Leon’s quarters were dim, but enough light bled from the edges of the table at the center of the room to see Damien’s face, his eyes closed as he approached the world within the sphere. Only a few seconds passed before the sphere fell from his hands onto the table. He looked up into Leon and Lena’s waiting faces, their unspoken question the same, hovering on their lips.
“What was that?” Damien asked them.
“Tell us what you saw,” said Leon.
“I don’t know what it was.” Damien’s eyes grew unfocused, distant in remembering. “It was so bright. There was a light above me. I couldn’t look at it for long. There was nothing around me, it just stretched away, red and orange—like the world was fire. What was it?”
“That sphere showed you part of Earth. Dad made it. Somehow, it can take a person back there.”
“On Earth? You mean that’s what I saw—a place on Earth?”
“So the light—it must have been the Sun. Earth’s star…” Damien grew thoughtful, remembering the stories his father had told him so long ago. Stories of the first home, caught in the light of a single star, far brighter than any other—so bright it could burn skin, ruin eyes that stared too long. It had seemed impossible. “How does it work?”
“We don’t know. Here—” Leon handed his brother the letter from Isaac. “I found this with the sphere.” He read it, then shook his head in disbelief.
“I can’t believe he didn’t say how he made it. Do you think the designs are in his quarters?”
“I checked when I was up there,” Leon said. “I didn’t find anything, but they could be hidden.”
“We have to try and find them. There’s only a few days left until they recycle everything, right?”
“Why do we need the designs?” Lena asked.
“Dad made something that can transport a person—or their mind—to another place. You don’t want to know how he did that?” Damien looked at her incredulously.
“I want to test its function a bit more first. All of us saw some place different,” said Lena. “How many places can the sphere go?”
“Good question,” said Leon. “We know of four—the two I saw, and a different place for each of you. There could be more. How do you think the sphere choose what we see?”
“Let me read dad’s letter again,” Damien said, and reached to take it from Leon. “Here, this part—dad talks about not wanting his memories to disappear. These places in the sphere, are they just random images of Earth? Or, did dad choose them—no, make them himself?”
“Make them? How?” Lena asked.
“By finding pictures of Earth, maybe,” said Leon. “That’s what I did. After my first time using it, I went to the library to find out what I had seen. I saw pictures of forests, streams, mountains—that’s how I knew what to call the things in the places I saw.”
“A picture can’t surround you, though,” said Lena. “It can’t move or be felt. I could feel the ground beneath me, sinking beneath my weight. How could a picture do that?”
“He didn’t make them,” Damien said suddenly. The light of a truth realized was spreading over his face. “They aren’t just pictures of places dad remembered. They are his memories. They must be.” The other two quietly allowed this to enter their mind, and as each examined it, they became certain that it must be the truth. Isaac had not allowed his memories to die. He had immortalized them, carved them not into stone but into the very minds of any who used the sphere.
“So, what we see—it’s what dad saw?” Leon asked, both to the others and himself. He thought of the stream, the fire-topped tree growing at the heart of an Evergreen forest. When had his father seen that place? How long before Earth died had he been able to sit by a cool stream, watching a tree shed its leaves into the water below?
“He knew that without him, all those memories would be gone,” said Amon. “He had to keep it from disappearing.”
“Ten years…” Damien shook his head. “Ten years he spent building this. All that time, and no one knew. He was the only one who could have done it, and he knew that.” Leon thought he heard a note of bitterness in Damien’s voice. He glanced at his brother and saw him staring at the sphere, shaking his head in disgust.
“Do you think he ever got to use it?” Lena asked.
“I hope so,” said Leon. “Do you remember his last words?”
“The trees are beautiful,” said Lena. “He saw Earth in those last moments. He was back home.”
“Covenant is home,” said Damien.
“Not for him,” Amon responded. “Maybe most of his life was spent aboard it, but it wasn’t his home. He must have never stopped looking for a way to go back.”
“He had us,” Damien said, more stubbornly.
“True. And the last part of his life he spent trying to give us a way to go back to Earth.”
“We’d be better off without it.” Leon and Lena turned wide eyes upon Damien as his anger became too apparent to be ignored. “I’m serious. That sphere doesn’t give us anything real. It’s just visions and dreams.”
“You’re wrong,” Leon said softly.
“No, I’m not. Dad can keep his sphere—I don’t want it.” Damien stood, and with a deep sigh and shake of his head he left. The other two were quiet in his wake, each waiting for the other to speak. Finally, Lena broke the silence.
“What are you going to do with it?”
“Me? Why me?”
“You found it. Might as well be you who decides.”
“Dad wanted us all to have it.”
“Perhaps. In any case, it has to stay somewhere. You’ve kept it so far. Will you keep it safe?”
