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Shousetsu Bang*Bang
Special Issue 6: Flora Gave Me Fairest Flowers

Edited by Shousetsu Bang*Bang
Smashwords Edition
Copyright 2011 Shousetsu Bang*Bang

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Shousetsu Bang*Bang Special Issue 6 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Based on a work at http://shousetsubangbang.com

Table of contents

The Care and Breeding of Metal Flowers, by Hinata Yamimoto

Shadow Stranger, by Kagamine Marin (鏡音愛鈴)

Seasons of War, by Haitoku no Honou (背徳の炎)

Just Another Sunday, by Nijiiro Sumi (虹色墨)

Kiss Kiss Brains Brains, by Ogiwara Saki (荻原咲)

Caged Bird, by Domashita Romero (地下ロメロ),

illustrated by serenity_winner

Heist of the Century, by shukyou (主教),

illustrated by pseudonymeter

Strangers and Candy, by Usagi Anami (兎あなみ)

Lessons in Greek, by Drakonlily and Venefica_aura

Her Lamp Does Not Go Out at Night, by Koiwa Shishiko (小岩 獅神)

———

Will You Follow, by beili

The Prince and Princess, by yawmin

Flowers, by agentagnes

Front cover by pseudonymeter

Edited and published by the Shousetsu Bang*Bang editorial staff. Read more about this issue at http://www.shousetsubangbang.com/wiki/index.php?title=Special_Issue_6

The Care and Breeding of Metal Flowers

by Hinata Yamimoto

“Telephone for you, Miss Primula,” the butler said from the other side of the antechamber’s door. “The man says it’s urgent.”

“Thank you, dear,” Primula said. She looked down at her patient, who was flushed and breathing erratically. “Would you mind passing it through? I’m at a bit of a critical point and would rather not stop.”

“As you wish, madame,” the butler said, cracking open the door a discreet amount to extend the telephone set into the room. His arms continued to extend until the set had crossed most of the chamber and was settled on the table beside Primula.

“Thank you,” Primula said again, and the butler’s arms retracted with a soft whoosh, the door closing behind him with a barely audible click. “You don’t mind, do you, love?” Primula asked her patient.

“Ah,” the woman gasped.

“Much obliged,” Primula said, and picked up the receiver. “Hullo, this is Miss Flora Primula speaking, specialty modifications and applications at your discretion. How may I assist you?”

“Oh, thank goodness I have found you,” the man said. “I’ve been having the devil of a time locating someone with your qualifications.”

“You have caught me during a house call, so I certainly hope your business is urgent,” Primula chided gently. “I assume this is a call for therapy, not modification?”

“Yes, yes,” the man said hurriedly. “Let me introduce myself. My name is Professor Ethan Stroud. I’ve recently come to Union City to work at the university, and I’ve had such difficulties ever since the move.”

“You do understand that I specialize in women’s problems,” Primula said. She focused back on her patient, murmuring quietly, “Lift your hips a bit now, there’s a good love.”

“Ah!” the woman replied.

“It’s my wife, Mathilda,” Stroud said. “Ever since we moved, she’s been listless, moody. She simply lies about all day, does the bare minimum of housework and cooking, if that, and has been withdrawn and anxious at our dinner parties. Frankly, I’m at my wits’ end!”

“I see,” Primula said. “Yes, my therapy does treat those symptoms. Shall we set up a preliminary consultation before beginning our sessions?”

“That would be wonderful,” Stroud said. “As soon as possible will be best. Do you require anything?”

“A privatized room, a bed or padded chair, and perhaps a towel,” Primula said. “I can bring all other necessary instruments with me. Shall I come visit once I am finished with this house call?”

“Oh thank you. I’m located at the corner of LaPlace St. and Mandelbrott Plaza, do come at once,” Stroud said, and added, a bit hesitantly, “What precisely does your therapy entail, if I may ask?”

“It is simply a specialized form of massage, which stimulates a controlled seizure in women,” Primula said airily. “While it may initially put women into a lethargic state, soon after, most women find their spirits rejuvenated and bodies reenergized. With regular treatments, it is highly effective.” Primula clicked her instrument up to its next level, the whirring becoming louder. “Almost there, dear.”

“Ah!” the woman said.

“Sounds a bit dangerous to me, but I’m willing to give it a try,” Stroud said. “I can expect you soon?”

“I shall come at once, sir. Good day,” Primula said, and placed the telephone on its bed.

She turned to her patient, writhing on the sedan. “Men can be so foolish about things, can’t they? Are you ready, my dear?”

“Y-yes!” the woman gasped, twisting her hips.

Primula turned her instrument up to its final setting with a perfunctory click and helped the woman through her last moments, moving with her as she twitched and bucked, and running a cool hand across her forehead to calm her, after.

“How do you feel now?” Primula asked, modestly pulling a blanket over the woman’s legs.

The woman gave a contented sigh. “Fantastic,” she said, drawing out each syllable.

* * *

The Strouds were located near the Boiler District, a neighborhood devoted to research. The high demand for energy left the air laden with steam, the windows of the houses blurred and impossible to see through. Their home was a strange, narrow house made of red brick, and compared to the grand buildings of steel and concrete surrounding it, it seemed almost sad in its quaintness.

Primula marched her way down the street, her steps making a regular, metered pattern, her pronounced hips swaying with the beat. When she arrived at the door, she gave an authoritative knock, three times. When no one answered, she called out, “Hullo! This is Miss Primula, have I got the right address?”

A man answered the door. Primula noted that he had a cuff unbuttoned, and his bowtie was slightly askew. She could also tell by his voice that this was Ethan Stroud, not a manservant. “Come in, come in, that was bloody fast, I—” He paused, looked at Primula askance. “You’re an Automan!”

“Autowoman, as it were,” Primula corrected, raising a hand to delicately smooth her already perfect, pink filament hair. “Is that a problem?”

“Oh, no, no!” he chortled, stepping aside to let her in. “First I’ve ever seen, is all. My word, a female Automan, out and about by herself! Union City certainly is full of interesting things, isn’t it?”

“The Primula model is from an early, limited set, so it’s likely I’m the first you’ve seen,” Primula said diplomatically. “If you and your wife would like to have a sit down, we can discuss—”

“Oh, no need for that!” Stroud said. “Mattie is in the back room, so why don’t you just pop in there and,” he wiggled his fingers at her, “give it a shot, eh?”

