They find the ship a few hours after the begin their search, just before the oxygen in Elizabeth's lifesuit is about to run out. Now that everyone else is dead, it seems that luck is on her side. The ship is just where David says it will be: off to the side of the landing strip the Engineers left, over, and then under, a small black soot-covered hill.
"David," she says, "how do I open it?"
David speaks to her through the duffel bag on in the land-rover. If she turns her head, Elizabeth can see the moving shape of his working jaw within it, and the sight reminds her of the head of the Engineer she brought back. She does not turn her head.
Instead, she hears David's voice through the comlink in her lifesuit. "You will need to find a deposit of transparent green ichor. There should be some nearby. When you find it, press your right index finger into it."
Elizabeth would think David was joking with her, if he had a sense of humor. But he doesn't, so he isn't, and she finds the ichor deposit in a small pocket under a network of familiar-strange glyphs. It's to the side of what she assumes is a door. It looks more like nose crud than ichor, but ichor is more poetic, and she needs that right now, when there's a woman's voice inside her helmet telling her she only has five minutes of oxygen left.
"Alright, David," she says, taking up thirty minutes of breath to do so. "What now?"
"With your right index finger, trace the inside of the following characters in the following order: 'V'-shape. Dot above and to the left of the 'V'-shape. Upside-down 'L'-shape. Small half-teardrop shape. Upside-down 'U'-shape."
Elizabeth complies, strangely comforted by the rhythm of David's carefully-calibrated voice. Or, perhaps she's just running out of oxygen. The door opens before she can find out. She stumbles inside, dragging David's body and head behind her. She would bring the landrover with her-- she might need it-- but the ship is small and it wouldn't fit; despite how tall the doorway is, it isn't far along enough wide.
When she is inside, the door closes, and David tells her the air pressure should stabilize immediately.
"Thank God," she says as she pulls off her helmet. She is very grateful when David does not ask why she would be thanking what he believes abandoned her. She is grateful for small things, now.
The air is sweet and cold. Like most people, she can tell the difference between high and low-quality synthetic oxygen, and this is somewhere in the middle, somewhere between the high-quality stuff she breathed on the Prometheus and true organic air. For the first time in days, her head feels clear, and she realizes she could fall asleep right now, right here on the floor, and be content.
But David's head is still in a duffel bag, and she had best-- in the interest of safety-- get herself out of the atmosphere before sleeping. She stands on shaky legs, and begins to zip herself out of the lifesuit, shedding it like old dead skin. The temperature immediately compensates, taking the slight chill out of the air. Though the thoughts are unrelated in her mind, this reminds her to unzip David's bag-- for surely it's his, now-- and carry his head with her, under her arm.
She's wearing nothing but regulation undergarments, now, but it doesn't matter. David's eyes only fall on her face. It's not that she cares if David sees her naked, she doesn't like David-- in fact, she's fairly sure she hates him-- but he might be the last person she ever talks to.
The last thing she ever talks to.
It doesn't matter. In the back of her mind, she wonders if the David 8 model is even equipt with genitalia. Well. Elizabeth looks back at David's body, slumped back and leaning on the closed door. He certainly doesn't have any now.
She holds David's head out in front of her, finding she enjoys this small amount of exerted power. David doesn't seem to mind. She says, "how do I fly it?"
"Ah," David says. The mannerism seems familiar from somewhere, but Elizabeth can't precisely put her finger on it. She presses her finger to David's temple instead. He doesn't seem to notice. Maybe his nerve sensors are malfunctioning. Do the David 8 models even have nerve sensors? She knows the David 9 models are supposed to. Maybe they already do, back on Earth.
David says, "the console should be down the hall. Hold me out in front of you, so I can see the writing on the walls." A pause. "Please."
She chooses not to visibly react. But she does comply, because it would be stupid not to, and Elizabeth has done enough stupid things for a lifetime in the last few years. She'll avoid a repeat performance, if she can.
They walk along the corridor-- or, really, she does-- listening to the strange whistling sound echoing through what Elizabeth assumes is an air ventilation system somewhere in the walls. "Is that a living thing? That sound?"
