The Bene Gesserit still find themselves questioning the Golden Path of humanity set by the God Emperor. Now they must survive the Honored Matres, whose reckless conquest of the Old Empire threatens humanity's survival. The Sisters must reassess their timeless methods: does ultimate survival go beyond calculated manipulation? Is there greater purpose to life than consolidating power?
This situation is desperate for the Bene Gesserit as they find themselves the targets of the Honored Matres, whose conquest of the Old Empire is almost complete. The Matres are seeking to assimilate the technology and developed methods of the Bene Gesserit, their "last enemy in the million planets" (i.e. the Old Empire before the Scattering). Given the strength and record of the Matres, the Bene Gesserit need a plan.
In charge of this plan is Darwi Odrade, successor of Taraza. Her prescient visions show an unknown axeman stalking her--an adequate analogy to the Bene Gesserit situation.
The Honored Matres conquest destroyed the Bene Tleilaxu, who falsely assumed that their control of spice production guaranteed their protection. The Matres, we come to see, are surprisingly impulsive in their use of violence. A single Tleilaxu Master remains, albeit in Bene Gesserit captivity. He yields a secret of the Tleilaxu: Ghola Production. The technology compromises Bene Gesserit ethics; the Tleilaxu method requires a human womb--turning women into "tanks" fit for Ghola production. The first ghola produced is that of Miles Teg, the great military commander introduced in Heretics of Dune.
The Bene Gesserit have four important prisoners on Chapter House, held in a no-ship: Ghola Miles Teg, Scytale, Duncan Idaho and Murbella (the Matre introduced in Heretics). The Bene Gesserit considers them valuable keys to the present predicament. This mode of thinking--that people are tools fit for a task--makes the prisoners uncooperative, despite the shared threat of the Matres.
The Bene Gesserit intend to wring more secrets of the Tleilaxu from Scytale--namely, how to create spice from the axolotl tanks. Scytale bitterly regrets supplying the Bene Gesserit with ghola technology, but he must barter with them; he is their prisoner. Within Scytale's chest is a nullentropy tube, containing the cells of all Tleilaxu masters and various figures of the last few millennia, including many Atreides. Capable of recreating the Bene Tleilax, he retains his sense of destiny. Additionally, Scytale also wields the mind-controlling whistling language imprinted in all gholas; what ends could Duncan Idaho achieve for Scytale?
Duncan Idaho and Murbella are living together. The bond created by their mutual imprinting in Heretics has made them somewhat reluctant lovers. The Bene Gesserit have accepted Murbella as a novice and are training her to be a Sister, despite their belief that she intends to steal their secrets and escape back to the Honored Matres.
The Bene Gesserit wonder about Idaho's capabilities and potential; they suspect he remembers more than this ghola existence because they see signs of his being a mentat, a talent not taught to him. They also wonder why Leto II consistently resurrected Duncan; is it his genetic potential? Indeed, he remembers his serial Ghola lives, which mystifies him. His mentat awareness tells him that the Bene Tleilaxu could not have accomplished this, implying that his awareness is linked beyond genetics.
Lampadas, a center for Bene Gesserit education, has fallen to the Honored Matres.
One Sister, Lucilla, manages to escape the disaster of Lampadas. She carries the salvation of destroyed Lampadas: the shared-minds of the Reverend Mothers of Lampadas. Unfortunately, Lucilla's ship is damaged by a mine and she makes a forced landing on Gammu.
Lucilla seeks refuge with an underground group whom she knows will be sympathetic to the Bene Gesserit: Jews. Long ago, Jews went underground from the repeated pogroms against them, continuing to practice their religion in secret, under cover as "religious revivalists," to conceal their unbroken connection to ancient history. They were so successful that they have survived for 26,000 years while history believed them long since annihilated. The Bene Gesserit--with their memories of the past--were not deceived and have developed a relationship with the Jews.
The Rabbi, trapped in the web of mutual obligation, gives Lucilla temporary sanctuary, but in order to save his organization he must deliver Lucilla to the Matres. To Lucilla's shock he reveals Rebecca, a "wild" Reverend Mother, ie a Reverend Mother who has gained her Other Memories without Bene Gesserit training. Lucilla shares with Rebecca, who promises to take the shared minds of Lampadas safely back to the sisterhood. Lucilla is then "betrayed" to the Honored Matres.
