"I'm sorry we couldn't show you our little invention before now," remarked Edmond Shead as, with the conclusion of the introductory handshake, I followed his tall figure up the thickly-carpeted staircase of the rather affluent-looking detached house in which he lived, alone apart from a maid and a couple of small dogs, no more than a few hundred yards from myself.  By 'we' he was alluding to himself and Robert Dunne, who was also with us, not to Patrick Lyttleton, a complete stranger to me who had arrived just a few minutes before and was now standing at the top of the stairs, waiting, it seemed, for further guidance.  "But there were one or two last-minute hitches in getting it in proper working order."

     "I've all the patience in the world where other people's inventions are concerned," I averred, allowing myself the gregarious luxury of excessive understatement.  "Besides, I rather enjoyed the suspense from having to wait."

     We reached the first floor, suffered further introductions, and turned left along a narrow corridor before entering, at the far end of it, a room of about normal size though abnormal height - well over twenty feet.  I held my breath as I crossed the threshold into its brightly-lit interior, and expended it with a sigh of relief when I saw that nothing particularly unseemly was going on.  For other than a video recorder, some chairs, and a rather nondescript apparatus vaguely reminiscent of a dentist's chair, the room was completely empty and not the scene of sexual depravity or physical torture, as I had half-expected from the scant information already received from Robert Dunne on the subject of Shead's revolutionary machine.

     "Well, this is it!" my amiable host informed me, and not only me but, so it appeared, the little bald-headed man called Patrick Lyttleton also, since he had yet to be properly initiated into the room's secrets.

     We both stood a moment baffled by the apparatus before us, like two working-class schoolboys confronted by the interior of a car factory, and made not the slightest comment, nor could we have done so.  For Robert Dunne was quick to intrude with "Any guesses?", and since neither of us felt like making one, a puzzled and slightly embarrassing silence supervened, although I had a few private ideas in mind!

     "Perhaps you'll be in a better position to guess when it's set in motion," Shead kindly volunteered, and almost at once he pushed a button on the upper right-hand side of the contraption, where there was a panel of various-coloured buttons with terse, rather diminutive information plaques beneath.

     The START button immediately began a process that quickly threw me into convulsive laughter, an upshot which, brought about by the sudden confirmation of my suspicions, must have had a reciprocal effect upon Lyttleton.  For he soon began to snigger, despite whatever pretensions of seriousness to which he may have laid prior claims.  And why not, seeing that, once set in motion, the apparatus became sexually explicit, as a phallus-like object, hitherto concealed from view, thrust up into the air through a small aperture in what must have been a plastic seat and then rapidly withdrew, only to thrust up again in identical fashion a split second later, and so on, with piston-like regularity.

     "Why, you've created a fucking-machine!" I impulsively exclaimed, unable to restrain my language.  "That's a plastic cock you've just set in motion!"

     Patrick Lyttleton emphatically nodded his bald head in evident agreement and sniggered some more.

     "Too bloody right it is!" Shead admitted, a warm glow of pride suffusing his ordinarily pallid countenance.  "And that object up through which it thrusts is where young ladies position themselves throughout the duration of the, er, copulatory procedures.  The artificial phallus comes in a variety of sizes, so a woman can select whichever size she needs in order to satisfy her wants."  Here he pointed out a cabinet on the left-hand side of the machine in which some ten plastic substitutes were stored, ranging in length from 5-12 inches and in diameter from 1-3 inches.  There were even substitutes in the collection which had the appearance of being circumcised, and here Shead stressed that, whether for religious or cultural reasons, some women would prefer them to the plain, or uncircumcised, variety.  "After all, one has to cater to the widest possible taste," he added, casting Lyttleton a self-satisfied look.

     I watched, fascinated, as the demonstration exhibit continued to thrust backwards and forwards into thin air, while my fellow guest, having regained a modicum of seriousness, questioned the chief inventor of the machine about possible variations in the rhythm pattern, as he politely phrased it.

     "Yes indeed!" Shead responded, with evident alacrity.  "This is where the button panel comes in.  For here ..." and at this point he pressed a button adjacent to the START one "... we have the means of imposing a quicker rhythm on the phallus."

     And, sure enough, the plastic dildo now began to thrust backwards and forwards through the hole in the seat twice as fast as before, to the intellectual relief and optical satisfaction of Lyttleton.  "Ah, that's really excellent!" he averred, simultaneously nodding his bald-headed approval.  "As she approaches orgasm, a woman would require a quicker thrust."

