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Actions & Adventure
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Thrillers & Crime
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Mystery & Detective
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other, wrenching the door open. Sand poured around them into the cabin, bringing a dry smell of burned flint. He grabbed the pack from the rear, saw that his mother was free of her harness. She stepped up onto the side of the right-hand seat and out onto the 'thopter's metal skin. Paul followed, dragging the pack by its straps.
"Run!" he ordered.
He pointed up the dune face and beyond it where they could see a rock tower undercut by sandblast winds.
Jessica leaped off the 'thopter and ran, scrambling and sliding up the dune. She heard Paul's panting progress behind. They came out onto a sand ridge that curved away toward the rocks.
"Follow the ridge," Paul ordered. "It'll be faster."
They slogged toward the rocks, sand gripping their feet.
A new sound began to impress itself on them: a muted whisper, a hissing, an abrasive slithering.
"Worm," Paul said.
It grew louder.
"Faster!" Paul gasped.
The first rock shingle, like a beach slanting from the sand, lay no more than ten meters ahead when they heard metal crunch and shatter behind them.
Paul shifted his pack to his right arm, holding it by the straps. It slapped his side as he ran. He took his mother's arm with his other hand. They scrambled onto the lifting rock, up a pebble-littered surface through a twisted, wind-carved channel. Breath came dry and gasping in their throats.
"I can't run any farther," Jessica panted.
Paul stopped, pressed her into a gut of rock, turned and looked down onto the desert. A mound-in-motion ran parallel to their rock island--moonlit ripples, sand waves, a cresting burrow almost level with Paul's eyes at a distance of about a kilometer. The flattened dunes of its track curved once--a short loop crossing the patch of desert where they had abandoned their wrecked ornithopter.
Where the worm had been there was no sign of the aircraft.
The burrow mound moved outward into the desert, coursed back across its own path, questing.
"It's bigger than a Guild spaceship," Paul whispered. "I was told worms grew large in the deep desert, but I didn't realize ... how big."
"Nor I," Jessica breathed.
Again, the thing turned out away from the rocks, sped now with a curbing track toward the horizon. They listened until the sound of its passage was lost in gentle sand stirrings around them.
Paul took a deep breath, looked up at the moon-frosted escarpment, and quoted from the Kitab al-Ibar: "Travel by night and rest in black shade through the day." He looked at his mother. "We still have a few hours of night. Can you go on?"
"In a moment."
Paul stepped out onto the rock shingle, shouldered the pack and adjusted its straps. He stood a moment with a paracompass in his hands.
"Whenever you're ready," he said.
She pushed herself away from the rock, feeling her strength return. "Which direction?"
"Where this ridge leads." He pointed.
"Deep into the desert," she said.
"The Fremen desert," Paul whispered.
And he paused, shaken by the remembered high relief imagery of a prescient vision he had experienced on Caladan. He had seen this desert. But the set of the vision had been subtly different, like an optical image that had disappeared into his consciousness, been absorbed by memory, and now failed of perfect registry when projected onto the real scene. The vision appeared to have shifted and approached him from a different angle while he remained motionless.
Idaho was with us in the vision, he remembered. But now Idaho is dead.
"Do you see a way to go?" Jessica asked, mistaking his hesitation.
"No," he said, "But we'll go anyway."
He settled his shoulders more firmly in the pack, struck out up a sand-carved channel in the rock. The channel opened onto a moonlit floor of rock with benched ledges climbing away to the south.
Paul headed for the first ledge, clambered onto it. Jessica followed.
She noted presently how their passage became a matter of the immediate and particular--the sand pockets between rocks where their steps were slowed, the wind-carved ridge that cut their hands, the obstruction that forced a choice: Go over or go around? The terrain enforced its own rhythms. They spoke only when necessary and then with the hoarse voices of their exertion.
"Careful here--this ledge is slippery with sand."
"Watch you don't hit your head against this overhang."
"Stay below this ridge; the moon's at our backs and it'd show our movement to anyone out there."
