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Title: Farmer
Author: Reynolds, Mack
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 "Farmer" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                                FARMER

                           By MACK REYNOLDS

                         Illustrated by RITTER

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                      Galaxy Magazine June 1961.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



                 Someone out there didn't like trees.
              He wanted to wreck the Sahara Project--and
               he was willing to murder in the process!


I

One of the auto-copters swooped in and landed. Johnny McCord emptied
his pipe into the wastebasket, came to his feet and strolled toward the
open door. He automatically took up a sun helmet before emerging into
the Saharan sun.

He was dressed in khaki shorts and short-sleeved shirt, wool socks and
yellow Moroccan babouche slippers.

The slippers were strictly out of uniform and would have been frowned
upon by Johnny's immediate superiors. However, the Arabs had been
making footwear suitable for sandy terrain for centuries before there
had ever been a Sahara Reforestation Commission. Johnny was in favor
of taking advantage of their know-how. Especially since the top brass
made a point of staying in the swank air-conditioned buildings of
Colomb-Bechar, Tamanrasset and Timbuktu, from whence they issued
lengthy bulletins on the necessity of never allowing a Malian to see
a Commission employee in less than the correct dress and in less than
commanding dignity. While they were busily at work composing such
directives, field men such as Johnny McCord went about the Commission's
real tasks.

It was auto-copter 4, which Johnny hadn't expected for another half
hour. He extracted the reports and then peered into the cockpit to
check. There were two red lights flickering on the panel. Work for
Reuben. This damned sand was a perpetual hazard to equipment. Number 4
had just had an overhaul a few weeks before and here it was throwing
red lights already.

He took the reports back into the office and dumped them into the
card-punch. While they were being set up, Johnny went over to the
office refrigerator and got out a can of Tuborg beer. Theoretically, it
was as taboo to drink iced beer in this climate, and particularly at
this time of day, as it was to go out into the sun without a hat. But
this was one place where the Commission's medics could go blow.

By the time he'd finished the Danish brew, the card-punch had stopped
clattering so he took the cards from the hopper and crossed to the
sorter. He gave them a quick joggling--cards held up well in this dry
climate, though they were a terror further south--and sorted them
through four code numbers, enough for this small an amount. He carried
them over to the collator and merged them into the proper file.

He was still running off a report on the Alphabetyper when Derek Mason
came in.

Johnny drawled in a horrible caricature of a New England accent, "I
say, Si, did the cyclone hurt your barn any?"

Derek's voice took on the same twang. "Don't know, Hiram, we ain't
found it yet."

Johnny said, "You get all your chores done, Si?"

Derek dropped the pseudo-twang and his voice expressed disgust. "I got
a chore for you Johnny, that you're going to love. Rounding up some
livestock."

Johnny looked up from the report he was running off and shot an
impatient glance at him. "Livestock? What the hell are you talking
about?"

"Goats."

Johnny McCord flicked the stop button on the Alphabetyper. "Where've
you been? There isn't a goat within five hundred miles of here."

Derek went over to the refrigerator for beer. He said over his
shoulder, "I was just making a routine patrol over toward Amérene
El Kasbach. I'd estimate there were a hundred Tuareg in camp there.
Camels, a few sheep, a few horses and donkeys. Mostly goats. Thousands
of them. By the looks of the transplants, they've been there possibly
a week or so."

       *       *       *       *       *

Johnny said in agony, "Oh, Lord. What clan were they?"

Derek punched a hole in his beer can with the opener that hung from the
refrigerator by a string. "I didn't go low enough to check. You can
never tell with a Tuareg. They can't resist as beautiful a target as a
helicopter, and one of these days one of them is going to make a hole
in me, instead of in the fuselage or rotors."

Johnny McCord, furious, plunked himself down before the telephone and
dialed Tessalit, 275 kilometers to the south. The girl on the desk
there grinned at him and said, "Hello, Johnny."

Johnny McCord was in no mood for pleasantries. He snapped, "Who's
supposed to be on Bedouin patrol down there?"

She blinked at him. "Why, Mohammed is in command of patrolling this
area, Mr. McCord."

"Mohammed? Mohammed who? Eighty percent of these Malians are named
Mohammed."

"Captain Mohammed Mohmoud ould Cheikh." She added, unnecessarily, "The
Cadi's son."

Johnny grunted. He'd always suspected that the captain had got his
ideas of what a cadi's son should be like from seeing Hollywood movies.
"Look, Kate," he said. "Let me talk to Mellor, will you?"

Her face faded to be replaced by that of a highly tanned,
middle-aged executive type. He scowled at Johnny McCord with a
this-better-be-important expression, not helping Johnny's disposition.

He snapped, "Somebody's let several thousand goats into my eucalyptus
transplants in my western four hundred."

Mellor was taken aback.

Johnny said, "I can have Derek back-trail them, if you want to be sure,
but it's almost positive they came from the south, this time of year."

Mellor sputtered, "They might have come from the direction of
Timmissao. Who are they, anyway?"

"I don't know. Tuareg. I thought we'd supposedly settled with all the
Tuareg. Good Lord, man, do you know how many transplants a thousand
goats can go through in a week's time?"

"A week's time!" Mellor rasped. "You mean you've taken a whole week to
detect them?"

Johnny McCord glared at him. "A _whole_ week! We're lucky they didn't
spend the whole _season_ before we found them. How big a staff do you
think we have here, Mellor? There's just three of us. Only one can be
spared for patrol."

"You have natives," the older man growled.

"They can't fly helicopters. Most of them can't even drive a Land Rover
or a jeep. Besides that, they're scared to death of Tuaregs. They
wouldn't dare report them. What I want to know is, why didn't you stop
them coming through?"

Mellor was on the defensive. He ranked Johnny McCord, but that was
beside the point right now. He said finally, "I'll check this all the
way through, McCord. Meanwhile, I'll send young Mohammed Mohmoud up
with a group of his men."

"To do what?" Johnny demanded.

"To shoot the goats, what else?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Johnny growled, "One of these days a bunch of these Tuareg are going to
decide that a lynching bee is in order, and that's going to be the end
of this little base at Bidon Cinq."

Mellor said, "If they're Tuareg nomads then they have no legal right
to be within several hundred miles of Bidon Cinq. And if they've got
goats, they shouldn't have. The Commission has bought up every goat in
this part of the world."

Johnny growled, "Sure, bought them up and then left it to the honor of
the Tuareg to destroy them. The honor of the Tuareg! Ha!"

The other said pompously, "Are you criticizing the upper echelons,
McCord?"

Johnny McCord snapped, "You're damned right I am." He slammed off the
telephone and turned on Derek Mason. "What are you grinning about?"

Derek drawled, "I say, Hiram, I got a sneaky suspicion you ain't never
gonna graduate off'n this here farm if you don't learn how to cotton up
to the city slickers better."

