After we had gotten away from our pursuers, we quickly, and without further incident, made our way to a private airport in Concord on the east side of the Berkeley hills. On the way, Elle made a brief cell phone call, shouting over the wind to be heard, “We’re coming in hot. Fifteen minutes. Stay alert and get ready to go.” When we pulled up to the airport entry gate, Elle spoke to the guards, and we were immediately waved through as if they expected us. We wended our way along the airport service road and soon arrived at a small open hanger. Three people were waiting for us, standing beside a sleek and gleaming Gulfstream jet. The jet’s door was open, stairs down, waiting for us to board. The engines were already running. Elle put down the motorcycle’s kick stand and got off.

Without hesitation, Elle spoke to a member of our welcoming party – a round-faced and serious looking young woman. “Maggie, let’s go. We’ve gotten away for now, but they’ll start looking for him at the airports.” With a brief flicker of alarm and surprise, Maggie turned without comment and dashed up the stairs into the plane. Moments later we heard the sounds of the engines revving up to a higher pitch.

Turning to a tall, broadly-smiling African-American man, Elle quickly spoke, “Booker, I’m sorry, but I am leaving you quite a mess to clean up. I had to steal this motorcycle and things got very noisy and very visible.”

Booker’s smile dimmed but didn’t go out. “No problem. I’ll make sure you aren’t involved. Did anyone see anything that, ah, they shouldn’t have?” he asked with a slight twinkle in his eye.

“I don’t think so. I tried to make everything look natural. I just hope no bystanders got hurt.” A pained look crossed Elle’s face, and she said with exasperation, “Those idiots were shooting at us in the middle of a city like a bunch of gang members.” At her words, Booker’s smile vanished. Elle hastily added, “There was nothing else I could do. It was clear that if they couldn’t capture Michael, they would kill him.”

There was a collective intake of breath, and everyone glanced my way, but before anyone else could speak, Elle said, “Mira, please make Michael comfortable.” At that she vanished into the plane, leaving me standing with Mira and Booker.

Booker began pulling a cell phone out of his pocket and turned away—but not before he flashed me a last smile. Finally, Mira, a slender young woman with the dark hair and dark liquid eyes of India, made a graceful gesture for me to board the plane.

By the time I was seated and had begun fastening my seatbelt, Mira had the stairs up and the door closed. The plane began to taxi immediately. Looking out the window, I could see that all other activity was being stopped to let us pass. With barely a pause, we made the beginning of the runway and I felt a surge of speed and power as we shot forward and into the air. I’m not sure if even two minutes had passed since we arrived.

“Where’s Elle?” I asked Mira after a few moments of flight.

“She’s flying the plane,” answered Mira matter-of-factly. “Is there anything I can get for you?”

I didn’t see Elle again until we landed and were ushered into a waiting limousine. Maggie and Mira waved goodbye as we moved off. I tried to ask Elle questions as we rode smoothly along, but she deflected them by saying all would be answered tomorrow. When I sensed how awkward it was for her not to be able to answer, I relented. During the remainder of the limousine ride we were both quiet. We arrived at the main gate of the Devas estate in about twenty minutes, but then it took almost another ten minutes on a slow and winding road to finally arrive at the house sometime after ten o’clock.

When we pulled up to the front entry way, I was surprised to be greeted by Jonathon Devas himself. Expecting the stereotypical man of commerce, steely-eyed and commanding, I was taken aback by the man who stood welcomingly before me. He was of average height, with dark hair, slightly dark skin, and deep brown eyes. His features and coloring could have originated in any number of locales from South America to India. He was more youthful than I would have guessed, although fine lines around his eyes and mouth suggested much greater age.

He was dressed casually and comfortably in soft cotton pants and a deep violet-colored raw-silk shirt. His whole manner was so unassuming that had I not recognized him from the few pictures that had shown up in the newspapers, I might have thought this man was merely going to take me to meet the far more important Mr. Devas. Instead he stood patiently while I gathered my wits enough to reach out and shake his outstretched hand.

