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The LaPorte Caves – Revised – Chapters 05-06

Written by circes_cup :: [Saturday, 30 November 2019 11:01] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 30 November 2019 11:55]

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CHAPTER 5


SYNOPSIS UP TO THIS POINT

Julia and Howard took a wrong turn in a Kentucky cave and tumbled out into a world of amazon women. At first, Julia was disgusted by the size and strength of the amazons. But curiosity and jealousy get the better of her, and she soon finds herself drinking the transformative elixir.

DISCLAIMER

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.


Julia awoke to the heat of Mindy's breath against her neck, and the warmth of Mindy's naked body against her own. Comforters were piled high on top of the pair. The soft light of morning was gone from the windows: it was already mid-day. Julia felt a happy glow between her legs. What in the world did I just do, she wondered to herself? Did I just fuck a girl – and one half my age? Am I a lesbian now? A lecherous woman who cavorts with nineteen-year-olds?

"Hey lover girl," Mindy whispered, squeezing her tightly.

Something about Julia's body felt different. The taste of Nourishment was still on her lips. Oh no, she thought. "Did I…?"

"Ssssshhh," Mindy chided. "It's ok that you don't remember. That happens when you Nourish for the first time."

"How much did I drink?"

"Seventeen, eighteen gallons," she grinned. "I finally just relocated you to the bathtub so that you could piss as fast as you drank."

"Am I going to be OK?"

A devilish smile crossed Mindy's lips. "What was your least favorite part of your body?"

"My thighs," Julia complained. "My huge and flabby thighs."

Mindy grabbed the woman's hands. Julia felt her hands being guided down to her thighs. What she encountered there was hard and smooth. Julia's fingers spread wide over the ellipsoid curves. Oh my gosh, Julia thought. This Nourishment – it did something…

"And my ass," Julia offered. "I've always hated my ass."

She felt one of her hands guided, sliding between the sheets, to her ass cheek. No longer droopy, it was a firm globe.

"And my tummy." Julia was breathless. "It's always been round and flabby."

Mindy's fingers steered Julia's palms to the woman's tummy. The round shape and flabby flesh had been replaced by six hard bumps. They rose and fell with every breath: they were a part of her!

"Holy shit," Julia whispered. "And…"

"Yes?" Mindy's breath was sweet and inviting.

"My tits. So small. And always so droop—"

Julia couldn't finish her sentence. Mindy's hands had guided Julia's upwards. The mounds they had encountered there were firm … and immense. Julia was moving her own fingers now, trying to circumscribe to entirety of her swollen bust. She was huge! She had never thought about what it would be like to live in a body so exaggerated, so extreme. The thought was jarring.

"Anything else you didn't like about your old body?"

"I can't even think right now."

"How about your lack of erogenous sensitivity?"

"My what?"

Mindy's head disappeared beneath the covers. Julia felt a pair of lips on her nipple – gentle, at first, then more insistent. She felt Mindy's tongue rake across the flesh. Julia released an involuntary groan. Then the suction of the girl's lips returned with exuberant force.

"Fuuuuuuuuck," Julia moaned. Her body exploded into orgasm – or maybe it was multiple orgasms. It was more powerful than anything she had ever experienced with Howard. She bit her lip to restrain the pleasure. I shouldn't be doing this, Julia thought. I love my boyfriend.

Mercifully, Mindy's ministrations ended as fast as they began. "That was just a taste."

"I'm not going to be huge, am I? I don't want to be a giant, to tower over Howard."

"Blissfully, beautifully huge."

Oh no, Julia thought. She bolted off the bed and found herself naked in front of a full length mirror. Or better said, she found a phenomenally muscular body at the height of athletic perfection standing in the full length mirror. But it was her face, her shocked expression on the top. Her neck, formerly skinny, had thickened with sleek cords. The dramatic slopes of her trapezius muscles lead her eye down to powerful shoulders that must have been three feet wide. Biceps that had been small balls of dough before Nourishment were now the size of footballs, with the rest of her arm growing in proportion. Her thighs reminded her of steel beams. Even her calves were carved with an intimidating mass of muscle. Her midriff was everything her fingers had detected, an expanse of six chiseled balls of power.

Last of all, she took in sight of her breasts. They had gone from unremarkable and demure to something beyond magnificent. Formerly a B-cup, they were now bigger than volleyballs. Free of encumbrances,her "girls" pointed their nipples slightly skyward in blithe unawareness of their former sagginess. They were so full and firm, Julia couldn't imagine she would ever need the support of a bra again.

Mindy was in the mirror now, too. She had wrapped her arms around the Julia and seemed to be estimating her dimensions.

"Nice, girl!" Mindy extolled. "You're probably 21 inches on the arms, 29 or so on the thighs, and 54 around the tits. The Nourishment was kind to you, as they say."

"Uh thanks." Being assessed like this was new for Julia and it made her uncomfortable. She found herself pulling a terry bathrobe off a hook and wrapping it around herself.

"Let's get going to the beach. Speaking of Howard, he's probably dying with curiosity about what's going on with you."

Fuck, Julia thought. Howard is going to kill me. "I should call him now. I should break the news to him about this before he sees me like this."

"Whateva," Mindy shrugged, pulling the phone receiver off the wall. She punched in a number, told the person on the other end to get Howard, and then handed the receiver to Julia.

"What the FUCK?" Howard's voice barged through the telephone line.

"I'm sorry honey, I really am." She motioned Mindy to leave the room. The girl responded only with a smirk. She thinks this is funny, Julia realized. Julia gave her a kick in the rear and then swung the door closed behind her. "I don't know how it happened, Howard. I haven't been able to stop thinking about the fruit since I was eating it in the woods. It had some sort of effect on me."

"The effect is called addiction, Julia. And if the fruit was a little bit addictive, the shit you just drank is a lot more."

"The addiction occurs only during the initial dosage. After the transformation is complete, consumption is voluntary. I can stop whenever I want.”

"All addicts talk like that."

Julia was hurt. She had never been labeled that way before. "Trust me, please. I don't want to be this huge my whole life." But then Julia looked again at the mirror. The sloppy knot in her bathrobe was already coming undone. The covering of plush terry separated enough to reveal some of the stoney bedrock of the body beneath it. Her tits, too, were coming into view – twin volcanoes of feminine sexuality slowly separating the clouds of white cloth that had tried to obscure them.

"Julia? Did you hear me?"

"I'm sorry, Howard. What did you say?"

"What you did was incredibly reckless. You have no idea what sore of physiological differences may exist between you and them. It's safe for them, but is it going to make you sick? Is it going to kill you?"

Julia cupped a hand under one of her breasts. Its volume felt firm to her hands, and yet soft and natural as well. "Maybe it will make me sick, Howard. I don't know. I sure don't feel sick." She gave her breast a gentle squeeze. A thrilling sensation coursed through her body. "In fact, I feel good." That was an understatement she realized. Just the gentle squeeze of her breast – it had felt GREAT.

"Julia, I can't tell you how disappointed…"

There was a knock on the door. It was Mindy, still naked. Julia temporarily lost track of Howard's recitation of his disappointment. Mindy was pouting, and it was… damn sexy.

"I'm bored," Mindy announced. "Half the day is already over. Let's go to the beach."

