Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

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A Fremen dies when he is too long from the desert; this we call “the water sickness.” -Stilgar, the Commentaries

“It is difficult for me, asking you to do this,” Alia said. “But . . . I must insure that there’s an empire for Paul’s children to inherit. There’s no other reason for the Regency.” Alia turned from where she was seated at a mirror completing her morning toilet. She looked at her husband, measuring how he absorbed these words. Duncan Idaho deserved careful study in these moments; there was no doubt that he’d become something far more subtle and dangerous than the one-time swordmaster of House Atreides. The outer appearance remained similar — the black goat hair over sharp dark features — but in the long years since his awakening from the ghola state he had undergone an inner metamorphosis. She wondered now, as she had wondered many times, what the ghola rebirth-after-death might have hidden in the secret loneliness of him. Before the Tleilaxu had worked their subtle science on him, Duncan’s reactions had borne clear labels for the Atreides — loyalty, fanatic adherence to the moral code of his mercenary forebears, swift to anger and swift to recover. He had been implacable in his resolve for revenge against House Harkonnen. And he had died saving Paul. But the Tleilaxu had bought his body from the Sardaukar and, in their regeneration vats, they had grown a zombie-katrundo: the flesh of Duncan Idaho, but none of his conscious memories. He’d been trained as a mentat and sent as a gift, a human computer for Paul, a fine tool equipped with a hypnotic compulsion to slay his owner. The flesh of Duncan Idaho had resisted that compulsion and, in the intolerable stress, his cellular past had come back to him. Alia had decided long ago that it was dangerous to think of him as Duncan in the privacy of her thoughts. Better to think of him by his ghola name, Hayt. Far better. And it was essential that he get not the slightest glimpse of the old Baron Harkonnen sitting there in her mind. Duncan saw Alia studying him, turned away. Love could not hide the changes in her, nor conceal from him the transparency of her motives. The many-faceted metal eyes which the Tleilaxu had given him were cruel in their ability to penetrate deception. They limned her now as a gloating, almost masculine figure, and he could not stand to see her thus. “Why do you turn away?” Alia asked. “I must think about this thing,” he said. “The Lady Jessica is . . . an Atreides.” “And your loyalty is to House Atreides, not to me,” Alia pouted. “Don’t put such fickle interpretations into me,” he said. Alia pursed her lips. Had she moved too rapidly? Duncan crossed to the chambered opening which looked down on a corner of the Temple plaza. He could see pilgrims beginning to gather there, the Arrakeen traders moving in to feed on the edges like a pack of predators upon a herd of beasts. He focused on a particular group of tradesmen, spice-fiber baskets over their arms, Fremen mercenaries a pace behind them. They moved with a stolid force through the gathering throng. “They sell pieces of etched marble,” he said, pointing. “Did you know that? They set the pieces out in the desert to be etched by stormsands. Sometimes they find interesting patterns in the stone. They call it a new art form, very popular: genuine storm-etched marble from Dune. I bought a piece of it last week — a golden tree with five tassels, lovely but very fragile.” “Don’t change the subject,” Alia said. “I haven’t changed the subject,” he said. “It’s beautiful, but it’s not art. Humans create art by their own violence, by their own volition.” He put his right hand on the windowsill. “The twins detest this city and I’m afraid I see their point.” “I fail to see the association,” Alia said. “The abduction of my mother is not a real abduction. She will be safe as your captive.” “This city was built by the blind,” he said. “Did you know that Leto and Stilgar went out from Sietch Tabr into the desert last week? They were gone the whole night.” “It was reported to me,” she said. “These baubles from the sand — would you have me prohibit their sale?” “That’d be bad for business,” he said, turning. “Do you know what Stilgar said when I asked why they went out on the sand that way? He said Leto wished to commune with the spirit of Muad’Dib.” Alia felt the sudden coldness of panic, looked in the mirror a moment to recover. Leto would not venture from the sietch at night for such nonsense. Was it a conspiracy? Idaho put a hand over his eyes to blot out the sight of her, said: “Stilgar told me he went along with Leto because he still believes in Muad’Dib.” “Of course he does!” Idaho chuckled, a hollow sound. “He said he still believes because Muad’Dib was always for the little people.” “What did you say to that?” Alia asked, her voice betraying her fear. Idaho dropped his hand from his eyes. “I said, ‘That must make you one of the little people.’ ” “Duncan! That’s a dangerous game. Bait that Fremen Naib and you could awaken a beast to destroy us all.” “He still believes in Muad’Dib,” Idaho said. “That’s our protection.” “What was his reply?” “He said he knew his own mind.” “I see.” “No . . . I don’t believe you do. Things that bite have longer teeth than Stilgar’s.” “I don’t understand you today, Duncan. I ask you to do a very important thing, a thing vital to . . . What is all of this rambling?” How petulant she sounded. He turned back to the chambered window. “When I was trained as a mentat . . . It is very difficult, Alia, to learn how to work your own mind. You learn first that the mind must be allowed to work itself. That’s very strange. You can work your own muscles, exercise them, strengthen them, but the mind acts of itself. Sometimes, when you have learned this about the mind, it shows you things you do not want to see.” “And that’s why you tried to insult Stilgar?” “Stilgar doesn’t know his own mind; he doesn’t let it run free.” “Except in the spice orgy.” “Not even there. That’s what makes him a Naib. To be a leader of men, he controls and limits his reactions. He does what is expected of him. Once you know this, you know Stilgar and you can measure the length of his teeth.” “That’s the Fremen way,” she said. “Well, Duncan, will you do it, or won’t you? She must be taken and it must be made to look like the work of House Corrino.” He remained silent, weighing her tone and arguments in his mentat way. This abduction plan spoke of a coldness and a cruelty whose dimensions, thus revealed, shocked him. Risk her own mother’s life for the reasons thus far produced? Alia was lying. Perhaps the whisperings about Alia and Javid were true. This thought produced an icy hardness in his stomach. “You’re the only one I can trust for this,” Alia said. “I know that,” he said. She took this as acceptance, smiled at herself in the mirror. “You know,” Idaho said, “the mentat learns to look at every human as a series of relationships.” Alia did not respond. She sat, caught in a personal memory which drew a blank expression on her face. Idaho, glancing over his shoulder at her, saw the expression and shuddered. It was as though she communed with voices heard only by herself. “Relationships,” he whispered. And he thought: One must cast off old agonies as a snake casts off its skin — only to grow a new set and accept all of their limitations. It was the same with governments — even the Regency. Old governments can be traced like discarded molts. I must carry out this scheme, but not in the way Alia commands. Presently Alia shook her shoulders, said: “Leto should not be going out like that in these times. I will reprimand him.” “Not even with Stilgar?” “Not even with him.” She arose from her mirror, crossed to where Idaho stood beside the window, put a hand on his arm. He repressed a shiver, reduced this reaction to a mentat computation. Something in her revolted him. Something in her. He could not bring himself to look at her. He smelled the melange of her cosmetics, cleared his throat. She said: “I will be busy today examining Farad’n’s gifts.” “The clothing?” “Yes. Nothing he does is what it seems. And we must remember that his Bashar, Tyekanik, is an adept of chaumurky, chaumas, and all the other subtleties of royal assassination.” “The price of power,” he said, pulling away from her. “But we’re still mobile and Farad’n is not.” She studied his chiseled profile. Sometimes the workings of his mind were difficult to fathom. Was he thinking only that freedom of action gave life to a military power? Well, life on Arrakis had been too secure for too long. Senses once whetted by omnipresent dangers could degenerate when not used. “Yes,” she said, “we still have the Fremen.” “Mobility,” he repeated. “We cannot degenerate into infantry. That’d be foolish.” His tone annoyed her, and she said: “Farad’n will use any means to destroy us.” “Ahhh, that’s it,” he said. “That’s a form of initiative, a