by A.S. Mara
illustrated by by dollydari
The package came to her in a long, large portable tank, roughly the size of a double-sided refrigerator. It was carried entirely by eight hoverbots to support its weight, and supervised by one tall, bulky courier, who fumbled with their electronic notepad and squinted at the print on the screen.
“Doctor Emfa,” the courier said, “where do you want this?”
Emfa shot another glance at the tank, where the glass was dark enough that the figure inside was only a vague, unmoving shape. She felt her mouth stretch into a smile. “Straight into the aquarium, please. It’s ready for her.”
As they passed through the hallway and into the living area, the first glimpses of the aquarium came into view. Emfa heard the courier’s little gasp of surprise, and her smile stretched even wider.
Remodeling the house had taken her weeks, the aquarium itself even longer but the end result sent a surge of pride and pleasure through her every time she laid eyes on it. The aquarium itself was built into the house, its base held solid with clamps and bolts to support its massive bulk. Its main tank stretched from floor to near-ceiling height here, right past the entrance hallway, with sprawling, smaller passages branching out from its center, supported by beams that helped form pathways throughout the house. Out of sight, there were two other smaller tanks in the back and private sitting area, where these branches met. All in all, it looked majestic, and had carved a significant hole in her funds.
Standing there with her package only a few feet away, Emfa couldn’t remember ever feeling happier.
“Up we go,” Emfa said, and started for the winding stairwell that hugged the outer wall of the main tank. She didn’t look back to see if the courier followed.
It took some maneuvering to get the hoverbots to fit, but in the end all three of them managed to make it to the top. There, by the surface of the water, Emfa listened as the steady hum of the hoverbots was gradually swallowed up by the numerous water filters she had installed throughout the tank.
She gestured at the courier, who fiddled with their notepad. As she watched, the hoverbots lined up against the edge of the water, and tilted their miniature tank up. There was a loud click, and their cargo spilled right out and into the water with a loud splash.
Emfa pressed herself against the railing, and watched as the figure sank to the bottom of the tank. The courier coughed, then again, until she turned to face them. They offered a smaller package, which Emfa took, then held out their notepad to her.
“Sign here, please?”
Emfa signed. She escorted them to the door as patiently as possible, keeping her smile polite and friendly despite how her nerves were buzzing with excitement. As soon as the front door was closed, Emfa spun on her heels and ran back towards the tank.
By the time she got back, her precious package was already on the move. Emfa caught a glimpse of her swimming through a clump of artificial seaweed, on the far end of the aquarium. Heart thudding in her chest, she jogged over, hugging the curves of the main tank, and stopped.
The mermaid was hovering in front of her, poised, as if waiting for her. Up close like this, she looked even more breathtaking than in the pictures Emfa had been given. The mermaid was completely still, except for her hair, which bobbed in serene curls around her. She was all generous curves, broad shouldered, with arms thicker than Emfa’s thighs. The length of her tail seemed twice that of her upper torso, and even at its thinnest, looked powerful enough to pin her to the ground. And her eyes–gods, her eyes were dark as midnight, intense and alien and all the lovelier for it.
Emfa swallowed. Her mouth felt very dry.
As if in response, the mermaid reached out towards her, and rested one palm against the glass. Her fingers were webbed, and her fingertips tapered into sharp claws, but otherwise looked no different from Emfa’s own human hands.
Barely daring to breathe, Emfa mirrored the gesture. Her palm looked tiny in comparison.
The mermaid grinned, the expression sharp and sudden. Her mouth stretched too wide, her teeth too sharp. Without breaking eye contact, she leaned forward and dragged her claws against the glass. The gesture made no sound, didn’t even leave a mark, but Emfa winced as though she could hear the screeching anyway, and stumbled a few steps back.
The mermaid eyed her for a moment longer. Then, with one powerful sweep of her tail, kicked away from the glass and swam off in the opposite direction, out of sight.
Emfa watched her go, her heart pounding against her ribcage, her body hot all over.
