Sandworms of Dune

Sunday, June 24, 2007



Sandworms -- Text of Chapters 2 and 3 

As promised, for those of you who prefer to read the text instead of listening to my "dramatic readings." The typesetter has finally provided me with an electronic copy of the file. (I think I caught all the glitches in the conversion.)

-- KJA

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Chapter 2

Humans are never capable of complete accuracy. Despite all the knowledge and experiences we have absorbed from countless Face Dancer “ambassadors,” we are left with a confused picture. Nonetheless, the flawed accounts of human history provide amusing insights into the delusions of mankind.

—Erasmus, Records and Analyses, Backup #242

In spite of a decades-long effort, the thinking machines had not yet captured the no-ship and its precious cargo. That did not, however, stop the computer evermind from launching his vast extermination fleet against the rest of humanity. Duncan Idaho continued to elude Omnius and Erasmus, who repeatedly cast their sparkling tachyon net into the nothingness, searching for their quarry. The no-ship’s veiling capability normally prevented it from being seen, but from time to time the pursuers caught glimpses, as of something concealed behind shrubbery. At first the hunt had been a challenge, but now the evermind was growing frustrated. “You have lost the ship again,” Omnius boomed through wall speakers in the central, cathedral-like chamber in the technological metropolis of Synchrony. “Inaccurate. I must first find it before I can lose it.” Erasmus tried to sound carefree as he shifted his flowmetal skin, reverting from his guise as a kindly old woman to the more familiar appearance of a platinum-surfaced robot. Like overarching tree trunks, metal spires towered above Erasmus to form a vaulted dome within the machine cathedral. Photons glittered from the activated skins of the pillars, bathing his new laboratory in light. He had even installed a glowing fountain that bubbled with lava—a useless decoration, but the robot often indulged his carefully cultivated artistic sensibilities. “Do not be impatient. Remember the mathematical projections. Everything is nicely predetermined.”

“Your mathematical projections could be myths, like any prophecy. How do I know they are correct?”

“Because I have said they are correct.”

With the launch of the machine fleet, the long-foretold Kralizec had begun, at last. Kralizec . . . Armageddon...the Battle at the End of the Universe... Ragnarok...Azrafel...the End Times...the Cloud Darkness. It was a time of fundamental change, of the entire universe shifting on its cosmic axis. Human legends had predicted such a cataclysmic event since the dawn of civilization. Indeed, they had already been through several iterations of similar cataclysms: the Butlerian Jihad itself, the jihad of Paul Muad’Dib, the reign of the Tyrant Leto II. By manipulating computer projections, and thus creating expectations in the mind of Omnius, Erasmus had succeeded in initiating the events that would bring about another fundamental shift. Prophecy and reality—the order of things really didn’t matter.

Like an arrow, all of Erasmus’s infinitely complex calculations, running trillions of data points through the most sophisticated routines, pointed to one result: The final Kwisatz Haderach—whoever that was—would determine the course of events at the end of Kralizec. The projection also revealed that the Kwisatz Haderach was on the no-ship, so Omnius naturally wanted such a force fighting on his side. Ergo, the thinking machines needed to capture that ship. The first to exert control over the final Kwisatz Haderach would win.

Erasmus didn’t fully understand exactly what the superhuman might do when he was located and seized. Though the robot was a longtime student of mankind, he was still a thinking machine, while the Kwisatz Haderach was not. The new Face Dancers, who had long infiltrated humanity and brought vital information back to the Synchronized Empire, fell somewhere in between, like hybrid biological machines. He and Omnius had both absorbed so many of the lives stolen by the Face Dancers that sometimes they forgot who they were. The original Tleilaxu Masters had not foreseen the significance of what they had helped create.

The independent robot knew he still had to keep Omnius under control, though. “We have time. You have a galaxy to conquer before we need the Kwisatz Haderach aboard that ship.”

“I am glad I did not wait for you to succeed.”

For centuries Omnius had been building his invincible force. Using traditional but supremely efficient lightspeed engines, the millions and millions of machine vessels now swept forward and spread out, conquering one star system at a time. The evermind could have made use of the surrogate mathematical navigation systems, which his Face Dancers had “given” to the Spacing Guild, but one element of the Holtzman technology simply remained too incomprehensible. Something indefinably human was required to travel through foldspace, an intangible “leap of faith.” The evermind would never admit that the bizarre technology actually made him...nervous.

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.”


Chapter 3

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.

—Missionaria Protectiva, 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, rein-forced 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 under-stand 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 any-thing, 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 remember 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 medications.” 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 pro-found 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.”


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