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The LaPorte Caves – Revised – Ch 10 – The All-Consuming Fire

Written by circes_cup :: [Saturday, 21 March 2020 23:45] Last updated by :: [Sunday, 22 March 2020 00:11]

CHAPTER 10 – THE ALL-CONSUMING FIRE


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.

Desperate to escape a world where every tenth person could tear him apart, Howard decided to take matters into his own hands. He sought to buy a black market drug that would allow him to control her mind. But the drug deal went horribly wrong. He wouldn’t have survived were it not for the intervention of Amanda – a teenager for whom Julia has no great affection.

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 watched Amanda recede into the distance, the plume of beach sand caused by her footfalls, slowly shrinking. He stood immobile next to his bike, helmet still fastened to his head, the crashing surf spread out before him.

What was he going to do? Amanda said she would be back tonight. And she was dead set on sharing the news of his misdeed with Julia. It would only be a matter of time. How much anger would that instill in Julia’s unfathomably powerful body?

How many minutes he passed in indecision, Howard lost track.

Suddenly, he felt a warmth behind him. The sound of the ocean was partially muffled as something smothered the ear holes of his helmet. Heavy flesh pressed his shoulders downward. And then, a pain in his chin. He was being yanked upward by his helmet, the shoreline wobbling in his view as his feet left the ground.

“Surprised ya!”

Howard’s gut clenched. The voice belonged to Mindy. He could feel the hard balls of her abdomen against his back.

“Doesn’t look like your girlfriend is too interested in sending you home, does it? I’m thinking that maybe it’s time for you to suffer a little accident. What do you think? How about I tear your arms off and throw you in the water, so you can drown slowly? Or should I make it quick? Or would you like me to choose?”

Howard tried to speak, but the entirety of his body weight was bearing down on the chin strap of his helmet, holding his jaw shut. He could only grunt as his fingers tried to release the clasp.

“What was that, Howie?” Mindy teased. “Are you seriously not going to object to me tearing a few limbs off? OK, then…”

His fingers finally popped the clasp. The world spun as he tumbled to the ground.

He turned to look up at her, the giant teenager towering over him, clad in a black slingshot suit, her python-like arms coiled at the side of each breast.

And between those breasts was pinned his helmet. She had supported his nearly two hundred pounds with nothing more than the pressure of her breasts being squeezed together!

“You stupid man. You look surprised.”

Her arms squeezed inward by an inch. Her breasts, each larger than the helmet itself, spread a bit wider across its surface. And then, Howard watched in horror as the helmet began to collapse, crushed by flesh that should have been soft.

Her face adopted a look of mock contrition. “Pleeeeezzeee…” she mocked, ventriloquist-style. The helmet creaked loudly as it opened and closed like a sideways mouth. “Don't HURT me!”

Still on his hands and knees, Howard felt his legs instinctively inching him away from her.

“I’m just a tiny little man!” The helmet said with Mindy’s ventriloquist voice. “Please!”

Howard felt his mouth go dry. If his head had been in there, his skull would have been… ugh

“Actually…” Mindy’s voice returned to its normal feminine timbre. “This is what I’d really like to do to you.”

She tightened her muscles just a little bit more and… CRACK. The sound echoed across the beach like a gunshot as the helmet imploded, the softest parts of her body easily crushing it.

Mindy adopted a satisfied grin as she rubbed her breasts against each other, the remains of the poor helmet still trapped in between them. A raucous crunching sound filled the air as the high grade plastic failed in hundreds of places simultaneously. Releasing her breasts, they fell gently away from each other, into the usual generous, perfect teardrop shape. Shards of shattered plastic, the pieces no larger than confetti, spilled to the ground. She wiped the plastic dust off of herself, revealing smooth and unblemished skin.

“Next time I find you alone, it’s going to be your head between my tits, and I’ll be wiping little bits of your brains off of them.”

Howard felt himself scrambling further away from her, the sound of the surf now broken up by the girl’s cheerful laughter.

Before Howard could vomit, the girl bent her legs and launched herself into the air. She did a backflip mid-trajectory and landed at the water’s edge, thirty yards away. Howard watched her pert rear-end, which would have been attractive under any other circumstances, slowly descend into the water. She would amuse herself in the sea for now, but the monster would be back.

He had to get the fuck out of here.

———

When Julia returned from the tailor’s, the sound of outboard engines reached her ears long before she made it to the house.

Julia listened more carefully. To the old, unenhanced, boring Julia, engines simply sounded like engines. But her new ears could hear each engine’s unique clicks and rattles, and her new brain could effortlessly analyze the timing and patterns of those noises. Each engine had its own audible fingerprint.

And these engines – she could tell they were the ones from the fishing boat that she and Ruth had encountered days earlier on the water. They had caught so many eels that their hold had overfilled, Julia had later learned. They had remained stuck at sea for an extra day-and-a-half waiting for another boat to tow them in. Now, both crews had arrived to take Ruth up on her offer for a party – and it would be one to remember.

Julia approached the gaggle of guys on the beach. They were scrambling about, collecting firewood.

They were all in pretty good shape, Julia noted, achingly. Some of them were even muscular, albeit in a diminutive, male sort of way. Her gaze coursed over their healthy physiques, while her ears took in every one of their playful voices. They look good to me, Julia admitted, the bed of coals inside her reddening with new heat. I wish they didn’t, but they do.

But I must stay true to Howard, she implored herself…

"Hey there!" It was one of the guys from the fishing boat. He had been collecting firewood. “I remember you from the water. You're the other siren of the sea.”

Siren – Howard never called her anything like that. Julia smiled. "I never thought a siren could weigh almost four hundred pounds," she joked as she surveyed the scene on the beach. "How are you guys doing with the firewood?"

"Not all that well. The beach has been picked over pretty well. We did find some large branches…" he hesitated "… but they were too heavy to move."

"OK, show me.”

Julia followed the man back into the woods. He had overgrown salt-and-pepper hair, a wiry athletic look, and from behind, a respectable caboose. She found that she enjoyed looking at him even more than the others.

He led her to a spot where six of the guys were trying to move a large, dead branch. It was perhaps two feet thick and fifteen feet long, one of many of similar size lying next to a much larger, fallen tree. Julia giggled at the exertions of the boys as they struggled with the branch. How heavy could it really be – five hundred, six hundred pounds? "I'll take care of it, guys."

Her salt-and-pepper friend smiled bashfully. “Thank you.”

The men immediately released the branch and backed away. Julia left it on the ground and focused her attention instead on the tree itself – five feet across and forty feet long. She placed a hand on the trunk and rocked it back and forth slightly. Even without lifting it, she could estimate the tree’s weight at about twenty-five thousand pounds – really no big deal. The house had been far heavier. Julia could hardly believe the absurdities to which her mind had grown accustomed. "Why don't a few of you run and find an ax? You can meet me at the fire pit,” she suggested.

