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Two Types of Teeth

Jane Lindskold

Jenni Anixter was one of the happiest people in the universe. Born at a time when aliens had been little more than a matter of speculation and rumor, she had seen them become a reality in her lifetime.

Her happiness showed in the lines lightly etched into her round face, in the way she moved her plump body as if dancing, in the bounce of short, untidy mahogany curls. That happiness might keep someone from noticing the thoughtful expression of her dark grey eyes. Certainly, this aura of happiness meant that despite her numerous academic degrees, Jenni was often dismissed as just a wee bit frivolous.

Now, Jenni herself was among the first to admit that the kzinti hadn’t proven to be a very nice reality. They might be real live aliens, but they were also warlike, focused on conquering and enslaving any sentient race they encountered. Non-sentient species gathered in along the way were a bonus, like sprinkles on an ice-cream sundae.

But nice or not, the kzinti were a reality. Due to them, Jenni Anixter, who had studied medicine because there simply weren’t scholarships and grants for those who wanted to specialize in hypothetical alien biology, found herself in much demand.

She was courted by a branch of ARM that very carefully didn’t name itself but had “Intelligence” (itself a euphemism for other, less genteel-seeming activities) written all over it. The members of this agency who came to speak to Jenni in her cramped little lab had clearly read all her papers. Jenni was flattered. Not many people bothered to read speculations on alternate biologies and the psychologies that would evolve along with them.

But these agents had done so. Moreover, they wanted to give Jenni a very big, very fancy new lab. Along with the lab would come lots of resources, an extensive budget, and even a few assistants.

There were, of course, conditions that went along with this largesse. Jenni would need to relocate to a very isolated Intelligence station, a base with an address so secret even Jenni couldn’t have it. Instead, she was assigned a postal drop and a new e-dress. She was assured her correspondence would be rushed to her. Needless to say, she had to agree to having all her correspondence—in-going and out-going—reviewed and censored.

None of these conditions bothered Jenni. Her last serious relationship had ended in an argument over silicon-based life forms—specifically as to the likelihood thereof and would humanity even recognize such unless they bashed into or rolled over our collective feet.

Jenni’s family had long grown accustomed to hearing from her only through short notes on holidays and birthdays. Jenni didn’t doubt that her relatively introverted personality had been a major factor in causing Intelligence to select her over one of the handful of co-professionals who shared her esoteric interests.

Time passed. Jenni settled happily into her new home. There, in addition to her new lab and extensive budget, she was given three assistants: Roscoe Connors, Ida Mery, and Theophilus Schwab. She rather suspected that at least one of them, if not all three, reported to Intelligence, but that didn’t bother Jenni in the least. After all, so did she.

Not very long after Jenni was established in her new lab, she was given access to information that was unknown to the majority of humanity. What she learned about the Slavers and Protectors was fascinating, but since both these ancient races were unlikely to ever interact with humanity, what she learned was also largely inapplicable to the current problem.

More importantly, Jenni was also sent files containing raw data taken from study of wrecked kzinti ships. (There was no other kind. The kzinti did not surrender.) She voraciously read this material, then set Ida Mery to constructing data bases. The one thing Jenni refused were files containing speculations about the kzinti.

“Such information,” she explained, “would pollute my own conjectures. Perhaps later, but for now give me raw data. If my conclusions match those of other researchers, all the better for you.”

So Jenni was sent raw data, some of it very raw indeed. First there were tissue slices, already mounted on slides. Later there were entire limbs, flash-frozen and untampered with (beyond, of course, the circumstances that had contributed to the death of the source in the first place). Eventually, she was sent whole corpses—or mostly whole. Kzinti extended their violent natures to themselves, suiciding rather than accepting surrender or capture. Therefore, the corpses Jenni received were rarely all in one piece.

Here her practical medical experience—for she had worked both as a diagnostician and a surgeon, archaic skills that had all but died out with the coming of the autodoc—came in very handy. She dissected corpses, humming as she inspected organs and bone structures, comparing these to other samples.

From her studies she slowly built a database representation of a “typical” kzin. She discovered that—at least among humanity’s attackers—there was minimal variation within the species. Kzinti seemed closely related as the “races” of Europe had been closely related. Certainly, there was no such variation as there had been between, say, an African pygmy and a strapping Nordic Viking.

Kzinti males (she had yet to see the corpse of a female) were uniformly large—almost three meters tall. Their fur was usually a deep orange, adorned with a variety of tabby patterns that ranged from tigerish black on dark orange to paler orange on marmalade orange, to almost yellow stripes also on orange, although in this last the undercoat was sometimes of a pleasantly pale hue. Their long tails were pink and hairless. Their ears were complex, furling and unfurling in response to a wide variety of stimuli.

Yet, despite the human tendency to call the kzinti “cats” or “catlike,” kzinti were no more so cats than humans were monkeys. Jenni went out of her way to stress this in her reports, but she didn’t know if anyone was paying attention.

In fact, what use her reports would be to Intelligence, Jenni did not know, nor did she care. She was happy learning new things every day, unhampered by mundane constraints regarding equipment or funding. In some vague sense, she was even happy to know that she was helping in the war effort, especially since she herself did not need to go to war.

Then came the day when they brought her a live kzin.

Somewhat alive might be a better way to put it. The kzin was floated into her largest lab, still encased in what looked like a ship’s emergency freeze unit. Beneath the frost, he appeared to be wearing a spacesuit of peculiar configurations.

“Fix him,” was the order that came with this surprise delivery.

Jenni, slightly less happy than she had been, agreed to try.

* * *

Human voices wakened him.

The listener remembered the explosion. He remembered how the bulkhead had come at him, how he’d held up his hands, claws extended in a vain attempt to stop armored metal from smashing into him. There had been pain, then darkness. He’d thought he was dead.

When he came around, he wished he were dead. This wasn’t because of the pain, although that was considerable. However, a warrior of the Patriarchy did not admit pain as a consideration in matters of life and death.

No. What made him wish he were dead was the voices.

Later, the listener would realize he was hearing through the open communications unit on his suit’s helmet, the default setting of which was to fasten on any active channel. At the time, he was not capable of such coherent thought. He simply heard voices, human voices, speaking Interworld, a language he had learned because it was always useful to know what your enemy was saying.

“We’re down in what looks like a combination engineering and gunnery deck, Captain. It’s a real mess.”


The captain’s voice was strong and firm, but its pitch and timber identified it as female. The concept of a female as captain of what must be a warship was still a strange one.

“Doubt it, Cap. Looks as if someone set off explosives. What didn’t boil away from contact with vacuum has painted the walls with fur and guts.”

The listener felt pleased at this confirmation that he might indeed be dead. He was even more pleased that the self-destruct had worked. The Patriarchy’s policy was that neither ships nor crew should be taken. As the Patriarchy knew from experience, much could be learned even from a damaged ship or an uncooperative prisoner.

Reassured that he was dead, the listener drifted on background waves of alien speech, not even trying to understand what was being said. Then an excited burst of speech roused him.

“Captain! We may have found a live one! He’s buried under a bulkhead. Looks like it came down and protected him from the worst of the explosion. He doesn’t look good, but the telltales on his suit show live.”

“Careful! He may be playing dead to lure you in.”

A coarse laugh, a sound that didn’t express humor as much as disbelief.

“Maybe, but it’s not going to do him much good. The bulkhead kept him from getting smeared, but he’s not a pretty sight.”

“Can you capture him?”

“Well, Captain, I don’t think he’s going to be running anywhere anytime soon. In fact, I doubt he’s going anywhere under his own power for a long time—if ever.”

The listener felt himself being shifted. Pain shot through him.

Human hands lifted him. Something was attached to his suit. He felt himself being moved, but try as he might, he could not break free. Had they actually gone to the trouble of restraining him? He felt a surge of pride that they recognized him for the danger he was.

He was aware of being examined as he felt a sequence of jolts of pain so acute that he lost his ability to follow the alien language. Words washed over him. Some at least, he thought, were directed at him.

Human voices had wakened him. Now, smothered by their babble, grateful for the darkness that claimed him, he drowned.

* * *

“The prisoner was found after a battle,” the man from Intelligence explained, leaning in a proprietary fashion against the large freeze unit that now dominated her largest lab.

After he had come to stay at the research station, the man had told Jenni to call him “Otto Bismarck.” This was so obviously a pseudonym that Jenni still tended to think of him as “the man from Intelligence,” or “MFI,” transformed into “Miffy” for short.

She thought the name gave the man a certain distinction he otherwise completely lacked. He was so neutral in appearance as to be completely forgettable: brown eyes, light-brown skin, brown hair cut to average length, average build, average height, average features. The one thing that would set him apart in a crowd was his exceptional physical conditioning, but Jenni had no doubt that Miffy could make himself look soft and flabby if the need arose.

Miffy went on. “Usually a kzinti crew suicides and a self-destruct takes out the ship. Best as we can reconstruct, this one would have followed protocol, but he was already down and out. Between his suit—he was wearing a hardened vac suit—and the bulkhead, he survived. The self-destruct did take out key areas of the ship, but not the compartment this one was in.”

Jenni nodded. Taking this as encouragement, Miffy continued.

“The ship’s doctor was worried she couldn’t keep the prisoner alive, so they popped him in a freeze unit. It wasn’t built to hold a kzin, but the hope was his suit would take up the slack. Best as we can tell, it did. At least the telltales haven’t shifted to indicate a deceased occupant.”

Jenni didn’t ask how the man from Intelligence knew which indicators meant what. Knowing things like that was part of his business.

“If you can read that suit panel, I’ll need a translation,” she said, “as well as anything else you’ve learned about the suits, what they do, how the hardened variety differs from the standard.”

She pretended not to notice how Miffy stiffened. She could almost hear him saying, “That information is classified, released on a Need To Know basis only.” Then as clearly, his automatic conservatism was immediately countered by the realization that if anyone “Needed to Know,” it was the doctor that Intelligence hoped could save this improbable patient.

Miffy cleared his throat to swallow his automatic response. “I’ll have the information downloaded to your terminal at once.”

Jenni studied the figure in the freeze unit, wondering how severe his injuries were, if she could even bring him out of the freeze without killing him in the process.

“How much time do I have?” she asked.

“As much as you need,” Miffy said. “Of course, the sooner we can talk to him, the better, the more lives that may be saved.”

Jenni nodded again. “I’ll do what I can.”

“That’s all we can ask.”

Fiddle-faddle, Jenni thought. You do realize that what you’re asking for is little short of a miracle?

* * *

The kzin came conscious. As soon as he was certain he was alive, he tried to kill himself.

This proved to be impossible since he was strapped down so securely he could hardly move a finger. However, he felt better for having made the attempt.

Now that he had resolved that he could not kill himself, the kzin set about assessing his surroundings without giving away that he was conscious. Knowing how sight-dependant humans were, he did not open his eyes. His ears were slack against the pillow on which his head rested. He struggled against the impulse to unfurl them in order to hear better.

Sound told the kzin that he was the only creature breathing in the room, but it was likely there were several recorders, both visual and audio, trained on him. He attempted to hold his breath and learned that his breathing was being mechanically assisted. After ascertaining that, he next isolated the sounds of several devices and tried to guess what they did.

