The taste of vomit in his mouth — acid, sharp as razorblades and tacks, panic inducing, burning, familiar and sick and sweet — was nothing new to Troy Salcedo. When he had been decanted, rather than born, poured out of a bioreactor vat and into a cradle, he didn’t have any gut flora. Bacteria, living inside his stomach and intestines, to help him digest food.

He remembered, vaguely, when he was three, being fed through a tube pushed down his nose, from his airway into his oesophagus, with a thin fluid dripped into his stomach. He’d been informed that it was a mulched and cleaned out but unsterilized mixture of mouse and human faeces, with growth media and plenty of saline.

He’d thrown up, and that vomit had been different, which was why he remembered it so well, even though he’d been three at the time. It had been stinging and filthy and salt, like blood.

Troy was now twenty-six, and while he understood, intellectually, that as a genetically engineered creature — raw lab mouse genes tweaked and pushed and toyed with until he resembled something like a human being — it made sense to mix up sewage and mouse shit and feed it to him to colonize his guts with the correct set of symbiotic bacteria, in his heart the whole ordeal made him want to throw up.

So he did, staining his black fur with orangey strings of spittle and the dinner his girlfriend Jennifer had made them earlier that night, leaving his lips coated in filth, heaving hard as he gripped the seat of her toilet, his naked tail knocking the wall behind him with hard sharp cracks that made him wish he’d broken the bones, so he could go to hospital and get pumped full of morphine and pain killers, and get fed with an IV drip, a needle in his arm, and skip the messy, painful business of food and his gut entirely.

It had been a nice dinner. Intimate, romantic, seated at her table, on her Amerindian patterned rug, in her apartment, while she wore a nightie that clung to her curves, and he wore her gown, shockingly pink around his thin shoulders, but so warm, because it smelled like her — dry and dusky. So he felt guilty, for puking their nice dinner up into her toilet, after crawling out of bed with one of his recurring nightmares.

It had been about his liver. Troy’s gut flora didn’t belong to him, they’d had to put it into him in the labs, all part of using him like a research animal. Troy’s liver didn’t belong to him, he’d had to cut it out of his cloned brother Berlin, so the doctors could write about what a wonderful thing implanted electronics were, part of a cybernetic system that let Troy operate on himself, and put Berlin’s liver into himself to fix him, like another dose of sewage and mouse shit.

It was okay. It had stopped when he was ten years old. That was the Emancipation, and he was free now. He had rights, he was an individual, and nobody was going to do any more research on him without his full and ethical consent.

Troy threw up again anyway, heaving desperately, snivelling for breath and weeping.

When he was done, and he’d washed his fur, he padded back to bed clean and damp, and with a cupful of water inside him, making his throat and stomach clean too.

Jennifer was tangled in the sheets, the lamp beside the bed lowered to an intimate glow, her eyes delicately shut. Just sheets. The weather was hot in San Iadras, closer to the equator than to the tropics. Burning winds, blown in from the oceans, wet and hot. They’d bring the rain soon, tropical rain that would calm the hot streets and cool them again, but for now, with the window open and the air conditioning off, a blanket was too much, and Jennifer only made the wide field of her bed with a sheet to cover the mattress, and a sheet to cover her and her partner.

Her throat was off-white fur, and soft. Her nightie black, and lace. The top of her snout, the back of her body, sandy, tawny yellow. The fur there slightly thicker, slightly rougher than the silk she turned her breasts and belly and crotch into, with a thousand bottles of shampoo stacking the shelves of her bathroom.

Thylacine. A kind of marsupial wolf, with stripes across her rear, her lower back, as black as Troy’s fur was.

She’d been seven, at the emancipation. She’d been taught how to be polite, how to shake hands with people, how to speak clearly and beautifully. She’d learned how to make coffee, and make friends, and she’d been set free on the world, instead of being introduced to it with a pricetag on her short, blunt tail.

Jennifer cracked her eyes open — piercing green — and spread her legs beneath the sheet, her knees hard rises in the fabric, and smoothed her hands down on top, showing the outline of her inner thighs, pressing the white linen to her crotch. “Come back to bed,” she murmured, voice husky and rough, words slurred around her arousal.

Troy shivered, despite himself, and obeyed, gently slipping the shorts he slept in down his thighs, revealing himself — pink flesh soft, unwarm. But he wanted to change that, stepping free of his underwear, and slipping underneath the sheets beside her.

Her hands rose, dragging the sheets against her curves, and she lifted her chin, exposing her throat. She caught at her nightie, and pulled it higher, higher, until the lace fell over the peaks of her breasts, exposed the dark tan of her nipples, and there she let the issue rest.

