This is an excerpt from DUNE: THE BUTLERIAN JIHAD, available now from Tor Books (US) and Hodder & Stoughton (UK).


"In the desert,
the line between life and death
is sharp and quick."

- Zensunni fire poetry from Arrakis

Far from thinking machines and the League of Nobles, the desert never changed. The Zensunni descendants who had fled to Arrakis scraped out squalid lives in isolated cave communities, barely subsisting in a harsh environment. They experienced little enjoyment, yet fought fiercely to remain alive for just another day.

Sunlight poured across the ocean of sand, warming dunes that rippled like waves breaking upon an imagined shore. A few black rocks poked out of the dust like islands, but offered no shelter from the heat or the demon worms.

This desolate landscape was the last thing he would ever see. The people had accused him, chosen the young man as a scapegoat, and would mete out their punishment. His innocence was not relevant.

"Begone, Selim!" came a shout from the caves above. "Go far from here!" He recognized the voice of his young friend -- former friend -- Ebrahim. Perhaps the other boy was relieved, since by rights it should have been him facing exile and death, not Selim. But no one would mourn the loss of an orphan, and so Selim had been cast out in the Zensunni version of justice.

A raspy voice said, "May the worms spit out your scrawny hide." That was old Glyffa, who had once been like a mother to him. "Thief! Water stealer!"

From the caves, the tribe began to throw stones. One sharp rock struck the cloth he had wrapped around his dark hair for protection against the sun. Selim ducked, but did not give them the satisfaction of seeing him cringe. They had stripped almost everything from him, but as long as he drew breath they would never take his pride.

Naib Dhartha, the sietch leader, leaned out. "The tribe has spoken. Your fate rests on your own crimes, Selim."

Protestations of his innocence would do no good, nor would excuses or explanations. Keeping his balance on the steep path, the young man stooped to grab a sharp-edged stone. He held it in his palm and glared up at the people.

Selim had always been skilled at throwing rocks. He could pick off ravens, small kangaroo mice, or lizards for the community cookpot. If he aimed carefully, he could have put out one of the Naib's eyes. Selim had seen Dhartha whispering quietly with Ebrahim's father, watched them form their plan to cast the blame on him instead of the guilty boy. They had decided Selim's punishment using measures other than the truth.

Naib Dhartha had dark eyebrows and jet-black hair bound into a ponytail by a dull metal ring. A purplish geometric tattoo of dark angles and straight lines marked his left cheek. His wife had drawn it on his face using a steel needle and the juice of a scraggly inkvine the Zensunni cultivated in their terrarium gardens. The Naib glared down as if daring Selim to throw the stone, because the Zensunni would respond with a pummeling barrage of large rocks.

But such a punishment would kill him far too quickly. Instead, the tribe would drive Selim away from their tight-knit community. And on Arrakis, one did not survive without help. Existence in the desert required cooperation, each person doing his part. The Zensunni looked upon stealing -- especially the theft of water -- as the worst crime imaginable.

Selim pocketed the stone. Ignoring the jeers and insults, he continued his tedious descent toward the open desert.

Dhartha intoned in a voice that sounded like a bass howl of stormwinds, "Selim, who has no father or mother -- Selim, who was welcomed as a member of our tribe -- you have been found guilty of stealing tribal water. Therefore, you must walk across the sands." Dhartha raised his voice, shouting before the condemned man could pass out of earshot. "May Shaitan choke on your bones."

All his life, Selim had done more work than most others. Because he was of unknown parentage, the tribe demanded it of him. No one helped him when he was sick, except maybe old Glyffa; no one carried an extra load for him. He had watched some of his companions gorge themselves on inflated family shares of water, even Ebrahim. And still, the other boy, seeing half a literjon of brackish water untended, had drunk it, foolishly hoping no one would notice. How easy it had been for Ebrahim to blame it on his supposed friend when the theft was discovered. . . .

Upon driving Selim from the caves, Dhartha had refused to give him even a tiny water pouch for his journey, because that was considered a waste of tribal resources. None of them expected Selim to survive more than a day anyway, even if he somehow managed to avoid the fearsome monsters of the desert.

He muttered under his breath, knowing they couldn't hear him, "May your mouth fill with dust, Naib Dhartha." Selim bounded down the path away from the cliffs, while his people continued to utter curses from above. A hurled pebble bounced past him.

When he reached the base of the rock wall that stood as a shield against the desert and the sandworm demons, he set off in a straight line, wanting to get as far away as he could. Dry heat pounded on his head. Those watching him would surely be surprised to see him voluntarily hike out onto the dunes instead of huddling in a cave in the rocks.

What do I have to lose?

Selim made up his mind that he would never go back and plead for help. Instead, chin high, he strode across the dunes as far as he could. He would rather die than beg forgiveness from the likes of them. Ebrahim had lied to protect his own life, but Naib Dhartha had committed a far worse crime in Selim's eyes, knowingly condemning an innocent orphan boy to death because it simplified tribal politics.

