Heinrick Jones stretched half-waking, suddenly eyes wide in confusion and panic. The first time in his new abode. The panic of waking up in a sealed coffin. Scream rising from the depths then dissolving with realisation and relief. Deep breath and a long sigh.
“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,” he sang to no one. The sofa was too short. “But at least I am not weightless.”
He opened his eyes and sat up, no harness needed. The Agency had decided that putting centrifugal spin on their craft was cheaper than developing technologies to contain the effects of zero-gravity nausea. It contained the vomiting. Less food and liquid was required per person per day. Less waste disposal and clever air filter design was demanded. It also contained a blackmailing media. No more bribes were necessary to hide the sordid unromantic details of space travel from a fickle public.
“Well, that wouldn’t be a cost now, anyway,” Heinrick chuckled to himself.
The space program was a delicate balancing act of public opinion and government support. Sensing this, the press made away with a sizeable slice of taxpayers’ involuntary contributions to the space program. That was until Heinrick Jones suggested to the Agency that they should focus on developing technology that reduced the overall cost of space travel.
Impossibly, he had also improved the other side of the Agency’s accounting ledger. The Agency was making sales. Television companies climbed over each other to host pay-per-view television events of space flights. And the public was paying in droves. The space program was liquid.
“The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes” he hummed as he moved to his teak desk and sat in a comfortable leather chair. Irony heaped upon irony. Public opinion insisted the interior of spacecraft looked as much as possible like a room in a normal house on Earth. The Viewers wanted something familiar. Not like the cells of missions past. There were no windows, though. The spinning stars would drive anyone mad. But that was a small price to pay for spinning the whole ship. A faux window frame was attached to one wall surrounding a lovely photographed poster of the stars - taken from Earth.
A clock on the desk read one hour and counted down. Time for his shot at fame. Time for his shot of the latest drug developed by the Agency. Opening the top desk drawer, he withdrew a syringe and injected himself with courage.
“But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.”
Eventually the viewers would tire of this schtick and demand new entertainment. But for now, serious space research was being funded. A rushing sound in his ears like the sound of a long wave breaking along a shore was accompanied by a relaxing numbness in his mind and well-being in his body. He sat and waited.
A red light came on above the desk. The show began. Millions tensed.
Heinrick stood up and walked to the fake window. He placed his hands on it and could hear a sizzling sound as smoke rose from around his fingers and palms. He unpeeled his hands, looked at them, and smiled. Turning around, he held his hands up to the camera. Oozing blisters waved across space to his captive audience. Walking to the other side of the room, he pressed his face to the wall and waited for a satisfying popping sound and half-blindness. It did not take long. Facing the camera again, he danced a little. He sat on the sofa and kicked off his shoes. He stood and walked over to the desk, each step leaving a burning, smoking mark of flesh stuck to the frying pan floor. He slouched on the chair, and passed out.
Soon after, his skin began to blister and melt. The window poster ignited. His hair burst into flame. The desk caught fire. Flames ate the room. The walls melted, and the last brief camera shot was of a huge sun.
“And take us to heaven, to live with Thee there.”