Indistinguishable from Magic

Indistinguishable from Magic

1,300 words, sci-fi/fantasy parable

Once there lived a very wealthy, and therefore very powerful, man.  He was, if not the richest man in all the world at the time, one of the richest, and after many years of enjoying such extreme wealth and power he had become accustomed to his every desire being fulfilled immediately.  They say that money cannot buy happiness, but it can buy a lot of the incidental factors that contribute to happiness — and this man was, in fact, very happy. There was not some empty, gaping hole inside his soul that he attempted to fill with lavish spending; no, he was genuinely happy and fulfilled.  He enjoyed his work, his various estates, a number of deep and abiding friendships, as well as the love of a beautiful and accomplished woman. This woman was the true source of his happiness, as she loved and respected him regardless of his bank account; indeed, she would have loved him as much if he were a penniless pauper instead of an obscenely wealthy man.  And he, in turn, loved her more than all the other luxuries that his wealth could provide.

So when his wife died suddenly, it was an unspeakable tragedy.  The man was distraught —no, more than distraught. He was devastated, destroyed, hollowed out, a shell of the man he was.  However, because he had never before encountered a problem that could not be solved with money, he refused to believe that his only option was to accept his wife’s death.  There had to be, or so he told himself, some way to bring her back, to restore her to life.

In some versions of the tale, he was a wealthy king in a land of dragons and wizards, and so he embarked upon a great quest to find a spell or enchanted chalice that would resurrect her.  No, that is not quite right: powerful men do not go on quests personally, so it is more likely that he issued a proclamation throughout all the realm that any witch or warlock who could bring back his wife would be rewarded with land and gold beyond their wildest imaginings.  All the knights of his court swore great oaths and set off to the enchanted lands to the East hoping to retrieve a lamp containing a djinn, or braved mysterious castles in order to find a Sacred Graal. Wise men and magi devoted their lives to uncovering the secret of the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, hoping it could be used to resurrect the queen 

In other versions of the tale, the man lived in a world that appeared quite mundane and similar to ours but in fact contained many dark and supernatural forces lurking just beyond the casual observation of most of the populace, who lived their lives in blissful ignorance of the eldritch powers at play in the universe.  In this iteration of the story, the man sought out scholars of arcane, forbidden tomes of knowledge in order to call upon the unspeakable horrors that dwell between the stars, hoping that their sinister magicks could open the door that stood between Life and Death and thus recall his wife to the plane of the living.

There are still other variations where the man lived in a technologically advanced future, and so poured all his wealth and digital resources into the medical and computer sciences.  Entire robotics corporations were bought and their staff tasked with recreating the mental patterns of his deceased wife, the sudden influx of capital spurring tremendous advancements in virtual neural networks and artificial intelligence, in cryogenic suspension and advanced gene-splicing therapies.  

There are other versions as well, I suppose, though it would be impossible to enumerate them all here as there are as many variations as there are cultures and genres.  It is, after all, a timeless tale, perhaps the oldest man in the world: a man loses the woman he loves, then bends heaven and earth in an attempt to cheat death and retrieve her.

Magic, demonology, or technology; knights, occultists or scientists.  Variations on a theme, really. There was a famous author who said once that any advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic; though since both are merely expressions of power and money buys that power, perhaps it would be better said that any sufficient amount of wealth is, itself,  indistinguishable from magic.  

Wise-men, philosophers, and men of God all warned him that it was an act of hubris, that no man could place himself above life and death and expect to go unpunished.  They spoke dire words of impending doom, that nothing good could come of it, demanding that he turn back from his mad quest before it was too late, to mourn and accept his wife’s death as was the way of the world — but he would have none of it.  His money bought power, and what good was power if it could not return to him the woman he loved, the woman who brought meaning to his life? So he ignored the warnings of the sages and carried on with his quest.

To raise the dead would require a miracle, but in all versions of the story, magical, technological, or otherwise, the man managed to buy such a miracle.  His most loyal knight returned with the Graal; the wise man from the East arrived with a vial of the fabled, life-giving alkahest;  a forbidden tome summoned an Elder Thing from Beyond willing to traffic with a desperate human; the nano-neural network awoke with memories of his deceased wife’s love and became self-aware.

And so Death was cheated!  The woman that he loved lived again!  He was ecstatic, happy beyond all possible expression.  He had poured most of his nearly endless fortune into her return, but having recovered the love of his life, he counted the price small.  

And for a while, things were perfect and they were both happy.  

Then things … changed.  Small things at first, almost imperceptible changes, but slowly the changes grew larger and larger, until neither he nor his wife could deny that something was wrong.  Their marriage became less perfect: they fought, as all couples do, even the rich and powerful, although they always made up. They had children and the stress of parenting, alongside the hours they both devoted to their work, led to strains in their relationship. Still, they talked through the hard patches; they learned how to fight and move on and how to grow and change together.  As the years wore on, life was not the idyllic perfection he’d imagined, but it was good. He was happy. They were happy. In the end, they both lived into ripe old age and died, side by side, surrounded by children and grandchildren, still as deeply in love as when they first met. All the naysayers were wrong; bringing his wife back from the dead was the greatest thing he had ever done.

The end. 

What, you were expecting something different? A moralizing tale where the man realizes that money can’t buy happiness, that death is simply one of the costs of living, that it is better the accept the hand dealt by the whims of fate and that any who dares oppose those whims will suffer some horrible consequence?  That ultimately the rich and the poor are the same in the eyes of God? Maybe that’s how fairy tales work, but this story is a true one, despite how many times it has played itself out across time and place, and the rich are certainly not the same as the poor. They do not play by the same rules; they don’t even play at the same game.  Money is power and power is the magic that writes the endings of tales, the spell that dictates the moral of the story.  

Abracadabra, open sesame, bibbity-bobbity-boo!  

And they lived happily ever after.

END