When the shuttle was loaded to Caygill’s satisfaction, Chidlow directed everyone to the cafeteria. Two of the Lunar Base crew, Glenville Bach and Amila Manger, had been preparing a final meal, digging deep into the base’s supplies to produce as lavish a feast as could be had on the surface of the moon.
The Lunar Base crew seemed to relax more and more throughout the dinner. Being cut off from the entire human race had affected them profoundly, and Anthea wondered if they would ever fully recover. She kept an eye on Jin as he sat across from her, looking for signs of emotional or mental distress, but he seemed like the same Jin she’d fell in love with. He was still slow to speak and quick to laugh, with eyes full of compassion and intelligence.
The meal wound through several courses, including two desserts. There were jokes about needing to take some equipment back off the shuttle in the morning to make sure they could gain escape velocity. People seemed reluctant to leave the table, to cut themselves off from human company. Then Anthea noticed a few couples seemed to be developing. She took it as her cue to take Jin’s hand in her own and make the next eight hours of scheduled rest their own.
He squeezed her hand and looked at her across the table. She loved it when Jin looked at her like that, like there was nothing else in the universe that could steal his attention. Anthea traced the contours of his face with her eyes. His wiry hair, his deep brown eyes, the split in his lip from a childhood scuffle. He wasn’t a big man, but he was sinewy, in top physical condition.
And his touch was as soft as the finest silk.
Jin let go of her hand and pushed away from the table. Anthea thought to stand up too, but Jin shook his head and motioned for her to sit back down.
“Give me twenty minutes,” he said, “then come. My berth is C-34.”
Anthea knew better than to argue or question. Jin loved his little games, and she loved letting him play them. She watched him move away, more gliding than bouncing in the low gravity.
Most of the others had cleared out of the cafeteria. She looked down at the far end of the table to see Chidlow, Caygill, and Khan sitting together. Khan caught her eye and raised his tube of energy drink in a kind of salute. She nodded back with a bit of a smile.
She rose from the table with a glance at her watch. There were nineteen minutes left, which meant she needed something to do instead of sitting idle. She remembered the seeing an observation deck while they traipsed back and forth to the shuttle.
Anthea found her way and stood in the midst of a wide semicircle of glass. The stars twinkled overhead, and she took the time to relax, catching her breath for the first time since the moon disappeared. She loved looking up at the stars, remembering long hours she’d spent on the grassy hill behind the house looking through the telescope with her dad.
She had trouble recognizing the constellations, figuring they looked different from the moon. Maybe because she could see stars that normally would have been visible from only one hemisphere or the other. If only she could find Orion, or the Big Dipper…
The stars were wrong.
She couldn’t find familiar constellations because they weren’t there. That planet down below, the surrogate for Earth, wasn’t an alternate version of Earth at all. When Barzelay had gone on and on about multiple dimensions, she assumed he was postulating parallel dimensions. She was wrong. They were as far away from home as anyone could possibly be. Farther away than any human had ever been before.
A shudder ran through her body from the tip of her head all the way down her back. It was all too much. Too far beyond her.
She glanced at her watch. Two minutes left, just enough time to get to Jin’s room and not be early. Two minutes left before she could forget about their circumstances for a while.
The base was quiet. Everyone had gone to their beds or other private matters. She walked through the C wing, finding number thirty-four near the end of the long corridor. She didn’t bother knocking, knowing Jin would be waiting inside.
She found him standing within, a smile on his face and his hands held out towards her. A small package rested in his hands, an envelope of some sort. She knew instinctively he’d made it with his own hands, his need for twenty minutes of privacy revealed.
“Take this and keep it close,” Jin said. “Be sure to have it on you when we make the crossing tomorrow.”
“What is it?” she asked.
“An omamori,” he said, “a sort of talisman for protection.”
“A good luck charm?” Anthea asked. “I never knew you were the superstitious sort.”
“Well,” his face turned serious, “when you see your home world turn into a barren rock, you begin to reconsider things.”
She looked down at the omamori in her hands. It was simple piece of paper folded into a rectangular pouch and tied shut with a bit of string. He’d written a bit of kanji on each side, but she had no idea what they said.
“Anthea,” Jin said.
“What?” she looked up.
“You left the door open,” Jin said.
She turned and looked to find the door wide open. Her foot swung out and pushed it closed.