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Navigators of Dune

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Navigators of Dune

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Author: Kevin J. Anderson
Brian Herbert
Publisher: Tor, 2016
Series: Great Schools of Dune: Book 3
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Galactic Empire
Space Opera
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Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson's Navigators of Dune is the climactic finale of the Great Schools of Dune trilogy, set 10,000 years before Frank Herbert's classic Dune.

The story line tells the origins of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood and its breeding program, the human-computer Mentats, and the Navigators (the Spacing Guild), as well as a crucial battle for the future of the human race, in which reason faces off against fanaticism. These events have far-reaching consequences that will set the stage for Dune, millennia later.


Chapter 1

All things begin, and all things end--there are no exceptions.

Or, is this a myth?

--Debating topic, the Mentat School

The Emperor's ceremonial barge orbited high above Salusa Secundus, in the midst of huge, ominous warships. Its interior glittered with gold and precious gems; its flashy hull was sculpted with curves and adornments that served no purpose. By far the most ostentatious vessel in the fleet, the barge was a stunning sight to those who were easily swayed by such things. Salvador had adored it.

Even though Roderick Corrino, the new Emperor, found it much too gaudy for his tastes, he understood the necessity of ceremony, especially so soon after assuming the throne following the death--no, the murder--of his brother.

Another Imperial necessity was for him to bring justice to Directeur Josef Venport, the man who had engineered Salvador's assassination. His warships were gathering.

Roderick had thick blond hair and chiseled features, and stood tall in the scarlet-and-gold robe of his noble house. Feeling regal as well as powerful, he faced a wide viewing window in the barge's multilevel command center. Gathered in orbit, his assembled strike force--hundreds of battleships--prepared for a surprise attack against the Venport stronghold.

Roderick was eager to see them launch, but this had to be done with absolute precision. The Imperial Armed Forces would have only one chance to overwhelm Venport by catching him unawares.

The Emperor watched his warships glide into holding arrays within an immense foldspace carrier that orbited ahead of the barge. The carrier's Holtzman engines could traverse great distances in the blink of an eye, although the carrier pilot was effectively flying blind without the guidance of an advanced Navigator.

Only Venport Holdings knew how to create Navigators, advanced beings who could foresee safe pathways through the vast reaches of space, and Josef Venport had withdrawn them all from Imperial service when his crime was exposed. As soon as the outlaw Venport was defeated and his assets seized, though, the entire Imperium would have Navigators. That was merely one more benefit--and an important one--of crushing the Directeur. Roderick clenched his fist.

General Vinson Roon, commander of the strike force to Kolhar, stood at crisp attention beside him. He held his red-and-gold officer's cap in his hands.

"I anticipate a swift and glorious victory, Sire." Roon acted indignant on the Emperor's behalf. The noble-born General was in his late forties, Roderick's age, though he was shorter and more muscular. Roon had dark skin, jet-black hair, and an intense manner. The two men had a tumultuous personal history, which Roderick did his best to ignore right now.

"Yes, swift and glorious would be my preference, Vinson." He used the General's first name intentionally. He and Roon had been boyhood friends until an unfortunate falling out--over a woman, of course. Since then, they had spoken only during formal military meetings with other officers and high-level advisers, but it was time to put all that nonsense behind them. The Imperium was at stake.

Roderick knew he could count on this man, whose loyalty and dedication to the Imperium had never been in doubt. Without turning from the viewing window, the Emperor said, "Venport Holdings must be struck down before they have time to entrench themselves further. We have to move soon."

Roon nodded.

This strike force had been assembled hastily in secret, and would launch within the next few days. The Emperor was gambling a significant portion of his military defenses that were normally stationed around Salusa Secundus, but a successful crackdown on VenHold would greatly increase security all across the Imperium, making it worth the risk. Roderick intended it to be a swift decapitation mission to kill or capture Directeur Venport, seize his operations on Kolhar, and cripple his widespread business operations.

Then Roderick would be in firm control of the Imperium.

Two months ago, just when his guilt was revealed, Venport had escaped with the aid of Norma Cenva. Since then, the Directeur had abruptly withdrawn all VenHold commercial ships, cut off trade, and left many planets in dire need of provisions. The repercussions were only beginning to be felt, and they would get much worse. Private fleets scrambled to pick up the slack, but no other interstellar transport company was as reliable as the VenHold Spacing Fleet--because no one else had Navigators.