"Howard, I have to go. I'm coming over to the beach house now. I'm really sorry about everything. I wish I could make it up to you. We can talk about it when I get there – long as you want. OK?" Julia hung up the phone without waiting for an answer.

Mindy was already stomping her way down the hallway. Julia went after her.

"We need to find ourselves some bathing suits," Mindy declared over her shoulder. "I've got tons of them you can borrow."

Julia followed the girl to her bedroom. Mindy yanked open a small drawer, packed with brightly colored strips of cloth. She slowly thumbed through the options. Julia watched her bare breasts rise and fall with each calm breath. She isn't bashful about her nudity at all, Julia realized as she pulled her terry robe back together.

As long last, Mindy extracted an imperial blue-colored scrap of cloth. She stepped into it. The bathing suit – to the extent that this garment was anything at all – consisted of a tiny bikini bottom with string ties connecting the front and back panels and an equally revealing top. The top formed an x-shape in the front: from the neck, a thin strip of cloth crossed over the nape of her neck, over one breast, straight across the back, and then over the other breast before circling the neck again. It seemed to offer little coverage – and even less support.

"Take anything you like out my drawer. Most of it should fit you fine."

Julia thumbed through the drawer. Her thumbs came across traditional bikinis with triangles smaller than her palm, a bandeau top no wider than four fingers, a one piece arrangement that featured more string than cloth. "Don't you have anything else?" Julia asked.

"Else?" Mindy was offended. "I've got like, fifty, suits in there."

Julia stared down into the drawer. It was much like Ruth’s: perhaps two feet wide and six inches deep – the size of two shoeboxes — and it contained fifty bathing suits. That's how tiny everything was. "I'd… I'd just feel comfortable in something with more coverage."

"You don't need it. Only men need bulky clothes."

Julia crossed her arms instinctively. "I'd just feel better that way. Maybe I can just wear my old clothes for now."

And so she did. Slipping on her old panties was no problem. Getting the bra around her new bust was pointless: that was instantly discarded. Jeans – they came on only with the utmost care, with both girls tugging gently upward until the pants were around Julia's generous hips and backside. They resembled not a garment but a thick layer of blue paint. Her t-shirt stretched over her breasts, barely. But on her new body, it had become a crop top. Its hem, which had been intended for her waist, had now ridden up to the underside of her breasts and was straining against the breadth of the mass it contained.

"You look totally ridiculous. And that outfit is never going to last. But have it your way. Ready for fun in the sun?" It didn't appear to be a question: Mindy was already halfway down the stairs.

Before opening the front door, Mindy extracted a metal armlet from a hook on the wall and fastened it over her bicep. The armlet consisted of several parallel metal bars connected periodically by crossbars, like a fence with its posts. On the bars were fastened beads, some brass in color, others various colors such as gold and turquoise and celadon. Julia had seen other adult women wearing these as well, but had never figured out their purpose.

Once outside, Julia had expected the girl to step toward the cars in the driveway. But Mindy was walking the other direction, toward the bike path out back.

"We're not driving?"

"Too many stoplights," Mindy explained. "Faster if we go on foot," she said, pointing to a dirt trail that lead into the woods. "It will be nice to get some exercise today."

"But how far is it?"

"Thirty miles."

More than a marathon, Julia thought to herself. I've never run more than two miles in my life, and those were at a miserable 10-minute pace. It will take us five or six hours – and painful ones at that.

But Mindy seemed not to notice her acquaintance's concern. She stepped briskly into the bike path and started a slow jog. Julia followed. The path was much like the ones at home, but was divided into a number of different lanes. One lane was stenciled with an outline of a man on foot. The next showed an individual on a bicycle. The last showed another individual on foot, but this one had curves and a skirt. This was the lane that Mindy chose.

Before two or three strides, however, one of the metal armlets on Mindy's arm began to vibrate and buzz. Mindy removed a metal kernel and stuck it in her ear. "Hey Mom," Mindy said.

Julia suddenly realized that these particular beads comprised a cell phone of sorts. She listened to Mindy's side of the conversation.

"Howard told you? … Yea, she did… no, she looks good… yea, everything normal…"

As the conversation proceeded, Mindy picked up from a jog to a run, and then from a run to a sprint. Men who were running in the adjacent "Male Pedestrian" lane were huffing and puffing, sweating as they ran as fast as they could. But the girls were passing them effortlessly, with Mindy on the phone the whole time.

Mindy wasn't wearing any shoes, and Julia wondered whether the slapping of her feet on the pavement would be painful. But, belatedly, Julia realized that she herself wasn't wearing any, either. The impacts were painless.

As the pair increased their pace steadily, Mindy continued to talk on the phone. Before long, the wind on Julia's face was so intense, it felt as though she had stuck her head out of a car window. Her surroundings were zipping by.

My joints should hurt, Julia thought. They always do when I run. But now they don't. And my tits – even my old B-cups would have hurt without a sports bra, right? But Julia detected no pain. And I shouldn't be breathing heavy, like I always do? But she wasn't.

"OK, we should be there before lunch," Mindy's conversation continued. "OK, see ya in a bit." Mindy turned reached back to the armlet-phone-whatever and turned it off.

"How fast are we going, anyway?" Julia shouted over the wind.

"About 30."

"30…" Julia gasped. "30 miles per hour?"

"I know, lame, right? But your crappy ass clothes are going to explode if go any faster."

"I happen to like my crappy ass clothes. What do you mean, 'explode'?"

RRRRIIIP. Julia felt air on thighs that should have been covered. She looked down to see that her bulging quads had split the denim, opening it wide from the hip to the knee. Julia slowed to a halt. Those were my favorite jeans, she silently lamented! She bent over to examine the damage, running her fingers over the tear.

RRRRIIIP. This time it was the back of her t-shirt, splitting wide as she bent over. It tore from the shoulder blades to the bottom hem.

"You're a disaster," Mindy declared as Julia scrambled to hold her ensemble together. "There's a beach shop a mile or two down. Come on, I'll buy you some real clothes."

Embarrassment consumed Julia as she traveled the bike path in shreds. The chime on the door of the beach shop, signaling that she had finally made it to the privacy of the store, was the best sound she had heard all morning.

But the relief of being inside the store was short lived. Whereas the men's side of the store had the usual array of swim trunks – heavy swaths of loose material that would cover everything from the waist to the kneecaps – the women's side of the store was something different entirely. That side was like Mindy's drawer writ large: rack after rack of tiny cloth strips. Julia extracted a few plastic hangers and examined the garments that hung from them: in all cases, the largest element of the ensemble was the hangar itself.

"Maybe… maybe this one?" Julia suggested, selecting the largest garment she could find. It was olive, with a silvery sheen.

"That's a great suit," the man behind the counter agreed. "It's a popular style. Heat treatable. And it's got a great Martindale rating as well. You could probably go ten thousand miles in that thing and not wear it out."

Julia looked to Mindy for an opinion and got a nod in reply.

"Feel free to try it on," the attendant offered.

Julia did, stepping into a changing room and discarding her tattered garments. The suit was slingshot style: just two strips of cloth that rose vertically from the crotch to cover the nipples, then darted down her backside to her rear. There were some small connecting straps, not thicker than strings. As she snaked her arms and legs into it, she wondered how it could possibly stay on.

"It seems loose," Julia admitted as she pulled the dressing room curtain aside.

