In which John Tracy discovers his father is setting up a secret rescue organization...
and feels slightly uncomfortable with the idea.

Author's Notes: I owe some people: Sam for the early beta, Lynn for the reason this is all spelled correctly and doesn't have more errors than it already has, and most of all, Boomercat for all-around encouragement and for hauling me out of writer's block. Deepest thanks to all who reviewed.

Chapter One

In which John Tracy is flown to a Pacific Island by an engaging charter pilot; the purpose of a national space program is discussed; the purpose of being a Tracy is questioned.

John smacked his head on the doorway of the plane, and had to bite back what would have been his normal reaction. He rubbed the top of his head, growling to himself.

"Ooh, that looked painful," a voice behind him said. He turned around.

"No, it was great," he said. There was a short, bird-like woman standing in front of the cockpit door with her hands on her hips. She looked to be in her mid-to late-thirties, with reddish hair that stuck up from her head in an umbra of corkscrews. She reminded John of an aggressive daisy.

"You're too tall for the plane, is the problem," she said. She had an accent that was halfway between Australian and American. An expat, he would wager.

"You ever consider that maybe the plane should be able to accommodate people over five ten?" he asked, a little more snappishly than he meant to.

"Oh, it can accommodate all kinds," she said, her smile icing over a little.

"I'm sorry," John said. Rule number one of travel was do not irritate the person responsible for getting you there. "I haven't actually slept in something like a week. I'm John Tracy, and I'm usually much nicer than this." He stuck out his hand.

She shook it briefly. "I've been wondering where you'd gotten to," she said. "I'm Nancy Kowalski, and if you can sit down and get yourself situated without causing yourself too much injury, we can get going."

John sat down on a seat on the left side of the plane and looked out the window. Apparently, he had been to Australia once when he was five, but he had no memory of it. He had always wanted to go, and now that he was finally here, he wasn't allowed to even look around.

He was trying very hard not to be resentful of the fact that he was even here. Not that he was mad about being home; far from it. But he had really wanted to get some sleep, see some of his friends and maybe try to catch his brother Alan and see how he was doing, spend some time in the sun and just in general get reacquainted with the world. But instead, the long and efficient arm of Tracy Industries had sent a message to the top brass at ISA stating that John Tracy was healthy and sane enough to skip the rest of his reassessment period and was going to the airport to grab the next flight to Sydney where a charter plane would meet him to take him to that island property his father had bought years ago and suddenly seemed to have regained an interest in. ISA, it would seem, did not tempt the ire of one of its biggest contractors. And neither, thought John wryly, did he.

The little jet swung out onto the runway. It stood there for a moment, taking a deep breath, and then hurtled itself down the strip and into the sky. John took a second to scoff at the pathetic level of g force, and then turned to stare out the window. The Pacific Ocean, blue and inviting, spread out before him. Water. Truly amazing. It was frustrating to be so close, and still be looking down at the ocean from above.

He pulled a newspaper out of his bag and scanned the headlines. Probe Reveals Intelligence Failure. He had no idea what that meant, but it didn't sound surprising. Violence Flares in Eritrea.. He started to read the article, sighed, and then moved on. Oil Spill Threatens Galapagos. It was strange how calm the planet looked from above; even hurricanes looked like languid swirls of vapor. But apparently, the world was still going to hell. Gus was such an insulated world; at times it was easy to forget that the serene blue ball was all chaos and anger. In fact, he had. He checked every morning to see that all the continents were there. That established, it was easier just to pay attention to his work, keeping focused on the matter at hand. On Gus, staying focused was important - everybody stressed it. You didn't pay attention to where your mind was, you stood a good chance of having it wander away.

A little bonging noise distracted him out of his reverie. Nancy's chirpy voice came through the intercom.

"We've reached our cruising altitude of twenty-five thousand feet. I've turned off the seatbelt sign, but if you're especially clumsy or freakishly tall, you might just want to stay put. The skies ahead look clear, and we're not expecting any turbulence, but standard disclaimers apply and this is a not an area that can be subject to litigation. Smoking is unfortunately no longer tolerated or permitted in the presence of American passport holders, and international law statutes do apply. Due to the requirements of our typical passengers, there is a fridge in the bulkhead containing five varieties of beer, but regretfully we have no actual food on board this plane. We will reach our destination in about an hour and a half. And although you probably know this, I am a pilot, not a waitress. Help yourself or not at all."

John stared at the intercom for a second, and then got up and walked up to the cockpit. There was only a curtain separating it from the rest of the plane, so he just stuck his head around it.

"You're funny," he told the pilot. "Qantas could use someone like you."

She shook her head. "And waste my talents on corporate air? No thank you." She swiveled her seat around. "So, since you haven't flown with me before, there's a few rules here."

"I'm leaving." He started to drop the curtain.

"No, you don't have to leave. There's just some rules."

"I don't want to fly the plane."

She smiled. "Well, good. Because that's the main rule. And there are official rules against you sitting in the pilot's chair. Not that you asked. But everybody does."

"Yeah. I still don't want to fly the plane."

"Good. Now, since you're what Julie calls 'a preferred customer' and I call 'a Tracy,' you can sit up here and talk to me if you like. But you start to annoy me, I reserve the right to shoot you." She smiled. "It's legal now."

John considered this for a moment, and then maneuvered himself into the co-pilot's seat, and began looking over the controls. "Is this yours?"

"Oh yeah. Well, mine and my partner's. We got it at auction - you know, a bloke gets arrested for not paying his taxes and everything goes on the block? Got a real good deal. We also have a little Cessna, for the bush tours. But this one is my baby."

John smiled. Pilots and their planes. Nancy looked at him appraisingly for long minute, and John grew uncomfortable under her gaze. "What?" he asked, finally.

"So, you're the long-lost Tracy brother."

"I am?"


This was news. "According to whom?"

"Who do you think? Your father. Your pack of brothers. You are the last one, right? There aren't any more?"

"I don't know, how many have you met?"

She ticked off on her fingers. "The tall one, the funny one, the shy one, the friendly one, and the blond one." She looked up. "Or are you the blond one?"

"No, actually Alan is the blond one," John said. "But I think you've picked up an extra. Not that that's impossible. You didn't get their names?"

"I fly the planes. Names are Julie's - my partner - department. Well, Julie flies the planes too...I'm just terrible with names." She smiled at him. "I've been flying you lot for over a year now, but...for example, I've forgotten yours already."

"John," he said.

"You'd think I could remember that easy enough. I've got a head like a sieve for names. And pretty much every thing else, come to that. So, your father tells me you've been in the army for two years."

"He did?"

"Didn't he?"

"My father told you I was in the army?"

She studied him for a moment. "I guess not. Let me guess: the Navy. Air Force? WASP?"

He kept shaking his head.

"Marines? No...oh, I don't know. Canadian Mounties? Eagle Scouts? Girl Scouts?"

John laughed, finally. "ISA."

Nancy just gave him a blank look, and John sighed. "It's the international organization that runs Grissom Moon Base."

"Oh...it's like NASA."

"No," John said, with the air of someone who had long since resigned himself to repetition. "NASA is American, and the moon, in spite of some claims to the contrary, belongs to everyone. ISA is ISA."

"So you're an astronaut," Nancy said.

"You know, about one per cent of ISA is actually cosmonauts. The rest are scientists or engineers. They're called cosmonauts, by the way. They were going to call them lunarnauts but somebody pointed out that it sounded too much like "looney nuts" so they went another way. There were actual meetings about this." He yawned. "I haven't slept in what I think is actually three days, and I'm pretty sure all of them were the same Tuesday, so just stop me if I start to ramble."

"You're an engineer." Nancy sounded disappointed.

"No, I'm an astronaut. I spent the past year on the moon, working on the communication system for the satellite array and developing an onsite system for the deployment of deep-space probes." He paused, and seeing her blank look, added, "But it took place on the moon, which automatically makes it really interesting."

"I can believe that. How long were you there for?"

"A little over a year."

She was staring at him in astonishment. "You've been on the moon for over a year? That's...that's incredible."

John considered this for a moment, but didn't say anything. Nancy continued.

"I mean, god, I've always considered myself lucky, because I grew up in this really horrible part of New Jersey and just couldn't wait to get someplace where I could - oh, not be like everybody else. I don't know why I felt I needed to be someplace else to do that, since you can pretty much do that anywhere. But anyway, I was living in Oregon after dropping out of college and met Julie and she said, come to Australia with me and we'll fly planes, and I said great, and here I am. And I thought that was an adventure. The moon." She shook her head. "I couldn't even picture it."

John thought for a moment. "You could, actually. If I happened to have a picture, I could show you. The only difference between a picture of the landscape of the moon and the actual landscape of the moon is your field of view. I could show you a picture, and you could go to that place a thousand years from now and chances are, nothing would be different. You would be able to picture exactly what it's like. There's no air, nothing changes, there's nothing to move anything around. It is a fixed visual experience. It's actually a pretty fixed experience all around."

Nancy was quiet for a moment. John rubbed his eyes. This is what happened when he was tired; he started speaking without being aware of what he was saying.

"Didn't you get any time off?"

"Time off, sure. Time down, no." He yawned. "Most people are up there for six months. I volunteered to stay longer. I thought I was going to be there until the end of the year, but they want to expand the training program and so they brought me back." A little suddenly, he thought to himself. His boss had assured him it was just a routine personnel shuffle, but John still had his suspicions. It didn't feel so much like a rotation of service ending as it did being yanked from the sky. He was sure there was some plan at the end of it, but he hadn't yet been able to figure out what it was.

"What's it like?"

John thought for a moment. "It's hard to describe. It's very strange. Everything is the same. All the walls are the same material, all the floors, all the light is at the same brightness...and it's small. The rooms are small, the halls are narrow. It can be a little claustrophobic, if that sort of thing bothers you."

"Do you like it?"

"Well, it's the moon. Who gets to do that?" He really didn't want to talk about this with a stranger, even a particularly nice one. "So what about you? Why did you become a pilot?"

"Oh." Nancy's voice trailed off. "I think people are always expecting me to say something like 'I always loved adventure' or 'I always wanted to fly,' but to be honest, I had never given it a thought when I was growing up." She paused.

"Without getting too much into it, someone took me up in a plane, and explained to me that there was no sort of impossibility to doing this." She glanced at John. "I never thought - I guess I was just in the habit of looking at things I didn't do as things I couldn't do, rather than the other way around. And suddenly, here's the whole sky to play in, and she tells me that there's no mystery to it, and no bravery - just a decision. An act of saying yes, of doing. And I just..." she took a breath. "Fell in love with...well... that whole idea. The whole day." She laughed, self-conscious. "Sounds stupid, doesn't it."

John shook his head. "No."

"Just for the record, I immediately went back to hating everything."

John laughed. "But really, that was it? One day? You just pointed your whole life at something else?"

Nancy thought for a moment. "Pretty much."

"Any regrets?"

"Are you kidding? The other day I got an email from a friend of mine, excited because at her work she finally got an office with a window. My whole life is a window. There's nothing to regret."

"Huh," John said thoughtfully.

"Oh, don't tell me that there wasn't some moment when you were a kid and you saw something go rocketing up into space and went " 'that's the life for me,'" Nancy said.

"We're different," he said after a minute. "Dad was an astronaut. He quit NASA a little after Alan was born - the blond one - but it never seemed to be that far from him. We knew all the guys in his program, we used to go down to Cape Canaveral to watch launches..." John stopped, thinking. He had forgotten about that. Standing in the cool darkness, shivering slightly, and then suddenly, an explosion of orange and red, billows of smoke, thunder rattling his heart. It was hard to tell if something was blowing up or if this was supposed to happen until he saw Scott, tinged the color of fire, pointing exultantly to the sky at the triumphant ascension of the rocket. John couldn't have been more than seven or eight at the time.

"How does that make you different?" Nancy asked.

John was quiet for so long that Nancy repeated her question.

"I heard you; I was just trying to think of the answer. Maybe because we always knew it was possible." He paused, still searching. "Most...when you're a kid, you don't really think you'll be able to go up into outer space. I mean, 99.9 percent of the population doesn't know anyone who's ever done that. But we did; we were surrounded by them. Most kids don't even know someone who can fly a plane, and Scott and Virgil both soloed when they were fifteen. I guess when you grow up around a person who does impossible things it's harder to think of them as impossible." John lapsed into silence again, thinking. "It also moves the bar pretty high."

"I would think so," Nancy said. "Do you think you hit it?"

John laughed. "You never hit it. Nobody ever hits it. But God help you if you stop trying."

Nancy smiled. "I have to say, I'm very fond of your father. Aside from the fact that he pays us very well, he is quite the character."

"You have no idea," John said.

"He must be proud of you, following in his footsteps."

John hesitated a moment. The truth was, as is usual when dealing with any family dynamic, more complicated than that.

"I suppose. Yes. Of course."

Nancy looked at him for a moment, a faint crease appearing between her eyebrows.

"Do you like being an astronaut?"

John sat back in his chair. "That's an interesting question. Let me get your opinion on something. What do you think the space program is for?"

"We don't have much of one here," Nancy said. "At least, that I know of."

"No, you don't. NASA, then, back when you were still American. What do you think it's for?"

Nancy shrugged. "Exploration?"

"What else?"


"That's just a hoped-for result of exploration."

Nancy looked irritated. "I don't know. Because it's there? To find aliens? Because we can?"

John nodded. "Okay."

"Well, what do you think it's for?"

"I don't know. That's what I'm trying to figure out. If I can figure out what it's for, then I can figure out what I'm doing in it." He yawned. "It must have been nice to be in the Apollo program. There was a clear sense of purpose back then. It was national pride. And cold war paranoia, but mostly national pride. The president sent out a clarion call, and NASA responded, and what did you get? Men walking on the moon. Everyone was elated. It was good for the country, somehow." He shook his head. "It was good for mankind. You know, a giant step for mankind." He looked at Nancy. "When was the last time anything happened that was universally acknowledged as being good for mankind?"

Nancy thought. "When they cured polio?"

John sunk into his seat. "They never cured polio. Salk came up with a vaccine. There's still polio."

Nancy looked at him. "Listen to me, Jim. You seem like a very intelligent young man. But I want you to understand something. I've explained this to your brothers as well."

"John. What?"

"You are a Tracy. This is what it means: you have an obscene amount of money. You practically have your own island. You are supposed to be out crashing cars, doing drugs, dating supermodels, going to rehab, and in general driving your father crazy. You are not supposed to worry if your job isn't good enough for humanity. Who the hell cares? You're an astronaut, for crying out loud - you're not dumping toxic waste into the bloody ocean."

John was laughing, so Nancy continued.

"Honestly, you and your brothers are the most boring people on the planet. When your father - who is not boring - first hired us, Julie and I thought, well, this will be great. We'll be jetting the jet set and finding diamond earrings in the seat cushions. You know what we get instead? A bunch of people who stare into laptops and mutter to themselves. Five brothers who have this thing about civic duty. What is wrong with you? Have you learned nothing from the royal family? You're supposed to be in disgrace. You're not supposed to be...enlisting. You are all very disappointing. Very."

"I'm truly sorry." John said. "We have crashed a lot of cars, though. Alan alone has totaled at least three." John didn't mention Gordon's accident.

"I suppose that's a start," Nancy said grudgingly.

"We'll try harder."

"I doubt it," Nancy said. "Okay. I'm going to start taking her down so you need to go back and buckle in."

"See you on the ground." John said.

"Just think about what I said." Nancy said grumpily. 


Chapter Two

In which John Tracy discovers his father is thinking of going sovereign; Gordon Tracy discovers his brother isn't an astronomer; Brains gets a cameo.

John stared down as the small group of islands grew larger. Nancy was spiraling down in a large, lazy circle, giving John a good view of the place that apparently his father had now chosen to call home. John had received many long messages from his various brothers, and all of them had mentioned in an offhand way that their father had sold the house in Phoenix that had served him as a home base for the past ten years and had moved to the island. Gordon wrote the most about it, because he moved there himself when he got out of the hospital six months ago. John had thought the whole thing strange, but kept it to himself. He figured he would just suss out the situation whenever he got back down, since there wasn't anything he could do about it. It would be a long way to travel for Christmas, but other than that, it didn't really matter. Their father had lived a life of constant travel for almost as long as John could remember.

As Nancy made her final pass, John could see a large, circular structure like a large white doughnutplaced over the foliage. He noticed the blue blob of a swimming pool and sighed. Leave it to his father to put in a pool when he was surrounded by tropical waters. He was ruminating on the idea of wealth canceling out taste when he remembered Gordon.

They landed smoothly on a small paved runway surrounded by palm trees. He waited until they stopped, and then unbuckled his seat belt and picked up his bag. Nancy was unbolting the door.

"Thanks for the ride," John said.

"It was nice meeting you," she said, as she struggled with the door. "Stupid thing always sticks. I guess I'm going to have to come up with a new classification for you, since "the tall one" and "the blond one" are already taken." She pushed the door open and hit the mechanism for the stairs, which unfolded with a grinding noise.

"You could always try John," John said. He put his hand on the doorframe ducked, and stuck his head out, squinting against the sun. Behind him, Nancy made a disparaging noise.

"John? How on earth do you expect me to remember a name like John?"

John went down a step or two, and then turned around and put out his hand. "I enjoyed talking with you. Have fun flying."

She smiled as she took it. "Can't help that, can I?"

They shook hands and she gave him a flip salute. John walked down the stairs.

He paused on the runway, and slung his bag over his shoulder. Heat rose from the black tarmac in waves. He stared up at the sky for a minute, and then heard the whine of the engines behind him. Better get off the runway before Nancy decapitated him with a wing.

Through the glaze of heat, he could see a figure walking towards him. He wished he had a pair of sunglasses. Whoever it was, they were laughing.

"You should see the expression on your face," the figure called. John dropped his bag and gestured to the entire island, ocean, and sky.

"Where the hell am I?"

Scott laughed again, and trotted forward. He stopped in front of his brother and looked at him for a long moment.

"You look terrible," he said happily. "Are you all right?"

"Thank you, Scott," John said. "It's nice to see you again, too."

Scott caught him in a back-thumping embrace. "You've been gone for way too long," he said.

John regained his balance, smiling. "I didn't expect you to be here."

"I know. It's a surprise. Come on. Dad's been pacing around for three hours waiting for you, pretending he isn't." He picked up John's bag and headed towards shallow steps that had been cut into the cliff face at the end of the runway. John followed.

"Virgil was supposed to meet you in Florida, did anyone tell you?" Scott said. He didn't wait for John to answer. "The schedule got completely mangled, and Dad had to go to Singapore so Virgil had to...anyway. We should have been there. I'm sorry."

