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The Green Brain (v4.0), Page 2

Frank Herbert

  "They say certain plants are dying out from lack of pollenization." That was a woman at the table behind her, and Rhin stiffened. Dangerous conversation, that.

  But the bandeirante directly behind her said, "Back off, doll. You sound like that dame they picked up in Itabuna."

  "What dame?"

  "She was distributing Carsonite literature right there in the village behind the barrier. Police grabbed her before she'd gotten rid of twenty pieces. They got most of it back, but you know how that stuff is, especially up there near the Red."

  A disturbance erupted at A'Chigua's entrance, cries of "Johnny! You, Johnny! You lucky dog, Joao!"

  Rhin joined the rest of A'Chigua's patrons in turning to stare toward the sound, noting that Chen-Lhu pretended indifference. She saw that seven bandeirantes had stopped just inside the room as though blocked by the barrage of words.

  At their head stood a bandeirante with a group leader's golden butterfly insignia at his lapel. Rhin studied him with sudden suspicion, seeing a man of medium height, swarthy skin, wavy black hair; stocky, but when he moved there was grace. His body radiated strength. The face was a contrast, narrow and patrician, dominated by a slim nose with pronounced hook. There were senhores de engenho in his ancestry -- obviously.

  Rhin described him to herself as "brutally handsome." Again, she noted Chen-Lhu's pose of disinterest, and thought: So this is why we're here.

  The thought made her oddly aware of her own body. She underwent a momentary revulsion at her role, thinking: I've done many things and sold many bits of myself to be here in this moment. And what is there left for myself? No one wanted the services of Dr. Rhin Kelly, entomologist. But Rhin Kelly, Irish beauty, a woman who took pleasure in her other duties -- this Rhin Kelly was much in demand.

  If I didn't enjoy the work, perhaps then I wouldn't hate it, she thought

  She knew how she must appear in this room of lush, dark-skinned women. She was red-haired, green-eyed, delicate complexion -- freckles at shoulders, forehead and bridge of nose. In this room -- wearing a low gown to match her eyes, a small golden IEO badge at her breast -- in this room, she was the exotic one.

  "Who is that man at the door?" she asked.

  A smile like the ripple from a faint breeze washed over Chen-Lhu's chisled features. He glanced toward the entrance.

  "Which man, my dear? There appear to be . . . seven there."

  "Drop the pose, Travis."

  Almond eyes probed at her, swung back to the group at the entrance. "That is Joao Martinho, Jefe of the Irmandades and son of Gabriel Martinho."

  "Joao Martinho," she said. "He's the one you said should've had full credit for clearing the Piratininga."

  "He got the cash, my dear. For Johnny Martinho, that's quite enough."

  "How much?"

  "Ah, the practical woman," he said. "They shared five hundred thousand cruzados." Chen-Lhu settled back on the divan, sniffed the pungent incense arising with the smoke from their table's vent. And he thought: Five hundred thousand! That'll be enough to destroy Johnny Martinho -- if I can make my case against him. And with Rhin, how can I fail? This branco de Bahia will be only too happy to accept a woman as fair as Rhin. Yes. We'll have our scapegoat soon: Johnny Martinho, the capitalisto, the gran senhor who was trained by the Yankees.

  "The grapevine in Dublin mentions Joao Martinho," Rhin said.

  "Ahh", the grapevine," he said. "What has it said?"

  "The trouble in the Piratininga -- his name and that of his father are mentioned."

  "Ahhh, I see."

  "There are strange rumors," she said.

  "And you find them sinister."

  "No -- just odd."

  Odd, he thought. The word struck him with a momentary sinking sensation because it echoed the courier message from his homeland that had moved him to send for Rhin. "Your odd slowness in solving our problem is causing very disturbing questions to be raised." The sentence and the word had leaped out of the message. Chen-Lhu understood the impatience that framed those words: discovery of the looming catastrophe in China could come at any moment. And he knew there were those who didn't trust him because of the cursed white men in his ancestry.

  He lowered his voice, said, "Odd is not quite the word to describe bandeirantes reinvesting the Green areas."

  "I heard some rather wild stories," she murmured. "Secret bandeirante laboratories -- illegal mutation experiments . . ."

  "You'll note, Rhin, that most reports of strange, giant insects come from bandeirantes. There's your only oddity."

  "Logical," she said. "Bandeirantes're out in the front line where such things might occur."

  "Surely you, an entomologist, don't believe such wild stories," he said.

  She shrugged, feeling oddly perverse. He was right, of course; had to be.

  "Logic," Chen-Lhu said. "The use of wild rumors to foment superstitious fear among the yokel tabareus, this is the only logic I see."

  "So you wish me to work on this bandeirante chief," she said. "What am I supposed to find?"

  You're supposed to find what I tell you to find, Chen-Lhu thought. But he said, "Why're you so certain this Martinho is your target? Is that what the grapevine said?"

  "Ohhh," she said, wondering at the anger that lurked within her. "You had no special purpose in sending for me. My own charming self was reason enough!"

