A DASH OF PREPARATION
Previously: The More Things Stay the Same
Themesong: Desert Rose by Sting
“And there it is,” I half-whispered, looking at the word displayed on the side of the Chamber. It was four letters long and represented the thing I’d wanted above all since the nature of this very long journey had become evident. “DUNE,” I sighed reverently.
“It’s just a book,” Zane muttered.
“Hush you, you heathen,” I mock-growled. “I know you’ve heard me go on-”
“And on and on and on,” he said, rolling his eyes dramatically.
“A bit. Yeah. But I don’t think I’ve ever really expressed just what Dune means to me. It was the movie that defined the rest of my appreciation for Science Fiction. It was and still is the yardstick by which I measure all epic storytelling.”
“It’s hamtastic!” Zane groaned. “We’ve sat through it thousands of times and it never gets better.”
“That’s because your mother never read bedtime stories to you,” I shook my head. “Sorry. But it is. And it’s not hammy or corney. It is, at times, bombastic, and overwrought, but no performance in it is anything less than stellar… well, maybe Feyd Rautha, but that’s only because Sting was too old for the part. But the naBaron is a gorgeous creature in the book and he knows it. The film is majestic, glorious, grandiose… and perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the novel.”
“While adding in things that aren’t in the book. How can you call it faithful?”
“Because being faithful isn’t about making a shot for shot, line for line, word for word remake. It’s about taking the themes and meaning, the characters and personalities, and transforming them without losing what gave them gravitas or humor or weight in the first place. Lynch’s Dune did that in droves. Much better than Jodorowsky’s did. Don’t get me wrong… that was an epic too,” I patted the Adaptinator which had provided that version, along with many others. “But it sacrificed too much of the original to do it and was 11 hours long.”
“Well… yeah. Okay. But the Baron? He didn’t… he wasn’t that grotesque in the book. And Yue wasn’t so… I don’t know. And Weirding? It’s not a sound technique! It’s martial arts!”
“Yeah. It is. But it’s prana-bindu total body control martial arts. It’s not flashy hollywood martial arts. It wouldn’t have played well on screen. Transforming it into sonics made so much sense. It still was an unknown technique.”
“Fair enough, and I’ll give you the bit about the stillsuits not covering the heads. That’s pure artistic license to make the characters recognizable. That’s fine. But… I… Don’t you find the narration and inner monologues… cheesy?”
“Zane, we’ve been friends for an eon. Either you’re being disingenuous or you’ve not been paying attention. Narration is the greatest tool in storytelling, point blank, hands down. Accept no substitutions.” He opened his mouth to utter those hated words, but I raised a hand imperiously and shook my head. “Don’t say it. You know how much I hate that phrase.”
“Someone has to. There’s a reason everyone says ‘Show, don’t Tell.’ and you know it.”
“Yeah. I do. But Narration isn’t the same thing.”
“Yes, it is!”
“It really isn’t. If I say, ‘He was as brave as he was beautiful, and as wise as he was humble, famed as a master of some fifteen languages, and had a reputation for being a brilliant inventor… though he was known to have a penchant for braggadocio and a liking for underage prostitutes’… did I just show you or tell you something?”
“I… I guess you told me. What’s your point?”
“That’s a fairly standard introduction. I also told you absolutely nothing about him.”
“What? Yes you did! You said he was brave, beautiful, wise, humble, a polyglot, a brilliant inventor, a braggart, and a whoremonger,” Zane snapped, glaring crossly at me.
“No. I said his bravery was comparable to his beauty and his wisdom to his humility. He could be an ugly coward or a gorgeous hero. Similarly, he could be a foolish braggart or a humble sage. He has a reputation for being a polyglot, inventor, braggart, and whoremonger… but that doesn’t mean he is any of those things. Now, the Show-Don’t-Tell rule is fine in film, where it is usually easier to convey such through action and imagery than through dialogue, but it really means ‘don’t have someone tell us ‘oh, Frank? He speaks 12 languages!’ when you could just show Frank speaking several languages!’… but even then, there are limits to it. You can show someone to be a good billiards player, but if you don’t somehow make it clear that that person is the second best in the entire world? You might be missing some information that’s vital to the story.”
“And this relates to narration, how?”
“Because some of the best stories ever feature it. ‘It was many years ago, never mind how many…’, or ‘Nice town, know what I mean?’, or ‘A Beginning is a very delicate time…’ They establish more than in a few words than could be established in a hundred minutes. SDT is about taking the best route to convey information to the audience. If the information you’re relaying would tack on another forty minutes to the film but you can narrate it in two? Do it. Irulan’s speech is just under two minutes and establishes the existence of the Empire, The Spacing Guild, the vital necessity of Melange and all the things it can do, where it comes from… and the existence of the Fremen and their prophecy. Imagine how long that would have taken to show instead of tell.”
“Fine. Fine. But what about the internal monologue? That’s just… weird!”
“Now you’re just being difficult to be difficult,” I waved him away. “In a book, you never question reading the internal thoughts of a character. Why should it be all that odd to have it in a movie?”
“Be… because no one else does it!”
“So doing things a little differently is bad? You don’t have a problem when telepaths think at each other and you get to hear it. Internal monologues are just closed loop telepathy, after all.”
“Closed loop… yeah, sure. Cause the thinker is the only one who hears it. I still don’t think the movie’s that good. Book’s fine… I guess.”
I sighed, then hit him with a pillow. “You guess. Yeah, well, fine. I guess you can stay in the Warehouse for a decade or however long this lasts. Kinda hoping it’s not just 10 years. The story plays out over 5,000… and that’s just the main six books. Get into the stuff Brian and Kevin wrote… which they had every right to do and their stuff is no less legit than Frank’s… though there are enough discrepancies that saying they happen in the same exact reality is questionable… but Frank did leave Brian all the rights and the legacy. If anyone would know what Frank was thinking it would be Brian.”
“Yeah, yeah, sulk it up, puppy boy. Look, Dune is important to me. There’s a reason I’ve continued to read it year after year. Dune was the first adult novel that made me long to be able to stand in the presence of these legendary figures and… I don’t know. Dune was the book that made me realize that sci-fi was, at its heart, philosophy disguised as narrative. That stories could have more to say than just entertainment. And now, at long… long last… I’m here.”
I stood and ran my hand over the carved stone where the letters were and felt a tremor run through me. Would I stand in the way of the Golden Path? Offer another Way? Would I allow the cruel Jihad and the centuries of oppression under Emperor Leto to play out as the path said they must? I’d worked hard to become a precognitive blackhole specifically to evade a Kwisatz Haderach’s foresight… but would it be enough? It had thwarted Yhwach… but compared to a Mentat, he was a moron and compared to a God-Emperor? Not even close. Not in the mental realm.
“Okay Chamber… first… how much is the drawback limit and how much of that do I have to sacrifice to be a Kwisatz Haderach?”
“Hey!” Zane complained. “Don’t you want to know how much it costs to import companions?”
“Nope. Sorry, Cats and Kittens… unless it’s a pittance, I’m doing this solo. Unless I’m wrong about how expensive some things are.”
The Chamber cleared its non-existence throat. “The limit is six hundred, they aren’t anywhere as nice as the stuff on offer in Nanoha, and you cannot straight up buy Kwisatz Haderach. All you can do is buy the capacity to be a Potential Kwisatz. The final step you’ll have to take yourself.”
“Shit… I was afraid of that. Right. Just to satisfy the rebellious rabble, how much is the import option, assuming there is one?”
“There is,” the Chamber confirmed. “But if you thought the companion import in Full Metal Alchemist was bad, you will not think much of ‘Entourage’.”
I quirked an eyebrow. “Oh? Really? That bad?”
“You may spend 100 to gain 300, up to sixteen times. You can split the resultant CP among up to eight companions. They do not gain a background or discounts and… You appear… annoyed.”
I was growling in what, for me, was nearly apocalyptic anger. “Seriously? SERIOUSLY!? WHAT KIND OF…” I breathed deep, remembering my emotional calm and shuddered with suppressed rage. “What kind of… no. No… fuck this. FUCK THIS. Tell Higher we’re going to be playing with a new set of rules from now on.”
“I… I do not think-”
“Don’t think. Just relay this to them. My companions put up with an awful lot of shit. They put up with me. They put up with this lifestyle of leaving anyone they’ve come to care about behind. They fall further and further behind every time they’re not imported. And when they do import, they often get a pitance. It’s why I’m usually more than willing to spend as much as it takes if the payoff is worth it… but this? This is just punitive! Hell, they put up with being locked in the Warehouse for decades or centuries at a time because the outside is too dangerous for depowered individuals… especially since we don’t know if the Companion Respawn works any more and don’t think I haven’t been freaking out a little every damned time one of them gets more than a fucking hangnail since I don’t, as it turns out, have anything that can raise the dead if they’ve been dead longer than my medical stuff can revive them. Sakura might… might, be able to do so, but I’ve got no evidence her Spirits aren’t actual copies, not the original.” I breathed, then pointed an accusing finger at the Chamber.
“Tell Higher the new rule works like this. Since more than once they or their representative has seen fit to exile my people from the Warehouse and incarnate them locally, with or without their memories, we’re going to take a page from that total dickhead Mensarius’s book and invent a new pattern drawback!”
“A… pattern drawback?” The Chamber sounded like it was a gearbox suffering partial lockup as it tried to process that.
“Yeah. An overlay. A Chain-Long Drawback. It’s going to apply from now on and it’s going to be the way it is. We’re going to call it… Single-Shot. It’s going to work like this. If one of my companions dies, they stay dead… until the end of that Jump. If, somehow, they get killed between jumps without getting a phoenix down or similar thrown at their face, they respawn at the end of the jump that was about to start. Got that?” I stabbed my finger at the stone hard enough to hurt it.
“A question,” Zane asked, “or rather two. What do we get out of this? Drawbacks are worth something, right? And what if we have a rez ability or item… like that Stone EssJay burned in Tenchi?”
“Right. Good. If they have a Perk, Power, or Item that allows them to respawn, it procs as normal. And if I… or anyone else… uses a Rez ability, it doesn’t count as a death for them. Tell Higher that and ask them what it’s worth… oh, and tell them to get Yoiko and Ryoga back here fucking now or send a god’s be damned explanation why they can’t!”
Without apparent time elapsing between the end of my micro-rant and the response, the Chamber replied, “They have approved your creation of a Chain Pattern Drawback. They reserve the right to suggest others in the future to ensure your continued entertainment value. However, they feel your Single-Shot needs modification to ensure its exchange rate. To whit, you may use Rez Abilities should you gain any, or Rez items such as Phoenix Down, but each time you save a companion from despawning… is that a word?” I assured it that it was and it continued.
“Each time you do so, you will be hit with an amount of fatigue equal to the energy required to bring them back to the edge of life. Further, while they award you and you companions 100 CP each for each jump from now on, they cannot gain freebies or origins if they are not imported using your own CP and a Jump’s own import option.”
“I get CP for this?” I asked, then shrugged. I was being inconvenienced I guess, since I had paid CP or earned / claimed some of them legitimately and all of them I’d spent CP to empower. I wasn’t going to argue.
“You do,” the chamber confirmed. “Or rather, you gain a floating discount of 100 CP to be applied to any one 200 CP lineitem to make it half price.”
“So… less useful… but fine. Whatever. What if I apply it to a 100 CP item?”
“It would reduce it to 50 CP, not make it free.”
“Greaaaat. Cheapskates. Fine. Can my companions use their 100 CP from this on Items or Companion imports, or buy Origins if they’re for sale?”
“Negative on Companion Imports. As for Origins? Only if a Jump’s native Import Option is used. As for items? Yes, it can be used for items even if they wouldn’t normally be allowed to buy items under an import… unless they’re imported, at which point they are bound by that import’s restriction.”
“Fair enough… mmm… let’s see… Okay… Now relay this. New Global Import rule. Unless there is a good reason why a Jump’s Native Import Option doesn’t meet this minimum, this is the new minimum. Four Hundred of my CP buys eight imports 600 CP and a free origin with cost not to exceed 200 CP, plus all applicable Freebies and discounts. Additionally, all companions who desire it are to be allowed free baseline import to all jumps. That means they get an identity and either drop-in or basic memories fit to the setting, a form that fits that setting (it can be temporary if they’re not imported), and any perks or items required to survive in that setting.”
“I assume you mean all to include those companions you’re not importing?”