Venport also held part of the Imperial military hostage, thanks to a disastrous circumstance. One entire battle group of the Imperial Armed Forces--seventy warships--had been traveling routinely aboard a VenHold carrier when the whole crisis began. The Imperial ships were powerful, but did not have Holtzman engines, so they needed to be delivered to their destination via spacefolders. For years, VenHold carriers had transported the Emperor's battleships as part of their service to the Imperium, but now a key portion of those powerful vessels were being held by the enemy, locked away and taken off the board like pieces in a galactic chess game.

Roderick muttered, "He means to hamstring us, and force us to bow to his demands."

"Do we even know what his demands are, Sire?" asked the General, still watching the ships move aboard the gigantic carrier. "He has been silent since he withdrew to Kolhar. I thought he was on the run and hiding from justice."

"His demands are obvious to me. Venport wants to do whatever he likes. After killing an Emperor with impunity, he wants me to be a figurehead ruler while the tentacles of his commercial empire expand everywhere. He also wants me to eradicate the Butlerian fanatics." His thoughts whirled. Something that Salvador could never do.

Roon gave a distasteful snort and lowered his voice. "After all the damage Manford Torondo has caused, would that be such a terrible thing, Sire?"

As he thought of all the damage the antitechnology mobs had caused, even killing his beautiful little daughter, Roderick let out a low sigh. "Not as such, no ... but if it means we must cooperate with the man who assassinated Salvador, then I cannot agree. I will never agree to that, Vinson." He shook his head. "I would not be surprised if Venport had something to do with Anna's disappearance, too."

Roon blinked in disbelief. "But your sister vanished from Lampadas, Sire--during the Butlerian siege of the Mentat School. I would suspect Manford Torondo, but how could you think Venport is responsible for that?"

"You're right." He shook his head. "I seem to find ways to blame that man for everything ... when he is really only responsible for half of my problems."

The General scowled, obviously disgusted. "When I think of all the Directeur's dealings--a monopoly on safe foldspace travel, his secret Navigators, the spice industry on Arrakis, his banking operations across the Imperium ... no one man should control so much power, and--"

Roderick cut him off. "Not true, Vinson--I should hold that much power, and no one else."

Roon straightened. "Our fleet will take care of him, Sire. You can count on me."

"I know I can, Vinson." Roderick allowed a hint of warmth into his voice. With this man about to lead a vital assault that would change the course of history, it was good to remind him of a friendship they once had.

The anticipation was palpable as the two men watched more battleships moving into position aboard the giant carrier. Roon cleared his throat. "There's something I must say to you, Sire. Thank you for not letting our personal differences stand in the way of my recent promotion. And thank you for your faith in me to lead this mission. A lesser man would have behaved differently."

Roderick gave him a reassuring nod. "Those differences were a long time ago, and I need to rise above them for the good of the Imperium." He gave a small smile. "Haditha would not have tolerated anything else. She asked me to pass along her regards and her best wishes for your success."

Roon responded with a bittersweet smile. "You did win her heart, after all. I had to accept that defeat long ago. You're a better man than I am, Sire--always have been."

Roon's promotion was well deserved due to his proven skill and reliability, and he had risen even more swiftly in the ranks because Roderick's overhaul of the Imperial military had swept away so many incompetent upper-level officers. Vinson Roon had been the logical person to replace the ousted Commanding General Odmo Saxby, and this retaliatory strike would be his first real chance to prove himself.

The Imperial Armed Forces had been in terrible shape after years of neglect under Salvador, bloated with undeserved ranks, teeming with corruption, graft, and outright ineptitude. Upon taking the throne, Roderick had conducted an extensive audit and purge of the military.

He extended his hand. "Perhaps when you return victorious from Kolhar, we might spend more time together."

"I would like nothing more, Sire. We were great friends once, weren't we?"

"Yes, we were."

Roon grinned, as they shook. "I'll buy the brandy."

"I look forward to it."

Despite every precaution being taken to keep the preparation of the strike force a secret, Josef Venport doubtless had spies on Salusa. If the foldspace carrier launched swiftly enough, though, General Roon's warships should reach Kolhar faster than any spy vessel could sound a warning. Time was of the essence.

Nevertheless, with or without spies, Venport was no fool. He would surely anticipate some kind of response from Salusa, and Kolhar was not without its own formidable defenses....

