Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

“O Doctor of Beasts, To a green snail shell With its timid miracle Hidden, awaiting death, You come as a deity! Even snails know That gods obliterate, And cures bring pain, That heaven is seen Through a door of flame. O Doctor of Beasts, I am the man-snail Who sees your single eye Peering into my shell! Why, Muad’Dib? Why?”

Ghanima said: “Unfortunately, our father left many man-snails in our universe.”

= = = = = =

The assumption that humans exist within an essentially impermanent universe, taken as an operational precept, demands that the intellect become a totally aware balancing instrument. But the intellect cannot react thus without involving the entire organism. Such an organism may be recognized by its burning, driving behavior. And thus it is with a society treated as organism. But here we encounter an old inertia. Societies move to the goading of ancient, reactive impulses. They demand permanence. Any attempt to display the universe of impermanence arouses rejection patterns, fear, anger, and despair. Then how do we explain the acceptance of prescience? Simply: the giver of prescient visions, because he speaks of an absolute (permanent) realization, may be greeted with joy by humankind even while predicting the most dire events. -The Book of Leto, After Harq al-Ada

“It’s liking fighting in the dark,” Alia said. She paced the Council Chamber in angry strides, moving from the tall silvery draperies which softened the morning sun at the eastern windows to the divans grouped beneath decorated wall panels at the room’s opposite end. Her sandals crossed spice-fiber rugs, parquet wood, tiles of giant garnet and once more, rugs. At last she stood over Irulan and Idaho, who sat facing each other on divans of grey whale fur. Idaho had resisted returning from Tabr, but she had sent peremptory orders. The abduction of Jessica was more important than ever now, but it had to wait. Idaho’s mentat perceptions were required. “These things are cut from the same pattern,” Alia said. “They stink of a far-reaching plot.” “Perhaps not,” Irulan ventured, but she glanced questioningly at Idaho. Alia’s face lapsed into an undisguised sneer. How could Irulan be that innocent? Unless . . . Alia bent a sharp and questioning stare onto the Princess. Irulan wore a simple black aba robe which matched the shadows in her spice-indigo eyes. Her blonde hair was tied in a tight coil at the nape of her neck, accenting a face thinned and toughened by years on Arrakis. She still retained the haughtiness she’d learned in the court of her father, Shaddam IV, and Alia often felt that this prideful attitude could mask the thoughts of a conspirator. Idaho lounged in the black-and-green uniform of an Atreides House Guard, no insignia. It was an affectation which was secretly resented by many of Alia’s actual guards, especially the amazons, who gloried in insignia of office. They did not like the plain presence of the ghola-swordmaster-mentat, the more so because he was the husband of their mistress. “So the tribes want the Lady Jessica reinstated into the Regency Council,” Idaho said. “How can that –” “They make unanimous demand!” Alia said, pointing to an embossed sheet of spice-paper on the divan beside Irulan. “Farad’n is one thing, but this . . . this has the stink of other alignments!” “What does Stilgar think?” Irulan asked. “His signature’s on that paper!” Alia said. “But if he . . .” “How could he deny the mother of his god?” Alia sneered. Idaho looked up at her, thinking: That’s awfully close to the edge with Irulan! Again he wondered why Alia had brought him back here when she knew that he was needed at Sietch Tabr if the abduction plot were to be carried off. Was it possible she’d heard about the message sent to him by The Preacher? This thought filled his breast with turmoil. How could that mendicant mystic know the secret signal by which Paul Atreides had always summoned his swordmaster? Idaho longed to leave this pointless meeting and return to the search for an answer to that question. “There’s no doubt that The Preacher has been off-planet,” Alia said. “The Guild wouldn’t dare deceive us in such a thing. I will have him –” “Careful!” Irulan said. “Indeed, have a care,” Idaho said. “Half the planet believe him to be –” He shrugged. “– your brother.” And Idaho hoped he had carried this off with a properly casual attitude. How had the man known that signal? “But if he’s a courier, or a spy of the –” “He’s made contact with no one from CHOAM or House Corrino,” Irulan said. “We can be sure of –” “We can be sure of nothing!” Alia did not try to hide her scorn. She turned her