Chapter 5: StarFang

Welcome back to our StarFang serial. We have our first bit of fan art, a picture of Francesca, drawn by Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein. 😉 ( Wonderful job Rhiannon, thank you! – Aunty Fox


Chapter Five

Help me.

I mulled over the words during my shift, while the data and scans chirped and blinked around me. Nothing else happened after we had captured the cargo box. The space in Sector 41B was so serene, so tranquil. The purge on Neo-Samarkand was still ongoing, according to Governor Seeto’s updates.  It had also become a small scale civil war on-planet, each gang family acting out their petty differences by shedding their enemies’ blood.

The little girl slept, watched over by the medical staff.

A little girl didn’t belong on a warship.

Help me.

Should I place her somewhere, on a neutral planet, safe from harm? No. The moment I retrieved the cargo box, she was my responsibility. A Black Talon would not abandon a child, even if she was not blood kin. Starfang’s crew was all related – my Pack-crew consisted of my cousins, first or second. April was the daughter of my mother’s younger sister. Ju Fan and Mariette were my second cousins. The little girl wasn’t blood; I was aware of the tensions she triggered when she came on board.

Help me.

Was the message written by her mother? Her father?

Later, when I was off-shift, I worked out my frustrations in the ship’s gym with Nangun drills. In the confines of the ship, I suddenly ached for the forests, the green trees, and the blessedly openness of the open sky.

“Can I join you?” April said at the doorway. “I sure needed some exercise.”

“Go ahead,” I grinned. “Grab your weapon of choice.”

“You know about ship rules: no sparring, except with a referee,” she said, grappling another pole from the rack. She hefted it in her hand, testing its weight.

“Of course, I do. I was the one who came up with the rule.”

April went through her favorite wushu form: beigun, Northern Staff. Her movements were dazzling, she beautiful and wonderfully alive. I slipped in, joining her. Our dance became a dance of opposites, of two different styles and schools. Halfway through, April began laughing.

“You know,” she said as we passed each other, “I qualified for inter-clan competitions. I was that ready. Sifu said no, and that made me so mad with him.”

“He said that? How come you didn’t tell me that?”

“You were always too busy with something else. As far as I could remember, you were extremely active at the academy.”

We passed again, our bodies close, almost touching.

“Sifu’s standards are always too demanding,” I said, knowing that April could hear.

“That’s why he’s Sifu,” her slim form danced in. We were face to face, our lips almost touching. April pulled back, chuckling nervously, her face sad.

“Clan rules,” she stated simply, erecting that invisible, tangible wall.

“I know,” I said.

We were washing up when the comm-screen on the side-panel chimed. It was Sick Bay.

“I will be down in about a few minutes,” I rubbed my wet hair with a dry towel.


The little girl was up and awake, with a bowl of stew and bread placed in front of her. She was chewing loudly, contentedly. She looked up sharply when I walked in. Her dog barked and wagged his fluffy tail. He looked like a cross between a husky and a retriever. A big dog, when he grew up. Was he her guardian? I knew for sure that the Pariahs used dogs as companions for their children. Dogs were after part of the pack.

“Hello,” I pitched my voice low, making it friendly. “Enjoying your lunch?”

She cocked her head as if she couldn’t understand. Was she slow? She obviously reacted quickly when I first saw her. “Hungry?” I said.

This time, she nodded. I was speaking the Universal Language, a lingua franca created so that everybody could understand without coming to blows (and that it didn’t really work, when differences were so deep set). Would she know hanzi?

“What’s your name?” I said, motioning concerned medical staff away.

No response. She gazed at me with amber-brown eyes, obviously calculating, comprehending. “You have a name, right? I am Francesca,” I pointed to myself.

“Fran…ces…ca,” the little girl said slowly, with a lisp. Her voice was sweet.

“So what’s yours, since you know mine?” I smiled, a human smile. Wolf smiles were different.

“Lien,” she said very softly.

So she was Lien. It sounded vaguely hanzi, but it could be Universal Language too. It could be her milk name or a nick name given by her parents.

“Mog,” she pointed at the puppy wagging his tail beside her.

“Hi Mog,” I patted him and he wagged his tail even harder. I heard the staff giggling behind me.

Now, the hard questions. I knelt down, so that she could look at me in the eye.

“Where did you come from?” I asked and saw her shiver, as if she was in a cold wind. “Ship?”

She nodded, trembling now. Trauma. She had experienced trauma. I cursed myself for triggering her fears.

“Where’s your parents? Mother and father?” I said, my skin prickling. Tears had begun to spill from her eyes, silver liquid streams. Her hair hung about her, soft, glossy. One of the medical staff must have brushed it. She looked more feral than ever, and so vulnerable, so raw.

Lien shook her head from side to side. “Don’t know. Don’t know. Don’t know.”

