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The pride of chanur, p.1
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       The Pride of Chanur, p.1

           C. J. Cherryh
The Pride of Chanur






  DAW Titles by C.J. CHERRYH




















  Serpent’s Reach | Cuckoo’s Egg


  Merchanter’s Luck | 40,000 in Gehenna


  Brothers of Earth | Hunter of Worlds


  Kesrith | Shon’jir | Kutath



  The Pride Of Chanur | Chanur’s Venture | The Kif Strike Back


  Chanur’s Homecoming | Chanur’s Legacy



  Gate of Ivrel | Well of Shiuan | Fires of Azeroth




  The Tree of Swords and Jewels | The Dreamstone


  Port Eternity | Wave Without a Shore | Voyager in Night



  Copyright © 1982 by C. J. Cherryh.

  ISBN: 978-1-101-66083-6

  All Rights Reserved.

  Cover art by Michael Whelan.

  DAW Book Collectors No. 464.

  DAW Books are distributed by Penguin Group (USA).

  All characters in this book are fictitious.

  Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

  The uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal, and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.






  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14


  Chapter 1

  There had been something loose about the station dock all morning, skulking in amongst the gantries and the lines and the canisters which were waiting to be moved, lurking wherever shadows fell among the rampway accesses of the many ships at dock at Meetpoint. It was pale, naked, starved-looking in what fleeting glimpse anyone on The Pride of Chanur had had of it. Evidently no one had reported it to station authorities, nor did The Pride. Involving oneself in others’ concerns at Meetpoint Station, where several species came to trade and provision, was ill-advised—at least until one was personally bothered. Whatever it was, it was bipedal, brachiate, and quick at making itself unseen. It had surely gotten away from someone, and likeliest were the kif, who had a thieving finger in everything, and who were not above kidnapping. Or it might be some large, bizarre animal: the mahendo’sat were inclined to the keeping and trade of strange pets, and Station had been displeased with them in that respect on more than one occasion. So far it had done nothing. Stolen nothing. No one wanted to get involved in question and answer between original owners and station authorities; and so far no official statement had come down from those station authorities and no notice of its loss had been posted by any ship, which itself argued that a wise person should not ask questions. The crew reported it only to the captain and chased it, twice, from The Pride’s loading area. Then the crew got to work on necessary duties, having settled the annoyance to their satisfaction.

  It was the last matter on the mind of the noble, the distinguished captain Pyanfar Chanur, who was setting out down her own rampway for the docks. She was hani, this captain, splendidly maned and bearded in red-gold, which reached in silken curls to the middle of her bare, sleek-pelted chest, and she was dressed as befitted a hani of captain’s rank, blousing scarlet breeches tucked up at her waist with a broad gold belt, with silk cords of every shade of red and orange wrapping that about, each knotted cord with a pendant jewel on its dangling end. Gold finished the breeches at her knees. Gold filigree was her armlet. And a row of fine gold rings and a large pendant pearl decorated the tufted sweep of her left ear. She strode down her own rampway in the security of ownership, still high-blooded from a quarrel with her niece—and yelled and bared claws as the intruder came bearing down on her.

  She landed one raking, startled blow which would have held a hani in the encounter, but the hairless skin tore and it hurtled past her, taller than she was. It skidded round the bending of the curved ramp tube and bounded right into the ship, trailing blood all the way and leaving a bloody handprint on the rampway’s white plastic wall.

  Pyanfar gaped in outrage and pelted after, claws scrabbling for traction on the flooring plates. “Hilfy!” she shouted ahead; her niece had been in the lower corridor. Pyanfar made it into the airlock, hit the bar of the com panel there and punched all-ship. “Alert! Hilfy! Call the crew in! Something’s gotten aboard. Seal yourself into the nearest compartment and call the crew.” She flung open the locker next to the com unit, grabbed a pistol and scrambled in pursuit of the intruder. No trouble at all tracking it, with the dotted red trail on the white decking. The track led left at the first cross-corridor, which was deserted—the intruder must have gone left again, starting to box the square round the lift shafts. Pyanfar ran, heard a shout from that intersecting corridor and scrambled for it: Hilfy! She rounded the corner at a slide and came up short on a tableau, the intruder’s hairless, red-running back and young Hilfy Chanur holding the corridor beyond with nothing but bared claws and adolescent bluster.

