Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

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No matter how exotic human civilization becomes, no matter the developments of life and society nor the complexity of the machine / human interface, there always come interludes of lonely power when the course of humankind, the very future of humankind, depends upon the relatively simple actions of single individuals. -from The Tlielaxu Godbuk

As he crossed over on the high footbridge from his Keep to the Qizarate Office Building, Paul added a limp to his walk. It was almost sunset and he walked through long shadows that helped conceal him, but sharp eyes still might detect something in his carriage that identified him. He wore a shield, but it was not activated, his aides having decided that the shimmer of it might arouse suspicions. Paul glanced left. Strings of sandclouds lay across the sunset like slatted shutters. The air was hiereg dry through his stillsuit filters. He wasn’t really alone out here, but the web of Security hadn’t been this loose around him since he’d ceased walking the streets alone in the night. Ornithopters with night scanners drifted far overhead in seemingly random pattern, all of them tied to his movements through a transmitter concealed in his clothing. Picked men walked the streets below. Others had fanned out through the city after seeing the Emperor in his disguise — Fremen costume down to the stillsuit and temag desert boots, the darkened features. His cheeks had been distorted with plastene inserts. A catchtube ran down along his left jaw. As he reached the opposite end of the bridge, Paul glanced back, noted a movement beside the stone lattice that concealed a balcony of his private quarters. Chani, no doubt. “Hunting for sand in the desert,” she’d called this venture. How little she understood the bitter choice. Selecting among agonies, he thought, made even lesser agonies near unbearable. For a blurred, emotionally painful moment, he relived their parting. At the last instant, Chani had experienced a tau-glimpse of his feelings, but she had misinterpreted. She had thought his emotions were those experienced in the parting of loved ones when one entered the dangerous unknown. Would that I did not know, he thought. He had crossed the bridge now and entered the upper passageway through the office building. There were fixed glowglobes here and people hurrying on business. The Qizarate never slept. Paul found his attention caught by the signs above doorways, as though he were seeing them for the first time: Speed Merchants. Wind Stills and Retorts. Prophetic Prospects. Tests of Faith. Religious Supply. Weaponry . . . Propagation of the Faith . . . A more honest label would’ve been Propagation of the Bureaucracy, he thought. A type of religious civil servant had sprung up all through his universe. This new man of the Qizarate was more often a convert. He seldom displaced a Freman in the key posts, but he was filling all the interstices. He used melange as much to show he could afford it as for the geriatric benefits. He stood apart from his rulers — Emperor, Guild, Bene Gesserit, Landsraad, Family or Qizarate. His gods were Routine and Records. He was served by mentats and prodigious filing systems. Expediency was the first word in his catechism, although he gave proper lip-service to the precepts of the Butlerians. Machines could not be fashioned in the image of a man’s mind, he said, but he betrayed by every action that he preferred machines to men, statistics to individuals, the faraway general view to the intimate personal touch requiring imagination and initiative. As Paul emerged onto the ramp at the far side of the building, he heard the bells calling the Evening Rite at Alia’s Fane. There was an odd feeling of permanence about the bells. The temple across the thronged square was new, its rituals of recent devising, but there was something about this setting in a desert sink at the edge of Arrakeen — something in the way wind-driven sand had begun to weather stones and plastene, something in the haphazard way buildings had gone up around the Fane. Everything conspired to produce the impression that this was a very old place full of traditions and mystery. He was down into the press of people now — committed. The only guide his Security force could find had insisted it be done this way. Security hadn’t liked Paul’s ready agreement. Stilgar had liked it even less. And Chani had objected most of all. The crowd around him, even while its members brushed against him, glanced his way unseeing and passed on, gave him a curious freedom of movement. It was the way they’d been conditioned to treat a Fremen, he knew. He carried himself like a man of the inner desert. Such men were quick to anger. As he moved into the quickening flow to the temple steps, the crush of people became even greater. Those all around could not help but press against him now, but he found himself the target for ritual apologies: “Your pardon, noble sir. I cannot prevent this discourtesy.” “Pardon, sir; this crush of people is the worst I’ve ever seen.” “I abase myself, holy citizen. A lout shoved me.” Paul ignored the words after the first few. There was no feeling in them except a kind of ritual fear. He found himself, instead, thinking that he had come a long way from his boyhood days in Caladan Castle. Where had he put his foot on the path that led to this journey across a crowded square on a planet so far from Caladan? Had he really put his foot on a path? He could not say he had acted at any point in his life for one specific reason. The motives and impinging forces had been complex — more complex possibly than any other set of goads in human history. He had the heady feeling here that he might still avoid the fate he could see so clearly along this path. But the crowd pushed him forward and he experienced the dizzy sense that he had lost his way, lost personal direction over his life. The crowd flowed with him up the steps now into the temple portico. Voices grew hushed. The smell of fear grew stronger — acrid, sweaty. Acolytes had already begun the service within the temple. Their plain chant dominated the other sounds — whispers, rustle of garments, shuffling feet, coughs — telling the story of the Far Places visited by the Priestess in her holy trance.

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Categories: Herbert, Frank