This building was all function. Not to say that it wasn't aesthetically pleasing, for that was a function as well, but there were no extraneous stylings or fripperies. Clear walls in this section of the Academe allowed those passing through the corridor to take notice of the gardens beyond. A gentle artificial breeze carried the scent of flowers inside, suffusing the air with invigorating aromas. Careful thought had been put into which plants should be grown to best boost the reserves of impending mothers on their way to and from the wards. The woman who stood in the corridor had identified them all, now simply enjoyed their fragrance as she waited for her teacher. It was a rare moment of tranquillity, naturally fleeting.
An Archivist tramped past, disturbing the air, leaving scents of stale breath and humming machines in her wake. Gwyllen watched her go, wondered at the self-importance.
"That one needs her nose adjusted. It's out of joint." Proctor Malabha announced, just loud enough for the Archivist to hear as she exited at the other end of the corridor. A touch cruel, Gwyllen thought, and said so as the Proctor approached.
"Bah, if she's still got a brain she'll stop to smell the roses next time." Malabha paused, sniffed. "No roses. There are never any roses anymore."
Thinking about the Matres. The thought came to Gwyllen immediately, followed by an unwelcome hint of pride at her own deduction. She excised it quickly, smiled a greeting to her old teacher. "Another ancient metaphor?"
"Metaphor isn't the word, girl." Malabha hmphed. "And yes, but don't try to distract me." Gwyllen bent her head in contrition.
"When is she due?" Malabha asked, quick to forgive.
"I requested that the induction not start until we arrived." Gwyllen turned to follow as Malabha forged ahead, out of the sunlight and into comforting sterility. Faint odour of antipathogens, mixed for a second with residual trails of pollen from the corridor. A surprisingly pleasant combination (clearly deliberate on the part of Maintenance) which Gwyllen savoured until it was lost in gently reassuring chemical aromas. Simulflow prompted her to review the words she had missed in her moment of enjoyment. 'Danger to the baby,' a question.
"No danger." She shook her head. "Everyone was very certain, the birth could have taken place at any time this week. Indeed, delaying it for longer might have had unwelcome effects." Malabha nodded, changed the subject.
"The clone Teg has been born." She uttered bluntly. Gwyllen waited for her to continue, but it seemed that the Proctor had said her piece. Her face was unreadable. So this is why she has returned from Chapter House. She opted for a conversational nothing.
"Burzmali will be pleased to know that the Bashar is back."
"Not back, not yet." Malabha shook her head. "Years before we see the Bashar again. But Miles Teg is alive and well, with no sign of tampering."
The inflection was clear. Malabha had been one of the loudest voices in opposition to the use of Tleilaxu 'tanks,' fiercely criticising the use of humans as objects. When her position was overruled she had switched to ensuring that interference from the last Tleilaxu Master was minimal. If they had to use unclean technology, she argued, they would do it safely and without undue risk of sabotage.
She means to tell me something. The realisation was obvious. Any Acolyte who understood their teacher would know when a lesson was being imparted. The difficult part was finding out what the lesson was. Sometimes the answer lay in failing to find the answer, which Gwyllen had always found pointlessly frustrating.
Why lead me to Tleilaxu 'tanks' now, here of all places? Perhaps she means to remind me of what we have, what we risk losing? Too obvious, try again. Dislike of meddling in genetics. But we do that all the time. Telling me not to overreach myself? Possible, retain until further evidence presents. The ghola, Duncan. Ah! A Tleilaxu creation, and possible she met him on Chapter House.
"Did you find signs of tampering in the ghola?" Gwyllen made her gambit.
"Plenty, though none that we were not already aware of. But he is dangerous." Malabha scowled, sighed. "Mother Superior knows what she is doing, or at least she has Chapter House convinced that she does. Complaints made against her are answered with a shining new litany: [/i]She has Taraza.[/i]"
"That's hardly surprising." Gwyllen subdued the urge to shrug. "She was there on Rakis, everyone knows it's Taraza's plan she's following."
"Everyone knows it, eh?" Malabha's deepening scowl faded, became resignation. "Maybe that's what she's counting on." Uncomfortable silence stretched until they approached the door to the birthing room. Gwyllen pondered her lesson, wondered if she had learned the correct one.
