Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

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Production growth and income growth must not get out of step in my Empire. That is the substance of my command. There are to be no balance-of-payment difficulties between the different spheres of influence. And the reason for this is simply because I command it. I want to emphasize my authority in this area. I am the supreme energy-eater of this domain, and will remain so, alive or dead. My Government is the economy. -Order in Council The Emperor Paul Muad’dib

“I will leave you here,” the old man said, taking his hand from Paul’s sleeve. “It is on the right, second door from the far end. Go with Shai-hulud, Muad’dib . . . and remember when you were Usul.” Paul’s guide slipped away into the darkness. There would be Security men somewhere out there waiting to grab the guide and take the man to a place of questioning, Paul knew. But Paul found himself hoping the old Fremen would escape. There were stars overhead and the distant light of First Moon somewhere beyond the Shield Wall. But this place was not the open desert where a man could sight on a star to guide his course. The old man had brought him into one of the new suburbs; this much Paul recognized. This street now was thick with sand blown in from encroaching dunes. A dim light glowed from a single public suspensor globe far down the street. It gave enough illumination to show that this was a dead-end street. The air around him was thick with the smell of a reclamation still. The thing must be poorly capped for its fetid odors to escape, loosing a dangerously wasteful amount of moisture into the night air. How careless his people had grown, Paul thought. They were millionaires of water — forgetful of the days when a man on Arrakis could have been killed for just an eighth share of the water in his body. Why am I hesitating? Paul wondered. It is the second door from the far end. I knew that without being told. But this thing must be played out with precision. So . . . I hesitate. The noise of an argument arose suddenly from the corner house on Paul’s left. A woman there berated someone: the new wing of their house leaked dust, she complained. Did he think water fell from heaven? If dust came in, moisture got out. Some remember, Paul thought. He moved down the street and the quarrel faded away behind. Water from heaven! he thought. Some Fremen had seen that wonder on other worlds. He had seen it himself, had ordered it for Arrakis, but the memory of it felt like something that had occurred to another person. Rain, it was called. Abruptly, he recalled a rainstorm on his birthworld — clouds thick and gray in the sky of Caladan, an electric storm presence, moist air, the big wet drops drumming on skylights. It ran in rivulets off the eaves. Storm drains took the water away to a river which ran muddy and turgid past the Family orchards . . . trees there with their barren branches glistening wetly. Paul’s foot caught in a low drift of sand across the street. For an instant, he felt mud clinging to the shoes of his childhood. Then he was back in the sand, in the dust-clotted, wind-muffled darkness with the Future hanging over him, taunting. He could feel the aridity of life around him like an accusation. You did this! They’d become a civilization of dry-eyed watchers and taletellers, people who solved all problems with power . . . and more power . . . and still more power — hating every erg of it. Rough stones came underfoot. His vision remembered them. The dark rectangle of a doorway appeared on his right — black in black: Otheym’s house. Fate’s house, a place different from the ones around it only in the role Time had chosen for it. It was a strange place to be marked down in history. The door opened to his knock. The gap revealed the dull green light of an atrium. A dwarf peered out, ancient face on a child’s body, an apparition prescience had never seen. “You’ve come then,” the apparition said. The dwarf stepped aside, no awe in his manner, merely the gloating of a slow smile. “Come in! Come in!” Paul hesitated. There’d been no dwarf in the vision, but all else remained identical. Visions could contain such disparities and still hold true to their original plunge into infinity. But the difference dared him to hope. He glanced back up the street at the creamy pearl glistening of his moon swimming out of jagged shadows. The moon haunted him. How did it fall? “Come in,” the dwarf insisted. Paul entered, heard the door thud into its moisture seals behind. The dwarf passed him, led the way, enormous feet slapping the floor, opened the delicate lattice gate into the roofed central courtyard, gestured. “They await, Sire.” Sire, Paul thought. He knows me, then. Before Paul could explore this discovery, the dwarf slipped away down a side passage. Hope was a dervish wind