Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

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Oh, worm of many teeth, Canst thou deny what has no cure? The flesh and breath which lure thee To the ground of all beginnings Feed on monsters twisting in a door of fire! Thou hast no robe in all thy attire To cover intoxications of divinity Or hide the burnings of desire! -Wormsong from the Dunebook

Paul had worked up a sweat on the practice floor using crysknife and short sword against the ghola. He stood now at a window looking down into the temple plaza, tried to imagine the scene with Chani at the clinic. She’d been taken ill at midmorning, the sixth week of her pregnancy. The medics were the best. They’d call when they had news. Murky afternoon sandclouds darkened the sky over the plaza. Fremen called such weather “dirty air.” Would the medics never call? Each second struggled past, reluctant to enter his universe. Waiting . . . waiting . . . The Bene Gesserit sent no word from Wallach. Deliberately delaying, of course. Prescient vision had recorded these moments, but he shielded his awareness from the oracle, preferring the role here of a Timefish swimming not where he willed, but where the currents carried him. Destiny permitted no struggles now. The ghola could be heard racking weapons, examining the equipment. Paul sighed, put a hand to his own belt, deactivated his shield. The tingling passage of its field ran down against his skin. He’d face events when Chani came, Paul told himself. Time enough then to accept the fact that what he’d concealed from her had prolonged her life. Was it evil, he wondered, to prefer Chani to an heir? By what right did he make her choice for her? Foolish thoughts! Who could hesitate, given the alternatives — slave pits, torture, agonizing sorrow . . . and worse. He heard the door open, Chani’s footsteps. Paul turned. Murder sat on Chani’s face. The wide Fremen belt which gathered the waist of her golden robe, the water rings worn as a necklace, one hand at her hip (never far from the knife), the trenchant stare which was her first inspection of any room — everything about her stood now only as a background for violence. He opened his arms as she came to him, gathered her close. “Someone,” she rasped, speaking against his breast, “has been feeding me a contraceptive for a long time . . . before I began the new diet. There’ll be problems with this birth because of it.” “But there are remedies?” he asked. “Dangerous remedies. I know the source of that poison! I’ll have her blood.” “My Sihaya,” he whispered, holding her close to calm a sudden trembling. “You’ll bear the heir we want. Isn’t that enough?” “My life burns faster,” she said, pressing against him. “The birth now controls my life. The medics told me it goes at a terrible pace. I must eat and eat . . . and take more spice, as well . . . eat it, drink it. I’ll kill her for this!” Paul kissed her cheek. “No, my Sihaya. You’ll kill no one.” And he thought: Irulan prolonged your life, beloved. For you, the time of birth is the time of death. He felt hidden grief drain his marrow then, empty his life into a black flask. Chani pushed away from him. “She cannot be forgiven!” “Who said anything about forgiving?” “They why shouldn’t I kill her?” It was such a flat, Fremen question that Paul felt himself almost overcome by a hysterical desire to laugh. He covered it by saying: “It wouldn’t help.” “You’ve seen that?” Paul felt his belly tighten with vision-memory. “What I’ve seen . . . what I’ve seen . . .” he muttered. Every aspect of surrounding events fitted a present which paralyzed him. He felt chained to a future which, exposed too often, had locked onto him like a greedy succubus. Tight dryness clogged his throat. Had he followed the witchcall of his own oracle, he wondered, until it’d spilled him into a merciless present? “Tell me what you’ve seen,” Chani said. “I can’t.” “Why mustn’t I kill her?” “Because I ask it.” He watched her accept this. She did it the way sand accepted water: absorbing and concealing. Was there obedience beneath that hot, angry surface? he wondered. And he realized then that life in the royal Keep had left Chani unchanged. She’d merely stopped here for a time, inhabited a way station on a journey with her man. Nothing of the desert had been taken from her. Chani stepped away from him then, glanced at the ghola who stood waiting near the diamond circle of the practice door. “You’ve been crossing blades with him?” she asked. “And I’m better for it.” Her gaze went to the circle on the floor, back to the ghola’s metallic eyes. “I don’t like it,” she said. “He’s not intended to do me violence,” Paul said. “You’ve seen that?” “I’ve not seen it!” “Then how do you know?” “Because he’s more than ghola; he’s Duncan Idaho.” “The Bene