Two Guys and a Worm

[Participant of CGTrader Digital Art Competition]

Without the spice, human beings are captive to the present moment. They cannot sift through collective memories to examine minute details of the past, nor can they follow the threads of multi-knowledge to discover new vectors emanating from a distant future. But limits are sometimes necessary. If I offered them the spice freely, humanity would most certainly self-destruct! Therefore, I – God Emperor Leto Atreides II – use the instruments of religion, government, and military might to guide the nearsighted multitudes along the Golden Path.

And if ridged social constructs or violence cannot bend the masses in the correct direction, there is always targeted advertising.

– The Stolen Journals

Rising nearly 3,000 meters into the desert sky, the Citadel was Lord Leto’s favorite place to think. Being mostly a giant sandworm (but with a human face and atrophied appendages), he craved the dry, coarse sand once abundant on Dune. Green forests and lush fields covered much of the planet’s surface now, and this vast desert was all that remained. Having foreseen the evolution of Dune into Arrakis, Leto commissioned this needle-like tower over 3,500 years ago as a permanent refuge from omnipresent moisture and vegetation. He would ride out from the festival city of Onn on his mind-controlled Ixian cart, through vast tunnels carved deep below the Last Desert of the Sareer, before emerging from a secret passage at the base of the Citadel. He would then retract the wheels and activate suspensors, lifting the worm-man and his cart up to the very top.

After entering the Observation Room through a circular portal in the center, Leto would often peer through its enormous, open windows for many hours without moving. At such a height, one could see massive storms gathering in the distance days before any sand-laden winds blasted the tower’s stone and plasteel exterior. Today, the God Emperor stared out of the southeastern-most window, watching one such faraway tempest fester.

Presently, Leto heard what his prescient mind already knew: an ornithopter carrying his two most trusted advisors had arrived, exactly on schedule. A narrow landing pad extended outward from just below the Observation Room. The vessel approached, deposited its passengers, and then banked away in the direction it had come. After several more seconds, the walls opened inward as Duncan Idaho and Moneo Atreides strode into the Observation Room. They stopped precisely three meters in front of Lord Leto’s cart, as required, and waited for acknowledgment.

Turning from the window, Leto silently appraised each man. Moneo wore a pure white robe over purple leotards, with a large hood pulled back and to one side. Gold embroidery along the cuffs and bottom edges indicated his position within the God Emperor’s court. With trembling hands clasped behind him, Moneo bowed his head to conceal visible exasperation. Meanwhile, the Duncan Idaho ghola was dressed in a nondescript, black uniform – no pins or decoration of any kind – and stood with the calm confidence of a man who had served many lifetimes in military command. His gaze was fixed directly on the youthful face of Lord Leto II.

Finally, the God Emperor spoke. “How was your journey? I presume the latest CHOAM short-range aircraft provided adequate accommodations.”

Moneo looked up at once, his voice quivering. “Yes Lord, thank you! We came as soon as we heard that you had summoned us!” His feigned gratitude was transparent.

“Why, then, are you so shaken, Moneo? Your trembling hands betray you.”

Why does he taunt me thus? Moneo thought. The Lord Leto knows how much I fear heights, and yet he insists on making us stand on that landing strip, waiting for those monolithic doors to open. There aren’t even guardrails! Just a metal rectangle jutting out thousands of meters above the sand…

“I do not taunt you, Moneo, I test you,” the worm-man said.

Damn! Can he read minds as well as see the future? What else has he heard me think?

“You must always know how close you are to death when entering my presence,” Leto continued.

Moneo looked downward, chastened and more afraid than before. The human face of Leto Atreides II – surrounded by a pink fleshy cowl at the end of a hulking sandworm body – was still seared into his memory, as if projected onto the floor.

“Anyway, I did not request your company to discuss ‘thopters or mortality.” Leto did not continue, but twisted instead to face Duncan

Duncan’s tone was firm, bordering on agitation. “Why did you bring us here? I was eating breakfast when your Fish Speakers barged into my quarters demanding that I follow them at your direct order. Either you intend to execute us, or rebels have attacked the city!”

Moneo pulled his robes close around his body and shivered.

The face of Leto smiled. “My Duncan, arrogance drives you to the edge of both death and profound knowledge. I have no desire to kill you. Neither has there been an attack. Yet.”

The ghola recoiled.

Again with the ‘my’ Duncan! Just because I am a version of the original Duncan Idaho, developed in an axlotl tank on IX, does not not mean the worm owns this Idaho…

Nevertheless, the rest of Leto’s statement intrigued Duncan, and he was no longer so defiant. “Yet?”

“While it true that the Empire has avoided open conflict for 243 standard years, it is exactly this quiet that I deeply distrust.”

Duncan pursed his lips in thought, wondering at first why this would require the God Emperor’s immediate attention. Then it occurred to him.

“You suspect a conspiracy?”

“Of sorts,” Leto replied cryptically.

