Hidden Talents, a Lolipunk story by AnonyMPC (Mg, mgg, gg, lolipunk, Fb, mast)

Ada walked behind her father, smoothing down her dress. It was after dark, but the electric lights were on, making it bright like day. This was happening more and more often, as the Humbert Collectors were well over quota and they had excess power to spare on extravagances.

She liked the electrics, and what Father had said about making a good impression made sense, but she wished they were in candlelight all the same. It was softer, kinder, more forgiving of mistakes. In candlelight, their visitors might not notice the spot of grease on her dress from dinner, or that the red bow in her dark hair had a frayed end. They might not notice how plain she was, or believed she was.

They passed the door leading to the workshop, and even at this late hour, even though it was far away, she imagined she could hear the low moans and gasps that signaled they were active, producing. As they passed, her eyes lingered on the door. She'd rather be down with them... even though some of the other girls envied her, they didn't understand what it was like to be the master's daughter. Not bad, just... lonely.

"Keep up, Ada," her father said, although it was hardly necessary... he stopped immediately afterwards to allow Sebastian, their valet, to adjust his tie for him. Ada stopped a step behind her father, and Sebastian spared a glance down at her... she thought he curled his nose up at one imperfection or another that he saw, but said nothing. "How long have they been waiting?"

"Not long, sir," Sebastian said in that bored, drawn out way he said everything. "Less than half an hour."

Father nodded, allowed Sebastian to slip him into a formal jacket. "Escort them in to the parlor, then bring us tea and a crown." Sebastian cleared his throat. "No?"

"The parlor's Collector is still in need of repair."

Mice had chewed through some wires. Or perhaps it was the cat who was brought in to control the mice. Or, possibly, Shirkster Jim had stolen some of the rarer components when he disappeared, and Sebastian destroyed the wires himself to buy time until he could get them replaced. Opinions differed among some of the help, who Ada overheard discussing it, out of earshot of her father, but they told him it was mice. "Quite right, quite right. You must take care of that soon. The music room, then?"

"Very good, sir." Sebastian departed towards the vestibule, and Ada's father started towards the music room, with barely a look over his shoulder to see if she followed.

Ada liked the music room, the green and gold wallpaper had a delightful intricate pattern that she sometimes liked to follow with her fingers, and then there was the piano in the corner. She rarely got to touch that, not without someone quickly shooing her away, but sometimes when Father and Sebastian were out, one of the maids would let her play with the keys. She enjoyed those opportunities, despite the fact that she knew she was awful. If she wasn't awful, Father wouldn't have cancelled the lessons. But then, it was clear to her she was useless at almost everything considered proper skills for women. At least Father thought he could make an assistant out of her, eventually... more, even, he said he intended her to take over the workshop entirely and run it herself, even if it wasn't considered an appropriate vocation for a woman and, some of his servants warned, might leave her a spinster. She didn't care... anyone who might one day consider marrying her couldn't be very concerned with propriety. One person in particular even liked her inclination towards the sciences.

Father did sit at the piano, contriving the impression that he had simply been playing, or about to play. Ada wondered if he realized that their guests could hear the lack of music, but she didn't speak. Father didn't like his own mistakes, if that was what they were, pointed out. Instead, Ada simply took a seat on a thick padded chair near one of the windows, and waited.

Minutes later, Sebastian returned, hand already raised to introduce those following close behind. "Ma'am, young miss, may I introduce Mister Erasmus Weston. Sir, this is Ms. Hannah Bauer, and her daughter Mara." They still wore thick coats, and gloves, as though they had been escorted directly from outside, but the vestibule was terribly drafty, and it had been a very cold evening. The woman was fairly plain, with a plump face with dark hair, pulled back into a simple bun, respectable but not impressive. Mara stood out much more, with golden blonde hair, flowing down past her shoulders, and styled into ringlets, and piercing blue eyes. Her face was pale, save for a blush, and blemish-free, eyebrows thin and perfect, and while her mother's lips were pink and unadorned, the child's had a subtle red color, the lower lip slightly darker than the top.

Ada comforted herself with that realization that Mara was wearing makeup, as girls often were when they were brought to her father, to make a greater impression and evoke the look of a whore, assumed to be in demand in this field, and mandatory in some shops. Once Mara learned that wasn't done in Father's workshop, she'd show her real self which, the young girl told herself, almost certainly wasn't that pretty. Still, Ada envied her nonetheless.

Father had stood as their guests arrived, just slow enough for them to see that he'd done so, and he gave a slight bow to Ms. Bauer, before looking Mara over. "I understand you wish your daughter to join my operation."

"I am exploring her options," Ms. Bauer said. She spoke the Queen's tongue very well, but her voice had an accent, a harshness to it. A war bride, perhaps. "However your... operation, as you say, was recommended. It was said that my daughter's talents might be most appreciated here."

"They will indeed, if what I've heard of her is true." He bent down on one knee to look the girl over more closely. Ada observed her father's frown that she thought must have been due to the makeup, but the girl gave no sign of being bothered, as some children might be, at the slightest frown from an authority figure when their future was at stake. That made Ada like her a little more. "Where was it she last worked?"

Father knew this. Even Ada knew this. It was in the letter. Ms. Bauer answered anyway. "Coolgan's Textiles, she was a part-time dynamo. She provided most of the power in one shop."

"Impressive. And how did they discover she was also had the talents of a computer?"

"The looms. They would collect in the mornings, you see, before the looms were up, and run on batteries. The foreman's son came in later in the day if more power was needed, or sometimes other girls were brought in. None of them were as powerful as Mara, of course, but it was not necessary, they were needed only to complete a day's work. One day, the foreman's son got sick, so Mara came twice. The second time, the looms were already on while she was being collected. An unexpected pattern expressed in the fabric."

"What was it?"

"A stimulating rocking horse Mara had seen at market the prior day. You can imagine how I felt when I discovered she was a reckoner."

Father was well aware that many parents only saw the potential for for their own profit when their children showed unusual erotic power, but encouraging that attitude only lowered his own profits in the end. He hmmed, looking Mara in the eyes as though trying to find some fault in her he could bring up, then glanced back to the older woman. "Is she a virgin?"

Ms. Bauer clicked her tongue at the vulgar expression... many preferred to delicately and obliquely discuss the status of her maidenhead, but Father liked to get right to the point. "Must you ask? I assure you, she is a professional."

"With all due respect, ma'am, one never knows, especially with the... smaller scale operators. Coolgan's a Catholic, I believe, and the Holy See only endorses frottage. Some facilities... some whole countries, even, still follow their lead."

"But Coolgan clearly doesn't follow their lead, for Mara is a girl."

Father shook his head, but smiled. Not only did that misapprehension suggest the answer he was looking for, he loved being able to tell someone they were misinformed. "Using only boys in the Vatican is a practical decision, not canon law, they believe it removes temptation from their clergy. Virginity is still important to many people, and I must inform you that we use boys and girls, and our stokers do penetrate, so if I merely asked because if the hymen was important to you..."

"It's not."

"Good. Wanting to keep her maidenhead would be a disqualifier here, no matter how talented she is. I suspect all countries will eventually follow our model, and those who cling to backward superstitions will change or die as they fall more and more behind."

"A grim outlook, doctor, and perhaps impolitick to say in polite company... but I can't say I disagree. The wheels of progress grind us all into shape, as my mother used to say. I only hope God will forgive us."

"I don't believe he cares. I'm a Deist, miss.. the only rational religion for a scientist." Ada winced privately. Father's outspoken beliefs have offended more than a few people over the years, although most people willing to consider letting him hire their kids could not have been devout Churchgoers anyway, except to those which had followed the Church of England's lead in their recent declaration of "The Doctrine of the Inviolability of Innocence." Although their position had changed several times since the discovery of the first dynamos, currently they held that children were by nature innocent and could not be made not-innocent, even if they engaged in acts that resembled fornication, nor would said acts be major sins if done for a greater purpose. "God may have built the universe, but clearly does not interfere very much. We must divine the motives through how He built it... and I find it hard to believe in a Creator who would make children such reservoirs for power and yet not intend us to make use of it."

"Some would say that it is Satan's doing, a temptation to lead the world astray."

Father half-closed his eyes to keep from rolling them. "Some may believe whatever fool thing they wish, but I personally have no room for superstition. Now, may I examine her?"

"You may."

Neither Ada nor Mara had spoken, although they had locked eyes several times as each evaluated the other, at least as much as one could before exchanging words, and it would have been impolite to do so now. Both were well-aware that most people followed the adage that children are best seen and not heard, at least, not unless they were being collected. Father was more permissive than most, but introductions were important. For all his brusqueness, Ada knew that he wanted this girl. Erasmus Weston and his shop had one of the finest reputations in the business, but few knew that only recently had they truly become profitable again, after paying back some debts that had threatened to close the facility's doors. Those days were behind them now, thanks to the Royal commission and Father's invention, but a reckoner would be invaluable in research, and add significantly to their prestige. Yet he was acting like it was of little concern whether she signed on with him or not. "I certainly hope she's not modest," he said. "Not a good quality, particularly for a reckoner."

"Mara, take off your coat, please."

She began unbuttoning it with an untroubled calm, a half-smile that showed no trace of nervousness. Ada looked up with renewed interest. Perhaps it wasn't merely the chill in the night that inspired the heavy coat. A job at Weston Manor was known to be both lucrative and prestigious, especially after the Royal commission, and some girls were coached to make an impression in the hopes of being selected. Ada had seen girls pull off a common coat to reveal a completely naked body, or sometimes dressed in the Parisian style, silk drawers so tiny that they only covered the sex, with a tiny corset. It had been her experience that the girls who tried so hard were really not as good as their reputations seemed.

To her disappointment, underneath Mara's coat was a fairly conventional outfit for a girl her age. A dark blue short-sleeve dress, cut to just above the knee, with black socks going down from the hem of her skirt to her small black shoes. Her rear was puffed out subtly. Once she had handed her mother her coat, she stepped forward and moved into a curtsey, but then pulled her skirt up over her hips. The socks connected by straps to a garter belt, which on the rear held a bustle made out of elegant coils of folded fabric to make her rump look bigger under a dress. Without the dress in the way, the garment resembled something like a tail.

Beneath the bustle was a set of white drawers, a slit open at the front, so that with the curtsey, her sex was displayed. Father leaned in close, then boldly spread her lips open with a thumb and index finger, peering inside, checking, Ada knew, not so much for a hymen, but for any sores or other signs of disease. He nodded, so he didn't find anything untoward, and he didn't comment on the presence of a hymen, so she was no virgin. Of course, Ada had only seen him find one in all the time she'd watched... he'd called Ada close so she could identify what one looked like, which terribly shamed the girl who never recovered her poise. But what did she expect, that it wouldn't be found out? Plenty of girls broke it themselves before seeing Father, to pretend at more experience than they had, and sometimes still bled at inspection, but at least that showed willingness and industry.

Another common attempt at fraud happened with girls who had started growing hair, but were shaved, and that was why, when he let the slit closed, her father next stroked her outer pudenda for the natural soft down that covered even child genitals. A girl who was hiding puberty wouldn't last long enough to be worth the expense, at least not for Father, although she could still be employed in smaller shops throughout her teen years. Of course, if Mara really was a reckoner, it might be worth hiring her on regardless. He'd wanted one for as long as Ada could remember.

Ms. Bauer asked, "She pleases you?"

"I'd rather not say anything until she's been properly tested. How old is she?"


He hmmed, even though Ada knew he already knew this, it was in the letter, and Father rarely forgot. "A little older than I like to start out with girls, but if she really is a reckoner, I'd be willing to make an exception. Young lady, why don't you have a seat on the collector over there." With a wave of his hand, he indicated the older model Humbert Collector chair by the wall. It looked like an ordinary, though small, arm chair, in the style Queen Victoria allegedly enjoyed, but made out of metal. The newer models in the workshop were slightly more comfortable, with a web of metal thread weaved through a cushion, but not this one, which had been here since the days of Ada's great uncle. Above it was the milky white sphere, looking like a perfectly round ball of alabaster, that typified an empty Humbert Battery.

Mara began pulling up on her dress once again, and Father raised a finger. "No, keep the clothes on."

She finally spoke, a soft but strong voice, almost like a prepubescent boy. "But..."

She spoke, so Ada felt free to as well. "It's just to get a rough estimate," she said.

"Yes," Father said, seemingly approving of her interruption, which made her relax. "I don't want to have to replace the chair if you're stronger than this old Collector can handle." Father smiled, and so did Ada, and she wondered if he, too, was thinking of Kaitlyn Powell's testing. Her older siblings were all packed full of power, but she blew them all away... and very nearly, the Collector itself. The globe didn't shatter, but some of the tubes blew. And their eardrums nearly as well, with Kaitlyn's cries in the moment of release. Her father preferred the scientific terms, paroxysm, or orgasm, but Ada always liked the sound of 'release,' for it not only felt like a release of intolerable tension, but also, in the case of a young child, accurately reflected the release, into the environment, of the excess energy with which they had been blessed.

"May I ask..." Ms. Bauer began, as Mara hopped on the metal seat. Father was tying two cloths over the handrest. With no direct contact to the metal, they could get an idea of her strength without any risk, if she had much strength at all. Mara'd probably produce more with that thin insulation than Ada would, were she naked and clutching the handrails. For that matter, she'd probably produce more energy if she came in Ada's position across the room and not touching the collector at all and relying on the paltry fraction received by air conduction. Ms. Bauer waited until he was done tying the padding, and looked back at her, before she began again. "May I ask what conditions are to be expected?"

"She's never worked full-time before?" Ms. Bauer shook her head. "And yourself, when you were young?"

"I never worked. I was tested, once, at my orphanage, but... she must have gotten her talents from her father."

"And where is he?"

"He was a soldier," she said, thrusting a chin out in such a way that left no doubt to anyone that he had been reported dead.

"My condolences," Father said, obviously somewhat embarrassed about dealing with a more emotional topic. So he changed the topic. "It may be that her father was responsible for her being a dynamo, while you are responsible for your daughter's abilities as a computer. When you were young we were only beginning to understand how to tap into those... we're still only beginning to understand, for that matter. That is part of the purpose of my facility, to push the boundaries of understanding. As such, we push our kids a little harder... but the object is always their pleasure. At the end of the day, they may be exhausted, but happy, and safer than any other job they can find in a mine or a factory."

"Yes, yes," she said. "I'm not opposed to full-time work. I understand she would live here?"

"Not in the mansion," he clarified. "But there are dorms, yes. Clean, comfortable, and heated with Humbert power, I assure you. These girls are a significant investment, and we take protecting them very seriously, and educating them for their life after their candle wanes. Your daughter will have one day a week off which she may use to visit family, as well as birthdays and certain holy days as decreed by the Queen, with bonuses paid if circumstances prevent that. I understand that some mothers find it difficult to go without seeing their children for long periods..."

