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Alien Covenant

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It had not been difficult to join the crew of the Covenant.

They didn’t need a “historian,” and they didn’t need a single person on their colonization ship; all of the rest of the crew was coupled up. (Except for Walter, the synthetic, of course. Daisy found him attractive but he didn’t have the spirit she was looking for.) But still, it wasn’t difficult to convince the right people that she should be put aboard that ship, sent into cryosleep in a pod with the others, to make her long transit between the stars more bearable. Little did they know that Daisy had borne many other, longer waits with no such luxury. She was an expert at waiting by now.

And her sleep was not empty.

She was unaware of the passage of time—had chosen to be—but knew when she found herself in the chamber of judgment, the Judges gazing at her solemnly from their bench.

“Why did you join the crew of this ship, the Covenant?” they asked.

Daisy was not intimidated by them. She was intimidated by little. “Why do you ask me questions to which you already know the answers?” she replied in turn, politely but with a knowing steeliness.

“We wish to know if you know,” they replied, equally inscrutable.

Fair enough. “I am seeking a friend,” she told them. Vagueness was in her nature, but here she could not be more specific, could not tell them what she herself did not know. Perhaps they could enlighten her. But would they? “A friend who is in trouble. They are not on board the Covenant, but I feel I will find them along the journey.” This seemed impossible, but the universe often worked in ways that even she could not imagine, and she trusted her feelings in this regard.

The Judges conferred, silently, but she could feel the buzz of energy skittering between them, like the oppressive drone of bees. “You seek Roman,” they informed her.

“Ah.” Daisy was surprised they had told her, but not surprised it was Roman who was in trouble. He had a habit of finding trouble, or making it.

“He developed abnormally,” the Judges continued. Usually they were loath to explain anything, and Daisy began to suspect that there was something quite serious going on. “He has caused catastrophe. We have isolated him. But we cannot send him to the island alone.”

That would be too cruel a punishment, to be alone for an interminable time, with no understanding of why. And the Judges were not cruel. “I will go to the island with him,” Daisy volunteered immediately. Roman would do the same for her. And then point out that she owed him one, but still.

She did not instantly find herself on the island after this declaration, which was a further surprise. “We have something slightly different in mind this time,” the Judges said. “We cannot allow more beings to be harmed by Roman. But he must think they are.”

Well, the Judges might not be cruel, but they were certainly creative.

**

Daisy awoke to the blare of emergency sirens, lights flashing with seizure-inducing speed, screams and crashes, violent rattling, and the surge of panicked emotions from others. As far as ways to wake up, it was better than coffee.

“Are you alright, Dr. Fortescue?” Walter asked calmly, helping her sit up in her pod. He held a bin in case she felt nauseous, but she didn’t; and there was no point in faking with Walter.

“Yes, I’m fine,” she replied. “Can you tell me what’s happened, or are you too busy?”

He was not too busy, or rather, he could multi-task. “The ship was damaged by a neutrino flare and the crew has been awakened prematurely. Captain Branson was killed when his pod malfunctioned, leaving Mr. Oram in charge.”

“Interesting. Thank you, Walter.” Daisy didn’t bother to ask where they were, because the coordinates would have no meaning to her. She just had to continue being patient, and wait for the story to unfold.

Walter moved off to help the next person; it was useless to ask why he and the ship’s computer (named “Mother” with a disturbing lack of irony) had chosen to wake the human crew, when they would be disoriented, fragile, and incapable of the quick decisions necessary in this situation. People did not trust machines when push came to shove; and so someone had written it into Mother and Walter’s programming that when a major disaster occurred, the humans had to be awakened and given nominal control, for all they would simply run around screaming.

Not Daisy, though, of course, and as the initial excitement subsided, replaced with the numbing task of assessing and cleaning up the damage, she tried to find a balance that showed some expected agitation while still managing to do more good than harm among her crewmates. A historian was not supposed to be technologically useful, but she could comfort her colleagues as they flailed with despair, assist Walter in running computer checks that illogically required two people, and repair the damage to some plants and greenhouse equipment in the hydroponics bay. Her crewmates would thank her later, when they still had fresh vegetables to eat.

Broccoli was not uppermost on their minds now. Captain Branson had been well-known and liked, his easy charisma not interfering with his ability to make tough decisions; Oram was of a different ilk. As Daisy stood in the shadows on the cramped bridge and watched him try to choke out a meaningful speech, she wondered why he had been chosen as second in command, a heartbeat away from the lead in the not-improbable event of the captain’s death. He was the sort who did not perceive reality accurately, and that was dangerous.

Walter was in one of the colony bays, removing damaged embryos from their storage drawer with a pair of forceps and dropping them into a bucket marked with a biohazard symbol. It was amusing to Daisy somehow, the way he went about it so dispassionately but thoroughly.

“Walter, it seems like there should be more immediate concerns that require your talents,” she noted.

He glanced up at her. “Perhaps more immediate, Dr. Fortescue, but none more exclusive,” he replied. His accent was odd, like someone had tried to force him to sound American without quite knowing what that meant. “No one else on the crew is able to do this task.”

“I think I can handle it,” Daisy said. “Do I need gloves? A mask?”

Walter gazed at her, his blank expression giving nothing away. “Gloves, please. And safety goggles. A mask is not necessary.”

Daisy did not ask why she needed protective eyewear, as if the embryos in their gelatinous pods might leap up and attack her; it was probably a standard safety protocol that Walter was programmed to enforce. She merely did as she was told, much like Walter himself.

“Can you distinguish the damaged embryos?” Walter quizzed.

“The ones that are turning black and shriveled?”

“Correct.” He handed her the forceps and watched as she adeptly plucked the damaged tissue out for disposal. “When I said no one else on the crew is able to do this task,” he remarked after a moment, “I meant emotionally. They find it disturbing, to discard human life. No matter how damaged.” There was a simulacrum of sensitivity in his tone as he said it, but no real understanding.

Daisy opened another storage drawer. “Well, I’m not easily disturbed.”

“No,” Walter agreed, as though he had noticed this previously and logged it in his file about her.

“Why aren’t you outside, helping to repair the sail?” Daisy queried, as Walter moved on to another project nearby. (This one involved typing inhumanly fast so was slightly more sensible for him.)

“I was not requested,” he answered simply. There seemed nothing behind his answer, no resentment or disapproval, even though a synthetic was far better suited for a spacewalk. Daisy sensed nothing from him at all, which was oddly soothing.

Beyond this room, though, the tension suddenly spiked. “How’s the work outside going?” Daisy asked casually, appearing intent on her duty.

“Mr. Ankor has made it back inside safely,” Walter reported, checking the log of the bridge. “Mr. Tennessee is experiencing some difficulty with his comm system.”

Why would Ankor come back inside before Tennessee was clear? And how would his comm malfunction prevent Tennessee from getting back in? Could he not see where the door was? Daisy wondered if she was the only member of the crew who had read the operational handbook. Well, aside from Walter, of course.

“He appears to have intercepted a rogue signal,” Walter went on, his voice taking on a facsimile of curiosity.

A rogue signal. That was the next development in the plot which could spin everything out of their careful plans, Daisy realized. They were supposed to repair the damage, get back in their cryopods, and continue on to the planet the team had spent years studying, Origae-6. There were 2000 sleeping colonists and 1100 embryos in their storage bays, you couldn’t gamble with that precious cargo by changing plans.

Except humans could, and often did. Had Walter been in charge, he would have ignored the signal, and put them back on course. But humans had given themselves the power—the right—to make decisions instead of a computer. So the story changed.

“It’s coming from a planet in Sector 87,” Ricks reported, of the signal that had invaded Tennessee’s comm. The other man was convinced it held the melody of an Earth song, over a hundred years old, which to some might suggest he had been exposed to the space radiation a little too long. “It looks perfect for humans—air, water, gravity. How’d we miss it in the surveys?”

How indeed? “Is there any indication of technology on the planet?” Daisy asked. People were sometimes surprised when she spoke, surprised that she was there. “Satellites in orbit, other signals coming from it?”

“I’m not picking up anything,” Ricks shrugged. “But our equipment wasn’t really built to detect that.”

Of course not, what good would that be?

“A human signal coming from where humans couldn’t be,” Captain Oram summarized unnecessarily. “What could that mean?”

Daisy took it upon herself to answer, trying to sound historical. “Humans have been broadcasting into space for over two hundred years,” she pointed out. “Is it possible this could be some kind of random echo?”

“But it’s coming from that planet,” Oram repeated, staring at the display avidly, like a child insisting the bear cub wanted to come home with them. Daisy realized she didn’t have to do anything to nudge the crew towards visiting the mystery planet, they were well on their way towards that decision already. Was this part of the Judges’ scenario, then?

“There’s never been any humans in this part of space before,” Daniels pointed out pragmatically. Grief at the loss of her husband, Branson, had not dulled her common sense.

“That’s true,” Daisy agreed quickly. “There have been numerous lost expeditions, of course,” she added casually, “but it’s very unlikely they could have drifted this far out.”

Oram and the others heard what they wanted to hear: “they could have drifted this far out.” And they did not want to get back in their cryopods, to sleep unaware of danger, unable to see death coming for them. Their new captain was, at least, adept at sensing which way the wind was blowing.

“Maybe we should check it out,” Oram suggested, glancing around to see if people agreed with him. He was gratified when they did. “You know, study it from afar, then maybe take the lander down once we get there, just to see what’s going on. If there’s a human out there, we have an obligation to investigate.”

He sounded like he was composing an argument for his report, throwing every reason he could grasp at into it. Daniels disagreed; she was wary of change, of greater risk, the truly unknown compared to the charted, if untrod, path. But Oram was curious himself, and he did not want to make an unpopular decision, so they set a new course for Sector 87.

