The Green Brain by Frank Herbert
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Table of Contents
The Million-in-One Man
Tor Books by Frank Herbert
The Million-in-One Man
The extermination engineers had erected barriers between the Red and the Green zones. In the Green, the men had done their work well—no useless insects survived. But they still had to clear the way in the Red zone, to destroy insect life there—a lower form of life which was presenting a threat to mankind.
The Indian waited at the barrier to be let into the Green zone; he simulated the servility which would identify him as a primitive from the deep Brazilian interior—from the Red zone.
At the barrier he was almost overcome with the repellants sprayed at him. But the brilliant facets of his eyes, the tiny scales of his skin were not detected. The weave of furry separate cells did not become unravelled.
The million-in-one man penetrated the uninfested Green.
He looked pretty much like the bastard offspring of a Guarani Indio and some backwoods farmer’s daughter, some sertanista who’d tried to forget her enslavement to the encomendero system by “eating the iron”—which is what they call lovemaking through the grill of a consel gate.
The type-look was almost perfect except when he forgot himself while passing through one of the deeper jungle glades.
His skin tended to shade down to green then, fading him into the background of leaves and vines, giving a ghostly disembodiment to the mud-gray shirt and ragged trousers, the inevitable frayed straw hat and rawhide sandals soled with pieces cut from worn tires.
Such lapses grew less and less frequent the farther he emerged from the Parana headwaters, the sertao hinterland of Goyaz where men with his bang-cut black hair and glittering dark eyes were common.
By the time he reached bandeirantes country, he had achieved almost perfect control over the chameleon effect.
Now, he was out of the wilder jungle growth and into the brown dirt tracks that separated the parceled farms of the resettlement plan. In his own way, he knew he was approaching one of the bandeirante checkpoints, and with an almost human gesture he fingered the cedula de graicias al sacar, the certificate of white blood, tucked safely beneath his shirt. Now and again, when humans were not near, he practiced aloud the name that had been chosen for him—“Antonio Raposo Tavares.”
The sound emerged a bit strident, harsh on the edges, but he knew it would pass. It already had. Goyaz Indios were notorious for the strange inflections of their speech. The farm folk who’d given him a roof and food the previous night had said as much.
When their questions had become pressing, he’d squatted on their doorstep and played his flute, the qena of the Andes Indian, which he carried in a leather purse hung from his shoulder. The gesture of the flute was a symbol of the region. When a Guarani put flute to nose and began playing, that said words were ended.
The farm folk had shrugged and retired.
His trudging progress, the difficult and carefully mastered articulation of legs, had brought him now into an area of many humans. He could see red-brown rooftops ahead and the white crystal shimmering of a bandeirante tower with its aircars alighting and departing. The scene held an odd hive-look.
Momentarily, he found himself overcome by the touch of instincts that he knew he must master. These instincts could make him fail the ordeal to come. He stepped off the dirt track, out of the path of passing humans, and went through the regimen that united his mental identity. The resultant thought penetrated to the smallest and most remote units of his person: We are greenslaves subservient to the greater whole.
He resumed his way toward the bandeirante checkpoint. The unifying thought lent him an air of servility that was like a shield against the stares of humans trudging past all around. His kind knew many human mannerisms. They had learned early that servility was a form of concealment.
Presently, the dirt track gave way to a two-lane paved market road with footpaths in the ditches on both sides. This, in turn, curved alongside a four-deck commercial transport highway where even the footpaths were paved. Now there were groundcars and aircars in greater numbers, and the flow of foot traffic increased.
Thus far he’d attracted no dangerous attention. The occasional snickering side-glance from natives of the area could be safely ignored. He watched for probing stares. These could hold peril, but he detected none.
Servility shielded him.
The sun stood well along toward mid-morning and the day’s heat had begun to press down on the earth, raising a moist hothouse stink from the dirt beside the pathway, mingling it with the perspiration odors of humanity around him. There was a sourness to the smell that made every part of him long for the sweetly familiar odors of the hinterland. And the lowland smells carried another harmonic that filled him with an inaudible humming of unease. Here were greater and greater concentrations of insect poisons.
Humans were all around him now, close and pressing, moving slower and slower as they approached the checkpoint bottleneck.
The forward motion stopped.
Progress resolved itself into shuffle and stop, shuffle and stop … .
Here was the critical test and no avoiding it. He waited with something akin to an Indian’s stoic patience. His breathing had grown deeper to compensate for the heat. He adjusted it to match that of the humans around him, suffering the temperature rise for the sake of blending into his surroundings. Andes Indians didn’t breathe deeply here in the lowlands.
Shuffle and stop.
Shuffle and stop.
Now he could see the checkpoint.
