LaPorte Caves – Chapter 9
Written by circes_cup :: [Friday, 08 April 2016 01:29] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 09 April 2016 15:44]
SYNOPSIS TO THIS POINT: A wrong turn in a Kentucky cave landed Howard and Julia in an alien world – a world run by amazon women whose supernatural strength was derived for a mysterious drink called Nourishment. The couple made a pact to get back home as soon as possible, but Julia broke her promise by giving into temptation and consuming Nourishment herself. In the meantime, she has developed a friendship with Ruth, the amazon woman who has taken the wayward couple into her home. But life in a land of amazons is making Howard miserable, and all of Julia’s efforts to fix that have simply made things worse. In the most recent instance of this, a demonstration of Julia’s new strength inadvertently landed Howard in a rancid pond, humiliating him and making Julia wonder whether their relationship was now on the brink. Julia must find a way home, and fast, before this visit to an alien world destroys their relationship entirely.
WARNING: This story contains adult sexual content. If you are not of age to read this stuff, don’t. No resemblance between these characters and real people on Earth is implied or intended.
“I can hear you.” Howard continued walking without turning around.
Julia regretted each THUD her oversized body made on the footpath. At 375 pounds, there was no way to follow him silently. It made her feel like an overgrown oaf. Several times today, her extreme body had humiliated Howard to no end and pushed their relationship to the brink. Now, she hated it even more.
When they got back to the house, Howard hesitated on the threshold. Rancid pond water was still dripping from his hair. His clothes stank of pond scum. He laughed, for the first time in ages. “I guess I can’t go into the house like this. I look like a swamp monster.”
“Yes, you’d probably scare the kids,” Julia giggled. “Let me go in and get some clothes for you.”
By the time she delivered the clothes, Howard was down to his underwear. He looked like a wet dog. A fit and trim wet dog. One that needed to be cuddled. Julia felt something stir inside of her.
He had just finished shimmying into a dry pair of jeans when she planted a kiss on the top of his forehead. “Have you forgiven me yet?”
“Barely,” he grumbled. But there was a smirk on those lips too. Those kissable lips.
“You know …” Julia approached so close that she darkened him with her voluminous shadow. She ran a finger over his dainty pectoral muscle. “It’s not just my muscles that are superhuman. My libido is … something more as well.”
Howard finished buckling his belt and looked up at her. “Honey, we’re guests in their house. We shouldn’t.”
“We should. Ruth is actually disturbed that we haven’t. When a female guest doesn’t have sex during her stay, it suggests that the guest is unhappy with the accommodations.” Julia hauled her cotton top over her head in a single dismissive motion, wobbling her breasts free. They ached for his touch.
“But, Julia, we’re outside.”
She picked him up by the armpits, his 175 pound weight burdening her hands no more than a cell phone would back on Earth. She brought his face level with hers and planted a kiss on his lips. “Don’t be such a worry wart. The house screens us from view.”
“But what about the family? What if the kids come outside?”
“They’re already outside. The family is playing at the beach, two hundred yards away. I can hear them.”
Howard cupped a hand over his ear, as if his unenhanced ears might be able to hear the faint sound, too. SO cute!
Julia walked him over to the side of the house and pinned him against it – perhaps a little roughly, as the poor man let out an OOF! With the impact. But Julia was too excited to pay much heed.
“Julia, you can be a little intimidating, you know, in that body.”
She barely heard him, sandwiching him against the house with her body. After a little wiggling, was able to get one massive breast under each of his armpits . Her insanely firm breasts were easily solid enough to support his measly 175 pounds without drooping, his feet flailing a full two feet of the ground. Julia placed her hands on her hips and jutted her proud chest into him. The siding of the house groaned under the pressure of her body. So, too, did her boyfriend.
But Julia heard only the roar of the growing inferno inside of her. With her hands now free, she felt around for his belt and then ripped it apart with a single motion. The pants and underwear lasted barely a moment longer before she was cupping his naked ass in one hand and his manhood in the other.
It was flaccid. Even in her old body, this sort of friskiness would have garnered a better reaction. She looked up to his face for an answer and saw it turning blue.