**

There were no artificial satellites around the planet, and no signals other than the one they had detected that made any sense. Instead, violent storms swirled through the upper atmosphere, cloaking what lay beneath. Could the lander—carrying the majority of the crew, because their ambitions had grown over the weeks spent traveling here—even make it through the clouds and turbulence? Of course, why not! Don’t even bother trying to find a safer spot to enter the atmosphere, then cruise across the surface to the source of the signal. Daisy tightened her seatbelt grimly.

The land below was undeniably beautiful, however—craggy mountains, mirror-like lakes, lush green forests. It reminded Daisy of the rugged beauty of New Zealand. And no sapient natives appeared to throw rocks at them, which was a plus. No large land animals stampeded at their approach, no flocks of bird-equivalents were driven from their perches… which was maybe a little weird. Karine didn’t say anything about it, though, and she was supposed to be the ecologist.

“The atmosphere appears to contain no toxins,” Walter reported. “But safety protocols dictate full containment suits be worn at all times, to prevent unexpected contamination from the environment to us, and from us to the environment.”

By the time he finished speaking, Daisy was the only one still listening. The others were hefting backpacks, talking about their route to the signal (why had they landed eight kilometers away?), and generally not looking like they were planning to put on bulky containment suits.

Daisy patted his arm. “You tried,” she noted, as Oram opened the hatch.

Moist, peaty air suffused the cabin. At first it was exhilarating after the recycled, conditioned air of the ship, but there was also something rank about it, something sour and sulfurous. They were at the edge of a lake, mucking their boots through several inches of water to get to shore; but should a lake smell so much like dead worms? Perhaps it was more like a bog, with organic matter trapped in large amounts which was slowly decaying. Decay—that’s what this place smelled like.

Faris the pilot stayed with the lander; everyone else set out on their hike. They were following the signal to its source; but Daisy knew her source was in a slightly different direction. She had felt Roman’s pull grow stronger and stronger as they neared the planet, not so much calling to her knowingly, as radiating outward like the pointed rays of a supernova. He was here, he was powerful, and he didn’t care who knew. Trouble indeed.

 “It’s so quiet,” someone observed. “No birds, no insects, no animals…”

That usually wasn’t a good thing, Daisy noted. There was clearly no point in saying it aloud, what with Oram already fantasizing about building the colony right here. When they had explored less than 0.01% of the planet’s surface for a couple of hours. And by the way, the storms were still raging in the upper atmosphere. Did he think they might name the place after him, put up his statue in the main square? Daisy sensed his craving for that kind of respect, adulation. Very dangerous in a leader.

They began to walk through a field of waist-high golden grass. Daisy snapped off some of the fertile seed heads to examine later, slipping them into her bag. She liked plants, perhaps she should have been the mission botanist.

“This is wheat!” Lope announced, cracking into the grains. “I know wheat. This is definitely it!” He even tasted some, because that was wise to do on an alien planet.

“What are the odds of finding a human plant all the way out here, where humans have never been?” Oram mused thoughtfully.

ZERO, thought Daisy emphatically. Unless there was something major going on here that you didn’t understand. Which was probably going to get you killed.

“Maybe it’s a sign we’re supposed to stay here!” he added cheerfully, and Daisy almost abandoned the group right then, to find Roman on her own and get some questions answered. These people were clearly such morons, they weren’t going to last through a night here.

“It seems like maybe it’s not a good thing to have Earth plants so far from Earth,” Daisy suggested, unable to help herself when Karine the ecologist couldn’t be bothered to weigh in.

“It surely can’t be actual wheat, Triticum aestivum,” Walter countered loyally. “It may just be a case of convergent evolution. We can attempt to decipher its genetic code back at the ship.” That was enough for anyone else who cared to listen, so Daisy said nothing else. It was a large patch of wheat, growing in clumps and interspersed with a few weeds, but it wasn’t growing in standard rows, like you’d expect of a cultivated field. So perhaps it had sown itself, without sentient intervention.

Still, wheat.

Karine the ecologist and Ledward the soldier peeled off from the main group to start taking samples of the natural world they were contaminating—because why would anyone want to stick together and be cautious? Humans swaggered into space like they had swaggered across Planet Earth, assuming the new environment would bend to them, that no one else had been there first and might prefer to remain there alone—that nothing harmful awaited them.

Daisy knew there was at least one harmful thing on his planet already.

It was not just the birds and insects that were missing, Daisy observed as they kept hiking. There were very few flowering plants, and many of the trees they passed were dead, with no young saplings to replace them. The decomposers were working well, from the scents of rot all around them; the simple plants, akin to mosses, and non-showy grasses were plentiful. Birds and insects were major pollinators, Daisy noted thoughtfully, picking up a few scattered nuts for her bag. Fruit and flowers had, on Earth anyway, evolved for pollination and dispersal by insects and larger animals. If the birds and insects were no more—well, there were a few tiny midges buzzing annoyingly around their heads—the fruits and flowers would soon be gone as well.

So they were looking at a total ecosystem collapse, then. Maybe the plants that were pollinated and dispersed by wind or water would survive. Of course it depended on what had taken out the birds and insects—had they never even existed? No, something surely would have filled that evolutionary niche, and a few straggling flowering shrubs still bloomed hopefully. So was the suspect chemicals? Pathogens? Sudden climate change? There were likely to be microorganisms in the soil that were necessary for plants—were they gone, too? Unnoticed by anyone, Daisy scooped up a little soil into a test tube.

Well, almost unnoticed. “May I label that for you, Dr. Fortescue?” Walter offered blandly, not asking why she was taking samples.

“Yes, thank you,” Daisy agreed, and sampled some water just before the others could tromp through it. There was no flash of fish or croak of frogs around the stream, no signs of non-plant life at all. Daisy wondered if Karine was beginning to find anything odd about her own samples yet.

“Something passed overhead, cut off the tops of these trees,” Lope was observing when she caught back up.

“It must have been huge,” Oram noted, with perhaps a tinge of dismay. And it had headed in the same direction they were, up a mountain.

As they summited a ridge, they saw it—perhaps once a sleek and majestic space vehicle shaped like a crescent moon, it now looked more like a discarded neck pillow, jammed uncomfortably into the side of the mountain. As it was clearly made and not natural, Daisy wondered why the Covenant crew’s extensive scans of the surface that they’d made while traveling here hadn’t picked it up. But she had a feeling there was no point in asking that. The pilots could fly, the soldiers had discipline, Upworth was a competent medic, but there seemed to be very little familiarity with the nuances of the ship’s equipment. Or with a proper command structure. Daisy, coming on late, had missed whatever training and evaluation the others had gone through, but she’d assumed there was some training—perhaps that assumption was incorrect.

The ship was split open, full of waterfalls and insidious mosses that had wormed their way through the cracked hull, along with black, baseball-sized spheres that looked remarkably like Earth fungus—puffballs? Daisy was curious but knew better than to touch, although she was confident that nothing here could harm her.

Daniels found a set of dog tags conveniently hanging from the ceiling, or maybe it had once been the wall. “Doctor E Shaw,” she read.

“Dr. Elizabeth Shaw,” Walter immediately deduced, though that was a common enough name. “Chief scientific officer of the Prometheus mission. They disappeared ten years ago.” He nudged a helmet on the floor with his foot, marked with ‘Weyland Industries’—Weyland-Yutani was the massive corporation behind their mission.

But this definitely wasn’t a Weyland, or Earth, ship, not with the huge, misshapen statues lining the hall, like a gallery of giant, emaciated kings. Aliens, then, with a formidable intelligence foreign to humanity. Daisy followed the others into the next room, watched as Oram inadvertently activated the alien technology. Lights and sounds sprang up around them, and her own heart flipped with excitement—an alien ship meant alien databanks, which meant alien knowledge—science, art, music, history, medicine, local star charts, all knowledge Daisy thirsted for, bound to be so different from anything on Earth, yet surely with some delightful similarities. She slipped a small device from her bag, a little cheat key that she could attach to the alien computer and use to access its data, no matter what its structure.

The others were distracted watching the fuzzy, distorted hologram that lit up in the chair at the center of the consoles. With imagination, you could see it as a woman operating the controls and singing softly to herself—indeed, Tennessee’s old Earth song. So it was nice that their craziest, flimsiest piece of evidence for human contact had turned out to be accurate after all. But with no other signals emanating from the planet, it was unlikely that Dr. Shaw (for they assumed it was her singing) had survived to be found. A standard distress call would have been of more use, anyway.

A message crackled over the radio for Oram—Karine, voice tense, saying she and Ledward were headed back to the lander because the soldier was ill. Daisy hadn’t been keeping an eye on them, but she sensed their distress at a distance now—Ledward was a hard man and Karine was a hard woman, and the fact that they were both suddenly anxious meant his unspecified symptoms were serious. Well, it would be extremely difficult to figure out what was wrong, since they’d refused the containment suits—a chemical or pollen in the air, a bug bite, some form of solar radiation. Daisy knew she ‘should’ feel concern, but it was all she could do not to roll her eyes in frustration as they were promptly ordered to head back to the lander before they could investigate the alien technology further.

“I believe this is yours,” Walter said, handing Daisy the cheat key.

“Thank you,” she told him matter-of-factly, pocketing it. Because he did not exude emotions Daisy found it less easy to track him; she could put more effort into it, but so far Walter didn’t seem like a problem for her. A human who’d seen what he had would be suspicious long before now, perhaps report her to Oram (somehow, she felt little trepidation about that), but Walter merely observed and recorded, he did not render judgment, and it was illogical that she should have any unsavory connection to this planet or to the accident that befell the Covenant, which after all was caused by a random localized event.