“Who put you in the cargo box?” I whispered.

“Captain,” April’s voice.

“So cold, so cold,” Lien whimpered and something in me responded: a cub in pain! “She said bye-byeIloveyou. So cold, so cold.”

“Who was she?” I jumped at the clue immediately.

“So cold, so cold, so scared.”

She pushed aside the bowl and bread, burying her head in my chest. The stew messed up the voluminous gown she was wearing. She was still shaking. I placed my hand on her head to calm her down. I had better stop questioning her. She was still traumatized. Lien wrapped her skinny arms around my neck, hanging onto me tightly, her face in my shoulder. I smelled of stew now and tears, a lot of tears. She was sobbing now, her tears soaking into my uniform. Her crying tore at my heart. When she exhausted herself out with crying, she curled on the bed and slept. I had to pull myself away.

This little girl was getting under my skin.


Her name is Lien. She was taken from a cargo box [date encrypted] together with a pet companion. She is biologically and chronologically four years of age. Healthy. No sign of internal tempering, except for a clan-crypted message which I will attach to the message, with clan codes. 

The only thing that is worrying is that she is of Amber Eyes clan and Pariah parentage. Dr Myint has confirmed it. 

Advice needed. 

Sighing, I leant back against my chair, feeling the cool surface on my back. My back was tense and stiff. Sore. I wanted a good deep message.

I was about to send the message to my parents on a protected frequency.

The cold tea made me wince. Cold, it was bitter, almost unpalatable.

I checked the message once, before pressing the button. I wanted answers. Stretching, I walked around the desk, exercising my legs. I was sitting at the desk for a long time, composing that message, and going through the daily files that popped into my comp.

“Captain,” Mariette’s voice from the bridge broke my reverie. “Ships detected. Two signatures.”

I emerged from my headroom into the bridge. The screen showed two indistinct grey shapes, fuzzy at the edges.

“They are coded Amber Eyes, captain,” Mariette informed me briskly, her eyes lighting up, gleaming. She appeared as if she was spoiling for a fight.

“Damn,” I spat. “Shields up. Formation: diamondback.”

“Captain, our ships are ready.”

The Amber Eyes ships grew clearer on the screen. I inhaled slowly, my heart throbbing, wolf going berserk inside me. The Amber Eyes ships looked… destroyed. Did they just come out from battle? Their hulls were scorched from concentrated fire. One of them was openly leaking coolant and trailing a comet tail of debris. Their shields were breaking apart, the shimmering opalescent cover cracking. I was reminded of bubbles before they burst. Internal systems must be on the verge of failure.

“Captain,” Mariette’s voice cracked too, a break in her usually controlled emotions. “There are no life signs on board the two ships. They are the War’s Shieldand War’s Call.” Destroyers, by the look of them. Clan ships were precious. Cherished by their captains and clan. They were not made for whimsical use.

“Train our cannons on them,” I said, thinking about fire ships and the destruction they would wreck.

“Wait, captain. Faint life signs. Two on the War’s Shield.”

I clenched my jaw. Hate sparked in my chest. The games the Amber Eyes would play. The subterfuge, the deceit, the lies…


“Organize a salvage and rescue operation. Alert Dr Myint and Dr Peng that they will have injured incoming.”

“Yes, captain.”


The two life signs belonged to two crew members on War’s Shield’s bridge. They were the first officer and the navigator, both male, in their late thirties. They had sustained serious shots to their chests and legs; they were bleeding to death. Dr Myint immediately performed operations on them, putting them on life-support.

As a precaution, I had the two ships destroyed by our cannons. I watched the burning ships disappear off-screen.

What was happening with the Amber Eyes?

Insurrection, my mind said, logically, calmly, as if I was still in tactics class. Internal warThey are fighting amongst themselves.

And Lien. She would have seen the injured crew men coming in and I swore.

“Shift Lien to an empty crew cabin with a permanent guard,” I told April. “She doesn’t have to see this.”

“They could be her kinsmen,” April said warily. I shared her sentiments. More Amber’s Eyes on our ship. I hated the feeling of being so close to our enemies. A smile tugged at my lips though, the knowledge that we would and could easily take them down. They were in our territory now. The animal urges were still strong within, especially when it came to clan and pack.

“I am starting to find this very suspicious,” I admitted. “First, Lien. Now, this. What’s wrong with our enemies?”

“Everything?” April joked, but edged with seriousness.

“Infighting,” I voiced my thoughts grimly. “Yeung Leung has problems of his own and it’s beyond his control.”

“If not, he’s tricking us and using his men as a distraction. He’s one sick bastard, captain.”

