About the Author
Larry Niven is a prolific American science fiction writer. His best known works are a collection of short stories and books informally referred to as "Tales of Known Space". The first book in the Known Space series is Ringworld, and it received Hugo, Locus, Ditmar, and Nebula awards. Niven has also written fantasy novels, including the series The Magic Goes Away. He has also collaborated with fellow science fiction authors Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes on several books.
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The House of the Kzinti
By Jerry Pournelle
Baen BooksCopyright © 2004 Jerry Pournelle
All right reserved.
by Dean Ing
Sampling war's minor ironies: Locklear knew so little about the Weasel or wartime alarms, he thought the klaxon was hooting for planetfall. That is why, when the Weasel winked into normal space near that lurking kzin warship, little Locklear would soon be her only survivor. The second irony was that, while the Interworld Commission's last bulletin had announced sporadic new outbursts of kzin hostility, Locklear was the only civilian on the Weasel who had never thought of himself as a warrior and did not intend to become one.
Moments after the Weasel's intercom announced completion of their jump, Locklear was steadying himself next to his berth, waiting for the ship's gravity-polarizer to kick in and swallowing hard because, like ancient French wines, he traveled poorly. He watched with envy as Herrera, the hairless, whipcord-muscled Belter in the other bunk, swung out with one foot planted on the deck and the other against the wall. "Like a cat," Locklear said admiringly.
"That's no compliment anymore, flatlander," Herrera said. "It looks like the goddam tabbies want a fourth war. You'd think they'd learn," he added with a grim headshake.
Locklear sighed. As a student of animal psychology in general, he'd known a few kzinti well enough to admire the way they learned. He also knew Herrera was on his way to enlist if, as seemed likely, the kzinti were spoiling for another war. And in that case, Locklear's career was about to be turned upside down. Instead of a scholarly life puzzling out the meanings of Grog forepaw gestures and kzin ear-twitches, he would probably be conscripted into some warren full of psych warfare pundits, for the duration. These days, an ethologist had to be part historian, too-Locklear remembered more than he liked about the three previous man-kzin wars.
And Herrera was ready to fight the kzinti already, and Locklear had called him a cat. Locklear opened his mouth to apologize but the klaxon drowned him out. Herrera slammed the door open, vaulted into the passageway reaching for handholds.
"What's the matter," Locklear shouted. "Where are you-?"
Herrera's answer, half-lost between the door-slam and the klaxon, sounded like "atta nation" to Locklear, who did not even know the drill for a deadheading passenger during battle stations. Locklear was still waiting for a familiar tug of gravity when that door sighed, the hermetic seal swelling as always during a battle alert, and he had time to wonder why Herrera was in such a hurry before the Weasel took her fatal hit amidships.
An energy beam does not always sound like a thunderclap from inside the stricken vessel. This one sent a faint crackling down the length of the Weasel's hull, like the rustle of pre-space parchment crushed in a man's hand. Sequestered alone in a two-man cabin near the ship's aft galley, Locklear saw his bunk leap toward him, the inertia of his own body wrenching his grip from his handhold near the door. He did not have time to consider the implications of a blow powerful enough to send a twelve-hundred-ton Privateer-class patrol ship tumbling like a pinwheel, nor the fact that the blow itself was the reaction from most of the Weasel's air, exhausting to space in explosive decompression. And because his cabin had no external viewport, he could not see the scatter of human bodies into the void. The last thing he saw was the underside of his bunk, and the metal brace that caught him above the left cheekbone. Then he knew only a mild curiosity: wondering why he heard something like the steady sound of a thin whistle underwater, and why that yellow flash in his head was followed by an infrared darkness crammed with pain.
It was the pain that brought him awake; that, and the sound of loud static. No, more like the zaps of an arc welder in the hands of a novice-or like a catfight. And then he turned a blurred mental page and knew it, the way a Rorschach blot suddenly becomes a face half-forgotten but always feared. So it did not surprise him, when he opened his eyes, to see two huge kzinti standing over him.
To a man like Herrera they would merely have been massive. To Locklear, a man of less than average height, they were enormous; nearly half again his height. The broadest kzin, with the notched right ear and the black horizontal furmark like a frown over his eyes, opened his mouth in what, to humans, might be a smile. But kzinti smiles showed dagger teeth and always meant immediate threat. This one was saying something that sounded like, "Clash-rowll whuff, rurr fitz."
Locklear needed a few seconds to translate it, and by that time the second kzin was saying it in Interworld: "Grraf-Commander says, 'Speak when you are spoken to.' For myself I would prefer that you remained silent. I have eaten no monkey-meat for too long."