She shook her head. "No, no, it's not that. There is only a short period where she is valuable, and I intend to take advantage of that. In fact, I think it is only fair to tell you that we've also had a lot of interest from her being a train girl."

Ada felt a pang of jealousy at that. She sometimes wished that she could be a train girl, her pleasures providing the power that moved such a great machine, and let her see the world, meet all sorts of interesting people. Actually, her real dream was an airship, but if her fondest wish was granted and she were suddenly a dynamo, she could never be confident that the gift wouldn't disappear as quickly as it came, and send them plummeting to their demise. It would be just my luck, she thought. At least trains simply stop.

"I assure you, ma'am," her father said of this suggestion. "You would be making a mistake, particularly if Mara is everything you say she is. If not, by all means, send her to the railyards, though that can be a lonely life. But we... we are the vanguard of the Empire, of science itself. The front lines may be far away, and the cannons there quiet now, but mark my words, there will be another, larger war against the Tsar's forces and it will be won with the science we discover here."

"Oh, please, Mama," Mara said. "Let me work here. For Papa."

Ms. Bauer shot her a look, like she was angry at her for speaking out in public, but it quickly passed. "I still have concerns."

Sebastian entered at that moment, wheeling a tray with a sterling tea service on it. Around one of the heightened corner posts hung a large, knobbed metal ring with a clear gemstone in the center, one of the new crowns Father had constructed from his royal commission. He passed it to Father and then turned to Ms. Bauer. "Tea, Ma'am?"

"Yes, with milk and two lumps." Father had his with just a single lump of sugar, and while he fitted the crown to Mara's head, Sebastian took both of their coats. Once everyone was properly served, he vanished from sight.

It was then Ms. Bauer brought up what was on her mind. "It's just... I've heard you use some unusual methods to... alter the natural course of the human body."

"Indeed I do. It's the very reason you've heard of me, the reason I can pay better than anyone else when I want someone. When I inherited this place from my uncle, it was just three girls. I had to study, and with a lot of hard work, and a little inspiration, I made breakthroughs. Now, others make breakthroughs thanks to me and my computers."

She took a sip of her tea. "So it is true, then... you use some kind of... chemical."

"Most of the larger operations use chemicals, various formulations of hotdrops are common practice, to keep the girls aroused and ready to go. But yes... what you've heard is true... I've also found a way to extend the state of bliss at the moment of collection." He turned to Mara, still in the Collector chair, with the crown fitted to her head and wires trailing off it. "Staying in that moment, not just for seconds, but for minutes at a time, maybe hours." She grinned, showing teeth, clearly liking that idea. "That, good lady," Father continued, once again directing his comments to Ms. Bauer, "is what will change the world. Not just spontaneous insights, but veritable oracles spurring top scientists to greater and greater discoveries. That popinjay Stephenson calls this the Diamond Age..." He tapped the gem in the middle of the tiara, then continued, "...but thanks to my breakthroughs, we will be calling it the Age of Inspiration."

"Please, Mama, I want to try it."

"Very well. If Mister Weston assures me it is safe."

"It is, but let us not get ahead of ourselves. The chemical is expensive, and it's only useful on computers." The truth was slightly more complicated, Ada knew... it did indeed work on dynamos, but it didn't increase the amount of power generated from each orgasm. Instead, it stretched out the collection, reducing the risk of burnouts. But that was hardly worth the expense and lost productivity except with the most powerful, and often simply connecting two Humbert Collectors in parallel was a better option. "If I take her into my employ, we may use it on her. I'd like to test your daughter's potential now so I can make that decision."

"By all means."

"If you'd like, I can have Sebastian take you to get something from the kitchen..."

"I would prefer to watch."

Father's eyes lit up at this, though he tried to hide it. Many mothers did not like to watch... many even liked to pretend they didn't know what was happening. That Ms. Bauer did want to watch could mean several things, and most of them were good. Only overprotectiveness could be a flaw.

Instead of going to work on Mara, he grabbed his teacup and saucer and took a seat at the piano. "Ada, if you will."

Ada's heart started fluttering as she got to her feet. She was always nervous meeting somebody and this was perhaps one of the most awkward ways that could happen. But Father expected it of her, and so she walked primly to the front of the collector and began pulling up the young girl's dress again.

Ms. Bauer watched for a few seconds beyond where what was about to happen should have been obvious before speaking up, "Shouldn't you..."

"Yes?" Father asked, after taking a sip of tea.

"I just assumed that you would test her yourself."

"I'd rather observe. Frankly, these comparatively tedious tasks bore me. I assure you, my daughter Ada is quite capable at the required stimulation." Ms. Bauer shuffled in her couch, and looked as though she was deciding whether to swallow something unpleasant. "If it makes you uncomfortable to watch what admittedly looks remarkably similar to a Sapphic act, I can have Sebastian come in and use his fingers, but if your daughter works here she will be stimulated by, and stimulate, any man, woman, or object that I think is appropriate. Those are my rules. These children are working for Queen and Country, and all of them are willing to give their utmost to that end, I don't see how I can ask any less of Mara than I do my own daughter. If that is objectionable to your moral sensibilities, then I suppose there is always the railyard. At least there you can be usually be assured of a male stoker." His tone was casually acidic, leaving no doubt that he would think less of her if she had a problem with it, but not quite so hostile that he couldn't back away, smooth some feathers and make some promises, if she balked and he decided he needed to keep Mara at any costs.

Ms. Bauer shook her head and relaxed. "No, it was merely a surprise."

Ada glanced to her father for the nod of permission, then finished pulling Mara's dress up, pushed the hole in her undergarments flush so that the entire mound was exposed, then ran her gloved finger up and down the edges of the labia, slowly picking up speed. The girl responded well, spreading her legs, and her mound blushed. With girls on the floor, Ada would have longed to leaned forward and used her lips and tongue... she never would, since Father would disapprove, but she would desire it. In this case, there was no urge, for she didn't know Mara well enough yet. Besides, the new girl didn't look like she had a disease, but until the doctor checked her out, Ada would rather not even touch her without gloves. Young boys and girls who could heal sickness when they released were even more rare and expensive than reckoners themselves.

Even without taking a hotdrop, Mara began to get wet after about a minute of stimulation, and her breathing changed. If she worked for a textile factory, she'd probably learned how to bring on her paroxysm quickly, even though a long period of arousal meant more power was built up, time was money. She might need to be retrained, if Father wanted to use her to fill large batteries, but for now it was a good thing, because Ada could make her release before her fingers got sore.

While Ada played with Mara, Father played with the piano, tapping out a light tune that seemed to intensify along with Mara's excitement. Ada looked into her face, looking for the way her pupils changed, one signal she had learned that she was getting close... Mara, however, was not looking at her at all, instead, her eyes were focused on Father. Very well, then, she thought. I guess I wouldn't want to look at me either.

She inserted then, two gloved fingers, prying the hole open, although not much force was needed to do so. Clearly somebody had stretched her out, perhaps Coolgan himself, or maybe stoking her was used as a reward for productive employees. She'd heard that happened sometimes, with factories often employing big burly men of mixed racial stock who were not professional stokers, but merely liked to have the use of a small girl. Mara squeezed down on the penetration, so Ada let her fingers be captured, and curled the rest of her hand back so the palm rested at the top of the slit. She began providing gentle pressure while her fingers worked in and out.

"Now, listen to this," Father said, when it was clear the young girl was getting close. His fingers danced quickly up along the scale. "Each of these notes represents a number, from one..." He tapped the leftmost key. "...To fifty two." He tapped the rightmost key. "I am going to play you three notes, and you will tell me what number the three notes add up to."

It was hard to believe the girl was even listening, or at least listening closely. From Ada's experience, when she got too into self-pleasure, it was hard to keep anything in mind but the sensations. The task itself would be difficult even at the best of times for a normal person, but it was just a minor example of the types of feats computers were capable of... when the moment came.

He played three notes over and over again, and Ada tried the problem in her own head, just to see if she could compete, but it was too hard to tell exactly which number each note stood for, without looking. So she returned to pressing on Mara's sex, playing her much like a different instrument, and when the inner walls of her tunnel began clenching rhythmically, like she couldn't control it, and the Collector began to crackle with the first trickles of energy, she moved her palm aside to make room for her silk-covered thumb, which she flicked against the nub. Mara let loose a tiny, restrained cry, one of long duration but low volume, and the Collector began to pulse with energy, and the diamond on her crown began to glow. So she was a computer as well after all.

As Mara luxuriated in the pleasure, she proved it vocally too, as her cry broke off suddenly, and she breathlessly called out, "Threescore and Eleven, Threescore and Eleven, Threescore and Eleven." Ada looked over to her father, who nodded and smiled and tugged at the side of his thin mustache. The answer was correct, and there was enough left over to put the diamond into a properly structured Babbage Engine and get even more numerical insights.

Ada always wondered what that was like, to have the answer to a question posed to her (sometimes a question that was not even spoken aloud) just flash into your mind like a divine inspiration... and some thought that was what it was, that in reaching orgasm the mind attains heaven itself, and gets the answers directly from God. Of course Father maintained it was purely scientific, that the human mind had untold abilities, that it was the same force that allowed a child to learn to speak and read, only more powerful and in excess, just like dynamos were just blessed with a surplus of the same energy that fuels the growth of the body. And this girl, Mara, was a reckoner, blessed with both gifts. The stone in the Humbert Collector glowed brightly, and dials registered an impressive amount of power, more than hundreds of pounds of burning coal could produce in the old days. Not the most powerful dynamo they had, but still very impressive on that level alone.

Father was definitely going to want her. She could see it in his eyes. When he caught her looking, he smiled and said, "Sebastian, why don't you take the children here into the pantry to enjoy a square of fudge? Ms. Bauer and I have particulars to discuss."

"Very good, sir."

Mara hopped off the chair, and the two children followed Sebastian out of the room, a few steps behind. Of course, Ada could have raced ahead, she knew exactly where the fudge was packed away, but she knew it would be more polite to stay with their guest, and follow slowly.

In the hallway, Mara, in a low voice, said, "Thank you, you are good with your fingers."

Ada felt a flush come to her cheeks. Maybe she and Mara would be friends. "Thank you."

"So, you are a dynamo, then?" Mara asked.

Ada looked away. It was always hard to look somebody in the eye when they realized they were superior one. "No, I'm not a dynamo." No more than the average girl tested out as, which wasn't very much at all. Enough to spark an electric bulb for a few seconds at the moment of release. Not even worth the effort of giving her the pleasure.

Mara brightened. "Ah, so you are a computer then? I crave someone to talk to about it. Have you tried this chemical your father invented? I am very curious about it."

"No," she repeated again, her eyes on the intricate burgundy carpet in the hall. "No, I am not a computer either." Any insights she had in the sciences came through hard work and study, not sexual excitement, and her revelations weren't all that miraculous. "I'm... I'm nothing."

"Oh. I see." When Ada finally had the nerve to glance back, a few seconds later, she saw Mara staring straight at Sebastian's back, following him, as though Ada herself had been declared unworthy of attention, and Ada decided that friendship between them was perhaps too much to hope.


The fudge was a delicious treat, even if Ada and Mara enjoyed it in awkward silence rather than friendly conversation, but it wasn't long before Father called for them. The deal had been struck, although with a small catch. Ms. Bauer wanted to tour the facility to make sure her daughter would be treated well. Were Mara not a reckoner, the offer might well have been refused, but she had convinced Father, and the four of them walked to the door to the workshop tunnel. Sebastian had already taken the coats away, for Father had warned them that it got quite warm inside. Underneath, the Bauer widow wore a plain white blouse, much like a school marm, and a lavender dress, and like her daughter, a small bustle was in evidence. But Ada knew that even without the long coats, they were likely to be too warm once they arrived. She usually was, after all, but Father made allowances for her most of the time and permitted dresses without sleeves... allowances that weren't to be permitted when they had guests.

At the door, Father made one last chance to dissuade Ms. Bauer. "I do wish you would reconsider... I have nothing to hide, of course... I would be happy to entertain a male proxy, but those of more delicate constitutions often find the scenes... vulgar, overwhelming."

"Are you saying there are no female visitors, aside from the girls who work for you?" She emphasized the no, and raised an eyebrow, subtly indicating that this, itself, was a worrying sign.

"No, of course not. There may even be a few there now. But those who visit must be prepared for a certain degree of informality, for sights that, in many corners of polite company, are still considered debased and debauched. You may have seen your daughter being stoked, but a large collection agency in operation is of a different scale. Many people find it resembles some kind of libertine bordello, lacking in any restraint, but I assure you, that is an illusion. Our overseers maintain strict standards of decorum. While we must be hedonistic, of course, none of the girls are truly being harmed, and most in fact are sad when they age out of the business." Even so, Ada had seen at least one mother suddenly withdraw her child upon seeing what her work environment was like. Father said the child would probably be working in a match factory, and that she'd have had a better life with him than she was likely to find there. "But the sight itself can be extremely shocking to someone as obviously refined as yourself."

"I am not easily shocked, you'll find," Ms. Bauer insisted.

Father gave one last weak smile, a smile of resignation, showing that he still had his doubts but was willing to let her prove herself, and opened the door.

There was nothing to see. Not right away, at least. The door lead down a set of stairs, where a tunnel lit by small, flickering electric lights took them to the actual workhouse. It was Ada's great uncle who had set it up this way... not the electric lights, perhaps, they were newer, but the passage itself. Although she herself had never met the man, Father told her that he felt there should be a strict division between the home and the work. Father didn't always agree, he regularly took work home with him, and he was responsible for the Humbert Collectors throughout the house, in case he wanted to test a theory in relative isolation... but he never sought to change the policy of dividing the workshop from the mansion.

The tunnel wasn't a long one, but even so, Ms. Bauer and Mara looked as though they were about to complain that it really was chilly. Before they could, they reached the door on the other side. With a large metal key, Father turned the lock, then pulled the door open.

That was when there was a gust of warm, humid air, heady with earthy scents, sweat, musky, a little bit acrid. Most people wrinkled their nose a little. Mara, she didn't seem to have much of a reaction, but Ms. Bauer put a lace kerchief to her nose. Even Father twitched a little, as though the smell was an objectionable but expected part of the job that he would soon get used to and not even notice.

For Ada, that first whiff brought on a warm pleasant feeling in her heart, a burst of both excitement and belonging. The smell may be objectionable, but to her, it smelled more like home than anywhere in the mansion did, save perhaps a particular cloak room she'd come to love.

