Osama's Last Stand
Rated T for language, violence
Disclaimer: All licensed characters belong to their respective owners. The character of Stephen Maturin belongs to Patrick O'Brian, of the Aubrey-Maturin novels, and Kim Possible belongs to Disney.
And if I owned Disney's Kim Possible, I'd be living in a bigger house. :P
Author's note: The world of "Osama's Last Stand," as you will soon find, is an alternate past. That is one problem with setting a timeline within the relatively near future and then constraining it to real-life objects and people. I started writing in January 2005; at my age, "forever away" is next Tuesday. By comparison, 2007 seemed waaaay down the line. Unfortunately, humanity got in the way and when 2007 finally rolled around, it didn't look too much different from 2005.
In this timeline, the Iraqi crisis was brought under control by winter 2006, largely due to Kim's assistance. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, instead of being killed in an airstrike in June 2006, was captured by Kim in August 2005 (Chapter 3 alludes to this). As a result, the Al Askari Mosque bombing did not occur, and the mini civil war that was Iraq 2006 did not result. However, because there was no "stress release" in 2006, Iraq continued to simmer and 2007 still required a troop surge. The deployment was still the same size, but the force was split between Afghanistan and Iraq, generating to less controversy, acrimony, and bitterness on the home front.
The drop in Iraq tensions produced more conciliation at home, leading the WTC Memorial Committee to stop squabbling by December 19th, 2005 (without coincidence, the date in 2001 that Ground Zero finally stopped smoldering) and get to work on completing the Freedom Tower.
The 787 experienced no electrical woes and was delivered in January 2007 as one of the most widely-purchased airliners in history.
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoy it, and please leave a review!
1. The Day Which Will Live in Infamy… Take IV
Monday, April 23, 2007
Logan International Airport
8:46 AM EST
The morning of April 23, 2007, dawned sunny, warm, and clear. People across the United States of America got up, ate breakfast, and went to school or work. Cupping their eyes against the glare, commuters grumbled that yet another beautiful day was going to be wasted at the office. All was busy, hectic, and normal at Boston International, home of the Red Sox. A scrolling ticker above the arrivals gate displayed a temperature of 70 degrees, 30 percent humidity, and the day's forecasted high of 85.
The morning was so normal and mundane, in fact, no one noticed or cared as a scattered group of fifteen Middle-Eastern men passed through security with scarcely a 'beep' from the detectors, shoe scanners, or guards with wands, and without luggage. After presenting passports verifying American citizenship and their tickets, they boarded Boeing 787 Flight 34 from Boston to LA.
The 787-8 was an all-new, fuel-efficient, composite-built airplane with a range of 9,445 miles. Christened in early January 2007, it had a seating capacity of 223 passengers and a cruise speed of 561 miles an hour. Because it was built long after the 11th of September, 2001, and since no attack on the American homeland had occurred since then, the doors to the pilot's cabin were built of composite and aluminum, instead of the reinforced steel of earlier jetliners.
Coincidentally, all fifteen of the men sat in first class seats near the cockpit door.
At 9:00 AM sharp, Flight 34 disengaged from the telescoping boarding ramp and taxied into position on the tarmac. At 9:15, after clearance from the tower, it throttled up to full power, screamed down the runway, and lifted up into the wild blue, headed for Los Angeles.
The pilot turned off the "Seatbelt ON" sign. Stifling early-morning yawns, jetsetters rumpled open newspapers, began tapping on Blackberries, and cranked up their iPods. Drowsy silence diffused through the cabin, broken only by a few squabbling children back in economy class. A wristwatch beeped "9:30."
One of the Mideastern men carefully eased out of his seat and made his way to the rear of the plane, gently muttering apologies as he squeezed between obese passengers sitting in the isle seats. Reaching the aft section of the airliner, he leaned against the restroom bulkhead, patiently waiting for the red "occupied" light to flicker off.
Sitting in the rearmost row of seats, a broad-shouldered man in a Hawaiian shirt swiveled around to glare suspiciously at him. The standing man noticed the gaze after a moment and twiddled his fingers at him in a small, reassuring wave, while delicately mouthing the letters A-C-L-U. Scowling, the Hawaiian-shirted man turned back around front. Crossing his arms for a moment, the Mideastern man swayed slightly and put a hand on the opposite wall to steady himself against a bit of turbulence.
In unison, all fourteen of the other Middle Eastern men stood, holding their right shoes in their hands. Pressing a tread knob on the sole, a five-inch nalgene-plastic knife slid out the back of the rubber heel. The nalgene could be sharpened to an edge as strong and keen as steel, and was not detectable to the metal or plastic-explosive detectors.
Every eye in the compartment widened in absolute horror. The man in the Aloha shirt dived out of his seat and into the isle, drawing a SIG-Sauer P229 from beneath his shirt. Distracted by the activity up front, he didn't notice as the leaner stepped forward, shoe in hand. Wrapping an arm around the man's head, he jammed the knife deep into the marshal's neck and ripped sideways, opening him up like a Pez dispenser. The agent slumped forward into the isle. A woman screamed. The terrorist leader broke the pistol from the agent's dead hand and shot her.
