DE VRIES, PITER. (10138-10191.)
© Dr. Willis E. McNelly

The man who would in time become Mentat-Assassin for the Siridar-Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, and rival him in evil, was born on Gwandali, a small planet well off the main spaceways. According to fragmentary Tleilaxu records, Piter's mother was Thra, a daughter of the powerful Olman clan. A sickly woman who nevertheless appears to hive lived to a considerable old age, Thra doted on her only son and seemingly denied him nothing. Of Piter's father, we know next to nothing. In the only note we have on the senior de Vries, his name is partially obliterated; the only letters legible are "ibb," but whether they constitute the beginning or end of his name is difficult to say.

We do know from evidence in the Tleilaxu Records that Piter's father, in some financial difficulty, sold the child to the Tleilaxu for their mentat experiments. In the normal course of his training, Piter learned to absorb sense impressions and data, then work the material - add, extrapolate, calculate, analyze - to come up with second-approximation answers or, ideally, straight-line computations-4o become, literally, a "human computer."

Listening to students' tales, Piter chafed at being stranded in, to his mind, the backwater of the universe. He had long since decided to set out, when the wind was right, to raise the fortunes of Piter de Vries. He burned with impatience and ambition. Having no doubt about his capabilities, he saw immediately that the avenue of the mentat, if trod shrewdly, could lead to what he yearned for most: power.

Tleilax, as one of the two or three planets that did not completely adhere to the dictums leveled against technology after the Butlerian Jihad, included a variety of questionable courses of training for mentats. Always sensitive to the demands of the marketplace, the Tleilaxu could produce mentats superbly skilled in any specialty, including the so-called "twisted" Mentat-Assassins who could kill efficiently and without compunction. When the Baron Harkonnen's order for a Mentat Assassin arrived, the Tleilaxu saw in the clever Piter an ideal candidate for the Baron's requirements.

To produce a "twisted" mentat, the Tleilaxu enhanced and fostered inclinations to evil in their candidates, then systematically destroyed any vestiges of human emotions or responses except those required by the employer. Although most of the Tleilaxu methods of twist conditioning are lost or obscure, one is certain: the systematic destruction of faith or confidence in authorities, in loved ones, or in persons in traditional positions of trust by allowing the subject to witness Face-Dancer counterfeits of such individuals committing atrocities. Thus, Piter was subjected to horror upon horror, including the appalling simulation of his "mother" being raped by a trusted mentor.

After the proper period of training, Piter was delivered to the Baron Harkonnen. By the time he entered the Baron's employ, he was, to the Baron's thinking, the "perfect" Mentat-unfeeling, unscrupulous, addicted to melange, incapable of affection for his fellow creatures; his only possible emotion was a morbid delight in erotic depravity and in inflicting pain or death. He was a creature to whom killing was as natural as swallowing and done with as little thought. If in the accepted view, Thufir Hawat was indeed the mint-perfect Mentat, Piter de Vries was the other side of the coin.

The Harkonnen papers point out that when Piter joined the Baron on Giedi Prime in 10168 he was a small, slender man with dark, effeminate features. Eventually, by the time of his full maturity, Piter had not reached the average height expected for males in his society. Some have conjectured that Piter's slight build and meager height may account to some extent for his inordinate desire for power. Orders and sales receipts found in his papers indicate that he favored wearing the cothum (a high, thick-soled boot) which suggests that he was not reconciled to his size.

During his years as Baron Harkonnen's Mentat-Assassin, Piter served his master well. He machinated the destruction of a number Of Minor Houses and the weakening of many more. He outlined the oppressive policy the Baron implemented on Arrakis to squeeze Out spice profits. He seldom made mistakes. In fact, the only recorded one is his prediction that the Lady Jessica would bear her Duke a daughter, which she would have if she had not disobeyed Bene Gesserit orders.

As time went on, Piter worked profitably in two areas in which he excelled: the creation of methods of torture and the development of poisons. His products ranged from the most subtle, undetectable poisons to those causing lingering death in excruciating pain. One notable compound was a sophisticated residual poison (later used on Thufir Hawat) for which periodic antidotes had to be administered. The control comes, of course, with the threat of withdrawal of the antidote, which brought death within hours, or at the most within a few days.

In return for his efforts, the Baron fed Piter's craving for power by promises of future spoils and fed his addiction with an unlimited supply of melange. In working for the Baron, of course, Piter knew he walked a tightrope. For a man as ruthless as the Baron, ordering an execution when he was displeased was a simple matter. Piter, however, had some advantage: as a mentat he would know when the Baron sent the executioner. Also he knew the Baron would not destroy him as long as he was useful; if he had learned anything in his years on Giedi Prime, it was that the Baron was not wasteful of talent.

When the Baron finally decided that the moment had arrived to eliminate the hated House Atreides, it was Piter's strategy that the Baron took to the emperor. The plan was simplicity itself: isolate and destroy. Gauging the emperor's temper correctly, Piter urged the Baron to negotiate with the emperor: the emperor would order the Duke Leto-an order the Duke would never disobey-to leave Caladan (a planet the House Atreides had held in fief for generations) for Arrakis, a desert planet but the only source in, the universe of the essential spice. Soon after the Atreides arrived on Arrakis and before they could consolidate their position, the Baron would spring the ambush with the help of the dreaded Sardaukar, disguised in Harkonnen livery. It was imperative that the royal hand be clean. If the Landsraad should ever learn that the emperor had moved against a Great House, they would undoubtedly unite for retaliation.

