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The LaPorte Caves – Revised – Ch 09e – Dead End

Written by circes_cup :: [Saturday, 29 February 2020 14:40] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 29 February 2020 14:58]

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CHAPTER 09e – DEAD END


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. Becoming an amazon, for a woman in the Weald, is as easy as drinking the transformative elixir Nourishment. Howard had exhorted Julia to refrain from this and return with him to Earth. But Julia chose the drink, gaining extraordinary strength and intelligence in the process. And then, to make matters worse, the powerful Julia made it clear that she was in no rush to lead her boyfriend back home.

As the days dragged on, Howard began to wonder whether more than just innocent procrastination is to blame. Finally, he resolved, in secret, to do something about it. But as is so often the case with men, Howard underestimated the powers of the fairer sex: his whispered plans had not gone undetected.

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.


When the recital concluded, the family headed home in scattered groups. Ruth went with Andos and the younger children in a limousine-type vehicle. Howard rode his own motorcycle back.

That left Mindy to walk back to the beach house alone. After such a recital, Julia thought the girl deserved some company. So, Julia volunteered to go with her.

When Mindy emerged from the recital hall, she had her motorcycle on her back, just as she had carried it from Earth, the chain slung across her chest like the strap of a purse. The machinery’s brawn and scale contrasted markedly with the frilly, minimal recital gown adorning the girl underneath.

“You brought that thing?”

Mindy shrugged. “I want to drop it off with someone on the way back.”

They started walking. The night air helped soothe her anger at Howard. He was being a brat, true. But he rode that motorcycle to the recital and home without any prompting: he really did seem to appreciate the gift.

“I’m so glad none of the dumb men are coming along,” Mindy announced. “I hate walking at their pace.”

“I don’t understand why you hate men for their weakness, Mindy. Their bodies might be different, but they’re still people.”

Mindy adjusted the four-hundred-pound motorcycle on her back. “They’re barely people. You can’t do anything with them. You can break their bodies without even meaning to. They’re always falling behind or exhausted or confused or clueless or whatever.”

“But they still offer companionship.”

“So what?” The girl shrugged. “What use is a man’s companionship when he’s never seen what I’ve seen, when he’s never done what I’ve done, when he has only a fraction of my intellect? What sort of companionship is that? And I’ve been on full Nourishment for only a few years. Imagine how inferior they’ll feel after I’ve been Nourished for decades!”

Julia could see part of the girl’s logic. She and Howard used to enjoy reading the same book, one after the other, and then talking about it. But now she could read a book in minutes, whereas it still took him days. And with her perfect retention of the details, her ability to read related works just as quickly – he would have so little to offer the conversation anymore. But still, Mindy was missing out on something.

“Men have the capacity to love,” Julia finally offered.

“They’re weak!” Mindy almost yelled.

The vehemence of the reaction caused Julia to drop the topic. Another mile went by before she spoke again.

“You did a great job up there, by the way,” Julia said. “The music was exquisite. It must have been gratifying to do so well in front of your whole family.”

“Yea, that was pretty cool. Especially because I didn’t make any mistakes – and my mom was there to see it!”

“Does she have high standards?”

“No, it’s just that, shit, she and I compete on EVERYTHING. That’s why I stopped taking morning swims with her. It turned into a race every time. And although I go to the gym more than she does, she swims more than anybody. I top out at only about a hundred miles an hour with the fins on, so she was beating me every time. It got old.”

How swimming at a hundred miles an hour could get old, Julia did not know.

Their path led them from city streets to less populated areas, where insects could be heard rather than cars. In another body, the dark and the quiet would have bothered her. But now, the unknown held only mystery for her, and never threats.

“But anyways, I’ve always liked playing for my mom because it’s one area where I know I can beat her, hands down. I’m just naturally musically talented in a way that she’s not. I get it from my dad.”

“Is your dad talented?”

