A Tiger Knows by Brandon Scott

For Hailey Marie, my favorite actress.

“She didn’t often like tigers but this one she found quite amusing.”

It had a glint in its eye, a spark of intelligence. A tigress. A female. A mother–in a cage. How fitting.

It paced, but did not paw with madness, nor hunger. It knew it had all the time it needed.

Tabitha was not as certain. She was not as calm. She wanted to scream and pry at the bars. Oh, how I wish I could. If only I could find the smallest weakness, I would be out of here and that thing would be….

But Tabitha was not strong—especially now. She stood and pressed her body against the cage walls, but could barely reach out her arms past the elbows. Her stomach pressed hard into the metal, and a kick reminded her–as if she needed reminding–that another life was also in this cage with her.

The tiger gave a soft noise, a purr from something not at all capable of a purr. A rumble, perhaps.

And Tabitha looked at it and tried to find amusement again. Curiosity instead of uncertainty. But it was hard to hold. Her eyes scanned the other cages and found no other motions. Some creatures had frozen in fear–aware of the predators, others slept from exhaustion, and still more laid in the stillest position afforded to any being: dead. Corpses. The humans all filled up the final category, and she tried for amusement yet again.

She gathered up the remains of a blanket, the structure reduced to almost nothing at all, and tossed an end out for the tigress to take. It pawed at it, playing like a house cat.

The line went taut and snapped, and Tabitha frowned. She gathered back the rest and cast it out again. The tiger repeated its action. Pulled, so it vibrated slightly, and then sliced with its teeth.

Tabitha drew it back once more, held both ends out, and pulled in opposite directions with what strength she had. And the line remained strong.

“A scissor…but not a rock,” she concluded to herself, her voice eaten by the room. Sucked away into the void of silence.

The tiger made the not-purr sound, and Tabitha gave it her full attention. The massive cat tilted its head toward the door at the end of the hallway of cages, and Tabitha followed with her gaze.

The door had a window in it, with a cloth covering to reduce any sight to only a silhouette. But this silhouette was unmistakable. Nothing else Tabitha knew looked anything like that. She wondered why it was coming here. What business does it have? Is it here to feed us again, so soon? When has it ever been kind enough for that?

Tabitha shook her head, but prepared all the same for the entrance, backing up into the corner of the cage and curling into a ball. Look feeble, she told herself. It does not like to hurt the feeble.

The door swung open with a shot of light, extinguished again like a candle’s flame. The thing lumbered into the room, a series of metal pieces jangling with each motion.

It was large, towering. Like a cyclops from the old legends on Earth, it had only one eye, set so low that its forehead made up half its face. Below the singular orb with a blue iris was a pair of curved boar’s teeth, forcing themselves out of the mouth with little regard for the race’s clarity of speech.

Up close, as it was now to her cage, Tabitha could smell the odd, strong garlic tinge that always hung on it. The ragged and stitched together covering of space suit material did not seem to have any noticeable liquids on it to produce such a scent, but did all the same.

“Woman, do you birth soon?” the thing asked, its voice a booming grumble of strained syllables.

Tabitha swallowed the saliva she found filling her throat. “No, not yet. The human birth cycle can take a while–”

“Can it be sped?” it interrupted.

“No… not if you want it alive.”

It bowed down on a knee and reached out one of its hands toward Tabitha, only not touching her by a few inches. Tabitha felt a fit of revulsion from the idea of such gnarled skin grazing her. She pushed her body as far back as she could into the bars.

“I think you are the one concerned about being alive. Can it be sped up?”

“No. Do you not understand human anatomy?”

“Your writings as a species lack…everything,” the creature said. “How you speak this…mud, is enough to confuse.”

“Then remain confused,” Tabitha spat back, cradling her stomach with one hand.

“I shall, for now. But once we know how to make more sport fast…you will breed with all males we find. And then we will have many bodies to study.”

“Breed? Not likely,” Tabitha said in a soft whisper. Her faint cockiness fell to pieces when her cage shook–with her along with it. She fell to her side and gasped at the sudden pain of impact.

“What was that you spoke?” the creature said. She could hear the tinges of humor in its voice: the same she’d heard intermingled with the screams of the man in the cage two over from her a week ago.

“Nothing,” she said in-between gulps and restrained sobs. “Nothing at all.”

“Good to listen,” it said and rose back up to walk. Not bothering to look at her, the creature trudged over to the other cage and snapped the padlock off the tigress’s container. Rather than pounce, it just looked.

The creature chuckled and reached for one of the metal leashes hanging off its body. It tugged free one and beckoned with a clawed hand to the cat.

Tabitha rose to stand, her muscles coiling, the pain pushed aside. Her mind wondered what to do with the situation. She could not stay here much longer. Not if she was going to have this child. She would not birth him or her in this place. She was sure of that. I will never let you have my baby.

Tabitha stood and looked at the rag. The strong fabric. She wondered: would it work? Was it strong enough? I can only try this once.

Tabitha walked to the closer edge of the cage and watched the proceedings. The cat refused to move, and the creature seemed to find this preferable.

“Oh, no? Not I? Well, how about with this?”

It turned toward the back wall and took three steps. A wall of tools and sharp things hung on pegs, but Tabitha was not watching that. The cat and her. The hunter and her. They made eye contact, and she tossed the cloth over to her companion.

The tigress caught it and looped it. Not biting the string. Tabitha could swear it winked at her.

And when the great cat finished, the fabric sat, practically tied—if not for lack of human hands—around the pole of the cage. Tabitha knew not if it would hold, but she knew it would make a thing stumble.

“Ready?” the creature said and turned around brandishing a stick with the end glowing electrical blue. It pressed a trigger at the bottom and the sparks flew off the tip. “Ready to go?”

The demon-like mouth turned to a frown when it saw the cat already close, beckoning out her neck for the collar.

“Oh,” it grumbled, and let the stick fall to its hip’s side, the sparks fading away. “Now you decide? Fine. Come with me. Captain wants to try something new tonight for mealtime. Human for commoners.”

Guiding the feline with one hand, it gave a glare to Tabitha–which broke to panic when it pitched forward. Both cages screamed as the metal bent and titled, but the fall was a perfect arc, its arms going out on either side and only finding the already collapsing metal.

The creature hit the floor with a thunderous slap and did not have time to rise before the tigress took her chance. And once a predator clamps on the nape of a neck, it is not deterred.

A reach forward and Tabitha found her fingers touching the dropped electrical weapon. Again, she felt amused. Hopeful too.

“Tell me puss,” she said, letting the blue power dance, the light reflecting in spilled blood, “do you think this can melt my lock?”

She was sure this time that the tigress winked at her.

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