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The Dosadi Experiment

Frank Herbert

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  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Notice

  Tor Books by Frank Herbert


  Teaser chapter

  Copyright Page

  “Herbert is one of the most thought-provoking writers of our time; by focusing on ‘alien’ culture, he makes us examine what the true definition of ‘human’ is.”

  —The Pacific Sun


  “We will not allow them to leave,” Aritch said.

  “Law forbids it. Our Caleban encloses the planet in a tempokinetic barrier—a God Wall which the test subjects cannot penetrate.”

  “Why?” McKie asked.

  “We will destroy the entire planet rather than loose this population on the ConSentiency.”

  “What are the people of Dosadi that you’d even contemplate such a thing?”

  Aritch shuddered. “We have created a monster.”

  In memory of Babe because she knew how to enjoy life.

  Justice belongs to those who claim it, but let the claimant beware lest he create new injustice by his claim and thus set the bloody pendulum of revenge into its inexorable motion.

  —Gowachin aphorism

  “Why are you so cold and mechanical in your Human relationships?”

  Jorj X. McKie was to reflect on that Caleban question later. Had she been trying to alert him to the Dosadi Experiment and to what his investigation of that experiment might do to him? He hadn’t even known about Dosadi at the time and the pressures of the Caleban communications trance, the accusatory tone she took, had precluded other considerations.

  Still, it rankled. He didn’t like the feeling that he might be a subject of her research into Humans. He’d always thought of that particular Caleban as his friend—if one could consider being friendly with a creature whose visible manifestation in this universe was a fourth-magnitude yellow sun visible from Central Central where the Bureau of Sabotage maintained its headquarters. And there was inevitable discomfort in Caleban communication. You sank into a trembling, jerking trance while they made their words appear in your consciousness.

  But his uncertainty remained: had she tried to tell him something beyond the plain content of her words?

  When the weather makers kept the evening rain period short, McKie liked to go outdoors immediately afterward and stroll in the park enclosure which BuSab provided for its employees on Central Central. As a Saboteur Extraordinary, McKie had free run of the enclosure and he liked the fresh smells of the place after a rain.

  The park covered about thirty hectares, deep in a well of Bureau buildings. It was a scrambling hodgepodge of plantings cut by wide paths which circled and twisted through specimens from every inhabited planet of the known universe. No care had been taken to provide a particular area for any sentient species. If there was any plan to the park it was a maintenance plan with plants requiring similar conditions and care held in their own sectors. Giant Spear Pines from Sasak occupied a knoll near one corner surrounded by mounds of Flame Briar from Rudiria. There were bold stretches of lawn and hidden scraps of lawn, and some flat stretches of greenery which were not lawns at all but mobile sheets of predatory leaf imprisoned behind thin moats of caustic water.

  Rain-jeweled flowers often held McKie’s attention to the exclusion of all else. There was a single planting of Lilium Grossa, its red blossoms twice his height casting long shadows over a wriggling carpet of blue Syringa, each miniature bloom opening and closing at random like tiny mouths gasping for air.

  Sometimes, floral perfumes stopped his progress and held him in a momentary olfactory thralldom while his eyes searched out the source. As often as not, the plant would be a dangerous one—a flesh eater or poison-sweat variety. Warning signs in flashing Galach guarded such plantings. Sonabarriers, moats, and force fields edged the winding paths in many areas.

  McKie had a favorite spot in the park, a bench with its back to a fountain where he could sit and watch the shadows collect across fat yellow bushes from the floating islands of Tandaloor. The yellow bushes thrived because their roots were washed in running water hidden beneath the soil and renewed by the fountain. Beneath the yellow bushes there were faint gleams of phosphorescent silver enclosed by a force field and identified by a low sign:

  “Sangeet Mobilus, a blood-sucking perennial from Bisaj. Extreme danger to all sentient species. Do not intrude any portion of your body beyond the force field.”

  As he sat on the bench, McKie thought about that sign. The universe often mixed the beautiful and the dangerous. This was a deliberate mixture in the park. The yellow bushes, the fragrant and benign Golden Iridens, had been mingled with Sangeet Mobilus. The two supported each other and both thrived. The ConSentient government which McKie served often made such mixtures … sometimes by accident.

  Sometimes by design.

  He listened to the splashing of the fountain while the shadows thickened and the tiny border lights came on along the paths. The tops of the buildings beyond the park became a palette where the sunset laid out its final display of the day.

  In that instant, the Caleban contact caught him and he felt his body slip into the helpless communications trance. The mental tendrils were immediately identified—Fannie Mae. And he thought, as he often had, what an improbable name that was for a star entity. He heard no sounds, but his hearing centers responded as to spoken words, and the inward glow was unmistakable. It was Fannie Mae, her syntax far more sophisticated than during their earliest encounters.

  “You admire one of us,” she said, indicating his attention on the sun which had just set beyond the buildings.

  “I try not to think of any star as a Caleban,” he responded. “It interferes with my awareness of the natural beauty.”

  “Natural? McKie, you don’t understand your own awareness, nor even how you employ it!”

