Mentats of Dune 3 страница

Raquella’s Sisterhood could help her achieve what she needed.

Reaching Wallach IX at last, the two sisters stepped off the shuttle on the landing field. They felt a cold, wet wind, but Valya controlled her body and watched Tula try to do the same, as she had been taught; they had endured far worse cold on Lankiveil. The two tightened their thick whale-fur coats around their necks, taking pride in the new Harkonnen family crest that Valya had designed and sewn onto their coats before departing: a mythological creature with the head and wings of an eagle, the body of a lion –a griffin, in honor of their fallen brother.

A black-robed woman approached, and Valya recognized Reverend Mother Ellulia, who had passed through the Agony in the last days on Rossak. Ellulia was tall and slender, with wisps of silvery-gray hair peeking out of the hood over her head. Her expression lit up with recognition. “Valya, you found us again!”

Valya lifted her chin as she announced, “The Sisterhood has always been inside me, and now I return as a Reverend Mother.” She took Tula’s arm. “I brought my younger sister to be trained as well. We have come to see Raquella.”

Ellulia frowned at the familiarity. “Mother Superior Raquella is away on Lampadas to retrieve new Sister Mentats, but she is due to return in two days.” Her expression softened as she turned to Tula. “But any candidate as talented as Valya Harkonnen will be a worthy addition to the true Sisterhood. I’m pleased you came here, rather than joining Dorotea’s faction on Salusa Secundus. I was concerned you’d make the wrong choice, Valya. You were Dorotea’s friend.”

Valya frowned. Her friendship with Dorotea had been feigned so she could keep an eye on the group of dangerous, heretical Sisters. “I never agreed with Dorotea’s pandering to the Butlerians.”

In those days, Valya had hoped to become Raquella’s heir apparent at the head of the order, but she’d been reluctant to undergo the Agony. Now, however, Valya was a Reverend Mother herself, and here on Wallach IX she hoped to reclaim her position in the hierarchy. Having abandoned the true Sisterhood to form her weak splinter group at the feet of Emperor Salvador, Dorotea was no longer her competitor.

Ellulia led the two newcomers to a cluster of prefabricated buildings with metal roofs. “Mother Superior will be pleased to learn you are safe, and we can use every Reverend Mother—our numbers have slowly increased, but we still lose many to the Agony.” She pointed toward one of the buildings, where a gnarled, crippled woman was being helped inside. “Sister Ignacia was among our brightest, and now she’s just one of seventy-eight failed Reverend Mothers we must care for.”

Valya shook her head, remembering Ignacia. “They were too weak to succeed.” Now that she had passed through the Agony herself, she felt no sympathy for those who failed. “The Mother Superior often says that we all make necessary sacrifices for the advancement of the Sisterhood.”

Ellulia frowned, but gave a cautious nod. “And because of their brave sacrifices, we will always honor our damaged Sisters and care for them. We continue to investigate the requirements of the ordeal, to see if we can make the transition easier for our fellow Sisters.”

Valya did not want her own sister to end up dead or comatose—Tula had too much to accomplish. “An admirable goal, but only the best and strongest are fit to become Reverend Mothers. And … what of Anna Corrino? Where is she now?”

Ellulia clucked her tongue. “On Lampadas.”

Alarmed, Valya asked, “With the Butlerians?”

“No, at the Mentat School. Gilbertus Albans is using his techniques to restore her damaged mind.”

Valya felt a twinge of guilt, because she was responsible for the flighty girl taking the poison that had nearly killed her. Instead of admitting that, though, she said, “I doubt Mentat techniques will cure her, but if she fails to recover there, at least the blame won’t fall on the Sisterhood.” She shook her head. “It is an unkind comment, but Anna was never qualified to become a Sister, much less a Reverend Mother. She only came to Rossak because the Emperor needed someone to watch over her—and the Emperor destroyed our school because of it.”

As Ellulia led the Harkonnen sisters toward the buildings, Valya assessed the new school complex. She saw snow-capped peaks in the distance, a weak, blue-white sun overhead. The biting wind blew Valya’s whale-fur robe. Looking at the cheap prefab buildings, she was dismayed at how far the once glorious organization had fallen.