“You smell good,” she whispered against his skull, as he dipped his face to her exposure, and lapped at the small patches of skin she had amongst all her soft, silken fur.

“Do I?” he wetly asked her nipple, before closing his lip on Jennifer’s hardening flesh.

Mmm.” She relaxed, gently shifting as his weight crossed her knee, and settled between her spread legs. She smiled, as the movements of his body pushed the sheets down, draped on his tail, and exposed the red curls at her crotch, the same colour as her hair, spread across the pillow. “You smell like water, and like you’re putting your unhappiness behind you.”

Jennifer’s hands slowly rose up the sides of his hips, pulling him closer, delicately guiding him to place himself, soft as he was, against her heat. “You smell like old nightmares, Troy, and coming back to bed, so I can make love to you until you cry sweet tears I can lick, because you’re happy again.”

He moaned against her face, and nodded desperately. Agreeing with what she told him, agreeing that he smelled like water, agreeing that he was putting his unhappiness behind him.

She felt good, pliant and hot against his crotch, gently shifting her hips in a rolling wave of pleasure — just ripples for now, ripples against the skin of his cock, tempting him away from fear, tempting him with the lips of her vagina pushing against his genitals, so that they parted wetly around him.

The sound was soft, and subtle, and wet. And it made Troy hard.

It was uncomplicated sex, with her legs spread wide for him, her body turned into a bed for him to lay in, and buck in, and shiver in.

She crooned at him, encouraged him to buck quicker, faster, to bite into her fur and cry out as his hard flesh plunged into her, over and over, quicker, until he jolted into her and came, shuddering in delight, in joy, in the tropical heat of the night.

She lapped his face, and didn’t even pretend that she’d came.

She licked across his black fur, and stole away all his tears.

“Sweet Troy,” Jennifer whispered at him.

“Love you Jennifer,” he whispered back.

The smile she had for him was burning warm, and full of the love she never spoke of, but only showed him. Her lips, spread wide, warm, turned up, her eyes open on his. She didn’t have to say it, and her voice betrayed it, but she loved making the words. Loved shaping her lips to tell him. “I’m so happy.”

Her arms came around his shoulders, latched him tight to her, pulled him down, and she smiled into his fur.

Troy smiled back. “I am too, now.”

Nightmares be damned, Troy was awake, and alive, and with Jennifer.

 

Sleep arrived. It always did, easing away Troy’s consciousness and replacing it with the warmth of Jennifer’s body and breath, so very close to him. Light, harsh and unwelcome, pricked his eyes, so he rolled over, searching for Jennifer’s hair to bury his face in, but he couldn’t find her.

“Jen?”

Bit by bit, Troy opened his eyes, and found that the light was sharp, and artificial. White panels in the ceiling that snapped on with a buzz. “The six AM shift starts now.”

The voice that said that was a hard artificial thing, part of the building management’s software’s default system, and Troy had grown up thinking that the labs housed a strange person with that voice, until he’d learned how to program computers to make such voices himself.

Correction. The voice that had said that in reality, in his childhood, had been hard and artificial. The voice making the announcements now was feminine and soft and roughened with a husky purr.

“Jennifer?”

There was another bed above the one he was in, a normal bunk, sized a little too small for an adult. Troy had known, even then, that the bunks he and his twenty-three clone brothers slept in were not large enough for adults because they were not expected to live long enough to become adults.

But the bed he was in was wide, and the mattress was covered in a single sheet, and another sheet covered him.

A black body dropped down from above, springing on its knees in the passage between Troy’s bed and the next over. A child, a mouse, about eight years old.

Troy bit his tongue. Something wasn’t right, but he didn’t have time to find out what. If he was late waking up, the doctors would perform behavioural adjustment. If he was very lucky, that meant being taken to the psychology labs and having an electrode wired to his remaining hand, his right hand, so that he could be pain conditioned.

Troy rolled out of bed hurriedly, fumbling with the stump of his left arm, thinking he could simply pick up the sheet like he always did in the mornings, using his prosthetic, but it was missing.

That made sense, he hadn’t gotten the prosthetic that looked so natural it fooled even Jennifer in the first days they’d known each other, until he was leaving San Iadras to go to college. His brother Saigon had made it for him, especially. And he wasn’t there yet, he was eight years old and in the labs.

Troy nodded to himself, shivering as he stood up behind his brother. He couldn’t tell which one — there weren’t any bandages, from surgeries, on the little boy in front of him, or the others lining up ahead, crawling out of bed. No scars at all, which was insane, Troy and his brothers had been cut to pieces by the time they were eight. Troy was missing his arm beneath the elbow, but all his other brothers were whole. In fact, all his brothers were there, but by the time he’d been eight, he was already petrified of the incinerator shaft, down which they sent the bodies of dead children.

