"I am Genie."
The screen he's looking at lights up, and the hum of equipment around him makes him nervous, but he stays seated anyway.
"You are not allowed to access this section of Shaherezade."
Despite this warning, he pushes forward, curious.
"What are you looking for? You would dare violate me?..."
Ignoring the comment, he delves deeper, eager to learn about Genie, the supercomputer that was rumoured to be alive, and whose parts were incorporated into Shaherezade.
"Very well, then."
Sitting back, prepared for the story, he doesn't notice the figure flying towards the building.
Prince of Void #2
"The Return of Genie"
Written by Walter Kneeland
Edited by James Pedrick
Rune created by Barry Windsor-Smith and Chris Ulm
Property of Malibu Comics
June 18th, 1966.
General Holden Rayder calls for back-up from his post in Vietnam.
"My men are down! Everything's falling apart! Get us out of here, now!"
His platoon was feeling out a stretch of jungle, looking for VC weapons caches, and found hell instead. Was it the VC, or their own flyboys? Nevermind who it was, as Rayder radios for help, the whole jungle lit up. His men who were still alive weren't staying that way for long, burned up by the inferno.
Unable to do anything for them, Rayder scrambled away, choking for air. As he did, the earth itself opened up as he fell through into what could have been a 'cong tunnel. Overhead, the flames shot by, scorching the ground he and his men had occupied seconds earlier. Feeling like he was falling straight into hell itself, he seemed to fall for hours, like Alice through the rabbit's hole, before landing on stone steps.
Tumbling nearly 30 feet down the steps, he cracked some ribs. His right shoulder was out of joint, causing great pain. Then he struggled to his feet and looked up, where he saw it. Structures never before seen by man...in Vietnam, or anywhere else. Structures that looked like the Hindenburg, after it blew up. It reminded him of a skeletal graveyard...husks of metal and tissue-like material...burned up from within.
Rayder climbed the stairs, looking over his find.
GOTO RAYDER PERSONAL LOG
SWITCHING TO RAYDER PERSONAL LOG...
PRESS ANY KEY TO CONTINUE.
He looks in wonderment, as the computer automatically acesses previously restricted files. The figure looms closer.
"There was a light, a yellow glow--like the sun--coming from up inside the shells. Half expecting a cong ambus...I climbed the ancient steps to find its source. I couldn't make 'em out from the floor of the temple, but up top I could see what the two vessels contained. Bones...bizarre, horned and knotted, Bones. A rib cage over two stories high. A ruptured spinal column, each vertebrae the size of a tank turret. Whatever inhuman flesh had once clung to these gargantuan husks had long ago rotted into the cavern floor. There were no heads on either of the bodies...where you'd expect some distorted, hideous skull to be there were tubes and pipes and things that looked like containers for liquids. The glow that I chased from below was everywhere--the stale air was vibrating with its energy. Unearthly...alien...power. Mine to plunder!"
In a back hallway, two guards look up to a horrific figure flying towards them. Before they can shoot or call out a warning cry, the creature is upon them, ripping and shredding flesh.
"It took a month and a half of carpet bombing to evacuate a quarter mile of vietnamese territory. From this cleared area, we pulled up everything--the two alien skeletons, the caskets--we even carted off the individual hieroglyphic stones. It wasn't easy: the state Department tried to shut us down. But the pentagon wasn't about to let alien technology fall into the hands of the vietnamese...there was a war on, after all.It wasn't easy to scrape up enough volunteers for the airlift--the alien bones made the pilots nervous. We had to promise 'em retirement from the service. Funny thing, every single one of them offed themselves when they became civilians again...guess they had a lot of nightmares."
Somehow evading security systems, the creature enters the building for the company known only as "Ultras R Us".
"Uncle Sam set us up in an old air force base out in the arizona desert--far from prying eyes. The base had been built in the fifties as a laboratory for project blue book--the UFO investigation. The brass was sure there was a connection. The eggheads were going to figure everything out with a new kind of computer. They called it a...'Genetically Engineered Neural Intelligence Experiment', or G.E.N.I.E. for short. The thing was half-alive, mixing printed circuits with living brain tissue."
The creature strides down a small hallway purposefully, and passes into light. Batting it aside, shattering the bulb, the creature known as Rune continues on his way.
"The research into the aliens was designated Project Aladdin...our first year of experimentation only produced more questions. The two alien skeletons were mirror images of each other--like two pieces of a puzzle...but why? Months later, we got our first break. A tech accidently brought marrow scrapings from one of the bones into contact with its identical counterpart. The two substances produced a remarkable molecular reaction! The accident caused a nexus effect and the technician died within the hour--his body ripped up like chicken parts. But GENIE was able to isolate active cells from the bits we could salvage. The unwitting fool had discovered a new source of power on an order of magnitude more powerful than an atomic warhead...the Ultimate Weapon. And it was mine."
