Posted By Kevin J. Anderson on March 11, 2014
Today is release day for MENTATS OF DUNE, our thirteenth installment in the saga, follow-up to SISTERHOOD OF DUNE and the first new Dune novel in two years. Enjoy another sample chapter—and I hope you’ll get the book from Tor Books (US) and Simon & Schuster (UK)
If we accept advanced technology in any form, we will begin to make excuses and justifications for using it. There are so many ways to take the wrong path and tumble down a slippery slope, down, down, down. Loyal Butlerians, we must be ever-vigilant and strong! The Emperor’s Committee on Orthodoxy does not go far enough. If we let machines do even menial chores for us, they will soon become our masters again.
I call upon all my faithful followers, across all the worlds of the Imperium, to demand that every planetary leader sign my anti-technology pledge. If any refuse, my Butlerians—and God—will know who they are. No one can hide.
—Manford Torondo, citizen’s decree
The idiocy of it all! I cannot decide whether to laugh at Butlerian insanity, or weep for the future of our species. What will those fanatics demand next? The complete absence of medical technology? Would they outlaw fire, and declare the existence of the wheel too dangerous? Are we all to be relegated to huddling in forests and fields?
Enough. This is the decree of Venport Holdings: No VenHold cargo ship or passenger transport shall trade with any planet that signs Manford Torondo’s anti-technology pledge. We will deliver no goods or passengers, share no communications, engage in no commerce with any world that shares his dangerous, barbarian philosophy.
Make your choice: Do you prefer to bask in the glow of civilization, or cower in the shadows of primitive despair? Decide.
—Directeur Josef Venport, formal business announcement
Each time I solve a crisis, another springs forth like a noxious weed. What am I to do, Roderick? Problems come at me from all directions!
I disbanded the Sisterhood school on Rossak because they were suspected of possessing forbidden computers—though I could never prove it, and they made me look like a fool. And after what happened to our dear sister Anna when she was among them. . . . What a terrible shame! Will she ever be the same?
When the treachery of the Suk doctors was exposed, I nearly broke them, too. Despite their purported Imperial Conditioning, and even though I now force them to operate under close scrutiny, I do not trust them. Yet, with my numerous health issues, I have no choice but to let them tend me.
Manford Torondo pressures me to adopt his Butlerian nonsense and follow his every whim, while Josef Venport demands the opposite. They are both madmen, but if I ignore Manford Torondo, he can summon wild and destructive mobs. And if I don’t appease Venport, he holds our entire economy hostage.
I feel like a man chained between two Salusan bulls pulling in opposite directions! I am the third Corrino to sit on the Imperial throne since the defeat of the thinking machines—why is it so difficult to make my own citizens listen to me? Help me decide what to do, dear brother. As always, I value your advice above all others.
—private Corrino correspondence, Emperor Salvador to Prince Roderick
Blind adherence to foolish ideas makes people act in ways that are demonstrably against their own interests. I care only about intelligent, rational human beings.
—Directeur Josef Venport, Internal VenHold Memo
The VenHold cargo ship emerged from foldspace precisely where the Navigator predicted—another example of how advanced his mutated humans were.
From the high navigation deck, Josef Venport watched as his ship approached the planet Baridge. Few crewmembers and no passengers were allowed in the vicinity of the Navigator’s tank, but Josef could go wherever he pleased. He owned the VenHold Spacing Fleet, controlled the creation of Navigators, and dominated most interplanetary commerce.
His great-grandmother Norma Cenva had transformed herself into the first Navigator through super-saturation with melange, and Josef had created hundreds more because his expanded fleet needed them. That effort had triggered a long cascade of requirements: in order to create more Navigators, he needed vast quantities of spice, which necessitated an expansion of operations on Arrakis . . . which forced the VenHold Spacing Fleet to make record-breaking investments, which in turn required him to make immense company profits. One piece after another after another fell together like a beautiful puzzle.
He hated it when some fool disrupted that pattern.
His ship cruised in toward unremarkable Baridge, adjusting position as it entered orbit. Shaking his head, Josef turned to his wife Cioba. “I doubt they even know we’ve arrived. If the barbarians hate technology so much, they must have gotten rid of long-range scanners and communication devices.” He gave a rude snort. “Maybe they wear furs instead of garments.”
Cioba was a beautiful, dark-haired woman trained on Rossak by the Sisterhood before it was disbanded by the Emperor. In a calm, reasonable voice, she said, “Baridge may have taken Manford Torondo’s pledge, but that doesn’t mean they’ve discarded all technology. Even people who pay lip service to Butlerian demands may be reluctant to change their lives entirely.”
