Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

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Here lies a toppled god — His fall was not a small one. We did but build his pedestal, A narrow and a tall one. -Tleilaxu Epigram

Alia crouched, resting elbows on knees, chin on fists, stared at the body on the dune — a few bones and some tattered flesh that once had been a young woman. The hands, the head, most of the upper torso were gone — eaten by the coriolis wind. The sand all around bore the tracks of her brother’s medics and questors. They were gone now, all excepting the mortuary attendants who stood to one side with Hayt, the ghola, waiting for her to finish her mysterious perusal of what had been written here. A wheat-colored sky enfolded the scene in the glaucous light common to midafternoon for these latitudes. The body had been discovered several hours earlier by a low-flying courier whose instruments had detected a faint water trace where none should be. His call had brought the experts. And they had learned — what? That this had been a woman of about twenty years, Fremen, addicted to semuta . . . and she had died here in the crucible of the desert from the effects of a subtle poison of Tleilaxu origin. To die in the desert was a common enough occurrence. But a Fremen addicted to semuta, this was such a rarity that Paul had sent her to examine the scene in the ways their mother had taught them. Alia felt that she had accomplished nothing here except to cast her own aura of mystery about a scene that was already mysterious enough. She heard the ghola’s feet stir the sand, looked at him. His attention rested momentarily upon the escort ‘thopters circling overhead like a flock of ravens. Beware of the Guild bearing gifts, Alia thought. The mortuary ‘thopter and her own craft stood on the sand near a rock outcropping behind the ghola. Focusing on the grounded ‘thopters filled Alia with a craving to be airborne and away from here. But Paul had thought she might see something here which others would miss. She squirmed in her stillsuit. It felt raspingly unfamiliar after all the suitless months of city life. She studied the ghola, wondering if he might know something important about this peculiar death. A lock of his black-goat hair, she saw, had escaped his stillsuit hood. She sensed her hand longing to tuck that hair back into place. As though lured by this thought, his gleaming gray metal eyes turned toward her. The eyes set her trembling and she tore her gaze away from him. A Fremen woman had died here from a poison called “the throat of hell.” A Fremen addicted to semuta. She shared Paul’s disquiet at this conjunction. The mortuary attendants waited patiently. This corpse contained not enough water for them to salvage. They felt no need to hurry. And they’d believe that Alia, through some glyptic art, was reading a strange truth in these remains. No strange truth came to her. There was only a distant feeling of anger deep within her at the obvious thoughts in the attendants’ minds. It was a product of the damned religious mystery. She and her brother could not be people. They had to be something more. The Bene Gesserit had seen to that by manipulating Atreides ancestry. Their mother had contributed to it by thrusting them onto the path of witchery. And Paul perpetuated the difference. The Reverend Mothers encapsulated in Alia’s memories stirred restlessly, provoking adab flashes of thought: “Peace, Little One! You are what you are. There are compensations.” Compensations! She summoned the ghola with a gesture. He stopped beside her, attentive, patient. “What do you see in this?” she asked. “We may never learn who it was died here,” he said. “The head, the teeth are gone. The hands . . . Unlikely such a one had a genetic record somewhere to which her cells could be matched.” “Tleilaxu poison,” she said. “What do you make of that?” “Many people buy such poisons.” “True enough. And this flesh is too far gone to be regrown as was done with your body.” “Even if you could trust the Tleilaxu to do it,” he said. She nodded, stood. “You will fly me back to the city now.” When they were airborne and pointed north, she said: “You fly exactly as Duncan Idaho did.” He cast a speculative glance at her. “Others have told me this.” “What are you thinking now?” she asked. “Many things.” “Stop dodging my question, damn you!” “Which question?” She glared at him. He saw the glare, shrugged. How like Duncan Idaho, that gesture, she thought. Accusingly, her voice thick and with a catch in it, she said: “I merely wanted your reactions voiced to play my own thoughts against them. That young woman’s death bothers me.” “I was not thinking about that.” “What were you thinking about?” “About the strange emotions I feel when people speak of the one I may have been.” “May have been?” “The Tleilaxu are very clever.” “Not that clever. You were Duncan Idaho.” “Very likely. It’s the prime computation.” “So you get emotional?” “To a degree. I feel eagerness. I’m uneasy. There’s a tendency to tremble and I must devote effort to controlling it. I get . . . flashes of imagery.” “What imagery?” “It’s too rapid to recognize. Flashes. Spasms . . . almost memories.” “Aren’t you curious about such memories?” “Of course. Curiosity urges me forward, but I move against a heavy reluctance. I think: ‘What if I’m not the one they believe me to be?’ I don’t like that thought.” “And this is all you were thinking?” “You know better than that, Alia.” How dare he use my given name? She felt anger rise and go down beneath the memory of the way he’d spoken: softly throbbing undertones, casual male confidence. A muscle twitched along her jaw. She clenched her teeth. “Isn’t that El Kuds down there?” he asked, dipping a wing briefly, causing a sudden flurry in their escort. She looked down at their shadows rippling across the promontory above Harg Pass, at the cliff and the rock pyramid containing the skull of her father. El Kuds — the Holy Place. “That’s the Holy Place,” she said. “I must visit that place one day,” he said. “Nearness to your father’s remains may bring memories I can capture.” She saw suddenly how strong must be this need to know who he’d been. It was a central compulsion with him. She looked back at the rocks, the cliff with its base sloping into a dry beach and a sea of sand — cinnamon rock lifting from the dunes like a ship breasting waves. “Circle back,” she said. “The escort . . . ” “They’ll follow. Swing under them.” He obeyed. “Do you truly serve my brother?” she asked, when he was on the new course, the escort following. “I serve the Atreides,” he said, his tone formal. And she saw his right hand lift, fall — almost the old salute of Caladan. A pensive look came over his face. She watched him peer down at the rock pyramid. “What bothers you?” she asked. His lips moved. A voice emerged, brittle, tight: “He was . . . he was . . .” A tear slid down his cheek. Alia found herself stilled by Fremen awe. He gave water to the dead! Compulsively, she touched a finger to his cheek, felt the tear. “Duncan,” she whispered. He appeared locked to the ‘thopter’s controls, gaze fastened to the tomb below. She raised her voice: “Duncan!” He swallowed, shook his head, looked at her, the metal eyes glistening. “I . . . felt . . . an arm . . . on my shoulders,” he whispered. “I felt it! An arm.” His throat worked. “It was . . . a friend. It was . . . my friend.” “Who?” “I don’t know. I think it was . . . I don’t know.” The call light began flashing in front of Alia, their escort captain wanting to know why they returned to the desert. She took the microphone, explained that they had paid a brief homage to her father’s tomb. The captain reminded her that it was late. “We will go to Arrakeen now,” she said, replacing the microphone. Hayt took a deep breath, banked their ‘thopter around to the north. “It was my father’s arm you felt, wasn’t it?” she asked. “Perhaps.” His voice was that of the mentat computing probabilities, and she saw he had regained his composure. “Are you aware of how I know my father?” she asked. “I have some idea.” “Let me make it clear,” she said. Briefly, she explained how she had awakened to Reverend Mother awareness before birth, a terrified fetus with the knowledge of countless lives embedded in her nerve cells — and all this after the death of her father. “I know my father as my mother knew him,” she said. “In every last detail of every experience she shared with him. In a way, I am my mother. I have all her memories up to the moment when she drank the Water of Life and entered the trance of transmigration.” “Your brother explained something of this.” “He did? Why?” “I asked.” “Why?” “A mentat requires data.” “Oh.” She looked down at the flat expanse of the Shield Wall — tortured rock, pits and crevices. He saw the direction of her gaze, said: “A very exposed place, that down there.” “But an easy place to hide,” she said. She looked at him. “It reminds me of a human mind . . . with all its concealments.” “Ahhh,” he said. “Ahhh? What does that mean — ahhh?” She was suddenly angry with him and the reason for it escaped her. “You’d like to know what my mind conceals,” he said. It was a statement, not a question. “How do you know I haven’t exposed you for what you are by my powers of prescience?” she demanded. “Have you?” He seemed genuinely curious. “No!” “Sibyls have limits,” he said. He appeared to be amused and this reduced Alia’s anger. “Amused? Have you no respect for my powers?” she asked. The question sounded weakly argumentative even to her own ears. “I respect your omens and portents perhaps more than you think,” he said. “I was in the audience for your Morning Ritual.” “And what does that signify?” “You’ve great ability with symbols,” he said, keeping his attention on the ‘thopter’s controls. “That’s a Bene Gesserit thing, I’d say. But, as with many witches, you’ve become careless of your powers.” She felt a spasm of fear, blared: “How dare you?” “I dare much more than my makers anticipated,” he said. “Because of that rare fact, I remain with your brother.” Alia studied the steel balls which were his eyes: no human