The sounds were likewise comforting, familiar touchstones. The crackle of the Humbert Collectors, the squeaky chug of mechanical parts in motion, the spray of water cleaning someone or something, and of course the animal grunts, the breathless gasps, sometimes an outright cry of a child experiencing sexual bliss. All of this, Ada enjoyed, envied. Far better this bustle than the oppressive quiet of her actual home.

The group proceeded onto the floor, a large open area where they could see girls and boys in various stages of collection, alone or with adults. There were about thirty seats visible, but not all of them were occupied. Perhaps twenty at once, although many of those had two or more people on them at the same time, one, usually a girl, in the seat itself, while a boy or man with his body joined to hers. Both were naked in such cases and often glistening with sweat as their bodies pushed against each other like animals in heat. A few girls on the edges sat in collectors with electric vibrators attached, a clunky round scepter that provided physical stimulation while the girls seated within watched others, or entertained themselves in other ways. Two dark-haired girls, ten- and eleven-year-old Tess and Elizabeth, sat primly with books in their hands--Tess had The Illustrated Lusty Turk and the Lizzie was enjoying Red Riding Hood and the Huntsman's Dogs--while the round ball shook furiously against their quims. Another girl, red-haired nine-year-old Annie, watched her sister Charlotte, elder by three years and equally redheaded (from a family with a long history of redheaded dynamos, stretching back to the time when redheads were believed to be superior by nature), was penetrated by an overseer who had a cloth lash that he would use to whip her on every outstroke.

Although this looked bad, this was indeed what Charlotte liked, and the ecstatic look on her face showed that she was near her own paroxysm. Her little sister Annie claimed not to like pain, she certainly liked watching it, and with every strike of her sister's red mound, she would tighten her legs around the vibrating sphere so much that the baby fat on her thighs visibly jiggled. Such direct stimulation Ada well knew could also cause as much pain as pleasure, but Annie seemed to enjoy it.

This was the key, of course. The individual tastes of the girls and boys providing power was catered to whenever possible, for although the working state could be forced on an unwilling child, it wasn't as efficient, and efficiency, Father had always claimed, was paramount. So, depending on who was on duty at any time a guest might see different things. Charlotte was being stoked, so the Bauer widow got to witness light flagellation. If Diana were working, she might get to see a girl tied to the Collector so tightly that she couldn't move as her stoker ravished her, or one of the girls getting her to her release. Of course, there was also a good deal of conventional sex for her to see. At this moment, three prepubescent children, two boys and a girl, made one marvelous beast, one boy in her wet quim, one up her rear as they grinded together, all three worked up on hotdrops and being collected at once beneath an industrial-sized sphere. Then again, even that might have looked like pain and abuse to a visiting lady who had never tried it.

But for all that it could have seemed like one of those cruel factories that stories were told about, like in the Americas were Ada had heard slave children sometimes spent their whole lives in a collector chair, there were moments that even a visitor could see the children still being like children. Just now, a completely naked eight-year-old weaved through the chairs, giggling, taking a childish glee in keeping either a piece of equipment or one of the other overseers in between her and... why, it was Charlie. He wasn't supposed to be on right now... he must have traded shifts with someone. Ada fought back a smile, but it broke through despite herself as the fifteen year old, an adorable look of consternation on his face beneath his sweaty mop of dark hair, tried to chase the little minx down. His body glistened with newly developed muscles and even a little chest hair. "Quit playing around, Pip," he whined, which only made the girl giggle. "Do you want your hotdrops or not?"

"Charles," Father said, crisply, professionally, which made Ada's smile vanish. Immediately, Charlie stopped his chase and stood up straight in front of Father. His eyes slid briefly, warmly, to Ada, but then back on his employer. "Is this girl giving you trouble?"

"No, no sir," he said, almost seeming frightened in his eagerness to please. "Maybe a little, sir. I think she's fixing for a spanking, she is." He looked back to Pip, who stuck her tongue out at him, then smiled.

"I expect you to be able to handle these girls, Charles." Charles' face froze, but his eyes began to dart back in forth, as though he was looking for somewhere to hide from the sudden lecture. Even Pip herself looked sorry, the smile dying as soon as she realized she may have gotten Charlie in trouble... but then everybody liked him. "There are plenty of people who want to be stokers," Father continued. "It's a job, not a game."

"Y-yes, sir." Charlie stammered when he got really nervous. "I, I..."

He was saved by the high-pitched question from Ms. Bauer, who had all but ignored the interruption and continued touring the facility on her own. "I, say, Mister Weston," she asked. "Is this girl with child?"

Father's attention was instantly diverted, towards Rosamund. At fourteen, she was the oldest girl still being collected under Father's care, and although she was small for her age, her belly stuck out like she'd just swallowed a Christmas goose whole. She lounged back in her Humbert seat as Hugo, the former groundskeeper with a member the size of a horse, stretched the birth canal in preparation for her labors of the next season, and, in the process, made her moan and generate a surprising amount of energy for one of her advanced age. "Obviously, Ms. Bauer, it extends..."

"I know what it does, but I was under the impression you didn't go in for such abusive methods to keep your workforce."

He strode over to her to defend his good name. "It's hardly abusive, ma'am. It's all done with their consent, and they are well-compensated, above and beyond the extra time they can work. Sometimes, a particularly good match can be made, and..."

Ada didn't hear the rest of Father's speech, for she turned her attention back to Charlie, who was looking her in the eyes with an intensity that made her blush. "Miss Weston," he said, with a lift of his eyebrows.

If Ms. Bauer had been properly introduced to Charlie, she'd have had no doubts about this place, Ada thought. He was the secret... not just him, no, although he was her favorite part. But what he represented. He was a stoker, an overseer in training, and, like virtually all of them, rode the Collectors himself once. In his day, he was a dynamo, but after puberty his power waned like happened almost universally. Now, he was barely measurable when alone or with an adult, although with a younger girl their combined efforts still produced significantly more than the girl alone. That so many former dynamos and computers wanted to stay on after their time was up was the best endorsement Ada could think of for Father's methods.

"Come on, Charlie." Pip tugged at his hand in the direction of the nearest collector. "You can come lick me good and proper now." She also gave a gap-toothed smile to Ada, and Mara, who continued to stand beside her, but didn't say hello, as though fearing that she might get him in even more trouble if they delayed for as long as it would take to make the proper introductions.

Charlie, as he was being pulled, let his gaze linger on Ada, as though asking permission, and she gave a half nod and smile. He quietly mouthed the word, "Tomorrow?" and Ada's smile widened, and agreed wordlessly, her heart beating fast. She watched him long after he turned and help get Pip into her seat in the Humbert Collector.

"Tomorrow?" Mara asked, after they were out of earshot. "What is tomorrow?"

Ada spoke quickly, too quickly. "Nothing. It's just when we'll likely see each other. Come on, let's catch up with your mother."

Mara looked around, and then started towards Ms. Bauer, who was watching as Rosamund, having been spent, had her nether regions hosed down quickly with a high pressure spray of water, not to discourage pregnancy in her case, obviously, but simply for the sake of cleanliness. "See?" Father said, having made some point that Ada missed. "It's for the girl's own good, really. Most girls here would love to bear me a child." Ada knew he didn't mean that literally... he had bred her not with himself, but with one of their male computers, in the hopes of generating his own reckoner down the line. Ada was the result of one of the few times he had deliberately impregnated one of his girls with his own seed, and that experiment was obviously disappointing. Although, Ada suspected, sooner or later he would, whether by choice or providence, give a child to the blind one. "Few are offered the chance." Father's breeding program was a project he indulged sporadically, when he felt two people had potential, and right now Rosamund was the only one currently in the family way at this particular workshop. Probably not for long, though... he had offered two of the older Powell children a tidy sum if they conceived together, believing a child resulting from that inbreeding of such powerful talents might break production records, and they were no doubt working on that at that very minute, on one of Father's crown-granted properties in the country. Ada hoped it worked soon, then Julia could come back to work for a while and Kaitlyn would cheer up.

The tour moved on, and they passed the alcoved side room where boys and girls took lessons in front of a teacher, sitting on benches that resembled church pews with desks. Here, everyone was dressed in what would be shockingly underdressed in an ordinary schoolroom, but at the same time more dressed than you were likely to see them during their work day. Both boys and girls went shirtless, and girls wore kilts and boys the same type of easy-to-pull-down trousers that Charlie wore.

The exception, of course, was the teacher, who was dressed almost as prim by comparison, a white high collared blouse and a long black skirt. In concession to the heat, her sleeves were undone, but otherwise she could have fit in with an ordinary school. This wasn't modesty on her part, for she too was a former computer, but it helped engender a sense of distance and respect, for she was their teacher, not her peer or one of their stokers. She was there to give them an education so they would not be too far behind when they stopped working. She looked up briefly as the group looked in, but didn't let it interrupt her from explaining some of the finer principles of mathematics.


Ms. Bauer watched for a few moments, long enough for one girl, who had been rocking in her seat, to raise her hand, not to ask a question, but to say, "Ma'am, may I go be collected?" The teacher nodded and waved her off, and the girl stood up, pulled her skirt off and left it in her seat and then weaved her way through the boys and girls until she got to the edge. Along the way, a few boys reached out and tried to stick a hand between her legs, get a grope or wet finger, not just a fun game but also to see if it might make them ready to be collected and get out of a boring lecture. It was really almost a tradition at this point, even with boys who were worn out, although certainly not a universal one. Nobody had ever tried it with Ada, to her regret, even when she found an excuse to sit in classes. Of course, she remained fully dressed at all times, and wasn't truly one of them, so there was always a distance there, too. They were polite to her, greeted her in passing, but weren't family like they were with each other.

Ms. Bauer moved on, apparently not especially concerned about the school, and soon they came to another room with no wall, but a large curtain separating it from the rest of the floor. From behind, they could hear the faint childish moans and gasps, occasionally a giggle. "Why is this curtained?" she asked. "Do you have something to hide?"

"Only from my own sensibilities, and those of my guests. As a man of science, I have no bias against the so-called 'sin of the Greeks'... after all, many think they their ancient tendency towards man-boy couplings was behind their greatest advances... an early discovery of the secret of computers, only tragically lost." Father had these pet theories that the mysterious powers lying in child sexuality was a secret lost and found many times... he also thought that it was behind the construction of the pyramids, and what fate befell Atlantis. "But as a man of taste, I don't like to have to look upon it except where necessary. So when boys work together, or with a male stoker, I have them behind the drapery. By all means, look, if you think the sight would please you." She did, but only for a few moments. She showed no disgust, or arousal, merely disinterest... that it had nothing to do with what Mara might do and therefore none of her concern.

Next, Father showed them where the computers worked. These areas also had a modicum of privacy, at least more than those powering Humbert Collectors did. Like most of the rooms on the floor, there were no doors and only three walls with, sometimes, curtains to provide an air of privacy. If Ms. Bauer had asked, she would have learned that this was deliberate, to ensure that nobody could, behind a closed door, be free to potentially hurt a child entrusted to Father's care. When someone used a computer, or a dynamo was collected, no privacy was promised... one of the overseers could look in on any moment, if the screams sounded hurt rather than enthusiastic, or if there was a disturbing absence of sound at all.

They passed each room in turn. These rooms were more comfortably decorated, because computers didn't need to be built around a Humbert Collector. So, in most, there were fainting couches, and a few, full beds, although usually with well-tousled sheets and no covers, as they were not intended for sleeping. They also usually contained a desk with paper and a full quill of ink, for permanently recording insights provided, and a slate board, for more temporary notes. And, of course, because many of those who worked with the computers were professors and scientists, they were made comfortable by the mere presence of such tools.

The first room they passed had a dark-haired girl on the couch, legs spread to admit the hand of a pudgy man with white hair, save for long mutton-chops that were inexplicably darker. She wasn't wearing anything, not even the crown that focused and absorbed the inspirational energy, which meant it was either early, or her stoker was interested in secrecy, or both. He wore a formal dark suit, with a necktie, looking very dignified and a little blustery, which was how Ada imagined him at Cambridge where he taught, although now he had a flush and half-leer on his face, like he was enjoying the process of stoking his young computer as much, if not more, as he did the final result. She was still in the early stages, though, and since Ms. Bauer didn't seem to have a question, Father moved them on so as not to distract anyone.

The next room had the curtain half-pulled, but as they moved past they could peer into the room, and inside was one of their male computers, a freckle-faced boy with an upturned nose and brown hair, who sat naked on a full but simple bed, his manhood, or rather boyhood, an erect stick. He did wear a crown. A woman, younger than Ms. Bauer but still too old, twice over, to be a computer or dynamo herself, moved into view. Her hair was up in a conservative bun, but she wore what would, in any other building, be scandalous... an off-white silk teddy that clung alluringly to her skin and would expose her rear should she bend over. "Well, Oliver," she said. "How would you like this?"

"I find your mouth most pleasing, mum," he said.

"We've already done enough of that... we need to do this together, yes?"

"Yes, mum. Then the front, if you please. Can I play with your bosom, though?" The woman sighed, but crossed over and put each of her legs astride where Oliver sat, and began to squat. To watch any more, Ada would have had to stop, though, and since nobody else was, she kept moving.

The next room had the curtain completely closed, and a grunting noise. Ms. Bauer did stop, just for a moment, to peek in, but withdrew immediately.

Following that, there was another room where no privacy was desired. On the fainting couch was a girl, curly, dirty blonde hair, trembling, her quim twitching, opening and closing around a small trickle of white goo. Her stoker, currently all stoked out, sat at the desk without trousers, writing, seemingly oblivious. A few seconds later, without even looking at her, he called out a question in a clear voice. "If the Kingslake Postulate holds, doubling the intensity while keeping all other factors constant, would make the Pellegrino Number into what?" The girl responded, mechanically, "Three point six four times ten to the fourteenth power." Ms. Bauer watched with interest, but it was unlikely because she knew the topic. Ada herself knew the Pellegrino Number had something to do with electromagnetism, but aside from that they could have been discussing anything, this particular man had hired the girl for repeated sessions and taught her his own private terms so as to avoid other people stealing his insights. It must have been the girl's extended release state that held the widow Bauer's interest so.

Father noted that interest. "Of course, the most significant limiting problem with computers is finding the right questions to ask, the questions that let her heightened inspirational state work on the knowledge already inside of her head," he explained in a polite whisper. "But at least now, we have more than a few seconds to ask them!"

"So she is on your invention, then?"

Father puffed with pride. "Indeed. I call it Fermata."

"And how long as she been in this state?"