When he shifted, he heard one device begin to beep more rapidly. This was the sound he had heard when he had attempted to kill himself upon waking. A monitor of some sort. Likely he would have company soon.

The kzin flared his nostrils. Most of the scents meant nothing to him, registering as vaguely “medical.” He sought the scents of urine and feces, for both would tell him something about his condition. He caught neither. This indicated that he was probably being fed via tubes, the nutrients carefully calculated so that his waste production was minimal.

That was interesting. He had not thought humans knew enough about kzinti biology to devise such formulas. Perhaps they had been able to analyze what was contained in his vac suit. That wasn’t good. He wondered what else they had captured.

To divert himself from this uncomfortable train of thought, the kzin analyzed his own body. He didn’t feel a great deal of pain, but then again he didn’t feel a great deal of anything, especially below the waist. He suspected a spinal block or some similar technique.

The alternative was too horrible to contemplate. It would mean his limbs had been amputated. How could he escape then? Could he even kill himself? Was he fated to spend the rest of his life, long or short, as a captive torso impaled upon the claws of the enemy?

The sound of a door sliding open, the feeling of fresh air moving against the fur of his face, interrupted this unhappy train of thought.

A human voice—male, the kzin thought, although in the higher registers—spoke quickly, with great animation. “We thought we should wake you, Dr. Anixter. The monitors seemed to indicate that the captive had come conscious at last.”

A sound the kzin recognized as a human yawn. A scent, vaguely floral, mingled with that of several humans. Less distinctly, a rank odor he associated with weapons and those who carried them.

“You did right, Roscoe,” came a voice, human female, heavy with drowsiness that did not completely mask a note of authority. This then was someone accustomed to being in charge. “I’ll review the tapes in a minute. Let’s take a look at the patient.”

Fingers touched the kzin at various pulse points. As these points were different on a kzin than on a human, the assurance with which they were located told the kzin that this Dr. Anixter knew something of kzinti physiology.

The sensation of being touched helped the kzin to focus on his body in a way he had not been able to manage before. The body tends to neutralize sensations that are not being actively stimulated, otherwise no creature could do anything other than feel.

He decided that other than the possible spinal block (or amputation?) he was not receiving any pain-controlling medication. This made sense, since most of these caused drowsiness. The “at last” included in Roscoe’s initial speech would seem to indicate that the humans wanted him conscious.

“Is he awake?” Roscoe asked. “The readings from the monitors are conflicting.”

“I think he is, but probably he is disoriented,” Dr. Anixter replied. “Let’s stimulate his senses.”

The kzin fought not to tense his muscles. He knew what sort of stimulation the interrogation officers at a kzinti base would employ. None of them would be in the least pleasant. Torture was dishonorable, but it was astonishing how far the definition “stimulation” could be stretched.

Braced against pain, the kzin was surprised when instead he heard the rush of water interwoven with the sound of the wind sighing through tall grass and the flapping of leaves. Involuntarily, his ears twitched, so did his tail.

“Ah . . .” said Dr. Anixter. She sounded pleased. “There’s been a shift in brain activity.”

“I saw his ears move, too,” said Roscoe helpfully.

“Yes. But we’ve seen that before,” Dr. Anixter said, not so much in reproof, rather as if she valued accuracy, “and some muscular response and nostril flaring. However, at no other time have the physical motions been accompanied by this much brain activity.”

“So is he playing ‘possum’?” Roscoe’s tone was guarded, tense.

“Perhaps. Perhaps he is merely coming conscious, but not fully alert. Let us not assume malicious intent where what we are encountering may be nothing more than confusion.”

Roscoe gave a sort of dry laugh that had nothing to do with humor.

“This is a kzin, Doctor. A live kzin, a trained member of a warship’s crew. Of course it’s malicious!”

“Perhaps . . . I’ll sit here for a while with him, see if he comes around and tries to communicate. Would you bring me a reader and the tapes of his vitals over the last couple of hours?”

The kzin recognized that although this was phrased as a question it was actually a command. So did Roscoe. Immediately, there was the sound of feet against a floor made from some hard material.

Roscoe paused. “Shall I bring you something to eat, Doctor? Some coffee?”

“That would be nice.”

Roscoe’s feet moved again. The door slid open, then shut. The kzin heard breath indrawn then exhaled in a long sigh. Of annoyance? Frustration? Some other emotion?

Recorded birds sang. Water splashed over rocks. The wind joined the doctor in a duet of sighs.

* * *

“He’s been conscious for a week,” Miffy said, his voice tight with frustration, “and he hasn’t spoken a single word. We’ve interrogated him in both Interworld and the Heroes’ Tongue, but not a single word. Why won’t he talk?”

They were seated in Miffy’s office, he behind his desk, Jenni in a comfortable chair, a cup of spiced chai in her hand. Despite the tension radiating from the man she supposed she must consider her boss, Jenni was enjoying the opportunity to relax. There had been very little time for such since the kzin came around—nor, now that she considered it, in the weeks before while she had struggled to save his life.

There were times Jenni longed for those days when all the kzinti had been to her were slices of tissue on slides and dismembered body parts. Dealing with a living alien was much more complicated.

She thought Miffy’s question had been rhetorical, but he was glowering at her impatiently, so she said the obvious.

“Well,” Jenni replied patiently, “why should he talk? You wouldn’t expect a human captive to speak to interrogators in a similar situation, would you?”

“Not if he was a trained soldier, no,” Miffy admitted. “And all the kzinti we meet are trained soldiers. Tell me, do you think he understands Interworld?”

“I do, actually,” Jenni said. “I’ve studied the tapes and the spikes show activity similar to when he is spoken to in the Heroes’ Tongue. I can show you . . .”

She reached to activate her portable screen, but Miffy waved her down.

“I’ll take your word for it. This isn’t a case where the squiggles will mean more to me than your interpretation.”

He thumped his fist against his thigh, a gesture Jenni suspected he thought was hidden by the bulk of his desk.

For all his skills in reading others, Miffy forgets that the body’s muscles are connected. I wonder if he’s a very good poker player or a very bad one? This led to another question. Or does he expect me to interpret the gesture and react? Does he expect me to be frightened by his impatience?

Jenni decided that Miffy did expect her to be afraid. Now that was interesting. Why did he think fear would get him anywhere?

What should I be afraid of? Physical violence? Not likely. Losing this job? Possibly. However, Intelligence would find me difficult to replace and even if they did, what would that matter? I have material enough for dozens of papers. While they could keep me from publishing, they can’t stop me from sharing the information with the small handful of people who would actually be interested.

After a time, Miffy broke the silence. “Do you think there has been brain damage? Perhaps the kzin understands but cannot frame a reply?”

Jenni considered. “I think not. There was not significant damage to the cranial region. His helmet did an excellent job of protecting it. Kzinti also have very interesting skulls. I believe the brain would be better protected from impact than our own in a similar circumstance . . .”

She was about to go into more detail but, Miffy raised a hand to forestall her.

“Do you have any idea how to make him talk?”

Jenni considered. “It’s possible that eventually we might synthesize a cocktail of drugs that would make him more persuadable, but that could take quite a while.”

“Quite a while, as in months?”

Jenni shook her head. “Oh, no! Nothing like that.”

The man started to smile, but the smile faded as Jenni finished her statement.

“Quite possibly years. You forget. He may be conscious, but he is hardly ‘well.’ We’d be searching for a drug that would make him persuadable without compromising his health, although after one such dosing his continued health might not be an issue.”


“Well, I think it’s likely that you’d only get one attempt. The next time he had the opportunity, he’d probably do something like bite out his own tongue. I suspect the only reason he hasn’t tried to at this point is he can’t see an advantage to be gained.”

Miffy blinked, but he did not protest that this was unlikely. They both knew it was all too likely.

Jenni continued. “You’ve tried interrogation. That has gotten nowhere. He is our only kzinti prisoner, so you cannot put him in with another such prisoner and hope to learn something from their conversation. We have discussed the pros and cons of drugs. As I see it, there really is only one remaining option.”

“Letting you dissect him?”

Jenni let her horror show. “Please! Don’t even joke about that. There is a great deal I could learn from a fresh corpse, but nothing that would outweigh the greater loss of having a functioning metabolism to observe.”

She suspected that Miffy thought of the loss in his own terms. To him, the kzin was most useful as a source of information, not of scientific knowledge. She felt glad that, unlike the kzinti, humanity did not routinely employ telepaths. Miffy might not like the disdain for him he would find in her thoughts.

Of course, humans haven’t found the means to create telepaths as we suspect the kzinti can. Our psi talents are wild. I suspect most human telepaths would take care not to let those like Miffy know of their ability.

Does Miffy realize that, unlike him, I do not think of “loss” in terms of the information we might force from this prisoner, but of life? Has Miffy forgotten that I am a medical doctor as well as a researcher? Has he forgotten that some of us still believe that rational answers can be found for any problem?

“I’m sorry, Dr. Anixter,” Miffy apologized. “My comment about dissection was in bad taste, especially given your extensive labors to keep the prisoner alive. Do you have any suggestions as to what we should do next?”

“We could continue in our efforts to let the prisoner regain his health,” Jenni suggested. “There is only so far we can go with him strapped to a bed. Despite electrical stimulation, he will have suffered muscle atrophy. Also, we are feeding him intravenously. After a while, his digestive system will cease to function. With a human patient, I could recondition it, but I have no idea whether similar techniques would work with a kzin.”

“Why wouldn’t they?” Miffy asked.

“For one, kzinti are carnivores. Among earthly carnivores a prolonged fast can have devastating consequences. If the domestic house cat, for example, undergoes a prolonged fast, eventually the liver shuts down. Other organs rapidly follow. For now, we’re getting nutrients into the prisoner, but he is also burning his own body fat. When that is gone, those nutrients alone may not be sufficient.”

“That doesn’t sound promising. What do you suggest?”

“We continue in our rehabilitation efforts. The prisoner must be permitted out of bed. I suspect exercise is more crucial to kzinti than it is to us, both for physical and mental well-being. With exercise will come appetite.”

“It’s risky,” Miffy said, his tone considering rather than dismissive. “What’s to keep him from committing suicide?”

“He understands Interworld,” Jenni said. “I suggest we explain matters to him. Do kzinti have a saying equivalent to ‘Where there is life, there is hope?’”

“I have no idea,” Miffy said, “but I can think of a few sayings that might get through.”

He considered options for long enough that Jenni was actually beginning to drowse in her chair.

“Very well,” Miffy said. “We’ll give your approach a try. In the condition the kzin is in, you say we can’t risk drugs—even if we knew which ones would work. Right now he won’t last long off life-support and that rather limits other options. We might as well try the carrot and keep the stick in reserve.”

“Not the carrot!” Jenni exclaimed. “Never the carrot. Rather we must try the flash-heated steak.”

* * *

With consciousness, the opportunity to think, to meditate, had returned. This was not at all pleasant. Hour upon hour, the kzin considered whether he might have managed to somehow get himself free, if once he was captured he might have done something to end this dishonorable state.