"Will we be participating?" Malabha raised an eyebrow.
"Only if Nielsa is called next door, they're due a difficult birth in a few hours." Gwyllen made to open the door, was stopped by Malabha's expression.
"Difficult?" She snapped.
"The mother developed an unforeseen allergy to her child." Gwyllen said. "Her immune system is null in order to prevent her killing the baby, so she's extremely vulnerable."
"I see." Malabha's brow creased. "That will be the fifth Ecazi line. A thought for another time." She motioned for Gwyllen to lead the way. The two women entered the small room before the birthing chamber, donning protective clothing before moving through to greet the mother to be, name of Chleo.
She was a round woman, not bred to be a mother but possessed of what Malabha would call 'conveniently wide hips.' The mound of her belly was carefully coddled in softcloth in order to conceal the instruments which monitored life inside. She smiled as the two women entered, clearly glad of the company. The postulant assistant at the machines smiled, said nothing.
Leaving the wards before the year is out. Gwyllen considered. The Suks were very particular about those they kept as nurses. Bedside manner was as important to them as technical aptitude.
"Is Nielsa coming?" She asked the postulant, perhaps too critically. The girl frowned in confusion. Definitely not going to last long.
"She said she'd be here directly, sister." Sister!
"And when was this?" Gwyllen studiously avoided Malabha's eye. The older woman passed her by, ignoring the postulant to greet Chleo with a congratulation of middling warmth.
"Four minutes ago." The postulant turned back to the machines. She was new here, or Gwyllen would have learned her name. She hadn't introduced herself yet. What is Nielsa thinking?
As though summoned, the chief Suk appeared at the door behind her. Doctor Nielsa Ratterly sidled into the chamber with a sunny smile, though Gwyllen noted the slight dip as she beheld the unenthusiastic girl at the machines.
"Really 'Lita, I asked you to change the flowers."
"They're fine, really." This from the mother on the bed. "I just need some air, that's all." The girl hesitated for a full two seconds before a sharp look from Nielsa spurred her to open the window behind the bed.
The next few minutes were routine, the mother's health examined one final time before the birth, her nerves soothed with distracting conversation. This would be Chleo's first (and likely only) child, so Malabha was studiously careful with her words. Gwyllen stood back, tried not to grimace behind her mask as the postulant picked at her nails. Nielsa caught her eye, lifted her shoulders in a hint of a shrug. The doctors had to test everyone they were sent. This one was clearly kept around for her genes rather than her less than sparkling personality.
When the mother was ready, Nielsa started the induction process, calling for an extra assistant soon afterward. When this woman arrived the room became too crowded, obliging Malabha and Gwyllen to move to the outer chamber, observing through the door.
It was a model birth, lasting just under two hours with no complications. The child was cut free, bloody and squalling, held up first for the mother (she would be allowed to raise this one) and then to the voyeurs at the door. It was a healthy weight, size and colour. Indeed, there was only one thing which could have caused Malabha's hint of indrawn breath. Nestling between the child's sausage legs lay an unexpected development.
The Proctor made no mention of this to Nielsa, who assured her that the difficult case in the next room was well in hand. She said nothing to the mother, who held her son with a radiant smile while the white-clad postulant looked on disinterestedly. She remained stubbornly silent as they left the room. It was only as they entered the glass corridor once more that she gave vent to her ire.
"A boy!" She turned on Gwyllen, not angry but supremely frustrated. "I entrusted you with this, and you ordered her to produce a boy!"
"Not without reason." Gwyllen stalled, drawing strength from the floral surroundings. She sidestepped the Proctor, so that they walked abreast of each other. "I'll show you."
"We can't do anything with a boy." Malabha grunted, but did not complain further as they made their way into the dark, sheltered warren of Records. There Gwyllen brought up Chleo's family tree in a characteristic 'rosebush' display, pruned of extraneous siblings so that her ancestors branched upwards in a series of V's.
