8FOLD/ACRA: Journey Into... # 2

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Sat Apr 8 14:46:54 PDT 2006

...did you ever wonder 
       what it's like to be
  Mr. Julie Ann Justice?

       JOURNEY INTO... # 2
a full-length, three-part epic!

PART I: In the Clutches of the Contessa!

   Max hears glass breaking in the next room, and this
is what wakes him up.  He reaches for his pants and
starts to roll out of bed.  The cat, by this time, has
already leapt into the air, taking flight and using
his heat vision to burn a hole through the door large
enough for him to pass through.
   You'd figure, if the cat is supposed to be so
god-damn smart, that he could learn how to open the
door with the knob.
   Max pulls on his pants amid more sounds-- heaving
breathing, bodies moving through air, the flat sounds
of flesh hitting flesh, the faint buzz of some sort of
energy blasts, now the mewing and hissing of the cat,
the crash of broken furniture, the thud of what is
probably the entertainment center, followed by the
crunch of what is most likely the new television set. 
Then, silence.
   "Honey?" Max calls as he fastens the buttons on his
shirt.  "Is everything okay?"
   "Yes, dear!"
    Max opens the door.  Julie's in costume, her cape
immaculate as always, holding some ridiculous person
in purple leather by her long blonde hair.  "Who's
this, then?"
   The woman speaks; even her bruises were haughty. 
"I am the High-Death Queen Victoria, destined ruler of
this horrid slime-water of the universe!"
   Julie pulls her hair with a sigh.  The woman yelps.
 The cat fires a concussive ray from its eyes,
knocking her unconscious.  "She was queen of this evil
anti-matter universe..."
   "Well, not exactly.  It's a bit complicated."
   "Anyway, Sproing (you remember Sproing?) was
fighting Baron Foxhound of all people when they got
shunted into this anti-matter universe.  Apparently,
Sproing matched some prophecy and the rebels thought
he was the destined saviour..."
   "... and so Sproing leads them to victory. 
Unfortunately, Foxhound had escaped early on, had been
in hiding, and when Death Queenie here was
   "... Foxhound took advantage of the situation.  It
seems that the transdimensional gate between our
universe and the anti-matter universe..."
   "... only stays open as long as the six crystal
keys are kept in that universe..."
   "Right, right."
   "... and Foxhound stole them, escaped with the
Death Queen through the last portal, thus trapping
   "... in the anti-matter universe..."
   "... forever..."
   "... unless we can locate the six crystal keys and
use part of that universe..."
   "... like the Death Queen here, as an anchor..."
   "That's great," says Max.
   "Well, I'm not finished."
   A voice from the window.  "Actually, that's going
to have to wait."
   "Fahrenheit Man."
   "Julie."  Fahrenheit Man steps through the broken
window, shards of glass crushing under his boot. 
"Max," he adds with a nod.  "I would shake your hand,
but in all likelihood it would burn off most of your
   You can pet the cat if you like, thinks Max.  The
cat glares at him.  Damn.  Forgot the damn thing was a
   "We got a lead on the third crystal, over in
Ontario.  Some little town called Rex Falls."
   "We should get going, then," says Julie.  She
tightens her grip on the Death Queen's hair and starts
levitating.  She gives Max a quick kiss on the cheek. 
"I'll try to be home as soon as I can, sweetie.  Try
to pick up the place, huh?"
   Max nods and watches her leave.  He turns to the
   "So, Docrates, looks like it's just you and me,
huh?  Why don't you help me put the entertainment
center upright?"
   The cat starts flying over to one side of the
massive wooden structure, when something starts
barking.  Max turns to see Fightin' Jack, the
super-powered pug dog.
   "Docrates!" says the dog.  "It looks like some
fiend has reanimated Red Fido!  The Mammal Militia
needs all the paws it can find if we can ever hope to
triumph against that communist canine corpse!"
   The cat mews its assent and streaks out the window
with the dog.
   Max makes a couple of attempts to set the
entertainment center upright, but it won't budge.
   He sighs and goes back to bed.

   When Max wakes up, he can see two slivers of colour
emerging from the darkness: a flash of silver pointed
at his face, and a little beyond that, a pink upper
   The woman's accent is Swedish.  "I have a gun
pointed to your head, and if you value your worthless
life, you will do exactly what I tell you."
   "You're kidnapping me, aren't you?"
   "That is correct."
   "Shit.  Not again."
   "Get out of the bed, slowly."
   Max slowly rolls himself out of the bed.  He
reaches for his pants.
   "What are you doing?" she screeches.  "I didn't
tell you to reach for anything!"
   "Dude, I don't have any pants on."
   "Just keep walking.  Slowly."  Max feels the gun
dig into his back.  They move through the door into
the living room.  The wind blows hard through the
broken window.
   "It's cold," he complains.  "Can I please have some
   The woman says something in Swedish.  A faint
mechanical noise becomes louder, as a huge sleek
aircraft descends near the window and hovers there.  A
door slides open, like a vertical elevator door.
   "Inside?" Max asks.
   "Inside," confirms his captor.  Max steps onto the
window sill, careful to avoid any broken glass, and
quickly leaps into the darkened craft.  The woman
follows and yells something in Swedish as the door
slides shut, punctuated by an efficient click.  Max
feels a couple of arms grabbing him, pulling him
through the darkness.  He hears the engines rev as the
craft starts climbing into the night.
   The arms sit him down on a cot.  The faint
moonlight spills behind them, revealing two
blue-tinged silhouettes.  Both are women.
   "Be quiet!" one of them snaps.  Her accent sounds
more Germanic.
   "Get some sleep," advises the other sweetly.
   Great, thinks Max as they depart, an unseen door
slamming shut and locking tight.  Good cop, bad cop. 
For this, I could have stayed home and watched LAW &

