Act I, The Magical (Not) Magnifying Glass
I looked through the glass, at my crinkled, folded over, flagged, and dog-eared notebook, expecting to see the unintentional thumbprint on the edge of the page in fine detail. Instead, I saw some kind of roller coaster in a dozen shades of blue. Some glowing, some metallic, some watery. Something that looked like a tiny orange dot zoomed around and around the loops and twirls of the coaster.
I flicked aside my hand and frowned at the page. Then I blinked and looked away, searching for a wall with a window. But the artifacts room didn’t have any windows, of course. If I wanted to rest my eyes by gazing out at the distant sunset, I’d have to go outside. And it must have been time to rest my eyes if I was seeing things that weren’t there. I blinked and the edges of my eyelids felt dry and sore. Sunset was long past. And I should have gone home an hour ago. But I figured I could at least catalog a few items that looked like they would make for an easy start on my next shift, including the item I had just picked up.
Among the many artifacts uncovered in the vault of a long-dead warlord, and at least three of his terrible heirs, was what appeared to be a plain old magnifying glass. It looked modern, just a simple silvery metal handle and a round glass held in a thin black hoop, which also seemed to be metal. It wasn’t out of place with the rest of the items in the vault, which did include various instruments and tools alongside the jewels, silks, and scrolls. There were about half a dozen magnifying glasses in the cloth roll that I had found.
The rest of them were broken.
The next day, I started again with the magnifying glass. And I started again with looking down at the same page in my notebook.
There it was again. The roller coaster. This time there was a bunch of yellow dots riding it.
I frowned and shifted the position of my head so I could see the page with my own eyes. It looked normal.
I held up the glass and looked at the rest of the artifact room, where currently, about a dozen people were walking around in clean suits at a dozen other tabletops. I gazed at a table that was strewn with stacks of books, stone necklaces laid out on an old canvas, and various amphora painted in brilliant colors that hadn’t faded with age. I was expecting to just see blurs. I saw nothing through the glass, nothing but vertical flickers of light. I held my hand as still as I could and the lights still flickered. I lay the glass back on my tabletop. And suddenly it looked like an ordinary magnifying glass again. The flickers of light had vanished.
I examined the handle to see if there was some kind of mechanism I hadn’t noticed before. Something that could have activated that light show. And I summoned the first available-looking colleague over to take a look. When he picked up the glass, he saw the same thing I did.
“So it’s not a magnifying glass,” I said. “Unless I’m using it wrong.”
“I’m pretty sure you know how to use a magnifying glass.”
I peered at it after he set it down. “You think it’s some kind of kaleidoscope, maybe? Thaumascope?”
He shrugged. “You should come with me to handle all the good stuff.”
I held up the magnifying glass to his face, seeing only lights. “This is good stuff.”
I spent the rest of the day looking through the glass at various objects in the room, and getting other people to take a look. No one else was too excited about what they saw. But that made sense. Since starting that job, I’d seen extraordinary evidence of the invention and artistry of humans. Sculptures carved into a wood piece the size of my thumbnail, book edges that when fanned out would reveal an image painted on it, ancient devices that could track the movement of heavenly bodies that were too far for ancient peoples to see, the list goes on. So even though I couldn’t find any evidence of machinery in the handle or setting, or mirrors within the glass, I assumed there was a logical explanation for what I was seeing.
It was something like a kaleidoscope, showing me patterns—though in three dimensions—of shapes and colors.
Casting the glass’s gaze on relatively simple things, like a page of a notebook or the surface of the table, revealed extraordinary sights. Looking at the notebook, I saw a carnival in colors that weren’t present on the page. The blue roller coaster was the only thing that seemed like magnification. I thought it was the whirls and loops of my thumbprint. But there was also a bright red Ferris wheel, a tent with alternating red and white stripes, rows of pink and purple booths, and hundreds of small things like dust motes swarming around the carnival. But moving the glass further out, as one would do with a magnifying glass, resulted in loss of the scene. The surface of the table, the smooth white table, looked like, like an apiary, where every bird had many-colored feathers, and half of them were in flight, and the other half were roosting on lush trees with thick blue leaves.
But if I held the glass up to someone’s face or to the whole room, or to a tapestry or something equally complex, the only thing I saw through the glass was flickers of light. It was almost as if the glass were trying to resolve the information in the scene and was overloaded.
Act II, The Glass’s Provenance; and an Introduction to Inspector Miratio
It doesn’t magnify. It makes magnificent!
