Page 7

Dune Messiah (The Dune Chronicles, Book 2)

It had, of course, set itself in motion. It was in the genes which might labor for centuries to achieve this brief spasm.

Driven by that deepest religious instinct, the people came, seeking their resurrection. The pilgrimage ended here – “Arrakis, the place of rebirth, the place to die.”

Snide old Fremen said he wanted the pilgrims for their water.

What was it the pilgrims really sought? Paul wondered. They said they came to a holy place. But they must know the universe contained no Eden-source, no Tupile for the soul. They called Arrakis the place of the unknown where all mysteries were explained. This was a link between their universe and the next. And the frightening thing was that they appeared to go away satisfied.

What do they find here? Paul asked himself.

Often in their religious ecstasy, they filled the streets with screeching like some odd aviary. In fact, the Fremen called them “passage birds.” And the few who died here were “winged souls.

With a sigh, Paul thought how each new planet his legions subjugated opened new sources of pilgrims. They came out of gratitude for “the peace of Muad’dib.”

Everywhere there is peace, Paul thought. Everywhere… except in the heart of Muad’dib.

He felt that some element of himself lay immersed in frosty hoar-darkness without end. His prescient power had tampered with the image of the universe held by all mankind. He had shaken the safe cosmos and replaced security with his Jihad. He had out-fought and out-thought and out-predicted the universe of men, but a certainty filled him that this universe still eluded him.

This planet beneath him which he had commanded be remade from desert into a water-rich paradise, it was alive. It had a pulse as dynamic as that of any human. It fought him, resisted, slipped away from his commands…

A hand crept into Paul’s. He looked down to see Chani peering up at him, concern in her eyes. Those eyes drank him, and she whispered: “Please, love, do not battle with your ruh-self.” An outpouring of emotion swept upward from her hand, buoyed him.

“Sihaya,” he whispered.

“We must go to the desert soon,” she said in a low voice.

He squeezed her hand, released it, returned to the table where he remained standing.

Chani took her seat.

Irulan stared at the papers in front of Stilgar, her mouth a tight line.

“Irulan proposes herself as mother of the Imperial heir,” Paul said. He glanced at Chani, back to Irulan, who refused to meet his gaze. “We all know she holds no love for me.”

Irulan went very still.

“I know the political arguments,” Paul said. “It’s the human arguments which concern me. I think if the Princess Consort were not bound by the commands of the Bene Gesserit, if she did not seek this out of desires for personal power, my reaction might be very different. As matters stand, though, I reject this proposal.”

Irulan took a deep, shaky breath.

Paul, resuming his seat, thought he had never seen her under such poor control. Leaning toward her, he said: “Irulan, I am truly sorry.”

She lifted her chin, a look of pure fury in her eyes. “I don’t want your pity!” she hissed. And turning to Stilgar: “Is there more that’s urgent and dire?”

Holding his gaze firmly on Paul, Stilgar said: “One more matter, m’Lord. The Guild again proposes a formal embassy here on Arrakis.”

“One of the deep-space kind?” Korba asked, his voice full of fanatic loathing.

“Presumably,” Stilgar said.

“A matter to be considered with the utmost care, m’Lord,” Korba warned. “The Council of Naibs would not like it, an actual Guildsman here on Arrakis. They contaminate the very ground they touch.”

“They live in tanks and don’t touch the ground,” Paul said, letting his voice reveal irritation.

“The Naibs might take matters into their own hands, m’Lord,” Korba said.

Paul glared at him.

“They are Fremen, after all, m’Lord,” Korba insisted. “We well remember how the Guild brought those who oppressed us. We have not forgotten the way they blackmailed a spice ransom from us to keep our secrets from our enemies. They drained us of every -”

“Enough!” Paul snapped. “Do you think I have forgotten?”

As though he had just awakened to the import of his own words, Korba stuttered unintelligibly, then: “M’lord, forgive me. I did not mean to imply you are not Fremen. I did not…”

“They’ll send a Steersman,” Paul said. “It isn’t likely a Steersman would come here if he could see danger in it.”

Her mouth dry with sudden fear, Irulan said: “You’ve… seen a Steersman come here?”

“Of course I haven’t seen a Steersman,” Paul said, mimicking her tone. “But I can see where one’s been and where one’s going. Let them send us a Steersman. Perhaps I have a use for such a one.”

