Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

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I hear the wind blowing across the desert and I see the moons of a winter night rising tike great ships in the void. To them I make my vow: I will be resolute and make an art of government; I will balance my inherited past and become a perfect storehouse of my relic memories. And I will be known for kindliness more than for knowledge. My face will shine down the corridors of time for as long as humans exist. -Leto’s Vow, After Harq al-Ada

When she had been quite young, Alia Atreides had practiced for hours in the prana-bindu trance, trying to strengthen her own private personality against the onslaught of all those others. She knew the problem — melange could not be escaped in a sietch warren. It infested everything: food, water, air, even the fabrics against which she cried at night. Very early she recognized the uses of the sietch orgy where the tribe drank the death-water of a worm. In the orgy, Fremen released the accumulated pressures of their own genetic memories, and they denied those memories. She saw her companions being temporarily possessed in the orgy. For her, there was no such release, no denial. She had possessed full consciousness long before birth. With that consciousness came a cataclysmic awareness of her circumstances: womb-locked into intense, inescapable contact with the personas of all her ancestors and of those identities death-transmitted in spice-tau to the Lady Jessica. Before birth, Alia had contained every bit of the knowledge required in a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother — plus much, much more from all those others. In that knowledge lay recognition of a terrible reality — Abomination. The totality of that knowledge weakened her. The pre-born did not escape. Still she’d fought against the more terrifying of her ancestors, winning for a time a Pyrrhic victory which had lasted through childhood. She’d known a private personality, but it had no immunity against casual intrusions from those who lived their reflected lives through her. Thus will I be one day, she thought. This thought chilled her. To walk and dissemble through the life of a child from her own loins, intruding, grasping at consciousness to add a quantum of experience. Fear stalked her childhood. It persisted into puberty. She had fought it, never asking for help. Who would understand the help she required? Not her mother, who could never quite drive away that specter of Bene Gesserit judgment: the pre-born were Abomination. There had come that night when her brother walked alone into the desert seeking death, giving himself to Shai-Hulud as blind Fremen were supposed to do. Within the month, Alia had been married to Paul’s swordmaster, Duncan Idaho, a mentat brought back from the dead by the arts of the Tleilaxu. Her mother fled back to Caladan. Paul’s twins were Alia’s legal charge. And she controlled the Regency. Pressures of responsibility had driven the old fears away and she had been wide open to the inner lives, demanding their advice, plunging into spice trance in search of guiding visions. The crisis came on a day like many others in the spring month of Laab, a clear morning at Muad’Dib’s Keep with a cold wind blowing down from the pole. Alia still wore the yellow for mourning, the color of the sterile sun. More and more these past few weeks she’d been denying the inner voice of her mother, who tended to sneer at preparation for the coming Holy Days to be centered on the Temple. The inner-awareness of Jessica faded, faded . . . sinking away at last with a faceless demand that Alia would be better occupied working on the Atreides Law. New lives began to clamor for their moment of consciousness. Alia felt that she had opened a bottomless pit, and faces arose out of it like a swarm of locusts, until she came at last to focus on one who was like a beast: the old Baron Harkonnen. In terrified outrage she had screamed out against all of that inner clamor, winning a temporary silence. On this morning, Alia took her pre-breakfast walk through the Keep’s roof garden. In a new attempt to win the inner battle, she tried to hold her entire awareness within Choda’s admonition to the Zensunni: “Leaving the ladder, one may fall upward!” But morning’s glow along the cliffs of the Shield Wall kept distracting her. Plantings of resilient fuzz-grass filled the garden’s pathways. When she looked away from the Shield Wall she saw dew on the grass, the catch of all the moisture which had passed here in the night. It reflected her own passage as of a multitude. That multitude made her giddy. Each reflection carried the imprint of a face from the inner multitude. She tried to focus her mind on what the grass implied. The presence of plentiful dew told her how far the ecological transformation had progressed