|Home > Frank Herbert > Dune Series > Dune Messiah (Chapter Fourteen)|
|Dune Messiah(Dune Series #2) by Frank Herbert|
"You may have my seed, but not my person," Paul said. "Irulan banished and inseminated by artificial -"
"You dare!" the Reverend Mother flared, stiffening.
Stilgar took a half step forward.
Disconcertingly, the ghola smiled. And now Alia was studying him.
"We'll not discuss the things your Sisterhood forbids," Paul said. "I will listen to no talk of sins, abominations or the beliefs left over from past Jihads. You may have my seed for your plans, but no child of Irulan's will sit on my throne."
"Your throne," she sneered.
"Then who will bear the Imperial heir?"
"She is barren."
"She is with child."
An involuntary indrawn breath exposed her shock. "You lie!" she snapped.
Paul held up a restraining hand as Stilgar surged forward.
"We've known for two days that she carries my child."
"But Irulan... "
"By artificial means only. That's my offer."
The Reverend Mother closed her eyes to hide his face. Damnation! To cast the genetic dice in such a way! Loathing boiled in her breast. The teaching of the Bene Gesserit, the lessons of the Butlerian Jihad - all proscribed such an act. One did not demean the highest aspirations of humankind. No machine could function in the way of a human mind. No word or deed could imply that men might be bred on the level of animals.
"Your decision," Paul said.
She shook her head. The genes, the precious Atreides genes - only these were important. Need went deeper than proscription. For the Sisterhood, mating mingled more than sperm and ovum. One aimed to capture the psyche.
The Reverend Mother understood now the subtle depths of Paul's offer. He would make the Bene Gesserit party to an act which would bring down popular wrath... were it ever discovered. They could not admit such paternity if the Emperor denied it. This coin might save the Atreides genes for the Sisterhood, but it would never buy a throne.
She swept her gaze around the room, studying each face: Stilgar, passive and waiting now; the ghola frozen at some inward place; Alia watching the ghola... and Paul - wrath beneath a shallow veneer.
"This is your only offer?" she asked.
"My only offer."
She glanced at the ghola, caught by a brief movement of muscles across his cheeks. Emotion? "You, ghola," she said. "Should such an offer be made? Having been made, should it be accepted? Function as the mentat for us."
The metallic eyes turned to Paul.
"Answer as you will," Paul said.
The ghola returned his gleaming attention to the Reverend Mother, shocked her once more by smiling. "An offer is only as good as the real thing it buys," he said. "The exchange offered here is life-for-life, a high order of business."
Alia brushed a strand of coppery hair from her forehead, said: "And what else is hidden in this bargain?"
The Reverend Mother refused to look at Alia, but the words burned in her mind. Yes, far deeper implications lay here. The sister was an abomination, true, but there could be no denying her status as a Reverend Mother with all the title implied. Gaius Helen Mohiam felt herself in this instant to be not one single person, but all the others who sat like tiny congeries in her memory. They were alert, every Reverend Mother she had absorbed in becoming a Priestess of the Sisterhood. Alia would be standing in the same situation here.
"What else?" the ghola asked. "One wonders why the witches of the Bene Gesserit have not used Tleilaxu methods."
Gaius Helen Mohiam and all the Reverend Mothers within her shuddered. Yes, the Tleilaxu did loathsome things. If one let down the barriers to artificial insemination, was the next step a Tleilaxu one - controlled mutation?
Paul, observing the play of emotion around him, felt abruptly that he no longer knew these people. He could see only strangers. Even Alia was a stranger.
Alia said: "If we set the Atreides genes adrift in a Bene Gesserit river, who knows what may result?"
Gaius Helen Mohiam's head snapped around, and she met Alia's gaze. For a flashing instant, they were two Reverend Mothers together, communing on a single thought: What lay behind any Tleilaxu action? The ghola was a Tleilaxu thing. Had he put this plan into Paul's mind? Would Paul attempt to bargain directly with the Bene Tleilaxu?
She broke her gaze from Alia's, feeling her own ambivalence and inadequacies. The pitfall of Bene Gesserit training, she reminded herself, lay in the powers granted: such powers predisposed one to vanity and pride. But power deluded those who used it. One tended to believe power could overcome any barrier... including one's own ignorance.
Only one thing stood paramount here for the Bene Gesserit, she told herself. That was the pyramid of generations which had reached an apex in Paul Atreides... and in his abomination of a sister. A wrong choice here and the pyramid would have to be rebuilt... starting generations back in the parallel lines and with breeding specimens lacking the choicest characteristics.
