The Story that Needs to be Told
by Mark Lopa
Parker was playing Space Invaders in his room when the sirens went off and the lights started flashing.
"Son of a bitch!" Parker yelled. "Every freaking time I'm about to break my record…" Parker slammed his joystick on the ground and got out of his seat. Without a second thought, he angrily left his room and walked down the hall to the briefing room. Base personnel were brisking by him as people made their way to their assigned emergency stations.
As Parker entered the briefing room, Bradley Talmadge, Craig Donavan, Nathan Ramsey, Olga Vukavitch, Isaac Mentnor, and John Ballard were already there, staring at the TV screen. At first, Parker couldn't make out what they were looking at after staring at his video game screen for hours. But when he realized what it was, he got a chill down his spine.
"Is that the Pentagon?"
"Brilliant deduction, Einstein...one guess on how many sides it has," Ramsey said in his usual sarcastic and condescending tone towards Parker.
Parker ignored the comment. "What happened?"
Mentnor cleared his throat. "As amazing as it might sound, the United States has been a victim of a terrorist attack."
"What?!" Parker asked, completely shocked.
"It obviously was very calculated and planned for a long time," Donavan said. "The Pentagon is only part of it."
The view on the TV changed, and Parker tried to consume the other images of horror and destruction that would be etched into everyones' mind for the rest of their lives. The date was Tuesday, September 11, 2001.
After a few long moments, Parker broke the silence. "How could this happen?" he asked himself, rhetorically,
"Well actually, the possibilities are really endless," Ballard answered, unaware Parker didn't want an answer. "Take for example the fact we let any Frank, Dick, or Harry into this country without so much as a look under their fingernails. I've always said that…"
Talmadge uncharacteristically waved his hand in annoyance at Ballard. "No now, John…please."
"That's not what I meant," Parker said, and then looked at Bradley. "How could this happen again?"
Talmadge looked at Parker and then around the room at the confused faces of everyone else.
"What do you mean, 'again'?" Ramsey asked.
Talmadge exhaled loudly and everyone turned to him. "The rest of you don't know this, but there was a Backstep recently. Frank came back almost a week ago to prevent the terrorist attacks.
Everyone in the room was shocked.
"Why weren't any of us told?" Olga asked, clearly annoyed. "That is completely against protocol!"
Talmadge nodded his head. "I know…but evidently, the Board in the other timeline thought it would be best that only I among us here was told.
"Why?!" Donavan demanded.
"Honestly, I don't know…and neither does Frank," Talmadge said. "For some reason, those were the orders I gave Frank in the other timeline. We'll never know why."
"Something sounds really fishy here," Ramsey said. "This sounds like a cover up!"
"Sounds fishy?" Frank snapped. He needed to vent. "And you're calling me Einstein, you moron?"
"Gentlemen! Please!" Talmadge yelled. "Obviously, something went wrong."
"Yeah, thanks to the mental case over here, no doubt" Ramsey said as he pointed at Parker. "You've really done it this time, you idiot!"
"Are you comparing me to those terrorist bastards, you freaking asshole?" Parker said as he jumped on the table to charge at Ramsey. Donavan quickly reacted and held Frank back as Ramsey instinctively started to duck under the table.
"Frank! Knock it off!" Talmadge ordered as Donavan brought Parker off the table and helped calm him down. Parker finally sat down, while the others focused back to the TV.
"I don't understand," Parker said. "I don't understand, Bradley! We did everything we were supposed to do. How could this happen? How could this happen again?" Frank buried his head in his hands. He didn't look up at the TV. He had seen it all before.
Talmadge sat down at the head of the table. "I don't know, Frank, and maybe we'll never know. These terrorists are so sophisticated, they obviously prepared themselves for the sabotage we implemented and had a Plan B."
"That makes perfect sense," Ballard interjected.
"However," Talmadge continued, "it wasn't a complete wasted effort on our part."
Everyone turned to Talmadge. Parker raised his head out of his hands. "What do you mean?"