"It's all right," John said, although he had been irritated at the time. "I got Dad's message."

"Yeah. Everyone else gets a big welcome home sign, and you get an itinerary. Bet that made you feel good."

John laughed. "It's all right, really."

They had reached the end of the runway, and were standing at a flight of metal industrial stairs, bolted straight into the cliff face. "Wow," John said.

"Dad's having an elevator built, but for now we've got to take the stairs."

"An elevator?" John asked, as they started to climb. "Where? Why?"

"You'll have to wait until Father tells you," Scott said. "He's made some changes to the place since you were here last. When were you here last?"

"I don't know. When I was nineteen, maybe? We hopped over for a few hours, but there wasn't anything here."

"Okay. He's added a few things."

"I noticed. How come?"

Scott shrugged. "He likes building things." He turned around. "I can't believe you're back."

"I can't believe I'm here," John saidwith complete sincerity.

"Are you glad to be out of there?"


"We were beginning to think you weren't ever going to come back."

"I was giving that some thought too." John said. "How far up this mountain is...oh."

They emerged out onto a wide, iron-railed patio. A large pool sparkled in the center. A curving staircase led to a balcony, and a series of wide, dark windows. To theright, farther up the mountain, was the doughnutbuilding he had seen from the air. It seemed to be mostly comprised of an expanse of curved glass windows nestled among palm trees.

"He built a house. He built two houses? What's that round thing for?"

Scott made a sweeping gesture with his arm. "Welcome to Tracy Island."

John let out a bark of laughter. "You can't be serious."

Scott shrugged. "Dad's the only one who can say it with a straight face, but that's what he's calling it."

"Is he entering his colonial phase?" John asked as they mounted the stairs to the balcony. "Or is this just garden-variety megalomania?"

Scott opened the sliding door. "Why don't you ask him that?" he said, ushering John inside.

It was dim and cool inside the room, and John's eyes registered only blackness, but he could hear his father saying his name and felt himself being embraced and his back pounded a few times. His vision cleared, and his father was standing in front of him, holding him at an arm's length by the shoulders, scrutinizing him. John straightened up under his gaze and met his father's eyes.

"It's good to have you back," his father said warmly.

"It's good to be back," John said, grinning.

"You look about worn out, John."

"I'm fine, Father." His father looked great. Maybe there was a little more silver in the hair, but he looked incredibly healthy. He'd probably live to be a hundred and twenty, John thought.

His father put his arm around John's shoulders and led him further into the room. "So, what do you think?"

John looked around. His father's love of Asian art, always a bass note in his decorating, seemed to have taken the melody. Virgil once remarked that it was a natural progression from the austerity of their father's Kansas childhood, with the added appeal of being one of the few art forms with his fetishistic approach to discipline. The room was all darkly glowing wood and low couches, a cool sanctuary from the brassy blues and greens outside the wall of windows.

"I...it's..." John was at a loss for words.

"That's pretty much what I said." Scott said from where he was perched on a desk. "Do you want some coffee or something, John? You look like you're about to fall over."

"No, I..." John looked at his father. "It's very impressive, Father. But I don't understand why."

"Why what?"

"Well..." John stopped. You had to be careful in this sort of thing. "Why here?"

"Well, now that you boys are all grown, I thought it would be nice to have a place you all could come to when you have time off. Mother's sold the house in Kansas."

"She did?" John said with surprise. He loved that house.

"She didn't have any need for so much space any longer, and she's getting on. She deserves to live in a place that doesn't get fifteen feet of snow every year."

"That's true," John said. But he would miss that house. They had spent every summer and all the major holidays there for as long as he could remember. It was an old farmhouse - not very big, but with a certain tottering dignity, and was surrounded by endless wheat fields. He and his brothers had all been in various private boarding schools from the age of twelve, and his grandmother's house was the closest thing he had ever had to a permanent home.

"Nobody ever liked the house in Phoenix, and the apartments in Seattle and New York aren't big enough for all of us. It makes sense," his father was saying.

"Well, sure," John said. "But...don't you think maybe it would have made a little more sense to centralize things somewhere more..." he stopped.


"Where you didn't need to build a runway in order to get to it?"

Scott laughed, but his father just waved that away. "It's part of the appeal."

John slid a glance at Scott, who just shrugged.

"Hey! You're back!"

John wheeled around to see his younger brother Gordon standing in a doorway he hadn't noticed before. He was carrying a large box under one arm, and several large glass pipes under the other. "I have to drop this stuff to Virgil...just... don't leave the planet again." He darted off before John even had a chance to say anything to him.

"Virgil's here?"

"We're all here, except Alan. We haven't seen you in a while, you know." Scott said.

"He's down in the lab," his father said. "Gordon will get him."

"Lab? There's a lab?" He turned to Scott. "He built a lab?"

"This house has everything," Scott said, clearly enjoying John's surprise. "Pool, gym, game room. The sound system is insane. The lab's not bad."

John opened his mouth to ask another question, but was cut off by Gordon barreling into the room and tackling him, sending him flying back into the couch. Gordon got him in a headlock with one arm, rubbed his knuckles roughly over his head for a minute, then jumped off, grinning.

"On behalf of the people of Earth, welcome back."

"On behalf of the sane, thank you," John retorted, smoothing his hair down. "Why can't any of you people say hello without hitting me?"

Virgil, who had been standing in the doorway, watching this with his hands in his pockets, stepped forward and stuck out his hand.


"Virgil," John said, taking it.

They shook, seriously. Virgil broke first, and smiled.

"Have you been sick?" Virgil asked. "You look a little washed out."

"Okay. Aside from the fact that I just spent the last year on the goddamned moon, I just spent a week in zero g, and plus I haven't slept in about three days, so everyone can just back off." He looked up at his brothers. "God, you guys are tan."

Gordon dropped down next to him on the couch and banged him on the knee lightly with his fist. "So. How was it?"

"It's weird," John told him. "If you take the long view, it's just a strange place."

"You couldn't pay me to spend that much time in a place like that," Scott said, moving around to join the conversation. John just shrugged.

"What's so strange about it?" Gordon asked.

John thought for a moment. "It's like working in a place designed - and maybe staffed - by dadaists."

"I have no idea what that means," Gordon said, as Virgil started to chuckle. "But I'll take it to mean you're glad to be back."

"More than I can possibly say," John said fervently.

"How are the mining operations coming along?" His father wanted to know.

John twisted around to look at him. "They keep pushing the date back, but they've finally got their surveying and sampling routine paying off. I think realistically, they'll start in about two years."

"They've been talking about mining up there since I was in high school," Gordon said. "I remember talking about it in class."

"It'll put them eight years behind schedule," John told him. "For ISA, that's actually pretty good. The launch system is going well. Should be ready next year." He rubbed his eyes. He was getting that metallic, slightly dizzy feeling he got when he was really sleep deprived. He was going to crash in a minute. Scott and his father started discussing something about ISA that he couldn't quite follow.

"What about you?" he asked Gordon. "How are you?"

Gordon raised his eyebrows for a minute, and then grinned. "Are you asking about my near-death experience?"

John looked annoyed, and Gordon relented. "I'm fine."

"You know, if I could have come home..."

"Nobody expected you to." Gordon said. John gave him a funny look.

"Hemeans we understood why you couldn't." Virgil explained, sitting down next to him. Gordon nodded.

"Anyway, I'm fine," Gordon said firmly. John figured that if he wanted to talk about it, now probably wasn't the time. John himself didn't agree with Virgil - it really didn't matter if he couldn't come home. What mattered was that he didn't come home.

"I saw on the news some of the pictures from the telescope." Gordon said.

"Yeah, they're pretty amazing," John said.

"Have you had a chance at it?" Gordon asked.

John shook his head. "What, are you kidding? Never."

"Why not?" Virgil asked.

John frowned. "Because I'm not an astronomer."

"Since when?" Gordon asked.

"Since always. I'm tech - and I'm not even tech on the telescope. I've got nothing to do with that program at all. Don't you people even know what I do for a living?"

"But can't you just sneak a look sometime?" Gordon asked, ignoring the last question.

"It's not like it's on a tripod by a window." John said. "Anyway, there's a waiting list years long to get access to that thing. I don't even have clearance for the room."

"That's not fair," Gordon said. "You're just as qualified as those guys."

"I'm not. And that's got nothing to do with it," John said, yawning. Privately, he agreed with Gordon. The telescope on Grissom was the most advanced to date, and combined with the lack of light pollution, it had already returned some provocative images. He would give a kidney to get a chance at it, but unless he went back to school for a couple of more years, he was just going to have to look at the pictures on the ISA website along with everyone else. Astronomy was science, but it was also academia, and sometimes what you knew didn't matter nearly as much as where you learned it. John had postponed his plans for a doctorate when he switched into ISA's program at Harvard, and that closed a lot of doors for him.

"You all right?" Gordon peered at him. "You look a little glassy-eyed."

"Excuse me, Mr. Tracy?" A soft voice interrupted them. John turned around to see a slight, bespectacled young man standing in the doorway Gordon had appeared in before. "I apologize for interrupting, but I have the results of the stress test."

"Yes, thank you, Brains." His father turned to John. "John, why don't you try and get some sleep? We can all catch up around dinner." He followed the man out of the room.

John looked at his three brothers. "Who was that?"

"Brains," Scott said.

"Yeah, I caught that, thanks. Who is he?"

"Scientist-in-residence," Scott said succinctly. He bent down and picked up John's bag. "He works for Father. Let's get you to bed before you keel over."

John was too tired to argue, and followed Scott down a different hallway. "I guess it makes sense," he mumbled. "He must have come with the lab."

Scott laughed, and opened a door. "Kyrano decided you're in here. Sleep as long as you want and don't worry about waking up for dinner if you don't want to."

"I'm not sure I'm going to have a choice. Who's Cyrano?"

"Kyrano. Interesting guy. Right up your street. Go to sleep." Scott started to shut the door, as John flopped down on the bed.

"Hey," Scott said.

"What?" John said into his pillow.

"It really is good to have you back."


Scott closed the door.


Chapter Three

In which John Tracy is reacquainted with a the pleasures of Earth in general and good plumbing in particular; Scott Tracy reveals his new career path and tells a lie.

Somewhere, there was a memory of a thin beam of light slicing across his face, a voice asking him a question, but it all got lost in the tangle of restless dreams and diving sleep. He opened his eyes, and saw that the clock by his bed read 4:30. He stared at the numbers for a minute or two, waiting for his brain to make some sort of sense of the information. Then he remembered where he was, sat up, and looked at the clock again. He had slept through to the next day. Actually, thinking about it, he wasn't entirely sure he hadn't gone clear through the whole day and into the next. He felt as if he hadn't so much slept through the night as plowed through it.

A half an hour later, hair still damp and clad in some worn jeans and a Harvard t-shirt, he was wandering quietly down the hallway, hoping he was going in the right direction. As much as he wanted to see if Scott had been serious about the house, he didn't want to start exploring until he had some coffee, and hopefully some food.

He found the kitchen after ducking down a few wrong hallways off the lounge. This wasn't a house, it was a rabbit warren. He knew his father never did anything by halves, but how much room did he really need? He didn't really expect that all of them were going to spend any great amount of time here, did he? The ISA space station was closer to his apartment in Miami than this island.

He found the coffee pot half full and still hot. Well, at least some things hadn't changed. He rummaged around until he found a mug and poured himself a cup. He snagged a couple of pieces of fruit from a bowl on the counter and went to go see if he could find Scott.

He was seated on the balcony, feet up on the railing, staring out over the ocean. He looked up when John pushed the door aside.

"Hey," he said. "You're awake."

"Had to happen sometime," John said, dragging a chair next to Scott'sand assuming the same position. "Is it Wednesday or Thursday?"


"God. Still?"

"It's tomorrow," Scott told him. "You crossed the dateline yesterday, remember?"

"Not really," John said. He took a sip of coffee and stared out at the ocean. This used to be his favorite time of the day, poised on the periphery of sunrise. The world looked almost devoid of color; as if the black of night had to be turned down to gray before the colors of day could be tuned in. It only lasted a few minutes, but he liked it, existing as it did on the edge of things.

"Do you feel better?" Scott asked. "You look better."

"I will after I eat something," John said. He put his coffee down on the ground next to him and started peeling an orange. "The shower here is amazing."

"It is?" Scott said.

John shrugged. "Water actually comes out of it, and it doesn't shut off after two minutes, so I'm a fan."

"Two minutes?"

"There's no water on the moon. Everything is recycled. And rationed. Really, really rationed."

"Right, of course. I keep forgetting."

John bit into the orange, and closed his eyes. Fresh fruit. Earth ruled. He opened his eyes to see Scott looking at him.

"Good orange?"

"Shut up. I'm having a moment."

"What did you miss the most?" Scott asked, curious. "I mean, aside from people."

"Fresh air," John said promptly. No question to that one. "After a while, everything there just smells the same, and it's really not the world's greatest smell. And...weather. Changes in temperature. You know, the temperature is regulated to the exact degree. So you can stand by the window and look out at a landscape that's frying at hundred and seventy degrees and is so bright you can barely look at it - and never feel any warmer. The sun hits the window, but there are so many spectral filters in the glass - if you want to call it glass - and it's tempered in such a way that no heat comes through. You're really in a bubble." He ate another piece of orange. "This is the greatest thing in the universe. You want some?"

"No, I don't want to deprive you," Scott said. "Fresh air, oranges...what else?"

John just shrugged. "It's...it's not like any place on earth, Scott. Obviously. So you just wind up missing - I don't know. What's here and not there? Pretty much the whole world. I missed everything."

"I couldn't deal with something like that," Scott said. "Being cooped up inside, the same people all the time. I'd go crazy."

John agreed. "You probably would. It's hard."

"It doesn't sound like it was too much fun."

"It's not fun. Fun is probably the last word on the list. But it's like running a marathon. That's not fun either." John took a deep breath. "But it's supposed to be good for you."

"Well, if it's any consolation, you nearly gave Dad an aneurysm when you said you were staying up there longer."

"Really?" This was interesting. "Why?"

"You know how Dad gets when something interferes with his plan." Scott said "I - I mean, he was just running around railing against the incompetence of the ISA, and how if they had let NASA take the lead, it wouldn't be such a bureaucratic mess."

"Oh. Well, he's got a point," John said. "But if NASA was running the program, I would have spent the last two years in Florida, waiting for a chance to go up into space to test the effect of zero g on tadpoles or something."

"I guess so," Scott said. John and his father had spent countless hours arguing over the respective differences between ISA and NASA; John knew it bored everyone else senseless.

"So what's with you quitting the Air Force?" John said.

"Well, I never wanted to make a career of it, anyway," Scott said.

John blinked. Apparently, Scott had forgotten his childhood and adolescence.

"Besides, I got a better offer. You want some more coffee?"

John drained his cup and handed it to Scott, who took it and went inside.

The night had lost, and the sun was rising behind him, turning the sea from bloodless gray to turquoise. John stood up and leaned against the railing. He could see a small strip of rock-strewn beach below, ringed by a tangle of palm trees and undergrowth. Somewhere in there, a bird was screaming. He breathed as deeply as he knew how, and tasted salt at the back of his throat.

He heard Scott behind him. "Gordon's awake," he told him, handing John his coffee.

"What better offer?" John asked.

Scott hesitated for a moment so brief that John almost missed it. "Working with Father."

John turned around and leaned against the railing. "Doing what?"

"Working with him on some aircraft he's prototyping."

"You're working for the company?" John asked uncertainly.

"Yeah...on a project-by-project basis, though. And working directly for Father."

John frowned. "But..." he stopped.

"But what?" Scott asked.

"You're really working for the company?"

"I do have a passing acquaintance with aircraft, you know," Scott said, more amused than offended.

"Yeah, and I can fly the shuttle. It doesn't mean I know how to build one," John snapped.

Scott was taken aback. "What's it to you?"

Nothing. It was nothing to him. John didn't know why the idea bugged him.

"Virgil's more involved with design than I am," Scott admitted.

"Virgil's working for Dad too?"

"He's involved with the same project."

"Did Dad recruit everyone while I was away? Is Gordon in on it too?"

Scott raised an eyebrow. "No, Gordon's been in physical therapy."

That shut John up. He sat back down.

"Do you want to hear about the craft we're working on?" Scott asked. "Some of the ideas are really incredible - well, they're really Brains's ideas.Father discovered him at a symposium giving a lecture to an empty theater. The things he's come up with are years ahead of their time. Given the right circumstances, they could really change things here on earth."

John didn't say anything. Scott leaned forward to try to catch his eye.

"You listening, Johnny?"

"Yes. You're changing life as we know it."

Scott was annoyed. "Listen, you don't have to be..."

John cut him off wearily. "Forget it. That's not at you. Build your plane. It's just..." he stopped.

"What?" Scott said, more gently.

"Well, that's what ISA has been telling me since I got there. Actually, that's what ISA has been saying since it was set up. Life, humanity - all the world - will be better through this technology. Through these accomplishments." He looked at his brother. "Have you noticed any improvement? I haven't even noticed any change."

From inside the house, they could hear someone moving around. John turned around to look, but only saw his own reflection. He looked better than yesterday, but the week in zero g, combined with the flight home and the flight here, had taken their toll. Or maybe it was just that he was sitting next to Scott, who looked so at home.

"It's Gordon," Scott reminded John.

"How is he?"

Scott ran his finger around the rim of his coffee cup. "In a way, he's fine." He paused. "Virgil says that he's alive, and everything after that fact is a bonus."

"Does Gordon see it that way?" John asked.

"Well, you can try putting that in a way that won't get your head ripped off. He won't talk about it. He'll joke about it, but it's hard to get him to really say anything substantive. Virgil says that Gordon will come to it in his own time, or something." Scott gave an irritated wave.

"What do you think?" John asked.

"I think Gordon isn't Virgil."

"No argument there."

Scott sighed. "Gordon is a tough kid, but what happened to him...I don't think Virgil can really comprehend it. I know I can't. It's the type of thing you have to live through to really understand. It helped that everyone was there - we all practically lived at the hospital for around two months - but you can't recover for someone. He's got to go through it, and we try to help as much as we can, but he's got to do it by himself."

John listened, staring at the wavering reflection in the surface of his coffee. He had only been on Grissom Base a month or so, still somewhat entranced by the white noise, the lower gravity, the constant night outside the few windows, the utterly inorganic nature of the building. All of that had shattered when Dominic, his boss at the time, had knocked on his door and with an awkward brusqueness informed him that there was a message from Control. Gordon had been in some sort of accident. It was very serious. John remembered the sickening drop in his stomach, like hitting an air pocket and suddenly losing traction on the world. He had stared uncomprehendingly at Dominic's impassive, embarrassed gaze, wondering how it could be that Gordon could be dying and he could be on the moon. Surely that couldn't be right.

