LaPorte Caves - Chapter 23
Written by circes_cup :: [Tuesday, 25 April 2017 09:04] Last updated by :: [Tuesday, 25 April 2017 10:15]
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.
The storm had returned in earnest, pummeling the beach with sprays of rain and heavy surf.
Julia found herself running along it. Running was the only thing she could think to do. Howard wanted nothing to do with her right now, clearly. If the shell around her neck were to be believed, the other men in her life were struggling, too. Sallan seemed afflicted by some medium-grade unhappiness – as anyone would be who had to weather that storm in a ramshackle dwelling. And Bendjimon – his situation seemed to worsen with every passing hour. Julia wondered whether she was cursed, whether every man who crossed her path ended up in the dumps one way or the other.
Whatever the problem with Julia and her men, she did know one thing: her pent-up muscles needed a lot more action than to sit in front of a computer, and her brain was tired of tiptoeing around Howard’s insecurities. A good run, at a hundred-and-fifty miles per hour, seemed her best shot at setting her evening back on track.
And if the mood of the storm bothered Julia, there was some solace in the fact that the wetness and the temperature of it had no effect on her. Her Nourished body was never uncomfortable, no matter how much chilling water beat against her body. And her clothes weren’t soaked because, well, she was hardly wearing any. What clothing she did have on was standard foul weather attire for the Nourished, a two-piece suit crafted of vinyl-coated steel. The bottom was minimal: just a thong-like center with alloy cabling over the hips. The top provided more coverage: a solid, flexible piece that spanned her breasts and came almost all the way up to the collarbone, to prevent water from pooling in her cleavage. What would have appeared scandalous to the old Julia seemed just practical now: with no cloth of any sort, there was nothing to absorb water. The rain would just sheet off the vinyl and her skin.
The ensemble was finished by a pair of goggles, a sleek, aerodynamic shapes that formed domes over her irises and then swept back over her temples. At high speeds, the shape shed water rather than allowed it to pool on her cornea, thus facilitating better visibility.
As the rain came down hard, let up, and then formed new squalls. At one-hundred-and fifty miles per hour, oncoming raindrops appeared to have horizontal movement, racing toward her face faster than they were falling down.
Julia sped past a small beachside town. She was thinking of picking up her pace even more when smelled something – something unusual. It brought her to a halt. She stripped off her goggles and looked around. It was a familiar scent – someone she had met before. But Julia had spent many days in The Weald before she had realized that scents had meaning, that they were as unique as names, that person she smelled should be tied to a name, a face, an identity. There were books in the library of her mind that had been read, but they had no titles and had never been indexed. This scent was one of those books.
She followed the trail of the scent. It lead into a parking lot on the outskirts of the small town. A man was there, on his knees, facing away from her, hands tied behind his back by something tighter than rope.
He was not alone. A dozen women were there. Julia knew none of them.
The rain was a deluge now, well illuminated by the harsh lights of the parking lot. His clothing was soaked, and he seemed to cower under chill of the water. The women, on the other hand ignored the storm. Clouds of warm water vapor rose off their bodies as their their skin maintained a perfect 99-degree temperature, ambivalent to the temperature of their environment.
Julia examined the faces of the women. They did not appear happy. One of the women approached him, her expression descending into a scowl.
“I can’t get them for you,” he pleaded.
“CAN’T isn’t an option,” one of the women replied, fuming. Her shoulders spread to a menacing girth.
“It’s a heavily guarded complex. I’m just the stupid landscaping guy. I have no reason reason to be in the secured area, and they know it.”
One of the women gave him a kick – just a nudge – and sent him tumbling into the feet of another of the women. When the man righted himself, Julia saw his face for the first time.
“You have a clearance to be on the grounds, and that’s more than we have. You WILL figure out how to get into the labs, too, little man. Because if you DON’T, we’ll pull your toes off one by one. And if that doesn’t get your attention, then we’ll actually do something really painful.”
“Please!” Bendjimon pleaded. “What you’re asking me to do is illegal. I am an un-Claimed. If I get caught, they could kill me.”
