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Title: Border, Breed Nor Birth
Author: Reynolds, Mack, 1917-1983
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Border, Breed Nor Birth" ***

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                         Transcriber's Note:

  This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact & Fiction July 1962.
  Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
  copyright on this publication was renewed.



                       Border, Breed nor Birth



     Part 1 of Two. Kipling said those things didn't count when
     two strong men stood face to face. But ... do they count
     when two strong ideologies stand face to face...?



                           by Mack Reynolds


                      Illustrated by Schoenherr

       *       *       *       *       *



I


El Hassan, would-be tyrant of all North Africa, was on the run.

His followers at this point numbered six, one of whom was a wisp of a
twenty-four year old girl. Arrayed against him and his dream, he knew,
was the combined power of the world in the form of the Reunited
Nations, and, in addition, such individual powers as the United States
of the Americas, the Soviet Complex, Common Europe, the French
Community, the British Commonwealth and the Arab Union, working both
together and unilaterally.

Immediate survival depended upon getting into the Great Erg of the
Sahara where even the greatest powers the world had ever developed
would have their work cut out locating El Hassan and his people.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bey-ag-Akhamouk who was riding next to Elmer Allen in the lead air
cushion hover-lorry, held a hand high. Both of the solar powered
desert vehicles ground to a halt.

Homer Crawford vaulted out of the seat of the second lorry before it
had settled to the sand. "What's up, Bey?" he called.

Bey pointed to the south and west. They were in the vicinity of
Tessalit, in what was once known as French Sudan, and immediately to
the south of Algeria. They were deliberately avoiding what little
existed in this area in the way of trails, the Tanezrouft route which
crossed the Sahara from Colomb-Béchar to Gao, on the Niger, was some
fifty miles to the west.

Homer Crawford stared up into the sky in the direction Bey pointed and
his face went wan.

The others were piling out of the vehicles.

"What is it?" Isobel Cunningham said, squinting and trying to catch
what the others had already spotted.

"Aircraft," Bey growled. "A rocket-plane."

"Which means the military in this part of the world," Homer said.

The rest of them looked to him for instructions, but Bey suddenly took
over. He said to Homer, "You better get on over beneath that
outcropping of rock. The rest of us will handle this."

Homer looked at him.

Bey said, flatly, "If one of the rest of us gets it, or even if all of
us do, the El Hassan movement goes on. But if something happens to
you, the movement dies. We've already taken our stand and too much is
at stake to risk your life."

Homer Crawford opened his mouth to protest, then closed it. He reached
inside the solar-powered lorry and fetched forth a Tommy-Noiseless and
started for the rock outcropping at a trot. Having made his decision,
he wasn't going to cramp Bey-ag-Akhamouk's style with needless
palaver.

Isobel Cunningham, Cliff Jackson, Elmer Allen and Kenny Ballalou
gathered around the tall, American educated Tuareg.

"What's the plan?" Elmer said. Either he or Kenny Ballalou could have
taken over as competently, but they were as capable of taking orders
as giving them, a desirable trait in fighting men.

Bey was still staring at the oncoming speck. He growled, "We can't
even hope he hasn't seen the pillars of sand and dust these vehicles
throw up. He's spotted us all right. And we've got to figure he's
looking for us, even though we can hope he's not."

The side of his mouth began to tic, characteristically. "He'll make
three passes. The first one high, as an initial check. The second time
he'll come in low just to make sure. The third pass and he'll clobber
us."

The aircraft was coming on, high but nearer now.

"So," Elmer said reasonably, "we either get him the second pass he
makes, or we've had it." The young Jamaican's lips were thinned back
over his excellent teeth, as always when he went into combat.

"That's it," Bey agreed. "Kenny, you and Cliff get the flac rifle, and
have it handy in the back of the second truck. Be sure he doesn't see
it on this first pass. Elmer, get on the radio and check anything he
sends."

Kenny Ballalou and the hulking Cliff Jackson ran to carry out orders.

Isobel said, "Got an extra gun for me?"

Bey scowled at her. "You better get over there with Homer where it's
safer."

She said evenly, "I've always considered myself a pacifist, but when
somebody starts shooting at me, I forget about it and am inclined to
shoot back."

"I haven't got time to argue with you," Bey said. "There aren't any
extra guns except handguns and they'd be useless." As he spoke, he
pulled his own Tommy-Noiseless from its scabbard on the front door of
the air cushion lorry, and checked its clip of two hundred .10 caliber
ultra-high velocity rounds. He flicked the selector to the explosive
side of the clip.

       *       *       *       *       *

The plane was roaring in on what would be its first pass, if Bey had
guessed correctly. If he had guessed incorrectly, this might be the
end. A charge of napalm would fry everything for a quarter of a mile
around, or the craft might even be equipped with a mini-fission bomb.
In this area a minor nuclear explosion would probably go undetected.

Bey yelled, "Don't anybody even try to fire at him at this range.
He'll be back. It takes half the sky to turn around in with that
crate, but he'll be back, lower next time."

Cliff Jackson said cheerlessly, "Maybe he's just looking for us. He
won't necessarily take a crack at us."

Bey grunted. "Elmer?"

"Nothing on the radio," Elmer said. "If he was just scouting us out,
he'd report to his base. But if his orders are to clobber us, then he
wouldn't put it on the air."

The plane was turning in the sky, coming back.

Cliff argued, "Well, we can't fire unless we know if he's just hunting
us out, or trying to do us in."

Elmer said patiently, "For just finding us, that first pass would be
all he needed. He could radio back that he'd found us. But if he comes
in again, he's looking for trouble."

"Here he comes!" Bey yelled. "Kenny-Cliff ... the rifle!"

Isobel suddenly dashed out into the sands a dozen yards or so from the
vehicles and began running around and around in a circle as though
demented.

Bey stared at her. "Get back here," he roared. "Under one of the
trucks!"

She ignored him.

The rocket-plane was coming in, low and obviously as slow as the pilot
could retard its speed.

The flac rifle began jumping and tracers reached out from
it--inaccurately. The Tommy-Noiseless automatics in the hands of Bey
and Elmer Allen gave their silenced _flic flic flic_ sounds, equally
ineffective.

On the ultra-stubby wings of the fast moving aircraft, a row of
brilliant cherries flickered and a row of explosive shells plowed
across the desert, digging twin ditches, miraculously going between
the air cushion lorries but missing both. It was upon them, over and
gone, before the men on the ground could turn to fire after.

Elmer Allen muttered an obscenity under his breath.

Cliff Jackson looked around in desperation. "What can we do now? He
won't come close enough for us to even fire at him, next time."

Bey said nothing. Isobel had collapsed into the sand. Elmer Allen
looked over at her. "Nice try, Isobel," he said. "I think he came in
lower and slower than he would have otherwise--trying to see what the
devil it was you were doing."

She shrugged, hopelessly.

"Hey!" Kenny Ballalou pointed.

The rocketcraft was wobbling, shuddering, in the sky. Suddenly it
burst into a black cloud of fire and smoke and explosion.

At the same moment, Homer Crawford got up from the sand dune behind
which he'd stationed himself and plowed awkwardly through the sand
toward them.

Bey glared at him.

Homer shrugged and said, "I checked the way he came in the first time
and figured he'd repeat the run. Then I got behind that dune there and
faced in the other direction and started firing where I _thought_ he'd
be, a few seconds before he came over. He evidently ran right into
it."

Bey said indignantly, "Look, wise guy, you're no longer the leader of
a five-man Reunited Nations African Development Project team. Then,
you were expendable. Now, you're El Hassan. You give the orders. Other
people are expendable."

Homer Crawford grinned at him, somewhat ruefully and held up his hands
as though in supplication. "Listen to the man, is that any way to talk
to El Hassan?"

Elmer Allen said worriedly, "He's right, though, Homer. You shouldn't
take chances."

Homer Crawford went serious. "Actually, none of us should, if we can
avoid it. In a way, El Hassan isn't one person. It's this team here,
and Jake Armstrong, who by this time I hope is on his way to the
States."

Bey was shaking his head in stubborn determination. "No," he said.
"I'm not sure that you comprehend this yourself, Homer, but you're
Number One. You're the symbol, the hero these people are going to
follow if we put this thing over. They couldn't understand a sextet
leadership. They want a leader, someone to dominate and tell them what
to do. A team you need, admittedly, but not so much as the team needs
you. Remember Alexander? He had a team starting off with Aristotle for
a brain-trust, and Parmenion, one of the greatest generals of all time
for his right-hand man. Then he had a group of field men such as
Ptolemy, Antipater, Antigonus and Seleucus--not to be rivaled until
Napoleon built his team, two thousand years later. And what happened
to this super-team when Alexander died?"

Homer looked at him thoughtfully.

Bey wound it up doggedly. "You're our Alexander. Our Caesar. Our
Napoleon. So don't go getting yourself killed, damn it. Excuse me,
Isobel."

Isobel grinned her pixielike grin. "I agree," she said. "Dammit."

Homer said, "I'm not sure I go all along with you or not. We'll think
about it." His voice took a sharper note. "Let's go over and see if
there's enough left in that wreckage to give us an idea of who the
pilot represented. I can't believe it was a Reunited Nations man, and
I'd like to know who, of our potential enemies, dislikes the idea of
El Hassan so much that they figure we should all be bumped off before
we even get under way."

       *       *       *       *       *

It had begun--if there is ever a beginning--in Dakar. In the offices
of Sven Zetterberg the Swedish head of the Sahara Division of the
African Development Project of the Reunited Nations.

Homer Crawford, head of a five-man trouble-shooting team, had reported
for orders. In one hand he held them, when he was ushered into the
other's presence.

Zetterberg shook hands abruptly, said, "Sit down, Dr. Crawford."

Homer Crawford looked at the secretary who had ushered him in.

Zetterberg said, scowling, "What's the matter?"

"I think I have something to be discussed privately."

The secretary shrugged and turned and left.

Zetterberg, still scowling, resumed his own place behind the desk and
said, "Claud Hansen is a trusted Reunited Nations man. What could
possibly be so secret...?"

Homer indicated the orders he held. "This assignment. It takes some
consideration."

Sven Zetterberg was not a patient man. He said, in irritation, "It
should be perfectly clear. This El Hassan we've been hearing so much
about. This mystery man come out of the desert attempting to unify
all North America. We want to talk to him."

"Why?" Crawford said.

"Confound it," Zetterberg snapped. "I thought we'd gone into this
yesterday. In spite of the complaints that come into this office in
regard to your cavalier tactics in carrying out your assignments, you
and your team are our most competent operatives. So we've given you
the assignment of finding El Hassan."

"I mean, why do you want to talk to him?"

The Swede glared at him for a moment, as though the American was being
deliberately dense. "Dr. Crawford," he said, "when the African
Development Project was first begun we had high hopes. Seemingly all
Reunited Nations members were being motivated by high humanitarian
reasons. Our task was to bring all Africa to a level of progress
comparable to the advanced nations. It was more than a duty, it was a
crying need, a demand. Africa is and has been throughout history a
_have-not_ continent. While Europe, the Americas, Australia and now
even Asia, industrialized and largely conquered man's old
socio-economic problems, Africa lagged behind. The reasons were
manifold, colonialism, lingering tribal society ... various others.
Now that very lagging has become a potential explosive situation. With
the coming of antibiotics and other break-throughs in medicine, the
African population is growing with an all but geometric progression.
So fast is it growing, that what advances were being made did less
than keep up the level of per capita gross product. It was bad enough
to have a per capita gross product averaging less than a hundred
dollars a year, but it actually sank below that point."

Homer Crawford was nodding.

Zetterberg continued the basic lecture with which he knew the other
was already completely familiar. "So the Reunited Nations took on the
task of advancing as rapidly as possible the African economy and all
the things that must be done before an economy _can_ be advanced. It
was self-preservation, I suppose. _Have-not_ nations, not to speak of
_have-not_ races and _have-not_ continents, have a tendency eventually
to explode upon their wealthier neighbors."

The Swede pressed his lips together before continuing. "Unfortunately,
the Reunited Nations as the United Nations and the League of Nations
before it, is composed of members each with its own irons in the fire.
Each with its own plans and schemes." His voice was bitter now. "The
Arab Union with its desire to unite all Islam into one. The Soviet
Complex with its ultimate dream of a soviet world. The capitalistic
economies of the British Commonwealth, Common Europe, and your United
States of the Americas, with their hunger for, positive need for,
sources of raw materials and markets for their manufactured products.
All, though playing lip service to the African Development Project,
have still their own ambitions."

Sven Zetterberg waggled a finger at Homer Crawford. "I do not charge
that your United States is attempting to take over Africa, or even any
section of it, in the old colonialistic sense. Even England and France
have discovered that it is much simpler to dominate economically than
to go through all the expense and effort of governing another people.
That is the basic reason they gave up their empires. No, your United
States would love to so dominate Africa that her products, her
entrepreneurs, would flood the continent to the virtual exclusion of
such economic competitors as Common Europe. The Commonwealth feels the
same, so does the French Community. The Soviets and Arabs have
different motivations, but they, too, wish to take over. The
result...." The Swede tossed up his hands in a gesture more Gallic
than Scandinavian.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What has all this got to do with El Hassan?" Homer Crawford asked
softly.

The Swede leaned forward. "If we more devoted adherents of the
Reunited Nations are ever to see our hopes come true, Africa must be
united and made strong. And this must be done through the efforts of
_Africans_ not Russians, British, French, Arabs ... nor even
Scandinavians. Socio-economic changes should not, possibly cannot, be
inflicted upon a people from without. Look at the mess the Russians
made in such countries as Hungary, or the Americans in such as South
Korea."

"The people themselves must have the dream," Crawford said softly.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Nothing. Go on."

Zetterberg said, "On the surface, great progress seems to be
continuing. Afforestation of the Sahara, the solar pumps creating new
oases, the water purification plants on the Atlantic and
Mediterranean, pushing back the desert, the oil fields, the mines, the
roads, the damming of the Niger. But already cracks can be seen. A
week or so ago, a team of Cubans, supposedly, at least, in the Sudan
to improve sugar refining methods, were machine-gunned to death. By
whom? By the Sudanese? Unlikely. No, this Cuban massacre was one of
many recent signs of conflict between the great powers in their
efforts to dominate. Our problem, of course, deals only with North
Africa, but I have heard rumors in Geneva that much the same situation
is developing in the south as well."

"At any rate, Dr. Crawford, when the rumors of El Hassan began to come
into this office they brought with them a breath of hope. From all we
have heard, he teaches our basic program--a breaking down of old
tribal society, education, economic progress, Pan-African unity. Dr.
Crawford, no one with whom this office is connected seems ever to have
seen this El Hassan but we are most anxious to talk to him. Perhaps
this is the man behind whom we can throw our support. Your task is to
find him."

Homer Crawford raked the fingers of his right hand back over his
short wiry hair, and grimaced. He said, "It won't be necessary."

[Illustration]

"I beg your pardon, Doctor?"

Crawford said, "It won't be necessary to go looking for El Hassan."

The Swede scowled his irritation at the other. "See here...."

Crawford said, "I'm El Hassan."

Sven Zetterberg stared at him, uncomprehending.

Homer Crawford said, "I suppose it's your turn to listen and for me
to do the talking." He shifted in his chair, uncomfortably. "Dr.
Zetterberg, even before the Reunited Nations evolved the idea of the
African Development Project, it became obvious that the field work was
going to have to be in the hands of Negroes. The reason is doublefold.
First, the African doesn't trust the white man, for good reason.
Second, the white man is a citizen of his own country, first of all,
and finds it difficult not to have motives connected with his own race
and nation. But the African Negro, too, has his tribal and sometimes
national affiliations and cannot be trusted not to be prejudiced in
their favor. The answer? The educated American Negro, such as myself."

"I haven't the slightest idea from whence came my ancestors, from what
part of Africa, what tribe, what nation. But I am a Negro and ...
well, have the dream of bettering my race. I have no irons in the
fire, beyond altruistic ones. Of course, when I say American Negroes I
don't exclude Canadian ones, or those of Latin America or the
Caribbean. It is simply that there are greater numbers of educated
American Negroes than you find elsewhere."

Zetterberg said impatiently, "Please, Dr. Crawford. Come to the point.
That ridiculous statement you made about El Hassan."

"Of course, I am merely giving background. Most of we field workers,
not only the African Development teams, but such organizations as the
Africa for Africans Association and the representatives of the African
Department of the British Commonwealth, and of the French Community's
African Affairs sector, are composed of Negroes."

Zetterberg was nodding. "All right, I know."

Homer Crawford said, "The teams of all these organizations do their
best to spur African progress, in our case, in North Africa,
especially the area between the Niger and the Mediterranean. Often we
disguise ourselves as natives since in that manner we are more quickly
trusted. We wear the clothes, speak the local language or lingua
franca."

The American hesitated a moment, then plunged in. "Dr. Zetterberg, the
African is still a primitive but newly beginning to move out of a
tradition-ritual-taboo tribal society. He seeks a hero to follow, a
man of towering prestige who knows the answers to all questions. We
may not _like_ this fact, we with our traditions of democracy, but it
is so. The African is simply not yet at that stage of society where
political democracy is applicable."

"My team does most of its work posing as Enaden--low caste itinerant
smiths of the Sahara. As such we can go any place and are everywhere
accepted, a necessary sector of the Saharan economy. As such, we
continually spread the ... ah, propaganda of the Reunited Nations--the
need for education, the need for taking jobs on the new projects, the
need for casting aside old institutions and embracing the new. Early
in the game we found our words had little weight coming from simple
Enaden smiths so we ... well, _invented_ this mysterious El Hassan,
and everything we said we attributed to him."

"News spreads fast in the desert, astonishingly fast. El Hassan
started with us but soon other teams, hearing about him and realizing
that his message was the same as that they were trying to propagate,
did the same thing. That is, attributed the messages they had to
spread to El Hassan. It was amusing when a group of us got together
last week in Timbuktu, to find that we'd all taken to kowtowing to
this mythical desert hero who planned to unite all North Africa."

The Swede was staring at him unbelievingly. "But, a bit earlier you
said you were El Hassan."

Homer Crawford looked into his chief's face and nodded seriously.
"I've been conferring with various other field workers, both Reunited
Nations and otherwise. The situation calls for a real El Hassan. If we
don't provide him, someone else will. I propose to take over the
position."

Sven Zetterberg's face was suddenly cold. "And why, Dr. Crawford, do
you think you are more qualified than others?"

The American Negro could hardly fail to note the other's disapproval.
He said evenly, but definitely, "Through experience. Through
education. Through ... through having the dream, Dr. Zetterberg."

"The Reunited Nations cannot support such a project, Dr. Crawford. I
absolutely forbid you to consider it."

"Forbid me?"

       *       *       *       *       *

It was as though a strange something entered the atmosphere of the
room, almost as though a new _presence_ was there. And almost, it
seemed to Sven Zetterberg, that the already tall, solidly built man
across from him grew physically as his voice seemed to swell, to reach
out, to dominate. There was a new, and all but unbelievable Homer
Crawford here.

The Swedish official regathered his forces. This was ridiculous. He
said again, "I forbid you to...." the sentence dribbled away under the
cold disdain in the air now.

Homer Crawford said flatly, "You don't seem to understand, Zetterberg.
The Reunited Nations has no control over El Hassan. Homer Crawford, as
of this meeting, has resigned his post with the African Development
Project. And El Hassan has begun his task of uniting all North
Africa."

Sven Zetterberg, shaken by this new and unsuspected force the other
seemed to be able to bring to his command, fought back. "It will be
simple to discredit you, to let it be known that you are no more than
an ambitious American out to seize power illegally."

Crawford's scorn held an element of amusement. "Try it. I suspect your
attempts to discredit El Hassan will prove unsuccessful. He has
already been rumored to be everything from an Ethiopian to the Second
Coming of the Messiah. Your attempt to brand him an American
adventurer will be swallowed up in the flood of other rumor."

The Swede was still shaken by the strange manner in which his once
subordinate had suddenly dominated him. Sven Zetterberg was not a man
to be dominated, to be made unsure.

Time folded back on itself and for a moment he was again a lad and on
vacation with his father in Bavaria. They were having lunch in the
famed Hofbraühaus, largest of the Munich beercellars, and even a
ten-year-old could sense an anticipation in the air, particularly
among the large number of brownshirted men who had gathered to one
side of the ground level of the beer hall. His father was telling Sven
of the history of the medieval building when a silence fell. Into the
beer hall had come a pasty faced, trenchcoat garbed little man, his
face set in stern lines but insufficiently to offset the ludicrous
mustache. He was accompanied by an elderly soldier in the uniform of a
Field Marshal, by a large tub of a man whose face beamed--but
evilly--and by a pinch faced cripple. All were men of command, all
except the pasty faced one, to whom they seemingly and surprisingly,
deferred. And then he stood on a heavy chair and spoke. And then his
_power_ reached out and grasped all within reach of his shrill voice.
Grasped them and compelled them and they became a shouting, red faced,
arm brandishing mob, demanding to be led to glory. And Sven's father
had bustled the shocked boy from the building.

It came back to him now, clearly and forcefully, and he realized that
whatever it was with which the Beast of Berchtesgaden had enchanted
his people, that power was on call in Homer Crawford. Whether he used
it for good or evil, that enchanting power was on call. And again Sven
Zetterberg was shaken.

Homer Crawford was on his feet, preparatory to leaving.

The Swede simply _had_ to reassert himself. "Dr. Crawford, the
Reunited Nations is not without resources. You'll be arrested before
you leave Dakar."

An element of the tenseness left the air when Crawford smiled and
said, "Doctor, for several years now I have been playing hide and seek
in the Sahara, doing your work. You mentioned earlier that my team is
the most experienced and capable. Just whom are you going to send to
pick me up? Members of some of the other teams? Old friends and
comrades in arms. Many of whom owe their lives to my team when all
bets were down. Please do send them, Doctor, I am going to need
recruits."

He swung and left the office and even as he went could hear the angry
Reunited Nations chief blasting into an interoffice communicator. He
decided he'd better see if there wasn't a back door or window through
which to leave the building. He'd have to phone Bey, Isobel and the
others and get together for a meeting to plan developments. El Hassan
was getting off to a fast start, already he was on the lam.

       *       *       *       *       *

Homer Crawford played it safe. From the nearest public phone he called
Isobel Cunningham at the Hotel Juan-le-Pin. No matter how fast Sven
Zetterberg swung into action, it would take his operatives some time
to connect Isobel with Homer and his team. As an employee of the
Africa for Africans Association, she would ordinarily come in little
contact with the Reunited Nations teams.

He said, "Isobel? Homer here. Can you talk?"

She said, "Cliff and Jake are here."

He said, "Have you sounded them out? How do they feel about the El
Hassan project?"

"They're in. At least, Jake is. We're still arguing with Cliff."

"O.K. Now listen, carefully. Zetterberg turned thumbs down on the
whole deal, for various reasons we can discuss later. In fact, he's
incensed and threatened to take steps to keep us from leaving Dakar."

Isobel was alerted but she snorted deprecation. "What do you want?"

"They're probably already looking for me, and in a matter of minutes
will probably try to pick up Bey-ag-Akhamouk, Elmer Allen and Kenny
Ballalou, the other members of my team. Get in touch with them
immediately and tell them to get into native costume and into hiding.
You and Jake--and Cliff--do the same."

"Right. Where do we meet and when?"

"In the _souk_, in the food market. There's a native restaurant there,
run by a former Vietnamese. We'll meet there at approximately noon."

"Right. Anything else?"

Homer said, "Tell Bey to bring along an extra 9mm Recoilless for me."

"Yes, El Hassan," she said, her voice expressionless. She didn't waste
time. Homer Crawford heard the phone click as she hung up.

He was in a branch building of the post and telegraph network on the
Rue des Resistance. Before leaving it, he looked out a window. Half a
block away was the office of the Sahara Division of the African
Development Project. Even as he watched, a dozen men hurried out the
front door, fanned out in all directions.

Homer grinned sourly. Old Sven was moving fast.

He shot a quick glance around the lobby of the building. He had to get
going. Zetterberg had started with a dozen men to trail down El
Hassan. He'd probably have a hundred involved before the hour was out.

A corridor turned off to the right. Homer hurried down it. At each
door he looked inside. To whoever occupied the room he murmured a few
words of apology in Wolof, the Sengalese lingua franca. The fourth
office was empty.

Homer stood there before it for a long, agonizing moment, waiting for
the right person to pass. Finally, the man he needed came along.
About six feet tall, about a hundred and eighty; dressed in the local
native dress and on the ragged side.

Homer said to him authoritatively, in the Wolof tongue, "You there,
come in here!" He opened the door, and pointed into the office.

The other, taken aback, demurred.

Homer's face and tone went still more commanding. "Step in here,
before I call the police."

It was all a mistake, of course. The Senegalese made the gesture
equivalent to the European's shrug, and entered the office.

Homer came in behind him, closed the door. He wasted no time in
preliminaries. Before the native turned, the American's hand lashed
out in a karate blow which stunned the other. Homer Crawford caught
him, even as he fell, and lowered him gently to the floor.

"Sorry, old boy," he muttered, "but this is probably the most
profitable thing that's happened to you this year."

He stripped off the other's clothes, as rapidly as he could make his
hands fly. The other was still out and probably would be for another
ten minutes, Crawford estimated. He stripped off his own clothes and
donned the native's.

Last of all, he took his wallet from his pocket, divided the money it
contained and stuffed a considerable wad of it into the European
clothing he was abandoning.

"Don't spend all of that in one place," he growled softly.

Homer dragged the other to a side of the room so that the body could
not be spotted from the entrance. Then he crossed to the door, opened
it and stepped into the corridor beyond.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was no need for sulking. He walked out the front door and headed
away from the dock and administration buildings area and toward the
native section, passing the Reunited Nations building on the way.

Dakar teems with multitudes of a dozen tribes come in from the jungles
and the bush, the desert and the swamp areas of the sources of the
Niger, to look for work on the new projects, to visit relatives, to
market for the products of civilization--or to gawk. Homer Crawford
disappeared into them. One among many.

Toward noon, he entered the cleared area which was the restaurant he
had named to Isobel and squatted before the pots to the far end of the
Vietnamese owned eatery, examining them with care. He chose a large
chunk of barbequed goat and was served it with a half pound piece of
unsalted Senegalese bread, torn from a monstrous loaf, and a twisted
piece of newspaper into which had been measured an ounce or so of
coarse salt. He took his meal and went to as secluded a corner as he
could find.

Homer Crawford chuckled inwardly. That morning he had breakfasted in
the most swank hotel in West Africa. He wished there was some manner
in which he could have invited Sven Zetterberg to dine here with him.
Or, come to think of it, a group of the students he had once taught
sociology at the University of Michigan. Or, possibly, prexy
Wallington, under whom he had worked while taking his doctor's degree.

Yes, it would have been interesting to have had a luncheon companion.