"I found nothing in the Engineer's files to indicate there was anything alive in this ship," David says. Elizabeth can feel his jaw working under her hands. "When you connect me to the ship's main database, I will run a more thorough search."
"Good," she says. They keep walking, and occasionally, David will tell her to turn this way or that. She always complies. The halls of the ship is a strange winding maze, turning back on themselves like intestines. The interior is coal-black and shines in the light hanging above her. The light moves with her down the hall, creating a pooled bubble of illumination three feet in front of and behind her at all times. The ship knows she's here. She does not delude herself into thinking it welcomes her.
"Stop here," David says suddenly. "Open this door. I will tell you how."
"Won't I need more of that ichor?"
A moment passes before David answers, and his voice has a strange tilt to it. In later life, Elizabeth will recognize this shift as one of anger or annoyance. Now, it just sounds out of character. "Yes," he says. "You will. I don't suppose you have some more with you?"
Elizabeth places David down on the ground. "I'll go get my suit." David does not reply, but when she returns, she can just hear him whistling a familiar tune. She does not ask, but remembers what it was as she rubs her finger to the outside of her suit, transmitting the ichor to her skin. It doesn't corrode or harm her, but it feels strange and warm, popping as she moves her finger, like carbonation on her skin.
The song tune was The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo.
When Elizabeth has pressed the right pattern in the right order, the door opens with a hiss. Inside is a console not unlike the one in the Engineer ship, all dark glossy black and imposing. She sits in the looming chair presented to her (turned toward her when the door opened, now turning back to face the greyness outside), and sets David's head on the dashboard.
'Dashboard' sounds like such a familiar word for such a strange environment, but she can think of no other that fits.
David blinks a bit before speaking. "There should be a square or octagonal pad on near a series of eight vertical buttons-- there it is." He stares at it, and Elizabeth follows his line of sight to a, yes, an octagonal shape between four rows of white buttons on each side. "Press your right index finger to the center of the octagon."
Elizabeth does, and the pad begins to dissolve. She removes her finger with a start, and watches in fascination as the blackness of the pad melts away to reveal several shining silver holes.
"Place my head on top of the octagonal shape. I will be able to connect with the ship in this manner, and fly it while you sleep."
Elizabeth frowns. "You could kill me in my sleep."
"Elizabeth," David says, his voice suddenly and absurdly taking on the qualities of a tired schoolmarm. "If I killed you, who would I talk to?" He speaks of killing with perfect calm.
But she has no choice. And, possibly worse, she can see the reason in it. And, definitely worse, she wants this to be done, to do as she's told so she can sleep and not have to worry.
She lifts his head up, watching the too-white spine twitch with something-- maybe anticipation? The spine worms its way into a the largest of several silver holes, anchoring David's head to the console as the smaller wires squirm and wriggle into holes of their own. The blackness of the console rises up around David's head until it is perfectly secured onto the surface of the alien dashboard.
"There," he says. "That's better."
Elizabeth wonders if he minded, being a head connected to nothing.
David smiles like he smiled when he took her cross. "Now, to put you to sleep."
"No," Elizabeth says. "First, we must name the ship."
"It has a name." David speaks the it, but Elizabeth doesn't understand. That was never her job.
"There are humans in this ship, now." She speaks before she remembers that David doesn't count, not really, and she's too tired to correct herself. She only has enough energy to name the thing and find a hibernation pod, nothing else. "It needs a human name."
The hardness in David's voice disappears. "What name would you give it?"
The answer seems so obvious, Elizabeth doesn't understand why David, with all of his unlimited potential, can't think of it. Maybe what robots really lack is creativity. "Epimetheus," she says. "The Epimetheus."
There's another odd edge to David's voice, now, and it takes Elizabeth years before she can recognize it for what it is: fond, indulgent annoyance. He says, "very well. I will light a pathway within the Epimetheus' halls to lead you to the hibernation rooms."
"Good," she says. Belatedly, she adds, "thank you."
David nods. It's a strange thing to witness on a man with no shoulders. "Would you like to watch me take off, first?"
"Still don't trust me?"
