie," she said to the child in her arms, "at least they say they'll take care of us ... and I think it said that some people leave after it happens, so maybe there's a way out ... sooner or later ..."

Vickie’s face wrinkled up ... and she began to cry. She sounded just like the toddler she was beginning to resemble. Patricia had started out 15 years older than Vickie, but Vickie looked now as if she was around 4 years old. Patricia estimated that she was probably in her mid-teens, so she had probably been rejuvenating a bit more quickly ... perhaps because she was older. And perhaps Vickie was slowing down as she approached the turning point, whatever age that was.

"I know, Vickie," said Patricia, rocking Vickie in her arms while she was able to, "it's upsetting to me too ... You see what you're doing?" Patricia said to the entity. "She's crying. She didn't want this. We didn't know. We didn't want to become babies!"

"The return to the nest is sometimes not as smooth for some," said the entity. "But soon all attention will be paid to the comfort of both of you."

The entity bowed slightly; with a nod of the head she said in her tinkly voice, "We welcome she who returns to the nest ... she brings new seed. A nest is but a wheel, eternity ... wheels within wheels."

A door opened on the other side of the room. A soft white light filtered in. The soft sounds of ... children at play could be heard. The entity seemed to take Patricia by the hand and led her to the door.

It said softly before it vanished, leaving only the light of the Oracle Stone in the chamber, "Welcome back fair quester, the nest is at hand."


End Part 1


The Nest -- Part 2


"Quester? ..." Patricia asked, confused. Her voice trembled and was starting to sound a bit higher than she was used to.

As the being of light led her by the hand, Patricia held Vickie tightly with the other arm, feeling frightened for both of them and hoping she could find some way to protect the child she held, for as long as she could. The being vanished, leaving them at the threshold of this new door. She could hear the sounds of ... children at play?

"Children?" Patricia asked aloud. "So ... we reach the turning point, and start to grow up again ... and some choose to leave? Vickie? Sweetie? Are you OK?" She hugged the now very small child and rocked her, trying to help as much as she could.

Vickie began to screech and kick and fight against Patricia. She squalled in an infantile voice, "You! You brought me here .. to .. to be a baby again." She beat helplessly against Patricia’s chest as she cried. She continued in a whiny voice, "You did this on purpose. It called you a Quester ... what's that? Who are you? Are you an alien?"

"Vickie, no! I don't know what a Quester is! I didn't know any of this was gonna happen! I don't remember ever being here before!" Patricia tried to hold onto the struggling girl.

Patricia's clothes were beginning to feel loose on her, but she couldn't hold her pants up while trying to keep Vickie from hurting her, falling to the floor or running away and getting hurt. Patricia was near panic.

"I'm not a alien, I'm just a professor! I grew up in New Mexico! I went to Princeton! Please, Vickie, don't hurt me!"

Vickie settled into the professor’s arms. She laid her head against her shoulder and began to cry.

She whimpered, "I was just starting to grow up, Professor. I actually was going on a date with John when we got back ... he's my first serious boyfriend."

The sounds of many children happily at play filled the air. A soft and comfortable music seemed to be intermixed with the sound. Patricia kissed Vickie softly on her cheek ... and stepped through the door. It was like walking through a curtain of light; a tinkly sound was everywhere as she passed through the frame.

On the other side was a beautiful nursery, filled with children of all ages. Everything seemed to be made of liquid light.

An entity, also made of liquid light, approached the Professor and Vickie. It said in a cooing, tinkly voice, "Welcome back Quester. We are so glad you brought a friend." It took Patricia by the hand and led her into the nursery.

Patricia pulled her hand away from the entity as soon as she could, turning to shield Vickie protectively from it. "For as long as I can, I'm not going to let you hurt her. I don't know what all this Quester stuff is, but I'm ... uh ..."

Patricia had been unable to tighten her belt or hold her pants up while holding Vickie, and her pants and overlarge panties fell down around her knees, as Vickie's had just a short time ago ... this put a bit of a dent in Patricia’s bravery.

"I do not understand," the entity said, in its crystalline voice. "We would not dream of harming either of you. Our function is your protection and care."

"Well turning us into babies is sure a weird way to protect or care for us," Patricia said, looking distrustfully over her shoulder at the entity.

The towel on her arm, which had been growing progressively damper, continued to remind her that Vickie's condition was her imminent future.

