After a moment of surprise, Jonathon’s face lit up. Hands together in supplication, he bowed deeply, first to the young man and then to the young woman. “Atri. Atria. This is an unexpected blessing. We are deeply honored.”

Atri acknowledged Jonathon’s bow with one of his own, as did Atria. Their gazes moved among everyone seated, as one-by-one they acknowledged each person with a smile or a gentle inclination of the head, finally coming to rest on me once more. I was too stunned to think. I could barely meet their gazes, but their eyes held such warmth and joy that my astonishment was quickly replaced with trust. I felt completely safe, and though my mind was overwhelmed, my heart was open.

Atri spoke, “Michael, with your permission, we have come to give you the awakening touch.” I nodded mutely without really understanding to what I was nodding my acceptance, but I was utterly comfortable with…with this man? this being? this angel? I realized I didn’t need to know what he was. Once again, my heart knew what my mind did not.

“Before your awakening,” continued Atri, “we must give you a message.”

He paused briefly before continuing. “Events are moving swiftly. Once again mankind is faced with the emergence of perilous knowledge. The discovery of the 5th force is imminent. The pieces are even now falling into place. The 5th force is even more powerful than the forces locked within the atom.” Looking piercingly at me, Atri continued, “Your mission is to discover it first and to help channel its discovery into benign paths. In the wrong hands, for the wrong purposes, knowledge of the 5th force presents great risk to mankind. It could threaten the precarious balance of power in the world today, and it could trigger wars and more wars, more devastating than ever before.”

If I had been capable of being even more stunned I would have been. I felt I had been given a great responsibility for which I was utterly unprepared.

As though divining my thoughts, Atria spoke for the first time, her voice similar to Atri’s, but more liltingly musical, “More will become clear in the days to come. Fear not. You will be able to fulfill your mission. You accepted this mission in your last lifetime. This is Elle’s mission, too. She will be your support and your guide as you regain your full awareness.”

At that, Atri and Atria both stepped forward, placing their right palms on the top of my head.

Together they said, “Awaken.”

My body instantly became immobile, my breathing simply stopped. But my spirit soared. I felt as if I were flying, light and free of gravity’s constraints. This new awareness was stunningly different, yet instantly familiar. I felt absolutely safe. Like a man who had wandered far from home and then returned.

My physical surroundings, only moments before visible and solid, seemed now to dissolve, leaving me surrounded by pure luminosity. I felt a profound release in the center of my heart. Wave after wave of bliss radiated into my heart and then out again, as if I were breathing in and breathing out waves of pure joy.

Suddenly memories came flooding back. I remembered that I had known Atri and Atria in many lifetimes. In this lifetime they had remained hidden until now, but they were my Teachers. Memories from previous lives flooded my mind. I saw my life as a Knight Templar, a Tibetan adept, a samurai poet. I had been a famous military leader, even a king. I had often been an inventor or scientist. I realized that I had been Michael Faraday, the discoverer of the laws of electromagnetism. I had designed the Great Pyramid. I had helped Galileo through his discoveries and his trials. I had been a college confidant to Einstein, helping him work out his world-changing theories.

But above all—the understanding came to me clearly—I had been a Protector. Again and again I had guided and protected others for their benefit and the benefit of mankind, serving always as an instrument of the Light. I had committed myself to being a Protector long, long ago. I had lived the lives of men of power as well as the humble and obscure. I saw with simple clarity that I had moved through all those lives as if playing parts, in order to mask my true identity. I was sometimes alone, but often with my fellow Protectors.

I understood, with a joyful burst of feeling, that all the people who had come for my awakening were also Protectors. I could see them now in my mind’s eye not only as their present selves, but I could also see their faces as I had known them in many different lifetimes, superimposed and blended together. Yet their essential selves were clear to me regardless of the many masks they had worn.

I drifted among the memories of my past selves in timeless serenity. No longer bound by the thoughts and memories of my current life as Michael Dinsmore, no longer bound by the limits of mortality, I found myself melting into Eternity. Finally, and reluctantly, as though from a distant shore, I returned to more normal, but still blissful, awareness. It came as no surprise, as I could see from the angle of the sun, that many hours had passed since Atri and Atria had awakened me. But I felt as if I had been gone much longer—lifetimes longer—not just a few hours. I slowly turned my head to look around and saw that everyone was gone except Andrew, now looking at me in anticipation.

