America is a police state, and it is about to be threatened by the most hellish enemy in the world: insects.When the Agency discovered that Dr. Hellstrom's Project 40 was a cover for a secret laboratory, a special team of agents was immediately dispatched to discover its true purpose and its weaknesses--it could not be allowed to continue. What they discovered was a nightmare more horrific and hideous than even their paranoid government minds could devise.First published in Galaxy magazine in 1973 as ""Project 40,"" Frank Herbert's vivid imagination and brilliant view of nature and ecology have never been more evident than in this classic of science fiction. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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March 31, 2007
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Excerpt from Hellstrom's Hive by Frank Herbert
Words of the brood mother, Trova Hellstrom. I welcome the day when I will go into the vats and become one with all of our people.
(Dated October 26, 1896.)
The man with the binoculars squirmed forward on his stomach through the sun-warmed brown grass. There were insects in the grass and he did not like insects, but he ignored them and concentrated on reaching the oak shadows at the hillcrest with minimum disturbance of the growth that concealed him even while it dropped stickers and crawling things on his exposed skin.
His narrow face, swarthy and deeply seamed, betrayed his age--fifty-one years--but the hair, black and oily, that poked from beneath his khaki sun hat belied these years. So did his movements, quick and confident.
At the hillcrest, he drew several deep breaths while dusting the binocular lenses with a clean linen handkerchief. He parted the dry grass then, focused the binoculars, and stared through them at the farm that filled the valley below the hill. The haze of the hot autumn afternoon complicated his examination as did the binoculars, a pair of ten-sixties of special manufacture. He had trained himself to use them the way he fired a rifle: hold breath, concentrate on rapid scanning with only eye movements, keeping immobile the expensive instrument of glass and metal that brought distances into such immediate detail.
It was an oddly isolated farm that met his amplified gaze. The valley was about half a mile long, perhaps five hundred yards wide for most of its length, narrowing at the upper end where a thin trickle of water spilled down a black rock face. The farm buildings occupied cleared ground on the far side of a narrow stream whose meandering, willow-bordered bed was only a thin reminder of its spring affluence. Patches of wavering green moss marked the stream's rocks, and there were a few shallow pools where water appeared not to flow at all.
The buildings sat back from the stream--a cluster of weathered boards and blind glass at rustic variance with the neatness of harvested plantings that ran in parallel rows within cleanly squared fencelines over the rest of the valley. There was the house, its basic unit in the old saltbox pattern, but with two added wings and a bay window on the wing that pointed toward the creek. To the right of the house there was a large barn with big doors on the second level and an upjutting cupola arrangement along its ridgeline: no windows there, but louvered ventilators were spaced along its entire length and at the visible end. Up on the hill behind the barn there stretched a decaying feed shed; a smaller building on this end that could be an old outhouse; another small wooden structure higher on the hill behind the farmhouse, possibly an old pump house; and, down by the higher main fence at the valley's northern end, a squat concrete block about twenty feet on a side and with flat roof: new pump house was the guess, but it looked like a defensive blockhouse.
The watcher, whose name was Carlos Depeaux, made a mental note that the valley fitted the descriptions. It was full of default messages: no people stirring about on the land (although a distinctly audible and irritating machinery hum issued from the barn), no road coming up from the north gate to the farm buildings (the nearest road, a one-way track, came up to the valley from the north but ended at the gate beyond the blockhouse). A footpath with narrow indentations apparently from a wheelbarrow stretched from the gate to the farmhouse and barn.
The valley's sides were steep farther up and in places almost craggy with brown rock outcroppings at the top on the far side. There was a similar rocky upthrust about a hundred feet to Depeaux's right. A few animal tracks wound their dusty ribbons through oak and madrona along the valley sides. The black rock of the tiny waterfall closed off the southern end where a thin cinnamon tracery of water spilled into the stream. To the north, the land undulated away out of the valley, widening into pasture meadows and occasional clumps of pine intermingled with oak and madrona. Cattle grazed in the far distance to the north and, although there were no fences immediately outside the farm's barrier, tall grass revealed that the cattle did not venture too near this valley. That, too, accorded with the reports.
Having satisfied himself that the valley still matched its descriptions, Depeaux wriggled backward behind the crest, found a shaded patch beneath an oak. There, he turned onto his back and brought his small knapsack into a position where he could explore its interior. He knew his clothing would blend well with the grass, but he still hesitated to sit up, preferring to wait and listen. The sack contained his binocular case, a well-thumbed copy of Naming the Birds at a Glance, a good thirty-five-millimeter camera with a long lens, two thin beef sandwiches wrapped in plastic, an orange, and a plastic bottle of warm water.
