Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

= = = = = =

Every civilization must contend with an unconscious force which can block, betray or countermand almost any conscious intention of the collectivity. -Tleilaxu Theorem (unproven)

Paul sat on the edge of his bed and began stripping off his desert boots. They smelled rancid from the lubricant which eased the action of the heel-powered pumps that drove his stillsuit. It was late. He had prolonged his nighttime walk and caused worry for those who loved him. Admittedly, the walks were dangerous, but it was a kind of danger he could recognize and meet immediately. Something compelling and attractive surrounded walking anonymously at night in the streets of Arrakeen. He tossed the boots into the corner beneath the room’s lone glowglobe, attacked the seal strips of his stillsuit. Gods below, how tired he was! The tiredness stopped at his muscles, though, and left his mind seething. Watching the mundane activities of everyday life filled him with profound envy. Most of that nameless flowing life outside the walls of his Keep couldn’t be shared by an Emperor — but . . . to walk down a public street without attracting attention: what a privilege! To pass by the clamoring of mendicant pilgrims, to hear a Fremen curse a shopkeeper: “You have damp hands!” . . . Paul smiled at the memory, slipped out of his stillsuit. He stood naked and oddly attuned to his world. Dune was a world of paradox now — a world under siege, yet the center of power. To come under siege, he decided, was the inevitable fate of power. He stared down at the green carpeting, feeling its rough texture against his soles. The streets had been ankle deep in sand blown over the Shield Wall on the stratus wind. Foot traffic had churned it into choking dust which clogged stillsuit Filters. He could smell the dust even now despite a blower cleaning at the portals of his Keep. It was an odor full of desert memories. Other days . . . other dangers. Compared to those other days, the peril in his lonely walks remained minor. But, putting on a stillsuit, he put on the desert. The suit with all its apparatus for reclaiming his body’s moisture guided his thoughts in subtle ways, fixed his movements in a desert pattern. He became wild Fremen. More than a disguise, the suit made of him a stranger to his city self. In the stillsuit, he abandoned security and put on the old skills of violence. Pilgrims and townfolk passed him then with eyes downcast. They left the wild ones strictly alone out of prudence. If the desert had a face for city folk, it was a Fremen face concealed by a stillsuit’s mouth-nose filters. In truth, there existed now only the small danger that someone from the old sietch days might mark him by his walk, by his odor or by his eyes. Even then, the chances of meeting an enemy remained small. A swish of door hangings and a wash of light broke his reverie. Chani entered bearing his coffee service on a platinum tray. Two slaved glowglobes followed her, darting to their positions: one at the head of their bed, one hovering beside her to light her work. Chani moved with an ageless air of fragile power — so self-contained, so vulnerable. Something about the way she bent over the coffee service reminded him then of their first days. Her features remained darkly elfin, seemingly unmarked by their years — unless one examined the outer corners of her whiteless eyes, noting the lines there: “sandtracks,” the Fremen of the desert called them. Steam wafted from the pot as she lifted the lid by its Hagar emerald knob. He could tell the coffee wasn’t yet ready by the way she replaced the lid. The pot — fluting silver female shape, pregnant — had come to him as a ghanima, a spoil of battle won when he’d slain the former owner in single combat. Jamis, that’d been the man’s name . . . Jamis. What an odd immortality death had earned for Jamis. Knowing death to be inevitable, had Jamis carried that particular one in his hand? Chani put out cups: blue pottery squatting like attendants beneath the immense pot. There were three cups: one for each drinker and one for all the former owners. “It’ll only be a moment,” she said. She looked at him then, and Paul wondered how he appeared in her eyes. Was he yet the exotic offworlder, slim and wiry but water-fat when compared to Fremen? Had he remained the Usul of his tribal name who’d taken her in “Fremen tau” while they’d been fugitives in the desert? Paul stared down at his own body: hard muscles, slender . . . a few more scars, but essentially the same despite twelve years as Emperor. Looking up, he glimpsed his face in a shelf mirror — blue-blue Fremen eyes, mark of spice addiction; a sharp Atreides nose. He looked the proper grandson for an Atreides who’d died in the bullring creating a spectacle for his people. Something the old man had said slipped then into Paul’s mind: “One who rules assumes irrevocable responsibility for the ruled. You are a husbandman. This demands, at times, a selfless act of love which may only be amusing to those you rule.” People still remembered that old man with affection. And what have I done for the Atreides name? Paul asked himself. I’ve loosed the wolf among the sheep. For a moment, he contemplated