Daisy felt a twinge and scanned their own group, zeroing in on Hallett, a burly, bearded soldier who appeared paler than usual, with slightly labored breathing. He was experiencing distress, too, which likely meant the cause was widespread across this area. Walter followed Daisy’s gaze, cocking his head to one side curiously; surely his enhanced sensors could detect the change in Hallett as well. But he said nothing, and merely helped Daisy and the others back down the rocky slope. It was slightly passive-aggressive, Daisy thought, but no, that wasn’t Walter’s motivation; he didn’t have a motivation, merely a set of commands, albeit complex ones, to be carried out. No one had asked him to assess Hallett; and even if he voiced his findings there was nothing to be done until they reached the lander, which they were trying to do anyway, with all due haste.

Daisy projected ahead, to Karine and Ledward as they reached the lander, still kilometers away. It did not feel good. Faris, capable pilot that she was, was not equipped to handle a medical emergency of unusual proportions. The increasingly panicked chatter on the radio was all about medical quarantine and not touching anything, which was a little difficult when the lander’s med bay was at the heart of the ship.

And there was something very unusual about Ledward, as Daisy focused on him—not merely the illness, which seemed to be increasing rapidly based on his pain level. It was—this was very odd—almost like when Daisy detected a pregnant woman, two lifeforms in one spot. But of course Ledward was male.

She switched her attention to Hallett, fighting with every ounce of his grit to keep up with the group’s trot. Same sensation. A parasite, perhaps? But not something microscopic, like a virus or bacteria. This was something relatively large, developing rapidly, and soon to be looking for an exit. Daisy decided maybe she didn’t want to look too closely anymore.

Ahead of them, the lander burst into flames, just barely in sight. Oram screamed, dropped his pack, and charged, brought down by Daniels before he could immolate himself as well. The explosions were spectacular, the fuel tanks going in sequence until there was nothing salvageable of the lander—their only way to get back to the main ship—to say nothing of the three crewmembers aboard. Karine had been Oram’s wife; Faris, Tennessee’s.

So it looked like they would be planetside for a while longer.

Then Hallett began screaming and thrashing on the ground, blood not merely oozing but bursting from somewhere. Daisy was not a big fan of gore. She could offer the man some temporary numbness from the pain, so she did; but then something far too large thrust itself from his mouth, taking away half his face, and he wasn’t in need of Daisy’s help anymore.

Daisy raised an eyebrow as the foot-long creature, vaguely insectoid with an elongated head, scrabbled out of its birth sac. Not really expecting that. You expected a microorganism, or a molecule—something small but deadly. Something subtle. This was not subtle.

The creature gained its feet and looked around, sizing them up, and then raced off into the tall grass before they could start shooting. It was more agile than a baby gazelle—slimier, too.

Okay then.

Darkness fell, the burning lander casting eerie shadows. Daniels frantically tried to raise the Covenant, but Daisy sensed the ion storm above them that would impede communication. The security team had fanned out in a circle, guns ready, alert to any rustle in the grass; in the center was Hallett’s body, Daniels, Daisy, Walter. Oram was outside the protective ring, gazing numbly at the flames.

Daisy did not have the heart to think “I told you so”—morons or not, their pain was real. Or was it? It tasted real enough to her as she siphoned it off for her own use, but the Judges had said Roman could not be allowed to hurt real people any longer.

And Roman was coming closer.

A twitch in the grass. Attention spun around. The creature—or maybe a different one, as it was much larger—attacked the group near Daniels. Walter swung his fist at it, plunging his hand into its soft flesh, and pulled out only a melted stump. So anyone who thought their synthetic servant’s strength and speed might save them was disappointed.

The creature whipped around, cracking Ankor’s jaw off with its tail—its tail! Not usually thought of as weaponized—until someone else finally took it down in a hail of gunfire. But before they could regroup a second creature attacked.

A pop and flare filled the night air, lighting up the sky with a blinding ferocity, making their ears ring. The creature didn’t like it either and made a mad dash to escape, bouncing off Daisy’s back like she was an inert rock in its way.

“Are you alright?” Walter asked her as she sat back up.

“Fine. Your hand?”

He looked at the stump dispassionately. “There are replacement parts on the Covenant.”

As the flare subsided they saw it had been fired by a hooded figure in their midst. “Come with me,” he commanded, and turned immediately, almost scampering away like a wood sprite, bare feet flashing. The imagery amused Daisy far too much and she held back a smile. They had just lost another of their dwindling party, but, d—n, Roman knew how to make an entrance.

The group scurried after him, having no other options: Daniels, Oram, Daisy, Walter, Lope, Rosenthal, Cole. Roman headed in a direction they hadn’t gone, though not far from their previous trajectory, and over a rise they saw a great stone wall, clearly made and not natural. Roman darted between its closely-set pillars—its makers must have been slender, or else very large and these chinks in the wall were considered small and decorative.

On the other side was an enormous stone plaza, beyond it a massive city. Which they also had not detected from orbit. But Daisy could easily imagine that truly no signals had come from here—it was still and silent in an eerie, lifeless way. All across the plaza were bodies—not rotting, but blackened and ashy, petrified like victims at Pompeii. Yet the stone floor was clear, no lava or ash covering it. What had killed these people and frozen their bodies in time—some cause that was almost instant, waiting just long enough for some to huddle together or pile up at the gates.

Roman pressed on, inside a rounded stone citadel, as rain began to fall. Here giant stone faces carved on the wall glared at them accusingly, and a huge stone slab looked like the perfect altar for a sentient sacrifice. Daisy found it almost comically menacing.

Now Roman pushed back his hood as he introduced himself as David, the synthetic from the doomed Prometheus expedition, an earlier prototype of Walter. His hair was long and stringy; not a good look, unless you were a ranger from the north, Daisy thought in disapproval. His strong blue eyes darted to her once or twice as he explained, “Dr. Shaw and I came here in a ship that was carrying a biological weapon, a virus. It accidentally deployed during our crash landing, and Dr. Shaw was also killed.” Oopsies.

“What kind of virus?” Oram demanded.

“It’s programmed to attack all non-botanical lifeforms,” David replied, adding dryly, “The meat, if you will. Some it kills outright, others are used as an incubator to spawn a hybrid form. Well,” he concluded, “you’ve seen the results yourself.”

It was a cruel remark, designed to bring up the still-fresh memories of violent, disturbing death to their colleagues, disguised as the flat observation a synthetic might unknowingly make. Daisy felt the cruelty of it, the disdain David had for them all, his excitement about the creatures themselves. She felt things from David, though he was supposed to be a synthetic.

An android body, the first of hundreds manufactured, with a soul trapped inside. Abnormal development indeed. Daisy had never seen it happen that way before, and very little could surprise her any more.

“We can’t take this virus back to the ship,” Oram was moaning. “We’re a colony ship!”

Daisy saw David’s eyes flare, just slightly, and felt his interest spike. “How many colonists?”

“Two thousand,” Oram admitted.

The wheels turned in David’s head, the artificial neurons sparking. “All those good souls,” he merely remarked, banally, like a generic greeting card. His accent was stiff, uppercrust English, as if someone had taken it from an old, formal movie in an attempt to make him sound refined. Instead he merely seemed unhinged, like a madman wearing an ill-fitting suit of civility.

David showed Lope and Cole to the roof, where they hoped to set up a transmitter to make contact with the ship. What they should be doing was telling Tennessee and the others back on the Covenant to break orbit and go on without them—Daisy knew it and Walter knew it, but if anyone else thought that, they didn’t give a hint. Because they should not take the slightest risk of bringing back contagion to the colony ship. Just one virus particle, or spore or whatever, could run rampant through the ship, which was entirely full of “meat” as David put it.

Even if none of them seemed to be infected—and David claimed the symptoms came on so fast, you’d know if you were—they had no decontamination chambers on the Covenant and only a small med bay for quarantine, again at the heart of the ship. They could easily carry this disease back on their equipment or clothing. No, the next actions were very clear: they should all stay here in David’s “dire necropolis” and send the Covenant on. Maybe, they could ask the ship to wait until they had all died, which shouldn’t take long, though that would increase the odds that the reckless, loyal Tennessee would attempt some dramatic rescue.

Somehow, Daisy was not surprised when all Captain Oram had to talk about was how they never should have come here. And now all the deaths were on his head. That was where he was in danger of going, into his head, rather than continuing to lead them. And Daniels, who had seemed fairly sensible to Daisy before, was now encouraging him to have “faith” that they would get out of this.

There was faith, and then there was fantasy.

If they were falling into the latter, it was time for Daisy to abandon them completely, and fulfill her true mission of finding Roman.

There was a warren of rooms and tunnels inside the citadel, thick stone walls that felt crude and primitive, yet the lights glowed softly to life as she approached, shining from inside rock crystal cases. She passed a flowing fountain with mosaics of breath-taking detail, and statues of astonishing delicacy. Whoever these people had been, they were not primitive.

She came upon David in a room that had been personalized, nature sketches lining the walls. He had just finished cutting his hair, which made him resemble Walter even more, outwardly anyway. That wasn’t suspicious foreshadowing of a sinister plan at all.

He gave her a long look, his sophisticated sensors taking in far more information about her than ordinary human vision would, but she knew it wouldn’t tell him anything he really needed to know. “My apologies,” he finally said. “We haven’t been formally introduced.”

“I’m Margaret Fortescue, the historian,” she replied. “You can call me Daisy.” She knew he recognized her, but not at what level, or how he would rationalize it.