  "I couldn't have said it better," he said. He turned, beckoned a waiter who approached, bent to listen. Presently, the waiter wove a path to the group at the entrance, spoke to Joao Martinho.

  The bandeirante studied Rhin with a brief flicker, shifted to meet Chen-Lhu's eyes. Chen-Lhu nodded.

  Several woman like gauze butterflies had joined Martinho's group. Eye makeup made them appear to be staring from faceted pits. Martinho disengaged himself, headed for the table of amber smoke. He stopped across from Rhin, bowed to Chen-Lhu. "Dr. Chen-Lhu, I presume," he said. "What a delight. How can the IEO spare its district director for such dalliance?" The wave of an arm encompassed A'Chigua's frenetic tensions.

  And Martinho thought: There -- I've spoken my thoughts in a way this devious man will understand.

  "I indulge myself," Chen-Lhu said. "A small bit of relaxation to welcome a newcomer to our staff." He arose from the divan, looked down at Rhin. "Rhin, I'd like you to meet Senhor Joao Martinho. Johnny, this is Dr. Rhin Kelly, late of Dublin, a new entomologist in our office."

  And Chen-Lhu thought: This is the enemy. Make no mistake. This is the enemy. This is the enemy. This is the enemy.

  Martinho bowed from the hips. "Charmed."

  "It's an honor to meet you, Senhor Martinho," she said. "I've heard of your exploits . . . even in Dublin."

  "Even in Dublin," he murmured. "I was favored, but never so much favored as in this instant." He stared at her with disconcerting intensity, wondering what special duties this woman might have. Was she Chen-Lhu's mistress?

  Into the sudden silence came the voice of a woman at the table behind Rhin: "Snakes and rodents are increasing their pressures on civilization. It says so in the . . ."

  Someone shushed her.

  Martinho said, "Travis, I do not understand it. How can one call such a beautiful woman Doctor?"

  Chen-Lhu forced a chuckle. "Careful, Johnny. Dr. Kelly is my new field director."

  "A roving director, I hope," Martinho said.

  Rhin stared at him coolly, but it was an assumed coolness. She found his directness exciting and frightening. "I've been warned about Latin blandishments," she said. "You've all hidden a piece of the blarney stone in your family trees, so I've been told."

  Her voice had taken on a rich throatiness which made Chen-Lhu smile to himself. Remember -- this is the enemy, he thought. "Will you join us, Johnny?" he asked.

  "You save me from forcing myself upon you," Martinho said. "But you know I've some of my Irmandades with me?"

  "They appear to be occupied," Chen-Lhu said. He nodded toward the entrance, where a cluster of the gauzy w
omen had enfolded all but one of Martinho's companions. Women and bandeirantes were rinding seats at a large blue-vent table in a corner.

  The lone holdout shifted his attention from Martinho to his companions at the table, back to Martinho.

  Rhin studied the man: ash-gray hair, a long young-old face marred by an acid scar on the left cheek. He reminded her of the sexton in her Wexford church.

  "Ah, that is Vierho," Martinho said. "We call him the Padre. At the moment, he is undecided who to protect -- our brothers of the Irmandades over there or myself. Me, I think I need him most." He beckoned to Vierho, turned, sat down beside Rhin.

  A waiter appeared, slipped a translucent bulb containing a golden drink onto the table in front of him. A glass tube protruded from the bulb. He ignored it, stared at Rhin.

  "Are the Irish ready to join us?" he asked.

  "Join you?"

  "In realignment of the world's insects."

  She glanced at Chen-Lhu, whose face betrayed no reaction to the question, returned her attention to Martinho. "The Irish share the reluctance of the Canadians and the North Americans of the United States. The Irish will wait a bit yet."

  The answer appeared to annoy him. "But . . . I mean Ireland surely understands the advantages," he said. "You've no snakes. That must. . ."

  "That's something God did by the hand of St. Patrick," she said. "I don't fancy the bandeirantes as cast in the same mold." She'd spoken in quick anger and regretted it immediately.

  "I should've warned you, Johnny," Chen-Lhu said. "She has an Irish temper." And he thought: He's putting on an act for my benefit -- devious little man.

  "I see," Martinho said. "If God didn't see fit to rid us of insects, perhaps we're wrong in trying to do this for ourselves."

  Rhin glared at him in dismay.

  Chen-Lhu suppressed a surge of pure rage. That devious Latin maneuvered Rhin into this position! Deliberately!

  "My government doesn't recognize the existence of God," Chen-Lhu said. "Perhaps if God were to initiate an exchange of embassies . . ." He patted Rhin's arm, noted that she was trembling, "However, the IEO believes we'll be extending the fight north of the Rio Grande Line within ten years."

  "The IEO believes this? Or is it China's belief?"

  "Both," Chen-Lhu said.

  "Even if the North Americans object?"

  "They are expected to see the light of reason."

  "And the Irish?"

  Rhin managed a smile. "The Irish," she said, "have always been notoriously unreasonable." She reached for her drink, hesitated as her attention was caught by a white-clad bandeirante standing across the table -- Vierho.

