"Captain Tracy, report to Colonel Crane's office at once."

Scott stopped in his discussion of in-flight refuelling with the new crop of cadets mid-sentence, and crossed to the intercom. "I'm on my way." He clicked it off, and pitched his voice to reach the other side of the room. " Lieutenant Sharper?"

"Yes, Captain?" his assistant said from the back of the room.

"Give these gentlemen the benefit of your practical experience."


"Tell them what it's like for real." Scott turned on his heel and walked out.

"Captain Tracy reporting as ordered, sir."

"Oh, Scott." Colonel Crane, who'd been his father's wingman years before, waved him to a seat. With that form of address, he brought Scott back twenty-five years, before Jeff had even been to the moon. He'd called this man 'Uncle Adam' then.

"Are you sure this is what you want to do?" Crane asked him, displaying the letter Scott had left for him a couple of hours earlier.

"I'm sure. Permission to speak freely, sir?"

"Of course."

"The test pilots won't have me because I applied to NASA and not them first. My record's good, but it's not NASA quality, not yet. And I've been doing some asking around. People who I trust have told me that some very high-powered decision-makers have decided that Jeff Tracy's heir isn't to be risked anywhere dangerous, not again. I don't want the desk job commands they're offering me. And - sorry to be blunt, sir - but while instructing's fine, it's obviously going to be all the flying I get for the next twenty years if I stay. I know training the next generation's important and all that. I just think I'm still part of that next generation."

"I understand." Crane folded his hands on the desk in front of him, sympathy in his lined face. "At your age, I'd have felt just the same. And - strictly off the record - it's been made clear to me that I should dissuade you from these transfer requests to active squadrons. But instructing is a worthwhile job - and there are other things that don't involve being on the front line. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. You'd make a fine display team pilot."

Scott shook his head, not even having to think about that one. "No, sir."

"I know how you feel about them. Your father was just the same. Will you at least think it over? I know you have leave next week, and I guess you're going home. Don't make your final decision just yet. Tell me when you get back. If you change your mind, I'll forget this letter ever existed."

"Captain Tracy!" a voice called after him as he strode across the hallway. "Messages for you."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Scott said automatically as he took the pile from her and flicked through them. Two reports for him to sign off on - not a problem, he was only confirming that he knew they'd been handed in, and he signed them there and then and handed them back to her. One request for his formal opinion on Cadet Jameson - that would take longer, the kid was struggling, but he wasn't, in Scott's opinion, a washout. Not yet. He just needed a little more time to find his feet. One personal message, smaller than the standard military paperwork. That went in his pocket. And a form for him to fill in giving his assessment of this posting and his career progression. Again, that was going to take him a long time. If he wrote what he'd have liked to, he'd be ending his career for sure, and not on a good note.

"Sir - is everything all right?"

Scott forced relaxation back into his expression and favoured the young woman with a smile. She, he was fairly sure, had a serious crush on him, and if he hadn't been her superior officer he'd have been seriously tempted to ask her out. Maybe in a couple of months time he'd be able to.

"Yes, fine. I should be with a class - do I need to deal with anything else right now?"

"No, sir. But - you're away on leave next week, sir? Can I have the student report back before you go?"

"I'll do it this afternoon. See you later, Lieutenant." He left her standing, dreamy-eyed, and headed back for his class of cadets, mentally phrasing his assessment report.

He got back to his class to find Richard Sharper sitting on the desk telling horror stories about basket strikes to a wide-eyed bunch of cadet pilots. Scott just leant in the doorway and listened in amusement. Everyone who made it as far as his class had one thing in common: the arrogance of a young pilot who hasn't yet learnt that he doesn't know everything. Scott's job here, while not quite to scare them silly, was to make them realise quite how dangerous military flying could be.

Yeah. So dangerous, that he wasn't allowed to do it any more.

Scott cleared his throat. "That's all well and good, Lieutenant. Now, how about telling them how to avoid it happening?"

Sharper started, flushed, and jumped to his feet while recovering his clipboard from the desk. "As the captain said, gentlemen. You need to have this memorised..."

Now Sharper would make a good senior instructor, Scott thought on his way back to his quarters after the last class of the day was finished. Great, precise pilot but, by his own admission, none too fond of being shot at. Not that Scott actively enjoyed being shot at, of course - just that, if it was going to happen at all, he'd rather he was the one it was happening to. He wanted to be right there. Not just making the decisions, but putting them into action.

Once his apartment door was shut behind him, Scott drew a shaky breath before hanging his uniform jacket meticulously in the cupboard. One uncomfortable interview was out of the way. Now, if only Crane really would forget that the letter existed for the next few days then, just for once, the discussion with his father wouldn't involve telling Jeff Tracy something he already knew. The way the military grapevine worked, he didn't think he'd ever had that experience before. And the very last thing he wanted to do was give his father time to think about it beforehand. He might decide that now was the time that Scott should start getting some of that business experience that the heir to Tracy Industries was going to need one day.

He'd almost forgotten the message until he was reminded of its presence by the unfamiliar crinkling in his pocket.

Could use a lift home tomorrow. Wait for me? John.

Well, he hadn't heard that John had leave coming up, but that would kill two birds with one stone very nicely. John had commented on more than one occasion that his discussions with senior NASA officials invariably started 'I thought your name was Scott?' If nothing else, it would make John's life a darn sight simpler to be able to explain that Scott wasn't in NASA, rather than trying to balance that statement with 'but he will be, first chance he gets'.

He rang John's Florida number, but got no answer. He didn't bother leaving a message. Chances were, his brother had already left and would be spending the night in a hotel somewhere in San Diego. Scott could probably have tracked him down if he'd tried, then again, if John wanted company this evening, he knew where Scott lived. And there was plenty of packing to be done. He might have agreed not to confirm his decision yet, but in Scott's mind it was pretty much final. He would be coming back for the last few weeks of this cadet course, but that would be it. Since he was going home, and taking the corporate jet which his father had brought over the week before for its annual overhaul, he might as well use some of the extra space to transfer excess belongings. Junk accumulated, no matter how he tried to stay on top of it. The days when he'd lived out of a single suitcase were long gone.

So, packing. Scott intended to get on with it quickly, but found himself lost in the old papers. Years-worth of letters from Grandma. Promotion notices. Notifications of new postings. More recently, notifications of rejected requests for transfer. The letter telling him of his medal award. And a whole envelope marked 'San Diego AFB'. He had to smile at that one. Especially at the scrawl in a different coloured ink under the initial tidy label. 'Boyd. Yeah!' Much, much better than the politician they'd initially wanted to name the Air Force's newest training base after. The guy hadn't even been a pilot! Scott had been appointed as spokesman for a group pushing for it to be named after a long-dead airman, a maverick in his time, but possibly (to pilots) the most influential person never to be honoured in the naming program. At the time he'd not been posted here, never even visited it. It was ironic that it would be his last posting.

