The LaPorte Caves – Revised – Ch 08c – The Winds of Uncertain Fortune
Written by circes_cup :: [Sunday, 22 December 2019 23:06] Last updated by :: [Friday, 24 January 2020 12:23]
CHAPTER 08c – THE WINDS OF UNCERTAIN FORTUNE
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. Julia had promised to refrain from taking the elixir that transforms women to amazons, but later broke that promise. Now an amazon, she enjoys the extraordinary power athleticism that her new body possesses and the experiences that her new body allows her to have. But she has also learned that the changes came at a cost: Howard finds her not only intimidating, but unattractive. The shock of that news is enough to send Julia wandering aimlessly along the coast. And that left Howard, too, to his own devices.
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 watched his girlfriend recede into the distance, her shoulders slumped in defeat.Her dispirited walk slowly became a dispirited jog. And then her jog slowly became a run.She was soon moving at twice the pace of an Olympic sprinter, even with her concentration somewhere else.
He swiveled his attention around the rest of the parking lot.Mindy was nowhere to be seen, and that was probably a good thing.He would rather avoid her right now.
With no other way to get back to the beach house, still garbed in workout gear, Howard began a jog of his own down side streets and footpaths, sticking to routes he knew and remaining wary of his surroundings.
He had begun to believe he would make it back to the house when he rounded a corner.There, in front of him, was Mindy. A sour look on her face, she was resting the car neatly on her shoulder, steadying it with one hand by the grip handle.
When he approached, she extended the car toward him, one of the passenger doors swinging open with the motion.
Howard balked for a moment.The car remained suspended in mid-air, her superhuman muscles not even quivering at the weight borne at such an awkward angle.
Her tone of voice had dropped, rumbling through Howard’s gut.He found his limbs obeying before his mind had even decided to.He had barely finished strapping the harness around himself when the car rose into the air.
The teenage monster was holding the vehicle by the side handle, so Howard soon found himself oriented sideways, the ground to his left and the sky to his right.The ground began to move at a blur as the girl transitioned into a run, the motion of her stride jostling him roughly with every step. They were soon moving at an insane pace – race car speed.But the car in this case was not providing the locomotion: it was just a convenient container in which the supergirl could transport him.
Howard tried to tighten the straps of his harness even as his body was jostled mercilessly about.And he found himself wishing that Julia was there to protect him.
Julia’s gym garments were perfectly suitable for the water as well, and Julia soon found herself in it.In no need of the safety of the shore, she swam aimlessly, trying to find her thoughts anywhere her limbs took her. Julia didn’t know how long she wandered in the water that afternoon, or how far.
Howard was repulsed by her.Her body was so powerful, she could do just about anything – anything, that is, except change a man’s heart.
It was late afternoon by the time Julia emerged from the water.She did so at a beachside bar – one as sparsely peopled as she could find.It was only a few steps from the surf to the barstools, but her gym garments were so minimal and taut that the water had entirely drained from them by the time she sat down.
"Wow," said the bartender.
"Wow what?" Julia tried to smile.The barstool creaked under her weight.She felt like an oaf.
"Not often that we see a woman in here.You ladies usually stick to the high class places.”
"I don’t come from a high class place myself.”
The bartender seemed confused.
“Another world,” Julia clarified.“Called Kentucky.”
“CAN-TUCK-EE,” the man recited experimentally. “What does it mean?”
“I have no idea.And what is this place called?”
“Um, a struggling bar?”
“No, this world.What is this world called?”
“The Weald.And just like your CanTuckEE, nobody really knows what the name means.I’m sure it meant something once, long ago.” The bartender set out a coaster and some snacks. He also pressed a button on the remote control, switching the TV to sixteen-channel multi-view for her.“A woman deserves more luxury than my little bar can offer, but please make yourself at home.”
Julia watched the TV with growing apprehension.Just as it had done in Ruth’s kitchen, the multi-view came across to Julia only as garbled mush. In her short sojourn in this strange land, Julia had never seen a woman struggle with multi-view. But it was clearly a struggle for Julia.
