ONCE upon a time, the latest rage on the planet Transexual was the mermaid at the Siren of the Night, a casino

on the Royal Beach. Perched high in a giant champagne glass, splashing in seawater, she sang every night to a

room packed with the planet's richest gamblers. And after she sang the competition began, for legend had it that

there existed a secret phrase, a magical combination of words, that when spoken to the mermaid caused her to

transform into a human woman…with a woman's anatomy. Whosoever found the words, the legend went, got a

shot at the anatomy, and thus "fuck the mermaid" had fast become the planet's hottest game. Every night

someone tried, every night someone failed, and every night the mermaid, fish-tailed and inviolate, swam circles in

her glass and mocked them with a smile. In the short time since her début, she had become famous, furiously,

maddeningly famous, as the only adult creature on the planet that could not be had.

DEVA, Princess of Transexual, couldn't believe it.

"Unfuckable?" she wailed. "How can anything on this planet be unfuckable?" For although there were people who

remained celibate by choice, the very idea of a (presumably) sexual creature that simply couldn't have sex boggled

her young mind. For a Princess of Transexual, born and raised to screw with other people's reality assumptions, it

was a new experience.

She leapt to her feet and stalked to the railing of the moondeck, a scaffold appended perilously to the side of her

mother's palace. A hundred meters below, the black ocean crashed and seethed, and the night wind blew cool

and shivery. Normally, she'd find the combination arousing, but the concept of an unravishable mermaid had a

hold of her mind. She ran a hand through her unruly black curls (a gift from her genetic sire) and heaved a

frustrated sigh. At fifteen, she was used to preferential treatment, to the world bending itself to her whims, to the

easy solution to any problem. That the mermaid might be truly…impenetrable? was a possibility her brain refused

to accept. The challenge of it fired her blood and ignited every competitive cell in her body.

She brought clenched fists down upon the iron railing and executed a fast spin on the ball of one spike-heeled

foot. At fifteen, she was a sight to behold, the perfect combination of her parent's genes. Her skin was a smooth,

mocha blend of her mother's sable black and her father's pinkish-white, and she was sleek and firm, toned by a

life of dancing and the best sex. She was a bit below average height, a compact bundle, with her mother's width

of face and her father's perfect nose. She also had his startling hazel eyes, made all the more striking by the black

liner she wore permanently tattooed around them. At fifteen, she had the bearing and assurance of one born to

power, of one who would, in time, come to rule the planet. Fifteen years old, impulsive, dramatic, heiress to the

throne of Transexual and a male chauvinist's worst nightmare, Deva.

"Does anyone know if this mermaid's for real or is it just a clever costume?" she asked no one in particular. All

around the moondeck lay the offspring of Transexual's most powerful diplomats and leaders, in various stages of

undress. They were the princess' friends, sometimes her lovers, and an invitation to the moondeck (and to the

orgies that sometime happened there) was a coveted social coup. Those who had seen the mermaid hastened to

assure the princess that oh, yes, she looked real enough, all right. One of them, Remora d'Maline, daughter of the

Count d'Maline, smiled wickedly. It was she, who had told Deva of the mermaid, and it pleased her to know a

thing before the princess and be the one to break the news. Of course, if you asked her, she was Deva's closest

friend, she really was.

"Do you want to go see her?" she asked sweetly, envisioning herself sweeping majestically into the Siren of the

Night at Deva's side, or maybe, even, in front of her.

Deva toyed with the ties on her tiny, black-silk bikini. She donned a silken wrapper—more to watch it swirl in the

wind than for warmth—and smiled at Remora.

"Okay," she said. "I'll go see the mermaid." She waited for Remora to smile that smug smile of hers and then

added, "Tomorrow night." Remora's smirk collapsed, and Deva grinned.

"Oh, come on," she said, crossing to her friend and taking her by the shoulders. "Don't be upset. I'll go with you

tomorrow night, I promise. It's just that I have plans for tonight? Okay?" She waited for Remora to give her a

petulant smile and then released her. "Now," she said, "Leave me, all of you. The wind is high and I wish to be

alone."

One by one they filed into the palace, all save one. A servant in plain black, he'd been resting quietly on one of the

onyx panthers that flanked the doorway. He knew that if Deva had wished him gone, she'd have addressed him

personally, and when she did not, he crossed his arms over his chest and waited.

Deva watched the door close behind the last of her friends and turned to him. "Wanna go see a mermaid?" she

laughed.

The servant, whose name was Hallow, raised an eyebrow. "Right now?" he asked. "Tonight?"

"Sure," Deva replied, dropping the wrapper and untying her bikini top.

Hallow sighed. "So you just lied to Remora."

It was Deva's turn to raise an eyebrow. "Not at all," she said. "I will go see the mermaid with her tomorrow.

Tonight I have plans…to see the mermaid with you. Now," she said, untying and stepping out of her bikini bottom,

"Hop to. I want to be incognito tonight and you have to help me dress, so get down from there, Hallow." She

stood there, naked but for rings and a belly-chain, impatient. Hallow braced one hand against the panther's head,

leapt to the moondeck floor, and Deva, not for the first time, reflected on what a lithe, elegant figure he

possessed. Pity she couldn't touch him.

"As you command, Princess," he said, and followed her into the palace.

A note about the planet Transexual: visiting there is like diving head-first into an intoxicating drink, the kind with

multiple liqueurs, fruit on the rim, and a paper umbrella. In orbit around a hot-but-dim White Dwarf star, it is

perpetually dark but warm year-round. What visible light the star does emit is reflected and magnified by Transexual's

famous triple moons, and if the star exudes dangerous ultraviolet radiation, well: ultraviolet is absorbed by ozone, ozone

is created by lightning, and Transexual has so much lightning it is emblazoned upon her flag. A walk in broad daylight

there is roughly equivalent to a moonlit summer stroll on Earth, and she was and is isolationist, declining galactic

politics. Colonized by the sexual outcasts of the greater universe, she had become a haven of unprecedented sexual

tolerance and a thriving tourist destination. Her island chains foster diversity both biological and social: she has over

thirty thousand species of native orchids, for example, and over three thousand spoken tongues. She is a place of lush

jungles, black-sand beaches, seas warm as bath water, and the wind that blows there, fragrant of jasmine and

frangipani, makes even the most repressed visitors wish to remove their clothes. Nowhere on Transexual is this more

true than on Eros, the largest island and site of the Queen's palace, and nowhere is it more exciting than on the narrow

strip of land occupied by casinos, theatres, restaurants, bars, bondage parlors and shoe stores adjoining the Royal

Beach known as the Nightwalk, to which Deva led her reluctant companion.