Tleilax made him.” “They made more than they intended.” She shook her head. A corner of her nezhoni scarf rubbed the collar of her robe. “How can you change the fact that he is ghola?” “Hayt,” Paul said, “are you the tool of my undoing?” “If the substance of here and now is changed, the future is changed,” the ghola said. “That is no answer!” Chani objected. Paul raised his voice: “How will I die, Hayt?” Light glinted from the artificial eyes. “It is said, m’Lord, that you will die of money and power.” Chani stiffened. “How dare he speak thus to you?” “The mentat is truthful,” Paul said. “Was Duncan Idaho a real friend?” she asked. “He gave his life for me.” “It is sad,” Chani whispered, “that a ghola cannot be restored to his original being.” “Would you convert me?” the ghola asked, directing his gaze to Chani. “What does he mean?” Chani asked. “To be converted is to be turned around,” Paul said. “But there’s no going back.” “Every man carries his own past with him,” Hayt said. “And every ghola?” Paul asked. “In a way, m’Lord.” “Then what of that past in your secret flesh?” Paul asked. Chani saw how the question disturbed the ghola. His movements quickened, hands clenched into fists. She glanced at Paul, wondering why he probed thus. Was there a way to restore this creature to the man he’d been? “Has a ghola ever remembered his real past?” Chani asked. “Many attempts have been made,” Hayt said, his gaze fixed on the floor near his feet. “No ghola has ever been restored to his former being.” “But you long for this to happen,” Paul said. The blank surfaces of the ghola’s eyes came up to center on Paul with a pressing intensity. “Yes!” Voice soft, Paul said: “If there’s a way . . .” “This flesh,” Hayt said, touching left hand to forehead in a curious saluting movement, “is not the flesh of my original birth. It is . . . reborn. Only the shape is familiar. A Face Dancer might do as well.” “Not as well,” Paul said. “And you’re not a Face Dancer.” “That is true, m’Lord.” “Whence comes your shape?” “The genetic imprint of the original cells.” “Somewhere,” Paul said, “there’s a plastic something which remembers the shape of Duncan Idaho. It’s said the ancients probed this region before the Butlerian Jihad. What’s the extent of this memory, Hayt? What did it learn from the original?” The ghola shrugged. “What if he wasn’t Idaho?” Chani asked. “He was.” “Can you be certain?” she asked. “He is Duncan in every aspect. I cannot imagine a force strong enough to hold that shape thus without any relaxation or any deviation.” “M’Lord!” Hayt objected. “Because we cannot imagine a thing, that doesn’t exclude it from reality. There are things I must do as a ghola that I would not do as a man.” Keeping his attention on Chani, Paul said: “You see?” She nodded. Paul turned away, fighting deep sadness. He crossed to the balcony windows, drew the draperies. Lights came on in the sudden gloom. He pulled the sash of his robe tight, listened for sounds behind him. Nothing. He turned. Chani stood as though entranced, her gaze centered on the ghola. Hayt, Paul saw, had retreated to some inner chamber of his being — had gone back to the ghola place. Chani turned at the sound of Paul’s return. She still felt the thralldom of the instant Paul had precipitated. For a brief moment, the ghola had been an intense, vital human being. For that moment, he had been someone she did not fear — indeed, someone she liked and admired. Now, she understood Paul’s purpose in this probing. He had wanted her to see the man in the ghola flesh. She stared at Paul. “That man, was that Duncan Idaho?” “That was Duncan Idaho. He is still there.” “Would he have allowed Irulan to go on living?” Chani asked. The water didn’t sink too deep, Paul thought. And he said: “If I commanded it.” “I don’t understand,” she said. “Shouldn’t you be angry?” “I am angry.” “You don’t sound . . . angry. You sound sorrowful.” He closed his eyes. “Yes. That, too.” “You’re my man,” she said. “I know this, but suddenly I don’t understand you.” Abruptly, Paul felt that he walked down a long cavern. His flesh moved — one foot and then another — but his thoughts went elsewhere. “I don’t understand myself,” he whispered. When he opened his eyes, he found that he had moved away from Chani. She spoke from somewhere behind him. “Beloved, I’ll not ask again what you’ve seen. I only know I’m to give you the heir we want.” He nodded, then: “I’ve known that from the beginning.” He turned, studied her. Chani seemed very far away. She drew herself up, placed a hand on her abdomen. “I’m hungry. The medics tell me I must eat three or four times what I ate before. I’m frightened, beloved. It goes too fast.” Too fast, he agreed. This fetus knows the necessity for speed.

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Categories: Herbert, Frank