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The Bene Tleilax or Tleilaxu are a secretive society in the Dune universe created by Frank Herbert. The Bene Tleilax are genetic manipulators, equivalent in power to a major house in the Imperium. They solely control a number of planets in the Imperium, but they are originally connected with the planet Tleilax, the sole planet of the star Thalim.
Not organized along feudal lines (as most of rest of the Imperium is), the Tleilaxu are secretive and very little is known about them although in Heretics of Dune their society is said to be a meritocracy. They are chiefly known for their biological products such as artificial eyes, gholas, and face dancers.
The use of "Bene" before their name suggests that they are an order of some kind, like the Bene Gesserit; this becomes clear in the last two books of the series.
Bene Tleilax Histories
The founder of the Bene Tleilax was a Master named Xuttuh. In the last two books, the core of the Tleilaxu is revealed: they are Zensufi, a distant offshoot of Buddhism and Sufism, and are organized along theistic lines. They have spent thousands of years concealing this fact, waiting for their ascendancy, which they believe to be occurring in Heretics of Dune.
By the events of Chapterhouse: Dune, the Bene Tleilax had been all but eradicated...save for one Master, Scytale, presumedly a ghola of the original Scytale of Dune Messiah (though the Scytale from Dune Messiah was a face dancer whereas the one in Chapterhouse: Dune was a Master) who was captured by the Bene Gesserit. What he never told them is that in a tube implanted in his chest were cell samples from his entire order, plus many characters from earlier Dune novels: essentially, even though he was the only one left, he could single-handedly resurrect his Order.
The ancestors of the Bene Tleilax show up in Butlerian Jihad series by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. There, they are a civilisation of human merchants known as the Tlulaxa who specialise in slaves and replacement organs. They claim that the organs are grown artificially in organ farms. In reality, the vast majority of the organs are harvested from slaves. The Tlulaxa also have working organ farms, but they are used mainly as a front, providing only a small fraction of the replacement organs.
Bene Tleilax Technologies
The Bene Tleilax are masters of biological science and control the secrets of a number of important technologies in the Dune universe.
A ghola is grown in an axolotl tank from the cells of a dead body of another person. At the time of Dune, gholas have no access to the lives of the person from whom they were cloned, but after Dune Messiah, the Tleilaxu discover that a ghola can recover his or her genetic memory during a carefully staged moment of great stress. Much later in the series, it is revealed that the masters of the Tleilaxu have been using this knowledge gained in Dune Messiah as an improvised device for immortality: at their death, they are cloned; their clone recovers its memories, and the masters, in their serial incarnations, have memories stretching back thousands of years. The surviving Masters of Heretics of Dune are clearly the longest-lived characters in the saga, after Duncan Idaho who is the first ghola to recover its memories. Scytale himself by the events of Chapterhouse: Dune would be over 5,000 years old through his serial incarnations.
A clone is similar to a Ghola since it is grown in a axlotl tank. The difference lies in the fact that clones are grown from the cells of a living person. Presumably they have full access to all memories and skills of the person they are a clone of. This is unconfirmed since there are no known clones in any of the books to date. Teg Miles ghola is infact a clone since the cells he was cloned from were taken from the living Teg, although Teg died soon after this event.
An axolotl tank is essentially a braindead woman whose womb is used as a tank to create gholas and other creatures. This is why no one has ever seen a Tleilaxu female.
In Heretics of Dune, it is revealed that the Tleilaxu can also create the spice melange in axolotl tanks, breaking the monopoly on spice that Arrakis held for thousands of years which strongly determined the economics and the politics of the Imperium.
The axolotl tank is similar to the reproductive "stumps" in Herbert's Hellstrom's Hive.
The name was later changed to "axlotl tanks" from God Emperor of Dune onward.
Possible origin: From "axolote", a very rare Mexican newt, from where Frank Herbert went (The German word for this animal actually is Axolotl).
Main article: Face dancers
Face dancers are sterile creatures, with full sentience, but with a genetically programmed loyalty to the Tleilaxu masters. They are used by the Tleilaxu throughout the universe to impersonate key people after killing the originals.
Over the course of the series, the Tleilaxu try to create more perfect mimics, to the point where the face dancers lose their ability to mimic and their awareness of themselves as face dancers, so perfectly do they mimic their subjects. At that point, the face dancer effectively becomes the person he or she is mimicking, and passes beyond the control of the Tleilaxu, as happens in the book "Heretics of Dune".
Masters are the real minds of the Bene Tleilax. They have the ability to regain their genetic memory with ease, allowing them to live forever, using the axlotl tanks. They are often described as short, dwarf-like characters with gray skin and elfin features.