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 the curve, then another, and another. As I hung on to her as if my life depended on it, I squinted into the blast of air over her shoulder, her hair whipping against my cheek, and I 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. They’d been shooting at us.
At the thought, I drew a breath. This was the first moment I had had the presence of mind to do anything other than react since she showed up at my door. I was stunned to realize that only minutes had gone by since I had been considering what I was going 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 sped into the autumn twilight.
But, 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 was nearly killed, and a lot of things are happening that I simply have no explanation for.
But I feel profoundly good. I feel 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. As UC Berkeley’s youngest tenured professor of physics at twenty-four, 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 can’t get enough of it. And it comes easy. 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. Just this afternoon I worked out and left feeling particularly energized.
I liked everything about my life.
Then the doorbell rang.
I had only just arrived back at my Berkeley 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 be twenty-five or thirty-five, with the classic features and clear light skin that will 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, wearing chinos, polo shirt and running shoes – standard Berkeley professor garb. Passable, but not head turning, I’m told.
When we 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 a 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 had always felt temporary to me, although I didn’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 she would 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 such 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 fifth 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 fifth 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 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 fifth 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 fifth 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 had never shared my conviction with anyone else is that from time to time I have thought perhaps I was delusional, and if I just stayed with accepted science and waited it out, the delusion would simply go away. Most of the time, the conviction simply has sat in the back of my mind keeping me ever alert to new avenues of research opening up in physics.
When I heard Jonathon Devas’ message from Elle, it was as if the moment froze. Somewhere within myself, I realized, I had simply been waiting for this moment, for my search for the fifth 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 do 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 fifth 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 non-descript 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, knocking the men’s hands away from their guns in one motion. 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 in 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 had been cut.
It was all over in less than a second. 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 calmly and matter-of-factly before me 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!”
Any semblance of normal thought had abandoned me and I could only stare at her, her attempt at humor falling flat.
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 the house.
“We can’t go that way. We’ll have to go over the fence,” she said, gesturing to the fence at the rear of the yard.
“Now!” she almost shouted, which woke me up enough to start 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 the fence, landing 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 even my martial arts training did not come 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 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 is going to be shooting at me with a silenced pistol. Even if there is some mistake, these men were obviously not planning on discussing 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 side walk, and I quickly followed, 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 like they are going fast even when they are standing still, their lines swept forward and downward, handle bars low, forcing the driver to lean way forward like a racer.
My glance was drawn away from the motorcycle by the sound of a car’s tires squealing around the corner at one end of our block. It was the dark sedan that the men had arrived in at my house. The next thing I knew, the motorcycle roared to life and Elle was shouting at me to get on. I leapt on the back, grabbed Elle in a bear hug, 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 by the fact that a black SUV had screeched around the corner ahead of us, and was coming toward us from the opposite direction. We were trapped between the two vehicles.
Without hesitation, Elle turned the motorcycle and raced up one of the many open stairs that cut through the blocks in my neighborhood. The north Berkeley Hills are very steep and series of steps, at irregular intervals like a chutes and ladders game, can take one all the way to the top of the Berkeley Hills as far as Tilden Park, which runs along the ridgeline above Berkeley.
We flew up the stairs. The bumpy ride threatened to throw me off the back, but Elle didn’t make any 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 landing in the street. Elle landed, already turning the motorcycle, so that we hit the pavement, squealing, tires smoking, already at full throttle and heading 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 again 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 into 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 the stairs, 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 at the top, soaring out over the street. This time, however, the street was much narrower and there were cars parked on the far side of the street. Somehow Elle managed to turn the motorcycle in midair so that we landed almost sideways, once again landing in a squealing, tire-smoking, engine-screaming turn that 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 would make it possible to turn like that in midair. We should be piled up in a broken heap after colliding with the parked car on the other 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?”
All I knew was that 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 was 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, the black SUV swerved into the parking lot right behind us having arrived by another route.
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 the green. I can only imagine what their expressions were when the SUV followed across, because 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 ten–foot tall 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 headed directly toward the boundary fence while accelerating, 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 near 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 SUV did not fare as well. They made the same sharp turn as we had and as we soared through the air they were shooting 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 RPM. 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 will, without question, die horribly if Elle can’t keep us on the road.
Instead, I felt great. Exhilarated is the better description. Dimly aware that my rational self wanted to know about the fifth force, Jonathon Devas, the chaos left behind us in Berkeley, and who those men are that were bent on capturing or killing me, I instead find myself giving in to the experience of the moment. I felt as if I was fusing with Elle and the motorcycle. I began to anticipate Elle’s lightening 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 all around 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 maintain the speeds we had been going, they would have long since ended up in a ditch or have flown off the road, down one of the many steep hillsides we flew past in a blur. They were probably still searching for us, but 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 like 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 does to me. Energy was coursing through my body. I felt light on my feet and exceptionally aware of everything. I felt deeply calm, and my mind was 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.