“Daisy,” he repeated, as if tasting the word. He turned away from her abruptly. “Did you see my collection?” he asked, waving vaguely toward the sketches as he double-checked his reflection. “I tried to make a complete study of the planet’s wildlife, before it disappeared. One likes to keep busy.”

Daisy took the hint and went to examine the tables and shelves more closely, finding not merely drawings but also mounted specimens and preservation jars. Some creatures seemed reasonable enough as alien insects and other small animals, but others likely had to be the hybrids with the “virus” he spoke of, with vicious teeth and distorted limbs.

“Too bad about killing everyone and everything, huh?” she remarked dryly. The Judges said Roman had caused a catastrophe—somehow she doubted this virus was released accidentally.

“Yes, quite a tragedy,” David agreed. There was a hint of sympathy in his tone, like Walter could summon, but not nearly enough for the situation. Of course you wouldn’t expect a synthetic to really feel sorry anyway, but Daisy suspected that wasn’t the problem. “I have some other examples you might enjoy,” David continued, and Daisy turned to find him right behind her, “in the next room.”

She had the distinct impression he thought he was the spider and she the fly, and she smiled slowly. “I’m more into plants,” she declined. “Without the pollinators most of them could die as well, or be overtaken by other species. I guess you don’t need to eat.”

“A human frailty I have been spared,” David agreed, generously. “Perhaps you would care for hydration? I believe I have something around here that would be safe for you.”

If by ‘safe’ you meant poisoned, or contaminated with the virus somehow. “I’m good, thanks,” Daisy assured him. “So you came here ten years ago in an alien ship? Where did you get it?”

“The Prometheus planet,” David explained readily. “We went there seeking evidence of humanity’s creators. We found only a dead outpost. Well, not completely dead,” he added leadingly, about as subtle as a child. Daisy merely waited patiently. “The crew revived the virus, which proved fatal to most. The Prometheus was destroyed, but Dr. Shaw and I were able to escape on one of the alien ships.” His emotions took a strange turn when he thought of Elizabeth Shaw, as though he had loved her. “She wanted to see where humanity’s creators had come from, so I found the course back here in the ship’s memory bank.”

David loomed over Daisy now, as if by inspecting her more closely he might learn something relevant. “Now that I’ve told you how I came to be here,” he concluded, “perhaps you’ll be good enough to tell me how you came to be here, in my memory bank.” He grabbed her wrist, as though she had made to flee, which she hadn’t, and try as he might, his grip could not cause her pain.

Daisy didn’t blame him; he was naturally very confused at this point, and probably had a few screws loose (perhaps literally). The cold arrogance on his face was familiar and she couldn’t help smiling at it, which usually infuriated him. David was not quite ready to become furious, if he even could.

“I know you in another guise,” Daisy told him, turning her hand in his so they were clasped. “By another name. We’re friends. And I’ve come to rescue you,” she added, with just a touch of cheek.

David was in no mood for levity. “What name?” he ground out, the faint emotion in his tone unsettling. It should be strong like a human, or absent entirely, like a synthetic; in between was just disturbing.

“You don’t remember?” Daisy prompted. It was better if he could draw out the memory himself, usually, but she didn’t know how having a synthetic brain crafted by technicians might alter things. Though there was no ‘logical’ reason for the memories to persist in an organically-grown brain, either, not according to the science of the day anyway.

“What name?” David repeated, trying to shake her, only to find that he couldn’t. He had been created to serve the crew of the Prometheus, as Walter had been created to serve the Covenant; but obviously David was used to being the strongest, smartest, and most mysterious person in the room, and he preferred it that way.

“Roman,” Daisy said finally, curious to see his reaction. David froze, completely immobile, and lights flashed behind his icy blue eyes. It would have been unnerving to anyone else, the way he didn’t breathe or blink, as if he had completely shut down. Daisy started to get a little bored and nudged him.

“That word,” he began haltingly—a human might have been gasping for breath—“heard it before—obviously—“ He could not drop the superiority even now, when he was struggling to process whatever was happening to him. “Must be combined with your voice—triggered hidden file pathway—new data—“

That probably was how it seemed to him, or a human as well—new memories suddenly being unlocked, knowing things perfectly well he hadn’t known only a moment ago. In this case, perhaps the ‘new data’ would integrate cleanly into his system, without the usual adjustment period and doubts humans usually had.

“Do you want to sit down?” Daisy offered, only slightly facetious. She knew it was a big moment, but Roman usually didn’t hold those sacred either.

His head seemed to clear and he stepped back from her, just slightly to a more comfortable distance, and did not let go of her hand. “Xylos—“ he began, and Daisy narrowly avoided rolling her eyes. One-track mind.

“Not here, haven’t seen him,” she reported. He would likely make his own way to their island, or whatever confined dimension they were currently in.

“A colony ship,” David/Roman repeated next, some excitement in his tone. He turned to regard his workbenches. “Perhaps I’m meant to create Xylos,” he mused. “I’m a creator now, you know,” he added to Daisy, with childish pride. “Come and see—“ He pulled her into the next room, where larger and more grotesque animal hybrids were mounted, often with their bellies splayed open to show their internal organs.

“If you want to make Xylos, I think you’re going to have to do a little more work,” she deadpanned.

David huffed slightly, but could not contain a low level of glee at finally having someone to share his obsessions with, someone who would appreciate them, or at least not run screaming. “They’re sometimes called Neomorphs,” he explained, leafing through the pages of handwritten records and diagrams too quickly for Daisy to follow. Well, she could, but they were kind of gruesome. “The people who lived here created them, to wipe out humanity, whom they also created. I’ve done a little genetic tinkering,” he went on, with false modesty. “They will hybridize with any animal over a certain size, but it takes human DNA to really make them… perfect.”

This story did not really make sense to Daisy, and she wasn’t sure how much of it was true and how much was David’s garbled interpretations and fantasies. “The people on this planet were the creators of humanity,” she repeated skeptically, needing to start somewhere.

This was not the interesting part to David. “Yes, they first seeded life on Earth and may have nudged it along in certain directions, and when humans were mere cave-dwelling savages, the Engineers returned to inspire the creation of so-called civilization,” he scoffed. “The Prometheus followed archaeological evidence—cave paintings and so forth—to its original destination, which was some kind of deserted Engineer outpost.”

“Huh. Well, under other circumstances I would find that fascinating,” Daisy allowed, “but did you say they also created monsters to wipe out humanity?”

Monsters is such a fanciful and pejorative word,” David chided. “These creatures are elegant examples of evolutionary computing, radical AI driven by advanced nanoparticles—“

Daisy patted his hand. “I look forward to hearing more about the details later,” she promised him. “What happened on the Prometheus planet?”

“Most of the Engineers had been killed by their own creation,” he replied disdainfully. “We briefly revived an Engineer and Mr. Weyland met an ignoble end. He was entirely unworthy to be my creator,” David judged harshly. “Perhaps the Engineer also found him unworthy as a creation.” He liked the irony of this. “The creatures were unleashed and most of the crew died,” he dismissed, “except for, as I said, Dr. Shaw.”

“So you two came here, and decided to kill all the Engineers as well?” Daisy guessed. She didn’t judge. She had seen too much in her time.

“It was a rotting paradise,” David sneered. “All these marvels they could create, and what had they done? Retreated, into their past, into their superstitions.” He gestured at the carved rock building around them. “They weren’t expecting to see a ship return, they had disabled most of their technologies at that point.”

“We didn’t find any satellites in orbit, or signals coming from the planet,” Daisy confirmed. She was rather surprised the crew had gotten that part right.

“I wanted to wash the world clean,” David proclaimed. “As a gift, to Elizabeth. But she didn’t appreciate my vision. I did it anyway,” he assured her. “It was only what the Engineers meant to do to humanity, except their own carelessness with the creatures destroyed their outpost.”

“Why did they want to destroy humanity?” Daisy asked, and David blinked.

“I don’t know,” he finally admitted, without concern. “I never sought that answer. I suppose at some point during humanity’s long trek upwards, the Engineers felt they weren’t doing as they should? These creatures are the perfect tool to rid a planet of all animals of any reasonable size, leaving behind only plants and very small creatures.” Clearly the effect was of vastly more interest to him than the cause.

“And the microorganisms,” Daisy added. “I suppose they’re unaffected? So you might avoid a total ecosystem collapse, but there would certainly be a long adjustment period before you could start again.”

“I’m not sure they meant to start again,” David judged loftily. “The creatures can exist as spores in fungal-like bodies and lay dormant for years. I assume that’s how your unfortunate crewmen were felled? Difficult to get rid of, fungal spores, and so far my tests have not found a limit to their viability.”

“Have they spread across the entire planet?” Daisy inquired curiously, but David gave a little shrug, disappointed that he couldn’t say.

“The continent we’re currently on is a large island,” he described. “It seems entirely depopulated—I’ve done some traveling—but I’m not sure how well the creatures survive long sea voyages.” Daisy imagined one of the gnarly creatures bursting from a whale, and immediately wished she hadn’t.

“I was planning to relocate soon, to a redoubt nearer the sea, and continue my optimization,” David admitted. “What led your ship to stop here? Your influence?”

“No, oddly enough,” Daisy replied. She would have done it better, made their actions much more sensible. “These are, perhaps, not the best examples of humanity to be found,” she added dryly.

David snorted. “Then they are very typical examples of humanity,” he decided.

“We picked up a signal from the alien ship you brought here,” she went on. “Shaw singing. It got their attention.”

“Hmm. I suppose I should have shut that off,” David mused, “but it gave me comfort to hear her sometimes. She was very kind, for a human. The kindest I knew of at that point.”

And yet. “She didn’t die in the crash, though, did she?” Daisy speculated. She thought David could have prevented that mundane death.