I was reading the words of the inventor who had devised and built the “magnificenting glass.” It wasn’t too difficult to find out who the glass belonged to, since the original owner was—like me—in a profession where detailed record-keeping was a norm.
The glass was one of nearly a hundred that were molded and assembled by an inventor named Ayo Miratio. She came from a family of inventive geniuses it turned out. This particular Miratio specialized in glass, and she used both science and alchemy to create what she called a “krymennascope.” (Apparently, the original name—along with it’s simple appearance—was not spectacular enough to interest anyone upon her unveiling of the device. Considering my colleagues’ reactions to the glass, I could somewhat empathize.) The glass’s purpose was make seen what was normally hidden.
Glass, shaped and formed into lenses and mirrors, were commonly used to extend the limits of human vision. Miratio made lenses that could see farther out and those that could see farther down, lenses that shrank and lenses that magnified. She made glasses that would see in different spectrums, the way other animals could see. She made glasses that would see what was invisible to the natural human eyes, but was seen by those who had opened their mystical third eye. Her research was even used in the building of modern-era “spectral cameras,” whose purpose was to capture the presence of apparitions and other supernatural manifestations.
It was not just to satisfy her own curiosity and to test her own abilities that she invented these various glass devices. She did so in the line of her duties as an inspector philosopher, those who were tasked with expanding humanity’s ability to understand the world—not just the natural world, but the supernatural world. Among her duties was also the requirement to assist in investigations of criminal activities—either natural or supernatural.
Many of her inventions helped her to fulfill her standing mission as inspector philosopher. But the krymmenascope was not one of them.
It may have been easy for me to find out who the glass belonged to. But I found sparse notes on what it did. Its inventor, finding no apparent practical use for it, seemed to have tried turning it into a luxury item. A gleaming glass through which one could see wonders.
But even that endeavor failed. Wonder was a feeling that invited immersion. Looking through a small magnifying glass was not most people’s idea of an immersive experience.
My duty was to find Inspector-Philosopher Ayo Miratio’s descendants and return her invention to her rightful heirs. Normally, I had no residual curiosity about the items I helped to return. But I had a feeling that this time, I would continue wondering about the magnificent krymmenascope for a while to come.
Act III, Meeting a Descendant, and the Final Fate of the Krymmenascope
I found multiple descendants from the Miratio line, but had a more difficult time figuring out who was the most direct descendant, and therefore the rightful owner of the krymmenascope.
While I was trying to figure it out, I got a visitor one day, a man in a fine steel-blue suit. He introduced himself, and said he worked for an agency that was very interested in Inspector Miratio’s work, and had even used some of it to build custom devices that they used in their investigations into unusual phenomena. He was keen to see the krymennascope. On the one hand, I felt glad that someone else in the building was finally appreciating the device. On the other hand, I felt nervous when he asked if he might be able to borrow it to do some research and take some readings, before the glass was given back to its rightful owners.
Though I had never dealt with this agent or his agency before, our institute worked with them on the regular. Usually an agent had gotten a false lead on some item or object that was extraordinary—according to their definition of the word. When they found out the item was not what they thought it was, they would just thank us and leave. The agents were supposed to go through proper channels. But no one really stopped them if they approached researchers directly. So we were given guidance, including scripts, on what to say. And I said the things, but the agent was not deterred. I asked why he couldn’t just follow up with the owners once I gave the glass back to them. He said his agency had rules that would make it much harder to get permission to bother the owner.
“So you’re bothering me instead?”
He seemed nice. And he seemed sincere. I wasn’t going to give him the krymmenascope, but I was tempted to let him take a look through the glass, at the carnival in my notebook. But when I had the thought, I felt the nervous feeling again.
So I refused. Without apology. I told him that even if I had the authority to let him borrow it, I would not, not now that we knew who the rightful owner was. I didn’t give him the person’s name, though I was sure that he would easily find out. It felt as if my stomach was doing cartwheels the whole time.
I thought the agent would be back the next day with a dozen other guys, all of them wearing identical suits and dark sunglasses, and sporting earpieces with that little curly wire in their ears.
But the agent didn’t come back the next day, or the next. When I asked my boss about it, she said that he had not filed any formal requests.
I was skeptical that the agent had taken “no” for an answer. I had a feeling he’d be back. It was my call whether or not I should tell the owner, being that it might influence their decision to keep the device or refuse it. I decided to let the owner know.
