Authors: Brian Herbert,Kevin J. Anderson
As they marched through the city, Manford regarded the blocky main buildings of the old Suk Medical School. The Suks had recently established a much more extensive base on the planet Parmentier, but here the original stone structure was still a landmark. Outside the campus, a newly erected placard celebrated the school’s centennial, even though the Suk doctors had not formally established their order until well after the Battle of Corrin.
Manford viewed the old school headquarters with annoyance, reminded of the false pride of advanced medical doctors, who like Ptolemy, blithely assumed that technology could fix any frailty of the human body. Manford loathed the very idea of having machines attached like parasites to his body. He turned away from the old medical facility, shuddering. Men should not believe themselves the equivalent of God.
Ahead, he saw the towers of the gaudy Palace of the Corrino Emperor. Manford’s own domicile on Lampadas had no such pretentions; his riches were in his soul, in his beliefs, and in the devotion of his followers.
“Shall I send runners ahead to demand an audience with Emperor Salvador?” Anari asked.
“He already knows we’re coming. When my people arrive on the steps of the Palace, that will be the only invitation I need. The Emperor will make room on his calendar, have no fear.”
He grasped the sides of the palanquin as his bearers marched up the stone steps. Uniformed noukkers stood guard at the arches, watching Manford suspiciously. He raised his hand in a nonthreatening gesture. “I’ve come to visit the Emperor. My people—who are Salvador’s loyal subjects—have important news. He will want to hear it.”
“The Emperor has been notified of your arrival,” said the guard standing in front. Though he was obviously uncomfortable, the captain remained firm. “We will inform you as soon as he is available.”
Manford gave him a bland smile and raised his voice. “My followers are hungry and thirsty. Perhaps some of the local merchants will provide refreshments while we wait?”
Without being invited, the Butlerians spread out into the cafés, restaurants, and market stalls that served tourists and dignitaries around the capital square. Though some of the food-service proprietors complained, they knew well enough not to ask payment for the meals or beverages the Butlerians took. To “thank” the vendors, Manford promised to say prayers on their behalf.
After an hour without a response from inside the Palace, his people began to grow restless, and the buzz of their dissatisfied conversation grew louder. Anari Idaho was willing to force her way into the Palace, but Manford calmed her with a smile and a gesture.
Finally, the guard captain touched his ear, nodded, and gave a brittle welcoming smile. “Leader Torondo, Emperor Salvador has arranged a place where you and he can have a private conversation.”
Manford bowed slightly. “That is all I requested.”
Anari walked at his side as the bearers carried the palanquin through the archway into the huge reception hall. The rest of the Butlerians remained outside, but Manford was not worried about being separated from them. He could quickly summon the faithful if he should need them.
Salvador Corrino waited for him in a small, empty conference room. The Emperor looked displeased at being forced to accommodate the unexpected visitor, although Manford noted the glint of uneasiness behind his eyes. He was surprised that Roderick Corrino wasn’t there, since the Emperor rarely made important decisions without his brother’s counsel. Perhaps Salvador didn’t believe this was an important decision; Manford would have to convince him otherwise.
“With some difficulty, I’ve managed to rearrange my schedule, Leader Torondo. I can speak with you for no more than fifteen minutes.” His speech was terse. “I am a busy man with many important demands on my time.”
“And I have come with one of the most important tasks you must address,” Manford said. “Thank you for seeing me.”
Salvador wasn’t finished. “Your arrival caused a great deal of disruption. Permits are required for such a large gathering. Please be more considerate next time.”
“I will not rein in my followers with permits. You must listen.” Salvador’s nostrils flared with indignation, but Manford had no patience for the man’s petty hurt feelings. “I resort to extreme measures because time is short, and the danger increases day by day. Let us pray I don’t need to take
The Emperor’s eyes narrowed. “Are you threatening me?”
for you. Previously, when I appeared before the Landsraad assembly, my call for a vote was disrupted by terrorist activity. Have the perpetrators been caught and punished?”
“The matter is still under investigation.”