"But maybe he'll talk to you about it," Scott was saying, although he didn't sound convinced. "You might have better luck."

John shook himself back into the conversation. "Or Alan."

Scott shook his head. "Alan was in worse shape than Gordon, in a way. Alan won't talk about it at all."

"I guess that makes sense. What does Alan know about death?"

"What do you know about it?" Scott asked sharply.

"Jesus, John." Gordon said, coming out onto the balcony. "You've been here for less than a day, and already onto death lessons?" He pulled a chair forward, and put his feet up on the railing, copying his two brothers. "So what were you talking about?"

"Nothing." Scott said.

"You." John said.

Scott sighed. Gordon grinned. "I've learned my death lesson."

"I figured you had. I was talking about Alan." John said.

"Well, Alan's eighteen," Gordon said, either philosophically or diplomatically, John couldn't tell which. "So. See that shadow over to the right, where the water gets a little bluer?"


"That's the reef. It's almost a mile long. Keep going to your right, or east, and you hit the caves."

"What caves?"

"There's underwater caves on the east side of the island. Keep going, and you hit the nice beach. It's a little less rocky, but there's a pretty strong riptide. So general recreational swimming by those of us who don't have medals for it goes on right down there. What'll it be?"

"We're going swimming?"

"There isn't a whole lot else to do here. Reef, caves, nice beach or rocky beach?"

"Which would you rather?" John asked. "I'm happy with any water."

"He was very excited about the shower," Scott said. John gave him annoyed look.

"You look like you need some sun," Gordon said critically, and John laughed. "Let's do the reef." Gordon got up. "I'll get the stuff." He went inside.

"Don't be all day down there," Scott said. "I know Father wants to talk to you."

John stiffened. "About what?"

"He just wants to talk to you," Scott said.

"About what?" John repeated.

"You've been away for a while, John. I think he just wants to talk to you."

"I'm going to be here as long as he wants me to be here," John said, although that wasn't precisely true. "Is it something pressing?"

"You've been away for over a year, and he wants to talk to you!" Scott said, annoyed. "What are you getting so defensive for?"

"You're making it sound like I'm in trouble or something," John shot back. "And if Father wants to talk to me, he'll talk to me. I don't see why you have to be involved."

He went inside, shouldering past a rumple-headed Virgil who barely dodged out of the way in time to avoid spilling his coffee. Virgil watched him go.

"What was that about?" Virgil asked.

"I have absolutely no idea. But good news: he hasn't changed any."

Virgil nodded absently, and sat in the chair John had vacated. "He's probably just jet-lagged. Shuttle-lagged. Something like that."

"I don't know, Virg. I just can never tell. Half the time we get along great, and half the time he's thirteen again." Scott stopped himself. "It doesn't matter. You're right. He's probably just tired."

"Where's he going?"

"Swimming with Gordon."

Virgil buried his face in his coffee cup. "Why does everyone in this family get up at the crack of dawn? It's like a curse or something."

"He asked why I quit the Air Force."

Virgil looked up. "What did you tell him?"

"That I was working with Father. What he told me to say." Scott let out a breath. "I wish I didn't have to. We shouldn't be lying to them."

"True." The coffee was waking Virgil up. "Look at it this way. We're not lying to them. We're protecting them from the truth."

Scott gave him a wry look. "You'd make a great politician."

Virgil shook his head. "No, I wouldn't. I don't like lying any more than you do. But Father said as soon as his rotation was up, he'd broach it with John. So I'm guessing it's just a matter of time, now."


Chapter Four

 In which John Tracy floats, and Gordon Tracy boils.

Buoyancy, thought John, floating on his back. Add that to the list of why Earth was the best planet in the galaxy. Fresh air, oranges and buoyancy. Floating on water was so wonderfully different from floating in zero gravity. In water, you never let go of the awareness of the weight of your body versus the weight of the water. Every part of you woke up, every part of you seemed to matter.

"I get the feeling you're not really into doing any heavy snorkeling today." Gordon said, appearing beside him.

"You know, this sky is truly amazing." John said.

Gordon looked up briefly. "Yeah, we like it. Listen, do you want to snorkel or not?"

John flipped over and dove down, opening his eyes. The other universe was down here. A school of tiny silver fish darted past him like determined shafts of light. Below him, he could see moving streaks of color - red, orange, silver, white. The sunlight softened as it traveled through the water, illuminating millions of tiny life forms. This was the opposite of outer space, John decided. Almost every inch was claimed, all of it seemed utilized. It was the antithesis of a vacuum. And they were still finding new forms of life, still learning and unlearning by each new discovery. Gordon had once remarked that the ocean was around 90 percent unexplored, a statistic that amazed John. He hoped there were sea monsters still around somewhere.

But not here. He kicked up towards the surface and broke into the harsher light, flinging his hair out of his eyes. He was a little out of breath. Gordon appeared next to him, treading water.

"You just want to swim for a while?" Gordon asked.

"I am so happy right now it's almost painful," John told him matter-of-factly.

Gordon laughed. "You know what? You're like someone who just got out of prison or something."

John leaned back until he was floating on his back again. That sounded pretty accurate.

"Was it really that bad?" Gordon asked.

"No. There just isn't any water."

"Would you say it was bad if it was?" Gordon asked.

"Probably not," John admitted. "Would you?"

"Maybe. Sure."

"You lie," John said quietly. "You are lying, and that makes you a liar."

Gordon didn't answer. John closed his eyes. No water, no sky, no warmth from the sun, and all the oranges tasted like they were from Massachusetts.

He felt a shove and flipped over ungracefully. He spun around but Gordon was gone. He took a deep breath and dove under the water. Gordon was hovering a few feet away, smiling with bubbles in his teeth. John made a threatening gesture, and Gordon took off.

He would never catch him. By the time he was thirteen Gordon could beat him in swimming � not that that was so surprising; at twelve he could beat most of his age group in the state of Arizona. John swam as fast as he could, but he simply wasn't in the proper shape. Grissom Base had a gym, and personnel were required to use it. But John spent a lot of time in zero g in the past two months, and besides, required exercise could be a pretty listless experience.

Gordon was just a dark shadow ahead. John's lungs hurt. He headed towards the surface and shot through, sucking in air.

Gordon appeared about thirty feet away. "Man, you're out of shape," he called. "I'm bad, but you're terrible."

"If I could lift my arms, I'd beat you around the head," John called back. Gordon laughed.

"Do you want to go back?"

"No. Do you?"

"Nope." Gordon dolphin dived under the surface, but John just stayed where he was, treading water. He heard a splash behind him.

"I wasn't awake for the worst part, you know." Gordon said. John turned around. Gordon wasn't even out of breath. John didn't say anything. Gordon skimmed his hand over the surface of the water, making a small wave in the palm of his hand.

"Dad told me...Scott and Virgil came, and Alan took leave...they all just stayed at the hospital the whole time. They were the ones who heard all the bad news, talked to the doctors. I was asleep. I had the easy part."

John waited until he was sure Gordon was done. "But you had seven operations."

"I was asleep for them, too."

"Gordon. Come on."

Gordon was quiet for a moment. "Do you know that pain management is an actual medical specialty?"

"No, I didn't know that."

"It is. You can get a degree in it. It's not like physical therapy, you know. It's not pain abatement or pain curing. It's pain management. Like pain is your employee, and you tell it what to do. Get it all together, make it one thing. Learn how to let it not absolutely kill you."

"Does it work?"

"Actually, it does."

"Do you still go?" John asked.

"No," Gordon said. "But it was a long year."

They wound up wandering down the beach, with Gordon giving him a free-associative lecture on the flora and fauna of the island, about fifty per cent of which John was almost positive Gordon was making up. Gordon had an ingenious way of mixing arcane truth with fiction together in such a way that his brothers always had the suspicion he was lying without actually being able to figure out where the lie was in the statement. All of them at one time or another had fallen prey to one of his stories, although none as famously as Alan, who once informed his high school biology class that raccoons had actually evolved from reptiles and still had scales beneath their fur - something Gordon had told him years ago and completely forgotten about.

"So what are you going to do?" John asked.

"I don't know," Gordon said. "Do you know that there tree is actually carnivorous? It can catch prey."

John regarded it - a fairly innocuous, scruffy specimen covered with a flowering vine � and then eyed his brother suspiciously. "You want me to ask how, and I'm really going to regret it, aren't I."

Gordon stared back guilelessly, and then laughed. "Yeah. I'll give you a pass because you're so enfeebled at the moment." He dodged his brother's swipe. "I guess I could go back to WASP. If I wanted to."

"Do you want to?" John asked.

"I don't know." Gordon put his hands behind his back, laced his fingers together, and stretched. "I can't now - I wouldn't be able to pass the physical." Off John's glance, he added, "I don't have complete mobility."

"You look pretty mobile to me," John said.

Gordon stopped walking, and began turning from the waist, twisting to the right. He got only a few inches, and then stopped. "This is as far as it goes on this side." He turned back and twisted to the left. "I think it's almost full on this side. I've got a doctor's appointment in a couple of weeks, so I'll find out then."


"A lot of reasons. The muscle tissue is all screwed up. Two of my lower vertebrae are fused, which never makes you super bendy. Hey, check it out, right there." He pointed to a brightly colored blur flying into the deeper foliage. "I think it's a parrot."

John turned, but it was gone. Gordon had already started walking, and he had to trot to catch up to him.

"It's a matter of physical therapy," Gordon said. "Swimming helps, so I do that as much as I can. I figure I'll be fine by the end of the year."

"Is that what the doctors say?"

Gordon made an angry dismissive gesture. "What do they know? I've already proved them wrong lots of times. I'm alive. So screw ' em. Anyway, at the end of the year I reckon I could pass the physical and rejoin, if I wanted to. But everybody would...I don't know why it is that we're all such suckers for organizations. Except for Virgil. You ever wonder that?"

"What do you mean?"

"Scott was in the Air Force, you're in ISA, Alan is in NASA, and I was in WASP. I mean, you and me especially. I was always like, nobody's going to make me be a pilot. And you - I remember you bitching all the time about Dad using military time and the company being so hand-in-glove with the military. And now you're in the military."

"I am not in the military," John snapped. "You can't be in the military in an international research organization. What are we going to do, throw calculators at people?"

"You have a uniform. You have rank."

"I have a job title! And...well, yeah, I do have a uniform. But it's not the military, and I don't have any rank."

"You're funded by the government."

"So is the post office."

"Fine. You're not in the military. You're just in a super structured organization with a rigid promotional system that demands complete loyalty and won't tolerate dissent." He grinned at John. "This is all stuff you said to me in a letter, so don't get all snarly face. I'm saying, how did we all wind up in these things? Scott, I get. Alan...well, it won't kill him, I guess. But you and me? We were supposed to be different."

"We were?" John said. "I didn't think it was allowed."

Gordon laughed.

"Yeah. But you know, I was expecting to hate it. I figured I would like the work but hate the structure but really, the structure makes sense." He kicked a small rock out of his way with a spray of sand. "I miss the work."

"You'll find something else." John said. This wasn't so much encouragement as statement of fact. His younger brother had too much energy to stagnate.

"Yeah," Gordon said. "I've got to start thinking about it, though, before Father signs me up for something without telling me."

"He wouldn't do that."

"Oh yeah? Ask Alan. But I think Dad's got some sort of secret plan for me."

"Like what?"

"I don't know. See, every time I try to say something to him like, you know, I'm thinking about doing - whatever, anything - next year, he gives me this lecture on the importance of my physical therapy that I think he got out some drill sergeant's handbook. It's like he doesn't want me to get any ideas about what I'm supposed to do next because he's plotting something. And you know Dad. I could wind up on some sort of horrible corporate-guilt reducing trip to India to bathe lepers for a year or something."

"It builds character," John said, quoting their father's favorite reason for making his sons do just about anything they didn't want to.

"I've got enough character. I've got steel rods made of character in the base of my spine. I'm good for character."

Gordon's vehemence startled John away from what he had been about to say. He tried to frame his next sentence delicately. "Maybe he wants you to concentrate on your physical therapy first so when you do finally decide, you don't..." John hesitated, not sure how much he was allowed to talk about Gordon's injuries.

Gordon reached down and picked up a rock. He hefted it in his hand a couple of times and then reared back and threw it out at the ocean. It went wildly to the left, and fell well short of the waves. He pulled his mouth to one side. "Yeah, I know the routine. Don't get your hopes up."

"What are you talking about?"

Gordon deepened his voice, in imitation of what John supposed was a doctor. "Well, you're a very lucky young man, Mr. Tracy. Everyone else died, but you might be lucky enough to never walk again. We want you to work at this really hard and painful routine, but we don't really think it's going to do any good. So don't get your hopes up."

"They didn't really say that."

"Not out loud. But it was in their voices. I know there was a while there when they thought I wasn't ever gonna walk. I remember that, because for a few days Dad and everyone else couldn't look at me." Gordon shrugged. "But it's frustrating, you know? You're trying your hardest, and everyone around you is saying things like, 'well, you can still lead a full life.'"

"But now...now that you're better..."

Gordon shook his head. "I'm not better. I'm recovering. And if it was up to them, I'd be recovering for the rest of my life and never even get there. At some point, this stuff has got to end and the next part needs to start. I want it to start." He spoke bitterly, sounding more adult than John could ever recall him sounding. "Since nobody expects me to be able to do anything I think what I do next is pretty important."

"You want to take their expectations and shove them down their throats." John said.

"Pretty much. I just need to find a way to do it."

"Well," John said after a minute. "If you find a way, let me know."


Chapter Five

In which John Tracy shows displeasure with his father's control; Jefferson Tracy shows displeasure with John's lack of same; Virgil Tracy calms at least one of them down.

"So what have we got?" Scott asked.

Virgil clicked through the schedule. "Mark and his band of merry men are on time, for a change."

"Have they done all the test scenarios?"

"That's what this is," Virgil said, opening up another document. "At least they followed the matrix this time."


Virgil looked at Scott. "It's at about eighty per cent."

"Are you serious?"

"See for yourself." Virgil rolled his chair over so Scott could see the screen better.

"This is...incredible." Scott murmured. "This is totally unprecedented."

"We may have to go through with it after all."

Scott smiled, still absorbed in the test results. "What did Brains say?"

"Something in calculus I didn't quite catch."

"Well," Scott said. "I think Dad's going to tell Gracetech that we're go."

The two looked at each other for a minute. Virgil grinned. "This is it! This clears the runway. We could be operational at the end of next year."

"If we get the other twenty percent."

Virgil waved it away. "I can do eighty."

"Yeah, likeDad's going to let that happen." Scott reached for the mouse and scrolled through. "This is amazing. I'm buying Mark a car. Think he'd like a Jaguar?"

"Drives a Ford. And yet we still work with him. I know one thing: John is going to flip," Virgil said. "I cannot wait until Dad tells him."

"I wish he'd hurry up. He's been home for a couple of days and I don't know if I can keep this up much longer."

"I don't think Dad will be able to either. Not with this. John is going to love this."

Virgil and Scott turned their heads as they heard footsteps approaching. The door to the lounge banged open, and John emerged, tight-lipped, followed by their father, who looked a little angry and very frustrated.

John didn't even glance at his brothers as he stormed past them, out the door, and down the stairs. Virgil and Scott watched him go. Then they turned and looked at their father, who dropped into the chair behind his desk with a sigh and turned to his computer screen.

Virgil looked at Scott. "Or not."

"If you have something to say," Jeff said dryly, without taking his eyes from the computer screen, "I suggest you say it."

Scott decided for the direct approach. "What happened?"

Their father leaned back in his chair and surveyed his two oldest sons. "Would you agree that we are working towards a greater goal?"

Scott was surprised, but answered honestly. "Yes."

"Would you agree that when working towards a greater goal, personal concerns become secondary?"

"Yes." Scott wondered where he was going with this.

"Would you agree that security is a primary concern of this operation?"


"Good. Now will you go get your little brother and hammer that into his thick skull? He's too fast for me."

Scott grinned. "Really, Father, what happened?"

"I just started to explain the reason I had him brought down from Grissom Base," Jeff said. "And how I thought it was important for family to work together."

Scott was nodding, but Virgil's eyes had widened slightly. "Excuse me, Father. Did you say you had John brought down from Grissom Base?"

Scott was taken aback. "I thought his rotation was up. That's what he told us."

Jeff shook his head. "They would have kept him up there for the next seven years if it was up to them. ISA is the most ill-managed organization ever to own a launching pad. It is ridiculous that somebody of John's ability be sequestered in a foolhardy experiment like that base."

"What did you do?" Scott asked.

"I called Jim Weber and asked him to expedite his release."

Scott let out a low whistle. Virgil rubbed his jaw. "Oh, Father," he murmured. "You shouldn't have done that."

"What was that?"

Virgil looked up. "You shouldn't have done that, Dad."

Jeff looked annoyed. "Virgil, you know as well as I do that what we are doing here is far more important than what John was doing on that moon base."

"Yes, but he doesn't know that," Virgil said impatiently.

Scott jumped in. "He means that you probably should have talked to John while he was on Gus before..." Scott searched for a moment. "Intervening."

"Communications on Gus were not secure," Jeff said. "I understand why he's upset. But once he understands the scope of what we're doing, he'll realize why I had to do it my way."

"And you didn't get a chance to explain before he..." Virgil trailed off, indicating the door.

"No." Jeff said grimly.

"Well, it's been a long time since John's gone on the rampage," Scott said, trying to find some levity.

"I should have expected this." Jeff muttered, more to himself than his sons.

Scott and Virgil glanced at each other. Scott flicked his eyes at the sliding glass door.

"I'm going to go find him," Virgil said. "Make sure he isn't flying back to Sydney or anything." He hurried out the door.

"He's probably just down by the water," Scott said.

His father sighed, and rubbed his eyes. "I didn't think he would react like that. I thought he would jump at the chance to come back down."

Considering that John had volunteered for an extended rotation, Scott wondered how his father had arrived at that conclusion. But this probably wasn't the best time to bring that up.

"You know John," he said. "He needs to look at something from a few thousand angles before he makes up his mind."

Jeff raised an eyebrow. "He certainly made his mind up about joining that program quickly enough."

"No, Father, he really didn't." Scott said. "But Virgil will find him. He'll get him to calm down."

