A few months ago, I finished writing part one of a story entitled Eyes of Earth. I originally intended this to be a multi-part novel, with each section taking place at a different time—the story following members of the same family on an inter-generational space ship travelling away from a dead Earth. After Part One was done, however, the storyline seemed to slip out of my mind. I made several attempts to continue but couldn’t find a direction I liked enough to focus my attention on. So, I was left with Part One—too long to be called a short story, but not long enough to be a novel. I really don’t know what else to do with it, so I decided to post it on my blog as I make another round of edits on the draft. I’m going to try and put up a chapter each day. If you have the time, I would appreciate hearing any comments you have about it! Thank you to any and all who read this.
Dr. Leon Binder stood at the far edge of humanity, gazing out into the abyss of space. From begins a viewport in a forward lounge, he could sense but not see the vast outer wall of Covenant’s hull rising away above him. He saw a young ship’s officer approach in the dim reflection of the hallway behind him, saw the man fingering the edge of his collar, heard him clear his throat nervously. When Leon turned to face the officer, the man raised his chin, his chest and shoulders stiffening with military formality. Leon imagined he could see the stars at his back reflected in the young officer’s eyes. The officer cleared his throat once more before he spoke.
“Dr. Binder, I’ve been sent to inform you: your father does not have much time left. His condition is worsening rapidly. I am to escort you to his room in sick bay. I’m told your siblings are being taken there as well.”
“What’s your name?” Leon asked him.
“Your first name?”
“Thank you for the offer, Francis, but I would prefer to make my way alone.”
“I understand, sir. I will return to inform them that you are coming.”
“Thank you.” The young man nodded, then turned on his heel and left. Leon turned to the stars once more, wising he could lose himself in their infinite light.
Isaac Binder’s death was neither sudden nor unexpected. It came at the end of a long life, spent half in the past and half aboard Covenant. Leon closed his eyes and focused all his senses on the world around him. He sought some subtle difference within the life pulse of the ship itself, some alteration in stability, a new frequency in the vibrating machinery that hummed within the walls. There had to be something different—something that would mark the passing of the last Pioneer. The first ones aboard Covenant—the ones who left Earth, boarded the ship and watched themselves be closed in behind metal doors for the rest of their lives. The only people for whom a life in space had been a choice.
Time corrodes. The Pioneers grew old and died—as they had intended—and each passing severed another link between Covenant and the old world. A lifetime of memories—the sight, the smell, the texture of the Earth as more than words disappeared when they did. The first planet, their lost birthright. Isaac Binder told his children a great many stories of Earth when they were young. Understanding all that he told them was an impossibility—the things he spoke of were too far beyond the glass and metal of Covenant. He told stories of billions of people sharing one world, with space between them still for uncharted wilderness and impassable expanses. Leon drank in the fantastic descriptions, his mind attempting to create images for things unknowable to him. When Isaac died, his memories too would go with him, and Leon would be left only with words and images pieced together from the fragments of a child’s comprehension.
Leon stared out the viewport until he couldn’t put off his trip to the hospital any longer. Sick bay was midship, many levels above the lounge in which he’d been spending his evening. The journey there took just under twenty minutes; he made no effort to rush. Thoughts of his father dogged his every step, each a reflection of the past, touched by sadness only in a vague, nebulous way. Death at the end of a life fulfilled is not something to mourn, and his father had lived such a life. The inevitability of death was accepted fact, built into the very fabric of the lives of everyone who lived on board Covenant. There was no questioning one’s purpose aboard the ship. Birth, life, procreation, and death—the cycle of their lives laid out before them conception to the moment they passed on, opening the way for others, one lifetime closer to the end of the journey. The cold truth of this existence was unavoidable, but it could not erase the humanity that still lived inside each of their souls. Leon could not help the vague sadness he felt. It would not be reasoned away—he was a son, and his father was dying. Logic told him this day had always been looming, but his heart yearned for time to cease, or to flow backwards—to bring his father away from the brink of death. To spare him.
When he reached the hospital, Leon stood for a moment in the hallway, looking through the window into his father’s room. He watched his brother Damien and sister Lena standing beside his father. Isaac Binder’s chest rose and fell with shallow breaths. As he neared the end of consciousness it was like the entire ship was drawing breath together, preparing to dive into a frigid unknown. They waited for a moment between the old and the new, when the past would become as intangible as memory.
Lena stood beside her father with a hand resting on his arm. Damien was on the opposite side of the bed, his arms crossed over his chest and his head bowed. They smiled warm, sad smiles when Leon entered. Lena crossed the room to hug him and he held her tightly. A hard knot twisted in his throat as he looked over her shoulder at his father. Leon had seen him merely a few days earlier, when he was first brought to the hospital. Already his father looked as though years had passed in the space of days. His deeply lined face was held in a calm repose while he slept. Leon approached the bed and laid a hand on his cheek. His skin glowed faintly with a dimming heat, and Leon thought of a dying star throwing the last of its light into the empty well of a universe around it.
“Bye, dad,” he said softly. Isaac’s eyes opened, and he brought his hand up to touch Leon’s. His lips moved soundlessly, trying to form a word, a sentence, a last phrase to pass to his son. Leon leaned in closer, and Isaac whispered again.
“I’m going back to Earth.”
The words of a man on the edge of existence.
Leon slid his hand from beneath his father’s and took a step back. Lena moved forward to say goodbye, followed Damien. Isaac gazed at each of them in turn, his eyes ablaze with a strange light. Happiness? Love? Fear? When the goodbyes were complete, he seemed to sink even deeper into his bed. His breath came like perpetual relief. Then he sat up so suddenly that his children jumped. He looked wildly around him, locked onto Leon’s eyes, and smiled. Leon had never seen him look happier. With a heavy finality, Isaac closed his eyes and spoke his final words.
“The trees are beautiful.”