The Kif Strike Back by CJ Cherryh

But he’s kif.

They led. him out and down the corridor, Haral and Tully and Khym together. And Hilfy and Geran turned Chur’s chair about and with tenderest care bent down and lifted Chur out of it. “I can walk,” Chur said. “I c’n walk, I just got tired-” But they swept her off her feet between them and carried her anyway, off the bridge and down the corridor, Chur mumbling protests all the way, only then and loudly realizing she had forgotten her breeches.

Pyanfar sank into the vacated chair and punched the recycle on the corn-system. Nothing came up. Frustration welled up, changes in the systems, every time they looked, some new gewgaw in the works. “Gods-be, what’s access on the decoder?”

“That’s CVA2,” Tirun said from Haral’s post. “To your one, I got it, I’m getting it.”

It ran.

“Gods rot, it’s in mahensi!” She cycled it again and sent it through the translator.

“Situation deteriorating,” came the translator’s droning voice. “Advise you human destination Meetpoint. Same mine.

I got talk to one Stle stles stlen. Make maybe deal. Ehrran I go, same. Keep company. You clear dock number one fast, both. Got little fracas start.”

“Gods blast him!”

“-Best chance I can give.”

“Blast him to his own hell!-You know what you did, you smug bastard, you know where you left your partner?”

The message ended. Pyanfar cut it off with a shaking hand.

Sat there with both fists clenched, until the black edges cleared from her vision. Then she carefully punched in another call. “Aja Jin, this is Pyanfar Chanur, come in.”

Not on coder program. The kif down the row, the kif in station command-were undoubtedly monitoring even the so-called shielded-line. Everything. It was not politic to be too closely associated with Aja Jin just now. Or to talk in secret.

“Captain, this Soje Kesurinan, Aja Jin You back? You got news?”

“Bad news, Kesurinan. Your captain’s been detained. Him. Those with him. In the hakkikt’s custody. I think your personnel are going to be released. No word like that on your captain. The hakkikt-” Keep it neutral, keep it ambiguous, tip Kesurinan off to the situation as much as she could read between the lines. “-the hakkikt sort of wants to assure Aja Jin’s good behavior. After Mahijiru lit out. And to discuss the matter. You got any news on that?”

“They jump,” Kesurinan said after a moment. “Confirm. You got word captain’s status?”

“Just that the hakkikt, honor to him, wanted to talk to him. Alone. I left him in good health.”

Honor to him.-We’re being spied on, Kesurinan, remember that, we’re in real trouble. Don’t press me with questions.

A long pause on the other side. “You got suggestion, captain?”

“I suggest if you’ve got a good explanation what Mahijiru’s up to with Ehrran, it sure might help.”

“I get,” Kesurinan said. The strain came through the accent and the corn-garble. “I do number one quick.”

“If you learn anything let us know double-quick. I think your captain’s situation is extremely delicate. I don’t think he knows what the hakkikt, praise to him, wants from him. If you can come up with that it might help. Understood? We’ll use what good influence we have.”

A second long pause. “Yes, understand. Thank you, Chanur captain. Thank you call us.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, heartfelt, and broke the transmission. Propped her throbbing head on her hands and winced helplessly at touching one of several lumps on her skull. It bled. She felt the dampness and looked at the stain on the fur between her pads. She began to shiver. “I’m going to wash up,” she told Tirun. “Can you carry on a while?”

“Aye,” Tirun said without turning around. On the boards rapid checks were going, searches after surreptitious exterior damage which, if not the kif, Ehrran might have done to them.

Or Mahijiru. She could not believe in Mahijiru’s desertion. Could not believe Goldtooth had turned on them.

But it was politics. Like han politics, like the scramble for power that put herself and Ehrran at odds. In this case it was two partners who violently disagreed on how to deal with the kif-Jik who wanted compromise, and Goldtooth who played some other game, involving knnn; a game in which the stakes were perhaps too high, too unthinkably high, to put friendship anywhere in the equation.

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Categories: Cherryh, C.J