Mack Reynolds.

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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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