Eventually, he decided he could not have done so. That settled, next he considered what to do. He was tightly strapped down. The straps were padded and not unnecessarily uncomfortable, but they were also quite unbreakable. Perhaps if he had not been injured . . . but he doubted if he could have broken the straps even then.

For a time after he came conscious, the kzin had managed to fool the humans into believing he was not quite alert. During those days, he had learned a few useful things, including that he was the only captive and that wherever he was being held was within human-held space.

This period of listening inactivity ended when Dr. Anixter stated quite clearly—and the kzin wondered if the statement had been for his own benefit—that she was certain he was shamming. That ended the usefulness of such a charade for, thereafter, nothing of any significance had been said within his hearing.

When at long last the kzin had shown himself conscious, a male human who called himself Otto Bismarck had come to speak to him. Unlike Dr. Anixter, who struck the kzin as rather soft, even for a human, Otto Bismarck was all corded steel cables. Despite his muscles, Otto Bismarck did not act like a warrior, yet the kzin thought he knew precisely what this human was. The Heroes’ Tongue did not have a single term for such a position, but humans used one simple word: spy.

Despite his skinny frame and lack of weapons, this Otto Bismarck was dangerous, a warrior whose weapons were information rather than claws, edged weapons, or fire arms. Many kzinti would have scorned the human’s profession, but the captive could not. His own professional field was too close for him to dismiss spy craft without dismissing himself.

Shortly before the disastrous voyage that had ended with his capture, the captive had been selected to train as an Alien Technologies officer—specifically as a Human Technologies officer. If he was fortunate and showed himself willing and capable, he would eventually be instructed in the lore of various captive races, even that of the long-vanished Slavers whose technologies were occasionally found and once understood had dramatic impact upon those lucky enough to discover them.

As a Human Technologies officer, this particular kzin had been taught Interworld and drilled in various aspects of human culture. Unlike the kzinti, who never permitted themselves to be taken prisoner . . .

(This particular kzin had to remind himself that he had not permitted himself to be taken captive. Circumstances beyond his control had led to this shameful situation.)

. . . humans were taken captive with disturbing ease. Even the bravest could be interrogated by means of telepathy, although this option had to be used with prudence lest the telepath—never stable at the best of times—be rendered useless for the immediate future.

Despite his training in human cultures, the kzin was surprised when, following his routine physical a few days after his first meeting with Otto Bismarck, Dr. Anixter dismissed her assistant. Usually, the humans came to see the kzin in pairs. If one of the straps that bound his limbs needed to be loosened for some reason, a veritable army attended the procedure.

The kzin took these precautions as a compliment.

But today, following an examination that had become so routine as to no longer be humiliating, Dr. Anixter pulled a chair close to the bed on which the kzin was bound and waved her assistant away.

“No, Ida, I don’t need any moral support. I’m just fine. Besides, you don’t think I’ll be alone, do you?” She gestured vaguely at the ceiling and walls. “Otto Bismarck wouldn’t miss this interview for all the raw resources in the Belt. Besides, I’m certain the usual guards are standing by.”

Ida—a severe-looking woman who reminded the kzin of a narrow-bodied burrow hunter—sniffed, but departed as ordered. When the door swished open the kzin caught a whiff of male sweat, metal, and mineral oils. Dr. Anixter had been perfectly correct. Guards were indeed standing by, more than usual.

“Very good,” Dr. Anixter said, settling comfortably into her chair. “Now, we’re going to have a talk. I’ve studied your read-outs extensively and I’d bet my life—in fact, you might say I am betting my life—that you understand Interworld.”

The kzin was fascinated. As part of his training, he had spent some time with captive humans. Dr. Anixter smelled excited. Yes. There was a touch of fear, but this was outweighed by something else . . . Anticipation?

He wished his training had been more extensive, but even his teachers dismissed humans as a slave race rather more annoying than otherwise. Understanding the subtleties of their emotional landscape was not a priority. It was enough to know how to control them.

Dr. Anixter paused as if to give the kzin an opportunity to confirm or deny her speculation as to his ability to understand Interworld. When he did not react, even to a twitch of his ear, she sighed and shook her head. Her gentle smile—so unlike a kzinti snarl that it did not raise even a faint attack reaction in him—did not leave her rounded features.

“Very well,” she continued. “I have spoken with Mif . . . Otto Bismarck and he agrees with me that it is unlikely you will regain your health if you remain strapped to a bed. Otto is very eager that you regain your health. I, of course, would hate to lose my star patient. Therefore, as of today, we are going to begin a course of physical therapy—physical rehabilitation.”

The kzin had to fight not to unfurl his ears in astonishment, but he thought that Dr. Anixter might have noted a twitch. She did not comment, but went on with her explanation.

“You would probably be interested in knowing how well you are healing.”

Again the pause inviting him to agree or disagree, but this time the kzin managed to suppress even an ear twitch.

Smiling gently, as if they had just shared a joke, Dr. Anixter continued. “I have promised not to tell you how long you have been here, so forgive me if my references to time are vague. When you were brought in you were in terrible condition. Long-bones in your legs had been broken multiple times by something falling on them. Your hands were in bad shape as well. From recordings I was shown later, you’d apparently tried to hold up a bulkhead.

“You’d lost a considerable amount of blood, but internal injuries were less severe than we had first imagined. Your vac suit was hardened. That, combined with the angle at which you fell, preserved you from damaging organs beyond our ability to repair them. The worst was some damage to your lungs, but that marvelous basket-work rib cage of yours is so much more nicely designed than ours—no rib-ends to poke into the lungs. Your head was protected by your suit helmet—and by your singularly tough skull.”

She paused and looked thoughtful, doubtless reflecting over her labors.

“Our efforts to save your life were helped because the crew that rescued you—or, as you doubtless prefer to think of it, ‘captured’ you—also salvaged some medical gear before a back-up self-destruct mechanism took out the remainder of your ship.”

The ship was gone then, the kzin thought. Well, at least his family had the comfort of thinking him honorably dead—not that there would be over many to mourn him, a nameless junior officer. His father had many sons and, in the manner of traditional kzinti, saw the promising ones as much as rivals as ornaments to the household.

“Cosmetically,” Dr. Anixter went on, “to be honest, you didn’t do too badly, since you took more crushing damage than cutting. Your helmet protected your ears and face. We did need to shave areas of your fur to facilitate surgery, but most of that is growing back nicely.”

She smiled, this time not so gently. Although the fur on the back of his neck rose, the kzin felt instinctively that this teeth-bared expression was not intended for him. Dr. Anixter’s next words confirmed this impression.

“Otto Bismarck said I should tell you that you were shaved repeatedly, so that you cannot use the rate of fur-growth as a means to calculate the time you have been in our custody.”

This Otto Bismarck may be her supervisor then, the kzin thought, but not one she particularly likes. Yet that does not fit the interactions I have witnessed. Perhaps they are more rivals than master and slave or commander and soldier. She reigns in the medical areas, he elsewhere—and in matters such as how much I may know, Otto Bismarck is the master.

“As of this date,” Dr. Anixter said, “your condition is no longer critical. However, as I have painstakingly explained to Otto, you are also not ‘well.’ Indeed, it is likely you will begin to decline. Already, despite the use of electrical stimulus, you have suffered considerable muscle atrophy. New bone must bear weight if it is to develop properly. With a human patient, I could employ a wide variety of technological aids. Doubtless my assistants and I could design the same for kzinti, but that would take time . . . time I do not believe you have.”

Again the kzin was aware of a tightening around Dr. Anixter’s eyes, a tension in her muscles.

This “time” she feels she lacks is not then completely dictated by the deterioration of my body. There is another factor as well. Impatience on the part of Otto Bismarck, no doubt.

“Therefore,” Dr. Anixter said, “we’re going to fall back on older methods. Already you have been eating some solid food to condition your gut.”

(The kzin winced a little at this. He had tried to resist, but the hot meat had smelled so very good . . . After the male called Roscoe demonstrated how they could use a muscle relaxant to make it impossible for the kzin to lock his jaw, resistance had seemed not only futile, but foolish.)

“Now we must condition your body. We will begin with upper-body exercises while you are still in bed. Soon, very soon, I hope, you will graduate to walking about.”

The kzin considered what he would do when Dr. Anixter unstrapped his arm. Perhaps he could make amends for being weak enough to eat the hot meat.

“My people have a saying,” Dr. Anixter said as she rose from her chair and moved to unfasten the straps that held the kzin’s right arm. “‘Where there is life, there is hope.’ I don’t know if you have a similar saying. In any case, I think you should see the logic of this one. Someone who could break his hands attempting to hold up a bulkhead is not immune to the value of being alive.”

She paused with her fingers on the strap. “However, although I would like to believe you are capable of listening to an appeal to reason, I must warn you that precautions have been taken to assure that you do not exploit this opportunity. You will not be killed or punished, but you will be prevented from acting in any fashion counter to what is suitable for your continued healing. Do you understand?”

The kzin resisted either nodding in the human fashion—a mannerism quite addictive—or twitching his ears in the kzinti equivalent of the gesture. His heart was beating very quickly, his breath coming fast and short in excitement. Doubtless the humans could read this on their monitors, but could they interpret it? He doubted it. The obvious interpretation would be that he was excited, overstimulated by the proximity of the doctor and the fact that she was apparently about to release him without the presence of guards.

No. They could not know.

Those swift and dextrous human fingers—weirdly clawless though they were—moved to undo catches. He felt the strap loosening, sliding down. Heard the fastener click against the hard material of the floor.

Quickly, Dr. Anixter stepped back out of reach.

“Why don’t you try flexing your elbow?” she suggested.

He did, but not in the fashion she might have expected. Although his arm was stiff and weak, he moved with what for a human in similar condition would have been incredible speed. Claws extended, he went for his own throat.

Swift as he was, his weakness betrayed him. He was too slow, the grip of his formerly broken fingers surprisingly flaccid.

Dr. Anixter pointed a finger at him. Too late, the kzin saw that a tranquilizer gun had been attached directly to her hand. Shaking her head ruefully, she shot him.

“I was so hoping you’d choose to listen to reason.”

* * *

A few days later, Dr. Anixter once again dismissed her assistant—this time the eager young male called Theophilus—and pulled a chair next to the bed in which the kzin was strapped.

“Now, we’re going to have a nice talk again. I’m going to assume that not only do you remember what I said about your receiving physical therapy, but that you also remember what I said about the conditions under which you would receive that therapy.”

When the kzin did not respond, Dr. Anixter sighed deeply and her ever-present smile faded.

“I know you understand me, but if you prefer one-sided conversations, very well. I suppose you think of your silence as resistance, but I think the need goes deeper. Refusal to speak is the only freedom you have . . .”

The prisoner nearly unfurled his ears in astonishment. This human thought so very strangely, yet there was something of truth in what she said. Did that also mean there was truth in that odd idea that life and hope were inseparable?

He had thought the idea an outgrowth of the human’s strange creed of pacifism, for every kzin knew that life was only of value when it was spent for glory, honor, and, possibly, advancement.

Despite himself, he found he was listening—not merely hearing—for the first time.

At that moment, a siren went off. So did all but the emergency lighting and power to the medical monitors. Dr. Anixter’s smile returned and she began to speak very quickly, her voice hushed.

