Read Direct Descent Online

Authors: Frank Herbert

Tags: #Science Fiction, #General, #Fiction

Direct Descent (9 page)

BOOK: Direct Descent
2.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

As Tchung entered, Hepzebah bowed to him, said: “Good morrow to you, Cousin.”

Sil-Chan gaped at her.
Cousin?

Tchung returned her bow. “I greet the Elected Womb.”

The PN turned at this exchange, addressed Tchung: “You were right and I was wrong, Cousin. You’ve a better eye than I thought. He’s a man.”

The Admiral was not ready for small talk. He blustered: “Somebody had better explain this story about a debt against the Galactic Union! We are here investigating the costs of this boondoggle planet and any debts which …”

“One moment, please,” the PN interrupted.

The Admiral frowned.

“A few minutes ago,” the PN said, “I sent a private request to several members of the Galactic Union. I have demanded a General Assembly.”

“Demanded?” The Admiral made no attempt to conceal his disdain. “You?”

“Demanded,” the PN said. Regal, remote and cold.

“Only the leaders of sovereign planets can demand a General Assembly. This planet’s a government bureau.”

“Was
a government bureau,” the PN said.

As a sudden thought swept through his mind, Sil-Chan swept his gaze around the room, looking for the Merlin. Where was that wizened little plotter? Nowhere in sight.

The realized images of many faces began appearing at the rhomboid focus across the room. Sil-Chan abandoned his search for the Merlin and looked at the faces, recognizing many from the Directory of Planetary and System Rulers—Presidents, Dictators, Imperators, Regents … There was the Regent of Naos … and the Holy Didactum of Jacun … the bloody little Messala of Hornaruth with her flat-lipped smile.

A larger focus at the center came alive with the round face of Hobart of Myrmid, Imperator of the Enclave, rulers of the Galactic Union. His features were flat, eyes bright and darting. The fact was oddly similar to that of Ambroso.
Related, perhaps?
Sil-Chan wondered.

The PN bowed to the Imperator. “We can begin.”

There was a cold lump in Sil-Chan’s stomach.
The PN’s going to try for personal power!

Hobart of Myrmid responded. His voice boomed out over the background crackling of subspace transmission. “My advisors have just informed me that this is an illegal calling of a General Assembly. The persons responsible will be arrested and confined in …”

“You’ll hear me!” the PN bellowed. “I am the legal sovereign of this planet!” He took two strides toward the realized image.

The Admiral and guard moved to interfere, but froze as weapons appeared in the hands of the Dornbakers around the walls.

The PN said: “I have a legal claim against the Union for a sum that would drain your coffers.”

“A mere technicality!” the Imperator shouted.

“You sovereign Assemblymen hear me,” the PN said. “What you do to me could be done to any of you. I propose a compromise. Confirm my sovereignty here and I will write ‘Paid-in-full’ on the debt you owe me.”

Anger boiled in Sil-Chan. He tugged Hepzebah several steps closer to the PN. “He’s selling us out.” Sil-Chan muttered.

Assemblymen were clamoring: “Explain! Explain!”

Hobart overrode the clamor: “This is no more than a technicality!”

“Hear him!” the Assemblymen shouted.

The PN strode even closer to the images as the rhomboid lenses tracked him. In the abrupt silence which ensued, he explained, finishing: “Is your Imperator a supreme dictator not answerable to the authority of the Assembly?”

“He rules by law!” one Assemblyman shouted. Others took it up: “By law! By law!”

The PN nodded. “Then I propose …”

Sil-Chan had taken enough. “You’re being tricked!” he roared. He strode to the PN’s side, dragging Hepzebah with him. Dornbaker weapons turned toward them.

“Who is this?” the Imperator demanded.

“I am an official of Galactic Archives!”

“This man has no authority here,” the PN said.

Sil-Chan jerked credentials from his pocket, waved them at the lenses. The Imperator’s gong intruded, bringing silence. Hobart of Myrmid spoke in a stern voice:

“Let us hear this official of Galactic Archives. I, too, think we are being tricked.”

“Hobart of Myrmid is one of those tricking you,” Sil-Chan said.

It took twenty strokes of the gong to silence the bedlam of the Assemblymen. “Seize that man and hold him under arrest!” the Imperator roared.

But the room already was echoing with the voices of the Assemblymen. “No! No! Hear him! Hear him!”

Hobart of Myrmid hesitated.

Sil-Chan seized his opportunity: “I charge Hobart of Myrmid with planning to become absolute dictator of the Union.”

Rapt silence greeted this.

“I can prove that charge with Archives Records,” Sil-Chan said. “Hobart of Myrmid plans to disband Galactic Archives and scatter the important pieces among his friends.”

“You waste our substance!” the Imperator shouted. “Efficiency must come even to you!”

“And which planet gains monopoly of our weapons lore?” Sil-Chan demanded.

Assemblymen’s faces bent closer.

“And who gets our physical sciences?” Sil-Chan asked. “The Planet Myrmid, perhaps?”

“He lies!” the Imperator screamed.

“The Assembly can send its own investigators, “Sil-Chan said. “Then we will see who lies.”

The Imperator gestured to the Admiral: “Silence that fool!”

Dornbaker weapons centered on the Admiral.

