It has been eighty-three years since the last thinking machines were destroyed in the Battle of Corrin, after which Faykan Butler took the name of Corrino and established himself as the first Emperor of a new Imperium. The great war hero Vorian Atreides turned his back on politics and flew off to parts unknown, aging only imperceptibly because of the life-extension treatment given to him by his notorious father, the late cymek general Agamemnon. Vorian’s one-time adjutant, Abulurd Harkonnen, was convicted of cowardice during the Battle of Corrin and exiled to the gloomy planet Lankiveil, where he died twenty years later. His descendants continue to blame Vorian Atreides for the downfall of their fortunes, although the man has not been seen for eight decades.
On the jungle planet Rossak, Raquella Berto-Anirul, who survived a malicious poisoning that transformed her into the first Reverend Mother, has adapted methods from the near-extinct Sorceresses to form her own Sisterhood, featuring a school that trains women to enhance their minds and bodies.
Gilbertus Albans, once the ward of the independent robot Erasmus, has established a different sort of school on the bucolic planet of Lampadas, where he teaches humans to order their minds like computers, making them into Mentats.
The descendants of Aurelius Venport and Norma Cenva (who remains alive, although in a highly evolved state) have built a powerful commercial empire, Venport Holdings; their spacing fleet uses Holtzman engines to fold space and mutated, spice-saturated Navigators to guide the vessels.
Despite the time that has passed since the defeat of the thinking machines, antitechnology fervor continues to sweep across the human-settled planets, with powerful, fanatical groups imposing violent purges.…
Manford Torondo had lost count of his many missions. Some he wanted to forget, like the horrific day that the explosion tore him apart and cost him the lower half of his body. This mission, though, would be easier, and eminently satisfying—eradicating more remnants of mankind’s greatest enemy.
Bristling with cold weapons, the machine warships hung outside the solar system, where only the faintest mist of dwindled starlight glinted off their hulls. As a result of the annihilation of the scattered Omnius everminds, this robot attack group had never reached its destination, and the population of the nearby League star system never even realized they had been a target. Now Manford’s scouts had found the fleet again.
Those dangerous enemy vessels, still intact, armed, and functional, hung dead in space, long after the Battle of Corrin. Mere derelicts, ghost ships—but abominations, nonetheless. They had to be dealt with accordingly.
As his six small vessels approached the mechanical monstrosities, Manford experienced a primal shudder. The dedicated followers of his Butlerian movement were sworn to destroy all vestiges of forbidden computer technology. Now, without hesitation, they closed in on the derelict robot fleet, like gulls on the carcass of a beached whale.
The voice of Swordmaster Ellus crackled over the comm from an adjacent ship. For this operation, the Swordmaster flew point, guiding the Butlerian hunters to these insidious robot vessels that had drifted unnoticed for decades. “It’s an attack squadron of twenty-five ships, Manford—exactly where the Mentat predicted we’d find them.”
Propped in a seat that had been specially modified to accommodate his legless body, Manford nodded to himself. Gilbertus Albans continued to impress him with his mental prowess. “Once again, his Mentat School proves that human brains are superior to thinking machines.”
“The mind of man is holy,” Ellus said.
“The mind of man is holy.” It was a benediction that had come to Manford in a vision from God, and the saying was very popular now with the Butlerians. Manford signed off and continued to watch the unfolding operation from his own compact ship.
Seated next to him in the cockpit, Swordmaster Anari Idaho noted the position of the robot battleships on the screen and announced her assessment. She wore a black-and-gray uniform with the emblem of the
movement on her lapel, a stylized sigil that featured a blood-red fist clenching a symbolic machine gear.
“We have enough weaponry to destroy them from a distance,” she said, “if we use the explosives wisely. No need to risk boarding the ships. They’ll be guarded by combat meks and linked fighting drones.”
Looking up at his female attendant and friend, Manford maintained a stony demeanor, though she always warmed his heart. “There is no risk—the evermind is dead. And I want to gaze at these machine demons before we eliminate them.”
Dedicated to Manford’s cause, and to him personally, Anari accepted the decision. “As you wish. I will keep you safe.” The look on her wide, innocent face convinced Manford that he could do no wrong in her eyes, make no mistakes—and as a result of her devotion, Anari protected him with ferocity.
Manford issued brisk orders. “Divide my followers into groups. No need to hurry—I prefer perfection to haste. Have Swordmaster Ellus coordinate the scuttling charges across the machine ships. Not a scrap can remain once we’re finished.”
Because of his physical limitations, watching the destruction was one of the few things that gave him pleasure. Thinking machines had overrun his ancestral planet of Moroko, captured the populace, and unleashed their plagues, murdering everyone. If his great-great-grandparents had not been away from home, conducting business on Salusa Secundus, they would have been trapped as well, and killed. And Manford would never have been born.
Though the events affecting his ancestors had occurred generations ago, he still hated the machines, and vowed to continue the mission.
Accompanying the Butlerian followers were five trained Swordmasters, the Paladins of Humanity, who had fought hand-to-hand against thinking machines during Serena Butler’s Jihad. In the decades after the great victory on Corrin, Swordmasters had busied themselves with cleanup operations, tracking down and wrecking any remnants of the robotic empire they found scattered throughout the solar systems. Thanks to their success, such remnants were getting more and more difficult to locate.
As the Butlerian ships arrived among the machine vessels, Anari watched the images on her screen. In a soft voice, which she used only with him, she mused, “How many more fleets like this do you think we’ll find, Manford?”
The answer was clear. “I want all of them.”