A native woman, on the stoutish side but with her hair done up in one
of the fabulously ornate hair styles specialized in by the Senegalese,
and wearing a flowing, shapeless dress of the garish textiles run off
purposely for this market in Japan and Manchester, waddled up to take
a place nearby. She bore a huge skewer of barbequed beef chunks, and a
hunk of bread not unlike Homer's own.

She grumbled uncomfortably, her back to the American, as she settled
into a position on the floor. And she mumbled as she began chewing at
the meat.

_No table manners_, Homer Crawford grinned inwardly. He wondered how
long it would take for the others to get here. He wasn't worried about
Isobel, Cliff Jackson and Jake Armstrong. It would take time before
Zetterberg's Reunited Nations cloak and dagger boys got around to
them, but he wasn't sure that she'd be able to locate his own team in
time. That bit he'd given the Swede official about his being so
bully-bully with the other Reunited Nations teams was in the way of
being an exaggeration, with the idea of throwing the other off.
Actually, working in the field on definite assignments, it was seldom
you ran into other African Development Project men. But perhaps it
would tie Zetterberg up, wondering just who he could trust to send
looking for El Hassan.

He finished off his barbequed goat and the bread and wiped his hands
on his clothes. Nobody here yet. To have an excuse for staying, he
would have to buy a bottle of Gazelle beer, the cheap Senegalese brew
which came in quart bottles and was warm and on the gassy side.

It was then that the woman in front of him, without turning, said
softly, "El Hassan?"


II

Homer Crawford stared at her, unbelievingly. The woman couldn't
possibly be an emissary from Isobel or from one of his own companions.
This situation demanded the utmost secrecy, they hadn't had time to
screen any outsiders as to trustworthiness.

She turned. It was Isobel. She chuckled softly, "You should see your
face."

His eyes went to her figure.

"Done with mirrors," Isobel said. "Or, at least, with pillows."

Homer didn't waste time. "Where are the others? They should be here by
now."

"We figured that the fewer of us seen on the streets, the better. So
they're waiting for you. Since I was the most easily disguised, the
least suspicious looking, I was elected to come get you."

"Waiting where?"

She licked the side of her mouth, a disconcerting characteristic of
hers, and looked at him archly. "Those pals of yours have quite a bit
on the ball on their own. They decided that there was a fairly good
chance that Sven Zetterberg wasn't exactly going to fall into your
arms, so they took preliminary measures. Kenny Ballalou rented a small
house, here in the native quarter. We've all rendezvoused there. See,
you aren't the only one on the ball."

Homer frowned at her, for the moment being in no mood for humor. "What
was the idea of sitting here for the past five minutes without even
speaking? You must have recognized me, knowing what to look for."

She nodded. "I ... I wasn't sure, Homer, but I had the darnedest
feeling I was being followed."

His glance was sharp now. First at her, then a quick darting around
the vicinity. "Woman's intuition," he snapped, "or something
substantial?"

She frowned at him. "I'm not a ninny, Homer."

His voice softened and he said quickly, "Don't misunderstand, Isobel.
I know that."

She forgot about her objection to his tone. "Even intuition doesn't
come out of a clear sky. Something sparks it. Subconscious psi,
possibly, but a spark."

"However?" he prodded.

"I took all precautions. I can't seem to put my finger on anything."

"O.K.," he said decisively. "Let's go then." He came to his feet and
reached a hand down for her.

"Heavens to Betsy," she said, "don't do that."

"What?"

"Help a woman in public. You'll look suspicious." She came to her own
feet, without aid.

_Damn_, he thought. She was right. The last thing he wanted was to
draw attention to a man who acted peculiarly.

       *       *       *       *       *

They made their way out of the food market and into the _souk_ proper,
Homer walking three or four paces ahead of her, Isobel demurely
behind, her eyes on the ground. They passed the native stands and tiny
shops, and the even smaller venders and hucksters with their products
of the mass production industries of East and West, side by side with
the native handicrafts ranging from carved wooden statues, jewelry,
_gris gris_ charms and kambu fetishes, to ceramics whose designs went
back to an age before the Portuguese first cruised off this coast. And
everywhere was color; there are no people on earth more color
conscious than the Senegalese.

Isobel guided him, her voice quiet and still maintaining its
uncharacteristic demure quality.

He would never have recognized Isobel, Homer Crawford told himself.
Isobel Cunningham, late of Columbia University where she'd taken her
Master's in anthropology. Isobel Cunningham, whom he had told on their
first meeting that she looked like the former singing star, Lena
Horne. Isobel Cunningham, slight of build, pixie of face, crisply
modern American with her tongue and wit. Was he in love with her? He
didn't know. El Hassan had no time, at present, for those things love
implied.

She said, "Here," and led the way down a brick paved passage to a
small house, almost a hut, that lay beyond.

Homer Crawford looked about him critically before entering. He said,
"I suppose this has been scouted out adequately. Where's the back
entrance?" He scowled. "Haven't the boys posted a sentry?"

A voice next to his ear said pleasantly, "Stick 'em up, stranger.
Where'd you get that zoot suit?"

He jerked his head about. There was a very small opening in the wooden
wall next to him. It was Kenny Ballalou's voice.

"Zoot suit, yet!" Homer snorted. "I haven't heard that term since I
was in rompers."

"You in rompers I'd like to see," Kenny snorted in his turn. "Come on
in, everybody's here."

The aged, unpainted, warped, wooden house consisted of two rooms, the
one three times as large as the second. The furniture was minimal, but
there was sitting room on chair, stool and bed for the seven of them.

"Hail, O El Hassan!" Elmer Allen called sourly, as Homer entered.

"And the hail with you," Homer called back, then, "Oops, sorry,
Isobel."

Isobel put her hands on her hips, greatly widened by the stuffing
she'd placed beneath her skirts. "Look," she said. "Thus far, the El
Hassan organization, which claims rule of all North Africa, consists
of six men and one dame ... ah, that is, one lady. Just so the lady
won't continually feel that she's being a drag on the conversation,
you are hereby allowed in moments of stress such shocking profanity as
an occasional damn or hell. But only if said lady is also allowed such
expletives during periods of similar stress."

Everyone laughed, and found chairs.

"I'm in love with Isobel Cunningham," Bey announced definitely.

"Second the motion," Elmer said.

The rest of them called, "Aye."

"O.K.," Homer Crawford said glumly, "I can see that this is going to
be one tight knit organization. Six men in love with the one dame ...
ah, that is, lady. Kind of a reverse harem deal. Oh, this is going to
lead to great co-operation."

       *       *       *       *       *

They laughed again and then Jake said, "Well, what's the story, Homer?
How does the El Hassan project sound to Zetterberg and the Reunited
Nations?"

Cliff Jackson laughed bitterly. "Why do you think we're in hiding?"
Only he and Jake Armstrong wore western clothing. Kenny Ballalou,
Bey-ag-Akhamouk and Elmer Allen were in native dress, similar to that
of Homer Crawford. Elmer Allen even bore a pilgrim's staff.

[Illustration]

Crawford, glad that the edge of tenseness had been taken off the group
by the banter with Isobel, turned serious now.

He said, "This is where we each take our stand. You can turn back at
this point, any one of you, and things will undoubtedly go on as
before. You'll keep your jobs, have no marks against you. Beyond this
point, and there's no turning back. I want you all to think it over,
before coming to any snap decisions."

Elmer Allen said, his face wearing its usual all but sullen
expression. "How about you?"

Homer said evenly, "I've already taken my stand."

Kenny Ballalou yawned and said, "I've been in this team for three or
four years, I'm too lazy to switch now Besides, I've always wanted to
be a corrupt politician. Can I be treasurer in this El Hassan regime?"

"No," Homer said. "Bey?"

Bey-ag-Akhamouk said, "I've always wanted to be a general. I'll come
in under those circumstances."

Homer said, his voice still even. "That's out. From this point in,
you're a Field Marshal and Minister of Defense."

"Shucks," Bey said. "I'd always wanted to be a general."

Homer Crawford said dryly, "Doesn't anybody take this seriously? It's
probably going to mean all your necks before it's through, you know."

Elmer Allen said dourly, "I take it seriously. I spent the idealistic
years, the school years, working for peace, democracy, a better world.
Now, here I am, helping to attempt to establish a tyranny over half
the continent of my racial background. But I'm in."

"Right," Homer said, the side of his mouth twitching. "You can be our
Minister of Propaganda."

"Minister of Propaganda!" Elmer wailed. "You mean like Goebbels? Me!"

Homer laughed. "O.K., we'll call it Minister of Information, or Press
Secretary to El Hassan. It all means the same thing." He looked at
Jacob Armstrong and said, "How old are you, Jake?"

"That's none of your business," the white-haired Jake said
aggressively. "I'm in. El Hassan is the only answer. North Africa has
got to be united, both for internal and external purposes. If you ...
if we ... don't do the job first, somebody else will, and off hand, I
can't think of anybody else I trust. I'm in."

Homer Crawford looked at him for a long moment. "Yes," he said
finally. "Of course you are. Jake, you've just been made our combined
Foreign Minister and Plenipotentiary Extraordinary to the Reunited
Nations. You'll leave immediately, first for Geneva, to present our
demands to the Reunited Nations, then to New York."

"What do I do in New York?" Jake Armstrong said blankly, trying to
assimilate the curves that were being thrown to him.

"You raise money and support from starry eyed Negro groups and
individuals. You line up such organizations as the Africa for Africans
Association behind El Hassan. You give speeches, and ruin your liver
eating at banquets every night in the week. You send out releases to
the press. You get all the publicity for the El Hassan movement you
can. You send official protests to the governments of every country in
the world, every time they do something that doesn't fit in with our
needs. You locate recruits and send them here to Africa to take over
some of the load. I don't have to tell you what to do. You can think
on your feet as well as I can. Do what is necessary. You're our
Foreign Minister. Don't let us see your face again until El Hassan is
in control of North Africa."

Jake Armstrong blinked. "How will I prove I'm your representative?
I'll need more than just a note _To Whom It May Concern_."

Homer Crawford thought about that.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bey said, "One of our first jobs is going to have to be to capture a
town where they have a broadcast station, say Zinder or In Salah. When
we do, we'll announce that you're Foreign Minister."

Crawford nodded. "That's obviously the ticket. By that time you should
be in New York, with an office opened."

Jake rubbed a black hand over his cheek as though checking his morning
shave. "It's going to take some money to get started. Once started I
can depend on contributions, perhaps, but at first...."

Homer interrupted with, "Cliff, you're Minister of the Treasury.
Raise some money."

"Eh?" Cliff Jackson said blankly. The king-size, easy-going
Californian looked more like the early Joe Louis than ever.

Everybody laughed. Elmer Allen came forth with his wallet and began
pulling out such notes as it contained. "I don't know what we'd be
doing with this in the desert," he said.

Isobel said, "I have almost three thousand dollars in a checking
account in New York. Let's see if I have my checkbook here."

The others were going through their pockets. As bank notes in British
pounds, American dollars, French francs and Common Europe marks
emerged they were tossed to the center of the small table which
wobbled on three legs in the middle of the room.

Elmer Allen said, "I have an account with the Bank of Jamaica in
Kingston. About four hundred pounds, I think. I'll have it
transferred."

Cliff took up the money and began counting it, making notations on a
notebook pad as he went.

Bey said, "We're only going to be able to give Jake part of this."

"How's that?" Elmer growled. "What use have we for money in the
Sahara? Jake's got to put up a decent front in Geneva and New York."

Bey said doggedly, "As Defense Minister, I'm opposed to El Hassan's
followers _ever_ taking anything without generous payment. We'll need
food and various services. From the beginning, we're going to have to
pay our way. We can't afford to let rumors start going around that
we're nothing but a bunch of brigands."

"Bey's right," Homer nodded. "The El Hassan movement is going to have
to maintain itself on the highest ethical level. We're going to take
over where the French Camel Corps left off and police North Africa.
There can't be a man from Somaliland to Mauretania who can say that
one of El Hassan's followers liberated him from as much as a date."

Kenny Ballalou said, "You can always requisition whatever you need and
give them a receipt, and then we'll pay off when we come to power."

"That's out!" Bey snapped. "Most of these people can't read. And even
those that do don't trust what they read. A piece of paper, in their
eyes, is no return for some goats, or flour, camels, horses, or
whatever else it might be we need. No, we're going to have to pay our
way."

Crawford raked a hand back through his wiry hair. "Bey's right, Kenny.
It's going to be a rough go, especially at first."

Kenny snorted. "What do you mean, _at first?_ What's going to happen,
_at second_ to make it any easier? Where're we going to get all this
money we'll need to pay for even what we ourselves use, not to speak
of the thousands of men we're going to have to have if El Hassan is
ever to come to power?"

Bey's eyebrows went up in shocked innocence. "Kenny, dear boy, don't
misunderstand. We don't requisition anything from individuals, or
clans, or small settlements. But if we take over a town such as Gao,
or Niamey, or Colomb-Béchar, or wherever, there is nothing to say that
a legal government such as that of El Hassan, can't requisition the
contents of the local banks."

Homer Crawford said with dignity, "The term, my dear Minister of
Defense, currently is to _nationalize_ the bank. Whether or not we
wish to have the banks remain nationalized, after we take over, we can
figure out later. But in the early stages, I'm afraid we're going to
have to nationalize just about every bank we come in contact with."

Cliff Jackson said cautiously, "I haven't said whether or not I'll
come in yet, but just as a point, I might mention issuing your own
legal tender. As soon as you liberate a printing press somewhere, of
course."

Everyone was charmed at the idea.

Isobel said, "You can see Cliff was _meant_ to be Minister of
Treasury. He's got _wholesale_ larceny in his soul, none of this
picayunish stuff such as robbing nomads of their sheep."

Elmer Allen was shaking his head sadly. "This whole conversation
started with Bey protesting that we couldn't allow ourselves to be
thought of as brigands. Now listen to you all."

Kenny Ballalou said with considerable dignity, "See here, friend.
Don't you know the difference between brigandage and international
finance?"

"No," Elmer said flatly.

"Hm-m-m," Kenny said.

"Let's get on with this," Homer said. "The forming of El Hassan's
basic government is beginning to take on aspects of a minstrel show.
Then we've all declared ourselves in ... except Cliff."

All eyes turned to the bulky Californian.

He sat scowling.

Homer said, easily, "You're not being urged, Cliff. You can turn back
at this point."

Elmer Allen growled, "You came to Africa to help your race develop its
continent. To conquer such problems as sufficient food, clothing and
shelter for all. To bring education and decent medical care to a
people who have had possibly the lowest living standards anywhere. Can
you see any way of achieving this beyond the El Hassan movement?"

Cliff looked at him, still scowling stubbornly. "That's not why I came
to Africa."

Their eyes were all on him, but they remained silent.

He said, defensively, "I'm no do-gooder. I took a job with the Africa
for Africans Association because it was the best job I could find."

Isobel broke the silence by saying softly, "I doubt it, Cliff."

The big man stood up from where he'd been seated on the bed. "O.K.,
O.K. Possibly there were other angles. I wanted to travel. Wanted to
see Africa. Besides, it was good background for some future job. I
figured it wouldn't hurt me any, in later years, applying for some
future job. Maybe with some Negro concern in the States. I'd be able
to say I'd put in a few years in Africa. Something like a Jew in New
York who was a veteran of the Israel-Arab wars, before the debacle."

They still looked at him, none of them accusingly.

He was irritated as he paced. "Don't you see? Everybody doesn't have
this _dream_ that Homer's always talking about. That doesn't mean I'm
abnormal. I just don't have the interest you do. All I want is a good
job, some money in the bank, security back in the States. I'm not
interested in dashing all over the globe, getting shot at, dying for
some ideal."

Homer said gently, "It's up to you, Cliff. Nobody's twisting your
arm."

There was sweat on the big man's forehead. "All I came to Africa for
was the job, the money I got out of it," he repeated, insisting.

       *       *       *       *       *

To Homer Crawford suddenly came the realization that the other needed
an out, an excuse. An explanation to himself for doing something he
wanted to do but wouldn't admit because it went against the
opportunistic code he told himself he followed.

Homer said, "All right. How much are you making as a field worker for
the Africa for Africans Association?"

Cliff looked at him, uncomprehending. "Eight thousand dollars, plus
expenses."

"O.K., we'll double that. Sixteen thousand to begin with, as El
Hassan's Minister of Treasury and whatever other duties we can think
of to hang on you."

There was a long moment of silence, unbroken by any of the others.
Finally in a gesture of desperation, Cliff Jackson waved at the money
and checks sitting on the center table. "Sixteen thousand a year! The
whole organization doesn't have enough to pay me six months' salary."

Homer said mildly, "That's why your pay was doubled. You have to take
risks to make money in this world, Cliff. If El Hassan does come to
power, undoubtedly you'll get other raises--along with greater
responsibility."

He looked into Cliff Jackson's face, and although his words had dealt
with money, a man's dream looked out from his eyes. And the force of
personality that could emanate from Homer Crawford, possibly
unbeknownst to himself, flooded over the huge Californian. The others
in the room could feel it. Elmer Allen cleared his throat; Isobel held
her elbows to her sides, in a feminine protest against naked male
psychic strength.

Kenny Ballalou said without inflection, "Put up or shut up, Cliff old
pal."

Cliff Jackson sank back onto the spot on the bed he'd occupied before.
"I'm in," he muttered, so softly as hardly to be heard.

"None of you are in," a voice from the doorway said.

The figure that stood there held a thin, but heavy calibered
automatic in his hand.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was a dapper man, neat, trim, smart. His clothes were those of
Greater Washington, rather than Dakar and West Africa. His facial
expression seemed overly alert, overly bright, and his features were
more Caucasian than Negroid.

He said, "I believe you all know me. Fredric Ostrander."

"Of the Central Intelligence Agency," Homer Crawford said dryly. He as
well as Bey, Elmer and Kenny had risen to their feet when the newcomer
entered from the smaller of the hut's two rooms. "What's the gun for,
Ostrander?"

"You're under arrest," the C.I.A. man said evenly.

Elmer Allen snorted. "Under whose authority are you working? As a
Jamaican, I'm a citizen of the West Indies and a subject of Her
Majesty."

"We'll figure that out later," Ostrander rapped. "I'm sure the
appropriate Commonwealth authorities will co-operate with the State
Department and the Reunited Nations in this matter." The gun
unwaveringly went from one of them to the other, retraced itself.

Bey looked at Homer Crawford.

Crawford shook his head gently.

He said to the newcomer, "The question still stands, Ostrander. Under
whose authority are you operating? I don't think you have jurisdiction
over us. We're in Africa, not in the United States of the Americas."

Ostrander said tightly, "Right now I'm operating under the authority
of this weapon in my hand. Dr. Crawford. Do you realize that all of
you Americans here are risking your citizenship?"

Kenny Ballalou said, "Oh? Tell us more, Mr. State Department man."

"You're serving in the armed forces of a foreign power."

Even the dour Elmer Allen laughed at that one.

Crawford said, "The fact of the matter is, we _are_ the foreign
power."

"You're not amusing, Dr. Crawford," Ostrander said. "I've kept up with
this situation since you had that conference in Timbuktu. The State
Department has no intention of allowing some opportunist, backed by
known communists and fellow travelers, to seize power in this portion
of the world. In a matter of months the Soviets would be in here."

Isobel said evenly, "I was formerly a member of the Party. I no longer
am. I am an active opponent of the Soviet Complex at the moment,
especially in regard to its activity in Africa."

Ostrander snorted his disbelief.

Elmer Allen said, "You chaps never forget, do you?" He looked at the
others and explained. "Back during college days, I signed a few peace
petitions, that sort of thing. Ever since, every time I come in
contact with these people, you'd think I was Lenin or Trotsky."

Homer Crawford said, "My opinion is, Ostrander, that you've had to
move too quickly to check back with your superiors. Has the State
Department actually instructed you to arrest me and my companions here
on foreign soil, without a warrant?"

Ostrander clipped, "That's my responsibility. I'm taking you all in.
We'll solve such problems as jurisdiction and warrants when I get you
to the Reunited Nations headquarters."

"Ah?" Homer Crawford said. "And then what happens to us?"

Ostrander jiggled the gun, impatiently. "Sven Zetterberg is of the
opinion that you should immediately be flown out of Africa and the
case brought before the High Council of the African Development
Project. What measures will be taken beyond that point I have no way
of knowing."

Bey took a step to the left, Kenny Ballalou one to the right. Homer
Crawford remained immediately before the C.I.A. operative, his hands
slightly out from his sides, palms slightly forward.

Ostrander snapped, "I'm prepared to fire, you men. I don't
underestimate the importance of this situation. If your crazy scheme
makes any progress at all, it might well result in the death of
thousands. I know your background, Crawford. You once taught judo in
the Marines. I'm not unfamiliar with the art myself."

Isobel had a hand to her mouth, her eyes were wide. "Boys, don't ..."
she began.

Elmer Allen had been leaning on his pilgrim's staff, as though weary
with this whole matter. He said to Ostrander, interestedly, "So you've
been checked out on judo? Know anything about the use of the
quarterstaff?"

Ostrander kept his gun traversing between the four of them. "Eh?" he
said.

Elmer Allen shifted his grip on his staff infinitesimally. Of a
sudden, the end of the staff, now gripped with both hands near the
center, moved at invisibly high speed. There was a crack of the wrist
bone, and the gun went flying. The other end of the staff flicked out
and rapped the C.I.A. operative smartly on the head.

Fredric Ostrander crumbled to the floor.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Confound it, Elmer," Crawford said. "What'd you have to go and do
that for? I wanted to talk to him some more and send a message back to
Zetterberg. Sooner or later we've got to make our peace with the
Reunited Nations."

Elmer said embarrassedly, "Sorry, it just happened. I was merely going
to knock the gun out of his hand, but then I couldn't help myself. I
was tired of hearing that holier-than-thou voice of his."

Kenny Ballalou looked down at the fallen man gloomily. "He'll be out
for an hour. You're lucky you didn't crack his skull."

"Holy Mackerel," Cliff Jackson said. "I'm going to have to learn to
operate one of those things."

Elmer Allen handed him the supposed pilgrim's staff. "Best
hand-to-hand combat weapon ever invented," he said. "The British
yeoman's quarterstaff. Of course, this is a modernized version. Made
of epoxy resin glass-fiber material, treated to look like wood. That
stuff can turn a high-velocity bullet, let alone a sword, and it can
be bent in a ninety degree arc without the slightest effect, although
it'd take a power-driven testing machine to do it."

"All right, all right," Homer said. "We haven't got time for lessons
in the use of the quarterstaff. Let's put some thought to this
situation. If Ostrander here was able to find us, somebody else would,
too."

Isobel licked the side of her mouth. "He was probably following me.
Remember, I told you Homer?"

Kenny said, "If he had anyone with him, he'd have brought them along
to cover him. You've got to give him credit for bravery, taking on the
whole bunch of us by himself."

"Um-m-m," Homer said. "I wish he was with us instead of against us."

Jake Armstrong said, "Well, this solves one problem."

They looked at him.

He said, "Just as sure as sure, he's got a car parked somewhere. A car
with some sort of United States or Reunited Nations emblem on it."

"So what?" Kenny said.

"So you've got to get out of town before the search for you _really_
gets under way. With such a car, you can get past any roadblock that
might already be up between here and the Yoff airport."

Elmer Allen had sunk to his knees and was searching the fallen C.I.A.
man. He came up with car keys and a wallet.

Homer said to Jake Armstrong, "Why the Yoff airport?"

"Our plane is there," Jake told him. "The one assigned Isobel, Cliff
and me by the AFAA. You're going to have to make time. Get somewhere
out in the ah, boondocks, where you can begin operations."

Bey said thoughtfully, "He's right, Homer. Anybody against us, like
our friend here"--he nodded at Ostrander--"is going to try to get us
quick, before we can get the El Hassan movement under way. We've got
to get out of Dakar and into some area where they'll have their work
cut out trying to locate us."

Homer Crawford accepted their council. "O.K., let's get going. Jake,
you'll stay in Dakar, and at first play innocent. As soon as possible,
take plane for Geneva. As soon as you're there, send out press
releases to all the news associations and the larger papers. Announce
yourself as Foreign Minister of El Hassan and demand that he be
recognized as the legal head of state of all North Africa."

"Wow," Cliff Jackson said.

"Then play it by ear," Homer finished.

He turned to the others. "Bey, where'd you leave our two hover-lorries
when you came here to Dakar?"

"Stashed away in the ruins of a former mansion in Timbuktu. Hired two
Songhai to watch them."

"O.K. Cliff, you're the only one in European dress. Take this wallet
of Ostrander's. You'll drive the car. If we run into any roadblocks
between here and the Yoff airport, slow down a little and hold the
wallet out to show your supposed identification. They won't take the
time to check the photo. Bluff your way past, don't completely stop
the car."

"What happens if they do stop us?" Cliff said worriedly.

Kenny Ballalou said, "That'll be just too bad for them."

Bey stooped and scooped up the fallen automatic of Fredric Ostrander
and tucked it into the voluminous folds of his native robe. "Here we
go again," he said.


III

The man whose undercover name was Anton, landed at Gibraltar in a BEA
roco-jet, passed quickly through customs and immigration with his
Commonwealth passport and made his way into town. He checked with a
Bobby and found that he had a two-hour wait until the Mons Capa ferry
left for Tangier, and spent the time wandering up and down Main
Street, staring into the Indian shops with their tax-free cameras from
Common Europe, textiles from England, optical equipment from Japan,
and cheap souvenirs from everywhere. Gibraltar, the tourist's shopping
paradise.

The trip between Gibraltar and Tangier takes approximately two hours.
If you've never made it before, you stand on deck and watch Spain
recede behind you, and Africa loom closer. This was where Hercules
supposedly threw up his Pillars, Gibraltar being the one on the
European shore. Those who have made the trip again and again, sit down
in the bar and enjoy the tax-free prices. The man named Anton stood on
the deck. He was African by birth, but he'd never been to Morocco
before.

When he landed, he made the initial error of expecting the local
citizenry to speak Arabic. They didn't. Rif, a Berber tongue, was the
first language. The man called Anton had to speak French to make known
his needs. He took a Chico cab up from the port to the El Minza hotel,
immediately off the Plaza de France, the main square of the European
section.

At the hotel entrance were two jet-black doormen attired in a
pseudo-Moroccan costume of red fez, voluminous pants and yellow
barusha slippers. They made no note of his complexion, there is no
color bar in the Islamic world.

He had reservations at the desk. He left his passport there to go
through the standard routine, including being checked by the police,
had his bag sent up to his room and, a few minutes later, hands
nonchalantly in pockets, strolled along the Rue de Liberté toward the
casbah area of the medina. Up from the native section of town streamed
hordes of costumed Rifs, Arabs, Berbers of a dozen tribes, even an
occasional Blue Man. At least half the women still wore the haik and
veil, half the men the burnoose. Africa changes slowly, the man
called Anton admitted to himself all over again--so slowly.