She spent the next hour or so trying to get another look at the mermaid, but every time she came close, the mermaid disappeared in a blink. The aquarium was big; Emfa had designed it that way to provide as much swimming space and freedom of movement as she was willing to give. In the present moment, however, that felt more like a design flaw than anything else. Emfa kept it up for a little longer, then gave up and headed into the kitchen.
A glance at the clock told her almost four hours had passed. Four whole hours, spent chasing after her new pet and being eluded every time. Emfa was almost irritated, then reminded herself that if she had wanted something that would swim idly by for her entertainment, she would have gotten a goldfish. Several goldfishes.
The chase was part of the fun. This was more fun.
“Yeah, keep telling yourself that,” she said, and snapped her fingers at the radio. A soothing ballad filled the room, and she let the music soothe her nerves as she went about preparing lunch.
From the refrigerator, Emfa retrieved the container of cuttlefish she had marinated overnight. Opening the lid sent a waft of turmeric into her face, and she breathed in deeply. Emfa wrapped up the cuttlefish with a cut of banana leaf and set it to grill on the stove.
In another pan, she tossed in some diced garlic and sliced chilies. Once the garlic turned brown, she tossed in some pre-chopped cauliflower, mushrooms and snow peas. With those frying, she pulled out a container of leftover rice, and stuck it in the microwave.
The end result was a decent enough meal, and more effort than she would have normally invested into a meal for herself. This was a special occasion, however, so Emfa plated everything, set them all on a tray, and gave it to the nearest hoverbot she could find. She retrieved a second hoverbot for the cooler she dragged out of the freezer. Grabbing a bottle of water, she gestured for both bots to follow and went to pay another visit to her new pet.
At the mouth of the main tank, Emfa had installed a wide ramp hat stretched out several feet across the water. Emfa directed the hoverbots near the edge of it, clamped them into place, and powered them down. That done, she put on the gloves she had prepared earlier and reached into cooler. Hauling out a large piece of frozen tuna, she braced herself near the edge of the ramp and tossed it into the water.
The splash it made rang loud in her ears, cutting briefly through the hum of the filters. Emfa watched long enough to see the tuna sink out of sight, then sat down to her meal.
She was nearly done with her lunch when the mermaid turned up again. Emfa didn’t notice her at first, too distracted by her phone. It was only when she felt the prickling feeling of being watched that she happened to glance over at the water, and nearly dropped her spoon.
The mermaid was peering at her, dark eyes visible over the surface of the water, her hair floating in gentle curls around her.
Emfa put her plate down. “Why hello.”
The mermaid lifted her chin out of the water, and rasped, “More.”
Excitement trilled through her lungs. “What, one wasn’t enough for you?”
“Big eater, are we?” she said, already getting up and striding over towards the cooler. She grabbed another tuna and tossed it over.
The mermaid dove in after it, and Emfa saw her catch the fish in her hands before swimming away. This time Emfa waited, watching the water until the mermaid turned up again.
“Want another?” Emfa asked. Her mouth hurt from grinning.
Instead of answering, the mermaid grinned back, her sharp teeth bloodied. The expression surprised Emfa enough that she stepped back, which was probably just as well, because the mermaid pulled back one large arm and tossed a fistful of bones at her feet, splattering her pants.
Emfa stared. The bones had been picked clean except for the heads, which stared up at her in silence.
When she looked up again, the mermaid was gone.
Emfa spent the next six hours without so much as a glimpse of the mermaid. At first, she tried not to think too much about it, tried to occupy herself with reading the student papers she was supposed to be grading, and catching up with the news. But she kept making excuses to herself–getting a snack, or reheating her cup of tea–just so she could pass by the main tank again, hoping to see her lovely new mermaid. And every single time, she was disappointed.
Had the tuna not gone down well? Was the mermaid having trouble adjusting to her new environment? Did Emfa miscalculate the temperature or miss a defective filter, and it was making her mermaid sick?
These thoughts kept circling in her mind, relentless. Emfa began pacing along the aquarium, following a branch at random, then backtracking and following another, and then backtracking again. She kept her eyes peeled, scrutinising every inch of the waters for the mermaid.
