By C.J. Cherryh
The Faded Sun Triology Book 2
By C.J. Cherryh
THE MRI was still sedated. They kept him that way constantly, dazed and bewildered at this place that echoed of human voices and strange machinery.
Sten Duncan came to stand at the mri’s bedside as he did twice each day, under the eye of the security officer who stood just outside the windowed partition. He came to see Niun, permitted to do so because he was the only one of all at Kesrith base that knew him. Today there was a hazy awareness in the golden, large-irised eyes. Duncan fancied the look there to be one of reproach.
Niun had lost weight. His golden skin was marked in many places with healing wounds, stark and angry. He had fought and won a battle for life which, fully conscious, he would surely have refused to win; but Niun remained ignorant of the humans who came and went about him, the scientists who, in concert with his physicians, robbed him of dignity.
They were enemies of mankind, the mri. Forty years of war, of ruined worlds and dead numbered by the millions and yet most humans had never seen the enemy. Fewer still had looked upon a mri’s living and unveiled face.
They were a beautiful people, tall and slim and golden beneath their black robes: golden manes streaked with bronze, delicate, humanoid features, long, slender hands; their ears had a little tuft of pale down at the tips, and their eyes were brilliant amber, with a nictitating membrane that protected them from dust and glare. The mri were at once humanlike and disturbingly alien. Such also were their minds, that could grasp outsiders’ ways and yet steadfastly refused to compromise with them.
In the next room, similarly treated, lay Melein, called she’pan, leader of the mri: a young woman and while Niun was angular and gaunt, a warrior of his kind, Melein was delicate and fine. On their faces both mri were scarred, three fine lines of blue stain slanting across each cheek, from the inner corner of the eye to the outer edge of the cheekbone, marks of meaning no human knew. On Melein’s sleeping face, the fine blue lines lent exotic beauty to her bronze-lashed eyes; she seemed too fragile to partake of mri ferocity, or to bear the weight of mri crimes. Those that handled the mri treated her gently, even hushed their voices when they were in the room with her, touched her as little as possible, and that carefully. She seemed less a captive enemy than a lovely, sad child.
It was Niun they chose for their investigations Niun, unquestionably the enemy, who had exacted a heavy price for his taking. He had been stronger from the beginning, his wounds more easily treated; and for all that, it was not officially expected that Niun survive. They called their examinations medical treatments, and entered them so in the records, but in the name of those treatments, Niun had been holographed, scanned inside and out, had yielded tissue samples and sera whatever the investigators desired and more than once Duncan had seen him handled with unfeeling roughness, or left on the table too near waking while humans delayed about their business with him.
Duncan closed his eyes to it, fearing that any protest he made would see him barred from the mri’s vicinity entirely. The mri had been kept alive, despite their extensive injuries; they survived; they healed; and Duncan found that of the greatest concern. The mri’s personal ethic rejected outsiders, abhorred medicine, refused the pity of their enemy; but in nothing had these two mri been given a choice. They belonged to the scientists that had found the means to prolong their lives. They were not allowed to wake and that too was for the purpose of keeping them alive.
“Niun,” Duncan said softly, for the guard outside was momentarily staring elsewhere. He touched the back of Niun’s long-fingered hand, below the webbing of the restraint; they kept the mri carefully restrained at all times, for Niun would tear at the wound if he once found the chance: so it was feared. Other captive mri had done so, killing themselves. None had ever been kept alive.
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