back on Irulan, faced Idaho. He knew why he was here! Why didn’t he perform as expected? He was in Council because Irulan was here. The history which had brought a Princess of House Corrino into the Atreides fold could never be forgotten. Allegiance, once changed, could change again. Duncan’s mentat powers should be searching for flaws, for subtle deviations in Irulan’s behavior. Idaho stirred, glanced at Irulan. There were times when he resented the straight-line necessities imposed on mentat performance. He knew what Alia was thinking. Irulan would know it as well. But this Princess-wife to Paul Muad’Dib had overcome the decisions which had made her less than the royal concubine, Chani. There could be no doubt of Irulan’s devotion to the royal twins. She had renounced family and Bene Gesserit in dedication to the Atreides. “My mother is part of this plot!” Alia insisted. “For what other reason would the Sisterhood send her back here at a time such as this?” “Hysteria isn’t going to help us,” Idaho said. Alia whirled away from him, as he’d known she would. It helped him that he did not have to look at that once-beloved face which was now so twisted by alien possession. “Well,” Irulan said, “the Guild can’t be completely trusted for –” “The Guild!” Alia sneered. “We can’t rule out the enmity of the Guild or the Bene Gesserit,” Idaho said. “But we must assign them special categories as essentially passive combatants. The Guild will live up to its basic rule: Never Govern. They’re a parasitic growth, and they know it. They won’t do anything to kill the organism which keeps them alive.” “Their idea of which organism keeps them alive may be different from ours,” Irulan drawled. It was the closest she ever came to a sneer, that lazy tone of voice which said: “You missed a point, mentat.” Alia appeared puzzled. She had not expected Irulan to take this tack. It was not the kind of view which a conspirator would want examined. “No doubt,” Idaho said. “But the Guild won’t come out overtly against House Atreides. The Sisterhood, on the other hand, might risk a certain kind of political break which –” “If they do, it’ll be through a front: someone or some group they can disavow,” Irulan said. “The Bene Gesserit haven’t existed all of these centuries without knowing the value of self-effacement. They prefer being behind the throne, not on it.” Self-effacement? Alia wondered. Was that Irulan’s choice? “Precisely the point I make about the Guild,” Idaho said. He found the necessities of argument and explanation helpful. They kept his mind from other problems. Alia strode back toward the sunlit windows. She knew Idaho’s blind spot; every mentat had it. They had to make pronouncements. This brought about a tendency to depend upon absolutes, to see finite limits. They knew this about themselves. It was part of their training. Yet they continued to act beyond self-limiting parameters. I should’ve left him at Sietch Tabr, Alia thought. It would’ve been better to just turn Irulan over to Javid for questioning. Within her skull, Alia heard a rumbling voice: “Exactly!” Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! she thought. A dangerous mistake beckoned her in these moments and she could not recognize its outlines. All she could sense was the danger. Idaho had to help her out of this predicament. He was a mentat. Mentats were necessary. The human-computer replaced the mechanical devices destroyed by the Butlerian Jihad. Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind! But Alia longed now for a compliant machine. They could not have suffered from Idaho’s limitations. You could never distrust a machine. Alia heard Irulan’s drawling voice. “A feint within a feint within a feint within a feint,” Irulan said. “We all know the accepted pattern of attack upon power. I don’t blame Alia for her suspicions. Of course she suspects everyone — even us. Ignore that for the moment, though. What remains as the prime arena of motives, the most fertile source of danger to the Regency?” “CHOAM,” Idaho said, his voice mentat-flat. Alia allowed herself a grim smile. The Combine Honnete Ober Advancer Mercantiles! But House Atreides dominated CHOAM with fifty-one percent of its shares. The Priesthood of Muad’Dib held another five percent, pragmatic acceptance by the Great Houses that Dune controlled the priceless melange. Not without reason was the spice often called “the secret coinage.” Without melange, the Spacing Guild’s heighliners could not move. Melange precipitated the “navigation trance” by which a translight pathway could be “seen” before it was traveled. Without melange and its amplification of the human immunogenic