"Oh, shut up," Johnny growled. "Let's have another beer."

Before Derek could bring it to him, the telephone screen lit up again
and Paul Peterson, of the Poste Weygand base, was there. He said, "Hi.
You guys look like you're having a crisis."

"Hello, Paul," Johnny McCord said. "Crisis is right. Those jerks down
south let a clan of Tuareg, complete with a few thousand goats, camels
and sheep through. They've been grazing a week or more in my west four
hundred."

"Good grief." Paul grimaced. "At least that's one thing we don't have
to worry about. They never get this far up. How'd it happen?"

"I don't know, but I'm going to find out. I haven't seen the mess yet,
but it's certain to wreck that whole four hundred. Have you ever seen
just one goat at work on the bark of three-year transplants?"

Paul shuddered sympathetically. "Look, Johnny," he said. "The reason I
called you. There's an air-cushion Land Rover coming through. She just
left."

Derek Mason looked over Johnny's shoulder into the screen. "What d'ya
mean, _she_?"

Paul grinned. "Just that, and, Buster, she's stacked. A Mademoiselle
Hélène Desage of _Paris Match_."

Johnny said, "The French magazine? What's she doing in a road car? Why
doesn't she have an aircraft? There hasn't been a road car through here
this whole year."

Paul shrugged. "She claims she's getting it from the viewpoint of how
things must've been twenty years ago. So, anyway, we've notified you.
If she doesn't turn up in eight or ten hours, you better send somebody
to look for her."

"Yeah," Johnny McCord said. "Well, so long, Paul."

The other's face faded from the screen and Johnny McCord turned to his
colleague. "One more extraneous something to foul up our schedule."

Derek said mildly, "I say, Hiram, what're you complaining about? Didn't
you hear tell what Paul just said? She's stacked. Be just like a
traveling saleswoman visitin' the farm."

"Yeah," Johnny growled. "And I can see just how much work I'll be
getting out of you as long as she's here."


II

Poste Maurice Cortier, better known in the Sahara as Bidon Cinq, is as
remote a spot on earth in which man has ever lived. Some 750 kilometers
to the south is Bourem on the Niger river. If you go west of Bourem
another 363 kilometers, you reach Timbuktu, the nearest thing to a
city in that part of the Sudan. If you travel north from Bidon Cinq
1,229 kilometers you reach Colomb-Béchar, the nearest thing to a city
in southern Algeria. There are no railroads, no highways. The track
through the desert is marked by oil drums filled with gravel so the
wind won't blow them away. There is an oil drum every quarter of a mile
or so. You go from one to the next, carrying your own fuel and water.
If you get lost, the authorities come looking for you in aircraft.
Sometimes they find you.

In the latter decades of the Twentieth Century, Bidon Cinq became
an outpost of the Sahara Reforestation Commission which was working
north from the Niger, and south from Algeria as well as east from
the Atlantic. The water table in the vicinity of Bidon Cinq was
considerably higher than had once been thought. Even artesian wells
were possible in some localities. More practical still were springs and
wells exploited by the new solar-powered pumps that in their tens of
thousands were driving back the sands of the world's largest desert.

Johnny McCord and Derek Mason ate in the officer's mess, divorced from
the forty or fifty Arabs and Songhai who composed their work force. It
wasn't snobbery, simply a matter of being able to eat in leisure and
discuss the day's activities free of the chatter of the larger mess
hall.

Derek looked down into his plate. "Hiram," he drawled, "who ever
invented this here _cous cous_?"

Johnny looked over at the tall, easy-going Canadian who was his second
in command and scowled dourly. He was in no humor for their usual
banter. "What's the matter with _cous cous_?" Johnny growled.

"I don't know," Derek said. "I'm a meat and potatoes man at heart."

Johnny shrugged. "_Cous cous_ serves the same purpose as potatoes do.
Or rice, or spaghetti, or bread, or any of the other bland basic
foods. It's what you put on it that counts."

Derek stared gloomily into his dish. "Well, I wish they'd get something
more interesting than ten-year-old mutton to put on this."

Johnny said, "Where in the devil is Pierre? It's nearly dark."

"Reuben?" Derek drawled. "Why Reuben went out to check the crops up in
the northeast forty. Took the horse and buggy."

That didn't help Johnny's irritation. "He took an air-cushion jeep,
instead of a copter? Why, for heaven's sake?"

"He wanted to check quite a few of the pumps. Said landing and taking
off was more trouble than the extra speed helped. He'll be back
shortly."

"He's back now," a voice from the door said.

Pierre Marimbert, brushing sand from his clothes, pushed into the room
and made his way to the mess-hall refrigerator. He said nothing further
until he had a can of beer open.

Johnny said, "Damn it, Pierre, you shouldn't stay out this late in a
jeep. If you got stuck out there, we'd have one hell of a time finding
you. In a copter you've at least got the radio."

Pierre had washed the dust from his throat. Now he said quietly, "I
wanted to check on as many pumps as I could."

"You could have gone back tomorrow. The things are supposed to be
self-sufficient, no checking necessary more than once every three
months. There's practically nothing that can go wrong with them."

Pierre finished off the can of beer, reached into the refrigerator for
another. "Dynamite can go wrong with them," he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

The other two looked at him, shocked silent.

Pierre said, "I don't know how many altogether. I found twenty-two of
the pumps in the vicinity of In Ziza had been blown to smithereens--out
of forty I checked."

Johnny rapped, "How long ago? How many trees...?"

Pierre laughed sourly. "I don't know how long ago. The transplants,
especially the slash pine, are going to be just so much kindling before
I get new pumps in."

Derek said, shocked, "That's our oldest stand."

Pierre Marimbert, a forty-year-old, sun-beaten Algerian _colon_, eldest
man on the team, sank into his place at the table. He poured the
balance of his can of beer into a glass.

Johnny said, "What ... what can we do? How many spare pumps can you get
into there, and how soon?"

Pierre looked up at him wearily. "You didn't quite hear what I said,
Johnny. I only checked forty. Forty out of nearly a thousand in that
vicinity. Twenty-two of them were destroyed, better than fifty percent.
For all I know, that percentage applies throughout the whole In Ziza
area. If so, there's damn few of your trees going to be left alive.
We have a few spare pumps on hand here, but we'd have to get a really
large number all the way from Dakar."

Derek said softly, "That took a lot of men and a lot of dynamite. Which
means a lot of transport--and a lot of money. We've had trouble before,
but usually it was disgruntled nomads, getting revenge for losing their
grazing land."

Johnny snorted, "Damn little grazing this far north."

Derek nodded. "I'm simply saying that even if we could blame our minor
sabotage on the Tuareg in the past, we can't do it this time. There's
money behind anything this big."

Johnny McCord said wearily, "Let's eat. In the morning we'll go out and
take a look. I'd better call Timbuktu on this. If nothing else, the
Mali Federation can send troops out to protect us."

