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Dune: Paul’s Women, Chapters 18 and 19

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Paul’s Women

Book One: DUNE

Chapter 18

Do you wrestle with dreams?
Do you contend with shadows?
Do you move in a kind of sleep?
Time has slipped away.
Your life is stolen.
You tarried with trifles,
Victim of your folly.

- Dirge for Jamis on the Funeral Plain, from "Songs of Muad’Dib" by the Princess Irulan

 

Leto stood in the foyer of his house, studying a note by the light of a single suspensor lamp. Dawn was yet a few hours away, and he felt his tiredness. A Fremen messenger had brought the note to the outer guard just now as the Duke arrived from his command post.

The note read: "A column of smoke by day, a pillar of fire by night."

There was no signature.

What does it mean? he wondered.

The messenger had gone without waiting for an answer and before he could be questioned. He had slipped into the night like some smoky shadow.

Leto pushed the paper into a tunic pocket, thinking to show it to Hawat later. He brushed a lock of hair from his forehead, took a sighing breath. The anti-fatigue pills were beginning to wear thin. It had been a long two days since the dinner party and that moment that Jessica found him with the Reverend Mother. It had been much longer than that since he had slept.

On top of all the military problems, there’d been the disquieting session with Hawat, the report on his meeting with Jessica.

Should I waken Jessica? he wondered. There’s no reason to play the secrecy game with her any longer. Or is there?

Blast and damn that Duncan Idaho!

He shook his head. No, not Duncan. I was wrong not to take Jessica into my confidence from the first. I must do it now, before more damage is done.

The decision made him feel better, and he hurried from the foyer through the Great Hall and down the passages toward the family wing.

At the turn where the passages split to the service area, he paused. A strange mewling came from somewhere down the service passage. Leto put his left hand to the switch on his shield belt, slipped his kindjal into his right hand. The knife conveyed a sense of reassurance. That strange sound had sent a chill through him.

Softly, the Duke moved down the service passage, cursing the inadequate illumination. The smallest of suspensors had been spaced about eight meters apart along here and tuned to their dimmest level. The dark stone walls swallowed the light.

A dull blob stretching across the floor appeared out of the gloom ahead.

Leto hesitated, almost activated his shield, but refrained because that would limit his movements, his hearing... and because the captured shipment of lasguns had left him filled with doubts.

Silently, he moved toward the grey blob, saw that it was a human figure, a man face down on the stone. Leto turned him over with a foot, knife poised, bent close in the dim light to see the face. It was the smuggler, Tuek, a wet stain down his chest. The dead eyes stared with empty darkness. Leto touched the stain–warm.

How could this man be dead here? Leto asked himself. Who killed him?

The mewling sound was louder here. It came from ahead and down the side passage to the central room where they had installed the main shield generator for the house.

Hand on belt switch, kindjal poised, the Duke skirted the body, slipped down the passage and peered around the corner toward the shield generator room.

Another grey blob lay stretched on the floor a few paces away, and he saw at once this was the source of the noise. The shape crawled toward him with painful slowness, gasping, mumbling.

Leto stilled his sudden constriction of fear, darted down the passage, crouched beside the crawling figure. It was a women, a Bene Gesserit, her hair tumbled around her face, clothing disarrayed. A dull shininess of dark stain spread from her back along her side. He touched her shoulder and she lifted herself on her elbows, head tipped up to peer at him, the eyes black- shadowed emptiness.

Leto noticed that she moved her right hand. Too late. She injected him with something in his arm. The syringe felt on the floor and rolled in the stone.

"Antidote. S’you," she gasped. "Killed... guard... sent... get... Tuek... escape... m’Lady... you... you... here... no..." She flopped forward, her head thumping against the stone.

Leto felt for pulse at the temples. There was none. He looked at the stain: she’d been stabbed in the back. Who? His mind raced. Did she mean someone had killed a guard? And Tuek–had Jessica sent for him? Why?

He rubbed his arm. What did she had injected to him? An antidote? For what? He started to stand up. A sixth sense warned him. He flashed a hand toward the shield switch–too late. A numbing shock slammed his arm aside. He felt pain there, saw a dart protruding from the sleeve, sensed paralysis spreading from it up his arm. It took an agonizing effort to lift his head and look down the passage.

Yueh stood in the open door of the generator room. His face reflected yellow from the light of a single, brighter suspensor above the door. There was stillness from the room behind him–no sound of generators.

Yueh! Leto thought. He’s sabotaged the house generators! We ’re wide open!