While Locklear composed a reply, the big one-the Grraf-Commander, evidently-spoke again to his fellow. Something about whether the monkey knew his posture was deliberately obscene. Locklear, lying on his back on a padded table as big as a Belter's honeymoon bed, realized his arms and legs were flung wide. "I am not very fluent in the Hero's tongue," he said in passable Kzin, struggling to a sitting position as he spoke.
As he did, some of that pain localized at his right collarbone. Locklear moved very slowly thereafter. Then, recognizing the dot-and-comma-rich labels that graced much of the equipment in that room, he decided not to ask where he was. He could be nowhere but an emergency surgical room for kzin warriors. That meant he was on a kzin ship.
A faint slitting of the smaller kzin's eyes might have meant determination, a grasping for patience, or-if Locklear recalled the texts, and if they were right, a small "if" followed by a very large one-a pause for relatively cold calculation. The smaller kzin said, in his own tongue, "If the monkey speaks the Hero's tongue, it is probably as a spy."
"My presence here was not my idea," Locklear pointed out, surprised to find his memory of the language returning so quickly. "I boarded the Weasel on command to leave a dangerous region, not to enter one. Ask the ship's quartermaster, or check her records."
The commander spat and sizzled again: "The crew are all carrion. As you will soon be, unless you tell us why, of all the monkeys on that ship, you were the only one so specially protected."
Locklear moaned. This huge kzin's partial name and his scars implied the kind of warrior whose valor and honor forbade lies to a captive. All dead but himself? Locklear shrugged before he thought, and the shrug sent a stab of agony across his upper chest. "Sonofabitch," he gasped in agony. The navigator kzin translated. The larger one grinned, the kind of grin that might fasten on his throat.
Locklear said in Kzin, very fast, "Not you! I was cursing the pain."
"A telepath could verify your meanings very quickly," said the smaller kzin.
"An excellent idea," said Locklear. "He will verify that I am no spy, and not a combatant, but only an ethologist from Earth. A kzin acquaintance once told me it was important to know your forms of address. I do not wish to give offense."
"Call me Tzak-Navigator," said the smaller kzin abruptly, and grasped Locklear by the shoulder, talons sinking into the human flesh. Locklear moaned again, gritting his teeth. "You would attack? Good," the navigator went on, mistaking the grimace, maintaining his grip, the formidable kzin body trembling with intent.
"I cannot speak well with such pain," Locklear managed to grunt. "Not as well-protected as you think."
"We found you well-protected and sealed alone in that ship," said the commander, motioning for the navigator to slacken his hold. "I warn you, we must rendezvous the Raptor with another Ripping-Fang class cruiser to pick up a full crew before we hit the Eridani worlds. I have no time to waste on such a scrawny monkey as you, which we have caught nearer our home worlds than to your own."
Locklear grasped his right elbow as support for that aching collarbone. "I was surveying life-forms on purely academic study-in peacetime, so far as I knew," he said. "The old patrol craft I leased didn't have a weapon on it."
"You lie," the navigator hissed. "We saw them."
"The Weasel was not my ship, Tzak-Navigator. Its commander brought me back under protest; said the Interworld Commission wanted noncombatants out of harm's way-and here I am in its cloaca."
"Then it was already well-known on that ship that we are at war. I feel better about killing it," said the commander. "Now, as to the ludicrous cargo it was carrying: what is your title and importance?"
"I am scholar Carroll Locklear. I was probably the least important man on the Weasel-except to myself. Since I have nothing to hide, bring a telepath."
"Now it gives orders," snarled the navigator.
"Please," Locklear said quickly.
"Better," the commander said.
"It knows," the navigator muttered. "That is why it issues such a challenge."
"Perhaps," the commander rumbled. To Locklear he said, "A skeleton crew of four rarely includes a telepath. That statement will either satisfy your challenge, or I can satisfy it in more-conventional ways." That grin again, feral, willing.
"I meant no challenge, Grraf-Commander. I only want to satisfy you of who I am, and who I'm not."
"We know what you are," said the navigator. "You are our prisoner, an important one, fleeing the Patriarchy rim in hopes that the monkeyship could get you to safety." He reached again for Locklear's shoulder.
"That is pure torture," Locklear said, wincing, and saw the navigator stiffen as the furry orange arm dropped. If only he had recalled the kzinti disdain for torture earlier! "I am told you are an honorable race. May I be treated properly as a captive?"
"By all means," the commander said, almost in a purr. "We eat captives."
Locklear, slyly: "Even important ones?"
"If it pleases me," the commander replied. "More likely you could turn your coat in the service of the Patriarchy. I say you could; I would not suggest such an obscenity. But that is probably the one chance your sort has for personal survival."
The commander looked Locklear up and down, at the slender body, lightly muscled with only the deep chest to suggest stamina. "One of the most vulnerable specimens of monkeydom I have ever seen," he said.