Derek grunted. "With a standing army of about 25,000 men, they're going
to patrol a million and a half square miles of desert?"

"Can you think of anything else to do?"

"No."

       *       *       *       *       *

Pierre Marimbert began dishing _cous cous_ into a soup plate, then
poured himself a glass of _vin ordinaire_. He said, "I can't think of a
better place for saboteurs. Twenty men could do millions of dollars of
destruction and never be found."

Johnny growled, "It's not as bad as all that. They've got to eat and
drink, and so do their animals. There are damned few places where they
can."

From the door a voice said, "I am intruding?"

They hadn't heard her car come up. The three men scrambled to their
feet.

"Good evening," Johnny McCord blurted.

"Hell ... o!" Derek breathed.

Pierre Marimbert was across the room, taking her in hand. "_Bonjour,
Mademoiselle. Que puis-je faire pour vous? Voulez-vous une biere bien
fraiche ou un apéritif? Il fait trés chaud dans le desert._" He led her
toward the table.

"Easy, easy there, Reuben," Derek grumbled. "The young lady speaks
English. Give a man a chance."

Johnny was placing a chair for her. "Paul Peterson, from Poste
Weygand, radioed that you were coming. You're a little late,
Mademoiselle Desage."

She was perhaps thirty, slim, long-legged, Parisian style. Even at
Bidon Cinq, half a world away from the Champs Elysées, she maintained
her chic.

She made a moue at Johnny, while taking the chair he held. "I had hoped
to surprise you, catch you off guard." She took in the sun-dried,
dour-faced American wood technologist appraisingly, then turned her
eyes in turn to Derek and Pierre.

"You three are out here all alone?" she said demurely.

"Desperately," Derek said.

Johnny McCord said, "Mademoiselle Hélène Desage, I am John McCord,
and these are my associates, Monsieur Pierre Marimbert and Mr. Derek
Mason. Gentlemen, Mademoiselle Desage is with _Paris Match_, the French
equivalent of _Life_, so I understand. In short, she is undoubtedly
here for a story. So ixnay on the ump-pays."

"I would love cold beer," Hélène Desage said to Pierre, and to Johnny
McCord, "These days a traveling reporter for _Paris Match_ must be
quite a linguist. My English, Spanish and Italian are excellent. My
German passable. And while I am not fluent in Pig-Latin, I can follow
it. What is this you are saying about the pumps?"

"Oh, Lord," Johnny said. "Perhaps I'll tell you in the morning. But for
now, would you like to clean up before supper? You must be exhausted
after that 260 kilometers from Poste Weygand."

Pierre said hurriedly, "I'll take Mademoiselle Desage over to one of
the guest bungalows."

"Zut!" she said. "The sand! It is even worse than between Reggan and
Poste Weygand. Do you realize that until I began coming across your new
forests I saw no life at all between these two posts?"

The three forestry experts bowed in unison, as though rehearsed.
"Mademoiselle," Derek, from the heart, "calling our transplant forests
is the kindest thing you could have said in these parts."

They all laughed and Pierre led her from the room.

Derek looked at Johnny McCord. "Wow, that was a slip mentioning the
pumps."

Johnny was looking through the door after her. "I suppose so," he
said sourly. "I'll have to radio the brass and find out the line
we're supposed to take with her. That's the biggest magazine in the
French-speaking world and you don't get a job on it without knowing the
journalistic ropes. That girl can probably smell a story as far as a
Tuareg can smell water."

"Well, then undoubtedly she's already sniffing. Because, between that
clan of Tuareg with its flocks and the pump saboteurs, we've got more
stories around here than I ever expected!"


III

In the morning Hélène Desage managed to look the last word in what
desert fashion should be, when she strolled into Johnny McCord's
office. Although she came complete with a sun helmet that must have
been the product of a top Parisian shop, she would have been more at
place on the beaches at Miami, Honolulu or Cannes. Her shorts were
short and fitting, her blouse silken, her walking shoes dainty.

He considered for a moment and then decided against informing her
that Moslems, particularly in this part of the world, were little
used to seeing semi-nude women strolling about. He'd leave the job of
explanation to Pierre, as a fellow Frenchman and the oldest man present
to boot.

"_Bonjour_," she said. "What a lovely day. I have been strolling about
your little oasis. But you have made it a garden!"

"Thanks," Johnny said. "We've got to have something to do after working
hours. Entertainment is on the scarce side. But it's more than a
garden. We've been experimenting to see just what trees will take to
this country--given water and care through the early years. Besides, we
use it as a showplace."

"Showplace?"

"For skeptical politicians who come through," Johnny said, seating her
in a chair near his desk. "We give them the idea that the whole Sahara
could eventually be like this square mile or so at Bidon Cinq. Palm
trees, fruit trees, pines, shade trees. The works."

"And could it?"

Johnny grinned sourly. "Well, not exactly. Not all in one spot, at
least. You've got to remember, the Sahara covers an area of some
three and a half million square miles. In that area you find almost
everything."

"Everything except water, eh?" She was tapping a cigarette on a
polish-reddened thumbnail. As he lit it for her, Johnny McCord realized
that he hadn't seen fingernail polish for a year. He decided it was too
long.

"Even water, in some parts," he said. "There's more water than most
people realize. For instance, the Niger, which runs right through a
considerable part of the Sahara, is the eleventh largest river in the
world. But until our commission went to work on it, it dumped itself
into the Gulf of Guinea, unused."

"The Niger is a long way from here," she said through her smoke.

He nodded. "For that matter, though, we have a certain amount of rain,
particularly in the highland regions of the central massif. In the
past, with no watershed at all, it ran off, buried itself in the sands,
or evaporated."

"Mr. McCord," she said, "you are amazingly optimistic. Formerly, I must
admit I had little knowledge of the Sahara Reforestation Commission.
And I deliberately avoided studying up on the subject after receiving
this assignment, because I wanted first impression to be received on
the spot. However, I've just driven across the Sahara. My impression
is that your Commission is one great--_Comment dit-on?_--boon-doggling
project, a super-W.P.A. into which to plow your American resources and
manpower. It is a fake, a delusion. This part of the world has never
been anything but wasteland, and never will be."

Johnny McCord heard her out without change in expression.

He'd been through this before. In fact, almost every time a junketing
congressman came through. There was danger in the viewpoint, of course.
If the fantastic sums of money which were being spent were cut off,
such pessimistic views would become automatically correct.

He took the paperweight from a stack of the correspondence on his desk
and handed it to her.

She looked at it and scowled--very prettily, but still a scowl. "What
is this? It's a beautiful piece of stone."

"I picked it up myself," Johnny said. "Near Reggan. It's a chunk of
petrified wood, Miss Desage. From a tree that must have originally had
a diameter of some ten feet. Not quite a redwood, of course, but big."

"Yes," she said, turning it over in her hand. "I can see this part,
which must have once been bark. But why do you show it to me?"

