Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

Leto came out of the trance with a softness of transition which did not define one condition as separate from another. One level of awareness simply moved into the other. He knew where he was. A restoration of energy surged through him, but he sensed another message from the stale deadliness of the oxygen-depleted air within the stilltent. If he refused to move, he knew he would remain caught in the timeless web, the eternal now where all events coexisted. This prospect enticed him. He saw Time as a convention shaped by the collective mind of all sentience. Time and Space were categories imposed on the universe by his Mind. He had but to break free of the multiplicity where prescient visions lured him. Bold selection could change provisional futures. What boldness did this moment require? The trance state lured him. Leto felt that he had come from the alam al-mythal into the universe of reality only to find them identical. He wanted to maintain the Rihani magic of this revelation, but survival demanded decisions of him. His relentless taste for life sent its signals along his nerves. Abruptly he reached out his right hand to where he had left the sand-compaction tool. He gripped it, rolled onto his stomach, and breached the tent’s sphincter. A pool of sand drifted across his hand. Working in darkness, goaded by the stale air, he worked swiftly, tunneling upward at a steep angle. Six times his body lengths he went before he broke out into darkness and clean air. He slipped out onto the moonlight windface of a long curving dune, found himself about a third of the way from the dune’s top. It was Second Moon above him. It moved swiftly across him, departing beyond the dune, and the stars were laid out above him like bright rocks beside a path. Leto searched for the constellation of The Wanderer, found it, and let his gaze follow the outstretched arm to the brilliant glittering of Foum al-Hout, the polar star of the south. There’s your damned universe for you! he thought. Seen close up it was a hustling place like the sand all around him, a place of change, of uniqueness piled upon uniqueness. Seen from a distance, only the patterns lay revealed and those patterns tempted one to belief in absolutes. In absolutes, we may lose our way. This made him think of the familiar warning from a Fremen ditty: “Who loses his way in the Tanzerouft loses his life.” The patterns could guide and they could trap. One had to remember that patterns change. He took a deep breath, stirred himself into action. Sliding back down his passage, he collapsed the tent, brought it out and repacked the Fremkit. A wine glow began to develop along the eastern horizon. He shouldered the pack, climbed to the dunecrest and stood there in the chill predawn air until the rising sun felt warm on his right cheek. He stained his eyepits then to reduce reflection, knowing that he must woo this desert now rather than fight her. When he had put the stain back into the pack he sipped from one of his catchtubes, drew in a sputtering of drops and then air. Dropping to the sand, he began going over his stillsuit, coming at last to the heel pumps. They had been cut cleverly with a needle knife. He slipped out of the suit and repaired it, but the damage had been done. At least half of his body’s water was gone. Were it not for the stilltent’s catch . . . He mused on this as he donned the suit, thinking how odd it was that he’d not anticipated this. Here was an obvious danger of visionless future. Leto squatted on the dunetop then, pressed himself against the loneliness of this place. He let his gaze wander, fishing in the sand for a whistling vent, any irregularity of the dunes which might indicate spice or worm activity. But the storm had stamped its uniformity upon the land. Presently he removed a thumper from the kit, armed it, and sent it rotating to call Shai-Hulud from his depths. He then moved off to wait. The worm was a long time coming. He heard it before he saw it, turned eastward where the earthshaking susurration made the air tremble, waited for the first glimpse of orange from the mouth rising out of the sand. The worm lifted itself from the depths in a gigantic hissing of dust which obscured its flanks. The curving grey wall swept past Leto and he planted his hooks, went up the side in easy steps. He turned the worm southward in a great curving track as he climbed. Under his goading hooks, the worm picked up speed. Wind whipped his robe against him. He felt himself to be goaded as the worm was goaded, an intense current of creation in his loins. Each planet has its own period and each life likewise, he reminded himself. The worm was a type Fremen called a “growler.” It frequently dug in its foreplates while the tail was driving. This produced rumbling sounds and caused part of its body to rise clear of the sand in a moving hump. It was a fast worm, though, and when they picked up a following wind the furnace exhalation of his tail sent a hot breeze across him. It was filled with acrid odors carried on the freshet of oxygen. As the worm sped southward, Leto allowed his