Chapter Two

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In the first years of my life, I was never an agent unto myself. To the Bene Gesserit, I was the final means to the ultimate end, the Kwisatz Haderach. To the Fremen, I was their Mahdi, the savior, the Voice from the Other World. I couldn’t even escape from myself, and here is the true nature of prescience: my father taught that to see a trap and engage it regardless allows one to escape. But to see the traps beyond the traps beyond the traps… This offers no freedom, only a knowledge of your infinite inability to escape.

– from “Private Reflections of Muad’dib”
by the Princess Irulan

Terril returned very early the next morning, long before Virgil woke up; the Arrakeen sun had been long in the sky when Virgil left his quarters for breakfast. When the reporter arrived in the dining hall, though, Terril had gone again, presumably into the city to conduct more of his business as usual. When he would return, Virgil could only guess. He had not slept much the night before, but where he should have been tired, he felt refreshed. Perhaps something about his conversation with Rebecca the night before. One thing he was sure of was that there was more to House Perion than he had initially supposed. In a position where most—himself included—would have been inconsolable or even resigned to ostensible fate, they were resilient.

The dilemmas they faced without even betraying the tortuous choices that went along with them! Terril likely had the right information to ruin the Harkonnens and all their toadies, but he restrained himself for his and his associates’ protection, all without even showing the strain. The Perion existence was so complicated in its external simplicity that Virgil almost wanted to scream for them, even cry, despite his better knowledge that such a thing would be futile. They were not even willing to accept compensation for the immense trouble they were already going to for his sake; their fear was not for themselves, but for their son and their anonymous friends in the resistance movement. They’re just too virtuous for their own good, Virgil decided. As if virtue could ever be vice.

Breakfast was local fare: eggs, most likely from the bird he had eaten the previous night, hearty bread and lightly spiced coffee. The spice in his coffee concerned him, but the servant who had brought his meal assured him that there was only enough spice to impart the aroma without any of the side effects. Its faint cinnamon smell perked his mind and senses without even needing the coffee’s caffeine. Melange was a stimulant, among other things; much more dangerous things indeed. He was thankful that there was only a trace here, not enough to bring on addiction. The coffee tasted richer, more exotic than he had anticipated, and in ways that evaded explanation, even for a reporter; too many flavors swirled in his brain for him to pin down a specific taste, a specific emotion. It must be the nature of this whole world, he mused. The side presented is barely a fraction of the whole. The people, the spice… So much is interconnected here, yet all of it is so seemingly random in its coordination!

The afternoon lay ahead of him. Terril would be back for dinner, but the intervening time would be his. He had considered lounging around the manor all day-after all, it was rare for him to have this kind of luxury at his disposal-but decided against it; his duties here were larger than the conveniences in Perion Manor. The market, or souk as he’d heard it called, would be a good place to start, perhaps followed by a pub or two. Calling for a House servant, he arranged a ground car to take him to the market. Even for nobles who could afford to expend the moisture in their breath, going out without a stilsuit was unwise. One could easily come down with heat exhaustion just from walking the streets, and the water sellers were known for inflating their prices when dealing with nobility just as much as with commoners, if not more so with the Houses Minor. Only the Harkonnens had no need to worry about water prices; under Rabban, even the most meager of water peddlers was lucky if they were not paying the Harkonnens for the privilege of giving their goods away.

His ground car was ready. A short ride would take him to the beginning of his investigation, wherever that might lead him.

***

The afternoon hadn’t been as productive as Virgil had hoped, but he’d had worse days. Lips in the stalls of Arrakeen’s souk were as tight as the water seals across all their doors. No wonder the Harkonnens’ methods are harsh, he thought sardonically. Getting anything from these people is like trying to squeeze water out of sand. Once location after location had proved fruitless, he settled for a pub across from the main cluster of date stalls. Still careful to avoid too much spice intake, a glass of local palm wine would have to do; the taste was unfamiliar and biting, but after hours of rejection, he wasn’t so much interested in smoothness as he was potency.
Some shouting could be heard outside. Pushing himself away from the bar, he peeked outside to see a trio of Harkonnen troopers arguing with a hooded man. Across the street, more Harkonnens looked on from a large ground car, jeering the Fremen who huddled in the middle of the road.

“Stand aside unless you want a lasgun beam through your chest!” yelled one from the ground car.

“Yeah, get out of the way!” shouted another. One of the troopers nearest him couldn’t wait any longer; lashing out with his right boot, he kicked at the man.
The Fremen wasn’t there. Bringing his entire body around in a blinding arc, he plunged a glinting crysknife into the trooper’s throat. With hardly a gurgle, the Harkonnen collapsed as the Fremen’s blade sought another victim. Within seconds, two men lay the Fremen’s whirling feet as the third hurried back to the safety of his fellows.

Virgil was astounded by the Fremen’s speed. He had heard stories about their skill with the knives that had become their most well-known symbol, but seeing it here was like witnessing a dance that existed only in dreams. He wondered if even Ginaz could match such a combination of ferocity and precision. In the same moment that he positioned himself to get a better view of the deadly confrontation, a Harkonnen trooper back on the ground car could be seen steadying a lasgun on the Fremen. The man never had a chance to fire.

Turning not to face the soldiers but the fleeing vendors and shoppers of the souk, the Fremen pulled open his robes to reveal a vest sewed full of explosives. Virgil scarcely had time to duck behind a wall before the man let out his final cry:

“Ya hya chouhada!”

