The Ultimate Playoffs (of Ultimate Destiny)
[Editor's Note: The idea was fairly simple, take a fictitious group from literature, TV, or the cinema and match it with each one of the NBA playoff teams. Then have each group battle its counterpart as decided by the results of each playoff series.
It's the execution that's more complicated, because what Rand has done is to take the style and tone of the original works each group was pulled from, and tell each portion of the tale through that lens. It's an incredible accomplishment, and you're missing out if you haven't been keeping up with this.
Also, this installment is rated PG to PG-13, due to violence. -jrw]
Leaving the first round behind, we now turn to a new set of match-ups as battle-hardened contenders struggle to make their marks upon the pages of history.
And for those who missed anything:
- the beginning of half the battles
- The introduction to the rest of the battles
- The resolution of Heat/Knicks & Pacers/Magic
- The conclusion of Thunder/Mavericks & Spurs/Jazz
- The termination of Lakers/Nuggets & Sixers/Bulls
- The culmination of Celtics/Hawks & Clippers/Grizzlies
- The denouement of Spurs/Clippers
Survivor Series ground rules: I chose a different group from literature, cinema or pop culture for every playoff team, based on the qualities inherent to that team, and now I'm bending genres to create a single, unified story woven together from these fictitious groups battling it out at the same time the NBA teams they mirror are competing. The playoff results will dictate the plot of each story, and I'll continue this until the champion is crowned, and the characters representing that team will be the last to survive.
And now, the Second Round continues.
Two dynasties headed in different directions come into conflict:
Oklahoma City Thunder = House Atreides (From Dune)
Forced to move their home from a rainy land, to one far more dry, they have emerged from years of wandering in the desert to claim their birthright. Now they wield frightening power thanks to the instinctive abilities of their young leadership.
Los Angeles Lakers = The Corleone Family
The old Don used to run this town. Now, people say that the family has lost its guts, and that the Corleones are not the force they once were. It's not personal, it's just business ... but it's personal. Also, this allows everyone to make all the "put a hit on" jokes they want.
Now, join us as old-time royalty clash with the nouveau riche in:
GODFATHERS OF DUNE
"There are men in this world," Paul’s father, Duke Leto Atreides, had said, "who go about demanding to be killed. You must have noticed them. They quarrel in gambling games, they humiliate and bully people whose capabilities they do not know. I have seen a man, a fool, deliberately infuriate a group of dangerous men, and he himself without any resources. These are people who wander through the world shouting, ‘Kill me. Kill me.' And there is always somebody ready to oblige them."
"House Corleone is controlled by such men. But they are such extraordinary men that nobody has yet been able to kill them. You may see them as a powerful weapon to be used, for they fear no man. Become a god to them, and they are yours – but beware that road, my son. The price of godhood is always paid in blood."
That had been years before. Now Paul looked in silence at the contents of the parcel that had just arrived at Sietch Tabr. His young face, skin brown from the desert sun and eyes a uniform shade of blue, betrayed no emotion as he pulled the ducal signet ring from around the corpse of a young Maker – an infant sandworm, no more than a few inches long.
"What’s this?" Gurney Halleck nudged Thufir Hawat. "That’s Leto’s ring. What–"
"It’s a message," the family mentat said. "It means Leto sleeps with the sandworms. The old duke is dead."
House Corleone’s involvement in the search for the Trophy had been a necessary risk. Michael Corleone, the na-Godfather, controlled the Spice Harvesters Local 427. House Atreides could not afford to disrupt the flow of the precious substance with which they kept the Spacing Guild in their corner; additionally, the Sicilians alone among all houses of the Landsraad possessed the connections to move men and materials through the Guild’s blockade of Arrakis. Had Paul allowed the Harkonnens to secure an alliance with House Corleone he would have faced an unceasing series of rearguard actions that would have taken precious time away from the Trophy hunt.
Become a god to them, and they are yours. And a god he had become – but the Corleone stronghold on Sicilia Secundus were far from the sands where the cult of Muad’Dib had taken root. Paul weighed his father’s ring in his hand.
Double-crossing House Atreides had been strictly a business matter for the Corleones. The Old Duke would never have considered sharing the Trophy’s power with House Corleone, but many on Arrakis thought that his son might be made of weaker stuff. The Sardaukar assassin who had delivered the token of Leto’s murder had said as much. "Tell the kid that he’s got a choice: he can keep breathing, or he can join his old man."
Halleck placed a scarred arm around his young master’s shoulders. "The thirst for revenge is a weakness," the warrior-troubadour murmured. "Rash action won’t change what’s done. We must do what’s best for the family. The Don, Michael Corleone, is staying in Goygoa … he will want a meeting. I can arrange it."
