that one soon. He has almost outlived his usefulness. The Baron stared across the room at his Mentat assassin, seeing the feature about him that most people noticed first: the eyes, the shaded slits of blue within blue, the eyes without any white in them at all.

A grin flashed across Piter’s face. It was like a mask grimace beneath those eyes like holes. “But, Baron! Never has revenge been more beautiful. It is to see a plan of the most exquisite treachery: to make Leto exchange Caladan for Dune—and without alternative because the Emperor orders it. How waggish of you!”

In a cold voice, the Baron said: “You have a flux of the mouth, Piter.”

“But I am happy, my Baron. Whereas you … you are touched by jealousy.”

“Piter!”

“Ah-ah, Baron! Is it not regrettable you were unable to devise this delicious scheme by yourself?”

“Someday I will have you strangled, Piter.”

“Of a certainty, Baron. Enfin! But a kind act is never lost, eh?”

“Have you been chewing verite or semuta, Piter?”

“Truth without fear surprises the Baron,” Piter said. His face drew down into a caricature of a frowning mask. “Ah, hah! But you see, Baron, I know as a Mentat when you will send the executioner. You will hold back just so long as I am useful. To move sooner would be wasteful and I’m yet of much use. I know what it is you learned from that lovely Dune planet—waste not. True, Baron?”

The Baron continued to stare at Piter.

Feyd-Rautha squirmed in his chair. These wrangling fools! he thought. My uncle cannot talk to his Mentat without arguing. Do they think I’ve nothing to do except listen to their arguments?

“Feyd,” the Baron said. “I told you to listen and learn when I invited you in here. Are you learning?”

“Yes, Uncle.” the voice was carefully subservient.

“Sometimes I wonder about Piter,” the Baron said. “I cause pain out of necessity, but he … I swear he takes a positive delight in it. For myself, I can feel pity toward the poor Duke Leto. Dr. Yueh will move against him soon, and that’ll be the end of all the Atreides. But surely Leto will know whose hand directed the pliant doctor … and knowing that will be a terrible thing.”

“Then why haven’t you directed the doctor to slip a kindjal between his ribs quietly and efficiently?” Piter asked. “You talk of pity, but—”

“The Duke must know when I encompass his doom,” the Baron said. “And the other Great Houses must learn of it. The knowledge will give them pause. I’ll gain a bit more room to maneuver. The necessity is obvious, but I don’t have to like it.”

“Room to maneuver,” Piter sneered. “Already you have the Emperor’s eyes on you, Baron. You move too boldly. One day the Emperor will send a legion or two of his Sardaukar down here onto Giedi Prime and that’ll be an end to the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.”

“You’d like to see that, wouldn’t you, Piter?” the Baron asked. “You’d enjoy seeing the Corps of Sardaukar pillage through my cities and sack this castle. You’d truly enjoy that.”

“Does the Baron need to ask?” Piter whispered.

“You should’ve been a Bashar of the Corps,” the Baron said. “You’re too interested in blood and pain. Perhaps I was too quick with my promise of the spoils of Arrakis.”

Piter took five curiously mincing steps into the room, stopped directly behind Feyd-Rautha. There was a tight air of tension in the room, and the youth looked up at Piter with a worried frown.

“Do not toy with Piter, Baron,” Piter said. “You promised me the Lady Jessica. You promised her to me.”

“For what, Piter?” the Baron asked. “For pain?”

Piter stared at him, dragging out the silence.

Feyd-Rautha moved his suspensor chair to one side, said: “Uncle, do I have to stay? You said you’d—”

“My darling Feyd-Rautha grows impatient,” the Baron said. He moved within the shadows beside the globe. “Patience, Feyd.” And he turned his attention back to the Mentat. “What of the Dukeling, the child Paul, my dear Piter?”

“The trap will bring him to you, Baron,” Piter muttered.

“That’s not my question,” the Baron said. “You’ll recall that you predicted the Bene Gesserit witch would bear a daughter to the Duke. You were wrong, eh, Mentat?”

“I’m not often wrong, Baron,” Piter said, and for the first time there was fear in his voice. “Give me that: I’m not often wrong. And you know yourself these Bene Gesserit bear mostly daughters. Even the Emperor’s consort had produced only females.”

“Uncle,” said Feyd-Rautha, “you said there’d be something important here for me to—”

“Listen to my nephew,” the Baron said. “He aspires to rule my Barony, yet he cannot rule himself.” The Baron stirred beside the globe, a shadow among shadows. “Well then, Feyd-Rautha Harkonne, I summoned you here hoping to teach you a bit of wisdom. Have you observed our good Mentat? You should’ve learned something from this exchange.”

“But, Uncle—”

“A most efficient Mentat, Piter, wouldn’t you say, Feyd?”

“Yes, but—”

“Ah! Indeed but! But he consumes too much spice, eats it like candy. Look at his eyes! He might’ve come directly from the Arrakeen labor pool. Efficient, Piter, but he’s still emotional and prone to passionate outbursts. Efficient, Piter, but he still can err.”

Piter spoke in a low, sullen tone: “Did you call me in here to impair my efficiency with criticism, Baron?”

“Impair your efficiency? You know me better, Piter. I wish only for my nephew to understand the limitations of a Mentat.”

“Are you already training my replacement?” Piter demanded.

“Replace you? Why, Piter, where could I find another Mentat with your cunning and venom?”

“The same place you found me, Baron.”

“Perhaps I should at that,” the Baron mused. “You do seem a bit unstable lately. And the spice you eat!”

“Are my pleasures too expensive, Baron? Do you object to them?”

“My dear Piter, your pleasures are what tie you to me. How could I object to that? I merely wish my nephew to observe this about you.”

“Then I’m on display,” Piter said. “Shall I dance? Shall I perform my various functions for the eminent Feyd-Rau—”

“Precisely,” the Baron said. “You are on display. Now, be silent.” He glanced at Feyd-Rautha, noting his nephew’s lips, the full and pouting look of them, the Harkonnen genetic marker, now twisted slightly in amusement. “This is a Mentat, Feyd. It has been trained and conditioned to perform certain duties. The fact that it’s encased in a human body, however, must not be overlooked. A serious drawback, that. I sometimes think the ancients with their thinking machines had the right idea.”

“They were toys compared to me,” Piter snarled. “You yourself, Baron, could outperform those machines.”

“Perhaps,” the Baron said. “Ah, well….” He took a deep breath, belched. “Now, Piter, outline for my nephew the salient features of our campaign against the House of Atreides. Function as a Mentat for us, if you please.”

“Baron, I’ve warned you not to trust one so young with this information. My observations of—”

“I’ll be the judge of this,” the Baron said. “I give you an order, Mentat. Perform one of your various functions.”

“So be it,” Piter said. He straightened, assuming an odd attitude of dignity—as though it were another mask, but this time clothing his entire body. “In a few days Standard, the entire household of the Duke Leto will embark on a Spacing Guild liner for Arrakis. The Guild will deposit them at the city of Arrakeen rather than at our city of Carthag. The Duke’s Mentat, Thufir Hawat, will have concluded rightly that Arrakeen is easier to defend.”

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