Jack of No Trades can be found in




ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



Amazing Stories August 1960.

Jack of No Trades

Charles Cottrell

This thing really started before the time I had Willy Maloon under observation when he gunned the small runabout well past cruising speed in order to reach the little asteroid as soon as he could. At times like that he showed undue impatience. I was following at a discreet distance behind him, homing in on the rock, too. I had to find out what he was up to.

Archie Crosby, the obliging scoundrel, had "lent" Willy the homer unit out of supply. But, of course, he (Willy) had requested it in words to the effect that it was to replace a defective one in the cache. And Archie didn't doubt Willy for a moment, Willy being the kind of fellow he is.

Willy had worked a couple of hours on the homer unit, which is nothing more than a small radio transmitter. He tuned it to a frequency on the high side of the band used by the homer units in the cache. This was so no one would be likely to inadvertently tune the frequency and get curious. Tuning any of the vehicle receivers to that particular transmitter frequency was a simple matter. Then he had taken the transmitter out among the asteroids and hunted around until he had found one about two miles or thereabouts in diameter, only it couldn't be said to have a diameter because it was quite irregular in shape. But to Willy it must have been as fascinating as a jewel. So he planted the homer on it so that he could find it again when he wanted to. Of course, he hadn't yet thought of a reason for wanting an asteroid, but he would. He usually found reasons for the strange things he did.

And he did. It must have been just after Ollie Hadaway lost control of his tug. It had been headed in the direction of a rather large asteroid. Ollie had tried to unjumble the steering jets, but he couldn't, so he bailed out and was picked up a little later. The tug went on and shattered on the surface of the asteroid. Then later, Willy, at my directions, investigated the accident, examined the tug, and wrote up an accident report on it. And the inspection part of it must have gone something like this:

When Willy arrived to examine the shattered tug on the surface of the asteroid, he must have been pleasantly surprised to note that the hull was a battered mess, but miraculously some of the innards were intact. He must have looked closer and saw that the drive unit had escaped destruction. The drive unit of a tug is a super-heavy duty workhorse of a unit chock full of more power than would ever be packed or needed in a conventional ship of the same size. But as I said before, this was a propulsion unit from a tug, and tugs like ones we use need plenty of power.

And that must have been when Willy decided on a reason for having his own private asteroid. He would add the drive unit to it and make it mobile. He must have sparkled with the idea for the rest of the day. I recall his accident report saying the tug was a total loss. Of course, no one checked Willy's decision on that.

 

I also had Willy under observation the time he retrieved the drive unit and took it to his newly acquired privately owned (now) asteroid. The peculiar shape of the asteroid would lend itself to adaptation to mobility. So Willy blasted off the tip of the elongated end with some explosives he had diverted from some other project, drilled it out with some small charges, and fitted the drive unit in it, and anchored it down. It had taken quite a while to do all that, but Willy had interminable patience once he started a project. The entire procedure would seem impossible for one man, but bulk and weight were no problems in space. And Willy constantly worked miracles.

The question of what value a mobile asteroid would be among swarms of non-mobile asteroids way out in space where there was no place to go never seemed to have entered Willy's mind.

(Now when I speak of "night" and "day," I speak of those periods of the twenty-four hour clock set forth as working and non-working periods. The working part was the "day" part of the twenty-four hours, during which we all engaged in our contracted occupations. The rest of the time until the twenty-four hour period ended was considered "night." Naturally, among the asteroids there was no rising and setting of the sun to help designate the passage of time. The reference to night and day is a habit which persists with space men no matter which part of the system they happen to be in.)

A few days after Willy had finished installing the drive unit in his asteroid, a small company speedster came to a near-halt at the outer fringes of our section of the asteroid belt. For the next eighty hours it felt its way by radar through the belt, dodging and going around the larger bodies, and slowing its speed whenever it became necessary to shoulder its way through masses of smaller debris and dust.

Finally it had our station in sight visually, and in a matter of hours later, it was edging its sleek sixty feet of length into a side gantry attached to the station.

Mr. Garfield Goil disembarked from the speedster with a small retinue. He was greeted on the inside of the lock by Mr. Orrin, our station manager. As operations engineer-foreman, I was there with Orrin to greet Mr. Goil.

Mr. Goil's presence had been expected for the past several days, but not especially looked forward to. His status and stature with the Extraterrestrial Mining Company was well known to all of us, and certainly respected. His volatile temperament was well known also; it commanded our concern. And if ever Mr. Goil's temperament was to be put to a test, it was during one of his inspection visits. And that was what he had come for—his first to this station.

As I remember, there had always been conjecture on whether Mr. Goil's temperament was the result of his physical topography, or whether his physical topography had been altered by his temperament. In either case, Mr. Garfield Goil was representative of that only appellation inevitable to him because of his facial features and his name. And Mr. Goil was perpetually bitter and approached the world—any world—with a chip welded to his shoulder.

 

I tagged along as Orrin escorted Goil to his quarters and broke the seal on a bottle of bourbon he had been saving for this particular occasion.

It had been the wrong thing to do. Goil promptly informed Orrin that not only was he (Goil) a teetotaler, but also that he was opposed to drinking by anyone else, especially by company employees during duty hours, and in a place other than an authorized area such as the recreation room or the station bar. He told him further that he would not condone such practices while he was around; his immediate job was to inspect operations personally. His accompanying teams would dig deeply into other matters such as personnel, supplies, overall operations efficiency, and so on. Work would begin as soon as possible.

Goil then excused himself coldly and left for the VIP quarters.

Point number one for the opposition, I thought. Why hadn't someone warned us about the peculiarities of the man?

I hoped nothing would go wrong with the inspection. If things went well, Goil and his cohorts could get their business over with and get away from here that much faster. I was more than a little concerned about Willy and what he was doing.

Willy had spent two days, mostly off-duty time, visiting and working on the asteroid he had adopted, his two miles of irregular monstrosity. In his spurt of activity to install the drive unit, he had over-calculated a charge of explosives and blown out too much of the end section of the asteroid. That caused him some concern for a little while. In a flash of what he probably considered to be pure genius, he solved that minor problem by deciding to fill in the hole by installing a sub-space energizer. This first flash of genius was apparently followed by another inspirational flash. He could, with both installations, and some additional work, send the thing back to Earth. He must have been proud of the thought, for private satellites around Earth were all the rage now; no one who was Anyone was without one. Besides that, it would make a wonderful birthday present for his wife. Her birthday was only a matter of days away.

 

Goil's first request was to observe a day's operation. I had made what few arrangements were necessary, and Goil and I started out early so we could get into position and see the operations from the start.

We had one of the observation flitters. I took it about twenty thousand miles out from the area of operations and parked with the forward port facing the area. I said:

"We'll watch from here, Mr. Goil. You can see the debris floating down there." I pointed, and Goil looked at the little pin points of light reflecting from a great volume of dust, nebula-like in its dim luminosity. "When the crew starts actual operation, we will turn on the magnification screens and get some close-up views of the process."

"Please explain this to me," said Goil. "I've never seen an asteroid's operation before."

"Of course, Mr. Goil. I didn't know. This asteroid patch, or vein, as we like to call it, has a better than average content of metal ores and compounds. As you can see, we have swept the loose ends, so to speak, together. And there you see the result. In the center of that nebulous sort of mass is a large asteroid. There is at least one in almost every patch. We use that as the core, and by planting a large gravity generator on it and feeding it a great deal of power, it a...

This is only a preview of this story. The site administrator is evaluating methods to bring it to you.