Authors: Larry Niven
MAN-KZIN WARS XIV
created by Larry Niven
Larry Niven’s bestselling Man-Kzin series continues! The kzin, formerly invincible conquerors of all they encountered, had a hard time dealing with their ignominious defeat by the leaf-eating humans. Some secretly hatched schemes for a rematch, others concentrated on gathering power within the kzin hierarchy, and some shamefully cooperated with the contemptible humans, though often for hidden motives. In war and in uneasy peace, kzin and humans continue their adventures with a masterful addition to the Man-Kzin Wars shared universe created by multiple
New York Times
best-seller, incomparable tale-spinner, and Nebula- and five-time Hugo-Award-winner, Larry Niven.
THE MAN-KZIN WARS SERIES
Created by Larry Niven
The Man-Kzin Wars
The Houses of the Kzinti
Man-Kzin Wars V
Man-Kzin Wars VI
Man-Kzin Wars VII
Choosing Names: Man-Kzin Wars VIII
Man-Kzin Wars IX
Man-Kzin Wars X: The Wunder War
Man-Kzin Wars XI
Man-Kzin Wars XII
Man-Kzin Wars XIII
Man-Kzin Wars XIV
Novels of the Man-Kzin Wars
The Best of All Possible Wars: Best of the Man-Kzin Wars
by Paul Chafe
by Hal Colebatch & Jessica Q. Fox
Also by Larry Niven
(with Jerry Pournelle & Michael Flynn)
MAN-KZIN WARS XIV
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 © 2013 by Larry Niven
“A Man Named Saul” © 2013 Hal Colebatch and Jessica Q. Fox, “Heritage” © 2013, Matthew Joseph Harrington, “The Marmalade Problem” © 2013 Hal Colebatch, “Leftovers” © 2013 Matthew Joseph Harrington, “The White Column” © 2013 Hal Colebatch, “Deadly Knowledge” © Hal Colebatch, “Lions on the Beach” © 2013 Alex Hernandez
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A Baen Books Original
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Cover art by Steve Hickman
First printing, December 2013
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Man-Kzin wars XIV / edited by Larry
Q. Fox, Matthew Joseph
ISBN 978-1-4516-3938-4 (pbk.)
Niven, Larry editor of compilation. II. Colebatch, Hal, 1945- III. Title: Man-Kzin wars 14. IV. Title: Man-Kzin wars fourteen.
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Electronic Version by Baen Books
Wunderland, East of the Höhe Kalkstein, 2437 AD
there’s a kzin outside the stockade!” The man was excited, with some reason. “He’s lying down spread out, on his face, like he’s already been shot.”
The kzin could have jumped the stockade, at least got his claws high enough to fight his way over. It hadn’t been built to keep out kzin. The judge had persuaded them to put it up because the lesslocks had become more than just a thieving nuisance, and their numbers had increased in recent years. What had puzzled everyone who had made it was how much bigger it was than seemed necessary; higher, and leaving a wide space between the village and the wall. But the judge had insisted they think for the future, and he was a persuasive man. So they’d gone along with him, as they usually did.
“I’d better come—and you men, don’t shoot unless he attacks. Which is very unlikely, I’d say. The submission posture isn’t something they take lightly.” The old man struggled to his feet. He walked with a stick these days.
The gate was opened cautiously, and a lot of guns were held ready. They were not likely to be as effective as the owners thought, the judge knew. A kzin took a lot of killing, and a homemade musket firing homemade gunpowder wasn’t even going to slow one down if he went into attack mode.
“Greetings, Hero,” the judge spoke in the Heroes’ Tongue, or at least the slaves’ patois approximation to it. He was rusty, but it came back.
The kzin raised its head and looked at him. “No Hero, I,” he answered bleakly. “I come to beg, human.”
“What for, kzin warrior?” the judge asked. This was unprecedented in his experience.
“Not for myself, human,” the kzin answered. “Medicine, for my kzinrett and my kits. Sooner would I die than humble myself so. I shame myself beyond measure. But if I do not, my kzinrett and her kits will die. My male kit is a good son, and I have a duty . . .”
The judge wondered. “Stand up, kzin warrior. There is no shame in what you do. It takes courage beyond measure to face down shame beyond measure.”
The kzin rose to its feet. Its fur was patchy and matted, but it still looked imposing and dangerous as it looked down at the human. “What must I do, human?” it asked.
“Bring your family here. All of them. We will need to know what medicines we have which might be useful. We have little, but we will share them.”
“It will shame me even more that I have to be given them by you,” the kzin rumbled. “Better to take them by force, but I know not what to take.”