"It appears the attacks are over," Talmadge said. "There were four hijacked planes. We know we're going to lose the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and we can see that a wall of the Pentagon has been destroyed. However…"
Talmadge paused, knowing what he was about to say would draw different reactions from different people.
"…that's all that happened."
"That all? That's ALL? How can you say 'that's all' Bradley?" Olga said, disgusted.
Talmadge looked at Olga, then back at Frank.
"Because…" Frank said as everyone looked over at him. "Because in the original timeline, it was a lot worse. A lot worse."
"What do you mean, Frank?" Donavan asked. "What happened in the original timeline?"
Frank looked over at Talmadge, who nodded.
"There were not four hijacked airplanes…there were 18," Frank explained. "Six on the east coast, four in the Chicago area, four on the west coast near San Francisco, and four around London."
Nobody took their eyes off Frank, who knew they wanted to know more.
"Major landmarks in London were destroyed, including Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. The Sears Tower in Chicago was hit, although it didn't collapse. The Golden Gate Bridge and TransAmerica tower in San Francisco were also destroyed."
Frank paused again.
"And on the east coast, in addition to what you see here, the Statue of Liberty was destroyed…apparently meant to obliterate our symbol of freedom and hit our national psyche. Another plane smashed into the White House, and yet another crashed into the Capitol Building. In addition to many congressmen and women, Vice President Dick Cheney was killed."
"So today, two planes hit each of the Twin Towers, and one hit the Pentagon," Talmadge added. "The fourth plane, that was supposed to hit either the White House or the Capitol crashed in a field in Pennsylvania." Talmadge looked at Parker, who was surprised at that revelation. "We don't know why."
After a moment, Donavan looked at the TV and back at Parker. "How many people died in the original timeline, Frank?"
Frank shook his head. "Some of the planes were meant to hit landmarks, but others were meant to hit populated areas to kill as many people as possible. When I Backstepped, the estimate was about 35,000 people were killed in the two countries."
"Oh my," Olga was barely able to say.
"They used planes that had long flight paths, so they were loaded to the max with fuel," Parker said. "These people aren't stupid. And they're obviously very patient."
"We estimate that the four planes from this morning killed about 3,000 people, although that number will probably go up or down when it's determined how many people were in the towers and the Pentagon," Talmadge said.
Parker starred at the table and looked completely distraught. He kept shaking his head and saying, "three-thousand" to himself. Olga got up and walked over to Parker, and put her hand on his shoulder.
"Mr. Parker…Frank…you saved the lives of 30,000 people. You have to look at it that way."
Frank looked up at Olga. "I'm a man of war, Olga. I can't look at it that way."
"But there are over 30,000 people who are alive right now because of you."
Parker hung his head again and looked back at the table.
"Tell that to the families who will never see those 3,000 people again."
Olga slid her hand off Parker's shoulder, nodded, and walked back to her seat.
"I assume there will be a military response?" Ballard said.
"You bet your ass there will be a military response," Donavan said.
"I'm going." Parker said.
"Frank?" Talmadge asked.
"I'm going. I might be a nut job, but I know how to kill people with a gun. I have to go. Three thousand people are dead because of me. I have to do something."
"But…that's simply not true," Olga said, trying to convince Frank again.
"Yes it is!" Frank yelled.
Ramsey looked over at Frank. "Ok, look Parker…forget about what I said before, OK…and for once, listen to other people. The doctor over here is right. No matter how crazy you're acting right now, you did well. I'm in no way your biggest fan, but you did well. We need you here to do more."
Frank looked at Ramsey, and saw the sincerity in his eyes. As he scanned the room, the weight of the last seven days and what his friends and colleges in that room said laid heavy on him.
But it didn't matter.
"I don't know if I can do this anymore. Someone has to get the bastard who caused this. Why not me?"
"Why not you? Frank…listen to Nate…we need you here. Besides, we don't even know who he is or where he is," Donavan said.
"I know who it is, and I'll find him," Parker said.
"It may take years…many years…but I'll find him."