“So ordered,” Stilgar said.

And Irulan, hiding a smile behind her hand, thought: It’s true then. Our Emperor cannot see a Steersman. They are mutually blind. The conspiracy is hidden.

“Once more the drama begins.” -The Emperor Paul Muad’dib on his ascension to the Lion Throne

Alia peered down from her spy window into the great reception hall to watch the advance of the Guild entourage.

The sharply silver light of noon poured through clerestory windows onto a floor worked in green, blue and eggshell tiles to simulate a bayou with water plants and, here and there, a splash of exotic color to indicate bird or animal.

Guildsmen moved across the tile pattern like hunters stalking their prey in a strange jungle. They formed a moving design of gray robes, black robes, orange robes – all arrayed in a deceptively random way around the transparent tank where the Steersman-Ambassador swam in his orange gas. The tank slid on its supporting field, towed by two gray-robed attendants, like a rectangular ship being warped into its dock.

Directly beneath her, Paul sat on the Lion Throne on its raised dais. He wore the new formal crown with its fish and fist emblems. The jeweled golden robes of state covered his body. The shimmering of a personal shield surrounded him. Two wings of bodyguards fanned out on both sides along the dais and down the steps. Stilgar stood two steps below Paul’s right hand in a white robe with a yellow rope for a belt.

Sibling empathy told her that Paul seethed with the same agitation she was experiencing, although she doubted another could detect it. His attention remained on an orange-robed attendant whose blindly staring metal eyes looked neither to right nor to left. This attendant walked at the right front corner of the Ambassador’s troupe like a military outrider. A rather flat face beneath curly black hair, such of his figure as could be seen beneath the orange robe, every gesture shouted a familiar identity.

It was Duncan Idaho.

It could not be Duncan Idaho, yet it was.

Captive memories absorbed in the womb during the moment of her mother’s spice change identified this man for Alia by a rihani decipherment which cut through all camouflage. Paul was seeing him, she knew, out of countless personal experiences, out of gratitudes and youthful sharing.

It was Duncan.

Alia shuddered. There could be only one answer: this was a Tleilaxu ghola, a being reconstructed from the dead flesh of the original. That original had perished saving Paul. This could only be a product of the axolotl tanks.

The ghola walked with the cock-footed alertness of a master swordsman. He came to a halt as the Ambassador’s tank glided to a stop ten paces from the steps of the dais.

In the Bene Gesserit way she could not escape, Alia read Paul’s disquiet. He no longer looked at the figure out of his past. Not looking, his whole being stared. Muscles strained against restrictions as he nodded to the Guild Ambassador, said: “I am told your name is Edric. We welcome you to our Court in the hope this will bring new understanding between us.”

The Steersman assumed a sybaritic reclining pose in his orange gas, popped a melange capsule into his mouth before meeting Paul’s gaze. The tiny transducer orbiting a corner of the Guildsman’s tank reproduced a coughing sound, then the rasping, uninvolved voice: “I abase myself before my Emperor and beg leave to present my credentials and offer a small gift.”

An aide passed a scroll up to Stilgar, who studied it, scowling, then nodded to Paul. Both Stilgar and Paul turned then toward the ghola standing patiently below the dais.

“Indeed my Emperor has discerned the gift,” Edric said.

“We are pleased to accept your credentials,” Paul said. “Explain the gift.”

Edric rolled in the tank, bringing his attention to bear on the ghola. “This is a man called Hayt,” he said, spelling the name. “According to our investigators, he has a most curious history. He was killed here on Arrakis… a grievous head-wound which required many months of regrowth. The body was sold to the Bene Tleilax as that of a master swordsman, an adept of the Ginaz School. It came to our attention that this must be Duncan Idaho, the trusted retainer of your household. We bought him as a gift befitting an Emperor.” Edric peered up at Paul. “Is it not Idaho, Sire?”

Restraint and caution gripped Paul’s voice. “He has the aspect of Idaho.”

Does Paul see something I don’t? Alia wondered. No! It’s Duncan!

The man called Hayt stood impassively, metal eyes fixed straight ahead, body relaxed. No sign escaped him to indicate he knew himself to be the object of discussion.

“According to our best knowledge, it’s Idaho,” Edric said.

“He’s called Hayt now,” Paul said. “A curious name.”

