The rest of Leon’s patients that day came and went in slow procession. He listened, responded, tried to help while his thoughts stayed far away. When the last patient had thanked him and left, Leon slipped their file into his desk and swept out into the corridor, intent on the idea that had been with him since the morning. Its pursuit took him winding down through the ship’s stairs, corridors, lifts, to reach the lower levels of the bow, tapering into space ahead of all the rest. Here was the ship’s library. Low rows of computer banks rose beside high backed seats, their screens angled up to greet one’s touch, respond to commands, produce whatever information one desired. Leon swung into the nearest chair and his fingers swept across the computer screen, keying in his inquiry. The display dimmed automatically to a comfortable brightness as it appeared beneath his fingers. Trees. It was single word inquiry that produced more results than could be processed by one person in a lifetime. He refined the search to ignore any result other than pictures, and still there were millions. Scrolling through image after image, he soon found himself lost, searching for that one familiar shape, color, texture that would tell give him what he wanted.
He found it under the name Evergreen. There were the beings he had seen rising above him, their green boughs like brushes against the sky above. They existed side by side in staggering numbers, sprawling across what must have been an ocean of land. How they had dwarfed him! And yet there were thousands in those images—how could anything so big exist in such number?
His father had seen them.
The thought struck him with a fierce intensity. In his final moments, his father had been back on Earth, standing among the trees. He had told his children with his last breath that he could see them.
Leon continued to search through the computer, seeking an image more like what the sphere had shown him. The water, the smaller tree with fire as its crown, the ground that had given way beneath his feet. He had no names for what he sought, only a brief memory that had come to him amid confusion. After twenty minutes of scrolling through random images, he changed his focus, bringing back the results that had first come to him as words. Soon he found words that were repeated often—branch, trunk, root, leaf, forest—and drew an image in his head of their meaning, guided by what the computer showed him. From a forest—that green expanse which could so easily dominate a land—he found a mountain, then a valley, then a river, then a stream. All this beneath the same endless sky. His heart quickened when he finally looked upon an image of what he had seen. It was not exact. The water was slightly less clear, the ground around it grayer, seemingly harder than the soft brown he had felt beneath his knees. Yet he knew then what his father had wanted to show him through the sphere.
Leon shut off the computer bank and left the library. It was a long journey back up to his quarters, and he completed it in a blur of anticipation. When he reached his door, he entered and locked it behind himself, then swept into his bedroom, heading straight for the bedside table. He drew out the sphere, crossed to the contact plates set into the wall, and shrouded himself in darkness. Like the last time, he gripped the sphere, filling his mind with the feeling of its smooth surface within his hands. He was sitting on his bed, searching for the doorway. This time, he was ready for the change when it came.
The breeze that played upon his face carried scents exotic and intoxicating. They did not exist aboard Covenant, yet he smelled them just the same. The stream babbled away on its journey beneath the Evergreens that towered above, and there was the small tree with its leaves like fire. Leon tested his legs and found walking to be easy. He stepped forward and saw the imprint of his shoe in the rich brown beneath him. He chose a direction at random and set off through the trees away from the stream. Beneath the canopy, cool shadows played across his face, intermingling with what sunlight could find its way through the branches to warm the world below. The flowing water behind soon disappeared into the sounds of wind whispering through the forest. Ahead, he could see something floating among the trunks. A mass of cool, wet air, somehow visible. He paused, watching it undulate, creeping along the ground, white and swirled and obscuring. Then he approached it, held his hand out to touch it, and found himself quickly enveloped. He had no time to feel anything more than a jolt of surprise before it crept away from him. Around him, the world was once again new.
The trees were gone, or so it appeared at first glance. As Leon took in his surroundings, he saw a forest far below him. He was standing, it seemed, at the top of the world. Around him huge gray slabs tumbled together to form treacherous drops that cut away from the trees in the distance and climbed higher than seemed possible. The air whipped around him in swirling buffets, entirely unpredictable, raw, cold as ice. He could see where the world ended, dropped out of sight into nothing, from which it seemed darkness was emerging to blanket the sky above. As he stood and watched, the light of day sank below the horizon, and the world turned to deep blue and then black. Leon’s breath caught in his throat when out of the blackness he saw a star appear, then another, then many. They were unmistakable to one who had come from the far reaches of space.
There had been stars on Earth.
Leon watched them blink into existence. How impermanent they seemed then—a far cry from the constant watchers that always surrounded Covenant. That they could be hidden by an empty sky, snuffed out of view by nothing but air, made them appear weaker. They could not illuminate the world below—only dance above it.
This, Leon thought with a sudden rush of emotion, somewhere between happiness and despair, is my father’s world.
There was a conscious decision made somehow within him to leave. He searched outward, probing his perceptions, looking for a weakness, finding one. He followed it upward, and the world melted into shadow before coalescing into the shapes and forms of his bedroom aboard Covenant. The bed beneath him pressed around his back, his legs bent over its edge, toes brushing the hard floor. For a long time, he did not move. The curtain across his viewport billowed in a gentle stream of air from a vent in the wall. It reminded him of the wind he had felt on his face, whipping, biting, as it scorched over the…mountain. The word he had found in the library fit perfectly around the memory of what he had just seen—where he had just been—came to him as a whisper. He let it sit in his mouth, tasted it, felt its hard edges. I was on top of a mountain.
Leon lay on his bed, limbs relaxed but mind far from sleep. He thought over and over of the vision the sphere had given him—that his father had given to him. Use it to remember the beauty that was lost to us. Isaac’s message had seemed cryptic only because there were no words to describe what the sphere could give. It had to be experienced to truly exist. Now that Leon had seen that gift, he felt he would never be totally free of it. The world beyond the sphere would be there waiting, always. Even now he could feel its ghost in the slow pulse of the sphere that brushed against his fingertips.
A buzzing in the room beyond his bedroom door brought him away from his thoughts. He stood and went to the interface where his communicator rested. The name Lena Binder flashed in soft blue letters above the detachable mouthpiece. Leon pressed the button to connect them, and his sister’s voice came tumbling out of the speaker.
“Leon, how did it go at dad’s?” His sister asked.
“He left it a bit of a mess,” said Leon, with perhaps too conscious an effort to mask the hollowness in his voice.
“Yeah, I’m alright. How are you?”
“Fine. Listen, have you eaten dinner yet? I wanted to talk to you.”
“You sure you’re alright?”
“Fine. I’m just tired. Do you want me to come to your quarters?”
“No, no, I can come to you.” A pause. “If that’s alright.”
“See you in a bit,” said Leon, and he closed the connection.