What happens in the vacuum

by Michael S. Collins

“What’s the current capital of Italy?”

An agonising pause.

“Rome?”

The host let tension build longer than was strictly necessary.

“Oh, I’m sorry. The answer is, of course, Vienna. That ancient metropolis of Vienna. Steve, I’m afraid that means you’re three and out.”

“That can’t be right!” cried Steve.

“Oh, I’m afraid so,” replied the Host. “We can’t take Dickens as the answer to the books round, no matter how based in reality your answer was. If it’s not on the card…”

“It’s not in the game!” chanted the audience.

“I can’t lose. You can’t let me lose.”

“You’ve lost already. Countdown starting now. Ten, nine, eight…”

“Seven, six, five…” chanted the audience.

“It’s unfair! You can’t do this!” yelled Steve. He was crying and his voice shook wildly. He looked at the Host with gerbil eyes.

“Three, two, one…BOOM BOOM GONE!”

Steve tried to break through the clasps securing him to the podium, but he was too tightly manacled. A see-through tube swiftly descended from the ceiling above Steve’s head. He continued to scream continuous abuse, but the tube was sound proof.

The tube lowered itself fully to the ground, around the contestant.

The manacles snapped open.

The ceiling above him opened like a trapdoor. Steve shot upwards and out of sight. He might have screamed, but no one could hear him.

“Don’t mind the commotion, folks,” said the Host, “Remember, in space…”

“No one can hear you scream,” chanted the audience.

“Exactly,” said the Host, “We’ve said goodbye to Seditionist Steve. After the break, our final five contestant on The Eliminator will keep their remaining game lives, as we go into the Nominated Question round. I’m Allegiant Andrew, and I’ll see you right back here, after these important messages from the government.”

“Advert break. Time out!” Yelled the Producer.

“Thank Bob for that,” said Allegiant Andrew, and he relaxed his position. He turned to look at the remaining five contestants.

“Funny how they come in so many categories,” he thought.

There was Conspirator Chris, murderer of ten cyber-dogs, a man whose narrow stare frightened the most able of security chiefs into early retirement. Yet here he was, playing the game, on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Informer Irene, who passed messages to the agitators in the North, calmly studied the expressions of her fellow contestants.

Formerly Steadfast Shaun, the turncoat, gazed into the middle distance with a miserable acceptance of his fate. He only had one life left, so his chances were slim.

Traitor Tom, only a teenager, but evil beyond his years, inspiring the workers since the age of seven, looked nonchalant, but Allegiant Andrew knew that young mind was swiftly calculating his chances of survival.

And, of course, Plotter Pete, the writer, who smiled back at Allegiant Andrew. The host shuddered.

“The show’s back on in two minutes,” someone told Allegiant Andrew. He walked over to the contestants.

“Well, you’ve outlived ten contestants,” he said, “Not long to go now.”

Traitor Tom scowled back at him.

“Are we enjoying ourselves”? Asked Allegiant Andrew.

“No,” was the collective contestant reply.

“What a shame.” Allegiant Andrew turned to the audience.

“Are we enjoying ourselves?”

“Yes!” chanted the audience.

“Just as well.” He turned back to the contestants. “See, they learn fast. At this point, the longer they conform, they longer they remain audience members and not contestants.”

“The government will fall one day,” cried Formerly Steadfast Shaun. “What we’ve been doing is inhumane.”

“Inhumane!” said the Host. “I can’t think what you are getting at. This game show is a legal requirement. Law states it. And laws can’t be inhumane.”

“The State is,” replied Shaun.

“Well, at this stage, nothing you say can hurt you more,” said Allegiant Andrew. “Though I should remind you of what happened to Informer Iain. The precedent for a penalty is there.”

“I remain resolute in my opposition to the whole charade,” said Formerly Steadfast Shaun. “And it is to my eternal shame that I ever supported such crooked machinery.”

“The State must know…” said Allegiant Andrew.

“What the State must know,” finished the audience.

“I’m sure the State knows by now what happens in the vacuum. We’ve thrown enough lives out there in the name of scientific progress to have made a few recordings of our discoveries by now.”

“That’s probably the case,” said Allegiant Andrew. “However, as you well know, what happens in the vacuum…”

“Stays in the vacuum,” finished the audience.