Moneo nearly shouted, afraid now for his Lord’s life. “Lord! We should summon the entire Fish Speaker Guards at once, and dispatch the Death Commandos to the rebel’s hideout!”

The worm-man appeared to heave slightly, as if to sigh. “Moneo, you are always such the planner – and a supreme worrier. It is why I have asked you here.”

Moneo tilted his head. “Lord?”

“Seriously. Please explain, Lord Leto.” Duncan scowled, arms folded across his chest. It was a familiar posture, signaling the commander’s readiness to process data and make important tactical decisions.

The God Emperor slowly navigated his cart towards the window to watch the impending sandstorm engulf the horizon.

“In times of protracted peace, a populace tends to forget that their enemies continue plotting. This in particular does not worry me, since I know all of my enemies by name, and see what they plot in secret.

“However, stasis of any kind – especially peace – allows unrest and alternative social power-structures to develop. Forged by shared ulterior motives, new alliances eventually gain influence, further diminishing the power of he who rules legitimately. Such alliances can quickly become a united enemy that cannot be easily defeated. Therefore, a ruler must exert his power continually in order to maintain maximum power.”

Commander Idaho stood with fists clenched at his side, incredulous. “Are you suggesting that we preemptively attack our own people to avoid a future conspiracy, one that you have apparently foreseen?”

Meneo pinched his eyebrows together and stared at the curry-colored stone floor, momentarily lost in thought.

“Attack? No. Not in the direct sense.” The worm-man glanced over his gross form at Duncan. “I prefer to influence. Peace is a delicate thing, best maintained through strategic maneuvering – not indiscriminate violence. Otherwise, the masses would conspire against their ruler as well.”

Leto knew that he had their full attention then. Moneo peered up with a glimmer of awareness in his eyes. Duncan relaxed his hands, but no less eager for more complete answers.

Rolling back towards his original position in the room’s center, the God Emperor said, “I already know that the Benne Geserit Sisterhood resent my Golden Path, and collude with Ix to build machines that can escape my prescient awareness. Meanwhile, the Tleilaxu experiment with the genetic profiles of their gholas, intending to test my supposed weakness. And while the Guild would never risk outright conspiracy, neither would they decline to supply new customers with star lighters and troop carriers. It does not require a Mentat to compute the potential for future rebellion.

“So, since preemptive wars almost always lead to even greater chaos, I propose a better way.”

Duncan breathed in through his nose, but did not exhale.

Wait for it…

“We should motivate the masses to trust only their Supreme Lord, and distrust any who would subvert his will. By redirecting natural unrest to work against a vague enemy, conditions are created in which large-scale rebellion is prevented from developing in the first place. In other words, manipulate the levers of fear and misinformation. Then, when everyone is suspicious of one another, they will rally around the only leader they can trust.”

Damn this pontificating! The Idaho ghola exhaled impatiently. “Okay, so even if this theory of yours is true–”

“Not theory. It is human nature,” Leto corrected.

“Whatever. Then how – exactly – do you intend to motivate a hundred billion people across the entire Empire to trust you?”

The worm-man closed his human eye lids, withdrawing into the multi-memories of ancient ancestors on Old Terra.

“Deliver the right message, to the right person, at the right time,” Leto said in a voice neither man recognized.

Moneo appeared entirely lost in the conversation. Duncan furrowed his brow.

Leto opened his eyes and grinned from cowl to cowl. “Through advertising, gentlemen!”

Both men were nonplussed.

The worm man puckered his lips. “Must I always explain every little detail? Very well.

“Nearly everyone in the Empire – throughout the entire colonized universe – uses electronic viewers produced by the Guild. Over 100 billion people access information on these viewers every day, machines which all use the same essential network. The network delivers most information automatically – to each individual user – through predictive algorithms and platform-specific communication feeds. In other words, everyone, everywhere, is going to the exact same place to get their data every day.” The God Emperor paused for effect.

“We have already identified the target audiences, all of whom are captives to a single system. We also have the means to reach them at exactly the right time, anywhere in the universe! Now, we just need the right… message.”

Leto looked into the eyes of each man – first Duncan, then Moneo. “Instead of a tactical military campaign, Moneo Atreides, I want you to coordinate an end-to-end advertising campaign, delivered to all of my subjects!”

The Mentat nearly hopped in excitement as the full scope of Leto’s intentions outpaced Moneo’s capacity to compute them. “Ingenious! Of course, my Lord! It would be my supreme honor to direct this campaign–”

“Coordinate,” Leto interrupted. “You are only to make sure that the plumbing works, without obstruction. Nothing more.” Then he returned to Duncan’s moody stare.

“So why the hell am I here?” Duncan appeared bewildered and extremely agitated. “I know nothing about this… advertising.”

“To the contrary,” Leto responded. “My Duncan, you are the man I want to direct the creative aspects of the campaign. Things like messaging, calls to action, the key benefits of their God Emperor’s dominion. There is literally no one in the entire universe better equipped to craft a campaign that is both motivational and believable! Being once a man who knew me as the boy Leto Atreides, and now as God Emperor of Dune, you have special… insights. You understand my character and unique powers, as well as the Golden Path – which alone can save the human species from oblivion.”