"The mutation XM first developed here." Gwyllen recounted, indicating an ancestor some forty generations back. "It's deleterious, but not lethal, and was tolerated in the line because of an association with toxin resistance which we wished to explore." Malabha said nothing. "However, repeated reinforcement of XM's position in the genotype has caused stronger expression in recent generations. If unchecked, it would have started to retard mental development. For that reason, Chleo's mother was instructed to produce a heterozygous daughter: Chleo herself. The purpose of her child would be to bottleneck the genotype, cull the mutation, and then expand as per normal. XM is sex-linked, a problem which a son solves perfectly, taking the X chromosome from Chleo which she herself inherited from her healthy father."
"Why not a heterozygous daughter?" Malabha pounced.
"XM is also dominant. A daughter would have been a sufferer, and there was no need to order a miserable daughter when an ordinary son would do."
"Will do in what fashion?"
"He's entirely free from XM, as will be his daughters." Gwyllen pointed out the marker in the rosebush, newly added beneath Chleo's own. "It would have taken us another generation to do that with a heterozygous daughter, but a son accomplishes it in one. And we can still control his offspring through whomever we decide to breed him with. And yes, I have some suggestions on that subject as well." She forestalled Malabha's enquiry. She felt pleased with herself, but withdrew from that pride in her accomplishment. Smugness was guaranteed to upset her old teacher.
Malabha sat in silence, staring at the rosebush. She was tall and sharp, elbows and knees poking out all over, even at rest. Yet her nose was blunt, a battering ram with which she bludgeoned her path through the Academe. Canteen rumour had it that she had been tested to see if she had Siona genes at all.
"I will accept your assessment." Malabha said at last, decision reached without provisos. "I might have done it differently, but you handled it well and I don't think anyone will complain." She paused a fraction of a second. "You will be a fine Breeding Mistress one day, I think."
"Thank you, Proctor." Gwyllen bowed her head while Malabha scoffed at the title. Suddenly serious, she met Gwyllen's eye with a sharp expression.
"Did you wonder why I returned early?" She asked.
Teg. "To bring news of the clone." Gwyllen suggested.
"Officially, yes. Lucilla needed to be informed." Malabha shrugged. "But any Reverend Mother would suffice to carry a message through the whores' net. Why did I volunteer?"
Another lesson. Gwyllen reviewed her options. The Vice Chancellor had once remarked that, had it not been for the Bashar Teg, it could have been herself imprisoned in a no-ship on Chapter House instead of the captured Honoured Matre Murbella. Burzmali too would want to hear the news, but Malabha was correct: any Reverend Mother could carry a Shared message. Thinking of it brought to Gwyllen's nose the scent of shere, emanating from Malabha's robes in this confined space.
"We have spent too long among people who are fundamentally similar to ourselves." The Proctor said, her teaching manner just as it had been years ago. "Chapter House has become... different to Lampadas. Or even Wallach. Enforced isolation has emphasised the differences between our holdings, yet our basic sameness troubles me." Gwyllen was confused, but Malabha continued regardless. "Lampadas is angry. It took a sojourn offworld to see it, but this planet has been stewing for decades." Malabha sat back, uncharacteristically distracted. "Chapter House jumps at Mother Superior's shout. We're pressed, harried, and I wonder if we aren't about to commit a horrendous mistake."
She's talking to me as an equal! Gwyllen realised, shocked at her own slowness. Malabha wasn't instructing, she was discussing. She stammered over her reply. "What kind of mistake? Surely you aren't suggesting that the whores have the right of it."
"Be grateful to the Matres." Malabha replied. "Their arrival has forced us to examine ourselves in ways that we haven't considered in centuries. Their assault has strengthened what it is to be Bene Gesserit, and thus strengthened humanity through us."
"You think that strength has become too rigid." Gwyllen supposed.
"Don't tell me what I think. Rigidity may already have become predictability."
"And predictability will kill us."
"Exactly." Malabha nodded, darkly pleased. "And this planet has been angry for generations. I fear our anger has weakened us."
"Fear weakens us." Said with confidence. Never just an expression.
"All emotion weakens us!" Offended by her assuredness.
"That is lack of control." Gwyllen protested.
