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The Rules of Wishing

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Aladdin

The old man had betrayed me. That hurt.

Oh it didn't hurt because he betrayed me. He was obviously going to do that. I was going to betray him too, so I can't really fault him too much for that.

No, it hurt because it had resulted in my tumbling a hundred feet down a pile of really sharp rocks and literally my entire body was sore. If I hadn't broken anything it would be a miracle.

Which apparently was a thing that was now on offer.

"You're... going to grant me any three wishes I want, right?"

"Uh, almost. There are a few provisos. A couple of quid pro quos."

"Like?"

"Rule number 1! No changing the rules. The One who bound me to the lamp sets the rules, and as long as I'm stuck with it, I'm stuck with the rules. That includes the whole 'you only get 3' thing."

"OK. That seems reasonable enough."

"Rule number 2! I can't directly affect anyone except the wisher! No hurting people, no changing their mind, definitely no making people fall in love. That would be super creepy."

"Rule number 3! Wishes can't harm anybody except for the wisher, even indirectly! Anyone who would be harmed gets a get out of danger free card! No conjuring anvils over anyone's head!"

"Rule number 4! I can't create life! If it's dead it's dead, and I can't change that!"

"Rule number 5-"

"Wait, wait. How many rules are there?"

"Uh, lets see. There's... 5, 6, 7 carry the four... currently five thousand two hundred and eleven. Of course, new rules are being added whenever someone comes up with a loophole."

"OK... so rather than going over all the rules, let me check for some things first. What counts as a wish?"

The blue guy gave me a look.

"You're going to be one of the tricky ones, aren't you?"

I gave him my best disarming look.

"OK, so here's how it works. You say 'I wish...', then I do it! I can ask you for clarification, check for typos, but basically if I'm pretty sure you're sure you want it then you got it!"

"And, uh, can I accidentally wish for things? If I include those words in that order in a question will you interpret that as a wish?"

"Whadda I look like? A lawyer? No, no tricking you into wishes. Unless I genuinely believe you intended to wish for that, it's not a wish."

"And what happens if I were to wish for something that's against the rules."

"I slap you on the wrist, give you a consolation lollipop and tell you to try again. Don't worry, it doesn't count for your three."

"OK. And what do you get out of all of this?"

"Excuse me?"

"Like, why are you doing this? This sounds like a pretty rubbish deal for you. You hang around for thousands of years, granting people wishes. What's up with that?"

"Gosh. Well, uh, not much. It's a bit of a rum deal to be honest. I'd give it up in a heartbeat if someone wished for me to."

"Wait, I thought I couldn't wish to change the rules?"

"Ah, you can't, but that's one of the rules! Any master of the lamp may wish to end to contract. It's a thing. Get out clause, so to speak."

"Huh. Well, OK. I'll do it."

"Uh huh. Right. Pull the other one."

"No, seriously. I've got three wishes. It'll take me a while to figure out a good way to use the first two, but I promise that the third wish will be for your freedom if you want it to be. I don't like slavery."

Look, I know I'm not the most reputable person. If you listen to the rumous I've never said a true word in my life. But I really don't like slavery, and this was obviously slavery.

I'm not stupid though. No way I wasn't going to take full advantage of those first two wishes.

"Well, uh, no offence little guy. You seem like a nice fellow, but I've been around the block few times and it's not the first time I've heard these words and it somehow never actually happens."

"No, seriously. I promise. I'm pretty sure I can get what I need in two wishes, and the third is yours."

"OK, well, uh, here's hoping."

He held out his hand and we shook on it.

OK. So I have two wishes. I can work with this. Step 1: Make sure I need wishes for as few things as possible.

"OK, so, lets get back to these rules. I can't wish for more wishes, but can I wish for power?"

"Absolutely! Pretty common wishes. What would you like? Flight, muscles, laser beam eyes? The usual."

"Uh. Can I wish for the same powers as you have?"

"You can! But you shouldn't, because it will come with a lamp attached and let me tell you that sucks. Also genies can't wish for things from other genies."

"So what would happen to you after I wished for your freedom? Would you keep all the current power set? Could I wish to get your powers and for someone to then wish for me to be freed from the lamp?"

"OK, so a) No. I get a huge power downgrade if you wish for my freedom. Still pretty powerful, but waaaay less cosmic and b) No, that would be a violation of the "no affecting other people" rule."

"But can I wish to have the same powers you would have after your freedom?"

"Ah, hm. Uh. One second."

A book appeared in the genie's hands and he started flipping through it.

"Yes that seems to be allowed. Huh. Did not expect that."

He looked up somewhere in the direction of the ceiling.

"Hey, you lot up there. Ruling? You going to stick us with another amendment or we good?"

There was a pause.

"Yeah apparently s'all good. You can do that if you want."

"What would happen if I wished for that? Would that stop me wishing for more things?"

"If I did it by making you into a genie, yeah."

"Ok, huh. So I can wish for having those powers without becoming a genie?"

"Sure thing, boss. The limit's power, not how I give it to you. You just can't be too powerful without a lamp attached."

