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Authors: Brian Herbert,Kevin J. Anderson

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BOOK: Sisterhood of Dune
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Ishanti smiled at him again, and Josef wondered what standards of beauty the Zensunnis used out here. Was she trying to flirt with him? He didn’t find the hard-bitten desert woman attractive at all, but he did respect her skills. He had his own wife to get back to on Kolhar, an intelligent Sisterhood-trained woman named Cioba—the only person he trusted to watch the conglomerated VenHold business operations while he was away.

“We’ll make your stay as short as possible, sir,” Arvo said. “I’ll get on it right away.” In truth, Josef put more stock in Ishanti.

He lectured them all. “My ancestor, Aurelius Venport, saw the potential in spice-harvesting operations and risked much, invested much, to make it profitable.” He leaned forward. “My family has generations of blood and money on this planet, and I refuse to let any upstart competitor dance on the foundation the Venports have laid. Thieves must be dealt with.” He drank from his tall glass of cool water, and the others gratefully did the same. He would have preferred to be drinking a triumphant toast, but that was premature.

*   *   *

JOSEF SEALED HIMSELF
in private quarters in Arrakis City, ate the food that was brought to him without noticing it, and pored over his business records. Cioba had already prepared a summary of the most vital matters relating to the company’s numerous investments, and she appended a personal note about the progress of their two young daughters, Sabine and Candys, who were being trained on Rossak.

Over the past few generations, VenHold had grown so incredibly wealthy that Josef needed to split off their cargo-distribution arm and create a separate entity, Combined Mercantiles, which traded in melange from Arrakis as well as other high-value goods. He had also established numerous large financial institutions on important planets, where he could divest, invest, and hide VenHold’s profits. He did not want anyone—particularly the crazed antitechnology fanatics—to have an inkling of how much power and influence he really possessed. But among the numerous threats and challenges that he faced, the short-sighted Butlerian barbarians were invariably at or near the top of his list. They routinely destroyed perfectly viable derelict robot ships that could have been incorporated into the VenHold Spacing Fleet.

As soon as he returned to Kolhar, he had much work to do. He was also expected on Salusa Secundus soon for an important Landsraad meeting. But he couldn’t leave Arrakis until he had resolved a certain problem.…

Ishanti had indeed located a competitor’s illegal spice-harvesting operation out in the isolated desert. (Josef couldn’t understand why his better-equipped scout flyers had been unable to find anything.) By the time Lilik Arvo sent a response team to the location, the poachers had escaped. Nevertheless, Arvo intercepted a small cargo ship before it could leave the planet. The hold was filled with contraband melange. Josef had, of course, confiscated the cargo and added it to his own supplies.

VenHold engineers scoured the unmarked craft, analyzed component serial numbers, and found indications that it belonged to Celestial Transport. That did not make Josef happy. Arjen Gates was once again meddling where he did not belong.

CT was Josef’s only real competition in the space-transportation industry, and he did not look kindly on that intrusion. From secret information he had obtained (at great cost), he knew that Celestial Transport lost up to one percent of its vessels—a ridiculously high failure rate. But it was caveat emptor. For choosing a low price and unreliable transportation, the CT passengers and shippers got what they deserved.…

Arvo and Ishanti came to Josef’s private rooms, escorting a bound and gagged man dressed in an unmarked flight suit. Arvo looked pleased with himself, as if he took credit for the operation. “This man was the only person aboard the black-market ship. We’ll get to the bottom of this, sir, but so far he refuses to talk.”

Josef raised his thick eyebrows. “He needs to be encouraged, then.” He turned to the captive, who perspired heavily.
Wasting water,
as the desert people would think of it. “Who is in charge of your operations here on Arrakis? I would like to speak with that person.”

When Ishanti removed the captive’s gag, the man folded his lips in distaste. “This is a free planet. You have no more rights to melange than anyone else does. Hundreds of operations worked on Arrakis during the plagues. The spice is just there for us to harvest off the ground! We made our own investment. Our work doesn’t interfere with your trade.”

