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Dune: House Harkonnen Part 54

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She hoped it was his first step toward healing.

Inside the hangar building were a number of ornithopters, some with engine covers open; mechanics stood on suspensor platforms, working on them. Leto walked purposefully to an emerald-hulled 'thopter with red Atreides hawks on the undersides of the wings. Built low to the ground, it had a two-seat cockpit in a front-back arrangement instead of the standard face-front or side-by-side configurations.

A man in gray coveralls had his head inside the engine compartment, but emerged when the Duke approached. "Just a couple of final adjustments, my Lord." He had a shaved upper lip, and a silver-flecked beard encircled his face, giving him a simian appearance.

"Thank you, Keno." Distracted, Leto stroked the side of the sleek vessel. "My father's racing 'thopter," he said to Jessica. "He called it Greenhawk Greenhawk. I trained on her, went out with him and did loops, dives, and rolls." He allowed himself a bittersweet smile. "Used to drive Thufir crazy, seeing the Duke and his only heir taking such risks. I think my father did it just to irritate him."

Jessica examined the unusual craft. Its wings were narrow and upswept, with the nose split into two aerodynamic sections. The mechanic finished his adjustments and closed the engine cover. "All ready to go, sir."



After helping Jessica into the rear-facing seat, Duke Leto climbed into the front. A safety harness snicked into place over her lap, another over his own. Turbines hissed on, and he taxied the sleek aircraft out of the hangar onto a broad ocher tarmac. Keno waved after them. Warm wind whipped through Jessica's hair until the plexplaz cockpit cover slid shut.

Leto touched the controls, working busily, expertly- intent on prepping the 'thopter, ignoring Jessica. The green wings shortened for jet-boost takeoff, their delicate interleavings meshing together. The turbines roared, and the craft launched straight up.

Extending the wings to beetle stubs, Leto banked sharply to the left, then low over the beach, where his soldiers waited in formation. With startled faces they looked up as the Duke flew by, dipping the wings.

"They'll see us flying north along the coastline," Leto shouted back to Jessica, "but after we're out of sight, we'll go west. They won't... they won't be able to follow us."

"We'll be alone." Jessica hoped the Duke's mood would improve with this sojourn into the wilderness, but she would stay by him regardless.

"I always feel alone," Leto answered.

The ornithopter turned, crossed over pundi rice lowlands and small farm buildings. The wings extended to full soaring length and began to beat like the appendages of a great bird. Below them were river orchards, the narrow Syubi River, and a modest mountain of the same name- the highest point on the plain.

They flew west all afternoon without seeing another aircraft. The landscape changed, becoming more rugged and mountainous. After sighting a village by an alpine lake, Leto studied the instruments and changed his heading. Soon the mountains gave way to grassy plains and sheer canyons. Presently, Leto stubbed the wings and banked hard right to descend into a deep river gorge.

"Agamemnon Canyon," Leto said. "See the terraces?" He pointed to one side. "They were built by ancient Caladanian primitives, whose descendants still live here. They're rarely seen by outsiders." Observing intently, Jessica spotted a brown-skinned man with a narrow, dark face before he ducked out of sight into a rock hollow.

Leto steered away from the cliff face and continued down, toward a broad river with surging white water. In the waning daylight, they flew low over the rushing current, through the narrow winding gorge. "It's beautiful," Jessica said.

In an offshoot canyon, the river dwindled, leaving creamy sand beaches. Wings fully tucked, the ornithopter set down on a bank of sand with a soft lurch. "My father and I used to come fishing here." Leto opened a hatch on the side of the 'thopter and brought out a spacious autotent, which set itself up and shot stabilizing stakes into the sand. They set up an airpad and a double sleeping envelope and brought their luggage and foodpaks in.

For a while they sat together on the riverbank and talked, while the shadows of late afternoon settled over the gorge and the temperature dropped. They snuggled closer, and Jessica leaned her bronze hair into the side of his neck. Large fish jumped while swimming upstream, against the current.

Leto maintained his somber silence, causing her to pull back and look into his smoky gray eyes. Feeling the muscles in his hand tighten up, she leaned close, gave him a long kiss.