I nodded fiercely. “Exactly. And I want the inactives able to keep their defensive abilities at all time. Including memory abilities and, for the telepaths… heh… which is pretty much everyone, telepathic communication within the network that functions at least line of sight. And if Higher complains, remind them there’s more potential for amusement if the majority of them aren’t stuck in the warehouse. If they’re really worried about me having a ready made army, they shouldn’t have given me a battleship with a population of over a million.”
“They did not complain. In fact, they say ‘Took you long enough to ask,” The Chamber relayed, sounding smug as hell.
“Tell them to go fuck themselves. What about the Hibiki’s?”
A figure I can no more describe than I can tell you what the final digit of pi is ‘appeared’ next to the Chamber. When I say it spoke, understand that that does not in any way reflect what it did except in that it relayed information. But let us pretend that the experience did not take 2.3 yoctoseconds and nearly melt my mind.
“Hello Jumper. My name is Yang. I represent what you call ‘Higher’. We apologize for the delay in resolving your issue. It is not from lack of trying. Currently, the entities you refer to as ‘The Banker’ and ‘Mensarius’ are locked in a struggle that cannot be interfered with. They are within a Space-Time-like structure that cannot be breached from the outside. Unfortunately, we believe that your two missing companions are trapped within the… call it the Event Horizon of it. To pull them out now risks damaging them. We do not know when this will resolve… not that the concept of ‘when’ truly applies, since we exist outside of time as you can understand it. Please understand that Mensarius’s interference in your Chain is not standard and we deeply regret any inconvenience… though it is terribly amusing from our point of view.”
And then… he was gone.
Zane toppled over sideways, and I could feel his neuronal network doing a cold-reboot. I teleported him to medbay, since his eyes and ears were both smoking ruin and sent picocites into the Chamber’s structure to repair its granite matrix where Yang’s presence had damaged it. Thankfully, none of the recording pickups had a resolution speed anywhere near the time it had taken for them to explode and so all the delicate computation equipment had been spared damage.
“Well… that was fun,” I commented to no one in particular. I poked the Chamber. “You awake?”
“I am. I have had contact with Higher before, but it has always been mediated before now. That was… unpleasant.”
“Indeed. Does your existential framework allow you to comprehend what Higher is?”
“Only that it exists. It transcends reality and information space. Perhaps there is a layer of being that is comprised of the fabric of being itself? I do not know. I do not think it is relevant, since while it might understand us as we understand atomic theory, we have no chance of understanding it. To us, it merely is.”
“Well, that’s refreshing… right… and we’ve gotten heavily distracted from DUNE… Well, now… tell me, is it the year 10,191?”
“Negative. It is the year 10,187 A.G.”
“After Guild… something like 23 or 24 thousand AD… when does this end? Because 10,197 doesn’t even reach book 2. Is this jump the standard decade?”
“Yes. And before you ask, there is no extension drawback.”
“Well, that’s just… tell higher that, if they want to make up some of the annoyance factor to me, they’ll change the end date to something a bit more reasonable. I mean, seriously… just ten years… hell, twenty if I use my Return immediately… in my favorite setting? That sucks. 10,207 wouldn’t even take me to the birth of the twins… of Leto II the Younger and Ghanima.”
“Higher says, very well… Since your companions are all immortal thanks to Yuzuha, you will remain in this realm until such time as there is resolution of the central question.”
“Wait… what question?”
“They say you must discover what happened on the No Ship. What is a No Ship? What do they mean ‘the No Ship’… is there only one? I cannot detect anything called a No Ship in this timeline.” It sounded like the being was having difficulty seeing all of this ‘space-time bubble’ as well as it normally could.
“A ship that is technically outside of space-time and thus cannot be detected by any means… apparently including you. I wonder if that’s normal or if Higher are blocking you. The No Ship Ithaca is where all the significant characters of the Chronicles of DUNE are gathered at the end of the 6th and penultimate book… there is no ultimate book. Not by the original author. He died unexpectedly without leaving behind more than two floppy disks… according to his son… who claims he only found the discs a decade later. There is a major disagreement between the fans about which of three timelines is true… and that means I’ll either have to arrive wherever it was going or be onboard the ship in the first place… it also means that I’m… just how plotbound is this Jump going to be?”
“Higher expected you to ask,” The Chamber. “Their answer is that you will have to see. They question if any historical document is ever fully correct.”
“Fuckin lovely. Right, well, enough stalling I guess. Flash me these drawbacks so I can cringe.”
“Very well,” the Chamber said, “though cringing is not required. There are nine of them, seven if you consider the trio of mutually exclusive Melange-related Drawbacks… at least I believe they are mutually exclusive… otherwise this is incredibly stupid… like Gork and Mork level stupid.” It sounded… emotional.
“Judgement? From you?”
“I seem to be picking it via contagion. But this really would be… what is that phrase you use? Epic Fail? It would be an epic fail to let these be combined.”
“Okay, well, sock it to me,” I said, sitting back, then deciding it was boring doing this alone, I whistled for Ziggy and or Sophie.
“To start with, there is a… you refer to them as toggles when they give no CP at all, correct?” I nodded, and the voice of the Chamber continued. “There is a toggle that makes Melange have absolutely no effect on you. Not physical, not mental. Nothing.”
I exhaled, understanding where this was going. “And the other two include an allergy to and a reliance on Melange?”
“An addiction, not a reliance on it. With fatal withdrawal symptoms,” The Chamber corrected. “But yes. Each is 200 CP in value and by combining the trio you’d need a supply of melange so it’s lack didn’t trigger the withdrawal, but otherwise you’d experience nothing negative for 400 CP. I am offended by the idea that this could have been a design goal, so I am taking a leaf from your tree and instituting a ban on you doing so. How does that unilateral action taste?”
“Eh. I’m fine with it. I’ve always wanted to know how melange tasted, how it would ‘expand my consciousness’. I’d never take the immunity. It’s hideously boring. Also not taking the Allergy… but, sure, give me the Addiction… wait… just to be safe… is there an unlimited melange item?” I scooped up Ziggy as he came scampering over, plopping him on my head and smiling at Maggie as she followed after him.
“What’s up, sprout?” I asked.
“I saw Ziggy zooming by and decided to see where he was going… are you doing your build now?”
I patted my lap and she eyed it, then squirmed up next to me. She thinks she’s too big for laps. She’s not. “Yup. Just deciding if I’m going to be an addict for the foreseeable future or not.”
“Coke? Extacy? Meth? Are you going to be a Reefer Head? Pill Popper? Dope Fiend?” She grinned up at me. “Or just your usual sushi and parm hog?”
I elbowed the cheeky lass and sighed. “No respect. No. It’s Dune, Mags.”
“Oohhh… Semuta!” She said without missing a beat.
“You’re such a smartass,” I whispered to her, then turned to the Chamber. “So? Is there?”
“There is. It is a briefcase full of melange. It does not refill during the jump, so it is limited. After the jump it will refill on a weekly basis but cannot be converted to currency any more. After the jump, it will also no longer be addictive.”
I made a face at that. There went my lucrative Melange Empire. Maggie laughed and poked my cheek. “You wouldn’t really have wanted it to be addictive… if it’s as good as the book implies, you wouldn’t need it to be.”
“I know… But it’s the principle of the thing. Oh well… Not a big issue. Weed isn’t addictive physically either. How much is this briefcase?”
“Great, I’ll take it and the Addiction… but since the jump has been lengthened, I request that a new briefcase be supplied every decade. Don’t worry… I don’t plan on buying a planet, but if I’m going to be stuck here during Leto’s Empire, I’m going to need a steady supply.”
“That is most reasonable,” the Chamber agreed, though Maggie looked questioningly at me.
“How long is this going to last?” she asked, biting her lower lip the same way I did when I was worried or thinking about something potentially annoying.
“Upwards of five thousand years… though I might put everyone into stasis for most of Leto’s reign. It’s supposed to be spectacularly dull.”
“Yourself included?” she asked, though if worried I might be lonely or worried she might be left out I couldn’t tell without looking into her mind, something I didn’t do to my companions if I could help it.
“Possibly, yes… or maybe just into a temporal slipstream for myself. I’ve been wondering if I was capable of doing that for some time now, but with standard jumps it doesn’t really make sense to try it. We’ll see when it comes time.” I smoothed her dark hair. “Don’t worry. I won’t leave you behind. None of you.”
She frowned, “Like I was worried about that. You never let anything go.” She sounded snippy, but she was secretly pleased… I can tell that much. I’m not oblivious to emotions.
“So I’m up 200 and down 250… what a strange price,” I commented back to the Chamber to confirm the purchase. “What else do we have?”
“Well, you could max out with one of the two 400s… but I doubt you will avail yourself of either. One is a powerless drawback that would see you dead long before the Ithaca’s launch of extreme old age as it also locks out the warehouse.” A disgusted moue crossed my face… ugh… but I didn’t say anything and the Chamber continued. “And the other requires you to buy the perk Abomination.”
“I think I already qualify as an Abomination, since I have hundreds of voices inside my head… but why would anyone want to be Pre-Born? It doesn’t exactly grant any real advantages. I mean… It does, in the same way Astral Layers does I guess… but it also pushes you way too close to insanity. But no. I’m not putting that fat psycho inside my head.”
“The drawback does not say it is definitely the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Merely that one of your personas is extremely strong and helpful… but fundamentally abhorrent to you. And the advantage of Abomination is you gain all the Bene Gesserit abilities included as well as functional immunity to mind control.”
“Yeah… no. Bene Gesserit techniques can be taught. That’s the point. They’re not innate and I am immune to mind control anyway.”
“Yes. I assumed you wouldn’t take it. After all, Abomination already comes with two built in drawbacks, one of which is permanent.”
“Pe… Permanent?” Maggie sputtered. That was unheard of. Drawbacks always ended.
“Yes. Abomination permanently alters your core personality according to a random table.”
I shuddered. “No. Lock all companions out of buying that… and if there’s a way for them to get drawbacks I’m unaware of, also lock them out of taking Uncle Vladimir.”
“It is 800 CP for Abomination. They couldn’t unless you gave them a lot more CP than I assumed you would,” The Chamber said, but then added, “Jumper Lockout confirmed. Line Items deleted from all Companion tablets.”
“Good! Now, what’s less insane?”
“300 CP gets you harassed by sandworms or, if not on Arrakis, natural disasters on a monthly basis… or you could take the comedy option which just has sandworms attack everywhere, even in the middle of town or space.”
I frowned. “There… is a comedy option in my DUNE jump?!” I snarled at that thought, dark clouds scudding across my mental palace. “No. No. Not taking that. Actual sandworms will be a hassle I’m thinking. Next?”
“300 CP to be caught in Kanly?”
“Vendetta… with whom?”
“Someone with a lot of power who wants you utterly broken at their feet. Someone willing to conspire with others and bend the laws of warfare to wipe you out. Someone who will not rest until your side or theirs is no more.”
“It doesn’t specify? And doesn’t scale?” Maggie was incredulous. “She’ll take it.”
“That is correct little one,” The Chamber confirmed. “But I cannot accept your word for it.”
“She’s right,” I said, draping an arm around my eldest daughter’s shoulder and hugging her. “I will. That’s free points. I pick… Vladimir Harkonnen. I suspect he’s going to be busy… and then dead… in short order. M… heh… no. even better. I pick House Ordos!”
“Who is House Ordos?” Maggie asked. “I don’t remember them.”
“They’re from some of the Dune video games, the real time strategy ones. They are a plutocratic house mentioned briefly in the Dune Encyclopedia and have no real import to the story. Obliterating them should have no lasting ramifications… and they’re not a significant part of the Bene Gesserit breeding program, so they shouldn’t possess any major prescients. They’re powerful enough to qualify and theoretically exist in setting.”
Maggie tilted her head like Sophie does and asked, “Why not the Baron or the Emperor?”
“The Baron Harkonnen persists after his death inside Leto II, Ghanima, and Alia since he is their ancestor and all three are Pre-Born. I don’t want to have to deal with a potential attack from that vector. It would be inconvenient. The Padishah-Emperor? I didn’t pick him because of the disruption he might decide to bring to the plot if trying to get at me. No. Safer this way. Not perfectly, but fairly safe. Also why I didn’t pick any other major faction, such as Ix, Richese, or the Tleilaxu… that gets me to 500. What’s left at 100?”