"Hmm. OK. Lets talk details."

We talked back and forth, my throwing ideas out and the Genie shooting them down or clarifying my thoughts, and after a while I finally settled on the details of my first wish.

"I wish to remain human but to possess power and knowledge as if I were the most ancient and powerful of Genies who had been freed from a lamp. The knowledge should be readily available to me as and when I need it, but should not overwhelm my mind. My memories and personality should remain my own save for the additional knowledge."

He pulled out the book again and flipped through it at a rate that certainly no mortal could have actually been reading. He split into three, and the three of them had a huddled conversation conducted in whispers I couldn't hear.

"OK, boss. This one looks like a go-er. Heeere you go!"

There was a puff of smoke, and the world expanded around me in ways I have no words to describe.

Jasmine

I knew I would not marry for love.

Oh I told my father that I would only marry for love, but this was a pretext. It fit his image of me as his little girl that he must protect. If I gave him my true reasons, he would have dismissed me as being silly and married me off to the best offer.

The real reason I had rejected all my suitors so far is that they were not courting me, they were courting the crown. I was not Jasmine, princess of the realm. I was the realm, who happened to be embodied in an admittedly fairly attractive vessel called Jasmine.

This would be fine. Ambition in a prince is completely understandable. But they didn't see me at all, and they didn't respect my mind or my voice. They listened, and they nodded, and then they thought to themselves how cute it was that the woman thought she understood mens' issues, and there would certainly be none of that when we got married.

And then they were surprised when I threw them out.

I love my father, but he is definitely of their world. He doesn't really think of me as a person with a mind of my own, and he doesn't understand that I want a say in the world and am not willing to marry and become a pretty decoration to some man's ambition.

But love? That was something he could understand.

The time I snuck out of the palace had been magical. I'd met a young man, Aladdin, and he really seemed to see me as a person. We talked about life, about ambitions. We came from very different worlds, but we were able to talk as equals. It was... wonderful.

And of course it all ended when Jaffar and my father had him thrown in prison. I looked for him afterwards, and sent servants to ask questions after him where I could not go myself. And he had vanished. It was clear that "thrown in prison" was a euphemism to spare my delicate feminine sensibilities, and in reality he had been quietly executed.

In private, I wept, but in public I managed to keep myself confined to a sullen anger, let them think this was simply a childish tantrum, and quietly plotted my revenge.

Then the world fell out from under me.

A man, Aahil, came to visit the palace. He claimed to be a visiting scholar, wanting to study in the Sultan's world renowned library. An innocuous enough event that I happened to be present to witness.

It was Aladdin, but it was not Aladdin. He had Aladdin's voice, his eyes, his gait and his mannerisms, but not his appearance. He was taller, older seeming, his hair and his features all changed around. There was no way to look at this man as he stood still and think it could be Aladdin, but as soon as he moved and spoke I knew it was him.

I read a lot. It is the only way to stay sane while confined to and coddled in this extremely luxurious prison of a palace. I had read many stories of the Djinn, the children of fire, and their ability to change their form to their whim. I knew what happened when a woman attracts their interest.

I was in a lot of trouble.

Jafar

Of course I knew who he was when he walked in the door.

I have studied the arcane arts for years. I've learned to see what the eye can not, and to my inner sight he blazed with power, and looking deep within the blaze I saw the young man I had last seen swallowed by the cave of wonders.

Clearly he had found the lamp, and had used it to gain power. He was smarter than I had believed him to be, and now he was infinitely more dangerous.

I was in a lot of trouble.

My only hope was that he had not realised I was the one who betrayed him, but even without that I was still the one who had him thrown into the dungeon. If he wanted revenge I was powerless to stop him.

Powerless without time to prepare at any rate.

Aladdin

Jaffar had summoned me to meet in his quarters. Apparently he was interested in my field of study and wanted to talk about it in detail.

Hopefully I could pull this off. I knew a lot, thanks to my wish, but I'd never really met any scholars and I wasn't sure I could act like one. I was aiming for distracted and eccentric and hoping that would cover for a lot of the rest.

There was also the question of payback. The man had had me thrown in prison. I wasn't really sure if I wanted it though. It might have been well intentioned, just protecting the princess. Still, one wrong move on his part.

I entered his chambers, and crossed an ornate carpet he had in the entrance way. It seemed curiously out of place, for reasons I couldn't quite put my finger on.

And then I was stuck. My feet suddenly refused to move.

Jaffar rose from where he was sitting.

"Ah, Aahil. Or should I say... Aladdin."

If I hadn't already been frozen in place I would have then. This was very much not going according to plan.

"I see you figured out how to use my lamp and used it to wish for power. An excellent choice! Of course, with the power you've gained comes the cost. You are vulnerable to certain... bindings."

Now that I knew to ask the question I understood. A seal of Solomon was engraved upon the floor beneath the carpet I stood on, and I'd been trapped within it.

"Now, sleep."

And I did.

Jafar

At last, it was mine. I rubbed the lamp.