"We can fix that. It's supposed to be loose until we treat it. Do you like it otherwise?" He motioned Julia to a full length mirror.

Julia looked at herself. Her physique was a study in sculpted lines. Her hips and her breasts her overall hourglass shape had been enhanced to a degree that earth girls could only dream about. They were an unapologetic advertisement of femininity. Moreover, the iron-hard curves of her muscles did not seem not so grotesque to her anymore. They were generous and exuberant, somehow complementing her feminine curves.

"Yes," Julia said, feeling her grin widen. "I do like it."

"OK, then let's treat it so that we can get the fit right."

The shop attendant led the two ladies to a corner of the store that was separate from the rest. Cinderblocks lined the floor and the the walls. A smoke hood – something one would normally find in an industrial kitchen – was installed above. The attendant donned a welding mask and a jacket that would have been suitable for a firefighter. He picked up a contraption that resembled a leaf blower, but was metal and blackened with burn marks. He flipped a switch. The contraption roared to life, spewing a yard-long column of flame. The heat turned the air wavy, and Julia could feel its burning power against her face. The attendant adjusted a knob, causing the yellow column to shorten and turn blue.

"Mindy, what the fuck is he—" Before she could finish her sentence, the contraption was pointed at her, and she was covered in the inferno.

Mindy misinterpreted her concern. "He's wearing all the shit because fire can really hurt men," Mindy laughed. "Do I have to explain everything to you?"

The flame crossed her chest, and a metallic smell tickled her nose. The metal of my necklace is softening, she realized. This flame was super hot – every bit as hot as a blowtorch back home. It should be hurting me, she thought. It should be killing me. She watched as the torch followed the cloth of her suit down over her collarbone and then onto her breast. Her nipple stiffened happily at the incinerating heat, oblivious to the pain and blistering and death it should have caused. Her suit made a crackling sound as it tightened around her. This is like heat-sealing something in plastic, Julia realized. It's being molded to fit my body.

The realization sent another happy thrill through her. All her life, she had been trying to get her body down to the right size. She had been trying to fit into clothes that would make her feel sexy. But this was the opposite. In this new world, she didn’t have to apologize for her body. And she wasn't molding herself to fit the clothes. The clothes were being molded to fit her.

The flame wandered across the other collarbone. The necklace lost more of its shape. Howard bought that necklace for me, Julia recalled. It was just a cheap little thing from a farmer’s market, but it was one of his first gifts for me.

The heat, blasting unabated, was soon too much for the necklace to take. The chain melted entirely. Julia watched with fascination as superheated blobs that should have left blisters instead left rivers of satisfying warmth as they rolled harmlessly over the large swells of her bust. The red-hot beads of molten metal then disappeared, harmless, into the depth of her cleavage.

"I am very sorry bout your necklace," the attendant said ruefully. “Did it have sentimental value.”

"It's ok," Mindy replied, on Julia’s behalf. "She can replace it."

-------------

"Can we run 30 miles per hour again?" Julia asked as the shop door closed behind them.

"No, we most certainly cannot," Mindy replied. "If you make me run at that pace again, I am going to fall asleep. Now that you're wearing a real suit, we can run a real pace."

"You mean, we can run faster?"

Mindy rolled her eyes. Her legs kicked up, and she took off like a shot.

"Wait up!" Julia shouted, not wanting to be left behind in this unknown land. She concentrated on pumping her newly massive legs, and she felt herself accelerate dramatically. Soon, she was alongside Mindy again, their legs a blur beneath them.

Their surroundings shot by. The girls passed male runners like the men were standing still. The long tresses of Mindy's hair were blown so hard, they flapped nearly horizontal in the rush of air. She knew that their speed must be phenomenal – perhaps as fast as anything she had ever experienced in a car.

A group of male cyclists appeared ahead, muscles straining as they urged their bikes forward. When Julia first saw them, they were several hundred yards ahead. Seconds later, they were several hundred yards behind. The girls were clearly moving at a ridiculous speed. And she didn't feel tired or winded at all. I could run like this forever, Julia reveled. These bodies – they are simply incredible!

After only a few more minutes of running, the exercise trail came to an end. Mindy slowed to about a quarter of her previous speed, zipping through a parking lot at stopping them at the foot of a sand dune.

Julia was thrilled that her bare feet didn't ache in the least. "How fast did we go?"

Mindy screwed up her teenage eyebrows in concentration. "About 100."

100 miles per hour for three minutes and nineteen seconds, Julia thought. "That's five-and-a-half miles. In my old body, that would have taken an hour!"

They climbed a short trail to the top of the sand dune. The beach spread out before them, miles upon miles of sand. It was crowded, mostly with men.

"This is the Men's Beach. It's a public service, since single men can't afford their own beach houses," Mindy shrugged. "It's kind of lame."

"But your family can afford a beach house?"

"Of course we can," Mindy shrugged her massive shoulders. "We've got much more money. After all, we have me and my mom in the family."

"Women make a lot more than men?"

Mindy laughed, the imperial blue of her top straining to constrain the heaving of breasts. "Yes, dummy. I just got hired for a summer internship, and I'll be making five times more per month than my dad ever made. Although we told him it's only three times, to protect his feelings. We let him have a career only because he'd feel worthless otherwise."

"Why do women earn so much more than them?" Julia asked, looking over the sea of men.

"Because we're better at EVERYTHING."

"I can see how we would be better at construction and stuff. But all jobs?"

"Sure. Finance, engineering, everything. Men can't even do long division."

"Neither can I," Julia admitted.

"How far did you say we just ran?"

"Five and a half miles."

"How do you figure?"

"Well three-minutes-nineteen-seconds is 3.316 minutes. So, 100 miles per hour times 3.316 divided by 60 is roughly five-and-a-half."

Mindy returned a knowing smile, the ocean breeze causing her perfect hair to billow in the wind. "Carry it to four decimal places."

"5.5278," Julia replied, her eyes widening. "Wait a minute. How can I do that?"

Mindy shrugged. "And how do you know we ran for exactly three minutes and nineteen seconds?"

"I guess… I guess I just do. Was I right?"

"Yup! Your internal clock is more accurate that those wristwatches the guys wear."

"This… this isn't possible."

"Sure it is. Brain cells need oxygen to grow. Our lungs are better, so they deliver more oxygen to our blood. And our hearts are stronger, so they deliver more blood to our brain. So, yeah, our brains can grow more brain cells – lots more." Mindy began to tick items off on her fingers. "Better depth perception. Better pattern recognition. Better fact retention. Better processing speed. Greater analytical power. Better hand-eye coordination. Faster typing, and with greater accuracy. More creativity. Better vocabulary. And not just a little bit better. You're, like, way, way better. Superior by a long shot."

The realization was almost too much to take. Julia watched the waves crash on the shore, upending everything in their path, turning it upside down, rearranging it. "That's pretty fucking cool," she finally whispered.

“Anxiety will mess up all your cognitive stuff,” Mindy cautioned. “If you ever suspect that your not at the top of your game, have a good fuck and you’ll feel better.”

Julia could only laugh.

Mindy pointed across the bay to some minuscule dots on the far side. "Our house is the third one from the left. It's only about six miles as the bird flies."

Julia stared across the water at the distant squares.