     "Indeed she would," Shead concurred knowledgeably.  "And by pressing this third button, she can increase the rate of thrust even more."

     This was perfectly true.  For now the artificial substitute was moving so fast through the air that I could scarcely see it, let alone keep up with its rhythmic progress.  Once again I had to laugh, though not without evoking a sympathetic response from all but one of the others, who were only too easily infected by my amusement.

     "Yes, it does take a bit of getting used to at first," Dunne opined, partly, no doubt, for my benefit, but also partly because he had been of the amused party and doubtless felt it was about time he contributed something constructive to our appreciation of the machine, if only for Shead's sake.   "You'll be even more surprised to see what's coming up," he added.

     "But please stand back first," his senior colleague advised us, and when we had done so he proceeded to press a fourth button on the panel, which immediately had the effect of precipitating what appeared to be an orgasm from the plastic phallus in the form of a thick spray of semi-opaque liquid which shot up into the air from a central spout in a succession of rapid jerks, before crashing down onto the seat and surrounding area of the floor.  Even Lyttleton had to laugh here, as well as clap his hands in obvious delight at what had just happened.  "This milky liquid, composed of various harmless chemicals, is designed to simulate sperm," Shead rather pedantically informed us, wiping some of it from his brow, "though the device can be fed actual deposits of sperm when used as a method of effecting pregnancies."

     "You mean it can be used to propagate children?" I incredulously exclaimed, hardly daring to believe my ears.

     "Oh yes!" the assistant inventor interposed with obvious relish.  "We didn't just intend it to function as a thrill machine, an artificial alternative to the male sex.  We also hoped that it would prove a viable substitute for impotent husbands; for those husbands, more especially, whose impotence, though not entirely preventing them from achieving orgasm, takes the form of an inadequately forceful discharge, in which sperm is deposited insufficiently far into the, er, vagina of his partner to be capable of effecting a pregnancy.  Thus for women whose husbands let them down in this way - and there must be literally millions of them - the solution is not to sue for divorce, still less resign oneself to going childless, but to purchase a device like this, into which a deposit of the husband's sperm can be placed for the subsequent attainment of an artificial insemination which is both pleasurable and efficacious, the fruitful outcome of which could only be a joyful pregnancy.  Thus our invention can not only save marriages, it can create lives!"

     "How extraordinary!" cried Lyttleton, and despite my initial misgivings I just had to agree with him.  Why, if one could make one's wife pregnant through artificial means, what was there to stop an intensely transcendent artist like myself from exploiting such a device to telling effect, even given the fact that I personally disliked babies?  I smiled to myself, visibly intrigued by the prospect.

     Meanwhile Lyttleton had gone closer to the machine and was now looking at the penile substitute with the air of an experienced connoisseur, painstakingly engaged in the arduous process of estimating the value of a masterpiece.  Shead, to facilitate his guest's assessment, had slowed the rhythm pattern of the thrusting mechanism down to bedrock level, as it were.  Dunne was wiping-up such of the ejaculated liquid as was accessible to his mop, whilst I, virtually hypnotized by the sexual revolution, stared in wonderment.  Could it be that men were about to be put out of business by this invention, I wondered?

     "And the great thing about it, from a woman's point of view, is that she can trigger off the artificially-induced orgasm to suit herself," Shead continued, taking over the reins of exposition from where Dunne had tactfully dropped them.  "She needn't fear a premature climax from her partner, as all too many women do, nor be obliged to masturbate after his climax has left her unmoved.  Simply by regulating the rhythm of the phallus, she can bring on her own orgasm as and when it suits her, independently, if needs be, of the artificial one.  And, believe me, this apparatus will always guarantee maximum satisfaction, not leave her frustrated or unrequited in consequence of impotence!  By stepping-up its rhythmic speed she'll be brought to an orgasm sooner or later, and can continue to experience as many natural orgasms as she needs, bearing in mind that, unlike a man, this lover won't grow tired or run out of juice, but can continue to function indefinitely, supplying her with as many artificial orgasms as she can take."

     "Ideal!" Lyttleton concluded, his connoisseur's air becoming steadily more pronounced.

     "And, of course, she can always change the size of the synthetic member to one that, well, provides her with the maximum of satisfaction and the minimum of frustration, if you follow me," interjected the mop-weary subordinate inventor, as he laid his soggy mop to one side.

