LaPorte Caves – Chapter 8

Written by circes_cup :: [Friday, 01 April 2016 01:38] Last updated by :: [Friday, 01 April 2016 15:51]

SYNOPSIS UP TO THIS POINT

Julia and Howard took a wrong turn in a Kentucky cave and tumbled out into a world of amazon women. Julia had promised to refrain from taking the elixir that transforms women to amazons, but later found herself doing exactly that. But all is not lost: the couple crafts a plan to get home, making use of Howard’s analytical talent and Julia’s newfound amazon abilities. But at the same time, Julia has begun to discover the joys of her amazon body – joys that are hard to ignore.

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.

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The sounds of breakfast being prepared emanated from the kitchen window as Julia and Ruth stored their swimming fins behind the house. Still naked from the high-speed swim, Julia found her borrowed terrycloth robe and panties in a pile where she had left them. She ran her arms through the sleeves, but paused before synching it at the waist.

She looked down at the sculpted expanse of her body. It had covered fifty miles in the open ocean as if that distance were no more than a dog paddle in a backyard pool. She looked at the hard swell of her thighs and tight ridges of her abdomen. They exuded a contented warmth that only hinted at the thousands upon thousands of pounds of force they had exerted this morning. Sure, she was breathing heavily after the effort. But her body was nonetheless still in charge: her titanic breasts were rising and falling not in desperate heaves, but in a steady, controlled rhythm. She could have gone a dozen hours more out there without weariness.

And as much as her body was a physical marvel, it was an aesthetic one as well. The frightening girth of her muscles was encased in skin the color of a fine cream. Body hair that used to annoy her was long gone, replaced only with a peach fuzz so delicate that it belied the hard slabs of supernatural muscle beneath it. Her favorite part was her abdomen – a phalanx of muscles no male warrior could hope to imitate. But looking at her abdomen was hard, obscured as it was by a pair of breasts larger and firmer than she had ever dreamed possible.

It’s a shame to have to cover it up, Julia found herself thinking. I love the way it looks. I love the way the men reacted on the boat: just looking at me put them in a better mood. The thought was followed by shock: she had never harbored an exhibitionist tendency in her life.

But as much as this world was no stranger to skimpy clothing, she could not imagine parading around naked in front of Howard and the family. Moreover, Ruth had already donned her own robe before entering the house. With reluctance, Julia pulled the robe’s panels across herself and tied the belt. The terry cloth felt smothering.

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She arrived in the kitchen to find the family assembling for breakfast. The husband was hard at work over the stove, while the younger children played at the kitchen table. Mindy, with her long powerful strides, thudded into the room a moment later. She was wearing a simple lilac summer dress: crew necked with wide straps over the shoulders, hemmed at the upper thigh, with a midriff of lace rather than solid fabric. It was a study in irony: colors delicate as a flower, lace as elegant as human hands could craft, and yet the lace provided a window through which the thick balls of her abdominal muscles could be seen. Pretty, but packing strength that was truly frightening.

Julia had to go as far as the home office to find Howard.

“Where’d you go?” Howard asked, not taking his eyes off the computer. On the desk was a stack of papers with scribbled notes. More pages were wadded up and forming a small hill inside the trash can. His wiry frame, which had conquered endless hiking trails with its long, exuberant stride, was now coiled tight. His eyes were bloodshot.

“Ruth and I went for a little swim at dawn. What are you doing?”

“Tried to figure out this cave system. I’ve been up since dawn.”

“Did you figure it out?”

“Not at all. Lots of mapping has been done from this side, but many of the maps do not connect, and none identify a route to our world. What’s worse, those parts of the system that have been mapped are highly complex. There appear to be hundreds of passages, criss-crossing each other in every which way. It’s like trying to map a bowl of spaghetti by looking at a cross section. Understanding the caves from looking at a computer screen is almost impossible.”

Julia gazed over his shoulder at the screen. The monitor was huge: perhaps five feet by four feet. But only a small portion in the middle was illuminated. This section contained several maps of the caves, and they indeed looked like a bowl of pasta. It would be a miracle if anyone could figure it out.

She felt uninvited relief at the knowledge that Howard had made no progress. That might buy her a day or two more to keep enjoying or exploring. Maybe she could swim a coral reef tomorrow. “Maybe it’s time to give your brain a rest. We can take a look at the maps together after breakfast.”