mobility which we didn’t have in the old days. We had a code, the code of House Atreides. We always paid our way and let the enemy be the pillagers. That restriction no longer holds, of course. We’re equally mobile. House Atreides and House Corrino.” “We abduct my mother to save her from harm as much as for any other reason,” Alia said. “We still live by the code!” He looked down at her. She knew the dangers of inciting a mentat to compute. Didn’t she realize what he had computed? Yet . . . he still loved her. He brushed a hand across his eyes. How youthful she looked. The Lady Jessica was correct: Alia gave the appearance of not having aged a day in their years together. She still possessed the soft features of her Bene Gesserit mother, but her eyes were Atreides — measuring, demanding, hawklike. And now something possessed of cruel calculation lurked behind those eyes. Idaho had served House Atreides for too many years not to understand the family’s strengths as well as their weaknesses. But this thing in Alia, this was new. The Atreides might play a devious game against enemies, but never against friends and allies, and not at all against Family. It was ground into the Atreides manner: support your own populace to the best of your ability; show them how much better they lived under the Atreides. Demonstrate your love for your friends by the candor of your behavior with them. What Alia asked now, though, was not Atreides. He felt this with all of his body’s flesh and nerve structure. He was a unit, indivisible, feeling this alien attitude in Alia. Abruptly his mentat sensorium clicked into full awareness and his mind leaped into the frozen trance where Time did not exist; only the computation existed. Alia would recognize what had happened to him, but that could not be helped. He gave himself up to the computation. Computation: A reflected Lady Jessica lived out a pseudo-life in Alia’s awareness. He saw this as he saw the reflected pre-ghola Duncan Idaho which remained a constant in his own awareness. Alia had this awareness by being one of the pre-born. He had it out of the Tleilaxu regeneration tanks. Yet Alia denied that reflection, risked her mother’s life. Therefore Alia was not in contact with that pseudo-Jessica within. Therefore Alia was completely possessed by another pseudo-life to the exclusion of all others. Possessed! Alien! Abomination! Mentat fashion, he accepted this, turned to other facets of his problem. All of the Atreides were on this one planet. Would House Corrino risk attack from space? His mind flashed through the review of those conventions which had ended primitive forms of warfare: One — All planets were vulnerable to attack from space; ergo: retaliation / revenge facilities were set up off-planet by every House Major. Farad’n would know that the Atreides had not omitted this elementary precaution. Two — Force shields were a complete defense against projectiles and explosives of non-atomic type, the basic reason why hand-to-hand conflict had reentered human combat. But infantry had its limits. House Corrino might have brought their Sardaukar back to a pre-Arrakeen edge, but they still could be no match for the abandoned ferocity of Fremen. Three — Planetary feudalism remained in constant danger from a large technical class, but the effects of the Butlerian Jihad continued as a damper on technological excesses. Ixians, Tleilaxu, and a few scattered outer planets were the only possible threat in this regard, and they were planet-vulnerable to the combined wrath of the rest of the Imperium. The Butlerian Jihad would not be undone. Mechanized warfare required a large technical class. The Atreides Imperium had channeled this force into other pursuits. No large technical class existed unwatched. And the Empire remained safely feudalist, naturally, since that was the best social form for spreading over widely dispersed wild frontiers — new planets. Duncan felt his mentat awareness coruscate as it shot through memory data of itself, completely impervious to the passage of time. Arriving at the conviction that House Corrino would not risk an illegal atomic attack, he did this in flash-computation, the main decisional pathway, but he was perfectly aware of the elements which went into this conviction: The Imperium commanded as many nuclear and allied weapons as all the Great Houses combined. At least half the Great Houses would react without thinking if House Corrino broke the Convention. The Atreides off-planet retaliation system would