The Armstrong touched down beside Lunar Base four minutes ahead of schedule. She rolled into the maintenance hanger and came to a soft stop. The door rolled shut and the base’s systems labored to pressurize the space. Anthea unstrapped and started racing for the airlock, but Khan pulled her up short.
“Hey there, Kingsley,” he said, “your little romance will have to wait. You and I have a date on the Clarke, remember?”
“We’re doing that now?” Anthea huffed. The others hustled out of the cockpit, glad to have an excuse to get away. “Wouldn’t it be better to save the time and fuel and do it on the way home?”
“You know fuel’s not a problem, Anthea. And as for time, it won’t take us much more than an hour to do what we need to do. Don’t make me pull rank on you. You were sent to do a job, not to visit your boyfriend.”
“Bastard,” Anthea cursed, “you can’t give us ten minutes?”
Khan crinkled his nose, his anger unmistakable. He stood there sizing her up so long she was sure he’d discipline her some way just to spite her. She heard the airlock slide open behind her, the sounds of jubilant greetings echoed through the shuttle.
“Ten minutes,” Khan said tersely, “but you may come to regret I gave it to you.”
“What does that mean?” Anthea said.
“Give me one more moment of grief during this mission, make me wait one second too long, and I’ll see to it you’re grounded if and when we leave for Mars. Let’s see how well your relationship lasts when you’re separated for three years.”
“You wouldn’t…” she snapped.
“Watch me,” Khan warned.
They stood staring each other down. Anthea had trouble catching her breath, her fists clenched tight at her sides.
“Nine minutes,” Khan said. “I suggest you not waste any more time.”
Cursing under her breath, Anthea turned and hopped as fast as she could toward the airlock. The moon’s slight gravity made the task a bit easier than floating along the shuttle’s narrow corridors, but not by much. She exited the shuttle to find the two crews mingled together. She singled out Jin and made a bee line his way, shoving through the crowd and nearly knocking him over in her haste.
“Thea!” he laughed and hugged her tight. When he moved to kiss her, she tipped her head back and stared him down.
“I’ve got five minutes,” she said, “take me somewhere, now.”
Jin gave her a twisted smile and grabbed her hand. He led her across the hanger towards a heavy white door, bounding across the floor in the low gravity. They moved inside the little room, nothing more than a tool closet. Anthea wrapped herself around him before the door snapped shut.
He chuckled and started to say something, but she shushed him. She wanted nothing more than to feel him, to smell the spicy aftershave he always used, the sound of his breathing changing to move in sync with hers. She wanted to make sure he was real.
He couldn’t stand the silence any longer. “Only five minutes? What’s the rush?”
Anthea sighed. “The Agency only sent me to make sure the Clarke’s propulsion systems weathered this…whatever happened. Khan didn’t even want to let me out of the shuttle before taking off to go do our inspection.”
“And if I know you, you got yourself in trouble,” Jin said.
“I might have called him a bastard,” Anthea managed to look a bit chagrined. “Then he went all military on me. Threatened to kick me off the Mars mission if I gave him any more trouble.”
“He thinks the mission will go forward after what’s happened?” Jin asked.
“You know the military mindset,” Anthea said, “always ready no matter what.”
“Well, I served under Khan before,” Jin said. “He’s more bark than bite. Just show him the respect he thinks he deserves and he’ll calm down.”
Anthea nodded. “Maybe I should’ve asked permission to come see you. I wasn’t thinking. I’ve been wondering if you were still alive for more than two weeks, wondering if I’d ever see…”
It was Jin’s turn to shush her by pressing his lips against hers. Anthea gave in, wanting nothing more than to be swallowed whole and never be parted again. Thoughts of their future made her push him away.
“I think I’ve used up my minutes,” Anthea said.
“It’s okay, we’ll have more,” Jin replied.
She stood up on her tiptoes and kissed his forehead, then his nose, then worked her way across his lips to his chin. Then she was gone, bounding out the door and across the hanger, ignoring the stares of both crews as she went.
Less than a minute later she was strapped down in her chair and waiting for Khan.
“You’re early,” he said.
“Yes, sir,” Anthea answered.
“Good,” Khan smiled. “Very good.”