Aboard the wandering no-ship Ithaca, Jessica witnessed the birth of her daughter, but only as an observer. Just fourteen years old, she and many others crowded the medical center, while two Bene Gesserit Suk doctors in the adjacent creche prepared to extract the tiny girl child from an axlotl tank.
“Alia,” one of the female doctors murmured.
This was not truly Jessica’s daughter, but a ghola grown from preserved cells. None of the young gholas on the no-ship were “themselves” yet. They had regained none of their memories, none of their pasts.
Something tried to surface at the back of her mind, and though she worried at it like a loose tooth, Jessica could not remember the first time Alia had been born. In the archives, she had read and reread the legendary accounts generated by Muad’Dib’s biographers. But she couldn’t remember.
All she had were images from her studies: A dry and dusty sietch on Arrakis, surrounded by Fremen. Jessica and her son Paul had been on the run, taken in by the desert tribe. Duke Leto was dead, murdered by Harkonnens. Pregnant, Jessica had drunk the Water of Life, forever changing the fetus inside her. From the moment of her birth, the original Alia had been different from all other babies, filled with ancient wisdom and madness, able to tap into Other Memory without having gone through the Spice Agony. Abomination!
That had been another Alia. Another time and another way.
Now Jessica stood beside her ghola “son” Paul, who was chronologically a year older than she. Paul waited with his beloved Fremen mate Chani and the nine-year-old ghola of a boy who had in turn been their son, Leto II. In a prior shuffle of lives, this had been Jessica’s family.
The Bene Gesserit order had resurrected these figures from history to help fight against the terrible Outside Enemy that hunted them. They had Thufir Hawat, the planetologist Liet-Kynes, the Fremen leader Stilgar, and even the notorious Dr. Yueh. Now, after almost a decade of hiatus in the ghola program, Alia had joined the group. Others would come soon; the three remaining axlotl tanks were already pregnant with new children: Gurney Halleck, Serena Butler, Xavier Harkonnen.
Duncan Idaho gave Jessica a quizzical look. Eternal Duncan, with all of his memories restored from all of his prior lives . . . She wondered what he thought of this new ghola baby, a bubble of the past rising up to the present. Long ago, the first ghola of Duncan had been Alia’s consort. . . .
CONCEALING HIS AGE well, Duncan was a full-grown man with dark wiry hair. He looked exactly like the hero shown in so many archival records, from the time of Muad’Dib, through the God Emperor’s thirty-five-century reign, to now, another fifteen centuries later.
Breathless and late, the old Rabbi bustled into the birthing chamber accompanied by twelve-year-old Wellington Yueh. Young Yueh’s forehead did not bear the diamond tattoo of the famous Suk School. The bearded Rabbi seemed to think he could save the gangly young man from repeating the terrible crimes he had committed in his prior life.
At the moment the Rabbi looked angry, as he invariably did whenever he came near the axlotl tanks. Since the Bene Gesserit doctors ignored him, the old man vented his displeasure on Sheeana. “After years of sanity, you have done it again! When will you learn to stop taunting God?”
After receiving an ominous prescient dream, Sheeana had declared a temporary moratorium on the ghola project that had been her passion from its inception. But their recent ordeal on the planet of the Handlers and their near capture by the Enemy hunters had forced Sheeana to reassess that decision. The wealth of historical and tactical experience the reawakened gholas could offer might be the greatest weapon the no-ship possessed. Sheeana had decided to take the risk.
Perhaps we will be saved by Alia one day, Jessica thought. Or by one of the other gholas . . .
Tempting fate, Sheeana had performed an experiment on this unborn ghola in an effort to make it more like the Alia. Estimating the point in the pregnancy when the original Jessica had consumed the Water of Life, Sheeana had instructed Bene Gesserit Suk doctors to flood the axlotl tank with a near-fatal spice overdose. Saturating the fetus. Trying to re-create an Abomination.
Jessica had been horrified to learn of it—too late, when she could do nothing about it. How would the spice affect that innocent baby? A melange overdose was different from undergoing the Agony.
One of the Suk doctors told the Rabbi to stay out of the birthing creche. Scowling, the old man held up a trembling hand, as if making a blessing on the pale flesh of the axlotl tank. “You witches think these tanks are no longer women, no longer human—but this is still Rebecca. She remains a child of my flock.”
“Rebecca fulfilled a vital need.” Sheeana said. “All of the volunteers knew exactly what they were doing. She accepted her responsibility. Why can’t you?”
The Rabbi turned in exasperation toward the young man at his side. “Speak to them, Yueh. Maybe they will listen to you.”
Jessica thought the sallow young ghola seemed more intrigued than incensed about the tanks. “As a Suk doctor,” he said, “I delivered many children. But never like this. At least I don’t think so. With my ghola memories still locked away, I get confused sometimes.”
“And Rebecca is human—not just some biological machine to produce melange and a brood of gholas. You have to see that.” The Rabbi’s voice grew in volume.
Yueh shrugged. “Because I was born in the same fashion, I cannot be entirely objective. If my memories were restored, maybe I’d agree with you.”
“You don’t need original memories to think! You can think, can’t you?”
“The baby is ready,” one of the doctors interrupted. “We must decant it now.” She turned impatiently to the Rabbi. “Let us do our work—or the tank could be harmed as well.”
With a sound of disgust, the Rabbi shouldered his way from the birthing creche. Yueh remained behind, continuing to watch.