Jack was always an average student. Never got the best grades, but never the worst. Enough to skate by through high school and then, in college, well… D’s get degrees, don’t they? He wasn’t worried about that. Useless knowledge, that’s what he thought of it. Only needed what would get him ahead in whatever career he chose. Well, he still hadn’t chosen a career yet. But all that was about to change.
Jack never saw it coming, the portal that ripped him from his dimension just appeared one day and he stepped right into it. If he’d been walking without looking at his phone, maybe he could have seen it. Maybe he would have stepped aside and someone else would have been pulled in. The world he emerged in didn’t seem all that different at first. When his stomach started grumbling, he looked for a place to eat. That’s when he started noticing the differences.
The place was named “Stephan’s”. It looked cheap enough. He checked what cash he had on him then wondered if their currency might be different. Maybe he could trade something. He searched the menu for a price list, but what he saw didn’t make sense. One burger combo showed up on the menu beside something that said, “five interesting facts” a drink was “two interesting facts” and a burger by itself was “three interesting facts”. He racked his brain. Did he know any? Surely this was an anomaly. The waiter came to take his order.
“I have to warn you, we don’t accept anything larger than a year’s experience here. We don’t have that kind of change on hand. Most people decide to pay in facts. But if you don’t have any facts, we also accept monthly experience as well.”
“You’re not one of those beggars, are you?”
“I don’t follow.”
“Mitchel, we’ve got another beggar. Honestly.”
Jack searched his years of schooling for anything that could help him out. “I know a bit of history.”
“History will buy you a burger, if it’s accurate. The dates need to be correct.”
Jack wondered if this world’s history was the same as his own. He took a deep breath. “It’s a little-known fact that Marie Antoinette’s famous line was never actually spoken by her.” the waiter looked intrigued. “She never said ‘let them eat cake’ that was actually rebel propaganda to stoke the fires of hatred in them.”
The man nodded. “I’ll bring this to Mitchel and see if it’s acceptable and how much food it’s worth.”
Jack breathed a sigh of relief. Was this shop an anomaly or did everyone in this world trade knowledge like currency? If that was the case, he was very poor. As he was waiting a couple came in. They were very well dressed. Too well dressed for a place like this, Jack thought. He was right. He paid for his meal with a violin lesson and received two culinary arts lessons and an interesting fact as change. As they were leaving the woman chided “I told you we should stock up on interesting facts. A place like this has very little in the way of change for mastery of the arts classes.”
The waiter came back. “My boss says it’s acceptable. Pick the category of fact you would like to receive as change.”
After Jack finished eating, he wandered around town. He found a car dealership that was selling cars for the low-low price of a BA in English, a used clothing store that took lessons as payment, and a toy store that charged people mechanical engineering knowledge. Every place he looked, everywhere he went, knowledge was being exchanged. He was beginning to regret the fact that he didn’t pay enough attention in class.
The longer he spent here, the more he realized that he was not going to do well with the knowledge he already had. He might be able to eat a few more times. Then what? He needed a place to stay, and every apartment he looked into was charging at least five lessons a month. He saw a help wanted sign and went in to inquire about the job. “We pay five interesting facts an hour or a class per month. Which payment method do you prefer?” The apartments he’d looked into didn’t take interesting facts as payment, but he could use those to eat. The class would be useful for places that accepted lessons. At this rate, he might need to get two jobs, one to buy him food and the other for a place to live.
He did wonder about the beggars. He crossed over to that side of town. It was filthy here and the residents seemed to be using a barter system to trade goods and services. Perhaps he did belong over here after all. Everything here seemed to have been thrown out by the residents of the prosperous side of town.
Jack stopped a nearby youth and asked him about the beggar-side. The youth shrugged his shoulders. “Always been like this I reckon. Em’ as has smarts lives over there. Us as don’t lives over here. We get their scraps.”
“Has a beggar ever been able to cross over there?”
“Did you ever think it’s not fair? Why should they get more, what makes them better than you?”
The youth once again shrugged and, seemingly bored of this line of questioning ran off to play something else. Jack noticed that no one over here seemed any younger than fifteen. He found an older gentleman to ask him about the situation.
“We all been to school. Most of us used up all our knowledge a long time ago and never got more. That’s why we live on this side. At age fifteen, you gets a choice. Take a job and start earning knowledge or become a beggar. Not so bad really, when you think of it.”
“Can you change your mind? What if you become a beggar but then want to get a job later?”
“I s’pose that’s possible. Dunno as anyone’s ever decided to do that.”