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The sietch at the desert’s rim Was Liet’s, was Kynes’s, Was Stilgar’s, was Muad’Dib’s And, once more, was Stilgar’s. The Naibs one by one sleep in the sand, But the sietch endures. -from a Fremen song
Alia felt her heart pounding as she walked away from the twins. For a few pulsing seconds, she had felt herself near compulsion to stay with them and beg their help. What a foolish weakness! Memory of it sent a warning stillness through Alia. Would these twins dare practice prescience? The path which had engulfed their father must lure them — spice trance with its visions of the future wavering like gauze blown on a fickle wind. Why cannot I see the future? Alia wondered. Much as I try, why does it elude me? The twins must be made to try, she told herself. They could be lured into it. They had the curiosity of children and it was linked to memories which traversed millennia. Just as I have, Alia thought. Her guards opened the moisture seals at the State Entrance of the sietch, stood aside as she emerged onto the landing lip where the ornithopters waited. There was a wind from the desert blowing dust across the sky, but the day was bright. Emerging from the glowglobes of the sietch into the daylight sent her thoughts outward. Why was the Lady Jessica returning at this moment? Had stories been carried to Caladan, stories of how the Regency was . . . “We must hurry, My Lady,” one of her guards said, raising his voice above the wind sounds. Alia allowed herself to be helped into her ornithopter and secured the safety harness, but her thoughts went leaping ahead. Why now? As the ornithopter’s wings dipped and the craft went skidding into the air, she felt the pomp and power of her position as physical things — but they were fragile, oh, how fragile! Why now, when her plans were not completed? The dust mists drifted, lifting, and she could see the bright sunlight upon the changing landscape of the planet: broad reaches of green vegetation where parched earth had once dominated. Without a vision of the future, I could fail. Oh, what magic I could perform if only I could see as Paul saw! Not for me the bitterness which prescient visions brought. A tormenting hunger shuddered through her and she wished she could put aside the power. Oh, to be as others were — blind in that safest of all blindnesses, living only the hypnoidal half-life into which birth-shock precipitated most humans. But no! She had been born an Atreides, victim of that eons-deep awareness inflicted by her mother’s spice addiction. Why does my mother return today? Gurney Halleck would be with her — ever the devoted servant, the hired killer of ugly mien, loyal and straightforward, a musician who played murder with a sliptip, or entertained with equal ease upon his nine-string baliset. Some said he’d become her mother’s lover. That would be a thing to ferret out; it might prove a most valuable leverage. The wish to be as others were left her. Leto must be lured into the spice trance. She recalled asking the boy how he would deal with Gurney Halleck. And Leto, sensing undercurrents in her question, had said Halleck was loyal “to a fault,” adding: “He adored . . . my father.” She’d noted the small hesitation. Leto had almost said “me” instead of “my father.” Yes, it was hard at times to separate the genetic memory from the chord of living flesh. Gurney Halleck would not make that separation easier for Leto. A harsh smile touched Alia’s lips. Gurney had chosen to return to Caladan with the Lady Jessica after Paul’s death. His return would tangle many things. Coming back to Arrakis, he would add his own complexities to the existing lines. He had served Paul’s father — and thus the succession went: Leto I to Paul to Leto II. And out of the Bene Gesserit breeding program: Jessica to Alia to Ghanima — a branching line. Gurney, adding to the confusion of identities, might prove valuable. What would he do if he discovered we carry the blood of Harkonnens, the Harkonnens he hates so bitterly? The smile on Alia’s lips became introspective. The twins were, after all, children. They were like children with countless parents, whose memories belonged both to others and to self. They would stand at the lip of Sietch Tabr and watch the track of their grandmother’s ship landing in the Arrakeen Basin. That burning mark of a ship’s passage visible on the sky — would it make Jessica’s arrival more real for her grandchildren? My mother will ask me about their training, Alia thought. Do I mix prana bindu disciplines with a judicious hand? And I will tell her that they train themselves — just as I did. I will quote her grandson to her: “Among the responsibilities of command is the necessity to punish . . . but only when the victim demands it.” It came to Alia then that if she could only focus the Lady Jessica’s attention sharply enough onto the twins, others might escape a closer inspection. Such a thing could be done. Leto was very much like Paul. And why not? He could be Paul whenever he chose. Even Ghanima possessed this shattering ability. Just as I can be my mother or any of the others who’ve shared their lives with us. She veered away from this thought, staring out at the passing landscape of the Shield Wall. Then: How was it to leave the warm safety of water-rich Caladan and return to Arrakis, to this desert planet where her Duke was murdered and her son died a martyr? Why did the Lady Jessica come back at this time? Alia found no answer — nothing certain. She could share another’s ego-awareness, but when experiences went their separate ways, then motives diverged as well. The stuff of decisions lay in the private actions taken by individuals. For the pre-born, the many-born Atreides, this remained the paramount reality, in itself another kind of birth: it was the absolute separation of living, breathing flesh when that flesh left the womb which had afflicted it with multiple awareness. Alia saw nothing strange in loving and hating her mother simultaneously. It was a necessity, a required balance without room for guilt or blame. Where could loving or hating stop? Was one to blame the Bene Gesserit because they set the Lady Jessica upon a certain course? Guilt and blame grew diffuse when memory covered millennia. The Sisterhood had only been seeking to breed a Kwisatz Haderach: the male counterpart of a fully developed Reverend Mother . . . and more — a human of superior sensitivity and awareness, the Kwisatz Haderach who could be many places simultaneously. And the Lady Jessica, merely a pawn in that breeding program, had the bad taste to fall in love with the breeding partner to whom she had been assigned. Responsive to her beloved Duke’s wishes, she produced a son instead of the daughter which the Sisterhood had commanded as the firstborn. Leaving me to be born after she became addicted to the spice! And now they don’t want me. Now they fear me! With good reason . . . They’d achieved Paul, their Kwisatz Haderach, one lifetime too early — a minor miscalculation in a plan that extended. And now they had another problem: the Abomination, who carried the precious genes they’d sought for so many generations. Alia felt a shadow pass across her, glanced upward. Her escort was assuming the high guard position preparatory to landing. She shook her head in wonderment at her wandering thoughts. What good was served by calling up old lifetimes and rubbing their mistakes together? This was a new lifetime. Duncan Idaho had put his mentat awareness to the question of why Jessica returned at this time, evaluating the problem in the human-computer fashion which was his gift. He said she returned to take over the twins for the Sisterhood. The twins, too, carried those precious genes. Duncan could well be right. That might be enough to take the Lady Jessica out of her self-imposed seclusion on Caladan. If the Sisterhood commanded . . . Well, why else would she come back to the scenes of so much that must be shatteringly painful to her? “We shall see,” Alia muttered. She felt the ornithopter touch down on the roof of her Keep, a positive and jarring punctuation which filled her with grim anticipation.