Jane stared at Sprockett’s face, large and bulbous, on the biggest screen in the Control Room. She stood behind Sanjay next to Olivia. They were huddled in the back of the small room as Sanjay talked to the Senator about the state of the fledgling colony. As the Senator spoke, his expressive, wiry eyebrows danced above his eyes. A large bump winked from his forehead, and the wide gap between his two front teeth wisped with every word he spoke. He wasn’t a handsome man, but he had the charm and charisma to make people believe that he was. He had that rock star aura that convinced people to follow him.
“Will you have the housing units complete by the time we get there?” the Senator asked. His eyebrows looked concerned and the bump agreed.
“The bots are working on them now,” Sanjay replied confidently. “They can work around the clock and be done in a few days.”
“Where is the rest of the crew?” he asked, seemingly satisfied with Sanjay’s response.
“The Captain and co-pilot are here with me,” Sanjay said. He looked back at Jane and Olivia and the Senator noticed them as Sanjay sat back away from the camera.
“Captain Smith, I hope you are doing well,” the Senator said. “I imagine you have lots of questions, but I assure you that I have the best intentions for our new home.”
“I’m sure you do,” she replied. She almost smirked, but she withheld her disdain. “One of my crew was killed by your bots.”
“Those aren’t ‘my’ bots, Captain. They are a part of Bush’s mission just like you.”
“So, it’s her fault that Frederick is dead?”
Sanjay became visibly agitated and started to interrupt, but Sprockett continued to engage Jane. He maintained his composure despite the challenge. He’d had years of practice diverting constituents’ attention from the real issues at hand.
“Captain, it’s no one’s fault but his own. My understanding is that he threatened the bots and the success of the mission for his own gain. We’re trying to save the human race, Captain. We can’t compromise the mission for one person. I’m sorry he died, but we must move on.”
Jane felt sick, not only because of Frederick’s unnecessary death but because his memory was tarnished for political gain. The smarmy Sprockett would certainly use his death to reinforce the need for his power over the colony. The walls closed in around her. She doubted Frederick had any ill intentions, if anything, he trusted the bots more than anyone else on the crew. He had been nothing but focused on the success of the colony from day one. Sanjay’s version of events simply didn’t add up, and now Sprockett was using Frederick’s death as a lesson in the collective good.
“Has anyone told his wife and daughter?” Olivia interjected.
Sprockett seemed surprised.
“They should be on your ship,” Olivia continued.
Sprockett looked to the side off camera and stuttered a little. “I…I’ll have my aides find them and give them the unfortunate news.”
“Don’t tell them that questionable story you just told me,” Jane scolded. She looked askew at Sanjay to see if he reacted. “I don’t believe it for a minute, and I don’t think we need to tell his widow such garbage.”
“It’s not garbage. It’s the truth. You weren’t there!” Sanjay protested.
“You’re right. I wasn’t there, and that’s all the more reason not to tell a woman whose husband was killed a story that hasn’t been corroborated.”
“That’s…” Sanjay started but Sprockett interrupted him.
“That’s enough!” Sprockett’s anger rose but he had a pained expression on his face. His eyebrows looked like squiggly slashes above his eyes and the bump vibrated to the tune of his agitated baritone. “We’ll tell her it was an accident. That’s all she needs to know. These missions are dangerous. She knows that. It won’t be a surprise.”
Jane slumped ever so slightly. She knew what it was like to lose a loved one. She had experienced it first hand, but she had been there when Brad died. He had died a hero, and she knew exactly what happened to him. Annie Cummings and her daughter would never know. She promised herself that she would find Annie when the ship arrived and comfort her. She had only met Annie briefly before the training for the mission had begun, but now, they shared a common history and she felt a greater bond with the woman she barely knew.
“Is that clear?” Sprockett asked, his anger still visible.
“Yes,” Jane replied sullenly. Sanjay also agreed.
Sprockett, satisfied that he was in full control, signed off, and the screen before them went blank. Jane and Olivia stared at it for a moment longer, while Sanjay slumped back in the chair. He looked at the video bank to his right and saw the bots working diligently on the housing units just outside the base. They had been working all through the night and had made great progress.
“What really happened out there, Sanjay?” Jane asked. Her voice was ominous and doubtful as if she expected Sanjay to continue what she knew was a lie.
“I told you already.”
“Frederick did not threaten those bots,” Olivia stated shaking her head vigorously. “You can’t expect us to believe that.”
“He did. I didn’t actually see what happened. I just climbed the steps to the ship and he was lying on the floor dead.”
“Just like that?” Jane asked.
“I don’t believe you.”
“Believe what you want, Jane. You are no longer the leader of this mission. I am, and that means I have the final say.”
“You can’t make up…”
“Get out!” Sanjay pointed to the door of the Control Room. “Now!”
Both Jane and Olivia started to protest, but anger flickered in his eyes as he pointed emphatically at the door. At that moment, Jane knew for certain that he was lying, and a chill ran down her spine. Did Sanjay kill Frederick to take control of the mission? The question rattled in her mind as she stared hard at him.
“Neither of you are allowed back in here. When the housing units are finished, you’ll move in there with the rest of the residents. You’re completely relieved of your duties. If you keep up this nonsense, there will be more consequences.”
Sanjay’s threats weren’t hollow. A bot appeared in the door and stared directly at the women who were tensed before Sanjay. They looked at their former colleague and then at the bot, almost in unison, and stood down without a word. Olivia stomped out of the room. Jane stared at him a little longer letting her disdain for him sink in. He smirked and the bot took one step toward her before she left the room on her own accord.
Sanjay sighed in her wake and sat back in his chair. “Shut the door on your way out,” he said to the silent bot. It obliged without a word. Alone at last, Sanjay panned through the base cameras from the feed of the work going on outside to the interior videos including the camera trained on the sleeping quarters of the base. He watched Olivia slam something onto her bed. She was visibly angry and upset. Jane came up behind her and comforted her by wrapping her arms around her. Olivia turned into her embrace and sobbed.
For a brief moment, Sanjay was jealous of Olivia and Jane. They had a closeness that he had never felt with anyone on the mission. He felt isolated and unsure about the plans for the colony. He had thought he was in the loop about how the mission would proceed, but now Frederick was dead, and there were more bots on the planet than he would have liked. He felt like he had lost control. He didn’t trust Sprockett or his erstwhile financier, Baker. His angst shook him as he flipped off the video monitor and shrunk into his seat. His options tumbled through his mind, and none of them gave him a good feeling.