- Author: Larry Niven
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MAN-KZIN WARS VIII
CHOOSING NAMES: MAN-KZIN WARS VIII
Created by Larry Niven
LARRY NIVEN’S KNOWN SPACE IS AFLAME WITH WAR!
Once upon a time, in the very earliest days of interplanetary exploration, an unarmed human vessel was set upon by a warship from the planet Kzin—home of the fiercest warriors in Known Space. This was a fatal mistake for the Kzinti, of course; they learned the hard way that the reason humanity had decided to study war no more was that humans were so very, very good at it.
And thus began THE MAN-KZIN WARS. Now, several centuries later, the Kzinti are about to get yet another lesson in why it pays to be polite to those hairless monkeys from planet Earth.
CHOOSING NAMES: MAN-KZIN WARS VIII
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 1998 by Larry Niven
Cover art by Stephen Hickman
First printing, September 1998
Electronic Version by Baen Books
The light in this room was redder than Sol’s, more like the light of his own world, or of the Kzin homeworld which he had never seen. Creditor’s Telepath found it friendly. The room’s other occupant was behind a wall of armor glass. He sat in darkness. The kzin could make out his posture a little, but not the set of his face. It didn’t matter.
The kzin said, “I can read minds.”
The previous dose of Sthondat gland extract was wearing off. Creditor’s Telepath would retain traces of his peculiar talent for another few hours, no more. He could taste a bit of the other’s thoughts. His interrogator was wary; distrustful.
Creditor’s Telepath asked, “Do you see the implications? I have been among your enemies. I know their thoughts, their plans, hopes, fears, goals.”
“That could be very valuable.”
“My price is high. I want a name.”
He sensed his interrogator’s amusement. Rage rose in him; he quelled it. He was skilled at that. “Our lower ranks are named for what we do,” he said, “but any may aspire to gain a name, a rank. Our lowest are named for what we are. Cowards, mutants, cripples, or telepaths. I am Creditor’s Telepath. I would be the first in living memory to have a name.”
The other shifted his weight behind the protective glass. He had seen what an addiction could do to his kind. This kzin wasn’t just scrawny and undersized, he was warped. Creditor’s Telepath made him uneasy.
He asked, “Who have you been among? Did they know anything worth knowing? Do you?”
“You shall judge,” Telepath said. “Our ship was Creditor, with a crew of eleven and space for sixteen, mountings for two plasma cannon but only one mounted. We lofted in haste when the news came. We told each other that our lower mass would bring us to loot faster than vessels with full crew and armaments. We were in the forefront, ahead of other ships our size, avoiding notice of the battleships, when Gutfoot’s Horde plunged into Sol System.
“It was great fun. The fusion reaction motors used by humans leave a hot ionized wake, a line that shouts in X-rays. We found such a line, aimed for the converging point of it, popped up next to a ship, and shot off the drive module. We invaded the shell, took four cringing humans—the first we’d seen, much smaller than we’d supposed from the messages alone. Took what else we wanted most, marked the shell as our own property, and went off to do it again.
“It worked once.
“Then, moving at a few hundred klicks per second, Creditor ran through a stream of pebbles. Humans have been defending their turf with all manner of reaction motor. This was an electromagnetic accelerator, part of an asteroid mining concern. Humans take the metal and use the slag for reaction mass, and they sprayed us with that. Creditor was shredded. My companions fought the invaders and died. I hid, but in a pressure suit I was too bulky.
“They found me with our human prizes, all battered but safe in the shielded room we use for hiding and for a pantry. For sparing their lives I may have been given better treatment.
“For a time they kept me in a small dome, in free-fall. Later, here on a little moon of a gas giant planet. But they didn’t know what I was!”
This burst forth in a shout, for the surprise had never left Creditor’s Telepath. He sensed his listener’s startlement. “I felt their fear. At first I didn’t understand it. I was the last of my crew, and the first kzin they had ever seen. There were no other kzinti about. In this system-wide series of battles there have been other captive Heroes, but my own captors saw us only on screens. They did not see that I am stunted. I mass three or four times what they do, though I’m half the mass of a Hero.
“They did not understand my addiction, either. They did see that I was sick and growing sicker. They blamed it on my smashed ribs and a dietary imbalance. It concerned them. Humans come near being herd animals, and my pain distressed them. They tried to do something about it.
“Their doctor machines adjust for their own biochemical imbalances. They fiddled and adjusted until I was getting nourishment to keep me healthy, and if I never quite recovered they were sure they hadn’t quite got it right.
“Though some nourishment reached me through tubes and some as food, I was still starving! They offered no live prey. I ate worse than I had aboard Creditor! But every telepath is addicted to Sthondat lymph, and my stock is lost. Of course I was sick.
“Without periodic injections I would have trouble reading even another kzin. I picked up almost nothing from the dozen humans who were my guards and doctors. But that little made all the difference.