Roderick was impatient to break the stranglehold of Venport Holdings and restore his own legitimate power. The fledgling Imperium had existed for less than a century since the end of the oppressive thinking machines, and Roderick had to assert his authority for the good of the human race and, just as importantly, to avenge his brother.

The General donned his cap and saluted as he turned to go. "Please excuse me, Sire--I have many details to supervise before we launch the strike force. Speed is our best guarantor of secrecy."
Roderick's voice sharpened. "Take care of him for me, Vinson. I'll await your triumphant return."

"You have my promise, Sire. I will move the stars and planets to prove myself to you."

"You may have to do just that."

Chapter 2

There are those who see influence and power as a reward rather than a responsibility. Such men do not make good leaders.

--DIRECTEUR JOSEF VENPORT, internal Venport Holdings memo

Kolhar was a fortress, but Josef Venport did not let himself feel complacent as he waited for the Emperor to make his move. He knew that the brunt of Imperial military forces would be poised to annihilate him the moment they saw a chance.

To increase his planetary security, he'd had to withdraw numerous well-armed ships from the VenHold Spacing Fleet and station them in Kolhar orbit, pulling them from lucrative commercial routes. Josef also intensified the planetary shields and increased the number of picket ships and scouts around the star system.

Now that his defenses were in place, he might find a way out of this mess. If only he and Emperor Roderick could just sit down and negotiate like rational men!

Josef had never wanted any part of this debacle. While it had been necessary to remove that buffoon Salvador and place his more competent brother on the throne, he had never thought his role in the assassination would be discovered. Rather, Josef planned to be partners with the new Emperor, to their mutual benefit. The Imperium was poised to thrive--if Roderick would just see reason.

This was a time of existential crisis for human civilization, a historical moment requiring hard decisions: Humanity was still recovering from the long nightmare of enslavement to the thinking machines, followed by the chaos and violence that spawned the reactionary Butlerian movement, rabid fanatics who wanted to purge all vestiges of "evil" technology. By installing a competent man on the throne, Josef had meant to help the human race; instead, he had precipitated an unforeseen disaster.

Now the Emperor would stop at nothing to crush Venport Holdings, to arrest Josef and quite probably execute him. Why couldn't Roderick Corrino see how much damage his dogged insistence on revenge would cause? VenHold should just be levied a substantial blood fine--which Josef would pay in money--after which interplanetary commerce and government could get back to normal. He stroked his thick reddish mustache, pondering deeply. There had to be a way out of this!

Sick of the interminable waiting, he left his multitower skyscraper headquarters and stepped out under the overcast sky. He needed to feel the cool air on his skin and see the reassuring activity around him. He liked to remind himself that he was still one of the most powerful men in the Imperium.

His wife, Cioba, met him just outside the headquarters tower. She was a tall, elegant brunette whose bloodline came from the telepathically powerful Sorceresses of Rossak. Her long hair fell to her waist; her regal bearing and calm demeanor came from years of Sisterhood training.

Silent but supportive, Cioba walked with him across a paved landing field that should have been crowded with commercial ships and spice haulers. Now, though, the spaceport resembled a military operations field. Rumbling tankers moved back and forth, fueling defensive ships and shuttlecraft. Scout patrols launched into orbit. When Josef sucked in a deep breath, the air held the sharp tang of exhaust fumes and the brisk brittleness of winter.

Cioba paused, as if she had run calculations in her mind. "Kolhar is as impregnable as we can make it, my husband. While we dare not lower our guard, we should not be paralyzed by needless fear. We are strong and secure."

Josef had told himself the same thing many times, but he refused to relax. "Overconfidence is a greater weakness than fear and worry. We need to stay vigilant until we ride out this crisis."

"I know we will. We have advanced weapons and defenses that the rest of the Imperium can't even imagine." Her lips quirked in a smile. "Defenses that are sure to give nightmares to Manford Torondo and his Butlerians."

Josef responded with a smile of his own. Together, they watched three mechanical figures patrolling the spaceport perimeter--spiderlike cymek walkers taller than many of the buildings, fresh deliveries from his secret weapons laboratory on Denali.

Cymeks had once been the scourge of humanity--disembodied human brains mounted inside armored machine bodies. The original cymeks had been destroyed at the end of Serena Butler's jihad, but Josef's brilliant scientists had redesigned and re-created them. Rather than being guided by fallible, power-hungry minds, these new cymeks were controlled by the evolved brains of failed Navigators. Now the mechanical guardians patrolled the area around the Kolhar headquarters, their pistons pumping and sensors alert for any threat.

