Leon was back in his father’s quarters. This time, he was not alone. Alongside him was Damien and another man: a data technician who would oversee the recycling. This was the man who would change their father’s life from physical objects to digital traces swimming within the memory banks of the ship’s computers. The three of them worked to organize everything—plans and blueprints, journals and other writings, tools, objects fashioned from metal, plastic, synthetic wood, photographs printed on rolls of cellfilm. Physical objects would be transformed into exact digital representations, and documents would be fed into the giant memory stores where they would remain forever, available to any who found them by a simple search in Covenant’s computer for the name Isaac Binder. Most of it might never be viewed, but it was kept all the same.
Leon paid little attention to the individual objects he touched. He knew they would not truly disappear, and the simple fact that he would be able to find them at any time kept him from falling prey to nostalgia. Partway through the organization, the Data official left with the first batch of objects and documents they’d made ready, and when he was gone Leon stopped to rest. He took the opportunity to watch Damien work. Damien set physical objects aside with the same offhand glances as Leon, but whenever he picked up a cellfilm document his manner changed. He would hold the sheet close to his face, peering intently at it for a moment, skimming its entire contents before setting it in its place.
“What are you looking for?” Leon asked. Damien did not look away from his work when he answered.
“Anything about the sphere. Its plans, maybe.”
“I thought you didn’t care about it.”
“I want to know how he made it.”
“That’s not the same thing?” Finally, Damien stopped working and brought his gaze up to look at Leon.
“No, it’s not. I want to know how he made it—I don’t want to use it.” “Why, then?”
“Because it could be important.”
“He would’ve given them to us if they were important.”
“He didn’t even tell us he was making it. Does that mean the sphere isn’t important, then?”
Of course not, Leon thought, but he simply shrugged. Silence passed between them, and the brothers turned back to their work. From then on, Leon focused somewhat more intensely than he had before, holding onto each item a breath longer, feeling it as his father must once have done. He didn’t notice the single sheet of cellfilm that made Damien’s eyes light with a strange fire, and which was quickly slid into his thin jacket before he continued his work as though nothing had happened. When the last object was in its place, the desktop was clear, drawers’ contents had been emptied, shelves and tabletops held nothing but dust, Leon made no mention of the sphere to Damien. The two brothers stood and looked over the physical remains of their father’s life one last time, and each said goodbye in his own way, in his own heart. The Data officer would return for the rest; Leon and Damien had no more to do in the Pioneer’s quarters. They left, brushing the contact plate by the door as they went, shrouding the room and all it held in darkness.
First shift—the period between the start of the waking cycle and the midday meal— ended an hour after Leon had left Isaac’s quarters. He had a short time in which to eat before second shift began. There were some aboard Covenant whose duties assigned them to one shift invariably. Most jobs, however, could be done at any time of day, and so the working shift in which one was assigned to complete them changed according to a schedule produced by the main computer. For Leon, the ship’s psychologist, whose duties relied on the schedules of other people, there was no way of knowing when he would be working until the appointments were made. Today, his first and only appointment was in second shift, shortly after lunch. Another day, he might start early in the first shift. On the rarest of days, no appointments were scheduled at all.
Leon took lunch in his quarters, then quickly cleaned off the thin layer of dust that had settled over him during the morning at his father’s. He changed into a semi-formal collared shirt of deep blue, its metallic buttons fastened save the topmost, and black pants that tapered slightly toward his ankles. His shoes were gray and shimmered faintly when caught by the light at a certain angle. After one last appraising look at his reflection, he left his quarters and traversed the long path through Covenant to his work quarters, which were one level down and midship. He arrived around twenty minutes before his first appointment was scheduled to begin. With nothing to occupy his thoughts until his patient arrived, Leon’s mind wandered to the sphere. His shift had not yet started, and already he was longing to be back in his quarters, the lights dark, his world insulated by visions of Earth. What new lands awaited him, placed there by his father for him to explore? He wanted to know more than what visions could be seen within the sphere. Could the world be changed? Altered by his own hand—his own mind? What dreams might come when a life spent in space met the distant horizons of a lost planet? Before Leon could ponder these questions further, there was a knock on his office door.
“Come in,” he called out. The door slid open and in walked a woman. Leon’s heart turned over at the sight of her, but he maintained his composure beneath a mask of professionalism.
She had eyes the color of the ocean, and hair like the sand he had felt dug up in the spaces beneath his grasping fingers. Those storm eyes were weathered when she came into the small office. Her hands were clasped before her. She did not look directly at Leon. He was struck down to silence for a beat too long before regaining himself, and just before his words returned, she looked up and met his wide eyes.