on Arrakis. The climate of these northern latitudes was growing warmer; atmospheric carbon dioxide was on the increase. She reminded herself how many new hectares would be put under green plants in the coming year — and it required thirty-seven thousand cubic feet of water to irrigate just one hectare. Despite every attempt at mundane thoughts, she could not drive away the sharklike circling of all those others within her. She put her hands to her forehead and pressed. Her temple guards had brought her a prisoner to judge at sunset the previous day: one Essas Paymon, a dark little man ostensibly in the pay of a house minor, the Nebiros, who traded in holy artifacts and small manufactured items for decoration. Actually Paymon was known to be a CHOAM spy whose task was to assess the yearly spice crop. Alia had been on the point of sending him into the dungeons when he’d protested loudly “the injustice of the Atreides.” That could have brought him an immediate sentence of death on the hanging tripod, but Alia had been caught by his boldness. She’d spoken sternly from her Throne of Judgment, trying to frighten him into revealing more than he’d already told her inquisitors. “Why are our spice crops of such interest to the Combine Honnete?” she demanded. “Tell us and we may spare you.” “I only collect something for which there is a market,” Paymon said. “I know nothing of what is done with my harvest.” “And for this petty profit you interfere with our royal plans?” Alia demanded. “Royalty never considers that we might have plans, too,” he countered. Alia, captivated by his desperate audacity, said: “Essas Paymon, will you work for me?” At this a grin whitened his dark face, and he said; “You were about to obliterate me without a qualm. What is my new value that you should suddenly make a market for it?” “You’ve a simple and practical value,” she said. “You’re bold and you’re for hire to the highest bidder. I can bid higher than any other in the Empire.” At which, he named a remarkable sum which he required for his services, but Alia laughed and countered with a figure she considered more reasonable and undoubtedly far more than he’d ever before received. She added: “And, of course, I throw in the gift of your life upon which, I presume, you place an even more inordinate value.” “A bargain!” Paymon cried and, at a signal from Alia, was led away by her priestly Master of Appointments, Ziarenko Javid. Less than an hour later, as Alia prepared to leave the Judgment Hall, Javid came hurrying to report that Paymon had been overheard to mutter the fateful lines from the Orange Catholic Bible: “Maleficos non patieris vivere. ” “Thou shall not suffer a witch to live,” Alia translated. So that was his gratitude! He was one of those who plotted against her very life! In a flush of rage such as she’d never before experienced, she ordered Pay men’s immediate execution, sending his body to the Temple deathstill where his water, at least, would be of some value in the priestly coffers. And all night long Paymon’s dark face haunted her. She tried all of her tricks against this persistent, accusing image, reciting the Bu Ji from the Fremen Book of Kreos: “Nothing occurs! Nothing occurs!” But Paymon took her through a wearing night into this giddy new day, where she could see that his face had joined those in the jeweled reflections from the dew. A female guard called her to breakfast from the roof door behind a low hedge of mimosa. Alia sighed. She felt small choice between hells: the outcry within her mind or the outcry from her attendants — all were pointless voices, but persistent in their demands, hourglass noises that she would like to silence with the edge of a knife. Ignoring the guard, Alia stared across the roof garden toward the Shield Wall. A bahada had left its broad outwash like a detrital fan upon the sheltered floor of her domain. The delta of sand spread out before her gaze, outlined by the morning sun. It came to her that an uninitiated eye might see that broad fan as evidence of a river’s flow, but it was no more than the place where her brother had shattered the Shield Wall with the Atreides Family atomics, opening a path from the desert for the sandworms which had carried his Fremen troops to shocking victory over his Imperial predecessor, Shaddam IV. Now a broad qanat flowed with water on the Shield Wall’s far side to block off sandworm intrusions. Sandworms would not cross open water; it poisoned them. Would that I had such a barrier within my mind, she thought. The thought increased her giddy sensation of being separated from reality. Sandworms! Sandworms! Her memory presented a collection of sandworm images: mighty Shai-Hulud, the demiurge of the Fremen, deadly beast of the desert’s depths whose outpourings included the priceless spice. How odd it was, this sandworm, to grow from a flat and leathery sandtrout, she