Protectors Diaries (Vol. 2): The Six–Chapter One

Ever since we’d completed our last mission to find the fifth force, Elle has been drilling me like a sergeant to regain my telekinetic abilities—with no end of undisguised eye-rolling amusement at my failures. I’d chosen to undertake our previous mission to discover the fifth force without my Protector abilities—but that’s another tale—and she’d been putting me through a crash course to get them back.

For the last two weeks, she’d pushed me through increasingly more challenging tasks. I thought I’d been doing rather well—well, aside from a door that no one will be able to open again with anything less than a sledgehammer, a car whose ignition is a pool of melted metal, and a circuit-breaker panel that’s been fused into one piece.

Today’s challenge started with a seemingly innocent invitation to enjoy a lovely breakfast on the patio of our Maui retreat. When I’d come outside, breakfast was already set: Silver, china, and crystal sparkled in the morning sunlight, steam rose from the teapot, and the smell of fresh croissants was in the air.

Once we were seated, Elle, with a cat-that-got-the-canary expression, said she thought breakfast would be more enjoyable if we had a better view. Seconds later, the tablecloth, complete with our breakfast, and the two of us, were hovering several feet above the table and chairs. I was amazed but not surprised. I’d seen Elle perform even greater wonders. I settled in to enjoy the novelty of our breakfast arrangement when Elle announced that it was my turn.

When I say she announced it was my turn, I mean she said, “Catch.”

I had only a split second to take control of everything before gravity did its job. I caught most of our breakfast in time. But in the first moment I overreacted, tightened the cloth too fast, and rocketed an entire place setting so high in the air that I lost track of it. Sometime later I heard the sound of shattering china, so I know at least some of it returned to earth.

After I managed to stabilize the surviving parts of our breakfast, Elle pretended that we were having a normal, everyday breakfast. She made the usual breakfast table requests—pass me the croissants, may I have some butter—but I had to “hand” her everything telekinetically.

I was game, but even so the jam pot sank so far into the tablecloth that it was almost invisible, one of the teacups made a slow-motion escape from its saucer, the butter enthusiastically parted from its dish and assumed a shape something like a photo of paint flying through the air, and I was moving slowly up and down like a yo-yo.

Mouth carefully neutral, but eyes sparkling with delight, Elle was thoroughly amused.

The trick to it all, as Elle has reminded me over and over with the not-so-hidden pleasure of knowing she is far better at this than I will ever be, is to feel yourself flow into the object you wish to move. Once you feel the object is part of yourself, then the act of moving it is rather like moving your hand or your fingers—you just do it. But normally I only have to control two hands and ten fingers. Now I felt as if I had ten hands and a hundred fingers.

Elle barely hid her delight when she made her next request. “A cup of tea, if you please.”

I could only wonder whether attempting this task would lead to as spectacular a failure as passing the butter had been. I concentrated and managed to get the teapot to rise and float over to her cup.

Just as I began to tip the pot to pour out some tea, Elle added a request. “Only half a cup, thank you. And light on the cream, if you would.” Elle made the last-moment request as if it were quite natural, but the mischief in her eyes told a different story. She knew how difficult it would be for me to make the necessary split-second adjustment in my control.

But she didn’t catch me out this time. I’d been on the receiving end of hundreds of these, to her, diverting training techniques, and I was ready for her. I remained focused and relaxed, and managed to pour only half a cup of tea without spilling a drop. Next I returned the teapot to the, well, to the tablecloth, and mentally reached for the cream jug. Just as the jug began to rise, I was distracted by two brilliant flashes of light.

I was startled, and then delighted, to see the radiant forms of our Teachers, Atri and Atria, floating on either side of us.

My delight did nothing to overcome my being startled, however. My loss of concentration meant that gravity took over and our breakfast began to fall.

But as suddenly as it began to fall, it returned to where it had been.

Only now the jam pot was precisely level, the wayward teacup was on its saucer, and the butter was back on its dish in its usual shape. I looked at Elle, and with a brief shake of her head she indicated it wasn’t her doing. Our new guests must have lent an invisible hand.

I moved to bow before them, but before I could—rise? float?—Atria spoke, her tone as normal as if winking into existence was an everyday occurrence, which for her, I suppose it was. “Please, Michael, there is no need to get up.” With a twinkle of amusement in her eyes, she added, “Better to stay where you are, don’t you think?” Clearly, she knew how well my training had been going.

Atri and Atria hovered effortlessly in lotus pose, their simple robes moving slightly in the gentle island breeze. Twins, their young-old faces held identical expressions of love and intelligence. Their hair was long, dark, and lustrous. Atri’s fathomless eyes looked deeply into mine.

As always, as I gazed into his eyes, I was engulfed in the bliss of our Teacher’s presence. Gradually, my perception of the seemingly-solid physical world lost its sharp edge of reality and appeared to me as shining clouds of light, as though my camera-lens of perception had gone out of focus. I remained aware of Elle, Atri, and Atria, although their physical bodies were gone from my sight. Boundless and bodiless, we soared into the Infinite.

After what could have been merely a moment, a day, or an eternity of joyful freedom, the physical world returned to my awareness. Curiously, I felt both in, and not in, my body. Reluctantly, I took in a slow and deliberate breath, and again took on the far more limited experience of body and senses. I glanced at Elle and saw that she, too, was once again dutifully accepting the confining garment of flesh.

Atri and Atria, still with us, patiently allowed us time to make the transition back to physical awareness, a transition they had long-ago mastered. Once we were ready, Atri spoke. “We are pleased with the success of your last mission. Now we need to ask you to undertake another.”