Yueh began walking toward him, pocketing a dartgun.

Leto found he could still speak, gasped:

"Yueh! How?" Then the paralysis reached his legs and he slid to the floor with his back propped against the stone wall.

Yueh’s face carried a look of sadness as he bent over, touched Leto’s forehead. The Duke found he could feel the touch, but it was remote... dull.

"The drug on the dart is selective," Yueh said "You can speak, but I’d advise against it."
He glanced down the hall, and again bent over Leto, pulled out the dart, tossed it aside. The sound of the dart clattering on the stones was faint and distant to the Duke’s ears.

It can’t be Yueh, Leto thought. He’s conditioned.

"How?" Leto whispered.

"I’m sorry, my dear Duke, but there are things which will make greater demands than this." He touched the diamond tattoo on his forehead. "I find it very strange, myself–an override on my pyretic conscience–but I wish to kill a man. Yes, I actually wish it. I will stop at nothing to do it."

He looked down at the Duke.

"Oh, not you, my dear Duke. The Baron Harkonnen. I wish to kill the Baron."

"Bar... on Har..."

"Be quiet, please, my poor Duke. You haven’t much time. That peg tooth I put in your mouth after the tumble at Narcal–that tooth must be replaced, in a moment, I’ll render you unconscious and replace that tooth." He opened his hand, stared at something in it. "An exact duplicate, its core shaped most exquisitely like a nerve. It’ll escape the usual detectors, even a 117 fast scanning. But if you bite down hard on it, the cover crushes. Then, when you expel your breath sharply, you fill the air around you with a poison gas–most deadly."

Leto stared up at Yueh, seeing madness in the man’s eyes, the perspiration along brown and chin.

"You were dead anyway, my poor Duke," Yueh said. "But you will get close to the Baron before you die. He’ll believe you’re stupefied by drugs beyond any dying effort to attack him. And you will be drugged–and tied. But attack can take strange forms. And you will remember the tooth. The tooth, Duke Leto Atreides. You will remember the tooth."

The old doctor leaned closer and closer until his face and drooping mustache dominated Leto’s narrowing vision.

"The tooth," Yueh muttered.

"Why?" Leto whispered.

Yueh lowered himself to one knee beside the Duke.

"I made a shaitan’s bargain with the Baron. And I must be certain he has fulfilled his half of it. When I see him, I’ll know. When I look at the Baron, then I will know. But I’ll never enter his presence without the price. You’re the price, my poor Duke. And I’ll know when I see him. My poor Wanna taught me many things, and one is to see certainty of truth when the stress is great. I cannot do it always, but when I see the Baron–then, I will know."

Leto tried to look down at the tooth in Yueh’s hand. He felt this was happening in a nightmare–it could not be.

Yueh’s purple lips turned up in a grimace.

"I’ll not get close enough to the Baron, or I’d do this myself. No. I’ll be detained at a safe distance. But you... ah, now! You, my lovely weapon! He’ll want you close to him–to gloat over you, to boast a little."

Leto found himself almost hypnotized by a muscle on the left side of Yueh’s jaw. The muscle twisted when the man spoke.

Yueh leaned closer.

"And you, my good Duke, my precious Duke, you must remember this tooth." He held it up between thumb and forefinger. "It will be all that remains to you."

Leto’s mouth moved without sound, then:

"Refuse."

"Ah-h, no! You mustn’t refuse. Because, in return for this small service. I’m doing a thing for you. I will save your son and your woman. No other can do it. They can be removed to a place where no Harkonnen can reach them."

"How... save... them?" Leto whispered.

"By making it appear they’re dead, by secreting them among people who draw knife at hearing the Harkonnen name, who hate the Harkonnens so much they’ll burn a chair in which a Harkonnen has sat, salt the ground over which a Harkonnen has walked." He touched Leto’s jaw. "Can you feel anything in your jaw?"

The Duke found that he could not answer. He sensed distant tugging, saw Yueh’s hand come up with the ducal signet ring.

"For Paul," Yueh said. "You’ll be unconscious presently. Good-by, my poor Duke. When next we meet we’ll have no time for conversation."

Cool remoteness spread upward from Leto’s jaw, across his cheeks. The shadowy, hall narrowed to a pinpoint with Yueh’s purple lips centered in it.

"Remember the tooth!" Yueh hissed. "The tooth!"

***

Shadout Mapes moved to the shadows. An Atreides military patrol passed on the street. An explosion was heard, then another and another, until their sounds merged in a martial rhythm.