mind to run free. He tried to think of this passage as a new ceremony for his life, one which kept him from considering the price he’d have to pay for his Golden Path. Like the Fremen of old, he knew he’d have to adopt many new ceremonies to keep his personality from dividing into its memory parts, to keep the ravening hunters of his soul forever at bay. Contradictory images, never to be unified, must now be encysted in a living tension, a polarizing force which drove him from within. Always newness, he thought. I must always find the new threads out of my vision. In the early afternoon his attention was caught by a protuberance ahead and slightly to the right of his course. Slowly the protuberance became a narrow butte, an upthrust rock precisely where he’d expected it. Now Namri . . . Now Sabiha, let us see how your brethren take to my presence, he thought. This was a most delicate thread ahead of him, dangerous more for its lures than its open threats. The butte was a long time changing dimensions. And it appeared for a while that it approached him instead of him approaching it. The worm, tiring now, kept veering left. Leto slid down the immense slope to set his hooks anew and keep the giant on a straight course. A soft sharpness of melange came to his nostrils, the signal of a rich vein. They passed the leprous blotches of violet sand where a spiceblow had erupted and he held the worm firmly until they were well past the vein. The breeze, redolent with the gingery odor of cinnamon, pursued them for a time until Leto rolled the worm onto its new course, headed directly toward the rising butte. Abruptly colors blinked far out on the southern bled: the unwary rainbow flashing of a man-made artifact in that immensity. He brought up his binoculars, focused the oil lenses, and saw in the distance the outbanking wings of a spice-scout glittering in the sunlight. Beneath it a big harvester was shedding its wings like a chrysalis before lumbering off. When Leto lowered the binoculars the harvester dwindled to a speck, and he felt himself overcome by the hadhdhab, the immense omnipresence of the desert, it told him how those spice-hunters would see him, a dark object between desert and sky, which was the Fremen symbol for man. They’d see him, of course, and they’d be cautious. They’d wait. Fremen were always suspicious of one another in the desert until they recognized the newcomer or saw for certain that he posed no threat. Even within the fine patina of Imperial civilization and its sophisticated rules they remained half-tamed savages, aware always that a crysknife dissolved at the death of its owner. That’s what can save us, Leto thought. That wildness. In the distance the spice-scout banked right, then left, a signal to the ground. He imagined the occupants scanning the desert behind him for sign that he might be more than a single rider on a single worm. Leto rolled the worm to the left, held it until it had reversed its course, dropped down the flank, and leaped clear. The worm, released from his goading, sulked on the surface for a few breaths, then sank its front third and lay there recuperating, a sure sign that it had been ridden too long. He turned away from the worm; it would stay there now. The scout was circling its crawler, still giving wing signals. They were smuggler-paid renegades for certain, wary of electronic communications. The hunters would be on spice out there. That was the message of the crawler’s presence. The scout circled once more, dipped its wings, came out of the circle and headed directly toward him. He recognized it for a type of light ‘thopter his grandfather had introduced on Arrakis. The craft circled once above him, went out along the dune where he stood, and banked to land against the breeze. It came down within ten meters of him, stirring up a scattering of dust. The door on his side cracked enough to emit a single figure in a heavy Fremen robe with a spear symbol at the right breast. The Fremen approached slowly, giving each of them time to study the other. The man was tall with the total indigo of spice-eyes. The stillsuit mask concealed the lower half of his face and the hood had been drawn down to protect his brows. The movement of the robe revealed a hand beneath it holding a maula pistol. The man stopped two paces from Leto, looked down at him with a puzzled crinkling around the eyes. “Good fortune to us all,” Leto said. The man peered all around, scanning the emptiness, then returned his attention to Leto. “What do you here, child?” he demanded. His voice was muffled by the stillsuit mask. “Are you trying to be the cork in a wormhole?” Again Leto used traditional Fremen formula: “The desert is my home.” “Wenn?” the man demanded. Which way do you go? “I travel south from Jacurutu.” An abrupt laugh erupted from the man. “Well, Batigh! You are the strangest thing I’ve ever seen in the Tanzerouft.” “I’m not your Little Melon,” Leto said, responding to Batigh. That was a label with dire overtones. The Little Melon on the desert’s edge offered its water to any finder. “We’ll not drink you, Batigh,” the man said. “I am Muriz. I am the arifa of this