The Kif Strike Back by CJ Cherryh

“My sister,” Geran said quietly. Her voice achieved a pitch of deep hoarseness it had never reached. And stopped though it was clear Geran had more to say than that. Shame, shame to have a transaction like that to Chanur’s account and Anify’s, and there was nothing else to do.

“Chanur,” Tahar said, hands clenched on the co-pilot’s cushion till the claws gouged. “Chanur, I’m a gift. A kifish gift, hear? You want the hakkikt to think Chanur can’t hold what they give you?”

“Gods, you argue like a kif.”

“You’re dealing with kif, Chanur. You’re in their station. This is their game. Not the han’s. Not yours. You give me to the han you lose sfik. And you can lose your life for it. You can lose all you’ve got.”

“Shut it down, Tahar!”

“Don’t send me yet! Gods, Chanur, if you’re going to throw it all away, at least get my crew out first, while you still have the sfik to bargain with!”

“I’ve got a woman sick, I’ve got gods-be little time to bargain in.”

“They’ll kill you. The kif will kill you if you slip. You hear me? Where’s Chur Anify or any of you then, huh? You think Tahar’s the only lives at stake at this gods-forsaken station?”

More silence, profound and dreadful. The crew listened; Tully’s face was set and pale, for what small amount he followed.

“Maybe-” Geran’s voice came softly, hoarse and hollow. “Maybe a mahen doctor-Captain, maybe Chur’d be better off with someone not Rhif Ehrran’s pick in the first place. I trust her that little. And I know how Chur feels about it.”

What for godssakes has gotten into us? A darkness closed about Pyanfar’s vision, a narrowing tunnel in which one course leapt out with white-edged clarity. “By the gods, no! We’re not taking this from that blackbreeched foot-licker. Tirun! Get me Jik.” Pyanfar spun her chair about to the board and hit the recorder and the com. “Priority-” The com came live. “The Pride of Chanur to Aja Jin, priority, priority; this is Pyanfar Chanur. Get the captain on-” And as a mahen voice droned back: “Move it, crewman–Tirun, gods rot it, give me those med stats.” She punched buttons, hunting in two banks. “Where in a mahen hell’d you put that gods-be file?”

“Four, captain, it’s your comp four, I’m getting it-”

“Stand by comp transmission, Aja Jin, priority-Where’s Jik, gods blast your eyes!”

“I got,” a deeper voice came back.

“Jik, get our comp-send and get a med over here, priority, priority one! Mahen, hani, I don’t care what, just hurry, code one, hear? Hurry it, Jik!”

“You got. Ready you send.”

She sent, two keystrokes.

“Got. We go, go.”

“Go!” She broke the contact and spun the chair about. “Tirun. Log a medical emergency. Log the call.” She leaned buck in the cushions and stared at her crew and at Tahar, darkly smug. “There’s more than one way to get something done around here. Now let Ehrran play politics with an emergency call.”

It was not safe. Sudden moves in a stationful of nervous kif might open something else up.

No move at all was unthinkable. She looked at Geran, whose ears were canted back, whose eyes were white-edged about the amber and black.

“So we get Jik in on it,” Pyanfar said. “And by the gods he can get Blackbreeches to Kefk he can gods-be sure get a hani medic over here whether Rhif Ehrran likes it or not, and by the gods she’ll do her job.”

Geran gave a smile far from pleasant, prim pursing of her mouth. No smile at all from the rest of the crew; a wary look from Khym; a warier one yet from Tahar; and from Tully a lost and worried stare. He laid a hand on Haral’s arm, questioned her with a look.

“We get help for Chur,” Pyanfar said in simplicity, for turn, and got up from her chair. “Tahar, your crew gets my help nonconditional. I’m not Rhif Ehrran. If you doublecross me or get in my way I’ll just break your neck right off and send the remains to the kif. And let me make one thing more clear: my crew’s not in any state to be patient with your mouth. We’re short on sleep and gods-be mad, and I don’t know if I’d save you if you cross one of us again. Hear it?”

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Categories: Cherryh, C.J