Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

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Truth suffers from too much analysis. -Ancient Fremen Saying

“Reverend Mother, I shudder to see you in such circumstances,” Irulan said. She stood just inside the cell door, measuring the various capacities of the room in her Bene Gesserit way. It was a three-meter cube carved with cutterays from the veined brown rock beneath Paul’s Keep. For furnishings, it contained one flimsy basket chair occupied now by the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, a pallet with a brown cover upon which had been spread a deck of the new Dune Tarot cards, a metered water tap above a reclamation basin, a Fremen privy with moisture seals. It was all sparse, primitive. Yellow light came from anchored and caged glowglobes at the four corners of the ceiling. “You’ve sent word to the Lady Jessica?” the Reverend Mother asked. “Yes, but I don’t expect her to lift one finger against her firstborn,” Irulan said. She glanced at the cards. They spoke of the powerful turning their backs on supplicants. The card of the Great Worm lay beneath Desolate Sand. Patience was counseled. Did one require the tarot to see this? she asked herself. A guard stood outside watching them through a metaglass window in the door. Irulan knew there’d be other monitors on this encounter. She had put in much thought and planning before daring to come here. To have stayed away carried its own perils, though. The Reverend Mother had been engaged in prajna meditation interspersed with examinations of the tarot. Despite a feeling that she would never leave Arrakis alive, she had achieved a measure of calm through this. One’s oracular powers might be small, but muddy water was muddy water. And there was always the Litany Against Fear. She had yet to assimilate the import of the actions which had precipitated her into this cell. Dark suspicions brooded in her mind (and the tarot hinted at confirmations). Was it possible the Guild had planned this? A yellow-robed Qizara, head shaved for a turban, beady eyes of total blue in a bland round face, skin leathered by the wind and sun of Arrakis, had awaited her on the heighliner’s reception bridge. He had looked up from a bulb of spice-coffee being served by an obsequious steward, studied her a moment, put down the coffee bulb. “You are the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam?” To replay those words in her mind was to bring that moment alive in the memory. Her throat had constricted with an unmanageable spasm of fear. How had one of the Emperor’s minions learned of her presence on the heighliner? “It came to our attention that you were aboard,” the Qizara said. “Have you forgotten that you are denied permission to set foot on the holy planet?” “I am not on Arrakis,” she said. “I’m a passenger on a Guild heighliner in free space.” “There is no such thing as free space, Madame.” She read hate mingled with profound suspicion in his tone. “Muad’dib rules everywhere,” he said. “Arrakis is not my destination,” she insisted. “Arrakis is the destination of everyone,” he said. And she feared for a moment that he would launch into a recital of the mystical itinerary which pilgrims followed. (This very ship had carried thousands of them.) But the Qizara had pulled a golden amulet from beneath his robe, kissed it, touched it to his forehead and placed it to his right ear, listened. Presently, he restored the amulet to its hidden place. “You are ordered to gather your luggage and accompany me to Arrakis.” “But I have business elsewhere!” In that moment, she suspected Guild perfidy . . . or exposure through some transcendent power of the Emperor or his sister. Perhaps the Steersman did not conceal the conspiracy, after all. The abomination, Alia, certainly possessed the abilities of a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother. What happened when those powers were coupled with the forces which worked in her brother? “At once!” the Qizara snapped. Everything in her cried out against setting foot once more on that accursed desert planet. Here was where the Lady Jessica had turned against the Sisterhood. Here was where they’d lost Paul Atreides, the kwisatz haderach they’d sought through long generations of careful breeding. “At once,” she agreed. “There’s little time,” the Qizara said. “When the Emperor commands, all his subjects obey.” So the order had come from Paul! She thought of protesting to the heighliner’s Navigator-Commander, but the futility of such a gesture stopped her. What could the Guild do? “The Emperor has said I must die if I set foot on Dune,” she said, making a last desperate effort. “You spoke of this yourself. You are condemning me if you take me down there.” “Say no more,” the Qizara ordered. “The thing is ordained.” That was how they always spoke of Imperial commands, she knew. Ordained! The holy ruler whose eyes could pierce the future had spoken. What must be must be. He had seen it, had He not? With the sick feeling that she was caught in a web of her own spinning, she had turned to obey. And the web had become a cell which Irulan could visit. She saw that Irulan had aged somewhat since their meeting on Wallach IX. New lines of worry spread from the corners of her eyes. Well . . . time to see if this Sister of the Bene Gesserit could obey her vows. “I’ve had worse quarters,” the Reverend Mother said. “Do you come from the Emperor?” And she allowed her fingers to move as though in agitation. Irulan read the moving fingers and her own fingers flashed an answer as she spoke, saying: “No — I came as soon as I heard you were here.” “Won’t the Emperor be angry?” the Reverend Mother asked. Again, her fingers moved: imperative, pressing, demanding. “Let him be angry. You were my teacher in the Sisterhood, just as you were the teacher of his own mother. Does he think I will turn my back on you as she has done?” And Irulan’s finger-talk made excuses, begged. The Reverend Mother sighed. On the surface, it was the sigh of a prisoner bemoaning her fate, but inwardly she felt the response as a comment on Irulan. It was futile to hope the Atreides Emperor’s precious gene pattern could be preserved through this instrument. No matter her beauty, this Princess