“Sire, there’s no divining how or why the Tleilaxu bestow names,” Edric said. “But names can be changed. The Tleilaxu name is of little importance.”

This is a Tleilaxu thing, Paul thought. There’s the problem. The Bene Tleilax held little attachment to phenomenal nature. Good and evil carried strange meanings in their philosophy. What might they have incorporated in Idaho’s flesh – out of design or whim?

Paul glanced at Stilgar, noted the Fremen’s superstitious awe. It was an emotion echoed all through his Fremen guard. Stilgar’s mind would be speculating about the loathsome habits of Guildsmen, of Tleilaxu and of gholas.

Turning toward the ghola, Paul said: “Hayt, is that your only name?”

A serene smile spread over the ghola’s dark features. The metal eyes lifted, centered on Paul, but maintained their mechanical stare. “That is how I am called, my Lord: Hayt.”

In her dark spy hole, Alia trembled. It was Idaho’s voice, a quality of sound so precise she sensed its imprint upon her cells.

“May it please my Lord,” the ghola added, “if I say his voice gives me pleasure. This is a sign, say the Bene Tleilax, that I have heard the voice… before.”

“But you don’t know this for sure,” Paul said.

“I know nothing of my past for sure, my Lord. It was explained that I can have no memory of my former life. All that remains from before is the pattern set by the genes. There are, however, niches into which once familiar things may fit. There are voices, places, foods, faces, sounds, actions – a sword in my hand, the controls of a ‘thopter… ”

Noting how intently the Guildsmen watched this exchange, Paul asked: “Do you understand that you’re a gift?”

“It was explained to me, my Lord.”

Paul sat back, hands resting on the arms of the throne.

What debt do I owe Duncan’s flesh? he wondered. The man died saving my life. But this is not Idaho, this is a ghola. Yet, here were body and mind which had taught Paul to fly a ‘thopter as though the wings grew from his own shoulders. Paul knew he could not pick up a sword without leaning on the harsh education Idaho had given him. A ghola. This was flesh full of false impressions, easily misread. Old associations would persist. Duncan Idaho. It wasn’t so much a mask the ghola wore as it was a loose, concealing garment of personality which moved in a way different from whatever the Tleilaxu had hidden here.

“How might you serve us?” Paul asked.

“In any way my Lord’s wishes and my capabilities agree.”

Alia, watching from her vantage point, was touched by the ghola’s air of diffidence. She detected nothing feigned. Something ultimately innocent shone from the new Duncan Idaho. The original had been worldly, devil-may-care. But this flesh had been cleansed of all that. It was a pure surface upon which the Tleilaxu had written… what?

She sensed the hidden perils in this gift then. This was a Tleilaxu thing. The Tleilaxu displayed a disturbing lack of inhibitions in what they created. Unbridled curiosity might guide their actions. They boasted they could make anything from the proper human raw material – devils or saints. They sold killer-mentats. They’d produced a killer medic, overcoming the Suk inhibitions against the taking of human life to do it. Their wares included willing menials, pliant sex toys for any whim, soldiers, generals, philosophers, even an occasional moralist.

Paul stirred, looked at Edric. “How has this gift been trained?” he asked.

“If it please my Lord,” Edric said, “it amused the Tleilaxu to train this ghola as a mentat and philosopher of the Zensunni. Thus, they sought to increase his abilities with the sword.”

“Did they succeed?”

“I do not know, my Lord.”

Paul weighed the answer. Truthsense told him Edric sincerely believed the ghola to be Idaho. But there was more. The waters of Time through which this oracular Steersman moved suggested dangers without revealing them. Hayt. The Tleilaxu name spoke of peril. Paul felt himself tempted to reject the gift. Even as he felt the temptation, he knew he couldn’t choose that way. This flesh made demands on House Atreides – a fact the enemy well knew.

“Zensunni philosopher,” Paul mused, once more looking at the ghola. “You’ve examined your own role and motives?”

“I approach my service in an attitude of humility, Sire. I am a cleansed mind washed free of the imperatives from my human past.”

“Would you prefer we called you Hayt or Duncan Idaho?”

“My Lord may call me what he wishes, for I am not a name.”

“But do you enjoy the name Duncan Idaho?”

“I think that was my name, Sire. It fits within me. Yet… it stirs up curious responses. One’s name, I think, must carry much that’s unpleasant along with the pleasant.”