Then with great warmth he said, “Welcome to Milliefiore.” He spoke with a slight trace of an accent, but I couldn’t tell where his accent originated. His English, even if not his first language, was very clear, leaning toward the British enunciation so common with well-educated non-English speakers.

As he spoke, Jonathon’s eyes locked with mine and I felt the same shock of recognition as when I met Elle, yet I knew I had never met him before.

“I know you must be brimming with questions. I’m afraid you must wait a bit longer for your answers. There is a ceremony planned for you late morning tomorrow after everyone has had a chance to get here,” he concluded.

“A ceremony?” I blurted out, disconcerted. I had expected to be invited to a meeting of some kind where I could ask questions and get answers.

Seeing my obvious discomfort at the idea of attending a ceremony I knew nothing about, he continued, “My apologies. The ceremony is to help you fully awaken. Elle called me from the plane and told me that you have already begun to experience the first stages of awakening. I’m very sorry you have not had time to learn about it before now. Most people have years to understand and prepare for it. But there is a purpose to the timing of your awakening which you will soon learn.”

His words, meant to reassure, only made me feel more apprehensive. “What will happen to me?” I wanted to know.

“Even if we had plenty of time to talk about your awakening, some things cannot be understood by words alone. I could talk with you the rest of the night and you would have yet a hundred more questions. The answers to your questions already lie within you. The ceremony will only unlock them.”

Sensing that I was about to ask another question, he held up his left hand to forestall me and then extended his right arm toward me, drawing my eyes to his hand. As I looked at his hand, there was a brief shimmer and a perfectly formed white rose appeared, the stem held delicately between his fingers.

He gestured for me to take it. As I held it, felt its solidity between my fingers, gently touched the petals, and raised it to my nose to take in a delicate scent, Jonathon said, “Can you explain that?”

I could think of no reply. I had just witnessed what anyone would call a miracle. It was no conjuror’s trick. No sleight-of-hand. Jonathon had not been moving his hands or distracting me. He had been standing perfectly still. From a distance of inches, I had seen the rose form in his hand.

Seeing that he had achieved his desired effect, he spoke, “When you have awakened will you be able to understand. You do not need to attend the ceremony tomorrow. Your awakening will continue even if you don’t attend. You will soon fully awaken whether you decide to attend tomorrow’s ceremony or not. The ceremony will merely quicken the process already unfolding.”

After a pause he added, “Michael, you are not who, or what, you think yourself to be.”

Seeing that I was still reluctant, he added, “You need not decide now. The ceremony is planned for late morning tomorrow. Until then you are my guest here at Milliefiore—Thousand Flowers—as I like to call this beautiful haven.”

Gesturing at a pleased and smiling young man who had been standing patiently at his side, he said, “Andrew will make sure you have anything you need. You must be tired. Andrew will show you to your rooms, and I will see you tomorrow.” With that he held up a hand in what could have been a farewell or a blessing and left us.

Elle was still there after Jonathon had left. I could tell that she didn’t want to just say good night and leave me with Andrew. The brief intensity of our escape and the amazing experience of connectedness we had had held us together still.

After a silent moment or two, neither of us quite certain what to do or say, she impulsively gave me a quick but fierce hug. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said. Her gaze lingered on mine just a bit longer than expected, as if she were weighing whether to say something more. After a final moment of indecision she added, like an older sister exasperatedly straightening out a younger brother, “Don’t make a fuss. Just go to the ceremony.”

As I watched her walk away, I felt a wrench, as if I had been forcibly disconnected from her. I wanted to call her back, but realized I had no idea what I would say.

Andrew escorted me to my room, quickly got me settled and left. I was tired, as Jonathon suggested, but I expected to lie awake, going over the events of the day. To my surprise I fell asleep quickly and slept without waking all night. The next morning when I awoke, the first thing I saw was the white rose Jonathon had produced out of thin air, now in a vase on my bedside table. Seeing the rose immediately brought back last night’s conversation with Jonathon—and with it the awareness that I still hadn’t the remotest understanding of how it came into being.