Even before she left the palace she knew that there was something wrong. She wondered, she even considered to turn back to reach Lady Jessica, but she had promised to pick up Alia and her wet-nurse, and they could be now in danger.

The all city was being invaded, and apparently the Atreides forces were being overrun.

Mapes knew that she had to reach the spaceport as quickly as possible. Most of the streets were already blocked by the fights, the explosions and the burning houses.

"Please… help…"

The sound was weak. She turned her blue eyes to its origin and saw an Atreides soldier under the debris of a collapsed building. The man’s fate had already been established. The rubble had felt in his left leg and chest. He had multiple exposed fractures. His blood tainted the ground.

The moribund was dead even before Mapes could finish her evaluation. So much lost water!

The Fremen woman took his lasgun and proceeded, involved in her robe, covering her face. Running half crouched near the walls, covered by the chaos and the dark.

In the vicinity of the spaceport the intensity of the fights had dropped. There were already Harkonnen check points established. All the Atreides resistance appeared to be smashed in the area and the Harkonnen patrols were beginning to search the area, looking for survivors.

The spaceport was in a chaos. Many Harkonnen frigates had already landed, dumping hordes of troops. Some passengers in one terminal were being held by Harkonnen guards. With the description given by Jessica and the images that she had seen in the filmbooks, Mapes wouldn’t had any difficulty to recognize Alia and her maid.

Other civilian passengers trapped in a war that didn’t meant much to them were waiting in their shuttles, hopping to return quickly to the huge Guild ship on Orbit.

The liner ship where Alia had traveled was landed between two Harkonnen frigates. Apparently the invaders frigates came in the same Guild ship than Jessica’s daughter.

Mapes avoided the terminals heavily guarded. Always covered by the dark of the night approached the liner. The Harkonnen were placing a jet bridge in position to remove the passengers from the liner. That meant that Alia was still probably there.

The crew stairs and an access ramp to the cargo hold were down. Some crew members were talking near the stairs, apparently discussing what they should do and waiting for supplies.

The ungarded ramp to the cargo hold would be her way in.

With quick and silent steps, she approached the liner, using some containers as coverage. She was ready to a final run when she saw a small group walking down the service crew stairs.

One of the crew members addressed to the group trying to stop them from leaving the ship, but he was pushed away to the ground with vigor.

Mapes stopped to look better to the group. There were five figures. All were covered by black cloaks with hoods that hide partially their faces, but they were clearly women. Witches! Bene Gesserit! Could Alia be one of those women?

Before Mapes could approach, the group already had escaped to the night and the crew members were calling the guards. It was her last chance to enter the ship.

It took a while to familiarize herself with the interior of such a huge ship. She found a plan in one of the corridors that helped her to arrive quickly to Alia’s cabin.

Shadout Mapes knocked on the door and waited. There was no answer. She didn’t want to be too much time on the corridor. Her Fremen cloths, her robe and her blue eyes caught too much unnecessary attention in a ship full of already nervous passengers.

Her hand tried the door. It was unlocked. She came in and closed the door behind. The cabin was not huge but it was comfortable. A small corridor with a closet on one side and a bathroom on the other. Carefully she gave two steps and saw a woman lying on the double bed.

Quickly Mapes checked her pulse in the neck. She was alive.

Mapes turned the woman’s face to her, and gently with her fingers moved away the hair that hide her face.

Iphigenia!

And she had been drugged.

Mapes pushed the sheets down to uncover her. Iphigenia was on underwear, with a white bra and matching pants. She had her arms tied behind her back and her breathing was soft, projecting her chest forward each time she inspired air. Her breasts were massive and her skin seemed extremely soft, Mapes never had seen such huge tits.

"Iphigenia!? Wake up!" she called while untying her. "Iphigenia!?" Mapes slapped her face "Wake up! Where is Alia?"

"Who are you?" asked Iphigenia, blinking her eyes and still with a doughy voice.

"My name is Shadout Mapes. I am a Fremen. Lady Jessica asked me to come here to pick you and Alia. Where is Alia?"

"What is the question?" Iphigenia begun to massage the wrists.

"Where is Alia?" Than Shadout Mapes understood. Iphigenia was being cautious. "The question is: Are there bulls at Caladan?”

"Help me to get up! I was drugged! I still feel dizzy."