“No, men aren’t really talented at anything. But he was compared to other men. The genes that dads pass along to their daughters are enhanced through Nourishment. So, a dad who is musically talented, compared to other men, will pass that along to his daughter. And then she’ll grow up to be more talented than other women. But the gender gap still exists: the most musically incompetent woman in the world still looks like a virtuoso next to the most gifted man.” Mindy sighed, and looked up. Her jaw flared, as if she were swallowing something. “My dad would have enjoyed seeing me play tonight.”

“I thought he did see you play tonight?”

“Andos? No he’s just my step-dad, mom’s new husband.” Mindy said, as they rounded a corner. “My real dad is here.” She pointed into the humid darkness.

Julia looked where Mindy was pointing. It was a cemetery. The night chatter of swamp insects were the only sounds in the sullen air.

“Oh, Mindy. I’m sorry.”

She led Julia to a row of huge sarcophagi, their stone lids above the ground, but the rest of their mass below the surface. Mindy stopped at one, grabbed the handle, and pulled upward. A massive lid, clearly weighing many tons, rose off its mounting smoothly. The girl’s muscles flared into thick ellipsoids, the light of the moon causing her perfect skin to shine.

Wordlessly, Julia took the stone slab from her in one hand and waited while the girl stared down into the blackness. “I brought you the program from my recital, Dad. You would have liked the music. You would have liked it all. Even Mom said I did well, and you know how she hates to say that unless she has to.”

Mindy paused, her face just as stone-like as the rows of sarcophagi.

“I also brought you this.” She looped the chain of the motorbike over her head and held it at arm's length, her forearm relaxed and seemingly unaware of the vehicle’s four-hundred-pound weight. She asked the darkness below, “Isn’t it beautiful?”

Only the soft nighttime breezes replied with the sound of rustling leaves.

“I got it from a guy on another world, a dead one. One dead guy to another, huh?” She tried to laugh.

The breezes seemed to rustle a brief reply.

Mindy held the bike over the void. The light of the moons, obscured by gossamer clouds, made the chrome glow. “It has anti-lock brakes, Dad. Do you know what that means, Dad?”

Mindy’s chest started to rise and fall with deeper breaths.

“If your bike had these kinds of brakes… I mean, if they had ever bothered to invent these kinds of brakes… I mean, if they had EVER stopped to give a SHIT about anything that went into ANYTHING… then you wouldn’t…” She continued to breathe deeply, her chest heaving now. “You wouldn’t…” She put her spare hand to her eyes. “Oh… fuck. Don’t you ever tell anyone you saw me like this, Julia.”

“It’s ok to be sad.”

“No it’s not. I hate weakness. I…”. The sound of sobs echoed off the stone monuments that surrounded them.

“If your bike had had these fucking things, Dad…” tears were now running over her fingers. “You wouldn’t be down there right now.”

Mindy lowered the bike carefully down into the cavity. And then she yanked the stone lid out of Julia’s hands, shoving its many tons back into place with a BOOM.

And the nighttime breezes seemed to swirl around them, as if they were seeking to hold the girl in an embrace.

—————

When Howard woke up the next morning, he was in a hopeful mood. Today was the day Julia had promised to address the subject of their return to Earth. And yet, when he looked around Ruth’s house for her, Julia was nowhere to be found. He learned from Ruth’s husband, Andos, that she was already down at the tailor. Howard knew where it was, and he resolved to go there.

It was only after he throttled up the motorcycle that the implications of her activity sank in. She was at the tailor, getting new clothes fitted. Shopping. Howard was stuck in a world where every tenth person could kill him with her bare hands, and his girlfriend was putting off a trip home so that she could go SHOPPING.

And if she were truly planning to take him back to Earth, why was she buying clothes that would fit only her Weald body? The ease with which she was settling into life here, the growing friendship she had with Mindy— none of it felt right. Howard revved the bike. He had to talk to her.

