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´╗┐Title: Jack of No Trades
Author: Smith, Evelyn E.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Jack of No Trades" ***

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                           Jack of No Trades

                          By EVELYN E. SMITH

                         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, I might have been considered
superior, but in 2102 I was just the Faradays' idiot boy.

Exploring space should have been my hope. If there had been anything
useful or interesting on any of the other planets, I might have found
a niche for myself there. In totally new surroundings, the psi powers
geared to another environment might not be an advantage. But by the
time I was ten, it was discovered that the other planets were just
barren hunks of rock, with pressures and climates and atmospheres
drastically unsuited to human life. A year or so before, the hyperdrive
had been developed on Earth and ships had been sent out to explore the
stars, but I had no hope left in that direction any more.

I was an atavism in a world of peace and plenty. Peace, because people
couldn't indulge in war or even crime with so many telepaths running
around--not because, I told myself, the capacity for primitive behavior
wasn't just as latent in everybody else as the psi talent seemed latent
in me. Tim must be right, I thought--I must have some undreamed-of
power that only the right circumstances would bring out. But what was
that power?

For years I had speculated on what my potential talent might be,
explored every wild possibility I could conceive of and found none
productive of even an ambiguous result with which I could fool myself.
As I approached adulthood, I began to concede that I was probably
nothing more than what I seemed to be--a simple psi-negative. Yet, from
time to time, hope surged up again, as it had today, in spite of my
knowledge that my hope was an impossibility. Who ever heard of latent
psi powers showing themselves in an individual as old as twenty-six?

I was almost alone in the parks where I used to walk, because people
liked to commune with one another those days rather than with nature.
Even gardening had very little popularity. But I found myself most at
home in those woodland--or, rather, pseudo-woodland--surroundings,
able to identify more readily with the trees and flowers than I could
with my own kind. A fallen tree or a broken blossom would excite more
sympathy from me than the minor catastrophes that will beset any
household, no matter how gifted, and I would shy away from bloody
noses or cut fingers, thus giving myself a reputation for callousness
as well as extrasensory imbecility.

However, I was no more callous in steering clear of human breakdowns
than I was in not shedding tears over the household machines when they
broke down, for I felt no more closely akin to my parents and siblings
than I did to the mechanisms that served and, sometimes, failed us.

       *       *       *       *       *

On that day, I walked farther than I had intended and, by the time I
got back home, I found the rest of my family had returned before me.
They seemed to be excited about something and were surprised to see me
so calm.

"Aren't you even interested in anything outside your own immediate
concerns, Kev?" Sylvia demanded, despite Father's efforts to shush her.

"Can't you remember that Kev isn't able to receive the tellies?" Tim
shot back at her. "He probably doesn't even know what's happened."

"Well, what did happen?" I asked, trying not to snap.

"One starship got back from Alpha Centauri," Danny said excitedly.
"There are two inhabited Earth-type planets there!"

This was for me; this was it at last! I tried not to show my
enthusiasm, though I knew that was futile. My relatives could keep
their thoughts and emotions from me; I couldn't keep mine from them.
"What kind of life inhabits them? Humanoid?"

"Uh-uh." Danny shook his head. "And hostile. The crew of the starship
says they were attacked immediately on landing. When they turned and
left, they were followed here by one of the alien ships. Must be a
pretty advanced race to have spaceships. Anyhow, the extraterrestrial
ship headed back as soon as it got a fix on where ours was going."

"But if they're hostile," I said thoughtfully, "it might mean war."

"Of course. That's why everybody's so wrought up. We hope it's peace,
but we'll have to prepare for war just in case."

There hadn't been a war on Earth for well over a hundred years, but
we hadn't been so foolish as to obliterate all knowledge of military
techniques and weapons. The alien ship wouldn't be able to come back
with reinforcements--if such were its intention--in less than six
months. This meant time to get together a stockpile of weapons, though
we had no idea of how effective our defenses would be against the
aliens' armament.