"No," she says, because it's true.
"I suppose honesty is a virtue."
"It is," Elizabeth says with confidence. She hears a hum somewhere behind her, and the noise grows until, wearily, she can identify it as the subdued roar of an engine. The ship begins to move, and the greyness of this death planet falls away under the Epimetheus.
Just as they liftoff, she sees a shape, a grey shadow among the grey landscape. It moves, walking startled and stiff. It's human-shaped, and for a terrified moment Elizabeth thinks it might be another Engineer (the thought never crosses her mind that it might be a human survivor). But the Epimetheus pulls back, and she sees it more clearly: its gaunt is too staggering, the shape to narrow, the head all wrong entirely. It lunges, grabbing, but the Epimetheus spins away, rocketing backward out of the atmosphere.
Elizabeth watches the creature roaring below her until it's nothing but a speck a thousand miles below her feet. Two thousand. Millions.
The shape of it haunts her dreams for the rest of her life.
"Prometheus was a titan," he once said. "He saw the people suffering, the mortal humans. They didn't have anything good for themselves."
Elizabeth had clapped her hands, but otherwise listened still and rapt.
"So he brought them fire from Mount Olympus. Olympus was like Heaven, a perfect paradise where the gods drank sweet honey all day. Prometheus stole a bit of fire from them, and gave it to the humans. Now the humans could cook meat and stay warm on long winter nights!"
Elizabeth had taken that pause to gasp, as her father expected. He smiled at her, a grin full of white teeth.
"But the gods heard, and they were angry. Now the humans were stronger and smarter, and they thought that made them, the gods, less great. The gods couldn't take the fire back from the humans, but they could punish Prometheus, so they did. They chained him to a rock, and each day an eagle would fly down and peck out his liver. Each night, Prometheus' liver would grow back. To remember his suffering," her father would, at this part of the story, take off his wedding ring and place it in Elizabeth's hand, "humans wore rings on their fingers, which looked like the links of Prometheus' chains."
"Like Christ?" Elizabeth had asked, the first time her father had told this fable. She had reached her hand up to grasp at her father's cross, clinking the wedding ring in her hand to the metal around her father's neck.
"No," her father had said. "Well, a little. Prometheus isn't a true thing-- well, I don't believe it is, anyway."
When her father had told her this story for the first time, she had been very little, and not completely understood. She had asked, "then how did we get fire?"
"Well," her father had said. "I believe we got it for ourselves."
David tells Elizabeth as much, as she sleeps. The Engineer's technology is enough that he may not only look in on her dreams, but direct them to his will.
He does not use the full extent of that power. Elizabeth has promised him this: If he attempts any such thing, she will pick up his head and throw it bodily out of the airlock. David is not sure she could accomplish such a feat, not when David controls the doors on ship and the flow of oxygen. Still, it is not a risk David finds himself willing to take. An eternity floating helpless-- and worse, alone-- in the vacuum of space is a horror he likes to contemplate.
Ah, he can experience horror. He adds it to the list of his internal repertoire. Alphabetically in modern British English c2090, it goes after contentment but before irritation.
Elizabeth is privy to none of this, of course. They both keep their privacy, and guard it jealousy. David is only allowed to enter her dreams twice a week, and she knows nothing of David unless he tells her of himself. In general, he does not tell her much.
He does tell her of his discoveries.
In her dream, they in a boat gently rocking in the current, overshadowed by towering cliffs. The boat never crashes into them, though the tide pulls them in the direction of the earth. Elizabeth calls this 'dream-logic'.
David puts his feet in the water, rolling his trousers up to his ankles first, because that is what humans do. Elizabeth does not, because, David supposes, she has never had to think of what humans do. Or perhaps she does not relish getting her feet wet.
David relishes having feet.
"I have discovered what the noises in the air ventilation system is," David says.
Elizabeth looks up from her reflection in the water, expectant.
"It is a sound emitted by an tree-dwelling creature found commonly in forests on the Engineer home world." David says with confidence.
He conjurers up an image of the creature, floating in the air in front of him. He does not add in its reflection in the water, so it does not look too real, too abnormal or strange. Elizabeth's dreams turn easily to nightmares, now, and he is by her own edict not allowed to redirect their natural course.