“We should have a moment’s privacy. You doubtless think your only value to us is a source of information, but we’ve already learned a great deal. Miffy—I mean Otto—is becoming impatient. I have heard rumors that kzinti consider torture dishonorable—although I’ve heard other stories, about humans being eaten piece by piece while kept alive, that make me wonder. Whatever your interpretation, many humans don’t view torture of an enemy as wrong. If you work with me, we may be able to save you from that, but . . .”

The lights came back up. The door to the corridor slid open, bringing the shrieking sound of the siren closer. Two men in battle armor, holding guns, came rushing in.

“Dr. Anixter, are you all right?”

“I’m fine. What is that racket?”

“Something went . . .”

The soldier stopped. Looked at the kzin. Obviously decided not to speak in front of him.

“Ask Otto Bismarck.”

“You may report to him that I’m fine and so is my patient,” she replied. “The lights dimmed, but the kzin is no longer dependant on life support. Thanks to Otto Bismarck’s forethought, his restraints are quite primitive, nothing that could be affected by a power outage.”

“Will you leave now?”

She rose, nodding. “I think so. I think trying to begin physical therapy after this break in routine would be impractical. I could tranq him again, but repeated doses in a short time would defeat the purpose of making him stronger.”

Without another glance at the kzin, she departed. She did not return that day nor the next, giving the patient a great deal of time to think over his options.

* * *

Jenni knew she’d been taking a risk when she’d altered the station’s power systems, but she’d had to do something to permit her to say a few words to the kzin without Miffy hearing. She thought she’d been quite clever in how she’d worked it. Futzing one of Miffy’s own bugs so that not only would power be cut, but any bugs with independent power sources would also be messed up had been very neat. And how could Miffy complain without admitting how extensively this facility was bugged?

She sighed contentedly. The funny thing about Miffy was that although he had hired her for her intellect, he actually thought of her as rather stupid. She supposed this was because he had bought into the stereotype of the absent-minded professor, maybe because he worked with specialists of various types who really didn’t know much beyond their own field.

However, Dr. Jennifer Anixter, M.D., Ph.D. (this last so many times over that all the B.A.s and M.A.s had been discarded as superfluous), was a generalist. How could she be otherwise when she was studying something that—until the advent of the kzinti—even she had not known existed?

Savoring her minor triumph over the snoopers, Jenni walked back to her lab. If her kzinti patient persisted in attempting to commit suicide, she supposed she’d have no choice but to let him. The other option was to hand him over to Miffy for torture. She couldn’t do that. The reason wasn’t just that she felt such an act would be a violation of her Hippocratic oath to do no harm. Quite simply, she didn’t like Miffy.

There was a lust for dominance in the man from Intelligence that stank. True, the kzinti had beaten humans in battle over and over again. The kzinti had destroyed or looted human ships, making slaves or food animals of those humans they captured. She understood that humanity needed an edge or they were going to end up just another slave race. But what Miffy wanted was something more than an edge, something more than victory. He wanted to get one up on the Patriarchy personally. If he got the opportunity, he’d do something just to show himself as better than her patient.

She didn’t know what she’d do about the problem of Miffy in the long term. First her kzin had to be gotten healthy. The rest must come later.

* * *

The next time his arm was unbound, the kzin didn’t take a swipe at Jenni or, more importantly, at himself. Dutifully, he exercised the muscles, then permitted the arm to be restrapped, and exercised the other arm. There were more exercises for the legs.

After three days—far more quickly than anyone else thought wise—Jenni decided to let the kzin get up and try walking. He still wasn’t speaking to her, but she kept chattering at him anyway.

“We have a full machine shop here,” she said, trundling in before her a gigantic walking frame, “and I had one of the machinists put this together for you. Your upper body simply isn’t strong enough for you to use crutches.”

She grinned impishly at him. “Anyhow, Otto was worried you’d use the crutches for clubs. This walker is heavy—and bulky—enough that you’d have trouble lifting it.”

The kzin had answered Jenni’s grin with one of his own, showing a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth. For a moment, Jenni was delighted. Then she noticed that his hackles had risen and his ears were folding tight.

“Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to make you feel defensive. Funny, funny . . . Big, mean you reacting because little me shows you my flat, boring omnivore teeth. Really, I wonder that enough kzinti survive to adulthood for you to put armies into the field.”

He glowered at her. Defiantly, she gave him a closed-lipped smile.

“I have an idea,” she said. “Maybe you’d feel less defensive if you could talk to someone. Since you won’t admit you know Interworld, well, then, I’ll teach it to you. After all, it’s possible I’m wrong about your linguistic capabilities.”

“However, first we need to get you on your feet. Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to call in Roscoe and Theophilus. They’re going to help you stand upright. You, in turn, are not going to bite or claw either of them. I suspect you’re actually going to need to put your full concentration into balancing. You’ve been on your tail—quite literally—for . . .”

She’d been about to say how long, then caught herself. “For quite a while.”

Getting the kzin to his feet was easier than anyone but Jenni herself had expected. Even her medical staff tended to think of the kzin as a sort of furry human—when they weren’t thinking of him as a monster.

Jenni didn’t make either of those mistakes. She thought of the kzin as what he was—an alien, descended from a race of predators, from a culture where even a show of teeth was considered a challenge that could lead to a fight to the death. Such a species would not survive very long if its members did not heal fast and cleanly.

Still, Jenni permitted the others to think she was as surprised as they were. Best Otto did not realize how much closer to recovery the kzin was. She wasn’t really lying. Certainly the kzin had been able to stand, but he was still weak—she couldn’t resist the image—as a kitten. Certainly, he was far weaker than he himself had expected to be. His fingers had curled very tightly on the handgrips of the walker and he had shuffled forward as carefully as any geriatric case deprived of his float-chair.

While they walked, Jenni had started very simple vocabulary lessons, focusing on concrete nouns such as “door” and “floor.” She avoided names. From the minimal information that had been gathered from humans who had escaped the kzinti and from the kzinti themselves, Names were a complex matter within kzinti culture.

She wondered by what name or title her patient thought of himself, wished she could ask, but knew that he would never reply. That would mean admitting how much he actually understood.

This first walking/language lesson session had not lasted long. The kzin had seemed relieved to get back into the hospital bed. The next day, he had to be hurting, but unlike a human patient who would probably have complained, he was evidently eager to try again.

And so it went. Eventually, even the guards didn’t immediately tense when the gigantic orange-furred, black-striped creature went by, his pink, hairless tail twitching with the effort involved in every step. This was foolish, of course, because the kzin was far stronger and more mobile than he’d been on that first day he’d teetered to his feet, but humans were like that. The familiar was far less terrifying than the strange.

Perhaps the kzinti are wiser than we, Jenni mused as she walked alongside her patient, his only escort, for as she had pointed out to Otto, why should they put more humans at risk? Kzinti do not forget what bared teeth mean, nor that an enemy is an enemy. Perhaps they are wiser. Perhaps . . .

She did not fool herself into thinking that familiarity alone had led to this reduced attention to her patient when out and about. There was another reason the sight of a kzin shuffling behind a gigantic walker did not attract as much attention as before. Something had changed at the base. Something new had been brought in and captured the attention and enthusiasm of Miffy and his cohorts.

Jenni had managed to gather only fragmented rumors, but from what she could piece together from these, she thought the new prize might be the wreck of a kzinti ship.

* * *

The kzin found himself looking forward to his daily physical therapy sessions. He knew he should not. Getting stronger and healthier was the last thing he should desire in this place where there was no hope for escape. As long as he was unwell, he was in Dr. Anixter’s custody. After he was well, she would have little excuse not to turn him over to the human she sometimes referred to as Otto Bismarck, but more frequently (although never when the man was present) as “Miffy.”

The kzin wondered at the significance of these different names, but he did not ask. To do so would be to give away how much he understood. Already, he had grown to fear his own eagerness to talk. Dr. Anixter’s language lessons had robbed him of the excuse to not speak at all.

She had explained to him that although human mouths and throats often had difficulty shaping the rasps and gutturals of the Heroes’ Tongue, humans had learned that kzinti could easily master Interworld. She framed this as a compliment, praise of the kzinti race’s greater abilities. However, the captive soon realized that her words were also a warning that he should not resist these lessons.

On the evening following the deliciously memorable day she had taught him the words for “meat,” “steak,” “chicken,” and “fish,” her assistant, Roscoe, had used these words when arranging for the evening meal. When the kzin refused to use any of the words for more specific types, settling on “meat,” instead of giving him the hot steak that had been usual to this point, Roscoe served him fish—cold fish at that.

The kzin did not need the lesson spelled out twice. At the first meal of the day, he requested “steak.” At lunch, he was given the choice of “chicken” or “fish.” Neither was his preference, but he selected chicken, since this, at least, was usually served warm. Later, a similar procedure was used to get him to employ adjectives such as “hot,” “warm,” and “cold” or “large” and “small.”

It wasn’t that the kzin could be led so easily by his belly. He admitted to himself that he hated being taken as stupid, even as brain damaged, as Roscoe had suggested more than once. For all they fought among themselves, kzinti were social creatures and this particular kzin (Human Technologies Specialist, if he ever would have given the title that was the closest he had to a Name) was not immune to needing praise.

Subconsciously, plump, soft little Dr. Jennifer (Jenni) Anixter was filling the place in the kzin’s mental landscape where more usually his father or war leader or ship’s captain would fit. He could stonewall the others, but her approval or disapproval was becoming essential to his mental health.

He knew he was entering dangerous territory, that he should try again to take his life, but, alone among the humans, Dr. Anixter was the only one who never seemed to forget that he was a danger to himself as well as to others. When he was permitted the freedom of his hospital room/cell, she demonstrated to him how quickly the chamber could be flooded with a gaseous form of the same tranquilizer she had used on him before.

“Someone is always watching on the monitor,” she said, smiling her gentle, closed-lipped smile. “They know I’ll have their heads if anything happens to you. Understand?”

Pretending to understand only part, and that mostly from the physical demonstration, not the words, the kzin nodded.

He found himself deeply impressed. In situations where a reprimand was exacted, kzinti supervisors usually settled for taking an ear. Dr. Anixter must be more ferocious than he had thought if she insisted on an entire head.

* * *

Jenni had just returned from one of her long walks with the kzin when Otto Bismarck knocked at the door of her office. Even as she admitted him, she assessed the information he had wordlessly given her.

He came to my office rather than summoning me to his, so he wants something from me. However, he did not call ahead for an appointment, nor did he wait long after my return. The one shows that he expected me to admit him. The other . . . Impatience, perhaps? Or is it something more subtle? A signal that he does not think anything I have to do would be more important than seeing him?

Motioning her visitor to a chair, she took a long pull on the drink bulb Theophilus always had waiting for her on her return. Today’s choice was hot cocoa, no doubt an acknowledgment that her walk had been through some of the longer internal tunnels cut into the asteroid in which this base was made, areas that while not cold were not precisely warm either.

“Hello, Otto,” she said. “What may I do for you?”

She wondered if Miffy was conscious of the subtle distinction in her use of “may” rather than “can.” She swallowed a laugh. She was always like this after a session with the kzin, hyperconscious of the many meanings of words and actions, of messages that went beyond mere dictionary definitions.

