The Magus Node

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Quill 183 Magus Node Image 1 FinalI never found it.  I never found the magus node.  But I leave behind all my notes and the story of my quest in the hopes that you can put the puzzle pieces we found together and make an image that you can recognize.  Maybe you can find it.  Because the one thing I’m sure of is that without the node, we can go no further.  Without the node, humanity will end and it will end badly.

***

We were meant to have magic.  It was one of the great fields of study in the ancient world.  Then it faded from use.  Those who practiced magic or were suspected of doing so became at first shunned as evil, and then ridiculed as ignorant.  Science supplanted magic as the power we wielded in the world.  That’s the story.  The narrative.

There were always those who continued to practice magic in its many forms.  But even among those who still practiced and believed, it was thought that the magical forces were nowhere near as strong as they once were in ancient times.  Magic had waned.

We have not yet come to the end of science and technology.  But I can see that end coming and coming soon.  And so can others.  It comes as a surprise, because all of our stories tell us that we have the potential to go further.  Why, we were meant to build ships that could travel through space.  We were meant to conquer disease and decrepitude.  We were meant to uncover the secrets of the universe.  We would one day know what was in the heart of a black hole.  We would one day compose music that would make the trees sway and the animals stop and listen.

One day.  But all those things, we had already accomplished them once.  Then we forgot.

There were those who still practiced magic in the modern world, as there always have been.  I even know some of them.  We have wonders in our world that not everyone is privy to knowing about. And I know about some of those too.

I’ve chased after unicorns before in the course of my life.  I’ve done so when I was younger and much, much stronger than I am now.  Even then I thought I was desperate.  But the desperation of youthful passion is far different from the desperation I now feel.

Now is a quiet desperation.  A calm desperation.  If there can be such a thing.

I think that’s why I’ve come as far as I have in finding out what happened to magic in our world.  Because I desperately need magic.  Some people in my situation think they need money.  Some think they need a miracle.  Well the first may not be enough.  And the second relies too much on something outside of my control.

I don’t know if I can find magic.  Real magic.  The kind of magic that can cure me.  Or at least give me more than just the months I have left.  Seven months.  Three.  Thirteen?  My doctor, Dr. Dewin, is a good egg.  He refuses to tell me how long I have because he says he doesn’t know.  He’ll fight with me.  He’ll make sure that if I pass the point of no return, which I most certainly will, he will help me stave off the pain.  He will help me retain my dignity, my humanity, my identity, for as long as he could.

Strangely, he supports my futile quest.  Maybe he believes it’s giving me purpose and keeping my will to live strong and healthy.  At least something about me is strong and healthy.

It’s strange to think that if I’d only been born seventy years ago, I would never have gotten my disease.  I would have gotten a whole bunch of other ones.  But some of them don’t sound so bad.  Mild allergies.  The flu.  Back then, diseases behaved in ways that doctors understood.  Infection.  That was when bacteria and viruses invaded our bodies and used them as hosts.  When I was in school learning about all of that, I made all the disgusted squealing exclamations that my classmates made.  I made all the appropriate horrified gasps when I learned about the diseases where our own bodies turned against us.  There was one slide in particular that I still remember.  A cross section of normal lung tissue with large wide open spaces.  Then, right next to it, a cross section of a cancerous lung with all those open spaces filled with a honeycomb of cells growing in them.  Cancer.  That slide haunted me so much it made me realize I had no future in medicine, even if those diseases no longer existed.

I always liked research.  I always liked hunting down facts, collecting them all, and making sense of them, like putting together a puzzle.  But I could never choose a specialty, so I went freelance.  The only jobs I would refuse, aside from the early days when I had yet to establish a solid reputation, were medical research jobs.  Then came the day I was left with no choice but to research a medical phenomenon just as frightening as that cancer-filled lung.

“We call it Unpatterned Molecular Degeneration,” Dr. Dewin said.  It sounded so neutral and innocuous, I wasn’t clear at first on the point he was making.  I just kept listening, feeling bad for him.  He seemed so mortified and upset at having to tell me this news.  I could tell he was reciting from some prepared speech, that he had done some research.

“Decades before any of us were even born, humanity cured the majority of all known diseases,” he said.  “Infectious diseases from microorganisms.  Metabolic diseases of aging.  Cancer.  Heart disease.  Organ failure.  Everything.  Every pathology.  We figured it all out.  And for a while, everything was good.  But it didn’t take long.  Less than fifty years of relief.  Less than fifty years of feeling almost invincible.  Then came molecular disease.  It might have arisen from prions.  We thought we had prions figured out, but they mutated or…well we don’t really know.  Do you know what prions are?”

I shook my head.

