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He embodied the characteristics of his House to a high degree: shrewd, cunning, cruel and greedy; a glutton (he died ~180 kg) by 10191 AG he would have been too fat to move without borne by suspensors placed about his body. He was also a voracious pederast, sleeping with lithe bedmates from his slaves. But power was his greatest appetite. At his youth he was stocky of build but well-knit, darkly handsome with a full, round face, and charming in an earthy way. His baritone singing voice was notable for its strength, range, and suppleness.
Vladimir Harkonnen was the scion of a family with a history of ruthless self-aggrandizement. The third son of Siridar-Baron Gunseng Harkonnen and Baroness Muertana Sarobella, born five years after Araskin.
Vladimir seemed the answer to his father's dream of improving his House. As he grew to manhood he received training in the many arts (martial, musical, and political) from the best tutors his father could afford and showed a high intelligence combined with an insatiable hunger for learning.
According to the footloose poet Reeve Perrin Sil, he was a prodigy at eighteen, already a commanding presence, born to rule. He was commander of Harko's Praetorians and privy to Gunseng's deepest councils, which excluded his mother and older brother.
Gunseng's preference for Vladimir cost him his life: at a state banquet, Araskin murdered him and attacked Vladimir, nearly killing him before the mentat Chardin Klees stuck a poisoned needle into Araskin's neck. At that moment Vladimir changed and strangled his mother.
Then he turned from exercise to the arts of pederasty and eating for relaxation.
Vladimir ruled by the most drastic methods. The fate of his father taught him that weakness bore its own fruits, and furthermore inherited a cunning brutality from his grandfather and mother.
After his family had been seemingly destroyed the family by an act of cowardice, and despite the constant power struggles, Baron Vladimir proved to be a diplomatic genius. He managed a remarkable feat of rapidly restoring his family's power by manipulating a number of business ventures.
During his rule, all Praetorians and planetary military officials were subjected to deep psycho-chemical interrogation and stress-analysis. Those who failed were murdered out of hand. Anyone with Sarobellan sympathies or connections was publicly beheaded.
The minor aristocracy was shaken up and brought in line with the threat of extinction but Vladimir aspired to a more favorable relationship with the Imperial monarch to further his financial ambitions, his immediate goal being CHOAM directorship. From there he could build a Landsraad alliance against the emperor.
The Imperium had grown luxurious and its bureaucracy costly, often to the detriment of the Sardaukar, and military fief donations by the Great Houses became an avenue to royal approval, thus his first tactic was to demonstrating his complete loyalty to the emperor and voluntarily donated 20% of the (estimated) annual ziradnium mine profits to the Sardaukar. This was only one tactic in a larger campaign of simultaneous financial aggrandizement and Imperial wooing.
Vladimir formed lucrative partnerships with lesser Houses while he channeled donations under various labels into Imperial accounts. He would buy out lesser House investments with the guarantee of a percentage (less depreciation and overhead) while lubricating his consolidations with advisory fees to the CHOAM directors themselves to secure their acceptance.
House Corrino, received royalties under the table, along with military conscripts, raw materials and finished products on "negotiated terms" (kickbacks). Vladimir's had an instinct for the timing and placement of bribes, which ensured his success.
His financial practices were eventually questioned by a Landsraad Delegation-of-Inquiry, and he said that "what benefits Harkonnen benefits the Landsraad, CHOAM and all. Those who accused him of corruptive practices are poor and envy his success.
The mentat Chardin Klees was perhaps the Baron's most precious instrument until his death in 10162 AG, when the fortunes of House Harkonnen readied the top of the wheel. It acquired the melange rights of Arrakis. The mentat was succeeded by others, twisted and distant, and the Baron had them killed when they had outlived their usefulness.
House Harkonnen oversaw the spice production for a percentage, prorated according to yield. CHOAM received 20% of production to be apportioned among Landsraad Directors. The Spacing Guild received 15%. The Bene Gesserit received 5%. House Harkonnen realized 20 to 30%, and the remainder filled the emperor's coffers.
This contained incentive for maximum production, which meant applying the tightest harness and harshest whip to the subject population.
Count Glossu Rabban was Vladimir's eldest nephew and slavedriver and exercised Harkonnen enthusiasm, becoming known on Arrakis as "Beast" Rabban. House Harkonnen realized great wealth on Arrakis and the everlasting hatred of the natives, most notably the Fremen, whom the Baron dismissed as "desert scum".
Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Croesia offered him Tanidia Nerus, a consort trained in the erotic arts and Vladimir did not question her motives. There are several theories on why Vladimir proceeded since he preferred young boys.
The affair was stormy and brief. Tanidia fled from Harko under threats and vanished in the eighth month of her pregnancy to Lady Jessica.
Vladimir, by the counsel of his latest Mentat Piter de Vries, embarked upon a campaign to advance the fortunes of his house and destroy Duke Leto I Atreides. No wise emperor allowed any Great House to grow too powerful and Shaddam IV had long been concerned with House Atreides, Harkonnen's century long enemies, which exercised much influence in the Landsraad.
Preborn, Alia Atreides was bound to undergo an inner struggle with her ancestral figures since their DNA was intrinsic to her own; an unwanted but unavoidable inheritance. Finally she failed to achieve an "alliance" and Vladimir Harkonnen quelled the other insistent inner voices, gradually subsuming Alia's psychic integrity. Thus he took his revenge by his genetic essence which manifested itself in Alia's mind.
Baron reappeared in Alia's mind in the form he had at his death unlike possession itself, which is based on genetic essence, not on temporal definition
He knew more, than enough about her to serve himself up in the handsome, charming guise of his youth when he thought it would do the most good. Probably Vladimir often presented himself in his prime. As both young lover and autocratic grandfather he insinuated his presence and possessed Alia, for this must have been the precise combination required.
The vividness with which he was gradually able to manifest himself to Alia had a powerful impact, justifying the Bene Gesserit fears of Abomination. Vladimir was an anomaly as an existence lasted longer than his life; his ghost realized his great desire to put a his granddaughter on the Imperial throne.
The form in which the Baron was manifested before Alia threw herself out a window to her death was the obese Baron's, the futile shouts, his basso voice. Did this guise aid in propelling Alia to her end? If so, then Alia's fall was also the fall of the House of Harkonnen.
- HARKONNEN, VLADIMIR
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