[Illustration]

Down from the European section, which could have been a Californian
city, filtered every nation of the West, from every section of Common
Europe, the Americas, the Soviet Complex. If any city in the world is
a melting pot, it is Tangier, where Africa meets Europe and where East
meets West.

He passed through the teaming Grand Zocco market, and through the
gates of the old city. He took Rue Singhalese, the only street in the
medina wide enough to accommodate a vehicle and went almost as far as
the Zocco Chico, once considered the most notorious square in the
world.

For a moment the man called Anton stood before one of the Indian shops
and stared at the window's contents. Carved ivory statuettes from the
Far East, cameras from Japan, ebony figurines, chess sets of water
jade, gimcracks from everywhere.

A Hindu stood in the doorway and rubbed his hands in a gesture so
stereotyped as to be ludicrous. "Sir, would you like to enter my shop?
I have amazing bargains."

The man they called Anton entered.

He looked about the shop, otherwise empty of customers. Vaguely, he
wondered if the other ever sold anything, and, if so, to whom.

He said, "I was looking for an ivory elephant, from the East."

The Indian's eyebrows rose. "A white elephant?"

"A red elephant," the man called Anton said.

"In here," the Hindu said evenly, and led the way to the rear.

The rooms beyond were comfortable but not ostentatious. They passed
through a livingroom-study to an office beyond. The door was open and
the Indian merely gestured in the way of introduction, and then left.

Kirill Menzhinsky, agent superior of the _Chrezvychainaya Komissiya_
for North Africa, looked up from his desk, smiled his pleasure, came
to his feet and held out his hand.

"Anton!" he said. "I've been expecting you."

The man they called Anton smiled honestly and shook. "Kirill," he
said. "It's been a long time."

The other motioned to a comfortable armchair, resumed his own seat.
"It's been a long time all right--almost five years. As I recall, I
was slung over your shoulder, and you were wading through those
confounded swamps. The ..."

"The Everglades."

"Yes." The heavy-set Russian espionage chief chuckled. "You are much
stronger than you look, Anton. As I recall, I ordered you to abandon
me."

The wiry Negro grunted deprecation. "You were delirious from your
wound."

The Russian came to his feet, turned his back and went to a small
improvised bar. He said, his voice low, "No, Anton, I wasn't
delirious. Perhaps a bit afraid, but then the baying of dogs is
disconcerting."

The man they called Anton said, "It is all over now."

The Russian returned and said, "A drink, Anton? As I recall you were
never the man to refuse a drink. Scotch, bourbon, vodka?"

The other shrugged. "I believe in drinking the local product. What is
the beverage of Tangier?"

Kirill Menzhinsky took up a full bottle the contents of which had a
greenish, somewhat _oily_ tinge. "Absinthe," he said. "Guaranteed to
turn your brains to mush if you take it long enough. What was the name
of that French painter...?"

"Toulouse Lautrec," Anton supplied. "I thought the stuff was illegal
these days." He watched the other add water to the potent liqueur.

The Russian chuckled. "Nothing is illegal in Tangier, my dear Anton,
except the Party." He laughed at his own joke and handed the other his
glass. He poured himself a jolt of vodka and returned to his chair.
"To the world revolution, Anton."

The Negro saluted with his drink. "The revolution!"

They drank.

The Russian put down his glass and sighed. "I wish we were some place
in our own lands, Anton. Dinner, many drinks, perhaps some girls, eh?"

Anton shrugged. "Another time, Kirill."

"Yes. As it is, we should not be seen together. Nor, for that matter
should you even return here. The imperialists are not stupid. Very
possibly, American and Common Europe espionage agents know of this
headquarters. Not to speak of the Arab Union. I shall try to give you
the whole story and your assignment in this next half hour. Then you
should depart immediately."

       *       *       *       *       *

The man they called Anton sipped his drink and relaxed in his chair.
He looked at his superior without comment.

The Russian took another jolt of his water-clear drink. "Have you ever
heard of El Hassan?"

The Negro thought a moment before saying, "Vaguely. Evidently an Arab,
or possibly a Tuareg. North African nationalist. No, that wouldn't be
the word, since he is international. At any rate, he seems to be
drawing a following in the Sahara and as far south as the Sudan. Backs
modernization and wants unity of all North Africa. Is he connected
with the Party?"

The espionage chief was shaking his head. "That is the answer I
expected you to give, and is approximately what anyone else would have
said. Actually, there is no such person as El Hassan."

Anton frowned. "I'm afraid you're wrong there, Kirill. I've heard
about him in half a dozen places. Very mysterious figure. Nobody seems
to have seen him, but word of his program is passed around from
Ethiopia to Mauretania."

The Russian was shaking his head negatively. "That I know. It's a
rather strange story and one rather hard to believe if it wasn't for
the fact that one of my operatives was in on the, ah, _manufacturing_
of this Saharan leader."

"Manufacturing?"

"I'll give you the details later. Were you acquainted with Abraham
Baker, the American comrade?"

"Were? I _am_ acquainted with him. Abe is a friend as well as a
comrade."

The Russian shook his head again. "Baker is dead, Anton. As you
possibly know, his assignment for the past few years has been with a
Reunited Nations African Development Project team, working in the
Sahara region. We planted him there expecting the time to arrive when
his services would be of considerable value. He worked with a five-man
team headed by a Dr. Homer Crawford and largely the team's task was to
eliminate bottlenecks that developed as the various modernization
projects spread over the desert."

"But what's this got to do with _manufacturing_ El Hassan?"

"I'm coming to that. Crawford's team, including Comrade Baker, usually
disguised themselves as Enaden smiths. As such, their opinions carried
little weight so in order to spread Reunited Nations propaganda, they
hit upon the idea of imputing everything they said to this great hero
of the desert, El Hassan."

"I see," the man called Anton said.

"Others, without knowing the origin of our El Hassan, took up the idea
and spread it. These nomads are at an ethnic level where they want a
hero to follow, a leader. So in order to give prestige to their
teachings the various organizations trying to advance North Africa
followed in Crawford's footsteps and attributed their teachings to
this mysterious El Hassan."

"And it snowballed."

"Correct! But the point is that after a time Crawford came around to
the belief that there should be a real El Hassan. That the primary
task at this point is to unite the area, to break down the old tribal
society and introduce the populace to the new world."

"He's probably right," the man called Anton growled. He finished his
drink, got up from his chair and on his own went over and mixed
another. "More vodka?" he asked.

"Please." The Russian held up his glass and went on talking. "Yes,
undoubtedly that is what is needed at this point. As it is, things are
trending toward a collapse. The imperialists, especially the
Americans, of course, wish to dominate the area for their capitalistic
purposes. The Arab Union wishes to take over _in toto_ and make it
part of their Islamic world. We, of course, cannot afford to let
either succeed."

The Negro resumed his chair, sipped at his drink and listened, nodding
from time to time.

Kirill Menzhinsky said, "As you know, Marx and Engels when founding
scientific socialism had no expectation that their followers would
first come to power in such backward countries as the Russia of 1917
or the China of 1949. In fact, the establishment of true socialism
presupposes a highly developed industrial economy. It is simply
impossible without such an economy. When Lenin came to power in 1917,
as a result of the chaotic conditions that prevailed upon the military
collapse of Imperial Russia, he had no expectation of going it alone,
as the British would say. He expected immediate revolutions in such
countries as Germany and France and supposed that these more advanced
countries would then come to the assistance of the Soviet Union and
all would advance together to true socialism."

       *       *       *       *       *

"It didn't work out that way," the man called Anton said dryly.

"No, it didn't. And Lenin didn't live to see the steps that Stalin
would take in order to build the necessary industrial base in Russia."
Kirill Menzhinsky looked about the room, almost as though checking to
see if anyone else was listening. "Some of our more unorthodox
theoreticians are inclined to think that had Lenin survived the
assassin's bullet, that Comrade Stalin would have found it necessary
to, ah, liquidate him."

The Russian cleared his throat. "Be that as it may, basic changes were
made in Marxist teachings to fit into Stalin's and later Khrushchev's
new concepts of the worker's State. And the Soviet Union muddled
through, as the British have it. Today, the Soviet Complex is as
powerful as the imperialist powers."

The espionage leader knocked back his vodka with a practiced stiff
wristed motion. "Which brings us to the present and to North Africa."
He leaned forward in emphasis. "Comrade, if the past half century and
more has taught us anything, it is that you cannot establish socialism
in a really backward country. In short, communism is impossible in
North Africa at this point in her social evolution. Impossible. You
cannot go directly from tribal society to communism. At this historic
point, there is no place for the party's program in North Africa."

The man called Anton scowled.

The Russian waggled his hand negatively. "Yes, yes. I know.
Ultimately, the whole world must become Soviet. Only that way will we
achieve our eventual goal. But that is the long view. Realistically,
we must face it, as the Yankees say. This area is not at present soil
for our seed."

"Things move fast these days," the Negro growled. "Industrialization,
education, can be a geometric progression."

His superior nodded emphatically. "Of course, and as little as ten or
fifteen years from now, given progress at the present rate, perhaps
there will be opportunity for our movement. But now? No."

The other said, "What has all this to do with El Hassan, or Crawford,
or whatever the man's name is?"

"Yes," the Russian said. "Homer Crawford has evidently decided to
become El Hassan."

"Ahhh."

"Yes. At this point, in short, he is traveling in our direction. He is
doing what we realize must be done."

"Then we will support him?"

"Now we come to the point, Anton. Homer Crawford is not sympathetic to
the Party. To the contrary. Our suspicion, although we have no proof,
is that he killed Comrade Abe Baker, when Baker approached him on his
stand in regard to the Party's long view."

"I see," the man called Anton said.

The Russian nodded. "We must keep in some sort of touch with him--some
sort of control. If this El Hassan realizes his scheme and unites all
North Africa, sooner or later we will have to deal with him. If he is
antagonistic, we will have to find means to liquidate him."

"And my assignment...?"

"He will be gathering followers at this point. Many followers, most of
whom will be unknown to him. You will become one of them. Raise
yourself to as high a rank as you find possible in his group. Become a
close friend, if that can be done...."

"He killed Abe Baker, eh?"

The Russian frowned. "This is an assignment, Comrade Anton. There is
no room for personal feelings. You are a good field man. Among the
best. You are being given this task because the Party feels you are
the man for it. Possibly it is an assignment that will take years in
the fulfilling."

The Negro said nothing.

"Are there any questions?"

"Do we have any other operatives working on this?"

The frown became a scowl. "An Isobel Cunningham worked with Comrade
Baker, but it has been suspected that she has been drifting away from
the party these past few years. Her present status is unknown, but she
is believed to be with Homer Crawford and his followers. Possibly she
has defected. If so, you will take whatever measures seem necessary.
You will be working almost completely on your own, Comrade. You must
think on your feet, as the Yankees say."

The man called Anton thought a moment. He said, "You'd better give me
as thorough a run down as possible on this Homer Crawford and his
immediate followers."

       *       *       *       *       *

Menzhinsky settled back in his chair and took up a sheaf of papers
from the desk. "We have fairly complete dossiers. I'll give you the
highlights, then you can take these with you to your hotel to study at
leisure."

He took up the first sheet. "Homer Crawford. Born in Detroit of
working-class parents. In his late teens interrupted his education to
come to Africa where he joined elements of the F.L.N. in Morocco and
took part in several forays into Algeria. Evidently was wounded and
invalided back to the States where he resumed his education. When he
came of military age, he joined the Marine Corps and spent the usual,
ah, hitch I believe they call it. Following that, he resumed his
education, finally taking a doctor's degree in sociology. He then
taught for a time until the Reunited Nations began its African
program. He accepted a position, and soon distinguished himself."

The Russian took up another paper. "According to Comrade Baker's
reports, Crawford is an outstanding personality, dominating others,
even in spite of himself. He would make a top party man. Idealistic,
strong, clever, ruthless when ruthlessness is called for."

Menzhinsky paused for a moment, finding words hard to come by from an
ultra-materialist. His tone went wry. "Comrade Baker also reported a
somewhat mystical quality in our friend Crawford. An ability in times
of emotional crisis to break down men's mental barriers against him. A
_force_ that ..."

The other raised his eyebrows.

His superior chuckled, ruefully. "Comrade Baker was evidently much
swayed by the man's personality. However, Anton, I might point out
that similar reports have come down to us of such a dominating
personality in Lenin, and, to a lesser degree, in Stalin." He twisted
his mouth. "History leads us to believe that such personalities as
Jesus and Mohammed seemed to have some power beyond that of we more
mundane types."

"And the others?" Anton said.

The Russian took up still another paper. "Elmer Allen. Born of small
farmer background on the outskirts of Kingston, on the island of
Jamaica. Managed to work his way through the University of Kingston
where he took a master's degree in sociology. At one time he was
thought to be Party material and was active in several organizations
that held social connotations, pacifist groups and so forth. However,
he was never induced to join the Party. Upon graduation, he
immediately took employment with the Reunited Nations and was assigned
to Homer Crawford's team. He is evidently in accord with Crawford's
aims as El Hassan."

The espionage chief took up another sheet. "Bey-ag-Akhamouk ..."

The other scowled. "That can't be an American name."

"No. He is the only real African associated with Crawford at this
point. He was evidently born a Taureg and taken to the States at an
early age, three or four, by a missionary. At any rate, he was
educated at the University of Minnesota where he studied political
science. We have no record of where he stands politically, but Comrade
Baker rated him as an outstanding intuitive soldier. A veritable
genius in combat. He would seem to have had military experience
somewhere, but we have no record of it. Our Bey-ag-Akhamouk seems
somewhat of a mystery man."

The Russian sorted out another sheet. "Kenneth Ballalou, born in
Louisiana, educated in Chicago. Another young man but evidently as
capable as the others. He seems to be quite a linguist. So far as we
know, he holds no political stand whatsoever."

Menzhinsky pursed his lips before saying, "The Isobel Cunningham I
mentioned worked with the Africa for Africans Association with two
colleagues, a Jacob Armstrong and Clifford Jackson. It is possible
that these two, as well as Isobel Cunningham, have joined El Hassan.
If so, we will have to check further upon them, although I understand
Armstrong is rather elderly and hardly effective under the
circumstances."

The man called Anton said evenly, "And this former comrade, Isobel
Cunningham, has evidently joined with Crawford even though he ... was
the cause of Abe Baker's death?"

"Evidently."

The Negro's eyes narrowed.

The other said, "And evidently she is a most intelligent and
attractive young lady. We had rather high hopes for her formerly."

The Negro party member came to his feet and gathered up the sheaf of
papers from the desk. "All right," he said. "Is there anything else?"

The espionage chief shook his head. "You do not need a step by step
blueprint, Anton, that is why you have been chosen for this
assignment. You are strongly based in Party doctrine. You know what is
needed, we can trust you to carry on the Party's aims." After a pause,
the Russian added, "Without being diverted by personal feelings."

Anton looked him in the face. "Of course," he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

Fredric Ostrander was on the carpet.

His chief said, "You seem to have conducted yourself rather
precipitately, Fred."

Ostrander shrugged in irritation. "I didn't have time to consult
anyone. By pure luck, I spotted the Cunningham girl and since I knew
she had affiliated herself with Crawford, I followed her."

The chief said dryly, "And tried to arrest the seven of them, all by
yourself."

"I couldn't see anything else to do."

The C.I.A. official said, "In the first place, we have no legal
jurisdiction here and you could have caused an international stink.
The Russkies would just love to bring something like this onto the
Reunited Nations floor. In the second place, you failed. How in the
world did you expect to take on that number of men, especially
Crawford and his team?"

Ostrander flushed his irritation. "Next time ..." he began.

His chief waved a hand negatively. "Let's hope there isn't going to be
next time, of this type." He took up a paper from his desk. "Here's
your new job, Fred. You're to locate this El Hassan and keep in
continual contact with him. If he meets with any sort of success at
all, and frankly our agency doubts that he will, you will attempt to
bring home to Crawford and his followers the fact that they are
Americans, and orientate them in the direction of the West. Above all,
you are to keep in touch with us and keep us informed on all
developments. Especially notify us if there is any sign that our El
Hassan is in communication with the Russkies or any other foreign
element."

"Right," Ostrander said.

His chief looked at him. "We're giving you this job, Fred, because
you're more up on it than anyone else. You're in at the beginning, so
to speak. Now, do you want me to assign you a couple of assistants?"

"White men?" Ostrander said.

His higher-up scowled. "You know you're the only Negro in our agency,
Fred."

Fredric Ostrander, his voice still even, said, "That's too bad,
because anyone you assigned me who wasn't a Negro would be a hindrance
rather than an assistant."

The other drummed his fingers on the table in irritation. He said
suddenly, "Fred, do you think I ought to do a report to Greater
Washington suggesting they take more Negro operatives into the
agency?"

Ostrander said dryly, "You'd better if this department is going to get
much work done in Africa." He stood up. "I suppose that the sooner I
get onto the job, the better. Do you have any idea at all where
Crawford and his gang headed after they left me unconscious in that
filthy hut?"

"No, we haven't the slightest idea of where they might be, other than
that they left your car abandoned at the Yoff airport."

"Oh, great," Fredric Ostrander complained. "They've gone into hiding
in an area somewhat twice the size of the original fifty United
States."

"Good luck," his chief said.

       *       *       *       *       *

Rex Donaldson, formerly of Nassau in the British Bahamas, formerly of
the College of Anthropology, Oxford, now field man for the African
Department of the British Commonwealth working at expediting native
development, was taking time out for needed and unwonted relaxation.
In fact, he stretched out on his back in the most comfortable bed, in
the most comfortable hotel, in the Niger town of Mopti. His hands
were behind his head, and his scowling eyes were on the ceiling.

He was a small, bent man, inordinately black even for the Sudan and
the loincloth costume he wore was ludicrous in the Westernized comfort
of the hotel room. He was attired for the bush and knew that it was
sheer laziness now that kept him from taking off for the Dogon country
of the Canton de Sangha where he was currently working to bring down
tribal prejudices against the coming of the schools. He had his work
cut out for him in the Dogon, the old men, the tribal elders they
called Hogons, instinctively knew that the coming of education meant
subversion of their institutions and the eventual loss of Hogon power.

His portable communicator, sitting on the bedside table, buzzed and
the little man grumbled a profanity and swung his crooked legs around
to the floor. His eyebrows went up when he realized it was a priority
call which probably meant from London.

He flicked the reception switch and a girl's face faded onto the
screen. She said, "A moment, Mr. Donaldson, Sir Winton wants you."

"Right," Rex Donaldson said. Sir Winton, yet. Head of the African
Department. Other than photographs, Donaldson had never seen his
ultimate superior, not to mention speaking to him personally.

The girl's face faded out and that of Sir Winton Brett-Homes faded in.
The heavy-set, heavy-faced Englishman looked down, obviously checking
something on his desk. He looked up again, said, "Rex Donaldson?"

"Yes, sir."

"I won't waste time on preliminaries, Donaldson. We've been
discussing, here, some of the disconcerting rumors coming out of your
section. Are you acquainted with this figure, El Hassan?"

The black man's eyes widened. He said, cautiously, "I have heard a
good many stories and rumors."

"Yes, of course. They have been filtering into this office for more
than a year. But thus far little that could be considered concrete has
developed."

Rex Donaldson held his peace, waited for the other to go on.

Sir Winton said impatiently, "Actually, we are still dealing with
rumors, but they are beginning to shape up. Evidently, this El Hassan
has finally begun to move."

"Ahhh," the wiry little field man breathed.

The florid faced Englishman said, "As we understand it, he wishes to
cut across tribal, national and geographic divisions in all North
Africa, wishes to unite the whole area from Sudan to the
Mediterranean."

"Yes," Donaldson nodded. "That seems to be his program."

Sir Winton said, "It has been decided that the interests of Her
Majesty's government and that of the Commonwealth hardly coincide with
such an attempt at this time. It would lead to chaos."

"Ahhh," Donaldson said.

Sir Winton wound it up, all but beaming. "Your instructions, then,
are to seek out this El Hassan and combat his efforts with whatever
means you find necessary. We consider you one of our most competent
operatives, Donaldson."

Rex Donaldson said slowly, "You mean that he is to be stopped at all
cost?"

The other cleared his throat. "You are given carte blanche, Donaldson.
You and our other operatives in the Sahara and Sudan. Stop El Hassan."

Rex Donaldson said flatly, "You have just received my resignation, Sir
Winton."

"What ... what!"

"You heard me," Donaldson said.

"But ... but what are you going to do?" The heavy face of the African
Department head was going a reddish-purple, which rather fascinated
Donaldson but he had no time to further contemplate the phenomenon.

"I'm going to round up a few of my colleagues, of similar mind to my
own, and then I'm going to join El Hassan," the little man snapped.
"Good-bye, Sir Winton."

He clicked the set off and then looked down at it. His dour face broke
into a rare grin. "Now there's an ambition I've had for donkey's
years," he said aloud. "To hang up on a really big mucky-muck."


IV

Following the attack of the unidentified rocketcraft, El Hassan's
party was twice again nearly flushed by reconnoitering planes of
unknown origin. They weren't making the time they wanted.

Beneath a projecting rock face over a gravel bottomed wadi, the two
hover-lorries were hidden, whilst a slow-moving helio-jet made
sweeping, high-altitude circlings above them.

[Illustration]

The six stared glumly upward.

Cliff Jackson who was on the radio called out, "I just picked him up.
He's called in to Fort Lamy reporting no luck. His fuel's running
short and he'll be knocking off soon."

Homer Crawford rapped, "What language?"

"French," Cliff said, "but it's not his. I mean he's not French, just
using the language."

Bey's face was as glum as any and there was a tic at the side of his
mouth. He said now, "We've got to come up with something. Sooner or
later one of them will spot us and this next time we won't have any
fantastic breaks like Homer being able to knock him off with a
Tommy-Noiseless. He'll drop a couple of neopalms and burn up a square
mile of desert including El Hassan and his whole crew."

Homer looked at him. "Any ideas, Bey?"

"No," the other growled.

Homer Crawford said, "Any of the rest of you?"

Isobel was frowning, bringing something back. "Why don't we travel at
night?"

"And rest during the day?" Homer said.

Kenny said, "Parking where? We just made it to this wadi. If we're
caught out in the dunes somewhere when one of those planes shows up,
we've had it. You couldn't hide a jackrabbit out there."

But Bey and Homer Crawford were still looking at Isobel.

She said, "I remember a story the Tuaregs used to tell about a raid
some of them made back during the French occupation. They stole four
hundred camels near Timbuktu one night and headed north. The French
weren't worried. The next morning, they simply sent out a couple of
aircraft to spot the Tuareg raiders and the camels. Like Kenny said,
you couldn't hide a jackrabbit in dune country. But there was nothing
to be seen. The French couldn't believe it, but they still weren't
really worried. After all a camel herd can travel only thirty or so
miles a day. So the next day the planes went out again, circling,
circling, but they still didn't spot the thieves and their loot, nor
the next day. Well, to shorten it, the Tuareg got their four hundred
camels all the way up to Spanish Rio de Oro where they sold them."

She had their staring attention. "How?" Elmer blurted.

"It was simple. They traveled all night and then, at dawn, buried the
camels and themselves in the sand and stayed there all day."

Homer said, "I'm sold. Boys, I hope you're in physical trim because
there's going to be quite a bit of digging for the next few days."

Cliff groaned. "Some Minister of the Treasury," he complained. "They
give him a shovel instead of a bankbook."

Everyone laughed.

Bey said, "Well, I suppose we stay here until nightfall."

"Right," Homer said. "Whose turn is it to pull cook duty?"

Isobel said menacingly, "I don't know whose turn it is, but I know I'm
going to do the cooking. After that slumgullion Kenny whipped up
yesterday, I'm a perpetual volunteer for the job of chef--strictly in
self-defense."

"That was a cruel cut," Kenny protested, "however, I hereby relinquish
all my rights to cooking for this expedition."

"And me!"

"And me!"

"O.K.," Homer said, "so Isobel is Minister of the Royal Kitchen." He
looked at Elmer Allen. "Which reminds me. You're our junior
theoretician. Are we a monarchy?"

Elmer Allen scowled sourly and sat down, his back to the wadi wall. "I
wouldn't think so."

Isobel went off to make coffee in the portable galley in the rear of
the second hovercraft. The others brought forth tobacco and squatted
or sat near the dour Jamaican. Years in the desert had taught them the
nomad's ability to relax completely given opportunity.

"So if it's not a monarchy, what'll we call El Hassan?" Kenny
demanded.

Elmer said slowly, thoughtfully, "We'll call him simply _El Hassan_.
Monarchies are of the past, and El Hassan is the voice of the future,
something new. We won't admit he's just a latter-day tyrant, an
opportunist seizing power because it's there crying to be seized.
Actually, El Hassan is in the tradition of Genghis Khan, Tamerlane,
or, more recently, Napoleon. But he's a modern version, and we're not
going to hang the old labels on him."

Isobel had brought the coffee. "I think you're right," she said.

"Sold," Homer agreed. "So we aren't a monarchy. We're a tyranny." His
face had begun by expressing amusement, but that fell off. He added,
"As a young sociologist, I never expected to wind up a literal
tyrant."

Elmer Allen said, "Wait a minute. See if I can remember this. Comes
from Byron." He closed his eyes and recited:

    "The tyrant of the Chersonese
       Was freedom's best and bravest friend.
     That tyrant was Miltiades,
       Oh that the present hour would lend
     Another despot of the kind.
     Such bonds as his were sure to bind."

Isobel, pouring coffee, laughed and said, "Why Elmer, who'd ever dream
you read verse, not to speak of memorizing it, you old sourpuss."

Elmer Allen's complexion was too dark to register a flush.

Homer Crawford said, "Yeah, Miltiades. Seized power, whipped the
Athenians into shape to the point where they were able to take the
Persians at Marathon, which should have been impossible." He looked
around at the others, winding up with Elmer. "What happened to
Miltiades after Marathon and after the emergency was over?"

Elmer looked down into his coffee. "I don't remember," he lied.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a clicking from the first hover-lorry, and Cliff Jackson put
down his coffee, groaned his resentment at fate, and made his way to
the vehicle and the radio there.

Bey motioned with his head. "That's handy, our still being able to
tune in on the broadcasts the African Development Project makes to its
teams."

Kenny said, "Not that what they've been saying is much in the way of
flattery."

Bey said, "They seem to think we're somewhere in the vicinity of Bidon
Cinq."

"That's what worries me," Homer growled. He raked his right hand back
through his short hair. "If they think we're in Southern Algeria, what
are these planes doing around here? We're hundreds of miles from Bidon
Cinq."

Bey shot him an oblique glance. "That's easy. That plane that tried to
clobber us, and these others that have been trying to search us out,
aren't really Reunited Nations craft. They're someone else."

They all looked at him. "Who?" Isobel said.

"How should I know? It could be almost anybody with an iron in the
North African fire. The Soviet Complex? Very likely. The British
Commonwealth or the French Community? Why not? There're elements in
both that haven't really accepted giving up the old colonies and would
like to regain them in one way or the other. The Arab Union? Why
comment? Common Europe? Oh, Common Europe would love to have a free
hand exploiting North Africa."