I was happy to hear that they were pleased with our last mission, and not surprised to be asked to begin another. We are Protectors. Elle and I have been given countless missions over thousands of years. Our extraordinary abilities are the result of being Awakened. Though Awakening is everyone’s destiny, once Awakened, most souls move on to enjoy the experiences of subtle, heavenly realms. A few, however, like us, choose to remain on earth to serve as Protectors.

Protectors nurture and safeguard Awakening souls: visionary artists, world-benefitting scientists, selfless humanitarians, or those soon-to-Awaken who might otherwise come to harm at the hands of misguided or malevolent people. We guide our charges and protect them from harm so that their genius, knowledge, and expansive consciousness can flourish, thus bringing them closer to Awakening, as well as benefiting and uplifting all mankind.

Elle and I have had the privilege of guiding, teaching, safeguarding, and bringing to Awakening hundreds of souls. But we, and a small band of other Protectors, are sometimes given missions of a different kind. We are given assignments to avert profound threats to mankind—assignments to thwart the will of powerful and misguided people bent on domination or destruction—assignments that put us squarely in harm’s way.

Before the burning of Egypt’s Library of Alexandria, we saved thousands of ancient scrolls from destruction, smuggling them to Damascus where they remained hidden for centuries. Eventually, we arranged for them to be “found” by the right scholars at the right time. We kept Akbar the Great alive and on the Mughal Throne of India so that he could stimulate a renaissance fusion of Hindu, Moslem, and European art, and spread his much-needed message of spiritual tolerance to millions. We worked undetected, but with great sacrifice, to keep the atom bomb out of Hitler’s hands, thus preventing a perverted world-order and untold human suffering. More recently, we channeled the discovery of the unimaginably powerful fifth force toward peaceful and useful ends which might usher in an era of clean, low-cost, unlimited energy.

Elle and I shared a look at Atri’s mention of a new mission. We never knew what our missions would be or how we would carry them out. We did know that our mission would be all-consuming, dangerous, and possibly fatal. We also knew, at the very least, that our Maui idyll was over. My training time had come to an end. Whatever control of my abilities I had regained would have to be enough.

Atri looked gravely at each of us before he continued. “Since the advent of the modern energy-age, ever more money and power have been controlled by ever fewer people. Now a mere handful of people hold enough sway over the affairs of man to affect the course of nations and control the lives of billions. Their unseen manipulation of the world’s wealth has left millions upon millions of people in crushing debt, grinding misery, even starvation, while allowing a small number of people to enrich themselves, and subvert the world’s resources to utterly selfish ends. Soon, very soon, their control will become impossible to break. You must discover their identities and stop them before it’s too late.”

Atria added a warning, “Asher is at the center of this group. Take special care. He has mental powers beyond those of ordinary men.”

Elle and I flicked a glance at one another. Asher had been a menacing presence behind the scenes of many of our previous missions—including our most recent—but we’d never encountered him face-to-face. We knew little about him with any certainty, but we knew one thing for sure: Asher had learned to extend his life; he was thousands of years old. And now we knew another: He had unlocked some of the powers of his mind.

Protectors, too, can live for thousands of years; in fact, they can live indefinitely, and they, too, possess great mental powers, but our long lives and abilities are the result of Awakening, of merging into the Light. Asher’s long life comes from embracing the darkness, by stealing the life energy of others during arcane rituals, and his mental abilities come from perverting his soul’s innate powers.

Once Atri and Atria had given us our mission, they gave us a farewell gesture of blessing and their forms began to fade, their sparkling eyes the last thing to disappear.

At the final moment, Elle and I, and all the breakfast things, began to fall. Instantly, Elle held us, and everything else, from crashing to the ground. “Concentrate, Michael! How do you ever expect to be able to do this if you can be so easily distracted?” She stared at me in mock seriousness and then began to laugh.

I threw a croissant at her. Actually, I mentally caused a croissant to fly through the air in her direction. It never made it. It stopped midway, hovered, and then returned to the plate.

I sighed. “You win.”


One Month Later

Elle drove her Ferrari 458 Spider past mine on the winding two-lane road. At the last possible second, swerving out of the way of an oncoming car, she slid in scant inches ahead of my matching Ferrari. I thought she must have used her abilities to slow down the other vehicle. My guess was confirmed by the bewildered look on the face of the frantically honking driver as he flashed by.

We were leapfrogging each other down through the mountain switchbacks heading into Monte Carlo, tops down, wind whipping our hair in the chilly afternoon air. Ahead we could see the high-rise center of Monte Carlo bunched up between the sea and the steep mountain we were hurtling down.

We tried our best to appear reckless—and we appeared very reckless—while at the same time keeping bystanders safe. Doing so required single-pointed concentration. From behind us, the now-familiar sound of police sirens came as no surprise. Our attention-getting game had become a daily ritual since our arrival last week. Would the police catch us this time? My money was on No.

We flew down the steep mountain face and entered the city; the noise of our twin supercars echoed thunderously in the man-made canyons. I checked a young couple from starting across the street. A comically surprised expression appeared on their faces as I raced by, Elle’s car mere feet from the rear of mine. Show off. Several people, indignant at our recklessness, shouted and shook their fists at us—or selected parts of their fists. I laughed at the people as they shouted and gestured at us—at least on the outside. Inside I was silently apologizing.

Now there were sirens in front of us. I cut down a side street, heading seaward. Elle turned with me as though we were one car. Temporarily eluding the police, we shot out onto du Larvotto, the main seafront artery, and drove as if we were in the Monte Carlo Grand Prix.

