After all communications ceased, Flight Engineer Sadhbh Duffy and Science Officer Eddie Takeda stuck it out another nine days before departing in the last Soyuz capsule. They’d tried, but Commander Colin Kask could not be coaxed into abandoning the station. He would remain, alone and without means to escape. The last astronaut.
That was 21 months ago.
It was only today, after 647 days of total isolation, that Kask became truly concerned. It wasn’t supplies; after the last resupply there’d been enough to maintain a crew of eight for six months under normal circumstances. A crew of one keeping to strict rations could make that last for quite a long time. No, it wasn’t supplies. What concerned him was that after 647 days of floating alone above a silent, gray, and lightless Earth, he’d discovered something new: a yellowjacket, here on the station.
There’d been a few non-human inhabitants aboard the station over the years as part of a wide array of scientific experiments. There’d been mice of course, and quails, zebrafish, Japanese rice fish, a Hawaiian Bobtail squid, mosquitos and brine shrimp, spiders and fleas and snails, fruit flies and house flies, red carpenter ants and monarch butterflies, and the worms: roundworms and silkworms and flatworms and plain old earthworms. But those were all long gone now. And never—never—had there been even a single yellowjacket. Where had it come from?
He heard it before he saw it, even over the constant hum of the station’s essential systems. It was trying to get out, flying over and over again into the glass of the Cupola module’s center window. Tap. Tap. Tap. At first he just stared at it with his mouth hanging open within the tangles of his scraggly salt-and-pepper beard. The station had become his temple, and he its solitary protector. This intruder would defile it; indeed, it was already salivating on the window, leaving tiny droplets that it would later combine with wiring insulation and bits of Velcro and stray hair follicles to build a nest, and then there’d be more, and they’d be everywhere. Where had it come from? Why, it had come straight from Hell, and he intended to send it swiftly back.
He tried to squash it with his palm, but it escaped between his fingers and led him on a chase. He bounced wildly from one module to another, failing time and time again to smash it first with his fist, and then with the flat side of a plastic first aid kit which he shattered into splinters against the corner of a computer monitor, but the yellowjacket evaded and outmaneuvered him in this unprecedented dogfight. In his fervor he fully discharged a 6 lbs. CO2 fire extinguisher, but the little yellow devil seemed unstoppable.
At last, he chased it into the airlock and pulled the hatch shut. Nowhere to run now. Without regard for himself, and against the protestations of the station’s systems which blared like banshees, he bypassed the safety interlocks and blew the exterior hatch. As he went cold and silent into the great void, a peculiar thing happened. The yellowjacket vanished. Perhaps he’d lost it? It was almost as if it had never been there at all.