Five or six passengers made to stand up to fight, but the terrorists stabbed them before they could get out of their seats. A special suicide group raced down the isles and threw themselves on the other air marshals as they drew their weapons, stabbing frantically. Three were mortally shot, but managed to slit their assigned marshals' throats before they went down. Gouging passengers in the face, other hijackers recovered the pistols and started picking off resisters. While most of the surviving terrorists covered the passengers and prevented an uprising, five worked on the door. They threw their weight onto it until it cracked and smashed off its hinges. They were momentarily halted by the hail of gunfire streaming from the pilots' weapons. Halted until, of course, the flight crew ran out of ammunition. The hijackers then silenced the pilots before they could reload, took control of the instruments, and reloaded the handguns, keeping them trained on the remaining civilians.
A new name had joined the ranks of Peal Harbor, Oklahoma City, and 9/11: 4/23.
The attack had officially begun.
FAA Control Center
Rick Price sat bored, staring into the screen of the Northeastern Quadrant flight paths. Slowly scanning his eyes down the circular LCD display, his pupils noticed an odd j-curving flight path, labeled "Flight 34." He warily picked up the surface-to-air communicator next to the computer.
"Hello, Flight 34, do you read?" he said. "I noticed you've diverged from your planned flight route and –"
A loud, rough, celebratory voice blasted through the earpiece. "Wakie-Wakie America! We're baaack! HAHAHA!"
"Who–who is this? You're not Captain Beauregard!"
The phone roared back, "Of course not, you stupid infidel, THIS IS AL-QAEDA!"
Rick paled, using all his professional control to war with a sick horror settling into his stomach. "Excuse me?" Instinctive protocol finally burned through his shock, and he began grouping one-handedly for the NORAD contact button.
"Yes, yes, you stupid pig!" the earpiece screamed, "We have planes – yes, you heard me right, planes! We will plunge your cities into mourning–!"
Behind him, Rick started to hear startled cries from other flight plan controllers.
"787 Flight 52 from Boston to LA diverging course!"
"787 Flight 668 from Boston to San Francisco diverging course!"
"787 Flight 103 from Boston to Salt Lake City diverging course!"
"787 Flight 74 from O'Hare to Richmond diverging course!"
The mad ranting continued, "- we will rain Hell from the sky! We will make your streets run red with blood! To your doom today, America! Allāhu akbar! Allāhu akbar! Allāhu-"
The line cut out abruptly. Rick slowly removed his headset, stared blankly at it for a few seconds, and placed it gently on the desktop. His brain felt numb and useless as he stood and walked to a PA mount. His movements did not feel his own, and he stared down at his feet. It was as though he were a clay marionette someone had jammed with sticks and was walking about, stiffly. Rick lifted the handset and pressed "Loudspeaker All" with his thumb.
"This is controller Rick Price." His voice wasn't his own, either. The real Rick wanted to scream "Holy shit! Holy shit!" until his vocal cords gave out. "This is not a drill. We have a multi-plane suicide hijacking. Repeat, this is not a drill. NORAD integration has been activated." He paused for a moment. "This is condition Baker. Prepare for war."
White House; Pennsylvania Avenue
"…Mr. President, we have reports of several airplanes heading this way; we need to get you below-ground now."
President George W. Bush turned from the Secret Service agent to glance quickly through the high mullioned windows. "Yes, yes, I know. Make the Homeland Security color 'red,' and – Holy Longhorns, hit the deck! 'Ere she comes!"
Flight 34 tore low over the suburbs of Fairfax County and Alexandria. The roar caused many people to look up in surprise, and remembering where they had heard it before, gape in horror. Media cameras trained eagerly upward – there would be no crackpots shouting about CIA missiles or planted explosives this go around. The airplane streaked closer, closer toward the city, towards the hallowed white house in its center, aiming for the middle of the famous white porch on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Dropping from the sky like two gray wraiths, twin F-16s from Andrews Air Force Base rolled into position on the 787's flanks. The fighters clung grimly to their positions above the jumbo, crisscrossing from wingtip to wingtip as the Boeing skidded left and right, trying to buck them off.
Flight leader Major Zachary Jacobson exchanged looks with younger Second Lieutenant Brian Wegerbauer as they swung near each other, then keyed his mike. "Flight 34, this is the United States Air Force," he said quickly, going through the standardized motions. He knew with a sick gut sense the gesture was worthless, but it would at least boost PR that they'd tried. "You are entering restricted airspace. Last warning. Bear to heading oh-four-seven, angels three, or you will be destroyed." He released the transmit button.
There was no reply. He heard an echoing, airy rushing sound over the airwaves, punctuated by sharp taps as the off-cradle transceiver twacked against the flight panel. The background was filled with Arabic shouting, deep, ramming thuds against a cockpit barricade, and distant screaming. He forlornly ended the connection, feeling ill.
Screwing up his face, Zachary radioed back to his wingman. "No joy."
The junior officer swore. "Damn..."
Abruptly the D.C. proper rolled under their wingtips and the white spots of the Capitol, Washington Monument, and White House shone brightly on the horizon, closing rapidly.
A female voice broke over their encrypted frequency. "Gamma Flight One, this is TRACON," said a military air controller urgently, "Tracking bogey bearing oh-one-oh, angels oh-five, ten clicks out, terminal forty seconds."
Wegerbauer's voice crackled through his headset. "Do we have weapons-free?"
Zachary tapped down a digital message center. "We have weapons-free clearance."
