The Kif Strike Back by CJ Cherryh

“Kkkkt,” the kif Skkukuk said, lifting his hooded head from his nesting-spot on a clean bed in a clean cabin. “Kkkt. Young Chanur-”

“Up,” Hilfy said. She kept her gun in holster and made no move to threaten. Khym was behind her, and that was more than sufficient.

“I am weak with hunger. Hani, it is a waste-”

“Get up, kif. Move. We’ve had a little problem with’ your dinner. It’s all over the ship. Our hatch has a nice new burn-scar on it. That’s what we want to ask you about.”

“Treachery,” Skkukuk said. He stirred himself and came off the bed, using a hand to catch his balance. “Kkkt. Treachery.”

“You understand it real well,” Hilfy said. “Come on. Let’s go topside and discuss it with the crew.”

“Not my doing,” Skkukuk said, “hani, it was not my-”

“Out!” she said.

Skkukuk came out toward them. Khym grabbed himself a handful of kifish robe at Skkukuk’s nape, and Skkukuk twisted and rolled his eyes in alarm. The jaws clicked alarmingly. “I offer no resistance, I want to go to your bridge, there is no need-”

“I’ll bet you do,” Hilfy muttered, and grabbed his arm while Khym took the other side, hauling the kif along clicking and protesting. Something black and small fled down the hall and scuttled around the corner into a lesser-used corridor.

“I have given you my weapons,” Skkukuk hissed, struggling to free his arms. “Let me go! Let me go, hani fools! I am yours, I am loyal to the captain-”

“In a mahen hell,” Hilfy muttered.

They reached the bottom of the ramp, down by the gory row of heads, and Pyanfar looked back yet again with her hand laid on the AP gun she wore. The Tahar crew women did the best they could, keeping Haury Savuun on her feet and keeping moving; and Haral brought up the rear-clear enough that Haral would gladly have gone faster on this stretch, but there was a limit to what the Tahar kin could do; and there were several watching clutches of kif, down by the dockside and up above them on the ramp. “Kkkkt,” the sound came to them from above and below. “Kkkkt.”

Well, look at those fools, Pyanfar translated it to herself, and her hair bristled. She glanced a second time at the Tahar, at Moon Rising’s first officer in particular, the moment that they passed out of earshot from either end of the ramp. “Ker Dur’s safe,” she said quickly. “That’s the truth. And I got your ship back. You’re free. How are you doing?”

Gilan’s eyes seemed to pass in and out of focus, a widening and narrowing of the dark-in-amber as what she had said got through. “Captain’s with you-And Moon Rising?”

“Both in my keeping. You’re safe. We’re getting you back into safe territory fast as we can, going to turn you loose- Don’t you wilt on me, gods rot you, look alive!–We’ve got a long way to walk, Gilan Tahar. No transport on this dock I want to use.”

“Aye, captain.” Gilan’s voice was hoarse and earnest. “We’re with you.”

Kif were to either side of them. Kif clicked and muttered, in mirth at the sight they saw-

Sfik, Pyanfar thought with a sinking heart. This ragged crew of hani demonstrated-gods help them all-hani vulnerability. Not enemies, the kif don’t see Tahar as enemies to us. We’re treating them wrong. It’s a trap, by the gods, Sikkukkut’s own sense of humor, not to send them with a kifish escort. To make us take them ourselves. Hoping one of them will faint on the way and make a scene.

“Captain-” Haral said from a few paces behind.

Kif were taking up a stance along the dockside ahead, across their path. It was walk through or detour round.

“We don’t bluff,” Pyanfar said, and put an exaggerated swagger in her step, her hand on the gunbutt. On a second thought she took the AP from the holster and flicked the safety off, carrying it barrel-down and swinging as she walked. “Out!” she yelled down the way, and gestured at the kif with a wave of the gunbarrel. “Praise to the hakkikt, you scum, we’re on his business with these prisoners and you’ll keep your noses out of it!”

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Categories: Cherryh, C.J