     Lyttleton eagerly nodded his shiny head and put fingers to chin in response to the exigencies of fresh mental calculations.  "Hmm," he at length concluded, drawing out his musings with evident relish, "a device that absolutely guarantees a lady satisfaction, can be used for business as well as pleasure, is perfectly safe, since immune, amongst other things, to venereal diseases, has virtually infinite appetites, can be switched on-and-off at will, ejaculates more forcefully and, if I'm not mistaken, copiously than a natural organ, is comfortable to use, comes in a variety of colours, may be tailored to suit the individual requirements of the customer, and, what's more, puts no physical demands on her ... seems like a jolly good commercial proposition, if you ask me!"

     Shead was almost foaming at the mouth here, and I thought for a moment that he was on the point of kissing his important guest's hands when he opened it, instead, to inform him that there was an additional dimension to the apparatus which modesty alone had precluded him from imposing upon us - the dimension, namely, of a sound recording attached to the rear of the machine which could facilitate sexual abandonment by mimicking the real-life blandishments and physical struggles of a lover.  "One may choose here from a variety of alternative recordings," the senior inventor went on, pointing to the relevant box, "from the most coarsely reproachful to the most subtly endearing, and all to make the experience as life-like as possible.  Actually, we had intended to introduce you to this aspect of the total experience through a video, if you're satisfied with the, ah, introductory demonstration."

     "Very satisfied indeed!" Lyttleton declared, and I automatically concurred with him, though I was beginning to realize that I existed on a vastly different plane than my fellow guest in the inventors' eyes, and was becoming puzzled as to exactly what my station or function could possibly amount to here.  Nevertheless I silently accepted the chair offered me beside Lyttleton, while Shead drew up a chair behind us and Dunne busied himself with the video equipment, before switching off the lights.

     "The model in the video will be a stranger to both of you," Shead announced, with I knew not what clairvoyance, as the first splash of colour erupted onto the screen some five yards in front of us.  "But have no fear, she's a very attractive young lady."

     And, sure enough, that she was, being a medium-built brunette in her early twenties - long-haired, blue-eyed, slender-legged, and well-curved, amongst a variety of other significant statistics.  I could see that she was standing in this very room.  For part of the mechanical copulator or penetrator or whatever could be seen to her left, motionless like a posted sentry.  I waited impatiently for her to undress, which she was doing slowly and deliberately, almost as though she were engaged in a striptease act, removing her black mini-skirt with graceful nonchalance and then peeling off her skimpy vest in the same slow, calculated manner.  One could tell that she had thoroughly rehearsed her part in the interests of professional polish, since this video was evidently intended for advertising purposes.  The model obviously knew what was expected of her, doubtless because Shead had given her a thorough briefing, if not coaching, and so ensured that she undressed in the correct way, with feminine finesse coupled to excited longing for the machine.  Even Lyttleton was beginning to breathe more quickly and audibly as the brunette removed her even skimpier bra with scarcely-concealed impatience and exposed, in bending down to remove her panties, a pair of the most delightfully-pendulous breasts it had ever been my good fortune to behold.  Her stockings, suspenders, suspender belt, and high heels were not to be removed, however, evidently because they constituted no obstacle to the attainment of her coital desires.  And neither, it soon became apparent, did the mechanical copulator itself, since she had obviously been instructed in how to operate it and knew exactly what size she wanted, taking a large uncircumcised substitute from the side compartment.  Then, having lovingly caressed the chosen organ for the benefit of her libido, she inserted it into the thrusting device beneath the seat, and stood back to admire her handiwork.  At the same time a running commentary by Shead played-on in the background, or perhaps one should say foreground, since it was quite loud and thus precluded the necessity of either Shead or Dunne saying anything to substantiate the information being imparted to the viewer.  In this way, Lyttleton and I gleaned that the model's name was Trudi, that she was dying to re-experience the thrill Janko - evidently the name of the copulator - had previously given her, and that she had complete confidence her sexual needs would be fully satisfied.

     And in case one had any lingering doubts, now came the moment of truth, the revelation of guaranteed sexual satisfaction as, becoming suddenly respectful and coy, almost apprehensively so, Trudi climbed astride the plastic seat, leant back on the comfortably-padded one-prong back rest, fumbled under herself for the artificial lover, and, satisfied that everything was in proper alignment, excitedly pressed the START button on her right, which immediately brought a suppressed cry of pain to her lips as the lover in question thrust unfeelingly upwards into her tender flesh.

