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The Book of Frank Herbert, Page 2

Frank Herbert

  Kroudar wondered if the planners had known this thing about her which gave him such warmth—her strength and fecundity. She had chosen him, and now she carried more of their children—twins again.

  “Ahhh, my fisherman is home,” she said, embracing him in the doorway for anybody to see.

  They went inside then, closed the door, and she held him with more ardor, stared up into his face which, reflected in her eyes, lost some of its ugliness. “Honida,” he said, unable to find other words. Presently, he asked about the boys. “They’re asleep,” she said, leading him to the crude trestle table he had built for their kitchen.

  He nodded. Later, he would go in and stare at his sons. It did not bother him that they slept so much. He could feel the reasons for this somewhere within himself.

  Honida had hot trodi soup waiting for him on the table. It was spiced with hydroponic tomatoes and peas and contained other things which he knew she gathered from the land without telling the scientists.

  Whatever she put in front of him, Kroudar ate. There was bread tonight with an odd musty flavor which he found pleasant. In the light of the single lamp they were permitted for this room, he stared at a piece of the bread. It was almost purple—like the sea. He chewed it, swallowed, Honida, watchfully eating across from him, finished her bread and soup, asked: “Do you like the bread?”

  “I like it.”

  “I made it myself in the coals,” she said.

  He nodded, took another slice.

  Honida refilled his soup bowl.

  They were privileged, Kroudar realized, to have this privacy for their meals. Many of the others had opted for communal cooking and eating—even among the technicians and higher echelons who possessed more freedom of choice. Honida had seen something about this place, though, which required secrecy and going private ways.

  Kroudar, hunger satisfied, stared across the table at her. He adored her with a devotion that went far deeper than the excitement of her flesh. He could not say the thing she was, but he knew it. If they were to have a future here, that future was in Honida and the things he might learn, form and construct of himself with his own flesh.

  Under the pressure of his eyes, Honida arose, came around the table and began massaging the muscles of his back—the very muscles he used to haul the nets.

  “You’re tired,” she said. “Was it difficult out there today?”

  “Hard work,” Kroudar said.

  He admired the way she spoke. She had many words at her disposal. He had heard her use some of them during colony meetings and during the time of their application for mating choice. She had words for things he did not know, and she knew also when to speak with her body rather than with her mouth. She knew about the muscles of his back.

  Kroudar felt such a love for her then that he wondered if it went up through her fingers into her body.

  “We filled the boats,” he said.

  “I was told today that we’ll soon need more storage huts,” she said. “They’re worried about sparing the labor for the building.”

  “Ten more huts,” he said.

  She would pass that word along, he knew. Somehow, it would be done. The other technicians listened to Honida. Many among the scientists scoffed at her; it could be heard beneath the blandness of their voices. Perhaps it was because she had chosen Kroudar for mate. But technicians listened. The huts would be built.

  And they would be filled before the trodi run stopped.

  Kroudar realized then that he knew when the run would stop, not as a date, but almost as a physical thing which he could reach out and touch. He longed for the words to explain this to Honida.

  She gave his back a final kneading, sat down beside him and leaned her dark head against his chest. “If you’re not too tired,” she said, “I have something to show you.”

  With a feeling of surprise, Kroudar became aware of unspoken excitement in Honida. Was it something about the hydroponic gardens where she worked? His thoughts went immediately to that place upon which the scientists pinned their hopes, the place where they chose the tall plants, the beautiful, engorged with richness from Mother Earth. Had they achieved something important at last? Was there, after all, a clear way to make this place arable?

  Kroudar was a primitive then wanting his gods redeemed. He found himself full of peasant hopes for the land. Even a sea peasant knew the value of land.

  He and Honida had responsibilities, though. He nodded questioningly toward the twins’ bedroom.

  “I arranged…” She gestured toward their neighbor’s cubicle. “They will listen.”

  She had planned this, then. Kroudar stood up, held out his hand for her. “Show me.”

  They went out into the night. Their town was quieter now; he could hear the distant roistering of the river. For a moment, he thought he heard a cricket, but reason told him it could only be one of the huts cooling in the night. He longed wordlessly for a moon.

  Honida had brought one of the rechargeable electric torches, the kind issued to technicians against emergency calls in the night. Seeing that torch, Kroudar sensed a deeper importance in this mysterious thing she wanted to show him. Honida had the peasant’s hoarding instinct. She would not waste such a torch.

  Instead of leading him toward the green lights and glass roofs of the hydroponic gardens, though, she guided their steps in the opposite direction toward the deep gorge where the river plunged into the harbor.

  There were no guards along the footpath, only an occasional stone marker and grotesqueries of native growth. Swiftly, without speaking, she led him to the gorge and the narrow path which he knew went only down to a ledge which jutted into the damp air of the river’s spray.

  Kroudar found himself trembling with excitement as he followed Honida’s shadowy figure, the firefly darting of her light. It was cold on the ledge and the alien outline of native trees revealed by the torch filled Kroudar with disquiet.

  What had Honida discovered—or created?

  Condensation dripped from the plants here. The river noise was loud. It was marsh air he breathed, dank and filled with bizarre odors.