taif.” He indicated with a head motion the distant spice-crawler. Leto noted how the man called himself the Judge of his group and referred to the others as taif, a band or company. They were not ichwan, not a band of brothers. Paid renegades for sure. Here lay the thread he required. When Leto remained silent, Muriz asked: “Do you have a name?” “Batigh will do.” A chuckle shook Muriz. “You’ve not told me what you do here?” “I seek the footprints of a worm,” Leto said, using the religious phrase which said he was on hajj for his own umma, his personal revelation. “One so young?” Muriz asked. He shook his head. “I don’t know what to do with you. You have seen us.” “What have I seen?” Leto asked. “I speak of Jacurutu and you make no response.” “Riddle games,” Muriz said. “What is that, then?” He nodded toward the distant butte. Leto spoke from his vision: “Only Shuloch.” Muriz stiffened and Leto felt his own pulse quicken. A long silence ensued and Leto could see the man debating and discarding various responses. Shuloch! In the quiet story time after a sietch meal, stories of the Shuloch caravanserie were often repeated. Listeners always assumed that Shuloch was a myth, a place for interesting things to happen and only for the sake of the story. Leto recalled a Shuloch story: A waif was found at the desert’s edge and brought into the sietch. At first the waif refused to respond to his saviors, then when he spoke no one could understand his words. As days passed he continued unresponsive, refused to dress himself or cooperate in any way. Every time he was left alone he made odd motions with his hands. All the specialists in the sietch were called in to study this waif but arrived at no answer. Then a very old woman passed the doorway, saw the moving hands, and laughed. “He only imitates his father who rolls the spice-fibers into rope,” she explained. “It’s the way they still do it at Shuloch. He’s just trying to feel less lonely.” And the moral: “In the old ways of Shuloch there is security and a sense of belonging to the golden thread of life”. As Muriz remained silent, Leto said: “I’m the waif from Shuloch who knows only to move his hands.” In the quick movement of the man’s head, Leto saw that Muriz knew the story. Muriz responded slowly, voice low and filled with menace. “Are you human?” “Human as yourself,” Leto said. “You speak most strangely for a child. I remind you that I am a judge who can respond to the taqwa.” Ah, yes, Leto thought. In the mouth of such a judge, the taqwa carried immediate threat. Taqwa was the fear invoked by the presence of a demon, a very real belief among older Fremen. The arifa knew the ways to slay a demon and was always chosen “because he has the wisdom to be ruthless without being cruel, to know when kindness is in fact the way to greater cruelty.” But this thing had come to the point which Leto sought, and he said: “I can submit to the Mashhad.” “I’ll be the judge of any Spiritual Test,” Muriz said. “Do you accept this?” “Bi-lal kaifa,” Leto said. Without qualification. A sly look came over Muriz’s face. He said: “I don’t know why I permit this. Best you were slain out of hand, but you’re a small Batigh and I had a son who is dead. Come, we will go to Shuloch and I’ll convene the Isnad for a decision about you.” Leto, noting how the man’s every mannerism betrayed deadly decision, wondered how anyone could be fooled by this. He said: “I know Shuloch is the Ahl as-sunna wal-jamas.” “What does a child know of the real world?” Muriz asked, motioning for Leto to precede him to the ‘thopter. Leto obeyed, but listened carefully to the sound of the Fremen’s footsteps. “The surest way to keep a secret is to make people believe they already know the answer,” Leto said. “People don’t ask questions then. It was clever of you who were cast out of Jacurutu. Who’d believe Shuloch, the story-myth place, is real? And how convenient for the smugglers or anyone else who desires access to Dune.” Muriz’s footsteps stopped. Leto turned with his back against the ‘thopter’s side, the wing on his left. Muriz stood half a pace away with his maula pistol drawn and pointed directly at Leto. “So you’re not a child,” Muriz said. “A cursed midget come to spy on us! I thought you spoke too wisely for a child, but you spoke too much too soon.” “Not enough,” Leto said. “I’m Leto, the child of Paul-Muad’Dib. If you slay me, you and your people will sink into the sand. If you spare me, I’ll lead you to greatness.” “Don’t play games with me, midget,” Muriz snarled. “Leto is at the real Jacurutu from whence you say . . .” He broke off. The gun hand dropped slightly as a puzzled frown made his eyes squint. It was the hesitation Leto had expected, He made every muscle indication of a move to the left which, deflecting his body no more than a millimeter, brought the Fremen’s gun swinging wildly against the wing edge. The maula pistol flew from his hand and, before he could recover, Leto was beside him with Muriz’s own crysknife pressed against the man’s back. “The tip’s poisoned,” Leto said. “Tell your friend in the ‘thopter that he’s to remain exactly where he is without moving at