The Kif Strike Back by CJ Cherryh

There was nowhere left to run but home, nothing but charges and challenge there, and no way with a sick woman aboard to do that running without killing her. They could get back to Mkks from here. Or reach Tt’a’va’o, in space no hani had ever visited and where no hani was welcome; or run for Meetpoint- where The Pride had no welcome either and no few agencies wanted their hides. Chur might not live to get to any of those places and The Pride itself might not last much longer than their arrival.

She gave her mane a second wipe, flicked the rings on her ears into order and listened to Geran getting the data through and insisting on an acknowledgement from the Ehrran medical staff.

Haral came back onto the bridge, still wet from her bath, as Khym got up from his board and quietly handed Geran the legal release for fax-transmission to Vigilance.

“What’s underway?” Haral asked.

“Getting a Vigilance med over here,” Pyanfar said quietly; and Haral’s damp ears went back in quiet acknowledgement. Haral knew who; why; was relieved, and avowed she had not been worried it would get done, all in that one twitch. It comforted her, such friendly familiarity, close as her own mind. There had been times in their youth when she and Haral had come to blows. Never on The Pride’s deck. Never since they took to sitting side by side at The Pride’s controls. “Chur’s not so good, huh?” Haral asked.

“Not critical,” Pyanfar said, “but none too good. It’s not now that worries me.”

Haral added up other unspoken things right too, with a scowl for their luck and Chur’s and for allies they had to rely on.

“Goldtooth’s on-“-insertion approach, Pyanfar started lo say, and com started flashing an attention-light. She reached and leaned over the mike. “Pride of Chanur. You’ve reached the captain.”

It was neither Ehrran nor Jik. It was the tinny putter of the shielded dockside line, “-kokkitta ktogotki, Chanur-hakto. Kgoto naktki tkki skthokkikt.”

“Gods rot it, I’m not opening that hatch.”

“-kohogot kakkti hakkiktu.”

“Not even for him.”

“-Khotakku. Sphitktit ikkti ktoghogot.”

“Speak pidgin!”

“-Gift. From the hakkikt.”

Pyanfar drew in a long breath and looked up at Haral. Haral’s ears were back. Don’t ask me, that look meant. You know what choice we’ve got.

“I’m coming,” Pyanfar said into the com. “Kgakki tkki, skku-hakkiktu.” Politeness grated. And when the contact was broken: “Gods, what else did we need? Khym. Tully. Haral and I are headed for the lock. Get on the com and tell Tirun and Hilfy meet us down in lowerdecks-armed, and hurry it. Geran: get that camera on.” She flung herself to her feet as Haral headed for the weapons-locker. “And, Khym, when you’ve done that get on shortrange and advise Jik we’ve got kif arriving with presents at our lock. Don’t use the station lines! Hear?”

“Aye,” Khym said, and shifted himself into Hilfy’s vacant place, already throwing com switches. No argument. Gods, the menfolk had settled in and become useful- somewhere something had happened, and the uphill weight she had been shoving against since Anuurn port began to move on its own impulse. She took the light pistol Haral handed her, checked the safety in haste and headed out of the bridge a step in front of Haral.

“Gifts,” Pyanfar muttered as Haral overtook her in the main corridor. “Gifts! That’s how-we got into this gods-forsaken mess in the first place. Knnn. Chur sick. Vigilance playing games. And a gods-be kif wants to give us presents.”

With Goldtooth in the last stages of his docking approach, they were losing their free-space shield; and from here on, it was stand prepped for a hasty undock and a mad scramble for defense at any moment.

They had caught station with its defenses low. It was an easy trick to take a starstation out-a few C-charged rocks carried through jump and let fly-if an attacker had no scruples… And, she kept recalling, Akkhtimakt’s reputation included none, even among kif.


Tirun and Hilfy met them in front of the lift lowerdecks, armed with pistols from the downside locker, ears laid back and both of them wetter than Haral had been. “What have we got?” Tirun asked as they headed down the corridor to the lock.

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Categories: Cherryh, C.J