The kzin tended to be highly literal in his use of words. Was this a reflection of how kzinti thought or was it his effort to hide that he knew a great deal more Interworld than she had “taught” him?

Otto’s reply was not what Jenni had expected.

“What do you know about the other project we’re working on here at the base?”

Jenni blinked, covering her surprise with another pull on her drink bulb. “You mean the mechanical one? The one that has to do with some scavenged kzinti technology?”

“That one.”

She decided against admitting she knew the technology in question was a ship. After all, she wasn’t certain. She’d deduced it from the types of injuries that had come into her office—the base did have numerous autodocs, but some injuries were best looked at by a human medico. There had been a few verbal slips as well. She didn’t want to get anyone in trouble.

“I don’t know much more. I’ve been assuming it’s something scavenged from a kzinti craft either before the self-destruct went off or after an incomplete destruction.”

Miffy let slip—or was it a slip?—a look of satisfaction.

“It’s better than that,” he said, “or should be.”

He paused, doubtless considering—or appearing to consider—how much he should tell her. Then he continued.

“We actually have an entire intact ship. It’s not a very large one, but with some repair it should be functional.”

Jenni made surprised and astonished noises. So encouraged, Miffy unbent further.

“From studies of past wrecks, we had gathered a fair idea of where the kzinti tended to mount their self-destruction packets. There are usually several—near the drives, near the bridge, and suchlike. A plan was evolved in which an effort was to be made to disable these packets. I won’t bore you with the details of our near successes and flat-out failures, but in the end we succeeded.”

Jenni knew that by “we,” Miffy meant the wide-spread arms of Intelligence, not him personally. As far as she knew, he had never left the base.

“The ship was brought here. When I say it was ‘intact’ I should probably qualify. It is intact compared to other kzinti ships we have taken, all of which—as far as I know—have been complete wrecks.”

A touch of bitterness in that “as far as I know,” Jenni thought. Competition then between the spooks? Yes. I think so.

“This ship has a functioning drive and functioning life support. The computer systems appear to be fried, as are the weapons systems.”

He looked at Jenni and seemed to interpret her expression as one of disapproval when all she’d been thinking was how nice it would be if Theophilus came in with more cocoa. She really was very tired. Walking a kzin up and down corridors for hours was more demanding than others might imagine, since she never dared be anything but completely alert. She knew that her finger on the tranquilizer gun stood been her life and death—and quite likely the life or death of her patient.

“Yes,” she said, trying to sound as encouraging as possible. “I can imagine it would be impossible to take a kzinti vessel without disabling the weapons systems. Computers are fragile at the best of times.”

Otto seemed satisfied. At least he now zeroed in on the point of this interview.

“Without being able to access their computer, we’re having difficulty figuring out how the ship works. From escaped captives, we’ve learned a little of the written version of the Heroes’ Tongue, but, frankly, we don’t have a strong technical vocabulary.”

Jenni could see where this was headed and decided that seeming cooperative and eager was her best move.

“And you’re wondering if the prisoner might be able to help,” she said. She sucked in her lips, considering. “He might. I’ve gotten him using a limited Interworld vocabulary, but I will admit, it’s not heavy on the technological stuff.”

“I thought you said you thought he already spoke Interworld,” Miffy said suspiciously.

“I did and I do,” she said carefully. “However, I think he may not have had as wide a vocabulary as I believed. I think what I was seeing was an awareness of patterns and a few words, rather the way you can watch a movie with subtitles in a language you don’t know, catch a few familiar words, and so ‘hear’ meaning that you couldn’t actually translate.”

Miffy blinked, then nodded. “Yes. I see what you mean. You’ve been teaching him Interworld. Do you think he knows enough to explain to us how parts of the ship work?”

“I’m not certain,” Jenni replied. “You’d need to make your questions very concrete—not ‘What does this do?’ or even ‘What does that red button do?’ You’d need to show him—and I fear that you’d also need to permit him some hands-on opportunities to demonstrate.”

“Maybe,” Miffy said. “Maybe eventually. I believe at first we could manage with a holographic reproduction. No need to let him near the ship. No need to take undue risks.”

* * *

The kzin could smell a new tang—Was it fear? Was it tension?—in Dr. Anixter’s sweat when she came to his room. When the door into the corridor swished open and shut, he caught another scent, that of Otto Bismarck. Something unusual was about to happen.

He learned what this was when their walk—which was along some tunnels he did not think he and Dr. Anixter had ever visited before—terminated rather more quickly than was usual at a room that managed to simultaneously seem both cramped and quite large.

The reason for this contradictory sensation was that while the chamber—a natural air pocket, the kzin thought, within the metal ore of the asteroid that the humans had adapted and converted into this base—was ample and spacious, the only part of the chamber that was lit was a relatively small area near the center.

Without the natural olfactory and auditory cues on which he usually relied, it took the kzin a moment to “see” what was represented within that lit area. When he recognized what he was being shown, his heart began to beat so furiously that his head swam and his tail lashed wildly.

There before him was depicted the cramped confines of the cockpit of a kzinti scout ship. The detail was so perfect that the kzin felt no doubt the humans had access to an actual ship. Immediately, as he might have leapt after prey in a hunting park back home, the kzin’s mind came to what he was certain was a correct conclusion.

The humans had captured this scout ship. Not the crew, he determined . . . Even with the scrubbers that efficiently cleansed and recycled the air in this contained environment, he thought he would have smelled another kzin. No. Not the crew, but the ship, definitely the ship.

A low growl rumbled in his throat and before he could stop himself, he turned to Dr. Anixter.

“What?” he asked. “Why?”

“A ship,” she said simply. “Or rather part of a ship, a picture of part of a ship. Otto Bismarck wants you to help him understand the controls.”

Most of these words had been introduced in their language lessons. Even “controls” had come up in the context of permitting him to use the food dispenser and waste disposal facilities in his room. There was one rather glaring omission and he addressed it.

“Ship?” He sketched the rounded lines of a non-atmosphere-entry-capable vessel with one claw, then the more disk-like lines of ships used for surface-to-space transit. “Ship?”

“Ship,” Dr. Anixter agreed.

She held up her holopad. A parade of vessels—all human-make, the kzin noted—glided across.

“This ship,” she went on, lowering the pad, “is a kzinti ship. Otto Bismarck is interested in learning how it works.”

The kzin’s mind raced. He could refuse. He should refuse. However, if he did so, he would be pressured to cooperate. He had begun to understand the relationship between Otto Bismarck and Jenni Anixter. He thought that in this particular situation, Otto Bismarck’s will would dominate. Therefore, Dr. Anixter could only protect her patient to a point. After that . . .

The kzin’s spirit shrunk from the idea of hiding behind the protection of a soft, weak human—a female human, at that. He knew this last response was irrational. Human males and females operated as equals in their society, but he couldn’t help his ingrained prejudice that females were weaker.

He dismissed that train of thought as irrelevant. Very well, in most cases, refusing to cooperate, even if that meant submitting to torture and even execution, was the right choice. However, this was not most situations. Suicide had been the best choice when he had thought there was no opportunity for escape. Now, however, it appeared that the humans might indeed have a ship, a ship he could fly, a ship he could use to escape.

Surely, it was now his duty to live; not only to live, but to remove the ship from human claws. What he did after that . . . That would have to wait. Escaping into kzinti-held territories would be his best choice; however, he had no idea if that was possible. He could crash the ship into this asteroid, in one move eliminating two of their prizes: himself and the ship. If he was lucky, he might seriously damage the base.

Jenni Anixter was staring up at him, her omnipresent smile vanished. He wondered if she could guess what he was thinking. He hoped not . . .

Hope. He hadn’t felt that for longer than he could remember. What had she said about hope? Something about life and hope? Very well, Dr. Anixter had assured him that he would live. Now he would do what he could to assure that he had reason to keep hoping.

Unfortunately, he thought the first step of his program was likely to be rather painful. For the first time in a very long while, he found himself hoping that he would survive.

* * *

Initially, the kzin refused to have anything to do with the holographic representation of the kzinti ship’s bridge. He would not even step into the room. He did so after a time, partly coaxed by Jenni herself, partly prodded by a couple of Otto Bismarck’s beefiest security officers. Then he sat and refused to answer any questions.

The next part was very unpleasant. Jenni was told to absent herself. She did so, but judging from the kzin’s reaction when later she went to check him over and take him for his usual exercise, Otto Bismarck’s methods of persuasion had not been solely verbal. There were no obvious marks or scars, but a blood chemistry reading showed a high level of stress hormones. The kzin was also quite jumpy—something not exactly pleasant in a creature nearly three meters tall and increasingly muscular beneath the loose orange-black-striped fur.

So matters continued for several days. Jenni found mild burns beneath the kzin’s fur, making her suspect some form of electrical stimulus was being used. The kzin’s appetite began to slacken. Then, on the very day that Jenni had resolved she must protest, a sleek and satisfied Otto Bismarck summoned her.

“I thought,” he said, leading her down the tunnel toward the cave in which the holographic representation of the kzinti ship’s cockpit was displayed, “you would like to see this. We have sound-dampening screens up, but still, keep your voice low.”

Jenni did so. She didn’t know whether to feel relieved or saddened by what she saw. The kzin sat restrained in an oversized chair in front of the display, obviously attempting to answer the questions put to him by the member of Otto’s staff who sat in a much smaller chair next to him.

“Why the restraints?” Jenni asked. “He seems cooperative enough.”

“We had a bad moment when one of my team members forgot himself and smiled after the kzin offered the solution to a problem we’d been stumped by for weeks. The kzin only nicked him, but it was a warning. I think the kzin actually prefers being restrained to otherwise. I believe he sees it as being protected from himself.”

Or from what you’ll do to him if he slips up, Jenni guessed, but didn’t vocalize her thought. There was something uncomfortable in Miffy’s body language, a sense that because he believed himself in control, he was more dangerous than before.

She’d seen the like back in pre-War days. Earth’s culture had followed a creed of pacifism, but although a combination of acculturation, psychiatric counseling, and judicious use of chemical cocktails had maintained this creed, still there had been those who kept big pets—huge dogs or spirited horses—and clearly found an outlet for forbidden aggressive behaviors in their ability to dominate their pets.

She looked at Miffy. Not a horse person. In any case, making horses do precisely what you wanted was more a female kink. She decided that before the war, Miffy had probably had a dog or two, probably Rottweilers or pit bulls, maybe Doberman pinchers, but she suspected the more overtly muscular breeds would have been his type.

And now he has a kzin of his very own . . . How long before he begins to resent my relationship with the creature? I’ve overheard some of the guards referring to me as the lion-tamer because the kzin will walk with me. I had better take measures . . .

So she said, “I think using restraints is very wise. The kzin’s bloodwork shows that he cannot take too much more of the tranquilizing drugs without suffering a set-back. At the very least, his mental processes would be dulled and you need those. I’d been thinking about changing my own safeguards during physical therapy.”

Miffy nodded, clearly pleased by her approval.

If I’m not careful, he’s going to come after me next. How better to deal with the lion-tamer who is making you feel inadequate than by taming her? I’ve got to be careful.

