CHAPTER ONE OF NAVIGATORS OF DUNE:
All things begin, and all things end—there are no exceptions.
Or, is this a myth?
—Debating topic, the Mentat School
The Emperor’s ceremonial barge orbited high above Salusa Secundus, in the midst of huge, ominous warships. Its interior glittered with gold and precious gems; its flashy hull was sculpted with curves and adornments that served no purpose. By far the most ostentatious vessel in the fleet, the barge was a stunning sight to those who were easily swayed by such things. Salvador had adored it.
Even though Roderick Corrino, the new Emperor, found it much too gaudy for his tastes, he understood the necessity of ceremony, especially so soon after assuming the throne following the death—no, the murder—of his brother.
Another Imperial necessity was for him to bring justice to Directeur Josef Venport, the man who had engineered Salvador’s assassination. His warships were gathering.
Roderick had thick blond hair and chiseled features, and stood tall in the scarlet and gold robe of his noble house. Feeling regal as well as powerful, he faced a wide viewing window in the barge’s multilevel command center. Gathered in orbit, his assembled strike force—hundreds of battleships—prepared for a surprise attack against the Venport stronghold.
Roderick was eager to see them launch, but this had to be done with absolute precision. The Imperial Armed Forces would have only one chance to overwhelm Venport by catching him unawares.
The Emperor watched his warships glide into holding arrays within an immense foldspace carrier that orbited ahead of the barge. The carrier’s Holtzman engines could traverse great distances in the blink of an eye, although the carrier pilot was effectively flying blind without the guidance of an advanced Navigator.
Only Venport Holdings knew how to create Navigators, advanced beings who could foresee safe pathways through the vast reaches of space, and Josef Venport had withdrawn them all from Imperial service when his crime was exposed. As soon as the outlaw Venport was defeated and his assets seized, though, the entire Imperium would have Navigators. That was merely one more benefit—and an important one—of crushing the Directeur. Roderick clenched his fist.
General Vinson Roon, commander of the strike force to Kolhar, stood at crisp attention beside him. He held his red and gold officer’s cap in his hands.
“I anticipate a swift and glorious victory, Sire.” Roon acted indignant on the Emperor’s behalf. The noble-born General was in his late forties, Roderick’s age, though he was shorter and more muscular. Roon had dark skin, jet-black hair, and an intense manner. The two men had a tumultuous personal history, which Roderick did his best to ignore right now.
“Yes, swift and glorious would be my preference, Vinson.” He used the General’s first name intentionally. He and Roon had been boyhood friends until an unfortunate falling out—over a woman, of course. Since then, they had spoken only during formal military meetings with other officers and high-level advisers, but it was time to put all that nonsense behind them. The Imperium was at stake.
Roderick knew he could count on this man, whose loyalty and dedication to the Imperium had never been in doubt. Without turning from the viewing window, the Emperor said, “Venport Holdings must be struck down before they have time to entrench themselves further. We have to move soon.”
Roon nodded. This strike force had been assembled hastily in secret, and would launch within the next few days. The Emperor was gambling a significant portion of his military defenses that were normally stationed around Salusa Secundus, but a successful crackdown on VenHold would greatly increase security all across the Imperium, making it worth the risk. Roderick intended it to be a swift decapitation mission to kill or capture Directeur Venport, seize his operations on Kolhar, and cripple his widespread business operations.
Then Roderick would be in firm control of the Imperium.
Two months ago, just when his guilt was revealed, Venport had escaped with the aid of Norma Cenva. Since then, the Directeur had abruptly withdrawn all VenHold commercial ships, cut off trade and left many planets in dire need of provisions. The repercussions were only beginning to be felt, and they would get much worse. Private fleets scrambled to pick up the slack, but no other interstellar transport company was as reliable as the VenHold Spacing Fleet—because no one else had Navigators.
Venport also held part of the Imperial military hostage, thanks to a disastrous circumstance. One entire battle group of the Imperial Armed Forces—seventy warships—had been traveling routinely aboard a VenHold carrier when the whole crisis began. The Imperial ships were powerful, but did not have Holtzman engines, so they needed to be delivered to their destination via spacefolders. For years, VenHold carriers had transported the Emperor’s battleships as part of their service to the Imperium, but now a key portion of those powerful vessels were being held by the enemy, locked away and taken off the board like pieces in a galactic chess game.
Roderick muttered, “He means to hamstring us, and force us to bow to his demands.”