“Very well, sir,” Primula said, and swished her way into the back room, closing the door behind her.

The back room was sweetly decorated, with rosy curtains over the windows and pretty patterned lace doilies under the flowers on the tables. On a closer look, the curtains were unevenly pulled, the lace was crooked, and flowers had been haphazardly dumped into a vase. On the side of the room, sitting on a rose-colored chair, sat a woman in a white dressing gown. She looked equally sweet and equally neglected.

Primula put on her best smile. She bustled over to the woman, taking her by the hand and saying, “Hullo, dearie. You must be Mathilda. My name is Miss Flora Primula, so very nice to meet you.”

The woman blinked twice at Primula’s quick speech, then sat up a bit taller in her chair, a strand of wavy brown hair falling across her eyes. “Pleasure,” she said quietly. “I go by Mattie, so…”

“Mattie,” Primula repeated warmly, giving Mattie’s hand a quick squeeze. “And how have you been feeling, Mattie?”

Mattie’s eyes grew distant. She looked away as she freed her hand from Primula’s grasp, brushing the strand of hair out of her eyes and tucking it into her messy braid. “I’ve been suffering from low appetite, poor sleep habits, and a general malaise. We believe it may be—”

“Oh, pish,” Primula said, and sat herself in the adjoining chair with a soft, mechanical clunk. “I knew your story from the moment your husband said ‘hello.’ A move to a new city, away from your family and friends, of course you’d feel a bit ill-at-ease! And add to it a husband at a new job, who’s only around to ask you to host a function or to throw another doctor at you when he notices how tired you are from all the changes. And then all the doctors their quackery, too busy making diagnosis after diagnosis to realize the truth of the matter!”

Primula paused, and in the sudden silence, Mattie realized she had been leaning into the gap between them. “What… what is the truth?” she asked.

Primula smiled again, grasping both of Mattie’s hands in her own. “That there is nothing wrong with you. Everything you are feeling is perfectly normal.”

Mattie looked away again, but she kept holding onto Primula’s hands, strangely hard beneath the silk gloves, and warming to match her temperature as they rested on her lap. “It doesn’t feel that way.”

“You just need some time for yourself,” Primula said. “A little time where all the attention is focused on you and how you feel, something to help you relax, to get you back on your feet. Doesn’t that sound nice, like something you deserve?”

Mattie hesitated a moment, then nodded, biting her lip.

“There’s a good love,” Primula said, rising from her seat. She turned about and pulled on one of the bows adorning her old-fashioned bustle. It swung open, revealing a compartment filled with various instruments and replacement parts, arranged neatly on a velvet-lined shelf. “Ah, I think… this one,” she said, daintily selecting a pair of silver hands. “For the first session, at least,” she added, and gave Mattie a wink, golden eyelashes flashing against her cheek.

“What should I do?” Mattie asked.

“Just sit there and let me do all the work,” Primula said as she snapped off her gloved left hand and replaced it with a silver one. She did the same with her right, sliding it into place with a soft little click. She closed the door on her bustle, once again giving the illusion that she was as whole as any living, human woman.

“All set now,” she said, and moved behind Mattie’s chair. Mattie could hear that the soft humming in Primula’s chest was slightly louder now. Primula placed her hands on Mattie’s shoulders, and Mattie let out a high-pitched squeak of surprise.

“Troubles, dear?” Primula asked, a lilt of amusement in her voice.

“I—I expected them to be cold,” Mattie said.

“Tiny heating coils in the fingertips, warms me up to just above your temperature. You should learn that I think of everything to make this the best experience,” Primula said. She flexed her fingers, digging slightly into Mattie’s shoulders.

Mattie grimaced in pain. “Relax, dear,” Primula whispered. She ran her hands up the sides of Mattie’s neck, pulling lightly at the tense knot of muscle. Her thumbs rubbed soft little circles at the spot behind Mattie’s ears.

Mattie sighed at this, the stiff line of her shoulders relaxing a bit. “There’s a love,” Primula crooned, threading her fingers through Mattie’s hair, scratching her scalp, ruining Mattie’s mess of a braid some more. She stayed there, rubbing gently at Mattie’s hair line, until Mattie had fully relaxed. She leaned back in the chair, tipping her chin up to get a little more purchase against Primula’s hands.

“Feeling better already?” Primula asked, leaning over the back of the chair.

“Much, thank you,” Mattie said, her eyes fluttering open to look at Primula.

“Ah, don’t thank me yet, dear. There’s still much to come,” Primula said, and slid her hands back down Mattie’s neck. This time, when she dug her fingers in, Mattie just smiled. Primula bumped a switch on her wrist, and Mattie squeaked again.

“They… shake?” Mattie marveled.

“They vibrate,” Primula confirmed. She leaned in closer, and whispered intimately in Mattie’s ear, “I told you: I think of everything.”

“Oh my,” Mattie said, and slid further back into the chair.

Primula’s hands pressed into Mattie’s back, eliciting a moan when Primula brushed the base of her neck. She kneaded the skin gently, pressing and pulling until everything was smooth and relaxed. Her hands trailed down Mattie’s shoulders, slipping under the open neck of her dressing gown so she could cup her upper arms.

“And how is this?” Primula asked.

“Wonderful,” Mattie marveled, and laughed quietly when Primula’s hands slid further down to play against her ribs.

“Do try to take this seriously, dear,” Primula admonished, and ran her hands over Mattie’s ticklish belly and sides. Mattie laughed again, a surprisingly open sound that filled the dusty room. She immediately clamped a hand over her mouth, blushing furiously through her dusting of freckles.

“Sorry!” she squeaked from behind her hand.

Primula’s hands continued their work, pressing a little more deliberately so as not to set Mattie giggling again. “It’s quite all right,” she said. “So sensitive. It looks as though you’ve hardly ever been touched.” Her hands moved in circles, thumb brushing against the underside of Mattie’s breasts on each upward sweep.

Mattie’s arms fell to her sides, her chest pushing out to meet Primula’s hands. Her breathing grew deeper, each quick inhale coming when Primula’s hands were at their peak, pushing them further up Mattie’s breasts with each turn. When Primula’s thumb at last scored the bottom of Mattie’s nipples, Mattie’s breath caught in her throat and she pushed away from the back of the chair, into Primula’s hands.

