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Chapter no 28

Dune

“I suspect,” Jessica said, “that the Harkonnens have managed to send an agent among us to poison Paul. It’s the only explanation that seems to fit. A most unusual poison. I’ve examined his blood in the most subtle ways without detecting it.”

Chani thrust herself forward onto her knees. “Poison? Is he in pain? Could I . . . ”

“He is unconscious,” Jessica said. “The processes of his life are so low that they can be detected only with the most refined techniques. I shudder to think what could have happened had I not been the one to discover him. He appears dead to the untrained eye.”

“You have reasons other than courtesy for summoning me,” Chani said. “I know you, Reverend Mother. What is it you think I may do that you cannot do?”

She is brave, lovely and, ah-h-h, so perceptive , Jessica thought. She’d have made a fine Bene Gesserit .

“Chani,” Jessica said, “you may find this difficult to believe, but I do not know precisely why I sent for you. It was an instinct . . . a basic intuition. The thought came unbidden: ‘Send for Chani.’ ”

For the first time, Chani saw the sadness in Jessica’s expression, the unveiled pain modifying the inward stare.

“I’ve done all I know to do,” Jessica said. “That all . . . it is so far beyond what is usually supposed as all that you would find difficulty imagining it. Yet . . . I failed.”

“The old companion, Halleck,” Chani asked, “is it possible he’s a traitor?”

“Not Gurney,” Jessica said.

The two words carried an entire conversation, and Chani saw the searching, the tests . . . the memories of old failures that went into this flat denial.

Chani rocked back onto her feet, stood up, smoothed her desert-stained robe. “Take me to him,” she said.

Jessica arose, turned through hangings on the left wall.

Chani followed, found herself in what had been a storeroom, its rock walls concealed now beneath heavy draperies. Paul lay on a field pad against the far wall. A single glowglobe above him illuminated his face. A black robe covered him to the chest, leaving his arms outside it stretched along his sides. He appeared to be unclothed under the robe. The skin exposed looked waxen, rigid. There was no visible movement to him.

 

 

 

Chani suppressed the desire to dash forward, throw herself across him. She found her thoughts, instead, going to her son – Leto. And she realized in this instant that Jessica once had faced such a moment – her man threatened by death, forced in her own mind to consider what might be done to save a young son. The realization formed a sudden bond with the older woman so that Chani reached out and clasped Jessica’s hand. The answering grip was painful in its intensity.

“He lives,” Jessica said. “I assure you he lives. But the thread of his life is so thin it could easily escape detection. There are some among the leaders already muttering that the mother speaks and not the Reverend Mother, that my son is truly dead and I do not want to give up his water to the tribe.”

“How long has he been this way?” Chani asked. She disengaged her hand from Jessica’s, moved farther into the room.

“Three weeks,” Jessica said. “I spent almost a week trying to revive him. There were meetings, arguments . . . investigations. Then I sent for you. The Fedaykin obey my orders, else I might not have been able to delay the . . . ” She wet her lips with her tongue, watching Chani cross to Paul.

Chani stood over him now, looking down on the soft beard of youth that framed his face, tracing with her eyes the high browline, the strong nose, the shuttered eyes – the features so peaceful in this rigid repose.

“How does he take nourishment?” Chani asked.

“The demands of his flesh are so slight he does not yet need food,” Jessica said.

“How many know of what has happened?” Chani asked.

“Only his closest advisers, a few of the leaders, the Fedaykin and, of course, whoever administered the poison.”

“There is no clue to the poisoner?”

“And it’s not for want of investigating,” Jessica said.

“What do the Fedaykin say?” Chani asked.

“They believe Paul is in a sacred trance, gathering his holy powers before the final battles. This is a thought I’ve cultivated.”

Chani lowered herself to her knees beside the pad, bent close to Paul’s face. She sensed an immediate difference in the air about his face . . . but it was only the spice, the ubiquitous spice whose odor permeated everything in Fremen life. Still . . .

 

 

 

“You were not born to the spice as we were,” Chani said. “Have you investigated the possibility that his body has rebelled against too much spice in his diet?”

“Allergy reactions are all negative,” Jessica said.

She closed her eyes, as much to blot out this scene as because of sudden realization of fatigue. How long have I been without sleep? she asked herself. Too long .

“When you change the Water of Life,” Chani said, “you do it within yourself by the inward awareness. Have you used this awareness to test his blood?”