"Well, maybe you're right at that." Jeff didn't sound convinced. "Still, I would have liked to have done this differently. I don't like having to exclude John and the younger boys from this. I don't like you and your brother having to keep secrets from them. It's not the way I like to operate. I told myself that it would all work out, but maybe..." Jeff stopped, and shook his head. "Well, what's done is done." He looked at his watch. "I have a conference call."

Scott knew a dismissal when he heard one. "Call me if you need me."

"Has Mark gotten back to you yet?"

"Eighty per cent."

"Eighty per cent?" His father repeated, startled. "Really?"

Scott nodded.

"Brains has it?"


"All right." Jeff nodded absently, back to staring at his computer screen, his mind already moving to the next item on his agenda. Scott turned around and walked outside.

Virgil was coming up the stairs, panting a little. "I'm going to start running again," he said.

"Good. Find John?"

Virgil stopped near the top step and took a couple of deep breaths. "No."

Scott waited for more, but Virgil just shrugged. "I can't find him."

"Don't you think you should go and look for him? He could be..."

"He could be what? Swimming for the mainland? He's either somewhere down on the beach or he's sulking in the roundhouse. He'll come out when he's calmed down."

Scott moved over to stare at the pool. "That might be a while."

Virgil stood next to him, and kept his voice low. "Can you blame him?"

Scott glanced up at the house, but the sliding glass doors were closed. "I can't believe it. Virg, did you have any idea?"

Virgil shook his head. "Of course not. Scott, John's never going to let this go. My god, do you remember when Father tried to get him to drop that soccer team at Greene because it wasn't a school team?"

Scott frowned. "I think I remember hearing about it, but I was in North Dakota at that point."

"You should have tried actually hearing it. Father came down for a visit and just mentioned it in passing to John, just saying basically, don't overextend yourself. John launched into this tirade about being able to make his own decisions and being in charge of his own life and all that. And of course, you can't yell at Father. It was fifteen rounds in the middle of the quad. I remember wishing the ground would swallow me up."

"And that was a soccer team. This is his career. He worked hard to get into that program," Scott said.

"He's never going to come around."

Scott sighed. "I know. But Virgil, he's got to. We need him. Now he's not going to want to because Dad is going to make him feel like he has to, and..." He put his hand to his forehead and rubbed the spot between his eyes. "This really got screwed up."

"Dad is pretty good at making you feel obligated."

Scott looked at him in surprise. "Do you feel like you have to do this?"

"Sure, a little," Virgil admitted. Then he laughed. "But then I saw the designs for Rescue Two." He looked at Scott. "Truthfully? Of course I felt obligated, but no more obligated than I normally do to Father. I knew I was going to wind up working for the company one way or another. But this made me want to. I never dreamed it would be something like this."

Scott nodded. "Who would?"



"Dad's brain."

"I wish we could tell Gordon about this," Scott said.

"I wish a lot of things." Virgil said. "I guess we should try to find him before Gordon does. And also - I don't want him to think we're on Father's side on this."

"Okay." Scott took a breath. "I want you to talk to him instead of me."

"Why me?" Virgil said. "You're the one he wants to be when he grows up. If that ever happens."

"It would be better, at this point, coming from you. And don't say that."

They heard a sound, and looked up to see their father standing on the balcony.

"Did you talk to your brother?"

"Not yet." Virgil said, shading his eyes from the sun with his hand.

"Tell him to come and talk to me when you find him. I have to go back to Washington tomorrow. Scott, do you feel comfortable going to Luton to meet with Mark, or do you want Brains to go?"

"I'll go," Scott said. "When?"


"Okay." Scott said simply. John had only been back for a few days, and the trip to England could easily mean being gone for a week. He had been looking forward to having some time with his brothers, since he and Virgil were rarely on the island at the same time, but this would shut down that plan. He knew the end goal would pay off, in all ways. But he wished that his father would sometimes consider things other than speed and efficiency when planning his path from point A to point B. Not that he liked his reaction, but he could see why John was pissed.

"Good." Jeff went back inside.

"Luton, huh," Virgil said.

"The armpit of England." Scott sighed. "I better go pull the files while it's still quiet around here. Tell John not to jump off whatever roof he's on."

"Hmm," Virgil said.

John lay stretched on his back on the roof of the roundhouse. It had taken him a few minutes to figure out how to get up, but he knew that there was no way you could build a structure like this and not have a way to get on top of it. Although, that being said, he still couldn't fathom why his father had built the thing in the first place. He could see the twin small figures of his brothers standing by the pool. He knew they wouldn't be able to see him up here, and he really wanted to find a secluded place to sit for a while. He didn't know the island very well, and was dimly afraid that his perception of solitude might be the same as some sort of tropical water moccasin's. The roof of the roundhouse was not too hot to sit on, and offered a spectacular view of the island. John wondered if there was a word that meant "like an island, but much smaller." It was the land equivalent of a puddle, he decided. A tiny green speck in a sea of blue. Highly anonymous. Ridiculously inconvenient. He supposed he could understand why his father liked it. There was a similar tranquility to the part of Kansas where he spent his summers, and the battered white house that leaned on the edge of the sea of wheat was an island of sorts.

He took a deep breath. Living on Grissom had its own specific drawbacks, and one of them was lack of space. Ambiorix Concepcion, who John replaced when he first arrived at Grissom, had given him a piece of advice: compartmentalize. "You need to build walls, or everyone will be inside your head." John had originally thought that something was getting lost in the translation, but it was true. There were usually only around forty people on the base at one time. As with air and water, there was a limited pool of personal information, so that was recycled as well. There were few secrets on the base, and a mood could spread like a virus. After a few months, John began to feel uncomfortably transparent. He started dragging up his old study techniques from Harvard; delving into whatever he was doing at the expense of his surroundings. Occasionally it occurred to him that he was structuring his brain into a small, internal copy of the base, all tiny rooms with heavy, airlocked doors. If it was an effective technique, it wasn't an entirely comfortable thought.

He used it now, trying to calm himself down. His brain was spinning in turmoil, and that was the absolute wrong state if you wanted to discuss something with his father. You needed to be calm, have your facts in hand - on occasion, literally (Virgil had, at sixteen, requested a week-long Swiss ski vacation by himself using a Flash presentation.) � and keep emotion to a minimum. Essentially, you had to argue on his turf. Blind rage was not a good place to start from. He concentrated on the feeling of the sun on his face, arms, and legs. He thought of the view of the roundhouse from the plane, and then the view of earth from Grissom. He had the sinking feeling his sense of perspective hadn't yet caught up to his view.

He heard a sound, and sat up. The trapdoor was lifting, and he watched as Virgil's head emerged. "Ah," Virgil said when he saw John. He flung the door open and climbed out. "Thought I might...wow. How come I've never been up here before?"

John watched him, not saying anything. Virgil slowly turned around, surveying. "You get a sense...boy, we really are in the middle of nowhere, aren't we?"

"I was thinking the same thing myself. What are you doing up here?"

"Well, looking for you, obviously," Virgil said, still scanning his surroundings. "This is really something."

"You could see me from the pool?"

"What? No. I just figured there was a good chance you'd be here."

John was surprised. "You did? Why?"

Virgil glanced at him, amused. "Well, there was this thing we did a few years ago...I forget the name of it...oh, right: childhood."

John frowned. "I need a new hiding place."

"You're twenty-three years old. You're too old for hiding places."

"I'll be twenty-four in three months and you're never too old for hiding places."

"I don't have any hiding places."

"What do you call the piano?"

"A piano. And touch�." Virgil shoved his hands in his pockets. "So..."

"I don't want to talk about it. Really. So you can go away."

Virgil sighed exaggeratedly. "Oh, grasshopper, if only it were that simple." He sat down next to his brother. "Father is going to Washington tomorrow morning, and he wants to talk to you again before he goes."

"But..." John took a breath. "Fine."

"And Scott is going to Luton on Friday and will be gone for a few days."

John looked annoyed. "What the hell is Luton?"

"A sad little city a little north of London."

"What's he doing there?"

"Working. There's a project he's doing for Father."

John looked out over the Pacific for a minute. "He's turning into Father."

Virgil nodded gently. "He works hard. They both do. They've got a lot to do."

"I know," John said. "I'm used to it."

Virgil smiled lightly. "You're not really in a position to talk, considering that you've been on the moon for a year."

"I said I didn't care," John said testily.

"No, you said you were used to it. But okay."

Neither said anything for a while. John stared out over the ocean and eventually closed his eyes.

"Are you falling asleep?" Virgil asked.

John shook his head. "No." He kept his eyes closed. "It's just a little overwhelming."


"This." He waved his hand, taking in the sun bouncing silver spears off the turquoise ocean, the glossy dark green leaves of the trees below them, the rustling sound as the wind stirred their branches, the harsh cries of the birds in the foliage. "I've been living in beige for a year. It feels like I broke through the screen and suddenly I'm in the movie. It's all too real to be real." He opened his eyes. "I still can't get over the sky."

Virgil glanced up. "It's Hopperish today." He looked back at his brother. "Do you want to go back?"

"No." John said. "Wait. Back where?"

"To Gus. To the base."

"Oh." John took a breath. "I don't know. Maybe. I...I don't know. See..." He stopped. "I wanted to talk this over with Dad, and now everything is all screwed up."

Virgil waited. John shook his head. "Forget it."

"Suit yourself."

John slid his eyes to him. "Do you know about this? About what Dad did?"

Virgil deliberated for a minute. John was always fiercely protective of his own privacy. But on the other hand, Virgil was a bad liar, even when the root of it was sympathetic. "Father let it slip."

John's shoulders dropped. "Oh." He rubbed his face with his hands for a moment. "So you can see how things are a bit more complicated." He seemed to be trying to keep something in check.

"Sure," Virgil said. John looked at him sharply, but Virgil kept his expression carefully neutral, and waited.

"You know, the whole reason I even joined ISA in the first place was so I wouldn't have to deal with stuff like this." John jumped up. "I mean, I figured I was doing the smart thing, because on the one hand, I'm a freaking astronaut, which should make him happy, but on the other hand, I'm not in NASA so he can't...so he wouldn't..." he stopped, frustrated. "He's not supposed to be involved in this."

"Did you really join that program to make Father happy?" Virgil asked.

"What? No." John looked irritated. "I mean, no more than Scott did by joining the Air Force."

"Scott joined the Air Force because commercial airlines won't let you do victory rolls. It had nothing to do with Father."

"Right." John said. "If Scott wants to believe that, I'm okay with it." He saw Virgil opening his mouth to protest, and ran him over. "Look, I'm not saying that Scott or any of us were forced in to anything. But don't sit there and tell me there wasn't a lot pressure within this family to follow some pretty specific paths."

"No, I don't think..."

"You're really going to sit there and tell me with a straight face there was no pressure, Yuri?"

Virgil laughed. "Okay, okay. Calm down."

John laughed, more at himself than anything. "Yeah, okay. And I know what you mean � Father didn't say anything when Gordon told him he was joining WASP. Maybe there's pressure, and maybe it's just in our blood - but it's a pretty useless question. I don't have any regrets about what I do for a living, if that's what you mean."

"I've always wondered that," Virgil said. "No offense. But I always thought you were going to go into astronomy."

John sat back down. "Well, everyone thought you were going to Julliard."

"Nobody thought I was going to Julliard," Virgil said. "Including Julliard."

"Okay, but you could gone more in that direction. Art and whatnot."

Virgil smiled. "Don't say it like it's a virus. Yeah, I could have. I thought about it. I would have had to have thrown everything into it. And at the end of the day, all you've got is music, or a painting. It's all for itself, in a way." He paused, eyes unfocused, and then shook his head. "Anyway," he said briskly. "It didn't seem like enough."

"Yeah.. I love astronomy, for pretty much the same reasons as I did when I was eight and looked through a telescope for the first time � there's just this whole 'that's really cool' factor that's never left me. But the bulk of the job would be teaching, and I'd rather eat nails than teach. I can do all that when I'm older, if I want to, but for now...it doesn't seem like enough of an accomplishment."

"Okay, but now you've got the accomplishment. So you don't really have to go back," Virgil said.

"I don't have to do anything," John said. "And I see what you're saying, but � it would be strange to have spent so much time there and never see it again. I wish you could see it. That all of you could see it. It's not like any place you've ever seen, and the pictures don't really do it justice. It's so..." he stopped. "Everything is this dull gray blue color. And you stare out the window day after day, and keep expecting that eventually, you'll see something, some bit of red or yellow - anything. But it never comes. It's as if color itself got starved off the surface. The minute you look at it, you know that this is not where you belong �you can almost feel it on a cellular level. Like our cells remember something we've forgotten. And you get the sense that, you know, we can be there or not, but it won't make a difference. We can scratch around and build whatever we want, but we'll never really disturb it. It's been battered by things way bigger than you or me, and it's colder and harder than all of them. But despite that - or maybe because of it - it's beautiful. It's amazingly beautiful."

"You sound like you miss it," Virgil said, surprised.

"I don't," John said quickly. "But I'll never forget it, if I don't go back. It's sort of humbling. I know Dad's been in space and we've been in manned low-orbit satellites for however many years, but until you actually stand on the surface of something and look down at the Earth...it's vertigo writ large. Really large."

"I'll take your word for it. You couldn't pay me to see it first hand."

John looked at him in surprise. "Really?"

"Really. You make it sound very interesting, Johnny, and I like the pictures you brought, but hell would freeze over before I go walking on the moon."

"Well, not as if I'm in a position to offer you a ride, but why?"

Virgil shook his head. "I don't know. I don't know if I could even say. It feels wrong to me."

"Really?" This was interesting.


"Care to elaborate?"

Virgil took a breath. "I like it on this planet. I evolved here. It feels like home. It's a visceral thing, like you said."

"Hm." John said. "Well. I guess that makes a certain amount of sense." He looked sidelong at Virgil. "Pussy."

Virgil laughed. "I was waiting for that. Also, I don't know about international collaborative technology. Your vidphone was horrible."

"Don't get me started. We had to use that one, though."

"Yeah. That's my point. Something that's built by sixteen governments which barely get along at the best of times doesn't make me confident."

John looked at him, smiling slightly. "You really think that France is going to send bad equipment because Germany screwed them on farm subsidies or something?"

Virgil rolled his eyes. "No. I just think that I'd rather you be in a place where one crack in a window doesn't mean instant death."

John grinned at him. "Aw, Virgil."

"Oh, for crying..."

"I'm touched."

"Shut up."

Rather surprisingly, John did. He got up and walked to the edge of the roof and looked down. "Do you think that's why, then?"

Virgil leaned forward. "I didn't catch that, Johnny."

John turned around. "I said, do you think that's why? Do you think that's why Dad pulled me off the station?"

Virgil shook his head.

"Do you know why he did?"

Virgil nodded.

"Why?" Underneath the anger, Virgil could hear the echo of his brother as a boy.

"You need to talk to Father about it," Virgil said. He thought that John was going to start shouting, but he only looked defeated.

"I thought you would say that," he said. "I know what it is. He wants me to come and work at the company." Virgil thought he looked very tired. "Right?"

"Something like that."

"Don't worry, I'm not going to report you," John said dryly. "I know he doesn't brook any dissention in the ranks and now that you're an employee � by the way, did he ask you, or just lasso you from your old job?"

Virgil paused a moment before answering. "He asked."

"Yeah, I thought he might. Well, you were set from the start - you at least have the right educational background. Honestly, when I was at school, there was a part of me that figured I should major in comparative literature, or psychology - some field where nobody's ever heard of him, and the name doesn't mean anything. I mean, not seriously, but..." He looked at Virgil plaintively. "And this is enough for you? The whole time I was training, I was working harder than anyone, because I never wanted to hear anyone ever say that I was the zero son of the great man who had to get through the program or Grissom doesn't get its doors or something..."

"Whoa, whoa." Virgil jumped up. "Hang on a sec. Father would never - "

"How would you know? It's not like you had to interview for your job. And anyway, do you think the higher-ups at ISA care? Hell, Virgil, for all I know, I was accepted into the program because of who Dad is."

Virgil was surprised by this. "Do you really think so?"

John smiled ruefully. "We'll never know. I don't have such great clearance. But nobody I actually worked with - you know, the actual staff on the base - seemed to make any connection. That is, until a week ago." He smiled again, pained. "You'd think since he built most of the damn thing, it would meet with his approval."

"You have to talk to Father. You're way off base on this."

John turned away and shrugged. "Whatever you say."


Chapter Six

 In which Jefferson Tracy shows his son the secret of Tracy Island.

Virgil was tactful enough to say that he would stay on the roof of the roundhouse for a little longer, while John clambered down to make his way back to the house to find his father. As he walked along the overgrown path, he wondered where the connecting passage between the two houses was. And just what the structure was for. John was beginning to wonder if his father was up to something he hadn't told them all about yet.

He slid aside the door to the main house and stepped into the dim corridor. This house had a lot of corridors, he had noticed. Just like Grissom Base. He wondered what subtle trick of design made a person feel agreeably burrowed in in one, and feel trapped in a maze in the other.

He checked the lounge. Nothing. He took a left down another corridor to try to find that lab Scott had referred to, but took a wrong turn and found himself in the hall where his bedroom was. He turned the corner at the end of that hall and wound up walking into a large, if somewhat austere, bedroom. His father was standing in front of a cherrywood bookcase, and looked up as he walked in.

"Oh. Sorry," John said. "I didn't know..." He paused, and looked around. "I didn't know this was your room."

"Come on in. I was just trying to find something to read."

John walked into the room and sat on the edge of the bed. He watched as his father scanned the shelves. "Virgil said you were going to Washington tomorrow."

"I am," his father said. "I'm sorry it has to cut into your visit. I'll be back as soon as I can, but I'm afraid the trip itself can't be avoided."

"That's all right," John said. "I don't expect you to rearrange your schedule for me."

His father glanced over at him. "I suppose you don't. Which might be a problem in and of itself." He picked a book off the shelf and scanned the back cover. "Tell me, did you read those books I sent you?"

"Of course." His father had sent him a two-volume biography of Alexander Hamilton and an extensively annotated copy of his letters. John could have used all three for free weights. Force-feeding them books was a habit of their father's from an early age.

"We should try to get a chance to talk about them." Jeff said.

"That would be nice."

His father looked at him, sitting politely on the edge of the bed. It was always a bit harder with John. There wasn't much of the meeting of the minds that he had with Scott, or the shared interests that he had with Virgil; and John had none of Gordon and Alan's easy affability. He was prouder of his son than he ever could say, and had missed him terribly while he was gone. But his relationship with John had always been tinged with an odd formality. John had a rigid focus that often reminded Jeff of his own father, and it was a little disconcerting to see the personality trait responsible for some of the larger arguments in his own childhood displayed by his son.

