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Hellstrom's Hive, Page 2

Frank Herbert

  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.

  The Agency.

  No one ever called it anything else. The Agency’s economic operations, the spying and other forms of espionage only confirmed Janvert’s early cynicism. He saw the world without masks, telling himself that the great mass of his fellows had no realization whatsoever that they already lived in what was, for all intents and purposes, a police state. This had been inevitable from the formation of the first police state that achieved any degree of world power. The only apparent way to oppose a police state was by forming another police state. It was a condition that fostered its mimic forces on all sides (so Clovis Carr and Edward Janvert agreed). Everything they saw in the society took on police-state character. Janvert said it. “This is the time of the police states.”

  They made this a tenet of their pact to leave the Agency together at the first opportunity. That their feelings for each other and the pact thus engendered were dangerous, they had no doubts. To leave the Agency would require new identities and a subsequent life of obscurity whose nature they understood all too well. Agents left the service through death in action or a carefully guarded retirement – or they sometimes just disappeared and, somehow, all of their fellows got the message not to ask questions. The most persistent retirement rumor in the Agency mentioned the farm; decidedly not Hellstrom’s farm. It was, instead, a carefully supervised rest home that none located with precise geography. Some said northern Minnesota. The story described high fences, guards, dogs, golf, tennis, swimming, splendid fishing on an enclosed lake, posh private cabins for “guests,” even quarters for married couples, but no children. Having children in this business was considered equal to a death sentence.

  Both Carr and Janvert agreed they wanted children. Escape would have to occur while they were overseas together, they decided. Forged papers, new faces, money, the requisite language facility – all of the physical necessities were within reach except one: the opportunity. And never once did they suspect adolescent fantasy in such dreams – nor in the work that occupied their lives. They would escape – someday.

  Depeaux was objecting to something in Merrivale’s briefing now. Janvert tried to pick up the thread: something about a young woman trying to escape from Hellstrom’s farm.

  “Porter’s reasonably certain they didn’t kill her,” Merrivale said. “They just took her back inside that barn that we are told is the main studio for Hellstrom’s movie operation.”

  From the Agency report on Project 40.

  The papers were dropped from a folder by a man identified as a Hellstrom aide. The incident occurred in the MIT main library early last March as explained in the covering notes. The label “Project 40” was scribbled at the top of each page. From an examination of the notes and diagrams (see enclosure A), our experts postulate developmental plans for what they describe as “a toroidal field disrupter.” This is explained as an electron (or particle) pump capable of influencing physical matter at a distance. The papers are, unfortunately, incomplete. No definite line of development can be determine
d from them, although our own laboratories are exploring the provocative implications. It seems obvious, however, that someone in the Hellstrom organization is at work on an operational prototype. We cannot be certain (1) whether it will work or (2) if it works, to what use it will be put. However, in view of Dr. Zinstrom’s report (see enclosure G) we must assume the worst. Zinstrom assures us privately that the theory behind such a development is sound and that a toroidal field disrupter large enough, amplified enough, and set to the correct resonance could shatter the earth’s crust with disastrous consequences for all life on our planet.

  “This is really a plum of a case we’re handing to Carlos,” Merrivale said. He touched his upper lip, brushing an imaginary mustache.

  Carr, who was seated slightly behind Depeaux and facing Merrivale, noted the flush of sudden red at Depeaux’s neck. He didn’t like that obvious, pandering statement. The morning sun was shining in the window to Merrivale’s right, reflecting off the desk with a yellow brown underlight which imparted a saturnine cast to the operations director’s face.

  “That movie-company front has got Peruge’s wind up, I must say,” Merrivale said. (Depeaux actually shuddered.)

  Carr coughed to conceal a sudden hysterical desire to laugh aloud.

  “Under the circumstances, we don’t dare go in and root them out, as I’m sure you can understand,” Merrivale said. “Not enough evidence in our kip. Your job, that. This movie front does offer one of our most promising points of entry, however.”

  “What’s the subject matter of this film?” Janvert asked.

  They all turned to look at him and Carr wondered why Eddie had interrupted. He seldom did that sort of thing casually. Was he fishing for some of the information behind Merrivale’s briefing?

  “I thought I said,” Merrivale said. “Insects! They’re making a film about bloody insects. A bit of a surprise, that, when Peruge first mentioned it. I confess my own first guess was that they were making unsavory sex films and – ahhh, blackmailing someone in a sensitive position.”

  Depeaux, sweating under a profound aversion to Merrivale’s bogus accent and manner, squirmed in his chair, resenting the interruption. Get on with it! he thought.

  “I’m not sure I understand the sensitive conditions around Hellstrom’s operation,” Janvert said. “I’d thought the film would supply a clue.”

  Merrivale sighed. Bloody nitpicker! He said, “Hellstrom is something of a madman on the subject of ecology. I’m sure you know how politically sensitive that subject is. There’s also the fact that he is employed as a consultant by several, I repeat, several persons of extremely powerful influence. I could name one senator and at least three congressmen. If we were to move frontally against Hellstrom, I’m sure the repercussions would be severe.”

  “Ecology, eh,” Depeaux said, trying to get Merrivale back on track.

  “Yes, ecology!” Merrivale made the word sound as though he wanted it to rhyme with sodomy. “The man has access to considerable sums of money, too, and we’d like to know about that.”

  Depeaux nodded, said, “Let’s get back to that valley.”

  “Yes, yes indeed,” Merrivale agreed. “You’ve all seen the map. This little valley’s been in Hellstrom’s family since his grandmother’s day. Trova Hellstrom, pioneer, widow, that sort of thing.”