all the death and violence going on in his mind. “Into bed now!” Chani said in a sharp tone of command that Paul knew would’ve shocked his Imperial subjects. He obeyed, lay back with his hands behind his head, letting himself be lulled by the pleasant familiarity of Chani’s movements. The room around them struck him suddenly with amusement. It was not at all what the populace must imagine as the Emperor’s bedchamber. The yellow light of restless glowglobes moved the shadows in an array of colored glass jars on a shelf behind Chani. Paul named their contents silently — the dry ingredients of the desert pharmacopoeia, unguents, incense, mementos . . . a pinch of sand from Sietch Tabr, a lock of hair from their firstborn . . . long dead . . . twelve years dead . . . an innocent bystander killed in the battle that had made Paul Emperor. The rich odor of spice-coffee filled the room. Paul inhaled, his glance falling on a yellow bowl beside the tray where Chani was preparing the coffee. The bowl held ground nuts. The inevitable poison-snooper mounted beneath the table waved its insect arms over the food. The snooper angered him. They’d never needed snoopers in the desert days! “Coffee’s ready,” Chani said. “Are you hungry?” His angry denial was drowned in the whistling scream of a spice lighter hurling itself spaceward from the field outside Arrakeen. Chani saw his anger, though, poured their coffee, put a cup near his hand. She sat down on the foot of the bed, exposed his legs, began rubbing them where the muscles were knotted from walking in the stillsuit. Softly, with a casual air which did not deceive him, she said: “Let us discuss Irulan’s desire for a child.” Paul’s eyes snapped wide open. He studied Chani carefully, “Irulan’s been back from Wallach less than two days,” he said. “Has she been at you already?” “We’ve not discussed her frustrations,” Chani said. Paul forced his mind to mental alertness, examined Chani in the harsh light of observational minutiae, the Bene Gesserit Way his mother had taught him in violation of her vows. It was a thing he didn’t like doing with Chani. Part of her hold on him lay in the fact he so seldom needed his tension-building powers with her. Chani mostly avoided indiscreet questions. She maintained a Fremen sense of good manners. Hers were more often practical questions. What interested Chani were facts which bore on the position of her man — his strength in Council, the loyalty of his legions, the abilities and talents of his allies. Her memory held catalogs of names and cross-indexed details. She could rattle off the major weakness of every known enemy, the potential dispositions of opposing forces, battle plans of their military leaders, the tooling and production capacities of basic industries. Why now, Paul wondered, did she ask about Irulan? “I’ve troubled your mind,” Chani said. “That wasn’t my intention.” “What was your intention?” She smiled shyly, meeting his gaze. “If you’re angered, love, please don’t hide it.” Paul sank back against the headboard. “Shall I put her away?” he asked. “Her use is limited now and I don’t like the things I sense about her trip home to the Sisterhood.” “You’ll not put her away,” Chani said. She went on massaging his legs, spoke matter-of-factly: “You’ve said many times she’s your contact with our enemies, that you can read their plans through her actions.” “Then why ask about her desire for a child?” “I think it’d disconcert our enemies and put Irulan in a vulnerable position should you make her pregnant.” He read by the movements of her hands on his legs what that statement had cost her. A lump rose in his throat. Softly, he said: “Chani, beloved, I swore an oath never to take her into my bed. A child would give her too much power. Would you have her displace you?” “I have no place.” “Not so, Sihaya, my desert springtime. What is this sudden concern for Irulan?” “It’s concern for you, not for her! If she carried an Atreides child, her friends would question her loyalties. The less trust our enemies place in her, the less use she is to them.” “A child for her could mean your death,” Paul said. “You know the plotting in this place.” A movement of his arm encompassed the Keep. “You must have an heir!” she husked. “Ahhh,” he said. So that was it: Chani had not produced a child for him. Someone else, then, must do it. Why not Irulan? That was the way Chani’s mind worked. And it must be done in an act of love because all the Empire avowed strong taboos against artificial ways. Chani had come to a Fremen decision. Paul studied her face in this new light. It was a face he knew better in some ways than his own. He had seen this face soft with passion, in the sweetness of sleep, awash in fears and angers and griefs. He closed his eyes, and Chani came into his memories as a girl once more — veiled in springtime, singing, waking from sleep beside him — so perfect that the very vision of her consumed him. In his memory, she smiled . . . shyly at first, then strained against the vision as though she longed to escape. Paul’s mouth went dry. For a moment, his nostrils tasted the smoke of a devastated future and the voice of another kind of vision commanding him to disengage . . . disengage . . . disengage. His