The Lawyer and the Genie

The lawyer took a deep breath and looked down at the cave floor. The trunk was still there: leather-bound wood, the kind of thing you’d lug onto a steamship. She opened it, and the genie flowed out, a creature of smoke but with a sly face and fire in its eyes.

“How long…?” it said.

“Three months,” she answered. “I work fast.”

The genie glanced down at the briefcase and gave the lawyer a look of pure hatred. “You have brought the wishes.”

“Yes, I did. Now, there’s just a couple of things before we start. It’ll take a few minutes.”

“I am no mortal!” he yelled “Your ‘minutes’ are as nothing to me! A fraction of time hardly noticeable!”

She put on her whatever face and kept going. “Cool cool cool. First thing, it’s written in modern English. That a problem?”

The genie sneered. “I speak tongues that rose and fell before humans stood on two feet. There is no language, written or spoken, that I cannot understand.”

“Great. Second, there’s a thing called the ‘reasonable person’.” She glanced down at her briefcase. “You kinda need to get what that means to read my wishes, so the idea—”

“I do not ‘need’ to do any such thing!” The genie grinned as he shouted. “I alone interpret the meaning of your wish, and I alone will grant it as I see fit!”

“Okay, no prob.” The genie’s smile faded. She was not nearly as scared as he had expected.

“I do not agree to any such principle,” the genie repeated.

“Uh huh. Yeah. Got it.” She picked up the briefcase, then put it down. “Okay, third…”

“Third?!” the genie’s voice thundered through the cave.

“Yeah, we agreed you’ll read the wishes using modern English rules, and not pretend it’s medieval Portuguese or something, and you’re not going to use the ‘reasonable person.’ Yeah?”

The genie stared for a moment, finally saying only “Yes.”

“Great. Okay, third.” She opened the briefcase. There were eight ring-bound reports inside. “I did some reading, and I want to make sure: each wish has to be a single sentence, right? That’s how this is done?”

The genie narrowed its eyes. He was starting to see where this was going. “That is for me to decide.”

She looked up from the briefcase. “What, precisely, are you deciding?”

The genie clenched its jaw. “It is for me to decide what constitutes one wish or many wishes.”

“Oh, okay. That’s fine. See, I’m not asking about the number of wishes, just the number of sentences. Just because one thing is true doesn’t mean the inverse is true. Each wish shall be no more than one sentence, but being one sentence does not automatically mean it’s one wish. Agreed?”

“Um… yes?”

“Cool. So the only matter of fine interpretation is whether each sentence is just one wish.” She selected two reports from the bag, both labelled Plan C. “And I think you’ll find that they are…”

She passed one copy to the space where the genie’s hands would be if it had hands. The pages floated up of their own accord, then separated from each other and surrounded the genie. Some were in messy piles. Some hung in the air alone. Some spun in place. Some orbited in lazy ellipses. All of them faced the genie’s fiery gaze. His eyes darted from one page to another

“How… what… what am I looking at, here?”

“Those are wishes, my friend.”

“Indeed!” he bellowed. “But how…?”

“There’s colour-coded tabs on the side, and key phrases are highlighted. The first wish is blue, that’s page 1 to 11. Do you want me to walk you through it, or?”

“How is that one sentence?!”

“Semi-colons. Look, is the colouring a problem? It’s not words, so it shouldn’t interfere with the language.”

The genie looked at the lawyer, then at the pages, then back at the lawyer. “I… no.”

“Great. Okay, so I’m going to speak without prejudice, that means nothing I say is a wish. I’m not wishing right now. Got it?”

The genie said nothing, so she continued.

“The first wish is for you to interpret the second and third wishes using the reasonable person standard.”

“HOW DARE YOU!” The genie screamed and grew to twice its size, the mouth opening to nearly the size of the lawyer’s head. She clenched her jaw and gripped her pages. “You would limit my powers?! You would attempt to make the infinite finite?!” Its breath reeked of dead animals in the sun. “This is not a wish, mortal! This is a dangerous insult!”

She gulped. “Got it. Can’t reduce your infinity. Not asking you to.” It took her a moment to recover herself. “Let me explain?”