The Siren of the Night was the most exclusive sea-front casino on Transexual. Built on pilings over the black sand

of the Royal Beach, with vast walls of storm-proof glass, it commanded stunning ocean views and the highest

prices. Faced with stiff competition, it fought hard to maintain its reputation as the planet's premier gaming

establishment: in the past it has offered strip baccarat and anatomically-correct slots; now it had a mermaid.

Deva and Hallow arrived in time for the mermaid's show, in disguise. Deva's was not entirely successful, as she'd

insisted on wearing her trademark red heels with white bows and a tiara, but she was passably incognito in a

hooded black satin cape. Hallow, recognizable in his own right, wore a wide-brimmed hat and dark glasses.

Together they walked past the casino's long reflecting pool and through a portal of aromatic mist, passing

beneath a statue of the eponymous Siren, a glistening pearl nestled between her legs. Inside was an open space

of endless black carpet, colorful gaming tables, and graceful, fluted columns supporting a three-story ceiling. Huge

salt-water tanks held an amazing variety of iridescent fish from the seas of Transexual, and the planet's wealthy

strolled among the tables, displaying their finery. At the far end of the room, a sweeping, shell-shaped staircase

rose to the private rooms: like most of its kind the Siren was an expensive bordello as well as a casino. It was

owned by a woman who was rumored to have once run with pirates, and Deva recalled hearing that the powerful

Lord Riff-Raff and his Sister Lady Magenta owned a private suite within its walls, though she did not see them in

the crowd. Deva and Hallow moved toward a crowded showroom door as fashionable Transexualians of all

genders gambled for the right to address the mermaid. Deva's voluminous costume was out of style for the place,

but Transexual encourages diversity, so no one paid her any mind.

Just as they entered the showroom the lights dimmed. Undulating patterns of light began to play over the

audience and walls, and strange, echoing music began to play. In the center of the room a curtain, so shimmering

white it might have been made of bubbles, obscured the stage, and as they watched the translucent rocks at its

base began to glow green and blue, garlands of water dancing between them. The music rose, the curtain parted,

revealing the giant champagne glass. Two meters high, big around as an outdoor spa-bath, and curled inside it

there was a mermaid. Bubbles cascaded from the ceiling, blue lights bathed the stage, and the mermaid began to

sing.

"Oh, wow," Deva said.

Never in her fifteen years had she heard anything like the mermaid's voice. It sent lancing shivers through her.

The mermaid sang no recognizable words but her voice was so pure, so keenly poignant, it made Deva want to

cry. It was like the songs of whales, or the cries of passion, and it was sad, so sad. The music ebbed and swayed,

catching her up, and she felt something was breaking open inside her. Something was happening in this room,

something completely new, and she knew she had to get closer to this compelling creature.

She moved forward as if bewitched. She slipped through the crowd, her eyes never once leaving the giant glass

as the mermaid finished her song. Ignoring the murmurs of disapproval from the people ringing the stage, she

climbed onto the glowing rocks, pressed her hands against the bowl of the glass and stared, transfixed, at the

mermaid.

The mermaid stared back—a harrowing experience, as her eyes were those of a sea-dragon: bulging, opalescent,

with snake-slit pupils. Her hair was long and wet, twining black and green, and fell like seaweed to her waist. She

wore a collar of black coral that flared behind her head into a twisted fan, and her skin was the palest, palest

green, even to the tips of her naked, upturned breasts. She did not smile.

Deva, petrified, let her gaze drift over the rest of the mermaid's body. At the creature's waist grew a ragged

fringe, kelp-like and swimming with the colors of oil on water. It ran down both sides of the mermaid's tail, her

magnificent, emerald-green tail. How heavy her tail was, how solid, yet how gracefully it moved! Deva, princess of

Transexual, gazed open-mouthed at the mermaid and knew, without doubt, that she was real. A memory came to

her, unbidden, from deepest childhood: the first time she'd seen the colored fountains at the palace, how she'd

stretched out her tiny hand to catch some of the magical water, and how disappointed she'd been when it

changed to plain, colorless fluid in her palm. How she had cried, how no one had been able to understand what

was wrong! Now, here before her seemed the living embodiment of that magic water, here, alive, and real, real,

real.

"Hey!" A rude voice cut into Deva's reverie. The mermaid looked up and blinked her glowing eyes. "You! Urchin!

Geddown from there!"

Without taking her eyes from the mermaid, Deva pulled the hood from her head. She shook loose her glossy curls,

and reaching back with her right hand she made a fist, displaying the Ring of State she always wore. With her

other hand she worked the clasp on her cloak and it fell away, revealing her resplendent in a jeweled corset and

hand-knotted fishnets. The voice behind her gasped.

"Oh! Princess!" it said, an unctuous note slipping into the second word. Immediately the crowd took it up:

"Princess! The Princess is here!"

Deva ignored them and leaned in, biting her painted lips.

"Perhaps you have to ask her her name," she murmured aloud. The man who had spoken before, a slick little man

in a sharkskin tuxedo who was the casino manager, laughed, not quite politely.

"Since she speaks no human tongue, Your Highness, that would be difficult. Besides," he added, "That has already

been tried."

Deva glanced at him and turned back to the mermaid. She met the creature's magic eyes, and her young heart

began to break.