"The Sahara was once a semi-tropical, moist area, highly wooded. It can
become so again."

       *       *       *       *       *

She put the piece of fossil back on his desk. "How long ago?" she said
bluntly.

"A very long time ago, admittedly. During the last Ice Age and
immediately afterwards. But, given man's direction, it can be done
again. And it must be."

She raised pencilled eyebrows at him. "Must be?"

Johnny McCord shifted in his chair. "You must be aware of the world's
population explosion, Miss Desage. The human race can't allow three
and a half million square miles of land to be valueless." He grunted
in deprecation. "And at the rate it was going, it would have been four
million before long."

She didn't understand.

Johnny spelled it out for her. "A desert can be man-made. Have you
ever been in the Middle East?" At her nod, he went on. "Visitors there
usually wonder how in the world the ancient Jews could ever have
thought of that area as a land of milk and honey. On the face of it,
it's nothing but badlands. What was once the Fertile Crescent now looks
like Arizona."

Hélène Desage was frowning at him. "And you suggest man did this--not
nature?"

"The goat did it. The goat, and the use of charcoal as fuel. Along
with ignorance of soil erosion and the destruction of the wonderful
watershed based on the Cedars of Lebanon. Same thing applies to large
areas of Libya and Tunisia, and to Morocco and Spain. Those countries
used to be some of the richest agricultural areas of the Roman Empire.
But you can't graze goats, probably the most destructive animal
domesticated, and you can't depend on charcoal for fuel, unless you
want to create desert."

"Those things happened a long time ago."

Johnny snorted. "When we first began operations, the Sahara was going
south at the rate of two miles a year. Goats prefer twigs and bark even
to grass. They strip a country."

"Well," the reporter said, shrugging shapely shoulders, "at any rate,
the task is one of such magnitude as to be fantastic. Yesterday, I
drove for nearly eight hours without seeing even a clump of cactus."

"The route you traveled is comparatively untouched by our efforts, thus
far," Johnny nodded agreeably. "However, we're slowly coming down from
Algeria, up from the Niger, and, using the new chemical methods of
freshening sea water, east from Mauretania."

He came to his feet and pointed out spots on the large wall map. "Our
territory, of course, is only this area which once was called French
West Africa, plus Algeria. The battle is being fought elsewhere by
others. The Egyptians and Sudanese are doing a fairly good job in their
country, with Soviet Complex help. The Tunisians are doing a wonderful
job with the assistance of Common Europe, especially Italy."

She stood beside him and tried to understand. "What is this area, here,
shaded green?"

He said proudly, "That's how far we've got so far, heading north from
the Niger. In the past, the desert actually came down to the side of
the river in many places. The water was completely wasted. Now we've
diverted it and are reforesting anywhere up to three miles a year."

"Three miles a year," she scoffed. "You'll take five centuries."

       *       *       *       *       *

He shook his head and grinned. "It's a progressive thing. Water is
admittedly the big problem. But as our forests grow, they themselves
bring up the moisture content of the climate. Down in this area--" he
made a sweeping gesture over the map which took in large sections north
of the Niger--"we've put in hundreds of millions of slash pine, which
is particularly good for sandy soil and fast growing. In ten years
you've gone from two-year-old seedlings to a respectable forest."

Johnny pointed out Bidon Cinq on the map. "At the same time we found
what amounts to a subterranean sea in this area. Not a real sea, of
course, but a water-bearing formation or aquifer, deep down under
the surface of the earth--layers of rock and gravel in which large
quantities of water are lying. The hydro-geological technicians who
surveyed it estimate that it holds reserves of several billion tons
of water. Utilizing it, we've put in several hundred square miles
of seedlings and transplants of various varieties. Where there are
natural oases, of course, we stress a lot of date palm. In rocky areas
it's _acacia tortila_. In the mountains we sometimes use varieties
of the pinyon--they'll take quite a beating but are a little on the
slow-growing side."

She was looking at him from the sides of her eyes. "You're all taken up
by this, aren't you Mr. McCord?"

Johnny said, surprise in his voice. "Why, it's my work."

Derek came sauntering in and scaled his sun helmet onto his own desk.
"Good morning, Mademoiselle," he said. And to Johnny, "Hiram, that city
slicker from Timbuktu just came up with his posse."

Hélène said, "What is this _Si_, _Hiram_ and _Reuben_ which you call
each other?"

Johnny smiled sourly, "In a way, Miss Desage, this is just one great
tree farm. And all of us are farmers. So we make jokes about it."
He thought for a moment. "Derek, possibly you better take over with
Mohammed. I want to get over to In Ziza with Reuben."

"To see about the pumps?" Hélène said innocently.

Johnny frowned but was saved from an answer by the entrance of Mohammed
Mohmoud. He was dark as a Saharan becomes dark, his original Berber
blood to be seen only in his facial characteristics. He wore the rather
flamboyant Mali Federation desert uniform with an air.

When he saw the girl, his eyebrows rose and he made the Moslem salaam
with a sweeping flourish.

Johnny said, "Mademoiselle Desage, may I present Captain Mohammed
Mohmoud ould Cheikh, of the Mali desert patrol." He added sourly, "The
officer in charge of preventing nomads from filtering up from the south
into our infant forests."

The Moslem scowled at him. "They could have come from the east,
from Timmissao," he said in quite passable English. "Or even from
Mauritania." He turned his eyes to Hélène Desage. "_Enchanté,
Mademoiselle. Trés heureux de faire ta connaissance._"

She gave him the full benefit of her eyes. "_Moi aussi, Monsieur._"

Johnny wasn't through with the Malian officer. "There's a hundred of
them," he snapped, "with several thousand head of goats and other
livestock. It would have been impossible to push that number across
from Mauritania or even from the east, and you know it."

A lighter complexion would have shown a flush. Mohammed Mohmoud's
displeasure was limited in expression to a flashing of desert eyes. He
said, "Wherever their origin, the task would seem to be immediately to
destroy the animals. That is why my men and I are here."

Pierre Marimbert had entered while the conversation was going on. He
said, "Johnny, weren't you going over to In Ziza with me?"

Hélène Desage said, the tip of her right forefinger to her chin as she
portrayed thought, "I can't decide where to go. To this crisis of the
Tuareg, or to the crisis of the pumps--whatever that is."

Johnny said flatly, "Sorry, but you'd just be in the way at either
place."

Mohammed Mohmoud was shrugging. "Why not let her come with me? I can
guarantee her protection. I have brought fifty men with me, more than a
match for a few bedouin."

"Gracious," she said. "Evidently I was unaware of the magnitude of this
matter. I absolutely _must_ go."

Johnny said, "No."

She looked at him appraisingly. "Mr. McCord," she said, "I am here
for a story. Has it occurred to you that preventing a _Paris Match_
reporter from seeing your methods of operation is probably a bigger
story than anything else I could find here?" She struck a mock pose.
"I can see the headlines. _Sahara Reforestation Authorities Prevent
Journalists from Observing Operations_."