And that was unfortunate.A more nimble mind might have been able to make sense of the spaghetti bowl of caves passages on the map and find a way home for her and for Howard…
But going home would mean giving up this body and all of its power…
But then again, Howard hated the powerful body anyway, and so perhaps losing it wasn’t such a bad thing after all.Or maybe it was. Julia had to admit TV wasn’t the only garbled mush in the room.
She surveyed the strange bottles on the shelves— liquids of odd color, labeled in unfamiliar ways."Do you have rum – alcohol made from sugar?"
"Of course,"the bartender placed a half-gallon-sized bottle in front of her with a THUD, followed by a glass and a cocktail napkin.
"Oh!”She reddened.“I don't have any money."
“You don’t need it.I am grateful that you are here.”
“I don’t understand.”
The bartender’s gaze, which had been steady to this point, wavered.It slid down, furtively, over her body. Then the bartender's voice, like his gaze, wavered.“Surely you understand how beautiful you are?”
“My boyfriend says muscles are ugly.”She held her arm outstretched, as if it where a foreign object, a thick column of meat.She flexed, watching the bicep muscle swell to the size of a volleyball – more volume than a man could ever have.The afternoon sun shone off its sleek hardness. She could feel vast, delightful power coursing through it. “You like?”
The bartender released a soft moan and grasped the lip of the bar for support, as if his legs were no longer able to hold him.“Of course … you are … magnificent.”
Julia’s heart was warmed.It was like being back on the fishing boat with Ruth.“Thank you. That is so sweet.”
“You should not be surprised.You weren’t kidding when you said you were not from this land.”
The bar had been empty when she came in, but now it was populated by several men.A few more seemed to be arriving. They were staring at her, even as they tried to hide their interest.
“Were those men here earlier?”
“No.They are coming out of the woodwork because you are here.A woman built like you, traveling without a harem— what man wouldn’t be interested?”
Julia gazed down at her body with fresh eyes.Breasts so large they stretched her athletic top drum tight.Muscles that were huge when unexercised were now jacked to their greatest volume. Her skin positively glowed with the power that surged underneath it.
Howard had made her feel so badly about her body, about everything.But these men – they made her feel so good! She unscrewed the cap of the bottle and tipped the rum to her lips.As she stretched her body back, she could feel the men’s cautious stares course over her body. The bashfulness made her giggle.And the warmth inside her grew as the rum and the male attention had their effect.
She decided to have some fun.
“If they’re going to stare,” she told the bartender, “I might as well give them a show, right?”Bracing her two hands on the barstool, she raised her body into a handstand in a steady, controlled motion.Then, she spread her legs so wide they were parallel to the floor and rotated her pelvis back down into and upright position, legs still spread wide.She rested the big toe of her right foot on the lip of the bar, and then did the same thing with her left. Finally, she removed her hands from the barstool and rested them on her thighs.
“Ta da!” She announced.She was hanging off the edge of the bar in a full spread-leg position, her entire four hundred pounds supported only by her but toes.
The conversation in the bar swooned to a pause.She flexed her thighs, the enormous muscles erupting into trunks of solid power.And then she did the same with her glutes, turning them into rock-hard spheres. She could hear the breathing of the surrounding men changing as her display of superhuman power unfolded.
She then launched into a double-bicep pose, her muscles swelling delightfully to an easy 27-inch circumference.The pose caused her lats to explode outward with such volume that they began to resemble wings.
Conversation in the bar now ground to an unabashed halt.
The bartender seemed positively wobbly on his feet now, gripping the bar earnestly for support.The man shook his head, managing a smile. "It's not fair… not fair the way you women tease us."
“Perhaps I can make it up to you someday.You are such a refreshing difference from Earth men.”
“Another bottle?" The bartender seemed unaware that the first bottle was mostly full.In fact, he was looking at his shoes – apparently an attempt to preserve his self-control – making Julia realize that she was still supporting herself on spread legs using only the tips of her toes.
