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Duneworld is like the Empire and life itself: Regardless of what one sees on the surface, a clever investigator can uncover deeper and deeper layers of complexity.
—DR. BRYCE HAYNES,
planetary ecologist assigned to study Duneworld
When the Imperial ship arrived at Catalan’s main spaceport, the high rank and notoriety of the passenger told Jesse Linkam that the news must be important. The Emperor’s representative directed his transmission to the House Linkam "protocol office," demanding to be met with full honors, and without delay.
Jesse politely acknowledged, not revealing who he was or that his household had no need for a formal protocol office. He preferred not to make an issue of his rank and enjoyed spending his free time among the working class. In fact, he had spent that very afternoon fishing on Catalan’s vast and fertile sea, making a sweep for glimmerfish before an expected storm hammered the coast. When the message arrived, he’d been hauling in the sonic nets full of fish, laughing with the rough crewmen who struggled to get over their awe of the nobleman and accept him as one of their own.
Though he was the foremost aristocrat on Catalan, Jesse Linkam didn’t mind getting his hands dirty. Tall and middle-aged, he was a quiet man with hidden strengths. The gray eyes measured, weighed, and counted everything. His classic features bore a rugged cast, thanks to a once-broken nose that gave his face the look of an offbeat metronome.
He was not soft and preoccupied with silly diversions like most of his noble peers on other worlds, who treated leadership like little more than a game of dress-up. Here on the "uncivilized" fringes of the Empire, too much real work needed to be done to bother with fashions and courtly intrigues. Jesse loved the fresh, salty air and considered sweaty clothes a better badge of honor than the finest whisper-lace from the Imperial capital world of Renaissance. How could anyone expect to rule a people well without knowing their daily toil, their joys and concerns?
However, because of his high station, Jesse was required by law to be at the beck and call of the Grand Emperor’s envoy. Returning to his mansion, the Catalan nobleman changed his clothes and scrubbed the fish smell from his hands, while a doting servant spread a perfumed ointment on his chapped knuckles. As a last touch, Jesse pinned badges of office onto his own surcoat. He had no time for further grooming: Counselor Bauers would have to accept him as he was.
Out in front, he joined a hastily organized groundcar entourage already waiting to depart for the spaceport. "I hope this is important," Jesse muttered to his security chief.
"Important to you? Or to the Grand Emperor?" Esmar Tuek sat beside him in the lead vehicle as the motorcade moved with stately haste toward the landed ship. "How often does Emperor Wuda take notice of our little Catalan?" Since they were in private, Jesse allowed the old veteran to use familiar speech with him.
The question was a fair one, and Jesse hoped it would be answered soon enough. Banners fluttering, the groundcars approached the gaudy Imperial ship. The vessel’s ramp was already extended, but no one had emerged, as if waiting for an official reception.
Jesse stepped out of the lead car. In the breeze, his dark hair whipped about like loose strands of sea kelp. He straightened his formal jacket and waited while the honor guard scrambled into position.
No doubt, the impromptu procession would only foster the impression of Catalan being a rude backwater world. On other worlds, noblemen drilled their soldiers in relentless parades and exhibitions. In stark contrast, though Jesse’s volunteers would fight fiercely to defend their homes, they had little interest in twirling batons or marching in lockstep.
On the Imperial spacecraft’s ramp, Counselor Ulla Bauers stepped out. His nose twitched as he sniffed the ocean-mist air, and his forehead wrinkled. The Grand Emperor’s representative—a prissy and ferretlike man with a demeanor of foppish incompetence—wore a voluminous high-collared robe and dandy ornamentation that made his head seem too small.
Jesse knew not to underestimate this man, however. The Counselor’s overemphasis on fashion and trappings might be a mere disguise; Bauers was rumored to be a swift and highly effective assassin. The fact that he had come here did not bode well.
With a flick of his fingers to one eyebrow, the traditional sign of allegiance to the Emperor, Jesse said, "Counselor Bauers, I welcome you to my humble Catalan. Won’t you come and join us?"
The Imperial advisor descended halfway down the ramp with a smooth gait, as if his feet were on wheels. Bauers’s piercing eyes swept the docks, the fishing boats, the weather-hardened shacks, the warehouses, and shops that ringed the harbor. He soaked up droplets of information like a dry sponge. "Hmm-ahh, yes . .. humble indeed, Nobleman Linkam."
The local guardsmen stiffened. Hearing an impolite grumble and a sharp, whispered rebuke from General Tuek, Jesse merely smiled. "We will gladly provide you with our most comfortable rooms, Counselor, and an invitation to this evening’s banquet. My concubine is as skilled at managing our household kitchens as she is at organizing my business affairs."
"I have my own chef aboard this diplomatic craft." Bauers removed an ornately inlaid metal cylinder from one of his billowing sleeves and extended the messagestat like a scepter toward Jesse. "As for this evening, you would be better advised to spend your time packing. I return to Renaissance in the morning, and the Grand Emperor wishes you to accompany me. All the details are contained in this dispatch."
Feeling an icy dread, Jesse accepted the cylinder. Bowing slightly, he forced himself to say, "Thank you, Counselor. I will study it carefully."
"Be here at dawn, Nobleman." Turning with a swirl of his robes, Bauers marched back up the ramp. The dignitary had not even set foot on Catalan, as if afraid it might soil his shoes.
A COLD RAIN stretched into the darkest hours of the night, while clouds masked the canvas of stars. Standing on an open balcony above the sea, Jesse watched raindrops sizzling against the electrostatic weather screen around him. Each sparkle was like a variable star, forming transient constellations just above his head.