  Martinho bounced to his feet, bowed once more to Rhin. "Doctor Kelly, allow me to introduce one of my brothers of the Irmandades, Padre Vierho." He turned back to Rhin. "This lovely one, my esteemed Padre, is a field director of the IEO."

  Vierho gave her a tight little nod, sat down stiffly at the limit of the divan beyond Chen-Lhu. "Charmed," he murmured.

  "My Irmandades, they are shy," Martinho said. He resumed his seat beside Rhin. "They'd rather be out killing ants."

  "Johnny, how is your father?" Chen-Lhu asked.

  Martinho spoke without looking away from Rhin. "The affairs of the Mato Grosso keep him much occupied." He paused. "You have lovely eyes."

  Again, Rhin found herself disconcerted by his directness. She picked up the golden bulb of his drink, said, "What is this?"

  "Ah, that is flierce, the Brazilian mead. Take it for yourself. There are little points of light in your eyes to match the gold of the drink."

  She suppressed a quick retort, lifted the drink to sip it, genuinely curious. She stopped with the glass tube almost at her lips as she caught Vierho staring at her hair.

  "Is it really that color?" he asked.

  Martinho laughed, a surprised and oddly affectionate sound. "Ahh, Padre," he said.

  Rhin sipped the drink to cover a feeling of confusion, found the liquid softly sweet, filled with the memory of many flowers, and with a sharp bite beneath the sugar.

  "But is it that color?" Vierho insisted.

  Chen-Lhu leaned forward. "Many Irish colleens have such red hair, Vierho. It's supposed to signify a wild temper."

  Rhin returned the drink to the table, wondering at her own emotions. She sensed a camaraderie between Vierho and his chief and resented the fact that she couldn't share it.

  "Where next, Johnny?" Chen-Lhu asked.

  Martinho darted a glance at his brother Irmandade, returned a hard stare to Chen-Lhu. Why does this official of the IEO ask such a question here and now? he wondered. Chen-Lhu must know where next. It could not be otherwise.

  "I'm surprised you hadn't heard," Martinho said. "This afternoon I bid-in the Serra Dos Parecis."

  "By the great bug of the Mambuca," Vierho muttered.

  Anger showed in the sudden darkening of Martinho's face. "Vierho!" he snapped.

  Rhin stared from one to the other. A strange silence had settled over the table. She felt it as a tingling along her arms and shoulders. There was something about it that was fearful, even sexual . . . and profoundly disturbing. She recognized the reaction of her body, hated it, knew she could not place its source with any precision this time. All she could say to herself was: This is why Chen-Lhu sent for me -- to attract this Joao Martinho and manipulate him. I'll do it, but what I'll hate most is the fact that I'll enjoy it.

  "But, Jefe," Vierho said. "You know yourself what was said about . . ."

  "I know!" Martinho barked. "Yes!"

  Vierho nodded, a look of pain on his face. "They said it was . . ."

  "There are mutants, we know that," Martinho said. And he thought: Why did Chen-Lhu force this disclosure now? To see me argue with one of my men?

  "Mutants?" Chen-Lhu asked.

  "We have seen what we have seen," Vierho said.

  "But the description of this thing is a physical impossibility," Martinho said. "It has to be a product of someone's superstition. That I know."

  "Do you, Jefe?"

  "Anything that's there we can face," Martinho said.

  "What are you talking about?" Rhin asked.

  Chen-Lhu cleared his throat. Let her see now the extremes to which our enemy will go, he thought. Let her see the perfidy of these bandeirantes. Then, when I tell her what she must do, she'll do it willingly.

  "There is a story, Rhin," Chen-Lhu said.

  "Story!" Martinho sneered.

  "Rumor, then," Chen-Lhu said. "Some of the bandeirantes of Diogo Alvarez say they saw a mantidae three meters tall in the Serra Dos Parecis."

  Vierho leaned toward Chen-Lhu, face tense. The acid scar was pale on the bandeirante's cheek. "Alvarez lost six men before he gave up the Serra. You know that, Senhor? Six men! And he . . ."

  Vierho broke off at the arrival of a squat, dark-skinned man in a stained bandeirante working smock. The man was round faced, with Indian eyes. He stopped almost behind Martinho, stood there waiting.

  The newcomer bent close to Martinho, whispered.

  Rhin could catch only a few of his words -- they were very low and in some barbarous interlands dialect -- something about the Plaza, the central square . . . crowds.

  Martinho pursed his lips, said, "When?"

  Ramon straightened, spoke somewhat louder. "Just now, Jefe."

  "In the Plaza?"

  "Yes -- less than a block from here."

  "What is it?" Chen-Lhu asked.

  "A namesake of this cabaret," Martinho said.

  "A chigger?"

  "So they say."

  "But this area's Green," Rhin said. And she wondered at her sudden feelings of dismay.

  Martinho pushed himself up and away from the divan.

  Chen-Lhu's face betrayed a strange watchfulness as he looked up at the bandeirante Jefe.

  "You will excuse me, please, Rhin Kelly?" Martinho asked.

  "Where are you going?" she asked.

  "There is work."

  "One ch
igger?" Chen-Lhu asked. "Are you sure it isn't a mistake?"