Against her explicit training in the Sisterhood, all the lectures Mohiam had given her, Jessica found herself breaking one of the primary rules of the Bene Gesserit. Despite her intentions, despite her loyalty to the Sisterhood, Jessica had actually allowed herself to fall in love with this man.

They held each other, and for a long while Leto gazed out onto the river. "I still have nightmares," he said. "I see Victor, Rhombur... the flames." He pressed his face into his hands. "I thought I could escape the ghosts by coming way out here." He looked at her, his expression bleak. "I shouldn't have allowed you to come with me."

Wind gusts began to whip through the narrow canyon, snapping the tent fabric, and knotted clouds crawled overhead. "We'd better get inside before the storm comes." He hurried over to close the 'thopter hatch, and just as he returned a hard rain began to fall. He barely escaped getting drenched.

They shared a warm foodpak inside the tent, and later, when Leto lay back on the double sleeping pad, still troubled, Jessica moved close and began kissing his neck. Outside, the storm grew louder, more demanding of their attention. The tent flapped and rattled, but Jessica felt safe and warm.

As they made love that stormy night, Leto clung to her like a drowning man grasping a life raft, hoping to find some island of safety in a hurricane. Jessica responded to his desperation, afraid of his intensity, hardly able to cope with his outpouring of love. He was like a storm himself, uncontrolled and elemental.

The Sisterhood had never taught her about anything like this.

Emotionally torn, but determined, Jessica finally gave Leto the most precious gift she had left to offer. Manipulating her own body chemistry in the Bene Gesserit way, she envisioned his sperm and her egg merging... and allowed herself to conceive a child.

Though she had been given explicit instructions from the Sisterhood to produce only a daughter, Jessica had delayed and reconsidered, spending month after month contemplating this most important of decisions. Through it all she came to the realization that she could no longer bear to watch Leto's anguish. She had to do this one thing for him.

Duke Leto Atreides would have another son.

How will I be remembered by my children? This is the true measure of a man.

- ABULURD HARKONNEN Within sight of the Baron's square-walled Keep, the industrial floatcraft rose high in the gloomy sky.

Inside the floatcraft's large cargo hold, directly over its gaping, open hatch, Glossu Rabban hung spread-eagled. Shackles secured his wrists and ankles, but little else kept him from falling into the open sore of Harko City. His blue uniform was torn, his face bruised and bloodied from the scuffle with Captain Kryubi's troopers when they'd subdued him, pursuant to the Baron's orders. It had taken six or seven of the burliest guards to control the "Beast," and they had not been gentle. Now, on chains, the brutish man thrashed from side to side, looking for something to bite, something to spit at.

Steadying himself against a rail while the wind whipped up through the yawning hatch, Baron Harkonnen gazed dispassionately down at his nephew. The obese Baron's spider-black eyes were like deep holes. "Did I give you permission to kill my brother, Rabban?"

"He was only your half-brother, Uncle. He was a fool! I thought we would be better off-"

"Don't try to do any thinking, thinking, Glossu. You aren't good at it. Answer my question. Did I give you permission to kill a member of the Harkonnen family?" Glossu. You aren't good at it. Answer my question. Did I give you permission to kill a member of the Harkonnen family?"

When the response didn't come quickly enough, the Baron moved a lever on a control panel. The shackle on Rabban's left ankle sprang open, leaving the leg to dangle out over open space. Rabban writhed and screamed, unable to do anything. The Baron found the technique a primitive but effective method of increasing fear.

"No, Uncle, I did not have your permission!"

"No, what what?"

"No, Uncle... I mean no, my Lord!" The blocky man grimaced in pain while he struggled for the correct words, trying to understand what his uncle wanted.

The Baron spoke into a com-unit to the floatcraft operator. "Take us over my Keep and hover fifty meters above the terrace. I think the cactus garden there could use some fertilizer."

Looking up with a pitiful expression, Rabban declared, "I killed my father because he was a weakling. All his life, his actions brought dishonor on House Harkonnen."

"Abulurd wasn't strong, you mean... not like you and me?"

"No, my Lord Baron. He didn't measure up to our standards."

"So now you have decided to call yourself Beast. Is that correct?"

"Yes, Un- I mean, yes, my Lord."