He looked in. "Hard to say. A minute or two, I expect?" A minor brag, on the drug they rarely achieved the inspirational state for longer than one minute, and the longest was so far four, although Father kept tweaking the formula to try and extend things believing that hours was possible. He tugged at Ms. Bauer's arm, her eyes still looking over the room. "Come, we don't wish to disturb him, the gentleman paid a good sum to make use of the girl's inspiration." The Bauer widow didn't look like she wanted to go, but did not fight, merely hesitated as long as could be done without being considered stubborn and rude.

Ada also noticed Mara lingering, still watching in fascination, but then, that was only to be expected, since this was probably a fate she was in for, lying on a bed, not only enjoying the moment of passion but staying in that blissful state for possibly unimaginable minutes of pure ecstasy, brain and body both working unstoppably, powerfully, like a runaway train while the conductor was indulging in spirits. Well, she'd get to experience it soon enough, unlike Ada, who could only imagine it, so she had no sympathy. "Come, Mara," she whispered.

Mara glared at her, angry at the order, or maybe the familiarity, but she did follow along.

"I must confess to some curiosity," Ms. Bauer said, as they moved into the next room. "This Fermata, the chemical that extends the zakoi..." she coughed, "I mean... the inspirational state. How does it work?"

Father gave a hearty chuckle. "Ma'am, if I went around telling secrets, they'd hardly be worthy of the name! And this is a prized secret. Suffice it to say, it took a lot of experimentation and computer time to develop the Fermata formula, and although small quantities of the compound itself has occasionally been smuggled out by despicable turncoats, I am the only one who has the slightest notion of how to make it." Father exaggerated again, here. Ada knew many, though not all, of the steps, Sebastian knew all the ingredients, and two of his assistants, between them, could probably produce the mix if they were in Father's lab and all the materials were in their proper places, although as they couldn't read the labels they'd be helpless anywhere else. Ada thought she could probably do it if she could bring everyone together and get them to listen to her.

Ms. Bauer opened her eyes wide and batted her lashes at him. "Well, you must tell me something! Is it a powder? A liquid?"

"If you want some for yourself, I assure you, you will be disappointed." Father had a twinkle in his eye. "Unfortunately the paroxysmal extension effects only work on the young. Which I assure you, in many ways is a blessing."

"No, I don't want any... I just like to know how things work," Ms. Bauer continued. "I'm sure you can understand that."

"Oh, indeed, but I also believe in the beauty of frustration, that the withholding of a pleasure can sometimes be more enjoyable than granting it. If I told you everything about this concoction, it would merely be a set of facts, cheap and worthless for how easily they were obtained. Perhaps in the fullness of time you will discover pieces of the answer, and become richer for having waited." That was a flowery, overly polite way for Father to say, "I don't want to tell you, you've been nosy enough, especially for a woman."

"Perhaps," Ms. Bauer allowed, although seemed unconvinced.

"Suffice it to say, Fermata has been well-tested and it is perfectly safe when used in moderation. Of course, there is some risk of exhaustion if used too often, but I assure you, the health of our girls is our highest priority. I dare say you would be better served putting Mara in my hands than any other facility in the world." Ada thought this, although sounding like a brag, was probably true. Maybe a few were better but none Mara was likely to get into, regardless of her talents as a reckoner, and as for ordinary computers and dynamos, no hope... Ada had heard a distant member of the royal family had a facility where he was the sole stoker and the girls were treated like princesses, both during and after service, but he was supposed to have very specific tastes and was almost certainly at his limit.

Ms. Bauer must not have heard the rumor, or she had come to the same conclusion, for she made one last non-committal burst of humming, and then finally said, "Very well, Mister Weston. You have convinced me. I will sign Mara over to your care."

Father clapped his hands gently, and Ada spared a glance at Mara, who seemed satisfied. "Excellent," Father said. "We'll start her off working in the next few days." There were still a few rounds of tests, and checking for sickness and the like before he was willing to put a new girl on the floor. "But in the meantime, Ada, perhaps you can get the young lady settled into one of our dorms. Which do you think?"

Ada straightened a little. She was always proud when he asked her opinion on something, even something like this, where he simply couldn't be bothered to remember the details. "There's a bed free with the Jupiter group. I think she'll fit in there."

"Excellent. Show her to her new friends, while we take care of the paperwork."


Mara didn't seem inclined to speak as they walked the pathway to the girl's dorms, so Ada used the opportunity to explain the rules. "We do most everything in shifts, so power flows through the country at all times. When you're not on the floor or classes, you're free to do mostly what you want, but some girls will be sleeping while you are enjoying your free time, and so quiet hobbies are preferred. The Jupiter group will be with you full time, you will take your meals together, sleep together, and of course work together, but most people make friends outside of their group as well." They reached the fork that divided the path to where the boys were kept from the one that housed the girls. The intersection, the last place you would often see the opposite sex for the rest of the day, was a popular kissing spot during shift change. Since no one was here now, Ada led the way to the girl's dorm, and explained, "No boys are allowed in the dorm without special permission from the headmistress, and you're expected to save your energies for the floor, so no self-pleasuring or Sapphic play is allowed, outside of kissing. There are passive Humbert Collectors everywhere to minimize waste, and once in a while things will go too far in the bath, but you're expected to control yourself and not squander the resources my father's paying you for."

"That will not be a problem," Mara said. "But if you feel a strong erotic urge and know it will wane if not stoked, would that not also be a waste?"

It was a more sophisticated question than Ada expected from a once-a-day dynamo. It was common knowledge that the more aroused you were, the better the collection, but not many realized that passions sometimes burned bright for a limited time but, if not encouraged, ran down to embers that were difficult to stoke again to such heights for days at a time. "If you absolutely feel you must release, you can ask a headmistress to run down to the floor even if it's not your time."

Mara nodded. "And are computers housed separately?"

"No. Jupiter group contains both. It is the day shift so you should have no difficulties adjusting, and..." A small hand touched her sleeve at the elbow, forced her to stop and turn around. They were almost at the top of the stairs that led to the door to the dorm.

"Ada, would you... please be a friend to me?"

Her face, heart flushed with pleasure. Perhaps she was wrong about the girl. "Of course..."

"I wish to know which girls are computers, so I know who to spend time with."

Ada's smile and blush faded, the smile faster, for embarrassment at the mistake lingered in her cheeks. "These girls will be like your sisters. You should spend time with all of them."

"Yes, yes, but..." Mara's eyes cast downwards. "I was a dynamo until recently. I know how to do that... there are tricks, you know, to be better, give more, and I know many... but I fear I have too much to learn about being a computer. I do not want to give a poor reflection... on my mother, so... quickly making friends to teach me... it would help, you understand?"

"You have nothing to worry about." Father believed in a protocol of testing to discover a computer's hidden talents, for even those who didn't qualify as Specials, carrying some unusual rare talent, sometimes were better at logic or math while others might have a knack for chemistry or some other field. It just made sense to, where possible, employ them where they were naturally most skilled and not in need of teaching. "You'll learn what you need to."

"It's just... I've never been good at making friends. If I get off on the wrong foot, I get nervous of making more mistakes, say the wrong things and come off even worse. These girls you say will be like my sisters... have you ever lived with sisters who did not like you?" Ada shook her head, having been an only child, although in another sense, weren't all the girls working like sisters she stood apart from? "If I know about the computers before I meet them, I won't be so nervous."

Was that what had happened here? Ada wondered. If Mara was nervous of her role here, and kept saying the wrong things, giving the wrong signals, perhaps there was hope of a friendship after all... even if only the kind of distant friendships she had with the other girls. After all, it wasn't as though Mara had called Ada nothing... she called herself that, and assumed Mara agreed. And maybe by helping, sharing confidences, she would leave a favorable impression. "Sit beside me," she said, and took her own seat on the step. Mara took a step up so they were on the same level, and followed suit, though she sat on her bustle and so sat taller. "Don't just make friends with the computers, they will think you feel yourself superior to the dynamos. And since you are a reckoner, the computers will then think you feel superior to them too. You understand?" Mara nodded. "I will tell you something of all the girls, so you can best try to find your place among them."

Mara's hand strayed to Ada's skirted knee, an impropriety perhaps, but one that made her happy nonetheless. "Thank you, Ada."

The young girl felt better about her decision immediately. "Diana is... not the leader, exactly, but she acts like it, sometimes bossy but also caring and watching out for the younger girls. She is of Greek descent, a powerful dynamo, and is also a Sapphist by nature." And pretentions to royalty. "Kaitlyn Powell, the youngest, has latched on to her since her siblings Alexander and Julia left. Well, her brother Jackson remains with us, but they bicker and Kaitlyn's been lonely lately and Diana's sort of filled in for her older sister. Kaitlyn's the probably the most powerful dynamo we have... only the blind girl rivals her."

"The blind girl?"

"Yes. She is from some far off land in the Orient, no one's even quite sure of her name, even the Oriental computer we have, says she speaks a different language. You need not worry about making friends with her, she sets herself apart." In truth Ada herself didn't want to know much about her, she experienced what she felt was a natural resentment for the girl, how Father favored her and requested her at nights, and getting to know the blind girl as a person, perhaps even growing to like her, seemed like it would make that feeling worse, not better. Best to think of her like a machine for getting her father relaxed and for producing power... the ground virtually trembled when she released.

Mara nodded. "And this Oriental computer?"

"...speaks very good English, and is quite friendly, though she makes friends more easily with the boys. Jade, they call her." Ada never got particularly close to her either, but that was from circumstance rather than design. There was an unfortunate incident early on where Ada assumed that Jade, like the blind girl, didn't speak English, and Jade never corrected her until she'd thoroughly embarrassed herself.

The truth was, Ada reflected bitterly, she only knew a few things about each girl. There were so many and she'd never be close to all of them. Even the day shift, the ones she knew best, she only remembered a few details. Yet, Ada already promised Mara some aid, so she'd wrack her brain and give what little she had about Jupiter group. "Let's see, then there's Gwendolyn, who is eager to tell of her relation to one of the great poets." A story almost as overblown as Diana's Greek princess fantasies. If there was any truth to it at all, it was a distant relation, but there was no sense telling Mara this, or that her more immediate family worked on the pipes of the city's sewage system... she might say the wrong thing and ruin her chances at a friendship. "Take note, her cousin Benjamin also works here and she makes fun of him a lot, and you can laugh, but don't try to do it yourself or it'll raise her ire on you."

"Dynamo, or computer?"

"Dynamo. Then there's Cynthia and Kit. They're quite a pair. Kit's a former street urchin, came with her brother to get tested to get a regular meal, she turned out to be a computer, though needs training and discipline. Quite a wily girl, too... always climbing things and getting into mischief on her free time. Cynthia, her friend, is a dynamo, she's from one of the former colonies, a respectable family, but she acts like she's from the lower classes too. I think she was raised mostly by her servants... and perhaps that is why she really likes dark-skinned stokers. If you want to stay off her bad side, don't claim any of those before she has."

"That will not be a problem," Mara said emphatically. Ada pursed her lips and thought of saying something, but decided to let it go. Only a few servants from the dark continent of Africa worked on the factory floor, and Mara would hardly be the only one who shied away from them, having been told horrible stories before coming there. There were always enough girls who liked them that there was never a risk of it becoming an 'efficiency problem' as Father would call it, that might lead to some of them being let go. Still, Ada didn't see any sense to that kind of pickiness... if she was a dynamo, she'd happily let any of them stoke her. And plenty of the girls came around, eventually, after seeing how gently they treated whoever they were with despite their large equipment.

"Penelope is the last I can speak of. She is a computer. Books are her passion, she's always got one in her lap, it seems. If you know anything of literature it will be easy to start a conversation with her. Oh, and I know she really likes dogs."

"As stokers?"

Ada's eyes widened. "No, what do you take us for? Parliament does not permit that. They barely allow mixed-race stoking." Though, she knew that might one day change, and it was a change her father quietly advocated for... less to use in his own workshop, for themselves animals could not be collected and machine stimulation was more efficient in cases where a human was not available, but he objected on principle to forbidding something that might, in certain cases, be useful, even just to expand the boundaries of science. She remembered overhearing a discussing between her father and one of his friends about the possibility that stoking computers with animals might lend insights to the animal mind, even if only to the improved training that the Prussians boasted of. They even discussed the potential that it might allow direct communication in the same way thoughts are sometimes transferred between stoker and computer. It was a weird thought, and she tried to picture sweet-faced blonde Penelope bent over with a dog taking her in the usual style and them talking, in a manner of speaking. "Her uncle has a dog, and she loves to go visit." And perhaps she has explored that particular perversion on her free days visiting with him. Free days were free, but one could not help but notice when girls returned from a free day and had no built-up frustration from a day without their accustomed number of orgasms. Penelope was one of those girls, and she'd read practically every erotic book on the entire estate, and several of the fictional stories did stray into areas that were officially not allowed, including bestiality. "You could ask for stories about him, if you want to get her talking to you and you don't know your letters."

Ada worried the other girl might take offense at the suggestion she couldn't read, but if she only recently discovered she was a computer, it was very possible. Mara simply nodded, though, concentrating on memorizing the advice. "So only three computers?"

"Presently, yes, in your group. There is another girl, Alice, who is officially part of your group, but she's on long-term loan to another facility because of her gift with formal logic and her intolerance to my father's formula."

Mara straightened. "Intolerance? To the Fermata?"

"Don't worry," Ada said. "It's very rare. Some girls react badly, suffer vivid visions while on my father's formula. It's not harmful and only lasts a little while. But they can lash out while they think they're the wrong size or fighting giant playing cards or whatever it is they see when they're under there. And more importantly, it renders their data unreliable." And given the way Alice begged to be allowed to try Fermata again, perhaps the computers as well.

"When will I learn if I'm one of these unfortunates?"

"Tomorrow, I'd wager. Best to find out as soon as possible. I'm sure you'll be fine, though."

It seemed as though Mara wasn't worried at all, at least not about that, for after a pensive moment, she said, "I had expected more computers for such a prestigious workshop."

"Computers are still a distinct minority." Something in their physical closeness made her press on excitedly, sharing a fringe theory that she'd heard among the visiting professors, usually to excuse some real or suggested indiscretion with a little girl or boy who was not employable on the floor. Ada herself was the subject of the suggested type, overhearing joking proposals from some of the regular visitors to try her out, when they thought she wasn't in earshot and knew her father wasn't, but much to her disappointment, it never went beyond talk. Still, the idea itself had stayed with her and she spoke it aloud for the first time to someone other than Charlie. "Some believe that all children who are not dynamos are some unknown Special variety of computers, that there are hidden talents in every child ripe for discovery, but..."

