Without a goal, a life is nothing. Sometimes the goal becomes a man's entire life, an all-consuming passion but once that goal is achieved, what then? Oh, poor man, what then?
--Lady Helena Atreides, her personal journals
The Golden Lion Throne glittered with the power of its internal lights. A massive slab of priceless Hagal crystal, it was the largest such stone ever found, and had been carved into the only throne worthy of the Emperor. The green gem, hypnotic in its constant shifting of color, had the undivided attention of everyone in the massive throne room of the new palace, in the magnificent reception chamber. Everyone with a single conspicuous exception.
Lord Adan Cepeda, Bashar of House Atreides, was dressed in his finest clothing. The elegant red and black, with the glinting of green jewels, adroitly combined his house colors with those of his overlords, the Atreides. No stranger to the elegance of courtly functions, Adan still disliked the frivolity, and made his displeasure obvious by maintaining his kindjal with him. The hand he rested on the blade sent its message clearly: leave me in peace. As a result, the other aristocrats of the Landsraad avoided being in his presence.
Scowling, Adan turned away from the irritating courtiers, and headed toward the outdoor balcony. His years of miserable exile on the desert planet Arrakis had left him with a fierce dislike of the rabble and scum of humanity, and these aristocrats fell rather firmly into the latter group. Three years previous, the assembled military of the Great Houses had fallen on Arrakis, the sole source of the precious spice. Their goal, inspired by the paranoia of the Guild, was to gain control of the Golden Fleece of their civilization, the planet Arrakis and its prized spice mélange.
Under the direction of the old Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and the soon-to-be-deposed Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV, the combined might of the Imperium had come to crush the mad Fremen tribes, who had created a bottleneck in spice production. The Fremen leader, a man called Muad'dib, however, threw their plans to the coriolis storms of the planet. Muad'dib, born Paul Orestes Atreides, son of the murdered Siridar-Duke Leto, led his Fedaykin, the greatest of the Fremen, into pitched battle on the plains of Arrakeen against Shaddam's soldier-fanatics, the Sardaukar. Adan himself had commanded a brigade of the Fedaykin at that final battle, and his distaste of the pampered nobles of the Landsraad had known no bounds after that victory.
Silently, he looked across the desert, knowing full well that the titles of the Duke Atreides and the Red Duke would soon lose their meaning, for Paul-Muad'dib would shortly wed Irulan Corrino, and take Shaddam's Imperial crown for his own. For the last three years, Paul had "negotiated" with the Emperor for the power of the Regency created in Irulan's name. Shaddam and his Sardaukar had proven recalcitrant, and Adan and his brigade had been called upon often to force a point on one Imperial planet after another, from Kaitain to Salusa Secundus. After his brigades and Fedaykin had proven again and again to be unstoppable, Shaddam had finally ceded all his rights to Paul. Even now, the impotent head of House Corrino sat in his ancient familial bastion of Salusa Secundus, left with only a single legion of his once-invincible Sardaukar and whatever levies he could summon from the loyalists who had either fled to or been banished with him.
"So, you're the minor Lord that my father wants me to marry."
Adan drew his kindjal and whirled, turning to face whoever had appeared behind him with the trademark speed of the Bene Gesserit-trained. He stopped short of attacking when he realized that the one who had spoken was only an unarmed woman, wearing a dress of living imian flowers. Ignoring her challenging tone, Adan studied her. Her elegant face, combined with proud ambition, marked her as the blood-daughter of only one man.
"So, you're the Princess Chalice Corrino," Adan said, returning her challenge with one of his own.
Moving with elegant grace, Princess Chalice walked toward him and stopped less than a foot away. Green eyes the color of forest glades back on Caladan regarded him from a classically beautiful face, patrician and desirable. Her hair, blonde and curled, glistened in the harsh Arrakeen sun, framing her face with a look of timeless innocence. The princess maintained an aura about her of being too far away to be touched, which Adan knew full well came as a side-effect of Bene Gesserit training.
"I see you're going to keep yourself to yourself, Lord. Tell me, how do you see me? Through the eyes of the Bashar who crushed old Garon on Kaitain? The eyes of the Mentat, forever trying to find a solution to life?" She paused, and then surprised him with her next words. "Or do you see me through the eyes of the Bene Gesserit, judging people to be human or not?"