   The craft descends a few hours later, touching the
ground with a gentle thud.  The unseen door opens,
this time with light flooding through the doorway. 
One of his captors stands in the door, the light
shimmering through her blonde hair.  Her left arm
stretches out against the frame of the door; her right
rests at her hips.  She coddles a pistol lazily in her
right hand, its muzzle pointed to the floor.  The
pistol presses against the coffee-filter folds of her
miniskirt, flattening them; Max finds himself
uncharacteristically entranced by her knee-high socks.
   She smacks her bubble-gum before she speaks. 
"We're here."  Ah.  The good cop.
   Slowly, her wrist pivots upwards, raising the gun
so that it points at Max.  "C'mon," she says.
   He sits up, raising his hands above his head as a
matter of instinct.  She smiles, bemused, and begins
to back out the door.
   Max makes a rush for it, leaping with his
outstretched arms, pouncing towards his captor.  She
fires the gun and misses.  Max misses also,
belly-flopping on the hard metal floor, the girl just
a few inches out of his reach.  His chin connects with
the ground, sending his teeth slamming together, his
poor harmless tongue trapped between them.
   He opens his mouth, rubbing his tongue between his
thumb and prime finger.  Then he realizes he should be
looking up, and so, embarrassedly and almost as an
afterthought, his eyes train upwards.
   Yep.  Good cop's still there.  Gun pointed right at
his head, her arm now straight and hard and angular,
no longer lazy or playful.
   He keeps his eyes riveted on the pistol and rubs
his tongue again.
   "You're not going to give me any trouble again, are
   "You'll shoot me," Max says.
   "I certainly will."
   "You're a lousy shot, though."
   "And you're a lousy captive.  Here."  With her free
hand, she reaches behind her and produces a pair of
handcuffs.  She tosses them to the floor, within his
reach.  "You know what to do with these, don't you?"
   "Unfortunately, we don't have any bedposts handy." 
Max puts the cuffs on.  "And I should let you know
that I'm married.  And should my wife find out..."
   "Of course your wife will find out," says the good
cop.  "That's the point."  Ah.  He figured as much.
   With her left hand, she grabs Max by his short crop
of brown hair, pulling him upwards.
   "Ow!"  Didn't think she had that much strength in
her.  Possibly enhanced...?
   She steps aside.  He walks through the doorway and
gets in front of her.  She presses the gun into his
   "I won't miss from this range," she warns.  "Walk."
   As they move through the corridor, Max notices that
the further along he proceeds, the colder it gets. 
And, indeed, by the time he gets to the outer door, he
sees the snow covering the ground, blinding whiteness
stretching out as far as the mind can see.  (Times
like these made him wish he wore his jammies to bed.)
   There are three other women there, all of them
blonde, all of them stacked.  (Times like these made
him wish he wore briefs instead of boxers.)  All of
them dressed in ridiculously provocative clothing,
especially considering the cold winds blowing through
the open door.
   One of them is dressed better than the rest,
taller, much older, and yet more feminine.  Max
recognizes the Alpha female when he sees one, and he
knows immediately that this is the woman who abducted
him in the first place; it just feels right, just
something about her.  And, what's more, she's in
   She nods, presumably to the good cop, and all five
of them file out of the aircraft.
   Max yelps as his bare feet sink into the foot-deep
   "It's only a few hundred yards," says the good cop.
 She pokes one of his shoulder blades with her pistol,
and his eyes jerk in the direction of her jab.  For
the first time, he sees a house of red brick.  And
it's true, it is only a few hundred yards away; at the
same time, it's at least a couple hundred yards up.
   The party works its way up the hill without any
discussion.  By the time they reach the top, Max is
pretty sure he's going to have to have his feet
amputated.  But he's glad they've arrived; it means
they'll go inside soon.  Unless... oh, shit.
   The Alpha female has come to a stop, standing
before the group.  Shit.  She's going to make a
   "Welcome, Max Lang.  I suppose this is your first
time in Swiss Alps."
   Switzerland!  She's not Swedish, then.
   "I promise you, it shall be a trip to remember. 
Should you ever choose to vacation here again, your
stay will be nothing compared to this one."
   Oh, come on, lady!
   "In fact, you shall ever associate this country
with this time.  You will be haunted by these moments,
by my face.  Your memories are mine now, and they will
always be tied to me!
   "For you are the guest of THE CLONING CONTESSA! 
And I bid you welcome to...
   "That's great," Max breaks in.  "Now, can we go
   "Perhaps you are wondering why you have been
   "Not really," Max says.
   The Contessa gives a nod, and the good cop hits Max
with the butt of her pistol.  Max falls down into the
snow.  The cold burns his reddening face and torso.
   "Come again?" says the Contessa.  "I didn't hear
you, darling.  You must speak up.  E-nunc-i-ate!"
   "You got me to get to Julie," Max says.  "Now can
we go inside?"
   The Contessa looks to her droogs.  "It is a bit
nippy out, isn't it, girls?"  She gives another nod
before opening the door.
   The good cop grabs Max by the hair again.  Rather
than bring him back up to his feet, she drags him
through the snow.
   Max decides that, given the evidence, he must never
get on the bad cop's nerves.