all. Otherwise I’ll be forced to kill you.” Muriz, nursing his injured hand, shook his head at the figure in the ‘thopter, said: “My companion Behaleth has heard you. He will be as unmoving as the rock.” Knowing he had very little time until the two worked out a plan of action or their friends came to investigate, Leto spoke swiftly: “You need me, Muriz. Without me, the worms and their spice will vanish from Dune.” He felt the Fremen stiffen. “But how do you know of Shuloch?” Muriz asked. “I know they said nothing at Jacurutu.” “So you admit I’m Leto Atreides?” “Who else could you be? But how do you –” “Because you are here,” Leto said. “Shuloch exists, therefore the rest is utter simplicity. You are the Cast Out who escaped when Jacurutu was destroyed. I saw you signal with your wings, therefore you use no device which could be overheard at a distance. You collect spice, therefore you trade. You could only trade with the smugglers. You are a smuggler, yet you are Fremen. You must be of Shuloch.” “Why did you tempt me to slay you out of hand?” “Because you would’ve slain me anyway when we’d returned to Shuloch.” A violent rigidity came over Muriz’s body. “Careful, Muriz,” Leto cautioned. “I know about you. It was in your history that you took the water of unwary travelers. By now this would be common ritual with you. How else could you silence the ones who chanced upon you? How else keep your secret? Batigh! You’d seduce me with gentle epithets and kindly words. Why waste any of my water upon the sand? And if I were missed as were many of the others — well, the Tanzerouft got me.” Muriz made the Horns-of-the-Worm sign with his right hand to ward off the Rihani which Leto’s words called up. And Leto, knowing how older Fremen distrusted mentats or anything which smacked of them by a show of extended logic, suppressed a smile. “Manri spoke of us at Jacurutu,” Muriz said. “I will have his water when –” “You’ll have nothing but empty sand if you continue playing the fool,” Leto said. “What will you do, Muriz, when all of Dune has become green grass, trees, and open water?” “It will never happen!” “It is happening before your eves.” Leto heard Muriz’s teeth grinding in rage and frustration. Presently the man grated: “How would you prevent this?” “I know the entire plan of the transformation,” Leto said. “I know every weakness in it, every strength. Without me, Shai-Hulud will vanish forever.” A sly note returning to his voice, Muriz asked: “Well, why dispute it here? We’re at a standoff. You have your knife. You could kill me, but Behaleth would shoot you.” “Not before I recovered your pistol,” Leto said. “Then I’d have your ‘thopter. Yes, I can fly it.” A scowl creased Muriz’s forehead beneath the hood. “What if you’re not who you say?” “Will my father not identify me?” Leto asked. “Ahhhh,” Muriz said. “There’s how you learned, eh? But . . .” He broke off, shook his head. “My own son guides him. He says you two have never . . . How could . . .” “So you don’t believe Muad’Dib reads the future,” Leto said. “Of course we believe! But he says of himself that . . .” Again Muriz broke off. “And you thought him unaware of your distrust,” Leto said. “I came to this exact place in this exact time to meet you, Muriz. I know all about you because I’ve seen you . . . and your son. I know how secure you believe yourselves, how you sneer at Muad’Dib, how you plot to save your little patch of desert. But your little patch of desert is doomed without me, Muriz. Lost forever. It has gone too far here on Dune. My father has almost run out of vision, and you can only turn to me.” “That blind . . .” Muriz stopped, swallowed. “He’ll return soon from Arrakeen,” Leto said, “and then we shall see how blind he is. How far have you gone from the old Fremen ways, Muriz?” “What?” “He is Wadquiyas with you. Your people found him alone in the desert and brought him to Shuloch. What a rich discovery he was! Richer than a spice-vein. Wadquiyas! He has lived with you; his water mingled with your tribe’s water. He’s part of your Spirit River.” Leto pressed the knife hard against Muriz’s robe. “Careful, Muriz.” Leto lifted his left hand, released the Fremen’s face flap, dropped it. Knowing what Leto planned, Muriz said: “Where would you go if you killed us both?” “Back to Jacurutu.” Leto pressed the fleshy part of his own thumb against Muriz’s mouth. “Bite and drink, Muriz. That or die.” Muriz hesitated, then bit viciously into Leto’s flesh. Leto watched the man’s throat, saw the swallowing convulsion, withdrew the knife and returned it. “Wadquiyas,” Leto said. “I must offend the tribe before you can take my water.” Muriz nodded. “Your pistol is over there.” Leto gestured with his chin. “You trust me now?” Muriz asked. “How else can I live with the Cast Out?” Again Leto saw the sly look in Muriz’s eyes, but this time it was a measuring thing, a weighing of economics. The man turned away with an abruptness which told of secret decisions, recovered his maula pistol and returned to the wing step. “Come,” he said. “We tarry too long in a worm’s lair.”

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Categories: Herbert, Frank