Through the open hatch, Baron Harkonnen could see the Keep's spires. Directly below them was a garden terrace where he sometimes liked to sit and eat sumptuous meals in privacy, in the midst of the spiny desert growths. "If you look below, Rabban- yes, I believe you have a good view now- you can see a certain modification I made to the garden earlier today."

As he spoke, the metal tips of army lances emerged from the dirt beside thorn-saguaro and chocatilla. "See what I planted for you?"

Dangling from the three remaining shackles, Rabban twisted to look. His face filled with terror.

"Note the bull's-eye arrangement of the tips. If I drop you just right, you will be impaled in the exact center. If I miss by a little, we can still earn points for the hit, since every lance has a scoring number written on it." He stroked his upper lip. "Hmm, perhaps we can even introduce slave-dropping as an event for our arena crowds. Quite an exciting concept, don't you think?"

"My Lord, please don't do this. You need me!"

With emotionless eyes, the Baron looked down at him. "Why? I have your little brother Feyd-Rautha. Perhaps I'll make him him my heir-designate. By the time he's your age, he certainly won't make as many mistakes as you have." my heir-designate. By the time he's your age, he certainly won't make as many mistakes as you have."

"Uncle, please!"

"You must learn to pay close attention to what I say, at all times, Beast Beast. I never make idle chatter."

Rabban squirmed, and the chains jingled. Cold, smoky air drifted into the floatcraft as he tried desperately to think of what to say. "You want to know if it's a good game? Yes, uh, my Lord, it's most ingenious."

"So I'm a smart man to devise it? Much smarter than you, you, correct?" correct?"

"Infinitely smarter."

"Then don't ever try to oppose me. Is that understood? I'll always be ten steps ahead of you, ready with surprises that you could never imagine."

"I understand, my Lord."

Relishing the abject terror he saw in his nephew's face, the Baron said, "Very well. I shall release you now."

"Wait, Uncle!"

The Baron touched a button on the control panel, and both arm shackles opened, so that Rabban dropped upside down into open air, held by only the right ankle band. "Ooops. Do you think I hit the wrong button?"

Screaming: "No! You're teaching me a lesson!"

"And have you learned that lesson?"

"Yes, Uncle! Let me come back. I will always do what you say."

Into the com-unit, the Baron said, "Take us to my private lake."

The floatcraft glided over the estate until it was directly over the grimy waters of a man-made pond. Following previous orders, the operator descended to ten meters over the water.

Seeing what lay in store for him, Rabban tried to pull himself up by the single shackle. "This isn't necessary, Uncle! I've learned-"

The rest of Rabban's words were lost in a clatter of chain as the remaining shackle was released. The burly man fell, flailing and screaming, a long way down into the water.

"I don't think I've ever had the opportunity to ask," the Baron shouted through the opening as Rabban went under. "Can you swim?"

Kryubi's men were stationed around the lake with rescue equipment, just in case. After all, the Baron couldn't risk the life of his only trained heir. Though he would never admit it to Rabban, he was actually pleased at the loss of bleeding-heart Abulurd. It took guts to do what he had done to his own father- guts and ruthlessness. Good Harkonnen traits.

But I'm even more ruthless, the Baron thought as the floatcraft glided back to its landing field. the Baron thought as the floatcraft glided back to its landing field. I've just demonstrated that, to keep him from trying to kill me. "Beast" Rabban must prey only on the weak. And only when I say so. I've just demonstrated that, to keep him from trying to kill me. "Beast" Rabban must prey only on the weak. And only when I say so.

Still, the Baron faced a much greater challenge; his body continued to decline each day. He'd been taking imported energy supplements, and they helped to keep the weakness and bloating in check- but it was becoming necessary to consume more and more pills to achieve the same benefit, with unknown side effects.

The Baron sighed. It was so difficult to medicate himself, when there weren't any good doctors around. How many had he killed now for their incompetence? He'd lost count.

Some say that the anticipation of a thing is better than the thing itself. In my view, this is utter nonsense. Any fool can imagine a prize. I desire the tangible.

- HASIMIR FENRING, Letters from Arrakis The confidential message came to the Residency at Arrakeen via a tortuous route from one Courier to another, Heighliner to Heighliner- as if Master Researcher Hidar Fen Ajidica wanted to delay delivering the news to Hasimir Fenring.

