Table of Contents [Report This]
7:26 AM EST
Jarod stirred quietly before opening his eyes. The room was brighter than what he was used to, and he reflexively blinked. He glanced over at the room’s only window and saw Samantha standing there. He was a bit startled by her presence, still not used to the idea that he was no longer on the run on his own. It angered him that someone so young was now having to run for her life as a result of the Centre, but he was also glad that he was no longer alone in the world.
The two had gotten into New York City the previous day, and just spent most of it in the hotel room. Jarod promised her that they had a few days to themselves, and they could do whatever Samantha wanted to, seeing how it was her first time in New York. Giddy like a school child, Samantha had already begun making plans to visit the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, United Nations, and the World Trade Center, just to name a few landmarks.
Jarod smiled as he silently watched the young woman - fully dressed - stare out at the city. He was glad he had been able to get the double hotel room looking over the skyline. It would do Samantha good to have a little peace in her life before he had to leave her at Harriet’s. It wasn’t something he wanted to do, but he needed a break to fully comprehend the events of the past two weeks, though he would never admit it to Samantha.
“You’re up early,” he said.
Samantha turned, startled as the silence was broken. She smiled. “Couldn’t sleep.”
“Everything okay?” Jarod asked as he sat up, concerned.
“I’m fine, Jarod. Just couldn’t sleep. Besides, it’s a beautiful day, and I got a lot of rest, so I have energy to burn in a city I’ve never been to.”
Jarod smiled as he stood up and stretched. “Well, let me get cleaned up, then we’ll go get some breakfast. Afterwards, we’ll go exploring, okay?”
Samantha grinned. She said, “Sounds like a plan,” as Jarod grabbed his bag and headed for the bathroom.
- - - -
8:40 AM EST
Samantha and Jarod walked down the sidewalk after finishing a traditional New York breakfast of bagels and lox, something that neither of the Pretenders had tried before, but they both had enjoyed it immensely. Now, they were making their way toward their first landmark destination - the World Trade Center. As they walked Jarod just watched as Samantha took in the cites of the city, amused that she was ‘discovering’ things about the world, similar to when he discovered things about the world after escaping the Centre. The two turned a corner, and Samantha stopped short, sucking in her breath as she looked skyward.
The Twin Towers stood tall in the midst of the bustling city below it, stretching like two giant redwoods in a forest clearing. Sunlight glistened off the upper level windows, sparkling like diamonds against the blue sky.
“Whoa,” Samantha whispered. “It’s so . . . beautiful.”
“It is,” Jarod agreed. Even he was impressed by the magnificent structures. He glanced at Samantha and saw she was already crossing the street, heading toward the buildings. He chuckled to himself as he crossed the street and caught up with her. The two Pretenders were a hundred feet from the base of the North Tower, craning their necks to the sky.
“You want to go up, Sam?” Jarod asked.
“Um . . . sure,” Samantha said hesitantly. The two headed to the entrance when a cacophony of horns honking grabbed their attention. They turned and saw a woman kneeling beside a cluttered mess in the middle of a crosswalk. It was clear that she had dropped everything and was trying to pick up her mess as quickly as possible.
“I’ll be right back,” Jarod left her side and hurried over to help the woman.
“I’ll wait for you inside,” Samantha called to him before going into the building.
Jarod walked quickly into the street and knelt beside the woman, helping to gather her things. “Here you go,” he said as he handed her some papers.
“Thank you,” the woman replied. The two stood up and walked to the sidewalk without incident.
“My name is Jarod,” the Pretender said, extending his hand.
“Gina,” the woman replied, smiling, as she shook his hand. “You’re not from New York, are you?”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you’re being so hospitable. Not too many New Yorkers would be so helpful.”
“That’s a shame, but you’re right. I’m from . . . Deleware, and I’m here with a friend. She’s from Montana. We’re just enjoying the city before going to a friend’s place.”
“Well, I do hope you and your friend enjoy your stay in the Big Apple. And thanks again for helping me.”
“My pleasure,” Jarod replied. “And thank you.” He watched the woman walk away, then turned to head back over to the North Tower. The roar of a jet engine from behind him caught his attention, and he looked up.
Jarod saw a passenger jetliner flying low over the city - too low. He knew something had to be wrong as he watched the plane continue its flight, getting closer and closer. His heart was pounding, but even all his skills couldn’t prepare him for what happened next:
The plane flew right into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre, exploding into a ball of flames.