“Normal Fremen blood,” Jessica said. “Completely adapted to the diet and the life here.”

Chani sat back on her heels, submerging her fears in thought as she studied Paul’s face. This was a trick she had learned from watching the Reverend Mothers. Time could be made to serve the mind. One concentrated the entire attention.

Presently, Chani said: “Is there a maker here?”

“There are several,” Jessica said with a touch of weariness. “We are never without them these days. Each victory requires its blessing. Each ceremony before a raid – ”

“But Paul Muad’Dib has held himself aloof from these ceremonies,” Chani said.

Jessica nodded to herself, remembering her son’s ambivalent feelings toward the spice drug and the prescient awareness it precipitated.

“How did you know this?” Jessica asked.

“It is spoken.”

“Too much is spoken,” Jessica said bitterly.

“Get me the raw Water of the maker,” Chani said.

Jessica stiffened at the tone of command in Chani’s voice, then observed the intense concentration in the younger woman and said: “At once.” She went out through the hangings to send a waterman.

Chani sat staring at Paul. If he has tried to do this, she thought. And it’s the sort of thing he might try . . .

Jessica knelt beside Chani, holding out a plain camp ewer. The charged odor of the poison was sharp in Chani’s nostrils. She dipped a finger in the fluid, held the finger close to Paul’s nose.

The skin along the bridge of his nose wrinkled slightly. Slowly, the nostrils flared.

Jessica gasped.

Chani touched the dampened finger to Paul’s upper lip.

He drew in a long, sobbing breath. “What is this?” Jessica demanded.

“Be still,” Chani said. “You must convert a small amount of the sacred water. Quickly!”

Without questioning, because she recognized the tone of awareness in Chani’s voice, Jessica lifted the ewer to her mouth, drew in a small sip.

Paul’s eyes flew open. He stared upward at Chani.

“It is not necessary for her to change the Water,” he said. His voice was weak, but steady.

Jessica, a sip of the fluid on her tongue, found her body rallying, converting the poison almost automatically. In the light elevation the ceremony always imparted, she sensed the life-glow from Paul – a radiation there registering on her senses.

In that instant, she knew.

“You drank the sacred water!” she blurted.

“One drop of it,” Paul said. “So small . . . one drop.”

“How could you do such a foolish thing?” she demanded.

“He is your son,” Chani said.

Jessica glared at her.

 

 

 

A rare smile, warm and full of understanding, touched Paul’s lips. “Hear my beloved,” he said. “Listen to her, Mother. She knows.”

“A thing that others can do, he must do,” Chani said.

“When I had the drop in my mouth, when I felt it and smelled it, when I knew what it was doing to me, then I knew I could do the thing that you have done,” he said. “Your Bene Gesserit proctors speak of the Kwisatz Haderach, but they cannot begin to guess the many places I have been. In the few minutes I . . . ” He broke off, looking at Chani with a puzzled frown. “Chani? How did you get here? You’re supposed to be . . . Why are you here?”

He tried to push himself onto his elbows. Chani pressed him back gently.

“Please, my Usul,” she said.

“I feel so weak,” he said. His gaze darted around the room. “How long have I been here?”

“You’ve been three weeks in a coma so deep that the spark of life seemed to have fled,” Jessica said.

“But it was . . . I took it just a moment ago and . . . ”

“A moment for you, three weeks of fear for me,” Jessica said.

“It was only one drop, but I converted it,” Paul said. “I changed the Water of Life.” And before Chani or Jessica could stop him, he dipped his hand into the ewer they had placed on the floor beside him, and he brought the dripping hand to his mouth, swallowed the palm-cupped liquid.

“Paul!” Jessica screamed.

He grabbed her hand, faced her with a death’s head grin, and he sent his awareness surging over her.

The rapport was not as tender, not as sharing, not as encompassing as it had been with Alia and with the Old Reverend Mother in the cavern . . . but it was a rapport: a sense-sharing of the entire being. It shook her, weakened her, and she cowered in her mind, fearful of him.

Aloud, he said: “You speak of a place where you cannot enter? This place which the Reverend Mother cannot face, show it to me.”

She shook her head, terrified by the very thought.

“Show it to me!” he commanded.

“No!”

But she could not escape him. Bludgeoned by the terrible force of him, she closed her eyes and focused inward – the-direction-that-is-dark.

