Read Dune Messiah Online

Authors: Frank Herbert

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

Dune Messiah (4 page)

BOOK: Dune Messiah
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“We know his attributes,” the Reverend Mother interrupted. “And we know the abomination, his sister Alia, possesses this gene pattern. But they’re also humans, both of them. Thus, they have weaknesses.”
“And where are those human weaknesses?” the Face Dancer asked. “Shall we search for them in the religious arm of his Jihad? Can the Emperor’s Qizara be turned against him? What about the civil authority of the Great Houses? Can the Landsraad Congress do more than raise a verbal clamor?”
“I suggest the Combine Honnete Ober Advancer Mercantiles,” Edric said turning in his tank. “CHOAM is business and business follows profits.”
“Or perhaps the Emperor’s mother,” Scytale said. “The Lady Jessica, I understand, remains on Caladan, but is in frequent communication with her son.”
“That traitorous bitch,” Mohiam said, voice level. “Would I might disown my own hands which trained her.”
“Our conspiracy requires a lever,” Scytale said.
“We are more than conspirators,” the Reverend Mother countered.
“Ah, yes,” Scytale agreed. “We are energetic and we learn quickly. This makes us the one true hope, the certain salvation of humankind.” He spoke in the speech mode for absolute conviction, which was perhaps the ultimate sneer coming, as it did, from a Tleilaxu.
Only the Reverend Mother appeared to understand the subtlety. “Why?” she asked, directing the question at Scytale.
Before the Face Dancer could answer, Edric cleared his throat, said: “Let us not bandy philosophical nonsense. Every question can be boiled down to the one: ‘Why is there anything?’ Every religious, business and governmental question has the single derivative: ‘Who will exercise the power?’ Alliances, combines, complexes, they all chase mirages unless they go for the power. All else is nonsense, as most thinking beings come to realize.”
Scytale shrugged, a gesture designed solely for the Reverend Mother. Edric had answered her question for him. The pontificating fool was their major weakness. To make sure the Reverend Mother understood, Scytale said: “Listening carefully to the teacher, one acquires an education.”
The Reverend Mother nodded slowly.
“Princess,” Edric said, “make your choice. You have been chosen as an instrument of destiny, the very finest …”
“Save your praise for those who can be swayed by it,” Irulan said. “Earlier, you mentioned a ghost, a revenant with which we may contaminate the Emperor. Explain this.”
“The Atreides will defeat himself!” Edric crowed.
“Stop talking riddles!” Irulan snapped. “What is this ghost?”
“A very unusual ghost,” Edric said. “It has a body and a name. The body—that’s the flesh of a renowned swordmaster known as Duncan Idaho. The name …”
“Idaho’s dead,” Irulan said. “Paul has mourned the loss often in my presence. He saw Idaho killed by my father’s Sardaukar.”
“Even in defeat,” Edric said, “your father’s Sardaukar did not abandon wisdom. Let us suppose a wise Sardaukar commander recognized the sword-master in a corpse his men had slain. What then? There exist uses for such flesh and training … if one acts swiftly.”
“A Tleilaxu ghola,” Irulan whispered, looking sideways at Scytale.
Scytale, observing her attention, exercised his Face Dancer powers—shape flowing into shape, flesh moving and readjusting. Presently, a slender man stood before her. The face remained somewhat round, but darker and with slightly flattened features. High cheekbones formed shelves for eyes with definite epicanthic folds. The hair was black and unruly.
“A ghola of this appearance,” Edric said, pointing to Scytale.
“Or merely another Face Dancer?” Irulan asked.
“No Face Dancer,” Edric said. “A Face Dancer risks exposure under prolonged surveillance. No; let us assume that our wise Sardaukar commander had Idaho’s corpse preserved for the axolotl tanks. Why not? This corpse held the flesh and nerves of one of the finest swordsmen in history, an adviser to the Atreides, a military genius. What a waste to lose all that training and ability when it might be revived as an instructor for the Sardaukar.”
“I heard not a whisper of this and I was one of my father’s confi dantes,” Irulan said.
“Ahh, but your father was a defeated man and within a few hours you had been sold to the new Emperor,” Edric said.
“Was it done?” she demanded.
With a maddening air of complacency, Edric said: “Let us presume that our wise Sardaukar commander, knowing the need for speed, immediately sent the preserved flesh of Idaho to the Bene Tleilax. Let us suppose further that the commander and his men died before conveying this information to your father—who couldn’t have made much use of it anyway. There would remain then a physical fact, a bit of flesh which had been sent off to the Tleilaxu. There was only one way for it to be sent, of course, on a heighliner. We of the Guild naturally know every cargo we transport. Learning of this one, would we not think it additional wisdom to purchase the ghola as a gift befitting an Emperor?”
“You’ve done it then,” Irulan said.
Scytale, who had resumed his roly-poly first appearance, said: “As our long-winded friend indicates, we’ve done it.”
“How has Idaho been conditioned?” Irulan asked.
“Idaho?” Edric asked, looking at the Tleilaxu. “Do you know of an Idaho, Scytale?”
“We sold you a creature called Hayt,” Scytale said.
“Ah, yes—Hayt,” Edric said. “Why did you sell him to us?”
“Because we once bred a kwisatz haderach of our own,” Scytale said.
With a quick movement of her old head, the Reverend Mother looked up at him. “You didn’t tell us that!” she accused.
“You didn’t ask,” Scytale said.
“How did you overcome your kwisatz haderach?” Irulan asked.
“A creature who has spent his life creating one particular representation of his selfdom will die rather than become the antithesis of that representation,” Scytale said.
“I do not understand,” Edric ventured.
“He killed himself,” the Reverend Mother growled.
“Follow me well, Reverend Mother,” Scytale warned, using a voice mode which said: You are not a sex object, have never been a sex object, cannot be a sex object.
