Also available in audio
Also available in audio
Also available in audio
ExcerptThe axis of spin for the planet Arrakis is at right angles to the radius of its orbit. The world itself is not a globe, but more a spinning top somewhat fat at the equator and concave toward the poles. There is a sense that this may be artificial, the product of some ancient artifice.
— Report of the Third Imperial Commission on Arrakis
Under the light of two moons in a dusty sky, the Fremen raiders flitted across the desert rocks. They blended into the rugged surroundings as if cut from the same cloth, harsh men in a harsh environment.
Death to Harkonnens. All members of the armed razzia squad had sworn the same vow.
In the quiet hours before dawn, Stilgar, their tall and black-bearded leader, stalked catlike ahead of a score of his best fighters. We must move as shadows in the night. Shadows with hidden knives.
Lifting a hand, he commanded the silent squad to halt. Stilgar listened to the pulse of the desert, his ears probing the darkness. His blue-within-blue eyes scanned towering rock escarpments profiled against the sky like giant sentinels. As the pair of moons moved across the heavens, patches of darkness shifted moment by moment, living extensions of the mountain face.
The men picked their way up a rock buttress, using dark-adapted eyes to follow a steep, tool-hewn trail. The terrain seemed hauntingly familiar, though Stilgar had never been here before. His father had described the way, the route their ancestors had taken into Hadith Sietch, once the greatest of all hidden settlements, abandoned long ago.
“Hadith” — a word taken from an old Fremen song about the patterns of survival in the desert. Like many living Fremen, he carried the story etched into his psyche ... a tale of betrayal and civil conflict during the first generations of the wandering Zensunni here on Dune. Legend held that all meanings originated here, in this holy sietch.
Now, though, the Harkonnens have desecrated our ancient place.
Every man in Stilgar’s commando squad felt revulsion at such sacrilege. Back in Red Wall Sietch, a flat stone held tally marks of all the enemies these Fremen had slain, and tonight more enemy blood would be shed.
The column followed Stilgar as he picked up the pace down the rocky trail. It would be dawn soon, and they still had much killing to do.
Here, far from prying Imperial eyes, Baron Harkonnen had been using the empty caves of Sietch Hadith to conceal one of his illegal spice hoards. The embezzled stockpile of valuable melange appeared on no inventory sheet ever submitted to the Emperor. Shaddam suspected nothing of the ruse. But the Harkonnens could not hide such activities from the eyes of the desert people.
In the squalid village of Bar Es Rashid at the base of the ridge, the Harkonnens had a listening post and guards up in the cliffs. Such minor defenses presented no obstacle to the Fremen, who long ago had built numerous shafts and entrances into the mountain grottoes. Secret ways...
Stilgar found a split in the trail and followed the faint path, searching for the hidden opening into Sietch Hadith. In low light he saw a patch of darkness beneath an overhang. Dropping to all fours, he reached into the darkness and located the expected opening, cool and moist, without a doorseal. Wasteful.
No bright light, no sign of guards. Crawling inside the hole, he stretched a leg down and located a rough ledge, where he rested his boot. With his other foot he found a second ledge, and below that another. Steps going down. Ahead, he discerned low yellow light where the tunnel sloped to the right. Stilgar backed up and raised a hand, summoning the others to follow.
On the floor at the base of the rough steps he noticed an old serving bowl. Tugging off his nose plugs, he smelled raw meat. Bait for small predators? An animal trap? He froze, looking for sensors. Had he already tripped a silent alarm? He heard footsteps ahead, and a drunken voice. “Got another one. Let’s blow it to kulon-hell.”
Stilgar and two Fremen darted into a side tunnel and drew their milky crysknives. Maula pistols would be far too noisy in these enclosed spaces. When a pair of Harkonnen guards blundered past them, reeking of spice beer, Stilgar and his comrade Turok leaped out and grabbed them from behind.
Before the hapless men could cry out, the Fremen slit their throats, then slapped spongepads over the wounds to absorb the precious blood. In an efficient blur of motion, Fremen removed hand weapons from the still-twitching guards. Stilgar seized a lasrifle for himself and passed one to Turok.
Dim military glowglobes floated in ceiling recesses, casting low light. The razzia band continued down the passageway, toward the heart of the ancient sietch. When the passage skirted a conveyor system used for the transportation of materials in and out of the secret chamber, he detected the cinnamon odor of melange, which grew stronger as the group went deeper. Here, the ceiling glowglobes were tuned to pale orange instead of yellow.
Stilgar’s troop murmured at the sight of human skulls and rotting bodies, propped against the sides of the corridor, carelessly displayed trophies. Rage suffused him. These might have been Fremen prisoners or villagers, taken by the Harkonnens for sport. At his side, Turok glanced around, searching for another enemy he might kill.
Cautiously, Stilgar led the way forward and began to hear voices and clanging noises. They came to an alcove rimmed with a low stone railing that overlooked an underground grotto. Stilgar imagined the thousands of desert people who must have thronged into this vast cavern long ago, before the Harkonnens, before the Emperor ... before the spice melange had become the most valuable substance in the universe.
At the center of the grotto rose an octagonal structure, dark blue and silver, surrounded by ramps. Smaller matching structures were arranged around it. One was under construction; plasmetal parts lay strewn about, with seven laborers hard at work.
