StarFang Chapter 9

Chapter Nine

A black wolf bounded towards me, running low, tail held high. I looked at my own body. I was weak, human-limbed, human-bodies. Pale of skin, weak, not-wolf.

I was standing in the no-place of the afterlife. Darkness, pierced by the occasional cold stare of stars.

“Aunt Gertrude?” I whispered as the black wolf moved closer, its amber eyes glistening brighter than suns.

Far from home, my grand-niece, the black wolf said.

“I am in a lot of trouble,” I replied. “Where am I?”

Afterlife, dream place, I don’t know, child. Whatever it is, I wish you the best of luck and strength. You need it. You have enemies who hound you, hate you.

My knees chose to become jelly then. I sank down, shivering. I was face to face with the wolf. I could see tears in her eyes. I wrapped my arms around the wolf, drawing strength and comfort. Her fur was warm, as if she had rested in the sun; I could smell the sun and a hint of herbs. And home, the forest, family. Everything I was far from.

“Please help me, Aunt Gertrude.”

I have strayed too far. I want to help you… but, my child, this is your trouble. You have the strength to deal with it. Best Yeung Leung. Best him.

“Yes, I will best him.”

The black wolf began to fade away, becoming lighter and lighter until the shape became transparent. The darkness around me grew stronger, shrouding me tighter. I began struggling.

“Aunt Gertrude!”

Best Yeung Leung.


I came to in total darkness. For a moment, I thought I was blind. I started to focus on my immediate sensations: I was lying on a cold floor, my feet were bound, and I was wearing some form of uniform. It was still freezing cold.

Rage ignited inside me, growing like a nascent sun. Mariette!

They had taken my weapons as far as I knew. I was alone. My ears picked out more clues: a low thrumming. Ship engine. Anyone who had worked on a ship would know it straight away.  I was on a ship.

Yeung Leung’s smugly handsome face.

The growl started from my belly, spreading throughout my body like sunfire. I felt myself turning, fought to drive the beast back, willing my bones and muscles to stop their transformation. It was time to remain solely and coldly human. Time to remain cool in the head and think like a human. With a grunt, I rolled to my right side and listened harder. The ship was moving fast, burning her engines to gain maximum speed. The thrumming had a rhythm to it, like a beating heart. In short, she was running. To where, I didn’t know… and I hope, would soon find out.

And I was on board this ship, trapped and stuck. I didn’t know the fate of my own ships – only with the grim determination and knowledge that they would have broken dock. Chase the bastards down, hunt them! Do it for the clan!

April. Lien. Oh poor Lien. 

I grew dully aware of the sensations in my body. Not the visceral rawness of turning, but something else. A vague hunger, a hollowness clawing in my stomach, in my veins – like thirst too. I heard a whimpering and realized it was me. I was not just hungry for fresh red meat dripping with blood from a hunt. I wascraving. I needed something. It was a desperate need and my body was screaming for release, to be satiated.

I found myself crawling towards a metal dish. It had water in it. I didn’t care whether it was tepid or stale. I simply gulped it down. It tasted faintly of metal. I didn’t care. I drunk it and wanted more. More what? The hunger simply grew, the wolf inside whirled frantically, seeking a way out, scratching at the cage. Beside the dish was a mound of dark granules. I took one into my mouth and chewed. It was beef, or fake beef. I ate the mound of beef granules ravenously.

When I was done, the hunger was gone. Maybe it was just simple hunger, made worse by imprisonment and lack of proper food.

The food and water sloshed uncomfortably in my stomach. I tried getting the binding off my feet, only to fall back exhausted, panting softly. The darkness was claustrophobic. I fought off the fear by determining the size of the cell I was in. It was a small cubicle, four by four. It was dark. It was dank. It was cold.

So, I was going to watch and wait, focusing on my breathing. The answers would come soon.


Minutes or hours passed. I tried to tell time by listening to the thrumming of the engines and the subtle shifts and creaks of the ship. It was night, or their version of night. At the same time, it felt like a fairly large ship. Was it shishini? Something acidic laced the air. It was breathable, but my throat burned. Or was I on Yeung Leung’s flagship? Why didn’t I detect his ship around Accord?

At certain times, a slit of bright light cut through the darkness and a metal dish was pushed in. I knew there was a slot in a door of some kind. So it was opened from the outside. I was like Aunt Gertrude. Trapped in her cell. Only that she went into her cell voluntarily. I had three empty dishes now, piled up in a growing tower. I was also growing increasingly bored and restless. Three empty dishes: two ship days? They seemed to feed me twice a day.

What surprised and scared me was how I fell upon the food. I tore through the beef granules, gulping them down, barely chewing them. I did the same with the metallic-tasting water. All the time the hunger hollowed my insides, making the craving worse. I trembled. My limbs shook. At my calmer moments, I wondered whether I was going mad. No. I wasn’t. I was Black Talon. I was Captain Francesca Ming Yue of the warship Starfang. They had done something to my body. I would hate them for that. I would kill them for that.