Adan concealed his surprise deep inside his mind, using a combination of Mentat and Bene Gesserit tricks. Gesturing casually, he pointed toward the desert. "Tell me, Princess, what do you see out there?"
"I see Arrakis. Dune, the Desert Planet. I see the plains of Arrakeen, where my father's Sardaukar legions were bested by your Duke's mad Fremen hordes. I see a world that would be worthless were it not for one thing." She looked him in the eyes. "The spice gives your Duke his power, and has bought him a throne. What else will it do?"
"So, you're not a true Bene Gesserit."
"My mother died before she could train me as completely as she trained Irulan, and the Sisterhood deemed the rest of us as worthless. So, yes, Mentat, I'm not a true Bene Gesserit, but neither am I of the rabble. I'm caught walking a tightrope, balancing between chaos and order, and incapable of choosing between the two at will."
Chalice had said nothing untruthful in whole of this interview, but she had not told the whole truth, either. Knowing full well that this minor Lord was the product of a non-Bene Gesserit breeding program, she planned to introduce her own formidable genetics into his bloodline to eventually breed a rival to the current Kwisatz Haderach. The man who could be many places at once, seeing the whole of the future and past, had been the Bene Gesserit goal, and just short of achieving their goal, the Kwisatz Haderach, Paul-Muad'dib Atreides, had rebelled, taking the power of destiny into his hand.
According to Irulan, the Duke Atreides should have been born female, so that she could be bred with a Harkonnen heir, and the offspring of that union would then have been bred with a Corrino, resulting in the Kwisatz Haderach and his superior heir. But Paul's mother had instead borne a son out of love for the Red Duke, Leto Atreides. As a result of the machinations of the ancient Atreides enemy of House Harkonnen, Duke Leto died on Arrakis, Paul and his mother had fled to the Fremen, and the Arrakis Affair began.
Disconcertingly, Lord Cepeda smiled. Chalice, driven by curiosity, demanded, "What amuses you, Mentat?"
"The universe amuses me. It shifts, yet I do not see the shifts. I am constant in a universe of change."
"Are you a Zensunni as well as a Mentat and Bene Gesserit?"
"Zensunni? Pah! Philosophy is the toy of prophets and would-be messiahs."
"The tool of manipulation and oppression, Mentat."
"Did I not just say that?"
"Are you a product of the Bene Tleilax?"
"Tleilaxu? I am unique, born of a woman, not bred in a tank!"
Surprised, Adan had reacted in the only way he could at the mention of the foul Bene Tleilax, the unclean traders of genetics. They were rumored to be able to create anything, a pure saint or ultimate devil, given the proper human material.
"So, you're not a pure saint or a pure devil. Then what are you?"
"I am what I am."
Adan shook his head. Talking with the princess was a startling experience. Here, he met the perfect foil for a Mentat. She spoke in the Bene Gesserit way, and kept him operating at the peak of his abilities.
"Are what you are? The traditional mantra of the cynic. Are you a cynic, then?"
"I am not a cynic. I simply reserve judgment."
"Then you are a cynic, since cynics claim not to judge, but their every action is a verdict."
"The true cynic is the ultimate hypocrite! He believes in everything, yet trusts nothing!"
"Your Duke's coronation will begin shortly. Will you be there, or will you insult him on his greatest day?"
"I am Atreides! I will not abandon my Duke! No trial of heaven or hell shall prevent me from my duty!"
Abruptly, Chalice whirled, beginning to reenter the palace. Momentarily surprised, Adan followed, more intrigued than irritated. Running his responses through both Mentat and Bene Gesserit logic, he reviewed how much of his inner self he revealed, how many mirrors he had allowed to reflect. And he shuddered, concealing it from all, as he remembered the most foolhardy action of his life.