We passed each other along the waterfront, weaving through cars as if they were standing still. We could hear sirens coming from just about everywhere now. I put on a burst of speed and passed Elle’s Ferrari, slewed around in front of her, tires smoking, and made the last turn toward the Monte Carlo Casino. Moments later, honking our horns to clear a path before us and slamming on our brakes in unison, we slid sideways to a stop in front of the Monte.

We got out of our cars, laughing and pointing at each other, just as a score of police cars arrived, sirens going and lights flashing. Radiating fury, policemen leaped out of their cars and ran toward us—but they arrived too late. We were already surrounded by our security detail.

I shouted to Rajan, the head of our team. “I thought you had taken care of this!” I gestured at the police. “Why do they make such a fuss over a little bit of fun? Take care of it! Make a donation to the policeman’s retirement fund or something.” We tossed him our keys.

Turning our backs on the police’s outraged shouts, we were met by the strobing camera-flashes of a phalanx of paparazzi. We went up red-carpeted steps as two members of our security team not-so-gently made a path for us.

There was a gala this afternoon for some big shot or other and only the richest, most glittering, most socially desirable had been invited. Once through the main doors, we were surrounded by society-press television crews, cameras and microphones were thrust eagerly at us. The press inside were better behaved, but just as hungry for stories as the paparazzi outside.

Why all the interest in us?

It’s simple. Elle and I were now the richest people in the world and our infamous lifestyles had made us into global mega-celebrities. We’ve been on countless magazine covers, have been the subject of endless news and entertainment programs; every aspect of what we think, do, or say is minutely scrutinized and blared from the tabloids.

Shortly after Atri and Atria gave us our mission to discover the identities of the small group of people who have inordinate control of so much wealth and power—and to somehow stop them—we set about assuming a cover that would allow us to mix with the rich and powerful. What better cover than to be rich and powerful ourselves? We put the full resources of the worldwide network of Protectors to work and emerged a short while later as twenty-something brother-and-sister holders of the largest private fortune in the world. Our goal was to make ourselves into, we hoped, irresistible bait to catch our prey, and we were dangling our colossally-rich selves from a hidden hook with as much notoriety as we could generate.

Our “father,” Sunil Gupta, was himself a Protector who had amassed a large fortune in India. But as Protectors can live far longer than is normal, it was a good time for him to appear to die and move on to a new identity, lest he begin to attract unwanted attention. His death offered a fortuitous solution to the problem of creating a cover. His actual children, a brother and sister whose identities we had assumed, were also Protectors, and they, too, were moved on to new identities.

You might be wondering how we could masquerade as Sunil’s children—real people, well known by many. Good question. The answer lies in the Protectors’ most helpful ability: We can shape-shift and look like anyone we choose. Trust me, it’s a very handy trick.

Thus we became Anil and Ambika Gupta from Pune, India.

Sunil Gupta had made a vast private fortune—the true extent of which was unknown to the world. We made it appear to be even more vast when, over the course of a few weeks, our fellow Protectors added to Sunil’s fortune by secretly moving huge sums of money into our control—stock portfolios, Swiss accounts, properties, factories throughout the Orient, multi-national corporations, and more. We became richer than Bill Gates, Carlos Slim, and Warren Buffet combined.

Shortly after the death of our father, we went on a spending spree. Pretending to have been held in check by a puritanical miser, we spent like no one ever spent before. With wanton disregard for cost, we acquired every kind of luxury item imaginable: private jets, helicopters, fast cars, exclusive fashions, breathtakingly expensive jewelry, and we were currently kicking the tires on the largest yacht in the world.

When we traveled, we insisted on bringing our toys with us. We acquired our own Boeing 747 just to fly our army of servants, massive security team, several specially armored SUVs, our favorite cars, and staggering amounts of baggage, to wherever our fancy took us. We arrived later on our smaller private jet—an outlandishly and expensively decorated Gulfstream V.

In less than a month we’d bought an ocean-side estate in Bali, skied Aspen by day and partied by night, taken an entire floor of the Plaza to throw extravagant bashes that dazzled even New Yorkers, and less than a week ago we’d arrived in Monte Carlo to try out our latest new digs—an exclusive castle estate high on the mountainside overlooking the city.

As planned, during this impressive buying binge, the full scope of our wealth had been revealed to the world. It’s difficult to imagine that we haven’t caught the attention of the people we want to find.

When we entered the Monte, as usual when we showed up in public, all eyes were on Elle/Ambika. My appearance is average—the typical dark hair and eyes of India atop a stout body. Her appearance is stunning: dark hair, worn long and chic, Bollywood figure, flashing white teeth in an enchanting smile, perfectly-arched eyebrows, and arresting brown eyes.

“Ms. Gupta! What are you wearing tonight?” one of the reporters shouted loud enough to be heard over the other crews as we moved forward to the casino floor.

Elle/Ambika stopped and twirled to show off a shimmering, iridescent-purple, full-length gown. Matching sparkling sandals peeked out from beneath the hem and dangling platinum-and-diamond earrings danced in the light from the camera flashes.

In the round tones of cultured Indian-English she addressed the reporters, “It’s a Saab. When I told him last night that I had nothing to wear for the gala he begged me to wear something of his. He had it couriered to me this morning.”

More questions were shouted at us but, as usual, we moved forward, feigning bored disinterest. Just as we were about to enter the casino floor, I heard a shouted question that caught my attention.

“Mr. Gupta! Is it true that you just bought up hundreds of acres outside Pune and will evict thousands of people so you can build a palace?”

I whirled around with feigned anger, secretly pleased that someone dared to ask such a question. How a hard news reporter got in with the fashion and entertainment press I don’t know, but it was a perfect opportunity to pretend, for the thousandth time, how little we cared for anything besides our own pleasures.