“Do we even know what his demands are, Sire?” asked the General, still watching the ships move aboard the gigantic carrier. “He has been silent since he withdrew to Kolhar. I thought he was on the run and hiding from justice.”
“His demands are obvious to me. Venport wants to do whatever he likes. After killing an Emperor with impunity, he wants me to be a figurehead ruler while the tentacles of his commercial empire expand everywhere. He also wants me to eradicate the Butlerian fanatics.” His thoughts whirled. Something that Salvador could never do.
Roon gave a distasteful snort and lowered his voice. “After all the damage Manford Torondo has caused, would that be such a terrible thing, Sire?”
As he thought of all the damage the anti-technology mobs had caused, even killing his beautiful little daughter, Roderick let out a low sigh. “Not as such, no . . . but if it means we must cooperate with the man who assassinated Salvador, then I cannot agree. I will never agree to that, Vinson.” He shook his head. “I would not be surprised if Venport had something to do with Anna’s disappearance, too.”
Roon blinked in disbelief. “But your sister vanished from Lampadas, Sire—during the Butlerian siege of the Mentat School. I would suspect Manford Torondo, but how could you think Venport is responsible for that?”
“You’re right.” He shook his head. “I seem to find ways to blame that man for everything . . . when he is really only responsible for half of my problems.”
The General scowled, obviously disgusted. “When I think of all the Directeur’s dealings—a monopoly on safe foldspace travel, his secret Navigators, the spice industry on Arrakis, his banking operations across the Imperium . . . no one man should control so much power, and—”
Roderick cut him off. “Not true, Vinson—I should hold that much power, and no one else.”
Roon straightened. “Our fleet will take care of him, Sire. You can count on me.”
“I know I can, Vinson.” Roderick allowed a hint of warmth into his voice. With this man about to lead a vital assault that would change the course of history, it was good to remind him of a friendship they once had.
The anticipation was palpable as the two men watched more battleships moving into position aboard the giant carrier. Roon cleared his throat. “There’s something I must say to you, Sire. Thank you for not letting our personal differences stand in the way of my recent promotion. And thank you for your faith in me to lead this mission. A lesser man would have behaved differently.”
Roderick gave him a reassuring nod. “Those differences were a long time ago, and I need to rise above them for the good of the Imperium.” He gave a small smile. “Haditha would not have tolerated anything else. She asked me to pass along her regards and her best wishes for your success.”
Roon responded with a bittersweet smile. “You did win her heart after all. I had to accept that defeat long ago. You’re a better man than I am, Sire—always have been.”
Roon’s promotion was well deserved due to his proven skill and reliability, and he had risen even more swiftly in the ranks because Roderick’s overhaul of the Imperial military had swept away so many incompetent upper-level officers. Vinson Roon had been the logical person to replace the ousted Commanding General Odmo Saxby, and this retaliatory strike would be his first real chance to prove himself.
The Imperial Armed Forces had been in terrible shape after years of neglect under Salvador, bloated with undeserved ranks, teeming with corruption, graft, and outright ineptitude. Upon taking the throne, Roderick had conducted an extensive audit and purge of the military.
He extended his hand. “Perhaps when you return victorious from Kolhar, we might spend more time together.”
“I would like nothing more, Sire. We were great friends once, weren’t we?”
“Yes, we were.”
Roon grinned, as they shook. “I’ll buy the brandy.”
“I look forward to it.”
Despite every precaution being taken to keep the preparation of the strike force a secret, Josef Venport doubtless had spies on Salusa. If the foldspace carrier launched swiftly enough, though, General Roon’s warships should reach Kolhar faster than any spy vessel could sound a warning. Time was of the essence.
Nevertheless, with or without spies, Venport was no fool. He would surely anticipate some kind of response from Salusa, and Kolhar was not without its own formidable defenses. . . .
Roderick was impatient to break the stranglehold of Venport Holdings and restore his own legitimate power. The fledgling Imperium had existed for less than a century since the end of the oppressive thinking machines, and Roderick had to assert his authority for the good of the human race and, just as importantly, to avenge his brother.
The General donned his cap and saluted as he turned to go. “Please excuse me, Sire—I have many details to supervise before we launch the strike force. Speed is our best guarantor of secrecy.”
Roderick’s voice sharpened. “Take care of him for me, Vinson. I’ll await your triumphant return.”
“You have my promise, Sire. I will move the stars and planets to prove myself to you.”
“You may have to do just that.”
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