Leon stood on uncertain feet, suddenly desperate to prove to himself that he was truly back aboard Covenant. When he pulled the window shade open he was relieved to look upon the infinity of space, stretching in all directions, glittering with innumerable stars. Below, the stern of the ship fell away in a sweeping arc, full of the glowing windows behind which its inhabitants were living, breathing—unaware that far above them Leon had just breached a strange divide.
His father’s desk was a collection of loose paper piled high, with no discernible organization in sight. Leon began to rifle through the scattered sheets of cellfilm, the compilations of random thoughts his father had recorded, interspersed with a collection of small objects of whose purpose Leon could not be certain. He searched for any reference to the sphere other than his father’s letter but found nothing. Isaac had written that the sphere’s creation took him ten years—where was the record of that time? Had he destroyed the work that went into making the device? Had he fashioned it from thin air? From memory?
Eventually Leon abandoned his search and sat heavily back in the chair, staring once more at the sphere he’d placed on the desk. It defied him to discover its secrets. In the end he decided to abandon the task of digging through the remains of his father’s past for now. He left the quarters with the sphere in his hand and his father’s letter tucked within his shirt. Everywhere he looked, the ship around him appeared changed. Had the walls actually moved closer together? Were there fewer windows now? Why did he seem unable to draw enough breath to fill his lungs? Had space invaded Covenant, less an endless expanse, now shut between the metal walls that surrounded him, suffocating and immutable? Only days before, he had wondered how Isaac’s passing would alter the soul of the great ship. Now the answer seemed to press in on him, drawing to a focused point on the sphere he held in his hand.
He reached his own quarters nearly out of breath, entered and slammed the door behind him, hoping to shut out the oppressive thoughts and emotions that dogged his footsteps. With a brush of his hand against a wall contact, the lights went out. Another quick hand movement and the viewport—much smaller than his father’s, shifted from opaque to transparent. Light from the stars spilled in—the only light he wished to share the room with him.
His quarters were located one level down from his father’s but on the opposite end of the ship. Slightly more spartan than those of a Pioneer, they consisted of only two rooms—a bedroom and living room—along with a small bathroom. Leon crossed the living room and entered his bedroom. Inside, his bed stood along the far wall. A small metal chest of drawers stood beside it. He went to this and placed the sphere, along with the letter, inside the top drawer. As he did so he felt a distinct thrill of secrecy. No matter what his father had intended for the sphere, for the moment Leon alone would be the one to know of the puzzle of its inner workings. In his letter, Isaac had not named a specific beneficiary—why should not his eldest child inherit what he left behind? When he had discovered the full extent of its purpose, then he could pass the knowledge on to others.
The waking cycle had ended, and the ship was moving through its own night. Leon changed into sleep clothes before shutting off the already dim lights and climbing under the bedcover.
Placing the sphere in the bedside drawer did not free Leon from thinking of it. The darkness behind his eyes was filled with the images it had burned into his mind. Still with a realism beyond the everyday, they flowed together in currents of thought until he was lost within them. He remembered the objects he’d seen floating out of the trees, swirling away upon the water’s surface. He could feel the icy currents carrying him alongside those paper gems, away from Covenant, from the depths of space, toward something that had always been far, far beyond his reach. As sleep washed over the edges of his mind, a final thought swept through him. He wanted to know more about what he had seen—the trees, the water flowing endlessly away through the vision.
When the morning cycle began, the idea was an itch at the front of his mind, unable to be forgotten. He knew he wouldn’t have time to pursue it until his work for the day was finished. His focus shifted to the patients he would see—some of them regulars, for whom he had constructed files of cellfilm over the course of months or years. Others would be drop-ins—people he had never seen before and may very well never see again. They would come to him with some unshakable thought, some negative worm that had burrowed into their brain and would not come out, and they would ask him to extract it. There was work to be done, and in work one could forget the nothing that swirled unceasingly beyond the ship.
Leon sat at the desk in his small office. The room around him was built to effect comfort and peace in those within it. Walls of dark wood paneling were bathed in warm light from interspaced lamps, between which vertical viewports opened onto space, starlight gleaming in through the glass to fill out the room’s shadows. Across the desk from him sat his third patient of the day, a man named Samir. Leon had already discovered that Samir was a first-class engineer, assigned to the ship’s main engine room. He was around thirty, with sand-flecked brown hair cropped short and close. He held a well-respected position for one as young as he was, and yet he had come to Leon. Anyone might have reason to come.
“I know Covenant is good,” Samir said. “I know it’s pointless to think about these things—our only world is here. Yet I can’t stop it weighing on me. I can’t stop thinking that there is another world out there, waiting for us, and I’ll never see it. My children won’t even see it, nor their children.”
“Someone will see it,” Leon said. “Your descendants will be there, and they’ll be there because of you.”
“I know that, and I know that’s what I should be focused on. It’s just—down in the engine room, being near all that power, working to send us further away, and not even sure away from what… It becomes like we aren’t even really moving at all, sometimes.”
“What do you think it is we’re getting further away from?”
“I don’t know. Home? Something I’ve never seen—will never see. The place we came from. It’s back there, completely out of reach, out of sight even. And now—did you hear about the Pioneer? The last one, I mean, just passed away. Now it’s like Earth is gone for good, and it just makes it seem so much more like we’re lost.”
Leon fought back the urge to send the man away. He wasn’t angry, merely caught off guard by the sudden mention of his father. It wasn’t fair to assume that Samir would know of the relation. Everyone on board the ship was related to a Pioneer somehow—it wasn’t possible for the average passenger to know each other’s exact lineage. The geneticists were the only ones who needed to worry about that. Leon pushed away the surprise and focused on what Samir had said. It was something he had heard many times before from his patients. There was sadness felt by so many when looking at the stars—or perhaps not sadness but emptiness, longing for something they had never seen before and which they could not name. He had heard so many voices telling him the same thing. It was his job to turn their mind away, pull them back from the edge of the void, bring back into focus that which they were unable to see—the world in front of them, the walls and people that surrounded them.
“So, you feel the disconnect from Earth has a role in these feelings?”
“It could be a role, it could be the whole reason. I think mostly I know, somewhere within me, that I’m stuck. Maybe we all are. All of us together may be moving forward, but individually we’re stuck here, in our own time and our own place.” Samir glanced at the clock face that hovered in light above a corner of Leon’s desk. Leon looked, too, and saw that they had been talking for almost an hour. “I need to get back to the engine room soon,” said Samir. Leon nodded, and Samir stood. He thanked Leon and left with the shadows of thought still prominent on his face.
Leon’s face bore shadows of its own.