"We could run around the bay. That would be about ten miles. But the Men's Beach looks pretty crowded today. Running through a crowd of men is a real drag: you can really hurt them if you collide with them, and zig-zagging really slows you down. It would be better if we swam."

"Across? Across the bay? Six miles?"

"Uh-huh". She skipped and hopped across the sand until they arrived at a rock jetty. The jetty protruded straight into the water, a length of about one hundred yards. Mindy picked her way over the rocks. At the far end, waves broke across it in violent somersaults, creating menacing swirls at its base.

"I'm not that strong a swimmer." Julia smoothed her hands over the swell of her thighs. "Or, I wasn't."

Mindy seemed confused. "Back in your old body, did swimming six miles take … effort? Was that like … exercise?"

Julia only looked at the churning water. She didn't like being all the way out at the end of these rocks. The water seemed powerful and angry.

Mindy sprang out over the water, her massive body crashing through the surface like a bomb, spraying water across Julia's face. She watched as Mindy carved up the water with powerful strokes, leaving the jetty quickly behind. If I don't follow her, Julia realized, I'll be stuck on this beach alone.

So follow her she did. Julia scrambled down to the water, took a deep breath, dipped her body in, and pushed off. For Julia, swimming had never been a pleasant experience. She was accustomed to being thrown about by the waves. She was accustomed to gulping water where there should have been air. She was accustomed to the burn of salt water on the surface of her eyes as she peered underwater into impenetrable blue gloom.

But now it was different. Her sturdy arms and legs clawed through the water with unflagging power. When she opened her eyes below the waves, it did not hurt. And, boy, could she see: other swimmers, jet skis, fish and rocks below were all easily visible. The underwater realm had opened itself up for her with stunning clarity. Nothing here could hurt her, she realized, nor even make her uncomfortable. She felt just as much a sense of belonging here, in the open ocean, as she had felt in her walled garden back home. Julia came up for a slow, deep breath, then submerged. She adopted a crawl stroke. Her limbs rejoiced as they filled once again with their inhuman power. She began to tear through the ocean waves as though they were nothing more than ripples in a bathtub.

Howard would be so proud to see me swim like this! But then again, she realized, he would be disappointed, too – disappointed in the way she had broken her promise, the way she had endangered her health with an unknown drug, the way she had made their going home all the more complicated.

It's ironic, Julia realized as she powered ahead. I first got a nervous flutter in my chest when I saw that I’d be swimming through six miles of ocean waves. And now I’ve got a nervous flutter because of the guy on the other side.

—————-

CHAPTER 6


SYNOPSIS UP TO THIS POINT

Julia and Howard took a wrong turn in a Kentucky cave and tumbled out into a world of amazon women. Howard made Julia promise that she would never drink the elixir that would transform her into an amazon. But then he learns that she has broken her promise, and both of them now have to live with the consequences.

DISCLAIMER

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.


Howard flipped another pail of sand into the desultory pile and stared off into the distant waves. Where the hell was she? From the moment he learned about Julia taking the Nourishment, he had been sick with worry. Who knew whether an Earth woman had the same physiology as the locals? Who knew what harmful effects the drink might have?

He glanced at the driveway, looking for an arriving car. Nothing.

In fact, Howard admitted to himself, he had begun the worrying long before he got the phone call. Julia and Mindy had originally been expected at the beach house yesterday morning. When they didn't show, Howard had suspected that something was up. He had tried to distract himself by doing all the internet research that he could on the caves. But the written language of this foreign land was indecipherable to him, and the ever-distractible Becky had shown little patience for reading aloud whatever he found.

Then came the phone call from Julia.

After she had hung up the receiver, the passage of time became painfully slow. He had done everything in his power to corral his anger — swimming, taking a jog, whatever. But none of it took his mind off the mess the couple was in, so he had resigned himself to helping Becky and her brother make sand castles.

Howard glanced at the driveway again. Still nothing.

On the phone, Julia had said that she and Mindy were leaving for the beach straightaway. That meant that they would not be here for another thirty minutes. But he couldn't resist craning his head and looking for their arriving car. Was she ok? Flipping out? Experiencing side effects? It the moments when his anger subsided, it was only replaced with concern.

"Hi sis!" The boy next to him squealed.

Howard turned and saw the massive Mindy standing at the water's edge, wringing out her shoulder-length chestnut hair. How the hell had she snuck in here? Why hadn't he heard the car?

"Hey Mindy, wasn't Julia coming with you?"

"She'll be here in a sec," Mindy replied, jutting a thumb toward the water.

Howard glanced over the surf, not comprehending. No car in the parking lot, no boat at the mooring – how the heck did they—

But Howard did not have the opportunity to finish the thought. A head had emerged from the water: Julia's. Or at least, the head was a version of Julia's. Her cheekbones seemed a little bit more pronounced, her eyes a little bigger, her lips a little fuller. Her facial skin, which had always been light in tone, no longer appeared pale but instead had the richness of cream. Her hair, which had always been a dull brown, now shone like copper. She was still Julia, but… perhaps… prettier?

Howard tried to ignore the observation. He was under stress, after all. And very glad to see her, or at least, the top six inches of her. The stress alone might explain why her face looked a little bit different to him.

He waded toward her bobbing head. But the surf was rough, and he found that going in above his waist made standing up difficult. So he stopped ten feet away from her. She blew a spray of water away from her mouth to clear room to speak.

"Hey," she said, her hair matted over her face like a sheet of copper. Her eyes were cast down to the surface of the water, which was still just below her chin.

Howard knew this look. It was when she was at her most vulnerable, when she needed a shoulder to cry on. A sympathetic ache formed in his chest.

"I know you're probably mad at me," she continued.

"Not mad. Worried. Upset. Someone I love just ingested a drink that rewrites genetic code."

Julia frowned. "I guess I wasn't thinking about that at the time."

“Exactly what the fuck WERE you thinking?” Howard snapped.

She drowned her gaze in water just below her chin. "I don't know, honey.”

Howard did his best to lead his anger back to its corral. "Don't despair. We have to keep a positive attitude. If you ingested the drug only a short while ago, you’re still in the early stages; there may be a way to prevent the worst effects."

“I think it's gone beyond that," she said softly.

"No, there has to be something we can do. Come on, let's go and talk to Ruth. She can take us back to the hosp—"

But Howard couldn't finish the thought. Julia had begun to climb out of the water. The waves separated as a wedge-shaped neck parted them.

Oh no, Howard thought. This is something more than early stages. This is—

But the ascent continued faster than his thoughts. The water retreated further from her shoulders, rounded piles of muscle that he had never seen, even on a man. The tops of her pectorals were beginning to show: Howard gawked at their exaggerated swell with a growing sense of dread. My little Julia could beat the shit out of me if she felt like it. The realization made Howard's insides feel hollow.

Calm down, he told himself. You're a modern man. Mature, evolved. You can handle this. Your relationship was always built on mutual respect, even when you were stronger than her. There's no reason it can't still… oh my god.

Upper arms now had water sheeting off of them. They were nearly as thick as his thighs. She was not just strong. She was exceptionally built, more than any male bodybuilder could ever hope to achieve. His stomach began to churn.

Emerging now were a pair of titanic breasts, covered only by the vertical olive-colored strips of her bathing suit. The sight only deepened Howard's unease. Those breasts were bigger than his head. They seemed to announce some horrific evolution, as if to say: I am not just stronger. I have become a greater being – more sexual, more fertile, more woman than you can handle. Howard shuddered and found himself taking a step back.