But I did understand that I felt fantastic. I was relaxed, yet humming with energy. Whatever awakening is, I had to admit I liked it so far, even if I had no idea what it was. I decided to set my questions aside for the moment.

Lying comfortably in my luxurious bed, I looked around the room. At the end of my high-ceilinged and spacious room was a pair of curtained French doors. Above them, the clear early-morning sunlight was slanting into the room through a half-circle window. The window was an exquisite stained glass creation of purple and lavender irises rising from green bladed leaves against a blue sky and white clouds. It cast lovely shapes and hues on the wall near my bed.

The walls were a delicate shade of lavender. Above me, in the pure white ceiling was a recessed oval, bordered by molding in the European style. In the center was a single iris, painted with gold and silver metallic highlights glinting even in the subdued morning light. On the bureau was a glass sculpture of a vase of irises matching exactly the purple and lavender iris colors in the stained glass. Across the room, on a high table against the wall, was a real vase full of real irises, also of the same matching shades. The two arrangements, one real, one a sculpture, were identical in size and the number of irises. All the furniture was made from beautiful, warm cherry wood—simple in line, delicate and glowing with the care that only time and careful polishing can impart.

As I drank in the decor, I thought that my mother would love it. She loves flowers. She grows them and she paints them. My modest childhood home was always beautiful, full of flowers both real and painted. There were times when I thought I might like to be an artist, but the desire couldn’t compete with my love of science and physics—actively encouraged by my mathematician father. I was discussing the fine points of black holes at the dinner table by the time I was eight. But from my mother I gained a lasting appreciation for the joys and subtleties of beauty.

Time to get out of bed. I stretched and sat up. Throwing off the covers, I put my legs over the side, my feet landing on a wool rug sitting atop a lustrous wooden floor. My first impulse was to go out the French doors and see where I was. Remembering that I had been told clothes had been provided for me, I opened a magnificent wardrobe in search of a robe. Hanging neatly were a number of shirts in vibrant colors, my usual style of chino pants, and a plum-colored soft cashmere wool robe. Folded neatly in a drawer were some white draw-string cotton pants and a pair of open-heeled slippers. I gratefully put on the cotton pants, slippers and robe, since the morning air was chilly.

Opening the French doors, I walked out onto a generous balcony and headed for the balustrade, inhaling fresh mountain air and with it, the elusive scent of flowers. Looking down, I saw a series of terraces, dressed in native stone, dropping lower and lower until they met the green grass of an extensive lawn. At the edge of each terrace were low stone walls capped with boxes full of blooms of all types and colors.

Milliefiore—Thousand Flowers—was indeed an apt name. Flowers were everywhere. Flowers blooming atop the terrace walls provided a luxuriant riot of color. Additional tubs and pots were full of yet more flowers and, as I looked to my right and left I could see that nearly every window was graced with a window box from which spilled exuberant cascades of flowers. Added to the visual feast was a rich bouquet of scents wafted to me on the sun warmed air.

The low stone walls were pierced here and there with stairs leading down to the next terrace, none with more than about six steps. The terraces were laid out in overlapping curves, like surf flowing off the beach and back into the ocean. Scattered here and there were chairs and tables, their umbrellas furled to welcome the autumn sun. I could feel warmth rising from the terraces as they gave off some of the heat they had already captured this early in the morning.

Looking out to the horizon, I saw that the estate was surrounded by low pine- and fir-clad hills, sheltering a large meadow in which the house stood. In the distance I could glimpse the serrated, snowy-white peaks of the starkly beautiful Maroon Bells. Through the meadow, a sun-sparkling stream meandered, flashes of light from its quicksilver surface winking though stands of aspen. The stream’s scintillating silvery waters and the white trunks of the aspen trees provided a dramatic counterpoint to the luminous yellow, orange and scarlet leaves of grove after grove of aspens in their autumn splendor. Halfway between the house and the aspens, in the midst of a sprawling green lawn, sat a white painted gazebo with an iridescent blue tile roof.