  That was her beginning—accusatory, attacking, unlike any previous contact with this Caleban he’d thought of as friend. And she employed her verb forms with new deftness, almost as though showing off, parading her understanding of his language.

  “What do you want, Fannie Mae?”

  “I consider your relationships with females of your species. You have entered marriage relationships which number more than fifty. Not so?”

  “That’s right. Yes. Why do you …”

  “I am your friend, McKie. What is your feeling toward me?”

  He thought about that. There was a demanding intensity in her question. He owed his life to this Caleban with an improbable name. For that matter, she owed her life to him. Together, they’d resolved the Whipping Star threat. Now, many Calebans provided the jumpdoors by which other beings moved in a single step from planet to planet, but once Fannie Mae had held all of those jumpdoor threads, her life threatened through the odd honor code by which Calebans maintained their contractual obligations. And McKie had saved her life. He had but to think about their past interdependence and a warm sense of camaraderie suffused him.

  Fannie Mae sensed this.

  “Yes, McKie, that is friendship, is love. Do you possess this feeling toward Human female comp

  Her question angered him. Why was she prying? His private sexual relationships were no concern of hers!

  “Your love turns easily to anger,” she chided.

  “There are limits to how deeply a Saboteur Extraordinary can allow himself to be involved with anyone.”

  “Which came first, McKie—the Saboteur Extraordinary or these limits?”

  Her response carried obvious derision. Had he chosen the Bureau because he was incapable of warm relationships? But he really cared for Fannie Mae! He admired her … and she could hurt him because he admired her and felt … felt this way.

  He spoke out of his anger and hurt.

  “Without the Bureau there’d be no ConSentiency and no need for Calebans.”

  “Yes, indeed. People have but to look at a dread agent from BuSab and know fear.”

  It was intolerable, but he couldn’t escape the underlying warmth he felt toward this strange Caleban entity, this being who could creep unguarded into his mind and talk to him as no other being dared. If only he had found a woman to share that kind of intimacy …

  And this was the part of their conversation which came back to haunt him. After months with no contact between them, why had she chosen that moment—just three days before the Dosadi crisis burst upon the Bureau? She’d pulled out his ego, his deepest sense of identity. She’d shaken that ego and then she’d skewered him with her barbed question:

  “Why are you so cold and mechanical in your Human relationships?”

  Her irony could not be evaded. She’d made him appear ridiculous in his own eyes. He could feel warmth, yes … even love, for a Caleban but not for a Human female. This unguarded feeling he held for Fannie Mae had never been directed at any of his marital companions. Fannie Mae had aroused his anger, then reduced his anger to verbal breast-beating, and finally to silent hurt. Still, the love remained.


  Human females were bed partners. They were bodies which used him and which he used. That was out of the question with this Caleban. She was a star burning with atomic fires, her seat of consciousness unimaginable to other sentients. Yet, she could extract love from him. He gave this love freely and she knew it. There was no hiding an emotion from a Caleban when she sent her mental tendrils into your awareness.

  She’d certainly known he would see the irony. That had to be part of her motive in such an attack. But Calebans seldom acted from a single motive—which was part of their charm and the essence of their most irritant exchanges with other sentient beings.

  “McKie?” Softly in his mind.

  “Yes.” Angry.

  “I show you now a fractional bit of my feeling toward your node.”

  Like a balloon being inflated by a swift surge of gas, he felt himself suffused by a projected sense of concern, of caring. He was drowning in it … wanted to drown in it. His entire body radiated this white-hot sense of protective attention. For a whole minute after it was withdrawn, he still glowed with it.

  A fractional bit?

  “McKie?” Concerned.

  “Yes.” Awed.

  “Have I hurt you?”

  He felt alone, emptied.


  “The full extent of my nodal involvement would destroy you. Some Humans have suspected this about love.”

  Nodal involvement?

  She was confusing him as she’d done in their first encounters. How could the Calebans describe love as … nodal involvement?

  “Labels depend on viewpoint,” she said. “You look at the universe through too narrow an opening. We despair of you sometimes.”

  There she was again, attacking.

  He fell back on a childhood platitude.

  “I am what I am and that’s all I am.”

  “You may soon learn, friend McKie, that you’re more than you thought.”

  With that, she’d broken the contact. He’d awakened in damp, chilly darkness, the sound of the fountain loud in his ears. Nothing he did would bring her back into communication, not even when he’d spent some of his own credits on a Taprisiot in a vain attempt to call her.

  His Caleban friend had shut him out.

  We have created a monster—enormously valuable and even useful yet extremely dangerous. Our monster is both beautiful and terrifying. We do not dare use this monster to its full potential, but we cannot release our grasp upon it.

  —Gowachin assessment of the Dosadi Experiment

  A bullet went spang! against the window behind Keila Jedrik’s desk, ricocheted and screamed off into the canyon street far below her office. Jedrik prided herself that she had not even flinched. The Elector’s patrols would take care of the sniper. The patrols which swept the streets of Chu every morning would home on the sound of the shot. She held the casual hope that the sniper would escape back to the Rim Rabble, but she recognized this hope as a weakness and dismissed it. There were concerns this morning far more important than an infiltrator from the Rim.