whirling, dancing in Paul. He headed across the courtyard. It was a dark and gloomy place, the smell of sickness and defeat in it. He felt daunted by the atmosphere. Was it defeat to choose a lesser evil? he wondered. How far down this track had he come? Light poured from a narrow doorway in the far wall. He put down the feeling of watchers and evil smells, entered the doorway into a small room. It was a barren place by Fremen standards with heireg hangings on only two walls. Opposite the door, a man sat on carmine cushions beneath the best hanging. A feminine figure hovered in shadows behind another doorway in a barren wall to the left. Paul felt vision-trapped. This was the way it’d gone. Where was the dwarf? Where was the difference? His senses absorbed the room in a single gestalten sweep. The place had received painstaking care despite its poor furnishings. Hooks and rods across the barren walls showed where hangings had been removed. Pilgrims paid enormous prices for authentic Fremen artifacts, Paul reminded himself. Rich pilgrims counted desert tapestries as treasures, true marks of a hajj. Paul felt that the barren walls accused him with their fresh gypsum wash. The threadbare condition of the two remaining hangings amplified the sense of guilt. A narrow shelf occupied the wall on his right. It held a row of portraits — mostly bearded Fremen, some in still-suits with their catchtubes dangling, some in Imperial uniforms posed against exotic offworld backgrounds. The most common scene was a seascape. The Fremen on cushions cleared his throat, forcing Paul to look at him. It was Otheym precisely as the vision had revealed him: neck grown scrawny, a bird thing which appeared too weak to support the large head. The face was a lopsided ruin — networks of crisscrossed scars on the left cheek below a drooping, wet eye, but clear skin on the other side and a straight, blue-in-blue Fremen gaze. A long kedge of a nose bisected the face. Otheym’s cushion sat in the center of a threadbare rug, brown with maroon and gold threads. The cushion fabric betrayed splotches of wear and patching, but every bit of metal around the seated figure shone from polishing — the portrait frames, shelf lip and brackets, the pedestal of a low table on the right. Paul nodded to the clear half of Otheym’s face, said: “Good luck to you and your dwelling place.” It was the greeting of an old friend and sietch mate. “So I see you once more, Usul.” The voice speaking his tribal name whined with an old man’s quavering. The dull drooping eye on the ruined side of the face moved above the parchment skin and scars. Gray bristles stubbled that side and the jawline there hung with scabrous peelings. Otheym’s mouth twisted as he spoke, the gap exposing silvery metal teeth. “Muad’dib always answers the call of a Fedaykin,” Paul said. The woman in the doorway shadows moved, said: “So Stilgar boasts.” She came forward into the light, an older version of the Lichna which the Face Dancer had copied. Paul recalled then that Otheym had married sisters. Her hair was gray, nose grown witch-sharp. Weavers’ calluses ran along her forefingers and thumbs. A Fremen woman would’ve displayed such marks proudly in the sietch days, but she saw his attention on her hands, hid them under a fold of her pale blue robe. Paul remembered her name then — Dhuri. The shock was he remembered her as a child, not as she’d been in his vision of these moments. It was the whine that edged her voice, Paul told himself. She’d whined even as a child. “You see me here,” Paul said. “Would I be here if Stilgar hadn’t approved?” He turned toward Otheym. “I carry your water burden, Otheym. Command me.” This was the straight Fremen talk of sietch brothers. Otheym produced a shaky nod, almost too much for that thin neck. He lifted a liver-marked left hand, pointed to the ruin of his face. “I caught the splitting disease on Tarahell, Usul,” he wheezed. “Right after the victory when we’d all . . .” A fit of coughing stopped his voice. “The tribe will collect his water soon,” Dhuri said. She crossed to Otheym, propped pillows behind him, held his shoulder to steady him until the coughing passed. She wasn’t really very old, Paul saw, but a look of lost hopes ringed her mouth, bitterness lay in her eyes. “I’ll summon doctors,” Paul said. Dhuri turned, hand on hip. “We’ve had medical men, as good as any you could summon.” She sent an involuntary glance to the barren wall on her left. And the medical men were costly, Paul thought. He felt edgy, constrained by the vision but aware that minor differences had crept in. How could he exploit the differences? Time came out of its skein with subtle changes, but the background fabric held oppressive sameness. He knew with terrifying certainty that if he tried to break out of the enclosing pattern here, it’d become a thing of terrible violence. The power in this