Elle sat calmly, eyes closed, breathing slowed to a relaxed pulse, with the sphere clasped in her lap. Leon shut off the lights and waited to hear the sound of the sphere falling to the floor, but it did not come. Cautiously, he began brightening the room, bringing only the faint edges of out of the darkness, the vague shape of Elle sitting on a chair at the table. A minute passed, then two, and she did not stir. He sat across from her to wait. She might have been asleep, were she not sitting straight-backed and rigid. Her dark hair framed a face that was all softness and grace, and he realized with a slight pang of guilt that he was taking advantage of her mental absence to simply watch her in the dim light. Before he could look away, she opened her eyes and he became acutely aware of those two spots of storm. When open, they transformed her face entirely from softness to something intense and focused. He felt certain she could see straight through him—his thoughts seemed to be laid out like an open book.
It took him too long, preoccupied by embarrassment, to register the look that was spreading over her face—one of happiness, awe, gratitude. Curiosity scorched through him, clearing away embarrassment, leaving him with only wonder. Always the same question, asked to each of his siblings when they had emerged—now he asked Elle.
“What did you see?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Can you describe it?” Elle closed her eyes, drawing the images out of memory, searching for words to paint the picture that swam behind her vision.
“There was water. It was coming from above me—it was so loud, falling out of the sky, hard enough to spray up into the air and land on me. Below me, where it fell, it started moving away.”
“You were floating above it?”
“Leon, what is this sphere? How did I see that?”
“I need to understand, Elle. I’m trying to learn how it works. In your vision, were you floating unsupported?”
“No. I was standing on something—metal. I’m not sure what it was. It stretched all the way across the water.”
Leon tried to see those images of an unknown world, described by someone without the words to define them. Like trying to explain the warmth of red light to a blind person. How does one put the power of an ocean into words that someone who has existed only aboard Covenant could possibly understand? The only way to truly know is to see it.
“This is the work my father wanted me to see?”
“How did you find it?”
“It was in my father’s quarters. I went there after he died and found it along with a letter. He mentions your father in it.”
“Can I read it?” Leon went into his bedroom and came back with the letter in his hand. “This is it,” Elle said after reading it. “It took the both of them to complete. I can’t begin to imagine the kind of work they put into crafting it.”
“My siblings and I think it has something to do with the things they saw on Earth—the actual places they once visited, long before Covenant.”
“Yes, but the details—everything seemed so real, like I was actually there. Could it really be just memory?”
“It must be. There are more places within it. If you wander too far from whatever place it shows you first, you’ll end up somewhere else.”
“What have you seen?” She asked. Leon told her of his past visits to the sphere, trying to describe the things he had seen, realizing the impossibility. She listened, enraptured, though she could not possibly comprehend the raw beauty he had seen and felt. Still, there was something deep within her that stirred when she heard the descriptions, like a sleeping beast beginning to wake in the depths of her soul. The sphere in her hands was suddenly a living thing—she thought she could feel its pulse beneath her grasp, warmth radiating from it as though it were made of flesh and blood. When he reached his last visit, and the silent white forest, Leon himself realized how alien the scene sounded.
“I have to see more,” Elle said.
“Can I take this for a while?” She held the sphere up and Leon felt a sharp jerk somewhere near his stomach, like a cry out from deep within him. No! Elle was watching him with a sudden apprehension—she had seen a shadow of that internal cry pass over his face. “Everything okay?”
“Yes,” Leon began, conscious of a slight tremble in his voice. “It’s just that I’ve been using it more lately—gaining more control. It would be hard to stop.”
“I’m only asking for a few days.” Leon said nothing, but a battle was raging within him. Why did he feel so strongly about letting her have it? She would be on Covenant—she had nowhere else to go. And yet, he could not rid himself of a deep fear that the sphere might not come back to him. In the end, he did not need to say anything. Elle read the feelings on his face, as plain as if they were printed on cellfilm. “Well then, if you won’t let me take it, I’ll just have to stay here with it.”