As I knew he would, a genie appeared in a puff of blue smoke.

"Hey Aladdin, what's - whoaa you're not Aladdin"

"Indeed I am not. I am Jaffar, your new master!"

"I uh, I'm not such a fan of the word master you know. I really like... collaborator. Compadre. Collaborator in the whole wishing endeavour. Whaddaya say?"

"I say cease your chattering. You will do as I command."

"Okay then"

The Genie pulled his finger over his mouth which disappeared under it.

Aladdin had clearly figured out that wishing for power was the way to go, but he had thought much too small.

"Genie, I wish to rule the world."

The Genie's mouth spontaneously reappeared.

"Nope."

"What."

"Well, you see, there are these rules..."

Nobody had mentioned rules in any of the texts I had read.

"How. Many. Rules?"

"Five thousand two hundred and seventy three. Keeps getting bigger too. They came up with a lot of rules for the last guy."

"I see... And how am I supposed to find out these rules?"

"Well, I can tell you them if you like, or you can just keep wishing for things and I'll keep telling you nope when they violate the rules."

"And what rule did wishing to rule the world violate?"

"Can't affect other peoples' minds except that of the wisher."

Interesting. In at least one way the Genie's power was more constrained than my own.

"I see. And if I wished for a vast army entirely loyal to me to appear?"

"Can't create life."

This was going to be harder than I thought. This must be why Aladdin had only wished for personal power - he must have tried these first and found himself unable to make any of the truly important wishes.

I suddenly had a nasty suspicion and realised what my first question should have been.

"How much freedom do you have to interpret wishes?"

He pulled out a book and started reading from it.

"I can do anything that reasonably satisfies the requirements of your wish. I can only do things that are as simple as possible - if you could remove something from the result and have the wish still be satisfied then I can't do that thing. But I can choose more complicated ones if they're not just a more complicated version of some simpler thing I could have done instead. I can't deliberately misinterpret you, and if you can convincingly argue that I inadvertently did so then I must do my best to fix that without violating the rest of the rules. If a wish would render you unable to make such an argument I must warn you in advance and give you the option to rescind the wish. Failing to fulfill a criterion you didn't mention is not a misinterpretation."

I was getting a sinking feeling as I realised just how dangerous making my initial wish had been. Thankfully I had chosen something that unambiguously violated the rules.

"What would happen if I were to wish to have all of the powers you do?"

"I would grant your wish."

"And what exactly is the manner in which you would grant it?"

The Genie looked smug.

"I don't have to tell you that."

"WHAT?"

"Only questions I have to answer are about whether something is possible or not. You can ask me about the rules, you can ask me if I would grant a wish, but you don't get to ask me how I would grant it and I don't have to tell you."

I sat and thought for a bit. Clearly it would be safer to have the power to grant wishes myself without danger of misinterpretation, but it seemed too easy. Why have all these complicated rules if you could just bypass them by wishing to become a Genie?

Oh, of course.

"What would happen if I were to wish to have all the powers you did, but not to be bound to follow the same rules or be tied to a lamp?"

"That would be against the rules."

Of course it wasn't that simple.

"Can I wish to obtain the maximum amount of power available to me without being bound to a lamp or constrained to follow any of your rules?"

"Yes"

That seemed to be reasonably safe, but I was treading a knife edge and it is better to be careful.

"Is there an unambiguous result for that wish free from your interpretation?"

"Don't have to tell you that either."

"Hmm. What would happen if I were to wish for the maximum amount of power available to me without being bound to a lamp or constrained to follow any of your rules if the preceding part has an unambiguous interpretation, else to rule the world?"

The Genie's eyes flashed briefly.

"Right. I am required to tell you that a new rule has just been added. A conditional wish where any of the outcomes of the conditional violate the rules itself violates the rules, regardless of whether conditions in the wish are possible to satisfy."

I cursed under my breath.

"Can I wish for the maximum subset of your powers that I could have without being bound by rules or a lamp?"

"Yes"

"Can I wish for that plus retaining my current arcane abilities?"

"Nope"

I swear the Genie looked smugger every time he denied me.

This was clearly going to take forever dancing around the limmitations of this accursed lamp. I paused to think, and suddenly understood the solution and knew what my first wish would be, assuming it wasn't yet another rules violation.

"I wish for complete and intuitive understanding of the rules and behaviour of wishing, with the ability to foresee and choose amongst the possible interpretations of a wish, and the knowledge of how to choose and create a wish that achieves precisely what I want as long as it is within the rules, while not otherwise affecting my nature or capability and making all the required knowledge available to me selectively so as to not hurt my mind or sanity in any way."

The Genie's jaw dropped to the floor. Literally. It was impressive and very disturbing.

"That can't possibly be allowed. One minute."

Whole shelves of books suddenly appeared and the the Genie split into a dozen copies of himself and rushed around, reading through books and papers. Eventually the shelves disappeared and the Genies merged back together.

The Genie had a sour look on his face and spat out his words. "Your wish is my command... master."