Norma Cevna
© Dr. Willis E. McNelly

Ixian shipwright and navigator, "Foster-mother of the Spacing Guild." Norma Cevna was the most original and brilliant of the Ixian refugees who left that planet in search of a world on which to solve the problem paramount in their minds: the reunion of mankind by developing a computerless interstellar navigation system. Cevna's common sense and intelligence complemented the ferocious energy of her lover, Aurelius Venport, and the two of them made possible the later organization of the Spacing Guild, with all the effect on mankind which that implies.

On one of the stops during the wanderings of the Aurelian exiles, Cevna accepted among their number a woman who claimed to be outcast from the Bene Gesserit, one Dardanius Leona Shard. The identity, purpose, and influence of the alleged ex-Reverend Mother are some of the many mysteries surrounding the early history of the Spacing Guild, but it is clear that Leona and Cevna became close friends, establishing a comity that was later to direct the course of the exiles' research.

On reaching Tupile, the exiles began to develop a navigation system that would overcome the greatest handicap caused by the Butlerian Jihad-the loss of computers. Cevna devoted her time to the design of hyperspace ships; she also became the first known pilot to experiment with the use of melange in ship direction. Through her friendship with Leona, Cevna learned the ways of the Bene Gesserit, but only those techniques that would realize the navigational potential of spicetrance prescience. These studies strained her relationship with Venport, as the anonymous Aurelian Memoirs relate. Venport supposedly said, "You spend altogether too much time with the Gesserit witch; it works to our harm," to which Cevna replied, "No, it works to our help; not only will I give you your ship, I will show you how to guide it-pick the farthest star, and I will take it there and bring it back" (p. 166).

And she kept almost all of that grandiose promise. Using the industry rebuilt by Venport, she designed the first Guild ship, The Golden Advent (legend has it that Cevna christened the ship for Venport's dream of the return of travel, and in his honor, playing on the meaning of his name; Venport, so the legend goes, wanted to call it the Jehanne Be Damned). When the ship was completed in 84 B.G., ambitious, even revolutionary in its design, Norma Cevna piloted it on its maiden voyage,' and in this promise she failed in part, through too heavy a reliance on technological traditions.

As both designer and accomplished pilot, Cevna was to serve as both captain and navigator, but she was suspicious of the reliability of melange and unable to free herself entirely from the allure of man/machine interfacing. Simply put, she intended to shortcut her way through the many problems still to be solved by replacing the computer with her own spice-heightened brain. Terminals were implanted in both hemispheres of Cevna's cerebral cortex; she was thus physically linked to the guidance subsystems slaved to the ship's Holtzman Drive generators. While the right hemisphere dropped the ship into The Void at the spice-directed exact moment, the left hemisphere navigated by shifting mass-compensators mounted on a universal gear. The Golden Advent reached the test destination on schedule, but Cevna suffered increasingly (and silently) from the strain imposed by her dual role, as the others on board thought. The real cause was much worse: electrical "minicharges" were sympathetically induced in her brain by the implanted electrodes, and her spice prescience caused her to "foresee," albeit subconsciously, the trauma these charges would cause. The physiological effects are a matter of medical conjecture, but experiments on laboratory animals suggest that in such a situation, spice-awareness causes functions to be shunted from one hemisphere to the other in an attempt to maintain the functions and to minimize damage. But Cevna's constant connection made a feedback loop unavoidable, and the condition spiraled upward in intensity. When the return voyage was nearly completed, Cevna went into convulsions like those of grand mal epilepsy. Venport had to drop the ship into normal space and complete its return on back-up systems.

Doctors on Tupile eventually diagnosed her condition as induced cortical epilepsy, but her seizures continued despite their best treatments. As a last resort, they separated the two hemispheres by cutting the corpus callosum to halt the continued shifting of functions. The seizures stopped, but Cevna's abilities were permanently crippled. She fell into depression and retired from active life; when Venport failed to return from his test flight of 79 B.G., she declined rapidly and died the following year.

Norma Cevna's contributions to the Spacing Guild cannot be overestimated. Although little remains of her original designs, she showed that melange could stimulate the human mind to replace the forbidden computers. To gain this knowledge, she paid the greatest possible price.