Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

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Good government never depends upon laws, but upon the personal qualities of those who govern. The machinery of government is always subordinate to the will of those who administer that machinery. The most important element of government, therefore, is the method of choosing leaders. -Law and Governance, The Spacing Guild Manual

Why does Alia wish me to share the morning audience? Jessica wondered. They’ve not voted me back into the Council. Jessica stood in the anteroom to the Keep’s Great Hall. The anteroom itself would have been a great hall anywhere other than Arrakis. Following the Atreides lead, buildings in Arrakeen had become ever more gigantic as wealth and power concentrated, and this room epitomized her misgivings. She did not like this anteroom with its tiled floor depicting her son’s victory over Shaddam IV. She caught a reflection of her own face in the polished plasteel door which led into the Great Hall. Returning to Dune forced such comparisons upon her, and Jessica noted only the signs of aging in her own features: the oval face had developed tiny lines and the eyes were more brittle in their indigo reflection. She could remember when there had been white around the blue of her eyes. Only the careful ministrations of a professional dresser maintained the polished bronze of her hair. Her nose remained small, mouth generous, and her body was still slender, but even the Bene Gesserit-trained muscles had a tendency toward slowing with the passage of time. Some might not note this and say: “You haven’t changed a bit!” But the Sisterhood’s training was a two-edged sword; small changes seldom escaped the notice of people thus trained. And the lack of small changes in Alia had not escaped Jessica’s notice. Javid, the master of Alia’s appointments, stood at the great door, being very official this morning. He was a robed genie with a cynical smile on his round face. Javid struck Jessica as a paradox: a well-fed Fremen. Noting her attention upon him, Javid smiled knowingly, shrugged. His attendance in Jessica’s entourage had been short, as he’d known it would be. He hated Atreides, but he was Alia’s man in more ways than one, if the rumors were to be believed, Jessica saw the shrug, thought: This is the age of the shrug. He knows I’ve heard all the stories about him and he doesn’t care. Our civilization could well die of indifference within it before succumbing to external attack. The guards Gurney had assigned her before leaving for the smugglers and the desert hadn’t liked her coming here without their attendance. But Jessica felt oddly safe. Let someone make a martyr of her in this place; Alia wouldn’t survive it. Alia would know that. When Jessica failed to respond to his shrug and smile, Javid coughed, a belching disturbance of his larynx which could only have been achieved with practice. It was like a secret language. It said: “We understand the nonsense of all this pomp, My Lady. Isn’t it wonderful what humans can be made to believe!” Wonderful! Jessica agreed, but her face gave no indication of the thought. The anteroom was quite full now, all of the morning’s permitted supplicants having received their right of entrance from Javid’s people. The outer doors had been closed. Supplicants and attendants kept a polite distance from Jessica, but observed that she wore the formal black aba of a Fremen Reverend Mother. This would raise many questions. No mark of Muad’Dib’s priesthood could be seen on her person. Conversations hummed as the people divided their attention between Jessica and the small side door through which Alia would come to lead them into the Great Hall. It was obvious to Jessica that the old pattern which defined where the Regency’s powers lay had been shaken. I did that just by coming here, she thought. But I came because Alia invited me. Reading the signs of disturbance, Jessica realized Alia was deliberately prolonging this moment, allowing the subtle currents to run their course here. Alia would be watching from a spy hole, of course. Few subtleties of Alia’s behavior escaped Jessica, and she felt with each passing minute how right she’d been to accept the mission which the Sisterhood had pressed upon her. “Matters cannot be allowed to continue in this way,” the leader of the Bene Gesserit delegation had argued. “Surely the signs of decay have not escaped you — you of all people! We know why you left us, but we know also how you were trained. Nothing was stinted in your education. You are an adept of the Panoplia Prophetica and you must know when the souring of a powerful religion threatens us all.” Jessica had pursed her lips in thought while staring out a window at the soft signs of spring at Castle Caladan. She did not like to direct her thinking in such a logical fashion. One of the first lessons of the Sisterhood had been to reserve an attitude of questioning distrust for anything which came in the guise of logic. But the members of the delegation had known that, too. How moist the air had been that morning, Jessica thought, looking around Alia’s anteroom. How fresh and moist. Here there was a sweaty dampness to the air which evoked a sense of uneasiness in Jessica, and she thought: I’ve reverted to Fremen ways. The air was too moist in this sietch-above-ground. What was wrong with the Master of the Stills? Paul would never have permitted such laxness. She noted that Javid, his shiny face alert and composed, appeared not to have noticed the fault of dampness in the anteroom’s air. Bad training for one born on Arrakis. The members of the Bene Gesserit delegation had wanted to know if she required proofs of their allegations. She’d given them an angry answer out of their own manuals: “All proofs inevitably lead to propositions which have no proof! All things are known because we want to believe in them.” “But we have submitted these questions to mentats,” the delegation’s leader had protested. Jessica had stared at the woman, astonished. “I marvel that you have reached your present station and not yet learned the limits of mentats,” Jessica had said. At which the delegation had relaxed. Apparently it had all been a test, and she had passed. They’d feared, of course, that she had lost all touch with those balancing abilities which were at the core of Bene Gesserit training. Now Jessica became softly alert as Javid left his door station and approached her. He bowed. “My Lady. It occurred to me that you might not’ve heard the latest exploit of The Preacher.” “I get daily reports on everything which occurs here,” Jessica said. Let him take that back to Alia! Javid smiled. “Then you know he rails against your family. Only last night, he preached in the