Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

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And he saw a vision of armor. The armor was not his own skin; it was stronger than plasteel. Nothing penetrated his armor — not knife or poison or sand, not the dust of the desert or its desiccating heat. In his right hand he carried the power to make the Coriolis storm, to shake the earth and erode it into nothing. His eyes were fixed upon the Golden Path and in his left hand he carried the scepter of absolute mastery. And beyond the Golden Path, his eyes looked into eternity which he knew to be the food of his soul and of his everlasting flesh. -Heighia, My Brother’s Dream from The Book of Ghanima

“It’d be better for me never to become Emperor,” Leto said. “Oh, I don’t imply that I’ve made my father’s mistake and peered into the future with a glass of spice. I say this thing out of selfishness. My sister and I desperately need a time of freedom when we can learn how to live with what we are.” He fell silent, stared questioningly at the Lady Jessica. He’d spoken his piece as he and Ghanima had agreed. Now what would be their grandmother’s response? Jessica studied her grandson in the low light of glowglobes which illuminated her quarters in Sietch Tabr. It was still early morning of her second day here and she’d already had disturbing reports that the twins had spent a night of vigil outside the sietch. What were they doing? She had not slept well and she felt fatigue acids demanding that she come down from the hyper-level which had sustained her through all the demanding necessities since that crucial performance at the spaceport. This was the sietch of her nightmares — but outside, that was not the desert she remembered. Where have all the flowers come from? And the air around her felt too damp. Stillsuit discipline was lax among the young. “What are you, child, that you need time to learn about yourself?” she asked. He shook his head gently, knowing it to be a bizarre gesture of adulthood on a child’s body, reminding himself that he must keep this woman off balance. “First, I am not a child. Oh . . .” He touched his chest. “This is a child’s body; no doubt of that. But I am not a child.” Jessica chewed her upper lip, disregarding what this betrayed. Her Duke, so many years dead on this accursed planet, had laughed at her when she did this. “Your one unbridled response,” he’d called that chewing of the lip. “It tells me that you’re disturbed, and I must kiss those lips to still their fluttering.” Now this grandson who bore the name of her Duke shocked her into heart-pounding stillness merely by smiling and saying: “You are disturbed; I see it by the fluttering of those lips.” It required the most profound discipline of her Bene Gesserit training to restore a semblance of calm. She managed: “Do you taunt me?” “Taunt you? Never. But I must make it clear to you how much we differ. Let me remind you of that sietch orgy so long ago when the Old Reverend Mother gave you her lives and her memories. She tuned herself to you and gave you that . . . that long chain of sausages, each one a person. You have them yet. So you know something of what Ghanima and I experience.” “And Alia?” Jessica asked, testing him. “Didn’t you discuss that with Ghani?” “I wish to discuss it with you.” “Very well. Alia denied what she was and became that which she most feared. The past-within cannot be relegated to the unconscious. That is a dangerous course for any human, but for us who are pre-born, it is worse than death. And that is all I will say about Alia.” “So you’re not a child,” Jessica said. “I’m millions of years old. That requires adjustments which humans have never before been called upon to make.” Jessica nodded, calmer now, much more cautious than she’d been with Ghanima. And where was Ghanima? Why had Leto come here alone? “Well, grandmother,” he said, “are we Abominations or are we the hope of the Atreides?” Jessica ignored the question. “Where is your sister?” “She distracts Alia to keep us from being disturbed. It is necessary. But Ghani would say nothing more to you than I’ve said. Didn’t you observe that yesterday?” “What I observed yesterday is my affair. Why do you prattle about Abomination?” “Prattle? Don’t give me your Bene Gesserit cant, grandmother. I’ll feed it back to you, word for word, right out of your own memories. I want more than the fluttering of your lips.” Jessica shook her head, feeling the coldness of this . . . person who carried her blood. The resources at his disposal daunted her. She tried to match his tone, asked: “What do you know of my intentions?” He sniffed. “You needn’t inquire whether I’ve made the mistake my father made. I’ve not looked outside our garden of time — at least not by seeking it out. Leave absolute knowledge of the future to those moments of deja vu which any human may experience. I know the trap of prescience. My father’s life tells me what I need to know about it. No, grandmother: to know the future absolutely is to be trapped into that future absolutely. It collapses time. Present becomes future. I require more freedom than that.” Jessica felt her tongue twitch with unspoken words. How could she respond to him with something he didn’t already know? This was monstrous! He’s me! He’s my beloved Leto! This thought shocked her. Momentarily she wondered if the childish mask might not lapse into those dear features and resurrect . . . No! Leto lowered his head, looked upward to study her. Yes, she could be maneuvered after all. He said: “When you think of prescience, which I hope is