Arrakeen Tea Leaves

By Nicholas Withers

History is a domino effect without beginning and without end. Someone stands up and claims responsibility, and yet is that person no more a product of the past before that point? And so it must be also with Arrakis and the Tyrant Worm: lost in the past are the fallen blocks that led to the planet once known as Dune.

- from Bene Gesserit Report XIVa2, Wallachian Archives

Kentos III became the focal point for barter and trade in the Confederation of United Planets around the Nexus year 54. The result was that the small city of J'mar soon stood next to a 10 mile square concrete surface, on which the Great Bazaar was held during the summer months.

Professor Bernice Summerfield had decided that this was a definite mistake: any body of rock absorbs and stores heat, scorching those who touch it. Even without a genuine professorship she could tell that. Her fit 30-year-old frame could barely take the heat, and she was as equally grateful for the shortness of her dark hair. Of all the worlds she had visited, both before meeting the Doctor as an archaeologist, and since as the Doctor's companion, this was one of the worst on the unbearability scale. Benny was very tempted to abandon the Doctor and find a sheltered bar to drink herself to the point where she no longer cared about the heat. Perhaps because of the temperature she sensibly decided against this action.

On Kentos III during summer the temperature climbed in excess of 50ºC on the average days. Anxiously Bernice pushed forwards after the Doctor, her skin aching red with sunburn. He was expertly weaving through the crowd, stopping occasionally to look through a stall, or admire a performer juggler. At one point she nearly reached him as he darkly watched a figure dancing in a circle. Bernice too became entranced with the figure, but this was broken quickly as she noticed the dancer's face morphing between the faces of various people in the audience. When it finally mimicked her own perfectly she was repulsed enough to start after the Doctor again, who had disappeared into the crowd once more. Finally Bernice found him sitting at a table outside a small cafe.

‘The one thing that amazes me about you humans, is despite the hundreds of years of expansion, no matter where I go I still find a good cup of tea.’ he said beckoning her to sit. Doing so Benny then anxiously drained the glass of cold water the Doctor had ordered for her.

‘So, why here?’ she asked. ‘I can't imagine you coming to this inferno just to get a cup of tea.’

‘No, you're right. I am here to correct something I did a long time ago.’ He replied, ‘The Confederation of United Planets was formed during the Dalek wars by a large group of refugees, who fled silently through the core systems and literally slung shot themselves across the galactic disk. The voyage lasted many centuries. Once they arrived on Zargis, the seed world from which the Confederation spread, they were in serious trouble. The existing population was suffering from Generation-ship fatigue, and the cell bank's brooder units had failed. They quite literally would have died of depression.’

‘This was when you intervened?’ Benny asked, indicating the waiter to bring another jug of water.

‘I stumbled upon the bedraggled bunch quite by accident, as I used to quite often in the past. I helped repair the brooder units, and I gave them hope.’

‘How?’

‘I found among them a young woman in whom I detected large amounts of argon energy production. In short she was a telepath, and prescient.’

‘Prescient?’

‘She could see along the time lines and into the future.’

‘But that's impossible.’

‘So is travelling in time Benny,’ the Doctor said with an impish grin, ‘but that doesn't stop us.’

‘So what's the problem?’.

‘I made her aware of her potential, and she became the prophetess of her people, giving them hope. However, I was foolish and rash in aiding her. You see Benny, there are two sorts of prescient people: those who become slave to the future vision they have, until they create a single path out which they can not escape. And then there is the other type: the controller. They manipulate the future, deciding which future to take. They can see through the chaos webs of time, and take the actions to bring about one particular vision.’

‘Is that what the prophetess did?’

‘Is doing Benny, and I cannot let her continue.’

‘She's still alive!’

‘Yes, she altered her body chemistry through the chaos web, using some of the argon energy to drain of her aging. She gave herself immortality, or as close to it as she could get.’ and with that he bounded out of his chair. ‘A thousand years is too long.’

The depths of the pool offered a new vision. He had returned. Already the path she had chosen through the chaos web of the future had begun shivering. It took much concentration just to hold it steady. She cursed lowly to herself. She had been prepared, but uncertainty was still a shock to someone who had lived through absolute certainty for nearly one thousand years. Her strength sapped, she climbed up the well steps and into the chamber above and gave the orders to the Sisters to prepare for his coming.

Benny was again following the Doctor through the markets. Arriving at the perimeter fence of the compound she had one further question to ask.

‘Why wait this long before coming back?’ she whispered as she stood by his side.

‘I had no choice Benny, she would not let me back into her vision until now,’ the Doctor replied pointing out across the garden area to the main central stone building. ‘She locked me out of the chaos web of the Confederation temporality by manipulating the web perimeter and limitedly affecting my own future and memories. Kisah is the Mother Superior of a Sisterhood that has its origins on Earth thousands of years ago. When I visited a Chapterhouse of the Sisterhood on Karn, Kisah arranged for the appropriate actions to take place to prevent me from entering into her web until now. The Bene Gesserit have always been the supreme manipulators, even before Kisah.’

Alone she sat on the pillow at the centre of the room, the well shaft before her. The door flap was pushed back by an umbrella and the little man entered.

‘You have changed, Lord of Time,’ she said as he approached and sat on the opposite side of the well.

‘You have changed also, Reverend Mother Kisah Elane Mohiam,’ the Doctor said.

‘I have not been Kisah since the day you bestowed the visions upon me Doctor,’ the retort came. ‘Do you want to know who I am now Doctor? I will tell you. I am Katrina, from the past, sacrificed to you her God. I am Dorothy, from the present, manipulated until the end. Finally I am Alia, as yet unborn, but guaranteed to die alone and possessed because of you.’

‘You mustn't speak of the future.’

‘Why not Doctor?! For you gave me many futures. I chose the one for my people and it is nearly complete. I give you a glimpse into yours. Oh, Merlinus! Hear me! You come to destroy my vision, but in doing so have you have insured its success. Know then that one day the Worm-king, son of the Mahdi, will live for three thousand years, and like his father will have visions far greater and further reaching than my own. Know then that this is the part of your chaos web that you can not change. That is why I let you in, to witness my death, and the birth and fulfilment of my prophecy. Know Doctor that it is I who ultimately releases humanity from the bondage of prescience, not you. I did it. I manipulated the webs of time. I, a lowly inbreed Gen-shipper, succeeded in manipulating the tiniest fragment of your chaos web and hence the ultimate chaos web.’

Then came the deafening silence as Benny who looked on, watching the Doctor, who in turn watched, motionless. Straightening herself from her crouched position, the woman whispered, ‘Time enough.’

Within moments Kisah's age caught up with her. No longer holding it in check by manipulating her own internal chemistry, the floodgates opened on hundreds of years of aging. Within minutes she was dust, falling into the pool, irritating the anxious sand trout drifting through the shrinking waters. Benny turned away, but not before seeing the tear roll down the Doctor's check and hearing him whisper: ‘It is accomplished.’

[Arrakeen Tea Leaves]
Rochelle Thickpenny

This item appeared in Timestreams 5 (August 1995).

Index nodes: Fiction