Primula tutted softly, removing her hands from Mattie’s dress. Her fingertips lightly grazed the peaks of Mattie’s nipples, and Mattie gave a little dismayed squeak, like a child deprived of a sweet.

“Patience, dear,” Primula said. She moved around the chair and knelt with a clunk at Mattie’s feet. She took one in her hand. It was bare and curled into her touch. Primula teased her toes, tweaking them hard enough so Mattie wouldn’t laugh.

Primula’s touch moved up the curve of Mattie’s calf, lingering at the back of Mattie’s knee when a brush there made her toes curl tight. Then up her thigh, smoothing up over the thin, white cotton of her undergarments without hesitation, stopping just under the junction of her thighs. She moved to the other leg, repeating the same motion, and again, up both, always stopping just before she reached the highest point. Up and down her thighs, a smooth, steady pace, never rushing, and never quite reaching the spot Mattie was squirming for.

Primula paused with her hands at the top of Mattie’s legs, fingers resting just below her hip bones, thumbs pressed into the inner curve of her thighs. “May I?” she asked, rubbing her thumb against the smooth, white fabric.

“Oh Goodness yes!” Mattie gasped, turning her head away and blushing at her forwardness.

Primula ran a finger between Mattie’s legs, pressing in on the cotton, following the indent until it led her, inevitably, to that one perfect spot that made Mattie arch up and bite her knuckle to stifle her moan.

“There’s a love,” Primula crooned. She circled the spot with a single finger, vibrating at the lowest setting. “So sensitive,” Primula said, as Mattie whimpered and made tiny thrusting motions with her hips. “Such a shame. You’ve hardly ever had any attention here, have you?”

She increased the vibrations, added a second finger to her task. Mattie’s head rolled. “How wasteful, going this long without getting the attention you deserve. Sometimes I truly wonder about the world.”

Primula changed from little circles to quick, efficient thrusts, matching her rhythm to the jerking of Mattie’s hips. “I… I think…” Mattie gasped. Her thighs were tensed, and her face so flushed her freckles couldn’t be seen.

“It’s all right, love. Just relax and let it happen,” Primula said, not relenting in her administrations.

Mattie nodded, biting her lip and screwing her face up in concentration. With a shout, she came, hips lurching off the chair. Primula held her through it, stroking her through every twitch and shudder, wringing every last bit of sweetness out of it before gently guiding her back to her seat.

Mattie lay there, eyes closed, panting, slumped bonelessly across the arm of the chair.

“There, now don’t you feel better?” Primula clicked off the whirring mechanism in her hands, and then replaced them with the pair of silk-gloved hands, storing the silver pair in her bustle’s trunk with a perfunctory clank. “All nice and relaxed, all that stress melted away, and now you can—oh my poor dear!”

Mattie was crying. Primula rushed over to her, knelt by her side. “I’m sorry,” Mattie said, waving her hands uselessly. “I don’t know, I just…”

“Oh, my poor, poor dear,” Primula said. She brushed her thumb over Mattie’s cheek, tears soaked up by her glove. “I should have known it would be a bit overwhelming.” She sat beside Mattie on the chair, squeezing in close, and wrapped her arms around Mattie’s waist. Primula’s body was heavy, hard, and unforgiving, but Mattie curled into it, resting her head on Primula’s chest. She could hear the hum of her engines inside, low and soothing. “Hush now, love. You’ll calm soon enough.”

“Will you come visit again?” Mattie asked, her voice echoing slightly in Primula’s chest.

“Of course, my dear,” Primula said. She brushed the halo of loose hair away from Mattie’s face. “I will come any time you ask.”

Mattie smiled and snuggled in closer. “I’d like that.”

* * *

“Why hello, Miss Primula! I say, I’ve never seen my wife in such high spirits since before you first came! A true miracle worker, you are!” Stroud said as he answered the door.

“That is wonderful to hear, sir,” Primula said. “And how has she been doing since our last appointment?”

“Oh, excellent, excellent!” Stroud chortled. “Your visits are the highlight of our week. She seems so cheery, running about, doing the cooking and cleaning. Why, she has even found the time to putter about in my machine shop! No idea what she’s doing, but it’s nice for her to have an interest. Seems a bit more light-headed than before, but say, women, what can one do?” He laughed again.

“Indeed,” Primula said. “Have you given a thought to my offer on private lessons to—”

Stroud waved her off. “Sorry, no time, the University awaits!” He grabbed his hat and coat from the rack and rushed out the door, calling over his shoulder, “Mattie’s in the back. Good seeing you!”

Primula stepped into the back room. Mattie was there, sitting neatly on the settee. Her hair was neatly bound in a loose braid, she was wearing a long, yellow dress, and her stockinged feet were bare of shoes. She was busy toying with one of the silk flowers in the vase. “Primula!” she called happily, rising to her feet and rushing to her friend. “Your hair!”

“You like it?” Primula asked, patting it with one hand. It was still made of pink filament, but it now cascaded over her shoulders in perfect little ringlets.

“It’s lovely!” Mattie wrapped one of the curls around her finger, like a ring. “However did you manage to style it like this?”

“Style it?” Primula asked, and laughed. “Oh no, my dear. I just pop one headpiece off, and put another one on. Saves me such a good amount of time.”

“I always forget you can do that,” Mattie said enviously.

“It helps that I have my entire shop to choose from,” Primula said. “Change my headpiece to match my mood, my hands to match the formality, my chassis and voicebox if the men at the business bureau are being pigheaded about my permits. Very convenient.”

Mattie cocked her head and said, “Huh?”

“Sometimes the men only want to do business with other men,” Primula said simply, waving a hand, “so I just—”

“Don’t do that!” Mattie cried. She blushed and clasped her hands together, looking at the floor. “I mean. You look nice the way you are.”

“Thank you, my dear,” Primula said, grasping Mattie warmly by the shoulders. “I’ve given thought to making my figure more like yours. Slim hips are so very fashionable right now.” Her hands slid down, resting on Mattie’s hips. “I imagine you would look lovely with a bob and one of those beaded dresses.”

Mattie shied away. “Oh no, I couldn’t!”