“What gives you the most pleasure?” Paul asked.

Unexpectedly, the ghola laughed, said: “Looking for signs in others which reveal my former self.”

“Do you see such signs here?”

“Oh, yes, my Lord. Your man Stilgar there is caught between suspicion and admiration. He was friend to my former self, but this ghola flesh repels him. You, my Lord, admired the man I was… and you trusted him.”

“Cleansed mind,” Paul said. “How can a cleansed mind put itself in bondage to us?”

“Bondage, my Lord? The cleansed mind makes decisions in the presence of unknowns and without cause and effect. Is this bondage?”

Paul scowled. It was a Zensunni saying, cryptic, apt – immersed in a creed which denied objective function in all mental activity. Without cause and effect! Such thoughts shocked the mind. Unknowns? Unknowns lay in every decision, even in the oracular vision.

“You’d prefer we called you Duncan Idaho?” Paul asked.

“We live by differences, my Lord. Choose a name for me.”

“Let your Tleilaxu name stand,” Paul said. “Hayt – there’s a name inspires caution.”

Hayt bowed, moved back one step.

And Alia wondered: How did he know the interview was over? I knew it because I know my brother. But there was no sign a stranger could read. Did the Duncan Idaho in him know?

Paul turned toward the Ambassador, said: “Quarters have been set aside for your embassy. It is our desire to have a private consultation with you at the earliest opportunity. We will send for you. Let us inform you further, before you hear it from an inaccurate source, that a Reverend Mother of the Sisterhood, Gaius Helen Mohiam, has been removed from the heighliner which brought you. It was done at our command. Her presence on your ship will be an item in our talks.”

A wave of Paul’s left hand dismissed the envoy. “Hayt,” Paul said, “stay here.”

The Ambassador’s attendants backed away, towing the tank. Edric became orange motion in orange gas – eyes, a mouth, gently waving limbs.

Paul watched until the last Guildsman was gone, the great doors swinging closed behind them.

I’ve done it now, Paul thought. I’ve accepted the ghola. The Tleilaxu creation was bait, no doubt of it. Very likely the old hag of a Reverend Mother played the same role. But it was the time of the tarot which he’d forecast in an early vision. The damnable tarot! It muddied the waters of Time until the prescient strained to detect moments but an hour off. Many a fish took the bait and escaped, he reminded himself. And the tarot worked for him as well as against him. What he could not see, others might not detect as well.

The ghola stood, head cocked to one side, waiting.

Stilgar moved across the steps, hid the ghola from Paul’s view. In Chakobsa, the hunting language of their sietch days, Stilgar said: “That creature in the tank gives me the shudders, Sire, but this gift! Send it away!”

In the same tongue, Paul said: “I cannot.”

“Idaho’s dead,” Stilgar argued. “This isn’t Idaho. Let me take its water for the tribe.”

“The ghola is my problem, Stil. Your problem is our prisoner. I want the Reverend Mother guarded most carefully by the men I trained to resist the wiles of Voice.”

“I like this not, Sire.”

“I’ll be cautious, Stil. See that you are, too.”

“Very well, Sire.” Stilgar stepped down to the floor of the hall, passed close to Hayt, sniffed him and strode out.

Evil can be detected by its smell, Paul thought. Stilgar had planted the green and white Atreides banner on a dozen worlds, but remained superstitious Fremen, proof against any sophistication.

Paul studied the gift.

“Duncan, Duncan,” he whispered. “What have they done to you?”

“They gave me life, m’Lord,” Hayt said.

“But why were you trained and given to us?” Paul asked.

Hayt pursed his lips, then: “They intend me to destroy you.”

The statement’s candor shook Paul. But then, how else could a Zensunni-mentat respond? Even in a ghola, a mentat could speak no less than the truth, especially out of Zensunni inner calm. This was a human computer, mind and nervous system fitted to the tasks relegated long ago to hated mechanical devices. To condition him also as a Zensunni meant a double ration of honesty… unless the Tleilaxu had built something even more odd into this flesh.

Why, for example, the mechanical eyes? Tleilaxu boasted their metal eyes improved on the original. Strange, then, that more Tleilaxu didn’t wear them out of choice.

Paul glanced up at Alia’s spy hole, longed for her presence and advice, for counsel not clouded by feelings of responsibility and debt.

You'll Also Like