For most of an hour, he had been brooding. He picked up the messagestat from where it rested on the balcony rail. When he pulled on each end of the cylinder, mirrors and lenses popped up, and words spooled out in Grand Emperor Wuda’s voice: "His Imperial Majesty requests the immediate presence of Nobleman Jesse Linkam in the Central Palace to hear our decision in the matter of the spice-production dispute over Duneworld in the Arrakis system. As the complainant, and as a duly elected representative of the Nobles’ Council, you are hereby notified that the defendant, Nobleman Hoskanner, has offered a compromise. If you refuse to appear, we shall dismiss your action, and no further arguments will be heard."
Jesse snapped the cylinder shut before the Grand Emperor’s voice could reel off his tedious vocal signature, which included the customary list of titles and responsibilities.
Dorothy Mapes, his beloved concubine and business manager, came up behind him and touched his arm. After serving eleven years at Jesse’s side, she knew how to interpret his moods. "Most nobles would be honored to receive a personal summons from the Grand Emperor. Shouldn’t you give him the benefit of the doubt?"
Jesse turned to her with a quick frown. "It is couched in the best diplomatic language, but I fear this could be the end of us, my darling. Any offer from Valdemar Hoskanner comes with more than strings attached—a noose is more likely."
"Then be cautious. Nevertheless, you know you have to deal with Valdemar. You’ve been drawn into this dispute, and the other nobles are counting on you."
He gave her a wan, loving smile. She had short, dark hair interspersed with lighter peppery flecks. Set in an oval, attractive face, her large rusty brown eyes were the color of the polished myrtle wood found in the headlands. For a moment, he stared at the unusual diagem ring she wore on her right hand—his nobleman’s pledge of love to her. Though a commoner, Dorothy was not at all common.
"For years, Dor, you’ve been my inspiration, my guiding light, and my closest advisor. You’ve turned our family’s finances around, repairing most of the damage my father and brother did before their deaths. But I’m not so sure about Duneworld . . ." He shook his head.
The petite woman looked up at him. "See if this helps clarify your thinking." She placed a pinch of the spice melange on his lips. "From Duneworld. It’s what this is all about."
He savored the cinnamon flavor, felt the pleasurable rush of the drug. It seemed everyone was using it these days. Shortly after the discovery of the substance on the inhospitable world, the Emperor’s survey crews had installed forward bases and mapped the desert, laying the groundwork for exploitation of the spice. Since then, melange had become an extremely popular commodity.
In a commercial coup that left many suspecting bribery or blackmail, House Hoskanner had been granted a monopoly on Duneworld operations. Ever since, Hoskanner crews had worked the hostile dunes, harvesting and selling spice at huge profits, from which the Grand Emperor took an extravagant percentage. Imperial penal planets provided an army of sand-miners as veritable slave labor.
At first the other noble families, preoccupied with court follies, didn’t notice the preferential deal the Hoskanners received. Jesse was one of the few who had called attention to the imbalance, and finally, eyeing the wealth reaped by the wily Hoskanners, the other nobles agitated for a piece of the action. They shouted in the Imperial Assembly, issued charges, and finally appointed the no-nonsense Jesse Linkam as their spokesman to deliver a formal complaint.
"The nobles didn’t select me because of my abilities, Dor, but because they hold nostalgic memories of my foolish father and Hugo, my inept brother." He glared at the messagestat cylinder, sorely tempted to fling it off the balcony into the waters that churned far below.
"Jesse, your father and brother may have been bad businessmen, but they did earn considerable goodwill with the other nobles."
He frowned. "By playing games at the Renaissance court."
"Take advantage of that, my love, and turn it to our own profit."
"Little enough profit will come of this."
After his older brother’s pointless death in the bullring, Jesse had become the leader of House Linkam before his twentieth birthday. Soon afterward, his concubine discovered the muddled mess of Catalan’s finances and industries.
After meeting with the Nobles’ Council, Jesse soon learned that few of the modern nobles, having inherited their holdings, were good leaders or competent businessmen. Once vastly wealthy and powerful, but now sliding into decadence, many families groaned inexorably toward bankruptcy, most without even realizing it.
With extravagant festivals and poorly financed construction projects, Jesse’s father and brother had brought House Linkam to the brink of ruin. But in recent years Dorothy’s careful management and austerity measures, along with his own rallying of the people to increase productivity, had begun to turn the tide.
He gazed out into the rain-swept night, then sighed with resignation. "It always rains here. Our house is forever dank, no matter how many shields or heaters we install. This year the kelp harvest is down, and the fishermen have not caught enough for export." He paused. "Even so, this is my home and the home of my ancestors. I have no interest in other places, not even Duneworld."
Dorothy eased closer and slipped an arm around Jesse’s waist. "I wish you could take Barri along. Every noble son should see Renaissance at least once."
"Not this time. Too dangerous." Jesse adored their eight-year-old boy, proud of the way Barri had matured under the careful the roadtodune 15 tutelage of his mother as well as the old household doctor, Cullington Yueh. Barri was learning to be a good businessman and a good leader, too—traits that would serve him well in these days of fadingImperial grandeur. EverythingJesse did was for the future, for Barri and the advancement of House Linkam. Even his love for his concubine had to be second to that.
"I’ll make this trip, Dor," Jesse said, "but I don’t have a good feeling about it."
Excerpted from The Road to Dune by Frank Herbert , Brian Herbert , and Kevin J. Anderson.
Copyright 2005, 2006 by Herbert Properties, LLC.
Published in September 2006 by Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.