"By whom? Who drugged you?" asked Mapes while helping Iphigenia. Embracing her, Mapes wrapped her arm around the other woman and her hand slipped without intention over the other woman's imposing left breast. The movement made the huge breast jump free from the fabric. Mapes trembled when she felt Iphigenia soft flesh and a warm white cream in her hand. The Fremen woman had completely forgotten that Iphigenia was a wet nurse.

"The Bene Gesserit! Lady Anirul Sadow-Tonkin Corrino! She took Alia… Get me something to dress… we need to find Alia!"

 

Paul’s Women

Book One: DUNE

Chapter 19

 

There should be a science of discontent. People need hard times and oppression to develop psychic muscles.

- from "Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib" by the Princess Irulan

 

Jessica awoke in the dark, feeling premonition in the stillness around her. She could not understand why her mind and body felt so sluggish. Skin raspings of fear ran along her nerves.

She thought of sitting up and turning on a light, but something stayed the decision. Her mouth felt... strange.

Lump-lump-lump-lump!

It was a dull sound, directionless in the dark. Somewhere.

The waiting moment was packed with time, with rustling needle-stick movements.

She began to feel her body, grew aware of bindings on wrists and ankles, a gag in her mouth. She was on her side, hands tied behind her. She tested the bindings, realized they were krimskell fiber, would only claw tighter as she pulled.

And now, she remembered.

There had been movement in the darkness of her bedroom, something wet and pungent slapped against her face, filling her mouth, hands grasping for her. She had gasped–one indrawn breath – sensing the narcotic in the wetness. Consciousness had receded, sinking her into a black bin of terror.

It has come, she thought. How simple it was to subdue the Bene Gesserit. All it took was treachery.

Hawat was right.

She forced herself not to pull on her bindings.

This is not my bedroom, she thought. They’ve taken me someplace else.

Slowly, she marshaled the inner calmness.

She grew aware of the smell of her own stale sweat with its chemical infusion of fear.

Where is Paul? she asked herself. My son–what have they done to him?

Calmness.

She forced herself to it, using the ancient routines.

But terror remained so near.

Leto? Where are you, Leto?

She sensed a diminishing in the dark. It began with shadows. Dimensions separated, became new thorns of awareness. White. A line under a door.

I’m on the floor.

People walking. She sensed it through the floor.

Jessica squeezed back the memory of terror. I must remain calm, alert, and prepared. I may get only one chance. Again, she forced the inner calmness.

The ungainly thumping of her heartbeats evened, shaping out time. She counted back. I was unconscious about an hour. She closed her eyes, focused her awareness onto the approaching footsteps.

Four people.

She counted the differences in their steps.

I must pretend I’m still unconscious. She relaxed against the cold floor, testing her body’s readiness, heard a door open, sensed increased light through her eyelids.

Feet approached: someone standing over her.

"You are awake," rumbled a basso voice. "Do not pretend."

She opened her eyes.

The Baron Vladimir Harkonnen stood over her. Around them, she recognized the cellar room where Paul had slept, saw his cot at one side–empty. Suspensor lamps were brought in by guards, distributed near the open door. There was a glare of light in the hallway beyond that hurt her eyes.

She looked up at the Baron. He wore a yellow cape that bulged over his portable suspensors. The fat cheeks were two cherubic mounds beneath spider- black eyes.

"The drug was timed," he rumbled. "We knew to the minute when you’d be coming out of it."

How could that be? she wondered. They’d have to know my exact weight, my metabolism, my...

Yueh!

"Such a pity you must remain gagged," the Baron said. "We could have such an interesting conversation."

Yueh’s the only one it could be, she thought. How?

The Baron glanced behind him at the door. "Come in, Piter."

She had never before seen the man who entered to stand beside the Baron, but the face was known–and the man: Piter de Vries, the Mentat-Assassin. She studied him–hawk features, blue-ink eyes that suggested he was a native of Arrakis, but subtleties of movement and stance told her he was not. And his flesh was too well firmed with water. He was tall, though slender, and something about him suggested effeminacy.

"Such a pity we cannot have our conversation, my dear Lady Jessica." the Baron said.
"However, I’m aware of your abilities." He glanced at the Mentat. "Isn’t that true, Piter?"

"As you say, Baron," the man said.

The voice was tenor. It touched her spine with a wash of coldness. She had never heard such a chill voice. To one with the Bene Gesserit training, the voice screamed: Killer!

"I have a surprise for Piter," the Baron said. "He thinks he has come here to collect his reward – you, Lady Jessica. But I wish to demonstrate a thing: that he does not really want you."