Manford laced his fingers together. “Then schedule another vote and require every Landsraad representative to be there. They must go on record as to where they stand on the future of our civilization.”
“I will accommodate you as best I can.” Salvador was trying to sound tough, but he could not hide his quick swallow. “The calendar of the Landsraad League is full for quite some time.”
“Not good enough. My followers continue to discover remnants of the thinking machines that could easily be turned against humanity, but that is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The greater danger we face is human weakness and temptation. Scientists and industrialists seem intent on bringing about a new age of machines, a new dependence on technology. My followers just saw this on Zenith, and you can rest assured that we took care of the problem. We are still at a very dangerous balancing point, however. We must never forget our pain, never forget what Rayna Butler told us all. I call upon your heart, Emperor Salvador Corrino, to do what is right. Stand beside us and openly declare your stance against advanced technology.”
“I have many competing interests to weigh from thousands of planets. But I promise I’ll consider what you say. Now, if that is all—”
“If you do not choose the side of righteousness, Sire, the Butlerians will do it for you. You see the group of your loyal subjects I’ve brought here. Throughout the Imperium, I have millions of followers who are just as dedicated as these. I swear that we are all prepared to stand by your side and fight. Provided you do what is right.” He raised his eyebrows, waiting.
Emperor Salvador was clearly intimidated, though he tried not to show it. “And a Landsraad vote will satisfy you?”
“The Landsraad vote goes without saying. No, my people require a more visible gesture on your part, a dramatic demonstration of your support.” Manford pretended that the idea had just occurred to him, though he had planned it carefully on the voyage from Zenith. “For instance, consider the historic headquarters of the Suk School, right here in Zimia. Those arrogant doctors, with their extremist medical experiments, are trying to reshape humanity. A human being should take care of his body and pray for health, not rely on machines to keep him alive. We need to enhance our minds and bodies through our own aspirations and hard work, not through artificial means. It would be a generous first step if you closed down the Suk School here—a highly visible gesture that sends a clear message.”
Emperor Salvador looked from side to side, as if wishing Roderick were there. “I will consider it … in the spirit of maintaining a good relationship with you and your followers. What you ask will take time, but I think I can let you have your way with the old Suk School headquarters—provided you cause no further trouble here.”
Manford spread his hands helplessly, not showing his sense of triumph, though the Emperor had conceded easily. “The Butlerians have a lot of energy and enthusiasm, Sire. I have to give them some release for their passions … but it’s a vast Imperium, and there is a great deal of work for us to do. We could go to the outer planets, or we could remain here in Zimia. Perhaps if you provided us with a fleet—say, two hundred mothballed ships from the Army of Humanity?—we could go elsewhere and continue our work far from Salusa Secundus. For the time being.”
Manford could see perspiration on the Emperor’s forehead as he considered this. “Now that you mention it, we do have military vessels that are no longer being used. Perhaps I could scrape together a couple of hundred decommissioned ships. You will need to pilot and crew them yourselves, but you can devote them entirely to your efforts—provided they go far from here.”
Manford smiled and looked at Anari, who wore a contented expression. “I was optimistic that we could reach a satisfactory accommodation, Sire,” he said. “I can gather my own people to serve aboard the new fleet, and we will be back to take care of the Suk School, at the proper time.” He signaled for the palanquin bearers to turn about and leave. As he departed, Manford pretended not to notice that Emperor Salvador let out a quavering sigh of relief.
All Sisters have common training, a common wardrobe, and presumably a common mind-set, but beneath the surface they are as diverse and separate as the roots that spread out from a single tree.
REVEREND MOTHER RAQUELLA BERTO-ANIRUL
Manual of the Sisterhood
Sister Candys Venport was filled with excitement and fascination as she ran up to Valya. “It’s Sister Anna! You should see this for yourself.”
Valya lurched to her feet, ready to follow the girl through the tunnels. “Is she hurt?” The Emperor’s sister had very little common sense, and could easily have gotten herself in trouble. On the other hand, since returning from the survival quest and finding Ingrid’s body, Anna was more serious about her studies, and had been showing more dedication to them.