When Howard arrived at the tailor’s shop, Julia wasn’t getting measured or fitted— at least, not in an Earth way. Instead, she was on an outdoor patio, reclining in a tub, naked, with water only up to her belly button. Suspended above the thick-walled tub was a large bucket, held in place by a large steel yoke. When Howard approached her, he was assaulted by searing heat, and it was coming from the bucket.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Getting a mold made. Us curvier girls sometimes need to take extra steps to get our clothes to fit correctly.”

An attendant pushed a button, and the bucket tipped toward her. Molten metal, glowing a searing orange, spilled out. It formed a small pile on her breasts before sliding into the deep valley between them. The sheen of water on her skin turned to vapor with a POOF as the orange mass spread across her torso.

“When the molds cool, they’ll use them to make a statue of everything from my neck to my thighs. They’ll keep the statue here in the shop. Whenever I want new clothes, I would just make a phone call describing what I want, and they’re ready the next day. Ruth says everything they do here fits perfectly.”

A stream of orange-hot metal continued to pour from the bucket onto his girlfriend’s invulnerable skin, spreading across her chest. Rivulets of orange slid down over the sides of her torso into the pool of water, coughing up a big cloud of steam that seared Howard’s skin.

“Does it hurt?” He knew the answer before he could voice the question. It was as if his brain was going through a mourning process, grieving the loss of its understanding of reality.

“No,” she sighed, her expression content. “It feels nice.”

Howard watched as she positioned a nipple under the cascading stream of deadly orange. “It’s like being kissed, but in a different way.” Julia arched her back into the stream, her nipple ascending to meet the metal as it poured out of the bucket. The nub swelled with delight under the kiss of a substance that would easily burn a hole in human flesh.

“Why are you building a wardrobe?”

“I’m sick of borrowing Ruth’s outfits. For Mindy’s recital yesterday, I would have been in street clothes had it not been for a gift from Ruth. That’s embarrassing. We’re mooching too much off of them. I need to find a job, too.”

“Aren’t we going soon? Why build a wardrobe when we are about to leave this world?”

“Howard, is there anything you want to share with me? Any little confessions? Couples shouldn’t keep secrets, you know.”

Howard felt a chill come over him. Had she overheard him in the recital hall?

“Nothing, honey?” Julia just closed her eyes and settled into the tub, allowing the molten metal to spread across her barrell-like torso.

Howard’s mind struggled to mount a response. She was running her fingers through her hair, pulling stray blobs of metal out and rolling the cooled nuggets into balls between her fingers. The movement of her arms caused their muscles to swell with terrifying size. The fearsome display of power was a reminder of exactly why Howard needed to get out of this world, but also why he needed to play his cards right while he was in it.

“I’ve decided we’re going to stay a bit longer,” she announced. With fingers splayed wide, she began to spread the molten metal over her breasts. “I’m enjoying this place.”

“But…”

“You’re safe here. And as my Claimed, you could be as safe here as the gold in Fort Knox. And the machine you just rode in on is the clearest evidence any man could want that the route back home is sound.”

The flow of metal had stopped now. An attendant was using a rake-like object to spread the orange glow of the metal evenly wherever her fingers had missed it.

“You’re never going to take me home, are you?”

Julia arched an eyebrow. “Are you suggesting that I am going to imprison you here? Are you really suggesting that?”

“I don’t… I don’t know, Julia. I’m not suggesting anything.”

Should I bring up the Mindy episode, Howard wondered? She had threatened to kill him, and if Julia only understood that, perhaps it would change her mind. But, oh, the risks of letting it slip. ‘Our little secret, Howie’ – those were Mindy’s parting words for him. What if Julia didn’t believe him, or even worse, decided to discuss it with Mindy. No, it was too dangerous. If Mindy was a threat to his life now, going behind her back would put him in even more danger.

Instead, he fumbled for the right words. “ All I am trying to say is that I hate it here, and I want to go home.”

By now, the metal had cooled into a gelatinous state. The attendant poured ice water over her, steam rising in billows as her coating cooled from a dull orange color to solid, dull grey.

“If you like being in the Weald, you can still visit after we return to Earth,” he offered.