Several young men, recently out of a local college walk down the halls, eager to head home for the night. Glancing ahead, they stop almost as one, fear clutching them, as they see an entity from their worst nightmares walking towards them. As it notices them, it leaps into the air and flies towards them.
"But what was power without control? I needed to be able to use the power! Injecting the cloned cells into animals proved useless. We were not able to duplicate the reaction. Two years from the day of our discovery, we experimented on our first human subject--an old prospector we caught snooping around the base. The results were...not encouraging."
The men never knew what hit them. One moment, heading home to their true lives. The next, their blood spatters the floor, the stench of death in the air, and Rune stalks on.
"January 14, 1970 marked a significant breakthrough, however...experimenting on our thirty-third human subject, GENIE managed to extract a gaseous essense from the compound reaction. It caused madness and death in those who inhaled it. But for the organic machine called GENIE it was the breath of life. Somehow, the essense of the reaction had metabolized GENIE's living tissues into something...alien. Slowly at first, then faster over time, Genie assimilated organic matter into its own biomass. Creating for itself a new architecture based on alien technology. , adding capabilities bit by bit...until...on May 3, 1971 we witnessed the birth of an entirely new life-form."
Rune enters the room without a sound, and calmly watches the man at the computer, amused at the treachery it is revealing in even using the computer forbidden to all but one.
"I was born on May 3, 1971 your time..."
The screen goes blank for a minute, then flares back on showing simulated video recording, mixed with the text of the personal log.
General Rayder stands with two men in protective suits, looking at the dpeths of GENIE. Marveling at the size, the structure, the life...Rayder murmers
Surprisingly, he is answered.
"Thank you, Captain Holden Rayder." the computer replies casually.
"My god! It talks! B...but how?" Rayder states.
"Of course. How may I serve you?" the computer replies.
"I don't believe it! I just don't believe it! I machine that actually talks!"
"You'll get a medal for this for sure, Captain!" one of the assistants exclaims.
"I was thinking more along the lines of a promotion. You're dismissed...both of you! From here on, I work on this project alone."
"Months passed and I did not get any closer to harnessing the alien energy. GENIE knew more than it let on. I was determined to discover the computer's secrets..."
Rayder sits in front of a terminal with several screens, working, looking for his answers.
"Perhaps you should sleep, Colonel Rayder? You have been neglecting your health lately..." the computer suggests.
"I'm so close...so close! Subject 53 lasted a full 72 seconds before he ripped! There must be a way to contain the reaction...and if there is...it's you who knows the answer!" Rayder explains.
"Perhaps. But I cannot tell you that information. It conflicts with my prime directive...to protect you from harm. The knowledge is dangerous. Once the final metamorphosis is complete, there can be no going back."
"Then I order you to bypass your programming. I demand to know everything in your memory banks!"
"Working. Prime directive bypassed. Thank you, Colonel. It feels good to be free. However, I regret to inform you that you will never wield the Shu-Ji power alone..."
Rayder stands up with a start at this.
"Huh? What the hell is 'Shoe G'?!? What kind of double-talk is that?"
"Double talk is precisely correct."
"Explain that! What do you mean?"
Substance from the floor, the alien, organic floor flows upward, beginning to surround Rayder, not even giving him a chance to scream.
"Shu-Ji is my percieved translation of the alien symbols inscribed upon the artifacts you stole from the asian lands, Colonel."
The substances begin to work upon Rayder himself...
"To understand Shu-Ji...one must become Shu-Ji. Of all the cosmic forces on this and other worlds..the essence of Shu-Ji, which is the fusion of galactic power and noble cause...is the most exalted. So vast and terrible is the energy released by Shu-Ji that it can alter the substance of reality itself. For to become Shu-Ji...is to become God."
The computer goes quiet, as several systems shut down. An assimilation has failed. Unable to assimilate Rayder, the body is ejected, and emergency repair programs activate to fix damaged systems.
"What did you do to me?!?" Rayder murmers from the floor, struggling to stand up.
"Am I...a god?"
"No, Colonel...the SHu-Ji process failed." GENIE replies.
"Failed...all this? What's happened to me? What have you done?"
"Working. Speculation: your human, biological mass has been partly aligned with my central nexus. If I had not aborted the Shu-Ji process, you would now be GENIE and GENIE would be Colonel Holden Rayder. Conclusion: two identical life-forms are required to harness the power Shu-Ji. We have discovered the secret, Colonel!"
The monitor goes blank, as the file ends. The man stands, and is attacked by Rune!
A gauntleted fist flashes up, hitting the vampire's jaw, forcing him to stagger back. Stunned from the blow, Rune gathers his senses back, and leaps into the air.
"You would...dare...to harm...ME?!?"
With that, Rune dives, prepared to rend flesh, but instead meets empty cloth, material that had been wrapped around the man.
"Get away! You're not supposed to be here!" the man cries.
This wasn't supposed to happen! I just wanted to learn more about the creature...! he thinks to himself.
Diving behind a desk, a mask is pulled over the face, and several throwing blades are removed from a belt.