They might have strange and terrible weapons against which we would
be powerless. On the other hand, our side would have the benefits
of telekinetically guided missiles, teleported saboteurs, telepaths
to pick up the alien strategy, and prognosticators to determine the
outcome of each battle and see whether it was worth fighting in the
first place.

Everybody on Earth hoped for peace. Everybody, that is, except me. I
had been unable to achieve any sense of identity with the world in
which I lived, and it was almost worth the loss of personal survival
to know that my own smug species could look silly against a still more
talented race.

       *       *       *       *       *

"It isn't so much our defense that worries me," my mother muttered, "as
lack of adequate medical machinery. War is bound to mean casualties
and there aren't enough cure-alls on the planet to take care of them.
It's useless to expect the government to build more right now; they'll
be too busy producing weapons. Sylvia, you'd better take a leave of
absence from your job and come down to Psycho Center to learn first-aid
techniques. And you too, Kevin," she added, obviously a little
surprised herself at what she was saying. "Probably you'd be even
better at it than Sylvia since you aren't sensitive to other people's
pain."

I looked at her.

"It _is_ an ill wind," she agreed, smiling wryly, "but don't let me
catch you thinking that way, Kevin. Can't you see it would be better
that there should be no war and you should remain useless?"

I couldn't see it, of course, and she knew that, with her wretched
talent for stripping away my feeble attempts at privacy. Psi-powers
usually included some ability to form a mental shield; being without
one, I was necessarily devoid of the other.

My attitude didn't matter, though, because it was definitely war. The
aliens came back with a fleet clearly bent on our annihilation--even
the 'paths couldn't figure out their motives, for the thought pattern
was entirely different from ours--and the war was on.

I had enjoyed learning first-aid; it was the first time I had ever
worked with people as an equal. And I was good at it because psi-powers
aren't much of an advantage there. Telekinesis maybe a little, but
I was big enough to lift anybody without needing any superhuman
abilities--normal human abilities, rather.

"Gee, Mr. Faraday," one of the other students breathed, "you're so
strong. And without 'kinesis or anything."

I looked at her and liked what I saw. She was blonde and pretty. "My
name's not Mr. Faraday," I said. "It's Kevin."

"My name's Lucy," she giggled.

No girl had ever giggled at me in that way before. Immediately I
started to envision a beautiful future for the two of us, then flushed
when I realized that she might be a telepath. But she was winding a
tourniquet around the arm of another member of the class with apparent
unconcern.

"Hey, quit that!" the windee yelled. "You're making it too tight! I'll
be mortified!"

So Lucy was obviously not a telepath. Later I found out she was only
a low-grade telesensitive--just a poetess--so I had nothing to worry
about as far as having my thoughts read went. I was a little afraid of
Sylvia's kidding me about my first romance, but, as it happened, she
got interested in one of the guys who was taking the class with us, and
she was not only too busy to be bothered with me, but in too vulnerable
a position herself.

However, when the actual bombs--or their alien equivalent--struck near
our town, I wasn't nearly so happy, especially after they started
carrying the wounded into the Psycho Center, which had been turned into
a hospital for the duration. I took one look at the gory scene--I had
never seen anybody really injured before; few people had, as a matter
of fact--and started for the door. But Mother was already blocking the
way. It was easy to see from which side of the family Tim had got his
talent for prognostication.

"If the telepaths who can pick up all the pain can stand this, Kevin,"
she said, "_you_ certainly can." And there was no kindness at all in
the _you_.

She gave me a shove toward the nearest stretcher. "Go on--now's your
chance to show you're of some use in this world."

       *       *       *       *       *

Gritting my teeth, I turned to the man on the stretcher. Something had
pretty near torn half his face away. It was all there, but not in the
right place, and it wasn't pretty. I turned away, caught my mother's
eye, and then I didn't even dare to throw up. I looked at that smashed
face again and all the first-aid lessons I'd had flew out of my head as
if some super-psi had plucked them from me.

