|I was sitting around with my buddy, Bud, checking statistics and reviewing diagnostics. Two years alone in orbit is quite straining on one’s health. We were thin, tired and restless, positioned around Europa, a moon to the planet Jupiter. Weather patterns and numbers flashed across our screens constantly. There are thousands like us in the region of Jupiter alone. Such a very extensive research project, and very effective, but extremely demanding.
I wiped some sweat off my forehead. “Bud, can you turn on the air?”
“Sure thing,” he said, but didn’t move from his seat.
“Bud, I said can you–” I began again, but was cut off by a tapping at the airlock.
We both froze. It was silent. We were in orbit 10,000 miles over a barren landscape in a complete vacuum; there was nothing that could possibly have caused a noise on the door that would not have shown up on the readings. Perhaps I had imagined it?
No. It came again. Tap tap tap… I looked at Bud. What else could we do? I went to answer it.
I activated the control to open the external door, and heard a slight scuttling on the floor inside the lock. I closed the external door, and pressed the button to inflate the chamber. Once the pressure was equal, I opened the internal one. Surely, nothing could possibly survive the outside vacuum…
Out of the air lock stepped the first visitor. It appeared to be male, but it’s difficult to tell with giant cockroaches. About two feet long and perhaps raised 2/3 of a foot off the ground; it was dirty and had an unpleasant musky smell. The chocolate brown exoskeleton was quite disconcerting next to the ragged top hat on what I could only hope was its head. The only other supporting evidence for this was the few pieces of string that I assumed to be the remains of a scarf. No eyes were visible but its yellow stained antennae were a clue. The skitter it made was more of a six-legged limp, and there were small dirt marks left on the otherwise clean floor by its feet-less legs.
A raspy voice vibrated off of the tips of its antennae. It was dry, and I found myself surprised that it wasn’t followed by a hacking cough. “Are… you… healthy…”
“No,” I replied. With a light buzz it backed itself back into the lock, and I closed the door after it, releasing it into the vacuum. Mere seconds later came a noise much like the tapping. Scratch scratch scratch… I once again allowed access to the noise.
This time it was an old dog. Its fur was marked heavily by scars and its face was pockmarked with them as well. The abuse it had suffered was very apparent and the droop of its shoulders and head served as evidence for this. It smelled of neglect and its cold eyes gazed sadly up at me. Its tail hung low, dragging along the already dirty floor.
It bared its teeth and somewhere from the back of its throat growled, “Are you happy?”
“No,” I said. The dog turned around and slowly trotted into the lock and I let it out as I had with the cockroach.
Once gone I heard yet another sound: a low thudding, as if someone were ramming their entire body against the hull. I let this third apparition in.
This time the visitor could be considered almost human, though demon suited it better. His hair was red and his skin was a dark yellow. He wore hole-filled jeans and a stained strait-jacket. There was a dazed look in his eyes and he was barefoot. I felt both revolted and sympathetic as his rancid odor followed. He appeared crippled in his leg and had a stoop.
This time there was a cough before he spoke. “Are you sane?”
“No,” I stated, and with a grumble he crept backwards and was consumed by the emptiness. Upon his departure I sat in silence for a few minutes, contemplating. Yet my peace was not for long when there came a sudden BANG. One more time I opened the airlock for my final visitor. I looked nervously for Bud, but he was nowhere in the ship. There was a light tap as a shoe made contact with the metal flooring, and I glanced quickly back to see whom my fourth visitor would be.
In the doorway stood Bud. He had blond hair and bulky shoulders. His face was the perfect tone, and his hands sat relaxed in his denim jeans pockets. He wore a slightly rumpled striped t-shirt and a slim smile on his face. His eyes sparkled lightly, but his mouth did not move, did not breathe when he spoke. His voice was wispy and came from nowhere.
“You are alone.”
Silently he disappeared. I walked back across the cabin to the diagnostics board and sat down. I got back to work.