Controlled mutation, she thought. Did the Tleilaxu really practice it? How tempting! She shook her head, the better to rid it of such thoughts.
"You reject my proposal?" Paul asked.
"I'm thinking," she said.
And again, she looked at the sister. The optimum cross for this female Atreides had been lost... killed by Paul. Another possibility remained, however - one which would cement the desired characteristic into an offspring. Paul dared offer animal breeding to the Bene Gesserit! How much was he really prepared to pay for his Chani's life? Would he accept a cross with his own sister?
Sparring for time, the Reverend Mother said: "Tell me, oh flawless exemplar of all that's holy, has Irulan anything to say of your proposal?"
"Irulan will do what you tell her to do," Paul growled.
True enough, Mohiam thought. She firmed her jaw, offered a new gambit: "There are two Atreides."
Paul, sensing something of what lay in the old witch's mind, felt blood darken his face. "Careful what you suggest," he said.
"You'd just use Irulan to gain your own ends, eh?" she asked.
"Wasn't she trained to be used?" Paul asked.
And we trained her, that's what he's saying, Mohiam thought. Well... Irulan's a divided coin. Was there another way to spend such a coin?
"Will you put Chani's child on the throne?" the Reverend Mother asked.
"On my throne." Paul said. He glanced at wondering suddenly if she knew the divergent possibilities in this exchange. Alia stood with eyes closed, an odd stillness-of-person about her. With what inner force did she commune? Seeing his sister thus, Paul felt he'd been cast adrift. Alia stood on a shore that was receding from him.
The Reverend Mother made her decision, said: "This is too much for one person to decide. I must consult with my Council on Wallach. Will you permit a message?"
As though she needed my permission! Paul thought.
He said: "Agreed, then. But don't delay too long. I will not sit idly by while you debate."
"Will you bargain with the Bene Tleilaxu?" the ghola asked, his voice a sharp intrusion.
Alia's eyes popped open and she stared at the ghola as though she'd been wakened by a dangerous intruder.
"I've made no such decision," Paul said. "What I will do is go into the desert as soon as it can be arranged. Our child will be born in sietch."
"A wise decision," Stilgar intoned.
Alia refused to look at Stilgar. It was a wrong decision. She could feel this in every cell. Paul must know it. Why had he fixed himself upon such a path?
"Have the Bene Tleilaxu offered their services?" Alia asked. She saw Mohiam hanging on the answer.
Paul shook his head. "No." He glanced at Stilgar. "Stil, arrange for the message to be sent to Wallach."
"At once, m'Lord."
Paul turned away, waited while Stilgar summoned guards, left with the old witch. He sensed Alia debating whether to confront him with more questions. She turned, instead, to the ghola.
"Mentat," she said, "will the Tleilaxu bid for favor with my brother?"
The ghola shrugged.
Paul felt his attention wander. The Tleilaxu? No... not in the way Alia meant. Her question revealed, though, that she had not seen the alternatives here. Well... vision varied from sibyl to sibyl. Why not a variance from brother to sister? Wandering... wandering... He came back from each thought with a start to pick up shards of the nearby conversation.
"... must know what the Tleilaxu..."
"... the fullness of data is always..."
"... healthy doubts where... "
Paul turned, looked at his sister, caught her attention. He knew she would see tears on his face and wonder at them. Let her wonder. Wondering was a kindness now. He glanced at the ghola, seeing only Duncan Idaho despite the metallic eyes. Sorrow and compassion warred in Paul. What might those metal eyes record?
There are many degrees of sight and many degrees of blindness, Paul thought. His mind turned to a paraphrase of the passage from the Orange Catholic Bible: 'What senses do we lack that we cannot see another world all around us?'
Were those metal eyes another sense than sight?
Alia crossed to her brother, sensing his utter sadness. She touched a tear on his cheek with a Fremen gesture of awe, said: "We must not grieve for those dear to us before their passing."
"Before their passing," Paul whispered. "Tell me, little sister, what is before?"
= = = = = =
"I've had a bellyful of the god and priest business! You think I don't see my own mythos? Consult your data once more, Hayt. I've insinuated my rites into the most elementary human acts. The people eat in the name of Muad'dib! They make love in my name, are born in my name - cross the street in my name. A roof beam cannot be raised in the lowliest hovel of far Gangishree without invoking the blessing of Muad'dib!" -Book of Diatribes from The Hayt Chronicle
"You risk much leaving your post and coming to me here at this time," Edric said, glaring through the walls of his tank at the Face Dancer.
"How weak and narrow is your thinking," Scytale said. "Who is it who comes to visit you?"
Edric hesitated, observing the hulk shape, heavy eyelids, blunt face. It was early in the day and Edric's metabolism had not yet cycled from night repose into full melange consumption.
"This is not the shape which walked the streets?" Edric asked.
"One would not look twice at some of the figures I have been today," Scytale said.
The chameleon thinks a change of shape will hide him from anything, Edric thought with rare insight. And he wondered if his presence in the conspiracy truly hid them from all oracular powers. The Emperor's sister, now...
Edric shook his head, stirring the orange gas of his tank, said: "Why are you here?"
"The gift must be prodded to swifter action," Scytale said.
"That cannot be done."
"A way must be found," Scytale insisted.
"Things are not to my liking. The Emperor is trying to split us. Already he has made his bid to the Bene Gesserit."
"That! You must prod the ghola to... "
"You fashioned him, Tleilaxu," Edric said. "You know better than to ask this." He paused, moved closer to the transparent wall of his tank. "Or did you lie to us about this gift?"
"You said the weapon was to be aimed and released, nothing more. Once the ghola was given we could not tamper."
"Any ghola can be disturbed," Scytale said. "You need do nothing more than question him about his original being."
"What will this do?"
"It will stir him to actions which will serve our purposes."
"He is a mentat with powers of logic and reason," Edric objected. "He may guess what I'm doing... or the sister. If her attention is focused upon -"
"Do you hide us from the sibyl or don't you?" Scytale asked.
"I'm not afraid of oracles," Edric said. "I'm concerned with logic, with real spies, with the physical powers of the Imperium, with the control of the spice, with -"
"One can contemplate the Emperor and his powers comfortably if one remembers that all things are Finite," Scytale said.
Oddly, the Steersman recoiled in agitation, threshing his limbs like some weird newt. Scytale fought a sense of loathing at the sight. The Guild Navigator wore his usual dark leotard bulging at the belt with various containers. Yet... he gave the impression of nakedness when he moved. It was the swimming, reaching movements, Scytale decided, and he was struck once more by the delicate linkages of their conspiracy. They were not a compatible group. That was weakness.
Edric's agitation subsided. He stared out at Scytale, vision colored by the orange gas which sustained him. What plot did the Face Dancer hold in reserve to save himself? Edric wondered. The Tleilaxu was not acting in a predictable fashion. Evil omen.
Something in the Navigator's voice and actions told Scytale that the Guildsman feared the sister more than the Emperor. This was an abrupt thought flashed on the screen of awareness. Disturbing. Had they overlooked something important about Alia? Would the ghola be sufficient weapon to destroy both?
"You know what is said of Alia?" Scytale asked, probing.
"What do you mean?" Again, the fish-man was agitated.
"Never have philosophy and culture had such a patroness," Scytale said. "Pleasure and beauty unite in -"
"What is enduring about beauty and pleasure?" Edric demanded. "We will destroy both Atreides. Culture! They dispense culture the better to rule. Beauty! They promote the beauty which enslaves. They create a literate ignorance - easiest thing of all. They leave nothing to chance. Chains! Everything they do forges chains, enslaves. But slaves always revolt."
"The sister may wed and produce offspring," Scytale said.
"Why do you speak of the sister?" Edric asked.
"The Emperor may choose a mate for her," Scytale said.
"Let him choose. Already, it is too late."
"Even you cannot invent the next moment," Scytale warned. "You are not a creator... any more than are the Atreides." He nodded. "We must not presume too much."
"We aren't the ones to flap our tongues about creation," Edric protested. "We aren't the rabble trying to make a messiah out of Muad'dib. What is this nonsense? Why are you raising such questions?"
"It's this planet," Scytale said. "It raises questions."
"Planets don't speak!"
"This one does."
"It speaks of creation. Sand blowing in the night, that is creation."
"Sand blowing... "
"When you awaken, the first light shows you the new world - all fresh and ready for your tracks."
Untracked sand? Edric thought. Creation? He felt knotted with sudden anxiety. The confinement of his tank, the surrounding room, everything closed in upon him, constricted him.
Tracks in sand.
"You talk like a Fremen," Edric said.
"This is a Fremen thought and it's instructive," Scytale agreed. "They speak of Muad'dib's Jihad as leaving tracks in the universe in the same way that a Fremen tracks new sand. They've marked out a trail in men's lives."