The Kif Strike Back by CJ Cherryh

“You worried about something, Tully?”

“Not understand lot you say-” He waved a vague gesture at the room. At the scan panel. “I work. I don’t need any understand.”

“Tully, old friend.” Pyanfar laid a hand on his shoulder and felt the slight shift of muscles as if he had rather not have it resting there; she smelled his sweat despite that their air was cool for a human. “Listen-I know you doublecrossed me.” The translator sputtered through the com Tully wore at his belt. She wore no earplug: she needed none at this range. “You and Goldtooth worked together. He told me. Gods rot you, Tully, you did set me up-”

The translator rendered something in its flat, Tully-voiced way, and he sank down on the chair arm to evade her hand, out of room to retreat.

“You tell me the truth, huh, Tully. What’s got the wind up your back? Something I said?”

“Not understand.”

“Sure. Let’s talk about things. Like things maybe I might like to know-What’s the humans’ course?”


“Tt’a’va’o. You heard that from me just now. Maybe you know more than that. Maybe you know what Goldtooth’s not saying. Truth, Tully, gods blast you!” ,

He flinched violently. “Truth,” he said. The translator gave him a woman’s voice in the return, but the pitch was not far from his own. “I don’t lie, I don’t lie.”

“Where before that?”

“Not sure. Ta-vik. Think Tavik.”

“Tvk. At least one kifish port. Tvk. I’ll guess they didn’t stop to say hello. Skimmed in and out. And then to Chchchcho, not Akkti, not likely. Chchchcho. The chi homeworld. That’s a real fine route, Tully. Real great. Who planned it?”

“I come-Ijir.”

“You mean you don’t know.”

“Not know.”

“Tully. That packet. Packet. Understand? What did it say?”

“Make offer trade.”

“To whom? Who to, Tully?”

A desperate wave of the hand. “All. All Compact.”

“Kif too, huh?”

“Mahe. Hani.”

“Tully, what else was in there? A knnn message, for instance. Knnn. You know that?”

A shake of the head. That was no. The eyes were wide and blue and anxious. “Not. Not know knnn thing. Py-anfar-I tell you, I tell you all thing. # # I don’t lie to you.”

“Funny thing how that translator always spits on sentences I’d really like not to doubt.”

“I’m friend, I’m your friend, Pyanfar!”

“Yeah. I know.”

“You think I lie.”

“Didn’t say you lied. Just wish you’d tell the truth before things get hot, huh? I just don’t like the feeling there’s something still rattling round back of those pretty blue eyes of yours. Something’s been there since a long while back.” She raked his mane back from his face with a judicious claw-let the hand rest on his shoulder again, gently. “Look, Tully- you’re not scared of me, are you?”


“Then why don’t you tell me the truth? Why’d you keep things from me when we started this voyage?”

“I tell.”

“About the ships, yes. You did try. Why not the rest of it?”

“I try-try tell-You all time # busy not #-”

“Knnn’s a word would get my attention real fast, Tully. You ever talk about the knnn with Goldtooth, huh? You tell him about firing on the knnn?”

A blink, a shake of the head, a shift of the eyes. Evasion.

“Well, you’ve been real helpful to a lot of people, haven’t you? You tell me the truth about him taking you off that courier ship?”


“He personally?”


“Ever hear anything about another ship? Another hunter-ship out there-someone with the rest of the humans?”


“You mean these human ships are just careening about Compact space on their own. No charts, no guide? No one watching them? Come on, Tully. How many?”

“I don’t know.”

“Two. Ten?”

“Not know. Ten. Maybe ten. Maybe more.”


“I don’t know!”

“Where’d these ships come from, Tully? Who’s bringing them? Who told them to? You know about that?”

“Not know.”

“Goldtooth knew. Truth, Tully. What do you know about these other humans?”

A darting of the eyes aside, elsewhere, back, away again.

“Huh?” she asked. “What do you know, Tully?”

“Come fight kif. They come fight kif.”

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Categories: Cherryh, C.J