“Do you want control of these Archives to fall into the hands of a few ambitious men?” Sil-Chan asked.

An Assemblyman high on the right shouted: “If Archives is so dangerous, let’s vaporize it! “

Sil-Chan said: “Which of you knows which files have been copied in recent months? Destroy the originals and the people with copies have it all their own way.”

Silent faces stared at him.

“Renew our original charter but directly under the Assembly,” Sil-Chan said. “You all know our impartiality. We are open to anyone. You are the real government and you know our Code: obedience to government.”

“Truth! Truth! He is right!” the images roared. The yellow lights of affirmative votes filled the image areas. They cast a golden glow over David Dornbaker’s living room.

“And give us a guardian patrol to protect us from a repetition of this incident!” Sil-Chan demanded.

Again, the room glowed yellow.

An Assemblyman in the high center addressed the Admiral: “Admiral! You will be held personally responsible for the Archives until the patrol arrives. Your life and the lives of all your officers are the price of failure!”

In the lower left bank of images, the Regent of Naos rang a chime. “Closed conference!” he called. The demand was repeated across the images.

The Imperator’s image vanished. Others began to blank out. Soon all were blank.

The PN turned: “You took long enough before interrupting,” he said. “I was beginning to wonder if we’d misjudged you.”

“Mis …” Sil-Chan shook his head.

“It had to be natural and dramatic,” Tchung said, moving up to Sil-Chan’s left. “Very good.”

“By the Stone,” Hepzebah breathed. “A put-up!”

“I was afraid I might have to deal with an entire planet,” the PN said. “I have enough trouble with my own family.”

“And it would’ve destroyed one of the most precious things we’ve ever acquired,” Tchung said.

Sil-Chan blinked at him.

“It would’ve destroyed a living, breathing primitive culture,” Tchung explained.

“These people?” Sil-Chan waved at the Dornbakers. “Primitive?”

“In their lifestyle,” Tchung said. “They really are hunter-gatherers. Ohhh, they do use pretty good weapons, but not as sophisticated as they might.”

“There’s still the matter of all that dirt under us,” the PN said.

Sil-Chan faced him. “That
dirt
is probably the largest untapped lodge of nickel-iron in this sector of the universe—enough to fuel Archives ships for thousands of years. I tried to tell you earlier. The magma was just cooled down and solidified.”

“Pretty valuable, eh?” the PN asked. He nodded. “Well, we haven’t settled that matter of the rest of our debt, either. Perhaps we …”

“Right now I think the Assembly would cede it to Archives directly,” Sil-Chan said.

“Steal it from us?” the PN was outraged.

“We have provided increasingly costly services over all these centuries,” Sil-Chan said.

“By contract!” the PN snapped.

“Perhaps,” Sil-Chan said. “I think some good legal heads could tie the whole issue up for several centuries at least. There would be quite a bit of research to do, of course—right here. And we …”

The image of the Naos Regent appeared before the rhomboids and he said: “I beg to interrupt.”

Sil-Chan and the others turned to face the image. The Regent was an elderly, thin-faced man with suspiciously dark hair. Melanin tampering was indicated there … and a bit of masculine vanity, at least.

“I have the honor to be Jerem of Naos,” he said, “the new Imperator of the Union. The Jeremiam Enclave renews the Archives charter under directorship of Patterson Tchung.”

Tchung bowed. “We are honored.”

“Formal investiture and official investigation of this unfortunate incident will take place soon,” the new Imperator said.

Again, Tchung bowed.

The image vanished.

“We return to the uneasy truce between ignorance and knowledge,” Tchung murmured. He smiled. “And I suspect we will gain a sudden influx of
students
doing special research.”

The PN scowled. “What about the debt and all that … fuel under my island?”

Tchung shrugged: “Ohhh, I think that can wait for a PN more favorably inclined toward Archives.” He looked at Sil-Chan and Hepzebah. “It worked out rather well, don’t you think? Much better than we expected.”

“A put-up,” Hepzebah muttered.

“Is he saying that our son could be PN?” Sil-Chan asked. “Our son would have that right?”

“By direct descent,” she said. “We’ll have to train him well.”

***

About the Author

FRANK HERBERT (1920–1986) created the most beloved novel in the annals of science fiction,
Dune
. He was a man of many facets, of countless passageways that ran through an intricate mind. His magnum opus is a reflection of this, a classic work that stands as one of the most complex, multi-layered novels ever written in any genre. Today the novel is more popular than ever, with new readers continually discovering it and telling their friends to pick up a copy. It has been translated into dozens of languages and has sold almost 20 million copies.

Herbert wrote more than twenty other novels, including
Hellstrom’s Hive
,
The White Plague
,
The Green Brain
, and
The Dosadi Experiment
. During his life, he received great acclaim for his sweeping vision and the deep philosophical underpinnings in his writings.

His life is detailed in the Hugo-nominated biography
Dreamer of Dune
, by Brian Herbert.

***

BOOK: Direct Descent
2.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Spice Box by Grace Livingston Hill
Beggarman, Thief by Irwin Shaw
The Midnight Star by Marie Lu
The Switch by J.C. Emery
The Murderer is a Fox by Ellery Queen
The Ravens by Vidar Sundstøl
Black Rock by John McFetridge
The Jewelled Snuff Box by Alice Chetwynd Ley