A few of the men quickly scampered away.

Huh, Julia thought. I tell them to do something, and they do it. Women lead. Men follow.

A girl could get used to that.

Julia pressed her fingertips on the surface of the trunk. She was greeted by a cracking sound as her digits dug into the hardwood. To her, it felt like she was sinking her fingers into soft dough. But they penetrated the wood grain with all the gentleness of machine-driven iron spikes. Once her fingers had sunk down to the knuckles, she tested her grip and then hoisted the twenty-five-thousand-pound mass with ease onto one shoulder. The forest resonated with the crashing of broken branches spilling off the main trunk. Men backed away, their expressions a mix of trepidation and awe.

"Think this will be enough wood?" she asked.

That got an immediate laugh, in unison…

“You guys ready to party hard tonight?”

That got an enthusiastic agreement.

The men were hanging on her every word, she could tell. Just as she towered over them physically, her presence, too, dominated the conversation. It was such a contrast to her relationship with Howard! The men seemed to organize their emotions around her own, like iron filings around a magnet.

A girl could get used to that, too.

Speaking of Howard, Julia was about to set off for the beach when she heard a crunching sound of feet on forest leaves. It was him.

“Hey!” Julia said brightly. “Did you hear about the beach party tonight?”

“No,” he replied, glancing furtively at the enormous mass suspended above him. “I need to talk to you, alone.”

“Is something wrong?”

“It depends.” He looked behind him, and around him, with still more furtive glances. Howard then approached her and ran two fingers down her forearm, his way of asking for her undivided attention. “Please.”

Julia raised her chin and dropped her voice into a more authoritative register. “Leave us.”

And the men did – immediately, efficiently, almost fearfully, without pouting, or even seeming to wonder why.

Julia would never ask her boyfriend to be so deferential; it simply wasn’t in his Earth personality. And yet, there was something about the obedience of the Weald men that felt really good to her.

———

“Tell me what is on your mind,” the woman said from above him.

Howard struggled to put together his next sentence. She was so intimidating these days! Her dismissal of the other men had boomed across the forest like a war drum, producing a deep, instinctive fear in him. It was like the fear a caveman might feel when first he heard the sound of thunder, not knowing exactly what it was, but sensing the danger.

As if that weren’t enough, his girlfriend was resting a tree trunk as long as a four-story building on her shoulder. Bits of bark were dropping from above into his hair. He hoped the rest of the thing didn’t come down after them.

“Do you, uh, need to put that down while we talk?”

She looked up at the enormous mass, as if belatedly remembering that it was there, and shrugged. The thick piles of enhanced muscle on her shoulder compressed only slightly under the many tons they bore. “I’m good for now.” She cocked an eyebrow at him, “What’s on your mind, honey?”

“I…” Howard looked over his shoulder for any sign of Amanda. It was only a matter of time until the two ran into each other. And when that happened, Amanda would tell his girlfriend everything – how he had sought a weapon on the black market, how his illicit activity had gotten him into a huge amount of trouble with dangerous people, and worst of all, how the weapon he sought was one that would have taken control of her mind. If Julia learned all this, she would kill him – not literally, of course. But then again, who really knew anymore? The woman he had known so long had transformed into a person he barely recognized.

“Howard, what is it?”

Howard’s struggle with words continued. He had rehearsed several different speeches for this moment, but they had all scampered away at the sound of her war drum voice. “We need to get out of here. Go home.”

“This again?” Her barrel chest expanded as she sighed. “We WILL go home, honey. That was the whole point of the motorcycle – to prove to you that the passage back to Earth is real, to put you at ease. I would have thought it would give you the latitude to think about someone’s needs other than yours. This is a special experience for me, and I don’t relish the thought of ending it right away. Is it really that hard to hang out on the beach?”

Howard felt beads of sweat forming on his skin as he examined the surrounding underbrush for Amanda. There was no time to argue.

“I’m in danger here,” Howard hissed in a whisper. “More danger than you appreciate.”

“You think I don’t know what it’s like to be the weaker one?” Her eyes narrowed. “I handled it for thirty-plus years on Earth. How long have you had to handle it? A few days?”

“That’s not a fair comparison, and you know it.” Howard felt the words racing out of his mouth. “Any woman could destroy me without a second thought.”

“If you’re so worried about some rogue girl doing some rogue thing to you, then get Claimed.”

“Be your human possession? No, I won’t stoop that.”

She released an exasperated sigh. “We’ll go home when we’re ready. When we’re BOTH ready.”

“Which means ‘never’.”

Howard could see the hurt in her eyes. “Really, Howard? I’m done talking about this.”

She began to walk back toward the beach. The tree on her shoulder progressed through the forest like a bulldozer, bending some saplings back, snapping others clean off, uprooting small trees that become entangled in the larger one. Julia appeared oblivious to the havoc her unstoppable power created, and her stride continued unhindered by the resistance it encountered.

“Julia, stop.” Howard dodged his way through the underbrush as branches swung at his face. “Please honey,” he shouted over the noise, “please, stop!”

The woman finally did, the forest suddenly quiet again. She slowly turned and glared down at him, waiting.

“OK, fine,” Howard whispered once he caught up with her, “I got into a fight with some guys. They beat me up pretty bad. And before long, they’ll be out for revenge.” The last part was a white lie, Howard knew, but it was the best chance he had. “They could come after me at any time. Or after both of us. They’re career criminals. We’re in danger.”

“Seriously?” She laughed. “You expect me to be scared of fifteen or twenty guys?”

“It was a fourteen,” Howard replied sheepishly. This wasn’t going well.

“Send them my way. Tell them to bring their friends, too – all their friends. I’ll teach them a lesson they’ll never forget. It actually sounds like fun.”

Julia had never talked so brazenly back on Earth. And what word would describe her treatment of him if Amanda shared what she knew? He shuddered to think. “I’m serious, Julia.”

“You don’t look beat-up.”

Howard stared at his own forearms. Bruises that had been forming shortly after the fight had never materialized. It made no sense. “You HAVE to believe me.”

She propped her free hand on her hip and gazed down at him critically. “What is really going on here, Howard? Is this the mischief you were scheming back at the recital?”

She knew! Howard felt a chill go through him. Should he tell her the whole truth? No, he concluded. The distance between him and Julia had grown so great, honesty was no longer the best of policies.

In the distance, a footfall crunched on the forest floor.

Howard froze and turned. “What was that?!”

