2015 by Karen Radford Treanor
the keys, although you don't need to worry about theft, no serious
burglar would bother to stop on Barth. Good luck." Hefting his
rucksack, the outgoing agent of Interworld Development Corporation
went out of the door as if headed for the last lifeboat on the
Watching him go, Tom
Barley thought he'd never relieved another agent who seemed
He wondered briefly
if the reason were personal or job-related. It certainly couldn't be
due to the weather: mid-morning on Barth was as pleasant as any place
he'd ever been, neither as hot as New Alang nor as windy as Boreas.
Perhaps Garrett had family problems back on Earth; it was never easy
trying to maintain long-distance relationships, which was why most
IDC agents were single.
Strolling out onto
the front porch of the office building, Tom looked up and down the
street. OK, so this wasn't Paris or Ares City, but it looked a
pleasant town. It had a sort of "Bunbury, 1952" flavour
about it, but there didn't seem to be any cobras in the streets or
neem bugs in the sky, so what was not to like?
wondering why Garrett was so glad to leave, right?" asked Mim
Sorbo, coming out of the office to stand beside him.
Turning to his new
assistant Tom said, "Well, he did seem in quite a rush. I was
just looking for fire-breathing bugs or unfriendly natives; there
must be something unpleasant on Barth."
"No, not that I
know of. Mild weather, little crime, reasonable access to things
that might loosely be termed 'culture'. There's a bush that makes
you break out in green pustules, but it's easy to spot by its blue
foliage and the fact that it grows in swamps."
"Remind me not
to hike through swamps, then. So what's the problem with Barth? I
understand three potential replacements cried off at the last minute
with excuses, one even quit the service."
"I don't know,
but then, I'm from Werne and haven't got the particular slant on
things you Terrans have. I've got a schedule roughed out for you for
the rest of the week, want to look it over?" Mim Sorbo handed
over an E-board.
Tom took it and saw
"10 am, meet mayor and town council. 11 am Brunch. 12 pm Meet
local businessmen. 2 pm Late Lunch. 3 pm Tour farms. 6 pm Drinks
at Gregson's." The next two days were similarly laid out.
"So I guess
agents here don't die of overwork, eh?" he asked.
considered a rather full schedule here," Mim Sorbo said. "Would
you like to look over your apartment?"
Tom collected his
briefcase from the office and followed Mim Sorbo up the stairs. "Here's
the living room: you can indent for new curtains if you
want to, but they won't be much better than these. Government Stores
are rather limited in their tastes." Leading the way down a
short hall, he threw open a door. "The mattress on the bed is
new. Garrett left you his book collection, in fact, he left most of
his possessions except his clothes; you shouldn't have to buy much."
Tom hunkered in
front of the bedside bookcase and saw it was three-quarters filled
with space fiction holovids, a handful of old classics in real paper,
and a couple of product development and marketing guides, one with
In the kitchen,
there were the usual appliances, a cupboard full of uninteresting
glasses and china, and a reasonable assortment of gadgets in the
drawers. The whole place had the air of a residential hotel in a
third-class city. There was a small basket on the floor by the back
door and a bowl of water beside it.
basket. He comes and goes as he likes, through the hatch there,"
Mim Sorbo said, indicating a flap in the wall that might accommodate
a small terrier. "I guess Garrett forgot to tell you about
"Yes, he seems
to have forgotten to tell me about a lot of things. Well, I haven't
had a dog in years, Spot will be good company."
Mim Sorbo smiled. "You'll find he keeps the rakkis
under control; they can be
pesky, but they aren't dangerous."
"They fill the
niche on Barth that your Terran house mice do, except they can fly
for short distances, which makes them annoying. Garrett constructed
something he called a fly swatter when he first got here, but after a
few weeks he gave up and got Spot. Rakkis make a mess when you swat
them, whereas Spot just eats them. Saves you having to feed him,
Tom Barley pulled
out a kitchen chair and sat down. "I think I might unpack, have
a cup of tea, and see a bit of the town. Why don't you take the rest
of the afternoon off, we don't seem inundated with work or visitors."
kind of you. I hope you will enjoy working here, Barley. Please let
me know if there is anything else I can help with." With a sort
of bow, Mim Sorbo withdrew and left Tom to the contemplation of his
home for the next two years.
a tea chest
with an assortment of Twinings, Tom nuked a cup of water and sat
dunking the Lemon Mist tea bag while he ran his mind over a "Things
to do" list. First, put up a few holos of interesting places to
perk up the beige walls. The one of the lighthouse off the Normandy
coast would be good: it always exhilarated him.