“No, better to trade,” the judge told him. The Heroes’ Tongue—or at least the closest human approximation of the slave’s patois—was coming back to him more easily now. But it was too easy to make an unintentional insult. In the days of the Occupation, any slave who attempted to mangle the Heroes’ Tongue would have lost his own tongue and shortly afterward his life for the defilement. Fortunately, the slave’s patois was relatively easy to speak and tolerated. “We help you and you help us. That way we both gain.”
“Trade?” the kzin asked, mystified by the alien word. “What would you do, enslave me?”
“No, nothing like that. I don’t know what you might have for us, but we can worry about that later. It will be a small debt of honor until then. And when you pay it off, we’ll be even. And who knows? Maybe we can find something else to trade. There is usually employment for a warrior.” There was no word that he knew for
in the Heroes’ Tongue, in fact few words for any ideas about economics at all. Slave economies didn’t need them. Teaching catallactics to kzin could be a long job. But the prize, oh yes, the prize!
The kzin was baffled, but not given to patience. “I will go and return with my brood. I will be a day.” The huge beast turned and marched off without a word of thanks. There wasn’t a word for that, either. Not between Heroes and food.
“What was all that about, Judge?” one of the men asked.
“The kzin wanted medicine for his mate and children,” the judge explained. “He’ll be bringing them tomorrow, probably in bad shape. I want them in the hospital for a spell.” If there had been a dialectitian listening carefully, he might have picked the judge’s rustic accent as assumed or at least lately acquired, but he would have had to be good.
“You’re gonna let that monster into the stockade?” The man was aghast. Another spoke up: “An’ your goin’ t’ give it our medicine? You’re crazy, Judge.”
“Crazy like a fox, Ben. Think about it. Suppose we can get some trade going with this one. Maybe others later. They’ll have some value to us. That one could sure help take out a whole lot of those damned lesslocks if he figured he owed us something. Would you rather have them fighting for us or against us?”
One of the men scratched his head absently. “I guess if there are ratcats around, we sure don’t want them as enemies.”
“A good point,” said the judge. “However, if anyone uses the term ‘
’ again, they will regret it. I am not talking political correctness now, I am talking survival.”
Another man grumbled. “But, Judge, that damned monster is a natural killer. You’re not gonna let it wander around inside the stockade, for Chrissake?”
“For Christ’s sake, that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” the judge said calmly. “What’s the best way to totally destroy your enemy?”
They didn’t know.
“You turn him into a friend,” the judge told them. “It’s there in the good book. You need to have a closer look, Hans, Ben.”
“That doesn’t sound very easy.”
“Sorry, I don’t recall anyone saying anything about ‘easy.
The judge had won the argument. He was good at that. So when the next day, the kzin returned, supporting his kzinrett and with a kitten on each shoulder, he was let into the stockade and taken to the hospital, which was a slightly bigger shack than most there. All four looked at their last gasp. The nurse and doctor, just one woman, took one look at them and demanded that they bathe and all be put to bed, which was a bit impractical, because first, no bed was remotely big enough and second, because kzin didn’t use them anyway. Also the adults wouldn’t fit into any bath. Bathing the kits had been trying, but they, too, were too weak to effectively protest. The adult female was obviously close to dying, and had running sores on bald patches. The judge thought of the hunting technique of the Komodo dragons of Earth, to bite and scratch prey perhaps far larger than itself and then to follow it remorselessly until infection weakened it and brought it down.
When Nurse-Doctor Wendy Cantor had seen the damage, she sent out for the whisky. Partly to drink, but mostly as a disinfectant. There was a lot of whisky around the village. The female winced at the touch of it, and choked and spluttered. The kits howled. The kzin himself affected indifference when he finally got his turn for treatment, simply remarking that he was a Hero when the judge inquired after his feelings. The judge, who had had a lot to do with kzin once, was aware that they expected effective medical treatment to be painful. The judge had had to be summoned to translate the interrogation of Nurse-Doctor Cantor.
“What’s wrong with them, Wendy?”
“Infections from the scratches mostly, I think. And poor diet. They only eat meat, don’t they? Like cats? If they’ve been living off the wabbitohs and a few lesslocks, they won’t be getting much vitamin D, and if their metabolism is much like ours, they need it. Worth pushing some fish-liver juice into them. Don’t have the old pills left, but we have enough fish from the river. If we had some proper antibiotics I could get them healthy in three days, but we don’t. The supply from the monastery was small, and we haven’t had anyone go there for months, and no way of paying for it except whisky. They’ve got lots of that. Soon as we get something to pay with and someone to go, they should go with an order.”