His attention was shattered as a keening lock tone whined through his headset. "Shit!" The chase had come within range of the White House's missile defense grid. He threw the plane into a barrel roll. "Transmitting blindguard! Friendlies! Friendlies!" Jacobson screamed over the frequency as he saw missile batteries sprouting up from beneath rhododendrons and boxwoods, "Buddy spike, repeat, buddy spike! Disengage! Disengage!" The White House's defense system could have easily destroyed the airliner, but with his massive heat signature, the missiles could just as readily lock onto his own jet. In response to his call, the SAM installations powered down, leaving them to deal with the rouge airplane.
Forced wide by his anti-missile maneuver, he looked down through his bubble canopy and saw the White House dead-ahead, little more than a mile out. Below him, the 787 dived sharply, gaining speed. "Weg, Weg, take it down! I don't have LoS!"
Brian twitched his rudder so he tracked toward the airliner, slightly off parallel, and shiftedhis HUD reticule with the stick's hat switch. His target lock squealed gruffly, building rapidly in volume as the lock solidified.
Three hundred yards and closing from the 787's fuselage, he could see faces peering out the windows. He looked away quickly. "Sir, the civilians…?"
"This is your commanding officer! Take it down!"
As tears began to slide down his face, Brian's body reacted as trained – like a machine. Without hesitation, his thumb deftly flicked a molly-guard off the top of his flight stick and mashed down on the trigger.
"Fox One away."
An AIM-7 Sparrow dropped from his weapons bay with a gasping whiiissshhh, zipped across the intervening space on a trail of pale smoke, and burrowed into Flight 34's starboard wing root.
The wing ripped off in a fireball, and the large widebody airplane plunged downward.
It slammed into the South Lawn between the fountain and tennis court, creating a huge crater and ball of flame. Its resulting shock wave blew out windows up and down Constitution Avenue, scorched the facing White House side black, and battered the structure with flying debris.
The President and his Secret Service detail crawled out from under a flipped chair into what was left of the Blue Room.
Turning to his bodyguard, the President calmly said to him, "Call the Pentagon and Capitol to send for air cover and evacuation, and then, please, call my wife."
NAS Willow Grove
Will Rikker rapped desperately on the metal lip of his bird's titanium bathtub with his knuckles. "C'mon...! C'mon...!" He leaned over and looked down at the grounds crew frantically cramming fuel and weapons into his slate-gray A-10. They didn't look up, but the tempo increased yet another notch.
"How you doin', Skinner!"
Will looked over. His wingman Joseph Yadley wore a similar stricken expression as his crew funneled links of ammunition into his Hog's belly to feed the massive tank-killer in the nose. "Getting' there, Leech! I've got fuel, Guns, and three Sparrows! You?"
"Just fuel and – " He looked down at the head groundsman, who flashed a thumbs-up. " – Guns!" He suddenly went rigid as he heard something come over his headset. "Shit! Shitshitshitshit..." He broke off to frantically wave away the loader crew, and further distress was inaudible over the crash-start of his engines. His canopy went down, and Will saw him put his mike to his mouth. "They hit the White House...! I'm going!" Chocks out, the flight crew cleared him with a wave, and Leech began his taxi roll.
All the ugly language in the world flashed to Will's mind as his canopy also went down and the loaders scattered, but only the animal groan that came out seemed truly adequate. "What're you going up with?"
"Just.. just... guns. I'll fly myself into them if it comes to it."
Will's twin engines screamed as he cleared the tower, and he fell in just behind his wingman. "I've got a few missiles. Let me go in first, bud."
They banked tightly and shot southward. Windows broke in the city below as four turbofan engines went to full emergency power.
"Gamma Flight One, be advised, two, uh, bogies are still at large... I keep losing them when they duck below radar level. At last squawk, they were headed southwest at four hundred and fifty knots."
Zach clenched his teeth, trying not to let his anxiety flow into the microphone. A direct connect into the FAA communications grid was a major step up over last time, but military displays and civilian consoles had different needs, setups, and indicators. Hers had better resolution and lower radar sweep, but the operator was intimidated and frightened out of her wits.
"... Eee, Gamma! Two bogies, due north, heading southwest at five hundred knots! I think it's them!"
"Thanks, Control. I see them on my display." Zach flipped his warbird out of his patrol figure-eight.
"Let's get 'em," snarled Brian. "Weapons free."
"Trudy Three, be advised, two, repeat, two bogies in the area. We... lost them again, sorry. They should be on a heading southwest of you... In the two-o-clock by your vector."
"Thanks a lot, TRACON..." Will growled as he frantically scanned the urban blob below, a little too impertinently for the taste of the officer on the other end. The military's civilian tracking capability was rough, and his traffic control hadn't managed to link with the FAA's grid yet. His eyes picked up on a sparkle to his thirteen-hundred.
"God, there they are!" He radioed Leech and armed weapons control, then glanced down at the icon of the assumed contact on his tac display. "Wait..."
A building missile lock suddenly snarled in his ears.
"I've got the bastards painted, Zach!" Brian shouted. A second later, his mouth parted slightly as an eruption of lockout data scattered over his HUD. "What in th – Shit!" He twisted his plane sideways and barely managed to keep himself from ramming an A-10 haring in the opposite direction. Zack pulled up and dodged out of the way of a second fighter.
"This is Major Zachary Jacobson and wingman, 113th Wing, Andrews A-F-B. Who the hell are you?"
"Sergeant Will Rikker and wingman, 111th Wing out of Willow Grove. Don't kill us, please."