"Living on Barth" handbook he'd been given on the ship. He'd been so
glad to get off Boreas he hadn't paid much attention to
preparing for Barth, but now he was here, he'd better bone up on
local information before he committed some social sin.
As Tom got up to put
his cup in the sink, something whizzed past his ear and went 'splat'
on one of the cabinet doors. "Yeuktch!" Tom spat, stepping
back. Clinging to the door with sucker-pad feet was something that
looked like a toad with wings. About four inches long, the creature
was covered with lumps, and coloured like a bean casserole that had
been too long in the back of the fridge.
As he stood with his
back to the sink and stared at the ugly thing, Tom wondered if this
was a rakki, and if so, when the dog Spot would come and dispose of
it. Backing out of the kitchen and closing the door, he decided to
spend the afternoon somewhere else.
planet dependent on agriculture would have a large feed and seed
store somewhere, Tom set off up the main street to find it. When he
did, it was in a side street and didn't look very prosperous.
afternoon. Tom Barley, the new IDC agent," he said to an older
man who looked to be in charge.
manager," said the tall Wernian proprietor, thrusting out a
three-fingered hand. Hooking his little finger over his ring finger,
Tom returned the handshake clumsily. In all the years he'd been
shaking hands with Wernians he'd never mastered a proper handshake:
bad enough they used the left hand, but trying to keep one's fourth
finger out of the complicated procedure was a trick that didn't come
easily to him.
I should start getting to know Barth, and that the person who runs
the feed and seed store would be a good source of information."
to what I know. It's past time for lunch, let me take you to
Gregson's and we'll eat and talk. Petik, take over, I'm off for a
while," he called to a bored looking clerk. "Come along,
Gregson's turned out
to be a sort of bar-cum-steak house. It had an al fresco
on the back verandah that cantilevered out over a ravine and gave a
good view of the countryside. "This is the main meeting place
in town," Parko explained. "They have the widest selection
of things to drink and eat for all races, so it's considered rather
cosmopolitan; try not to laugh."
"I think it
looks fine," Tom said, accepting an e-board from the hovering
waitress and scanning the menu. "New York Sirloin" said
one entry, and in tiny print under it "bierka".
bierka?", he asked.
"It's the local
meat and dairy animal: there are only two, and only bierkas are
domesticated. The ghets just wander wild, no one's come up with any
use for them yet. Well, except for land clearing, they'll eat almost
any sort of grass or bush. If you look down there, just to the left
of the large tree, you can see a flock of ghets." Parko pointed
with his middle finger. Tom saw several dirt-coloured, six legged
beasts shambling along in the underbrush. They looked like a
let me see if I can remember the exact phrase, 'Ghets smell like musk
oxen, have the tempers of camels, and all the charm of cold
porridge'. I haven't experienced any of those things, but I gather
from the tone in which he spoke that I haven't missed much." Parko
smiled and ticked his selection from the menu, running his
cashcard through the slot to validate the order.
Tom decided to try
the New York Sirloin. As they sat drinking iced tea and waiting for
their meal, he said, "I'm surprised no one has found a use for
flesh is stringy and tasteless, their hides are patchy and rough,
their horns are punky and not fit for carving or polishing--that
doesn't leave much. We'd be delighted if you could find a use for
them, because their only talent is to breed freely. We have to cull
them, and a lot of us hate the idea of wasting the bodies. You can
make a sort of pet meat from the flesh, but given a choice, most
animals prefer something else."
understand Garrett has left me a dog. Mim Sorbo says he catches and
eats rakkis. There's one in the kitchen at the moment, and I hope
Spot comes home and catches it before I get back: I've rarely seen
anything as disgusting. Even the neem bugs on Boreas were prettier."
Parko started to say
something, stopped, then said "Ah, you've been on Boreas; I
understand some people go mad there from the wind," thus
encouraging Tom to tell stories about the windy planet until the
When it did, Tom cut
into the appetising slab of meat with every intention of enjoying it.