  “Idiot!” Pyanfar spat at Hilfy, and the intruder turned on her of a sudden, much closer. It brought up short in a staggered crouch, seeing the gun aimed two-handed at itself. It might have sense not to rush a weapon; might. . . but that would turn it right back at Hilfy, who stood unarmed behind. Pyanfar braced to fire on the least movement.

  It stood rigidly still in its crouch, panting from its running and its wound. “Get out of there,” Pyanfar said to Hilfy. “Get back.” The intruder knew about hani claws now; and guns; but it might do anything, and Hilfy, an indistinction in her vision which was tunnelled wholly on the intruder, stayed stubbornly still. “Move!” Pyanfar shouted.

  The intruder shouted too, a snarl which almost got it shot; and drew itself upright and gestured to the center of its chest, twice, defiant. Go on and shoot, it seemed to invite her.

  That intrigued Pyanfar. The intruder was not attractive. It had a bedraggled gold mane and beard, and its chest fur, almost invisible, narrowed in a line down its heaving belly to vanish into what was, legitimately, clothing, a rag almost nonexistent in its tatters and obscured by the dirt which matched the rest of its hairless hide. Its smel
l was rank. But a straight carriage and a wild-eyed invitation to its enemies. . . that deserved a second thought. It knew guns; it wore at least a token of clothing; it drew its line and meant to hold its territory. Male, maybe. It had that over-the-brink look in its eyes.

  “Who are you?” Pyanfar asked slowly, in several languages one after the other, including kif. The intruder gave no sign of understanding any of them. “Who?” she repeated.

  It crouched slowly, with a sullen scowl, all the way to the deck, and extended a blunt-nailed finger and wrote in its own blood which was liberally puddled about its bare feet. It made a precise row of symbols, ten of them, and a second row which began with the first symbol prefaced by the second, second with second, second with third. . . patiently, with increasing concentration despite the growing tremors of its hand, dipping its finger and writing, mad fixation on its task.

  “What’s it doing?” asked Hilfy, who could not see from her side.

  “A writing system, probably numerical notation. It’s no animal, niece.”

  The intruder looked up at the exchange—stood up, an abrupt move which proved injudicious after its loss of blood. A glassy, desperate look came into its eyes, and it sprawled in the puddle and the writing, slipping in its own blood in trying to get up again.

  “Call the crew,” Pyanfar said levelly, and this time Hilfy scurried off in great haste. Pyanfar stood where she was, pistol in hand, until Hilfy was out of sight down another corridor, then, assured that there was no one to see her lapse of dignity, she squatted down with the gun in both hands and loosely between her knees. The intruder still struggled, propped itself up with its bloody back against the wall, elbow pressed against that deeper starting-point of the scratches on its side, which was the source of most of the blood. Its pale blue eyes, for all their glassiness, seemed to have sense in them. It looked back at her warily, with seeming mad cynicism.

  “You speak kif?” Pyanfar asked again. A flicker of those eyes, which might mean anything. Not a word from it. It started shivering, which was shock setting in. Sweat had broken out on its naked skin. It never ceased to look at her.

  Running broke into the corridors. Pyanfar stood up quickly, not to be caught thus engaged with the creature. Hilfy came hurrying back from her direction, the crew arriving from the other, and Pyanfar stepped aside as they arrived and the intruder tried to scramble off in retreat. The crew laid hands on it and jerked it skidding along the bloody puddle. It cried out and tried to grapple with them, but they had it on its belly in the first rush and a blow dazed it. “Gently!” Pyanfar yelled at them, but they had it then, got its arms lashed at its back with one of their belts, tied its ankles together and got off it, their fur as bloody as the intruder, who continued a feeble movement.