- - - -
Samantha was waiting patiently in the lobby when she felt the entire building shudder, and she stumbled, having to grab a nearby wall for support.
“What the hell was that?” a man in a business suit asked as he picked up his briefcase.
“Felt like an earthquake,” another woman replied.
Samantha glanced out the doors and saw people running away from the building. Curious, she walked over, hearing the shouts and seeing some people crying as she approached, opened the doors and walked out.
It was total chaos outside, like a war zone. There were piece of metal and other debris littering the ground around the building, some of it on fire. People were bleeding and being helped away from the building, while others just cried and looked up, pointing. Samantha glanced upward and gasped. Near the top of the North Tower - the building she had just been in and was now standing next to - there were flames and black smoke billowing out.
“Oh, no,” she whispered. Without hesitating, she rushed back in. Already, there were people coming out of the stairways, running and crying. “Everybody, this way!” She herded people out of the doors. Some stopped to look up, but the young woman pushed them on. “Keep going! Move!”
As she helped people out of the building, directing them to go to the other side of the street, she scanned the crowd, looking for a familiar face. “Jarod!” she shouted, looking around frantically, her heart pounding.
She heard people were saying there was an explosion, while others were saying a plane had crashed into the building. As she blinked back tears, she looked up again, watching the flames for a few seconds. Then she looked back at the entrance to the building, at the people running out, not knowing where to go. Taking a deep breath, she hurried back inside the building.
- - - -
9:00 AM EST
Jarod supported a man as he helped him across the street. The man had been injured as debris from the explosion fell to the ground. Thankfully, he wasn’t injured to the point where he wouldn’t survive - just a lot of scratches, a few bumps, and most likely a concussion. He gingerly set the man down, then went back to the crowd, herding them across the street and searching the sea of faces, hoping to see Samantha.
“Samantha!” he shouted above the chaos, but she was no where to be seen. His heart was pounding in his chest as he looked around frantically as he helped the daze and the injured out of harm’s way. He tried to focus on helping them, but he couldn’t. He kept reassuring them in his calm voice, but his thoughts were a jumbled mess of questions. He knew that Samantha was in the building when the plane crashed, but where was she now? Was she still in there? Did she make it out? Was she hurt?
Jarod knew that the only way to find out was to go in there himself. He ran across the street, going against the flow of the crowd, trying to keep his composure as he saw the dazed and confused emotions mixed with fear in all the people. He saw fear in a grown man’s face, an elderly man, looking lost and scared like a little boy. A woman running beside him had tears streaming down her faces, and a gash on her cheek. Jarod so badly wanted to help them, but he had to make a choice right then and there: stay and help these people, or go find the one person who wouldn’t even be in this situation if it wasn’t for him. Without hesitation, Jarod made his choice.
He managed to make it to the North Tower entrance and pushed his way into building, noticing briefly that a group of firefighters was behind him, just as intent as he was about getting in the building.
- - - -
9:02 AM EST
Samantha herded a few more people out the south side of the building, into the courtyard area between the North and South towers. She tried to remain calm as her survival instincts kicked in, telling her to just run away as far as she could from this destruction. But she couldn’t, not without Jarod, at least. She turned around and started heading back toward the building, intent on finding the one person - the only person - who could make her feel safe, no matter what was going on around her.
As she pushed past people, making her way into a place hundreds of people were fleeing from, images of the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 came to her mind. But she quickly shook those images from her head, concentrating on the task at hand. There was no way to compare what happened then to what was happening now. That had been the work of a terrorist. This, while horrific, had to be a freak accident. It had to be.
The young woman was suddenly shaken from her thoughts as she heard people behind her shouting. She turned and saw them looking skyward. She saw the passenger jetliner cut across the sky a split second before it crashed into the South Tower.
And then all hell broke loose.
The top levels of the building exploded in flames and black smoke. People ran away from the buildings, screaming and shouting as debris - metal, glass, papers, and various office supplies - rained down upon them. Samantha felt a sharp pain on her face as she quickly ducked, covering her head.
After a few moments, she cautiously looked up and saw fire fighters running into both towers. Her face was stinging, and she gingerly touched her forehead, not too surprised to see blood on her hands. There were also little cuts all over her arms. She disregarded the pain as she turned and tried to make her way back to the North Tower. She had to find Jarod. She just had to.