“Yes, it’s true we bought the land. It’s our home city, after all. Why shouldn’t we be able to build there?” My tone was angry, scolding, and dismissive.

“But you will be displacing people who have lived there for generations. They have nowhere else to go.”

“India needs shaking up. It can’t just keep living in the past. It will be good for them in the long run.”

Barely able to hide her disgust, she asked, “Don’t you feel responsible in any way to those people?”

I paused as if giving her question some thought. “No, not really. Why should I?”

With a indifferent shrug I moved on, Elle/Ambika still at my side and, with our two body guards following us, we passed through the velvet ropes and left the press behind—rich, reckless, arrogant, and uncaring—poster children for all the misuses to which money can be put. And, if our assumptions were correct, perfect bait to lure our quarry out of the hidden deeps and onto our hook.

I don’t mind telling you I was heartily sick of the whole charade. I’ve played the part of the villain many times on other missions—but never for so long—and never so publically. I could feel the enmity people felt toward us like an actual physical pressure.

As we strolled deeper into the casino, Elle mentally flashed me an image of me receiving an Academy Award to the applause of thousands.

I flashed back an image of a sad-faced, crying child who wanted to go home.

Oh. Yeah. We can communicate telepathically. Also very handy. But after Atria’s warning about Asher’s mental powers, we kept our use to a minimum in public, lest we unknowingly reveal ourselves to our yet unknown quarry.

So I whispered, instead. “If we don’t get lucky tonight I vote for moving on to Plan B.”

“And which one, exactly, was Plan A?” she asked with pretended innocence, while nodding to people she knew.

I gave her a sideways glance and sighed. It’s a long story. I’ll tell you later.

Playing our parts, we idled our time away in the venerable casino. Its rich carpets, marble floors, and ornate style were a throwback to a bygone era. Ambika and I lost more money playing roulette than most people make in a year. We did it without turning a hair. Elle/Ambika managed to be surly to a waitress and then over-tip her while appearing not to notice either the rudeness or the extravagance. Our bodyguards, weapons clearly visible under their jackets, microphones in their ears, hovered with a certain degree of menace. Room, as you can imagine, was made for us at any table we approached.

Even among the rich we stood out. No one else bothered to bring bodyguards into the already highly-secure event. People we had met before approached us with a certain wariness and carefully concealed distaste. We were often rude, disparaging, mean-spirited, and dismissive of others.

As we wandered from table to table, we shook hands with some minor royalty, met a few Grimaldis, whose family still ruled Monaco, and spoke indifferently to a lot of very rich people—all of whom were left in no doubt that we found them unimportant.

As usual, we saved our real interest for the least reputable guests—people who managed to cultivate a veneer of civilized sophistication while making their money in decidedly uncivilized ways. We had already made small and discreet “investments” with some of them—but not so discreet that word didn’t get around.

People who spent any time with us soon believed that we were amoral, even sociopathic, and that all we cared about was ourselves. They believed even sooner that we were bent on accumulating more wealth, regardless of how, as long as it was fast. The real villains we associated with found us a little scary. Our civilized veneer appeared to be much thinner than theirs. They had some limits to their behavior. We appeared to have none.

After an hour or two, just as we’d decided to leave, a woman coming our way caught our attention. A bubble of interest traveled with her as she came toward us. Heads turned as she walked by. She radiated power and sensuality. Men were frankly admiring but at the same time wary. There was something disturbing about this woman that was felt at a primal level. Women wore fixed smiles and took firmer grips on their escorts. She was escorted by two body guards, but, unnoticed by most, she had at least a dozen more. The extra bodyguards were dressed like guests but their movements gave them away. They stood at key vantage points, their eyes constantly sweeping the room while everyone else looked only at her.

She came to a stop in front of us and offered me her hand. She spoke in a husky contralto, “I am the Countess Genovese.”

The countess was a beauty. Long, curling blond hair surrounded an oval face and hazel eyes. Her figure was just short of voluptuous. Her skin had the look of expensive treatments, nails perfect, makeup understated but exquisite. Her dress fit to perfection. She wore masses of jewelry, including one outsized antique ring on the middle finger of her right hand.

Her age could have been anywhere between thirty and fifty. Her every move was sensual, aware of herself and aware of me. Too aware of me. When her hazel eyes met mine her expression included a frank question.

When she turned to Elle/Ambika and took her hand in greeting, Elle tensed almost imperceptibly, but her polite response betrayed nothing. “A pleasure to meet you.”

Silence had attended the countess’ arrival but was now replaced by an increased hum of conversation—speculation, no doubt, as to who this woman could be and why she wanted to meet us.

Facing both of us, she spoke so that only we could hear. “I would like to meet with you for a few minutes to discuss a matter of mutual advantage.”

Elle/Ambika and I looked at each other as if considering her offer. If we had not been on our guard about communicating telepathically, we would have been sending each other the mental equivalent of high fives. Weeks of offering ourselves as colossally rich, arrogant, and amoral bait had finally attracted someone we believed to be a very big fish.

The Countess Genovese fit the big fish profile we’d developed very well: little known, seldom seen, yet powerfully connected. Up until tonight, we’d seen nothing but grainy photographs of her, heard and read many conflicting stories about her, and had no idea how to contact her or where to find her. We hadn’t, until this moment, been entirely sure she even existed.

Although we both knew this meeting could be the opening we were looking for, it wouldn’t do to appear too interested. After a bit of a shrug from me, and a reluctant nod from Elle/Ambika, I turned back to the countess. “We could give you a few minutes.”

We arranged to meet a short time later in a private room.

After she left, I turned to Elle/Ambika and said, sotto voce, “Plan A is obviously working.”