"What is it?" she whispered. "What's the key?" To her dismay, the mermaid only pulled her great, shimmering tail

into the glass, and turned away.

"Perhaps Your Highness would care to try her hand at the games?" the manager purred.

LATER, after the mermaid had retired behind her curtain and Hallow had straightened out the casino

manager—the princess did not pay for the privilege of viewing the mermaid—they came to an agreement. Deva

could visit the mermaid any time she liked, and could try as many times as she wished to unlock the secret code,

but, whatever the outcome, the Siren of the Night had exclusive rights to the story. Barbary Lux, the casino's

owner, was away on another of Transexual's island chains buying exotic fish, so the manager ("Eli Apodes,

Esquire,") made the arrangements in her absence. Back in the palace, Deva was aflame with excitement. Surely

she, with her special insights and skills, could succeed where others had failed.

"Mark me, Hallow," she said, mounting the stairs to her chambers, "Before the smallest moon has shed her

shadow, that mermaid will be mine. After all, if I can't do it, who can?"

Hallow smiled at her conviction. "Then I wish you luck, Princess," he said. "Though, if you're determined to seduce

a mermaid, may I make a suggestion?"

"Yes?"

"Lose the fishnets." Surprised, Deva looked at her legs, shrugged, and went to bed.

THE next night, she was back at the Siren of the Night, anxiously awaiting the end of the mermaid's show. She'd

ditched Remora, sending her a message to meet her (Deva) on an island the other side of the planet. Hallow of

course came along, but she commanded him to stay in the background, as she wished to focus completely upon

the mermaid.

Once the crowd had filtered from the room she took Apodes' proffered hand and approached the mermaid's glass,

her heart pounding. She'd dressed especially for the night in a space suit of purple lycra and black sequins, a

sheer, floating cape falling from a high collar, and long, shiny latex boots. She also wore black, seamed stockings

instead of fishnets, despite an urge to spite Hallow just for the sake of it.

She stepped up to the glass, opened her mouth, and realized that despite her desire, she hadn't the slightest

idea what to say.

"Um, hello," she said, and earned a bored glance for her trouble. "How are you?" she continued, and the mermaid

responded with a slow, completely neutral blink.

Deva heaved a breath and drew herself up into what she hoped was a regal stance. "I am the Princess of

Transexual," she announced, and was rewarded by the mermaid rolling over and presenting her mint-green back.

Well! This would never do, especially in front of Hallow and Apodes. She walked to the other side of the glass and

tried again.

"Um…you're very beautiful," she said shyly, and it was true, she was. Even without the colored lights she was

strange and dazzling: alien yet indigenous at the same time. Her beauty was almost hypnotic, and Deva noticed

for the first time her fingernails were the pale, mottled blue of abalone shells.

The mermaid looked up, and Deva's heart leapt. At last, getting somewhere! "Uh…would you like a fish?" she

asked.

With a contemptuous swing of her tail the mermaid sent a gush of water over the side of the glass, almost

drenching Deva, who jumped out of the way just in time. Then she curled into a ball at the bottom of her glass,

burying her head beneath her tail.

"Well, this has been fun," Hallow said from the shadows. "Come along, Deva. Let's not bother the mermaid any

more than we have to."

"Don't you dare tell me what to do!" she shouted at him. "That's not your job and you know it!" Humiliated and

scathingly disappointed, she couldn't stand to be mocked. For a second her lower lip quivered and her throat

tightened, but she swallowed hard and bit back her tears. She looked at the mermaid's defensive form for a

moment, then knew what she had to do. She leaned forward and pressed her lips against the glass, so the

vibrations of her voice would carry, and said, softly, "I'm sorry."

Deva left the casino without success that night, but she promised Hallow she wasn't finished. She still had a

fortnight until her vow expired, before the smallest moon shed her shadow. She didn't know that the mermaid

sang in the casino against her will, that she'd been taken, shrieking, from the deep ocean by men with nets and

spears, or that her song was the cry of a broken heart. Deva also did not know that after she'd left the casino,

the mermaid had swum to the bottom of her cage of glass and pressed her delicate fingertips to the rosy imprint

of the princess' lips.

DEVA did not give up. She surprised Hallow by sticking to her vow, though he remained unimpressed, saying the

mermaid belonged to the Royal Oceanographic Institute, not a casino. Deva dismissed his concerns, and she

attended the mermaid's show every night, trying every phrase she could think of to arouse the creature's passion.

"I love you," didn't work; neither did 'Hey, baby, wanna fuck?" "What nice scales you have," likewise struck out,

though the mermaid, apparently recognizing the new pattern in her life, seemed to anticipate Deva's visits,

swimming to the side of the glass and propping her arms on the rim as if to say, "Well? What is it tonight?"

Encouraged, Deva logged into the Archive files and read everything she could on mermaids and the ocean, and for

the whole of the next week she tried every word and phrase she thought might induce the transformation.

"Starfish," she would say.

No response.

"Tsunami.'

No response.

"Mid-oceanic volcanic ridge."

No response.

And all the while the mermaid continued to sing, her song ever more poignant as the nights wore on. Deva

listened, increasingly affected by the music, consumed by irrational fury whenever someone else approached the

glass bowl. It was almost too much to bear, that the mermaid's song should move her so much while she should

be unable to communicate with the object of her desire.

"Grouper," she would say.

No response.

"Stingray."

No response.

"Cod liver oil?"

And so on, until her voice gave out.

"What is it?!" she finally cried in frustration one night, in the small hours between moon-set and the rising of the

star. "Why can't I talk to you? You hear me, that I can see. You respond with your face and eyes to my voice and

my tone. Can you speak any tongue at all? All the legends speak of mermaids transforming, they can't all be

wrong!" The possibility that the legends were false, that the casino had just been exploiting them to string her

along was suddenly so overwhelming, on top of her frustration, that she collapsed against the bowl, bursting into

tears.

