Tiger, tiger, burning bright, in the ghettos of the night. What immortal hand or eye could frame thy enhanced mental acuity?
C.A.T., by Alexander Paul Willging
Word Count: 675
His claws left deep scratches in the concrete as he landed on the alley floor. When he caught a blur of motion up ahead, his ears perked up and he fell into a waiting crouch.
Hu Lin could smell the perpetrator nearby. He settled back onto his haunches, his coat blending into the shadows. What was one more minute of waiting?
The air became thick with a familiar scent. Human sweat, mixed with crocodile skin. Hu Lin had to be careful. His genetic ancestors had fought with crocodiles on the shores of the Pambar; that old grudge over claiming prey was dangerous in the modern world.
A low growl entered his throat as the scent grew stronger. He saw the silhouette of a heavyset man come running into the alley. The man’s panting was loud as he slid against the wall, just in time to avoid detection by a passing squad car.
Hu Lin waited for him to turn and look back out, but that croc scent was strong. Overpowering.
He couldn’t wait much longer.
With a fierce snarl, he padded forward and leapt. His forepaws pushed down on the perp’s back as he pressed his teeth around his neck.
“Aaah!” the target howled. He struggled in Hu Lin’s grip for dear life, which was futile. Hu Lin would never dare bite through the neck of a fugitive from the law. His bite was meant to hold, not hurt.
But the perp’s leather coat smelled like a croc and that wasn’t so easy to forget. And the taste of his flesh, under Hu Lin’s tongue. So very soft. Like a croc’s underbelly.
Surely he could say the perp had resisted arrest. No one would know better.
Hu Lin’s jaws tightened—
A sharp sting in the back of his eyes forced his mouth open. He jerked his head away, but kept the fugitive pinned to the ground under his massive body.
A new figure entered the alleyway. Hu Lin savored the familiar scent of his handler—cheap cologne that reminded him of roses, human sweat, garlic breath. Just the thing he needed to get a grip on his instincts.
“Ease up,” said Martin. He knelt down beside the twitching perp and slapped a pair of plasticuffs onto his wrists. “Gary Langdon, you’re under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will…”
Hu Lin slowly stepped off of Langdon’s chest. He watched Martin haul him to his feet and spin him out toward the front of the alley. Exhausted, Hu Lin lowered himself onto the ground, resting his head between his paws.
He needed a trip to Kerala. A nice week at a subtropical forest, with plenty of fast-moving animals to chase and trees to sleep under. If he could get the bloodlust out of his system, he’d be fine. Just another Cerebrally Augmented Tiger in Detroit.
“You all right, man?” Martin sat down beside Hu Lin and stroked the tiger’s head. “I saw your inhibitor chip go off.”
Hu Lin growled. Martin stared until his auto-translator scanned the growl, then smiled. “Yeah, I know. I wouldn’t mind a trip to Singapore myself. I hear they’ve got this virtual cruise—”
Another snarl. A warning to stop rambling.
“Sorry.” As Martin fell silent, Hu Lin began to groom his paws, removing the perp’s scent from his fur. He’d been chasing runaways like Langdon too long with too little rest.
Slowly, Martin got back onto his feet and smoothed out his jacket. “Come on. Let’s go to Los Reyes. I’m buying.”
Hu Lin’s ears perked. He growled a question as he stretched and lumbered back onto his feet.
Martin laughed. “Yeah, I’m sure they’ll give you the whole cow.”
With a snort, Hu Lin walked alongside his partner. He flinched at the flashing police lights and all the commotion the officers were making, but he did his best to stay calm. If it meant a nice heavy steak or two at Los Reyes, he could handle it.
He was designed for it.
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