Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

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There exists a limit to the force even the most powerful may apply without destroying themselves. Judging this limit is the true artistry of government. Misuse of power is the fatal sin. The law cannot be a tool of vengeance, never a hostage, nor a fortification against the martyrs it has created. You cannot threaten any individual and escape the consequences. -Muad’dib on Law, The Stilgar Commentary

Chani stared out at the morning desert framed in the fault cleft below Sietch Tabr. She wore no stillsuit, and this made her feel unprotected here in the desert. The sietch grotto’s entrance lay hidden in the buttressed cliff above and behind her. The desert . . . the desert . . . She felt that the desert had followed her wherever she had gone. Coming back to the desert was not so much a homecoming as a turning around to see what had always been there. A painful constriction surged through her abdomen. The birth would be soon. She fought down the pain, wanting this moment alone with her desert. Dawn stillness gripped the land. Shadows fled among the dunes and terraces of the Shield Wall all around. Daylight lunged over the high scarp and plunged her up to her eyes in a bleak landscape stretching beneath a washed blue sky. The scene matched the feeling of dreadful cynicism which had tormented her since the moment she’d learned of Paul’s blindness. Why are we here? she wondered. It was not a hajra, a journey of seeking. Paul sought nothing here except, perhaps, a place for her to give birth. He had summoned odd companions for this journey, she thought — Bijaz, the Tleilaxu dwarf; the ghola, Hayt, who might be Duncan Idaho’s revenant; Edric, the Guild Steersman-Ambassador; Gaius Helen Mohiam, the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother he so obviously hated; Lichna, Otheym’s strange daughter, who seemed unable to move beyond the watchful eyes of guards; Stilgar, her uncle of the Naibs, and his favorite wife, Harah . . . and Irulan . . . Alia . . . The sound of wind through the rocks accompanied her thoughts. The desert day had become yellow on yellow, tan on tan, gray on gray. Why such a strange mixture of companions? “We have forgotten,” Paul had said in response to her question, “that the word ‘company’ originally meant traveling companions. We are a company.” “But what value are they?” “There!” he’d said, turning his frightful sockets toward her. “We’ve lost that clear, single-note of living. If it cannot be bottled, beaten, pointed or hoarded, we give it no value.” Hurt, she’d said: “That’s not what I meant.” “Ahhh, dearest one,” he’d said, soothing, “we are so money-rich and so life-poor. I am evil, obstinate, stupid . . . ” “You are not!” “That, too, is true. But my hands are blue with time. I think . . . I think I tried to invent life, not realizing it’d already been invented.” And he’d touched her abdomen to feel the new life there. Remembering, she placed both hands over her abdomen and trembled, sorry that she’d asked Paul to bring her here. The desert wind had stirred up evil odors from the fringe plantings which anchored the dunes at the cliff base. Fremen superstition gripped her: evil odors, evil times. She faced into the wind, saw a worm appear outside the plantings. It arose like the prow of a demon ship out of the dunes, threshed sand, smelled the water deadly to its kind, and fled beneath a long, burrowing mound. She hated the water then, inspired by the worm’s fear. Water, once the spirit-soul of Arrakis, had become a poison. Water brought pestilence. Only the desert was clean. Below her, a Fremen work gang appeared. They climbed to the sietch’s middle entrance, and she saw that they had muddy feet. Fremen with muddy feet! The children of the sietch began singing to the morning above her, their voices piping from the upper entrance. The voices made her feel time fleeing from her like hawks before the wind. She shuddered. What storms did Paul see with his eyeless vision? She sensed a vicious madman in him, someone weary of songs and polemics. The sky, she noted, had become crystal gray filled with alabaster rays, bizarre designs etched across the heavens by windborne sand. A line of gleaming white in the south caught her attention. Eves suddenly alerted, she interpreted the sign: White sky in the south: Shai-hulud’s mouth. A storm came, big wind. She felt the warning breeze, a crystal blowing of sand against her cheeks. The incense of death came on the wind: odors of water flowing in qanats, sweating sand, flint. The water — that was why Shai-hulud sent his coriolis wind. Hawks appeared in the cleft where she stood, seeking safety from the wind. They were brown as the rocks and with scarlet in their wings. She felt her spirit go out to them: they had a place to hide; she had none. “M’Lady, the wind comes!” She turned, saw the ghola calling to her outside the upper entrance to the sietch. Fremen fears gripped her. Clean death and the body’s water claimed for the tribe, these she understood. But . . . something brought back from death . . . Windblown sand whipped at her, reddened her cheeks. She glanced over her shoulder at the frightful band of dust across the sky. The desert beneath the storm had taken on a tawny, restless appearance as though dune waves beat on a tempest shore the way Paul had once described a sea. She hesitated, caught by a feeling of the desert’s transience. Measured against eternity, this was no more than a caldron. Dune surf thundered against cliffs. The storm out there had become a universal thing for her — all the animals hiding from it . . . nothing left of the desert but its own private sounds: blown sand scraping along rock, a wind-surge whistling, the gallop of a boulder tumbled suddenly from its hill — then! somewhere out of sight, a capsized worm thumping its idiot way aright and slithering off to its dry depths. It was only a moment as her life measured time, but in that moment