Another liquid light entity approached and cooed to Vickie, "Aww is sweetheart needing to be dressed?"

Without realizing she did it, Patricia gave Vickie into the image of light's arms. It cooed and tickled Vickie lovingly as it carried her off to another part of the nursery.

The one standing before Patricia cooed softly in its tinkly voice, "You have returned, and brought new seed. You're a Quester. You always return ... and bring another adorable one.

It turned as it took Patricia by the hand and led her slowly across the nursery. Patricia saw many children of all ages ... and adults. She saw Vickie on a table being diapered and played with by the other entity.

It stopped and continued, "Is it time .. for you too sweetie?" She waved her arm gracefully towards an empty spot next to Vickie.

Patricia felt confused. She had no idea why she had just allowed the second entity to take Vickie away without a fight. She had been prepared for a struggle, perhaps even to fight until she was incapacitated, before she would let them take Vickie from her ... and yet ... when it had come, Patricia had just passively stood there and let it take her. She did not understand why. Just as she did not understand why she was allowing this other entity to lead her by the hand.

Seeing what looked like an adult human nearby, Patricia shouted, "Help! Please! I don't know what is going on here, but I want to save my student!"

The adult looked at Patricia with an expression of concern and said, "Oh, Dear, don't worry, it will be all right. You just don't understand right now. They haven't given you your memories back yet, have they?"

"Memories?" That made no sense. Irrelevant for now, she decided ... making sure Vickie was all right was the first priority. Vickie looked as if she were younger than four years old, and on the nearby table. The entity that had taken her was quite carefully fastening something that looked very much like a diaper onto Vickie, having already painstakingly cleaned her with some sort of handheld device made of silvery metal and glowing crystal.

The entity put a shirtlike garment of strange design on Vickie, gently guiding her arms through.

Vickie was giggling happily. Patricia heard her ask in her cute voice, "You mean that there is a whole civilization here? Why did they come to be here?"

The Entity carefully lifted Vickie in her arms and tickled her tummy. Amid Vickie's gleeful laughter the entity cooed, "We saw a great space rock coming ... long, long ago. We could hide between dimensions, but could not leave the planet. They built the nest ... to keep them, nurture them, and to preserve all the flora and fauna possible."

Patricia was suddenly lifted onto the table. Her top and overlarge bra were removed, and she was cleaned with the device. Vickie watched with big eyes as her favorite professor was cleaned like a little girl.

Patricia blushed as she sat on the tabletop naked, as this strange being held her hand, a strange tingling sensation from the device washed over every part of her, removing dirt and excess oil from her skin and hair as it went. Her clothes had not exactly been hard to remove ... she had already stepped out of her pants, panties, and shoes, as they'd been designed for someone much bigger.

"But ..." asked Patricia, "I didn't know any of this was here, so how come you keep saying I brought Vickie here like it was on purpose?"

Vickie said, "Professor, they sayin' you part of this world. They sayin' you were brought here long ago."

"You have frequently had this difficulty on previous returns," said the entity. "This may ease your distress and that of your companion." It produced, or possibly created, a ring of glowing light, placing it on Patricia's head before she could react. "Keeping you in a state of distress is not our goal."

Patricia felt a slight warmth around her temples ... and then ...

She remembered.

She remembered ... Aquilegia, a city-state now forgotten by history, bringing back one of its most promising sculpture apprentices ... returning to the nest.

She remembered ... Nimore, a kingdom ruled by a tyrant nobody now remembered, sneaking out with a brilliant astronomer's apprentice the night before both were to be executed for predicting a comet ... that impacted the earth ... returning to the nest.

She remembered ... Medena, a jungle land now turned to desert, where she had gone hunting with a young man with extremely quick judgment and reflexes, discovered a strange doorway ... returning to the nest.

Each time, she remembered not remembering. She had gone out into the world as a child, with no memory of this place, had found foster parents and made her way in the world, and then, responding to some inner imperative, returned here, always bringing a promising young person to become part of the community.

And this time ... she had brought Vickie.

"I remember ..." she said, turning to Vickie, who was being held by the entity of light who had just dressed and played with her. "Vickie ... I'm sorry ... I took you away from your whole life and brought you here ..."

Vickie said with a bit of fear in her voice, "Professor, every time you returned to the nest with a new seed ... was just before a global disaster. Nana here says so." The Light entity nodded its head in agreement.

