Author: Glenn Leung

The continents were coming into focus; the race was almost over. Niu Mowang checked his hyperscan; the only other racer close by was the Tiger clan’s, about seven thousand kilometers behind. This distance could be closed in under ten seconds. He had to stay on his hoof-like toes.

Mowang’s sights had not been this forward in a while. He had defended the Ox clan from other human-animal hybrids; from the ferocious Tigers to the deceitful Rats. Yet he and his kin were no match for the might of the Chimera-Dragon clan, which swallowed the Galaxy in a Blitz-like conquest. The heavy shame of surviving the defeat had kept his head down, and he was now in the race for redemption.

The Dragon’s Jade Emperor had announced the race, knowing his own clan’s advantage. The first in this new rotational rule system could make irreversible laws and a Galaxy that’s essentially theirs. The Dragons had the best ship technology among the twelve; a fact made very clear during the war. They knew how to grip the soap just right; a stable hold on the conquered involved carefully tailored olive branches. There was supposed to be little risk to them, but the Jade Emperor had not counted on his chosen racer turning around and helping his competitors that were trapped by Jupiter’s gravity. Mowang was surprised that the Dragons actually believed in the honor they preached.

‘Well, they’re certainly not Rats,’ he thought.

Rat rule was not something Mowang felt he could stomach; their tiny bodies paired with their not-quite-human faces would bring dread even without knowing the extent of their chicanery. He had all manners of scars from skirmishes with those rodents. He shook that thought aside. If he won, his clan would keep the vermin in check and there would be nothing to worry about.

Wait. Where was the Rat’s ship? After the Dragon racer’s heroics, all twelve ships should have been accounted for, but it seemed the Rat had dropped off the hyperscan. Mowang wished he had been paying more attention; such creatures do not just disappear.

Luckily for him, it was getting late for surprises. The massive ring marking the finish point above the Earth’s North pole was coming up, and he had managed to increase the distance between himself and the Tiger. Things were looking good; his breath was gushing out his giant nose in excitement. He could only see forward now; the Earth no longer a sketch but the majestic planet that gave birth to his ancestors and their stories. Victory was in sight!

A slight shake and a small boom reverberated through the ship’s hull. To Mowang’s horror, a Rat-sized ship began undocking from behind his cockpit. Having conserved its fuel by hitching an uninvited ride, it was able to dump the lot into its afterburners. A blinding glow emanated from its miniature thrusters and in less than a blink, it was blazing through to the finish, its wispy trail dissolving into space like a certain clan’s hopes and dreams.

Mowang followed the petite ship through the ring, mouth still ajar from shock. Surely the Jade Emperor would not allow this travesty! No, he was being naive and he saw it now. The Dragon racer had been honorable, but that wasn’t true of his entire clan. The Rats may be crafty, but deals with them could serve the Dragons’ agenda better than working with the stubbornly righteous Ox.

Mowang hung his head once again. The Year of the Rat has arrived.