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Title: The Ballad of Blaster Bill

Author: Nelson S. Bond

Illustrator: Don Lynch

Release date: April 28, 2020 [eBook #61968]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at


The Ballad of Blaster Bill

By Nelson S. Bond

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Planet Stories Summer 1941.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

When you're hurtling 'round the Sun
On the perihelion run
Through the asteroids from Jupiter to Mars,
You may chance to see a light
In the everlasting night,
An unwinking beacon, sister to the stars.
Then each member of the crew
From the lowest wiper to
The Skipper on the bridge, a moment will
Drop all work and gravely, mute,
Raise his arm in full salute
To the final resting place of Blaster Bill.
Afterward, if you are not
Just a nosey rankey-pot,[1]
And the thing that ticks within you isn't stone,
You may learn from spacemens' lips
Tales of ancient days and ships,
And why Bill the Blaster lies there all alone.
Surly Jonathan McNeer
Was the Master Engineer
On the wallowing old freighter, Dotty Sue.
He was gruff, uncouth, unclean,
And his language was obscene,
But a better grease-pot never sheared the blue.
He had nerves of tempered steel,
And without a squawk or squeal
He would plot a course to Hades for a thrill;
But his temper was like fire
And the man who drew his ire,
Who tried his patience most, was—Blaster Bill.
Bill the Blaster was a lazy,
Good-for-nothing (some said crazy),
Guy who didn't have a gray cell in his head.
He had muscle in his shoulders,
And his forearms were like boulders,
But his cranium and can were filled with lead.
Without ever even trying
He could make McNeer start crying
Down the wrath of Baal upon his hapless dome.
He and awkwardness were cousins,
He broke things by scores and dozens
Just one look at him and tubes sang, "Ohm, sweet Ohm!"
On the Dotty Sue, his duty
Was to keep all tutti-frutti
The rocket-blasts, the motors and the rest
Of the intricate equipment
Which insures a speedy shipment
To the planets that are buttons on Sol's vest.
But McNeer's deserved objection
Was—Bill practiced vivisection
Every time he placed his thumbs (which numbered five)
On a section of machinery.
"He'd be better in a beanery!"
Was McNeer's complaint. "I'll skin the guy alive!"
"Now, there, Jonathan!" the Skipper
Used to say, "Don't be a yipper.
I'm sure Bill does the best he can." But grief
Etched gray, fretful lines and horrid
On McNeer's space-weathered forehead.
"The best is none too good!" complained the Chief.
Two months out of Io City
Everything was running pretty,
The asteroids were thirty hours away,
When McNeer, to whom perfection
Was a sort of predilection,
Said, "Bill, we'll take the hypos down today."
Well, the hypatomic motors
Are the energy-plus rotors
That control a spaceship's motion in the void.
When the ship is once free-wheeling
'Neath the vast celestial ceiling,
Then's the time to clean the grit with which they're cloyed.
So Bill said, "Yup. Okey-dokey!"
And with movements slow and pokey
Dismounted Number one and got to work.
"Do a perfect job, you globaar![2]
Or I'll crown you with a crow-bar!"
Warned McNeer—and then he vanished with a smirk.
It was some two hours later
As, upon his "sweet pertater"
The Chief Engineer was tootling Venus Nell,
That the Second Mate, half witless,
Out of breath and frightened spitless,
Burst in crying, "Chief, we're on our way to hell!"
"What, already?" drawled McNeer
But the mate, pale green with fear,
Bawled, "Go get the hypos working, without fail!
And go do it on the double,
'Cause we're in a peck of trouble!
A rogue asteroid is riding on our tail!"
Now, in case you don't remember,
A "rogue asteroid's" a member
Of the minor planet group that's slipped its cogs.
Wrenched by gravitational forces,
It careens about its courses
In an orbit not computable by logs.
Tons on tons of granite, metaled,
By the tug of Jove unsettled,
Weaving in, about, below its normal belt;
Is it any wonder why a
Spaceman fears this mad pariah?
Dreads the moment when its power may be felt?
With a single, sharp, explosive
Word that acted as corrosive
On the mate's embarrassed eardrums, raced McNeer
To the engine-room where, peaceful,
Happy, busy, very grease-full,
Labored Blaster Bill, with grins from ear to ear.
"Bill!" McNeer cried, voice all blurry,
"Get that hypo in a hurry—"
Then his order strangled as he stared, aghast.
"What is this?" he faltered weakly,
"What is this?" And Bill, quite meekly,
Said, "I thought I'd melt it down for a recast!"
His imagination racing
The Chief gazed upon the casing
Of the hypatomic motor Number Three,
Now a pool of molten metal
Bubbling gently in a kettle.
"Goddlemighty!" yelled McNeer. "This thing can't be!"
Bill asked, "Why the mad commotion?"
Then they glimpsed a sudden motion
And the Skipper's face was in the televise.
