Just a litle, bridging sort of thing...

Ad Astra: 1

Some people, less burdened with this world's responsibilities, information and material wealth, might have considered Scott Tracy a very fortunate man. After all, he'd been a star student, talented athlete and decorated fighter pilot. Now, he was CEO of Tracy Aerospace, and one of the most powerful men in the world. Good looking, too, with dark hair, blue-violet eyes, dimples, broad shoulders and a clefted chin.

Blessed with all of that, some men might have been tempted to relax and enjoy life, but not Scott Aaron Tracy. Like his father, Jeff, Scott worked constantly. Or… like his father had, before the man's sudden retirement. At the moment, Tracy, Senior, was traveling the world with his fiancée, Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, leaving everything he'd once dealt with and agonized over to Scott.

That morning, the younger man was passenger aboard an aircraft he could easily have flown; reading a Wall Street Journal e-zine, checking his online stock reports, listening to his personal assistant and making plans for the day (in a half-hearted manner). Truthfully, there was much more than business on Scott's mind, as he sat in the Lear's splendidly appointed, faintly vibrating cabin.

He was en route from Tracy Island to Los Angeles, California, where a meeting was to be held to finalize his acquisition of Boeing. It was the brief stop on the way that had most of Scott's attention, though; not the clinking china, buttered croissants, coffee or insanely full business itinerary. Not even the woman seated across from him on the fast-jetting plane.

"Mr. Tracy… sir?" His personal assistant, Anita Clifton, seemed rather out of sorts, possibly because she'd had to repeat her last question several times, now. "What shall I say is your preference for the evening's dinner setting, sir? Balcony or courtyard?"

"Balcony," Scott decided, not really much caring. "And tell them to keep the music down. I'll be working late."

"Yes, sir. Balcony, no music. Prime rib and baked potato with Cobb salad? Strawberry shortcake for dessert?"

Scott ran a hand through his expensively trimmed hair, glad that Anita was around to shepherd him through this ocean of tiny decisions. That she was a button-cute redhead didn't hurt, either.

"Yeah. Sounds good, Anita. And, uh… contact Al Jenkins in public relations. Have him work up some "welcome to the family" re-orientation clips for the newbies. Boeing to Tracy Aerospace is quite a leap. Best get them prepared before the change-over."

"Yes, sir. I'll get Mr. Jenkins started on it, right away."

Anita nodded briskly, setting the small diamonds in her ears and lapel to sparkling in Plexiglas-filtered sunlight. Like Scott, she was dressed in fine, tailored business wear, but Anita wore her charcoal-grey suit and pale silk blouse with determined professionalism, while her boss was largely unconscious of his appearance once away from the closet.

Anita had been busily flicking and tapping her way through the appointment application on her sleek, silver i-phone. Now she glanced up from the screen, her grey eyes meeting Scott's over the top of her rimless glasses.

"St. Raphael's has contacted me to OK your visit, sir. Shall I confirm?"

As if there was any question.

"Yeah," Scott told her, with the particular mix of resignation and hope that always came over him at these times. "Confirm my appointment, and let Dr. Craft know that I expect a full update; treatment, progress… everything."

Just like always.

The company jet touched down at LAX later that morning, and then taxied to a private hangar, where a chauffeured black limousine was already warmed up and waiting. Scott exchanged a few vague pleasantries with the driver. Then he climbed into the vehicle with Anita and two armed body guards. The rest would follow in a separate car, close enough to come to the rescue, should anyone be foolish enough to attempt a broad-daylight kidnap. Such things had happened before, but this time, someone else was on the fame-and-envy hot seat, for much different reasons.

Scott Tracy's vehicles and entourage passed safely from the airport to his goal: St. Raphael of the Fountain Private Recovery and Long-term Care Facility, a pricey sanatorium which looked like a sprawling, walled campus nestled amid green, rolling hills. It was difficult to tell from looking at the place, but St. Rafe's was a sort of combination mental hospital and chic rehab center; the kind of treatment site where the nation's power elite hid their bent twigs and their self-medicated losers.

The Tracy family spent over two million dollars a year on one particular patient; Scott's brother, John. They visited regularly, as well, to be sure that the young man… who'd descended into frozen, bleak silence at seven years of age… was being well cared for. It would have been nice to keep John at home, but while they might have provided basic invalid care, they couldn't have treated him there, and Scott, grandma… hell, the whole family… still hoped for a genuine recovery, even after so many years. Also, John had a habit sometimes of getting up to wander the grounds; manageable in a young child, but difficult and dangerous to curtail in a fully grown man.

Scott had a number of important questions for Dr. Craft that morning, mostly having to do with a brand-new, two-pronged treatment strategy instituted a few months prior. He'd have liked to concentrate on wording his questions, but there was a crowd of surging, noisy paparazzi camped around the gate and stone walls of St. Raphael's, and getting through them was a very slow business.

"What's all this about?" Scott wondered aloud, peering through the car's tinted windows at a horde of seedy looking photo-journalists. They had long range lenses and digital video cams, and they bent down as the driver honked and inched past them, fighting for a glimpse at the limousine's passengers. "Did somebody famous skip out on rehab?"