The Tleilaxu waited for the blatant emphasis to sink in. She must not mistake his intent. Realization must pass through anger into awareness that the Tleilaxu certainly could not make such an accusation, knowing as he must the breeding requirements of the Sisterhood. His words, though, contained a gutter insult, completely out of character for a Tleilaxu.
Swiftly, using the mirabhasa placative mode, Edric tried to smooth over the moment. “Scytale, you told us you sold Hayt because you shared our desire on how to use him.”
“Edric, you will remain silent until I give you permission to speak,” Scytale said. And as the Guildsman started to protest, the Reverend Mother snapped: “Shut up, Edric!”
The Guildsman drew back into his tank in flailing agitation.
“Our own transient emotions aren’t pertinent to a solution of the mutual problem,” Scytale said. “They cloud reasoning because the only relevant emotion is the basic fear which brought us to this meeting.”
“We understand,” Irulan said, glancing at the Reverend Mother.
“You must see the dangerous limitations of our shield,” Scytale said. “The oracle cannot chance upon what it cannot understand.”
“You are devious, Scytale,” Irulan said.
How devious she must not guess,
Scytale thought.
When this is done, we will possess a kwisatz haderach we can control. These others will possess nothing.
“What was the origin of your kwisatz haderach?” the Reverend Mother asked.
“We’ve dabbled in various pure essences,” Scytale said. “Pure good and pure evil. A pure villain who delights only in creating pain and terror can be quite educational.”
“The old Baron Harkonnen, our Emperor’s grandfather, was he a Tleilaxu creation?” Irulan asked.
“Not one of ours,” Scytale said. “But then nature often produces creations as deadly as ours. We merely produce them under conditions where we can study them.”
“I will not be passed by and treated this way!” Edric protested. “Who is it hides this meeting from—”
“You see?” Scytale asked. “Whose best judgment conceals us? What judgment?”
“I wish to discuss our mode of giving Hayt to the Emperor,” Edric insisted. “It’s my understanding that Hayt reflects the old morality that the Atreides learned on his birthworld. Hayt is supposed to make it easy for the Emperor to enlarge his moral nature, to delineate the positive-negative elements of life and religion.”
Scytale smiled, passing a benign gaze over his companions. They were as he’d been led to expect. The old Reverend Mother wielded her emotions like a scythe. Irulan had been well trained for a task at which she had failed, a flawed Bene Gesserit creation. Edric was no more (and no less) than the magician’s hand: he might conceal and distract. For now, Edric relapsed into sullen silence as the others ignored him.
“Do I understand that this Hayt is intended to poison Paul’s psyche?” Irulan asked.
“More or less,” Scytale said.
“And what of the Qizarate?” Irulan asked.
“It requires only the slightest shift in emphasis, a glissade of the emotions, to transform envy into enmity,” Scytale said.
“And CHOAM?” Irulan asked.
“They will rally round profit,” Scytale said.
“What of the other power groups?”
“One invokes the name of government,” Scytale said. “We will annex the less powerful in the name of morality and progress. Our opposition will die of its own entanglements.”
“Alia, too?”
“Hayt is a multi-purpose ghola,” Scytale said. “The Emperor’s sister is of an age when she can be distracted by a charming male designed for that purpose. She will be attracted by his maleness and by his abilities as a mentat.”
Mohiam allowed her old eyes to go wide in surprise. “The ghola’s a mentat? That’s a dangerous move.”
“To be accurate,” Irulan said, “a mentat must have accurate data. What if Paul asks him to define the purpose behind our gift?”
“Hayt will tell the truth,” Scytale said. “It makes no difference.”
“So you leave an escape door open for Paul,” Irulan said.
“A mentat!” Mohiam muttered.
Scytale glanced at the old Reverend Mother, seeing the ancient hates which colored her responses. From the days of the Butlerian Jihad when “thinking machines” had been wiped from most of the universe, computers had inspired distrust. Old emotions colored the human computer as well.
“I do not like the way you smile,” Mohiam said abruptly, speaking in the truth mode as she glared up at Scytale.
In the same mode, Scytale said: “And I think less of what pleases you. But we must work together. We all see that.” He glanced at the Guildsman. “Don’t we, Edric?”
“You teach painful lessons,” Edric said. “I presume you wished to make it plain that I must not assert myself against the combined judgments of my fellow conspirators.”
“You see, he can be taught,” Scytale said.
“I see other things as well,” Edric growled. “The Atreides holds a monopoly on the spice. Without it I cannot probe the future. The Bene Gesserit lose their truthsense. We have stockpiles, but these are finite. Melange is a powerful coin.”
“Our civilization has more than one coin,” Scytale said. “Thus, the law of supply and demand fails.”
“You think to steal the secret of it,” Mohiam wheezed. “And him with a planet guarded by his mad Fremen!”
“The Fremen are civil, educated and ignorant,” Scytale said. “They’re not mad. They’re trained to believe, not to know. Belief can be manipulated. Only knowledge is dangerous.”
“But will I be left with something to father a royal dynasty?” Irulan asked.
They all heard the commitment in her voice, but only Edric smiled at it.
“Something,” Scytale said. “Something.”
“It means the end of this Atreides as a ruling force,” Edric said.
“I should imagine that others less gifted as oracles have made that prediction,” Scytale said. “For them,
mektub al mellah
, as the Fremen say.”
“The thing was written with salt,” Irulan translated.
As she spoke, Scytale recognized what the Bene Gesserit had arrayed here for him—a beautiful and intelligent female who could never be his.
Ah, well
, he thought,
perhaps I’ll copy her for another.
Every civilization must contend with an unconscious force which can block, betray or countermand almost any conscious intention of the collectivity.
BOOK: Dune Messiah
4.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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