Ensler pushed the door of the glasshouse closed and the sound of howling wind cut off. He brushed water off his rain coat and shifted the bag on his back. “You sure this is a good idea?” he asked Kent. The plants seemed to tower above them, their purple-black leaves almost invisible in the darkness. Wind and rain pounded against the great glass walls, and the occasional flash of lightning punctuated the darkness.
“Absolutely,” Kent said. He reached into his own bag and pulled out a glowstone. The crystal glowed faintly in his hand, a soft yellow light that was just enough to see by, and Kent’s wild grin was nearly as scary as the battle of the elements outside. He pulled off his rain poncho and tucked it under his arm. “The whole academy is shut down for the storm, and only an idiot would come out here in this weather.”
Ensler raised an eyebrow, but it went unnoticed in the darkness. “So we have a few hours, then?”
“Absolutely. Come on.” Holding up the glowstone, Kent navigated through the paths. Great black leaves brushed against them, soft and leathery. They moved long, weblike vines out of the way and walked through halls filled with sleeping flowers. In the daytime this place would have been beautiful, and full of students learning about the diversity of flora that Barrowmill Academy’s master gardeners were able to make thrive. At night, they provided utter blackness and perfect cover. Kent had stolen a key from the biology office, just as Ensler had borrowed the other equipment they would need from the applied theology labs. As always, they were in it together. Hopefully this time their experiment would result in more than a near expulsion and some time in the local jail.
Kent stopped in the desert garden. It was a spacious room, full of compact, water-preserving plants, and it was – of course – hot and dry. He put his bag on the ground and set the glowstone on a rock. “Here,” he said. “We’ll do it here.”
“I’m still not -”
“Oh will you quit with what you’re not sure about?” Kent said in a half-laugh. “I have the books, you have the stone, we both know what we’re doing, and by the time this storm blows over we’ll have made history!” Even in the dim light, Ensler could see his eyes glittering with ambition. “They’ll build us our own labs. Maybe a statue.”
“Yes, of course, a statue.” Ensler opened his own bag. “Let’s get it done then, so that the sculptors can get to work. You know they like to get a head start.”
“Ha. Ha.” Kent pulled out a large book and another glowstone. From his own bag, Ensler took out a large, heavy object wrapped in a pale blue cloth. When he unwrapped it, he held a great crystal the size of his head. It was perfectly clear and colorless, almost perfectly symmetrical. When the lightning flashed through the windows, the stone held on to it just a fraction of a moment too long. Ensler put it down, very carefully. “Kent,” he said. “If anything happens to this thing, they are going to use our skins to bind the booklets they hand out to new students to explain why they should never do what we did.”
“Bah,” Kent said. “By the time we’re done they’ll be too busy offering us professorships.” He sat cross-legged on the dirt and started flipping through the book. “Bring it over here and make yourself comfortable,” he said.
Grumbling, Ensler brought the stone over and set it down in front of Kent. They had flipped a coin to see who was going to go through the process, even though they both knew who it would be. Kent was the one who had the most facility with this kind of thing, the most willpower to see it through, and if anyone was silver-tongued enough to talk the universe into doing what he wanted, it would be him.
Ensler, on the other hand, was very good at doing what Kent asked him to do. It was, as Kent often said, what made them such good friends.
While Kent looked through the pages he’d marked off, Ensler took off his raingear and folded it next to a small grouping of cactus. He removed his shoes and his socks, and then started stripping off the rest of his clothes. “You know,” he said, “if anyone does come in, they’re definitely going to get the wrong idea.”
“What idea is that?” Kent murmured, not looking up.
Ensler shrugged. “Me on the ground in my underclothes, you hovering above me. A romantic thunderstorm.”
Kent laughed, but still didn’t look up. “If that’s what they think we’re doing, then that’s the least of our worries.”
“Yes, I know,” Ensler sighed, sitting down. “Statues. I just hope that mine is wearing pants.” He lay back on the warm dirt and stretched out with his hands behind his head. He closed his eyes and tried to center his thoughts. Another reason why he was the one to go first was that he was much better at being focused and still, which would end up being a vital part of this procedure. Kent was far too chaotic, had a mind that never stopped spinning and moving and dashing from here to there. Ensler put his arms by his sides and started to count his breaths, imagining energy flowing into and out of his body. He felt thoughts come across his mind and let them flow away. He didn’t consider them, didn’t dwell on them.