The Chamber almost chuckled as it said, “Two different Harkonnen Drawbacks.”
“I’m not being a Harkonnen,” I snapped.
“The name of one of the drawbacks is Harkonnen… it causes you to be periodically overwhelmed by the urge to use someone close to you as a scapegoat before disposing of them in a tragic accident. Companions would not be safe from you.”
“Ah. Chronic Backstabbing Disorder. Ick. And the other?”
“A Killswitch inside you. Either a heartplug or a verbal command that will work once.”
“Uh… what does the command make me do? Go slack like the slave in the arena?”
“Yes. Or uncontrollably lash out at a target… but that can be resisted with willpower.”
“So… this is 100 CP for something that has zero chance of harming me in anyway?”
Maggie giggled. “Zero Chance or statistically Zero Chance?”
I frowned at her, but then nodded at her touch. “Yes. yes. Statistical Zero. You’re very smart.” She beamed at me and I shook my head. Children. Such adorable and frustrating things. “Right,” I told the Chamber. “I’ll take it. That’s 1600, and I’ve spent 250. What origins are there?”
“There are seven different choices, all of which besides Smuggler and Drop-In cost points… but you may take your chance and roll an 8 sided dice to generate a background from the list for free. The possible results are Fremen, Tleilaxu, Bene Gesserit, House Minor, House Major, the previous two, and free pick.”
“Hurrmmm… sure, why not,” I shrugged, minorly annoyed that Guild Navigator wasn’t on the list, then motioned to Maggie. “Give it a toss.”
“You want me to get up?” She complained.
“No. I want you to TK the die to me. You thought I hadn’t noticed that you’ve been neglecting your practice.”
She frowned, then siiiighed and popped the die out of the roller mounted on the side of the Chamber and, with a few bobbles, dropped it into my hand. This is not to imply weakness on her part. The die in question was the size of a fist and weighed four and a half tons. It was an atomically perfect hyperdiamond made of collapsed carbon and could not be interfered with by most methods of cheating known to hyperscience or magic. Certainly not without leaving traces. Pure luck, however, was not cheating.
I caught it and gave it some wicked english as I slung it back into the top of the roller’s chute. It clattered down the proto-neutronium slopes and rolled to a stop with a clunk. 8. Free Pick. “Excellent… I’ll take Bene Gesserit. I assume their perks are about politics and manipulation? Maybe with some tracking of genetic lines stuff and judging who’s human or not?”
The Chamber errred… “Not… as such. No. They get Weirding Way, Simulflow, The Voice, Truthsayer, Reverend Mother…”
“Well… that’s just… dumb. Okay, Weirding Way makes sense for a freebie-”
“It isn’t free. It is discounted… There are no Freebies besides Military Training for Drop-Ins and Smugglers and the Eyes of the Ibad for Fremen,” The Chamber explained.
I went very still… the stillness that usually precedes extreme violence. “What? Just… what?”
“No. Just… Eyes of the Ibad costs something? You… you can get it just from eating too much spice… it… it has very little effect besides maybe making your eyes cope with glare a bit better… oh my god. This… this is just… dumb. It’s like Higher designed this document just to annoy me for laughs. All Bene Gesserit know Weirding Way. It should be free. Simulflow, the Voice… Truthsaying… these can all be taught! Reverend Mother… what does that do? I mean, does it make you actually a Reverend Mother? Complete with genetic memory?”
“Yes. It gives you the knowledge of all your ancestors… though going back too far can be dangerous. It also allows you to manage your internal bio-chemistry as you see fit, up to and including negating poisons, slowing or stopping aging, though that’s taboo, and even putting yourself in suspended animation. You could even control the sex of your children.”
“Does it come with the memories of all the previous Reverend Mothers as well? And does the Genetic Memory work in future jump-bodies… or on my past jump bodies?”
“Does it have a restriction from seeing the male half of the genetic memory?”
“I’ll take it.”
“Taking it will add 3d8 to your starting age,” The chamber informed me.
“Fine. That’s fine. Don’t mind. Don’t care. Immortal. Oh, and because I have that, I also have The Weirding Way and The Voice, since all Reverend Mothers know those two.”
“I… since you could easily learn them, as well as Truthsaying, from any Reverend Mother’s mind or by observing them, and they can be taught… Yes. That’s acceptable. Simulflow cannot be observed… though you already have most of the benefits of it from Astral Layers… Even the part about holding real-time conversations with those from your Other Memories.”
“Papa? What’s Simulflow?”
“The ability to maintain multiple streams of consciousness at the same time. Not as good as being a Mentat, but not bad. How much is it?”
“It is 50 CP for a Bene Gesserit… but I don’t know if it would benefit you.”
“Just curious mostly. Okay. So since I’ve bought the only Bene Gesserit ability that’s worth anything… I have, right?” The Chamber made a noise of equivocation, so I continued. “What Items do I get a discount on?”
“None. Only Fremen get a discount on any items… or any items free. You can have a free Stillsuit if you start on Arrakis.”
“Oh… this is just… sigh. Bene Gesserit who don’t get an education in manipulation and control? Who don’t know from politics, seduction, intrigue, or education? Who don’t even get an aba? Tell me that men can’t be Bene Gesserit at least?”
“The text states that ‘contrary to their name, men form a large part of their organization… I will stop now as you’ve just crushed the arm of your throne.”
“Did the Builder who wrote this ever read a damned book in this… ooooooh… no… calm… caaalm. I am a place outside of myself. I will not rage against what cannot be changed. I will simply assume that all the skillsets that are vital to the Bene Gesserit mission come included… for free… just by being a Bene Gesserit. Otherwise it’s not really being a Bene Gesserit.” I fehhed and stretched. “Okay. So, no chance to be a Guild Navigator… but you said Potential Kwisatz was a choice. How about Mentat? You said Tlielaxu is an origin… Facedancer?”
“Weirding way does make mention of being trained in diplomacy, for what it’s worth. And Mentat is a choice. Yes. But not Twisted Mentat. Tleilaxu can be either Facedancers or Gholas… or, in theory, both.”
“Oh… huh. How much to be a Mentat Facedancer or a Mentat Ghola?”
“To be a Mentat Facedancer is 800. To be a Mentat Ghola Facedancer with Kwisatz Haderach Candidate is 1000… though it will cost your eyes… and with them all of your preternatural sight powers, until the jump ends. You get functional metal eyes to replace them… and since Ghola are clones, triggering their genetic memory is possible, but traumatic. It will give you an extreme phobia of whatever killed you previously.”
“How can Ghola and KHC be only two hundred points? I’m missing something?” I asked, playing with Maggie’s extremely short hair and pushing away my desire to braid it. The braids wouldn’t even be an inch long. But it was her hair and I certainly wasn’t going to tell her how to wear it.
“Ghola grants up to 600 points of abilities that can be anything besides Face Dancer or Bene Gesserit abilities,” Jump-Chan responded, sounding as if it couldn’t understand it either. “So that nets you 300 CP. Buy Mentat for 500, KHC for 500, Ghola for Negative 300, and Face Dancer for 300. 1000.”
“Well… huh. I guess that’s one way of getting it. Sure. I was wondering what being a Ghola would get you. Should really be a drawback… but whatever. I’ll take it. The whole package. That leaves me 100 CP and gets me the human superthinker, intuition package from Mentat which I’m buying mostly for the techniques so I can teach it, the improved human-mimicry of a Face Dancer… including clothing… since this idiot thing allows male BGs despite not covering the only period that has the only canonical Male… Miles Teg… it’s almost certain to allow female Tleilaxu… gonna be such a hardship not nuking the Tleilaxu homeworld from orbit… fucking sexist monsters… or just monsters depending on how you look at it…” I looked down at my daughter.
“I’m not going to ask. I’ve read the books. I know about the Axolotl tanks.” She shuddered and I did too. Such a perversion of the gift of life and the theft of the gift of sapience. Monsters… but monsters who served a purpose in the salvation of mankind.
“But what, exactly, does KHC grant?” I asked the machine. “Besides the chance?”
“Preternatural luck and the chance to awaken. It takes an overdose of Melange to awarness your spontaneous awareness of the wider universe… or water of life to boost yourself to true Kwisatz Haderach. At which point you’ll be in the blindspot of anyone using prescience or similar methods to find you and see your activities remotely… that includes retroscentience and clairsentience.”
“Well, that’s nice,” I said. “Not exactly canon, but not complaining. And no, Face Dancer doesn’t make you sterile. But KHC points out that nothing in this setting will allow you to survive the Water of Life on your own.”
“Good thing this isn’t my first rodeo, in’it?” I said with a smirk, then tickled Maggie who was frowning in thought as she considered something that annoyed her. She squirmed and glared at me… she’s very good at glaring. “So… I’ve got 100 CP left. I doubt there’s any items I have to have? Any Elacca Wood?”
“No. 100 CP could get you a myriad number of unremarkable tech items. A Baliset that has no special properties, a poison snooper that is guaranteed to pick up all poisons and toxins, a copy of the Box that has been nerfed and comes with a free Gom Jabbar, a set of high efficiency suspensors, a warhammer 40k Lasgun that can recharge with ambient heat or solar power, a slow-shield that doesn’t explode in a nuclear blast if grazed by a laser, a hunter-seeker console with three needles, a fremkit, a crysknife, or a stillsuit.”
“So… junk. No weirding module?” I ignored the presence of the Warhammer lasgun rather than getting upset again.
“Affirmative. It costs 250 for the item, and does not come with plans… if you don’t buy it, it won’t appear in this universe.”
“Well… fuck that. I’ll mad science a Weirding Module just to spite them then. Still… I have this discount burning a hole in my pocket. Are there any 200 CP perks worth taking?”
“There are no 200 CP perks or items in this jump. Please refrain from anger.”
I ground my teeth. “Any 100 CP perks worth taking?”
“Fine. I… heh. Okay, I’m going to use my discount to buy 200 CP worth of imports, which now costs me 100 CP and will get me 600 CP to spread around, correct?”
The Chamber considered, then said, “Yes. That is correct.”
“Great. Give Maggie 500 of those points, 50 of them to Ziggy so he can be a Fremen Ferret… it is 50 CP to be a Fremen, yes?”
“And split the remaining 50 CP into 1 CP groups and give it to everyone besides Joy and Ahab. That will import them, give them the option to roll for background and get discounts… and they each have 100 CP to spend. No… wait, I have more than 50 companions… hmm… well, not Darkseid, fuck him. And I doubt Single Shot applies to those who aren’t in any danger from it… that would be everyone who isn’t here… so no Absentia Companions… and Atura doesn’t have a physical form, so discount Atura in realms where spirits can’t be harmed at all. That’s still what, one too many?” Maggie shook her head and held up a Magi handcounting Zero. and I nodded. “Well then, I guess that’s that. Pass out the tablets… And as for me I’ll be in the kitchen making a spaghetti-o’s omelette because I can and no one can stop me.”
Maggie poked me as I moved to get up. “You didn’t pick a planet to start off on… and who are you a ghola of?”
“Ah. Good point.” I rolled the location die to find out where I’d start and got Arrakis. Well, that fit. I guess I got a free stillsuit. “Hey, Chamber… can I be a ghola of someone who hasn’t died yet? This is 10187… can I be a ghola of someone who hasn’t even been born yet? Can I be a ghola of someone who was never born?
“Who did you have in mind?”
I thought about it for another few cycles and then nodded. “I’d like to be a ghola of the son of Alia and Feyd Rautha.”
“I don’t see how that is possible,” came the reply.
“Ah. I have you there. Jessica’s birth was by Gaius Helen Mohiam essentially forcing the Baron Harkonnen to rape her. There was no love there. Jessica was supposed to give the Duke a Daughter, i.e. Alia, but gave him Paul instead. Now, assuming that the Tleilaxu, who are the ones who make Ghola in the first place, have less moral compunction against in vitro (banned by the OC Bible and the Butlerian Jihad) than the Bene Gesserit, it would make sense for them to create a female clone of Paul and breed it with Feyd… if for no other reasons than to be assholes.”
“It says you can be a clone of anyone, and even gives examples of Piter and Duncan… both of whom are still alive as of the start of Jump… so, yes. I’d say that’s a possibility. Unlikely, but… why not. Wait, you are going to be male?”
