The Kif Strike Back by CJ Cherryh

.”Looks like you missed a step, doesn’t it?”

“Oh, I tried. Kif don’t understand hani, that’s all; they don’t know how our minds work, not in crises-but they do know we’re different and the way we choose sides isn’t predictable or sensible by their lights. So that’s what happened to us. We didn’t get a chance to switch sides. We were in an office-the staff just turned without warning and killed one kif who was too high up-too much sfik to trust; and they rounded up others to hand over to Sikkukkut for-o gods.” Tahar shuddered and set the cup down with both hands. “My crew, Chanur, my crew-Sikkukkut handed me on for a gift. I’ve got sfik enough. The situation has. But my cousins-if you don’t get them out of there-Chanur, I’ve seen what happens when a kif wants to throw a celebration. I’ve seen it.”

“I’m working on it. My word on it, Tahar. Gods know I’d cheerfully break your neck if things were different. But not here and not now and not that way. I’m applying every leverage I’ve got. Want a warm-up on that?”


“Take it anyway. You can use it.” She retrieved Dur Tahar’s cup, held it for Tirun to fill and set it back in front of Tahar’s hands. “You get news from home?”

Tahar raised her eyes with apprehension.

“Short and straight,” Pyanfar said. Gods, it had a bad taste in her mouth when delivering the news once would have been revenge in itself. “Tahar’s in deep trouble-but you’d figure that. I don’t know how bad or how much internally, or what’s going on at Anuurn at the moment, but you could figure it. Tahar was having trouble getting cargoes last year. Victory, Sunfire and Golden Ring are all working over farside, last that I know about it, as far from kif as they can get. If they haul their own cargo, someone raises a question whether it might be pirated goods being dumped; if they haul someone else’s they have to post a bond of guarantee in the case they should decide to pirate it themselves.”

“Cut it, Chanur!”

“I’m telling you the truth. What do you expect you’ve done for Tahar’s reputation? Gods rot it, you knew it when you bolted with the rest of the kif at Gaohn! You might as well listen to it.”

Tahar’s ears were back, she set the cup down hard and looked as if she were coming over the tabletop in the next breath; but then the wind went out of her in a long shuddering sigh, and she bowed her head and flexed her claws out, points on the hard table surface. “You gave me gods-be little choice. Do what? Come home and face my brother? Go on running Tahar cargoes after what the kif did to hani at Gaohn?”

“You knew they were kif when you bedded down with them.”

“So do you know it.” Tahar’s head came up, red-bronze eyes dark-centered and burning. “Remember that. Remember that, Pyanfar Chanur. You can’t shed your clan. You never can. What you do comes back on your kin at home. And kif are kif and hani are hani, and one can’t trust the other in the end. Get us out of here. Get my crew out and let’s go home, Chanur, for the gods’ sake, I’m begging you, let’s both of us go home!”

“Captain.” Tirun’s voice came over the com on the wall. “Vigilance is’ sending: Quote: ‘You’ve boarded Tahar personnel.’ I’m reading it exact, captain. ‘We require you stand by to transfer this person to Immune custody.’ ”

“Gods rot them,” Pyanfar muttered, and slid out of the bench.

“Ehrran,” Dur Tahar murmured darkly, and started to her feet in a move that brought Chanur out of their leisured poses all about the galley. Tahar’s ears went flat in alarm and she subsided back into the seat.

“The law,” Pyanfar said. “They’re here, Tahar. Han law. They’ve been hunting you for two years.”

“Chanur-take my parole!”

Take custody, Tahar meant; clan to clan. Take her back to Anuurn justice in Chanur custody. It might even one-up Chanur enemies; and humiliate Rhif Ehrran. That was what Tahar offered, knowing what she offered.

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Categories: Cherryh, C.J