But she continued to rise out of the surf. The water was not done spilling off her bust before a parade of apple-sized abdominal muscles began, marching out of the water in pairs of two. The sea sloshed inward now, around her newly tight waist, and then spread away from her again as newly generous hips parted the surface.

Her thighs were the most intimidating of all. Each nearly the size of his torso, they suggested unspeakable strength.

She was tall. Howard had to crane his neck to see her eyes. He took another step back, until he was entirely out of the water.

She, too, finished stepping out of the water, rising to her full height before his eyes – eight statuesque feet of enhanced woman. Her shadow nearly covered him. Her body was carved as if from stone – not a scrap of fat anywhere. Her muscles were swollen with new power. He found himself at eye-level with those huge biceps.

Despite his best intentions, he lashed out. "Julia! What the hell have you done!"

"You said you weren’t mad at me. Please don't be."

She was pleading with her eyes. But that voice! It was so deep, it resonated like a war drum. And it was coming from above him. The more primitive elements of his brain wanted him to bow down to her power.

"I missed the taste of the raw fruit." she said to her own feet. "I REALLY missed it."

It was a flimsy defense of her actions, he knew. But that voice — it continued to command his respect. She could have read him a shopping list and it would have sounded like that Magna Carta to his awestruck brain. Realizing this served only to deepen his sense of intimidation, and that made him even more upset.

His emotions charged forward at full gallop. “What are you going to do when you get back to earth and you're as tall as a basketball center, thick as two of them? Shop in the 'Plus' section? Or the 'Plus Plus' section? Sleep diagonally on the beds so that your feet don’t hang off? Never fly in a plane again because your legs are too long?"

"I know, I know. I'll quit when we return. I’ll go cold turkey. I promise." Shoulders of immense girth slumped in resignation.

“Quit? Cold turkey? You're talking about it like it’s an addiction. Is that what you are now, an addict?”

“To a woman, the Nourishment does taste really, really good, Howard. But that wasn’t the main reason I did it.” Her forearm swelled to the size of a butternut squash as she wrung her hands. “I wanted to know what it would feel like – just once – to be as capable as you."

“That’s it? You risked your life for THAT?” His anger pounded ahead, his brain only able to follow. “Are you and idiot? Julia, your DNA could be very different than theirs. What's healthy for them could be harmful to you. It could even kill you!"

"I feel fine, Howard,” she said with that war drum voice. “In fact, I feel better than fine."

"Well…” Howard found his self-control slipping. “You look like a freak!"

"Howard, please don't shout. They're staring at us."

The family was. Sand-castle-making, everything, had stopped.

Howard felt ashamed at his outburst. He loved Julia – even here, even like this. But why had she done this to herself? To them both?

"I feel awful that I've upset you so much." Julia took his hand. "Come on, let's go back out so we can get some privacy and talk." She lead him out into the water. She was being gentle with him, he knew, but her fingers felt like cables strapped to a winch.

When the water was up to her collarbone, the ground beneath his feet fell away. He had to tread water. She stood next to him, her torso steady. Her feet were still on the ground, he realized.

Worse, they had stopped by a breakwater. The surf in that spot was unusually rough, and Howard struggled to keep his head above water. He breathed heavily with the exertion.

"Are you struggling?" Her brown eyes were warm and uncomprehending.

She's as naive as she is tall, Howard thought. A wave slapped Howard and he partially went under. He inhaled a gulp of salt water. He kicked the water forcefully and rose back out, coughing.

"Here." She took Howard's hands in her immense grip and united them behind her neck. "You can hang onto me for support."

Her body felt like a stone column – a column that was warm, and one that expanded and contracted slightly with each gentle breath. Howard was breathing, too – and much more heavily – as he recovered. A large wave sloshed across the couple, slamming Howard into her torso. He winced in pain.

"Sorry," Howard said, still smarting.

"For what?"

"Slamming into you like that. It was the wave. It just threw me."

"Was that a slam? I barely felt it."

Another wave thrust Howard into her with even greater force. Colliding with her breasts was like being shoved into the rocks of the breakwater itself. It took the wind out of him.

"Did that just hurt you?" she asked.

He could only nod.

"You poor thing." He felt a large arm wrap around him and draw him into her cavernous bosom. "Is that better?"

He nodded. Feeling his torso surrounded by the firm immensity of her chest was somehow… Reassuring. And also humbling.

"It's strange,” she said. “You seem so delicate to me now."

The observation made Howard feel smaller than he ever had. He felt his temper flaring again. "I'm not the one that's changed. I'm not the one who broke her promise."

"I know, and I feel awful about it." She fidgeted with her copper hair just like the smaller, meeker Julia used to do with strands that were far less lustrous.

"You can really go cold turkey and stop taking this stuff?”

Julia nodded. “They say withdrawal is unpleasant, but not physically harmful. Once we get back to Earth…”. Julia paused, as if voicing those words was a challenge for her. “Once we get back to Earth, the fruit simply won’t be available to me and I’ll break the habit as a matter of course."

That made sense. Howard felt his body relax. “There may be another factor working in your favor, Julia. You have taken this Nourishment for only a day or so. You have the same size as the women here, but that doesn’t mean you have the same power. Their extreme muscle density must take longer to develop.Be cautious about imitating Ruth, Mindy and Amanda. I don’t want to see you hoisting any cars.”

She cupped his cheek in her hand. “It’s sweet of you to be so concerned, Howard. But what you just said sounds more like wishful thinking that your rational mind at work, don’t you think? I LOOK like the other women. Why can’t I BE like the other women?”

“Do you really want to be like them? Arrogant? Dictatorial?”

Julia glanced toward the shore. The men and boys seemed to have turned their attention elsewhere, but Mindy and Ruth continued to glance out toward the couple. "They can still hear us – the women, that is."

"Nonsense. They must be 50 yards—"

Julia silenced him with finger over his lips. "I want to tell you something really private. Come on." She slipped into the water began a steady crawl stroke away from the beach.

Howard followed, but felt himself falling behind immediately. Her eight-foot frame gave her an arm span that he could not match, Howard knew.

After only a few more strokes, he saw her stop and wait up for him. Howard felt a tad winded when he finally caught up with her, but Julia seemed entirely rested.

“We need to go out a lot further than this,” Julia announced. She dropped backwards into the water, until she was floating on her back. "Grab my bathing suit. I’m going to tow you."

“Tow me? That’s silly,” Howard retorted though deep breaths. “This is exactly what I am talking about. The Nourishment is brand new to you. You’re no Mindy. You need to take it easy and learn your new limits before you launch into stunts.”

“Just do it, Howard.” Her tone was conversational, but her new vocal chords powered her words with that unfamiliar depth and volume.

He found himself obeying, wrapping his fingers around the two strips of material that ran between her breasts and her junction of her legs. She had never been this assertive with him before, and he had never been so compliant, he realized belatedly. The voice alone commanded obedience.

He had expected the suit’s material to be flimsy, but it felt much more substantial in his hands. “Do you have a good grip?” She asked as she dropped her head and shoulders back into the water.

Howard nodded.

