9/12/2001 – The Day After The Unthinkable Happened
Prelude: On 9/11/2001 Flight 93 crashes into the White House as was originally planned. Dick Cheney, the Vice President, is taken to a secured location for protection.
The streets were quieting down. Traffic was a fraction of what it normally was. There was still the noise of everyday city life, but it was lessened, muted. An apprehension lay in the air. The sky suddenly seemed much bigger now that one knew death could fly down from it. For the first time in two centuries a major attack had been launched on the bedrock of America and it had left major fractures in it. A fissure in the American landscape and the American psych had been blown open today. For the first time in modern memory Americans had a taste of what people in other parts of the world experience on a daily basis.
The limo swerved quickly into a nondescript small parking lot that had an unusually eagle eyed attendant with the unique ability to have the gate open before they even got there. The sedan whizzed down the two floors to where a second guard strangely guarded a severe metal studded door that opened from within only after he had inspected the cars contents.
They were suddenly immersed in a bath of lights. Subdued, but for one new it would be totally unexpected so far beneath the surface. The U.S. Government does not spare expense when it comes to the safety and comfort of those at its higher levels. The scant parking lot oddly had a number of spaces large enough for the limo and apparently ones even larger. A couple of generals were already waiting near the only door in the place. It too was guarded, this time by two full dress Marine, assault rifles in hand.
General Persli greeted him first. “Good-day, Vice-President Cheney! We have as much as possible ready for you inside.” No handshake was offered- there was no time for such superficialities.
“Good day Mr. Vice-President!” offered Chenbalb, a four-start general from North Carolina. The Marine ran a code into a keyboard mounted beside the solid door, then pressed his palm print to a screen and it slid briskly open. “Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is here too, Sir.”
“Good! What the hell is going on?” demanded Cheney entering through the door before the generals.
“It appears to be a low level terrorist attack on our upper East Coast, Sir…”
“A low level attack?” Planes flying into buildings is considered a low level attack?”
“Low level in that it uses no sophisticated armaments. As far as we can determine yet this is an organized attack, most likely by a foreign agency, but one using no military hardware of any kind. Strong suspicions are that it is Mid East based.”
“Well, for a bare budget operation they sure pack a wallop!”
“In that sense it was sophisticated, Sir. It appears that all four attacks were coordinated.”
“Four attacks? There was another one?”
“The two Generals looked at each other. “Yes Sir. Perhaps you did not hear of the plane that hit the Pentagon.”
“Oh my God! The Pentagon too?! This is unbelievable! This is no low level operation then, this is all out war! Was that one a commercial plane as well?”
“Yes Sir.” answered Chenbalb.
“And the one that took out the White House?”
“Apparently also a commercial airliner, Sir.”
“God in heaven! This is a major assault!” Cheney paces, his head lowered.
“Are there any other airliners that look like they might have been taken?”
“We are keeping tabs on all planes in the air. No others have shown erratic flight patterns.”
“Who then is in charge?”
There was a hesitancy, then came the words: “You are sir.”
Just that simple. Just that powerful.
“With Bush probably dead you are now the President as far as we are concerned.”
Cheney was taken aback for a moment. His breath held in his chest — his letting it out again was an entirely conscious effort. Many things swirled in his mind both consciously and unconsciously. Now he was in command. Things were going to be different.
“If that is the case gentlemen, then lets get things going. We need to make sure all flights are grounded ASAP. I don’t care if they have to land in a swamp, get them all down. If any more flights go off their designated path we need a jet to take it out. Has the Air Force already scrambled some?”
“Yes sir.” answered Chenblalb. “They were ordered up and out after the second tower got hit.”
“Has there been any sort of action on the ground? Any bombings or significant shootings?”
“Nothing yet sir. Just a lot of movement in Manhattan away from the Towers and in D.C. away from the White House. There is a lot of panic at the moment.”
“Well, that is understandable.”
Cheney went quiet, pacing in a large circle silently. The shock of the whole situation was overwhelming and his brain tried to pinpoint what to do.
Suddenly his head jerked up in thought.
“How secure is this place?”
“It is six levels underground and designed to survive a nuclear attack, Sir. If they knew where to hit us an airliner wouldn’t penetrate.” answered Chenbalb.
“That is comforting.” commented Cheney.
An aide rushed into the room. “We have the Twin Towers up on the monitors.” The men all followed him swiftly to an adjoining room. Rumsfeld was there viewing the screens.
“Hello Dick.” he reached out his hand. “Glad to see you made it out of this mess. Looks like we got a real situation on our hands.”
“It sure as hell does.” confirmed Cheney, his eyes roaming to the screens as well.