The man was bleeding terribly. I had never seen blood pouring out like
that before. The first thing to do, I figured sickly, was mop it up. I
wet a sponge and dabbed gingerly at the face, but my hands were shaking
so hard that the sponge slipped and my fingers were on the raw gaping
wound. I could feel the warm viscosity of the blood and nothing, not
even my mother, could keep my meal down this time, I thought.

Mother had uttered a sound of exasperation as I dropped the sponge. I
could hear her coming toward me. Then I heard her gasp. I looked at my
patient and my mouth dropped open. For suddenly there was no wound,
no wound at all--just a little blood and the fellow's face was whole
again. Not even a scar.

"Wha--wha happened?" he asked. "It doesn't hurt any more!"

He touched his cheek and looked up at me with frightened eyes. And I
was frightened, too--too frightened to be sick, too frightened to do
anything but stare witlessly at him.

"Touch some of the others, quick!" my mother commanded, pushing
astounded attendants away from stretchers.

I touched broken limbs and torn bodies and shattered heads, and they
were whole again right away. Everybody in the room was looking at me in
the way I had always dreamed of being looked at. Lucy was opening and
shutting her beautiful mouth like a beautiful fish. In fact, the whole
thing was just like a dream, except that I was awake. I couldn't have
imagined all those horrors.

But the horrors soon weren't horrors any more. I began to find them
almost pleasing; the worse a wound was, the more I appreciated it.
There was so much more satisfaction, virtually an esthetic thrill, in
seeing a horrible jagged tear smooth away, heal, not in days, as it
would have done under the cure-all, but in seconds.

"Timothy was right," my mother said, her eyes filled with tears, "and
I was wrong ever to have doubted. You have a gift, son--" and she said
the word son loud and clear so that everybody could hear it--"the
greatest gift of all, that of healing." She looked at me proudly. And
Lucy and the others looked at me as if I were a god or something.

I felt ... well, good.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I wonder why we never thought of healing as a potential psi-power," my
mother said to me later, when I was catching a snatch of rest and she
was lighting cigarettes and offering me cups of coffee in an attempt to
make up twenty-six years of indifference, perhaps dislike, all at once.
"The ability to heal _is_ recorded in history, only we never paid much
attention to it."

"Recorded?" I asked, a little jealously.

"Of course," she smiled. "Remember the King's Evil?"

I should have known without her reminding me, after all the old books I
had read. "Scrofula, wasn't it? They called it that because the touch
of certain kings was supposed to cure it ... and other diseases, too, I
guess."

She nodded. "Certain people must have had the healing power and that's
probably why they originally got to be the rulers."

In a very short time, I became a pretty important person. All the other
deficients in the world were tested for the healing power and all of
them turned out negative. I proved to be the only human healer alive,
and not only that, I could work a thousand times more efficiently and
effectively than any of the machines. The government built a hospital
just for my work! Wounded people were ferried there from all over the
world and I cured them. I could do practically everything except raise
the dead and sometimes I wondered whether, with a little practice, I
wouldn't be able to do even that.

When I came to my new office, whom did I find waiting there for me but
Lucy, her trim figure enhanced by a snug blue and white uniform. "I'm
your assistant, Kev," she said shyly.

I looked at her. "You are?"

"I--I hope you want me," she went on, coyness now mixing with
apprehension.

I gave her shoulder a squeeze. "I do want you, Lucy. More than I can
tell you now. After all this is over, there's something more I want to
say. But right now--" I clapped her arm--"there's a job to be done."

"Yes, Kevin," she said, glaring at me for some reason I didn't have
time to investigate or interpret at the moment. My patients were
waiting for me.

They gave me everything else I could possibly need, except enough
sleep, and I myself didn't want that. I wanted to heal. I wanted to
show my fellow human beings that, though I couldn't receive or transmit
thoughts or foretell the future or move things with my mind, all those
powers were useless without life, and that was what I could give.