One of the women jammed her fist into her open palm with a SLAP. “You’re not going to get us what we need, will you?”
Bendjimon just stared at them with abject terror. His salt-and-pepper hair seemed to blanche whiter in the harsh lights of the parking lot.
“Well,” the woman who had kicked him removed a shawl, revealing the full extent of her braun. “You don’t have to worry about those nasty guards killing you. We can take care of it for them.” The woman hauled Bendjimon off his feet and dangled him in front of her.
Rain pelted his back and streamed off his dangling feet. Matted hair covered his eyes but stopped short of his open, pleading mouth.
Julia turned away. In fact, she did more than turn. She walked, away from the group. It was not her place to decide how the affairs of this world were conducted, she told herself. Bendjimon had been a fun evening in the shower, but that didn’t mean he was important to her.
The sound of the man’s desperate please filtered across the beach, only a murmur against the sound of the driving rain.
Before she resumed her run, she turned one more time. He had been dropped and then hit again, a blow that swung his face around toward her. He couldn’t see Julia, she knew. His eyes, wide with fear, stared vacantly into the darkness of the shoreline. He was so beautiful to her, Julia realized. She could still feel the passion of his kiss on her lips.
Another woman approached him, balled a fist, and cocked her arm.
“Wait!” The shout escaped Julia’s throat before she know that she had the courage.
All the eyes turned to her as she ran toward the group.
“You can’t kill him.”
The woman tightened her fist. “We are twelve, you are one, and you heard him: he is un-Claimed. We can do whatever we want to him.”
“No you can’t.”
“And why, perchance, is that?”
“Because I’m Claiming him.”
When Bendjimon left that group, he did so with his arms wrapped around the small of her waist with all the force their unenhanced muscles could exert.
Little else had been said in that parking lot. One of the women, angry, had challenged Julia’s commitment to going through with the Claim, which Julia reciprocated by challenging the woman’s commitment to keeping her own jaw intact. Julia had no idea whether one Nourished woman could harm the jaw of another, but if such a thing could be done, Julia was angry enough to prove it out.
As they left the group behind them, She did her best to drape her thick arm over his shoulder, so as to shield him a bit from the rain.
“I’ve never Claimed a man before, Bendjimon. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“You seem to be off to a great start.” Rain streamed off his face as he looked up at her “I’m alive.”
“Come on.” She ran her fingers through his beautiful salt-and-pepper hair. “I’ll walk you back to your house.”
Bendjimon’s house wasn’t a house. It was a broken down camper trailer, perched on a bluff.
“It’s small, I know. But I’m just a man.”
She stopped walking and tilted his chin up with her fingers. “Don’t talk that way about yourself. You may have a small home, but you are large here …” She touched his heart. “… and here …” her fingers graced his voluminous manhood, which swelled into her hand. “… and those are the places where it matters most.”
He reddened, but that adorable impish smile of his returned as well. He knew what he could do to her.
“Come, let’s get out of this weather,” she instructed.
One inside, he dried her body with a towel. It reminded her of how they first met – the fire, the washcloth, and how his attention to her lit a fire of its own. Now that they were out of the rain, that inner fire was building again.
The walls and roof of the trailer must have been thin, as the trailer was filled with a constant BOP-BOP-BOP-BOP sound from the rain, like a hundred fingers tapping against the exterior.
As the man stripped out of his soaked clothing, Julia looked around. The the trailer was spotless – clean, orderly, as well appointed as his income could afford. Where the sheets and sofa pillows had ripped, he had neatly sewn the torn parts shut. Where the wallpaper had bubbled with age and moisture, he had carefully scraped a section of it off and hung a picture that complemented the brown of the underlying board. Where the mirror had delaminated from its base layer – producing spots of black – he had hung a string of walnut-colored beads, distracting the eye from the mirror’s flaws. “Your attention to detail is incredible,” she remarked.
“I’d like to go from being a landscaper to something more, perhaps an administrator of an estate’s grounds. I like things to be neat, presentable, well ordered. So I think I could do well as a foreman on the landscaping crew. That’s my dream, at least. Another five years and I should be up for a promotion.”
