Homam, the Very Helpful Genie
“It would be like a virtual reality place, only everything would look and feel completely real. But it wouldn’t be real real. Have you heard of virtual reality?”
Homam the Genie most certainly had not heard of virtual reality. He had just spent 87 years sequestered in a soldier’s old metal flask locked away in a trunk, the traditional lamp not being available at the time. But it was simple enough to reach out into the chatter of the world and grab enough to go on. Telepathy was essential in Genie-ing – you needed to catch up on the culture and the language somehow. Much had changed during his slumber, superficially speaking. Apparently virtual reality was a manufactured illusion for the senses, false surroundings wherein people could experience things without danger or moral quandary. A place to be full master of one’s dreams. Homam immediately saw the appeal. But now his Master continued.
“Only I don’t want it to be in a fixed place, or be super-heavy so I have to lug it around. Like, I could flip over to it whenever or wherever I am. I don’t know how you’d do that. Like a helmet maybe?”
That suggestion hung in the air a moment. The Master, leaned forward on a couch, rubbed his hands together self-consciously.
Homam gathered himself into a more opaque form and spoke now, in a timbre tuned down from the bombast he used ceremonially. “You want a space; that exists outside of normal space.” His Master nodded eagerly. “One you can enter at will; and inside you would conjure up your desires in exact detail in privacy.”
The Master seemed to be waiting for more, so the Genie punctuated his announcement by twirling his beard and summoning up a little ethereal jangling noise.
Master’s face brightened, even flushed a little – picturing the wish already. This pleased the Genie. Many of his brethren were cynical and cruel, and lived to trick their Masters by executing their wishes in a way that punished them. Irony – Genies were suckers for irony, and Homam had played at that game in his youth. But over the millennia he had found real pride and fulfillment in serving his Masters to the utmost, and that particularly meant interviews of sometimes agonizing length, in order to understand exactly what Master wanted.
The first wish had been wealth. You could usually make safe wager on that. Homam had taken care to unfold to Master that although a Genie’s power to grant wishes was near-infinite by human understanding, it still was slave to certain rules. The Master had found this fascinating, and, if the Genie dared guess at Master’s moods – pleasing. There was logic to the notion that a Genie’s feats did take energy, and energy needed to come from somewhere. The human race had a word in relatively wide parlance for that principle now: Thermodynamics.
Homam had formerly relied on a long and hackneyed metaphor about the water in the oceans returning to the water in the sky returning to the water in the oceans. Thermodynamics was far more precise, even if it didn’t provide the grandeur Masters tended to expect. Next time, Homam noted to himself, try saying it very slowly and loudly.
Like many, Master had expressed concern that the energy might come from somewhere where it would do some living thing harm. The Genie couldn’t answer fully, since the complex interdependence of the stars and the galaxies would make any human’s head pop long before you got anywhere worth describing, and their definition of life was hilariously narrow.
Instead, the Genie just assured Master that the energy could be siphoned off a star with no planets around it far at the periphery of a Galaxy with no life for thousands of light years, and that it could be summoned here essentially instantaneously via the higher dimensions that humans would never comprehend. And that if there was any chance of this appropriation of energy doing any measurable harm to any form of biology, it was far smaller than the chance of someone committing genocide by, say, muttering the word “Quackenbush” in the midst of the wrong alignment of gravitational influences.
Still, the Genie had offered, since it required significantly less stolen star energy to, say, make Master extremely lucky at a game of chance, than it would be to summon great piles of gold bars out of nowhere (that business never got old to some Masters), that this may please the Master as the method to fulfill his first wish.
And it did please his Master, who promptly won the State Lottery by means no more complex than adjusting the air currents around some ping-pong balls and depressing the thought of certain numbers in the brains of a few people. A marvelously efficient execution of a very old wish, in terms of energy-to-wealth created and the near total lack of collateral misery and strife.
One of the consistent things about being a Genie was that nearly all Masters believed that wealth would free them of their anxieties and troubles, and thus allow them to discover the grander mission of their lives. The second wish usually had something to do with this, and this is the wish they were on now, as his Master sat on that $10,000 couch in his new condominium.
He had taken many notes before he had summoned the Genie from the flask this time. This Master wanted earnestly to get the assembly of these wishes right. He was not truly wise, but he was a little bit clever, and Homam knew that there was little more dangerous to the human race than people who were a little bit clever suddenly having a great deal of power.
“It sounds like a place you would spend a lot of time,” he suggested to Master.
Master looked troubled at this, and consulted his notes. “Right! I forgot. Can we make it so time doesn’t flow out here, in reality, while I’m in there? Like, if I went in there for an hour, I could come out and it would still be the same time I went in?”
“This is certainly possible, although Master risks shocking his friends and family by aging at a seemingly-accelerated rate.”
Master looked downright queasy now, and Homam was convinced that he had not thought of that beforehand, though he pretended otherwise. “Well, right, I mean, that goes without saying, right? I wouldn’t get any older while I’m in there.”
Homam was on familiar turf. Letting himself bob down to eye level with Master, he explained: “This is going to require some re-making of your brain, so that it can contain the memories of all your experiences in this place while not aging or decaying. I assume you want to remember them in detail, yes?”
Of course he assumed correctly. Master had some simple dreams for starters – to play at heroics, to congress effortlessly with women – things that he could probably do in real life were it not for his outsized trepidation about misery or imprisonment or death. He could no doubt fill a century in this fantasy space enacting just his ordinary, conscious hopes; and dream a few stars out of the universe as he did.