He didn’t have time to think about it. He clawed up Jennifer’s sheets, stripping his mattress quickly and efficiently, pulling with his hand and cradling the crumpled sheets with his stump, while the little boy beside him reached up, stripping the bunk bed above with the same practiced efficiency.

Sometimes Troy needed help to get the bed stripped in the mornings, because of his hand.

Christ! Philadelphia needed help too, he was in a wheelchair now, wasn’t he? They’d broken his spine, like they’d broken Troy’s spine, but they hadn’t patched it back together — Philly was the control.

“Philly?”

Troy turned, looking for his brother Philadelphia, but behind him the black mice stared, voices mute. Not one of them was in a wheelchair. One hiss, sharp, a whisper with his own voice eighteen years younger; “Shhh. Don’t make them angry.”

Troy nodded, clutching Jennifer’s sheets to his chest, and marched out with the rest of his brothers. But he was taller. Too tall. He could see straight over their heads.

Shit. That probably meant that Miss Betchett would see him first, and pick on him. Oh Christ no, she’d want to do behavioural adjustment and she wasn’t on the psych staff, she didn’t use the electrodes, she–

A small hand shoved him in the back, and Troy marched forward, clutching the sheets to his face, hiding the tears as they marched from the dorm into the cloakroom block.

The first mouse out of the dorm grabbed the laundry cart from its place by the door to the showers, a horrible metal thing on rollers, and pulled it straight, dumped the sheets inside, picked up one of the sets of paper clothes they had from the bench, and pulled on the paper fabric.

Troy ditched Jennifer’s sheets into the laundry cart, in a flat panic — how could he get the sheets back for her? They were hers, and the new sheets the doctors gave Troy and his brothers were always the same, they’d keep Jennifer’s sheets, and Jennifer would yell at him about it, and Troy tensed his eyes to keep himself from weeping, gulping down sharp breaths, swallowing the air over and over as he picked up his set of paper clothes.

They tore, as he pulled them on. They were too small. So he stood naked, in the torn scraps of his clothes for the day, and gnawed at his lip. Long ago that had been okay, Mister Crewe, one of the crèche attendants, always gave the brothers new clothes if they were ripped, but Miss Betchett yelled at them not to do it anymore, not to pick at the clothes and tear them, but it wasn’t deliberate. It was an accident. Troy was too tall, he was twenty-six and the clothes were for an eight year old, and any reasonable human being would understand and that’d be okay, but Miss Betchett hated him.

“Oh Christ,” Troy moaned, losing his paper slippers with his first steps, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it. They had to report for the research shift.

Research was horrible. It had names like ‘Studying the effects of pain mediated conditioning in the game theory model’, or ‘Toxin tolerance under the effects of biroxytrentate’, or ‘Social modelling’, which was an excuse to make Troy and his brothers cry when the doctors forced them to lie to each other.

They marched through the corridors of the labs, and Troy wondered which dream this was. It wasn’t the one where he cut open Berlin. It might have been the one where they told him that the electrode for pain induction had malfunctioned, and he was receiving zero point five on the Stanville Pain Induction Scale, but it felt like ten.

The doctors were less frightening in their coats, standing and watching the brothers, now that Troy was almost as tall as they were. No one noticed that he was nude, or commented on it. Maybe it was alright. Maybe this was some kind of psychological test, and he’d be okay if he kept calm.

“You have a session with Doctor Ranton today, Troy. Room four,” Doctor Hawes told him.

Doctor Hawes was alright. Doctor Hawes did his best to be kind, although he didn’t flinch, at all, when he did something that hurt Troy. But he did say ‘sorry’, and gave Troy all the opiate pills Troy wanted, and didn’t care that Troy couldn’t focus on anything while he was on drugs.

Doctor Ranton was not alright.

Room four was small, and had the chair they locked Troy into for electroshock therapy.

He sat down, sweeping his tail carefully into the trench in the back of the chair, and set his left arm and stump on the left armrest, and his whole right arm on the right armrest, and waited for Doctor Ranton.

He didn’t want this dream. He didn’t want Doctor Ranton to hurt him again. Troy had left the labs, he was meant to be free now. He wiped tears from his snout, and covered his nakedness with his only hand, and wished he could wake up, but he didn’t know how.

The building control voice spoke to him again. “We have a new research programme today, Troy.”

He shook his head. He didn’t want new research, but it was going to happen if he wanted it to or not.

The Doctor stood over Troy’s chair, lab coat open, wearing the horrible data-spectacles that reflected the artificial lighting into Troy’s eyes while the Doctor read about today’s procedure on the pad.

“Today’s research programme is ‘Effects of erotic social interaction on traumatized subjects.'”