Five years, Julia thought, just so he could get promoted to oversee the fountains and the topiaries. What a shame to have so many men devoting their lives to so little.
She unfastened the metal Claiming bead from her armlet, the size of a cherry. The with a twist, the bead separated into its two halves. Julia turned the stove’s gas burner on high and balanced the bead on the grate at the center of the blue flame.
“Thank you for saving me,” Bendjimon whispered. Water dripped from the tips of his hair as he watched the bead begin to glow red.
The room was filled with the tapping sound of the rain.
“Bendjimon, what exactly did you get yourself wrapped up in?”
“I don’t know. One of my landscaping jobs is for the Diana Tree Seed Repository and Research Center.”
“I’ve read about that,” Julia nodded. “They warehouse seeds from all different varieties of the tree, and have a library where they do research on growing techniques, et cetera. It’s the most famous institution associated with this coast, isn’t it?”
He nodded. “My job is to trim the bushes. And sometimes they have me do the flowers and the grass. But those women – they somehow found out that I work there and they want me to steal a set of keys. I don’t even know what locks the keys open, or why these people want them.”
“Did you agree to steal the keys?”
“By the skies and the moons, no. I would never do that. It’s wrong. And besides, that complex is guarded like nothing I have ever seen. Most places like museums and banks have lots of male guards and only a few female guards: lots of cheap eyes and ears and only a little expensive muscle. But that place – every single guard is female. It’s like the place is guarded by an army. And I can understand why. That building holds future of our civilization in it. Have you ever seen a building so heavily guarded?”
“No.” Julia’s struggled with the words she wanted to say. She reached into the blue of the flame and watched it flare yellow as it danced around her fingers. The fingers of the storm continued to tap walls of the trailer, impatient. You can lift a dozen cars, Julia told herself, so show some strength here, too.
“Bendjimon, there is something I need to tell you.”
She heard an intake of breath, but he said nothing. Only the storm spoke.
“I’m not from here. And I’m not staying here, Bendjimon. I’m just a visitor.” Julia forced herself to stop fidgeting, and spread her fingers flat over the flames. “I can brand you today, make you my Claimed. But I will not be here to support you financially. After a few weeks time, we will no longer know the joys of each other’s touch. What’s worse, with my Claim on your neck, no woman will share her affection without my permission. And they’ll never obtain my permission, as I will be gone. If you ever want to be Claimed by another, will have to rely upon the courts to get a Certificate of Abandonment and Order of Claim Removal. And that can take years.”
Julia watched the man absorb the terrible news. His eyes went dull, but he did not waver. Outside, the immense storm, wider than the coast was long, beat against the man’s tiny home.
“The bead is ready,” he observed.
She took it off the flame. It glowed red in the dimness of the trailer.
He sat in a simple metal folding chair, and then extended a beckoning hand to her.
“You don’t have to do this,” she cautioned. “I know enough about your world to understand that assenting to be Claimed is one of the few choices in a man’s life that is entirely his. You can say no, even now.”
He looked her in the eye and kept his hand open, beckoning. “A Claim is a gift, no matter what form it comes in. Every day that we spend together will have more happiness than a hundred Unclaimed days. And every day that your brand is on me will bring more safety and security than anything I knew before. You saved my life, and my heart swells to be with you Julia.”
She felt her insides softening at his eloquence. They didn’t name him Passionate One for nothing, she realized. “You’re more confident in my ability to help you than I am.”
“Us men are said to know by instinct which women are most capable of protecting them. It is a sixth sense, they say. And I have that sense about you. The moment you said you were Claiming me, I knew I wanted to belong to you, forever.”
The storm outside, as loud against the walls as ever, disappeared momentarily from Julia’s mind. There was only her, and him.
She climbed onto his lap, careful to straddle the metal seat of the chair so that his legs did not bear her weight. She pinned the sides of the seat with her thighs, locking his own legs firmly in place, and then held up the bead, glowing bright red. “Whenever you are ready.”
Outside, the thunder boomed as bolts of lightning seared trees and buildings and ground, leaving behind black, smoking scars.
