The Kif Strike Back by CJ Cherryh

“Station’s not jamming us,” Haral said. “We can output our own scan to our friends out there, but it’s not much, in our position. We can beacon them in to dock right enough.”

Aft, the lift was working, crew on the way from lowerdecks to the bridge as fast as feet and The Pride’s, lift mechanism could carry them. The alarm bell rang in spurts, drowning other sound at intervals.

“Message from central,” Tirun said. “Kif say-say: compliments of the hakkikt and they won’t interfere with the docking of our ships. This is relayed . . . We’ve got another call: stsho-that’s a protest. Mahendo’sat-a group is protesting to the kif and wanting rescue. They’re stuck in some shops down the way and they’re afraid to go outside. They want police. Meanwhile the kif are saying mahen crew will handle docking for Aja Jin and Vigilance-The hakkikt’s compliments again.”

There was a soft noise, a wheeze of leather upholstery: Chur made it back alone and took a post. There were running steps in the corridor behind.

“What we got?” Chur asked straightway.

“Got a kifish takeover of the whole gods-forsaken station,” Pyanfar muttered. “Got a gods-be kif in our gods-be access-Get back to bed!”

“Give me that,” Chur murmured to Tirun, all business; and business went on in mutters and com-chatter.

A thunder of steps, scrape of claws on decking; more bodies hit the cushions, one, two, three: Haral delivered a terse briefing to late-arriving crew and Pyanfar let it go, finding more and more information popping up on her screens as stations came alive. Vigilance and Aja Jin were still proceeding on their approach toward docking: “Negative. No fire,” she answered the query from the inbound mahendo’sat. “Brief them on it, Tirun.” She spun her chair half about and saw The Pride’s bridge more crowded than it had been since Kshshti: Hilfy and Khym were both at posts.

“Kif are counting on us to calm it down,” she muttered to the lot of them. “Gods rot it, they’re pushing us hard as they can push. Gods-cursed kif bastard knows we won’t fire cold.”

Hilfy swiveled her head half-about. “He’s got Tully,” she said, once and tautly. So it was said. The line was drawn.

And gods be feathered if she wanted to be put under pressure to do what she already told herself she was crazy for doing on her own. Like sitting pat at dock instead of tearing loose and running with what she had.

“So we’ve got our own detainee,” Pyanfar said, puzzling Hilfy: she saw the ears cant in bewilderment. She opened a channel below to the accessway com. “Skkukuk. What do we do with you?”

The kif had tucked down in a ball. It stood up and straightened. “I am freezing, hunter Pyanfar.”

“Good. What if I blow your head off? Would the hakkikt like that? You offend him somehow?”

“I lack all status with him.”

“Hope to gain it, do you?”

“I am hopeless, unless your sfik is greater than it seems.”

She laid her ears back. “Kif, you want to live?”


“Strip and get inside that lock. Leave the robes in the lock. Walk into the main corridor. And wait there.”

It bowed, hands tucked away again.

She leaned and keyed the outer hatch open, powered the chair around and met Hilfy’s quick, flat-eared stare. “Got ourselves a sfik item down there. Tully it isn’t. We’ll see what we’ve just been handed. Tell Vigilance and Aja Jin we’re playing this business out and staying at dock; they can do what they like about it.”

“We’ve got scan image going out,” Haral said. “Jik says affirmative, he’s still coming in.”

“Gods hope he isn’t kidding,” Geran said.

“Gods hope,” Pyanfar muttered. Visions of attack assailed her. One swift blast at the dock from either of her two incoming allies and it was ail over. But she trusted Jik. She hoped. “Khym. Come on.”

“You going down there?” Hilfy asked, turning her chair about.

“Nose to that board, youngster. Stay put. Come on, Khym. This one’s yours.”

Khym’s ears came up. He had not looked so cheerful since they took him into fire on the docks in the Kshshti mess.

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Categories: Cherryh, C.J