Back on Chapter House, Odrade's plans are reaching fruition. She confronts Duncan Idaho and forces him to admit that he is a mentat, proving he retains memories of many ghola lives. To some degree this is a relief to Duncan, as he no longer has to disguise his abilities, but he realizes this makes his position still more precarious.
Lucilla is taken before the Great Honored Matre, and to her surprise she is not killed outright. A game of words begins, and the Matre tries to persuade her to join the Honored Matres, preserving her life in exchange for Bene Gesserit secrets. It becomes known that the Matres dearly want to learn to modify their biochemistry as the Bene Gesserit do. It is speculated that the Matres were driven from the Scattering by an enemy who used biological weapons.
Meanwhile, Murbella collapses under the pressure of Bene Gesserit training and pregnancy--giving in to "word weapons" that the Bene Gesserit planted to undermine her earlier Honored Matre identity. Murbella realizes that she really admires and wants to be Bene Gesserit and sees her former matres as ignorant children. The words of her initiation are repeated with an emphasis not in the original.
Dortujla, the head of a sisterhood keep on Buzzell, arrives on Chapter House reporting that Handlers and Futars--genetic creations similar to Tlielaxu masters and face-dancers--have offered alliance, though Dortujla's Mentat analysis suggests they intend dominance. She speculates that if the Handlers found Buzzell then Matres may too--smugglers would have sold their information indiscriminately. Why have the Honored Matres not already attacked? Odrade sees an opportunity and orders Dortujla to return to Buzzell with the Sisterhood's offer of surrender. Dortujla is to set up a meeting at Junction--the old Spacing Guild complex above Gammu--which the Matres control. Little to their knowledge, Miles Teg has intimate experience with Junction from his human life.
Lucilla's word battles continue for weeks, ending in her death when she reveals to Dama that although the Bene Gesserit know how to manipulate and control the populace, they practice and believe in democracy. Dama's desire to destroy the sisterhood is redoubled--they teach dangerous knowledge and believe in ridiculous ideas like democracy.
Odrade decides that the task of awakening Teg's human memory is best suited to Duncan Idaho, and so he and Murbella take over Teg's training. It is a job that Duncan excels at, but he is not satisfied with the traditional way of awakening a ghola, remembering the pain he went through to release his own memories.
Odrade and Tamalane tour Chapter House and visit to Sheeana to consider promotion. Arriving at the inland sea of Chapter House, Odrade is dismayed to see how small it has become. As she swims, she accepts the ruthlessness of some decisions, and returns to the shore with the decision to accelerate the terraforming by removing the last sea on the planet.
Arriving at Desert Watch station, Odrade confronts Sheeana as a test of her suitability for promotion. But Odrade is undermined by her lingering affection for Sheeana and so does not force the full truth out of her, but discovers that Duncan and Sheeana have been allied together for some time and have exchanged much information. Sheeana does not reveal that they have been considering the option of reawakening Teg's memory through imprinting, nor does Odrade discover that Sheeana has the keys to the no-ship prison of Duncan.
While Odrade is away, Bellonda--a chief advisor to Odrade--decides to get rid of Duncan Idaho, who she believes is too dangerous. However, she underestimates Duncan's capabilities; when she confronts him he protects himself with Teg, since Teg would never serve them after witnessing the murder of his teacher and friend. With his centuries of awareness--his serial lives--Duncan manipulates Bellonda by revealing his genius as a mentat. He chides the sisterhood by focusing on things that they refuse to face, arguing that their emergency plan of Scattering is flawed. Nobody sent to the Scattering has ever returned; ergo they are being trapped. Bellonda leaves realizing not only is Duncan too useful to kill, but that Odrade probably manipulated her into this precise situation. She releases the blocks on Duncan's information flow. "If you have a tool, use it properly," she admits to herself.
Odrade's moulding of Scytale continues apace. She points out to him that his dream of Scytale's great revival is fatally flawed, because the Tleilaxu who scattered are no longer true to his beliefs and indeed serve the Matres. Scytale is amazed and terrified when Sheeana arrives with a baby sandworm. The Bene Gesserit now have their long term supply of spice, destroying Scytale's main bargaining card.
