Hello, again. Just a bit more to add.

9: Advance One Space

Scott Tracy's acquisition of Boeing International succeeded brilliantly, mostly thanks to the hard work and silver tongue of Albert Murchison Jenkins the Fourth, who deserved (and got) a considerable bonus. Boeing's resources would be put to good use in the years to come as Jeff Tracy's idea for "International Rescue" put down secret roots and began to grow. Something took shape under cover of Tracy Aerospace's money- and tech-hungry sprawl; a lightning-fast strike team which used the most advanced machines on Earth to reach and save people nobody else could help. For some obscure reason (had to do with the family ranch in Wyoming, actually) they called their rescue craft "Thunderbirds". And whether disaster had struck in space, underground, at sea or mid-air, International Rescue responded. But all of that lay in the future, yet.

Scott met with Cindy Taylor, his inquisitor/ date, at the time and place specified: the private event mezzanine at Le Cirque, in New York City. He went with barely-controlled nervousness and even a bit of hope, fed and shielded as one would nurse newly-kindled flames. The setting was certainly impressive, selected to show off his influence and purchasing power, and because he really did like the food. Besides, they knew him. All Scott had to do was gesture or glance around, and waiters materialized from the cherry-wood floors and gleaming steel wine tower.

Dining in relative private with Cindy, he discovered that she wore more makeup in real life than on assignment, preferred to dress in subtle colors, and that her personality combined stinging sarcasm and genuine warmth. Also that… for unstated reasons of her own… she did not ever want children.

"Nope," she'd stated, finishing up her second Long Island iced tea. "Not happening, Hollywood. Not for anyone. I don't divide, multiply or reproduce except with a calculator and copy machine. End of subject."

She did, however, laugh at his jokes and enjoy Scott's company, turning the "interview" into a muddle of awkward mutual fact-finding, just like any other date. Naturally, before showing up, he'd researched the reporter by screening her supposed exposé of Cassie Peak.

"Not exactly cutting edge stuff," Scott chided with a smile. He was drinking scotch and soda, himself (delivered in person by the restaurant's fawning Maitre d'). "More of a cry and confess love-fest."

Cindy shrugged. While the less-moneyed people seated at tables below them tried to guess who they were, she said,

"It's a criminal offense to pick on someone that lost and needy, or ought to be. Most people are scared to death when I get in their face with an autocam and microphone. Cass just wanted to talk. She's grown up around cameras, you know, raised in public by Omni Entertainment's KidFun channel as a wholesome child actor and then 'America's Teen Pop Queen'."

Flagging down a hovering waiter, Cindy ordered straight Coca-Cola this time.

"Two drinks' the limit," she apologized to Scott. "Off work, I can toss them back like a sailor, but not when I'm supposed to be sitting here dissecting you like some kind of lab specimen. Anyhow, Cassie's scared to death of losing her it-girl status. She's considered joining the cast of a reality show. Anything at all to stay public and current. I suggested high-profile charity work, and we ended up just… talking."

"Kind of like now?" Scott said to Cindy, over the musical clatter of silver forks on fine china and the hushed susurrus of a hundred conversations.

"Exactly like now," she agreed, picking at a medium-rare steak. "I work best when I'm outraged, but you're not quite the plutocratic bastard I was expecting, mega-fortune or not."

He sighed, ignoring a perfectly acceptable prime rib and potato.

"I'm a businessman, Cindy. I build up and link corporations, undercut my competitors and make money. That's my purpose in life. It's just… not a very satisfying one, lately."

Scott was as surprised as Cindy, when that bit of sentiment slipped out. It was true, though. He'd gone from piloting fighter jets to steering a giant multi-national corporation… and he wanted something else. Something higher.

Their date wrapped up after dinner on one of his yachts (Seabird, not Escape), where they went out on the bay to star-gaze and talk about life. It was a beginning, of sorts; one neither Scott nor Cindy dared place too much faith in. He didn't push sex, and she suggested a second meeting, taking their fragile relationship a cautious step forward. She went on calling him "Hollywood", too, which ought to have bothered him, but for some reason felt like a welcome-home kiss.

Meanwhile, John had to summon the courage to gird up his loins for another go at reality. He had to leave St. Raphael's, with its comforting round of medications, TV and therapists. Even with Dr. Craft's implant, and a definite goal in mind, this was hard. He spent a great deal of time studying; enrolling in special courses at Princeton University with an eye toward their NASA internship program, and he worked very closely with veteran astronaut Pete McCord.

The rest of the family soon gathered to welcome him; everyone from Grandma Tracy to Jeff's manservant, Kyrano and his beautiful young daughter, TinTin. (Kyrano's, not Jeff's… though Lady Penelope was already hinting at a new and better-bred heir. She didn't like him much. John, that is.)

At first, they mostly spoke to him like he was still seven years old and terribly delicate; as if mom had just died and his world was once more collapsing into silence and darkness. He quickly taught them better, mostly by being an irredeemable smart-ass. ...Except to grandma, who'd visited more often than anyone but Scott, and whose fiery temper hadn't softened one bit. At any rate, John Tracy had a future ahead of him, now; his to reshape and claim.