It was all Dorotea’s fault, Valya knew, for turning the Emperor against them. Dorotea had wheedled her way into Salvador’s good graces, convincing him that the Sisterhood used forbidden computers to manage breeding records—which was true, although Dorotea had never proved it.

Noticing Valya’s disappointed expression, Ellulia paused in front of Mentat buildings. “Josef and Cioba Venport donated these temporary structures for our new headquarters. This planet is our safe haven—we’re lucky to have it.”

Valya glanced at Tula, who now seemed uncertain about coming here. “They are sufficient for instruction—that is what counts. And my sister knows how to endure hardships.”

Tula squared her shoulders. “I didn’t expect this to be easy.”

Ellulia paused at a one-story building with an open window, despite the cold. Peering inside, Valya saw four Sisters sitting on benches. She was surprised to hear them discussing passages from the Azhar Book.

How do you develop a strategy against insanity? How do you fight those who act against their own self-interest? What weapons can penetrate the ignorance with which the Butlerians wrap themselves like a proud mantle?

—JOSEF VENPORT, VenHold internal memo, limited distribution

Two silent Mentat trainees led Mother Superior Raquella across elevated walkways that connected the imposing complex of buildings. Her presence at the Mentat School was unofficial and unrecorded, facilitated by Cioba Venport, who supported Raquella’s Sisterhood in exile.

On the main deck of the school, Headmaster Albans hurried toward her. Despite the oppressive humidity, he wore dark trousers, a beige shirt, coat, and tie. “Excuse my tardiness, Mother Superior. A student was killed in training the other day, and her parents were understandably upset—a very influential Landsraad family.” Gilbertus wiped perspiration from his flushed face. “Our curriculum is designed to enhance mental abilities, but we make our trainees face physical dangers as well. Even with the extra defensive measures we’ve instituted for Anna Corrino, we cannot make absolute guarantees as to the safety of the students.”

Raquella gave a somber nod, thinking of the Sisters who had died in the throes of Agony while trying to become Reverend Mothers. “I understand full well. Acquiring knowledge is often dangerous—especially these days.”

On her previous visits to Lampadas, the old Mother Superior had always been struck by the rigorous challenges the Headmaster imposed on his students. She’d had Sister Mentats in her Rossak School, including ancient Karee Marques, who were trained on Lampadas, and Karee had been a good friend and an important Mentat for the Sisterhood. Emperor Salvador had murdered her, along with the rest of the Sister Mentats.

Crisis. Survival. Advancement. That had been a mantra on Rossak, appropriate then and now, because Gilbertus Albans was training new Sister Mentats for Raquella’s reborn school on Wallach IX.

As the Headmaster led her inside the main lecture building, she turned from the elevated walkway to look out at the sprawling shallow lake. “My own students are adjusting to Wallach IX, which is much less hospitable than Rossak. It’s a damaged world, still recovering from atomic bombardment at the end of the Jihad. But we will endure, and the Sisters will be strong.”

“Challenges improve those who survive,” Gilbertus said. “There are many paths to perfection and personal achievement. And countless dead ends.”

“We are both trying to improve humanity, Headmaster—helping our race achieve its potential without unnecessary reliance on machines.”

Raquella thought of her hoarded breeding records, the genetic possibilities that had been recorded for generations; it was enough information to chart a path for all humanity—if properly used. With the right guidance, the Sisterhood could accomplish in a few millennia what would normally require millions of years by natural processes.

The Sisterhood’s secret computers contained billions of detailed samples, but those computers had been dismantled and hidden deep in Rossak’s jungles, where the antitechnology fanatics could never find them. When Raquella’s Wallach IX school was more stable, she could retrieve the forbidden machines and put them to use again.

Meanwhile, Headmaster Albans had finished training ten Sisters to serve as Mentats. Those new Sister Mentats could memorize the numerous bound volumes of breeding records that Raquella had spirited away from Rossak into exile, and they could run their own complex projections of bloodlines. It was the most the Sisterhood could do, until they had their computers back.

“Your women are among my best students,” Gilbertus said. “Very adept minds. Follow me—they are anxious to be reunited with their Mother Superior. As soon as the proctors finish subjecting them to a battery of mental tests, if all goes as I expect, you can take them with you as new Mentat graduates.”