Paul’s consciousness flowed through and around her and into the darkness. She glimpsed the place dimly before her mind blanked itself away from the terror. Without knowing why, her whole being trembled at what she had seen – a region where a wind blew and sparks glared, where rings of light expanded and contracted, where rows of tumescent white shapes flowed over and under and around the lights, driven by darkness and a wind out of nowhere.

Presently, she opened her eyes, saw Paul staring up at her. He still held her hand, but the terrible rapport was gone. She quieted her trembling. Paul released her hand. It was as though some crutch had been removed. She staggered up and back, would have fallen had not Chani jumped to support her.

“Reverend Mother!” Chani said. “What is wrong?”

“Tired,” Jessica whispered. “So . . . tired.”

“Here,” Chani said. “Sit here.” She helped Jessica to a cushion against the wall.

The strong young arms felt so good to Jessica. She clung to Chani.

“He has, in truth, seen the Water of Life?” Chani asked. She disengaged herself from Jessica’s grip.

“He has seen,” Jessica whispered. Her mind still rolled and surged from the contact. It was like stepping to solid land after weeks on a heaving sea. She sensed the old Reverend Mother within her . . . and all the others awakened and questioning; “What was that? What happened? Where was that place? ”

Through it all threaded the realization that her son was the Kwisatz Haderach, the one who could be many places at once. He was the fact out of the Bene Gesserit dream. And the fact gave her no peace.

“What happened?” Chani demanded.

Jessica shook her head.

 

 

 

Paul said: “There is in each of us an ancient force that takes and an ancient force that gives. A man finds little difficulty facing that place within himself where the taking force dwells, but it’s almost impossible for him to see into the giving force without changing into something other than man. For a woman, the situation is reversed.”

Jessica looked up, found Chani was staring at her while listening to Paul.

“Do you understand me, Mother?” Paul asked.

She could only nod.

“These things are so ancient within us,” Paul said, “that they’re ground into each separate cell of our bodies. We’re shaped by such forces. You can say to yourself, ‘Yes, I see how such a thing may be.’ But when you look inward and confront the raw force of your own life unshielded, you see your peril. You see that this could overwhelm you. The greatest peril to the Giver is the force that takes. The greatest peril to the Taker is the force that gives. It’s as easy to be overwhelmed by giving as by taking.”

“And you, my son,” Jessica asked, “are you one who gives or one who takes?”

“I’m at the fulcrum,” he said. “I cannot give without taking and I cannot take without . . . ” He broke off, looking to the wall at his right.

Chani felt a draft against her cheek, turned to see the hangings close.

“It was Otheym,” Paul said. “He was listening.”

Accepting the words, Chani was touched by some of the prescience that haunted Paul, and she knew a thing-yet-to-be as though it already had occurred. Otheym would speak of what he had seen and heard. Others would spread the story until it was a fire over the land. Paul-Muad’Dib is not as other men, they would say. There can be no more doubt. He is a man, yet he sees through to the Water of Life in the way of a Reverend Mother. He is indeed the Lisan al-Gaib.

“You have seen the future, Paul,” Jessica said. “Will you say what you’ve seen?”

“Not the future,” he said. “I’ve seen the Now.” He forced himself to a sitting position, waved Chani aside as she moved to help him. “The Space above Arrakis is filled with the ships of the Guild.”

Jessica trembled at the certainty in his voice.

“The Padishah Emperor himself is there,” Paul said. He looked at the rock ceiling of his cell. “With his favorite Truthsayer and five legions of Sardaukar. The old Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is there with Thufir Hawat beside him and seven ships jammed with every conscript he could muster. Every Great House has its raiders above us . . . waiting.”

Chani shook her head, unable to look away from Paul. His strangeness, the flat tone of voice, the way he looked through her, filled her with awe.

Jessica tried to swallow in a dry throat, said: “For what are they waiting?”

Paul looked at her. “For the Guild’s permission to land. The Guild will strand on Arrakis any force that lands without permission.”

“The Guild’s protecting us?” Jessica asked.

“Protecting us! The Guild itself caused this by spreading tales about what we do here and by reducing troop transport fares to a point where even the poorest Houses are up there now waiting to loot us.”

Jessica noted the lack of bitterness in his tone, wondered at it. She couldn’t doubt his words – they had that same intensity she’d seen in him the night he’d revealed the path of the future that’d taken them among the Fremen.