"Oh, Good Lord," Johnny growled. "This should happen to me, yet! Go on
with Derek and the captain, if you wish."

       *       *       *       *       *

Pierre Marimbert and Johnny McCord took one of the faster helicopters,
Pierre piloting. With French élan he immediately raised the craft a
few feet and then like a nervous horse it backed up, wheeled about and
dashed forward in full flight.

Spread below them were the several dozen buildings which comprised
Bidon Cinq; surrounding the buildings, the acres of palm and pine,
eucalyptus and black locust. Quick-growing, dry-climate trees
predominated, but there were even such as balsam fir, chestnut and elm.
It made an attractive sight from the air.

The reforestation projects based on Bidon Cinq were not all in the
immediate vicinity of the home oasis. By air, In Ziza was almost 125
kilometers to the northeast. By far the greater part of the land
lying in between was still lacking in vegetation of any sort. The
hydro-geological engineers who had originally surveyed the area for
water had selected only the best sections for immediate sinking of
wells, placement of solar power pumps, and eventually the importation
of two-year seedlings and three- and four-year-old transplants. The
heavy auto-planters, brought in by air transport, had ground their way
across the desert sands in their hundreds, six feet between machines.
Stop, dig the hole, set the seedling, splash in water, artfully tamp
down the soil, move on another six feet, stop--and begin the operation
all over again. Fifty trees an hour, per machine.

In less than two months, the planters had moved on to a new base
further north. The mob of scientists, engineers, water and forest
technicians, mechanics and laborers melted away, leaving Johnny McCord,
his two assistants, his half dozen punch-card machines, his automated
equipment and his forty or fifty native workers. It was one of a
hundred such centers. It would eventually be one of thousands. The
Sahara covered an area almost the size of Europe.

Johnny McCord growled, "Friend Mohammed seems quite taken with our
reporter."

Pierre grinned and tried to imitate a New England twang. "Why not,
Hiram? She's the first, eh, women folks seen in these parts for many
a day." He looked down at the endless stretches of sand dunes, gravel
and rock out-croppings. "Mighty dry farm land you've got around here,
Hiram."

Johnny McCord grunted. "Derek said the other day it's so dry even the
mirages are only mud holes." He pointed with his forefinger. "There's
the first of our trees. Now, what pumps did you check?"

Pierre directed the copter lower, skimmed not much higher than the
young tree tops. Some of them had already reached an impressive height.
But Johnny McCord realized that the time was not too distant when
they'd have to replant. Casualties were considerably higher than in
forest planting at home. Considerably so. And replanting wasn't nearly
so highly automated as the original work. More manpower was required.

"These pumps here seem all right," he said to Pierre.

"A little further north," Pierre said. "I came in over the track there,
from the road that comes off the main route to Poste Weygand. Yes,
there we are. Look! Completely destroyed."

Johnny swore. The trees that had depended on that particular pump
wouldn't last a month, in spite of the fact that they were among the
first set in this area.

He said, "Go higher. We should be able to spot the complete damage with
glasses. You saw twenty-two, you say?"

"Yes, I don't know how many more there might be."

There were twenty-five destroyed pumps in all. And all of them were
practically together.

It was sheer luck that Pierre Marimbert had located them so soon. Had
his routine check taken place in some other section of the vast tree
development, he would have found nothing untoward.

"This isn't nearly so bad as I had expected," Johnny growled. He was
scowling thoughtfully.

"What's the matter?" Pierre said.

"I just don't get it," Johnny said. "Number one, nomads don't carry
dynamite, unless it's been deliberately given them. Two, if it
was given them by someone with a purpose, why only enough to blow
twenty-five pumps? That isn't a drop in the bucket. A few thousand
trees are all we'll lose. Three, where did they come from? Where are
their tracks? And where have they gone? This job wasn't done so very
long ago, probably within a week or two at most."

"How do you know that?"

"Otherwise those trees affected would already be dying. At their age,
they couldn't stand the sun long without water."

Pierre said, his face registering disbelief, "Do you think it could be
simple vandalism on the part of a small band of Tuareg?"

"Sure, if the pumps had been destroyed by hand. But with explosives?
Even if your band of Tuareg did have explosives they wouldn't waste
them on a few Sahara Reforestation Commission pumps."

"This whole thing just doesn't make sense," Pierre Marimbert decided.

"Let's land and take a look at one of those pumps," Johnny said. "You
know, if you get the whole crew to work on this you might be able
to replace them before we lose any of these transplants. It's all
according to how long ago they were destroyed."


IV

Back at Bidon Cinq again that afternoon, Johnny McCord was greeted by
the native office assistant he'd left in charge while all three of the
officers were gone. Mellor, at the Tissalit base, had made several
attempts to get in touch with him.

"Mellor!" Pierre grunted. "How do you Americans say it? Stuffed shirt!"

"Yeah," Johnny McCord said, sitting down to the telephone. "But my
boss."

While Pierre was fishing two cans of beer from the refrigerator, Johnny
dialed Tissalit. Kate's face lit up the screen. Johnny said, "Hi. I
understand the old man wants to talk to me."

"That's right," the girl said, and moved a switch. "Just a minute,
Johnny."

Her face faded to be replaced by that of Mellor. Johnny noted that as
usual the other wore a business suit, complete with white shirt and
tie--in the middle of the Sahara!

Mellor was scowling. "Where've you been, McCord?"

"Checking some pumps near In Ziza," Johnny said evenly.

"Leaving no one at all at camp?" the other said.

Johnny said, "There were at least a score of men here, Mr. Mellor."

"No officers. Suppose an emergency came up?"

Johnny felt like saying, _An emergency did come up, two of them in
fact. That's why we were all gone at once._ But for some reason he
decided against explaining current happenings at Bidon Cinq until he
had a clearer picture. He said, "There are only three of us here, Mr.
Mellor. We have to stretch our manpower. Derek Mason had to go over to
Amérene el Kasbach with Mohammed Mohmoud and his men to clear out those
nomads and their livestock."

"What did they find? Where were the Tuareg from?"

"They haven't returned yet." Automatically, Johnny took up his can of
beer and took a swallow from it.

Mellor's eyebrows went up. "Drinking this early in the day, McCord?"

Johnny sighed deeply, "Look, Mr. Mellor, Pierre Marimbert and I just
returned from several hours in the desert, inspecting pumps. We're
dehydrated, so we're drinking cold beer. It tastes wonderful. I doubt
if it will lead either of us to a drunkard's grave."

Mellor scowled pompously. He said finally, "See here, McCord--the
reason I called--you can be expecting a reporter from one of the French
publications--"

"She's here."

"Oh," Mellor said. "I just received notice this morning. Orders are to
give her the utmost cooperation. Things are on the touchy side right
now. Very touchy."

