The boys gathered in the breakfast room for a private conference. Their father was holed up in his office, on a secure. simultaneous comm-link with WorldGov, Interpol, and the Malaysian Peace Council. He was going to be busy for quite some time, which left his sons plenty of space to talk things over.

TinTin was upstairs in her own bedroom, sleeping it off. She'd wakened briefly, smiling up at Alan and Gordon as though nothing had happened; and indeed, for her, nothing had. She recalled no more than falling asleep at Gordon's bedside, then waking on the laboratory couch, having had a strangely restless night. It was better that way, probably. The boys quietly decided that she'd never find out about the night's doings from them... and she never did.

The room was flooded with sunshine and bird song, the open french doors letting in all the beauty and warmth of a tropical morning, the white walls, polished wood and filmy curtains fairly glowing. Another day in paradise.

Grandma made them a late breakfast, giving each his favorite, "back from a hard rescue", meal. For Scott there was a fried egg-and-bacon sandwich, with strong black coffee. Virgil had a huge slice of pecan pie and a big glass of orange juice. John received scrambled eggs, sausage and toast, with everything arranged carefully upon the plate so that the various foods didn't touch. He, too, took his coffee black, and, as Grandad would have put it: "strong enough to float a railroad spike."

Grandma fussed a bit more about his food than the others, but then she saw him much less often these days, who'd once been her silent shadow.

"Mind you clean that plate, now," she ordered, resting a slim hand on the back of his neck, briefly. "You're still too skinny, by half! Turn sideways and you'd disappear altogether! Damn space station food wouldn't fill a gnat. What Jeffery's thinkin' of, letting you go off like that, I don't know..." and she stumped off to the kitchen again, still complaining. John smiled a little, but cleaned his plate.

Gordon had started to help Victoria Tracy bring in the food, but she'd stopped him with a sharp look.

"I don't know how they manage these things back east, young man, but where I'm from, the men don't fetch and carry to the table. The boys do." And then with a mischievous smile, "Alan, get yourself up and give Grandma a hand."

Apparently, the youngest Tracy was still in hot water for talking back to his mother in front of Grandma. Alan blushed, mumbled something, and got up to help.

She needed him, too, because Gordon (who ate like a forest fire) required a great deal of feeding. He didn't much care what was on the plate, as long as it kept coming, replacing what his brutal training regimen constantly wrung out. Plenty of caffeine, too; gratefully accepted in whatever heavily sweetened form she cared to deliver it.

Alan finally thumped down with a bowl of Lucky Charms, a kiss from his grandmother and a flaming face.

"How come I have to help serve...?" he groused, pouting like a child as he sloshed an ocean of milk and sugar into his cereal bowl. "I'll be fifteen in..."

Virgil put down his fork and shot the boy a quelling look.

"Shut up and pay attention, Junior. Your mouth is robbing your ears."

Alan started to reply around a mouthful of cereal, but Gordon kicked him under the table. Chastised, the younger boy choked, swallowed, and shut up.

Pretending not to notice, Scott pushed his plate away, looked over at John and said,

"So he's dead?"

His blond second brother paused a moment, then said, consideringly,

"Unless he can teleport, or reassemble his atoms... Yeah. I'd say it's a safe bet he's one with the cosmos."

Scott nodded. Like John's, his eyes were a deep violet-blue and very serious.

"What about the General?"

"Matter of time. Interpol is flushing out the last of his safe places , and I've managed to get a few of our operatives on each of the strike teams. Two days, maybe three, if he puts up a fight."

"Things 'll be back to normal, then, soon," Scott sighed. "We can start slipping out again. How's the new space station coming along?"

John arranged his napkin, plate and utensils before answering,

"I've had the virtual tour already, and it looks good. Bigger, and better positioned. It'll be out at L5 instead of low orbit. Much harder to hit. If we go ahead with round-the-clock construction, she'll be up in six months."

Scott seemed satisfied, but Virgil, a hint of concern in his brown eyes, probed further.

"Still sure you want to be back out there, full time? I mean, we could always take turns, or..."

John shook his head no. He didn't really know how to explain the need to take his awakening computer and withdraw. Penelope hadn't understood, either; calling him cold and unfeeling. Not that he didn't care for them all. Not that Earth didn't have its moments... but he didn't really belong here anymore. Life, up close and personal, was just too complicated.

"I'm sure." Then, "I'll stay in touch. There are comms."

"...And frozen pizzas," Virgil cut in suddenly, smiling broadly. "I know, John; you won't shrivel up." His smile faded just a little as he added, wistfully, "But it's been kinda nice, having you around again. For such a quiet guy, you sure do leave a hole."

An unusually reflective and sentimental observation for Virgil, but it had been a tough few months.

"I'll visit."

"You'd better! If Grandma has to come up there and fetch you, she'll kick your bony ass all the way back from orbit."

They laughed, a little ruefully, for their Grandmother was more than capable of doing just that, with the business end of a shotgun, if necessary.

Scott looked over at Gordon, who'd finally lifted his head from his food.

"What about you? Staying awhile?"

His red-haired brother responded with a brief nod.

"Trainin' starts up again next month, but until then, I'll stay on. And, uh... you can call me up if the need arises, even so. Just a few swim meets, after all."

"Right. Glad to hear it." Now Scott shifted his attention to his youngest brother. Alan, caught in mid-chew, swallowed hastily and tried to look cool.

"So... you're official, now?" Scott asked him.

"Yeah. Um... I can come along, anytime." Alan replied, hating the slight squeak in his voice, like he hated the pimples.

Scott chuckled. They'd been there, all of them.

"Welcome aboard," he said, smiling.