The Rise of the Clan
Wolves should not be in space, but here we were, a clan of wolves and merchants. Instead of the preserved forests of New Earth and Noah’s Ark, we were in ships of steel and armor, reading data scans and commanding officers on the bridge. Wolves within the uniform of merchants and mercenaries, human seeming, claws and teeth sheathed.
Our genes kept us apart from the homo sapiens race. Some merchant clans tried to spread the rumor that we were the product of genetic engineering, a pact made between the secretive flesh engineers and our clan progenitors, in exchange for what we didn’t know and care about. Some rumors were more far-fetched, bordering on the mythical and mystical and the alien, alleging raptor-like shishini or grey-tinged juka involvement.
They were partly right.
They were also partly wrong.
We were homo sapiens lupus.
We were a breed apart.
And we were set to rule space.
Docking was a simple task, a routine procedure which let the machine navigator work it out and allow basic station instructions. I watched the data scans as the jets eased Starfang into her assigned lot. But my mind was already somewhere else. After the tour of duty, I was eager for a run in the forests of Noah’s Ark with my pack-crew. My body ached to move.
However, there was one thing I needed to do when I disembarked. I had to return to the clan home mansion to pay Aunt Gertrude a visit.
I waved my ID tag at the immigration officer who allowed me to pass. He recognized my uniform and my eyes. All homo sapiens lupus had what normal humans called “wolf eyes”. It was another thing that marked us as different.
The family car was already waiting for me at the arrival hall. I passed the trip gazing out of the tinted window. The green trees rushed past. The green called to me. It was a visceral song to my body, my cells.
They kept Aunt Gertrude – or “Cloud” if she wanted to be called by her hanzi name – in a separate enclosure. It was a walled enclosure, not more than a prison box, with only a slit for a window. There was a reason for this. Aunt Gertrude had the defective “R” gene that misfired and caused her to switch forms more frequently than the rest of the clan. For most of us, we could control the urges.
I loved Aunt Gertrude. She was actually my grandaunt, second sister to my grandfather, the Grand Wolf. I had seen the pictures where she was a hotshot pilot for our clan fighter corps. She used to hug me once I was younger and I loved her scent: earthy, like the forest. Comforting, like plush soft fur.
Yet, at the age of forty, Aunt Gertrude couldn’t control the urges anymore and was confined to the prison box where she lived for thirty years now. The family still provided food and water, as it did for the elderly and the injured. She had foregone the desire to bathe, like a high functional human being. She told me, before I left for New Earth, that bathing was over-rated.
“Aunt,” I said, modulating my voice for wolf ears were sensitive. No problem: she could already smell me. “Aunt, it’s me. Fransceca. Ming Yue. Have you eaten?”
I could smell the odor of something animal, something wolf. Pungent. Urine. Faeces. And interlaced with it was the forest. My aunt was still in there. I just wasn’t sure if she was wolf or she was human at this stage. Her control of the misfiring gene had already completely disappeared
“Ming Yue,” her voice – low, like growling – came through the slit in the door. “You are back.”
“Just today. We managed to quell the uprising at Olympus Mons.” I said. I heard the soft chuff-chuff-chuff of someone sniffing and I knew it was a wolf doing that.
The chuffing stopped and I heard a human cough. “I am glad you are here. It has been so lonely here.” Quavering voice, an old woman’s voice. Tired, panting.
“I am sorry. You know Clan rules.”
Another cough. “They tried giving me a vid. I can’t use it… You know…”
I hated pregnant silences. I looked down at the piles of dishes beside the door. The door was locked from outside.
“They gave me a beef haunch today,” Aunt Gertrude’s tone was amused, laughing. “How delightful.”
“What did Dr Yang say?” I asked brusquely.
“You mean the pills? They have not worked and they do not work. At my age… pffff. Dr Yang should know better.”
“He’s our best physician trained in homo sapiens lupus physiology.”
“I know he is,” another cough and another chuffing sound. “You have your father’s malaise. We are lang. Not some silly scientific term.”
“I only wish for open skies and trees,” Aunt Gertrude sighed and the sigh ended in a low snarl.
The snarling grew louder, turned into a whine — and then Aunt’s voice going: “Leave me be, Ming Yue. Enjoy your shore leave. Do not worry about me.”
The whine came back and then a snarl, a low angry wolf snarl, full of bared teeth and barely-suppressed rage. My back prickled. The pungent odor was heavier than ever, sour and richer than a woman’s menstrual cycle. I forced myself to walk away, back to the main mansion. Behind me, she howled, a mournful song reverberating in the air and chilling my skin.