"A second bottle of pure alcohol?”It did sound good to her, as ludicrous as that might be.Her Earth mind fought back. “I won’t even finish my first.It’s enough to put me in a coma.”
"Enough to put a man in a coma, yes, but only pleasant to you."
She looked through the bottleneck at the nearly half-gallon of clear liquid.A fresh thrill overcame her. She was discovering yet another capability – yet another way that her new body was not just better than her old one, but infinitely better. Julia raised the bottle to her lips and tipped it back until the bottom was facing the ceiling. GLUG-GLUG-GLUG – enough rum to get an entire frat house tipsy poured down her throat in a matter of seconds.And it tasted SO good!
Julia returned the bottle to the bar with a SMACK, like a shot glass after a dare."Sure. Another bottle."
Julia turned her attention to the TV.The sixteen simultaneous audio feeds continued to sound like drivel to her, like the gurgle of a fountain.How could other women comprehend it, she wondered?
But Julia didn’t let it bother her.She was feeling good now. The gaggle of the men in the room was growing. She remained perched spread-leg on the bar, enjoying the casualness with which she maintained the impossible feat of prowess, enjoying the feel of men’s needy gazes at her body, enjoying the fact that this position raised her higher than the men in the bar, affirming her dominance of the scene.She tossed her hair playfully over her shoulder as she gave them a brilliant smile. The gesture seemed to turn the boys to jelly.
Julia upended the bottle of rum, tasting its delicious sweetness as she polished off her second half-gallon.This time, the alcohol was beginning to have an effect. The tension went out of her limbs, and her head felt like it was beginning to float.
She was overcome by a feeling of peace.
That was when it hit her.The gurgle of the TV suddenly separated itself like strands of hair falling out of a braid.The individual voices began to make sense to her. She felt her mind somehow… expanding. Like a muscle that had never been stretched, weariness and lethargy were soon replaced with a refreshed vitality as she challenged her neurons with a new task.In the space of only a few moments, she could feel her mental powers accelerating, becoming more precise and robust, comprehending all sixteen streams of sound simultaneously. A smile spread across her face.
"I hear alcohol sometimes does that to you women," said a seventeenth voice.This one belonged to the bartender. "The alcohol wipes the anxiety away. And with the anxiety gone, your mind simply opens up."
"Thanks."Julia opened contented eyes.She ran a distracted finger down the man’s forearm, eliciting a shiver from him.“Another thing that makes my anxiety go away is feeling attractive. Care to ply me with another bottle of rum.”
As he reached for the third bottle, the bartender suffered from a growing bulge in his pants, Julia noted with bemusement.
By the time the third half-gallon of rum had found its way to Julia's lips, she had found a button on the remote that she recalled to be the closed captioning.Julia pushed it. The text of the native language appeared at the bottom of the sixteen screens.
As she had done at the breakfast table, Julia paired the text that she saw with the sounds that she heard. But now, she was doing this not just on one screen, but on all sixteen screens simultaneously.It was as though she had been driving a car for several sluggish miles before realizing that the emergency brake had been on— and now, the liberating CLICK of the emergency brake being released, of the car leaping forward, of taking the fetters off an engine that no longer had to hold back.
A minute ticked by.During it, her mind counted 2,160 words spoken across all sixteen channels.The same 2,160 words were displayed on the sixteen channels of closed captioning. Julia paired the written and spoken words together and recalled it all with perfect clarity.She watched for another half hour, allowing another 71,236 words to embed themselves in her flawless memory, cementing what should have been years of hard study in only half-an-hour.At the end of that period, it was as if she had been reading this strange text her whole life.
He blossoming mental capacity wasn’t just any power, she knew.Howard’s search for a way home had been impeded by his lack of facility with the language.He had relied only on images, like an illiterate. Julia stood a chance of solving a puzzle that had hopelessly stumped Howard.
And she owed it to him to try.