  “Do it no more damage,” Pyanfar said. “I’ll have it clean, thank you, watered, fed, and healthy, but keep it restrained. Prepare me explanations how it got face to face with me in the rampway, and if one of you bleats a word of this outside the ship I’ll sell you to the kif.”

  “Captain,” they murmured, down-eared in deference. They were second and third cousins of hers, two sets of sisters, one set large and one small, and equally chagrined.

  “Out,” she said. They snatched the intruder up by the binding of its arms and prepared to drag it. “Careful!” Pyanfar hissed, reminding them, and they were gentler in pulling it along.

  “You,” Pyanfar said then to Hilfy, her brother’s daughter, who lowered her ears and turned her face aside—short-maned, with an adolescent’s beginning beard, Hilfy Chanur presently wore a air of martyrdom. “I’ll send you back shaved if you disobey another order. Understand me?”

  Hilfy made a bow facing her, duly contrite. “Aunt,” she said, and straightened, contriving to make it all thoughtfully graceful; looked her straight in the eyes with offended worship.

  “Huh,” Pyanfar said. Hilfy bowed a second time and padded past as softly as possible. In common blue breeches like the crew, was Hilfy, but the swagger was all Chanur, and not quite ludicrous on so young a woman. Pyanfar snorted, fingered the silk of her beard into order, looked down in sober thought at the wallowed smear where the Outsider had fallen, obliterating all the writing from the eyes of the crew.

  So, so, so.

  Pyanfar postponed her trip to station offices, walked back to the lower-deck operations center, sat down at the com board amid all the telltales of cargo status and lines and grapples and the routine operations The Pride carried on automatically. She keyed in the current messages, sorted through those and found nothing, then delved into The Pride’s recording of all messages received since docking, and all which had flowed through station communications aimed at others. She searched first for anything kif-sent, a rapid flicker of lines on the screen in front of her, all operational chatter in transcription—a very great deal of it. Then she queried for notice of anything lost, and after that, for anything escaped.

  Mahendo’sat? she queried then, staying constantly to her own ship’s records of incoming messages, of the sort which flowed constantly in a busy station, and in no wise sending any inquiry into the station’s comp system. She recycled the whole record last of all, ran it past at eye-blurring speed, looking for any key word about escapes or warnings of alien presence at Meetpoint.

  So indeed. No one was going to say a word on the topic. The owners still did not want to acknowledge publicly that they had lost this item. The Chanur were not lack-witted, to announce publicly that they had found it. Or to trust that the kif or whoever had lost it were not at this moment turning the station inside out with a surreptitious search.

  Pyanfar turned off the machine, flicked her ears so that the rings on the left one jangled soothingly. She got up and paced the center, thrust her hands into her belt and thought about alternatives, and possible gains. It would be a dark day indeed when a Chanur went to the kif to hand back an acquisition. She could justifiably make a claim on it regarding legal liabilities and the invasion of a hani ship. Public hazard, it was called. But there were no outside witnesses to the intrusion, and the kif, almost certainly to blame, would not yield without a wrangle; which meant court, and prolonged proximity to kif, whose gray, wrinkle-hided persons she loathed; whose naturally dolorous faces she loathed; whose jeremiad of miseries and wrongs done them was constant and unendurable. A Chanur, in station court with a howling mob of kif. . . and it would go to that extreme if kif came claiming this intruder. The whole business was unpalatable, in all its ramifications.

  Whatever it was and wherever it came from, the creature was educated. That hinted in turn at other things, at cogent reasons why the kif might indeed be upset at the loss of this item and why they wished so little publicity in the search.

  She punched in intraship. “Hilfy.”

  “Aunt?” Hilfy responded after a moment.

  “Find out the intruder’s condition.”

  “I’m watching them treat it now. Aunt, I think it’s he, if there’s any analogy of form and—”

  “Never mind zoology. How badly is it hurt?”