Slipping back into shadows, the raiders crept down shallow stairs to the grotto floor. Turok and the other Fremen, each man holding his confiscated weapons, took positions in different alcoves overlooking the grotto. Three raiders raced up the ramp that encircled the largest octagonal structure. At the top, the Fremen vanished from view, then reappeared and made rapid hand signals to Stilgar. Six guards had already been killed without making a sound, dispatched in deadly crysknife silence.
Now the time for stealth had ended. On the rock floor, a pair of commandos pointed their maula pistols at the surprised construction workers and ordered them up the stairs. The sunken-eyed laborers complied grudgingly, as if they didn’t care which masters held them captive.
The Fremen searched connecting passageways and found an underground barracks with two dozen guards asleep among bottles of spice beer scattered on the floor. A strong odor of melange permeated the large common room.
Scoffing, the Fremen charged in, slashing with knives, kicking and punching, dealing out pain but no fatal wounds. The groggy Harkonnens were disarmed and herded to the central grotto.
His blood running hot, Stilgar scowled at the slouching, half-drunken men. One always hopes for an honorable enemy. But we have found none tonight. Even here, in the highly secure grotto, these men had been sampling the spice they were supposed to guard — probably without the Baron’s knowledge.
“I want to torture them to death right now.” Turok’s eyes were dark under the ruddy glowglobe light. “Slowly. You saw what they did to their captives.”
Stilgar stopped him. “Save that for later. Instead, we shall put them to work.”
Stilgar paced back and forth in front of the Harkonnen captives, scratching his dark beard. The stink of their fear-sweat began to overpower the melange odor. In a low, measured tone, he used a threat their leader Liet-Kynes had suggested. “This spice stockpile is illegal, in explicit violation of Imperial orders. All melange on the premises will be confiscated and reported to Kaitain.”
Liet, as the recently appointed Imperial Planetologist, had gone to Kaitain to request a meeting with the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV. It was a long journey across the galaxy to the Imperial Palace, and a simple desert dweller like Stilgar could scarcely comprehend such distances.
“Says a Fremen?” sneered the half-drunk guard captain, a small man with quivering jowls and a high forehead.
“Says the Emperor. We take possession of it in his name.” Stilgar’s indigo eyes bored into him. The red-faced captain didn’t even have enough sense to be frightened. Apparently, he had not heard what Fremen did to their captives. He would find out soon enough.
“Get to work unloading the silos!” Turok barked, standing with the rescued workers. Those prisoners who weren’t too exhausted to notice seemed amused to see the Harkonnens jump. “We’ll have our own ’thopters here soon to pick up the spice.”
As the rising sun blistered the desert, Stilgar hovered on the tense edge of anxiety. The Harkonnen captives worked, hour after hour. This raid was taking a long time, yet they had so much to gain.
While Turok and his companions kept their weapons ready, surly Harkonnen guards loaded packages of melange onto rattling conveyor belts that led to openings on the cliff faces near ’thopter landing pads. Outside, the Fremen raiders hauled away enough treasure to ransom a world.
What could the Baron possibly want with such wealth?
At noon, precisely on schedule, Stilgar heard explosions from the village of Bar Es Rashid at the base of the ridge — the second Fremen razzia squad attacking the Harkonnen guard post in a well-coordinated assault.
Four unmarked ornithopters circled the rock buttress gracefully, flapping their mechanical wings until Stilgar’s men guided them onto the landing slabs. Freed construction workers and the Fremen commandos loaded the craft with the packaged, twice-stolen melange.
It was time for the operation to end.
Stilgar lined the Harkonnen guards along a sheer dropoff over the dusty huts of Bar Es Rashid far below. After hours of hard work and brewing fear, the jowly Harkonnen captain was fully sober now, his hair sweaty and eyes haunted. Standing before him, Stilgar studied the man with utter contempt.
Without a word, he drew his crysknife and slit the man up the middle, from pubic bone to sternum. The captain gasped in disbelief as his blood and entrails spilled out into the sun.
“Waste of moisture,” Turok muttered beside him.
Several panicked Harkonnen prisoners tried to break away, but the Fremen fell upon them, hurling some over the cliff and stabbing others with sharp blades. Those who stood their ground were dispatched quickly and painlessly. The Fremen took much longer with the cowards.
The sunken-eyed construction workers were ordered to load bodies into the ornithopters, even the decaying corpses found in the passageways. Back at Red Wall Sietch, Stilgar’s people would render the bodies in a deathstill, extracting every drop of water for the benefit of the tribe. Desecrated Hadith would be left empty again, a ghost sietch.
A warning to the Baron.
One by one the loaded ’thopters rose like dark birds into the clear sky, while Stilgar’s men trotted beneath the hot sun of afternoon, their mission complete.
As soon as Baron Harkonnen discovered the loss of his spice hoard and the murder of his guards, he would retaliate against Bar Es Rashid, even though those poor villagers had had nothing to do with the raid. His mouth set in a grim line, Stilgar decided to move the entire population to the safety of a distant sietch.
There, along with the captive construction workers, they would be turned into Fremen, or killed if they did not cooperate. Considering their squalid lives in Bar Es Rashid, Stilgar felt he was doing them a favor.
When Liet-Kynes returned from his meeting with the Emperor on Kaitain, he would be very pleased with what the Fremen had accomplished.