She yelped when she felt a hand clamp over her arm. Looking up, she saw a police officer holding her arm. “You need to evacuate the area!” he shouted at her. Though he was only inches away from her, the noise of the sirens intermingled with the people shouting and crying, and almost drowned out his voice.
“I have to find my friend!” she shouted. “I can’t leave without him!”
“I’m sure he’s somewhere in the crowd! Now, we have to go! All non-emergency personnel have to evacuate the area! And you need to have that gash looked at!” Samantha glanced back at the buildings, wondering, praying, and hoping that Jarod was where the officer said he would be.
- - - -
9:43 AM EST
Blue Cove, Delaware
Parker was sitting at her desk when Broots and Sydney came walking in. She looked up, intending to give a usual sarcastic remark, but she could see their troubled faces and stopped herself.
“What’s wrong?” she asked as she went back to her work.
“There’s been a situation in New York,” Sydney replied.
“What kind of situation?” Parker didn’t look up.
“Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers,” Broots answered.
Parker’s head shot up as she looked at her two friends, searching their faces. She could see immediately they were telling the truth. “How bad?” she asked.
Broots handed her the hand-held television set he was carrying. Parker took it and looked at the screen. It was on Fox News, and the volume was down, but one didn’t need to hear anything to know what was going on.
Shots of the twin towers, both of which were billowing smoke from their top levels, were intermingled with pictures of faces, real people, showing mixed emotions of fear, confusion, and panic as they ran among debris that littered the ground. Parker closed her eyes as her stomach turned and her heart wrenched.
“My God,” she whispered. “All those people.”
“There’s more, I’m afraid,” Sydney said solemnly. Parker opened her eyes. “During the Cold War, in the 1970s, Jarod did a simulation for a defense contractor to determine how vulnerable the Pentagon was to outside attacks, namely terrorists. Using different scenarios, Jarod was able to determine the most effective way buildings and certain the Pentagon could be targeted and destroyed.”
“You think there could be a connection?” Parker asked.
“I wouldn’t doubt it,” Sydney replied. “This is the Centre we’re talking about.”
“Do you think Jarod would make the connection as well?”
“I don’t know,” Sydney said honestly, shrugging his shoulders. “I do know, however, that Jarod would try to get to New York, regardless of who or what was responsible.”
“Then that’s where we’re going. Broots, call the hanger. Tell them we’re going to New York.”
“Uh, no can do,” Broots replied. “All flights have been grounded, all over the country. And they’ve closed all bridges and tunnels to New York; no one can get in or get out.”
“Great,” Parkers sighed. “Does Lyle or anyone else know about this?”
“Probably,” Sydney replied. “But even if they didn’t, there’d be no reason to go to New York. Jarod might want to go there, but remember, he’s no longer alone; he has Samantha to watch out for. I doubt he would want to expose her to that situation.”
“So, what do we do now?” Parker asked.
“Pray,” Sydney simply answered.
Parker glanced back at the television, and her heart nearly stopped. Her eyes widened as her face paled.
Sydney noticed her change of expression. “Parker?”
Parker looked up. “The news just said that a plane has crashed into the Pentagon.”
- - - -
9:55 AM EST
Jarod emerged from the North Tower, his clothes and skin covered in soot. He was carrying a semi-conscious woman in his arms. She was injured, her face covered with gashes, her clothes tinted - in some areas soaked - with blood. She had been walking through the lobby when her strength gave out on her, and she collapsed. Jarod had been nearby when it happened, and he didn’t hesitate in lifting her into his arms and carrying her out.
As he walked away from the building, he spoke reassuringly to her. Even with all the noise and chaos around them, Jarod could tell that the woman was responding to his voice. He quickly hurried across the street to a team of paramedics, who took her from him, before he headed back to the building. He didn’t make it more than halfway through the street when was stopped by a police office.
“Sir, you can’t go back!” he shouted. “Only emergency personnel are allowed over there!”
Jarod glanced up at the twin towers as they continued to billow black smoke. His heart wrenched when he saw people hanging out of the sides of the buildings. He blinked back tears and caught his breath as he glanced downward. He had already seen, earlier, that some of those people had made a choice: either be burned alive or jump out. His stomach still churned as he remembered all those people who had chosen the latter. Now he was doubly determined to find Samantha and get her out of this hell.
“Sir, you have to go wait over there!” the officer shouted, shaking Jarod from his thoughts.
