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Benedict Chang

Weber's boots click across the lab floor as she paces back and forth. Her hands are balled on her hips, and I know only the presence of the other council members keep her tongue in check.

The computers register another error code as the technician attempt to remotely reboot A. Lee's system. I can't quite hide my flinch with each attempt, Weber's harsh words still ringing in my ears.

"We'll send a retrieval team even if it did get itself smashed to pieces at the bottom of the ravine. The equipment is too valuable."

Weber never refers to A. Lee as anything but an 'it'. Strong prejudice from someone like her. The council initial consensus is A. Lee did not survive the fall. Weber is annoyed by the strain on manpower and colony resources, but her dismissal of A. Lee writhes inside my stomach, an angry snake looking for a chance to strike.

"Anything yet?" Weber snaps, brusque as ever. The technician shakes his head and she wheels to face me. "You will join the retrieval team for the A.I. apparatus--"

"You mean the body," I blurt out the words. Weber regards me with cool disinterest.

"The central apparatus is all we require to continue our work," says Weber, speaking over my protest. "You will accompany the extraction team, Dr. Chang, and your suspension will commence when they return."

"Suspension?" I choke on the word. "You can't be serious. I have vital work--"

"Which Dr. Dunn will complete with your research. You will receive credit for your contribution."

The idea is laughable. Did she honestly think I cared about acknowledgement? Did she really think Dunn could accomplish all of this on his own? We were already doing the work of four people. The entire colony depends on the success of our research. Weber knows this, no matter how much she deigns to acknowledge A. Lee's importance to the survival of the colony.

"Why are you doing this?"

"There are consequences, Chang," she snaps, her booted heels punctuating her words as she gets in my face. She is a tall woman at six foot three, tall enough to bear down on me with enough presence that I take a step back into the wall. "This might be the galactic equivalent for the middle of bumfuck nowhere, but we still operate by the rule of law Chang. You accessed restricted systems and corrupted valuable data meddling with those satellites."

"I was careful," I say. It is a non-excuse and we both knew it.

Weber's lip curls in disgust. "So careful you erased months of recorded feed. Well done."

A frisson of shock renders me momentarily speechless. There is no way I could have done that much damage. No matter how rushed or careless I was in the moment, I know myself. There is something wrong here. Doesn't she realize that? Weber takes full advantage of my silence and bulldozes on, snapping orders at the council to ready a team. This is another surprise. Every time we put in a request for extra manpower or pushed for wider range on perimeter exploration, she stalled and delayed our operations. She fought us every step of the way and now she acts with urgency?

"Weber," I try to inject myself between her barking orders. She ignores me, a clear dismissal. I should be getting ready. If A. Lee is alive, they will be hurt and need medical and mechanical attention. If not-

I cut off the thought before it gets any further. Weber might write off A. Lee as a lost cause, but I won't do so until I see the evidence. I won't let her pin the loss of data on me either.

"Madeline." She stops at her name. There is a play of emotions on her face when she turns to me.

"What is it, Ben?" There is a hint of irony in her expression. I fight the urge to look away when I realize I haven't called her by Madeline since before the incident.

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