I got one slightly raised eyebrow to acknowledge my Plan A comment and then she added a quick rejoinder. “Just be careful if she offers you a drink.”

My turn to raise an eyebrow.

“That was Lucrezia Borgia and she’s still wearing her favorite ring.”

Not something you usually hear in casual conversation.

“Lucrezia always kept something special in her ring for those pesky relationship issues that come up from time to time. A little drop of poison in the right drink—problem solved. Believe me, I remember her well—and she doesn’t look a bit different than she did when I first met her five hundred years ago.”



Protectors Diaires (Vol. 1): The Fifth Force–Chapter One

I could barely hear her over the rush of the wind and the scream of the motorcycle’s engine.

I think she said, “Hang on. I’m going to try to lose them….”

The rush of air whipped her words away. The motorcycle was at peak revs as we raced along the narrow winding road before hitting a tight curve fast—way too fast; in fact, impossibly fast, too fast for the wheels to maintain their grip on the road, too fast for us to not simply fly off the road—yet we made it through that curve, then another, and another. I squinted into the blast of air over her shoulder, her hair whipping against my cheek, and saw that the speedometer read over ninety. Just then a yellow twenty-five-mile-an-hour warning-sign came and went almost before my mind could register it.

No need to tell me to hang on….

I was glad to hear that she thought we could lose them though. I did not like them shooting at us.

I drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. This was the first moment I had the presence of mind to do anything other than react since she had shown up at my door. I was stunned to realize that only minutes had gone by since I had been considering what to fix for dinner at the end of a normal Sunday afternoon. Only fifteen minutes ago I had been home and in my familiar world—a familiar world that was slipping away as fast as we were speeding into the autumn twilight.

And yet, to my surprise, I felt great. Not just great, I realized wonderingly, I felt fantastic.

I should be confused, terrified, angry. My life—a really good life, mind you—had just been violently turned upside down. Moments ago I had nearly been killed, and a lot of things are happening that I simply had no explanation for.

But I felt profoundly good. I felt good in a way that I didn’t even know one could feel.

Fifteen minutes ago I would have told you I was already as happy as a person could be. At twenty-four I am UC Berkeley’s youngest tenured professor of physics. I am on a roll. My career as a physicist is assured. Even at my young age I am considered to be one of the brightest minds in physics.

I love being a physicist. It has been my passion for as long as I can remember. When other kids were watching TV or dating or playing sports, I was studying science and physics. I couldn’t get enough of it. And it came easily. I graduated from high school when I was fourteen. I had my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from MIT by twenty, and my doctorate from UC Berkeley at twenty-two. I study physics the way a thirsty man drinks water. When I’m not absorbed in physics, I’m at the dojo with my sensei. I’m a third degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

I liked everything about my life.

Then the doorbell rang.

I had only just arrived back at my Berkeley Hills home this evening when I heard the bell. Opening the door, I found a bright and beautiful young woman looking at me with a pleased smile. It was the kind of smile you give someone you haven’t seen for a long time, when you know the person is going to be glad to see you.

But I didn’t recognize her at all.

She was slim and fit. She stood poised and erect like a dancer or a martial artist. About five feet eight, dark hair, dressed in denim pants, running shoes, tank top and denim jacket. Her hair was stylish and short. She had the air of a European about her, and I caught the scent of sandalwood perfume. She could have been twenty-five or thirty-five, with the classic features and clear light skin that would keep her looking elegant and young for decades.

While I was taking all this in, she was appraising me with a curiously unreadable smile on her lips. I’m six feet tall, also slim and fit, light brown hair, blue eyes, in a face pale from spending way too much time indoors, and wearing chinos, polo shirt and running shoes—standard Berkeley professor garb. Passable, but not head turning, I’m told.

When we had finished our momentary but mutual appraisal our eyes met. I felt a shock of recognition as I looked into her clear, blue-gray eyes. I was thrown. I had never met this woman before, yet I felt an instant attraction to her—and a distinct feeling of déjà vu.

Mentally trying to shake off the confusing feeling that I both knew and didn’t know this woman I stammered out, “Ah, can I help you?”

Still smiling her unreadable smile, and with the brief flicker of a grin at my discomfiture thrown in—as if she knew things I didn’t—she asked, “Are you Professor Michael Dinsmore?”


“My name is Elle Champlain, and I have a very important invitation for you. May I come in?”

I gave my head a quick shake, as if I could somehow shake the odd reactions I was having to her out of my head. I quickly stepped back and gestured her into my living room. “Please come in.”

Elle looked around briefly as she came in and surveyed my small bachelor home. It was, as usual, neat, tidy and uninspired. I have lived here for over two years but have done almost nothing to make it a home. I live at the University and at the dojo. I come here to eat, sleep and change clothes. For no obvious reason, it has always felt temporary to me, although I don’t have any plans to move. The only real item that reveals anything personal about me is the picture of my parents hanging on the wall. When Elle’s glance fell on their picture she again flashed her unreadable smile.

I asked her if she would like anything to drink—water, coffee, juice—the usual politeness, which I expected her to decline. She surprised me—not by accepting—but by saying, “No, thank you. I don’t think we will have time.” I thought, “We won’t have time?”

Again, trying to ignore the sense that she knew something I didn’t, I gestured for her to sit on one of my living room easy chairs, and as I took a seat I asked, “What invitation do you have for me?”

She began, “Professor Dinsmore…”

“Please,” I broke in, “call me Michael. I don’t even let my students call me Professor Dinsmore.”

“O.K. Michael it is then”, she said as if she was enjoying a private joke, but she took away any rudeness I might have felt with a warm and friendly smile.

“I am here to invite you to meet with Jonathon Devas.”