be joined by overwhelming force, and no need to summon any of them. Fear would do the calling. Salusa Secundus and its allies would vanish in hot clouds. House Corrino would not risk such a holocaust. They were undoubtedly sincere in subscribing to the argument that nuclear weapons were a reserve held for one purpose: defense of humankind should a threatening “other intelligence” ever be encountered. The computational thoughts had clean edges, sharp relief. There were no blurred between-places. Alia chose abduction and terror because she had become alien, non-Atreides. House Corrino was a threat, but not in the ways which Alia argued in Council. Alia wanted the Lady Jessica removed because that searing Bene Gesserit intelligence had seen what only now had become clear to him. Idaho shook himself out of the mentat trance, saw Alia standing in front of him, a coldly measuring expression on her face. “Wouldn’t you rather the Lady Jessica were killed?” he asked. The alien-flash of her joy lay exposed before his eyes for a brief instant before being covered by false outrage. “Duncan!” Yes, this alien-Alia preferred matricide. “You are afraid of your mother, not for her,” he said. She spoke without a change in her measuring stare. “Of course I am. She has reported about me to the Sisterhood.” “What do you mean?” “Don’t you know the greatest temptation for a Bene Gesserit?” She moved closer to him, seductive, looked upward at him through her lashes. “I thought only to keep myself strong and alert for the sake of the twins.” “You speak of temptation,” he said, his voice mentat-flat. “It’s the thing which the Sisterhood hides most deeply, the thing they most fear. It’s why they call me Abomination. They know their inhibitions won’t hold me back. Temptation — they always speak with heavy emphasis: Great Temptation. You see, we who employ the Bene Gesserit teachings can influence such things as the internal adjustment of enzyme balance within our bodies. It can prolong youth — far longer than with melange. Do you see the consequences should many Bene Gesserits do this? It would be noticed. I’m sure you compute the accuracy of what I’m saying. Melange is what makes us the target for so many plots. We control a substance which prolongs life. What if it became known that Bene Gesserits controlled an even more potent secret? You see! Not one Reverend Mother would be safe. Abduction and torture of Bene Gesserits would become a most common activity.” “You’ve accomplished this enzyme balancing.” It was a statement, not a question. “I’ve defied the Sisterhood! My mother’s reports to the Sisterhood will make the Bene Gesserits unswerving allies of House Corrino.” How very plausible, he thought. He tested: “But surely your own mother would not turn against you!” “She was Bene Gesserit long before she was my mother, Duncan, she permitted her own son, my brother, to undergo the test of the gom jabbar! She arranged it! And she knew he might not survive it! Bene Gesserits have always been short on faith and long on pragmatism. She’ll act against me if she believes it’s in the best interests of the Sisterhood.” He nodded. How convincing she was. It was a sad thought. “We must hold the initiative,” she said. “That’s our sharpest weapon.” “There’s the problem of Gurney Halleck,” he said. “Do I have to kill my old friend?” “Gurney’s off on some spy errand in the desert,” she said, knowing Idaho already was aware of this. “He’s safely out of the way.” “Very odd,” he said, “the Regent Governor of Caladan running errands here on Arrakis.” “Why not?” Alia demanded. “He’s her lover — in his dreams if not in fact.” “Yes, of course.” And he wondered that she did not hear the insincerity in his voice. “When will you abduct her?” Alia asked. “It’s better that you don’t know.” “Yes . . . yes, I see. Where’ll you take her?” “Where she cannot be found. Depend upon it; she won’t be left here to threaten you.” The glee in Alia’s eyes could not be mistaken. “But where will . . .” “If you do not know, then you can answer before a Truthsayer, if necessary, that you do not know where she is.” “Ahhh, clever, Duncan.” Now she believes I will kill the Lady Jessica, he thought. And he said: “Goodbye, beloved.” She did not hear the finality in his voice, even kissed him lightly as he left. And all the way down through the sietchlike maze of Temple corridors, Idaho brushed at his eyes. Tleilaxu eyes were not immune to tears.

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Categories: Herbert, Frank