   Max is tied securely to a chair with plastic
tubing, next to a crackling fireplace.  The Contessa
turns to her girls.
   "Some hot chocolate is in order after such a long
trip, eh, my pets?  Charlotte, you stay here.  The
others may go."
   The cops (both good and bad) leave.  Charlotte puts
on a record (Vivaldi, but not the Four Seasons) and
stands near the player.  The Contessa sits down on a
loveseat, just a couple of yards from Max's chair.
   "I love my girls, my darlings," says the Contessa. 
"I live for them.  Ever since I was a child, I knew I
wanted to be a mother.  Then, cruel fate seemed to rob
me of the chance forever.  My uterus was crushed in a
car accident.  I become a melancholy child."
   Max sighs.  Whenever he's been kidnapped, it's
always been unpleasant.  But this is the worst part of
it all.
   "To distract myself, I threw myself into my
studies.  I've always been a strong woman, and I
convinced myself that a career would fill the void in
my empty womb."
   Hmmph.  Not unless you worked in dildos.
   "That it would fulfill me as a woman.  And, for a
time, that worked.  That was enough.  I graduated top
of my class, I became a scientist, a geneticist.  And
a good one, at that.  A brilliant one.  But my life
was empty.  Empty because my heart was empty.  Empty
because my womb was empty.
   "It then occurred to me that I might create a
child, that I might clone one.  Look at Charlotte.  Do
you see a resemblance?"
   Max nods.
   "Charlotte I cloned from myself, and because of
that, she will always be dear to me.  But something
went wrong, went horribly wrong.  She cannot speak. 
Smart as a whip, but that whip has no sound.
   "I tried again.  And again.  For some reason, my
clones were always imperfect.  Other than Charlotte--
whom I keep around for sentimental reasons-- I drowned
them all.  And so I turned to adoption agencies.
   "I adopted infants, collected their genetic
information, cloned them, burned the originals.  The
adopted children weren't mine.  They came from some
other mother's womb.  But the clones!  Those mothers
had only given their clones the raw materials, the
genes.  I had birthed them with an mechanical womb of
my own ingenious design.
   "The clones were my children.  And in every case...
in every case, something went horribly wrong.  Idiots.
 Nymphomaniacs.  Overweight.  Not growing properly. 
Lacking in social graces, social skills.  And it
occurred to me what the problem was.  It became
crystal clear.
   "Nobody's perfect, right?" The Contessa smiles, her
eyes wet.  "That's fact.  Human beings are imperfect,
and so human clones-- facsimiles of the original
imperfection-- they're bound to be imperfect too,
right?  All seemed lost.  Would I never have a little
girl to truly love, one who truly deserved that love?
   "And then I saw her.  Julie Ann Justice. 
   Max decides it's in his best interest not to argue
the point.
   "I must have her genes," says the Contessa.  "With
perfect genes, I'll have a perfect little girl.  And
for that perfect little girl, I'll be the perfect
   "And that's where you come into play, Max.  If she
ever wants to see you alive again, she's going to have
to give me a gene sample."
   "You could have just asked her," Max says,
shivering.  "I'm sure she wouldn't mind giving a
little blood."
   "She will mind," says the Contessa.  "Because
afterwards, I shall dispose of the original.  It will
have served its glorious purpose.  Perhaps I'll name
my little girl Julie, in her memory..."
   From the kitchen, an explosion.  The Contessa
whirls around just in time to see the two cops flying
through the air, crashing into a bookshelf.  "She's
here!" the Contessa whispers.
   The Contessa leaps to her feet, pulling out a long
hypodermic needle.  She places it at Max's neck.  She
yells out towards the kitchen.  "Come out slowly, or
I'll kill him!"
   Charlotte has already moved into place, flattening
herself against the wall, standing next to the kitchen
door as the smoke clears.  In the arm farthest from
the door, she holds ready a large poker.  She waits,
her breath still, for Julie Ann Justice to float
through the door.
   It takes her a moment, then, for either Charlotte
of the Contessa to see the cat walking out of the
kitchen.  By the time they do, it is too late:
Docrates uses his atomic vision to reshape the
hypodermic into a pack of sunflower seeds.
   The Contessa drops the seeds and starts reaching
for another hypodermic.  When she looks up again, the
cat smacks her across the face with its tail,
propelling her through the far window and into the
   Charlotte rushes towards them.  Max rocks back in
his chair, intending to brace it against the stone of
the fireplace so that he can kick the mute clone right
in the bread-basket.  Unfortunately, he misjudges the
distance and ends up falling backwards, smacking his
head on cold concrete.
   Charlotte raises the poker above her head and
starts to bring it down.  Max closes his eyes,
flinching, scared of the coming impact.  A brief
moment passes, brief, yes, but long enough for him to
know the impact isn't happening.  He opens his eyes
again.  Charlotte is now in the air, having been
levitated by the cat.  She opens her mouth to scream
but no sound issues forth.
   It's a terrifying sight, that soundless scream, and
Max stares, transfixed by it, until he sees
Charlotte's hand let go of the poker.  Then he becomes
transfixed on it, until it smacks him in the head, at
any rate.

