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.Gasping, alone, barely able to remain conscious, he stared as El’hiim’s triumphant worm drove Ishmael’s farther away.He hung his head.The duel was over….* * *VICTORIOUS, EL’HIIM RODE his exhausted creature into the sand, finished with it.Both worms were utterly played out.Ishmael hadn’t seen whether his own beast had been killed, or if it had simply slunk away, burying itself deep.As Ishmael collapsed, panting and trembling, his own people came toward him, but he did not want to speak with them.Not now.He shook his dust-caked head, turned away.His heart still pounded and the breath was hot in his chest, but the realization was obvious.Though he had survived, he was not glad at all.He had lost the challenge, and the future for the Free Men of Arrakis.Military victory should not be subject to interpretation or negotiation.It should be clear-cut and undisputed by all, without compromises.— SUPREME BASHAR VORIAN ATREIDES,from his guest lecture seriesThe Vengeance Fleet prepared to leave Salusa Secundus, bound for Corrin.The ships were crewed by veterans of the Jihad, regular soldiers in the Army of Humanity, and fiery members of the Cult of Serena.Fast spacefolder scouts raced to the watchdog fleet that had maintained its position around the last Synchronized World, informing them that the immense battle group was coming.One final battle, and then their vigil could end.The thinking machines knew nothing about their imminent destruction.Forced to attend the elaborate send-off ceremony when he could have been attending to more important details, Vorian Atreides remained at attention on the spaceport tarmac, watching the last ships being loaded.The League had become addicted to pomp and fanfare.He turned as Viceroy Butler approached, carrying a small blue box draped in golden ribbons.The Viceroy wore his formal robe of office and a small but noticeable badge that signified his connection with the Cult of Serena.Vor couldn’t believe the son of Quentin Butler truly accepted the insistent antitechnology message promulgated by his niece and her Manifesto, but Rayna’s movement had achieved such power that the Viceroy could see which direction the political winds were blowing.Faykan still had not permitted the appointment of a new Grand Patriarch, now claiming that the offensive against Omnius should take priority.Vor suspected that the man had another agenda, and was just stalling.Pallid Rayna Butler sat at the front of the reviewing stand, her eyes intent.Sincere well wishers and bright-eyed fanatics thronged the tarmac, carrying white banners emblazoned with the bloodred silhouette of Serena Butler.The crowd cheered, and shouted Vor’s name along with curses directed at Omnius.Like a man climbing a mountain, Vor fixed his attention on the single point ahead, the summit, the goal of destroying the last evermind.Though he didn’t like what the Cultists stood for, he would take advantage of every fighter, every resource.All that he had accomplished over a century of the Jihad would culminate in this last battle, and the thinking machines would never again be a threat to the human race.But from what he saw of the restless and angry crowd of Rayna’s followers, he had no doubt they would continue to find enemies and scapegoats to keep their adrenaline flowing.His flagship ballista, the LS Serena Victory that he had flown during the Great Purge, towered off to one side of the landing field, along with several other key ships.Most of the main war vessels waited in orbit.Through it all, as busy as he was, Vor had not forgotten his recent promise to Abulurd, that he would work to restore the good name of Xavier Harkonnen as soon as they returned.The honor guard of the Army of Humanity performed an extravagant display for the crowd.Following their traditional lockstep maneuvers, the honor guard formed a firing squad line and pointed loud projectile rifles at facsimile thinking machines chained to posts.The robot simulacra blinked their sensors, as if pleading for their lives.One by one, the mock robots were destroyed to wild cheers, leaving little more than sparks and smoke.The dramatic staged event was transmitted all over Salusa Secundus and stored for delivery to other League Worlds, where large crowds could also participate in the festivities [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]