Paul took a deep breath, said: “Mother, you must change a quantity of the Water for us. We need the catalyst. Chani, have a scout force sent out . . . to find a pre-spice mass. If we plant a quantity of the Water of Life above a pre-spice mass, do you know what will happen?”

Jessica weighed his words, suddenly saw through to his meaning. “Paul!” she gasped.

“The Water of Death,” he said. “It’d be a chain reaction.” He pointed to the floor. “Spreading death among the little makers, killing a vector of the life cycle that includes the spice and the makers. Arrakis will become a true desolation – without spice or maker.”

Chani put a hand to her mouth, shocked to numb silence by the blasphemy pouring from Paul’s lips.

“He who can destroy a thing has the real control of it,” Paul said. “We can destroy the spice.”

“What stays the Guild’s hand?” Jessica whispered.

“They’re searching for me,” Paul said. “Think of that! The finest Guild navigators, men who can quest ahead through time to find the safest course for the fastest Heighliners, all of them seeking me . . .and unable to find me. How they tremble! They know I have their secret here!” Paul held out his cupped hand. “Without the spice they’re blind!”

Chani found her voice. “You said you see the now! ”

Paul lay back, searching the spread-out present , its limits extended into the future and into the past, holding onto the awareness with difficulty as the spice illumination began to fade.

“Go do as I commanded,” he said. “The future’s becoming as muddled for the Guild as it is for me. The lines of vision are narrowing. Everything focuses here where the spice is . . . where they’ve dared not interfere before . . . because to interfere was to lose what they must have. But now they’re desperate. All paths lead into darkness.”

And that day dawned when Arrakis lay at the hub of the universe with the wheel poised to spin.

 

 

 

– from “Arrakis Awakening” by the Princess Irulan

“Will you look at that thing!” Stilgar whispered.

Paul lay beside him in a slit of rock high on the Shield Wall rim, eye fixed to the collector of a Fremen telescope. The oil lens was focused on a starship lighter exposed by dawn in the basin below them. The tall eastern face of the ship glistened in the flat light of the sun, but the shadow side still showed yellow portholes from glowglobes of the night. Beyond the ship, the city of Arrakeen lay cold and gleaming in the light of the northern sun.

It wasn’t the lighter that excited Stilgar’s awe, Paul knew, but the construction for which the lighter was only the centerpost. A single metal hutment, many stories tall, reached out in a thousand-meter circle from the base of the lighter – a tent composed of interlocking metal leaves – the temporary lodging place for five legions of Sardaukar and His Imperial Majesty, the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV.

From his position squatting at Paul’s left, Gurney Halleck said: “I count nine levels to it. Must be quite a few Sardaukar in there.”

“Five legions,” Paul said.

“It grows light,” Stilgar hissed. “We like it not, your exposing yourself, Muad’Dib. Let us go back into the rocks now.”

“I’m perfectly safe here,” Paul said.

“That ship mounts projectile weapons,” Gurney said.

“They believe us protected by shields,” Paul said. “They wouldn’t waste a shot on an unidentified trio even if they saw us.”

Paul swung the telescope to scan the far wall of the basin, seeing the pockmarked cliffs, the slides that marked the tombs of so many of his father’s troopers. And he had a momentary sense of the fitness of things that the shades of those men should look down on this moment. The Harkonnen forts and towns across the shielded lands lay in Fremen hands or cut away from their source like stalks severed from a plant and left to wither. Only this basin and its city remained to the enemy.

“They might try a sortie by ‘thopter,” Stilgar said. “If they see us.”

“Let them,” Paul said. “We’ve ‘thopters to burn today . . . and we know a storm is coming.”

He swung the telescope to the far side of the Arrakeen landing field now, to the Harkonnen frigates lined up there with a CHOAM Company banner waving gently from its staff on the ground beneath them. And he thought of the desperation that had forced the Guild to permit these two groups to land while all the others were held in reserve. The Guild was like a man testing the sand with his toe to gauge its temperature before erecting a tent.

“Is there anything new to see from here?” Gurney asked. “We should be getting under cover. The storm is coming.”

Paul returned his attention on the giant hutment. “They’ve even brought their women,” he said. “And lackeys and servants. Ah-h-h, my dear Emperor, how confident you are.”

“Men are coming up the secret way,” Stilgar said. “It may be Otheym and Korba returning.”

“All right, Stil,” Paul said. “We’ll go back.”