“No, I can’t. Changing my Nourishment regime isn’t like changing a pair of socks, Howard. I need to either stay Nourished or stay un-Nourished: transitioning between the two states more than once or twice is rare and believed to be a strain on a woman’s health. So I have to choose.” The steam from the ice water had cleared, the coating of metal now a breastplate that would have made Achilles himself jealous. It hugged every ridge and swell of her apple-sized abdominal muscles, before rising high on a shelf of pectorals as thick as his thumb was long. And then, the metal bent further over voluptuous breasts that each could have started the Trojan war all over again. “Let me stay Nourished a bit longer, without the pestering. I’ll keep all the big, bad girls away from you, I promise.”

“What if I went back alone, and you followed later?”

“We promised each other we’d stick together, remember?” Julia stood and hooked her thumbs under the edges of the metal mold. She pulled it off with a THUUPPP and handed it to the attendant, holding it with three fingers. Once transferred to him, its weight caused the weaker man to falter with every step as he carried it. With shaking arms, he hung the heavy mold alongside the mold of her back— a wide v-shaped expanse of metal— and the trunk-like molds of her legs.

If the samples on the racks were any indication, the clothing she was ordering was really nice. Clothing meant to be worn many, many times. Who places orders for custom tailoring for a body they don’t plan to keep? First, they couldn’t go because she wanted to scout the route with Mindy. Then, they couldn’t go because she wanted to attend Mindy’s recital. And today, she had hardly bothered to offer a reason at all. Howard was overcome by an instinct to flee.

“I’m going to take this bike you gave me for a ride.”

Julia turned and lowered herself to match his height, her lips only a moment from his. “Please don't be gone long. I miss you.”

“I’m right here,” he whispered.

“But in a way you’re not. In a way, you’re so distant.”

He reached out and touched her cheek. It caused her to tremble. She was starved for affection, he knew – his affection. “Let’s go home Julia. Let’s go back to the place we fell in love.”

His fingers felt her expression harden with displeasure. Then, her face slipped away as she rose to her full height, her mountainous breasts grazing his face as they rose above his head. He found himself momentarily looking up at the bottom of her huge breasts before craning his head back to look up at her disturbingly flawless face. “No, Howard. Love doesn’t happen in just one zip code.”

Oh, no, Howard thought, as he backed away, toward his bike. Even her affection for me, even the tenderest moment they could have, was not enough to overcome the corruption of power that now consumed her. All was lost.

“Have fun ordering your clothes.” Howard started the engine.

—————-

The motorcycle roared with unrestrained anger as Howard sped out of town. But Howard’s heart emanated something else: fear. The woman he loved had become unrecognizable to him. In the name of loving him back, she had all but trapped him here. He had tried to get her to understand his situation , but his conversation with her had begun to feel more and more like pleas for mercy. He wanted his old Julia back – and his old life as well.

Back at the house, he idled the motorcycle while looking for signs of life. Everyone was gone. Howard found his way to the currency drawers and grabbed several handfuls of beads. He had seen any number of hands dip into those drawers over the last few days – the kids had done it, and Ruth’s husband, and Mindy. Howard doubted the money would be missed.

So supplied, the motorcycle roared again as it carried Howard away. Once he was well away from the house, he stopped the motorcycle and extracted from his pocket the instructions he had received from the man at the recital. The man had kept it simple – just a map with the key street names indicated. Howard could not read the words, but it shouldn’t matter: he could simply match whatever he saw on the paper with whatever he saw on the street sign. What was more, Howard seemed to remember some of these streets from his prior activities. Yes, he thought, this plan is starting to come together.

But it wasn’t. Translating the scrawled characters on his map to the street signs before him turned out to be harder than he had expected: the scrawls on the paper omitted some shapes that were featured on the formal signs, and Howard could not be certain these omissions indicated a different word, or were just a shorthand for the same word. It was several hours later that Howard finally found the place he was looking for: an alley. It was a quiet alley off a small side street, the perfect place for people to be doing the things society thought they shouldn't.