  Honida stopped, and Kroudar held his breath. He listened. There was only the river.

  For a moment, he didn’t realize that Honida was directing the orange light of the torch at her discovery. It looked like one of the native plants—a thing with a thick stem crouched low to the land, gnarled and twisted, bulbous yellow-green protrusions set with odd spacing along its length.

  Slowly, realization came over him. He recognized a darker tone in the green, the way the leaf structures were joined to the stalk, a bunching of brown-yellow silk drooping from the bulbous protrusions. “Maize,” he whispered.

  In a low voice, pitching her explanation to Kroudar’s vocabulary, Honida explained what she had done. He saw it in her words, understood why she had done this thing stealthily, here away from the scientists. He took the light from her, crouched, stared with rapt attention. This meant the death of those things the scientists held beautiful. It ended their plan for this place.

  Kroudar could see his own descendants in this plant. They might develop bulbous heads, hairless, wide thick-lipped mouths. Their skins might become purple. They would be short statured; he knew that.

  Honida had assured this—right here on the river-drenched ledge. Instead of selecting seed from the tallest, the straightest stalks, the ones with the longest and most perfect ears—the ones most like those from Mother Earth—she had tested her maize almost to destruction. She had chosen sickly, scrawny plants, ones barely able to produce seed. She had taken only those plants which this place influenced most deeply. From these, she had selected finally a strain which lived here as native plants lived. This was native maize.

  She broke off an ear, peeled back the husk.

  There were gaps in the seed rows and, when she squeezed a kernel, the juice ran purple. He recognized the smell of the bread.

  Here was the thing the scientists would not admit. They wer
e trying to make this place into another Earth. But it was not and it could never be. The falcons had been the first among their creatures to discover this, he suspected.

  The statement Honida made here was that she and Kroudar would be short-lived. Their children would be sickly by Mother Earth’s standards. Their descendants would change in ways that defied the hopes of those who had planned this migration. The scientists would hate this and try to stop it.

  This gnarled stalk of maize said the scientists would fail.

  For a long while, Kroudar crouched there, staring into the future until the torch began to dim, losing its charge. He aroused himself then, led the way back out of the gorge.

  At the top, with the lights of their dying civilization visible across the plain, he stopped, said: “The trodi run will stop… soon. I will take one boat and… friends. We will go out where the falcons go.”

  It was one of the longest speeches he had ever made.

  She took the light from his hand, extinguished it, pressed herself against him.

  “What do you think the falcons have found?”

  “The seed,” he said.

  He shook his head. He could not explain it, but the thing was there in his awareness. Everything here exuded poisonous vapors, or juices in which only its own seed could live. Why should the trodi or any other sea creature be different? And, with the falcons as evidence, the seed must be slightly less poisonous to the intruders from Mother Earth.

  “The boats are slow,” she said.

  He agreed silently. A storm could trap them too far out for a run to safety. It would be dangerous. But he heard also in her voice that she was not trying to stop him or dissuade him.

  “I will take good men,” he said.

  “How long will you be gone?” Honida asked.

  He thought about this for a moment. The rhythms of this place were beginning to make themselves known to him. His awareness shaped the journey, the days out, the night search over the water where the falcons were known to sweep in their low guiding runs—then the return.

  “Eight days,” he said.

  “You’ll need fine mesh nets,” she said. “I’ll see to having them made. Perhaps a few technicians, too. I know some who will go with you.”

  “Eight days,” he said, telling her to choose strong men.

  “Yes,” she said. “Eight days. I’ll be waiting on the shore when you return.”

  He took her hand then and led the way back across the plain. As they walked, he said: “We must name this place.”

  “When you come back,” she said.

  The Nothing

  If it hadn’t been for the fight with my father I’d never have gone down to the Tavern and then I wouldn’t have met the Nothing. This Nothing was really just an ordinary looking guy. He wasn’t worth special attention unless, like me, you were pretending you were Maria Graim, the feelies star, and him Sidney Harch meeting you in the bar to give you a spy capsule.

  It was all my father’s fault. Imagine him getting angry because I wouldn’t take a job burning brush. What kind of work is that for an eighteen-year-old girl anyway? I know my folks were hard pressed for money but that was no excuse for the way he lit into me.

  We had the fight over lunch but it was after six o’clock before I got the chance to sneak out of the house. I went down to the Tavern because I knew the old man would be madder than a tele in a lead barrel when he found out. There was no way I could keep it from him, of course. He pried me every time I came home.

  The Tavern is a crossroads place where the talent gets together to compare notes, and talk about jobs. I’d only been in there once before, and that time with my father. He warned me not to go there alone because a lot of the jags used the place. You could smell the stuff all over the main room. There was pink smoke from a pyro bowl drifting up around the rafters. Someone had a Venusian Oin filter going. There was a lot of talent there for so early in the evening.

  I found an empty corner of the bar and ordered a blue fire because I’d seen Maria Graim ask for one in the feelies. The bartender stared at me sharply and I suspected he was a tele, but he didn’t pry. After a while he floated my drink up to me and ’ported away my money. I sipped the drink the way I’d seen Maria Graim do, but it was too sweet. I tried not to let my face show anything.