Oh no, not again. She was overwhelming him yet again, and not in a good way. She eased off him gently and watched the warmer colors return to his face.
“You scare me.” Howard was panting. “Your body scares me.”
“It doesn’t turn you on, just a little bit? I’ve got curves like I’ve never had before.”
“It’s your muscles that are the problem.”
Julia took a deep breath, trying to collect her emotions. With her inhalation, the siding of the house again creaked under the pressure and Howard again emitted a grunt of discomfort. Perhaps he was right to be scared: her body had more power than control right now. Embarrassed, she backed away and lowered Howard to his feet.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “My muscles freaked me out at first, too. But over time I began to regard them as normal.” She flexed a bicep experimentally: it exploded from its resting shape, almost the size of a football, to a near-spherical globe. “I promise I’ll learn to control them better.”
Howard slunk away from the display of superhuman power. “It’s not just that you nearly crushed me. It’s something more basic. I can’t just flip a switch and become attracted to something I’ve never liked before.”
“Oh,” Julia felt herself reddening. “It’s not that you’re scared of getting hurt by my body. You simply don’t like the way it looks?”
Howard only cast his gaze to the ground. She knew what that meant.
“I see,” she whispered, now filled with shame. “I didn’t know that was how you felt.”
Julia didn’t know how long she walked that afternoon. She had watched Howard recede back into the house, away from her, the scraps of his pants held over his crotch like a fig leaf. She had wandered away, the unsatisfied ache of desire for her boyfriend’s touch still clawing at her insides.
She soon found herself following a paved access road that ran behind the beach houses. Most of the residences were like Ruth’s: large and well appointed.
As Julia passed one of the houses, she watched a man and his daughter exit. The man had bags of clothes in his arms – probably on his way to the dry cleaners, Julia figured. He approached a rack from which three cars were hanging. He pointed at one. His daughter got the car down, placed it gently on its wheels, and waved as he drove away. So humiliating, Julia thought – to rely upon your daughter to get a car down for you every time you need to run some errands!
As Julia continued along the path, she observed that some of the houses were back by the roadside. But with others, women had clearly carried them forward to the beachfront for a day of fun in the surf.
As Julia passed one such house, she saw a man ferrying groceries inside from the family SUV. Since the house had been moved all the way forward to the beach, his trek was a long one: fifty yards back and forth, through the soft sand.
“Need a hand?”
“Oh!” The man was startled by her approach. “I wouldn’t want to bother you.”
“It’s not a bother.” Julia counted the grocery bags that remained in the back of the SUV. There were nineteen. Ten more trips back and forth – the poor guy.
The man looked at the distance to the house. “You really shouldn’t trouble yourself. It’s menial, this walking back and forth-- men’s work.”
“If was thinking of something a bit less menial.” Julia reached under the rear bumper to find the handle. Once her hand had it, she hoisted that end of the car upward. Her bicep swelled only a bit at as the three-thousand-pound mass rose under her muscle’s immense power. Additional handles were located under the center of the car. She got her left hand on one of them and hoisted the SUV straight up with only one arm, her genetically enhanced tricep doing easily what a hundred male ones could not. With all four wheels dangling above her head, she led the man out over the sand to the house.
“Of course. How silly of me,” he admitted. “Easier for you to carry the car to the house than to go back and forth.”
It was only a few short days ago that such logic would have seemed absurd to me, Julia thought. How quickly this all becomes second nature. “With nineteen bags of groceries, you must have a growing family.”
“Twin daughters. Eighteen years old. They just went on full Nourishment a few months ago.”
“Did you ask them to move the house back for you before going to the beach today?”
“I don’t just ask. I beg. They ignore me most of the time.”
How demeaning, Julia thought. She held the back end of the SUV level with the open kitchen window as the man scrambled into the house and reached through the window for the bags. He’s a grown man and he has to beg his daughters to leave the house where he can get to it.
“Thank you thank you thank you,” the man gushed as he accompanied her and the car back to the driveway. “You have no idea how hard it can be to be a man sometimes.”
“Yes I do. I used to be as weak as you,” Julia replied, setting the SUV back on its wheels. She did it a little too roughly. The BOOM of the car hitting the ground was a reminder of its immense weight.