Teg is awakened by Sheeana using imprinting techniques at Duncan's suggestion. His mother had implanted in him a resistance to imprinting and so under Sheeana's sensual assault his old conditioning triggers and his memories are awakened. In his awakening he can't help but reveal the new physical abilities given to him by the T-Probe--his torture device in Heretics. She frees and appoints him again as Bashar of the military forces of the sisterhood for the assault on the Honored Matres.
Finally it is decided that Murbella is ready to become a Reverend Mother. Odrade relaxes the strictures, and for the first time ever a man--Duncan--is allowed to watch a spice ceremony. Duncan is filled with trepidation, firstly because he fears Murbella will not survive the ceremony, and secondly because he wonders whether she will still love him after going through such a life changing experience. Odrade watches with equal trepidation because Murbella is vital to her plan to deal with the Honored Matres and to reform the sisterhood. Odrade believes that the Bene Gesserit made a mistake in fearing emotion, and that in order to evolve the Bene Gesserit must learn to accept emotions. Murbella, Odrade is pleased to find, takes and survives the hard path to becoming a Reverend Mother.
Murbella goes through a manic phase after becoming a Reverend Mother, and her feelings for Duncan are not the same, a fact that worries Odrade as much as Duncan. Whether it is a temporary effect of the experience or a permanent one is unknown.
Odrade calls a Convocation--a meeting of all the Bene Gesserit--announcing her plan to attack the Honored Matres. She tells them that this attack will be led by Teg. She also announces candidates to succeed her as Mother Superior; she will share with Murbella and Sheeana before she leaves.
Odrade goes to meet the Great Honored Matre with Dortujla, Tamalane and Suipol (an acolyte). To Odrade's surprise Dama seems negotiative; Odrade wonders whether she was wise to have prearranged the attack. After a while she realizes that Dama intends no reasonable negotiation.
Under cover of Odrade's diplomacy, the Bene Gesserit forces under Teg attack Gammu with tremendous force. Teg uses his secret ability to see no-ships to secure control of the system. Survivors of the attack flee to Junction, and Teg follows them there and carries all with him. Victory for the Bene Gesserit seems inevitable. In the midst of this battle, the Jews including Rebecca with her precious memories take refuge with the Bene Gesserit fleet.
Logno--chief adviser to Dama--assassinates Dama with poison and assumes control of the Honored Matres. Her first act surprises Odrade greatly--she surrenders to Odrade. Teg arrives, and reports come in. Too late; Odrade and Teg realize they have fallen into a trap, and the Honored Matres use "the Weapon" and turn defeat into victory. Murbella saves as much of the Bene Gesserit force as she can and they begin to withdraw to Chapter House.
The potential failure of the Bene Gesserit attack was planned for by Odrade, who left Murbella instructions for a last desperate gamble. Murbella pilots a small craft down to the surface, announcing herself as an Honored Matre who has managed to escape the Bene Gesserit in the confusion with all their secrets. She arrives on the planet and immediately announces her intentions by killing an overeager Honored Matre with a blinding speed enhanced by Bene Gesserit training that makes her faster than any Honored Matre before her.
Murbella is taken to the Great Honored Matre and immediately declares herself hostile. Logno cannot help herself and attacks, Murbella disposes of her and some allies. Odrade is killed in the melee. Murbella shares with Odrade and takes charge of the Honored Matres, who are awed by her physical prowess.
Murbella's ascension to the leadership of the Honored Matres and, by necessity, the Bene Gesserit is not accepted as victory by all the Bene Gesserit. Some feel that she will suborn the spirit of the Bene Gesserit and many worry that her plan of merging the two orders is doomed to failure. Some then decide to escape, notably Sheeana who has a vision of her own. They ask Duncan and Teg whether they wish to join them and they flee Chapterhouse in the giant no-ship, taking also Scytale and the Jews.
Murbella recognised their plan at the last minute, but is powerless to stop them, realizing at the same time that Duncan's departure solves many problems for her.
A proper conclusion to the Dune saga?
Chapter House: Dune ends on a cliffhanger. What happens to the escaped ship? Does Murbella successfully manage to merge the Honored Matres and Bene Gesserit? What role will Scytale play in the future? What precisely are Duncan Idaho's new powers, or Teg's? How will Teg develop? Who chased the Honored Matres back to the old Empire and what will they do when they get to the Old Empire? What role will the Jews play? Who are the god-like characters in the book's last chapter?