“No?” Primula shrugged. “I suppose neither could I. The bustle may be old fashioned, but it’s so awfully convenient for storage.” She rapped wryly on it; it made a muted clanking sound.

“And it does hold very interesting things,” Mattie said, eyes shining.

“Oh, does it?” Primula asked bemusedly. She pulled on the bow that revealed its insides. “What sort of interesting things? Do you mean, perhaps, the Rotating Amaranth?”

“Oh my!” Mattie said, bouncing on her toes.

“Or perhaps the Studded Turnsol?” Primula’s hands glided over a cylindrical thing with beaded studs around its base.

Mattie clapped her hands together. “Ah, that one is fun!”

“Or perhaps…” Primula paused on a strange, new device. “Would you care to help me test a new product? I need to work out the kinks before it’s ready for my shop.”

“Oh yes please!” Mattie cheered. “You always come up with the most amazing things!”

Primula selected a slim metal cylinder with a small wheel made of leather flaps attached to it. She took out a bottle of sweet-smelling oils and began rubbing them into each flap.

“What on Earth is that?” Mattie asked, licking her lips as though her mouth had gone dry.

“I call it the Spinning Camellia. If you would care to take a seat?” Primula asked, nodding at the chair. Mattie did so immediately, obedient as a schoolgirl, though her knees were not pressed together so tightly.

Primula set the device on the side table and knelt at Mattie’s feet. She rucked up the hem of Mattie’s thin, yellow dress, pushing it up until it revealed the shapely turn of a calf, the edge of a thigh, the clasp of a garterbelt on stockings, and then far less fabric than she had anticipated. Primula looked up at Mattie. “Planning ahead?”

“I believe in being prepared,” Mattie said airily, then squealed as Primula’s hand moved directly to her bare crotch. Her fingers traced up and down her folds, until they were shining and slick with oil. Mattie shivered.

“Enjoying being prepared, dear?” Primula teased. “Or anticipating what’s to come?”

“I’ll admit, I have absolutely no idea what to expect!” Mattie said, her voice delighted. She gave a little, silly giggle when Primula flipped a switch and the device began to make a whirring noise.

“Hold still now,” Primula said, and brought the device to Mattie’s folds. The wheel of leather flaps spun slowly, each pressing against her in its turn, slick and warm and firm.

“Oh!” Mattie cried, and bucked her hips away—and then immediately pressed down again on the machine. “Oh my, that feels—”

“Yes?” Primula prompted. She pushed the device in further, each turn entering Mattie slightly.

“That feels like a tongue!” Mattie said, and laughed. “It’s almost—ah!—obvious, in hindsight.”

“Is it now?” Primula asked, angling the device upwards so the end of every turn flicked against Mattie’s nub.

“You’d think—nn!—that men would have figured this out by now,” Mattie said.

Primula increased the speed until it was moving much faster than any human tongue could. “Some have,” she said dryly, and Mattie laughed and laughed, tossing her head back. She pressed her hips in harder, getting the perfect angle and working herself against the machine. When she came, she was still laughing.

“Have fun, my dear?” Primula asked. She was already wiping the device with a damp cloth.

“I can think of… one or two improvements to be made, perhaps?” Mattie said with a wicked grin.

“I welcome your input.” Primula put the device away and closed the cache in her bustle. She moved toward the door.

“Oh, don’t go yet!” Mattie struggled to her feet. “You haven’t made me entirely senseless this time.” She stumbled, knees wobbling. “Well, I did say not entirely,” she pointed out with a blush. She walked to the vase of silken flowers and drew out a single, metal rose.

“Where did you get that?” Primula asked.

“I made it,” Mattie said. She twirled the rose back and forth, light catching on its thin, silver petals. “I’ve been working in the shop recently, making things like this. It’s not very useful, but it’s pretty.”

“It is very pretty,” Primula agreed, and reached out to take it.

Mattie drew back, keeping it from Primula’s hand, then leaned forward and tucked it into Primula’s hair so that her neat, pink ringlets curled around it. “And now it’s useful,” Mattie concluded. She leaned in again and pecked Primula sweetly on her cheek, right where the seam in her faceplate started to curve.

“Thank you, my dear,” Primula said warmly. Mattie still hadn’t backed away, was still smiling, and she was close enough that Primula could count the freckles across her nose.

Mattie leaned in again and brushed her lips against Primula’s mouth. “Thank you.”

She darted away immediately, murmuring, “Ah, so much to do!” while fussing with the objects on the bureau, and Primula couldn’t see the expression on her face.

***
The door to the Stroud house opened just as Primula started to knock. Mattie was there, breathless and beaming. “Come in, come in!” she said, motioning Primula out of the clouds of steam on the streets.

“Thank you, dear. Ah, your hair!” Primula said, running the back of her hand along the edges of Mattie’s new bob.

“Do you like it? It makes me feel quite daring,” Mattie said, flashing a smile with a lot of teeth. “Of course, Ethan was beside himself when he saw, but I imagine he’ll get over it soon.”

“It looks wonderful,” Primula said. “You look wonderful.”

Mattie practically glowed. “I’m still working my way up to the beaded dress,” she said, tugging at her simple, dark red dress.

“Give it time,” Primula said, and the two laughed.

“Come,” Mattie said, extending out her hand. “Let’s use a proper bed for once.”

“Your husband?”

“Is out for the moment, and I’m certain he won’t care much either way,” Mattie said definitively. “Do come; I’m growing tired of the chair.”

“We wouldn’t want you to get bored,” Primula agreed, and followed where Mattie led.

“How is your shop?” Mattie asked. “Bring any forlorn couples together this week?”

“I don’t bring couples together. I just,” Primula flipped an elegant wrist, “give them the attachments they may lack.”

“You didn’t answer my question,” Mattie pointed out as she led Primula around the corner.

“I shouldn’t gossip about my clients,” Primula said. Mattie opened the door to the bedroom, and sat down on the bed with an audible ‘hmph.’ Primula relented. “There was a gentleman and his Automan swain…” she said.

Mattie leaned in, gripping the sheets in both hands. “Two boys?” she asked, her eyes bright.

Primula nodded.

“How does that work?” Mattie asked, putting a hand to her lips as she considered the possibilities.