“I am actually worried about you. You’re becoming a man I don’t even recognize,” the exceedingly tall, three-hundred-seventy-five pound woman said. “Taking dangerous risks, getting into trouble, constantly looking over your shoulder, angry, depressed – it’s like you’re gradually destroying yourself. I’m wondering whether you would benefit from seeing a therapist.”

“Fine, I’ll see one. In Lexington, Kentucky.”

“No, I was thinking here. Ruth knows someone with two hundred years of experience – and don’t try to tell me you can find anything better in Kentucky.”

Howard felt his fear and his frustration boiling over. “How clueless are you Jules? You really think I want to stay in a world where I have the strength of an insect?”

The sounds in the underbrush resumed. Howard peered into it with growing anxiety.

“I can see it.” Julia said from her elevated height.

“What?” His mouth went to cotton. “What is it?”

“A deer, honey.” Julia closed her eyes for a moment, appearing to gather herself. When they reopened, there was a softness in her gaze. And when next she spoke, her voice was light and girly rather than authoritative. “You are completely spooked, aren’t you?”

Howard could only nod.

With a twist of her shoulder, she twisted the imposing tree away from him. “Howard, love, please don’t be scared. I will get you home. Trust me.”

Howard balked at responding. He didn’t know what to do.

Julia cocked her head to the side. “Please, trust me.”

Howard wished he could get away, be somewhere else.

“Howard?”

“I don’t trust you. You’re enjoying this all too much.”

The forest fell deadly silent. Howard had landed a punch he hadn’t even meant to throw. Several feet above his head, he could see her jaw muscles flare with anger, and her eyes grow glassy with hurt.

“Ruth is throwing a huge party tonight.” Her upper lip trembled. “And I, for one, wouldn't miss it for the world.”

Julia swiveled her torso toward the beach, the massive tree swinging across the understory like a gargantuan scythe. Smaller trees, decapitated by the motion of the enormous one, came crashing down everywhere. Howard ducked and covered his head, praying to make it out alive. By the time he was able to look up again, she was already storming off toward the beach, the gigantic tree still slung over her shoulder.

Howard tried to follow, but immediately stumbled on the wreckage of trees that had paid the price for her anger. He wondered what price he, too, might pay if he got too close. Following at a distance, he had to jog quickly just to keep up. Her stride was so much longer, and the pace of her angry stomping seemed to forget the many tons she bore on her shoulder.

‘Wouldn’t miss it for the world’, she had said – the same thing she had uttered at the recital. There always seemed to be room in her schedule for one more social engagement, one more delay. That, more than the crashing trees, terrified him.

“Julia, wait!” He shouted. “We need to resolve this like adults. When are we going home?”

She stopped, not even bothering to turn, and waited for him to catch up.

When he arrived, she barely turned her head over her shoulder. “Meet me after the party, near the shed where they store all the caving equipment.”

Howard was stunned. The shed with the caving equipment? Not only were they going home – they were doing it tonight! Amanda would never have a chance to tell Julia about the trouble into which he had gotten himself. Mindy would never have a chance to exact the sort of terror on him that she so clearly desired. And he – he would no longer have fear living out the rest of his days as inconsequential and powerless.

He circled around to face Julia, and could feel the smile on his face. “Those are the best words I have heard since we got here Jules!”

He reached up to wrap his fingers around her arm, which still supported the tree, and did a pull up until their lips were nearly level. He trusted her in that moment – trusted that his hundred-and-eighty pounds would not disturb an arm already bearing thousands.

Howard landed a big smooch on her surprised face. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” he said as she giggled.

———

As Julia resumed her traverse toward the beach, a gooey, happy feeling washed through her. A little affection from Howard felt so, so good! It only renewed her love for him.

But, then the defeat of the moment also began to sink in. The affection came only in exchange for the promise to talk about going home.

Nothing she had done so far had been enough for him, apparently. She had discovered the route home. She assured Howard that the route was certain – even going so far as to give him the motorcycle to prove it. She had ensured he had access to the beach, a pair of wheels, whatever he needed to have fun while he was here. But none of it made a difference. Howard insisted on being upset, and now he was even showing signs of paranoia – from noises in the woods.

“I may well have to take us back,” Julia’s forlorn voice conceded to the trees. “There may not be another way.”

As she came to this realization, she also realized there was someone else in the forest, watching her. It was the one she had followed into the forest originally, with the salt-and-pepper hair.

“I know you told me to leave,” he admitted.

“That’s ok. What were you doing here?”

“Watching you.”

“Why?

The man seemed confused. “Because you’re beautiful, of course.”

It had been so long since Julia had heard that. She felt a flutter in her chest. Her needs had been steadily building, just as Mindy had predicted. She had a deep reservoir of restraint, but now rivulets of water were spilling over the dam.

“What is your name, sweet boy?”

“Byrnham.” He cast furtive glances at her breasts, too intimidated to stare openly. Her nipples had an unabashed response, stiffening to the size of shot glasses.

“I am not from this land. Us Earth girls are not used to being so… openly admired.”

“But you Nourished are superior to everything else in nature. Are not your bodies natural wonders, meant to be admired?”

She bit her lip. Julia wanted him. Right then, right there. She wanted to drop the tree onto the floor and then pin his adorable, weak body against it as she had her way with him. But it was wrong, and it would stay wrong as long as she and Howard were together.

“Maybe you could spare a dance for me at the party,” Julia was feeling playful. “And admire a bit more.”

His anxiety gave way to a smile. “I’d like that.”

“Come on, I’ll race you!”

But the man didn't move. “A woman, race a man? I don’t understand.”

“Come on, dude! I got a HUGE handicap.” She motioned her head upward at the tree. “And I’ll give you a big head start. Don’t want to give it a shot – with advantages like that?”

“If it amuses you,” he smiled.

Julia bit her lip and nodded. “It’ll be fun! Go for it!”

Off he ran. And he ran fast - for a man. Something in her wanted him to win, wanted to reward him for being such a good sport. She decided to let him get two hundred yards ahead.

It was a decision she soon regretted. With his silly male pace, it took a full, agonizing minute for man to to traverse that short distance. When the time was finally up, Julia unleashed her body on the task and finally, finally, felt the glee of her legs exerting. The burden on her shoulder should have slowed her down. But she had returned to a full Nourishment regimen since her arrival back in the Weald, and had been to gym only yesterday. Her body was at the peak of its superhuman perfection, and she could feel the difference.

The wind in her face was strong as she limited herself to twice the speed of a sprinter, the twenty five thousand pounds on her shoulder feeling no heavier than a sack of potatoes. The surrounding forest erupted into a cacophony of rustling leaves and snapping wood as her huge cargo plowed through the lesser branches in its path. At the noise, Byrnham turned, saw her, almost tripped, and then redoubled his overmatched effort to stay ahead of her.

