The Kif Strike Back by CJ Cherryh

“Two human compacts.” Pyanfar blinked and wiped her mane back with a sore hand and looked at Hilfy, who looked confused.

“Three,” Tully said. “Also Earth. My homeworld. We got trouble # two humanities. We want trade. We the home of humanity we need this #. We want make way into Compact space, come and go # # #.”

“You know about this?” Pyanfar asked Hilfy.

“No,” Hilfy said, “No, I don’t know what he’s talking about.”

“# #. Human be three kind.” Tully held up as many digits. ” #. #. Earth. I be Earth-man.”

“Politics,” Pyanfar muttered. “We got gods-be human politics, that’s what. Well, who’s telling the human ships where to go?”

“Earth. Earth tell.”

“And what are you, Tully?”

“I spacer.”

“You’re so gods-be quick with that.”


“You want to ask him?”

“Gods blast it, take it easy on him!”

Pyanfar drew a deep breath. “Look, maybe he never talked to the kif. I’ll take that on his say-so. Maybe he never spoke a word. But he doesn’t lie real good. He never did.”

“Not to us.”

“He speaks the language, niece. Watch the eyes when you ask him questions, never mind the ears, watch the eyes. He’s a lousy liar. He was alone with Sikkukkut. With drugs. With questions. All right, you know what and I don’t. Even if he didn’t talk-he may have spilled something he doesn’t know he spilled. You think of that?”

“You ever ask me what I gave them?”

Pyanfar blinked in shock. Shook her head at the thought. “A cracked skull and nothing else,” Hilfy said. “I didn’t give them anything. And they tried, aunt, that precious kifish friend of yours did try. You take my word, take his. I know he didn’t.”

“They had him quite a few hours to themselves, Hilfy. With all the pieces to this fractured mess starting to fit in Sikkukkut’s brain, with us in port and leaving Sikkukkut a lust few precious hours to try for what he could get out of Tully- along with what he learned from other kif living at Mkks. So you want to be some help here and let Tully for godssakes answer for himself?”

“He’s told you. No! He didn’t talk! I know him.”

“Sure you do,” Pyanfar drawled, and the inside of Hilfy’s ears went suddenly deep rose; and they folded. Eyes reacted. Everything shouted reaction and shame. It was not what she had meant. Pyanfar felt her own ears go hot; the flinch was unavoidable, the instantaneous glance aside from the matter they had skirted round and skirted round. She covered it with a cough and a wave of her hand. “Look, niece-”

“I know him real well,” Hilfy said with cold deliberation. “Maybe you take my word for something, huh, aunt? Maybe you trust I got out of there with my wits about me, huh? And I’m telling you how he was, and how he handled himself, and I’m telling you, he’s not a boy and he’s not the fool you take him for. Don’t talk to him like that.”

Pyanfar looked at her. Saw no child, no petulance. “I never said he was a fool. I’m saying you and he may be a little out of your territory-and smart, niece, smart is knowing when you are. If you’re not as clever as your enemy, you by the gods hope he’s over-confident: you sure as rain falls don’t need to make a mistake in that department. That kif’s not a dockfront tough; that kif’s smart enough to put the han’s tail in a vise; and con Jik; and outwit Akkhtimakt down the line; and by all the gods near take over the Compact. You want to tell me he couldn’t just ask you questions and watch your reactions? You don’t want to remember that time. Fine. You don’t want to think. All right. But that cripples you. And if you’re number two in wit, you don’t need another handicap. We’re in it up to our noses. Remember what I said a while ago-what the stakes are right now? We’ve got a problem, Hilfy Chanur. I need a straight answer out of our friend here. I need to know what that gods-be kif s onto and what he’s not; and I need to. know whether humans are going to be here or Meetpoint, which is what Sikkukkut would give a whole lot to learn right now. You think the Compact’s a tangled mess of ambitions? I’m betting what drives humanity is the same thing-politics we don’t understand. Three Compacts, good gods! I’ll tell you something else. It’s a good bet Tully doesn’t know the answers I’d really want. You think they’d let him know everything and send him off with the mahendo’sat? No. That kind of thing gets known by long-toothed old women in high councils. Politics is politics, at least in the oxy-breathing kinds we can talk to. I don’t take anything for granted. I think any thought that needs thinking. Like what deals Goldtooth’s made. Or Jik. Or-” She looked at Tully. “-what Sikkukkut and you could have talked about in those few hours when he knew by the gods for certain you speak hani. What about it, Tully? What’d he ask? What’d he say?”

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Categories: Cherryh, C.J