Selim had excellent desert skills, but Arrakis was a severe environment. In the several generations since the Zensunni had settled here, no one had ever returned from exile. The deep desert swallowed them up, leaving no trace. He trudged out into the wasteland with only a rope slung over his shoulder, a stubby dagger at his belt, and a sharpened metal walking stick, a piece he had salvaged from the spaceport junkyard in Arrakis City.

Maybe Selim could go there and find a job with offworld traders, moving cargo from each vessel that landed, or stowing aboard one of the spaceships that plied their way from planet to planet, often taking years for each passage. But such ships only rarely visited Arrakis, since it was far from the regular shipping lanes. And joining the strange offworlders might make Selim give up too much of himself. It would be better to live alone in the desert -- if he could survive. . . .

He pocketed another sharp rock, one that had been thrown from above. As the mountain buttress shrank into the distance, he found a third shard that seemed like a good throwing stone. Eventually, he would need to capture food. He could suck a lizard's moist flesh and live for just a little while longer.

As he made his way into the restless wasteland, Selim gazed toward a long peninsula of rock, far from the Zensunni caves. He'd be apart from the tribe there, but could still laugh at them every day he survived his exile. He could thumb his nose and call out jokes that Naib Dhartha would never hear.

Selim poked his walking stick into the soft dunes, as if stabbing an imaginary enemy. He sketched a deprecating Buddislamic symbol in the sand, with an arrow on it that pointed back toward the cliff dwellings. He took a special satisfaction from his defiance, even though the wind would erase the insult within a day. With a lighter step, he climbed a high dune and skidded down into the trough.

He began to sing a traditional song, maintaining an upbeat composure, and increased his speed. The distant peninsula of rock shimmered in the afternoon, and he tried to convince himself that it looked inviting. His bravado increased as he drew farther from his tormentors.

But when he was within a kilometer of the sheltering black rock, Selim felt the loose sand tremble under his feet. He looked up, suddenly realizing his danger, and saw ripples that marked the passage of a large creature deep beneath the dunes.

Selim ran. He slipped and scrambled across the soft ridge, desperate not to fall. He kept moving, racing along the crest, knowing that even this high dune would prove no obstacle for the oncoming sandworm. The rock peninsula remained impossibly far away, and the demon came ever closer.

Selim forced himself to skid to a halt, though his panicked heart urged him to keep running. Worms followed any vibration, and he had run like a terrified child instead of freezing in place like the wily desert hare. This behemoth had certainly targeted him by now. How many others before him had stood terrified, falling to their knees in final prayer before being devoured? No person had ever survived an encounter with one of the great desert monsters.

Unless he could fool it . . . distract it.

Selim willed his feet and legs to turn to stone. He took the first of the fist-sized stones he carried and hurled it as far as he could into the gully between dunes. It landed with a thump -- and the ominous track of the approaching worm diverted just a little.

Selim tossed another rock, and a third, in a drumbeat pattern intended to lure the worm away from him. He threw the rest of his stones, and the beast turned only slightly, still rising up below him.

Empty handed, Selim now had no other way to divert the creature.

Its maw open wide, the worm gulped sand and stones, searching for a morsel of meat. The dune beneath Selim's boots shifted and crumbled, and he knew the monster would swallow him. He smelled an ominous cinammon stench on the worm's breath, saw glimpses of fire in its gullet.

Naib Dhartha would no doubt laugh at the young thief's fate. Selim shouted a loud curse. And rather than surrender, he decided to attack.

Closer to the cavernous mouth, the odor of spice intensified. The young man gripped his metal walking stick and whispered a prayer. As the worm lifted itself from beneath the dune, Selim leaped onto its curved and crusty back. He raised the metal staff like a spear and plunged the sharpened tip into what he thought would be tough, armored wormskin. Instead, the point slipped between segments, into soft pink flesh.

The beast reacted as if it had been shot with a hundred maula cannons. It reared up, thrashed and writhed.

Surprised, Selim drove the spear deeper and held on with all his strength. He squeezed his eyes shut, clenching his teeth and pulling back to keep himself steady. He would have no chance if he let go.

The little spear couldn't have wounded the demon; this was merely a human gesture of defiance, a biting fly thirsty for a sweet droplet of blood. Any moment now the worm would dive back beneath the sand and drag Selim down with it.

Surprisingly, though, the creature raced forward, keeping itself high out of the dunes where the exposed tissue would not be abraded by sand.

Terrified, Selim clung to the implanted staff -- then laughed as he realized he was actually riding the monster! Shaitan himself! Had anyone ever done such a thing? If so, no man had ever lived to tell about it.

Selim made a pact with himself and with Buddallah that he would not be defeated, not by Naib Dhartha and not by this desert demon. He pulled back on his spear and pried the fleshy segment even wider, making the worm climb out of the sand, as if it could outrun the annoying parasite on its back. . . .

The young exile never made it to the strip of rock where he had hoped to establish a private camp. Instead, the worm careened into the deep desert . . . carrying Selim far from his former life.

Ch. 06 -- 2/11/02 Herbert & Anderson/The Butlerian Jihad

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