   When he awakes, he's dressed in a snowsuit and he
has been untied.  He's lying on the Contessa's
love-seat.  He looks around and sees the cat with a
phone in his mouth.  Docrates flies over to Max and
plops the phone on his belly.
   "Baby!" Julie coos.  "How're you?"
   "Miserable," Max answers.  "I got kidnapped again."
   "I know, baby.  I'm sorry I couldn't be there, but
I just found out about it, just now."
   "How'd the cat know?"
   "Well, apparently he was coming home from his
battle with Red Fido when he saw their aircraft
leaving the apartment.  He followed, biding his time,
and waited for the proper moment to strike.  I'm just
glad you're okay, sweetie."
   "I'm not.  I have a headache and I probably have
frostbite and..."
   "Don't worry so much!  Docrates has an encyclopedic
knowledge of first aid."
   "I just hate this, Julie.  I hate getting..."
   "Baby, I got to go.  We just got a lead on the last
crystal key.  Docrates will get you home."
   "Julie, I really need to talk to you..."
   "You know how it is, sweetie.  I love you.  Gotta
go.  Talk to you later.  Bye."
   He hangs up the phone and hands it to Docrates, who
tucks it inside his cape.  Max sits up on the
loveseat, rubbing his head.  He scans the room,
confirming what he already knows he'll see: the
Cloning Contessa and her "daughters" tied up with rope
made from Docrates's nigh-impenetrable hairballs.
   Max sighs.  "Saved by the damn cat."
   The damn cat stares at him.
   "Sorry," Max mutters.
   Docrates takes to the air, grabs the hood of Max's
parka in his teeth, and flies out of the window, Max
in tow.

   The flight over the Atlantic is as tedious and cold
as it is humiliating.  This was the third time since
the year began that he had been kidnapped by some
poorly-dressed villain wanting something from his
wife.  Three times in almost as many months!  If the
trend continued, frequency would be up considerably
compared to last year.
   It made him feel impotent enough when Julie had to
rescue him.  But now the cat...!
   Never mind that the cat was far more powerful than
Julie, that it was one of the most powerful beings in
the known universe.  It was the principle of the
   He could see the headlines now: "MR. JULIE ANN
feline adventurer also treated his master's wounds and
dressed him, as he was clad only in boxer shorts."
   Just once he wished he could get himself out of his
own scraps, that he wasn't always the damsel in
distress.  That he wasn't just the significant other
of Julie Ann Justice.
   When he's dead and buried, and it no longer will
matter to him, he'll just be part of Julie's story, an
honorable mention.  Julie's spouse.  Julie's
supporting cast.  Julie's damsel in distress.  Julie's
   Why couldn't Julie be his wife?  Why couldn't he
have his own story?  For a time, he had been content
to belong to somebody important, to be part of her
life.  But now it only makes him realize how
unimportant he is.
   How useless.
   Saved by the damn cat!

Part II: The Mysterious Birthday Present!

   The window is replaced with a transparent,
permeable membrane that's been all the rage with the
four-colour folk since Destructo's patent was broken
late last year.  Julie's been meaning to upgrade for
awhile, and the window's recent shattering (along with
her recent salary increase) provides just the right
   When a certain level of force is applied to it, the
membrane allows the force to pass harmlessly through
it.  In theory, only a human body moving at superhuman
speeds can apply the proper force; in reality (and
much to the cat's delight) a few pigeons have ended up
inside, and the membrane has been of no use against a
particularly strong and blustery wind.
   Fahrenheit Man says that Doc Quantum has been
working on an intelligent, reasoning membrane, one
capable of discerning between the homeowner and a
threat (or, for that matter, a nuisance).  But his
tests so far have resulted in the membranes rebelling
against their masters within six weeks time.  "Of
course," Julie jokes, "we could always replace it
every five weeks."
   Max doesn't like the membrane, whether it possesses
cognition or not.  He'd rather sweep up the glass when
the window breaks and call to have new ones installed
than have to wear a parka indoors.
   Though, come to think of it, he'd rather the window
not break at all.