“Please sit down. I’m Leon Binder. How can I help you…?”
“I’m Elle. I don’t know if I should have come here. To be perfectly honest, I’m not here for your help as a psychologist. I just needed to talk to someone…”
“Talking is how I help people,” Leon said. Surprise and confusion followed Elle into the room. He had never had an appointment begin like this. Elle smiled.
“That’s not what I mean. I’m not here as a patient.”
“Alright.” Leon leaned forward, his elbows pressed into the pile of papers scattered across his desk. “How can I help?”
“Your father was the last Pioneer.”
“Is that a question?”
“No. My own father talked a great deal about Isaac Binder before he died.” “Your father?”
“I am Elle Bergman. My father was Andrew Bergman.” The curiosity that had laid under the surface of Leon’s skin, prickling hot since Elle had sat down, crept further outward, shivering up and down his spine. He had read his father’s letter an uncounted number of times since he discovered it—the name was unmistakable to him.
“Our fathers were good friends. I was sorry to hear of his death.”
“Thank you, though that was years ago. Because of their similar situations, my father spoke of yours a great deal. I wonder if Isaac ever talked about him?” Leon paused, laden with a feeling that his answer would hold a much deeper meaning than the conversation might imply.
That Isaac included Andrew Bergman’s name in his letter had been an almost trivial detail when Leon first read it. Andrew had been a common sight in the Binder quarters throughout Leon’s life, and his friendship with Leon’s father had deepened with every new year that the two spent aboard Covenant. The extent of their comradery, however apparent it was, was not so much hidden from the children as kept an unspoken item of knowledge. The two spent time in long conversation, worked in Isaac’s laboratory, roamed the ship by each other’s side; they did not go out of their way to include the children in their friendship. As such, though Leon knew the man by face and name, his knowledge of Andrew Bergman extended to cover little else beside the knowledge that he, too, was one of the last Pioneers.
“I saw your father often growing up. After his death, my father seldom mentioned him— probably to avoid the sorrow of his memory.”
“I see.” When Elle did not offer more, Leon’s curiosity nudged him forward.
“You haven’t said why you came to see me.” Elle’s mouth began forming an explanation, gave up, found another, and lost its track, too. Instead of words, she produced a thin roll of cellfilm from within her blouse and held it out for him. Leon lingered perhaps a breath too long on the way the soft fabric fell away from her slim arm. It was made of a customized material, not part of the standard issue clothing selection. Someone had crafted it—Elle herself, perhaps, or perhaps it had been given to her. Leon reached to take the cellfilm she offered. “Your shirt—was it a gift?”
“Yes.” Elle let her eyes fall to the loose sleeves, the narrowed waist, everything with a hue of fire that caught and played with the light. “My mother made it for me.”
“Shortly after my father. They were always together—when he wasn’t with Isaac.” Leon turned his attention to the cellfilm roll. It was short, handwritten in large, looping handwriting.
I gave my life’s work to Isaac Binder. He will finish it.
Leon looked back at Elle.
“Why didn’t you come sooner?” He asked. “Did you ever ask my father what this meant?”
“I didn’t know about it,” she said. “I only received that message after your father died. It was automatic—sent to me directly from the computer while I was working.”
“You’re a Computerist?” Leon asked, momentarily distracted. The Computerists had a reputation of being aloof, preoccupied with their work even when not on duty. It was a consequence of dealing with the often abstract processes of the ship’s memory—after a time one might begin to think like the computer, its seemingly random calculations of thought that always reached a correct conclusion with pinpoint accuracy. Tracing the pathways of the machine’s thoughts was a skill acquired only after an immense amount of time spent exploring its mind.
“Yes. Are you surprised?”
“You talk more than any Computerist I’ve met. Usually they seem more…distant.”
“I know what you mean. I find the computer not too different from people—it seems alive sometimes. It’s not too hard to treat one like the other.” She smiled, and Leon’s heart turned over again. He quickly brought the conversation back to the message from Andrew.
“Your father never talked about anything like this? His life’s work—he never once said what it was?” Elle shook her head, and Leon saw tears brimming in her eyes. Her voice was steady.
“That’s why I’m here. My father thought Isaac would finish his life’s work. I’ve come to find out if he ever did.”
Leon had no question as to whether his father had completed the task. Only one object in his position when he died could possibly be the culmination of two men’s lives. To his surprise, he felt a rush of emotion well up from deep within him, catching in his throat; tears welled in his own eyes, and when he looked into Elle’s he smiled.
“Will you come with me? I want to show you something.”