“Jonathon Devas?” I blurted out. I could not have been any more surprised if she had said the President of the United States. She was obviously enjoying my surprise—enjoying it because multi-billionaire Jonathon Devas is quite possibly the most reclusive man on earth. Very little is known about Jonathon Devas. He’s the Howard Hughes of our time. He almost never appears in public, yet his Devas Foundation supports charitable and scientific work in research centers all over the world.

“Yes. Mr. Devas would like you to come to his home near Aspen for a very important meeting tomorrow—perhaps the most important meeting you will ever attend.”

I stared at Elle, trying to fathom her calm sensibleness combined with the outlandishness of her invitation.

“I don’t know Jonathon Devas. Why would he want me to come to meet him?” Rising star or not, I was hardly in his league. I knew some people whose work was made possible by grants from the Devas Foundation, but I wasn’t one of them. To my knowledge, I had no connection to Jonathon Devas, or to the Devas Foundation.

“Jonathon said he would explain everything to you when you met. We have a private jet standing by to fly you there this evening.”

“But,” I protested, “tomorrow is a Monday. I have classes to teach, things I need to do. I can’t possibly go on this short notice.”

“Jonathon anticipated that you would find his invitation inconvenient, even inconsiderate. He asked me to offer his apologies for the very short notice. He also said that I should give you the following message.”

She paused, and then said very carefully, ”He wants you to know that you will, in fact, discover the 5th force.”

I could scarcely believe what I had just heard. I could barely breathe. As long as I can remember, even as a child of two or three, I have believed that I was going to discover the 5th force. Most of the time, I have been as clear and certain about it as I am that apples fall to the ground. But I have never told this to anyone, not even to my parents. How on earth could Jonathon Devas know?

The constant lure drawing me forward in my pursuit of physics has been my secret conviction that there is a 5th force to be discovered. Though speculated on in freewheeling, often humorous conversations among physicists, almost all physicists are extremely doubtful that there is a force other than the four we already know: gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces. People who maintain that there is a 5th force are generally relegated to the lunatic fringe of physics, which is the main reason I have never shared my conviction with anyone else.

The other reason I have never shared my conviction with anyone else is that from time to time I have thought perhaps I was delusional, and that if I just stayed with straight science and waited it out, the delusion would simply go away. Most of the time, the conviction has simply sat in the back of my mind keeping me ever alert to new avenues of research opening up in physics.

When Elle finished relaying Jonathon Devas’ message time seemed to stand still. Somewhere within myself, I realized, I had simply been waiting for this moment, for my search for the 5th force to begin. I was thrilled. Elle gazed steadily and calmly at me, as if she understood the significance of this moment for me.

“How…?” I began, and then faltered. Where could I even begin?

“I can’t tell you everything you want to know right now, but I can tell you that when you meet Jonathon tomorrow….”

I cut her off as my normal reality reasserted itself. “Tomorrow? Surely you understand that I can’t just take off with you tonight….”

Before I could finish my thought, Elle, hearing a car door opening, jumped up and looked out my front window. Still looking out the window, she spoke, “I’m sorry, but you may not have much choice but to come with me right now. There are two men getting ready to come up to your house, and I’m pretty sure they are going ask you to go with them on some pretext. They’ll probably claim to be federal agents of some kind. That’s what I would do,” she said the last almost too quietly for me to hear.

Turning back to me she said, “I was afraid of this, but I had hoped it wouldn’t happen before I could persuade you to come with me.”

My thrill over Jonathon Devas’ message about the 5th force was rapidly replaced with alarm. What was she saying? That I would be abducted? I jumped up and looked out the window and saw a dark nondescript sedan parked at the curb. Two men were coming up my walk.

“When they identify themselves, just ask for an ID,” she said. “I’m guessing their ID’s will have bullets.”

“What…?” I stammered out, almost unable to take in what she was saying.

At that moment the door bell rang. I went to the door and opened it to reveal two men in dark suits, white shirts and conservative ties.

“Professor Dinsmore,” said one of the men politely, “may we come in?”

“Who are you?” I barely had the presence of mind to ask.

“We are with the FBI and we need to ask you some questions,” answered the second man.

Overwhelmed with too many things happening too fast, I opened the door all the way and they walked in, closing the door behind them. Elle was standing next to me, but they paid no attention to her.

“Professor Dinsmore, I’m afraid we need you to come with us,” said the first man.

“What is this about?” I asked, trying, and failing, to sound as if I was in control of the situation.

“We can’t talk about it here,” he said, glancing at Elle.

Just barely remembering Elle’s last words of advice I said, “I will need to see some identification.”

The two men glanced at each other and both reached into their suit jackets. Sure enough their ID’s did have bullets. They both began pulling automatics out of underarm holsters.

Before I could even begin to say anything, Elle’s right leg swept across in front of me in a blur, in one motion knocking the men’s hands away from their guns. She whirled full circle and kicked the nearest man in the head with her right foot. As the man began falling senseless to the floor, she hit the second man on the side of the head with an open palm strike so hard that his head snapped back and hit the door jam with an audible thunk. He, too, fell to the floor like a marionette whose strings have been cut.

It was all over in less than a nanosecond. Her kicks and strike were all part of one flowing motion. I have never seen anyone move so fast. Not even my sensei. Not even in competition. And now she stood before me calm and matter-of-fact, with an everyday air about her, as she looked down at the two men. Then she bent down to check their pulses.

“Both alive,” she said as if with satisfaction at a job well done.

Then looking at me with a grin, she said, “Idiots. They never watch the girl!”

Her attempt at humor fell flat. Any semblance of normal thought had abandoned me. I could only stare at her.