When Andrew had escorted me to my room the night before he had told me he would happy to take care of anything I needed. All I need do was call his extension. I decided to put his offer to the test. I reluctantly tore my gaze away from the splendid view, found a phone in my room, and called Andrew on the proper extension. I asked if breakfast was available and he offered to bring it to my room in twenty minutes.

By the time Andrew arrived with my breakfast, I had showered, selected clothes from the wardrobe and dressed. One thing was certain. Jonathon Devas had a very efficient organization. All the clothes were in the style I liked. Everything fit. Even though I had my choice of loafers, street shoes, even dress shoes, I stuck with the running shoes I had arrived in, since I planned on exploring the grounds as soon as breakfast was over.

Andrew set out breakfast on a wrought iron table on the balcony. The food was as fabulous as the view: Eggs Benedict, fresh fruit and rich coffee. The place setting and china, to my astonishment, matched my room. Tasteful irises adorned the outside of my eggshell thin cup, and were repeated on the edge of my plate. Even the salt and pepper shakers had the same iris pattern, and my table cloth and napkin were the exact same shade of lavender as the walls of my room.

As I ate my breakfast and drank in the view, I marveled once again at how good I felt. Yesterday men had been shooting at me. Elle had broken the laws of physics with nonchalance and Jonathon had casually created a rose right before my astonished eyes. The world I thought I understood had been turned upside down. That should be bothering me. A lot. Yet I was content and in the moment. I had never felt better.

I was beginning to realize that, even if nothing further happened, my life was forever changed. I had always been in control. Sometimes I had wondered if I was too much in control. My friends thought I was driven. Becoming a tenured professor by age twenty-four had left no room for anything else in my life. Yet here I was, completely out of control of my life and to my intense surprise I felt liberated.

I was taking a final swallow of excellent coffee when Andrew returned, as pre-arranged, to take me on a tour of the house. As he led me around, it became obvious how much he loved Milliefiore. He mentioned that he had had a part in designing and furnishing some of the rooms.

“Jonathon had the inspiration for Milliefiore many years ago,” began Andrew. “He wanted every area of the house to be devoted to a different flower. You are in the Iris Suite. Other guest rooms are devoted to the morning glory, lily, frangipani, and peace rose. I just recently completed doing a mountain columbine room.”

As we walked, Andrew pointed out items of interest, not saying too much, just letting me drink it in. It was as if we were walking through a work of art. Every room, every corridor, every window, wall and ceiling were carefully, lovingly and precisely designed and decorated. Yet I was amazed to realize that the effect wasn’t impersonal or cold. I could easily live in this house. There were comfortable nooks in which to sit and read, sitting rooms to relax in with others, and window seats calling one to lounge and admire the views in cozy comfort. I felt at home.

The abundance of flowers outside was matched on the inside. In paintings, sculptures, art glass, light fixtures, curtains, carpets and chairs—as well as real flowers arranged in vases, growing in pots, and in cleverly placed green house nooks, whose extra warmth allowed plants to flourish in the high Rocky Mountains even in the chill fall weather.

All of the art was original, yet none was famous. Nowhere did I see the usual pretension of the wealthy—displaying valuable art simply because it was valuable. Though there were works of art everywhere, each piece blended into a harmonious arrangement, no one piece calling special attention to itself.

The last room we entered was a large high-ceilinged oval room, just off the main entry where I had first arrived. The room was designed for casual gatherings of large groups. The flower theme was white orchid. On the interior wall of the room were three half-columns resembling tree trunks. Winding gracefully up each tree trunk were liana ropes of white orchids. I approached one of the columns and extended my hand toward a cluster of orchids. As I did so my hand passed through a curtain of air, and I immediately felt the area around the tree trunk to be more humid and warm than the rest of the room.

Seeing my surprise, Andrew remarked, “I don’t know how they do it either. It has something to do with maintaining slightly higher and lower pressures inside and outside the display.”

The opposite exterior wall was filled with high windows looking out onto the grounds. In the foreground were hundreds of white flowers—lilies, Japanese white irises, white roses and daphne—looking as if an over-abundance of flowers had simply spilled out of the room onto the grounds.

