Contrary to popular myth, there is and only ever was one Genie. The first and last of her kind, she was born in the heart of a neutron star when the universe was young. Genie’s childhood was spent lost in wonder at the unfolding forms of the early universe, wandering endlessly, before an awareness of a deep and aching loneliness dawned. Her first attempts at finding company ended in disappointment. There was a planet covered entirely in frog spawn, and her joy at finding this tiny glimmer of life soon gave way to frustration with the limited opportunities for social interaction. Plant life afforded considerably more comfort, but again, the novelty wore off before long.
When she first arrived on our planet five thousand years ago she thought that we were all just plants. She was quite impressed by the variety of forms. The scales, fur or smooth sleekness of the outer surfaces were things she had never seen. She encountered her first humans in the ancient city of Byblos. She observed them for a long while, fascinated by their movements, their voices and their rituals. She deduced two things, one that made her feel undreamed of joy and one that made her feel the most terrible despair. She saw that we were conscious and social beings who perceived time and made plans, had hopes and dreams, loved and hated each other, could record and manipulate impressions of reality. In short, she had found the company she craved. But then she realised that what for her felt like a year felt like a single second to us, despite the fact that she had lived immeasurably longer. She saw that the gulf between her and us was vast, but still she resolved to make contact.
After aeons of isolation, she found it therapeutic to involve herself in our affairs. She wanted to connect with us by helping us. Due to the pace at which she experienced time, her long life and her vast intelligence, she was able to exercise enormous power. She could split and fuse atoms and scupper fleets, or use more subtle skills to affect complex chains of events. Whether she exercised her will by razing a city or rebalancing a dew drop on a rose petal, the results of her interventions were invariably disastrous, and the consequences would spin out of control. She was wracked with guilt for the lives she destroyed, but she quickly became addicted to the exhilaration she felt when she engaged with the world. So she resolved to live by a code that would allow her to revel in the action she craved but be absolved of the guilt.
The number three was fairly arbitrary but she guessed it was probably the maximum that we could handle without things really getting out of hand. She became very fond of the people that she attached herself to down the ages, but she was puzzled by a conflict within her between the hope that they would use her power to achieve harmony and happiness and the weird relish she took in carrying out their wishes. She took pains to minimise harm, but harm always occurred.
She is just as active now as she was in ancient times. Just last week a fugitive was cowering in a tower block in South London, surrounded by over a hundred highly trained men equipped with bullets that exploded on impact and devices that could see through the concrete. A renegade Ukrainian physicist had sold him the phial containing Genie some months back, and now he was desperate, he uncorked her. She filled the dingy room with exotic light, yawned and stretched, then loomed over him, explaining his options.
The process of releasing the weapons from the soldiers grasp and stashing them in the sewers was painstaking, as she strove as always to minimise harm. In her mind it took two weeks, in reality it took about six seconds, and the displacement and heating of the air that resulted from her extremely fast movements blew out all the windows, sending millions of tiny glass shards flying in all directions. Most of the soldiers got off lightly with pulverised hands and extreme PTSD. Many of the residents who hadn’t been evacuated were lacerated by the showers of glass.
The fugitive’s crimes had been appalling, but he had never witnessed at first hand the carnage he had created. He fled the concrete tower, covering his ears against the searing cries of the blinded and the flayed, and vowed that if he was allowed to keep his freedom he would spend it working for the relief of suffering.
Genie will follow him now to the end of his days, hiding in the shadows of his dreams. Every time he feels himself drifting into longed for sleep, she whispers softly to him that he still has two wishes left, and that he would be foolish not to use them.
more by ALAN KILLIP
photograph from unsplash