Sensing my shock and anxiety she came closer and said, “Michael, I’m sorry all this had to happen so fast. But I’m afraid it isn’t over. These two are unlikely to be alone. When they don’t come out soon, others are going to come in after them. I can’t tell you why yet, but you are very important to them. We need to get you away from here right now. The situation has become very dangerous. If they can’t capture you, they may try to kill you. Is there a back way out?”

I shook my head again, as if I could return to normality by shaking out what I had just seen and heard. Capture me? Kill me? Numbly I nodded toward the kitchen. Seeing that I was still dazed and unwilling to move, Elle came over to me and said, “Michael, you are very important to them, but you are far more important to me.”

Staring deeply into my eyes, as if to will her reassurance past my confusion, she said, “We’ll get out of this okay.”

Then she said with a laugh, “Besides, these guys have no idea what they’re up against. We’ve been in much worse situations.”

“We?” I thought again.

“Come on – we have to go,” she said with greater urgency, and tugged my arm toward the kitchen. Finally, like a sleep walker, I followed Elle into the kitchen, out the back door, down the kitchen porch steps and into my fenced back yard.

At that moment, we heard noises coming from inside the house. Elle looked around quickly and saw that the only way out of my back yard was a gate that led back toward the front of the house.

“We can’t go that way. We’ll have to go over the fence,” she said, gesturing toward the rear of the yard.

“Now!” she almost shouted, which woke me up enough to start me clambering over the fence into my neighbor’s back yard. Elle had merely grabbed the top edge of the six foot fence, and with one lithe motion vaulted over to land lightly on her feet on the other side.

My journey over the fence was far less graceful, and I landed heavily and with a grunting thud on the other side. I was so mentally stunned that not even my martial arts training came to my aid. My thoughts were a confused jumble, and part of me thought that this must all be some mistake, that there was no need to run from these men. At that moment, the back door of my house was kicked open with a crash so violent that the panes of glass in the door shattered. Looking over the fence, I saw a man on my porch raise his gun and aim it at me.

Elle slammed into me from the side and pushed me down. Bullets came through the thin wooden fence exactly where I had been standing, but there was no sound of gunshots.

“Silencer,” I thought.

“Silencer?” I thought again, this time in shock.

Suddenly my foggy mind began to focus. No FBI agent was going to be shooting at me with a silenced pistol. Even if there were some mistake, these men were obviously not planning to discuss it with me. A burst of fear and energy shot through me. My mind cleared completely and I was ready to run.

We leapt up to a crouch and quickly moved along the inside of the fence until we saw a path leading to a gate on the street side of my back neighbor’s yard. We sprinted for the gate. Elle crashed through it without even trying to open it. Pieces of the gate flew forward as if it had exploded.

A question began to rise in my mind, but events were moving too fast for the question to form, because as I ran through the now open gate, splinters hit the side of my face as another bullet hit the wooden gate post. My skin crawled; I expected the next bullet to hit me in the back, but I made it out to the front the house unscathed, running as fast as I could. Elle was already running to the left along the sidewalk, and I ran after her, gratefully putting a house between us and the gunman on my back porch.

Suddenly she stopped and said, “Perfect.”

Following her gaze I saw her looking at a motorcycle parked on the street. It was one of those motorcycles that look as if it’s going fast even when it’s standing still, its lines swept forward and downward, handle bars low, forcing the driver to lean way forward like a racer.

My glance was abruptly drawn away from the motorcycle by the sound of a car’s tires squealing around the corner at one end of our block. The car was the dark sedan that my would-be captors had arrived in. The next thing I knew, the motorcycle roared to life and Elle was shouting for me to get on. I leapt on the back and grabbed Elle in a bear hug just as she spun us in a tire-smoking half circle and tore away from the car coming toward us. My mind was trying to form another question, but it too was blown away before it could take shape. A black SUV had screeched around the corner ahead of us, and was coming straight toward us. We were trapped between the two vehicles.

Without hesitation, Elle turned the motorcycle and raced up a set of stairs that would take us to the street above us. My Berkeley hills neighborhood has many such stairs which, like a chutes and ladders game, connect the streets that terrace the hills. One can climb these stairs all the way to the top of the Berkeley hills to Tilden Park.

We flew up the stairs. The bumpy ride threatened to throw me off the back, but Elle made no attempt to slow down. In fact, when we got to the top of the stairs, we were going so fast that we shot into the air. Before we landed, Elle turned the motorcycle in midair. We hit the pavement at full throttle, squealing, tires smoking, and raced down the street.

Again my mind wanted to ask a question, but my question was once again obliterated by the sight of the dark sedan careening around the corner at the end of the block. To my stomach-clenching surprise, this time Elle accelerated right at the oncoming car, but at the last moment braked hard and turned uphill once again up another set of steps that she had seen ahead of us. This set of steps was covered by a wooden roof and had sides like a tunnel. As we entered, I heard the rapid sound of an automatic weapon and saw splinters flying. I ducked instinctively and turned my head away.

Again we flew up the stairs, and shot out of our wooden tunnel soaring out over the street. This time, however, the street was much narrower and there were cars parked on the far side. Somehow Elle managed to land almost sideways, once again executing a squealing, tire-smoking, engine-screaming maneuver, and then rocketed us along the street.

Yet again a question tried to form in my mind. This time it surfaced.

“How was that possible?”

“It isn’t,” I thought.

No amount of driving skill could make it possible to turn like that in midair. We should be piled up in a broken heap after colliding with the parked cars on the far side of the street. Instead, we were speeding along, about to turn up yet another set of stairs. Then the other questions my mind had been trying to form also surfaced. I quickly glanced down over her shoulder and saw that there were no keys in the ignition.