And for the first time, Jenni was not completely happy with her lovely labs and the isolated base, for she realized she was at the mercy of a man who would be ruthless if his dominance was threatened.

* * *

The kzin had not enjoyed being tortured. However, since submitting had served his purposes, he behaved as he hoped was expected. First he had fought, then he had cringed, finally, he had begun to do as his handlers directed. It helped that he understood more Interworld than Miffy and his assistants believed was the case.

He found himself thinking of Otto Bismarck by Dr. Anixter’s nickname for him, as if renaming his tormentor gave him a measure of control. It also was a small matter of revenge for the names they called him. The favorite was “ratcat,” a reference to two Terran creatures. He’d heard “warcat” as well, but while this held a degree of respect, ratcat was the purest insult.

He pretended ignorance and suffered, mostly in silence, although not completely. Once, he’d gotten a good swipe in at Miffy, a solid hit where the man’s tail should have been. Miffy had bled most satisfactorily, almost enough to balance the pain he inflicted on the kzin afterwards.

The strike at the smiling human had not been quite the accident they believed. Over the long days of his captivity, the kzin had learned to discipline his response to that particular human mannerism, but they didn’t know that. He took some satisfaction in the straps that bound him after that, proof that while they considered him humbled, they did not consider him tamed.

When he began to show them how the control panel of the scout ship worked, he was careful not to tell too much, but also not to directly lie. Not only was a lie dishonorable (although he ascribed to the creed that said lies told to a captor were not dishonorable), but also if he was caught out in one, his entire plan would be jeopardized.

First, he established that he was not a pilot. These humans apparently had some idea that kzinti society was structured around hierarchies and specializations. He gave out that he was nothing more than an infantry solider, what he heard Miffy refer to as a “grunt.” However, he admitted to some second-hand familiarity with how space-capable vessels were operated. After that, matters went smoothly enough.

“So,” Miffy asked, “how many are needed to operate this craft?”

The kzin considered. The actual answer was “one,” for no kzin would wish to be left operating a machine when he could be fighting. However, the cockpit was furnished with three chairs, so that during slow times duties could be shared.

He decided to lie. “Two.”

“But there are three chairs,” Miffy called up holographic representations. “What do these do?”

The kzin took refuge in his presumably limited vocabulary. “Operator,” he said, pointing to the pilot’s chair. He pointed to the next. “Operator assistant.” The third chair, “Operator assistant assistant.”

This led to a heated discussion between Miffy and a couple of his own assistants. In the end, they decided—or rather Miffy did—that what the kzin meant was pilot, co-pilot (possibly a navigator), and back-up. Such redundancy was apparently common among humans. Their discussion explained to the kzin, who had once been a Human Weapon’s Technology expert, the high degree of back-up systems and safeguards in human machinery.

So it went. “What does this button do?” “What does this one do?” “How do you operate this lever?”

Mostly, the kzin answered truthfully, for his goal was to be taken to the actual scout ship. The minute some device operated other than he had said it would, that opportunity would be lost.

The hologram was useful, but only to a point. Since the handgrips and levers had been designed for kzinti hands, which were much larger than those of humans, the kzin could only mime how the grips and levers were pulled or pushed or shoved into position. (Kzinti liked to handle their equipment. The smooth pressure pads humans usually employed were not for them.) Moreover, kzinti equipment had been designed to be operated using a manual attribute humans did not possess—claws. Overall, human fingers were more delicate and dexterous than those of kzinti, but claws changed that equation. They could be extended to make fine manipulations, to extend reach.

The humans, accustomed as they were to having fingers that stayed one length, conditioned by experience and comparison with Terran species (such as the frequently mentioned “cat”) to thinking of claws merely as biological weapons, had a great deal of trouble adapting to this view.

Only after they had gone to the trouble of dismounting a control panel and bringing it to where the kzin could demonstrate how the various shifters and buttons worked when one had claws, not merely fingers, did they believe he was not misleading them.

“Fascinating,” said the man called Roscoe, a man who the kzin had first met as one of Dr. Anixter’s assistants and who he now realized answered first to Miffy. “Where we would put in a spring or some other sort of release, they simply employ a claw-tip to pull the key back into position. For many years, it has been speculated that body form would influence how problems are approached and solved, but this is an elegant demonstration of the proof of that theory.”

“Write your paper later,” Miffy grunted. “Right now I want to know how much more the ratcat can teach us from holograms.”

“There should be more,” Roscoe assured him. “We haven’t even touched on the weapons systems—of course, those were pretty badly slagged. I must say, however, if you’re interested in their piloting and navigation, eventually, we’re going to need to take the ratcat to the ship.”

“I wonder if he can tell us anything,” Miffy said. He seemed to have forgotten the kzin was there. “He says he was just a grunt.”

“Still,” Roscoe said, “I would think the effort would be worth it, even if we only learned a little, especially with the computers down . . .”

He trailed off. Miffy nodded. The kzin struggled to hide his fierce joy. He had not invited torture for nothing. He was going to see the ship.

* * *

The captured scout ship was being kept in a hanger scooped from the asteroid’s outer surface and fitted with sliding doors that were smooth and shiny on the inside, but did a remarkable job of mimicking the exterior of the asteroid when they were closed.

When the kzin saw the ship—most especially when the doors into the interior of the craft were opened and odors, stale but still present, wafted out—the kzin found himself overwhelmed with the last sensation he had expected: homesickness.

Through all of his long captivity, the kzin had been so acutely aware of the shame of having been captured by humans that his main emotion when he thought of those he had left behind had been apprehension. He had dreaded the scorn and reproach he would certainly meet if other kzinti learned that not only had he been captured, but that these weak, furless, fangless primates had kept him captive. Nor had he thought that scorn would be undeserved.

Now, however, as familiar shapes and smells assailed him, he had to fight against the contradictory urges to rush forward or to shrink back. He longed for the feeling of furniture designed not only for his size, but for a backside equipped with a tail. His gaze feasted on color schemes and shapes designed around the aesthetic values of his people, his culture.

But most of all he drank in the scent of his own kind. Some of these were not pleasant—old blood, least of all—but even the rankest and most foul odors belonged to his own kind.

He had forgotten the humans, so when Miffy spoke, only the restraints the kzin wore kept him from wheeling around and taking off the man’s head. The kzin found himself grateful for the restraints. Killing Miffy—at least now—would not suit him at all.

“We’ve patched the holes in the hull,” Miffy said, “but other than that, we’ve not tampered with anything. Time to earn your kibble, kzin.”

Eager to stay in this place, the kzin did his best. He demonstrated how various hooks and levers operated—using this as an opportunity to check that they still functioned. The humans had disabled power to the systems, so nothing actually did anything, but as far as he could judge, if power was restored, they would work.

The first day, they concentrated mostly on the bridge. The second day, they moved to engineering. This was not a separate deck as it would be in a larger vessel, but a compartment. Here the kzin was forced to disappoint his captors. Although he could show them which telltales indicated what readout, even translating the comma and dots of kzinti script that labeled various devices, he could not tell them anything about how the engine itself functioned.

Miffy pressed, asking the same question in several different ways, almost certainly hoping to catch the kzin in a lie. The result was the same. He couldn’t tell them, because he really didn’t know.

Roscoe finished making a note, then shrugged. “Really, boss, the ratcat’s done better than we expected. I mean, except for Belt miners, who knows how every part of a ship works? We already know that the kzinti go more for specialization than we do.”

Miffy reluctantly agreed and they moved on to the next section—the badly damaged computer system. Here the kzin felt glad that they’d looked at the engines first and the humans had grown to believe he knew little or nothing about complex technical matters.

The computer was indeed damaged, the main system completely ruined. However, he was able to ascertain that some of the back-up systems connected with engineering and navigation were untouched. They would need to be manually activated, but if he did somehow manage to steal this ship, he wouldn’t need to fly blind.

For the first time, the kzin allowed himself to entertain the idea that not only might he steal the ship, he might manage an escape. Up to this point, the best he had dared realistically hope for was destroying the scout ship, himself, and hopefully a section of this base. Now . . .

Surely his first duty was to get back to areas held by the Patriarchy. He had learned a great deal about humans. Moreover, he had a good idea how much humans had learned about kzinti. All of this would be useful.

Yet the desire for revenge was strong in him. He imagined the hot battle lust that would flood his veins as he aimed the nose of the scout ship directly at the asteroid. Although the base was neatly contained, still there would be equipment on the exterior. He knew the humans augmented their power with solar energy gathered from whichever star this asteroid orbited. They captured and processed comets as well. All that equipment would be on the surface, concealed, yes, but vulnerable.

Or he might hit a thin place, near the hanger doors, perhaps, and shatter the asteroid’s integrity. He imagined atmosphere rushing out, life-support desperately struggling to replace voided air and water, spilling more of this vital material into barren space. If his crash created a large enough hole, many humans would be killed. Within the base, only the guards routinely wore pressure suits and these were not worn closed and sealed.

Overcome by panic—for the kzin had seen that humans panicked easily—many would forget the drill. Humans were not kzinti. They were new to war. Most of the staff on this base were from Earth herself, not from the colony worlds, the Moon, or the Belt. Flatlanders were remarkably complacent, often ignoring the dangers involved in living in an artificial environment.

He remembered hearing a story about a human woman on a tour ship who had complained to the ship’s captain because the windows in her cabin didn’t open . . .

The kzin was jerked from these lovely reveries by Miffy asking more questions. Obediently, he answered. Carefully, because now there was so much to lose, he played the part of a slave, but he was a slave who scented freedom.

* * *

Over the days that followed, the kzin regularly was taken to the scout ship. He participated in various drills meant to check to what degree the scout ship was functional.

Miffy had what he believed was a fool-proof way of assuring the kzin’s cooperation. While he and his staff members wore pressure suits, the kzin was left naked to vacuum. This was supposed to assure that he did not do anything foolish, for if he did, he would be among the first to die.

As if a kzin would fear death if duty or revenge called, the kzin thought.

But he wondered if he had caught some infection of human caution. There were several times when he might have damaged the scout ship or some of its key components, but each time he held back. He told himself that this was because he did not wish to settle for half-measures. The humans had shown themselves quite good at repairing both damaged machines and damaged kzinti. If he were to act, the act must be final.

Self-doubt crept into his dreams. Was he really trying for the final measure or was there something else? He did not believe he feared to die, but was there something he feared more?

Did he fear going home?

* * *

Jenni watched as the kzin grew first stronger, then, with a sudden change of mood and health, ragged and weak. His appetite was reduced so that even his favorite steak hardly seemed to tempt him.

“You’ve been overworking him,” she said to Miffy. “I demand complete rest or I will not answer for the consequences.”

Miffy glowered at her, but he could not disagree.

“We have enough information that it will take us weeks to process. I wish he’d been able to explain the gravity polarizer to us! Still, the documents he translated, especially the print manual we found, give us some idea.”

“But not enough to figure out how to make one?” Jenni asked sympathetically.

Miffy shook his head. “No. Too much information is assumed. What we found was more like an operator’s manual. It tells you how to use the machine and even how to do basic repairs to various systems, but it doesn’t go into the theory of construction.”