“They had much the same question,” Primula said, and Mattie laughed. “By the time I finished explaining the different scenarios, steam was pouring from the poor Automan’s ears.”

Mattie looked up at Primula through her eyelashes. “Has anything ever made steam come from your ears?” she asked.

“You’ll find I’m very hard to scandalize, my dear,” Primula said primly. She snapped open the latch on her bustle and rooted about on the shelves. “Now, for today, I’d like to try out the—”

“The Curved Cereus, if you don’t mind,” Mattie said.

Primula looked up in surprise. “That? But it’s so…”

“Simple?” Mattie finished for her. She shrugged. “Sometimes, simple is good.”

“As you wish, my dear,” Primula said, removing a device that looked like a bent C.

“Help me with my clothes first?” Mattie asked, turning around to reveal the lacing on her dress. Primula pulled at the bow until it came loose. “Thank you.” Mattie pulled the dress over her head and tossed it carelessly aside, just missing the vase of silver flowers by the bed. She was wearing nothing underneath.

She settled back on the bed, seemingly at ease with her nakedness, but her feet swung nervously back and forth. “Whenever you’re ready,” she said, leaning back.

Primula finished untwisting her right hand and snapped the device into its place. When she moved to Mattie’s spot on the bed, she found a foot pressed against her chest. Primula took the foot in her hand and rubbed it gently. “All set, my dear?” Primula asked. Mattie nodded. Primula’s hand worked its way up Mattie’s leg, caressing the curve of her calf, and giving a light pinch where her thigh was the thickest.

“I’ve been thinking,” Mattie said, as Primula lazily traced lines on her inner thigh. “About the Automen and -women that visit your shop.”

“Yes?” Primula said. She brushed lightly over the hairs and watched Mattie shiver.

“It’s not really fair, is it? That the Automen change themselves to please their partners, but the humans can’t do anything in return—ah!” Primula had turned on the vibrating setting of the device and pressed its rubber tip to Mattie’s skin.

“I wouldn’t say there’s nothing in return,” Primula said, rubbing circles around Mattie’s needed area. Mattie twitched and moaned. “There’s a certain satisfaction in being able to give pleasure.”

“Oh?” Mattie panted. “But it still… doesn’t seem…fair.”

Primula lowered her voice. “Do you feel it’s unfair that, after petting a cat, the cat does not, in turn, pet you back?”

Mattie’s hand clamped down on Primula’s wrist, and she sat up on the bed. “That’s a terrible metaphor!” she cried, very displeased.

In response, Primula turned up the setting of the vibration. Mattie melted back onto the bed—but further away, so as not to make Primula’s job any easier.

“I imagine… it’s also a case of intimacy,” Primula said, leaning over the bed to reach Mattie more easily.

“Intimacy?” Mattie repeated, looking up at Primula through her eyelashes. She inched away a little more, making Primula bend farther so she could run the long end of the device up and down her folds until they were slick and wet.

“Being physically close to someone tends to increase the strength of a bond,” Primula said clinically. She increased the pressure on the device, pushing it in and up until its tip pressed against her inner surface, its lower, curved end perfectly cupping her mound.

Mattie gasped and arched her back, clutching at the sheets at her sides. “And you?” she asked between breaths. “Have you been… intimate?”

“I…” Primula felt herself heating up, and the pressure of steam against her ears.

Mattie crooked her foot behind Primula’s bustle and gave a pull, sending her flying forward. She was already off balance, and with one hand occupied with Mattie, there was little Primula could do except catch herself with her free hand and hope she didn’t crush Mattie with her weight. She landed with her face just inches from Mattie’s.

Mattie smiled at her. “Hello.”

Primula froze for a moment. “Hullo, dearie,” she said automatically.

Then Mattie began grinding down on Primula’s hand, and that, at least, was familiar territory. There wasn’t much different about this—the angle, perhaps, was strange, and it was always odd to be horizontal, but the rhythm of the slight, quick thrusts was the same, and Mattie still closed her eyes and made the same, wanton moans whenever she found a good spot.

It was different, though. She had never noticed that the light dusting of freckles extended onto Mattie’s shoulders, and that her blush started at the highest points on her cheekbones and spread further and further the more she got excited.

And it was different because this time, instead of clutching the sheets, Mattie was clutching onto Primula, hands running down her back and grabbing at her waist. She still tossed her head as her climax approached, but instead of turning to the side, she turned into Primula, panting into the crook of her neck, pressing kisses on the metal bolts as her body clenched and twisted on Primula’s hand.

And Primula was pushing back, craning her neck to give Mattie better access, wriggling her body so the many clasps on her dress rubbed across Mattie’s thighs, belly, breasts. Her whole body moved with those quick thrusts, and she wished she could get an arm free to wrap around Mattie’s waist and pull her closer, grab at her thighs and open her wider, pinch her nipple to hear what sounds she would make. Touch her face so she could see just what expression was in her perfect, dark eyes.

Mattie came, loudly and beautifully, her legs wrapped around Primula’s bustle, her head tucked into her neck. Primula rocked with her, making it last as long as possible, until Mattie lay still and panting on the bed. Primula gently removed the device from Mattie and tried to sit up, but found Mattie’s hands pulling down at her shoulders.

Mattie was looking at her, and her smile was so heartbreakingly perfect Primula was at a loss. She leaned up into the gap between them, and Primula met her halfway, pressing their mouths together. She could feel Mattie’s smile against her own, feel it grow wider in the next kiss, and the next.

Somewhere in the house, a door shut. Primula immediately backed away from Mattie, getting to her feet and quickly replacing the device with her normal hand without even pausing to wipe it down.

“Primula?” Mattie asked, her eyes still a little dazed.

“I’m sorry, my dear. Goodbye.” Primula gathered her things and backed out of the room, wishing it felt less like a retreat.

Stroud was in the foyer, examining a stack of notes with his spectacles perched on his nose. He looked up over them, bright blue eyes sparkling merrily. “Ah, Miss Primula! Everything gone apace?”

“Yes, sir,” Primula said. “Everything is fine.”

“Good, good,” he chortled, and looked back to his papers.

Primula paused at the door. “I’m sorry to inform you, sir, but I’m afraid this will be my last visit. The demands of my shop have increased, and I have a need to lower the number or patients I treat.”

