The irony of ironies in Muad’dib’s life lay in the duality that his desires represented: he wanted both anonymity—to live as a Fremen—and notoriety—the respect and eventual fealty of what would become his Imperium. This was especially the case during his two years among the Fremen after his family’s betrayal. To get a first-hand glimpse of his true torture was rare almost to the point of impermissibility, but in the first years of his reign, it was to be the work of Virgil Elger to spread the words of Muad’dib before the ships of the jihad even left port. Virgil the man was something of a foil for Muad’dib, providing a mirror with which he could gauge his ambition; he was that rare voice of impartiality in a world where his friends were quickly becoming sycophants and even his mother began to feel her influence slipping away. Muad’dib’s youth on Arrakis was a delicate time, for it was then when he came to realize his potential, even his destiny; it was a thing that he learned to hate and fear, though all his feelings could not change a future set for him by fate. It was then that he learned of the coming jihad, the terror of terrors that he would bring about merely by virtue of his existence.
– from “The Humanity of Muad’dib”
by the Princess Irulan
Traveling by Spacing Guild Heighliner, though very safe and efficient, is by far the most uneventful method of transportation in the galaxy. Loading and unloading can, depending on the cargo manifest, last for hours, while actual travel occurs within the faintest fraction of measurable time. Despite brevity, every voyage brings with it a sudden shock of nausea and the implacable feeling that always accompanies an expanded perspective. It was well beyond Virgil’s comprehension to try and understand the forces which folded space-time itself to bring such an enormous vessel as a Heighliner to its destination instantaneously, so he spent his time instead attempting to subdue his urge to vomit. Thousands of kilometers below him lay Arrakis, the spice planet, with all its mysteries and dangers, yet his task was to avoid them all in order to find one: the one the people called Muad’dib.
The Guild lighter’s flight to down Arrakeen was relatively peaceful, as the larger of the planet’s notoriously destructive storms raged across the uninhabited plains that lay further south. Virgil counted that a blessing, knowing the rest of his time on this world would be considerably less forgiving. After stepping out of the lighter, he stood off to the side of its boarding ramp, bags in hand. He waited for his contact, a man he’d only spoken with a handful of times: a minor noble named Terril Perion.
House Perion was one of the many minor Houses that traded in Arrakeen for either profit or relative seclusion from the rest of the Imperium-usually dealing in stilsuits or spare ornithopter parts-but Perion had a very uncommon specialty that Virgil fully intended to employ: military espionage. If he meant to find Muad’dib, or anyone connected to him, he first had to know exactly what the Harkonnens knew, and more if he could manage it. Perion House kept mostly to itself, or at least hid behind an intricate front of parts and repair, but well-placed questions and a journalist’s instincts had gotten Virgil this far already.
He heard his name called off to the right and turned to find the voice’s source. The man he saw first was tall, well built, with dark hair that looked as if it had been swept back with his hands. Sure enough, the man wore Perion House’s gray panther signet on his chest.
“Terril Perion, I take it?” Virgil set down one of his duffel bags and extended a hand. Terril took it with a charismatic smile.
“It’s good to meet you,” The noble said. “If you’ll follow me to my ground car, I have some questions for you.”
“Well, that must be a coincidence! I have some for you as well. You first.”
“How about we get in the car first, in case there are any unfriendly ears about?”
“Of course,” Virgil replied. Taking up his bag again, he followed Terril through the crowd and over to a waiting ground car. The man indicated for Virgil to seat himself in the back row, then closed the door behind them. Without a word from his master, the driver put them on the path to Perion Manor.
“Right. In your first message from Kaitain, you indicated your desire for coming to Arrakis in the first place.”
“Yes. Why are you asking now?”
“Well, I want to hear it from your own mouth. What are you here for?” Virgil looked Terril straight in the eye.
“I’m here to find Muad’dib.” Terril couldn’t contain a chuckle.