"Chasing after the mothers who put that goddamn hole over yonder in the White House."
"We... we... managed to stop them short."
"We got reports of two more bandits north of us."
"Same here, but to the south."
"You guys, maybe? Did Control get its wires crossed?"
The FAA controller's squeak of a voice broke over Zach's com line. "Did you get them?"
"Um, we think there might've been a mix-up. You vectored us toward two friendlies coming down to help us."
"What? No, God dammit, they're both right on top of you!"
Rikker glanced out his canopy as his eyes picked up on a large unmistakable flash streaking down their collective west, far below radar level. "Oh, fuck."
Flight 52 flew wingman to Flight 34 down the Eastern Seaboard, then diverged toward its separate target. Blasting over the Potomac at close to top speed, the airplane started its final death dive, the corner apex opposite the intended impact point guiding the pilot down neatly as a runway marker. Panicking and caught off-guard by the botched directions, the four fighter airplanes now in the air swerved on their tails, racing to intercept the plane before it reached its target.
Will had gotten off the mark first, on full afterburner. "No, no, no...! Fox One! Fox One!" Two of his three Sparrows dropped from their wing cradles with only the scantest of locks. One lost it and veered away, blowing up harmlessly over the river. The other, launched from a bad angle, sliced into 52's vertical stabilizer and peppered the empennage with shrapnel, but the ship was too close, it had become committed...
Lieutenant Dobbs, of the Army's experimental weapons program, sat at his desk in the E Ring of the Pentagon. He'd had a rather odd experience involving a Neutronalizer and a Doctor Drakken, among others, and now confined himself to deskwork. As he sifted through a large stack of budget reports, he heard a loud, low-pitched roar outside his window. Glancing up, his eyes froze on what was outside the sheet of tempered glass. The nose of a large commercial airliner was about 100 yards and closing from his face.
"What th'-" was all his brain had time to jam out.
The airplane exploded into the north face of the Pentagon at 590 miles an hour, engulfing the entire side in an avionics fuel inferno. Unimpeded, as Flight 77 had, by a ground strike, the body of the plane speared through the rings of the building into the Zero Point, the open area in the middle, target of Cold War Soviet missiles. Jet fuel started fires in the heart of the building.
Then, improvements added post-9/11 kicked in. The hallways lit up to guide survivors out of the building. High-powered sprinkler heads started to contain, but not stop, the searing flames.
On the heels of the Pentagon and White House attacks, Flight 668 dipped low over the Potomac River and the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials.
Rikker skidded his plane through a plume that would have choked the delicate engines of the F-16s and nearly blacked out from the gees. He straightened out and shot toward the DC center, their attackers now clearly visible against the blue sky. The chaos and speed made it far too dangerous to bring out missiles again.
Joseph's breathing was tight in his flight mask as he readied himself to bodily intercept the hijackers - but then he remembered what his bird was built to do. "Skinner! Follow me! Let's ventilate it!"
Zachary and Brian fell back slightly as the two Warthogs lined up their attack pattern over the Mall. As they did so, it became clear what Flight 668's target was: The Capitol. "OK, aim for the cockpit and walk it back to the engines… One, two… hup!"
Two GAU-8 Avengers spun to life, and a cloud of gun dust trailed out behind them. The hail of Gatling fire chewed the Boeing's fuselage apart. As the bullets raked backward, Joseph forced himself to keep his eyes open as debris, oxygen, and gouts of blood spewed through the holes. After passing through the jetliner, their thirty millimeter rounds plowed a yard into the pavement below. Under the pounding, both 787 engines blew off and the wings shredded in half. Disintegrating, the airship plummeted into the rich green of the Mall, just clipping the Washington Monument. It plowed, ironically, into the September 11th Memorial, located between the Monument and Capitol, and exploded. It blasted a dark brown-and-black crater in the dirt, spewing metallic shards and organic fragments, and caused surrounding tourists and lawmakers to scream and run in panic.
Above, Joseph "Leech" Yadley fought to keep himself from vomiting all over his cockpit. He managed. Barely.
"God, god, god, god damn it." He cut his frequency down to "Skinner" for a moment. "Will..."
"Christ, Leech, don't call me that. You know what my name is up here." He sounded close to tears.
"Will... I'm never doing that again. If there's another one... and we have to take it down... I'm going into it. Because I'm never going to do that again." Regaining himself, he keyed up to the F-16 pair. "Major... Major, bogy down."
The line was quiet for a moment, and when the voice came, it was soft. "I see. Confirmed. Bogy down." He sighed. "TRACON doesn't have anything else in the area at the moment for us. Pull up to angels twelve and we'll set up CAP. Brian's suite can serve an AWACS and you two run picket. I'll watch city center." All in the loop could hear his next sigh, could almost feel his scrunched eyes. "Guys... I'll take the next one."
New York, New York
The Freedom Tower, after a far-ahead-of-schedule completion date in late 2006, became the tallest building in the world at 1,776 feet. Office space was contained in a large percentage of the building, and a glass spire completed the rest. Built in the unseen shadow and footprint of the Twin Towers, the building had all-new safety features, including escape tubes that could be thrown out of windows, reinforced heat-resistant support beams, a massive fire-suppression system, and spacious, brightly lit stairwells.
All of these features were about to be put to the ultimate test.