It said in a soft voice, "A means to protect the best of this planet had been devised. To nurture and protect for all time. To rebuild from the ashes ... to return to the nest."

Vickie asked, "Are you ... human too? What are you? You look like liquid ... light."

The two beings seemed to giggle softly in their tinkling way and replied, "We are made of a form of light. There is a main memory complex ... known through out the ages as ... the Oracle Orb. Would you two children like to see it? We have to do it now; Vickie will need to have her syncord taken ... to record her life memories for the future."

Vickie looks to Patricia and says softly, "That's the thing we wanted to see ... the real Oracle Orb. Pleeeaassee!"

Both entites again seem to giggle pleasantly.

Patricia had been preemptively diapered and dressed with a light fabric top and booties, white in color, similar to what Vickie was wearing, and now she knew why. "Yes, I now remember it, but Vickie has been longing to see it for some time now. It would help her achieve ... closure."

"Vickie ..." Patricia began. "I hope ... I hope you can forgive me. You have to believe me ... I didn't remember anything about this. You're turning back into a baby, but you won't stay a baby forever, and once your brain has grown enough to handle it, they'll put your memories back and you'll know what happened. But you can pretty much live forever, if you want to. Vickie? Are you OK?"

The two of them had been picked up by the beings of light that had been caring for them, and they were being carried through a curtain of energy out of the nursery into a corridor.

Vickie's eyes began to water a bit. She really didn't want to be a baby ... and it had finally hit her ... she was going to be one again for a while ... at least until she grew up again.

The entities carried the girls gently and lovingly down a long corridor with many doors. The sounds of the nursery had long faded; an eerie silence was all that was heard.

Vickie said, "How far ... is the Orb from the nursery?"

The only reply before the end of the hall was reached was, "Forever and today."

The door slid silently open. Sitting on a pedestal made of black orbs with gold and white veins wiggling all through it as if they were alive, sat a huge crystal that appeared to be a perfect representation of a human brain. It radiated energy that made the girls' skin tingle and their hair stand on end.

The entity holding Patricia said, "Welcome ... to the Oracle. The wisdom of the ancients shall be illuminated." The girls were set down in front of it. A panel with strange moving and glowing hieroglyphs was before them.

Patricia felt as if she were about five years old, in terms of the usual human timescale. Her regression was starting to slow down, but it wouldn't be long before she was a baby too. And she still felt guilty about bringing Vickie here, effectively against her will, even though Patricia had not known she was doing it.

Vickie crawled to Patricia and hugged her around the waist. She begain sucking her thumb as she watched.

"This is the real-life Oracle, Vickie," Patricia said. "The other ones we saw were like ... like when you go to a web site on the net." She concentrated, because her thoughts were starting to get fuzzy. "Remote terminals."

Patricia put an arm around Vickie, then reached out and touched a particular sequence of moving symbols on the panel. Light started to play about the inside of the crystalline brain.

"Vickie, now you can ask any questions you want -- no more cryptic answers."

Vickie took her thumb from her mouth and asked, "How far is we from the nest?"

There was a scintillating female voice that replied softly, "In space, about 100 yards. In time ... you stand beyond time. Forever can pass with a blink of an eye between here and the nursery."

Vickie asked in a cute, increasingly infantile voice, "What were those ... black smoky thingys wif red eyes?"

The Oracle replied, "Those are creatures from another dimension who have for years fought to destroy mankind. Human knowledge of them has degenerated into myth and legend. You would probably know them better as ... demons. They call their dimension Hades."

Vickie asked again, "What made the people create this place?"

The computer replied, "There was a great world nation that grew. They learned that an asteroid would impact the earth. Most life would be destroyed. It created what you know as the KT barrier. Continents split apart as the crust of the planet cracked. Only something beyond that plane would survive. You ... are on that plane."

"I remember ..." said Patricia, her voice sounding smaller and higher than before, "lotsa times I've gone out to find new seeds, just 'fore something really bad happened out there." She closed her eyes. "Worldwide disaster. Others too. To bring in new people before they're lost."

Vickie gasped and put her hands to her mouth. She whimpered, "It's happening again ... isn't it Professor?" Her cute face blanched white as her eyes got as big as saucers.

She looked at Vickie, still worried that Vickie hated her or blamed her. "I know somethin's gonna happen, somethin' bad, or the Oracle wouldn'ta sent out Questers ... what kinda disaster is gonna happen?" She unconsciously put her thumb in her mouth and listened to the Oracle.