“Stick your arm in the autodoc,” Jenni agreed, “and send me the readout. Simple to use, but providing no idea how the device itself works—much less how the human body the ’doc is diagnosing works.”


“So you can do without my patient for a few days?”

“I suppose.”

This last was said grudgingly, even distractedly. Jenni decided to take a risk.

“I’d like to go over the ship myself.”


“Did it occur to you that the kzin might have caught something? You had the environmental systems up and running, but if there was an infection in the scrubbers . . . As I recall, the original crew did not survive.”

“No. They were pretty much squished.”

“And that could have released something nasty. I want to take a bioscanner and see what I can gather, compare it to my patient’s bloodwork, do some other tests.”

“Wouldn’t it take a hardy bug to survive vacuum?”

“Microscopic life has survived in worse environments than within a ship, even a ship open to vacuum,” Jenni reminded him. “And it’s likely that some areas remained sealed.”

For a long moment, she thought Miffy was going to refuse her, then his expression grew thoughtful.

“That would be a hardy bug,” he said. Then his tone became casual. “Oh, why not take a look? Let me know the results?”

“Of course,” Jenni replied, thinking why doesn’t he just write “Let me know if you find something I can use as a bioweapon” on his forehead for me to read?”

She went down to the scout ship with Roscoe. They spent enough time there that the guards got distinctly bored. However, by the time they left, she felt fairly certain the ship could function with a single pilot.

Later, Jenni drew blood from the kzin and gave it to Ida with detailed instructions as to what she needed to look for. She asked Theophilus to do an analysis of hair, urine, and fecal samples.

Then she went and took the kzin for a walk.

* * *

“I have arranged some privacy for us,” she said. “Anyone monitoring us will hear me questioning you about your recent lack of appetite and the like. Innocent conversation.”

The kzin flickered his ears in a manner that was—Jenni now suspected—an expression roughly equivalent to a human raising her eyebrows. That is, indicating surprise and perhaps a small element of doubt and incredulity.

People with fur on their faces must employ other visual clues, she thought. I suspect there are a host of olfactory ones that I’m missing.

She swallowed a sigh of regret. There was so much more to learn, but the time for study had ended.

“You must take that kzinti ship and flee,” she said. A flaring of nostrils and flattening of ears caused her to amend her words. “Or if ‘flee’ is too cowardly a term for you, then say ‘escape.’ Whatever term you choose, I will help you.”

The kzin’s ears flattened, his hackles rose, but although his body spoke of tension, his words indicated a high measure of trust. For the first time, he did not speak in the abbreviated, staccato version of Interworld he had used to this point for communication with humans.

“Why?” asked the kzin. “Not why must I escape, but why will you help me? Strange as you are, I have never fancied you a traitor to your people.”

Jenni smiled her gentle smile. “No. I also do not think of myself as a traitor. Rather, during these long months over which I have cared for you, I have had much time for reflection about humans, about kzinti, about those other aliens of which I have been told, although I am not likely ever to have an opportunity to study them. I have come to certain conclusions.”

The kzin gave a brief, human-style nod of encouragement, and Jenni went on.

“There are humans—Miffy among them—who believe that in order to defeat the kzinti, we humans must become more kzinti than the kzinti themselves. We must become more ruthless than our worst imaginings of you and your culture: more brutal, more bloodthirsty.

“Miffy and his type would say that long ago, humanity took a wrong turn when it slowly embraced a creed of pacifism. They forget how close humanity was as a species to destroying not only ourselves, but our native biosphere. I suspect many of Miffy’s sort have not been cleared to learn about the horrors included in the historical record of that time, not only about wars, but about industrial accidents that occurred because humans channeled their aggressive natures towards achieving their goals, rather than trying to see the larger impact of such actions.

“Yet, even though I personally disagree that pacifism was a wrong choice if humanity was to survive without destroying itself, there is some truth in what Miffy and those like him believe. We humans learned how not to destroy ourselves, but this was achieved at the price of creating a false history, a history full of outright lies and clever omissions.

“When, with our meeting with the kzinti, the need to fight came again to the human race, we were shocked to discover how very easy killing was, how quickly we adapted the technologies of peace and prosperity to those of war and destruction. Then, too, rumors came to some ears that our Golden Age had in itself been a lie, created not by our own cultural and spiritual evolution, but seeded and enforced from without.”

The kzin bent his whiskers forward in interest, but Jenni went on without further explanation. She did not know how much the kzinti had learned about Brennan and the Protectors. Not knowing this, she did not think it was her place to spread that particular bit of information.

“So, is our pacifistic nature a lie and the warlike true?” She smiled, deliberately barring her teeth and touching first the front incisors, then the side canines. “We have two types of teeth: those designed for the eating of plants, those for the eating of flesh. No one rejects their teeth, yet we keep rejecting one or the other side of our natures: the hunter or the gatherer. One must be right, the other wrong. The truth is less easy to accept. We are both warlike and peaceful, hunters and planters, ruthless and nurturing.

“If I let those such as Miffy have their way, then I am denying what is most real. That is why I am going to help you. Not because I am a traitor, but precisely because I am not.”

“I have but one sort of teeth,” the kzin growled.

“Do you?” Jennie said. “But your claws retract. Think on that. Now, here is what we must do . . .”

* * *

They laid their plans with great care, not only that day, for if the physical therapy session extended too long, suspicions would be raised.

Happily, the kzin’s nature was impatient rather than otherwise. Had he possessed a human’s cautious desire to plan, to cover any and all contingencies, Jenni feared she might need confide in him his new value to Miffy.

Bioweapons had not been a real possibility to this point in the conflict between humans and kzinti because too little had been known about the kzinti’s biology. A great deal can be learned from genetic scans, but in the end, a test subject is needed.

Jenni knew that her patient thought his value would end when every bit of information had been extracted from him. She suspected he thought that he would then be killed. She did not think he had any idea that more likely Miffy would keep him alive so that various infections could be tested upon him.

Jenni herself would refuse to participate in such tests. She thought that Theophilus would also refuse. Ida and Roscoe, though, were of a different sort. Roscoe was Miffy with a background in medicine, rather than in espionage. Like Miffy, Roscoe enjoyed power and domination. She knew he had found it difficult to work as her subordinate.

Ida was a more complex person. A great number of her family members had been on a ship when the kzinti had taken it. Moreover, she knew without a doubt that many of them were dead. Ships with holes like that in their hulls didn’t usually preserve the passengers. It was hardly any comfort for her to imagine them enslaved.

Morevover, Jenni did not trust herself to become an accomplice at one remove. Could she really refuse to try to keep the kzin alive if he was infected with something deadly and painful? Could she keep from trying to create a cure, even if she knew that cure might be used to blackmail the Patriarchy into a surrender?

Her only choice was to get the kzin away before he could be so used. It would be a small victory, but if one only thought of winning a war, not individual battles, then there could be no hope for victory.

So while the kzin made certain the scout ship was capable of flight, she did her best to learn what she could to facilitate the escape itself.

There were many small details, but she was quite good at details. As she gathered codes and set trails, she was aware that Roscoe was cooking up a horrible brew in a lab she wasn’t supposed to know about, that experts were coming to take a closer look at the drive of the scout ship, that time was, in fact, running out.

* * *

Had it not been for his long captivity and the practice he had acquired in suppressing his immediate response to behaviors to which most Heroes would have reacted with fang and claw, the kzin did not think he could have kept from giving away his intent during the days that led up to the planned escape.

It was not only his own tension he must suppress—although he thought that if Roscoe came and drew any more of his blood he would have the man’s ears and accept the consequences. No. He must also hide his awareness of increased tensions among the humans themselves.

Externally, Dr. Anixter seemed her usual placid, smiling self, but to anyone with a nose, she reeked of anxiety. The reasons for this, the kzin quite understood. Not only was she taking risks in assisting with the escape attempt, but afterwards there would be consequences.

What concerned the kzin more deeply were the changes he sensed in some of the others. Roscoe’s body language had shifted. Did Dr. Anixter realize he no longer deferred to her except in form?

Miffy was more moody, some hours almost merry, others so tense that he lashed out—usually verbally—at whoever was closest. From snippets of conversation he overheard, the kzin gathered that specialists were coming to look at the scout ship. This had made Miffy very happy. It had been the later news that someone important from ARM would be coming along with these specialists that had triggered the mood swings.

The kzin understood, actually. In a detached fashion, he almost sympathized with his enemy. The arrival of those above one in the hierarchy was always a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they had the power to grant promotion. However, they were more likely to hand out punishment or reprimand.

And my departure, the kzin thought, will surely make this a visit Miffy will long remember.

Assuming the kzin actually made it onto the scout ship and got it out of the hanger, he was left with one dilemma. Did he try to escape as Dr. Anixter intended or did he take advantage of his opportunity to try and damage this base?

The first was full of uncertainties. He might escape the base only to be shot down later. He might be recaptured. He might make it all the way to Kzin only to find himself reviled.

Taking out the base would be so much more certain. Taking out the base would provide death with honor. Some day in the future, if word of his deeds reached the Patriarchy, he might be awarded a posthumous Name.

Really, the more he considered it, taking out the base was his best option.

But always beneath that certainty came a niggling doubt: Or are you simply afraid to return?

* * *

The day came or rather the night. In an artificial environment like the base, night and day could be eliminated, a shift schedule established. Advocates of efficiency often argued in favor of such plans, but even if night and day could be eliminated, the human need for sleep could not.

Yes. There were sleep sets that reduced the need for rest. Drugs that did the same—although these had colorful side effects. However, especially for those engaged in creative endeavors, there was no replacement for seven to nine hours of good, solid natural rest.

As more and more substitutes for actual dream-filled sleep had been developed, a side effect had been found. Much creative work was done in the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind used dream time to organize material, to rearrange it, to move toward that “Eureka” moment.

So it was, in some professions, where creativity and questioning were not valued, ersatz sleep was actually a preferred alternative. However, in the research and development branches of the arts and sciences, sleep had proven irreplaceable.

The base was, as such things went, a relatively small community. This was another reason that the continuous shift model did not work well. Best to have the majority of staff awake at the same time, so they would be able to interact.

The final reason was as old as human civilization. No one liked to be inconvenienced by routine maintenance. This had probably been true when such inconvenience meant dealing with the sweepers who cleaned out the cart ruts in ancient Troy. It was certainly true in the modern era.

So the base had night and day shifts. It was during the equivalent of the deepest, darkest night that Dr. Jenni Anixter and the kzin readied themselves.

Jenni’s preparations had begun earlier that day, with the baking of twelve dozen chocolate chip cookies. As might be expected of one possessed of her rounded and jovial figure, Dr. Anixter was an excellent baker. Of course, the majority of the food at the base was provided by auto-kitchens, but scientists have always surpassed themselves in finding ways to create the rare and strange.

In another day and age, this might have been a still for the distillation of forbidden liquor, but on the base, nonreconstituted food was valued more highly than any amount of alcohol. Long ago, Jenni had rigged her oven and figured out how to get the auto-kitchen to produce the equivalents of flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and the like.