“Molecules.  Small proteins actually.  Some of them can cause disease.  They’re infectious, so we were able to control them.  But some believe they may have mutated or acquired inorganic components.  Some believe they may have been the start of it, of molecular and atomic pathologies.  We can’t figure out what to do about these stray molecules that somehow find their way into our bodies and start breaking things down, bit by bit.  I think we’ll figure it out eventually.  As we did with cell-based disease.  After all, cells interact at the molecular level.  So we have logical paths to follow.  We’ll figure out better ways to image the invasive molecules.  Better ways to remove them or transform them until they are harmless.  Or adapt to them through gene therapy.  That’s what we’ll start with.  Gene therapy.”

But he didn’t look convinced.

“We’ve only just begun simulations and studies on replicated organs,” he said.  He showed me animations of computer models and still pictures of tiny organ systems grown in isolation.  They were mouse organs.

The seriousness of what he was saying definitely did not sink in.  I didn’t know anyone who had ever had UMD, or anyone who knew anyone.  It wasn’t hereditary or contagious.  Or didn’t seem to be.  But it had to have come from somewhere.  I wasn’t ready to think about the degeneration of my molecules just yet.  I wasn’t ready to face the reality of the death sentence my doctor had just pronounced on me.  So I focused on Dr. Dewin’s research tools.  I stared at the slides he was showing me of tissues grown in isolation, then organs, then entire organ systems, like a circulatory system spinning blood around for no reason.  I started thinking about questions of philosophy and ethics.

“Do we treat a replicated brain and nervous system the same way we would treat a circulatory system or a reproductive system in isolation?” I asked him.  “Or do we give special significance to the brain, even in isolation, because it might be housing a consciousness?”

I didn’t expect him to answer, of course.  I was just buying time.  When the anxiety and panic came, and I knew they would come, it would be unbearable.  I just wanted a bit more time in the peace and quiet of ignorance.

***

Biology and medicine are not my fields.  But I understand that we will eventually conquer molecular and atomic disease.  It won’t end there.  I’m sure of it.  There will be sub-atomic disease, and quantum disease.  I don’t know how, but there will always be something that…evolves to keep us in check.  At some point, perhaps, we won’t know how to fight back.  We won’t be able to.  We will die off as a species.

I started researching UMD, or Degen as some call it.  A class of diseases, not one single disease.  There was a poet who had it.  I read her story a few years back.  She was still alive when I got diagnosed.  She had written a poem called “UnMaDe.”  That’s what UMD did to a person.  It unmade them.  Molecule by molecule.

I knew I would find no revelations in the modern medical literature.  I wasn’t writing a paper.  I was trying to find a key.  A key to unlock the knowledge we must have already amassed to fight the disease that gripped me.  The disease that had no visible or noticeable effects in those early days.  So I didn’t need to dig deeper.  I needed to dig elsewhere.  I needed to do what I did best.  I needed to research.  Find the disparate facts, the puzzle pieces that seemed like they were from different puzzles altogether, and put them together to show that they were in fact part of a single image.  I had to follow logic first, and then would come the leap.  I didn’t get anywhere really until I started reading about atom smashers and particle accelerators.  Some folks thought that molecular and non-radiation atomic disease arose from our bodies’ interactions with all the strange and exotic particles that started floating around on our planet when all those vast new instruments revved into action.

In those first manic days, I wondered what choices I should make about my life…and my death.  I cried and raged about all the years I squandered because of stupid fears and minor setbacks.  I brainstormed.  What was the craziest idea I could have?  What was the most reasonable one?

I wondered if those people were right, the ones who thought exotic particles had triggered UMD.  It occurred to me that if the trigger, the cause of the disease was linked to such particles, to the fabric of the universe itself, then perhaps the cure was as well.

In those first hazy days, my note-taking wasn’t as meticulous as it usually was.  So I don’t recall where or when or how I first came across mention of something called a “magus node.”  Maybe it was in one of the science journals, but if that were so, the path I was soon to follow led me far away from modern science.

***

I couldn’t really find a solid definition of “magus node.”  All I knew was that it was associated with magic.  It was not a person, or a place, or an object.  It was neither plant, nor animal, nor mineral.

In ancient times, it was centered in Persia.  There were many great magicians who came out of the region. The node vanished long ago.  I don’t know why.  The magicians of the time didn’t know why either.  They only knew that they could feel their powers waning.  They worked together with the scientists and philosophers of the time to figure it out.  All they were able to do was find a way to detect the node.  The ancients built machines for detecting the nodal energies.  As those energies waned, the readings on their machines grew weaker.  They weren’t able to actually determine its nature or study it in much detail.  It was…slippery.  The way an unstable atom is slippery.  Wait no, that’s not right.  The node is stable but ever-changing.  Rare was the person who could tap into it and channel its energies into magic.

“All the ancient world was involved in trying to reactivate the node, or find another,” I told Dr. Dewin during one of my next few visits.  “Have you heard of the Antikythera device?  It was this impressive ancient device found in a shipwreck.  One of the potential functions of the device was to serve as a sort of compass.  Some people think, as I do, that the compass pointed in the direction of a magus node, or the node.  It’s unclear if there was only one or more.”

