Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

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Atrocity is recognized as such by victim and perpetrator alike, by all who learn about it at whatever remove. Atrocity has no excuses, no mitigating argument. Atrocity never balances or rectifies the past. Atrocity merely arms the future for more atrocity. It is self-perpetuating upon itself — a barbarous form of incest. Whoever commits atrocity also commits those future atrocities thus bred. -The Apocrypha of Muad’Dib

Shortly after noon, when most of the pilgrims had wandered off to refresh themselves in whatever cooling shade and source of libation they could find. The Preacher entered the great square below Alia’s Temple. He came on the arm of his surrogate eyes, young Assan Tariq. In a pocket beneath his flowing robe, The Preacher carried the black gauze mask he’d worn on Salusa Secundus. It amused him to think that the mask and the boy served the same purpose — disguise. While he needed surrogate eyes, doubts remained alive. Let the myth grow, but keep doubts alive, he thought. No one must discover that the mask was merely cloth, not an Ixian artifact at all. His hand must not slip from Assan Tariq’s bony shoulder. Let The Preacher once walk as the sighted despite his eyeless sockets, and all doubts would dissolve. The small hope he nursed would be dead. Each day he prayed for a change, something different over which he might stumble, but even Salusa Secundus had been a pebble, every aspect known. Nothing changed; nothing could be changed . . . yet. Many people marked his passage past the shops and arcades, noting the way he turned his head from side to side, holding it centered on a doorway or a person. The movements of his head were not always blind-natural, and this added to the growing myth. Alia watched from a concealed slit in the towering battlement of her temple. She searched that scarred visage far below for some sign — a sure sign of identity. Every rumor was reported to her. Each new one came with its thrill of fear. She’d thought her order to take The Preacher captive would remain secret, but that, too, came back to her now as a rumor. Even among her guards, someone could not remain silent. She hoped now that the guards would follow her new orders and not take this robed mystery captive in a public place where it could be seen and reported. It was dusty hot in the square. The Preacher’s young guide had pulled the veil of his robe up around his nose, leaving only the dark eyes and a thin patch of forehead exposed. The veil bulged with the outline of a stillsuit’s catchtube. This told Alia that they’d come in from the desert. Where did they hide out there? The Preacher wore no veil protection from the searing air. He had even dropped the catchtube flap of his stillsuit. His face lay open to the sunlight and the heat shiverings which lifted off the square’s paving blocks in visible waves. At the Temple steps there stood a group of nine pilgrims making their departure obeisance. The shadowed edge of the square held perhaps fifty more persons, mostly pilgrims devoting themselves to various penances imposed by the priesthood. Among the onlookers could be seen messengers and a few merchants who’d not yet made enough sales to close up for the worst of the day’s heat. Watching from the open slit, Alia felt the drenching heat and knew herself to be caught between thinking and sensation, the way she’d often seen her brother caught. The temptation to consult within herself rang like an ominous humming in her head. The Baron was there: dutiful, but always ready to play upon her terrors when rational judgment failed and the things around her lost their sense of past, present, and future. What if that’s Paul down there? she asked herself. “Nonsense!” the voice within her said. But the reports of The Preacher’s words could not be doubted. Heresy! It terrified her to think that Paul himself might bring down the structure built on his name. Why not? She thought of what she’d said in Council just that morning, turning viciously upon Irulan, who’d urged acceptance of the gift of clothing from House Corrino. “All gifts to the twins will be examined thoroughly, just as always,” Irulan had argued. “And when we find the gift harmless?” Alia had cried. Somehow that had been the most frightening thing of all: to find that the gift carried no threat. In the end they’d accepted the fine clothing and had gone on to the other issue: Was the Lady Jessica to be given a position on the Council? Alia had managed to delay a vote. She thought of this as she stared down at The Preacher. Things which happened to her Regency now were like the underside of that transformation they inflicted upon this planet. Dune had once symbolized the power of ultimate desert. That power dwindled physically, but the myth of its power grew apace. Only the ocean-desert remained, the great Mother Desert of the inner planet, with its rim of thorn bushes, which Fremen still called Queen of Night. Behind the thorn bushes arose soft green hills bending down to the sand. All the hills were man-made. Every last one of them had been planted by men who had labored like crawling insects. The green of those hills was almost overpowering to someone raised, as Alia had been, in the tradition of dun-shaded sand. In her mind, as in the minds of all Fremen, the ocean-desert still held Dune in a grip which would never relax. She had only to close her eyes and she would see that desert. Open eyes at the desert edge saw now the verdant hills, marsh slime reaching out green pseudopods toward the sand — but the other desert remained as powerful as ever. Alia shook her head, stared down at The Preacher. He had mounted the first of the terraced steps below the Temple and turned to face the almost deserted square. Alia touched the button beside her window which would amplify voices from