"You play with me, Baron?" Piter asked, and he smiled.

Seeing that smile, Jessica wondered that the Baron did not leap to defend himself from this Piter. Then she corrected herself. The Baron could not read that smile. He did not have the Training.

“You are a very beautiful woman, Lady Jessica!” the Baron said. “I usually prefer young man, like my nephew, or like Piter, in his younger days. But I recognize that you are quite beautiful!” Baron’s fat fingers begun to unbutton Jessica’s shirt.

Piter squinted his eyes. He opened is mouth waiting with anticipation the Baron’s next move.

“Such a lovely breast” continued the Baron, introducing his huge hand in Jessica’s shirt and cupping her breast. “It reminds me another Bene Gesserit that I knew many years ago. Yes, you know her, the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen, the Emperor’s current concubine, the Truthsayer” The Baron smiled, lost in his thoughts. For a moment he seemed almost kind. “A soft and smooth skin… a perky nipple. It is a thing that my young men should have… full breasts… don’t you think, Piter?

“As you say, Baron,” the man said again.

“Look at him, Lady Jessica, he sees me fondling you and he desires to be here, in one hand he wants that I rip your shirt, so he can see your breasts, on the other hand he is jealous poisoned and wants that I go away, so he can have you, only for him. In many ways, Piter is quite naive," the Baron said. "He doesn’t admit to himself what a deadly creature you are, Lady Jessica. I’d show him, but it’d be a foolish risk." The Baron smiled at Piter, whose face had become a waiting mask. "I know what Piter really wants. Piter wants power."

"You promised I could have her," Piter said. The tenor voice had lost some of its cold reserve. “I want her!”

Jessica heard the clue-tones in the man’s voice, allowed herself an inward shudder. How could the Baron have made such an animal out of a Mentat?

"I give you a choice, Piter," the Baron said pinching Jessica’s nipple under the shirt.

"What choice?"

The Baron fat fingers massaged again Jessica’s breast. "This woman and exile from the Imperium, or the Duchy of Atreides on Arrakis to rule as you see fit in my name."

Jessica watched the Baron’s spider eyes study Piter.

"You could be Duke here in all but name," the Baron said.

Is my Leto dead, then? Jessica asked herself. She felt a silent wail begin somewhere in her mind.

The Baron kept his attention on the Mentat. "Understand yourself, Piter. You want her because she was a Duke’s woman, a symbol of his power–beautiful, useful, exquisitely trained for her role. But an entire duchy, Piter! That’s more than a symbol; that’s the reality. With it you could have many women... and more."

"You do not joke with Piter?"

The Baron turned with that dancing lightness the suspensors gave him. "Joke? I? Remember – I am giving up the boy. You heard what the traitor said about the lad’s training. They are alike, this mother and son – deadly." The Baron smiled. "I must go now. I will send in the guard I’ve reserved for this moment. He’s stone deaf. His orders will be to convey you on the first leg of your journey into exile. He will subdue this woman if he sees her gain control of you. He’ll not permit you to untie her gag until you’re off Arrakis. If you choose not to leave... he has other orders."

"You don’t have to leave," Piter said. "I’ve chosen."

"Ah, hah!" the Baron chortled. "Such quick decision can mean only one thing."

"I will take the duchy," Piter said.

And Jessica thought: Doesn’t Piter know the Baron’s lying to him? But–how could he know?

He’s a twisted Mentat.

The Baron glanced down at Jessica, suddenly he felt uncomfortable with her eyes and removed his hand from her shirt. "Is it not wonderful that I know Piter so well? I wagered with my Master at Arms that this would be Piter’s choice. Hah! Well, I leave now. This is much better. Ah-h, much better. You understand, Lady Jessica? I hold no rancor toward you. It’s a necessity. Much better this way. Yes. And I’ve not actually ordered you destroyed. When it’s asked of me what happened to you, I can shrug it off in all truth."

"You leave it to me then?" Piter asked.

"The guard I send you will take your orders," the Baron said. "Whatever’s done I leave to you." He stared at Piter. "Yes. There will be no blood on my hands here. It’s your decision.

Yes. I know nothing of it. You will wait until I’ve gone before doing whatever you must do.

Yes. Well… ah, yes. Yes. Good."

He fears the questioning of a Truthsayer, Jessica thought. Who? Ah-h-h, the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen, of course! If he knows he must face her questions, then the Emperor is in on this for sure. Ahh-h-h, my poor Leto.