Relief made her giddy. “So much has happened to our Sisterhood since they came here to Lampadas. They will help resurrect my school.”

At Raquella’s extreme age, the hopeless enormity of the challenge of rebuilding was especially tiring for her. As a Reverend Mother, she knew her own body intimately, down to the cellular level. Her biology had reached its limits, though aided by the geriatric effects of melange. For the sake of the Sisterhood, she couldn’t afford to let herself die … not yet. Too much was at stake. Her wisest, most-qualified Sisters had been killed by Emperor Salvador’s soldiers, and Raquella had no obvious successor. If she died, the Sisterhood would die … and she refused to let that happen.

For months, she had quietly sent out notices, tracking down her scattered Sisters and recalling them to Wallach IX—other than the orthodox ones who went with Dorotea to serve the Emperor. Fortunately, Salvador had not forbidden Raquella establishing a new school elsewhere. Maybe it was because of disinterest, or maybe Dorotea had advised tolerance. Raquella hoped her granddaughter still retained at least that much loyalty and compassion. Even so, Raquella tried not to call too much attention to her new school.…

She and the Headmaster reached a training chamber with a thick plaz floor and walls that provided views of a deep channel carved beneath the school building. It was filled with cloudy water and rough swamp grasses. Forty students sat around the perimeter, wearing headsets and staring at frightening creatures that lumbered through the channel, thudding against the plaz.

“This mental gauntlet is one of our final examinations,” the Headmaster explained. “Those dangerous creatures are a constant visual and auditory distraction, and their individual sounds are transmitted through the headsets, amplified to a cacophony. Armored divers are herding the animals along, agitating them. We do everything possible to interfere with our students’ delicate, precise mental pathways … and they must still perform flawlessly.”

Raquella thought there must be simpler ways to distract students, but the intimidating display seemed effective. The trainees showed great focus as they moved their mouths, muttering quietly.

“They speak into a lip-reading device,” Gilbertus said, “reciting long lists of what they have memorized and making complicated projections. It is a way of testing retention and comprehension, as well as historical perspective. Being a Mentat involves not just memorization, but holistic analysis as well. Your recruits are some of my best trainees, particularly Fielle Vinona.”

Raquella spotted Fielle, a heavyset young woman, focused on a monstrous, sharp-toothed creature in the marsh while reciting her lesson. The prehistoric reptile swam forward and thudded against the plaz barely a hand-span from Fielle’s fleshy face. Frustrated by the barrier, the creature moved away and attacked another animal, tearing it apart. Fielle didn’t flinch. Raquella felt a flush of pride.

Among the trainees, she was startled to spot the blond Anna Corrino. The young woman did not notice the Mother Superior, intent on her exercises. “Have you had any success with the Emperor’s sister?”

“She is a very skilled trainee, though her social abilities are lacking. We are doing what we can for her.”

* * *

THE FOLLOWING DAY, Headmaster Albans allowed the ten Sisterhood trainees to graduate, as promised. They had passed every examination, some excelling above most other Mentat students, with Sister Fielle the brightest among them. Fielle carried her weight well, a handsome woman rather than pretty, with a solid jaw, alert brown eyes, and short black hair.

Fielle maintained a demeanor of unassuming modesty, but Raquella knew she had deep ambitions. As Mother Superior, the old woman decided to nurse and guide those ambitions, encouraging Fielle’s strength and loyalty for the good of the Sisterhood. Having lost her greatest student, Valya Harkonnen, as well as her own granddaughter Dorotea and her orthodox Sisters to the Imperial Court, Raquella needed to rebuild a strong foundation for her order.

She desperately hoped to repair the rift in the Sisterhood so that both the Wallach IX and the Salusan factions could work together again, but she felt her time waning. She had already lived far longer than a normal life span, and it was more important than ever to select her successor.

She wished women concealed her troubled thoughts as she rounded up her new Sister Mentats, glad to take them to Wallach IX. As they boarded the VenHold shuttle, she could feel their excitement, pleased to be going to the new school.

But as she worked her way to her seat, wary of the long and roundabout foldspace trip, Raquella suddenly felt dizzy. Her knees buckled, but she grabbed hold of a seat back. With great effort and bodily control, she managed to remain standing.