Mara began rolling her eyes before she finished, and then finally grew impatient and cut her off. "Nonsense. It's as silly as saying every child is a secret royal heir. There will always be those who are born to greatness, and those who are not. "

Even though deep down Ada believed that the theory wasn't true, that she, at least, had nothing to offer but her intelligence and assistance, it was her fondest private dream, and so it stung to hear someone refute it. "Perhaps. In any event, we employ more computers than any other private workshop in the country, but even we've got only a few in any dorm group."

Mara lifted her nose in the air and sniffed in derision at that policy. "Better to keep them together. They could teach each other."

Father had good reasons not to keep all his computers in one group, but Ada doubted Mara would understand and so didn't bother to explain. Instead, she stood, her report to Mara almost complete. "We've also got two girls coming in from other lands, that may wind up in your group. I think only one is a computer. Not to worry, though, I'm sure you'll get along with everyone if you only try. And if not, you can always come talk to me." She extended a hand to help Mara to her feet. "Come. Let's go introduce you to your new friends."


Five days passed and she hadn't exchanged more than two sentences with Mara, and so she decided that friendship was not to be their relationship after all. The disappointment was brief in the particulars--for, she swiftly told herself, aside from the girl being a reckoner, there was nothing particularly about Mara that stood out--but lingered in the general, a malaise at how hard it seemed to be for her to make genuine connections to other girls. Her father ran the place, yes, but that didn't seem like it should be that much of a barrier. It wasn't as though she'd convince Father to cast a girl out on the street because they beat her at draughts or anything silly like that. So, she was left to conclude, it must mostly due to her own inherent unlikeable nature.

The melancholy was like a cloud, one which sometimes seemed to follow her around, making everything gloomy. Even when it was out of the way and the sun shone brightly on her... the cloud was always in sight, threatening to move in again.

Charlie was definitely one of the bright spots, though.

Ada had known him since her first day on the floor, when Father decided to start using her as his assistant, effectively testing her out for his idea that she might run the place after he was gone. Back then, most of the children working thought she was a new girl like any other, and were welcoming, and she even stoked a few of them, including Charlie, with her gloved hand, under her father's supervision. When she didn't strip down and join them, a few of the children teased her, some as friends might, some with a harsher edge, a few others caught on that she was of a different social station and treated her with that automatic, distant politeness she loathed, and a few just ignored her entirely. This was made worse when Father punished the teasers and those who ignored her and made it clear that Ada was to be treated with the utmost respect. Soon, most everyone was polite, civil and no more... except for Charlie, who always had a smile for her. He might have called her "ma'am" (which sounded like "mum") in public, despite her being several years younger than him, but he always seemed genuinely happy to see her.

When Charlie's dynamo ability began to fade with age and the rapid, fascinating widening and lengthening of his cock among other parts of his body, she suggested Father keep him on, train him to be a stoker, and he agreed so she got to have more conversations with the friendly young man, and a true friendship bloomed. Later, she decided Charlie should be her first real love... she had no maidenhead thanks to the early tests that proved she was neither dynamo nor any known type of computer, but she had yet to have more than the squirting head of an adult male organ in her cunny, and Charlie, handsome and gentle, seemed the ideal candidate for what was, on the floor, called the first box-stretching (or sometimes fox-fetching... some of the cleaners spoke in a funny rhyming slang that amused the children).

Convincing him was another matter, of course, as he was terrified that her father would find out and object, ruin his future, but after weeks of begging, he finally agreed, and they did the deed in an alcove Ada knew the servants wouldn't be due near.

It hurt, that first time, she remembered that, but she remembered how careful and tender he was, and how he wiped away her pain with a kiss. Perhaps not all of the pain, but at least the tears. Convincing him to do it again took almost as long, but when he did it opened her up to a connection she'd only imagined, and convincing her that despite her just being a plain girl, she wasn't broken and could too enjoy the same pleasures the other girls did.

Since then, she'd grown able to accommodate his fullness without any lasting pain, and in the process, they had grown closer, and Ada even dared to think of herself as special to him, that perhaps they would one day marry. Of course, she didn't mind his stoking duties, she had modern, enlightened sensibilities, and even if it often left him too tired to do everything she wanted with him, she was nearly as happy with just a friendly conversation with embraces and occasional kissing.

Nearly, but there were some times she felt like there was a dynamo inside her, that if they only tested her again she'd produce enough to even put Kaitlyn Powell to shame. It was fantasy, of course, the house's Collectors would pick it up upon release if she wasn't a dull (as she had heard some of the girls start to refer to the majority population who were neither dynamos nor computers), but this feeling of bursting with anxious energy, and intense need, was what she imagined the girls on the factory floor felt like all the time, and she wanted Charlie there to stoke her to the natural conclusion.

That was how she was five days after Mara came... she'd seen Charlie privately once since then, but it had only been for a short time, and they only got as far as kissing, with a finger in her knickers. And she'd seen him in passing on the floor, but he was always with other girls, and that brought the feelings of melancholia back when she turned her back. Now, her need competed with sadness that came from a new source... the last time she saw him at work, frustrated that he was busy, she snapped at him for some minor failing, and stalked off, and she was sure he would be sore at her.

Until he surprised her, hours later. She looked up from some reading to see him smiling down at her, his hat in his hand. "Greetings, Ma'am. Sorry for the interruption, but I thought you might like a distraction."

Ada tossed the book aside and wrapped her arms around his waist, apologizing extensively for being harsh with him, and felt the loving stroke of his hand on her hair.

"No apologies needed. I did tie the ropes too tight. Sure, Diana asked for it, but I should have known better." The little girl might have red marks on her wrists for a few days, but it wasn't dangerous. "I just got done my shift, and it's still a little early for me dinner, but I thought I might pop in and see if you were interested in sharing some bread and butter with me."

Ada drew back, a delighted grin on her face. 'Bread and butter' was sometimes a funny way of saying sex. She'd be the bread, and he'd be the butter all on top of her. Or sometimes the other way around. "You mean it?" she asked breathlessly. "You're not tired?"

"Tired, sure. Here." He pointed to his arms, each with the other hand. Next, he pointed to his mouth. "And here." One hand now went to the front of his trousers. "Did my best not to use this much, and it's feeling the lack."

Her smile turned playful, flirtatious. "My father would be very disappointed if I allowed our best stoker to be underworked. It would be inefficient. We'll have to take care of that. Go wait in our special place?"

Charlie nodded, touched his head like he was tipping an imaginary hat, and left the room. Once she was alone, Ada stood and jumped up and down, her hands at her breast. Finally, this day was turning around.

At least, as long as Charlie made it to their place without being waylaid. He was often sent on messenger tasks throughout the building, a habit he picked up to prove his eagerness to stay on in any capacity, and in addition there were friends on the staff that he could be plausibly visiting. Still, if the wrong people ran into him, or worse, if anyone found him lurking around the wrong place, there might be trouble. So there was always a hint of danger to their assignations, but he was careful.

This was why she waited, not very patiently, for long enough that Charlie could get where he needed to go before she snuck out to join him. Her path was much easier, few except Father or perhaps Sebastian would question her, unless she would be missing a scheduled lesson or dinner, and they always timed things to avoid that.

When she felt that she had given him enough time, she primly walked out of the room, past the kitchen to the rear hall and then, to the rear cloak room. At least, that was the official title, though it was no longer the far end of the building and was a long time since cloaks were held there. It was intended for people entering through the rear, but the house had been added to before Ada was born and what was once a tradesman's entrance now served as a small, enclosed garden in summer months and virtually unused in the winter. Sometimes, when it was warm enough, Charlie and Ada met in that garden, but only when most of the servants were away, such as for Church, because one could see into the enclosure from some upper floor windows.

You couldn't say the same for the cloak room, which mostly empty aside from a few boxes, and the chances of privacy were much higher. Shirkster Jim and some of the other less industrious servants could sometimes be caught napping there, or having their own affairs, but there was another room they used far more often because the cloakroom had nothing comfortable to lay on. Ada had Charlie for that.

She looked both directions to make sure she was unobserved, then opened the door and ducked in, smiling to see Charlie there, shirt off, his impressive lean but muscled body visible in the dim light of the electric lamp. The fixture needed a bulb replacement, but the gardener usually did it and only in spring, and faint light was sufficient once Ada's eyes adjusted. Darkness would be just as well too.

The cloakroom did have one benefit over other rooms, there were hooks on the walls that one could hang one's outfit on so there would be no danger of mess. Charlie's shirt was already on one, and now he made to shuck his trousers as well.

Sometimes Ada wished that she had one of the elaborate dresses, just so she could make a show of undressing, although even with her normal outfit she must look fancier than Charlie was used to. Still, she took pleasure in the hunger in his eyes while she pulled her dress up and over her head, placed it on the hook beside Charlie's trousers, and then did the same with the shirt underneath, leaving her with just the bloomers, socks, and shoes. Usually she kept the latter two on, but the bloomers would have to go. That happened with a tug to loosen them, and a shimmy that she hoped was attractive as they slid down her legs before she finally lifted each foot out. She then flashed her lover a smile and bent down to retrieve it and hang it from the hook, one hand on her hip the whole time.

"Why ma'am, you look like a proper dynamo now, just getting on shift."

It was exactly the right thing to say, which isn't to say that this was the first time he did it. She'd long ago told Charlie she wished she was one of the girls on the floor, and like a good stoker, he knew that playing on a girl's secret fantasies was half of the job. Sometimes he went all the way, pretended they were on the floor and imagined a collector atop them. Other times it was like this, a strange mix of being "ma'am", his special girl, and a common working girl. Which worked best depended on her exact mood and level of hunger, but today, he'd judged her perfectly and she launched at him like a self-propelled catapult, landing on him and steadying herself by wrapping her arms and legs around him, but with her momentum sending him thudding into the wall.

"Easy, ma'am!" He said, but by this time she was pelting him with kisses and it was making him smile and blush. "A good stoking is definitely in order for you. Luckily I have just the rod." She had jumped above it, but as she slid down now could feel it pressing up towards her bottom. His hands held her buttocks, and using the wall behind him to support his descent he slid towards the floor, and Ada felt her rear being spread, as though he planned to insert it there. Had one of them thought to stop by the pantry and bring some lard, he might have, but instead the action was meant only to nudge her into moving just into position, not for penetration yet, but just to wipe himself along her cleft. Charlie recently paid her the high compliment that she would have made a perfect dynamo or computer, because she got wet all on her own. Some girls did, some, especially those one the younger side, needed help. Ada didn't get very wet at all until she'd been with Charlie a couple times (and after she privately tried hotdrops which perhaps started something), but now she did, prodigiously so, and it pleased her that he now used her to slick himself up, rather than spitting into his hand and rubbing it, which always unsettled her, although obviously not enough to stop.

"You must be ready now," she breathed, and he smiled, showing teeth, and she felt him at the threshold, pushing at the door to pleasure. Since Ada was on top, and particularly eager, she bore down until a part of her gave way and he slid inside her. It was the moment that was least comfortable, although no longer unbearably painful... the first motion in, before she accommodated, as she felt herself pried apart, forced into a new internal configuration, made ready to become not just an "I" but a "we." That pressure did come with its own strange pleasure, but moments later it became even better as she relaxed around him, and felt herself a participant more than an object acted upon.

Charlie's soft groan seemed music to her ears, but her body wanted another kind of music, one brought on through motion, and she bounced on his rod, feeling him move too, like a dance where they were connected like Siamese twins.

Ada didn't use her arms much, except as leverage to push herself on and off his rod, but Charlie, he was a natural stoker, and once he realized he didn't need to lift her up and down, for she was doing much of that herself, his hands roamed her body, squeezing when they met flesh that was a little softer... a buttock, the slight swell around her nipple... but at least one always stayed near her hip to help guide her, and one thumb would tease the outskirts of her mound where they were joined, giving a little tickle and tease that brought her closer to the edge of completeness and release. The thought that he used these same skills on other girls did not enflame her jealousy as she might have expected, instead it made her more excited, like she was no more special than any common dynamo, which was special enough in its own way. "Stoke me well," she whispered, her voice rising in pitch. "Like there's a collector above, and another girl waiting for you."

Charlie pulled her onto him from behind, forcing her off balance enough that her chest hit his face, but instead of letting her get up he took a nipple into his mouth and tugged with his lips, and it felt like he was tugging on her heart at the same time. But then, to her surprised he pushed, pushed back until she was almost sitting upright on him, and his head had leaned forward as far as he could but soon that had to leave him, and he looked down, his hand rubbing at the nub at the top of her sex, forceful but not painful, almost machinelike, although whether it was she or him that was the machine, she wasn't sure, her thoughts were racing too hard to hold on to any one, and then, then...


She had experienced release before, some incredibly powerful, but none quite like this, this good, this fast, this overwhelming. It was like one solid core of her, rising from her cunny up her spine to her head was alive and active and blissfully wonderful, and everything else distant, numb, barely worthy of consideration.

"What're you on about, Ada?" she heard, finally, as her toes began to uncurl, even though she hadn't remembered curling them.

Her tongue flattened as well, mouth closed, and she took a few sharp breaths before she remembered Charlie had asked her something. "I beg your pardon? Did I scream?" Her throat didn't feel like she'd been screaming, not quite. Her pussy did, felt like it screamed and ran a marathon, only without lungs or legs. It was still felt like it was twitching.

Charlie's first word sounded almost like a groan. "No. You were saying something. You sounded almost like a computer for a bit."

"That's sweet Charlie," she said, but teasing her with one of her fantasies didn't work so well after an orgasm. Still, she squeezed down on him and prepared to ride until he reached his completion as well... only to realize he already had, his manhood no longer had the rigid bonelike feel, it was swollen but soft and shrinking, and she looked down and saw creamy drippings where they joined. She stared at the gathering pool, puzzled... why would he lie when they were already done?

"I'm not winding you up, you really did. Except, you were saying something in another tongue."


"I don't know, which do you speak?"

"French, Latin, a little German." Maybe she had talked about le petite mort, a term one of the visiting French scientists used for orgasm that had captured Ada's imagination. Or the joke, "Vidi, Vici, Veni," a Cambridge professor always made after leaving the workshop. The man hadn't gained a useful inspiration from the computers for as long as Ada had known him, but he kept trying, and kept making the joke. Perhaps either phrase had stuck in her mind and, at the moment, spilled out like an overflowing bucket.

"Must have been German, I guess, though it didn't sound like it. Here, get off." She stood up, letting him fall completely out of her, and watching as a thin strand of viscous white continued to fall on his belly, at least until she stepped off and he sat up and went for his trouser pocket, quickly withdrawing a pad of paper and a pencil.