   Max is in a black mood.
   "Maybe," Max says to Julie, "we can skip my
birthday this year."
   Julie blinks.  "Why?"
   "Oh, I don't know.  I just don't want to make a big
deal of it.  Big party and everything."
   "What about all your friends?  They'd want to see
you.  On your birthday!"
   "What about all your friends?"  Part of Max knows
that he shouldn't have said this.  That it's just
going to lead to an argument, and the last time they
had an argument, Julie punched a hole in the building.
 He knows what he's risking by saying it.  He says it
anyway, and he doesn't regret it.
   "They're your friends too," she says sharply and
after a moment's pause.  She's willing to let it go,
to let it rankle and fade and die.  And, over time,
the apathy would heal the wound...
   ... if Max let it.  Instead, he picks at it.  He
agitates.  He presses further.  "They're only my
friends because I'm your husband."
   "They like you, Max," she says before exhaling. 
"You're a likeable guy.  When you're not acting like a
giant lump of shit."
   "What?  Because I don't want to hear Sproing talk
about how great he is?  Or how lucky I am to have
you."  Pick.  "He totally has the hots for you, Julie.
 There's a reason why he calls himself Sproing!"
   "Don't be vulgar!"  Her tightly-coiled body springs
involuntarily into the air, powered by a sudden flash
of rage.
   "You're floating a bit too high, sweetie," Max
snarls.  "I can't quite get at your tits."
   Julie darts down and slaps him, propelling him off
the couch and into the entertainment center.  He lands
with a quiet thud, his body not even disturbing the
hideous Hummel figurines that sit atop the wooden
   Julie's anger flutters away instantly, and she
lands gracefully, crouching down and extending her
hand towards her husband's cheek.  "I'm sorry,
sweetie.  Are you alright?  Here, let me help you up. 
There we go.  Do you need a pillow?  Here.  Do you
need anything?  Some water?  Pop?"
   "Pop would be nice, thank you."
   Max rests his feet on the sofa and settles his head
on the pillow.  Julie returns with the soda.  She's
spiked the coke with paprika, just the way Max likes
   For the first time in several weeks, Max is the
most important person in the apartment.  Not Julie Ann
Justice.  Not Docrates, the mighty supragato.  Not a
supervillain engaged in mortal combat, not a legendary
hero making an unexpected visit.  But Max.
   She brings him a heating pad for his back and some
ice for his cheek.  They watch his favourite program,
and instead of talking about dastardly villains and
cosmic artifacts, they talk about Max.
   Which means they don't really talk that much at
all.  Max's life is defined by his relationship to
Julie.  He has nothing else, and nobody else.  Julie's
teammates and colleagues are the only people who come
to his birthday party.  He doesn't have any
colleagues, any classmates, any friends.  No family
that he's on speaking terms with.
   Sometimes he's content with this.  He lives in a
nice apartment, has access to an ample assortment of
luxuries, he has a wife whom he loves.  Their sex life
is regular, if not spectacular.  Sometimes, he even
likes the damn cat.
   But other times, he resents her.  He resents being
kidnapped, he resents not having any fiscal
responsibility, he resents not working and not
providing for her, he resents being provided for. 
He's more like a wife than a husband.

   His birthday comes and he suffers through the
party.  Fahrenheit Man tries to talk to him, but Max
isn't really interested in what he has to say. 
Sproing keeps making embarrassingly desperate comments
about how lucky Max is, how beautiful Julie is, how
great it must be to belong to her.  Max loses his
temper and tells him to piss off; Sproing, as usual,
overreacts, bouncing all over the apartment until
Julie calms him down, until Julie talks to him and
dotes on him and sets him on the couch with a pillow
and brings him a soda: until Sproing has everyone's
attention, until Sproing is the most important person
in the room.
   Max goes to the bathroom and locks the door and
sulks, and Julie has to plead with him to come on out.
 When he finally does, all eyes are on him, everyone
wants to make sure Max is okay.  But in their eyes he
detects a thin veneer of contempt; as usual, they are
more forgiving of Sproing: everyone is always more
forgiving of Sproing.
   If Max was to drive drunk (he didn't even drink in
the first place) and kill someone, people would be
screaming for his head, no matter how sorry he was. 
But when Sproing did it, everyone was very
understanding and sympathetic.  What poor Sproing had
gone through!
   Poor Sproing!
   But what about poor Max?

   On the bright side, the birthday party ended
without him being kidnapped by the nefarious Vita-Man,
which was a marked improvement over last year.  Julie
got him a few DVDs.  Her friends gave him gift
certificates, gift cards, and sweaters: all the sort
of thing you get for someone you don't care about.
   After they leave, Julie and Max have a low-pitched
and exhausted argument about the way he locked himself
in the bathroom.  "Very passive-aggressive," Julie
notes.  Max is tired and he decides to let her have
the last word.
   They go to bed and exchange memorized words of love
in sleepy monotone.  Around three o' clock, Max wakes
to see Julie changing into her costume.  He pretends
he's still asleep and listens as she passes through
the membrane.
   He turns over onto his side, grumbles, and quickly
goes back to sleep.

   When he wakes, Julie is still gone.  Docrates sits
on the couch, watching the morning news and lapping at
his cup of coffee.  "Julie still working?" he asks the
   Docrates looks at him, but he cannot decipher the
answer.  Max heads into the kitchen for some cereal. 
It's then that he notices the little black box.
   It's about the size of his fist, a doll-sized
hatbox.  There is a white sticker on one side.  It
reads TO: MAX LANG.  FROM:
   No name.  Huh.  Maybe it's from Julie.  He already
has a wedding ring, and the box is too small to
contain anything else of value.  He shrugs and opens
   Pink vapors rush out of the box.  Max drops it,
flailing and screaming; the vapors fill his mouth and
his nostrils, becoming hard in his lungs.  He grabs at
his chest, coughing, and crumples to the floor, quite

