Authors: Brian Herbert,Kevin J. Anderson
Valya’s brief, automatic terror had been replaced by a more intense interest. She looked around the chamber and said in a practical tone, “If the Butlerians ever find out about this, they will raze the school and kill every last Sister.”
“Yes, they will,” Raquella said. “And now you understand the amount of trust we have placed in you.”
I have already contributed more than my share to history. For more than two centuries I influenced events and fought the enemies that were defined for me. Finally I turned my back and walked away. All I wanted was to fade quietly into memory, but history refuses to let me alone.
The Legacy Journals,
When he returned from his solitary hunt in the Thornbriar Ridges, Vorian Atreides saw greasy pillars of unexpected smoke curling into the sky. The thick plumes rose from the village where his family lived and the surrounding farmlands.
He began to run.
Vorian had spent five days away from his country home, his wife, his extended family, and his neighbors. He liked to hunt the plump flightless gornet birds, one of which could feed a family for more than a week. Gornets lived high in the dry ridges, away from the fertile settled valley, and loved to dive for shelter into the razor-sharp thornbriars.
More than the hunt itself, though, Vor enjoyed the solitude, a chance to feel quiet and peace inside. Even alone in the wilderness, he could draw upon several lifetimes of personal memories, relationships formed and lost, things to regret and things to celebrate … friends, loves, and enemies—sometimes all reflected in the same person, over the course of time. His current wife, Mariella, had lived decades in happy contentment with him; they had a large family—children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Though reluctant at first, given his past, Vor had settled into this bucolic life on planet Kepler like a man slipping into old, comfortable clothes. Many decades ago, he had two sons on Caladan, but they were always distant, estranged, and he hadn’t seen them or their family line since the Battle of Corrin.
A long time ago, his father, the notorious cymek general Agamemnon, had granted him a secret life-extension treatment, never guessing that Vorian would decide to fight against the thinking machines. Generations of bloodshed had been physically exhausting and hard on his soul. When the war hero Faykan Butler formed the new Imperium, Vor began to feel a lack of interest. He took his ship and a generous reward from the new Emperor, turned his back on the League of Nobles, and headed off into the frontier.
After wandering alone for years, though, he met Mariella, fell in love again, and settled down here. Kepler was quiet and satisfying, and Vor took the time to create a new home, a place he actually wanted to stay. He’d raised three daughters and two sons, who married other Kepler villagers, and gave him eleven grandchildren and more than two dozen great-grandchildren who were now growing old enough to have families of their own. He enjoyed simple pleasures, quiet evenings. He had changed his surname, but now, half a century later, he didn’t much bother to keep the secret. What did it matter anymore? He wasn’t a criminal.
Though Vor had aged very little physically, Mariella showed her years. She liked nothing more than to be with her family, but she let Vor go off into the hills and hunt as often as he wished. After two centuries, he knew how to fend for himself. He rarely thought about the outside Imperium, though he was still occasionally amused to see old Imperial coins that carried his likeness.…
Now, however, when he came back from the hunt to find smoke rising from the farmhouses, Vor felt as if a door to his past had blown open in a storm. He dumped twenty kilos of fresh wrapped gornet meat from his pack, then sprinted down the trail, taking only his old-fashioned projectile rifle. Ahead, Vor saw the valley’s patchwork of croplands, now besmirched with brown and black scars as orange flames raced along the rows of grain. Three large spaceships had landed in the fields rather than on the designated landing field: not attack craft, but blunt torpedo-shaped vessels designed to hold cargo or personnel. Something was terribly wrong.
A large vessel lumbered into the air, and moments later a second vessel blasted dust clouds and exhaust as it, too, heaved itself off the ground. Swarms of crewmen scurried around the third ship, preparing to depart.
Though Vor had never seen this type of craft here on Kepler, he knew from long experience what slave-raiders looked like.