She stopped when she felt the touch. Looking up, she realized the mermaid had come to the side of the bowl and

that her chin was being held in the creature's long, green fingers. The mermaid was looking at her, really looking

at her, and she wore an expression of such empathy and sorrow. Amazed, Deva took the mermaid's hand in her

own, marveling at its cool, pebbly texture. Surely there was something she could say, something that, even if it

did not induce the transformation, would tell the mermaid how she felt. Everything she had tried had failed…then

to her mind came a song, an old song from long, long ago, one that had been a favorite of her dead father's, and

she sang it to the mermaid with all the anguish her aching, fifteen-year-old heart could muster:

Wise men say

Only fools rush in

But I can't help

Falling in love with you.

Shall I stay?

Would it be a sin?

If I can't help

Falling in love with you?

Like a river flows

Surely to the sea,

Darling so it goes

Some things are meant to be…

Take my hand

Take my whole life, too

For I can't help

Falling in love with you.

She cried a little as she sang, but to her amazement tears slipped from the mermaid's eyes as well; tears that

caused the mermaid more pain than Deva knew, for every tear a mermaid sheds is, like a pearl, formed around a

tiny grain of sand.

"What is it?" Deva asked gently. "Is it me? I'm not hurt, I'm okay, really," but the mermaid continued to

weep. "What is it?" she asked again. "Oh, please, can't you tell me what is wrong?" In answer, the mermaid

swam to the other side of her bowl and stretched out her arms to a bank of curtained windows.

"The windows?" Deva said, not getting it. "You want the windows?" She walked over to them and fingered

the dark fabric. The mermaid strained forward, bracing one hand on the rim of the glass and holding the other out

pleadingly, toward the princess.

"You want me to open the curtains?" Deva asked. "Okay.' The heavy draperies swept back, and a

panoramic view of the ocean filled the windows, moonlight glinting on its rolling back like a million silver fish.

The mermaid sighed, relaxing, drinking in the vision as a suffocating person might drink in air. Her face,

though, remained eloquent of suffering, and her eyes never left the glimmering sea.

Deva was stunned. The enormity struck her all at once, knocking the wind out of her. "You're not happy

here!" she gasped. "You would return to the ocean! That's why your songs are so sad!" Suddenly, the

grotesqueness of it, of such a magnificent creature forced to sing in a giant champagne glass before a crowd of

gawkers—herself included—struck her full force, and she was rocked by a wave of remorse. How could she have

been so blind? Maybe the mermaid didn't want to be sold to the highest bidder, maybe she ought to be allowed a

choice, like every other sentient being on this, of all planets! She writhed under an emotion she would only much

later be able to identify as shame, for the Queen of Transexual sits upon a throne, which sits upon a stone,

graven with the word consent.

For once Deva cursed her own inexperience and impulsiveness. She'd known from the moment their eyes

had first locked this creature was real; why had it taken so long for her to realize the rest? Deeply repentant, she

faced the mermaid.

"I'm going to set you free," she vowed.

ELI Apodes was a neat man who ran a tight ship, who liked things just so and on time. He adhered to strict

mealtimes and bedtime, so he was more than a little perturbed to be suddenly awakened by someone sitting on

top of him.

"Apodes!"

He struggled to come awake, realizing as he did a small, strong form was straddling him in bed, and had a

hold of his sushi-print pajama top below his chin. Switching on his bedside lamp, he saw it was the princess of

Transexual.

"What?!" he cried in terror. "How did you get in here?"

"Never mind," Deva snarled. "Just tell me: where did you get the mermaid? How did the Siren of the Night

come to have her?"

"You're mad!" Apodes spat, pulling his pajamas away from her. "I don't have to tell you that!" Deva

seemed to consider this.

"That's true," she said mildly. "So I'll ask you nicely." She stretched her body out full-length on his and

began toying with a lock of his lank hair. "Eli? Sweetheart?" she cooed. "Where'd you get the mermaid?"

Eli rolled out from under her, got out of bed and clutched at his bed robe. "Why do you want to know?" he

challenged. Deva sat up on the bed, one leg tucked beneath her but the other dangling free over the side and

swinging menacingly, like the tail of a hunting cat.

"Because I was wondering how a sentient being should come to occupy such a situation," she said, low,

her black-rimmed eyes steady and spooky, "When she is clearly unhappy."

"How do you know she's unhappy?" he demanded.

"She told me."

"She spoke to you?"

"She spoke with her body," Deva said. "With her gestures, and with her tears."

"Ah," Eli answered. "Then she didn't speak to you."

"There are forms of communication beyond words, Apodes," Deva purred. "And you're avoiding the

question. Where did the Siren obtain the mermaid? You princess wants to know, Eli, and she's not leaving without

an answer."

"Very well, then," Apodes replied, drawing his robe around him with as much dignity as he could muster.

"We caught her. We caught her with a deepnet dragged behind a trawler. We were looking for bioluminescent

jellyfish for the Pearl's black-light tanks. When we saw what we had, and heard her sing, we decided to keep her.

The rest you know. There's no law against it."

"She's sentient, Eli." Deva informed him. "She's intelligent and perfectly aware. I've seen it myself. Keeping

her in captivity is tantamount to slavery."

Eli drew himself up. He was a shrewd man, and he recognized that he had just entered deep waters. "It is

slavery only if she is a citizen of Transexual," he said, "or unless a scientific inquiry finds her to be sentient. With

all respect, Princess, your testimony alone is not enough."

"But it wouldn't hurt, either," she said, smiling. Some inner voice warned her from pursuing the sentience

issue: a scientific inquiry could take weeks, perhaps months. It might even mean the mermaid would never see

the ocean again. She switched tacks.

"I'd like to buy her," she said, and wasn't pleased when Apodes laughed.

"I'm afraid that's impossible, Princess," he said. "The Siren's profits have increased twenty-six percent

since the mermaid began her shows, and that's a sustained profit no lump-sum payment could compensate.

Besides, she's not mine to sell. Barbary Lux owns the Siren of the Night, and I don't know where, exactly, she is at

present. In short, the mermaid is not for sale."

