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The Minus Woman   By: (1904-1971)

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By Russ Winterbotham

What made the mass of this tiny asteroid fluctuate in defiance of all known physical laws? It was an impossible fact but then, so was the girl who they knew couldn't exist!

Red Brewer had plugged his electric razor into the lab circuit and he was running it over his pink jowls while I tried to discover what was haywire about the balance scales.

"Have you noticed," Red said above the clatter of his shaver, "how much less you have to shave on an asteroid?"

"I still shave every day," I said. There was something definitely wrong with the scales. The ten gram weight didn't balance two five gram weights. Instead it weighed 7.5 grams. And then, suddenly, the cockeyed scales would get ornery and the two five gram weights would weigh 7.5 grams and the ten gram slug would weigh what it should.

"I don't," said Red. "I shave once a week. Back on terra I shaved every day, but not here. And I don't even have a beard to show for it."

I didn't answer. There were tougher problems on my mind than whiskers, but of course Red Brewer wouldn't understand them. He was good at machinery, and with a camera, and for company on a lonely asteroid which right now was 300,000,000 miles from the earth, but he certainly wasn't a brain.

"What do you make of it, Jay?" he asked. "Oh, Mr. Hayling, I'm speaking to you."

"Maybe it's your thyroid," I said. "Shut up."

"I'm twenty seven," said Red. "Too old to have thyroids."

"You mean adenoids."

Red growled and shut off the razor. He ran his hand over his face. "I've got a face like a school kid's," he said. "If there was only a girl on this god forsaken piece of rock to see it."

There were no girls on Asteroid 57GM. This place didn't have anything excepting a lonely shack with paper thin walls made of special heat insulating material. There wasn't a blade of grass; not a puff of wind; no soil for violets; not even a symmetrical shape, it was lopsided like a beaten up baseball. Or at least that was what I thought until something happened to the balance scales.

The idea of sending Jay Hayling, which is me, and ruddy Red Brewer to Asteroid 57GM, was simply to check up on some figures which said that this little 10 mile chunk of rock didn't have the right mass. Twice it had been clocked on near passages to Jupiter and twice it had behaved differently, as if it had suddenly lost some of its mass. So Red and I had been sentenced to fifteen months alone in space on an asteroid just to find out that somebody had made a mistake in arithmetic.

The sonar equipment showed what kind of rock it was iron and basalt. And I'd made borings which checked. We'd tested the speed of escape which was a good push so we had to be careful, and its force of gravity, which wasn't much. And then I'd discovered that the balance in the lab had a habit of being 25 per cent wrong one way or the other every time I tried to use it.

Red put away his razor and went through the little door leading to the living quarters. The partition was crystal clear plastic so I could see him pulling himself along by the hand rail toward the bookcase. I knew he would presently find himself something to read while I worked.

We seldom walked in the laboratory. Our muscles, conditioned by terrestrial gravity, were too strong for walking. We'd have bumped our heads on the ceiling at every step and possibly we might even have punched a hole in the roof, losing our air. So we sort of pulled ourselves along by a system of hand rails on all of the anchored desks, furniture and walls. It was like pulling yourself along the bottom of the ocean by hanging onto rocks, since the air in the lab was dense enough to support our almost weightless bodies.

I checked the scales every way I could and finally gave up. I'd tackle the problem again tomorrow. Maybe something on the asteroid, some magnetic rock or something, threw it off. I washed my hands in the laboratory sink and then, while I wiped them on a towel, glanced at Red, who was lying on his bunk reading... Continue reading book >>

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