When Josef commandeered a groundcar, Cioba did not need to ask where they were going. Visiting the tanks of evolving Navigator candidates had become a daily ritual for him, especially as tensions increased.

As he drove, Josef shook his head in dismay. "Instead of being at each other's throats, Roderick and I should be working together to fight the real enemy! The Butlerian fanatics pose as great a threat to civilization as the thinking machines did. And the half-Manford has warships of his own."

Cioba lifted her chin. "Those antique ships aren't enough to defeat you, Josef. One hundred forty old spacefolders dating back to the Army of the Jihad. Think of your ships, of your monopoly on Navigators, and your intensely loyal employees. More than half the planets in the Imperium depend on VenHold for commerce, and they still trade with you, even though the Emperor branded you an outlaw. What does that say?" She turned her classically beautiful face toward him, raised her eyebrows. "You have more ships, more power, more influence than anyone, even the Corrinos. If people were forced to decide, would they choose some figure on a throne on far-off Salusa Secundus, or would they rather have regular shipments of food and spice?"

He knew she was right. Josef guided the groundcar over a rise and then down into a broad, bowl-shaped valley filled with hundreds of tanks, each containing one of his Navigator candidates. Cioba leaned over and kissed his cheek as he halted the vehicle amid the sealed tanks.

They walked among the thick-walled chambers full of concentrated spice gas. Through the murky plaz windowports and swirling fumes inside, Josef could see mutated figures undergoing constant mental convolutions to expand their minds. No unmodified brain could grasp foldspace calculations and the prescience necessary to guide a ship through the void, but the spice-enriched transformation made it possible.

Josef marveled at these freakish but oddly impressive Navigators. Even if the Emperor's ships came for Kolhar, his military spacefolders would be clumsy and blind because they had no Navigators. While antique FTL ships were relatively safe in their passage through space, they were unconscionably sluggish, taking weeks or months to travel between star systems. VenHold ships, on the other hand, were fast and safe.

He and Cioba paused before a large central tank on a marble platform, like a shrine. Josef was pleased to see that Norma Cenva, his great-grandmother, was present in the chamber, surrounded by her personal spice-dreams and the infinite possibilities that stretched far into the universe.

More than a century ago, Norma had become the first Navigator. Although she was more than a mere human, she still maintained contact with Josef, and remained aware of Imperial politics for her own purposes.

"The human race is at stake, and I feel a tremendous obligation," Josef said to Cioba, although he suspected that Norma would be eavesdropping. "I am the one with the rational thinking and the wherewithal to save us. I must stay alive, and I must win. Roderick will not break through our defenses, and with all my commercial ties across the Imperium, I can pull strings and force decisions that are beyond his capabilities."

Though Norma helped to make Venport Holdings strong, Josef knew that her driving goal was to promote the creation of more Navigators. Unlike her protégés, Norma had the ability to fold space simply with her mind and travel at will, while all other Navigators needed to use great ships powered by Holtzman engines to travel. Sometimes her enclosed tank would vanish for days on obscure business of her own, but for now she remained here, where she meditated and observed.

Needing to know answers, Josef stepped up to the tank and asked without further preamble, "What do you think, Grandmother? If I am more powerful than Emperor Roderick, should I hide here and build my defenses, or should I think in grander terms?"

Norma spoke in a warbling voice through the tank's speakerpatch. "You have the power and ability to seize the throne--if that is what you wish."

He was surprised to hear her say this. Some men fantasized about becoming great rulers, but Josef had always considered himself a businessman, a consummate commercial leader, but not one who was interested in political aggrandizement.

"You know that isn't what I wish. I want Roderick to be the Emperor--a sensible one. I placed him on that throne, damn it. I want him to be strong and wise ... and to ask for my counsel! I have my own business empire. My planetary banks are brimming with money that depositors entrusted to me. I have tremendous spice operations on Arrakis, even though the fool Salvador tried to take them away. For me, politics is a tool to accomplish my business interests, nothing more."

He let out a sigh. "But I've been backed into a corner. We're at a turning point of civilization, and if Emperor Roderick won't do what is required of him, then am I the one to replace him?" He pondered, but still saw no clear answer. "I would much rather go back to how it was a year ago, when I could focus my energies on annihilating Manford's barbarians."

"And our spice operations--for my Navigators," Norma said. "We need to go to Arrakis, rather than stay here. You and I should go."