The infamous Hall of Mirrors….not many Mentats escape being lost in there forever. The self of selves, with its infinite permutations…a fascination with the ego core, which left me uncaring of whether or not I escaped…
Even now, he had no idea how he had escaped the Hall of Mirrors. In all likelihood, he should have ended up a vegetable. Instead, he had met the final self. He had encountered the man who lay at the root of himself, and found that the root was not the beginning. Instinct had told him to follow the man, and led him back to the real world. Shaken by his dip into infinity, Adan had hesitated for weeks on the matter, and then asked his Mentat instructor, Thufir Hawat, to explain what had occurred to him. The grizzled old Master of Assassins had been shocked, but had then said, "Young Master, what you have done is recorded sparsely in the history of our order, but in effect, you have discovered the ancestor who created your self of selves through his own actions."
Moving quickly to his assigned seat, Adan sat with other esteemed members of House Atreides; the swashbuckling Warmaster Gurney Halleck, the Duke's Bene Gesserit mother, Lady Jessica, his pre-born sister Alia, the ducal concubine Chani and others who had survived the wrath of House Harkonnen. Chalice followed him to his seat, and sat near him. Sitting behind Gurney, he muttered, "Have I missed the show, Gurney-man?"
Gurney turned to him, his inkvine scar earned in a Harkonnen slave pit creased by the devil-may-care smile. An ugly lump of a man, Gurney was one of the greatest knife-fighters in the Imperium, with a head full of songs and quotations for any occasion, and a talent for the baliset. For years, Adan had pestered the man over whether or not Gurney was talented enough kill a man while singing, and Gurney had finally proven on the plains of Arrakeen that he was, singing a bawdy little ditty while gutting Harkonnen mercenaries and Imperial Sardaukar.
"Not much, you young imp. The Emperor hasn't yet begun the festivities. And what are you doing here, anyway? I'd have thought you'd be in charge of the security detail."
Adan grinned. "I have to let the Fedaykin earn their keep, don't I? Just because they bested Shaddam's Sardaukar doesn't mean they should get complacent, especially with me around."
Little Alia spoke, the soft lisp of a child contrasting sharply with her words. "Overconfidence caused Shaddam's downfall. Will it cause yours, Bashar?"
Adan smirked. He'd been as surprised as any to have such a young child speak so far beyond her years, but he'd come to accept the curiosity. As he understood it, an overdose of the spice essence by the Lady Jessica resulted in her acquisition of not only her own Other Memory, but the awakening of Alia to all the lives within while still in her mother's womb. Adan chose to accept this, and treated Alia as a woman, rather than a child. "Gentle Alia, your sharp words are but music to your unworthy vassal's ears. Were you not my overlord's sister, I would think it love."
Alia giggled at his outrageous flattery, correctly catching the subtle word play. Since he was already otherwise spoken for, Adan had as much said that sometimes a loyal vassal would indulge his lady to no end. Before he could continue to speak, a brazen Imperial fanfare sounded.
All heads turned to the massive double doors, which Adan had helped Paul design. The whole of the palace was an architectural marvel, combined with the subtleties of Bene Gesserit wiles. The chambers doors were eighty meters tall, half that in width. Massive though they were, they opened smoothly and silently, indicative of the Ixian technology used for the task. The space was massive, large enough to contain the entire citadel of any ruler of human history. Trusses, pillars, the domed ceiling far over hear, the supports keeping everything in place were an artistic and subtle marvel, surpassing anything ever attempted in history.
Adan measured the minutes required to reach the throne at the end, aware of what subtle gaucherie it had been made for. The long walk gave time for you to be cowed. You might start as a human of dignity—at least, by the Bene Gesserit definition—and end the walk as less than an animal, a mere insect to be stepped on. The long walk dictated by the regal pace also gave Paul time to intimidate the Great and Minor Houses gathered for the coronation. The graceful stride common of Bene Gesserit training, the honor guard of Fremen Naibs and his own Imperial Fedaykin—Death Commandoes—and the black and green Atreides colors pounded the untrained psyches of all those present. By the time the Duke sat down, Adan thought wryly, they'd be too afraid to sneeze, for fear his wrath would fall on them. Of course, the Jihad he'd begun against Shaddam would soon expand to cover them all in blood, in the name of Muad'dib.
After an interminable amount of time, Paul finally reached the throne. The intimidated nobles scarcely dared breath, and Adan made several quick gestures in Atreides battle language. It's about time! I was wondering how long he was going to toy with them.