He brought out a sandwich, lay for a moment staring up through the oak's branches, his pale gray eyes not really focused on anything in particular. Once, he pulled at the black hairs protruding from his nostrils. This was an extremely odd situation. Here it was mid-October and the Agency still had not been able to observe the farmers in that valley through an entire harvest. The crops had been harvested, however. That was obvious at a glance. Depeaux was not a farmer, but he thought he recognized the stubby remains of corn plantings, although the stalks had been removed.
He wondered why they had cleared away the stalks. Other farms he had seen in the long drive to this valley were still littered with harvest remains. He wasn't sure, but he thought this was another default message in the valley that interested his Agency so much. The uncertainty, the gap in his knowledge, bothered him, however, and he made a note to check on this. Did they burn the stalks?
Presently, sensing no watchers around him, Depeaux sat up with his back against the oak's bole, ate the sandwich, and drank some of the warm water. It was the first food he had allowed himself since before daylight. He decided to save the orange and other sandwich for later. It had been a long, slow approach to this vantage point from the place far back in the pines where he had concealed his bicycle. The van and the stake-out where he had left Tymiena were another half hour's bicycle ride beyond that. He had decided not to venture back before nightfall and knew he was going to be very hungry before he got back to the van. Not the first time on such a job. The peculiar nature of this case had become increasingly obvious the nearer he came to the farm. Well--he'd been warned about that. Stubborn persistence had kept him pressing forward past the imaginary hunger line he knew he'd have to pass on the return. The countryside was much more open and empty of concealment than he'd expected from the aerial photos, although Porter's reports had made specific mention of this. Depeaux had expected to approach from a different direction, however, and find his own cover. But there had been, finally, only the tall brown grass to conceal his stalking climb across a wide pastureland and up to the hill.
The sandwich finished and half his water gone, Depeaux sealed the bottle, restored it and the rest of the food to his pack. For a moment, he peered along his back trail to see if anyone had followed. There was no sign, but he couldn't put down an uneasy feeling that he was watched. The lowering sun was picking up his trail with a shadow line, too. No helping that; the crushed grass represented a track, and it could be traced.
He had driven through the town of Fosterville at 3:00 a.m., curious about the sleeping community where, so he was told, they generally refused to answer questions about the farm. There had been a new motel on the outskirts and Tymiena had suggested they spend a night there before reconnoitering the farm, but Depeaux was playing a hunch on this case. What if there were watchers in the town to report strangers to the farm?
It had been capitalized in all of the Agency's reports for some time, from quite a while before Porter had turned up missing. Depeaux had driven on to a turnoff several miles below the valley and had left Tymiena there shortly before dawn. Now, he was a bird watcher, but there were no birds visible.
Depeaux returned to the gap in the grass and had another look into the valley. There had been a massacre of Indians here in the late 1860s--farmers killing off the remnants of a "wild" tribe to remove a threat to grazing stock. As a marker of that all but forgotten day, the valley had been named "Guarded." According to a historical footnote Depeaux had located, the original name of the valley was Running Water, after the Indian name. Generations of white farming, however, had depleted the water table and now the water did not run year round.
As he studied the valley, Depeaux thought about the record of human nature carried in such names. A casual observer passing this way without doing his homework might think the valley had achieved its name because of its setting. Guarded Valley was a closed-in place with apparently only one real avenue of easy access. The hillsides were steep, a cliff marked the upper end, and only to the north did the valley open out. Appearances could be deceptive, though, Depeaux reminded himself. He had reached his vantage point successfully; his binoculars might just as well be a violent weapon. In a sense, they were: a subtle weapon aimed at the destruction of Guarded Valley.
For Depeaux, that pattern of destruction had begun when Joseph Merrivale, the Agency's operations director, had called him in for an assignment conference. Merrivale, a native of Chicago who affected a heavy English accent, had begun by grinning at Carlos and saying, "You may have to waste a few of your fellow humans on this one."
They all knew, of course, how much Depeaux hated personal violence.
From Hellstrom's Hive Manual. The significant evolutionary achievement of the insects, more than a hundred million years ago, was the reproductive neuter. This fixed the colony as the unit of natural selection and removed all previous limits on the amount of specialization (expressed as caste differences) that a colony could tolerate. It is clear that if we vertebrates can take the same route, our individual members with their vastly larger brains will become incomparably superior specialists. No other species will be able to stand against us, ever--not even the old human species from which we will evolve our new humans.