The blast was so loud that Virgil felt it more than heard it, as his ears were filled with a high-pitched whine that sounded muffled as if through layers of cloth. Sand whipped past him in the aftermath, knocking him over and blanketing all he could see in rushing drifts of dust that cut at his face. He pushed himself up on an elbow and wiped his eyes, finally getting a chance to survey the scene: wood and adobe littered the souk, mixed with the occasional chunk of flesh. Stumbling through the rubble, he could hear the groans of the dying all around him. An old woman, eyes so blue as to look like pits, clutched at him desperately but he staggered on in a daze. Her pleading words were unintelligible; undoubtedly Fremen by their rapid, guttural tone. The scene of violence in which he found himself washed over him for a moment before a firm hand grabbed his arm from behind. Virgil’s blank gaze met that of his driver, and he was pulled away from the shattered stalls and back towards the Perion ground car.

***

Terrill’s face was grave.

“The situation’s changed,” he said. “The Harkonnens will increase their patrols following the attack and off-worlders like you will be the first under lockdown.”

“But it was clearly a Fremen behind it. He wore desert clothing.”

“That may be, but it won’t save you from the Harkonnens. They knew you’re here, perhaps even why. Tying you to the Fremen will not be a hard task. Once they do, it won’t matter anymore who sent you or why, only that you were here to find Muad’dib and one of his men happened to blow himself up in front of you. That’s why we have to move you ahead of schedule.”

“You mean to do it tonight? So you can put me in contact with Muad’dib after all.”

“Not me personally, no, but I know one who can. There’s only one problem.”

“If it’s money, my employers can provide.”

“Not that. These deep desert Fremen couldn’t care for all the money in the Imperium. No, it’s a problem of trust.”

“The Fremen suspiciousness I’ve heard so much about? Well, I have others who can vouch for me.”

“You don’t get it, do you? I trust him and he trusts me; the only problem is whether or not you can trust him. Sending anyone to Muad’dib is not something done lightly, and do not expect him to treat you more carefully just because you’re an off-worlder. If anything, I should expect worse, Fremen pride being what it is. They can’t tolerate an outsider adapting to their ways unless he has proved himself, which you have not. Just remember: they can be either your greatest friend or your worst enemy, and nothing in between. Once I bring you to my friend, you stay alive only at his pleasure.”

“And who is your friend?” Virgil grinned. “He sounds absolutely charming.”

“Hamzah, and yes, he is charming. After all the favors I’ve done for him, he’d da—- well be charming. Now if we’re to have you out to Chinbar sietch by morning,” Terril said, “we’ll need to leave soon. Even by light ‘thopter, it’s a long flight over the pole.” He excused himself from the table, turning to walk with one of his house servants. The reporter was already packed. “Come on; let’s get you fitted with a stilsuit.”

“Oh, but I already have one. It’s in my bag,” he said, retrieving the folded garment from a box in his duffel. Terril turned around sharply.

“Two questions, friend. One, how did you get a suit already? And two, if you do have one, did you expect to only put it on once you got to the outpost?” Virgil reached into the largest of his bags and removed a gray stilsuit folded into a sand-beige cloak.

“Well, there were vendors in the spaceport on Kaitain. They were selling them to anyone going to Arrakis. I mean, they weren’t cheap, but they looked good enough…” The nobleman grabbed the clothing out of Virgil’s hand to examine it, then tossed it aside dismissively.

“Garbage, that’s what it is. Looking at the poor quality of the stitching, it’s a wonder it held up when you folded it into your bag! If you want to survive for any length of time out in the open desert, you need a Fremen suit, not one of these tourist get-ups they sell in a spaceport.” He called to a servant to bring over several stilsuits of varying sizes for Virgil to try. When they came, they appeared no different than the one Terril had thrown on the ground, but to the nobleman the difference was apparent.

“Looks better, doesn’t it? Tighter stitching? Slicker water tubes? It’s the differences in buying Fremen-made that’ll save your skin when you’re out on the sand. Test this one and I’ll help you adjust it.” The suit indicated was medium-sized, looking no roomier than a sack, but Virgil did as instructed. Now wearing only a pair of tight-fitting shorts, he climbed into the suit and was hit immediately with the noxious stench of a latrine. Terril showed his acknowledgment of Virgil’s reaction with a hearty laugh.

“There’s another good sign when picking a stilsuit: if it smells like it’s been used a lot, you know it’s saved a lot of men. I can’t say you get used to the smell, only that you’ll come to ignore it.” Under Terril’s careful guidance, Virgil cinched the pump over his chest to ensure efficient circulatory pressure, adjusted a number of hoses and catch-pockets and fitted his boots to maximize pumping in his soles. After several minutes of tightening and loosening, he was ready. A House servant led the way to their ornithopter behind the Manor, and within seconds of everything being loaded, the craft began its ascent.

It was dusk when the ‘thopter and its crew started into its wide circle over Arrakeen, readying for the long flight over the pole to opposite side of the Shield Wall. The yellow lights of clustered hovels blended together into a sea as the sun’s final rays splayed over and between the mountains of the Shield Wall like an illuminated flood. Beyond the craggy peaks, Virgil thought he could see burgeoning yellow clouds, though he knew this to be illusion. No clouds on Arrakis, he reminded himself. Only sand. Yet for the lack of moisture and plant life, the place had a beauty to itself that was altogether alien. Despite the many reports on the planet stating that life between the 60th parallels was impossible, Virgil knew that nothing here could be so clear-cut. A place such as Dune must be of some worth, if not for the spice. No place could be so barren, and yet have the same potential for astounding beauty, as Arrakis.

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