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  • Home > Frank Herbert > Dune Series > Dune Messiah (Chapter Twenty-three)     
  • Dune Messiah(Dune Series #2)(23) by Frank Herbert
  • "It'll shred the flesh from your bones," he said, as though he needed to explain such a storm to her.

    Her fear of him dispelled by his obvious concern, Chani allowed the ghola to help her up the rock stairway to the sietch. They entered the twisting baffle which protected the entrance. Attendants opened the moisture seals, closed them behind.

    Sietch odors assaulted her nostrils. The place was a ferment of nasal memories - the warren closeness of bodies, rank esters of the reclamation stills, familiar food aromas, the flinty burning of machines at work... and through it all, the omnipresent spice: melange everywhere.

    She took a deep breath. "Home."

    The ghola took his hand from her arm, stood aside, a patient figure now, almost as though turned off when not in use. Yet... he watched.

    Chani hesitated in the entrance chamber, puzzled by something she could not name. This was truly her home. As a child, she'd hunted scorpions here by glowglobe light. Something was changed, though...

    "Shouldn't you be going to your quarters, m'Lady?" the ghola asked.

    As though ignited by his words, a rippling birth constriction seized her abdomen. She fought against revealing it.

    "M'Lady?" the ghola said.

    "Why is Paul afraid for me to bear our children?" she asked.

    "It is a natural thing to fear for your safety," the ghola said.

    She put a hand to her cheek where the sand had reddened it. "And he doesn't fear for the children?"

    "M'Lady, he cannot think of a child without remembering that your firstborn was slain by the Sardaukar."

    She studied the ghola - flat face, unreadable mechanical eyes. Was he truly Duncan Idaho, this creature? Was he friend to anyone? Had he spoken truthfully now?

    "You should be with the medics," the ghola said.

    Again, she heard the fear for her safety in his voice. She felt abruptly that her mind lay undefended, ready to be invaded by shocking perceptions.

    "Hayt, I'm afraid," she whispered. "Where is my Usul?"

    "Affairs of state detain him," the ghola said.

    She nodded, thinking of the government apparatus which had accompanied them in a great flight of ornithopters. Abruptly, she realized what puzzled her about the sietch: outworld odors. The clerks and aides had brought their own perfumes into this environment, aromas of diet and clothing, of exotic toiletries. They were an undercurrent of odors here.

    Chani shook herself, concealing an urge to bitter laughter. Even the smells changed in Muad'dib's presence!

    "There were pressing matters which he could not defer," the ghola said, misreading her hesitation.

    "Yes... yes, I understand. I came with that swarm, too."

    Recalling the flight from Arrakeen, she admitted to herself now that she had not expected to survive it. Paul had insisted on piloting his own 'thopter. Eyeless, he had guided the machine here. After that experience, she knew nothing he did could surprise her.

    Another pain fanned out through her abdomen.

    The ghola saw her indrawn breath, the tightening of her cheeks, said: "Is it your time?"

    "I... yes, it is."

    "You must not delay," he said. He grasped her arm, hurried her down the hall.

    She sensed panic in him, said: "There's time."

    He seemed not to hear. "The Zensunni approach to birth," he said, urging her even faster, "is to wait without purpose in the state of highest tension. Do not compete with what is happening. To compete is to prepare for failure. Do not be trapped by the need to achieve anything. This way, you achieve everything."

    While he spoke, they reached the entrance to her quarters. He thrust her through the hangings, cried out: "Harah! Harah! It is Chani's time. Summon the medics!"

    His call brought attendants running. There was a great bustling of people in which Chani felt herself an isolated island of calm... until the next pain came.

    Hayt, dismissed to the outer passage, took time to wonder at his own actions. He felt fixated at some point of time where all truths were only temporary. Panic lay beneath his actions, he realized. Panic centered not on the possibility that Chani might die, but that Paul should come to him afterward... filled with grief... his loved one... gone... gone...

    Something cannot emerge from nothing, the ghola told himself. From what does this panic emerge?

    He felt that his mentat faculties had been dulled, let out a long, shuddering breath. A psychic shadow passed over him. In the emotional darkness of it, he felt himself waiting for some absolute sound - the snap of a branch in a jungle.

    A sigh shook him. Danger had passed without striking.

    Slowly, marshaling his powers, shedding bits of inhibition, he sank into mentat awareness. He forced it - not the best way - but somehow necessary. Ghost shadows moved within him in place of people. He was a transshipping station for every datum he had ever encountered. His being was inhabited by creatures of possibility. They passed in review to be compared, judged.

    Perspiration broke out on his forehead.

    Thoughts with fuzzy edges feathered away into darkness - unknown. Infinite systems! A mentat could not function without realizing he worked in infinite systems. Fixed knowledge could not surround the infinite. Everywhere could not be brought into finite perspective. Instead, he must become the infinite - momentarily.

    In one gestalten spasm, he had it, seeing Bijaz seated before him blazing from some inner fire.


    The dwarf had done something to him!

    Hayt felt himself teetering on the lip of a deadly pit. He projected the mentat computation line forward, seeing what could develop out of his own actions.

