Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

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I give you the desert chameleon, whose ability to blend itself into the background tells you all you need to know about the roots of ecology and the foundations of a personal identity. -Book of Diatribes from the Hayt Chronicle

Leto sat playing a small baliset which had been sent to him on his fifth birthday by that consummate artist of the instrument, Gurney Halleck. In four years of practice, Leto had achieved a certain fluency, although the two bass side strings still gave him trouble. He had found the baliset soothing, however, for particular feelings of upset — a fact which had not escaped Ghanima. He sat now in twilight on a rock shelf at the southernmost extremity of the craggy outcropping which sheltered Sietch Tabr. Softly he strummed the baliset. Ghanima stood behind him, her small figure radiating protest. She had not wanted to come here into the open after learning from Stilgar that their grandmother was delayed in Arrakeen. She particularly objected to coming here with nightfall near. Attempting to hurry her brother, she asked: “Well, what is it?” For an answer, he began another tune. For the first time since accepting the gift, Leto felt intensely aware that this baliset had originated with a master craftsman on Caladan. He possessed inherited memories which could inflict him with profound nostalgia for that beautiful planet where House Atreides had ruled. Leto had but to relax his inner barriers in the presence of this music and he would hear memories from those times when Gurney had employed the baliset to beguile his friend and charge, Paul Atreides. With the baliset sounding in his own hands, Leto felt himself more and more dominated by his father’s psychical presence. Still he played, relating more strongly to the instrument with every second that passed. He sensed the absolute idealized summation within himself which knew how to play this baliset, though nine-year-old muscles had not yet been conditioned to that inner awareness. Ghanima tapped her foot impatiently, unaware that she matched the rhythm of her brother’s playing. Setting his mouth in a grimace of concentration, Leto broke from the familiar music and tried a song more ancient than any even Gurney had played. It had been old when Fremen migrated to their fifth planet. The words echoed a Zensunni theme, and he heard them in his memory while his fingers elicited a faltering version of the tune.

“Nature’s beauteous form Contains a lovely essence Called by some — decay. By this lovely presence New life finds its way. Tears shed silently Are but water of the soul: They bring new life To the pain of being — A separation from that seeing Which death makes whole.”