Vickie turned her eyes to the glowing Crystal and echoed, "Yea, just what kinda 'zaster is coming?"

The tinkly voice of the Computer answered, accompanied by images in their minds, "There is a very large volcano located in a park known as Yellowstone. It has been calculated that it will erupt within the next year. This will create a chain of catastrophes that will devastate the earth. Tectonic pressure has been building up in crucial fault lines, as it always has. The massive shockwave caused by this eruption will circle the earth, releasing the energy of many faults at once, causing worldwide earthquake activity and leading to more volcanic eruptions. This cascade will level the majority of human structures and release vast amounts of ash into the atmosphere, blocking sunlight and blanketing crops."

Vickie was totally flabbergasted over this revelation. She sat for a second with her mouth open before she asked in a weak voice, "Will the whole world be destroyed?"

The Computer responded, "90% of all land based life will vanish. 75% of all life in the sea. There will be massive tidal waves that will inundate many miles into the major land masses. The tectonic slippage will cause old mountains to fall and new ones to rise. Life as you knew it on a global scale will end."

There was a silence in the chamber. Both girls looked at each other, not knowing what to say. Vickie hugged Patricia tightly and said in a teary voice, "I ... I want you to know ... you're more than my favorite Professor ... I love you too." Vickie kissed Patricia on her cheek as she hugged her tightly.

Patricia realized that she had had her thumb in her mouth -- she remembered always having had this habit whenever she was at or below the physical age equivalent of four years -- and hugged Vickie too.

"Vickie ... you were always like ... the daughter I never had." Tears rolled down her cheeks as she realized Vickie was not angry at her and didn't hate her at all. "We're ... we're gonna grow up together ... we gonna be like sisters 'cause we're gonna hit the turnin' point at the same time."

The two liquid-light caregivers, known in the nursery as Nanas, could be heard cooing and giggling over how adorable it would be for the two girls to grow up as sisters. Patricia remembered ... through all the thousands of years she had been alive, she had never had a child. Doctors in the outside world had never been able to explain it. The Oracle apparently didn't want Questers to reproduce while outside the nest so that the seed would not be lost to the world and diminish the nest. What she had said was true ... Vickie had filled an emotional gap in Patricia's life, and she was glad that Vickie would always be near her now.

"This age of humans has reduced the diversity of the earth's species through pollution and habitat destruction, so although the biosphere will recover, it will take longer than usual, so it will not be able to support large populations of humans for quite some time," the Oracle's crystalline voice continued. "But the Nest will persist, and we will make sure civilization will rise again. We will reseed the planet with flora and fauna, and it shall have great diversity again in time. For now, it is near time to take both of your syncordings, so your memories can be restored later."

One of the entities suddenly had a multicolored ring of liquid light in her hand. She approached Vickie and cooed softly, "It is time, baby. We need to make a recording of you ... for all time."

Before Vickie could move or protest, the Nana slipped the ring over her head. She gasped softly as her body stiffened momentarily. There was a bright light that glowed within the Oracle while Vickie's syncording was made. When Nana removed the ring from Vickie's head, she looked around with big eyes and gurgled and cooed adorably. Patricia's Nana turned toward her, holding a similar ring in her hands, and cooed softly, "It's your turn now, sweetheart."

"I knows," said Patricia.

It meant that the time was coming soon when her brain would regress to an infant state, undergoing continuous rapid change and interfering with memory retention and formation. She bowed her head toward the Nana, who placed the ring upon it, and the Oracle's light brightened once more. The syncording process caused her to catch her breath and her body to tremble, but she had been through it before.

The Nana removed the circlet from her head, and she crawled over to Vickie, whose Nana had already removed hers. Patricia could feel the regression process start to affect her brain. Actually she enjoyed the time she spent as a baby, two or so years out of every 50 to 60, what she could remember of it. It was a time of renewal for both body and mind.


Epilogue


Unknown to the girls, while the syncordings were going on, a massive volcanic eruption had begun. It spewed massive amounts of lava out into the air, trillions of tons of ash and rock. Massive tidal waves hundreds of feet tall moving at hundreds of miles an hour crossed the oceans. This started a chain of events ...

Patricia hugged Vickie, who giggled, which made Patricia feel like giggling too, so she did. "Maybe it time," she said to the Nanas, "for babies to weturn to da nest."

Copyright © 2009 by Tom Lee and Miki Yamuri

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