Read Dune Messiah Online

Authors: Frank Herbert

Tags: #Dune (Imaginary place), #Fantasy, #General, #Science Fiction, #Fiction

Dune Messiah (34 page)

BOOK: Dune Messiah
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“Yes, I am Duncan.”
“Of course you are! This was the moment when you came back. We’ll go inside now.”
Idaho fell into step beside Paul. It was like the old times, yet not like them. Now that he stood free of the Tleilaxu, he could appreciate what they had given him. Zensunni training permitted him to overcome the shock of events. The mentat accomplishment formed a counterbalance. He put off all fear, standing above the source. His entire consciousness looked outward from a position of infinite wonder: he had been dead; he was alive.
“Sire,” the Fedaykin Tandis said as they approached him, “the woman, Lichna, says she must see you. I told her to wait.”
“Thank you,” Paul said. “The birth …”
“I spoke to the medics,” Tandis said, falling into step. “They said you have two children, both of them alive and sound.”
“Two?” Paul stumbled, caught himself on Idaho’s arm.
“A boy and a girl,” Tandis said. “I saw them. They’re good Fremen babies.”
“How … how did she die?” Paul whispered.
“M’Lord?” Tandis bent close.
“Chani?” Paul said.
“It was the birth, m’Lord,” Tandis husked. “They said her body was drained by the speed of it. I don’t understand, but that is what they said.”
“Take me to her,” Paul whispered.
“M’Lord?”
“Take me to her!”
“That’s where we’re going, m’Lord.” Again, Tandis bent close to Paul. “Why does your ghola carry a bared knife?”
“Duncan, put away your knife,” Paul said. “The time for violence is past.”
As he spoke, Paul felt closer to the sound of his voice than to the mechanism which had created the sound. Two babies! The vision had contained but one. Yet, these moments went as the vision went. There was a person here who felt grief and anger. Someone. His own awareness lay in the grip of an awful treadmill, replaying his life from memory.
Two babies?
Again he stumbled.
Chani, Chani,
he thought.
There was no other way. Chani, beloved, believe me that this death was quicker for you … and kinder. They’d have held our children hostage, displayed you in a cage and slave pits, reviled you with the blame for my death. This way … this way we destroy them and save our children.
Children?
Once more, he stumbled.
I permitted this,
he thought.
I should feel guilty.
The sound of noisy confusion filled the cavern ahead of them. It grew louder precisely as he remembered it growing louder. Yes, this was the pattern, the inexorable pattern, even with two children.
Chani is dead
, he told himself.
At some faraway instant in a past which he had shared with others, this future had reached down to him. It had chivvied him and herded him into a chasm whose walls grew narrower and narrower. He could feel them closing in on him. This was the way the vision went.
Chani is dead. I should abandon myself to grief.
But that was
not
the way the vision went.
“Has Alia been summoned?” he asked.
“She is with Chani’s friends,” Tandis said.
Paul sensed the mob pressing back to give him passage. Their silence moved ahead of him like a wave. The noisy confusion began dying down. A sense of congested emotion filled the sietch. He wanted to remove the people from his vision, found it impossible. Every face turning to follow him carried its special imprint. They were pitiless with curiosity, those faces. They felt grief, yes, but he understood the cruelty which drenched them. They were watching the articulate become dumb, the wise become a fool. Didn’t the clown always appeal to cruelty?
This was more than a deathwatch, less than a wake.
Paul felt his soul begging for respite, but still the vision moved him.
Just a little farther now
, he told himself. Black, visionless dark awaited him just ahead. There lay the place ripped out of the vision by grief and guilt, the place where the moon fell.
He stumbled into it, would’ve fallen had Idaho not taken his arm in a fierce grip, a solid presence knowing how to share his grief in silence.
“Here is the place,” Tandis said.
“Watch your step, Sire,” Idaho said, helping him over an entrance lip. Hangings brushed Paul’s face. Idaho pulled him to a halt. Paul felt the room then, a reflection against his cheeks and ears. It was a rock-walled space with the rock hidden behind tapestries.
“Where is Chani?” Paul whispered.
Harah’s voice answered him: “She is right here, Usul.”
Paul heaved a trembling sigh. He had feared her body already had been removed to the stills where Fremen reclaimed the water of the tribe. Was that the way the vision went? He felt abandoned in his blindness.
“The children?” Paul asked.
“They are here, too, m’Lord,” Idaho said.
“You have beautiful twins, Usul,” Harah said, “a boy and a girl. See? We have them here in a creche.”
Two children
, Paul thought wonderingly. The vision had contained only a daughter. He cast himself adrift from Idaho’s arm, moved toward the place where Harah had spoken, stumbled into a hard surface. His hands explored it: the metaglass outlines of a creche.
Someone took his left arm. “Usul?” It was Harah. She guided his hand into the creche. He felt soft-soft flesh. It was so warm! He felt ribs, breathing.
“That is your son,” Harah whispered. She moved his hand. “And this is your daughter.” Her hand tightened on his. “Usul, are you truly blind now?”
He knew what she was thinking.
The blind must be abandoned in the desert.
Fremen tribes carried no dead weight.
“Take me to Chani,” Paul said, ignoring her question.
Harah turned him, guided him to the left.
Paul felt himself accepting now the fact that Chani was dead. He had taken his place in a universe he did not want, wearing flesh that did not fit. Every breath he drew bruised his emotions.
Two children!
He wondered if he had committed himself to a passage where his vision would never return. It seemed unimportant.
“Where is my brother?”
It was Alia’s voice behind him. He heard the rush of her, the overwhelming presence as she took his arm from Harah.