Ghanima spoke behind him as he strummed the final note. “There’s a mucky old song. Why that one?” “Because it fits.” “Will you play it for Gurney?” “Perhaps.” “He’ll call it moody nonsense.” “I know.” Leto peered back over his shoulder at Ghanima. There was no surprise in him that she knew the song and its lyrics, but he felt a sudden onset of awe at the singleness of their twinned lives. One of them could die and yet remain alive in the other’s consciousness, every shared memory intact; they were that close. He found himself frightened by the timeless web of that closeness, broke his gaze away from her. The web contained gaps, he knew. His fear arose from the newest of those gaps. He felt their lives beginning to separate and wondered: How can I tell her of this thing which has happened only to me? He peered out over the desert, seeing the deep shadows behind the barachans — those high, crescent-shaped migratory dunes which moved like waves around Arrakis. This was Kedem, the inner desert, and its dunes were rarely marked these days by the irregularities of a giant worm’s progress. Sunset drew bloody streaks over the dunes, imparting a fiery light to the shadow edges. A hawk falling from the crimson sky captured his awareness as it captured a rock partridge in flight. Directly beneath him on the desert floor plants grew in a profusion of greens, watered by a qanat which flowed partly in the open, partly in covered tunnels. The water came from giant windtrap collectors behind him on the highest point of rock. The green flag of the Atreides flew openly there. Water and green. The new symbols of Arrakis: water and green. A diamond-shaped oasis of planted dunes spread beneath his high perch, focusing his attention into sharp Fremen awareness. The bell call of a nightbird came from the cliff below him, and it amplified the sensation that he lived this moment out of a wild past. Nous avons change tout cela, he thought, falling easily into one of the ancient tongues which he and Ghanima employed in private. “We have altered all of that.” He sighed. Oublier je ne puis. “I cannot forget.” Beyond the oasis, he could see in this failing light the land Fremen called “The Emptiness” — the land where nothing grows, the land never fertile. Water and the great ecological plan were changing that. There were places now on Arrakis where one could see the plush green velvet of forested hills. Forests on Arrakis! Some in the new generation found it difficult to imagine dunes beneath those undulant green hills. To such young eyes there was no shock value in seeing the flat foliage of rain trees. But Leto found himself thinking now in the Old Fremen manner, wary of change, fearful in the presence of the new. He said: “The children tell me they seldom find sandtrout here near the surface anymore.” “What’s that supposed to indicate?” Ghanima asked. There was petulance in her tone. “Things are beginning to change very swiftly,” he said. Again the bird chimed in the cliff, and night fell upon the desert as the hawk had fallen upon the partridge. Night often subjected him to an assault of memories — all of those inner lives clamoring for their moment. Ghanima didn’t object to this phenomenon in quite the way he did. She knew his disquiet, though, and he felt her hand touch his shoulder in sympathy. He struck an angry chord from the baliset. How could he tell her what was happening to him? Within his head were wars, uncounted lives parceling out their ancient memories: violent accidents, love’s languor, the colors of many places and many faces . . . the buried sorrows and leaping joys of multitudes. He heard elegies to springs on planets which no longer existed, green dances and firelight, wails and halloos, a harvest of conversations without number. Their assault was hardest to bear at nightfall in the open. “Shouldn’t we be going in?” she asked. He shook his head, and she felt the movement, realizing at last that his troubles went deeper than she had suspected. Why do I so often greet the night out here? he asked himself. He did not feel Ghanima withdraw her hand. “You know why you torment yourself this way,” she said. He heard the gentle chiding in her voice. Yes, he knew. The answer lay there in his awareness, obvious: Because that great known-unknown within moves me like a wave. He felt the cresting of his past as though he rode a surfboard. He had his father’s time-spread memories of prescience superimposed upon everything else, yet he wanted all of those pasts. He wanted them. And they were so very dangerous. He knew that completely now with this new thing which he would have to tell Ghanima. The desert was beginning to glow under the rising light of First Moon. He stared out at the false immobility of sand furls reaching into infinity. To his left, in the near distance, lay The Attendant, a rock outcropping which sandblast winds had reduced to a low, sinuous shape like a dark worm striking through the dunes. Someday the rock beneath him would be cut down to such a shape and Sietch Tabr would be no more, except in the memories of someone like himself. He did not doubt that there would be someone like himself. “Why’re you staring at The Attendant?” Ghanima asked. He shrugged. In defiance of their guardians’ orders, he and Ghanima often went to The Attendant. They had discovered a secret hiding place there, and Leto knew now why that place lured them. Beneath him, its distance foreshortened by darkness, an open stretch of qanat gleamed in moonlight; its surface rippled with movements of predator fish which Fremen always planted in their stored water to keep out the sandtrout. “I stand between fish and worm,” he murmured. “What?” He repeated it louder. She put a hand to her mouth, beginning to suspect the thing which moved him. Her father had acted thus; she had but to peer inward and compare. Leto shuddered. Memories which fastened him to places his flesh had never known presented him with answers to questions he had not asked. He saw relationships and unfolding events against a gigantic inner screen. The sandworm of Dune would not cross water; water poisoned it. Yet water had been known here in prehistoric times. White gypsum pans attested to bygone lakes and seas. Wells, deep-drilled, found water which sandtrout sealed off. As clearly as if he’d witnessed the events, he saw what had happened on this planet and it filled him with foreboding for the cataclysmic changes which human intervention was bringing. His voice barely above a whisper, he said: “I know what happened, Ghanima.” She bent close to