"Thanks for the drinks, and the company."Julia alighted on the ground. "I owe you."
"No, you don't," the bartender replied.“You’ve brought much business into my bar.And who knows what other beneficial things may come of this?As they always say: show gratitude to the Nourished and the winds of good fortune will fill your sails."
As Julia began the run home, she could only wonder what sort of wind was filling her sails.Her body – and now her brain – could do things that she had never imagined before the Caves. And yet, the man she loved was no longer attracted to her.And it seemed the only way to restore their relationship was to give up every one of the exceptional abilities she had acquired.
Howard felt a moment of relief as the pace of the girl below him slowed and the car was lowered – roughly – to the ground.
“Mixed-gender roadway,” Mindy explained with disgust as she climbed into the driver’s seat.“Tires have to be on the ground.”
Nonetheless, the ride that ensued was nearly as frightening and painful as the first one. Mindy slammed the car forward into the fast lane, accelerating to a hundred miles an hour in seconds before hitting the brakes in traffic, throwing Howard forward, hard, against his harness.Turns were just as violent, sometimes shoving howard against the side of the car with such force that his shoulder smarted.
“I could run twice as fast as this pathetic thing,” she grumbled, gesturing dismissively at the dashboard.
It was a remarkable claim, given that she made it when the car was doing over a hundred.
After several miles, Howard felt himself slammed against the side again as Mindy took a sudden turn.
“We didn’t use this road on the way out,” Howard observed.He hoped she would assure him that it was just a shortcut back to the beach house.
But the huge girl said nothing.
“Where are we going, Mindy?”
The girl didn’t answer him.
Then, Howard felt the car slow for no reason.She had pulled off the roadway and around the back of a windowless building.
Dread filled him.
“Mindy, what are we doing here?”
She simply turned the engine off, exiting the car, and circling it to his door. His window filled with the red material of the zip-up tracksuit top Mindy had donned after the gym.It stretched and warped to contain her massive torso.
The door shot open and he felt himself extracted from his seat with a rough jerk.“I overheard the whole thing, Howie.”
“I hate that name.”
“Don't like muscles on a woman?Insulting the appearance of the only woman that gives a shit about you? You insolent little turd.”
Mindy removed her tracksuit top.“How do you like these muscles, Howie?”
Huge rounded shoulders the size of small watermelons ermerged, followed by frighteningly large biceps, forearms almost as thick as his thigh.The motion of extracting herself from it caused her thick pectorals to flare. Her post-gym body was built to terrifying proportions.
He felt his mouth go dry.
She turned him roughly away from her, and then he felt her arm encircle his neck from behind.Her elbow was only inches below his nose. He felt her hair spill down over his face: such was the height of the girl that she had to stoop over just to get her arm around him.
“I have to admit, I had high hopes for you.” She straightened herself now. Howard felt his feet leave the ground, the weight of his body supported only by the one-armed vice around his neck. “I thought maybe your Earth genetics would make you stronger than the guys here, or at least a little more durable. But you’re little better than the men here.How much did you finally bench press back at the gym? Just, like, five hundred? Six hundred?”
“Two hundred,” Howard rasped into the curvature of her massive muscle.
The sound of laughter filled the parking lot as her arm tightened a fraction more, the iron ball of her bicep crushing more of his neck.
“Beg me to stop.Not necessarily because I will.More because I’d like to hear you beg.”
Howard’s hands clawed at the teenager’s invincible forearm with desperation.
“What a feisty boy!Flexing like this requires only the smallest amount of girl effort.And yet, it gets me EXACTLY the results I want. And you fight and fight with all your strength and it gets you NOTHING.”
He felt the rounded mass below his chin balloon further, shoving his head to the side, pulling it away from his body as his neck slowly extended.
“The next time I tell you to beg, you’ll start begging, won’t you?” she whispered.
Howard tried to say ‘yes’ or even to nod.But his windpipe was completely closed. No sound came out.Howard’s feet’s kicked involuntarily. Slamming into the car with distant THUD THUD THUD’s.