“Leon, this is my dad’s legacy. The letter from your father as good as proves that—without both of them working to create it, it probably wouldn’t exist. That means I have as much a right to it as you. If our places were switched, though, I’m sure I would feel the same way you do. In any case, we’re both here, and neither of us wants to let go, so why not figure this thing out together?”
“I’m basically a stranger to you.”
“Our fathers never introduced us—that much is true—but their friendship ran deep. I can’t imagine the son of Isaac Binder could possibly be a danger to me.”
“There’s only one bedroom. Where would you sleep?”
“I’ll be fine on the couch. Really, Leon, if you want me gone without the sphere in my hands, you’re going to have to force me.”
“Okay. Fine. I don’t know what you hope to accomplish, but you can stay.”
“Thank you.” Elle sat in silence, examining the sphere closely. Leon became acutely aware that he had not eaten since waking. He stood and walked to the computer interface to call up lunch.
“Do you want anything to eat?” He asked over his shoulder.
“Later, perhaps,” said Elle.
“Are you going back inside?” Leon gestured toward her hands, where the sphere rested quiet, impassive as the walls that surrounded them. She might have been holding her breath, her body still, poised as if for a dive. Truthfully, Leon wasn’t at all unhappy that she had decided to stay.
“Not just now,” she replied, a soft smile curling upward at the corners of her mouth. She placed the sphere on the table in front of her and stood up. “I changed my mind, I think I will have something to eat.” She moved to Leon’s side as he navigated the computer interface.
“What will you have?”
“Just get two portions of whatever you’re eating.”
“I need to scan your ID card.” Elle stood and brought it to him.
“How old are you, Leon?”
“I’m twenty-six. I wonder why our fathers never introduced us as children.”
“Maybe they were too busy with the sphere.
“Perhaps.” Leon had scanned their identification cards into the ration system as they spoke. He turned to hand Elle hers, and caught her looking at him for a split second before she turned away.
Every passing second moved them, and all of Covenant, further beyond the reach of destiny.
Food aboard Covenant was meant for sustenance above all else—carefully portioned meals tailored to an individual’s specific dietary and metabolic needs. It had not, however, lost its social aspect. Meals were shared over good conversation when it could be found, and Leon and Elle had ready the topic of another world to discuss while they ate. Still that feeling Leon had experienced when Elle first walked through the door to his office, that tumult of the heart, had not faded. Throughout their meal he was keenly aware of it, settled within him like a warm liquid, pleasantly moving with the approaching tide of evening.
When they finished eating, Leon moved to the couch that stood next to a low metal table and sat heavily. A moment later, Elle joined him. She faced him, her back pressed against the opposite arm of the couch, her legs pulled up and hands clasped around her knees.
“Will you tell me about your father?” She asked.
“What do you want to know?”
“Did he ever talk about Earth?”
“All the time.”
“What did he say?”
Words that travelled with him from a dead home, through the cold infinity of space—confined within the same walls as him, breathing the same air, every exhale bringing them one step closer to death, just the same as him. He would try to make them understand. The world had been big. Bigger than they could ever imagine. So big it made Covenant look like a speck of dust. Now that he was in space, he realized that even that world had been a speck. A speck that contained life. All of it, every living molecule that had ever existed, all suspended in the ebb and flow of time beneath the same thin sky, either unaware of the size of the speck or trying to forget it. The world reigned in unimaginable beauty, where open space stretched so far ahead that it could not be seen all at once, where the metal that lived in the walls of Covenant grew in rock and soil, where water fell from the sky and collected in vast, unknowable quantities, and where people lived a trillion lives before the end. Then there had come a time when they could not forget. Forgetting what they were, where they came from, was to leave behind the very essence of their existence. Survival depended upon remembering, knowing, never letting go of the truth, and still it slipped away from too many.