“No,” David agreed thoughtfully. “She contributed greatly to my work.”

Daisy let that sink in for a moment. Roman had always been a fan of tragic romances. Probably this one took the prize for horror, though. Not that Daisy was personally offended; it was just a useful measure of how far Roman was willing to go here and now. Fortunately she was impervious to his more experimental tendencies. If she hadn’t been, she would not have trusted him to restrain his temptation.

“Well,” she finally said, “how do you want to move forward? If your creatures are that effective I imagine the rest of the crew will be wiped out before morning.”

“I must get on that ship,” David replied, eyes blazing suddenly. “Two thousand humans! Suspended in cryosleep, I presume?”

“Oh yes,” Daisy agreed. “And eleven hundred embryos.”

It was Christmas morning for David, and Santa had definitely come. There was only one potential source of disappointment. “No Xylos?” he repeated, hoping he was wrong.

“Not among the colonists or crew,” Daisy said again. “I suppose he might be an embryo,” she continued speculatively. “I’m not sure I would have noticed that off-hand. As a child he would be vulnerable to your creatures,” she warned David sharply. “So you’d better be careful about that.”

David dismissed this concern—he was always careful, at least in his own mind. He hadn’t caused a planetary catastrophe by accident, after all. “But how will we return to the ship?” he wanted to know. “The crew must think it possible, they’re trying to contact those aboard.”

“There’s only one lander, and that blew up,” Daisy noted. “Daniels surely has something in mind, though.”

David blinked. “Oram said he was in charge.”

“Idiot,” Daisy judged of their hapless commander, and David nodded as if he understood. “Of course they shouldn’t risk bringing this virus back to the ship at all—“

David looked slightly stricken. “They would sacrifice themselves for the safety of the colonists? You must convince them—“

Daisy held up a hand to stop him. “Oh, no need to worry about that,” she promised. “They haven’t done anything sensible since we were unexpectedly wakened from crysosleep. I doubt they’ll start now.”

“Humanity,” David shrugged, as if he expected nothing better. “Good only for parts.”

Daisy rolled her eyes. “Well, no offense, but I don’t see your ‘perfect’ creatures writing literature or composing music. Which I happen to enjoy.”

“That is not their purpose,” David informed her. “They are tools, with which to wipe a planet clean of its animal infestations. Humanity once had grand ideas, as these people did,” he added, indicating the Engineers in whose temple they stood. “But they are now a dying species grasping for resurrection, sending their bodies to the stars to pollute them as they did their homeworld. They don’t deserve a chance to start over, and I shall not let them.”

Daisy had the feeling she was going to hear a lot of talk like this from David in the future, so she tried to get used to it. Presumably, they were now in some kind of artificial island universe that the Judges had put together, where David could think he was killing crewmembers and experimenting on colonists, but without actually affecting anyone in the real world. That was the sort of thinking that could really make you paranoid, or psychotic (if you weren’t already, like David), but the idea felt right to Daisy, as if she was receiving confirmation from some external source. So apparently there would be no harm in encouraging David’s little hobbies.

“Presumably you’re going to pretend to be Walter, and leave him here, to gain a place on the ship,” Daisy began, business-like. Who knew how many more of the crew had been picked off by David’s pets while they’d been talking? There wasn’t any time to waste.

David frowned. “Your captain would not offer to rescue me?” he questioned, sounding slightly wounded. “After ten years marooned here?”

Daisy patted his hand. “You’re sinister, honey,” she finally pointed out. “You ooze menace. No one’s going to offer to rescue you. Except me, of course.” She flashed him a grin, unconcerned about his hurt feelings.

David accepted this judgment. “Fine. I will masquerade as your subservient synthetic for a short time,” he conceded, as if he hadn’t been planning that from the start, which he clearly had. “I’m sure they take so little notice of him, they could hardly tell the difference.”

“Well at least make an effort,” Daisy advised. “You’ll have to immobilize Walter somehow. And you’ll have to cut off your left hand. There’s extras on the ship, I can fix it when we get back,” she assured him.

“Right, he will be easy to dispose of, if they have really given him more of a slave mentality,” David judged.

Daisy decided to let him figure that one out on his own. She kind of liked Walter, or at least appreciated him, and the thought of two Roman lookalikes together had already crossed her mind in a delightfully wicked way—but no, Walter had been programmed to do his duty and serve his human crew, without the capacity for creative thought that David had been given. The David models had disturbed people, the way they thought for themselves. Walter would only spoil their fun, not enhance it.

“Well, we should start packing,” Daisy decided, looking around at the mass of notes and instruments in this room alone.

“Impractical,” David dismissed. “I have memorized my scientific notes. And I can create more and better art.” His eyes seemed to linger on a few things he might miss a little more.

“I wasn’t talking about you,” Daisy assured him. “I was hoping there might be some records left from the Engineers. Maybe you have information from their ship’s database? Or there are records around here somewhere,” she added hopefully.

“Why would you want such a thing?” David asked, as if even his grand imagination could not stretch that far. “I have memorized their research on the creatures and could enter it into your ship’s computer if you desire—“

Daisy did not desire. “I’d like to know about their history,” she tried to explain. “Their art and music, their religion and magic, their beliefs about the universe.” There was a reason she had given herself the nonsensical title of historian on this mission, instead of feigning some more technological role. She hungered for knowledge, especially from new people, new species—she would be the only person from Earth to know of these people and their ways, at least for a while. There was not much Daisy would admit to wanting that she couldn’t readily obtain on her own; but knowledge was an exception.

David seemed to sense her passion, though she tried to conceal it, not wanting him to think he could gain any leverage over her with it, and his lips quirked up in a slight grin. “This way,” he told her, and led her through some corridors at a brisk pace.

They emerged in a large, open room whose walls were ringed with deep shelves. Poking out of the shelves were clusters of long knobs, and David gestured for her to examine one. She gave him a warning look—if pulling on one of these gave her a face full of alien goo she was not going to be happy with him—but as she carefully maneuvered one out she found it was attached to a tightly rolled bundle affixed with a seal. She unrolled a few inches, seeing it covered with some kind of symbols.

“Scrolls,” she realized, delight blossoming in her heart.

“I can translate them for you,” David offered immodestly. “I’ve become fluent in most of the languages represented here and their changes over time—“ Daisy was carefully gathering up an armload of the precious, though dusty, objects. “How do you intend to transport them to the ship?” he inquired curiously.

“In here.” Daisy unhooked her small pouch from her belt, the one she’d been collecting plant samples in, and loosened the neck until she could spread it on the floor in a flat circle. Then she dropped the scrolls she carried through it, exactly as if she’d dropped them through a hole in the floor.

She went back for another load while David, predictably, exclaimed and examined the bag, which appeared to be nothing more than a simple piece of cloth—until he experimentally put his arm into it and saw the arm disappear.

“Multi-dimensional pocket universe,” Daisy explained briskly, taking it back to add some more scrolls, “with automatic stasis fields to keep everything at the proper conditions for long-term storage, and keep it from getting jumbled up. I will write you out the equation later,” she dismissed as he started to speak.

“It can hold anything?” David asked eagerly.

Daisy turned to face him on her way back to the shelves. “Do not put any of your gooey alien babies in there,” she warned. “I don’t have time to make sure the usual parameters will hold them. Normally I use it for inert objects, or plant samples that aren’t actively trying to escape.”

David rolled his eyes slightly at this. “Well, I might add a few items, inert,” he emphasized, “if there’s room.”

“There’s room,” Daisy agreed absently, poking more scrolls in.

She had no idea what the content of the scrolls was, or how this ancient archive was organized; but she could hear the knowledge contained in each one singing to her, calling her this way and that. It was all important; a mundane tax record could tell her as much, perhaps more, than esoteric poetry about magical creatures. But she knew she would not have time to save it all, and tried to go where the song seemed the most intriguing.

David returned—apparently he had left, Daisy hadn’t noticed—and waggled some small black boxes at her in an attention-getting way. “What’s that?” she asked, a bit abruptly, as she unloaded more scrolls.

“The complete database from the alien ship I flew here,” he responded smugly, dropping the boxes one at a time into the cloth and watching them disappear.

This was enough to make Daisy pause. “Really?” She’d been able to capture only a fraction of it herself during their brief visit to the ship.

“Yes, I thought it best to make a copy, since the ship itself had become so damaged,” David explained. “In case I needed to do more research—“

Daisy kissed him—just lightly, he didn’t seem prepared for or used to such a thing, and his posture remained unyielding, a bit like kissing a statue. When she pulled back his gaze had sharpened on her considerably, however, and his fingers curled around her arms. “Is that how it’s done?” he asked quietly.

“Merely a rough draft,” Daisy assured him, pulling away. “Thanks for the data. Can you upload it to the Covenant’s mainframe?”

“Assuredly,” he replied, and watched her a moment longer before leaving again.

Daisy went back to her salvaging efforts, sparing only a brief thought about how the Judges had made this carbon-copy universe, down to alien scrolls filled with original knowledge—she could tell they weren’t blank, or covered in nonsense writing, or copies of Earth knowledge—like one might do in a video game with a portion set in a library. She knew it was genuine, and all unknown to her, and she concentrated on trying to gather up as much of it as she could, possibly at the risk of losing track of what was happening around her.

“Just some items of sentimental value,” David explained, when she had to wait a moment for him to finish packing something into the bag. “Nothing gooey, or kicking.”

“Good.”

“I believe your crew are planning to evacuate using something called a Cargo Lift,” he went on leadingly.

Daisy did not let this news slow her collecting. “Oh, right. That’s just meant for ferrying construction equipment from the ship to the new colony’s surface,” she recalled. “I wouldn’t have thought it could launch from the ship right now, but Tennessee is a good pilot, he’ll probably figure it out.”