The genie raised a smokey eyebrow.

“Okay, it should follow from agreeing to use modern English that basic logic applies, but you didn’t agree to that, so I’m burning a wish on it. That’s what wishes are for. Right?”

“Do not,” the genie intoned “think that you can outsmart me, mortal! I am older than your species!”

“Yes. Yes. You said that. Try this: think of it like a contract, okay? You’re just agreeing to do something. The first five pages are the wish itself, and then the next six define the reasonable person.”

The genie’s eyes darted around the pages, looking for an escape route.

“Make sense now?” she asked.

The genie opened his mouth to object, then closed it. After a few seconds, he finally said, “Your wish is… granted.”

“Finally. Okay, second wish.” She took a breath and focused on the words on the page. “Pages 12 through 37. It’s a bit more complicated. Again, without prejudice… everyone in my immediate family and all our descendants will be comfortably wealthy and functionally immortal in perpetuity.”

The genie leaned its head back to guffaw. He was pleased. He was delighted. “That is two wishes, mortal! You are not as clever as you think. Your wish is—“

“Whoa! Hang on. Look at page 14. I’ve highlighted it. See? The word ‘prosperity’ has a double-meaning.”

The genie scanned the text. Horror spread across his face. As he read, his smoke body expanded once again, filling the entire cave. “How dare you!” Tiny electrical storms formed within him. Lighting flew around the cave. “This wish would bind me to your family until the end of time itself!”

The hair stood up on her neck, but she planted her feet and pitched her voice above the storm. “The language of the wish does not require your services after it is granted! But I am not versed in the exact nature of your wish-granting powers! Thus, it is up to your judgment as to how to carry out the wish itself!”

The storms subsided. The genie’s body shrank. He took on the approximate size of a large man once again. Seething, he grunted, “Continue.”

“So, uh,” She pushed her hair back from her eyes. “You’ll remove any illnesses or debilitated conditions we have right now, based on our individual preferences, and none of our descendants will ever be sick, and we’ll all stop aging around 25.”

“You are 32 years old, mortal.”

“I’m aware.” She grabbed a tab and pulled open a specific page. “There’s a formula on page 19 that shows how slowly we’ll all revert to 25 years old. I have a without prejudice chart I can give you?”

He stared at the formula. “Produce the chart!”

She handed it to him, and it rose to his eye level.

“I do not… explain this to me mortal?!”

“The Y axis is our age and the X axis is time.”

“So. Is the, um, what is the curvy line?”

“That’s how fast we get younger.”

“Down here?” The page turned in the air to face her.

“Can I go on…?“

“Just a minute! Just a minute!” The genie read in silence for a few seconds, his lips moving ever so slightly. Then the genie bellowed, “Continue!”

“Okay, the money will always be legal windfalls, lotteries and investments and such. There’s a list of possible sources on 32, but the actual stipulation is on 29. It’s highlighted in green.”

The genie looked back and forth at the pages, “Mm. Mortal humour.”

“I believe that takes care of the second wish?” The lawyer waited.

“Yes, that is… That is it then. Wealthy and immortal… Someone has finally… huh…” There were a few more seconds of silence, then. “Your wish is… granted!”

The genie’s smoke body spun into a tornado surrounding her. Her back unkinked itself. The soreness in her feet disappeared. Her vision blurred, so she popped out her contacts, and dropped them to the cave floor.

The tornado unspun and assumed the shape of a genie again. “You are pleased?”

“Yes! Wow.”

The genie began eyeing the pages that described the third wish. He closed his eyes and nodded to himself. “I see. You are clever.”

“Ah. You read ahead. So?”

“You were correct to be concerned. A genie’s wrath is quite imaginative.” The pages assembled themselves back into a report. “Your final wish is granted. You are safe.”

“We’re all safe. You won’t come after any of us…?”

“No, I cannot. Besides, I can’t do that and grant the second wish, can I?”

“No, you cannot.” She start putting her copy back in the briefcase. The genie kept his. “Do I need to sign anything or shake your hand?”

“Wishes are not contracts, mortal. It is my nature to do what I have agreed to, and you have forced me to agree to something annoyingly specific.”

“That was the idea.”

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