The Kif Strike Back by CJ Cherryh

Tahar’s ears went back, a visible flinching. It was the truth, at least the first part. And maybe the second. And Tahar gave no sign of doubting it.

“Better be ready on that access,” Pyanfar said, and turned a look toward Haral. “Tirun, stay your post. You know who you’ve talked to. Hilfy, Khym, put Tahar in Tully’s room a while.” It was one of the few places on the ship relatively damage-proof, and it at least had a bed. “Move it. Geran- see to Chur, that’s all.”

Crew scattered, except Tully. He still had that lost look- anxious, frightened. Chur. That was all he could likely make out. Next to Hilfy, the closest friend he had. Pyanfar walked over to him and set a hand on his arm. Claws half out. He had that disconnected look of hysteria, and she gripped his arm to wake him up. “Hey,” Pyanfar said, “it’s all right, huh?”

“Tahar,” he said. “Kif. Kefk. What do, Pyanfar? What do, what do?”

What are you up to? What kind of game are you playing? I trusted you. What’s going on, Pyanfar?

“Captain,” Tirun said, “Jik’s lot’re headed up the dock. Estimate three minutes. Mahijiru queries: assistance wanted?”

“Affirmative.” She left Tully, walked over to Tirun’s side and leaned there.

“Kif query,” Tirun said. “It’s Harukk.”

Then the minuses of the trick came home to nest. “Respond: medical emergency. Injured crew.”

Tirun relayed it. “We have a call already in-” Tirun added, reminder to the kif on the other end. And: “We understand that. Will you go on trying?” Another incoming-light lit. Haral snatched the call. “. . . Right. We got you. We’ll open for you. Captain, it’s the meds.”

“Tell Hilfy intercept them as they come in. Tully-go help Geran. Go to Chur. Take Geran’s orders.”

Tully went without question. It was off the bridge, it kept him from underfoot and he could fetch and carry if someone could get it through to him what was wanted. Loyal, she thought; he was that. Friend.

And alien and dangerous as the mahendo’sat when matters got beneath his skin.

There was a coming and going belowdecks, grim mahen personnel bristling with weapons taking up station in the .accessway, along the lowerdeck main corridor and at the lift.

And on the upperdeck main, where a frowning Ehrran medic worked with a tall black Ksota mahendo’sat, and Chanur’s off-duty and motley assortment standing grim and glowering round the walls of Chur’s sickroom-two males, either one of whom might have raised the Ehrran’s hackles for completely different reasons; Geran Anify and Hilfy Chanur, Hilfy standing there with her hand consciously or unconsciously on the butt of a pistol. They went armed, with the airlock standing open under mahen guard; and it was not only the kif that concerned them.

Pyanfar hovered by the door, with a complug in one ear, listening to operations as Tirun sorted them past.

The medics exchanged surly technicalities. “No gods-rotted good,” the hani said; and Geran moved closer, hands in her belt and a frown clenching her jaw. “What isn’t good?”

“Captain,” the medic protested, not for the first time. “I’d like this room cleared.”

“That’s all right,” Pyanfar said from the doorway. “We’re all friends. I’m sure Chur doesn’t mind.”

“Get them out of here-” With a look at The Pride’s two menfolk.

“Why?” Pyanfar said. “You going to object to your professional colleague too?”-who was male, and mahendo’sat.

The hani medic gave a bleak hard stare and turned and laid out supplies. Plainly she did object to males in medicine, whatever the species, and swallowed it.

“Better be good,” Geran said.

The medic hesitated with a bottle in her hand.

“Mistake might damage your career real bad,” Hilfy said, hand still on the gunbutt.

“I didn’t come here to take abuse and threats from junior crew.”

“Better be right,” Chur said for herself, rousing herself to tilt her head back on the pillow and look at the drip stand the medic-assistants were setting up by her side. “Mahe, haosti.” Check it, will you?

“Shishti,” the mahe agreed.

The hani medic glared, and handed the bottles and the bags over to the mahe one by one. “Seals,” the hani said, pointing out the tops. “This woman never should have left Kshshti. By the gods she never should have sat a post-“

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Categories: Cherryh, C.J