Hilfy let her breath flow out, leaning there on Tirun’s seat back and being the fool and knowing it. Her joints were loose, either the run topside or outright panic. “Get Tahar up here. It’s her crew the captain’s risking her hide for-and Tahar knows those kif out there.”
Tirun’s ears lifted and nicked back and forth in indecision. “Well, we can use the extra hands up here. Do it, Geran.” Another wide flick of the ears, a rumpling of her broad nose and lift of her lip. “And it occurs to me we’ve got one other mind on this ship knows those kif.”
“Skkukuk,” Hilfy said. A falling feeling hit her gut. She knew her own unreason on the matter; and it was Tirun’s command. Tirun’s say. Not hers to argue in any case.
“If we need him,” Tirun added, with another twitch of the ring-laden ears-veteran of a hundred crises, Tirun Araun, cagy and hard to take. And all the while her sister Haral was out there in trouble with Pyanfar- one forgot that the two of them had that desperately close personal bond. Tirun made one forget-doing what wanted doing with no hesitation, no self-interest between her and the ship. Hilfy looked at the old spacer and at Geran Anify, whose efficiency covered com and scan, trading functions back and forth with Tirun like a smoothly functioning machine while the world came apart about them; and for the first time in her adolescent life she truly knew the measure of her seniors, and knew what she had yet to reach-It hit like a blow to the gut, what she was, what they were; and she was not likely to live long enough to
get there. But even that thought was a selfishness Tirun would never take the time for in a crisis. She saw it all in a flash like a shellburst, a moment of panic; and then she found the wobble in her knees had gone away and she discovered some scrap of something Tirun-like in a place she had never known she had it stored, down where she kept her temper.
To a mahen hell with yourself, Hilfy Chanur, and your fears and your precious wants-The ship’s got a problem.
“-Tahar’s on her way topside,” Geran said; another light flared on the com pane!, another call; Hilfy itched to reach out and intercept it, taking her station back, but Geran had it, Geran occupied her seat, Tully positioned next to her where Geran could assist him, with his eyes firmly on the scan, watching for any move out of Kefk: even something as small as a construction pusher could take them out, if it went crashing into their vanes; or if some saboteur EVA’d out through a service access and limpeted some explosive to The Pride’s big vane panels, or to the yoke. It would cripple them at the least. Make any jump out of Kefk uncertain, enough to kill them if they tried it. Enough-
-o gods, to force them to negotiate-
“Tirun,” Hilfy said, leaning on Tirun’s chairback. “If they damage us- they’ve got Pyanfar and Haral in reach. That may be what they’re trying. Take us if they can; cripple us if they can’t-Nothing personal on the kif s side: if you get a chance to put an uppity ally down and subordinate ’em, you do it.”
Tirun’s ears moved. She heard. Hilfy flung herself the few paces across the deck to take the seat next to Tully, to take over scan function with eyes that could read and hands that could use the buttons.
“-They were about eight kif,” Geran was saying to someone on the com. “No. No. No, captain. Let me ask my- Let me-Let me ask our duty officer, captain.-Tirun, it’s Vigilance. Ehrran’s sending crew out there to secure the docks.”
“Gods rot it-Give me that.”
“She’s just broken contact.”
They rode the lift in Harukk, nine hani and two armed kif, and the door let them out onto the access level of the ship, into the dim light and colder air of that final passageway that was open to the docks.
We’re going to make it, Pyanfar thought, which she had doubted down below, in the prison-hold. She had doubted everything until the kif got them to the lift and two got inside the lift car with them, outnumbered at least at that range and within that car; and she believed it almost entirely when she saw that door open and let them out onto the right level of the ship, in a corridor with no ambushes and no waiting contingent of kifish guards just a way out. She glanced once at Haral in the course of a look over her shoulder at the kif and the Tahar crew, and caught a flicker of Haral’s ears and eyes that worked like telepathy: same thought: We’re near, captain, maybe we got a chance of getting away with this after all.
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