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The person with the fewest accomplishments often boasts the loudest.
—CHOAM Analysis of Public Imperial Histories
He was far from home and did not want to be here, but when the Padishah Emperor invited all members of the Landsraad, Leto Atreides had to attend. He was the head of a House Major, the Duke of beautiful Caladan, and Shaddam’s distant cousin. His absence would have been noticed.
Fortunately, this trip did not require him to go to the gaudy, noisy capital world of Kaitain. The heart of the Imperium simply did not have room for the extravagant new memorial that the Emperor envisioned, so Shaddam had chosen a planet no one had ever heard of. He needed a place where his accomplishments could truly stand out, and Otorio served that purpose.
As the Guild Heighliner arrived over the new museum planet, Leto sat restlessly in the Atreides space yacht, which was carried aboard the gigantic Guild ship. A pilot and a few retainers accompanied him on the trip, but the Duke kept to himself inside his private stateroom. He had long, dark hair, piercing gray eyes, and an aquiline nose. His demeanor showed a confidence that would not be overshadowed by the spectacle of the new museum complex.
While the Heighliner orbited, smaller ships lined up to descend from the cavernous hold in an orderly fashion. Otorio was a formerly insignificant world that had fallen through the cracks, forgotten for centuries by travelers, businessmen, colonists, and Imperial auditors. Rustic, unsullied, and serene, it had been an isolated tide pool in the ocean of Imperial politics.
Now, though, the planet was home to a gigantic new complex celebrating ten millennia of House Corrino rule. The fact that Otorio held so little else of note meant that Shaddam’s congratulatory museum would stand out more prominently than anything on the entire world. Leto knew how the Emperor thought.
Many nobles would strive to catch the Emperor’s attention, to build on their wealth, to increase their influence or bring down rivals. Leto had no such agenda. He had his own significant holdings, a stable rule, and had already drawn the attention of Shaddam IV, good and bad, in prior encounters. Duke Leto had nothing to prove, but he would do his duty by attending.
So many nobles had made the Otorio pilgrimage to curry favor with the Emperor, it would take hours for all ships to disembark one at a time, and the Atreides yacht was by no means near the head of the line.
Since leaving Caladan, the Duke had tried to distract himself by working in his stateroom, studying records of the moonfish harvest, accounts of private boats lost in a recent typhoon, a glowing summary of his son Paul’s physical and mental training. The Heighliner had traveled from system to system, rounding up passengers from various planets, because there was no direct Spacing Guild route to an insignificant world like Otorio. Shaddam intended to change that.
While waiting, Leto activated the wallscreen to view the planet below. Veils of clouds daubed the atmosphere above oceans and green-and-brown landmasses. Shaddam’s massive new complex would have caused fundamental changes to the quiet world. Construction crews had swarmed Otorio, completely reworking the only large population center. Countless square kilometers were paved over. Monuments and statues sprang up like an algae bloom during a red tide: government complexes, civic centers, interactive displays, coliseums, and auditoriums. Expansive new performance stages could seat a hundred thousand people at a time on a world that, according to the census report Leto had read, previously had fewer than a million inhabitants.
His personal pilot buzzed across the yacht’s comm. “Our ship is now fourth in the queue, my Duke. We will be departing soon.” The man’s voice held a rural Caladan accent. Leto had chosen him along with a few local workers, who considered the assignment an adventure, and that warmed Leto’s heart. With few opportunities to travel off their homeworld, this was the trip of a lifetime for them.
“Thank you, Arko,” Leto said, making a point to use the man’s name. He switched off the comm and settled back against the supple leather of the seat.
Looking out the windowport, he mused that he should have brought Paul with him. Although Lady Jessica had no fondness for space travel, nor for court politics, their fourteen-year-old son was curious and intelligent, the pride of Leto’s heart. But the Duke decided not to involve his family in what would surely be a tedious, self-aggrandizing event for the Emperor.
He wouldn’t be able to keep Paul out of Imperial politics much longer, though. Leto was popular in the Landsraad, and House Atreides had substantial influence, even if the Duke ruled only one planet. Many Landsraad families might welcome a marriage alliance with House Atreides, and at fourteen, Paul was reaching the right age.…
Leto watched two vessels ahead of him disengage and drop down through the great open doors of the Heighliner hold. Some ships were nondescript, perhaps even leased for the occasion by poorer families or Minor Houses, while other vessels proudly displayed the colors and crests of House Mutelli, House Ecaz, House Bonner, House Ouard, and others.
After one more ship descended into the fine clouds, the Atreides yacht disengaged from its docking clamp. The suspensor engines thrummed. Leto gripped his seat as the yacht dropped, passing through orbital lanes down toward the upper atmosphere.
Arko transmitted, “It might get bumpy, my Lord. Several obstacles in high orbit across our path, leftover dump boxes and delivery haulers from the construction. Otorio control is diverting us.”
Leto peered out the windowport to see clunky drifting wrecks circling Otorio in blind, endless orbits. “I’m surprised Shaddam didn’t clear them away.”