thought. They were like the flocking multitude within her awareness. The sandtrout, when linked edge to edge against the planet’s bedrock, formed living cisterns; they held back the water that their sandworm vector might live. Alia could feel the analogy: some of those others within her mind held back dangerous forces which could destroy her. Again the guard called her to breakfast, a note of impatience apparent. Angrily Alia turned, waved a dismissal signal. The guard obeyed, but the roof door slammed. At the sound of the slamming door, Alia felt herself caught by everything she had attempted to deny. The other lives welled up within her like a hideous tide. Each demanding life pressed its face against her vision centers — a cloud of faces. Some presented mange-spotted skin, other were callous and full of sooty shadows; there were mouths like moist lozenges. The pressure of the swarm washed over her in a current which demanded that she float free and plunge into them. “No,” she whispered. “No . . . no . . . no . . .” She would have collapsed onto the path but for a bench beside her which accepted her sagging body. She tried to sit, could not, stretched out on the cold plasteel, still whispering denial. The tide continued to rise within her. She felt attuned to the slightest show of attention, aware of the risk, but alert for every exclamation from those guarded mouths which clamored within her. They were a cacophony of demand for her attention: “Me! Me!” “No, me!” And she knew that if she once gave her attention, gave it completely, she would be lost. To behold one face out of the multitude and follow the voice of that face would be to be held by the egocentrism which shared her existence. “Prescience does this to you,” a voice whispered. She covered her ears with her hands, thinking: I’m not prescient! The trance doesn’t work for me! But the voice persisted: “It might work, if you had help.” “No . . . no,” she whispered. Other voices wove around her mind: “I, Agamemnon, your ancestor, demand audience!” “No . . . no. “She pressed her hands against her ears until the flesh answered her with pain. An insane cackle within her head asked: “What has become of Ovid? Simple. He’s John Bartlett’s ibid!” The names were meaningless in her extremity. She wanted to scream against them and against all the other voices but could not find her own voice. Her guard, sent back to the roof by senior attendants, peered once more from the doorway behind the mimosa, saw Alia on the bench, spoke to a companion: “Ahhh, she is resting. You noted that she didn’t sleep well last night. It is good for her to take the zaha, the morning siesta.” Alia did not hear her guard. Her awareness was caught by shrieks of singing: “Merry old birds are we, hurrah!” the voices echoed against the inside of her skull and she thought: I’m going insane. I’m losing my mind. Her feet made feeble fleeing motions against the bench. She felt that if she could only command her body to run, she might escape. She had to escape lest any part of that inner tide sweep her into silence, forever contaminating her soul. But her body would not obey. The mightiest forces in the Imperial universe would obey her slightest whim, but her body would not. An inner voice chuckled. Then: “From one viewpoint, child, each incident of creation represents a catastrophe.” It was a basso voice which rumbled against her eyes, and again that chuckle as though deriding its own pontification. “My dear child, I will help you, but you must help me in return.” Against the swelling background clamor behind that basso voice, Alia spoke through chattering teeth: “Who . . . who . . .” A face formed itself upon her awareness. It was a smiling face of such fatness that it could have been a baby’s except for the glittering eagerness of the eyes. She tried to pull back, but achieved only a longer view which included the body attached to that face. The body was grossly, immensely fat, clothed in a robe which revealed by subtle bulges beneath it that this fat had required the support of portable suspensors. “You see,” the basso voice rumbled, “it is only your maternal grandfather. You know me. I was the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.” “You’re . . . you’re dead!” she gasped. “But, of course, my dear! Most of us within you are dead. But none of the others are really willing to help you. They don’t understand you.” “Go away,” she pleaded. “Oh, please go away.” “But you need help, granddaughter,” the Baron’s voice argued. How remarkable he looks, she thought, watching the projection of the Baron against her closed eyelids. “I’m willing to help you,” the Baron wheedled. “The others in here would only fight to take over your entire consciousness. Any one of them would try to drive you out. But me . . . I want only a little corner of my own.” Again the other lives within her lifted