Stroud stroked his moustache sadly. “I say, that is bad news indeed. I don’t suppose you can recommend someone else reputable in your profession?”

“At this stage, it’s best if she receives treatment from someone she is close to.” She reached into a ruffle on her bustle and produced a card. It had Miss Primula’s Modifications and Applications written on it in golden script, and an address under that in smaller print. “I offer instruction in private or group sessions.”

Stroud placed the card carelessly on an endtable without looking at it, the shining gold print lost in a pile of notes. “Oh, I still think it’s best to leave these things to the professionals. I’ve no time for all these,” he waved his hands in the air, “dealings. You’re a busy woman, you understand.”

“Yes, sir,” Primula said. “Very well. Good day.”

***
“This is our standard model,” Miss Primula said, pointing to one of the objects on the tray. The Automan and his companion leaned in, similar expressions of nervous interest on both their faces. “It comes in all custom skin colors as well as stainless steel and gold plate, if that is what you prefer, pneumatically operated, capable of immersion in water for short periods without ill effect.

“You will have to schedule a time to come in and have it installed, as it comes with a specialized abdominal plate to allow for retraction—don’t want to ruin the line of your trousers, do we, dearie?” she asked, giving the Automan a cheery wink. His companion tittered nervously into her hands.

“Comes in a variety of sizes,” Primula continued. “This is the most popular, but some are more comfortable with a smaller one when first starting out.”

“Actually,” the woman blurted out quite loudly. “Do you have one that’s… perhaps… a bit… bigger?” she asked, voice quieting down to a whisper.

“Lovely,” Primula said, drawing out another tray and then pointing to the appropriate one. “Is this more to your taste?”

“Yes, that’s good!” The woman nodded. Little curls of steam started to leak out from the Automan’s ears.

Primula reached under the counter and plunked another tray onto the table. “And now, accessories! The basic model is good, but I find it’s nice to have an extra something-or-other on hand for—”

The front bell jangled.

“Excuse me for a bit, will you? I’ll be back in a tick,” Primula said, then called out more loudly, “Just a moment, dear, I’m in the back!”

Primula hurried to the front, pausing for a moment to check her appearance in the mirror. In the reflection, she saw the Automan whisper something to the woman, and she laughed as she leaned her head in, their fingertips lightly brushing together. Primula turned her attention back to her reflection, and adjusted the metal flower tucked into her hair.

“Coming!” Primula called again, and bustled out through the more respectable displays of the front shop. “Now, what can I get you to—”

Mattie fiddled with the paper sign in her hands. Her eyes were concealed by the brim of her traveling hat, but her lips were smiling. “You said your store was getting very busy, so I thought, perhaps, you could use a new shop clerk?”

“Mattie, I—”

Mattie held the sign out. “And it looks like you’ve a room to let above the store?”

“I…”

Mattie stared directly at Primula, her dark brown eyes as forceful as she’d ever seen. “And I’ve left Ethan a note saying I’ve run away to work as a mechanic with the traveling Teatro Mechanica, so it would be very embarrassing for me to go back now,” Mattie finished.

Primula, for once, was silenced.

Mattie fiddled with the sign some more, hiding her eyes again. “If you don’t want me to stay, I can go back. I feel very foolish, I—”

Primula rushed to close the gap between them. She held Mattie’s hands, giving them a light squeeze before removing the sign from her hands. She folded it in half and carelessly tossed it away. “Well then, my dear. I suppose I should show you to your room.” With that, she hoisted Mattie’s bag under her arm, as if it were as light as a feather.

Mattie beamed up at her and tucked her hand into the crook of Primula’s arm. “That would be nice, yes.”

Primula led her through the back room to a set of stairs. “Just a moment, dears,” she said to the waiting couple.

Mattie glanced at the tray of accessories and pointed to a particular dual-pronged clipon. “Ooh, the Wriggling Snapdragon! You should definitely get this one!”

“Really?” the woman asked.

Mattie gave her a knowing smile. “Trust me,” she said, and followed Primula upstairs.

Shadow Stranger

by Kagamine Marin (鏡音愛鈴)

“Sometimes when I walk home I see my shadow stretching out, and I feel like it belongs to someone else entirely. When it’s sunset and the sky is orange and everything else is tinged with rust, I walk home together with my shadow. Even though we’re going the same way, it’s a little bit like walking with a total stranger.”

+++

Whenever her parents fought, Kelley would first retreat to her bedroom, then open the window and climb out to go for a walk. Her bedroom was on the second floor, but it was right next to an oak tree, which (her mother would often say) had been planted the day her grandparents had bought the lot to build this house. It did not take a lot of effort for her to reach the closest branch, and from there she could easily climb her way down.

Her favorite time was at the latest point of afternoon, before it could be properly called evening, and the sun was mostly-set, but not completely gone from sight. On warm days she would walk down as far as the river, her hands in her pockets and her eyes focused on the ground. Sometimes she would bring her headphones and she would listen to music, but mostly, she preferred to be alone with her on thoughts. On colder days she would only walk about half as far, but she would pay more attention as she walked, watching how her breath steamed up before her face, then faded away again. If she went the longest way around, she could go for nearly two hours without seeing a single other person, and that was how she preferred it.

Other times, though–now and then–she would encounter someone else as she walked. Sometimes they were jogging the same direction as she was, sometimes they went the other way. Sometimes they were on bikes and they would yell at her as they whizzed past, “to your left!” or “to your right!” and by the time she had processed that they were talking to her, they were already gone. Kelley didn’t really like them, but she never really had the chance to call them on rude behavior. When she could, she walked in the grass to avoid them altogether.

When she was done, she would make the trek back home and climb back up the tree and slide across the one branch and back through her open window. She would take off her shoes and leave them by the window, toes pointed to the wall, and she would go to her door and press her ear to it. It used to be that she would only hear silence and she would know it was safe to emerge from her bedroom the other way, to go downstairs and get something to eat, but more often than not, these days, she would hear her parents still yelling, furious and ripping into each other with words, or it would be a horrible icy silence that made the pit of her belly feel awkward and twisted. She couldn’t say how she knew what the difference was, just that she knew it was there, and on those nights, Kelley would wait until she saw the light under her door switch off before she would ever leave her room. She would creep down the hall and keep herself pressed close to the walls, and if she saw either father or mother she would freeze in the shadows and wait for them to pass.

