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  • Home > Frank Herbert > Dune Series > Dune Messiah (Chapter Eighteen)     
  • Dune Messiah(Dune Series #2)(18) by Frank Herbert
  • Otheym produced a shaky nod, almost too much for that thin neck. He lifted a liver-marked left hand, pointed to the ruin of his face. "I caught the splitting disease on Tarahell, Usul," he wheezed. "Right after the victory when we'd all..." A fit of coughing stopped his voice.

    "The tribe will collect his water soon," Dhuri said. She crossed to Otheym, propped pillows behind him, held his shoulder to steady him until the coughing passed. She wasn't really very old, Paul saw, but a look of lost hopes ringed her mouth, bitterness lay in her eyes.

    "I'll summon doctors," Paul said.

    Dhuri turned, hand on hip. "We've had medical men, as good as any you could summon." She sent an involuntary glance to the barren wall on her left.

    And the medical men were costly, Paul thought.

    He felt edgy, constrained by the vision but aware that minor differences had crept in. How could he exploit the differences? Time came out of its skein with subtle changes, but the background fabric held oppressive sameness. He knew with terrifying certainty that if he tried to break out of the enclosing pattern here, it'd become a thing of terrible violence. The power in this deceptively gentle flow of Time oppressed him.

    "Say what you want of me," he growled.

    "Couldn't it be that Otheym needed a friend to stand by him in this time?" Dhuri asked. "Does a Fedaykin have to consign his flesh to strangers?"

    We shared Sietch Tabr, Paul reminded himself. She has the right to berate me for apparent callousness.

    "What I can do I will do," Paul said.

    Another fit of coughing shook Otheym. When it had passed, he gasped: "There's treachery, Usul. Fremen plot against you." His mouth worked then without sound. Spittle escaped his lips. Dhuri wiped his mouth with a corner of her robe, and Paul saw how her face betrayed anger at such waste of moisture.

    Frustrated rage threatened to overwhelm Paul then. That Otheym should be spent thus! A Fedaykin deserved better. But no choice remained - not for a Death Commando or his Emperor. They walked Occam's razor in this room. The slightest misstep multiplied horrors - not just for themselves, but for all humankind, even for those who would destroy them.

    Paul squeezed calmness into his mind, looked at Dhuri. The expression of terrible longing with which she gazed at Otheym strengthened Paul. Chani must never look at me that way, he told himself.

    "Lichna spoke of a message," Paul said.

    "My dwarf," Otheym wheezed. "I bought him on... on... on a world... I forget. He's a human distrans, a toy discarded by the Tleilaxu. He's recorded all the names... the traitors..."

    Otheym fell silent, trembling.

    "You speak of Lichna," Dhuri said. "When you arrived, we knew she'd reached you safely. If you're thinking of this new burden Otheym places upon you, Lichna is the sum of that burden. An even exchange, Usul: take the dwarf and go."

    Paul suppressed a shudder, closed his eyes. Lichna! The real daughter had perished in the desert, a semuta-wracked body abandoned to the sand and the wind.

    Opening his eyes, Paul said: "You could've come to me at any time for..."

    "Otheym stayed away that he might be numbered among those who hate you, Usul," Dhuri said. "The house to the south of us at the end of the street, that is a gathering place for your foes. It's why we took this hovel."

    "Then summon the dwarf and we'll leave," Paul said.

    "You've not listened well," Dhuri said.

    "You must take the dwarf to a safe place," Otheym said, an odd strength in his voice. "He carries the only record of the traitors. No one suspects his talent. They think I keep him for amusement."

    "We cannot leave," Dhuri said. "Only you and the dwarf. It's known... how poor we are. We've said we're selling the dwarf. They'll take you for the buyer. It's your only chance."

    Paul consulted his memory of the vision: in it, he'd left here with the names of the traitors, but never seeing how those names were carried. The dwarf obviously moved under the protection of another oracle. It occurred to Paul then that all creatures must carry some kind of destiny stamped out by purposes of varying strengths, by the fixation of training and disposition. From the moment the Jihad had chosen him, he'd felt himself hemmed in by the forces of a multitude. Their fixed purposes demanded and controlled his course. Any delusions of Free Will he harbored now must be merely the prisoner rattling his cage. His curse lay in the fact that he saw the cage. He saw it!

