Spice. He tasted the word in his thoughts and on his lips.
Veiled in superstition, the substance was an unknown quantity, a modern unicorn's-horn. And Arrakis was inhospitable enough that no one had yet deciphered the origin of melange. In the vast canvas of the Imperium, no explorer or prospector had found melange on any other planet, nor had anyone succeeded in synthesizing a substitute, despite centuries of attempts. Since House Harkonnen held the planetary governorship of Arrakis, and therefore controlled all spice production, the Baron had no wish to see a substitute developed, or any other source found.
Expert desert crews located the spice, and the Imperium used it--but beyond that, the details didn't concern him. There was always risk to spice workers, always the danger that a worm would attack too soon, that a carryall would malfunction, that a spice factory would not be lifted away in time. Unexpected sandstorms could come up with startling speed. The casualty rate and the equipment losses to House Harkonnen were appalling ... but melange paid off nearly any cost in blood or money.
As the ornithopter circled in a steady, thrumming rhythm, the Baron studied the industrial spectacle below. Baking sun glinted off the spice factory's dusty hull. Spotters continued to prowl the air, while groundcars cruised beneath them, taking samples.
Still no sign of a worm, and every moment allowed the crew to retrieve more spice.The workers would receive bonuses--except for that captain--and House Harkonnen would become richer. The records could be doctored later.
The Baron turned to the pilot. "Call our nearest base. Summon another carryall and another spice factory. This vein seems inexhaustible." His voice trailed off. "If a worm hasn't shown up by now, there just might be time...."
The ground crew captain called back, broadcasting on a general frequency since the Baron had shut down his own receiver. "Sir, our probes indicate that the temperature is rising deep below--a dramatic spike! Something's going on down there, a chemical reaction. And one of our ground-roving teams just broke into a swarming nest of sandtrout."
The Baron growled, furious with the man for communicating on an unencrypted channel. What if CHOAM spies were listening? Besides, no one cared about sandtrout. The jellylike creatures deep beneath the sand were as irrelevant to him as flies swarming around a long-abandoned corpse.
He made a mental note to do more to this weakling captain than just remove him from the work crews and deny him a bonus. That gutless bastard was probably handpicked by Abulurd.
The Baron saw tiny figures of scouts tracking through the sands, running about like ants maddened with acid vapor. They rushed back to the main spice factory. One man leaped off his dirt-encrusted rover and scrambled toward the open door of the massive machine.
"What are those men doing? Are they abandoning their posts? Bring us down closer so I can see."
The pilot tilted the ornithopter and descended like an ominous beetle toward the sand. Below, the men leaned over, coughing and retching as they tried to drag filters over their faces. Two stumbled on the shifting sand. Others were rapidly battening down the spice factory.
"Bring the carryall! Bring the carryall!" someone cried.
The spotters all reported in. "I see no wormsign."
"All clear from here," said a third.
"Why are they evacuating?" the Baron demanded, as if the pilot would know.
"Something's happening," the crew captain
The ground bucked. Four workers stumbled and pitched facefirst onto the sand before they could reach the ramp to the spice factory.
"Look, m'Lord!" The pilot pointed downward, his voice filled with awe. As the Baron stopped focusing on the cowardly men, he saw the sand trembling all around the excavation site, vibrating like a struck drumhead.
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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