The Ethos of Nosri -- a story dedicated to Rob

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The Ethos of Nosri

In the beginning, Nosri created the world and everything in it.

The elder hobbled carefully through the crowd until he reached the clear ground before the Rock. There were many new young ones, he noted. The singing would be strong. He turned to face them then, and though he was very old, he stood straight and tall. This would be his last Recounting, he was sure of it. He took a deep breath and began the Song of Nosri.

Nosri was lonely he began. The crowd echoed his words in harmonies, forming mournful chords, weeping for the loneliness of Nosri in song.

Thus he led them. He sang of the creation of the world and everything in it. The crowd reflected his words with rising volume. He sang of the Friendship of Nosri, and the crowd sang at a faster tempo. He sang of the Absence of Nosri. The crowd dropped into whispered chanting. He raised his hands to the sky, silencing them all in the same heartbeat.

In a bitter drone, he reminded them of the Betrayers of Nosri. The crowd remained silent and still.

He slowly knelt on the hard ground before the Rock. The crowd knelt where they stood.

From his knees, hands still raised to the sky, he wailed the Return of Nosri. The crowd moaned and began to sway in their kneeling ranks. One by one the members of the crowd covered their eyes with their hands. Nosri! Nosri!

Slowly, the elder stood up. Stooped now, he looked tired and very old. With tearful eyes and breaking voice, he recounted the Curse of Nosri. Bowing their heads to the ground, the crowd wept with him. The Curse of Nosri! Nosri save us!

They remained in this state for hours. The watching humans grew bored and crept from their hiding places back to their quarters.

"I still don't know what they get out it," grumbled Patterson. He was shushed by the others.

*

Nosri made Man to be Her companion.

"If they spent as much time helping us get the ship fixed as they do crying in church, we'd be halfway home by now." Patterson was grumbling again that night as they lay in their quarters. The others ignored him.

Patterson couldn't speak without grumbling, and after being stranded with him for a year, the rest of the crew had learned to let him talk. Shutting him up was impossible. Even the Captain pretended not to hear him. In truth, only military discipline had kept them from killing Patterson in the first few weeks. Sometimes the Captain wished he had allowed it.

Patterson's saving grace was his genius with machines, particularly busted machines, and they were in possession of one mighty busted machine. The Captain worried that their ability to repair the ship would degrade beyond hope if they didn't work faster. One year already, one of their years, he amended silently, and they had made damned little progress.

They were stranded on a rock called Nosri in a little-explored quadrant of the Galaxy. The sunlight was dim, the food was bland, and the women were ugly. Mineral resources were in short supply, and the Captain had not been able to communicate the urgency of their needs for metal to the Nosri. They were FUBAR, the Captain despaired. Tomorrow he would stop requesting and start demanding. *

Nosri taught Man the right way to live.

The elder took his usual way home that evening. The Recounting had never been stronger. He was pleased. He had been aware of the watching humans. He knew which human was waiting for him on the steps of his home now. Smith, that one was called. May Nosri smile upon Smith he prayed.

"Enet." Smith greeted him politely as the elder drew near. "If you are tired, I will come back another time." He stood up and embraced the elder in the custom of the Nosri.

The elder was tired, but the kindness of the young human had given him strength. "I will make tea for us," he said. "Then you tell me what you learned from the Scriptures."

"And after that, I will tell you more about my faith," grinned Smith.

Two stranger evangelists could not have been imagined. Smith viewed Nosri as a chance to bring the population of an entire planet to his God. Enet believed humans had no souls, but he was fond of Smith and wished to find a way to bring him to an understanding of Nosri.

After tea, each of them began efforts to sway the other.

*

Nosri went away to make other worlds.

"This works. That's all I know." Patterson held two long, thin metal rods in his hands. The end of each was bent into a short length at ninety degrees, and these short ends rested in his loosely cupped fists. "My daddy taught me how to douse for water this way. It'll find metal too."

"Uh huh. How do you know which one you find?" asked Jacobs. He was the only crewman left willing to hang around Patterson off duty. "This place has potholes full of water every fifty meters."

The Captain had taken Smith with him to demand a higher level of aid from the Nosri. The rest of them were given free time to amuse themselves. As if there were anything amusing to do on a planet with virtually no wind, no temperature variations, no mountains, and no water over two feet deep. The crew had grown sick of playing games to pass the time.

