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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK JACK OF NO TRADES *** Produced by Greg Weeks, Adam Buchbinder, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at
Jack of No Trades


Illustrated by CAVAT

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy October 1955.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright
on this publication was renewed.]

I was psick of Psi powers, not having any. Or didn't I? Maybe they'd psee otherwise psomeday!

I walked into the dining room and collided with a floating mass of fabric, which promptly draped itself over me like a sentient shroud.

"Oh, for God's sake, Kevin!" my middle brother's voice came muffled through the folds. "If you can't help, at least don't hinder!"

I managed to struggle out of the tablecloth, even though it seemed to be trying to wrap itself around me. When Danny got excited, he lost his mental grip.

"I could help," I yelled as soon as I got my head free, "if anybody would let me and, what's more, I could set the table a damn sight faster by hand than you do with 'kinesis."

Just then Father appeared at the head of the table. He could as easily have walked downstairs as teleported, but I belonged to a family of exhibitionists. And Father tended to show off as if he were still a kid. Not that he looked his age—he was big and blond, like Danny and Tim and me, and could have passed for our older brother.

"Boys, boys!" he reproved us. "Danny, you ought to be ashamed of yourself—picking on poor Kev."

Even if it hadn't been Danny's fault, he would still have been blamed.

Nobody was ever supposed to raise a voice or a hand or a thought to poor afflicted Kev, because nature had picked on me enough. And the nicer everybody was to me, the nastier I became, since only when they lost their tempers could I get—or so I believed—their true attitude toward me.

How else could I tell?

"Sorry, fella," Dan apologized to me. The tablecloth spread itself out on the table. "Wrinkles," he grumbled to himself. "Wrinkles. And I had it so nice and smooth before. Mother will be furious."

"If she were going to be furious, she'd be furious already," Father reminded him sadly. It must be tough to be married to a deep-probe telepath, I thought, and I felt a sudden wave of sympathy for him. It was so seldom I got the chance to feel sorry for anyone except myself. "But I think you'll find she understands."

"She knows, all right," Danny remarked as he went on into the kitchen, "but I'm not sure she always understands."

I was surprised to find him so perceptive on the abstract level, because he wasn't what you might call an understanding person, either.

"There are tensions in this room," my sister announced as she slouched in, not quite awake yet, "and hatred. I could feel them all the way upstairs. And today I'm working on the Sleepsweet Mattress copy, so I must feel absolutely tranquil. Everyone will think beautiful thoughts, please."

She sat down just as a glass of orange juice was arriving at her place; Danny apparently didn't know she'd come in already. The glass bumped into the back of her neck, tilted and poured its contents over her shoulder and down her very considerable decolletage. Being a mere primitive, I couldn't help laughing.

"Danny, you fumbler!" she screamed.

Danny erupted from the kitchen. "How many times have I asked all of you not to sit down until I've got everything on the table? Always a lot of interfering busybodies getting in the way."

"I don't see why you have to set the table at all," she retorted. "A robot could do it better and faster than you. Even Kev could." She turned quickly toward me. "Oh, I am sorry, Kevin."

I didn't say anything; I was too busy pressing my hands down on the back of the chair to make my knuckles turn white.

Sylvia's face turned even whiter. "Father, stop him—stop him! He's hating again! I can't stand it!"

Father looked at me, then at her. "I don't think he can help it, Sylvia."

I grinned. "That's right—I'm just a poor atavism with no control over myself a-tall."

Finally my mother came in from the kitchen; she was an old-fashioned woman and didn't hold with robocooks. One quick glance at me gave her the complete details, even though I quickly protested, "It's illegal to probe anyone without permission."

"I used to probe you to find out when you needed your diapers changed," she said tartly, "and I'll probe you now. You should watch yourself, Sylvia—poor Kevin isn't responsible."

She didn't need to probe to get the blast of naked emotion that spurted out from me. My sister screamed and even Father looked uncomfortable. Danny stomped back into the kitchen, muttering to himself.

Mother's lips tightened. "Sylvia, go upstairs and change your dress. Kevin, do I have to make an appointment for you at the clinic again?" A psychiatrist never diagnosed members of his own family—that is, not officially; they couldn't help offering thumbnail diagnoses any more than they could help having thumbnails.

"No use," I said, deciding it was safe to drop into my chair. "Who can adjust me to an environment to which I'm fundamentally unsuited?"

"Maybe there is something physically wrong with him, Amy," my father suggested hopefully. "Maybe you should make an appointment for him at the cure-all?"

Mother shook her neatly coiffed head. "He's been to it dozens of times and he always checks out in splendid shape. None of us can spare the time to go with him again, just on an off-chance, and he could hardly be allowed to make such a long trip all by himself. Pity there isn't a machine in every community, but, then, we don't really need them."

Now that the virus diseases had been licked, people hardly ever got sick any more and, when they did, it was mostly psychosomatic. Life was so well organized that there weren't even many accidents these days. It was a safe, orderly existence for those who fitted into it—which accounted for more than ninety-five per cent of the population. The only ones who didn't adjust were those who couldn't, like me—psi-deficients, throwbacks to an earlier era. There were no physical cripples, because anybody could have a new arm or a new leg grafted on, but you couldn't graft psi powers onto an atavism or, if you could, the technique hadn't been developed yet.