I took pride in my work. It was good to stop pain and ugliness, to know
that, if it weren't for me, these people would be dead or permanently
disfigured. In a sense, they were--well, my children; I felt a warm
glow of affection toward them.

They felt the same way toward me. I knew because the secret of the
hospital soon leaked out--during all those years of peace, the
government had lost whatever facility it had for keeping secrets--and
people used to come in droves, hoping for a glimpse of me.

       *       *       *       *       *

The government pointed out that such crowds outside the building might
attract the enemy's attention. I was the most important individual on
Earth, they told my followers, and my safety couldn't be risked. The
human race at this stage was pretty docile. The crowds went away. And
it was right that they should; I didn't want to be risked any more than
they wanted to risk me.

Plenty of people did come to see me officially--the President,
generals, all kinds of big wheels, bringing citations, medals and other
obsolete honors they'd revived primarily for me. It was wonderful. I
began to love everybody.

"Don't you think you're putting too much of yourself into this, Kev?"
Lucy asked me one day.

I gave her an incredulous glance. "You mean I shouldn't help people?"

"Of course you should help them. I didn't mean anything like that.
Just ... well, you're getting too bound up in your work."

"Why shouldn't I be?" Then the truth, as I thought, dawned on me. "Are
you jealous, Lucy?"

She lowered her eyes. "Not only that, but the war's bound to come to
an end, you know, and--"

It was the first part of her sentence that interested me. "Why, do you
mean--"

And just then a fresh batch of casualties arrived and I had to tend to
them. For the next few days, I was so busy, I didn't get the chance to
have the long talk with Lucy I'd wanted....

Then, after only four months, the war suddenly stopped. It seemed
that the aliens' weapons, despite their undeniable mysteriousness,
were not equal to ours. And they had the added disadvantage of being
light-years away from home base. So the remnant of their fleet took off
and blew itself up just outside of Mars, which we understood to be the
equivalent of unconditional surrender. And it was; we never heard from
the Centaurians again.

Peace once more. I had a little mopping up to do at the hospital; then
I collected my possessions and went back home after a dignitary--only
the Vice President this time--had thanked me on behalf of a grateful
country. I wasn't needed any more.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a while, I was glad to be back home. I was a celebrity. People
dropped in from all around to see me and talk to me. And my family,
basking in the reflection of glory, was nice to me ... for a while.

"I don't have any trouble making appointments with any firm," my father
boasted, "when I tell 'em I'm the father of Kevin Faraday."

Mother smiled approvingly--Tim, a little sadly. He was the only one
who didn't seem pleased by what had happened to me, even though he'd
prophesied it.

Sylvia slipped her arm through mine. "The agency wondered whether you
wouldn't give them a testimonial for Panacetic Pills, Kev," she said,
squeezing my arm. "They'd pay a lot, and the rest of the family sure
could use the money if you're too high-minded to accept it."

"I couldn't do a thing like that, Sylvia. It wouldn't be ethical."

"Why wouldn't it be?" She dropped my arm. "The pills couldn't possibly
hurt anybody. Maybe take a little business away from Mother, but Mother
doesn't mind, do you, dear?"

Mother frowned.

"But people would think the pills had my healing powers," I explained.
"I would be breaking faith with myself if I shilled for them."

Sylvia snorted. "Breaking faith with himself. Look who's talking!"

"Sylvia," my mother said. "Please."

But Sylvia went on--she was in an overwrought state because her guy
hadn't called her, though that was no reason to take it out on me.
"Who needs healing power now? The machines can cope with all peacetime
ailments. Better take your loot while the getting's good, Kev."

"Nevertheless, Kevin is right, Sylvia," my mother said. "He mustn't
prostitute his talent."

"And we don't actually need the money the testimonial could bring in,
no matter how much it is," my father said a little wistfully. "I can
support my family."

Tim sighed.