As if from a great distance, she heard a concerned voice beside her and felt a strong supportive grip. “Mother Superior!” Fielle eased her into the nearest seat. “How can I help?”

Raquella didn’t answer. She needed all her mental focus just to keep breathing, to concentrate on the inner workings of her body. She felt Fielle’s presence radiating strength next to her. Raquella sensed the new Sister Mentat was a good and capable person, but much too young and inexperienced to lead the Sisterhood. And not even a Reverend Mother yet.

But all of the remaining Sisters were too young and inexperienced. She had lost her best candidates. If the Mother Superior died here and now, she had no idea who would take control of the order. Maybe the Sisterhood would just fade away. She could not allow that!

Even as Fielle’s voice continued in the background, Raquella looked deep within herself and analyzed what was wrong with her body. She needed to fix the problem, even if it required superhuman effort. She detected a worsening imbalance in her internal chemistry, the loss of key enzymes and hormones in her system. Trying to find an inner solution, she recalled another crisis long ago when she had adjusted her body chemistry to neutralize poison when the Sorceress Ticia Cenva tried to murder her. In defeating that grave threat, Raquella had found the key to becoming a Reverend Mother.

Closing her eyes, she leaned back against the hard seat. “I just need a moment. Need … to concentrate.”

Raquella plunged her consciousness deep inside, where she envisioned the inner machinery of her body and held this cellular blueprint as a vivid color image projected against her closed eyelids. Breathing deeply, seeing every detail, she began to make adjustments to rebalance her metabolism, enhancing the flow of oxygen to her brain, combining elements to form necessary enzymes and neurotransmitters.

All the while, she heard Fielle’s faint but ever-more-concerned voice in the background, as well as the private chatter of Other Memory inside her. With those past lives, Raquella had experienced death countless times over countless generations, but she was not ready to join the ghost voices, not yet. She had to do everything possible to keep herself alive—not because she was afraid of dying.

A leader must use great care in selecting his closest advisers. The wrong decision can be disastrous, even fatal.

—EMPEROR FAYKAN CORRINO I, on the execution of Finance Minister Ulberto

Prince Roderick Corrino had endless opportunities to seize the throne from his brother. Salvador’s failings were obvious, and Roderick had no doubt that he could be a better ruler of the Imperium.

Nevertheless, he refused to consider such thoughts, and discouraged others from making the offensive suggestion. His brother was the legitimate Emperor, and his family loyalty and strong moral fiber trumped any personal ambitions. Instead, Roderick devoted himself to helping Salvador become a better Emperor and guiding him through perilous waters. That was how Roderick could best serve the Imperium. The only way.

Unfortunately, Salvador did not always listen to his advice.

One of Roderick’s greatest concerns was that his brother refused to remove incompetent and dishonest officers from the Imperial Armed Forces; the Emperor filled the largely ceremonial positions according to the applicants’ noble connections, or the gifts they offered him, not their military skill. In the decades since the defeat of the thinking machines, the once-massive human military had grown sluggish and disjointed. Roderick disapproved of how the Landsraad families squabbled over their own importance, now that they no longer had a monolithic enemy to distract them from their personal ambitions.

A week ago, the Corrino brothers had been given a tour of sprawling Zimia Garrison outside the capital city. Commanding General Odmo Saxby organized and led the inspection, exuding a foolish overconfidence that anyone could see—except for Salvador, apparently.

The large garrison showed a lack of attention to detail, with poorly maintained buildings and equipment, and slovenly troops that marched in uneven formations. Saxby had a tendency to wave his arms when he became enthused, and he would fumble with his ornamental sword in front of assembled troops. His mannerisms would be laughable if he didn’t hold such an important position, and Roderick could only imagine how the soldiers must make fun of him in private.

For the sake of patronage and political influence, Salvador was allowing great harm to be done to the once-proud military forces. Morale in the ranks was obviously low, and Roderick had heard rumors that some officers were skimming money for personal use. But the Emperor did not see any of that as a concern.…

Roderick arranged some time each day to prepare the Emperor for the daily agenda. This morning, before the doors to the cavernous Audience Chamber were opened, Prince Roderick stood before his brother’s green-crystal throne. They had the chamber to themselves, but he could already hear the visitors gathering outside the closed main door. He would not rush his briefing, though.

