When the ghola-baby was delivered from the first Bene Gesserit axlotl tank, Mother Superior Darwi Odrade ordered a quiet celebration in her private dining room atop Central. It was barely dawn, and the two other members of her Council—Tamalane and Bellonda—showed impatience at the summons, even though Odrade had ordered breakfast served by her personal chef.
“It isn’t every woman who can preside at the birth of her own father,” Odrade quipped when the others complained they had too many demands on their time to permit of “time-wasting nonsense.”
Only aged Tamalane showed sly amusement.
Bellonda held her over-fleshed features expressionless, often her equivalent of a scowl.
Was it possible, Odrade wondered, that Bell had not exorcised resentment of the relative opulence in Mother Superior’s surroundings? Odrade’s quarters were a distinct mark of her position but the distinction represented her duties more than any elevation over her Sisters. The small dining room allowed her to consult aides during meals.
Bellonda glanced this way and that, obviously impatient to be gone. Much effort had been expended without success in attempts to break through Bellonda’s coldly remote shell.
“It felt very odd to hold that baby in my arms and think: This is my father,” Odrade said.
“I heard you the first time!” Bellonda spoke from the belly, almost a baritone rumbling as though each word caused her vague indigestion.
She understood Odrade’s wry jest, though. The old Bashar Miles Teg had, indeed, been the Mother Superior’s father. And Odrade herself had collected cells (as fingernail scrapings) to grow this new ghola, part of a long-time “possibility plan” should they ever succeed in duplicating Tleilaxu tanks. But Bellonda would be drummed out of the Bene Gesserit rather than go along with Odrade’s comment on the Sisterhood’s vital equipment.
“I find this frivolous at such a time,” Bellonda said. “Those madwomen hunting us to exterminate us and you want a celebration!”
Odrade held herself to a mild tone with some effort. “If the Honored Matres find us before we are ready perhaps it will be because we failed to keep up our morale.”
Bellonda’s silent stare directly into Odrade’s eyes carried frustrating accusation: Those terrible women already have exterminated sixteen of our planets!
Odrade knew it was wrong to think of those planets as Bene Gesserit possessions. The loosely organized confederation of planetary governments assembled after the Famine Times and the Scattering depended heavily on the Sisterhood for vital services and reliable communications, but old factions persisted—CHOAM, Spacing Guild, Tleilaxu, remnant pockets of the Divided God’s priesthood, even Fish Speaker auxiliaries and schismatic assemblages. The Divided God had bequeathed humankind a divided empire—all of whose factions were suddenly moot because of rampaging Honored Matre assaults from the Scattering. The Bene Gesserit—holding to most of their old forms—were the natural prime target for attack.
Bellonda’s thoughts never strayed far from this Honored Matre threat. It was a weakness Odrade recognized. Sometimes, Odrade hesitated on the point of replacing Bellonda, but even in the Bene Gesserit there were factions
these days and no one could deny that Bell was a supreme organizer. Archives had never been more efficient than under her guidance.
As she frequently did, Bellonda without even speaking the words managed to focus Mother Superior’s attention on the hunters who stalked them with savage persistence. It spoiled the mood of quiet success Odrade had hoped to achieve this morning.
She forced herself to think of the new ghola. Teg! If his original memories could be restored, the Sisterhood once more would have the finest Bashar ever to serve them. A Mentat Bashar! A military genius whose prowess already was the stuff of myths in the Old Empire.
But would even Teg be of use against these women returned from the Scattering?
By whatever gods may be, the Honored Matres must not find us! Not yet!
Teg represented too many disturbing unknowns and possibilities. Mystery surrounded the period before his death in the destruction of Dune. He did something on Gammu to ignite the unbridled fury of the Honored Matres. His suicidal stand on Dune should not have been enough to bring this berserk response. There were rumors, bits and pieces from his days on Gammu before the Dune disaster. He could move too fast for the human eye to see! Had he done that? Another outcropping of wild abilities in Atreides genes? Mutation? Or just more of the Teg myth? The Sisterhood had to learn as soon as possible.
An acolyte brought in three breakfasts and the sisters ate quickly, as though this interruption must be put behind them without delay because time wasted was dangerous.
Even after the others had gone, Odrade was left with the aftershock of Bellonda’s unspoken fears.
And my fears.
She arose and went to the wide window that looked across lower rooftops to part of the ring of orchards and pastures around Central. Late spring and already fruit beginning to form out there. Rebirth. A new Teg was born today! No feeling of elation accompanied the thought. Usually she found the view restorative but not this morning.
What are my real strengths? What are my facts?
The resources at a Mother Superior’s command were formidable: profound loyalty in those who served her, a military arm under a Teg-trained Bashar (far away now with a large portion of their troops guarding the school planet, Lampadas), artisans and technicians, spies and agents throughout the Old Empire, countless workers who looked to the Sisterhood to protect them from Honored Matres, and all the Reverend Mothers with Other Memories reaching into the dawn of life.
Odrade knew without false pride that she represented the peak of what was strongest in a Reverend Mother. If her personal memories did not provide needed information, she had others around her to fill the gaps. Machine-stored data as well, although she admitted to a native distrust of it.
Odrade found herself tempted to go digging in those other lives she carried as secondary memory—these subterranean layers of awareness. Perhaps she could find brilliant solutions to their predicament in experiences of Others. Dangerous! You could lose yourself for hours, fascinated by the multiplicity of human variations. Better to leave Other Memories balanced in there, ready on demand or intruding out of necessity. Consciousness, that was the fulcrum and her grip on identity.
Duncan Idaho’s odd Mentat metaphor helped.
Self-awareness: facing mirrors that pass through the universe, gathering new images on the way—endlessly reflexive. The infinite seen as finite, the analogue of consciousness carrying the sensed bits of infinity.
She had never heard words come closer to her wordless awareness. “Specialized complexity,” Idaho called it. “We gather, assemble, and reflect our systems of order.”
Indeed, it was the Bene Gesserit view that humans were life designed by evolution to create order.
And how does that help us against these disorderly women who hunt us? What branch of evolution are they? Is evolution just another name for God?