“Welcome back,” he said.

I understood he wasn’t just a welcoming me back to the moment. He was welcoming me back to my true awareness, to my true family, to my true role as a Protector.

“It is good to be back,” I said, looking at Andrew with shared understanding.

“Everyone is waiting for you on the terrace. Would you like to join them?” asked Andrew.

With a nod, I slowly rose and followed Andrew out of the roof-top temple, for I now understood that it was indeed a temple. I also realized with wonder that I could remember participating in other ceremonies in this sacred place when other Protectors had been awakened.

We made our way slowly through the house to the terrace. Even while walking, I could feel the enormous expansion of awareness that my awakening had bestowed upon me. My senses were clear and sharp. My mind poised. My body was humming with energy. I felt weightless. My heart was filled to the brim with joy.

As we walked out onto the terrace, those who had greeted me on the rooftop, now in casual clothes, arose from various chairs. This time it was I who directed a beaming smile at them. Now I understood. Now, I too, smiled at old, dear friends. My heightened awareness allowed me to perceive them simultaneously in their present and past guises.

My fellow Protectors approached and greeted me one by one. As I looked at each person in turn, memories of shared past lives flooded my mind and heart. Never before I had felt such acceptance or such love. Never before had I felt so clearly that I belonged.

Having lived an ordinary life thus far, I was unprepared for the deep respect they paid me. The famous and powerful greeted me as an equal, sometimes as more than an equal. Their eyes sought mine to receive love and strength as much as to offer theirs. My reawakened memories of past lives revealed that I had often been a leader among them.

Last to greet me was Elle. The moment was almost overwhelming. In my inner eye I saw a kaleidoscopic montage of many lives spent together. We had been friends, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, lovers, and in our most recent lives, husband and wife. Our gazes locked for a long time in mutual regard and understanding. We had found each other once more.

Seeing our unwavering gaze, Jonathon and the others chose that moment to gather around us. Jonathon, speaking for everyone, said, “We were waiting for you to connect…” and then all of them broke out in merry laughter, concluding with many variations on, “and good luck this time.” There was obviously more to this than I yet remembered! Elle gave me another mischievous grin in what was to be, I suspected, a long line of mischievous grins.

But our mood was suddenly and abruptly broken when Andrew came running out of the house and spoke urgently to Jonathon, “Rockshaw has come with three cars and a dozen men. He pulled up at the main gate and demanded to see you. When the guards told him you were unavailable, he threatened them with a gun. The vehicles smashed through the main gate. They are heading toward the house and will be here in minutes.”

After a slight pause, as though consulting an inner voice, Jonathon spoke, “Tell everyone to let them pass without resistance. Let’s try to avoid any one getting killed. Tell our people to choose their moment well. Andrew, meet Mr. Rockshaw at the front entrance and escort him out here to us.” At Andrew’s startled expression, he said, “It will be all right. Now go.” Andrew hastily ran back into the house.

Jonathon spoke urgently to Elle and me, “Quickly, the gazebo. Rockshaw must not find you here.”

Elle grabbed my hand and we ran down the steps of the terraces, across the lawn and behind the gazebo. Thinking this was a pretty exposed place to hide, I was surprised when I heard a click and saw that Elle had opened a panel in the side of the gazebo. The panel swung inward to reveal a short flight of steps down into darkness.

Elle entered first and I quickly followed. Once inside, Elle closed the panel and lights came on automatically. I looked around in surprise. I was expecting a gardener’s shed, I suppose. Instead, running around the walls was one long curving desk, on which sat several computers. Banks of monitors were attached to the walls above the desk. Without explanation, Elle went over to one of the computer stations and began tapping keys. Several monitors came to life. With a few more taps of the keys, Elle apparently found what she wanted. Then, carefully using a joystick, she moved the image on the screen until we were seeing the terrace we had just left through the lens of a surveillance camera.

“Let’s see if we can get sound too,” Elle muttered. Moments later I could hear, as well as see, our fellow Protectors now seated calmly on the terrace.