Just then, Howard felt a vibration in Mindy’s armlet.Through his peripheral vision, he could see the girl pluck a bead off, presumably to insert it in her ear.Her vice grip loosened just a bit. Welcome air rushed into Howard’s lungs with a wheeze.
“Oh, hey Jules…. yea, totally awesome to do weights with you today…. We can step it up a few more tons next week…. Yea, he’s here…. No, he’s just hanging out with me…”.
Mindy’s bicep twitched playfully as Howard’s feet swung through the air.
“… No, he’s actually being a total baby… Giving me the silent treatment in a big way, aren’t you Howard?”
Her bicep expanded again, crushing his windpipe.Howard tried with the remaining kernel of his energy to say something to her, anything, his lips moved in futility.The swelling muscles of her arm filled his field of view.
“Uh huh.Uh huh.”. Mindy’s voice said.“Julia is telling me to tells you to behave.”
Desperate, Howard twisted enough to jam a knee into her ribs with a CRUNCH.They were like titanium rods. He would have screamed in pain – if he could scream.
“Actually, he’s not behaving very well at all.I think he’s going to need a little time-out.”
Howard heard Julia’s giggle come through the earpiece.
Even in his deteriorating consciousness, Howard sensed the increasing danger: Mindy was setting him up for an absence. She could do whatever she wanted with him.
Suddenly, her arm slackened as she placed the communicator bead back on her armlet. With her free arm, she lifted a heavy steel panel off the side of the building. Inside was a marble column, about his size.
The slackening of her arm gave Howard the luxury of producing a full sentence.“If you hurt me,” Howard croaked. “Julia would never forgive you.”
“You fucking piece of shit.”
Her grip suddenly tightened, the muscle swelling and forcing his jaw to bend in on itself.Pain exploded throughout this his body.
“Do you think she would ever find out what happened to you? Do you think it would be all that hard for me to haul your body twenty miles out to sea?Or dig a hole three stories deep? I could do it without breaking a sweat.”
His feet kicked the air in futility
“You’re a flight risk.Everybody knows it. You disappear and she’ll just think you died some dumb death in the wilderness. It happens all the time, Howard— getting eaten by swamp lizards, or by mountain cats, or just getting lost in your precious caves.Nobody will investigate the disappearance of an Unclaimed. It would be such a waste of time, sending out a search party for a mere man, don’t you think?”
Mindy twitched the muscle a few times, causing his head to rock back and forth in agreement.
“Why are you doing this?”Howard finally managed to croak a whispered response.
Mindy seemed barely to hear him.“Oh, she’ll be so sad for a time,” She lamented.“But she’ll get over it. People always do when they find something better.”
Howard could feel the girl inhale deeply, as if savoring a thought, her rock-hard breast twisting his torso to the side.
“I can offer her so many things that you can’t,” she continued.“I can take her on adventures that would be certain death for you.I can last longer in the sack, too. And I can find her plenty of men that are far more obedient than you.”
“You’re… in love with her?”
The muscle flared again, harder than iron, harder than any substance Howard had ever known.Blackness consumed his vision.
“Watching you suffer feels SO good to me,” she purred.“The only thing that might be more enjoyable is killing you.”
Howard tried pulling her arm away, hoping against hope that his puny muscles could stay her magnificent ones. Desperation consumed him.
“They taught us this awesome trick in school for strangling a guy. You squeeze just enough to collapse their windpipe, but you leave the spinal column intact. That way, the guy is fully awake right up to the moment his brain shuts down. It gives him plenty of time to think about what a dumb shit he’s been, to think about how he should have worshipped me when he had the chance. Isn’t that cool?”
Somehow, impossibly, her bicep swelled even more.Howard felt like his head was ready to snap off his body.“Please…” he somehow rasped, his lips now a deep shade of purple.
“Or maybe… “ her lips pursed in mock concentration “maybe I should practice being a big girl about this.”
His lips opened again, but this time, only spittle came out.
