Running system checks on the Clarke proved to be slowest hour of Anthea’s life. They found the ship just where she should be, and in the condition expected of any new craft who’d been given a shakedown cruise—near mint.
Khan seemed determined to check the status of every system, sub-system, and all their redundancies twice over. At first she thought he was doing it out of some sort of playful revenge, keeping her from seeing Jin as long as he was plausibly able.
The more she thought about it, the more she realized she was being unfair. The Clarke was his ship, and the Mars mission his mission, likely his final one. If he led the first successful manned mission to Mars and back, he could retire in glory.
She had to give Khan credit, he acted like the incident back on the shuttle had never happened. Jin seemed to know what he was talking about. As long as she gave Khan due deference, he was businesslike and professional, if somewhat overfastidious.
When he was finally satisfied the ship was sound, they winged their way back down to the moon. Once the shuttle was docked and the hanger was pressurizing again Khan confronted her one last time.
“I hope we understand one another now,” Khan said.
“We do, sir,” Anthea answered, trying not to grind her teeth.
“Act like a professional when you’re on the clock and I’ll treat you like one,” he said. “What you do in your free time, and who you do it with doesn’t make a blip on my radar. But, I have to know I can count on you in a crisis.”
“Yes, sir,” Anthea answered again.
“Now,” he went on, “Chidlow’s ordered everyone to have dinner and try to get a few hours sleep before we make the attempt to cross back over to home. She feels we should be well rested before we subject ourselves to another shaky transition. I suggest you help load the shuttle, then make the most of that time.”
Anthea rocked back, surprised at Khan’s innuendo, and his unspoken approval. He grinned at her just a little wickedly and said, “Dismissed.”
Anthea turned and bolted for the airlock, but caught herself before skipping out of the cockpit. She turned and said, “Khan.”
“Yeah?” he asked.
“Thank you,” Anthea said with more than a little sincerity.
Khan waved his hand in the air in dismissal and turned back to the shuttle’s control board.
Anthea bounded out of the shuttle and made her way into the station proper. It was a sprawling structure, resembling a single story hospital more than anything else. Relatively new, it was still spartan in nature and mostly unoccupied. So far the personnel had been kept to a skeleton crew by the Agency. They were waiting until the new shuttle fleet was operational.
She followed the sound of voices, and found a mixture of the two crews loading experiments onto a cart. She recognized Farold Lementov from astronaut training, but the rest of the lunar personnel were strangers. Chidlow was on hand to introduce her, and Lementov took his own turn acquainting her with his own colleagues.
Jin wasn’t there.
She shrugged off her disappointment as best she could and threw herself into the work. There were dozens of carts filled with delicate experiments that were too expensive or sensitive to be abandoned. The crews wheeled the carts from various wings of the base, and Anthea passed Jin several times over the intermediate hour. He smiled at her each time but never said a word, knowing reports would worm their way back to Khan’s ears.
It made the time she’d spent on the Clarke seem short in comparison.