After watching him chew for a while, Parko said "Well?"
"Not a lot of
taste, is there? But it's juicy."
Parko pushed a tray
of condiments towards him. "That's what this is for."
Tom shook Worcester
sauce and Tabasco on the meat and continued eating. As an
afterthought, he added a squeeze of Alang Sweet Chili. He sliced and
ate some more steak, telling himself that it probably did the same
job as beef for his metabolism, even if it didn't taste like much. He
tried the rest of the food and said, "The fried onions are
good. The coleslaw's OK, different, but good."
kori fruit. I understand coleslaw often has
pineapple in it
on Earth, but we can't grow them here. In fact, we can't grow much
of anything in the way of interesting food here. Basic stuff, sure,
but something like glang-glang fruit, forget it."
Tom felt keen
disappointment at that statement: he loved glang-glang fruit, and
because it couldn't be tinned or freeze-dried, you had to get it
fresh. Ah, well, perhaps he'd be posted to the Werne office on his
next tour: somebody owed him something for taking on Barth, which was
already looking like a hardship post.
brought you out here from Werne, Parko?" Tom asked.
"Born here. My
mother was a Tea Clipper pilot, got caught short, and here I was. My
father came out to join us and took a fancy to the place for some
reason. He farmed, raised me and my sister, and when Mother retired,
she settled down here too. They live out on the edge of the Rift
near Brak. What about you, what made you leave Earth?"
"I never really
lived there: my folks worked in Selene City, but I used to spend
holidays with grandparents in Western Australia. I got a scholarship
to Ares U. and that gave me a taste for travel. The Company picked
me up when I was doing post-graduate study on Werne and I've been
with them for 6 years or so. I'm just a C-3, but if I do well here,
there might be promotion later. That's why I took the Barth post,
Boreas looked like a dead-end." Tom ate the last onion ring. "Well,
this has been a nice break, but I guess I'd better get
back to the office and see if there are any important messages."
be, but I admire your dedication. If there's anything I can do to
help, let me know. I'll probably see you tomorrow at the meet and
greet party." Standing up, the tall Wernian again offered his
hand and again Tom fumbled the grip. "Better practice that,
people here count a firm handshake as important," said Parko.
Back at the office,
Tom found three messages, none urgent. He sat down at Garrett's desk
and scrolled through the past few days' work in the computer. Farm
visits, a talk to the Young Barth Business Club, a couple of
indeterminate reports about upland rice growing--Garrett didn't seem
to have been knocking himself out here, Tom thought.
Upstairs he opened
the kitchen door very slowly and looked at the cabinet where the
Rakki had been clinging. Nothing. Relieved, he opened the door wide
and headed for the tea chest. Something stirred in the basket by the
door and a piercing "Ik-ik-ik" tore the drowsy afternoon.
Tom said "Easy,
boy, take it easy," before he got a good look at his new pet. Spot
looked at him and stopped making the noise, got out of the
basket and scuttled across the floor wagging his tail. Tom looked at
Spot and thought, well, no one actually said Spot was a dog.
Spot looked like a
chihuahua crossed with a winged lizard. He was covered with fine
pinky-grey hair, which faded away to scales on the hinderpart. He
had no hind legs, just something that looked rather like a seal's
flippers attached two-thirds of the way down his tail. In the middle
of his back was one purpley-brown spot, which explained the name. His
wings were stubby but looked workable over a short distance. Clawed
paws on short legs grew from the second wing joint. Tom had
never seen anything like this.
Pulling out a chair,
he said,"I'm Tom. I have no idea what you are, but your name is
said Spot, rubbing his face on Tom's boots and peering up at him.