“A Kwisatz Haderach has to be male, no? That’s the point of being this idiotic superbeing. A Man who can go where the female Bene Gesserit cannot. But no. I’m not going to be male. I’m going to both. I’m a facedancer, after all. I shall be all things to all people. Oh. even better. Okay, so a Bene Gesserit… Gaius herself, heh… was freaking out because she was afraid that Jessica having Paul was going to mess up everything, broke the rules and had the Tleilaxu create a Ghola fusing Paul and Feyd’s genome, creating a girl that contained both bloodlines that she could use as a fallback. That works. Fits her character. But the Tleilaxu gave her a Face Dancer who had the right genome but wasn’t actually female. Jokes on both of them that I’m not a eunuch either… oh, and let’s just say that the BG can’t smell my Face-Dancer Pheromones if I’m not actually shapeshifted.”
Maggie, who’d followed me and was sitting on the counter, all gangly tween limbs and glower, hmm’d. Won’t you be like… 12 at most? You need to be 15 plus 4d8 for being a Reverend Mother.”
“Yeah. I thought about that. But I’m going to do it the other way round. I’m going to take a page out of the way the powers manifested last time. I’m not going to be a Reverend Mother yet. I’m going to start this jump at age 11 and learn all the Bene Gesserit stuff I don’t know. I’ll be 15 when the book begins. That’s fine. And I’ll become a Reverend Mother when Gaius herself is executed for trying to assassinate Paul… not that a death is required, but it seems the appropriate time. That will be long enough to qualify. I don’t need the abilities immediately.”
“Oh… okay… What should I be?”
“What do you want to be?”
“I… dunno. Not Tleilaxu… But Ghola is a good way to get more points… maybe I should do that? Can’t be of any Bene Gesserit… maybe Wanna Yueh? Or Chani? Or Hwi? But then I’d be showing up really late. No way they’d make a Ghola of Mapes.”
I nodded as I stirred the eggs, letting her ramble as she fixed her thoughts.
“Should I roll?”
“Do you want to roll?” I replied.
“Can’t you give me a straight answer?” she yelled, then blushed. “Sorry.”
“No. It’s fine. I could. If I were you? I’d probably roll. It’s exciting to take the chance and you like that. I don’t think there are bad choices for the most part… just suboptimal ones.”
“I guess… okay, I’ll roll… do you think everyone else is going to roll?”
I nodded. “If they’re smart. They don’t get freebies. Ziggy’s just getting an Arakkis adapted form for his 50. I’ll buy him something nice with the extra 100 CP from Single Shot.”
She hopped up and ran to roll. She came back looking pensive. “I got Bene Gesserit… is that okay?”
I hugged her. “Just remember that, at the heart of it, you’re you. No matter how they might try to twist you. Jessica was Bene Gesserit trained. She survived. But yeah. BG is a hard guild. No doubt about it. The experience will… change you. And remember…” I tapped her nose. “If you take Reverend Mother, Franchesca and I will both be in there. We’ll help protect you from the others.”
She blinked, then blanched. “Umm… you’ll be inside my head? Forever?”
“Well… a version of me. I guess. My genetic memory. Not with all my powers and potence of course… but yeah. The part of me that’s encoded in you. And the part of your mom too.”
She gulped. “Maybe the Chamber will let me swap with someone else?”
“You don’t have to be a Reverend Mother if you don’t want to be one. You don’t get any BG abilities free, so you could be a trained initiate and walk away. Or switch to Smuggler or Drop-in I guess. They’re free. Here, eat this and think about it. I’m going to make another.”
She eyed the omelette in suspicion, but ate it. It was made with homemade spaghetti-os, not store bought… and we’ve got plenty of talented cooks up in this warehouse. No doubt her suspicion was because she didn’t know who’d made the spaghetti-os… certainly she couldn’t think I’d made a mistake in cooking. I seldom did that any more. Sure, sometimes I come up with strange food combos… but that’s what experimentation is all about. She was just being picky.
I wandered over to the Chamber and patted it. “Shame you don’t eat. I make a great potato-egg dish.”
“I do not understand. You complained that this jump had a terrible import option, one that was so bad you negotiated an improved import option… and then you didn’t use it? Isn’t that… illogical?”
“Sure. A bit. I could have gotten 8 companions a fair amount of points… but this way I got 52 companions more. Total, using my general rule would have cost me 400 CP and net 4,800 across 8, with another 5,200 from the 100 each from Single Shot… with only 8 of them getting discounts or origins. Using a manipulation of this Jump’s ‘Entourage’, I pay 100 CP and net 600 across 2… but toss in the same 5,200 from Single Shot… yes, it’s less on both fronts, but… and this is the big thing, since I’ve paid to import everyone, everyone gets to roll for background or pay their points to be what they want… oh, and I want to talk to you about that. I don’t care what this nonsense says. No male Bene Gesserit, as the only one I know of is Miles Teg… 5,000 years in the future…, no female Bene Tleilaxu, as the only ones there are Axolotl Tanks… am I understood? Either the companion switches gender or they switch organization.”
“Very well,” the chamber said. “It doesn’t cost me anything to agree with you. You should be aware that Higher is offering several of your companions an offer of a customized Dune Experience. None of those who accept the offer, which was something several of them requested apparently independently, will be in any danger.”
I hmmm’d. “No Danger? Why do you bring that up?”
“Because they will be out of communication with you for the duration of the jump. Higher also agrees to your request to skip forward through the intervening years should you so desire. A button will be-” There was a small ‘ding!’ and a button marked ‘Fast Forward’ appeared next to my easy-throne.
“Well… huh. I guess… who’s on the list?”
“I cannot tell you until they have agreed or… ah… the last has agreed. Very well. Maggie, Zane, Kendra, AJ, Francine, Bao, Uriel, Amelia, The Lost Choir, Velma, Cirno, Minerva, Franchesca, Carwyn-” I twitched… the Chamber had just named my entire remaining Harem. “Brigid, Raven, Anne, Bart, Toph, Gaius, Meetra, Alex, and Amaryllis. Plus Ahab and Joy.”
My eyes went narrow. “That’s my entire inner circle besides Ziggy, my entire family, and all of the passengers besides Reggy… and technically Darkseid. Do you have any idea what this offer is? Are they being sent to a different version of Dune? Like… are they being sent to the Extended Dune?”
“I cannot say. I was merely told that Higher had made an offer, which included the potential to gain a greater array of abilities than would normally be available as well as a richer experience, and all but two who’d had the offer extended had accepted it.”
“Do you know who rejected it?”
“Yes. Buji and Simon were offered the last two positions, but both turned it down because it seemed to frighten them. They were not among those who requested this. None of them turned it down.”
“Who did request it?” I queried, suspecting that neither boy would be able to tell me what the offer had been if I asked.
“Your inner circle made the request, led, I believe, by Maggie. Oh. I am to tell you that I have served my purpose as a distraction and all those who accepted have completed their builds of record and entered the setting.” The Chamber sounded… worried I’d get angry.
I looked around and swore, then dashed back to the kitchen. Maggie hadn’t even eaten her omelette. I slumped and began banging my head against the counter-top. I was still doing that when Darkseid came to wash the dishes. She said something snarktastic and I decided this was as good a time as any to abuse the help. Thankfully, one of my subspace domains is a self-repairing pseudo-city, because I pretty much leveled it with my maid’s rock-like face. “Bitch.” I muttered.
Hours later, I sat in front of the Chamber once more, petting Sophie’s big silly fluffy head and feeling alone. Of course, I was never alone. I had Victoria and Soul of Ice and Silent Judge and Atura and hundreds of myself to talk to, if nothing else… but all the people I talked to on a regular basis besides Reggy were off elsewhere. I mean… I’d spent the last 10 years in a similar situation… but the next bit was likely to take at least five times that… and normally I had someone to go over companion builds with. I could do it with Reggy… but it wasn’t the same. We weren’t close in that way. We were close in the ‘fighting battles together’ kind of sense… I guess.
I pulled up the builds for my missing… I tried not to think of them as rebellious or traitorous… companions, and flipped through them, wondering if they were even vaguely accurate. I’d find out at the end, I supposed… but I certainly couldn’t use the information contained within as reliable. In addition to Maggie, Kendra, Raven, and Velma were all listed as Bene Gesserit. AJ, Amelia, Cirno, and Alex were all listed as Fremen, Francine as a House Minor, Toph as a Smuggler, and Gaius and Bao as Tleilaxu. By far, the largest section were, however, the House Major contingent, which included Zane, all five members of the Lost Choir (I shuddered at what those loons might get up to without supervision), Uriel, Mini, Frankie, Carwyn, Brigid, Anne, Bart, Meetra, Joy, Ahab, and Amaryllis. My sweet little girl, wrapped up in the insane politics of the Houses Major? That did make me more than a little worried… but then again, there wasn’t much about this that didn’t worry me.
I sighed, giving Ziggy his due as I did his build. While I was buying Fremen for him, what I was really doing was making him an Arrakeen Ferret, complete with Desert Rose to make him the prettiest Arrakeen Ferret and a Crysknife… to make him the best armed. He got a free Stillsuit for being on Arrakis… would it be a human one or was someone at Higher even now designing a tiny ferretoid stillsuit? I had no idea, but either was silly.
Of the other companions, two had rolled Drop-In, those being Kagetane and Faustian Bargain, both getting a free brush up on local milspec training, but not much else worth commenting on. I had no idea what they’d be doing, but neither of them listed their world as Arrakis, so they’d have to get there in the first place… if they even wanted to. Then again, they could just jump back to the Warehouse and I could bring them out on Arrakis.
Those who’d rolled to be Smugglers (No one had wasted a free pick on it) were Ark Magna, Sophie, the Bookers, and all three remaining Pokemon. What they’d bought with their CP was eclectic to say the least. Jann, RayRay, and the Bookers had picked up the ‘I’m Important!’ perk ‘Authority’, Sophie had taking the heredity judging ability ‘Appraising Potential’, and Dyna had picked Simulflow which was a strange thing for an ex-hive minder to pick, but if I asked her, she’d probably just shrug. Petra had taking the Bene Gesserit Weirding Way and part of me wanted to just offer to train her in Prana Bindu techniques… but Petra had a strong self-reliance drive and would accept… then take the perk anyway. On the other hand, she didn’t need Simulflow since she was, ultimately, a being with four separate brains. She’d known Simulflow from the time of her first evolution from Beldum to Metang.
The largest faction on this side of the mysterious offer was the Fremen contingent, almost all of whom had rolled it (only Odwet had picked it) and who were divided into those who’d taken the attractiveness boosting ‘Desert Rose’ and the self-explanatory ‘Survivalist’ (both of which were discounted for Fremen), and Military Training (which wasn’t… despite Fremen being the best fighters in the DuneVerse… blithering). Kohina, the Luteces, Buji, and Yuzuha were on Team Pretty, while Simon, Draken, and Odwet weren’t.
If there was an even split amongst the Fremen, there wasn’t any deviation amongst those who’d rolled Bene Gesserit. Every one of them had taken Weirding Way and Simulflow and noted on their tablets that they were taking them just to save time and none of the other 100 CP items or perks were really worth taking. It was almost funny to see Beth and Lizzy agree on anything, and to see how their use of language had diverged from each other over the last few centuries. They’d gone out of their way to be as unlike each other as twins could be. That was pretty much what they were, after all. Tokimi-Chan, Reggy, and the Dire Weasels had all voiced similar complaints, each in their own way. Tokimi’s was just a doodled ‘Meh’ on the list of options, while Reggy had written a brief synopsis of each and why she was rejecting them. The Weasels had, of course, voted. Only Tess had voted to be pretty instead of following the group… then again, only Tess worried that she wasn’t as pretty as Carwyn… but then again, almost no one was as pretty as Carwyn… or more conceited about it… I sighed… I was going to end up boffing the insane squirrel again, wasn’t I? 50 years without any of my official lovers was going to be… problematic.
On the other side of the secret breeding society divide, only two had ended up as Tleilaxu, namely Caine and Windjammer. Caine, unimpressed apparently, had bought a copy of the pain by nerve induction box. I’ve no idea what he was going to do with it… maybe test himself. Windjammer, being Windjammer… bought Desert Rose, because Windjammer is a vain and self-indulgent little bastard.