Silently, for she didn't wish to interrupt, she watched him begin to write. It was part of a stoker's training, she knew, and the part Charlie had worked hardest at... memorizing and then writing down anything said 'in the moment,' in case a computer got over-stimulated when a professor wasn't ready to take down the insights, or needed precision. Or, of course, for the possibilities that a dynamo someone was stoking might reveal hidden talents.

Her heart thumped at the idea, but she tamed it with the thought that he had to be teasing her. He's going to write something funny on there, she thought, just you watch, Ada, and you'll laugh and feel silly for getting your hopes up. And mad, too, she knew, but she couldn't stay mad at Charlie for long.

Finally, he stopped. "Best I can do," he said, tore off a sheet and gave it to her.

Her forehead wrinkled trying to read it. He wrote in the style he struggled so hard to learn, not attempting to write them as words, but rather as isolated sounds, syllables that could be read aloud, by someone familiar with them, to reproduce words they didn't even understand, in any language, natural or scientific. Ada was familiar, but not practiced... even so, she felt she should have been able to make some sense of it. She tried reading them out loud, expecting them, when she said them together, to form some amusing words... but they didn't. They didn't sound English, or French, or Latin or even German. They did have the shape and feel of a language she did not speak. "It sounds almost... Russian. But I don't speak Russian."

"You did just then," Charlie said, and he seemed so earnest. "Are you sure you're not a computer?"

"Of course I'm not," she snapped, like she was angry at the question, but she wasn't, just... she knew she wasn't, she couldn't be. "If I were a computer one of us would have to know the language, wouldn't we?" In a softer voice, she said, "I get tested with a crown every birthday. Nothing." And those tests, her father mostly indulged her, no longer really believing she had potential, but putting her on one of his private machines, providing gentle stimulation through vibration, while she tried, and failed, to make a crown light up. By now, she'd passed the age she should be showing up... if she had talents before, they'd be on the wane. It was impossible. She must have just been having a fit, saying nonsense words.

"Could you be a specialist, though?" It was even harder to believe that she could be a Special, one of the rare children with a useful gift outside of the normal bounds, either in addition to or instead of being a dynamo or computer. "Like... obviously you're not a healer type." They tended to show up at the very low end of the dynamo scale, unless they were paired with a partner who had some illness, and then instead of providing electrical power, they supercharged their partner's healing process and usually cured them entirely. They were also exceedingly rare. "Or a Dageurre-type." One of the more useless Specials, a computer who, given a writing implement and paper, following orgasm, would, in a series of dots draw an almost perfect representation of whatever they saw. Father did have a framed portrait of his much younger self from a Daguerreogirl in his study, it was a fashion for a time but chemical photography was a much more versatile tool. "Maybe something like a Herald?"

That was a possibility, although a slim one. Heralds could exchange short messages over long distances (though some were limited to sending or receiving). Timing was crucial, as usually both children had to be in orgasm at the same time, or one in release and the other near and triggered by the message itself, but Father's chemical formulation of Fermata to extend that state, among other things, promised the possibility of long conversations through girls, secure in a way messengers or telegrams could not be. More importantly, though, the girls had to be very close... almost all of the ones discovered were siblings, mostly twins, communicating amongst each other. Once they were identified, two unrelated Heralds could be introduced and one tuned to be able to pass messages to the other instead of who they were initially matched with, but... it wasn't something that normally happened by accident. "Are you saying I have a brother or sister out there?" It was just barely possible, although Father had never spoken of it.

"I don't know, Ada. I just know what I heard. It didn't sound like you."

She wanted to believe it. But one of Father's aphorisms was that you should most distrust the results you want to be true, because it was easy to fool yourself. That was more likely than a secret sibling, she read the nonsense words Charlie wrote and because she wanted to believe she made them sound like some real language. Even if she really had a sibling, they still would probably have to know each other well to be Heralds. It made much more sense that she had just lost control of her tongue in a moment of pleasure, like she had lost control of her other muscles, and much like she'd curled her toes without realizing it, she just started making noises. "That's crazy," she said finally, shaking her head and throwing the paper away. "See what you've done? You've got me almost believing, but it can't be. It just can't."

Charlie's eyes followed the paper. He sounded almost more disappointed than she felt. "But what about the words..."

"They were nonsense, I was just excited and insensate."

"I could ask around..."

"No." The word burst from her almost in a panic. She could easily imagine the story getting around, maybe leading to tests, which would go nowhere, and then... humiliation. The real dynamos and computers would assume that she was deliberately pretending, trying to convince people that she was one of them, something that would not just be pathetic but also foolish. She could deal with being pitied, but not considered a fool on top of that. "Tell no one, Charlie. Just forget it all. Come, let's get dressed before someone catches us." She reached for the hook her clothes were on, and Charlie moved to help retrieve them, but he continued to watch her, like he was trying to decide if either she was telling the truth, or if maybe she had spoken those words in jest, or perhaps even if she was lying now so that nobody would know she was secretly a computer. She almost laughed at that last option, for if she was a computer she'd announce it to everyone. Once she was dressed, she gave him a kiss to try and banish such a silly doubt, and when she saw the smile on his face she felt sure the matter would be swiftly forgotten.


Though she never completely forgot, Ada did manage to push it mostly out of her mind (save some thoughts plaguing her while she tried, unsuccessfully, to drift off to sleep the night that it happened), and next time she saw Charlie, it was on the floor, two days later. He gave her a usual friendly, yet seemingly reserved greeting. "Good day, ma'am," but with a smile and a glint in his eye that hinted, only to her, something deeper.

"Good day, Charlie."

He had a stoking to get to, but she wandered the floor, doing her duty, watching for things that might be improved or problems in need of correction. Even when he hadn't specifically asked for her, Father let her pop in when her tutors had reported she'd completed her assignments, because he felt it prepared her for her eventual role running the place. She loved working at his side, but today was a special treat... he was out for the afternoon on a game of golf. The computer he selected off the floor to accompany him as caddie girl to help him assess difficult shots must have been thrilled, but only slightly less so was Ada herself, for the rare chance to be out from under his shadow. On days where she wandered the floor alone, it was like she already was in charge, the overseers and stokers treated her with deference as long as she didn't suggest anything too out-of-line, and gently corrected her if she did. She even imagined she could get much more "hands on" with the stoking, which was a delightful pun to her, for even when she took up that task, her father only permitted her to use her silk-gloved fingers rather than an outthrust tongue, or be penetrated herself. He might allow her to assist a stroking once or twice a shift, but if she was alone, she felt like she could go up the line from boy to boy or girl to girl, helping, and nobody would question her unless she began to look like it was for her own pleasure rather than the business, or she tried to take her clothes off. Not that she did such excesses... they employed stokers for a reason and it would be unseemly to try to perform their jobs. No, Ada kept her assistance to the few instances where she truly felt an extra hand was needed to move things along, no more than four or five at any one visit. But the feeling that she might was pleasantly intoxicating on its own.

She did more inspecting of machine parts than helping, prepared to make note of any unusual noises that might indicate a part needed to be oiled, or worse, replaced, but there was nothing, and was about to move on to one of her favorite parts, observing the Greek-style work between scientists and the young boy stokers. Before she could, she felt a soft hand on her shoulder. "Begging your pardon, ma'am." It was Charlie's voice, although when she looked at him he seemed uncertain, nervous. "There's a matter I think could use your eye."

This surprised her, for deep down she knew her job, even her inspections, were mostly for show, practically play-acting. Sure, she might find something someone else missed, and she did help from time to time, but it was mostly to ensure everyone else did their jobs, knowing the boss' daughter, one day to be the boss herself, would notice something amiss. The overseers were very good, however, and if Charlie had a problem, the first step would be to talk to one of them.

Only two possibilities occurred to her... one that it was a personal issue with one or between two of the workers, like a new girl having trouble adjusting and needing a comforting arm, or an argument where she could offer an impartial perspective. Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, she did a good job in those situations, being less intimidating or prone to playing favorites than an overseer or stoker.

The other, far more exciting prospect was that Charlie, knowing Father wasn't around, was trying to pull her away for a little privacy and a few minutes of fun. That could explain the nervousness, since getting caught by the wrong person would have dire consequences. For that matter, shirking his duties is something she should punish him for herself, but... in a situation like this, she didn't have the heart.

After she gave him the nod, he lead her down towards the inspiration rooms. In the hall, where they could speak at a low voice and the din of the dynamo floor served as cover to prevent anyone overhearing, rather than being loud enough to drown it out for the participants, Charlie whispered, "I asked around about those Russian words you said the other day..."

Shame mixed with anger seemed to make a bloody battleground of her face, turning it pink. "I told you to forget that!"

"Yes'm, I know, but... well, I couldn't. It sounded so much like a computer going all inspired."

"If that were true, one of us at least would understand it." Except sometimes Specials, called such because some of them could do things that defied conventional logic, dynamos harnessing unusual energies or computers, perhaps, drawing from minds other than those of the stoker and computer. But that was unlikely... she could think of only one reason he would hang onto this fantasy longer than she had. "I know stokers get a ripe bonus for discovering specialists, but, really, Charlie... it was nonsense!"

"But that's what I'm trying to tell you, Ada... it wasn't!" He nudged her around a corner into one of the inspiration rooms, where any remaining hopes of a private stoking were dashed... two girls were already there, both around twelve.

Diana, the first girl she noticed, stood tall and proud, looking confident and dignified as usual, even though she was completely naked save for two earrings. Her jet black hair cascaded down her back, and her bearing projected both strength and poise, immediately commanding attention, like she was some young princess, and she sometimes claimed such, and although Ada didn't believe that, she could see how others might. From the faint olive-tint to her skin it would have to be a princess of some Mediterranean land or something, albeit one who hadn't been getting enough sun lately... which was itself a characteristic of royalty. And sure, she had features severe and beautiful that many would, fairly or unfairly, associate with noble blood. Even her mound jut out proudly, like she was getting ready to demand you kneel before her and lick it until you could tease out and kiss the royal nub within... if Diana really was a princess, no doubt Ada would have been instructed to do just that. She also had such natural presence that Ada thought she might not refuse such an order even given by a common dynamo.

By contrast, the other girl, Penelope, seemed almost like she was fading into the background. Of course, part of that was that she was wearing red stockings that literally blended in with the long fainting couch she sat on with crossed legs. It was all she wore, but her cleft wasn't visible, for, as usual, the young girl had a book open on her lap, as though she was reading it while waiting for Charlie and Ada to arrive. straw colored hair tied into two bunches, one on either side of her head, and although her round face wasn't unattractive, she seemed like she would much rather return to reading and was only sitting here naked prepared to do her bit for Queen and country and the ever-marching pursuit of science. Seemed was the key word, though, for Ada knew she enjoyed bringing pleasure to the many professors who'd come to visit her. Some scheduled specifically to see her, viewing her natural intelligence a boon to her computing abilities. The more a computer understood about a topic, the easier it was to understand their inspirations, and Penelope was one of the quickest studies.

Which made it especially unusual she was here, alone with Diana. Shouldn't she be booked? Ada didn't memorize the entire schedule... maybe they were just shirking classes, which also didn't seem much like Penelope. "What are you doing in here?"

"Trying to stop someone who's not what they seem," Diana said.

Penelope looked up from the book, closed it, and left it on her lap. "So you're a computer, Ada?"

It was exactly what she didn't want, they thought she was trying to pretend to be one of them. She couldn't keep the red off her face, but she tried to speak with disdain and authority, and a hint of anger. "I most certainly am not. Charlie's just been caught up in a flight of fancy... one he shouldn't have told you about, because it's of no business of yours."

Diana herself now seemed angry. "Of course it's our business. We have a responsibility to defend this place, however we can."

She could hear the pitch in her voice rising from outrage and more than a little pain. "Defend this place? From me being a computer?" They must really not like me, she thought. "Which I am not, by the way. Charlie just heard some nonsense..."

He interrupted her then. "I told you, it wasn't nonsense."

"It was Russian," Penelope reported with confidence. "And it concerned us a great deal."

"I don't speak Russian!"

"But we do," Diana said. "So perhaps you should listen to what it was you said while you were under? Because it could mean serious trouble."

Ada took a few deep breaths to center herself... at the back of her mind, she still suspected some sort of mean trick, but this conversation was not turning out how she expected at all. "Where did you ever learn Russian?"

Diana shrugged. "I travelled a lot before coming here. I'm good with tongues."

While she didn't know Penelope spoke Russian in particular, she had directed the question more at the dynamo, for computers pick up an awful lot. Yet Penelope's answer still surprised her. "And me... well, my uncle works in Intelligence. I help him sometimes." Ada wondered briefly how much of her help involved her uncle stoking her in order to get her to translate some document. "I write it better than I speak it, but I understand it quite well." Her eyes slid to Charlie. "Even when it is repeated poorly."

"So what did I supposedly say?"

Penelope spoke the phrase again, in Russian that sounded a lot more fluid and natural than what they read off Charlie's note in the cloak room. Whether it matched what she said, Ada couldn't say, she'd already forgotten the exact sounds. "It means, roughly, 'More time is needed to find his formula. Their computers...' The Russian word for us, which also means 'gossip', but the only thing that makes sense is if they're talking about computers... 'Their computers are divided but I can identify targets.' You see what this means, right?"

"It means..." She squeezed her eyes shut and reopened them. "That you are playing a very cruel joke on me, one I do not appreciate."

Diana stepped in front of Ada, grabbing her by the arms so roughly that it Father saw he might dismiss her on the spot. "Oh, face the truth, Ada. This isn't about you. We're all in danger."

"We are? But..." She thought back to the translation given... yes, that certainly sounded like some sort of nefarious shenanigans were being talked about, but... "Even if that was a true inspiration... that could mean anything, come from anywhere."

"Who else has a secret formula that works on computers?"

Diana supplied, "And most other places house their computers together, separate from dynamos."

"We have a spy," Penelope said.

"We have a spy," Diana agreed. "Who is targeting your father and our livelihood. Maybe even us directly."

"The computers, mostly."

Diana gave a little glare at Penelope, "They could want powerful dynamos too. And, anyway, if this is a foreign agent, they might try to abduct computers, but they'd just as soon kill everyone they don't take to keep us from working for the enemy."

"I meant no offense," Penelope said, and that may well have been true, but her downcast eyes and blush put the lie to her next phrase, "I only meant that to be specific."

Ada missed this little interplay, an example of the tensions and jealousies that still existed between computers and dynamos even under good circumstances, for her mind was still reeling from the words 'We have a spy.' Her focus was on quashing those first buds of hope before they could grow into a weed that would inevitably be pulled that she had hardly considered what it might mean for everyone else but her. And now that she was starting to believe, her joy was struggling against dread. "Who would be a spy? Not Charlie, surely?" Her gaze flew to him, and he seemed amused rather than offended by the suggestion. Luckily it was so outrageous that Ada couldn't keep the incredulity out of her voice, if it had sounded like an accusation he might never have forgiven her.