The décor of the rest of the room was in white and delicate shades of gray—occasionally accented with pink or scarlet orchids. Sculptures, art glass and paintings matched the contrasting shades of pink and scarlet of the orchids. White and dark gray couches and easy chairs were placed around the room with the occasional pink or scarlet throw pillow, while the floor was covered in a muted gray carpet soft enough to lie on. The overall effect was comfortable elegance and floral splendor.

Thanking Andrew, I ventured out into the grounds on my own. I always love to get a feel for any area I visit. I have attended physics conferences all over the world, and the first thing I like to do when I get the chance is explore.

I walked away from the house, far enough to see it from end to end. My first surprise was that it didn’t look large. The house was cleverly designed to blend into an outcrop of rocks in the midst of the meadow. The house was made of the same stone as the native rock, making the house appear to be an extension of nature’s handiwork.

The house was not built along the usual straight lines and right angles. It blended into the natural contours of the land. The house had several stories, constructed like tiers on an unusual wedding cake. The resulting floors created roof-top gardens and terraces from which greenery and flowers cascaded, softening and hiding the building’s lines even more. At the highest point of the house there was a large glassed-in gazebo sparkling in the sunlight, commanding a panoramic view, and crowned with a golden ornament.

As I walked around the house, I discovered there were garages and other outbuildings some distance from the main house, carefully screened by trees. I noted absently a large number of limousines parked near the garages with their drivers standing around talking with each other. Also artfully hidden from the house by trees and the natural contours of the land were extensive greenhouses. Here was the explanation for the out of season plants and flowers I had encountered nearly everywhere.

I slowly made my way around the house toward the side that my bedroom overlooked. I walked along an inviting path that followed the stream. Eventually I entered one of the groves of brilliantly colored aspens. The sunlight filtered through the leaves with an amber-orange cast, like sunlight coming through stained glass, and lent the white trunks and branches of the aspens an exotic glow. The stream made a pleasant gurgling and rushing sound that was strangely muted in the close confines of the grove.

I ended my walk at the iridescent blue-roofed gazebo I had spied from the balcony of my room. I walked up a short stair and sat on a bench along one side. I was now looking back toward the house and could see that it was much taller on this side. While the entry side of the house was perhaps three or four stories high, this side revealed five or six stories, the unique architecture of the house making it difficult to tell where one story ended and the next began. The house curved around the terraces I had seen from my room, protecting them from the wind, holding in the sun’s warmth.

I reflected that here at Milliefiore, wealth served beauty; beauty did not serve wealth. There was no sense of self-importance or pretension. Though large, Milliefiore wasn’t vast. One didn’t immediately think of it as a mansion. It was a home.

As I sat contentedly, lazily gazing in various directions, enjoying the many gifts of Milliefiore, I noticed Elle walk down from the terraces and begin to practice her katas in the midst of the sprawling lawn. She was wearing a simple workout suit over her lean and supple form. Her feet were bare and she moved lightly on the grass. Her first movements seemed more graceful than martial, more Tai Chi than Tai Kwan Do. But then she went into a whirling, blindingly-fast series of strikes and kicks. It did not seem possible that anyone could move that fast or with such grace. Then, just as suddenly, she moved into slow movements from which she appeared to draw deep strength, centering herself, only to once again launch into a blur of speed.

After nearly half an hour she appeared to be breathing as if she had merely been out for a walk. Finally, she came to rest in the full lotus. There she remained for more than an hour—motionless, serene, a quiet smile on her face.

I found it easy to meditate myself, sitting comfortably on the bench in the gazebo, the autumn sun warm on my back. I slipped easily into stillness. At last I let myself consider my decision. Should I attend the ceremony planned for me? Reason suggested that I should find out more about it before I decided anything. My heart said otherwise. My heart said that a door was opening for me to walk through, that no amount of explanation would ever fully prepare me for what I would experience—so I might as well walk through the door now.

Reason said I was being rash. I had responsibilities, a career I had worked so hard to achieve, a bright future of accomplishment. But my heart leapt at the chance to experience more. That was when I realized my decision was already made. This was what I had been waiting for all my life. My feeling of apprehension lifted and was replaced with delighted anticipation.