The Nosri were dull, ugly people with no interests beyond growing food and singing in their freakish "church". They were clearly bipedal humanoids. The only visible parts of the Nosri were their heads and their hands. With no hair to distract the eye, their bulbous foreheads were their dominant feature. Their eyes were widely spaced with enlarged pupils. Their nostrils were slits in a flat lower face. They had no lips. Adapted for digging in the heavy soil of Nosri, their hands resembled thick, flat paddles with heavy nails at the ends of stubby fingers. Hands like these could produce no written works, no art, and no tools.

Every one of them wore the same drab, gray robes, even the little ones. The men had no desire to see what moved under the robes of the Nosri. The Captain didn't have to forbid them from consorting with the female natives. After the intensity of first contact, all of the men but Smith had become reluctant to mingle socially with the Nosri. The Nosri did not seem care.

Patterson and Jacobs looked around for observers. There were none. "Let's go," said Patterson. They walked away from the crippled ship quickly with Patterson's dousing rods swaying gently before them.

*

When Nosri had been gone a long time, the Betrayers taught the people to kill.

The meeting with the elders had gone badly, and the Captain was furious. Smith had to jog to keep up with the older man as he strode back to the ship. The Nosri did not wish the humans to leave. What the humans wished for themselves was immaterial. No argument swayed them.

"I thought," snarled the Captain as he rounded suddenly on Smith, "you said they had a religious duty to help people. You forgot to mention we don't fit their definition of 'people'. Your precious Enet thinks of you like a pet, Smith. A damned lap dog."

Smith nodded in dull shock. Enet had listened thoughtfully to their concerns about their progress with the ship. They had thought they were gaining ground with him, he had let them think that, but after all their impassioned speech he had dismissed their concerns as unimportant. He expressed disappointment in Smith, the seeker of Nosri, for having discomfited the council. He had led the council away, leaving the Captain and Smith with nothing. Worse than nothing. They weren't going home. Ever.

Breaking the news to the crew might bring on a fatal confrontation with the Nosri. The Captain half hoped it would. At least it would be an ending. He and Smith slowed their pace.

*

Thinking Nosri would never come back, the people killed freely.

Patterson's dousing rods got a hit on a low hummock roughly two kilometers from the ship. He and Jacobs attacked the ground with shovels, happy to be doing something, however silly. Four feet into the top of the hummock, Jacobs' shovel clanged on metal. Muffled by dirt, the sound was muted, but Patterson whooped with excitement. They dug frantically and exposed a long section of the metal.

It was the hull of a ship. There was no mistaking the type of metal or the shape.

"Get the Captain and the boys, pronto," Patterson ordered. "And leave the damned natives out of it."

Jacobs ran all the way back. Patterson continued to dig.

Nosri came back and saw the people killing each other.

The Captain was having a hard time controlling his men. He had delivered the bad news with harsh brevity, his voice cracking at the end. Stunned silence had turned quickly to fury. The men vowed to kill every Nosri on the planet. Only habit held them under his command, and it could not last long under these conditions.

Jacobs arrived, coughing and gagging from exertion. He fell to the ground at the Captain's feet and babbled his story. All the Captain could understand was "Patterson" and "ship". He quickly ordered water for Jacobs and waited only long enough for the man to be able to stand. The crew set off at a trot in the direction Jacobs indicated. Two men supported Jacobs, and as he regained his strength he filled them in on the discovery. They had metal. If the ship wasn't spaceworthy, at least the metal could be salvaged. Patterson had said so.

*

Nosri was angry.

With all hands digging like madmen, the ship was cleared of dirt in two days. The Nosri did not approach them, and the Captain wasn't sure if they even knew what the humans were doing.

It took Patterson four hours to ease the hatch open. They waited another two hours to let air exchange take place. The Captain posted five very disappointed men on watch outside and led the rest of them into the dark portal. The entryway was of an old, but standard, human design. The Captain placed his hand on the flat panel at the end of the entryway, and the ship began a faint humming. Dim lights flashed and brightened as the humming grew stronger.

Patterson whooped. "I know this design!" He hurried off to the main engine compartment without waiting for orders. The Captain motioned for three of the men to follow Patterson before leading the remnant to the bridge.