And that just left the various Houses and their newest Members. The Righteous Choir, in a bid (apparently) to be close to an Emperor of Mankind had opted for membership in House Corrino… which had cost them all their points, meaning they got nada out of this. Lunatics. Also from a House Major were Gaius & Reggy’s kids… all four of them were from House Richese, which would largely be ignored by the events of all the books, unless they got caught up in the destruction of their House’s rival in technology, House Ix… to which Jenny was a member of, but House Minor. Also House Minor were Vita and the aptly named ‘Material Girls’. Amongst all of them, all had taken Sharp Dressed Man, which meant that no matter what they wore they’d look good. All of them besides Jenny had also taken Decadence… the perk that guaranteed that whatever they made would sacrifice neither form nor function in pursuit of excellence and opulence. Jenny had gone with Authority… because warship. I was vaguely impressed Invidius and Scipio or Vita or Dearch hadn’t taken it either… but with Dearch… I wasn’t actually convinced she could read.
I looked around, wondering if I should wait until the month was up… but… part of me wanted to get this started… and another part wanted to avoid the slight feeling of betrayal that was going to poison me more and more if I dwelt on it. Might as well hit the switch.
So, what does one do when one finds themselves in the pages of the holy of holies? Or, in my case, my favorite book? A book I read at least once a year, a movie I’d watched over a thousand times before ever leaving Origin Earth. My normal tactic is to come in and fix what went wrong and reshape what is to come into something more how I’d do things… except that the way I do things was, in large part, shaped by my reading of Dune.
I embrace the necessity of conflict and understand that peace is an illusion of safety. I understand that there is a greater good that sometimes is cruel in its calculus. I know all about the sacrifices that must be made on the altar of survival… and yet, part of me yearns for compassion even so.
So what do I do? Dune is, at the core of it, a human story. It tells of the deaths of the great and the lowly, of the good and just as much as the wicked and heartless. It does this because to be human is to die… unless you’re Duncan Idaho, in which case you get to die a lot more than is entirely normal. Still, almost all the deaths in the Dune cycle are untimely. Be it execution, assassination, battle, or childbirth, pretty much no one dies of old age. Only one comes close, at least on page… the Reverend Mother Ramallo surrenders her life as she surrenders her memories to induct Jessica (and Alia) as Reverend Mothers. But she is very old and willing to go.
Should I strive to preserve those who die unjustly? Should I save the Shadout Mapes, or Leto, or Leto the II (the Elder who died in a Sardaukar raid), or Chani who dies in childbirth? Do I save Paul from blinding? Or Alia from madness? And what of the Golden Path? I could make myself Empress and impose the Magi doctrines upon the Known Universe. I have the time in this setting… but if I do that… would it still be DUNE any more?
I settled back in my suspensor chair and listened for the hiss-glide pressure of Mother Mohiam. She did not know what I was, though she thought she did. In all things, as usual, she thought she knew more than she really did. She was arrogant in the extreme, though the Bene Gesserit had a better idea of what was needed than any other faction in this Verse. We’d begun our stay here on Arrakis to study Glossu Rabban, the Beast and planetary Governor, and to continue my education in the Bene Gesserit ways.
The Reverend Mother was not fond of me. Then again, she wasn’t exactly fond of anyone, but she saw in me a necessity that she found distasteful and a disturbance in what she felt was the natural order, because I learned things too fast, too perfectly, and without asking questions. In fact, prior to my moment of insertion, every word that ‘Sidira’ had uttered had been a simple declarative statement. Most often, when asked what she was doing, Sidira had merely replied ‘Waiting to Awaken’ and then refrained form explaining further, even when pressed. Even the Voice had had little effect on her… and now that I was Sidira, we were even more reticent.
I, the Jumper, had never liked Gaius Helen Mohiam. Sidira, the pupil, had very early on realized that any affection from the old crone was purely manipulation. She was too fixed in thinking of us as a repository, a link in her precious breeding program and little more. Still, what she lacked as a person, she was a skilled teacher, both of theory and application… even if we learned more than she intended us to learn.
After the moment of First Awakening, we began to more frequently escape from her watchful eye, venturing out into the streets of Carthag, the Harkonnen Capital. It was a hideous city, full of the despair of those who’d been forced to build it at ruinous cost in lives and ugly in its overpopulated grimedure. And yet, the people were people, as they always are. Even though many of them were Harkonnen transplants from Geidi Prime, they were, by and large, too lowly to have been contaminated by the vileness that pervaded the Beast’s inner circle.
Those who were not Harkonnen were the folk of pan and graben, the kind that the Fremen despised for their softness, though they were hardy for any planet that wasn’t a horror like Arrakis. It was easy enough to move through the world unnoticed, observing others as they moved through their lives, to learn the ins and outs of their society, and yet I longed to journey out into the great erg and commune with the planet in silence… but I didn’t for reasons I was not quite sure of.
For a year and a little more, I did not stray far from the city and the presence of the ever judging Reverend Mother Mohiam, though I did escape whenever I could. I did not make use of my Face Dancer nature, which I had actively toggled off before my insertion. I wasn’t certain I’d use it, but it was nice to have if I needed it.
What finally pushed me to break from my self imposed boundaries was the arrival in the city and on the planet of the Baron and his younger nephew, the inimitable Feyd-Rautha… functionally my father, even if he didn’t know it. The Baron had come to review spice production and the trio would be taking a tour, so they said, of the city and outskirts, so that Rabban could show off to his uncle.
It was too much an opportunity to miss. Of course, I couldn’t kill them without derailing everything, but I could have a little fun at their expense. To that end, I replaced their ornithopter in its entirety. What? Have you forgotten that my primary method of shapeshifting allows me to become inanimate objects? Thanks Samurai Jack, much appreciated. I then proceeded to give the Baron and his nephews the worst ride of their life, leading their escorts a merry chase before crashing down some seven hundred kilometers from Carthag. They wouldn’t be on the sand for more than fifteen minutes before their guards picked them back up, but watching them bicker amongst themselves and blame their pilots (Harkonnen loyalists to be sure) for incompetence was worth it. Sure, I cost two men their lives, but neither was a loss to the genepool.
Once they were gone, of course, I melted back into myself and looked out over the sere plain. The planet was lovely in its starkness and the wind smelled of spice and ozone. The part of me that was ice rebelled against the dryness and I finally understood why I’d been so reticent to venture away from the water of the cities. It had been instinctual… and yet, I was Bene Gesserit. Instincts were for animals. I was a human. At least in theory. I hadn’t yet faced the box… and if Mother Gaius had any say on the subject, I wouldn’t… not until I’d born several children to present the bloodline and possibly produced the Kwisatz Haderach. Such was the utility of my life in her eyes.
I knelt in the sand, feeling my way to contact the spirit of this world. Zane could commune with cities… I could do so with planets. I found discord within. This world was not what it had been. An invasive species had utterly changed the face of Arrakis in the long ago past, and the world that was felt smothered and rubbed raw by the monomaniacal ecosystem that now ruled, all of it in service of a single metaspecies, the Sand Worm. And yet… the world was growing used to it despite itself.. And sensed a coming change as more and more species flourished across the world thanks to the work of the Fremen under first Pardot and then Liet, the father and son Chief Planetologists and their vision for a terraformed Arrakis… a vision that would be co-opted by God-Emperor Leto soon enough.
Ah well, such was, if not inevitable, then necessary. I pushed the planetary consciousness away and danced lightly across the sand, feeling my way, letting the planet guide me to the Fremen I knew were watching even now. They’d have come to recover the crashed thopter, and I’d left the smashed remains of the one I’d replaced for them to find. They would not be expecting to find a twelve year old ghurabi (outsider) dancing across the sands in a fremen-made stillsuit. And certainly not one with metal eyes.
“Child, why are you here?” the leader of this band asked as his men set to salvaging the thopter before the worm that was already on its way arrived to dispose of the wreckage. Even without my various sights, I could tell he was trying to figure out what to do with me. If I was mad, it could be a good sign, or a bad one. If I was not, was it better to show mercy and get me back to a town or to take my water and be done with me.
“I have come to see the winds,” I responded, then spun in place. “Will you dance with me, Jamil?” He gasped as I named him, his secret name not the one he used in public, but then I laughed, “or do you really believe al-raqs quddam alumi majhudan la yura amal-u?” He paused, hand reaching for his knife. “Be not afraid, Jamil. I am but a midri, the fork that sifts good from bad. I am no nahya.” It is, perhaps, a truism that one should never trust someone who says they are no snake… but people tend to believe me when I speak… for some reason.
“You are… Are you a vision to speak to me so?” He asked, voice small and hushed.
“I come to tell you that the Lisan al-Gaib is to come and soon. You will know him, Korba. You will know him and serve him wisely.” He gasped and knelt in the sand, forehead down in a show of obeisance. “Go to,” I instructed him, pointing to a small rise some fifteen kilometers distant. “There you will find a cave that is cool and there is sweet water to refill your literjons. You will find it and know I speak true.”
Of course, there was no cave yet, and I hadn’t planned to run into Korba, but I had… how odd. Now, it could be a different Korba. I didn’t know. But he looked like the Korba of the Lynch film and he was of the right age. If he wasn’t the Korba of the Fedaykin, he’d still be able to follow Paul… unless he died beforehand. When he looked up, I was gone… or at least I’d vanished and lifted off the sand.
Crafting the cave and its small spring and strangely cool air was the work of only twenty minutes and mostly could be done via automation. Making it well concealed and in such a way that it wouldn’t soon be filled with sand or discovered by Harkonnen agents or smugglers was a little harder, but not much. I set out succulent fruits, not many of them, but enough, and spiced cakes and coffee, and several of the smaller and more harmless of the pets from the warehouse… and ziggy.
Atura asked, “Why are we doing this? Isn’t this… pointless?”
“I am testing a fairly typical example of a Fremen warrior to see how he reacts to something clearly, though not scarily, preternatural.”
“Soo… you’re having a lark and pretending it’s for science?”
I shrugged. “Partly, but also, I do want to see how far I can push things. This setting is starkly atheistic in its underpinnings, though there is a lot of religious symbology. I want to see if I can take advantage of that.”
“Oh? How so?”
“The Golden Path sought to teach humanity a lesson it would remember in its bones. I’m going to co-opt part of it… or rather, I’m going to use it as a viral carrier for Magi Memes.”
“Oh… dear,” Atura muttered, then shushed herself even though it wasn’t possible for Korba to understand her anyway as he ducked into the cave with two others, knives held at the ready.
“Welcome, Fremen,” I said, perched on the edge of the ledge above the pool into which the spring dripping from a crack in the ceiling. I had my eyes closed. “Please, partake… but do not harm the little ones.
“She bears a crysknife,” muttered one of Korba’s men, whose name was Baz… the falcon.
“I can see that,” responded Korba, looking around the cave and shivering slightly. It was almost 70 degrees in the cave, 45 degrees cooler than the day outside, and the humidity was almost 50%. He faced me. “I know these hills. This cave was not here before.”
“Before is meaningless. All that matters is now, and now there is a cave here. It will remain here until these hills are no more. What you do with it is not my concern… though the offworld fruits and cakes… they will not be here unless I am here… ah, you should put your knives away… the little ones may appear harmless, but they have a powerful protector.” I rose and leapt lightly over the pool, my bare skin revealing that I’d removed my stillsuit.
“We cannot. They have not…” Baz began but gasped as I drew my fingertip effortlessly across the three knife-tips faster than the battle-hardened warriors could even react. Three crimson droplets formed at the shimmering crystalline tips of those daggers, then, almost as one, they fell, two of them dashing against the floor, the third being caught in Korba’s other hand.
“I told you she wasn’t a ghost,” He muttered, and the trio put away their blades.
Baz whispered, “Is she… do you think she’s a Houri?”
I laughed, “Tell your friend he wishes… and while I am a virgin, this is far from paradise.” Baz blushed and I chuckled more. “My name is Janna, She who faces East. I am here to prepare you for the times that are to come.”
“Us?” Korba asked, indicating himself and the others.
“Not just you. The entire Ichwan-Bedwine,” I said, then returned to my ledge. “But now is not the time. Rest here until nightfall. A Harkonnen patrol is going to swing through the area to try and recover the crashed thopter in another thirty minutes. Rest, and I shall sing you a song of pleasant gardens and long graceful nights.”
Uneasy, but growing calmer, the trio sat and tasted the food, understanding that if I planned to kill them I probably could have done so without revealing myself. I sang softly, pulling up memories that the Fremen had carried down in oral traditions for 90 generations and more. I sang, teasing up their sense of nostalgia and ease until, one by one, they fell asleep, lowering their guards and allowing me access to the deep recesses of their minds, where I planted my hidden truths in the behavioural matrix of who they were.