“It is
my
spice.” Josef didn’t raise his voice, but the anger behind it roiled like a building thunderstorm. He made a dismissive gesture. “Ishanti, learn what you can from him. It’s well within your talents. In fact, you can keep his water as the price of your service.”

Now Ishanti smiled enough to show teeth, and she partially drew the milky-white dagger at her waist. “Thank you, sir.” She placed the gag back on the captive’s mouth, muffling his protestations, and led the struggling man away.

 

It will never be possible to explain my motives to anyone, with the exception of Erasmus. We understand each other, despite our obvious differences.


GILBERTUS ALBANS
, private journal notes

To encourage Mentat concentration, Headmaster Gilbertus Albans had built his school on the least populated continent of Lampadas. Though this was already a pastoral world, he needed a place where his instructors and students could focus on the demanding curriculum and not be distracted by external concerns.

When choosing this world as the home of his Mentat School, he had erred by underestimating the continued strength of the Butlerian movement after the defeat of Omnius. The antitechnology fervor should have waned quickly, sputtering out through lack of passion and need, but Manford Torondo was more powerful than ever. Gilbertus had to walk a fine line.

In the main instruction theater he stood on the stage, the focus of attention. The seats encircled him and rose steeply up to the rear. The amphitheater’s surrounding walls and ceiling were of dark, stained wood, with an artificial patina that made them look very old, with a weight of importance. Clever amplifiers carried his calm, reserved voice to all of his attentive students.

“You must look past initial appearances.” The Headmaster gestured down to the two bodies that rested on autopsy slabs at the center of the stage. One table held a pale, naked human cadaver, head upturned and eyes closed; the dead man’s arms were extended straight at the sides. On the other table lay a deactivated combat mek, its fierce weapon arms and bullet-shaped head positioned in a similar arrangement.

“A human and a thinking machine. Note the parallels. Study them. Learn from them, and ask yourselves: Are they really so different after all?”

Gilbertus wore a tweedy waistcoat and trousers, and round spectacles on his narrow face, because he preferred these to medical treatments that could have improved his eyesight. His hair was thin but still the natural straw-yellow of his youth. He had to keep up appearances, and took great care to hide the fact that he was more than 180 years old now, thanks to the life-extension treatment he’d received from the independent robot Erasmus. Not a single one of the Mentat students suspected how important the machine mentor had been in his life; it would be dangerous if the Butlerians were to discover the truth about Gilbertus’s past.

“The Jihad proved that humans are superior to thinking machines, true. But upon closer inspection, one can see the similarities.”

Because Mentats were the human answer to computers, the antitechnology Butlerians supported his school. Gilbertus, however, had entirely different experiences with the thinking machines. He kept his opinions to himself for his own safety, especially here on Lampadas.

Gilbertus lifted the smooth head of the combat mek and disengaged it from the neck anchor mechanism. “The robot you see here is a remnant of that conflict, and we received special dispensation to use it as a teaching tool.” (The Imperial government had posed no problems, but Manford Torondo had not been so easily convinced.)

He lifted the cadaver’s pale right arm. “Note the musculature, compare it to the mechanical anatomy of the combat robot.”

As the silent students watched, some intrigued and some displaying obvious horror, Gilbertus methodically removed organs from the prepped cadaver, then took out the roughly equivalent parts from the combat mek, step by step, showing the parallels. He displayed all the parts on trays next to each body, performing the autopsies simultaneously.

For half an hour, he dissected the fighting robot, explaining how the components fit together and functioned, how the mek’s built-in weapons systems worked, expounded on their capabilities, and tied each point back to the human analog.

His senior student, Draigo Roget, who also served as a teaching assistant, made an adjustment to the simple projector, which displayed the details of his operation to the audience. Draigo wore black clothing from head to toe, which accentuated his long, jet-black hair, black eyebrows, and dark eyes.