He ran headlong downhill, thinking about Mariella, about his children, grandchildren, all their spouses, their neighbors—this place was his
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the farmhouse where he had lived for many years. The roof was smoldering, but the damage was not nearly as bad as several of the other homes. The outbuildings around his daughter Bonda’s house were aflame; the small town hall was an inferno. Too late—too late! He knew all these people, every one of them connected to him by bonds of blood, marriage, or friendship.
He was breathing too hard to manage a shout. He wanted to bellow for the slavers to stop, but he was just one man, and they would never listen to him. The raiders had no idea who Vorian Atreides was, and after so long a time they might not even care.
The remaining handful of slavers dragged their human cargo aboard the third ship, hauling limp forms. Even from a distance, Vor recognized his son Clar with his long ponytail and purple shirt; he was obviously stunned, and the invaders took him aboard. One of the slavers lagged behind, bringing up the rear while four of his companions carried their last victims up the ramp to the open hatch.
When he was in range, Vor dropped to one knee, raised the projectile rifle, and aimed. Though his heart was pounding and he couldn’t catch his breath, he forced a moment of calm, focused carefully, and shot at the foremost slaver. He didn’t dare hit one of his own people. He thought for certain his aim was true, but the slaver only flinched, looked around, and then shouted. His comrades began to run, searching for the source of the shot.
Vor aimed carefully, fired again, and the second shot also caused only panic, not injuries. Then he realized that the two men wore personal shields, nearly invisible barriers that stopped fast projectiles. Concentrating, he swung the rifle toward the man lagging behind, squinted, and squeezed off another shot—striking the muscular slaver in the lower back. The man pitched forward and fell onto his face. So, they didn’t all have shields.
As soon as the third rifle shot sounded, Vor was up and running toward the slaver craft. The fallen man’s companions had seen him drop, and they began to shout, looking in all directions. As he sprinted, Vor raised the rifle again and fired another shot, more carelessly this time. The projectile ricocheted off the metal hull near the hatch, and the slavers yelled. Vor shot again, hitting the open hatch door.
Over the course of his life, Vor had killed people under various circumstances, usually with good reason. Now, he couldn’t think of a better justification. He actually felt more regret for the gornet bird he had killed the previous evening.
Slavers were fundamentally cowards. Protected by shields, the rest of them rushed inside and sealed the hatch, abandoning their fallen comrade. The big vessel’s thrusters belched exhaust, and the last slaving craft staggered into the air, taking its cargo of captives. Though Vor ran as fast as he could, he couldn’t reach the ship in time. He raised the rifle and fired two more impotent shots at the underbelly, but the craft raced away over smoldering fields and homes.
He could smell the smoke in the air, saw the buildings burning, knew that his people had been decimated. Were they all captured or killed? And Mariella, too? He longed to run from house to house, find
… but he also had to rescue the captives. Before the ships got away, he needed to know where they were going.
Vor stopped by the man he had shot. The slaver lay on the ground, his arms twitching. He wore a yellow cloth tied around his head, and a thin black line was tattooed from his left ear to the corner of his mouth. A moan escaped from his lips, along with a trickle of blood.
Still alive. Good. With a wound like that, though, the man wouldn’t last long.
“You are going to tell me where those captives are being taken,” Vor said.
The man groaned again and gurgled something that sounded like a curse. Vor didn’t consider it an acceptable answer. He glanced up, saw the fire spreading along the roofs of the houses. “You don’t have much time to answer.”
Receiving no cooperation from the man, Vor knew what he would have to do next, and he wasn’t proud of it, but this slaver was far down on the list of people for whom he felt sympathy. He drew his long skinning knife. “You
going to tell me.”
* * *
WITH THE INFORMATION
secured and the man dead, Vor ran past the outbuildings around his big house, calling out for anyone who might be alive. His hands and arms were covered with blood, some of it from the gornet bird he had butchered, some from the slaver he had questioned.