  The bar mirror gave me a good broad view of the room and I kept looking into it as though I was expecting somebody. Then this big blond young man came through the front door. I saw him in the mirror and immediately knew he was going to take the seat beside me. I’m not exactly a prescient, but sometimes those things are obvious. He came across the room, moving with a gladiator ease between the packed tables. That’s when I pretended I was Maria Graim waiting at a Port Said bar to pick up a spy capsule from Sidney Harch like in the feelie I’d seen Sunday. This fellow did look a little like Harch—curly hair, dark blue eyes, face all sharp angles as if it had been chiseled by a sculptor who’d left the job uncompleted.

  He took the stool beside me as I’d known he would, and ordered a blue fire, easy on the sugar. Naturally, I figured this was a get-acquainted gambit and wondered what to say to him. Suddenly, it struck me as an exciting idea to just ride along with the Maria Graim plot until it came time to leave.

  He couldn’t do anything to stop me even if he was a ’porter. You see, I’m a pyro and that’s a good enough defense for anyone. I glanced down at my circa-twenty skirt and shifted until the slit exposed my garter the way I’d seen Maria Graim do it. This blond lad didn’t give it a tumble. He finished his drink, and ordered another.

  I whiffed him for one of the cokes, but he was dry. No jag. The other stuff in the room was getting through to me, though, and I was feeling dizzy. I knew I’d have to leave soon and I’d never get another chance to be a Maria Graim type; so I said, “What’s yours?”

  Oh, he knew I was talking to him all right, but he didn’t even look up. It made me mad. A girl has some pride and there I’d unbent enough to start the conversation! There was an ashtray piled with scraps of paper in front of him. I concentrated on it and the paper suddenly flamed. I’m a good pyro when I want to be. Some men have been kind enough to say I could start a fire without the talent. But with a prying father like mine how could I ever know?

  The fire got this fellow’s attention. He knew I’d started it. He just glanced at me once and turned away. “Leave me alone,” he said. “I’m a Nothing.”

  I don’t know what it was. Maybe I have a little of the tele like that doctor said once, but I knew he was telling the truth. It wasn’t one of those gags like you see in the feelies. You know—where there are two comedians and one says, “What’s yours?” And the other one answers, “Nothing.”

  Only all the time he’s levitating the other guy’s chair and juggling half a dozen things behind his back, no hands. You know the gag. It’s been run into the ground. Well, when he said that, it kind of set me back. I’d never seen a real-life Nothing before. Oh, I knew there were some. In the government preserves and such, but I’d never been like this—right next to one.

  “Sorry,” I said. “I’m a pyro.”

  He glanced at the ashes in the tray and said, “Yeah, I know.”

  “There’s not much work for pyros anymore,” I said. “It’s the only talent I have.” I turned and looked at him. Handsome in spite of being a Nothing. “What did you do?” I asked.

  “I ran away,” he said. “I’m a fugitive from the Sonoma Preserve.”

  That made my blood tingle. Not only a Nothing, but a fugitive, too. Just like in the feelies. I said, “Do you want to hide out at my place?”

  That brought him around. He looked me over and he actually blushed. Actually! I’d never seen a man blush before. That fellow certainly was loaded with firsts for me.

  “People might get the wrong idea when I’m caught,” he said. “I’m sure to be caught eventually. I always am.”

  I was really getting a feeling for that woman-of-the-world part. “Why not en
joy your freedom then?” I asked.

  I let him see a little more through the circa-twenty slit. He actually turned away! Imagine!

  That’s when the police came. They didn’t make any fuss. I’d noticed these two men standing just inside the door watching us. Only I’d thought they were watching me. They came across the room and one of them bent over this fellow.

  “All right, Claude,” he said. “Come quietly.”

  The other took my arm and said, “You’ll have to come, too, sister.”

  I jerked away from him. “I’m not your sister,” I said.

  “Oh, leave her alone, fellows,” said this Claude. “I didn’t tell her anything. She was just trying to pick me up.”

  “Sorry,” said the cop. “She comes, too.”

  That’s when I began to get scared. “Look,” I said. “I don’t know what this is all about.”

  The man showed me the snout of a hypo gun in his pocket. “Stop the commotion and come quietly, sister, or I’ll have to use this,” he said.

  So who wants to go to sleep? I went quietly, praying we’d run into my father or someone I knew so I could explain things. But no such luck.

  The police had a plain old jet buggy outside with people clustered around looking at it. A ’porter in the crowd was having fun jiggling the rear end up and down off the ground. He was standing back with his hands in his pockets, grinning.

  The cop who’d done all the talking just looked toward this ’porter and the fellow lost his grin and hurried away. I knew then the cop was a tele, although he hadn’t touched my mind. They’re awfully sensitive about their code of ethics, some of those teles.

  It was fun riding in that old jet buggy. I’d never been in one before. One of the cops got in back with Claude and me. The other one drove. It was the strangest feeling, flying up over the bay on the tractors. Usually, whenever I wanted to go someplace, I’d just ask, polite like, was there a ’porter around and then I’d think of where I wanted to go and the ’porter would set me down there quick as a wink.