He'd only discovered much later that a second group, based over in Florida, had been campaigning for it to be called after a certain recently retired pilot and astronaut. 'Boyd' had won out. Scott had never dared ask his father how he felt about not only being slighted, but having his eldest son nominate the other guy. Then again, he'd first heard of John Boyd from his father, so hopefully he hadn't been too offended.

That envelope went into the box, followed by a selection of the books he'd accumulated over the years. Some of them he couldn't bear to get rid of, but he wasn't going to read them in the next few weeks. Others weren't worth the aviation fuel to get them home. He'd ask his fellow instructors if they wanted any of them, give the rest to charity.

He caught himself removing a picture from the wall, and stopped. The books and papers should be going home in any case - he had far too much junk here. If he stayed in the Air Force, these pictures would be going with him to the next posting. Both the one in his hand, of his mother and father on their wedding day, and the one next to it, of Grandma and her husband, the grandfather he barely remembered. He'd said he would reconsider his decision, think about the display team thing. Clearing out his personal belongings now would effectively mean he'd gone back on that promise, only hours after making it. No, he'd leave the pictures here for now, stop the packing before he found it confirming his decision for him, and go to bed. Always assuming John managed to crawl out of bed and make his way here before midday, it would be good to make an early start.

He surfaced groggily to a loud banging on his door. Thinking there was some catastrophe at the base, Scott hurled himself out of bed and was somewhat taken aback to find John outside.

"Did I oversleep?"

His brother looked somewhat abashed. "Only if you're in Florida. I know what you're like for getting up early, and I wasn't sure you'd got my message, so I thought I'd best come find you."

Scott squinted blearily at him. "You could have left a message at the airfield. What time is it anyway?"

"Nearly five-thirty."

"Sadist." Scott stepped back with a sigh. "Well, I'm awake now. You may as well come in. As penance, you can make the coffee while I get dressed."

"It's eight-thirty in Florida." John's voice came through the bedroom door as Scott dug in the civilian half of his wardrobe for a shirt. "You don't mind making an early start, do you?"

"I'd planned to. Maybe not quite this early." He'd never thought John would want to - although he had forgotten the time difference. He was still surprised John hadn't taken the opportunity to sleep in. He'd said on a number of occasions that it was far and away the best part of leave. He still seemed to feel the need to do so in the company of his family rather than staying in Florida, so Scott didn't take it as an insult.

"I already put my stuff in the plane." There were clattering sounds, and then the hisses and splurts of the coffee maker. "Are you moving out? I thought you had a couple of months to go yet."

"I do." John never missed a trick, and the box in the centre of the living area was a dead giveaway. Thank goodness he had left the pictures on the wall. "That's just some old paperwork to take back to the island."

"You won't need it for your next posting?"

Scott was very glad that the door between them was closed. He knew he had flinched at that, and took his time replying. "No, I won't."

"So where are you off to next?"

This one he'd thought about it, knowing full well John would ask. "I'll tell you when we get to the island. I want Dad to hear first."

"Oh..." There was a pause. "Sounds like congratulations are due." He didn't sound entirely convinced, but maybe it was just the door. Or maybe he thought he was about to be the younger Tracy at NASA, and wasn't as happy about the idea as he'd always claimed. Interesting. Irrelevant, sadly, but interesting. Scott had always thought John self-motivated enough to be entirely undisturbed by what the rest of his brothers did or didn't do. He'd envied the way John calmly bypassed any suggestion that he was in NASA due to nepotism - then again, John was training to be a mission specialist. Jeff had been a pilot, coming in through the military route. It was Scott's career that was the mirror of his father's - or might have been.

Or maybe he'd imagined the change in tone. John's "Coffee's ready" was said in an entirely normal voice.

Scott pulled on his second shoe. "Excellent."

He came out just in time to see John slip something into his pocket. There was a glass of water on the counter, and Scott put two and two together.


"Bit of a headache, that's all." He sounded defensive, and Scott mentally translated it to 'headache that could crack concrete and not enough sleep.'

"I'll fly, you can get some rest on the plane." He downed the remains of his coffee, stretched, and stood up. "Can you do the dishes? I'll call a cab. I'd been offered a ride, but I don't think I'd be popular this early."

Ten minutes later saw the two of them in the back of a cab, speeding the mile or so round the airbase to the civilian airfield beyond. Scott felt faintly ridiculous driving such a short distance, but there was his suitcase, the box of his old books and papers, and a whole pile of parcels that Gordon had ordered and had sent to his quarters when he'd discovered Scott was coming home today. Foreign language texts, mostly. Scott had raised his eyebrows, wondered briefly what had possessed Gordon to decide he should learn Chinese - or indeed, come over his father to suggest it - and decided it was one of those things he wasn't even going to ask about. The trunk of the cab wasn't exactly overflowing, but it was more than he could carry any distance. Walking hadn't been an option.

John directed the driver to the correct set of buildings, and paid him off while Scott struggled boxes out of the trunk to the steps of the jet. It had been in solely for a standard airworthiness check, but as usual the Tracy name seemed to have turned that into the sort of detail job which had the paintwork almost too bright to look at. He must remember to tell his father. He was never quite sure whether effectively paying for work they'd never asked for was a good thing or not - he was entirely sure that the extra work was done in expectation of a Tracy-sized tip - but well, aircraft mechanics weren't exactly overpaid, and keeping them happy couldn't be a bad thing.

As the cab left, John wandered over, dangling a key from one finger. "This what you need? I picked it up already."

"You were lucky anyone was around for you to collect it from." Scott took it from him, unlocked the door to the jet's passenger cabin, and blanched at the array of boxes already stacked in the back seats. "You leaving Florida or something?"

John looked away. "You're not the only one who needs to speak to Father first."

Scott took a good look at his brother for the first time that morning. Decidedly pink around eyes and nose, and now that he thought about it, he had seen John sneeze several times.

"John, are you sick?"

"No. Not sick." His brother's jaw clamped shut, and Scott left it, depositing the new luggage alongside the rest and heading for the pilot's seat and clearance to take off. Always assuming the tower was even awake at this time of the morning. The fine weather was in their favour, at least.