     I instinctively looked away from the screen at this point; for I am no sadist to take pleasure in another person's pain!  Next to me, Lyttleton coughed faintly in evident embarrassment at the spectacle before him, but gallantly said nothing.  The recorded commentary was still droning on, and now to the effect that the initial pain caused by the first few thrusts of the artificial phallus was as nothing compared with the intense pleasure which the smooth functioning of Janko would soon engender, as Trudi gradually stepped-up 'his' copulatory speed and simultaneously availed herself of the recording facilities to-hand - these being, in her case, a rather lusty male accompaniment to her mounting sexual abandonment which was a potent mixture of animal grunts and verbal teasings, including the rather deferential use of a variety of four-letter words.

     Well, I sat there both intrigued and revolted at once, and I am sure that Lyttleton was experiencing similarly ambivalent feelings to me, though he made no comment, which wasn't altogether surprising in view of the audio intensity of the sex recording in question!  Now I understood what Shead had meant when he said that modesty alone had precluded him from imposing this further dimension of the mechanical copulator upon us.  To be sure, it was hardly something for cultivated ears!  Anyway, regardless of its aesthetic shortcomings, the vocal accompaniment evidently succeeded in pandering to Trudi's sexual needs, since it lent the overall experience extra erotic potency, turning the machine into a near-life substitute for an actual man.  From the business angle there was even the possibility of playing-up this aspect of the total experience, of harping upon the advantages, from a woman's standpoint, of having a lusty audio accompaniment, a vital ingredient of sexual relations which had perhaps been lacking from her previous sex life?  Why, therefore, should not a woman whose human lovers had been verbally inhibited profit more from the total experience offered by Janko, who, by contrast, was capable of the most lustfully uninhibited blandishments?  What woman could possibly resist such an advantage?

     Yes, I was beginning to acquire a certain respect for Shead's ingenuity here, which was reinforced by the visual evidence of sexual satisfaction now so blatantly exhibited on screen, as Trudi, having in the meantime further stepped-up the speed of the mechanical copulator, opened her mouth wide and tilted her head back with the approach of orgasm.  Here, once again, Shead's commentary came to the fore just as the lustful blandishments reached a brutal climax and then suddenly faded into the background, like a passing train.  We had to be informed what Trudi's next move would be, lest there were any doubts on the matter.  And her next move, logically enough, was to push the orgasm button and precipitate an artificial ejaculation from the plastic thruster which was intended to synchronize with her own, more natural orgasm.  Her next move, needless to say, was timed to perfection.  For, as she pressed the required button, her mouth opened wider and her head was tossed from side to side in the ecstasy which engulfed her, obliging her to cry out in the throes of a pleasure crisis and hold on tighter to the seat for fear of falling off.  A 'forcefully copious orgasm' was the commentator's verdict here, and, to be sure, it was impossible not to believe him, given the optical and audible confirmation before us!

     With the termination of her passion, however, Trudi could do no more than stagger from the by-now quiescent machine and slump exhausted to the floor, opening her legs to the viewer in order, presumably, to assure him that she had both received and returned a climax at the same time.  And what a climax!  For there could be no denying that the milky liquid which now trickled from between her thighs had been generously offered and no less generously received!  One could also see, if in need of any reassurance, that the artificial phallus left no bruises or marks behind, so that it was indeed as safe and gentle to use as its inventors claimed.  And, finally, one could note the obvious relief occasioned by surfeited desire on the young model's beautiful face, her eyes closed in peace, her lips forming a complacent smile, one of her hands gently and absentmindedly caressing a breast.

     Yes, it was unquestionably an impressive propaganda campaign Shead and Dunne had devised between them, and now that the video had run its intensely erotic course, I had no option but to join Lyttleton in congratulating them both for the success of their achievement.  Lyttleton, it transpired, was more relieved than me that the machine was capable of such gratifying results, since it was from him that the warmest praise was duly elicited.  "A truly remarkable demonstration!" he opined, his voice trembling with a degree of suppressed embarrassment, now that the lights had been switched back on, and both Shead and Dunne were again revealed, the former still sitting behind us, the latter nonchalantly standing near the video recorder.  "One wonders how you managed it."

     "Yes, it was certainly a convincing performance," I added, without intending to sound ironical.

     "Well, as you could see, Trudi was the person who managed the most, since all we had to do was film her and tape the commentary," declared Dunne in what I could only suppose to be sympathetic understatement.  "But we can assure you that her feelings and responses were genuine, not feigned.  We've had a job to keep her away from the damn machine ever since!"

