Chapter One So many people I knew in the past are not yet reborn. I still miss them, even though I do not remember them. The axlotl tanks will soon remedy that. —Lady Jessica, The Ghola Aboard the wandering no-ship Ithaca, Jessica witnessed the birth of her daughter, but only as an observer. Just fourteen years old, she and many others crowded the medical center, while two Bene Gesserit Suk doctors in the adjacent creche prepared to extract the tiny girl child from an axlotl tank. “Alia,” one of the female doctors murmured. This was not truly Jessica’s daughter, but a ghola grown from preserved cells. None of the young gholas on the no-ship were “themselves” yet. They had regained none of their memories, none of their pasts. Something tried to surface at the back of her mind, and though she worried at it like a loose tooth, Jessica could not remember the first time Alia had been born. In the archives, she had read and reread the legendary accounts generated by Muad’Dib’s biographers. But she couldn’t remember. All she had were images from her studies: A dry and dusty sietch on Arrakis, surrounded by Fremen. Jessica and her son Paul had been on the run, taken in by the desert tribe. Duke Leto was dead, murdered by Harkonnens. Pregnant, Jessica had drunk the Water of Life, forever changing the fetus inside her. From the moment of her birth, the original Alia had been different from all other babies, filled with ancient wisdom and madness, able to tap into Other Memory without having gone through the Spice Agony. Abomination! That had been another Alia. Another time and another way. Now Jessica stood beside her ghola “son” Paul, who was chronologically a year older than she. Paul waited with his beloved Fremen mate Chani and the nine-year-old ghola of a boy who had in turn been their son, Leto II. In a prior shuffle of lives, this had been Jessica’s family. The Bene Gesserit order had resurrected these figures from history to help fight against the terrible Outside Enemy that hunted them. They had Thufir Hawat, the planetologist Liet-Kynes, the Fremen leader Stilgar, and even the notorious Dr. Yueh. Now, after almost a decade of hiatus in the ghola program, Alia had joined the group. Others would come soon; the three remaining axlotl tanks were already pregnant with new children: Gurney Halleck, Serena Butler, Xavier Harkonnen. Duncan Idaho gave Jessica a quizzical look. Eternal Duncan, with all of his memories restored from all of his prior lives . . . She wondered what he thought of this new ghola baby, a bubble of the past rising up to the present. Long ago, the first ghola of Duncan had been Alia’s consort. . . . Concealing his age well, Duncan was a full-grown man with dark wiry hair. He looked exactly like the hero shown in so many archival records, from the time of Muad’Dib, through the God Emperor’s thirty-five-century reign, to now, another fifteen centuries later. Breathless and late, the old Rabbi bustled into the birthing chamber accompanied by twelve-year-old Wellington Yueh. Young Yueh’s forehead did not bear the diamond tattoo of the famous Suk School. The bearded Rabbi seemed to think he could save the gangly young man from repeating the terrible crimes he had committed in his prior life. At the moment the Rabbi looked angry, as he invariably did whenever he came near the axlotl tanks. Since the Bene Gesserit doctors ignored him, the old man vented his displeasure on Sheeana. “After years of sanity, you have done it again! When will you learn to stop taunting God?” After receiving an ominous prescient dream, Sheeana had declared a temporary moratorium on the ghola project that had been her passion from its inception. But their recent ordeal on the planet of the Handlers and their near capture by the Enemy hunters had forced Sheeana to reassess that decision. The wealth of historical and tactical experience the reawakened gholas could offer might be the greatest weapon the no-ship possessed. Sheeana had decided to take the risk. Perhaps we will be saved by Alia one day, Jessica thought. Or by one of the other gholas . . . Tempting fate, Sheeana had performed an experiment on this unborn ghola in an effort to make it more like the Alia. Estimating the point in the pregnancy when the original Jessica had consumed the Water of Life, Sheeana had instructed Bene Gesserit Suk doctors to flood the axlotl tank with a near-fatal spice overdose. Saturating the fetus. Trying to re-create an Abomination. Jessica had been