their clamor. The tide once more threatened to engulf her and she heard her mother’s voice screeching. And Alia thought: She’s not dead. “Shut up!” the Baron commanded. Alia felt her own desires reinforcing that command, making it felt throughout her awareness. Inner silence washed through her like a cool bath and she felt her hammering heart begin slowing to its normal pace. Soothingly the Baron’s voice intruded: “You see? Together, we’re invincible. You help me and I help you.” “What . . . what do you want?” she whispered. A pensive look came over the fat face against her closed eyelids. “Ahhh, my darling granddaughter,” he said, “I wish only a few simple pleasures. Give me but an occasional moment of contact with your senses. No one else need ever know. Let me feel but a small corner of your life when, for example, you are enfolded in the arms of your lover. Is that not a small price to ask?” “Y-yes.” “Good, good,” the Baron chortled. “In return, my darling granddaughter, I can serve you in many ways. I can advise you, help you with my counsel. You will be invincible within and without. You will sweep away all opposition. History will forget your brother and cherish you. The future will be yours.” “You . . . won’t let . . . the . . . the others take over?” “They cannot stand against us! Singly we can be overcome, but together we command. I will demonstrate. Listen.” And the Baron fell silent, withdrawing his image, his inner presence. Not one memory, face, or voice of the other lives intruded. Alia allowed herself a trembling sigh. Accompanying that sigh came a thought. It forced itself into her awareness as though it were her own, but she sensed silent voices behind it. The old Baron was evil. He murdered your father. He would’ve killed you and Paul. He tried to and failed. The Baron’s voice came to her without a face: “Of course I would’ve killed you. Didn’t you stand in my way? But that argument is ended. You’ve won it, child! You’re the new truth.” She felt herself nodding and her cheek moved scratchingly against the harsh surface of the bench. His words were reasonable, she thought. A Bene Gesserit precept reinforced the reasonable character of his words: “The purpose of argument is to change the nature of truth.” Yes . . . that was the way the Bene Gesserit would have it. “Precisely!” the Baron said. “And I am dead while you are alive. I have only a fragile existence. I’m a mere memory-self within you. I am yours to command. And how little I ask in return for the profound advice which is mine to deliver.” “What do you advise me to do now?” she asked, testing. “You’re worried about the judgment you gave last night,” he said. “You wonder if Paymon’s words were reported truthfully. Perhaps Javid saw in this Paymon a threat to his position of trust. Is this not the doubt which assails you?” “Y-yes.” “And your doubt is based on acute observation, is it not? Javid behaves with increasing intimacy toward your person. Even Duncan has noted it, hasn’t he?” “You know he has.” “Very well, then. Take Javid for your lover and –” “No!” “You worry about Duncan? But your husband is a mentat mystic. He cannot be touched or harmed by activities of the flesh. Have you not felt sometimes how distant he is from you?” “B-but he . . .” “Duncan’s mentat part would understand should he ever have need to know the device you employed in destroying Javid.” “Destroy . . .” “Certainly! Dangerous tools may be used, but they should be cast aside when they grow too dangerous.” “Then . . . why should . . . I mean . . .” “Ahhh, you precious dunce! Because of the value contained in the lesson.” “I don’t understand.” “Values, my dear grandchild, depend for their acceptance upon their success. Javid’s obedience must be unconditional, his acceptance of your authority absolute, and his –” “The morality of this lesson escapes –” “Don’t be dense, grandchild! Morality must always be based on practicality. Render unto Caesar and all that nonsense. A victory is useless unless it reflects your deepest wishes. Is it not true that you have admired Javid’s manliness?” Alia swallowed, hating the admission, but forced to it by her complete nakedness before the inner-watcher. “Ye-es.” “Good!” How jovial the word sounded within her head. “Now we begin to understand each other. When you have him helpless, then, in your bed, convinced that you are his thrall, you will ask him about Paymon. Do it jokingly: a rich laugh between you. And when he admits the deception, you will slip a crysknife between his ribs. Ahhh, the flow of blood can add so much to your satis –” “No,” she whispered, her mouth dry with horror. “No . . . no . . . no . . .” “Then I will do it for you,” the Baron argued. “It must be done; you admit that. If you but set up the conditions, I will assume temporary sway over . . .” “No!” “Your fear is so transparent, granddaughter. My sway of your