Hugo Award nominee 1983.
Pyanfar is justifiably reluctant to shelter the strange Outsider that had dashed aboard her merchant starship, The Pride of Chanur. First, she had business to transact at Meetpoint. Second, Pyanfar, following the traditions of her hani culture, takes only females aboard starships (after all, males are notoriously unstable and emotional), and this Outsider seems to be male.
Moreover, it's not a particularly attractive one; Pyanfar critically compares its nearly hairless flesh to her own luxuriant, red-gold fur. But it knows some sort of written symbols, it seems intelligent - and it is fleeing from its captors, the kif.
Any hani captain worth her salt is familiar with the underhanded dealings of the kif; their reputations are beneath contempt. Even their demeanor is repulsive - wrinkled gray skin, uniformly long faces, and constant, whining catalogues of grievances. No, Pyanfar knows, any Outsider would have good reason to flee a kif. She'll keep the Outsider with her, return to her home planet, and take the matter to court, if necessary.
Human, the Outsider calls itself. More specifically, Tully. Through a translating machine, he tells about his species. But Pyanfar cannot know, when she first harbours Tully, that the kif will use all their most vicious tactics to retrieve their victim.
As the kif pursue the Pride, accusing the hani of piracy, maliciously destroying another hani ship, Pyanfar finds herself in a desperate race for her species' survival. She knows that the kif will risk destroying all civilization to capture Tully, for to learn the habits and defenses of humanity is a first step toward a kif-controlled universe.
And as yet another species - the mysterious, methane-breathing knnn - enters the race for motives unknown, Pyanfar's live contraband may provide the key to the galaxy's future.
C. J. Cherryh (born 1942) is the pen name of Carolyn Janice Cherry, a multiple-award-winning science fiction and fantasy writer. She currently resides in Spokane County, Washington.
Cherryh is pronounced ”Cherry”. The author appended a silent ”h” to her real name because her first editor felt that ”Cherry” sounded too much like a romance writer.
The asteroid 77185 Cherryh has been named in her honour.