“How had she started the motorcycle?” I wondered.

“How had she smashed through that gate without even slowing down?”

“How had she turned in midair?”

Elle apparently had her own laws of physics, because we had just violated several of the ones I knew.

We raced up two more sets of stairs and found ourselves on the last stretch of road before Tilden Park. Tilden Park is a long, thin park running along the ridge top with a golf course at one end. Beyond Tilden Park, there is only undeveloped park and national forest land. I would often come here for a run or just to stroll along the many trails and enjoy the views. It was familiar territory for me and it gave me an idea.

I shouted to Elle over the noise of the motorcycle. “There’s a park service road on the other side of the golf course.”

“Which way,” she shouted back.

I pointed toward the golf course club house and she accelerated toward it with alarming speed. Just as we entered the parking area, we heard the squealing tires of the black SUV right behind us.

I shouted, “We have to get over there…,” pointing across the golf course.

Elle didn’t even slow down. She took us through a tiny gap between two parked cars at full speed and continued right onto a fairway, across a cart path, up a short rise and, to the anger and astonishment of two men lining up their putts, right across a green. I can only imagine what their expressions were when the SUV followed us across the green. When I craned my head around, I could see the SUV was not far behind.

Elle turned her head slightly to shout, “How much farther is the road? We’re putting other people at risk. We’ve got to get out of here fast before someone gets hurt.”

“We need to go down there,” I shouted, pointing toward a gate in the boundary fence that surrounds the golf course. There were several groups of golfers staring our way as we looked toward our escape route.

She looked back briefly and saw that the SUV was still behind us.

“Too far,” she shouted, “and too many people.” To my alarm, she turned sharply instead and, accelerating, headed directly toward the boundary fence, scything a scimitar shape into the fairway and sending up a rooster tail of grass and dirt. She seemed to be heading for a grassy mound near the fence. When I realized what she wanted to do, I think I stopped breathing. We rode up the mound and flew in a graceful arc over the boundary fence, landing in the knee- high golden grass of an open, untended field outside the manicured green of the golf course.

But we should have been lying in a tangled mess in the fence. We didn’t hit the mound with nearly enough speed to fly over the fence, and even if we had had enough speed, the mound wasn’t steep enough to have launched us over the fence. It was as if we had been carried over the fence by a giant invisible hand.

I was definitely not in Kansas anymore.

The men in the SUV did not fare as well. They made the same sharp turn as we had and as we soared through the air they shot at us. Then they crashed into the fence without slowing down. But rather than smashing through, the chain link fencing and metal posts wrapped around the car and caused it to flip on its side.

Apparently they were still in Kansas.

Now outside the boundary fence, Elle headed for the road I had been trying to get us to. Just as we reached it, we saw the dark sedan coming toward us—so much for my bright idea of a secret escape route—the guys in the other car had found us already. Elle spun us onto the road, and began running through the gears at top RPMs. That’s when Elle shouted to me, “Hang on. I’m going to try to lose them…” and proceeded to break any of Newton’s remaining laws of motion she had overlooked.

As we hurtled along the road, I thought, “I should be terrified.” At the speeds we were going, we would, without question, die horribly if Elle couldn’t keep us on the road.

Instead, I felt exhilarated. Dimly aware that my rational self wanted to know about the 5th force, Jonathon Devas, the chaos left behind us in Berkeley, and who those men were that were bent on capturing or killing me, I instead found myself giving in to the experience of the moment. I felt as if I were fusing with Elle and the motorcycle. I began to anticipate Elle’s lightning fast adjustments of weight, steering and braking. I even began to anticipate when she was going to break another of gravity’s unbreakable laws, and I moved my body infinitesimally in response. Sensing my changed awareness, Elle glanced back over her shoulder and flashed me a quick and delighted grin.

We continued racing along, making random turns whenever we encountered another road, making sure we lost the guys who were chasing us. After about fifteen minutes, Elle pulled off the road and stopped.

The motorcycle stopped running—somehow—and we both sat upright and listened. I couldn’t hear anything except a breeze hissing through the knee-high golden grass that surrounded us, almost luminous in the last rays of the autumn evening. The quiet was almost startling after the continuous scream of the motorcycle’s engine.

We heard no sound from our pursuers. No surprise. If they had tried to keep up with us they would have long since ended up in a ditch or have flown off the road and down one of the many steep hillsides we had flown past in a blur. Although they were probably still searching for us, Elle had made so many turns, it would be next to impossible for them to find us.

Seemingly satisfied that we were safe for the moment, Elle put down the motorcycle’s kick stand and slipped off the seat sideways. I got off as well.

Then Elle turned to look at me. Her eyes were shining. Energy seemed to radiate from her as from a beacon. I had never seen anyone more completely alive. A warm and companionable smile lit up her face.

As I returned her smile, I thought I must look to her as she did to me. Energy was coursing through my body. I felt light on my feet and exceptionally aware of everything. I felt deeply calm, my mind clear and present—a feeling I usually only experience when I am in a particularly intense session of Tae Kwon Do. I knew I was feeling chi, my life force, but I had never felt it so deeply before.

Even though I knew it was cool, even cold, in the fading minutes of this autumn evening, I felt a warm glow radiating outward from the core of my body. I felt as if the boundaries of my body had blurred. I couldn’t tell exactly where my body began and where it ended.

I carefully moved my hand, like a small child enjoying the sensation of moving his hand slowly through water. I realized that I was moving my hand through a sea of life force, the chi surrounding me.

I look at Elle with a feeling of elation and wonder.

“What is happening to me?”

“You are beginning to awaken,” she said simply.