Mentats of Dune (Excerpt)



Check out Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson’s Mentats of Dune, available March 11th from Tor Books!

Gilbertus Albans has founded the Mentat School, a place where humans can learn the efficient techniques of thinking machines. But Gilbertus walks an uneasy line between his own convictions and compromises in order to survive the Butlerian fanatics, led by the madman Manford Torondo and his Swordmaster Anari Idaho.

Mother Superior Raquella attempts to rebuild her Sisterhood School on Wallach IX, with her most talented and ambitious student, Valya Harkonnen, who also has another goal—to exact revenge on Vorian Atreides, the legendary hero of the Jihad, whom she blames for her family’s downfall.

Meanwhile, Josef Venport conducts his own war against the Butlerians. VenHold Spacing Fleet controls nearly all commerce thanks to the superior mutated Navigators that Venport has created, and he places a ruthless embargo on any planet that accepts Manford Torondo’s anti-technology pledge, hoping to starve them into submission. But fanatics rarely surrender easily…

The mind of man is holy, but the heart of man is corrupt.

—Manford Torondo, Lampadas rallies

With his planet isolated by the strict VenHold embargo, Manford Torondo’s determination only grew harder. He had no doubts, and he made certain his Butlerian followers had no doubts either. As their leader, Manford had to provide clear guidance, without exceptions, without room for deviation. And as his followers, they were obligated to listen to him.

Sometimes, however, he had to remind them. A dramatic, clear-cut example could influence millions of people.

In the predawn darkness, Manford rode on the sturdy shoulders of Anari Idaho, the strongest and most loyal of his Swordmasters. Anari was his body, his muscles, his strength, and his sword. After he’d lost his legs in a fanatic’s explosion at an early antitechnology rally, and the visionary Rayna Butler had died in his arms, Manford had taken his mentor’s place with equal fervor. Not letting his handicap limit him, he embraced the phrase “half a man, twice the leader.”

What remained of his body fit into a specially made harness on Anari’s shoulders, but although the Swordmaster carried him, she was no beast of burden. Anari had known him for so long, loving him in her perfect devoted way, that the two of them operated as one unit. Often she sensed Manford’s thoughts, and responded to his needs before he even spoke. He only had to believe he wanted to go in a certain direction, and Anari would head there.

When he conducted business in his offices, Manford sat in a special raised chair that made him look imposing. Whenever he appeared at rallies, he chose volunteer followers to transport him on a palanquin. And when he went into battle, Anari always carried him.

His Butlerian strike force had left the main city at dusk the night before, traveling by flatbed vehicles down the river road, then farther inland to a small village. Dove’s Haven was worthy of attention now only because of what Manford’s spies had reported.

His group—thirteen Swordmasters, plus another hundred followers ready to fight to the death—would be more than sufficient to teach the necessary lesson, even if the whole town resisted. Also accompanying them was a potential offworld business associate, Rolli Escon, the head of the shipping company EsconTran. Today, Directeur Escon would observe and learn.

As they approached Dove’s Haven, Manford instructed the Butlerian followers to remain behind, while the Swordmasters took the lead. Ahead, Manford could see the dark, sleeping village. His spies had already identified which dwellings were occupied by the town’s three leaders. Those would be the first targets.

Visibly uncomfortable, Rolli Escon walked alongside Anari Idaho. The offworld businessman glanced up so he could speak with Manford as they closed in on the unsuspecting town. “Leader Torondo, should we conclude our business agreement before you proceed? You’re a busy man, and I can begin the necessary administrative work elsewhere.”

Escon had come to Lampadas with a business proposition for Manford. His space-shipping company was small by the standards of the VenHold Spacing Fleet and not managed as efficiently, but at least his vessels did not use illegal computers or mutated monstrosities, as Josef Venport’s ships surely did.

From his perch, Manford looked down at Escon. “What administrative work?”

“It’ll be a challenge to reroute my cargo ships to where they can best serve the Butlerian cause. I am anxious to help the planets suffering most because of the VenHold embargo—especially Lampadas.”

Manford frowned at the man, displeased with his impatience. “Lampadas is fine. My strongest, most devoted followers live here near me, and we don’t need pampering and conveniences. The devil Venport will never understand that deprivation makes us stronger.”

