Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

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The Universe is God’s. It is one thing, a wholeness against which all separations may be identified. Transient life, even that self-aware and reasoning life which we call sentient, holds only fragile trusteeship on any portion of the wholeness. -Commentaries from the C.E.T. (Commission of Ecumenical Translators)

Halleck used hand signals to convey the actual message while speaking aloud of other matters. He didn’t like the small anteroom the priests had assigned for this report, knowing it would be crawling with spy devices. Let them try to break the tiny hand signals, though. The Atreides had used this means of communication for centuries without anyone the wiser. Night had fallen outside, but the room had no windows, depending upon glowglobes at the upper corners. “Many of those we took were Alia’s people,” Halleck signaled, watching Jessica’s face as he spoke aloud, telling her the interrogation still continued. “It was as you anticipated then,” Jessica replied, her fingers winking. She nodded and spoke an open reply: “I’ll expect a full report when you’re satisfied, Gurney.” “Of course, My Lady,” he said, and his fingers continued: “There is another thing, quite disturbing. Under the deep drugs, some of our captives talked of Jacurutu and, as they spoke the name, they died.” “A conditioned heart-stopper?” Jessica’s fingers asked. And she said: “Have you released any of the captives?” “A few, My Lady — the more obvious culls.” And his fingers darted: “We suspect a heart-compulsion but are not yet certain. The autopsies aren’t completed. I thought you should know about this thing of Jacurutu, however, and came immediately.” “My Duke and I always thought Jacurutu an interesting legend probably based on fact,” Jessica’s fingers said, and she ignored the usual tug of sorrow as she spoke of her long-dead love. “Do you have orders?” Halleck asked, speaking aloud. Jessica answered in kind, telling him to return to the landing field and report when he had positive information, but her fingers conveyed another message: “Resume contact with your friends among the smugglers. If Jacurutu exists, they’ll support themselves by selling spice. There’d be no other market for them except the smugglers.” Halleck bowed his head briefly while his fingers said: “I’ve already set this course in motion, My Lady.” And because he could not ignore the training of a lifetime, added: “Be very careful in this place. Alia is your enemy and most of the priesthood belongs to her.” “Not Javid,” Jessica’s fingers responded. “He hates the Atreides. I doubt anyone but an adept could detect it, but I’m positive of it. He conspires and Alia doesn’t know of it.” “I’m assigning additional guards to your person,” Halleck said, speaking aloud, avoiding the light spark of displeasure which Jessica’s eyes betrayed. “There are dangers, I’m certain. Will you spend the night here?” “We’ll go later to Sietch Tabr,” she said and hesitated, on the point of telling him not to send more guards, but she held her silence. Gurney’s instincts were to be trusted. More than one Atreides had learned this, both to his pleasure and his sorrow. “I have one more meeting — with the Master of Novitiates this time,” she said. “That’s the last one and I’ll be happily shut of this place.”

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And I beheld another beast coming up out of the sand; and he had two horns like a lamb, but his mouth was fanged and fiery as the dragon and his body shimmered and burned with great heat while it did hiss like the serpent. -Revised Orange Catholic Bible