"Do you sit in
laps, like your ears scratched, or what?" Tom wondered aloud. He
reached a tentative hand down and patted the animal. To his
relief, it was warm all over, even the scaly hind parts. "So,
you're some sort of mammal," Tom said. He rubbed behind the
large translucent ears and Spot said "huff-huff" and rolled
over on his--its?--back and presented a sleek belly. Tom scratched
have work to do. You keep after those rakkis, I don't want to find
any in this kitchen, OK?" Tom gave the odd little beast a final
pat and left the room.
rest of the day
he spent reviewing files and making notes of things he thought might
be worth an in-depth look. There seemed an inordinate number of
failed projects. Angora goats had been imported but had not thrived;
Zebu cattle likewise. It wasn't that they got diseases or died of
unknown causes, they just didn't do well. Merino sheep from lines
with 110% lambing rates dropped away to 65%, which made them
uneconomic for export and barely worthwhile for domestic use. Their
14-micron wool was transformed in one generation to 22 micron, no
longer worth processing for fine fabric. Tom scrolled through
project after project with similar results.
A long procession of
agricultural development people, starting with the original Wernian
colonists, had tried to make something of Barth, but no one had
"This is just a
no-hoper of a planet, that's what it comes down to," Tom said. "In
which case, why keep trying?"
He went back up to
his apartment and opened the bottle of single malt whisky he'd bought
at the duty free shop. He went out onto the back porch and found a
lounge chair. He leaned back, sipped the whisky, and wondered what
in Sam Hill he was going to do here for the next two years.
onto the porch and pulled himself up onto the lounge with the claws
of his front paws. He settled down beside Tom with a contented
'huff-huff'. The two of them watched the orange sun slide behind the
hills, ending what Tom suspected might be his most exciting day on
Barth. By the time he had finished the whisky, he'd figured out why
he was here: to show that the Company wasn't a quitter, that it was
dedicated to development, no matter what. It was a case of good
money after bad, Tom suspected, but none of the procession of
development organisations that had been here were willing to admit
they'd blown X-percent of their budgets on a planet that had no
potential. They were determined to produce the silk purse, despite
Barth's being the archetypal sow's ear. Tom was just the next sucker
in the list of 'tried that, didn't work' agents.
could go with the
flow for the next two years, achieve a 'pass' mark for trying hard
and keeping his nose clean, and go to his next post still a C-3.
Alternatively, he could identify a do-able project and achieve
something. He'd need another whisky to ponder this.
* * *
In the morning, Tom
found Mim Sorbo already at work when he arrived downstairs. "You
might have told me Spot wasn't a dog," he said.
that, but then I thought it might prejudice you against him."
think I might be frightened by finding a thing that looks like a
kid's storybook monster sleeping in the dog basket?" Tom asked
really, but of course that may be because I'm used to the house
lizards of Werne. If you don't like him, you can take him to the
animal shelter and they'll find him a new home. Then you'll have to
remember to put those door-blocks in place all the time, and never
open your windows, otherwise you'll be bothered by rakkis. They can
squeeze through smallest space. "
"Never mind. What I'd like you to do today is run a
survey; I want to know what
has and hasn't been investigated for development potential. I don't
mean just thought about in passing, but things where a proper
feasibility study has been done, or not done as the case may be."
for a way to win your spurs; I believe that's the phrase? Right, it
will be ready for you this afternoon. Enjoy your meeting with the
Mayor. " Turning to his screen, Mim Sorbo began pressing
coloured squares and calling up data.
the day Sorbo had booked for him and at the end of it was more than
ready for Happy Hour at Gregson's. He had met everyone of
consequence, and a few who weren't, and nothing he'd learned had
altered the insight he'd got from the scotch bottle last night.
your feet?" asked Klim Parko, making his way through the crowd
to Tom's side.
"Yeah, mine and
a few others, which I sense I've got to avoid treading on. By the
way, you could have told me about Spot."
"Why spoil the
surprise? I wish I could have been a rakki on the wall when you met
him!" chortled Parko with rare Wernian laughter.
getting on famously. He reminds me of something from a kid's book I
used to have called 'Where the Wild Things Are.' He likes peanuts."
anything, but you want to be careful you don't feed him much,
otherwise he won't catch rakkis. And if the rakkis get a foothold in
your house, you have to move out and have it fumigated for three days
Tom shuddered at the
thought. Parko topped up his glass from the beer jug and asked, "Got
any plans yet?"
"Not yet, but I
can see it will take a bit of lateral thinking to develop anything
here on Barth. I've got Sorbo sorting data for me, once I get a
thorough grasp of what's been tried and failed and why, maybe that
will point me in the right direction."