“Right,” he chortled. “Just like everyone else in the known universe. You know what I do for a living: you know that I know how many troops the Harkonnens have spent trying to find him, and if I know anything, it’s that looking for a man like that, if he even exists, is either a grand waste of time or suicide. You want to know the forces you’re dealing with? Our agents in Carthag have tracked steady flights of heavy troop carriers leaving the city for the south—the deep desert—for months now. Guess the ratio of carriers that come back to those that leave. Guess.” Virgil had no idea and told the man so. “Five to one. That’s right. Five carriers leave, one makes it back in one piece. This, my eager friend, is what you’re getting yourself into.” Terril could hardly suppress his worry, but the reporter looked back at him more determined than ever.
“You’ve given me your concerns, and I thank you, but I have to do this. It’s no secret that the Harkonnens have pursued this man at monstrous cost to themselves, and it’s even rumored that the Emperor is assisting with squads of Sardaukar troopers. But the Imperium needs to know who this Muad’dib is, why he’s effective in leading a people commonly viewed as savages, what his endgame is. I believe there is something more to this man, something the Harkonnens and maybe even the Emperor doesn’t want us to know about him. I’m going to find out, and everyone’s going to know about it.” Terril sighed, leaned in close to Virgil.
“I suppose there’s no turning you. I can put you in contact with a Fremen acquaintance of mine who deals stilsuits with some smugglers I know. If anyone can point the way for you, it’s him. I’ll arrange a meeting in one of the Fremen villages on the edge of the deep desert, but I warn you: be careful. If this Muad’dib is as powerful as he’s rumored to be, he’ll be an easy one to cross. Of course, this is good advice with any Fremen. They can be the most loyal men you ever meet, but cross ‘em once and that’ll be your last act. Understand?” Virgil nodded in agreement. “Look, your courage is admirable to say the least, but it’s just about on the line with plain stupidity. What you need first, though, is some rest. And maybe a little spice beer. Couldn’t hurt, right?” The reporter acknowledged that it couldn’t, and the ground car proceeded towards Perion Manor.
Dinner in the Perion family manor was lavish compared to what Virgil was used to, but he still had to consider the burdens placed on this and other Houses Minor here on Arrakis. Under Rabban’s dictatorial fist, nothing escaped the invasion of Harkonnens troopers and intelligence. Rabban may be incompetent on his own, but he knew how to delegate, and the men he set in charge understood their duties and fulfilled them to the letter. Extortion, kidnapping and murder among the Houses Minor of Arrakeen and Carthag was not just common, it was official “unofficial” policy; Terril had believed it at first, but finally knew it after his ten-year-old son, Aaron, was taken in the night and four guards were killed in his defense. It fit perfectly with the tactics employed by the Harkonnens for as long as they had been on Arrakis, or for that matter, since their House began in the first place: they would do anything, as long as it could appear both legal and incredible at the same time.
“You know, Virgil,” Terril said through a mouthful of roast local bird, “that no one can know of our assisting you. Our House is already suspect for its dealings with smugglers and we can’t allow any proof of this to get out.”
“I understand, but if there’s anything I can do to repay you, don’t hesitate to name it. I’m here at the suggestion of my employer, and as such, he is prepared to offer compensation. Trust me, Terril, Rebecca. Just ask.”
“That’s very kind, Virgil,” the Lady Perion replied, “but we can’t risk it. If any money can be tied to us in this way, it would hurt both our family and your employer. You must realize this.” He nodded in acceptance, but resolved to hold himself in this family’s debt, depending on how things went with the Fremen. Still, he trusted that Terril did not intend to play him; if he had, Virgil knew he would not have come this far. The nobleman looked to an old-fashioned clock hanging above the tan dining hall’s tapestries and wiped his mouth with his napkin. He spoke to his wife as he stepped back from the table:
“Excuse me, darling, but I must be going to meet with Jharret now. You remember; the dealer?” It was to Virgil that he spoke next. “I’ll be back from Carthag by tomorrow afternoon, but I’ll have to ask you to stay within our compound for the night. You never know how good security is unless you’ve made it yourself.” He bade the both of them goodbye for the night and called for guards to follow. After a moment, Virgil could hear the thumping flaps of ‘thopter wings outside before they slowly faded into the night sky above.