Deva thought fast. Plans A and B had failed, so she went with Plan C: buy time. She willed her rage away,

and forced her features into a winning smile.

"Well then," she said, "If that's the way it is, then that's the way it is. But her very intelligence makes

getting her to transform all the more difficult. I've gotten nowhere, despite all I've tried…I'm afraid it's going to

take a bit longer than I thought. Is that going to be a problem?"

Apodes eyed her suspiciously. She had to assault him in his bed for this? "No," he said carefully, "our

agreement was open-ended, just so long as we have exclusive rights to the story. The longer it takes, the better,

in fact: people are beginning to come from all over the planet just to see you."

"Then it's all settled," Deva said, rising. "And I'll go now. Sorry I woke you up."

"Any time," Eli said drily. He opened his bedroom door with an elaborate flourish so she could pass, but

Deva had already climbed out the same third-storey window through which she had come.

BACK at the palace, she paced her chambers, seething. Hallow watched her from his position leaning

against the massive posts of her satin-covered bed.

"First I tried to appeal to his sense of decency," she was explaining, "but apparently he hasn't got one."

Hallow listened, silently noting the issuance of the word 'decency' from Deva's mouth. "So then I offered to buy

her. 'Not for sale,' he tells me! Then it almost got into this hairy mess on the whole sentience/slavery thing, but I

avoided that. We haven't time for an inquiry. The poor thing's been trapped in that glass for months already. I

don't want her to spend any more time there than necessary." She came to a halt and planted her hands on her

hips. "Time…is of the essence," she announced darkly.

Hallow sighed. "So what are you going to do?" he asked.

Deva pivoted, hands still on hips. "I'm going," she said with a feral smile, "to steal her."

"I beg your pardon?"

"It's the only way. Apodes won't sell her, he won't let her go, and I don't want to wait. So I'll just, you

know, take her."

Hallow shook his head in disbelief. "Deva," he said. "You're telling me you're going to kidnap a full-grown

mermaid from one of the most popular round-the-clock casinos on Transexual, without the owners noticing? Just

how do you plan to do that?"

"I don't know just yet," Deva replied. "But there has to be a way. I want it."

"Deva…if you take that mermaid, you'll be committing a crime. If you're caught, it could look very bad for

you. Apodes is right: by current law they have every right to keep her."

"Then we'll change the laws!" Deva cried. "After she's gone! You know as well as I that there are no laws

about mermaids simply because the law has never been faced with one before. And if I have to go to jail, so be

it…though I somehow don't think that's very likely, do you?"

"Deva," Hallow said carefully. "That mermaid belongs to the Siren of the Night. Until there is a law

protecting mermaids, removing her from their premises is theft, and I'm afraid I cannot allow you to commit a

crime, not while I'm here. I have sworn to protect you, even from yourself. If you continue with this scheme, I will

have no choice but to tell your mother."

Deva stared at him for a second, then her eyes narrowed.

"If you do that," she said, "then I'll make your life here a living hell." She favored him with a malicious

smile. "I know you're straight, Hallow, 'Vows of Chastity' or no. I know I can't force you to sleep with me or share

my bed, but trust me, boy-o, if you run to Mummy with this news, I'll make your life very 'hard' indeed."

"Like you don't already, Deva," he said lightly, but she wasn't having it.

"Oh, Hallow,' she said, "You know as well as I that I haven't yet even tried." She began to walk toward

him with a sensuous, stalking gait. "I haven't forced you to watch while I pleasure myself, have I? I haven't made

you watch while I take another and moan your name, have I? I haven't even touched you unnecessarily, in all this

time, have I? You and your brethren, the Order of Asmov, "Defenders of Science"…you're truth-seekers, yes? Then

tell me truthfully: I've been a very good girl where you're concerned, haven't I? She came to a stop very close to

him, so close her nipples almost grazed his chest. He looked down at her, at her glistening lips, her shining eyes.

Young, so very young.

"I can always leave you, Highness," he said, knowing even as he said it he wouldn't. Deva knew it too.

"And you can walk away from your five million a year," she said. "That goes not to you but to the charities

you swore to assist. Oh, I know all about the deal between you and Mother. Mummy wanted me a chaperon who

wouldn't be distracted by lust and who wouldn't—couldn't—quit, so she bought herself an Asmovian. Very clever,

when you think of it." She stepped away and looked at him levelly. "I want this," she said. "The Siren of the Night

is a casino, for crying out loud, the loss of a mermaid won't hurt them that much! They'll live without their precious

twenty-six percent! She's a sentient being, she's suffering, and I'm going to free her. You can go to my mother if

you want, Hallow, but it's going to cost you." And leaning up on her tiptoes, she placed one gentle, precise kiss on

his cheek.

"And as for your concern about my getting caught," she smiled up at him, dimpling, "Then I suggest you

help me make sure that doesn't happen." Trailing a teasing finger down his chest she backed away, turning away

from him as she went.

Unfortunately, it wasn't as easy as she'd thought it would be. He first thought had been to sneak into the

mermaid's showroom between performances and remove one of the panels from the windows overlooking the

ocean, then tip the champagne glass over so the mermaid could dive to freedom, but the Siren of the Night

building permits she pulled from the Archives showed the window glass to be unbreakable and permanently

installed, guaranteed for life. There would be no going out that way.

Deva then turned to plans of the building itself and of the street outside. She found to her dismay that all

of the Siren's exits led to the street in front, none to the ocean in back, and that direct access to the beach was

blocked by walls or other buildings. The nearest access was at a public ramp a half-kilometer down the

Nightwalk…and the mermaid, she knew, couldn't be out of water for very long.

For several nights in a row she wrestled with it, always coming back to that accursed half-kilometer.