horrified to learn of it—too late, when she could do nothing about it. How would the spice affect that innocent baby? A melange overdose was different from undergoing the Agony. One of the Suk doctors told the Rabbi to stay out of the birthing creche. Scowling, the old man held up a trembling hand, as if making a blessing on the pale flesh of the axlotl tank. “You witches think these tanks are no longer women, no longer human—but this is still Rebecca. She remains a child of my flock.” “Rebecca fulfilled a vital need.” Sheeana said. “All of the volunteers knew exactly what they were doing. She accepted her responsibility. Why can’t you?” The Rabbi turned in exasperation toward the young man at his side. “Speak to them, Yueh. Maybe they will listen to you.” Jessica thought the sallow young ghola seemed more intrigued than incensed about the tanks. “As a Suk doctor,” he said, “I delivered many children. But never like this. At least I don’t think so. With my ghola memories still locked away, I get confused sometimes.” “And Rebecca is human—not just some biological machine to produce melange and a brood of gholas. You have to see that.” The Rabbi’s voice grew in volume. Yueh shrugged. “Because I was born in the same fashion, I cannot be entirely objective. If my memories were restored, maybe I’d agree with you.” “You don’t need original memories to think! You can think, can’t you?” “The baby is ready,” one of the doctors interrupted. “We must decant it now.” She turned impatiently to the Rabbi. “Let us do our work—or the tank could be harmed as well.” With a sound of disgust, the Rabbi shouldered his way from the birthing creche. Yueh remained behind, continuing to watch. One of the Suk women tied off the umbilical cord from the fleshy tank. Her shorter colleague cut the purplish-red whip; then she wiped off the slick infant and lifted little Alia into the air. The child let out a loud and immediate cry, as if she had been impatient to be born. Jessica sighed in relief at the healthy sound, which told her the girl was not an Abomination this time. The original newborn Alia had purportedly looked upon the world with the eyes and intelligence of a full adult. This baby’s crying sounded normal. But it stopped abruptly. While one doctor tended the now-sagging axlotl tank, the other dried the infant and wrapped her in a blanket. Unable to help feeling a tug at her heart, Jessica wanted to reach out and hold the baby, but resisted the urge. Would Alia suddenly start speaking, uttering voices from Other Memory? Instead, the baby looked around the medical center, without seeming to focus. Others would care for Alia, not unlike the way Bene Gesserit sisters took baby girls under their collective wing. The first Jessica, born under the close scrutiny of breeding mistresses, had never known a mother in the traditional sense. Nor would this Jessica, nor Alia, nor any of the other experimental ghola babies. The new daughter would be raised communally in an improvised society, more an object of scientific curiosity than love. “What an odd family we all are,” Jessica whispered. Humans are never capable of complete accuracy. Despite all the knowledge and experiences we have absorbed from countless Face Dancer “ambassadors,” we are left with a confused picture. Nonetheless, the flawed accounts of human history provide amusing insights into the delusions of mankind. —Erasmus, Records and Analyses, Backup #242 In spite of a decades-long effort, the thinking machines had not yet captured the no-ship and its precious cargo. That did not, however, stop the computer evermind from launching his vast extermination fleet against the rest of humanity. Duncan Idaho continued to elude Omnius and Erasmus, who repeatedly cast their sparkling tachyon net into the nothingness, searching for their quarry. The no-ship’s veiling capability normally prevented it from being seen, but from time to time the pursuers caught glimpses, as of something concealed behind shrubbery. At first the hunt had been a challenge, but now the evermind was growing frustrated. “You have lost the ship again,” Omnius boomed through wall speakers in the central, cathedral-like chamber in the technological metropolis of Synchrony. “Inaccurate. I must first find it before I can lose it.” Erasmus tried to sound carefree as he shifted his flowmetal skin, reverting from his guise as a kindly old woman to the more familiar appearance of a platinum-surfaced robot. Like overarching tree