Howard rose and followed her into the kitchen. But the litany of his woes was not over yet.

“And this written language of theirs …” Howard pointed at the foreign characters on the jars of jelly and marmalade “… this language is incomprehensible to me. I’ve tried to learn it, and I can’t. Becky’s helped me translate a few things, but there are only so many times I can beg her to help.”

Julia put a reassuring hand on his thigh. “Honey, you’ve done more before breakfast than some people do all day, as they used to say in the army. Give it a little rest.”

Howard appeared to do so. He turned his attention to the TV, which was squaking in the background. Unlike the screen of an Earth TV, this one was divided up into sixteen different images, each tiny, each a separate broadcast. And it was emitting an unintelligible murmur rather than coherent sound. “What’s going on with your TV?” Howard asked the family. “Is it working?”

Ruth didn’t even look up from her plate. “Mindy, please set the TV to one channel at at time so that the men can watch it. Leaving it on Multi-view is rude.”

“The men can see the TV just fine.” She pouted.

“Of course they can see the TV, Mindy. What they can’t see are the individual images. They’re too small. And they can’t understand the combined audio feed. It just sounds like mush to them. We’ve been over this before. You can’t turn the thing on and then set it to a mode that only half the room can enjoy.”

“But watching one channel at a time is BORING,” Mindy groaned.

“That’s enough. One channel. Now.”

“WhatEVER,” Mindy groaned jabbing the remote at the TV. The TV replaced sixteen broadcasts with just one: the weather. The day at the beach would be balmy and humid, but a cold front was approaching. Humidity would give way to rain in the evening. And that same rain would become snow in the mountains. Today would be a good day for bathing suits, but tomorrow, skiing.

I feel like I’m in the middle of some amateur sci-fi story, Julia lamented – written by a guy who can’t even decide what season we’re supposed to be in. The weather forecast included charts and graphs, which reminded her of Howard’s observation: their spoken language might be the same, but their written one is a mystery to us. But that gave Julia an idea. “Does that TV have closed captioning?”

Mindy’s brother jabbed a button on the remote control. Text began to appear at the bottom of the screen: the same incomprehensible writing Julia had seen since arriving in this land. Julia stared at it as she slid her fork through the six-deep stack of pancakes on her plate. “I think I’m starting to get it,” she announced.

“Get what?” Howard asked.

“Shhh,” Julia said. The characters were flashing on the screen as rapidly as the meteorologist spoke. “If I watch the closed captioning closely, I should be able to pair some of it with the sounds I am hearing.” In the space of only a minute, dozens of characters sped by on the closed captioning. She found them unusually easy to remember. “They don’t use a 26-character alphabet, like we do. They have more letters than that.”

“We have 256!” the little girl, Becky, declared.

Julia beamed. She had never been a step ahead of Howard – ever! But today, she felt unusually clever. She hoped he would be impressed.

But instead, she saw his jaw clench. “That doesn’t make any sense. You arrived at that conclusion just from watching the closed captioning?”

“Sure! Let me show you what I learned from the weather forecast.” She grabbed the morning paper and flipped to the weather. She pointed at a pair of characters. “This means ‘humidity’. This means ‘rain’.

“Is she right?” Howard asked, showing the paper to Ruth.

The woman nodded.

“I think it’s like Chinese”. Julia was flushed with excitement. She put her fork down and stared intently at the screen, which had transitioned to an advertisement. “They use a single character to represent whole syllables, or even whole words or entire concepts. Like, in that ad, they just used a single character to represent the word ‘smart’. And they used a single character for the word ‘stupid’.”

Howard looked as he had though he had seen a ghost.

“I’m sorry, honey, I didn’t mean it like that. Those were just the words in the ad.”

“Real classy, Julia. Hope you’re proud of yourself.” He got up from the table and walked out of the room.

“Howard, no, please!” Julia rose from the table as well, but was stopped by the touch of Ruth’s hand.

“Let him go,” Ruth said. “If he has a problem with you, it’s his problem, not yours.”

“I’ve hurt his feelings,” Julia said, crestfallen. “He is the man that I love, and yet when he looked at me just then, it … It was as if he barely recognized me anymore.”

“So?” Mindy slopped another six pancakes on to her plate. “There are plenty of men to choose from.”