The alley was a dead-end, populated by about twelve men doing little but casting the occasional furtive glance down the road. They did not tense or brandish weapons when Howard approached. They simply allowed him to enter their midst, as if he had always belonged there. That's a good sign, he thought.

"You looking for somethin'?" one asked.

"Maybe," Howard replied, hoping that this was the way to play it cool.

"If you were looking for something, what would it be?"

“I'm planning a little surprise for my girlfriend.” Howard noted the look of confusion on their faces. “My mistress,” he clarified. “I need something potent enough to really… surprise her.”

The man adjusted his cap and considered Howard for a moment. The others watched the man with the cap carefully. He was clearly their leader. After a time, he nodded.

Out of a duffel bag emerged a small cylinder.

“Behold the latest in Diana tree technology,” the man said, handing it to him. The man smiled, a little bit too much.

“The active ingredient is derived from the stuff in the seeds of the tree. It doesn’t do shit to men. But it gives women vertigo, even in small doses. And in big ones, it turns her mind to fucking putty.”

“Putty?” Howard tried to sound confident.


“Her brain can be influenced. Controlled. A few instructions whispered into her ear, and you have your very own, ready-made, one-woman army on your side. You can do it all with your very own mistress – rob a bank, destroy a rival…”

No, no – he would never do any of those things, he knew. The thought of having power over her suddenly made him feel protective, and the idea of her being vulnerable suddenly reawakened his love for her. I just want us to go home. And not just for my sake, but for hers as well, he knew – before the power that flows through her consumes her entirely.

He reached for his money.

But just then, Howard heard a snorting sound. He turned.

One of the gang bangers had ingested a powder of some sort. His eyes were bloodshot. In fact, the eyes of the other men were bloodshot, too. These guys weren't just selling drugs, Howard realized. They were doing them, too. It made him nervous. But be pretended not to notice. “How long does it keep her…malleable?”

"An hour. Several hours. Depends on the woman. The technology is new. You got money, buster?"

Howard nodded. “How does it dispense?”

"Pressurize it with the piston. Pump it many times until it's aerosolized. One shot of the aerosol to her eyes should knock her out for a few seconds. While she's out, fire about a quarter of the canister into her mouth to knock her out good. Or her nasal passages. Whatever you have to do to get it in her bloodstream."

“Is it guaranteed to knock her out for at least an hour?”

“It's guaranteed to be illegal.” The man had been leaning against a discarded file cabinet, but now he stood up straight, spreading his feet to the width of his shoulders. “And I've told you enough to put my ass in jail for a good long while. The money, please. Forty azure beads.”

Howard fished into his pockets. “You got a second one?”

“Yes. I might sell it to you.” He handed it to Howard. “Or I might just shove up your ass if you don't pay for the first one. The money, now.”

“OK, OK!” Howard took a closer look at the man. His eyes were even more bloodshot than before. What drugs they were using, the hit was really kicking in now, and it was making him combative.

Howard shoved his hand into his pocket, grasping the beads. But then he froze. Azure beads, the man had said. Howard didn’t remember any azures in the drawer. He had taken plenty of other colors but what denomination were they? Howard cursed to himself. He had assumed the guy from the theater would be here to help him through the transaction. But that guy was nowhere to be found. And if the drug dealers sensed how clueless he was about money, then what?”

“Xeris,” the leader drawled, his eyes looking worse. “Pull this man’s pants down. He thinks I was kidding when I suggested this can would take a trip up his ass.”

Howard felt his pants yanked down.

“Wait!” He shouted, opening his hand. The beads were piled so high they spilled onto the ground.

The group became entirely still. “By the two moons themselves…” one of the men observed carefully “…this idiot has brought enough to buy a hundred cans.”

“We could send him home with everything we have,” the leader shrugged. “Or we could just take everything he has. It’s a lot of money.”

“But then we’d have to kill him,” another offered.

Howard felt his breath shallow as the group seemed to move as one.

They were slurring their speech even more than before, Howard realized. Their minds were not right.

