The lion is roaring in his cage. The heavy smell of his pelt fills the room, even from where I'm standing on the far side of his small enclosure. Hard not to feel like I'm in a jungle somewhere with this tawny creature stalking me, assessing my status as prey. He screams again, and I shudder.
Don't ask me how I ended up in this dismal space station on the edge of nowhere. I know you don't care. Smile, please, when the cameras flash.
The lion roars.
I've imagined it—the bars, unable to hold the soul of a king. How he would come at me in slow motion and dislodge body parts in a spray of artistic red. My head would become a Rorschach blot against the wall, the long rope of my innards strewn in mystic patterns on the floor.
The spacers would shake their heads. "Only a matter of time," they'd say. "Got too close to the beast," they'd say.
I reach a hand through the bars in massive daring, making the spacers, who come and stuff credits into my account, gasp and shake in terror.
No, they don't.
You're right, they don't. Perhaps I only see mocking eyes glittering at me from a multitude of faces. Or perhaps there is something in that sea of brutal flesh that is akin to respect.
I tap the bars, one-two-three. The spacers look up at the sound, gazelles scenting a predator.
The lion roars.
"Come see the Earth-beast, last of its kind, the king of the jungle—step up, step up, don’t mind the noise. Raised him from a cub. I'm the only one he trusts,” I lie. “Don't get too near, sir, ma'am. Don't dare the strength of his cage."
They file past. Some stop and stare, others put hands over mouths, noses. Some hold their palms out towards the cage and press their fingers together quickly—taking pictures with their surgically built-in cameras. I have one in my palm, too, but it's ten years old, hardly worth the effort without upgrades. Not that I would want to take a picture of this godawful space station, a real junker of a destination held together with duct tape and string.
At one time, I was at the center of the galaxy. At one time, my show had class.
None of it mattered, really. All of it went to hell when Ron caught me going at it in our quarters with a random motherfucker and took the real deal away with him.
I wonder where he is now. I wonder if he ever thinks of me, skulking out here on the edge of the universe with nothing but a sack of nuts and bolts rolled up in a dead creature's skin.
Behind me, the lion paces and bellows, innumerable gears and cogs moving together effortlessly.
"The king of beasts!" I shout to deaf ears.
One by one, they look at me, shake their heads and walk away.