- Author: Larry Niven
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IN THE HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING
Hey Diddle Diddle
MAN-KZIN WARS V
S. M. Stirling
Thomas T. Thomas
Man-Kzin War V
Created by Larry Niven
GIVE PEACE A CHANCE
A Kzin's instinctively combative responses make for poor diplomatic relations between species. But now that their "first you scream and then you leap" approach to interstellar relations have led to three straight losses to the hairless hominidae of Sol III, there has begun to arise in Kzinti consciousness the faintest glimmering that there may be a Better Way. And in the resulting calm between wars, humans and Kzin are beginning to collaborate.
Now the Universe really has something to worry about.
Copyright © 1992, by Larry Niven
IN THE HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING
Copyright © 1992 by Jerry Pournelle & S.M. Stirling
HEY DIDDLE DIDDLE
Copyright © 1992 by Thomas T. Thomas
Cover art by Stephen Hickman
First Printing, October 1992
Electronic Version by Baen Books
IN THE HALL
S. M. Stirling
Durvash the tnuctipun knew he was dying. The thought did not bother him overmuch—he was a warrior of a peculiar and desperate kind and had never expected to survive the War—but the consciousness of failure was far worse than the wound along his side.
Breath rasped harsh between his fangs. Thin fringed lips drew back from them, flecked with purple blood from his injured airsac. Unbending will kept all fourteen digits splayed on the rough rock; the light gravity of this world helped, as well. Cold wind hooted down from the heights, plucking at him until he came to a crack that was deep enough for a leg and an arm; the long flexible fingers on both wound into irregularities, anchoring him. He turned his head back down into the valley and closed both visible-light eyes, opening the third in the center of his forehead and straining against the dark into the depths of the valley. Yes. Multiple heat-sources in the thrintun-size range, and there were no large endothermic animals on this world. Nothing but thrintun and their slaves and foodyeast in the oceans and huge bandersnatch worms to convert it into protein.
Light-headed, Durvash giggled at that. There had been bandersnatch on this world, until the supposedly nonsentient worms had all turned on their thrint masters one day. Just as the sunflowers that guarded Slaver estates had all focused their beams inward. A thousand other surprises had happened that day; two centuries before Durvash was born, at the beginning of the War. The Slavers had never suspected, never suspected that the tnuctipun engineers had devised a barrier against their telepathic hypnosis, never suspected that the tnuctipun fleet that vanished into space when the Slavers found their homeworld would return one day. Thrint were fewer now.
So are tnuctipun, he thought, sobering; it did not do to depend on Slaver stupidity anymore. Most of the very stupid ones had died early in the conflict, along with a dozen thrintun slave species. The survivors were desperate. The information he had weaseled out of the base on this world was proof of that.
Durvash continued scanning, straining his eye up into the lower electromagnetic spectra. Over a dozen thrintun were toiling up the slopes below him. They had slave trackers—a species of borderline sapience but very sensitive noses—and hand weapons, and a powered sled with limited flight capabilities. He drew his sidearm, a round ball of energy with a handle, and whispered to it. The tool writhed and settled into a pistol-shape; he spoke instructions and an aiming-grid opened out above it. The map of the valley showed geological fault lines, but he would have to be very careful.
A word marked a spot on the map. "Twenty nanoseconds," he said, and turned to jam his head against the rock and squeeze all three eyes shut. Holding the weapon behind him he pulled the trigger. It would fire only for the specified time, on the specified spot . . . whuump. CRACK. Hot air blasted at him, slamming him back and forth, until broken shards of bone in his thorax gnawed at the edges of his breathing-sac. Automatic reflex clamped his nostril shut and made him want to curl into a ball, but tnuctipun had evolved as arboreal carnivores on a world of very active geology. They had a well-founded instinct about hanging on tight when the ground shook. Then rock groaned all around him, loud enough almost to drown out the sound of a falling mountainside across the valley, megatons of mass avalanching down on the river and the thrint hunters.
Total matter-energy conversion is a very active thing, even if only for twenty nanoseconds in a limited space.
Instinct kept his digits clamped tight on rock and weapon. When he woke again, he thought it was night for a moment. Then he realized it was only blackness before his eyes, and the pain began. It came and went in waves, in time to the thundering in his resonator membranes; his neck hurt from the loudness of it. Durvash spat blood and phlegm and growled deep in his throat. He crawled up the rock, crawled and crawled until he left a broad dark smear on the stone, fresh trail for the thrint hunters that would follow. He almost missed the cover of his hidehole.
Opening it was more pain, the pain of full consciousness to tap out the code sequence. By the time he reached the end of the tunnel bored through the mountain and sank into the control chamber of the tiny spaceship, he was whimpering for his mother. He made it, though, and slapped a palm down on the controls. Medical sensors sedated him and began the process of healing as best they could; other machines activated remote eyes and prepared to lift off as soon as practical.