“I’m a firefighter!” Jarod shouted without hesitation. He knew it wasn’t true, but like all of his past Pretends, he only lied about who he was in order to help people. And this time was no exception. He had to go back in there to help, not only the other people, but Samantha. Every minute that passed without finding her only made him more determined to find her, and more worried about what condition she’d be in if - *when*, he reminded himself - he finally did find her.
The officer looked at him for a couple of seconds, though it seemed like an eternity to Jarod, before stepping aside and letting him go back. Jarod had just made it to the other side of the street when he heard more shouting. He looked up, expecting to see another explosion, but what he saw was much worse.
The top of the South Tower was collapsing in on itself as level upon level of the mighty structure plummeted straight down in a mass of debris and dust. People - civilians, officers, firefighters, paramedics - were shouting and running in all directions. Those who couldn’t help themselves were being helped by others, strangers they had never met until this morning. Jarod only paused only moment to watch the building fall, his mind filled with frantic worry for Samantha and the other people, before running down the street.
A woman running in front of him tripped and fell to the ground. Jarod hurried over to her and started helping her to her feet. His heart skipped when he saw it was Gina, the woman he had helped earlier that morning. She didn’t look like the same person he had talked to. Her hair was messed up, her skin covered with soot and cuts, and her suit was dirty. More prominent was the fear he saw in her eyes. She glanced at him as she stood up, and she registered who he was. He could see a minute amount of that fear disappear, but there was no time to respond to it.
Jarod glanced behind his shoulder as he saw a billowing cloud of dust making its way down the street toward them at an unprecedented speed. He made a bold move as he grabbed Gina’s arm and pulled her over to the side of the street, behind a car that was parked at an angle. The two hid behind the vehicle, Jarod using himself as a shield, as the wave dust carried itself over them.
- - - -
It was hard to breath, and Samantha coughed as she opened her eyes. She blinked again, but she couldn’t see. Oh, God, I’m blind, she thought to herself as she rubbed her eyes. It only made them hurt more, and she felt tears well up. She coughed again.
“Here,” a male voice said. Samantha felt cold water splashing her face and someone gently rubbing her eyes. It felt good, and Samantha reflexively blinked again. This time, she could see blurs of people around her. She coughed again; it was so hard to breath. Someone put a mask over her face. She could breath better - a lot better.
Samantha looked up and her sight was better. There was a firefighter standing in front of her, fully dressed in a yellow uniform, looking at her with concern. Samantha breathed through the mask, which was connected to an oxygen tank the firefighter was holding.
“You okay?” he asked, his voice raspy.
“Yeah, I think so,” Samantha replied, dazed. She looked around, not sure of where she was. After she had gotten her head stitched and bandaged by a paramedic, she had hurried back over to help. An officer had tried to keep her back, but Samantha had to go back and help. One minute she was directing people across the street from the towers, and the next minute someone had grabbed her arm and yanked her down the street. A few moments later, she was pushed to the ground, and someone used him or herself as a shield to protect her from . . . she didn’t even know what had happened. “What happened?”
“The South Tower collapsed,” the firefighter said solemnly, almost in shock. He coughed loudly.
Samantha looked around in disbelief. For the first time she noticed the street she was standing in. It was filled with inches of ash. Mixed in were pieces of paper, metal, debris, office supplies. The firefighter wasn’t kidding.
Samantha’s stomach turned as she glanced down the street. “Jarod,” she whispered. She dug her feet into the ash and started running back toward the disaster scene, but the firefighter stopped her, using all his strength to keep her from running back.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he asked, holding her tightly.
“I have to find my friend,” she said tearfully. “He’s back there!”
“You can’t go back! Only emergency personnel are allowed over there! They’re not sure if the other building’s gonna collapse or what!”
“I’m a volunteer firefighter!” Samantha said without hesitating. “I’m also Red Cross! Certified CPR and First Aid!” None of that any of it was a lie. She was actually certified by the Red Cross while she was living in both Chinook and Charleston, and she was actually a volunteer firefighter when she was in high school in Chinook.
Of course, in Chinook, she had only dealt with the occasional choking person in a restaurant, or a child she was babysitting for broke her arm playing on the swing set, or, worst case scenario, a two car pile up in the middle of town. She had never been called into battling a fire before, and none of her training could have prepared her for this, but she knew that she was going to have to find Jarod by relying on these skills as well as her - what did Jarod call them - her Pretender skills and wits to do that.
