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“Now when I’ve explained that, people usually say how odd it is to find the staff of one of mankind’s most advanced scientific projects behaving more like Bushmen than modern Americans. That is, if they’ve seen the point of my earlier explanation.

“So I have to say no, it’s the reverse of odd, it’s a simple consequence of the fact that the lunar environment contains a fixed number of variables. Human beings can cope with big plain facts like seasons or lunar night and day, like drought or vacuum, like a pestilence among the game animals they feed off or a rocket going astray and crashing a load of provisions into a mountainside. What we can’t cope with is seven billion competing members of our own species. You have too many incalculable variables to make a rational response when a crisis occurs.

“And one more thing, too. There’s no one on the moon who doesn’t know that he’s making a contribution to the whole. Not a day goes past but you can point to something you’ve done and say, ‘I achieved that today!’ It may be physical, like adding an extension to the living accommodation, or it may be intangible, like adding to our stock of stellar observations, but it’s indescribably satisfying. These days, an urban psychiatrist here on Earth thinks twice about handling a case with a rural background, but up there I’ve been responsible for the mental welfare of people not only from different countries but of different religions and different ideologies, and I’ve never had a major problem from it.

“When I get this far people usually flinch and inquire nervously whether that includes the little red brothers. And I can say nothing else except that trying to subvert vacuum or a solar storm will get you one place and that’s a grave.

“Of course I’m including Chinese! Like I said, I owe my life to a Chinese colleague, a man we’d exchanged with the staff of the communist observatory at Aristarchus. And down here in the middle of the Pacific, which apart from Antarctica is the only part of the planet that you can compare to the Moon for loneliness and lack of life-supports, all you can think of doing is blasting each other. It makes me sick. Madam Chairman, somebody had better get me a trank, and maybe then I’ll be able to get on with the cosy tourist-type gossip I have down here in the rest of my notes. Right now I don’t think I could read it without vomiting.”

continuity (25)

DADDY OF THEM ALL

There was one local touch in the suite they assigned to Norman for his stay at the Embassy: a sixteenth-century mask of carved wood stained in shades of stark red, black and white, mounted on the wall at the head of his bed. Otherwise he might still have been in the States, apart from the fact that occasionally the power seemed to fluctuate and the lighting grew momentarily yellow.

He was instructing one of the servants—a local boy of about fourteen who spoke a minimum of usable English—where to stow his bags, when the intercom sounded and he found it was Elihu calling.

“There was a memo from Zad in my mail-tray,” the ambassador said. “We’re to dine at Presidential Palace at eight-thirty; he’ll have the ministers of finance, education and foreign affairs to meet us. Can you present a preliminary brief?”

“I guess so,” Norman shrugged. “Does he want the whole GT team or just me?”

“He doesn’t specify, but I think it might make sense to establish the maximum of personal contact right away. Will you inform the others? And I’ll warn him there will be six of us—no, seven, come to think of it, because Gideon should be there too. He speaks pretty good Shinka, and we may need that.”

“I’d assumed anyone of cabinet rank would speak English here,” Norman said after a pause.

“African English and American English are going separate ways,” Elihu grunted. “You’d be surprised at some of the changes that have taken place. Be ready to leave by eight-fifteen, then, please.”

Norman nodded and cut the circuit. He turned to the boy, who was hanging up his clothes, almost relieved to be able to give him something else to do. Personal service in the States had grown to be a thing you confined to the business field; to have it done in a domestic context was vaguely unsettling.

“You know which rooms the other Americans have been put in?”

“Yessah!”

“Go and ask them to come and see me as soon as possible, please.”

“Yessah!”

*   *   *

He had finished the unpacking himself by the time the first of his colleagues entered: Consuela Pech, a pretty girl of mainly Puerto Rican extraction whom Rex Foster-Stern might have chosen for his representative either because she was the optimum candidate or because he’d been sleeping with her and grown bored and seized the chance to move her out of his way. Norman had barely had time to exchange a greeting with her when the three others came in together: the economists delegated by Hamilcar Waterford largely because they were both brown-noses, Terence Gale and Worthy Lunscomb, and the linguist whose acquaintance Norman had made only just before leaving, Derek Quimby, a chubby fair man with an air of perpetual bewilderment.

“Sit down, all of you,” Norman invited, and took a seat facing them as they grouped in a semi-circle. “We’re being kicked straight into orbit this evening—having dinner with the president and three of his ministers—and I thought we should review our initial presentation. Derek, you won’t be particularly involved at the first stage, but I gather you have some specialised local knowledge which may indicate weakness in our thinking now and then, so I’d be pleased if you’d point out any such difficulty, right?”

Derek nodded and swallowed largely.

“Fine. Consuela, if I know Rex, your dept has armed you with everything we’d normally use in putting over a project at home. How much of it can be scaled down for an over-dinner discussion?”

“I insisted on them giving me material for three different levels of presentation,” Consuela said. “I can tackle this easily. Also I can tackle a delegate committee with up to twenty personalised approaches, and I can tackle a meeting of the Beninian parliament with the full complement of sixty-one members present, on a screen-and-speaker basis.”

“Excellent!” Norman said, amending his previous guess about the girl’s aptitude for this job. “Now the minister of finance is going to be there, and he’s the man most likely to jump to our side. It can’t be any fun at all handling the budgetary problems in a country like this which is permanently on the verge of bankruptcy. Terence, I want you and Worthy to sweeten him right at the start with some costings. Don’t worry about precision, just get it into his head that this chunk of ground has suddenly acquired colossal economic potential. Now there’s a good chance, remember, that we know more about the economics of this area than he does—we have the benefit of Shal’s analyses and in accordance with the old saw about the high cost of being poor I doubt if Beninia has ever been able to afford comparable service from the Common Europe computers. Don’t lean too heavily on superior information. Ease him into thinking that it’s his, not our, local knowledge that’s making the scheme viable. Clear?”

Worthy said, “Can be tried. What do we know about him as a person, though?”

“I’ll arrange for Elihu, or Gideon perhaps, to let you have a character-sketch while we’re on the way to the palace. Consuela, let’s go back to you. The minister of education is your first target because so much of the scheme is predicated on bringing up the literacy and skilled-labour level in under a decade. I want you to begin by seeing if you can get her to macluhan the local situation. Bring her around to the subject of how traditional attitudes condition people’s reaction to local information. She’ll probably react well, since she must have been educated abroad—there isn’t a centre of higher learning here worth the name apart from this privately owned business college you presumably know about.”