Green Cheese

Karen Radford Treanor 


© Copyright 2015  by Karen Radford Treanor

Photo of a section of a green cheese round.

"Well, here's 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 Mohorovičić.

Watching him go, Tom Barley thought he'd never relieved another agent who seemed so…relieved

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?

"You're 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.

"That's 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 seal unbroken.

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.

"That's Spot's 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 Spot, too?"

"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, too."

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."

"That's very 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.

Finding 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.

Second, read the "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.

Figuring that a 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.

"Good afternoon. Tom Barley, the new IDC agent," he said to an older man who looked to be in charge.

"Klim Parko, 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 thought that 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."

"You're welcome 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, Barley."

Gregson's turned out to be a sort of bar-cum-steak house. It had an al fresco area 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".

"What's 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 wildebeest-and-a-half.

"Garrett said, 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 ghets."

"Well, their 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."

"Yes, I 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 steak arrived.

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."

"That's the 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.

"So what 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."

"There won't 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 Spot, right?"

"Ik-ik" 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 that too.

"OK, Spot, I 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.

The 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 succeeded

"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.

Spot bounded out 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.

He 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.

"I considered that, but then I thought it might prejudice you against him."

"You didn't think I might be frightened by finding a thing that looks like a kid's storybook monster sleeping in the dog basket?" Tom asked

"No, not 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."

"Ah, looking 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.

Tom trudged through 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.

"So, finding 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.

"Well, we're 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."

"Sortles like 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 solid."

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.

"Sure, that would be interesting." Tom brightened up; perhaps there'd be some ideas out in the bush.

"Actually, it 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 jacket."

"Thanks," 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 moderately useless."

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 headed west.

"We're visiting 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.

Two hours' flying 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.

"Greetings, 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.

"Jobin, I 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, Parko."

"I understand you've domesticated a herd of ghets," Tom said. "Any particular reason?"

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?"

"Sure," 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.

"Native pepper, 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.

"Not 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.

"Are you going 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 said.

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.

Going 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.

When 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 pray.

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.

"There's 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 happening."

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.

"Barley, what 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 Office.

"S-sir?" Tom stuttered.

"We've been 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 in early."

"What people?"

"Some gourmet 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 it!"

"Well, I sent 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."

"It's really 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 know, to 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.

There was nothing 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…

Thinking furiously, Tom began typing.

Contact Karen

(Messages are forwarded by The Preservation Foundation.
So, when you write to an author, please type his/her name
in the subject line of the message.)

Karen's Story List And Biography

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher