The Kif Strike Back by CJ Cherryh

“Captain. They want your request on file.”

Pyanfar turned the chair and met an anguished stare with a quiet one before she took the call. “This is Pyanfar Chanur,” she said to com.

“Chanur.” It was Rhif Ehrran in person. “You want your crewwoman transferred to our facilities?”

“Treated here, if you can do it.” Gods, to put Chur in Ehrran hands. “I’ve got a next-of-kin request, ker Rhif.” Humbly. Quietly. With as much of Chanur dignity as she could save. “Geran Anify par Pyruun: she’s got the right to go with her sister if she has to be taken off.” You’ll have an able Chanur loose on your ship if you take them, you eggsucking Ehrran bastard, no luck getting your hands on one of us helpless and undefended-and we’ll be two crewwomen down, blast your eyes, and you’ll have two hostages and you know it. “I’d take it kindly, captain, if you could get a little speed on this. She’s pretty sick.”

A long delay. “Dispatch the case records. Such as you have. My medical staff doesn’t work on suppositions.”

“You know I haven’t got a medical staff, Ehrran.”

“You expect me to take on the liability without adequate records. I’ll want a release from Geran Anify as next of kin and from you as clan senior here before my staff touches her.”

“You’ll get it.” Cover your backside, you gods-be parasite. Protect yourself. You give-me the chance and it won’t be a lawsuit when I go for you. “With respect, can we get this underway? We don’t know how long we’ve got in this port.”

“It’s waiting on that release, Chanur. Or if you’d rather have the mahendo’sat or the kif see to your problem-”

“We’ll get your release. Thank you, ker Rhif. I owe you one.”

The contact went discourteously dead.

“Gods fry her,” Geran muttered.

“By the gods,” Pyanfar said, turning and matching Geran’s look with one of her own, “we owe her one, Chanur owes her one for this.”

“Aye,” Geran rasped. The breath came from the depths of her gut, as if it strangled on its way. “Hearth and blood, captain. When we get a chance.”

“When.” Pyanfar flicked her ears. Rings chimed, reminder of voyages and experience. They dealt with an Immune. Unchallengeable, by every principle of civilized law. But Chanur was older than any Immune clan. Older than Ehrran in all senses. “Get that release. Get Khym in here. And get the automed and relay Chur’s vital signs over to Vigilance; let’s give the meds all the help we can and save the Ehrran for our own time, not Chur’s.”

Khym came onto the bridge and got to legal files; Tully strayed through the door: “Here.,” Pyanfar said, called Tully over and leaned aside in her chair to fish a size three probe out of the under-console toolkit. She extended one claw in demonstration, punched a harmless button with the probe while Tully watched, and turned and slapped the probe into his palm. His blue eyes lighted with sudden understanding and he clenched his hand on the tool.

“We get Chur help,” she said. “Meanwhile we need crewman, huh? Understand? Buttons. Controls. Gods, you can’t read. Use your imagination. Go to Khym, tell him you do what he says, can you?”

“I understand,” he said. “I do. I work, I help.”

“Good for you.” She patted an available leg and sent him off, the halt to help the inexperienced, and both to do what they could. Gods, gods. She dropped her head against her hands and wiped her mane back. She was shaking with fatigue. She heard someone else come onto the bridge. Geran had come back with stats from the little medical equipment they had, and she flung herself into Haral’s vacant seat to put the data through to Vigilance, no motion wasted.

Gods know how long we’ll be here. Geran guesses the risk we’re at–if we have to run for it on the sudden. Chur-gods know if she’s thinking straight at all now. Or thinks she’s living anyway and won’t burden us with helping her. Gods-be stubborn hillwomen. We go to space. We never get home out of the blood. Gods, gods-There had been a look on Geran’s face for a moment in the dealings with Vigilance, a look such us she had seen on Hilfy’s with the kif, and neither expression looked much toward personal survival.- Her own heart beat hard when she thought on Ehrran, when she reflected on herself, on a fool who had gotten a little ship and a merchant crew involved in the affairs of Personages and hakkiktun and gods forbid, the knnn.

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