Mankind has colonized hundreds of worlds and expanded beyond the wildest dreams of their ancient ancestors, but there are still wonders unseen and horizons unexplored. Howard and Xavier are proposing an ambitious scientific achievement, one considered impossible until now, piercing the event horizon of a black hole and discovering what transpires beyond. There are many barriers yet to surmount, not the least of which are incredulity and ignorance, but they are determined to push the boundaries of human knowledge and achievement, no matter the cost, no matter how much their dream seems to be beyond the reach of mortal man.
John J. Johnson was asleep. He floated peacefully in his sleep-harness as his ship hummed around him methodically, hurtling through the near void of space ever so sedately. He had just spent the better part of an earth day attempting to repair a puncture on the exterior bulkhead. While it was not at all critical to his voyage that the repair be effected before he arrived at his destination, he nonetheless had decided the day before that he should endeavor to finish the repair before his arrival at Europa. This determination was a combination of both an attempt to prove to himself his own capabilities in the matter as well as a venture to stave off the otherwise overwhelming boredom that these trips always inevitably entailed. Sure, there were a myriad of mental activities that he could have just as easily enjoyed, but there are only so many movies in a row that one can watch without getting a distinct urge to get up and do something, which on a spacecraft, is a potentially dangerous affliction. Many a tale has been passed around many a tavern across the Sol system of ‘spacers who get bored get dead’.
So it was that when the inch and a half asteroid skipped across the exterior of his craft at a couple of thousands of miles an hour, the wound it inflicted became an omnipresent temptation to get out and do something productive. Giving into his cabin fever had been the easiest part of the enterprise, as suiting up was an ever laborious task that no space-farer gets all the way through without some exhaustion and much frustration. After that, he had to patiently wait for the large empty cargo bay to cycle out the air ever so slowly. His mind had gone over the procedure he had been about to undertake over and over at least a dozen times as the lethargic whine of the aged air pump had grown gradually fainter.
After it had disappeared entirely and the indicator light had finally shown the all clear, John J. Johnson had scrambled out far too eagerly into the vast emptiness of space, showing an almost immature recklessness that was more characteristic of men far less experienced in space than him. It had taken almost fifteen hours of struggling and consternation to get the patch plate bolted into place properly. By the end of the ordeal, John J. Johnson had been cured entirely of his cabin fever, his energy, and his alertness. In such a state he had made his way, only half conscious, back into the cargo bay, waiting interminably for the air to return and pressurize to the proper level. Afterward, the removal of the suit had felt a million times more arduous than normal, and the long crawl to his bunkroom had felt like a marathon. Finally, he had struggled into the sleep-harness and had gratefully passed out.
In doing so, he had entirely missed, in his bleary fatigue, the urgently blinking text on his control console. The hum of his ship was uninterrupted by the standard array of loud warning klaxons that routinely would have gone off, had he not long ago disabled them out of irritation at their agitating volume. Nor was he jolted awake by the auto piloting system making an emergency course adjustment, having never trusted the damn computer to steer the ship, and thus having disengaged it. So it was that John J. Johnson was sound asleep when another asteroid struck his vessel at a couple of thousands of miles an hour. However, as this particular asteroid was over a mile wide and his ship was far less than a mile wide, the asteroid more accurately continued to fly through space virtually unaffected as a smallish collapsible particle impacted its forward facing surface.