“MINDY!” Ruth’s nostrils flared. “There may be only one person in this household who is still capable of teaching you a lesson, but believe me, if I have to do it …”

“I’ll clear the dishes,” the husband announced, rising from the table. He seemed eager to escape the possible eruption of the twin volcanoes that were his wife and daughter.

“I hate myself,” Julia announced, slipping out of the room.

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She found Howard at the base of the stairs to the house, peering under it. “Hey,” she said, hands in the pockets of her robe.

“Hey yourself.” He said into the crawl space.

“I’m sorry, honey, really. I didn’t mean it.”

Howard didn’t say anything. That meant he really was hurt.

“Honey …” She prodded.

“Are you smarter than me now, too?” he asked.

I’m supposed to be, she thought. But I hope I’m not. “I don’t feel smarter than you. When that TV was on Multi-view, it sounded like gibberish to me, too.” She squatted down and pecked him on the cheek. “Like I said yesterday, we’re the perfect team: you’re the brains and I’m the brawn.”

Julia joined her boyfriend in peering under the house. “What are you looking for?”

“The machinery that moves the house. I can tell it’s in a different location than yesterday morning, but there’s no track, no hydraulics.”

He doesn’t know, Julia realized. He doesn’t know that Mindy and I moved it. He know’s that I’m stronger than him. He knows the women here can lift cars – he’s seen that – but lifting a car would be less than a tenth the weight I was bearing when I moved the house. Does he have any idea how far this goes? Does he suspect I’m literally hundreds of times stronger than him? A feeling of unease settled over the woman. Howard was not dealing well with his rude awakenings, and he had more rude awakenings yet to come.

Julia gazed at her boyfriend’s face. His skin was tanned and freckled, testimony to the countless outdoor challenges on which he had embarked and succeeded. The curls of his hair seemed playful to her. But his eyes – the sharpness she had always seen there was replaced by weary dullness. The last twenty four hours had beaten his spirits down a bit. How many more demoralizing moments could he take? She wished she could build his confidence back up. “Why don’t you teach me the butterfly stroke?” She asked. “That was your best event in college.”

The suggestion was not a new one. Howard had tried to teach her the stroke before, back in Kentucky.

Howard ran a hand through the resilience of his curly hair and looked out at the ocean. “Well, the sun is behind some clouds, which is good. And the waves are light. If I’m going to teach you, I suppose there’s no time like the present.”

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Howard watched her emerge from the house wearing the same olive slingshot suit he had seen her in yesterday. The wind was just strong enough to blow her hair across her face. Strands that had once been a duller shade of brown were now, since Nourishment, rich and shining, like copper. She tucked them behind her ear repeatedly, a shy and nervous motion. That’s my girl, Howard thought. She had done that same thing on their first date, and it was probably the moment that he had first begun to love her.

However, the part of Julia that had not attended their first date – namely, everything below the neck – was also on display. Her v-shaped torso was a solid trunk of muscle, and her limbs were wide with their own swells of power. Her breasts were large and proud, ignoring gravity and forcing the tight suit to bend around their firmness. So large was her bust line that the sunlight distorted itself when it hit the reflective material of her suit, pooling into areas of light and dark. I am a fully developed woman, that bust line seemed to remind him. I am built faster than you. Stronger than you. Better than you.

Stay in the zone, Howard, he told himself. The butterfly is your best stroke. You’re the teacher here. She’s never done it before. He watched sand billow away from her footfalls, as if the beach was being crossed by a jackhammer rather than a woman. Hundreds of pounds heavier than me, Howard admitted, and all of it is muscle. Stay in the zone!

She jumped into the water and swam out to him, tying the cooper glow of her hair back into a bun as she surfaced nearby. Her face, perfectly proportioned, with rich, almond eyes, high cheekbones, newly pouty lips, lit up into a smile that seemed to warm the very water in which Howard treaded.

“OK, ready, Professor!”

“It’s Coach, not Professor!” Howard laughed. “OK. The stroke has three different motions – your arms, your legs and your torso --, all of which have to be mastered and then integrated correctly. Be patient with yourself. You won’t get it down during the first session but perhaps you can get some of the pieces.”

“OK, Coach! How long did it take you?”

“A few weeks. The first thing to focus on is your arms. Start floating on your belly, arms straight over your head. Pull your arms towards you, palms facing down, your arms extending outward in a wide arc. Then, when you get to your stomach, push your arms down toward your kneecaps. All told, the path of your hands should be in the shape of a keyhole – a wide circle up top, followed by a narrow slot below the waist. Try a few.”