below. She felt a wave of self-pity, seeing herself held here in loneliness. Whom could she trust? She’d thought Stilgar remained reliable, but Stilgar had been infected by this blind man. “You know how he counts?” Stilgar had asked her. “I heard him counting coins as he paid his guide. It’s very strange to my Fremen ears, and that’s a terrible thing. He counts ‘shuc, ishcai, qimsa, chuascu, picha, sucta, and so on. I’ve not heard counting like that since the old days in the desert.” From this, Alia knew that Stilgar could not be sent to do the job which must be done. And she would have to be circumspect with her guards where the slightest emphasis from the Regency tended to be taken as absolute command. What was he doing down there, this Preacher? The surrounding marketplace beneath its protective balconies and arched arcade still presented a gaudy face: merchandise left on display with a few boys to watch over it. Some few merchants remained awake there sniffing for the spice-biscuit money of the back country or the jingle in a pilgrim’s purse. Alia studied The Preacher’s back. He appeared poised for speech, but something withheld his voice. Why do I stand here watching that ruin in ancient flesh? she asked herself. That mortal wreckage down there cannot he the ‘vessel of magnificence’ which once was my brother. Frustration bordering on anger filled her. How could she find out about The Preacher, find out for certain without finding out? She was trapped. She dared not reveal more than a passing curiosity about this heretic. Irulan felt it. She’d lost her famous Bene Gesserit poise and screamed in Council: “We’ve lost the power to think well of ourselves!” Even Stilgar had been shocked. Javid had brought them back to their senses: “We don’t have time for such nonsense!” Javid was right. What did it matter how they thought of themselves? All that concerned them was holding onto the Imperial power. But Irulan, recovering her poise, had been even more devastating: “We’ve lost something vital, I tell you. When we lost it, we lost the ability to make good decisions. We fall upon decisions these days the way we fall upon an enemy — or wait and wait, which is a form of giving up, and we allow the decisions of others to move us. Have we forgotten that we were the ones who set this current flowing?” And all over the question of whether to accept a gift from House Corrino. Irulan will have to be disposed of, Alia decided. What was that old man down there waiting for? He called himself a preacher. Why didn’t he preach? Irulan was wrong about our decision-making, Alia told herself. I can still make proper decisions! The person with life-and-death decisions to make must make decisions or remain caught in the pendulum. Paul had always said that stasis was the most dangerous of those things which were not natural. The only permanence was fluid. Change was all that mattered. I’ll show them change! Alia thought. The Preacher raised his arms in benediction. A few of those remaining in the square moved closer to him, and Alia noted the slowness of that movement. Yes, the rumors were out that The Preacher had aroused Alia’s displeasure. She bent closer to the Ixian speaker beside her spy hole. The speaker brought her the murmurings of the people in the square, the sound of wind, the scratching of feet on sand. “I bring you four messages!” The Preacher said. His voice blared from Alia’s speaker, and she turned down the volume. “Each message is for a certain person,” The Preacher said. “The first message is for Alia, the suzerain of this place.” He pointed behind him toward her spy hole. “I bring her a warning: You, who held the secret of duration in your loins, have sold your future for an empty purse!” How dare he? Alia thought. But his words froze her. “My second message,” The Preacher said, “is for Stilgar, the Fremen Naib, who believes he can translate the power of the tribes into the power of the Imperium. My warning to you, Stilgar: The most dangerous of all creations is a rigid code of ethics. It will turn upon you and drive you into exile!” He has gone too far! Alia thought. I must send the guards for him no matter the consequences. But her hands remained at her sides. The Preacher turned to face the Temple, climbed to the second step and once more whirled to face the square, all the time keeping his left hand upon the shoulder of his guide. He called out now: “My third message is for the Princess Irulan. Princess! Humiliation is a thing which no person can forget. I warn you to flee!” What’s he saying? Alia asked herself. We humiliated Irulan, but . . . Why does he warn her to flee? My decision was just made! A thrill of fear shot through Alia. How did The Preacher know? “My fourth message is for Duncan Idaho,” he shouted. “Duncan! You were taught to believe that loyalty buys loyalty. Ohh, Duncan, do not believe in history, because history is impelled by whatever passes for money. Duncan! Take your horns and do what you know best how to do.” Alia chewed the back of her right hand. Horns! She wanted to reach out and press the button which would summon guards, but her hand refused to move. “Now I will preach to you,” The Preacher said. “This is a sermon of the desert. I direct it to the ears of Muad’Dib’s priesthood, those who practice the ecumenism of the sword. Ohhh, you believers in manifest destiny! Know you not that manifest destiny has its demoniac side? You cry out that you find yourselves exalted merely to have lived in the blessed generations of Muad’Dib. I say to you that you have abandoned Muad’Dib. Holiness has replaced love in your religion! You court the vengeance of the desert!” The Preacher lowered his head as though in prayer. Alia felt herself shivering with awareness. Gods below! That voice! It had been cracked by years in the burning sands, but it could be the remnant of Paul’s voice. Once more The Preacher raised his head. His