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Dune

Dune

Dune/19

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He stumbled back with his guards, glaring at her.

"This is no way to act in your Duke's home," she said. She snatched the cup from Yueh's hands, spilling part of it, thrust the cup toward Idaho. "Now drink this! That's an order!"

Idaho jerked himself upright, scowling down at her. He spoke slowly, with careful and precise enunciation: "I do not take orders from a damn' Harkonnen spy."

Yueh stiffened, whirled to face Jessica.

Her face had gone pale, but she was nodding. It all became clear to her--the broken stems of meaning she had seen in words and actions around her these past few days could now be translated. She found herself in the grip of anger almost too great to contain. It took the most profound of her Bene Gesserit training to quiet her pulse and smooth her breathing. Even then she could feel the blaze flickering.

They were always calling on Idaho for surveillance of the ladies!

She shot a glance at Yueh. The doctor lowered his eyes.

"You knew this?" she demanded.

"I ... heard rumors, my Lady. But I didn't want to add to your burdens."

"Hawat!" she snapped. "I want Thufir Hawat brought to me immediately!"

"But, my Lady...."

"Immediately!"

It has to be Hawat, she thought. Suspicion such as this could come from no other source without being discarded immediately.

Idaho shook his head, mumbled. "Chuck th' whole damn thing." Jessica looked down at the cup in her hand, abruptly dashed its contents across Idaho's face. "Lock him in one of the guest rooms of the east wing," she ordered. "Let him sleep it off."

The two guards stared at her unhappily. One ventured: "Perhaps we should take him someplace else, m'Lady. We could...."

"He's supposed to be here!" Jessica snapped. "He has a job to do here." Her voice dripped bitterness. "He's so good at watching the ladies."

The guard swallowed.

"Do you know where the Duke is?" she demanded.

"He's at the command post, my Lady."

"Is Hawat with him?"

"Hawat's in the city, my Lady."

"You will bring Hawat to me at once," Jessica said. "I will be in my sitting room when he arrives."

"But, my Lady...."

"If necessary, I will call the Duke," she said. "I hope it will not be necessary. I would not want to disturb him with this."

"Yes, my Lady."

Jessica thrust the empty cup into Mapes' hands, met the questioning stare of the blue-within-blue eyes. "You may return to bed, Mapes."

"You're sure you'll not need me?"

Jessica smiled grimly. "I'm sure."

"Perhaps this could wait until tomorrow," Yueh said. "I could give you a sedative and...."

"You will return to your quarters and leave me to handle this my way," she said. She patted his arm to take the sting out of her command. "This is the only way."

Abruptly, head high, she turned and stalked off through the house to her rooms. Cold walls... passages... a familiar door.... She jerked the door open, strode in, and slammed it behind her. Jessica stood there glaring at the shield-blanked windows of her sitting room. Hawat! Could he be the one the Harkonnens bought? We shall see.

Jessica crossed to the deep, old-fashioned armchair with an embroidered cover of schlag skin, moved the chair into position to command the door. She was suddenly very conscious of the crysknife in its sheath on her leg. She removed the sheath and strapped it to her arm, tested the drop of it. Once more, she glanced around the room, placing everything precisely in her mind against any emergency: the chaise near the corner, the straight chairs along the wall, the two low tables, her stand-mounted zither beside the door to her bedroom.

Pale rose light glowed from the suspensor lamps. She dimmed them, sat down in the armchair, patting the upholstery, appreciating the chair's regal heaviness for this occasion.

Now, let him come, she thought. We shall see what we shall see. And she prepared herself in the Bene Gesserit fashion for the wait, accumulating patience, saving her strength.

Sooner than she had expected, a rap sounded at the door and Hawat entered at her command.

She watched him without moving from the chair, seeing the crackling sense of drug-induced energy in his movements, seeing the fatigue beneath. Hawat's rheumy old eyes glittered. His leathery skin appeared faintly yellow in the room's light, and there was a wide, wet stain on the sleeve of his knife arm.

She smelled blood there.