The ring slipped easily onto Paul’s finger. "Arrange the meeting," he said.
On that same day an ornithopter landed on the Goygoa mall to take Dr. Yueh, the trusted Atreides family physician, to Sietch Tabr. Paul had given Yueh the order; he wanted everyone out of the city before the Atreides–Corleone meeting. He had also sent word to Yueh that he would require his presence at the Sietch for a few days.
Looking out the window at the sandy wastes beneath, Yueh thought of his wife Wanna. What do you think Paul wants you for? her spirit asked, a worried frown creasing the face that he had last seen as the Baron Harkonnen’s soldiers dragged her away.
Yueh shrugged. "He has mentioned the possibility of granting me a fiefdom," he told the air. "Maybe that's what he wants to talk about." Yueh did not know of the meeting scheduled with the Corleone Family for that night.
Wanna’s ghost smiled. Really, Wellington?
Yueh nodded at her reassuringly. He had done what he had to do – given the Baron what he wanted, secured an end to his Wanna’s suffering. Now he could move on. He would serve the Atreides faithfully henceforth; the sacrifice had been made, and he had come through it in safety.
The ornithopter folded its wings and dipped to land.
Outside the northern terminal of the nearly-deserted spaceport a small pizza parlor was doing a meager trade. A large man in civilian clothes sat on his suitcase, chewing a slice of pepperoni. His trained killer’s eyes surveyed the scene around him, taking note of every detail, every passerby. A dribble of oil dropped onto his left boot; irritated, he bent to rub the leather. When he looked up again, there was a young, tough-looking Fremen man standing in front of him.
"That’s an interesting tattoo you got there," the fremen said. "I can see the top of it over your shirt, how about letting me see the rest of it?"
The large man froze. He seemed to be paralyzed.
"Open your shirt," the fremen said.
The big man threw himself backwards, but the fremen had already raised his hand. There was a crysknife in it. He lunged. The blade caught the big man in the chest and hurled him to the ground. The fremen stabbed again and the big man slumped. The fremen reached down and ripped the buttons off his victim’s shirt. The chest was covered with blood, but the tattoo was visible, the serial number marking the big man as Imperial Sardaukar.
"Paul Atreides sends you his regards," the fremen said. He placed the tip of the knife just beneath the big man's chin and thrust upward. Then he walked down the street and around the corner, where an ornithopter was waiting for him with its hatch open. He jumped in.
Gurney Halleck was waiting, sipping a glass of spice wine when Thufir Hawat came for him. "Paul is ready for you now," Hawat said. "You better make your call to Michael Corleone and tell him to head for the meeting."
Gurney rose and went to the wall phone. He dialed Michael Corleone’s office in Goygoa and said curtly, "We're on our way." He hung up and smiled at Hawat. "I hope Paul can get us a good deal tonight."
Hawat said gravely, "I'm sure he will." He escorted Halleck out of the sietch towards the waiting ornithopters. Paul was nowhere to be seen when they were stopped by a Fremen guard.
"The boss says he'll come separately. He says for you to go on ahead."
Halleck frowned and turned to Hawat. "Hell, he can't do that, that screws up all my arrangements."
At that moment three more guards materialized around them. Hawat said gently, "I can't go with you either, Gurney."
The scarred old retainer understood everything in a flash of a second. And accepted it. There was a moment of physical weakness, and then he recovered. He said to Hawat, "Tell Paul it was business. I always loved him."
Hawat nodded. "He understands that."
Hawat paused for a moment and then said softly, "Thufir, can you get me off the hook? For old times' sake?"
Hawat shook his head. "I can't," he said.
He watched Halleck being surrounded by guards and led into a waiting ornithopter. He felt a little sick. Hawat had been the best soldier in the Atreides Family; the old Duke had relied on him more than any other man. It was too bad that so intelligent a man had made such a fatal error in judgment so late in life.
Michael Corleone walked calmly through the streets of Goygoa, his retinue of guards a loose but vigilant barrier that parted the crowd before him. The haze of his shield glimmered in the late afternoon air. His instincts told him to stay indoors, to hide, to keep on the move – but his consiglieri had explained that the shield made him safe from everything short of a lasgun blast, and that only a suicidal maniac would fire a lasgun at a shielded target.
The Atreides were not maniacs. Their differences were a matter of business, and would be settled accordingly.
In the road ahead a fremen in a stillsuit unrolled a bundle of dusty rags and extracted a lasgun, which he pointed directly at the protective sphere surrounding Michael Corleone. Michael’s last expression was of perplexity before the skies of Goygoa were painted orange by the twin nuclear blasts.
