Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

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“You do not beg the sun for mercy.” -Maud’dib’s Travail from The Stilgar Commentary

One moment of incompetence can be fatal, the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam reminded herself. She hobbled along, apparently unconcerned, within a ring of Fremen guards. One of those behind her, she knew, was a deaf-mute immune to any wiles of Voice. No doubt he’d been charged to kill her at the slightest provocation. Why had Paul summoned her? she wondered. Was he about to pass sentence? She remembered the day long ago when she’d tested him . . . the child kwisatz haderach. He was a deep one. Damn his mother for all eternity! It was her fault the Bene Gesserit had lost their hold on this gene line. Silence surged along the vaulted passages ahead of her entourage. She sensed the word being passed. Paul would hear the silence. He’d know of her coming before it was announced. She didn’t delude herself with ideas that her powers exceeded his. Damn him! She begrudged the burdens age had imposed on her: the aching joints, responses not as quick as once they’d been, muscles not as elastic as the whipcords of her youth. A long day lay behind her and a long life. She’d spent this day with the Dune Tarot in a fruitless search for some clue to her own fate. But the cards were sluggish. The guards herded her around a corner into another of the seemingly endless vaulted passages. Triangular meta-glass windows on her left gave a view upward to trellised vines and indigo flowers in deep shadows cast by the afternoon sun. Tiles lay underfoot — figures of water creatures from exotic planets. Water reminders everywhere. Wealth . . . riches. Robed figures passed across another hall in front of her, cast covert glances at the Reverend Mother. Recognition was obvious in their manner — and tension. She kept her attention on the sharp hairline of the guard immediately in front: young flesh, pink creases at the uniform collar. The immensity of this ighir citadel began to impress her. Passages . . . passages . . . They passed an open doorway from which emerged the sound of timbur and flute playing soft, elder music. A glance showed her blue-in-blue Fremen eyes staring from the room. She sensed in them the ferment of legendary revolts stirring in wild genes. There lay the measure of her personal burden, she knew. A Bene Gesserit could not escape awareness of the genes and their possibilities. She was touched by a feeling of loss: that stubborn fool of an Atreides! How could he deny the jewels of posterity within his loins? A kwisatz haderach! Born out of this time, true, but real — as real as his abomination of a sister . . . and there lay a dangerous unknown. A wild Reverend Mother spawned without Bene Gesserit inhibitions, holding no loyalty to orderly development of the genes. She shared her brother’s powers, no doubt — and more. The size of the citadel began to oppress her. Would the passages never end? The place reeked of terrifying physical power. No planet, no civilization in all human history had ever before seen such man-made immensity. A dozen ancient cities could be hidden in its walls! They passed oval doors with winking lights. She recognized them for Ixian handiwork: pneumatic transport orifices. Why was she being marched all this distance, then? The answer began to shape itself in her mind: to oppress her in preparation for this audience with the Emperor. A small clue, but it joined other subtle indications — the relative suppression and selection of words by her escort, the traces of primitive shyness in their eyes when they called her Reverend Mother, the cold and bland, essentially odorless nature of these halls — all combined to reveal much that a Bene Gesserit could interpret. Paul wanted something from her! She concealed a feeling of elation. A bargaining lever existed. It remained only to find the nature of that lever and test its strength. Some levers had moved things greater than this citadel. A finger’s touch had been known to topple civilizations. The Reverend Mother reminded herself then of Scytale’s assessment: When a creature has developed into one thing, he will choose death rather than change into his opposite. The passages through which she was being escorted grew larger by subtle stages — tricks of arching, graduated amplification of pillared supports, displacement of the triangular windows by larger, oblong shapes. Ahead of her, finally, loomed double doors centered in the far wall of a tall antechamber. She sensed that the doors were very large, and was forced to suppress a gasp as her trained awareness measured out the true proportions. The doorway stood at least eighty meters high, half that in width. As she approached with her escort, the doors swung inward — an immense and silent movement of hidden machinery. She recognized more Ixian handiwork. Through that towering doorway she marched with her guards into the Grand Reception Hall of the Emperor Paul Atreides — “Muad’dib, before whom all people are dwarfed.” Now, she saw the effect of that popular saying at work. As she advanced toward Paul on the distant throne, the Reverend Mother found herself more impressed by the architectural subtleties of her surroundings than she was by the