“They’re all crazy,” Randolph said disgustedly. “I’m going to cross that street!”
“Shut up. So it’s a certain time of a certain day,” Allenby mused. “And from the way the chief is acting, he’s afraid for you to cross the street. And that other one just crawled. By God, do you know what this might tie in with?”
We were silent for a moment. Then Gonzales said, “Of course!”
And Burton said, “The holes!”
“Exactly,” said Allenby. “Maybe whatever made—or makes—the holes comes right down the center of the street here. Maybe that’s why they built the village this way—to make room for—”
“For what?” Randolph asked unhappily, shifting his feet.
“I don’t know,” Allenby said. He looked thoughtfully at the chief. “That circular motion he made—could he have been describing something that went around and around the planet? Something like—oh, no!” Allenby’s eyes glazed. “I wouldn’t believe it in a million years.”
His gaze went to the far end of the street, to the high sand dune that rose there. The chief seemed to be waiting for something to happen.
“I’m going to crawl,” Randolph stated. He got to his hands and knees and began to creep across the center of the avenue.
The chief let him go.
The sand dune at the end of the street suddenly erupted. A forty-foot spout of dust shot straight out from the sloping side, as if a bullet had emerged. Powdered sand hazed the air, yellowed it almost the full length of the avenue. Grains of sand stung the skin and rattled minutely on the houses.
Randolph dropped flat on his belly. He didn’t have to continue his trip. He had made other arrangements.
That night in the ship, while we all sat around, still shaking our heads every once in a while, Allenby talked with Earth. He sat there, wearing the headphones, trying to make himself understood above the godawful static.
“… an exceedingly small body,” he repeated wearily to his unbelieving audience, “about four inches in diameter. It travels at a mean distance of four feet above the surface of the planet, at a velocity yet to be calculated. Its unique nature results in many hitherto unobserved—I might say even unimagined—phenomena.” He stared blankly in front of him for a moment, then delivered the understatement of his life. “The discovery may necessitate a re-examination of many of our basic postulates in the physical sciences.”
The headphones squawked.
Patiently, Allenby assured Earth that he was entirely serious, and reiterated the results of his observations. I suppose that he, an astronomer, was twice as flabbergasted as the rest of us. On the other hand, perhaps he was better equipped to adjust to the evidence.
“Evidently,” he said, “when the body was formed, it traveled at such fantastic velocity as to enable it to—” his voice was almost a whisper—”to punch holes in things.”
The headphones squawked.
“In rocks,” Allenby said, “in mountains, in anything that got in its way. And now the holes form a large portion of its fixed orbit.”
“Its mass must be on the order of—”
“—process of making the holes slowed it, so that now it travels just fast enough—”
“—maintain its orbit and penetrate occasional objects such as—”
“—and sand dunes—”
“My God, I know it’s a mathematical monstrosity,” Allenby snarled. “I didn’t put it there!”
Allenby was silent for a moment. Then he said slowly, “A name?”
“H’m,” said Allenby. “Well, well.” He appeared to brighten just a little. “So it’s up to me, as leader of the expedition, to name it?”
“Well, well,” he said.
That chop-licking tone was in his voice. We’d heard it all too often before. We shuddered, waiting.
“Inasmuch as Mars’ outermost moon is called Deimos, and the next Phobos,” he said, “I think I shall name the third moon of Mars—Bottomos.”