Everything seemed to be in perfect order. The ship was of a private class, not fitted for war, but with arms to withstand attack if necessary. No sign of such an attack existed. There were no bodies of the original crew, or any personal artifacts of any kind. It looks like she's sitting in a sales dock the Captain thought. She's waiting for a buyer to try her out.

Patterson sent one of the men with a request for the Captain to join him. The Captain found him gently caressing the control panels with a quiet look of hope in his eye. "We can take her home, Captain. We can strip supplies out of our own ship and take this one. It'll be a tight squeeze, but all of us can take her home. All of us."

"Are you sure?" the Captain whispered.

"She's been mothballed by experts. Everything works. She's spaceworthy, I'd bet my life on it. And if she's not, I'd rather die trying to take her out than live another day here." Patterson's quiet joy took on a look of insanity. "I'm not staying another day."

*

Nosri cursed the people.

Stripping their own ship took more time than they initially realized. The older ship lacked an updated navigation system, and her computer systems needed to be augmented by their own. Patterson blasphemed over every delay, but even he realized they had only one chance to get things right.

On the second day of reengineering, a Nosri came to ask for Smith. Enet was nearing his Release, and he had asked for one more visit with the young human. The Captain feared a trap and warned Smith the ship would leave without him if he did not return on time. Smith hesitated for a long moment before agreeing to go to Enet.

His Nosri guide led him not to Enet's home, but to the clearing before the Rock. Enet lay on bare ground, his robes carefully arranged to cover him in the normal manner. The guide left them alone there.

Smith knelt beside Enet and gently held his clumsy hands. Enet opened his eyes. "Smith," he breathed softly, "I miss our discussions."

"As do I," said Smith. "We have almost finished the Recounting of Nosri. "I should like to hear the last of the story from you."

"Before you leave." Enet saw fear in Smith's eyes. "We know you will leave. We will not stop you. We cannot stop you, you know. The Curse of Nosri is upon us always."

"Please, Enet, what is the Curse of Nosri?" Smith pleaded gently with the elder. "In what way are you cursed? I see no war here. There is no hunger, no anger, and no strife. What curse was laid upon you that makes you weep all your lives? What has Nosri done to you?"

Tears formed in Enet's eyes. "You hold the curse in your hands. We had hands like yours. We made beautiful things with our hands. Nosri was pleased by the works of our hands. And then She went away, and we turned our hands to awful things. We killed each other with our hands. We made objects and killed each other with those. We bore children only to replace our losses in war."

Smith looked at the hands of Enet and said nothing.

Enet went on so softly that Smith had to lean close to his face to hear him. "Nosri changed us inside also. If we think a violent thought, our hearts stop before the thought is completed. We must never grow angry. We cannot injure each other, or you. Before the thought can result in action, the thinker has died. It is a rare thing to grow as old as I am, Smith, and this is why I am allowed to lead the Recounting."

"You approach Release," said Smith slowly. "Release is death, isn't it?"

"Yes," whispered Enet. "We call death what it truly is. You must go back to your ship now, Smith. Many Nosri have been Released out of anger at your comrades. Some of them were younger than you appear to be. Go in peace."

*

Nosri, have pity on your people and Release us!

Patterson found the books hidden in a bulkhead next to the navigation system. He passed them to Jacobs without curiosity and resumed his work. Jacobs passed them to Smith.

An hour later Smith clawed his way out of the portal and vomited on the heavy soil of Nosri. Attempts to aid him were met with manic screaming and more vomiting. Patterson looked out at him briefly before dragging Jacobs back to their work. Liftoff was in five hours, and Patterson didn't care whether Smith was on board or not.

The Captain waited until the worst of Smith's storm had abated before talking to him. By this time Smith had assumed a posture of rigid prayer, stiffly straight of back and kneeling with both hands held palms up in front of his chest. His muttering was mixture of his own religious dogma and Nosri. He did not respond to the Captain. Shrugging, the Captain ordered one of the men to drug him and strap him down for the liftoff.

Their last recognizable view of Nosri was of the clearing before the Rock. A large crowd knelt for Recounting around the body of Enet.

*

Do unto others what you wish for yourself.

They were three days out from the nearest civilized outpost. The Captain and the crew were feeling a considerable lightening of spirits. All of them except Smith, however, who had continued to assume his strange posture of prayer every time the drugs wore thin. They kept him hydrated and fed intravenously.