"I was planning
a little trip up-country on Twomoonday, perhaps you'd like to come
along." Parko drained his glass and set it down.
would be interesting." Tom brightened up; perhaps there'd be
some ideas out in the bush.
wouldn't, but the scenery's different, at least. I'll call around
just after dawn, we can take my hovertruck. Wear boots and bring a
said Tom. Turning, he found the mayor at his elbow, keen to expound
a program that he was sure would interest Tom. From the Mayor, Tom
was passed to the Women Farmers' Guild and from there to other lobby
groups, and it was with relief he finally got away just on midnight.
The next few days
that weren't taken up with seeing various civic groups Tom spent
going over and back over the data Sorbo dredged from the files.
At length he had a
broad picture, and consulting the whisky oracle, thought he had part
of the answer to why the schemes had failed. "I think," he
said to Spot one night, "that this is the sort of planet that's
sort of inoculated against foreign things. As if it had antibodies
that swarm over anything foreign and render it, if not harmless, then
He scratched Spot's
ears for a while and then went on. "So you see, Spot, if we're
going to get a project that succeeds, it's got to be based on
something native." It all looked so clear through the bottom of
a glass half-full of amber fluid.
On Twomoonday, Tom
was ready early with a jacket, boots, first aid kit and rucksack when
Klim Parko arrived. Settling Tom in the passenger seat, he
manoeuvred the hovertruck up to a comfortable cruising level and
Bal Jobin. He's one of the pioneer farmers in the area. He's got a
herd of ghets you might find interesting: at least it shows the
creatures can be semi-domesticated, although few people would think
it worth the bother."
Tom watched the
landscape of Barth flow by beneath them. Low forests, grass covered
hills, the occasional outcrop of rock, a river or two, lakes here and
there: nothing ugly, but nothing spectacular, either.
brought them to a modest plateau. Parko guided the hovertruck along
a dirt road and set it down on a patch of grass next to a house and
barn. Like most buildings on Barth, this one was made of rammed
earth with wood-shingled roof.
travellers!" called a weather-beaten older man, hitching up a
pair of pants that looked as if they could have come out of the Levi
Strauss museum. He offered his hand to Tom, who with great
concentration managed to respond almost without a fumble. "Tom
Barley, the new Resident Agent for IDC," he said.
brought your supplies myself, thought I'd get away from the shop for
a while and show Barley a bit of the countryside," Parko said,
throwing open the cargo hatch.
"Decent of you,
you've domesticated a herd of ghets," Tom said. "Any
Jobin rubbed a
weathered paw on his jowls and said, "Guess I just wanted to see
if it could be done. Care to have a look?" Leading the way to a
fence, Bal Jobin waved his hand and said "Here's the herd." Shaggy
heads went up and rubbery noses sniffed the air. Jobin
pulled a few dried fruits from the pocket of his overalls and handed
one to Tom. "Hold it out flat, like for a horse."
Tom did so, and
eventually the lead ghet shambled up on its six spindly legs and
wuffled the fruit from his palm, leaving a trail of slobber behind.
"So what can
you do with them, Jobin?" he asked, surreptitiously wiping his
hand on the back of his chinos.
"Well, I found
out that when they're controlled like this, they give more milk than
in the wild. You can make cheese with it. Want to try some?"
Tom said, little wheels beginning to spin in the back of his brain.
Inside a very clean
if ramshackle barn, Jobin pulled a round green thing from a cabinet.
"This has been aged about three months, which seems to be the
optimum." Wiping a knife across the leg of his overalls, he cut
a wedge and passed it to Tom.
Tom sniffed the
cheese. A not unpleasant smell came from it. The texture was waxy,
and dotted with small holes. "What's the crust?" he asked,
looking at the crushed seeds on the outside of the piece.
we call it. Not bad, and it keeps the rakkis away." Jobin cut a
wedge for Parko and another for himself. "The colour's natural;
ghet milk is pale green, and it becomes concentrated in the cheese."
The things I do for
this job, Tom thought, nibbling the cheese. It wasn't bad. He took
a larger bite. Pushing the cheese to his hard palate, he breathed
over it like a wine taster, to get the full flavour. But like so
many things on Barth, the cheese didn't get any better--the first
taste was all there was. No bite as in sharp cheddar, no exotic
aftertaste as in Roquefort, no velvety texture as in ripe Brie. Just
'not bad' cheese.