Julia's arms began to windmill, launching herself into a backstroke. He heard the slap of her arms against the water several times per second – a furious pace. Howard felt the current intensify around his thighs.

Her pace quickened further. Her head and shoulders dug deep into the water like a plow into soil.

Howard gripped her bathing suit, hard. The strips of cloth running from her crotch to her breasts were taut as steel cables, and they dug pain into his white-knuckled hands. He began to grunt with the effort.

Howard had swum competitively in college. Every pace he had ever swum, every pace his competitors had ever swum, was nothing compared to this. They were traveling faster than any Olympian had ever swum – by his estimate, four or five times faster.

"Too bad all those muscles didn't make you a faster swimmer," Howard joked over the slapping of his body on the waves. Sarcasm might be the only way I am going to survive this, he thought.

But the joke was lost on his ever-so-innocent girlfriend. She responded, "Sorry, I wasn't really trying yet."

Without any warning, she simply doubled her pace. Rapidly spinning arms became almost blurs as she accelerated to half the speed of a powerboat. The muscles of his arms screamed in pain. THUNK THUNK THUNK THUNK — every passing wave was like taking a punch to the gut. Howard groaned. He struggled to breathe.

“You doing ok there baby?” Julia asked, innocently.

Howard grunted in the affirmative, even if that wasn’t entirely true. He wasn’t a man to admit his weakness.

But the bluff was a mistake. Julia’s arms became true blur now, her absurd speed inexplicably doubling again. Howard’s body flailed as the water slammed into it with punishing speed. It was like being in a boxing ring, and losing, punch after punch after punch decimating his body. Then his torso began slamming into her thighs: it was like repeatedly being shoved into a pair of stone columns. Howard knew he was about to black out.

"Would you like me to slow down?" Julia’s voice was relaxed, casual.

Howard's abused body couldn't produce speech. He could only nod his head in reply.

Mercifully, Julia noticed this, slowing to a halt. He found himself panting for dear life, coughing out a volume of seawater as his head rested against her granite thigh.

"Oh no, I wore you out. I'm sorry honey! I just thought with me doing all the swimming and you just hanging on, it wouldn't have been that hard for you."

His chest heaved for air. He considered telling her to fuck off.

She must have seen that sentiment written on his face. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that. I'm still learning how to function in this body."

Black blotches filled his field of vision as his lungs begged for air.

"Seeing you struggle makes my heart want to burst. Come here." Still floating on her back, she grabbed him by the armpits and hauled him on top of her.

It was the relief he needed. He lay on top of his liferaft of a girlfriend, his limp limbs drooping into the water, chest urgently rise and falling with large gulps of air. His head was nestled into the bottom of her cleavage, the firmness of her breasts holding him in place as he spat out gulps of seawater. Her body underneath him had all the give of the hull of a battleship. Being on top of her like this made Howard feel safe — more secure than she had ever made him feel before. The black blotches in his sight faded to yellow.

He had been wrong about her transformation. She was every bit as powerful as the others. Superhuman, he realized. And naive. The thought terrified him.

Soon, he was sitting upright, legs straddling her floating abdomen. Her massive breasts easily breached the surface of the water and filled the space in front of Howard. It was a challenge to find a handhold that wasn't overtly erotic.

Pain welled up from the abused parts of his body —his limbs, his chest, his shoulders, his hands that had clung with such desperate force to her suit. He swiveled his head around. The beach houses were just small dots from here. He saw a fishing boat in the distance, further out to sea, but no other swimmer, not jet skis, nothing. "How…" his breath came only slowly. "How far out did you take us?"

She looked around. "I guess I hadn't been keeping track.”

Howard peered at the horizon. The palm trees on the beach were so small, they appeared to be little more than serrations on the edge of a butter knife. And the people on the sand were no longer visible at all. The couple was several miles out, Howard realized with a growing sense of dread.

He had swum competitively in college, so Howard knew something about distances. Under his own power, it would take him perhaps two hours of hard swimming to get back to safety. People had died trying to cover lesser distances. He was entirely at her mercy. If he had to pick one person in the world to whom to entrust his life, it would be Julia. But even so, the lack of control, his dependence on her, being so far from shore — the situation made him nervous.

"You're nervous," she observed.

Howard didn't answer. Being this weak relative to her was too embarrassing.

"I'm sorry honey. I guess I lost track of how far we were going. It was just so… easy… for me. That must sound horrible."

Howard looked with longing at the distant shore, and then down at the powerful woman he was straddling.

"You're still nervous. It's so cute," she laughed. "TRUST me!"

I trusted you before you broke your promise. That was what Howard wanted to say, but his survival instinct held him back. Searching the rich brown depths of her eyes was like looking through the front hatch of a tank: the person on the inside might be just like you or me, but that machine they controlled — it had immense firepower. She would never consciously choose to hurt him, and yet he found himself choosing his words carefully. “Sorry, I can only imagine what a surreal experience it must be for a normal, healthy woman to arrive in such a twisted world. None of your choices are easy, I suppose.”

She swallowed an nodded slightly, the slap-slap-slap of the ocean waves spilling gently over their bodies.

“What did you want to tell me that was so private?"

He watched the struggle on her face as she worked to produce the answer. Her skin was a rich cream, her features no longer rounded by baby fat, but now taut and structured. He watched her arms, nearly as thick as oars, slowly tread the water.

"There is another reason I Nourished, actually." She bit her lip, and cast her chocolate eyes away from him. "Just once, I wanted to feel what it was like to not have to compete for you."

"Compete for me? Is this about the thing with Amanda?"

“No, you jerk. I’ve been trying not to think about that.” She bit her lip again as a tear rolled from her eye into the ocean. For a moment, Howard could imagine how the ocean might be, after all— just a big pool of tears from the people whose lives have been fucked up by this fruit. “Sorry. The Amanda thing wasn’t really your fault, even though it still makes me angry. I was talking about life on Earth… I always had to compete for you back on Earth, and I always will."

Howard recoiled at the notion. What had he ever done to make Julia feel that she had to compete for him? "Julia, I love—-"

"I know you love me. But I also know how much you like the athletic, outdoorsy girls. I saw it in your eyes. Now, I can be in better shape than all of them – fitter, stronger, faster, you name it." The sun glistened off her mountainous shoulders. "Now, I'm stronger than all your ex-girlfriends – combined."

An unease settled into his gut.

She breathed deeply, as if to control the emotion. As she breathed, her breasts rose out of the water like a pair of surfacing submarines. A full pint of water drained out of the space between them, such was the cavernous extent of her cleavage. She could envelop my head completely between those, Howard realized.

"You're staring, Howard."

"I… sorry."

"No." Her newly plush lips curled into a smile. "I like it.” She placed her hands on either side of her breasts and brought them together, a riveting collision of feminine flesh. "You’ve always been a boob man, haven’t you? Do you like my tits now? They’re far firmer than anything your ex-girlfriends had. And I'm sure that they're bigger than everything of your ex-girlfriends had – combined. Like I said, I hate having to compete for you."

It was true: she was immense up there, and Howard found it a struggle not to stare. It turned him on and somehow intimidated him at the same time. He chose to omit the observation that her muscles might be more UNattractive to him than her curves were attractive. “When our old lives resume, you'll need to find a way to be happy in the body you were born with. And I'll still love you. You realize that, don't you? All this – the muscles, the power – it's just temporary."