Very odd, since the Tleilaxu had already delayed for twenty years.

Eager to read the contents of the cylinder, already planning a series of punishments if Ajidica dared to make more excuses, Fenring scuttled to his private study dome on the rooftop level of the mansion.

What whining lies will that little gnome tell now?

Behind shimmering shield windows that dulled the harsh edges of sunlight, Fenring went through the tedious process of decoding the message, humming to himself all the while. The Courier cylinder had been genetically keyed to his touch alone, such a sophisticated technique that he wondered if the Tleilaxu were showing off their abilities for him. The little men were not incompetent... merely annoying. He expected the letter to be filled with further requests for laboratory materials, more empty promises.

Even decoded, the words made no sense- and Fenring saw that they were masked by a secondary encryption. He felt a flash of impatience, then spent ten more minutes stroking the words again.

As the true text finally emerged, Fenring stared with his overlarge eyes. He blinked twice, then read Ajidica's note again. Astounding.

His guard chief Willowbrook appeared at the doorway, curious about the important delivery. He was aware of the Count's frequent plots and secret work for Shaddam IV, but knew not to ask too many questions. "Would you like me to summon a light lunch, Master Fenring?"

"Go away," Fenring said without looking over his shoulder, "or I will have you assigned to the Harkonnen headquarters in Carthag."

Willowbrook left promptly.

Fenring sat back with the message in his hands, flash-memorized every word, and then destroyed the tough paper. He would very much enjoy relaying the news to the Emperor. At last. At last. His thin lips curled in a smile. His thin lips curled in a smile.

Even before the death of Shaddam's father, this plan had been set in motion. Now, after decades, that work had finally come to fruition.

"Count Fenring, we are pleased to report that the final sequence of development appears to meet our expectations. We are confident that Project Amal has succeeded, and the next round of rigorous tests will prove it. We expect to go into full-scale production within a few months.

"Soon, the Emperor will have his own inexpensive and inexhaustible supply of melange- a new monopoly that will place the great powers of the Imperium at his feet. All spice-harvesting operations on Arrakis will become irrelevant."

Trying to suppress his satisfied grin, Fenring stepped to the window and gazed out onto the dusty streets of Arrakeen, at the impossible aridity and heat. In the masses of people, he picked out blue-uniformed Harkonnen troops, brightly-attired water merchants and grimy spice crews, haughty preachers and ragged beggars, an economy based solely on one commodity. Spice. Spice.

Soon, none of that would matter to anyone. Arrakis, and natural melange, would become an obsolete historical curiosity. No one would care about this desert planet anymore... and he could move on to other, more important things.

Fenring drew a long, deep breath. It would be good to get off this rock.

Though death will cancel it, life in this world is a glorious thing.

- DUKE PAULUS ATREIDES A man should not have to attend the funeral of his own child. man should not have to attend the funeral of his own child.

Standing erect on the bow of the Atreides funeral barge, Duke Leto wore a formal white uniform, stripped of all insignia to symbolize the loss of his only son. At his side, Jessica had draped herself in a black Bene Gesserit robe, but it could not hide her beauty.

Behind them a cortege of boats followed the funeral barge, all of them decked in colorful flowers and ribbons to celebrate the life of a boy whose days had been cut tragically short. Atreides soldiers lined the decks of the escort boats, holding ceremonial metal shields that flashed when the sun broke through the cloud-scudded sky.

Sadly, Leto gazed past the gilded hawk prow, shading his eyes to look across the waters of Caladan. Victor had loved the oceans. In the distance, where the sea faded into the curved horizon, Leto saw flickering storms and bright sky-sparkles, perhaps a congregation of elecrans come to usher the lad's soul to a new place beneath the waves....

For generations of Atreides, life itself had been revered as the ultimate blessing. The Atreides counted what a man did when he was alive alive- events he could experience with clarity and enjoy with all of his senses. A person's accomplishments held far more significance than any shadowy afterlife. The tangible was more important than the intangible.

Oh, how I miss you, my son.

In the brief years he had shared with Victor, he'd tried to instill strength in the boy, just as his own father had done for him. Each person must have the ability to rely on himself, to help his comrades but never to lean on them too much.

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