"How much could
you produce from a herd of, say, 50 ghets?" Tom asked.
a lot. Say 20 kilos a week. Ghet milk hasn't a lot of solids," Bal
Jobin said. "It's hardly worth bothering with, so if you're
thinking of the export market, forget it. We couldn't fill a
container load a month, and with freight charges what they are,
anything less wouldn't be worth it."
"Jobin, give me
a couple of cheeses and let me see what I can do." The little
wheels in Tom's mind had slipped into a different gear and were
turning faster than ever. Stowing the cheese in his rucksack, Tom
smiled. He might just have found his ticket to the big time.
Back at the
hovertruck, Tom helped Parko unload Jobin's order, thinking it made a
meagre pile on the dusty ground.
to tell my why you wanted the cheese?" Parko said on the ride
back to town.
"No, that way I
won't look like a complete fool if my plans go belly-up," Tom
Back in his
apartment, Tom headed for the bedroom where he pulled the marketing
guides from the bookshelf. With the aid of a tall highball, he
scrolled through the razzamatazz to the end. He thought he might
have gotten out of touch on Boreas, but the advice in these holovids
was pretty much the same as he remembered from Xenomarketing 101 and
102 at Ares U nearly ten years ago. Good to know some things never
changed; Phineas T. Barnum would feel right at home.
Next morning, Tom
went to the gift shop and spent some time selecting wrappings and
ribbons. Presentation was everything.
In his kitchen, he
took the two green cheeses from the cupboard. With great care and an
old-fashioned calligraphy pen, he lettered "Gourmet Cheese"
and "Product of Twomoonday Farm, Barth." "Sole
Agents, Interworld Development Corporation". Wrapping the cheese
rounds in green glow-wrap, he bound them up with silver ribbon and
tied on the tags.
to the office,
he went to the store cupboard and found a couple of Top Priority post
bags. Watched by a puzzled Mim Sorbo, Tom knocked out a couple of
letters on the computer and slipped them into plastic windows of the
bags. Slapping a couple of "Fragile - dairy goods"
stickers on the outside, Tom scribbled out the customs forms and
thrust them and the parcels into Sorbo's arms. "Get these down
to the 'port and on the next clipper for Earth."
"It'll blow out
the postage budget," Sorbo protested.
"If this works
we can buy our own post office. And if it doesn't, nobody we know
will want to hear from us. Go on, you can just make it."
Going back to his
desk, Tom clicked through his meminder to the address section and
scrolled down the names, stopping occasionally to highlight one. I
should have attended more cocktail parties and fewer seminars, he
thought: still, some of these will help, and they may have
connections who'll be useful.
After a lot of
thought, Tom composed six hypermails. They had to be casual but
informative, believable but exclusive. This was not the work of a
moment, but by the third draft, Tom felt he was hitting just the
right note. For the first time ever, he blessed the tenacious alumni
association at Ares University which persisted in keeping its
graduates informed about each other's whereabouts and activities.
he had polished
the hypermails to a literate gloss, he pushed the transmit button
with crossed fingers. Now there was nothing to do but wait--and
Six weeks later, Tom
was sitting in the office of the feed and seed store showing Klim
Parko how Spot could balance on a beach ball when Mim Sorbo came
tearing in, out of breath and distinctly excited.
someone just arrived on the clipper from head office he says, a Mr.
Alex Goronek. He acts like he's pretty important. I've given him a
cup of tea. You'd better come."
"This is it,
Parko, wish me luck," said Tom, hoisting Spot to his shoulder
and holding up eight crossed fingers.
"I wish I could
do that," Parko said admiringly as he walked Tom to the door. "Meet me
at Gregson's after supper and tell me what's
When Tom walked into
the office he put on a confident smile that was far from genuine. He'd
gambled everything and now the dice had hit the baize.
the hell have you been up to?" demanded the ursine figure
sitting at his desk. Mim Sorbo fluttered in the background, his
attempts at formal introductions swept away by The Man from Head
inundated with orders for Toomoonday Farm cheese, whatever that is;
the Director's been made to look like a fool, and I've been sent here
to ream you out or pin on a medal as seems appropriate. Explain, and
make it fast."
