Leon awoke to find that he had fallen asleep on the couch. He saw the other end empty—Elle was gone. A beat of panic coursed through him, certainty that if he looked at the table his fear would come true—the sphere would be gone. Slowly he moved his eyes to the place where it had lay and breathed relief to see it resting heavily, unmoved. He felt a slight twinge of shame at having distrusted Elle, which was quickly overshadowed by the question of when he would see her again.
After eating breakfast alone, Leon washed and changed out of his clothes, which were stale with sleep and memories of the day before. Back in the main room, he went to the computer interface to check if any new appointments had been made for him. There were none. Switching through to the communicator, he attempted to contact Lena. There was no response from his sister’s quarters, which likely meant that she was on duty at the ship’s chemical engineering lab. Leon would have to wait until her shift was complete before getting in touch with her. As he shut off the interface, Leon felt the sphere behind him like a living presence, calling for him to turn, take it in his hands, feel its pulse and live its promises. The pull was irresistible. A glance back at the computer interface told him it was 0933—just under two and a half hours before the first shift would be over. Plenty of time. He shut off the lights, crossed the room in darkness to take the sphere in his hands, settled onto the couch. Within seconds he was gone from Covenant.
Earth stretched away from his feet as a flat, burnt red ocean, the surface occasionally broken by scraggly growths colored somewhere between green and brown. Above him the sun beat down hot, brighter than any light he had ever thought possible. Far off, the edge of the world shimmered and moved, not unlike the far edge of a great ocean. The ground was stone and dirt, packed hard together in defiance to the wind that whipped over it. Leon scanned his surroundings and saw nothing until, turning to look behind him, he saw the world open into an impossible, gaping chasm—a sheer drop to the bottom of an abyss that swirled with clouds of dust and promises of a thousand ends. He stumbled backwards, lost his balance, fell onto the hard dirt, scrambled away from the monstrous gash that felt reaching toward him, coaxing him nearer its edge to disappear into the depths.
As he drew further away from the drop his heart beat less madly, his breath slowed to normal, and his thoughts allowed for more than sheer panic and the urge to flee. Five, six, seven meters from the edge granted him enough safety to stop, rest, and wonder. What terror could unleash such force upon Earth as to create what he saw before him? He knew of meteors, of comets—distant, improbable dangers aboard Covenant, but existing nonetheless somewhere on the edge of the ship’s consciousness. He conjured up an image of a rock, bigger than a mountain, falling from the sky to tear open this ragged maw. Was it possible the Earth had withstood such an onslaught?
Only after he had fully regained his calm did he think to ask whether the hole presented any danger to him. It was, after all, an illusion of the sphere—could it hurt him? Could anything he saw here Shurt him? Slow as the movement of distant stars, Leon leaned forward, placed his hands on the dust-strewn ground, crawled toward the edge. He paused at the precipice, heart wild and breath like the howling winds below, then peered over.
It was not endless, as he had thought in the first split second before retreat. Far below at the base of the sheer cliff there was a bottom, and a steel-gray ribbon that snaked away around a bend in the rock face. Reaching forth his hand, he passed it over the edge of the cliff, dangled it in freefall over the far-below world. A rush of adrenaline coursed through him, down his arm to shake in the tips of his fingers. He stood, inched forward until his toes crossed the divide. His head was lighter than air, filled with daring he had not known he possessed. Only when his lungs began to burn did he realize that he was holding his breath and released it. Like a distant call there came a voice within him urging him over the edge, but his muscles would not carry out the movement. He spread his arms; the wind curling out of the chasm caught his hair, sweeping it back. Death before, desert behind, and at the divide was Leon, alive as he had never been before.
The moment of retreat came with a stumble, his mind unsure which direction to send his body, then his weight thrown backwards. He caught himself before hitting the hard ground, tested his shaking legs to see if they would continue to hold him. Then he started walking, tracking around the edge of the great hole, wondering if there was a way to safely enter it. The scene around him barely changed, though he lost track of how far he had gone. Rock, dirt, emptiness, and a trickle of water far below—for all he knew he was coming continuously back to his point of entry. Finally, giving up his quest of safe descent, Leon turned and departed the edge of the world. He walked until he came to what he knew he would find. It swirled ahead of him, obscuring the place where the horizon had been. Gray mist like a living wall engulfed him, and he pressed through until he reached light once more.