"How do you mean?" Johnny said.

"There are pressures on the highest levels," Mellor said, managing to
put over the impression that these matters were above and beyond such
as Johnny McCord but that he, Mellor, was privy to them.

"What pressures?" Johnny said wearily. "If you want me to handle this
woman with kid gloves, then I've got to know what I'm protecting her
against, or hiding from her, or whatever the hell I'm supposed to do."

Mellor glared at him. "I'm not sure I always appreciate your flippancy,
McCord," he said. "However, back home the opposition is in an uproar
over our expenditures. Things are very delicate. A handful of votes
could sway the continuance of the whole project."

Johnny McCord closed his eyes in pain. This came up every year or so.

Mellor said, "That isn't all. The Russkies are putting up a howl in the
Reunited Nations. They claim the West plans to eventually take over all
northwest Africa. That this reforestation is just preliminary to make
the area worth assimilating."

Johnny chuckled sourly, "Let's face it. They're right."

Mellor was shocked. "Mr. McCord! The West has never admitted to any
such scheme."

Johnny sighed. "However, we aren't plowing billions into the Sahara out
of kindness of heart. The Mali Federation alone has almost two million
square miles in it, and less than twenty million population. Already,
there's fewer people than are needed to exploit the new lands we've
opened up."

"Well, that brings up another point," Mellor said. "The Southeast Asia
Bloc is putting up a howl too. They claim they should be the ones
allowed to reclaim this area and that it should go into farmland
instead of forest."

"They're putting the cart before the horse," Johnny said. "At this
stage of the game, the only land they could use really profitably for
farming would be along the Niger. We're going to have to forest this
whole area first, and in doing so, change the whole climate. _Then_
it'll...."

Mellor interrupted him. "I'm as familiar with the program of the Sahara
Reforestation Commission as you are, I am sure, McCord. I need no
lecture. See that Miss Desage gets as sympathetic a picture of our work
as possible. And, for heaven's sake, don't let anything happen that
might influence her toward writing something that would change opinions
either at home or in the Reunited Nations."

"I'll do my best," Johnny said sourly.

The other clicked off.

       *       *       *       *       *

Pierre was handy with another can of beer, already opened. "So
Mademoiselle Desage is to be handled with loving care."

Johnny groaned, "And from what we've seen so far of Mademoiselle
Desage, she's going to take quite a bit of loving care to handle."

Outside, they could hear the beating of rotors coming in. Two
helicopters, from the sound of it. Beer cans in hand they went over to
the window and watched them approach.

"Derek and the girl in one, Mohammed in the other," Pierre said.
"Evidently our good captain left the messy work of butchering goats to
his men, while he remains on the scene to be as available to our girl
Hélène as she will allow."

The copters swooped in, landed, the rotors came to a halt and the
occupants stepped from the cockpits. The Arab ground crew came running
up to take over.

Preceded by Hélène Desage, the two men made their way toward the main
office. Even at this distance there seemed to be an aggressive lift to
the girl's walk.

"Oh, oh, my friend," Pierre said. "I am afraid Mademoiselle Desage is
unhappy about something."

Johnny groaned. "I think you're right. But smile, Reuben, smile. You
heard the city slicker's orders. Handle her with all the care of a
new-born heifer."

Hélène Desage stormed through the door and glared at Johnny McCord. "Do
you realize what your men are doing?"

"I thought I did," Johnny said placatingly.

Derek and Mohammed Mohmoud entered behind her. Derek winked at Johnny
McCord and made a beeline for the refrigerator. "Beer, everybody?" he
said.

Mohammed Mohmoud said, "A soft drink for me, if you please, Mr. Mason."

Derek said, "Sorry, I forgot. Beer, Miss Desage?"

She turned and glared at him. "You did nothing whatsoever to prevent
them!"

Derek shrugged. "That's why we went out there, honey. Did you notice
how much damage those goats had done to the trees? Thousands of dollars
worth."

Johnny said wearily, "What happened?" He sank into the chair behind his
desk.

The reporter turned to him again. "Your men are shooting the livestock
of those poverty-stricken people."

Mohammed Mohmoud said, "We are keeping an accurate count of every beast
destroyed, Mr. McCord." His dark face was expressionless.

Johnny McCord attempted to explain to the girl. "As I told you, Miss
Desage, goats are the curse of the desert. They prefer leaves, twigs
and even the bark of young trees to grass. The Commission before ever
taking on this tremendous project arranged through the Mali Federation
government to buy up and have destroyed every grazing animal north of
the Niger. It cost millions upon millions. But our work couldn't even
begin until it was accomplished."

"But why slaughter the livelihood of those poor people? You could quite
easily insist that they return with their flocks to whatever areas are
still available to them."

Derek offered her a can of beer. She seemed to be going to reject it,
but a desert-born thirst changed her mind. She took it without thanking
him.

The lanky Canadian said mildly, "I tried to explain to her that the
Tuareg aren't exactly innocent children of the desert. They're known
as the Apaches of the Sahara. For a couple of thousand years they've
terrified the other nomads. They were slave raiders, bandits. When the
Commission started its work the other tribes were glad to sell their
animals and take up jobs in the new oases. Send their kids to the
new schools we've been building in the towns. Begin fitting into the
reality of modern life."

Her eyes were flashing now. "The Apaches of the Sahara, eh? _Bien sur!_
If I remember correctly, the American Apaches were the last of the
Indian tribes which you Americans destroyed. The last to resist. Now
you export your methods to Africa!"

Johnny McCord said mildly, "Miss Desage, it seems to be the thing
these days to bleed over the fate of the redman. Actually, there are a
greater number of them in the United States today than there were when
Columbus landed. But even if you do carry a torch for the noble Indian,
picking the Apaches as an example is poor choice. They were bandit
tribes, largely living off what they could steal and raid from the
Pueblo and other harder working but less warlike Indians. The Tuareg
are the North African equivalent."

"Who are you to judge?" she snapped back. "Those tribesmen out there
are the last defenders of their ancient desert culture. Their flocks
are their way of life. You mercilessly butcher them, rob their women
and children of their sole source of food and clothing."

       *       *       *       *       *

Johnny McCord ran his hand over his face in an unhappy gesture. "Look,"
he said plaintively. "Those goats and sheep have already been bought
and paid for by the Commission. The Tuareg should have destroyed
them, or sold them as food to be immediately butchered, several years
ago. Where they've been hiding is a mystery. But they simply have no
right to be in possession of those animals, no right to be in this
part of the country, and, above all, no right to be grazing in our
transplants."

"It's their country! What right have you to order them away?"