rarely, you’re probably no different from any other. Most people imagine how nice it would be to know tomorrow’s quotation on the price of whale fur. Or whether a Harkonnen will once more govern their homeworld of Giedi Prime? But of course we know the Harkonnens without prescience, don’t we, grandmother?” She refused to rise to his baiting. Of course he would know about the cursed Harkonnen blood in his ancestry. “Who is a Harkonnen?” he asked, goading. “Who is Beast Rabban? Any one of us, eh? But I digress. I speak the popular myth of prescience: to know the future absolutely! All of it! What fortunes could be made — and lost — on such absolute knowledge, eh? The rabble believes this. They believe that if a little bit is good, more must be better. How excellent! And if you handed one of them the complete scenario of his life, the unvarying dialogue up to his moment of death — what a hellish gift that’d be. What utter boredom! Every living instant he’d be replaying what he knew absolutely. No deviation. He could anticipate every response, every utterance — over and over and over and over and over and . . .” Leto shook his head. “Ignorance has its advantages. A universe of surprises is what I pray for!” It was a long speech and, as she listened, Jessica marveled at how his mannerisms, his intonations, echoed his father — her lost son. Even the ideas: these were things Paul might have said. “You remind me of your father,” she said. “Is that hurtful to you?” “In a way, but it’s reassuring to know he lives on in you.” “How little you understand of how he lives on in me.” Jessica found his tone flat but dripping bitterness. She lifted her chin to look directly at him. “Or how your Duke lives in me,” Leto said. “Grandmother, Ghanima is you! She’s you to such an extent that your life holds not a single secret from her up to the instant you bore our father. And me! What a catalogue of fleshly recordings am I. There are moments when it is too much to bear. You come here to judge us? You come here to judge Alia? Better that we judge you!” Jessica demanded answer of herself and found none. What was he doing? Why this emphasis on his difference? Did he court rejection? Had he reached Alia’s condition — Abomination? “This disturbs you,” he said. “It disturbs me.” She permitted herself a futile shrug. “Yes, it disturbs me — and for reasons you know full well. I’m sure you’ve reviewed my Bene Gesserit training. Ghanima admits it. I know Alia . . . did. You know the consequences of your difference.” He peered upward at her with disturbing intensity. “Almost, we did not take this tack with you,” he said, and there was a sense of her own fatigue in his voice. “We know the fluttering of your lips as your lover knew them. Any bedchamber endearment your Duke whispered is ours to recall at will. You’ve accepted this intellectually, no doubt. But I warn you that intellectual acceptance is not enough. If any of us becomes Abomination — it could be you within us who creates it! Or my father . . . or mother! Your Duke! Any one of you could possess us — and the condition would be the same.” Jessica felt a burning in her chest, dampness in her eyes. “Leto . . . ” she managed, allowing herself to use his name at last. She found the pain less than she’d imagined it would be, forced herself to continue. “What is it you want of me?” “I would teach my grandmother.” “Teach me what?” “Last night, Ghani and I played the mother-father roles almost to our destruction, but we learned much. There are things one can know, given an awareness of conditions. Actions can be predicted. Alia, now — it’s well nigh certainty that she’s plotting to abduct you.” Jessica blinked, shocked by the swift accusation. She knew this trick well, had employed it many times: set a person up along one line of reasoning, then introduce the shocker from another line. She recovered with a sharp intake of breath. “I know what Alia has been doing . . . what she is, but . . .” “Grandmother, pity her. Use your heart as well as your intelligence. You’ve done that before. You pose a threat, and Alia wants the Imperium for her own — at least, the thing she has become wants this.” “How do I know this isn’t another Abomination speaking?” He shrugged. “That’s where your heart comes in. Ghani and I know how she fell. It isn’t easy to adjust to the clamor of that inner multitude. Suppress their egos and they will come crowding back every time you invoke a memory. One day –” He swallowed in a dry throat. “– a strong one from that inner pack decides it’s time to share the flesh.” “And there’s nothing you can do?” She asked the question although she feared the answer. “We believe there is something . . . yes. We cannot succumb to the spice; that’s paramount. And we must not suppress the past entirely. We must use it, make an amalgam of it. Finally we will mix them all into ourselves. We will, no longer be our original selves — but we will not be possessed.” “You speak of a plot to abduct me.” “It’s obvious. Wensicia is ambitious for her son. Alia is ambitious for herself, and . . .” “Alia and Farad’n?” “That’s not indicated,” he said. “But Alia and Wensicia run parallel courses right now. Wensicia has a sister in Alia’s house. What simpler thing than a message to –” “You know of such a message?” “As though I’d seen it and read its every word.” “But you’ve not seen such a message?” “No need. I have only to know that the Atreides are all here together on Arrakis. All of the water in one cistern.” He gestured to encompass the planet. “House Corrino wouldn’t dare attack us here!” “Alia would profit if they did.” A