These unanswered questions may be assuaged by some wisdom from Dune:
- Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife—chopping off what's incomplete and saying: "Now, it's complete because it's ended here."
- —from "Collected Sayings of Muad'Dib" by the Princess Irulan
Some readers speculate that Frank Herbert would end the series on a cliffhanger, expousing the philosophy that there is no stopping point to life and that all endings are new beginnings. The lives of our heroes don't end because a book ends, they go on in our imagination.
This ending also fits neatly into the grander scheme of the novels. The survival of humanity has been a question since the beginning of the series; by Chapter House: Dune, the Honored Matres threaten to destroy the known universe, and they in turn appear to be fleeing from some unknown (and greater) power. But Herbert leaves the series with at least two locuses of hope for humanity. First, the warring Bene Gesserit and Honored Matres appear united under Murbella, who has been converted to Bene Gesserit ideals. Second, a small but significant group has set out on their own into the Scattering to develop a new society. Given the scope of Herbert's vision, this ending seems quite appropriate.
There have also been some hints in the Prelude, written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Andersson, that the enemy that drove the Honored Matres back to the Old Empire was the remnants of the Thinking Machines. The Prelude books are, according to Brian, based on notes by Frank Herbert and discussions Brian had with his father. In "Butlerian Jihad" an evermind overseeing Giedi Prime sends 5000 deep-space probes, equipped with copies of the evermind, as seeds for new Syncronized Worlds. Shortly thereafter, human forces arrive and retake the planet, destroying the evermind copy before it was backed-up, thus removing any and all knowledge of the probe/seeds. One of the probes lands on Arrakis and is promptly swallowed by a sandworm attracted by the vibrations caused by its internal factories. The fate of the other 4999 are unknown. It can be postulated that, due to the hazardous nature of deep space and the travel times projected by the evermind, i.e. hundreds to thousands of years, the probes may have suffered a significant failure and attrition rate.
In "Battle of Corrin" The last evermind sends a copy of itself into deep space where it hopes to be able to rebuild the machine empire, and wait for the humans to arrive. It is unknown if the nascent Synchronized Worlds seeded by the probes intercept this broadcasted update. If they did, however, then the second machine empire would therefore be fully up to date on the course of the Butlerian Jihad. It is also stated by a Guildsman in "House Corrino", when they are tossed into deep space, due to activation of shields while folding space, that they must get away fast because there is an "ancient and future enemy" approaching. This could be interpreted as the Thinking machines, the evermind copy sent to establish the "new" empire. They fit in as humanity's ancient enemy, since the Butlerian Jihad, and humanity's future enemy, possibly the one that drove the Honored Matres back.
However, Brian Herbert states that Frank Herbert left notes for Dune 7, and when Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson have completed the prequels to Dune, they intend to work on Dune 7. For now, the only officially announced information about Dune 7 is that it will be published in two volumes named Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune. It is not known whether Frank Herbert would have wished this.
Daniel and Marty
One of the controversies of Chapterhouse Dune concerns Daniel and Marty, the elderly couple whom Duncan 'sees' in the net. They are Face Dancers who have somehow become able to break away from — or at least live independent of — a Tleilaxu Master; it also appears that they are the final model of Face Dancers that Waff mentioned in passing- Face Dancers who can not only take on the appearance of a person, but their very identity, memories, and skills. Little else is described about them, but much is speculated.
- At one level the old couple could be Frank Herbert and Beverly his wife. This is a provocative suggestion when it is remembered that Idaho saw them and their "net" and managed to evade them by dumping the memory banks of the no-ship. In this interpretation, on the very cusp of Frank Herbert's death his own creations "escaped" even the controlling prescience of the author to carve out new lives in the imaginations of readers.
- At another level, they reveal the true insignificance of the Old Empire, by revealing two "godlike" powers who seem beyond human concerns.
- It has also been speculated that they were members of the 'unmovable piece' that Duncan had visions of, and that they were using a new application of Holtzmann's equations to trap people in no-ships, like Duncan and co. or the Bene Gesserit sisters dispatched.
- Speculation: the enemy that drove the Honored Matres out are the face dancers, who have evolved into these 'godlike' figures.