Johnny McCord held up his hands, palms upward. "This country is part
of the Mali Federation, Miss Desage. It used to be called French Sudan
and South Algeria. The government of the Federation gladly accepted the
project of reforestating the Sahara. Why not? We've already succeeded
in making one of the most poverty-stricken areas in the world a
prosperous one. Far from there being unemployment here, we have a labor
shortage. Schools have opened, even universities. Hospitals have sprung
up. Highways have been laid out through country that hadn't even trails
before. The Federation is booming. If there are a few Tuareg who can't
adapt to the new world, it's too bad. Their children will be glad for
the change."

She seated herself stiffly. "I am not impressed by your excuses," she
said.

Johnny shrugged and turned to Mohammed Mohmoud who had been standing
silently through all this, almost as though at attention.

Johnny said, "Did you learn where this band comes from? Where they had
kept that many animals for so long without detection?"

The Moslem officer shook his head. "They wouldn't reveal that."

Johnny looked at Derek Mason. The Canadian shook his head. "None of
them spoke French, Johnny. Or if they did, they wouldn't admit it.
When we first came up they looked as though they were going to fight.
Happily, the size of the captain's command made them decide otherwise.
At any rate, they're putting up no resistance. I let them know through
the captain, here, that when they got back to Tissalit, or Timbuktu,
they could put in a demand for reimbursement for their animals--if the
animals were legally theirs."

Johnny looked at the Malian officer again. "How come you've returned to
camp? Shouldn't you be out there with your men?"

"There were a few things to be discussed," the Moslem said. He looked
significantly at the French reporter.

Hélène Desage said, "Let me warn you, I will not tolerate being sent
away. I want to hear this. If I don't, I demand you let me communicate
immediately with my magazine and with the Transatlantic Newspaper
Alliance for whom I am also doing a series of articles on the Sahara
Reforestation _scheme_."

Johnny McCord winced. He said, "There is nothing going on around here,
Miss Desage, that is secret. You won't be ordered away." He turned to
Mohammed Mohmoud. "What did you wish to discuss, Captain?"

"First, what about the camels, asses and horses?"

"Shoot them. Practically the only graze between here and Tissalit are
our trees."

"And how will they get themselves and their property out of this
country?" the reporter snapped.

Johnny said wearily, "We'll truck them out, Miss Desage. They and all
their property. And while we're doing it, we'll feed them. I imagine,
before it's all over it will cost the Commission several thousand
dollars." He turned back to the desert patrol captain. "What else?"

From a tunic pocket Mohammed Mohmoud brought a handgun and handed it to
Johnny McCord. "I thought you might like to see this. They were quite
well armed. At first I thought there might be resistance."

Johnny turned the automatic over in his hands, scowling at it. "What's
there to see that's special? I don't know much about guns."

Mohammed Mohmoud said, "It was made in Pilsen."

Johnny looked up at him. "Czechoslovakia, eh?"

The other said, "So were most of their rifles."

Hélène Desage snorted in deprecation. "So, we'll drag in that old
wheeze. The red menace. Blame it on _la Russie_."

Johnny McCord said mildly, "We haven't blamed anything on the Russkies,
Miss Desage. The Tuareg have a right to bear arms, there are still
dangerous animals in the Mali Federation. And they are free to purchase
Czech weapons if they find them better or cheaper than western ones.
Don't find an exciting story where there is none. Things are tranquil
here."

Hélène Desage stared at him. So did Mohammed Mohmoud and Derek Mason
for that matter.

Only Pierre Marimbert realized Johnny McCord's position, and he
chuckled and went for more beer.


V

Johnny McCord was a man who didn't like to be thrown out of routine. He
resented the interference with his schedule of the past few days. By
nature he was methodical, not given to inspiration.

All of which was probably the reason that he spent a sleepless night
trying to find rhyme and reason where seemingly there was none.

At dawn, he stepped from the door of his Quonset hut quarters and
looked for a moment into the gigantic red ball which was the Saharan
sun. Neither dawn nor sunset at Bidon Cinq were spectacular, nor would
they become so until the Sahara Reforestation Commission began to
return moisture to desert skies. Johnny wondered if he would live to
see it.

He made his way over to the huge steel shed which doubled as garage and
aircraft hanger. As yet, none of the native mechanics were stirring,
although he could hear sounds of activity in the community kitchen.

Derek Mason looked up from his inspection of Hélène Desage's
air-cushion Land Rover.

Johnny McCord scowled at him. "What in the hell are you doing here?"

The lanky Canadian came erect and looked for a long moment at his
superior. He said finally, soberly, "It occurs to me that I'm probably
doing the same thing you came to do."

"What have you found?"

"That a small bomb has been attached to the starter."

Johnny didn't change expression. It fitted in. "What else?" he said.

Derek handed him a steel ring.

Johnny McCord looked at it, recognized it for what it was and stuck it
in his pocket. "Let's go back to the office. Yell in to the cook to
send some coffee over, and call Pierre. We've got some notes to check."

Mademoiselle Desage was a late riser. When she entered the office, the
three Sahara Reforestation Commission officers were already at work.

She said snappishly to Johnny McCord, "Today I would like to see these
destroyed pumps."

Johnny said, his eyebrows questioning, "How did you know they were
destroyed?"

"It doesn't seem to be much of a secret. The story is all about the
camp."

"Oh?" Johnny sighed, then drawled to Derek, "I say, Si, you better go
get the hired hand, we might as well finish this up so we can get back
to work."

Derek nodded and left.

Johnny McCord left the collator he'd been working with, went around
behind his desk and sat down. "Take a chair, Miss Desage. I want to say
a few things in the way of background to you."

She sat, but said defiantly, "I have no need of a lengthy lecture on
the glories of the Sahara Reforestation Commission."

"Coffee?" Pierre Marimbert said politely.

"No, thank you."

Johnny said, his voice thoughtful, "I imagine the real starting point
was back about 1957 when the Chinese discovered that a nation's
greatest natural resource is its manpower."

       *       *       *       *       *

She frowned at him. "What in the world are you talking about?"

He ignored her and went on. "Originally, appalled by the job of feeding
over half a billion mouths, they had initiated a birth control plan.
But after a year or two they saw it was the wrong approach. They were
going to succeed, if they succeeded, in their _Great Leaps Forward_ by
utilizing the labor of every man, woman and child in the country. And
that's what they proceeded to do. The lesson was brought home to the
rest of the world in less than ten years, when such other countries as
India and Indonesia failed to do the same."

Johnny leaned back in his chair, and his eyes were thoughtful but
unseeing. "Even we of the west learned the lesson. The most important
factor in our leadership was our wonderful trained labor force. As
far back as 1960 we had more than 65 million Americans working daily
in industry and distribution. Even the Russkies, with their larger
population, didn't begin to equal that number."

"What are you driveling about?" the reporter demanded.