“The hard part about being a man isn’t just that we are weak. It’s that we’re inferior in everything.”
Julia thought about that as she continued her walk along the road. She tried to imagine the scene inside those homes: harmonious families eating peaceful breakfasts together. Fathers cheerfully serving food to their commandeering daughters: six pancakes for you, honey, and one for me. Husbands silencing themselves mid-sentence when their wives interrupt them. Boys casting blank stares at the kitchen table as their sisters listen to the high-speed mutter of sixteen broadcasts at once.
What must it be like for a man to depend on women for all of his needs, to be seen as weak and stupid relative to his female counterparts, to have minimal career potential? Howard would probably hang himself.
Well, he wouldn’t REALLY hang himself, Julia thought. Would he?
But as she continued down the path, something caught her eye: several vertical forms suspended from a crossbar, like corpses swinging from the gallows. Is suicide common here? Julia felt a coldness inside as she turned to face it.
No, it was just more cars hanging on their rack. But the scare had put a chill in Julia’s blood. Being here was destroying Howard’s ego, bit by agonizing bit. If they stayed here much longer, what would become of him? She found herself quickening her pace.
With her elongated stride, it wasn’t long before Julia found herself in a different neighborhood entirely – a surf shop, ice cream stand and other simple businesses clustered along the beach. She found herself in a seaside bar, the crashing sound of the waves augmented by the CLINK-CLINK of glasses being returned to their shelves. It was a ratty place, with peeling paint, a rickety thatch roof and wet sand on the floor.
“Wow,” said the bartender.
“Wow what?” Julia tried to smile as she occupied a stool. It creaked under her weight.
“Not often that we see a woman in here. Usually they just stick to the high class places.”
“I don’t come from a high class place myself,” Julia assured him. “”Do you have rum?”
“Course,” the bartender placed a half-gallon-sized bottle in front of her with a THUD, followed by a glass and a cocktail napkin.
“Oh! Wait, I don’t have any money.”
“First bottle’s on the house.”
“Really? That’s very generous of you.”
“It’s not that generous. You’re good advertising. Look.”
The bar had been empty when she came in, but now it was populated by several men. A few more seemed to be coming out of the woodwork. They were looking at her with furtive glances.
Julia fidgeted with the cocktail napkin, uncomfortable. “Why are they all staring a me?”
The bartender demurred. “Isn’t it obvious?”
“I’m not from this land,” she tried to explain.
“OK, young lady. They find you attractive.”
Julia stole a glance at the small gaggle of men that had wandered into the bar. Howard’s words still rung in her ears: he isn’t attracted to me, to my muscles. She held her arm away from her, examining the thick limb as if it were a foreign object. “How can these men find me attractive? I’m just a heap of meat.”
The bartender furrowed his brows.
He doesn’t understand, she realized. She flexed her bicep and watched it explode to 27 inches. “How can anyone find that attractive?”
The conversation in the bar swooned to a pause.
The bartender seemed to fumble with the glass he was drying. “ …what man wouldn’t be turned on by … by those muscles?”
Experimentally, Julia flexed the other bicep as well, watching as that muscle, too, inflate to its 27-inch glory. The double bicep pose caused her lats to explode outward for good measure as well, diagonal wings of muscle packing thousands upon thousands of pounds of power.
Conversation in the bar now ground to an unabashed halt. She saw the bartender grow wobbly on his feet and grip the bar for support. “It’s not fair … not fair the way you women tease us.”
“Sorry.” Julia lowered her arms and tucked them against her body. “I had know idea that I would, you know, have an effect.” Sheepishly, she took a few more gulps of rum.
Still clenching the edge of the bar for support, the bartender used his free hand to turn up the volume on the TV, as if to drown out the thunder of the storm that raged inside of him.
Was it possible – that men here actually liked muscles on a girl? She thought back to the visit to the fishing boat. The men there, too, had greeted her and Ruth with wide eyes. But Julia had assumed their reaction was due to the women’s nudity, or their womanly curves. She had assumed that the men were attracted to her despite any musculature, not because of it.
“Another bottle?” the bartender asked. He was looking at his shoes – apparently an attempt to preserve his self-control – and seemed unaware that the first bottle was mostly full.
