Man of Two Worlds by Frank Herbert
Man of Two Worlds
Frank Herbert & Brian Herbert
Frank Herbert’s last published novel, a charming and witty science fiction adventure coauthored with his son Brian. What if the entire universe were the creation of alien minds? After an unfortunate spaceship accident, the hedonistic and ambitious human Lutt Hansen, Jr., finds himself sharing his body and mind with a naive alien dreamer. The two have to survive numerous dangers, schemes and assassination attempts . . . but can they survive each other?
Copyright 2011 Herbert Properties, LLC & Dreamstar
Originally published in 1986 by GP Putnam’s
Smashwords edition 2011
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If every Dreen dies, the universe collapses, for all life and all matter are sustained by Dreen idmaging.
—The Touchfinger Tabloids, Dreenschool curriculum
Ryll felt no pain on awakening, and he did not remember the collision. His mind groped for reality. What was the odd surface under him?
I am on a Far Voyager deck, he thought.
The surface where he lay felt slippery with viscous liquid. Something approximating gravity held him down. His Dreen senses suggested he was caught in an erratic spin but it was more than that, perhaps the gravitation of a planet as well, and he could not understand why he returned to consciousness this way—his eyes swiveled inward to darkness.
I am a Dreen.
It was a clear thought and suggested things not in immediate memory. His brain ached as badly as from a bazeel hangover. Urgency tugged at him but he did not want to face it. Better to consider what it meant to be Dreen.
Was it good to be Dreen?
I can idmage.
Despite this Dreen creative power, he now saw little that was graceful or pleasing in his native flesh, an observation that struck him as peculiar.
But Dreen mind powers could create new matter (even stars with planets) and new life forms. He could shapeshift his body into that of any other creature, changing functions and appearance entirely.
Why then, Ryll asked himself, did Dreens look so similar—lumpy ovoid bodies with four concealed legs and two arms with six-fingered hands extruded only when needed?
Even Habiba, Supreme Tax Collector of Dreenor and the oldest Dreen, could not explain this peculiarity. She said the reasons for Dreen shape and powers were lost in prehistory. Dreens, Habiba explained, were similar to other life forms in this limited knowledge about themselves.
An intrusive buzzing and clanking sound interrupted these reflections.
Odd sounds. Patricia at work?
What a strange name for a semisentient spaceship: Patricia. That had been his first reaction. It was not a name a Dreen spoke easily even after creating the requisite vocal system in his malleable body.
He recalled his initial shock at the ship’s odd behavior.
“My name is Ryll.”
He had said this in a patronizing tone, the one taught for use with Excursion Ships. The response was unexpected:
“Don’t take that tone with me!”
He remembered sitting in the control room, shocked by the ship’s commanding tone. Did it suspect he was adventuring? He thought of his intentions as adventure, not as stealing.
I was escaping Dreenor’s boredom.
Ryll had been extremely tired of all the talk about his gifts and potential. What did they expect from a son of Jongleur, the Chief Storyteller? He thought the Elders would call his taking the ship a schoolboy prank if they caught him.
So I took the ship. And I am Dreen but far away from Dreenor.
He had no idea how he knew these things nor why it was important to reflect on being Dreen,
Why don’t I think of myself as graceful?
Was it that he could completely alter his appearance but could not make piecemeal changes? A Dreen’s floppy ear covers draped like small brown blankets down each side of his body. Very impractical, as was the large horn-tool nose that dominated his face from the widow’s peak of pink hair atop a neckless and shoulderless body to the concealed mouth that revealed itself only when open to receive food or make noises.
He had a memory vision of fellow Dreens lifting an ear flap and asking speakers to repeat themselves. Impracticality: small mouth, weak vocal cords, ears blanketed. By idmaging, he could shapeshift his entire body, but tradition dictated he never do this on Dreenor. Metamorphoses were reserved for offworld. Dreenor was a place of sanctuary and storytelling camaraderie.
Ryll wished he were back on Dreenor now to share a tale of distant travel, idmage creations and adventure.
That’s why I defied my Elders and took the ship. I was tired of the boring schoolboy life. I wanted to be the youngest Junior Storyteller. That’s why I did it. That’s why I’m here on this slippery deck.
His eyes remained swiveled inward to darkness but more details began to surface.
Many ships sat on the mud-brown Flat of Dreenor, coming and going with their Storyteller captains. The ships were great bulbous things with extruded sensors like waving cilia to guide them through the Spirals of Creation in tangled space.
Sometimes, for no observable reason a ship would remain unchosen and dormant, awaiting just the right captain. That was the way it had been with this ship. It had been part of Ryll’s environment from earliest childhood only a few months out of seedhouse.
Even before being sent to the school for gifted children he had thought of this ship as his own, creating fantasies of himself in the Spirals.