“I knew the abbott once. He was old and I don’t know if he’s still alive, but if the present one is anything like the man I knew, they will help us without payment. Or I could give them a few hours’ work on their machinery. They’ve still got a lot of rebuilding to do. The kzin took most of their equipment.”
“Would they want gunpowder?”
“They can make better than we can. They’ve got dogwood trees there—makes the best charcoal. I’ve heard they are trying to breed Jotok. They’ll need ponds for that.”
“You know a lot of things, Judge.”
“Knowing things was my business.”
“Say, Judge, sometimes, when you forget yourself, you don’t talk like one of us back-country hicks. I’ve noticed it before.”
“I see . . . have you ever talked about that to the others?”
“We’re Wunderlanders, Judge. We’re
Wunderlanders. We didn’t come through the occupation alive by letting our mouths flap. Unless there’s good reason we keep our lips closed . . . but our ears open, maybe. But you never told us what you were . . . before . . .”
“No, I never did, did I. Well, I’m a live Wunderlander, too. But just remember this: we are getting ourselves a kzin with a debt of honor to us.”
Treating the kzin was at least not going to use much of what precious little resources they had, the judge realized. If it worked, he could easily defend the expense.
It worked. It took two weeks, but it worked. And in that time, someone had noticed the kits were playing with some pretty stones, a couple of chunks of gold, an uncut diamond and two sapphires. The kzin also liked gold as an ornament, and on some planets used it as currency, and, of course, it would have had many uses if they had anything left of a technology. The kzin remarked, as mildly as he was able, that the kits might not like to give the shiny nuggets up.
“Not these; wrestling your kits for them could cause some bad feeling, not to mention loss of body parts. But if you could show us where you got them, it will more than pay for the medicine and the treatment,” the judge had explained.
“You want a kit’s toys?” the kzin asked in disbelief.
The judge nearly grinned, but stopped himself in time.
“That’s the way it goes, kzin warrior. What means little to you means a lot to us and the other way around. That’s why trade is a good idea. We both gain. Dumb people think it’s zero-sum, but it ain’t. Not unless the government gets involved, and here, I’m the government,
the law, and a lot of other things besides, and I come pretty cheap, I can tell you.”
“I can get you as much as a man can carry,” with a shrugging motion, the kzin conveyed the impression that it did not believe a man’s carrying abilities were great, which, compared to its own, was true enough. “If you come with me, I will show you. Which sort do you want?”
“We can use all of them, they’ll all fetch something. But the gold is the best bet. That we can trade easily.”
The kzin was bewildered. “You are mad creatures, human,” he said. “What do you do with them?” Then, more thoughtfully, as though answering his own question. “These things are for Nobles’ palaces.”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” the judge told him. “But rich people will pay a lot for pretty stones. The manretti like to wear them, and the men buy them to impress the manretti.”
“Something to do with your mating rituals?” the kzin hazarded.
“Yep, I guess so,” the judge admitted. “There’s other stuff too, but when you come down to the jewelry uses, I guess it amounts to getting a gal by giving her something other gals would like to have too. Pretty dumb when you think about it. But people are.”
“Then we go tomorrow, Judge human,” the kzin said. He had picked up the
part by hearing what other people called him. It was not clear if it was a name or a rank. But these human beings gave everyone a name, as if it meant nothing. Truly they were astonishing. Nothing to look at, but they had defeated the might of all the kzin on
. Not merely in space. The kzin remembered the last days of infantry combat on the ground.
“You can leave the kzinrett and the kits here,” the judge said casually.
“But our base is in the cave,” the kzin objected. “I must take them back. And my mate cannot care for the kits yet on her own.”
“And in the cave you will run into trouble with the lesslocks all over again. It was partly those scratches that made you all sick. Why not live in the village? There’s a house here that’s empty. Too small for you, but we’ll show you how to build it up. Our manrett is a skilled healer. Much experienced.”
“I sometimes forget your manretti are sentient,” the kzin admitted, “though I should not. My first sergeant warned me: ‘Those manretti can be trouble,’ he said. Next day one fetched the meat for the sergeant’s mess. There was a bomb inside it. But indeed the lesslock vermin are getting worse. They get worse every year. We have moved to higher caves, but they find a way in. They appear to have an ability to learn from experience. But if I come here, I will have an honor debt to you. The home you speak of. And I do not know if there is much prey around.”
“Any time you want to pay us, a few of those pretty stones, particularly the ones with soft yellow metal in, that will get you plenty. And there are wild deerylopes and boaries in the woods, as well as a herd of gagrumpers. Kill more than you can eat, bring some back and trade them for anything you might want.”