"We'll do it soon, Grandmother." He had already planned a long-delayed inspection trip, but first he needed to attend to a last few details here.

"Soon," Norma insisted, "I will take us there."

Frustration welled up in him. While the Emperor wasted time and resources trying to retaliate against him, the fanatical Butlerians were running rampant, erasing the progress that Josef had achieved at such a dear cost.

Well, Josef had already taken action. Even as he built his defenses here on Kolhar, he had dispatched an important commando force to Lampadas, the headquarters of the Butlerian movement. Maybe after his invincible cymek forces slaughtered that vile little cripple, then Josef could be truly satisfied.

"You have already made your decision," Norma said in her distorted voice.

"I came here to seek your advice, Grandmother."

"You have already made your decision," Norma repeated, and she would not answer further.

Chapter 3

I will choose my allies as best they suit me, but God has chosen my enemy--the enemy of all humankind. God Himself is my staunchest defender. Why do I need you?

--MANFORD TORONDO to Emperor Salvador Corrino

Draigo Roget, Josef Venport's leading Mentat, arrived in a fast VenHold warship covered with stealth armor so it would remain unnoticed by Butlerian orbital patrols. With its integrated weaponry, this small vessel was capable of destroying a dozen of the old-model Jihad warships used by the fanatics.

But Draigo had not come to Lampadas to battle a planet full of barbarians, not at the moment. This time he was merely a pilot on a proof-of-concept mission that might well eliminate this threat to civilization. He would demonstrate the power of their new cymeks.

Lampadas... He had been trained in the Mentat School here, and had learned to loathe Manford Torondo and his followers, extremists who had corrupted and then torn down the great school. The Butlerians had arrested and beheaded his mentor and headmaster of the institution, Gilbertus Albans. Draigo would never forgive them for that.

Unable to rescue Gilbertus, Draigo had managed to escape with the damaged Anna Corrino and the memory core of Erasmus, the infamous robot responsible for so much cruelty and havoc during Serena Butler's Jihad. Now, Anna was a vital bargaining chip, and Erasmus was a key resource for the Denali scientists; together, they would ensure Directeur Venport's victory, the triumph of reason over fanaticism, of civilization over barbarism.

That was, after all, what the ongoing conflict was about. Every one of Venport's people understood that.

Tonight, Draigo's cymeks would fill the enemy with terror and possibly even kill Manford Torondo, which would neutralize the fanatics once and for all. If nothing else, the cymeks would prove their horrific destructive potential; many of Directeur Venport's scientists would be eager to see the results.

Of the three cymeks in the hold of Draigo's ship, two were guided by enhanced Navigator brains, while the third was controlled by Ptolemy, the first voluntary new cymek, a genius driven by his hatred of Manford Torondo. Ptolemy had opted to discard his frail human form, exchanging it for any mechanical body he liked. A powerful, destructive body.

Manford had certainly generated a lot of enemies.

Secure in orbit above the quiet planet, confident that the stealth systems would keep him hidden from the primitive Butlerian warships, Draigo prepared for the mission. Ptolemy's brain canister was installed in his warrior form, while the two Navigator-driven cymeks moved their walkers into armored drop pods. The Navigator brains were silent and brooding, as always, but they followed instructions. After checking the thoughtrode connections, Draigo pronounced all three machines ready for launch.

Ptolemy raised one multiclawed hand and clacked the long, sharp pincers together. His words came through the speakerpatch. "That sadistic monster burned my friend alive and forced me to watch. Manford Torondo must die."

"He also tries to kill human intellect and progress. That man has sowed many seeds of hatred, and we all wish to take part in the harvest." Draigo smiled at the brain suspended in pale blue electrafluid before closing the last section of the pod. They were ready for launch. "This is your chance."

* * *

Carrying the responsibility of humanity was a burden Manford Torondo did not gladly bear, but he did it nonetheless. What choice did he have?

The current crisis in the Imperium was more than a struggle for resources or territory; it was a war for the human soul. After centuries of enslavement to thinking machines, mankind was free at last, cut loose from the stranglehold of technology. Reborn, they could return to a new Eden--but only if they chose to do so. Unless their own weaknesses destroyed them.

Twisted men like Josef Venport wanted to enslave mankind once more, making the exultant human spirit beholden to machines again! After the end of the Jihad, Rayna Butler--Manford's beloved mentor and teacher--had guided people along the true path, but such a way was not without violence and resistance, not without those who threw bombs in crowded rallies....

