William, Vladimir needs to free up some assets. I've said I will support him but also mentioned that you might be able to assist. As far as we can tell it represents an excellent investment. I passed the details to EB.
—Note found in the Stilfleet Citadel
"He's not the first man to predict the future you know," The aging Duke said as he reclined in a heavy and darkly stained leather chair.
The younger, though somewhat larger, CHOAM agent sitting near him looked up. "I'm sorry, my Lord?" he had not been paying attention.
"Did Earl Remsen ever tell you about the Prophet Ho — The Man of the Mountain?" The Duke smiled, but news his friend's death on Kaitain had saddened him.
"No, my Lord," the CHOAM agent replied, "I don't recall it."
The Duke settled back and picked up his glass, "Ho predicted the coming of a great and noble struggle; and in the process managed to acquire hundreds, if not thousands, of devoted, loyal, and ferocious followers. He kept them going with tales and stories of seven dark ships, hell on Naraj, the end of the stars — you can imagine the sort of thing no doubt."
"What happened?" The CHOAM agent asked, leaning towards the Duke, elbows on his knees.
The Duke paused for a moment, lost in some distant thought. "They killed him," he said eventually, with a certain sense of finality.
Brownspoon hesitated. Was this the end of the Duke's story? A blunt commentary on the dark thoughts that had permeated the mind of every man in the Imperium since the destruction of House Corrino and the rise of the Atreides Emperor and his Fremen horde.
"They killed him," The Duke repeated, but this time his tone suggested that this was not the end of the story, "They killed him one week before the madness of the Butlerian Jihad reached Naraj," The Duke grinned, "The old kook had predicted it. Without the power of its machines, the old regime fell. The power and influence of Ho's followers was cemented for a thousand years. A new golden age for a backwater world known as Naraj."
"I'm surprised I never heard of this — I have served, did serve, House Remsen for more than fifteen years and I never heard of this Ho or his followers."
"You've visited Tharuha?" The Duke asked, the agent nodded, "That was Ho's capital"
The agent looked confused, "That plascrete monstrosity? I would have thought it would have been one of the ancient cities."
"It was," The Duke replied, "House Remsen flattened a city to build a communications array. All men and all men are forgotten. You, me — even Muad'dib."
There was a knock at the door.
"Enter!" The Duke boomed. The door clicked open and Mitchell Claycomb, the Duke's Chief Administrator entered. "Mitch! — Have you received word from the smugglers?" The Duke asked immediately.
The administrator nodded, "Yes, Sire. They told me that both Count Danforth and Jeremiah Remsen made it off Kaitain safely."
"Thank God for that" The Duke said, relieved.
"I think Hugo is the one you should be thanking," The CHOAM Agent grinned.
Mitch nodded, "Brownspoon is right, Earl Remsen is alive because of Danforth. They are making their way to Naraj with the hope of mounting some sort of counter offensive."
Earl Remsen? The Duke thought. Yes, Jeremiah was Earl Remsen now. He turned to Brownspoon and raised his glass, "To the continuation of House Remsen and a prayer that one day Agent Brownspoon will be able to return home. Trying as these times are they will be forgotten."
"Forgotten?" The administrator asked, feeling he had missed something.
"The Duke was telling me about a Naraji holy man named Ho, who has been forgotten."
"Sire!" Mitch interrupted, "An Atreides lighter will be landing imminently! They are actually arriving as we speak!"
"We should be preparing our defences, not telling stories! This isn't the time!"
"Mitch!" the Duke said firmly, "I have no defence and I'm not going to lie," he paused, "House Harome financially aided the Harkonnens in their actions against House Atreides on Arrakis which directly resulted in the death of Duke Leto Atreides. Mitch, I am responsible for the murder of the Emperor's father."
"I'm sorry my Lord. I let myself.."
The Duke interrupted his administrator, "It's alright Mitch."
"Mitch." The Duke sounded fatherly, "Has the administrative quarter been taken care of?"
