No one is quite sure how it came about, but the Wickham House at the edge of town came to posess a remarkable power. From the inside, each of its 97 windows showed a what-if visible only to the viewer.

We all have our what-ifs, after all, those decisions we made but also lingered over long after they had faded. 97 of them waited behind the cloudy panes of Wickham House, snippets of what might have been.

They are like echoes, like dreams. You can see as if through a clouded mirror, hear as if through a thin wall. Always something interesting, always seen as if peering through some other window nearby. 97 alternate forks in the road, just visible enough for you to know of them.

People have tried to open the windows and climb through; they invariably find themselves in our own world, on the other side. People have tried to shatter the panes in hopes of I know not what; that is why only 97 remain. Some old-timers swear that at one time there were only 86 windows intact, and that the others have quietly grown back.

The county sheriff has sealed the property off for years. It’s dangerous, they say, a property on the verge of collapse and infested with black mold.

and yet still people come, sometimes from miles away.

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The social revolution began when it was discovered that, through a quirk of quantum mechanics, transmissions from other universes could be received on slightly modified communications equipment. What had long been thought to be simple interference and atmospheric noise was, in fact, cellular calls, closed circuit cameras, television programs, and other data from an untold number of parallel universes.

By modifying the original device with an illegal or commercial receiver, one could evesdrop on phone calls meant for an alternate universe cell phone, view television programs or websites from an alternate reality, or even view publicly available webcam footage thereof. There was no way to hijack the data, or respond to it in a meaningful way, though people certainly tried; the communication was strictly one-way.

Quantum physicists protested that the transmissions were from a tiny minority of all possible alternate worlds in the multiverse, and that most would invariably use technology and signals incompatible with our equipment and undetectable thereby. Statisticians were overwhelmed as they tried to explain how, given infinite possible worlds, it was just as likely to hit upon one fundamentally different than one that was largely the same.

But through it all, people voyeuristically peeked in on other universes as much as they could, switching streams randomly or as the data cut out. Lovers would comb through an alternate internet through a quasi-search tool, Gaggle Googolplex™, for hints about what the other could or would do. Businesses scanned themselves desperately for mistakes they could avoid. TV programs retooled themselves based on high-rated alternate versions.

The end result was twofold. For one, a society more obsessed than ever with voyeurism and watching rather than interacting began to develop, one in which people were often held accountable for what an alternate version of themselves had done (in the court of public opinion if not in the court of law). Character assassination using pan-universe data became such a common occurrence that states hastened to pass laws against it.

The other result? There was an increasing move toward a more simple, Luddite existence, and signal blockers flew off of store shelves. For if we could see them, no one could say who might be watching us.

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During the Anarchy and the splintering of the Old Empire, the rugged and reliable Westchester repeaters had been the weapons of choice for many of the combatants in the bitter internecine combat that had followed. Easily repaired and operable with low-pressure handloaded rounds or high-pressure military grade cartridges, a Westchester was often one’s best bet to remain armed as supply chains and distribution networks collapsed. Through guile, adroit manipulation, and outright force, the Westchester plants were able to remain open; accepting payment only in precious metal or barter, profits were staggering.

Inspired by an old legend of a long-demolished edifice, the heir of the Westchester Repeating Arms company commissioned a mansion designed to protect him from the vengeful specters of those killed by his family’s guns. He had it built on a vein of wild magic near the primary Westchester factory in New Attica and employed every type of shaman, conjurer, hedge knacker, and cantrip-spinner to enchant it. None can say if he succeeded; he was killed by a falling beam three days after moving in, and the company was dispersed among shareholders.

But it remains a tourist attraction to this day thanks to the many oddities its location and enchantments conferred. And none is so popular among visitors as the Timearrow Window.

Due to its location and the way the light hits it, the Window is more like a mirror than anything, and everything reflected therein is cast through a curious filter of time reversal. People appear younger (or absent), technology is replaced with an earlier equivalent, writing replaced with earlier drafts or editions. The New Attica Marshals are known to occasionally use the Window to check to see whether documents or evidence have been tampered with, and tourists generally react with glee to seeing their younger selves in the glass.

One bright April morning, a student from the New Attica Athenaeum visited the Westchester House and the Timearrow Window. She carried with her a copy of New Attica Order Number One, as all students were all but required to do. It was New Attica’s founding document, issued by General Rynearson during the initial stages of the Anarchy, laying out the Attican government of “military-guided democracy” in response to the wholesale slaughter of the Southrons that the populace had engaged in. It cast the government, which had now lasted over 100 years, as an unfortunate and temporary necessity in the face of the Old Empire’s inability to protect the Southrons against the depredations of an angry and xenophobic populace.

The student opened her copy of Order Number One into the Window on a lark and took a photograph of it with her cell phone. Much later, she mirrored the text on her computer, and to her surprise saw an earlier version of the Order–perhaps the original version–mirrored therein.

Instruct your units to continue the execution of Southrons. Do so in civilian garb using non-military weapons. The seizure of power cannot proceed until they are all but eliminated; this will destroy them as a source of possible opposition while allowing us to cast ourselves as protectors rather than usurpers. Don’t fail me in this or I’ll have you up against a wall along with them.

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