New York City, with alerts of the D.C. attack pinging across cell phones and laptops, immediately activated its Air National Guard and began preparations to evacuate every major skyscraper in the city, starting with the Freedom Tower. Emergency services hustled downtown. Before everyone could get into position, however, the now-familiar death roar of an approaching jumbo-jet could be heard over the skyline. Members of FDNY Ladder 49 and NYPD watched in horror as Flight 103 slammed full-throttle into the base of the spire. The resulting explosion mirrored the one of Flight 11 six years before. The building creaked, and swayed from the shock, but then stabilized.
As the blast echoed off skyscrapers and reverberated down canyon streets, F-18s from McGuire Air Force Base howled overhead, almost clipping rooftops, just a few seconds too late.
Shards of glass, plastic and paper began to rain down. Escape tubes popped from windows, signaling that the surviving occupants were leaving the premises. A massive fire started in the core of the building as jet fuel leaked downward. The firefighters, with a thrill of dread, remembered that they would have to climb up there to put it out...
Brittany Squevens glanced up from her computer assignment (Bi-Quarterly Review and Inventory of Miscellaneous Employee Workplace Expenses), out the spacious, sun-streaked window to the bustling street below, and shuddered.
How in the world did I end way up here?
She hated skyscrapers, ever since that fateful day in September when an airliner sliced through her building, the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Her office had been located two floors below the impact zone. Miraculously, she and a handful of co-workers escaped the crumbling inferno minutes before it collapsed. She never knew why. A Grace from God, she figured. Ever since, she'd had a deathly fear of anything tall. She promptly sold the two-story Colonial she and her spouse lived in and bought a soothing one-story ranch. Lately, she had developed an abhorrence of Ferris Wheels, scenic mountain overlooks, and catwalks. Brittany even considered coal-mining or subway construction as a nice, peaceful job.
When she applied for a new job at the prescription drug firm SquabbMirlCo, she specifically requested not to be placed in high-rises, and that she be kept on the ground floor, preferably in the lobby by large doors. Somehow, there was a mistake in the internal paperwork, and she wound up on the thirty-first floor of the tallest building in the world.
In a fit of paranoia, she committed to memory the tower's series of emergency stairwells, the location of emergency notification and alarms, and the color-coding of the hallways and elevators. She kept a small first-aid kit on her person at all times, and had a bag of "grabbables" stored under her desk.
She took another fleeting glance into the dappled spring day.
Odd, what's that black speck?
As she paused and squinted, a strange, low-resonate thrum began to tingle through the tips of her fingernails, slowly overpowering the drowsy buzz of the overhead compact-fluorescents.
Turing back to her work, her mind suddenly put two and two together.
Wait a minute... black speck + tall skyscraper... equals...
Her eyes widened in horrid realization –
The deep, loud noise reverberated down the building. Tables, chairs, people, and light fixtures rocked as if in an earthquake. The building lurched sideways, computers shifting about six inches to the left. A hundred coffee cups simultaneously sloshed off desk edges, shattering with a single dry crash. Several people screamed and clutched their desks. Everyone, including her, snapped their heads upward and gaped in confusion and terror. Seconds later, large chunks of structural aluminum, Plexiglas, airplane parts, and flaming shards of paper tumbled down the widow beside her.
Shhiiiit. Not again.
Coming to her senses, she shot the chair out behind her, so forcefully it hit the cubicle wall and fell over, and went to her knees to grab her scram kit. Laptop bag clutched against her chest, she dashed between cubicles to the fireproof elevator portal. Pausing for a moment, she turned back to her colleges. Only a handful, some of them Eagle Scouts, had actually taken action; the rest were still staring, as if sheep, shocked and mute, at the ceiling.
Damn, don't they get it? They're New Yorkers, for heaven's sake!
Frantically casting her eyes for something to snap them out of their trance, her pupils fell on a small red box screwed to the wall –
::Pull in case of fire. Use Only in the Event of an Emergency::
For once, I really think this counts…
She pulled on the small fluorescent lever. Ink sprayed across her palm. Instantly, a piercing wail filled the room, accompanied by flashing strobes over the stairwells and elevators.
"Ummm, we're having a surprise fire drill! Let's go, people! The boss always complains when we don't all leave the tower!"
Stunned brains finally latching onto something practiced and familiar, the workers mechanically grabbed coats and suitcases and herded toward the safety corridors. The sensible coworkers calmed the crowd and maneuvered them down the steps.
After thirty flights of stairs, each stair stretching a mile, each minute seeming an hour, ears straining to hear thousands of tons of metal and glass smashing down onto fragile organs and backs, they reached the lobby, their ranks swelled at each story. Brittany dashed across the haze-filled room and out the large quarto doors, firefighters running in through the other side.
Scrambling to the street, she turned and froze. The upper fourth of the tower was engulfed in flame; shrouded in smoke. It mirrored the crash of six years previously, and yet it didn't. There were no bodies flying from windows – instead, scores of yellow tubes, like the wilted trunks of some bizarre elephant, dangled from the windows. The fiery maelstrom looked different on a cool-hued glass and steel structure. Sleek fighter jets circled tightly, almost apologetically, around the column of smoke billowing into the sky.
Broken out of her shock by a police officer, she was hustled to a fire truck already loaded with survivors to be evacuated out of the area. Emblazoned on her mind in the confusion was the policeman's nametag: "Pollar-" but the truck moved before she could scan the rest.