Julia had to laugh. “A second bottle of pure alcohol? Even finishing one would put a person in the hospital.”
“It would put a man in the hospital, yes, but not you. You weren’t lying when you said you weren’t from this land, huh?”
She unscrewed the cap and looked at the half-gallon of clear liquid. A rush of confidence overcame her. It was yet another capability – another way that her new body was not just better than her old one, but many many many times better. Julia raised the bottle to her lips and tipped it back until the bottom was facing the ceiling. GLUG-GLUG-GLUG – enough rum to get an entire frat house tipsy poured down her throat in a matter of seconds. Julia returned the bottle to the bar with a SMACK, like a shot glass after a dare. “Sure. Another bottle.”
Over the chatter of the TV, she tried to think about her situation. Howard was miserable, and his misery was killing their relationship. Howard found her muscles repulsive. And none of this would be fixed until they were home. But how to get home? Her thoughts were disrupted by the loud noise of the TV in the background. “Any chance you could turn that off?” Julia asked.
“I’m not supposed to. My boss … she said the TV was there for all the customers …”
Julia sighed in disappointment. At the bottom of her peripheral vision, she saw how the motion of her sigh widened the dark chasm of her cleavage, mercilessly stretching the too-low neckline of her top.
The bartender snuck a quick glance at her fantastic bust, and then diverted his eyes.
He’s malleable, Julia realized. She softened her voice. “I don’t care what the rules say. Those men aren’t here to watch the TV anyway. Do you blame them?”
Julia inhaled again, this time more purposefully. Her breasts swelled, spreading the neckline of her top wide so wide that her aureoles threatened to come into view.
The bartender seemed to waver. His lips separated slightly, as if his mouth had suddenly gone dry.
Julia decided to pour it on with even less mercy. She now flexed her pectorals – deep slabs of muscle that would have made the chest of a male body builder look as scrawny as a child’s. Buoyed by their expanding foundations, her breasts exploded outward. Thick cords of cotton that had all the appearance of strength succumbed instantly to the combined volume of her superhuman muscles and immense breasts, producing a slow tearing sound that even male ears could hear.
The bartender’s eyes became glassy.
“Are you ready to change your answer?” she taunted. She flashed what must have been a brilliant smile and watched his resolve whither.
“Sure.” With wobbly hands, he slid the remote over to her. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“You WERE thinking. Now you’re not.”
His glassy eyes showed no recognition of the jibe.
Were all men in this world so easy to convince, she wondered? She looked around the bar and found more than a few eyes looking back at her. She tried to imagine what it would be like to have that sort of influence on a regular basis – cut any line, break any rule. It was a lifestyle a girl could get used to. She also tried to imagine what those men would feel like – the touch of their fingers on her skin, the touch of their lips on her own. No, Julia chided herself. Control yourself.
Julia knew that the OFF button on the remote was the big red one – she had observed as much back at the house. She was about to press it when she noticed another button she had recognized from breakfast: the MULTI-VIEW button. Something – instinct, perhaps curiosity – caused her to press it.
The screen divided itself into sixteen smaller broadcast images. The audio went from normal speech to a nonstop drivel, like the gurgle of a fountain. Julia furrowed her brow, wondering whether more concentration would allow her to access a skill that other women considered natural. But no insight came.
Julia upended the bottle of rum, tasting its delicious sweetness as she polished off her second half-gallon. This time, the alcohol was beginning to have an effect. The tension went out of her limbs, and her head felt like it was beginning to float.
Just relax, she told herself as her consciousness began to drift. It will all work out. Howard, the way home – it will all work out. As the rum’s intoxicating warmth filled her senses, she was overcome by a feeling of peace.
That was when it hit her. The gurgle of the TV suddenly separated itself like strands of hair falling out of a braid. The individual voices began to make sense to her. She felt her mind somehow … expanding. Like a muscle that had never been stretched, weariness and lethargy were soon replaced with a refreshed vitality as she challenged her neurons with a new task. In the space of only a few moments, she could feel her mental powers accelerating, becoming more precise and robust, comprehending all sixteen streams of sound simultaneously. A smile spread across her face.