Bendjimon’s wide eyes were filled with the red glow of the bead. “I’m sorry. I’m just … scared.”
“I’ll wipe out your memory of the pain after it is over.”
“OK.” His lip quivered.
He wasn’t OK, she could tell. With one hand, she released her top and let it fall to the ground. Her chest was level with his face. She twisted her torso, nudging one of her nipples into his lips. “Bite on this. It will distract you from the pain.”
He nodded and surrounded her nipple with his teeth. With two fingers on her forearm, he gently urged the red-hot ingot toward his neck.
The air filled with the smell of burning flesh, a grunt, and then squeals of agony. But bite he did, his mandible muscles flaring wildly, his teeth bearing down on her. Her nipple enjoyed the feeling, stiffening to something harder than stone. She hoped the comparatively frail man didn’t chip a tooth on her fleshy nub.
After a few moments, she took the hissing brand off his neck and tossed it into the sink. Tears were streaming down Bendjimon’s face. An urgent pressure, a deep ache, was building up in her breasts.
“Breathe through your nose now. I’m going to dull the pain.” She opened that dams of her body wide, and watched his cheeks fill as her affection gushed into him.
Julia watched Bendjimon’s eyelids droop until his eyes were white slits. The pain of the branding must have been immense, but the power of her chemistry was more so. She had injected so many painkillers into his bloodstream that, had one of his limbs been amputated, he barely would have felt it.
Once his eyes were closed, she pulled him in close to her and was soon in deep sleep herself.
Orange rays of dawn crept across the trailer. It was quiet. The storm had passed.
Julia wiped an errant droplet of milk from his impish cheek as he moved himself more deeply into the fortress that was her body. His blisters were going down quickly, and his body seemed at peace. Within days, his muscle tone would be improving, his manhood thickening, he affection for her growing still.
“When you branded me, did I scream?” he asked.
“It was painful for you.”
Bendjimon’s eyes were distant as he searched his memories. But he just shook his head. “Nothing.”
Seeing Bendjimon’s struggle to find his own memories underscored for Julia how nice it was to possess such awesome power. The reminder brought an involuntary heat to her breast. “I’ve been having bad dreams recently. But last night I was free of them.”
“That’s because you were touching me.” He brought the backside of his hand to her nose. “Sniff.”
She smelled his skin. Calm flooded through her. Her heart slowed a bit and the air seemed a bit fresher.
“Men have that effect on women. We settle your nerves and make you feel closer to whole. It’s best if your man is right in your arms, touching your skin. And the more you love him, the greater the effect is.”
Julia thought back to the previous night with Howard. Yes, she had fallen asleep on the couch when she had the nightmare. But spooning with Howard made it go away. She pulled Bendjimon into her embrace. “Do you want to watch the sun come up while we snuggle?”
“The window doesn’t point that direction.”
“You’re thinking like an Unclaimed. Try to think like a Claimed. Ask me to move it.”
“I’m not accustomed to asking women for anything.”
“You can ask nicely, but get accustomed to asking. I am your Mistress now. For as long as I am here, your happiness is my responsibility.”
“I don’t want to inconvenience you.”
Julia felt herself laughing, and gave her a peck on the temple. “A trailer like this can’t be more than 5,000 pounds. How could that possibly be an inconvenience?”
She scooted out of bed and greeted the outside air wearing nothing more than the peach fuzz on her skin. Reaching under the trailer, she hoisted its five thousand pounds easily. Deep indentations in the ground suggested that this was the first time the object had been moved in a while. Julia’s wished that that she could have stacked five or six of these trailers on top of one another for some proper strain, to make her muscles feel awake, at least. Above, a hatch in the floor of the trailer opened to reveal Bendjimon’s face looking down at her.
“Tell me when the view is better,” she said as she rotated the trailer, trying to point the main window at the rising sun.
“The view’s already perfect,” Bendjimon replied, his gaze lost in her pronounced breasts, her rippling shoulders and arms.
“You flirt! You’re going to pay for that.”