His father put the book back on the shelf. "I realize I should have told you why I brought you down from Grissom Base. I want you to understand that there was no way I could have explained to you while you were still there, and if there was any other way, I would not have done it. I know you're angry."

"I'm not." John said.

"You are, but I appreciate you putting it aside for the moment. And it's important that you understand why I did what I did."

John nodded, expressionless.

Why was traversing physical distances seen as such an accomplishment, Jeff Tracy wondered, when three feet could seem like light years. He took a breath.

"It will be easier if I just show you."

John followed his father out of his bedroom, down the hall and into the lounge.

"I don't know if you've been following some of the developments of the company in the past few years," Jeff said, as they turned off the lounge and went down a hallway John hadn't had a chance to explore yet.

"Um...sort of," John said. "Actually, no. I haven't."

His father chuckled. "That's all right. Your attention has been legitimately diverted. However, if you had, you would have noticed that we've been making some great strides in high speed, fuel-efficient aircraft." Jeff stopped, and opened a door, revealing a flight of stairs. He started down, and John followed, intrigued.

"Scott mentioned something about it, I think. Some new prototypes," John said.

"Yes. There are some things that Scott, Brains, Virgil and I have been working on outside of the company."

"Outside of the company? How?"

"For years, I've been directing the research and development of the company and its subs towards one goal. And in the past eight years, we've made breakthroughs that even I never thought were possible."

John paused on the bottom step. "What goal?" Jeff began striding down the narrow, dimly-lit hallway that stretched before them.

"Do you know why it was so easy for me to leave NASA?" Jeff asked.

"I thought...you know, because of Mom..."

"Well, yes. My responsibility was to you boys. But I could have removed myself out of the space flight program and into something else that required less time away and still remained within the program."

John hadn't known this. "So then why?"

"Because I sat down and asked myself, what is the point of the space program?"

John paused for a half a step. "I just had this conversation with Nancy. I've been having it with myself, too. What did you come up with?"

"That shift of the focus from discovery and exploration by unmanned craft to manned craft was essentially a thinly disguised attempt to add an extra trillion or two to the Pentagon's budget."

John let out a breath. "Do you think that's true of ISA?"

"It depends."

"On what?"

"Intent. Aside from actual weapons development, most technologically is morally neutral. A bomber can drop food. The collaborative nature of ISA is remarkable, if it is exactly what it purports to be. I don't know if it is or not. I don't have any reason to doubt it at the moment, but the program is, relatively speaking, young."

"I guess if you thought they were evil, you wouldn't have taken the contract."

Jeff laughed. "I appreciate your faith in my integrity."

"Well, if it's why you quit NASA..." John said. "Is that really why you left?"

"Yes. And it affected how I wanted the company to be structured. All of the best technological advancements were occurring under the aegis of the military," Jeff explained. "And if they weren't, they were all appropriated by the military. The balance was off. The balance is still off, but I decided that I would begin working to expand technologies that wouldn't be used by the military. Wouldn't be used to exploit the environment. Would, if possible, fix some of the problems that I saw happening around the world."

John raised his eyebrows. His father glanced at him and he quickly shifted his expression back to neutral.

"Of course, this was always the idea in the back of my mind - I would do it if I could. There's a practical side to Tracy Industries as well. But once the corporation really became solidified, I was able to guide the R&D back to my original goal."

"Which was what?"

"Did you read about the earthquake in Eritrea?"

"Yeah," John said. "A few months ago."

"What happened?"

"I don't know. There was an earthquake. I didn't really pay much attention."

"Eritrea is a desperately poor country with an extremely limited infrastructure. When the earthquake struck, their lines of communications were cut. What limited rescue resources they had were woefully inadequate to the task. The western states were slow in sending first responders � I don't need to tell you why - and thousands of people died. Three thousand and twelve, to be exact."

John nodded. This happened all the time.

"Did you read about what happened in Georgia in August?"

John shook his head.

"The flood?"

Feeling chagrined, John shook his head again.

"A tropical storm stalled over Georgia, giving them the worst flooding in the history of the state. Five rivers burst their banks. They declared a state of emergency, but they had a bad hurricane season and had already gone over their FEMA limit, and since most of the rescue groups in the south are privatized, they won't mobilize unless the money is guaranteed."

"I know that," John said. "What happened?"

"Sixty-five people drowned. Every year, it gets worse," Jeff said. "The best equipment is simply beyond the price range of most city and state governments. The programs get cut. People die. And that's in industrialized countries - that's in the country that's supposed to be the number one economic force in the world. In Africa, Latin America, the mideast - some places they don't have anything. And there are limits to where the RCRC will go." Jeff shook his head. "It used to be that governments believed they had a social contract with their people to protect them, and in return the people would consent to be governed. That contract is eroding faster than I ever would have imagined. It's a betrayal of our own humanity. Do you agree?"

"Sure," John said. He was growing more confused with every step he took. He didn't dare stop to question now.

Jeff stopped. They were standing in front of a metal door. Jeff put his hand on a plate, and the door slid open in a swirl of cool, damp air. Jeff motioned for his son to precede him.

Hesitating slightly, John stepped inside. He was standing in a corridor, lit by light bulbs encased in small metal cages hung intermittently along a long cable. He stared ahead of him confusedly, and started when his father placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Go ahead."

John stepped forward into the corridor. They walking on a metal grating. John reached out and touched the wall - it was rough rock, cool and slightly damp. He realized they were inside the mountain.

They had reached the end of the walkway, and were standing in front of a narrow metal door. John smiled. "This has got to be one hell of a plane."

Jeff turned to his son. "I need to extract a promise from you. What you are about to see is the result of ten years of top secret research. No matter what you decide, I need your word that you will never, absolutely never, disclose what you are about to see to anyone."

John regarded his father warily. "You want me to give you my word that I won't tell anyone what's behind this here door?"


John looked at his father with suspicion mixed with the tiniest bit of apprehension. Still, there wasn't any way to say no. "All right. You have it."

His father punched a code on a keypad next to the door, and the door slid open.

It took a moment, his eyes warring with his brain, fact against reason. His eyes took in the massive dark shape in front of him and his brain dismissed it as a shadow and then a support pillar until his gaze traveled higher and higher still. He tipped his head so far back, following it up into darkness that he lost his balance and staggered back, and then backed up more, trying to fit it into his view. It couldn't be. The dull light in the room glinted off dark red metal, and the room was filled with the heavy, acrid smell of oil and baked stone.

Behind him, his father hit a button. "Scott, Virgil, come down to the silo."

John spun around. "This isn't an airplane."

His father smiled. "No, John, it's definitely not an airplane."

John stared back up at the shape that towered above them. Everything in his brain was screaming that this was a complete impossibility, even as the undeniable massive presence above him forced him to acquiesce. It hung above him, looming like building. "Please tell me that this isn't a missile," he whispered.

The shock on his father's face reassured him before his father hastened out a negative.

"This is no payload to this. This is strictly transport."

John stared back up at it. The machine glowed a dull red in the dim light. His father continued.

"This, John, is a Saturn-type rocket capable of reentry and relaunch. It has three chemical rockets used for launch, landing, emergency boost and orbit change, and three ion-drive particle accelerators used in deep space. It's more powerful that the current rockets being used by NASA - and, incidentally, ISA - at the moment, and safer and more versatile than the current shuttle."

Scott and Virgil came into the room, looking sober but happy. John stared at them for a moment, and then turned back to this father.

"This is a rocket."


"This is a space ship?" His voice climbed an octave, and he had to clear his throat.


John stared in wonder at the machine in front of him. "I've never seen anything like it. I don't understand. How can you have ion-drive particle accelerators? That's theoretical technology."

"Not anymore."

John's eyes grew very wide. "NASA has been developing something along these lines, but it's all stil on paper." His voice was veering between excitement and hysteria. "If what you're saying is true...wait a minute." He stopped and wheeled around. "Transport to where?"

"To a currently unmanned low-orbit satellite."

John opened his mouth to say something, but nothing coherent came to mind.

"The satellite is a communications monitoring satellite," his father continued. "It has the ability - or it will when the equipment is installed - to capture and process all communications - radio, cell phone, and � well, let's focus on those two - from pretty much anywhere on earth."

John raised his eyebrows briefly, impressed despite himself. "Seriously?"

"Seriously," Jeff said dryly.

John looked down for a moment, thinking. "Who is capturing all this information?"

"I am. Or, I will be. We will be."

"The company is..."

"Not the company. Us."



"You have a satellite. Personally."


John shook his head. "No."


"You don't have a satellite, Dad. I'm sorry, but individuals are not allowed to put satellites into space. And there are federal laws against monitoring cell phone transmissions. What you're talking about is completely illegal."

"I'm not interested in eavesdropping..." Jeff said impatiently.

"I'm sure that will reassure the CIA, the FBI, and the millions of private citizens who..."

"There is a larger purpose here," Jeff cut him off sharply.

"Yeah, that's what's so alarming," John shot back. "Every violation of civil liberties begins with..."

"All right, all right," Scott cut in. "We are way off track here." He looked at his younger brother. "Just hold up for a second, Thomas Jefferson." He turned to face his father. "I think you need to back up and explain the whole thing. Maybe a little more slowly." He pointed a warning finger at John. "And you need to listen."


Chapter Seven

In which John Tracy tries to process the scope of the project, with limited success.

An hour later, the four men were seated out on the balcony overlooking the pool. John hadn't said anything since they emerged from the silo, and Scott kept glancing at him worriedly every so often. John was staring out over the ocean with the look of someone who was listening intently to something far away.

"Gordon doesn't know." John broke the silence. It wasn't a question.

"Gordon has been concentrating on his rehabilitation," Jeff said. "That's where I want him focusing at the moment. Also, I wanted to tell you before I brought Gordon and Alan in on it."

"Why?" John asked.

"I've included you boys as I need you. I could have used you a year ago, John, but you made the decision to take that position on Grissom Base and I didn't want to interfere. Scott and Virgil have been assisting me in this for the past three years. But I've been working on this, in one way or another, since before Scott started high school."

"We didn't know the scope of the whole operation," Virgil said. "Well, I didn't. Scott did. I thought I was just working on experimental aircraft. Really big experimental aircraft."

"So that's why you resigned your commission," John said to Scott, who nodded, and then smiled.

"Got a better offer."

John just nodded, and went back to staring out at the ocean.

"So there's no staff," he said abruptly. "It's just..."

"Just us," Scott said cheerfully.

"Are you trained for this?" John asked.

"What we don't already know we're learning."

John nodded again. Virgil thought that John was displaying all the symptoms of someone whose brain had recently melted. He didn't blame him, though. His father had explained the whole process to him a little better than he had to John. On the other hand, Virgil thought, he hadn't automatically assumed the whole operation had a malevolent side. Sometimes Virgil really wondered about his brother.

"Well, John," Jeff said. "What do you think?"

John took a breath. "I think..." he stopped. "I think..." He looked from his brothers to his father. "I think you are all out of your minds." He laughed unhappily. "I don't understand how you think you can do this. You can't do this."

Scott started to interrupt, but Jeff put a hand on his arm. "Go ahead, John."

"I don't know where to start," John said. "Barring the fact that monitoring or capturing communications is illegal in this country - god knows what international laws you'd be breaking - barring that. And barring the fact that the minute you launch a rocket from this island there are going to be a few people who are going to object to you personally owning such technology..."

"Like who?" Virgil asked.

John looked at his brother. "I don't know, Virg - NATO? The EU? Hell, Fiji's probably going to think you're going to take them down. One launch and suddenly Dad's the head of the smallest rogue state on the State Department's list."

His father's mouth twitched. "You can rest assured nobody will think they're being invaded."

John was stung by the idea that his father was laughing at him. "And you're going to have Scott and Virgil flying prototypes..."

"They're not prototypes anymore." Virgil said mildly. "I take your point, John, but we've been testing them for over a year now."

John turned to his brothers. "You don't think you're going to get shot down?"

"We're not invading countries," Virgil said.

"Which I'm sure they'll find out when they pick apart the smoking wreckage of that giant flying tick or whatever! Nobody is going to accept this. I am the world, and I say no."

"Why?" Virgil demanded.

"Because it doesn't exist here!" He turned to his father, who was watching him with an impassive expression on his face. "Father, even if it's for a good cause, how are they going to know that if you don't tell them who you are? You want to be anonymous and independent. But anonymous and independent scares the crap out of people."

Virgil jumped in. "You know, Margaret Meade said 'Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Because it's the only thing that ever has.'"

"I don't doubt that," John said. "I'm just saying they don't always change it for the better."

Virgil looked like he was ready to retort, but Scott put up a hand.

"John, I know this is a lot to process, but think for minute. Think about what it means. Real people, real problems, real solutions. It's concrete. And it is, for lack of a better word, good. You know when you were saying that ISA had all this technology and it was supposed to make the world better? Well, I'm not saying we're going to make the world better, but we can save some lives. There's no wrong in it."

"I just...I just don't get it. If you want to save people or whatever, there are like eight billion charities that provide relief. Medicine Sans Frontiers, the IRCRC, Oxfam..."

Jeff shook his head. "No. Those are relief organizations. They are after the fact. We are during. We are immediate. We are who you call while it's happening."

"How?" John asked. "What are we, nine one two?"

"Any radio signal," Jeff Tracy said. "Any phone call. Any transmission in any language that goes into the ether will be picked up by our satellite, run through filters and then analyzed by our space monitor to determine the authenticity, severity, and feasibility of the call."

"I don't see how that's possible."

"There are more things between my satellite and this island, John, than are dreamt of in your philosophies," Jeff said. "Brains designed the programs."

"Brains..." John muttered. "I haven't even gotten to him yet."

"There is one thing we haven't discussed yet." Jeff continued.

"What's that?"

"Where you come in."

"Where I come in?" John repeated. "I come in? I come in?"

"Of course," his father said. "You're an integral part of my plan. All of you boys have a part to play."

"I don't know how to..." John began, and then stopped. "What part?"

"I want you on the satellite."

"You said it was an unmanned satellite."

"It is. It's waiting for you."

John stared at his father in astonishment. Smiling, his father continued. "The telescope isn't as good as ISA's, but it's pretty good in its own right. Brains has designed a few systems with astronomy in mind; I think you'll be pleased. The bulk of the work, naturally, is keeping track of the communications information that the computer will be analyzing. You'll also be the group's first point of contact. Your computer ability and your facility with languages make you ideally suited for this job."

Since John wasn't saying anything, his father went on. "Naturally, we'll be using you for rescues as well. Everyone will be used for rescues as they are needed, so when you're not in the station, you'll be expected to fill your responsibility as a backup member of the team. You'll be swapping off rotations with Alan, but at first, I'd prefer to gradually ease Alan into satellite rotation, and let you do bulk of the satellite duty. You're used to the conditions, and I'm more comfortable having you troubleshoot the systems than I am Alan. Of course, the first thing we'll need to do is get you trained on the rocket - Rescue Three. After we're done here, I'll take you down to the lab to talk to Brains, and we can start you on a schedule."

"Wait." John put his hand up. "Just...wait a second." It was all too much. "I � I'm...this is the job you brought me down for? You took away my career at ISA for this completely insane proposition?"

"It's not insane," Virgil said calmly. "I know how you feel, but it's not."

"Virgil..." Jeff Tracy threw his son a quieting glance.

"I'm not even sure this entire thing exists and you want me to quit my job and live in the middle of nowhere...or the middle of space..." John put his hand on his forehead.

"John, you haven't been so far away that you can't see what's happening, can you? Governments are abandoning the people they're supposed to provide for. Walls are being built, not torn down. Everyone is hemmed in by politics and ambition. But we can do this; we can go over walls; we can be outside of politics." Jeff Tracy leaned forward, intent on his point. "We can be something the world has never seen before. It won't just be what we do. It will be what we represent, as well."

"Dad, I know what you're trying to do, but you can't just force the world to believe what you believe - or believe in you just because you say so. The world doesn't work that way."

Jeff Tracy sat back, and John saw a flicker of disappointment in his eyes.

"Son, we're not going to be dropping in on people out of thin air. We're going to get the information out there that we exist before we start full-scale operations. This has been in planning for a very long time, and while I understand your objections, don't think you're the first one to think of them. I want you to take some time and think it over. There's a role in this for you, if you want it. If you don't, that's within your rights."

He rose. "All of the plans for the rocket and the satellite are in Brains' lab. You can talk to him about them if you have any questions about specifics. I suggest you take a look at them. I think you'll find that idealistic and realistic are not the opposites you think they are."

He rose from the balcony, and went into the house.


Chapter Eight

In which John Tracy begins to appreciate some genius; an engaging charter pilot brings apples; two planes go out, and one comes back.

Scott stood up and leaned against the railing. John slid down a little in his chair. Virgil was tapping his fingers on his knee, eyes down.

"You know what your problem is, John?" Virgil began. He barely got half the sentence out before John came roaring back the other way.

"If you think I'm going to sit here and listen to you..."

"Not now," Scott said. His tired tone made both of his brothers stop and look at him, surprised. "We're not doing this right now. Virgil, cut it out. John, go away."

"What do you mean, go away?"

Scott waved his hand. "Go away. Beat it. Scram. I don't want to listen to you argue, and it's obvious that you're not going to be able to not argue, so take it somewhere else. Same for you, Virgil."

"What are you going to do?" John said, feeling like he was about nine.

Scott stood up. "I've got to get ready to go to Luton and I don't need two hornet-mad brothers buzzing around me while I'm getting organized." He stuck his hands in his back pockets and gave John an unexpectedly warm smile. "Try to resist the urge to call the guys in white coats while I'm gone, okay?"

"What did you think when he told you?" John asked.

"That he was off his rocker. It took me a while. But you know Dad. He has a way of making the impossible seem possible."

"That's not the same as it actually being possible."

"Yes," Scott agreed. "And for that, we have Brains."

John just shook his head. "I just don't..."

"I know you don't," Scott said. "Go and do it somewhere else."

John could appreciate that. He pulled the door aside and walked, muttering to himself, out into the lounge. Virgil reached over and shut the door behind him.

"Can we talk about him a little?" Virgil asked.

Scott shook his head. "He's not completely wrong, Virgil. What he's saying isn't out of character for the rest of the world."

"I know," Virgil said. "But that's not the point. We're not supposed to be the rest of the world. We're supposed to be better." He saw Scott's surprised expression and smiled. "Not now. I mean when this thing gets off the ground. And anyway, I'm not saying we are better. I'm just saying we're supposed to be."

Scott sighed, and turned around to look out at the ocean. "I guess it's like what Dad always said about privilege."