    He listened now to the emptiness of this house: only the four of them in it - Dhuri, Otheym, the dwarf and himself. He inhaled the fear and tension of his companions, sensed the watchers - his own force hovering in 'thopters far overhead... and those others... next door.

    I was wrong to hope, Paul thought. But thinking of hope brought him a twisted sense of hope, and he felt that he might yet seize his moment.

    "Summon the dwarf," he said.

    "Bijaz!" Dhuri called.

    "You call me?" The dwarf stepped into the room from the courtyard, an alert expression of worry on his face.

    "You have a new master, Bijaz," Dhuri said. She stared at Paul. "You may call him... Usul."

    "Usul, that's the base of the pillar," Bijaz said, translating. "How can Usul be base when I'm the basest thing living?"

    "He always speaks thus," Otheym apologized.

    "I don't speak," Bijaz said. "I operate a machine called language. It creaks and groans, but is mine own."

    A Tleilaxu toy, learned and alert, Paul thought. The Bene Tleilax never threw away something this valuable. He turned, studied the dwarf. Round melange eyes returned his stare.

    "What other talents have you, Bijaz?" Paul asked.

    "I know when we should leave," Bijaz said. "It's a talent few men have. There's a time for endings - and that's a good beginning. Let us begin to go, Usul."

    Paul examined his vision memory: no dwarf, but the little man's words fitted the occasion.

    "At the door, you called me Sire," Paul said. "You know me, then?"

    "You've sired, Sire," Bijaz said, grinning. "You are much more than the base Usul. You're the Atreides Emperor, Paul Muad'dib. And you are my finger." He held up the index finger of his right hand.

    "Bijaz!" Dhuri snapped. "You tempt fate."

    "I tempt my finger," Bijaz protested, voice squeaking. He pointed at Usul. "I point at Usul. Is my finger not Usul himself? Or is it a reflection of something more base?" He brought the finger close to his eyes, examined it with a mocking grin, first one side then the other. "Ahhh, it's merely a finger, after all."

    "He often rattles on thus," Dhuri said, worry in her voice. "I think it's why he was discarded by the Tleilaxu."

    "I'll not be patronized," Bijaz said, "yet I have a new patron. How strange the workings of the finger." He peered at Dhuri and Otheym, eyes oddly bright. "A weak glue bound us, Otheym. A few tears and we part." The dwarfs big feet rasped on the floor as he whirled completely around, stopped facing Paul. "Ahhh, patron! I came the long way around to find you."

    Paul nodded.

    "You'll be kind, Usul?" Bijaz asked. "I'm a person, you know. Persons come in many shapes and sizes. This be but one of them. I'm weak of muscle, but strong of mouth; cheap to feed, but costly to fill. Empty me as you will, there's still more in me than men put there."

    "We've no time for your stupid riddles," Dhuri growled. "You should be gone."

    "I'm riddled with conundrums," Bijaz said, "but not all of them stupid. To be gone, Usul, is to be a bygone. Yes? Let us let bygones be bygones. Dhuri speaks truth, and I've the talent for hearing that, too."

    "You've truthsense?" Paul asked, determined now to wait out the clockwork of his vision. Anything was better than shattering these moments and producing the new consequences. There remained things for Otheym to say lest Time be diverted into even more horrifying channels.

    "I've now-sense" Bijaz said.

    Paul noted that the dwarf had grown more nervous. Was the little man aware of things about to happen? Could Bijaz be his own oracle?

    "Did you inquire of Lichna?" Otheym asked suddenly, peering up at Dhuri with his one good eye.

    "Lichna is safe," Dhuri said.

    Paul lowered his head, lest his expression betray the lie. Safe! Lichna was ashes in a secret grave.

    "That's good then," Otheym said, taking Paul's lowered head for a nod of agreement. "One good thing among the evils, Usul. I don't like the world we're making, you know that? It was better when we were alone in the desert with only the Harkonnens for enemy."