Jessica gestured to one of the straight-backed chairs, said: "Bring that chair and sit facing me."

Hawat bowed, obeyed. That drunken fool of an Idaho! he thought. He studied Jessica's face, wondering how he could save this situation.

"It's long past time to clear the air between us," Jessica said.

"What troubles my Lady?" He sat down, placed hands on knees.

"Don't play coy with me!" she snapped. "If Yueh didn't tell you why I summoned you, then one of your spies in my household did. Shall we be at least that honest with each other?"

"As you wish, my Lady."

"First, you will answer me one question," she said. "Are you now a Harkonnen agent?"

Hawat surged half out of his chair, his face dark with fury, demanding: "You dare insult me so?"

"Sit down," she said. "You insulted me so."

Slowly, he sank back into the chair.

And Jessica, reading the signs of this face that she knew so well, allowed herself a deep breath. It isn't Hawat.

"Now I know you remain loyal to my Duke," she said. "I'm prepared, therefore, to forgive your affront to me."

"Is there something to forgive?"

Jessica scowled, wondering: Shall I play my trump? Shall I tell him of the Duke's daughter I've carried within me these few weeks? No... Leto himself doesn't know. This would only complicate his life, divert him in a time when he must concentrate on our survival. There is yet time to use this.

"A Truthsayer would solve this," she said, "but we have no Truthsayer qualified by the High Board."

"As you say. We've no Truthsayer."

"Is there a traitor among us?" she asked. "I've studied our people with great care. Who could it be? Not Gurney. Certainly not Duncan. Their lieutenants are not strategically enough placed to consider. It's not you, Thufir. It cannot be Paul. I know it's not me. Dr. Yueh, then? Shall I call him in and put him to the test?"

"You know that's an empty gesture," Hawat said. "He's conditioned by the High College. That I know for certain."

"Not to mention that his wife was a Bene Gesserit slain by the Harkonnens," Jessica said.

"So that's what happened to her," Hawat said.

"Haven't you heard the hate in his voice when he speaks the Harkonnen name?"

"You know I don't have the ear," Hawat said.

"What brought this base suspicion on me?" she asked.

Hawat frowned. "My Lady puts her servant in an impossible position. My first loyalty is to the Duke."

"I'm prepared to forgive much because of that loyalty," she said.

"And again I must ask: Is there something to forgive?"

"Stalemate?" she asked.

He shrugged.

"Let us discuss something else for a minute, then," she said. "Duncan Idaho, the admirable fighting man whose abilities at guarding and surveillance are so esteemed. Tonight, he overindulged in something called spice beer. I hear reports that others among our people have been stupefied by this concoction. Is that true?"

"You have your reports, my Lady."

"So I do. Don't you see this drinking as a symptom, Thufir?"

"My Lady speaks riddles."

"Apply your Mentat abilities to it!" she snapped. "What's the problem with Duncan and the others? I can tell you in four words--they have no home."

He jabbed a finger at the floor. "Arrakis, that's their home."

"Arrakis is an unknown! Caladan was their home, but we've uprooted them. They have no home. And they fear the Duke's failing them."

He stiffened. "Such talk from one of the men would be cause for--"

"Oh, stop that, Thufir. Is it defeatist or treacherous for a doctor to diagnose a disease correctly? My only intention is to cure the disease."

"The Duke gives me charge over such matters."

"But you understand I have a certain natural concern over the progress of this disease," she said. "And perhaps you'll grant I have certain abilities along these lines."

Will I have to shock him sererely? she wondered. He needs shaking up--something to break him from routine.

"There could be many interpretations for your concern," Hawat said. He shrugged.

"Then you've already convicted me?"

"Of course not, my Lady. But I cannot afford to take any chances, the situation being what it is."

"A threat to my son got past you right here in this house," she said. "Who took that chance?"

His face darkened. "I offered my resignation to the Duke."

"Did you offer your resignation to me... or to Paul?"

Now he was openly angry, betraying it in quickness of breathing, in dilation of nostrils, a steady stare. She saw a pulse beating at his temple.

"I'm the Duke's man," he said, biting off the words.

