Celia came to the station when she was stressed, sad or stoned, when the man made days at the lab were dreary and the automated nights too dark. She had good stretches, but never enough, and when she tired of settling for the soft, sick swell of the long, slow lobs that comprised real life, she came here and banged space debris until she was completely numb.

They were creating combinant species in vitro but for her there had been no success, except for the nausea. And she was contaminating herself as a source subject by sexual contact with outside organisms. The technicians would kill her if they knew. Her sentence had been commuted only for as long as she agreed to submit to the tests.

She was hounded by a host of small fears, small caged critters crying at the gates. They crowded into corners and howled. The coffee was burnt. Her mother had always liked her brother, Jimmy, better. She should not have lied to the techie when he asked if the treatments were making her sick. The cries in her head got louder as the day wore on. Water toys, with bad sound boxes, cranking out tinny cries that dug under her skin until she felt a compelling need to shed. She spent the day responsibly. But by nightfall, when it all was over, when there were no more procedures to suffer, the sounds spread. Then, driven by a need to escape the clatter, she headed to the station that orbited the fourth moon of this planet. The pods only contained enough fuel to make it from planet to station. No way to run farther than the closest space stop.

She checked in and headed upstairs because she detested the downstairs bar. The clients at the bar wanted to talk. They wanted her name. Shy couples hid in booths, behind the stools hoping to meet partners. Upstairs she soaked in a tub set in the middle of a room. If no one joined her, she crawled the hallway wet, until someone dragged her to a bed.

"Scream for me, baby." Luther slopped onto the gimbled platform to take his turn. He wanted it doggy style. He crawled onto the bed fitting his tentacles around the mermaid's torso. Faced down on a black plastic bed with her cunt angled up, Celia edged closer to the end of the cracked, black rim that lined the mattress. She interpreted his sentence a thousand ways before she settled on the meaning that fit. Octopods liked to boff noisy virgins but Celia didn't have the patience for role-play.

"This ain't the line at Interplanetary Badging. Hurry up," she said. Luther felt for the fit and slid inside her. The mattress, wet with slime and foam, gave no traction. She kept sliding into the bubbled window that allowed a view of the blackening universe. Nothing sucked up light like an endless amount of space. The high class sex stations had cool beds and deep pile carpet. This place was lower budget. Celia had to dig her claws into the pad to keep from sliding into the window when Luther pushed. Tentacled men had gusto. Her arms highlighted by the black lights in the Meteor room, were grainier than they used to be. Too much time spent in sex stops dried her skin. She reminded herself that girls born to watery planets needed to lubricate.

When she was a child, she never left the water, born of the sea, it kept her skin supple. She played in the waves until lunch, fell asleep in the reefs and then swam until dinner when the krill washed in with the tide. Her friends said sharks lived in the shallows, but she never saw them. They said jelly fish floated in on the tide, but she never got stung. So she swam past the waves and played in the surf until she was exhausted then she would head to the coral and nestle in a hollow. Then she'd do the same thing the next day. If someone tried to stop her, she'd throw a fit. Lying on the bed underneath Luther she thought she smelled brine, then realized it was spittle.

"This what you want, baby?" he whispered. "You need this?" He had gotten excited and was spewing ink as well as sperm.

"More than the desert needs rain," she said, and wondered why the octopus ego required such soothing. They were in a sex station. Tonight, more than one client had asked her name, asked if he could take her with him when he left, wanted to hear her say that she wanted it, that he was the best. High expectations for space flotsam who had to jack off at the foot of her bed unless she said come.

Luther finished his last ride and pulled out. Then he called her "prime" and gestured to two of his friends who took his place, in turns, while Celia thought about nothing at all. The three Octopan were station regulars who had begun seeking her out. She had not been thinking clearly when she had given them her real name. She had pretended her first visits were larks and never believed that they would become habit. But the fear that drove her here never abated for long and when the clients called her names and fucked her, an anger thrived and it soothed her fears.

"Hey, Celia, wanna do something more?" Luther used her name. If you name an animal, it's yours. He was laying claim. She was a mermaid with pride. She decided he would never touch her again.

The staff shot used beds into space and there were standards for clients. The bouncers were kind and the rooms smelled nice, but this was a dirty place and Celia accepted it as such as long as it was hazily anchored in as a dream in her mind. It and these beasts whispered away like ash off a wildfire every time she returned to her room and fell asleep. She woke clean every morning in her bed, in her own tank lined with neon rocks and a piece of her dad before he got caught in the tide and was speared by scuba diver. Genetic experimentation had set them all free from the sea, free to roam the universe. Mermaid genetics was the answer. Insert Mermaid DNA into any kind of eggs and you get recombinant species, many of these tolerated space travel well and made it possible for all kinds of earthly creatures to cross the universe and leave behind the dying terran seas.

The play with Luther and his friends ended. While the guys slopped to the floor and slipped away, they talked about sex between species. The men were black, fat, eight legged wastrels. All Celia saw were cocks retreating into their undersides, and creatures she could not want to kiss on the mouth because it was horny and in the wrong place.

One slim fellow standing outside the room thanked her for the show and asked for a fuck. She took him in and he locked the door.