Roderick stood almost at eye level with Salvador, who slumped on his elevated throne. The Emperor took a pinch of melange from a small jeweled box and slipped it into his mouth. Constantly fretting over imagined illnesses, he was convinced that frequent doses of spice would improve his health. Roderick warned that melange was also addictive, but his words fell on deaf ears. At least the spice sharpened his brother’s focus, which was beneficial.

Roderick spoke in an even tone. “This feud has taken its toll on commerce across the Imperium. Many worlds have taken Manford Torondo’s antitechnology pledge, and in retaliation no VenHold ships will service them.”

Salvador took another pinch of spice. “Will melange deliveries continue?”

“Arrakis is technically under Imperial control, and the Combined Mercantiles headquarters are in Arrakis City. While the desert people are fanatics in their own way, I don’t foresee that planet falling under Leader Torondo’s influence. Even though VenHold won’t deliver spice to any Butlerian world, shipments will come here without interruption.”

“That’s a relief, at least.” Salvador lounged back on the throne. “If the Butlerian planets suffer from a widespread embargo, maybe that will weaken the movement. I don’t like how important Manford thinks he is.”

Roderick didn’t want his brother to relax too much. “The Butlerians manage to receive supplies through rival, and inferior, spacefolding companies. Only Venport Holdings has a perfect safety record.”

“That’s what makes Josef Venport so arrogant. He thinks we have no other space-travel option, thanks to his Navigators!” Salvador snorted in anger.

“Our military does use VenHold ships for most of their bulk transportation, although we are also able to fly independently. Directeur Venport can be a difficult man, but I find him easier to deal with than Manford Torondo.”

Salvador fidgeted on his throne. “I’ve never liked space flight—too much risk in folding space. This is my palace. Others can come to visit me and take whatever risks they like on the journey. If they don’t agree with Venport’s politics, let them use EsconTran, or Nalgan Shipping, or Celestial Transport.”

“Celestial Transport has been gone for a year, absorbed by VenHold.” Roderick passed a document to his brother. “More troubling, though, is mounting evidence that the loss rate of the smaller companies is far worse than has been officially reported. VenHold’s rivals are concealing their high accident rates.”

Salvador skimmed the records. “So many reports, so many documents.” He glanced up, looking bored, as if he wanted to return to other diversions.

Roderick wouldn’t let him get distracted. He stepped closer to the throne so he could guide his brother through the numbers. “As you can see, the VenHold embargo has severely harmed trade across the Imperium, which impacts our tax and tariff revenues. VenHold is even bypassing worlds that claim to be neutral. Josef Venport and Manford Torondo each demand competing declarations of allegiance—no one is permitted to be neutral.”

“The rival companies should learn how to create Navigators,” Salvador said. “That would be good for competition.”

“But it is a closely held secret. Our covert advisers are always trying to glean information about how Navigators are mutated from humans, but VenHold has impeccable security and layers of protection we cannot penetrate.”

“Then bring in other advisers.”There are far more pleasant places for an Emperor.

Roderick sighed. “Salvador, you handpicked all the advisers. They’ll never argue with you on any matter of significance, or tell you what you don’t want to hear.”

The Emperor gave him a warm smile. “And you’re smarter than all of them, little brother.”

Roderick swallowed his pride. “Perhaps not smarter, but I am loyal. I’ll continue to do my best to help you grasp the complexity of the Imperium you rule.”

The Emperor chuckled. “And I am smart enough to delegate dealing with documents and treaties to you.”

Roderick sent a silent prayer of thanks that Salvador at least did that.

The Emperor’s eyes were bright and alert, now that the spice had begun to take effect; Roderick noted a tinge of blue there from the quantity he had been consuming. “If I could increase your pay, Roderick, I would do so. If I could promote you higher than you already are, I would do that, too. The whole Imperium knows how important you are to my throne. I admit freely that I could not remain in power without your dedicated, wise assistance.”