“I hear alcohol sometimes does that to you women,” said a seventeenth voice. This one belonged to the bartender. “You don’t get drunk like we do. You just become more … aware. They say a girl’s mind opens up after her first few dozen drinks.”
“Thanks.” Julia opened contented eyes. She ran a finger down the man’s forearm and watched his body shiver on the edges of its self control. She still had him in her thrall. “Bring me a third bottle,” she purred, omitting the “please”. She didn’t need it.
By the time the third half-gallon of rum had found its way to Julia’s lips, she found a button on the remote that she recalled to be the closed captioning. Julia pushed it. The text of the native language appeared at the bottom of the sixteen screens. Although she had no difficulty understanding the spoken language, the written one had been incomprehensible to her and Howard.
But now, she found her mind beginning to pair the text that she saw with the sounds that she heard. And it was doing this not just on one screen, but on all sixteen screens simultaneously. It was as though she had been driving a car for several sluggish miles before realizing that the emergency brake had been on. And now, she was hearing the liberating CLICK of the emergency brake being released, of the car leaping forward, of taking the fetters off an engine that no longer had to hold back.
A minute ticked by. During it, her mind counted 2,453 words spoken across all sixteen channels. The same 2,453 words were displayed on the closed captioning. Julia paired the written and spoken words together and recalled it all with perfect clarity. She watched for another half hour, allowing another 71,236 words to embed themselves in her flawless memory, cementing what should have been years of hard study in only half-an-hour. At the end of that period, it was as if she had been reading this strange text her whole life.
With this sort of language comprehension, Julia could search the internet in ways Howard could not. Although he had spent many hours on the computer, he had been limited to images only, unable to ready any of the document titles or descriptions. Perhaps, now, she could help.
“Thanks for the drinks, and the company.” Julia rose from the bar stool. “I owe you.”
“No, you don’t,” the bartender replied. “It’s as they always say: show kindness to the Nourished and the winds of good fortune will soon fill your sails.”
Julia had no idea what that meant. But she didn’t care. She hit the road back to the house with frightening speed, her genetically enhanced legs firing like the pistons of an engine. Ahead, she could see a male-driven car was winding its way down the access road to the beach houses, traveling at perhaps 30 miles per hour. Julia blasted by it, her enhanced body moving at speeds that would have been suicide for a car on such a narrow road. The palm tree forest echoed with the rapid THUDS of her feet, and its undergrowth swayed from the breeze created by her high-speed body. The walk from the house to the bar had taken Julia perhaps an hour, but the blistering return she accomplished in little over a minute.
It was thrilling, certainly to be in command of a body like this – one that could run this fast, that could consume a volume of alcohol sufficient to put several men in their graves, that could process data at computer-like speeds, that could make a bartender unsteady with desire. But those thrills were just superficial to her now. The real thill, the one that made her deeply happy, was the possibility that she could use her new mental powers to find a way home – a way to bring her and Howard back together again.
The sound of outboard engines filled the air long before Julia reached the house. It’s the fishing boat, Julia realized-- the one that she and Ruth had encountered on the water. They had apparently caught their dozen or so eels – big surprise – and were taking Ruth up on her promise to celebrate. Julia initially dreaded the idea of a party at the house: it would be impossible to review cave maps on the computer with that going on. But as she approached, Julia was relieved to find that the party was coming together on the beach rather than inside. Ruth, the men from the boat, and the men from the house were all outside, with preparations clearly underway. The children were visiting their cousins for the rest of the week. Only Mindy was unaccounted for.
Julia slipped into the house unseen. It was quiet as a library.
On the computer, a single image of the caves consumed only a fraction of the five-foot-wide screen. The remainder was dark.
Her fingers traced over the keyboard, its keys packed with symbols, its layout as complicated as the written language it codified. This keyboard had bewildered her earlier. But with her new mastery of the written language, she had to furrow her brow for only a moment before she had it.