him. “Yes?” “The sandtrout . . .” He fell silent and she wondered why he kept referring to the haploid phase of the planet’s giant sandworm, but she dared not prod him. “The sandtrout,” he repeated, “was introduced here from some other place. This was a wet planet then. They proliferated beyond the capability of existing ecosystems to deal with them. Sandtrout encysted the available free water, made this a desert planet . . . and they did it to survive. In a planet sufficiently dry, they could move to their sandworm phase.” “The sandtrout?” She shook her head, not doubting him, but unwilling to search those depths where he gathered such information. And she thought: Sandtrout? Many times in this flesh and other had she played the childhood game, poling for sandtrout, teasing them into a thin glove membrane before taking them to the deathstill for their water. It was difficult to think of this mindless little creature as a shaper of enormous events. Leto nodded to himself. Fremen had always known to plant predator fish in their water cisterns. The haploid sandtrout actively resisted great accumulations of water near the planet’s surface; predators swam in that qanat below him. Their sandworm vector could handle small amounts of water — the amounts held in cellular bondage by human flesh, for example. But confronted by large bodies of water, their chemical factories went wild, exploded in the death-transformation which produced the dangerous melange concentrate, the ultimate awareness drug employed in a diluted fraction for the sietch orgy. That pure concentrate had taken Paul Muad’Dib through the walls of Time, deep into the well of dissolution which no other male had ever dared. Ghanima sensed her brother trembling where he sat in front of her. “What have you done?” she demanded. But he would not leave his own train of revelation. “Fewer sandtrout — the ecological transformation of the planet . . .” “They resist it, of course,” she said, and now she began to understand the fear in his voice, drawn into this thing against her will. “When the sandtrout go, so do all the worms,” he said. “The tribes must be warned.” “No more spice,” she said. Words merely touched high points of the system danger which they both saw hanging over human intrusion into Dune’s ancient relationships. “It’s the thing Alia knows,” he said. “It’s why she gloats.” “How can you be sure of that?” “I’m sure.” Now she knew for certain what disturbed him, and she felt the knowledge chill her. “The tribes won’t believe us if she denies it,” he said. His statement went to the primary problem of their existence: What Fremen expected wisdom from a nine-year-old? Alia, growing farther and farther from her own inner sharing each day, played upon this. “We must convince Stilgar,” Ghanima said. As one, their heads turned and they stared out over the moonlit desert. It was a different place now, changed by just a few moments of awareness. Human interplay with that environment had never been more apparent to them. They felt themselves as integral parts of a dynamic system held in delicately balanced order. The new outlook involved a real change of consciousness which flooded them with observations. As Liet-Kynes had said, the universe was a place of constant conversation between animal populations. The haploid sandtrout had spoken to them as human animals. “The tribes would understand a threat to water,” Leto said. “But it’s a threat to more than water. It’s a –” She fell silent, understanding the deeper meaning of his words. Water was the ultimate power symbol on Arrakis. At their roots Fremen remained special-application animals, desert survivors, governance experts under conditions of stress. And as water became plentiful, a strange symbol transfer came over them even while they understood the old necessities. “You mean a threat to power,” she corrected him. “Of course.” “But will they believe us?” “If they see it happening, if they see the imbalance.” “Balance,” she said, and repeated her father’s words from long ago: “It’s what distinguishes a people from a mob.” Her words called up their father in him and he said: “Economics versus beauty — a story older than Sheba.” He sighed, looked over his shoulder at her. “I’m beginning to have prescient dreams, Ghani.” A sharp gasp escaped her. He said: “When Stilgar told us our grandmother was delayed — I already knew that moment. Now my other dreams are suspect.” “Leto . . .” She shook her head, eyes damp. “It came later for our father. Don’t you think it might be –” “I’ve dreamed myself enclosed in armor and racing across the dunes,” he said. “And I’ve been to Jacurutu.” “Jacu . . .” She cleared her throat. “That old myth!” “A real place. Ghani! I must find this man they call The Preacher. I must find him and question him.” “You think he’s . . . our father?” “Ask yourself that question.” “It’d be just like him,” she agreed, “but . . .” “I don’t like the things I know I’ll do,” he said. “For the first time in my life I understand my father.” She felt excluded from his thoughts, said: “The Preacher’s probably just an old mystic.” “I pray for that,” he whispered. “Oh, how I pray for that!” He rocked forward, got to his feet. The baliset hummed in his hand as he moved. “Would that he were only Gabriel without a horn.” He stared silently at the moonlit desert. She turned to look where he looked, saw the foxfire glow of rotting vegetation at the edge of the sietch plantings, then the clean blending into lines of dunes. That was a living place out there. Even when the desert slept, something remained awake in it. She sensed that wakefulness, hearing animals below her drinking at the qanat. Leto’s revelation had transformed the night: this was a living moment, a time to discover regularities within perpetual change, an instant in which to feel that long movement from their Terranic past, all of it encapsulated in her memories. “Why Jacurutu?” she asked, and the flatness of her tone shattered the mood. “Why . . . I don’t know. When Stilgar first told us how they killed the people there and made the place tabu, I thought . . . what you thought. But danger comes from there now . . . and The Preacher.” She didn’t respond, didn’t demand that he share more of his prescient dreams with her, and she knew how much this told him of her terror. That way led to Abomination and they both knew it. The word hung unspoken between them as he turned and led the way back over the rocks to the sietch entrance. Abomination.

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Categories: Herbert, Frank