Amphiclea watched the awkward young slave girl. Her posture was perfect as she maneuvered through the garden, her expression blank, her arms loaded with a ceramic plate full of figs, olives, cheese, and flatbread. She could be beautiful if she weren’t unclean,
Amphiclea thought. She looks like me.
The girl placed the plate gently on the table in front of Gemina. In an instant almost too quick to catch, the slave’s eyes flickered to the warm loaves, and Gemina caught the hungry glance. Gemina never missed anything. She ripped off a piece of the bread, wrapping a hunk of cheese and some olives inside of it.
“Here,” Gemina said. She held it towards the slave.
A test. Everything was a test with Gemina.
The girl masked her fear with a polite, “No.” She’d only recently been acquired by Gemina’s husband, the influential Senator Castricius. Amphilea knew that the girl’s last owner would have beaten her just for looking at the bread.
Gemina nodded at the girl’s hesitation. “Take it,” she insisted, picking up the girl’s hand and placing the food into it. “I won’t tolerate hungry slaves in this household.”
Without a word, the girl curtsied, clutching the bread against her chest like it was a precious child. She ran back towards the house.
Amphiclea shuddered. “You shouldn’t touch the slaves. They’re…”
“Unclean?” Gemina finished impatiently, mocking her. “I know. Have you not been listening to Plotinus? To me? We are all the same. All of us—slaves, Senators, philosophers, the entire universe—we are all one. We all come from the One.” Gemina flung open her slender arms to illustrate her point. Her expression quickly turned to disgust as the gold bracelets adorning her wrists clanged against each other. “Plotinus says that nothing material matters. Not this house, not this food, not this jewelry. Even our bodies are irrelevant. They are merely prisons for our souls.”
Amphiclea glanced around the garden to make sure no one had approached. She lowered her voice. “Has he been successful?”
Gemina smiled conspiratorially, her high cheekbones revealing themselves like smooth rocks beneath her skin. “Twice now, he has done it. He has projected his soul through the Oculus. He has passed through the highest part of the Pantheon, leaving his body behind while his soul floated among the stars!” She gripped Amphiclea’s arm, her bracelets jangling. “And soon he will teach me to do the same!”
Amphiclea shook Gemina’s hands free. “Stop it. Don’t talk this way. You’re not permitted to eat in the same room as your husband, let alone study with a philosopher—”
“Enough,” Gemina interrupted. “It doesn’t matter. Plotinus has shown me the truth. All of creation emanates from the One. Men, women, slaves, animals, even these figs!” Gemina leaned closer and whispered. “You are right to be cautious. Castricius is no student of philosophy. He only tolerates Plotinus because he believes it raises his stature in the Senate to be viewed as a patron of a Philosopher. The beneficent Castricius,” she said, with mock grandiosity, “patron of a great philosophical mind.” She sat back, straightened the food on her plate. “Of course, he’d never let it be known what he really thinks of Plotinus.”
Amphiclea leaned closer as she took the bait. “Why? What does he think of him?”
“He thinks he’s absolutely mad, Amphiclea!”
“Yes, of course he does,” she said, apologetically. She should have anticipated that answer, given how often she’d listened to Gemina complain about Castricius in the two years since their marriage. The Senator was not an open-minded man, and though he was hailed for being a shrewd and ruthless politician, such qualities were less commendable when it came it being a husband. To be fair, he had seemed fond of Gemina during their courtship and in the early months of their marriage. But when she’d borne him a daughter – little Gaia – he’d been furious. More than a year later, he still hadn’t forgiven her for the transgression.
Gemina straightened herself in her chair. They were both only seventeen, but today, Amphiclea felt much younger than her friend.
“However,” Gemina continued, “what my dear husband doesn’t know about Plotinus, is that on Sunday last, he witnessed Castricius leaving the bedroom of the same woman who accused my poor father of forging Senate documents.”
“Lucretia Iusta?” Amphiclea exclaimed with a start. “She nearly had your family banished from Rome!” She held a hand up to her mouth. “Is this…?” She couldn’t finish the thought, because it could only lead to one place—a place where Gemina would be taken from her forever to pay for the sins of her father.
