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58

In a panic, the young NASA technician dashed through the habisphere. Something terrible has happened! He found Administrator Ekstrom alone near the press area.

“Sir,” the technician gasped, running up. “There’s been an accident!”

Ekstrom turned, looking distant, as if his thoughts were already deeply troubled with other matters. “What did you say? An accident? Where?”

“In the extraction pit. A body just floated up. Dr. Wailee Ming.”

Ekstrom’s face was blank. “Dr. Ming? But . . . “

“We pulled him out, but it was too late. He’s dead.”

“For Christ’s sake. How long has he been in there?”

“We think about an hour. It looks like he fell in, sank to the bottom, but when his body bloated, he floated up again.”

Ekstrom’s reddish skin turned crimson. “Goddamn it! Who else knows about this?”

“Nobody, sir. Only two of us. We fished him out, but we thought we better tell you before‑”

“You did the right thing.” Ekstrom exhaled a weighty sigh. “Stow Dr. Ming’s body immediately. Say nothing.”

The technician felt perplexed. “But, sir, I‑”

Ekstrom put a large hand on the man’s shoulder. “Listen to me carefully. This is a tragic accident, one I deeply regret. Of course I will deal with it appropriately when the time comes. Now, however, is not the time.”

“You want me to hide his body?”

Ekstrom’s cold Nordic eyes bore down. “Think about it. We could tell everyone, but what would that accomplish? We’re about an hour off from this press conference. Announcing that we’ve had a fatal accident would overshadow the discovery and have a devastating effect on morale. Dr. Ming made a careless mistake; I have no intention of making NASA pay for it. These civilian scientists have taken enough of the spotlight without my letting one of their slipshod errors cast a shadow over our public moment of glory. Dr. Ming’s accident remains a secret until after the press conference. Do you understand?”

The man nodded, pale. “I’ll stow his body.”