At school she said nothing about this, though sometimes she listened to the other girls talk, chattering and bright and oblivious. It was not that she was unpopular, it was just that she wasn’t outright popular. People tended to only remember her half of the time, particularly when they wanted help with homework, or someone to compare test answers with. There was a group of girls that she would eat lunch with, and they tolerated her with a bemused sort of fondness, as if they could not quite make heads or tails of why she was with them, but not unkind enough to drive her off. Kelley didn’t mind that they never really talked to her, but around her. She liked the sounds of their voices, clean and high or rough or sweet. They soothed her in a way the voices of boys never did, though sometimes the other girls would talk about boys, which was not nearly as interesting as they seemed to think it was.

One of the girls, whose name was Elizabeth and who went just by Beth and was in four of Kelley’s classes, had parents who were going through a divorce. She still talked, though occasionally she would be quiet and stare down at her lunch until someone would nudge her and say, “Now you’re turning into Kelley!” and they would all laugh, including Beth. Kelley didn’t mind that either. Sometimes she smiled when they made that joke, because it wasn’t really a cruel one, in her opinion. It was just the truth.

Beth had long blonde hair and large brown eyes and she was both very popular and very prone to talking about herself when there were silences to fill. She had a sort of voice that was very easy to listen to, mellow and just high enough to be sweet, but low enough to not grate on the ears. She would talk about her parents’ divorce at lunch sometimes, with her chin on one hand and a plastic fork in the other, poking at the noodles she brought from home in blue-lidded Tupperware. Once, halfway through the lunch period, she said, “Sometimes they yell so loud they wake me up, and I thought that maybe one of them was dying. But no, they were just fighting about money. Again.”

Another time, she said, “They throw things,” with her gaze preoccupied with the tiny braid she was weaving into a pinch of hair from her temple. “Dad threw Mom’s favorite vase and broke it, so she threw away some of his bowling trophies. My brother and I hid the golf clubs because we didn’t know what was going to happen next. It would have been awful if they’d actually started hitting each other.”

Beth spoke about these things easily and carelessly, like it never actually hurt her at all. Sometimes she would look sad, but she always forgot that when someone talked to her. She was a bright person who enjoyed attention. Kelley liked to watch her more than anyone else in the group of girls she sat with, though she didn’t think Beth would appreciate knowing that much at all. When she walked to leave the sound of her parents’ fights behind, Beth was Kelley’s favorite companion inside her head. They would walk and Beth would talk and Kelley would listen. She liked the sound of Beth’s voice, and the way Beth said things like divorce and awful so that Kelley herself never had to. After lunch, when they were walking back to class, the sunlight would settle upon Beth’s hair and make it glow.

And then there was an afternoon where, as Kelley was putting her shoes on and preparing to climb through her window, she heard a crashing noise and then the sound of her mother screaming. It was not like the normal screams, but something closer to actual panic, and that made Kelley fall backwards, onto the floor of her bedroom. Kelley rolled onto her hands and knees and crawled to her bedroom door, reaching up far enough to open it and no further. The lights were on downstairs, and she could see her mother’s silhouette, blown large by the angles, reflected upon the second-floor ceiling. She heard pounding footsteps and another crash and then both of her parents were yelling so loudly that they scarcely sounded even human.

Gently, carefully, she closed the door again and went back to her window. Her favorite stretch of time was nearly over–the sky was more deep violet than orange now, and the sun was nothing more than a red slit on the horizon. She still climbed out of her window, trying not to tremble, and made her way down the tree–gracelessly, quickly, and once her feet were on the ground, she ran. Without a second thought, she ran and she ran and it felt like her feet weren’t even touching the ground, the wind in her face and her hair and her lungs aching. She ran for what felt like forever, until finally the toe of her shoe caught on something and sent her flying for real, through the air for a short fast distance before she hit the ground again.

For a moment she lay with her cheek and her palms and her belly pressed to the ground. Pain filtered back to her in small degrees: the strain in her lungs, the fire in her scraped hands and knees, and the bone-deep ache of something that she couldn’t quite name. Even after the tightness in her chest faded, she remained lying where she was, watching the shadows under her hand as it changed and then melted with the coming of evening.

When she looked up, a girl was standing beside her.

The first name on Kelley’s tongue was Beth, but that wasn’t right. Beth’s hair was the color of sun-bleached straw, yellow and pale and would probably glow a little in the dark. This girl had hair as dark as the evening sky, black and shot through with highlights of blue and dark violet. But she had the same small mouth and heart-shaped lips and the same large eyes, and she said nothing as she held out her hand. Kelley pushed herself up to her knees first, then took it. The girl pulled her up to her feet with easy strength, up close so that for a moment they were belly to belly. She had an odd smile where the corners of her lips would twitch up and then relax down again, as if she could not quite figure out how to sustain it properly. It did not look quite the way a normal person would smile at all. It was kind of beautiful.

She said, “My name is Liza.”

Kelley began to say, “My name is Kelley,” but Liza stepped away and tugged on her hand and said over her, “Let’s go for a walk, Kelley.”

Her knees hurt and her palms hurt and there was a pressure behind her eyes that she couldn’t quite ignore, even when she looked at Liza’s smile, but Kelley nodded and laced their fingers together and felt a little like there was a weight lifting from her shoulders. Now that she was on her feet she could see that she was down by the river she liked so much, though further along it than she’d ever gone on foot before. The place where she’d fallen was in sight of the school. Something about that thought relaxed her, picturing the hallways full of people and the girls she ate lunch with every day. She looked at Liza, who looked straight ahead, like she knew exactly where she meant to go. Kelley wanted to ask where they were going, but at the same time she didn’t feel terribly compelled to do so; Liza knew, and that was enough.

They ended up behind the schoolyard itself, in the short thick line of trees that lined the property. The moon had just begun to rise, and there were fingers of pale light filtering in through the treetops. Liza pulled Kelley with her until they were deep enough that it was difficult to see the building itself. She smiled her odd little smile again and said, “I like this place. Don’t you?”