“…MAYBE watching you die today is less important than achieving my long term goals.MAYBE I should focus on getting Julia. And then once she’s madly in love with me, we BOTH can kill you.At our leisure.” She made an expression of mock studiousness. “Now, that DOES involve some delayed gratification.But we can’t always get exactly what we want exactly when we want it…Don’t you appreciate how MATURE I am?”
Several twitches of her muscle again forced his head up and down in a little nod.The girl giggled.
“Why don’t we start you off with a little task – give you a chance to show me how much you want to stay alive?”
Her arm opened.Howard felt his body collapse into the ground.He tried to sit up, but his body only slumped to one side.His field of vision contained the open doorway, the marble column inside, and the dirt.
“Make a sculpture of yourself,” Mindy ordered.
“Whaaa…. why?” Howard mumbled into the dirt.
“It doesn’t matter how ugly it is.You’re ugly to me anyways, so you can make it as ugly as you want.”
The perfectly sculpted girl sashayed away from him, her perfectly sculpted derriere throbbing with power.
“I’ll be back at the end of the afternoon. If it’s not done by then, I’ll snap your neck.And don’t think I wouldn’t enjoy that.”
Howard struggled into a kneeling position.He could see carving tools at the foot of the column.
She opened the door of her monster car and turned to him.“Our little secret, Howie. Got it?”
Howard felt the muscles in his neck, acting entirely on survival instinct, nod up and down in acknowledgement.
When Julia got back to the house, the shadows had grown long and the coming cool of night could be felt in the air.The house was silent, and Howard was nowhere to be found. Damn it, she thought— no Claim, his common sense diminishing as quickly as his self confidence.He had been desultory with her at the gym and then Mindy had said he was getting worse with her. Julia hoped he wasn’t in trouble.
She also hoped she was sober enough to confront whatever trouble he might be in.Her body could hold a drink better than the old one, but three full bottles of rum….
She looked everywhere.The beach. Under the house, with which he had been so engrossed earlier.In the water, in case he decided to torture himself with more butterfly stroke.
When she finally found him, he turned out to be a good distance inland, in a clearing in the coastal wetlands.Rocks and grasses surrounded brackish, muddy water. He was leaning against a boulder, the largest of many that littered the area.
She sighed, relieved to have found him.The rum coursing through her system made her feel playful.
He crossed his tiny arms and stared at her, defiant.“Are you making fun of me?”
“Pfffftt,” Julia dismissed.But those arms did look like twigs.“How did things go with Mindy?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“She said you gave her some major attitude?”
Howard only fixed his jaw.
“She’s our friend, dude.Don’t be so dramatic about it.”
But Howard only turned away from her, bending over to pick up a bottle. It was a bottle of Nourishment.There were several more resting by his feet, their caps off.
"Howard, what are you doing to yourself?” Julia asked, confused.“You know you shouldn't drink that stuff."
"Howard, what are you doing to yourself? You know you shouldn't drink that stuff."
“It’s not FAIR.You girls build huge muscle without even trying.You can do just about anything. You’re fucking superhuman.And all you had to do was drink fruit juice. It’s not FAIR.”
This again?The rum in her system tickled her senses.She grew amused by his petulance.
“I don’t know, Howard.I don’t mind it too much.”She flexed a bicep, the perfectly shaped muscle swelling larger than a volleyball, with perfect ease.She watched Howard’s eyes follow her fingers as they traveled his smooth circumference and probed its extreme hardness.
“You’re rubbing it in,” Howard scowled.
That tickled Julia.She relaxed her bicep.“Well, what WOULD be fair, sweetie?To live every day of our lives on Earth, where almost every single man was born taller than me, stronger than me, surrounded by a culture that fully supported him being in charge?A world where you go from success to success and I just follow along? You’re not the only one that’s had to deal with a little bit of unfairness.”