Dr. Yueh’s ornithopter touched down outside Sietch Tabr. Standing there waiting for him was Paul Atreides, his face the face of death that Yueh saw often in his dreams.
Behind Paul were Hawat and a handful of Fremen warriors. They looked grave, like people who had come with the utmost reluctance to give a friend bad news. Yueh greeted them calmly – but Paul’s first words made him physically nauseous.
"You have to answer for my father," Paul said.
Yueh didn't answer, pretended not to understand.
"You fingered Leto for the Corleone people," Paul said, his voice flat. "That little farce you played out, did Corleone kid you that would fool an Atreides?"
Yueh spoke out of his terrible fear, without dignity, without any kind of pride. "I swear I'm innocent. I swear on the head of my wife I'm innocent. Paul, don't do this to me, please, Paul, don't do this to me."
Paul said quietly, "I want to square all the Family accounts tonight. So don't tell me you're innocent. It would be better for you to admit what you did."
There was no answer. Paul said almost kindly, "Don't be so frightened. I'm putting you in a ‘thopter to the spaceport. I’m sending you off-world, and I want you to stay there. But don't keep saying you're innocent, don't insult my intelligence and make me angry."
Yueh, in his anguished hope for life, in the sweet flooding relief that he was not going to be killed, murmured, "Yes. You’re right. I’m sorry, Paul."
"Good, good," Paul said softly. He beckoned with his right hand. "I want you to leave now."
Yueh turned back to the ornithopter. He climbed in, his mind dazed. It wasn’t until after they’d lifted off that he noticed that someone else had gotten in beside him.
"Lady Jessica!" Yueh recognized the old duke’s consort with a start. "I did not expect–"
The noble lady’s eyes, blue like her son’s, betrayed no sign of anger, of disgust, of hatred. She reached out and, with gentle tenderness, patted the hand of the family physician who had delivered her child’s father to his death.
Yueh looked numbly down at the white fingers that brushed against his wrist – but the gom jabbar had vanished as swiftly as it had been administered.
The ornithopter looped once over the high desert, dropped something bulky and motionless a few hundred feet to the sand below, and then returned to the sietch.
The victory of the Atreides Family was complete. During that same twenty-four-hour period, Stilgar and the other fremen leaders turned loose their warriors and punished the Corleone infiltrators. Luca Brasi was sliced in half by a lasgun blast as he was peaceably picking his teeth over dinner in an Italian restaurant in Goygoa. Two of the biggest Corleone caporegimes disappeared, to be found months later on the glassy rim of the crater that had once been Arrakeen.
With this one savage attack Paul made his reputation and restored the Atreides Family to its primary place in the Landsraad. He was respected not only for his tactical brilliance but because some of the most important caporegimes in both the Corleone and Harkonnen Families immediately went over to his side.
Only Thufir Hawat, the old family mentat, was reticent in his congratulations. A few nights later Hawat joined the young Duke on his evening stroll through the desert twilight around Sietch Tabr.
"You know the dangers," the mentat said. "You’ve done what Leto never did – you’ve made yourself a god to these fremen, and they will follow you across the galaxy if you ask them to. But sham gods don’t last, Paul. When the God-Emperor of Dune is no more, what will become of House Atreides?"
The price of godhood is always paid in blood. Paul smiled at the recollection of his father’s words. He did not permit himself to imagine that he had made more than a down payment on what would be the final price of Atreides immortality.
Paul reached into his stillsuit. "Do you know what this is?" he asked, handing an oblong object to Hawat.
"An antique. A relic." Hawat turned the book over in his hands as though it were fragile, or perhaps explosive. He opened it, gently turning its brittle pages. "It predates filament paper, so it is not an O.C. Bible."
Paul shook his head. "No, not a Bible. But a holy book nonetheless, Thufir. A final present from House Corleone. They bootlegged it into Goygoa just before we hit them, and the terms were extravagant. If the smuggler had lived to collect his payment he would be one of the wealthiest men on Arrakis."
The mentat said nothing, his eloquent silence a signal that he lacked necessary data and would not attempt to draw conclusions until his informational needs were satisfied.
"A holy book," Paul said, "but not a good book. I had hoped not to need it – but, as usual, your assessment of the situation is correct. Only gods can ensure that House Atreides secures its mastery of the galaxy and the Trophy." He took one last long look over the dunes towards the darkening horizon. "Therefore, I must master the gods."
Paul turned back towards the sietch. Without another word he headed for home, moving soundlessly with the arrhythmic gait that came so naturally to him, stuttering steps that would not attract the attention of the great sandworms. Hawat followed, gingerly clutching the ancient copy of the Necronomicon.
to be continued...