Virgil lowered his voice into a gruff imitation of their father. "Privilege requires greater sacrifice because it isn't earned?" He switched to his normal voice. "Yeah. You know what's stranger? That all those platitudes Dad shoved at us when we were growing up actually formed into a coherent philosophy."

"I wasn't expecting that either," Scott admitted. "If this rescue thing doesn't pan out, maybe he should open his own church."

John stood on the top of the stairs, listening to the sounds of the island. The gentle slap of the water in the pool against the filter. Below him, the slow, impersonal beat of the ocean against the shore.

He wondered how he could have been so na�ve, never to question. His father moved to an island in the middle of nowhere because he wanted to relax? What could be the reason, if not because of the total secrecy it afforded?

But even John hadn't believed it. It was just another property his father had bought; besides, he was too familiar with his father's peripatetic lifestyle to believe he'd ever really settle down here. No, it would look like to everyone else what it had looked like to John: a successful business man buying that most priceless commodity: privacy. It was genius.

Except for the rest of it.

He started down the stairs. It was ridiculous. He was the one who had been living in half-isolation for a year; he was the one who was supposed to come back crazy. Not everyone else. He had been living in a place that was the opposite of normal; a completely artificial environment. He wanted to come back to normalcy; to traffic noise, to bad top-40 radio and people without advanced degrees.

He had pictured coming home and having it actually feel like home. Late nights, listening to his brothers talk: they were all accomplished storytellers, especially Scott and Gordon. He wanted to hear Virgil play the piano and hear Alan's rants on how incredibly astronomically fabu his NASA training was. He had wanted to talk to his father about what he should do at ISA, if he should move to the private sector, or go back to school and get his Ph.D. He had pictured taking a little vacation on this private island paradise; sunning on the beach, drinking drinks with umbrellas.

But it was all a lie. The mountain hid a rocket and two airplanes that the DOD would probably kill to get their hands on. It wasn't paradise, it was camouflage.

And his father wanted him as an accomplice.

He couldn't quite admit to himself that the idea was somewhat enticing. He wouldn't want to pull another straight year there, but there was something about being in space, the feeling of being between the commonplace and the unfathomable - not to mention having a mini-observatory of his own. If this Brains character could build a freaking rocket, he could probably manage a decent telescope. John could finally show the world "unqualified."

But he couldn't. You couldn't just toss a satellite into orbit; you couldn't just invade airspace in the name of some nebulous good.

The sound of an engine startled him, and he looked up to see a small yellow plane winging in a circle overhead. As it passed over the house it waggled its wings, and, out of an unshakable habit that he and all his brothers developed when they were small, he waved vigorously to the plane as it passed overhead. He saw that it was headed for the runway, and he trotted down the rest of the stairs and onto the tarmac.

He stood on the edge of the runway under the palm trees as the tiny plane landed with a few bumps - it was pretty windy - and taxied to a stop. After a minute, the door opened and Nancy stuck her head out. "Hey, it's the prodigal son!"

"Unsacrificed," John called, coming forward. "What are you doing here?"

"Bringing the mail," Nancy said. She opened the door and flung a small canvas bag at John, missing him by a few inches. John dodged out of the way just in time.

"Hey, you almost killed me!"

"And here I thought you were the smart one," Nancy laughed. "Don't you have enough sense to get out of the way?"

She disappeared back into the plane. John picked up the bag. "What do you...hey!" He jumped back as another bag came flying out the door. "Okay, you were aiming for me that time," John said.

"Oh, what, a big strong boy like you scared by a wee little girl like me?" Nancy said, appearing back in the doorway.

"Are you finished?" John asked.

"I am."

John picked up the second bag. It was heavier than the first, and felt lumpy. "What's in this?"

"Apples for your father. Julie's idea. Don't worry, they're wrapped up." She folded her arms and leaned against the doorway. "And how is island life treating you?"

"Unfairly, but the rest of the planet has been pretty spectacular," John said. "I don't know if you're aware of the tremendous amount of water here, but it's mostly behind you and really nice to swim in. Plus, you've got an atmosphere, which I've never really given enough credit to."

"Yes, Earth's a lovely little place once you get acclimated," Nancy said with a smile. "And are you enjoying being home?"

John thought for a moment. "Yes, but it's been unexpectedly complicated."

"All life is unexpectedly complicated," Nancy said. "That's what makes it interesting."

"I guess so. I miss civilization," John said. "But it's nice to see everyone again."

"I'm sure civilization misses you, too. Crash any cars yet?"

"There aren't any cars to crash." Of course, he could always crash a giant rocket into the Sydney Opera house. That would probably impress her. "But I'll see what I can do when I get back to Florida."

Nancy smiled. "Good. Tell the tall one I made it in seventy five."

"Seventy five what?"

"Minutes. Also, remind him that I am more pilot than he could ever hope to be."

John laughed. "Okay."

"Don't forget. He needs constant reminding, that one does. Give my regards to your father."

"Will do." John swung the mailbag and the bag of apples over his shoulder. "Have a safe trip back."

"I will," Nancy said. "See you around." She waved and shut the door. John watched as the plane taxied down the runway and then lifted into the sky. He turned and headed towards the stairs. He could see Gordon making his way down.

"Where've you been?" Gordon asked, when they met halfway.

"Picking apples." John thrust one of the bags at his brother.

"Before that."

"Talking to Father."

"Where?" Gordon looked annoyed. "I was looking for everyone and everyone was gone."

John opened his mouth to try to think of what to say. He hadn't prepared himself to lie to his brother.

"Well..." he started to say, but Gordon was frowning.

"Shh." Gordon said, putting his hand out to quiet John. "What is that?"

John listened for a moment, and then spun around.

Later, John had thought it was funny that the sound was exactly like it was in old World War II movies, when somebody shoots down a Hurricane or a Messerschmitt. That same sound, the speed of the fall pitching the engine sound higher and higher.

"Where is it?" Gordon whispered. "Is it Nancy?"

John was scanning the sky with his hand shading his eyes. He pointed. Between the blue of the sky and the blue of the ocean was a small shape, slowly morphing into wings, angle strange and awkward, aiming for the wrong horizon. John's eyes widened.

"We've got to..." he turned and began running up the stairs to the house, taking them two at a time. He could hear Gordon behind him.

"Dad!" Gordon shouted.

Virgil appeared, running down the stairs. "Get up here, there's..." He stopped, seeing their faces and realized they knew. "Scott's getting the jet out." He looked up and his expression blanched. John turned around just in time to see the little plane hit the water. It seemed to bounce and flip over, but it was hard to tell at this distance. He looked up at Virgil, who paled.

"The jet?" John said.

"That's all we have," Virgil said angrily.

"Where's Dad?" Gordon demanded. He tried to push by John, who moved to let him go, but he was stopped by Virgil, who was staring over his head out at the water.

"She radioed she was having problems," Virgil said distantly.

John looked up at him. "We need to get a hold of WASP. What's Father doing?"

"He's with Scott. Come on."

The three ran up the rest of the stairs and into the house. Virgil hurried over to radio and spun the dial.

"Mayday, mayday, mayday," Virgil said tensely, and waited.

A voice cracked in over the line.

"WASP Sydney responding to mayday. What is the nature of the emergency?"

"This is Virgil Tracy from location latitude 22.23 S longtitude 129.35 W. Jane Air plane tail number VH-WEN is down near our location. One person aboard."

"Jane Air number VH-WEN out of Badgery Creek airport?"

"Affirmative," Virgil said shortly.

"We'll contact the airport to get the GPS on the aircraft and take appropriate action, sir. Do you have a visual on the craft?" the voice said.

Virgil looked at John, who was standing by the window. John shook his head.

"Negative," Virgil said.

"Sir, we've contacted Badgery Creek ATC. They have Jane Air Flight One lost on radar. We're rerouting the nearest vessel to the location."


"There goes Scott," John said. As he spoke, the sound of the jet taking off filled the room.

Virgil nodded. He switched the radio. "Tracy Island to Tracy One."

"Tracy One, go ahead."

"WASP contacted ATC at Badgery Creek and they've dispatching their ship to the GPS location."

"Affirmative," Scott replied.

Jeff Tracy walked into the room. His face looked grim.

"I've radioed WASP," Virgil said. "They're dispatching a vessel."

"How far away are they?"

Virgil shook his head. "I don't know."

Jeff put his hand on his son's shoulders. "All right. Scott will let us know what he finds."

John turned from sliding glass doors to face his father. "Can you do anything else?

Gordon looked up, surprised.

"No, John, I can't," Jeff said.

"You don't have anything here at all that can get out there?" John asked. "Anything?"

Jeff looked pained, and he shook his head. "No. Not now."

"We had a little motorboat," Gordon said tonelessly. "But Virgil took the motor apart."

John turned back to staring at the ocean.

"Can you see Scott?" Gordon asked.

"I'm not sure," John said. "There's a lot of glare."

"Should I try to get him?" Virgil asked his father, who shook his head.

"Don't bother him. He'll contact you as soon as he knows something."

"Tracy One to Tracy Island," Scott's voice came over the radio. "I have a visual."

Gordon and John jumped up and came over to where Virgil and their father stood by the radio. Scott's voice sounded thin as it came through the speaker.

"It's...it's wreckage, mostly. I'm turning to come lower, so hang on a sec."

"Can you see Nancy?" Virgil asked.

There was just the crackle of the open line for a moment, and then Scott's voice came over again. "I can see the fuselage and the tail...it looks like the tail broke off...wait...I think...I think I can see her. Hang on, I'm going to contact WASP."

The four men waited in silence, heads down around the radio.

"Tracy One to Tracy Island." Scott's voice broke through. "They've got someone about a half an hour away."

"Can you see her?"

"I'm coming up now...yes. That's her! That is definitely her."

The four men crowded closer around the radio. Gordon's eyes were very wide. "Is she moving?"

There was a pause. "She's holding on to...I'm not exactly sure what, but I can't tell...I can't tell what her condition is."

"Is she all right?" Virgil asked.

"I can't tell," Scott said, clearly frustrated. "I go any lower or slower in this thing I'll stall out."

"All right, Scott. Just keep circling until you can get an idea," Jeff said.

"I'm not going anywhere," Scott said. "I'll stay here until WASP gets here."

"A half an hour is a long time to be in the water," Gordon said softly. "By yourself."

John glanced at him, but he was still staring at the radio. Scott came on again.

"Okay, I can see her now. She's holding onto a piece of the seat, I think. She doesn't look injured from here, but I can't really tell. But she seems to be pretty secure on the cushion. As far as I can tell, she's looks...oh, she just got swamped by a pretty big wave. She's been knocked off the seat." He stopped. The crackle of static on the line seemed very loud. After a minute Scott's voice came through again.

"She's not holding on anymore. She's not swimming...I don't think she can..." The communication broke off.

Virgil closed his eyes.

"She's..." Scott cut himself off. "I've got to circle around again."

Nobody in the lounge said anything. The radio hummed quietly to itself.

"I'm coming around." Scott's voice broke the silence. "She might have just been knocked out by that wave."

Virgil put the handset down on the table and straightened up, shoving his hands into his pockets. Gordon had his hand to his mouth, biting his thumbnail. Jeff took a long breath and let it out silently.

The radio cracked. "Virgil?"

Virgil picked up the handset. "I'm here. We're here."

"I can't see her. I don't...I can't see her any more."

Jeff gently took the handset from Virgil's grasp. "Scott? Come home, son."

There was the briefest of pauses, and then Scott said, "Tracy One to Tracy Island. I'll wait for WASP. They'll be here in about twenty minutes. Tracy One out."


Chapter Nine

 Aftermaths; John Tracy and Virgil Tracy have a fight; John makes a decision.

Virgil had wanted to meet Scott's plane on the runway, but their father had been adamant. "Leave him be, for now. He knows where we are." A few minutes later, he went into another room to try and get Julie on the phone. John, Virgil, and Gordon were left in the lounge by themselves. After a moment, Gordon slammed angrily out of the room.

John looked over at Virgil, who was sitting at the piano, elbows resting on the closed cover, chin on his hand. "Do you think I should go and talk to him?"

Virgil slowly raised his eyes to John. John felt like he was being scrutinized through the wrong end of a telescope, reduced to a distant speck in the room. "I have no idea," Virgil said. "Maybe."

John looked down. In the conference room on Grissom, there was a large window that afforded a great view of the Earth. John liked to hang out there in his down time, staring at the planet as it hung implacably in the blackness of space. Sometimes, though, the view would overwhelm him. He would think of all the people, all the life, swarming over the surface at any given moment, the shortness of all of their lives. Go back a century, and it was the same. Go back a millennia, and not much had changed; millions of people in a brief struggle with life that they eventually lost. And the Earth still hung there, serenely spinning, absorbing all. It didn't so much make him feel insignificant as it made him wonder if everything was insignificant. He had found this oddly reassuring, although he didn't know if too many people shared his feelings - a lot of people on Gus avoided the room. But he found it comforting; the planet would probably prevail.

He doubted it was anything Gordon wanted to hear at the moment.

His father walked back into the room, looking pale. "I've spoken to Julie. She's..." He stopped speaking. "She's exactly as you would expect."

Virgil looked over at his father. His eyes were very bright, and his voice sounded a little unsteady. "Should we...do anything?"

"We'll do whatever we're asked to do, but at the moment..." he broke off and walked over to the window. "Scott should be here in a minute."

Virgil shook his head. "He's going to be...poor Scott."

"Yes. But he'll be all right."

"Yeah. He's pretty tough," said Virgil, trying to convince himself.

"No," Jeff said, with a low note of sadness in his voice. "But he is a soldier."

Virgil looked surprised. John regarded at his father thoughtfully.

"I don't think..." Jeff began slowly. "I don't think Scott should go to England. I'll go. I'll take Brains inst�" He stopped, realizing Brains knew nothing of the accident. "I'll go talk to Brains." He walked swiftly out of the room.

John looked over at Virgil, but he was still sitting at the piano, staring out into space. John shifted uncomfortably on the couch. He remembered when he was in high school, a classmate had been killed in a drunk driving accident. He had known the boy, been friends, although not close ones. But at the funeral, he watched as the boy's parents dissolved under the weight of their own grief and felt like any sadness he might feel was almost unworthy. He felt a little like that now.

They sat in silence for almost half an hour, until Scott came into the lounge. He stopped when he saw them.

"Are you guys all right?"

"We're fine," Virgil said. "Are you all right?"

Scott nodded briefly, and looked directly at John. "How about you, Johnny. You okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." John stopped and looked closely at his brother. "Are you..."

Scott cut him off. "Where's Gordon? And where's Dad?"

"Dad's talking to Brains," Virgil said. "And Gordon I'm not sure. He left...he was..." Virgil stopped. "He left."

Scott looked irritated. "Somebody should probably go and find him."

John stood up instantly. "I'll go."

Scott closed his eyes and rubbed the spot between his eyebrows. "No. I'll do it."

"No." John was adamant. "I'll go. Anyway, you should probably go talk to Father."

"Right." Scott took a deep breath. "He's in the lab?"

"I think so." Virgil said.

Scott nodded, took another breath, and walked out of the room.

Virgil looked at John. "Better go get Gordon."

"I don't know what to say to him."

"You don't actually have to say anything, you know," Virgil said.

"I don't mean Gordon. I mean Scott."

"Yeah, I know. I know." Virgil sighed. "I can't think of anything, either. He's the one who..." he stopped. "This is crazy. Go get Gordon."

John headed towards the sliding doors.

"You know, this is why." Virgil said.

John stopped, and turned around. Virgil was standing with one hand on the piano, and his voice was shaking slightly.

"This is why Father wants us to do this thing. Because we feel like this right now. Because a woman who was sweet and funny and kind is dead for some stupid reason, but the next time...the next time we can get there in time and this won't have to happen." Virgil sounded angry. "Do you understand this, John? We're not dealing with the abstract here. This is actual life and actual death. The next time, nobody feels like this. The next time, she won't die."

John looked at Virgil until he was sure that he was finished speaking, and then wordlessly slid the doors open and went outside.

Nancy's death shelved the discussion of their father's plan for a few days. Not that they were unwilling to discuss it, but Jeff decided that he and Brains would go to England instead of Scott, tacking the trip on the end of his Washington trip. Scott had tried to argue � more than anything, he was itching to do something, but his father instructed him to stay and look after his brothers.

No matter that all Tracys had an allergy to being �looked after', Scott thought, leaning over the balcony,two days after their father had departed. Nobody really knew what to say to each other. Their private grief seem to magnify their worst traits, Scott thought. Gordon was angry, walking stiffly around the apartment, answering any question with a bitterly sarcastic remark. John seemed to be trying to stay out of everyone's way, and Scott assumed he had been roaming around the island, because he hadn't seen him. Virgil had simply reported that he felt sad about it, and probably would for a while, which was normal, and if Scott wanted to talk about it, he was more than welcome. Scott sometimes wondered if one of these days, all Virgil's Zen-like serenity wasn't going to shatter into some maelstrom of destruction.

Julie had sent word that at Nancy's family'srequest, the funeral was for family only. They sent flowers. Scott didn't know what kind; one of the assistants in the head office handled it. Virgil had tried to call Julie, but couldn't get hold of her. Scott didn't want to talk to her. He was afraid she'd ask for details, and he didn't have any that would comfort her. Did she signal for help? Did she look like she was in pain? Did she suffer?

Was she alive when she hit the water? Was there anything Scott could have done?

Far across the ocean, there were a few muted flashes of lightning. Storm season was starting. Last year, Scott and his father had watched while the merest edge of a typhoon passed within a few miles of the island. They got off lightly, with winds of only 90 mph, and a surge of around foot. They stood in the lounge with the lights off, hands cupped around the window, watching the sheets of rain and the palm trees blown almost horizontal. It reminded Scott why people used to think the gods were pissed off most of the time. The glass had trembled under their hands, rattling from the gusts. The next morning, as Scott glumly surveyed the patio he was going to have to spend all day clearing, his father had remarked that he had the house built with the storm season in mind. "A little forethought can avoid a lot of disasters," he had remarked with satisfaction.

But not all of them.

Gordon walked out onto the balcony, stirring Scott out of his reverie. "Virgil says do you want to watch a movie." He leaned on the railing of the balcony and let the wind ruffle his hair.

"If I say no, is Virgil going to come out with that nursemaid look on his face and ask me if I'd rather talk instead?" Scott asked.

"No," Virgil said. "I'm going to take the movie and shove it up your ass."

Gordon laughed as Scott turned in surprise to see his brother leaning against the door.

"Sorry," Scott said, meaning it.

"Go to hell" Virgil muttered, but came out on the balcony. The wind was blowing straight at them, damp and smelling of rain. A thin layer of clouds were scudding across the sky, backlit by the almost full moon. The sky put Virgil in mind of a giant reptile skin.