"No, Mr. Tracy," Anita told him, shaking her sleekly coiffed head. "But someone extremely popular just checked herself in: Cassie Peak."

Scott's face must've been as blank as his memory, because Anita went on, adding,

"The pop star…? You know…? 'Touch Me All Over,' and 'Baby, I'm Your Sugar Rush'? Word is, her boyfriend dumped her to study in a Tibetan Lamasery, and her latest album's some kind of toxic disaster. So, she checked into St. Rafe's two days ago, to get away from all the press."

"Oh."

Scott nodded, though he didn't really get it. He'd never had a successful relationship in his life and couldn't sing a note, so Cassie Peak's troubles seemed vanishingly unimportant to him. Must have been pretty awful to her, though.

The mob outside included poster-wielding well wishers and several parked, picture-snapping tour busses. There was even a helicopter circling overhead. Altogether, St. Raphael of the Fountain looked more like a sporting arena than a private care facility, and Scott resented the chaos. What would happen if John somehow wandered into that crowd and got lost?

"Anita, have the director double security on my brother, and pass along my concerns about how all this noise and confusion is impacting his actual patients."

"Yes, Mr. Tracy." Wisely, she hadn't put away her phone, anticipating that Scott might have another few (hundred) demands.

It took them almost forty-five minutes to creep along the access road and in through the high, barred gates of St. Raphael of the Fountain. Scott was not in a good mood when he finally saw Dr. Craft. Not the physician's fault. Scott should probably have cut the man some slack instead of demanding to know how long this "brain chemistry adjustment" and "computer bio-feedback" was going to take to show results.

"Mr. Tracy," said the slim, smaller man, fussy in a white lab coat, folded stethoscope and black bowtie, "my methods work. Please have a bit of patience. Your brother's condition had been essentially unchanged for seventeen years. Reaching him, getting through those barriers, isn't going to be easy."

Or quick. Or cheap… but of course, Scott didn't say so. He just waited, and he paid, grasping after any hope at all that John could be "normal" again.

Dr. Craft's office was decorated in soothing colors and impressionist paintings, most of them produced by his higher-functioning patients. His bank account was decorated by John Tracy, Cassie Peak and every other mixed-up billionaire's kid who wound up at St. Rafe's.

Nevertheless, Scott apologized for his impatience and shook the psychiatrist's hand, then listened as Craft explained how medicines were altering the balance of certain neurotransmitters in John's brain, and stimulating the growth and branching of mirror neurons. But the most promising treatment, Dr. Craft assured him, came from an array of attention-sensing bio-feedback instruments.

"Essentially, Mr. Tracy, when your brother pays attention to anything at all external… even a patch of sunlight or the movement of characters on a TV screen… he's rewarded with pleasant tones or a favorite video clip. Shifting his focus is like turning an aircraft carrier, Mr. Tracy, but it is happening. He's used the bio-feedback gear to change his suite's lighting and shut the drapes, and once to switch television channels from soccer to baseball. It's working, Mr. Tracy… one small step at a time."

Scott nodded slowly, forcing himself not to become overly hopeful. To the dapper, precise little doctor, he said,

"I want what's best for my brother, Dr. Craft. Whatever that takes and however much it costs. You worked miracles in the Lyn Carroll case. I expect nothing less from you, now."

Dr. Craft's jaw muscles tightened, but he agreed.

"Of course, Mr. Tracy," he replied in grim, quiet tones. "I vow to do everything in my power to speed and guide John's recovery."

A promise which Scott intended to hold him to. He left Dr. Craft's office in the company of Anita and a single body guard, traversing St. Raphael's park-like grounds and grand hotel interior with just one notable incident. He bumped into a nurse on the way to John's suite, literally colliding with the dark-haired young woman, who must have been new to the place.

"Sorry about that," she said to Scott, ignoring the body guard's fixed stare and bulging muscles. "I just went on-shift again, after a two hour nap. This isn't my usual ward."

"Right," Scott agreed, suspicious, but unable to decide why. "Lack of sleep's a killer, for certain. That's why they fed us round-the-clock alertness tabs in the Air Force."

She cocked her head, gazing at Scott, Anita Clifton and the body guard, Mitch. Her nametag read "Sandra Trainor" and her aspect was anything but exhausted. More like alert and curious, Scott would have said. Vaguely familiar, too.

"Fighter pilot, huh?" she guessed, with uncomfortable accuracy. Strange… but maybe she'd nursed aviators in the Air Force or Navy before coming to St. Raphael.

"Something like that. And now, if you'll excuse me, Ms. Trainor…?"

"You betcha," the woman said to him, all at once bright and plasticky sweet as a life-sized, brunette Barbie Doll. "Have a nice day, sir!"

Then she sped off along the broad, blue-carpeted hall, angling toward a row of big windows overlooking the sanatorium courtyard. Another time, Scott would have worried more, but just now, primed by Dr. Craft, he was eager to see his brother, John.