Samantha looked at the firefighter. He looked like he was in his late twenties, but her vision hadn’t cleared up that well to see any other features. Besides, she didn’t really care at that moment; she had other things to worry about. “Look, here, whoever you are, I -”
“Kevin,” the firefighter interrupted, using his shirt to cover his mouth.
“Okay, look here, Kevin. I appreciate you saving my life, but I got separated from my friend - my best friend - and I am going to go back there and find him. You want to help me, fine. You don’t, then get out of my way.”
Kevin looked at her, intending on telling her to get back and go with the rest of the people, but he held off. He looked down at her outfit - black, straight-legged Capri pants, a John Lennon New York t-shirt, and black tennis shoes. Her clothes were covered with soot, as were her face and hair. The bandage on her forehead had fallen off, and her wound was bleeding again, and her arms had various scratches and cuts on them. He looked into her eyes and saw determination, the same determination he was feeling about going back to help his co-workers and the other people in the North Tower. He sighed as he handed over his helmet and jacket.
“If you’re going to help, then put those on,” he said. “Or go change. I won’t let you into the building, but you can help people as they’re coming out, okay?”
Samantha looked grateful as she took a deep breath and handed back the mask before shrugging into the jacket - it was a bit long for her, but she plopped the helmet on her head, rolled the cuffs up, and smiled slightly at Kevin. “Let’s go,” she said. Together, the two ran back in the direction of the North Tower.
- - - -
Jarod used his shirt as a mask over his face, so he could breath. He blinked, but his eyes were filled with dust. He used the front of his shirt to wipe them clean before he glanced down at Gina. Despite being able to shield her from most of the cloud, she was still covered from head to toe in dust.
“Are you okay?” he asked her before going into a fit of coughing.
Gina tried to catch her breath, but she just started crying. Jarod put his arms around her and hugged her gently. “It’s okay, it’s okay. You’re going to be just fine.” Still hugging her, the two walked down the street, their feet kicking up the dust that had settled on the ground.
“Wh-wh-what . . . hap-happened?” she asked in short gasps.
“I don’t know,” Jarod replied. “I don’t know.” He glanced over his shoulder and saw down the street the remains of the South Tower. His entire body shuddered as he almost lost his composure and nearly broke right there, wondering how many people didn’t make it out, wondering if Samantha was in -
No, he told himself. You can’t think like that. She wasn’t there when the tower collapsed. She was probably no where near it when it collapsed. But as many times as he kept repeating that to himself, he just couldn’t make himself believe it.
“Where’s your friend?” Gina asked suddenly, almost as if she could read his thoughts.
Jarod looked at her with tears in his eyes. “I don’t know,” he whispered. “The last time I saw her . . . she was . . . waiting for me in the . . . North Tower while I went to help you.”
Gina stopped and looked at him. “Jarod, I’ll be okay. I can make it the rest of the way by myself.” She coughed. “Go find your friend. Make sure she’s okay.”
“Are you sure?” Jarod asked.
Gina nodded. “Go.”
Jarod looked almost grateful to her before he left her side and hurried back toward the wreckage. Gina watched him for a few moments as he vanished into the dust then gingerly made her way down the street as an officer came running over to her.
- - - -
10:25 AM EST
As Kevin carried a woman who was bleeding from numerous places and going into shock, Samantha put the oxygen mask over her and talked reassuringly to her as the trio made their way down the street. They were met about halfway down the street by two paramedics and a gurney. Kevin gently lay her down, and Samantha removed the mask before the paramedics wheeled her away.
As the two headed back to help the other civilians, Kevin looked down at the woman. He didn’t know her story, or even her name, but he could sense that she - like all the others there - were there to help. And, regardless of her age, Kevin respected that.
The two were heading back to the North Tower when they heard shouting. Instinctively, they looked up to see the North Tower collapsing toward the ground, much as the South Tower did earlier.
“Run!” he shouted to everyone as he grabbed Samantha’s arm and yanked her down one of the streets. The two were running at the same speed, but Kevin kept a hold of Samantha’s arm, almost like a vice, as he turned to look behind him. The billowing dust cloud came racing toward them at break necking speed.
Kevin glanced to the side of the street and saw a shop. Still holding her arm, he pulled her over to the shop as the cloud got closer and closer. He managed to open the door and shove her inside, just as the cloud raced through. Kevin was knocked to the ground by the sheer force, which also shut the door before he could get in.