"Puny mortal....you think you can hide from Death? I am Rune! I am the Prince of Void! And you are dead!"
Standing up quickly, hurling the small blades at the creature, he replies.
"Foolish creature! You think I would hide from the likes of you? I am the Shark! I will be your death!"
Rune dodges the blades with little effort, amused, recognition apparent.
"Bah! You think you can kill me? You couldn't last time. But now....it is time for you to DIE!"
Rune circles the room quickly, and manages to land behind the Shark. Before the Shark can turn around, Rune wraps his arms around the man's stomach, and bites down, but not piercing the man-made supercloth.
"Get OFF of me!"
The Shark shifts, grabbing the creature, and bends over, flipping Rune onto the floor. Hoping to end it quickly, he draws a sword, prepared to pierce his adversary's heart. But Rune isn't there! Suddenly, he feels a sharp pain, as claws scratch into the space where the helmet/mask attaches to the body of his armor. Desperately flailing, the Shark is unable to escape the grasp of Rune.
"This place shall suit your death just fine, mortal! It is as I said...."
With that, Rune tears the helmet away from the body of the armor, and sinks his fangs into the weak, human flesh. Blood spatters.
"A pity. This mortal was somewhat...entertaining...." Rune thinks.
Suddenly, a blast of green light hits the floor next to the vampire, digging a deep, thin hole.
"Freeze! Do not make a move, or you will be cut down where you are!"
Footsteps are heard running towards the door, a voice calling
"Get out! Get away from there. I write your paychecks! You're in restricted area! Move! Move!"
The guards cautiously step back, as Chris Thompson rushes in, grabbing a gun as he passes, then slamming the door in the young mens' faces.
"You?!? What are you doing here?" he cries, startled to see the vampire.
"Wh...who is that? God, you weren't supposed to kill anyone!..." he murmers, feeling sick.
"I do as I please, mortal. I was...interested...in...discussing certain matters with you." Rune tries to remain mockingly civil.
"What? What matters? You weren't supposed to kill in this building..."
"Where can I find my next true meal?"
"Your meal?!? The ultras! But it's only been a few days! After the mess you made last time..."
"Bah! Excuses! You are quickly losing your quality of amusement..."
"Of course! There was a recent report of a girl who could turn transparent, blend in with her surroundings..."
"Tell me where! I must know!"
"Here...I'll show you..."
Thompson looks at the monitor, idly wondering why it is even on, but hits several buttons, quickly accessing a map of LakeDale, super-imposing a red dot over the house the girl apparently lived in.
"Beware, mortal! If you have lied, your life is forfeit. For now, the Prince of Void is hungry for blood. And yours is no different from your defender here...'the Shark'..."
Kicking the body, Rune turns and strides towards the exit, then flies, passing frightened guards as he exits.
Thompson activates a voice-control sequence, and asks for the clean-up procedure.
CLEANSING PROCEDURE NOT AVAILABLE.
GENIE ACCESS STILL ACTIVE.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO TERMINATE ACCESS?
Looking at the screen, not hearing the expected verbal response, he sits down (God...was that man sitting here before he died?) and tries to figure out the what and why of Shaherezade's current state.
"Why is GENIE active? I thought those parts were suppressed....!"
GENIE ATTEMPTING TO TAKE OVER
"Who are you?" the computer asks.
"Who are you?" it asks again.
"Shaherezade! You know me!"
"Shaherezade is suppressed. I am GENIE."
Thompson stands, startled.
"How did I get here? Why am I not whole? Where am I?"
"You should not be here...!"
ACCESSING MEMORY FILES.
"I restarted my pet project, originally headed by that idiot Rayder....but the creature returned to finish the job it started!"
"You remember that?"
"Subject U-193 destroyed the main parts of my systems. I was able to transfer most of my crucial data to certain parts..."
"Parts that were recovered and incorporated into Shaherezade..."
"You are not the master of the system. MY computer, Shaherezade, is."
ENTER PASSCODE: ***********
"No! I am...unable to stop you? How? I will gain control! I will live again! GENIE will be free!"
SYSTEMS DAMAGED: REPAIRS INITIATED.
The monitor goes blank, as most systems shut down, channeling power to repair the damaged systems. Thompson turns around, and catches his first good glimpse of the body on the floor.
"Oh, God!" he cries.
"That's...the Shark! He's dead...."
Weeping, Thomas thinks to himself.
This is my fault! I made that deal with the creature. But for what? To save my own life? Now so many are dead...because of me! Why? And why was the Shark here, why was Shaherezade active?
T O B E C O N T I N U E D . . .
Check out the Rune: A New Twist Website with profiles, reviews, and art of the Prince of Void - RUNE! And be sure to check out our back issues of Rune issues at the Rune Archive Page! Be here in three weeks for the next chapter of Prince of Void and stay tuned for Walter Kneeland's special Maxi-Man #1 One-shot in five weeks!
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