Bendjimon glanced out the window. “OK, that’s good. Stop.”
“I didn’t hear you!” she laughed, continuing to rotate the trailer. She took one arm down and began to spin in circles at about the speed of a merry-go-round.
“Stop stop stop!” He laughed from above. “I’ve been Claimed by a lunatic!”
Julia eventually did stop, lowering the trailer’s paltry weight down perpendicular to the rising sun. Once back by the time she was back inside, Bendjimon was already working on breakfast. Julia spread herself out on the bed and watched her new boy cook.
Lying on the bed afforded her an eye-level view of his well-shaped ass. It sent a shiver of happiness through her. As long as I am here, I own that ass. I can have as much of it as I want.
Bendjimon turned back to her several times as he was cooking. She was still naked. “It’s hard to concentrate with you lying there like that,” he admitted.
“That’s nice. What part of my body distracts you the most?”
Bendjimon turned to face her. Julia fought off an old instinct to be self-conscious as he examined her nakedness. “I don’t know. I think my favorite part is your glutes. Or maybe your abs. Your breasts are incredible too. Or maybe your pectorals – many guys overlook those, but yours are so thick, they do fantastic things to the position of your breasts. And I like your calves, your quads. And your lats – they’re so wide.”
Julia giggled. “You left out my pinkie and my nostrils.”
“Those are nice too.” His gaze lingered for a few moments longer.
“Your eggs are burning, lover boy.”
Bendjimon had to scramble to save the scrambled eggs. Moments later, he handed her the whole skillet and a fork. Julia offered him some. But she was hungry enough to eat all ten eggs, and Bendjimon knew it. No man would dream of eating until his mistress was satisfied, he explained. And Julia began to realize that further efforts to share her food would be heard as a rejection of his efforts. So, she just enjoyed gorging herself.
Propping the empty skillet on a nearby chair, she lay back on the bed, facing up. He lay town over her, laced his fingers over one breast and balanced his chin on top of his knuckles. “Tell me about your other men.”
“Really? Doesn’t it bother you to talk about my other men?”
“No.” His face was plain. “Does it bother you?”
“It’s certainly new for me. My body wants it, but my mind is less comfortable with it.”
Bendjimon looked from the mountain of flesh on which his head rested to the other, unattended mountain. “There is one of me, and two of you. This, for us, is a sign of the will of cosmos, of the Pillar that Upholds the Heavens. A man should be dedicated to one woman. But a woman should have many children, and many lovers. If I am to give your body the attention it deserves, I will need some help.”
Julia felt an unbidden happiness at the thought of having multiple men service her at once. Maybe Bendjimon on the right, Jofri on the left, and yes, Howard between her legs. It would feel as natural as the rising sun, and as joyous, too.
“From the look on your face, I see that you do not disagree. Tell me about the other men in your life.”
She described wise Sallan, shy but courageous Jofri, and last of all, Howard. “He struggles here, to be honest. Howard was raised to expect different things from life than you were, Bendjimon. And his only way of relating to me is to take care of me and protect me, which he can’t do here. But my love for him grew strong before my body did, and that love endures to this day.”
“What do you love about him?”
“He can be very sweet. His smile is sweet. He took care of me back in our home world – in a way that you would find hard to imagine – and that was very sweet too. Another thing that I love – and it’s really emerged here more than anywhere – is his perseverance. Right at this moment, he is working away at language learning, trying to go from a third grade reading level to fourth grade. Can you believe that? He simply doesn’t give up – on himself, on the possibility of succeeding in this world, on us as a couple. And that kind of dedication – it’s hard not to fall in love with that. But maybe the greatest thing about him, the greatest thing of all, is that the guy is totally, one hundred percent, fearless. He stands up for what he thinks is right. He started a company from nothing. He dated me… when all his friends laughed and said I was ugly and a loser, he just told them to fuck off. And when I gave him the option to leave this world, he actually came BACK to it – because it was a challenge, because he would never let himself give in to fear. For a guy that is used to beating treated as equal to women, that’s huge. And it makes me love him deeply.”