Gurney smiled wolfishly, then responded, Ay, the young imp is something of a show-off. But the show is really going to heat up now. You'd best get to your place.
Adan moved quickly, removing himself to his place in the ceremony, and once he reached his position, focused on the subtleties of the throne itself, well aware of how much arguing and effort had been done to get make the effect perfect. The green throne, aglow with internal light, suggested growing things, but out of Fremen mythos reflected the mourning color. The tapestries behind the throne, cascades of burnt orange, gold, and cinnamon flecks of mélange compounded with two sconces burning mélange incense into the air, completed the symbol of unbridled power.
The Fedaykin and Fremen Naibs moved up the throne with Muad'dib, then split into two rows, each going to opposite sides of the throne, subtle in the way they reinforced the Duke's power without dwarfing him. After a short pause, Irulan and Stilgar came, escorted by important Fedaykin lieutenants and Atreides vassals, and walked toward the Duke, seated on the Imperial throne, yet not Emperor. Irulan Corrino, sister to Chalice, daughter of Shaddam, and wife of Paul Atreides, walked with the peculiar glide of the Bene Gesserit. Proud, and even more beautiful than her sister, she seemed confident in herself, though it was well-known in the Atreides inner circle that she did not share the Duke's bed. She had been a mere means to an end, and no doubt resented it.
Soon, Stilgar and Irulan reached the throne, and bowed to Paul. Irulan carried the glittering crown of the Padishah Emperor atop a glided pillow of merh-silk and precious metal threads. At the top of the dais, she kneeled, and held the crown before her. The Fedaykin lieutenants and Atreides vassals had lined the throne, hammering again the fact that they were men of power who supported the Duke. Adan impassively watched the next part of the ceremony, which he knew, thanks to his renegade Bene Gesserit training, would not go as planned.
As planned, the proud Naib of Sietch Tabr lifted the Imperial crown from the pillow, and approached Muad'dib. As Stilgar prepared to crown him Emperor of a Million Worlds, Paul moved with the blinding speed of the Bene Gesserit, seizing the crown from Stilgar's hands, and placing it on his own head. The action, pure bravura, sent silent shockwaves throughout the audience. Adan hid a smile as he considered what Paul had done.
Never in Imperial history had an Emperor seized that diadem and placed it on his own head. Always before, the Emperor had been just one sizable force in a universe of them, including the Landsraad and their substantial holdings, the Spacing Guild with its monopoly on space travel, CHOAM and its economic stranglehold, and the Bene Gesserit with their secrets. Being crowned by others had always signified that the Emperor ruled at their sufferance. But the power the new Emperor possessed far outweighed that of his predecessors, for Paul had the power to destroy the spice that all of those other factions required to survive, and thus, he was now the greatest power in the universe. The subtleties of his other actions soon bombarded the Landsraad rabble. The deposed Shaddam's own daughter had brought the crown, and now kneeled before him, something no Corrino had done in over ten millennia. The Fremen who had given this Emperor his power had been stripped of the crown they had thought to grant him, reminded that this Emperor ruled as he saw fit, not by their standards.
Turning the blue-within-blue eyes that shouted his addiction to the spice to envelop the whole audience, the black-haired Emperor began to speak. "Once more, the drama begins."
Adan had gestured sharply for Stilgar to kneel, and the surprised Naib had obeyed without thought, for once. No one noticed Adan's action, but they all discerned that Paul alone stood. Once his words, carried by hidden speakers to every corner of the chamber, had impacted their fragile minds, Adan was sure he could hear their brittle egos shatter.
Paul resumed speaking, the potent tones of Voice hammering the unprotected psyches of all these would-be power brokers. "I am the Padishah Emperor Paul-Muad'dib Atreides. Three years past, I seized this throne from Shaddam IV and his Sardaukar legions. My powers are beyond your frail ken. By the manipulations of the Bene Gesserit, I am the Kwisatz Haderach, from whom time cannot conceal the future. I am a net in the sea of time, free to sweep future and past. I am a moving membrane from whom no possibility can escape."
Adan grunted, unmoved. While he accepted that Paul's gift for foreseeing the future was exemplary, he knew full well that not everything was revealed to a prophet. Paul had as much told him in private.