Paul stopped in a bight of rock, leaned the pack against a narrow ledge.
Jessica leaned beside him, thankful for the moment of rest. She heard Paul pulling at his stillsuit tube, sipped her own reclaimed water. It tasted brackish, and she remembered the waters of Caladan--a tall fountain enclosing a curve of sky, such a richness of moisture that it hadn't been noticed for itself ... only for its shape, or its reflection, or its sound as she stopped beside it.
To stop, she thought. To rest... truly rest.
It occurred to her that mercy was the ability to stop, if only for a moment. There was no mercy where there could be no stopping.
Paul pushed away from the rock ledge, turned, and climbed over a sloping surface. Jessica followed with a sigh.
They slid down onto a wide shelf that led around a sheer rock face. Again, they fell into the disjointed rhythm of movement across this broken land.
Jessica felt that the night was dominated by degrees of smallness in substances beneath their feet and hands--boulders or pea gravel or flaked rock or pea sand or sand itself or grit or dust or gossamer powder.
The powder clogged nose filters and had to be blown out. Pea sand and pea gravel rolled on a hard surface and could spill the unwary. Rock flakes cut.
And the omnipresent sand patches dragged against their feet.
Paul stopped abruptly on a rock shelf, steadied his mother as she stumbled into him.
He was pointing left and she looked along his arm to see that they stood atop a cliff with the desert stretched out like a static ocean some two hundred meters below. It lay there full of moon-silvered waves--shadows of angles that lapsed into curves and, in the distance, lifted to the misted gray blur of another escarpment.
"Open desert," she said.
"A wide place to cross," Paul said, and his voice was muffled by the filter trap across his face.
Jessica glanced left and right--nothing but sand below.
Paul stared straight ahead across the open dunes, watching the movement of shadows in the moon's passage. "About three or four kilometers across," he said.
"Worms," she said.
"Sure to be."
She focused on her weariness, the muscle ache that dulled her senses. "Shall we rest and eat?"
Paul slipped out of the pack, sat down and leaned against it. Jessica supported herself by a hand on his shoulder as she sank to the rock beside him. She felt Paul turn as she settled herself, heard him scrabbling in the pack.
"Here," he said.
His hand felt dry against hers as he pressed two energy capsules into her palm.
She swallowed them with a grudging spit of water from her stillsuit tube.
"Drink all your water," Paul said. "Axiom: the best place to conserve your water is in your body. It keeps your energy up. You're stronger. Trust your stillsuit."
She obeyed, drained her catchpockets, feeling energy return. She thought then how peaceful it was here in this moment of their tiredness, and she recalled once hearing the minstrel-warrior Gurney Halleck say, "Better a dry morsel and quietness therewith than a house full of sacrifice and strife."
Jessica repeated the words to Paul.
"That was Gurney," he said.
She caught the tone of his voice, the way he spoke as of someone dead, thought: And well poor Gurney might be dead. The Atreides forces were either dead or captive or lost like themselves in this waterless void.
"Gurney always had the right quotation," Paul said. "I can hear him now: 'And I will make the rivers dry, and sell the land into the hand of the wicked: and I will make the land waste, and all that is therein, by the hand of strangers.' "
Jessica closed her eyes, found herself moved close to tears by the pathos in her son's voice.
Presently, Paul said: "How do you ... feel?"
She recognized that his question was directed at her pregnancy, said: "Your sister won't be born for many months yet. I still feel ... physically adequate."
And she thought: How stiffly formal I speak to my own son! Then, because it was the Bene Gesserit way to seek within for the answer to such an oddity, she searched and found the source of her formality: I'm afraid of my son; Ifearhis strangeness; I fear what he may see ahead of us, what he may tell me.
Paul pulled his hood down over his eyes, listened to the bug-hustling sounds of the night. His lungs were charged with his own silence. His nose itched. He rubbed it, removed the filter and grew conscious of the rich smell of cinnamon.
"There's melange spice nearby," he said.