   When he wakes up, the cat is standing on his chest,
its mouth attached to his.  Max coughs and the cat
backs away.  "My mother always said a cat will suck
the breath from you while you sleep."  Docrates scowls
at him, and Max feels compelled to apologize.  "Just
kidding.  I'm sorry.  Geez.  Thanks."
   Max stands up and looks at the empty box.  Jesus! 
Being kidnapped he could deal with.  But some jerk was
trying to kill him now!  All because of who he was. 
No.  All because of who Julie was.  The box might as
well been address to JULIE'S HUSBAND or OCCUPANT.
   It was around this time that he starts to feel a
bit constricted.  A closer look into the matter
reveals that Max Lang is expanding, his torso and
limbs taking on the dimensions of a balloon.  The
constriction, then, is coming from being sandwiched
between the refrigerator and the table, a distance of
about two yards.
   Max's skin turns pink as the expansion continues,
his body warping and bending around the contours of
the room and its inanimate inhabitants.  Max realizes
that if this expansion continues unhindered,
eventually something will have to give.  And he has a
feeling it's not going to be Julie's steel-plated
industrial refrigerator.  With his thoughts, he
silently pleads for his body to deflate.
   And it does.  Max feels his body becoming heavier,
like all that was Max had been displaced and now, the
air being forced out, his body was rushing back in. 
His hands gradually lose their soft pink hue and, he
assumes, so does the rest of his body.  His body
becomes heavier and heavier, and, to his surprise, he
feels his feet coming in contact with the tile floor.
   Julie comes flying in through the permeable
membrane, and immediately begins chattering about an
exploding villain who was trying to commit suicide in
the middle of Washington, D. C.  She stops short when
she sees the expression on the cat's face; it's not
quite fear, not quite joy.  It's a look she's never
seen on any cat's face.  It's a look she hasn't seen
on a human face in a long time.
   Julie follows the cat's line of sight and her own
eyes rest on Max.
   "Honey," he says, "I have something to show you."

   "Interestink," says Doc Quantum, "very
interestink."  He mispronounces it on purpose.  He
always does: he thinks he's funny.  For some reason,
it doesn't bother Max as much as it used to.  It
doesn't bother him at all.
   "I'm not familiar with the compound," Quantum
continues, "but it appears to have fundamentally
altered your body's structure, allowing you to expand
at will, becoming lighter than air."
   "I have a question," Max says.
   "Shoot," says Quantum.
   Julie knows the question before he asks it: how can
you make me normal again?
   "How much can I expand?"
   "Well, we can run some tests, try to see your
   "And we can test how high I can go, too?"
   "Sure, sure."
   "I noticed when my body expanded the first time,
that I felt kind of constricted by the stuff in the
kitchen.  But it didn't really hurt, my body just kind
of moved around it."
   "I expect that in that state, your body would bend
around most things, rendering you impervious to harm
from blunt, physical force-- perhaps even lacerations.
 You would have to be careful around explosions, fire,
et cetera..."
   "When he is going to be normal?" Julie blurts out.
   Doc Quantum and Max both turn and look at her.  Her
eyes are wide, her mouth is tense with stress.
   "His body has been changed, his chemical make-up,
even his genes.  Even if there was a way to go back
now, why-ever would he want to?"
   "Because..." Julie looks to Max.
   Max stares back, uncomprehending.

   Max is watching his program when Julie gets a call.
   "I've got to go," she says after hanging up the
phone.  She starts to change into her costume.
   "What's up?"
   "Oh, just a little crisis downtown," she says.
   "Well, what is it?"
   "Nothing that would interest you terribly."
   "Can I tag along?"
   "What for?"
   "To help."
   "What're you going to do, get fat until they die
laughing?  Let's face it, hon.  You're pretty
   Max doesn't reply.  Julie leaves with the cat.

   Half an hour passes.  Max starts to smell something
burning.  He turns around just in time to see
Fahrenheit Man stepping through the melting membrane. 
Later, he will explain that the membrane is heat
sensitive: a safety mechanism to prevent people
incapable of producing the correct amount of force
from being trapped if their houses are on fire.
   "Julie's not here," Max says.  "She went on--"
   "I know," says Fahrenheit Man.  "I don't mean to
alarm you, but she's been taken captive.  We're
working right now on trying to free her.  We just
thought you should now.  We'll be in touch."
   "Wait a minute!" says Max.  "I'm coming with you."

PART III: Zeppelin-Mania!

   Max expands so that he is several yards in
diameter.  His torso, legs, and arms all become part
of one uniform sphere: his head, hands, and feet
retain their normal dimensions, and he uses those
hands and feet like flippers to swim through the air. 
Fahrenheit Man is flying faster, but Max doesn't feel
inadequate; he's just happy that he's more-or-less
keeping pace.
   "So," says Max.  "What's the skinny?"