"Yes, Adan, you are correct. I cannot see everything."
"Then what can you not see? I'll immediately remove any threats."
"Ah, can you? I cannot see other oracles. I can see where they have been, and where they will go, but I do not see them. Nor can I see those who are theirs. Nor can I see you."
Adan, shocked, had demanded, "Surely my Lord does not think I would betray him!"
"Do you know the story of Judas Iscariot, Bashar Adan Cepeda?"
Confusion had suppressed outrage. "Judas…Iscariot? I've never heard of this man. Who is he?"
Paul had smiled. "He's in here, in my memories." An odd tap of the forehead followed the statement. "We're all descended from people who committed actions that we loathe to admit. There is no escape -- we pay for the violence of our ancestors."
"My Lord? I do not understand."
"Judas Iscariot is one of my ancestors. I can recall his memories, his anguish. Many millennia ago, during the Golden Age of Earth, he betrayed a holy man, though he did not know it was betrayal then. The holy man was wanted by religious authorities for heresy, though I suppose it was not true heresy. Judas accepted a bounty of thirty silver pieces to lead them to the holy man. The same night he was to lead them, the holy man, who had the gift of prophecy I believe, declared that Judas would betray him. He did nothing to stop Judas, who believed in him totally and had taken an action that he would not approve of. Judas led the authorities to the holy man, and he was taken away."
"Are you saying that I will betray you, My Lord? How? And when? I'd rather fall on my own blade than sacrifice you to your enemies!"
"Ah, Adan, you listen, but you do not hear. I see you in the river of Time, but you sometimes fade from my view. When you fade, I sense violence that I do not approve of, but that you have taken for my good. But fear not. Your violence will not cause my downfall, but the downfall of many of my religious authorities."
Adan was not satisfied, and had boldly demanded, "And what happened to Judas Iscariot? What was his fate?"
"When he learned that the holy man would be executed in the most cruel, barbaric manner of the time, he attempted to return the money to rescue the holy man. When that failed, he threw the money at the authorities, and went off and hanged himself, grief-stricken at his crime."
Adan exited his memories, and returned to listening to Paul, who was still condemning the rabble.
"If a child, an untrained person, an ignorant person, or an insane person incites trouble, it is the fault of authority for not predicting and preventing that trouble. Often, the instigator goes unpunished, so that they may learn from their actions, and the authority shows kindness. But remember! Kindness if the beginning of cruelty. When the subject learns of the kindness, they will push to allow themselves to commit the same trouble, and the authority will then have no choice but to commit Istislah."
Istislah, a rule for general welfare, and a preface to a brutal necessity. Adan knew that Paul was getting them to agree with his view, and that soon, the Qizara Tafwid, those religious authorities Adan held in contempt, would be loosed on them. Quite a few planets would rebel, and Atreides Legions would fight alongside Fremen Fedaykin to subdue the rebels, allowing the Qizara Tafwid to pacify them for the religion they had built around the Lisan al'Gaib. Already, subtle signals indicated that the Imperium was ready to rebel, and rather than force himself into the situation he'd described, Paul would loose the Jihad on them, subduing them. Even now, Adan wondered what future Paul had seen that would make it necessary to take such extreme measures.
"This Imperium has fallen too long into the shadow of evil! As I removed House Corrino from the throne for its savagery, I shall purge this empire with the fires of righteousness!"
When religion and politics ride in the same cart, when that cart is driven by a living holy man, nothing can stand in its path. Yes, that piece of Bene Gesserit Coda certainly sums the situation up. And thus begins the deluge of bloodshed.
As expected, Atreides allies stood up and cheered, while the traditional enemies of House Atreides and its vassals remained conspicuously silent. Adan was especially pleased to note that the Baron Harkonnen and the Duke Vidal, both enemies of Houses Atreides and Cepeda, had not moved. They will be the first on the list of targets for my legion.
Finished with his speech, the Emperor led the way out of the chamber, and the other nobles followed. Adan knew full well that no small number of them would leave right after the celebratory banquet, and the war would begin. It was just a matter of formality. And despite all the Bene Gesserit platitudes and Swordmaster virtues about war and battle, he couldn't help but feel excited. Truly, we live in interesting times!