The family hall was done in the traditional style, all rosewood furniture and clan banners on the wall. Paintings of ancestors lined the hall way, men and women. My ancestors: graceful, haughty, grim-looking in their court official wear, always with a black wolf sprawled beside them as they sat on their rosewood sedan chairs. My boots echoed as I made my way to the main hall. I suddenly felt filthy, in need of a good long soak in the hot springs and a change of clothing.
Mother sat on her crimson settee. She was wearing her sky-blue qi pao. She did not seem to age. Her hair was still black, jet-like, tied in a severe bun with a blue shell hair piece. In her youth, she captained the Starfang. She was now alpha female, co clan leader of the House. Starfang was mine now.
As I bowed politely in front of her, Mother stood up. Her slim frame belied her strength. She was lead hunter during the Clan Games.
“Welcome home, daughter,” she said.
“Mother,” I bowed lower. “Have you eaten?”
“The hunt has been fruitful this year,” her reply was routine, another tradition too.
“I visited Grand Aunt,” I said, still standing. “She is also well.”
The smooth planes of Mother’s face creased a little. Her eyes glowed a lighter amber. She inclined her head to acknowledge my words. She was one of those who protested Aunt Gertrude’s isolation.
“Come, daughter,” she smiled as if she wanted to dispel the sadness. “I cooked your favorite, pig trotters with ginger and vinegar. Tell me more about Starfangwhile we eat.”
I knew it was important when she, not Cook, cooked my favorite food. Mother seldom did things without a reason.
Mother had set the dining hall in clan colors – gold and crimson, with the black claw symbol on every banner. The main dining table was mahogany, made of one of the ancient trees from Noah’s Ark. As servants hurried about, laying out the chopsticks (all mahogany) and porcelain spoons, we chatted casually aboutStarfang. She had the same coolant problem in the same sector of the engine. The targeting system needed to have re-fitted and refined. Since my ascendancy as captain, I had installed more gun batteries, as the area I was tasked for my tour of duty was rife with piracy. But then, Starfang moved in her Pack Fleet, and the rest of the ships were armed to the teeth.
For a brief moment, Mother’s eyes glowed with pleasure and pride. Starfang was hers, before she retired.
“Sit, sit,” Mother gestured gracefully. I waited until she settled down. Protocols were still important, even though I was the eldest in the Clan, and daughter to the alpha pair. The fragrance of the vinegar and ginger invigorated me. It was a delightful winter warmer, and post-pregnancy food for new mothers. I picked at the fat of the trotter. The collagen would fetch a high price in the black markets everywhere in the galaxy. Rendered into pill form, taken intravenously, the hive rich would kill for this. But at this table, it was just part of our daily diets. Normal meal, nothing fancy. I took a few mouthfuls, sipped the jasmine tea and folded my hands on my laps, waiting for Mother to speak.
Mother nibbled at the pickled cucumbers, before she set her chopsticks down and glanced at me. Her eyes gleamed amber.
“I have received word,” she began steadily, “of an insurrection in Sector 41B. You will be re-assigned there.”
I winced. Sector 41B had always been restless. Three hive planets, providing raw materials to the clans for their wars and money-making. It had earned a reputation for being unruly, unable to listen to orders. Executions were frequent, almost regular. Sector 41B was also the hunting ground for the Pariahs, a clan of mongrels, who ought to be the instigators of the insurrection. Half-wolf, half-other things, the major clans considered them thieves, beggars.
“The Pariahs,” I said.
“Yes,” Mother nodded, tapping her chopsticks. “The mangy ferals. Beware, daughter. This time, they have the backing of another clan at odds with us.”
My fur stood on end. “The Amber Eyes. The Zuo. By the fur of our Progenitors, they hate us still?”
The Amber Eyes’s hatred ran as deep as the dangerous ocean under-currents. Our history with them harked back to the ancient forest days, when pack territory overlapped. Now, with their own ships and their wealth, they were fighting back.
“They are also fuelled with craz. And they feed the Pariahs with it.”
Mother’s voice was laced with revulsion. I could almost imagine her snarling. Craz, the addictive drug that fuelled, killed and drove the gangs like the Pariahs. I shook with disgust. I had an insurrection to deal with, and a drug trade I might have to stop. Yet things were not that simple. Eco-systems functioned differently. This was one such eco-system I had to handle with extreme care: other variables were involved. In the past, wolves and other predators were top of the food chain, managing the prey groups and niches. One false move – and the eco-system crumbled. What other prey groups and predators was I going to encounter? My academy teachers drummed that question into my head.
“Humans are involved,” Mother said finally.
I knew it.
“Move with care,” she continued.
I picked up my chopsticks again. Indeed, I would.