prophetic visions had been eavesdropping on eternity for such a long while, catching snatches of foreign tongues, listening to stones and to flesh not his own. Since the day of his first encounter with terrible purpose, he had peered at the future, hoping to find peace. There existed a way, of course. He knew it by heart without knowing the heart of it — a rote future, strict in its instructions to him: disengage, disengage, disengage . . . Paul opened his eyes, looked at the decision in Chani’s face. She had stopped massaging his legs, sat still now — purest Fremen. Her features remained familiar beneath the blue nezhoni scarf she often wore about her hair in the privacy of their chambers. But the mask of decision sat on her, an ancient and alien-to-him way of thinking. Fremen women had shared their men for thousands of years — not always in peace, but with a way of making the fact nondestructive. Something mysteriously Fremen in this fashion had happened in Chani. “You’ll give me the only heir I want,” he said. “You’ve seen this?” she asked, making it obvious by her emphasis that she referred to prescience. As he had done many times, Paul wondered how he could explain the delicacy of the oracle, the Timelines without number which vision waved before him on an undulating fabric. He sighed, remembered water lifted from a river in the hollow of his hands — trembling, draining. Memory drenched his face in it. How could he drench himself in futures growing increasingly obscure from the pressures of too many oracles? “You’ve not seen it, then,” Chani said. That vision-future scarce any longer accessible to him except at the expenditure of life-draining effort, what could it show them except grief? Paul asked himself. He felt that he occupied an inhospitable middle zone, a wasted place where his emotions drifted, swayed, swept outward in unchecked restlessness. Chani covered his legs, said: “An heir to House Atreides, this is not something you leave to chance or one woman.” That was a thing his mother might’ve said, Paul thought. He wondered if the Lady Jessica had been in secret communication with Chani. His mother would think in terms of House Atreides. It was a pattern bred and conditioned into her by the Bene Gesserit, and would hold true even now when her powers were turned against the Sisterhood. “You listened when Irulan came to me today,” he accused. “I listened.” She spoke without looking at him. Paul focused his memory on the encounter with Irulan. He’d let himself into the family salon, noted an unfinished robe on Chani’s loom. There’d been an acrid wormsmell to the place, an evil odor which almost hid the underlying cinnamon bite of melange. Someone had spilled unchanged spice essence and left it to combine there with a spice-based rug. It had not been a felicitous combination. Spice essence had dissolved the rug. Oily marks lay congealed on the plastone floor where the rug had been. He’d thought to send for someone to clean away the mess, but Harah, Stilgar’s wife and Chani’s closest feminine friend, had slipped in to announce Irulan. He’d been forced to conduct the interview in the presence of that evil smell, unable to escape a Fremen superstition that evil smells foretold disaster. Harah withdrew as Irulan entered. “Welcome,” Paul said. Irulan wore a robe of gray whale fur. She pulled it close, touched a hand to her hair. He could see her wondering at his mild tone. The angry words she’d obviously prepared for this meeting could be sensed leaving her mind in a welter of second thoughts. “You came to report that the Sisterhood had lost its last vestige of morality,” he said. “Isn’t it dangerous to be that ridiculous?” she asked. “To be ridiculous and dangerous, a questionable alliance,” he said. His renegade Bene Gesserit training detected her putting down an impulse to withdraw. The effort exposed a brief glimpse of underlying fear, and he saw she’d been assigned a task not to her liking. “They expect a bit too much from a princess of the blood royal,” he said. Irulan grew very still and Paul became aware that she had locked herself into a viselike control. A heavy burden, indeed, he thought. And he wondered why prescient visions had given him no glimpse of this possible future. Slowly, Irulan relaxed. There was no point in surrendering to fear, no point in retreat, she had decided. “You’ve allowed the weather to fall into a very primitive pattern,” she said, rubbing her arms through the robe. “It was dry and there was a sandstorm today. Are you never going to let it rain here?” “You didn’t come here to talk about the weather,” Paul said. He felt that he had been submerged in double meanings. Was Irulan trying to tell him something which her training would not permit her to say openly? It seemed that way. He felt that he had been cast adrift suddenly and now must thrash his way back to some steady place. “I must have a child,” she said. He shook his head from side to side. “I must have my way!” she snapped. “If need be, I’ll find another father for my child. I’ll cuckold you and dare you to expose me.” “Cuckold me all you wish,” he said, “but no child.” “How can you stop me?” With a smile of upmost kindness, he said: “I’d have you garroted, if it came to that.” Shocked