deceptively gentle flow of Time oppressed him. “Say what you want of me,” he growled. “Couldn’t it be that Otheym needed a friend to stand by him in this time?” Dhuri asked. “Does a Fedaykin have to consign his flesh to strangers?” We shared Sietch Tabr, Paul reminded himself. She has the right to berate me for apparent callousness. “What I can do I will do,” Paul said. Another fit of coughing shook Otheym. When it had passed, he gasped: “There’s treachery, Usul. Fremen plot against you.” His mouth worked then without sound. Spittle escaped his lips. Dhuri wiped his mouth with a corner of her robe, and Paul saw how her face betrayed anger at such waste of moisture. Frustrated rage threatened to overwhelm Paul then. That Otheym should be spent thus! A Fedaykin deserved better. But no choice remained — not for a Death Commando or his Emperor. They walked Occam’s razor in this room. The slightest misstep multiplied horrors — not just for themselves, but for all humankind, even for those who would destroy them. Paul squeezed calmness into his mind, looked at Dhuri. The expression of terrible longing with which she gazed at Otheym strengthened Paul. Chani must never look at me that way, he told himself. “Lichna spoke of a message,” Paul said. “My dwarf,” Otheym wheezed. “I bought him on . . . on . . . on a world . . . I forget. He’s a human distrans, a toy discarded by the Tleilaxu. He’s recorded all the names . . . the traitors . . .” Otheym fell silent, trembling. “You speak of Lichna,” Dhuri said. “When you arrived, we knew she’d reached you safely. If you’re thinking of this new burden Otheym places upon you, Lichna is the sum of that burden. An even exchange, Usul: take the dwarf and go.” Paul suppressed a shudder, closed his eyes. Lichna! The real daughter had perished in the desert, a semuta-wracked body abandoned to the sand and the wind. Opening his eyes, Paul said: “You could’ve come to me at any time for . . .” “Otheym stayed away that he might be numbered among those who hate you, Usul,” Dhuri said. “The house to the south of us at the end of the street, that is a gathering place for your foes. It’s why we took this hovel.” “Then summon the dwarf and we’ll leave,” Paul said. “You’ve not listened well,” Dhuri said. “You must take the dwarf to a safe place,” Otheym said, an odd strength in his voice. “He carries the only record of the traitors. No one suspects his talent. They think I keep him for amusement.” “We cannot leave,” Dhuri said. “Only you and the dwarf. It’s known . . . how poor we are. We’ve said we’re selling the dwarf. They’ll take you for the buyer. It’s your only chance.” Paul consulted his memory of the vision: in it, he’d left here with the names of the traitors, but never seeing how those names were carried. The dwarf obviously moved under the protection of another oracle. It occurred to Paul then that all creatures must carry some kind of destiny stamped out by purposes of varying strengths, by the fixation of training and disposition. From the moment the Jihad had chosen him, he’d felt himself hemmed in by the forces of a multitude. Their fixed purposes demanded and controlled his course. Any delusions of Free Will he harbored now must be merely the prisoner rattling his cage. His curse lay in the fact that he saw the cage. He saw it! He listened now to the emptiness of this house: only the four of them in it — Dhuri, Otheym, the dwarf and himself. He inhaled the fear and tension of his companions, sensed the watchers — his own force hovering in ‘thopters far overhead . . . and those others . . . next door. I was wrong to hope, Paul thought. But thinking of hope brought him a twisted sense of hope, and he felt that he might yet seize his moment. “Summon the dwarf,” he said. “Bijaz!” Dhuri called. “You call me?” The dwarf stepped into the room from the courtyard, an alert expression of worry on his face. “You have a new master, Bijaz,” Dhuri said. She stared at Paul. “You may call him . . . Usul.” “Usul, that’s the base of the pillar,” Bijaz said, translating. “How can Usul be base when I’m the basest thing living?” “He always speaks thus,” Otheym apologized. “I don’t speak,” Bijaz said. “I operate a machine called language. It creaks and groans, but is mine own.” A Tleilaxu toy, learned and alert, Paul thought. The Bene Tleilax never threw away something this valuable. He turned, studied the dwarf. Round melange eyes returned his stare. “What other talents have you, Bijaz?” Paul asked. “I know when we should leave,” Bijaz said. “It’s a talent few men have. There’s a time for endings — and that’s a good beginning. Let us begin to go, Usul.” Paul examined his vision memory: no dwarf, but the little man’s words fitted the occasion. “At the door, you called me Sire,” Paul said. “You know me, then?” “You’ve sired, Sire,” Bijaz said, grinning. “You are much more than the base Usul. You’re the Atreides