That was the moment when Locklear decided he was at war. "Vulnerable, and important, and captive. Eat me," he said, wondering if that final phrase was as insulting in Kzin as it was in Interworld. Evidently not ...
"Gunner! Apprentice Engineer," the commander called suddenly, and Locklear heard two responses through the ship's intercom. "Lock this monkey in a wiper's quarters." He turned to his navigator. "Perhaps Fleet Commander Skrull-Rrit will want this one alive. We shall know in an eight-squared of duty watches." With that, the huge kzin commander strode out.
After his second sleep, Locklear found himself roughly hustled forward in the low-polarity ship's gravity of the Raptor by the nameless Apprentice Engineer. This smallest of the crew had been a kitten not long before and, at two-meter height, was still filling out. The transverse mustard-tinted band across his abdominal fur identified Apprentice Engineer down the full length of the hull passageway.
Locklear, his right arm in a sling of bandages, tried to remember all the mental notes he had made since being tossed into that cell. He kept his eyes downcast to avoid a challenging look-and because he did not want his cold fury to show. These orange-furred monstrosities had killed a ship and crew with every semblance of pride in the act. They treated a civilian captive at best like playground bullies treat an urchin, and at worst like food. It was all very well to study animal behavior as a detached ethologist. It was something else when the toughest warriors in the galaxy attached you to their food chain.
He slouched because that was as far from a military posture as a man could get-and Locklear's personal war could hardly be declared if he valued his own pelt. He would try to learn where hand weapons were kept, but would try to seem stupid. He would ... he found the last vow impossible to keep with the Grraf-Commander's first question.
Wheeling in his command chair on the Raptor's bridge, the commander faced the captive. "If you piloted your own monkeyship, then you have some menial skills." It was not a question; more like an accusation. "Can you learn to read meters if it will lengthen your pathetic life?"
Ah, there was a question! Locklear was on the point of lying, but it took a worried kzin to sing a worried song. If they needed him to read meters, he might learn much in a short time. Besides, they'd know bloody well if he lied on this matter. "I can try," he said. "What's the problem?"
"Tell him," spat Grraf-Commander, spinning about again to the holo screen.
Tzak-Navigator made a gesture of agreement, standing beside Locklear and gazing toward the vast humped shoulders of the fourth kzin. This nameless one was of truly gigantic size. He turned, growling, and Locklear noted the nose scar that seemed very appropriate for a flash-tempered gunner. Tzak-Navigator met his gaze and paused, with the characteristic tremor of a kzin who prided himself on physical control. "Ship's Gunner, you are relieved. Adequately done."
With the final phrase, Ship's Gunner relaxed his ear umbrellas and stalked off with a barely creditable salute. Tzak-Navigator pointed to the vacated seat, and Locklear took it. "He has got us lost," muttered the navigator.
"But you were the navigator," Locklear said.
"Watch your tongue!"
"I'm just trying to understand crew duties. I asked what the problem was, and Grraf-Commander said to tell me."
The tremor became more obvious, but Tzak-Navigator knew when he was boxed. "With a four-kzin crew, our titles and our duties tend to vary. When I accept duties of executive officer and communications officer as well, another member may prove his mettle at some simple tasks of astrogation."
"I would think Apprentice Engineer might be good at reading meters," Locklear said carefully.
"He has enough of them to read in the engine room. Besides, Ship's Gunner has superior time in grade; to pass him over would have been a deadly insult."
"Um. And I don't count?"
Excerpted from The House of the Kzinti by Jerry Pournelle Copyright © 2004 by Jerry Pournelle. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Houses of the Kzinti contains 3 short stories: Cathouse by Dean Ing, Briar Patch by Dean Ing and The Children's Hour by Jerry Pournelle & S.M. Stirling. Cathouse is the story of the scholar Locklear after he is captured by a Kzinti ship. Thus begins Locklear's transformation into a warrior in the Kzin habitat of the world created by the Outsiders as he awakens 2 courtesans of Old Kzin. He of course charms the 2 kzinti females into adoring him in a plutonic kind of way and they take on the Kzin who marooned him here. Truly a brains over brawn adventure. Briar Patch is the exciting sequel to Cathouse, as Locklear moves to the earth habitat and awakens the Neanderthals the Outsiders have kept there in stasis. The Children's Hour is another brains over brawn tale told after the 4th Kzin invasion of Earth. Wunderland has been conquered, it's humans have become the Kzin's best secretaries and nanny's and business managers and the Kzinti governor is planning the 5th invasion of Earth. His new tactic: Learn to think like humans. Earth's secret spy network who runs the military has a plan to take out this governor: they use his progressive ideas and his children to asassinate him & Kzin begins to fight Kzinti!