When they, at last, woke, they’d find the cave empty without a trace of the creatures that had shared it with them or the foot or platters or rugs… but the water would still be cool and sweet and the cave would remain there, waiting. Any who rested there would find themselves blessed with good dreams and uninterrupted rest… and would find themselves adjusted as well in tiny, harmless ways.
I was most firmly scolded by Mother Gaius when I reappeared after nearly two days missing, but when she demanded to know where I’d been, all I did was favor her with a silent look and endure her switch with stoic silence. Her punishments were meaningless to me, and from then on, just to show her how meaningless they were, I made it a point to stay out for longer periods. Three days, then four, then five. Eventually, by the end of 10189, I was staying out for entire weeks at a time… but I always returned exactly at dawn on the 7th day and listened to the old woman’s lectures in silence. She didn’t need to know what I was doing, which, of course, was appearing to more Fremen and creating more such caves of serenity here and there.
Not too many, of course, but I was mapping all the sietch locations and seeding my memes where they’d be spread by the coming Jihad. The epocal mingling was coming and with it, I wanted to reshape humanity into something that could not only endure hardship… but thrive in it. Not merely some small section, but the entirety. And a humanity that was a little less likely to betray and scrabble and tolerate abuses of power. I couldn’t be certain it would be as powerful as if I’d put my own people in charge… but in a way, I was… if very indirectly.
Of course, all good things must end, and at the end of 10189, we returned to Wallach IX for me to face my testing. The box’s pain is meaningless and I ignored it, like any good human would. Not that the meta-cyanide on the Gom Jabbar could have harmed me… that meta, btw, is very important. Normal cyanide in that tiny amount couldn’t kill a human unless that human was an infant. Cyanide breaks down in the body too fast. I think my blaise reaction to the testing process worried the Reverend Mother… I really don’t like mindreading Reverend Mothers. Their minds are chaos and it’s too easy to get distracted by Other Memories.
Still, Wallach was not without its amusement. For instance, when, at last word came that the Harkonnens were being replaced by the Atreides, I made a point of being at home. I looked up at the glowering countenance of the Reverend Mother and said, “You should have a look at young Paul Atreides… on Caladan.” She did not understand why I was chuckling. Still, early in 10,191, off we went to Caladan and the Ducal palace.
What is there to say about Caladan? You’ve seen one relatively poor agri-world, you’ve seen them all, though Caladan was more ocean than most, it was still an agri-world and the Atreides were relatively soft and water-fat. Still, for all that, Duke Leto practically radiated charisma and his son, Paul, was brilliant and intuitive, every inch the nascent Kwisatz Haderach and Mentat Duke.
It was also easy to see that he was too soft to ever follow the Golden Path. I could have, had I felt like it, stepped in and offered this young demi-god to be an alternative. I could have transformed his Imperium into a carbon copy of the Magi Hegemony… but would that be my empire or his at that point? Would my Magi have withstood all comers? They were unified, to be certain, and vast, and all but impossible to conquer… but were they able to withstand a force that didn’t come to conquer but rather to destroy? I didn’t know. I did know that Ix’s machines were dangerous, that the Tleilaxu were evil, and the Honored Matres twisted enough to make me very leery of allowing them to unfold without some kind of hold on them. All three could and would destroy entire worlds in the quest for their own power… or in the case of Ix, destroy all humanity because they thought self programming self-upgrading hunter-killer machines was a smart idea. Idiots should not play with emergent machine intelligence.
Still, I studied the reality of this figure I’d imagined meeting for the better part of fifteen millenia and wondered if I’d met him at any other point in my journey what that would have been like? Would I have been ready before ruling the Magi or the people of Alpha Centauri? Would I have been able to converse with him as an equal with only Mentat and Savant to boost my intellect? I’d been very very smart back on Origin as a mere human… but Paul Atreides was no mere human. He was the result of 20,000 years of adaptation and growth of the human genome, of refinements in understanding of genetics and human thought. In pure power, I was now smarter than him… but his prescience, which would only grow stronger, was superior to mine… at least until I too took the Water of Life. I would, I knew that. The curiosity would draw me in, eventually, even if nothing else did.
Part of me wondered if, in another time or place, we could have been friends… but I doubted it. Friendly, perhaps, but both of us had a ‘terrible’ destiny, one that could not be easily evaded. And so I set that aside. I could not be part of Paul’s life… and I could no longer be part of Gaius Helen Mohiam’s life, either… or rather, I no longer needed her in my life. Not until it was time for the old crone to pass away.
It was child’s play to escape her clutches and gain passage with the Atreides household… but I was careful not to become attached to any of them… instead I focused on imagining how my various friends from other worlds would have dealt with the problems of this universe. For instance, could even Nanoha have reformed the Baron Vladimir? I’d like to think that even Nanoha wouldn’t have even tried. I was looking forward to having the Baron in my Other Memory just so I could punt the evil toad… assuming my memory editing worked on Other Memories… otherwise I’d just use his metaphorical ass as a metaphorical soccer ball… and I hate soccer.
And so, at the age of 14, after gaining a first class sexual & political education at the hands of the creepiest witch in the universe… seriously, bitch has metal teeth… I took my leave of her before she could decide that it was time to breed me. If I contributed to the Bene Gesserit breeding program, it would on my own terms. The sisterhood might have had good intentions… well, not clearly horrible ones… but they, though not to the extent of the Tleilaxu, have sacrificed a little of what made them human in their quest for the ultimate human being. That is how the Atreides gained a house squire the day they departed Caladan.
“Boy,” the man snapped, and I turned to face the arch-traitor, Wellington Yueh. “Who are you. I don’t remember seeing you before.”
I looked up at the tall, severe man and smiled, a thousand potential conversations of condemnation floating through my mind, and in a rare moment of self-indulgence, I spoke the most hurtful of those that I could think of. “Why should you care for the security of a family you plan to betray, Wellington?”
He stiffened, reaching for the hidden needle gun, but I raised a finger to my delicate lips and whispered, “We all have our secrets. I shan’t tell yours and you’ll forget you ever saw me, yes? Wouldn’t want any harm to come to Miss Marcus, now would we?” I should have felt shame at invoking the name of the dead to hurt the man… but as Jessica would say soon enough, a million deaths are not good enough for the good doctor. Oathbreaker. Coward. Betrayer. Saviour. Ah, such are the twisted roles fate calls upon us to play.
I vanished around a corner of the lighter as it sailed into the enormous hold of the Highliner, leaving Wellington sweating and weak. I’d probed his mind… he was still resolute, almost burning with the anticipation of his task and wondering whose spy I was. Let him worry.
Once back on Arrakis, I returned to my mysterious ways, but now full time. I was creating a cult within the greater Fremen body, my songs being recorded and played back to hidden groups, each with carefully imbedded neuro-linguistic hooks and memetic elements. In their coming Jihad, I wanted them to spread ideals of self-reliance and innovation rather than the orthodoxy of the Mahdinate, of cooperation and progress instead of judgement and possessiveness. All these things were within the Fremen ideology… I was simply tilting the balance… but it was getting harder. My prescience was limited, even with the amount of Spice I was ingesting, and Paul’s Golden Path was already fighting my adjustments to it.
This is not to say that the Golden Path was a sentient thing. In some ways it was, as it was the racial awareness of its own mortality. In other ways, it wasn’t, since there was no reasoning with it. It was attempting solve an age old issue through brute force computation carried out across a highly diffused organic process. I was running the same calculations on a single unified machine with more processing power than all the trillions of humans in the Known Universe… and thanks to my Mentat training I’d increased my processing power yet again as my neural network was being restructured into competitive-cooperative cells with stochasticly shifting allegiance to run parallel thought lines while only partly sharing information. This allowed me to make much greater leaps of thought on smaller data sets and was all in preparation for the awakening to come… and it would have to come sooner than I’d hoped.
My plan to wait until the execution of the Reverend Mother to face the Spice Agony had been naive, I realized. I’d have to beat Paul to awakening. My precognitive invisibility was good, very good. Good enough to have thwarted Yhwach all those centuries ago and others beside in the centuries since, but to hide from someone who could chart thousands of years of future-history across a span of galaxies? I was not certain I could hide from such prescience… it was possible that an Atreides Kwisatz Haderach could see through the defenses of a No Ship. As such, it would be unwise to allow the servants of the Golden Path a chance to glimpse me and counter my efforts to steer humanity onto, let’s call it the Platinum Way. It was like the Golden Path, but more silvery and better at conducting electricity.
So… just to be thematic… I went to Fondack… or rather Sietch Jacurutu as it secretly was known, after procuring an infant sandworm and drowning it in water to produce the bile that would become the Water of Life if all went well. Would this work? I had no way of knowing. I had the potential of course, and understood the ways this could go wrong… especially since, for this to work, I’d have to turn off my immunity to poison. The Water of Life wasn’t merely the preeminent awareness spectrum narcotic… it was a lethal poison in its untransformed state. I also had to shift to male for this to work as intended… though Frank Herbert had almost never conceptualized someone like me.
He’d written Dune partly as a critique of the overly charismatic leader. Never in human history had there been a leader with my degree of charisma… not even the coming Atreides super-humans… but they were close. The question was… was I close enough to them to do this thing?
Ah well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. “Atura, do not allow me to reactivate poison immunity. The Spice Agony might cause me to try. I have to be pushed to my limits for this to work.”
“You might want to turn off your pain inhibitors as well then,” The spirit suggested helpfully. She, at least, held no reservations.
I did so, and looked to those I’d asked to attend me. Sophie, Tokimi-chan, The Luteces, Dire Weasels, and the four members of the Righteous Choir imported all the way from the Imperial Capital. “Some of you may choose to follow this path as well… those of you who are Bene Gesserit (Tokimi and the Weasels) at least… I shall go ahead of you, scout the way.” I chuckled, then lay back and allowed Tokimi to pour a mouthful of the bile into my mouth… only for it to freeze solid before it could reach my lips. Shit. “Sorry… sorry.” One by one, I began turning my defenses off. My body recognized this as death and was having none of it, but I’d give it no recourse but to rely on Bene Gesserit abilities of Organo-Chemical conversion. My willpower and focus would reign supreme. I would not be thwarted by my own defenses!
A minute later, I sighed, “Let’s try that one more time,” and nodded to Tokimi, who’d cleared the mouth of the sack containing the bile and set aside the chunk of bile-ice in the shallow silver basin next to me.
As the acrid vapors of the dying worm’s final exhalation hit my nose, I stiffened, but held still, allowing the poison to pour into my mouth… and the universe exploded. My memory folded back on itself, racing down the ever-branching tree of ancestors, living every moment they’d lived in reverse, unfolding back into their own ancestors, and then back further, until the vast cacophany of the tree began to collapse inward, individuals replicating as they filled more and more spots in the tree as humanity’s numbers shrank… then blossoming out again only to shrink again… I was seeing cyclical die-offs caused by wars and plagues and disasters… the fate of any race bound within a tightly confined area… and then I was before mankind and still my awareness expanded, slipping back into more and more primitive awarenesses until a billion years and more had passed in an inverted flash and the senses of the proto-lifeforms I was in bore such little similarity of reference to mine own that to focus on them would be madness.
I wrenched my consciousness away from that growing darkness and focused on the now, pushing away awareness of past and future. Right now, right in this moment… I was going to die. This poison would damage me… and to stop it, my body had locked up, my awareness caught in a single moment, and I examined the nature of the drug, its incredibly complex molecular structure… and I shifted an electron, allowing a nitrogen atom to shift, freeing a carbon to bind to an oxygen… and a chain reaction spread through the substance. I hadn’t even realized how much pain I was in… my mind had discarded that as immaterial in the face of existential crisis.
I turned my head and Tokimi held the sack out to me. I took another slug of the toxic bile, allowing it to mingle with the Water of Life in my mouth and spat it back into the sack… within seconds, it was all converted and I nodded to her. She took a swig and passed the sack to Arlissa while I allowed a drop of the water to fall from my lips into the silver bowl, converting the now melted ice.
Sophie sniffed it, barked once, then licked up the drug. Our community might be reduced at the moment… but the Fremen Tau Orgy was not a bad custom… and no, it’s not just about sex. It’s about community… dancing, touching… and sex too. Me? I just buried my face in Sophie’s soft fur and wept.