But his attempt was laughable. Ground that took him a full minute to cover, she traversed in a tenth of the time, at sixty eight miles per hour, with more than twelve tons on her shoulder. And she felt like she could do so much more!

Upon catching up to him, Julia didn’t want to taunt him with her power. Instead, she slowed enough to stay just behind him. “Come on, Byrn!” She encouraged. “You’ve got more than that in you. Give it all that you have!”

“Somebody save me from this crazy woman!” Byrnham laughed as he scrambled through the woods a bit faster.

To Julia, his acceleration was the difference between slothful and just slow. Running at this pace was mind-numbing to her now, just as it had been to Mindy when Julia first Nourished. She finally got fed up and decided to give it all SHE had.

Julia poured vast reserves of power into her pace, accelerating to more than a hundred miles per hour. She rocked him by him, arriving at the beach in only four-point-three-eight-three seconds, according to her internal clock. Another full minute went by before Byrnham arrived.

Legs wobbling, he stumbled to her side. He bent over, hands on knees, panting loudly, his chest heaving. She examined him, peering over the slow and steady rise and fall of her untaxed chest. So frail, their little bodies are!

Julia hooked an arm over his shoulder and allowed him to lean against her. “I hope I did not embarrass you. The weight I was carrying, the head start you had – I would have thought you stood a chance. But I was wrong.”

Chest still heaving, he used her for support as he pulled himself up. His tiny, soft hands brushed across her midriff, sending shivers through her from head to toe.

“I’m glad that you beat me,” he rasped. “That is as it should be. It makes me happy that you are vastly superior.”

There was brightness in his eyes. He meant what he was saying.

And to Julia, that felt very, very good.

———

When they arrived at the fire pit, Julia dropped the tree from shoulder height to the ground. A massive BOOM emanated down the beach, a reminder of the enormity of the weight that she had been so casually shouldering.

"You guys have that ax yet?" she asked.

One of the guys motioned, and Julia turned to look. Approaching her from the gardening shed were five of the guys, working together to haul a large object, almost as long as a casket, to the fire pit. As they neared, its features came into view: it was indeed an ax, but on a massive scale. A thick, six-foot-long handle connected to a huge iron ax head, perhaps six inches thick and three feet long. The men sweated and grunted with the exertion of holding and carrying it.

Julia took the ax from them with one hand, her enhanced muscles supporting with ease what five grown men could not. She hefted it experimentally – seven hundred twenty-three pounds. Of course the tools here would be adapted to the abilities of the women that used them, Julia thought. She gave it a swing and found it to be less of a burden than a common household hammer would have been back on Earth. A world that had seemed completely absurd to Julia only a short time earlier was looking more and more… normal.

Facing the tree, Julia swung the ax with terrifying force, driving it all the way through the five-foot-thick trunk. The tree wasn’t just severed at the ax head’s blow. It burst into shards of wood that flew twenty feet in every direction.

Walking the length of the tree, she swung the ax at the trunk at regular intervals. Powered by her inhumanly strong muscles, the seven-hundred-pound ax head became a blur. The tree exploded as if it had been hit by artillery shells, chunks of broken wood flying in every direction.

WHAM WHAM WHAM. Julia continued her assault on the tree, her breathing easy, her muscles unchallenged.

WHAM WHAM WHAM. Men backed away and covered their heads with their arms as wood fragments shot through the air. They are so fragile, Julia thought to herself! So adorably fragile.

WHAM WHAM WHAM. It took only about two dozen blows to decimate the entire tree, leaving behind nothing but a shattered trunk and a beach strewn with broken wood.

She reached down to start picking up the pieces when a hand stopped her.

"Please don't do that." It was Byrnham. "Gathering these little logs is menial."

"What do you mean? Somebody has to do it."

The man regarded her quizzically. Other men within earshot stopped what they were doing and cast furtive glances at her. Whatever she said had made all of them uncomfortable.

"I'm not from this land," Julia offered.

"Menial work is for men," one guy explained. "We'll take care of it."

"Ok," Julia said. "Maybe I'll help get the fillets on the–"

An uncomfortable silence began to settle on the beach. "We'll do that too," he said.

"OK." Julia turned toward the house. "I can go to the house and get the glasses for the–"

“Please.” The male opened his arms wide in supplication. “I want to serve you. All men want the privilege of serving a woman."

Julia hesitated. “That makes no sense.”

“It does to the servant,” Brynham offered. “If we allow you to perform menial tasks, it brings shame upon us. Other men would say that we’re not capable of serving your needs. Please don’t embarrass us.”

That, in turn, embarrassed Julia. "Sorry, I hadn't realized it was like that, Byrnham. At a minimum, I can take the ax back to the shed. Unless you'd like to take it back yourself," she said with a smirk, offering the tiny man the seven-hundred pound object.

"OK," the man laughed. "I'll let you take the ax back. As long as you promise to relax afterwards."

"Since you insist," Julia winked. She felt her genetically enhanced muscles easily hoist the seven-hundred-pound load off the sand. She propped it on her shoulder and walked back to the shed.

A sense of relief seemed to spread across the beach. Men resumed their activity, laughing and teasing each other.

My gosh, Julia’s thoughts exclaimed! They WANT to serve me. It’s not an imposition. They actually appreciate the opportunity. Julia tried to imagine a life where she never had to clean her own house, run her own errands, even cook her own meals. An uninvited thrill coursed through her body.

And a girl like her, she realized, could certainly get used to that.

———

"Something is on your mind, isn't it?" Ruth said. The rising flames of the bonfire turned Ruth's complexion to gold.

Julia popped the last bite of eel into her mouth, hoping that filling it would allow her to avoid Ruth's question for a few seconds longer. The two women were relaxing in side-by-side Adirondack-type chairs. Julia reclined back into hers and closed her eyes.

Dinner had been very, very good. All of the preparation and serving of the meal had, of course, been done by the men. Ruth had made Julia practice being more demanding with them – telling them to fetch spices and condiments for her, instructing them to re-do parts of the meal that weren't already perfect. It took some adjustment, that style of behavior. But Ruth was a good coach. The key, Ruth said, was accepting the fact that her whims were important, that men would gladly scramble over each other to make her happy. She also reinforced with Julia the perils of not making any demands – that being too-self sufficient left the men disoriented and ashamed.

It was a world where every nine people desperately wanted to serve the tenth, and Julia was that tenth person. It would be hard not to become addicted to that. And it was depressing to think that Howard was pushing her to the verge of leaving it all behind.

“Do you seriously eat like this all the time?” Julia asked. “It was delicious, but I must have had enough food for seven or eight guys. And none of it turns into fat?”