The emperor had his own reasons for wanting the Atreides destroyed. He had long observed the presently small but exemplary fighting force Leto had assembled under the direction of Gurney Halleck and Duncan Idaho and foresaw the day when it could be more than a match for his Sardaukar. Thus, when the Baron came to him with his treacherous scheme, he saw a way to rid himself of this potential threat, reluctant though he was to move against a man he respected and admired.

To insure the success of the venture, Piter added some refinements. The best insurance obviously was to have an agent planted at the hub of the Atreides house. But who? Piter decided to do the impossible, corrupt the incorruptible. One member of the Duke's household was Wellington Yueh, a medical doctor of the Suk School, whose training included a supposedly unbreakable conditioning against disloyalty-a conditioning considered so absolute that emperors could employ Suk doctors without fear. However, Piter's philosophy did not accept the possibility of incorruptibility: to him every man had his price. It was just a question of finding the appropriate coin. The way was found to bend Yueh's Imperial Conditioning: he was told that his beloved wife Wanna (who had been dead for some years), was alive and in the Baron's custody subject to Piter's torture. Thus, the bargain was struck (incidentally deflating the bubble of Suk Conditioning): the Baron promised to "deliver Wanna from her agonies" and permit Yueh "to join her" if Yueh would deliver the Atreides, especially the Duke Leto, to him.

To prevent Yueh's detection, knowing that the Atreides' Mentat Thufir Hawat would suspect that the Harkonnens had planted a traitor in their midst, Piter decided to give them one: a decoy. He had the Baron compose a note to one Pardee, the head of the Harkonnen underground on Arrakis, informing him that they had successfully placed an agent in the Atreides' house and hinting in unmistakable terms that the traitor was Jessica. When the note was intercepted as planned, they would have awakened suspicion into the heart of the Atreides' defenses.

Piter also devised some minor diversions such as uprisings in selected garrison towns and suggested that the Baron offer a reward of a million solaris for a crysknife. Piter felt that with his blue-within-blue eyes and a crysknife he would have no trouble, should the occasion call for it and the opportunity arise, penetrating any sietch on Arrakis, However, this idea was one of his few hopes that came to naught.

After the Atreides were taken, the Baron escorted Piter to the cell where Jessica lay bound and gagged to collect the "spoils of Arrakis" the Baron had promised him: the Lady Jessica herself. Once there the Baron brought out his surprise; Piter had a choice: Jessica or the Duchy of Arrakis to rule in the Baron's name.

In the only reference to Piter in her journal The Years on Arrakis Jessica speaks of her fear as she lay on the floor looking up at Piter looming over her and of her bewilderment that he could not hear the lie in the Baron's voice. She also realized that there could be no doubt of Piter's choice when she heard the truth in the Baron's words: "I know what Piter really wants. Piter wants power." His decision to take the duchy was immediate.

Selections from The History of House Harkonnen reveal the Baron's actual scheme. He intended Piter to rule only until he had fulfilled his purpose; he would then be eliminated. Knowing Piter would make Arrakis suffer, the Baron planned to leave him in power only until Arrakis hated him so much that they would welcome his nephew Feyd Rautha as a savior.

The Baron, however, never got a chance to test his plot. In a few short hours Piter de Vries was dead, puffed out of existence by a whiff of poison gas from a pill shaped into a false tooth and placed in Duke Leto's mouth by Dr. Yueh. The interview in the Baron's command post had begun with Yueh. When the Suk doctor was brought to the Baron to receive the reward for his treachery, the Baron fulfilled his promise to allow Yueh "to join" his beloved Wanna: in death. At the Baron's signal, Piter killed the doctor. (Details of the slaying as told to Iakin Zefud, the Baron's guard captain, by a witness, Umman Kudu, are recorded in Zefud's Log. Included in the records is Kudu's observation that, although he had seen many killings in his time, he had seldom seen one performed with such obvious relish as Piter's slaying of Dr. Yueh.)

Within moments of Yueh's death, the Baron had Duke Leto brought into the room in hopes of getting him to reveal the whereabouts of Jessica and Paul. When a prolonged interrogation of Leto failed, the Baron decided to try the threat of torture. It was then that Leto bit on the capsule tooth and opened his mouth to expel the poison gas. Although the Baron escaped, Piter succumbed. Perhaps the best thing that one can say for Piter de Vries is that he shared his moment of death with the great Duke Leto Atreides.

D.K.

Further reference: MENTAT entries; MENTATS, TWISTED; Marya von Wikkheiser, The History of House Harkonnen, tr. Arazrii Pezh, SAH 76 (Paseo: Institute of GalactoFremen Culture); Iakin Zefud, Duty Officer's Log for 7/l/1019 1, RRC 35-M113; Lady Jessica, The Years on Arrakis, tr. Zhaivz Aultan (Caladan: Apex).