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Jack of No Trades by Charles Cottrell

Jack Of No Trades

By CHARLES COTTRELL

_First we discovered the Willy Maloon category. Then we discovered Willy himself. Then we data-researched, and postulated a theory. Everything was easy, until it came to the question of proof._

[Illustration]

* * * * *

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.


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