The Kif Strike Back by CJ Cherryh

Another desperate swallow. Her hand shook, terror catching up to her in a chill when the moment was long past. The tc’a could have hit them. Gods. How much closer? How much closer before they got pulled apart? Or before they made one ball of fire, hani, tc’a and kif together?

“They friend?” Tully asked and no one had time.

“Tc’a insystem are upset,” Hilfy said. “We’re starting to get chatter out of our own tc’a. It identifies itself and us. They’re sixteen minutes down the timeline.”

Camera image came up on the screens: Haral had gotten them image … at this range, a bright orange sun washing out the stars. There was a red dwarf companion, Kefk 2, invisible or inconspicuous. Everything else was still too far. Heavy debris orbited Kefk, by Sikkukkut’s outdated charts.

And four stations all told, with a lot of disturbed kif.

“Transmission,” Hilfy said. “It’s them!”-forgetting protocols. “It’s Jik!”

“-Hold course,” the message reached Pyanfar via Haral’s switching. “You hold course. We go ahead in. Got no trouble yet-”

“They know the guard ships are on their track?” Khym wondered.

“Can’t tell,” Haral said. “They ought to. That’s-ten minutes Light. We’re still getting output . . . just chatter. Jik’s bunch isn’t upset, and they’re further into the timeline than we are.”

“Looking good,” Geran said.

Pyanfar let out a breath. A chill went up her back. To cut it that fine, to do it, by the gods, to come in blind like that and pick up signal on the mark, with all the kif behind them.

Navigation like that was a hunter-ship trick. Not for honest merchant-folk. But they did it.

They had done it.

They were alive so far.

“Haral,” Hilfy exclaimed, “we just got beacon!”

Image flashed up on monitor. Full current system composite: it showed Sikkukkut’s cluster of ships inbound for the main station; showed a skein of ships inbound where they themselves ought to be … the kif, the tc’a, The Pride. And , the interceptors.

Three guardstations; a belt full of miners; an outbound ship; a schema of the main station that show forty-six ships in dock, origin indeterminate. Same as Jik’s initial snatch of image before beacon shut down.

Give or take their own presence. And the interceptors.

“We believe that thing?” Tirun asked.

“Kefk’s talking,” Hilfy said. “It’s a guardstation, I think. It’s-welcoming us in.”

“Gods,” Haral said. “Now it’s really working I don’t like it.”

Pyanfar gnawed her mustaches. “I don’t either. Message. Relay Jik what it sent and put our wrap around it.”


“Kif are talking,” Khym said. Haral switched it. “Behind us.”

“-kkthos fikkthi kthtokkuri ktokkt Harukkur shokkuin.”

“They’re querying Harukk,” Pyanfar translated. “Sounds like they’re confused as we are.”

“That’s good news,” Haral muttered.

“Our tc’a’s transmitting too,” said Hilfy. “Same stuff as before. ‘I’m coming in with hani and kif.’ ”

“That’s the reason for our welcome,” Geran said. “That lunatic tc’a. They can’t shoot.”

“Yet,” said Pyanfar, and chewed her mustache-ends. She reached for another packet and drank it in one forced series of gulps. Put her head back and contemplated the situation while The Pride hurtled at C-residual V toward a kifish stronghold that wanted to let them in. Past a doubtless armed guard-station.

Get them onto the docks, she could imagine the counsels in that chunk of fragile metal up ahead. We outnumber them. Lure them out of their ships if possible. Send poison through their ventilation tubes if not. Let the tc’a dock peacefully in the methane-sector and then destroy the intruders on the oxy side.

“We brought our own private kif along, didn’t we?” Pyanfar said: “Tirun. Khym. We’ve got a little time inertial. I want you two to go down, get some flex, and bring our guest in the washroom up here. His name’s Skkukuk. Be polite. Tell him I sent for him.”

“Aye,” Tirun said.

A moment later. “Aye,” said Khym.

Kif on The Pride’s bridge. The other side of Mkks, she would have sooner died


The lift worked, down-bound, two hani kif-hunting in the lowerdeck; and soon enough, one kif coming up topside, near sensitive controls. Unease crawled up and down Pyanfar’s spine. She flicked switches at her board, taking some of the Pride’s automatic reflexes under her own hand while Tirun and Khym, where that lift let out, entered corridors that could become a four story plunge straight down if The Pride’s thrust cut in for some unexpected reason-like an avoid-alert.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127

Categories: Cherryh, C.J