Like leaves on a stream, he told himself, and then let that thought go as well. The noise of the storm faded, the rumble of thunder eased away.
After some time, he felt a hand on his shoulder. “It’s time,” Kent said quietly. Ensler just nodded and refocused on his breathing, coiling his thinking mind into a quiet and compact shape.
Kent set the large crystal in front of him and cracked his knuckles. The books were open to the right pages, he knew the words and the glyphs. Everything should work. He opened a small jar of oil and recoiled at the smell. It was acrid and bitter and green, but it was what the procedure called for. “I’m putting on the oil,” he said to Ensler, but his friend didn’t answer. By now, he should be at a state of mental calmness that would make this much easier. He dipped his finger in the jar and put a smudge of oil on Ensler’s forehead. Then his throat. Heart, then stomach, then just a few inches below his navel. Kent chuckled at the thought of being discovered at this point. Like he’d said, it would be the least of their worries.
Ensler’s breath was slow and even, and he looked like he was asleep. Kent put the glowstones in front of the books, checked everything again, and took a deep breath.
The idea was very simple. The crystal that Ensler had “borrowed” from applied theology was a communicator, an artifact left over from a bygone age that – allegedly – allowed instant communication between two people anywhere in the world. Since no one had ever found another one, they couldn’t really test it out, but their best researchers were pretty sure that was what it did. And so was Kent. His own research over the last four years had led up to this moment, and it was only his unfortunate reputation for abusing academy property that had kept him from being able to experiment properly. That, and those pesky laws against human experimentation.
He had convinced Ensler, though. He showed him his notes and his theories and brought his friend around far enough that Ensler would be willing to liberate the crystal from the app-theo offices. Kent wasn’t kidding about what would happen if this worked. With greatness, anything could be forgiven, and the two of them were about to become great.
Kent cleared his throat and began to chant. The language was a lost one, an ancient tongue that had died out a thousand years ago, known now only to people like him, who collected trivia like magpies. He knew the forms of the words, and their pronunciation was self-evident, but their meaning was unclear, disconnected from the world that Kent knew, and that was vital to their success. He needed the words to mean what he wanted them to mean, and nothing else. He focused his intent and his will on the words, and poured his desire into them as he held one hand over his friend’s body and the other over the crystal. He chanted with more energy, more force, and felt his throat go raw and his chest hurt. The muscles on his arms were locked and rigid, and he brought them down until they just barely touched their subjects.
His breathing was timed with the lightning and the wind outside, and he forced nonsense words out of his mouth like they were bitter and poisonous. He felt sweat run down his face and his cheeks and forehead burn. Then, with a final, gutteral invocation, he dropped his hands and created the link.
The world went away.
In his left hand – or what he thought of as his left hand – was a void, a hole in the no-space in which Kent hovered, a hole that was a door that was a bottle.
In his right hand – or what he thought of as his right hand – was a coiled pink light, pulsing and shining. It looked slippery and alive, like a great serpent sleeping. It looked like something gigantic, thousands of miles away, but it sat in his palm like it belonged there.
He brought his hands together, gently, and put right into left, the sleeping serpent into the bottle of infinite size.
A shock ran through him, a great concussive wave, and he opened his eyes.
The dry garden was undisturbed. Ensler still lay in front of him, still breathed steadily, but not like he had before.
The crystal shone with a soft pink light, and Kent laughed out loud. He got up, ignoring the pins and needles in his legs and danced around, raising his arms to the still-thundering sky. “We did it!” he yelled over and over again.
The voice came from the crystal and from everywhere around him. He knelt down and took the stone in his hands. “Ensler? You there?”
[[Kent,]] the voice said. [[Kent. This is amazing!]]
Kent put the stone down and started laughing again.
[[Seriously, Kent, you should try this! It's... It's like... I have no idea what it's like, Kent, but it's amazing!]]
Kent sat up and dug through his bag. “Ensler, you ready for part two?” He pulled out ten sealed envelopes.