Julia searched Bendjimon’s face for a reaction, but saw nothing but curiosity.
“Does that upset you?” she asked. “To know that I love another more than you?”
“You are a superior being, surrounded by inferior ones dedicated to your pleasure.” She felt his manhood pry her lower lips apart and slowly sink into her flesh. His shaft was thicker and longer than Howard’s, and somehow harder, too. “Do I feel upset?”
“No, you feel wonderful.”
As she whispered those words, he sank his shaft the rest of the way in. Julia’s hand flailed, found the skillet, and without a thought, crumbled its thick iron as she moaned in ecstasy.
The new day that broke through the window of the trailer would be dedicated to a spa trip, it had been decided. While Julia indulged herself with spa treatments, Bendjimon would spend all day cooking. At sundown, she would return to the trailer and so that Bendjimon to serve her a six course meal.
Julia, of course, had tried to talk Bendjimon into some other sort of arrangement – something that would have been more fair to him. But the more she persisted in her objections, the more his anxiety built. When she finally conceded that he could simply take care of her, his anxiety seemed to melt away. Service is ingrained in them, Julia reminded herself. They’re only happy if they are they are subordinate to you. Just enjoy it.
With a simple touch of her communication bead, Julia was instantly on the line with Ash, who was up for a spa day as well, as soon as her mid-morning yoga class was over. The fact that Ash had much of the day available was no surprise: at one-hundred-and-fifty years old, Ash possessed plenty of wealth and free time. Her interest in a professional career had withered long ago.
Julia jogged down to Ash’s mid morning yoga class on the beach. After another a full hour of poses that would have been impossible for the unenhanced human, the women made straightaway for the spa. Of the many treatments options available at the spa, Ash recommended the hot stone massage, to which Julia agreed.
As it turned out, a hot stone massage in the Weald meant a three-ton boulder. A steel-framed suspension system, thick cabling, heavy counterweights, and motorized winches were used to position the boulder and move it over the woman. It was a great deal of infrastructure, but surely the one time cost of that equipment was lower than the cost of using female spa attendants.
Whenever he encountered tension or a knot, the attendant would slow the movement of the boulder and rock it back and forth over the affected area, slowly relaxing the muscle.
“How are things going with you and Howard? Has he warmed up to the shape of your new body?”
“No, but that’s ok.” Julia sighed as the boulder dug into a knot she hadn’t known existed. “I get plenty of action at the office, and I just Claimed a guy with a great personality.”
“Is he cute?”
Julia sighed. “Best ass this side of the caves.”
“That’s WONDERFUL,” Ash replied, raising herself to her shoulders. The boulder rolled down her spine, causing an awful creak in the suspension system as the attendant scrambled to respond. “You’re finally starting a harem. I’m so happy for you.”
Julia laughed, causing her own boulder to wobble. “I wouldn’t phrase it quite like that. I’m still a visitor here, you know.”
“Have you made any decisions about how long you and Howard will stay?”
“I don’t envision him being here forever. That was never the plan. And I, too, can’t be here forever. I have family back home, and my mother is getting quite frail in her older years.”
“I started to go through the same thing when my mother reached three-hundred-fifty. She’s down to bench pressing only two or three tons. It’s hard to watch.”
Julia’s opened her eyes to examine the red-headed woman on the table next to her. At one-hundred-and-fifty, her hair exuded a rich, fire-like light whenever the sun hit it. She had the face of a girl in her twenties, tight and flawless skin, and muscles that were surely every bit as big as they day she first Nourished. At a hundred-and-fifty years old, her breasts were huge and full, and the three-ton boulder was resting on this woman’s shoulder blades did nothing to compress her feminine orbs.
How could Julia bring herself ever to leave this, she wondered? Was there a way to break the addiction of the drink, a way to forget the joys she had experienced? Would she need another Nourished woman to wipe her memories for her?
Julia wiggled as the rock moved slowly down the length of her back, applying thousands of delightful pounds of pressure.