After a few more minutes of this, Emfa decided it was time to investigate. She retrieved the tranquiliser kit that had accompanied her mermaid. Flipping briefly through the manual, she put together the tranquiliser, checked that its tracking module was working, and sent it off.
She tracked its progress with her phone, and it was no longer than two minutes before it found its target. With a smile, Emfa noted its location, set down her phone, and began to strip.
The water was cool enough to be immediately unpleasant, but Emfa shivered and waited it out until her body adjusted. Then she took a deep breath, and dove.
The interior of her house looked so different from this side of the glass, discoloured and unfamiliar. It felt almost like a stranger’s house, even though Emfa had overseen every inch of its design, and knew the shape of it like the back of her hand.
Emfa shook her head a little, and told herself to focus. The augments she had received prior to her mermaid’s arrival meant she could hold her breath longer than most, but even then there was a limit. She had nineteen minutes at most.
It wasn’t long before Emfa spotted her mermaid, sprawled on a pile of decorative stonework, her tail curled in limp loops around her. The mermaid’s hair was a beautiful, chaotic mess, tangled around her arms and neck. Her eyes were closed.
Emfa swam closer, reached down for the mermaid’s neck, and couldn’t help the surge of relief she felt at finding the steady pulse drumming under her fingertips. It wouldn’t do to have all that money she invested going down the drain before even a week had passed.
The mermaid stirred.
Startled, Emfa pulled away, feeling slow and awkward in the water, but the mermaid didn’t move beyond that, settling back into stillness.
A beat passed before Emfa swam closer, wanting a better look. From this close, the mermaid’s skin was clearly scaled, even on her upper half, which had a faint, soft purple sheen to them. The colour of her skin darkened going downwards, the purple around her hips giving way to a blue so dark it was almost black, cutting sharply across her navel. She really was a thing of beauty.
Emfa reached out, followed that line between her mermaid’s two halves with her fingers. The mermaid’s skin was cool, firm to touch, and Emfa let her hand drift lower, feeling too hot for her own skin.
The mermaid stirred again, her tail moving beneath Emfa’s hand. Emfa let her eyes trail upwards, over the mermaid’s large breasts, up the curver of her neck and towards her face–
Their gazes met. Emfa froze, and watched the smile that unfurled on the mermaid’s lips, baring her teeth.
Panic slammed into her. Emfa was swimming away before she realised it, speeding towards the surface as fast as she could, hardly daring to look back.
When she broke through the surface of the water, her lungs were burning. She scrambled for the ladder, hauling herself out of the water and onto the cold metal of the ramp. Emfa pushed herself to her feet, stumbled, dragged herself across the ramp and towards the stairs. She made it as far as three steps before she slipped again, banging her arm against the railing. Pain exploded across her elbow, and Emfa had to stop, grit her teeth against it.
Her chest was heaving, her legs shaking so hard she could barely support her own weight, but she was on the other side of the glass now. She was safe.
When Emfa finally dared to look back at the water, she found the mermaid watching her, black-eyed and silent as a predator.
The minute she caught her breath, Emfa marched straight to her office. She shoved through the documents on her table until she found what she was looking for, picked up the phone, and dialled.
“Reel-It-In Premier customer service. My name is Alina, how may I help you?”
“Your tranquilisers don’t work,” Emfa hissed.
A beat. “I’m sorry?”
“Yes, you had better be sorry, because I did not send millions of dollars into your company’s pockets only to have your mistakes nearly cost me my life.”
“I understand you’re very upset. If you could tell me a little more about the problem–“
“Do you hear me? I could have died! I could have had my throat ripped to shreds by a vicious sea-beast because you people hadn’t bothered to measure your chemicals properly! Thirty minutes? It couldn’t have been more than ten before that thing popped right back up and tried to kill me.”
“Could I just get you to clarify what you mean by sea-beast?”
“The mermaid,” she said, gripping her phone so tightly her hand began to hurt. Her elbow was still throbbing. “What else would I have meant?”
“Yes, of course. And which tranquilisers were you using?”
“The ones that came with the mermaid, obviously.”