     Both Lyttleton and I sniggered at this comment, though I personally had some reservations as to its probable veracity.  Nevertheless Lyttleton's next response left me in no doubt whatsoever as to his role here, since it was directed solely at Shead.

     "I'll take up your offer of a patent on Janko and set about getting him into mass production during the next few months.  I can only be grateful that you've given me first option on buying him and, frankly, I've full confidence that he'll succeed.  It will, however, be necessary for me to have a few words with my younger brother, Thomas, about this.  But I don't think you'll need to look any farther afield for your manufacturer.  I'll have Janko on the market by next year at the latest.  In fact, I'll convert my old vibrator-producing factory into a place capable of turning out at least a hundred of these, ah, mechanical copulators a week, and I'm reasonably confident that the workforce will be prepared to modify their constructive skills along more autonomous channels, as soon as I can get the basic mechanical components of the apparatus designed and properly assembled, the dildo-like aspects of it in particular."

     Shead's face brightened appreciably, and he all but heaved a sigh of gratified relief.  He had evidently been uncertain as to whether Lyttleton could be persuaded to put the mechanical copulator into production, but now he was confident that the manufacturer meant business.  And business could only mean money, possibly lots of money, considering how sexually efficacious his invention was.  He would become rich and famous, and Dunne along with him.

     I listened to his gratified response to Lyttleton's assurances with some pleasure but couldn't help wondering, all the same, exactly what my role here was.  After all, it seemed unlikely that they would have invited me along just for the fun of it, especially in the company of such an important (from their point of view) guest as Lyttleton.  Could there be some ulterior motive involving my wife, I wondered?  To be sure, I couldn't discount the possibility that she secretly wanted a child by me and, realizing I had no intentions of giving her one through natural means, hoped that I could be induced to make her pregnant artificially, which is to say, through the medium of Janko, in whose plastic prick a deposit of my sperm would be lodged.  The idea certainly wasn't unfeasible, and I marvelled at my wife's imaginative ingenuity in conceiving of it - assuming she had.  But that was hardly likely to be the official reason for my presence here and, as soon as Shead had said his fawning piece, I tentatively inquired about my possible role in the proceedings, fearful of the worst but hoping for the best.

     "Ah, forgive me for keeping you in suspense all this time, Jason," he responded, becoming slightly flustered now that I had forced the issue upon him.  "I ought to have told you earlier, but I wanted to see what your response to our little invention would be, before suggesting the possibility of your becoming involved in our project, er, artistically."

     "Artistically?" I echoed, baffled.

     "Yes, you're a painter and photographer of merit, aren't you?"

     It was almost as though he needed reassuring and, immodestly, I nodded, admitting as much to him.

     "Well, with your valuable assistance, we feel that we shall be able to put our product across better, assuming you'd be prepared to photograph the apparatus from various angles and make several sketches of it.  A famous artist like you would automatically confer additional prestige on our invention, particularly if ..." He halted in his verbal tracks, unable, through embarrassment, to continue, though I had a hunch what the crafty bastard was driving at!  Nevertheless I refrained from comment on that score, partly out of respect for Susan, and contented myself, instead, with reminding him that I wasn't famous as an artist but only as a writer.  "Ah, yes, but you do possess considerable talent in regard to painting," he countered, seemingly unperturbed by my excuse, "and could only enhance your, shall we say, growing reputation as an artist by contributing to our project.  Mr Lyttleton, for one, will be prepared - will you not, sir? - to commission a number of paintings and sketches from you, as well as some photographs, over the coming months."

     "I most certainly will," the manufacturer replied, blushing under pressure of this unexpected reference to his future responsibilities.

     "Well," I said, after a cautious glance at my prospective patron, "I'll do what I can to satisfy your requirements, despite my dubious status as an artist.  I don't know who's been spreading rumours about me, but I'm certainly not the famous painter you might like to imagine."

     Robert Dunne coughed ironically, then apologized to me in person for any misinformation with which he may have supplied Shead out of a personal enthusiasm for my work.  "It wasn't that I attempted to hype you up in my colleague's eyes," he confessed, finding time to interpolate a mildly ingratiating smile into his apology, "but that I sincerely believe in your painterly talents, and am quite convinced you're the best man for the job.  Your transcendental bias would be admirably suited to the depiction and possible clarification of such a supernaturally artificial apparatus as our Janko."

     I nodded my aching head on a confirmatory impulse, but had my doubts all the same.  Time alone would tell, I realized.