immensities. The space was large: it could’ve housed the entire citadel of any ruler in human history. The open sweep of the room said much about hidden structural forces balanced with nicety. Trusses and supporting beams behind these walls and the faraway domed ceiling must surpass anything ever before attempted. Everything spoke of engineering genius. Without seeming to do so, the hall grew smaller at its far end, refusing to dwarf Paul on his throne centered on a dais. An untrained awareness, shocked by surrounding proportions, would see him at first as many times larger than his actual size. Colors played upon the unprotected psyche: Paul’s green throne had been cut from a single Hagar emerald. It suggested growing things and, out of the Fremen mythos, reflected the mourning color. It whispered that here sat he who could make you mourn — life and death in one symbol, a clever stress of opposites. Behind the throne, draperies cascaded in burnt orange, curried gold of Dune earth, and cinnamon flecks of melange. To a trained eye, the symbolism was obvious, but it contained hammer blows to beat down the uninitiated. Time played its role here. The Reverend Mother measured the minutes required to approach the Imperial Presence at her hobbling pace. You had time to be cowed. Any tendency toward resentment would be squeezed out of you by the unbridled power which focused down upon your person. You might start the long march toward that throne as a human of dignity, but you ended the march as a gnat. Aides and attendants stood around the Emperor in a curiously ordered sequence — attentive household guardsmen along the draped back wall, that abomination, Alia, two steps below Paul and on his left hand; Stilgar, the Imperial lackey, on the step directly below Alia; and on the right, one step up from the floor of the hall, a solitary figure: the fleshly revenant of Duncan Idaho, the ghola. She marked older Fremen among the guardsmen, bearded Naibs with stillsuit scars on their noses, sheathed crysknives at their waists, a few maula pistols, even some lasguns. Those most be trusted men, she thought, to carry lasguns in Paul’s presence when he obviously wore a shield generator. She could see the shimmering of its field around him. One burst of a lasgun into that field and the entire citadel would be a hole in the ground. Her guard stopped ten paces from the foot of the dais, parted to open an unobstructed view of the Emperor. She noted now the absence of Chani and Irulan, wondered at it. He held no important audience without them, so it was said. Paul nodded to her, silent, measuring. Immediately, she decided to take the offensive, said: “So, the great Paul Atreides deigns to see the one he banished.” Paul smiled wryly, thinking: She knows I want something from her. That knowledge had been inevitable, she being who she was. He recognized her powers. The Bene Gesserit didn’t become Reverend Mothers by chance. “Shall we dispense with fencing?” he asked. Would it be this easy? she wondered. And she said: “Name the thing you want.” Stilgar stirred, cast a sharp glance at Paul. The Imperial lackey didn’t like her tone. “Stilgar wants me to send you away,” Paul said. “Not kill me?” she asked. “I would’ve expected something more direct from a Fremen Naib.” Stilgar scowled, said: “Often, I must speak otherwise than I think. That is called diplomacy.” “Then let us dispense with diplomacy as well,” she said. “Was it necessary to have me walk all that distance. I am an old woman.” “You had to be shown how callous I can be,” Paul said. “That way, you’ll appreciate magnanimity.” “You dare such gaucheries with a Bene Gesserit?” she asked. “Gross actions carry their own messages,” Paul said. She hesitated, weighed his words. So — he might yet dispense with her . . . grossly, obviously, if she . . . if she what? “Say what it is you want from me,” she muttered. Alia glanced at her brother, nodded toward the draperies behind the throne. She knew Paul’s reasoning in this, but disliked it all the same. Call it wild prophecy: She felt pregnant with reluctance to take part in this bargaining. “You must be careful how you speak to me, old woman,” Paul said. He called me old woman when he was a stripling, the Reverend Mother thought. Does he remind me now of my hand in his past? The decision I made then, must I remake it here? She felt the weight of decision, a physical thing that set her knees to trembling. Muscles cried their fatigue. “It was a long walk,” Paul said, “and I can see that you’re tired. We will retire to my private chamber behind the throne. You may sit there.” He gave a hand-signal to Stilgar, arose. Stilgar and the ghola converged on her, helped her up the steps, followed Paul through a passage concealed by the draperies. She realized then why he had greeted her in the hall: a dumb-show for the guards and Naibs. He feared them, then. And now — now, he displayed kindly benevolence, daring such wiles on a Bene Gesserit. Or was it daring? She sensed another presence behind, glanced back to see Alia following. The younger woman’s eyes held a brooding, baleful cast. The Reverend Mother shuddered. The private chamber at the end of the passage was a twenty-meter cube of plasmeld, yellow glowglobes for light, the deep orange hangings of a desert stilltent around the walls. It contained