The accusations against Gemina’s father had been a great scandal just last winter; all of Rome had been talking about the charges – which ultimately had been found baseless – but Gemina’s family name had nearly been ruined. And though Amphiclea knew that some still believed the claim to be valid, most thought only that Lucretia Iusta was a wicked, vengeful woman. It was hardly a secret that Lucretia had wanted Castricius for herself, and that she’d been furious when Gemina’s father had arranged for Gemina to be his bride instead.
“Gemina!” Amphiclea exclaimed. “How could he?”
Gemina grimaced. “Oh, Amphiclea, don’t be so naïve. What man could resist a woman who is so desperate to have him?” She waved away Castricius’ infidelity as if it were a bug. “I care not of what he does in her bedroom. He only married me because of my father’s fortune.” She lowered her voice, her dark eyes flashing with anger. “But he appears to be taking money – money meant for me
, and for Gaia, from the dowry given to him by my
father – and giving it to that lying wench of a woman.”
Amphiclea gasped. “You truly believe that he’s stealing from you?”
“But can you prove it?”
“Not yet. The proof I need is in the Curia, where the Senate meets and where Castricius keeps his ledgers. But it would be too dangerous for a woman to be seen sneaking around there. Of course, if I were a man, I could find what I needed without arousing suspicion.”
Amphiclea blinked, fighting back the fear and sadness. “And if I were a cat, I could lie around all day and do nothing but drink milk!”
To her surprise, Gemina laughed. “Yes,” she conceded. “But you can’t become a cat, and I can
become a man.”
Amphiclea searched her friend’s eyes for the hint of a hoax, an elaborate joke, not beyond Gemina. All she saw was icy resolve. “And how do you propose to do that, exactly?” she asked in a teasing tone, ignoring the shudder down her spine.
Gemina stared hard back at Amphiclea. “I told you that Plotinus is going to teach me how to project my soul, but not through the Oculus. He’s going to teach me to project my soul into his body. My mind, my consciousness, will inhabit him, like a crab in a shell, and his will inhabit me. We’re going to trade our souls, Amphiclea. But, we can’t do it without your help.”
Amphiclea went pale. “Gemina, you are like a sister to me. I would help you with anything. But this…this sounds impossible.”
“It’s not impossible,” Gemina insisted. “It can be done if you believe in the idea of the One.”
Amphiclea held herself steady. Gemina’s face had tensed. A blue vein appeared by her temple. Gemina believes what she is saying. This is no hoax.
“How could I help?”
“We need a witness. A mártyras.
Plotinus says that without one, we can’t insure that we’ll be able to return to our own bodies. Will you do it, Amphiclea?”
Amphiclea blinked. Her thoughts raced for reasons, excuses. Had Gemina ever refused her
? She’d consoled Amphiclea when her mother had died, she’d helped prepare her for her wedding night, she’d taught her how to run a household. This was the first time Gemina had ever asked her for anything in return. Amphiclea couldn’t possibly say no, even if what Gemina was proposing was positively mad. She lowered her eyes.
“Of course. Anything for you, Gemina.”
Gemina smiled, though it was more to herself than to Amphiclea. The strained look vanished from her face. The blue vein receded.
“I knew you wouldn’t disappoint me.” She placed her hand on top of Amphiclea’s. With her other hand she reached beneath the table, and emerged with a small, leather pouch. She opened it, revealing a delicate gold strand, adorned with a disc of nearly translucent amber.
Amphiclea gasped. “Gemina, it’s so beautiful.”
“It’s a gift to you,” Gemina said. “For your loyalty, trust and friendship.” She reached out for Amphiclea’s tiny wrist, frowning as she wrapped the chain around it. “Oh, it’s much too big. Amphiclea, you must eat more!”
In spite of herself, Amphiclea laughed. “I shall wear it on my ankle instead.” She lifted up the hem of her purple stola and fastened the chain around her right ankle. It fit perfectly. She held out her bare leg, and for a blissful fleeting moment, the two girls admired her new accessory.
Gemina’s face darkened. “I know you doubt me, Amphiclea, but you will see that what I say is the truth. I will
become Plotinus, and as him I will find the proof against my husband that I require.” She paused for a moment, lost in thought, and then squeezed Amphiclea’s fingers. “And when I do, Castritius will get the justice he deserves.”
Excerpted from Projection by Risa Green. Copyright © 2013 by Risa Green. Excerpted by permission of Soho Teen, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.