An eider wind feathered Paul's cheeks, ruffled the folds of his burnoose. But this wind carried no threat of storm; already he could sense the difference.
"Dawn soon," he said.
"There's a way to get safely across that open sand," Paul said. "The Fremen do it. "
"If we were to plant a thumper from our Fremkit back in the rocks here," Paul said. "It'd keep a worm occupied for a time."
She glanced at the stretch of moonlighted desert between them and the other escarpment. "Four kilometers worth of time?"
"Perhaps. And if we crossed there making only natural sounds, the kind that don't attract the worms...."
Paul studied the open desert, questing in his prescient memory, probing the mysterious allusions to thumpers and maker hooks in the Fremkit manual that had come with their escape pack. He found it odd that all he sensed was pervasive terror at thought of the worms. He knew as though it lay just at the edge of his awareness that the worms were to be respected and not feared ... if ... if....
He shook his head.
"It'd have to be sounds without rhythm," Jessica said.
"What? Oh. Yes. If we broke our steps ... the sand itself must shift down at times. Worms can't investigate every little sound. We should be fully rested before we try it, though."
He looked across at that other rock wall, seeing the passage of time in the vertical moonshadows there. "It'll be dawn within the hour."
"Where'll we spend the day?" she asked.
Paul turned left, pointed. "The cliff curves back north over there. You can see by the way it's wind-cut that's the windward face. There'll be crevasses there, deep ones."
"Had we better get started?" she asked.
He stood, helped her to her feet. "Are you rested enough for a climb down? I want to get as close as possible to the desert floor before we camp."
"Enough." She nodded for him to lead the way.
He hesitated, then lifted the pack, settled it onto his shoulders and turned along the cliff.
If only we had suspensors, Jessica thought. It'd be such a simple matter to jump down there. But perhaps suspensors are another thing to avoid in the open desert. Maybe they attract the worms the way a shield does.
They came to a series of shelves dropping down and, beyond them, saw a fissure with its ledge outlined by moonshadow leading along the vestibule.
Paul led the way down, moving cautiously but hurrying because it was obvious the moonlight could not last much longer. They wound down into a world of deeper and deeper shadows. Hints of rock shape climbed to the stars around them. The fissure narrowed to some ten meters' width at the brink of a dim gray sandslope that slanted downward into darkness.
"Can we go down?" Jessica whispered.
"I think so."
He tested the surface with one foot.
"We can slide down," he said. "I'll go first. Wait until you hear me stop."
"Careful," she said.
He stepped onto the slope and slid and slipped down its soft surface onto an almost level floor of packed sand. The place was deep within the rock walls.
There came the sound of sand sliding behind him. He tried to see up the slope in the darkness, was almost knocked over by the cascade. It trailed away to silence.
"Mother?" he said.
There was no answer.
He dropped the pack, hurled himself up the slope, scrambling, digging, throwing sand like a wild man. "Mother!" he gasped. "Mother, where are you?"
Another cascade of sand swept down on him, burying him to the hips. He wrenched himself out of it.
She's been caught in the sandslide, he thought. Buried in it. I must be calm and work this out carefully. She won't smother immediately. She'll compose herself in bindu suspension to reduce her oxygen needs. She knows I'll dig for her.
In the Bene Gesserit way she had taught him, Paul stilled the savage beating of his heart, set his mind as a blank slate upon which the past few moments could write themselves. Every partial shift and twist of the slide replayed itself in his menory, moving with an interior stateliness that contrasted with the fractional second of real time required for the total recall.
Presently, Paul moved slantwise up the slope, probing cautiously until he found the wall of the fissure, an outcurve of rock there. He began to dig, moving the sand with care not to dislodge another slide. A piece of fabric came under his hands. He followed it, found an arm. Gently, he traced the arm, exposed her face.
"Do you hear me?" he whispered.
He dug faster, freed her shoulders. She was limp beneath his hands, but he detected a slow heartbeat.
Bindu suspension, he told himself.