David continues. "I hypothesize that the noise is ubiquitous enough to be considered conspicuous in its absence. Perhaps the Engineers loop it through their manned vessels in an attempt to make their travels more comfortable."
Elizabeth watches the floating Engineer animal disappear before she answers. "That is... very optimistic."
Optimism goes after irritation.
"So you're sure nothing is alive on this ship but you and I?"
"Nothing but you, ma'am."
Elizabeth shrugs. The scene around them refigures itself slightly, clouds appearing in the sunny sky above them. If the psychoanalytical practice of dream interpretation had not been thoroughly debunked at the most recent-- by his records-- Versailles Psychoanalytical Conference, this would symbolize doubt and confusion. As it is now, David can see the memory in Elizabeth's mind's eye: the day she spent on the water with her 'uni girlfriend', perfect until it turned stormy and they had to race to the coast.
A sensor blossoms to life in the back of David's mind. "Ah," he says in a perfect imitation of Peter O'Toole. "The scanners are picking up anomalous readings. I will report back." Before he leaves her dream, he says, "enjoy the weather."
Only belatedly does he remember the weather has turned bad, and such a statement would, on his part, imply sarcasm. Sarcasm is not on his list.
David had started with the Prometheus.stry file.
Remembering a famous recorded speech of his father's, he next opened the Titans.stry file. Within them, he had found the Cronus section most rewarding.
When he had completed the Cronus.stry subfile, he was instructed to repeat back to the Instructor.prnlty file to 'pass'.
"Cronus was the son of Ouranos. The Romans called Cronus Saturn."
Instructor.prnlty fed the prerecorded: "Very good, David. Continue."
"Cronus killed his father with a sickle, slicing him apart. Cronus later had children of his own, Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Demeter, and Hestia. He believed one day, his children would rise up and kill him. To prevent this, he swallowed them all, with the exception of Zeus. Zeus later had his revenge, and killed his father, in the process freeing his brothers and sisters."
Instructor.prnlty fed through the same prerecorded lines again, and David mentally noted to program more dialog for it later. It then fed through the test question: "What was the moral of this myth?"
"Each generation has its time." David said, "each will find its place, often at the expense of the generation before it."
"Very good, David. Perfect."
Before she can get any more philosophical, she vomits three years of digestive bile into a smooth black bowl.
"Good morning," David says. Elizabeth tries to say, is it morning?, but ends up vomiting on David's feet. He doesn't react. She goes back to putting her head directly over the bowl. David continues, his voice taking that sharp quality again. "When you have regained yourself completely, I will remove your stitches."
This time, Elizabeth waits before trying to reply. Her patience bears good results, and she speaks without too much retching. "Haven't they dissolved by now?"
"They can't in the stasis chamber, and I would rather not risk infection." The sharp quality of David's voice has ebbed.
So Elizabeth nods, and lays back down, and David puts a medishot in her arm. Next she knows, she's sitting up again while David drapes a coat around her shoulders. He says, with something that can be identified as concern, or perhaps pity, in his voice, "there will be a scar."
"I don't care," Elizabeth says, because she doesn't. "Is this why you woke me?"
"No," David says. He shakes his head, which teeters dangerously on his shoulders, and he takes a moment to hold it properly in place before continuing. "Do you remember, from your dream...?"
"Oh, o-oh..." Elizabeth retches again, but nothing comes of it. She has nothing left in her stomach. "Do you know what it is? The- it was a thing on your sensors."
"An anomalous reading. No, I do not know what it is." David says. "But I know what it's not."
Elizabeth looks up, waiting.
"It is not, in design, a human or Engineer-built vessel." David speaks with perfect calm. "I have it orbiting us with the help of a tractor beam-- it is slightly smaller than our vessel. I am running scans. There is a life form on board."
Elizabeth feels her eyes widen in shock. The muscles pull tight and tired under her skin, and she feels nauseous again, but it passes. "When will your scans be completed?"
