Isaac Binder’s body, like all who died aboard Covenant, was jettisoned into space. Leon watched its silent launch through a viewport above the rear airlock, and inevitably found himself wondering about his father’s destination. Perhaps he would one day fall through an alien atmosphere to strike an unknown landscape—a Pioneer once more in death. Maybe he would end in fire, enveloped and incinerated by a distant star. Infinitely more likely was the possibility that he would float endlessly, without direction, through the void.
Perhaps he would return to Earth.
His father’s last words would not leave Leon’s mind. What had Isaac seen in those final moments of consciousness? Some distant memory of Earth, no doubt, but there seemed to be something more to it. Leon played the scene over and over in his mind—his father’s body, so close to failing, suddenly alert before the end; that wild look in his eyes, as though his death were a triumph. In the end he forced himself to consider it a simple fantasy, born from a mind approaching its end—nothing more.
During a person’s life aboard Covenant, they are permitted materials with which to create. One can shape physical matter, create art and literature until they lose the physical ability to do so. After one’s death, any work deemed necessary to preserve is digitally transformed and uploaded to the ship’s memory banks. Then all the physical materials are recycled, to be shaped once more by a new life. Now that Isaac was gone, his belongings would undergo that same fate. Leon volunteered to help with the cataloguing of his father’s quarters as soon as he was given the chance.
His father’s home was aft, near the top of the ship, with a wide viewport that overlooked the invisible wake it left behind. It was a Pioneer’s quarters—larger and more comfortable than those of much of the ship’s population. They consisted of three separate rooms, the largest of which he had used as a study. It was in this room that Leon discovered his father’s gift to the ship’s passengers.
Isaac had placed it on top of his desk where it could not be missed. It was a smooth sphere crafted from interlocking metal plates so intricately fashioned that Leon had trouble following the lines that snaked over its surface. When he picked it up, he felt a faint vibration from within it. It was cold to the touch. Beside where it had sat on the desk was a letter. He instantly recognized his father’s handwriting sprawling across the sheet of cellfilm.
When I left Earth along with the other Pioneers, it did not occur to me that someday, one of us would be the last living person with memories of Earth. Later in my life, even after that thought had crossed my mind, I never imagined that person might be me. When Andrew Bergman passed away ten years ago, the unimagined became reality. I lost more that day than my closest friend aboard Covenant—I lost, too, the only true Earthman besides myself. The last person with whom I could talk about the warmth of sunlight as more than an abstraction. I became the Last Pioneer and was known by that title from then onward. Before his death, Andrew gave me a blueprint, vast in scope and containing the groundwork for what I have now completed. His death forced me to consider my aging memory in a new light. It struck me how precious the images I hold of the past are, if to no other descendants of Earth than myself. I cannot bear to allow Earth’s oceans, her sweeping forests and rolling hills, scorching deserts and snowcapped mountains, to fade away when I am gone.
This device is the culmination of the past decade of my life, and of much of Andrew’s before his death. I have told no one of its existence and kept all schematics a secret until now. It is operated by concentration of the mind alone. Turn off all lights, quiet any noise, and take the sphere in your hands. Remove all thought but of the sphere. Allow it to consume your consciousness, for the sphere contains the world we left behind. Though I will die, it is this that I leave behind to mark my place within the tangled tapestry of existence. Use it to remember the beauty that was lost to us.
Leon read the letter twice, his confusion and intrigue growing with every word. When he finished the second time, he reexamined the sphere. His fingertips traced the intricate metalwork lightly, wondering what his father had intended for it to do. He brought it close to his eyes and peered at the mesmerizing patterns that seemed to shimmer and twist in the dim light. He tried to peer beyond its metal casing, to hear the secrets it contained within. Then, for an impossibly brief moment, he was no longer in his father’s quarters. He was no longer aboard Covenant. He cried out and, in an instant, returned to the chair upon which he had been sitting. His heart raced, and his mind struggled to make sense of what had happened.
Water, though in such a form and quantity as he’d never imagined, had stretched before him. It was contained within a channel cut into a strange substance, in places smooth and hard, in others coarse and crumbling. On either side of the channel rose things that he had once seen in a picture—trees, he thought he remembered they were called. Hundreds of them sprouted from the dark floor, towering upward to brush a blue and white expanse with their crowns of green. In that instantaneous vision, even the air around him was cooler. It filled his airway with a single breath, cutting through his lungs with a sharpness beyond all notion of the recycled mixture that was continuously pumped throughout the ship. It was a dream brought into being, more vivid than any image that had ever before entered his mind.
Leon stared at the sphere which he was still holding, wondering at its impassive metal face. Then he stood and closed the office door, locked himself in, turned off the lights. He pulled the shades across the viewport, the darkness of the room becoming still more absolute as the curtains blocked out the stars. The air seemed to press in around him, a breath of expectancy pulled into the room, focused on where he sat with the sphere in his hands. The only sound was the constant, distant hum of the ship’s engine, welling up within the walls, spilling into every level, every sector, every room. It was a sound that disappeared unless one chose to hear it.
The sphere was a cold weight in his hands. He wrapped his grip more tightly around it, driving away thoughts of all else, tuning every nerve in his body to sense the smooth metal. There was black, empty space, and then it was filled. The sudden light seemed to explode into existence around him, but it was not blinding. It was as though this bright vision had always been around him, and he was only now aware of it.
Once more he was standing beside the flowing channel of water. This time, he could see everything—the liquid like glass, clear down to a bed of smooth objects like gray teardrops. As he watched, a rustling sounded overhead. He looked up and saw a tree, shorter than most, with a crown unlike the others, filled with myriad colors like a mixture of the surfaces of stars he had seen in pictures. He saw that the color was contained in a thousand flat objects, and that these were fluttering as paper before an air vent. A handful broke free and floated lazily downward to rest upon the water below, which carried them away from him in drifting swirls.
Seized by a sudden urge to feel the water, he tried to stand and found that he already was, though he couldn’t remember getting up from the chair. Looking around, he saw no sign of it, or of any other piece of Covenant. His legs moved of their own accord, carried him to the edge of the channel, knelt beside it. The coarse brown flooring gave way slightly beneath his knees. His hand reached down to break the surface, and he gasped as the frigid liquid enveloped his fingers, sending icy bolts shooting up his arm to grip his spine, the urge to pull back like a command shouted by his mind. His fingers retreated, and when they broke free of the surface he was swallowed by darkness as the world disappeared. His heart beat out a moment of panic until he felt the hard surface beneath him. He was sitting once more on the chair in his father’s quarters.