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A stilltent was a specialized type of tent used to sleep in the deep desert of Arrakis. It was usually placed under a layer of sand. The tissue was airtight, so the humidity created inside could be kept and gathered, like a stillsuit or a windtrap did. This equipment was fundamental for travel and survival on Arrakis.

Early Design[]

The earliest versions of this portable desert dwelling were developed by the Zensunni nomads sent to Ishia (second planet of Beta Tygri) in 5295. Although the Ishian environment was far gentler man that to which the nomads were accustomed — that of Salusa Secundus, where their people had been held in slavery for nine generations — it was hot, arid, and unforgiving. Water in this desert ecology was a precious commodity, not to be wasted; the stilltents were intended to help minimize that waste.

Crude as the first units were, they served the Ishian Zensunni's purposes. A chromo-plastic outer layer turned a reflective white during the hours of sunlight, then reverted to its normal transparency at night. The water that condensed onto the cooled surface trickled down into thin ducts built into the bottom edges of the tent and was drawn into catchpockets located at the corners. The process was repeated to a lesser degree on the inside lining: the temperature drop carried through sufficiently to draw a percentage of the moisture lost by the inhabitant's breathing from the warmed interior air. A small reclamation still carried with the tent served to process urine, but solid wastes were most often used as fertilizer.

Modern Stilltents[]

Once the Zensunni — now called Fremen — were relocated on Arrakis in 7193, they realized that the Ishian design was primitive and inefficient. The first change involved size. On Ishia, stilltents had most often been used as semi-permanent homes and were constructed to allow room for standing, walking, and storage. An Arrakeen stilltent, on the other hand, was intended only as a temporary place of shelter for Fremen caught outside the safety of their sietch. They were kept small, providing those inside with barely more space than was needed to sit fairly comfortably, to stretch out and sleep, and to store small amounts of water, stillsuit repair kits, and other items vital to desert survival.

The tent's shape changed with its size. Rather than rising to a central peak, new stilltents were built with a curved roof. Viewed from the end, the tent looked like a cylinder whose lower surface had been flattened where it met the ground. Gone, too, was the outer door-flap used in the Ishian model: a sphincter-seal fashioned of clear plastic had replaced it, allowing those inside to see out while preserving the stilltent's integrity. Interior flaps could be used to block off the seal and shut out unwanted light.

The most striking changes, however, involved the stilltent's ability to conserve moisture. The fabric making up the bulk of the tent was the same as that developed for the Fremen stillsuits, the garments which were capable of holding their wearer's moisture loss to under a thimbleful a day. Cutting through a sample of that cloth would expose numerous triumphs of microconstruction, all aimed at keeping the Arrakeen environment from snatching away precious water. The layer meant to be kept on the interior of the tent (or, in a stillsuit, next to the skin) was porous and allowed perspiration, exhaled moisture, and the like free passage. The next two layers contained heat-exchange filaments so effective that a stilltent in good repair remained an average of ten degrees cooler than the outside temperature, and salt precipitators which kept the saline level of the reclaimed water well below the 150-ppm mark. The fourth layer trapped the water squeezed out by osmotic pressure and channeled it into the catchpocket tubes; this layer, the tubing, and the catchpockets themselves were constructed of plastic whose smoothness came from adjustments at the molecular level, to which water could not adhere. The final, outermost layer permitted the passage of heat (one way) and most gases but was completely impermeable to water.


As exquisitely designed as the fabric was, it could not function as effectively when made into a tent as when it was made into a stillsuit. The stilltent protected its users from losing moisture which left their bodies during respiration, as well as that which escaped from their palms, faces, and other uncovered bodily surfaces. It was not constructed to process wastes or to reclaim all of a body's perspiration, and those inside were thus forced to remain in their stillsuits. In spite of this slight disadvantage, a Fremen stilltent was still the safest shelter for those forced to remain in the desert; the copies produced by village factories were greatly inferior. This made authentic stilltents valuable trade items, and their sale to outsiders provided a handsome income for a number of sietches.

During Harkonnen Rule[]

There was one group, however, to whom the fiercely independent tribes refused to offer stilltents: the oppressive Harkonnens. The Harkonnens recognized the excellence of the Fremen products, even as they scorned and persecuted their makers. In 10185 a simultaneous raid on three northern sietches (Tuono, Remmel, and Ammit) was ordered by Count Glossu Rabban. The inhabitants appeared to have fled with unusual haste, leaving behind most of their factories' products. The troops carried off all they found, including a large number of stilltents.

In what must have seemed a pleasing bit of irony to the planetary governor, the captured stilltents were issued to the next group of soldiers sent out to round up the people Rabban referred to as "desert scum." It was not until the troops failed to return that they were sought out and the stilltents exposed for the Megarian variation they were. Once they were sealed off, with the soldiers inside, they began to build up heat: the filaments which would normally conduct heat outward instead drew it into the tent as the outside temperature rose. The rise triggered a change in the sphincter-seal, constructed in these tents from a plastic which first flowed, then hardened in heat; by the time the interior became uncomfortably warm, the door was sealed and impossible to open.

The fabric layer which was supposed to carry reclaimed water had been changed as well, as the panicked troops learned when they attempted to cut their way out. Tightly woven shigawire, impervious to any blade the Harkonnens carried, had replaced the ultrasmooth plastic. Those who tried blasting an exit with their lasguns were rewarded only by a faster death when the energy-reflecting plastic lining of the interior converted over eighty percent of the guns' power to heat. The rest were left to bake slowly or to suicide.

When the tents were opened by the search party — they cut easily enough with a lasgun beam directed from outside — and a report of what was found inside relayed to Count Rabban, the results were predictable. A pogrom (largely futile, as the tribes were expecting it and had gone into hiding) was launched against the Fremen, and Harkonnen troops were ordered to destroy, rather than use, any sietch products they discovered in its course.

The Fremen's reaction to the successful trap was equally predictable. An expression dating back to this period illustrates it well: "Three things we know to be useless — sand to a thirsty man, water to Shai-Hulud, and stilltents to Mudir Nahya." (Mudir Nahya, the name given Rabban by the Fremen, translates roughly as "Demon Ruler.")

Until the arrival of the Atreides, there is no record of anyone connected with the ruling house on Arrakis making any further attempt to use a Fremen stilltent.

See also[]

Further References[]

  • Anon., "Kitab al-Ibar: Manual of the of Friendly Desert," Rakis Ref. Cat. 1-Z288