Mri (fictional alien species)
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The mri are a fictional alien species in the Faded Sun Trilogy of C. J. Cherryh's Alliance-Union universe. Their culture appears to be drawn upon those of the Apache, Berbers (especially Tuaregs), and Japanese samurai. Their name means simply "the people," and they refer to all other races as "tsi-mri," which literally means not people.
The mri are a tall and slender humanoid species. Their skin is golden in color and their hair is coarse and golden-brown, generally worn shoulder-length. Their eyes are yellow, with epicanthic folds and a functional nictitating membrane to protect them against wind-blown grit. Their ears are slightly pointed, with a tuft of hair at the tip resembling that of a lynx.
The mri are divided into a rigid structure of three castes: kel, sen, and kath. These are functional rather than hereditary castes, but each has a clearly defined role in their society, and the mri regard any change in those traditional functions as completely unacceptable.
- Kel are warriors, and dress in black. Because they interact with outsiders, they veil their faces to preserve the privacy of the People. Furthermore, they are forbidden to read or write, lest they inadvertently betray the ancient secrets of the People. They are masters of both the traditional edged weapons of the People and the modern weapons they use as mercenaries. They play shon’ai, the traditional passing game of the People, with knives.
- Sen are scholars, and dress in gold, except for the she’pan or matriarch of the tribe, who dresses in white. They keep the sacred writings of their people, and are celibate. Because they do not interact with outsiders, they do not veil their faces. They play shon’ai with wands.
- Kath are the children and those women who do not join either the kel or the sen, and dress in blue. No man past puberty may remain in kath, and those unsuited for kel or sen die. The kath are the lowest caste of the mri, responsible for the upkeep of the tribe's dwellings. Kath play shon’ai with a pair of rounded stones.
The language of the mri appears to be agglutinative, with each element having a single function. The apostrophes that give mri words their distinctive appearance appear to represent a glottal stop when separating two vowels, for instance, in kel’e’en, "a woman of the kel". However, in other words they seem to merely mark the boundaries between morphemes. There are a few words in which the function of the apostrophe is unclear, and it has been suggested that those are purely decorative, to make the words look more alien.
A careful reader can assemble a fairly large vocabulary of nouns, and even conjecture additional forms. However, there is little in the way of verbs or grammatical structure, so the novels cannot be used as the basis of a working language, as opposed to the elvish languages of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth.
The mri originated on the world of Kutath, an ancient world which they shared with four other races. As resources grew scarcer, a portion of them left Kutath in slowships, seeking other worlds. They would hire on as mercenaries with a race, but each time the relationship ended badly, and they left a ruined world behind to seek a new start. During each journey, or Dark, everything but the ancient traditions of the mri were forgotten by kel and kath, with only the sen retaining records of the Between they had left between. A hint of this process remained in the Shon’jir or passing song which was sung at births and deaths, but most kel of the Between thought of it only as referring to the individual.
After more than eighty such migrations, the mri settled on Kesrith, a desert planet not dissimilar to their lost home. There they encountered the dusei, bearlike telepaths who had intelligence but not the capacity for speech. The dusei established bonds with warriors of the kel, but were said to find the minds of sen too cold for their tastes. Thus the mri were found by the regul, a race of traders from Nurag, a planet of the Mab system. Various regul clans or docha hired mri as bodyguards, giving the mri the opportunity to hone their skills against one another.
The situation changed when the regul encountered humans and war broke out. Atrocities occurred on both sides, at least in part due to the inability of the regul to imagine the future. After forty years of war, the mri were nearly exterminated. The regul negotiated a peace which involved handing Kesrith over to humanity, then betrayed the mri to prevent the mercenaries from switching sides. All the mri save two were murdered.
After the human protagonist, Sten Duncan, was adopted by the mri, the human command decided to risk an experiment. Using an ancient sacred navigation record, they put Duncan and the two surviving mri, Niun and Melein, aboard a ship and sent them back to the lost homeworld of the mri. On the way, Niun forced Duncan to learn to become a mri, with death the penalty for failure.
As a result, they were reunited with the mri of Kutath, and Melein took command of one tribe. Humans and regul had followed them on their journey, and the regul were ready to commit genocide again to ensure that the mri did not hire on with the humans. However, their murderous plans were foiled, and humans ultimately established an understanding with the mri when a human scholar learned to play shon’ai.
- The Faded Sun Trilogy
- The Faded Sun: Kesrith (1978)
- The Faded Sun: Shon'jir (1978)
- The Faded Sun: Kutath (1979)
- The Faded Sun omnibus (2000)