“No!” Samantha shouted as he disappeared in the dust and debris, and the world outside turned black.
- - - -
Jarod gasped loudly as he tried to breathe, but there was just so much dust. He jerked his arm, but the sleeve of his jacket was caught on a twisted piece of metal, so Jarod shrugged out of it. As much as he liked that jacket, it was soaked with blood and, now, torn. And it wasn’t like he couldn’t get a new one. He slowly got to his feet, wiping his eyes with his shirt, and looked around. The scene before his eyes was something he could never have been prepared for.
The scene was littered with more debris and ash, some piles still burning. Cars were strewn and overturned, a fire truck was crushed flat. People were walking around dazed and in shock, not sure what to do or how to react. And where the mighty twin towers had once stood were just the skeletal remains of the two buildings in a cloud of ash.
Jarod stood in shock by what he was seeing, knowing that there were hundreds - possibly thousands - of people who hadn’t made it out in time. He trudged through the dust and debris as he made his way back over to the scene, just like other firefighters, police officers were doing. No one had to say anything; they all knew what they had to do: find any survivors.
Jarod was climbing over some steal beams to get closer, his hands shaking as he slowly registered what had happened, replaying the scenes in his mind. Two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center, deliberately, killing and injuring thousands. His stomach churned as he sensed something very familiar about this entire situation, but he couldn’t place it.
“Sir, do you need help?”
Jarod looked around and spotted a paramedic standing nearby. He shook his head. “No, I’m fine,” he replied. “I’m . . . here to help with the rescue.” The paramedic almost didn’t believe him, but he moved on.
Jarod wanted to sink to the ground, but he had to find Samantha. He was praying to God she wasn’t in the rubble, but he would never know unless he actually looked. And he knew that there were other people trapped. Jarod pushed those thoughts into the back of his head, and he climbed over the beams and headed off to the rubble.
- - - -
Samantha pushed open the store door with all her might and stepped out. She looked around frantically for Kevin, but it was too dark to see, even though she had waited for some of the dust to settle.
“Kevin!” she called out, then coughed as some dust stuck in her throat.
“Over here,” a raspy voice replied. Samantha looked toward her left, where his voice had come from. Kevin was leaning against the wall of the store, covered in a thick layer of ash. She hurried over to him.
“You okay?” she asked.
Kevin took in a couple of deep breathes. “I’m not sure,” he wheezed. Samantha lifted his arm over her shoulder and supported him. “Wh-wh-what are you doing?”
“You saved my life,” Samantha replied. “Twice. You’re going to get checked out. I would never forgive myself if something happened to you too.”
“Too?” Kevin asked.
“Yeah,” Samantha replied somberly. “I, uh . . . I was separated from my friend when the first plane hit. I don’t know where he is.”
“I’ll help you find him,” Kevin wheezed.
“After you get looked at.” Kevin didn’t argue as the two slowly made their way down the sidewalk.
- - - -
Parker and Sydney continued to watch the television that Broots had gotten for them in Sydney’s office before he left to go get Debbie. The children had become very worried and upset after the fourth plane had crashed in Pennsylvania, and the school felt it would be better for the children to be home with their parents. Broots had promised to try to come back, but Parker and Sydney told him to stay with Debbie.
“This is horrible,” Parker replied as she tried very hard to keep her composure. “I’ve known the Centre to do some disgusting things, but this is just . . .”
“It is,” Sydney replied. The two looked up as Lyle, Raines, Mr. Parker, and Cox walked in.
“What the hell do you want?” Parker asked coldly.
“Angel, that’s a little harsh,” Mr. Parker replied.
“Yeah, and so is killing thousands of innocent people,” Parker retorted.
“The Centre had nothing to do with those attacks,” Raines wheezed.
“And I’m Martha Stewart,” Parker hissed. She looked at the four men. “What did it cost, huh?”
“That’s none of your concern,” Lyle replied. “Your concern is finding Jarod. And Samantha.”
“And how do you think that Jarod will react when he realizes a simulation he did was used to murder? Again? This *is* our concern, since we’re going to have to deal with him when we find him.” Raines, Lyle, and Cox looked at Mr. Parker.
“Angel,” Mr. Parker said gently, “the simulation was sold to a defense contractor. We had no way of knowing that it was going to be used in this manner.” He looked at Sydney. “What do you think Jarod will do, Sydney? Do you think he’ll try to go to New York or any of the other places?”