Patterson expressed the opinion that the kid would spend the rest of his life in a mental hospital. The strange time on Nosri already seemed like a distant nightmare, and Patterson had decided to re-enlist in the Corps. Nothing spooked him for long.

The books were forgotten in the excitement of liftoff, and the Captain had quietly locked them away without sharing their horrifying contents. They would have to be turned over to his superiors. And something would have to be done about Nosri. He was sorry for the effect on Smith, but in a way having the young man incommunicado was a blessing for the rest of the crew. They would be allowed to re-enlist without wiping their memories. He hoped as much for himself, but the contents of the books had virtually guaranteed he would be considered a candidate for Reorientation.

Reorientation. The word was enough to sicken the bravest man. They took a man, wiped out the parts he wasn't allowed to keep, and called the process by a psychobabble name. They should have called it rape he thought. Sighing, the Captain decided to read the books one more time. They were sure to wipe them out of his mind anyway.

*

Natural Organization

Systematic Reorientation

Incarceration

The ancient slogan was the basis for all behavior and thought of an entire race.

NOSRI mused the Captain. Ask the natives what they called the star they circled, and they answered Nosri. Ask them what they called their planet, and they answered Nosri. Ask them what they called themselves, and they answered Nosri. Ask them what they worshipped, and they answered Nosri. Ask them what they feared, and they answered Nosri

The poor bastards he thought. Marooned and crippled for all time.

The Nosri were the descendants of prisoners. Their ancestors had been dragged to the edges of known space and dumped by one of the giant companies that specialized in "Peacekeeping".

Governments with high prison populations had found a humane-sounding way to shed their unwanted burdens. Send them off to a terraformed planet of their own, give them the tools needed to survive, and forget about them. The Peacekeepers charged an enormous fee for their services, but the effort paid off in reduced crime.

This success in crime reduction was followed by equal success in the areas of poverty, terrorism, and the political embarrassment occasioned by conquered peoples. The wealthiest nations, the wealthiest people, paid to have their problems removed permanently.

To each his own was a popular slogan put forth by the powerful people of the time. If a planet were perfectly sculpted for every unwanted population, it seemed inhumane to deny the huddled masses their tickets to paradise. The Peacekeepers and their stockholders made fortunes from kidnapping whole nation-states and hauling them away. Given a choice between deportation or immediate death, most of the kidnapped "volunteered" for colonization.

The infamous trials in Managua began with a private citizen's fight to find his family. The family had inadvertently been kidnapped while on vacation, along with the political rivals of a local crime syndicate. This particular citizen was quite wealthy, wealthy enough to buy any crewman of any ship. Before long it was revealed that his family had been relocated to a hell beyond imagination. The planet had not been terraformed. The unfortunate "volunteers" had not been given tools. They had survived in a way so horrifying that even the wealthy and powerful could not ignore it.

The prisoners had been surgically and genetically modified to fit the conditions of the prison planet selected for them. Some of the genetic modifications were sorry attempts at behavior-control with an eye for applications on the home world. The whole Reorientation program was an experiment with disenfranchised humans used for lab rats. The modern Reorientation process so feared by the Captain had begun there.

The outcome of the trials was unsatisfactory for the victims. In exchange for important data on the forced mutations, the Peacekeepers had been allowed to escape into space. The prison planets, at least the ones that could be located, were given terraforming and planetary advisors from the home world. Some of the new worlds became fully participating members of the Council of Worlds. Most of the new worlds failed, and the mutilated peoples died.

Nosri had been forgotten. The ship was proof of the presence of Peacekeepers on Nosri after the trials. The books indicated the local prison population had survived. Their level of social violence was deemed unacceptable to Peacekeepers seeking a world of their own. Attempts to modify their behavior had been made.

The original intent was to keep the local population in a state of slavery. Their hands were modified to become garden tools. Their autonomic nervous systems were modified to shut down their hearts when the limbic systems of their brains became over-stimulated. To make sure the slaves were easily identified, their facial features were distorted. From a purely scientific viewpoint, the modifications were wildly successful.

The Peacekeepers could not survive long without modifying themselves. Arrogance led them to assume they could ride on the shoulders of their modified captives. When their error could no longer be ignored, the last Peacekeepers had mothballed the ship, secreted the books, and died.

The Council of Worlds would attempt to free the Nosri, the Captain was certain of that. He would be given Reorientation to make sure the sordid details remained secret. Smith's future was less certain. The young man had fallen into a frenzied psychosis that could be conveniently extended into suicide. The secret would remain safe, but Smith might not.