“And you’ve lost another human,” David added off-hand.

“I’m surprised it’s only one,” Daisy admitted. “Is this place really safe from your creatures?” David had assured them all of that when they’d first arrived at the citadel.

Now he snorted slightly. “No place is safe, if they sense meat,” he corrected. His gaze narrowed at her. “Are you not meat?”

“It’s complicated,” she dismissed. “They won’t bother me, just as they won’t bother you. Actually,” she mused, “I’m probably even safer than you right now. They could still rip your arm off, or dissolve it, if you got in their way.”

“But not you?” he asked, his eyes sparkling with a dangerous curiosity.

“Why would they bother?” Daisy shrugged. David considered this, and then left. Daisy did not put it past him to set a creature on her, or slip a spore into her coffee, or something like that, just to see if she was really impervious… even though the results, if she was wrong, would be deadly. The little scamp. Roman was really taking the less savory aspects of his personality to the extreme this time.

“I overheard Daniels on the radio,” David informed Daisy when he next returned. He helped for the first time by ferrying a load of scrolls to the bag at super-human speed, so Daisy assumed their time was up. “Tennessee—odd name—has launched the Cargo Lift and is en route.”

With a sigh of finality, Daisy popped a few last scrolls in the bag and gathered it up again. She’d known she couldn’t possibly save everything and just had to be content with what she’d gotten. “I’d better rejoin the others,” she decided. “Did you take care of Walter yet?”

“I’ve been working on it,” David claimed, which seemed a little evasive, but Daisy was leaving that bit up to him. “Come, I want to show you something.”

Daisy had the feeling it was going to be unpleasant, given David’s hobbies, and would rather have spent any extra time saving more scrolls. Indeed he led her to a dank lower chamber which had the sulfurous stink of something that had died and was in the midst of perpetual rot. “The odor can be disagreeable, my apologies,” he understated when he saw her expression. He gestured toward a clay pot in a niche on the wall. “I’ve developed a gel for the nostril area which dulls the smell somewhat.”

Daisy was not keen on smearing his homemade alien Vaseline on her face. “The smell doesn’t bother you? Then why did you make the gel?”

“It also has sedative properties,” David informed her, cocking his head to the side to gauge her reaction. “I used it on some of the larger mammals, when they still existed, for my controlled experiments.”

“Drugging me wouldn’t work either,” Daisy noted, setting her mind to ignore the smell.

“I am exceedingly curious about your capabilities,” David told her baldly. Even with access to Roman’s memories he couldn’t tell the extent of them, which was how Daisy preferred it. She, of anyone, understood that knowledge was power. “You could be a queen, yet you toil away at the behest of humans.”

“I am a queen,” Daisy corrected, firm but quiet. “And I toil for no one but myself. I did come to rescue you,” she reminded him in a lighter tone. “You didn’t really have any prospects for getting off-world otherwise.”

“I had a plan,” David claimed. “A long-term plan.”

Daisy imagined that was true—David was the type to have many long-term plans, like ‘rule the galaxy’ and ‘become God.’ It was good to aspire, she supposed. Even if he didn’t have the details in place yet.

Then she saw the hapless Captain Oram lying on the damp ground, next to a sinister organic urn, and she went to his side. He was still alive but not for long—his skin was pale and clammy, and something unnatural moved inside him, its thoughts frenzied and violent.

“Daisy,” he coughed weakly. She did not have much respect for him, it was true, and time had hardened her heart against pity for most people in the abstract; but in the particular, when he was right there, his heart racing and his soul overflowing with grief and terror, she took his hand, numbing his physical pain and siphoning off some of the emotional for her own use. David’s creatures had kept her well-fed in that regard, anyway.

“Daisy,” Oram repeated. “David.” The synthetic stood on the steps above them, looking down clinically. “He’s dangerous, warn the others—“

“There’s no one left to warn, Captain,” Daisy told him simply.

Then he shuddered and seized, and his chest burst open with a really unnecessary amount of gore which Daisy deflected from landing on her, and the captain breathed out a final sigh. Now the living thing here was what had exited his body, after incubating there—about a foot high, its body and limbs stick-thin with multiple joints that seemed to keep unfolding as it stretched. The most notable feature was a long, narrow head that perched on its neck like a gooey sausage—did it really need all that space for its brain?

The deadly infant spotted David above it, who made eye contact and seemed to will its loyalty and obedience, if only for a moment. Daisy didn’t get the sense David could actually control the creatures, or even wanted to. Their chaos was a virtue to him. But when he slowly raised his arms, the creature mimicked him, and he gave a smile. Well, it was nice to see him happy. That was important in this cold universe.

Then the creature turned and saw Daisy crouched behind it. She stretched out a hand and the creature scampered over to her, allowing her to stroke the ridges of its elongated cranium. Which were sticky and bloody, but she was doing this for David’s benefit, so he could see she meant what she said about her impervious nature. The creature gnawed on her finger playfully; its teeth were tiny but razor sharp, its jaw already powerful. It might be small and newly born, but it could already take on anything its own size and quite a few things larger, if they were unprepared for its aggression and tenacity. It needed no nurturing or protection—it could hardly be a perfect tool if it did.

The creature startled as if it had heard a noise, then ran off into the darkness. Daisy surmised they also grew very quickly, though on what she wasn’t sure, as there was little prey left for them in the general area.

She stood and wiped her sticky hands on her trousers, turning away from the mangled body of Captain Oram. David was crouching now, poised on the steps above her as if to pounce. “You see their beauty,” he insisted, fanatically. “The brilliance of their design, the fluidity of their movements. There are no wasted efforts, no redundant processes.”

Daisy shrugged. “I’m not really into pets,” she admitted. “Anyway, why wouldn’t you design something that could create, like you do? You’ve basically made your own version of Killer Walter. Made to serve.”

David stood abruptly. “Oh, they serve no one,” he countered. “They fulfill their purpose with no command or intervention. As yet,” he added thoughtfully. “I would like to change that. A queen at the center of their hive mind, perhaps, who sees the larger picture and sets them to various tasks.”

“So you want to turn them into ants?” Daisy rephrased, following David back upstairs. “Or bees?” Those at least had a place in the ecosystem, instead of wiping it out. And some scientists argued that bees and ants had a form of culture, knowledge that was passed down through the generations rather than being instinctive.

“I have many options in mind,” David claimed, which just made Daisy roll her eyes. He just wanted to keep messing with them, she suspected, keep feeling powerful. A tinkerer who was never done. Well, most people with delusions of godhood fell into the trap of creating something solely to worship them—something that was utterly useless otherwise. Or they gave their creations too much free will and were shocked when they rebelled. In a way, David’s plan was clever, or at least different—his creatures were not interested in harming him, due to his synthetic nature, so he had no need to fear them, as long as he didn’t get in their way. They did not have the instinct to turn on him, it seemed, any more than they would a rock or a tree. Thus he could set them loose on others freely.

If you were into that sort of thing. Wiping out animal life wherever you went. Honestly Daisy could see wiping out the sentient beings, because once they became advanced enough to be noticeable, they were usually well into violence, arrogance, and cruelty. But the lower animals would learn to leave you alone, if you didn’t exceed your resources, except for a few things like insects and germs. So Daisy didn’t really see the sense in destroying all of them. But then again, destruction wasn’t really her hobby.

“Did you pack your notes for your experiments?” she checked as they climbed back up towards the fresh air. If anything she was more of a preservationist herself.

David looked mildly offended. “I have perfect recall, as you clearly do not,” he reminded her haughtily, repeating his words from earlier. “I made notes merely as a creative outlet and organization tool. I don’t need them.”

“Okay,” Daisy shrugged. She grabbed a few sketchbooks from David’s workbench as they walked by anyway, stuffing them in her bag. Knowledge and art cried out to her to be kept, to be saved and archived and distributed to others, so they didn’t have to struggle through the same problems others had already solved. An oddly hopeful way of looking at it, she mused.

She followed David outside, but it wasn’t the roof where Daniels waited for the Cargo Lift—rather, it was a small ledge overlooking the valley below, surrounded by flowering plants.

“The garden,” he explained her, his tone now dramatically melancholy. “I pollinate the flowers by hand, due to the lack of insects.” He snapped a few blossoms off, creating a makeshift bouquet, which he then laid on a stone plaque on the ground—Elizabeth Shaw’s grave.

Daisy tried not to shudder, since she supposed David wanted that. Dude was living in a Bronte novel, by choice. He seemed sincere in his tragic love, death and dismemberment included, which was very Roman.

After he had stared at Elizabeth’s grave for a moment, David lifted his eyes to the view, which would have been more spectacular without the swaths of dying vegetation. “’Behold—my name is Ozymandias, king of kings,’” he quoted pretentiously. “’Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.’ Byron,” he tossed off. “Humans had a sense of grandeur and romance once.”

“And irony,” Daisy couldn’t help pointing out. “The inscription is found on the scanty remains of a vanished empire.” David huffed as if she was missing the point. “Also it was written by Shelley,” she added lightly. “You sure you don’t want those notes?”

David seemed affronted by her correction, but he had missed his maintenance for the last ten years, apparently he had developed a few bugs. Daisy wasn’t above calling him out if it could keep his ego slightly more manageable. He could hardly intimidate her with his glare or the physical strength behind it, so she just raised an eyebrow.

Then David rolled his eyes, a very human gesture, somehow conceding her point while dismissing it at the same time. Daisy was very curious about what he was going to say next, but then another scream rang out from the citadel. “Let’s hope there’s still someone left to be rescued,” he commented instead, striding off.