“It’s all unnecessary.” Said Shaun. “This is nothing more than a slaughterhouse.”

Loud alarm bells began to ring.

“Oh dear, there’s that precedent,” said the Host.

He turned to the camera, at a signal from his producer.

“Welcome back” said Allegiant Andrew. “During the government messages, we’ve had an incident in the studio and it seems like Formerly Steadfast Shaun has provoked the penalty.”

The tube came down, as it did for Seditionist Steve. Shaun continued his tirade against the State, but no one could hear it and soon he was gone.

“What a shame he left so soon,” said Allegiant Andrew. “But after all, in space…”

“No one hears your blaspheme,” chanted the audience.

The host turned to the other contestants.

“So Conspirator Chris, Informer Irene, Traitor Tom and Plotter Pete, four of you left, time to play the Eliminator. Any potential last words?”

“I don’t want to die!” said Conspirator Chris.

“These won’t be my last words,” said Informer Irene.

Traitor Tom remained silent.

“I will happily give my life to encourage others to write and speak out against the State,” said Plotter Pete.

“Strong words from the contestants,” said Allegiant Andrew. “Traitor Tom, as the contestant with most lives left, you get to choose here. Will you answer the question? Or will you nominate someone else to answer? Remember, if you answer wrongly, you lose a life. If you nominate someone else and they answer correctly, you lose a life. If they answer wrongly, they lose a life. The choice is up to you.”

A pause.

“Can I hear the question first please?” said Traitor Tom.

“Certainly,” said the Host. “The question is this: what animal, thought to be extinct, has made a comeback in the country of South Transvaal?”

A wide smile broke out across Traitor Tom’s face.

“I nominate Irene.”

“But…I’m down to my last life!” she cried.

“Exactly,” he said.

“Bad luck, Informer Irene. The question was: what animal, thought to be extinct, has made a comeback in the country of South Transvaal?”

“I don’t know! Why did he have to pick me?”

“He did because he could. Survival of the first. You know the rules. An answer, please.”

“The panda?”

“Incorrect. The answer was the red deer. Goodbye.”

The Vacuum Shute came down, and Irene left the stage.

“It’s a lousy path for scientific progress, with so many lives.” Said Plotter Pete. “Tell me, what does happen to the human body when exposed to the vacuum of space then?”

“Can’t tell you. It’s a State secret.”

“A State secret!” said Plotter Pete, incredulous.

“Yes,” said Allegiant Andrew, “After all, what happens in the vacuum…”

“Stays in the vacuum,” said the audience.

“It’s murder. The State is wrong.”

Alarm bells went off once more.

Allegiant Andrew turned to the camera.

“How exciting! Two penalties in one show. Not often you see that.”

Plotter Pete left the space station.

“We’re down to two. Traitor Tom, who has managed to trick and trip his way through this one, and Conspirator Chris, who is somehow still in, despite his nerves leaving him on the first question. Only one will live another twenty-four hours. Who will it be?”

Tom laughed.

“Traitor Tom has three lives left. Conspirator Chris has two. Traitor Tom, you go first.”

Tom answered his question, on plants, correctly, and nominated Chris for the next question on geography. Chris answered incorrectly, and went down to one live.

“OK, Traitor Tom, answer this and you could well be here tomorrow. Name the Fifth Beatle.”

“Stag.” Replied Tom confidently.

“No, sorry, incorrect. We were looking for Epstein. One life down.”

Chris answered his question on US history accurately, then nominated Tom for a question about Sahara shrubbery. Tom shockingly goofed the question, and lost another life.

“Conspirator Chris, answer or nominate Traitor Tom. The question is this: “What date was Winston God assassinated on?”

Chris smiled for the first time all game.

“Nominate Tom.”

“But I don’t know the answer to that. It was before my time. Knowledge of the past is forbidden!”

“Exactly.” Now it was Chris’s turn to smile deeply.

Traitor Tom… left the space station.

“Well, that’s all we’ve got time for here. Traitor Tom leaves the space station, after weeks of plotting the deaths of his fellow inmates. Conspirator Chris, your death has been postponed. Till tomorrow, our scientists need to know what happens, when human bodies suffer exposure in the vacuum of space, but, what happens in the vacuum…”

“Stays in the vacuum,” chanted the audience.

“I’m Allegiant Andrew, always allegiant. Good night!”

The End