"You haven't mentioned the United States of the Americas," Elmer said
dryly. "I hope you haven't any prejudices in favor of the land of your
adoption, Mr. Minister of War."

Bey shrugged. "I just hadn't got around to her. Admittedly with the
continued growth of the Soviet Complex and Common Europe, the States
have slipped from the supreme position they occupied immediately
following the Second War. The more power-happy elements are conscious
of the ultimate value of control of Africa and doubly conscious of the
danger of it falling into the hands of someone else. Oh, never fear,
those planes that have been pestering us might belong to anybody at
all."

Cliff Jackson hurried back from his radio, his face anxious. "Listen,"
he said. "That was a high priority flash, to all Reunited Nations
teams. The Arab Union has just taken Tamanrasset. They pushed two
columns out of Libya, evidently one from Ghat and one from further
north near Ghademès."

Homer Crawford was on his feet, alert. "Well ... why?"

Cliff had what amounted to accusation on his face. "Evidently, the El
Hassan rumors are spreading like wildfire. There've been more riots in
Mopti, and the Reunited Nations buildings in Adrar have been stormed
by mobs demonstrating for him. The Arab Union is moving in on the
excuse of protecting the country against El Hassan."

Kenny Ballalou groaned, "They'll have half their Arab Legion in here
before the week's out."

Cliff finished with, "The Reunited Nations is throwing a wingding.
Everybody running around accusing and threatening, and, as per usual,
getting nowhere."

Homer Crawford's face was working in thought. He shook his head at
Kenny. "I think you're wrong. They won't send the whole Arab Legion
in. They'll be afraid to. They'll want to see first what everybody
else does. They know they can't stand up to a slugging match with any
of the really big powers. They'll stick it out for a while and watch
developments. We have, perhaps, two weeks in which to operate."

"Operate?" Cliff demanded. "What do you mean, operate?"

Homer's eyes snapped to him. "I mean to recapture Tamanrasset from the
Arab Union, seize the radio and television station there, and proclaim
El Hassan's regime."

The big Californian's eyes bugged at him. "You mean the six of us?
There'll be ten thousand of them."

"No," Homer said decisively. "Nothing like that number. Possibly a
thousand, if that many. Logistics simply doesn't allow a greater
number, not on such short notice. They've put a thousand or so of
their crack troops into the town. No more."

Cliff wailed, "What's the difference between a thousand and twenty
thousand, so far as five men and a girl are concerned?"

The rest were saying nothing, but following the debate.

Crawford explained, not to just Cliff but to all of them. "Actually,
the Arab Union is doing part of our job for us. They've openly
declared that El Hassan is attempting to take over North Africa, that
he's raising the tribes. Well, good. We didn't have the facilities to
make the announcement ourselves. But now the whole world knows it."

       *       *       *       *       *

"That's right," Elmer said, his face characteristically sullen. "Every
news agency in the world is playing up the El Hassan story. In a
matter of days, the most remote nomad encampment in the Sahara will
know of it, one way or the other."

Homer Crawford was pacing, socking his right fist into the palm of the
left. "They've given us a rallying _raison d'etre_. These people might
be largely Moslem, especially in the north, but they have no love for
the Arab Union. For too long the slave raiders came down from the
northeast. Given time, Islam might have moved in on the whole of North
Africa. But not this way, not in military columns."

He swung to Bey. "You worked over in the Teda country, before joining
my team, and speak the Sudanic dialects. Head for there, Bey.
Proclaim El Hassan. Organize a column. We'll rendezvous at Tamanrasset
in exactly two weeks."

Bey growled, "How am I supposed to get to Faya?"

"You'll have to work that out yourself. Tonight we'll drop you near In
Guezzam, they have one of the big solar pump, afforestation
developments there. You should be able to, ah, requisition a truck, or
possibly even a 'copter or aircraft. You're on your own, Bey."

"Right."

Homer spun to Kenny Ballalou. "You're the only one of us who gets
along in the dialect of Hassania. Get over to Nemadi country and raise
a column. There are no better scouts in the world. Two weeks from
today at Tamanrasset."

"Got it. Drop me off tonight with Bey, we'll work together until we
liberate some transport."

Bey said, "It might be worth while scouting in In Guezzam for a day or
two. We might pick up a couple of El Hassan followers to help us along
the way."

"Use your judgment. Elmer!"

Elmer groaned sourly, "I knew my time'd come."

"Up into Chaambra country for you. Take the second lorry. You've got a
distance to go. Try to recruit former members of the French Camel
Corps. Promise just about anything, but only remember that one day
we'll have to keep the promises. El Hassan can't get the label of
phony hung on him."

"Chaambra country," Elmer said. "Oh great. Arabs. I can just see what
luck I'm going to have rousing up Arabs to fight other Arabs, and me
with a complexion black as ..."

Homer snapped at him, "They won't be following you, they'll be
following El Hassan ... or at least the El Hassan dream. Play up the
fact that the Arab Union is largely not of Africa but of the Middle
East. That they're invading the country to swipe the goats and violate
the women. Dig up all the old North African prejudices against the
Syrians and Egyptians, and the Saudi-Arabian slave traders. You'll
make out."

Cliff said, nervously, "How about me, Homer?"

Homer looked at him. Cliff Jackson, in spite of his fabulous build,
hadn't a fighting man's background.

Homer grinned and said, "You'll work with me. We're going into Tuareg
country. Whenever occasion calls for it, whip off that shirt and go
strolling around with that overgrown chest of yours stuck out. The
Tuareg consider themselves the best physical specimens in the Sahara,
which they are. They admire masculine physique. You'll wow them."

Cliff grumbled, "Sounds like vaudeville."

Isobel said softly, "And me, El Hassan? What do I do?"

Homer turned to her. "You're also part of headquarters staff. The
Tuareg women aren't dominated by their men. They still have a strong
element of descent in the matrilinear line and women aren't
second-class citizens. You'll work on pressuring them. Do you speak
Tamaheq?"

"Of course."

Homer Crawford looked up into the sky, swept it. The day was rapidly
coming to an end and nowhere does day become night so quickly as in
the ergs of the Sahara.

"Let's get underway," Crawford said. "Time's a wastin'."

       *       *       *       *       *

The range of the Ahaggar Tuareg was once known, under French
administration, as the Annexe du Hoggar, and was the most difficult
area ever subdued by French arms--if it was ever subdued. At the
battle of Tit on May 7, 1902 the Camel Corps, under Cottenest, broke
the combined military power of the Tuareg confederations, but this
meant no more than that the tribes and clans carried on nomadic
warfare in smaller units.

The Ahaggar covers roughly an area the size of Pennsylvania, New York,
Virginia and Maryland combined, and supports a population of possibly
twelve thousand, which includes about forty-five hundred Tuareg, four
thousand Negro serf-slaves, and some thirty-five hundred scorned
sedentary Haratin workers. The balance of the population consists of a
handful of Enaden smiths and a small number of Arab shopkeepers in the
largest of the sedentary centers. Europeans and other whites are all
but unknown.

It is the end of the world.

Contrary to Hollywood-inspired belief, the Sahara does not consist
principally of sand dunes, although these, too, are present, and all
but impassable even to camels. Traffic, through the millennia, has
held to the endless stretches of gravelly plains and the rock ribbed
plateaus which cover most of the desert. The great sandy wastes or
ergs cover roughly a fifth of the entire Sahara, and possibly two
thirds of this area consists of the rolling sandy plains dotted
occasionally with dunes. The remaining third, or about one fifteenth
of the total Sahara, is characterized by the dune formations of
popular imagination.

It was through this latter area that Homer Crawford, now with but one
hover-lorry, and accompanied by Isobel Cunningham and Clifford
Jackson, was heading.

For although the spectacular major dune formations of the Great Erg
have defied wheeled vehicles since the era of the Carthaginian
chariots, and even the desert born camel limits his daily travel in
them to but a few miles, the modern hovercraft, atop its air cushion
jets, finds them of only passing difficulty to traverse. And the
hovercraft leaves no trail.

Cliff Jackson scowled out at the identical scenery. Identical for more
than two hundred miles. For twice that distance, they had seen no
other life. No animal, no bird, not a sprig of cactus. This was the
Great Erg.

He muttered, "This country is so dry even the morning dew is
dehydrated."

Isobel laughed--she, too, had never experienced this country before.
"Why, Cliff, you made a funny!"

They were sitting three across in the front seat, with Homer Crawford
at the wheel, and now all three were dressed in the costume of the Kel
Rela tribe of the Ahaggar Tuareg confederation. In the back of the
lorry were the jerry-cans of water and the supplies that meant the
difference between life and mummification from sun and heat.

Cliff turned suddenly to the driver. "Why here?" he said bitterly.
"Why pick this for a base of operations? Why not Mopti? Ten thousand
Sudanese demonstrated for El Hassan there less than two weeks ago.
You'd have them in the palm of your hand."

Homer didn't look up from his work at wheel, lift and acceleration
levers. To achieve maximum speed over the dunes, you worked constantly
at directing motion not only horizontally but vertically.

He said, "And the twenty and one enemies of the El Hassan movement
would have had us in their palms. Our followers in Mopti can take care
of themselves. If this movement is ever going to be worth anything,
the local characters are going to have to get into the act. The
current big thing is not to allow El Hassan and his immediate troupe
to be eliminated before full activities can get under way. For the
present, we're hiding out until we can gather forces enough to free
Tamanrasset."

"Hiding out is right," Cliff snorted. "I have a sneaking suspicion
that not only will they never find us, but we'll never find them
again."

Homer laughed. "As a matter of fact, we're not so far right now from
Silet where there's a certain amount of water--if you dig for it--and
a certain amount of the yellowish grass and woody shrubs that the
bedouin depend on. With luck, we'll find the Amenokal of the Tuareg
there."

"Amenokal?"

"Paramount chief of the Ahaggar Tuaregs."

       *       *       *       *       *

The dunes began to fall away and with the butt of his left hand
Crawford struck the acceleration lever. He could make more time now
when less of his attention was drawn to the ups and downs of erg
travel.

Patches of thorny bush began to appear, and after a time a small herd
of gazelle were flushed and high tailed their way over the horizon.

Isobel said, "Who is this Amenokal you mentioned?"

"These are the real Tuareg, the comparatively untouched. They've got
three tribes, the Kel Rela, the Tégéhé Mellet and the Taitoq, each
headed by a warrior clan which gives its name to the tribe as a whole.
The chief of the Kel Rela clan is also chief of the Kel Rela tribe and
automatically paramount chief, or Amenokal, of the whole
confederation. His name is Melchizedek."

"Do you think you can win him over?" Isobel said.

"He's a smart old boy. I had some dealings with him over a year ago.
Gave him a TV set in the way of a present, hoping he'd tune in on some
of our Reunited Nations propaganda. He's probably the most
conservative of the Tuareg leaders."

Her eyebrows went up. "And you expect to bring him around to the most
liberal scheme to hit North Africa since Hannibal?"

He looked at her from the side of his eyes and grinned. "Remember
Roosevelt, the American president?"

"Hardly."

"Well, you've read about him. He came into office at a time when the
country was going to economic pot by the minute. Some of the measures
he and his so-called brain trust took were immediately hailed by his
enemies as socialistic. In answer, Roosevelt told them that in times
of social stress the true conservative is a liberal, since to
preserve, you have to reform. If Roosevelt hadn't done the things he
did, back in the 1930s, you probably would have seen some _real_
changes in the American socio-economic system. Roosevelt didn't
undermine the social system of the time, he preserved it."

"Then, according to you, Roosevelt was a conservative," she said
mockingly.

Crawford laughed. "I'll go even further," he said. "When social
changes are pending and for whatever reason are not brought about,
then reaction is the inevitable alternative. At such a time then--when
sweeping socio-economic change is called for--any reform measures
proposed are concealed measures of reaction, since they tend to
maintain the _status quo_."

"Holy Mackerel," Cliff protested. "Accept that and Roosevelt was not
only not a liberal, but a reactionary. Stop tearing down my childhood
heroes."

Isobel said, "Let's get back to this Amenokal guy. You think he's
smart enough to see his only chance is in going along with ..."

Homer Crawford pointed ahead and a little to the right. "We'll soon
find out. This is a favorite encampment of his. With luck, he'll be
there. If we can win him over, we've come a long way."

"And if we can't?" Isobel said, her eyebrows raised again.

"Then it's unfortunate that there are only three of us," Homer said
simply, without looking at her.

There were possibly no more than a hundred Tuareg in all in the nomad
encampment of goat leather tents when the solar powered hovercraft
drew up.

[Illustration]

When the air cushion vehicle stopped before the largest tent, Crawford
said beneath his breath, "The Amenokal is here, all right. Cliff,
watch your teguelmoust. If any of these people see more than your
eyes, your standing has dropped to a contemptible zero."

The husky Californian secured the lightweight cotton, combination veil
and turban well up over his face. Earlier, Crawford had shown him how
to wind the ten-foot long, indigo-blue cloth around the head and
features.

Isobel, of course, was unveiled, Tuareg fashion, and wore baggy
trousers of black cotton held in place with a braided leather cord by
way of drawstring and a gandoura upper-garment consisting of a huge
rectangle of cloth some seven to eight feet square and folded over on
itself with the free corners sewed together so as to leave bottom and
most of both sides open. A V-shaped opening for her head and neck was
cut out of a fold at the top, and a large patch had been sewed inside
to make a pocket beneath her left breast. She wasn't exactly a
Parisian fashion plate.

Even as they stepped down from the hovercraft, immediately after it
had drifted to rest on the ground, an elderly man came from the tent
entrance.

He looked at them for a moment, then rested his eyes exclusively on
Homer Crawford.

"_La Bas_, El Hassan," he said through the cloth that covered his
mouth.

Homer Crawford was taken aback, but covered the fact. "There is no
evil," he repeated the traditional greeting. "But why do you name me
El Hassan?"

A dozen veiled desert men, all with the Tuareg sword, several with
modern rifles, had formed behind the Tuareg chief.

Melchizedek made a movement of hand to mouth, in a universal gesture
of amusement. "Ah, El Hassan," he said, "you forget you left me the
magical instrument of the Roumi."

Crawford was mystified, but he stood in silence. What the Tuareg
paramount chief said now made considerable difference. As he recalled
his former encounter with the Ahaggar leader, the other had been
neither friendly nor antagonistic to the Reunited Nations team
Crawford had headed in their role as itinerant desert smiths.

The Amenokal said, "Enter then my tent, El Hassan, and meet my
chieftains. We would confer with you."

The first obstacle was cleared. Subduing a sigh of relief, Homer
Crawford turned to Cliff. "This, O Amenokal of all the Ahaggar, is
Clif ben Jackson, my Vizier of Finance."

The Amenokal bowed his head slightly, said, "_La Bas_."

Cliff could go that far in the Tuareg tongue. He said, "_La Bas_."

The Amenokal said, looking at Isobel, "I hear that in the lands of the
Roumi women are permitted in the higher councils."

Homer said steadily, "This I have also been amazed to hear. However,
it is fitting that my followers remain here while El Hassan discusses
matters of the highest importance with the Amenokal and his
chieftains. This is the Sitt Izubahil, high in the councils of her
people due to the great knowledge she has gained by attending the new
schools which dispense rare wisdom, as all men know."

The Amenokal courteously said, "_La Bas_," but Isobel held her peace
in decency amongst men of chieftain rank.

When Homer and the Tuaregs had disappeared into the tent, she said to
Cliff, "Stick by the car, I'm going to circulate among the women.
Women are women everywhere. I'll pick up the gossip, possibly get
something Homer will miss in there."

A group of Tuareg women and children, the latter stark naked, had
gathered to gape at the strangers. Isobel moved toward them, began
immediately breaking the ice.

Under his breath, Cliff muttered, "What a gal. Give her a few hours
and she'll form a Lady's Aid branch, or a bridge club, and where else
is El Hassan going to pick up so much inside information?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The tent, which was of the highly considered mouflon skins, was
mounted on a wooden frame which consisted of two uprights with a
horizontal member laid across their tops. The tent covering was
stretched over this framework with its back and sides pegged down and
the front, which faced south, was left open. It was ten feet deep,
fifteen feet wide and five feet high in the middle.

The men entered and filed to the right of the structure where
sheepskins and rugs provided seating. The women and children, who
abided ordinarily to the left side, had vanished for this gathering of
the great.

They sat for a time and sipped at green tea, syrup sweet with mint and
sugar, the tiny cups held under the teguelmoust so as not to obscenely
reveal the mouth of the drinker.

Finally, Homer Crawford said, "You spoke of the magical instrument of
the Roumi which I gave you as gift, O Amenokal, and named me El
Hassan."

Several of the Tuareg chuckled beneath their veils but Crawford could
read neither warmth nor antagonism in their amusement.

The elderly Melchizedek nodded. "At first we were bewildered, O El
Hassan, but then my sister's son, Guémama, fated perhaps one day to
become chief of the Kel Rela and Amenokal of all the Ahaggar, recalled
the tales told by the storytellers at the fire in the long evenings."

Crawford looked at him politely.

Melchizedek's laugh was gentle. "But each man has heard, in his time,
O El Hassan, of the ancient Calif Haroun El Raschid of Baghdad."

Crawford's mind went into high gear, as the story began to come back
to him. From second into high gear, and he could have blessed these
bedouin for handing him a piece of publicity gobblydygook worthy of
Fifth Avenue's top agency.

He held up a hand as though in amusement at being discovered.
"Wallahi, O Amenokal, you have discovered my secret. For many months I
have crossed the deserts disguised as a common Enaden smith to seek
out all the people and to learn their wishes and their needs."

"Even as Haroun el Raschid in the far past," one of the subchiefs
muttered in satisfaction, "used to disguise himself as a lowborn
dragoman and wander the streets of Baghdad."

"But how did you recognize me?" Homer said.

The Amenokal said in reproof, "But verily, your name is on all lips.
The Roumi have branded you common criminal. You are to be seized on
sight and great reward will be given he who delivers you to the
authorities." He spoke without inflection, and Crawford could read
neither support nor animosity--nor greed for the reward offered by El
Hassan's enemies. He gathered the impression that the Tuareg chief was
playing his cards close to his chest.

"And what else do they say?"

The elderly Melchizedek went on slowly, "They say that El Hassan is in
truth a renegade citizen of a far away Roumi land and that he attempts
to build a great confederation in North Africa for his own gain."

One of the others chuckled and said, "The Roumi on the magical
instrument are indeed great liars as all can see."

Homer looked at him questioningly.

The other said, laughing, "Who has ever heard of a black Roumi? And
you, O El Hassan, are as black as a Bela."

The Amenokal finished off the mystery of Crawford's recognition.
"Know, El Hassan, that whilst you were here before, one of the slaves
that served you for pay shamelessly looked upon your face in the
privacy of your tent. It was this slave who recognized your face when
the Roumi presented it on the magic instrument, calling upon all men
to see you and to brand you enemy."

So that was it. The Reunited Nations, and probably all the rest, had
used their radio and TV stations to broadcast a warning and offer a
reward for Homer and his followers. Old Sven was losing no time. This
wasn't so good. A Tuareg owes allegiance to no one beyond clan, tribe
and confederation. All others are outside the pale and any advantage,
monetary or otherwise, to be gained by exploiting a stranger is well
within desert mores.

He might as well bring it to the point. Crawford said evenly, "And I
have entered your camp alone except for two followers. Your people are
many. So why, O Amenokal, have you not seized me for the reward the
Roumi offer?"

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a moment of silence and Homer Crawford sensed that the
sub-chieftains had leaned forward in anticipation, waiting for their
leader's words. Possibly they, too, could not understand.

The Tuareg leader finished his tea.

"Because, El Hassan, we yet have not heard the message which the Roumi
are so anxious that you not be allowed to bring the men of the desert.
The Roumi are great liars, and great thieves, as each man knows. In
the memory of those still living, they have stolen of the bedouin and
robbed him of land and wealth. So now we would hear of what you say,
before we decide."

"Spoken like a true Amenokal, a veritable Suliman ben Davud," Homer
said with a heartiness he could only partly feel. At least they were
open to persuasion.

For a long moment he stared down at the rug upon which they sat, as
though deep in contemplation.

"These words I speak will be truly difficult to hear and accept, O men
of the veil," he said at last. "For I speak of great change, and no
man loves change in the way of his life."

"Speak, El Hassan," Melchizedek said flatly. "Great change is
everywhere upon us, as each man knows, and none can tell how to
maintain the ways of our fathers."

"We can fight," one of the younger men growled.

The Amenokal turned to him and grunted scorn. "And would you fight
against the weapons of the djinn and afrit, O Guémama? Know that in my
youth I was distant witness to the explosion of a great weapon which
the accursed Franzawi discharged south of Reggan. Know, that this
single explosion, my sister's son, could with ease have destroyed the
total of all the tribesmen of the Ahaggar, had they been gathered."

"And the Roumi have many such weapons," Crawford added gently.

The eyes of the tribal headmen came back to him.

"As each man knows," Crawford continued, "change is upon the world. No
matter how strongly one wills to continue the traditions of his
fathers, change is upon us all. And he who would press against the
sand storm, rather than drifting with it, lasts not long."

One of the subchiefs growled, "We Tuareg love not change, El Hassan."

Crawford turned to him. "That is why I and my viziers have spent long
hours in _ekhwan_, in great council, devoted to the problems of the
Tuareg and how they can best fit into the new Africa that everywhere
awakes."

They stirred in interest now. The Tuareg, once the Scourge of the
Sahara, the Sons of Shaitan and the Forgotten of Allah, to the Arab,
Teda, Moroccan and other fellow inhabitants of North Africa, were of
recent decades developing a tribal complex. Robbed of their
nomadic-bandit way of life by first the French Camel Corps and later
by the efforts of the Reunited Nations, they were rapidly descending
into a condition of poverty and defensive bewilderment. Not only were
large numbers of former bedouin drifting to the area's sedentary
centers, an act beyond contempt within the memory of the elders, but
the best elements of the clans were often deserting Tuareg country
completely and defecting to the new industrial centers, the dam
projects, the afforestation projects, the new oases irrigated with the
solar-powered pumps.

"Speak, El Hassan," the Amenokal ordered. And unconsciously, he, too,
leaned forward, as did his subchiefs. The Ahaggar Tuareg were reaching
for straws, unconsciously seeking shoulders upon which to lay their
unsolvable problems.

"Let me, O chiefs of the Tuareg, tell of a once strong tribe of
warriors and nomads who lived in the far country in which I was born,"
Crawford said. The desert man loves a story, a parable, a tale of the
strong men of yesteryear.

Melchizedek clapped his hands in summons and when a slave appeared,
called for _narghileh_ water pipes. When all had been supplied, they
relaxed, bits in mouths and looked again at Homer Crawford.

"They were called," he intoned, "the Cheyenne. The Northern Cheyenne,
for they had a sister tribe to the South. And on all the plains of
this great land, a land, verily, as large as all that over which the
Tuareg confederations now roam, they were the greatest huntsmen, the
greatest warriors. All feared them. They were the lords of all."

"Ai," breathed one of the older men. "As were the Tuareg before the
coming of the cursed Franzawi and the other Nazrani."

"But in time," Crawford pursued, "came the new ways to the plains, and
these men who lived largely by the chase began to see the lands fenced
in for farmers, began to see large cities erected on what were once
tribal areas, and to see the iron railroads of the new ways begin to
spread out over the whole of the territory which once was roamed only
by the Cheyennes and such nomadic tribes."

"Ai," a muffled mouth ejected.

Homer Crawford looked at the younger Targui, Guémama, the Amenokal's
nephew. "And so," he said, "they fought."

"Wallahi!" Guémama breathed.

Homer Crawford looked about the circle. "Never has tribe fought as did
the Cheyenne. Never has the world seen such warriors, with the
exception, of course, of the Ahaggar Tuareg. Never were such raids,
never such bravery, never such heroic deeds as were performed by the
warriors of the Cheyennes and their women, and their old people and
their children. Over and over they defeated the cavalry and the
infantry of the newcomers who would change the old ways and bring the
new to the lands of the Cheyennes."

The bedouin were staring in fascination, their water pipes forgotten.

"And then...?" the Amenokal demanded.

"The new ways taught the enemy how to make guns, and artillery, and
finally Gatling guns, which today we call machine guns. And once a
brave warrior might prevail against a common man armed with the
weapons of the new ways, and even twice he might. But the numbers of
the followers of the new ways are as the sands of the Great Erg and in
time bravery means nothing."

"It is even so," someone growled. "They are as the sands of the erg,
and they have the weapons of the djinn, as each man knows."

"And what happened in the end, O El Hassan?"

His eyes swept them all. "They perished," Homer said. "Today in all
the land where once the Cheyenne pursued the game there is but a
handful of the tribe alive. And they have become nothing people, no
longer warriors, no longer nomads, and they are scorned by all for
they are poor, poor, poor. Poor in mind and spirits, and in property
and they have not been able to adjust to the ways of the new world."

Air went out of the lungs of the assembled Tuareg.

The Amenokal looked at him. "This is verily the truth, El Hassan?"

"My head upon it," Crawford said.

"And why do you tell us of these Cheyenne, these great warriors of the
plains of the land of your birth? The story fails to bring joy to
hearts already heavy with the troubles of the Tuareg."

It was time to play the joker.

Crawford said carefully, "Because there was no need, O Amenokal of all
the Ahaggar, for the Cheyenne to disappear before the sandstorm of the
future. They could have ridden before it and today occupy a position
of honor and affluence in their former land."

They stared at him.

"And give up the old ways?" Guémama demanded. "Become no longer
nomads, no longer honorable warriors, but serfs, slaves, working with
one's hands upon the land and with the oil-dirty machines of the
Roumi?"

The chiefs muttered angrily.

Crawford said hurriedly, "No! Never! In our great conferences, my
viziers and I decided that the Tuareg could never so change. The
Tuareg must die, as did the Northern Cheyenne before he would become a
city dweller, a worker of the land."

"Bismillah!" someone muttered.

"Too often," Crawford explained, "do the bringers of these things of
the future, be they Roumi or others, fail to utilize the potential
services of the people of the lands they over-sweep."

"I do not understand you, El Hassan," Melchizedek grumbled. "There is
no room for the Tuareg in this new world of bringing trees to the
desert, of the great trucks which speed across the erg a score of time
the pace of a _hejin_ racing camel, of larger and ever larger oases
with their great towns, their schools, their new industries. If the
Tuareg remains Tuareg, he cannot fit into this new world, it destroys
the old traditions, the old way which is the Tuareg way."

Homer Crawford now turned on the pressure. His voice took on overtones
of the positive, his personality seemed to reach out and seize them,
and even his physical stature seemed to grow.