“Not hurt.” The girl tugged on Valya’s hand. “She’s done much better than Sabine or I ever could.”
Inside the small chamber, Anna sat cross-legged on the floor, staring intently at the wall panel that enclosed the hive of burrowing insects. Her concentration interrupted, Anna blinked and turned around, surprised to see Valya there. “Straight lines…” She sounded exhausted. “Who would imagine it’s so difficult just to make straight lines?”
At first, Valya didn’t understand what the young woman meant, but Candys ran forward to point at the tunnels made by the scuttling nematodes. Most of the burrows swirled around in the random curves of nature, but in one corner of the panel, all the lines were perfectly straight, exactly horizontal and vertical, intersecting in precise perpendicular junctions.
“It’s like what I did with the fogwood trees back in the Imperial garden,” Anna said. “These burrowers respond to me. They must be telepathically sensitive, like fogwood trees.” Anna looked at Valya’s stunned expression, and the Princess’s face fell. “Are you disappointed? When you told me to meditate on their movements, wasn’t this what I was supposed to do?”
“No—I mean yes, this is fine, I’m just … surprised.” She would have to look into it further. “I’m very impressed. I wonder if other Sisters can do this.”
“It’s a knack I have,” Anna said. The girl might be spoiled, immature, and emotionally unstable, yet now Valya revised her opinion. If carefully guided, those mental powers might be useful, though she doubted if Anna Corrino had the maturity or drive to achieve anything significant.
Before she could take Anna to see the Reverend Mother, Dorotea stopped at the door to the chamber. She seemed stern and hardened. “Sister Valya, I’ve been looking for you. I’d like you to join me, along with some specially chosen Sisters, at an important private meeting.”
“Can I go along?” Anna rose to her feet. “I could share some ideas for a meeting.”
“This meeting is not for acolytes. Valya belongs with us.”
Anna looked stung and disappointed, and a flash of jealousy rippled across her face. Trying to calm the Corrino girl, Valya said, “I’ll come back to you as soon as I can. Sister Candys, will you take Anna back to her quarters? Dorotea and I have some business to discuss.” She wondered what the other woman was up to.
Despite the ever-growing number of Sisters being trained on Rossak, it was not difficult to find true privacy. The great cliff city had once been populated with nearly a hundred thousand Sorceresses, their mates, and children, along with all the normal Rossak inhabitants and offworlders who came to harvest the jungle’s wealth. The Omnius plagues, however, had wiped out so much of the population that large sections of the tunnels were now empty.
Dorotea led Valya to a windowless room, where Valya quickly assessed the nine other women gathered there, including Sister Perianna, who had recently returned from Salusa, along with Sister Esther-Cano, Sister Ninke, Sister Woodra, and five more whom she did not know.
“I told them we could trust you—I hope I’m not wrong about you,” Dorotea said to her. “You seem to be the Reverend Mother’s darling, but I know you’ve also worked with Karee Marques. I believe you’re dedicated to our cause. We’re meeting here to discuss the future of the Sisterhood.”
“You can trust me,” Valya said automatically. She began evaluating the women in her mind, to discover the common denominator.
Dorotea announced to all the women, “We’re here because we’re concerned that Reverend Mother Raquella has lost her way.”
Valya’s brow furrowed. “In what way? She created the Sisterhood—so doesn’t she define the goals of the order, as the only Reverend Mother?”
“The Sisterhood has its own identity,” Dorotea said.
“And we have much to offer,” said Perianna. “The Emperor has discovered this. Many noble families and commercial interests also see the value in our training. But if the Reverend Mother throws her support on the side of the Machine Apologists, she will damage our reputation.”
“Not just our reputation,” said Sister Woodra, “but our souls. The very core of the Sisterhood is to help women achieve superiority with their bodies and minds, keeping them from the seductive lure of machines.”
Valya hid her surprise and took a seat. Already she guessed she would have to report this discussion to Raquella. “And how do you think the Reverend Mother has strayed from this? She has voices and memories the rest of us cannot hear. I am inclined to trust her judgment.”