Dreamed 2015/6/19 by Chris Wayan
There's a ring of alternate Earths with subtly different physics. Go far enough into the strange, and you come round to your homeworld again. Such interworld travel takes preparation--customs differ drastically, since in many worlds magic works--but all have human life. Folks must have been slipping between them for eons, now and then. Natural rifts. But nowadays it's been standardized. You just step through a portal at the Ring Station...
Officially, that's the known multiverse. But the ring isn't all! A friend of mine is being chased by agents from an unknown Earth off the ring.
These stalkers use sorcery a lot, so I have an inspiration. Why not lead my friend through the ring-portals to my birth Earth--the least magical world in the whole ring! There, weapons-grade spells will fail, or at least turn feeble. And they won't expect it; the average world is way more magical than Mundania, as the other ringworlds call my homeworld; these sorcerers won't know how to fight under mundane rules. I grew up in that damping field and know the local technology substituting for magic elsewhere. We'll have a huge advantage there! I hope to catch & question an enemy agent.
So we go to the Ring Station and step through the portal to Mundania. At first the Mundanian station looks familiar, like any airport or large subway station, with the usual gates... but the ads are wrong. This can't be Mundania--the ads are all for wishes!
Apparently, in this new world, you just make a firm decision that something is worth spending one of your limited wishes on, frame the wish clearly, and it'll soon materialize. But you only get a fixed ration of wishes. Just a few in each area of life--varying a bit, two to five--for love, career, health, and so on. Is this an annual ration, or lifetime? Not sure--the ads take it for granted we all know.
The ads all read as if someone profits when you wish, it's a transaction, like a cash purchase or school voucher. Natural law's somehow been contracted out to private firms! Your wish isn't quite free; your taxes pay for their royalties. But if you don't wish, you don't save. So in a way wishes ARE free: "use 'em or lose 'em".
Well, that's my guess from the tone; it's all unspoken, taken for granted.
Which is odd, isn't it? No explanations for foreigners, not even here at the portals. Every ringworld I've visited has an info booth, guides to customs, money exhange... Oh. This makes sense only if all portal traffic here is local--these aren't interworld portals but local teleportation booths!
Leaky booths. We leaked in, after all.
Do others leak out? I wonder if local travelers go missing now and then, to end up in the Ring. We're sure off the Ring now--I've never even HEARD of a wish-based economy!
These folk may not even know of the other Earths. What if they'll fear us here as aliens?
Before I can warn my friend, he asks a portal guard about interworld-travel guides and maps. The guy looks shocked and blows a whistle. More guards come up and bundle my friend off. They look as scared as if he'll explode.
Guess you just can't trust those crazy aliens. Like me.
So I stay quiet and make my own guesses rather than ask. Stranded on a hostile Earth, alone and ignorant. But still free. Now what?
One consolation. I don't think those sorcerer-agents who were stalking my friend will do too well here either. For whatever reason, magic's carefully rationed. If they work big spells, or try and conspicuously fail to work big spells... I think there'll be trouble.
But just legal trouble? Or PHYSICS trouble?
To get home, I need to understand this world's rules. I'd better set out to find a university and look up an expert in wish theory... or an economist.
If, of course, on Wish-Rationed Earth, there's any difference.
NOTES NEXT MORNING
I'm still wary about wishing. Prodded by the dream, I made one big one--to heal from the recurring headaches, fevers, sore joints and night sweats I've suffered from for decades (runs in the family; undiagnosed). I promptly had a storm of trouble with doctors, tests, bills, and insurance for months! After my insurance dumped me, I quit seeing doctors, repeated the wish and just lived my life. And after decades of illness, I've slowly, steadily improved for no reason. Except... a wish.
Editing & annotating Wish-Rationed Earth for the World Dream Bank required close reading; I'd forgotten there were separate wish-rations for health, wealth, romance etc. So rather than wait for a complete cure, I should try wishing in other areas--cautiously, remembering the health-storm that only subsided a few months ago. Changing a longterm deadlock can stir up chaos.
"Mind what you wish for. You may get it." But "mindful wish" is not "no wish".
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