senses cannot be else but temporary. There are others, now, who could mimic you to a perfection that . . . But you know this. With me, ahhh, people would spy out my presence immediately. You know the Fremen Law for those possessed. You’d be slain out of hand. Yes — even you. And you know I do not want that to happen. I’ll take care of Javid for you and, once it’s done, I’ll step aside. You need only . . .” “How is this good advice?” “It rids you of a dangerous tool. And, child, it sets up the working relationship between us, a relationship which can only teach you well about future judgments which –” “Teach me?” “Naturally!” Alia put her hands over her eyes, trying to think, knowing that any thought might be known to this presence within her, that a thought might originate with that presence and be taken as her own. “You worry yourself needlessly,” the Baron wheedled. “This Paymon fellow, now, was –” “What I did was wrong! I was tired and acted hastily. I should’ve sought confirmation of –” “You did right! Your judgments cannot be based on any such foolish abstract as that Atreides notion of equality. That’s what kept you sleepless, not Paymon’s death. You made a good decision! He was another dangerous tool. You acted to maintain order in your society. Now there’s a good reason for judgments, not this justice nonsense! There’s no such thing as equal justice anywhere. It’s unsettling to a society when you try to achieve such a false balance.” Alia felt pleasure at this defense of her judgment against Paymon, but shocked at the amoral concept behind the argument. “Equal justice was an Atreides . . . was . . . ” She took her hands from her eyes, but kept her eyes closed. “All of your priestly judges should be admonished about this error,” the Baron argued. “Decisions must be weighed only as to their merit in maintaining an orderly society. Past civilizations without number have foundered on the rocks of equal justice. Such foolishness destroys the natural hierarchies which are far more important. Any individual takes on significance only in his relationship to your total society. Unless that society be ordered in logical steps, no one can find a place in it — not the lowliest or the highest. Come, come, grandchild! You must be the stern mother of your people. It’s your duty to maintain order.” “Everything Paul did was to . . .” “Your brother’s dead, a failure!” “So are you!” “True . . . but with me it was an accident beyond my designing. Come now, let us take care of this Javid as I have outlined for you.” She felt her body grow warm at the thought, spoke quickly: “I must think about it.” And she thought: If it’s done, it’ll be only to put Javid in his place. No need to kill him for that. And the fool might just give himself away . . . in my bed. “To whom do you talk, My Lady?” a voice asked. For a confused moment, Alia thought this another intrusion by those clamorous multitudes within, but recognition of the voice opened her eyes. Ziarenka Valefor, chief of Alia’s guardian amazons, stood beside the bench, a worried frown on her weathered Fremen features. “I speak to my inner voices,” Alia said, sitting up on the bench. She felt refreshed, buoyed up by the silencing of that distracting inner clamor. “Your inner voices, My Lady. Yes.” Ziarenka’s eyes glistened at this information. Everyone knew the Holy Alia drew upon inner resources available to no other person. “Bring Javid to my quarters,” Alia said. “There’s a serious matter I must discuss with him.” “To your quarters, My Lady?” “Yes! To my private chamber.” “As My Lady commands.” The guard turned to obey. “One moment,” Alia said. “Has Master Idaho already gone to Sietch Tabr?” “Yes, My Lady. He left before dawn as you instructed. Do you wish me to send for . . .” “No. I will manage this myself. And Zia, no one must know that Javid is being brought to me. Do it yourself. This is a very serious matter.” The guard touched the crysknife at her waist. “My Lady, is there a threat to –” “Yes, there’s a threat, and Javid may be at the heart of it.” “Ohhh, My Lady, perhaps I should not bring –” “Zia! Do you think me incapable of handling such a one?” A lupine smile touched the guard’s mouth. “Forgive me, My Lady. I will bring him to your private chamber at once, but . . . with My Lady’s permission, I will mount guard outside your door.” “You only,” Alia said. “Yes, My Lady. I go at once.” Alia nodded to herself, watching Ziarenka’s retreating back. Javid was not loved among her guards, then. Another mark against him. But he was still valuable — very valuable. He was her key to Jacurutu and with that place, well . . . “Perhaps you were right, Baron,” she whispered. “You see!” the voice within her chortled. “Ahhh, this will be a pleasant service to you, child, and it’s only the beginning . . .”

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Categories: Herbert, Frank