And there were twelve of them.

Howard swung his backpack to the ground and dove a hand into it. His handgun was in there. If he could only get his hand on it…

THUD. One of the men had kicked the backpack and sent it tumbling away. Howard began to scramble after it, but his pants were around his ankles. A blow to the back of the head leveled him. He tried to get up, but there were other blows as well – a kick in the ribs stung with pain, and then one in the arm, and then a hard kick in the ass that ground his face back into the dirt.

Howard raised his head to see that the contents of the backpack were scattered across the ground. The gun in particular had attracted the attention of one of his assailants. He was squeezing the trigger to no effect, not realizing that the gun had a safety. Howard had never seen a gun in the Weald. He had never heard of one. Maybe they didn’t have them. Certainly, this guy had never seen an Earth firearm before.

But even as Howard realized this, the man was pouring over the gun, fiddling with this, moving that, trying to find the key lever. Howard thrust his body toward the man but was floored by yet another brutal assault.

The pain of the blows was unbearable, and facing a dozen men, the odds beyond reason. His eyes beginning to close, his last shreds of hope began to fade.

But just then, he heard a voice from directly above. And not just any voice, either. A female one.

“You assholes. Get your hands OFF him!”

The voice didn’t sound like Julia’s normally would. Even as the blows rained down on him, Howard twisted his head and opened his eyes, searching the rooflines of the nearby buildings for the source of the words. Finally, his bleary vision found it.

There, perched on the edge of a three-story building, was Amanda.

—————

If they hadn’t been on drugs, they wouldn’t have tried to run. Howard realized that in retrospect. No sober man would ever try to outrun the Nourished.

But run they did, producing a disgusted groan from Amanda.

The alley was open on one end, dead-ended on the other. Amanda moved with lightning speed, running along the edge of the roof and then leaping off. She landed with a BOOM at the entrance to the alley. Searching around her, she found a large dumpster – the size of a truck trailer – and heaved it into the air. Blocks of concrete spilled out, suggesting that it was full of heavy construction debris. Howard wondered whether Amanda noticed that the dumpster was so heavily loaded, or even cared. The eighteen-year-old’s strength was so immense, she may as well have been lifting a block of cotton balls.

Howard yanked his pants back up and refastened them. He felt an involuntary shudder of warmth down there, too, when he saw the girl, arms raised high over her head, the phenomenal power of her body on full display.

The dumpster came down onto their path with a deafening BANG, covering the men in dust as they stumbled away from it. Their attempt at escape was fruitless. Nonetheless, some of the men, the ones who seemed particularly drugged out, went straight at her.

The ensuing fight was simply amusing – to see normal men, of normal height, of normal brawn, go up against the towering teenager, nearly four hundred pounds of superbly enhanced muscle. The blows of their fists simply bounced off of her. She would periodically shoo one of her assailants away – just a quick shove that slammed him into the brick wall of the alley – so that she could better focus on giving one man at a time the lesson he deserved.

And boy did he get it. A quick chop on the shoulder would land with a CRACK on his collar bone, sending him down to his knees. Then, an uppercut or a kick would propel him ten feet into the air before he slammed a pole or a wall or the ground. She worked her way systematically through all of her assailants this way, leaving each on the ground, moaning and writhing.

It was then that Howard noticed the expression on the girl’s face: amusement. She was just a teenager, he remembered – a girl in her first year of Nourishment still acquainting herself with the immensity of her power, the totality of her domination of the weaker gender. When one drugged up thug marched toward her with a balled fist, she only cocked her head with curiosity. He piled his fist into what would have been a vulnerable part of a male body, the abdomen. But she only watched, entertained and puzzled, as the bones of his hand emitted a CRACK.

Howard found his heart beating faster as he watched her. Even in the midst of the mayhem, the girl was simply stunning. Her legs and arms were adorned with thick swells of muscle. Her breasts were huge and proud – perhaps even more immense than Julia’s— rising off her frame with a firmness that human flesh could not imitate, their considerable weight doing nothing to diminish her perfect posture. Her hair, cut in a bob, was a perfect wall of gold. Her skin was flawless. But what captured him most were her eyes: the harbored none of the hardness that he had come to know in Julia. Instead, they shone bright with the untarnished trust and joy that only the young could possess.