"Yes, but temporary is important. We might find our way home tomorrow, but it could take us weeks, months, who knows how long? Until then, we're stuck with the customs of this land. And you are unClaimed.”

“UnClaimed?”

“It’s a specific custom of theirs. In this land, a man who is unClaimed is assumed to be fair game for just about anything — sex, or other games. And believe me, what’s fun for some of the ladies here might feel like abuse to you.”

“Fuck…”

“Yes, fuck. That’s what you should be doing only with me. Once I Claim you, and you assent to the Claim, then you are essentially my possession. Anyone who wants to lay a finger on you has to mess with me first.”

"Stake a claim on me? Like a silver deposit? What the fuck?" Howard shifted uncomfortably on the iron column of her midriff.

“I know it’s strange but it's the only way to protect you here.”

This chill of the water was creeping up his legs.

"I get it,” she continued. “It's pretty warped. Men who have been Claimed are monogamous to the woman that staked the Claim, but there's no requirement for it to go vice versa. All the women have multiple partners."

Julia must have seen the dismay on Howard's face, because she grabbed his shoulder quickly, her fingers boring into his flesh with undisciplined power.

"But it's not going to be like that with us, Howard. I’ll remain exclusive to you, just like we were on earth. We'll be equal partners, just like we were on Earth. But you need to consent. Deciding whether or not to accept a Claim is one of the few rights you have here: I can’t just make the decision on my own."

“Good.”

“Just consider it. Please.” Julia took a deep breath as she bobbed in the water, the sparkle of the sun sliding down the rounded surface of her breasts. “We can have all sorts of fun her if we just keep our spirits up. The weather is beautiful, our hosts seem happy to provide for us, there’s plenty of outdoorsy stuff, and I’m now able to keep up with you on all of it. You just have to relax— and trust me.”

When 375 pounds of enhanced muscle tells you to trust it – twice – what else does one do? "OK, if you say so."

He slipped off of her and into the water, bobbing next to her. She righted herself and treaded water in front of him.

"Thank you, Howard. My body might be different now, but I'm still the same old Julia." Her completely new, enormous arms encircled him in a hug.

She pulled him into her, affectionate and yet with immense, oblivious force. Howard tried to reposition his own arms but found them pinned to his sides with crushing force. Her breasts, about as soft and pillowy as battering rams, threatened to crush his torso. She hummed a happy tune, as she had always done when she hugged. Howard felt his ribs beginning to bend inward. He was wondering whether he would survive his first ten minutes with the 'same old Julia'.

Julia's voice was carefree, and she even wiggled playfully as she hugged him. "You may not agree with what I did, but at least you understand it, don't you?"

He didn’t understand it. He tried to voice his disagreement, or even to breathe, but couldn't. He tried to wriggle free, but didn’t stand a chance against the crush of her body.

But to his immense relief, the constriction ended as quickly as it began. His chest heaved for breath.

"I knew you'd understand," she declared, oblivious to his condition. She nuzzled her cheek alongside his.

Did she really think this conversation had two sides? Howard tried to say something, but he was still recovering from the 'hug', gasping for breath. She was so, so, powerful. And yet so oblivious. He found himself again picking his words with care. “When I’m not happy with a situation, I just try to focus on the silver linings.”

The chocolate depths of Julia's eyes momentarily clouded before brightening again. "You know, maybe there IS a silver lining. In this new body, I can move through the caves much faster."

He looked into the warmth of her eyes. She was trying – trying to make this right. What she had done was rash and dangerous and it made their situation a whole lot more complicated. But underneath it all, there was still Julia – goofy and innocent and still in love with him.

"I’m not just faster, but stronger, and lots of other stuff. In fact… " Her eyes darted back and forth in thought. "This opens up new possibilities for how we can get home, Howard! If you can somehow research the maps —find a way back on paper — then I can go explore the route, secure it and make it safe for you. We're the perfect combination: you're the brains, and I'm the brawn."

“Aren’t the Nourished supposed to be smarter?”

“I thought so. I had a moment with Mindy when I did some really cool math. But when you asked me how far we were from shore, my mind was a blank. I couldn’t even put two and two together. Mindy experiences intelligence like a permanent ability, but for me, I’m starting to think it’s more of a fickle muse. And I have no idea when she will come back. And she may never come back. Until things change on us, yes, what I said before really makes sense: you’re the brains and I’m the brawn.”

Me the brains and her the brawn, Howard thought. He stared at the droplets of water on her shoulder. They looked like trekkers on a pale stone peak, their stature made minuscule by the immensity of the mountain they descended.

Me the brains and her the brawn. Yes, yes, that does make sense. I am more experienced with expeditions. And she's always said that I am more analytical than her, that my mind works faster. The plan had some merit. “I suppose that would be possible. But I dislike the idea of leaving you to the caves without me there to help. The caves are dangerous."

"Not to a Nourished woman," she said simply.

Howard waited for her to elaborate, but was answered only by the sound of the waves slapping against her hard body. The chocolate syrup of her irises was so pure, so innocent. And now, Howard was learning, so careless. "Don't overestimate what this Nourishment can do, Julia. You might be strong now, but you could still get hurt if you do not know what you are doing."

"I'm not so sure. I feel… different."

"Different how?"

"Uh… pretty much… invincible." Another wave caught Howard just then, and it hurled him again against her curves of granite.

He winced as the breath was knocked out of him.

"And Mindy tells me that I’ll be better at the technical aspects of caving than you.”

“How is that? Mindy doesn’t know the first thing about caves.”

“She may not have to,”Julia replied factually. "I hear the Nourished are better at everything."

Howard felt a lump forming in his throat. Her words somehow hurt more than the many bruises he had sustained.

"Wanna head back to the beach?" She chirped.

"Yes!" Howard tried to hide desperate urgency in his voice.

"Give me a sec to get the kinks out." Julia's immense arms erupted out of the water like ballistic missiles. She was stretching, like Howard had taught her to. But never had a stretch on earth displayed such formidable power. "Are you still mad at me?"

As she waited for a reply, Julia maintained the stretch. She tensed and relaxed her arms, just like he had taught her two, a distant smile on her face. Trapezius muscles exploded into a frightening "V" as wide as two surf boards. Biceps and triceps swelled together into thick trunks of strength. By all appearances, her body was genetically engineered to be the consummate predator. If a heavyweight boxer from Earth were foolish enough to take her on in the ring, would he last even a round? A minute?

I don't have the luxury of my emotion, he thought – not until I get home. I need to keep her happy with me.

"No, I'm not mad at you," Howard conceded. He had no other choice. "For this trip back to the beach, do I get another free ride on the human motorboat?"

Julia laughed. "Always." She flipped over and guided his hands back to her suit.

"Always, at least, while we're here." Howard corrected.

"Yes. Yes, of course."

"I have to admit, it's strange to rely upon you for this swim, since I have so much more experience with it than you."

"It IS strange," she agreed. "But I could almost get used to it."

------------

When Julia emerged from the water this time, she walked straight into a hug from Ruth. "I'm so happy for you. Let's see how the Nourishment did." Ruth loosened her embrace and stepped back to appraise the woman.

Julia felt the heat of embarrassment reddening her face. She was not accustomed to having her nearly naked body appraised so overtly. On instinct, she fiddled with her hair, dropping the copper tresses down in front of her eyes like a protective curtain.