Emperor, Paul Muad’dib. And you are my finger.” He held up the index finger of his right hand. “Bijaz!” Dhuri snapped. “You tempt fate.” “I tempt my finger,” Bijaz protested, voice squeaking. He pointed at Usul. “I point at Usul. Is my finger not Usul himself? Or is it a reflection of something more base?” He brought the finger close to his eyes, examined it with a mocking grin, first one side then the other. “Ahhh, it’s merely a finger, after all.” “He often rattles on thus,” Dhuri said, worry in her voice. “I think it’s why he was discarded by the Tleilaxu.” “I’ll not be patronized,” Bijaz said, “yet I have a new patron. How strange the workings of the finger.” He peered at Dhuri and Otheym, eyes oddly bright. “A weak glue bound us, Otheym. A few tears and we part.” The dwarfs big feet rasped on the floor as he whirled completely around, stopped facing Paul. “Ahhh, patron! I came the long way around to find you.” Paul nodded. “You’ll be kind, Usul?” Bijaz asked. “I’m a person, you know. Persons come in many shapes and sizes. This be but one of them. I’m weak of muscle, but strong of mouth; cheap to feed, but costly to fill. Empty me as you will, there’s still more in me than men put there.” “We’ve no time for your stupid riddles,” Dhuri growled. “You should be gone.” “I’m riddled with conundrums,” Bijaz said, “but not all of them stupid. To be gone, Usul, is to be a bygone. Yes? Let us let bygones be bygones. Dhuri speaks truth, and I’ve the talent for hearing that, too.” “You’ve truthsense?” Paul asked, determined now to wait out the clockwork of his vision. Anything was better than shattering these moments and producing the new consequences. There remained things for Otheym to say lest Time be diverted into even more horrifying channels. “I’ve now-sense” Bijaz said. Paul noted that the dwarf had grown more nervous. Was the little man aware of things about to happen? Could Bijaz be his own oracle? “Did you inquire of Lichna?” Otheym asked suddenly, peering up at Dhuri with his one good eye. “Lichna is safe,” Dhuri said. Paul lowered his head, lest his expression betray the lie. Safe! Lichna was ashes in a secret grave. “That’s good then,” Otheym said, taking Paul’s lowered head for a nod of agreement. “One good thing among the evils, Usul. I don’t like the world we’re making, you know that? It was better when we were alone in the desert with only the Harkonnens for enemy.” “There’s but a thin line between many an enemy and many a friend,” Bijaz said. “Where that line stops, there’s no beginning and no end. Let’s end it, my friends.” He moved to Paul’s side, jittered from one foot to the other. “What’s now-sense?” Paul asked, dragging out these moments, goading the dwarf. “Now!” Bijaz said, trembling. “Now! Now!” He tugged at Paul’s robe. “Let us go now!” “His mouth rattles, but there’s no harm in him,” Otheym said, affection in his voice, the one good eye staring at Bijaz. “Even a rattle can signal departure,” Bijaz said. “And so can tears. Let’s be gone while there’s time to begin.” “Bijaz, what do you fear?” Paul asked. “I fear the spirit seeking me now,” Bijaz muttered. Perspiration stood out on his forehead. His cheeks twitched. “I fear the one who thinks not and will have no body except mine — and that one gone back into itself! I fear the things I see and the things I do not see.” This dwarf does possess the power of prescience, Paul thought. Bijaz shared the terrifying oracle. Did he share the oracle’s fate, as well? How potent was the dwarf’s power? Did he have the little prescience of those who dabbled in the Dune Tarot? Or was it something greater? How much had he seen? “Best you go,” Dhuri said. “Bijaz is right.” “Every minute we linger,” Bijaz said, “prolongs . . . prolongs the present!” Every minute I linger defers my guilt, Paul thought. A worm’s poisonous breath, its teeth dripping dust, had washed over him. It had happened long ago, but he inhaled the memory of it now — spice and bitterness. He could sense his own worm waiting — “the urn of the desert.” “These are troubled times,” he said, addressing himself to Otheym’s judgment of their world. “Fremen know what to do in time of trouble,” Dhuri said. Otheym contributed a shaky nod. Paul glanced at Dhuri. He’d not expected gratitude, would have been burdened by it more than he could bear, but Otheym’s bitterness and the passionate resentment he saw in Dhuri’s eyes shook his resolve. Was anything worth this price? “Delay serves no purpose,” Dhuri said. “Do what you must, Usul.” Otheym wheezed. Paul sighed. The words of the vision had been spoken. “There’ll be an accounting,” he said, to complete it. Turning, he strode from the room, heard Bijaz foot-slapping behind. “Bygones, bygones,” Bijaz muttered as they went. “Let bygones fall where they may. This has been a dirty day.”

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Categories: Herbert, Frank