Creating a diversion inside the casino while accomplices (who?) snuck the mermaid out was one thing, but how to

get her, unnoticed, down the street? Neither motorized traffic not spaceships were allowed on the Nightwalk…and

even some king of enclosed, mermaid-sized push tank was bound to attract attention. With growing dread, she

felt the mental walls closing in on her, choking off her options. Weighing too on her mind was Hallow's silence

since their confrontation, his brief answers to direct questions, his wounded eyes. What she'd done to him was

most unfair, part of her acknowledged, and she realized she'd been counting on a quick resolution of the matter

to win his forgiveness. As the nights rolled inexorably past and no solution presented itself, she sank into a

depression, realizing with a leaden heart both that she'd alienated Hallow for no good reason, and that if she

didn't think of something soon, the mermaid was going to spend her entire life in that damned bowl.

THREE nights later, Deva sat sucking up toxic brews in her favorite seafront lesbian dive bar, The Bearded

Clam. No answers had come to her about her problem, and she'd slipped out of the palace to come in disguise to

this comforting place, with its cheesy décor and low-hung lights. She sat alone at a booth facing the street: she

just didn't have the heart to face the ocean.

How was she going to get the mermaid out of the Siren of the Night? How was she going to get her to the

ocean? She watched from her deep hood as warm rain flowed down the window. It was a fairly heavy rain for the

season, a harbinger of the monsoons to come, and except for the ten or twelve exuberant souls who had taken

advantage of it to dance naked down the street, the road itself was more or less deserted. Ordinarily, she'd have

joined the dancers in a heartbeat, clad only in flowers, but tonight she was sad, and the rain only reminded her of

the mermaid's tears. She took another swig of her drink.

A flash of lightning sent the dancers scurrying for cover, and the rain fell harder. Deva's attention shifted

woozily to the filling gutters. The stuff washing down Transexual's gutters was pretty entertaining even on a slow

night, and on a night like this it could be downright fascinating. Condoms, used and unused, were common, and

Deva herself had once seen an entire flotilla of inflated prophylactics bobbing down the gutter, each one

containing a tiny, rolled-up message. And look, right there, across the street: here came a perfectly good

underwire brassiere, trundling along like a double-humped serpent before veering suddenly into a storm drain.

Really, Deva thought fuzzily, a mild indignation rising in her inebriated brain. People ought to be more

careful. Anything flushed from a Transexualian toilet ended up at a waste-treatment plant, but anything washed

into the storm drains did not. You'd think by now people would know that the storm drains emptied directly into

the o—

Deva's eyes snapped open. She spilled her drink. She was suddenly very sober. "Holy shit!" She

exclaimed. "Holy Shit!"

A FEW hours later, she returned to her chambers, where Hallow was pacing, angered and frightened by

her disappearance.

"Where have you been?" he demanded. In answer, she shook her soaking-wet body like a dog, flinging

water everywhere.

"In the storm drains," she laughed.

"What?!" Deva had a distressing habit of ditching her bodyguards, but this was almost too much. "You

might have drowned!"

"Yes, but I didn't," Deva answered, crossing the room to her computer console. "I was very careful. It

wasn't that deep." She keyed in her password and called up a schematic of the capital's storm drains, searching

for the area around the Siren of the Night. In a moment she had it.

"Yes!" she cried triumphantly. Hallow came closer.

"Deva, what are you doing?"

"Look." She moved so he could so he could see the screen. "Here's the Siren of the Night, and here's the

nearest storm drain. With the cover off, it's a least a meter square, and it's only about…fifty meters, from it to the

mermaid's bowl. Just fifty meters, right across the street from the Siren! In a heavy rain, it'll have more than

enough water to keep her alive, and it drains into the ocean…" she scanned the onscreen schematic: "Here, about

a quarter kilometer away. All I'd have to do is get her from the showroom to the storm drain, the cover of which

I'll have removed one way or another. Fifty meters! I can do it!"

"Deva," Hallow said, his voice tight. One last time. Please…don't do this thing."

Deva looked into the eerie light of the computer screen and a stillness came over her. There was

something she had to say to him, she knew it, just not what it was. She began to speak, not sure where she was

headed, but speaking all the same.

"Hallow," she said quietly, "She's so unhappy. You've heard her songs, you've felt her sorrow. I've seen

for myself her intelligence and that she is suffering." She turned to him, her eyes wide and sad. "You and your

Order, you give the profits of your scientific breakthroughs to charity, and why? To alleviate the suffering of the

world, yes? I would alleviate the suffering of this one creature. I know that her captivity is by current law legal,

but…" she fell silent a moment, struggling with a concept that wouldn't quite form: "But…there is sometime a

difference between what is legal and what is just."

She left the blue screen and walked to her chamber windows, through which the distant ocean could be

seen. "If I were but a common citizen," she continued, "I could take refuge in the law, I could use it to turn my

back on something not fair…but I am not, am I? I would do this thing, and I alone have the power and the

privilege to assume the risk. I'm sorry I tried to alleviate her suffering by inflicting suffering on you. That was

wrong. But I am going to do this, Hallow, because I must. Because it will right a terrible wrong. And because…

because I love her."

Hallow regarded her for a long moment. For all her sophistication, all the education poured into her head,

all her sexual liaisons, he'd never heard her profess love before, and never known her to risk herself for someone

else. His mission, imparted to him by Queen Electra herself, was to oversee the Princess' psychic development as

well as her physical. He smiled.

"If that is the case, Princess, then I will help you. I will not tell your mother. I will help you, may the

Cosmos help us both."

With a squeal, she threw herself into his arms. "ThankyouthankyouthankyouHall ow! Now all we need is a

heavy rain so the drain will have enough water to carry her to the sea! Within a few nights, we'll be ready to go!"

"Then I will follow your lead," he said, prying her off of him, though he did allow himself one gentle,

precise kiss on her cheek.

DEVA woke to the sound of rain against her windows. She slipped from her satin bed and padded naked to the

sill. Rain poured from the black sky, beating down the fronds of the palm trees below.

Now or never, she thought, and dressed herself in a long-sleeved catsuit of beaded fringe, one of the few

all-black garments she owned. She sent a message to the Eros Public Works Department ordering the cover of the

storm drain opposite the Siren of the Night removed, then roused Hallow, and together the stepped into the

palace hall.