She sauntered toward him and the remainder of their adversaries, the generous sway of her hips like the back-and-forth movement of a metronome, marking time until the remainder of those men met their punishment.

Why did he find Amanda’s genetically enhanced body so attractive, and Julia such a turn off? Was it the residual effect of what she had done to him at the bluff – the pheromones she had used on him? He didn’t think so. Or was it something about her – her innocence, the fact that she was as unprepared for the totality of her power as he?

She smiled at the second group of men. “I’m going to enjoy this,” she announced.

Far more sober than the first group, these guys made the smart move, backing away from the female threat – and toward the bag of neurotoxin canisters. Just one of those canisters was enough to control Amanda, giving them a weapon of immeasurable strength.

Howard couldn’t let that happen. He was just a hair closer to the bag than the others.

He dove toward it. Grabbing the bag , he hurled it high. The bag was light – those canisters were just gas – and it flew over a chain link fence.

The men took out their fury on him, resuming a beating, holding him like a hostage even as his superhuman ally continued her advance.

As rough as the blows were, Howard did not care anymore. The neurotoxin was removed from the scene. Amanda was by far the most powerful being in the alley. The rest of the fight could only go one way. But then, Howard remembered something.

The gun.

Was it with one of the guys Amanda had defeated only moments ago? Or was it with the clump of guys that had held back from engaging her? There was no question in Howard’s mind of the peril it created for Amanda: she might be able to shrug off a punch, but there was no way she could shrug off a bullet, he believed.

“What is that thing?” he heard Amanda ask, still fifty yards away.

Howard turned the direction of her gaze and finally saw the gun. The man who was holding it had finally found the safety. He slid the lever and pointed it at Amanda.

She was just a teenager, Howard realized, with her whole life ahead of her! A real man never, never let harm come to a woman or a child – and Amanda was both. He had to neutralize that weapon, even if it meant his own life.

“Noooooo!” Howard screamed. “She’s just a girl!”. He grabbed the thick lid of a trash can and lunged toward the weapon.

Time slowed. The man noticed Howard and redirected the gun at him.

Howard raised the lid like a cheap shield.

BAM. The gun fired.

The bullet whizzed so close to his head that Howard’s hair rustled. But he did not hesitate, instead rushing for the gun even harder.

BAM. The gun fired again.

Howard felt the lid twist and slam back into his shoulder and head. It was like being punched by a heavyweight boxer. A ricochet sounded from the side of the alley. He had deflected that second bullet.

And there would not be a third. Although belatedly, Amanda had realized the danger and had closed fifty yards faster than Howard had closed ten.

Amanda reached the gun.

There was a third BLAM.

Howard saw a puff of residue as the bullet slammed into the palm of her hand. But there was no blood, no screaming – only shocked curiosity as the girl examined the crumpled slug in her open palm.

Then, the curiosity was replaced by anger. The girl’s massive arms moved in a blur, grasping in the gunman’s two tiny hands in one of her own, the gun sandwiched in the knot of flesh. There was another flash, a muffled BLUM, and another bullet impacted her harder-than-steel thighs. Amanda seemed not to care.

Then came a crunching sound – not a single crack but a sustained sound as countless bones in the man's hand succumbed to the crush of her superhuman grip.

“Amanda…” Howard groaned. “Enough.”

But apparently it wasn’t. Amanda picked the man up and hurled him across the alley. He impacted the wall a dozen feet above the ground with a sickening WHAM before sliding down it.

The girl began walking toward that heap of a man— casually, entirely assured of her complete dominance. “If you EVER touch him again…”

“Amanda…” Howard tried to stand, but wooziness overtook him. “Stop.”