"Well, sir, I
was sent here to develop exports. It didn't take long to find out
there was nothing to develop, so I had to find something. You recall
the Nolan Principle: 'Find a product and make people want it'? So I
did. I sent two ghet cheeses to Harrods and Fortnum's, and then I
tipped off some people that if they wanted a chance to buy the
Galaxy's rarest and subtlest cheese, they'd better get their orders
snobs I went to school with. There was a club at Ares U, Soyer's
Disciples they were called, after the famous chef---"
"Get on with
word to them that I'd heard a very rare and delicate cheese, one that
could only be appreciated by super-tasters--you're familiar with the
theory about super-tasters, sir? That where--"
"Barley, get to
the punch line!"
"Well, I was
counting on the fact that no gourmet could resist the chance to get
his hands on something rare that other food buffs couldn't--food
snobs are very big on one-up-manship--and I told each of them that
they were the first people to know about this new cheese…"
Alex Goronek smiled
slowly as the scheme unfolded. "So you created a demand that
you knew would outstrip the supply. I'm told Harrods and Fortnum's
have sold every crumb of the cheeses you sent them and have
back-orders piled up to the ceiling. Very clever, Barley. Is this
cheese that wonderful, then? I'd like to try some so I can brag
about it back at my club."
very ordinary cheese, sir. Just a sort of mild Jarlsberg
type--smaller holes, and it's pale green, but rather unremarkable.
Interesting crust of local pepper, but that's about it."
"You mean it's
not anything special? You've involved the Company in a scam?"
Thunderclouds gathered in the heavy eyebrows.
"No, of course
not. It is special because it's rare. And for all I
a super-taster it really is subtly distinctive. The point is, even
if we put this into full production, we wouldn't begin to satisfy the
demand. People who can afford it will get tired of trying to get it
through shops and will come to Barth to buy the cheese direct from
the farmers. That will bring money into the economy. The increased
demand will make it worthwhile for marginal sheep farmers to switch
to ghet herds and cheese production. I'd suggest we set up a
cooperative with Bal Jobin and Klim Parko heading it, to be sure
there's some sort of control of the product and the marketing.
" 'We'. That
implies you think you have a future with IDC."
Tom gave a modest
smile and said "Well, I did manage to develop a product and a
market for Barth. No-one else has done that."
"So you did,
young man, so you did. You did it on your own bat, without
consultation with your area supervisor, without clearing it through
the legal department, and without any serious research on the
likelihood of success. For that you deserve a reward. And that will
be this: I will not hand you your head on a plate, I will not kick
your ass from here to Alpha Centauri and I will not terminate your
contract. Instead, I will re-appoint you IDC's Agent on Barth, at
Level C-2, with an extended contract of four years rather than two.
You've earned it, my boy! No, don't try to thank me." Flicking
a dust atom from his tailored trousers, the man from Head Office gave
Tom a wolfish smile. "Well, I have to get back to my ship, I'm
on my way to Paradise for a bit of R&R. Work hard, Barley, and
one day you too will get there." Clapping Tom on the shoulder,
Goronek picked up his briefcase and, pushing Spot aside with one
well-shod foot, said, "Sorbo, you'll run me out to the 'port."
Left alone, Tom sank
slowly into his chair and stared at his blank computer screen. He
thought of the big man on his way to Paradise, the vacation planet:
the place every hard-grubbing worker dreamed of. He thought of his
promotion, two thousand credits more a year and the right to take the
company vehicle home at night. Big deal when you lived over the
office! He thought of four more years here on Barth, being a shill
for very average cheese.
for it but to come up with a new and better scheme. Somewhere on
Barth there had to be something, some fruit, some animal, some
mineral that could be turned to profit.
Spot scrambled into
Tom's lap and pushed his warm nose against his arm. Absentmindedly,
Tom scratched the big soft ears. At least he still had Spot, the pet
who ate vermin and consequently cost nothing to feed…who
looked like something out of the best-selling children's classic of
all time…a pet who didn't have fleas, was easily
house-trained, who loved sitting on your lap…who was warm,
non-allergenic, friendly, low-maintenance…
Tom began typing.
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