John didn't seem in any hurry to join him, and Scott decided the headache must indeed be worse than he'd admitted and he'd decided to get some of that rest in the wide corporate seats of the back of the family ten-seater. But - why was John shipping all his stuff back to the island? That had to mean a topside posting. One of the stations, maybe the moon, or a long-haul exploration mission. John was barely twenty-three. Wow.

The tower proclaimed itself awake - not only that, but the controllers were apparently bored and in need of something to do. Scott was shortly taxiing towards the end of the runway, reminding himself that this was a relatively large and underpowered plane which would not respond well to being treated like an F-22. Not his favourite ride, or his father's either, but sometimes you needed practical rather than fun. This wasn't the day for aerobatics.

No, this was the day for calm, level flight. Scott coaxed the executive jet into the air, made a textbook right turn, and headed out over the ocean bidding the tower a cheery farewell. A perfect spring morning and a completely empty sky did a lot to make up for the less than manoeuvrable plane he was piloting.

Especially since he knew full well it wasn't going to last. The weather systems on the last third of the route to Tracy Island looked to be their usual mess for this time of year, a choppy confusion between smooth high pressure and the low pressure storms of the higher latitudes. Gordon absolutely loathed the trip across the equator to the US mainland in the northern hemisphere's spring. Scott considered it a challenge to find a fast line with a following wind at all times, avoiding the main areas of turbulence and sudden drags. The first part of the flight he'd be sober and sensible. The last part should be more fun.

He was rather enjoying it, long swooping curves down, finding an updraft to help him to soar back to high altitude, when John came into the cockpit and dropped heavily into the co-pilot's seat.

"Nice ride?" Scott asked him, one eye on the altimeter and the other on the clouds.

"No." It was bitten off in such a way that Scott glanced sideways in utter disbelief.

Gordon he'd have expected this from. In fact, if Gordon had been his passenger, he'd never have indulged. Virgil might have objected, just maybe, if he'd been off-colour to start with. But this was John next to him, the colour of old milk, eyes fixed on the horizon and swallowing desperately. It couldn't be happening. John had, if it was possible, an even more iron stomach than Scott did. He'd been one of very few to make it through NASA's basic training without throwing up. Turbulence simply didn't make him sick. And yet...

Scott levelled off, very gently, at the top of the curve, and held it there while he changed the required parameters for the weather computer. Sort by altitude, not streamlines. Cross-reference mentally with windspeeds and directions, and avoid anything which looked like a sudden pressure drop. John was in luck. The optimum altitude was only slightly below where they were right now. He cast a nervous glance to his right.

"I need to lose two thousand feet."

"Do it," John said, tight-lipped.

Scott did so, as cautiously and steadily as he could, and was rewarded by what felt like the reasonably steady airflow the computer had predicted. The plane settled, and Scott turned his attention to his brother.

"What's up?"

John's horizon-fixed gaze didn't shift. "What's it look like?"

"Like something that's never affected you."

"I --" The airflow decided it wasn't so stable after all, and his jaw locked hard. "Scott, please just fly the plane. How long until we land?"

"Fifteen minutes. Are you going to be okay?"

"Yeah. If you hold this damn machine steady."

Scott went back to doing just that, utterly confused. He couldn't get beyond 'but John doesn't get airsick'. He had now, big time. Scott had rarely seen anyone quite that shade of green - and he'd seen an awful lot of rookie pilots throw up in the back seat. He wasn't at all sure John was going to last five minutes, let alone fifteen.

His next glance showed his brother sitting forwards, elbow on knees and hand supporting his forehead, presumably staring at the newly appeared speck on the horizon. Even from this distance, the shape was unmistakable. That perfect rocky cone, not quite as symmetrical as it looked from here, rising out of a strictly limited flatter area to one side of it. On the other, it plunged straight into the ocean.

He knew he shouldn't distract John, but in the end he had no choice. "Coming round to land."

"Okay," John muttered, and shifted carefully back in his seat to fasten the seatbelts.

Scott couldn't worry about him. This was not an easy approach. The runway was situated according to geology, not prevailing wind, and as usual, the wind direction today was almost entirely wrong. Plus, the runway was short. Not problem-short, not for any halfway decent pilot let alone one as good as Scott, but the approach required wasn't the easiest on an unhappy stomach. Scott weighed up the relative merits of stall-and-drop-it-on-the-tarmac and land-as-slow-as-you-can-and-hit-the-brakes-hard, and decided on a combination.

He touched down moderately gently only feet from the start of the runway, hit the brakes smoothly and only as hard as needed, and brought the jet to a halt just in front of the rock wall at the runway's end feeling really rather pleased with himself. A perfect be-nice-to-your-passengers landing.

John rewarded his care with a frantic bolt for the door, throwing it open with a clang which had Scott wincing for the newly polished paintwork, a leap to the ground completely ignoring the extending steps, and a staggering sprint to just behind the nearest palm tree. Scott could no longer see him there, but as the roar of the jet engines died, the sounds of someone being violently, thoroughly ill were unmistakable.

He didn't get it. He just didn't get it. Could John have been out celebrating the night before? It wasn't like him, but maybe if he'd had majorly good news? Perhaps he hadn't been up early, he simply hadn't been to bed? He hadn't looked drunk or hung-over, though, except for that slight wrongness around the eyes. Maybe it was so long since he'd had a serious amount of alcohol that just a couple of drinks had made him queasy? But John didn't get queasy.

Scott gave up speculating and settled to shutting down the jet. He took his time over it, but even so John hadn't shown by the time he'd finished. And he'd taken as much time as he reasonably could.

The boxes could wait. Scott slung John's overnight bag over one shoulder, picked up his own suitcase, and climbed out of the jet a whole lot more carefully than John had.

His brother was lying on his back on the tarmac, knees drawn up, still very pale but somewhat less green. Better than he had been, at least.

"Coming?" Scott asked, extending a hand.

John groaned. "Yeah. Thanks." He accepted the hand and dragged himself to his feet, but the remaining colour drained from his face as he reached vertical and Scott hastily abandoned the suitcase to steady him.

"Man, John, you've got to tell me what you were drinking last night so I can stay away from it. Are you up to the steps, or shall I send the elevator down?"

John's face wore a look of horrified embarrassment. "I'll be fine if I go slow. You get on up there before Father decides you've rammed the cliff face."

It wasn't a great joke, but it was very much John, and Scott figured he could safely leave him to make his own way up the zigzagging flight of steps to the house. He could take a glance back down when he reached the top and make sure John had at least started up.

Scott walked up the steps at a brisk pace - figuring that two sets of luggage was a reasonable excuse for not running, though Alan would never have agreed - and once at the top, glanced casually back to see John about a third of the way up.