The months went on. Once again there was nothing for me to do, only
it was worse for me now because I had tasted usefulness and fame.
People did come for a while with their headaches and cut fingers for
me to heal, and I was happy healing them until I realized they were
just coming to make me feel good. They didn't really need me. Anybody
who had anything seriously wrong with him went to a psychiatrist or a
machine, same as always. I healed them too quickly for them to have
time to take pleasure in it. They couldn't talk for days about a
three-second operation.

       *       *       *       *       *

By and by, even the cut fingers didn't come. Maybe I hadn't been
exactly gracious toward the end. Maybe the whole thing was my fault.
Even the Lucy business. My mother said it was, anyhow.

You see, Lucy lived quite a distance away and we couldn't call each
other up because of my not being able to use the tellies. We wrote and
I went to see her a few times, and then she came to meet my family.
Once.

It was a ghastly evening. We all sat around stiffly, my family being
excessively polite to her, thinking, I knew, that this was my only
chance to get myself a wife and so they'd better be nice to the girl,
no matter what she was like. And seeing her with what I fancied to
be their eyes, I realized that she wasn't outstandingly pretty,
particularly bright, or even very talented.

And what was she thinking? That she had got herself virtually engaged
to a useless half-sense because he had had a brief moment of glory as a
war hero? Trapped with this imbecile and his dull, stuffy family, and
not being able to get out of it without being cruel?

What were they _actually_ thinking? I didn't know. But _they_
did--Mother knew what everybody was thinking, right down to the last
convolution of the subconscious mind and Sylvia knew what everyone else
was feeling, and the others ... they knew or at least sensed part of
what was going on. But I was impercipient, I couldn't tell anything, I
was excluded--out in the cold--and, being unable ever really to know,
was forced to draw the worst conclusions.

I took Lucy home that evening. They had to trust me that far alone
because it would have looked absurd for Danny or Tim to come along as
chaperone, and anyway I had been there alone before, when I had gone to
see her.

"Lucy," I said as we stood awkwardly before her door, "I don't want you
to feel, just because of what might have happened in a burst of--of
patriotic fervor, that you're bound or--"

"No, Kevin," she murmured, without looking at me. "I understand. I
don't feel bound or--committed in any way. And you mustn't feel bound,
either."

"That's good." I felt a deep sense of sorrow working its way down to
settle in my viscera and, if she'd had much perceptiveness, things
might have been different then. But she hadn't. I took a deep breath,
determined to carry my heartbreak off with dignity. "Well, good-by,
Lucy."

       *       *       *       *       *

Although she had never really been close to me--in fact, I had never
so much as kissed her--I felt lonelier now, without even the hope of
her, than I ever had before. I began to take my long walks in the
park again, brooding over the power that might have been mine, if
only I hadn't been such a damn fool as to give freely without asking
anything in return. During the war, I could have got anything I wanted
in exchange for what I'd done, or, rather, for what I could do, but I'd
been too busy healing. Now it was too late for asking.

Nature, being all I had left, became closer to me than ever before. And
one morning, after a violent storm the night before, I mourned over the
fallen trees and smashed flowers as I had never mourned over fallen
and smashed men--first, because I hadn't cared, and then because I had
known I could help.

Come to think of it, how did I know it was only people I could help?

"Mother," I said eagerly when I came home that evening, "I can heal
other things besides people! Trees and shrubs and--"

"That's nice, dear. Perhaps we can get you a job with the Park
Department if you're tired of sitting home, and in the meantime you'd
better comb those leaves out of your hair. Sylvia, did you call that
techno?"

"Yes, Mother," Sylvia said gloomily. Her guy still hadn't called.
Knowing now how she must feel, I could feel sorry for her. "It said
it'll be over as soon as it can, but that it might take days."

"We'll have to eat synthetics for dinner if that stove isn't fixed
soon," my mother said fretfully, and went off into the kitchen to mess
around with the machinery and thus make certain the techno had a real
hard job on its hands when it finally did show up.