divans, soft cushions, a faint odor of melange, crystal water flagons on a low table. It felt cramped, tiny after the outer hall. Paul seated her on a divan, stood over her, studying the ancient face — steely teeth, eyes that hid more than they revealed, deeply wrinkled skin. He indicated a water flagon. She shook her head, dislodging a wisp of gray hair. In a low voice, Paul said: “I wish to bargain with you for the life of my beloved.” Stilgar cleared his throat. Alia fingered the handle of the crysknife sheathed at her neck. The ghola remained at the door, face impassive, metal eyes pointed at the air above the Reverend Mother’s head. “Have you had a vision of my hand in her death?” the Reverend Mother asked. She kept her attention on the ghola, oddly disturbed by him. Why should she feel threatened by the ghola? He was a tool of the conspiracy. “I know what it is you want from me,” Paul said, avoiding her question. Then he only suspects, she thought. The Reverend Mother looked down at the tips of her shoes exposed by a fold of her robe. Black . . . black . . . shoes and robe showed marks of her confinement: stains, wrinkles. She lifted her chin, met an angry glare in Paul’s eyes. Elation surged through her, but she hid the emotion behind pursed lips, slitted eyelids. “What coin do you offer?” she asked. “You may have my seed, but not my person,” Paul said. “Irulan banished and inseminated by artificial –” “You dare!” the Reverend Mother flared, stiffening. Stilgar took a half step forward. Disconcertingly, the ghola smiled. And now Alia was studying him. “We’ll not discuss the things your Sisterhood forbids,” Paul said. “I will listen to no talk of sins, abominations or the beliefs left over from past Jihads. You may have my seed for your plans, but no child of Irulan’s will sit on my throne.” “Your throne,” she sneered. “My throne.” “Then who will bear the Imperial heir?” “Chani.” “She is barren.” “She is with child.” An involuntary indrawn breath exposed her shock. “You lie!” she snapped. Paul held up a restraining hand as Stilgar surged forward. “We’ve known for two days that she carries my child.” “But Irulan . . . ” “By artificial means only. That’s my offer.” The Reverend Mother closed her eyes to hide his face. Damnation! To cast the genetic dice in such a way! Loathing boiled in her breast. The teaching of the Bene Gesserit, the lessons of the Butlerian Jihad — all proscribed such an act. One did not demean the highest aspirations of humankind. No machine could function in the way of a human mind. No word or deed could imply that men might be bred on the level of animals. “Your decision,” Paul said. She shook her head. The genes, the precious Atreides genes — only these were important. Need went deeper than proscription. For the Sisterhood, mating mingled more than sperm and ovum. One aimed to capture the psyche. The Reverend Mother understood now the subtle depths of Paul’s offer. He would make the Bene Gesserit party to an act which would bring down popular wrath . . . were it ever discovered. They could not admit such paternity if the Emperor denied it. This coin might save the Atreides genes for the Sisterhood, but it would never buy a throne. She swept her gaze around the room, studying each face: Stilgar, passive and waiting now; the ghola frozen at some inward place; Alia watching the ghola . . . and Paul — wrath beneath a shallow veneer. “This is your only offer?” she asked. “My only offer.” She glanced at the ghola, caught by a brief movement of muscles across his cheeks. Emotion? “You, ghola,” she said. “Should such an offer be made? Having been made, should it be accepted? Function as the mentat for us.” The metallic eyes turned to Paul. “Answer as you will,” Paul said. The ghola returned his gleaming attention to the Reverend Mother, shocked her once more by smiling. “An offer is only as good as the real thing it buys,” he said. “The exchange offered here is life-for-life, a high order of business.” Alia brushed a strand of coppery hair from her forehead, said: “And what else is hidden in this bargain?” The Reverend Mother refused to look at Alia, but the words burned in her mind. Yes, far deeper implications lay here. The sister was an abomination, true, but there could be no denying her status as a Reverend Mother with all the title implied. Gaius Helen Mohiam felt herself in this instant to be not one single person, but all the others who sat like tiny congeries in her memory. They were alert, every Reverend Mother she had absorbed in becoming a Priestess of the Sisterhood. Alia would be standing in the same situation here. “What else?” the ghola asked. “One wonders why the witches of the Bene Gesserit have not used Tleilaxu methods.” Gaius Helen Mohiam and all the Reverend Mothers within her shuddered. Yes, the Tleilaxu did loathsome things. If one let down the barriers to artificial insemination, was the next step a Tleilaxu one — controlled mutation? Paul, observing the play of emotion around him, felt abruptly that he no longer knew these people. He could see only strangers. Even Alia was a stranger. Alia said: “If we set the Atreides genes adrift in a Bene Gesserit river, who knows what may result?” Gaius Helen Mohiam’s head snapped around, and she met Alia’s gaze. For a flashing instant, they were two Reverend Mothers