silence held her for a moment and Paul sensed Chani listened behind the heavy draperies into their private apartments. “I am your wife,” Irulan whispered. “Let us not play these silly games,” he said. “You play a part, no more. We both know who my wife is.” “And I am a convenience, nothing more,” she said, voice heavy with bitterness. “I have no wish to be cruel to you,” he said. “You chose me for this position.” “Not I,” he said. “Fate chose you. Your father chose you. The Bene Gesserit chose you. The Guild chose you. And they have chosen you once more. For what have they chosen you, Irulan?” “Why can’t I have your child?” “Because that’s a role for which you weren’t chosen.” “It’s my right to bear the royal heir! My father was –” “Your father was and is a beast. We both know he’d lost almost all touch with the humanity he was supposed to rule and protect.” “Was he hated less than you’re hated?” she flared. “A good question,” he agreed, a sardonic smile touching the edges of his mouth. “You say you’ve no wish to be cruel to me, yet . . . ” “And that’s why I agree that you can take any lover you choose. But understand me well: take a lover, but bring no sour-fathered child into my household. I would deny such a child. I don’t begrudge you any male alliance as long as you are discreet . . . and childless. I’d be silly to feel otherwise under the circumstances. But don’t presume upon this license which I freely bestow. Where the throne is concerned, I control what blood is heir to it. The Bene Gesserit doesn’t control this, nor does the Guild. This is one of the privileges I won when I smashed your father’s Sardaukar legions out there on the Plain of Arrakeen.” “It’s on your head, then,” Irulan said. She whirled and swept out of the chamber. Remembering the encounter now, Paul brought his awareness out of it and focused on Chani seated beside him on their bed. He could understand his ambivalent feelings about Irulan, understand Chani’s Fremen decision. Under other circumstances Chani and Irulan might have been friends. “What have you decided?” Chani asked. “No child,” he said. Chani made the Fremen crysknife sign with the index finger and thumb of her right hand. “It could come to that,” he agreed. “You don’t think a child would solve anything with Irulan?” she asked. “Only a fool would think that.” “I am not a fool, my love.” Anger possessed him. “I’ve never said you were! But this isn’t some damned romantic novel we’re discussing. That’s a real princess down the hall. She was raised in all the nasty intrigues of an Imperial Court. Plotting is as natural to her as writing her stupid histories!” “They are not stupid, love.” “Probably not.” He brought his anger under control, took her hand in his. “Sorry. But that woman has many plots — plots within plots. Give into one of her ambitions and you could advance another of them.” Her voice mild, Chani said: “Haven’t I always said as much?” “Yes, of course you have.” He stared at her. “Then what are you really trying to say to me?” She lay down beside him, placed her hand against his neck. “They have come to a decision on how to fight you,” she said. “Irulan reeks of secret decisions.” Paul stroked her hair. Chani had peeled away the dross. Terrible purpose brushed him. It was a coriolis wind in his soul. It whistled through the framework of his being. His body knew things then never learned in consciousness. “Chani, beloved,” he whispered, “do you know what I’d spend to end the Jihad — to separate myself from the damnable godhead the Qizarate forces onto me?” She trembled. “You have but to command it,” she said. “Oh, no. Even if I died now, my name would still lead them. When I think of the Atreides name tied to this religious butchery . . . ” “But you’re the Emperor! You’ve –” “I’m a figurehead. When godhead’s given, that’s the one thing the so-called god no longer controls.” A bitter laugh shook him. He sensed the future looking back at him out of dynasties not even dreamed. He felt his being cast out, crying, unchained from the rings of fate — only his name continued. “I was chosen,” he said. “Perhaps at birth . . . certainly before I had much say in it. I was chosen.” “Then un-choose,” she said. His arm tightened around her shoulder. “In time, beloved. Give me yet a little time.” Unshed tears burned his eyes. “We should return to Sietch Tabr,” Chani said. “There’s too much to contend with in this tent of stone.” He nodded, his chin moving against the smooth fabric of the scarf which covered her hair. The soothing spice smell of her filled his nostrils. Sietch. The ancient Chakobsa word absorbed him: a place of retreat and safety in a time of peril. Chani’s suggestion made him long for vistas of open sand, for clean distances where one could see an enemy coming from a long way off. “The tribes expect Muad’dib to return to them,” she said. She lifted her head to look at him. “You belong to us.” “I belong to a vision,” he whispered. He thought then of the Jihad, of the gene mingling across parsecs and the vision which told him how he might end it. Should he pay the price? All the hatefulness would evaporate, dying as fires die — ember by ember. But . . . oh! The terrifying price! I never wanted to be a god, he thought. I wanted only