Chapter Five

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I woke with a Li Bai poem in my head. It was an odd feeling. In the dream too, I was throwing gold coins around and wherever the coins landed, there would be more strewn on the ground. Somewhere in the dream, a clear spring broke the surface of the earth and became a life-giving stream.

I climb up high and look on the four seas,
Heaven and earth spreading out so far.
Frost blankets all the stuff of autumn,
The wind blows with the great desert's cold.
The eastward-flowing water is immense,
All the ten thousand things billow.

For breakfast, I made myself a protein smoothie from my own personal stash. For Lien, I had the Mess make her favorite toast and poached eggs. She woke up, slowly, and fell upon her food ravenously. Mog had his dish of dried dog biscuits.

The siren rang when we had just finished our food. I stuffed my legs into the uniform pants and ran straight for the bridge.

~*~

It was a derelict ship.

I stared at it. I had it magnified on the view-screen. The ship had the generic design and make of a Clan ship. A minor Clan, by the looks of it. Score marks. Darkened parts that hinted of laser fire. It had been floating for a long time.

No survivors. That I was sure. One or two months. That long in space. Dead spirits lost in the ether.

It could just be an accident. But Clan ships do not end up destroyed just like that. And the destruction of any Clan ship, major or minor Clan, would ring alarm bells throughout the sector.

"Looks like a fire gutted it," April said.

"From inside," I noted. "Gold Fang. Merchant, not warship."

We watched in silence. The loss of a Clan ship is a saddening event. Clans would mourn for days.

"How come we didn't know about this?" April probed further, echoing my own thoughts.

I tapped my chin. "That's my main concern."

Ambush, the thought was a dark cold lump. Insider job.

The Gold Fang was a Minor Clan, distantly affiliated with our Clan, through the sharing of a common ancestor and the marriages of fourth cousins. The bloodline was much diluted, as they were mostly a merchant clan, shipping spices and herbs for cultivated palates in the systems. Their homeworld was just a small planetoid, parsecs away from Noah's Ark. When they hunted as wolves, they mostly harried at the sides and showed no desire to be ambitious. A quiet and nondescript Clan. We didn't invite them much to Clan hunts just as they weren't as outgoing as the other clans.

"Check the surrounding areas for any weapon signature," I rapped out. "Even ship signs."

"Scanning," the ship tech answered crisply. Not my Pack on deck this shift. I felt a distinct chill on my skin. Lu Ying. The ship tech was called Lu Ying.

I needed my people on the bridge. People whom I could trust and die for.

~*~

We left the derelict ship drift away. It had a name: Moon Lake. It was a beautifully poetic name. Then I recalled that Gold Fang also farmed flower crabs as a side-industry to supplement their shipping business. Flower crabs with patterns like flowers or stars strewn across indigo skies. Moon Lake crabs, as the other Clans would call them and feast on them steamed with sliced ginger soaked in vinegar, their fat pincers tied firmly with string. Perfect as autumn food, accompanied with hot ginger tea and cordial conversation. Cooked, they were a delicious orange-red. As children, we liked to hang their empty carapaces on pomegranate shrubs. To ward away evil, the old ones used to say. Red scares them away.

I mulled over the name of the ship while Starfang obeyed the directions we had programmed into her. We were on the trail of my enemy. Her nose was sniffling out his tracks.

I was a hunter.

And I would catch my prey.

~*~

We found another derelict ship on trail. Another tasty titbit left to entice us, another sign of Yeung Leung's predation. His tracks were very clear, too clear.

At one point, I stopped Starfang from going any further and my ship hung in space while the stars burned around us. I stared at the trail, at all possible sites Yeung Leung might have visited... He confused me.

April passed me a cup of hot soup to drink during shift change. It was constituted soup mix. Crab and corn flavour. I suddenly craved for Cook's soups. This hunt was wearying my soul.

"I don't understand," I said, enjoying the warmth of the paper cup in my hands. "Why is he doing this?"

"To mislead us, to run away? You know Yeung Leung. He's not an easy prey."

I yearned to caress her cheek with my hand. April was beautiful, even in the early dawn of the ship. She had chosen to wear the grey under-shirt and Clan uniform trousers. The temperature of Starfang was comfortable enough. I had always thought it felt like Noah's Ark.

"He's not," I shook my head. "He remains elusive as usual."

April glanced at me. "I feel as if he's mocking you."

I felt myself bristling. "Yes." I swallowed the rest of the soup and crushed the paper cup. It felt good crumbling it in my hand and throwing it into the refuse bin. The soup burned a trail down my throat.

"Don't give up," April said, placing a gentle hand on my right arm. I shivered at her touch. "He wants to discourage you, throw you into disarray. But you are stronger than that. You are better than that."

I longed to kiss her lips. All I could do was to smile.

It was around the same time we found It and this was where the trail became a lure. A most beautiful lure.

~*~

Humans set lures to capture their prey. Even on Noah's Ark, there were humans who had permission to hunt in restricted areas and they had lures to catch either rabbits or deer. For us homo sapien lupus, we do not normally set traps. We do not do that. We are wolves.

Yet, we know the power and pain of wolf lures.

Entice us with meat, with a scent that would not go away – and we would follow it until we are caught, paw in metal snare. We follow our instincts and lures feed our urges, leading us to our doom. It had happened in the past, when humanity was stuck on famed Terra, feet anchored by gravity and dreams shorn of wings. When we finally got off the planet, our bad habits followed us. Lures entice, seduce and lead to our downfall.

We remember wolf lures.

The thing floated in space, like a still metal thing. It was not a ship. It was not a vessel of any kind.

It was a metal cube.

For a while, I stared at it. It reminded me of older memories and stirred a chill storm inside my stomach.

Lien.

Protocol dictated I scan and examine it. I did, because I had to. Starfang, meanwhile, trained her cannons on the cube.

It was as cold as a wintry night's and as empty as a lifeless husk. It was dead, in many levels of the word.

Yet... the trail about it was hot. And from it extended a golden path.

April eyed me carefully. I had to make a decision. Whatever choice I made would determine our destiny.

"Follow it," I said.

And so the lure sprang its trap.


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