"There is no traitor," she said. "The threat's something else. Perhaps it has to do with the lasguns. Perhaps they'll risk secreting a few lasguns with timing mechanisms aimed at house shields. Perhaps they'll...."

"And who could tell after the blast if the explosion wasn't atomic?" he asked. "No, my Lady. They'll not risk anything that illegal. Radiation lingers. The evidence is hard to erase. No. They'll observe most of the forms. It has to be a traitor."

"You're the Duke's man," she sneered. "Would you destroy him in the effort to save him?"

He took a deep breath, then: "If you're innocent, you'll have my most abject apologies."

"Look at you now, Thufir," she said. "Humans live best when each has his own place, when each knows where he belongs in the scheme of things. Destroy the place and destroy the person. You and I, Thufir, of all those who love the Duke, are most ideally situated to destroy the other's place. Could I not whisper suspicions about you into the Duke's ear at night? When would he be most susceptible to such whispering, Thufir? Must I draw it for you more clearly?"

"You threaten me?" he growled.

"Indeed not. I merely point out to you that someone is attacking us through the basic arrangement of our lives. It's clever, diabolical. I propose to negate this attack by so ordering our lives that there'll be no chinks for such barbs to enter."

"You accuse me of whispering baseless suspicions?"

"Baseless, yes."

"You'd meet this with your own whispers?"

"Your life is compounded of whispers, not mine, Thufir."

"Then you question my abilities?"

She sighed. "Thufir, I want you to examine your own emotional involvement in this. The natural human's an animal without logic. Your projections of logic onto all affairs is unnatural, but suffered to continue for its usefulness. You're the embodiment of logic--a Mentat. Yet, your problem solutions are concepts that, in a very real sense, are projected outside yourself, there to be studied and rolled around, examined from all sides."

"You think now to teach me my trade?" he asked, and he did not try to hide the disdain in his voice.

"Anything outside yourself, this you can see and apply your logic to it," she said. "But it's a human trait that when we encounter personal problems, those things most deeply personal are the most difficult to bring out for our logic to scan. We tend to flounder around, blaming everything but the actual, deep-seated thing that's really chewing on us."

"You're deliberately attempting to undermine my faith in my abilities as a Mentat," he rasped. "Were I to find one of our people attempting thus to sabotage any other weapon in our arsenal, I should not hesitate to denounce and destroy him."

"The finest Mentats have a healthy respect for the error factor in their computations," she said.

"I've never said otherwise!"

"Then apply yourself to these symptoms we've both seen: drunkenness among the men, quarrels--they gossip and exchange wild rumors about Arrakis; they ignore the most simple--"

"Idleness, no more," he said. "Don't try to divert my attention by trying to make a simple matter appear mysterious."

She stared at him, thinking of the Duke's men rubbing their woes together in the barracks until you could almost smell the charge there, like burnt insulation. They're becoming like the men of the pre-Guild legend, she thought: Like the men of the lost star-searcher, Ampoliros-sick at their guns--foreverseeking, forever prepared and forever unready.

"Why have you never made full use of my abilities in your service to the Duke?" she asked. "Do you fear a rival for your position?"

He glared at her, the old eyes blazing. "I know some of the training they give you Bene Gesserit...." He broke off, scowling.

"Go ahead, say it," she said. "Bene Gesserit witches."

"I know something of the real training they give you," he said. "I've seen it come out in Paul. I'm not fooled by what your schools tell the public: you exist only to serve."

The shock must be severe and he's almost ready for it, she thought.

"You listen respectfully to me in Council," she said, "yet you seldom heed my advice. Why?"

"I don't trust your Bene Gesserit motives," he said. "You may think you can look through a man; you may think you can make a man do exactly what you--"

"You poor fool, Thufir!" she raged.

He scowled, pushing himself back in the chair.

"Whatever rumors you've heard about our schools," she said, "the truth is far greater. If I wished to destroy the Duke... or you, or any other person within my reach, you could not stop me."

And she thought: Why do I let pride drive such words out of me? This is not the way I was trained. This is not how I must shock him.