[[You bet,]] he said. [[The entirety of time and space is open to me, so give me your best shot.]]
Kend chuckled. “Okay. Number one. What did I put on the roof outside the medieval history offices?”
There was a pause, and then a loud, startled laugh spun through the air. [[I can't believe you did that!]]
“C’mon, Ensler, what is it?”
[[It's that little dog figure that Dr. Chelira keeps on her desk. Kent, no number of statues is going to save you from her when she finds out.]]
“We’ll see about that,” Kent said, tearing open the envelope and looking at the card inside. Ensler was right. “Okay, number two: I wrote something on a random desk in the fourth form arts class. What does it say?”
There was another pause, and then, [["Ensler Ayandar is dreamy?" Really, Kent?]]
“Yeah, but do you know whose desk that is?”
There was a tone of wonder in Ensler’s voice. [[Osaha? Kent, she'll kill me!]]
“Nope. She’ll be jealous and she’ll end up just flinging herself into your arms. Or bed. Whatever. Next one…”
They went through the other envelopes, Kent asking Ensler questions that he shouldn’t be able to answer. In his heart, he knew that it wasn’t scientific enough – there were other explanations for how Ensler could answer the questions, but for now it would work. He could refine the procedure later when they demonstrated it to the world.
Kent dropped the envelopes back in his bag. “There you go,” he said. “I’ll have to make a few changes when we do it for real, but otherwise I’d say we have proof of concept. You are officially a disembodied mind, with all the privileges and responsibilities thereof.” He leaned back and nudged Ensler’s body with his foot. “What do you want me to do with this thing?”
[[Very funny,]] Ensler said. [[I happen to like my body, and if I don't have that then there'll be nothing for Osaha to fling herself into.]]
“Well, she could appreciate your new vast intellect,” Kent said.
[[Osaha doesn't do intellect, and that's not why I'm interested in her either]] Ensler said. [[Besides, it's still got some good years left in it.]]
“Fine,” Kent said. “You should be able to pop right back in. It’s where you really belong, so once you get close enough to it, you should just…” He made a sweeping gesture.
[[Okay,]] Ensler said. [[Give me a minute.]]
Kent lay back on his arms and thought about what they had just done. They had separated the mind from the body, the thinking being from the animal self. They had opened up new vistas of experience and exploration to humanity and, on top of all that, had proved the dual nature of intelligent beings, something that philosophers had argued over for centuries. Statues? Hell, they probably wouldn’t stop at anything short of naming a city after them.
[[I can't find it.]]
Kent sat up. “What do you mean you can’t find it?” He looked at where Ensler’s body lay. “It’s right there.”
[[I know,]] he said. There was a thin note of panic in the voice now. [[But I can't find it!]]
“You found a tiny dog statue on the roof of a building across campus, Ensler, you should be able to find this.”
There was a pause. [[Kent, I can't! It's - it's just not there!]]
Kent stood up and then knelt by Ensler’s body. He patted it on the cheek, then pinched the arm and then slapped it. “You in there yet?” he yelled into its ear.
[[Dammit, no! I'm not in there, Kent!]] Waves of low-grade panic filled the air, and Kent had to tell himself that the panic wasn’t his. Most of it, anyway. [[Kent, what do we do?]]
“I’m working on it,” Kent muttered.
The rain was quieting down, but there was still the occasional flash of lightning. [[Break the crystal!]] Ensler said after a while. [[Maybe if you break it...]]
“No,” Kent said, turning pages in one of the books. “It might work, or it might untether you from this world completely, leaving you a disembodied mind with no way of communicating with the rest of us and wandering through the universe for the rest of eternity.” He turned a page. “That’s not what we want.”
There was nothing in the book that would help him, but he had to do something. This whole thing had come from his theories, his ideas. By all rights, Ensler should be sitting up and having a good laugh right now. He had planned for things to go wrong, just not quite this way. He started at the glowing crystal, trying and discarding ideas. Maybe if he did the rite again, only backwards..?
[[Kent?]] Ensler’s voice sounded small.
“I’m working on it,” Kent said again. He looked at his friend’s body, breathing steadily on its own. “I’m working on it.”