"Yes, my Lord — the fires have been set. It will look like a generator fault." He replied, relieved to be on more familiar ground again.
"Whatever happens it's been an honour, Mitch. You too Brownspoon — despite the sad circumstances of your arrival, you've been a great help and I appreciate all your hard work."
Brownspoon looked embarrassed, "Don't mention is my Lord."
"We should head towards the Reception Hall, Sire. It's almost time."
There was a commotion in the hall when they arrived. A small number of Fremen warriors were demanding the palace guards disarm. The guards were refusing, but to their credit had not opened fire.
"Captain, disarm your men!" The Duke called across the hall. The captain looked at his Duke in disbelief before ordering his men to comply. "When will the Delegation arrive?"
"At any moment," the Captain answered. One of the advance Fremen had left the hall but quickly returned — two steps behind the Imperial Delegation. Most of the members were Fremen — dark blue eyes, peering from sun-scorched faces framed by sand blasted robes. The man at their head looked oddly out of place. He was pale and soft looking, had an angry look about him and was draped in the finest clothes that money could buy.
"Who is he?" The Duke whispered.
"August Marcello," The CHOAM Agent replied.
The Duke glanced at him, "You know him?"
The Delegation halted, "In the name of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Paul Muad'dib Atreides, I demand an audience with Mitchell Claycomb."
"I am Duke Antony Harome, Lord of..."
"I asked for Mister Claycomb," Marcello snapped. Relishing his role.
"Duke Harome rules here," The CHOAM Agent stated.
"Ah, Mister Brownspoon. I saw you there, delighted to meet you again, Ernest" he flashed white teeth, "My condolences on the loss of your Earl Remsen and the boy Jeremiah. It is such a shame that they could not take their place in the new Imperium."
The Administrator interrupted before Brownspoon could speak, "Sir, if it is the Imperial Negotiator's wish, then I will speak for House Harome and this world."
Marcello nodded, "Progress," he said quietly, still looking at Brownspoon, who cleared his throat, but remained silent.
"By order of the Imperial House, House Harome is dissolved, effective immediately, and all assets seized in the Emperor's name. What follows is up to Mister Claycomb."
"You can't do that!" Brownspoon interrupted loudly.
Marcello shot a glance at him, "Mister Brownspoon, I suggest you be silent, or should I have you escorted out?"
"Let him stay," Claycomb ordered, "At least let us hear what he says," he whispered to the CHOAM Agent.
"Ah, at last, a little co-operation," Marcello smiled softly, "All men of fighting age will be immediately conscripted into an Out Freyn Legion and agricultural output will be increased to maximum capacity. Seventy-percent of all produce being allocated to supporting our noble Emperor's righteous Jihad."
"That will cripple the planet!" The Duke erupted, breaking his silence. Marcello ignored him.
"The terms are final. Failure to comply will result in atomic bombardment."
There was a shocked silence.
Brownspoon broke it, "You wouldn't dare! I call your bluff Marcello — The Great Houses would respond and you would all…"
"Oh I would dare, Mister Brownspoon. We have conquered worlds, killed leaders, crushed populations and deposed an Emperor. If the tattered remnants of the old order could stop us, then why don't they? This world will submit. I guarantee it.
"I wouldn't hold my breath," Brownspoon growled.
"What about governance? How will agriculture be controlled?" Claycomb asked.
Brownspoon almost lunged at him, "Why are you even considering… He won't use atomics, he can't, and he knows he can't! We can resist!"
Marcello motioned two Fremen to restrain the CHOAM Agent, they bound his hands and lead him away, "Whatever system you choose, as long as it gets the results we require. This world is a beautiful bread basket, I'm sure we can come to an amicable agreement."
"What about my family?" Claycomb asked flatly.
"Protected, all men who serve the administration will be protected, along with their families, of course. They will not be called into the Legion… unless they choose to join."
"Mitch?" The Duke whispered.
Claycomb turned to him, "I can save this world."