Her cookies were very popular, even with those who claimed to disdain sweets, such as Miffy. She made certain to hand deliver cookies to the guards who were on watch during the late shift. They were quite grateful. Her kindness was widely known.

Later, when questions were asked about why everyone had slept so soundly that night, why the guards on duty hadn’t been overly attentive to the feeds supplied to their various monitors, the cookies would certainly be remembered. For this reason, Jennie made certain to have a dozen or so set by in her private cookie jar.

She was completely confident nothing out of the ordinary would be found in those cookies, because there would be nothing to find. The drug that had contributed to that lack of attention had only been partly contained in the cookies. The rest had been in the drink dispensers—very few will eat fresh cookies without a beverage of some kind.

This last had been a bit trickier to pull off, but Jenni had been confident. In any case, all the drug components were engineered to break down within eight hours. Jenni might be determined to help the kzin escape, but she was not suicidal enough to point a finger directly at herself. Of course, if she was questioned under proper circumstances, she would give it all away, but that would take time and time was what the kzin needed.

She had acquired the passcodes to the various doors (including that of the hanger) and supplied a data loop that would show empty corridors during minutes when the kzin would pass down them. However, the kzin had insisted she do nothing to actively help him depart.

“You must be safe in your bed when I make my escape,” he’d said. “My honor insists that you have that much opportunity to clear yourself from complicity in my escape.”

And Jenni had agreed. Now she lay curled in her bunk, eyes closed, breathing regular, but wide awake, listening for the sound of the klaxon that would indicate that everything had gone wrong.

* * *

At the appointed moment, the kzin opened the locked door to his cell. The guard who stood outside was awake, but his reflexes were slower than they should have been. Even at their best, they would have been no match for those of a trained kzinti warrior.

As the guard swung his weapon around, the kzin clipped him hard to one side of his neck, using a subdural stroke perfected when someone pointed out that killing slaves that bred and matured as slowly as did humans was a waste of resources.

The man crumpled. The kzin paused only long enough to use the man’s own tranquilizer gun to make certain he would not wake again for many hours. Dr. Anixter had assured him the drug meant for the kzin would also work on humans, that the concentration would not be sufficient to be fatal.

Holding the tranquilizer gun in one hand, the kzin loped down the passage. He wondered why Dr. Anixter had wanted to reassure him that he wouldn’t be killing anyone if he used the tranq gun. Did she think he cared or was she really reassuring herself?

Unerringly, he headed in the direction of the hanger. His escorts had attempted to confuse his sense of direction, but they had no idea how well he read Interworld. Moreover, in a facility where there was only one kzin, tracking his own trail was easy. As a last assurance, in a few places where he might be confused, Dr. Anixter had left a small scent marker, a tiny spritz of something floral.

Three times more he had to disable guards. Each time, he used the tranquilizer rifle. The trigger mechanism was too small for his fingers, but his index claw worked admirably. Each guard was down before he—or in one case, she—was aware someone had entered his (or her) zone.

At the door to the hanger, a human would have been stumped, for the pressure pad used to enter in the passcode was behind a section of wall. The kzin was unfazed. Extending the claws on his right hand, he inserted them into a barely visible seam, then pulled back and ripped. He’d spent a great deal of time reconditioning his arm muscles and was now rewarded for the effort. The wall material, tough stuff that would have resisted a human’s best efforts, ripped back.

He entered the keycode—the one Miffy himself used—and the door slid open, automatically closing once it sensed he was through. So far, all was going according to plan. However, as he loped over to the scout ship, he realized that something was wrong. The hatchway stood open and light was coming from within.

The kzin scented the air, isolating fresh scent traces from the older ones that eddied about. One person, male . . . The kzin’s hackles went up. He had to swallow a growl. The scent was Miffy’s!

Unfurling his ears, he listened, trying to ascertain whether Miffy was present or if he had been here recently and might return. Humans had an annoying tendency that way, always running off to use the ’fresher or grab a snack or drink bulb. What would he do if Miffy wasn’t there? It would be very inconvenient to be warming up the drive in preparation for departure and to have the man come walking in. That period of time had always provided the most uncertainties, for the kzin needed time not only to get the drive powered up, but to put various systems on line.

The kzin stood poised, listening, sniffing, then slowly prowling forward, tail lashing behind him as he fought down an urge to rush forward and end the suspense. But although kzinti were known to be impulsive, they were also descended from plains hunters. Every cell in their bodies contained the knowledge that a successful hunt began with patient stalking.

He was a few meters from the open door when he heard it, a faint clink as of a tool being set down or a panel shifted. Miffy was in there, then. What was he doing? The sound was slightly muffled, so probably he was not in the airlock, nor in the cockpit.

The kzin leapt in through the door, rifle ready. His bare feet landed soundlessly on the deck. No one. He paused and listened. Again another click and clink, this time a slight tuneless whistle. Definitely Miffy.

The kzin began to smile. He readied the rifle. Flashing around the frame of the airlock, he placed himself so that the cockpit was at his back, the short corridor that led back to the engines and life-support systems in front of him.

Miffy sat on the floor next to one of the access hatches into the engines. He had apparently been taking images, projecting them onto a small screen. The kzin could see schematic diagrams. He didn’t wait to see more. Eschewing the tranqulizer rifle, he leapt forward, his attacking scream perfectly silent and the twisting of his features all the more horrible for the self-restraint silence demanded of him.

His hand came down. Miffy crumpled. The kzin inspected the man quickly. He should come around in a few minutes, time enough to restrain him, then to make certain no one else was expected. There had been no other fresh scent, but that didn’t mean someone wasn’t coming. It was unlikely that Miffy was sending images to someone else. The kzin had learned during earlier visits that the hanger walls were thick enough to prevent broadcast communication and that the humans had not gotten around to laying cables.

The kzin stepped over the unconcious human and closed the panel into the engines. Then he moved into the cockpit and tapped in the sequence that would start the engine warm-up. Miffy was beginning to stir when the kzin returned. That didn’t stop the kzin from picking him up, dropping him into a chair, and securing him.

His own previous training, combined with careful observation during these long days of captivity, meant that he knew how to inspect Miffy for communications gear. There was surprisingly little. Apparently, the watcher did not like being watched, the one who made others talk did not care to say much himself. The kzin also shut down the small recording unit Miffy had been using.

The kzin was fastening himself into one of the spare pressure suits when Miffy came around. To the human’s credit, he did so quickly and without the usual disorientation.

“You! What . . .” he began, but the kzin cut him off.

“What are you doing here?”

Miffy pressed his lips firmly closed. The kzin pricked out the longest claw on his right hand and stroked it across Miffy’s face, raising a line of blood. A kzin would have felt this as unworthy of notice, but Miffy had all too much awareness of what he’d done to the kzin. A guilty conscience is a wonderful prod. Miffy began talking.

“You’ll never get out of here, so why shouldn’t I tell you? Something Dr. Anixter said this evening made me realize we’d been overlooking some aspects of the gravity polarizer—seeing them with human logic, rather than kzinti. I came down here to check and she just could be right . . .”

He trailed off. The kzin felt his rising growl shifting into a purr . . . Dr. Anixter, eh? An accident? A bit of nervous babbling? He didn’t think so. What then could she have intended?

Glancing over at the piloting readouts, he saw that the engine was halfway through its warm-up routine.

“Are you alone?” he said, activating the life-support system and the back-up navigation.

“I . . .” Miffy’s words came slowly, but his sweat reeked with fear.

The kzin looked at him. “I am committed to my course of action. If you wish an honorable death, that is all one.”

Miffy swallowed hard. Like many people who deal out pain and death to other people, he never really contemplated that the same could come to him. In his little world, he was the only real person, the rest were supporting cast.

“You’re speaking,” Miffy said slowly, “very good Interworld.”


“I suppose you lied about other things as well? Such as how many people it takes to fly this vessel? Perhaps only one pilot is needed?”


“Then why should I talk to you?”

“I told you. You don’t need to.” The kzin turned his head and smiled slowly, showing an expanding array of teeth. “I believe the auto-kitchen is still operational, but I cannot be certain it will remain so. Living or dead, you will be of use to me.”

Miffy started talking. Fast. He had come down to the hanger alone. Dr. Anixter’s comment had been provocative and he had wanted to make certain that he was the first to confirm the accuracy of her insight. Implied in this was that he also planned to claim her insight as his own.

“And now,” the kzin said, “you are ruined.”

“Ruined?” Miffy’s voice broke. “You mean you’re going to eat me?”

“No. I would just as soon bring home a prisoner,” the kzin replied. “What I mean is that I am about to escape—or at least attempt to escape. If I am recaptured, I will explain how your carelessness—talking in front of me in Interworld although Dr. Anixter had assured you she thought I spoke the language, letting me move about the base under my own power, permitting me to see you or members of your staff enter in codes—permitted me to craft this escape attempt.”

Miffy shrank into himself, his eyes widening in horror.

The kzin twitched his ears, laughing as he had not laughed since he came semi-conscious in the wrecked kzinti war craft. Dr. Anixter had provided him with the means to send out the code that would open the hanger doors, but now he used Miffy’s own unit. If the humans could trace the device’s signature, it would further seal Miffy’s doom, further ruin his reputation.

Miffy understood. He began to keen in wordless panic.

The kzin watched as the hanger doors slid smoothly open. The navigation program read the stars and told him he was closer to a contested border than he had dared imagine. He entered in the command to launch. The scout ship slid out into the void.

Now was the time for decision. Did he wheel the scout ship around and crash into the base or did he attempt to get himself and his very interesting prisoner home again? Before he had seen no value in his continued life, but now . . . Not only did he have what he himself had learned, he had a very special prisoner. His status would go up.

The equation had changed in favor of life . . . of that strange intangible, hope.

As the kzin set his course, he knew his escape was not certain, but at least he would die free, not a prisoner, no longer a captive. Miffy had fallen silent, foam flecking his lips, his eyes wild and bloodshot as he contemplated his future.

The kzin wondered. Had Dr. Anixter all but sent Miffy to the hanger? Had she manipulated the situation so that not only would the kzin have a hostage and a prize, but also a reason to escape rather than wreck both himself and the base? He wouldn’t be surprised if she had.

Two types of teeth . . . If he survived the journey home, he would need to try and explain about humans and their two types of teeth.

* * *

Jenni napped until she was awakened by the klaxons. Without leaving her bunk, she activated a subroutine that would put some interesting information into Miffy’s files, information that indicated how deeply he had feared the kzinti, how he had contemplated changing sides if by doing so he could buy a position as a collaborator working under kzinti masters.

Miffy would not be the first human to do this. He would not be the last.

She’d had to keep this final touch until late in the game, for Miffy must not be permitted to see these interesting additions to his files in advance. Now, however, either he was dead, taken by the kzinti, or, at the very least, a base commander who had just permitted his most valuable prisoner to attempt an escape.

Miffy’s protestations of innocence would not hold up, especially since Jenni would be there to gently explain how this quite fit the psychological pattern of a man who chose to name himself Otto Bismarck.

Belting her fluffy pink robe over her flowered pajamas, Jenni moved toward the door, reacting just as she would if this was an emergency she knew nothing about. As she hurried out, she swallowed a smile, knowing that now was not the time to show her teeth.

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