Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

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By these acts Leto II removed himself from the evolutionary succession. He did it with a deliberate cutting action, saying: “To be independent is to be removed.” Both twins saw beyond the needs of memory as a measuring process, that is, a way of determining their distance from their human origins. But it was left to Leto II to do the audacious thing, recognizing that a real creation is independent of its creator. He refused to reenact the evolutionary sequence, saying, “That, too, takes me farther and farther from humanity.” He saw the implications in this: that there can be no truly closed systems in life. -The Holy Metamorphosis, by Harq al-Ada

There were birds thriving on the insect life which teemed in the damp sand beyond the broken qanat: parrots, magpies, jays. This had been a djedida, the last of the new towns, built on a foundation of exposed basalt. It was abandoned now. Ghanima, using the morning hours to study the area beyond the original plantings of the abandoned sietch, detected movement and saw a banded gecko lizard. There’d been a gila woodpecker earlier, nesting in a mud wall of the djedida. She thought of it as a sietch, but it was really a collection of low walls made of stabilized mud brick surrounded by plantings to hold back the dunes. It lay within the Tanzerouft, six hundred kilometers south of Sihaya Ridge. Without human hands to maintain it, the sietch already was beginning to melt back into the desert, its walls eroded by sandblast winds, its plants dying, its plantation area cracked by the burning sun. Yet the sand beyond the shattered qanat remained damp, attesting to the fact that the squat bulk of the windtrap still functioned. In the months since their flight from Tabr the fugitives had sampled the protection of several such places made uninhabitable by the Desert Demon. Ghanima didn’t believe in the Desert Demon, although there was no denying the visible evidence of the qanat’s destruction. Occasionally they had word from the northern settlements through encounters with rebel spice-hunters. A few ‘thopters — some said no more than six — carried out search flights seeking Stilgar, but Arrakis was large and its desert was friendly to the fugitives. Reportedly there was a search-and-destroy force charged with finding Stilgar’s band, but the force which was led by the former Tabrite Buer Agarves had other duties and often returned to Arrakeen. The rebels said there was little fighting between their men and the troops of Alia. Random depredations of the Desert Demon made Home Guard duty the first concern of Alia and the Naibs. Even the smugglers had been hit, but they were said to be scouring the desert for Stilgar, wanting the price on his head. Stilgar had brought his band into the djedida just before dark the previous day, following the unerring moisture sense of his old Fremen nose. He’d promised they would head south for the palmyries soon, but refused to put a date on the move. Although he carried a price on his head which once would have bought a planet, Stilgar seemed the happiest and most carefree of men. “This is a good place for us,” he’d said, pointing out that the windtrap still functioned. “Our friends have left us some water.” They were a small band now, sixty people in all. The old, the sick, and the very young had been filtered south into the palmyries, absorbed there by trusted families. Only the toughest remained, and they had many friends to the north and the south. Ghanima wondered why Stilgar refused to discuss what was happening to the planet. Couldn’t he see it? As qanats were shattered, Fremen pulled back to the northern and southern lines which once had marked the extent of their holdings. This movement could only signal what must be happening to the Empire. One condition was the mirror of the other. Ghanima ran a hand under the collar of her stillsuit and resealed it. Despite her worries she felt remarkably free here. The inner lives no longer plagued her, although she sometimes felt their memories inserted into her consciousness. She knew from those memories what this desert had been once, before the work of the ecological transformation. It had been drier, for one thing. That unrepaired windtrap still functioned because it processed moist air. Many creatures which once had shunned this desert ventured to live here now. Many in the band remarked how the daylight owls proliferated. Even now, Ghanima could see antbirds. They jigged and danced alone the insect lines which swarmed in the damp sand at the end of the shattered qanat! Few badgers were to be seen out here, but there were kangaroo mice in uncounted numbers. Superstitious fear ruled the new Fremen, and Stilgar was no better than the rest. This djedida had been given back to the desert after its qanat had been shattered a fifth time in eleven months. Four times they’d repaired the ravages of the Desert Demon, then they’d no longer had the surplus water to risk another loss. It was the same all through the djedidas and in many of the old sietches. Eight out of nine new settlements had been abandoned. Many of the old sietch communities were more crowded than they had ever been before. And while the desert entered this new phase, Fremen reverted to their old ways. They saw omens in everything. Were worms increasingly scarce except in the Tanzerouft? It was the judgment of Shai-Hulud! And dead worms had been seen with nothing to say why they died. They went back to desert dust swiftly after death, but those crumbling hulks which Fremen chanced upon filled