"Some indeed of the ways of the bedouin must go," he entoned, "but the
Tuareg will survive under my leadership. A people who have throve a
millennium and more in the great wastes of the Sahara have strong
survival characteristics and will blossom, not die, in my new world.
Know, O Melchizedek, that it has been decided that the Ahaggar Tuareg
will be the heart of my Desert Legion. In times of conflict, armed
with the new arms, and riding the new vehicles, they will adapt their
old methods of warfare to this new age. In times of peace they will
patrol the new forests, watching for fire and other disaster, they
will become herdsmen of the new herds and be the police and rescue
forces of this wide area. As the Cheyennes of the olden times of the
land of my birth could have become herdsmen and forest rangers and
have performed similar tasks had they been shown the way."

Homer Crawford let his eyes go from one of them to the next, and his
personality continued to dominate them.

The Amenokal ran his thin, aged hand through the length of his white
beard beneath his teguelmoust and contemplated this stranger come out
of the ergs to lead his people to still greater changes than those
they had thus far rebelled against.

       *       *       *       *       *

Crawford realized that the Targui was divided in opinion and inwardly
the American was in a cold sweat. But his voice registered only
supreme confidence. "Under my banner, all North Africa will be welded
into one. And all the products of the land will be available in
profusion to my faithful followers. The finest wheat for cous cous
from Algeria and Tunis, the finest dates and fruits from the oases to
the north, the manufactured products of the factories of Dakar and
Casablanca. For Africa has always been a poor land but will become a
rich one with the new machines and techniques that I will bring."

The Amenokal raised a hand to stem the tide of oratory. "And what do
you ask of us now, El Hassan?"

Instead of to the older man, Crawford turned his eyes to the face of
Guémama, the leader of the young clansmen. "Now my people are
gathering to establish the new rule. Teda from the east, Chaambra from
the north, Sudanese from the south, Nemadi, Moors and Rifs from the
west. We rendezvous in ten days from now at Tamanrasset where the Arab
Legion dogs have seized the city as they wish to seize all the lands
of the Sahara and Sudan for the corrupt Arab Union politicians."

Crawford came to his feet. His voice took on an edge of command. "You
will address your scouts and warriors and each will ride off on the
swiftest camels at your command to raise the Tuareg tribes. And the
clans of the Kel Rela will unite with the Taitoq and the Tégéhé Mellet
in a great harka at this point and we will ride together to sweep the
Arab Legion from the lands of El Hassan."

Guémama was on his feet, too. "Bilhana!" he roared. "With joy."

The others were arising in excitement, all but Melchizedek, who still
stroked his gray streaked beard beneath his teguelmoust. The Amenokal
had seen much of desert war in his day and knew the horror of the new
weapons possessed by the crack troops of the Arab Legion.

But his aged shoulders shrugged against the inevitable.

Crawford said, the ring of authority in his voice. "What does the
Amenokal of all the Ahaggar say?" He had no intention of antagonizing
the Tuareg chief by going over his head and directly to the people.

"Thou art El Hassan," Melchizedek said, his voice low, "and
undoubtedly it is fated that the Tuareg follow you, for verily there
is no way else to go, as each man knows."

"Wallahi!" Guémama crowed jubilantly.

[Illustration]


V

Guémama, nephew of Melchizedek the Amenokal of the Ahaggar Tuareg
confederation and fighting chief of the Kel Rela clan of the Kel Rela
tribe, brought his Hejin racing camel to an abrupt halt with a smack
of his mish'ab camel stick. He barked, "_Adar-ya-yan_," in command to
bring it to its knees, and slid to the ground before his mount had
groaned its rocking way to the sand.

The Tarqui was jubilant. His dark eyes sparked above his teguelmoust
veil and he presented himself before Homer Crawford with the elan of a
Napoleonic cavalryman before his emperor. Were red leather fil fil
boots capable of producing a clicking of heels, that sound would have
rung.

Crawford said with dignity, "Aselamu, Aleikum, Guémama. Greeting to
you."

"Salaam Aleikum," the tribesman got out breathlessly. "Your message
spreads, O El Hassan. My men ride to eastward and westward and never a
tent from here to Silet, from In Guezzam to Timissao but knows that El
Hassan calls. The Taitoq and the Tégéhé Mellet ride!"

Homer Crawford was standing before the hovercraft. The Amenokal's
tribesmen had set up two large goat leather tents for his use and the
three Americans had largely withdrawn to their shelter. Crawford was
aware of the dangers of familiarity.

Cliff Jackson, who as usual had been monitoring the radio, came from
the hover-lorry and growled, "What's he saying?"

"The tribesmen are gathering as per instructions," Homer said in
English.

Jackson grunted, somewhat self-conscious of the Targui's admiring
gaze. The Tuareg is the handsomest physical specimen of North Africa,
often going to six foot of wiry manhood, but there was nothing in all
the Sahara to rival the build of Homer Crawford, not to speak of the
giant Cliff Jackson.

Crawford turned back to the Tuareg chieftain. "You please me well, O
Guémama. Know that I have been in conference with my viziers on the
Roumi device which enables one to speak great distances and that we
have decided that you are to head all the fighting clans of the
Ahaggar, and that you will ride at the left hand of El Hassan, as
shield on shoulder rides."

The Targui, overwhelmed, made adequate pledges of fidelity, flowering
words of thanks, and then hurried off to inform his fellow tribesmen
of his appointment.

Isobel emerged from her tent. She looked at Homer obliquely, the sides
of her mouth turning down. "As shield on shoulder rides," she
translated from the Tamaheq Berber tongue into English. "Hm-m-m." She
cast her eyes upward in memory. "You aren't plagiarizing Kipling, are
you?"

Crawford grinned at her. "These people like a well turned phrase."

"And who could turn them better than Rudyard?" she said. Her voice
dropped the bantering tone. "What's this bit about making Guémama
war-chief of the Tuareg? Isn't he on the young and enthusiastic
side?"

Cliff scowled. "You mean that youngster? Why he can't be more than in
his early twenties."

Crawford was looking after the young Targui who was disappearing into
his uncle's tent on the far side of the rapidly growing encampment.

"You mean the age of Napoleon in the Italian campaign, or Alexander at
Issus?" he asked. Isobel began to respond to that, but he shook his
head. "He's the Amenokal's nephew, and traditionally would probably
get the position anyway. He's the most popular of the young tribesmen,
and it's going to be they who do the fighting. Having the appointment
come from El Hassan, and at this early point, will just bind him
closer. Besides that, he's a natural born warrior. Typical.
Enthusiastic, bold, brave and with the military mind."

"What's a military mind?" Cliff said.

"He can take off his shirt without unbuttoning his collar," Homer told
him.

"Very funny," Cliff grumbled.

Isobel turned to the big Californian. "What's on the radio, Cliff?"

"Let's go get a cup of coffee," he said. "All hellzapoppin."

       *       *       *       *       *

They went into the larger of the two Tuareg tents, and Isobel poured
water from a girba into the coffee pot which she placed on a heat
unit, flicking its switch. She said sarcastically, from the side of
her mouth, "A message, O El Hassan, from the Department of Logistics,
subdepartment Commissary of Headquarters of the Commander in Chief.
Unless you get around to capturing some supplies in the near future,
your food is going to be prepared over a camel dung fire. This heat
unit is fading out on me."

"Don't bother me with trivialities," Homer told her. "I've got _big_
things on my mind."

She looked at him suspiciously. "Hm-m-m. Such as what?"

"Such as whether to put my face on the postage stamps profile or
full."

She said, under her breath, "I shoulda known. Already, delusions of
grandeur."

"Holy Mackerel," Cliff protested. "Aren't we ever serious around this
place? You two will wind up gagging with the firing squad."

Crawford chuckled softly but let his face go serious. "Sorry, Cliff.
What's on your mind?"

Cliff said impatiently, "From the radio reports, the Arab Union is
consolidating its position. El Hassan is being discredited by the
minute. Your followers were in control for a time in Mopti and Bamako,
but they're falling away because of lack of direction. The best way I
can put reports together, the Reunited Nations is in complete
confusion. Everybody accusing everybody of double-dealing."

Isobel said dryly, "Any other good news?"

Cliff said glumly, "Rumors, rumors, rumors. Half the marabouts in
North Africa are proclaiming a jihad in support of the Pan-Islam
program of the Arab Union. Listen, Homer, we've got to get the
backing of the Moslem leaders."

Homer Crawford grunted. "We need Islam in this part of the world like
we need a hole in the head. That's one of the things already wrong
with North Africa."

"What's wrong with Islam? It was probably the most dynamic religion
ever to sweep the world."

"_Was_ is right," Crawford growled, now on one of his favorite peeve
subjects. "The Moslem religion exploded out of Arabia with some new
concepts that set the world in ferment from India to Southern France.
For all practical purposes Islam _invented_ science. Sure, the Greeks
had logic and the Romans had engineering--without applying the
Greek-style logic. But the Arabs amalgamated the two concepts to yield
experimental science. They were able to take the intellectual products
of a dozen cultures and wield them into one. For a hundred years or so
it looked as though they had something."

When he hesitated for a moment, Isobel said, questioningly, "And ..."

"And they couldn't get away from that Q'ran of theirs. They took it
seriously. They started off in their big universities, such as those
at Fez, being the greatest scientists and scholars the world had ever
seen. But the fundamentalists won out, and in a couple of hundred
years the only thing being taught at Fez was the Q'ran. To even
suggest that all necessary information isn't contained therein, is
enough to have you clobbered. Islam became the most reactionary force
to suppress progress in the civilized world. In fact, by this period
in world history, we don't even think of the Moslem world as
particularly civilized."

Cliff said defensively, "The Bible doesn't encourage original thinking
either. A fundamentalist ..."

"Sure," Crawford interrupted. "Those elements who take the Bible the
way Islam took the Q'ran wind up in the same rut. But _as a whole_,
Europe was sparked enough by the original Islamic explosion that the
Renaissance resulted, with what world results we all know. Be ..."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a roar of confusion outside. A blasting of guns, a shrieking
of _Ul-Ul-Ul-Allah Akbar!_

Crawford came to his feet unhappily. "Another contingent of Tuareg,"
he said. "I'll have to give them a quick welcoming to the colors
speech."

The guns outside continued their booming.

"Confound it," he growled, "I wish I could break them of that habit of
blasting away their ammunition. They'll have better targets before the
week is out."

He pushed open the tent flap and, followed by Isobel and Cliff,
emerged into the stretch of clearing between his tents and the
hovercraft, and the growing Tuareg encampment. His diagnosis had been
correct. A contingent of possibly two score Tuareg camelmen had come
a-galloping up, shaking rifles above their heads in a small scale
gymhana, or fantasia as the Moors called them.

"At least it's a larger group than usual," Cliff said from behind.
"But at this rate, it'll still take a month for us to equal the Arab
Legion in Tamanrasset." He added in disgust, "And look at this bunch
of ragamuffins. Half of them are carrying muzzleloaders."

The booming muskets and the cracking rifles suddenly began to fall off
in intensity and the camelmen and the hordes of Tuareg women and naked
children who had swarmed from the tents to greet them were falling
silent. Here and there a hand pointed upward.

Homer, Cliff and Isobel swung their own eyes up to the sky in dreaded
anticipation. The hover-lorry was camouflaged to blend in with the
sands and rock outcroppings of this area, but it was possible that an
aircraft might have determined that this was El Hassan's base,
possibly through some act of a traitor, in which case ...

They found the spot in the sky that the tribesmen were pointing out.
It seemed to move slowly for a military craft, but for that matter it
might be a helio-jet and considerably more dangerous, so far as they
being spotted was concerned, than a fast moving fighter.

[Illustration]

Guémama, was barking to his men to take cover. Two days before
Crawford had checked out several of the more bright-eyed on the flac
rifle and now three of them ran to where it was set up at a high
point.

But hardly had the confused milling got under way than it fell off
again. Movement stopped, and the Tuareg faced the approaching dot in
the sky.

"Djinn...!"

"Afrit...!"

Cliff had darted back into the tent, now he emerged with binoculars.

"What the devil is it?" Crawford snapped. Desert trained eyes were
evidently considerably more effective than his own. He couldn't see
what the tribesmen were gaping at.

"It's the smallest heliohopper _I've_ ever seen," Cliff snorted. "It's
so small practically all you can see are the rotors and the passenger.
He doesn't even look as though he's got a seat."

Guémama came hurrying up, his eyes wide beneath his teguelmoust. "El
Hassan! A witchman ... come out of the sky!"

Homer said evenly, "It is nothing. Only post men ready to obey my
commands."

Guémama hesitated as though to waver out another protest, but then
spun and hurried off--military-like, glad to have an order to obey to
keep his mind from the impossible.

"I'm beginning to have a sneaking suspicion--" Crawford began without
finishing. "Come on Isobel, Cliff. We're going to have to make the
most of this."

       *       *       *       *       *

Rex Donaldson, ex-field man for the African Department of the British
Commonwealth, dropped the lift lever of his heliohopper and settled to
the ground immediately before Homer Crawford who stood there flanked
by Isobel Cunningham and Cliff Jackson. Further back and in the form
of a crescent were possibly two or three hundred Tuareg of all ages
and both sexes.

Donaldson, in the garb of a Dogan juju man consisting of little more
than a wisp of cloth about his loins, played it straight, not knowing
the setup. On the face of it, he had just flown out of the sky
_personally_. The size of his equipment so small as to be all but
meaningless.

He unstrapped himself from the thin, bicyclelike seat, and,
expressionlessly, folded the rotors of his tiny craft back over
themselves and the engine, collapsed the whole thing into a manageable
packet of some seventy-five pounds, the seat now becoming a handle,
and then turned and faced Crawford.

Donaldson screwed his wizened face into an expression of respect and
made a motion of obeisance. Then he waited.

Isobel said, "El Hassan bids you speak."

That was the tip-off, then. Crawford had already revealed himself to
these people as El Hassan. Very well.

Donaldson spoke in Arabic, not knowing the Tamaheq tongue. "Aselamu,
Aleikum, El Hassan. I come to obey your wishes."

A sigh had gone through the Tuareg. "Aiiiii." _Wallahi, even the
djinn obeyed El Hassan!_

With dignity, Homer Crawford said, "Keif halak, all in my house is
yours."

Rex Donaldson inclined his small bent body again, in respect.

Crawford said in English, "Let's not carry this _too_ far. Come on
into the tent."

Ignoring the Tuareg, who still gaped but held their distance, the four
English-speaking Negroes headed for the larger of the two tents that
had been set up for El Hassan.

As they passed Guémama who stood slightly aside from the other Tuareg
with his uncle Melchizedek, the Amenokal, Crawford nodded and said,
speaking to them both. "A messenger from my people to the south.
Continue with your newly arrived warriors, O Guémama."

Cliff Jackson had picked up the folded heliohopper and was now
carrying it easily.

Guémama looked at the device and blinked.

Crawford refrained from laughing at his commander of irregulars. "It
is not a _kambu_ device. My people deal not in magic. It is but one of
the many of the things the new ways bring. One day, Guémama," Homer's
face remained expressionless, "perhaps you will fly thus."

The teguelmoust hid the other's blanch.

In the tent, Homer turned to the Bahaman, motioned to what seating
arrangements were available.

Isobel said, "I'll get some coffee."

Cliff blurted, "Holy Mackerel, if Donaldson, here, can drop in on us
out of a clear sky, what keeps anybody else from doing it? Somebody
with a couple of neopalm bombs in the way of calling cards."

The dried up little man grimaced in his equivalent of a grin and said,
"Hold it, you chaps. I want to notify the others."

"The others? What others?" Crawford said.

Donaldson ignored him for a moment, unslung the small bag he carried
over one shoulder and dipped into it for a tiny, two-way radio. He
pressed the buzzer button, then held it up to his mouth. "Jack, Jimmy,
Dave. Here we are. Took donkey's years, but I found them. You chaps
zero-in here." He left the device on and set it to one side, then
yawned and settled himself to the rug-covered ground, crosslegged,
Dogon style.

Homer Crawford, even as he sat down himself on a footlocker, in lieu
of a chair, rapped, "How did you find us? Who did you just radio?
Where'd you come from?"

"I say, hold it," Donaldson chuckled sourly. "First of all, I've come
to join up. I thought as far back as that time we co-operated in
quelling the riots in Mopti that you ought to do this--proclaim
yourself El Hassan. When I heard you'd taken the step, I came to join
up."

"Oh, great," Cliff said. "What took you so long? We hardly get here,
to our ultra-secret hideout, than here you are."

Isobel came with the coffee and handed it around, silently. Then she,
too, settled to the rug which covered the sand of the floor.

Rex Donaldson turned to Cliff and there was a wrinkle of amusement in
the older man's eyes. "I took so long, because I needed the time to
recruit a few other chaps I knew would stand with us."

Crawford rapped, "That's who you just radioed?"

"Of course, old boy. I'd hardly bring the opposition down on us, would
I?"

"Where are they?"

"In a couple of hovercraft, similar to your own, possibly twenty
kilometers to the southwest."

"You still haven't told us how you found us?"

The little man shrugged. "After tendering my resignation to Sir
Winton, I considered the possibilities, which narrowed down very
quickly when I heard the Arab Legion had taken Tamanrasset."

"Why?" Isobel said.

Donaldson shot a glance at her. "Because, my dear, unless El Hassan is
able to retake Tamanrasset, his movement has come a cropper." He
turned his eyes back to Crawford, who was nervously running his hand
through his hair. "I knew you had done considerable work in this area,
so your whereabouts became obvious seeing that Tamanrasset is in
Tuareg country. It was simply a matter of finding what Tuareg
encampment was your base, and since your quickest manner of gathering
support would be to swing the Amenokal to your banner, I headed for
his usual encampment this time of year."

Cliff looked at Homer Crawford. "If Rex found us so easily, so will
anybody else."

Isobel put in. "Not necessarily. Mr. Donaldson has information that
most of El Hassan's opponents wouldn't."

       *       *       *       *       *

Homer came to his feet unhappily and began pacing. "No, Isobel.
Ostrander, for instance, has all the dope Rex has and is just as
capable of working it through to a conclusion. It takes no great
insight to realize El Hassan has to either put up or shut up when it
comes to Tamanrasset. That's possibly why some of the other elements
interested in North Africa have so far refrained from action against
the Arab Union. They want to see what El Hassan is going to do--find
out just what he has on the ball."

Rex Donaldson looked at him interestedly, "And? What are your plans?"

Homer Crawford's face worked. "My plans right at present are to stay
alive, and you finding me so easily isn't heartening. However, it
brings to mind some other problems which need solving, too."

The rest of them fell silent, looking at him. His usual casual humor
had dropped away, and his personality gripped them.

He stopped his pacing, and frowned down at them.

"El Hassan is going to have to remain on the move. Always. There can
be no capital city, no definite base, and it's going to be a poor idea
to sleep twice in the same place." He shook his head emphatically as
though to deny rebuttal, which they hadn't actually made. "El Hassan's
enemies mustn't know his location within twenty miles."

"Twenty miles!" Cliff blurted.

Crawford stared at him, but unseeingly. "Yes. At least half a dozen of
our opponents possess nuclear weapons."

Donaldson demured, sourly. "A nuclear weapon hasn't been exploded for
donkey's years and--"

"Of course not," Homer snapped. "Nor would anyone dare, anywhere else
except in the wastes of the Sahara. A nuclear explosion in the Ahaggar
would not go undetected and a controversy might go up in the Reunited
Nations. But who could prove who had done it? And who, actually, would
care if in the explosion a common foe of all was eliminated? But let
the Arab Union, or possibly the Soviet Complex, or even others, learn
definitely where El Hassan is and a bomb could well devastate twenty
square miles seeking him out." Crawford shook his head. "No, we've
simply got to keep on the move."

Donaldson said, even as he nodded agreement, "And what other problems
were you talking about?"

"Oh?" Homer said. "Well, keeping on the move will serve to add mystery
to the El Hassan legend. It isn't good for this Tuareg encampment,
for instance, to see too much of El Hassan. A leader claiming
domination of half a continent looks small potatoes in a desert camp
of a few score tents. On the move, showing up here, there, the other
place, for only a day or two at a time, is another proposition."

He thought a moment. "Remember DeGaulle?"

"How could we forget?" Rex Donaldson said wryly.

"He had one angle that couldn't be more correct. He said a leader had
to keep remote, ever mysterious. He can't afford to have real
intimates. Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin. None of them had a real friend to
their name. The nearest to friends that Adolph the Aryan ever had, his
old comrades of the beerhall days, such as Rhoem, he butchered in the
blood purge. And Stalin? He managed to do away with every Old
Bolshevik he knew in the days before the Party came to power."

Cliff was staring at him. "Hey," he said. "The one other thing one of
these mystical leader types needs is a belief in his own destiny. To
the point of clobbering all his intimates if he thinks they stand in
his way."

Homer broke into a sudden short laugh. "Any qualms, Cliff?"

Cliff growled, "I don't know. This dream of yours is growing. Where it
might end--I don't know."

As they were talking the cries of _Ul-Ul-Ul-Allah Akbar!_ had broken
out again.

"Heavens to Betsy," Isobel said. "Another contingent of camelmen?"

       *       *       *       *       *

But this time the newcomers were three in number and rode in air
cushion hover-lorries, the twins of that used by Homer Crawford.

Rex Donaldson brought them up to the tent, saying, "I didn't think you
chaps were quite so close."

Homer, Cliff and Isobel faced the new recruits. The three were dressed
in khaki bushshirts, shorts and heavy walking shoes--British style.
Two were so obviously relatives that they could have been twins except
for an age discrepancy of two or three years. They were smaller in
stature than the Americans present, almost chunky, but their faces
held education and cultivation. The third was slight of build, almost
as wiry as Rex Donaldson, and seemed ever at ease.

The small, bent Bahaman made introductions. "Gentlemen, let me present
El Hassan--Homer Crawford to you--formerly of the Reunited Nations
African Development Project, formerly of the United States of the
Americas." His face twisted in his sour grimace of a grin. "Now
running for the office of tyrant of North Africa."

"And these are two of his original and most trusted adherents, Isobel
Cunningham and Cliff Jackson." Donaldson turned to the newcomers.
"John and James Peters--that's Jack and Jimmy, of course--recently
colleagues of mine with the African Department of the Commonwealth,
working largely in the Nigeria area."

Homer shook hands, grinning. "You're a long way from home."

"Farther than that," the one labeled Jack said without a smile
changing the seriousness of his face. "We're originally from
Trinidad."

Donaldson said, "And this is David Moroka, late of South Africa."

The wiry South African said easily, "Not so very late. In fact, I
haven't seen Jo-burg since I was a boy."

He was shaking hands with Isobel now. "Jo-burg?" she said.

"Johannesburg," he translated. "I got out by the skin of my teeth
during the troubles in the 1950s."

"You sound like an American," Cliff said when it was his turn to
shake.

"Educated in the States," Moroka said. "Best thing that ever happened
to me was to be kicked out of the land of my birth."

Homer made a sweeping gesture at the floor and the few articles of
furniture the tent contained that could be improvised as chairs. "I'm
surprised you're up here instead of in your own neck of the woods," he
said to the South African.

Moroka shrugged. "I was considering heading south when I ran into
Jimmy and Jack, here. They'd already got the word on the El Hassan
movement from Rex. Their arguments made sense to me."

Eyes went to the brothers from Trinidad and Jack Peters took over the
position of spokesman. He said, seriously, as though trying to
convince the others, "North Africa is the starting point, the
beginning. Given El Hassan's success in uniting North Africa, the
central areas and later even the south will fall into line. Perhaps
one day there will be a union of _all_ Africa."

"Or at least a strong confederation," Jimmy Peters added.

Homer nodded thoughtfully. "Perhaps. But we can't look that far
forward now." He looked from one of the newcomers to the other. "I
don't know to what extent you fellows understand what the rest of us
have set out to accomplish but I suppose if you've been with Rex for
the past week, you have a fairly clear idea."

"I believe so," Jack nodded, straight-faced.

Homer Crawford said slowly, "I don't want to give you the wrong idea.
If you join up, you'll find it's no parade. Our chances were slim to
begin, and we've had some setbacks. As you've probably heard, the Arab
Union has stolen a march on us. And from what we can get on the radio,
we have thus far to pick up a single adherent among the world powers."

"_Powers?_" Cliff snorted. "We haven't got a nation the size of Monaco
on our side."

Moroka shot a quick glance at the big Californian.

Isobel caught it and laughed. "Cliff's a perpetual sourpuss," she
said. "However, he's been in since the first."

The South African looked at her in turn. "We were hardly prepared to
find a beautiful American girl in the Great Erg," he said.

Something about his voice caused her to flush. "We've all caught
Homer's dream," she said, almost defensively.

       *       *       *       *       *

David Moroka flung to his feet, viper fast, and dashed toward Homer
Crawford, his hands extended.

Automatically, Cliff Jackson stuck forward a foot in an attempt to
trip him--and missed.

The South African, moving with blurring speed, grasped the
unsuspecting Crawford by the right hand and arm, swung with fantastic
speed and sent the American sprawling to the far side of the tent.

Homer Crawford, old in rough and tumble, was already rolling out.
Before the inertia of his fall had given way, his right hand, only a
split second before in the grip of the other, was fumbling for the 9
mm Noiseless holstered at his belt.

Rex Donaldson, a small handgun magically in his hand, was standing,
half crouched on his thin, bent legs. The two brothers from Trinidad
hadn't moved, their eyes bugging.

Moroka was spinning with the momentum of the sudden attack he'd made
on his new chief. Now there was a gun in his own hand and he was
darting for the tent opening.

Cliff yelled indignantly, "Stop him!"

Isobel, on her feet by now, both hands to her mouth, was staring at
the goatskin tent covering, against which, a moment earlier, Crawford
had been gently leaning his back as he talked.

There was a vicious slash in the leather and even as she pointed, the
razor-sharp arm dagger's blade disappeared. There was the sound of
running feet outside the tent.

Homer Crawford had assimilated the situation before the rest. He, too,
was darting for the tent entrance, only feet behind Moroka.

Donaldson followed, muttering bitterly under his breath, his face
twisted more as though in distaste than in fighting anger.

Cliff, too, finally saw light and dashed after the others, leaving
only Isobel and the Peters brothers. They heard the muffled coughing
of a silenced gun, twice, thrice and then half a dozen times, blurting
together in automatic fire.

Homer Crawford shuffled through the sand on an awkward run, rounding
the tent, weapon in hand.

There was a native on the ground making final spasmatic muscular
movements in his death throes, and not more than three feet from him,
coolly, David Moroka sat, bracing his elbows on his knees and aiming,
two-handed, as his gun emptied itself.

Crawford brought his own gun up, seeking the target, and clipping at
the same time, "We want him alive--"

It was too late. Two hundred feet beyond, a running tribesman, long
arm dagger still in hand, stumbled, ran another three or four feet
with hesitant steps, and then collapsed.

Moroka said, "Too late, Crawford. He would have got away." The South
African started to his feet, brushing sand from his khaki bush
shorts.