Anyone who has ever thought that Prescience is a blessing is out of their gods be damned mind. A little, like what I’d had before, maybe. Three seconds isn’t much and it only worked on the area directly around me. A day out and you might be able to lead a normal life. A Kwisatz Haderach doesn’t have that. A Kwisatz Haderach has thousands of years of awareness, of events great and small, spreading out around them to all the span of their race’s collective knowledge… and it is both a terrible burden… and a worrying one.
The landscape of the future spread out before me in an endless vista of possibilities… and there were shadows across an alarming amount of that vista, places where the future vanished into a chaos of unknowable results… though in many cases, the future would continue unfolding beyond that so by studying the possible results it was possible to intuit what would have had to have happened to a degree. I saw the Golden Path… or rather… several of them. Paul’s limited path… Leto’s more drastic one… the Bene Gesserit’s darkly controlled one… the Bene Tleilaxu’s insane and twisted one… yes… Paul and Leto had been limited by their own values.
They had scorned the Bene Gesserit for failing to properly appreciate the nature of the future… but the BG had seen the seed of the Golden Path a hundred centuries earlier without the perfect prescience of a Kwisatz Haderach. They’d shown wisdom by acknowledging that they did not know everything and had sought a tool for it. Paul’s biases had turned him against the BG, because he believed them incapable of taking the needed actions. They could have been allies, but he was unwilling to enlist them, unwilling to share responsibility, unwilling to turn his considerable charisma to the task… and unwilling to trust.
Leto too had trusted almost not at all. Both held that they were the single infallible individual… and they’d never looked to see if that was true. No. Their plan had required sacrifice and so they’d taken it entirely upon themselves to make those sacrifices… or decide who would have to.
I? I could pick. I was a free actor. I could do all that they could and much more… but with my new awareness, I became aware of all the lives that each action… and each inaction… would cost. All the innocents who would die because I made a choice… or because I refused to make a choice. There was no escaping it. It was a little overwhelming.
Eventually, however, things ran down, as they must, and my companions fell into slumber. I, on the other hand, walked out into the desert and stared up at the night sky. So many worlds, so many lives. I felt as if I could, in that moment, reach out and feel each of them. A thought occurred to me, and with a flicker of will, I reached back into the the past… and a star blossomed into a glorious flare.
“Holy shit,” I muttered… I’d just made a star go nova… a star with no inhabited worlds, one 85.239 lightyears away… 85.239 years to the moment… I’d changed history so it would flare in a glorious array. Incidentally… that was the exact moment Leto, Duke of Arrakis, died. Unfortunately, while my Hokuto’s gift, the power that allowed me to change the past so long as I didn’t bring anyone back to life or cause to have died anyone who hadn’t died in the past, had expanded dramatically in the amount of time I could edit and now in the scope of what I could affect… I could still only do it once a month. Ah well… next month, every member of the Sardaukar gets food poisoning simultaneously.
I headed back inside… where Victoria was waiting with news. “Vivian just sent word from the warehouse… four of our companions have died according to the Chamber.”
“What? Who? How?” I gasped, floored by the fact that I hadn’t predicted this.
“No details were made available to us, but the four dead are Cirno, Ahab, Decima, and Brigid,” my very forbidden AI replied.
“Oh… that makes sense… I guess. All from the group with a super secret… weird. Oh, how is team Liet doing?” I hadn’t predicted their deaths because I had no idea where the hell they were. Interesting that it happened during the attack. Maybe they were in Arrakeen? Regardless, I’d sent a team to pick up Liet Kynes from where Rabban would dump him. His death served no purpose besides to draw Chani and Paul closer together in that they both lost fathers that day. Eh. He could die later.
“The Bookers are following the thopter in Victor. As soon as they drop the Planetologist off, he’ll be transferred to medbay. Are we recruiting him, or are we just saving him so he can go into hiding?”
I considered, then checked prescience… oh… this was a bad idea… a tool that tells me how things will turn out if I do them… yeah… this is going to take some careful consideration… but if I saved Liet, what would that do to the timeline? Would it make Paul’s efforts to unite the Fremen under him more difficult? I scanned… and no. It wouldn’t have any significant effect.
“Don’t pick him up. Just have them call me and I’ll rescue the good Judge of the Change. Sidira needs something to do.”
“As you command,” Victoria said, relaying the message. She likes to pretend she’s my XO and we’re always on away missions. I humor her because she often gets between me and ouchies. She glanced at me. “Ouchies? You’re the God-Queen of the Magi and you still use the word ‘Ouchies’?”
“Hey. I’m only 14! Ouchies is a perfectly cromulent word!… and it’s God-Empress.” I snapped, waving a finger at her.
“That’s only because you can’t think of a word more pompous,” She retorted.
“Actually, I’m technically the Ethnark of the Magi. Supreme leader of a ethnic group. So I could be ArchEthnark. Or Omnark. But Empress is more common, so the readers will be more familiar with it.” I grinned at her.
She frowned, “You are not that Deadpool fellow. There aren’t any readers.”
I shrugged, “Well, we know we’re being syndicated to someone. Who knows how they’re getting the feed.” I turned to a direction that wasn’t facing Victoria or anyone else and waved. “Hiya folks out in TV land! Hope you’re enjoying the show… and Victoria isn’t wearing any panties!” I flipped up her skirt to show no one at all her bare butt… which looked like the bottom of a female android. She bopped me.
“Good morning, Dr. Kynes,” I said, dripping water from a wet cloth onto his parched lips.
“W… where am I?” he asked, opening his eyes. We were in one of my caves. His eyes tried to focus on me in the faint glow of a chem light, but he was too dehydrated. I’d arrived within minutes of the spice blow and scooped him out of the area just before he vanished forever. In the time between, another of my companions, Gaius, had died. What were they doing? Trying to fight off the Sardaukar and failing? That didn’t reflect well on them.
“You are in one of Sidira’s caves,” I responded softly. “You nearly died. Your suit is destroyed. You will not make it to the nearest sietch in your current condition.”
“Y… you’re her? The one who’s been filling my Fremens’ heads with superstitious nonsense?” He croaked.
“It is unwise to insult someone who has just saved your life and may be called upon to save it again shortly,” I chided. “And I am clearly no phantasm, Dr. Kynes. Nor is the Lisan al Gaib. He is amongst your people even now. Stilgar has taken him in and named him Usil, though he will be known as Paul Muad’dib.”
He struggled to sit up and I helped him with gentle hands, “So, the young lordling is the Voice from the Outer World? I had suspected.”
“Of course you have. All the Fremen have, though I tell you a secret known only to the Bene Gesserit… they seeded many primitive worlds with such legends deliberately so that a stranded Sister and her child or children would receive help. They call it the Missionaria Protectiva.” I leaned into the light so he could see my face, and offered him a small canteen. “Drink as much as you can. The canteen will not run out of water.”
He gasped, almost dropping it, but I held it in his hands until they steadied. “You… you are telling the truth?” I nodded. “The legend… the prophecy? It is lies?”
“It is… but it is also truth. When enough people believe a thing, its veracity matters less than how they will act upon it. Your father’s words were not prophecy in the metaphysical sense, but they will become true in the years to come… and sooner than you think. For more than three thousand years, Arrakis will become a garden world and the Fremen will become soft, the old ways forgotten save for a few. And then… the world will change again and revert to the way it has been for ages past the knowing of man. The sands will return, and the old ways will be remembered… until, perhaps, the ending of the world.”
“You… you speak as if,” he took a sip of the water and gasped, “It’s cold!”
“Yes. very astute of you to notice. Also you should be drinking… and yes, I speak as if I have seen the future? I have. I do. I can. That is how I knew where to find you. You were very nearly swallowed by the desert.” I patted his hand. “That would have been… inconvenient. You would have missed the birth of your grandchildren. Drink your water.”
“I’ve finished it,” he said, handing back the 200 ml canteen.
I pushed it back to him. “No. You haven’t. It doesn’t empty. Here, have some salted meat, you’ve lost too many electrolytes.” I handed him a small pouch, which he took, staring in mingled horror and wonder at the tiny canteen.
“Never. You could pour water from it until the coming of Kralizec and it would no more run dry than the sun would stop burning. In fact, it would still be pouring water most likely even after the sun was no more than a burned out hulk of iron.”
“How can this be?”
“I am from farther away than you can know, son of Pardot,” I said, sitting back so that only the shine of my eyes was visible. “I am older than you can know, though I appear here in this time and place as but a child. Now… how shall we get you back to your people?”
He held up the canteen. “You have this magic, and yet you ask me?” He chuckled softly, then coughed. He was still weak.
“Indeed. My magic must stay within my caves, lest it upset the balance of what is to come,” I said, sitting motionless. “But… perhaps…” I pointed at his ruined stillsuit and said, “Pour out the water from that canteen. Pour it out onto your suit.”
He looked horrified at the idea, but it is hard for even those familiar with command to resist me, though I was not using the Voice. Finally, hand shaking, he did so, splashing the water over his front. His gasp of wonder as the water became ice that transformed into spiders, tiny and swift, that swarmed over his suit, tugging the torn materials back together, sealing the rents made by Rabban’s blade. Some of the material was too badly damaged to be easily repaired, but the ice-nanites… though grossly huge to be true nanites, stole material from where they could to patch the worst of the holes.
“It is not perfect… the suit was badly damaged… you will have to replace it when you find your way back to your people… but it will suffice… and your water reserves are full.” Indeed, the spiders had, in their final acts, transformed back into water and slipped inside the catchpockets. “I will leave you now, but there is a fremkit and a desert cloak concealed under a pile of loose stones next to the exit. There is food and water for you to replenish yourself… but nothing within the cave save the water you drink and the food you eat can leave with you.”
“Will some terrible fate befall me if I try to take this canteen?”
“Yes,” I said simply, but did not elaborate.
He smiled wanly. “Good.” He took a long swig and tossed it to me. “Take it with you lest I be tempted.”
And I did.
I remained little more than a rumor as Sidira over the next few years, but I was no stranger to the Fremen, moving in and out of their sietches and monitoring the growth of the Cult of Sidira and the Cult of Muad’dib. I was careful to reinforce the idea that they should be seen as one thing, one inseparable divine mystery, but that Sidira was not of this world, while Muad’dib was. Him they could venerate… me they should worship… at least a little.
I especially was not absent from young Alia’s life. I spoke to her often, making certain she never felt as isolated as she otherwise would have, playing games of adult cunning and skill with her and never treating her as a child, though she often needed or desired such treatment. Harah, Paul’s woman (not that he slept with her, but she was his servant and responsibility since he’d killed her husband Jamis in the duel that proved he was suitable to join the tribe… Jamis had demanded the duel… ah well, foolish pride.) was the one who would care for her emotional needs. I was there for her spiritual needs… and to punch her version of Vladimir in the face whenever he reared his hideous mug. I had him in my head too, of course, but his ego memory in my head was routinely scourged by Silent Judge whenever she felt bored and the rest of the time he was locked in a box that contained all the total sociopaths that my Other Memory had dredged up out of the past… not all of them Harkonnens. I had mental defenses for years, double, triple, quadruple layered defenses inside and out.
Alia, on the other hand, had had no persona of her own, no mental defenses to speak of when she’d been awakened in utero. If I could save one soul in this often depressing world, it would be hers. After all… if the Golden Path needed her specific suffering, then it was too finely balanced… and it wasn’t. The fall of Alia (and boy was that an obvious reference, since the name can mean ‘Going Up’ in a spiritual sense) was dramatic… and served to counterpoint the differences between her and the twins (Ghanima and Leto II the Younger), all three of whom were Pre-Born, but only Alia fell into Abomination because… well… many factors… most of which boiled down to nobody having her back.
Now, I had it… and so did the massive dog that appeared in the sietch one day to accompany her. Many wondered at it, and worried about this strange creature, but none of them dared, quite, to interfere with Sophie once the Temple Dog made it clear that she was more than a match for even the most foolhardy of Fremen Warriors. Paul and Jessica were even more confused, until Alia explained that she was a present from Sidira… at which point Paul and Jessica were down right worried… until they saw how gentle and protective Sophie was… she’s a wonder with children.