Oh, the devil with it, I thought. No use hoping to interest the family
in any extension of my gift that had no practical value except for
nature lovers. I might as well seize such meager chances as were still
open to me. I wasn't going to be an idealistic idiot any longer.

"Sylvie," I said to my sister, "I've changed my mind about that
testimonial."

She looked blankly at me out of her reverie. "What testimonial?"

"The--you know, the Panacetic Pills."

She laughed and patted me on the shoulder, not unkindly, because she
could probably feel a sympathy in me now that she never could before.
"Too late for that, honey. Your name wouldn't mean a thing any more."

So many of them owed their lives to me--and yet they had forgotten me.

Tim looked at me. "Be careful, Kev," he said anxiously.

"Careful of what?"

"I don't know exactly." He ran his hand through his hair. "But be
careful, won't you?"

Just at that moment, an easy chair floated in from the next room,
banged into me, swerved, and crashed into a table. Danny, who had
been thinking of going into interior decoration as a sideline to his
business, had been making the furniture leap without looking first.

       *       *       *       *       *

I gave Tim a reproachful glance as I used my gift to heal my bruised
shin. "You might have been a little more explicit," I complained. "I'm
no 'path."

"I didn't mean--" But Danny caromed into Tim on his way to inspect the
damage. My whole family was so used to relying on their psi powers that
they were pretty clumsy when it came to using the merely physical ones.

Danny looked sadly at the wreckage. The chair was only nicked, but the
table was pretty well smashed. "Gee, Kev," he said mournfully, "if only
you could fix furniture the way you fix up people."

"I can heal trees," I said. "And they're wood."

"So try the table," Sylvia proposed. "It's going to cost you anything?"

Danny looked at me hopefully.

I went over and touched the table. At first nothing happened. And then
the shattered bits of wood sort of shimmered together and it was whole
again.

Danny's and Sylvia's eyes bugged out. So did mine, as a matter of fact.
Only Tim didn't look surprised, just a little sadder.

Mother appeared from the kitchen so fast, you'd think she'd caught
teleportation from Father. "Kevin!" she cried, her eyes shining with an
enthusiasm that my healing of people had never evoked in her. She was
a conscientious psychiatrist, but a passionate cook. "Come in here and
see what you can do with this stove."

My siblings treading on my heels, I went in and fixed it. Like that.
She looked at me with genuine mother love in her eyes. "My boy," she
breathed adoringly.

"Pianos!" Danny yelped suddenly. Everybody looked at him. "If you
worked along with me, Kev," he explained, "nobody would ever have to
know if I dropped 'em. I could be a senior executive and no questions
asked."

"But that wouldn't be ethical," Sylvia suggested, with a sidelong
glance at me.

"My ethical values have come down to Earth," I said. "Be glad to help
you out, Dan. And the same goes for you, Sylvie. 'Use Kevin Faraday. A
Million Times More Efficient than Glue.' Nothing for nothing any more,
though--I have to be as professional as everybody and I've got a career
to get started."

Sylvia sighed. "I wish there were other things you could fix besides
people and furniture. Intangibles."

"Like broken hearts, maybe?"

She smiled. "Maybe."

"I'll try," I said, and I concentrated.

Just then, the telliebell rang and Tim, being youngest, went to answer
it. When he came back, he was smiling. "For you, Sylvie. Lennie."

"Lennie!" Sylvia yelped joyously. She ran toward the tellie, dashed
back, planted a wet kiss on my cheek, and scurried off to the booth.

"Well, gosh!" Danny said.

"Maybe it's going to be all right," Tim said, precognizing hard. "Power
doesn't necessarily corrupt."

"You could make that part of your service, Kev," Danny suggested.
"Mending broken hearts, I mean, not corrupting. Hey, where are you
going?"

"To catch a helibus," I said. "There's a broken heart that needs fixing
immediately. And it's for me, so nothing for nothing still goes."





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