24. Visit to UNI, Night 2
9 January 2055 // 2030h.
Snow sat outside the dorms on the verge of tears. Part of him wanted to let them out, but he hadn’t cried in years. He remembered when he would cry as a child, how his face would contort into a unique shape that only came through weeping. There had been some turning point, probably around his middle school years, where he became ashamed of that shape—it was an ugly shape, one that he wouldn’t like anyone to see, least of all himself. Now, sitting in the courtyard, two dorms east of the one he was staying in, Snow felt that to truly see his emotions through, he would have to find a way past the mental block of moving his face into that crying shape.
Today had been a blur, Snow regretted to say. After the tour had been lunch, then a few hours of activities with the Colleges of Humanities, Engineering, and BioSciences. Then dinner. And now, free time at the dorms.
Snow had been present all day. He had done his best to participate in the activities. He had remained engaged during mealtime conversations. After dinner, however, he had decided to come out to the courtyard and think for a moment. He had felt an obligatory pull to go upstairs, to be with his friends and enjoy the last night of his trip. He realized, however, that judging by the rest of his weekend, he could sit with his friends, but he wasn’t confident he would enjoy it.
Snow’s primary intention this whole trip had been to take nothing for granted. He wanted to participate and engage in everything. And he had. So why, then, was he still not enjoying himself? Was it the pressure he placed on himself to get something special out of these two days at UNI? Would he look back fondly on this experience in the future? If that were the case, would he then regret that he had been unable to see what had been so great about the experience in the present moment? Would he suffer from the desire to go back and relive this experience, knowing that he didn’t fully appreciate it at the time?
Snow sat in front of the dorms for about ten more minutes, trying to make sense of how he was feeling, focusing on his breathing and trying his best to cry. After a few failed and pitiful attempts at faking his way into tears, Snow gave up and moved back upstairs. Perhaps he would be able to enjoy tonight more than he had enjoyed the day. He was going to do his best.
When Snow entered his room on the fourth floor of the dormitory, he was surprised to see it filled with four other people. Camille Thomas and Carlton Buristo sat next to each other on Snow’s bed, and Pretzel Mendez sat with Ricky 2 on his bed across the room.
‘Snow’s back, Snow’s back!’ Ricky 2 leaped from the bed and gave Snow a friendly slap right below the neck. ‘We were waiting for you. Carlton’s got a big surprise for us and he said he wouldn’t tell us what it is until you got here.’
‘Okay,’ said Snow. ‘But isn’t there a rule against girls being in the boys’ dorms? No offense, Camille.’
‘You’ve known me for a while, Snow, haven’t you?’ Ricky 2 said. ‘What do I always say? Rules Shmooles!’
‘I guess you have said that,’ Snow replied.
‘I think I can give you a slightly better answer,’ Carlton said. ‘Though “Rules Shmooles” isn’t a bad one. I mean, it is our last night. What can they do?’
Internally, Snow’s response was that they could decide not to admit the five of them to the University, should any of them choose to apply. He wasn't in the mood to answer rhetorical questions tonight, however, and he held his tongue.
‘There is a reason to believe we won’t get caught,’ Carlton continued. ‘I assume that’s closer to what you are interested in. At dinner tonight I got to talk with Sarah a bit. She gave up her free time to set up this program for us, so the least I could do was get to know her, you know? Well, it turns out tonight is a pretty big party weekend. Sort of a “Welcome Back” night for the semester. And she’s a senior, so it’s kind of her last. So I talked with her for a bit, and after a while I was able to convince her that we wouldn’t burn the place down or get anyone pregnant. She didn’t really need to babysit us. I promised I knew you all, and I would make sure you all stayed in the dorms, so, voila—Carlton’s in charge. No authority here tonight.’
‘Okay, great,’ Snow said, sitting next to Camille on his bed. ‘So what’s the plan for tonight?’
‘Well,’ Carlton said, ‘I figured it’s our last night on campus. So why don’t we show off some Okapi Pride?’ He pulled his hand from his pocket and opened it, brandishing five pieces of what appeared to be blue and yellow candy. They were rectangular prisms, each about an inch long and a centimeter across. The outer coating was a cerulean blue, the inside a bright yellow. Snow had a feeling that Carlton wouldn’t have brought them all together in a room to try a piece of candy. In that case, he surmised, he must be in a situation with his peers that he had been warned about since middle school: The Offering of Drugs.