But she didn’t. The gunman had just finished clamoring to his knees when she hauled him skyward by the scruff of the neck. Before Howard could utter a word – WHAM - she slammed the helpless man back onto the ground. This time, Howard was sure he heard large bones break.

Vertigo overwhelmed his senses but he still managed to speak. “Amanda…”

She growled, hauling the man up again. He hung from her grip, ten feet in the air, like a wet dish rag. “I’m so angry at him I could do this all day!”

“You do it another minute and he’ll be dead.” Howard tried to muster all the adult authority he possessed. “You’ve hurt him enough.”

“So?” Amanda responded.

“Please, Amanda,” Howard begged.

Finally Howard’s ears were rewarded by the sound of the man crumpling into a pile on the ground. Howard’s vision blurred, and so did his awareness. The impact of the lid on his head must have been worse than he thought.

Blackness came quickly.

—————

When daylight re-entered his vision, it was framing Amanda’s concerned face. His head was in her lap, his body sprawled out on the ground. His scalp felt the gentle stroke of her fingers as they ran through his hair. Her enormous breast loomed over his head, shading him from the bright sun. He could think of worse places to wake up.

“It’s over,” she said. “The cops took them away.”

Howard struggled to get up, but she gently pressed him back down with far superior force.

“Rest a bit. I gave you something to heal that blow to your head, and your bruises. But you need to give it a few more minutes before you try to walk.”

Howard allowed his body to relax back into her.

“How did you find me?”

Amanda pointed at her button nose and scrunched up her face. “You stink. In a good way. I crossed your trail.”

Howard felt his spine slowly turning to jelly as he stared into her eyes. To him, the feelings she awakened were every bit as real as a high school crush.

“You were really something out there, do you know that, buster? So fucking brave. The way you tried to protect me from the gas. The way you put yourself in the path of that… that… we just call it a toy here, but you call it a…”

“Gun,” Howard offered.

“Gun,” she confirmed. “I saw what that projectile did to everything that it hit. That thing should have taken your head off. And yet, you didn't hesitate for a moment.”

“I didn’t want you to get hurt.”

Amanda’s laugh was like music. “That is SO adorable. And so selfless. Howard, I’m much, much smarter than you and much, much stronger, and yet in some ways you seem greater than all of us. That Julia ought to put a Claim on you, or maybe two or three Claims, just to make sure she‘s got you. If she doesn’t, I just might have to take you back to those bluffs.”

That sent a shiver of need through Howard that he could barely control. He shifted uncomfortably in her lap, only to find his scraping against her breast. A deep need permeated him. Every bone in his body wanted to liberate her nipple from its covering, to attach himself to this eighteen-year-old’s far superior body and suck on it like a little child.

“Amanda, I did a bad thing today.”

“I know,” she whispered.

Fear, deep and primitive, gnawed at his gut. “Julia can’t find out what happened. She’ll kill me.”

Amanda seemed to think about that for a moment, her fingers taking an extra stroke through his hair. “I don’t think she’ll go that far.”

Howard realized that she was taking the statement literally. The idea that a woman might kill her boyfriend in anger was not, apparently, that outlandish.

“You fought so fearlessly out there, I’m sure you can use some of the courage to talk to – how do you call it? – your ‘girlfriend’.”

“No, no. I tried to buy a weapon to control her,” Howard whispered, to nobody in particular. “She’ll fucking destroy me.”

“You have to tell her, Howard. It’s impossible for a man, with such meager intelligence, to keep a secret from his mistress . Tell her up front and the consequences will be minimized.”

Howard sat up now, wobbly, but feeling his motor control slowly return.

“Tell her, or I will. It’s for your own good.”

Amanda mounted his motorcycle and motioned for him to sit behind her. Mutely, Howard did so, wrapping his arms around her torso, resting his cheek against the reassuring expanse of thick muscle that covered the young girl’s back. As she reached for the handlebars, Howard felt his grip slip as his elbows were pushed away by her expanding lats. The girl was so wonderfully strong – just as strong as the woman who’s anger now awaited him.

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