the observers with terror. Stilgar’s band had encountered such a hulk the previous month and it had taken four days for them to shake off the feeling of evil. The thing had reeked of sour and poisonous putrefaction. Its moldering hulk had been found sitting on top of a giant spiceblow, the spice mostly ruined. Ghanima turned from observing the qanat and looked back at the djedida. Directly in front of her lay a broken wall which once had protected a mushtamal, a small garden annex. She’d explored the place with a firm dependence upon her own curiosity and had found a store of flat, unleavened spicebread in a stone box. Stilgar had destroyed it, saying: “Fremen would never leave good food behind them.” Ghanima had suspected he was mistaken, but it hadn’t been worth the argument or the risk. Fremen were changing. Once they’d moved freely across the bled, drawn by natural needs: water, spice, trade. Animal activities had been their alarm clocks. But animals moved to strange new rhythms now while most Fremen huddled close in their old cave-warrens within the shadow of the northern Shield Wall. Spice-hunters in the Tanzerouft were rare, and only Stilgar’s band moved in the old ways. She trusted Stilgar and his fear of Alia. Irulan reinforced his arguments now, reverting to odd Bene Gesserit musings. But on faraway Salusa, Farad’n still lived. Someday there would have to be a reckoning. Ghanima looked up at the grey-silver morning sky, questing in her mind. Where was help to be found? Where was there someone to listen when she revealed what she saw happening all around them? The Lady Jessica stayed on Salusa, if the reports were to be believed. And Alia was a creature on a pedestal, involved only in being colossal while she drifted farther and farther from reality. Gurney Halleck was nowhere to be found, although he was reported seen everywhere. The Preacher had gone into hiding, his heretical rantings only a fading memory. And Stilgar. She looked across the broken wall to where Stilgar was helping repair the cistern. Stilgar reveled in his role as the will-o’-the-desert, the price upon his head growing monthly. Nothing made sense anymore. Nothing. Who was this Desert Demon, this creature able to destroy qanats as though they were false idols to be toppled into the sand? Was it a rogue worm? Was it a third force in rebellion — many people? No one believed it was a worm. The water would kill any worm venturing against a qanat. Many Fremen believed the Desert Demon was actually a revolutionary band bent on overthrowing Alia’s Mahdinate and restoring Arrakis to its old ways. Those who believed this said it would be a good thing. Get rid of that greedy apostolic succession which did little else than uphold its own mediocrity. Get back to the true religion which Muad’Dib had espoused. A deep sigh shook Ghanima. Oh, Leto, she thought. I’m almost glad you didn’t live to see these days. I’d join you myself, but I’ve a knife yet unblooded. Alia and Farad’n. Farad’n and Alia. The Old Baron’s her demon, and that can’t be permitted. Harah came out of the djedida, approaching Ghanima with a steady sand-swallowing pace. Harah stopped in front of Ghanima, demanded, “What do you alone out here?” “This is a strange place, Harah. We should leave.” “Stilgar waits to meet someone here.” “Oh? He didn’t tell me that.” “Why should he tell you everything? Maku?” Harah slapped the water pouch which bulged the front of Ghanima’s robe. “Are you a grown woman to be pregnant?” “I’ve been pregnant so many times there’s no counting them,” Ghanima said. “Don’t play those adult-child games with me!” Harah took a backward step at the venom in Ghanima’s voice. “You’re a band of stupids,” Ghanima said, waving her hand to encompass the djedida and the activities of Stilgar and his people. “I should never have come with you.” “You’d be dead by now if you hadn’t.” “Perhaps. But you don’t see what’s right in front of your faces! Who is it that Stilgar waits to meet here?” “Buer Agarves.” Ghanima stared at her. “He is being brought here secretly by friends from Red Chasm Sietch,” Harah explained. “Alia’s little plaything?” “He is being brought under blindfold.” “Does Stilgar believe that?” “Buer asked for the parley. He agreed to all of our terms.” “Why wasn’t I told about this?” “Stilgar knew you would argue against it.” “Argue against . . . This is madness!” Harah scowled. “Don’t forget that Buer is . . .” “He’s Family!” Ghanima snapped. “He’s the grandson of Stilgar’s cousin. I know. And the Farad’n whose blood I’ll draw one day is as close a relative to me. Do you think that’ll stay my knife?” “We’ve had a distrans. No one follows his party.” Ghanima spoke in a low voice: “Nothing good will come of this, Harah. We should leave at once.” “Have you read an omen?” Harah asked. “That dead worm we saw! Was that –” “Stuff that into your womb and give birth to it elsewhere!” Ghanima raged. “I don’t like this meeting nor this place. Isn’t that enough?” “I’ll tell Stilgar what you –” “I’ll tell him myself!” Ghanima strode past Harah, who made the sign of the worm horns at her back to ward off evil. But Stilgar only laughed at Ghanima’s fears and ordered her to look for sandtrout as though she were one of the children. She fled into one of the djedida’s abandoned houses and crouched in a corner to nurse her anger. The emotion passed quickly, though; she felt the stirring of the inner lives and remembered someone saying: “If we can immobilize them, things will go as we plan.” What an odd thought. But she couldn’t recall who’d said those words.

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Categories: Herbert, Frank