together, communing on a single thought: What lay behind any Tleilaxu action? The ghola was a Tleilaxu thing. Had he put this plan into Paul’s mind? Would Paul attempt to bargain directly with the Bene Tleilaxu? She broke her gaze from Alia’s, feeling her own ambivalence and inadequacies. The pitfall of Bene Gesserit training, she reminded herself, lay in the powers granted: such powers predisposed one to vanity and pride. But power deluded those who used it. One tended to believe power could overcome any barrier . . . including one’s own ignorance. Only one thing stood paramount here for the Bene Gesserit, she told herself. That was the pyramid of generations which had reached an apex in Paul Atreides . . . and in his abomination of a sister. A wrong choice here and the pyramid would have to be rebuilt . . . starting generations back in the parallel lines and with breeding specimens lacking the choicest characteristics. Controlled mutation, she thought. Did the Tleilaxu really practice it? How tempting! She shook her head, the better to rid it of such thoughts. “You reject my proposal?” Paul asked. “I’m thinking,” she said. And again, she looked at the sister. The optimum cross for this female Atreides had been lost . . . killed by Paul. Another possibility remained, however — one which would cement the desired characteristic into an offspring. Paul dared offer animal breeding to the Bene Gesserit! How much was he really prepared to pay for his Chani’s life? Would he accept a cross with his own sister? Sparring for time, the Reverend Mother said: “Tell me, oh flawless exemplar of all that’s holy, has Irulan anything to say of your proposal?” “Irulan will do what you tell her to do,” Paul growled. True enough, Mohiam thought. She firmed her jaw, offered a new gambit: “There are two Atreides.” Paul, sensing something of what lay in the old witch’s mind, felt blood darken his face. “Careful what you suggest,” he said. “You’d just use Irulan to gain your own ends, eh?” she asked. “Wasn’t she trained to be used?” Paul asked. And we trained her, that’s what he’s saying, Mohiam thought. Well . . . Irulan’s a divided coin. Was there another way to spend such a coin? “Will you put Chani’s child on the throne?” the Reverend Mother asked. “On my throne.” Paul said. He glanced at wondering suddenly if she knew the divergent possibilities in this exchange. Alia stood with eyes closed, an odd stillness-of-person about her. With what inner force did she commune? Seeing his sister thus, Paul felt he’d been cast adrift. Alia stood on a shore that was receding from him. The Reverend Mother made her decision, said: “This is too much for one person to decide. I must consult with my Council on Wallach. Will you permit a message?” As though she needed my permission! Paul thought. He said: “Agreed, then. But don’t delay too long. I will not sit idly by while you debate.” “Will you bargain with the Bene Tleilaxu?” the ghola asked, his voice a sharp intrusion. Alia’s eyes popped open and she stared at the ghola as though she’d been wakened by a dangerous intruder. “I’ve made no such decision,” Paul said. “What I will do is go into the desert as soon as it can be arranged. Our child will be born in sietch.” “A wise decision,” Stilgar intoned. Alia refused to look at Stilgar. It was a wrong decision. She could feel this in every cell. Paul must know it. Why had he fixed himself upon such a path? “Have the Bene Tleilaxu offered their services?” Alia asked. She saw Mohiam hanging on the answer. Paul shook his head. “No.” He glanced at Stilgar. “Stil, arrange for the message to be sent to Wallach.” “At once, m’Lord.” Paul turned away, waited while Stilgar summoned guards, left with the old witch. He sensed Alia debating whether to confront him with more questions. She turned, instead, to the ghola. “Mentat,” she said, “will the Tleilaxu bid for favor with my brother?” The ghola shrugged. Paul felt his attention wander. The Tleilaxu? No . . . not in the way Alia meant. Her question revealed, though, that she had not seen the alternatives here. Well . . . vision varied from sibyl to sibyl. Why not a variance from brother to sister? Wandering . . . wandering . . . He came back from each thought with a start to pick up shards of the nearby conversation. ” . . . must know what the Tleilaxu . . .” ” . . . the fullness of data is always . . .” ” . . . healthy doubts where . . . ” Paul turned, looked at his sister, caught her attention. He knew she would see tears on his face and wonder at them. Let her wonder. Wondering was a kindness now. He glanced at the ghola, seeing only Duncan Idaho despite the metallic eyes. Sorrow and compassion warred in Paul. What might those metal eyes record? There are many degrees of sight and many degrees of blindness, Paul thought. His mind turned to a paraphrase of the passage from the Orange Catholic Bible: ‘What senses do we lack that we cannot see another world all around us?’ Were those metal eyes another sense than sight? Alia crossed to her brother, sensing his utter sadness. She touched a tear on his cheek with a Fremen gesture of awe, said: “We must not grieve for those dear to us before their passing.” “Before their passing,” Paul whispered. “Tell me, little sister, what is before?”

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Categories: Herbert, Frank