sneer in his voice provoked her. “I won’t be patronized by my own grandson!” she said. “Then dammit, woman, stop thinking of me as your grandson! Think of me as your Duke Leto!” Tone and facial expression, even the abrupt, hand gesture, were so exact that she fell silent in confusion. In a dry, remote voice, Leto said: “I tried to prepare you. Give me that, at least.” “Why would Alia abduct me?” “To blame it on House Corrino, of course.” “I don’t believe it. Even for her, this would be . . . monstrous! Too dangerous! How could she do it without . . . I cannot believe this!” “When it happens, you’ll believe. Ahh, grandmother, Ghani and I have but to eavesdrop within ourselves and we know. It’s simple self-preservation. How else can we even guess at the mistakes being made around us?” “I do not for a minute accept that abduction is part of Alia’s –” “Gods below! How can you, a Bene Gesserit, be this dense? The whole Imperium suspects why you’re here. Wensicia’s propagandists are all prepared to discredit you. Alia can’t wait for that to happen. If you go down, House Atreides could suffer a mortal blow.” “What does the whole Imperium suspect?” She measured out the words as coldly as possible, knowing she could not sway this unchild with any wile of Voice. “The Lady Jessica plans to breed those twins together!” he rasped. “That’s what the Sisterhood wants. Incest!” She blinked. “Idle rumor.” She swallowed, “The Bene Gesserits will not let such a rumor run wild in the Imperium. We still have some influence. Remember that.” “Rumor? What rumor? You’ve certainly held your options open on interbreeding us.” He shook his head as she started to speak. “Don’t deny it. Let us pass puberty still living in the same household and you in that household, and your influence will be no more than a rag waved in the face of a sandworm.” “Do you believe us to be such utter fools?” Jessica asked. “Indeed I do. Your Sisterhood is nothing but a bunch of damn fool old women who haven’t thought beyond their precious breeding program! Ghani and I know the leverage they have. Do you think us fools?” “Leverage?” “They know you’re a Harkonnen! It’ll be in their breeding records: Jessica out of Tanidia Nerus by the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. That record accidentally made public would pull your teeth to –” “You think the Sisterhood would stoop to blackmail?” “I know they would. Oh, they coated it sweetly. They told you to investigate the rumors about your daughter. They fed your curiosity and your fears. They invoked your sense of responsibility, made you feel guilty because you’d fled back to Caladan. And they offered you the prospect of saving your grandchildren.” Jessica could only stare at him in silence. It was as though he’d eavesdropped on the emotional meetings with her Proctors from the Sisterhood. She felt completely subdued by his words, and now began to accept the possibility that he spoke truth when he said Alia planned abduction. “You see, grandmother, I have a difficult decision to make,” he said. “Do I follow the Atreides mystique? Do I live for my subjects . . . and die for them? Or do I choose another course — one which would permit me to live thousands of years?” Jessica recoiled involuntarily. These words spoken so easily touched on a subject the Bene Gesserits made almost unthinkable. Many Reverend Mothers could choose that course . . . or try it. The manipulation of internal chemistry was available to initiates of the Sisterhood. But if one did it, sooner or later all would try it. There could be no concealing such an accumulation of ageless women. They knew for a certainty that this course would lead them to destruction. Short-lived humanity would turn upon them. No — it was unthinkable. “I don’t like the trend of your thoughts,” she said. “You don’t understand my thoughts,” he said. “Ghani and I . . .” He shook his head. “Alia had it in her grasp and threw it away.” “Are you sure of that? I’ve already sent word to the Sisterhood that Alia practices the unthinkable. Look at her! She’s not aged a day since last I . . .” “Oh, that!” He dismissed Bene Gesserit body balance with a wave of his hand. “I’m speaking of something else — a perfection of being far beyond anything humans have ever before achieved.” Jessica remained silent, aghast at how easily he’d lifted her disclosure from her. He’d know surely that such a message represented a death sentence on Alia. And no matter how he changed the words, he could only be talking about committing the same offense. Didn’t he know the peril of his words? “You must explain,” she said finally. “How?” he asked. “Unless you understand that Time isn’t what it appears, I can’t even begin to explain. My father suspected it. He stood at the edge of realization, but fell back. Now it’s up to Ghani and me.” “I insist that you explain,” Jessica said and she fingered the poisoned needle she held beneath a fold of her robe. It was the gom jabbar, so deadly that the slightest prick of it killed within seconds. And she thought: They warned me I might have to use it. The thought sent the muscles of her arm trembling in waves and she was thankful for the concealing robe. “Very well,” he sighed. “First, as to Time: there is no difference between ten thousand years and one year; no difference between one hundred thousand years and a heartbeat. No difference. That is the first fact about Time. And the second fact: the entire universe with all of its Time is within me.” “What nonsense is this?” she demanded. “You see? You don’t understand. I will try to explain in another way, then.” He