Chapter 32
Abruzzi Commercial District, Tharsis, Mars, Martian Sphere
Date: Mon 18 May 123
Time: UST 0818

Tomasina Navarre-Gutierez had been working in journalism for fourteen years. She had stuck with MCN the whole time, from her first internship right out of college to now. She got her current slot as morning anchor at headquarters three years ago, but she'd never seen anything blow up in her face like the big exposé project.
Of course it was controversial. That was the whole point. It was going to make waves and be a huge ratings coup. The government's clumsy response only served to incriminate it further. It was a slam dunk. No other network would be able to touch them. They'd take the number one slot for the month for sure, if not for the whole year. It was all so perfect and yet...
"I can't believe you're doing this, Al."
Al Corman was the news director. He stood there chawing away at some nicotine gum looking even more irritable than ever while the makeup artist was busy touching up her makeup.
"The Board's made its decision," he said. "All I'm doing is seeing that it's executed."
'Just following orders' played out real well at Nuremberg, now didn't it? It was cowardly of him to hide behind the Board, but the Board wouldn't take responsibility for it either. It was a wasted effort to try to argue with him, but she did it anyway.
"These were major stories. If we back down now, we'll lose all credibility."
Al angrily spit his gum on the floor, leaving it for the young intern following him around to clean up after him. As expected, he didn't budge in the slightest.
"If we don't do this, the Feds pull our license. And that's just for starters. You wanna go to Dos Rios, Sina?"
It was bad PR to throw journalists in jail, so the government kept it to a minimum. They'd find other ways to put the pressure on news outlets, but if someone caused enough trouble, they'd be lucky to get off with a few weeks in holding to scare them straight. Did she really want to see how far she could push the Feds before she found herself in prison khaki?
"This is insane."
Al took hold of her chair and turned her around to face her. He got right up in her face. The smell of nicotine on his breath was terrible.
"Your job is to read the news and you damn well better read what's on the teleprompter. We've already shit-canned Berg and your head'll be on the chopping block next if you don't do what you're told."
"Alright," she said with a sigh, averting her eyes. "I'll do it."
"Good girl," Al said, stepping back. "We're on in five."
The makeup artist gave her the thumbs up. Looking at herself in the mirror, she'd never quite hated the sight of her own face so much before, but a coward's face is never pretty to look at. No stupid babbling about journalistic ideals could stand up to the threat of jail and unemployment. She could try to kid herself into saying that she could do more good behind the anchor's desk than behind bars, but that was just an empty excuse.
She went to her desk like she did every day. Usually she would exchange greetings and such with the people around her, but today it was like they didn't exist. It seemed like she and the teleprompter were the only things in all the universe. The teleprompter was her god and she was its apostle. If she did not faithfully convey the teleprompter's words, her soul would be cast down into the pits of Hell.
It almost felt like she was not the one speaking at all, that the words were being spoken through her, but perhaps that was closer to the truth than anything.
"We come to you live with a special announcement. We here at the Mars Central Network pride ourselves in our, in our journalistic integrity and we regret to inform you that our recent series headlined by senior correspondent Piers Berg contains a number of false claims that we formally retract. Mr. Berg has been terminated from his position at the network and is currently being held by authorities.
"For an exhaustive list of retractions, please visit the MCN website for details. The network would like to extend its sincere apologies to the families of former Chairman Erich Richthofen, Tabitha Harold, Colonel Matthias Harold, General Lorraine Pfeiffer, Colonel Enrique Vasquez, Commander Eva Bianchi, Lieutenants Lydia Han and Jefferson Wallace, Sergeants Miranda and Johnathan Grisson, Specialist Allison O'Connor, and Marshal Donovan Graves. We would also like to apologize to NeoGenesis Systems for the report's mischaracterization of the artificial humanoid controversy."
Repent of your sins and you will be forgiven. Recant your heresy and you will be spared the stake. She had to keep saying the words to cleanse herself, to cleanse the network. The Board's will be done.
"The announcement by Marshal Graves has been confirmed to be a fabrication. The Marshal was in fact killed in a shuttle collision on the 11th of May, a day before the airing of footage in question. The Marshal lived and died as a loyal member of the Union Armed Forces. The ESS Iberia was not taken by mutiny but rather was simply participating in a training exercise."
The sun revolves around the earth. The world is flat. Keep telling them what they want to hear and you'll be spared the worst.
"Again, we extend our sincerest apologies to everyone who was affected by the irresponsible reporting of Mr. Berg. We are currently reviewing our vetting process to ensure that nothing like this is repeated in the future. We will strive to uphold the high standards you have come to expect from us. We thank you for your understanding."
It was done. She said everything the teleprompter told her to say with the well-practiced facade of sincerity that won her the viewers' trust. They would believe anything she told them even if it changed from one day to the next. She didn't feel any relief but she didn't feel hounded by guilt either. She felt nothing. She was going to keep her job. The network was going to keep going. All this would be forgotten in a day or two. It was business as usual.
"And now for today's headlines."