“How will it, I mean, the space, know? How will I talk to it?” The Master betrayed his limits with his questions. Homam feigned ignorance, so the Master could establish his thoughtfulness. “Will it be able to create exactly what I want – so there’s no tricks or weird stuff?”
Homam could have said at this point that Master had more to fear from the weird desires in his own subconscious than any flaw in a wish Homam would build. But rather than engage with the furious denial that would no doubt follow, he simply promised that the means of summoning these fantasies would be entirely of Master’s own making; and not just that, but that it would surprise him with its skill and intuition. “Like a supercomputer?” the Master asked. The Genie nodded, and, out of sheer petulance, elected not to supply any ethereal jangles to go with it.
At this point Master was just wrestling with amorphous paranoia. Even though a gaseous superbeing with a grandiose beard had already made him wealthy – and would make him wealthier still once some surprises Homam had buried somewhere called “the commodities market” blossomed – Master was still obviously greatly fretted that such a treasure as they’d been discussing could be his at a word. It was a healthy attitude, from a certain perspective, very human; although it had been known to try a Genie’s patience here and there.
Master made a nervous chuckle, and looked to be sweating through his new $300 shirt. “Well, um…is that it? Can you think of anything I’m leaving out?”
Homam had thought of many things that Master was leaving out. But being a Genie did not bind him to full disclosure. Instead he gently suggested that the wished-for portal be made imperceptible to others, except those he could designate if he desired. This rather expanded the parameters of the wish, and led to a labored discussion of whether or not this wish could include the power to induce targeted amnesia in people should he decide that he no longer wanted to share his space outside space with them. Eventually it was settled that he could, in fact, choose people who could be brought in, and subsequently changed in similar ways so they could enjoy the non-aging, memory-retaining aspect of the experience; but that he would not be able to undo it. This would likely make him so cautious and mistrusting that he would never use this ability.
And after more time, and more careful consultation of the notes he had scribbled with his new $1,000 pen, Master took a deep breath, and declared himself ready to receive his wish. It was a substantial wish, Genie couldn’t deny it, and both because of that and because this Master addressed him with respect, he gave it a really good show.
Waving his hands around, he created a swirling in the air, as if he was molding the fundamental flotsam of the universe so that it could be put into Master’s service. He sapped some light from the room, and made Master’s hairs stand on end – an old trick but a reliable one – and for a modern flourish he made a few light bulbs pop in their sockets. He left the $6,000 television intact.
There was an awesome rumble, and a shimmering sliver of starlight opened up over by a linen closet. A golden key floated out of this crack in the dimensions, and floated towards Master, a sparkling thread dancing in the air behind it. It placed itself around Master’s neck, and Homam knew that Master could figure out the rest. Satisfied that the theatrics had been appropriate, he brought his hands to rest, and let the Master’s hairs fall once again to gravity.
Putting on a really wicked echo, he proclaimed: “Master, your wish is granted.”
Master stared dumbly at the key, and at the little glow hovering in the air at hand height, waiting for that key’s insertion. Genie would be going for a nap in the flask soon, but he did want to hang around for the next part.
Master still seemed to be seeking permission from some authority. “Can I? I mean – it’s working and everything?”
Homam reluctantly admitted to himself that the echo probably needed to stay on for a bit longer: “It is complete – the space without space awaits you, and all your desires.” He wondered if that last bit would embarrass Master; but it seemed to fly right by.
Master looked around his condo – checking to see if the door was locked and the stove was off, that sort of thing. He looked at his clothes, as if whoever or whatever was waiting in there might care what he was wearing. Just one of many old habits that was about to not apply in a world that gave him everything he could want. And then, finally, he took the key from his neck, extended it towards that mesmerizing light…
And stopped to ask Genie: “What happens if I lose the key?”
Homam was nearly offended at the suggestion that he had not thought of that – or, worse, that it might be the linchpin of some cunning bad Genie trick. He could certainly see a cohort of his pulling that one; making the key really light and slippery and uncooperative so that Master would only taste Paradise once and then lose the key and scramble himself old and mad trying to find it again. But not Homam – Homam was better than that. “The key will always find you, Master.”
Thus assured, Master slipped the key into the light, which then enveloped him, and he winked out of our dimensions.
The next bit would be interesting. What Homam didn’t explain to Master was that time couldn’t be completely frozen while he was outside of space. It could be slowed down significantly, sure, but if he spent a month in there then a good second or two would elapse in normal time. So Homam slowed his perceptions way down in order to get a good sense of just how long the Master devoted to his first trip.
Although the language of the wish was new, like the first wish of wealth, this kind of second wish was hardly without precedent. The daunting thing about God-like power was always the bit about affecting – or possibly damaging or destroying – your fellow creatures. Guilt made people want loopholes, and who better to create them than Genies?
But there was always a danger to this kind of wish, which is why Homam watched with excited curiosity. It took an awful lot of energy, this space outside of space. So much matter to create – and at the speed of dreaming, to boot. Most people, once they got accustomed to using this power, tended to use it relatively sparingly – something about the struggle of reality felt too necessary to abandon utterly.
There was that chance, though – that far, strange, chance – that this Master would be one of the ones who simply forgets to leave. That, as years turned into centuries turned to ages in the realization of his little whims, so much matter would need to be created for the purpose that the whole of the Universe might be collapsed and pulled through that little pinhole in order to be available to his infinite service.
Life in its way would go on, and Master would never know that he was no longer outside time and space, of course – it was better that way.
Homam waited, and wondered if this might be one of those times. It would mean a long nap, but the third wishes tended to be really ripping.