This week’s Master Class (follow the link to read the other submissions and submit your own) was the following line from a novel:
I love Robert Heinlein, so this quote really excited me – it’s Heinlein! And, thankfully, it got me out of my lack-of-writing funk, because I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write something by him.
Criticism is always welcome.
I woke up in bed with a man and a cat.
Considering I hadn’t slept in a bed in at least six months, the violence of my previous close encounter with a man, the fact that the last cat I’d seen I had caught, killed and eaten, and my complete lack of memory pertaining to my arrival in this situation, I felt surprisingly contented.
He had an arm draped across my waist and his head nestled against my neck, breath tickling at my hairline. His face was childlike in repose, and he stayed deeply asleep despite my own jerk to wakefulness. I felt surprisingly safe in his arms, though I still preferred him unconscious.
The cat looked at me with distain, sitting primly upright on the man’s hip.
Last I remembered, I’d been drinking a tea of boiled pine needle and willow-bark, huddled miserably under the sodden boughs of an evergreen. No fever, now.
Last I remembered, I was trying – and failing – to fight off the infection that would likely kill me, from the arrow wound in my shoulder. No pain.
The cat minced its way to the bedside table and began to groom itself. The man rolled closer, draping a leg across me and moving his hand up my side, and I judged that the usefulness of his being asleep was at an end.
I cleared my throat.
His eyes snapped open, feral and golden, and before I could think of something to say, he had me by the throat. I kneed him in the groin and clawed at his face as my vision grew spotty.
Asleep, he’d been childlike. Asleep, I hadn’t seen the mangled left side of his face, the clawmarks trailing from his forehead, catching at the corner of his eye and down to snag at the corner of his snarling mouth.
The pressure on my neck eased enough to allow me faint passage of air as he looked around. He crouched, poised for action, casually gripping both my wrists to prevent me from further self-defense.
“What is this place?” he snapped, sweeping the room with his sharp gaze.
His breathing was rapid and shallow, like that of a wild animal cornered by hunters. I saw my own death in his eyes.
The cat stepped into my field of vision, and, with a suicidal seeming lack of fear, burbled a chirruping meow and butted its head against the man’s chin. He swore and jumped back in surprise, like he hadn’t seen the cat in his in-depth perusal of the room.
I sucked in a breath and scrambled weakly away to the relative safety of the other side of the bed. My neck throbbed with each rasping breath I drew in.
When it seemed that he wasn’t about to do anything drastic, I relaxed slightly.
He glared at me and repeated his question.
“Hell if I know.” I was feeling a bit hard-done-by and in no mood to answer the questions of psychopaths.
“How did I get here?”
The cat took the opportunity to sprawl playfully on its back and purr. It was a she, with clear signs of past litters. And equally clear scars marring the sleek black of her fur. Like some bird of prey had been keen on accessing her intestines.
I pulled at the shoulder of the loose-fitting and blissfully clean tunic I was wearing. The wound I last remembered with angry red lines tracing away from it in the firelight – blood poisoning – was the pale pink of an old scar. My turn for questions. “How long ago did you get that scar on your face, Bucko?”
He touched his jaw gingerly, as though expecting to encounter something horrible. Not finding what he expected, he dashed to the mirror and stood staring at his reflection, stroking at the scars and shaking his head in disbelief.
“I was hunting, and the bastard caught me by surprise. Barely got out of it alive. Don’t remember making it home.”
Unabashedly, he stripped off his own pristine white tunic. His chest and left shoulder were lacerated with equally old scars. Based on the claw marks at his stomach, I couldn’t see how he could have lived long enough to heal from those wounds. Not with the loss of old-modern medicine. He and the cat both looked to have been part of some creature’s meal-plan.
I took a few tentative steps towards the door-shape in the smooth wall, but darted back when it hissed open.
A short plump woman entered, pushing a wheeled table ahead of her. She took in the scene with a pleased smile – me, crouched in one corner, him, half-naked and ready to attack in another. The cat continued purring on the bed.
“Excellent, you’re awake.”
She turned to me and extended her hand, but before she could introduce herself, he had her in a headlock. Without missing a beat, she stuck him in the arm with a small syringe and he dropped.
“Let’s try this again, shall we? I’m Myra, and you have been saved. Welcome to ARK, the last bastion of pure life on earth. Breakfast?”
I suppressed the growl of my stomach. “How long have I been here?”
“Eighteen hours, dear. And your mate’s been here nearly seventy – stomach wounds are a nasty business, even in the healing tanks. We scooped you up in the storm – it gave us enough cover to come in without alerting the mutant population to our presence.”
Mate?! My skin crawled but I kept my face neutral.
“Why save us?”
“Because you are a healthy and genetically pure female human with many fertile years left, and he is a genetically pure male human whose genes combined with yours will produce healthy, genetically pure offspring.” She smiled in a deeply unsettling way as she said this. “You will help true humanity begin again.”
I felt like screaming.
Thought and action were simultaneous, giving her no warning of my intention when I broke her neck.
I slapped the unconscious man hard in the face to no avail. Feeling time trickling away, I grabbed the pitcher of water and upended it on him.
He awoke, spluttering, and I tossed his shirt at him. “Come on, we’re getting out of here.”
“You killed her. Why?” I paused in stuffing the breakfast foods into a pillowcase, happy to see that he was riffling the drawers for useful tools. Happier to see that there was warmer clothing than what we had on.
I sketched out what information she’d given me, and added, “No-one gets to take my freedom from me, and no one will ever rape me again. Humanity be damned.”
He nodded, amusement in his eyes as he noticed the tight grip I had on the breakfast knife. “I never did understand the purists, anyways – mutants are a-ok by me. Damn, no shoes. Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be. Grab the cat and let’s go.”
“Why bring the cat?”
I pictured the scars on her belly, wondered at her opinion about being kept in this cage. I’d always been pragmatic about survival, and pets were a hindrance, but she was a survivor too. All I said was, “Snack?”