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Sandworms of Dune, Page 2

Frank Herbert

  Following a flurry of test skirmishes, the wall of robotic battleships had encountered and swiftly destroyed fringe outpost worlds settled by humans. Vanguard drones mapped out the planets ahead and distributed deadly biological plagues that Erasmus had developed; by the time the actual machine fleet arrived at a target world, military action was often unnecessary against a dying population. Each combat engagement, even clashes with isolated groups of Honored Matres, was equally decisive.

  To keep himself occupied, the independent robot reviewed the streams of data sent back to him. This was the part he enjoyed best. A buzzing watcheye flitted in front of him, and he brushed it away. "If you allow me to concentrate, Omnius, I may find some way to speed up our progress against the humans."

  "How do I know you will not make another mistake?"

  "Because you have confidence in my abilities."

  The watcheye flitted away.

  While the machine fleet crushed one human planet after another, Erasmus issued additional instructions for the invader robots. As the infected humans lay writhing, vomiting, and bleeding from their pores, machine scouts casually ransacked databases, halls of records, libraries, and other sources. This was different from the information to be winnowed from the random lives that Face Dancers had assimilated.

  With all the fresh data flowing in, Erasmus had the luxury of becoming a scientist again, as he had been long ago. The pursuit of scientific truth had always been his true reason for existence. Now the flood was greater than ever before. Glad to possess so much new information, so much undigested data, he gorged his elaborate mind on raw facts and histories.

  After the supposed destruction of thinking machines more than fifteen millennia earlier, the fecund humans had spread, building civilizations and destroying them. Erasmus was intrigued by how, after the Battle of Corrin, the Butler family had founded an empire and ruled it under the name of Corrino for ten thousand years, with a few gaps and interregnums, only to be overthrown by a fanatical leader named Muad'Dib.

  Paul Atreides. The first Kwisatz Haderach.

  A more fundamental change, however, had come from his son Leto II, called the God Emperor or Tyrant. Another Kwisatz Haderach--a unique hybrid of man and sandworm that had imposed a draconian rule for thirty-five hundred years. After his assassination, human civilization fragmented. Fleeing to the far reaches of the galaxy in the Scattering, people became hardened by their privations until the worst sort of humans--Honored Matres--had blundered into the burgeoning machine empire. . . .

  Another flitting watcheye scanned the same records Erasmus was reading. Omnius spoke through resonating plates in the walls. "I find their contradictions--posed as fact--to be unsettling."

  "Unsettling perhaps, but fascinating." Erasmus disengaged himself from the stacks of historical files. "Their histories show how they view themselves and the universe around them. Obviously, these humans need someone to take firm control again."

  Why is religion important? Because logic alone does not compel a person to make great sacrifices. Given sufficient religious fervor, however, people will throw themselves against impossible odds and consider themselves blessed for doing so.


  First Primer

  Two male workers appeared at the door of Murbella's coldly ostentatious council chambers during a tense meeting. Using suspensor clamps, they hauled a large, motionless robot between them. "Mother Commander? You asked for this to be delivered here."

  The combat machine was built from blue and black metal, reinforced with struts and overlapping armor. Its conical head contained a suite of sensors and targeting arrays, and four engine-driven arms were wrapped with cables and augmented with weapons. Damaged during a recent skirmish, the fighting robot had dark smears across its bulky torso where high-energy blasts had knocked out its internal processors. The robotic thing was shut down, dead, defeated. But even deactivated, it was cause for nightmares.

  Murbella's advisors, startled out of their discussions and arguments, stared at the big machine. All of the gathered women wore the plain black unitard of the New Sisterhood, following a code of homogenized dress that allowed no indication of their origins as either Bene Gesserit or Honored Matre.

  Murbella gestured to the intimidated-looking workers. "Bring that thing inside where we can see it every time we talk about the Enemy. It will do us good to be reminded of the adversary we're up against."

  Even with the suspensor clamps, the men sweated as they wrestled the machine into the room. Murbella strode to the bulky combat robot and stared with defiance up into its dull optic sensors. She glanced proudly at her daughter. "Bashar Idaho brought this specimen back from the battle at Duvalle."