was flawed. Under that veneer of sexual attraction lived a whining shrew more interested in words than in actions. Irulan was still a Bene Gesserit, though, and the Sisterhood reserved certain techniques to use on some of its weaker vessels as insurance that vital instructions would be carried out. Beneath small talk about a softer pallet, better food, the Reverend Mother brought up her arsenal of persuasion and gave her orders: the brother-sister crossbreeding must be explored. (Irulan almost broke at receiving this command.) “I must have my chance!” Irulan’s fingers pleaded. “You’ve had your chance,” the Reverend Mother countered. And she was explicit in her instructions: Was the Emperor ever angry with his concubine? His unique powers must make him lonely. To whom could he speak in any hope of being understood? To the sister, obviously. She shared this loneliness. The depth of their communion must be exploited. Opportunities must be created to throw them together in privacy. Intimate encounters must be arranged. The possibility of eliminating the concubine must be explored. Grief dissolved traditional barriers. Irulan protested. If Chani were killed, suspicion would fasten immediately upon the Princess-Consort. Besides, there were other problems. Chani had fastened upon an ancient Fremen diet supposed to promote fertility and the diet eliminated all opportunity for administering the contraceptive drugs. Lifting the suppressives would make Chani even more fertile. The Reverend Mother was outraged and concealed it with difficulty while her fingers flashed their demands. Why had this information not been conveyed at the beginning of their conversation? How could Irulan be that stupid? If Chani conceived and bore a son, the Emperor would declare the child his heir! Irulan protested that she understood the dangers, but the genes might not be totally lost. Damn such stupidity! the Reverend Mother raged. Who knew what suppressions and genetic entanglements Chani might introduce from her wild Fremen strain? The Sisterhood must have only the pure line! And an heir would renew Paul’s ambitions, spur him to new efforts in consolidating his Empire. The conspiracy could not afford such a setback. Defensively, Irulan wanted to know how she could have prevented Chani from trying this diet? But the Reverend Mother was in no mood for excuses. Irulan received explicit instructions now to meet this new threat. If Chani conceived, an abortifact must be introduced into her food or drink. Either that, or she must be killed. An heir to the throne from that source must be prevented at all costs. An abortifact would be as dangerous as an open attack on the concubine. Irulan objected. She trembled at the thought of trying to kill Chani. Was Irulan deterred by danger? The Reverend Mother wanted to know, her finger-talk conveying deep scorn. Angered, Irulan signaled that she knew her value as an agent in the royal household. Did the conspiracy wish to waste such a valuable agent? Was she to be thrown away? In what other way could they keep this close a watch on the Emperor? Or had they introduced another agent into the household? Was that it? Was she to be used now, desperately, and for the last time? In a war, all values acquired new relationships, the Reverend Mother countered. Their greatest peril was that House Atreides should secure itself with an Imperial line. The Sisterhood could not take such a risk. This went far beyond the danger to the Atreides genetic pattern. Let Paul anchor his family to the throne and the Sisterhood could look forward to centuries of disruption for its programs. Irulan understood the argument, but she couldn’t escape the thought that a decision had been made to spend the Princess-Consort for something of great value. Was there something she should know about the ghola? Irulan ventured. The Reverend Mother wanted to know if Irulan thought the Sisterhood composed of fools. When had they ever failed to tell Irulan all she should know? It was no answer, but an admission of concealment, Irulan saw. It said she would be told no more than she needed to know. How could they be certain the ghola was capable of destroying the Emperor? Irulan asked. She could just as well have asked if melange were capable of destruction, the Reverend Mother countered. It was a rebuke with a subtle message, Irulan realized. The Bene Gesserit “whip that instructs” informed her that she should have understood long ago this similarity between the spice and the ghola. Melange was valuable, but it exacted a price — addiction. It added years to a life — decades for some — but it was still just another way to die. The ghola was something of deadly value. The obvious way to prevent an unwanted birth was to kill the prospective mother before conception, the Reverend Mother signaled, returning to the attack. Of course, Irulan thought. If you decide to spend a certain sum, get as much for it as you can. The Reverend Mother’s eyes, dark with the blue brilliance of her melange addiction, stared up at Irulan, measuring, waiting, observing minutiae. She reads me clearly, Irulan thought with dismay. She trained me and observed me in that training. She knows I realize what decision has been taken here. She only observes now to see how I will take this knowledge. Well, I will take it as a Bene Gesserit and a princess. Irulan managed a smile, pulled herself erect, thought of the evocative opening passage of the Litany Against Fear: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear . . . ” When calmness had returned, she thought: Let them spend me. I will show them what a princess is worth. Perhaps I’ll buy them more than they expected. After a few more empty vocalizations to bind off the interview. Irulan departed. When she had gone, the Reverend Mother returned to her tarot cards, laying them out in the fire-eddy pattern. Immediately, she got the Kwisatz Haderach of the Major Arcana and the card lay coupled with the Eight of Ships: the sibyl hoodwinked and betrayed. These were not cards of good omen: they spoke of concealed resources for her enemies. She turned away from the cards, sat in agitation, wondering if Irulan might yet destroy them.

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Categories: Herbert, Frank