"To sum it up," Johnny said mildly, "the battle for men's minds
continues and each of the world's great powers has discovered that
it can't afford to limit its population--its greatest resource. So
population continues to explode and the world is currently frantically
seeking sources of food for its new billions. The Amazon basin is being
made into a tropical garden; the Japanese, landless, are devising a
hundred methods of farming the sea; Australia is debouching into its
long unpopulated interior, doing much the same things we are here
in the Sahara. The Chinese are over-flowing into Sinkiang, Mongolia
and Tibet; the Russkies into Siberia. We of the west, with the large
underdeveloped areas of the western hemisphere have not been so greatly
pushed as some others. However, there is always tomorrow."

Derek entered with Captain Mohammed Mohmoud. The latter day Rudolph
Valentino had a puzzled expression on his dark face.

"Here's the hired man, Hiram," Derek drawled.

The desert patrol officer nodded questioningly to the men and said,
"_Bonjour_," to Hélène Desage.

Johnny went on. "Yes, there's tomorrow. And by the time we run out
of _Lebensraum_ in Brazil and Alaska, in Central America and the
Argentine, in Texas and Saskatchewan, we're going to need the three
million square miles of the Sahara."

She said in ridicule, "It will take you a century at least to reforest
the desert."

"At least." Johnny nodded agreeably. "And we're willing and able to
look that far ahead. Possibly by that time our opponents will also be
looking for new lands for their expanding peoples. And where will they
find them? The advantage will be ours, Miss Desage."

Mohammed Mohmoud looked from one to the other, frowning. "What are we
discussing?" he said. "I should be getting back to my men."

Derek yawned and said, "Forget about it, pal. You're never going to be
getting back to your men again."

       *       *       *       *       *

The desert patrol officer's eyes widened. He turned his glare on Johnny
McCord, "What is all this?"

Johnny said, "I'll tell it, Derek."

Hélène Desage was as surprised as the Malian. "What is going on? Are
you trying to whitewash yourselves by casting blame on this gentleman?"

"Let me go on," Johnny said. "Needless to say, there are conflicting
interests. The Soviet Complex obviously would as soon we didn't
succeed. However, wars are impractical today, and the Russkies and
Chinese are taken up with their own development. The Southeast Asia
bloc wouldn't mind taking over here themselves, they desperately need
land already. But they aren't our biggest opponents. There's another
group even more involved--the _colons_ of Algeria and Morocco and those
of even such Mali cities as Dakar. I suppose it is this last element
that you represent, Miss Desage."

She was staring unbelievingly at him now.

"Their interest is to get the Sahara Reforestation Commission out
of the way so that they can immediately exploit the area. They are
interested in the _now_, not the potentialities of the future. They
resent the use of the Niger for reforestation, when they could use it
for immediate irrigation projects. They would devote the full resources
of the Mali Federation and Algeria to seeking oil and minerals and in
the various other ways the country might be exploited. Finally, they
rather hate to see the western schools, hospitals, and other means used
to raise the local living standards. They liked the low wage rates that
formerly applied."

Johnny nodded. "Yes, I imagine that's your angle."

Hélène Desage stormed to her feet. "I don't have to listen to this!"

Derek said, "Honey, we sure aren't holding you. You're free to go any
time you want. And you can take this pal of yours along with you." He
jerked his head contemptuously at Mohammed Mohmoud.

Pierre Marimbert said, "Mademoiselle, we have no idea of where you two
met originally, nor how close your relationship, but the captain should
have remembered that I too am French. A gentleman, on first meeting a
lady, would never, never address her as _tu in our_ language."

Johnny sighed again and looked at his watch. "Other things pile up too,
Miss Desage. You let slip a few moments ago that you knew about the
pumps being destroyed. You said the rumor was all around camp. But it
couldn't be. The only persons who knew about it were myself, Pierre
and Derek. On top of that, there were no signs of bedouin or animals
near the exploded pumps; the person who did the job must have come in
an aircraft or air-cushion car. And, besides, we found the pin of a
hand grenade in your land rover this morning. We had thought at first
that dynamite had been used, but evidently you smuggled your much more
compact bombs across the desert with you. Obviously, no one would have
dreamed of searching your vehicle.

"No, Miss Desage, it's obvious that you detoured from the track on the
way down from Poste Weygand, went over to In Ziza, a comparatively
short distance, and blew up twenty-five of our pumps."

Johnny turned to the Malian officer now. "At the same time you were
coordinating with her, you and whatever gang is hiring you. Someone
supplied those Tuareg with the livestock and paid them to trek up here.
You, of course, turned your back and let them through. The same someone
who supplied the livestock also supplied Czech weapons."

Hélène Desage was still sputtering indignation. "Ridiculous! Why? What
would motivate me to such nonsense?"

Johnny grimaced. "The whole thing makes a beautiful story at a time
when the American government is debating the practicality of the whole
project. You could do quite a sob story on the poor, poverty-stricken
Tuareg having their livestock destroyed. Then, quite a tale about the
bedouin raiding our pumping stations and blowing them up. And quite a
tale about the Tuareg being armed with Czech weapons. Oh, I imagine
before it was through you'd have drawn a picture of civil war going
on here between the nomads and the Commission. Blowing up your own car
with a small bomb attached to the starter was just one more item. By
the way, were you going to do it yourself? Or did you intend to allow
one of our mechanics to kill himself?"

She flushed. "Don't be ridiculous. No one would have been hurt. The
bomb is a very small one. More smoke and flash than anything else."

"Well, thanks for small favors," Derek said sarcastically.

       *       *       *       *       *

She gave up. "Very well," she snapped. "There is nothing you can
do. This whole project, as I said before, is nothing but American
boon-doggling, a way of plowing endless resources into a hole. Your
real motivation is an attempt to prevent depression and unemployment in
your country."

Pierre Marimbert said softly, "So you admit to this whole scheme to
discredit us?"

"Why not?" She turned to the door. "I will still write my articles.
It's my word or yours."

Derek grinned at her. "I think I could fall in love with you, honey,"
he said. "Life would provide few dull moments. However, you didn't
notice how nice and automated this office is. Card machines, electric
typewriters, all the latest--including tape recorders for office
conversations. You talked too much, honey."

"_Cochon!_" she shrilled at him. She whirled and was through the door.

Johnny turned to Mohammed Mohmoud. "I guess the best thing for you
would be to turn in your commission, Captain."

Dark eyes snapped. "And if I say no?"

Johnny shook his head. "The Mali Federation passed some awfully strict
laws when it was drawing up its constitution. Among them was one
involving capital punishment for anyone destroying a source of water in
the desert. Miss Desage did the actual work but you were hand in glove
with her. I'd hate to have to report that to your superiors."

Derek jumped forward quickly. His hand snaked out and chopped the
other's forearm. The heavy military pistol fell to the floor, and the
Canadian kicked it to one side. "Shucks," he drawled, "the hired hand
sure is tricky, ain't he?"

"Good Lord," Johnny McCord said disgustedly, "I didn't say I was going
to report you. Just threatened to if you didn't resign. Now get out of
here, we've got work to do. I'm three days behind on my reports!"





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