The Kif Strike Back by CJ Cherryh

“We’re getting out of here,” Dur Tahar said when Haury and her guards came up close. “You all right?”

“Fine,” Haury said in a hoarse whisper of a voice. That was all. She gave Pyanfar one long uncommunicative look; and took her sister Tav’s help in place of the kif s. There were bandages about her ribs. Plasm on her wounds. The kif had, done something for her at the least . . . with what courtesy was another question.

“Go,” said the kif on the docks, with the wave of a dark hand toward the waiting lighter-access. “Compliments of the hakkikt.”

Praise to him stuck in the throat. Pyanfar favored the kif with a stare and stood there with hands in her belt, near her empty weapons, while both crews boarded. Haral stood with her. They went aboard together, down the short, dark tube past the hatch.

No suits necessary in the lighter, thank the gods: nothing kifish would have fit. Pyanfar walked the center aisle into the dim, utilitarian rear of the cargo lighter, where Chanur and Tahar sat side by side on the deep benches. Up front, the kifish pilot gave confirmation to the launch crew in hisses and clicks and gutturals. Pyanfar sat down, belted in as the lighter whined in final launch-prep, sealing its hatch to the ship. The lighting, such as it was, lined the pilot and co-pilot up front in lurid orange, making shadows as they moved. The cold air stank of ammonia and machinery.

No one spoke. They swayed and braced as the lighter moved out of the bay on the launch boom- smooth, not a shudder in the arm. Well-maintained, was Harukk. Pyanfar noted such details, recalling the balky loader The Pride had tolerated for years. No glitches in this sleek killer-ship. No little flaws even in things that had tolerance. One knew something about a captain from such detail as this, and Pyanfar stored the information away among the other things she knew of Sikkukkut an’nikktukktin, inquisitor for Akkukkak, conniver from Mirkti, prince and lord over ruined Kefk.

The boom grapple thunked and let them free in their armored little shell as the shadow-pilot reached out a thin arm and put in a gentle thrust aft. Beyond their shadow and the glare, the massive side of a neighboring kifish ship hove up in the double viewport and spun off as the lighter accelerated and maneuvered at once, leaving the rotational plane and letting station spin bring The Pride-to its approach-point.

Arrogant, Pyanfar thought, irritated with the cavalier exit maneuver. There’s a flaw for you.

Grandstanding for the passengers. Sikkukkut would have this pilot’s hide for that. Then, remembering the access ramp to Harukk and its awful ornaments. Literally. O gods, gods,


Kif talked to kif as the viewplate dimmed to dark. They went inertial now, freefall. From here on out the tricky business was up to the onboard computers and Kefk’s guidance-nastiest of all maneuvers, getting up to the emergency access of a ship at dock, on computerized intercept among the vanes and projections of ships locked to a rotating body. They did not propose to use the cable-grapple and winch in, but to engage The Pride’s own docking boom and come in on The Pride’s power. That took one access code to activate the hatch and boom-one precious key into The Pride’s computers, handed to the kif. That code had to be changed immediately when they got aboard. Damage my ship, hotshot, and I’ll have your ears.

Easier to worry about a botched dock or a code switch than worry about other things. Like no contact with The Pride. “Your ship does not respond,” the kifish officer had said when she had asked the docking request transmitted. And that meant Chur was not answering. Chur could not answer.

Geran knew it and sat back there with the rest, silent and uncommunicative and with no expression at all when Pyanfar chanced to look her way.

Chanur estate. The courtyard gate where Geran and Chur walked in one day, young and catching eyes wherever they went with their delicate Anify beauty-Chur all pleasantness and Geran sullen-silent even while Chur was asking favors of the Chanur lord and a place in Chanur’s household. “Watch them both,” the old lord had said, na Dothon, her father. “Watch them both.” Chur of the ready smile, and Geran of the ready knife.

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Categories: Cherryh, C.J