As the vehicle spanned the Brooklyn Bridge, she saw part of the spire flake off and crumble to the ground. A second catastrophe seemed imminent. Lowering her head from the image into cupped hands, a trickle of silver tears began to ooze between her fingertips.
The spire collapsed from the impact with a smash, an umbrella of shattering Plexiglas and aluminum, followed by an ominous, rumbling cloud of the first upper stories. The immense heat had melted the fragile framework. The collision severed the sprinkler system above the impact, but it was still functioning below and kept the fire and collapse from spreading down the building. The Freedom Tower had suffered massive damage, but it was beginning to be contained. FDNY's finest dragged hoses up the wide stairways to combat the blaze. The NYPD cleared the area around the complex in fear of another collapse. The giant structure had gotten the stuffing knocked out of him, and third-degree burns, but he would survive.
The howl and scream of sirens had visited New York and D.C. for a second time, and they were headed somewhere new…
FAA Control Center
Rick Price's supervisor leaned anxiously over his shoulder, staring into the comptroller's view screen. "Is that all of them?"
"No, sir. There's still one flight left…" He pulled up the airplane's transponder data, which the hijackers had forgotten to turn off. "Flight 74 from O'Hare."
"Where's it headed?"
"Well, sir, it looks like a town called…. Middleton."
The supervisor squinted at the dot nestled in Illinois's southern tip. "All the way out there? Gawd dammit, we'll never get air support there in time!"
Possible Family home
9:52 AM CST
The large house was silent, except for the blare of the big-screen TV. James had already left for the space center, and Kim, Jim and Tim were at school. Anne Possible sat inert, mouth agape, stunned, in front of the screen. A patient file lay open on the coffee table, forgotten. She watched in shock as the news channel replayed the Freedom Tower, Pentagon, White House, and Capitol crashes in a horrid, explosive loop. Her mind flashed to September 11th.
God, I thought it wouldn't happen like this again. Not this. I thought we'd learned...
Ordinarily, Mrs. Dr. Possible was one very tough cookie. As a neurosurgeon, she had to be, since most police shootings and suicide attempts involved brain matter. Her profession forced her to seal off and rapidly forget images that would break a lesser person. As a rule, she didn't even ask for the names of severe trauma cases until it became clear that they would pull through.
September 11th, however, was different. As an agent of healing, the waste of human life disgusted her. As a mother, the sense of insecurity and indiscriminate violence was worse. To cap it off, she'd attended a medical conference in Manhattan in late August, 2001. The culmination of the seminar had been a trip to the South Tower's observation deck. Mrs. Possible remembered she had leaned over the railing and idly thought it would be rather nasty if someone had to jump.
She was jerked out of her reverie by a sound. A low, spine-vibrating sound. A loud, growing roar of a sound. She knew of only one place she had heard that sound before - an airport, and it was the sound of a jet airplane swooping in for landing.
805 feet AGL
Frank Dohanny, a large man in his late 50s, slumped in Aisle Seat 16. He sat with his head in hands, tears in his eyes, mumbling the Lord's Prayer. His granddaughter was to be married that evening, and he had nearly missed the plane. He'd been so happy he'd made the flight...
Suddenly, out the window, the corner of his eye glimpsed the rolling scenery below.
He stiffened. In a snap, he knew where he was. He knew what this plane's target was. He had seen it on CNN many occasions. And he knew that this plane could not, would not, must not reach its target. Frank whispered his plan to the surrounding passengers. Even if hopeless, they would go down as The One That Fought Back. He'd make his granddaughter proud...
Breaking off from a stream of feverish prayers, one of the guards looked up, alarmed. "Ey! Ey! What are you doing? No talk! No talk!"
To distract him, an accountant from Milwaukee a few seats away jumped up with a Rambo yell. He was cut down instantly. Upon his gesture, the passengers erupted and made to tackle their captors. The hijackers gave a yell and backed away in surprise, opening fire.
"End it now! End it now!" one of them screamed forward in Arabic.
"Not yet! Not yet! We're almost there!"
"End it now!"
To battle cries of "Beamer!", "Dohanny!", and "Anything's Pooossssiiiible!" the entire cabin threw themselves into bullets and smashed the terrorists across arm rests. Yes, there it was! An opening in the cockpit guard!
Dohanny made a lunge for it. Clawing and fighting through the muddle of terrorists to the cabin door, he reached an open space in the cockpit. Ignoring sharp bites in his legs and back that he knew were bullets, he made a final, desperate flying leap at the pilot.
"Arrg, what have you DONE!" the hijacker screamed as Frank smashed into him, slamming the control yoke up and out of his hands.
The plane lurched upward, the windscreen's view changing from the Possible's front door to the heavily treed mountain behind it. The terrorist grabbed the controls, but it was too late; they were too high.
Mrs. Possible dashed out the front door and gasped. A huge jet passed less than 500 feet over her head, seeming as though it would clip the roof. The airplane's slipstream threw her to the ground. When she looked up, she could see in infinite detail every plate, bolt, rivet, and screw. She could see the landing gear, flight surfaces, and her reflection in the polished fiberglass side. Her head followed the plane's progress, as if in a dream, over her house and into the green mountain behind it.
The hillside exploded in a rush of red, orange, yellow, smoke, and noise. The explosion's shockwave lifted her off the driveway and kicked her into the street. Intense heat and flame barbequed the house's shingles and blew out windows all down the block. It ripped and shredded at the rear side of the house, past the siding, past the tarpaper, plywood, until, oddly, it reached a face of steel. The explosion ablated the surface, but stopped its destruction.
