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.”