He turned back to see Gordon walking towards him.

Gordon. Walking. It took more than a moment for that to sink in, and even when it did, he could do nothing more than stand and stare open-mouthed. Gordon was slow, very hesitant, and the brace on his right leg went from hip to ankle with a hinge at the knee strong enough to support an aircraft door, but still, he was walking without a crutch or a stick in sight. Scott hadn't expected to see his brother on his feet for months yet. Without assistance, maybe never.

Gordon's progress was getting rapidly slower and more unsteady, though, and Scott dumped both bags on the floor and hurried to support his second wobbly brother in five minutes. Not a moment too soon. Gordon swayed as he arrived, and practically fell into his arms.

"What do you think?"

Scott bit back his first response, which had been to yell at his brother for pushing himself too hard, and considered the pure delight in Gordon's voice. He couldn't slap that down. He just couldn't.

"I'm speechless. Gordo - how long have you been out of the chair? Hell, how long have you been out of the scaffolding? You kept that quiet."

"Couple of weeks." Gordon steadied himself against Scott's shoulder and, somewhat gingerly in Scott's opinion, stood up straight again. "I thought I'd surprise you."

"You did that." Scott gave his stance a long, hard look. "I'm amazed. Impressed beyond belief. Now, be honest, do you need a shoulder to make it back inside?"

Gordon's smile was more than a little rueful. "It would help."

"Come on, then." The bags could wait. Scott let his brother set the pace, and supported him at a slow limp back into the house and all the way to a sofa.

There was a pair of crutches lying on the floor there, to Scott's complete lack of surprise. Gordon might have been determined to greet him standing on his own two feet, but he blatantly wasn't up to walking about without assistance yet. In fact, he'd sagged onto the sofa and stretched his right leg out in almost the mirror posture of one Scott remembered well from his last visit, and was now busily undoing a whole series of straps holding the brace to his leg.

"Good to see you back, son," his father said from behind his desk. "I said I'd let Gordon do the greeting today."

"I can see why. I think it's great." Scott sat down alongside Gordon. "Want help?"

"I wouldn't say no."

Gordon finished removing the brace, dumping it on the floor alongside the sofa, and Scott felt for the calf muscle in some trepidation. Eight weeks ago there had been next to nothing there. That was no longer true. It was still weak and wasted, but much better than it had been. There was enough muscle there to be seriously considering cramping, for a start.

"So how long have you been on your feet?"

Gordon flushed. "About a week."

"I wasn't expecting to see you out of the frame yet. Last I heard, it was going to be another couple of months to get your leg back to full length."

"Yeah." Gordon stiffened. "It's not full length, and it's not going to be. I made the decision that I could live with one leg shorter than the other. I couldn't live with that frame any more." There was a sideways glance, still uncertain, at his father, followed by another one at Scott himself.

Reassurance was definitely needed. "I hadn't even noticed, Gordo. And - you're walking! That's beyond fantastic. I was so surprised I...I..."

"Forgot to mention you'd given your brother a lift home?"

Scott swung round. Yes. He had forgotten everything in the sheer astonishment of seeing Gordon on his feet. Now John was standing in the doorway, a bag in one hand and a suitcase in the other, looking more than a little bemused.

"Hi, folks. Scott, you seem to have dropped everything."

"I was busy catching Gordon." Scott belatedly realised that his younger brother was looking particularly unimpressed with him, and with good reason. "Sorry, Gordo. I guess you'd rather have waited out there for two minutes more and impressed John too? I wasn't kidding. You really did shock me enough that I forgot he was here."

Gordon's face cleared. "I can always show him later. Say, John, I didn't know you were coming home?"

"Neither did I." Jeff smiled warmly at his son. "It is that time of year when NASA gives out assignments. Do you have something to tell us?"

John's voice said, "Yes." His body language, everything from his expression to the stiff unhappiness of his posture, screamed 'no'. And Scott sat forward, Gordon's leg forgotten, every alarm in his body going off.

"There's no right way to say this." John's eyes were fixed on the pictures on the wall, his voice much too high and fast. "NASA has revoked my active status."

"No way!" Gordon exploded in indignation.

"Son, tell me what happened." Jeff stood up, extending his hand. "Maybe I can help."

"Not unless you can fix adult onset acute allergic rhinitis." He spat out the words, bitter and miserable.

"Adult...what?" Gordon asked the question. Scott was still seeing a plane half full of boxes. This wasn't a temporary problem. John wasn't going back.

John snorted. "Adult onset acute allergic rhinitis. It's a fancy name for the hayfever from hell."

"And this is an issue in space because?" Gordon was in the mood where his family was always right and everyone else was wrong. It had worked on their schoolfriends, sometimes. It wasn't at all the right line to take with John, not when he was like this.

"What, you think it's all like in the movies?" John's tone dripped sarcasm, and Gordon flinched back, wide-eyed. "Nice clean spaceships, perfect air? You're wrong. Recycled air is vile. It's full of dust and chemicals and moisture droplets, and if anything goes wrong it gets much worse very quickly. They made the right call."

"Son, I'm sure we can find a specialist who can --"

John cut Jeff off, flushing the spectacular crimson which only the very blond can achieve. "About that. I'm afraid I've been using your name. The medical bills will start arriving any day now. Not that they could do anything for me."

"John --"

"I'll pay it back, okay? I don't know how, or when, but I guess I can find someone who'll take on a washed up rocket jock who can't breathe without drugs and...and can't even ride in a car without throwing up when he takes them!" He bolted to the side door, out onto the balcony, and hung over the rail, his head in his hands.

Scott started to get to his feet, but Jeff stopped him with a wave of his hand. "Let me handle this, son."

Scott nodded, and Jeff walked out after John, closing the door behind him. He couldn't hear anything, but through the window Scott saw a brief exchange, John never looking round, and then Jeff simply put an arm round his son and the two of them stood there in silence.

"Hay fever?" Gordon queried. "That's crazy. Where the hell did he get that from?"

"Mother used to get it," Scott said slowly. "It's genetic - I think."

"But it can't be that bad! Not bad enough to invalid him out. It's treatable. I'm sure it is."

"Gordon, I don't think you're helping. He's obviously tried everything."

"Helping? Maybe not." Gordon smiled ruefully. "He looked to me like he needed someone to yell at. You really think I don't know what recycled air's like? And at least we could open the hatches and get some fresh air in when we surfaced. Can't do that on the moon. But there are drugs. I've known people who took them. You'd never tell."

"NASA's different." Scott stared into the distance. "They have so many candidates they don't have to consider whether someone with a problem could still do the job. They take the best few. Even needing the drugs means John's no longer one of them."