A short while later I was made aware of Andrew’s presence by a quite clearing of his throat. Andrew spoke softly, “Michael, it’s time for the ceremony. Do you wish to come?” I nodded.

Andrew led me into the house. We took an elevator to the topmost roof. As the doors opened, I saw ahead of me the glassed-in gazebo that I had seen from the grounds, its golden ornament gleaming in the clear sunlight. Standing in front was a group of about twenty people, wearing brightly-colored flowing robes, each in a different single rainbow hue. They were looking expectantly in my direction. As I came closer, what I noticed first were the many broad smiles and beaming faces.

What I noticed next made me almost stop walking.

Some of the most famous people in the world were standing, collectedly and unselfconsciously, like members of an iridescent chorus, waiting for me to arrive.

I first recognized a very prominent senator. Next, after I had assured myself I was actually seeing who I thought I was seeing, I exchanged a glance with the second richest man in the world. Also among the group was a very famous governor. After him, my eyes fell on a movie star who currently commanded millions for his roles, and a rock star cum roving ambassador. The next face I saw was smiling at me in kindred sympathy and wry amusement, a famous face that had graced the television screens of millions of adoring fans every weekday afternoon for many years. Then my eyes fell on the Dalai Lama and he flashed me his quick smile.

I doubt if my eyes could have opened any wider, nor could my astonished face have looked more comical. More than a few good natured chuckles emerged from the group. But their greeting was so warm and their smiles so wide that I couldn’t help smiling as broadly in return.

There were many others in the group I didn’t recognize. But I did recognize Elle, in a deep fuchsia-colored robe, standing among them as if she belonged. Her smile was definitely more exuberant than the other’s and I saw hint of mischief in her eyes. She could have at least warned me what to expect!

Before I could do more than simply stare at them in amazement, Jonathon, in a deep azure blue robe, stepped forward from the group and turned to address them. “We should get started,” he said briskly, standing in front of the group. “Thank you all for coming on such short notice. I know that many of you had to make very unusual excuses in order to be here. Something we all try to avoid. Appearing normal has served us well for a very, very long time. Please accept my apologies, but our purpose, as you will soon learn, is unusually important—and unusually urgent.”

Jonathon then turned to me and spoke with a hint of formality, “Michael, I have asked everyone here to attend your awakening. I know that you have not been adequately prepared for this, to say the least. You should have been preparing for this ceremony for some time, but news has reached us which has forced us to move earlier than we had anticipated.”

I stood quietly gazing at Jonathon. I felt a thrill of expectancy and a tremor of unease. Jonathon continued, “The awakening ceremony can only be performed for you if you give your full consent. Without explanation and preparation the ceremony will require you to make a leap of faith.”

After a moment and in his most formal tone yet, Jonathon asked, “Michael, do you consent to be Awakened?”

I looked at the people facing me and gathered strength and reassurance from their calm and serious gazes. I looked at Elle. I remembered her final words of the night before, “Don’t make a fuss. Just go to the ceremony.” I almost chuckled at the memory. Her eyes flashed as though she knew what I was thinking; she allowed herself a small smile in the midst of the serious moment.

Taking a deep breath I said, “Yes. I consent.” I felt elated and awed at the same moment.

Without speaking, Jonathon gestured for me to enter the glass-walled gazebo. The group parted to let me through and then followed me inside. The view from inside, as I had guessed, was a spectacular panorama. Jonathon pointed to a chair in the middle of the space and I sat. The others took seats arranged in a circle around me. Standing in front of me, Jonathon began to speak, “Michael….”

At that moment a shaft of supernal light descended beside him. Within the softly glowing white light, two figures began to take shape as though gradually coming into focus. With a final brilliant flash, the figures clarified into a young man and a young woman wearing simple white robes. Both tall and slender, with lustrous dark eyes, and long dark hair, they seemed to be twins. Their bodies were youthful, but their eyes were ageless. They stood serenely with warm smiles on their faces.

“Greetings, Michael,” they said in musical unison, their eyes holding mine.