The others were beginning to come up and from the Tuareg encampment a
rush of Guémama's men started in their direction.

Crawford said unhappily, looking down at the dead native at their
feet, "I hate to see unnecessary killing."

Moroka looked at him questioningly. "Unnecessary? Another split second
and his knife would have been in your gizzard. What do you want to
give him, another chance?"

Crawford said uncomfortably, "Thanks, Dave, anyway. That was quick
thinking."

"Thank God," Donaldson said, coming up, his wrinkled face scowling
unhappily, first at the dead man at their feet, and then at the one
almost a hundred yards away. "Are these local men? Where were your
bodyguards?"

Cliff Jackson skidded to a halt, after rounding the tent. He'd heard
only the last words. "What bodyguards?" he said.

Moroka looked at Crawford accusingly. "El Hassan," he said. "Leader of
all North Africa. And you haven't even got around to bodyguards? Do
you fellows think you're playing children's games? Gentlemen, I assure
you, the chips are down."


VI

El Hassan's Tuaregs were on the move. After half a century and more of
relative peace the Apaches of the Sahara, the Sons of Shaitan and the
Forgotten of Allah were again disappearing into the ergs to emerge
here, there, and ghostlike to disappear again. They faded in and faded
away again, and even in their absence dominated all.

El Hassan was on the move, as all men by now knew, and he, who was not
for the amalgamation of all North Africa, was judged against him. And
who, in the Sahara, could afford to be against El Hassan when his
Tuaregs were everywhere?

Refugees poured into Tamanrasset for the security of Arab Legion arms,
or into In Salah and Reggan to the north, or Agades and Zinder to the
south. Refugees who had already taken their stand with the Arab Union
and Pan-Islam. Refugees who were men of property and would know more
of this El Hassan before risking their wealth. Refugees who took no
stand, but dreaded those who drank the milk of war, no matter the
cause for which they fought. Refugees who fled simply because others
fled, for terror is a most contagious disease.

Colonel Midan Ibrahim of the crack motorized units of the Arab Legion
which occupied Tamanrasset, was fuming. His task was a double one.
First, to hold Tamanrasset and its former French stronghold Fort
Laperrine; second, to keep open his lines of communication with
Ghademès and Ghat, in Arab Union dominated Libya. To hold them until
further steps were decided upon by his superiors in Cairo and the
Near East--whatever these steps might be. Colonel Midan Ibrahim was
too low in the Arab Union hierarchy to be in on such privy matters.

His original efforts, in pushing across the Sahara from Ghademès and
Ghat, had been no more than desert maneuvers. There had been no force
other than nature's to say him nay. The Reunited Nations was an
organization composed possibly of great powers, but in supposedly
acting in unison they became a shrieking set of hair-tearing women;
the whole being less than any of its individual parts. And El Hassan?
No more than a rumor. In fact, an asset because this supposed mystery
man of the desert, bent on uniting all North Africa under his
domination, gave the Arab Union, its alibi for stepping in with
Colonel Ibrahim's men.

Yes, the original efforts had been but a drill. But now his Arab
Legion troopers were beginning to face reality. The supply trucks,
coming down under convoy from Ghademès, reported the water source at
Ohanet destroyed. The major well would take a week or more to repair.
Who had committed the sabotage? Some said the Tuareg, some said local
followers of El Hassan, others, desert tribesmen resentful of _both_
the Arab Union and El Hassan.

One of his routine patrols, feeling out toward Meniet to the north,
had suddenly dropped radio communication, almost in mid-sentence. A
relieving patrol had thus far found nothing, the armored car's tracks
covered over by the sands.

[Illustration]

And rumors, rumors, rumors, Colonel Midan Ibrahim, born of
aristocratic Alexandrian blood, though trained to a sharp edge in Near
Eastern warfare, was basically city bred. The gloss of desert training
might take on him, but the bedouin life itself was not in his
experience, and it was hard for him to trace the dividing line between
possibility and fantasy.

Rumors, rumors, rumors. They seemed capable of sweeping from one end
of the Sahara to the other in a matter of hours. Faster, it would seem
than the information could be dispensed by radio. El Hassan was here.
El Hassan was there. El Hassan was marching on Rabat, in Morocco; El
Hassan had just signed a treaty with the Soviet Complex; El Hassan had
been assassinated by a disgruntled follower. Or El Hassan was a
renegade Christian; El Hassan was a Moslem of Sheriffian blood, a
direct descendant of the Prophet; El Hassan was a pagan come up from
Dahomey and practiced ritual cannibalism; El Hassan was a Jew, a
veteran of the Israel debacle.

But this Colonel Ibrahim knew--the Tuareg had gone over to the new
movement en masse. Something there was in El Hassan and his dream that
had appealed to the Forgotten of Allah. The Tuareg, for the first time
since the French Camel Corps had broken their strength, were
united--united and on the move.

The Tuareg were everywhere. In most sinister fashion--everywhere. And
all were El Hassan's men.

Colonel Ibrahim fumed and wondered what kept his superiors from
sending in additional columns, additional armored elements. And, above
all, adequate air cover. Ha! Give the colonel sufficient aircraft and
he'd begin snuffing out bedouin life like candles--and bring the Peace
of Allah to the Ahaggar.

So Colonel Ibrahim fumed, demanded further orders from mum superiors,
and put his legionnaires to work on bigger and better gun
emplacements, trenches and pillboxes surrounding Fort Laperinne and
Tamanrasset.

       *       *       *       *       *

El Hassan's personal entourage numbered exactly twenty persons. Of
these, five were his immediate English-speaking, Western-educated
supporters, Cliff, Isobel and the new Jack and Jimmy Peters and Dave
Moroka. Rex Donaldson had been sent south again to operate in Senegal
and Mali, to take over direction of the rapidly spreading movement in
such centers as Bamako and Mopti and later, if possible, in Dakar.

The other fifteen were carefully selected Tuareg, picked from among
Guémama's tribesmen taking care to show no preference to any tribe or
clan, and taking particular care to choose men who fought coolly,
unexcitedly, and didn't froth at the mouth when in action; men who
were slow to charge wildly into the enemy's guns--but slower still to
retreat when the going was hot. El Hassan was prone to neither hero
nor coward in his personal bodyguard.

They kept under movement. In Abelessa one day, almost in range of the
mobile artillery of the Arab Legion; in Timassao the next, checking
the wells that meant everything to a desert force; the following day
as far south as the Tamesna region to rally the less warlike
Irreguenaten, a half-breed Tuareg people largely held in scorn by
those of the Ahaggar.

Homer Crawford was killing time whilst stirring up as much noise and
dust as his handful of followers could manage. Killing time until
Elmer Allen from the Chaambra country, Bey-ag-Akhamouk from the Teda,
and Kenny Ballalou from the west could show up with their columns. He
had no illusions of how things now stood. At best, he could hold
together a thousand Tuareg fighting men. No more. The economics of
desert life prevented him a larger force, unless he had the resources
of the modern world at hand, and he didn't. Besides that, the Tuareg
confederation could provide no larger number of fighting men and at
the same time continue their desert economy.

He stood now with Isobel, Cliff and Dave Moroka in one of the western
type tents which the Peters brothers had brought with them in their
hover-lorries, and poured over the half-adequate maps which covered
the area.

Dave Moroka traced with a finger. "If we could dominate these wells
running to Djanet, our Arab Union friends would have only their one
line of supply going through Temassinine to Ghademès. That's a long
haul, Homer."

Homer Crawford scowled thoughtfully. "That involves only four wells.
If Ibrahim's legionnaires staked out only three armored vehicles at
each water hole, they could hold them. Our camelmen could never take
armor."

Moroka frowned, too. "We've got to start _some_ sort of action, or the
men will start dribbling away."

Cliff Jackson said, "Bey and Kenny and Elmer should be coming soon. I
heard a radio item this morning about a big pro-El Hassan movement
starting in the Sudan among the Teda."

Moroka said, "We need some sort of quick, spectacular victory. The
bedouin can lose interest as quickly as they can get steamed up, and
thus far we haven't given them anything but words--promises."

"You're right," Homer growled, "but there's nothing we can do right
now but mark time. Irritate the Arabs a bit. Keep them from spreading
out."

Isobel brought coffee, handing around the small Moroccan cups. She
said, "Well, one thing is certain. We get supplies soon or start
eating jerked goat and camel milk curds."

Moroka said in irritation, "It's not funny."

Isobel raised her eyebrows. "I didn't mean it to be. Have you ever
been on a camel curd diet?"

"Yes, I have," Moroka said impatiently. He turned back to Homer
Crawford. "How about waylaying an armored car or so, just in the way
of giving the men something exciting to do?"

Crawford ran a hand back through his short hair. "Confound it, Dave,
can you picture what a Recoilless-Brenn gun would do to a harka of our
charging camelmen? We can't let these people be butchered."

"I wasn't thinking of wild charges," Moroka argued.

They had both turned away from Isobel, in their discussion. Now she
looked at them, strangely. And especially at Homer Crawford. His
brusqueness toward her didn't seem the old Homer.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a bustle from outside and a guardsman stuck his head in the
tent entrance and reported in Tamaheq that a small camel patrol
approached.

The four of them went out. Coming up were a dozen Tuareg and two motor
vehicles.

Cliff said, "Something new."

Moroka said, "We can use the transport."

"Let's see who they are, before we start requisitioning their
property," Homer said dryly.

The two desert trucks had hardly come to a halt before the camouflaged
tents and hover-lorries of El Hassan's small encampment before a
heavy-set, gray haired Negro, whose energy belied his weight, bounced
down from the seat adjacent to the driver's in the lead vehicle and
stomped belligerently to the group before the tent.

"What is the meaning of this?" he snapped.

Homer Crawford looked at him. "I'm sure I don't know as yet, Dr.
Smythe. Neither you nor these followers of mine have informed me as to
what has transpired. Won't you enter my quarters here and we'll go
into it under more comfortable conditions?" He glanced upward at the
midday Saharan sun.

The other seemed taken aback at Crawford calling him by name. He
squinted at the man who was seemingly his captor.

"Crawford!" he snapped. "Dr. Homer Crawford! See here, what is the
meaning of this?"

Homer said, "Dr. Warren Harding Smythe, may I present Isobel
Cunningham, Clifford Jackson and David Moroka, of my staff?"

"Huuump. I met Miss Cunningham and, I believe, Mr. Jackson at that
ridiculous meeting in Timbuktu, a short time ago." The doctor peered
over his glasses at Moroka.

The wiry South African nodded his head. "A pleasure, Doctor." He held
open the tent entrance.

Smythe snorted again and stomped inside to escape the sun's glare.

In the shade of the tent's interior, Isobel clucked at him and hurried
to get a drink of water from a moist water cooler. Homer Crawford
motioned the other to a seat, and took one himself. "Now then, Dr.
Smythe."

The indignant medic blurted, "Those confounded bandits out there--"

"Irregular camel cavalry," Crawford amended gently.

"They've kidnapped me and my staff. I demand that you intercede, if
you have any influence with them."

"What were you doing?" Crawford was frowning at the other. Actually,
he had no idea of the circumstances under which the probably
overenthusiastic Tuareg troopers had rounded up the American medical
man.

"Doing? You know perfectly well I represent the American Medical
Relief. My team has been in the vicinity of Silet, working with the
nomads. The country is rife with everything from rickets to syphilis!
Eighty per cent of these people suffer from trachoma. My team--"

"Just a moment," Moroka said. "You mean out in those two trucks you
have a complete American medical setup? Assistants and all?"

Smythe said stiffly, "I have two American nurses with me and four
Algerians recruited in Oran. This sort of interference with my work is
insufferable and--"

The South African was staring at Homer Crawford.

Cliff Jackson cleared his throat. "It seems as though El Hassan has
just acquired a Department of Health."

"El Hassan?" Smythe stuttered. "What, what?"

Isobel said softly, "Dr. Smythe, surely you have heard of El Hassan."

"Heard of him? I've heard of nothing else for the past month!
Confounded ignorant barbarian. What this part of the world needs is
_less_ intertribal, interracial, international fighting, not more. The
man's a raving lunatic and--"

Isobel said gently, "Doctor ... may I introduce you to El Hassan?"

"What ... what--?" For the briefest of moments, there was an element
of timorness in the sputtering doctor's voice. Then suddenly he
comprehended.

He pointed at Homer Crawford accusingly. "You're El Hassan!"

Homer nodded, seriously, "That's correct, Doctor."

The doctor's eyes went around the four of them. "You've done what you
were driving at there at that meeting in Timbuktu. You're trying to
unite these people in spite of themselves and then drag them,
willy-nilly, into the twentieth century."

Homer still nodded.

Smythe shook an indignant finger at him. "I told you then, Crawford,
and I tell you now. These natives are not suited for such sudden
change. Already they are subject to mass neurosis because they cannot
adjust to a world that changes too quickly."

"I wonder if that doesn't apply to the rest of us as well," Cliff said
unhappily. "But the changes go on, if we like them or not. Can you
think of any way to turn them off?"

The doctor snorted.

Homer Crawford said, "Dr. Smythe, the die is already cast. The
question now becomes, will you join us?"

"Join you! Certainly not!"

Crawford said evenly, "Then I might suggest that, first, you will not
be allowed to operate in my territory." He considered for a moment,
grinning inwardly, but on the surface his expression serene. He added,
"And second, that you will probably have difficulties procuring an
exit visa from my domains."

"Exit visa! Are you jesting? See here, my good man, you realize I am a
citizen of the United States of the Americas and--"

"A country," Homer yawned, "with which I have not as yet opened
diplomatic relations, and hence has little representation in North
Africa."

The doctor was bug-eying him. He began sputtering again. "This isn't
funny. You're an American citizen yourself. And you, Miss Cunningham
and--"

Isobel said sadly, "As a matter of fact, the last we heard, the State
Department representative told us our passports were invalid."

Crawford leaned forward. "Look here, Doctor. You don't see eye to eye
with us on matters socio-economic. However, as a medical man, I submit
that joining my group ... ah, that is, until you can secure an exit
visa from my authorities ... will give you an excellent opportunity to
practice your science here in the Sahara under the wing of El Hassan.
I'll assign a place for your trucks and tents. Please consider the
question and let me have your answer at your leisure. Meanwhile, we
will prepare a desert feast suitable to the high esteem in which we
hold you."

       *       *       *       *       *

They looked after the doctor, as he left, and Moroka chuckled.
However, Isobel was watching Homer Crawford quizzically.

She said finally, "We rode over him a little in the roughshod manner,
didn't we?"

Homer Crawford growled uncomfortably, "Particularly when we finally
have our showdown with the Arab Legion, a medic will be priceless."

Isobel said softly, "And the end justifies the means--"

Homer shot a quick, impatient look at her. "The good doctor and his
people are in the Sahara to work with the Tuareg and the Teda and the
rest of the bedouin. Beyond that, he has the same dream we have--of
developing this continent of our racial background."

"But he doesn't believe in your methods, Homer, and we're forcing him
to follow El Hassan's road in spite of his beliefs."

Moroka had been peering at the two of them narrowly. "You don't make
omelets without breaking eggs," he said, his voice on the overbearing
side.

She spun on him. "But the omelets don't turn out so well if some of
the eggs you use are rotten."

The South African's voice turned gentle. "Miss Cunningham," he said,
"working in the field, like this, can have its rugged side for a young
and delicate woman--"

"_Delicate!_" she snapped. "I'll have you know--"

"Hey, everybody, hold it," Cliff injected. "What goes on?"

Dave Moroka shrugged. "It just seems to me that Isobel might do better
back in Dakar, or in New York with your friend Jake Armstrong.
Somewhere where her sensibilities wouldn't be so bruised, and where
her assets"--his eyes went up and down her lithe body--"could be put
to better use."

Isobel's sepia face had gone a shade or more lighter. She said, very
flatly, "My assets, Mr. Moroka, are in my head."

Homer Crawford said disgustedly, "O.K., O.K., let's all knock it off."

His eyes flicked back and forth between them, in definite command. "I
don't want to hear any more in the way of personalities between you
two."

Moroka shrugged again. "Yes, sir," he said without inflection.

Isobel turned away and took up some paperwork, without further words.
She suppressed her feeling of seething indignation.

Homer Crawford, under his pressures, was changing. Possibly, she had
told herself before, it was change for the better. The need was for a
_strong_ man, perhaps even a ruthless one.

The Homer Crawford she had first known was an easier going man than
he who had snapped an abrupt order to her a moment ago. The Homer she
had first known requested things of his teammates and friends. El
Hassan had learned to command.

The Homer she had first known could never have ridden, roughshod, over
the basically gentle Dr. Smythe.

The Homer she had first known, when the El Hassan scheme was still
aborning, had thought of himself as a member of a team. He was quick
to ask advice of all, and quick to take it if it had validity. Now
Homer, as El Hassan, was depending less and less upon the opinions of
those surrounding him, more and more upon his own decisions which he
seemed to sometimes reach purely through intuition.

The El Hassan dream was still upon her, but, womanlike, she wondered
if she liked the would-be tyrant of all North Africa as well as she
had once liked the easy-going American idealist, Homer Crawford.

Jack and Jimmy Peters, the brothers from Trinidad, entered, the former
carrying a couple of books.

They'd evidently failed to note the raised voices and wore their
customary serious expressions. Jack looked at Homer and said, "_Cu vi
scias Esperanton?_"

Homer Crawford's eyebrows went up but he said, "_Jes, mi parolas
Esperanto tre bona, mi pensas._"

"_Bona_," Jack said, "_Tre bona_."

"_Jes, estas bele_," his brother said.

Moroka was scowling back and forth from one of them to the other. "I
thought I had a fairly good working knowledge of the world's more
common languages," he said, "but that goes by me. It sounds like a
cross between Italian and pig-Latin."

Homer said to the Peters brothers, "Let's drop Esperanto so that Dave,
Isobel and Cliff can follow us. We can give it a whirl later, if you'd
like, just for the practice."

Isobel said slowly, "_Mi parolas Esperanto, malgranda_." Then in
English, "I took it for kicks while I was still in school. Kind of
rusty now, though."

"Esperanto?" Cliff said. "You mean that gobblydygook so-called
international language?"

Jack Peters looked at him, serious faced as always. "What is wrong
with an international language, Mr. Jackson?"

Cliff was taken aback. "Search me. But it doesn't seem to have proved
very practical. It didn't catch on."

"Well, more than you might think," Isobel told him. "There are
probably hundreds of thousands of persons in one part of the world or
another who can get along in Esperanto."

Moroka said impatiently, "What're a few hundred thousands of people in
a world population like ours? Cliff's right. It never took hold."

Homer said, "All right, Jack and Jimmy. You boys evidently have
something on your minds. Let everybody sit down and listen to it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Even before they got thoroughly settled, Jack Peters was launching
into his pitch.

"We need an official language," he said. "The El Hassan movement has
set as a goal the uniting of all North Africa. We might start here in
the Sahara, but it's just a start. Ultimately, the idea is to reach
from Morocco to Egypt and from the Mediterranean to ... to where? The
Congo?"

"Actually, we've never set exact limits," Homer said.

"Ultimately _all Africa_," Dave Moroka muttered softly. He ignored the
manner in which Isobel contemplated him from the side of her eyes.

"All right," the West Indian said. "There are more than seven hundred
major languages, not counting dialects, in Africa. Sooner or later, we
need an official language, what is it going to be?"

"Why _one_ official language? Why not several?" Cliff scowled. "Say
Arabic, here in this area. Swahili on the East coast. And, say,
Songhoi along the Niger, and Wolof, the Senegalese lingua franca,
and--"

"You see," Peters interrupted. "Already you have half a dozen and you
haven't even got out of this immediate vicinity as yet. Let me develop
my point."

Homer Crawford was becoming interested. "Go on, Jack," he said.

Jack Peters pointed a finger at him. "To be the hero-symbol we have in
mind, El Hassan is going to have to be able to communicate with _all_
of his people. He's not going to be able to speak Arabic to, say, a
Masai in Kenya. They hate the Arabs. He's not going to be able to
speak Swahili to a Moroccan, they've never heard of the language. He
can't speak Tamaheq to the Imraguen, they're scared to death of the
Tuareg."

Homer said thoughtfully, "A common language would be fine. It'd solve
a lot of problems. But it doesn't seem to be in the cards. Why not
adopt as our official language the one in which the _most_ of our
people will be able to communicate? Say, Arabic?"

Jack was shaking his head seriously. "And antagonize all the Arab
hating Bantu in Africa? It's no go, Homer."

"Well, then, say French--or English."

"English is the most international language in the world," Moroka
said. But his face was thoughtful, as those of the others were
becoming.

The West Indian was beginning to make his points now. "No, any of the
European languages are out. The white man has been repudiated.
Adopting English, French, Spanish, Portuguese or Dutch, as our
official language would antagonize whole sections of the continent."

"Why Esperanto?" Cliff scowled. "Why not, say, Nov-Esperanto, or Ido,
or Interlingua?"

Jimmy Peters put in a word now. "Actually, any one of them would
possibly do, but we have a head start with Esperanto. Some years ago
both Jack and I became avid Esperantists, being naïve enough in those
days to think an international language would ultimately solve all
man's problems. And both Homer and Isobel seem to have a working
knowledge of the language."

Homer said, "So have the other members of my former Reunited Nations team.
That's where those books you found came from. Elmer, Bey, Kenny ... and
Abe ... and I used to play around with it when we were out in the desert,
just to kill time. We also used it as sort of a secret language when we
wanted to communicate and didn't know if those around us might understand
some English."

"I still don't get the picture," Cliff argued. "If we picked the most
common half a dozen languages in the territory we cover, then millions
of these people wouldn't have to study a second language. But if you
adapt Esperanto as an official language then _everybody_ is going to
have to learn something new. And that's not going to be easy for our
ninety-five per cent illiterate followers."

Isobel said thoughtfully, "Well, it's a darn sight easier to learn
Esperanto than any other language we decided to make official."

"Why?" Cliff said argumentatively.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jack Peters took over. "Because it's almost unbelievably easy to
learn. English, by the way, is extremely difficult. For instance,
spelling and pronunciation are absolutely phonetic in Esperanto and
there are only five vowel sounds where most national languages have
twenty or so. And each sound in the alphabet has one sound only and
any sound is always rendered by the same letter."

Dave Moroka said, "Actually, I don't know anything at all about this
Esperanto."

The West Indian took him in, with a dominating glance. "Take grammar and
syntax which can take up volumes in other languages. Esperanto has exactly
sixteen short rules. And take vocabularies. For instance, in English we
often form the feminine of a noun by adding _ess--actor-actress_,
_tiger-tigress_. But not always. We don't say _bull-bulless_ or
_ghost-ghostess_. In Esperanto you simply add the feminine ending to any
noun--there's no exception to any rule."

Jack Peters was caught up in his subject. "Still comparing it to
English, realize that spelling and pronunciation in English are highly
irregular and one letter can have several different sounds, and one
sound may be represented by different letters. And there are even
silent letters which are written but not pronounced like the _ugh_ in
_though_. There are none of these irregularities in Esperanto. And the
sounds are all sharp with none of such subtle differences as, say,
_bed/bad/bard/bawd_, that sort of thing."

Jimmy Peters said, "The big item is that any averagely intelligent
person can begin speaking Esperanto within a few hours. Within a week
of even moderate study, say three or four hours a day, he's
astonishingly fluent."

[Illustration]

Isobel said thoughtfully, "There'd be international advantages. It's
always been a galling factor in Africans dealing with Europeans that
they had to learn the European language involved. You couldn't expect
your white man to learn kitchen kaffir, or Swahili, or whatever, not
when you got on the diplomatic level."

Cliff Jackson was thinking out loud. "So far, El Hassan is an unknown.
Rumor has it that he's everything from a renegade Egyptian, to an
escaped Mau-Mau chief, to a Senegalese sergeant formerly in the French
West African forces. But when he starts running into the press and
they find that Homer and his closest associates all speak English, and
most of them with an American accent, there's going to be some fat in
the fire."

"And El Hassan will have lost some of his mysterious glamour," Homer
added thoughtfully.

Even Moroka, the South African, was beginning to accept the idea. "If
El Hassan, himself, refused in the presence of foreigners ever to
speak anything but Esperanto, the aura of mystery would continue."

Jimmy Peters, elaborating and obviously pushing an opinion he and his
brother had already discussed, said, "We make it a rule that every
school, both locally taught and foreign, must teach Esperanto as a
required subject. All El Hassan governmental affairs would be
conducted in that language. Anybody at all trying to get anywhere in
the new regime would have to learn the official inter-African tongue."

"Oh, brother," Cliff groaned, "that means me." He brightened. "We
haven't any books or anything, as yet."

Isobel laughed at him. "I'll take on your studies, Cliff. We have a
few books. Those that Homer and his team used to kill time with. And
as soon as we're in a position to make requests for foreign aid of the
great powers, Esperanto grammars, dictionaries and so forth can be
high on the list."

With a sharp cry, almost a bark, a figure jumped into the entrance and
with a bound into the center of the tent, sub-machinegun in hand.
"_All right, everybody. On your feet. The place is raided!_"

Dave Moroka leaped to his feet, his hand tearing with blurring speed
for his holstered hand gun. "Where's that bodyguard?" he yelled.


VII

"Hold it," Homer Crawford roared, jumping to his own feet and grabbing
the South African in his arms. He glared at the newcomer. "Kenny, you
idiot, you're lucky you don't have a couple of holes in you."

Kenny Ballalou, grinning widely, stared at Dave Moroka. "Jeepers," he
said, "you got that gun out fast. Don't you ever stick 'em up when
somebody has the drop on you?"

Dave Moroka relaxed, the side arm dropping back into its holster.
Homer Crawford released him and the South African ran a hand over his
mouth and shook his head ruefully at Kenny.

Isobel and Cliff crowded up, the one to kiss Kenny happily, the other
to pound him on the back.

Homer made introductions to Dave Moroka and the Peters brothers.

"I've told you about Kenny," he wound it up. "I sent him over to the
west to raise a harka of Nemadi to help in taking Tamanrasset." He
joined Cliff Jackson in giving the smaller man an affectionate blow on
the shoulder. "What luck did you have, Kenny?"

Kenny Ballalou rubbed himself ruefully. "If you two will stop beating,
I'll tell you. I didn't recruit a single Nemadi."

Homer Crawford looked at him.

Kenny said to the tent at large. "Anybody got a drink around here?
Good grief, have I been covering ground."

Isobel bustled off to a corner where she'd amassed most of their
remaining European type supplies, but she kept her attention on him.

Dave Moroka said, his voice unbelieving, "You mean you haven't brought
any assistance _at all_?"

Kenny grinned around at them. "I didn't say that. I said I didn't
recruit any of the Nemadi. I never even got as far as their
territory."

Homer Crawford sank back onto the small crate he'd been using as a
chair before Kenny's precipitate entrance. "O.K.," he said, "stop
dramatizing and let us know what happened."