   Julie struggles with the titanium coil bonds that
bind her wrists high above her head, keeping her
suspended in the air, but to no avail.  Equally
fruitless is her attempt to snap the leg spreader by
applying super-pressure with her ankles.
   Her captor watches with delight.  He is just under
three feet tall, and walks with a pronounced limp. 
"You struggle quite in vain.  You see, I know all
about you and everything-- my so-called rampage in the
city, the way in which I allowed you and you alone to
get in close quarters, and, yes, these bonds--
everything was designed with you specifically in mind.
   "And don't think you're going to be rescued,
either.  My building has been purposefully fortified
and can easily deal with all your allies.  I dare say
they've given up by now."
   He walks behind her and touches her bright-red
skirt.  "Such a pretty skirt.  And you wear it so
   "Don't touch me, you pervert!"
   "You misunderstand me," he says, letting go of the
fabric.  "I have no interest in the sexual act.  Too
   "No, what interests me is the next step.  Children.
 Genes.  The combination of two kinds of raw materials
into a new being, a being that bears the marks of both
   "The problem," his voice takes on a slightly higher
pitch, "is that much of the human genetic stock out
there is quite inferior.  I must admit that my own
parents were a poor combination, resulting in the
deformed creature you now see before you.
   "I have decided to do the human race a favor and to
remove my line from the gene pool.  It took some
doing.  My parents were most prodigious in their
couplings, and my siblings dispersed across the
Northern Hemisphere, and, yes, some of them did have
offspring.  But in the end, it was really just a
matter of finding them.  They were as inferior as I--
stains upon the gene pool!-- and so they were quite
easy to kill.
   "But that's only half of the solution.  One must
not only remove the bad, but also promote the good. 
And you, my dear," he allows one of his grubby hands
to rub her thigh, "are very good breeding stock. 
Allow me to introduce you to your mate.  Adam!"
   From the shadows, a nude man steps into the light,
a leash tied tight around his neck.  He is well-built
and muscular to the point of grotesquery.
   "I'll let you two get acquainted.  I only ask that
I am allowed to name your first child after your
match-maker.  He shall be the second to bear the name
   One of the windows shatter.  Julie looks up and
witnesses a familiar pink hue.
   Max contracts, squeezes through the broken window,
and then expands again, his blimp-like form casting a
huge and ominous shadow.  He continues expanding, and
begins his descent.

   "I couldn't breath!" the little man screams, his
eyes wide with fear.  "Closing in all sides!  Closing!
 Closing in!"
   "Dude," says Max to one of the arresting officers. 
"I didn't even touch him."
   "Gene Ranunculus," says the officer.  "Suffers from
severe claustrophobia and social anxiety disorder. 
Fancies himself something of a geneticist."
   "So I gather," says Julie, rubbing her wrists.
   "Um," says Adam.  "Just so you know, I wasn't going
to do anything.  And, uh, I'm a big fan, Ms.
   Julie waves him off and cuddles up next to Max.  "I
just want to go home, Max."

   "The building was fortified, like you said he
said," says Max once they get home.  "Freezing
temperatures to keep Fahrenheit Man out, a kinetic
energy wall to bounce Sproing's bounce back at him,
water jets to keep Docrates out.  For a crackpot, he
sure thought things out."
   "Of course, he didn't figure on me."
   "I just thought I was going to help out, you know? 
It feels good, sweetie, you know?"
   "It feels good to be useful for once."
   "Yeah."  A beat.  "Can we not talk about this right
   "Oh, sure, hon.  You've just been through a lot..."
   "No, it's not that.  It's just..." She catches
herself.  "Yeah.  That's it.  Second time this week
some creep tried to get ahold of my genes."
   "That's right, isn't it?  Wow.  What a month."
   "Uh, Julie?"
   "How about the Human Zeppelin?"
   "Never heard of him."
   "It's me.  Max Lang-- the Human Zeppelin!"
   Julie gets up off the couch and heads into the
bathroom.  "You're not a superhero, Max.  They're just
going to laugh at you."  She closes the door and locks

   The third issue of HUMAN ZEPPELIN MAGAZINE
chronicles nicely how a number of Human Zeppelin
fan-sites popped up on the internet.  Fan-fiction
flooded USENET groups (causing a resurgence), his blog
was referenced repeatedly on monitorduty and
boing-boing, and a surging number of Zeppelin-themed
flash videos caused the newgrounds server to crash. 
Max Lang, the article explains, became the world's
first four-colour internet meme.
   In the exclusive interview published in that same
issue, Max reacts to his fame with a mixture of
practiced nonchalance and genuine excitement.  "All I
got to do now is go to Disney World, and I'll be all

   A meeting of the Seven Wonders, already in
   "Our last order of business," says Captain
Phantasm, "regards our fallen comrade Darkhorse. 
We've been operating without him for nearly a year
now, and-- I'm not impugning the fantastic job we've
all done-- but it's clear that he's not coming back,
and it is time, then, to bolster our ranks once more. 
Time to decide who shall be THE SEVENTH WONDER!  I
open the floor for suggestions and debate."
   "What about that Metronome girl?" suggests Julie. 
"I've worked with her a couple times, and Darkhorse
himself recommends her highly."
   "No offense, Julie," says Fahrenheit Man, "but me
and Cap are the only guys here.  Five women, two men,
that's a little uneven.  On the other hand, I'm sure
the fanboys would like it."
   Captain Phantasm speaks up.  "I'm going to
disregard that last comment, Fahrenheit Man.  The
gender of an applicant should not factor into our
decisions.  Ditto on race, age, or even power level. 
The thing we have to look at is, what kind of job does
that person do?  Have they proven themselves worthy of
being a Wonder?  Can we trust them with our lives, and
will they mesh with the group as a whole?"
   "In that case," replies Fahrenheit Man, "I nominate
the Human Zeppelin."
   "You can't be serious," says Julie.
   "Cap himself just said that power level was of
negligible concern.  I've been patrolling with Max for
a few weeks now, and I can certainly vouch for his
   "I'm not impugning my husband's character," says
Julie.  "But that's just it.  He is my husband."
   Ogress nods.  "It does smack of nepotism."
   "But, look," says Fahrenheit Man.  "Max is just
about my best bud these days, he's married to Julie: I
think that's ample proof that he can mesh with the
best of them, really round out the team."
   "Not to mention he's popular," adds Spectra.  "I
certainly don't have my own magazine."
   "Sproing's got one, too," says Julie.  "But you had
no problem voting him out."