With one last glance at Jessica, the Baron turned, went out the door. She followed him with her eyes, thinking: It’s as the Reverend Mother warned–too potent an adversary.

Two Harkonnen troopers entered. Another, his face a scarred mask, followed and stood in the doorway with drawn lasgun.

The deaf one, Jessica thought, studying the scarred face. The Baron knows I could use the Voice on any other man.

Scarface looked at Piter. "We’ve the boy on a litter outside. What are your orders?" Piter spoke to Jessica. "I’d thought of binding you by a threat held over your son, but I begin to see that would not have worked, I let emotion cloud reason. Bad policy for a Mentat." He looked at the first pair of troopers, turning so the deaf one could read his lips: "Take them into the desert as the traitor suggested for the boy. His plan is a good one. The worms will destroy all evidence. Their bodies must never be found."

"You don’t wish to dispatch them yourself?" Scarface asked.

He reads lips, Jessica thought.

"I follow my Baron’s example," Piter said. "Take them where the traitor said."

Jessica heard the harsh Mentat control in Piter’s voice, thought: He, too, fears the Truthsayer.

Piter shrugged, turned, and went through the doorway. He hesitated there, and Jessica thought he might turn back for a last look at her, but he went out without turning.

"Me, I wouldn’t like the thought of facing that Truthsayer after this night’s work," Scarface said.

"You ain’t likely ever to run into that old witch," one of the other troopers said. He went around to Jessica’s head, bent over her. "It ain’t getting our work done standing around here chattering. Take her feet and–"

"Why’n’t we kill ’em here?" Scarface asked.

"Too messy," the first one said. "Unless you wants to strangle’em. Me, I likes a nice straightforward job. Drop ’em on the desert like that traitor said, cut ’em once or twice, leave ’the evidence for the worms. Nothing to clean up afterwards."

"Yeah... well, I guess you’re right," Scarface said.

Jessica listened to them, watching, registering. But the gag blocked her Voice, and there was the deaf one to consider.

Scarface holstered his lasgun, took her feet. They lifted her like a sack of grain, maneuvered her through the door and dumped her onto a suspensor-buoyed litter with another bound figure. As they turned her, fitting her to the litter, she saw her companion’s face – Paul! He was bound, but not gagged.

His face was no more than ten centimeters from hers, eyes closed, his breathing even.
Is he drugged? she wondered.

The troopers lifted the litter, and Paul’s eyes opened the smallest fraction–dark slits staring at her.

He mustn’t try the Voice! she prayed. The deaf guard!

Paul’s eyes closed.

He had been practicing the awareness-breathing, calming his mind, listening to their cap-tors. The deaf one posed a problem, but Paul contained his despair. The mind-calming Bene Gesserit regimen his mother had taught him kept him poised, ready to expand any opportunity.

Paul allowed himself another slit-eyed inspection of his mother’s face. She appeared unharmed but her shirt was oddly opened to a point that he could see an ample cleavage.

Gagged, though.

He wondered who could’ve captured her. His own captivity was plain enough – to bed with a capsule prescribed by Yueh, awaking to find himself bound to this litter. Perhaps a similar thing had befallen her. Logic said the traitor was Yueh, but he held final decision in abeyance.

There was no understanding it–a Suk doctor a traitor.

The litter tipped slightly as the Harkonnen troopers maneuvered it through a doorway into starlit night. A suspensor-buoy rasped against the doorway. Then they were on sand, feet grating in it. A’thopter wing loomed overhead, blotting the stars. The litter settled to the ground.

Paul’s eyes adjusted to the faint light. He recognized the deaf trooper as the man who opened the ’thopter door, peered inside at the green gloom illuminated by the instrument panel.

"This the ’thopter we’re supposed to use?" he asked, and turned to watch his companion’s lips.

"It’s the one the traitor said was fixed for desert work," the other said.

Scarface nodded. "But it’s one of them little liaison jobs. Ain’t room in there for more’n them an’ two of us."

"Two’s enough," said the litter-bearer, moving up close and presenting his lips for reading.

"We can take care of it from here on, Kinet."

"The Baron he told me to make sure what happened to them two," Scarface said.

"What you so worried about?" asked another trooper from behind the litter- bearer.

"She is a Bene Gesserit witch," the deaf one said. "They have powers."

"Ah-h-h... "The litter-bearer made the sign of the fist at his ear. "One of them, eh? Know whatcha mean."

The trooper behind him grunted. "She’ll be worm meat soon enough. Don’t suppose even a Bene Gesserit witch has powers over one of them big worms. Eh, Czigo?" He nudged the litter-bearer.

