The encounter of old friends was common enough on Meetpoint Station, where half
a dozen species came to trade; and one such old friend came walking Pyanfar
Chanur’s way when she had no more than put The Pride in dock. She was hani,
Pyanfar Chanur, maned and bearded in curling red-gold, sleek of pelt. Her left
ear bore the gold rings of successful voyages along its rim, and the bottommost
ring had a monstrous gaudy teardrop pearl. Her red blousing breeches were silk,
with the faintest striping of orange; and wrapped about the waist was a belt
whose dangling ties were finished in precious stones and gold and bronze. She
was not quiet, this Pynafar. She exuded wealth and dignity, and drew eyes
wherever she went.
And rounding a collection of canisters awaiting dockside pickup, she spied a
dark-furred, all but naked shape: mahendo’sat — ordinary encounter anywhere on
Meetpoint. But this one flung wide his arms. His eyes lit up, his broad mahen
face broke into a charming grin that showed blunt primate fangs all capped in
“Pyanfar!” he cried.
“You?” Pyanfar stopped dead in her tracks. “You!” She slapped aside the offered
embrace and stalked past at a good clip, to make the mahendo’sat exert himself.
“Ha, hani captain,” the mahe called after her. “You want deal?”
She turned about again, planted hands on hips and let the mahe overtake her
against all better judgment. A heavy hand descended on her shoulder and the mahe
resumed his gilt-edged grin.
“Long time,” Goldtooth said.
“Gods rot you, don’t grin at me. You want a smile from me, you mahen bastard?
How’d you get in port?”
“Just docked. Find my good friend here. Give surprise, a?” He laughed, slapped
her on the back, seized her about the shoulders in one lank, coarse-pelted arm
and propelled her toward the ship berths. “Got present, hani.”
“Present!” Pyanfar dug claws into the deck-plates, resisting this camaraderie,
aware of probable witnesses, of a whole row of grinning mahendo’sat lazing in
front of a canister-surrounded loading area. A ship access gaped ahead.
Mahijiru, doubtless. “You owe me, mahe, owe me for tools and two good welders,
for fake repairs, for doublecross–”
“Good friend, Pyanfar Chanur.” A powerful arm shoved her ramp ward through the
gathered mahendo’sat, and she spun about and cast an indignant look back before
Goldtooth wrapped his arm into a tighter grip and hastened her up the ramp.
“Good friend. Remember I save your neck, a?”
“Present,” she muttered, stalking along the accessway. “Present.” But she went,
and stopped inside the lock, while some of the mahendo’sat who had trooped after
them poured past into the interior corridors. Goldtooth turned sober for the
moment, and she liked that less. Her ears were flat. “What kind present, huh?”
The mahe winked, decidedly a wink, this trader who was no trader, who played
what he was not, with Mahijiru which was not the slow-moving freighter it looked
to be. “Good see you one piece, hani.”
“Huh.” Her mouth pursed in better humor, in deliberate good humor. She slapped
the mahe on the arm, claws not quite pulled. “Same good see you, Ana
Ismehanan-min. You still play merchant?”
“We trade sometime, keep us same honest.”
The mahe looked to his left where the towering black wall of mahe crew parted.
Pyanfar looked — and her ears went up and her mouth fell open at the gangling
stsho-cloaked apparition in the doorway to Mahijiru’s inmost corridors. A mostly
hairless face with mane and beard like spun daylight; a face like nothing in
“O gods,” she said, and whirled about, heading for the airlock, but the
mahendo’sat had it packed.
“Pyanfar,” the human said.
She turned, ears flat. “Tully,” she said in despair, and lost the rest of her
dignity as the human hastened to fling his arms about her. His clothes reeked of
“Pyanfar,” Tully said, and straightened up and towered over her, grinning like a
mahe and trying to stop it, for he knew better. “Py-an-far.” In evident delight.
That was the limit of his conversation. That mouth was never made for hani