Ruth leaned back her chair and stretched, her one-hundred-eighty-year old frame exploding into chiseled muscle. “Why would there be fat on a woman?”

Julia could only shake her head as she stared into the distance. She could gorge herself on fine, rich food and never pay the price. She could exercise for hours and end the day with her muscles feeling better than when she had started. How could she ever leave this body?

"You never answered my question, You look lost," Ruth observed.

"I'm worse than lost. I'm found. I know where I belong – and I can't stay there." Sadness must have welled up in Julia's eyes, for some of the men were pausing their reveling and casting furtive confused glances in her direction.

"Come," Ruth said, rising out of her lounger. "Let's go where we can talk privately."

Once the women were standing, Ruth spoke to the men in a tone soft but commanding. "Disrobe us."

The men did. Quick fingers unraveled the knots of Ruth's sarong and bikini. Julia's borrowed cotton top and denim shorts, ripped and dirty after the day's activities, apparently deserved less respectful treatment. Ruth ran a single, dismissive finger vertically down both garments, tearing them down the middle and tossing them into the blaze. "When you're ready to get dressed again, there's a package on your nightstand with a new outfit for you."

Leading the younger woman by the hand, Ruth stepped directly into the fire, her bare feet crunched through the bright red coals. Once the flames enveloped the older woman from head to toe, she turned to face Julia.

"What are you waiting for?" Ruth said through the wall of yellow and orange.

“Old instincts sometimes hold me back.”

“That is true in more ways than you recognize.”

Julia poked a toe into the scorching bed of coals. It was warm and pleasant to the touch, just as the molten metal had been at the tailors. The rest of her foot followed as she stepped with her full weight onto the seething bed of embers. They hissed in protest, but the protest was futile.

“You picked a hot-burning wood for this fire,” Ruth said lightly over her shoulder as she walked toward the center. “Twenty-eight hundred degrees. It feels nice.”

Two thousand eight hundred thirty seven degrees, Julia knew. Her sense of touch was as precise as her friend’s. She enjoyed the feeling of searing flames climbing up her body as she followed her friend to the center of the fire. Her enhanced ears picked up all sorts of sounds, from the roar of the fire and the loud beat of the music to softer sounds that unenhanced ears would have missed: men speaking, and the distant whoosh of the waves. Julia commanded her mind to disaggregate the male conversations, monitor them using background mental process and store them for future reference. This freed her conscious mind to immerse itself in the moment – the beat of the music, the roar of the fire and the paragon of beauty that stood before her.

Ruth turned to face her in a deft swivel that accentuated the woman’s extraordinary curves.

Julia took the last swig of her beer and rested the bottle on one of the burning logs. The bottle's shape quickly succumbed to the heat, slouching over like a clock in a Salvador Dali painting.

"Do you always do this at bonfires?" Julia asked.

Ruth wrapped her thick arms around Julia's waist and brought their iron curves together. The woman began to sway gently to the tune the men had struck up. Julia found that her own body wanted to join in.

"I find the heat really helps my muscles relax. And it's nice to have a private space where we can talk, just girl-to-girl."

That made Julia giggle. The weak eyes of the men could not penetrate the bright wall of flames, and their weak little bodies could not even approach the bonfire’s searing heat. How much she had changed that this was considered privacy—standing in full view of the men, free of her clothes!

"Also, I like to dance for my men before I enjoy them." The sway of Ruth's hips accentuated the music. "It teases them, makes them all the more aroused, which means they perform even better when the time comes."

Men… Julia's body ached at the idea of having a man's hands on her skin right now, feeling his hard… no, stop, she exhorted herself.

The inner conflict must have been visible to her older friend.

“Tell me what’s on your mind.” Ruth offered.

Julia pulled red hot coals off a deteriorating log and squeezed, watching the embers cascade through her fingers.

"Twenty eight hundred degrees Fahrenheit…” she mused. My skin should be boiling in this heat. My flesh should be disintegrating. I should be dying, she thought. Julia dug her toes once again into the pleasing intensity of the coals. Yet another power Howard wants me to give up so that I can return home.

“You’re holding back,” the older woman prodded. “Talk to me.”

"Things with Howard are deteriorating quickly. I had hoped that finding the way home, and then proving it worked, would ease his worries and allow me to enjoy this body a bit longer. But it seems that every day he spends here seems to build up more and more anger and anxiety in him. It’s destroying him – and us.”

"If you truly love each other, how could being one place or the other for a short while destroy anything?"

"Our relationship has always been built upon mutual respect, treating each other like equals. But here, Howard feels that he is inferior to me."

Ruth smiled with as much warmth as the surrounding fire. “Of course he’s inferior to you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t love each other."

The woman’s words sent a warm thrill though Julia – an unwanted thrill, a dangerous thrill. Julia struggled to ignore it.

"Ruth, he’s begun to engage in reckless behavior, criminal stuff, stuff that could get him killed. It’s like his personality is spinning out of control. I barely recognize the man that I love anymore. And it’s gotten to the point where I’m ready to go home, just walk away from all of this right now, if only it will save my loved one from himself.”

Ruth thought about this, spreading her fingers into the fire, watching the flames spill upward between her fingers. "Being a man can be hard," she finally said. "Us girls are less than 10 percent of the population, and yet we earn 70 percent of the world’s income, and hold 88 percent of the world’s wealth. We have 97 percent of the world’s patents registered to us. We hold 100 percent of the executive positions at large companies and 100 percent of the high-level political offices. Every single professional athlete in every sport is one of us. We are the greatest at everything. We run everything. We own everything. The abilities of a man are nothing by comparison. Sometimes, I don't know how they can bear to live their lives in those weak and frail bodies. But let me ask you a question." She jutted her chin at the men gathered on cooler ground. "Do these men seem depressed? Do they appear to be suffering in some way?"

Julia glanced at the revelers, her superhuman eyes penetrating the bright flames far better than a man's. "No, they're celebrating."

"Celebrating what?"

"Their record catch. Their big accomplishment."

“So important for men, isn’t it?” Ruth mused. “That need to be successful.”

“Yes, I see it all the time in Howard.”

“But did they really accomplish anything?" Ruth pursed her lips into an “O” of mock surprise. "We did everything for them. We herded the eels and beat them into submission. We all but threaded the hooks through their mouths. The men would have been helpless out there were it not for us."

“That’s true, of course.”

“We are… so much more than they.” Ruth idly traced her fingers over the tops of Julia’s swollen pectoral muscles – so large that only a woman could possess them – and then around the immense curvature of her breasts.

Julia watched several members of the weaker sex struggling to reposition a log that had fallen away from the fire, its glowing red surface too hot for them to touch. “They do seem so weak to me these days,” Julia admitted as she wiggled her toes further into the crimson coals.