“Good. Can I come see you soon?”
“What about tomorrow?
“Not tomorrow. I have to work first and second shift. The next day?”
“I have no appointments scheduled—for now. When can you leave the lab?”
“After second shift. I’ll call before I come.” The two of them stood and hugged each other goodbye. Then Lena left, and Leon sat once more with the sphere in front of him. Truthfully, he had wanted the sphere to stay with him. He felt it pulling him, drawing him closer with promises of the world it held. Now that he was alone with it, he could not resist. Taking it in his hands, he moved into the bedroom and closed the door behind him. The lights were already off. He made his way to the bed, drifting like a ghost through the darkness.
Crossing the divide was nearly effortless. The blackness of his bedroom swelled, then filled with light and color. There was one thing he desired to see above all else—had desired it since his childhood, when his father first told him of its power. He was drawn to it, yet fearful to behold the monster that existed in the image he had created, fueled by a child’s fear of what he could not know. There seemed to be a voice whispering from the sphere, as though it felt his longing and promised to bring him to the edge of what he sought.
Leon stood before the ocean. The sight sucked his breath away, tossing it into the wind that whipped around him, or perhaps through him. Roaring, deafening, the thunderous beating of its wild movements shook the ground beneath him, sent drops of foam-flecked saltwater to splash against his cheeks and arms. A sweeping crest climbed out of the gray and landed on the ground before him, racing upward to soak through his thin socks and chill his feet.
Fear was not absent, but the beast drew him in regardless. He stepped forward, unthinking, now ankle deep, now past his knees. The water soaked into him. He felt its grasp around his waist as it raced in, then back out toward the heaving depths, trying to draw him away with it. He longed to withdraw his resistance, to let himself to be swept away, but fear would not allow it. It was only a dream that sought to pull him out to sea, yet too real was the thought that he might not wake if it were to happen. Turning back to the dry world, he clawed his way through the water until his hand filled with wet sand and his feet found firmness once more. His clothes retained none of the water—as soon as he reached land, they were dry.
Leon sat facing the ocean and watched. He did not think he could ever tire of the sight—the heaving, undulating world that moved with no power against it. He had never felt so small, not by the deepest depths of space stretching away from the viewports of Covenant. Those innumerable stars seemed less distant than the horizon that lay out at the edge of the sea, far beyond his reach.
As he sat watching, the gray cover above Leon grew thin and tattered. A great light shone through among patches of blue, and its warmth fell upon Leon with an inescapable certainty. He closed his eyes and turned his face to the sun—it could be nothing else. It beat upon him with nearly tangible heat, and he soon he felt trapped beneath its brilliant gaze. He longed for the coolness of the gray cover over the world, or the cold wind atop the mountain. He stood and turned his back to the ocean, walked away, felt the thundering waves grow distant through the ground beneath his feet. Beyond the beach was a small hill topped with thin stalks like the smallest of trees, dancing in a gentle breeze. He walked on, and soon came to the same swirling white air he had found between the forest and mountain. He entered, walked in blind steps for a short distance, and emerged in the strangest place he had yet found.
He was surrounded again by trees, but they were unlike any he had seen. These rose out of a white earth, and the whiteness lay thick on their branches and leaves. It stretched all around him, and he felt its frigid touch take hold of his feet. He looked down and saw that his feet were out of sight, lost beneath the powdery surface of the strange material. Reaching down to touch it, he found its cold, soft surface not unpleasant. He tried to take a step and lost his balance, stumbling and falling into the stuff. It filled his mouth and nose with such a cold as he had never felt before. Scrambling through it, he was able to pull himself up with the low hanging branch of a nearby tree, sending a cascade of the white material onto his head and down the neck of his shirt. Carefully, he stepped high, then down through the crystal white surface, crunching it flat beneath his foot. Soon he grew used to the strange landscape and was able to walk almost normally. It was only upon stopping once more that he realized what a heavy quiet had fallen over the world. Everywhere he had seen thus far had contained some noise—always present, unceasing. Here, when the crunch of his footsteps paused, all else was silent, and a quiet expectancy settled over the world. Leon tried to remember how long he had been in the sphere and found he could not. The time had seemed to move around him with such ease that he took no notice. He thought of what awaited him aboard Covenant. The sleeping cycle would be about to begin, and a day ahead filled with another round of patients coming to him for the answers they sought. A deep sigh emerged from within him, rising up and away in visible swirls through the frigid air. He sought the way back and found it easily, moving into shadow and emerging aboard Covenant as though he had simply left a room and entered another. He placed the sphere on top of the bedside table and, with his mind still partially back in the world of white and cold, began readying himself for sleep.