As I watched, a man walked purposefully and commandingly onto the terrace, Andrew following a few paces behind. The man was dressed in an expensively-cut dark suit, white shirt and dark tie. He radiated tense power and menace. His eyes glared and his lips were set in a hard compressed line.

With a visceral shock, I felt a powerful connection to him. There was no joyful anticipation, however, as I had felt on meeting my fellow Protectors. Instead I felt a complex mixture of emotions, but the clearest was an unmistakable feeling of dread.

“I know him,” I said.

“Yes,” said Elle in a flat even tone. “He tortured and killed us both in our last lifetime.”

As I peered at Rockshaw, a sense of unreality stole over me. But I knew her words were true.

“Mr. Rockshaw, what an unpleasant surprise.” Jonathon spoke without raising his voice, his words coming to us clearly through the speakers in our surveillance hide-away. “I would have much preferred that you had made an appointment.”

“Don’t waste my time,” spat out Rockshaw. “My sources told me you were having this meeting of your do-good ‘Foundation,’” he pronounced ‘Foundation’ with sneering contempt, “and I have come to tell you to stay out of my affairs.”

“The 5th force is mine,” Rockshaw finished icily.

“The 5th force is no one’s,” Jonathon replied evenly.

“Enough,” Rockshaw gloated, “I know all about your attempt to discover it.”

“I will warn you only this once; if anyone, or any group,” he said, looking meaningfully at the people on the terrace, “tries to get the 5th force before me, I will do whatever I need to do to stop them.”

“Whatever I need to do,” he repeated with unmistakable emphasis.

“Now, you will turn Professor Dinsmore over to me,” he concluded.

“Why, Mr. Rockshaw, you surprise me,” said Jonathon, with a hint of steel in his voice. “You clearly know nothing about us. Do you think we will give in to threats?”

“Look at the people gathered here. Do you think they travel without security? Did you think you and a dozen men could just take over my home and make demands? By now your men have been overpowered and disarmed.”

Rockshaw looked uncertain for the first time. Pulling a small device from his coat pocket he spoke into it too quietly for us to hear, but his expression told all. No one responded.

“Mr. Rockshaw, you are in over your head,” said Jonathon quietly. “Did Asher send you?”

Seeing the look of alarm that passed over Rockshaw’s face, Jonathon added, “No, I didn’t think so. I hope for your sake that you are in his good graces.”

Unnerved, and in thwarted rage, Rockshaw said through clenched teeth, “You stay out of my business. I’m telling you, the 5th force is mine. If I find you interfering…” and with that he turned and strode angrily back the way he had come.

Jonathan spoke calmly to Andrew, “Tell our guards to let Rockshaw’s men go, but keep their guns.” Andrew sped back into the house. In a few moments, even in the gazebo, we could hear racing engines and squealing tires as Rockshaw and his men tore away.

We returned to the terrace in time to hear Jonathon saying to everyone, “Rockshaw acted impulsively and without a plan. I doubt he will make that mistake again. Nor, I think, will he underestimate us again. He is not a man who likes to be humiliated.”

Turning to us he said, “I’m afraid this means you will have to leave tonight. Michael, I had hoped that you could stay with us for a while as you regain your memories and abilities. But you should leave before Rockshaw can regroup and try to take you by force. Needs must, I’m afraid.“

“But we can’t deny you your reunion dinner”, he said in a much happier tone.

The rent that had been ripped in our mood by the appearance of Rockshaw was soon mended. It would have taken much more than the presence of Rockshaw to dispel the deep and abiding joy that pervaded our gathering. The jangling dissonance created by Rockshaw and his men, like the aftermath of a childish tantrum, was soon forgotten, and we retired indoors for a celebratory dinner.

I sat, as the guest of honor, at the foot of a long table; Jonathon sat at the head. The dining room was softly lit by subtle tulip-shaped glass wall sconces, and by numerous tulip-shaped candles in various colors placed on side tables and in the center of the main table. Great masses of cut tulips were everywhere, adding a delicate aroma to the bouquet of pleasing smells that arrived with every savory dish we were served. Conversation was free and relaxed. It became apparent that many of the gathered Protectors had not seen each other in a long time.