Small was an intangible concept when travelling through space. One can know that what they see on the far side of a viewport is an abyss of such unending magnitude that its very existence relative to one’s own renders all thoughts, actions, dreams, nightmares completely and utterly meaningless; it is impossible to understand that truth when the only experience one can have of it is to watch a dusting of tiny specks of light scattered within a window frame. Leon knew that he was small, but he had never before felt the truth of it so deep within his bones that it sent his thoughts scurrying into dark corners of his mind to hide from that fact. When he stood on the mountaintop, the world had seemed larger than anything he had ever known, but there was nothing to force him toward introspection. He had felt it again upon seeing the ocean, but even that was an expanse whose edge could be seen, whose true size only existed to him in the abstract. Here, in this new vision, he could not see anything else but sheer magnitude of size rendering him near obsolescence.
On either side of him, seeming to reach forever upward, was a mountain. He had used the word to describe the flat rock ridge of his earlier vision, but now found it to be insufficient. The behemoth that existed at his flank, towering upward to peaks mere distant dreams of ice and shrieking wind, left him unable to draw breath. Its cold rock face and frozen slopes tumbled together, bones of the Earth exposed to the iron sky. Leon felt a longing to ascend. His hands reached to grasp the distant summit as though he would pull himself up through the clouds to the misty world above. A step forward, or a thousand, and he was at the first jagged slope of rock, seeking a foothold to—
The light was gone, the mountain fell to nothing and the darkness that engulfed him drew out his breath and cast it away. Leon leapt to his feet and cried out in surprise, his hands scrabbling wildly at the air before him. Light returned. He saw his quarters laid out around him, serene and unchanged, then swept into a dizzying spiral before once more coalescing into the hard edges of his home. He spun, searching for whatever thing had torn him out of the world.
“Are you alright?” Lena asked with a trembling voice. Leon could not yet find the words to answer. He focused on breathing, melting away the wild rage that had washed over him with such sudden ferocity. “I saw that you’d called while I was on duty. I tried calling you before I came, but you didn’t answer. I thought you’d be home at this time, or almost back, so I came to wait for you here.” Leon looked at his sister, saw the fear in her eyes. He felt suddenly ashamed, like a child caught with evidence of a broken rule clutched in his hand. Then he saw the sphere, hanging limply at Lena’s side. Lena followed his gaze and raised the sphere to look at it, as though surprised to find it in her grasp. “The door was unlocked, so I came in. I saw you sitting there with the sphere—I knew what you were doing, so I decided to wait. I thought you’d come out of it soon, but you didn’t. You were in there for half an hour, maybe more—that’s only after I came—and you didn’t seem anywhere near coming out. I got worried. I had to take it—I didn’t know it would hurt you. I’m sorry.”
Leon fell back heavily onto the couch, suddenly exhausted.
“I’ll be okay,” he said.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know what would happen if I took it, but you were so still… I was scared.”
“I shouldn’t have stayed in there for so long. I knew you would be coming later, so I was just going to use while I waited. I—I lost track of time.”
“How long were you inside?” Leon looked at the clock that shone off of the computer interface on the wall. It stared blankly back at him with a steady glow—1300.
Three and a half hours? His astonishment was matched only by the sudden urge to keep the truth hidden.
“About an hour—maybe a bit more. I’m not sure. I can’t remember what time I started.”
“Did you see anything good?” Once more Leon felt the distinct urge to lie. This time he was less certain why. His instinct drove him inward, guarding the places he’d seen, as though he had been tasked with their keeping.
“The same as before—the stream I first saw.”
“No. I mean, well, I walked through the trees for a bit.”
“I’d love to see them. First, I want to go back—to the ocean, I mean. I only saw it for a second last time, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since. Just wait until you see it, Leon.”
“You have? When?”
“The day before yesterday, after you left. I was going to tell you when you came back—I forgot.”
“Wasn’t it incredible? Dad used to tell us those stories, but I never could picture it right. I always felt like I was missing something. Now I’ve seen it… Leon, are you sure you’re okay?” Leon was bent forward, elbows upon his knees, hands grasping his head as though to prevent it from splitting open. He could still feel his mind straining to adjust itself to having been ripped from the sphere.
“I think I’ll be okay. I’m going to go lie down. Do you want to use the sphere?” Lena’s concern deepened as she watched her brother stand and move shakily toward the bedroom. She glanced at the sphere resting silent and heavy on the table.
“I-I’m sorry, Leon. I wouldn’t have taken it from you if I’d known—”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be okay. You couldn’t have known. Stay if you like—use it to see the ocean,” he said with a faint gesture toward the sphere. “No. Another time, maybe. I should go. I’ll call later to see how you’re doing. Bye.” Leon watched her stand and walk swiftly to the door. In her erratic movements, the slightly too fast exit, never looking back, Leon detected a faint but unmistakable trace of fear.