"Control. You would control humanity the way the whores control their males?" Malabha sneered, though the expression was directionless, almost as though she was speaking to someone else entirely. Gwyllen paused, bit back her reply to consider it further.
"No." She said at last. "Not control. Teach. Teach discipline, teach them all to be human."
"A noble goal!" The sneer was uglier for being unfamiliar on that face. Gwyllen had already isolated the emotion which troubled her most: her mentor was afraid. A Reverend Mother would know what to do, would have just the right words to dampen such an emotional tinderbox. Gwyllen dredged her lessons for anything remotely applicable. The litany, but only if she realised her fear! When in doubt, just do your best. A poor motto, but one which had been imparted by VC Lucilla herself upon Gwyllen's acceptance into the ranks of Acolytes.
"What did you see on Chapter House that so worries you?" She asked the question baldly, hoping to shock Malabha into herself. The old Proctor's expression of distaste faded, but she did not reply immediately. "Has Murbella affected them somehow?"
"How could she not?" Malabha laughed bitterly. "She's not the problem though. Her- ach. A discussion for another time. Tell me about Lampadas. I've spoken to the Chancellor of course, but the Academe has its own news, I'm sure."
"During the last two years? Very little. I teach the postulants in some classes now, and expect to have taken the Agony in a year or two." Still a trace of pride, irritating that she wasn't yet rid of it. Like the white trimming on her robes, it reminded her of her slow path through the Academe's school for potential Breeding Mistresses. No room for pride in a Reverend Mother. "Some of the district schools are being turned to new purposes, with the extra pupils housed here."
"Research into Scattering technology, teaching Tleilaxu methods." Gwyllen watched for Malabha to wince, saw only a small sigh. Mask up, sisters! "Oh, and the men of course." Her hand flickered across the console, bringing up a video feed of five young men listening to a lecture from a sixth. "Duncan-trained to go out and infuriate the Matres. This is the fourth task force so far. To the best of our knowledge the programme has been very successful, barring a few accidents."
"Accidents?" Malabha raised an eyebrow.
"Some of the early trainees mistakenly imprinted to each other during practice. Most are still willing to be used against the whores, but they guard each other too jealously to allow further tutoring."
"I suspect that Duncan deliberately allowed that to happen." Malabha rolled her eyes. "He does so like to confound us, ever since Gammu. And Schwangyu."
"Burzmali gives lectures on the Bashar, sometimes." Gwyllen said, quietly shutting down the projection.
"Does he now? Perhaps we should send little Miles to attend them when he is old enough." Malabha chuckled. Gwyllen nodded agreement.
"He was trained here, was he not? The Bashar? Perhaps he will be sent to train again."
"Doubtful." Malabha opined, rising from the chairdog. "Mother Superior is protective of him already. Too protective. She won't risk the whores by sending him to Lampadas." Again that trace of unwelcome emotion. Something on Chapter House had deeply unsettled the other woman, but Gwyllen was at a loss as to what it could have been. The ghola? Should I inform someone? But she has already met with the Chancellor.
"You're woolgathering, girl." Malabha prompted.
"I am concerned." Gwyllen stood. "You are out of sorts, teacher."
"The journey from Chapter House was... taxing. And two years on the planet, trapped by the cursed whores' pogrom!" Malabha sighed again. "I think I shall retire soon, Gwyl. Old voices like mine are becoming obsolete."
"Perhaps it isn't voices like yours, but your voice?" Gwyllen's own boldness startled her. Malabha frowned for a moment, but the expression passed.
"Perhaps." She mused. "Perhaps I have finally grown old enough to resist change, even when it must occur. Good insight." The two stood at the door now. "Listen, girl. You want me to tell you how much you've advanced, and you have advanced. But you're not ready for the Agony yet." Gwyllen accepted this with a grateful nod. "Now, would you care to join me for a walk in the gardens? It's a habit of Odrade's that I took to during my time on Chapter House."
"I heard Mother Superior enjoys orchards." Gwyllen replied.
"What Mother Superior enjoys is another matter altogether." Malabha smiled thinly. "Will you indulge an old woman in her gossip?"
Arm in arm, Acolyte and Proctor left the reading room behind.