"And less intelligent, too." Ruth continued. "But be advised: less intelligent does not mean stupid. They know something happened beneath the waves the other day, and they strongly suspect we had something to do with it. But men here are also very mystical. They believe that certain seashells have magical qualities, that the voices of the dead can be heard in the rustle of a tree’s leaves, and that the entire cosmos is inclined to serve the will of a woman. That last example is particularly important. They believe that winning the good favor of a woman brings great fortune. That’s why, when you flooded their decks and drenched them with seawater, they responded with humility. And it paid off: only an hour later, their holds were filled with a record catch. So, sure, hauling in the eels took some skill. They are proud of that. But they know that their greater accomplishment was winning your favor."

Ruth’s beer bottle had melted to the consistency of molasses. She cupped in her palms and absently twirled the red hot mass around her fingertips.

Show gratitude to the Nourished and the winds of good fortune will fill your sails. That was what the bartender had said to her Julia recalled with unerring accuracy. He wasn't making idle talk, Julia realized. For the men here, these quasi-religious beliefs were real.

"You make us sound like deities rather than people."

"In a way, we are." Ruth pressed her palms into the fullness of Julia's breasts, the molten glass spilling over her softness. The crimson mass should have bored a hole straight through her flesh, but instead it only made her nipples stiffen. “Even men who live their whole lives here sometimes fail to grasp the full extent of our abilities. See that mountain over there?”

Julia looked in the direction of Ruth’s chin and perceived a dark mass set against the firmament of stars. It was a steeply shaped cone topped by a flat mesa.

“That mountain used to have a pointy top. But a hundred years ago, some of us girls had nothing better to do one afternoon, and wanted a nice place to do yoga.”

“So you… took the top off the mountain?”

Ruth smiled, wrapping her herculean arms around Julia’s waist and pulling her close again. “Gone in an afternoon. We smashed the rock apart with our fists. And now we have a yoga studio ten thousand feet in the air – the best view in the land. But here’s the interesting thing: even to this day, some men believe that the mountain lost its point because the cosmos favors the feminine, and that the mountain was reshaped by cosmic forces to more closely resemble the upturned breast of a woman. The truth is that a bunch of us were bored and needed something to do. And it was only a hundred thousand tons of rock.”

Julia giggled.

“When something in the natural world inconveniences a Nourished, she simply destroys it. And if that is a woman’s power over a mountain, how much greater is her power over men? So, to your question, what is the right word for us, if not ‘deities’?

The words coursed through Julia's system like a drug – one that was equal parts thrilling and dangerous.

“Howard and I – our relationship is boyfriend and girlfriend, peers, not worshipper and deity.”

“Your relationship can be both. My men are both my companions and my servants. And they feel lucky to be so.”

Julia’s lips released a soft moan. If Ruth’s prior words had been a drug, then these words – that a man like Howard could both love her and serve her – were an overdose. “How? How can a man be happy that way?”

"We call it ‘the dance’. The men suspect we did something to assist them, but we keep the details a mystery. We let them celebrate their 'accomplishments', and do not rub their impotence in their face. And they, in turn, readily acknowledge that we women have enormous power over their lives."

The beat of the music flowed through Ruth's body, a serpentine sway that was sure to mesmerize the male eye. She wrapped her arms around Julia, guiding her into the slow dance. Their breasts pressed into each other with thousands of pounds of pressure. Liquid glass squished out of their embrace and made scorching rivulets down the sides of their invulnerable skin and rock-hard muscles.

Ruth continued, her voice was soft, like velvet. "But the dance works only if the men join in. They need to accept the fact that winning our affection is accomplishment enough, and that there is nothing they can do with their bodies or their minds to make them more worthy of admiration than they already are. They must accept the fact that we are totally, wholly superior to them in every way, that our power is beyond their comprehension and our authority beyond question. Only through such acceptance can a man’s mind be at peace.”

Julia closed her eyes momentarily as the words sank in. Her body enjoyed the snug feeling of an embrace that would have turned cinderblocks to dust. Yes, Julia thought. She sensed some of that in the foot race with Byrnham today. He had never fostered any hopes of beating her. That humility was healthy.

“Admittedly, there are a few men who can't seem to do this. They develop a delusion that they can somehow, someday, through endless hard work, develop some skill that is comparable to ours. When they do this, their life becomes a never ending series of disappointments. These are the men who end up depressed, or in prison, or worse."

“So, in a way, the greatest threat to a man is his own ambition.”

Ruth’s body moved in perfect rhythm to the beat, the dance flowing through her. “Trying to convince Howard that he is more than he is, or trying to convince him that you are less than you truly are, is deceit. You never should have asked him to give you a swim lesson. You never should have suggested he was capable of teaching you anything. In doing so, you were inviting him into a farce. But do not be too hard on yourself: it takes two to participate in a farce.” The woman’s emerald eyes sparkled in the flames. “As long as there is Nourishment, the key to harmony between the genders is men’s acceptance of their inferiority and women’s acceptance of their superiority. Each must play their role.”

For some reason, Julia felt relieved to hear the words spoken aloud. Flames hot enough to incinerate male flesh crawled up her backside. Her genetically enhanced skin delighted in the warmth. “But how does a woman like me get a man like him to accept all this?”

"Let me tell you the real root of the problem,” Ruth continued. “If Howard is miserable, it's not because he’s weaker or slower or whatever else the gripe may be. He's miserable because he believes that his abilities and accomplishments, however pitiful, are the reason you love him. They aren’t. There’s only one ability that matters, only one thing he should seek to accomplish – and that is making you happy. That’s where his true value lies. And he is already very, very good at it. He just doesn’t know it."

He doesn't know his true value, Julia thought. With a loud POP, the heat cracked one of the logs wide open.

Ruth tightened her embrace by just a thousand pounds – just enough to get Julia's attention. "Don't give up on him, Julia, and don’t give up on your ability to help him. Howard needs to know that he doesn’t need to be strong to be loved. Give Howard a chance to learn – to learn how to believe in his own innate worth. If you go home, you’re giving up. If you stay, you’re forcing him to rise to the challenge, to build his character, to make himself a better man. You owe him that much."

“Keep him against his will?” Julia regarded her friend through air made turbulent by the heat. The fire was consuming the logs, the glass bottles, everything.

“Maybe he senses the truth – that he will only grow if he remains here. And of course he’s scared to do that, but I sense he wants the challenge as well. Maybe, on some level, he wants you to force him to stay.”

"You have no idea what you're asking me to do."

”Old instincts sometimes hold you back, do they not?”