"I feel a sense of impending doom brooding over this household," my youngest brother remarked cheerfully as he vaulted into his chair.

"You always do, Timothy," my mother said, unfolding her napkin. "And I must say it's not in good taste, especially at breakfast."

He reached for his juice. "Guess this is a doomed household. And what was all that emotional uproar about?"

"The usual," Sylvia said from the doorway before anyone else could answer. She slid warily into her chair. "Hey, Dan, I'm here!" she called. "If anything else comes in, it comes in manually, understand?"

"Oh, all right." Dan emerged from the kitchen with a tray of food floating ahead of him.

"The usual? Trouble with Kev?" Tim looked at me narrowly. "Somehow my sense of ominousness is connected with him."

"Well, that's perfectly natural—" Sylvia began, then stopped as Mother caught her eye.

"I didn't mean that," Tim said. "I still say Kev's got something we can't figure out."

"You've been saying that for years," Danny protested, "and he's been tested for every faculty under the Sun. He can't telepath or teleport or telekinesthesize or even teletype. He can't precognize or prefix or prepossess. He can't—"

"Strictly a bundle of no-talent, that's me," I interrupted, trying to keep my animal feelings from getting the better of me. That was how my family thought of me, I knew—as an animal, and not a very lovable one, either.

"No," Tim said, "he's just got something we haven't developed a test for. It'll come out some day, you'll see." He smiled at me.

I smiled at him gratefully; he was the only member of my family who really seemed to like me in spite of my handicap. "It won't work, Tim. I know you're trying to be kind, but—"

"He's not saying it just to be kind," my mother put in. "He means it. Not that I want to arouse false hopes, Kevin," she added with grim scrupulousness. "Tim's awfully young yet and I wouldn't trust his extracurricular prognostications too far."

Nonetheless, I couldn't help feeling a feeble renewal of old hopes. After all, young or not, Tim was a hell of a good prognosticator; he wouldn't have risen so rapidly to the position he held in the Weather Bureau if he hadn't been pretty near tops in foreboding.

Mother smiled sadly at my thoughts, but I didn't let that discourage me. As Danny had said, she knew but she didn't really understand. Nobody, for all of his or her psi power, really understood me.

Breakfast was finally over and the rest of my family dispersed to their various jobs. Father simply took his briefcase and disappeared—he was a traveling salesman and he had a morning appointment clear across the continent. The others, not having his particular gift, had to take the helibus to their different destinations. Mother, as I said, was a psychiatrist. Sylvia wrote advertising copy. Tim was a meteorologist. Dan was a junior executive in a furniture moving company and expected a promotion to senior rank as soon as he achieved a better mental grip on pianos.

Only I had no job, no profession, no place in life. Of course there were certain menial tasks a psi-negative could perform, but my parents would have none of them—partly for my sake, but mostly for the sake of their own community standing.

"We don't need what little money Kev could bring in," my father always said. "I can afford to support my family. He can stay home and take care of the house."

And that's what I did. Not that there was much to do except call a techno whenever one of the servomechanisms missed a beat. True enough, those things had to be watched mighty carefully because, if they broke down, it sometimes took days before the repair and/or replacement robots could come. There never were enough of them because ours was a constructive society. Still, being a machine-sitter isn't very much of a career. And every function that wasn't the prerogative of a machine could be done ten times more quickly and efficiently by some member of my family than I could do it. If I went ahead and did something anyway, they would just do it all over again when they got home.

So I had nothing to do all day. I had a special dispensation to take books out of the local Archives, because I was a deficient and couldn't receive the tellie programs. Almost everybody on Earth was telepathic to some degree and could get the amplified projections even if he couldn't transmit or receive with his natural powers. But I got nothing. I had to derive all my recreation from reading, and you can get awfully tired of books, especially when they're all at least a hundred years old and written by primitives. I could borrow sound tapes, but they also bored me after a while.

I thought maybe I could develop a talent for composing or painting, which would classify me as a telesensitive—artistic ability being considered as the oldest, if least important, psi power—but I couldn't even do anything like that.

About all there was left for me was to take long walks. Athletics were out of the question; I couldn't compete with psi-boys and they didn't want to compete with me. All the people in the neighborhood knew me and were nice to me, but I didn't need to be a 'path to tell what they were saying to one another when I hove into sight. "There's that oldest Faraday boy. Pity, such a talented family, to have a defective."

I didn't have a girl, either. Although some of them were sort of attracted to me—I could see that—they could hardly go out with me without exposing themselves to ridicule. In their sandals, I would have done the same thing, but that didn't stop me from hating them.

I wished I had been born a couple of hundred years ago—before people started playing around with nuclear energy and filling the air with radiations that they were afraid would turn human beings into hideous monsters. Instead, they developed the psi powers that had always been latent in the species until we developed into a race of supermen. I don't know why I say we—in 1960 or so,

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