  Janvert rubbed a hand across his eyes. He was sure from Merrivale’s description of Trova Hellstrom that the intended picture was of a tiny “widow woman” fighting off attacking redskins from a blazing log cabin, her brats passing a bucket brigade behind her. The man was unbelievable.

  “Here’s the map,” Merrivale said, extracting it from the papers on his desk. “Southeastern Oregon, right here.” He touched the map with a finger. “Guarded Valley. The closest civilization is this town here with the unlikely appellation of Fosterville.”

  Carr wondered: Why an unlikely name? She glanced covertly at Janvert, but he was examining the palm of his right hand as though he had just found something fascinating in it.

  “And they do all of their filming in this valley?” Depeaux asked.

  “Oh, no!” Merrivale protested. “My God, Carlos. Didn’t you read enclosures R through W?”

  “There were no such enclosures in my file,” Depeaux said.

  “Bloody hell!” Merrivale said. “Sometimes, I wonder how we ever get anything done correctly in this establishment. Very well. I’ll give you mine. Briefly, Hellstrom and his camera crews and whatnot have been all over the bloody world: Kenya, Brazil, Southeast Asia, India – it’s all in here.” He tapped the papers on his desk. “You can see for yourself later.”

  “And this Project 40?” Depeaux asked.

  “That’s what attracted our attention,” Merrivale explained. “The pertinent papers were copied and the originals returned to where they were found. The Hellstrom aide subsequently returned for his papers, found them where he expected, took them, and departed. Their significance was not understood at the time. Purely routine. Our man on the library staff was curious, no more, but the curiosity became increasingly intense as the papers were bounced upstairs. Unfortunately, we’ve not had the opportunity to observe this particular Hellstrom aide since that moment. He apparently is keeping to the farm. It is our belief, however, that Hellstrom is unaware that we know about his little project.”

  “The speculation seems a little like science fiction, more than a little fantastic,” Depeaux said.

  Janvert nodded his agreement. Were those explicit suspicions the real reason the Agency was prying into Hellstrom’s affairs? Or was it possible that Hellstrom was merely developing a product that threatened one of the groups that actually paid most of the Agency’s expenses? You never knew in this business.

  “Haven’t I heard of this Hellstrom before?” Carr asked. “Isn’t he the entomologist who came out against DDT when –”

  “That’s the chap!” Merrivale said. “Pure fanatic. Now, here’s the farmstead plan, Carlos.”

  So much for my question, Carr thought. She curled her legs under her in the wing chair, glanced openly at Janvert, who returned her stare with a grin. He’s just been playing with Merrivale, she realized, and he thinks I’m in the game.

  Merrivale had a blueprint map on his desk now, unfolding it, indicating features on it with his long, sensitive fingers. “Barn here - outbuildings – main house. We have every reason to believe, as those reports indicate, that the barn is Hellstrom’s studio. Curious concrete structure here near the entrance gate. Can’t say what purpose it serves. Your job to find out.”

  “And you don’t want us to go right in, nose around,” Depeaux said. He frowned at the blueprint map. This decision puzzled him. “The young woman who tried to get away –”

  “Yes, that was March 20 last,” Merrivale said. “Porter saw her run from the barn. She got as far as the north gate here when she was apprehended by two men who came upon her from beyond the fence. Their point of origin was not determined. They did, however, return her to the barn-studio.”

  “Porter’s account says these people weren’t wearing any clothes,” Depeaux said. “It seems to me that a report to the authorities giving a description of –”

  “And we’d have had to explain why we were there, send our one man up against numerous Hellstrom accomplices, all of this in the presence of the new morality that permeates this society.”

  You damned hypocrite! Carr thought. You know how the Agency uses sex for its own purposes.

  Janvert leaned forward in his chair and said, “Merrivale, you’re holding something back in this case. I want to know what it is. We have Porter’s report, but he’s not here to amplify it. Is Porter available?” He sat back. “A simple yes or no will suffice.”

  That’s a dangerous tack to take, Eddie, Carr thought. She watched Merrivale intently to measure his response.

  “I can’t say I care for your tone, Shorty,” Merrivale said.

  Depeaux leaned back, put a hand over his eyes.

sp; “And I can’t say I care for your secrecy,” Janvert said. “We would like to know the things that are not in these reports.”

  Depeaux dropped his hand, nodded. Yes, there were some things about this case . . .

  “Impatience is not seemly in good agents,” Merrivale said. “However, I can understand your curiosity, and the need-to-know rule has not been applied in this case. Peruge was specific on that. What has our wind up, as it were, is not just this Project 40 thing, but the accumulation of items, the indications that Hellstrom’s film activities are actually (he pronounced it exshooly, and once more for emphasis) – actually a cover for serious and highly subversive political activities.”

  Bullshit! Janvert thought.

  “How serious?” Carr asked.

  “Well – Hellstrom has been nosing around the Nevada atomic-testing area. He conducts entomological researches, as well, you see. His films are offered under the guise of documentary productions. He has had atomic materials for his so-called researches and –”

  “Why so-called?” Janvert asked. “Isn’t it possible he’s just what he –”

  “Impossible!” Merrivale snorted. “Look, it’s really all in the reports here. Observe especially the indications that Hellstrom and his people may be interested in forming some sort of new communal society. It’s quite provocative. He and his film crew live that sort of life wherever they go – off to themselves, clubby – and their preoccupation with the emerging African nations, the numerous visits to the Nevada testing area, the ecology thing with its highly inflammatory nature, the –”

  “Communist?” Carr interrupted.

  “It’s – ahhh – possible.”

  Janvert said, “Where’s Porter?”