Escon bowed his head, embarrassed. “You’re right, sir.”

Manford continued, “Others are not as strong, alas. The temptation of imaginary needs distracts them from their faith. So, for their own good, I must remove that distraction. I’ll need your ships to deliver what my followers truly need, and we will spit in the face of the VenHold embargo.”

“My ships are yours, Leader Torondo.” Escon gave a curt bow. “I am pleased to serve the Butlerian cause.”

Manford could feel that Anari was eager to begin the attack on Dove’s Haven, but she would never speak out of turn with others present. Anari only expressed her real opinions when they were alone, often as she massaged his aching shoulders, rubbed oils into his skin, or helped him into the bath. Although she could speak her mind there, he couldn’t recall her ever disagreeing with him unless it concerned his personal safety—in that, she was inflexible.

Now, she merely muttered, “The mind of man is holy.” The nearby Swordmasters repeated the words in a low murmur.

Manford straightened in the harness. “I accept your generous donation to our movement, Directeur Escon. The ships and fuel are most welcome.”

The shipping magnate shuffled his feet, and Manford realized that he had not intended to donate all expenses. Even so, the Butlerian leader didn’t retract his acceptance of the offer.

His gathered soldiers were restless in the cool darkness, holding cudgels, knives, and spears. Manford had not forbidden them from carrying projectile firearms, but this group wouldn’t need such weapons against the people of Dove’s Haven. Dawn would break soon, and they had to move forward.

Yet Escon continued the conversation. “But… how many of my ships will be necessary, sir? I understood you already had vessels of your own, decommissioned ships from the Army of the Jihad—gifts to you from Emperor Salvador Corrino?”

“Those are a hundred and forty warships, Directeur, and I require them for military matters, not to haul cargo or pilgrims. I keep only four here at Lampadas. The others have been dispersed as a show of strength to support planets that have taken my pledge. They serve as necessary reminders.”

Escon cleared his throat and gathered his courage. “If I may, Leader Torondo—perhaps you would allow a special surcharge on every flight conducted for the worthy Butlerian cause? That would offset costs enough to maintain my ships and expand routes to support your holy work. Even better, if you were to publicly endorse EsconTran over my competitors, who might be secretly corrupted by the technology-lovers…”

Anari shifted from one foot to the other, showing that she was weary of standing there.

Manford’s brow furrowed as he considered the idea. “And what of your company’s safety record, Directeur? There have been reports of tragic accidents in your fleet, ships gone missing due to navigational errors.”

Escon was too quickly dismissive. “We dare not use thinking machines, Leader Torondo, and so we do our best. Space travel has never been perfectly safe—nothing is. A rider can be killed on a horse, too.” He let out an awkward chuckle. “As a percentage of total space flights, our losses are minuscule.”

“What are the figures, exactly?”

“I… I would have to review the data.” Escon brightened as an idea occurred to him. “By endorsing my company, you would demonstrate to all that God is on our side. Surely that alone will improve our safety record.”

Manford could not argue with that. “Very well, the bargain is struck, and that concludes our business. I have other obligations here and now.” He faced forward and rested a hand lovingly on Anari Idaho’s close-cropped brown hair. “And once we finish this distasteful business at Dove’s Haven, we can be back to our normal work.”

Dawn light seeped like a bloodstain into the sky. Manford’s followers were charged with adrenaline, the drug of righteousness. Directeur Escon seemed anxious to leave, but hung back awkwardly, not wanting to offend.

A man in dark brown robes stepped up to Manford, ignoring the businessman. “Our first group has moved into the settlement, Leader Torondo. One of our fighters is stationed at the town bell, ready to awaken them all to bear witness.”

“Thank you, Deacon Harian.”

Manford’s grim and stony majordomo was a walking icon of implacability as well as an embodiment of Butlerian ideals. Harian’s grandparents had survived machine enslavement on the planet Corrin, and were among the many desperate refugees rescued from the Bridge of Hrethgir during the legendary final battle against Omnius.