He cleared the sand away to her waist, draped her arms over his shoulders and pulled downslope, slowly at first, then dragging her as fast as he could, feeling the sand give way above. Faster and faster he pulled her, gasping with the effort, fighting to keep his balance. He was out on the hard-packed floor of the fissure then, swinging her to his shoulder and breaking into a staggering run as the entire sandslope came down with a loud hiss that echoed and was magnified within the rock walls.
He stopped at the end of the fissure where it looked out on the desert's marching dunes some thirty meters below. Gently, he lowered her to the sand, uttered the word to bring her out of the catalepsis.
She awakened slowly, taking deeper and deeper breaths.
"I knew you'd find me," she whispered.
He looked back up the fissure. "It might have been kinder if I hadn't."
"I lost the pack," he said. "It's buried under a hundred tons of sand ... at least."
"The spare water, the stilltent--everything that counts." He touched a pocket. "I still have the paracompass." He fumbled at the waist sash. "Knife and binoculars. We can get a good look around the place where we'll die."
In that instant, the sun lifted above the horizon somewhere to the left beyond the end of the fissure. Colors blinked in the sand out on the open desert. A chorus of birds held forth their songs from hidden places among the rocks.
But Jessica had eyes only for the despair in Paul's face. She edged her voice with scorn, said: "Is this the way you were taught?"
"Don't you understand?" he asked. "Everything we need to survive in this place is under that sand."
"You found me," she said, and now her voice was soft, reasonable.
Paul squatted back on his heels.
Presently, he looked up the fissure at the new slope, studying it, marking the looseness of the sand.
"If we could immobilize a small area of that slope and the upper face of a hole dug into the sand, we might be able to put down a shaft to the pack. Water might do it, but we don't have enough water for...." He broke off, then: "Foam."
Jessica held herself to stillness lest she disturb the hyperfunctioning of his mind.
Paul looked out at the open dunes, searching with his nostrils as well as his eyes, finding the direction and then centering his attention on a darkened patch of sand below them.
"Spice," he said. "Its essence--highly alkaline. And I have the paracompass. Its power pack is acid-base."
Jessica sat up straight against the rock.
Paul ignored her, leaped to his feet, and was off down the wind-compacted surface that spilled from the end of the fissure to the desert's floor.
She watched the way he walked, breaking his stride--step ... pause, step-step ... slide ... pause ...
There was no rhythm to it that might tell a marauding worm something not of the desert moved here.
Paul reached the spice patch, shoveled a mound of it into a fold of his robe, returned to the fissure. He spilled the spice onto the sand in front of Jessica, squatted and began dismantling the paracompass, using the point of his knife. The compass face came off. He removed his sash, spread the compass parts on it, lifted out the power pack. The dial mechanism came out next, leaving an empty dished compartment in the instrument.
"You'll need water," Jessica said.
Paul took the catchtube from his neck, sucked up a mouthful, expelled it into the dished compartment.
If this fails, that's water wasted, Jessica thought. But it won't matter then, anyway.
With his knife, Paul cut open the power pack, spilled its crystals into the water. They foamed slightly, subsided.
Jessica's eyes caught motion above them. She looked up to see a line of hawks along the rim of the fissure. They perched there staring down at the open water.
Great Mother! she thought. They can sense water even at that distance!
Paul had the cover back on the paracompass, leaving off the reset button which gave a small hole into the liquid. Taking the reworked instrument in one hand, a handful of spice in the other, Paul went back up the fissure, studying the lay of the slope. His robe billowed gently without the sash to hold it. He waded part way up the slope, kicking off the sand rivulets, spurts of dust.
Presently, he stopped, pressed a pinch of the spice into the paracompass, shook the instrument case.
Green foam boiled out of the hole where the reset button had been. Paul aimed it at the slope, spread a low dike there, began kicking away the sand beneath it, immobilizing the opened face with more foam.
Jessica moved to a position below him, called out: "May I help?"
"Come up and dig," he said. "We've about three meters to go