  “It’s in shock, but it seems stronger than it was a moment ago. It—he—got quiet when we managed to get an anesthetic on the scratches. I think he figured then we were trying to help, and he quit fighting. We thought the drug had got him. But he’s breathing better now.”

  “It’s probably just waiting its chance. When you get it safely locked up, you take your turn at dockwork, since you were so eager to have a look outside. The others will show you what to do. Tell Haral to get herself to lowerdeck op. Now.”

  “Yes, aunt.” Hilfy had no sulking in her tone. The last reprimand must not have worn off. Pyanfar shut down the contact and listened to station chatter in the interim, wishing in vain for something to clarify the matter.

  Haral showed up on the run, soaking wet, blood-spattered and breathless. She bowed shortly in the doorway, straightened. She was oldest of the crew, was Haral, tall, with a dark scar across her broad nose and another across t
he belly, but those were from her rash youth.

  “Clean up,” Pyanfar said. “Take cash and go marketing, cousin. Shop the second-hand markets as if you were on your own. The item I want may be difficult to locate, but not impossible, I think, in such a place as Meetpoint. Some books, if you will: a mahendo’sat lexicon; a mahendo’sat version of their holy writings. The philosopher Kohboranua or another of that ilk, I’m completely indifferent. And a mahendo’sat symbol translator, its modules and manuals, from elementary up, as many levels as you can find. . . above all that item. The rest is all cover. If questioned—a client’s taken a religious interest.”

  Haral’s, eyes flickered, but she bowed in acceptance of the order and asked nothing. Pyanfar put her hand deep into her pocket and came up with a motley assortment of large-denomination coinage, a whole stack of it.

  “And four gold rings,” Pyanfar added.


  “To remind you all that The Pride minds its own business. Say so when you give them. It’ll salve your feelings, I hope, if we have to miss taking a liberty here, as well we may. But talk and rouse suspicion about those items, Haral Araun, and you won’t have an ear to wear it on.”

  Haral grinned and bowed a third time.

  “Go,” said Pyanfar, and Haral darted out in zealous application.

  So. It was a risk, but a minor one. Pyanfar considered matters for a moment, finally walked outside the op room and down the corridor, took the lift up to central level, where her own quarters were, out of the stench and the reek of disinfectant which filled the lower deck.

  She closed the door behind her with a sigh, went to the bath and washed her hands, seeing that there remained no shred of flesh in the undercurve of her claws—checked over her fine silk breeches to be sure no spatter of blood had gotten on them. She applied a dash of cologne to clear the memory from her nostrils.

  Stupidity. She was getting dull as the stsho, to have missed a grip on the intruder in the first place: old was not a word she preferred to think about. Slow of mind, woolgathering, that she struck like a youngster on her first forage. Lazy. That was more like it. She patted her flat belly and decided that the year-old complacent outletting of her belt had to be taken in again. She was losing her edge. Her brother Kohan was still fit enough, planet-bound as he was and not gifted with the time-stretch of jump: he managed. Inter-male bickering and a couple of sons to throw out of the domicile kept his blood circulating, and there was usually a trio of mates in the house at any one time, with offspring to chastise. About time, she thought, that she put The Pride into home dock at Anuurn for a thorough refitting, and spend a layover with her own mate Khym, high in the Kahin hills, in the Mahn estates. Get the smell of the homeworld wind in her nostrils for a few months. Do a little hunting, run off that extra notch on the belt. Check on her daughter Tahy and see whether that son of hers was still roving about or whether someone had finally broken his neck for him. Surely the lad would have had the common courtesy to send a message through Khym or Kohan if he had settled somewhere; and above all to her daughter, who was, gods knew, grown and getting soft hanging about her father’s house, among a dozen other daughters, mostly brotherless. Son Kara should settle himself with some unpropertied wife and give his sister some gainful employment making him rich—above all, settle and take himself out of his father’s and his uncle’s way. Ambitious, that was Kara. Let the young rake try to move in on his uncle Kohan and that would be the last of him. Pyanfar flexed claws at the thought and recalled why all her shoreleaves were short ones.

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