Hut kif on the station arranged a riot to cover their attempt to snatch Tully from her custody. Goldtooth fled the docks; she and her crew ended up billed for damages-which she charged to the mahendo’sat government, using the papers Goldtooth had left her. Stle stles stlen was mollified-for the moment, so well-disposed, in fact, that this avowed friend of the mahendo’sat gave her one direct warning: don’t trust Goldtooth.
The kif also approached Pyanfar with two direct offers: one, to buy Tully from her and, two, to ally themselves with her against a certain kif who had a bounty on her head.
It was certainly tempting. Money enough to solve their problems. A way out of their dilemma. A possible peace with the kif.
But she turned it down, dumped her precious cargo, and pulled out of Meetpoint as rapidly as she could with Tully aboard-because her credit with Stle stles stlen hung upon a credit authorization from the mahendo’sat-and that was only valid if she played her role as Goldtooth’s courier. Kif offers
or not, she had never dealt with kif and never wished to; Goldtooth, moreover, had her trapped-and Goldtooth had run, heading deep into stsho space with kifish hunters on his tail, some of whom were interested in her.
Then she learned that getting Tully and his message to the mahen regional capital was only part of it-
A knnn tracked them out of Meetpoint. That was no good news. Rumors of what she was carrying had evidently spread to methane-side. Knnn, so alien no one could talk to them, so technologically advanced no one could fight them-existed inside the Compact and outside the law. They might take exception to any move at any moment and kill a ship; and no one would do a thing about it-because no one could talk to them. It was a monumental achievement that the serpentine tc’a had once upon a time gotten the knnn to understand the concept of trade: so nowadays knnn simply contacted a station, rushed onto its methane-dock and deposited whatever they liked, grabbed whatever they wanted and left. This was an improvement over their former behavior, in which they simply looted and left. Or took a ship apart.
And Tully, when questioned, avowed that humans were late getting back to Compact space because their ships had been stopped. Someone was conducting piracy against human ships in human space, and kif was the automatic assumption. The message and the mission seemed to have to do with a mahen determination to push through a regular, patrollable route that would bring humans to Compact space-and incidentally right past their old enemies the kif. All this made sense, and Pyanfar was averse to nothing that bothered the kif.
But Tully handed her his own suspicions-that it was not kif which had raided them: it was knnn, and humans had fired on knnn ships.
Pyanfar was horrified.
If Tully was right, they had a potential knnn target aboard their ship. They were carrying a message which involved knnn affairs, either one of which was about as welcome as a ticking bomb. If the knnn moved on them they were flatly done for. Moreover, the kif who was hunting them had seized the route that led most directly to the mahen capital and they had to reroute to the border station of Kshshti-far from a safe place to have a prize like Tully, a place close to kif territory and frequented by the methane breathers.
As if they needed more trouble, they had picked up another pursuer. A hani government ship captained by one Rhif Ehrran was out hunting a hani renegade named Tahar. This Tahar had sided with the kif at the battle of Gaohn, and was a well-known outlaw, said to be operating as a pirate in the vicinity of Kefk and Meetpoint. But The Pride of Chanur turned up under Rhif Ehrran’s nose, trafficking with mahendo’sat and kif-and this policewoman of the han diverted herself from one quarry to another potential traitor. Rhif Ehrran’s political patrons would be far happier to see the demise of Chanur than that of a mere pirate already powerless in hani affairs. So priorities were revised. Rhif Ehrran learned, probably from Stle stles stlen, that Chanur had Tully aboard- and that Chanur was in the employ of a foreign government; and Rhif Ehrran saw a chance to ruin Chanur once for all.
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