Several years ago ... "Wow, Dad -- that was awesome!" Jason shouted, running into the family lounge. "All those reporters, and the cameras! That was so cool!" "Yeah," said Rusty, dropping down into an easy chair. He already had a beer bottle in his hand. "Real smooth, kid." "And they wanted to hear all about it from Amir and me, too," Jason went on. "I wonder if we'll be on TV?" "They asked many, many questions," Amir chimed in. He looked excited, too, though he was usually a lot more reserved than his adoptive brother. "I'm pretty sure you'll be on TV, kid," Rusty. "Oh, yeah." "That's enough, Rusty," Byron said, following the rest of the quartet into the lounge. "I dropped a quick word to Barb while I was getting the Q-Jet shut down. She'll have Hannah and the PR team reach out to media, see if we can control the damage." "That's what we pay 'em for," Rusty replied. He took a long drag off the bottle. "AEGIS would probably like to keep some wraps on this, too. It was their damned mission after all." "Yeah, she said Kestrel had already been in touch. They'll work their magic as necessary." Jason looked between the two adults. "What's the matter, Dad? I mean we got them, right? I mean, the missile silo, the terrorists, all of 'em. Boom! Looked like a mushroom cloud, but I'm glad it wasn't!" "They did explode into a large number of pieces, Dr. Quill." "Yes, I know, boys, I know. And that was quick thinking, opening up that fuel tank." "It melted their faces right off! It was awesome!" "I thought it was also a little gross." "Well, yeah, but also really cool." Byron sighed. "Yes, it was very ... effective, boys. But probably not something that the press needed to hear about." "Are you kidding, Dad? They thought it was cool, too! They kept asking all those questions --" "Yes, yes I know. Journalists always prefer the lurid, the grotesque -- and the things they don't understand." "Yeah," Rusty chimed in. "They usually don't understand ten-year-old boys blowing up missile silos in residential neighborhoods." "But -- you told me to push the button." "Yes, he did." Byron gave Rusty a look. Rusty took another swig, and put the empty bottle down on the end table. "The neighborhood had been cleared, the missile countdown was at T-minus-47 seconds, Jason was in the control room, you and I were pinned down by automatic weapons fire." "I was in the control room, too," Amir said. "Yeah, Amir helped me. We had to turn keys on opposite sides of the room and everything. It was just like in that movie --" "Yes, yes, I know, just like." Byron pinched the bridge of his nose. "Boys, the problem is not with what you did. In fact, you showed an admirable combination of both initiative and following instructions. It's just --" "Just what, Dad?" "You can't just talk about this sort of stuff to reporters, dammit!" "I -- I don't understand, Dad." "Me, either, Dr. Quill." "Amir, I said you could call me Father. Or Byron. Now that the paperwork has come through." "Yes, Dr. -- Byron." Byron put on his teaching face. "Freedom of the Press is a remarkable thing, boys. An uninformed public cannot make wise decisions in a representative democracy." Rusty made a noise, then got up to saunter back into the kitchen. "But data is only of value in context. Without fully understanding situations within their proper setting, with a full analysis of risks and benefits, or, for example, of the technologies involved, it's impossible to render that data into meaningful information -- or to use that information to develop informed judgments." "Uh-huh," Jason said, uncertainly. "Incomplete data, on the other hand, can lead to misjudgments, to misunderstanding as to what is actually going on. Misinformation is the ancestral enemy of wisdom, of science, of --" "In other words, Jason," Rusty interrupted with his return, another longneck in hand, "loose lips sink ships." "In -- so many words, yes." "So ...?" Jason asked. "So make sure you have a story before you speak to the press," Rusty went on, dropping down into his chair. "Minimal details. Focus on the outcome -- black hats down, people saved, democracy protected, that sort of thing. If they ask questions, and you don't have easy answers, plead classified information, or operational security, or that more information will be forthcoming through the appropriate channels. If they press you, then refer further questions to another authority. "So you, or Dad?" "Exactly, Jason," Byron added. "We're -- used to appropriate dissembling, or making judgments about what people should or shouldn't be troubled by." "But isn't that kind of like lying? I mean, wouldn't it be better if you just explained all of it?" "I think what they mean, Jason," Amir said, "is that sometimes it is better to tell a white lie than to cause unnecessary problems by telling the whole truth." "Precisely, Amir," Byron said. "Well said." "It's all about outcomes, Jason," Rusty said. "Were the terrorists taken down? Were the aliens repulsed? Dimensional barriers sealed up? Spies arrested? Dinosaurs corralled? Robots dismantled? Were innocent lives saved? Was national security preserved?" Rusty shrugged. "If so, then it's all good, and that's what's most important. How you did it doesn't matter." He dropped his voice. "Except for the people who think it does." "Or, as Machiavelli put it, Jason, 'in the actions of all men, one judges by the result,' or, as it is usually summarized --" "The ends justify the means," Amir