As the meal wound to its end, Jonathon stood, raised his glass and said, “I propose a toast. To the return of a great leader among the Protectors. To his success in this vital mission. To the return of a dear friend. To his awakening. Welcome back, Michael.” As Jonathon ended, the others raised their glasses in salute and drank.

Afterwards they left one by one—back into their limos and back into the parts they currently played—to keep hidden their true roles as Protectors.

Throughout the dinner, the joy of awakening was still very much with me. But I began to be aware that the memories I had experienced after the awakening ceremony, then so strong and clear, were now becoming hazy. As I bade my fellow Protectors goodbye, my previous feeling of unreality returned. As I received handshakes and embraces from my fellow Protectors, my earlier certainty that I belonged among them faded.

When I had thought I was fully awakened I had felt confident that I could complete the mission set for me. Now I realized that the process of awakening was not complete, and misgivings assailed me. How much more of my new-found awareness would fade? Just how capable would I be of leading this mission? How would I know what to do to find the 5th force before Rockshaw could find it?

As the last of the Protectors left, I turned to Jonathon and Elle and said, “My memories are fading.” My concern was obvious to them both.

Jonathon let out a deep sigh and said, “We knew this would happen. Awakening doesn’t happen all at once. It can’t be helped.” Including both Elle and me he said, “Come to my study in thirty minutes. Meanwhile, get ready to leave. Michael, Andrew will help you.” He strode away as if urgent matters called.

Andrew brought me to Jonathon’s study at the appointed time. When I arrived I found Elle already there and in deep conversation with Jonathon. They both looked up, serious expressions fading as they greeted me. Nonetheless, I sensed a lingering tension in the room.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

Jonathon hesitated a brief moment, “We don’t know how Rockshaw found out about you and your mission to discover the 5th force.”

He continued gravely, “Only a very small number of people knew of your mission. We have never had information of such importance get out of the Devas Foundation before.”

“Someone must have gotten careless,” Elle said flatly. “Someone must have let slip an indiscreet word in the wrong ear.”

“I can’t believe that. It is inconceivable that a Protector could make such a mistake,” Jonathon continued with a sigh.

“Whatever the explanation, I will discover who and how. We must keep Rockshaw from learning more than he already seems to know. Meanwhile, you need to be very careful about communicating with the Foundation. Forget landlines, use cell phones carefully, and make use of encryption on the net. He could have been eavesdropping on us electronically and just gotten lucky. Though that still doesn’t explain why he would think there was something to learn in the first place,” finished Jonathon with a touch of frustration.

“But enough. Circumstance presses us hard. Rockshaw’s visit forces us to move much more quickly than we had planned.”

“Who is Rockshaw, anyway?” I blurted out, unable to hold back my questions any longer.

Both Elle and Jonathon looked at me in surprise, then Jonathon quickly spoke, “Forgive us. We are forgetting ourselves. Of course you don’t remember yet.”

Gesturing for Elle and me to sit, Jonathon eased back in his seat and took up my question. “Mr. Rockshaw is, on the surface at least, a man who has made his wealth as an arm’s dealer. But Rockshaw is much more than that. His goals are the complete opposite to those of the Protectors. Where the Protectors seek to aid in the peaceful development of mankind, Rockshaw desires to keep mankind in a perpetual state of strife and war.”

“He has become a man of unusual power—though not through awakening. He has achieved a small measure of the abilities Protectors gain when they have awakened, but through other, darker means. One thing he has learned is how to extend his life. He has already lived long past an ordinary lifetime—over two hundred years.”

The incredulous look on my face led Jonathon to explain, “Oh yes. All men are inherently powerful. The Protector’s powers aren’t unnatural. Man’s native abilities merely become more accessible when he awakens into greater awareness. Men like Rockshaw, still bound by their personal desires and egotism, ignore the higher possibilities of their nature and are drawn to preserving their bodies for as long as they can.”

“Ironically, the ability to prolong life makes people like Rockshaw fear death even more. It is rare for them ever to put their lives at risk. Rockshaw must have thought he was in no danger coming here today. But, even so, I am surprised that he would take such a risk. Such people normally hide behind the well-guarded walls of lavish estates, indulging their whims and appetites. Yet they are constantly on the alert for threats.”