"Yee-up," the litter-bearer said. He returned to the litter, took Jessica’s shoulders. "C’mon, Kinet. You can go along if you wants to make sure what happens."

"It is nice of you to invite me, Czigo," Scarface said.

Jessica felt herself lifted, the wing shadow spinning–stars. She was pushed into the rear of the ’thopter, her krimskell fiber bindings examined, and she was strapped down. Paul was jammed in beside her, strapped securely, and she noted his bonds were simple rope. Scarface, the deaf one they called Kinet, took his place in front. The litter-bearer, the one they called Czigo, came around and took the other front seat.

Kinet closed his door, bent to the controls. The ’thopter took off in a wing-tucked surge, headed south over the Shield Wall. Czigo tapped his companion’s shoulder, said: "Whyn’t you turn around and keep an eye on them two?"

"Sure you know the way to go?" Kinet watched Czigo’s lips.

"I listened to the traitor same’s you."

Kinet swiveled his seat. Jessica saw the glint of starlight on a lasgun in his hand. The ’thopter’s light-walled interior seemed to collect illumination as her eyes adjusted, but the guard’s scarred face remained dim. Jessica tested her seat belt, found it loose. She felt roughness in the strap against her left arm, realized the strap had been almost severed, would snap at a sudden jerk.

Has someone been at this ’thopter, preparing it for us? she wondered. Who? Slowly, she twisted her bound feet clear of Paul’s.

"Sure do seem a shame to waste a good-looking woman like this," Scarface said. "You ever have any highborn types?" He turned to look at the pilot.

"Bene Gesserit ain’t all highborn," the pilot said.

"But they all looks heighty."

He can see me plain enough, Jessica thought. She brought her bound legs up onto the seat, curled into a sinuous ball, staring at Scarface.

"Real pretty, she is," Kinet said looking for Jessica’s exposed cleavage. He wet his lips with his tongue. "Sure do seem a shame."

He looked at Czigo.

"You thinking what I think you’re thinking?" the pilot asked.

"Who’d be to know?" the guard asked. "Afterwards... " He shrugged. "I just never had me no highborns. Might never get a chance like this one again."

"You lay a hand on my mother..." Paul grated. He glared at Scarface.

"Hey!" the pilot laughed. "Cub’s got a bark. Ain’t got no bite, though."

And Jessica thought; Paul’s pitching his voice too high. It may work, though.

They flew on in silence.

These poor fools, Jessica thought, studying her guards and reviewing the Baron’s words.

They’ll be killed as soon as they report success on their mission. The Baron wants no witnesses.

The ’thopter banked over the southern rim of the Shield Wall, and Jessica saw a moonshadowed expanse of sand beneath them.

"This oughta be far enough," the pilot said. "The traitor said to put’em on the sand anywhere near the Shield Wall." He dipped the craft toward the dunes in a long, falling stoop, brought it up stiffly over the desert surface.

Jessica saw Paul begin taking the rhythmic breaths of the calming exercise. He closed his eyes, opened them. Jessica stared, helpless to aid him. He hasn’t mastered the Voice yet, she thought, if he fails...

The ’thopter touched sand with a soft lurch, and Jessica, looking north back across the Shield Wall, saw a shadow of wings settle out of sight up there.

Someone’s following us! she thought. Who? Then: The ones the Baron set to watch this pair. And there’ll be watchers for the watchers, too.

Czigo shut off his wing rotors. Silence flooded in upon them.

Jessica turned her head. She could see out the window beyond Scarface a dim glow of light from a rising moon, a frosted rim of rock rising from the desert. Sandblast ridges streaked its sides.

Paul cleared his throat.

The pilot said: "Now, Kinet?"

"I dunno, Czigo."

Czigo turned, said: "Ah-h-h, look." He reached out for Jessica’s skirt and ripped it out reveling the nakedness of her legs. Under the skirt she was only using small white panties. Czigo was stunned by her beauty. His hands trembled when he opened violently her shirt ripping all the buttons and exposing her voluptuous breasts.

"Remove her gag," Paul commanded.

Jessica felt the words rolling in the air. The tone, the timbre excellent – imperative, very sharp. A slightly lower pitch would have been better, but it could still fall within this man’s spectrum.

Czigo shifted his hand up to the band around Jessica’s mouth, slipped the knot on the gag.

"Stop that!" Kinet ordered.