Julia felt her hands sliding down Ruth’s backside. They spread wide over the harder-than-rock globes of her derriere. Those muscles swam five hundred miles with me yesterday, Julia reveled. She squeezed their firmness, delighting in feelings that she did not understand. “So much is unfamiliar. And yet so much of it feels so, SO good.”

"Don't do it for me. Do it for him. And yourself."

She averted her gaze from Ruth's, only to have it land on the men that encircled the fire, dancing and carousing.

Unfortunately, the men looked even better to her now.

The men had conducted dozens of conversations with each other while the women had been in the fire. Julia willed her mind to recall what was spoken, bringing each word of each conversation to mind with perfect accuracy. Then, she processed everything that had been said at a speed that would have been incomprehensible to those men. The results were gratifying. Some of the men turned out to be loud and gregarious. Some more reserved, and yet with an impish sense of humor. And some were downright shy, which Julia found most endearing of all. No matter the differences between them, one thing was true about all of these men: they weren’t just good-looking on the outside, but good-looking on the inside, too.

Damn it.

What was worse, each of them exuded a relaxed cheerfulness – the exact opposite of Howard’s anger, anxiety and insecurities. So refreshing were their personalities that Julia would have been happy to spend all night hanging out with these guys.

Ruth was following the progress of her gaze over the men. "How long has it been since you've had sex? Twelve hours? A day?"

"Since before I Nourished," Julia admitted.

"Oh, honey. You must be about to explode."

A soft moan escaped Julia's lips, voicing her body's agreement

"A dozen men ought to help you get through the night, as long as you follow it with more tomorrow."

The suggestion was absurd, Julia knew, but… a dozen men! She felt her body come to life at the thought. "I wouldn't want to cheat on my boyfriend."

"I don't know what you mean, this reference to ‘cheating’. You need much more than any one man can provide. You have the strength of many, many men. The intelligence of many, many men. Why would your appetite be any different?"

The seductive simplicity of Ruth's logic only stoked Julia's fire further. "Howard would be devastated," she objected.

"So, devastate him. He needs to learn humility, remember? To accept the fact that you are not equals?"

It sounded too good to her.

"Besides," Ruth continued, “the worst cases of domestic abuse in this land are when Nourished women try to be celibate. They get so frustrated that they take it out on their men. One angry gesture from you, in a moment of weakness, could tear a guy in half."

Ruth wasn’t joking, Julia knew. The thought sent a cold shiver through her, one that superseded the heat of the fire. She had already been inadvertently rough with Howard long before she was as horny as she was now. What would happen when they were alone in the caves together, if he cast her one of those adorable smiles? Would she be able to control herself? If he further thwarted her need, would he survive?

"You cannot expose Howard or any other man to the danger. Satiate your body before your frustration grows beyond your control. The only cheating that occurs in a relationship is when you fail to live up to your responsibility. And in this case, it's your responsibility, every woman's responsibility, to make sure her sexual wants are satisfied."

Satisfied. Julia squeezed her eyes shut and shuddered with need. When she opened her eyes, they had adopted a will of their own. They sought out Byrnham, the salt-and-pepper guy who had earlier asked her help with the firewood. She found her gaze coursing over his wiry limbs, that very respectable rear-end, those shy eyes, and oh!, an impish smile. He was adorable.

"You can have dibs on him if you like,” Ruth purred. “In fact, you can choose all of your favorites, and I'll just take the remaining ones. There's not a bad one in the lot."

“Don’t they get to choose, too? What if they are like Howard – not attracted to muscles?”

Ruth laughed, the thick trapezius muscles of her shaking with the mirth. “They are. They ALL are. Why would the weaker not evolve to desire the protection of the stronger one? Over the generations, men who took little interest in muscled women, in taller women, did not reproduce, and in many cases, did not survive. The male population has been thoroughly modified, through centuries of breeding, to desire our strength, our size, our power. Trust me, Julia. They all desire you – badly.”

Her insides burned with an intensity that even the flames could not imitate.

Ruth grinned. “And of course, that’s why they are so attractive. They’ve kept themselves in good shape to make themselves more appealing to a woman like you, to increase the chance that you might select them.”

She tried to fight back the consuming heat with every shred of her will. How can I possibly cheat on Howard? And yet…

Ruth took Julia by the hand and led her back out of the fire. The sand felt cool on the soles of her feet. She looked down at her limbs, blackened by the soot of the fire. "I feel disgusting."

"The guys will clean us up," Ruth explained. And indeed, two buckets had been set aside, with several washcloths draped over their rims. Beside them, thick layers of wide palm-like leaves had been laid out to form two beds of green on the sand.

Ruth selected two men to assist with the cleaning. The one she selected for Julia was Byrnham.

"Damn you, Ruth," Julia protested as she watched an adorable smile cross his face for only a moment before he smothered it in shyness, which made him only more adorable. He came to his feet, brushing the sand off his delectable ass, and walked over.

As Ruth laid herself down on one of the foliage beds, Julia followed suit on the other. The green leaves smoked and blackened wherever they came in contact with her skin. I must have been heated to several hundred degrees, Julia realized.

"You don't have to trouble yourself with this, you know," she said as he arrived.

"It's the opposite of trouble," he said, wringing the washcloth out. "It's the natural order of things.'' He donned gloves the thickness of oven mitts. "Women are like the clouds or the mountains or the sun. Imagine how incredible you would feel if you could walk outside, and with your own actions, turn stormy weather into a bright, sunny day. That's how I feel when encounter an unhappy woman and find a way to make her smile."

Wow, Julia thought. Howard would never talk like that. "You’ve got a way with words, sailor."

"I'm not a sailor,” he clarified, clearly unfamiliar with her Earth sayings. “I do landscaping." He moved the washcloth over her left arm. It hissed, the steam billowing off as he moved a wet rag over her superheated skin.

His breath hitched as he spread the rag wide over her upper arms. It failed to circumscribe even half the girth.

"Is everything ok?" she asked.

He had to inhale before responding. "It's been a while since I felt a girl's muscle." His voice was awestruck. "I'd forgotten how large they were. And how hard."

His eyes were wide with admiration as the coarse terry cloth explored the extreme swells and furrows of her arm muscles – first the left arm, then the right.

"Wonderful," he whispered.

Howard wouldn't have said that, Julia realized. "Would you like me to flex it for you?"

He nodded for about the same length of time that it took Julia to wonder what the hell she was doing. But flex she did, the granite swell of her bicep balling into something every bit as large as a volleyball. Howard would have found it frightening or disgusting, but not this guy. With speechless awe, he ran his mitts slowly over the muscle. "Even more incredible," he whispered. "I wish I could feel it with my skin."

I wish you could, too, she thought. I would like that.