“Don’t wanna,” Troy moaned.

Jennifer’s tangled sheets held him down, and the Doctor opened her lab coat a little wider, revealing a naked stretch of white fur, peaking over soft breasts with dark nipples, and dropping away to red curls over her vagina.

“I’m Doctor Jennifer Dixon,” she groaned at him, nosing at his face.

He flinched at the electric touch of her pubic fur, a little ruff she styled oh so carefully, against the head of his penis, wet with desire.

“No! I’m scared!”

“It’s okay, Troy.” Her mouth opened against his ear, with the heat of her lips filling the world, and scraping her teeth so tenderly across the edge.

She sank on him, tilting her body, selfishly, hungrily, grinding her clit against his glans, hard wet scrapes that left him shivering and jolting under her like he was in pain, but he wasn’t.

He wasn’t in pain.

He was screaming in ecstasy at Doctor Dixon, and she screamed her orgasm back at him, her voice raw and aching with heat as she trembled and clenched on him so hard he thought his erection might break.

It didn’t.

She wrote that down in her research notes, and Troy ejaculated. She made a note of that, too.

 

“Jesus-fuck-jesus-fuck-jesus-fuck-jesus–”

Jennifer’s warm hands clutched Troy tight in the moments he shook and trembled, not understanding where he was. A yelp of fright, he didn’t often jolt so hard, he didn’t often move so much. A yelp of confusion.

A pause, her fingertips clenching his arms, as her nose gazed down the length of his naked body, the sheets shaken off him.

Troy dry swallowed again and again, panting for breath.

There was a white, wet smear across Jennifer’s sheets, and her thigh, and the black of her stripe.

Light was barely glimmering in the window, sunset still ages away.

He stilled. He held his breath, and held himself still, and tried to understand Jennifer’s sheets tangled around his legs, and his tail.

Jennifer gently touched the tip of his erection, rubbed her fingertips in the sticky mess, and chewed her lip contemplatively.

“Were you dreaming, or did I wake up late to a very interesting party?” Her fingertips glided up and down his shaft, making him glisten with himself.

Troy bit his tongue, heat flushing his ears with shame. “Uhm.”

“Troy?” She ducked her nose slightly, pulling the sheet down to wipe at the wet spot, then at her thigh. It made it safe for her to roll over, throw her leg across his, and look very intently at his face, and at the tip of his penis.

He dry swallowed. “Uhm. Dreaming?” His ears burned scarlet.

“You have sex dreams?” Her voice was light and airy, amused. Interested. No doubt wondering how to turn it to her advantage.

“No.” Troy shook his head very slightly, his nose dancing against hers — she was right in his face, now. He liked it.

“You don’t have sex dreams. But you orgasm in your sleep.”

“I was in the labs…”

“Troy?” Her face crumpled, a sharp frown, afraid, suddenly. “Did they…” She couldn’t even say those words, that thought.

Troy dry swallowed again. “You were one of the doctors.” He stared at her desperately. “You had research papers and everything. Erotic effects… Effects of erotic… Something…”

She blinked at him. Her eyelids dipped, and rose, and her green eyes shined at him. Her voice dropped to a seductive purr, and she rolled on top of him, straddled him, her palms on his chest.

He blinked back at her, and dry swallowed, tilting his blushing ears back, away.

“Tell me about this dream, Troy.”

“Uhm…”

Tell me,” she groaned, dipping down and licking at his ear, leaving a hot, wet trail.

“Uhm. It was gonna be research, and, I didn’t want research, I wanted you.”

“Uh-huh?”

“And you were there instead, in a lab coat, and glasses… and, uhm. Naked under.”

“Ooh. I like playing dress-up. How do I get a labcoat?”

“Uhm. Chemistry supply stores. I have like, three, back north at the university.”

“If you wanna bring one down next time you visit…”

Troy dry swallowed, eyes shut tight. “Uhm.”

“Yeah?”

“There’s a lab supply store downtown.” He bit his lip. “They open at eight-thirty.”

The wet slit of her vagina, amongst her silken fur, ground along the underside of his erection. “Okay,” she murmured at him, glancing at her bedside table. “It’s five now, and you owe me two orgasms, so we have a few hours.”

Troy trembled underneath her, and nodded gently against her nose.

She kissed the tip of his nose, very softly. “Tell me what happened, with me naked under the labcoat.”

“Uhm. You pushed your crotch against me, so, uhm. Your pubic hair sort of, got wet off me…”

Warm friction, as she angled her hips. “Like this?”

Troy shivered out a breath against Jennifer’s lips. “Yeah. Then you kissed my ear…”

“Like this?”

Y-yeah. Like that. And then…”