Julia dipped her head below the water, extended her hands above her head, and then snapped her arms downward, launching her violently forward. Howard found himself scrambling to get out of the way. Her first stroke left her ten feet away from him. “How was that?”

Astounding, he thought. Awe inspiring. Nearly perfect. “That was pretty good,” he lied. “Now the kick. You have to do two for every stroke: one little one as you are moving your arms, and one big one between arm strokes. That moment between arm strokes is critical. In addition to the big kick, you also have to move your entire torso in a wave motion. Doing all the things together will thrust your head out of the water just long enough for you to breathe. That’s when you hurl your arms up and in front of you to begin the next stroke. Got it?”

“Uh, no.”

Watch the whole stroke together, then we can break it down piece by piece.” Howard proceeded to swim a few strokes of butterfly, the complex rhythm of it instantly coming back to him. He was proud, actually, of his knack for it.

Julia’s almond eyes narrowed in concentration. “Can you do it again while I watch you from underwater?” Howard did so. Julia surfaced with a smile on her face. “I got it!”

“Be patient with yourself,” Howard reminded her.

She dipped below the the water and launched herself forward with explosive force. When her torso came back up out of the water for a breath, it didn’t just pop out of the water like a normal body. It surfaced, like a submarine, buckets of water sheeting off her solid, wide, powerful hull. The with perfect timing, her arms would shoot out of the water with blinding speed as she threw them forward for the next stroke. The motion made her lats spreading wide like wings – so much muscle that it would have made an Olympic swimmer look frail by comparison. Her arms would then smash back into the water with an audible SLAP, sending spray twenty feet into the air.

Her pace was phenomenal. Howard chased her, using a much more freestyle stroke that should easily have gotten him ahead. But she was outdistancing him easily, and it was a good three minutes before she realized this and stopped.

“Sorry, I didn’t notice that you had dropped so far behind. It just … it just felt really good.”

Howard only panted.

“How was my pace?”

Phenomenal. Breathtaking. Unreal, he thought. You have no clue how demoralizing this is, he wanted to say – to watch someone swim double the best pace you ever achieved, on her first try, without getting winded, and to finish it by asking ‘how’s my pace?’

Stay in the zone, Howard remonstrated himself. She didn’t bring you out here to gawk at her power. She brought you out here because she respects your skill, because she wants to learn. You still have something to offer. She still needs you.

“Your pace was good,” he understated. “But lets take a look at your form. Swim for or five strokes while I watch you under water,” he said, refastening the goggles over his eyes. And no more than four or five strokes: I don’t want to have to chase you!”

Howard lower himself and watched her go by – two kicks, the arm stroke and quick sway of her whole body. All perfectly synchronized. With perfect limb positioning. Perfect movement. Perfect perfect perfect.

He had a sinking feeling in his gut. She was beyond belief. After a five minute lesson, she had mastered the most complex stroke in the sport. Her form was as good as his had ever been. And the power – my lord, it would have left an Earth audience speechless.

He could never achieve this, no matter how gifted he might be, no matter how many years he practiced, no matter how many weights he lifted. It wasn’t fair! He found himself letting out a scream underwater.

It was cut short, however by his girlfriend’s hands. They grabbed him at the armpits and thrust him upwards, clear of the surface. Julia held him at eye level, like a rag doll. Concern contorting her face. “Are you OK? I thought I heard you scream.”

“I’m fine,” Howard felt his face reddening … “Your form was really good. In fact, it was great.”

Julia beamed. “The student is only as good as her instructor.”

That’s not true, Howard knew – not in this case.

She must have sensed his hesitation. “Come on, I can’t be THAT good. I still need practice.”

No you don’t, Howard thought. But he couldn’t bring himself to say it.

“Let’s swim side-by side. You can show me where I need improvement.”

Howard steeled his will. “OK. Just don’t get too far out ahead of me.” Howard began a butterfly stroke and could see Julia doing so as well. The THUD-THUD of Julia’s arms hitting the water was audible even beneath the waves.

He put everything he had into it. Every muscle strained. Every scrap of lung tissue begged for more air. Even without a clock he knew it would have been one of his best race times ever. Julia stayed with him, stopping when he did.

“You don’t have to baby me, you know,” she said, her demeanor innocent. “I can take it.”