system, life expectancy for the very rich degenerated by a factor of at least four. Even the vast middle class of the Imperium ate diluted melange in small sprinklings with at least one meal a day. But Alia had heard the mentat sincerity in Idaho’s voice, a sound which she’d been awaiting with terrible expectancy. CHOAM. The Combine Honnete was much more than House Atreides, much more than Dune, much more than the Priesthood or melange. It was inkvines, whale fur, shigawire, Ixian artifacts and entertainers, trade in people and places, the Hajj, those products which came from the borderline legality of Tleilaxu technology; it was addictive drugs and medical techniques; it was transportation (the Guild) and all of the supercomplex commerce of an empire which encompassed thousands of known planets plus some which fed secretly at the fringes, permitted there for services rendered. When Idaho said CHOAM, he spoke of a constant ferment, intrigue within intrigue, a play of powers where the shift of one duodecimal point in interest payments could change the ownership of an entire planet. Alia returned to stand over the two seated on the divans. “Something specific about CHOAM bothers you?” she asked. “There’s always the heavy speculative stockpiling of spice by certain Houses,” Irulan said. Alia slapped her hands against her own thighs, then gestured at the embossed spice-paper beside Irulan. “That demand doesn’t intrigue you, coming as it does –” “All right!” Idaho barked. “Out with it. What’re you withholding? You know better than to deny the data and still expect me to function as –” “There has been a recent very significant increase in trade for people with four specific specialties,” Alia said. And she wondered if this would be truly new information for this pair. “Which specialties?” Irulan asked. “Swordmasters, twisted mentats from Tleilax, conditioned medics from the Suk school, and fincap accountants, most especially the latter. Why would questionable bookkeeping be in demand right now?” She directed the question at Idaho. Function as a mentat he thought. Well, that was better than dwelling on what Alia had become. He focused on her words, replaying them in his mind mentat fashion. Swordmasters? That had been his own calling once. Swordmasters were, of course, more than personal fighters. They could repair force shields, plan military campaigns, design military support facilities, improvise weapons. Twisted mentats? The Tleilaxu persisted in this hoax, obviously. As a mentat himself, Idaho knew the fragile insecurity of Tleilaxu twisting. Great Houses which bought such mentats hoped to control them absolutely. Impossible! Even Piter de Vries, who’d served the Harkonnens in their assault on House Atreides, had maintained his own essential dignity, accepting death rather than surrender his inner core of selfdom at the end. Suk doctors? Their conditioning supposedly guaranteed them against disloyalty to their owner-patients. Suk doctors came very expensive. Increased purchase of Suks would involve substantial exchanges of funds. Idaho weighed these facts against an increase in fincap accountants. “Prime computation,” he said, indicating a heavily weighted assurance that he spoke of inductive fact. “There’s been a recent increase in wealth among Houses Minor. Some have to be moving quietly toward Great House status. Such wealth could only come from some specific shifts in political alignments.” “We come at last to the Landsraad,” Alia said, voicing her own belief. “The next Landsraad session is almost two standard years away,” Irulan reminded her. “But political bargaining never ceases,” Alia said. “And I’ll warrant some among those tribal signatories –” She gestured at the paper beside Irulan. “– are among the Houses Minor who’ve shifted their alignment.” “Perhaps,” Irulan said. “The Landsraad,” Alia said. “What better front for the Bene Gesserits? And what better agent for the Sisterhood than my own mother?” Alia planted herself directly in front of Idaho. “Well, Duncan?” Why not function as a mentat? Idaho asked himself. He saw the tenor of Alia’s suspicions now. After all, Duncan Idaho had been personal house guard to the Lady Jessica for many years. “Duncan?” Alia pressed. “You should inquire closely after any advisory legislation which may be under preparation for the next session of the Landsraad,” Idaho said. “They might take the legal position that a Regency can’t veto certain kinds of legislation — specifically, adjustments of taxation and the policing of cartels. There are others, but . . .” “Not a very good pragmatic bet on their part if they take that position,” Irulan said. “I agree,” Alia said. “The