Kenny spread his hands in a sweeping gesture. "The country's alive
from here to Bidon Cinq and south to the Niger. Bourem and Gao have
gone over to El Hassan and a column of followers was descending on
Niamey. They should be there by now. I never got as far as Nemadi
country. I could have recruited ten thousand fighting men, but I
didn't know what we'd do with them in this country. So I weeded
through everybody who volunteered and took only veterans. Men who'd
formerly been in the French forces, or British, or whatever. Louis
Wallington and his team were in Bourem when I got there and--"

"Who is Louis Wallington?" Jack Peters said.

Homer looked over at the Peters brothers and Dave Moroka. "Head of a
six-man Sahara Development Project team like the one I used to head."
His eyes went back to Kenny. "What about Louis?"

"He's come in with us. Didn't know how to get in touch, so he was
working on his own. And Pierre Dupaine. Remember him, the fellow from
Guadeloupe in the French West Indies, used to be an operative of the
African Affairs sector of the French Community? Well, he and a half
dozen of his colleagues have come in and were leading an expedition on
Timbuktu. But Timbuktu had already joined up too, before they got
there--"

"Wow," Homer said. "It's really spreading."

Cliff said, "Why isn't all this on the radio?"

Isobel had brought Kenny a couple of ounces of cognac from their
meager supply. He knocked it back thankfully.

Kenny said to Cliff, "Things are moving too fast, and communications
have gone to pot." He looked at Homer. "Have any of these journalists
found you yet?"

"What journalists?"

Kenny laughed. "You'll find out. Half the newspapers, magazines,
newsreels and TV outfits in the world are sending every man they can
release into this area. They're going batty trying to find El Hassan.
Man, do you realize the extent of the country your followers now
dominate?"

Homer said blankly, "I hadn't thought of it. Besides, most of what
you've been saying is news to us here. We've been keeping on the
prod."

Kenny grinned widely. "Well, the nearest I can figure it, El Hassan is
ruler of an area about the size of Mexico. At least it was yesterday.
By today, you can probably tack on Texas."

Jimmy Peters, serious faced as usual, said, "Things are moving so
fast, we're going to have to run to keep ahead of El Hassan's
followers. One thing, Homer, we're going to have to have a press
secretary."

"Elmer Allen was going to handle that, but he's still up north,"
Isobel said.

"I'll do it. Used to be a newspaperman, when I was younger," Dave
Moroka said quickly.

Isobel frowned and began to say something, but Homer said, "Great, you
handle that, Dave." Then to Kenny, "Where're your men and how well are
they armed?"

"Well, that's one trouble," Kenny said unhappily. "We requisitioned
motor transport from some of the Sahara Afforestation Project oases
down around Tessalit. In fact, Ralph Sandell, their chief mucky-muck
in those parts, has come over to us. But we haven't got much in the
way of shooting irons."

Homer Crawford closed his eyes wearily. "What it boils down to, still,
is that a hundred of those Arab Legionnaires, with their armor, could
finish us all off in ten minutes if it came to open battle."

       *       *       *       *       *

El Hassan continued moving his headquarters, usually daily, but he
eluded the journalists only another twelve hours. Then they were upon
the mobile camp like locusts.

And David Moroka took over with a calm efficiency that impressed all.
In the first place, he explained, El Hassan was much too busy to
handle the press except for one conference a week. In the second
place, he spoke only Esperanto to foreigners. Meanwhile, he, Dave
Moroka, would handle all their questions, make arrangements for
suitable photographs, and for the TV and newsreel boys to trundle
their equipment as near the front lines as possible. And, meanwhile,
James and John Peters of El Hassan's staff had prepared press releases
covering the El Hassan movement and its program.

Homer, to the extent possible, was isolated from the new elements
descending upon his encampment. Attempting anything else would have
been out of the question. At this point, he was getting approximately
four hours of sleep a night.

Kenny Ballalou was continually coming and going in a mad attempt to
handle the logistics of supplying several thousand men in a desert
area all but devoid of either water or graze, not to speak of food,
petroleum products and ammunition.

Isobel and Cliff were thrown into the positions of combination
secretaries, ministers of finance, assistant bodyguards, and all else
that nobody else seemed to handle, _including_ making coffee.

It was Isobel who approached a subject which had long worried her, as
they drove across country, the only occupants of one of the original
hover-lorries, during a camp move.

She said, hesitantly, "Homer, is it a good idea to give Dave such a
free hand with the press? You know, there are some fifty or so of them
around now and they must be influencing the TV, radio, magazines and
newspapers of the world."

"He seems to know more about it than any of the rest of us," Homer
said, his eyes on the all but sand-obliterated way. "We're going to
have to move more of the men south. We simply haven't got water enough
for them. There'd be enough in Tamanrasset, but not out here. Make a
note to cover this with Kenny. I wonder where Bey is, and Elmer."

Isobel made a note. She said, "Yes, but the trouble is, he's a
comparative newcomer. Are you _sure_ he's in complete accord with the
original plan, Homer? Does the El Hassan dream mean the same to him as
it does to you, and ... well, me?"

He shot her an impatient glance, even as he hit the lift lever to
raise them over a small dune. "You and Dave don't hit it off very
well. He's a good man, so far as I can see."

Her delicate forehead wrinkled and her pixie face showed puzzlement.
"I don't know why. I get along with most people, Homer."

He patted her hand. "You can't please everybody, Isobel. Listen,
something's got to be done about this king-size mob of camp followers
we've got. Did you know Common Europe sent in a delegation this
morning?"

"Delegation? Common Europe--?"

"Yeah. Haven't had time to discuss it with you. They found us just
before we raised camp. Evidently, the British Commonwealth and
possibly the Soviet Complex--some Chinese, I think--are also trying to
locate us. Half of these people are without their own equipment and
supplies, but that's not what worries me right now. We used to be able
to camouflage our headquarters camp. Dig into the desert and avoid the
aircraft. But if a group of bungling Common Market diplomats can
locate us, what's to keep the Arab Legion from doing it and blessing
us with a stick of neopalm bombs?"

Isobel said, "Look, before we leave Dave. Did you know he was
confiscating all radio equipment brought into our camp by the newsmen
and whoever else?"

Homer frowned. "Well, why?"

"Espionage, Dave says. He's afraid some of these characters might be
in with the Arab Union and inform on us."

"Well, that makes some sense," Homer nodded.

"Does it?" Isobel grumbled.

He shot an irritated glance at her again and said impatiently, "Can't
the poor guy do anything right?"

"My woman's intuition is working," Isobel grumbled.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dave Moroka came into headquarters tent without introduction. He was
one of the half dozen who had permission for this. He had a sheaf of
papers in his left hand and was frowning unhappily.

"What's the crisis?" Homer said.

"Scouts coming up say your pal Bey-ag-Akhamouk is on the way.
Evidently, with a big harka of Teda from the Sudan."

"Great." Homer crowed. "Now we'll get going."

"Ha!" Dave said. "From what we hear, a good many are camel mounted.
How are we going to feed them? Already some of the Songhai Kenny
brought up from the south have drifted away, unhappy about supplies."

"Bey's a top man," Homer told him. "The best. He'll have some ideas on
our tactics. Meanwhile, we can turn over most of his men to one of the
new recruits, and head them down to take Fort Lamy. With Fort Lamy and
Lake Chad in our hands we'll control a chunk of Africa so big
everybody else will start wondering why they shouldn't jump on the
bandwagon while the going is good."

Dave said, "Well, that brings up something else, Homer. These new
recruits. In the past couple of days, forty or fifty men who used to
be connected with African programs sponsored by everybody from the
Reunited Nations to this gobblydygook outfit Cliff and Isobel once
worked for, the AFAA, have come over to El Hassan. The number will
probably double by tomorrow, and triple the next day."

"Fine," Homer said. "What's wrong with that? These are the people
that will really count in the long run."

"Nothing's wrong with it, within reason. But we're going to have to
start becoming selective, Homer. We've got to watch what jobs we let
these people have, how much responsibility we give them."

Homer Crawford was frowning at him. "How do you mean?"

"See here," the wiry South African said plaintively, "when El Hassan
started off there were only a half dozen or so who had the dream, as
you call it. O.K. You could trust any one of them. Bey, Kenny, Elmer,
Cliff, this Jake Armstrong that you've sent to New York, Rex
Donaldson, then Jimmy and Jack Peters and myself. We all came in when
the going was rough, if not impossible. But now things are different.
_It looks as though El Hassan might actually win._"

"So?" Homer didn't get it.

"So from now on, you're going to have an infiltration of cloak and
dagger lads from every outfit with an interest in North Africa.
Potential traitors, potential assassins, subversives and what not."

Homer was scowling at him. "Confound it, what do you suggest? That
these Johnny-Come-Latelies be second-class citizens?"

"Not exactly that, but this isn't funny. We've got to screen them. The
trouble with this movement is that it's a one-man deal, and has to be.
The average African is either a barbarian or an actual savage, one
ethnic degree lower. He wants a hero-symbol to follow. O.K., you're
it. But remember both Moctezuma and Atahualpa. Their socio-economic
systems pyramided up to them. The Spanish conquistadores, being old
hands at sophisticated European-type intrigue, quickly sized up the
situation. They kidnaped the hero-symbol, the big cheese, and later
killed him. And the Inca and the Aztec cultures collapsed."

Homer was scowling at him unhappily.

Dave summed it up. "All we need is one fuzzy minded commie from the
Soviet Complex, or one super-dooper democrat who thinks that El Hassan
stands in the way of _freedom_, whatever that is, and bingo a couple
of bullets in your tummy and the El Hassan movement folds its tents
like the Arabs and takes a powder, as the old expression goes."

"You have your point," Homer Crawford admitted. "Follow through, Dave.
Figure out some screening program."

       *       *       *       *       *

Cliff came in. "Hey, Homer. Guess what old Jake has done."

"Jake Armstrong?"

"He's swung the Africa for Africans Association in New York over to
us. They've raised a million bucks. What'll we do with it? How can he
get anything to us?"

"We'll have him plow it back into publicity and further fund raising
campaigns," Homer said. "That's the way it's done. You raise some
money for some cause and then spend it all on a bigger campaign to
raise still more money, and what you get from that one you plow into a
still bigger campaign."

Cliff said, "Don't you _ever_ get anything out of it?"

Dave and Homer both laughed.

Cliff said, "I've got some still better news."

"Good news, we can use," Homer said.

       *       *       *       *       *

The big Californian looked at him in pretended awe. "A poet no less,"
he said.

"Shut up," Homer said. "What's the news?"

The fact of the matter was, he was becoming increasingly impatient of
the continual banter expected of him by Cliff and even the others. As
original members of the team, they expected an intimacy that he was
finding it increasingly difficult to deliver. Among other things, he
wished that Cliff, in particular, would mind his attitude when such
followers as Guémama were present. The El Hassan posture could be
maintained only in never to be compromised dignity.

Bey had once compared him to Alexander, to Homer's amusement at the
time. But now he was beginning to sympathize with the position the
Macedonian leader had found himself in, betwixt the King-God conscious
Persians, and the rough and ready Companions who formed his bodyguard
and crack cavalry units. A King-God simply didn't banter with his
subordinates, not even his blood-kin.

Cliff scowled at him now, at the sharpness of Homer's words, but he
made his report.

"Our old pal, Sven Zetterberg. He's gone out on a limb. Because of the
great danger of this so-far localized fight spreading into world-wide
conflict--says old Sven--the Reunited Nations will not tolerate the
combat going into the air. He says that if _either_ El Hassan or the
Arab Legion resort to use of aircraft, the Reunited Nations will send
in its air fleet."

"Wow," Homer said. "All the aircraft we've got are a few slow-moving
heliocopters that Kenny brought up with him."

Dave Moroka snapped his fingers in a gesture of elation. "That means
Zetterberg is throwing his weight to our side."

Homer was on his feet. "Send for Kenny and Guémama and send a
heliocopter down to pick up Bey and rush him here. He shouldn't be
more than a day's march away. I wonder what Elmer is up to. No word at
all from him. At any rate, we want an immediate council of war. With
Arab Legion air cover eliminated, we can move in."

Cliff said sourly, "It's still largely rifles against armored cars,
tanks, mobile artillery and even flame throwers."

       *       *       *       *       *

All the old hands were present. They stood about a map table, Homer
and Bey-ag-Akhamouk at one end, the rest clustered about. Isobel sat
in a chair to the rear, stenographer's pad on her knees.

Bey was clipping out suggestions.

"We have them now. Already our better trained men are heading up for
Temassinine to the north and Fort Charlet to the east. We'll lose men
but we'll knock out every water hole between here and Libya. We'll cut
every road, blow what few bridges there are."

Jack Peters said worriedly, "But the important thing is Tamanrasset.
What good--"

"We're cutting their supply line," Bey told him. "Can't you see?
Colonel Ibrahim and his motorized column will be isolated in
Tamanrasset. They won't be able to get supplies through without an air
lift and Sven Zetterberg's ultimatum kills that possibility. They're
blocked off."

Jimmy Peters was as confused as his brother. "So what? to use the
Americanism. They have both food and water in abundance. They can hold
out indefinitely. Meanwhile, our forces are undisciplined irregulars.
We gain a thousand recruits a day. They come galloping in on
camel-back or in beat-up old vehicles, firing their hunting rifles
into the air. But we also lose a thousand a day. They get bored, or
hungry, and decide to go back to their flocks, or their jobs on the
new Sahara projects. At any rate, they drift off again. It looks to me
that, if Colonel Ibrahim can hold out another week or so, our forces
might melt away--all except the couple of hundred or so European and
American educated followers. And, cut down to that number, they'll
eliminate us in no time flat."

Homer Crawford was eying him in humor. "You're no fighting man,
Peters. Tell me, what is the single most fearsome enemy of an
ultra-mechanized soldier with the latest in military equipment and
super-firepower weapons?"

Jimmy Peters was blank. "I suppose a similarly armed opponent."

Homer smiled at him. "Rather, a man with a knife."

The expressions of the Peters brothers showed resentment. "We weren't
jesting."

"Neither was I," Homer rapped. He looked around at the rest, including
Bey and Kenny. "What happens to a modern mechanized army when it runs
out of gasoline? What happens to a water-cooled machine gun when there
is no water? What use is a howitzer when the target is a single man in
ten acres of cover? Gentlemen, have any of you ever studied the
tactics of Abd-el-Krim or, more recently still, Tito? Bey, I assume
you have."

He had their attention.

"During the Second War," Homer continued, "this Yugoslavian Tito tied
up two Nazi army corps with a handful of partisans--guerrillas. The
most modern army in the world, the German Panzers, tried to ferret him
out for five years, and couldn't. There are other examples. The
Chinese operating against the Japs in the same war. Or one of the
classic examples is Abd-el-Krim destroying two different Spanish
armies in the Moroccan Rif in the 1920s. His barefoot men, armed with
rifles, took on Primo de Rivera's modernized Spanish armies and
trounced them."

Bey said, "Homer's right. Our only tactics are guerrilla ones."

Homer Crawford looked at Guémama, who had been standing in the
background, unfamiliar with the language these others spoke, but
holding his dignity. Crawford said, diplomatically, "And what sayest
thou, O chieftain of the Tuareg?"

Guémama was gratified at the attention. He said in Tamaheq, "As all
men know, O El Hassan, we now outnumber by thrice the Arab _giaours_
may they burn in Gehennum. Therefore, let us rush in and kill them
all."

Bey shuddered.

Homer Crawford nodded seriously. "Ai, Guémama, that would be the
valorous way of the Tuareg. But the heart of El Hassan forbids him to
sacrifice the lives of his people. Consequently, we shall use the
tactics of the desert jackal. Instruct those of your people who are
most cunning, to infiltrate Tamanrasset in the night. Let them not
carry arms for they may well be searched by the Arab _meleccha_."

The Tuareg chieftain was intrigued. "And what shall they do in
Tamanrasset, El Hassan? Suddenly seize arms, one night, and rise up in
wrath against the Arab dogs and kill them all?"

Homer was shaking his head. "They will address themselves to the
Haratin serfs and spread to them the message of El Hassan. They will
be told that in the world of El Hassan each man shall be free to seek
his own destiny to the extent his mind and abilities allow. And no man
shall be the less because he was born a serf, and no man the more
because he was born to wealth or power in the old days."

[Illustration]

"Aiii," Guémama all but moaned. "But such a message--"

"Is the message of El Hassan, as all men know," Homer Crawford said
flatly. He turned to Kenny Ballalou. "Kenny, take over this angle. We
want as many propagandists in that town as possible. It's already
choked with refugees, most of them not knowing what they're fleeing.
We might get recruits there, too. But mostly we want to appeal to the
sedentary natives in town. They've got to get the dreams, too. Promise
them schools, land ... I don't have to tell you."

"Right," Kenny said.

Isobel said, "Maybe I ought to get in on this, too. The women might do
a better job than men on this slant. It's going to take a lot to get a
Tuareg bedouin to sink to talking to a Haratin on an equal basis."

Bey and Homer had bent back over the maps, but before they could get
back into the details of guerrilla warfare against Colonel Ibrahim and
his legionnaires, they were halted by a controversy from without.

"What now?" Homer growled. "This camp is getting to be like a
three-ring circus."

The entrance flap was pushed aside and three of Bey's Sudanese
tribesmen half escorted, half pushed a newcomer front and center.

It was Fredric Ostrander, natty as usual, but now in khaki desert
wear. He was obviously in a rage at the three rifle-carrying nomads
who had him in charge.

Bey spoke to the Teda warriors in their own tongue. Then to Homer in
Tamaheq, which he assumed the C.I.A. man didn't know, "They picked him
up in the desert in a hover-jeep. He was evidently looking for our
camp." He dismissed the three bedouin with a gesture.

Ostrander was outraged. He snapped at Homer Crawford, "I demand an
explanation of this cavalier attack upon--"

His face expressionless, Homer held up a hand to quiet the smaller
man. He looked at Jack Peters and raised his eyebrows. "_Kion li la
fremdul diras?_"

Jack, serious as ever, replied in Esperanto, then turned to the
American C.I.A. man and said, "El Hassan has requested that I
translate for him. He speaks only the official language of North
Africa to foreign representatives. Undoubtedly, sir, you have proper
credentials?"

Had Fredric Ostrander been of lighter complexion, his color would have
undoubtedly gone dark red.

"Look here, Crawford," he snapped. "I'm in no mood for nonsense. The
State Department has sent me to your headquarters to make another
attempt to bring some sense home to you. As an American citizen,
owing alliance--"

Homer Crawford spoke in Esperanto to Jack Peters who nodded seriously
and said to Ostrander, "El Hassan informs you he owes alliance only to
the people of North Africa whose chosen leader he is."

Ostrander knew they were kidding him, but at the same time the stand
being taken was actuality. He glared at the Americans present whom he
knew, Bey, Isobel, Cliff and Kenny. He snapped, "Very well, but I
repeat what I told you when last we met. The State Department of the
United States of the Americas will not stand idly by and see this area
taken over by elements dominated by red subversives."

"Holy Mackerel," Cliff growled, "are you still tooting that horn?"

Dave Moroka said sarcastically, "It's an old wheeze. The definition of
a red subversive is anybody who doesn't see eye to eye with the United
States. They've been pulling the gag for decades. Remember Guatemala
and Cuba? Do anything that interferes with American business abroad
and the cry goes up, _he's an enemy of the free world!_"

Ostrander spun on him, his eyes narrowing.

Dave laughed. "The definition of members of the free world, of course,
being anybody who follows the American line. Anybody is free, Spanish
and Portuguese dictators, absolute monarchs in Arabia, Chinese
warlords, if they're on the American side."

Ostrander snapped, "I don't believe we've met."

Moroka made a sweeping bow. "I'm afraid we don't move in the same
circles. I've spent possibly a third of my life in prison--"

"Undoubtedly," Ostrander snorted.

"... Put there by people such as yourself--in various
countries--because I was fighting for my own version of freedom."

"Communism, undoubtedly!"

Moroka said softly, "I'm a South African, sir. Both my parents were
killed in the 1960 riots. It seems that they had dark skins--even as
you and I--and weren't able to see why that should keep them from
_freedom_."

Fredric Ostrander spun back to Homer Crawford. "I'm not here to
quibble with self-confessed malcontents. I've been sent to represent
the State Department, to report to them, and, above all, to do what I
can to prevent your activities from redounding to the further
advantage of the Soviet Complex. I assume you can assign me quarters."

Straight-faced, Jack Peters translated this into Esperanto, and,
straight-faced, Homer answered in the same language.

Jack turned back to the impatient C.I.A. man. "El Hassan welcomes the
representative of the United States of the Americas and hopes this
will be the first step toward diplomatic recognition between North
Africa and your great country. He has instructed me to find you
quarters, which, possibly you may have to share with delegations from
Common Europe or"--Peters cleared his throat--"the Soviet Complex. He
further suggests that it might be well, if you maintain communications
with your superiors, to have sent to you books on Esperanto, the
official language of North Africa."

Dave Moroka put in, "By the way, we'll have to go through your things.
We can't allow any radio communication from El Hassan's camp, except
through official El Hassan channels--for obvious military reasons."

Ostrander snorted, stared indignantly at Homer again, spun on his heel
and stalked from the tent. Jack Peters followed him but not before
tipping an uncharacteristic wink at Homer.

When they were gone, Homer sighed and looked at Dave Moroka. "That
reminds me, how are our other delegations coming?"

The South African grinned ruefully. "They're playing it cool. Waiting
to see what way to jump. Give El Hassan some real success, and they'll
probably jump at the chance to be first to recognize him. Especially
these Soviet Complex opportunists. They'd just love to suck you into
their camp."

Isobel looked at him. "After that tearing down you gave poor Ostrander
about the United States, now you rip into the Soviet Complex. Just
where do you stand, Dave?"

Dave shrugged her question off, as though there were more important
things. "I'm an El Hassan man," he said. "Let those two overgrown
powers handle their own troubles."

Jimmy Peters spoke up for the first time since Ostrander entered the
tent. "You know," he said, seriously, "I'm beginning to wonder if the
world can afford nationalistic patriotism. Haven't we gone too far
along the road to think of ourselves any longer as Americans, or
Russians, or French, or West Indians, or whatever? Hasn't the human
race grown up beyond that point?"

Kenny said mockingly, "What! Aren't you proud of being a West Indian,
and a loyal subject of Her Majesty?"

Peters ignored his tone. "Why should I be proud of my country? It was
an accident of birth with which I had nothing to do, that made me a
West Indian, rather than a Canadian, a Chinese, a Norwegian, or
whatever. Intelligently, I should be proud only of things that I,
myself, have accomplished."

Bey said, "If we can stop waxing philosophic for a while and get back
to how most efficiently to clobber these Arabs--"

       *       *       *       *       *

The Hindu entered Kirill Menzhinsky's small office behind the Indian
souvenir shop in the Tangier Zocco Chico and said, "The operative
Anton is on the receiver."

The agent superior of the _Chrezvychainaya Komissiya_ for North Africa
looked up from his desk and grunted acceptance of the message. He came
to his feet and followed the other into a back room and took his place
before a mouthpiece and screen.

The man whose party name was Anton nodded a greeting.

Kirill Menzhinsky said, "It's about time I heard from you, Anton."

"Yes. But the situation has been such that it was not easy to report."

"And now?"

"Briefly, I am at El Hassan's headquarters. You were correct. He is in
actuality Homer Crawford. The others you mentioned are also with him,
including the traitor Isobel Cunningham."

The Soviet Complex's agent allowed his eyebrows to rise.

Anton said flatly, "The dame has evidently renounced the party and now
holds high rank in Crawford's inner circle."

"And you?"

"I am rapidly becoming his right-hand man. I am his press secretary
and in charge of communications. Early in our acquaintanceship I was
able to engineer an attempted assassination. I was able to, ah, save
the life of El Hassan."

The Russian's eyes narrowed. "The assassins? Is there any chance that
they might reveal your little trick?"

Anton grimaced. "I am not a fool, Kirill. Both of them were killed in
the assassination attempt. El Hassan was most grateful."

"I see. And how would you sum up the present situation?"

"This area is swinging rapidly to El Hassan, but any sort of defeat
and undoubtedly his followers would melt away. The bedouin are too
volatile. Before he ever makes any real headway he will have to take
the major commercial and industrial cities such as Dakar, Kano,
Lagos, Accra, Freetown, Khartoum, and eventually, of course, Cairo,
Casablanca, Algiers and so forth."

"And our friend El Hassan leans not at all in our direction?"

The man the Party called Anton shook his head. "He leans in no
direction, except that which will unite and modernize North Africa.
Neither do his immediate followers. They're a well-knit group and it
seems unlikely that I could pry any of them away from him in case it
became desirable."

"I see," Kirill Menzhinsky muttered. "I understand that a delegation
from Moscow has arrived in El Hassan's camp. Have you contacted them?"

"Certainly not. My orders were to rise in the El Hassan hierarchy and
await further orders. None of my current, ah, colleagues have any
suggestion that I am identified with the Party. Which reminds me, an
American C.I.A. man, Fredric Ostrander, has shown up. The fool seems
to be under the impression that El Hassan is a Party tool."

"I know this Ostrander. Don't underestimate him, Anton. He's an
extremely competent operative in the clutch, as the Americans call
it."

"Perhaps. But nevertheless, there is no indication that the El Hassan
movement leans either to East or West, nor do I see any signs that it
is apt to in the future."

The Russian was scowling. "I see. Then perhaps it will be necessary
for us to do something to topple our El Hassan before he becomes much
stronger, and to find another to unite North Africa."

Anton frowned in his turn. "I don't know. This man Crawford--and his
followers, for that matter--are motivated by high ideals. As you have
said, North Africa is not ready for our socio-economic system. Men of
the caliber of Homer Crawford could bring it into the modern age
perhaps more quickly than another."

Menzhinsky chuckled. "Don't worry about it, Anton. Such matters of
policy will be decided by others than you, or even me. Keep in touch
with me more often, in the future, Anton."

"Yes, Comrade." His face faded from the screen.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tamanrasset lies at an altitude of approximately 4,600 feet, about
average for the Ahaggar plateau. Around it, such peaks as the Tahat
reach 9,600 feet above sea level. The country is rugged, jagged, bleak
beyond belief. With the possible exception of Southern Afghanistan in
the Khyber area, there is no place in the world more suited for
guerrilla warfare, less suited for the proper utilization of modern
armor, particularly when the latter is forced to work without air
cover.

Homer Crawford, equipped with an old-style telescope, was
spread-eagled on top a rock outcropping, his only companion Isobel
Cunningham. Directly before him, possibly two miles in distance, was
the desert city of Tamanrasset, to the right, a kilometer or so, Amsel
where palatable water was to be found at eighteen meters depth.

"Our friend, the colonel, is up to something," he grumbled.

She had a pair of binoculars, of considerably less power than his
glass.

"It looks as though Guémama's boys are on the run," she said.

"As per orders. The primary theory of partisan warfare is not to get
killed. The guerrilla never stands and fights. If the regular forces
he opposes can bring him to bay, they've got him." He interrupted
himself to clip out, "Look at that tank, darling! There on the left!"