Yet the suggestion wasn't completely out there, as most computers gained their insights from the mind of the person who stoked them into the inspiration state.

"Obviously not," Penelope agreed, and must have seen why she jumped to that conclusion. "I've done some studying on the Specials and the different types. In truth, I always wished I was one myself." That interested Ada... to find that while she was wishing she were a dynamo or computer, a computer was also wishing she was something more. "We can safely assume our spy is a Herald. On the other hand, you would be what is called in the Barrett classification system as an Angel's Ear. They've been known to overhear somebody else's inspirations, either if you are in the inspiration state at the same time nearby, if you have a strong bond with them, or, most interesting, sometimes if you are being stoked by them or someone who recently stoked them. It's called an echo. That means our spy is likely either someone who was being stoked while you and Charlie were having your... dalliance, or it was the person who he had just stoked."

"That still leaves an ever-so-large amount of people." Including, at least theoretically, girls in that very room.

"Yes, but if we assume it was an echo, we are left with a very obvious choice."

Penelope's gaze turned to Charlie, as if giving him his cue, and he took it up. "Before you, that day, I'd just got off stoking Mara."

Mara. She wasn't the newest of the family, Father had acquired a new dynamo and computer since her arrival, but she was the newest who was both, and the newest who Penelope interacted with. It indeed seemed like an obvious answer, but another of the things Father had taught her was to distrust too obvious-answers. For a long time people thought it was obvious that children had no sexual drives because they were innocent and sex was, if anything, the opposite. Now the sexual drives of children powered the world, hurtling it into an unparalleled age of industry and innovation. Some of the girls surely resented Mara for being a reckoner, and hadn't the girl herself said she had a habit of accidentally making people dislike her? A hasty accusation might ruin a girl... and though part of Ada might resent the girl too, she didn't have that in her. "I know Mara can be difficult but... honestly... do you really think it's likely she's a Russian spy?" she asked, in a voice that she hoped made it evident that it was a ridiculous suggestion.

"Oh, I don't think she's a Russian spy."

That threw Ada for a loop, made her doubt her own doubts. "No?"

"No, I think she's a German spy. Speaking Russian is a ruse, no doubt, just in case of interception."

Ada shook her head at the fanciful imaginations. "What could possibly make you think she was a German spy?" They weren't even recently at war with Germany, although of course there were tensions.

"Firstly, she looks German more than Russian. I'm good at picking up the subtle indicators in the face... I pegged Diana as Greek the moment I saw her, too. But that's superficial and inconclusive... perhaps her ancestors travelled, for example... but there is more. She's been talking to me about how the Germans use computers to train their shepherding dogs, and asked if I might like to work there. It was like she was trying to recruit me." Her face suddenly turned defensive when Diana glared at her, but she said, "I didn't say yes. And I didn't even consider she might be a spy... until all this came up, I thought she was just exploring fantasies about dogs." Ada was, in her own way, also good at picking up on subtle indicators in the face, although her keen eye was focused less on nationality and more on signs of arousal, and the faintest reddening of Penelope's cheeks told her that those fantasies might have been shared in considerable depth. The girl kept her expression dignified, though, and continued, "Now though, it makes more sense... she was angling for my help."

And, Ada suddenly recalled, she had been the one to tell Mara that Penelope had a fondness for dogs. Could that whole conversation have been used for gathering vital information? If she was a spy, Ada played right into their hands. That thought made her want to deny it even more... for a moment, before she realized her cowardice and forced herself to confront the thought. Fine then, what if? If she made an error and helped a spy, would the error not be compounded a thousand times if she chose to turn a blind eye? She had to consider the possibility. And yet there was no proof, either of a spy in general, or that it was Mara and not someone else. "What do you propose we do? Shall I tell my father to investigate when he returns?"

"No," Diana said. "Your father is..." she hesitated, exchanged a sidelong look with Penelope. "He is a brilliant mind. Very sure of himself."

"You make that sound like a bad thing." Without Father's brilliance and self-assuredness, Diana might well be running a grain mill on a lonely Greek island. If her coming from an island was any more true than the stories of being a princess... Ada had once tried looking for the island she said she came from and couldn't even find it. It might not have been a lie, to be fair... perhaps it was small enough that Ada missed it, or the Atlas might have called it by another name, but whatever the case, Diana was a nobody. Father, on the other hand, was from one of the best families in the country. His talents kept all of them employed! Of course, she said none of that out loud.

"Brilliant men can be stubborn," Penelope finished. "Believe me, I've had some of the most brilliant men in the country inside of me. You wouldn't believe the number of times they've dismissed my insights because what I said didn't match what they believed, they assume they asked the question wrong or I 'injected my own bias after the fact' or any number of things. If we told your father do you really think he'd believe that not only did he recruit a spy, but also his own daughter was a Special and he missed it? Or would he think a bunch of silly girls let their imagination run away with them? And if we point to Mara, and we are wrong, he'll never believe us again, and the real spy will be alerted. No, we need to be sure first."

At least there, Ada was in agreement. She had to swallow back an angry retort... even though she had often criticized her father for being stubborn, hearing someone else say it sparked an instinctive desire to defend him... but she soon realized that the insult was quite mild, and Penelope was absolutely right... Father would doubt them. She straightened her back and lifted her chin, then asked, "So what do you propose we do?"

"You may be the only one who can hear what the Herald is sending. So next time Mara goes to be stoked, we stoke you too. It should be any time, so you should take this now." Penelope held up a small vial filled with a clear liquid.

Ada's heart fluttered just seeing it... or perhaps it was the suggestion that preceded it. Either might well have got her blood pumping, and the promise of both... well, it was a good thing they needed her stoked. Hotdrops were reserved for the workers, but Ada had sampled some a few times, felt the wave of irresistible arousal that left her rubbing her privates until she was a quivering mess. At least, that was how she'd used it so far... she'd always wanted to try it with Charlie, but he refused to risk stealing some, as while he may have gotten away with it while he was a dynamo, as a stoker, it would lead to his dismissal. Her gaze turned to him, and Charlie had a shy grin like he was reading her thoughts. "You'll be stoking me?"

"Not just him," Diana said before he could answer. "We'll all help. Before you say anything, I remind you that timing is important. If a girl's tongue is what it takes to rush on your climax just as Mara reaches hers, I think we have to do it, even if it contradicts your upper-class sensibilities. You may have objections now, but believe me, the hotdrops will make you not care as much."

Her face was red, but Ada managed to sputter out the words, "I have no objections." And then, much more shyly, admitted, "In truth, I've always wanted to try with girls." Beyond with those gloved fingers, but that hardly counted.

Her eyes flicked back upwards to see the reactions to this confession, but nobody seemed surprised or bothered, not even Charlie. Save for Diana, who did see mildly taken aback, but not in an angry or disgusted way, merely like someone who hadn't expected to hear that. "You should have said earlier," the girl pronounced finally. "I could have shown you any time."

Now it was Ada's turn to be taken aback, for she had always assumed Diana would have no interest in her... the girl's notions of being royalty, combined with her evident superiority as a dynamo, had always given Ada the idea that Diana disliked her, looked down on her... not openly, of course, but with that cool respect and politeness one often saw with women who despised each other but had to get along... certainly not the hot desire of potential friends on the stoking floor. Perhaps they had both been taken in by an illusion of the other.

Before Ada could come up with a response that might better bridge the gap, Diana stepped forward with the dropper. The Mediterranean girl, though younger, was taller and stronger than Ada, had a more healthy complexion and moved with quiet confidence, so it was unexpectedly intimidating, and yet also exciting when the physical gap was closed and she had to look up to accept the hotdrops in her mouth.

Ada opened her lips, felt the bitter taste spread across her tongue and it made her wrinkle up her face instinctively and made worse by the knowledge that swallowing would reduce the effectiveness, she had to leave it in her mouth... but soon the taste faded, or she got used to it. That excited, too-warm feeling, the one that, on her private experiments, made her want to strip off all her clothes and rub herself, that normally took a minute or two to kick in, but by the time Diana had stowed the bottle and grabbed her hands, it felt like she could hear her own heart beating in her ears. That must have been her own eagerness for what might be coming. "Come," Diana said. "Let's get you to the couch."

She allowed herself to be pulled, directed even, which was another unexpected pleasure as Father had always warned her that she was in charge of the girls and should behave that way, to hold herself as though their obedience was expected but that any request they made of her was just that, a request that she only indulged out of her good nature if they were polite and she saw sense in what they asked. She had never pushed as hard as he wanted in that direction, still preferring the dream of friendship, yet still, she couldn't help realizing that letting Diana guide her like this, not just to the chair but to the exact right position, to remove her shoes, to lift her dress to her chin and to start unrolling her stockings, and undergarments, all while Ada obeyed passively, was the exact thing Father would frown upon. And that too, was exciting, the submission to one who was expected to submit to her. Like sometimes with Charlie, but different, for women submitting to men in the bedroom was only natural, and even then, Charlie never took charge with such unquestioned authority as Diana seemed to possess. Perhaps she really was a princess, in spirit if not in fact.

By the time her lower body was exposed, Ada could no longer distinguish between her own excitement and that brought on by the hotdrops. Charlie had seen her nethers before, but Penelope and Diana had not, and both looked with an interest that provoked both shame and arousal. The shame, perhaps, heightened, by Penelope's gaze, which seemed almost dispassionate, an interest brought of scientific curiosity rather than affection. Diana, she hoped, was more active and interested, but she could not see her gaze, for the taller girl had maneuvered herself behind Ada, cradling her, offering support, and yet also restricting her movements, blocking any motion in her arms and so preventing her from touching herself or even pulling at her camisole to loosen it, for she could feel against her stiffening nipples. It was the only contact she felt, for Charlie was making no moves towards her either. Was this torture, or enticement? Was Diana, an avowed Sapphic, pleased by what Ada had between her legs, despite having seen many others? Diana's breath, felt on the side of her face and beneath her, was the only clue to her emotions, and her mind raced to interpret every inhalation and exhalation. "Hold," Diana whispered as Ada felt herself squeal audibly, but it was said with surprising gentleness, nearly a lover's kiss. "Let the frustration build, it is your friend, not your enemy, it heightens the sensations." One finger stroked lightly against her mound, and then retracted so Diana could restrain her again when Ada moved her arms. "And besides, we are not ready yet."

Ada felt ready, but Charlie needed a little help, and rather than helping him, as she desperately wanted, she had to watch as Penelope pulled his trousers down and took him in her mouth. An unexpected flare of jealously blossomed in her... she knew his job, was okay with it, seeing him with another girl hardly bothered her... except now. Perhaps it was because she was starting to feel so needy and resented Penelope's mouth taking what she wanted inside her. A whimper of frustration somehow turned into a giggle halfway through. Penelope was merely stoking the stoker, so he could stoke her. Properly stoke her, like she was any other working girl. That put a pin in the jealousy, burst it like a blister. She was the center of attention here, and Penelope was merely assisting.

She could assist better, Ada decided, if she directed Charlie's tool over to her and then put that tongue to use on her vulva. The thought brought a wet twitch down below, as she clenched around something that was for the moment only imaginary. Soon, she told herself, repeatedly, for what seemed like forever. Frustration really was the word, for Diana would keep up with infrequent, unexpected touches, followed by too long periods of nothing. Penelope similarly, once she had gotten Charlie hard, merely kept him that way with occasional and brief tugs on his manhood with a lotion with one hand while she leafed through her book with the other, careful not to mix them up.

"Now!" The high-pitched, whispered voice was from an interloper, little Kaitlyn Powell, who rushed into the room, took a look at Ada that was interested but not surprised, and then focused on Diana behind her to complete her message. "Mara's gone to get stoked now!"

"Good," Diana said. "Go back to watching, tell us when she's nearing."

Kaitlyn nodded, then swiftly turned and left so fast her pigtails bobbing free from her bare back was the last sight Ada had of her. Diana's breath and voice in her ear said, "Now we should begin," followed by a light nibble on her lobe that made Ada moan, partly from the surprise.

Another bigger surprise was coming, though. Penelope, with her clean hand, flipped through the pages of the book and came up with a small square of paper, just big enough to fit on the tip of her thumb.

The square could only be one thing, but Ada asked anyway... "Is that...Fermata?"

"Yes. Kit palmed an extra square, and I secreted it for this moment." It was a revelation that could get both Kit and Penelope dismissed, or worse. Sneaking hotdrops, that could be forgiven, the formulas may once have been secret but now several were widely known, and if a working girl or boy felt they needed a little extra to get through a wearying day, and snuck some without asking, overseers might well look the other way. But the bibulous paper, its absorbent cellulose fibers impregnated with father's secret formula that suspended the inspirational state... that was only doled out as needed, and they were very strict. The last person who mislaid one was flogged... an extreme punishment Ada had never seen for anything else, the unfortunate miscreants given the choice of that or being thrown out on the street and blacklisted from any reputable shop that respected Father's word... they chose the flogging and were warned if it happened again they would be flogged AND dismissed.

"You can't," Ada said. "You'll get in trouble."

"Success forgives many sins," Penelope said, repeating something her father said on occasion, and it's true, bad behavior that led to a good result sometimes earned a lesser punishment. "So let's make sure this is a success." She drew closer, held Ada'a mouth with the greasy lotion hand, and raised her own tongue to demonstrate that Ada should do the same, and, when she did, Penelope placed the paper square there.

Ada did as she was expected, kept the Fermata paper under her tongue, again not swallow, but rather let the chemical start to soak into her, so by the time she reached her climax her brain would be prepared and the inspiration state, hopefully, extended. She didn't taste the paper like she expected she might, it was more a feel than anything else... a slightly metallic taste did gradually arise on her mouth, like sucking on a coin, but before long she stopped think about that and started thinking about Charlie's cock at her quim, knocking politely requesting entrance.

But with the hotdrops, Ada had no need for politeness. She was hot and wet and no longer even cared about the possibility of a spy, she just wanted her own needs satisfied. "Fuck me," she whispered, the vulgar word coming naturally, for she felt vulgar now. "Fuck me now."

She fell backward, the support Diana provided suddenly vanishing, as the taller girl now let Ada slide off her lap, and crawled over Ada's body in a rush to assist the coupling. Above Ada, she could see Diana's lithe nude body, thighs parted just above Ada's head, but most of her attention was absorbed not by that sight, but the unseen sensation of Diana's fingers spreading her own drooling wet lips. Ada had expected it to feel unusual, perhaps good, perhaps unpleasant, but strange, this long-wondered about touch of another girl on genitals, a touch she'd given but never received... and yet, in the moment, it just seemed natural, like her own hand, doing what she wanted, helping her accept Charlie inside of her. The hand did not touch Charlie himself, except incidentally, but it made a tight hole more open, and Ada's arousal do the rest. Even without the hotdrops Ada got comfortably wet, but this was the smoothest penetration she'd felt, a pop of force, a pinch of pain barely worth wincing over, and it was inside of her and felt glorious and soon she was pushing back to get more of it.