"Feels like spring," Gordon said.

"Doesn't it? The wind here gets deceptive," Virgil said. "I don't think I'm ever going to get used to the weather."

"I hear that. I miss snow," Gordon said. "I miss fall. I miss leaf piles."

"So says the weasel who always managed to get out of raking and shoveling," Scott said

"I think if it wasn't for the storms, Father wouldn't live here," Virgil said. "It's too comfortable."

"Except for the complete and total isolation," Gordon said.

"Builds character," Virgil said with a grin at his brother.

"And what are we supposed to do with all this character after we've built it?" Gordon asked.

"Keep it �til you need it," Scott said.

"Sell it," Virgil said. "It's all part of the trust fund."

Scott smiled, but Gordon's expression clouded.

"This is such a waste of time," he muttered, and brushed past Virgil to go back into the house, pointedly pulling the door shut behind him.

Virgil shook his head and looked at his older brother, who just shrugged.

"He'll be all right," Scott said. "It just comes out at strange angles."

Virgil nodded. "And you?"

"You have got to stop asking me. I'm fine." Scott said wearily.

"Well," Virgil said after a minute. "You're not saying anything."

"What could I possibly say that would make any difference?" Scott asked.

"You feel guilty." Virgil said. "That's natural, but it's a very misplaced feeling..."

Scott cut him off. "I don't feel guilty, Virgil. I was in the Peninsula in '22. Do you really think I don't know the difference between accidental death and deliberate death? Do you really think I have the time to go around looking for guilt to take on? Nancy died because of one of two things: plane malfunction or pilot error, but in either case, I'm pretty sure the impact of the crash killed her. It's a tragedy, but it's not my tragedy. None of this has anything to do with me." He looked at Virgil. "She was my friend, Virg, and she's dead. I don't really want to talk about it anymore." He turned back to the ocean.

Virgil was quiet for a moment. "Okay." He seemed about to say something else, but then just repeated, "Okay." He exited the balcony.

The silo was dimly lit. The gantry and long bulk of the rocket were casting strange shadows across the floor. Virgil paused as the door slid shut behind him, letting his eyes adjust.


He could hear the ringing sounds of someone walking on the metal scaffolding overhead. "Who's that? Virgil?"

"Yeah. What are you doing?"

There was a pause. "Technically? Nothing. Come on up."

Virgil groped for the handrail. The stairs were against the wall, obscured in shadow. "Why are you sitting here in the dark?" Virgil asked.

"I like the dark," John said defensively. He added, "I'm a little leery of wandering around here and pressing buttons if I don't know what they do."

"That's very sensible of you." Virgil said, coming to the top of the stairs. He could just make out the gleam of his brother's hair in the murky light. He was sitting on the walkway, legs dangling through the railing. Virgil sat down next to him.

"How's it going?"

"Oh, don't worry about me," John said. "I'm fine."

"That seems to be the party line," Virgil said. John gave him a funny look. Virgil waved his hand. "Never mind."

John indicated the rocket in front of him. "I've just been sitting here, staring at it." He shook his head. "I'm still having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that my father has a working rocket in his basement."

"It does take some getting used to," Virgil agreed.

"What did you have to do with this?"

"Nothing. This baby was together way before I ever came on board. In fact, before Scott." Virgil scratched his jaw. "I think Dad had it designed and then he found Brains and Brains knocked three years of development time off it in one big burst of caffine."

"That guy's weird," John said. "No offense. But he's weird."

"Being that smart isn't easy. I knew some people like him at CIT. They could built a particle accelerator in their sleep but couldn't figure out how to operate a toaster."

"It's not that. But he flattens himself against the wall every time he sees me. It's like he thinks I'm going to mow him down or something."

Virgil tried to keep himself from laughing, without success. "Yeah, he did the same thing to me when I first got here. He's shy. You should cut him some slack, though � he's got an IQ that's practically a zip code. Get to know him � he's the same age as you."

John sat up. "He's the same age as me and he designed this thing?"

"Told you. He's a smart kid."

John rested his chin back on the railing. "You're not kidding. Father gave me the plans and told me to look them over if I wanted to. I've read some papers on this type of propulsion and I know that NASA and some other private agencies have been doing some tests, but they've been very preliminary. This thing shouldn't exist for another fifteen years."

Virgil nodded. "Stick around here long enough and you get bored with astonishment."

"Has it been tested?"

"Of course it's been tested. It wouldn't be here if it wasn't."

"Where does it launch from?"

"In here."

"In here? From inside here?"

Virgil nodded. "And lands."

John blinked. "You land this in here? Through the big round thing up there?"

"How did you think we got it back in here?"

"I don't know. I thought you were hiding it from satellite cameras. How do you do it?"

"Ask the astronaut. Better yet, give it a go on the simulator."

"We have a simulator?" John's eyes widened. "We have an actual simulator?"

"Considering that you've never really mastered parallel parking, Father thought it would be a good precaution."

"Shut up," John said absently. "I..." He stopped. "I see what you mean about astonishment."

"Sometimes six impossible things before breakfast is a light day." Virgil said with a smile.

"So...you're really doing this." John said.

Virgil nodded.

John rested his chin back on the railing without saying anything.

"You don't have to hide, you know," Virgil said.

John looked surprised. "I'm really not hiding. I want a little time to think. And also..." he stopped. "This is going to sound very stupid, but...I didn't really want to...crash the funeral, if you know what I mean."

"That does sound stupid," Virgil agreed.

"I didn't know her...you guys did, and..." John shrugged uncomfortably. "I don't have anything to say that doesn't sound completely formulaic."

"I think you worry about strange things, grasshopper," Virgil said.

"You're not really one to talk," John said. "Considering that you just quit your job to become a superhero."

"You're missing the point," Virgil said. "By a couple of miles."

"I guess. Maybe. I still don't completely believe it," John said. "It's like the logical side of me is saying that this is completely ridiculous...and the..." he stopped. "Actually, I can't get past the logical side of me. That's the side with all the ammo." He took a breath. "Virg...I talked to Laidlaw at ISA yesterday."

"Who's Laidlaw?"

"My boss. Look. I know this is a bad time to bring this up and everything, but I've got to get back."

Virgil was startled. "Back to Florida? Why?"

"I live there. I work there. Even if I do decide to do this...completely insane propostion..."

"That's like the third time you've called it that..."

"I still need to go back. International cooperation is all well and good, but it's not the kind of place you can just call in and say you quit."

"Father's not going to be happy about that," Virgil said.

"Well, if he doesn't like it, he can call the President and get him to mobilize a squadron to get me back here," John snapped.

Virgil drummed his fingers on the railing. "John, no offense, but you've really got to come down from the cross at some point. Father may have done you an injustice, but he did not destroy your career."

"Well, we don't know that, do we?"

"Well, I didn't go to Harvard, but I think I'm pretty smart, and I'm fairly sure they're not going to fire the contractor's son," Virgil said. He held up his hand to stop John's protest. "Yes, I know. That's exactly your point. Listen, I know you're a very, very smart kid. But there are millions of very smart kids in this country and not all of them get to go to prep schools and observatories and Harvard. You're not Abraham Lincoln. You're the son of your father. Acting like it's some sort of handicap is embarrassing, John. And I'm getting tired of it."

"Are you finished?" John asked angrily.

"No, I'm not finished. You're sitting in front of the most technologically advanced piece of machinery on the planet, and all you see is an affront. You've got a chance to make a difference in world. You've got a chance to save lives, and all you can say is �he didn't ask me.'"

"That's not what I said," John's voice was low.

"Yes, you said he was going to invade Fiji. It's what you meant." Virgil said. "I know you don't think this is a bad idea, because this is an inspired idea and you know it. You're just angry because you feel left out, and because Dad interfered in your life. But Dad would have a lot easier time treating you like an adult if you didn't throw a temper tantrum any time anyone tells you what they think you should do. He's your father. He can tell you anything he damn well feels like. You're not obliged to act on it, but you should be respectful enough to listen to him and not act like you're eight and he took your allowance away." Virgil stood up. "You're supposed to be the one who sees through everything. Get your head out of your ass and look at what's in front of you. You can either stay at ISA and build Pittsburgh on the moon, or you can use your Harvard education and your ISA training and your father's money and your brothers' expertise and all this technology and do something that matters with it." Virgil looked down at his brother. "Now I'm finished."

John didn't say anything, and didn't look at Virgil. Virgil waited a moment, and then turned and banged down the stairs. When he reached the bottom, he turned to peer up at his brother. He couldn't see him.

"If you see Scott, tell him I need to talk to him about flying me back to Sydney," John's voice floated down from the gantry.

Virgil was too angry to answer. He let the door slam shut behind him with a metallic clang.


Chapter Ten

In which Gordon Tracy honors a fallen friend; Virgil Tracy uncovers a flaw.

Virgil banged open the door to the lounge and slammed it behind him. Kyrano, who had been passing by the hallway carrying a large plastic bag, stopped and raised an eyebrow.

"Sorry," Virgil said.

"Your brother is down by the pool," Kyrano said. "Perhaps you should join him."

Virgil nodded absently. After a moment, he noticed Kyrano was still watching him.

"What?" he asked.

"Your brother is down by the pool," Kyrano repeated.

"Got it," Virgil said. Kyrano gave him an oddly measured look, and continued on his way.

Virgil shook his head, and walked into the main room of the lounge. He could see, dimly silhouetted against the night sky, the tall figure of his brother standing out on the balcony. He slid the door aside and walked out to join him.

"I was just..." he checked at the sight below him on the patio.

Gordon was down on one knee at the edge of the pool, a large back of votive candles next to him. He was igniting the candles one by one, and placing them around the pool. The surface of the three tables on the patio were covered with the tiny flames; Gordon had turned off the overhead lights that normally illuminated the poolside, and the area glowed with pinpoints of uncertain light.

Virgil looked at Scott, who was staring bemusedly down at the scene. "This is new."

"Mm," Scott said. He rubbed the side of his face absently.

Virgil leaned over the railing. "Where on earth did he get all those?"

"Kyrano," Scott said.

"Who happened to have two thousand candles lying around in drawer somewhere?"

Scott smiled, and made a gesture to Virgil to lower his voice.

"How long has he been doing this?" Virgil asked, more softly. Scott shrugged.

"As long as all that takes. Probably a half an hour."

"Should we go and stop him?"

Scott turned, surprised. "Why would we do that?"

Virgil tried again. "Should we go and help him?"

Scott nodded, and finally turned his full attention to Virgil. "I was waiting for you, actually. Where were you?"

"In the silo, fighting with John." Virgil lowered his voice again.

"Virg...leave John alone. Leave the whole thing alone."

"He's asked if you'll take him back to Sydney."

Scott looked regretful, but resigned. "Well, that's his right." He turned back to watch as Gordon lit another candle and his face, serious and intent, was illuminated for a moment before winking back into darkness. "He needs to find his own way out of this."

"Yeah, but he's wrong," Virgil said, insistent. Scott just shrugged. Virgil stared at him.

"That doesn't bother you?"

"Of course it bothers me." Scott said. "My little brother would rather live on the moon than work with us; believe you me, Virgil, it bothers me. But at this particular moment, I want to deal with this." He gestured to the scene below. "Come on."

Virgil followed him as he walked down the stairs. "You think Gordon's losing it a little over this?"

"It's a tribute, Virg." Scott said. "Have some respect."

In the end, it was an hour before they ran out of candles. Kyrano kept bringing out more: tiny votives, waxy piles of slender tapers that Virgil stuck to the railing, thick pillars. And when Kyrano couldn't find any more he joined them, kneeling down not far from Gordon, lighting the candles and placing them randomly across the slate surface of the poolside. Nobody said anything much.

When they finished, they dragged chairs to the darkest corner of the area and sat, surveying their work. Kyrano went inside and brought them out cups of some smoky-tasting tea and then slipped away.

"It doesn't look like a party, does it?" Gordon asked.

"Nope," Scott said. "It's nice."

"It does look slightly unhinged, though," Virgil said.

Gordon laughed, finally. "Well, maybe it is."

"What gave you the idea?" Virgil asked.

"I have this weird memory of people putting all these candles in a river because a bunch of people died. I don't know where I remember it from, but I just thought...I was going to put them in the pool, but then decided that was probably a bad idea." He paused. "Do you remember what she used to say to me every time after I'd come back from pt in Sydney?"

Virgil laughed. " �Can't you walk yet?'"

"She once gave me this whole routine on how she was convinced we were making crystal meth and that was how we had all our money," Scott said. "Because god knows we weren't smart enough to come by it honestly. Except Dad."

"She loved Dad," Virgil said.

"He liked her as well," Scott said. He swung his voice into an imitation of their father. "That Nancy. She's a good pilot."

"He was that sentimental?" Gordon asked. "Wow."

"Dad likes people who have tiny struggling businesses that are doomed to never make any money," Virgil said. "Kind of the way some people like dogs."

"Nancy and Jane were doing okay," Scott said.

"I mean real money. Dad money."

Scott frowned.

"Hey, where the hell is John?" Gordon asked suddenly.

"On the roof of the roundhouse," Virgil said.

"What makes you say that?" Scott asked.

"Because he's on the roof of the roundhouse," Virgil said.

"You can see up there?"

"No. I saw a light go on while we were doing our candle thing. Unless it's a ghost, he must have gone in there."

"How'd you get that he's on the roof from one light going on?" Gordon asked.

"Why be down here with us when you can be up there railing against us?" Virgil muttered. Scott threw him a quieting glance.

Gordon stood up. "I'm going up there."

"Be careful," Virgil said.

Gordon gave him the finger as he was walking away. Virgil shook his head.

"I've got to stop doing that. I know it drives him up the wall."

Scott nodded. "You should. Try to stop, I mean."

Virgil tipped his head back and sighed. "Why are we all so mad at each other?"

The question caught Scott by surprise. "I don't know."

They sat in silence for a while, watching the wind blow the candles out one by one. "You know what the problem is?" Virgil said finally. "Dad keeps impressing on us that we're the core of this thing we're going to do. That we're going to be this great family team, something out of a movie. But Gordon won't talk to us, John is in his usual low-grade seethe; who knows how Alan is going to react. How are we supposed to trust each other if Dad doesn't even trust all of us to know the truth?"


Chapter Eleven

In which certain secrets are revealed, certain guilts are exposed, and certain decisions are derided.

 The roundhouse always gave Gordon the creeps. It had five large rooms, all connected by a central hallway, but the rooms themselves were empty. Or, mostly empty. Virgil had, early on, thought about setting one up as a studio, and he did paint in the southernmost one occasionally, but he confessed it was difficult to relax in there. It was always cool in there, which was odd considering that the rooms all had glass windows, but they must be made of some special glass, Gordon thought, because it never seemed to warm up. The rooms themselves seemed like they could be bedrooms, and somewhere in the circle were a couple of bathrooms, but their father never really said what he intended it for, and the rooms remained blank and featureless as glass itself. It was an entire building that seemed to be waiting for a purpose - not a hallmark of Tracy design. Gordon had the feeling that if he looked hard enough, he would flip a switch and reveal a secret lab, or a hidden passage, or something worse.

"Where people who tried to sue Tracy Industries wind up," he muttered to himself. The inner perimeter was lit was supplied by a series of bulbs that were nestled into a sort of trench that ran around the upper edge of the ceiling. Walking slowly, eyes on the ceiling, Gordon searched for an indication of a way out onto the roof.

"Where he buried the bodies of the first five sons," he murmured. "Where he keeps the world's supply of o-rings. Where he...well, aren't you tricky." Against the wall, barely visible, was a ladder made of wire, so thin it looked like it had been sketched lightly in pencil on the wall itself. Gordon pulled on one of the wires, and was surprised by the tensile strength. At the top was another scant shadow, the outline of a door.

Feeling spidery, Gordon tentatively began to climb. The wires bore his weight with no problem. Another billion dollars in the trust fund, Gordon thought. He reached the top and paused. He held the topmost wire with his left hand, on his stronger side, and pushed up with his right. This was precisely the sort of movement that his injuries made difficult. The reconstruction on his shattered collarbone had been good, but he had problems extending his right arm fully, and it still hadn't nearly caught up with his left in terms of strength. He switched hands, feeling less secure has he was now holding on with his right, and pushed up with his left, but at least he had enough mobility to shove the door open. A square of starry blackness greeted him, and, after a moment, his brother's face, looking startled.

"Hi," Gordon said cheerfully. "What's up?"

"Have I always been this obvious?" John asked.

"Yep." Gordon said. He grabbed onto the edge of the opening with his right hand, and glanced down. He was on the top wire, and there was still a lot of space between him and the edge of the opening. "It would have killed Dad to make this ladder higher?"

"If you're Dad, it is higher," John said. "You want me to get you a phone book to stand on?"

Gordon made a face at his brother, gripped the opening with both hands, and began to pull himself up. His left arm pulled him up without any problem, but he was getting the familiar, infuriating feeling of his body betraying him. His right arm couldn't handle the weight and Gordon began to fall forward, off the ladder and onto his weaker arm John finally figured out what was going on and stepped forward, grabbing him under the arm and hauling him forward so he was over the opening enough to climb out on his own.

"Hand slipped," Gordon lied, sitting on the roof and rubbing his right arm.

"Whatever you say," John said, sitting down next to him. "Virgil tell you I was up here?"

"Yeah, he saw a light on. So how does it look from up here?"

"How does what look?"

"How does...the pool! The thing by the pool!"

"What are you talking about?"

Gordon stood up. "Get up." After his brother stood, he grabbed him by the shoulders and frog-marched him around the perimeter of the roundhouse, until they reached the side that overlooked the pool. "Look."

John whistled in surprise. "Did you do that?"

"Yeah. Well, Scott and Virgil and Kyrano helped."

"It looks like the sky."

"Yeah." The candles had been placed randomly, but formed clusters at certain points, were scattered more widely in other areas.

"It's a very small universe," John said. "You're just missing the planets."

Gordon squinted. "Well, Scott and Virgil are probably still down there. You really didn't notice it?"

"I was looking the other way." John said.

"There isn't anything that way."

"The rest of the planet is that way."

Gordon wheeled around. He pointed to the vast expanse of blackness that was the ocean. "You could stare at a wall and..."

"Oh, shut up," John said companionably. He sat down on the roof and Gordon copied him.

"It was for Nancy," Gordon said abruptly.

"I figured." John said. "It's appropriate. It's good."

They sat in silence for a while, staring at the lights by the pool. Some of the smaller ones were fading, and a few finally winked out.

"I keep feeling guilty," Gordon said. "Sounds stupid, doesn't it?"