He'd thought John would have good news to make up for his own. Instead it was even worse, and saying anything now would be a second hammer-blow. But - would saying nothing be even worse? What if Adam Crane had already spoken to his father? Should he wait for a better time? Would there even be one?

In the event, it was a non-decision. Jeff guided a white-faced, swollen-eyed John back into the living area a few minutes later, and the very first thing John said was, "It's up to you to make it to astronaut now, Scott."

"Alan. Not me." Scott gritted his teeth, set his eyes on the same picture John had used, and forced himself to keep going. "If I don't get the transfer I ask for this time - and chances are, I won't -  I'm resigning my commission."

"What?" John stared at him, eyes huge in his pale face. "But...you're so close! What happened?"

"I don't exactly know, but I think they've got cold feet." Scott didn't think he'd ever have all the details, but the basics had become gradually, painfully obvious to him over the past few weeks. "The Air Force won't put me anywhere remotely risky. They want to promote me to a nice safe desk job. Instructing or paperwork is all I'm being offered. I just want to fly."

"NASA --" Gordon started.

"My flight record's not NASA quality for pilot, my academic record's not good enough for mission specialist, and even if they were I have my suspicions I'd just hit the same wall. They had so much bad publicity over Tim Carson's accident."

"The senator's son?"

"That's the one. Nobody will say it out loud, but they're not going to risk Jeff Tracy's heir."

"One of the spares was fine, though." The bitterness was back in John's voice.

"Damn, John, I didn't mean for it to sound like that!" Scott held his hands up in apology. "I don't know, okay? I just know I've been told I'm wasting my time trying for something they're not going to give me without me being a standout candidate who they couldn't ignore. And I'm not, not in NASA terms. I'm damn good, but they'll go on just fine without me."

"What are you planning to do, son?" Jeff asked him.

"Adam Crane suggested I think about trying for a display team."

"Blue Angels?" Gordon asked, and Scott was forced to laugh.

"They're Navy, Gordon. Thunderbirds is the Air Force team. But I don't think I want to stay in the military at all. There's a British company building hypersonic passenger jets and advertising for test pilots. I thought I'd try them."

"British?" Jeff frowned.

"The military test pilots decide between themselves who's going to get the prime US civilian jobs - all the incumbents are ex military, so the system carries on the way it's always been. It's a closed shop. I have no way into it."

"Father?" Gordon asked urgently.

Jeff shook his head.

"I don't need you to get involved, sir. I'm sure Commander Crane will give me a reference."


"No, Gordon."

At the limit of his self-control, Scott stared down his younger brother. "Gordon, the last thing I need is him getting involved. Let it go."

Gordon looked from him to John, and back again. "Father, if you don't tell them, I will!"

"Tell us what?" Scott could see the suspicion in John's eyes, and his own was starting to build.

"So help me, Father, if I find out you're behind any of this --"

"No, Scott." It was the voice he'd trusted since before he understood what words were. He still did. "I have heard rumours, though. I'd hoped they would take your skills and obvious desire into account, but it seems not. I could pull strings. Get you an active posting. Maybe even NASA. But not without it being obvious that I had done so."

Scott looked down, sick to his stomach. Oh, he wanted it, had done so ever since he'd understood what an astronaut was and that his father was one. But what he wanted, more than the job itself, was to have reached the level of achievement necessary to get there on his own. He couldn't think of anything worse than to be Tracy Junior, who's only here because his father owns the company that makes half the rocket components.

"No. Thank you, sir, but no."

"I thought you'd say that. In that case I have another suggestion for you."

Beside him, Gordon let out a breath in a sigh of relief.

"I don't want to work for you, either." That came out much blunter than he'd intended, and he blundered on desperately. "Not yet. I want my own career first. I need to do something on my own account. Before I have to give it all up and go corporate."

"Scott, shut up!" There was enough desperation in Gordon's voice to make him actually take notice. "There's something you have to see before you make that decision. Please, Father. This is Scott we're talking about. We can trust him, even if he says no. And if it was up to me, I'd be bringing John in on it too."

Jeff nodded slowly. "You're right, Gordon. It's time."

"Time for what?" John demanded.

Gordon reached down and recovered his knee brace from the floor, and proceeded to refasten the straps with a haste that made Scott wince. "You'll see."

"I'll talk to John up here," Jeff said. "Gordon, would you take Scott down?"

Gordon pulled the last strap ferociously tight, picked up his crutches, and eased himself carefully to his feet. "Come with me, Scott. I've wanted to show you this since the moment I saw it."

It had to be a research project. An offer to work for Tracy Aerospace. He already knew he didn't want it, no matter what Gordon might think - but he couldn't stamp down on Gordon's enthusiasm. Couldn't tell his younger brother that, for him, accepting the offer that had pulled Gordon back from the edge of paranoia and depression would be pure hell. No, he'd go see this whatever-it-was, and explain later.

"This way." Gordon was standing beside a blank wall, and as Scott watched he did - something - to a lightswitch, and a whole section of wall swung out towards them.

"Well, this is certainly secret."

"You'll see why." Gordon waved Scott into the wardrobe-sized recess. "There's a rail in front of you. Hold on tight, but don't lean forward. That's important."

"What --"

"It'll all make sense in a minute. Going down..."

The floor dropped away sufficiently fast that, even warned, his hands clenched on the rail. And then the blank wall in front of them vanished as they dropped into a monstrous, brightly lit cavern.

He'd known there were natural caverns under the house. He'd even been shown a couple of them - small, dusty tunnels barely high enough to stand up in. He'd had no idea there was anything like this down here. In fact, his shock was sufficient that he noted the contents without any particular surprise at all. There was a large selection of giant machinery down here, some of which looked like rock-cutting equipment. Two people were working on it, and there were another three at the other side of the cavern, apparently discussing a partly completed structure. That one did catch his attention. That one had wings.

As the lift slowed to a halt at ground level, Scott was out and over to the plane. Jet engines in the tail - several of them. Swing-wing design, but not one he'd seen before. She was gorgeous. New. Cutting-edge.

"And you would be?"

Scott didn't recognise the man who advanced on him, wrench not quite upraised but definitely at the ready, but Gordon was already on it.

"Ted, don't worry. That's Scott. He's with me."

"Scott, is it?" The wrench was lowered to swing casually in one hand. "Aren't you the pilot of the family?"

"Yeah," Scott replied absently, one hand on the front edge of the wing. He'd never seen anything quite like this. All the designs he'd ever flown had had that smooth, organic look, one line flowing into the other except where there was a sharp change of direction. This was chunky and angular, made up of geometric shapes, more like a child's toy than a real plane. And yet - it looked somehow right.

