The Kif Strike Back by CJ Cherryh

“Food-” Tully said lamely, and pointed back at the galley.

“Come on,” Khym said, and caught him by the arm and took him on through the bridge to the corridor. Tully went, with a backward look from the bulkhead doorway.

“Get!” Pyanfar said.

“Captain,” Haral said from her post. “Harukk calling. The hakkikt advises us the guardstations have officially surrendered.”

“Thank the gods for that. Acknowledge.”


Tirun came back from the galley, carrying a cup of chopped raw meat that reeked of thawing and chill even at arm’s length. “Kkkkt,” Skkukuk moaned, and averted his face when Tirun offered it.

Pyanfar scowled. “Shut up and eat it, hear me, kif? I haven’t got time for your stupid preferences.”

“Kkkkt. Kkkkt. Kkkkt.”

“Gods fry you.”-She took the cup from Tirun’s hand and held it under Skkukuk’s mouth. “Eat it. I don’t care what you don’t like. I haven’t got time for this.”

“Kkkkt.” And the jaws clamped together with a swelling of muscle down their long length. The nostrils drew inward. Skkukuk gave a long shiver, and kept his face averted, his eyes shut, his throat spasming.

Pyanfar took the cup back. “He eat anything we gave him before jump?”

“I’m not sure,” Tirun said. “A lot of it had dried up.”

“Captain,” Haral said, “We got a definitive whereabouts on that stsho that went out from Mkks: kited through here this morning and never stopped for hellos.”

“Gods rot. Naturally it did. What’s happened to Tahar? Any word on Moon Rising?”

“Make inquiry?” Haral said.

“Has anyone else?”


“Gods, Now you’d expect that question out of Vigilance, wouldn’t you? No. Don’t ask. Just go on listening.”

“Maybe we ought to ask the hakkikt advice in kif-feeding,” Tirun muttered at her side. “Captain-maybe if we ask the kif to get something-”

Pyanfar turned a flat-eared look on her and Tirun tucked the stinking cup back into her hands and covered it and shut up.

And Hilfy came back from down the hall. With another cup in hand. “He eat anything?”


Hilfy offered hers. It smelled of blood. It was. Pyanfar drew in her nostrils as Hilfy extended it past her face.

“Where in the gods’ good sense did you get this?”

“Med stores,” Hilfy said, ears back, jaw set.

There was already a twitch of kifish nostrils. The. head turned, the eyes opened and a desperate tongue investigated the air. Skkukuk lifted his own hands to cup Hilfy’s holding the vessel; and the darkish red contents disappeared in an energetic palpitation of the kif’s long jaw-muscles.

“Good gods,” Tirun said.

“Just selective,” Hilfy said. “A real delicate appetite. Freezerstuff’s just too far gone for him.”

“Get him cleaned up,” Pyanfar said. “Feed him again if you have to. But don’t by the gods get generous. We need those supplies. And you-”

Reprimand died in her mouth and left a bad taste after. Hilfy was on the edge. She saw it in the look in Hilfy’s eyes, the set of her jaw. “Get some rest,” she said to Hilfy; and that brought Hilfy’s ears down as quickly as a blow to the face would have.

“I’m fit.”

“Are you?”

Hilfy said nothing. The ears stayed down. The eyes stayed dark.

Get him off this .ship, off my deck, send him back to Sikkukkut.

Gods, gods, gods, the med supplies. How often do we have to bleed to feed this thing?

“Kkk-t,” Skkukuk breathed. Pyanfar looked at the kif, and saw already a focus to the eyes as Tirun made shift to move him out of the chair. “Kkkkt,” he said softly, “kkkkt-” -trying to get his booted feet under him. His head came up and the reddened eyes looked at Pyanfar. He knew what he had drunk. After the rest of it, are you, kif?

Tirun got him on his feet. Hilfy took an arm and they led him away, slowly, holding onto him and holding him up at the same time. Ought to bind those jaws when we handle him. There was a patch on her left arm where the fur grew wrong: plastic surgery, once and long ago, in her wilder youth. Wonder if he’d smother–the nostrils run close to the surface.

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Categories: Cherryh, C.J