That was the best pace I could ever produce, Howard wanted to scream. But he was so out of breath, he couldn’t even whisper the words.

Julia swam a few strokes out, experimenting with her nearly perfect form. She seemed oblivious to her boyfriend’s misery as he treaded water and panted.

When he caught his breath, he gave up all illusions of being her teacher. He just swam towards the shore, freestyle. But she seemed to miss the signs of his darkening mood, pulling up alongside of him with unabated enthusiasm. He increased the pace of his stroke, simply wanting to be done with it.

But she blasted by him effortlessly, smashing the waves apart with her powerful body. He tried to catch her, failed, and then lost track of her entirely. He became lost in the pain of his limbs, the empty ache of his lungs, the black spots that slowly began to blur his vision. I should slow down, he told himself, catch my breath. But he just wanted the experience to be over, just wanted to get out of there. His limbs clawed on through the water, painful stroke after painful stroke, until he collided with something very solid: her.

Howard wasn’t sure whether the body part with which he had collided was bone or muscle. They were both equally hard to him. It was like swimming straight into the side wall of a pool – and it hurt like hell.

“This has been awesome! I can’t believe how much fun I had!” She looked no more winded than the moment she left the house. “And I feel awesome too! That was a great warm up.”

THUD. Howard had punched her, right in the gut. He didn’t even realize what he was doing until the blow was over. It was like hitting a pile of stone. His hand screamed in pain. The look on her face was only confusion.

“Honey, honey, please no.” She hugged him tight. Her slingshot suit left her cleavage open from neck to navel, and he soon found himself buried between her titanic breasts.

THUD THUD THUD THUD. He was landing more useless blows on the amazonian body against which he was now pressed. Each punch sent a searing pain through his knuckles. The force of his blows soon lessened, and the sound of them was soon overtaken by the sound of his sobs. He collapsed into the warmth that surrounded him, simultaneously loving the girl whose face suddenly seemed so sad, and hating the Herculean body it commanded.

“I’m sorry honey,” she was saying. “I just wanted you to have a good experience … to know that I still valued you … and respected you … I didn’t mean to outpace you so much, or learn so quickly … I don’t know what I did wrong …”

But try as he did, Howard couldn’t respond. She was hugging him tight. Breasts with all the softness of iron cannonballs crushed in on him. They pinned his arms to his sides, bent his ribs inward as if they were made of no more than bailing wire. Howard tried to formulate a word, or even a thought. But his oxygen-starved mind was not up to the task. It was too busy blacking out.

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Julia carried his limp body back to the guest bedroom. He felt like a rag doll in her arms. And he looked like one too: thighs narrower than her biceps. Hips narrower than her quads. There was nothing wrong with him: he was a normal man. Rather, it was Julia that had changed. She was surprised to see how accustomed she had grown to seeing the world from the perspective of her new dimensions. Cradled in her arms, the steady rise and fall of his chest was the only movement he could muster. He seemed fragile and beautiful to her.

She laid him on the bed and watched his head loll backward, just like it did during sex. She felt an unexpected desire for him spark.

How could I have humiliated him so out there, Julia lambasted herself? I wanted him to have a great time, feel great about himself, and yet somehow exactly the opposite happened. He nearly drowned himself trying to keep up with me. And the scary thing was: I wasn’t even trying. I was purposely holding back for his sake, and it did nothing. He probably hates me now.

Julia began to slip off her bathing suit. This is a ‘tensile suit’, Julia remembered. It hugs my body with several hundred pounds of force. They told me its straps are strong enough to suspend a small car from the ceiling. Julia hooked a thumb under one strap and slid it off without effort. Howard would not be able to do that, even with both hands, even bracing a foot against me and lifting with his legs, even after a rant of grunting and profuse sweat. He would get nowhere with it, she thought as a few fingers slid the second strap off. The task seemed so infantile to her now, and yet he was not man enough for it. Who could blame him for wanting to be stronger?

She gazed at him as he lay. His body, usually lean and full of energy, now draped itself with, exhausted, over the contours of the bed. The hard outline of his jaw seemed to suggest confidence, but underneath, she knew, his spirit was wounded. The hair on his chest seemed to reflect some sort of savage, animal-like dominance, but in this new world, he was a pawn. Strong on the outside, but vulnerable underneath – nothing could have turned her on more. A small piece of her mind wondered when weakness had become a turn-on for her, but now was not the time to consider it in detail. Instead, she felt her sex warming with want for him. I have not yet made love with him in my new body. And I would very much like that.