But he took one final look around through the telescope – studying the plain with its tall ships, the gleaming metal hutment, the silent city, the frigates of the Harkonnen mercenaries. Then he slid backward around a scarp of rock. His place at the telescope was taken by a Fedaykin guardsman.

Paul emerged into a shallow depression in the Shield Wall’s surface. It was a place about thirty meters in diameter and some three meters deep, a natural feature of the rock that the Fremen had hidden beneath a translucent camouflage cover. Communications equipment was clustered around a hole in the wall to the right. Fedaykin guards deployed through the depression waited for Muad’Dib’s command to attack.

Two men emerged from the hole by the communications equipment, spoke to the guards there.

Paul glanced at Stilgar, nodded in the direction of the two men. “Get their report, Stil.”

Stilgar moved to obey.

Paul crouched with his back to the rock, stretching his muscles, straightened. He saw Stilgar sending the two men back into that dark hole in the rock, thought about the long climb down that narrow man-made tunnel to the floor of the basin.

Stilgar crossed to Paul.

“What was so important that they couldn’t send a cielago with the message?” Paul asked.

“They’re saving their birds for the battle,” Stilgar said. He glanced at the communications equipment, back to Paul. “Even with a tight beam, it is wrong to use those things, Muad’Dib. They can find you by taking a bearing on its emission.”

“They’ll soon be too busy to find me,” Paul said. “What did the men report?”

“Our pet Sardaukar have been released near Old Gap low on the rim and are on their way to their master. The rocket launchers and other projectile weapons are in place. The people are deployed as you ordered. It was all routine.”

Paul glanced across the shallow bowl, studying his men in the filtered light admitted by the camouflage cover. He felt time creeping like an insect working its way across an exposed rock.

“It’ll take our Sardaukar a little time afoot before they can signal a troop carrier,” Paul said.

“They are being watched?”

“They are being watched,” Stilgar said.

Beside Paul, Gurney Halleck cleared his throat. “Hadn’t we best be getting to a place of safety?”

“There is no such place,” Paul said. “Is the weather report still favorable?”

“A great grandmother of a storm coming,” Stilgar said. “Can you not feel it, Muad’Dib?”

“The air does feel chancy,” Paul agreed. “But I like the certainty of poling the weather.”

 

 

 

“The storm’ll be here in the hour,” Stilgar said. He nodded toward the gap that looked out on the Emperor’s hutment and the Harkonnen frigates. “They know it there, too. Not a ‘thopter in the sky. Everything pulled in and tied down. They’ve had a report on the weather from their friends in space.”

“Any more probing sorties?” Paul asked.

“Nothing since the landing last night,” Stilgar said. “They know we’re here. I think now they wait to choose their own time.”

“We choose the time,” Paul said.

Gurney glanced upward, growled: “If they let us.”

“That fleet’ll stay in space,” Paul said.

Gurney shook his head.

“They have no choice,” Paul said. “We can destroy the spice. The Guild dares not risk that.”

“Desperate people are the most dangerous,” Gurney said.

“Are we not desperate?” Stilgar asked.

Gurney scowled at him.

“You haven’t lived with the Fremen dream,” Paul cautioned. “Stil is thinking of all the water we’ve spent on bribes, the years of waiting we’ve added before Arrakis can bloom. He’s not – ”

“Arrrgh,” Gurney scowled.

“Why’s he so gloomy?” Stilgar asked.

“He’s always gloomy before a battle,” Paul said. “It’s the only form of good humor Gurney allows himself.”

A slow, wolfish grin spread across Gurney’s face, the teeth showing white above the chip cup of his stillsuit. “It glooms me much to think on all the poor Harkonnen souls we’ll dispatch unshriven,” he said.

Stilgar chuckled. “He talks like a Fedaykin.”

“Gurney was born a death commando,” Paul said. And he thought: Yes, let them occupy their minds with small talk before we test ourselves against that force on the plain . He looked to the gap in the rock wall and back to Gurney, found that the troubadour-warrior had resumed a brooding scowl.

“Worry saps the strength,” Paul murmured. “You told me that once, Gurney.”

“My Duke,” Gurney said, “my chief worry is the atomics. If you use them to blast a hole in the Shield Wall . . . ”

“Those people up there won’t use atomics against us,” Paul said. “They don’t dare . . . and for the same reason that they cannot risk our destroying the source of the spice.”

