The Kif Strike Back by CJ Cherryh

She blinked. “A hundred year child. That’s a mahen proverb. Longtime trouble from a single act. Goldtooth’s either making a serious mistake, hakkikt, or he’s still acting in your interest. He’ll be at Meetpoint. Where he’s useful. And it’s not his style to consult with his partners.”

“What of that, Keia?”

“I like that smoke now, hakkikt.”


Jik’s eyes came slowly to Sikkukkut’s. “She right. I think maybe Ana got idea put self where make lot trouble.”

Sikkukkut’s long nose drew down somewhat. It was not a pleasant expression. He folded his long fingers beneath his outthrust jaw. “Kkkkt. Shall I observe, Keia, that your position is uncomfortable? That I presently have ships proceeding toward jump, to warn my enemies. That this whole diversion on the docks-diversion, Keia!-was perhaps created to give those two ships time to get away.”

“They be kif who fight, hakkikt.”

“They are worms who lacked initiative until someone moved! Don’t tell me kifish motives! Don’t play the innocent with me, mahe, or you will find me other than civil!”

Pyanfar flexed claws and tried to think past the pounding of her heart. Hunter-vision tried to take over. She forced the black edges back. “She was in port with him.”

“Him,” Sikkukkut said sharply. The kif turned his attention in her direction, went off one hunter-fix and onto her. “Who?”

“Goldtooth was at Meetpoint at the same time as Rhif Ehrran; same time as you, hakkikt. I’m wondering who was talking to whom back then. You talked to Goldtooth. He intimated that much. But who met with the stsho? And who met with whom in stsho offices?”

“No,” Sikkukkut said, as if he had turned a thing over in his mouth and decided to eject it, delicately, his eyes burning and full of estimations. “No. I don’t credit the stsho with that much nerve.”

“Then,” said Pyanfar, “the stsho at least thought they were on the inside of this business. They thought they were ahead of the hunt. Or leading the hunters where they liked.”

“Suppositions are a shaky bridge, ker Pyanfar. Particularly when the waters are deep. You wish to distract me. You see-I know friendship. I put it with martyrdom-in the category of terms useful to know. Friendship-is also subject to rearrangement of loyalties. At the most disadvantageous moments. Believe me that I understand the exigencies of allegiance-trading and advantage. Let’s operate within them. Shall we? Let’s consider what prompted this attempt on my life . . . since that’s surely what it was. Let’s consider how it incidentally created the timing for escape-Vigilance uses its guns as it parts our company and breaches an entire dock to hard vacuum, a dock conveniently free of mahen or hani casualties. Not of kif. But remarkably your crew and the crews of Mahijiru, Aja Jin-Keia; and of course Vigilance- were not on that dock when it decompressed.”

“We weren’t in a favorable situation ourselves, hakkikt!”

“Be still, ker Pyanfar, and let my old friend Keia do this explaining. Let him tell me how Aja Jin was so fortunate in its timing. Do you want your smoke, Keia?-Take it. Perhaps it will facilitate your thinking.”

“A.” Jik reached again into the pouch, kept his movements measured: I am not in a hurry, they said. You do not force me.

And that sudden patience on Sikkukkut’s part raised the hair on Pyanfar’s nape. Stalk and circle. Take it. Have what you want at my hand. When I choose. If I choose. Your addiction is your vulnerability and I control it, I demonstrate it to these others and you must bear with that.

And soon with other things.

See, hunter Pyanfar, how easy and how perilous the fall from my favor.

Friendship and kinship is your addiction. I can twist that knife too.

Godssakes-as Hilfy let go a long, careful breath-sit still, niece.

The smoke rose, gray wisp against the orange sodium-glow; and swirled above Jik’s head, taken by the ventilation. “I tell you,” Jik said easily, and gods, there was only the faintest fear-smell: he was that steady. The strong smoke subdued other olfactory cues, deliberate stratagem, perhaps. “I tell you, I not happy. Ana be old friend. But politic make different. We be mahendo’sat, hakkikt. I know what he do. He hedge bet.” He made a gesture with the smokestick and put the lighter away. “He call me fool. Maybe I be. We not trust Ehrran either one. I know damn sure when Ehrran crew make fast withdraw from dock we got trouble. Mahijiru already got close up tight hatch. I send all crew aboard, tell get hell off dock, try get damn fool hani-” He gestured Pyanfar’s direction, and over his shoulder at the others. “They going find captain. Damn sure I got no way stop. Damn good idea anyhow. Pyanfar be val-u-able ally. Maybe do favor to hakkikt, a? Rescue Pyanfar.” Another large drag at the smoke.

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Categories: Cherryh, C.J