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Piter de Vries

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"It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the juice of Sapho that thoughts acquire speed, the lips acquire stains, the stains become a warning. It is by will alone I set my mind in motion."
~ Piter de Vries (in the 1984 film)

Piter de Vries is a major antagonist in Frank Herbert's novel Dune, as well as the lead henchman and adviser to the true villain of the story, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. As a Mentat, he primarily serves as the evil genius of the Baron's villainous hierarchy, using his immense mental powers to process the data required for House Harkonnen to enact its schemes upon the other Great Houses. However, as a Twisted Mentat produced by the infamous Bene Tleilaxu, de Vries is also an amoral psychopath with an extremely sadistic bent, and is not afraid to bloody his hands over the course of his duties.

He is portrayed by Brad Dourif in the 1984 film and Jan Unger in the 2000 Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy) miniseries.

Biography

Little is known of de Vries' past, though unpublished scenes from the novel state that his mother was a concubine to one of the Great Houses, implying that his father might have actually been one of the galactic nobility. According to the same scene, he lived a fairly uneventful life until his mother suffered a fatal fall from a palace balcony, landing in the very same courtyard where the five-year-old de Vries happened to be playing.

The events that led to de Vries becoming a Twisted Mentat are unclear: it's widely believed that the genetic engineers of the Bene Tleilaxu are able to create these deranged geniuses by directly altering sections of the brain not likely to affect their calculating abilities, essentially nullifying their capacity for empathy and allowing them to operate outside the ethical boundaries imposed on normal Mentats, transforming them into psychopaths. However, it's suggested in Children Of Dune that this process is at the very least a gross exaggeration, and in reality the Tleilaxu simply recruit students that have been expelled from legitimate schools of Mentat training, usually for egregious breaches of ethics; in other words, "Twisted" Mentats are twisted long before their recruitment and the treatments given to them simply exacerbate their unpleasant natures to the point of psychopathic sadism. As such, it can be assumed that de Vries followed more or less the same path from disgrace to covert recruitment before he finally entered the service of House Harkonnen.

de Vries quickly distinguished himself as a brilliant strategist and calculator, aiding the Baron in his schemes to seize power. Like many Mentats, he also took regular doses of Sapho juice to increase his mental powers, staining his lips bright red and developing a notable addiction to the substance; unfortunately, he also became a habitual Melange user, a much more expensive addiction easily detected by his distinctive blue-within-blue eyes. Equally unfortunately, the Baron's legendary ruthlessness made the Twisted Mentat a target for assassination: however, de Vries was well aware of this, and knew that the Harkonnen patriarch would only order his death in the event that he outlived his usefulness; as such, de Vries was careful to keep himself as indispensable as possible. Not only did he develop an immensely subtle "residual poison" for controlling and untraceably eliminating troublesome captives (later used on fellow Mentat Thufir Hawat), but he also found a means of breaking the apparently unbreakable mental conditioning of a Suk doctor.

The Baron's latest scheme involved the infiltration and destruction of House Atreides, a longstanding rival now in House Harkonnen's path to seizing control of the planet Arrakis; however, planting a spy within the upper echelons of the enemy ranks was almost impossible - prior to de Vries' breakthrough. At the time, Doctor Wellington Yueh was serving as the physician to the Atreides, and his conditioning as a Suk made it impossible for him to betray his patients; however, de Vries was able to find a workaround by kidnapping Yueh's wife and holding her hostage, trading her safety for the Doctor's help in disabling the Atreides defences and delivering Duke Leto Atreides to the Baron alive. However, while the hapless physician went about betraying his masters in the desperate hope of being reunited with his wife, de Vries murdered her in cold blood. Then, once Arrakis once again belonged to the Harkonnens, de Vries fulfilled his promise to reunite the two by killing Yueh as well.

Unknown to de Vries, however, Yueh had not trusted the Baron to uphold his end of the bargain: after paralyzing Duke Leto as per his orders, the Doctor secretly implanted him with a poison tooth capsule for use in a suicide attack on the Baron, advising his former master to bite down and trigger the capsule when he saw the opportunity to end House Harkonnen's leadership once and for all. Though the Baron was able to escape the resulting blast of toxic gas, Piter de Vries was caught in the gas cloud and died instantly.