“But the injunction against – ”

“The injunction!” Paul barked. “It’s fear, not the injunction that keeps the Houses from hurling atomics against each other. The language of the Great Convention is clear enough: ‘Use of atomics against humans shall be cause for planetary obliteration.’ We’re going to blast the Shield Wall, not humans.”

“It’s too fine a point,” Gurney said.

“The hair-splitters up there will welcome any point,” Paul said. “Let’s talk no more about it.”

He turned away, wishing he actually felt that confident. Presently, he said: “What about the city people? Are they in position yet?”

“Yes,” Stilgar muttered.

Paul looked at him. “What’s eating you?”

“I never knew the city man could be trusted completely,” Stilgar said.

“I was a city man myself once,” Paul said.

Stilgar stiffened. His face grew dark with blood. “Muad’Dib knows I did not mean – ”

“I know what you meant, Stil. But the test of a man isn’t what you think he’ll do. It’s what he actually does. These city people have Fremen blood. It’s just that they haven’t yet learned how to escape their bondage. We’ll teach them.”

Stilgar nodded, spoke in a rueful tone: “The habits of a lifetime, Muad’Dib. On the Funeral Plain we learned to despise the men of the communities.”

Paul glanced at Gurney, saw him studying Stilgar. “Tell us, Gurney, why were the city folk down there driven from their homes by the Sardaukar?”

“An old trick, my Duke. They thought to burden us with refugees.”

“It’s been so long since guerrillas were effective that the mighty have forgotten how to fight them,” Paul said. “The Sardaukar have played into our hands. They grabbed some city women for their sport, decorated their battle standards with the heads of the men who objected. And they’ve built up a fever of hate among people who otherwise would’ve looked on the coming battle as no more than a great inconvenience . . . and the possibility of exchanging one set of masters for another. The Sardaukar recruit for us, Stilgar.”

“The city people do seem eager,” Stilgar said.

“Their hate is fresh and clear,” Paul said. “That’s why we use them as shock troops.”

“The slaughter among them will be fearful,” Gurney said.

Stilgar nodded agreement.

“They were told the odds,” Paul said. “They know every Sardaukar they kill will be one less for us. You see, gentlemen, they have something to die for. They’ve discovered they’re a people. They’re awakening.”

A muttered exclamation came from the watcher at the telescope. Paul moved to the rock slit, asked: “What is it out there?”

“A great commotion, Muad’Dib,” the watcher hissed. “At that monstrous metal tent. A surface car came from Rimwall West and it was like a hawk into a nest of rock partridge.”

“Our captive Sardaukar have arrived,” Paul said.

“They’ve a shield around the entire landing field now,” the watcher said. “I can see the air dancing even to the edge of the storage yard where they kept the spice.”

“Now they know who it is they fight,” Gurney said. “Let the Harkonnen beasts tremble and fret themselves that an Atreides yet lives!”

Paul spoke to the Fedaykin at the telescope. “Watch the flagpole atop the Emperor’s ship. If my flag is raised there – ”

“It will not be,” Gurney said.

 

 

 

Paul saw the puzzled frown on Stilgar’s face, said: “If the Emperor recognized my claim, he’ll signal by restoring the Atreides flag to Arrakis. We’ll use the second plan then, move only against the Harkonnens. The Sardaukar will stand aside and let us settle the issue between ourselves.”

“I’ve no experience with these offworld things,” Stilgar said. “I’ve heard of them, but it seems unlikely the – ”

“You don’t need experience to know what they’ll do,” Gurney said.

“They’re sending a new flag up on the tall ship,” the watcher said. “The flag is yellow . . . with a black and red circle in the center.”

“There’s a subtle piece of business,” Paul said. “The CHOAM Company flag.”

“It’s the same as the flag at the other ships,” the Fedaykin guard said.

“I don’t understand,” Stilgar said.

“A subtle piece of business indeed,” Gurney said. “Had he sent up the Atreides banner, he’d have had to live by what that meant. Too many observers about. He could’ve signaled with the Harkonnen flag on his staff – a flat declaration that’d have been. But, no – he sends up the CHOAM rag. He’s telling the people up there . . . ” Gurney pointed toward space. ” . . . where the profit is. He’s saying he doesn’t care if it’s an Atreides here or not.”

“How long till the storm strikes the Shield Wall?” Paul asked.