   "Hey, hon," says Max as Julie comes in through the
newly-installed membrane.  He's wearing his new
costume.  "How was the meeting?"
   "It was fine."
   "Well, what happened?"
   "Nothing.  Just another boring meeting."  A pause. 
"We're going to ask Dr. Metronome to take over
Darkhorse's spot."
   "That's cool.  Well.  I'm going to get going."
   "I'm going on patrol with Peter.  If we don't run
into any trouble, I'll be home by dinner time."

   On their patrol, they spot Sproing on a rooftop.
   "Zeppelin!  Fahrenheit Man!" he calls out.
   Max is about to wave courteously when Peter stops
him.  "Just pretend you don't see him.  Maybe he'll
leave us alone."
   "You don't like him either?" Max asks his flaming
   "Nobody likes him.  Are you kidding me?  Once he
killed that poor woman in that car accident, he should
have retired.  Instead, he does the talk circuit. 
Crass.  Disgusting.  And, to tell you the truth, I
hated him before then.  Most of us did.  Annoying as
   "Really?  Why was he always with you guys?"
   "You'd have to ask Julie that.  She invited him."
   "I didn't mean it like that, Max.  Julie's a good
one.  She's true blue.  You know that."
   "But-- and I'm not trying to diss your girl here--
but she likes male attention.  I don't think there's
anything going on.  I mean, she's not stupid.  If she
was going to sleep with anybody, which she wouldn't,
it sure as hell isn't going to be Sproing.  But she
likes it when men pay attention to her.  Likes to be
   "And," Peter continues, "let's be brutally honest:
I think most of the women in this business want to be
wanted too.  Otherwise they wouldn't wear all that
skintight clothing."
   "We're wearing spandex too."
   "Okay.  Everybody wants to be wanted, then."
   "Ain't that the truth," says Max.
   "How're you dealing with that, by the way?  Being
   "The idol of millions?"
   "That's a deep subject."
   Max blinks, then scowls.  "And what do you, Human
Zeppelin, idol of millions, think is the worst part of
your newfound career?  I'd have to say it's Fahrenheit
Man's jokes."
   Peter chuckles.
   "The whole fame thing?  It's nice, I guess.  I'm
not going to lie, I do enjoy it.  But I know it's a
fad.  In a few months, the magazine will go under and
some other hero will be all the rage.  And that's
   "I won't always be the most popular hero around. 
And I know I'm not the most powerful.  But you know
what?  I'm cool with that.  I really just enjoy being
a part of the whole thing, you know?  I like having
these powers, I like helping people.  I like my life,
and I like who I am.  And I didn't used to.  So there
you go."
   They are silent for a moment.  Then, Docrates soars
into view, mewing.
   "Doc?" says Max.  "What is it, boy?  What's wrong?"

   After Julie has been secured to the chair, her
captor takes out the gag.  Julie coughs and looks the
tall, dark woman in the eye.  "Let me guess," says
Julie.  "You've kidnapped me because I'm superior
breeding stock.  You're going to clone me or map my
genomes or breed me or whatever to create some perfect
   "That's ridiculous.  I just want to get your
husband's autograph, Mrs. Zeppelin."



   Nearly a year later, and JOURNEY INTO... has
returned.  JOURNEY INTO..., in case you don't
remember, is the Eightfold Universe's
anthology/try-out title, featuring stand-alone stories
that, while part of the larger tapestry of Eightfold,
don't naturally fit into any of our regular, ongoing
series.  And so, it's publishing schedule is bound to
be a little erratic.
   If you'd like to see more of the Human Zeppelin and
Docrates, or, for that matter, Doctor Metronome from
JOURNEY INTO... # 1, let us know!  Your opinions
matter to us, and perhaps one of our future continuing
titles might spin-off from one of the characters you
met for the first time in these pages!


   I seem to have a knack for tossing off odd
character names, and my LNH writing is peppered by
probably more than a hundred such beings, such as
Sleeps With Anything Alive Girl/Lass or the Giant
Wandering Cow Kid.  I've always had more difficultly
with the villains, and the difficultly is doubled when
I'm working in a more serious (or realistic) vein,
such as my work in the Eightfold Universe, which
includes this particular story.
   Some of the names just sproinged into my head,
among them Sproing, the Human Zeppelin, and Julie Ann
Justice.  Fahrenheit Man was originally called
Fahrenheit, until a quick google search revealed that
a costumed adventuress named Fahrenheit already
   Docrates is the name of one of my cats; the other,
Clawsburger, lent his name to one of Martin Rock's
disguises.  To the best of my knowledge, Docrates does
not possess powers far being that of mortal feline,
and, if he did, in all likelihood he would not use
them to rescue anyone.
   My beautiful wife, Mary L. Russell, gets credit for
naming Gene Ranunculus.  Her first suggestion for this
breeding-stock obsessed villain was the name Mister
Sinista Esquire (pronounced Sin-eest-a), which-- as
she was unaware, not being a fan of the superhero
genre-- bears more than a passing resemblance to a
certain red-eyed purple-clad albino geneticist.
   Captain Phantasm's name originates with Captain
Fantastic, a character David Jason played on DO NOT
ADJUST YOUR SET, and is obliviously a homage.


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