He had wondered often about its personality. The varied personalities of Excursion Ships as taught in school fascinated him. Ships were almost like people. But this one . . .
“You will call me Patricia!”
Ryll’s proctors had told him the most enjoyable trips into the tangles of space were on ships having personalities compatible with your own. You chose your ship with great care.
Immediate sense impressions demanded attention. What was this viscous fluid under him? Why the dullness in his body? Something was disturbingly wrong. Had Patricia malfunctioned? Impossible! Excursion Ships were idmaged to be perfect. Then what was this erratic spinning motion holding him to the deck?
He tried to consider the possibility of something wrong with Patricia and recalled instead the appearance of the ship on the Dreenor Flat—a golden egg with cilia-sensors glistening. Each time passing the Flat he had looked to see that his ship remained unchosen by an adult,
Wait for me, beautiful ship. When I graduate you will be mine.
Once he had seen a group of adult Dreens working on the ship, all under the direction of Mugly the Elder. They conferred, pointed and swiveled their eyes inward to idmage, making the ship even more perfect, no doubt.
Nothing could go wrong with a perfectly idmaged ship.
Early one morning before school he had sneaked past the sleeping monito
He rationalized that gifted children were expected to prepare themselves for the day they would go out as Storytellers to create new worlds. But this was secret preparation, teaching himself to pilot an Excursion Ship, something far beyond the careful pacing of the adult-monitored curriculum.
No one suspected he could pilot his ship, could take it without permission and vanish into the Creative Spirals—no matter that he was too young and had not absorbed enough cautionary instruction.
I’ll be the youngest Dreen ever to create new worlds.
He saw himself in the Elite class of Junior Storytellers, training ground for advancement to Elder.
How attractive to contemplate the supreme Dreen ability: to make tangible the living fantasies of the mind, to create new life forms and return to Dreenor with stories of his artistic efforts. That was why he had taken Patricia.
So why was he here on a deck with a slippery fluid under him? There was an odd smell. Vaguely familiar. What was it?
“Patricia?” he ventured.
The ship did not reply.
Patricia had not opposed him when he took over the controls, although she called his pretensions “an interesting dream produced by your immaturity and boredom but consistent with a Dreen’s natural idmagination.”
Did Patricia self-destruct?
That was a terrifying thought and flooded his mind with Patricia’s irritating voice: “You are going to a dangerous place and the Storyteller who commands me likely will die.”
By Habiba’s everlasting seedglands! He suddenly remembered the awful revelations of his ship: “The Earther Zone Patrol holds captive Dreens. I have this information to explain why I must self-destruct rather than permit Earthers to learn my secrets.”
This was more than the bits and pieces from adult whispers about Dreen disasters.
“The creatures he made worshiped him!”
“His creatures did not evolve and just died out. Faulty precepts.”
Children heard such things and created their own myths. But his present situation was no myth to be greeted with amused tolerance by adults.
Why wasn’t I told?
Patricia said children could not share real disaster tales until deemed capable of handling harsh information.
I have encountered harsh information.
What happened to my perfect ship?
Once more he called out to Patricia but still the ship did not respond.
He thought he would even welcome one of her caustic lectures, if only she would speak. He did not want to be alone.
Where am I?
Ryll swiveled his eyes outward and locked them into place. He saw shadows, then bursts of light that brought pain and forced him to blink. He squinted cautiously and saw a dented silver-yellow bulkhead directly over him—Patricia’s control room but badly damaged. Destruction but not total.
He lay on his back and it hurt when he extruded an arm to touch the deck. Not cold . . . not hot . . . sticky stuff.
More memories returned.
He saw his ship emerge from the Spirals, felt again the excitement of that moment and . . . and . . . and then disaster!
Another ship occupied the emergent space!
The effect was not just a collision but a massive attempt by two large objects to occupy the same space at the same time. His control room smashed through to the center of the other ship, dominating the impact and telling him his was the more massive object.
When the first shudderings and boomings of the crash subsided, he heard hissings, clangings and snappings and saw emergency repair manipulators attempting to seal his area against loss of atmosphere. Fire! He remembered flames. That was what destroyed the sacred Dreen drive!
I am trapped here! But where is here?
He could still hear nearby sounds to suggest emergency repairs. This gave him hope. He rolled his body slightly to the right. Pain! He was a moment fighting off the defensive-ball reaction, every Dreen’s instinctive response to danger.
Curiosity and a need to know sustained him. What were those two mounds stretched across a break in the bulkhead? He stared at them.
Badly damaged protoplasm! Bodies from the other ship.
Ragged bits of green and black fabric hid some of the shattered flesh.
