A race of genetically manipulated humans in Frank Herbert's Dune.

They are skilled in the arts of genetics. Their race has three castes; the Masters, who are male and govern their affairs; the females, who are never seen outside of their homeworld; and the Face Dancers who are shapeshifters and sterile.

The Tleilaxu are best known for their use of the axolotl tanks, which are essentially human uteruses kept on life support. The axolotl tanks grow many products used in the Imperium, including gholas, slig meat, and artificial organs (especially eyes).

At the end of the reign of Emperor Elrood IX, he conspired with the Tleilaxu at the behest of Hasimir Fenring to stage a takeover of the planet Ix, formerly held by House Vernius. The Tleilaxu required possession of this planet to begin research on synthesizing melange. This project ultimately bore no fruit, and ended in an uprising of the Ixian people led by Prince Rhombur Vernius and Duke Leto Atreides of Caladan.

Though many worlds of the Imperium use Tleilaxu goods, they are not trusted. Much of this is because of their capabilities. Part of the Tleilaxu race are Face Dancers which can emulate the looks of any being of approximate size, and with study and training can emulate their demeanor as well. However, it cannot be discounted that in general, the Bene Tleilax hold most of humanity in contempt. As a result, the Tleilaxu have never been permitted to hold a seat in the Landsraad council, although they are nominally part of the Imperium.

The Tleilaxu are divided into several strict tiers within their culture. At the top are the Grand Masters, the genetic wizards who control the direction of the Tleilaxu, and, it is implied, hold greater stature within their religious framework. Of lesser stature are the Lesser Masters. As apathy42 pointed out, Face Dancers can assume any shape - however, Face Dancers appear to embody a glaring continuity error in Dune.

In Book II (Dune Messiah), Scytale is clearly a Face Dancer (correct me if I'm in error). He changes shape and represents the Tleilax in a conspiracy. But in Book V (Heretics of Dune), we are told that Face Dancers are (at the time of Dune Messiah) little more than drones, which can absorb the personality (to a lesser or greater extent) of anyone, and mimic their shape. Scytale is reintroduced as a Grand Master. We are also told that the Tleilax keep gholas of themselves growing on standby as a matter of course, to ensure immortality of the Grand Masters. It seems extremely odd for Herbert to introduce either two characters with the same name, and to contradict himself. The Dune Universe was painstakingly crafted and was very detailed (a fraction was revealed in the original books). For another oddity, please see Duncan Idaho.

(Of course, the first Scytale could have been manipulated by a hidden Tleilaxu, but it seems unlikely that the Guild and the Bene Gesserit would have tolerated this)

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