Josef’s thick, reddish mustache bristled when he smiled at her. “And that is why we’ll win, my dear. Philosophical objections are well and good, but such extreme faith fades as soon as it becomes inconvenient.”
The planet showed the usual blue of water, a white swirl of clouds, the browns and greens of land masses. Inhabited worlds had a certain sameness, but Josef ground his teeth as he looked at this one, because of what it represented and the foolish decision their leader Deacon Kalifer had made.
Josef did not have patience for short-sighted people, especially when they were in positions of power. “This is a wasted errand. We should not have expended the fuel and time to come here. There’s no profit in gloating.”
Cioba leaned close, touching his arm. “Baridge deserves a second chance, and you need to remind them of what their decision costs. Deacon Kalifer may have reconsidered by now.” She stroked her husband’s thick hair.
He touched her hand, held it, then let go. “People often surprise me, but not usually in a good way.”
Baridge’s turbulent sun was in the upswing of an active starspot cycle. Formerly, the planet had been known for colorful aurora displays, which trapped and deflected much of the solar radiation, but a rain of charged particles still penetrated to the surface. To protect themselves, the people of Baridge wore protective creams, covered their windows with filter films, and sheltered their streets with retractable canopies. Orbiting satellites monitored solar activity and warned citizens when they should stay inside. Advanced medical systems treated the resulting epidemic of skin cancers, and the population used melange heavily, which helped to protect them.
Under normal circumstances, Baridge was well prepared for the dangers of the solar cycle, but Deacon Kalifer and his ruling cabal had recently bowed to pressure from Manford Torondo’s barbarian fanatics. After accepting the Butlerian pledge and condemning Venport Holdings, Kalifer declared that his planet would henceforth be free from all tainted technology.
And so, true to his word, Josef terminated trade with the planet. He’d made it clear to the whole Imperium that his ships would not deliver equipment, luxury goods, melange, or other supplies to any world that embraced the Butlerian pledge. Lesser shipping companies struggled to fill the need, but they ran lackluster and outdated fleets, and none had Navigators to guide their ships safely through foldspace, which resulted in a disastrous lost-vessel rate.
Josef glanced up to the enclosed tank that held this ship’s Navigator. He could barely see the twisted form swimming in the murk of spice gas, but he knew that this one had originally been a spy named Royce Fayed, who’d been caught trying to steal the secret of creating Navigators. Josef had generously revealed those secrets to the man—by forcing him to become a Navigator. Under the direct tutelage of Norma Cenva, however, Fayed had become one of VenHold’s best Navigators. Now that the transformation was complete, he was deeply grateful for the gift he had been given.
The Navigator spoke through the tank speaker, “Arriving at Baridge.”
Josef often had trouble conversing with Navigators, because their minds were so advanced. “Yes, we are at Baridge.” Did Fayed think him unaware of their destination?
“I detect another vessel in orbit. It is not a commercial ship.”
With a shimmer, one of the metal bulkheads became a transmission window. At high magnification, it displayed a warship in close orbit—not a vessel from the current Imperial Armed Forces, but one of the old cruisers from the Army of the Jihad, re-commissioned and used by the barbarians.
Josef gritted his teeth when he saw the watchdog vessel light up as it accelerated toward them. “It’s one of the half-Manford’s ships.” He studied the craft on the transmission screen, saw its bristling guns, but felt no concern. He had no doubt the warship captain would be arrogant, full of faith and unreason.
Cioba’s brow wrinkled. “Does it pose a threat to us?”
“Of course not.”
A raspy-voiced young man sitting at the helm of the Butlerian ship sent a transmission. “VenHold vessel, you are forbidden at Baridge. These people have sworn not to use your accursed technology. Depart or be destroyed.”
“It does no good even to respond, my husband,” Cioba said with a sigh. “You can’t argue with zealots.”
Although he agreed there was little point, Josef couldn’t keep his words inside. He activated the transmitter. “Strange, I thought VenHold placed an embargo on this planet, not the other way around. It’s particularly odd to see such a vehement Butlerian follower flying a complex spaceship. Doesn’t such sophisticated technology make you lose control of your own bladder?”
The Butlerian captain would probably make some kind of rationalization about their technology being “used for the greater good,” or claim that it avoided being unacceptable because it was “in service of holy work.”
When Josef’s image appeared on the screen, the warship captain recoiled. “The demon Venport himself! You have been warned!” Surprisingly, he cut off the transmission.
Cioba nodded toward the transmission window. “He’s powering up his weapons.”
“Manford Torondo has likely placed a bounty on my head.” Josef found the idea as offensive as it was laughable.