Smoke rolled out of the jagged holes torn into the sides of the once majestic buildings. Six different large screen TV’s delivered the awful images to their eyes. The channels flicked from one scene of carnage to another. The devastation at the White House was massive. The same for the Pentagon. The destruction at the Twin towers was unthinkable. But it looked as though it could be worse.
General Persli approached Cheney at a fast clip. “Mr. Cheney sir!” There was a vital urgency in his pace and his voice. He sidled directly up to the VP and was literally whispering in his ear. “There is a dire situation. In lieu of President Bush not being here we need your presence immediately.”
The strangeness of the request and the urgency in his manner jolted Cheney. “Yes, of course!” he mumbled, not knowing what he was agreeing to. The General led him briskly down the aisle. “It is a matter that needs to be taken care of immediately” he whispered once they were out of earshot. The General led him into a conference room that was serving as a communications center. An engineer wearing a headset sat expectant and tense at his radio. Numerous photos of the twin towers burning were hung about along with a long footage feed showing the ongoing drama. Blueprints of the Towers were lying about on tables.
“I have to be quick and blunt here sir. From the looks of things as they stand now one or both of the towers are going to fall. The damage to other buildings around them will be extensive and we won’t have enough time to finish evacuations. We have gone ahead and planned for demolition explosions that will cause the towers to fall directly down into their footprints hopefully causing only minor damage to surrounding buildings. This will have to be done quickly. We already have engineers setting the explosives, but will need to have executive orders to blow them.”
Cheney immediately saw the situation. “How soon must they be blown?”
There was a marked, electrical pause before the answer. “Fifteen minutes at the most, sir”
Cheney had much experience at making snap decisions. “Do it then.”
“Just to make sure you are fully aware, sir. There will still be people in the building when it falls, including firemen fighting the blaze.
Cheney stopped for a minute. One could not tell from the glare in his eyes and the stress on his forehead if he was thinking in cold logic or with compassion for those who were about to die untimely. “Do it.” he stated darkly, his eyes hard and glossy.
“Give the order.” said the general to his aide.
“Take it down.” said the aide flatly to whoever the deliverer of doom was at the other end.
Cheney stood stoically for a moment then sat down heavily into the chair beside him.
The aide listened intently into his earphones. “Put it on open audio for us, Mandy.”
“Yes sir.” answered the aide, throwing switches. The cackle of the airwaves added to the noise of the busy room. “It will be a couple more minutes for us to unite all the cables and to get ourselves far enough away.”
“Good, James.” said The General through a microphone. “We’ve only got about 12 minutes. Don’t waste a precious second.”
“Yes Sir.” came the strained voice back.
“How are the buildings holding Smith?”
The first one is looking bad sir! We’ve got to get it down quick!”
The General grabbed the mike. “James, we’ve got to get that first tower down fast!”
“Yes sir. We are almost there.”
The General put down the microphone. The room was as silent as a tomb. When he did speak, it was with a voice laced with doubt. “They have to get this thing down quick.” Again the silence fell.
The radio cackled. “Sir! Request permission to blow it.”
“Permission granted. Is everything in order?.” asked the General.
“Yes sir. Igniting…..”
A minute later there was a roar from the building. As suddenly as though sometime had pulled the earth from beneath it the first tower fell.
There were no cheers, no applause. Over the mike one could hear the shocked expressions of those who were there. The tower disappeared from view into a huge cloud of pulverized debris. People ran afraid for their lives as the enormous dust cloud rolled towards, then engulfed them. A strange silence covered everything. As the dust cleared it became apparently that the first tower had disappeared from the earth.
The radio crackled. “It looks like it is a success. The extraneous damage is minimal.”
“Let’s blow the second tout suite!”
There was a long pause. “We seem to have a glitch, sir.” came the voice from the radio. The men are going to have to go back over and check out what is wrong.”
“Good God!” muttered the General. “Do what you have to do. You know how critical this is!”
“And be careful!” the General realized the ridiculousness of these words even as he said them.
It was a long, sweaty ten minutes before the disembodied voice came back to them. “Ready to go sir.”
“So do it!”
As they watched the second tower suddenly fell in upon itself like a pyramid of dominoes. Again the cloud of dust, but this time no one for it to swallow up on the ground.
An intolerably long time ensued before the voice came back over the “Success, sir. It fell exactingly where we wanted.”
There was a sigh of relief all around.
There was no rejoicing, no cheers of victory. Instead a wordless silence fell, as the reminder that there were still people alive in the building at the time of the explosion hit them. Finally Rumsfeld said “Now we can start counting the bodies.”
TO BE CONTINUED…