A Gulfstream G650

“The Homicide Squad are our people now? I thought they were our problem.”

— Merlin


The Prodigal Android Returns

C watches her private jet taxi into the Covenant’s hangar at their private, secure airfield somewhere in rural France.

“And there’s no one else on board?” she asks Merlin.


“Why not?”

“We have five hunters AWOL and your jet went for an unsanctioned joyride. Until I know why, I’m not willing to use remote comms. I won’t know what happened until I’ve got Dante back in the Maze and we’ve scraped the mission details.”

“Oh, I know why the jet went missing. One of our interns was persuaded by Dr. Malone to have it dispatched. My concern is more that we now have five of the most dangerous individuals in the Covenant unaccounted for.”

Merlin laughs. “I thought you wanted to get rid of them. I thought that was why you sent them down there in the first place.”

C does not reply immediately. Her attention remains on the Gulfstream G650 as ground crew busy themselves around it and the door opens. Dante’s long-limbed, faceless form appears. Before the crew can pull up the steps, the android leaps lightly to the ground. Lights flicker behind the curved crystal visor that serves for a face.

“Would Dante have reported the death of a Hunter in the field without prompting, regardless of comms security concerns?”

“You know they would. That’s not strictly a comms concern. It’s a simple matter of triggering a flag in our system. The signal itself contains no content of use to anyone.”

“Assuming the entire group did not abscond, which seems unlikely, there’s a question for which I need an answer, Merlin.” She turns and meets his gaze with ferocious intensity. “How is it that Dante is not with them?”

Merlin’s massive eyebrows beetle as they scrunch together. “Dante brought your plane back, C. Probably thought the squad could take care of themselves. Maybe Rose sent them back. I don’t know.”

“Give it the effort of more than three brain cells, would you? They fly to Australia for some reason, even though the normal refuelling point is in Chile—”

“I wouldn’t expect them to go to a major airport if there was any risk of contamination. Australia is closer to Ross Island, and we have a mutual support agreement with NASA. The tracking data puts them at the secure landing facility at Tidbinbilla.”

“Then what happened to the Homicide Squad, Merlin? I already reached out to my contacts at NASA, and they had no idea anyone other than Dante was on board. We need to find out where our people are.”

“The Homicide Squad are our people now? I thought they were our problem.”

C’s expression does not change, but the glint in her eyes turns hard like sunlight reflected from an icicle ready to drop off and stab someone through the head. “Find out what happened. Report to me immediately.”

“Yes ma’am,” Merlin says.

C stalks back to her waiting car. Her driver opens the door for her, and she disappears behind armour plating and bulletproof, tinted glass.

Merlin beckons Dante over. The android approaches, elongated limbs giving them a strange, sinuous gait. Pixels glimmer on and off in flowing patterns behind the crystal face.

“What have you got to say for yourself?” Merlin asks in a not-quite mockingly stern tone.

“Would you like a verbal mission report?” Dante asks. Their voice is genderless, the accent somewhere between Scottish, Welsh and Cumbrian.

Merlin thinks for a moment then opens the passenger door of his big Range Rover and gestures for Dante to get in. “Not here. Come on. You can tell me about it on the way to the Maze.”

A tall, android figure. Legs and arms are too long for the torso.