“Construction was behind schedule, sir. Those are heavy equipment and supply haulers—empty, I’d suppose. Probably wasn’t financially feasible for the Emperor to move them all away in time for the celebration.”
Leto remarked to himself, “And Shaddam would never postpone the event for a more sensible date.” He added into the comm, “I trust your piloting.”
“Thank you, my Lord.” The ducal yacht diverted around the slowly tumbling objects that cluttered the orbital lanes.
More ships descended from the Heighliner bay, each one carrying representatives who would applaud the Emperor’s new complex. Leto would pay his respects and acknowledge the lengthy history of Corrino accomplishments. He would let himself be seen and fulfill his duty as a loyal subject.
“Just give us a soft landing, Arko,” Leto said into the comm, “and keep the yacht ready to depart. I’d like to go home as soon as I can reasonably make my excuses.” His heart, and his priorities, were with his people on Caladan.
The pilot sounded disappointed. “Will I have time to buy a gift for my sweetheart, my Lord? And souvenirs for my nephews?”
Leto smiled, indulging the man. He was sure the other retainers felt the same. “Of course. I doubt any part of this event will be speedy.”
As the craft glided smoothly toward the surface, he could see the geometric complex of Shaddam’s new Imperial museum, comprising many square kilometers of towering buildings, wide boulevards, plazas, and monuments—as if a swath of Kaitain’s metropolis had been uprooted and transplanted across the galaxy.
Arko brought the yacht down on the priority landing field adjacent to the new Imperial Monolith. The extraordinary spire was shaped like a narrow wedge, wider at the top and delicately balanced on a fulcrum in the central plaza below. From a distance, some claimed the structure looked like a huge spike driven through the heart of Otorio.
Leto’s pilot and crew were awestruck by the grandeur and would no doubt talk about this experience in Cala City taverns for the rest of their lives. With a quiet smile, Leto gave them a discretionary bonus of funds so they could buy commemorative trinkets, and turned them loose to explore. They went off with delighted gratitude, while he turned to his own official duties.
As Leto emerged from the yacht, he faced a cacophony of sensory impressions. Visiting nobles bedecked with gloriously colored robes and flashing jewels put on quite a show with excessive entourages, trying to look important. Pursuing their goal of being noticed, these ambitious nobles preened and strutted, and few gave him a second glance in his formal but unremarkable clothes. Content with the reputation of House Atreides, Leto ignored the snub. He didn’t need to prove his importance or wealth.
Even though he was the Duke of Caladan, he let himself vanish into the crowd. He often did the same at home, enjoying a few hours as a nondescript person so he could walk unnoticed among his own people. Now he strolled by himself into the vast network of fountains, statues, obelisks, and museum exhibits.
Imperial security forces patrolled the streets dressed in Corrino scarlet and gold, accompanied by fearsome Imperial Sardaukar, the Emperor’s private terror troops. Leto found their presence here interesting. Sardaukar were used for only the most elite missions; the fact that Shaddam assigned them here emphasized the importance of the gala. While Kaitain had innumerable centuries of established security routines, this planet was a clean slate. The show of force was not surprising.
Confident, Leto strode along the broad boulevards, where multi-terraced fountains gushed water and jets of steam; glass prisms split sunlight into rainbows. Towering statues of past Corrino Emperors made every ruler look handsome and brave. A polished biographical tablet on each plinth summarized that Emperor’s accomplishments.
Since the end of the Butlerian Jihad ten thousand years ago, the Corrinos—who took their name after the Battle of Corrin—had ruled as the dominant dynasty. There had been interregnums, coup d’états, and interim administrations by other noble houses, but some vestige of House Corrino always returned to power, marrying into the ruling families, taking control through bloody civil war or administrative fiat. With this celebratory city, Shaddam IV would make certain everyone remembered him and his ancestors.
Leto looked up at a three-meter-high metal colossus of Shaddam’s father, the “wise and benevolent” Elrood IX. He frowned at the glowing description on the plaque, knowing that old Elrood had been a petulant and vindictive man, and Shaddam himself had despised him. Leto’s father, Duke Paulus Atreides, had fought in the Ecazi Revolt to support Elrood, but the leader’s dishonorable dealings had greatly troubled the Old Duke.
Leto walked through the endless complex, his eyes oversaturated, his ears deafened by the clamor of celebration. The crowd was composed entirely of nobles or high-ranking functionaries who had received coveted invitations to this grand gala. He could imagine how Paul would have reveled in all these new experiences.
After an hour, already weary of the spectacle, he began to look for a quiet respite before he would go to see the Emperor himself. He circled around the largest statue near the base of the Imperial Monolith—the beautiful Madonna-like figure of Serena Butler cradling her baby, the martyred infant that had triggered the terrible war against the thinking machines. Her statue towered over a robust but gnarled olive tree that sprang up from the flagstones. A plaque noted that the tree was the last remnant of an extensive olive grove that had covered the lands here until recently. Now it had all been paved over.