"What's her payload?"

"Payload? Pilot and not much else."

Scott frowned. "Not military, then?"

"Father's not explained it to him yet," Gordon put in, having finally picked his way through the maze of cables on the floor.

"Not told me what? This is what all the secrecy's been about? A one-man...something? What's it for?"

"It's a fast response plane." Gordon waved a crutch at the rear end of the plane. "All engine."

That was indeed a lot of engine. "What's her top speed?"

Ted looked at Gordon, who shrugged. "It's not my theory."

"The designer thinks she'll do twenty, stratospheric."

"Twenty. Mach twenty?" Scott stared at the plane with new respect. "That is fast response."

"Anywhere on the planet within a couple of hours, including time to speed up and slow down."

"So what's she done so far?"

"She's not been off the ground yet." Ted frowned at him. "Isn't that why you're here?"

Scott didn't answer. It seemed obvious that was what he was being offered - and, if there had been nothing else going on, he'd have killed to test-pilot this baby. But it was back to the old problem. He was being given it because of who he was, not what he could do.

"Sit in her, if you want," Ted offered. "I'm no pilot, but I can talk you through the controls."

He was sorely tempted, but..."No. Not right now." Scott took a couple of steps back, desperate to get his head in order. What was a plane like this for? He'd assumed it was incomplete, but now that he looked more closely he could see that it simply wasn't intended to have a traditional undercarriage. No wheels, just a set of struts with landing pads. Vertical takeoff, then. Scott had never done one of those. He wanted to now, badly. He could almost feel the controls underneath his hands. This was the sort of test-pilot job he'd dreamt of. A hypersonic commercial aircraft would be nothing compared to this. But there his boss wouldn't be his father. Scott turned on his heel and walked away, his jaw set.

"Scott! Wait for me!" Gordon had no hope of keeping up with him on crutches, but Scott had no idea how the lift controls worked, so he might as well give in right away rather than have Gordon yell after him all across the cavern. He stopped and waited.

"Don't you want this?"

"I don't want to be given it." Scott gave the silver beauty one last, regretful look. "If that didn't matter to me, I still wouldn't be staying. I'd be taking Dad up on his offer to get me into NASA."

"You're making a mistake. Please, don't say no yet."

"I'll make my own mistakes, thank you."

"Just don't make a decision until you have all the facts?"

"If it turns out this won't involve Father being my boss? Then I'll consider it. Topic closed." Scott put one hand on the front of the lift cage, indicating as clearly as he could that he was ready to leave, and firmly changed the subject. "So, where's that physio I've heard so much about?"

"She's gone home for the weekend. You'll meet her Tuesday. You were right, by the way - she's a sadist. And damn good at her job."

"I can see that." He considered how Gordon was moving, and decided a personal question was probably acceptable, especially if it wasn't phrased as a question. "That leg doesn't look shorter."

"The shoe's built right up." Gordon looked down, and shifted his weight to stand straighter. "It's just under an inch shorter. If I change my mind later, they can re-break it and put me back in the frame - but I don't think I will. I still need at least one more op on my foot. I want to be done with actual treatment as soon as possible."

Scott raised his eyebrows curiously. "Are you planning on going somewhere?"

"Just come talk to Father."

Jeff wasn't behind his desk when they got back into the living area, but they found him in his office, John sitting alongside him.

"What do you think of my plane?" Jeff asked as Scott sat down.


"She needs a test pilot."

Scott forced himself to breathe calmly and think through his response. "I'm not a test pilot yet."

"I still can't think of anyone else I'd rather have. She was designed with you in mind."

Scott frowned. "But I'd planned to spend another year or so in the Air Force, then NASA..." His voice trailed off as the full implications of what he was thinking sank in. "Please tell me you haven't known all along that my career was going nowhere. Or even made sure it didn't."

"No. No, Scott, you know I wouldn't." Scott was staring at the floor as Jeff put a hand on his shoulder. "I won't deny I knew something was going on, or that I've stayed out of it when I could have used my influence to put pressure on the selection boards. But, like I said, it would have been obvious. I figured you didn't want that, and if you did, you'd ask."

"I didn't want that." Scott swallowed. "I still don't. You've got a whole aerospace company full of experienced test pilots, and you want to give the fastest thing on wings to me? I'd never be able to show my face at an airfield again. I'd sure as hell never get any respect if you brought me in at management level later. You'd best not tell me any more, because that whole conflict of interest thing's going to be even worse if I get the job with Terranean. I'll see you at dinner."

He was still shaking, leaning on the balcony of his room, when he became aware of a presence either side of him, and a fantastic smell.

The hand holding the mug in front of him was definitely John's, from the blond hairs and the Harvard ring. The voice, though, was Gordon's.

"I figured this might work for you too."

Scott had two mouthfuls inside him before he started thinking clearly. "How'd you two get in here?"

"You weren't answering. We borrowed the master key." Gordon didn't apologise, though.

"Scott, please don't turn this down before you've thought it through." That was John. "This isn't going to be NASA. It'll still be a sight more interesting than some civilian airliner."

"Some civilian airliner designed by a company which Father doesn't own." Scott took another swig of the coffee, still staring out to sea.

"You say that like it makes a difference."

"It does." Scott took a ragged breath. "I guess I have to explain this once. I'm pretty darn sure I won't be able to say it to Father. So you'd both best listen hard."

"Scott..." That was Gordon, confused but still supportive. Good old Gordon.

"Just listen." He took a final mouthful, got his head in order, and turned to address two worried faces.

"Gordon once asked me whether I'd ever been given a job because of Father. I don't think I have. But every single person I've ever worked with has heard my name and assumed that's why I'm there. Every one. And now I've been told I can't get the positions I want precisely because I'm Dad's son and heir. So Father sets me up as the test pilot of his fancy new plane. It doesn't matter one bit whether I'm the best man for the job. Nobody will ever believe I didn't get it because of who I am. A totally separate civilian company would be different. I should have done it years ago. I'm sick and tired of being introduced as Scott, Jeff Tracy's oldest son. Just once, I'd like to do something that he can't possibly have had an influence on. Where I'd just be me, and he'd be Scott Tracy's father. I know I have to give it all up and go into management eventually, unless one of you would like to volunteer to take my place, but I'm not ready yet. Father wants to get me into the company through the back door right now. By giving me a plane I can't refuse."

"Hold that thought, Scott." There was a good deal of horrified sympathy in John's voice. "There'll be no publicity involved in this at all. I'm probably not supposed to tell you this, but what the hell. He's setting up a secret organisation. First response disaster rescue."

