The Kif Strike Back by CJ Cherryh

“Aunt,” Hilfy said. Business voice, sane and sensible. “It’s Aja Jin. Captain’s compliments and he’s got a problem. He says he’s got to talk to you direct. He won’t take no. You want to talk to him?”

“I’ll take it.” Anything-anything-to maintain Hilfy’s quiet. “I can guess.” She swung her chair about. “Tully; Khym; Chur, Geran; get out of here, get fed, get to bed. Now. Move it. Hilfy. You too.-One other thing, Hilfy.”

“Aye?” Defensively..

“Kif says Tahar’s friendly with Akkhtimakt.”

“Moon Rising?” Hilfy’s eyes widened.

“Since Gaohn. Makes sense, doesn’t it? She played close with Akkukkak; after Gaohn, where else could she go? Vigilance is real interested. Thought you’d like to know.”

“Gods rot. Aunt-”

“Mind that language. You’re back in civilization, niece.” She punched the contact in as Haral switched it, a solid stream of mahen exigency in her ear. “Gods-be, Jik-”

“-time. You got take comp feed. What you want, wait Akkhtimakt, wait Harak kif?”

“What you want, my crew loses it in jump?”

“Got no damn time this rest. I got same station authority my neck, got same want board ship. I got explain kif you want sleep, a?”

She raked her mane back and flicked her ears. Rings chimed, light and constant. “Then I’ll explain to the hakkikt, friend. You want that?”

A moment of silence from the other end. “I talk hakkikt. Damn.”


“Before sign off, maybe get comp feed through. Deal, a?”

“No! My crew’s gone the limit, understand? No more!”

“We got stsho run go Kefk.”

“We can’t do it, Jik.”

“I send crew.”

“Not on my deck, you don’t. No way.”

“You want I come over there explain? We got stationer trouble, got urgent request we clear dock, got big fear, Pyanfar. Got kif trouble. What I say to kif? Sorry, hani got take nap?”

“Explain all you like. I got fall on my face, bastard. I’m out, through; whole crew’s going offshift.”

“Got finish comp feed.”

“Twelve hours. Then we do it.”



“Damn, hani, this not merchant deal. Nine. Nine all we possible got. We cover you tail that long. Listen.”

“Nine,” she muttered. “Nine.” She punched the contact out, turned the chair and got up.

Hilfy and Chur had gone. Khym and Geran. But Tully lingered, alone against the bulkhead door frame, hands behind him.

Looking at her.

“Scared you, huh?”


“I’m not mad at you. I give you an order, na Tully, you move, hear? Did I say get?”

“Pyanfar.” He stood his ground. His mouth was set, his eyes showed panic. But he stood away from his wall and came as far as the observer seat-came further suddenly and flung his arms about her. She hated that. But it spoke more than Tully could. She patted his head, pushed him back and looked at him.

Trust. Gods knew he had no reason.

“You’re a gods-be fool, Tully.”

“Hilfy say you come.”

“Hilfy’s another.” But it touched her all the same. And what had he thought when she left him with Sikkukkut? What had he believed then-not being hani, not being kin or anything but trouble to them? “You go rest, huh? We take care of you.”

“I don’t go kif.”

“No. You don’t go to the kif. Not to anybody. We keep you with us.” She thought things over and poked him with a foreclaw to get his attention. “We got a kif aboard. Hilfy tell you that?”

“Kif-on The Pride?”

“Prisoner. Name’s Skkukuk. Know him?”

A shake of his head. “No. # # prisoner?”

“Missed some of that. Sikkukkut gave him to us. That’s where we got him. You don’t be afraid, huh?”

A second shake of his head. “Hilfy-Hilfy-want # say- she # kif.”

“Missed that too. She’s not happy. I know that. But we take care of her.”

“She’s good. Good.”

“I know that too.” She cuffed him gently on the arm. “They get some food for you?”

“Not want.”

“Not want. Come on.” She took Tully by the arm and led him across the bridge. Stopped and looked at Haral and Tirun, whose eyes wept dark streams from exhaustion. Her own watered. She wiped at them. “Get-off duty.”

“You,” Haral said.

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Categories: Cherryh, C.J