Chanurs venture, p.1
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       Chanur's Venture, p.1

           C. J. Cherryh
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Chanur's Venture


  Chanur's Venture

  C. J. Cherryh

  DAW Books, Inc.

  Donald A. Wollheim, Founder

  375 Hudson Street,

  New York, NY 10014

  Elizabeth R. Wollheim

  Sheila E. Gilbert

  Publishers

  www.dawbooks.com

  in cooperation with

  SEATTLE BOOK COMPANY

  www.seattlebook.com

  Produced by

  RosettaMachine

  www.rosettamachine.com

  Chanur's Venture

  DAW TITLES BY C. J. CHERRYH

  THE ALLIANCE-UNION UNIVERSE

  The Company Wars

  DOWNBELOW STATION

  The Era of Rapprochement

  SERPENT'S REACH

  FORTY THOUSAND IN GEHENNA

  MERCHANTER'S LUCK

  The Chanur Novels

  THE PRIDE OF CHANUR

  CHANUR'S VENTURE

  THE KIF STRIKE BACK

  CHANUR'S HOMECOMING

  CHANUR'S LEGACY

  The Mri Wars

  THE FADED SUN OMNIBUS

  Merovingen Nights (Mri Wars Period)

  ANGEL WITH THE SWORD

  The Age of Exploration

  CUCKOO'S EGG

  VOYAGER IN NIGHT

  PORT ETERNITY

  The Hanan Rebellion

  BROTHERS OF EARTH

  HUNTER OF WORLDS

  THE MORGAINE CYCLE

  THE MORGAINE SAGA OMNIBUS

  EXILE'S GATE

  ii

  Chanur's Venture

  EALDWOOD

  THE DREAMING TREE

  THE FOREIGNER UNIVERSE

  FOREIGNER

  INVADER

  INHERITOR

  PRECURSOR

  DEFENDER*

  EXPLORER*

  OTHER NOVELS

  PORT ETERNITY

  HESTIA

  WAVE WITHOUT A SHORE

  *Forthcoming in hardcover from DAW Books

  http://www.cherryh.com/

  iii

  Chanur's Venture

  Copyright © 1985 by C. J. Cherryh

  All Rights Reserved.

  DAW Book Collectors No. 609.

  Microsoft LIT edition ISBN: 0-7420-9207-0

  Adobe PDF edition ISBN: 0-7420-9209-7

  Palm PDB edition ISBN: 0-7420-9210-0

  MobiPocket edition ISBN: 0-7420-9208-9

  Ebook editions produced by

  SEATTLE BOOK COMPANY

  Ebook conversion and distribution powered by

  www.RosettaMachine.com

  All characters and events in this book are fictitious.

  Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

  iv

  Chanur's Venture

  Electronic format made

  available by arrangement with

  DAW Books, Inc.

  www.dawbooks.com

  Elizabeth R. Wollheim

  Sheila E. Gilbert

  Publishers

  peanutpress.com, Inc.

  www.peanutpress.com

  v

  Chanur's Venture

  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Appendix

  vi

  Chanur's Venture

  Chapter 1

  The encounter of old friends was common enough on Meetpoint Station, where half a dozen species came to trade; and one such old friend came walking Pyanfar Chanur's way when she had no more than put The Pride in dock. She was hani, Pyanfar Chanur, maned and bearded in curling red-gold, sleek of pelt. Her left ear bore the gold rings of successful voyages along its rim, and the bottommost ring had a monstrous gaudy teardrop pearl. Her red blousing breeches were silk, with the faintest striping of orange; and wrapped about the waist was a belt whose dangling ties were finished in precious stones and gold and bronze. She was not quiet, this Pynafar. She exuded wealth and dignity, and drew eyes wherever she went.

  And rounding a collection of canisters awaiting dockside pickup, she spied a dark-furred, all but naked shape: mahendo'sat— ordinary encounter anywhere on Meetpoint. But this one flung wide his arms. His eyes lit up, his broad mahen face broke into a charming grin that showed blunt primate fangs all capped in gold.

