Pyanfar Chanur, captain of the hani trading ship The Pride of Chanur, had broken the rules time and time again and come out ahead. She had defied friend and foe alike to protect the fugitive Tully, last survivor of the first human venture into Compact space. She had rescued her own mate, Khym, from death by clan challenge and taken him into space - a thing unheard of among hanikind, where females roved the starways while males remained planetbound. She had made both Tully and Khym members of the Pride's crew, and given Khym the right to bear arms. And she had made private alliances against the wishes of her own kind.
But now new players had entered the game, and suddenly the stakes had become far too high. The kif had seized both Tully and Pyanfar's niece Hilfy, and thus issued a challenge the Pride could not refuse... a challenge that was to take Pyanfar and her crew - as well as all her enemies and allies - to a deadly meeting on Mkks station.
The kif Sikkukkut was out to win predominance over all his race and destroy forever the power of his arch rival Akkhtimakt, and Pyanfar Chanur was the weapon he had chosen to bring his opponent down. There were others who had plans for the Pride and her crew as well. In order to reclaim Hilfy and Tully, Pyanfar would have to become a true master of this dangerous game of interstellar politics. Mkks station held many traps for the unwary, and even a hani as clever as Pyanfar could be forced to welcome her deadliest enemy as a friend when a battle of words became a battle in earnest.
As Pyanfar soon discovered, far more than her personal dilemma was involved. Outsiders were about to invade Compact space - invaders who could forever destroy the delicately maintained peace among the star-faring races of the Compact. And what had begun as a simple rescue mission against nearly impossible odds had now become a desperate confrontation that could spread kif-sparked war from star station to star station.
Yet the greatest danger ahead would come from an entirely unexpected sector: The enigmatic, methane-breathing knnn would, for the first time since hani haad taken to space, show an interest in the affairs of the oxygen-breathers. And whether this would herald the beginning of a new age of hope or the death knell of the Compact was yet to be seen...
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.