“Why do you want to do this, Marika?  Isn’t the universe complex enough without adding magic to the mix?”

“What’s the harm in having a bit of false hope, as long as I know it’s false?” Dr. Dewin was the only one I could talk to about this.  Everyone else got a very specific kind of expression in their eyes.  A mixture of pity and awkwardness, with a dash of horror. I don’t know why I got that look.  If it exists, magic may be the only thing that could save me.  “I started trying to find some breakthrough that no one has put together yet.  But I’m genuinely fascinated by this topic.  I only wish I’d found it sooner.  If we sincerely want to have a full understanding of the universe we live in, then we must go down every road of research that we see.”

“Is that so?  Every road?  Without question or judgment?  Weren’t you the one who reminded me to keep ethics, morals, humanity and the like in mind when doing my studies and simulations?”

“Of course.  But we already might have the answer in all of the data we are constantly collecting but unable to make sense of yet.  It takes time for us to discover enough and then develop enough maturity and perspective to make sense of a phenomenon we are perceiving.  Sometimes, we may be able to do no more than collect data, data that we do not understand.  But that our descendants might.”

“Is it dangerous?” the doctor asked.

“The node?  Yes, of course.  It can be, just as any other force of nature can be.”

“Assuming you were to find…an active node.  Have you discovered any way of protecting yourself from those dangers in your research?”

I smiled, knowing he was humoring me but that he was also sincerely curious.  “Well, actually perhaps, yes.  The energies—and particles if there are any—coming out of the magus node should harmlessly pass through anyone who doesn’t have the gift.”

“What gift might that be?”

“The ability to harness and wield the energies of the magus node.  Basically…magic.”

“How would one know if one had this gift?”

“Well, it’s not hereditary based on my research.  A man could have the gift and not pass it down to any of this children.  And that was another thing.  I couldn’t tell if it was just the general sexism of ancient times or if the gift was something that occurred more often in men, but there was rare mention of women tapping into this force.  It’s possible that women were not allowed to develop their magus gifts, if they had them.”

The magus gift.  I became enchanted with the subject.  I was still allowed to travel.  Dr. Dewin encouraged me not to, fearing that the additional radiation I’d experience at high altitude might aggravate my condition.  But there weren’t enough studies on the topic for the medical community to draw any solid conclusions yet.  So I went traveling and hunting for rare texts, the kinds of texts I could not access from home.  I went searching for mythical scrolls, unidentified artifacts, and local experts.  The kinds of things that were not yet logged into the singular archive of human knowledge.

When I returned, I excitedly shared my discoveries with the ever-patient Dr. Dewin.

***

“What was the range of this thing?” the doctor asked as he checked my vital signs.

I flipped around in my composition notebook.  I hadn’t taken paper notes since I was in school.  I’d forgotten how wonderful paper and pen were.  Magical, I would have said if that word did not have stricter meaning in my life now.

“It’s possible that the magus node was accessible to everyone on Earth,” I said, “or a large portion of the people on Earth.  Other civilizations tapped into it in different ways from the Persian magicians.  In fact, clues may be right in front of us, in our myths and legends.  All of those extraordinary stories that are passed down to us now, filled with creatures like the sphinx and the firebird, and powerful sorcerers and gods, they were not just metaphors or ways for our ancestors to explain things they didn’t understand.  Some or all of those stories might have been real.  Maybe we aren’t giving our ancestors enough credit.  Maybe they knew more about the world than we do.”

“I’m with you on that last point, but that doesn’t mean that they were completely right.  I hope you’re putting your research through a fine sieve to remove all the stuff they got wrong.”

“There are stories about entire cities or countries attempting to tap into the wonders of the magus node.  And eventually failing.  Have you ever heard of the lost city of Atlantis?”

Dr. Dewin sighed and raised his brow at me.

The doctor was right, of course.  The knowledge I uncovered still had to be filtered in various different ways to make sure I was separating fact from fantasy.  After all, most stories about the magus node were fantastic.  It was thought to be—at various times throughout history—a source of endless energy, a means to extend life and youth, a pathway to other worlds.  In one tale, it was even thought to be a part of a supreme being, reaching out to its creation, but doing so gently and hesitantly, so as not to harm us, and sharing some of its tremendous power with us.

“You’re secretly hoping that you’ll have the gift, aren’t you, Marika?  That you’ll find the node and it’ll transfuse you and cure you with its energies, and then you’ll start casting spells on us.”

I laughed.  “The curing part I definitely want.  It does sound wonderful, on paper, to have magical powers.  But there is a cost to great knowledge.  Sometimes that cost is money and long hours of effort and study, practice, and determination, and self-doubt.  Other times the cost is dire, like when the Norse god Odin sacrificed his eye for knowledge.  Then again, whatever the cost, it can’t be as high as the one I’m paying now.”