It wasn’t the first time Snow had encountered Drugs. Marijuana and Alcohol were both legal and commonly used among adults and college students in New Idaho. He knew Ricky 2 had tried both, though he had never pressured them on Snow. Snow had always been against altering his mind, at least until he was eighteen. Ricky 2 knew this, and respected his wishes. Tonight, he supposed, he would see whether his devotion to this commitment would pan out.
‘I nabbed these from the end of the tour,’ Carlton said. ‘I don’t even know if they were supposed to be on display. It was only out for about ten minutes before it was taken down. I saw Daskus talking to the student behind the table after I checked it out. My guess is that it was a mistake, that these weren’t supposed to be shown to the public yet. No matter how impressive it may be to prospective students. Fortunately, I went to the back of the room as soon as the exhibition started, and I was able to get all the information I could from it, AirLocker and all. Plus, I got to grab myself a handful of these pieces from the bowl on display when nobody was looking.’
‘So what is it?’ asked Ricky 2. ‘This isn’t Willy Wonka. I’m not about to just eat some new hippy medicine that gives my stomach some weird bacteria or turns me into a blueberry or something.’
‘I don’t think that’s what it does,’ Carlton said. ‘To be fair, I don’t think they know quite what it does either. But there have been a few tests run on it, and some of the possible uses were mentioned in the abstract I got from the AirLocker.’
‘Here’s what I know. These were synthesized from a plant found in the Greta Barn Jungle. Auberginiac, I believe, is the name of the plant. It doesn’t look like there is a name for the actual substance yet, though they refer to it sometimes as “Aubergine”. Anyway, this plant has some sort of similar ancestry to the Banisteriopsis caapi vine.’
‘Okay, okay,’ said Ricky 2. ‘So either explain what the hell those words mean that you know I don’t know, or get to the point. What does this thing do?’
‘Well, the significance of the Banisteriopsis caapi relation is the most important one. This vine is a major ingredient in making Ayahuasca Tea, a potent psychedelic taken by Shamans and, in more recent decades, psycho-tourists in the South American rainforests. It’s one of the most potent psychedelics we know of. It’s supposed to put you in tune with, like, a whole other dimension.’
‘And this is related,’ said Snow. ‘And you think it might be a good idea to take this potent psychedelic the night before we leave to go back home to our families?’
‘Just wait,’ said Carlton. ‘This is only related to that plant. From what I read in the materials, it looks like the research group is not trying to make a psychedelic experience. They are, however, trying to get in touch with those “other dimensions” I was talking about. Apparently this stuff has been in development for quite a while, and this batch is close to finished. The final step is human testing.’
‘And you want us to be the ones to test it,’ Snow said.
‘Buristo. What the hell does it do?’ Ricky 2 was getting impatient.
‘It looks like the effects are supposed to be pretty mild. But it’s supposed to put you in touch with some sort of sixth sense. I’m not smart enough to have understood the whole paper, but it has something to do with quantum theory and entanglement. I guess that’s what the researchers are hypothesizing is the “sixth sense” that we don’t quite understand. Apparently these are supposed to give you a greater handle on this sixth sense. How you affect, you know, entanglement and quanta and that sort of thing.’
‘No,’ said Ricky 2, ‘I don’t know. But I’m down to try one, I guess.’
‘Hold on,’ said Snow, ‘does that paper say anything about anyone having tried it?’
‘No. In fact, it makes it sound like nobody has. They do, however, offer extensive evidence for the substance to behave as they have anticipated. Based on everything we know about brain chemistry right now, it should be legit.’
‘Okay,’ said Snow, ‘and what could you even do if you could master “entanglement” or whatever?’
‘I’m not exactly sure. It could have any number of implications, from helping direct you toward your purpose in life to literally manifesting your desires outright.’
‘You mean, like conjuring physical objects?’ asked Pretzel.
Carlton shrugged. ‘So, do you want to try it?’
Ricky 2 immediately grabbed one. ‘I already told you I want to try it. And if I’m tripping balls when Sarah gets back, it’s gonna be a shit-show, so I’m trying to try it right now. Who else is in?’