finished. "Exactly, Amir." Jason frowned. "But what if I have to talk to the press, and you guys aren't around?" "Make up a story," Rusty replied. "If one can be logically constructed," Byron added quickly, "without risk of contradiction. A deliberate falsehood uncovered looks worse than vagueness." "You can say that again," Rusty muttered. "But," Byron went on, "a falsehood that holds up satisfies the press more than refusal to answer. And it sets the narrative, rather than allowing base speculation." Byron cocked his head. "You're the heir to a significant heritage, Jason. The media will always be looking for ways to tell stories about you. That's why it's important that -- well, that you tell the stories first." "So what should I have said? In this case?" Rusty snorted. "'We're not sure what happened,'" he said in a falsetto. "'There was just fire and explosions everywhere. Oh, we were perfectly safe because my dad and Rusty would never let us sneak into a terrorist missile silo that we stumbled on while chasing our damned corgi into a deserted house.'" "That's not helping, Rusty," Byron said. "But he's right, boys. This might in fact have been better handled through feigned ignorance." "But we did the right thing, Dad." "I know, son, but too many folk out there are looking for ways to tear people like me, or people like us, down. You did the right thing, but some of the more -- gory details -- those are the things that might lessen the public opinion of our family." "Not to mention lessen the chance of another season of that damned cartoon," Rusty muttered. Jason perked up. "That'd be a good thing." "No," Byron said, firmly, "That would be a bad thing. The money from that show is -- useful. As is the good will that it provides to the Quill name." "So how do I know if it's something I shouldn't talk about?" "If it's something they really want to hear." Rusty took another drink from the bottle. "Maybe for the time being, just refer questions to Rusty or me," Byron said. "At least until you learn a little bit more about what not to talk about. "Melting faces is a good first clue," Rusty said. "Massive explosions and damage to property. Anything else you think sounds cool." "There's a balance, of course," Byron added. "A little bit of excitement is of value -- and can distract from the aspects that are maybe ... too exciting." Byron smiled, though it looked a bit forced. "You'll learn, Jason. Amir. You're both quick studies." "We will learn, Doc -- Byron. We will." "Sure, like he says, Dad. We'll get it." "Good boys. Now, how about some ice cream?" "Sounds great!" "Go ahead, then. I'll join you in a minute." After Jason and Amir ran off, Byron looked at Rusty, rolling his eyes. "To be young." "And that naive." "I tell you what, though, Rusty: I hate it. I hate ... triangulating everything I say in public. Vetting statements through AEGIS. Running releases through Legal. Worrying that anything I say might start a public panic, or crash our share prices, or lead to an international incident." He shook his head. "I've saved the world a dozen times. Two dozen. Three dozen, if you count cooperative efforts with other talents. They should certainly trust my judgment more than some talking head on CNN. And I'm a scientist , dammit. Free dissemination of data is fundamental. Being politic, 'spinning' everything I say in front of an open mic, telling tales to both titillate and comfort -- well, Jason was right. It's lying, no matter what I argue otherwise." Byron held out a hand. Rusty handed the beer bottle over to him, and he took a swig. "So it's lying," Rusty said. "Truth is the first victim of war, Byron. That's another old saying for you. And we're at war. Anything we say that reduces our capabilities, compromises our response, makes us that much weaker in that war, which means more people get hurt." "I know." "Inter-dimensional invaders, aliens, runaway robots, time bubbles, science maniacs like Chin, or just plain old garden-variety terrorists and spies -- they all have to be stopped. And we're the ones that end up having to stop them. And we can't do that if Action News at 7 is running a feature on how using rocket fuel on the naked flesh of alleged terror suspects is cruel and inhuman, and so why is Dr. Quill teaching his kid to do that very thing?" "I know, I know. It's just --" Byron shook his head again, taking another drink before handing the bottle back to Rusty. "I wish they didn't have to learn that lesson. Not yet." "Amir's picked it up pretty quickly, the little stinker. I'd start checking his alibis more closely. Jason -- well, he's got too much of the 'hero' in him to be a natural-born liar." Rusty angled the bottle neck at Byron. "I blame you." "And so I have to teach him about the unheroic side of life, too?" "Your own streak of heroism is part of what makes you so damned attractive, Byron. I'll talk some more to the boy myself. Better he see me as the embittered, cynical, worldly ex-spy, than he thinks less of you." Byron snorted. "Join us for ice cream?" "Embittered, cynical, worldly ex-spies don't eat ice cream. At least not where other folk can seem them. You run along, I'll double-check with AEGIS, just to make sure this is under control." "Got it. Thanks, Rusty." "That's what you keep me around for, Byron." "I keep you around for a lot of reasons." "Remind me of that later tonight. Go. Eat ice cream. Be a hero." Byron snorted again, and followed the boys into the kitchen.