He called himself The Preacher, and there had come to be an awesome fear among many on Arrakis that he might be Muad’Dib returned from the desert, not dead at all. Muad’Dib could be alive; for who had seen his body? For that matter, who saw any body that the desert took? But still — Muad’Dib? Points of comparison could be made, although no one from the old days came forward and said: “Yes, I see that this is Muad’Dib. I know him.” Still . . . Like Muad’Dib, The Preacher was blind, his eye sockets black and scarred in a way that could have been done by a stone burner. And his voice conveyed that crackling penetration, that same compelling force which demanded a response from deep within you. Many remarked this. He was lean, this Preacher, his leathery face seamed, his hair grizzled. But the deep desert did that to many people. You had only to look about you and see this proven. And there was another fact for contention: The Preacher was led by a young Fremen, a lad without known sietch who said, when questioned, that he worked for hire. It was argued that Muad’Dib, knowing the future, had not needed such a guide except at the very end, when his grief overcame him. But he’d needed a guide then; everyone knew it. The Preacher had appeared one winter morning in the streets of Arrakeen, a brown and ridge-veined hand on the shoulder of his young guide. The lad, who gave his name as Assan Tariq, moved through the flint-smelling dust of the early swarming, leading his charge with the practiced agility of the warren-born, never once losing contact. It was observed that the blind man wore a traditional bourka over a stillsuit which bore the mark about it of those once made only in the sietch caves of the deepest desert. It wasn’t like the shabby suits being turned out these days. The nose tube, which captured moisture from his breath for the recycling layers beneath the bourka, was wrapped in braid, and it was the black vine braid so seldom seen anymore. The suit’s mask across the lower half of his face carried green patches etched by the blown sand. All in all, this Preacher was a figure from Dune’s past. Many among the early crowds of that winter day had noted his passage. After all, a blind Fremen remained a rarity. Fremen Law still consigned the blind to Shai-Hulud. The wording of the Law, although it was less honored in these modem, water-soft times, remained unchanged from the earliest days. The blind were a gift to Shai-Hulud. They were to be exposed in the open bled for the great worms to devour. When it was done — and there were stories which got back to the cities — it was always done out where the largest worms still ruled, those called Old Men of the Desert. A blind Fremen, then, was a curiosity, and people paused to watch the passing of this odd pair. The lad appeared about fourteen standard, one of the new breed who wore modified stillsuits; it left the face open to the moisture-robbing air. He had slender features, the all-blue spice-tinted eyes, a nubbin nose, and that innocuous look of innocence which so often masks cynical knowledge in the young. In contrast, the blind man was a reminder of times almost forgotten — long in stride and with a wiriness that spoke of many years on the sand with only his feet or a captive worm to carry him. He held his head in that stiff-necked rigidity which some of the blind cannot put off. The hooded head moved only when he cocked an ear at an interesting sound. Through the day’s gathering crowds the strange pair came, arriving at last on the steps which led up like terraced hectares to the escarpment which was Alia’s Temple, a fitting companion to Paul’s Keep. Up the steps The Preacher went until he and his young guide came to the third landing, where pilgrims of the Hajj awaited the morning opening of those gigantic doors above them. They were doors large enough to have admitted an entire cathedral from one of the ancient religions. Passing through them was said to reduce a pilgrim’s soul to motedom, sufficiently small that it could pass through the eye of a needle and enter heaven. At the edge of the third landing The Preacher turned, and it was as though he looked about him, seeing with his empty eye sockets the foppish city dwellers, some of them Fremen, with garments which simulated stillsuits but were only decorative fabrics, seeing the eager pilgrims fresh off the Guild space transports and awaiting that first step on the devotion which would ensure them a place in paradise. The landing was a noisy place: there were Mahdi Spirit Cultists in green robes and carrying live hawks trained to screech a “call to heaven.” Food was being sold by shouting vendors. Many things were being offered for sale, the voices shouting in competitive stridence: there was the Dune Tarot with its booklets of commentaries imprinted on shigawire. One vendor had exotic bits of cloth “guaranteed to have been touched by Muad’Dib himself!” Another had vials of water “certified to have come from Sietch Tabr, where Muad’Dib lived.” Through it all there were conversations in a hundred or more dialects of Galach interspersed with harsh gutturals and squeaks of outrine languages which were gathered under the Holy Imperium. Face dancers and little people from the suspected artisan planets of the Tleilaxu bounced and gyrated through the throng in bright clothing. There were lean faces and fat, water-rich faces. The susurration of nervous feet came from the gritty plasteel which formed the wide steps. And occasionally a keening voice would rise out of the cacophony in prayer — “Mua-a-a-ad’Dib! Mua-a-a-ad’Dib! Greet my soul’s entreaty! You, who are God’s anointed, greet my soul! Mua-a-a-ad’Dib!” Nearby among the pilgrims, two mummers played for a few coins, reciting the lines of the currently popular “Disputation of Armistead and Leandgrah.” The Preacher cocked his head to listen. The Mummers were middle-aged city men with bored voices. At a word of command, the young guide described them for The Preacher. They were garbed in loose robes, not even deigning to simulate stillsuits on their water-rich bodies. Assan Tariq thought this amusing, but The Preacher reprimanded him. The mummer who played the part of Leandgrah was just concluding his oration: “Bah! The universe can be grasped only by the sentient hand. That hand is what drives your precious brain, and it drives everything else that derives from the brain. You see what you have created, you become sentient, only after the hand has done its work!” A scattering of applause greeted his performance. The Preacher sniffed and his nostrils recorded the rich odors of this place: uncapped esters of poorly adjusted stillsuits, masking musks of diverse origin, the common flinty dust, exhalations of uncounted exotic diets, and the aromas of rare incense which already had been ignited within Alia’s Temple and now drifted down over the steps in cleverly directed currents. The Preacher’s thoughts were mirrored on his face as he absorbed his surroundings: We have come to this, we Fremen! A sudden diversion rippled through the crowd on the landing. Sand Dancers had come into the plaza at the foot of the steps, half a hundred of them tethered to each other by elacca ropes. They obviously had been dancing thus for days, seeking a state of ecstasy. Foam dribbled from their mouths as they jerked and stamped to their secret music. A full third of them dangled unconscious from the ropes, tugged back and forth by the others like dolls on strings. One of these dolls had come awake, though, and the crowd apparently knew what to expect. “I have see-ee-een!” the newly awakened dancer shrieked. “I have see-ee-een!” He resisted the pull of the other dancers, darted his wild gaze right and left. “Where this city is, there will be only sand! I have see-ee-een!” A great swelling laugh went up from the onlookers. Even the new pilgrims joined it. This was too much for The Preacher. He raised both arms and roared in a voice which surely had commanded worm riders: “Silence!” The entire throng in the plaza went still at that battle cry. The Preacher pointed a thin hand toward the dancers, and the illusion that he actually saw them was uncanny. “Did you not hear that man? Blasphemers and idolaters! All of you! The religion of Muad’Dib is not Muad’Dib. He spurns it as he spurns you! Sand will cover this place. Sand will cover you.” Saying this, he dropped his arms, put a hand on his young guide’s shoulder, and commanded: “Take me from this place.” Perhaps it was The Preacher’s choice of words: He spurns it as he spurns you! Perhaps it was his tone, certainly something more than human, a vocality trained surely in the arts of the Bene Gesserit Voice which commanded by mere nuances of subtle inflection. Perhaps it was only the inherent mysticism of this place where Muad’Dib had lived and walked and ruled. Someone called out from the landing, shouting at The Preacher’s receding back in a voice which trembled with religious awe: “Is that Muad’Dib come back to us?” The Preacher stopped, reached into the purse beneath his bourka, and removed an object which only those nearby recognized. It was a desert-mummified human hand, one of the planet’s jokes on mortality which occasionally turned up in the sand and were universally regarded as communications from Shai-Hulud The hand had been desiccated into a tight fist which ended in white bone scarred by sandblast winds. “I bring the Hand of God, and that is all I bring!” The Preacher shouted. “I speak for the Hand of God. I am The Preacher.” Some took him to mean that the hand was Muad’Dib’s, but others fastened on that commanding presence and the terrible voice — and that was how Arrakis came to know his name. But it was not the last time his voice was heard.

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Categories: Herbert, Frank