The skull of the cadaver had been opened up in preparation for the class and its brain removed, and now Gilbertus exposed the combat robot’s computer processing unit. He placed the mek’s gelcircuitry core in a tray: A soft-looking metallic sphere was the counterpart to the convoluted human brain that sat in its own pan. He prodded the computer core with a fingertip. “Thinking machines have efficient memories and high-speed processing, but their capacity is a finite thing, limited by the specifications that were manufactured into it.”

Gilbertus dissected the brain. “The human brain, on the other hand, has no known set of manufacturer’s specifications. Note the complex arrangement in this cutaway: cerebrum, cerebellum, corpus callosum, diencephalon, temporal lobe, midbrain, pons, medulla—you are all familiar with these terms. Despite the physical mass of the brain, most of the thinking and computing capacity was never used by its owner.”

He looked up at them. “Each of you must learn to tap into what we all possess. There may be no limit to how much information our memories can hold—if we order and store it properly. At this school, we teach each student to emulate the organization and efficient calculation methods of thinking machines, and we have found that humans can do it
better.

The students muttered, some of them uneasy. In particular, he noted the sour expression of Alys Carroll, a talented but close-minded young woman who had been raised among the Butlerians. She was one of the students Manford Torondo had assigned here; surprisingly, on a mental-skill level, Alys had done rather well.

To build his Mentat School on Lampadas, Gilbertus had made certain sacrifices. As part of his agreement with Manford, which granted him support for the school, each year Gilbertus had to admit a specified number of trainees selected by the Butlerians. Although the Butlerians were not the best candidates, and took vital slots that might have been better suited for more talented and objective individuals, it was a concession he’d had to make.

Gilbertus took a step back from the two specimens on the autopsy tables. “My objective is to send you out of this school with your thoughts organized and your memory capabilities expanded so that you will be more than the equal of any computer.” He gave them a paternal smile. “Is that a goal worthy of your efforts?”

“Yes, sir!” The wave of assent traveled around the theater.

*   *   *

THOUGH THE PHYSICAL
environment around the Mentat School was unpleasant—vast wetlands, swampy canals, and dangerous predators—Gilbertus knew that difficult surroundings honed the most proficient humans. Erasmus had taught him that.

The school complex was a large cluster of interlocked, floating platforms anchored on a huge marsh lake, surrounded by undeveloped, unpopulated land. A warding shield system kept away the bothersome disease-carrying swamp insects, creating a sort of oasis for the Mentat students.

Gilbertus crossed a floating walkway over the swamp, hardly noticing the dark-green water below. He passed a floating sport court and one of the freestanding auditoriums, then entered the administration building on the perimeter of the complex, which held offices for the deans and tenured Mentat professors. The school already had more than two hundred instructors and four thousand students, a remarkable success among the many learning centers that had sprung up after the defeat of the thinking machines. Due to the rigors of Mentat instruction, the failure rate approached thirty-five percent even among the very best candidates who were accepted into the school (not counting the required Butlerian candidates), and only the best of those would advance to become Mentats.

The biosene lamps in Gilbertus’s office emitted a faint but not unpleasant odor. The large room was appointed with a dark koagany floor and rugs woven from the leaves and bark of swamp willows. Very faintly, he heard classical music playing, some of the compositions he and Erasmus had once enjoyed in the robot’s contemplation gardens on Corrin.

Out of nostalgia, he had made his office resemble features of the home of Erasmus on Corrin, with the same plush purple drapes and ornate furniture style. He had to be very careful, but he knew no one would ever make the connection. Gilbertus was the only human alive who remembered the lavish trappings of the independent robot’s private villa.

Bookshelves rose to the high ceiling, built from polished wood that looked ancient; nicks and scrapes had been added during assembly to give the illusion of age. When establishing his school, Gilbertus had wanted to create the impression of a long-standing institution with gravitas. Everything about this office, the building, and the school complex had been laid out with a good deal of thought.

And that is only appropriate,
he mused.
After all, we are Mentats.

The deans and professors developed and improved innovative instructional programs to push the boundaries of the human mind, but the essence of the Mentat curriculum had come from a source known only to Gilbertus—a source that, if revealed, would put the entire school in extreme danger.

BOOK: Sisterhood of Dune
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