the qanats and ring canals of Keen. Only a moat of damp sand guarded such
pioneer places. Shaitan avoided water but the sandtrout vector soon took away
any dampness. Precious moisture captured in windtraps had to be expended each
day to renew the barrier. Her village was a miserable cluster of shacks and
hovels with two small windtraps, adequate for drinking water but with only a
sporadic surplus that could be apportioned to the worm barrier.
That morning -- much like this morning, the night's chill sharp in her nose and
lungs, the horizon constricted by a ghostly haze -- most of the village children
had fanned out into the desert, there to seek bits and fragments of melange,
which Shaitan sometimes left behind in his passage. Two big ones had been heard
nearby in the night. Melange, even at modern deflated prices, could buy the
glazed bricks to line a third windtrap.
Each searching child not only looked for the spice but also sought those signs
which would reveal one of the old Fremen sietch strongholds. There were only
remnants of such places now but the rock barriers provided a greater security
against Shaitan. And some of the remnant sietch places were reputed to contain
lost hoards of melange. Every villager dreamed of such a discovery.
Sheeana, wearing her patched stillsuit and flimsy robe, went alone to the
northeast, toward the faraway smoky mound of air that told of the great city of
Keen with its moisture richness lifting into the sun-warmed breezes.
Hunting scraps of melange in the sand was largely a matter of focusing attention
into the nostrils. It was a form of concentration that left only bits of
awareness attuned to the rasping sand that told of Shaitan's approach. Leg
muscles moved automatically in the non-rhythmic walk that blended with the
desert's natural sounds.
At first, Sheeana did not hear the screaming. It fitted intimately into the
saltated friction of windblown sand across the barracans that concealed the
village from her sight. Slowly the sound penetrated her consciousness and then
it demanded her attention.
Many voices screaming!
Sheeana discarded the desert precaution of random strides. Moving swiftly as
her childish muscles would carry her, she scrambled up the slipface of the
barracan and stared along it toward that terrifying sound. She was in time to
see that which cut off the last of the screams.
Wind and sandtrout had dried a wide arc of the barrier at the far side of her
village. She could see the gap by the color difference. A wild worm had
penetrated the opening. It circled close inside the remaining dampness. The
gigantic flame-shadowed mouth scooped up people and hovels in a swiftly
Sheeana saw the last survivors huddled at the center of this destruction, a
space already cleared of its rude hovels and tumbled with the remains of the
windtraps. Even as she watched, some of the people tried to break away into the
desert. Sheeana recognized her father among the frantic runners. None escaped.
The great mouth engulfed all before turning to level the last of the village.
Smoking sand remained and nothing else of the puny village that had dared to
claim a scrap of Shaitan's domain. The place where the village had been was as
unmarked by human habitation as it had been before anyone walked there.
Sheeana took a gasping breath, inhaling through her nose to preserve the
moisture of her body as any good child of the desert would do. She scanned the
horizon for a sign of the other children but Shaitan's track had left great
curves and loops all around the far side of the village. Not a single human
remained in view. She shouted, the high-pitched cry that would carry far
through the dry air. No response came back to her.
She moved trancelike along the ridge of the dune toward where her village had
been. As she neared the place a great wave of cinnamon odor filled her
nostrils, carried on the wind that still dusted the tops of the dunes. She
realized then what had happened. The village had been sited disastrously atop a
pre-spice blow. As the great hoard far under the sand came to fruition,
expanding in an explosion of melange, Shaitan had come. Every child knew
Shaitan could not resist a spiceblow.
Rage and wild desperation began to fill Sheeana. Mindlessly, she raced down the
dune toward Shaitan, coming up behind the worm as it turned back through the dry
place where it had entered the village. Without thought, she dashed along
beside the tail, scrambled onto it and ran forward along the great ridged back.
At the hump behind its mouth, she crouched and beat her fists against the
The worm stopped.