  "Pyanfar!" he cried.

  "You!" Pyanfar stopped dead in her tracks. "You!" She slapped aside the offered embrace and stalked past at a good clip, to make the mahendo'sat exert himself.

  "Ha, hani captain," the mahe called after her. "You want deal?"

  She turned about again, planted hands on hips and let the mahe overtake her against all better judgment. A heavy hand descended on her shoulder and the mahe resumed his gilt-edged grin.

  "Long time," Goldtooth said.

  "Gods rot you, don't grin at me. You want a smile from me, you mahen bastard? How'd you get in port?"

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  Chanur's Venture

  "Just docked. Find my good friend here. Give surprise, a?" He laughed, slapped her on the back, seized her about the shoulders in one lank, coarse-pelted arm and propelled her toward the ship berths. "Got present, hani."

  "Present!" Pyanfar dug claws into the deckplates, resisting this camaraderie, aware of probable witnesses, of a whole row of grinning mahendo'sat lazing in front of a canister-surrounded loading area. A ship access gaped ahead. Mahijiru, doubtless. "You owe me, mahe, owe me for tools and two good welders, for fake repairs, for doublecross—"

  "Good friend, Pyanfar Chanur." A powerful arm shoved her rampward through the gathered mahendo'sat, and she spun about and cast an indignant look back before Goldtooth wrapped his arm into a tighter grip and hastened her up the ramp. "Good friend. Remember I save your neck, a?"

  "Present," she muttered, stalking along the accessway. "Present." But she went, and stopped inside the lock, while some of the mahendo'sat who had trooped after them poured past into the interior corridors. Goldtooth turned sober for the moment, and she liked that less. Her ears were flat. "What kind of present, huh?"

  The mahe winked, decidedly a wink, this trader who was no trader, who played what he was not, with Mahijiru which was not the slow-moving freighter it looked to be. "Good see you one piece, hani."

  "Huh." Her mouth pursed in better humor, in deliberate good humor. She slapped the mahe on the arm, claws not quite pulled. "Same good see you, Ana Ismehanan-min. You still play merchant?"

  "We trade sometime, keep us same honest."

  "Present, a?"

  The mahe looked to his left where the towering black wall of mahe crew parted. Pyanfar looked— and her ears went up and her mouth fell open at the gangling stsho-cloaked apparition in the doorway to Mahijiru's inmost 2

  Chanur's Venture

  corridors. A mostly hairless face with mane and beard like spun daylight; a face like nothing in civilized space.

  "O gods," she said, and whirled about, heading for the airlock, but the mahendo'sat had it packed.

  "Pyanfar," the human said.

  She turned, ears flat. "Tully," she said in despair, and lost the rest of her dignity as the human hastened to fling his arms about her. His clothes reeked of mahen incense.

  "Pyanfar," Tully said, and straightened up and towered over her, grinning like a mahe and trying to stop it, for he knew better. "Py-an-far." In evident delight.

  That was the limit of his conversation. That mouth was never made for hani speech. Goldtooth set his hand possessively on Tully's shoulder and squeezed.

  "Fine present, a, Pyanfar?"

  "Whe
re'd you find him?"

  The mahen captain shrugged. "Come all the way mahen trader name Ijir, long time mahen ship, all time want you, Pyanfar Chanur, crazy mad human. Come find you, come find you, all he know."

  She looked up at Tully, who stood there with something brimming over in him, who had no possible business where he was, in mahendo'sat transport, light-years from human territory, in a zone where humankind was banned.

  "No," she said to Goldtooth. "No. Absolutely not. He's your problem."

  "He want find you," Goldtooth said. "Friend. Where your sentiment?"

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  Chanur's Venture

  "Gods rot you— gods rot you, Goldtooth. Why? For what? What's he want?"

  "Want talk you. Your friend, hani, good friend, a?"

  " Friend. You earless, mangy bastard. I just got my papers clear— you know what it cost? "

  "Trade." Goldtooth came close and put his arm conspiratorially about her shoulders. She stood like rock, laid back her ears and grinned into his face in chill reception. "Trade, hani. You want make deal?"