  Jedrik reached one hand into the corner of early sunlight which illuminated the contact plates of her terminal in the Master Accountancy computer. Those flying fingers—she could almost disassociate herself from them. They darted like insects at the waiting keys. The terminal was a functional instrument, symbol of her status as a Senior Liaitor. It sat all alone in its desk slot—grey, green, gold, black, white and deadly. Its grey screen was almost precisely the tone of her desk top.

  With careful precision, her fingers played their rhythms on the keys. The screen produced yellow numbers, all weighted and averaged at her command—a thin strip of destiny with violence hidden in its golden shapes.

  Every angel carries a sword, she thought.

  But she did not really consider herself an angel or her weapon a sword. Her real weapon was an intellect hardened and sharpened by the terrible decisions her planet required. Emotions were a force to be diverted within the self or to be used against anyone who had failed to learn what Dosadi taught. She knew her own weakness and hid it carefully: she’d been taught by loving parents (who’d concealed their love behind exquisite cruelty) that Dosadi’s decisions were indeed terrible.

  Jedrik studied the numbers on her computer display, cleared the screen and made a new entry. As she did this, she knew she took sustenance from fifty of her planet’s Human inhabitants. Many of those fifty would not long survive this callous jape. In truth, her fingers were weapons of death for those who failed this test. She felt no guilt about those she slew. The imminent arrival of one Jorj X. McKie dictated her actions, precipitated them.

  When she thought about McKie, her basic feeling was one of satisfaction. She’d waited for McKie like a predator beside a burrow in the earth. His name and identifying keys had been given to her by her chauffeur, Havvy, hoping to increase his value to her. She’d taken the information and made her usual investigation. Jedrik doubted that any other person on Dosadi could have come up with the result her sources produced: Jorj X. McKie was an adult Human who could not possibly exist. No record of him could be found on all of Dosadi—not on the poisonous Rim, not in Chu’s Warrens, not in any niche of the existing power structure. McKie did not exist, but he was due to arrive in Chu momentarily, smuggled into the city by a Gowachin temporarily under her control.

  McKie was the precision element for which she had waited. He wasn’t merely a possible key to the God Wall (not a bent and damaged key like Havvy) but clean and certain. She’d never thought to attack this lock with poor instruments. There’d be one chance and only one; it required the best.

  Thus fifty Dosadi Humans took their faceless places behind the numbers in her computer. Bait, expendable. Those who died by this act wouldn’t die immediately. Forty-nine might never know they’d been deliberately submitted to early death by her deliberate choice. Some would be pushed back to the Rim’s desperate and short existence. Some would die in the violent battles she was precipitating. Others would waste away in the Warrens. For most, the deadly process would extend across sufficient time
to conceal her hand in it. But they’d been slain in her computer and she knew it. She cursed her parents (and the others before them) for this unwanted sensitivity to the blood and sinew behind these computer numbers. Those loving parents had taught her well. She might never see the slain bodies, need give not another thought to all but one of the fifty; still she sensed them behind her computer display … warm and pulsing.

  Jedrik sighed. The fifty were bleating animals staked out to lure a special beast onto Dosadi’s poisonous soil. Her fifty would create a fractional surplus which would vanish, swallowed before anyone realized their purpose.

  Dosadi is sick, she thought. And not for the first time, she wondered: Is this really Hell?

  Many believed it.

  We’re being punished.

  But no one knew what they’d done to deserve punishment.

  Jedrik leaned back, looked across her doorless office to the sound barrier and milky light of the hall. A strange Gowachin shambled past her doorway. He was a frog figure on some official errand, a packet of brown paper clutched in his knobby hands. His green skin shimmered as though he’d recently come from water.

  The Gowachin reminded her of Bahrank, he who was bringing McKie into her net, Bahrank who did her bidding because she controlled the substance to which he was addicted. More fool he to let himself become an addict to anything, even to living. One day soon Bahrank would sell what he knew about her to the Elector’s spies; by then it would be too late and the Elector would learn only what she wanted him to learn when she wanted him to learn it. She’d chosen Bahrank with the same care she’d used at her computer terminal, the same care which had made her wait for someone precisely like McKie. And Bahrank was Gowachin. Once committed to a project, the frog people were notorious for carrying out their orders in a precise way. They possessed an inbred sense of order but understood the limits of law.

  As her gaze traversed the office, the sparse and functional efficiency of the space filled her with quiet amusement. This office presented an image of her which she had constructed with meticulous care. It pleased her that she would be leaving here soon never to return, like an insect shedding its skin. The office was four paces wide, eight long. Twelve black metal rotofiles lined the wall on her left, dark sentinels of her methodical ways. She had reset their locking codes and armed them to destroy their contents when the Elector’s toads pried into them. The Elector’s people would attribute this to outrage, a last angry sabotage. It would be some time before accumulating doubts would lead them to reassessment and to frustrated questions. Even then they might not suspect her hand in the elimination of fifty Humans. She, after all, was one of the fifty.