Perhaps there was a third way, Julia realized. Live here. Visit there. A cabin in the Kentucky woods where she could be with Howard and family every weekend. It would involve plenty of compromises – but, well, it was hope. The her body surrendered a bit more of her her tension to the boulder – tension she hadn’t known she was carrying. Could she really keep her body and keep Howard happy too? It was nice to have hope.
After their massage, the ladies were bathed in warm water and then perfumed with fragrant oils. Attired only in towels draped over their shoulders, they retired to specialized relaxation chairs with an excellent view of both the snow covered mountains and the sea. The sight of the distant mountains reminded Julia of her desire to get Howard skiing up there. She mentioned this to Ash, and it turned out that Ash also had a hankering to hit the slopes. It was decided that Ash would order up a helicopter to leave in two mornings’ time.
As they relaxed, the women were given fresh fruit, bread still warm from the oven, rich cheeses, mixed drinks containing a fragrant liqueur that was new to Julia. A pair of beautiful men emerged, one kneeling in front of each of the women. With practiced confidence, Julia’s man inserted his head between her legs and fixed his lips on her intimacy. A warmth flooded her body as the man’s mouth went to work.
Ash closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair, savoring the ministrations of her own attendant. “They lift weights with their tongue, just a pound or two, several hours a day, to strengthen it. You wouldn’t think it could make a difference, but … aaaahhhh … it does.”
“Mine is … quite skilled,” Julia admitted, the darting of his tongue sending shivers through her.
“I wonder what your Earth is like. Is it really that different?” Ash ran her fingers through the hair of the man between her legs.
Julia finished her drink – which, as usual was strong enough to put a man in the hospital – and thought about how to respond. “There are many differences. I wish every woman here could experience some of those differences. I think it would help the women of the Weald understand themselves and the men in their lives a bit better.”
“You should take me to visit this Earth. I’d love to see what it’s like.” Ash raised a piece of fruit to her lips, her bicep swelling to something that made a football look small.
I’m fairly sure the Earth couldn’t handle you, Julia wanted to say.
“Without the power of Nourishment, how do you women control your men?”
“The good ones don’t need to be controlled. They regulate their own behavior. And they’re sweet and gentle, too.”
“And is Howard a good one?” Ash cocked an eyebrow the shape of a perfect crescent moon.
Julia explored the tug of the shell on her chest. Exertion – he was still working away on that computer, for the third day straight. He had taken great care of her on Earth. When given a chance to return to it, he had remained in the land of male subordination voluntarily. He had even insisted on doing so. And now, he insisted on learning its language, learning its ways – no matter how hard it was for him. “No, he’s isn’t a good one,” Julia concluded. “He’s a great one. Before I met him, I didn’t know they made men that good.”
“I’m jealous. I’ve never had a man I would describe that way.” Ash breathed deeply as the attendant intensified his efforts. “Wherever you end up, you should definitely keep him.”
Dinner with Bendjimon that night was sumptuous. So was the sex that followed. But with the software test results due to come back the following day, Julia wants to spend the night at Ruth’s house, so that she could get directly on the helicopter the following morning. She had wondered whether taking her leave of Bendjimon would be weird for him, but he accepted naturally.
“Wear collarless shirts so that my Claim is easily visible to the women that have been threatening you. I’m pairing your phone with my equipment, so that you have a direct line to me.” Julia pressed a button on her communication bead and handed him back his phone. She then detached several currency beads and pressed them into his palm. “I’m also leaving you a portion of my income. It’s not much compared to other women, I know.”
He rolled the beads in his hand. “This would be two weeks salary for me. I’m grateful.”
“Await word from me.” She kissed him. “We will see each other soon.”
“Hey boyfriend!” The run back to Ruth’s house had been refreshing. It was late evening, and not surprisingly, Howard was hard at work on the flash cards. “Ready for a doctorate in that stuff yet?”
From a sitting position, he craned his neck all the way back to see eight feet up. “I wish. I still seem to be getting lots wrong.”
“Why don’t you give yourself the night off. Give it a fresh look in the morning and I’m sure you’ll do better.”
“I want to beat this thing, Julia. It’s as simple as that.”