    "There's but a thin line between many an enemy and many a friend," Bijaz said. "Where that line stops, there's no beginning and no end. Let's end it, my friends." He moved to Paul's side, jittered from one foot to the other.

    "What's now-sense?" Paul asked, dragging out these moments, goading the dwarf.

    "Now!" Bijaz said, trembling. "Now! Now!" He tugged at Paul's robe. "Let us go now!"

    "His mouth rattles, but there's no harm in him," Otheym said, affection in his voice, the one good eye staring at Bijaz.

    "Even a rattle can signal departure," Bijaz said. "And so can tears. Let's be gone while there's time to begin."

    "Bijaz, what do you fear?" Paul asked.

    "I fear the spirit seeking me now," Bijaz muttered. Perspiration stood out on his forehead. His cheeks twitched. "I fear the one who thinks not and will have no body except mine - and that one gone back into itself! I fear the things I see and the things I do not see."

    This dwarf does possess the power of prescience, Paul thought. Bijaz shared the terrifying oracle. Did he share the oracle's fate, as well? How potent was the dwarf's power? Did he have the little prescience of those who dabbled in the Dune Tarot? Or was it something greater? How much had he seen?

    "Best you go," Dhuri said. "Bijaz is right."

    "Every minute we linger," Bijaz said, "prolongs... prolongs the present!"

    Every minute I linger defers my guilt, Paul thought. A worm's poisonous breath, its teeth dripping dust, had washed over him. It had happened long ago, but he inhaled the memory of it now - spice and bitterness. He could sense his own worm waiting - "the urn of the desert."

    "These are troubled times," he said, addressing himself to Otheym's judgment of their world.

    "Fremen know what to do in time of trouble," Dhuri said.

    Otheym contributed a shaky nod.

    Paul glanced at Dhuri. He'd not expected gratitude, would have been burdened by it more than he could bear, but Otheym's bitterness and the passionate resentment he saw in Dhuri's eyes shook his resolve. Was anything worth this price?

    "Delay serves no purpose," Dhuri said.

    "Do what you must, Usul." Otheym wheezed.

    Paul sighed. The words of the vision had been spoken. "There'll be an accounting," he said, to complete it. Turning, he strode from the room, heard Bijaz foot-slapping behind.

    "Bygones, bygones," Bijaz muttered as they went. "Let bygones fall where they may. This has been a dirty day."

    = = = = = =

    The convoluted wording of legalisms grew up around the necessity to hide from ourselves the violence we intend toward each other. Between depriving a man of one hour from his life and depriving him of his life there exists only a difference of degree. You have done violence to him, consumed his energy. Elaborate euphemisms may conceal your intent to kill, but behind any use of power over another the ultimate assumption remains: "I feed on your energy." -Addenda to Orders in Council The Emperor Paul Muad'dib

    First Moon stood high over the city as Paul, his shield activated and shimmering around him, emerged from the cul-de-sac. A wind off the massif whirled sand and dust down the narrow street, causing Bijaz to blink and shield his eyes.

    "We must hurry," the dwarf muttered. "Hurry! Hurry!"

    "You sense danger?" Paul asked, probing.

    "I know danger!"

    An abrupt sense of peril very near was followed almost immediately by a figure joining them out of a doorway.

    Bijaz crouched and whimpered.

    It was only Stilgar moving like a war machine, head thrust forward, feet striking the street solidly.

    Swiftly, Paul explained the value of the dwarf, handed Bijaz over to Stilgar. The pace of the vision moved here with great rapidity. Stilgar sped away with Bijaz. Security Guards enveloped Paul. Orders were given to send men down the street toward the house beyond Otheym's. The men hurried to obey, shadows among shadows.

    More sacrifices, Paul thought.

    "We want live prisoners," one of the guard officers hissed.

    The sound was a vision-echo in Paul's ears. It went with solid precision here - vision/reality, tick for tick. Ornithopters drifted down across the moon.

    The night was full of Imperial troopers attacking.

    A soft hiss grew out of the other sounds, climbed to a roar while they still heard the sibilance. It picked up a terra-cotta glow that hid the stars, engulfed the moon.

    Paul, knowing that sound and glow from the earliest nightmare glimpses of his vision, felt an odd sense of fulfillment. It went the way it must. "Stone burner!" someone screamed.