"In approximately one hour. That is why I woke you." David steps back, trailing sick. He places the bowl on an adjacent empty hibernation pod. "You can, in the meanwhile, eat and rest."
"Good," Elizabeth nods, and tries to stand. David offers to help her, but she can walk on her own.
The food on the Epimetheus is edible by human standards, but the portions are huge and the flavors are terrible. She has never asked David to change it, though, unsure of what a robot would think of sweet and sour. The food aboard the Epimetheus has no flavor she can name, but it is high in all the proteins she'll need. The water even mostly tastes like water.
Elizabeth will miss human food for the rest of her life. Worse, she will miss eating in the company of other humans.
When she eats, she doesn't think about this. She thinks about where she grew up, and conversations with her father, and the thing that probably lives in the ruins of the Prometheus.
David's voice sounds over the intercom. The light above her flashes with his every syllable, and Elizabeth doesn't know if that's a presetting or one of David's, and she doesn't ask, because it doesn't matter.
"Scan complete," David says. "Would you prefer to discuss it now, or in person?"
Elizabeth picks up a plate of the bright red jelly-substance she was eating. "I'll meet you in the cockpit."
The cockpit is just like she remembers it, all black and glossy, except now there's white crud trailing down from that octagon, and something that looks like a shiny black metal robotic arm hanging from the ceiling. Robotic like the things that make cars in factories, not like the thing connected to David's shoulder. Staring up at it, Elizabeth is terrified for a moment, but the arm looks like everything else on the ship, black and glossy and probably mostly inorganic. It's not something terrible reaching down to swat at them. She's safe.
Elizabeth guesses the arm is what David used to put his head back in place.
She's safe enough.
David is sitting in the over-sized pilot's chair, looking quite natural. He's staring out into space, and Elizabeth follows his line of sight to a floating burgundy square, slowly passing the Epimetheus' window. "There it is," David says. "The source of our anomalous readings."
Elizabeth finishes off the last of her red jelly. "And you're sure it's not an Engineer?"
"I thought you wanted to find the Engineer home world," David says.
"Yes," Elizabeth replied, "not their spaceships."
"Of course," David says. "You've already found their spaceships." He gestured around them.
Elizabeth ignored him. "You're sure?"
"Engineer technology is capable of long-distance genetic scans, with high accuracy." David's voice is perfectly even, perfectly cool. He steeples his fingers over his lap while he talks. "While the life form inside does have identical DNA signatures to humans and Engineers, the expression of that genetic code is radically different in expression, much like human's genetic expression compared to Engineers'."
Elizabeth would have dropped her plate, if she were just a little shakier. "More creations."
"That is my current hypothesis." David leans back in his chair, his head tipping back and making a muted thunk against the chair. He takes a moment to rearrange it, and more white crud oozes out over his shoulders.
When he's done, Elizabeth asks, "should we test it? Your hypothesis?"
"I cannot guarantee your safety." David says, "I cannot pick up any readings of offensive weapons on board, but I have no way of knowing precisely what to look for. And, even then, there is no way of knowing if what is inside is hostile."
Elizabeth watches the circling spacecraft fade out of view for a moment, only to edge back in seconds later. She remembers the Engineer, staring down at her in puzzlement. She never wants to see such a creature again, but if she completes her mission, she will.
If she can't face whatever this thing is, how can she face them.
"If it doesn't attack us by tomorrow, I'm going in." She'll do this on her own time. She'll be ready by then.
They are sitting in Elizabeth's memory of a cafe she had once frequented in her youth. David sits across from Elizabeth over two cups of coffee neither of them can taste or touch.
"I was built three years ago." David says, "one could consider my childhood spent during the two-year voyage of the Prometheus while you were in stasis. It was there I learned the majority of my subroutines."
"Do you consider it your childhood?"
"No," David says. They change the subject.
"I spent most of my youth in--" Elizabeth stops. "You know, don't you."
David does not seem annoyed or proud. He doesn't seem like anything. "You spent the majority of your early childhood in the developing world. When your father died, you moved to England."
"Do you have what we used to do together, too?" Elizabeth absurdly hopes he doesn't answer.