    "A compulsion!" he gasped. "I've been rigged with a compulsion!"

    A blue-robed courier, passing as Hayt spoke, hesitated. "Did you say something, sirra?"

    Not looking at him, the ghola nodded. "I said everything."

    = = = = = =

    There was a man so wise, He jumped into A sandy place And burnt out both his eyes! And when he knew his eyes were gone, He offered no complaint. He summoned up a vision And made himself a saint. -Children's Verse from History of Muad'dib

    Paul stood in darkness outside the sietch. Oracular vision told him it was night, that moonlight silhouetted the shrine atop Chin Rock high on his left. This was a memory-saturated place, his first sietch, where he and Chani...

    I must not think of Chani, he told himself.

    The thinning cup of his vision told him of changes all around - a cluster of palms far down to the right, the black-silver line of a qanat carrying water through the dunes piled up by that morning's storm.

    Water flowing in the desert! He recalled another kind of water flowing in a river of his birthworld, Caladan. He hadn't realized then the treasure of such a flow, even the murky slithering in a qanat across a desert basin. Treasure.

    With a delicate cough, an aide came up from behind.

    Paul held out his hands for a magnabord with a single sheet of metallic paper on it. He moved as sluggishly as the qanat's water. The vision flowed, but he found himself increasingly reluctant to move with it.

    "Pardon, Sire," the aide said. "The Semboule Treaty - your signature?"

    "I can read it!" Paul snapped. He scrawled "Atreides Imper." in the proper place, returned the board, thrusting it directly into the aide's outstretched hand, aware of the fear this inspired.

    The man fled.

    Paul turned away. Ugly, barren land! He imagined it sun-soaked and monstrous with heat, a place of sandslides and the drowned darkness of dust pools, blowdevils unreeling tiny dunes across the rocks, their narrow bellies full of ochre crystals. But it was a rich land, too: big, exploding out of narrow places with vistas of storm-trodden emptiness, rampart cliffs and tumbledown ridges.

    All it required was water... and love.

    Life changed those irascible wastes into shapes of grace and movement, he thought. That was the message of the desert. Contrast stunned him with realization. He wanted to turn to the aides massed in the sietch entrance, shout at them: If you need something to worship, then worship life - all life, every last crawling bit of it! We're all in this beauty together!

    They wouldn't understand. In the desert, they were endlessly desert. Growing things performed no green ballet for them.

    He clenched his fists at his sides, trying to halt the vision. He wanted to flee from his own mind. It was a beast come to devour him! Awareness lay in him, sodden, heavy with all the living it had sponged up, saturated with too many experiences.

    Desperately, Paul squeezed his thoughts outward.


    Awareness turned over at the thought of all those stars above him - an infinite volume. A man must be half mad to imagine he could rule even a teardrop of that volume. He couldn't begin to imagine the number of subjects his Imperium claimed.

    Subjects? Worshippers and enemies, more likely. Did any among them see beyond rigid beliefs? Where was one man who'd escaped the narrow destiny of his prejudices? Not even an Emperor escaped. He'd lived a 'take everything' life, tried to create a universe in his own image. But the exultant universe was breaking across him at last with its silent waves.

    I spit on Dune! he thought. I give it my moisture!

    This myth he'd made out of intricate movements and imagination, out of moonlight and love, out of prayers older than Adam, and gray cliffs and crimson shadows, laments and rivers of martyrs - what had it come to at last? When the waves receded, the shores of Time would spread out there clean, empty, shining with infinite grains of memory and little else. Was this the golden genesis of man?

    Sand scuffed against rocks told him that the ghola had joined him.

    "You've been avoiding me today, Duncan," Paul said.

    "It's dangerous for you to call me that," the ghola said.

    "I know."

    "I... came to warn you, m'Lord."

    "I know."

    The story of the compulsion Bijaz had put on him poured from the ghola then.

    "Do you know the nature of the compulsion?" Paul asked.


    Paul felt himself arriving at a place which had claimed him from the beginning. He stood suspended. The Jihad had seized him, fixed him onto a glidepath from which the terrible gravity of the Future would never release him.

    "There'll be no violence from Duncan," Paul whispered.

    "But, Sire... "

    "Tell me what you see around us," Paul said.


    "The desert - how is it tonight?"

    "Don't you see it?"

    "I have no eyes, Duncan."

    "But... "

    "I've only my vision," Paul said, "and wish I didn't have it. I'm dying of prescience, did you know that, Duncan?"

    "Perhaps... what you fear won't happen," the ghola said.

    "What? Deny my own oracle? How can I when I've seen it fulfilled thousands of time? People call it a power, a gift. It's an affliction! It won't let me leave my life where I found it!"

    "M'Lord," the ghola muttered, "I... it isn't... young master, you don't... I... " He fell silent.

    Paul sensed the ghola's confusion, said: "What'd you call me, Duncan?"

    "What? What I... for a moment..."

    "You called me 'young master.' "

    "I did, yes."

    "That's what Duncan always called me." Paul reached out, touched the ghola's face. "Was that part of your Tleilaxu training?"


    Paul lowered his hand. "What, then?"

    "It came from... me."

    "Do you serve two masters?"

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