Byrnham moved to her neck, the rag sliding diagonally down the mountainous slopes. She sat up for this, better allowing him to work. He ran the rag through the strands of her hair, and then dabbed it over her cheeks, nose and forehead. His own face was only a few inches from hers, and the blue of his eyes had a pleasant sparkle to them.

"You've got a beautiful face," he observed.

"Aren't all Nourished women good-looking?"

"Yes, but the Nourishment was especially generous with you. Your features are stunning."

He certainly made no secret of how attractive he found her! Julia’s insides became flush with warmth. Howard never spoke to her like that.

The wet terrycloth ventured lower now over her collarbones, sending an unexpected tingle through Julia. She could feel his hands tremble.

"Your hands are shaking."

"Sorry. It's… it's just been a while since I've… I… since I've touched… and you're so… so…"

Julia felt lightheaded at the effect she had on him. "You think my body looks nice. Is that what you're trying to say? A girl always likes to hear that."

"No, not nice. Perfect."

Julia felt her nipples harden to something stiffer than oak.

His rag hesitated just below her collarbone. Her breasts were covered in soot, and needed to be rubbed down as much as any other part of her body. But he was clearly too much of a gentleman to touch them without her permission. And that only added to his charm.

“It’s been a while for me too,” she admitted.

Julia arched her back, an unspoken invitation for him to take the fullness of her bust into his hands. His eyes went wide as his mitts began to traverse the expanse, another reminder that her power over this man was more than just muscular. Against the immensity of her dimensions, the palm-sized cloth seemed like little more than flower petals floating on a pond. The cloth had to be refreshed in the bucket several times to clean the entirety of her ‘girls’, thick clouds of steam rising into the air.

She closed her eyes as the cloth dipped into the deep chasm between her breasts. "If my boyfriend saw where your hands were, he'd be livid."

"Your boyfriend?" The man paused. "What is that – a member of your harem?"

"I have no harem, only him. Where I come from, that's normal."

“You deserve so much more.”

“And even with him, he hasn’t… we haven’t… in weeks.” She groaned as an errant corner of the washcloth scraped over her distended nipple.

"Nothing? A Nourished, with your libido– How can you stand it?"

I'm not sure I can, she thought.

The man struggled to cup her immense breast with one hand as he sought to clean underneath with the other. His muscles strained visibly as he lifted its twenty pounds to run the washcloth underneath. His weakness was so adorable. And the feel of his little fingers pressing into her breast, oh God…

She found herself sliding an affectionate hand over his knee cap, but he quickly shifted his knee away from her.

"Grip this instead." He guided a cool, rounded object into her hand. “You could crush my knee by mistake.”

He was not exaggerating, Julia knew. “Sorry,” she exhaled. “How do you men do it – make love to a woman that is harder than steel?”

“Your body softens itself, just a little bit, when you are aroused. When a man feels his fingers dimple your flesh, he knows you wish him to touch you more.”

Touch me more – the words lit Julia’s skin on fire more than the bonfire ever could. She laid back down now and focused on the distant stars in the night sky, rock gripped tightly in hand, hoping for a distraction from the delight of being touched. But the wet cloth had now left her bust and was excavating soot out of the narrow gorges between her abdominal muscles. It tickled. And it enlivened her over-charged nerves all the more, worked its way down her abdominals, and then down further, getting closer and closer to her aching sex. The end of her fingers trembled, and her limbs tensed, as her body tried to shake off the arousal.

Julia thought – as much as conscious thought was possible – about what Byrnham had said: you deserve so much more. Men here didn't just tolerate the multiple couplings of their women. They welcomed it. She regarded Byrnham’s cute smile, his admirable ass. She could make love to him, right here, right now, for the asking. No commitments. No reason she couldn’t supplement his affections with those of a few other men. Everyone, EVERYONE in this society would approve. She felt cloth leave her midriff to explore her thighs. His touch there was teasing enough, but his touch on her inner thighs… Oh… oh my! The smoldering embers of her sexual appetite erupted into a bright new fire.

I have to be good, Julia exhorted herself. Howard suffered betrayal enough when I decided to take the Nourishment. This would add insult to injury. "You have to resist, Julia," she whispered, in a tone so soft that even the man kneeling next to her would not hear it.

"Why?" came a whispered reply. The voice was Ruth's.

Julia slitted her eyelids open, her eyes unfocused. The woman was twenty feet away, but with their superhuman hearing, it may as well have been inches. She was sprawled across the other bed of palm leaves, her legs spread slightly. A man's head was between them, the color of his hair distinctly different from that of her husband’s. In fact, Andos was at her side, whispering in her ear and hopscotching gentle kisses down the slopes of her muscled neck even as the second man ate her out. The woman had run a hand over her breast, and Julia could only imagine how many thousands of pounds of force the woman was applying to her own engorged nub. Julia grit her teeth, felt her muscles tense and heard the soft wheeze of her own voice, nearly moaning with need.

“Go ahead,” Ruth whispered. “Invite that man into you. Let your body feel his cock within your womanhood. Let your body drink his seed.”

“What about disease? Pregnancy?” Julia objected, weakly, in a whisper.

A light giggle coursed across the sand from Ruth's direction. “We don’t have disease here – not with women our age. And your body will conceive only when you command it to.”

Julia could smell Byrnham’s skin – a delightful masculine musk. Her own skin itched for his touch. Her breath came in little pants. But then, Julia felt a strange sensation in her hand – the spilling of dust between her fingers. She looked. In her hand lay the shattered rock, much of it ground to a fine sand. Oh no, she thought. I didn't even notice I was doing that. That could have been Byrnham’s knee! This madness had to stop.

"That’s enough. I need a cold shower," Julia announced abruptly. She stood up, the movement of her juggernaut body knocking her attendant off balance.

Byrnham cast a crestfallen look at the washcloth in his hands.

"It was nothing you did," Julia assured him. "I just need to clear my head before I do something I regret."

“Am I a regret?”

He stared up at her with innocence and the slightest tinge of hurt. The decisions of a woman were non-negotiable. She could walk away at this moment and never see him again. But…

"I have a new task that you can do for me," she announced, making sure to inject authority into her voice. "There should be a package on my nightstand with a change of clothes for me. Bring it to the women's guest bath."

Byrhham nodded contentedly. Being bossed around like that, being back in her service, seemed to set him at ease.

With quick, forceful strides, Julia thundered her way back to the house, eager to calm her body down. Howard would be devastated if she cheated on him. Devastated.

She wanted a cold shower more than ever, something that could wash away everything that had accumulated on her today – the sand and the particles of wood and the salt and the heartache and the desire and the guilt. She wished she could send it all down the drain, leave it all behind.

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