The Kif Strike Back by CJ Cherryh

“Against what?” Hilfy asked Skkukuk. “What’s going on out there?”

“They will be Akkhtimakt’s partisans, young fool. They hope for a coup. There is likely fighting even within Harukk. The hakkikt will be dealing with that personally. He will be occupied.”

“Likely truth,” Dur Tahar said, swinging her chair around from monitor.

Hilfy rose to her feet with her pocket pistol in hand and aimed at Tahar. “That’s your recent side, Tahar, isn’t it-Akkhtimakt’s?”

Tahar laid her ears back. Her eyes showed white and she froze in the chair. “Shoot or listen to me, Hilfy Chanur. The kif’s telling the truth. But it’s local stuff-nothing’s coming in coordinated with this. Nothing I know about, leastwise. And I might have. No. It’s a local thing. We got my crew and your captain out there on the docks. The kif’s guessing but he’s guessing straight-they’re not where the hakkikt can lay hands on them right now or he would have. No, this goes right along with that assault on the lock down there. Kefk station is counterattacking-Akkhtimakt’s partisans are making their move and your captain and my crew is caught in the middle, for godssakes-listen to me and put that gods-be gun down-”

Tirun spun her chair about, still listening to something, the complug pressed hard in one ear. Her eyes flicked. “Ehrran’s just engaged the kif-Gods rot it, they’re shooting up the docks out there-”

“I’m going out there,” Khym said flatly.

“You go with the rest of us,” Tirun said, and hurled herself to her feet. “Gods be, the captain’s going to skin us, but when we get ’em back she can skin me first. We seal The Pride up tight and we get ourselves out there. Move it! Geran-shut her down. Put the lock on autoseal.” Tirun crossed the deck at speed and opened up the weapons locker, handed a pistol toward Dur Tahar.

“I,” Tully said, on his feet, holding out his hand. “I” Tirun slapped her pocket gun into his hand. “Use it.” “Come on,” Hilfy said to Skkukuk, and grabbed him ungently by the arm, claws out. “We put you back below.”

“Leave him one of two on this ship?” Tirun said. “No thanks. This son goes. First. First out. You lead the way, kif.” Skkukuk’s wiry body straightened. His head lifted to his full, gangling height. “Give me my gun back, hani.”

“Suppose you take one,” Tirun said, nose rumpling. “From the other side.”

“Captain-” Haral leaned over her in the shelter they had reached along a towering gantry, in the red tracery of fire that speared the smoke and popped off the wall and the gantry structure. Haral had a piece of cloth from somewhere and was daubing away at her face with a rough earnestness while her ears rang and the fire went back and forth. It was all far away; and then it came clear, Haral’s anguished face and the pain in the back of her head. “Gods be,” Pyanfar muttered, struck the ministering hand away and tried to move. Her skin hurt. She put a hand to her middle and wiped away a dew of blood.

Metal fragments. Splinters. She was peppered with them. She felt their prickling. Felt the slickness on her fur. She blinked at the Tahar crew’s frightened faces-saw Haral looking white around the nose, and panic in Haral Araun was so out of character it shook the world.

A second shaking: this time an AP blast against the station wall over their heads, and another spatter of particles. A five-hundred-weight of severed hose plummeted to the deck close enough to kick up the wind. “Gods!” Pyanfar cried, and got over onto her knees, searching after her gun in an empty holster.

“Here.” Gilan Tahar slapped the heavy butt into her hand, and she looked from the Tahar first officer to her own, saw Haral take a careful look out from their cover, and turn a dour face back toward her.

“Pretty thick out there,” Haral said.

“A weather report, for godssakes- we got any cover further on?”

“We got ourselves pretty well set here-”

BANG! Another thunderclap, another shower of metal from overhead.

“They’re hitting the gods-be wall!” Pyanfar yelled. “The gods-be fools are going to take this whole gods-be dock for a spacewalk-“

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Categories: Cherryh, C.J