"A secret rescue organisation?"

"That's right." Gordon shifted uncomfortably, taking the weight off his right leg. "Why do you think Father put so much effort into keeping us in the dark? The number of people who know about it is in single figures. That plane down there is going to be the fastest thing in the sky. Imagine if someone racked a few missiles under its wings. Nobody's going to know who we are, where we're based, any details of the craft."

"Secret." Scott grimaced. "It's beyond belief. Father's lost his mind! The very first time his secret super-plane shows up somewhere, all anyone will have to do is backtrack the satellite surveillance records. 'Oh look! It came from Tracy Island. Gee, I wonder who's behind that.' John, please tell me you're not falling for this."

John cleared his throat. "Uh...Scott, he's thought it through better than that. That plane won't show up on surveillance. And there's more. He's got a space station. It needs someone to man it. A one man crew wouldn't overtax a decent filtration system."

"He offered you the station?" Scott heard the tension in Gordon's voice. John obviously didn't.

"Yes. He needs an astronaut and --"

The colour left Gordon's face as though it had been painted out, and he leant back against the wall before sliding down it to sit on the deck. Scott and John exchanged horrified glances, as both dropped to their knees alongside him.

"What did I say?" John gasped.

"Don't know. Gordon, talk to us! What's wrong?"

"Nothing." There was utter defeat in his voice, and Scott frowned again at John over his head. And then realisation seeped in. Gordon wanting to be free, not of medical problems, but of medical treatment.

"Gordon, did Father offer you the station?"

"Oh, shit," muttered John.

"Yeah, he did." All the bitter depression was back in Gordon's voice. "Course, that was before he realised he could have a real trained astronaut up there. Someone who's good at languages, not someone who's frantically cramming. I shouldn't be surprised. I'd have been rubbish at it anyway."

"Gordon - I didn't know!" John put a hand on his brother's arm, but Gordon shook it off.

"Don't worry. I'll get over myself."

"Like hell you will. I'm not taking a job he already offered to you. Come, Gordon. We'll go and tell him --"

John stopped mid-phrase, started to his feet and walked hastily to the other end of the balcony, groping in his pocket and gasping unsteadily. He stood there for maybe five seconds, shoulders visibly shaking, before erupting with one of the most explosive sneezes Scott had ever heard. A moment's respite, a mutter of "oh, crap," and he exploded again. And again. Five times in all, before his breathing settled and he turned back to them, face flushed in embarrassment, eyes watering, and his nose buried in his handkerchief.

"Sorry, Gordo. Maybe not just yet."

"You're allergic to something here?" Scott frowned. "It's a good onshore wind."

"Probably the change in air." John gasped again, pinching the bridge of his nose hard. "Damn drugs don't seem to be working."

"That pill you took this morning?"

"Yeah. Slow-release desensitisation...aah..." He turned away and sneezed three more times for good measure, before blowing his nose with an uncomfortable gentleness that had Scott wincing in sympathy. "Man, this sucks."

"You're sensitive to a change in air now?" Gordon queried.

John snorted. "Six weeks sneezing yourself silly every time a new flower feels like blooming will make you sensitive to just about anything. Right now, I feel like there's a couple of spiders running round my sinuses. What I can't figure out is why the pill isn't working."

Realisation hit. "Because it's busy making sure one of Father's palm trees will never sneeze again?"

John's palm hit his forehead. "Oh. Now I feel real stupid. And I have no idea when I can take another one. Today won't be much fun if I have to wait until tomorrow morning."

"I know someone who can tell you." Gordon pushed himself to his feet, still grim-faced. "Let's go see Brains. You too, Scott. It's about time you two met."

'Brains' turned out to be one of the people Scott had seen from a distance in the cavern. Short, slight, not much older than Gordon, wearing spectacles strong enough to distort his eyes when you looked at him, and possessed of one of the worst stutters Scott had ever heard. And painfully aware of it.

"Should I go?" he muttered to Gordon, as the young doctor struggled to ask a sneezing, snuffling John precisely what drugs he'd been taking when.

Gordon shook his head. "No point making him go through this twice. He's not so bad with people he's dealt with before. You standing here probably qualifies."

Even so, Scott felt decidedly uncomfortable. He turned his back, and scanned the contents of the walls. There might have been noticeboards under there somewhere, but he really couldn't tell. Blueprints overlaid printed specifications overlaid illegible scrawled notes on hand-drawn diagrams. All the same writing. Scott spotted the landing struts for the plane Gordon had shown him downstairs, meticulously hand-drawn and with a set of calculations alongside that his Oxford physics course gave just enough insight into that it confirmed the Mach Twenty top speed Ted had mentioned. Man, that was fast. From the looks of those figures, it would be manoeuvrable, too. No civilian airliner, that was for sure.

Another sheet he recognised as orbital mechanics. And something much less familiar, but apparently calculations for depths and water pressures on various shapes of hull.

"I thought you said this guy was a doctor? Nothing here looks like he's a doctor of medicine."

"Medicine and about four other things." Gordon indicated the total chaos around them. "Man's a certified genius. He designed One from scratch. And Three, and Four. And the stealth system."

"Three and Four? One? What's Two?"

"One's the plane you saw. Three's the supply ship for Five. Four's the most advanced one-man sub on the planet. Two's a heavy transport, still in the design stage." Gordon's mouth twitched at Scott's growing confusion, but he didn't smile. "Five's the space station I'd thought I was going to man. Brains didn't design that - it's a recycled comms satellite. Expanded a bit - well, quite a lot, actually - to take crew."

"We'll sort this, Gordo. Maybe Father wants two people up there? Or a rotation?"

"Doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out who'll be senior, though, does it?" He shrugged. "I was fooling myself. I'm not fit enough to do the work to set it up in any case. Just give me a couple of days, and I'll be able to be happy for John."

"Presuming anyone can stop him doing that." Scott jerked his head towards the other side of the room. John was barely managing monosyllables between sneezes, and every one sounded more tired than the one before. He obviously needed help. Even so, Brains crossing to a locked drug cabinet on the wall, extracting a phial and a syringe, and going back to John's side with the clear intention of injecting - something - into him was more than Scott could take in silence.

"Gordo - are you sure about this man? Being brilliant doesn't make him a medical doctor."

"He's a medical doctor." Gordon in coolly reassuring mode wasn't something Scott had heard too often, but actually his little brother wasn't at all bad at it. "I just wish he was a surgeon. Don't worry. You think I'd let someone incompetent drug John? You think I'd let him drug me?"