Ryll took an interminable time extruding legs to help him crawl toward the bodies. His efforts hinted at terrible injuries—vital organs crushed and severed. Too much damage for idmaging repairs, but those bodies at the broken bulkhead offered a way to survive.
Painfully, he reached the first body. He recognized the shape from Storyteller accounts: an Earth human. The Earther was dead.
Ryll moved to the second body.
Blood . , . much blood—some his own yellow, flowing and mingling with Earther magenta . . . and a clear fluid spouting from a bulkhead rift.
The second human still breathed. Ryll’s left front leg crunched shattered eyeglasses. Agonizing cramps warped his flesh and the defensive-ball reaction tried to dominate him.
Can’t let that happen!
This was no time to be immobilized and helpless.
The odd smell remained but he noted no more hiss of escaping atmosphere. What was that smell? Memory from a fully assimilated Storyteller account answered his question.
The clear fluid: vol-tol!
It had been an extremely artistic Dreen story explaining vol-tol, the highly explosive fuel used in Earthers’ primitive ships.
The other ship in the collision was of Earther origin! One of its occupants lay dead and another appeared to be dying.
But the vol-tol demanded immediate attention. It could ignite, destroying the shambles of the collision and every living thing aboard.
Ryll knew he had to deal with the problem himself. Patricia was no longer functional.
I must move quickly!
He touched the surviving human’s crushed head and neck.
Darts of agony shot through Ryll as he moved. It occurred to him that he, too, might be fatally injured. He paused to make an internal assessment.
By the blessed left arm of the Supreme Tax Collector! Almost ten percent of my mass is gone!
This time there was no trouble with the defensive-ball reaction. His probing hands fanned into cilia, an automatic reaction against which every Dreen child was warned. Ryll watched the cilia slither into the dying human’s face.
He knew he must prevent this. Combining life forms created unpredictable and often dangerous results. That was one piece of harsh information taught to every child.
But without more mass immediately I will die.
Ryll stared at an audio-visual ID tag on what remained of the mortally wounded Earther’s green and black tunic.
“I am Lutt Hanson, Jr.,” it said in English.
Ryll’s language-interpretive facility, a product of Dreen storytelling and education, immediately shifted to the proper linguistic form.
What odd names Earthers chose.
No matter the harsh warnings, survival necessity drove him. There was no time for idmaging, and he needed portions of this dying body to rebuild his Dreen mass.
Abruptly, he heard wreckage moving. Metal grated against metal. Then . . . voices!
Discarding niceties, Ryll allowed Earther flesh to flow into and combine with his own, an oddly pleasing sensation. He felt his Dreen resources using Earther protoplasm, letting it creep into and around his cells. Alien memories intruded.
Fascinating! The cells earned Earther information—too much to review at once, but similar to assimilating a Dreen Storyteller’s account.
Suddenly, a voice boomed from behind Ryll.
“All personnel evacuate this ship immediately!”
Ryll identified the characteristic sound-clipping of an artificial amplifier.
The shock of the voice and th
I must hide!
Using Earther-cell data, Ryll assumed the appearance and clothing of Lutt Hanson, Jr. A facsimile Earther took shape on the shattered deck, complete with clear-lensed, round-framed eyeglasses—no need to match originals. Ryll’s eyes in a new olive shade stared out of Earther-shaped flesh. The meticulously copied face was blocky and soft: thin red-brown hair, a high forehead and a raised blood vessel like a tiny medusa serpent on the left temple. With desperate cunning, he appropriated a nametag from the Earther’s ragged tunic and pushed discarded flesh into contact with the dead companion.
The intrusive voices were much louder, metal slamming against metal. Once more, the amplified voice boomed out.
“Fuel rupture! All personnel except emergency volunteers evacuate the damage area!”
Metal crashed to the deck behind Ryll. Heavy footsteps clumped to his side. An armored hand came into view and a brown faceplate with helmet lowered close to Ryll’s face.
“Hey! This one’s alive!”
That was the amplified voice of command.
Memories and motivations from Lutt Hanson, Jr., seeped like tendrils bleeding across nerve contacts into Ryll’s awareness. What an odd creature, this Earther. There were visions of a wealthy family rife with disputes and intrigues—this Lutt Junior active in many ways, coordinating and plotting to fulfill his single, driving ambition . . .
“A dead one here!”
That was the voice of the one who had come into Ryll’s view.
“Part of the body’s melted away! Yeccch!”
“Leave it and bring the survivor! This place could blow any second!”
The amplified voice of command again.
Ryll felt something being slipped under his body—a thin fabric with stiffeners. Two armored Earthers lifted him and carried him through the hole torn in the bulkhead.
Ryll closed his eyes and experienced a deep sense of gratitude at being rescued, even though it was by creatures produced in Dreen idmages. Survival dominated his reactions now and an immediate problem required attention.