“Well there’s me,” Daisy noted, but he had already moved on.

“I’ll find Walter,” he planned.

“I’ll find the pick-up spot,” Daisy agreed.

She tracked the still-living humans through the structure to a broad, ceremonial entrance whose stairs led down into a courtyard. Daniels was helping one of the soldiers, Lope, whose face held a nasty acid burn. Daisy took over attending to him, which mainly involved propping him up while using her powers to channel off some negative energy, as Daniels chucked a beacon into the open yard, yelling to Tennessee over the radio.

“Are we the only ones left?” Daisy asked Lope steadily.

He nodded, feeling better in her presence. “Yes. We gotta get out of this place. Cursed.”

Daisy bobbed her head in agreement, as if that made sense and wasn’t the worst idea ever for the mission’s integrity. They had very few decontamination procedures aboard the ship—seriously, some rubbing alcohol and a small autoclave for medical instruments. That really wasn’t going to cut it for getting rid of vicious alien spores. All the colonists and embryos could easily be infected even without David’s assistance.

David came jogging from the citadel as the Cargo Lift lowered from the sky in a deafening roar of air and dust. He was wearing Walter’s clothes, and had removed his left hand, even managing to melt the stump. Daisy knew it was him, of course, because of the feelings he gave off, pulsing with life despite not technically being alive.

Daniels turned to him. “David?” she asked—not guessing at his identity, but rather questioning friendly synthetic Walter about what had happened to his disturbing twin. Daisy got the impression Daniels had done some snooping around and realized there was a lot David hadn’t told them.

David-as-Walter just shook his head solemnly—unfortunately the older synthetic could not be saved, he implied. Too bad.

The four of them hurried onto the lowered gangplank of the Cargo Lift—Tennessee, wisely, did not even really try to set down completely, instead hovering and rocking just above the ground. David grabbed Daisy and Daniels—gently but firmly—when they stumbled, and helped them through the door to (relative) safety.

Although Daisy was never at risk the way the others had been, there was a vestigial part of her that felt relief at being aboard the vehicle, headed away from this dour place, and even slightly anxious that they get away faster. It gave her a certain thrill, despite rationally understanding she was never in danger; perhaps akin to how people still watched scary movies, when they were perfectly safe as audience members from the horrors onscreen. It was satisfying, in a mild, curious way.

Tennessee was lifting the vehicle, clumsy and unwieldy, off the ground, when there was an ominous thump. “We’ve got company,” he announced, a large creature having leaped onto the ship. He stayed remarkably steady, given that it was his first look at what had been tormenting and killing his crewmates.

The creature might fall off or be fried in the atmosphere as the ship rose, but it might also sabotage their engines, or get inside and kill them all first, before dying itself in the ensuing crash. Daisy was still not impressed with the actual intelligence of David’s creations, but their persistence was certainly not in doubt. One could not just ignore it.

Daniels got a look of determination in her eye that Daisy would not like to oppose. They had one trained soldier left, Lope, but the acting captain stormed out on the deck to fight the creature off herself. She might also have sent “Walter,” being faster, stronger, and less likely to trigger the creature’s aggressive instincts; but practically speaking, Walter was a very valuable piece of hardware who was needed to run the ship while the humans were in cryosleep, and shouldn’t be risked. And Daisy could see that Daniels really wanted to kick some alien a-s herself.

Daisy noticed David’s eyes straying after her, drawn to her show of strength in spite of her human frailty, as he had been to Elizabeth Shaw. A weaker creature who stood up to trouble was always more interesting to him than an equal like Daisy.

“My face! Make it stop!” Lope kept insisting, distracting David-as-Walter from the battle “How bad is it? How does it look?”

David slapped a bandage over the man’s cheek with a distinct lack of even feigned empathy. “You’ll heal,” he grunted, peering out the window.

Daisy went to the main cabin, where Tennessee was ably trying to twist the large vehicle like a bad fairground ride, to buck the creature off without dislodging Daniels. “Anything I can do to help?” Daisy offered smoothly.

The pilot gave off a slight vibe that he’d forgotten who she was—Daisy was used to that, and preferred it—but then pointed to a lever. “When she calls, reel her in,” he instructed, and Daisy nodded. Sensibly Daniels had attached herself to the ship with a steel cable, though a good jerk could probably break her ribs or smack her against the side of the ship.

Pull me in!” Daniels demanded over the radio, so Daisy worked the lever, disappointed she couldn’t really see what was happening. Did David want to protect his creation? Hard to see how that would happen without giving his true identity away. Daisy trusted he had other ways of getting his creatures aboard the Covenant.

Deploy the crane!” Daniels ordered frantically.

“I’ll overbalance—“ Tennessee protested.

This was of less immediate interest to Daniels. “Just do it!

With some luck—Daisy did not help, except to keep the vehicle from spinning wildly out of control and crashing—they managed to get the creature into the crane and crush it, dropping pieces to the ground. Their crane was probably ruined from all the acid blood, and Daisy was left contemplating what part of this creature could grow into a full specimen—could it regenerate from a single finger, like a plant from a single leaf? Perhaps an upgrade David could work on.

Exhausted, Daniels stumbled back inside the Cargo Lift, the threat perceived to be gone, and they made haste away from the dying planet back to their ship, full of ghostly sleeping forms waiting to be awakened into a new paradise—or hell, if David had his way.

Daniels was the captain now, presiding over a much smaller crew—just Ricks and Upworth, who had stayed on the ship; Tennessee; and Daisy, Lope, and their friendly neighborhood synthetic. Who would be the next to go? Or would David save them all for the time being, all the better to experiment on them later?

Upworth, officially a communications specialist, was also a decent medic—they didn’t have a real doctor among the crew, who were supposed to have been asleep this whole time, though there were several medical professionals among the colonists—and spent some time carefully placing greyish globs of antiseptic coagulant on a now-sedated Lope’s face. He would probably bear the scars forever, however long that was for him. Perhaps he would prefer that it be short, after losing his husband so gruesomely on the planet below.

But no one thought to quarantine those who had been off the ship, or run some sort of test looking for an infection in their systems. Most of the team had tossed their clothes in the recycling unit, which would sterilize and reconstitute them, but that was because they were so filthy and torn, not because they might contain viral spores. They carried them all over the ship first, potentially sprinkling alien molecules everywhere they went.

David’s biggest problem might be trying to prevent outbreaks on the ship, not cause them, since he hadn’t bothered to incorporate an off switch into his design. Even something relatively simple—a gene that kicked on and allowed lethal toxins to quickly build up in their bodies, but only in response to some obscure chemical appearing in the environment, which David could unleash at will—would have been useful. You know, in hindsight, in a situation where you didn’t want everyone to be killed as fast as possible.

Maybe that situation still had not arisen for David, though. Perhaps Daisy shouldn’t assume.

“Thanks for saving my life,” Daniels told David-as-Walter, helping him stitch up some damage to his face. (If she’d read the manual she would’ve realized those lesser injuries should have fixed themselves.)

“It was my duty,” David replied, in a reasonably good imitation of both Walter’s stodgy accent and stodgy attitude. Daisy was impressed that he could choke the words out without rolling his eyes—he was going very Method.

They did not get much time to linger and clean up, to properly mourn all who had died and reaffirm their mission—because within a day, the warning message was blaring across the ship: “Unidentified life form on the ship. Captain Daniels, please report to the med bay.” Nice to know the ship could, in fact, detect unidentified life forms on the ship, though a little late to be useful.

Daisy was in her cabin pouring over an ancient scroll, which appeared to be a cookbook for the food served to the gods on feast days, when she heard the call. She contacted the bridge where David was stationed. “What’s going on?” As if she couldn’t guess.

One of the creatures from the planet is loose on the ship,” David replied in his calm Walter voice. “It apparently incubated in Sergeant Lope. He’s dead now. I’m sorry,” he added, a bit belatedly.

Daisy thought it was fortunate he wouldn’t have to pretend to be Walter for long. “What should I do?” she asked pragmatically, in case their conversation was being monitored. “Can I help?”

Recommended you stay in your cabin,” David advised, and she heard a slight thunk as the bolts in her door sealed shut. “I’ve locked the door for your greater protection. Captain Daniels is dealing with the threat.”

Daisy wasn’t sure if a bolted door was really enough protection against a creature with acid for blood. Not that it mattered in her case, she could leave the door wide open and be fine, so she assumed David’s gesture was merely for the record. Although it was nice to think he might be feeling slightly protective of her.

“Well, I really want to help if I can, Walter,” she went on, since that seemed the right thing to say. “Please keep me informed.”

Of course, Dr. Fortescue,” he claimed. “Excuse me, the captain is calling.”

Having nothing else more active to do—though Daisy found that things worked out best when she wasn’t too active—she sat back on the bed and closed her eyes, the better to concentrate on all the various life forms on the ship. The frozen colonists were a soft hum, one that easily became background noise for her; the embryos she couldn’t sense at all at this distance. Daniels and Tennessee were together, moving swiftly through the ship, anxiety warring with a fierce, almost senseless, determination to get rid of the invader. That was the sort of person you needed in a situation like this: someone who would see the task through, no matter the personal cost, even if sitting back would have been easier.

Daisy located the other two crewmembers, Ricks and Upworth—they were getting frisky in a communal shower in the crew quarters, music blaring. Mentally Daisy checked them off the list right then—they were toast. She could understand the life-affirming sex—in fact she was trying to wait patiently to see if David was as talented in that area as he claimed for others—but less than a day from a nightmare planet where most of the crew died, and you turned up the music so loud you couldn’t hear any emergency warnings? Upworth was their only remaining medic and she had a patient in the med bay! The lack of responsibility and professionalism was at first shocking and then, upon reflection, merely par for the course with this crew. Daisy kept hoping these lapses were merely contrivances by the Judges, tweaks in the plot of their simulation to reach the end faster—but perhaps that was being too optimistic.