Julia opened a browser window and did a simple search on the the caves. Howard was right: the caves were like a bowl of spaghetti. The extreme complexity was only worsened by the task of displaying the three-dimensional complex on a two-dimensional screen. Looking at a bowl of spaghetti in cross-section tells you nothing about where the noodles are going, Julia realized. She flipped through a dozen maps in rapid sequence: even taken together, they presented an incoherent picture. Even interactive maps that allowed her to rotate the image were of no use: the bowl of spaghetti was equally incomprehensible from all angles. No wonder Howard had found the task impossible.
“Try a visualization.” It was Mindy’s voice, rich and sweet like chocolate. “They’re easy to find on the internet.”
Julia had heard Mindy coming from a distance, but was surprised she made a stop at the computer. “What’s a visualization?”
“Men can’t do them.” The girl reached over Julia for the keyboard.
The older woman felt a shiver run through her as the scent of hibiscus filled the air. The warm weight of the girl’s breast scraped over Julia’s forearm, with agonizing slowness. She felt a warmth, too, forming between her legs. Howard left me hungry for affection, Julia realized, and the alcohol is only adding fuel to that fire.
Under Mindy’s control, the screen lit up – not just the part Howard had been using, but the whole five-foot-by-four-foot area. It filled with numbers.
“The government publishes this data for everyone to use,” Mindy said. “They’re coordinates: latitude, longitude, and depth. Each one plots a point in the cave complex. You can use them to make a three-dimensional map.”
“How?” Julia paged down the screen. The tally at the bottom indicated that the data set represented about two million points.
The luxurious sweetness of Mindy’s voice filled the room with laughter. “You memorize them, you dolt.”
“Two million numbers. How can I possibly memorize all that?”
“No, each of the points has latitude, longitude and depth. Two million points on the map-- that’s six million numbers.” Mindy’s laughter returned. “What are you, scared?”
Julia grew self-conscious. A girl nearly half her age was mocking her intelligence. Julia felt like she was back at the side of the house, being told to grab a bar and lift.
She stared at the screen, the size of a small dining room table. It contained the first five thousand numbers. They soaked into her brain instantly. Wow, Julia thought. She could feel her mind rising to the challenge, flexing like a muscle. The sensation was thrilling.
She paged down. Another five thousand numbers soaked in. Oh wow.
She paged down again – another five thousand numbers. She could recall them all perfectly. It felt fantastic.
She paged down again – another five thousand numbers.
“Uggh.” Mindy’s voice dripped with sweet disdain. “I’m going to get old and grey before you’re done with this.”
Julia felt the younger girl’s finger press down on top of her own. The key beneath clicked, causing the browser to page forward. Mindy kept the woman’s finger gently pinned down, and the screen became a blur. It was paging through reams of data at blinding speed. One hundred thousand numbers sped by. Then two hundred thousand. Then the balance of the data set, all six million numbers. Julia felt her mental function swell with newfound power, absorbing the deluge of data with ease, committing it to perfect memory. She could access it, all of it with only a thought – no staring at screens, no flipping through paper.
Mindy took her finger off of Julia’s, tracing a tantalizing trail up the woman’s forearm. “Now,” Mindy said, “close your eyes.”
Julia did so. Her field of view filled with blackness. She felt Mindy’s strong hands settle on the slopes of Julia’s shoulders. She’s flirting with me, Julia thought. And I like it.
Mindy’s voice oozed over Julia’s mind like warm syrup. “Now, plot the points in your mind.”
She thought about the first few coordinates and plotted a point into the blackness – just a single bright dot in her mind’s eye. She did another, and another, and then let her mind loose on the task. The blackness blossomed into millions of bright dots – a three dimensional map more complex and detailed than all of the old-style maps she had seen.
“That was easy,” Julia whispered, her eyes opening. My mind is absurdly powerful, she thought to herself. Comparing Howard’s mind to hers was like comparing the size of a normal man to the size of a skyscraper. Julia tilted her head back to look up at Mindy, the girl’s downward-pointed face framed by a curtain of luxurious, walnut-colored hair. “There are three thousand nine hundred and sixty passages, and nearly twelve thousand intersections. Howard never would have figured it out.”
“Duh. Guys can never figure stuff out.” Mindy yawned. “I’m going dancing with Amanda. I’d invite you but Mom would kill me.”
Julia stared at the teenager, incredulous. Their minds had just performed to a degree that made even genius-level intelligence appear primitive by comparison. And all Mindy could talk about was partying!