“This is much more than ‘a little bit’.Every single girl here can destroy me with a flick of her wrist.They can terrorize me for sport. I have to do SOMETHING.” Howard brought the bottle to his lips with grim determination.“I’ve managed to get at least a quart down.”
“VERY impressive.”It wasn’t, of course.Julia’s rum-laden nerves fought back a silly smile."What about all the stuff you were so concerned about in my case?The health risks? The way it rewrites genetic code?"
"It doesn't seem to be harming you," Howard retorted."It's just making you strong enough to harm me. Do you know why I blacked out after the swim lesson?Because you hugged me! And even today, when you tried to get all frisky with me, do you know what I was doing?Trying to breathe."
“I’m sorry.”Julia felt the heat of the shame – and of the alcohol – rising to her face.“I can learn to be more careful. But your body cannot learn to use Nourishment.”She reached downward and put a hand on his shoulder, the rum inside her tickling the tips of her fingers. "Don't do this to yourself, Howard."
He apparently hadn’t even heard her."Wait, I think I feel something." He squeezed his upper arm."I think it's working!" He crouched down and grabbed a soccer-ball-sized rock. "I couldn't lift this earlier. Let's see what I can do now!" A grunt was followed by the reddening of his face.
The rock barely moved."UGGGGGGGH!" he screamed.
Julia suppressed a drunken giggle.
The rock rose as far as his ankles before he released it, exhausted."That's progress," he announced. "More than I did last time, I think. I've been Nourishing for two hours now, and I think it's starting to work."
She crossed her massive arms over her massive chest."Howard, it's not starting to work. It's never going to work."
"Let me try again."His limbs shook. He raised the rock nearly as high as his kneecaps before dropping it with a THUD.
This time, the giggle could no longer be fought back.It was just TOO cute.
"What are you laughing at?"The grey of his eyes sparkled silver with anger.
"I'm sorry, Howard."She pursed her lips, but could feel her cheeks contorting into a grin.
"No, really.I can tell you think something is funny.Just say it."
"I'm thinking how small that rock seems to me now.I know men are weaker than women here. But even so, that thing doesn't look that big at all.You seriously can't lift it, even with unenhanced muscle?" Julia bent at the waist and picked up the rock, balancing it on a tripod of three fingers.It felt about as heavy to her as a few pebbles.
"Give that back to me!"Howard was angry. "I was using it."
Julia handed him the rock.Once she released it, the rock's weight yanked his arms downward, impacting the ground with another THUD.Another giggle escaped her lips, and this one she didn't try to hide.
He stomped away from her, scampering up the side of the large, oblong boulder.It was about the size of a station wagon, and Howard stumbled a few times before reaching the top.
Julia had seen this look before.He made this face when he knew the truth but was too arrogant to admit it.
"Maybe the Nourishment just needs more time to work.”Howard crossed his arms and scowled down at her from the top of the boulder."Maybe it’s something where the process of making it work on men is more complicated or takes longer, but the effects, once achieved, are even greater.”
“HRRUMPH,” she pouted. “Typical male ego! Here I was thinking that you were dealing with this situation so gracefully, when really you were just holding out hope that I could one day be weaker than you again.Remember those macho bikers you hated so much at the bar back on Earth? You’re just as bad as they are!”
But Howard gave no indication that he had heard her.He was lost in his own urgent reverie. “It's only been two hours since I got my first gulp down.The changes are coming. I can feel it."
"My arms gained size in the first thirty minutes.Your arms look the same as they always have, baby."
His arms remained crossed, like a grouchy genie sitting on a massive stone carpet."I had a meal before I drank the Nourishment. Maybe it's taking longer to enter my bloodstream."
He was so cute when he was stubborn.She put a hand over her mouth to hide the smile.
"You think you're so superior.”Agitated, he squirmed around on top of the boulder and almost fell off."How much could you really lift only two hours after Nourishing?"
At that point, irritation overcame her sense of amusement. How many times in the last week had she reassured him that love has nothing to do with muscle mass, that her love for him remained strong?
"Julia, one more time: how much could you really lift only hours after Nourishing?"