“And who is Asher? And why did Rockshaw look so alarmed when you mentioned his name?” I wanted to know.

“Asher is all that Rockshaw is and far more. He is the leader of our enemies, if you can call coercion by fear, leadership. He is brilliant and ruthless—a tactician of great cunning. Compared to him, Rockshaw is clumsy and impetuous. Asher plans far, far ahead. Asher inspired Bin Laden. Suicide bombings, hijackings, selling nuclear secrets to fanatical regimes like North Korea and Iran, are but a few of his tactics. Anything that will inflame hatred, instill fear, create instability, turn people and nations against one another, and further line his pockets, regardless of the misery it causes, is grist for Asher’s mill.”

“I don’t know why Rockshaw looked so alarmed when I mentioned Asher’s name. It was just a shot in the dark. I wanted to unsettle him, and my words hit home. Asher is one of the few men who could have Rockshaw killed. Rockshaw lives in utter fear of him. Even to hint that Asher might be displeased with him coming here so alarmed him that he left soon after.“

“Elle said Rockshaw tortured and killed us….” I trailed off.

“Rockshaw has been your adversary many times, and you have thwarted his plans more than once. In your last encounter, you and Elle did not survive. There isn’t time now to explain how or why, and I think it best left to Elle to tell you what she thinks you should know. He doesn’t know you and Elle in your present lives—he believes you are dead. Let’s hope you can remain unknown to him until you can discover the 5th force.”

“But no one knows what the 5th force is, or even what line of research to pursue. How am I going to discover the 5th force in just a matter of days?” I said, perhaps over-forcefully, since I had been brooding on this subject for most of the past half-hour.

Jonathon looked at me with friendly amusement and replied, “I have no idea. Protectors are given missions uniquely suited to them. This mission had already been given to you by Atri and Atria in your last life. In fact, you requested it. The timing of your awakening and its purpose were settled long ago….”

“Settled by Atri and Atria?” I asked.

“No,” said Jonathon with care, “settled by you.”

Elle caught my eye and said simply, “This whole mission is your plan.”

“My plan?” I blurted out. “How can I follow a plan I can’t remember?”

“I told you,” Elle said, as if reminding me of a conversation we had already had.

At my blank look she said, “I told you it was a crazy idea when you came up with it just before we were killed.”

“So you know the plan?” I asked.

“Oh yes. You explained it to me in detail.”

“Well, what should we do then?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“What!” I said incredulously.

“You told me not to.”

“But that’s crazy!” I said before I could think.

“I told you,” she said once more.

“So let me get this straight,” I began. “I chose this mission in our last life and I arranged to be awakened just before the mission began so that I wouldn’t remember my plan. Not only that, I arranged it so that I wouldn’t have the full awareness and abilities of a Protector to help me carry out the plan I don’t remember.”

“You got it,” said Elle, with what I thought was unseemly glee, but she continued in a softer and more serious tone. “I have been caught up in many of your plans, although none as odd as this one. But your plans rarely fail.”

Jonathon added, “It’s your gift. There is no Protector better able to see how events can be made to unfold to serve the Light—sometimes over the span of many lives.”

Elle shifted the conversation. “Your memories will return. Your awareness and your abilities will come back. I will help you,” she said simply and reassuringly. “Now that you are awake once more, your memories and abilities are again accessible to you, even if you won’t be sure how to access them. Don’t be surprised at suddenly knowing things or suddenly being able to do things.”

“Normally when Protectors are awakened, we can help them through the transition in a slow and methodical way. But I’m afraid your transition is going to be neither slow nor methodical. I will help all I can, but it’s not going to be easy for you. Meanwhile we need to focus on our mission,” she concluded.

“How do I start then, if I have no idea how to discover the 5th force?” I asked plaintively. “What should we do first?”

Elle looked at me with great seriousness. “There is no exact plan. At least not as you mean. There is only the intention and the commitment we both made to the mission. As Protectors, we cannot separate ourselves from our missions. Nor do our missions truly begin or end, even though they may appear to do so. We are part of our missions. We cannot accomplish our missions without giving ourselves completely, without reservation, trusting that every encounter is as it should be, every challenge is as it should be, every outcome is as it should be. Too rigid a plan would only get in the way….”