“Could I get the brand and dosage, please? I’ll run a quick check for you to confirm how long the effects should last–“
“Thirty minutes, I already told you that.”
“Yes, but if you could just help me confirm it, maybe with a serial number, I can double check it for you–“
“I don’t need you to double check it! I’ve double checked it. The box said thirty minutes!”
“I understand you’re very upset about this–“
“Of course, I’m upset! I nearly died five minutes ago. And here you nattering on about serial numbers, while your music is blasting away in the background. Which is highly unprofessional, I might add, and very rude. I should file a complaint.”
“With all due respect, I don’t have any music on. It must be something on your end.”
“You think I wouldn’t recognise my own music?” she yelled, but the words hadn’t even left her mouth before she realised the operator was right. The music did seem to be coming from her side, now that she was paying attention to it. It wasn’t even really music, just the sound of someone singing a melody without words.
Emfa turned to look behind her, to the open door of her office, and the hallway beyond it. The voice was unfamiliar, and the singing pricked at her skin like needles, skittering up her arms and down her neck. It was giving her a headache.
The operator was still talking.
“–you still there?”
“Yes,” Emfa said. “What do you want?”
“I–um. The serial number?”
“Serial number of what?” Emfa demanded, then winced. The sound of her own voice was too loud. “No never mind. Whatever it is can wait. I can’t deal with this right now.”
“Goodbye,” Emfa said, and hung up. Turning towards the door, she took a few steps forward, then stopped. Her head was pounding.
The mermaid was singing.
“Fuck.” Emfa tried for another step, felt the world tip dangerously to one side, and collapsed after it. The floor rose up to slam into her, then held her pinned to it. Emfa couldn’t move, didn’t even want to think about moving. A sudden, urgent need to sleep crashed over her, sinking deep into her bones. She closed her eyes with a sigh, felt the headache lessening already.
“Okay,” she said, and closed her eyes with a sigh. The headache instantly began to recede. “Quick nap then. Five minutes.”
Sleep pulled at her, sent her sliding down a slippery, endless slope towards unconsciousness. The singing went on, and Emfa gave in.
When she woke up, the room was dark. Her whole body was sore, her elbow throbbing with a dull ache, and she was shivering. It was so cold.
But her headache was gone.
Dragging herself to her feet, Emfa stumbled towards her bedroom and into the shower. She let the hot water pummel her back, warming her up until all the cold had left her body. Then, she pulled on some underwear and her warmest bathrobe, and went to make herself a cup of coffee.
And then, she went back to the aquarium.
Emfa sat down on the ramp, sipped her drink, and waited.
It didn’t take long for the mermaid to turn up, her head breaking past the surface of the water in near-silence.
For a long while, Emfa did nothing but stare at the mermaid, who stared right back.
Emfa crossed her arms. “Do you eat people?”
The mermaid rose only high enough to ask, “Do you?”
“What?” Emfa scowled. “Of course not.”
“Would you eat me?”
“After what I paid for you? I’d have to be out of my mind.”
The mermaid gave her a little smile then, almost conspiratorial. Emfa had no idea what it was supposed to mean. “You swim fast,” the mermaid said.
“Faster than you?”
Her smile curled wider. “No.”
Emfa stretched out her legs, then carefully dipped them into the water. The mermaid drifted closer, sending little waves rippling across the water. Emfa watched her approach and forced herself to stay where she was.
“Come into the water,” the mermaid said.
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Come in,” she said again, almost singing the words. She was only an arm’s length away now.
Suspicion crept back under her skin, even as Emfa found herself leaning forward. “Trying to lure me to my death?” she asked. “The same way you killed those men?”
“The ones at the lab,” Emfa replied, thinking of the report she has gotten. In the end, the incident had been half the reason she had won the bidding; her competitors had wanted a more docile exotic to display in their homes. Out of the original pool of thirty, Emfa had only needed to outbid four others to win her prize.
A prize that might be trying to kill her, at this very moment.
“Boys.” The mermaid laughed. “I didn’t like them.”
“Yes, I assume that’s why you ripped their stomachs open and stuffed them in the vents.” The pictures, when she had first seen them, had made her too nauseated to eat for an entire day.