"Ah, shut your trap," Czigo said. "Her hands’re tied." He freed the knot and the binding dropped. His eyes glittered as he studied Jessica’s body.

Kinet put a hand on the pilot’s arm. "Look, Czigo, no need to... "

Jessica twisted her neck, spat out the gag. She pitched her voice in low, intimate tones.

"Gentlemen! No need to fight over me." At the same time, she writhed sinuously for Kinet’s benefit. Her skirt rose up showing her long legs.

She saw them grow tense, knowing that in this instant they were convinced of the need to fight over her. Their disagreement required no other reason. In their minds, they were fighting over her.

She held her face high in the instrument glow to be sure Kinet would read her lips, said:

"You mustn’t disagree." They drew farther apart, glanced warily at each other. "Is any woman worth fighting over?" she asked.

By uttering the words, by being there, she made herself infinitely worth their fighting.
Paul clamped his lips tightly closed, forced himself to be silent. There had been the one chance for him to succeed with the Voice. Now–everything depended on his mother whose experience went so far beyond his own.

"Yeah," Scarface said. "No need to fight over..."

His hand flashed toward the pilot’s neck. The blow was met by a splash of metal that caught the arm and in the same motion slammed into Kinet’s chest.

Scarface groaned, sagged backward against his door.

"Thought I was some dummy didn’t know that trick," Czigo said. He brought back his hand, revealing the knife. It glittered in reflected moonlight.

"Now for the cub," he said and leaned toward Paul.

"No need for that," Jessica murmured.

Czigo hesitated.

"Wouldn’t you rather have me cooperative?" Jessica asked shaking her naked chest. "Give the boy a chance." Her lip curled in a sneer. "Little enough chance he’d have out there in that sand. Give him that and..." She smiled. "You could find yourself well rewarded."

Czigo glanced left, right, returned his attention to Jessica. "I’ve heard me what can happen to a man in this desert," he said. "Boy might find the knife a kindness."

"Is it so much I ask?" Jessica pleaded.

"You’re trying to trick me," Czigo muttered.

"I don’t want to see my son die, while I watch" Jessica said. "Is that a trick?"

Czigo moved back, elbowed the door latch. He grabbed Paul, dragged him across the seat, pushed him half out the door and held the knife posed. "What’ll y’ do, cub, if I cut y’r bonds?"

"He’ll leave here immediately and head for those rocks," Jessica said.

"Is that what y’ll do, cub?" Czigo asked.

Paul’s voice was properly surly. "Yes."

The knife moved down, slashed the bindings of his legs. Paul felt the hand on his back to hurl him down onto the sand, feigned a lurch against the doorframe for purchase, turned as though to catch himself, lashed out with his right foot.

The toe was aimed with a precision that did credit to his long years of training, as though all of that training focused on this instant. Almost every muscle of his body cooperated in the placement of it.

The tip struck the soft part of Czigo’s abdomen just below the sternum, slammed upward with terrible force over the liver and through the diaphragm to crush the right ventricle of the man’s heart.

With one gurgling scream, the guard jerked backward across the seats. Paul, unable to use his hands, continued his tumble onto the sand, landing with a roll that took up the force and brought him back to his feet in one motion. He dove back into the cabin, found the knife and held it in his teeth while his mother sawed her bonds. She took the blade and freed his hands.

"I could’ve handled him," she said. "He’d have had to cut my bindings. That was a foolish risk."

"I saw the opening and used it," he said.

She heard the harsh control in his voice, said: "Yueh’s house sign is scrawled on the ceiling of this cabin."

He looked up, saw the curling symbol.

"Get out and let us study this craft," she said. "There’s a bundle under the pilot’s seat. I felt it when we got in."

"Bomb?"

"Doubt it. There’s something peculiar here."

Paul leaped out to the sand and Jessica followed after she composed her clothes the better that she could. She turned, reached under the seat for the strange bundle, seeing Czigo’s feet close to her face, feeling dampness on the bundle as she removed it, realizing the dampness was the pilot’s blood.

Waste of moisture, she thought, knowing that this was Arrakeen thinking.

Paul stared around them, saw the rock scarp lifting out of the desert like a beach rising from the sea, wind-carved palisades beyond. He turned back as his mother lifted the bundle from the ’thopter, saw her stare across the dunes toward the Shield Wall. He looked to see what drew her attention, saw another ’thopter swooping toward them, realized they’d not have time to clear the bodies out of this ’thopter and escape.

"Run, Paul!" Jessica shouted. "It’s Harkonnens!"