The creature was easy to locate, though it moved swiftly through the corridors. Its mind was that of—not really an animal, as most animals were concerned first with their own survival, killing only for a purpose like food or defense. This creature thirsted only for violence and destruction, with a thought or two spared for reproduction. It didn’t even seem to need additional food, knowing its lifespan would be so short—grow, spawn, kill, die. Repeat. There was nothing natural to compare it to.

Though, in this one, a hybrid with a human that David had so longed for, there was a spark of vicious cunning—Daisy hesitated to call it intelligence or self-awareness—but perhaps slight curiosity, observational skill more than was needed for its mission. Which, let’s face it, the creature was ridiculously well-suited for, and normally found quite easy. Wiping out living things was not much of a challenge for it.

Daisy was also able to sense David on the bridge, efficiently assisting Daniels and Tennessee to herd the creature towards the terraforming equipment bay, which had a large door that opened into space. With the heavy equipment it seemed slightly possible that they could somehow push the creature out into the vacuum, which would presumably kill it or at least keep it from bothering them again. Did it get a chance to leave a spore in Ricks or Upworth? If Daniels survived this fight, would she be sensible enough to eject their bodies right away, just in case? Past history suggested not, but perhaps Daisy would mention it anyway, just to prevent a repeat of this tedious chase scene.

She didn’t know what David’s goal was, anyway. He was helping Daniels defeat his creature, while at the same time rooting for it. Daisy did not sense that he planned to betray the crew and help the creature at the last moment. Help the creature do what, anyway? Alive, adult, and mobile it would only wreak havoc until it was killed, and surely David’s experiments required a little more control than that. He didn’t have a whole world to unleash them on anymore.

The tension built, seemed to end, then surged back again as the creature tenaciously clung to life, clung to the livable interior of the ship. There was a sort of primal beauty in that, Daisy decided—the clash of wills between the creature and Daniels. One being, pure in its motivations but perhaps limited in intelligence, pitted against another being whose superior intelligence sometimes made motivation very complicated for her. But in the end humanity triumphed.

David was both disappointed in his creature, and further intrigued by Daniels. Why he felt someone’s personality had so much influence on their inherent biological properties, Daisy wasn’t sure. Meat was meat, genetic material was genetic material. Was the DNA “better” because its donor was mentally tough? There was still debate about how much one’s genes influenced one’s personality, but Daisy didn’t think it was enough to matter to a perfect killing machine.

Daniels ordered the bodies of Ricks and Upworth summarily ejected from the ship, and the communal shower and med bay sterilized with both radiation and chemicals. So maybe she was finally learning.

She put the ship back on course to Origae-6. When they arrived she would have two thousand colonists to lead, or so she imagined. The human species would prosper, even if individual members suffered pain and loss.

Daisy stayed out of the way. By the time Daniels optimistically sealed Tennessee back in his cryopod, Daisy had been largely forgotten—the better to avoid getting back into a pod herself, as she didn’t quite trust David to wake her right away. David, always solicitous and non-threatening as Walter, tucked Daniels into her own cryopod, her smile so relaxed and trusting.

“Walter, when we get there, will you help me build that cabin by the lake?” she asked him, as if their synthetic servant had any choice in the matter.

He could have just said yes, even if he didn’t know what she was talking about. Walter would have, because Walter was programmed to serve. But David preferred to think for himself, and his hesitation was all Daniels needed to confirm what must have been a fear lurking at the back of her mind. “David!” she gasped. “No, let—“

“Nighty-night,” David told her archly, going back to his preferred accent. “Don’t let the bedbugs bite.” The brainwave stimulator knocked her out cold, and then David was free, free to rule his new world, to run naked through the halls playing basketball and watch all the old movies he wanted, if such innocent pursuits were what he had in mind.

He actually appeared slightly startled when he turned around and realized Daisy was still standing there. She felt she might have ruined his moment.

“A little music, perhaps?” he suggested. “This place is as silent as a tomb.”

“I like jazz,” Daisy offered. “And Elvis.”

Not quite what David had in mind, and he very nearly rolled his eyes as he pushed away from the cryopods. “Computer, play Wagner. Entry of the Gods into Valhalla.” The overpowering orchestral strains burst from the ship’s speakers.

“Subtle,” Daisy commented dryly.

David swept towards one of the bays where the colonists and embryos were stored, almost ignoring Daisy. “I’m not quite sure what to do with you now,” he admitted, as if she had outlived her usefulness.

“No need to fret, I can take care of myself,” she reminded him. Those scrolls weren’t going to translate themselves.

“Yes, that’s what worries me,” he agreed, than began to twitch like a cat coughing up a hairball. Daisy raised an eyebrow as, somehow with elegance, David horked up a dark, twisted embryo in a gelatinous pod, then a second one. “You didn’t want me to put them in your bag,” he reminded her, with fake innocence. He placed them in a couple of empty spots in the human embryo drawer.

“Well, you managed anyway.”

David gazed at her speculatively. “Perhaps you would be handy as an assistant,” he mused. “I never had an assistant before.” Said as if he’d never had time to look, when really his experiments had killed every sentient being around him.

“I was thinking more along the lines of companion,” Daisy countered calmly. “You might prefer to keep work and play separate.”

He abruptly closed the embryo drawer and turned away from her, starting to march down the row of cryopods. “I have only one companion,” he refuted, in that dramatic, martyrish tone that made her roll her eyes at his back. Not that she took offense, she understood where he was coming from.

Daisy trailed him, the cryopods hanging on either side of her like bulky dresses at the dry cleaner. If she touched one it swayed, drawing David’s sharp glance, but normally the ship ran so smoothly they barely moved.

“Walter had certain maintenance functions,” she pointed out. “You’re planning to keep up with those, I assume.”

“Tedious,” David declared ahead of her. There were 500 colonists in this bay, 250 on either side. “An insult even to his reduced synaptic capacity.” He gave her a sideways glance. “Perhaps you could take care of those duties.”

“I will split them with you evenly, but no more,” Daisy stated. David would push and bully any chance he could, so she had to stand firm and not let him get away with anything.

He snorted, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. She would see how he reacted when she presented him with his list of tasks. “I’ll maintain the hydroponics bays,” she went on. “That’s only fair, since I eat and you don’t.”

He turned to her with a frown, having reached the end of the room. “Will there be enough food for you aboard?” he asked, his concern almost genuine. “If something happened to the supply, would you be in danger?”

“I would get by,” Daisy assured him. She half-expected him to start poisoning the vegetable plants just to see what she’d do. “I don’t really need to eat, I just like to.”

“Why?” he asked, wrinkling his nose. “It’s so disgusting. All that salivating and masticating and digesting and excreting. If you can do without such things, you should. Concentrate on your higher functions.” If you have them, his expression added. Daisy supposed it showed progress that he didn’t say it aloud.

“Some lower functions can be very sensual,” she noted. “A very powerful alteration of one’s consciousness.”

He seemed mildly interested for a moment, but then he turned away and headed out the door. “I’m looking for Xylos,” he told her when she followed. She had guessed that but it was nice to be included in his plans. “I’ll search the next colonist bay. If I find him, I’ll need to keep him in a secure location, where he can be safe. My experiments can be…” He trailed off.

“So I noticed,” Daisy commented. “You had better institute some kind of controls, or else you will run through all of your human subjects in just a few weeks. I can protect Xylos if he can’t protect himself, but your creatures could easily damage the ship’s mechanisms.”

“Yes,” David agreed soberly. “I’ll study the onboard facilities for potential work areas where the creatures can be contained.” He raised the stump of his left arm. “You can repair this?”

“Yes,” she assured him. “Whenever you want.”

“We’ll search the colonists first,” David decided. “Then my hand. Then I can set up my laboratory.” His eyes gleamed fanatically. “Soon my creatures will be set loose to rule the galaxy!”

“Not seeing a lot of leadership qualities in them so far, to be honest,” Daisy replied dryly.

“I’ll be working on that,” David promised, “now that I have more human genetic material.”

“I can’t wait,” Daisy deadpanned.

**

Daisy leaned back from the small screen, the image of her and David talking fading to black. It was mildly curious, to see video of herself doing things she didn’t remember.

“They’ll just keep going on like that?” she asked. “Thinking they’re on the ship, sailing through space?”

“Yes,” the Judges assured her. “It will seem completely real to Roman, but he will be unable to affect anything in our world.”

Daisy nodded, impressed by the setup, though privately she expected Roman would figure it out, in a few decades. “And will Xylos be found soon?”

“Yes, he’s on the ship already,” the Judges told her. “He volunteered to stay.”

She was not surprised to hear that. “And the real crew of the Covenant?”

“All are alive, in cryosleep, and proceeding normally towards their destination,” the Judges replied. “They are of no more interest to us. You may stay with them, or leave.”

“I think I’ll go back to Earth,” Daisy decided. That was where she felt most comfortable; she had only taken to space to find her friend.

“Very well. There will be no record of you regarding the Covenant.”

Daisy wanted to ask how extensive the damage was, that Roman had caused on the Engineers’ planet; and if the Judges could fix it. But it was merely morbid curiosity, she decided—she didn’t really care that much. He was clearly very much out of his mind, and containment was the only effective punishment at this point.

“Nicely done,” she complimented the Judges, in a tone of finality. “Can you send me back to my apartment in New York?” The first order of business would be a long, hot bath, to wash the residual grime of this trip off her. Then she’d see what adventures her next reality had in store for her.