Behind the Serena statue, Leto noted a back entrance to one of the large museum buildings. The enormous monument hid what appeared to be a warren of back alleys and service entrances. Confident that no one would pay any attention to him, he slipped under the sheltered overhangs, where bright sunshine dwindled into shadows. The plaza’s artificial mists and perfumes faded to more conventional smells, warm generator exhaust, a hint of garbage, the sweat of workers.
Leto ducked into a sheltered doorway under an overhang, and found the delivery entrance locked. He was alone. Shadows and silence breathed around him like a relieved sigh. Leaning against the alcove wall, he reached into his pocket and removed a tight shigawire spool and a pocket-sized crystal player. He smiled as he activated the recording.
The image shimmered before snapping into focus. Leto was glad to see the beautiful Lady Jessica, his bound concubine, his lover, the mother of his son. She wore a blue gown, a necklace of reefpearls from the Caladan coast. Her long, bronze hair was bound up in pins and carved seashell combs that highlighted her green eyes.
Her voice flowed like music, especially after the noise of the museum complex. “Leto, you said you would not view this until you reached Otorio. Have you been true to your promise?” Her voice held a teasing lilt.
“Yes, I have, my love,” he said aloud, in private.
Her generous lips curved upward, and she touched one of her ornate combs. She knew him well.
One reason she had not accompanied him to the celebration was that she remained his mere concubine, not his wife, and that was how it must stay, for political reasons. Although he remained technically available for a marriage alliance, he accepted that it would never happen. Not after …
He winced as he thought about the bloody disaster of his near wedding to Ilesa Ecaz. So much blood … so much hatred. As a Landsraad noble, he had to keep his options open, technically, but he had made up his mind not to accept any more offers of a marriage alliance. He needed to keep Jessica safe. Not that she couldn’t protect herself, with all of her Bene Gesserit training.…
On the holoprojection, Jessica continued talking, but her voice was itself the message, and that was all he needed to hear. His deep love for her was a weakness he could not allow anyone to see. “Come home to me safely,” she said. “Caladan will be here for you, as will I, my Duke.”
“My Lady.” He smiled as the message ended and the shimmering image faded away. He drew energy from her that he would need for the political obligations and maneuverings he must face now.
Before Leto stepped out of the sheltered doorway, another man darted into the narrow service passageways. He wore a charcoal-gray worker’s jumpsuit with tools at his belt, a loose pack over his shoulder. Knowing he was out of place, Leto prepared to make excuses if anyone asked why he was here, although a worker would not likely challenge a noble.
But the stranger did not notice him as he pressed into a sheltered corner and unslung his pack, glancing from side to side. With instinctive wariness, Leto remained in the shadows. Something didn’t feel right. This man’s manner was not that of a weary worker going about a tedious daily assignment; his movements seemed furtive.
Leto thumbed off the power to the crystal player so Jessica’s message would not replay.
The worker dug into his pack and removed a thin crystal filmscreen, to which he attached a transmitting device. Leto couldn’t see exactly what the man was doing, only that he called up images on the screen, orbital charts, curves, and bright pinpoints that burned red and green. The worker hunched over and spoke into the transmitter pickup. Leto could discern only “activate … systems … wait.”
The furtive man touched a corner of the ethereal screen, and from a distance, Leto saw images of the discarded dump boxes and cargo containers in orbit. Lights suddenly winked on in the great dark hulks.
The stranger snapped the screen shut and stuffed it back into his pack. Concerned, Leto drew himself up and emerged from his alcove. “You there! Hold!”
The worker bolted, and Leto sprang after him. The man turned a sharp corner into a side passage, slipped between stacked shipment cases, ducked low under an overhang. One corner, then another, a maze of access alleys. Leto ran after him, dodging debris and calling out, trying not to lose him in the clutter, until he burst out into the full, noisy city again.
A fanfare of brassy music played from loudspeakers, and Otorio’s sunlight dazzled him. Crowds and diversions drowned out Leto’s shout. He thought he saw the suspicious worker turn left, darting away.
Leto sprinted after the man, shouting, knowing there were countless security forces around the complex, not to mention Sardaukar, if only he could get their attention. He raised a hand, looking for the ubiquitous patrols, but saw only colorfully clad celebrants.
The city guard force found him as he called out again. Dressed in red and gold, the Imperial troops escorted a pompous-looking official who strode up to him. “Duke Leto Atreides of Caladan,” he said in a booming voice that somehow cut through the cacophony of the great plaza.
Leto spun. “Yes. I need to report—”
The official cut him off with a well-practiced smile, holding up a bejeweled message cylinder. “We have been searching for you since your yacht landed.” With great reverence, he extended the cylinder. “You may keep this personal invitation as a memento, perhaps display it on Caladan for future generations.”
The man cleared his throat and recited, “His Excellency, the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV awaits you at a special reception in the Imperial Monolith. Come with me.” The official seemed surprised that Leto wasn’t swooning with delight. “Now.”
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