“I must speak to you!” Alia hissed.
“In a moment,” Paul said.
“Now! It’s about Lichna.”
“I know,” Paul said. “In a moment.”
“You don’t have a moment!”
“I have many moments.”
“But Chani doesn’t!”
“Be still!” he ordered. “Chani is dead.” He put a hand across her mouth as she started to protest. “I order you to be still!” He felt her subside and removed his hand. “Describe what you see,” he said.
“Paul!” Frustration and tears battled in her voice.
“Never mind,” he said. And he forced himself to inner stillness, opened the eyes of his vision to this moment. Yes—it was still here. Chani’s body lay on a pallet within a ring of light. Someone had straightened her white robe, smoothed it trying to hide the blood from the birth. No matter; he could not turn his awareness from the vision of her face: such a mirror of eternity in the still features!
He turned away, but the vision moved with him. She was gone … never to return. The air, the universe, all vacant—everywhere vacant. Was this the essence of his penance? he wondered. He wanted tears, but they would not come. Had he lived too long a Fremen? This death demanded its moisture!
Nearby, a baby cried and was hushed. The sound pulled a curtain on his vision. Paul welcomed the darkness.
This is another world
, he thought.
Two children.
The thought came out of some lost oracular trance. He tried to recapture the timeless mind-dilation of the melange, but awareness fell short. No burst of the future came into this new consciousness. He felt himself rejecting the future—any future.
“Goodbye, my Sihaya,” he whispered.
Alia’s voice, harsh and demanding, came from somewhere behind him. “I’ve brought Lichna!”
Paul turned. “That’s not Lichna,” he said. “That’s a Face Dancer. Lichna’s dead.”
“But hear what she says,” Alia said.
Slowly, Paul moved toward his sister’s voice.
“I’m not surprised to find you alive, Atreides.” The voice was like Lichna’s, but with subtle differences, as though the speaker used Lichna’s vocal cords, but no longer bothered to control them sufficiently. Paul found himself struck by an odd note of honesty in the voice.
“Not surprised?” Paul asked.
“I am Scytale, a Tleilaxu of the Face Dancers, and I would know a thing before we bargain. Is that a ghola I see behind you, or Duncan Idaho?”
“It’s Duncan Idaho,” Paul said. “And I will not bargain with you.”
“I think you’ll bargain,” Scytale said.
“Duncan,” Paul said, speaking over his shoulder, “will you kill this Tleilaxu if I ask it?”
“Yes, m’Lord.” There was the suppressed rage of a berserker in Idaho’s voice.
“Wait!” Alia said. “You don’t know what you’re rejecting.”
“But I do know,” Paul said.
“So it’s truly Duncan Idaho of the Atreides,” Scytale said. “We found the lever! A ghola
can
regain his past.” Paul heard footsteps. Someone brushed past him on the left. Scytale’s voice came from behind him now. “What do you remember of your past, Duncan?”
“Everything. From my childhood on. I even remember you at the tank when they removed me from it,” Idaho said.
“Wonderful,” Scytale breathed. “Wonderful.”
Paul heard the voice moving.
I need a vision,
he thought. Darkness frustrated him. Bene Gesserit training warned him of terrifying menace in Scytale, yet the creature remained a voice, a shadow of movement—entirely beyond him.
“Are these the Atreides babies?” Scytale asked.
“Harah!” Paul cried. “Get her away from there!”
“Stay where you are!” Scytale shouted. “All of you! I warn you, a Face Dancer can move faster than you suspect. My knife can have both these lives before you touch me.”
Paul felt someone touch his right arm, then move off to the right.
“That’s far enough, Alia,” Scytale said.
“Alia,” Paul said. “Don’t.”
“It’s my fault,” Alia groaned. “My fault!”
“Atreides,” Scytale said, “shall we bargain now?”
Behind him, Paul heard a single hoarse curse. His throat constricted at the suppressed violence in Idaho’s voice. Idaho must not break! Scytale would kill the babies!
“To strike a bargain, one requires a thing to sell,” Scytale said. “Not so, Atreides? Will you have your Chani back? We can restore her to you. A ghola, Atreides. A ghola
with full memory
! But we must hurry. Call your friends to bring a cryological tank to preserve the flesh.”
To hear Chani’s voice once more
, Paul thought.
To feel her presence beside me. Ahhh, that’s why they gave me Idaho as a ghola, to let me discover how much the re-creation is like the original. But now—full restoration … at their price. I’d be a Tleilaxu tool forevermore. And Chani … chained to the same fate by a threat to our children, exposed once more to the Qizarate’s plotting …
“What pressures would you use to restore Chani’s memory to her?” Paul asked, fighting to keep his voice calm. “Would you condition her to … to kill one of her own children?”
“We use whatever pressures we need,” Scytale said. “What say you, Atreides?”
“Alia,” Paul said, “bargain with this
thing.
I cannot bargain with what I cannot see.”
“A wise choice,” Scytale gloated. “Well, Alia, what do you offer me as your brother’s agent?”
Paul lowered his head, bringing himself to stillness within stillness. He’d glimpsed something just then—like a vision, but not a vision. It had been a knife close to him. There!
“Give me a moment to think,” Alia said.
“My knife is patient,” Scytale said, “but Chani’s flesh is not. Take a
reasonable
amount of time.”
Paul felt himself blinking. It could not be … but it was! He felt eyes! Their vantage point was odd and they moved in an erratic way.
There!
The knife swam into his view. With a breath-stilling shock, Paul recognized the viewpoint. It was that of one of his children! He was seeing Scytale’s knife hand from within the creche! It glittered only inches from him. Yes—and he could see himself across the room, as well—head down, standing quietly, a figure of no menace, ignored by the others in this room.
“To begin, you might assign us all your CHOAM holdings,” Scytale suggested.
BOOK: Dune Messiah
10.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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