Hawat slipped a hand beneath his tunic where he kept a tiny projector of poison darts. She wears no shield, he thought. Is this just a brag she makes? I could slay her now... but, ah-h-h-h, the consequences if I'm wrong.

Jessica saw the gesture toward his pocket, said: "Let us pray violence shall never be necessary between us."

"A worthy prayer," he agreed.

"Meanwhile, the sickness spreads among us," she said. "I must ask you again: Isn't it more reasonable to suppose the Harkonnens have planted this suspicion to pit the two of us against each other?"

"We appear to've returned to stalemate," he said.

She sighed, thinking: He's almost ready for it.

"The Duke and I are father and mother surrogates to our people," she said. "The position--"

"He hasn't married you," Hawat said.

She forced herself to calmness, thinking: A good riposte, that.

"But he'll not marry anyone else," she said. "Not as long as I live. And we are surrogates, as I've said. To break up this natural order in our affairs, to disturb, disrupt, and confuse us--which target offers itself most enticingly to the Harkonnens?"

He sensed the direction she was taking, and his brows drew down in a lowering scowl.

"The Duke?" she asked. "Attractive target, yes, but no one with the possible exception of Paul is better guarded. Me? I tempt them, surely, but they must know the Bene Gesserit make difficult targets. And there's a better target, one whose duties create, necessarily, a monstrous blind spot. One to whom suspicion is as natural as breathing. One who builds his entire life on innuendo and mystery." She darted her right hand toward him. "You!"

Hawat started to leap from his chair.

"I have not dismissed you, Thufir!" she flared.

The old Mentat almost fell back into the chair, so quickly did his muscles betray him.

She smiled without mirth.

"Now you know something of the real training they give us," she said.

Hawat tried to swallow in a dry throat. Her command had been regal, peremptory--uttered in a tone and manner he had found completely irresistible. His body had obeyed her before he could think about it. Nothing could have prevented his response--not logic, not passionate anger... nothing. To do what she had done spoke of a sensitive, intimate knowledge of the person thus commanded, a depth of control he had not dreamed possible.

"I have said to you before that we should understand each other," she said. "I meant you should understand me. I already understand you. And I tell you now that your loyalty to the Duke is all that guarantees your safety with me."

He stared at her, wet his lips with his tongue.

"If I desired a puppet, the Duke would marry me," she said. "He might even think he did it of his own free will."

Hawat lowered his head, looked upward through his sparse lashes. Only the most rigid control kept him from calling the guard. Control... and the suspicion now that woman might not permit it. His skin crawled with the memory of how she had controlled him. In the moment of hesitation, she could have drawn a weapon and killed him!

Does every human have this blind spot? he wondered. Can any of us be ordered into action before he can resist? The idea staggered him. Who could stop a person with such power?

"You've glimpsed the fist within the Bene Gesserit glove," she said. "Few glimpse it and live. And what I did was a relatively simple thing for us. You've not seen my entire arsenal. Think on that."

"Why aren't you out destroying the Duke's enemies?" he asked.

"What would you have me destroy?" she asked. "Would you have me make a weakling of our Duke, have him forever leaning on me?"

"But, with such power...."

"Power's a two-edged sword, Thufir," she said. "You think: 'How easy for her to shape a human tool to thrust into an enemy's vitals.' True, Thufir; even into your vitals. Yet, what would I accomplish? If enough of us Bene Gesserit did this, wouldn't it make all Bene Gesserit suspect? We don't want that, Thufir. We do not wish to destroy ourselves." She nodded. "We truly exist only to serve."

"I cannot answer you," he said. "You know I cannot answer."

"You'll say nothing about what has happened here to anyone," she said. "I know you, Thufir."

"My Lady...." Again the old man tried to swallow in a dry throat.

And he thought: She has great powers, yes. But would these not make her an even more formidable tool for the Harkonnens?

"The Duke could be destroyed as quickly by his friends as by his enemies," she said. "I trust now you'll get to the bottom of this suspicion and remove it."

"If it proves baseless,"