Swallowing hard as he sat propped up in a cushioned chair late at night, Manford looked down at where his body ended below his hips. The reality of his disfigurement was sometimes shocking to him, even now, years after the explosion that had nearly killed him, leaving him just half a man. "But twice the leader!" as his loyal followers shouted during their rallies.

The future was so uncertain, the weight so heavy on his heart. How Manford wished that wise Rayna were still here to lead the movement! Oh, he had loved her so! He felt warm tears trickle down his cheeks.

Anari Idaho, his fiercely loyal Swordmaster, noticed the tears and stepped closer, concerned. She would have thrown herself in front of any enemy for Manford, would have given her life to save his. Now she seemed just as willing to defend him against his own emotions.

Anari was a large-framed woman trained among the Swordmasters of Ginaz; for years she had tended him in his simple fieldstone cottage on Lampadas. The interior walls had been fitted with bars and handholds, so Manford could move himself around with his strong upper body. Whenever he wished to present an imposing figure to large cheering crowds, or to his enemies, he would ride in a harness on Anari's shoulders. From that perch, Manford did not feel less than a man; instead he seemed the most powerful person in the Imperium.

His Truthsayer, Sister Woodra, came to speak to him, but she blurted out her business concerns without noticing his heavy mood. "Emperor Roderick still thinks we are responsible for the disappearance of his sister after we overran the Mentat School." Her voice had an annoying edge. "You should convince him otherwise, Leader Torondo. Anna Corrino must have escaped somehow."

"We had nothing to do with her disappearance, whether or not the Emperor believes it." Manford suspected the flighty girl had been devoured by a swamp dragon as she tried to flee the siege. "Fortunately, the Emperor's anger has turned toward Josef Venport. I'm not worried." Manford could not help but think it was a miracle in disguise.

"Perhaps," Anari said, "but he will never forget his daughter was killed by a Butlerian mob. He will have enough anger for us."

"That was an accident, nothing more," Woodra said dismissively, as if she thought the matter was ended. "We cannot be blamed for that."

"And yet, he will blame us regardless," Anari said.

"Alliances can shift again," Manford said. "Roderick Corrino must be made to see his true destiny as our ally--preferably through reasonable appeals, but by coercion if necessary."

Sister Woodra brought out logbooks and lists that she wished to discuss in detail, but Manford did not have the energy for it at this hour. Sensing her master's weariness, Anari shot Woodra a scolding glance. "That is enough business for now. Manford needs to rest and contemplate. Otherwise, how can we expect him to lead us?"

The brusque Truthsayer sniffed at the implied dismissal. "The success of our movement depends upon details as well as strong leadership. And we must make time for the details."

Woodra had been trained among the Sisterhood before the terrible schism that tore the school apart. He knew Woodra was as vehemently against technology as any of his followers, and she had also proved to be a useful asset, not only as a Truthsayer, but as an adviser. She was blunt, however, and lacked finesse; sometimes Manford found her exhausting. Right now, he was too preoccupied, no matter how much she insisted. "Anari is correct. I'm weary. Take me to my bedchamber."

The Swordmaster picked him up as if he were a pet and plodded toward his private rooms, where she placed him in an austere, narrow bed. She opened the window to let in the fresh night air.

Outside, Empok, the capital city of Lampadas, sparkled with warm orange lights in the countless simple buildings. Insects made quiet songs, and the planet seemed deceptively peaceful as Manford composed himself for a contemplative sleep. Until a thundering roar shattered the darkness.

Heavy objects screamed down through the atmosphere, wreathed in the flames of deceleration. Three projectiles struck the ground outside of Empok.

Anari shouted in alarm and burst into the bedchamber to protect him.

People streamed out of their homes to investigate the disturbance, then howled in alarm. The three impact sites simmered ominously, lit by afterglows of white and orange and highlighted by angular shadows. Shielded pods split open like the jagged petals of armored flowers, then mechanical forms emerged. Heavy piston-driven legs lifted weapon-studded body cores, each containing a disembodied human brain. Three towering cymeks began to march on the city.

As Anari swept Manford out of the bed, he saw the distant movement through the window, and knew his enemies were coming for him.

Seizing him, the Swordmaster said, "I will save you."

Copyright © 2016 by Kevin J. Anderson

Copyright © 2016 by Brian Herbert


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