April seldom swore. It was affecting her too. I wanted to punch the handsome smug grin off Yeung Leung’s face and make sure that he won’t be able to stand up after that. In clan history, there were instances of alphas behaving like tyrants and megalomaniacal dictators, using their packs as fodder for their own little power games. Normally, these clans didn’t last that long. A strong clan depended and rested upon a tight-knit pack based on blood and intrinsic trust. Everybody knew their place. Yeung Leung was one of the alphas who manipulated that trust and dependence, playing on his kinsmen’s fears and doubts.Damn mind games, I growled. A wolf wasn’t safe alone. He or she needed the pack and its protection and stability. Yeung Leung must have played on that fear.


One of the Amber Eyes officers expired in the middle of the ship’s night. The first officer. The navigator was still in a coma.

We took down the first officer’s particulars by scanning the chip inside him. His name was Nathan. Married. No children. First officer for twenty years. Already a tradition lost. His wounds had turned septic; the toxins travelled to his brain and shut it down. Sometimes, nature could be ruthless. In this case, it was merciful. We wrapped him into funeral shrouds and placed him in one of the steel-and-glass coffins we had on board Starfang. With solemn words and a brief clan chant, we released the coffin out from the cargo bay.

Deaths saddened me. I went back to the bridge, nursing a cup of hot coffee this time. Clans cherished their children and descendants too. A death affected a clan, a pack – a vital part gone. Was he a cousin of Yeung Leung? Or a brother?

I rested my chin on my fist, staring at the screen. We were now moving in the sector. Neo-Samarkand was effectively a few days behind us now, in solar year terms. We were crossing time and space – and time worked in strange ways in space.

A flash of brown hair, blue fabric and an impish grin, followed by high-pitched yelping.

“Captain, I couldn’t stop her…” April’s contrite voice trailed after the tiny figure running around the bridge.


She ran about, dodging the consoles and chairs, causing stares and shouts of amazement from bridge crew. Mog ran beside her, thinking it was play. For puppies, it was always play. I watched her for a moment. She knows ships, I thought quietly. She knows how a bridge works, how it looks like. The first time I stepped onto a bridge was when I was about five, following Father about. He was indulgent and kind, showing me different parts of Starclaw. Only sons and daughters of clan leaders and alphas had the privilege of bridge visits and ship walks.


“Stop it,” I used my sternest tone. “Lien. Mog. Stop.”

Lien flashed me another impish grin, a glimpse of white teeth and tiny sharp upper canines. She dashed behind Ju Fan who glanced at me imploringly. She was awkward with children and cubs.

“Lien, come out of there,” I coaxed, trying to sound kindly. “You might trip over something.” My father used to say that too.

She came out, sheepishly, Mog wagging his tail and panting happily. She dashed over and cannoned into my middle, hugging me tightly, giggling. I made a “oof” sound and almost doubled over. Instead I hugged her back.

“You are looking well,” I said. Indeed she was, her scrawny frame beginning to fill out. Under the light of the bridge, her hair shimmered gold and brown. Feral child in human clothing, I mused to myself. You are not an ordinary child.

“Come, I will get you something to eat,” I said, escorting her off the bridge and into my headroom. “And you too, Mog. First Officer, you have the bridge.”

“Yes, captain,” April said and I swore she was grinning.

Once inside the headroom, I took out a packet of chicken soup mix and poured the contents into a clean mug I used to for visiting officers. Lien wrinkled her nose at the scent of it, full of salts and preservatives. The water dispenser filled the bowl with hot water. The feral girl watched me intently when I stirred the powder in with a spoon. “Soup,” I said, nudging the bowl with spoon towards her.

She took a few mouthfuls, ignoring the heat of the soup, all the time wrinkling her nose with distaste. “You don’t like it either, eh?” I noted, when she pushed the half-finished bowl back to me, with a frown. “Next time I will get mess hall to make something edible.”

I swallowed a tablespoonful and made a face. She was right: it tasted objectionable. I suddenly craved fresh meat.

“Are you a friend?” Lien said in her lisping voice.

My hair stood then, as if I was under an ice-cold jet. She did understand after all.

“Are you?” I countered back.

She flashed me that impish grin again. “Depends.”

I began to laugh, at the bravado behind the reply, and the mischief. Was I ever that naughty, when I was a cub? Only Father and Mother would know.

“Well, you are eating my food, right?” I teased her, half-playfully, half-meaning it. I tossed a biscuit to Mog who caught it in his mouth. He began munching loudly.

“You are like mama,” Lien said.

“Where’s your mama?”

“Don’t know,” her tears started to streak down her face again.

“Oh sorry, little girl,” I murmured, walking over and stroking her hair.

“I am not a little girl,” she whined. “I am a little wolf.”

“Oh yes, that,” I had to smile. “I used to say that a lot too.”

“So you friend?” Lien asked, her voice muffled, but still clear to my ears. Wolf ears could hear.

I stared at the brown hair, at the eyes peering from beneath. “Yes.”


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