Stilgar turned away, consulted one of the Fedaykin in the bowl. Presently, he returned, said: “Very soon, Muad’Dib. Sooner than we expected. It’s a great-great-grandmother of a storm . . . perhaps even more than you wished.”

“It’s my storm,” Paul said, and saw the silent awe on the faces of the Fedaykin who heard him. “Though it shook the entire world it could not be more than I wished. Will it strike the Shield Wall full on?”

“Close enough to make no difference,” Stilgar said.

A courier crossed from the hole that led down into the basin, said: “The Sardaukar and Harkonnen patrols are pulling back, Muad’Dib.”

“They expect the storm to spill too much sand into the basin for good visibility,” Stilgar Said. “They think we’ll be in the same fix.”

“Tell our gunners to set their sights well before visibility drops,” Paul said. “They must knock the nose off every one of those ships as soon as the storm has destroyed the shields.” He stepped to the wall of the bowl, pulled back a fold of the camouflage cover and looked up at the sky. The horsetail twistings of blow sand could be seen against the dark of the sky. Paul restored the cover, said: “Start sending our men down, Stil.”

“Will you not go with us?” Stilgar asked.

“I’ll wait here a bit with the Fedaykin,” Paul said.

Stilgar gave a knowing shrug toward Gurney, moved to the hole in the rock wall, was lost in its shadows.

“The trigger that blasts the Shield Wall aside, that I leave in your hands, Gurney,” Paul said. “You will do it?”

“I’ll do it.”

Paul gestured to a Fedaykin lieutenant, said: “Otheym, start moving the check patrols out of the blast area. They must be out of there before the storm strikes.”

The man bowed, followed Stilgar.

Gurney leaned in to the rock slit, spoke to the man at the telescope: “Keep your attention on the south wall. It’ll be completely undefended until we blow it.”

“Dispatch a cielago with a time signal,” Paul ordered.

“Some ground cars are moving toward the south wall,” the man at the telescope said. “Some are using projectile weapons, testing. Our people are using body shields as you commanded. The ground cars have stopped.”

In the abrupt silence, Paul heard the wind devils playing overhead – the front of the storm. Sand began to drift down into their bowl through gaps in the cover. A burst of wind caught the cover, whipped it away.

Paul motioned his Fedaykin to take shelter, crossed to the men at the communications equipment near the tunnel mouth. Gurney stayed beside him. Paul crouched over the signalmen.

One said: “A great-great-great grandmother of a storm, Muad’Dib.”

Paul glanced up at the darkening sky, said: “Gurney, have the south wall observers pulled out.” He had to repeat his order, shouting above the growing noise of the storm.

Gurney turned to obey.

Paul fastened his face filter, tightened the stillsuit hood.

Gurney returned.

Paul touched his shoulder, pointed to the blast trigger set into the tunnel mouth beyond the signalmen. Gurney went into the tunnel, stopped there, one hand at the trigger, his gaze on Paul.

“We are getting no messages,” the signalman beside Paul said. “Much static.”

Paul nodded, kept his eye on the time-standard dial in front of the signalman. Presently, Paul looked at Gurney, raised a hand, returned his attention to the dial. The time counter crawled around its final circuit.

“Now!” Paul shouted, and dropped his hand.

Gurney depressed the blast trigger.

It seemed that a full second passed before they felt the ground beneath them ripple and shake. A rumbling sound was added to the storm’s roar.

The Fedaykin watcher from the telescope appeared beside Paul, the telescope clutched under one arm. “The Shield Wall is breached, Muad’Dib!” he shouted. “The storm is on them and our gunners already are firing.”

Paul thought of the storm sweeping across the basin, the static charge within the wall of sand that destroyed every shield barrier in the enemy camp.

“The storm!” someone shouted. “We must get under cover, Muad’Dib!”

 

 

 

Paul came to his senses, feeling the sand needles sting his exposed cheeks. We are committed , he thought. He put an arm around the signalman’s shoulder, said: “Leave the equipment! There’s more in the tunnel.” He felt himself being pulled away, Fedaykin pressed around him to protect him. They squeezed into the tunnel mouth, feeling its comparative silence, turned a corner into a small chamber with glowglobes overhead and another tunnel opening beyond.

Another signalman sat there at his equipment.

“Much static,” the man said.

A swirl of sand filled the air around them.

“Seal off this tunnel!” Paul shouted. A sudden pressure of stillness showed that his command had been obeyed. “Is the way down to the basin still open?” Paul asked.

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