  "It should be sent to the scrap heap. Or shot into space," said Kiria, a hard-edged former Honored Matre. "What if it still has passive spy programming?"

  "It's been thoroughly purged," said Janess Idaho. As the newly appointed commandant of the Sisterhood's military forces, she had become a very pragmatic young woman.

  "A trophy, Mother Commander?" asked Laera, a dark-skinned Reverend Mother who often quietly supported Murbella. "Or a prisoner of war?"

  "This is the only one our armies found intact. We blew up four machine ships before we retreated and let them destroy the planet behind us. They had already turned their plagues loose on Ronto and Pital, leaving no survivors. Total population losses number in the billions."

  Duvalle, Ronto, and Pital were just the latest casualties as the machine army continued its forward march through the outlying systems. Because of the distances involved and the sheer might of the attacking ships, reports were sketchy and often outdated. Refugees and couriers surged away from battle zones, heading inward from the fringes of the Scattering.

  Murbella turned her back on the deactivated robot and faced the Sisters. "Knowing that a tempest approaches, we have the option of simply evacuating--abandoning everything we have. That is the Honored Matre way."

  Some of the Sisters flinched at the comment. Long ago, Honored Matres had chosen to run from the Enemy, pillaging on their way out, hoping to stay one step ahead of the storm. To them, the Old Empire had been no more than a crude barricade to be thrown up against the Enemy; they had simply hoped it would last long enough for them to get away.

  "Or, we can board up our windows, strengthen our walls, and ride it out. And hope we survive."

  "This is no mere storm, Mother Commander," said Laera. "The repercussions are already being felt. Refugees fleeing the battlefront are overwhelming the support systems of second-wave worlds, all of which are preparing for evacuation as well. The people won't stand and fight."

  "Like waterlogged rats crowding to the corner of a sinking raft," Kiria muttered.

  "Says the Honored Matre, who did exactly the same," Janess said from the end of the table, then tried to cover her comment by loudly sipping her spice coffee. Kiria glared at her.

  "A shadow deep in our Honored Matre past," Murbella said. "Through hubris, and a violent predisposition to strike first and understand later, the whores caused all these problems." By digging deep into her mind and history, she had been the first to remember how her long-dead sisters had stupidly provoked the thinking machines.

  Kiria was indignant, clearly still associating herself with the Honored Matres. Murbella found it disturbing. "You yourself revealed why the Honored Matres are what they are, Mother Commander. Descended from tortured Tleilaxu females, rogue Reverend Mothers, and a few Fish Speakers. They had every right to be vengeful."

  "They had no right to be stupid!" Murbella snapped. "A painful past did not give them the right to lash out against anything they encountered. They couldn't salve their conscience by pretending they knew what they were doing when they attacked a machine outpost and stole weapons they didn't understand." She smiled slightly. "If anything, I can relate to--though not approve of--their revenge against the Tleilaxu worlds. In Other Memory I know what the Tleilaxu did to my ancestors . . . I reme
mber being one of their vile axlotl tanks. But make no mistake, that kind of provocative and poorly planned violence has caused immeasurable trouble for the human race. And now look what we face!"

  "How can we strengthen ourselves against this storm, Mother Commander?" The question came from ancient Accadia, a Reverend Mother who lived in the Chapterhouse Archives. Accadia hardly ever slept and rarely allowed sunlight to touch her parchment skin. "What defenses do we have?" The hulking combat robot seemed to mock them from the corner of the room, where the men had left it.

  "We have the weapon of religion. Especially Sheeana."

  "Sheeana is of no use to us!" Janess said. "Her followers believe she died on Rakis decades ago."

  The priests on Rakis had once made much of the girl who could command sandworms. The Bene Gesserit had created a grassroots religion around Sheeana, and the annihilation of Dune had only served the Sisterhood's greater purpose. After her supposed death, the rescued girl was isolated on Chapterhouse, so that one day she might "return from the grave" to great fanfare. But the real Sheeana had escaped with Duncan on the no-ship more than twenty years ago.