Pretzel was the next to grab one, not appearing to have any second thoughts. Camille was slightly more hesitant, but didn’t take long to grab one. Snow, then, was the last to decide.
The obvious response was “no”. In fact, Snow wasn’t sure what made the others so eager. Of course, Ricky 2 was never very concerned about consequences, so there was no surprise there. Pretzel, from what Snow could tell, generally just seemed to go along with the crowd. Carlton was a big mystery, and Snow didn’t know him that well, but he had obviously brought the substance to them in the first place, so obviously he was interested.
‘Camille,’ Snow said, ‘what do you think?’ She was the only one whose motives he couldn’t understand.
Camille shrugged and looked at Carlton. ‘I guess I want to see what happens. I’m curious. And if it can really put me in touch with some sort of higher energy, that might give me some sort of inspiration. I’ve been writing and singing and drawing for years now, and I’m still not sure what direction I’m going in. Maybe this will show me. Carlton said it’s apparently ready to be tested, so it can’t be that dangerous. Maybe it’ll give me a leg up on everyone else. Who knows.’
Of course, thought Snow, she was an artist. Her motives made sense. But what were his motives? He wasn’t any sort of artist or a daredevil. Of course, he didn't see himself as any goody-two-shoes either. But he had to know why he was putting this into his body.
There was the fact that he really didn’t know what to do with his life. In fact, now that he thought about it, he had no idea. He would have to get his college applications in by February if he wanted to go to University in the fall, and he wouldn't even know how to answer their most basic questions. So figuring out what direction he was headed in was a definite motivator.
Not to mention, he had been looking for a bonding experience this whole trip—something memorable that would make the whole weekend stand out, that would make it feel worthwhile. He knew it was a cliche, but everyone else was doing this substance. He could be part of a big experiment with his friends. Hell, if anything happened, it would happen to all of them, and that seemed unlikely. Five students dead in a dorm room wasn’t really something you heard about.
And even if something did happen, did that really matter? The way Snow had been feeling the past few days, he leaned toward a hard “no”. So why not take a chance? Snow grabbed the last piece from Carlton’s hand. ‘Cheers,’ Carlton said.
The five of them ingested the Aubergine and sat together, waiting for it to kick in. For the first forty-five minutes or so, nothing much happened. They passed the time conversing and joking around. None of them had their Lenses activated—not even Ricky 2. There seemed to be a silent agreement that the technology would somehow ruin the purity of their experience.
As they neared an hour, Camille was the first to speak up. ‘Do you guys feel anything? I feel like I just got a rush of energy.’
No one immediately identified with what Camille was feeling, but in another ten minutes, Ricky 2 jumped off the bed.
‘Camille!’ he said, ‘Do you still feel that? I think I feel it too!’
Camille nodded. ‘It’s very subtle, but I got some sort of rush of energy, and since then I’ve just been thinking about how possible everything is. I mean really, anything I have ever told myself I can’t do, it all just seems kind of silly, you know what I mean?’
‘I kind of do,’ said Ricky 2. ‘Like, I’m starting to think of all these wrestling moves I could have used to beat my dad. And I can’t even understand how I never thought of them before. They just seem so obvious, now!’
‘You wrestle your dad?’ Carlton asked.
‘And one of these days, I’m going to beat him!’ Ricky 2 said. ‘I know it!’
Pretzel sat back with a grin on his face.
‘You feeling something, Pretzel?’ Carlton asked.
Pretzel nodded slightly, still grinning with his lips closed. Carlton didn’t probe any further.
Snow was starting to feel it, too. If he had hoped this substance would somehow elucidate what he was supposed to be doing with his life, it looked like he might be out of luck. He did, however, experience a strong intuition that he was meant to do something great. Something that only he could do. He wondered if this was truly a premonition, or simply some ambitious aspect of his nature that the substance was accentuating.
The effects of the substance never got notably more intense, but they did improve the mood in the room. They remained together for a couple more hours of quiet contemplation and brief conversation, enjoying each other’s company with or without words. Eventually the five of them separated, each going to bed for their final morning at the University.
Snow fell asleep peacefully, happy that he had finally gotten the unique experience he wanted out of the weekend. He wondered if he would ever get the chance to try something like that again.