tagSci-Fi & FantasyGenie Chronicles Ch. 00: Prologue

Genie Chronicles Ch. 00: Prologue

byJoe Brolly©

Note: This short prolog contains no sex, just plot exposition. If you just want the sex, skip to chapter one. If you want to understand a little better what's going on, read on!

Jack Phillips sat on the couch, flipped on the TV and surfed the channels. Finding nothing much on, he settled on a "Seinfeld" rerun, then out of habit reached for the puzzle box. He had pretty much given up on ever solving the damn thing, and now just fiddled with it to relieve stress or boredom.

The box had come from his aunt, or more accurately his late aunt. She had been a loveable but peculiar old bird, never marrying, spending all of her spare time and income traveling wherever her fancy took her. Over the years she had filled every corner of her little bungalow with an incredible collection of what he always though of, fondly, as junk. It was mostly trinkets and exotic objects that caught her eye during her travels. She had never written much of a will, so after her death the family gathered and sifted through her collection, each taking anything that interested them or that held special meaning, and giving away the rest to charity or the land fill, whichever was appropriate.

Jack was still surprised that this particular family meeting had happened with no bloodshed, much less any major arguments, over who got what. Ultimately he had come away with only a few items. Most of them were simple things that held some personal sentiment connected with his aunt.

The box, though, was an exception. It was about six inches wide by two inches tall by three inches deep. It was covered by an incredibly detailed inlay of different types and shades of wood. He had picked it based solely on its beauty, and hadn't noticed until he got it home that the lid was locked. In searching for a latch or keyhole he discovered that the inlay pieces moved. They seemed to actually be some sort of puzzle, kind of like the tile puzzles he had as a kid where you shifted around the tiles to order them in a number sequence or to form a picture. This puzzle was much more complicated, though. Each piece was about half an inch square, making for 48 pieces to arrange on the lid.

That might not have been so bad, but it wasn't long before he discovered that the pieces could be shifted from one side of the box to another and over the seam between the lid and the body of the box. He had yet to figure out how that worked, but basically it left him with a 6-sided puzzle of some 287 pieces that could only be shifted one at a time, and no idea of what the finished puzzle should look like. So, after a couple of weeks playing with the box his wonder at its workings and hopes of solving its puzzle and actually opening it had mostly faded.

Jack shifted the pieces randomly as he tried to get into the Seinfeld rerun, but it just wasn't holding his interest. He finally clicked off the TV and sat staring at the box, his thoughts meandering. He felt a vague tinge of guilt that he wasn't working, as he had a deadline rapidly approaching for a project that wasn't quite done.

Jack was a free-lance web and graphic designer, and worked out of his studio apartment. He usually had no problem separating his work and personal time, but this particular day he just couldn't get going. It was now early evening, and the whole day looked pretty much like a write off. He stared at the box awhile longer, bringing it in and out of focus as he tried to get some idea of what the completed puzzle should look like, if indeed it even was a puzzle.

He was about to put the box down and peruse his DVD collection for a movie to watch when a light bulb went off almost painfully in his head. He rushed over and woke up his graphic workstation, then placed the box on his flatbed scanner. He scanned all six sides of the box, and then started the painstaking work of tracing each inlay piece. Two hours and three pb&j's later, he had each inlay piece displayed separately on his monitor, and could move each around as kind of a virtual jig saw puzzle. Satisfied with his evening's progress, and tired of staring at pictures of little pieces of wood, he saved his work, watched a movie and went to bed.

The next morning, knowing that if he started playing with his virtual puzzle he would get nothing else done, he tore into the project he had put off completing the day before. He put the finishing touches on it in record time and by early afternoon he was ready to start again on the puzzle. He had no other projects scheduled for more than a week, so his goal was to solve the stupid thing before then. The rest of that day and all the next he worked like a man possessed, ignoring calls from friends and all but the most persistent urges to eat, sleep or use the john.

He tried combination after combination of pieces until his vision blurred, but eventually an image began to form in the middle of his screen. The top of the box was solved first, as it was the easiest. It resolved into a beautiful and stunningly detailed image of a woman's face. The sides and bottom were harder as they were mostly geometric patterns. By the evening of the second full day, however, he had it solved, at least electronically. He saved the files and then decided to reward himself by going out for dinner and a few beers. He called a couple of friends he had been ignoring for the previous few days and asked them to come along.

The following morning he slept late, forced himself to take a jog and eat a decent breakfast, and then, consulting his images and notes made over the past several days, began the arduous task of arranging the inlay pieces in the order he had discovered. He had never really liked the tile game as a child, and had never completed one. After several false starts he decided to visit a toy store and buy an easier puzzle to practice on before he felt comfortable attacking the box again.

He sweated over the box all that day and most of the next, unsure of why he was now so obsessed with solving the puzzle. He couldn't come up with a good reason, but was driven nonetheless.

Now, late in the evening of the second day of sliding little wooden pieces around this stupid box, sitting on the couch in just a comfortable pair of cutoff shorts with a half-drunk beer getting warm on the coffee table, he came to the final tile. He was so keyed up by this point that he could barely hold his hands still enough to move it into place. He eventually got a grip on himself, though, and, holding his breath, slid it home. He heard a soft click and expelled his breath in a whoosh. Now what?

One of the first things he had done when he originally saw the box was to shake it, of course. As far as he could tell nothing was in it. At least that was what he had been assuming. But now, with it apparently finally unlocked, all sorts of questions surfaced in his brain; "If nothing is in it, why make it so hard to open? Did someone open it before me and remove the contents? What's up with the woman's face? Maybe it contains some contract or other important piece of paper, a treasure map, perhaps?" He snorted at that one. "Wasn't there some movie I saw part of awhile back about someone opening a puzzle box and releasing some evil guy with nails in his head?" He snorted again.

Still, the questions, ridiculous and not, buzzed around his brain as he tried to make his suddenly sweaty hands open the box. He had to know, though, and he finally reached out with one quick motion and popped open the lid. Immediately a glowing pink vapor escaped and enveloped his face. His last thought before losing consciousness could pretty much be summed up as: "Well, shit!"

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