The rest of the dinner was finished in awkward silence, Virgil not knowing what he could say to Rebecca Perion—other than an expression of his gratitude, of course—without it coming off as intrusive.
He thanked her and wished her goodnight, before heading off to his quarters only to find himself unable to sleep. It must be this foreign place, he determined. I just need to give it some time, that’s all. However, after two hours of fleeting thoughts and tossing in his bed, rest was just as distant as ever. He redressed and left his room, hoping that a walk around the compound would help tire him, if not calm his mind.
It was by one of the large windows overlooking the city and the Shield Wall beyond that he found Rebecca, still awake even at this hour. He acted quickly to shield his nervousness.
“My Lady, I didn’t know you were awake. I hope I haven’t disturbed you…”
“Oh no, not at all,” she said in reassuring tones. “I’m just concerned for my husband. I feel this way often, but increasingly…” Virgil approached her more confidently, looking her in the eyes.
“Your husband is one of the most capable men I’ve ever met. You have no need to be afraid for him; his task is very dangerous, but I have no doubt that he’ll succeed.” She smiled back at him, turning to look out the window at the two moons that hung in the sky above.
“You see them, our moons?” she asked. “The one there, the one with the fist on it: it’s long been the symbol for resistance on this planet, among both the Fremen of the deep desert and city folk like ourselves. I know it seems silly, but it serves as a reminder that we are not alone when we fight oppression. This planet fights with us.”
“And the other moon?”
“The mouse: Muad’dib, so the Fremen call it.” Muad’dib! What other secrets could be hidden so plainly?
“Muad’dib… Why does a resistance leader take his name from such a thing as a mouse? Wouldn’t something like, say, a lion sound more intimidating?”
“The way I understand it, the Fremen hold the desert mouse in great reverence, for it does not just live in the desert, but thrives, in spite of heat, lack of water and of course, the worms. They refer to it as a teacher of boys.” Does this mean that the man Muad’dib is also a teacher? Surely, one among the Fremen would have to do much to live up to a name like that.
“I don’t mean to offend, my Lady,” Virgil asked, “but… Well…”
“Yes?” Rebecca probed.
“Why isn’t your espionage used to bring your House to a more elevated position? You must have something; all that information must bring with it considerable power. Why not use it?” Rebecca did something surprising then: she laughed at him.
“That is a question I’ve asked myself and my husband too many times to count. He has one answer to that, and it is that Perion House does not blackmail, if that’s what you mean. We feel a moral prerogative to help the resistance movement, but to profit personally from our work would be something we’d scarcely be able to repent of. We have no pretensions of wealth; we only wish to make the best of our position to help in what ways we can.”
“Even to use such information against the Harkonnens?” The Lady Perion turned very solemn then.
“We must remember what trump card those swine hold; the trump cards they hold against all the Houses Minor on this world.” Virgil felt pangs of regret for bringing up the subject again, but Rebecca noted this and reached out to hold his hands in hers. “You were absolutely right about my husband, and I’m glad you are his friend. He’ll keep his word to the end of this world or the next. It seems as if he would do so especially if it meant putting his life in jeopardy; he has the mind and hands of a stonecutter with the heart of a Romantic hero.” The reporter had not expected this level of openness at all—nor had he even initially wished it—but what he now understood gave him a respect for these people he had not anticipated. Terril, the hard worker in a social class that prided itself on its ability to avoid work by delegation; Rebecca, the proud but tragic Lady whose very life, it seemed, was both inconsequential and noble.
“Now, friend,” she said as she released his hands, “tomorrow will be very busy, and you’ll need as much rest as you can get for the journey ahead. Goodnight, Virgil. And good luck, for all our sakes.” He returned her well-wishing and began walking back to the dormitories. Once he was out of her sight, he turned again to see her, still gazing up at the moons. Whether she looked to the fist or the mouse, he could not tell.
When he reached his bedroom again, peaceful sleep came instantly.