  "It's not necessary for us to have her, specifically. Simply find Sisters who resemble her and apply any necessary makeup and facial modifications." Murbella tapped fingers against her lips. "Yes, we shall begin with twelve new Sheeanas. Disperse them to the refugee worlds, since the displaced survivors will be our most impressionable recruits. The resurrected Sheeana will seem to appear everywhere at once--a messiah, a visionary, a leader."

  Laera spoke in an eminently reasonable voice. "Genetic tests will prove that these impostors are not Sheeana. Your plan will backfire once people see we have tried to trick them."

  Kiria had already thought of the obvious solution. "We can have Bene Gesserit doctors--Suk doctors--perform the tests . . . and lie for us."

  "Also, don't underestimate the greatest advantage we have." Murbella held out her hand like a mendicant asking for alms. "The people want to believe. For thousands of years, our Missionaria Protectiva wove religious beliefs among populations. Now we must use those techniques not just for our own protection, but as a functional weapon, a means of influencing armies. No longer passive and protective, but an active force. A Missionaria Aggressiva."

  The other women, especially Kiria, seemed to like the idea. Accadia scowled down at her Ridulian crystal sheets, as if trying to find profound answers written in the dense characters.

  Murbella flashed a defiant look at the combat robot. "The twelve Sheeanas will carry spice from our stockpiles. Each will distribute extravagant amounts of melange as she makes her pronouncements. She will say that Shaitan told her in a dream that spice would flow again soon. Though Rakis was burned as lifeless as Sodom and Gomorrah, many new Dunes will appear elsewhere. Sheeana will promise them this." Years ago, groups of Reverend Mothers had been sent out on a secret Scattering, taking ships and all-important sandtrout to seed additional planets and create more desert worlds for the sandworms.

  "False prophets and sightings of the messiah. It's been done before." Kiria sounded bored. "Explain how this will benefit us."

  Murbella shot her a calculated smile. "We take advantage of the superstitions that will run rampant. People believe they must endure a time of tribulation, a cycle as old as the most ancient religions, long before the First Great Movement or the Zensunni Hajj. So, we tailor that belief to our own uses. The thinking machines are the great evil we have to defeat before humanity can reap its reward."

  Turning to the aged mistress of the Archives, she said, "Accadia, read everything you can find about the Butlerian Jihad and how Serena Butler led her forces. The same for Paul Muad'Dib. We could even say that the Tyrant began to prepare us for this. Study his writings and take sections out of context to support our message, so the people will be convinced that this final universal conflict has been foretold all along: Kralizec. If they believe in the prophecies, they'll continue to fight long after any rational hope should be dashed."

  She motioned for the women to go about their tasks. "In the meantime, I have set up a meeting with the Ixians and the Guild. Since Richese is destroyed, I'll demand that they devote their manufacturing capabilities to our war effort. We need every scrap of resistance the human race can muster."

  As she was leaving, Accadia asked, "And what if those old prophecies prove to be correct? What if these truly are the End Times?"

  "Then our efforts are all the more justified. And we still fight. It's all we can do." Facing the robot, Murbella spoke to it as if the machine mind could still hear her. "And that's how we will defeat you."

  I am the keeper of private knowledge and uncounted secrets. You will never know what I know! I would pity you, if you were not an infidel.

  --Mirage in the Shariat Road,

  an apocryphal Tleilaxu writing

  In the enormous Guild Heighliner, no passengers ever guessed what the Navigator and his captive Tleilaxu Master were doing right under their noses.

  By holding melange supplies for ransom, the Bene Gesserit witches had backed the Spacing Guild into a corner and forced them to choose drastic alternatives. Facing extinction from spice starvation, the Navigator faction urged Waff to greater speed to complete his task. The Tleilaxu Master felt the need for haste as well, since he was facing extinction himself, though for different reasons.