expression there. The stillsuit hood concealed the line of his jaw. His mouth remained firm, though. Great strength in it . . . and determination. His words had carried a reassuring intensity. ” . . . dare much more . . . ” That was a thing Duncan Idaho might have said. Had the Tleilaxu fashioned their ghola better than they knew — or was this mere sham, part of his conditioning? “Explain yourself, ghola,” she commanded. “Know thyself, is that thy commandment?” he asked. Again, she felt that he was amused. “Don’t bandy words with me, you . . . you thing!” she said. She put a hand to the crysknife in its throat sheath. “Why were you given to my brother?” “Your brother tells me that you watched the presentation,” he said. “You’ve heard me answer that question for him.” “Answer it again . . . for me!” “I am intended to destroy him.” “Is that the mentat speaking?” “You know the answer to that without asking,” he chided. “And you know, as well, that such a gift wasn’t necessary. Your brother already was destroying himself quite adequately.” She weighed these words, her hand remaining on the haft of her knife. A tricky answer, but there was sincerity in the voice. “Then why such a gift?” she probed. “It may have amused the Tleilaxu. And, it is true, that the Guild asked for me as a gift.” “Why?” “Same answer.” “How am I careless of my powers?” “How are you employing them?” he countered. His question slashed through to her own misgivings. She took her hand away from the knife, asked: “Why do you say my brother was destroying himself?” “Oh, come now, child! Where are these vaunted powers? Have you no ability to reason?” Controlling anger, she said: “Reason for me, mentat.” “Very well.” He glanced around at their escort, returned his attention to their course. The plain of Arrakeen was beginning to show beyond the northern rim of the Shield Wall. The pattern of the pan and graben villages remained indistinct beneath a dust pall, but the distant gleam of Arrakeen could be discerned. “Symptoms,” he said. “Your brother keeps an official Panegyrist who — ” “Who was a gift of the Fremen Naibs!” “An odd gift from friends,” he said. “Why would they surround him with flattery and servility? Have you really listened to this Panegyrist? ‘The people are illuminated by Muad’dib. The Umma Regent, our Emperor, came out of darkness to shine resplendently upon all men. He is our Sire. He is precious water from an endless fountain. He spills joy for all the universe to drink,’ Pah!” Speaking softly, Alia said: “If I but repeated your words for our Fremen escort, they’d hack you into bird feed.” “Then tell them.” “My brother rules by the natural law of heaven!” “You don’t believe that, so why say it?” “How do you know what I believe?” She experienced trembling that no Bene Gesserit powers could control. This ghola was having an effect she hadn’t anticipated. “You commanded me to reason as a mentat,” he reminded her. “No mentat knows what I believe!” She took two deep, shuddering breaths. “How dare you judge us?” “Judge you? I don’t judge.” “You’ve no idea how we were taught!” “Both of you were taught to govern,” he said. “You were conditioned to an overweening thirst for power. You were imbued with a shrewd grasp of politics and a deep understanding for the uses of war and ritual. Natural law? What natural law? That myth haunts human history. Haunts! It’s a ghost. It’s insubstantial, unreal. Is your Jihad a natural law?” “Mentat jabber,” she sneered. “I’m a servant of the Atreides and I speak with candor,” he said. “Servant? We’ve no servants; only disciples.” “And I am a disciple of awareness,” he said. “Understand that, child, and you — ” “Don’t call me child!” she snapped. She slipped her crysknife half out of its sheath. “I stand corrected.” He glanced at her, smiled, returned his attention to piloting the ‘thopter. The cliffsided structure of the Atreides Keep could be made out now, dominating the northern suburbs of Arrakeen. “You are something ancient in flesh that is little more than a child,” he said. “And the flesh is disturbed by its new womanhood.” “I don’t know why I listen to you,” she growled, but she let the crysknife fall back into its sheath, wiped her palm on her robe. The palm, wet with perspiration, disturbed her sense of Fremen frugality. Such a waste of the body’s moisture! “You listen because you know I’m devoted to your brother,” he said. “My actions are clear and easily understood.” “Nothing about you is clear and easily understood. You’re the most complex creature I’ve ever seen. How do I know what the Tleilaxu built into you?” “By mistake or intent,” he said, “they gave me freedom to mold myself.” “You retreat into Zensunni parables,” she accused. “The wise man molds himself — the fool lives only to die.” Her voice was heavy with mimicry. “Disciple of awareness!” “Men cannot separate means and enlightenment,” he said. “You speak riddles!” “I speak to the opening mind.” “I’m going to repeat all this to Paul.” “He’s heard most of it already.” She found herself overwhelmed by curiosity. “How is it you’re still alive . . . and free? What did he say?” “He laughed. And he said, ‘People don’t want a bookkeeper for an Emperor; they want a master, someone who’ll protect them from change.’ But he agreed that destruction of his Empire arises from himself.” “Why would he say such things?” “Because I convinced him I understand his problem and will help him.” “What could you possibly have said to do that?” He remained silent, banking the ‘thopter into the downwind leg for a landing at the guard complex on the roof of the Keep. “I demand you tell me what you said!” “I’m not sure you could take it.” “I’ll be the judge of that! I command you to speak at once!” “Permit me to land us first,” he said. And not waiting for her permission, he turned onto the base leg, brought the wings into optimum lift, settled gently onto the bright orange pad atop the roof. “Now,” Alia said. “Speak.” “I told him that to endure oneself may be the hardest task in the universe.” She shook her head. “That’s . . . that’s . . . ” “A bitter pill,” he said, watching the guards run toward them across the roof, taking up their escort positions. “Bitter nonsense!” “The greatest palatinate earl and the lowliest stipendiary serf share the same problem. You cannot hire a mentat or any other intellect to solve it for you. There’s no writ of inquest or calling of witnesses to provide answers. No servant — or disciple — can dress the wound. You dress it yourself or continue bleeding for all to see.” She whirled away from him, realizing in the instant of action what this betrayed about her own feelings. Without wile of voice or witch-wrought trickery, he had reached into her psyche once more. How did he do this? “What have you told him to do?” she whispered. “I told him to judge, to impose order.” Alia stared out at the guard, marking how patiently they waited — how orderly. “To dispense justice,” she murmured. “Not that!” he snapped. “I suggested that he judge, no more, guided by one principle, perhaps . . .” “And that?” “To keep his friends and destroy his enemies.” “To judge unjustly, then.” “What is justice? Two forces collide. Each may have the right in his own sphere. And here’s where an Emperor commands orderly solutions. Those collisions he cannot prevent — he solves.” “How?” “In the simplest way: he decides.” “Keeping his friends and destroying his enemies.” “Isn’t that stability? People want order, this kind or some other. They sit in the prison of their hungers and see that war has become the sport of the rich. That’s a dangerous form of sophistication. It’s disorderly.” “I will suggest to my brother that you are much too dangerous and must be destroyed,” she said, turning to face him. “A solution I’ve already suggested,” he said. “And that’s why you are dangerous,” she said, measuring out her words. “You’ve mastered your passions.” “That is not why I’m dangerous.” Before she could move, he leaned across, gripped her chin in one hand, planted his lips on hers. It was a gentle kiss, brief. He pulled away and she stared at him with a shock leavened by glimpses of spasmodic grins on the faces of her guardsmen still standing at orderly attention outside. Alia put a finger to her lips. There’d been such a sense of familiarity about that kiss. His lips had been flesh of a future she’d seen in some prescient byway. Breast heaving, she said: “I should have you flayed.” “Because I’m dangerous?” “Because you presume too much!” “I presume nothing. I take nothing which is not first offered to me. Be glad I did not take all that was offered.” He opened his door, slid out. “Come along. We’ve dallied too long on a fool’s errand.” He strode toward the entrance dome beyond the pad. Alia leaped out, ran to match his stride. “I’ll tell him everything you’ve said and everything you did,” she said. “Good.” He held the door for her. “He will order you executed,” she said, slipping into the dome. “Why? Because I took the kiss I wanted?” He followed her, his movement forcing her back. The door slid closed behind him. “The kiss you wanted!” Outrage filled her. “All right, Alia. The kiss you wanted, then.” He started to move around her toward the drop field. As though his movement had propelled her into heightened awareness, she realized his candor — the utter truthfulness of him. The kiss I wanted, she told herself. True. “Your truthfulness, that’s what’s dangerous,” she said, following him. “You return to the ways of wisdom,” he said, not breaking his stride. “A mentat could not’ve stated the matter more directly. Now: what is it you saw in the desert?” She grabbed his arm, forcing him to a halt. He’d done it again: shocked her mind into sharpened awareness. “I can’t explain it,” she said, “but I keep thinking of the Face Dancers. Why is that?” “That is why your brother sent you to the desert,” he said, nodding. “Tell him of this persistent thought.” “But why?” She shook her head. “Why Face Dancers?” “There’s a young woman dead out there,” he said. “Perhaps no young woman is reported missing among the Fremen.”

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Categories: Herbert, Frank