The Captain hid the books for the last time and slowly made his way to the bunk where Smith was kept strapped down. Smith was rigid within his straps with his horrified gaze turned to the ceiling. "Forgive us our trespasses," he muttered again and again.

Amen thought the Captain. He stayed with Smith for a long time before returning to his duties.

The End



-- helen (never@mind.me), March 15, 2002

Answers

My deepest apologies to Lon! The raw, unedited version was posted in pieces. I cleaned up the typos and thought to resubmit the whole thing in one chunk. I thought I could preserve Lon's posts, but somehow I screwed up. Kinda like a Peacekeeper.

I'm deeply distressed ... I liked have my own sycophant...

-- helen (bad@mistake.real.bad), March 15, 2002.


Typo typo typo, a jealous mule jogs my elbow continually.

I meant, I liked having my own syncophant.

-- helen (jealous@mules.make.dangerous.playfellows), March 15, 2002.


Just never you mind losin' my comments. I'll say it again - this is a great story! You just keep gettin' better and better -and I'm not just saying that because I'm a such groveling minion.

(check your enail )

-- Lon Frank (lgal@exp.net), March 15, 2002.


I sent an enail once ..... but I forgot to include the hammer when I went to the Post Office to mail it.

-- R. A. Cook, PE (Marietta, GA) (racookpe@earthlink.net), March 16, 2002.

Helen, I've read published short stories not nearly as good as this one. You oughta go public!

-- Tricia the Canuck (jayles@telusplanet.net), March 16, 2002.


blush...

This story also lacks mule. He's getting sulky...

This story started when I was outside raking leaves. Only my version had Patterson for a protagonist, Enet as a secretive villain, and a horror-story ending.

But I could see the face of Enet, and his eyes, and the sorrow in his eyes. Then I let Enet lead the Recounting, and the story wrote itself in a matter of hours.

What interested me personally was the idea of the effect of helplessness in the face of brutalization; and how the individual, or the society, or in the case of Nosri a whole race, can be forced to make their victimization the central theme of their self- identity. The issue of self-identity leads to an endless re- enactment of the brutality of the past. When given no recourse but to withstand the brutality, the victim constructs a reason for it -- self-blame. And I wondered what it could do to an entire world, and I wondered what the revelation of the truth would do to someone with a different, but equally powerful, ethos that was based on much the same theme (Smith).

So I typed, and Enet rubbed the mule's ears while he dictated. And I'm awfully glad you liked it! :)

-- helen (another@story.lurks), March 16, 2002.


OH BOY!!!!!!! A story! :-)

-- Gayla (lots@of.catching up to do), March 17, 2002.

"Oh Boy" is right Gayla.

Thanks Helen. Nobodyís ever dedicated anything to me before--- what a story--- and what an Honor!!!!

Just wanted to let all youz guyz know that Iím doing a totally different job now, and am about halfway through this 'assignment' which should be over in about 45 more days- then Iíll be seeing more of everyone again (including my own family - Sheesh !!!!) at least until this coming September when Iíll probably be called back for my next Ďassignmentí. I guess you could say that what happened last September really ended up changing what I do in life. Itís a big change - one that requires Ďsacrificesí. So Iíll mostly be lurking here and there until May. Anyway, thanks for thinking of me and for the story.

-- (sonofdust@hi.gang), March 17, 2002.


Rob, I hope your assignment is very, very safe!

-- helen (another@story.percolating), March 17, 2002.

(((((Rob))))) So glad you checked in and you're OK. I understand about the job situation. Things have really changed for us since Enron went under.

Helen, the story is outstanding! I hope someday you can live in a high-rise condominium with a butler and a maid. You'll sit around all day eating bon-bons and writing stories while they attend to your every whim. You'll be one of the hottest, sought after authors on the planet. I can even see your name in lights.... "Helen the Mule Kisser." ;-) Don't forget all of us little people when you become famous and make one of those acceptance speeches.

-- Gayla (privacy@please.com), March 18, 2002.



If I get rich and famous, I'll spring for an old folks home just for FRLians, where we can sit around all day in our jammies and eat bon bons and tell lies ... er ... stories.

I'm sorry Enron got to you, Gayla.

-- helen (scandals@rumours.lies), March 18, 2002.


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