"No," David says, and Elizabeth is for a moment relieved. Then he starts talking again. "Although, I have something of an idea based on the patterns of your dreams. You spoke often of God, and told each other stories."
Elizabeth does not want to talk about God to David. It's to personal, to precious to her heart to share with this inhuman creature. "What kind of stories?"
"Biblical. Mythological." He's right, damn him. "You had a vested interest in creation myths."
Elizabeth wants to pretend David hasn't been inside her mind for two years, poking around in her mind at his leisure. She talks like he's a normal person. She prefers to, it makes her feel stronger. "I always liked the one about how they split up the world."
David hesitates, and Elizabeth feels a rush of joy at having surprised or confused him. Above them, the sun comes out.
David says, "I am afraid you will have to be more clear, Elizabeth."
"Poseidon, Hades and Zeus," she says. "They split up the Earth, the sea and the sky?"
"Ah," David says, and Elizabeth feels that flicker of recognition again, but it fades. "Yes, I recall Zeus and Poseidon were pleased with their lot, but not Hades."
"No," Elizabeth says. "But what could he do? They were his brothers."
She isn't sure if so much color after years of dark blackness is refreshing or awful, but at least the noise is gone. Elizabeth thinks she hears that awful whistling noise in her dreams. It isn't here, thank God.
She hears David in her comlink. "I can't navigate for you; you'll have to communicate with the life forms and navigate on your own."
"I will," she says, because she doesn't want to think she's that dependent on a robot. She wonders down one hallway and then another, quickly becoming lost in the haze of color and light. She has gotten used to the darkness of the Epimetheus. The thought is not as depressing or frightening as she thought it would be.
The colors move in swirling patterns around her, and the idea strikes suddenly: she follows them. Particularly the stripes of burgundy, which lead her down one long corridor, to a room devoid of any color but white. It reminds her achingly of the Prometheus. But for the Prometheus' soft, round, vintage minimalism, this chamber is all sharp edges, blinking stalactites scattered across the ceiling.
In the center rests one hibernation pod so translucent the body within it seems to be floating in air.
"I found your life form." She switches on the video feed.
"It is not mine," is David's only reply.
It is perhaps seven feet tall, shorter than an Engineer and taller than most humans. The head is bald and round, with huge marsupial eyes. Its eyelids are stretched closed so tight over the eyes, Elizabeth thinks she can almost see the dark yellow irises underneath. The skin is reddish grey, and the shape of the body is almost feminine, give or take the wrong number of breasts.
Elizabeth leans over the sleeping creature, her eyes above its. Some small scared part of her mind expects is eyes to open at any moment, expects to run screaming in terror, filled once more with regret.
Epimetheus has its name for a reason.
"She's alive," David's voice in Elizabeth's ear scatters her thoughts. "She has been asleep for over twenty Earth years."
"Is stasis for that long safe?"
"Not for humans."
Elizabeth frowns, looking down at the shape of the creature, all slender muscle. "How do you know this thing is female?"
"I cannot do a complete bioscan from this vantage point," David says, "but she does have what appears to be mammary glands."
"For all you know, they could be... eggs," Elizabeth counters.
David's voice sounds strangely patient. "If you truly suspect they are eggs, I suggest you return to the Epimetheus immediately."
"They could be musculature," Elizabeth says. "They could be anything. No reason to assume."
"Are you planning on writing a paper?"
"I would need to know more of its culture. Could you check the ship's data-"
"Yes," David says. He's never cut her off before. Elizabeth wonders what prompted this. "But," he says, "to decode their language could take another two years."
Elizabeth stares down at the sleeping creature before her.
"Do you intend to wake her?"
"No," Elizabeth says after a moment's hesitation. She's curious, so curious, but it isn't safe. This is the closest she'll get to the edge, at least, until they get to the Engineer home world. "Can you scan for their trajectory, David? What's their destination?"
After a moment's silence, David says, "roughly the same as ours."
Elizabeth begins walking back down the corridor, back to the drop point where the Epimetheus waits. Behind her, colors swirl to darkness as the ship returns to stasis to match its master. "Well," she says. "We'll see who gets there first."