Before the press zeroed in on Artois and the French space minister, one of the reporters asked a question of Charley, who was wearing a sky blue flight suit that showed off her trim, athletic figure. Her long hair was pulled back in a pony-tail. The reporter was an American, who naturally asked his question in English.
In addition to all the technical information she was trying to absorb, Charley was also taking a crash course in French. Her four semesters of French way back when allowed her to buy a glass of wine, find a restroom and ask for a kiss, but that was about it. She gave up trying to learn the names of all the people shoving information at her, and called everyone amigo. That froze a few smiles, but Pierre Artois said she was one of his pilots, so frozen smiles didn't matter. She was actually grateful the first question was in English, until she heard it.
"Ms. Pine, some American pundits have said that hiring you to fly to the moon is just a publicity stunt by Monsieur Artois. Would you care to comment upon that?"
"Not really," she said lightly, trying to be cool. "I've been in space before." Actually her flying credentials were as good as anyone's. A graduate of the Air Force Academy and the air force's test pilot program, a veteran fighter pilot and the pilot of the flying saucer that had made such a splash last year, she believed she deserved this job, so the sneering hurt. It also immunized her against second thoughts about Rip. She was going to do this or die trying.
The chief pilot on the first mission was a man, Jean-Paul Lalouette. He was five or six years older than Charley and seemed to share the condescending opinion of the American newspaper pundits, but he was too wise to let it show-very much. Charley picked up on it, though. She glanced at him now and saw he was wearing the slightest trace of a smile.
Lalouette and his male colleagues thought she should be very impressed with them. The fact that she wasn't didn't help their egos. "T. S.," Charley Pine muttered, which was American for "C'est la guerre."
After a couple of puff questions that allowed Charley to say nice, inane things about the French people and the lunar base project, the press zeroed in on Pierre Artois, to Charley's intense relief. She took several steps backward and tried to hide among the technicians she and Lalouette were flying to the moon.
Pierre obviously enjoyed the glare of television lights. A slight, fit man whose physical resemblance to Napoleon had occurred to so many people that no one remarked on it anymore, he looked happy as a man could be. And well he should, since he was making his first trip to the moon on this flight. His journey to the lunar base after years of promoting, cajoling, managing and partially financing-from his own pocket-the research and industrial effort made this appearance before the press a triumph.
Charley Pine didn't quite know what to make of Pierre, whom she had met on only three occasions. She had watched him in action on television for several years, though. The scion of a clan of Belgian brewers and grandson of the legendary Stella Artois, Pierre struck Charley as a man who desperately wanted to be somebody. An endless supply of beautiful women, a river of money and an exalted social position weren't enough-he had larger ambitions.</ol>
Charley had devoted ten seconds of thought to the question of what made Pierre tick, and concluded that the answer was beer. Every French farmer who ever squished a grape had more panache than Pierre did. France was all about wine, and Pierre was beer. This tragedy fairly cried out for psychoanalysis by a top-notch woman-or even a man- but unfortunately Pierre hadn't bothered; like Napoleon, he had looked for a world to conquer. The French lunar expedition was his, lock, stock and barrel, and he was going to make it a success … or else.
Despite Artois' love of the spotlight, Charley Pine admired him. Pierre Artois was a man who dreamed large. He dreamed of a French space program, with a base on the moon as a stepping-stone to Mars, which he defined as a challenge worthy of all that France had been and could be in the future. He had fought with all the will and might of Charlemagne to make it happen. His vision, optimism and refusal to take no for an answer had triumphed in the end.
The real reason for the French space program, or indeed any space program, was that the challenge was there. The moon was there; Mars was there; the stars beckoned every night. Charley Pine believed that people needed dreams, the larger the better. Our dreams define us, she once told Rip.
What a contrast the dreamer Pierre Artois was, Charley mused, to the modern Americans. Somewhere along the way they had lost the space dream. Space costs too much, they said. NASA had morphed into a petrified bureaucracy as innovative as the postal service. These days Americans fretted about foreign competition and how to save Medicare-and who was going to foot the bill. Rip once remarked that the current crop of penny-pinching, politically correct politicians would have refused to finance Columbus. Watching Artois, Charley knew that Rip was right.