Naked, she climbed into bed with him, cradling his frail body against her far more substantial one. Her oversized nipples scraped delightfully against the coarseness of his chest stubble. She felt an ache inside as she ran her fingers through the playful curls of his salt-laden hair. Laying along side him, she buried much of his torso in the deep valley of her cleavage, allowing the heft and warmth of her “girls” to surround him.

The smell of his sweat enlivened her senses. The faint sound of his breathing was a roar in Julia’s mind. Tension coursed through her shoulders. Her fingers danced with unspent energy. The place between her legs felt hollow, wishing that he was awake enough to fill it.

I need to make love to him, Julia realized. It’s not a playful, sexy need, Julia knew, but something more painful than that. I need him the way a wound needs a balm.

“Howard, honey?”

There was no reply, apart from the soft wheeze of his labored breathing.

Later, Julia told herself. You made him black out; this is your punishment.

Unsated, Julia closed her eyes, hoping that she could join Howard in sleep. But her mind stayed awake, coursing over the days events, wishing that Howard was up for filling her with his love. Rather than dose off, Julia found herself somewhere between rest and wakefulness. Her mind passed into a fitful daydream.

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She was standing at a large stone wall. Its gate was right in front of her, a sliding panel that would move on vertical tracks, like a guillotine. It was perhaps eight feet across and twenty feet high, constructed of stone. Only a ton or two, Julia thought, her Nourishment-enhanced muscles brimming with energy. Several men were at the gate, trying to peer through a peephole to the other side.

Something bad was happening in there. She could feel it. Somebody, or something, needed help. But when she approached the door, the men scattered and assessed her only with furtive glances.

They are not supposed to be in here, Julia could tell.

Her hand found the iron handle at the bottom of the gate. With one arm, she slid the mass smoothly upward. The forest behind her shook with the RUMBLE of the heavy stone mass as it rose. The door was only about a tenth of the weight she had lifted when moving the house. She could have held it above her head for hours. With her arm fully extended above her, she turned to face the men. Their unenhanced muscles seemed diminutive to her now: it would take forty of them just to budge the mass that she easily held aloft.

“What’s inside?” she asked the men.

“Please don’t get us in trouble,” one of the men replied, shuffling toward the darkness of the surrounding woods. “We just wanted to see what the women were talking about.”

“It’s bad, isn’t it?”

“Please don’t tell on us. We didn’t touch anything.” With his head down and eyes averted, the man disappeared into the surrounding woods.

Julia’s unease grew. She released the door behind her. It hurdled to the ground with a BOOM that made even Julia’s bones quiver.

She found herself in a grove of Diana trees. The rustle of their leaves seemed to fill the air with whispers. Julia put her hand on one of the trunks. A tingle ran up her arm. The tree was alive – not the way a plant is normally alive, but something more. It was awake, sentient. She had not noticed this when she originally encountered Diana trees as an un-Nourished new arrival.

As Julia progressed through the grove, her feet, too, felt a tingle. The trees are connected to each other by their roots, she realized. They are not many life forces. They are just one.

As she progressed through the orchard, the trunks thickened. The air became heavier with the sweet smell of the fruit. The canopy of leaves grew more dense, making darker the path she walked. The life force of the trees was all around her now, silent and yet somehow also reverberating through her senses with a constant HUM.

The grove thickened, and thickened further again, until walking was difficult. Eventually, bright daylight emerged ahead – a clearing in the trees. When she arrived, she had to crane her neck to see it: a single enormous tree, in the center of it all. Its trunk was as wide as a house, and more than a hundred feet tall. Its branches arced over the rest of the grove like a mother putting her hands on the heads of her childern. This was the master tree, the heart of the woody body, the center of the life force that connected them all.

The air was suffused the the power that flowed through the trees. This is the being which makes women here stronger then men, Julia realized. Faster. More perceptive. Impervious to harm. Everything. This is the tree on which the entire civilization rests.

Another shift in the wind caused the leaves in the canopy to rustle again. Are the trees whispering to me, Julia wondered? She applied her enhanced ears to the task. The sound indeed had a coherence to it. But if there were words floating in this wind, she could not capture them.

Julia opened her eyes again and ran her hand along a lower branch. It was then that she observed the leaves up close.

At the edges, they were turning brown.

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Julia awoke with a start. Howard was gone. He had slipped out of the looseness of her embrace.

The family had left her a few clothes on the dresser: denim cutoffs and a halter top. She slipped the denim cut-offs over the swell of her muscled glutes. In a more relaxed moment, she would have been pleased to see how the rock-like hardness of her ass spread the material completely taut, how the skimpiness of the shorts advertised her derriere’s perfectly rounded shape.

But as it was, she noticed none of these things. She was focused on Howard’s absence.

Donning the halter top required the assistance of a mirror: without it, there was no way to see around her massive boobs as she tucked in the shirt. In a more relaxed moment, Julia would have needed some time to acclimate to the cut of the neckline. The top showed substantial cleavage – a dark cavern in which any straight male’s gaze could be come irretrievably lost, taking much of his concentration with it. Back on earth, the potential to have a meaningful conversation with a man, while wearing this thing, would be zilch.

It was then that she saw the note on the nightstand – in English, in Howard’s handwriting. “Julia, I’m sorry for hitting you. I hope you’ll forgive me. But I am acknowledging that my situation here is more upsetting to me than I had realized. And I plan to do something about it.”

She ran her fingers over the words, troubled. I should be upset about him hitting me: back home, that would have been jail time. But then she ran her hands over the abdominal muscles that had received the harshest blows his fists had to offer. They were not bruised, not even scratched. The small hills of muscle covered with peach fuzz and unblemished skin the color of a fine cream. Howard apologizing to her for a punch was no more necessary than the airplane apologizing to the mountain for flying into it.

No, it was the other part of Howard’s note that bothered her. “I plan to do something about it” -- what in the world did that mean? Run away, harm himself? Whatever it is, it’s not good, she suspected. She threw the guest room door open with a WHAM. The house was silent, devoid of human activity. Damn it.

Julia looked everywhere. The house. The beach. Under the house, with which he had been so engrossed earlier. In the water, in case he decided to torture himself with more butterfly stroke.

When she finally found him, he turned out to be a good distance inland, in a clearing in the coastal woods. He leaned against a boulder. The ground was littered with many smaller rocks, as well. There was a small pond nearby. Several bottles of Nourishment rested by his feet, their caps off.

“You shouldn’t drink that stuff,” she said. “It will just make you sick to your stomach.”

Howard grimaced as he brought the bottle up for another swig. “I managed to get at least a quart down.”

“Even the raw fruit made you wretch. It’s not compatible with men. You know that.”

“I’ve been TOLD that, but I’m not sure I believe it, Julia. The men here don’t seem to think for themselves. There’s not a single vitamin or supplement on Earth that works on only one gender. Why would it be any different here?”

“What about all the risks you were so concerned about yesterday? The way it re-writes genetic code?”

“It doesn’t seem to be harming you,” Howard retorted. “It’s just making you strong enough to harm me. Do you know why I blacked out today? Because you hugged me!”

She put a hand on his shoulder. Being taller than him, it involved reaching downward. “Don’t do this to yourself, Howard.”

“Wait, I think I feel something.” He squeezed his upper arm. “I think it’s working!” He crouched down and grabbed a soccer-ball-sized rock. “I couldn’t lift this earlier. Let’s see what I can do now!” A grunt was followed by the reddening of his face.

The rock barely moved. “UGGGGGGGH!” he screamed.

An involuntary giggle escaped Julia’s lips. She didn’t want to mock him, least of all now. But the rock was only the size of a soccer ball. Compared to what she had lifted yesterday, it seemed so … puny!

The rock rose as far as his ankles before he released it, exhausted. “That’s progress,” he announced. “More than I did last time, I think. I’ve been Nourishing for two hours now, and I think it’s starting to work.”

She crossed her massive arms over her massive chest. “Howard, it’s not starting to work. It’s never going to work.”

“Let me try again.” His limbs shook. He raised the rock nearly as high as his kneecaps before dropping it with a THUD.

This time, the giggle could no longer be fought back. It was just TOO cute.

“What are you laughing at?” The grey of his eyes sparkled silver with anger.

“I’m sorry, Howard.” She pursed her lips, but could feel her cheeks contorting into a smile.

“No, really. I can tell you think something is funny. Just say it.”