"Guilty about what?"


"Why on earth would you feel guilty?"

Gordon lifted a hand, and let it drop to his side uselessly. "I don't know. I keep picturing her in the water. And every time I picture her in the water, I keep thinking about me in the water. I keep thinking about what Scott must have seen from the air, you know, the wreckage and stuff. I know that when we hit...they told me there was this swath of wreckage that covered a quarter mile. I keep wondering if there was a Scott up there, who had to watch DeSouza and Garcia go down." Gordon stopped. "I know it sounds really, really stupid, and I don't mean it at all, but everyone always told me that I was lucky one because I survived and I know that, but then something like this happens and it's like, who the hell am I?" He turned to John. "I'm happy to be alive and all, but it's just..." he shook his head. "For every me, there are a fifty Nancys. A hundred Julies."

"Sometimes more," John said.

"And I keep thinking, well, if I'm the lucky one, I should do something, you know? I keep thinking if I had been on the WASP boat that Virgil called, maybe we would have gotten there in time...although now that I say that out loud, it sounds even stupider." Gordon let out a breath. "I hate feeling powerless."

"So do I," John said, with some feeling.

"And whenever I say anything like this to Dad or Scott they just tell me to wait. For what! It seriously drives me up the wall." Gordon rubbed his right shoulder absently. "Maybe I should come back to Florida with you."

"Florida? What for?"

"Get out of here. See if I can do something else."

"Gordon...nobody lives in Florida because they want to. They only live there if they have to."

"I don't care. I'll work at Disneyworld. I still have some contacts at WASP. I'll find something."

"Why don't you go back to school?"

"Don't start."

"Why don't you..."

"Would it really bother you that much if I went with you?"

"No,." John said. "It just seems to me - as a disinterested observer - that you'd be sort of running away. In a way."

"'As a disinterested observer?' You're my brother."

"That, too."

Gordon pulled up his knees and wrapped his arms around them. "I don't know. This whole thing Dad's got going on this island. It's like he wants us to badly to all be here and it's so forced. We spent so much time away from each other at those schools, and it's like now he wants us all to be back here, and it's really..." Gordon let out a breath. "Too late. I wish he'd stop trying."

John was quiet, thinking.

"I guess he's lonely, though." Gordon added. "But he'd never say so." He waited for John to say something, then continued. "But you know, I can't let what he wants guide my life. You know that better than anyone. I can't sit here and feel useless and I don't want Dad to give me some makework desk job in the company. So. You're okay with it? With me coming with you?"

John didn't say anything for a long while. Finally, he turned to Gordon. "Want to know a secret?"

"I knew it! I knew it, I knew it, I knew it! I knew something was going on here, and Scott and Virgil were always acting all secretive and to be totally honest, I always thought there was something a little weird with Brains being here but now that makes total sense and I knew it! Ha!" Gordon tipped his head back and made a gesture as if to grab a large handfuls of stars out of the sky. "Finally!" It all makes sense!" He turned to look at John. "You know, I was worried that Dad was going a little crazy. He was getting a little Howard Hughesy for a minute there." He grinned.

"You don't think building your own rocket out-freaks the Spruce Goose?"

"Not when it works! Not when it's for this!" Gordon stared down at John. "He built a rocket!" He dropped to the ground in front of John, slightly out of breath. "Show me the silo?"

"Yeah, if Scott and Virgil are asleep. So you'll stay, right?"

"Hell yeah, I'll..." Gordon stopped. "Wait. You're not staying?"

"No. I've got to go back."


"Because, Gordon, I have a job."

Gordon was incredulous. "You have a job? A job? John...rocket! Space station! He built you your own treehouse in space." He sat back. "You really don't want to do this?"

"It's more complicated than that." John said.

"Try me."

John rubbed his eyes. "It's more to do with Dad...he just expected me to drop everything and join up when he said jump, and..." He stopped. Gordon was staring at him with a combination of fascination and disgust.

"Are you serious?"

"I don't know. I've been thinking about it a lot. Now that I've been able to get my head around the whole scope of the project. And I keep thinking that...I don't know, was this always the plan? I mean, did he start thinking about this after Al was born? Did he pitch me science and math because he needed it for this? I keep thinking that I've been trying so hard to carve out my own life and the whole time he's been steering me � steering all of this � and I didn't even know."

"It doesn't matter."

"Of course it matters! It's my life."

"That's beside the point." Gordon sat down. "You're being an idiot. It's understandable, because you've always sort of been an idiot. That's what happens when you go to college. You start thinking you're smart. It's a common misconception."


"For god's sake, John, think about who you're talking to! Did you hear anything I was saying fifteen minutes ago? Nancy in the water � that was me. Those kids that got lost on the mountain the other week and they just found their bodies? They're me, too. That earthquake in Iran? Me. They're all me. I'm the world, John, and I'm telling you, I need you on this. Yeah, you're right, this isn't about you. It's about me. And I need you on this. And Scott and Virgil and Alan and Dad and...Brains, I guess, and whoever else Dad decides this thing needs to work. Take it from one of the lucky ones." He sat back. "Anyway. You owe it to me."

"I owe you?"

"Yeah. I lived. You owe. It's payback."

"That's a weird karmic little circle you've got there, G."

"Better than yours, Ghengis John."

Below them, the candles were slowly flickering out. John saw a shadow move across them. "Scott's still down there."

"Did you hear what I said?"

"I heard you, I heard you."


John stared out at the candles. "I think you're right."

"About what?"

"That I've always sort of been an idiot." He stood up. "I don't know if that realization changes anything, though. It's not that easy, you know."

"It is easy," Gordon said. "You just don't understand what easy actually means."


Chapter Twelve

In which John Tracy meets an ordinary person; the purpose of life is discussed; John makes a decision, but you'd probably never notice because it's buried under eight tons of evasion and some crap about wolves.

"You should remember to rest your eyes every twenty minutes."

John looked up, startled. "Excuse me?"

The flight attendant smiled at him. "Could I get you something to drink, Mr. Tracy?"

John shook his head, more to clear it than to refuse.

"If you need anything, just let me know." She bestowed another smile on him, and moved on to the seat behind him.

John sat back and rubbed his eyes. He turned the screen of his laptop away from him for a minute and blinked a few times, trying to get his eyes to refocus.

"Big meeting?" a voice next to him rumbled.

It was the man next to him. He had come in a few minutes before takeoff, downed a glass of Scotch, and promptly fell asleep. John had hoped that he would remain so for the rest of the flight. No such luck, apparently. "No," he said, politely but hopefully with a cool enough tone for the guy to understand that he didn't want to talk.

The man ignored it. "You're too young to be working so hard." He cleared his throat and stirred restlessly.

"I'm not working," John said simply. "Just reading."

The man reached over and spun John's computer around so he could see the screen.

"Hey!" John slammed the laptop down, and looked at the man in astonished outrage, but his seatmate gave a hacking laugh that turned into a bout of coughing.

"That's what you read for fun?" he rasped out when he was through. John was in the process of shutting down and putting away his computer, and only gave the man an irritated glance. He was older, probably a good ten years older than John's father, florid of face with white hair combed back from his head. He was wearing what looked to be an extremely expensive suit.

"Ah, I'm sorry. Just pulling your leg. Been on this plane so long I start to get a little crazy. I hate flying. I do nothing but travel, and hate every minute of it. It's always the same. Same food, same routine, same thing every time. An airplane is its own little world, you ever notice that? Doesn't matter what time it is, they decide it's dinner time, you eat dinner and then they turn off the lights and it's night. Could be four o'clock in the afternoon. It's own world. The world of planes."

John paused in shoving his laptop into its case, thought about that for a moment, shrugged, and zipped up the case.

The man stuck out his hand. "Hamilton Caine."

Figuring he might as well make the best of it, John shook it. "John Tracy."

"Nice to meet you. First time going to Sydney?"

John shook his head. "No. You?"

"I wish." He glanced around the cabin, and lowered his voice. "I hate Australia."

John thought for a moment. "You know, I don't think I've ever heard anybody say that."

"Yeah, everyone loves it. Except me." Hamilton Caine shook his head. "It's too fucking far away. Don't get me wrong, kid, it's a nice place � and the girls are beautiful � but it's way too far away from everything. It's in the middle of nowhere! What's around it? Nothing. Plus a whole chunk of it is desert. Nah. Too hot, too far away. They should just take a section of Texas, plant a flag, stick a couple of kangaroos in and set up shop there."

John didn't know whether to argue or laugh. The man's bushy white eyebrows were drawn together, and he seemed genuinely peeved, however.

"It's not really in the middle of nowhere," John pointed out gamely.

"Yeah? Says who?"

"New Zealand."

"Eh." The man made a dismissive gesture. "Australia without kangaroos. Ask yourself this, kid. What has New Zealand done for you?"

"Me personally?"

"My point exactly. Nothing."

John tried to get the conversation back on more normal ground. "Do you have family in Sydney?"

The man sighed. "No. I own a company there that's falling apart. No, it's not falling apart. It thinks it's falling apart. They all think they're falling apart, getting panicky. It's a sad thing to see a company � a whole company � panic. What are they scared of?" He gave John a friendly slap on the arm with the back of his hand. "You know what they're scared of? Guess what they're scared of."

"You?" John said.

Hamilton Caine broke into another wheezing laugh. "That's right. They're scared of me. You know why they're scared of me?"

Because you're insane, John thought. Aloud, he said, "Because you run the company?"

"No! No." The man shook his head. "No, kid. That's not it. Hey, John...it's John, right? What do you do? What's your job, in, in life."

"Well, actually, I'm sort of trying to figure out..."

The man cut him off. "Go to college?"


"Good school?"


"Well, that'll impress some people. You just graduate?"

"No, not really."

"Well, kid, let me give you some advice. Any schmuck can run a company, you get that?"

"Any schmuck can run a company," John repeated dutifully. The man sat back a bit and gave him an appraising look.

"Yeah, fine. Okay. Listen to me, this is something you're going to need. Kids like you, smart, good education � they get into a company and they see the CEO and he's got the nice office and the nice car and the big house and they say, hell, that's not so hard. I can do that. And you know what? They probably could. Most of them don't � and that's a whole other can of wax � but most of them could. It's not brain science. Anyone can run a company. But what I do is hard. Do you know what I do?"

John shook his head.

"I run an empire." The man sat back in satisfaction. "That's right. That's no cakewalk."

"What kind of empire?" John asked.

"A business empire."

"Yeah, but what kind of business?"

"Just business." The man looked pleased with John's reaction.

"But you can't just have a business...I mean, business isn't a business..."

"You might want to wait on that application to Wharton. Of course business is a business! It's the only business! What do I want to be, the sneaker king? The lord of textiles? No! There is one common denominator to all of this, my friend, and do you know what that is?"




The man raised a finger. "Once you start making money," he intoned. "Your only purpose is to continue to make money. And then to take that money to make more money. It doesn't matter how you do it or what you do it with, just as long as it gets made. That's all that business is. That's what running an empire is."

"You make a lot of money?" John asked.

The man smiled. "I make a lot of money."

"That must be nice."

"Do you make a lot of money?"

"I don't make any money at the moment," John said.

"But you can afford a first class ticket to Sydney?"

John shrugged. "Yeah, well. Yeah."

"Your family, they have money?"

"Well...I suppose so," John said uncomfortably.

Hamilton Caine shook his head. "Whatta acting so squirrelly for? Having money isn't anything to be ashamed of. You can't help it, right?"

"I guess not."

"But you can spend it."

"That I can do."

"Or you can make more."

"Only if ISA decides to start paying better..." that was out of his mouth before he could stop it.

"ISA? Who's ISA?"

"The International Space Agency."

Hamilton Caine looked at John blankly for a second. "That French thing?"

"No, it's international. I mean, France is involved, but..."

"Those the people who built that base on the moon?"


"You were on the moon?"


"That's a dead end if I ever heard it. Huge waste of money. You want my advice, kid, get out of that racket as soon as you can."

"I don't know that I'd call it a racket..."

"Everything is a racket. The faster you learn that, the better off you'll be. Seriously, what are we doing there?" He looked at John. "I'm asking you."

"Well, there are a lot of benefits to having a permanent base on the moon. They're building a launch facility, because it's a lot easier to launch things from the moon. And there's no light pollution, so we can..." He trailed off, because Hamilton Caine was shaking his head back and forth. "Now what?"

"We don't need that."

"We who?" John snapped.

"We who. Who do you think? The human race. The whole goddamned world, that's we who. What do we need to go to outer space for? What do we need to go peering through galaxies for? We've been doing this since my father was a kid and what has it gotten us? Nothing. It's a huge waste of resources. Where's the payoff? They found carbon on some moon of some planet it takes eight billion years to get to. They all get excited, and nothing changes."

John tipped his head back and stared at the back of the seat in front of him for a moment. "Okay," he said after a minute. "What is supposed to be the payoff?"

"It needs to be able to pay for itself," Hamilton Caine said. "It needs to generate some revenue."

"It's an international research organization." John said. "How on earth is it supposed to generate revenue?"

Hamilton Caine stared at him. "Kid, were you born in the briar patch or something? You think all those scientists labor all day in labs for the common good? You think President what's-his-face said that we needed to put a man on the moon because it was good for humanity?"

"It wasn't for money." John said.

"It's always for money. It is always for money...yes, could I have a Glenmorganie, please. And one for my friend." Hamilton had signaled a flight attendant as he was walking by.

"I don't...fine." John said. It would numb the pain.

Hamilton Caine slapped him on the knee. "Come on, Harvard. What kind of society do we live in?"

John rolled his head to the side to look at his seatmate. "What?"

"What kind of society is this?"

It was like a hedge maze, John decided. Every time you thought you had reached the center, you were forced to take another left turn. "I have no idea."

"See, right there is your problem."

"I don't know! A bad one? A corrupt one?"

Hamilton was shaking his head. "No, no. Those are moral judgments and I have no use for them. We live in a capitalist society. Everything comes down to money. It is the only reason anyone does anything. Money doesn't only get you everything, money is the only thing that gets you anything. Your fellow man will not feed you if you don't have money. He will not clothe you, he will not let you survive; in fact, he will deem you useless and encourage you to die."

John opened his mouth to say something, but his seatmate waved him quiet. "Spare me. Yes, yes, it's horrible, how could I say something. Well, I say it for the same reason I say anything: it's true. It's not good, or bad, it's just fact. It's the way the world is."

"I don't think it is." John said. "I mean, I don't see how it could be. That's not so much immoral as amoral. And I don't think we're like that."

Hamilton Caine sighed. "It sucks. But we are, and you'd better get used to it, because life becomes a lot easier when you realize that the entire construct of society is to fuck over your fellow man. At least economically, if not physically. Hey, I'm a rich man. I'm not ashamed to say it. I got more money than god. I give money to charity. You know who I like? The wolves, the ones that the ranchers keep trying to shoot. So I give money to the wolf people. I don't even know if the money does anything. I haven't noticed any more wolves around. So do I do it for them, or for me? I do it for me. They're just an excuse. I can say, hey, money's not so bad, I can use it to help people. But what do I really use it for? A tax write off. Does it make me a bad person? I don't think so. I just think it makes me a person."

The flight attendant came over and handed Hamilton Caine his Scotch, which he passed to John. John sniffed the amber liquid warily. He had never been much of a drinker; it was Scott and his father who got all complicated about Scotch.

"They cure it in oak barrels by the sea. You can taste the sea." Hamilton Caine said shortly, and lifted his glass. "To a better world."

John raised his glass and took a cautious sip. Hamilton Caine must swim in hell's ocean, he decided. Hamilton Caine shook his head. "Wasted on someone your age."

"Probably," John agreed.

"Look at that," Hamilton Caine pointed out the window. John turned and looked. Against the cold indigo sky, the moon, lopsidedly a few days short of full, burned brightly.

"Do you know what that used to be?"

"What it used to be? Before what?" John was at sea, again.

"It used to be a god."


"And then we grew up a little, and it became just another place to go." Hamilton Caine took a sip of Scotch and sighed. "And now we're drilling it full of holes. We're not going to do the moon any good, that's for damn sure. So you can forget about your ISA, or whatever it is. It's nothing but a bunch of wildcatters."

"You have a very depressing world view," John told him.

"That's what my granddaughter keeps telling me. She's twelve. Smart as a tack."

John took another sip of Scotch. This one didn't hurt as much. "All right, Mr. Caine. If you were me, what would you do?"

"With what?"

"My life. ISA is Jettexas, the world is corrupt, I've got a Harvard education and let's just say I have enough money to write my own ticket. Where do I go?"

"I love it when this happens. All the time the kids are asking me for advice. Makes me feel like the Godfather. All right. You've got some sort of science background, right?"


Hamilton Caine sat with his lips pursed thoughtfully, staring intently in front of him. John sipped his Scotch. He really didn't understand the point of it. May as well just eat jalape�os. His lips felt numb.

"All right. All right. This is what you're going to do. You know what we need? Food that you can heat up by plugging into your car's cigarette lighter."


"Everyone eats fast food and everyone weighs three hundred pounds. You come up with some way to make food that people think is healthy and can heat up by plugging into their car's cigarette lighter. You'll make a fortune."

"That's crazy," John said. "Well, actually, it's not, but..."

"Let me ask you something. Where's the money from?"

"What money?"

"You said you had enough money to write your own ticket. I don't know if that's true, but I know you've got enough money to afford first class from California to Sydney. So who made it? Your father? Grandfather?"

"My father," John admitted.

"Does he have an empire?"

John shook his head. "Just a small sovereign nation."

"Well, kid, my advice to you is, swallow your pride and go into the family business."

John swallowed some more Scotch. "Why?"

"Because if your father is a business man � and he is, right? Okay. If he's a business man, he's going to want to keep the money in the family. It's safe. And you won't even have to do much, if you don't want to. But get in. Get your hands on the contracts. You want to know what's going on, because when your father is gone, someone is going to try to take it away from you, and you don't want to let that happen. You need to be the watchdog. Make yourself the watchdog of your father's company."

"You don't even know what he does." John said.

"It doesn't matter. He's a business man, and all businessmen do one thing: make money. You sell your soul, and you make some money. And if you're lucky, you make enough to save some wolves. It's not a bad deal."

John turned and looked out the window. The moon burned coldly in the sky. Nancy's voice chirruped in his head, My whole life is a window. "Do you ever think that there might be one or two or five people that don't fit into your world view?"

"No," Hamilton Caine said. "Or if they do, they don't have enough money to matter."

John shook his head and smiled. "Well, I got a better offer." He put his Scotch to one side, and picked up his laptop out of the back. "And I have work to do."

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