south suburb and no one dared touch him. You know why, of course.” “Because they think he’s my son come back to them,” Jessica said, her voice bored. “This question has not yet been put to the mentat Idaho,” Javid said. “Perhaps that should be done and the thing settled.” Jessica thought: Here’s one who truly doesn’t know a mentat’s limits, although he dares put horns on one — in his dreams if not in fact. “Mentats share the fallibilities of those who use them,” she said. “The human mind, as is the case with the mind of any animal, is a resonator. It responds to resonances in the environment. The mentat has learned to extend his awareness across many parallel loops of causality and to proceed along those loops for long chains of consequences.” Let him chew on that! “This Preacher doesn’t disturb you, then?” Javid asked, his voice abruptly formal and portentous. “I find him a healthy sign,” she said. “I don’t want him bothered.” Javid clearly had not expected that blunt a response. He tried to smile, failed. Then: “The ruling Council of the church which deifies thy son will, of course, bow to your wishes if you insist. But certainly some explanation –” “Perhaps you’d rather I explained how I fit into your schemes,” she said. Javid stared at her narrowly. “Madame, I see no logical reason why thou refusest to denounce this Preacher. He cannot be thy son. I make a reasonable request: denounce him.” This is a set piece, Jessica thought. Alia put him up to it. She said: “No.” “But he defiles the name of thy son! He preaches abominable things, cries out against thy holy daughter. He incites the populace against us. When asked, he said that even thou possessest the nature of evil and that thy –” “Enough of this nonsense!” Jessica said. “Tell Alia that I refuse. I’ve heard nothing but tales of this Preacher since returning. He bores me.” “Does it bore thee, Madame, to learn that in his latest defilement he has said that thou wilt not turn against him? And here, clearly, thou –” “Evil as I am, I still won’t denounce him,” she said. “It is no joking matter, Madame!” Jessica waved him away angrily. “Begone!” She spoke with sufficient carrying power that others heard, forcing him to obey. His eyes glared with rage, but he managed a stiff bow and returned to his position at the door. This argument fitted neatly into the observations Jessica already had made. When he spoke of Alia, Javid’s voice carried the husky undertones of a lover; no mistaking it. The rumors no doubt were true. Alia had allowed her life to degenerate in a terrible way. Observing this, Jessica began to harbor the suspicion that Alia was a willing participant in Abomination. Was it a perverse will to self-destruction? Because surely Alia was working to destroy herself and the power base which fed on her brother’s teachings. Faint stirrings of unease began to grow apparent in the anteroom. The aficionados of this place would know when Alia delayed too long, and by now they’d all heard about Jessica’s peremptory dismissal of Alia’s favorite. Jessica sighed. She felt that her body had walked into this place with her soul creeping behind. Movements among the courtiers were so transparent! The seeking out of important people was a dance like the wind through a field of cereal stalks. The cultivated inhabitants of this place furrowed their brows and gave pragmatic rating numbers to the importance of each of their fellows. Obviously her rebuff of Javid had hurt him; few spoke to him now. But the others! Her trained eye could read the rating numbers in the satellites attending the powerful. They do not attend me because I am dangerous, she thought. I have the stink of someone Alia fears. Jessica glanced around the room, seeing eyes turn away. They were such seriously futile people that she found herself wanting to cry out against their ready-made justifications for pointless lives. Oh, if only The Preacher could see this room as it looked now! A fragment of a nearby conversation caught her attention. A tall, slender Priest was addressing his coterie, no doubt supplicants here under his auspices. “Often I must speak otherwise than I think,” he said. “This is called diplomacy.” The resultant laughter was too loud, too quickly silenced. People in the group saw that Jessica had overheard. My Duke would have transported such a one to the farthest available hellhole! Jessica thought. I’ve returned none too soon. She knew now that she’d lived on faraway Caladan in an insulated capsule which had allowed only the most blatant of Alia’s excesses to intrude. I contributed to my own dream-existence, she thought. Caladan had been something like that insulation provided by a really first-class frigate riding securely in the hold of a Guild heighliner. Only the most violent maneuvers could be felt, and those as mere softened movements. How seductive it is to live in peace, she thought. The more she saw of Alia’s court, the more sympathy Jessica felt for the words reported as coming from this blind Preacher. Yes, Paul might have said such words on seeing what had become of his realm. And Jessica wondered what Gurney had found out among the smugglers. Her first reaction to Arrakeen had been the right one, Jessica realized. On that first ride into the city with Javid, her attention had been caught by armored screens around dwellings, the heavily guarded pathways and alleys, the patient watchers at every turn, the tall walls and indications of deep underground places revealed by thick foundations. Arrakeen had become an ungenerous place, a contained place, unreasonable and self-righteous in its harsh outlines. Abruptly the anteroom’s small side door opened. A vanguard of priestess amazons spewed into the room with Alia shielded behind them, haughty and moving with a confined awareness of real and terrible power. Alia’s face was composed; no emotion betrayed itself as her gaze caught and held her mother’s. But both knew the battle had been joined. At Javid’s command, the giant doors into the great Hall were opened, moving with a silent and inevitable sense of hidden energies. Alia came to her mother’s side as the guards enfolded them. “Shall we go in now, mother?” Alia asked. “It’s high time,” Jessica said. And she thought, seeing the sense of gloating in Alia’s eyes: She thinks she can destroy me and remain unscathed! She’s mad! And Jessica wondered if that might not have been what Idaho had wanted. He’d sent a message, but she’d been unable to respond. Such an enigmatic message: “Danger. Must see you.” It had been written in a variant of the old Chakobsa where the particular word chosen to denote danger signified a plot. I’ll see him immediately when I return to Tabr, she thought.

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Categories: Herbert, Frank