"Something like this," she said.Julia approached the boulder on which Howard sat. She slid her hands underneath it. Her arms exploded with superhuman strength as a deep RUMBLE shook the woods.Tons upon tons of rock, the size of an oversized car, rose smoothly from the ground. "It's about thirty-five thousand pounds, Howard."
"Oh my… oh no…" she could hear Howard's voice fill with fear as his enormous rocky perch rose underneath him.
Julia stopped when the boulder was at waist level, her forearms parallel with the ground.She flexed her biceps a bit, causing the fifteen-foot-long mass of rock to bob up and down.
Howard looked nervous."Julia, please, stop that.You might drop it."
"No I won't.You saw what I could do at the gym; only in your delusional wishes would this thing be heavier. It's about as hard as holding a gallon of milk." She raised the rock high above her head now, feeling how her genetically enhanced muscle fiber rose easily to the challenge.Her arms felt pleasantly warm. They thrilled at the exertion that even a hundred men combined could not accomplish.
But above, her boyfriend was hardly sharing in the joy.He was scrambling, in fact, to get off the boulder. To make it easier for him to dismount, she angled the boulder downward, toward dry ground and away from the pond.
It was a mistake.Howard had not expected the boulder beneath him to shift.When he stepped forward, his foot found only air where it should have found rock.There was a yelp, the sound of a man tumbling, and then a SPLASH as he fell straight into the water.He landed in the thick grasses lining the shallow lip of the pool, head first. He sputtered for air, seemed disoriented, his limbs becoming tangled in the serpentine grasses.And then, his head went under.
"I'm sorry, honey!" she said, tossing the boulder aside.It hit the ground with a resonant THOOM, making the ground shake.She was in the water immediately.
She was relieved to find the body in the water still thashing, still full of life.Hauling him out, she snapped the entangling grasses with the sheer force of his extraction.She carefully placed him on his side and watched as he coughed the contents of his lungs onto to ground.
Whatever sort of animus she had toward her boyfriend disappeared. She cupped his quivering cheek in her hands."I didn't mean it, swear.”
He rose to his feet, unsteady.His clothes were soaked. They clung to his limbs, which made them look less substantial than ever before.
Julia found herself laughing.Part of it was the alcohol in her system.Part of it was the relief at knowing he was going to be ok.And part of it was the fact that the man who minutes ago had fancied being stronger than the Nourished now stood before her, stick thin and soaked.He resembled a wet puppy. The whole situation was so absurd!
A wounded look crossed Howard's face."I should have known you'd want to put me in my place.And now you’ve done it."
Julia wanted to say something, but Howard had already leaned over the water and begun to wretch – big gulps of Nourishment gushing out of his mouth and spreading, orange, across the surface of the pond.
But Howard didn’t respond.Without bothering to wring his clothes off, he scrambled in the direction of the house.
"Honey, wait."Julia began putting the sandals back on."I just wanted you to get it— our bodies are different but our love is still the same!”
But he was already moving as quickly as he could, away from her.In a few quick paces, her longer legs caught up to him.
"I had a few drinks, I admit it.That’s my fault. I shouldn’t have laughed.”
He swung around to face her.“No, that’s good. I’m glad that you laughed.I needed to be put in my place. Here I was, trying to be the best that I can be in life, when it turns out that everything I could ever accomplish, in your eyes, is just a joke.”
“I’m so sorry, Howard.”Julia spread her arms as if she were ready to receive the stigmata.“I didn't mean to make you feel silly. I was only trying to help!"
“Maybe it wasn’t fair back on Earth.But I did everything in my power to help you and support you, to make you the most successful person you could be.And now that the tables are turned, now that I’m the one that’s struggling— all you can do is snicker.” He resumed is march off toward the house.
Julia squatted to the forest floor in defeat, pounding her massive thighs with enough force to turn rock to fine dust."I loved this body. But I hate it now, too." She lamented. "I hate it for what it has done to us.”