Outside, he found two old men, Mariella’s brothers, who helped bring in the harvest each year. Both were groggy, returning to consciousness. Vor guessed that the slaving ships had flown over the settlement and sprayed the houses and fields with stun beams to knock everyone unconscious, then they’d simply hauled off anyone who looked young and strong. Mariella’s brothers did not make the cut.
The healthier candidates—his sons and daughters, grandchildren, neighbors—had been taken from their homes and dragged aboard the ships. Many of the town buildings were now on fire.
But first, his wife. Vor burst into the main house, yelling, “Mariella!” To his vast relief, he heard her voice calling back, from upstairs. In the second-story guest room, she was using a compression fire-suppressant canister to fight the smoldering roof by leaning out a high gable. As he rushed into the room, Vor was giddy to see her aged but beautiful face—seamed and careworn features, her hair like spun silver. He was so glad to find her safe and alive that he almost wept, but the fire demanded his attention. He took the canister from her and sprayed at the flames through the window. The fire had traveled along the edge of the rooftop, but the house was not yet fully involved.
“I was afraid they’d take you with all the others,” Mariella said. “You look as young as our grandsons.”
The flames began to flicker out under the dispersed spray. He set the canister aside and pulled her close, holding her as he had done for more than half a century. “And I was worried about you.”
“I’m way too old for them to be interested in me,” Mariella said. “You would have realized that, if you stopped to think.”
“If I’d stopped to think, I wouldn’t have gotten there before all the ships lifted off. As it is, I managed to kill only one of the slavers.”
“They took almost everyone else who could perform manual labor. A few might have hidden, and a few were just killed, but how are we…” She shook her head and looked down at her hands. “It’s not possible. They’re all gone.”
“I’ll get them back.”
Mariella responded with a sad smile, but he kissed the familiar lips that had been part of his life, his family, his home for so long. She was much like his previous wife, Leronica Tergiet, on another world, a woman with whom he had also stayed as she bore him children, then grew old and died, while he never changed.
“I know where they’re going,” Vor said. “The ships are taking them to the slave markets on Poritrin. The slaver told me.”
* * *
HE AND MARIELLA’S
brothers went to the other homes, searching for survivors. They found a number of them, scattered, and rallied them to control the spreading blaze, help the injured, tally the missing. Only sixty of the valley’s several hundred inhabitants had been left behind, and most were either old or infirm. Ten had fought back and were killed. Vor dispatched messages to the other settled valleys on Kepler, warning them to be on guard for slavers.
That night, Mariella got out photos of their children, their families, their grandchildren, and spread them around the table, on the shelves. So many faces, so many people needing to be rescued.…
She found him in the smoky-smelling attic of their home, where he had uncovered a storage trunk. Opening it, Vor removed a pressed and folded old uniform, crimson and green, the familiar colors of the Army of Humanity, formerly the Army of the Jihad.
The package had been sealed away for many, many years.
“I’m going to Poritrin to get our people back.” He held up the uniform shirt and ran his fingers over the smooth fabric of the sleeves, musing about how many times the uniform had been patched, how many bloodstains had been removed. He had hoped never to go into battle again. But this was different.
“And after I save them, I need to make sure it never happens again. I’ll find some way to protect this planet. The Corrinos owe me that.”
It is easy to look backward and cast blame on others, but more difficult to gaze ahead and take responsibility for your own decisions and your own future.
, final dispatch from Arrakis
It was a hard winter on Lankiveil, but the Harkonnens had to make do. For generations—since Abulurd Harkonnen’s exile here for his actions in the Battle of Corrin—the once powerful family had been left to forget about their lost glory on Salusa Secundus.
And most of them had indeed forgotten.
Relentless sleet streamed down, then froze to a glassy coating of ice each night. In their wooden homes huddled on the shores of the fjord, the locals had to thaw and kick their doors open every morning just to face the blustery cold. Sometimes they would glance at the choppy waters and cloudy skies, and then close the doors again, deciding it was too dangerous to venture out on the water. The fur-whale fleets had been trapped in port for the past month, and they could not harvest the planet’s only commodity valued by the rest of the Imperium.