I struggled to maintain my composure. I made sure that I wore my uniform. My navy coat was gone. I was only wearing the white undershirt and pants. I couldn’t find my boots and my feet were cold with the chill air and metal walls. Whatever it was, I was still a captain.

Only the desire for revenge – Mariette, oh Mariette! – drove me on, gave me the will to live.


My dreams took on a surreal tone. I swore I heard voices outside my cell. A hissing sexless voice and a human male – low and sensual. I caught hints of wolf. Yeung Leung? It got to be him.

In my dreams that were not dreams, I heard their conversations. Sometimes, they were arguing.

“I give her measssured dosesss,” the hissing voice would say, before being interrupted by the male voice who simply barked back with a harsh “Give her more. I want her pliant.”

“That would be against our Law,” the hissing voice would retort back. “She has enough.”

The male voice would laugh: “Do not pretend to be noble-minded.”

Even as I hung onto my sanity, clinging onto it as if it was a driftwood at sea and I was about to drown, one stark thought drove me on.

I was being drugged and given an addiction.


The addiction bit and clawed. Like another feral beast, it demanded to be fed and fed on time. I could feel the withdrawal symptoms tugging at me: a hollow thirst scrapping in my bone marrows and a desperate throbbing in my veins. As the hunger intensified, the wolf inside seemed to diminish, grow smaller – and whimper, whimper, whimper. A frantic and frightened animal, terrified. I was terrified.

When I swallowed the beef granules, the pleasure and bliss flowed through my body. And relief. Oh yes, relief. I hung onto the relief like a dying woman finding water in the desert. Then the metal dish was empty and I curled into myself, the hollowness back, ferocious and hateful.

By now, I could count at least eight dishes. I was on board the ship for three days. The ship was moving steadily. I began to shake. I saw images, visions. April and Lien. Starfang.  The bridge. My headroom. Even the main mansion. They were so real I reached to touch them, only to have them vanish.  I was overcome by remorse and disappointment. I was fast plunging into depression. I breathed and tried to meditate, pretend I was back in the gymnasium, with my staff. I couldn’t remove the binding – it was some resilient and tough plastic I had never encountered.

To stave off the hunger, I did push ups. At first, I was shocked by the weakness in my arms. I literally trembled, the muscles afire with pain. When I became more and more frequent with the push ups, the agony faded, burned away. I fought the visions with my push ups. Captain Viviane Yeung Ma pointed an accusing finger at me. Her nephew lay in a coma in Starfang’s sickbay. Mariette, strangely alive and agile, glared at me. It was not just visions; it was the feeling of failure.

The darkness was briefly alleviated by the drugged beef granules. Now I grabbed at the sensations that gave me warmth, comfort and pleasure. I was fast losing it.

By the end of the fourth day, I was beset by depression, the hunger and loneliness. I craved. I imagined myself kissing, pleasuring April, her face so lit with rapture that I almost forgot I was a prisoner in a cell. I wanted her. I wanted her so much. I was a howling, ravenous animal, driven insane by total and absolute need.

And revenge, yes, revenge. I wanted to tear the throats of my captors.

The slit of light expanded and became a bright rectangle. I backed into a corner, blinking and snarling at the light. I smelled something out of the urine and excrement: a subtle undercurrent of mint and some acid tone. The figure outlined by the light was hunched. It moved slowly in, wary. It had seen and surely smelled me.

Shishini. Its sharp teeth, like pointed nails, gleamed. Light played in patches on yellow skin and dark-brown rosettes. On its reptilian snout hung a metal visor: its breather. So it was not a shishini ship. The sight of the shishini awoke something primal inside me.

I growled deep, backed myself deeper into the corner.

“Good evening, captain,” the shishini spoke with a heavily accented Universal, with subtle lilts and inflections, a cultured diplomat. “I am S’sahrak, clawleader of the horde of Rssshak. I will be your interrogator for tonight’s activity.”

Then it removed the binding off my legs with a curved scimitar.


The first thing S’sahrak did was to tell me to have a proper shower. I was directed, wincing and squinting at the sudden bright light of the ship’s corridor. It (?) padded down beside me and I sensed that we were followed by armed guards. The shower booth could only be opened from the outside, just like the prison cell. With manners totally at odd with its savage appearance, S’sahrak beckoned me into the shower booth and closed the door once I was inside.

My navy coat was folded neatly on a metal cabinet, together with my boots and a clean white towel. Someone took the time to polish them to a gloss. I caught my reflection in the small mirror hanging beside the cabinet and hated what I saw: a haggard, almost wild-looking woman with amber eyes. My legs still stung with the return of blood circulation to neglected muscles.

I showered, luxuriating in the sheer pleasure and relief of it. The water was modulated to a gentle heat. They had also provided a basic liquid soap. I scrubbed and scrubbed, glad to see dirt, real and imagined, draining away together with the suds. When I dried myself with the towel, I rubbed hard too. Anything to clean the indignity and the shame away.