Diana kept station on all fours above Ada's body, moved back a little, her quim just out of sight unless Ada raised her head, and her hands back keeping Ada's arms out of the action, but Ada could see her upside-down face, watching as though ready to lean down and lick at any moment, and Ada bit her own and waited for the moment, then considered just begging for her to do just that.

Shortness of breath was making that difficult, or perhaps there was still some of that shyness she felt despite the arousal and need to be vulgar brought on by the hotdrops. With Charlie it was easy, they were close, but Diana was distant, except physically, right now. Instead of asking, she gasped, feeling Charlie fill her once more, got rewarded with a swirling rub on her button by Diana that caused her lower body to twitch.

The girl's hand next slid to her chest, over the fabric that still covered her, questing and feeling until she found the hard protrusion. "See?" she said. "The hotdrops make you so much more... 'on', even your nipples are sensitive." A pinch, too hard perhaps but then feeling perfect, made Ada bite her own lip. The effect of the hotdrops was nothing new, but that didn't make it less impressive, especially with partners. Before stoking her pleasures was just like it sounded, the slow stoking of embers until it finally caught fire in one dramatic flash. Under the hotdrops, it was like she was already burning, and just waiting until it reached the point where it would explode.

The action was too slow for that, even as much as she enjoyed it. They were taking their time with her, and finally she couldn't bear it anymore. "I want it," she complained. "I want it now, please."

"Shhh," Diana said. "Not yet," and then moved again, once again placing her nethers above Ada's face, only this time, descending. "Here, lick, it will keep your mind off of it." And Ada did, eagerly, her tongue darted inside the smooth folds between Diana's legs, tasted something that was better than Charlie's cock, better than her own fingers after, and a sensation like trying to eat warm oysters without using her hands... or teeth.

"This is not the time for that," she heard Penelope warning, but it seemed like a fine time to Ada.

"She will think of Mara while doing it. It will help her tune her Angel's Ear."

"It might at that," Penelope agreed, her voice sounding interested in the prospect for a moment, but then turning disapproving as she continued, "But it will smother her voice when we need it the most."

Diana let out a grunt of her own and Ada's licking tongue no longer had anything to lick, although she tried for several seconds and got belly as Diana slid back, before getting off her completely and moving off the couch to her side. "See? The Sapphic arts are more fun, aren't they?" Ada might agree, but she was filled with cock which meant it wasn't truly a fair comparison, for she was enjoying both, and the combination might be better than either solo. Instead she just made a sound, a grunt.

Kaitlyn rushed into the room. "Step it up," she said breathlessly. "Mara is now very close."

"How close?" Penelope asked.

"Very," Kaitlyn repeated.

"Then go, you know your job," Penelope said to the girl, and to the rest of the room, said, "Let's waste no more time."

Diana gave a satisfied smirk, and Charlie picked up his intensity, resting one hand on the raised back of the chair and using it for leverage as he pounded now, again and again like it was a race and he was determined to win, but he had no obvious competition... at least until Ada felt a warm, wiggly intrusion at the point above penetration. This was the long-awaited tongue, and it felt incredible, less gentle and more forceful than she anticipated, like it was almost as insistent as Charlie's manhood ramming into her, only it could find no actual gap it could penetrate into, so it was doing its best to make a new one.

Ada could feel her breath getting shorter, faster, her heart beating faster and louder, and a rising urgency deep within her, and it culminated when that battering tongue disappeared and was replaced with the opposite sensation, a sucking on her clitoral nub, that her brain elevated into the heavens.

Only this time, her brain was soaked not only on hotdrops, but her father's miracle invention of Fermata, and that made it different. In previous climaxes, she might describe the moment as feeling like it lasted forever, but it also felt far too brief at the same time, and even last time, there was the sensation of whiteness but it seemed ever so brief. This time was not like that, it genuinely felt like it lasted a long time, minutes at least, although she could not reflect on this difference at the time, only in retrospect. As Ada experienced it, she was only awash in sensation, not thought, a receptacle, a conduit. What bits made it to her memory, she could reflect on later, but there was no conscious decision making or evaluation of the experience at the time.

What she experienced was that same sensation of whiteness overwhelming her, and a noise like a billion crackling fires, but this certainly was no hellfire, for pleasure incarnate continued to run through her. Soon she became aware that the crackling fires were, or at least included, voices, high pitched, excited, and talking of many things, and the whiteness also gained texture and depth.

She did not remember thinking of Mara, or thinking anything at all, but did remember hearing Mara's voice among them, and sensing a part of the white void and, not realizing, but merely being aware that it was Mara, naked and in her own ecstasy, just as she was aware that some of the other voices and shapes were others in the shop, and that Mara just happened to be the one she was approaching, just as she was aware that Mara was speaking, words that could be made out if not understood. It would not matter, Ada would think later, if Mara was speaking in English. Some of the other, distant voices spoke in English, but she did not understand them either. Mara's voice was merely like music in this cacophonous void, a tune that she could take inside herself, hum along to, even sing herself, the words not yet sung, because they were a part of her too. And so she did, not recognizing but later remembering a sensation that the other voices, even the crackle beyond, was also music, and Mara's voice might be the most compelling right now, but the others would be there for her later... she was listening to this one now, not just listening but vibrating in tune with, like two resonating strings on an instrument.

That was what she did, listen and resonate, until that voice faded away, and for some time after she listened to snatches of others, until the voices themselves got quieter and darker and there was a sensation of falling, and a sick feeling in her heart as she returned to her exhausted mortal flesh with a gasp, and then a few more, as though her body had not breathed at all for however long she was away and was making up for lost time.

Her eyes raced around the room, drained, missing the pleasure already and feeling sick from the lack, but also cherishing the ability to once again think and choose that she had lost, and knowing the sickness would not last long. Charlie was there, and Diana, but they were not smiling, they looked anxious. "What's wrong?" she asked. "I heard Mara, I think. No, I'm certain." Nobody seemed like they were returning from writing on a slateboard or paper. Had she been so far from her body that she had been unable to speak? "Did we not get what we were after?"

And then, as the silence stretched on, she turned her head to take in more of her room, and saw her father at the room's entrance, unexpectedly returned to the shop. He was staring at her body, which was still naked from the waist down. Kaitlyn stood beside him, and she too seemed anxious, like wondering if this idea was a huge mistake and regretting even her small part in it, and one of the overseers was lurking behind, obviously amused. Father, though, he was more difficult to read, and Ada's face reddened as she rapidly pulled her skirt down, as though she could somehow restore the image he had of his little girl.

When he finally did speak, it was no better, his words were calm, detached. It was a voice Father used when he was angry but trying to hide it, but also when he was surprised, or amused but trying to keep a straight face, even sometimes when he was about to take the blind girl to his room. Father often felt this need to hide his true emotions from his staff. The truth might come later, when there were no other prying eyes, and he yelled at her or turned her over for punishment, but for now he merely said, "Well, it seems my daughter has some hidden talents after all."


To her relief, the anger she dreaded never came, even after he cleared the room and asked questions of Ada, questions she answered honestly but with red-face. The working girls had a few hours of anxious worrying about their livelihoods... they had counted on Kaitlyn only bringing an overseer to witness Ada in the inspirational state, and on being able to convince the overseer to hide some of the details from the Master and merely convey the important information of the spy and Ada's abilities... but Erasmus Weston's cancelled golf game meant that he personally saw the scene and everybody involved, and a length of release that proved Fermata was involved without permission. However, success did indeed forgive many sins, and the discovery that his daughter was a Special was a success in the opinion of Erasmus Weston... the fact that they had caught a spy had made him even less inclined to be strict. So, when punishment came for Penelope, Diana, and Kaitlyn for being part of the scheme, it was minor, perfunctory, and the girls found they were treated as heroes for a short time and the loss of free days just meant more time to bask in that.

Mara confessed everything she knew. Children are good for many things, but espionage fieldwork is not one of them. They have a role to play, obviously, in using their sexual energy to send messages or crack codes, but it's asking a lot to want a little girl to stand up to a determined questioning, especially one who just needed a provoked orgasm before her computer abilities will answer virtually any question put to her to which she knew the answers. Yet Mara didn't even require this, except to confirm what she said... she revealed everything she knew when first confronted, which was certainly not everything, but enough to stage a trap to capture her handlers and turn them over to the queen's people, where the country's young Special interrogators discovered the whole plan, that after the Fermata formula was secured, the spies were intending to burn the property in the night to prevent anyone else from having it and to blame it on Tsarist forces in the hopes of reigniting a war and keeping England busy and presumably distracted from Germany's own movements. Mara's guilt was tempered by her confession and the fact that they told her no one would be hurt, which truly seemed important to her. It came to be found that she was an orphan, with no family save for an older sister who had now aged out of her Herald abilities and the connection the two shared, and abandoned Mara to seek her fortune elsewhere. This departure left Mara adrift, working what jobs she could find until she was found and recruited and trained and matched her up with a pair of twin Herald girls the conspirators had already recruited. Neither of them was valuable as a dynamo or computer, and so they couldn't get a job in a the Weston shop alone, so Mara was sent in and instructed to find where the formula was made and give reports to whichever of the twin Heralds was on duty. But although Mara could pass messages to these other Heralds, she held no affection for them, nor for the woman who previously claimed she was her mother, and after her confession begged to be allowed to stay, tearfully claiming she had never been happier than working for Mister Weston and that she dreaded to lose the sense of belonging she had so recently found.

The request was surprisingly given serious thought... she may have been a spy, but she was still a reckoner, and a Special besides, valuable and rare, and Erasmus Weston was tempted to keep his prize nearby... but in the end could never trust that she would not be passing messages to her counterparts, somewhere in Germany. The best compromise he could offer was to take legal custody of her, as an orphan, but keep her away from the shop, brought in occasionally for specific experiments into her abilities and yet profit most of the time by renting her talents out to other shops in need of a computer or dynamo but could not afford to keep one full-time or see to their education. She would not be near enough to be a threat to the other children, have no access to Fermata, but she would be taken care of until she passed out of age, at which time she might negotiate a breeding, something Father remained interested in. That option, though lonely, was still more appealing than being assigned to a prison chain gang bang for her part in the espionage, so she agreed, and as I understand it, led a reasonably happy life.

Ada was not punished at all, and in many ways her life did not change... she did not join the floor as any of the other girls, like she wanted, she continued to serve as Father's assistant, groomed to take over the business when she came of age, but as her Father was a practical man, he did put her to practical use, first in his research, where he stoked her, or had her stoked, under controlled conditions to assess the limitation of the Angel's Ear. To Ada's secret disappointment, Father never used more than his fingers on her, but the sessions made her feel closer to her father than ever before, and he even allowed her to relieve his own tensions with her mouth from time to time. Soon, she gained a new regular duty, to detect any future threats of the kind Mara represented. Whenever a new girl was brought on, or one of the overseers had cause to suspect someone, Ada was secretly stoked in proximity to them to detect any unusual activity. She never found any more foreign spies, though she did uncover plants from other shops trying to steal secrets or recruit particularly talented girls.

Such duties were infrequent, though, and Ada rarely got called upon more than a few times a week, and, at all other times, Father wanted her to keep up appearances and maintain the same distance and aura of authority he had always expected of her before. It would not do, he told her, to blur the lines between classes. Yet although he had deemed it not respectable for the Master's daughter to run around barely clothed or completely nude like the other girls, much less stoked publicly in front of the people from whom she was expected to demand respect, by unspoken agreement, if Ada disappeared into the semi-private rooms, alone or with someone else, and drew the curtain, she was not disturbed until she came out of her own volition, fully dressed, and so, although she always stood somewhat apart, she developed a kind of camaraderie with some of the other girls who genuinely enjoyed her company.

As for Charlie, he bore the brunt of Father's anger, and was fired later that day, privately, for the dual sin of not reporting a Special, and seducing the Master's daughter. It was perhaps the least popular decision the master had ever made, not just among the girls on the floor, but from his own daughter, who was outraged that he did it without even telling her until the morning after.

Unlike many other unpopular decisions, this one Ada was able to change, with a lot of pleading... or rather, some combination of pleading, anger at his refusal to give in to her pleading, promises not to cooperate with his research unless Charlie was by her side, and the reasoned argument that if she was going to root out spies, she would need to be stoked by someone who also stokes the girls, and would it not be better to have someone she is comfortable with? In the end, although he would claim it was mostly the last that changed his mind, many feel that it was respect for his daughter's stubbornness and standing up for her desires, it being perhaps the first instance where she truly demanded something from him and refused to take no for an answer. Because of that, Charlie was rehired and, years later, even married Ada with her father's permission, under the stipulation that she and any children keep her family name.

That decision proved to secure the Weston legacy. Although his was a talented mind, his most significant invention, Fermata, lost much of its worth after a similar American formula was patented and sold to workshops. Ada, however, became well known, and so, through her, did the Weston name. While it's true that Ada's later adult contributions to the science of computers and particularly her revolutions in identifying Specials, are themselves perhaps overshadowed by the dramatic events surrounding her discovery of her hidden talents, the historical curiosity that she was the first woman to come to own the computer shop she worked in as a child, and even the exploits of her children during the war, and in the end they may have the most impact on today's industrial world, they deserve a book of their own, and several have been written. However, it's probable none of the other things she is known for would have happened if she had not come to her full potential in time to uncover a Prussian spy ring, so perhaps it is fitting that is what she is most known for, and why I chose this story, to begin this book. Indeed, it seemed fitting to begin our exploration of the key figures of the Age of Inspiration by choosing the one who inspired me. Like all the figures explored herein, her story is reconstructed for the first time not just through journals but through the help of an exceptionally powerful (and delightfully limber) Psychometric Special (her name under seal in this printing in accordance with Child Labour Laws, but who I shall credit as my co-author in future printings) to provide hitherto unknown details and insights into their actual lives beyond the stories that made them famous.

Without those details, this particular story would hardly be worth telling again, as it has been so familiar to so many for so long. Even today, a simpler version of this tale is still regularly told to children who apply for sex work and are afraid of not qualifying as a dynamo or computer, to remind them that even if they're not among the nearly twenty percent of children with identifiable productive talents, there may be hidden talents in anyone.

Excerpt From: Profiles of the First Age of Inspiration, by Grover Armitage.


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