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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