Without warning, the aging Jihad warship opened fire, blasting them with old explosive shells. The kinetic bombardment hammered away at the VenHold ship’s advanced shields—another miracle invented by Norma Cenva—but the outdated weapons could inflict no harm. VenHold’s defenses were vastly superior to anything the enemy had.
“Make a log notation,” Josef said into the wall recorders. “We did not fire first. We committed no aggressive or provocative acts. We have been attacked without cause and are forced to defend ourselves.” He called down to the weapons deck, where personnel were already at their stations. “Destroy that ship. It annoys me.”
The weapons officer had been anticipating the command, and a swarm of projectiles ripped forth and cut the Butlerian vessel to ribbons. It was over in seconds, and Josef was glad he didn’t need to waste any more time.
As she watched the fading glow of debris on the screen, Cioba whispered, “I thought you said that ship didn’t pose a threat to us.”
“Not to us, but those Butlerian savages pose a threat to civilization itself. I believe this was a necessary punishment.” He spoke to the Navigator. “Are there other ships in the vicinity? Cargo carriers, rival commercial vessels?”
“None,” Fayed said.
“Good, then the people of Baridge should be more tractable.” He sent a transmission down to the surface, addressing Deacon Kalifer directly. He made certain the conversation was on a public band. Josef guessed that many of the supposedly devout Butlerians there still had illicit listening devices, and he wanted them all to hear his words.
Deacon Kalifer responded as soon as Josef made contact, which implied that the planetary leader had indeed been watching their arrival. He probably also knew that the Butlerian watchdog ship was destroyed. Good—another reason for the deacon not to be difficult.
On the screen, Kalifer’s shoulders drooped and his skin sagged on his frame as if he’d chosen the wrong size from a rack. His speech had a slow and ponderous quality, and his sentences always took longer to complete than Josef could stand. Deacon Kalifer was a man who made every listener want to say Hurry up!
“Ah, VenHold ship, we hoped you would reconsider your embargo. And I’m pleased that you came here in person, Directeur Venport.”
“I came in person, but I’m not pleased with the reception. Be thankful that rabid watchdog ship won’t cause you any more problems.” This might not be a wasted trip after all; at the very least, it gave Josef a chance to twist the knife while the people of Baridge eavesdropped. “I bring pharmaceuticals, specifically cancer drugs, and polymer creams to protect you against the radiation onslaught from the solar cycle. I’ve also brought a team of the top doctors trained at the Suk School. They specialize in treating skin lesions and a variety of cancers, and they can help your people.”
“Thank you, Directeur!” Kalifer was so excited that he spoke quickly for a change.
Cioba caught Josef’s eye and he could tell that she knew exactly what he was doing. Her shrewd business sense and keen ability to observe made her an invaluable asset to him.
Keeping his tone neutral, Josef responded to Kalifer. “We also have a large cargo of melange, which I know is popular here. Baridge used to be an important VenHold customer, and we hate to lose your business. We offer this special shipment at a discounted price, to celebrate our renewed trade.”
When Kalifer grinned with relief, Josef hardened his voice. “First, however, you must disavow your pledge to Manford Torondo. You foreswore all advanced technology, but now you realize how irrational that was. If you wish to restore trade with VenHold and receive these supplies—including our cargo of spice from Arrakis—you must publicly renounce the Butlerians.”
He met Deacon Kalifer’s stare. The planetary leader did not speak for a long moment—a pause even more extensive than his normal ponderous speech. “But that is not possible, Directeur. The population would riot, and Leader Torondo would send vengeance squads against us. I beg you for a little flexibility. We will pay higher prices if you insist.”
“I have no doubt of that,” Josef said. “But increased prices are not what I require. For the good of humanity, this barbarian nonsense has to stop—and it will only stop when planets like Baridge choose civilization and commerce over fanaticism.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “This is not a negotiating ploy, Deacon. It is my only offer.”
Kalifer ‘s skin turned gray, and his expression sickened. “I . . . I cannot accept, Directeur. The citizens of Baridge will stand firm.”
Though furious inside, Josef came up with an indifferent tone. “As you wish, Deacon. I offered you my cargo first, but I can dispose of it at our next planetary stop. I rescind my offer. So long as you remain obstinate, we will make no further deliveries. Good luck surviving the effects of your solar storms.”
Cioba terminated the transmission. Josef flared his nostrils, shaking his head and trying to calm himself.
“They will change their minds soon enough,” she told him. “I could see it in the deacon’s eyes, his slight flinch, the underlying anxiety in his voice. They are already feeling desperate.”
“But how soon will they recant? I’m not inclined to keep giving them chances.” Josef turned to the Navigator’s tank. “Let’s go to the next planet on our list and see what they have to say.”