The Kif Strike Back by CJ Cherryh


“Don’t by-the-rods patronize me.”

“Don’t by-the-gods foul up.”

Hilfy’s mouth opened; she shut it definitively. The ears struggled erect. There was a nick in one. A gold ring swung from the sweep of the other.

“All right?”

Ears twitched. “All right.” Hilfy’s voice shed its edge. The eyes stayed black.

Down the corridor the lift-door had opened. “We’ve got company.”

Silence then. Pyanfar stood up, facing that oncoming set, in the center of which was a tall, robed darkness that set her teeth on edge.

So a kif arrived on the bridge, in the doorway, Tirun and Khym on either side. Hilfy stood up and Geran switched seats. .

“Tirun. Take scan one.”

Tirun took the indicated post without question. Khym stayed still at Skkukuk’s side, tall as the kif, twice its size in other ways. Tirun could have cracked its bones barehanded. Khym could take it apart. Its hands were bound before it: kif limbs did not flex back conveniently.

“Captain,” Skkukuk said.

Tully had turned in his seat, just once and briefly. Something had touched his face-wariness, surely. Maybe something else. But he was eyes-to-the-scope again, his back turned to the kif. Pyanfar noted it, and her estimation of the human went up another notch with that.

“You all right, Skkukuk?” Politely posed.

Skkukuk lifted his bound hands and let them fall. His dark, red-rimmed eyes wept tears of eyestrain in the light. “This is stupidity,” Skkukuk said. “Behind the neck, hani, is far more effective. We can bite through wire.”

“Thanks. We’ll remember that next time. Do you know where we are?”

“Kefk, I suppose.”

“Why do you suppose that?”

Yet another shrug. “It was the hakkikt’s intent.”


“That hakkikt. Yes.”

“He took you into confidence, did he?”

“It was well known among his ships.”

“Were you-among his ships?”

Skkukuk ducked his head.

“You were Akkhtimakt’s, huh?”

“I am yours now.” The dark head lifted, the jaws worked. “I lend you my sfik. I am formidable, even now.”

“You lend me confidence. Tell me, Skkukuk. Do you know Kefk?”

“Yes. Thoroughly.”

“Why do you suppose Kefk hasn’t launched a defense?”

“You want my assistance.”

“I’m asking you, kif.”

Skkukuk gave a kifish shrug and lifted his hands toward the scan posts, miming request. “Show me the situation.”

“Haral, put the scan image up on main.”

It arrived. The kif’s face lifted to the overhead, where the big screen was.

“What we’ve got here,” Pyanfar said, “is Vigilance and Aja Jin and Harukk out in front, headed into Kefk with several other ships. Kefk guard ship’ve gone inertial now. No great hurry on them. Beyond that interval, ourselves. A tc’a beside us. The rest of the kif with a ship named Ikkiktk in charge of the rest.”

“A tc’a.”

“That ship’s named So’oa’ai.”

Another small gesture of joined hands. “This is ominous.”


Skkukuk’s eyes went to her and Hilfy. The stink of unwashed hani and human was already on the bridge. Now there was a strong ammonia scent. “The methane folk are unpredictable.”

“Have you got reason to say that? They’ve been stirred up. Haven’t they?”

“Yes.” The ammonia reek was very strong. Kif sweat. “I advise caution. Don’t offend this thing. Don’t speak to it. Let it dock.”

“That’s what the station seems to be doing.”

“That’s the wisest thing.”

“We conduct our little disagreement in a crowded house, is that it?”

“Kkkt. That’s adequate. Yes. We do. There are always the methane folk.”

“What were you-before you offended Sikkukkut?”

“Skku to him. Subordinate.”

Her ears went back. She pricked them up again. “Friend of Akkhtimakt’s, huh?”

“Skku to him also.”

“You have one chance, kif, to tell all the truth in terms I understand. You play games with me and I’ll serve you back to Sikkukkut for dinner. After I give you to the human and my niece for their amusement. Hear?”

The kif’s head drew subtly lower between his shoulders. The hands lifted and fell. “I hear, hani.”

“Then tell the gods-be truth!”

“I’ve offered you my weapons. I will give you your enemies. Name them to me. Or let me hunt them out. I will lend you sfik. Hani can be fools.”

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