"Got the motors fixed, McNeer?"
And the Chief said, low and clear,
"No. Does someone know a prayer amongst you guys?"
"Why?" the Skipper roared, distrait;
The Chief let him have it straight.
"The hypatomic's melted into wax!
But before that rogue gets near,
I've a twelve pound hammer here
To warp across my blaster's parallax!"
"Wait!" the Captain cried, "Not yet!
We must cover every bet.
I'm commander of this freighter while she rolls.
We must somehow make a turn,
Shake that damn rogue off our stern.
Suppose you try the manual controls?"
McNeer sadly shook his head
As he saw the rusty red
Of the long neglected manuals, but yelled,
"Hop to it, Bill, you dope!
It's our last and only hope—"
And then he stopped and gulped, "Well, I'll be helled!"
With his back arched neck to heel,
Bill was straining at the wheel;
The year-old rust was breaking off in flakes.
McNeer's eyes lit with joy,
He shouted, "Bill, my boy!
See, there, lad? She gives! She shakes!"
And true enough, the screw
Of the gallant Dotty Sue
Was turning 'neath the blaster's mighty brawn.
The C. E.'s voice was thunder,
"We're getting out from under!
Just hold 'er, Bill; the danger will be gone!"
A moment, still as death,
While Bill the Blaster's breath
Rasped through the rocking room in tortured sobs,
Then from the bridge rang out
The Skipper's warning shout,
"Too late! Abandon ship, Chief! Don your lobs!"
McNeer said, "Too bad, Bill,
Just hold 'er there until
I get the lobs, and then we'll pull our freight."
With firm, untrembling hands
He took down from their stands
Two spacesuits, worn and old and out of date.
But Bill the Blaster stood
As motionless as wood;
His arms like knotted oak in cords of strain.
He slowly shook his head
And to the Chief he said,
"If all break ship, we'll not see Earth again."
"I know—" began McNeer,
But Bill roared out, "Stand clear!"
His arms upon the wheel were like a vise.
"Break ship and wait outside,
I'll make this baby ride!
I'll hold 'er till the devil skates on ice!"
Then in the visiplate
Appeared the Second Mate,
"All out below? Did you break ship, McNeer?"
McNeer said, "Right away!
Come on, Bill, don't delay!"
But Bill the Blaster panted, "Chief, stand clear!"
"You fool, you're courting death!"
Bill answered, "Save your breath,"
And grinned, "You'll need that oxygen outside!"
And stood like frozen steel
Beside that bucking wheel,
McNeer, reluctant, hovered at his side....
Till Bill cried, "You damn fool!"
And grabbed a handy tool
And slashed it 'cross his headpiece like a mace.
There came a crashing roar,
McNeer knew nothing more
Until he woke to find himself in space.
About him, staff and crew
Of the ill-starred Dotty Sue
Were huddled, bitter, grim, but unafraid.
A quarter mile away
The last scene of the fray
Tween Man and Asteroid was being played.
Her stern jets flaming white
Against the endless night
The bobbing ship was fighting, bolt and nail,
To curve from underneath
Those looming tons of death
That poised above her like a cosmic flail.
McNeer cried, "No, Bill! No!"
And then his audio
Clacked with the Skipper's thin, metallic voice,
"There's nothing we can do
But hope he pulls her through.
He made his choice, McNeer; a hero's choice."
As they watched tensely, all,
The spaceship seemed to crawl
An inch, a foot, a yard, another yard....
Meanwhile, the massive rock
Raced blindly toward the shock
With vast, colossal, cosmic disregard.
And nearer yet they drew,
To their strange rendezvous
In space; Fate's balance hovered fine and thin.
And then, "The Lord be praised!"
The crew a paean raised;
McNeer's white lips cracked in a nerveless grin.
Imponderable mass
And spaceship seemed to pass
Each other with a hair 'twixt hull and face;
But then, as every voice
Roused in a loud rejoice,
A single boulder slashed through empty space—
The spaceship buckled, bent;
A gaping, white-fanged rent
Split stern plates, and McNeer's voice cracked with fear.
"Board ship, all hands!" he cried!
"Bill's dying there inside!"
The wan sun watched the killer disappear.
McNeer was first to kneel
Beside the shattered wheel
And Bill's pale, silent figure; gray with grief
He cried, "He's breathing yet!
Here, Skipper! Help me get—"
But Bill said, "No—don't try to lift me, Chief."
"I look all right on top
But ... better get ... a mop....
My underneath part's not so good...." A chill
Ran through his broken frame,
But, to the last ditch game,
"I held 'er to 'er course—" said Blaster Bill.
So—hurtling 'round the Sun
On the perihelion run
Through the asteroids from Jupiter to Mars,
You may chance to see a light
In the everlasting night,
An unwinking beacon, sister to the stars.
And then, if you are not
A lousy rankey-pot,
With the instincts of the back end of a horse,
You'll stand a moment, mute,
Arm raised in full salute
To Blaster Bill—who held 'er to 'er course.

[1] rankey-pot—Earthlubber; from the Venusian "renqui-pth"

[2] globaar—shiftless person; Ionian term of reproach