voice boomed out over the square where more people had begun to gather, attracted by this oddity out of the past. “Thus it is written!” The Preacher shouted. “They who pray for dew at the desert’s edge shall bring forth the deluge! They shall not escape their fate through powers of reason! Reason arises from pride that a man may not know in this way when he has done evil.” He lowered his voice. “It was said of Muad’Dib that he died of prescience, that knowledge of the future killed him and he passed from the universe of reality into the alam al-mythal. I say to you that this is the illusion of Maya. Such thoughts have no independent reality. They cannot go out from you and do real things. Muad’Dib said of himself that he possessed no Rihani magic with which to encipher the universe. Do not doubt him.” Again The Preacher raised his arms, lifted his voice in a stentorian bellow: “I warn the priesthood of Muad’Dib! The fire on the cliff shall burn you! They who learn the lesson of self-deception too well shall perish by that deception. The blood of a brother cannot be cleansed away!” He had lowered his arms, found his young guide, and was leaving the square before Alia could break herself from the trembling immobility which had overcome her. Such fearless heresy! It must be Paul. She had to warn her guards. They dared not move against this Preacher openly. The evidence in the square below her confirmed this. Despite the heresy, no one moved to stop the departing Preacher. No Temple guard leaped to pursue him. No pilgrim tried to stop him. That charismatic blind man! Everyone who saw or heard him felt his power, the reflection of divine talent. In spite of the day’s heat, Alia felt suddenly cold. She felt the thin edge of her grip on the Imperium as a physical thing. She gripped the edge of her spy hole window as though to hold her power, thinking of its fragility. The balance of Landsraad, CHOAM, and Fremen arms held the core of power, while Spacing Guild and Bene Gesserit dealt silently in the shadows. The forbidden seepage of technological development which came from the edges of humankind’s farthest migrations nibbled at the central power. Products permitted the Ixian and Tleilaxu factories could not relieve the pressure. And always in the wings there stood Farad’n of House Corrino, inheritor of Shaddam TV’s titles and claims. Without the Fremen, without House Atreides’ monopoly on the geriatric spice, her grip would loosen. All the power would dissolve. She could feel it slipping from her right now. People heeded this Preacher. It would be dangerous to silence him; just as dangerous as it was to let him continue preaching such words as he’d shouted across her square today. She could see the first omens of her own defeat and the pattern of the problem stood out clearly in her mind. The Bene Gesserits had codified the problem: “A large populace held in check by a small but powerful force is quite a common situation in our universe. And we know the major conditions wherein this large populace may turn upon its keepers — “One: When they find a leader. This is the most volatile threat to the powerful; they must retain control of leaders. “Two: When the populace recognizes its chains. Keep the populace blind and unquestioning. “Three: When the populace perceives a hope of escape from bondage. They must never even believe that escape is possible!” Alia shook her head, feeling her cheeks tremble with the force of movement. The signs were here in her populace. Every report she received from her spies throughout the Imperium reinforced her certain knowledge. Unceasing warfare of the Fremen Jihad left its mark everywhere. Wherever “the ecumenism of the sword” had touched, people retained the attitude of a subject population: defensive, concealing, evasive. All manifestations of authority — and this meant essentially religious authority — became subject to resentment. Oh, pilgrims still came in their thronging millions, and some among them were probably devout. But for the most part, pilgrimage had other motivations than devotion. Most often it was a canny surety for the future. It emphasized obedience and gained a real form of power which was easily translated into wealth. The Hajji who returned from Arrakis came home to new authority, new social status. The Hajji could make profitable economic decisions which the planet-bound of his homeworld dared not challenge. Alia knew the popular riddle: “What do you see inside the empty purse brought home from Dune?” And the answer: “The eyes of Muad’Dib (fire diamonds).” The traditional ways to counter growing unrest paraded themselves before Alia’s awareness: people had to be taught that opposition was always punished and assistance to the ruler was always rewarded. Imperial forces must be shifted in random fashion. Major adjuncts to Imperial power had to be concealed. Every movement by which the Regency countered potential attack required delicate timing to keep the opposition off balance. Have I lost my sense of timing? she wondered. “What idle speculation is this?” a voice within her asked. She felt herself growing calmer. Yes, the Baron’s plan was a good one. We eliminate the threat of the Lady Jessica and, at the same time, we discredit House Corrino. Yes. The Preacher could be dealt with later. She understood his posture. The symbolism was clear. He was the ancient spirit of unbridled speculation, the spirit of heresy alive and functioning in her desert of orthodoxy. That was his strength. It didn’t matter whether he was Paul . . . as long as that could be kept in doubt. But her Bene Gesserit knowledge told Alia that his strength would contain the key to his weakness. The Preacher has a flaw which we will find. I will have him spied upon, watched every moment. And if the opportunity arises, he will be discredited.

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Categories: Herbert, Frank