“Boys,” the mermaid repeated. “The girls, I liked.”
That startled a laugh out of her. “Really? So that’s why you didn’t kill me?”
The mermaid wrapped one large hand around Emfa’s foot, making her shiver. “Come in.”
Emfa untied her bathrobe, pushed it off of her shoulders, and slid into the water. The mermaid was pressed up against her in an instant, one hand sliding over her lower back, her tail brushing against Emfa’s legs.
“My name is Emfa,” she said. “What’s your name?”
“What do you want to call me?”
Emfa thought about it, grinned even as she said, “Amethyst.”
The mermaid grinned back at her, all sharp teeth. “You will call me Amethyst, Emfa.”
The sound of her name in the mermaid’s mouth made her shiver.
“The girls said,” Amethyst began, trailing a finger along Emfa’s cheek, “you are rich. Very wealthy.”
That made her laugh. “Yes,” she said, “I’m pretty rich, that’s right.”
“And you made this home for me?”
“The aquarium? Yes, I–well I designed it, some workers put it together for me. But yes, I had it made for you.”
Amethyst leaned closer. “Very generous,” she purred. Here, even in this man-made aquarium, she smelled like the ocean. “I will keep you, Emfa.”
Emfa laughed again, felt the sound bubbling up her throat, leaving her giddy. “I don’t think that means what you think it means.”
“I know what I mean,” Amethyst answered, and kissed her.
Emfa froze. Amethyst’s lips were firm against hers, cool and unhesitant. Before Emfa could decide between kissing back or pulling away, Amethyst had wound an arm around her waist, tugging her closer, until their bodies were pressed flush together.
Heat bloomed underneath Emfa’s skin. Without even thinking about it, she kissed back, parted her lips on a gasp. Amethyst scraped pinprick-sharp teeth along her bottom lip, making her shiver. Emfa pressed closer, felt the sting break skin.
Amethyst drew back. When Emfa looked at her, there was blood on her lips.
“Hold your breath,” Amethyst said, and tightened her grip around Emfa’s waist.
There was just enough time for Emfa to inhale deeply before Amethyst was dragging her under.
Panic surged through her, rising up with the water. Emfa fought down the sudden wave of fear, kept her mouth closed and eyes open as her hands found Amethyst’s shoulders.
But her mermaid only bared her teeth in another grin and kissed her again.
Emfa willed her body to relax, tried to focus on the kiss even as her thoughts continued to race towards drowning. It seemed like an eternity passed before Amethyst tugged her back up towards the surface.
Out of the water, Emfa gasped for breath, her heart racing.
“Again,” Amethyst said.
“Wait,” Emfa panted.
Amethyst cocked her head to one side.
“Are you,” Emfa began. “Are you trying to drown me?”
That earned her another sharp grin, and Amethyst leaned in to nuzzle at her neck. “What do you think?”
“If you drown me, there won’t be anyone else to feed you.”
Amethyst let her teeth graze over Emfa’s neck, making her shudder. “Sounds like I shouldn’t then.”
“No,” Emfa agreed.
Amethyst drew back to meet her gaze. “Again.”
Emfa swallowed and took a deep breath.
As soon as they were fully submerged, Amethyst went straight for her throat. Emfa flinched before she could stop herself, but Amethyst only pressed sharp little kisses along the length of her neck. Her arm was heavy as a brand around Emfa’s waist, her other hand trailing over the Emfa’s ass. Her powerful tail curled around one of Emfa’s legs, slipped between her thighs. Amethyst was humming against her throat.
Fuck it, Emfa thought. If she was going to die today, she might as well enjoy herself first.
Reaching down blindly, Emfa found Amethyst’s breasts and cupped them in both hands. She squeezed them, felt the shape of them under her fingers, the hard bump of her nipples under her thumbs. Amethyst hummed a little louder, the sound sinking into Emfa’s skin.
Amethyst’s tail nudged her legs further apart, began its slow ascent until it brushed against her folds. Emfa gasped and got a mouthful of water for her trouble.