The short man with the deceptively youthful face listened attentively as Merrivale briefed Depeaux. It was early on a Monday morning, not yet nine o'clock, and the short man, Edward Janvert, had been surprised that an assignment conference could be called that early on such brief notice. There was trouble somewhere in the Agency, he suspected.
Janvert, who was called Shorty by most of his associates and who managed to conceal his hatred of the name, was only four feet nine inches tall and had passed as a teen-ager on more than one Agency assignment. The furniture in Merrivale's office was never small enough for him, however, and he was squirming on a big leather chair within a half hour.
It was a subtle case, Janvert observed presently, the type he had learned to distrust. Their target was an entomologist, a Dr. Nils Hellstrom, and it was clear from Merrivale's careful choice of words that Hellstrom had friends in high places. There were always so many toes around to be avoided in this business. You couldn't separate politics from the Agency's version of a traditional security investigation, and these investigations inevitably took on economic overtones.
When he'd called Janvert, Merrivale had said only that it was necessary to keep a second team in reserve for possible assistance in this case. Someone had to be ready to step in on a moment's notice.
They expect casualties, Janvert told himself.
He glanced covertly at Clovis Carr, whose almost boyish figure was dwarfed in another of Merrivale's big wing chairs. Janvert suspected Merrivale had decorated the office to give it the air of an expensive British club, something to go with his bogus accent.
Do they know about Clovis and me? Janvert wondered, his attention wandering under the onslaught of Merrivale's rambling style. To the Agency, love was a weapon to be used whenever it was needed. Janvert tried to keep his gaze away from Clovis, but he kept glancing back at her in spite of himself. She was short, only half an inch taller than himself, a wiry brunette with a pert oval face and a pale northern complexion that turned to burn at the drop of a sunbeam. There were times when Janvert felt his love for her as an actual physical pain.
Merrivale was describing what he called "Hellstrom's cover," which turned out to be the making of documentary films about insects.
"Deucedly curious, don't you think?" Merrivale asked.
For not the first time during his four years in the Agency Janvert wished he were out of it. He had come while a third-year law student working the summer as a clerk in the Justice Department. In that capacity, he had found a file folder accidentally left on a table of his division's law library. Curious, he had glanced into the file and found a highly touchy report on a translator in a foreign embassy.
His first reaction to the file's contents had been a kind of sorrowful outrage that governments still resorted to such forms of espionage. Something about the file told him it represented an intricately complex operation of his own government.
Janvert had come up through the "campus unrest" period into the study of law. He had seen the law at first as a possible way out of the world's many dilemmas, but that had proved a will-o'-the-wisp. The law had led him only into that library with its damnable misplaced file folder. One thing had led inevitably to another, just as it always did, without a completely defined cause-and-effect relationship. The immediate thing, however, was that he had been caught reading the file by its owner.
What followed was curiously low key. There had been a period of pressures, some subtle and some not quite subtle, designed to recruit him into the Agency that had produced the file. Janvert came from a good family, they explained. His father was an important businessman (owner-operator of a small-town hardware store). At first, it had been vaguely amusing.
Then the pay offers (plus expenses) had climbed embarrassingly high and he had begun to wonder. There had been startling praise for his abilities and aptitudes, which Janvert had suspected the Agency invented on the spur of the moment because he'd had difficulty seeing himself in their descriptions.
Finally, the gloves had come off. He'd been told pointedly that he might find other government employment difficult to obtain. This had almost put his back up, because it was common knowledge that he'd set his sights on the Justice Department. In the end, he'd said he would try it for a few years if he could continue his law education. By that time, he'd been dealing with the Chief's right-hand man, Dzule Peruge, and Peruge had evinced profound delight at this prospect.
"The Agency needs men with legal training," Peruge said. "We need them desperately at times."
Peruge's next words had startled Janvert.
"Has anyone ever told you that you could pass for a teen-ager? That could be very useful, especially in someone with legal training." This last had come out with all the overtones of an afterthought.
The facts were that Janvert had always been kept too busy to complete his valuable legal training. "Maybe next year, Shorty. You can see for yourself how crucial your present case is. Now, I want you and Clovis--"
That had been how he'd first met Clovis, who also had that useful appearance of youth. Sometimes, she'd been his sister; other times they'd been runaway lovers whose parents "didn't understand."
The realization had come rather slowly to Janvert that the file he had found and read was more sensitive than he had imagined and that a probable alternative to his joining the Agency had been a markerless grave in some southern swamp. He had never participated in a "swamping," as Agency old-timers put it, but he knew for a fact that they occurred.
That's how it was in the Agency, he learned.