Somewhere deep within me I felt something shift. The truth of her words both thrilled and relaxed me. I realized that what I needed to know was not going to come to me from the past, nor was anyone going to be able to tell me what I needed to know. This was my mission. I understood that what I needed to know would come to me—I just needed to let it come. I let out a long sigh releasing the pent-up anxiety of the last few hours.

Jonathon and Elle made no comment as I closed my eyes and let myself drift in the moment, mentally and emotionally surrendering to the mission, already begun, as I had just learned, so many years before. To my surprise, I found myself thinking as Rockshaw might think. He wouldn’t really expect his threats to deter us, so what would he do? The answer came slowly from amidst a welter of thoughts and images but eventually I felt I knew what he would do.

Gaining confidence, I simply asked myself what I should I do to discover the 5th force. Again the answer came in thoughts and images—and again I understood how to proceed. Finally rousing myself from my contemplation, I opened my eyes and smiled into the expectant faces of Elle and Jonathon. “I think I know how to begin.”

Elle looked very pleased, and seeing something in my expression she said, “This is how you have always worked. No Protector is better at it.”

Jonathon broke in to ask, “What will you do?”

Assembling my thoughts, I dove in. “I think Rockshaw doesn’t know what the 5th force is any more than we do. But he thinks we do. He wants it and he wants it badly. Gaining control of the 5th force could make him unbelievably rich and powerful. He’ll do everything he can to find us and force us to reveal the secret to him.”

I continued, “Discovering the 5th force is going to be hard enough without Rockshaw breathing down our necks. We need to distract him. Let’s give him something to steal, or at least to try to steal, while we do the real exploration in the shadows.”

“What do you have in mind?” asked Jonathon. I told him, and he laughed. “I think Warren and Bill can help with that, and the Foundation can play a role. What else?”

“I think we need to disappear for a while, and without attracting any attention,” I replied.

“We’re way ahead of you there,” Jonathon said. “We’ve already prepared to have one of the Devas Foundation’s research centers offer you a study grant to explain your sudden absence from Berkeley. In fact, your research grant will serve nicely as a way to distract Rockshaw. We’re also ready to inform UC Berkeley of your sudden decision to work for the center, and we have a qualified applicant waiting for the right moment to ask to fill your vacancy at UC Berkeley for the rest of the semester.”

I thought for a moment and ended feeling satisfied that their ideas could all work. But I still had another concern. “I will need to let my parents know more than that. They know me too well to think I would just walk away from my career at Berkeley,” I said.

Both Jonathon and Elle laughed. “We’re way, way ahead of you there—a lifetime ahead of you.” Elle smiled as she said, “Your parents are Protectors.”

My astonished look amused them even more. “Your mother and father were honored to play the role of your parents,” Jonathon said. “They have known you in many lives, and are in fact returning a favor. You and Elle have been parents to your mother.” They both chuckled as I sat there trying to take in the ease with which they spoke of relationships across many lives.

“Protectors make the best parents for other Protectors,” Elle took up the explanation, “so Atri and Atria guide the rebirths of Protectors into the families of other Protectors. Protectors have special gifts and abilities. Even as children, they frequently have knowledge and abilities beyond those of ordinary children. Parents who are Protectors can aid in their children’s development without attracting unwanted attention. In your case, your parents were told to steer you away from any unusual abilities and instead to channel your interests into physics—which, given your knowledge from past lives, was not difficult to do.”

Jonathon broke in, “Your parents longed to be able to tell you, but they knew it was not for them to do so. Their tasks in this life do not intersect with yours. It was convenient for them to take care of you, though. They send their love, and wish they could have been at your awakening. They already know to take care of your house and provide your cover story to anyone who inquires. You will see them again when the time is right.”

After barely taking all this in I said, “If I’m to disappear, I will need a new identity.”

“Easily provided. Not everything the Foundation does is, shall we say, strictly legal.” Jonathon chuckled. “Protectors often need to disappear. For Protectors, changing identities is a well-practiced art. We anticipated you would need new identification. I’ve already given Elle three extra sets of identities for each of you—passports, driver’s licenses, and credit cards—everything you need. Andrew doesn’t just decorate rooms,” he added with a twinkle.