They were back at the surface broke before Emfa even realised it, Amethyst’s strong hands holding her up as Emfa coughed and cursed and fought for breath.
“Got careless,” Amethyst purred against her throat.
“Shut up,” she muttered, feeling like an idiot.
“All the girls do that,” Amethyst told her. “First time mistake.”
Strangely enough, that made Emfa feel a little better, and she pressed her forehead to Amethyst’s shoulder, feeling her breath even out.
Amethyst hummed again, a low, pleasant sound; Emfa felt herself relaxing, felt the burn in her throat ease as she sighed. Her eyes caught on the ridges of Amethyst’s fin-shaped ears. When Emfa leaned forward with her mouth, Amethyst angled her head for better access.
Emfa traced the ridges of her ear with her tongue, licked the edges and tasted salt. When she leaned in and sucked on her ear, Amethyst moaned, low and pleased, and the sound of it sparked under Emfa’s skin.
Amethyst shifted underneath her, her tail disappearing briefly from between Emfa’s legs, before returning as an even more insistent, delicious pressure, pressing firmly against her. Emfa groaned, locked her legs in place, and rocked her hips.
It felt amazing. The insides of her thighs were already burning, and she felt the stretch all the way to her toes, but the ache only fed the growing desire building inside of her. She felt too hot for her own skin, felt almost light-headed from her own need. Amethyst’s teeth was on her neck again, her humming skittering down her spine and all over her nerves and it only made everything feel better.
“Fuck,” Emfa groaned, and reached down to touch herself.
Before she could, Amethyst grabbed her hand, directed it towards her own stomach. Emfa felt the scales against her fingertips harden, then parting, until she touched a small, hard knob that felt both strange yet familiar at the same time.
“You know this,” Amethyst said, leaving little bites across her collarbone.
Emfa did know it, and she pressed her fingers against Amethyst’s clit with the same roughness she would have used on her own. The low growl Amethyst made was gratifying, made her hips twitch.
Feeling heady with need, Emfa reached lower, searching, but Amethyst did bite her then. She sank her sharp teeth into the meat of Emfa’s shoulder, making her yelp.
“That hurts,” she hissed, not daring to move.
Amethysts didn’t reply, kept her teeth right where they were, her fingers digging into Emfa’s hips.
“Fine,” Emfa spat, furiously blinking away the pained tears in her vision. She moved her hand back to Amethyst’s clit. “Better?”
Amethyst released her. “Better.”
Emfa leaned back to survey the damage. Her shoulder was throbbing and–fuck–bleeding. She was bleeding from a perfect bite mark right in the middle of her shoulder.
The sight should have made her furious, but then Amethyst nuzzled her neck again, humming, and Emfa felt her anger slip out of her grasp. One of Amethyst’s hands was slid under her bra to fondle her breast, pressing against her nipple. Her tail writhed underneath Emfa, stroking her through her underwear, and Emfa forgot her anger entirely.
Emfa rocked her hips, chasing her own pleasure. Amethyst’s hands were a vice grip over her hips, and every time Emfa ground against her, Amethyst’s tail canted up to meet her. Emfa groaned, went back to stroking Amethyst’s clit roughly.
“Yes,” Amethyst murmured, low and pleased. “There’s a good girl.”
Emfa buried her face in Amethyst’s neck and came. Her climax drove the breath from her lungs, wiped every thought from her mind except, until all she knew was the waves of pleasure cresting through her. She wanted the moment to last forever, but it was ending almost as soon as it began, leaving her loose-limbed, and starving for more.
Amethyst tipped her head back with a finger, pressed their mouths together in another kiss. Emfa twitched against her, restless.
“More?” Amethyst asked, breathing the question against her lips. “Big eater?”
Emfa huffed a laugh, traced circles around Amethyst’s clit and gasped when Amethyst dragged her closer. “Yes,” she said. “You and me, both.”
“Good.” Amethyst kissed her again, and slipped her own hand past Emfa’s underwear and against her folds. Her fingers moved in slow, languid strokes that made Emfa shudder, her touch heavy with promise. “We’ll have fun together.”