There are two basic kinds of fools—the ones who know they are fools, and the kind that, because they do not know that, are utterly deadly menaces!
The mountain was spinning.
Not dizzily, not even rapidly, but very perceptibly, the great mass of jagged rock was turning on its axis.
Captain St. Simon scowled at it. "By damn, Jules," he said, "if you can see 'em spinning, it's too damn fast!" He expected no answer, and got none.
He tapped the drive pedal gently with his right foot, his gaze shifting alternately from the instrument board to the looming hulk of stone before him. As the little spacecraft moved in closer, he tapped the reverse pedal with his left foot. He was now ten meters from the surface of the asteroid. It was moving, all right. "Well, Jules," he said in his most commanding voice, "we'll see just how fast she's moving. Prepare to fire Torpedo Number One!"
"Yassuh, boss! Yassuh, Cap'n Sain' Simon, suh! All ready on the firin' line!"
He touched a button with his right thumb. The ship quivered almost imperceptibly as a jet of liquid leaped from the gun mounted in the nose of the ship. At the same time, he hit the reverse pedal and backed the ship away from the asteroid's surface. No point getting any more gunk on the hull than necessary.
The jet of liquid struck the surface of the rotating mountain and splashed, leaving a big splotch of silvery glitter. Even in the vacuum of space, the silicone-based solvents of the paint vehicle took time to boil off.
"How's that for pinpoint accuracy, Jules?"
"Veddy good, M'lud. Top hole, if I may say so, m'lud."
"You may." He jockeyed the little spacecraft around until he was reasonably stationary with respect to the great hunk of whirling rock and had the silver-white blotch centered on the crosshairs of the peeper in front of him. Then he punched the button that started the timer and waited for the silver spot to come round again.
The asteroid was roughly spherical—which was unusual, but not remarkable. The radar gave him the distance from the surface of the asteroid, and he measured the diameter and punched it through the calculator. "Observe," he said in a dry, didactic voice. "The diameter is on the order of five times ten to the fourteenth micromicrons." He kept punching at the calculator. "If we assume a mean density of two point six six times ten to the minus thirty-sixth metric tons per cubic micromicron, we attain a mean mass of some one point seven four times ten to the eleventh kilograms." More punching, while he kept his eye on the meteorite, waiting for the spot to show up again. "And that, my dear Jules, gives us a surface gravity of approximately two times ten to the minus sixth standard gees."
"Jawohl, Herr Oberstleutnant."
"Und zo, mine dear Chules, ve haff at least der grave zuspicion dot der zurface gravity iss less dan der zentrifugal force at der eqvator! Nein? Ja! Zo."
"Jawohl, Herr Konzertmeister."
Then there was a long, silent wait, while the asteroid went its leisurely way around its own axis.
"There it comes," said Captain St. Simon. He kept his eyes on the crosshair of the peeper, one hand over the timer button....