"I love sluts," the human thing said when they were done. He reached behind and let the pneumatics suck up the used rubber from flippered hands. "I want to be your last one tonight," he whispered then he pushed her down again and held her fast.

The clients outside were murmuring and squeaking. Someone jiggled the handle.

"How about it?" the slim man asked. "How many will you fuck tonight?"

"Thirty." A goal, something to set this visit apart from the others.

"Were the ones before me good?"

"They weren't all bad." She was counting participants, not rating them. Once they were done, she moved onto the next.

"Not a thing a mermaid really does," a merman once said. He meant come to the club alone. He rolled off the bed and looked for his prosthesis that glowed in the station's black lights. It was more of a cart than legs. The guy hoisted himself onto it with his arms.

"Why not?"

"Females just don't."

"There's a book I love," she said. He waited to hear. He didn't care, but she didn't care that he didn't. She lay on the bed and touched herself. "The Drink, the author has no idea why females do what they do. He wrote another book about mermen fighting to the death, but he didn't know why mermaids wouldn't do the same. In this new story, he made the females behave the same way his males did, but he missed the point."

"Which would be what?"

"Sea slugs and catfish suck the same shit off the ocean floor, but they are not the same animals." The point was lost. Once he determined that she would not fuck him again the merman found his cart's "Go" button and sped away. He left the door open and the miscreants who had not been allowed in floated outside in a waiting tank and waited with their dicks hanging out. They didn't dare touch her when she passed by.

There was another mermaid working the floor tonight. A blond in a shredded suit and spiked bracelets. She and Celia passed each other in the halls, chorus girls in the middle of a quick change. Celia waved at her and circled a cluster of sea life staring into a couple's booth. A pair of porkers were bouncing on a bad mattress. Willowy figures on either side of the doorway had drawn back the curtains so everyone could watch.

"That's the way it's done," someone said. The female wrapped flaccid crab legs around her boyfriend's horny shell. The bum jiggled while he pumped.

A fat man with a five fingered mouth, grabbed Celia. "Come on, baby."

"No," she said, and pushed him away. He backed off. Celia had no time for the shy guys. They were the ones who wanted to fuck in the escape pods or the ones who worried when they could not come. Lately, she also had no time for the ones without skill. Not because she needed tricks in order to have fun, but the Sid's, Ollie's and Andrew's who didn't know how to work her to orgasm were also too shy to ask how.

An image of sharks striking came to mind. White sheathes that rolled over black eyes when they bit prey. Celia did not know why sharks needed protection from seals, but she felt like both seals and sharks when she felt herself gliding in the shiftless sea of bodies. The slug came too far down her throat and she gagged. Clients sat in chairs and jacked off because they didn't dare join. She despised cowards. If they did not dare join, they had better not try.

At the end of the night Luther caught her in the elevator. She had ducked below decks for some shrimp heads that the staff comp'd. She was a draw in the station, almost staff herself. The bouncers and bartenders, mostly mermen, understood her motives, better than her friends. The director of The Drink could take lessons.

"Come on home with me baby. We can play games in private," Luther said.

"Go away, Luther," Celia handed him the remains of her meal and stepped away. He didn't follow.

One day someone she knew at the lab would visit the station, and see her and then the whole structure of her life would come crashing down. When she backed Jimmy into the propeller blades it had seemed a good idea, in hindsight, she wished that she'd exercised more foresight. Sometimes the implanted embryos created toxins as a result of being nurtured in the womb of a foreign creature. Six other subjects had died in the past year. Some were damaged and killed as a result to hide the evidence. These experiments were barely legal and not wholly accepted. Even the notion of using death row inmates to mess with the rules of evolution disgusted people. Failure would cause the corporation's funding to dry up.

Her end of the night human keeping track, found her heading back up top. "What number?"

"Twenty-two," she replied.

"Hurry up," he said. "I'm hot for you." He kissed her. The gesture reminded her of the way horse owners pat the asses of mares about to run the Preakness. It was reassurance she did not want. Comfort was a concept you shared with someone who cared and Celia was not pretending. The creepy encounters were the ones where the clients tried to be sweet. That stuff was for outside, where the one you wanted, lived. Here, sentiment rustled jerkily against the draperies, a baby otter struggling its way back to its den where it belonged. There were no nutritious oysters here, just soft stuff, soaking in sacs.

She hit her mark at 6:30 a.m., then found her human, who had been seated in a dark corner, waiting for his mare to cross the finish line. She banged him until 7 when the managers closed down the station. She detached from the guy and lost him in the mix of members crowding the exits. She navigated her ship away very fast and watched the radar to see that no one followed her. Looking down she crashed into a patrol ship protecting the perimeter.

"Speak to me Celia," the guard called her. When she opened her eyes she was back at the lab and strapped to a table.

"Don't call me that." She had a bump on her head and a strip of scales had been torn from her side.

"What were you doing?"

"Instead of navigating?" He nodded.

"Looking backwards."

"How'd that work out?" He began to feel for other injuries. They began to hook her up to monitoring equipment that would detect the presence of foreign particles.

"Badly," she said. Kim Idol