Melange is the financial crux of CHOAM activities. Without this spice, Bene Gesserit Reverend Mothers could not perform feats of observation and human control, Guild Navigators could not see safe pathways across space, and billions of Imperial citizens would die of addictive withdrawal. Any simpleton knows that such dependence upon a single commodity leads to abuse. We are all at risk.
--CHOAM Economic Analysis of Materiel Flow Patterns.
Lean and muscular, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen hunched forward next to the ornithopter pilot. He peered with spider-black eyes through the pitted windowplaz, smelling the ever-present grit and sand.
As the armored 'thopter flew high overhead, the white sun of Arrakis dazzled against unrelenting sands. The sweeping vista of dunes sizzling in the day's heat made his retinas burn. The landscape and sky were bleached of color. Nothing soothed the human eye.
The Baron wished he could be back in the industrialized warmth and civilized complexity of Giedi Prime, the central world of House Harkonnen. Even stuck here, he had better things to do back at the local family headquarters in the city of Carthag, other diversions to suit his demanding tastes.
But the spice harvesting must take precedence. Always. Especially a huge strike such as the one his spotters had reported.
In the cramped cockpit, the Baron lounged with well-postured confidence, ignoring the buffet and sway of air currents. The 'thopter's mechanical wings beat rhythmically like a wasp's. The dark leather of his chestpiece fit tightly over well-toned pectorals. In his mid-forties, he had rakish good looks; his reddish gold hair had been cut and styled to exacting specifications, enhancing his distinctive widow's peak. The Baron's skin was smooth, his cheekbones high and well sculpted. Sinewy muscles stood out along his neck and jaw, ready to contort his face into a scowl or a hard smile, depending on circumstances.
"How much farther?" He looked sideways at the pilot, who had been showing signs of nervousness.
"The site is in the deep desert, m'Lord Baron. All indications are that this is one of the richest concentrations of spice ever excavated."
The flying craft shuddered on thermals as they passed over an outcropping of black lava rock. The pilot swallowed hard, focusing on the ornithopter's controls.
The Baron relaxed into his seat and quelled his impatience. He was glad the new hoard was far from prying eyes, away from Imperial or CHOAM corporate officials who might keep troublesome records. Doddering old Emperor Elrood IX didn't need to know every damned thing about Harkonnen spice production on Arrakis. Through carefully edited reports and doctored accounting journals, not to mention bribes, the Baron told the off-planet overseers only what he wanted them to know.
He swiped a strong hand across the sheen of sweat on his upper lip, then adjusted the 'thopter's environment controls to make the cockpit cooler, the air more moist.
The pilot, uncomfortable at having such an important and volatile passenger in his care, nudged the engines to increase speed. He checked the console's map projection again, studied outlines of the desert terrain that spread as far as they could see.
Having examined the cartographic projections himself, the Baron had been displeased by their lack of detail. How could anyone expect to find his way across this desert scab of a world? How could a planet so vital to the economic stability of the Imperium remain basically uncharted? Yet another failing of his weak younger demibrother, Abulurd.
But Abulurd was gone, and the Baron was in charge. Now that Arrakis is mine, I'll put everything in order. Upon returning to Carthag, he would set people to work drawing up new surveys and maps, if the damned Fremen didn't kill the explorers again or ruin the cartography points.
Excerpted from Dune: House Atreides by Brian Herbert. Copyright© 1999 by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. Excerpted by permission of Spectra, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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