The Kif Strike Back by CJ Cherryh

“So can kif, friend. What about that invitation from Kefk? Those ahead of us are going in. Sikkukkut says come in. Is it a trap, kif?”

“Of course it’s a trap!”


“Sikkukkut’s. And theirs. No one is to be trusted. Keep your speed, blast all and run.” Thin hands spread as best they could. “Perhaps the station and its defenses would take out the rest. But strike Aja Jin and cripple him; Nomesteturjai would pursue you to the death. Harukk would be the lesser danger in those circumstances. Kif would desert the hakkikt in such an attack. But strike him if you have time, the same with Vigilance. Still-” The hands fell, the shoulders hunched. “Your ship lacks weapons; and hani would not respect your sfik. Do these things and go to the hakkikt Akkhtimakt. Bring him your weapons and he will welcome you.”

“Gods be,” Pyanfar said. Her fur bristled down her back. Her ears had lain down.. She got them up again. By the kif’s shoulder, Khym stood with ears still flat. And Hilfy-

“He would,” Hilfy said. “Our kifish ally would do that. What’s he waiting for?”

“Shall I answer this person?”

“Answer her,” Pyanfar said, “and respect my crew, rot your guts. You belong to all of us.”

Again a hunch of the shoulders, a sinking of the hooded head. “I answer. Sikkukkut thinks he has sfik enough to lure Akkhtimakt to a place of his choosing. He thinks he has sfik enough that Kefk will offer him its weapons-”

“-meaning what?”

“-that. They will be part of his sfik. He will hold Kefk temporarily, beyond doubt. Possibly he will take it completely.”

“Make sense,” said Khym.

“It’s truth.” Skkukuk turned that way and theirs again, opening his narrow hands before him. “Am I to blame that Sikkukkut is a fool? And you lend him sfik. I nourish hope this is a stratagem.”

“You hate Sikkukkut, huh?”

“I would spit him from my mouth.”

Her stomach turned. “How are we doing, Haral?”

“Steady on. Transmission from our lead still says come ahead. Other situations unchanged.”

Maybe there was time to put this atrocity safely back in its confinement. Maybe not. “Get him to a seat,” Pyanfar said to Khym and Hilfy: “Move. We don’t know what we’re into. Belt it in real tight.”

“There is no need. I tell you I could free myself.”

“See he doesn’t.”

“Don’t be a fool,” Skkukuk said, straightening as Khym took him by one arm and Hilfy moved to take the other.

“One moment,” Pyanfar said.

Motion stopped.

“Question,” Pyanfar said. “Is there a hani ship named Moon Rising with Akkhtimakt?”

“I’ve met them. Several times. Kif know this ship. They are-kthok kakatk kthi nankkhi sfikun-of diminishing sfik. They brought some of the sfik of Akkukkak to Akkhtimakt, but it wasn’t much by then. They’ve been of use. Ktoht-sfik. A good knife has that. But without ornateness. One values it. One can take another.”

Gods, the logic. “Go sit down. Trust me, kif.”

“The captain jokes. Further, I am hungry. I protest this treatment.”

Pyanfar hissed and sank into her chair.

“I wish to tell the captain-”

“Sit it down. And hurry it up.” Her back was still bristled; she looked back again, to see Hilfy and Khym drop the kif into observer four and jerk the restraints tight over his arms.

Tully looked her way. There was stark fear in his eyes. . Observer four was a non-working post one* seat removed from him-much too close, by Tully’s evident reckoning.

“I don’t blame you,” Pyanfar muttered. “Me too-” And louder: “You’ve got a job, Tully. Do it, huh? Work.”

“Aye,” Tully said, and swung about and glued himself to the scope. Chur muttered something to him. He muttered something back.

Pyanfar spun her chair about.

“Kif says it’s a trap,” Haral said.

“Figured that,” Pyanfar said. “From the start, didn’t we?”

“Sounded like good kifish advice.”

“I’m sure it is.”

A moment’s silence. “Wonder what Jik’s got in mind,” Haral said. And after a moment more: “Captain-That business about Vigilance I’ve got no trouble believing. I know Jik’s saved our necks before.”


“But coming in here like this- Captain, you ever remotely wonder if Jik’s been working the dark spots-a bit too long?”

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Categories: Cherryh, C.J