trunks, metal spires towered above Erasmus to form a vaulted dome within the machine cathedral. Photons glittered from the activated skins of the pillars, bathing his new laboratory in light. He had even installed a glowing fountain that bubbled with lava—a useless decoration, but the robot often indulged his carefully cultivated artistic sensibilities. “Do not be impatient. Remember the mathematical projections. Everything is nicely predetermined.” “Your mathematical projections could be myths, like any prophecy. How do I know they are correct?” “Because I have said they are correct.” With the launch of the machine fleet, the long-foretold Kralizec had begun, at last. Kralizec . . . Armageddon . . . the Battle at the End of the Universe . . . Ragnarok . . . Azrafel . . . the End Times . . . the Cloud Darkness. It was a time of fundamental change, of the entire universe shifting on its cosmic axis. Human legends had predicted such a cataclysmic event since the dawn of civilization. Indeed, they had already been through several iterations of similar cataclysms: the Butlerian Jihad itself, the jihad of Paul Muad’Dib, the reign of the Tyrant Leto II. By manipulating computer projections, and thus creating expectations in the mind of Omnius, Erasmus had succeeded in initiating the events that would bring about another fundamental shift. Prophecy and reality—the order of things really didn’t matter. Like an arrow, all of Erasmus’s infinitely complex calculations, running trillions of data points through the most sophisticated routines, pointed to one result: The final Kwisatz Haderach—whoever that was—would determine the course of events at the end of Kralizec. The projection also revealed that the Kwisatz Haderach was on the no-ship, so Omnius naturally wanted such a force fighting on his side. Ergo, the thinking machines needed to capture that ship. The first to exert control over the final Kwisatz Haderach would win. Erasmus didn’t fully understand exactly what the superhuman might do when he was located and seized. Though the robot was a longtime student of mankind, he was still a thinking machine, while the Kwisatz Haderach was not. The new Face Dancers, who had long infiltrated humanity and brought vital information back to the Synchronized Empire, fell somewhere in between, like hybrid biological machines. He and Omnius had both absorbed so many of the lives stolen by the Face Dancers that sometimes they forgot who they were. The original Tleilaxu Masters had not foreseen the significance of what they had helped create. The independent robot knew he still had to keep Omnius under control, though. “We have time. You have a galaxy to conquer before we need the Kwisatz Haderach aboard that ship.” “I am glad I did not wait for you to succeed.” For centuries Omnius had been building his invincible force. Using traditional but supremely efficient lightspeed engines, the millions and millions of machine vessels now swept forward and spread out, conquering one star system at a time. The evermind could have made use of the surrogate mathematical navigation systems, which his Face Dancers had “given” to the Spacing Guild, but one element of the Holtzman technology simply remained too incomprehensible. Something indefinably human was required to travel through foldspace, an intangible “leap of faith.” The evermind would never admit that the bizarre technology actually made him . . . nervous. Copyright © 2007 by Herbert Properties LLC. All rights reserved.
Brian Herbert, the author of numerous novels and short stories, has been critically acclaimed by leading reviewers in the United States and around the world. The eldest son of science fiction superstar Frank Herbert, he, with Kevin J. Anderson, is the author of Hellhole and continues his father’s beloved Dune series with books including The Winds of Dune and House Atreides, among other bestsellers. He also wrote a biography of his father, Dreamer of Dune. Herbert graduated from high school at age 16, and then attended U.C. Berkeley, where he earned a B.A. in Sociology. Besides an author, Herbert has been an editor, business manager, board game inventor, creative consultant for television and collectible card games, insurance agent, award-winning encyclopedia salesman, waiter, busboy, maid and a printer. He and his wife once owned a double-decker London bus, which they converted into an unusual gift shop. Herbert and his wife, Jan, have three daughters. They live in Washington state.