Isobel tightened, looked at him quickly from the side of her eyes. No.
He'd said it inadvertently, his mind concentrated on the fighting men
below. She had often wondered where she stood with Homer Crawford the
man, as opposed to El Hassan the idealist. The tip of her tongue
licked the side of her mouth, as she surreptitiously took him in. But
Crawford the man would have to wait, there was no time, no time.

Isobel swung her glasses. "The one starting to go in a circle? There,
it stopped."

"One of the snipers got its commander," Homer said. "You can't fight a
tank without the commander's head being up through the hatch. That's a
popular fallacy. You can't see well enough to fight your tank unless
you've got your head up. And that's suicide when you're against
guerrillas. The colonel ought to send his infantry out first."

Isobel said, "What did you mean when you said that he's up to
something?"

Homer's eye was still glued to the eyepiece of his glass. "He's leaving
his entrenchments and sending his vehicles out to capture our ... our
strong points."

"You mean our water, don't you?"

Bey came snaking up to them on his belly. He came abreast of Homer and
brought forth his own binoculars. He watched for a moment and then
muttered a curse under his breath.

"Guémama better start pulling back those men more quickly," he said.

"He will. He's a good man," Homer told him. "What's up?"

"Evidently, Colonel Ibrahim has decided to come out of retirement.
He's sent small motorized elements to Effok, In Fedjeg, Otoul and even
to Tahifet."

"And--?"

"And has taken them all, of course. Our men fall back, fighting a
stubborn rear-guard action, taking as few casualties as possible."

"I don't get it," Homer bit out. "He's using up his fuel and
ammunition and losing more men than we are. Certainly he can't figure,
with the thousand odd troops he has, to be able to take and hold
enough of the oases and water holes in this vicinity to push us out
completely."

Bey said, "What worries me is the possibility that he knows something
we don't. That he's figuring on being relieved or has a new source of
fuel, ammunition and men on tap."

"The roads are cut. Our men hold every source of water from here to
Libya and the Reunited Nations has put thumbs down on aircraft which
eliminates an air lift."

"Yeah," Bey said, unhappily.

       *       *       *       *       *

That evening, following the day's last meal, Cliff came into the
headquarters tent grinning, broadly. "Hey, guess what we've
liberated."

"A bottle of Scotch?" Kenny said hopefully.

"A king-size portable radio transmitter. Ralph Sandell knew about it.
The Sahara Afforestation Project people were going to use it to
propagandize the tribesmen into coming in and taking jobs in the new
oases."

Dave Moroka, who'd been censoring press releases, shook his head.
"That's why we need an El Hassan in this country," he complained.
"They put a couple of million dollars into a radio transmitter, never
asking themselves how many of the bedouin own radios."

Jack Peters said, "Wait a moment, you chaps. Didn't Bey capture a
couple of Arab Legion radio technicians today?"

"They defected to us," Homer Crawford said, looking up from an
improvised desk where he was poring over some supply papers with
Isobel. "What did you have in mind, Jack?"

"There are radios in Tamanrasset. In fact, there's probably a radio in
every one of those military vehicles of Ibrahim's. Why can't we
blanket these Arab Union chaps with El Hassan propaganda? Quite a few
of them are from Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. In short, they're Africans
and susceptible to El Hassan's dream."

"Good man. Take over the details, Jack," Homer said. He went back to
his work with Isobel.

Jimmy Peters entered with some papers in hand. He said, seriously,
"The temperature is rising in the Reunited Nations--and everywhere
else, for that matter. Damascus and Cairo have been getting
increasingly belligerent. Homer, it looks as though the Arab Union is
getting ready to go out on a limb. Weeks have passed since Colonel
Ibrahim first took Tamanrasset and the Reunited Nations, the United
States, the Soviet Complex and all others interested in North Africa,
have failed to do anything. Everybody, evidently, afraid of
precipitating something that couldn't be ended."

All eyes went to Homer Crawford who ran a black hand back over his
hair in weariness. "I know," he said. "Something is about to blow.
Dave has sent some of his best men into Tamanrasset to pick up gossip
in the souks. Morale was dragging bottom among the legionnaires just a
couple of days ago. Now they seem to have a new lease."

"In spite of the sabotage our people have been committing?" Isobel
said.

"That's falling off somewhat," Cliff said. "At first our more
enthusiastic followers were able to pull everything from heaving
Molotov Cocktails into tanks, to pouring sugar in hover-jeep gas
tanks, but the legionnaires have both smartened up and gotten very
tough."

"Good," Dave Moroka said now.

They looked at him.

"Atrocities," he said. "In order to guard against sabotage, the
legionnaires will be taking measures that will antagonize the people
in Tamanrasset. They'll shoot a couple of teenage kids, or something,
then they'll have a city-wide mess on their hands."

Isobel said unhappily, "It seems a nasty way to win a war."

Dave grunted his contempt of her opinion. "There is no way of winning
a war other than a nasty one."

Bey came in, yawning hugely. His energy was inconceivable to the
others. So far as was known, he hadn't slept, other than sitting erect
in a moving vehicle, for the past four days. He said to Homer, "Fred
Ostrander has been bending my ear for the past hour or so. Do you want
to talk to him?"

"About what?" Homer said.

"I don't know. He has a lot of questions. I think he's beginning to
suspect--just _suspect_, understand--that possibly the whole bunch of
us aren't receiving our daily instructions from either Moscow or
Peking."

Dave and Cliff both laughed.

Homer sighed and said, "Show him in. He's the only thing we have in
the way of a contact with the United States of the Americas and sooner
or later we're going to have to make our peace with both them and the
Soviet Complex. In fact, what we're probably going to have to do is
play one against the other, getting grants, loans, economic
assistance--"

"Technicians, teachers, arms," Bey continued the list.

Kenny Ballalou looked at him and snorted. "Arms! If there's anything
this part of the world doesn't need it's more arms. In fact, that goes
for the rest of the world, too. In the old days when the great nations
were first beginning to attempt to line up the neutrals they sent aid
to such countries by the billions--and most of it in arms. How
ridiculous can you get? Putting arms in the hands of most of the
governments of that time was like handing a loaded pistol to an
idiot."

Bey hung his head in mock humility. "I bow before your wisdom," he
said. He left the room to get Ostrander.

       *       *       *       *       *

The C.I.A. man had lost a fraction of his belligerence, but none of
his arrogance and natty appearance. Homer wondered vaguely how the
other managed to remain so spruce in the inadequate desert camp.

Jack Peters said, "What did you wish to ask El Hassan? I will
translate."

"Never mind that, Jack," Homer said. "We'll get tougher about using
our official language when we've gone a little further in building
our new government." He said to Ostrander, "What can I do for you?
Obviously, my time, is limited."

Fredric Ostrander said, "I've been gathering material for reports to
my superiors. I've been doing a good deal of questioning, and,
frankly, even prying around."

Cliff grunted.

Ostrander went on. "I've also read the various press releases,
manifestoes and so forth that your assistants have been compiling."

"We know," Homer said. "We haven't put any obstacles in your way. We
haven't any particular secrets, Mr. Ostrander."

"You disguise the fact that you are an American," the C.I.A. man said
accusingly.

Homer said slowly, "Only because El Hassan _is not_ an American, Mr.
Ostrander. He is an African with African solutions to African
problems. That is what he must be if he is to accomplish his task."

Ostrander seemed to switch subjects. "See here, Crawford, the State
Department is not completely opposed to the goal of uniting North
Africa. It would solve many problems, both African and international."

Kenny Ballalou laughed softly. "You mean, you're on our side?"

Ostrander turned to him, for once not incensed at being needled.
"Possibly more than you'd think," he rapped. He turned back again to
Homer Crawford. "The question becomes, why do you think that _you_ are
the man for the job? Who gave _you_ the go-ahead?"

Bey, who had settled down into a folding camp chair, now came to his
feet, his tired face angry.

But Homer waved him to silence. "Hold it," he said. Then to Ostrander.
"It doesn't work that way. It's not something you decide to do because
you're thirsty for power, or greedy for money. You're pushed into it.
Do you think Washington, a retired Virginian planter wrapped up in his
estate and his family, wanted to spend years leading the revolutionary
armies through the wilderness that was America in those days? He was
thrust into the job, there was no one else more competent to take it.
Men make the times, Ostrander, but the times also make the men. Look
at Lenin and Trotsky. Three months before the October Revolution,
Lenin wrote that he never expected to see in his lifetime the
Bolsheviks come to power. Within those months he was at the head of
government and Trotsky, a former bookworm who had never fired a gun in
his life, was head of the Red Army and being proclaimed a military
genius."

Ostrander was scowling at him, but his face was thoughtful.

Homer said quietly, "It's not always an easy thing, to have power thrust
into your hands. Not always a desirable thing." His voice went quieter
still. "Only a short time ago it led me to the necessity of ...
killing ... my best friend."

"And mine," Isobel said softly, almost under her breath.

Dave Moroka said, "Abe Baker," before he caught himself.

Kenny Ballalou looked at him strangely. "Did you know Abe?"

The South African recovered. "I've heard several of you mention him
from time to time. He was a commie, wasn't he?"

"Yes," Homer said without inflection. "And a man. He saved my life on
more than one occasion. As long as we worked together with only Africa
in mind, there was no conflict. But Abe had a further, and, to him,
greater alliance."

He turned his attention back to the C.I.A. man. "A man does what he
must do," he finished simply. "I did not ask to become El Hassan."

Ostrander said, "Your motivation is possibly beside the point. The
thing is that the battle for men's minds continues and your program,
eventually, must align with the West."

"And get clobbered in the stampeding around between the two great
powers," Kenny said dryly.

"You've got to take your stand," Ostrander said. "I'd rather die under
the neutron bomb, than spend the rest of my life on my knees under a
Soviet Complex government. Wouldn't you?" His eyes went from one of
them to the other, defiantly.

Homer said slowly. "No, even though that was the only alternative,
which is unlikely. Not if it meant finishing off the whole human race
at the same time." He shook his head. "If it were only me, it might be
different. But if it was a matter of nuclear war the whole race might
well end. Given such circumstances, I'd be proud to remain on my
knees the rest of my life. You see, Ostrander, you make the mistake of
thinking the Soviet socio-economic system is a permanent thing. It
isn't. It's changing daily, even as our own socio-economic system is.
Even if the Soviet Complex were to dominate the whole world, it would
be but a temporary phase in man's history. Their regime, in its time,
right or wrong, will go under in man's march to whatever his destiny
might be. Some day it will be only a memory, and so will the
socio-economic systems of the West. No institutions are less permanent
than politico-economic ones."

"I don't agree with you," Ostrander snapped.

"Obviously," Homer shrugged. "However, this is another problem. El
Hassan deals with North Africa. The other problems you bring up we
admit, but at this stage are not dealing with them. Our dream is in
Africa. Perhaps the Africans will be forced to taking other stands, to
dreaming new dreams, twenty or thirty years from now. When that time
comes, I assume the new problems will be faced. By that time there
will probably be no need for El Hassan."

Ostrander looked at him and bit his lip in thought.

It came to him now that he had never won in his contests with Homer
Crawford, and that he would probably never win. No matter how strong
his convictions, in the presence of the other man, something went out
of him. There was strength in Crawford that must be experienced to be
understood. When he talked, he held you, and your own opinions became
nothing--stupidities on your lips. He had a dream, and in conversation
with him, all other things dropped away and nothing was of importance
but that dream. A dream? Possibly _disease_ was the better word. And
so highly contagious.

[Illustration]

While they talked, an aide had entered and handed a report to
Bey-ag-Akhamouk. He read it and closed his eyes in weariness.

"What's up, Bey," Homer asked.

"I don't know. Colonel Ibrahim has stepped up his attacks in all
directions. At least two thirds of his force is on the offensive. It
doesn't make much sense. But it must make sense to _him_, or he
wouldn't be doing it."

Ostrander said, and to everyone's surprise there seemed to be an
element of worry in his voice too, "I know Colonel Midan Ibrahim, met
him in Cairo and in Baghdad on various occasions. He's considered one
of the best men in the Arab Legion. He doesn't make military
blunders."

Bey said, "Come on, Kenny. Let's round up Guémama and take a look at
the front." He led the way from the tent.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a guard posted before the tent which doubled as press and
communications center, and the private quarters of David Moroka.

The figure that approached timidly was garbed in the traditional
clothing of the young women of the Tégéhé Mellet tribe of the Tuareg
and bore an _imzad_ in her left hand, while her right held a corner of
her gandoura over her face.

The guard, of the Kel Rela tribe, eyed the one-stringed violin with
its string of hair and sounding box made of half a gourd covered with
a thin membrane of skin, and grinned. A Tuareg maid was accustomed to
sing and to make the high whining tones of desert music on the _imzad_
before submitting to her lover's embrace. _Wallahi!_ but these women
of the Tégéhé Mellet were shameless.

"Where do you go?" he said gruffly. "El Hassan's vizier has ordered
that he is occupied and none should approach."

"He awaits me," she wavered. There was _kohl_ about her eyes, and
indigo at the corners of her mouth. "We met at the _tendi_ last night
and he bid me come to his tent. It is for me he waits."

_Wallahi!_ but his leader had taste, the sentry decided.

"Pass," he said gruffly. Even a vizier of such importance as this one
must need solace at times, he decided philosophically.

She slipped past silently to the tent entrance where the Tuareg guard
noticed she paused for a long moment before entering. He grinned into
his teguelmoust. Aiii, the little bird was timid before the hawk.

She stood for a moment listening, and then slipped inside, dropping
the desert musical instrument to the ground. Dave Moroka's back was to
her and even as she entered he flicked off the switch of the
video-radio into which he had been speaking and scowled at it.

When he stood and began to turn, she covered him with the small pocket
pistol. She had an ease in handling it which denoted competence.

His eyebrows went up, but he remained silent, waiting for her gambit.

Isobel said evenly, "You're a Party member, aren't you, Dave?"

"Why do you say that?"

She nodded infinitesimally to the set. "You were reporting just now. I
heard enough just as I came in."

He took in her disguise. "My guard isn't as efficient as I had
thought," Dave said wryly.

Isobel said, "You knew Abe Baker, didn't you?"

He looked at her, expressionlessly.

She said, "I already knew you belonged to the Party, Dave. No matter
how competent an agent, it's something difficult to hide from any
other long-time member. There's a terminology you use--such as calling
it the Soviet Union, rather than Russia. No commie ever says Russia,
it's always _the Soviet Union_. You can tell, just as a Roman Catholic
can tell a person raised in the Church, even though the other has
dropped away, or even as one Jew can tell another. Yes, I've known
you were a Party member for some time, Dave."

"And?" the South African said.

"Why are you here?"

Dave Moroka said, "For the same reason you are, to further the El
Hassan dream, the uniting and modernization of the continent of my
racial heritage."

"But you are still a Party member and still report to your superiors."

Dave Moroka looked at the tiny gun she held in her hand.

"Don't try it," she said. "I have seen you in action, Dave. I have
never seen a man move so ruthlessly fast ... but don't try it."

"No reason to," he bit out. "Come on, let's go see Homer."

She was slightly taken aback, but not enough to release her control
for even a split second. "Lead the way," she said.

       *       *       *       *       *

Even at this time of evening, the headquarters tent was brightly lit
and most of the immediate El Hassan staff still at work. Homer
Crawford looked up as they entered.

Cliff Jackson saw the gun first and said, "Holy Mackerel, Isobel."

Fredric Ostrander was sitting to one side in discussion with the sober
faced Jack Peters. He took in the gun and slowly came to his feet,
obviously expecting climax.

Isobel said, "Dave's taking over control of communications had method.
I just found him reporting to what must have been a superior ... in
the Party."

Homer Crawford looked from the South African to Isobel, then back to
Dave again, without speaking. His eyes were questioning.

Dave said, his voice sharp. "I haven't time for details now. Isobel's
right. I was a Party member."

"Was?" Ostrander chuckled. "That's the understatement of the year. I
hadn't got around to revealing the fact as yet, but our friend Dave is
the notorious Anton, one of the Soviet Complex's most competent
hatchetmen."

Dave looked at him only briefly. "Was," he reiterated. He turned his
attention to Homer and to Bey, who was staring tired dismay at this
new addition to the load.

Homer still held his peace, waiting for the other to go on.

"I found out tonight why Colonel Ibrahim is attacking, instead of
pulling in his horns as reason would dictate." Dave paused for
emphasis. "The Soviet Complex has thrown its weight, in this matter at
least, on the side of the Arab Union. They have insisted that Sven
Zetterberg be dismissed as head of the Sahara Division of the African
Development Project and that his threat to use Reunited Nations
aircraft if the local fighting spreads to the air, be repudiated."

Kenny blurted, "Good grief ... that means--"

Dave looked around at them, one by one. "It means," he said, "that the
Arab Legion is going to be reinforced tomorrow morning by a full
regiment of paratroopers."

"Holy Mackerel," Cliff groaned. "We've had it. Another regiment of
crack troops in Tamanrasset and we'll _never_ take the town."

Dave shook his head. "That's not the big thing. The paratroopers
aren't going to drop in Tamanrasset. They're going to hit every oasis,
every water hole, in a circumference of two hundred miles."

There was an empty silence.

Homer Crawford said finally, evenly, "In the expectation that every
follower of El Hassan in the Sahara will either surrender or die of
thirst, eh?" He didn't seem sufficiently impressed by the threatening
disaster. He looked at Dave questioningly. "Why do you bother to tell
us, Dave, if you're on the other side?"

Dave grunted sour amusement. "Because I've just become a full member
of the team. I resigned from the Party tonight."

"Brother," Bey said, "you sure pick a helluva time to join up." He
obviously was expressing the opinions of the majority.

Homer Crawford came to his feet and looked around at them. "All
right," he said. "A new complication. Let's face up to it. There's
always an answer. We're in the clutch, let's fight our way out."

Largely, they stared at him, but he ignored their dismay. He looked
from one to the other. "We need some ideas. Let's kick it around.
Isobel, Cliff, Jack, Kenny--?" His eyes went from one to the other.
Obviously his own mind was churning.

They shook their heads dumbly.

Kenny said, "Ideas! We've had it, Homer!"

Homer Crawford spun on him and now the force they all knew was
emanating from him. He laughed his scorn. "A month ago we were half a
dozen fugitives. Now we're an army besieging a city. And you say we've
had it? Listen, Kenny, if we have to we'll go back to being half a
dozen fugitives again--those of us that are left. But the dream goes
on! However, we're not going to have to. We're too near victory in
this stage of the operation to sit down on the job because of a
threatened reverse. Now then, let's kick it around. Jimmy! Dave!
Kenny! Ostrander!"

Fredric Ostrander raised his eyebrows only slightly at being included
in their number.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bey, for once, was seemingly too exhausted to be brought to new
enthusiasm. He tossed a detail map of Tamanrasset to the table. "And
I'd just worked out a bang-up scheme for infiltrating into town,
joining up with our adherents there, and seizing it while most of
Ibrahim's men were out in the desert, trying to capture our nearer
water holes."

Homer snapped, "It sounds like it still might have possibilities."

Ostrander looked down at the map, his face very tight. "How long would
it take?"

Bey scowled at him, defeat dulling his mind. "What?"

"How long do you figure it would take to infiltrate Tamanrasset and
capture it? Behind Ibrahim's back, so to speak."

Bey grunted. "A couple of hours in the early morning. I had a
beautiful picture of the colonel's armor out in the desert, cut off
from its petroleum supplies and ammunition dump while we held the
town. Some of our men, the former veterans of the French West African
forces, could have even operated the antitank guns he has mounted at
Fort Laperrine."

The C.I.A. man's mouth worked.

Homer Crawford's eyes pierced him.

Ostrander walked over to the radio before which Kenny Ballalou sat.
"See if you can raise Colonel Ibrahim for me."

Kenny scowled at him. "Why?"

"Do it."

Kenny looked at Homer Crawford.

Homer said, "O.K. Do it."

Kenny shrugged and turned to the set. While the others watched,
Crawford's face alert, his eyes narrowed, the rest of them dull in
apathy, the face of Colonel Ibrahim finally faded in on the screen.

Fredric Ostrander took his place at the instrument. He nodded,
formally. "Greetings, Colonel, it seems a long time since last we met
in Amman."

The Arab Legion officer smiled politely. "I had heard that you
represented the State Department in this area, Mr. Ostrander, and have
been somewhat surprised that you failed to make Tamanrasset your
headquarters. It would have been pleasant to have renewed old
friendship."

Ostrander cleared his throat. "I am afraid that would have been
difficult, Colonel, particularly in view of the stand of my government
at this time."

On the screen, the other's eyebrows went up.

Ostrander said evenly, "Colonel, we have just been informed that a
regiment of paratroopers has been put at your disposal and that they
plan to land at various points in the Sahara in the morning."

The colonel said stiffly, "This is military information which I am not
free to discuss, Mr. Ostrander."

Frederic Ostrander went on, his voice still even. "We have further
been informed that the Reunited Nations has withdrawn its ban on
aircraft, which would seem to free your paratroop carrying planes."

The colonel remained silent, waiting for the bombshell. It was obvious
that he expected a bombshell.

Ostrander said, "As representative of the State Department I warn you
that if these paratroop carrying planes take off tomorrow morning, the
Seventh Airfleet of the United States of the Americas will enter the
conflict on the side of El Hassan. Good evening, Colonel."

The C.I.A. man reached out and flicked the switch that killed the set.
Then he took the snowy white handkerchief from the breast pocket of
his jacket and wiped his mouth.

Isobel said, "Heavens to Betsy."

Kenny said indignantly, "Good grief, you fool, it won't take more than
hours for your superiors to repudiate you. Then what happens?"

"By then, I assume, the battle will be over and Tamanrasset in El
Hassan's hands. The Arab Union will then think twice before committing
their paratroopers, particularly with captured armor in El Hassan's
hands."

"And your name will be mud," Kenny blurted.

Ostrander looked at Homer Crawford. "Gentlemen, you must remember that
I, too, am an African. I had thought that perhaps there would be a
position for me on El Hassan's staff."

Crawford reached for the Tommy-Noiseless that leaned up against the
improvised desk at which he worked. He said, "Let's get moving, Bey.
We haven't much time. We're going to have to be able to announce its
capture _from_ Tamanrasset in a couple of hours."

"Not you," Bey said, grabbing up his own weapon and motioning with his
head for Kenny and Cliff to come along. "You're El Hassan and can't be
risked."

"I'm coming," Homer said flatly. "It's about time El Hassan began
taking some of the same risks his followers seem to be willing to
face. Besides, the men will fight better with me out in front. Got a
gun, Fred?"

Ostrander said, "No. Where am I issued one?"

"I'll show you," Homer said, stuffing extra clips in his bush jacket
pockets. "Come on, Dave."

The whole group began heading for the open air, Bey already yelling
orders.

Fredric Ostrander looked at Dave Moroka. "Strange bedfellows," he
said.

Moroka grinned wryly. "My long view hasn't changed," he said. "It's
just that this African matter takes precedence right now."

"Nor mine, of course," Ostrander said. He cleared his throat.
"However, I hope you last out the night. El Hassan needs strong men."

"Same to you," Moroka said gruffly. "Let's get going, or the fight
will be over while we hand each other flowers."


_Epilogue_

El Hassan stood in the smoking, war-wasted ruin of Fort Laperine, his
mind empty. The body of Jack Peters was ten feet to his left, burned
beyond recognition and crumpled over a flame thrower which he'd
eliminated in the last few moments of the fighting. Had he let his
eyes go out the gun port before which he stood, it might have been
possible for El Hassan to have picked out the bodies of David Moroka
and Fredric Ostrander amidst those of the several hundred Haratin
serfs who had swarmed out of the souk area at the crucial moment and
stormed the half manned fort--unarmed save for knives and farm
implements.

To his right, Dr. Warren Harding Smythe supervised two Tuareg who were
carrying off the broken body of Kenny Ballalou; there was still faint
life in it.

The doctor looked at him. "You are satisfied, I assume?"

El Hassan failed to hear him.

Smythe turned and stomped off, following his impressed nurses.

In the distance, Bey-ag-Akhamouk called hoarse orders from an
over-strained throat, placing guns for a counterattack that would
never come. The Arab Legion was broken and Colonel Ibrahim a prisoner.
Large numbers of the survivors were defecting to the banner of El
Hassan.

He threw his empty Tommy-Noiseless to the side. All he wanted now was
sleep, the surcease of a few hours of oblivion.

Isobel, her face wan from the horror of the agony of the combat whose
result was everywhere visible, was picking her way through the
wreckage with Cliff Jackson.

El Hassan looked at her absently. Whatever message she bore held
little interest to him.

Cliff said, "India has recognized El Hassan as legal head of state of
all North Africa. It is expected that Australia will follow before the
week is out."

El Hassan nodded. For the time, not caring.

Isobel said, "We have other word. It came by messenger." She closed
her eyes in pain and handed him a small box.

He opened it and recognized the ring on the enclosed finger. He looked
up at them.

Cliff Jackson growled low in his throat. "Elmer Allen. He's been
captured by a leader of the Ouled Touameur clan of the Ouled Allouch
tribe. You know this Abd-el-Kader?"

El Hassan was staring down at the finger, his mind slowly clearing of
its fatigue. "He belongs to the Berazga division of the Chaambra
confederation. I had a run-in with him a few months ago and had him
jailed. He's nothing but a desert bandit on the make."

Cliff said, "He's escaped, has thrown his weight behind the Arab
Union, proclaimed himself the Mahdi and is uniting Algeria and parts
of Morocco and Tunisia like a wildfire. The marabouts and Shorfa are
backing him."

"Proclaimed himself the Mahdi?" Isobel said in question.

El Hassan turned to the girl and took a deep breath. "The original
Mahdi was the holiest prophet since Mohammed and according to the more
superstitious Moslems, he's still alive. According to Islamic
tradition, he periodically shows up again in the desert and makes
various predictions. When he does, it almost always winds up with a
jihad, a holy war. Don't you remember in history the anti-British
Mahdi at Khartoum, the killing of Chinese Gordon and so forth? That
Mahdi was the son of a Dongola carpenter and he managed to conquer two
million square miles in two years."

"But, what has this got to do with this Abd-el-Kader?"

"He's evidently proclaimed himself sort of a reincarnation of the
original Mahdi. He's out to do the same thing we are--to unite North
Africa. But in his case he doesn't exactly have the same dream and
he's working under the green ensign of the Pan-Islamic Arab Union."

"And has Elmer Allen captive."

"Yes, he has Elmer." El Hassan's tone of voice turned sharp. "Cliff,
go get Bey. Tell him we're forming a flying column and heading north."

Cliff was gone. El Hassan turned back to the girl. "You know, Isobel,"
he said softly, slowly, "in history there is no happy ending, ever.
There is no ending at all. It goes from one crisis to another, but
there is no ending."

       *       *       *       *       *





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