“I’m thinking how small that rock seems to me now. I know men are weaker than women here. But even so, that thing doesn’t look that big at all. You seriously can’t lift it, even with unenhanced muscle?” Julia bent at the waist and picked up the rock. It felt about as heavy as a few pebbles.

“Give that back to me!” Howard was angry. “I was using it.”

Julia handed him the rock. Once she released it, the rock’s weight yanked his arms downward, impacting the ground with another THUD. Another giggle escaped her lips, and this one she didn’t try to hide.

He stomped away from her, scampering up the side of the large, oblong boulder. It was about the size of a station wagon, and Howard stumbled a few times before reaching the top. Once there, he sat down, crossed his arms, and scowled …

Julia had seen this look before. He made this face when he knew the truth b didn’t want to admit it.

“Maybe the Nourishment just needs more time to work,” he said. “It’s only been two hours since I got my first gulp down.”

“My arms doubled in size in the first thirty minutes. Your arms look the same as they always have.”

His arms remained crossed, like a genie sitting on a massive stone carpet. “I had a meal before I drank the Nourishment. Maybe it’s taking longer to enter my bloodstream.”

He was so cute when he was stubborn. She put a hand over her mouth to hide the smile.

“You think you’re so superior,” he accused. “How much could you really lift only two hours after Nourishing?”

He never saw me lift the house yesterday, Julia reminded herself. He doesn’t really know how incredible these enhanced female muscles are. She averted her gaze.

Howard persisted. “I asked you a simple question: how much could you really lift only hours after Nourishing?”

Maybe it’s time to cut the bullshit, she thought. He needs to know. He needs to know exactly how the deck of cards is stacked in this world. It’s only fair to him.

“Julia, one more time: how much could you really lift only hours after Nourishing?”

“Something like this,” she said. Julia approached the boulder on which Howard sat. She slid her hands underneath it. Her arms exploded with superhuman strength as a deep RUMBLE shook the woods. Tons upon tons of rock, the size of an oversized car, rose smoothly from the ground. “It’s about thirty-five thousand pounds, Howard.”

“Oh my … oh no …” she could hear Howard’s voice fill with fear as his enormous rocky perch rose underneath him.

Julia stopped when the boulder was at waist level, her forearms parallel with the ground. She flexed her biceps a bit, causing the fifteen-foot-long mass of rock to bob up and down.

Howard looked nervous. “Julia, please, stop that. You might drop it.”

“No I won’t. It’s about as hard as holding a gallon of milk.” She raised the rock up and down again, feeling how her genetically enhanced muscle fiber rose easily to the challenge. Her arms felt pleasantly warm. They thrilled at the exertion that even a hundred men combined could not accomplish.

But above, her boyfriend was hardly sharing in the joy. He was scrambling, in fact, to get off the boulder. To make it easier for him to dismount, she angled the boulder downward, toward dry ground and away from the pond.

It was a mistake. Howard had not expected the boulder beneath him to shift. When he stepped forward, his foot found only air where it should have found rock. There was a yelp, the sound of a man tumbling, and then a SPLASH as he fell straight into the water.

“I’m sorry, honey!” she said, tossing the boulder aside. It hit the ground with a resonant THOOM, making the ground shake. “I didn’t mean it.”

He rose to his feet, unsteady. His clothes were soaked. They clung to his limbs, which made them look less substantial than ever before.

He looked as cute as a wet puppy. The whole situation was so absurd, Julia found herself laughing, more at her own foolishness than anything else.

A wounded look crossed Howard’s face. “I should have known you’d want payback for what I did on the beach. Well, now it looks like you got it.”

Julia wanted to say something, but Howard had already begun to wretch – big gulps of Nourishment gushing out of his mouth and spreading, orange, across the surface of the pond. She began to take her sandals off, so that she could go to him in the water. But he had instead sloshed his own way out. Without bothering to wring his clothes off, he scrambled in the direction of the house.

“Honey, wait.” Julia began putting the sandals back on. “I just wanted you to know how strong I really am, how strong everyone here is. You deserve to know!”

But he was already moving as quickly as he could, away from her.

“Honey, I didn’t mean it. I was trying to help!”

Her pleading was met only by the sound of Howard’s receding footfalls.

Julia squatted to the forest floor in defeat, pounding her massive thighs with enough force to turn rock to fine dust. “I loved this body. But I hate it now, too.” She lamented. “I hate it for what it has done to us.”

Categories LaPorte Caves | SWM Library