"That wasn't very funny, Deva!" said an accusing voice, and they both jumped, startled, and spun around

to see a very pissed-off Remora d'Maline, standing with crossed arms, tapping toe, and a lightning-bolt imprinted

traveling case at her feet.

"Oh, hi, Remora," Deva said.

"I went to Ganymede, like you said," Remora fumed, "I waited for you. For over a week, and you never

showed! Then I turn on the news, and there you are at the Siren of the Night, and it's this huge thing! "The

Princess and the Mermaid!" If you didn't want me to go with you, you could have just said!"

"You're absolutely right, Remora," Deva said, approaching her as if she were an unexploded bomb. "It was

a terrible mistake on my part. Because you see," she shot a look at Hallow, "I have need of you."

"Oh, no," Hallow moaned.

Deva, Hallow and yes, Remora, all arrived at the Siren of the Night just before the mermaid's show.

Remora was in a much better mood, now she was on a secret mission with the princess. Unfortunately, she was

also stepping on Hallow's feet because she wasn't watching where she was going.

"Ah, Your Highness," Eli Apodes said, intercepting them in the misty foyer. We haven't seen you for some

time. Most distressing. I can't tell you how we've missed you." He took her arm in a proprietary grip.

You just keep thinking that, Deva thought, but she smiled and said, "It's good to be back. I have a whole

raft of new phrases to try out on the mermaid! In fact, with your permission, I'll just nip into the showroom and try

one or two of them before her show."

"I'm afraid that's impossible, Your Highness," he replied, and the pressure on her arm increased ever so

slightly. "You've arrived on a rather special night, you see. We have a broadcast crew in tonight, to capture the

contest for a planet-wide telecast. If you don't wish to participate, of course I understand. But if you do, the how

marvelous!" he burbled. "But the crew is setting up their lights in the showroom right now, so I'm afraid a private

audience with the mermaid is quite impossible." With a patronizing pat on her hand, he slipped away through the

misty portal.

"What now?" Hallow murmured in her ear, followed by "Ow!" as Remora once more trod on his heel.

"That's not good," Deva breathed back. "Like it or not, as soon as that TV crew sees me, I'm going to be

the center of attention. I—" she broke off. "Of course!" Excited, she grabbed her friends and whispered in their ears.

The Mermaid sang, her voice so raw and sad that many in the audience were reduced to tears. The

cameras rolled, recording it all. As the music died, Deva, standing just outside the curtained showroom doors

, whispered a prayer to the spirit of her dead father.

"It's star time," she breathed.

Ah-ah!

With a crash of drums and bass guitar, she flung back the curtains. Instantly the TV spotlights turned, the crowd

gasped, and she sang with a leer the first lines of the song:

Now I don't hardly know her

But I think I could love her

Crimson and clover!

The crowd exploded in applause. How appropriate! And the Princess, part of the show!

She snaked her way to the front of the showroom. The cameras, their operators delighted, followed.

Ah-ah!l

Now when she comes swimmin' over

And I been waiting to show her

Crimson and clover

Over and over!

And she exploded into motion, the fringe on her catsuit whipping as she writhed to the music, dancing out of the

showroom into the casino, leaping up onto a blue baize gaming table. The crowd and the cameras poured through

the doorway, following.

Hallow and Remora sprinted to the mermaid's bowl, and began pulling away the plastic rocks at its base.

"When the glass is free," Hallow said, "I'll tip it so you can attach the wheels. And when I say push,

Remora, you push!"

Out on the main floor, Deva leapt from table to table.

Yeah, she sang, and ba-da-da-da-da-da! The crowd sang back:

I'm not such a sweet thing

Ba-da-da-da-da-da!

I wanna do everything

Ba-da-da-da-da-da!

One beautiful feeling

Ba-da-da-da-da-da!

Crimson and Clover

Ba-da-da-da-da-da!

Over and over!

She danced from table-top to table-top, landing on the craps table before the great plate-glass windows

overlooking the sea. The storm outside raged on, lightning turning her slender form into a fringe-lashed

silhouette, as the song moved into its hypnotic bridge, the crowd now singing with her:

Crimson and clover

Over and over,

Crimson and clover

Over and over,

Crimson and clover

Over and over,

Crimson and clover

Over and over!

The crowd pushed close to her as she sang, and Deva closed her eyes, floating on the melody, abandoning

herself to the hands that reached up, twining through her fringe, until they alone supported her weight. No one

noticed when the curtains of the showroom parted and the mermaid's glass rolled between them, the mermaid

curled up inside it, two people pushing it.

The glass was almost to the mist-shrouded front portal when a ghastly shriek rent the air. Deva snapped

out of her song, looking up to see Adopes pointing at Hallow and Remora and screaming like a pod-person in that

Earthish film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. He ran towards them, and Deva watched as Remora, the closest to

him, staggered back in fear, right into the stem of the great glass. Horrified, she watched it begin to fall.

"Duuuuck!" she screamed at Hallow, who was right in its path. He dodged out of its way, but nothing could

stop the heavy glass as, with water, mermaid and all, it fell through the misty doorway and hit the floor, smashing

into a million jagged shards.

Deva leapt from the table, swerving around Apodes, who stood rooted, his face in his hands. She leapt

over the broken glass and through the mist, convinced she'd find her beloved mermaid thrashing helplessly on the

ground, blood streaming from a thousand cuts.

There was nothing. A huge puddle, broken glass…but no mermaid. Deva's brain had just time to think

wha…? when the mermaid erupted from the long reflecting pool in front of the casino, spiraling toward the night

sky, ecstasy written in every line of her body. When the glass tipped, she'd been thrown clear, into the pool! She

landed with a mighty splash and began to swim the length of the pool with the glorious, joyous leaps of a dolphin.

"Yes, yes, yes!" Deva punched the air and ran after her, matching the mermaid leap for leap, cheering her on. The

storm drain was right across the street, open and roped off as she'd ordered. Could the mermaid make the jump?