He leaned forward, shaking his head. “I’ve lost patience with the countless squabbles, agreements, and obligations—I can’t keep track of them all, and it’s not fair to heap that work on your shoulders. I need my own Mentat to help me remember things—many of the noble houses have one. I should have a Mentat, too.”

Roderick had made the same suggestion himself months ago, but Salvador must have forgotten. “A wise decision, Sire—I shall summon one immediately.”

Salvador looked to the still-closed doors and gave a weary wave of his hand. “I suppose we should take care of the business of the day. Let’s get it over with.”

* * *

The next three hours were a tedious parade of minor nobles with minor concerns. At Roderick’s instruction, Reverend Mother Dorotea stood on one side of the throne, using her innate skills to study each visitor for emotional nuances. She had demonstrated a remarkable talent at separating truth from falsehood, and even Salvador now acknowledged the wisdom of the decision to let Dorotea and a hundred handpicked orthodox Sisters take up residence in the palace. While they weren’t all Truthsayers, they were useful in a variety of ways.

The rotund Court Chamberlain announced a visitor from Péle, homeworld of the Empress Tabrina. Although Tabrina was Salvador’s wife, there was little warmth between them, and the Emperor’s antipathy extended to her family, House Péle, as well. Their wealth had helped him hold on to the throne during the early tumultuous years after the death of Emperor Jules Corrino, but he no longer needed them.

The stranger approaching the throne had an odd appearance. Blanton Davido was of average height, although his legs and arms seemed markedly shorter than they should have been; nevertheless, he moved with smooth grace, and bowed before the Emperor.

“In my capacity as mining executive, I supervise House Péle’s most important operations.” Davido produced an orange jewel from the pocket of his tunic. “When a miner brought us this beautiful gem, I knew it was suitable only for an Emperor. With all humility, allow me to present this to you.”

Since all visitors had been checked for weapons, Salvador permitted the man to place that gem on the dais at the foot of his throne. Davido then asked for the Emperor’s dispensation for House Péle to expand mining operations to an additional planetary system.

So, it is more than just a gift, Roderick thought.

As justification for the request, Davido summarized past production levels and provided figures for anticipated future revenues, which would be subject to Imperial taxes.

Dorotea leaned close to Roderick. “I discern a disturbing falsehood in this man, my Lord. He is underreporting Péle’s production levels in order to avoid significant taxation—and he is not alone in this scheme. Lord Péle must be his collaborator.”

Startled, Roderick looked at her. “That is a grave charge to make against the Empress’s father. Are you certain?”

“I am certain.”

“And does Empress Tabrina have knowledge of this?”

“I do not know, but a few questions could easily provide the answer.”

Roderick ordered the mining executive to step back from the throne. “Await the Emperor’s command.” Salvador seemed annoyed by the interruption, but listened while his brother whispered in his ear, explaining Dorotea’s suspicions. “Due to the sensitive nature of the allegation, it would be best to tell Davido his request will require further investigation before you make your decision.”

But the Emperor gently pushed his brother aside. “No, I’ll handle this right now.” He flushed with anger. “Blanton Davido, I am informed that House Péle has falsified production records in order to reduce Imperial taxes. You are part of the scheme.”

The mining executive’s eyes flashed with fear, which he tried to hide with indignation. “That is not true, Sire! I have no part in any fraud.”

“Then who does?”

Davido had been thrown off-balance, astonished that the information had come to light, but not sure how much the Emperor knew. The widespread knowledge of Salvador’s vigorous interrogators, a team from the special Scalpel branch of the Suk Medical School, gave the man further reason to be afraid.

Dorotea made no comment as she watched the mining executive squirm.

Finally, the Péle representative said, “Sire, there may have been some underreporting in a few shipments, but I immediately took steps to rectify any discrepancies I found. After a thorough internal investigation, we determined they were honest errors. Of course, we will correct any shortfall—with interest.”

“And penalties.” Salvador smiled grimly. “How convenient for House Péle that honest errors would result in lower taxes. What do you say, brother? Should we grant the request of such a sloppy businessman?”

For once, Roderick was impressed by the Emperor’s decisiveness. Before he could answer, Dorotea whispered in his ear again. “The fraud is much larger than Davido admits. See how he sweats before the throne, the twitch of eyelids, the dilation of pupils, the angle of his neck—all indicators.”