"The Nourishment was particularly kind to you, Julia. You look fantastic."

"Thank you," Julia mumbled.

"I'm frankly impressed that my daughter was able to talk you into it. She's not the most subtle of girls."

"No, she's not." Inviting one's houseguest to lap liquid right off one's bare stomach was indeed not the height of subtlety. Julia could only wonder whether this strange culture would have found Mindy’s actions acceptable or unacceptable. She decided not to take the chance.

Ruth motioned toward the house. The two women began walking, their heavy feet crunching through the sand. "How did the conversation go with Howard?" she asked in hushed tones. “He seemed very disturbed about the news that you had taken the Nourishment.”

“It’s a big shock for him. He’s used to be the capable one, the provider. And I’ve always loved him for the way he takes care of me. But now I’m so much stronger, and so much tougher…”

“Now that you have the proper size and strength for a woman, it is only natural that he would assume a more subordinate position relative to you. I can only hope that he embraces his new place in your life."

"It's not like that,” Julia protested. “His place in my life hasn’t changed. I belong on Earth; that is my home. And for me, Nourishment is just a temporary state — something to help us survive while we are in this world and get home all the faster."

"And that’s how you see yourself— as a temporary visitor this world and not a permanent resident. You would be welcome among us, you know.”

"Thank you, but yes, Howard and I are not staying." Julia said, but the answer rang hollow for her.

“Then that is what we will call you: Julia Visitor. I have to file your registration paperwork shortly.”

“Yes, visitor,” Julia pressed. “For Howard, it’s particularly hard to be here, being so much weaker than women…”

“That’s very thoughtful of you. You’re concern for his feelings does a great deal to show how much he means to you. I imagine you're going to keep him a while?"

The callousness of the question brought Julia to a halt. "A while? How could you… yes, he and I are… it's not like he's a library book that gets returned after three weeks… yes, I'm going to stay with him just as long as he keeps me…"

"I'm sorry, Julia." Ruth embraced the woman forcefully. "I meant no offense. You’ve refrained from Claiming him, and yet you are distrubed when he spends time with another. You have to admit that your Earth customs, when it comes to mating, are a little bit strange."

"I'm crazy about Howard. He's the only love I could ever need."

"Really?"

The deep emerald of Ruth's inquiring eyes tugged Julia's attention away from whatever had upset her. Ruth's face was stunning: high cheekbones, plush lips, taut and vibrant peach-colored skin the equal of any professional model Julia could imagine. Like many middle-aged mothers, Ruth kept her hair in a pixie cut – barely longer than a man's. Julia suspected that this was for convenience – the simpler to maintain it – but the style had the additional benefit of placing on full display the formidable pyramid of muscle that united her neck and shoulders. Below her collarbone, additional muscles of absurd volume and definition adorned her torso and limbs.

They don’t have categories here, Mindy had implied…

"Lunch is almost ready." Ruth’s voice interrupted her thoughts. "You hungry?"

Yes, Julia thought. Hungry. The woman's pectorals – worthy of any Chippendales dancer – created shelves that only accentuated her already jaw-dropping bust. It slowly rose and fell with each of the woman's calm breaths. Julia had never been attracted to women before, but the robustness of Ruth's and Mindy’s sexuality was… mesmerizing. Without realizing it, Julia found herself tracing an appreciative finger down the generous slope of Ruth's trapezius. A pleasant shiver coursed through Julia's body.

"It was a pretty simple question," Ruth persisted.

"Sorry, yes, lunch would be great," Julia replied, embarrassed.

They both stepped up to the house, which was situated in the middle of the sand, far forward of the tree line.

"Kids," Ruth announced. "The men could use some help getting lunch on the table. Michael, why don't you make up a little bit more lemonade?"

"Yes, Mom," Michael groaned, scampering back into the house.

"Becky, why don't you help your father get the burgers off the grill?"

"Yes, Mom," Becky groaned, throwing a final wad of sand at her brother before getting up.

"Mindy, the sun out here is a little bit much. Perhaps you and Julia could move the house back, so that the front patio can be in the shade?"

"Fine," Mindy groaned, turning to Julia. "Come on."

I heard that wrong, Julia decided. But when she followed Mindy, the girl pointed to a large steel handle attached to the base of the house. She glanced at the bottom of the building. It met the ground only in the corners, where it rested on four concrete "feet", like a piece of furniture. The height of the feet created a two-foot crawl space between the bottom of the structure and the sand. When Julia peered into the gap, she saw that the building was undergirded by steel framing. Next to the handgrip were mounted several carpenter's levels: thin tubes of liquid with a bubble balanced in the center.

"I'll get the handle on the other side," Mindy explained. "Don't rock it too much or my brother will get lemonade all over the kitchen floor. Or actually, DO rock it too much. It's fun to mess with him."

The absurdity of the situation was matched only by the pressure. They were treating this like it was so normal, so natural. What could she say, "I can't"? She looked around for Howard and was relieved to see that he was back at the water's edge, preoccupied with collecting the pails and other scattered belongings. Good, she thought, the humiliation of trying this with him watching would have been simply too much.

"One, two, three!" Mindy shouted.

Julia heaved with all her might. Unlike her recent swim, this time, her muscles actually did feel the strain. In fact, her thighs, arms, and countless muscles besides exploded with effort.

The house jerked upward, faster on Julia's side than on Mindy's. She heard a boy scream inside the house, followed by a THUD and the sound of a lemonade pitcher rolling across the floor.

"Ha ha!" Mindy shouted through the floor toward the kitchen. "Serves you right for stealing my towel!"

"Sorry!" Julia added. She watched the bubbles in the tubes carefully, and lowered her side of the house until it was level side-to-side, as well as front-to-back.

"You got it?" Mindy shouted.

"Yup," Julia grunted. Her muscles were working hard, there was no question. But it didn't hurt. And it wasn't hard to keep the structure level, now that she was accustomed to the feeling. In fact, she felt like she could hold the house like this for hours.

Mindy rotated her body so that she was carrying her side of the building one-handed, like a pallbearer with his coffin. Julia followed suit, and together they walked the house back to a clearing in the shade. Given the indentations in the ground, the structure had clearly been back there before.

When Julia lowered the house to the ground, her muscles were clearly working hard, but the motion was smooth, just like her personal trainer had tried to get her to do on the weight equipment. If only her personal trainer could see her now…

"How much weight was that?" Julia asked Ruth after the three women had reassembled on the front porch. They relaxed at the table, while Ruth's husband scurried about with serving dishes.

"About 80,000 pounds," the mother replied factually, sipping iced tea in place of the recently ruined lemonade. "Did it feel OK?"

Eighty thousand pounds, Julia thought – forty thousand for her and another forty for Mindy. What a strange memory this would be when she was safely back home, in only a few days time, the Nourished life over forever. Julia looked at Ruth's husband, tilting his torso backward against the weight of the serving dish. It would take 400 of those men to bear what she had just borne one-handed. Two weeks ago, if someone had suggested she would be stronger than a man, she would have laughed. Now, she was stronger than hundreds of them.

Ruth smiled. "Hey spacey, you didn't answer my question. Did it feel OK?"

No, Julia thought, it didn't feel OK… not at all.

It felt awesome.

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