There were no socks. I stuffed my bare feet into my boots, feeling the familiar feel of leather and soft lining. I donned my navy coat after I wore the inner shirt and trousers; I couldn’t do anything about underwear. The opportunity to shower, they were telling me, was a privilege. I looked at the woman in the mirror again.

I felt almost normal.

Before I knocked to signal that I was done, I checked the metal cabinet. Nothing. It was bare. So they had taken precautions too. But I felt clean and sane enough to deal with what S’sahrak had in mind.

S’sahrak brought me to an empty cabin, complete with a simple cot and a wooden table. No windows, only that door and nothing else. There were two chairs, placed facing each other. While I stood, trying to figure S’sahrak out, it placed a plate of food and utensils on the table. It was steak, as large as my palm and thick and oozing with juice and blood with mashed potatoes and vegetables as sides.  Human cooks? Nevermind that. It’s food! The hunger flared back up, together with the craving. My stomach clenched painfully. I couldn’t stop myself from salivating.

“Eat,” S’sahrak said. “From now, you will stay in this cabin.”

“No more prison cell?” I sneered.

S’sahrak glanced at me with its dark pupil-less eyes. “Civilized people should live in decent quarters. As you can see, there is a toilet for you to void your bowels. Place the plate at the door slot when you are done with eating.” Without further words, it glided out of the cabin. The door clicked shut.

I stared at the steak. S’sahrak or someone else had also placed a jug of clear water with a glass on the table. That jug would be my water for the day/night. I sat down, poked at the steak with the utensils: someone on the ship knew about proper steak knives and forks. I sniffed the meat. It smelled heavenly.Delicious. My hands trembled with the utensils. I simply wanted to tear into the steak with my bare teeth. No.  I was being monitored. There would be hidden cameras in this cabin. I should remain dignified. I cut a small piece from the steak and bit into it, savoring the juices and textures in my mouth. The blood woke me, I needed it, I craved it. I began to cut larger pieces, stuffing them in, sucking at the juices and relishing the meat. It was the next best thing to a fresh kill.

I cleaned off everything on the plate and sipped the clean sweet water to wash the last of the meat and mashed potatoes down. I felt so much better now, with decent food.

Remember, it’s probably drugged, a snide voice in my head reminded me sharply. Just like that, I came back to my senses and stifled the flood of hot beef-flavored bile rushing up my throat with effort. I was such an idiot, a day-old pup! I inhaled deeply and stared at the walls. My life was in their hands. They wanted to show that they were in control. I was at their mercy.

“What should I do?” I said aloud, knowing that they would hear it. I placed the empty plate beside the slot. I peered out, seeing boot heels and detecting the reek of stale urine. I was being guarded.

Instead of pacing, I stretched out on the cot. It was hard, just a functional bed with a basic pillow and rough non-descript blanket. Everything in this cabin was either white or grey. Colorless. Time to rest, to conserve my energy. Time to re-think my plans. Think to…

…quell that craving, fight against it.

I have an addictionMust fight. Must…

Exhausted with a full stomach, I slept immediately, sinking into a deep dark pool.


The black wolf came back in my dream-and-not-a-dream. I embraced Aunt Gertrude (or my conscience) gratefully, glad for the feel of sun-warmed fur against my face and the sound of a beating heart beneath the fur. I used to bury my face into Mother’s coat and inhaled her scent. I was really young then, like Lien’s age, perhaps even younger.  Smells comforted. Smells were memories.  Smells told me who and what I was.

I swore that I could see stars in the black wolf’s eyes. Real stars, flung across the black velvet of space.

Remember who you are, the black wolf said.

“I am trying,” I confessed. I am also scared, Aunt Gertrude. Scared out of my wits. Where’s my ship? Where are my people? Are they even alive?

Aunt Gertrude tilted her head. You worry too much and they feed on that. Remember who you are.

“Now you are just repeating yourself and speaking in riddles!” I was angry. I didn’t want to be preached at. I wasn’t a puppy anymore. I wasn’t looking for validation. I was looking for…

Peel back your humanity and what are you? Wolf? You? Remember.

Angrily, I pulled away from the black wolf, feeling the sting of hot unwanted tears brimming in my eyes. I hadn’t cried for a while now.

For goodness’s sake, cry. You are also human, aren’t you? 

Now that sounded exactly like what Aunt Gertrude would say, when she was younger and still a powerful woman in her own right, before her body rebelled and made her an outcast. A hot-shot pilot with her own squadron. A leader. She would buck Father for mistakes he’d made and she wasn’t afraid to tell him off, sometimes in front of the gathered pack. Mother adored her for that.

Steel has to be tempered with before it is strongerYou have to cry, because you are also human. That makes us stronger. All the hurts inside are the hammering we face every day. Admit your weakness. Then you will grow stronger and wiser.

“Yes, ma’am,” I whispered.  I would be the sword piercing into Yeung Leung’s chest.

Now to make myself stronger.

I wept.

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