  "You want to lose that arm?"

  Primate fangs gleamed gold. "Rich, hani. Rich— and powerful. You want this human trade? Got. Look this face—"

  "Have I got a choice?"

  A wider grin. "Loyal friend. Want you do a thing for me. Want you make this human happy, a? Want you take him to Personage. Want you take him to the han. Make all round happy. Got trade, hani. Profits."

  "Sure, profits." She shoved back at arm's length and stared up at that earnest mahen face. "Profits like last time, like bills up to the overhead, like hani barred six months from Meetpoint and The Pride out a gods-rotted year—"

  "Like stsho got lot gratitude hani save their hides, a?"

  "Same as the mahendo'sat. Same as the mahe who double-crossed me—"

  Black palms lifted. "Not my fault, not my fault. Stsho close Meetpoint, what I do?"

  "Snatch the trade, what else? What route you been running?"

  "You take him, a?"

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  Chanur's Venture

  "You brought him here. Friend. It's all yours. So's the lawsuit. You explain it to the stsho!"

  "Got trade, Pyanfar—"

  "And get embargoed? Gods rot, you earless lunatic! You try to do for the rest of my business? The stsho—"

  "Pyanfar." He took her by both shoulders. "Pyanfar. I tell you, one paper this human got, he read for you this paper. They send him, this humanity.

  They got trade. Big business, maybe much big thing the Compact ever see.

  You got share."

  She drew a deep, long, mahe-flavored breath. "Favors, Goldtooth?"

  "A," he laughed, and hugged her shoulder with bone-crushing force.

  "Promise, hani. I make promise, keep. Got business. Got go. You take this human. Don't I make promise you get share human trade? I keep. This human come to me, I find my old friend Pyanfar for him. You want share, you take. But you got do this thing."

  "Now we get to it. Why?"

  "Got business. Got go fix."

  "Got business— how'd you get here? How'd you just happen to pull in on my tail?"

  "Know you come, old friend. I lie off and wait."

  "How'd you know? I didn't, till the papers cleared at Kura."

  "Got contacts. Know you got that stsho business clear. So you come here soon."

  "Gods rot your hide, mahe. That's a lie."

  Dark eyes glittered, shifted. "Say then I follow you from Urtur."

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  Chanur's Venture

  "With him? Out of mahen space? No way, egg-sucker. How'd you arrange it?"

  The hand dropped from her shoulder. "You sharp dealer, hani."

  "What say instead the stsho kept Mahijiru off Meetpoint docking lists. Say you were here all along, blocked off the lists. Waiting for me."

  "You got lot suspicion."

  "I got gods-rotted plenty suspicion, you earless foundling bastard. Give me the truth."

  "Might say."

  "Might say. Might say— The stsho know he's here?"

  "Know."

  "Then who are you hiding from?" And on a second thought: "O gods!"

  "Got kif trouble."

  "Gods rot you, then you take him! You take this whole business and—"

  "Good, brave friend. Kif spies already here. Han spies too. Got han deputy ship in port. Know we meet. After this they got plenty curiosity. So you got risk already, hani. Don't want profit too? Besides, you hurt his feeling.

  Hurt mine."

  She stood still, a long, long time. Her claws flexed out. She drew them in, with a long slow breath. "Gods rot your—"

  "Give you fair deal, Pyanfar. Number one fine deal. Know you got troubles. You got han trouble. You promise human trade, you don't got.

  Lose face. You got mate troubles—"

  "Shut up."

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  Chanur's Venture

  "I keep promise, Pyanfar. You want share profit, you got share risk."

  "Share suicide. What do you think I am?"

  "You get human trade, your enemies can't touch you, a, hani captain? The han— don't like you lose face. You get rich, keep your brother life, keep your mate. Keep The Pride. "

  A narrow darkness closed in on her sight, hunter-vision set on Goldtooth.

  It was difficult to hear, so tight her ears were folded. She deliberately raised them, looked about her, at Tully's distressed face.