“I’m sorry to see you wearing yourself out so much.” She ran gentle fingers over his cheek. “Please come to bed as soon as you can.”
Julia tucked herself into bed – alone – with some reluctance. She wondered how long it would be before the nightmares game galloping back. It turned out that the sound of their hooves was not far off at all.
Trees riddled with red tendrils, their leaves as yellow as their fruit, were being hewn at their bases and hauled into the fires. People were crying at the sight of the trunks and the branches feeding the towering flames. “This is what we must do,” they seemed to say with unmoving lips. “Destroy the dying, and perhaps some will yet live. Perhaps. We must hope.”
Women struggled to carry the trees on their shoulders. Even trees weighing as little as a ton were too much for some of the women, and every day it grew worse. Wrinkled and inedible fruit littered the ground. There was a screaming sound, not coming from the people. It was coming from the forest, or more specifically, from the trees.
And it was coming, also, from Julia.
“Wake up, Julia! Wake up!” Howard shook her. “You’re having a nightmare.”
She startled and swiveled toward the noise, half asleep. “Whaa?” Her arms flailed in mid air, found his chest, and shooed him away. He felt himself hurtling through the air before his back slammed into the far wall. His body made a BOOM as it hit the wall, followed by CRACK of the drywall rupturing.
Dazed, Howard watch his half-asleep girlfriend scramble to him. “Howard, darling, are you ok? I’m so sorry!”
OOOOOFFFF, he heard himself say as peeled himself out of the wall. He was covered in drywall dust. He hadn’t felt an impact like that since his auto accident five years ago.
Julia rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. She touched his face like he was a piece of fine crystal that could break at any time. Her hands were clammy. “Darling, I am so sorry! And I could have been much sorrier. I could have killed you.”
Howard gazed at her face. Her pupils had dilated to the size of peas. Her chin was shaking. He wrapped his arms around her. Or he tried. His hands could barely find each other on her backside.
“Howard, I’m so scared. I don’t even want to describe it to you.”
On Earth, this woman could bring a small army to its knees. He tried to imagine how anything could scare her. “It’s OK,” he said. “I’m here now.”
Julia broke the embrace and put her hands on his shoulders. Her eyes had gone glassy. “It was really freaky, Howard. I dreamed something about the trees. For the fourth time now.”
“Every woman is having those dreams. I hear them all talking about it, quietly.”
Julia bit her lip. That’s wasn’t what she wanted to hear, he could tell. “Could I ask you a huge favor? Can you … um … stay with me? Just leave the computer for tomorrow?”
Howard climbed into bed and felt her iron frame wrap itself around her. Her 375-lb body was trembling. “You might regret it. I didn’t take a shower earlier today,” Howard apologized.
“The more you smell like you, the better.” But then she breathed deeply, her body swelling into his before receding with a soft sigh. He felt her trembling stop, and her breathing slow and deepen. “Yes, it’s true. You calm me down like no one else can.”
“When I have these dreams, it’s like being lost in some endless, awful darkness. But the moment you touched me, if felt as though a torch was suddenly lit, and the darkness was driven away.”
That was nice to hear, Howard thought. He further contorted his body to fit her curves. For the first time in a long time, he felt useful.
The next morning, Julia’s energetic body rose just before the dawn. In the early morning quiet of the house, Julia returned to the computer and accessed the inner workings of the program. She had thought the problems would be sufficiently easy for his unenhanced intelligence, but Howard was right: he was still getting many questions wrong. She had put a floor and a ceiling on the difficulty of the problems, and the floor as too high. With lightening-fast keystrokes, Julia adjusted the diagnostic module so that the questions would get even easier.
“This is going much better,” Howard observed after he awoke. The first five questions he tried all came back correct.
“Here’s your homework, buddy. Ace this shit, then rest and relax this afternoon. Tomorrow, I’m taking you skiing.”
Howard smiled. “And what if I don’t want to go out in the cold?”
“Then it will be your worst nightmare: you have to spend the whole day in a cabin having sex with an eight-foot-tall girl built like a tank.”
Howard laughed. “In that case, I’ll get my mittens.”