An iron pellet, the size of a chickpea, gets nudged and jostled by its brethren as it floats in the asteroid belt billions of miles from the sun. With a bump and a ping, off it goes. This last bounce sends it whizzing out of orbit, spiraling inward.
It first streams by Circe which gives it a gravitational nudge. Years go by. Mars comes into view and the red planet slings it sideways, ever inward. This boost to hyper-velocity delivers it within weeks, screaming inside geostationary orbit. A few seconds from its final destination, the North Atlantic, an unexpected obstacle drifts into view.
The ISS, blithely unaware, sits smack in its path.
Astronaut Kerry Corrigan has just finished the unpleasant task of shitting into the famous NASA commode. No matter what he eats, his heritage as a carnivore follows him everywhere, even into space. The rest of the crew isolate themselves in the far reaches of the station—in close proximity to the air scrubbers.
“Are we safe yet?” The crackling jibe over the intercom fails to lift his mood. Planet-side, diarrhea is a nuisance. Here, it’s flat out dangerous.
“Damn-it, Georgie, I’ll give you the all-clear when I’m ready.”
The curried goat and kumquats really did a number. The astronauts could request native country cuisine, and Kerry had gladly shared his steel-cut oats, lamb and chanterelles. In the spirit of cultural cultivation, Vinshi’s native Indian contribution had been delicious, but ultimately toxic.
Kerry zipped up his suit and sealed the vacuum door to the disposal unit. He pressed the intercom button but instead of the familiar click, the inbound impact alarm sounded, the blaring whoop, whoop overwhelming his senses with instant fear and dread.
Three seconds later, while he paused collecting his wits, the iron chickpea, moving at eighty thousand kilometers per hour, punched a chickpea sized hole through the space station’s aluminum wall. Like a sniper’s rifle, it rested its crosshairs on Kerry’s abdomen, just below his liver, just above his large intestine, missing the stomach’s nozzle into the duodenum but passing through part of his pancreas.
The concussion of air pressure from the passing meteor rocked Kerry back on the stool. A micro-boom, a high power rifle shot, the explosion of an M-80 held just feet from his head, these were how he later described it.
Aside from the puncture detonation, the diminutive intruder came and went unnoticed until the telltale whistle of escaping air alerted all on board that they’d had a strike. The pebble continued on its way, if a bit slower for its effort, to descend and burn up in a fiery streak over Iceland.
Kerry moved to pull himself from the pot and winced. What the hell? He slapped the intercom full-on. “Hey, guys. The strike is over here next to me. Better get the patch kits. From the sound of it, I’d say it was pretty…” He touched his suit and found the hole. “Jesus-h-christ, I’ve been shot.”
With the mic full-on, no one could comment. Vinshi and Georgie arrived and covered their ears at the shrieking noise as their precious air leaked into the void. Georgie tore open a patch kit, a gooey, two part epoxy stiffened with fibers, that he massaged and applied to puncture number one.
Fixing hole number two proved involved. The meteor had penetrated the effluent disposal chute and was now responsible with polluting space with weeks of astronaut feces.
But first there was Kerry.
“Shot you say?” Vinshi got close to inspect the hole. “Unzip your suit.” Kerry complied. Vinshi’s eyebrows jumped. “Holy shit. Sorry, I mean it’s a hole burned clean through you. Goddamn. It’s perfect.”
“Shit Vinshi. It’s sure as hell ain’t perfect. It’s a fuckin’ hole through my gut.”
“I mean. It’s perfectly placed. I’ll bet…” Vinshi opened the tool kit he’d brought along and selected a long Phillips screwdriver. “Watch this.”
“Get the hell away from me.”
“It’s fine. Am I not the medical officer onboard?”
Kerry and Georgie nodded. Georgie had finished patching the first hole.
“Then trust me.” Vinshi slowly inserted the screwdriver all the way to the handle. “It missed everything important. It even missed your spine.”
Georgie began readying patch number two. “That’s gotta hurt. Does it hurt?”
“Yeah. I think. But not like you’d imagine.”
Vinshi shrugged. “This would normally cut your duty short. But…” He inspected Kerry’s back. “It’s like a laser burn.”
“I’m pretty sure this’ll make you famous.” Georgie motioned him out of the way of the second hole.
Kerry grimaced as he moved. “Yeah, I can just hear the headlines now. Astronaut returns with black hole.”
“Universe shoots hole in one.”
“This is Paul Harvey, now you know the hole story.”
“That’s not how it goes.”
“Oh, jeeze, Georgie. Can you just go patch this shit hole.”