Kelley nodded. She closed her eyes and let Liza kiss her. She said something into it, something that would have been, I don’t know what to do, but she allowed Liza to pull her along until her back was against a tree, mostly in trapped by Kelley’s own body. Kelley didn’t open her eyes until the kiss ended. Liza smiled at her with an expression that was nearly like Beth’s face, and she touched Kelley’s face once. She said, “It’s easy. You just have to relax. All right?”

Kelley nodded. She didn’t quite understand, but she wasn’t afraid. It felt a little exciting, and a little bit like running again. She put her hands on Liza’s shoulders and said what she’d meant to before, “I don’t know what to do.”

Liza said, “Do something that feels good,” and she reached up to undo the buttons of her shirt herself. The skin underneath was pale, but the white bra underneath was paler, the top of the cups edged with thin lace–the sort of cute bra that a younger girl might wear, and Kelley stared at it for a moment before she let her hands slide from Liza’s shoulders and across skin (cool at first to the touch, slowly warming), and hooked her thumbs under the straps. She tugged until they were sliding down and pulled until Liza’s small breasts were revealed, almost perfectly round. Her nipples were small and dark and already very hard.

Kelley looked at them until Liza arched her back as if in invitation, then looked up and said, “You’re very pretty.”

Liza smiled. Kelley bowed her head and pressed her lips to Liza’s collarbone, breathing in. She smelled something like the first lungful of cold air in winter, sharp and almost spicy somehow, something that made Kelley’s chest and throat ache even more. She opened her mouth and pressed her teeth carefully to the sharp rise of bone under thin skin and listened to how Liza’s breath caught. Still cautious, she ducked her head further, using just the tip of her tongue to trace across the curve of Liza’s breast, down to the nipple. The skin was smooth until that moment, and then it was strange and nubbly. Kelley rubbed the flat of her tongue over the nipple and shivered a little herself. It almost tickled somehow, to do this. Liza’s fingers worked their way into Kelley’s hair, and she breathed something that sounded like encouragement. Kelley parted her lips and touched her teeth to the nipple, first without any sort of actual pressure and then catching it between both of her teeth. She put her hands now on Liza’s hips to keep her mostly still when the other girl jerked.

It felt good, she thought, to touch someone else like this, to be close to someone who almost had Beth’s face and almost had Beth’s eyes and voice, but was still a completely different person. Beth would like something more gentle, Kelley thought dreamily, as she shaped her lips over Liza’s nipple. She would need something softer in a touch, something that was kinder and would reach out to the sad, sometimes distant look in her eyes when she thought no one else was looking, at lunch. She would wear white too, but they would be plain, without embellishment, because she wouldn’t know yet that sometimes what was underneath might be nicer than what was on top. Kelley bit at Liza’s other nipple and reached to undo her pants, fumbling once with the button of her jeans before working it free. Once she had it open, she went to her knees and looked up.

Through the tree branches overhead, the moonlight made Liza’s face glow in a way that her hair could not. She was flushed with two spots of color high on her cheeks and she had her lower lip between her teeth. Her eyes were very bright. She wasn’t smiling now, but her gaze was focused unwaveringly on Kelley, and Kelley thought she liked that. She hooked her fingers into the sides of Liza’s opened jeans and tugged both them and the white-lace panties down to about Liza’s knees. It took a moment longer to look away from Liza’s face and between her legs, at the small thatch of hair that was nearly the same color as the hair on Liza’s head but a different texture, wiry and sparse. Kelley put her hand next to it, more on Liza’s thigh than her abdomen, and swept her thumb out through that hair. Liza made a little noise, and Kelley thought that yes, that would be what Beth would sound like, startled by someone’s touch, but not unwelcoming, not upset. She stroked again and again, moving her thumb lower with each pass until she touched warm wetness. Liza was mostly quiet, though occasionally she would sigh or gasp, and they were all very nice sounds.

After a thought, Kelley pulled Liza’s pants down to her ankles, then slid her hands to put them lower now, palms flat on Liza’s thighs, until they spread wider. She couldn’t see very well in the dark, but she could see the outline of the other girl’s sex, the shape suggested under the thick hair. It looked a little like the pictures in the books, and nothing like that at all. Kelley looked up at Liza’s face again, meeting her eyes, and leaned in. She stuck her tongue out and pressed to the spot where the labia split. The hair on her tongue tickled in the same way the nipple had, though less pleasantly, and then she had to close her eyes and tilt her head to concentrate better. She felt her way blindly with her tongue, listening to the way that Liza’s breath hitched and caught, moving when the fingers in her hair yanked or tugged in a certain way. The taste and the smell were both nearly the same, something sharp and a little sour, a little clean. Kelley did not think she would be able to compare this to anyone or anything. She could only wonder what Beth would smell like.

Liza was finally whimpering now, short sharp little gasps that were not Kelley’s name. Every now and then, Kelley’s tongue would brush over her clit, small and hard, half-hidden amidst wet folds, and every time that she did Liza’s whole body would arch and she would squeak as if she had been shocked. Kelley liked that particular noise, so she focused more on that after another minute of exploration, tracing around the clit, sometimes skittering over it, always with light, light pressure. Gently, the way Beth would prefer it, even when Liza growled and said, “Come on, come on, please,” and sounded a little as if she were dying just to ask. Kelley slid one of her hands up, fingers skittering a little over sweat-damp skin and very near the crux of Liza’s thighs. When Liza made another demanding noise, Kelley curled a finger and pressed it up, through her folds, and into her. It was a strange feeling, especially at the way that Liza’s body tightened and flexed around her, at the way her hips arched, pressing herself more firmly into Kelley’s hand and Kelley’s mouth.

A moment later, she gasped, “Another, another,” and Kelley was obedient this time, shifting her hand until she could press a second finger into Liza. As she did she framed her lips around Liza’s clit the same way she had the nipple earlier, and sucked in time with her rocking fingers. This she thought Beth would like, but only given time and some practice, when her body had grown accustomed to someone else’s touch. Liza whined and trembled and then suddenly she arched up hard and froze against Kelley, her body tight and still, her fingers knotted into Kelley’s hair so tightly that it made Kelley’s eyes water. For long seconds she held that stiff shaking pose, and then she shoved insistently, pushing Kelley’s head away. Kelley leaned back easily, and the movement made her remember own aching knees, still burning from her earlier fall. She licked her lips and willed the thought of it away. She looked up into Liza’s face.


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