    "Stone burner!" The cry was all around him.

    "Stone burner... stone burner..."

    Because it was required of him, Paul threw a protective arm across his face, dove for the low lip of a curb. It already was too late, of course.

    Where Otheym's house had been there stood now a pillar of fire, a blinding jet roaring at the heavens. It gave off a dirty brilliance which threw into sharp relief every ballet movement of the fighting and fleeing men, the tipping retreat of ornithopters.

    For every member of this frantic throng it was too late.

    The ground grew hot beneath Paul. He heard the sound of running stop. Men threw themselves down all around him, every one of them aware that there was no point in running. The first damage had been done; and now they must wait out the extent of the stone burner's potency. The things's radiation, which no man could outrun, already had penetrated their flesh. The peculiar result of stone-burner radiation already was at work in them. What else this weapon might do now lay in the planning of the men who had used it, the men who had defied the Great Convention to use it.

    "God's... a stone burner," someone whimpered. "I... don't... want... to... be... blind."

    "Who does?" The harsh voice of a trooper far down the street

    "The Tleilaxu will sell many eyes here," someone near Paul growled. "Now, shut up and wait!"

    They waited.

    Paul remained silent, thinking what this weapon implied. Too much fuel in it and it'd cut its way into the planet's core. Dune's molten level lay deep, but the more dangerous for that. Such pressures released and out of control might split a planet, scattering lifeless bits and pieces through space.

    "I think it's dying down a bit," someone said.

    "It's just digging deeper," Paul cautioned. "Stay put, all of you. Stilgar will be sending help."

    "Stilgar got away?"

    "Stilgar got away."

    "The ground's hot," someone complained.

    "They dared use atomics!" a trooper near Paul protested.

    "The sound's diminishing," someone down the street said.

    Paul ignored the words, concentrated on his fingertips against the street. He could feel the rolling-rumbling of the thing - deep... deep...

    "My eyes!" someone cried. "I can't see!"

    Someone closer to it than I was, Paul thought. He still could see to the end of the cul-de-sac when he lifted his head, although there was a mistiness across the scene. A red-yellow glow filled the area where Otheym's house and its neighbor had been. Pieces of adjoining buildings made dark patterns as they crumbled into the glowing pit.

    Paul climbed to his feet. He felt the stone burner die, silence beneath him. His body was wet with perspiration against the stillsuit's slickness - too much for the suit to accommodate. The air he drew into his lungs carried the heat and sulfur stench of the burner.

    As he looked at the troopers beginning to stand up around him, the mist on Paul's eyes faded into darkness. He summoned up his oracular vision of these moments, then, turned and strode along the track that Time had carved for him, fitting himself into the vision so tightly that it could not escape. He felt himself grow aware of this place as a multitudinous possession, reality welded to prediction.

    Moans and groans of his troopers arose all around him as the men realized their blindness.

    "Hold fast!" Paul shouted. "Help is coming!" And, as the complaints persisted, he said: "This is Muad'dib! I command you to hold fast! Help comes!"

    Silence.

    Then, true to his vision, a nearby guardsman said: "Is it truly the Emperor? Which of you can see? Tell me."

    "None of us has eyes," Paul said. "They have taken my eyes, as well, but not my vision. I can see you standing there, a dirty wall within touching distance on your left. Now wait bravely. Stilgar comes with our friends."

    The thwock-thwock of many 'thopters grew louder all around. There was the sound of hurrying feet. Paul watched his friends come, matching their sounds to his oracular vision.

    "Stilgar!" Paul shouted, waving an arm. "Over here!"

    "Thanks to Shai-hulud," Stilgar cried, running up to Paul. "You're not... " In the sudden silence, Paul's vision showed him Stilgar staring with an expression of agony at the ruined eyes of his friend and Emperor. "Oh, m' Lord," Stilgar groaned. "Usul... Usul... Usul... "

    "What of the stone burner?" one of the newcomers shouted.

    "It's ended," Paul said, raising his voice. He gestured. "Get up there now and rescue the ones who were closest to it. Put up barriers. Lively now!" He turned back to Stilgar.
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