“Where do you want to go?” continued Jonathon. I told him what I thought we needed to do, and in the end, he and Elle exchanged glances and said almost at the same time—“Dyson Center.”

A short time later, Elle and I were stealing through the night. Elle was dressed in what I was beginning to think of as her work clothes—running shoes, jeans, jean jacket and cotton top. I hadn’t had a chance to change all day, and was still wearing my running shoes, and the chinos and shirt I had found in the wardrobe. Andrew had given me a dark green padded corduroy jacket to keep me warm. We both carried small backpacks with the bare essentials—and three sets of forged identities—just what every experienced traveler needs.

We passed my old friend the gazebo, took a bridge over the stream and hiked a mile or so to what appeared to be a tumble-down old shack. Opening a pair of swinging doors revealed a shiny new SUV. Elle produced the keys from a hidden spot and we were away in moments. The moon was at the half, so Elle decided to drive without lights to further reduce the chance of our being seen. We drove in the opposite direction from the main approach to Milliefiore, on a rough dirt road barely discernable in the pale moonlight.

A comfortable silence settled on us as we gently bumped along. The clear, bright memories of my awakening had almost completely faded. Yet I realized I still felt an undercurrent of joy almost as deeply as I had at my awakening. I began to appreciate that those now faded memories were, in a way, incidental to being awakened. The abiding joy I felt was the essence. I also began to trust that, come what may, this experience of joy would now always be with me. I felt happy, safe, and energized—even as we were heading into a perilous unknown. The joy I felt was exhilarating and simultaneously calming—a combination I hadn’t known was even possible.

After a while, I turned my head slightly and gazed at Elle. She sat relaxed and composed, poised and competent. I was struck again by how strongly I was attracted to her. As if divining my thoughts, she turned her head and, looking directly at me, said, “Just because we were husband and wife in our last life together doesn’t mean we will be this time.” Seeing the mixture of surprise and discomfiture that crossed my face, she grinned and added, “It doesn’t mean that we won’t be, either.”

Going slowly so as to get the words just right, I asked tentatively, “Do Protectors have, ah, normal relationships with each other?”

She laughed a heartfelt laugh, beginning deep in her chest and rising up the scale to a merry peal. “There is nothing normal about relationships between Protectors.” On seeing my startled look she added with genuine warmth, “Protector’s relationships are way better than normal.”

I suddenly realized that while for me our relationship seemed to be new, for her it had never ended. The only question for her was how we would go on from here, not whether we would go on from here.

Sensing my thoughts, she said softly, “It will all come back to you. It always does. But it comes back like any memory does. Present experiences will trigger memories so clear that the events will seem to have happened only yesterday. The only difference between your memories of past lives and your memories of your present life is that there are so many more of them.”

Moments later we began to slow down. “There’s a gate ahead,” said Elle. “You’ll need to jump out and get it open.”

As we eased to a stop, her expression changed, and she said quickly, “Just follow my lead.”

My momentary confusion evaporated when I saw a man at her window pointing a gun at her head. I looked around quickly to see on my side a second man pointing a gun at me. Elle raised her hands and I did the same. The men yanked the car doors open and shouted at us to get out.

I stepped out of the car and the man kicked the door shut and gestured for me to turn around and face the hood of the car. He slammed me forward onto the hood and told me to put my hands behind my back. As soon as I complied, he put a band around my wrists and I heard the zip of a plastic tie as it tightened painfully into my flesh.

I heard the zip of a second tie binding Elle’s wrists. She flicked a glance at me but I couldn’t read it in the semi-darkness. Elle’s captor said, “Bobbie, bring him around here. Let’s see what we’ve got.” Bobbie pushed me over by Elle and I felt the prod of his gun in my back. The second man shone a flashlight in our faces.

He pulled a picture from his pocket and compared it to my face. “Well, if it isn’t Professor Dinsmore.” A pleased grin spread across his face as if he’d just won a jackpot. “And you must be the Ninja chick we heard about. Alan told me that if I ever found you, he wanted me to pass on a message.” Without warning, he kneed Elle in the stomach. She fell to the ground retching.