Once all the paperwork was done, signatures obtained, approvals stamped, the case file closed out, I went to deliver the krymmenascope, to return it to where it belonged.
When I introduced myself to Milo Miratio, a schoolteacher living in a modest apartment with a curious but friendly terrier, and when I told him why I was visiting him, I took him utterly by surprise.
He had no idea about his family heritage.
He invited me in for coffee. And I took out the gray velvet case in which I’d packed the krymmenascope. I gave him a brief introduction to the device and its inventor.
“Do you really believe that it’s showing what is hidden?” he asked. “What you described, it sounds like optical illusions to me.”
I opened the case and pulled out the “magnificenting glass.” As I expected, he didn’t look too impressed with it. I invited him outside to take a look for himself.
We found a grassy patch. I handed him the krymmenascope. He looked through it to the grass, a smile blooming on his face.
“Looks like pieces of hard candy. Fruit flavors,” he said.
I nodded, even though I couldn’t see what he was looking at from my vantage. “But if you look closer. What do you see? What does it look like to you?”
He huffed out a breath. “A city. I’m looking down at it—no up.” He shook his head, as if he couldn’t decide. He shifted the glass over his own hand. “Wow.”
“There are going to be people who want your permission to study the glass,” I said. “Full disclosure…I’m one of those people. I’d like to write a paper on it. Truth be told, I could probably get a lot of papers out of this one object, if it is the real deal, more than just an optical illusion. But if you say ‘no,’ I’ll just give you my card and back off.”
I told him too about the agent who’d come to visit me and ask to borrow the glass. Milo Miratio seemed unfazed as he gazed through the glass.
Suddenly, he looked up at me, and held the krymmenascope out to me.
“You keep it,” he said. “But in exchange, tell me about my family history.”
I glanced down at the krymmenascope. “You don’t have to give me a gift to get me to tell you about your family, Mister Miratio. I’ll do that for free.”
He shrugged. “I’d like for someone like you to have this.”
I raised my brows. “Someone like me?”
I lowered my brows. “Why?”
“So you can study it, and then use it to help you with your work.”
“That’s generous, but if you don’t take it, I’ll have to move on to another heir. And if none of you take it, it’ll end up being the property of my institute. They would probably assign someone else to work on studying it, especially if they consider it a high enough priority.”
“What if I take it, officially, and then pass it on to you, and just you…officially.”
“I’d still need my institute’s resources to study it.”
“But it would be yours,” he said. “They couldn’t take it or use it without your permission, right?”
“That’s true. Unless someone just stole it.” An image of that agent flashed through my mind.
Milo Miratio smiled. “Okay, then I’ll sign that paperwork. And can I ask a huge favor?”
He stretched the krymennascope out toward me. “Hold on to it for me?”
I hesitated, feeling that nervous feeling in my gut again. But this time, I was not worried about the agent coming back. This time, I was worried about how tempted I was to accept the gift that was being offered to me.
“You’re so suspicious still,” he said. “You’ve been spending too much time around stolen stuff maybe?”
I gave a nod. “You have a point.”
“How much is it worth?”
The question took me by surprise after all his magnanimous talk of giving the krymmenascope away to me.
“I have no idea,” I said. “Not my area of expertise. I don’t do valuations before restoring items to their rightful owners. But if it was done, the information will be in the sealed package in the case.”
“Is that to keep from being tempted?”
“I think that’s part of it, yes. But also, it keeps us from placing only one measure of value on the objects we uncover.”
“An artificial and imaginary measure.”
He was still holding the krymmenascope out to me. “My kids would love this thing. They’d look through it all day if I let them. But I wouldn’t be able to answer their questions about what they were seeing.”
My nervousness receded at the thought of kids looking through the krymmenascope. “Isn’t there a lesson in that? That what we see is not the only thing there is? There are entire worlds and civilizations at our feet, above our heads. I could argue that a telescope or a microscope reveal things that are just as magnificent as what we can see through that glass. But people take those tools for granted because they’re so commonplace these days.” I reached out and gently pushed his hand back toward him. “You’re right, this should be in the hands of someone who will seek the truth, and share that truth.”
He smiled at me.
Then he held the glass before his face, which through the glass looked like flickering blue and pink lights. “Wanna share?”
I smiled. And I couldn’t help myself. I had to say it.
“Mister Miratio, I think that would be magnificent.”
Copyright © 2021 Nila L. Patel