***

I stopped traveling when the weakness set in, just a general fatigue.  Then the headaches, the nausea.  “Flu-like symptoms.”  When I’d read about flu in school, it didn’t sound as miserable as it felt.  I tried to keep going with my research at home.  I had found people who would help me build a prototype device, a node detector of sorts, based on my research.  If nothing else, it would be a beautiful piece of art.  A souvenir of my quest, which after just a year was coming to its end.  My end made me wonder about the node’s end.

Did it contract a disease as I had?  Did the magus node fade on its own as we do if we reach old age?  Did it burn out like a candle?  Or was there some conscious decision made to fade out the node.  If it was a conscious decision, who made that decision, and why?

I felt as if I were missing some vital piece, something the ancients knew about the magus node. Maybe the knowledge sank with Atlantis.  Maybe it burned with the Library at Alexandria.

Humanity was always advancing, even in ancient times.  Not just in technology and knowledge, philosophy, science, magic, and art.  We were also advancing in our humanity, beginning with tolerance, then acceptance, then friendship.  It wasn’t because of the magus node.  Or perhaps it was in a way.  Perhaps the modern world was in part the node’s legacy.  There was the place where we were, and the place we wanted to go, and they were separated by a great and unfathomable chasm.  Perhaps the magus node had been like a bridge over that chasm.  Perhaps those who crossed over it had a better vantage point from the other side.  Perhaps from the other side, they could see how they might build more bridges.  They could build bridges that would allow many more, perhaps all people, to cross over that chasm of ignorance.

Some stories said it was the one who created us who put the magus node in our world.  Not teaching us how to use it.  Not teaching us how to find it.  Not even telling us it was there.  But putting it there for us to find on our own, if we could.  And we did.  Some of us.  Perhaps in time, all of us would have found it.  But those same stories said that the anti-creator—the destroyer of creation— destroyed the magus node to thwart us and our creator.

Others believe that the node had something to do with some being that was too great for us to comprehend, but that had no interest in our affairs.  And when the being moved, it took the node with it.

Those were the most ancient of tales.  Later civilizations described the magus node in more individual and personal ways.  They seemed to think of the node as a flame that had to be passed on to a new vessel, else it would burn out and die.  Believing that knowledge and enlightenment comprised that flame, they tried the best they could by teaching, exploring, and learning.  If the node waxed and waned according to the enlightenment of the human civilization, then surely it should have come back.  Some think it has from time to time.  And that these are the times when we have been most in touch with our genius.

We have seen many civilizations decline in our history.  But there are some instances when that decline was so sudden it has made scholars wonder what really happened.  There is evidence here and there, even in the historical record, but certainly in apocryphal records, of some cataclysmic event.  Not an earthquake or a falling sky.  Not something that happened.  But something that ceased happening.  The death of the node.

I began to believe that the magus node was not something outside of ourselves.  It was something within.  A link that had been severed.  It was as if we had another sense that had been shut off.  We could make do in life and even thrive.  But if we had that sense, we might be able to reach further, do more, be more, and help others to thrive as well.

*****

I’m on bedrest now.  I can ask for things, but it’s not the same.  I’m entitled to the care I’m getting but that doesn’t include having someone fly to Europe to visit a tiny library that happens to have one of the last known copies of a Greek philosopher’s musings on the nature of the universe, including fundamental forces like weather and magic.

I did manage to get that device finished, the node detector.  I won’t get to use it myself, but it’s finished.  Small victories.  A lot of people love me.  But none of them believe in this last quest of mine.

You, my successor.  The one who is reading these words of a woman long-dead.  You believe in this quest.  I hope your reason for searching is far less dire than mine.  I hope you’re wise enough to be careful and bold enough to go further than I went.

I never found it. I never found the magus node. But I leave behind all my notes and the story of my quest in the hopes that you can put the puzzle pieces we found together and make an image that you can recognize.  Maybe you can find it.  Because the one thing I’m sure of is that without the node, we can go no further. Without the node, humanity will end and it will end badly.

The good news is that I don’t think the magus node is something outside of ourselves.  I think it might be something within, something untapped perhaps, something forgotten, and something not yet discovered.  Maybe it’s enlightenment.  Maybe it’s also the gifts we earn when we attain enlightenment.  Maybe it is the cure for something more than the ailments of our bodies and our minds.  Maybe we’re asleep and the magus node is the splash of cold water that will wake us.

Whatever it may be, I pass the quest to you.  I pass my knowledge, my story, my good will, and my best wishes to you.  And though I’m gone, I will be with you.  When you go questing, I will be by your side.

When you find the magus node, I will find it with you.

 

Copyright © 2016. Nila L. Patel

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