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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?"


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