The Kif Strike Back by CJ Cherryh

“Your friends.”

“Couple of hunter-ships. Just to keep the odds even while we trade.”

The kif lowered his hand very slowly. He was utter shadow as he moved before the orange glaring lamp. The hands spread themselves, light streaming past the sleeves. A dry sniffing reached her ears. Kifish laughter. “So that was your request for an open berth. Good, hani. Very good.” He gestured toward his prisoners. “Do you want to take them now?

Pyanfar did not look, refusing the distraction. She kept the gun aimed at the hakkikt’s chest. “We can have a real good bloodbath, hakkikt. Let me put it in kifish terms: we’ve got a sfik item here. It’s my ego in question. So we’ll just stand here. Hours maybe. We’re patient. You want to send a message? Head my friends off from docks? Fine. Or come at us. It’s all over in here, then.”

The kif gave a flourish of his hands and sat down in his insect-legged chair, a black lump amid the black pillars of his folk, beside the solitary wisp of white and color that was the prize. In the tail of her eye she saw a shifting there among the prisoners, and heard a sharp, hurt gasp.

“I’d stop that back there,” Pyanfar said, “hakkikt. One my people over there yells, might distract me, huh?”

Sikkukkut lifted a hand. “Hunter Pyanfar, you should have been a kif. I tell you, I will deal with you.”

They could die, they could all die, of this kif s embarrassment. Of failing him. Or of trusting him. But it was an offer. She drew a long, even breath.

“Fine. Let’s wait on my friends.”

“There truly are such?”

“Truly, there are.”

“You have a fast ship, hunter Pyanfar.”

A kif-gave points away and halfway admitted to surprise. It was, gods help them, conciliatory. Or mockery. Or some obscurely kifish thing.

“What do you want?” she asked. It had to be the right question. Or there might none of them leave the room alive. “You wanted me here. Why? What trade?”

There was long silence. “Skokitk,” the kif said. Cease. “Skokitk!”

The pale figure hit the floor, a thudding tumble to its knees. The red-brown moved and crouched low beside it. Pyanfar never turned her head.

“Hilfy,” Haral said. “Very carefully. Get up and get him over here.” –

“No,” said Sikkukkut. “This would not be wise.”

“Then we’ll wait,” said Pyanfar. “He all right, Hilfy?”

“So far,” Hilfy said, a hard, thin voice. She heard the spasms of breathing, saw the paler figure rise again, assisted to his feet. “So far.”

“Let us,” said Sikkukkut, leaning an elbow on the high arch of a chair leg, and resting his long jaw on his hand, “-let us settle this matter. Let us dismiss this inconsequence and talk like allies.”

“Allies in a mahen hell.”

“Mkks is neutral ground. Let us welcome your friends when they come.”

“We’ll wait.”

“They really are coming.”

“Absolutely. And your ships still have their noses set to station. Still sitting targets.”

“If you had meant to die you would have killed your kin first.”


“So these allies will not fire on our ships, no more than you did. You intend to get out of here. So do I. Therefore your prizes are intact. And mine is.”

Kit-thought. It made mazes. “What prize, kif?”

“You,” said Sikkukkut. He leaned toward the upright and rose from his chair ever so slowly, a smoky drift against the glaring lights. “You are here. And your allies are. I am no merchant. Trade-does not interest me. I make other transactions. Young Chanur-you may cross the room. Do so slowly.”

“Tully-” Pyanfar heard Hilfy say. “Come on.”

“No,” said Sikkukkut. “He is ours. You may go, young Chanur.”

Silence then.

“Hilfy,” said Pyanfar. Her eyes never strayed from Sikkukkut; the gun barrel never moved. “Get over here. Now.”



There was slow and careful movement. The kif stirred and eclipsed Tully’s white shape. Pyanfar never let her eyes stray, trusting Haral and the others to watch the other kif. She had her own target all picked out. She heard the quiet movement reach her side, heard Hilfy’s harsh breathing.

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Categories: Cherryh, C.J