she felt this planet being swept away — cosmic dust, part of other waves. “We must hurry,” the ghola said from right beside her. She sensed fear in him then, concern for her safety. “It’ll shred the flesh from your bones,” he said, as though he needed to explain such a storm to her. Her fear of him dispelled by his obvious concern, Chani allowed the ghola to help her up the rock stairway to the sietch. They entered the twisting baffle which protected the entrance. Attendants opened the moisture seals, closed them behind. Sietch odors assaulted her nostrils. The place was a ferment of nasal memories — the warren closeness of bodies, rank esters of the reclamation stills, familiar food aromas, the flinty burning of machines at work . . . and through it all, the omnipresent spice: melange everywhere. She took a deep breath. “Home.” The ghola took his hand from her arm, stood aside, a patient figure now, almost as though turned off when not in use. Yet . . . he watched. Chani hesitated in the entrance chamber, puzzled by something she could not name. This was truly her home. As a child, she’d hunted scorpions here by glowglobe light. Something was changed, though . . . “Shouldn’t you be going to your quarters, m’Lady?” the ghola asked. As though ignited by his words, a rippling birth constriction seized her abdomen. She fought against revealing it. “M’Lady?” the ghola said. “Why is Paul afraid for me to bear our children?” she asked. “It is a natural thing to fear for your safety,” the ghola said. She put a hand to her cheek where the sand had reddened it. “And he doesn’t fear for the children?” “M’Lady, he cannot think of a child without remembering that your firstborn was slain by the Sardaukar.” She studied the ghola — flat face, unreadable mechanical eyes. Was he truly Duncan Idaho, this creature? Was he friend to anyone? Had he spoken truthfully now? “You should be with the medics,” the ghola said. Again, she heard the fear for her safety in his voice. She felt abruptly that her mind lay undefended, ready to be invaded by shocking perceptions. “Hayt, I’m afraid,” she whispered. “Where is my Usul?” “Affairs of state detain him,” the ghola said. She nodded, thinking of the government apparatus which had accompanied them in a great flight of ornithopters. Abruptly, she realized what puzzled her about the sietch: outworld odors. The clerks and aides had brought their own perfumes into this environment, aromas of diet and clothing, of exotic toiletries. They were an undercurrent of odors here. Chani shook herself, concealing an urge to bitter laughter. Even the smells changed in Muad’dib’s presence! “There were pressing matters which he could not defer,” the ghola said, misreading her hesitation. “Yes . . . yes, I understand. I came with that swarm, too.” Recalling the flight from Arrakeen, she admitted to herself now that she had not expected to survive it. Paul had insisted on piloting his own ‘thopter. Eyeless, he had guided the machine here. After that experience, she knew nothing he did could surprise her. Another pain fanned out through her abdomen. The ghola saw her indrawn breath, the tightening of her cheeks, said: “Is it your time?” “I . . . yes, it is.” “You must not delay,” he said. He grasped her arm, hurried her down the hall. She sensed panic in him, said: “There’s time.” He seemed not to hear. “The Zensunni approach to birth,” he said, urging her even faster, “is to wait without purpose in the state of highest tension. Do not compete with what is happening. To compete is to prepare for failure. Do not be trapped by the need to achieve anything. This way, you achieve everything.” While he spoke, they reached the entrance to her quarters. He thrust her through the hangings, cried out: “Harah! Harah! It is Chani’s time. Summon the medics!” His call brought attendants running. There was a great bustling of people in which Chani felt herself an isolated island of calm . . . until the next pain came. Hayt, dismissed to the outer passage, took time to wonder at his own actions. He felt fixated at some point of time where all truths were only temporary. Panic lay beneath his actions, he realized. Panic centered not on the possibility that Chani might die, but that Paul should come to him afterward . . . filled with grief . . . his loved one . . . gone . . . gone . . . Something cannot emerge from nothing, the ghola told himself. From what does this panic emerge? He felt that his mentat faculties had been dulled, let out a long, shuddering breath. A psychic shadow passed over him. In the emotional darkness of it, he felt himself waiting for some absolute sound — the snap of a branch in a jungle. A sigh shook him. Danger had passed without striking. Slowly, marshaling his powers, shedding bits of inhibition, he sank into mentat awareness. He forced it — not the best way — but somehow necessary. Ghost shadows moved within him in place of people. He was a transshipping station for every datum he had ever encountered. His being was inhabited by creatures of possibility. They passed in review to be compared, judged. Perspiration broke out on his forehead. Thoughts with fuzzy edges feathered away into darkness — unknown. Infinite systems! A mentat could not function without realizing he worked in infinite systems. Fixed knowledge could not surround the infinite. Everywhere could not be brought into finite perspective. Instead, he must become the infinite — momentarily. In one gestalten spasm, he had it, seeing Bijaz seated before him blazing from some inner fire. Bijaz! The dwarf had done something to him! Hayt felt himself teetering on the lip of a deadly pit. He projected the mentat computation line forward, seeing what could develop out of his own actions. “A compulsion!” he gasped. “I’ve been rigged with a compulsion!” A blue-robed courier, passing as Hayt spoke, hesitated. “Did you say something, sirra?” Not looking at him, the ghola nodded. “I said everything.”

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Categories: Herbert, Frank