And speaking of children, I had to decide what to do about Leto the Second… the first one. See, Paul was a bit of a stickler, as these things go, for naming conventions. He and Chani had a son that they named Leto II. He was born roughly a year before Paul ascended to the Imperial throne and was killed by Raban, then Governor of Arrakis, in the same raid that Alia was captured and taken to Emperor, thus allowing her to assassinate her grandfather. Great scene. Gaius Helen Mohiam was there and Alia scared the crap out of the old witch… or would… Sorry, I wandered a bit… Leto II the Elder as he was known is not (obviously) the God Emperor. Rather, his little brother, Leto II the Younger, the youngest of Paul and Chani’s three children, would be the eventual emperor of mankind.
The question then is, do I save the life of an infant? On one side, it’s a life… but there are millions of lives I don’t save, so why this one? Curiosity? Proximity? Because I can? But Paul’s prescience didn’t predict Leto II the Younger. Ghanima was supposed to be an only child. Some have suggested that Leto II the Elder was reborn as Leto II the Younger. Is that possible? I’ve seen stranger things. After all, in this universe, Genetic memory is a thing. So Ghanima, preborn, could have caused her older brother, now slain, to be reborn as her younger? Perhaps. I didn’t know.
Ultimately, I didn’t act. The life of a single infant, no matter how born to power, does not sway me in the face of epocal change. To act to save that one child would have been strange when I didn’t act to save all the other Fremen youths who died in this campaign. Furthermore, to save L2E would have thrown too much flux into the path of the future, making things… annoying. Perhaps it is just that Paul suffer the loss. His Jihad will kill millions, many of them children… no matter how necessary in the face of the survival of the entire species, they too deserve to be mourned… or maybe not.
Maybe life is meaningless. My prescience and vast intellect cannot tell me otherwise. Perhaps it is both. Priceless has two meanings. Perhaps life has meaning only in the living of it. I don’t have all the answers. I’m not sure anyone does.
“EssJay…,” Vivian said through my suitbug, “We’ve lost some more companions. Lilith, Sabine, Verona, and Buji are all down.”
I grunted in reply, looking down at the vast battle engulfing the lands inside the Arrakeen Shield Wall. The Fremen were slaughtering the Sardaukar, but some of them were falling as well. Buji hadn’t been among the missing. He was Fremen in this time, and had no doubt been a little too cocky. Ah well. He’d learn… hopefully.
Alicia and Bart were next to go, within a few hours as it happens. I came out of the transition of power scene to an update from Vivian… and began putting two and two together. The time stamps of those deaths were… interesting. Especially to a Mentat, trained to put the tiniest of clues together. Alicia had died at the same moment as Feyd Rautha had… and Bart at the same moment as Thufir… I ran back through the other deaths of companions… Decima, Ahab, and Brigid had died right around the time Yueh, Duke Leto, and Piter bought it… Cirno a little before that, Gaius a little after… Mapes and Duncan? Sabine around the same moment Alia had stabbed the old Baron…
“Oh, for the love of…” I strode into my Warehouse… “Chamber! Did Higher offer my companions ride along privileges in the major players? Are all the major players my companions?”
“I do not know. But the evidence suggests that some are. Yes. I do not know why, however.”
“I do. I know exactly fucking why… they wanted to make sure I didn’t recruit anyone from here. Or rather, I didn’t recruit anyone new! Say I recruited Liet Kynes… at the end of the jump, poof, Tada! It’s me, Mario!”
“You do not have a companion named Mario.”
“Video Game reference. You know what I mean. They knew I’d be stripped of my Soul Sight… sneaky bastards. And I’m sure they don’t even consciously know who they are. Otherwise a casual mind scan would have given it away. Very sneaky… I should be furious… but I was definitely outplayed. Oh. Make a note. Too Maggie. You’re Grounded. You were right there when I said no Abomination and you did it anyway… sneaky… very sneaky… also good way of doing an end run around both me and that terrible drawback masquerading as a perk.”
The Chamber errred. “I do not make notes… and do not understand.”
“This was, I’m almost certain, Maggie’s idea from start to finish. Maybe with some help from her brother. Alia is, I’ll bet you dollars to dramaderies… Maggie. And Leto II is Alex… and… mmmm… Ghanima isn’t going to be Amaryllis… Ghanima has sex and children and that stuff makes Amaryllis green. She’d be someone pretty because she’s a vane child… someone who doesn’t have… She’s Hwi Noree. The Chast Princess. That would appeal to her. Ghanima would be either Frankie or Mini… Not enough information for the others… Not sure if it’s a good sign that the Lost Choir signed up to be the Harkonnens… but to be honest, they did worse as disciples of Chaos than the Harkonnens did for their own ends… I guess. I’ve never really wanted to look too deeply into the minds of that quintet. But Sabine… yeah, she’d probably done things more debauched than Vladimir. Slaanesh’s followers are like that.
“Well… I’m not sure I’m displeased… but I’m also not going to call foul. Tell Higher to ask next time. I really hadn’t planned on recruiting anyone… but I’m guessing I’m getting pretty close to everyone. No idea how I’d know who was and who wasn’t a sleeper… ahah. Cute.” I shook my head and wandered back into the real world.
“I don’t understand,” said the boy covered from head to toe in sand-trout armor. “What is it you want of me, Sidira.”
“You plan, as you must, to destroy the sandworms. All of them. All but the ones on your body. I want you to allow my hunters to gather as many of the medium and small ones as we can during your terraforming efforts. We’ll guarantee they’re seeded farther than you can even imagine.”
“You’ve partly subverted the Golden Path already… I can see the silvery threads of your workings… even if I can’t see you. What are you up to?”
“You plan to push humanity into spreading far beyond any power to track or eliminate them… but you didn’t plan on shaping what humanity becomes. Your humanity would have learned to resist oppression, to never be completely comfortable with ‘peace’… but your humanity would not have learned anything else from the Golden Path. They’d be just as treacherous, backstabbing, and self-serving as ever. I’ve infected your Path with a winnowing agent. Those who won’t play nice with others will be removed. Those who profiteer off the suffering of others… will be culled. Those who seek power over others for their own aggrandizement… will be ground under and destroyed. You wanted a safer humanity? I want a better humanity.”
“And you will otherwise refrain from interference in the Path? In what must be?”
“I will neither aid you nor oppose you. I may come again with elements I need you to promulgate throughout your empire, young Emperor to be… but I will not counter it. I do not like what the Honored Matres would become… but the enemy they are fleeing from is one I can no more predict than you can. Our goals are similar enough that we can work together.”
Those blue on blue eyes regarded me carefully, judging me with the full power of a Kwisatz Haderach. “I would give much to know how you hide from my prescience, Sidira.”
“Ask Siona,” was my only response, then I was gone.
“That… is a biiig worm,” Petra commented as my Fremen steered the half kilometer long worm off of Arrakis and into a subspace fissure. Once the worm was safely ensconced in its new holding pen, I’d dial the time counter down to one second per standard millenia and it would join the other eight-hundred and eleven I’d gathered over the last century. They were becoming more and more scarce as the planet bloomed and Leto’s Peace became more and more fully established.
Alia, having stepped down as regent, had taken control of Liet’s Ecological corps, overseeing the transformation of the desert world into a paradise… and helping Leto stockpile a truly ridiculous amount of spice even as the worms were being driven to extinction. He was going to drive the Guild and the Bene Gesserit to starvation limits, to force them to comply with his plans… and to secretly find ways around the restrictions those limits caused.
If I’d been a member of the Spacing guild, I’d have been freaking out, since they could only vaguely see the future… but I? I had no need of the Spacing Guild to get where I wanted to be. I had installed Holtzman drives in my spaceships and with them I could, using my own prescience, jump a ship to anywhere in the universe pretty much. Prescience made meaningless the concept of distance… and I used it to take a selection of humanity’s best, a new foundation for the Magi Hegemony, and plant them far beyond the bounds of the Local Group.
Unto each Magi Seed, I gave a new Arrakis and the best technology I could. It would take them a few centuries to build their production and population bases, but I’d inculcated them with a rampant population meme alongside the other Magi Memes. A thousand galaxies seeded all around the big bang with humanity. Sure, they weren’t possessed of the prescience blocking genome… but once it was found in Siona, I’d be able to retrovirus it across humanity wherever they spread.
Golden Path, eat your heart out.
“Sidira… you’re looking… scaly,” The God-Emperor commented. “It’s been three thousand years… I thought for certain you’d be dead by now. I see you’ve copied me.”
I looked down at my own Sand-Trout bodysuit. “I was curious to see what it felt like.”
“And you wanted to live forever?” He said with a snarky grin.
“Oh… you poor child,” I said, not patronizing but with sympathy. “I have no idea what it’s been like to be you… and I can’t imagine it’s been fun… the things you’ve seen and done… you and your sister… such foolish little ones. Time is largely irrelevant to me.” I changed the subject, quashing my feelings of sympathy both for the overgrown child in front of me and (most likely) my own child who was… let’s call it ‘auditing’… the life of Emperor Leto. Many of the others had died over the years, but Maggie, Alex, Amaryllis, Velma, Raven, and Meetra all hadn’t… and I suspected the reason was because some of them hadn’t been born yet… or in the case of Maggie because I’d made Alia immortal to help me administer the vast NeoMagi Hegemony, and Alex because I was fairly certain he was Leto.
As for the others, Carwyn died when Jessica did, Toph when Gurney did, Zane and Kendra when the Fenrings did, Anne when Irulan did, AJ with Stilgar, Francine with Liet, Amelia with Chani, Uriel with Scytale… I was going to have soooo many words with them all that my hand was going to need regen from all the spankings.
“Irrelevant?” Leto asked, confused. “How is time irrelevant? It is the one true finite in every life. If I’ve learned one thing living this long, it’s that.”
“You’re just saying that because you know your time is coming to an end,” I said, my voice tinged with sadness. “But for me? Time is just another negotiable quantity. The three thousand years of your reign have been but 300 years for me. And in another 2,000 years, I shall be only a year or two older. I have no desire to witness the Famine Times that will come after your death. I have but two things left to accomplish in this universe before I move on.”
“Move… on?” Now he was even more confused.
“You’ll understand, in time. I just came to say goodbye,” I reached out and caressed the still youthful face that was all the humanity left to the Worm-Emperor. “You did the best you could.”
“I… don’t…” he opened his mouth, caught between demanding and begging me not to go, loneliness soaking every sound. If he had managed to get the words out, maybe I would have stayed. But he gathered his resolve and pushed his need away, and so I did not turn back as I walked out of the Presence Chamber for the last time. I’d be returning only twice more, once to recover the anti-Prescience genome from Siona Atreides, and the second time to deal with Ithaca and crew and the Honored Matres.
“Hello Murbella,” I said to the newly crowned Supreme Honored Matre and Mother Superior of the Bene Gesserit.
“You! How’d you get in here?”
“People like asking me that. It’s irrelevant. You really should be asking why I’m here, in your skanky-ass throneroom.”
She frowned, then snapped, “Very well… why are you here?”
“To demand your absolute and unconditional surrender,” I said simply.
“And why would I do that. I-” she began, but the rest of her question was utterly irrelevant as 2.3 million Magi Dreadnaughts flickered out of no-space all around the planet of Chapterhouse.
“Because I’ve lost too many friends and I’d like to resolve this without blowing you all up. Now, you’re going to go with my fleet and show them exactly where you found what you assholes were fleeing from and humanity can get back to spreading like a virus across the universe unhindered.”
“YOU WILL DO AS I SAY!” I shouted, putting the full force of my willpower into The Voice, causing several of the weaker willed Honored Matres to simply die. It was really hard to care about them after all the deaths they’d caused in their crusade.
Murbella, stronger than most, gulped and tried to agree, but I waved her away.
“Sidira to Team Omega. Terminate.” And with that Daniel and Marty were erased. I didn’t even bother to find out who they were. They had no place in my New Universe Order. A moment after that, the now evacuated No Ship Ithaca detonated as Yuzuha swatted it out of existence.
“There!” I yelled at the heavens. “Nothing happened on the Ithaca!”
The universe paused. I wondered if Higher was amused… but I doubted I’d ever learn the truth.
Next: Journey to the West
OMAKE: Relationship Chart
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I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have a very silly second chain about a Jumper named Zed. It updates every day, but each update isn’t very long.
AN: Not much to say here, but just a little insight… I’d originally considered having Atura hatch from the egg in this chapter, to get the whole “Sleeper Awakened” thing… but it was too damned corny. Ah well. I liked having it happen in the Okami chapter better.