"If you're sure." Scott clenched his fists and watched as Brains, most competently he had to admit, swabbed John's forearm and injected whatever-it-was into him.

It worked. John stopped practically mid-sneeze, barely twenty seconds later.

"Thanks," he said  with a strong helping of disbelief, once he'd blown his nose and got his breath back. "That's good stuff."

"It is very strong." Brains told him, the stutter all but gone. "You should not drive, or operate heavy machinery."

John laughed shakily. "Ah - one of those drugs. I knew it was too good to be true. Guess I can live with it for now." But not permanently, was the strong implication. For now, though, John just looked relieved to have stopped sneezing. "Gordon, give me a couple of hours? I am going back to Father, but I need my brain to start working again first."

Gordon nodded, his expression freezing again, and this time John did notice. "Belay that. We're going right now. Scott - I could use your support. I'm not thinking so quick at the moment."

"I don't know anything about this station you're talking about."

"You know it's wrong to take away a job someone thought they'd earned."

Scott flinched. "Yeah. I know that."

Jeff was still in his office, behind a desk almost invisible under a stack of giant technical drawings, as they went in.

"Is there a problem? John, you don't look so good."

"I'm better than I was, now Brains has drugged me." John still sat down without waiting to be asked, though, and Jeff's eyes widened in alarm.

"So what's wrong?"

"You're giving me Gordon's job." John had always been blunt, but Scott still winced at the uncompromising statement. "That's not right."

"Gordon's job?" Jeff frowned, and at the incomprehension in his tone, Gordon himself cut in.

"Yes, Father. My job. The space station, remember? Low gravity? The sort of place a cripple could get around? I don't mind you deciding John's a better candidate than me. But I wish you'd told me first."

"Oh, my." Jeff's eyes went wide. "Gordon, I'm so sorry. I had no idea you hadn't... it's a long while since I thought of you as a candidate for the space station. I want your skills as an aquanaut."

Gordon swallowed. "You want me to train someone? I guess I can do that."

"No. No." Jeff sat forward, the intensity in his gaze apparently all that was holding Gordon in the room. "Son, I confess, when Scott first persuaded me to bring you into my confidence, I did see you as a cripple. It didn't look like you'd be out of the chair any time soon, if ever. But you've proved everyone wrong. You're walking, or as near as makes no difference. You're swimming, and I've seen the setting you have that endless current on. Nobody else here can get near it, and some of them swim darn fast. Brains has told me just how many of Four's facilities are things you came up with. She's your baby, Gordon. If you need a co-pilot, co-aquanaut, whatever you call them, to help you physically, then I'll find you one. But I've come to realise that cross-training a pilot just isn't going to work. I need a specialist at the controls, and that would be you."

Gordon just sat there with his mouth open.

"Does that help?"

Gordon's "yes" was uninflected, and Scott was unsurprised by his hasty exit.

John, though, was frowning. "Which is Four?"

Jeff's glance at his eldest son said it all, really.

"No, I haven't changed my mind. I'll take myself away. See you at dinner."

What he wanted was a computer and an Internet connection secure to military standards. Scott wasn't at all sure whether the one in his room, and the connection from the island, would qualify, but he had his suspicions. They were proved right. His Air Force ID and password got him straight in to a section not available to members of the public. Everything he did in here would be monitored. He went straight to the section detailing every job available in the Air Force, from test pilot to bottle-washer. That last, he'd never understood - he was reasonably sure not even Air Force bottle-washers had a security clearance high enough to view the information. Scott hesitated over the link to the test pilot details, then shook his head. There was no point. Not until the people selecting the candidates had changed. And if someone who cared enough to check his ID against his name was watching - well, the last thing Scott wanted was to show them how much that rejection still hurt.

Let them mull this one over. The link to the display team information was just below. Nominations for next year's team were due...soon. He had the requirements - barely. His flying hours as an instructor were higher than they'd have been on anything other than a front-line posting - then again, they weren't exactly high-stress. Oh, they said instructing was a prestigious assignment, that only the best were asked to do it, and it was probably true. But at the same time, if you were asked what you'd been doing for the last six months, "instructing" was definitely a second class answer compared to, say, flying reconnaissance over Bereznik. It just had that air of sitting nice and safe at home.

If he was going to go in for this, he was going to have to move. Final date for nominations was six days from now. He knew so little about it that right now applying would be a joke. Heck, he didn't even know where they were based. He had a vague memory that there were six pilots, maybe a couple of alternates, and that they flew trainers - well, that was something, at least. He had lots of time in trainers. This wasn't research to be done on the secured site, though, it could only demonstrate his ignorance. Scott logged out, turned the computer off and back on again for good measure - he wasn't sure whether it would make a difference to someone seeing where he'd gone to next, but he was pretty sure it couldn't do any harm - and set up a generic search on aerial display teams in general, and the US Air Force's variant in particular.

There was plenty of information out there. And some very seriously impressive photos. Scott had always dismissed the thought of aerial display. Now, though, he was wondering whether he'd ever actually considered it, or whether it had just been something his father hadn't done, and therefore not worth doing. He'd never so much as watched a film, as far as he could remember. Recruitment videos were for people who didn't have flying in their blood.

Now, watching grainy, wobbly, amateur footage, Scott found himself enthused by something in a way he hadn't been for a very long time. The British job wasn't him, he could see that now - good for making the point that he was his own man, but really, he wasn't a large plane pilot and they'd know that from one flick through his resume. The only way he could get that job was if somebody decided the Tracy family connection was worth it, and that was what he was trying to get away from in the first place. This sort of close-quarter aerobatics, now that he looked at it seriously rather than with the jaundiced eye of someone who considered it all rather pointless, he genuinely wanted to do. And nobody could say this was because of his father. Nobody would even believe he'd applied for it, given his father. Or, indeed, his own attitude. Scott only hoped that he'd never been too publicly vocal with what he now realised had been entirely unjustified snobbery. He didn't think he had been. When your father walks on the moon before your fifth birthday, you grow up knowing that anything you're overheard saying could be printed for all to see in the next day's paper.

His father wasn't missing out on anything, either. Jeff could use one of his experienced test pilots for that high speed beauty in the caverns - that, he regretted, but not enough to accept the misguided favouritism his father was offering. No, if he could get this, he'd have three years, and that might just be long enough for memories to fade, for the test pilots to reconsider, for NASA to take him seriously.

Gordon and John could stay here and work for Father - rescuing people had to be a good thing, and maybe he'd get involved eventually, on his own terms. Not yet, though. Scott Tracy was off to apply to the Thunderbirds.