Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

I can see the lights of the screens up in the control room as I cross the silent studio. Nothing will be happening down here for another year. Up there, nobody goes home until their replacement is onsite and up to speed.
Kelly once commented that some of them never seem to go home. It’s true. Many of the junior staff don’t have homes. They bunk in the emergency coverage dormitory and everyone turns a blind eye, because everyone has friends or relatives in the same position. Affording the basics of life became a privilege several years ago.
Maybe that’s why ‘Marsville’ is so popular. There’s a ten-year waiting list for auditions. Even those ridiculed as failures in the ‘Fail Harder’ segments are pretty much guaranteed the life of a minor celebrity. To be honest, it’s been the making of me, too. The Eldorado Network pays me well to compere the world’s number one reality AV show.
Why am I trudging up these stairs at three in the morning? Marsville has just started it’s twelfth season. The fifteen contestants arrived a fortnight ago. What with the tension between Davor, Trisha and Garrett, the ratings have already smashed last year’s records. There shouldn’t be anything bad enough to warrant this sort of meeting.
I find Pete, Carnegie, and Horace Eldorado in the conference room. The producer, the head of security, and the owner of the network.
“This can’t be good.”
Carnegie points to his datapad.
“Remember Marcus Trent?”
Takes me a moment: bearded, medium build. Personal trainer. Very popular with the 35-55 viewing audience. I nod.
“He’s dead.”
“Why didn’t I get an alert?”
“He’s in a bath in a derelict hotel in Yarmouth.”
I drop into a chair: “I don’t understand.”
“Police reckon he died a few days before they were shuttled to ISS2. But for a Domestic Army sweep, the body wouldn’t have been found for ages.”
I glare at him: “He was killed after the vetting process. Getting him off campus would be impossible without co-operation. What did your people miss?”
Carnegie shakes his head: “We have video of him leaving with an orderly for a scheduled check-up. The orderly is missing, and was about the same build as Trent.”
“More likely he was tricked. Which means the body of the real orderly is out there somewhere.”
Pete looks across at the board: “The problem being how do we get help to a habitat sited in a quiet corner of a planet 225 million kilometres away?”
Horace grunts.
“And how do we do it without alerting the imposter?”
The door crashes open. Kelly is pasty white.
“We’ve got a flatline and a redline!”
Carnegie’s up before she finishes speaking.
“Who?”
“Marcus Trent flatlined a few moments after Andrea Collins redlined.”
“Where?”
“Low-G spa room.”
The confusion is aggravated by comms lag. About a half hour later, we get the story from Andrea. The ugly weal across her throat gives us a clue.
“He obviously missed the low-G manoeuvring course: lost his balance. I ducked the stranglehold then hit him with a dumbbell.”
Stove his skull in.
Horace leans over.
“What now?”
I grin: “Andrea gets a pass to the semi-finals, and Marcus gets a posthumous win, the share going to his family in advance to help with funeral costs. Portray the imposter as an obsessed fan, no matter what comes out of the investigation.”
He grins.
“Keeping attention on Marsville. The show always goes on.”
Actually, it’s ‘must go on’, but you’re not paying me for historical accuracy. I nod and smile.

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