Sardaukar have no teeth and we still have our Fremen legions.” “Careful, Alia,” Idaho said. “Our enemies would like nothing better than to make us appear monstrous. No matter how many legions you command, power ultimately rides on popular sufferance in an empire as scattered as this one.” “Popular sufferance?” Irulan asked. “You mean Great House sufferance,” Alia said. “And how many Great Houses will we face under this new alliance?” Idaho asked. “Money is collecting in strange places!” “The fringes?” Irulan asked. Idaho shrugged. It was an unanswerable question. All of them suspected that one day the Tleilaxu or technological tinkerers on the Imperial fringes would nullify the Holtzmann Effect. On that day, shields would be useless. The whole precarious balance which maintained planetary feudatories would collapse. Alia refused to consider that possibility. “We’ll ride with what we have,” she said. “And what we have is a certain knowledge throughout the CHOAM directorate that we can destroy the spice if they force us to it. They won’t risk that.” “Back to CHOAM again,” Irulan said. “Unless someone has managed to duplicate the sandtrout-sandworm cycle on another planet,” Idaho said. He looked speculatively at Irulan, excited by this question. “Salusa Secundus?” “My contacts there remain reliable,” Irulan said. “Not Salusa.” “Then my answer stands,” Alia said, staring at Idaho. “We ride with what we have.” My move, Idaho thought. He said: “Why’d you drag me away from important work? You could’ve worked this out yourself.” “Don’t take that tone with me!” Alia snapped. Idaho’s eyes went wide. For an instant, he’d seen the alien on Alia’s face, and it was a disconcerting sight. He turned his attention to Irulan, but she had not seen — or gave that appearance. “I don’t need an elementary education,” Alia said, her voice still edged with alien anger. Idaho managed a rueful smile, but his breast ached. “We never get far from wealth and all of its masks when we deal with power,” Irulan drawled. “Paul was a social mutation and, as such, we have to remember that he shifted the old balance of wealth.” “Such mutations are not irreversible,” Alia said, turning away from them as though she’d not exposed her terrible difference. “Wherever there’s wealth in this empire, they know this.” “They also know,” Irulan said, “that there are three people who could perpetuate that mutation: the twins and . . .” She pointed at Alia. Are they insane, this pair? Idaho wondered. “They will try to assassinate me!” Alia rasped. And Idaho sat in shocked silence, his mentat awareness whirling. Assassinate Alia? Why? They could discredit her too easily. They could cut her out of the Fremen pack and hunt her down at will. But the twins, now . . . He knew he was not in the proper mentat calm for such an assessment, but he had to try. He had to be as precise as possible. At the same time, he knew that precise thinking contained undigested absolutes. Nature was not precise. The universe was not precise when reduced to his scale; it was vague and fuzzy, full of unexpected movements and changes. Humankind as a whole had to be entered into this computation as a natural phenomenon. And the whole process of precise analysis represented a chopping off, a remove from the ongoing current of the universe. He had to get at that current, see it in motion. “We were right to focus on CHOAM and the Landsraad,” Irulan drawled. “And Duncan’s suggestion offers a first line of inquiry for –” “Money as a translation of energy can’t be separated from the energy it expresses,” Alia said. “We all know this. But we have to answer three specific questions: When? Using what weapons? Where?” The twins . . . the twins, Idaho thought. It’s the twins who’re in danger, not Alia. “You’re not interested in who or how?” Irulan asked. “If House Corrino or CHOAM or any other group employs human instruments on this planet,” Alia said, “we stand a better than sixty percent chance of finding them before they act. Knowing when they’ll act and where gives us a bigger leverage on those odds. How? That’s just asking what weapons?” Why can’t they see it as I see it? Idaho wondered. “All right,” Irulan said. “When?” “When attention is focused on someone else,” Alia said. “Attention was focused on your mother at the Convocation,” Irulan said. “There was no attempt.” “Wrong place,” Alia said. What is she doing? Idaho wondered. “Where, then?” Irulan asked. “Right here in the Keep,” Alia said. “It’s the place where I’d feel most secure and least on my guard.” “What weapons?” Irulan asked. “Conventional — something a Fremen might have on his person: poisoned crysknife, maula pistol, a –” “They’ve not tried a hunter-seeker in a long while,” Irulan said. “Wouldn’t work in a crowd,” Alia said. “There’ll have to be a crowd.” “Biological weapon?” Irulan asked. “An infectious agent?” Alia asked, not masking her incredulity. How could Irulan think an infectious agent would succeed against the immunological barriers which protected an Atreides? “I was thinking more in the line of some animal,” Irulan said. “A small pet, say, trained to bite a specific victim, inflicting a poison with its bite.” “The House ferrets will prevent that,” Alia said. “One of them, then?” Irulan asked. “Couldn’t be done. The House ferrets would reject an outsider, kill it. You know that.” “I was just exploring possibilities in the hope that –” “I’ll alert my guards,” Alia said. As Alia said guards, Idaho put a hand over his Tleilaxu eyes, trying to prevent the demanding involvement which swept over him. It was Rhajia, the movement of Infinity as expressed by Life, the latent cup of total immersion in mentat awareness which lay in wait for every mentat. It threw his awareness onto the universe like a net, falling, defining the shapes within it. He saw the twins crouching in darkness while giant claws raked the air about them. “No,” he whispered. “What?” Alia looked at him as though surprised to find him still there. He took his hand from his eyes. “The garments that House Corrino sent?” he asked. “Have they been sent on to the twins?” “Of course,” Irulan said. “They’re perfectly safe.” “No one’s going to try for the twins at Sietch Tabr,” Alia said. “Not with all of those Stilgar-trained guards around.” Idaho stared at her. He had no particular datum to reinforce an argument based on mentat computation, but he knew. He knew. This thing he’d experienced came very close to the visionary power which Paul had known. Neither Irulan nor Alia would believe it, coming from him. “I’d like to alert the port authorities against allowing the importation of any outside animals,” he said. “You’re not taking Irulan’s suggestion seriously,” Alia protested. “Why take any chances?” he asked. “Tell that to the smugglers,” Alia said. “I’ll put my dependence on the House ferrets.” Idaho shook his head. What could House ferrets do against claws the size of those he envisioned? But Alia was right. Bribes in the right places, one acquiescent Guild navigator, and anyplace in the Empty Quarter became a landing port. The Guild would resist a front position in any attack on House Atreides, but if the price were high enough . . . Well, the Guild could only be thought of as something like a geological barrier which made attacks difficult, but not impossible. They could always protest that they were just “a transportation agency.” How could they know to what use a particular cargo would be put? Alia broke the silence with a purely Fremen gesture, a raised fist with thumb horizontal. She accompanied the gesture with a traditional expletive which meant, “I give Typhoon Conflict.” She obviously saw herself as the only logical target for assassins, and the gesture protested a universe full of undigested threats. She was saying she would hurl the death wind at anyone who attacked her. Idaho felt the hopelessness of any protest. He saw that she no longer suspected him. He was going back to Tabr and she expected a perfectly executed abduction of the Lady Jessica. He lifted himself from the divan in an adrenaline surge of anger, thinking: If only Alia were the target! If only assassins could get to her! For an instant, he rested his hand on his own knife, but it was not in him to do this. Far better, though, that she die a martyr than live to be discredited and bounded into a sandy grave. “Yes,” Alia said, misinterpreting his expression as concern for her. “You’d best hurry back to Tabr.” And she thought: How foolish of me to suspect Duncan! He’s mine, not Jessica’s! It had been the demand from the tribes that’d upset her, Alia thought. She waved an airy goodbye to Idaho as he left. Idaho left the Council Chamber feeling hopeless. Not only was Alia blind with her alien possession, but she became more insane with each crisis. She’d already passed her danger point and was doomed. But what could be done for the twins? Whom could he convince? Stilgar? And what could Stilgar do that he wasn’t already doing? The Lady Jessica, then? Yes, he’d explore that possibility — but she, too, might be far gone in plotting with her Sisterhood. He carried few illusions about that Atreides concubine. She might do anything at the command of the Bene Gesserits — even turn against her own grandchildren.

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Categories: Herbert, Frank