raised his right hand to illustrate, moving it as he spoke. “We go forward, we come back.” “Those words explain nothing!” “That is correct,” he said. “There are things which words cannot explain. You must experience them without words. But you are not prepared for such a venture, just as when you look at me you do not see me.” “But . . . I’m looking directly at you. Of course I see you!” She glared at him. His words reflected knowledge of the Zensunni Codex as she’d been taught it in the Bene Gesserit schools: play of words to confuse one’s understanding of philosophy. “Some things occur beyond your control,” he said. “How does that explain this . . . this perfection which is so far beyond other human experiences?” He nodded. “If one delays old age or death by the use of melange or by that learned adjustment of fleshly balance which you Bene Gesserits so rightly fear, such a delay invokes only an illusion of control. Whether one walks rapidly through the sietch or slowly, one traverses the sietch. And that passage of time is experienced internally.” “Why do you bandy words this way? I cut my wisdom teeth on such nonsense long before even your father was born.” “But only the teeth grew,” he said. “Words! Words!” “Ahhh, you’re very close!” “Hah!” “Grandmother?” “Yes?” He held his silence for a long space. Then: “You see? You can still respond as yourself.” He smiled at her. “But you cannot see past the shadows. I am here.” Again he smiled. “My father came very near to this. When he lived, he lived, but when he died, he failed to die.” “What’re you saying?” “Show me his body!” “Do you think this Preacher . . .” “Possible, but even so, that is not his body.” “You’ve explained nothing,” she accused. “Just as I warned you.” “Then why . . .” “You asked. You had to be shown. Now let us return to Alia and her plan of abduction for –” “Are you planning the unthinkable?” she demanded, holding the poisonous gom jabbar at the ready beneath her robe. “Will you be her executioner?” he asked, his voice deceptively mild. He pointed a finger at the hand beneath her robe. “Do you think she’ll permit you to use that? Or do you think I’d let you use it?” Jessica found she could not swallow. “In answer to your question,” he said, “I do not plan the unthinkable. I am not that stupid. But I am shocked at you. You dare judge Alia. Of course she’s broken the precious Bene Gesserit commandment! What’d you expect? You ran out on her, left her as queen here in all but name. All of that power! So you ran back to Caladan to nurse your wounds in Gurney’s arms. Good enough. But who are you to judge Alia?” “I tell you, I will not dis –” “Oh, shut up!” He looked away from her in disgust. But his words had been uttered in that special Bene Gesserit way — the controlling Voice. It silenced her as though a hand had been clapped over her mouth. She thought: Who’d know how to hit me with Voice better than this one? It was a mitigating argument which eased her wounded feelings. As many times as she’d used Voice on others, she’d never expected to be susceptible to it . . . not ever again . . . not since the school days when . . . He turned back to her. “I’m sorry. I just happen to know how blindly you can be expected to react when –” “Blindly? Me?” She was more outraged by this than she’d been by his exquisite use of Voice against her. “You,” he said. “Blindly. If you’ve any honesty left in you at all, you’ll recognize your own reactions. I call your name and you say, ‘Yes?’ I silence your tongue. I invoke all your Bene Gesserit myths. Look inward the way you were taught. That, at least, is something you can do for your –” “How dare you! What do you know of . . .” Her voice trailed off. Of course he knew! “Look inward, I say!” His voice was imperious. Again, his voice enthralled her. She found her senses stilled, felt a quickening of breath. Just beyond awareness lurked a pounding heart, the panting of . . . Abruptly she realized that the quickened breath, the pounding heart, were not latent, not held at bay by her Bene Gesserit control. Eyes widening in shocked awareness, she felt her own flesh obeying other commands. Slowly she recovered her poise, but the realization remained. This unchild had been playing her like a fine instrument throughout their interview. “Now you know how profoundly you were conditioned by your precious Bene Gesserits,” he said. She could only nod. Her belief in words lay shattered. Leto had forced her to look her physical universe squarely in the face, and she’d come away shaken, her mind running with a new awareness. “Show me his body!” He’d shown her her own body as though it were newborn. Not since her earliest schooling days on Wallach, not since those terrifying days before the Duke’s buyers came for her, not since then had she felt such trembling uncertainty about her next moments. “You will allow yourself to be abducted,” Leto said. “But –” “I’m not asking for discussion on this point,” he said. “You will allow it. Think of this as a command from your Duke. You’ll see the purpose when it’s done. You’re going to confront a very interesting student.” Leto stood, nodded. He said: “Some actions have an end but no beginning; some begin but do not end. It all depends upon where the observer is standing.” Turning, he left her chambers. In the second anteroom, Leto met Ghanima hurrying into their private quarters. She stopped as she saw him, said: “Alia’s busy with the Convocation of the Faith.” She looked a question at the passage which led to Jessica’s quarters.

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Categories: Herbert, Frank