  "I take him," she said to Goldtooth, a small, strangled breath. "If—"

  "If?"

  "— if we get letter of credit at mahe facilities. Good anywhere.

  Unlimited."

  "God! You think I Personage?"

  "I think you next best thing, you rag-eared conniving bastard! I think you got that power, I think you got any gods-rotted credit you want, like what you pulled on me at Kirdu, like—"

  "You dream." Goldtooth laid a blunt-clawed hand on his breast. "I captain.

  Got no credit like that."

  "Good-bye." She faced about, bared teeth at the crowd blocking her retreat. "You going to move this lot? Or do I move them for you?"

  "I write," he said.

  She faced him with ears flat. Held out her hand.

  He held out his to one of the mahe at his side. "Tablet," he said, and that one vanished hurriedly into the inner corridor with a spatter of bare mahen feet and non-retracting claws.

  7

  Chanur's Venture

  "Better," said Pyanfar.

  Goldtooth scowled, took the tablet the breathless mahe brought back to him, removed its stylus and wrote. He withdrew a Signature from the belt that crossed his chest and inserted it; the tablet spat out its seal-stamped document. He held it.

  "I'll translate that," Pyanfar said, "first thing."

  "You one bastard, Pyanfar." Goldtooth's grin looked astonishingly hani in his dark mahen face. "One sure bastard. No—" He drew it back as she held out her hand; he turned and handed it instead to Tully, who looked at them both confusedly. "Let him hold. He bring. With other documents."

  "If that paper doesn't say what it had better say—"

  "You do what? Toss good friend Tully out airlock? You no do."

  "Oh, no. No such thing. I pay debts where they're due, old friend."

  Goldtooth's grin spread. He thrust the tablet into a crewman's hands and clapped her on the arm. "You thank me someday."

  "You can bet I will. Everything I owe. I find a way. How you going to get him to The Pride? Tell me that! You walk him up to my lock, I fix your ears."

  "Got special canister." Goldtooth held out his hand. "Customs papers," he said, and a crewman held out another tablet and stylus. "You take cargo, a? Shishu fruit. Dried fish. Got four cans. One all rigged, number one good lifesupport. Pass him that way."

  She shook her head to clear it, stared at him afresh. "I'm going mad. That trick's got white hairs. Why don't you just roll him up in a carpet, for the gods' sake, and dump him on my deck? Deliver hi
m in a basket, why don't you? Good gods, what am I doing here?"

  "Still good trick. You want this honest citizen, you pay duty, ha?"

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  Chanur's Venture

  She drew her ears down tight, snatched the tablet and furiously appended her own signature, handwritten. She shoved it back at the mahe crewman who dared no expression at her at all.

  "Fish," she said in disgust.

  "Cheapest duty. What you want, pay more? I tell you, got thing fixed."

  "I'll bet you do."

  "Customs ask no question. Number one fixed."

  "I've got questions. I've got plenty of questions. You set me up, you eggsucking bastard. So I take this deal. But by the gods you tell me everything you know. What kif trouble? Where are they working? Are they on your tail right now?"

  "Always got kif at Meetpoint."

  "Then why come here, for the gods' sakes? What are you doing here? The kif know what you've got?"

  Goldtooth shrugged. "Maybe."

  "From how long? How long you been at this?"

  A second shrug. "Packet. In packet got paper tell you. Tully bring in canister. You take, you read all. You run fast. Go Maing Tol, go Personage. Get plenty help from there."

  "They on your tail?"

  A third shrug.

  "Goldtooth, you bastard, how tight?"

  "Got trouble," Goldtooth said.

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  Chanur's Venture

  She weighed that. Mahijiru in trouble. A mahen hunter-ship with more kif troubles than it could handle. "So you got. Where you go now?"

  "Best thing you don't ask."

  "Human space?"

  "Maybe deep in stsho territory. Read packet. Read packet. Friend."

  "Rot you."

  "Rot you, too," Goldtooth said soberly. His ears stayed up. There were fine wrinkles round his dark eyes. "God save us. Need you, Pyanfar. Need bad."

 
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