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FARMER ***




Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net










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


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