Duncan scrunched his face and closed his eye, computing this unexpected data. “Know you? I still don’t know whether you are more man or monster!”

The worm-man was unaffected. “Don’t be so melodramatic, Duncan. It will be easy! I can even get you started with some ideas.

“For instance, insert messages into the Fish Speaker’s daily report on FacePortal, encouraging them to stay vigilant for enemy spies using the Guild’s latest thermal-imaging goggles.

“You could flood the Master Builders of Ix Galactic Monitor with news feeds about my plans to build no-ship and no-room detectors, and then allow the Ixians to share this information easily with their Tleilaxu contacts.”

“Or try running a negative campaign against the Benne Geserit Reverend Mothers, emphasizing that their command of ancestral memory is only maternal, and that I alone can conjure the memories of every man, woman, and child throughout the millennia of human civilization.”

Duncan Idaho cocked his fists and took one step backwards. “You’re fucking insane!”

Leto did not respond. Moneo jerked his head in Duncan’s direction, slack-jawed

After an additional microsecond of calculation, Duncan pivoted on the heal of his shiny, black boots, and sprinted towards the nearest window. Without hesitation, he lunged head-first into the emptiness above the Sareer, spreading his limbs outward while bending his lower legs straight up into the sky – classic base-jumping technique. After a few seconds, he reached behind his collar to pull a previously concealed cable, releasing a black CHOAM parachute stolen from the ‘thopter.

Moneo ran to the window, gripped the lower ledge, and peered over the side just in time to see Duncan Idaho glide expertly towards a huge blister dune in the northwest. Realizing the height at which he gazed down, the majordomo quickly backed away from the window and pointed instead. “The fool!”

Suddenly aware of the God Emperor’s calm expression, Moneo dropped his finger and recomposed himself, facing Leto. “The Duncan Idaho ghola merely escapes your wrath, Lord. Surely the Coriolis storm approaching will swallow the traitor, if the desert does not kill him first!”

The worm-man erupted in laughter, grasping his segmented anterior with withered fingers. This simultaneously starteled and disturbed Moneo.

“Duncan Idaho is a desert Fremen, just one born on another planet. The Sareer could not claim him any more than I! Duncan will find a long-forgotten sietch to wait out the storm. Then he will make his way back to Onn, before fleeing to meet with your daughter, Siona. All of this I have foreseen.”

Moneo gathered his robe and hurried back towards the middle of the room where Leto continued to sit passively on his cart, stopping abruptly to kneel, “Shall I send the Fish Speaker Guard to dispatch Duncan Idaho before he reaches the walls of Onn, my great and mighty Lord?”

“Of course not! This was planned long ago. I have finally driven Duncan Idaho into the arms of Siona Atreides. He will tell her what we discussed here. She will vow to build an ad blocker that can be easily installed on any viewer. Then they will fornicate vigorously, and conceive a human heir to the Emperor of Dune, the God who will soon return to the desert as Shai-Hulud!” Leto started to laugh once again, more maniacally this time.

“But Lord…” Moneo peered up into the blue-on-blue eyes of Leto Atreides II. “Who will now direct the creative aspects of your advertising campaign?”

Leto’s laughter dissolved into a waning smile.

“That was merely subterfuge, dear Meneo. I have no intention of manipulating the masses through such… 21st century means. The mere suggestion of advertising my greatness across the empire was enough to motivate Duncan Idaho to fulfill his destiny, and my will.”

“But Lord, why let such brilliance go to waste? Should not the entire Empire understand the benefits humanity enjoys under the rule of God Emperor Leto?”

Leto stopped smiling.

“I can see it now: everyone throughout the colonized universe, consuming messages of your supremacy as they read their daily communiqués! Ally and enemy alike could be persuaded by repetition alone.”

The worm-man’s eyes began glazing over – a worrisome sign that Moneo was usually keenly aware of. Still, the majordomo continued, caught up in his own excitement.

“Please, my Lord, permit me the opportunity to sketch out some ideas for a truly groundbreaking campaign! The Benne Geserit Sisterhood, the Guild, Ix and Tleilaxu – they will all know the virtues of allegiance, and the consequences of dissent!”

Presently, Leto’s atrophied appendages were twitching – another sign.

“Your Highness, let me prove that I would make a marvelous… creative director!”

Moneo paused for an response. Only then did he notice Leto’s spasms.

Oh no! I’ve aroused the worm!

It was too late. Leto’s massive, ringed body convulsed, launching him from the Ixian cart and onto the floor, directly on top of Moneo. The worm thrashed about violently, until Moneo’s body was a flattened, bloody pile of robes beneath. After several moments the worm stilled, and alertness returned to Leto’s eyes.

The God Emperor eventually slithered back to his wheeled platform and gazed through the window through which Duncan had fled.

“No Moneo… Only my Duncan would have made a worthy creative director.”