Mrs. Possible levered herself up on a bleeding elbow and looked back. There was a huge hole in the hill; a dark scar marring the green. All that was left of the plane were small fragments; nothing more.
For a moment, silence reigned. Then, as Anne regained her senses, came sharp, crackling jet fuel brush fires, blaring car alarms, distant shouted swears, and the close, personal sound of her own dry sobs.
Beneath East Wing
Presidential Emergency Operations Center
1:04 PM EST
The President sighed resignedly. "…All right, play the tape."
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates slid the DVD into the player and nudged his way back through the packed room to his seat. All the major generals, intelligence experts, their interns, and chiefs of staff were squeezed into the little room to view the latest al-Qaeda press release.
The reinforced bunker quieted as the terrorist cell's leader, Osama bin Laden, flickered onto the screen. He had abandoned the robes and finery of his 2005 tapes, and returned to his army garb and infamous AK-47. His face broke into an evil leer.
"Good afternoon, America. Unless you are watching this after dark, then good evening." He chuckled grimly, and continued. "How do you like my preemptive strike? I give my complements to Mr. Bush for that term.
"You are probably wondering why I have attacked you. The reason is clear: yet again you have become arrogant!" Bin Laden took a few deep breaths. "You defy us and dare to build a tower upon the remains of the ones we destroyed! You invade our sacred lands and force your imperialistic, haraam ways down our people's throats! Your heathen conquests defile our Holy Land, destroy our property, and desecrate our shrines! You harm Muslims! American blood must be spilt for these actions!" He spat onto the floor. "And then you turn around and try to give the women rights! Rights! This. must. be. stopped!" he shouted. "Just look at your homeland. You are obese, polluting, greedy, and import the world's resources and export none back! You live in luxury and happiness while billions live in poverty! Your existence is a stain upon the world! You allow women to walk uncovered, without the accompaniment or consent of the man! You allow infidels worse than yourselves to live unhampered!" His face darkened. "And, worst of all, you have allowed the Jews to gain a foothold! They are corrupting your government, your economy, your daily life! They are not kept at home and monitored, but allowed to walk free as if they were equal to the Holy!"
The room gave a communal, involuntary snarl at what the lunatic was spouting.
Osama continued, "For all this you must be punished! This is why we bomb with airplanes! To teach you a lesson! And the best part is, you can't do anything to stop me! For all your technology and your money and your men, you haven't found me in six years; what makes you think you will now?" He laughed tauntingly. "Praise be to Allah! Allāhu Akbar!"
His face fell and returned to normal. Facing into the camera, he said, "Al-Geera, stop the tape." He got up off the pillows, brushed lint from his army jacket, and strolled off-screen. The camera continued to stare at the vacant array of poufs, the running time/date bug the only thing breaking the monotony.
After a few expectant seconds, the commandos looked at each other in surprise and confusion. Dick Cheney leaned over and whispered the obvious in Bush's ear, "The camera's still running!"
The President nodded and shooed him off.
The video slowly swiveled from the set of drapes and pillows, past an apparently second-story room, and settled looking out a window, with a patch of blue sky visible. In the distance, morning sun peeked over a mountain range, playing havoc with the camera's contrast sensor. This view lasted for about thirty seconds, before a jumble of panicky Arab voices broke the silence and the camera went black.
After gazing for a moment at the blank screen, thinking, Bush turned to Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten. "...Whaddya figure of that last bit?"
Bolten snorted. "Arabs, sir." Chuckles made the rounds, followed by some nastier racial slurs.
The President waved a hand. "Later, boys, later… John?" he barked to Director of National Intelligence John McConnell.
"When did this tape arrive?"
"About an hour ago, sir. An unknown white female delivered it to the necessary persons, who then screened it for hazmat. They didn't turn up anything, so it was rushed to you. We're checking security camera footage for the plant, and we should have a bingo on our mark before dinner."
"Any pie-in-the-sky guesses?"
"I'd say a home-grown, sir. The video has a very recent time-stamp on it; no more than two weeks old. The region-five proves it was made somewhere overseas, but to get it to us so quickly, they'd have to've sent it here before the attacks..." He shook his head. "They had this whole damn thing planned right down to the press release."
There were a few seconds of stunned silence, and then one of the intern's hands shot into the air. "Mr. President, sir, sorry to butt in, but could you rewind the feed a little? I thought I saw something." His mentor glared.
"Whasser name, son?" the President asked.
"Jeff, sir. Jeff Redfern."
"You're the one who launched a missile into that al-Qaeda ammo dump, ain't you?"
He grinned. "Yessir."
Condoleezza Rice hit the rewind button on the DVD player. Jeff moved from his seat to within a few inches of the TV screen as the feed wriggled backward. He gave the "keep going" motion until the patch of blue sky appeared onscreen. He suddenly gave the "Freeze!" motion.
"Here it is!" he exclaimed excitedly, squinting into the screen. "Here," he said again, tapping the onscreen window. Thrown into deep contrast by the sun's blinding rays, a tiny speck was visible in the sky above his finger.
Bush leaned forward. "Rodgers," he said, turning to one of the senior intelligence officials with a laptop, "Can you zoom that without losing resolution?"