Mindy twirled her hair around a finger and fixed her gaze on the distance. “Mom doesn’t want you going with us because she wants you at the party on the beach with the dudes from the boat. Mom sent me into to tell you that it’s all going to start soon. Which is obvious. But she wanted me to tell you anyway, to make extra sure you don’t miss it. I’ve never seen her so excited.”
“OK, I’ll be out in a minute.”
Mindy shrugged, and filled the house with the receding THUDS of her footsteps until the place was quiet again.
In the silence of the room, Julia rocked back in the large office chair and closed her eyes. The endless complexity of the caves came back to mind. She could feel her brain accelerating again as it visualized all two million plotted points instantly and with perfect accuracy. She tried to recall her original walk into this world: the specific ways in which the passages she traversed had twisted and turned. She tried to remember anything unusual. A hairpin turn, a long straight stretch – anything that would stand out in her new visualized map. Her memory of the cave passages was fuzzy, as she had traversed them before her mind had been Nourished. But several aspects of the first cave walk stuck with her, and she began to search those items on the map.
With fewer than four thousand possibilities to evaluate, the task took her computer-like mind only a minute. Once she was done, only a small fraction of passages remained eligible. She then thought about the intersections, comparing the twelve thousand ones in her mind’s map to the ones she remembered from her walk. In only a few seconds, she had a match.
Julia bolted out of the office chair and crossed the house in quick and heavy strides. She threw open the door leading to the porch and the beach. The activity out there was in full swing. The fishing boat had arrived, and its crew was scouring the tree line for firewood. Ruth’s husband was setting up tables and a barbecue, with Howard’s help. Nearby, the beginnings of a fire pit were coming together.
“Howard!” She startled herself with her own volume. Her voice boomed across the beach and ground the activity of the men to a halt. It was almost the voice of authority.
She motioned him to her.
Howard didn’t come at first. He looked straight at her, and then returned to setting up the bar-b-que. He was still upset over the day’s humiliations, she could tell.
But the other men admonished him. When a woman calls, you answer, she heard the men say. You don’t jog, you run.
Howard jogged. She imagined her news would set his mood straight.
“Let’s talk inside,” Julia suggested when he arrived. “I want to tell you something special.”
“Why? It’s not like anyone can hear us over here.”
Julia looked across the beach at Ruth. She was only 75 yards away. Even softly spoken words would be overheard. “There is no time to debate this. I need you inside.”
She gabbed Howard by the upper arm, one-handed, and hoisted him off his feet, his 175 pounds were still nothing to Julia’s genetically enhanced muscles. She marched him to the house, feet flailing. He squirmed and protested but could do nothing to return himself to the ground. Despite the trouble it’s caused us, she admitted, having so much power can come in handy.
Howard’s feet did not touch the ground until they were back in the home office. He sunk into the couch across from the computer. It was large and plush, with leather upholstery and heavy wood framing. He seemed to disappear into it.
She stood over him as his gaze bore into the carpet.
“Howard, I need to tell you something. Please look at me.”
His gaze continued to crawl across the floor.
The bottom of the sofa contained convenient handholds, so that women could move it without damage. Julia crouched down, slid her fingers into them, and lifted. Howard and the sofa rose easily off the ground.
Julia took a moment to appreciate the muscles that were doing the work – if it could even be called “work.” The man and the furniture combined couldn’t have been more than 500 pounds. Her football-sized biceps had not flexed at all to handle that load.
Howard continued to avoid her gaze.
“Howard, you and the sofa weigh about as much as a cup of coffee to me. I can hold this position all day if I need to.”
His gaze continued to crawl across the floor.
This wasn’t working. “HOWARD.”
Her voice filled the room and vibrated its contents. The mouse on the computer jiggled so much that it brought the screen back to life.
He looked her in the eye now, scared.
Damn it, she thought. That wasn’t how I wanted this to go.
She could see the reflection of the computer screen on his irises. She could see the furrows on his brows as he tried to comprehend it. “What is that?” he asked.
“A map.” She felt butterflies in her stomach.
“That’s a map of the caves,” he declared.
“I know. I found the way home.”