While Manford often prayed to small iconic paintings of the beautiful Rayna Butler, Deacon Harian preferred to immerse himself in historical records of Corrin, images taken during the hectic off-loading of the human hostages used as shields by the thinking machines—until the great war hero Vorian Atreides called Omnius’s bluff. The defeat of the machine worlds was worth any amount of human blood, innocent or otherwise.…

Though Harian had no personal experience with thinking machines, his hatred of them was fundamental to his being. As a child, he had heard horrific stories from his grandparents and felt he was destined to join the Butlerian movement. He shaved his head and eyebrows in an imitation of beloved Rayna Butler, who had lost her hair during one of the Omnius-inflicted plagues.

Harian reported now, “We are ready to attack those who have defied you, Leader Torondo.”

Manford nodded. “Remember, this is not an attack, not a punishment.” He shifted position in his harness. “It is a lesson.”

As the light of dawn began to break, Anari Idaho raised her sword, an action mirrored by her fellow Swordmasters. No longer needing to be silent, the hundred Butlerian followers let out a roar. Manford said, “Lead us, Anari.” She strode into the town, carrying him on her shoulders.

The ruckus brought a few sleepy villagers out into the streets, where they stared at the oncoming throng. When they recognized the legless leader, a flicker of relief crossed their expressions—only to be replaced with fear.

Harian’s designate rang the town’s bell. The front line of Swordmasters marched into the village square in precise ranks, while the unrestrained Butlerians surged forward, shouting and pounding on doors, waking everyone. Uneasy people came out, muttering, some sobbing.

Anari reached the First Mayor’s home and hammered on the door with the pommel of her sword, but didn’t wait for an answer. Balancing Manford in the harness as if he were an oversize child, she administered a ferocious kick that smashed the lock. As she shoved the door open, her fellow Swordmasters broke into the homes of the other two leaders and dragged the triumvirate outside.

The three half-awake men wore nightclothes, stumbling forward and struggling to put on shirts, but their eyes widened as they grasped their predicament. High on Anari’s shoulders, Manford sat like a judge at his bench, pronouncing sentence.

Two of the town mayors babbled excuses, while the third remained grimly silent. The silent one understood full well what he had done wrong, and knew that his actions could not be excused.

Manford spoke in a gentle voice. “There is no need to fear. All of you are about to witness the swift glory of righteousness. The holy martyrs Saint Serena and Manion the Innocent are with us today.”

“What is all this about, Leader Torondo?” asked one of the mayors.

Manford just frowned. “My warships in orbit keep watch to protect the innocence of all loyal followers. We have detected small VenHold ships in this area, apparently spies or black-market supply runners. Dove’s Haven has purchased commodities from humanity’s greatest enemy.”

“No, sir!” cried the talkative, whimpering town leader. His voice was almost a squeal.

“People in this village have let themselves become addicted to spice, and their addiction is apparently stronger than their faith.”

Several townspeople moaned. Deacon Harian emerged from the First Mayor’s home, while Butlerians ransacked the other two. The grim majordomo flaunted an unmarked package he had found. He tore it open and poured fragrant cinnamoncolored powder on the ground.

“As the mayoral triumvirate of this town, you three are responsible for your people, duty-bound to prevent them from straying. But you have not done so. As leader of the Butlerians, I must accept the blame for my followers who make the wrong choices—and no punishment can be as great as the heartache I feel. For you three, the punishment will be clear and swift.”

The Swordmasters moved forward. Anari raised her own blade, and Manford whispered to her, “The silent one deserves our respect, so grant him a reward. Kill him first.”

Anari did not give the First Mayor time to anticipate his death or fear the blow. She moved in such a blur that her sword decapitated him before he could flinch. His head and twitching body fell to the ground in opposite directions. The other two men wailed. Swordmasters killed them; they left the whining one for last.

Manford looked down at the headless bodies in the center of the town. “Three people who made terrible mistakes—a small price to pay for a very important lesson.” Now he motioned the hundred waiting followers on his team to come forward.

In their enthusiasm, the Butlerians damaged homes in Dove’s Haven, smashing windows and breaking doors, but with their leader controlling them, they kept the ransacking to a minimum.

Finished now, Manford nudged Anari, and she carried him away, followed by the rest of their group. During the confrontation and executions, Manford had forgotten about Rolli Escon. As the businessman stumbled along now, his face was gray.

Manford had no sympathy for weakness. “Some lessons are painful, Directeur.”

Mentats of Dune © Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson, 2014


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