  Turning his back on the observation lens, Waff surreptitiously consumed another dose of melange. The cinnamony powder had been provided strictly for scientific purposes. He touched the burning substance to his lips and tongue, closed his eyes in ecstasy. Such a small quantity--only a taste--was enough to buy a house on a colony world these days! The Tleilaxu man felt energy rush back into his ailing body. Edrik would not begrudge him this bit of melange to help him think straight.

  Normally, Tleilaxu Masters lived from body to body in a chain of ghola immortality. They had learned patience and long-term planning from the Great Belief. Had not God's Messenger himself lived for three and a half millennia? But forbidden techniques had accelerated this Waff's growth in the axlotl tank. The cells in his body burned through his existence like flames through a forest, sweeping him from infancy to childhood to maturity, in only a few years. Waff's memory restoration had been imperfect, bringing back only fragments of his past life and knowledge.

  Escaping the Honored Matres, Waff had been forced to take refuge with the Navigator faction. Since Edrik and his fellows had financed his ghola resurrection in the first place, why not beg them for sanctuary? Though the little man did not remember how to create melange with axlotl tanks, he claimed he could do the impossible--bring back the supposedly extinct sandworms. A much more spectacular and necessary solution.

  In the isolated Heighliner laboratory, Edrik had provided all of the research tools, technical equipment, and genetic raw material he could possibly need. Waff did as the Navigators demanded. Bringing back the magnificent worms that had been exterminated on Rakis offered the simultaneous possibilities of manufacturing spice, and of restoring his Prophet.

  I must do this! Failure is not an option.

  With his accelerated maturity, Waff would be at his peak--the best health, the sharpest mind--for only a short while longer. Before he began the inevitable rapid degeneration, he had much to accomplish. The tremendous responsibility prodded at him.

  Focus, focus!

  He climbed onto a stool and peered into a plaz-walled containment tank full of sand from Rakis itself. Dune. Because of the planet's religious significance, pilgrims who could not afford the interplanetary passage contented themselves with relics, fragments of stone chipped from the ruins of Muad'Dib's original palace or scraps of spice cloth embroidered with the sayings of Leto II. Even the poorest of devout followers wanted a sample of Rakian sand, so that they could dust their fingertips and imagine themselves closer to the Divided God. The Navigators had acquired hundreds of cubic meters of authentic Rakian sand. Though it was doubtful that the origin of the grai
ns would have any effect on the sandworm tests, Waff preferred to remove any stray variables.

  He leaned over the open tank, filled his mouth with saliva, and let a long droplet splatter onto the soft sand. Like piranhas in an aquarium, shapes stirred beneath the surface, swirling to seize the invading moisture. In another place long ago, spitting--sharing one's personal water--had been a sign of respect among the Fremen. Waff used it to bring sandtrout to the surface.

  Little makers. Sandtrout specimens, far more precious even than the sand of Dune.

  Years ago, the Guild had intercepted a secret Bene Gesserit ship carrying sandtrout in its hold. When the witches aboard refused to explain their mission, they were all killed, their sandtrout seized, and Chapterhouse had been none the wiser.

  Learning that the Guild possessed some of the immature sandworm vectors, Waff demanded them for his work. Though he could not remember how to create melange in an axlotl tank, this experiment had much greater potential. By resurrecting the worms, he could not only bring back spice, but the Prophet himself!

  Unafraid of the sandtrout, he reached into the aquarium with a small hand. Grabbing one of the leathery creatures by its fringe, he pulled it flopping out of the sand. Sensing the moisture in Waff's perspiration, the sandtrout wrapped itself around his fingers, palm, and knuckles. He poked and prodded the soft surface, reshaping the edges.

  "Little sandtrout, what secrets do you have for me?" He formed a fist, and the creature flowed around it to form a jellylike glove. He could feel his skin drying out.

  Carrying the sandtrout, Waff went to a clean research table and set out a wide, deep pan. He tried to unwrap the sandtrout from his knuckles, but each time he moved the membrane it flowed back onto his skin. Feeling the desiccation in his hand now, he poured a beaker of fresh water into the bottom of the pan. The sandtrout, attracted by a larger supply, quickly plopped into it.