Follows up 'There Goes the Neighborhood', still alternate universe, though, as Darkhelmet points out, tending ever closer to movie-verse. Some edits were made to the previous story's last chapters and epilogue.

Another Time

1

Cindy Taylor had flown to New York City on WNN's nickel, she and Jake both having 'forgotten' that she'd quit.

Times Square was a radioactive no-man's land; neon signs shattered, buses and taxis smashed, the crowds simply… gone. Transferred.

As a gale-force wind shrieked between smoldering skyscrapers, Cindy directed the news copter's pilot to bring them in as close as possible. They had a lot of room to maneuver, at first. Most local air traffic had been grounded, the rest diverted well past the flaring electro-magnetic torch that had been mid-town Manhattan.

International Rescue wasn't present, too busy responding to events in space, below ground and under water to race to the scene of a more accessible disaster. Instead, this job belonged to FDNY, Civil Defense, and New York's finest.

Cindy's re-issued press credentials had allowed the WNN heli-jet, pilot and reporter close enough to look, and far too close for safety. The pilot, Nick Baldeon, zipped in a bit, banking away just as a police-heli cut toward them. It was a crazy, swooping ride. Hand pressed to her mouth, Cindy scarcely noticed. She hadn't spoken much.

Down below, brave men in yellow survival suits put out fires, poking through the charred wreckage of what looked an awful lot like a spaceship. But no-one had come out and said it. Not yet.

Manipulating the twin sticks, Nick banked again, swinging the news copter through a brief, angry squall. The sky was spitting like a frightened cat. Between rolling clouds, glimpsed past the sharpened fingers of Manhattan's abandoned towers, the heavens looked green and cold.

"Cindy," Nick said, raising his voice to be heard above the heli-jet's hissing blades, and the occasional staticky radio burst, "Fuel's gettin' low, Babe. There ain't nowhere safe to land any closer 'n Queens. We gotta go."

She wasn't listening. Voice rock-steady, quite unaware that there were tears sliding from her dark eyes, Cindy said,

"Take us along 42nd Street. As close as you can, Nick. There… just past the Virgin Building…. I think that's the prow."

…where the ship's name had been painted. Surely, surely there were survivors. For five families who desperately needed good news, and for Scott's sake, she hoped so.

The heli-jet swayed and juddered, battered by updrafts and radiation. Nick did his best to keep her level while zipping through a network of urban canyons, his brown eyes focused far ahead of their position. Light poles, billboards, other heli-jets… downright unhealthy neighborhood these days, Manhattan.

Blackened, split and sparking, the corpse of a space ship shot past beneath them. Those parts not somehow melded with the Tower Building, anyway. Once again, police copters swooped in, attempting to drive Cindy and her pilot away from the wreck.

Not before she saw the yellow-suited figures lower something from the flight deck in a metal stretcher. Something sheeted.

Nick glanced over at the silent reporter. Working in a different region, he encountered Cindy Taylor only a few times a year. Like everyone else in the business, though, he knew that she'd been close to one of the astronauts. The tears had dried up, but her face was terribly pale.

All at once, he depressed a pedal and pushed the right stick, sending his bird into a swift, darting climb.

"Time to go home," the pilot announced.

Many years earlier, Princeton University-

Amid ancient, carven stone, ivy-draped gates and big old trees, all the well-heeled students and their proud professors, the pair made a jaw-dropping contrast. One skinny, blond and young, dressed like a bass player in the world's least successful grunge band. The other a big, silver-haired old cowboy with a wind-chapped face and work roughened hands, his clothing older than some of the students.

Freshman registration had begun, and the two were making their way through a maze of lawns and courtyards and car parks, to the student administration building.

"Thought you was going t' get that cut," Grant Tracy remarked, as his 16 year-old grandson pushed a lock of wind-whipped hair from his eyes. The man's voice was deep and gravelly, made as smoky as lapsang tea by uncounted hordes of cigarettes.

"I did, Sir," the boy replied quietly, not looking up. "This one."

And he selected a single, silvery-pale strand which was, indeed, somewhat shorter than the rest. Then,

"You want me to cut another?"

Grant made a sound, halfway between a snort and an aggravated sigh. Folk drifted past, intent on business of their own. Ahead of them loomed the admin building, grey and solid against the cloud-flecked autumn sky.

"You sure this is what you want, Boy?"

John hesitated. Somewhere deep inside, with the rest of the junk, he was both terribly excited, and scared as hell. School, in his experience, had never yet been a good thing. Just a dumping ground, someplace he'd been left once his mother died, and the home lessons ceased. A chaos of classes and bells and other students, few of whom he'd known. At least, there'd been brothers… Here, he'd be alone. But, maybe that was the point. To get away. To start again.

"Yes, Sir. I'm sure."

They started up the steps, John briefly distracted by the rough, gritty feel of the cool stone balustrade beneath his left hand; by the individual sparkle of mineral crystals in the densely grained rock.

He had to work very hard, sometimes, to see the whole picture, instead of its fragmented bits.

"Not too late to change your mind, switch to UW, is all I'm sayin'," the old man continued blithely. "There's a passel of horses and an old woman I know of, 'ud be a sight happier if you was closer to home."

John glanced up at his grandfather, ignoring the ice-pale hair (less a few truncated strands) that blew across his own face. The old man said nothing further, though, made no direct order that he'd just have to find a way around.

So, John merely shook his head. Stubborn, as always. Grant clapped a big hand to his grandson's shoulder, feeling a lot of sharp, skinny angles beneath the layered clothing.

"Come on, then," he sighed, removing his battered Stetson as they went through the broad doors. "Best we get you settled in."