Breakfast the next morning was a simple affair, forgotten as quickly as it was eaten. The easy camaraderie of the night before was gone, replaced by an uneasy anxiousness over the day ahead. They ate in a sort of prayerful silence, speaking only a little, and even then in hushed tones. When the meal was over they cleaned the cafeteria and turned out the lights.
Less than an hour later they sat in their seats on board the shuttle, strapped in place as Chidlow, Khan, and Fangen ran through their startup procedures. Anthea checked the propulsion systems one last time, then strapped in next to Jin.
The combined crews couldn’t all fit in the cockpit, but there had been some sort of unspoken agreement among them to let Jin have one of the spaces up front with Anthea. The two of them sat in a third row of seats behind Caygill, his second Petula Mandelstrom, and Montie Barzelay.
The scientist seemed to be looking forward to the transition back across the branes. He’d been less than enthusiastic about helping pack up Lunar Base. He’d slipped away at one point during the task, found some minutes later in a lab attempting to use some instruments to take measurements of the planet below. Caygill had threatened to lock him up if he touched the equipment again.
Fangen reported all clear and Khan gave her a thumbs up from the co-pilot seat. Chidlow turned around and asked, “Everybody ready to get off this rock?”
“As long as we don’t end up on another one,” Caygill muttered.
Chidlow took that as a yes. She and Khan worked to roll the shuttle out of the hanger and onto the moon’s surface. Less than ten minutes later they were clear of the moon’s gravity well and the crew was unstrapping, free to move about the shuttle. It was an estimated six hours until they reached the transit zone. Chidlow wanted them strapped back in their seats in five.
Anthea and Jin spent the time in her tiny cabin sitting cross-legged on the floor talking about their future together. Like Khan, they decided to act pragmatically and plan for the Mars mission. That meant the next three years of their lives were mapped out for them, so they started looking beyond.
Would they stay on with the Agency? Assuming the Mars mission went as planned—and they made it back to Earth safely—they would be celebrities. They could write books about their experiences, give lectures, act as consultants on movies and documentaries. The money they would need to live on would be easy to come by, at least for a while.
How many children did they want? Jin came from a big family and said he wanted eight children. This made Anthea balk and make jokes lamenting the future state of her hips. Anthea was an only child, completely spoiled by her father. She couldn’t imagine that many children running underfoot. They finally settled on two, or maybe three since Jin said twins ran in his family.
“Do you have your omamori?” he asked her.
“Of course I do,” she slipped it from her pocket. “I’ve kept it with me like you asked.”
“Open it,” he said.
“I didn’t know they opened,” Anthea looked puzzled.
“Well, traditionally one does not open them,” he answered. “They usually have prayers or wishes and should never be opened or you destroy the protection they offer.”
Anthea raised her eyebrows. “And so you want me to open it? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“The real benefit of this omamori can only be experienced when opened,” Jin smiled.
Anthea took the omamori between her fingers and tugged on the string tying it shut. It came away easily and the little paper pocket unfurled to reveal another piece of paper folded inside.
“Read it,” Jin said.
She took the folded paper and opened it like a book, finding Jin’s familiar scribbles within. The paper fluttered to the floor when she read the words.
Will you marry me?
Her breath caught and tears flooded her eyes. She looked up from the paper on the floor between them to find Jin’s eyes alive, sparkling with joy and mischief.
“I thought we could be the first couple married on Mars,” he said. “Khan’s already agreed to perform the ceremony, if you’re willing.”
Anthea was dumbstruck. “He is? Even after I called him a bastard?”
Jin laughed. “Well, he was a little sore about that at first, but I promised him a case or two of Guinness to smooth things over.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Anthea said.
“An answer to my question would be nice,” he grinned.
“The answer is yes, of course you silly man. What other answer is there?”
“Only a terrible one,” Jin said.