No matter, they could carry her that far if they had to! Looking back, Deva saw that the mermaid had circled back

to the far end of the reflecting pool. She was swimming full speed for the pool's end, gathering speed, a bow

wave forming ahead of her. She was going to try to make it!

"WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?!" bellowed a voice, and Deva nearly jumped out of her hide. She'd

never heard such a loud unamplified voice! The mermaid heard it too, and pulled up short with a violent, hissing

splash. Deva spun around to see a tiny woman with the biggest voice and most commanding pose she'd ever

seen. She stood barely four feet high, wore a patent-leather corset and an eye patch, and one hand held an

umbrella, the other, a plastic bag containing a tropical fish. This, then, had to be Barbary Lux, owner of the Siren

of the Night casino.

"ADOPES!" she roared, and Eli came sidling up.

"Barbary?" he quailed.

"Adopes," she replied, and Deva was almost surprised to hear her speak at a normal volume. "Can you

kindly tell me what is going on? I return from a fish buying expedition to find my mermaid in the reflecting pool, my

patrons on the front walk instead of at the tables, and is this the princess?" Her voice took on a tone of wonder at

the last.

"Yes," Deva said, and Barbary Lux dropped a neat curtsey. Deva waved it away. "I'm freeing your

mermaid," she said, figuring, well, the game's up anyway.

Barbary looked at Deva with her unpatched eye. 'Why?" she asked innocently.

"Because she's sentient, she's intelligent, and she was suffering." Eli immediately starting wriggling his

hands in the air.

"No!" he cried. "No! There's no proof of any of that!" Barbary looked at the TV cameras, still rolling, and

gently shushed him.

"Sentient, you say," she said. "Why, I had no idea. Of course she must be released immediately."

"But, the contest!" Eli began, but Barbary, who barely came up to his breastbone, grabbed his cravat and

pulled him down to her level.

"Eli," she explained quietly, "Which would you rather have: a mermaid or the eternal gratitude of the

future queen?" She stared at him until he got it, and then they both turned beaming faces to the cameras.

"We have exclusive rights to the story," he whispered through his grinning teeth.

"Do we?" Barbary whispered back. She beamed all the brighter. "Then I know just the place for the

release!"

DUE to Barbary's intervention, the mermaid did not have to reach the ocean via a storm drain. A

tank-equipped van was borrowed from the Transexualian Aquarium instead, and she was carried to it from the

reflecting pool in a canvas sling. She was then transferred to a salt-water grotto on the Aquarium grounds that

overlooked the ocean from the top of a black basalt cliff. The water below was very deep, and a strong,

out-flowing current would carry her far out to sea soon after she made her dive. The camera crew (more than

happy with the turn of events) would film the jump from small boats below the cliff, and the Siren of the Night

would bask in the public attention as the mermaid's enlightened savior. Deva rode to the Aquarium in the back of

the van, holding the mermaid's hand.

At the grotto, Deva asked for a moment alone with the mermaid. She was gazing out over the ocean, her

strange flesh reflecting the moonlight, and for the first time, Deva saw her smile.

"I wish you could stay with me forever," she said softly, kneeling by the grotto. "But I know you have to go

home." Her voice quavered, because she knew this was the last time she'd ever see this magical creature, but

she choked it out anyway: "I wish with all my heart I could keep you here," she said, salty tears beginning to flow,

"But I know I have to set you free."

Blinded by her tears, she didn't see the mermaid swim over to her, nor when she pulled herself up on her

arms so their faces were very close; she just felt when the mermaid's cool lips touched her own.

Surprised, Deva opened her eyes to see the mermaid swimming back away from her, with a smile on her

face that was gentle, welcoming and, well, a bit….naughty. She held out a willowy green hand, and at that, there

was obviously nothing to do but for Deva to shed her own clothes and step into the warm salt waters of the

grotto.

O, lovely females. O innocent sexuality. Swimming like twins in amniotic fluid, sporting like otters, they

reveled in their own softness, luxuriated in their own sinuous curves. And it was then that Deva discovered the

legends…were wrong. The Mermaid did not transform into a woman, with a woman's hips, thighs, and legs, but,

like females everywhere, she could, when she chose, reveal her secrets. Folded inside the topmost scales of her

tail was a little indentation that, when the mermaid placed Deva's hand upon it, deepened into a little valley of

shell-pink, tender flesh. And what was it like, to finally slip a tongue into that most secret of secret grottos? If you

asked her, the princess would just smile, and tell you it was not so different as you might think: for when it comes

to sex, we are none of us too far from seawater, after all.

Afterward, with Deva's skin still tingling from the scraping of tiny scales, she put on her clothes, and the

mermaid dove deep into the grotto, then exploded up, into the sky. For one brief, stunning second, she was

silhouetted against the greatest moon; then she was gone, into the welcoming waters of the vast, black ocean.

Deva knelt on the basalt cliff and wept, watching the rings of the mermaid's wake ripple out wider and

wider. She drew a shuddering breath, and stood to walk away.

"I am proud of you, my daughter."

It was as if the darkness itself had spoken. In her black robes, with her sable skin, Queen Electra was

darkness embodied, and she seemed to almost detach from the shadows as she came forward.

"Mummy….!" Deva cried, and was enfolded in her mother's arms. The Queen kissed her and raised her

tear-streaked chin. "How did you find me?"

"I saw you on television," her mother replied. "Now listen to me, young one," she said in mock sternness.

"In time you will rule this planet, and you will place the concerns of its inhabitants above your own. Of all its

inhabitants. You must win, and keep, their hearts. While I do not entirely approve of this whole adventure, child,

you seem to have done admirably at both these things, indeed." She kissed her daughter again."Come home

when you are ready," she said, then glided away to where her transport ship waited.

Deva lingered on the cliff, looking out over the ocean. The last of the ripples from the mermaid's wake

were disappearing. Then she turned back toward the glittering city, where the party never ends, and began to

walk home.

THE END

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