Fastidious bandeirantes in sealed white cloaks with plastic helmets, gloves and boots stood in a double row within a shaded brick corridor leading into the town. He could see sunlight hot on the street beyond the corridor, people hurrying away there after passing this gantlet.
The sight of that free area beyond the corridor sent an ache of longing through all the parts of him. The suppression warning flashed out instantly on the heels of that instinctive reaching-emotion.
No distraction could be permitted here. Every element of him had to be alert to withstand the pain.
Shuffle and … he was into the hands of the first bandeirante, a hulking blond fellow with pink skin and blue eyes.
“Step along now! Lively now!” the fellow said.
A gloved hand propelled him toward two bandeirantes standing on the right side of the line.
“Name?” That was a voice behind him.
“Antonio Raposo Tavares,” he rasped.
“Give that one an extra treatment,” the blond giant called. “He’s from the upcountry for certain.”
The two waiting bandeirantes had him now, one jamming a breather mask over his face, the other dropping a plastic bag over him. A tube trailed from the bag and out toward the sound o
“Double shot!” one of the bandeirantes called.
Fuming blue gas puffed out the bag around him, and he inhaled a sharp, gasping breath through the mask, astonished at that unanimous demand for poison-free air.
The gas drove through every multiple linkage of his being with needles of pain.
We must not weaken, he thought. Hold fast.
But it was a deadly pain, killing. Linkages began to weaken.
“Okay on this one,” the bag handler called.
The bag was slipped off, breather mask pulled away. Hands propelled him down the corridor toward the sunlight.
“Lively now! Don’t hold up the line.”
The stink of the poison gas lay all around him. It was a new one—a dissembler. They hadn’t prepared him for this poison. He’d been ready for the radiations and the sonics and the old chemicals … but not for this.
Sunlight beat down on him as he emerged from the corridor into a street. He veered left through a passage lined by fruit stalls, merchants bartering with customers or standing fat and watchful behind their displays.
In his extremity, the fruit beckoned with the promise of sanctuary for a few parts of him, but the integrating totality of him knew the emptiness of that thought. He fought off the lure, shuffled fast as he dared, dodging past customers, through the knots of idlers.
“You like to buy fresh oranges?”
An oily dark hand thrust two oranges into his face.
“Fresh oranges from the green country. Never been a bug near these.”
He avoided the hand, but the odor of the oranges came near to overpowering him.
Now he was clear of the stalls, around a corner down a narrow side street. Another corner and he saw far away to his left the lure of greenery in open country, the free area beyond the town.
He turned toward the green, increased his speed, measuring out the time still available to him. He knew it would be a near thing. Poison clung to his clothing, but clean air filtered through the fabric—and the thought of possible victory was like an antidote.
We can make it yet!
The green drew closer and closer—trees and ferns beside a river bank. He heard running water, smelled wet soil. There was a bridge thronging with foot traffic from converging streets.
No help for it—he joined the throng, avoided contact where possible. His leg and back linkages were beginning to slip, and he knew the wrong kind of blow, a chance collision, could dislodge whole segments.
The bridge ordeal ended and he saw a dirt track leading off the path to the right and down toward the river. He turned toward it, stumbled against one of two men carrying a pig in a net slung between them. Part of the skin simulation on his right upper leg gave way. He could feel it begin to slip down inside his trousers.
The man he’d hit took two backward step, almost dropped the pig.
“Careful!” the man shouted.
The man’s companion said, “Damn drunks.”
The pig set up a squirming, squealing distraction.
In this moment, he slipped past the men onto the dirt track, shuffled toward the river. He could see water down there now boiling with aeration from the barrier filters, the foam of sonic disruption on its surface.
Behind him, one of the pig carriers said, “I don’t think he was drunk, Carlos. His skin felt dry and hot. Maybe he was sick.”
He heard and understood, tried to increase his speed. The lost segment of skin simulation had slipped halfway down his leg. A disruptive loosening of shoulder and back muscles threatened his balance.
The track turned around an embankment of raw dirt dark brown with dampness and dipped into a tunnel through ferns and bushes. The men with the pig no longer could see him, he knew. He grabbed at his trousers where the leg surface was slipping, scurried through the green tunnel.
Where the tunnel ended he caught sight of his first mutated bee. It was dead, having entered this barrier vibration area without any protection against that deadliness. The bee was one of the butterfly type with irridescent yellow and orange wings. It lay in the cup of a green leaf at the center of a shaft of sunlight.
He shuffled past, having recorded the bee’s shape and color. His kind had considered the bees as a possible way, but there were serious drawbacks. A bee could not reason with humans. And humans had to listen to reason soon, else all life would end.
There came the sound of someone hurrying down the path behind him. Heavy footsteps pounded the earth.