to disappear like a jewel of trace dew caught by the morning. I wanted to escape the angels and the damned — alone . . . as though by an oversight. “Will we go back to the Sietch?” Chani pressed. “Yes,” he whispered. And he thought: I must pay the price. Chani heaved a deep sigh, settled back against him. I’ve loitered, he thought. And he saw how he’d been hemmed in by boundaries of love and the Jihad. And what was one life, no matter how beloved, against all the lives the Jihad was certain to take? Could single misery be weighed against the agony of multitudes? “Love?” Chani said, questioning. He put a hand against her lips. I’ll yield up myself, he thought. I’ll rush out while I yet have the strength, fly through a space a bird might not find. It was a useless thought, and he knew it. The Jihad would follow his ghost. What could he answer? he wondered. How explain when people taxed him with brutal foolishness? Who might understand? I wanted only to look back and say: “There! There’s an existence which couldn’t hold me. See! I vanish! No restraint or net of human devising can trap me ever again. I renounce my religion! This glorious instant is mine! I’m free!” What empty words! “A big worm was seen below the Shield Wall yesterday,” Chani said. “More than a hundred meters long, they say. Such big ones come rarely into this region any more. The water repels them, I suppose. They say this one came to summon Muad’dib home to his desert.” She pinched his chest. “Don’t laugh at me!” “I’m not laughing.” Paul, caught by wonder at the persistent Fremen mythos, felt a heart constriction, a thing inflicted upon his lifeline: adab, the demanding memory. He recalled his childhood room on Caladan then . . . dark night in the stone chamber . . . a vision! It’d been one of his earliest prescient moments. He felt his mind dive into the vision, saw through a veiled cloud-memory (vision-within-vision) a line of Fremen, their robes trimmed with dust. They paraded past a gap in tall rocks. They carried a long, cloth-wrapped burden. And Paul heard himself say in the vision: “It was mostly sweet . . . but you were the sweetest of all . . . ” Adab released him. “You’re so quiet,” Chani whispered. “What is it?” Paul shuddered, sat up, face averted. “You’re angry because I’ve been to the desert’s edge,” Chani said. He shook his head without speaking. “I only went because I want a child,” Chani said. Paul was unable to speak. He felt himself consumed by the raw power of that early vision. Terrible purpose! In that moment, his whole life was a limb shaken by the departure of a bird . . . and the bird was chance. Free will. I succumbed to the lure of the oracle, he thought. And he sensed that succumbing to this lure might be to fix himself upon a single-track life. Could it be, he wondered, that the oracle didn’t tell the future? Could it be that the oracle made the future? Had he exposed his life to some web of underlying threads, trapped himself there in that long-ago awakening, victim of a spider-future which even now advanced upon him with terrifying jaws. A Bene Gesserit axiom slipped into his mind: ‘To use raw power is to make yourself infinitely vulnerable to greater powers.’ “I know it angers you,” Chani said, touching his arm. “It’s true that the tribes have revived the old rites and the blood sacrifices, but I took no part in those.” Paul inhaled a deep, trembling breath. The torrent of his vision dissipated, became a deep, still place whose currents moved with absorbing power beyond his reach. “Please,” Chani begged. “I want a child, our child. Is that a terrible thing?” Paul caressed her arm where she touched him, pulled away. He climbed from the bed, extinguished the glowglobes, crossed to the balcony window, opened the draperies. The deep desert could not intrude here except by its odors. A windowless wall climbed to the night sky across from him. Moonlight slanted down into an enclosed garden, sentinel trees and broad leaves, wet foliage. He could see a fishpond reflecting stars among the leaves, pockets of white floral brilliance in the shadows. Momentarily, he saw the garden through Fremen eyes: alien, menacing, dangerous in its waste of water. He thought of the Water Sellers, their way destroyed by the lavish dispensing from his hands. They hated him. He’d slain the past. And there were others, even those who’d fought for the sols to buy precious water, who hated him for changing the old ways. As the ecological pattern dictated by Muad’dib remade the planet’s landscape, human resistance increased. Was it not presumptuous, he wondered, to think he could make over an entire planet — everything growing where and how he told it to grow? Even if he succeeded, what of the universe waiting out there? Did it fear similar treatment? Abruptly, he closed the draperies, sealed the ventilators. He turned toward Chani in the darkness, felt her waiting there. Her water rings tinkled like the almsbells of pilgrims. He groped his way to the sound, encountered her outstretched arms. “Beloved,” she whispered. “Have I troubled you?” Her arms enclosed his future as they enclosed him. “Not you,” he said. “Oh . . . not you.”

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29

Categories: Herbert, Frank