"I'll try, Mr. President." Rodgers spent the next few minuets hooking a variety of cables between the TV and his laptop, including an Ethernet cable between his computer and the wall, and a few after that frantically double-clicking, opening windows and applications, and enhancing the image.
"Maybe it's a bird?" suggested one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"Nah…" muttered Rodgers, fixated on the screen, "Too big… A bird wouldn't have even shown up..." Several minutes later, he sat back slightly. "You are not going to believe this…" he said into the silent, expectant room, "I think we're looking at one of our own Predator drones."
Gates recovered first. "Does it have any identification?"
Rodgers pulled up a few more windows until a large spreadsheet appeared onscreen. "Dunno… even with my best efforts, it was still really pixilated. I was able to ID as a Pred from the tailfins and bulb on the front… I'm currently winging a pic around Langley with the Ethernet connection to see if they can match anything to our profile shot."
After a ten minute wait, an email pinged his inbox. His face fell a few seconds later. "No positive single-asset ID. No weapons, either. From all they could tell from the shape, this particular one was an early scout model."
"Can you triangulate its position?" asked the President.
"With the GPS? Using just a picture? No." He lapsed into silence, staring hard into the screencap, chin cupped in one hand.
"Want me to pull up flight records of the last three weeks of Pred surveillance flights?" asked a CIA spook, already digging for his laptop bag.
Rodgers wordlessly held up a hand, leaning in closer to the laptop screen and squinting. "Thanks…. but…." He remained pensively quiet, concentrating. In the tense quiet, flushes of nervous heat ran up his neck and cheeks as he realized that everybody in the room, including the President and his veep, were waiting on him.
"...Anybody here Navy?" he asked abruptly.
The officers traded quizzical looks at the non sequitur before a few raised their hands.
"Why?" one asked. "You Annapolis?"
"Uh-uh... but what's that one skill they say you'll never need to use, involves navigation?"
The naval officers again traded puzzled looks before one of the younger ones spoke up. "Sextant?"
"Bingo..." Rodgers said slowly, voice brimming with constrained energy. More clicking. "...There's... a glimpse of the sun... So... if what I'm thinking is correct..."
Comprehension, followed immediately by unrestrained excitement, dawned over the bluewater men.
"…Using the sun's angle above the horizon, I can get a latitude fix…" His fingers crackled over the keyboard as he spoke, "…The time-stamp allows me to correct for longitude… And shadows on the mountains tell me orientation…" Trailing off, Rodgers shut up as his computer churned. "Allllmooost got it..." he muttered, drumming his fingers.
Suddenly, he slammed a fist down on his laptop and whooped.
"There! Afghanistan! Lowgar province! Cave in a mountain range southeast of Kabul!"
The room erupted in cheering.
"Hell, we've got 'im now!" shouted Michael Chertoff, head of Homeland Security.
Over the din, the President called, "Jeff, what position are you?"
"CIA Spook-in-training, sir!"
"Well, consider yourself promoted! Rodgers, you too!"
Bush eventually called for silence. "OK, people, we've got to keep this quiet so it don't get out that we know where he is. We're gonna need a Special-Ops mission to take this guy out or down. Preferably down. I'm putting this, naturally, on top priority. You guys need to get cracking on parameters. Pull every string you damn near can. Now, get out and get going! Yee-haw!"
Yelling slurs and fist-pumping the air, the staff and officials piled toward the exit. After grimly ushering the ecstatic, whooping group out, Cheney closed the bunker door and turned to the President.
"Permission to speak freely, sir."
"Permission granted. You really don't have to say that, Dick."
Cheney cleared his throat. "Sir, what are you thinking? Nice words, rash words, good words from a fellow Texan, but… do you really expect you can pull this thing off?"
"Always with the status quo, eh, Dick?" Bush said quietly, churching his fingers slightly as he leaned against the wall.
"Just looking out for the country's best interests, Mr. President," Cheney said breezily, "There's just not enough time to raise a Special Ops group without it being noticed by somebody, maybe even the media. This attack hit us at a really bad time…"
"Don't they all?"
"All our top agents are already involved overseas, and we can't blow their covers and further risk national security by suddenly redeploying them. We'd need to organize a new team, and we don't have time. Al-Qaeda moves like a greased pig. The members of a new team would have to be… cobbled together, at best. We'd have to know where they are at this very moment, and they'd have to already be trained in hazardous and lethal combat, as well as versed in terrorist tactics. That would take weeks, and we have days. This mission you're calling for, George… on such a narrow time window… I don't think it's going to work. Simply impossible."
Through the remainder of Cheney's outburst, Bush stood pensive. As Cheney finished, a look of decision crossed the President's face. He strode silently over to a desk in the room, identical to the Resolution desk up in the Oval Office. On it stood three fire-engine red touchtone telephones. Each had marked levels of use. The one on the far left, labeled "U.S.S.R. / Russia," looked barely touched and almost new. The phone on the far right, marked "Domino's Pizza," looked more worn. The phone in the middle… Varnish and some of the red paint had rubbed off the mouthpiece. Its label had become illegible. The print on a certain set of numbers had almost worn off. Bush picked the middle phone's club off its cradle and started to punch the well-worn numbers.
"Who are you calling?" Cheney asked, a bit incredulously.
The President looked sharply up at him. "The one for which this mission is possible."
"And who is that?"
"Who the hell do you think, Dick? Kim Possible."
To be continued...