Why would they pursue? Have I been discovered?
A sensation akin to panic fluttered through him, lent his parts a burst of energy. But he was reduced to slow shuffling and soon it would be only a crawling progress. Every eye he could use searched the greenery for a place of concealment.
A thin break darkened the fern wall on his left. Tiny human footprints led into it—children. He forced his way through the ferns there, found himself on a low narrow path along the embankment. Two toy aircars, red and blue, lay abandoned on the path. His staggering foot pressed into the dirt.
The low path led close to a wall of black dirt festooned with creepers. It turned sharply as the dirt wall turned and emerged onto the lip of a shallow cave. More toys lay in the green gloom at the cave’s mouth.
He knelt, crawled over the toys into the blessed dankness, lay there waiting.
Presently, the pounding footsteps hurried past a few meters below. Voices reached up to him.
“He was headed for the river. Think he was going to jump in?”
“Who knows? But I think me for sure he was sick.”
“Here! Down this way; somebody’s been down this way.”
The voices grew indistinct, blended with the bubbling sound of water.
The men were going on down the path. They had missed his hiding place. But why had they pursued? He hadn’t seriously injured that man. Surely they didn’t suspect.
But speculation had to wait.
Slowly, he steeled himself for what had to be done, brought his specialized parts into play and began burrowing into the earth of the cave. Deeper and deeper he burrowed, thrusting the excess dirt behind and out to make it appear the cave had collapsed.
Ten meters in he went before stopping. His store of energy contained just enough reserve for the next stage. He turned onto his back, scattering the dead parts of legs and back, exposing the queen and her guard cluster to the dirt beneath his chitinous spine. Orifices opened at his thigh, exuded the cocoon foam, the soothing green cover that would harden into a protective shell.
This was victory; the essential parts had survived.
Time was the thing now—some twenty days to gather new energy, go through the metamorphosis and disperse. Soon there’d be thousands of him—each with its carefully mimicked clothing and identification papers, each with this appearance of humanity.
Identical—each of them.
There’d be other checkpoints, but not as severe; other barriers—lesser ones.
This human copy had proved to be a good one. The supreme integration of his kind had chosen well. They’d learned much from study of scattered captives in the sertao. But it was so difficult to understand the human creature. Even when they were permitted a limited freedom, it was almost impossible to reason with them. Their supreme integration eluded all attempts at contact.
And always the primary question remained: How could any supreme integration permit the disaster that was overtaking this entire planet?
Difficult humans—their slavery to the planet would have to be proved to them … dramatically, perhaps.
The queen stirred near the cool dirt, prodded into action by her guards. Unifying communication went out to all the body parts, seeking the survivors, assessing strengths. They’d learned new things this time about escaping notice from humans. All the subsequent colony clusters would share that knowledge. One of them at least would get through t
One of them had to get through.
Pastel smokes drifted on the cabaret’s air. Each smoke, the signature of a table, wafted upward from a table’s central vent—here a pale mauve, across the way a pink as delicate as baby skin, there a green that brought to mind Indian gauze woven of pampas grass. It had just turned 9:00 P.M. and the Cabaret A’Chigua, Bahia’s finest, had begun its nightly entertainment. Tinkling bell music set a sensuous rhythm for a troupe of dancers posturing in stylized ant costumes. Their fake antennae and mandibles waved through the smokes.
A’Chigua’s patrons occupied low divans. The women were a sprinkling of tropical color as rich as jungle flowers arranged against men in white linen and, here and there like punctuation marks, the glistening white smocks of bandeirantes. This was the Green area, where bandeirantes could relax and play after duty in the Red jungle or at the barriers.
Shoptalk and smalltalk in a dozen languages flowed through the room—
“Tonight I take a pink table for luck. It is the color of a woman’s breast, no?” “So I laid down a blanket of foamal and we went in and cleaned out the whole nest—mutated ants like they had in the Piratininga. Must’ve been ten, twenty billion of them right there.”
Dr. Rhin Kelly had listened to the room for twenty minutes, her attention drawn more and more to the tension undercurrents here.
“The new poisons work—yes.” That was a bandeirante at the table behind her answering the problem of survivors—resistant strains. The mop-up is going to be brutal handwork, just like China. They had to get down there and kill the last bugs by hand.”
Rhin sensed her companion stirring, and thought: He heard. She glanced up from their table’s amber smoke, met her escort’s almond eyes. He smiled and she thought as she had many times before what a distinguished personage was this Dr. Travis Huntington Chen-Lhu. He was tall with the deep, square face of North China topped by close-cropped hair that was still jet black at sixty. He leaned toward her and whispered, “Nowhere do we escape rumors, eh?”