“It’s hard to say,” Sydney replied. “I think he would want to keep Samantha away from those situations, regardless of what’s happened. She is his first priority.”
“Keep searching,” Raines wheezed before the four men left.
“They make me so sick at times,” Parker replied.
“I know the feeling,” Sydney said quietly as he glanced back at the television screen. He tilted his head slightly, then sucked in his breath. “I don’t believe it.”
Parker looked at the screen too. “What?”
Sydney shook his head. “Nothing,” he said. He turned off the television set. “I’ve had enough of this.” He walked over to his desk and sat down, busying himself with some paperwork. He glanced up at Parker. “Don’t you have some work to finish?”
Parker just narrowed her eyes slightly as she left the office. She hated being blown off by anyone, especially Sydney. She wanted to ask about what he had seen on television, but she knew he wouldn’t have said a word. Still, she had a pretty good guess what he did see as she made her way out of the Sim Lab.
Sydney watched Parker leave, then he leaned back in his chair. He kept replaying what he had seen, and he was hoping that he had just imagined it, but he knew he hadn’t. He knew with every ounce of his mind that he had seen Jarod making his way through the rubble at Ground Zero.
- - - -
Samantha watched from outside a makeshift triage as a paramedic assessed Kevin’s health and well-being. After bringing him in, she had managed to get her own wounds looked at and her head re-stitched, and a shopkeeper in the area had given her some better clothes to wear when she returned to Ground Zero: some jeans and a long-sleeved black t-shirt that were both larger than what she was used to wearing. However, the shopkeeper had helped ‘alter’ the clothes right there by tucking in her shirt and then looping a belt around her waist and rolling up the cuffs on her jeans and arms so they were just the right length.
Samantha tried to smile at the hospitality she had received from a city with a reputation for being less than hospitable, but she found her countenance falling as she gingerly sat in a folding chair near the tent. She knew that the firefighter was not as injured as some of the other people had been, but she still worried about him. He had risked his life to save her - twice, now - and she didn’t even know him. It was like with Jarod: he had saved her, and he hadn’t even known her; she was a stranger, but it hadn’t mattered to him.
Thinking about Jarod brought tears to the young woman’s eyes as she put her head in her hands. She couldn’t help but feel responsible for not knowing where Jarod was. After all, she was the one who had suggested going to the World Trade Center, practically insisting to Jarod that she wanted to see it. It was all her fault they were there when the planes crashed. It was all her fault that her friend - her only friend at this time - was separated from her, perhaps trapped in the rubble somewhere . . . hurt, scared . . . maybe worse.
“Hey, you okay?” Samantha looked up and saw Kevin standing beside her, looking concerned. For the first time, she was able to get a good look at him. She could see his brown-red hair and his green eyes.
“I’m fine,” she said. “How are you? What did the doctor say?”
“I’ll live,” Kevin replied, shrugging. He knelt beside her. “You’re upset about your friend, aren’t you?”
“I have to find him,” Samantha replied.
Kevin took in a deep breath and got to his feet. “Well, we can try to get back down there. They’re bringing in scores of search and rescue to look for the people who didn’t . . .” He trailed off as Samantha got to her feet. He patted her shoulder gently. “We’ll go back and see what we can do.”
“You’re scared too, aren’t you?” Samantha asked. Kevin looked down at her. “For your friends.”
“Yeah,” Kevin replied. Samantha took in a deep breath. Without saying a word, the two walked down the street, making their way back to the disaster area.
- - - -
“This is unbelievable,” Jarod heard a rescue worker next to him as the started sifting through the rubble. “Whoever was responsible sure knew what they were doing.” Jarod could feel bile rising in his throat. The worker turned to Jarod. “Hey, man, you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Jarod replied curtly. He shook his head. There was no need to get mad at this man. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” the worker replied. He held out a pair of gloves to Jarod, along with a mask. “Here, put these on. Wouldn’t want you getting hurt or anything.”
“Thank you,” Jarod replied. He put on the gloves and mask and continued sifting through the rubble, looking for any signs of survivors, although Jarod knew that, given how tall the buildings were, and how they fell, the odds of anyone surviving it were not very good.
“Barry,” the worker said, holding out his hand.
It took Jarod a moment to register what the worker was doing. “Jarod,” he replied, shaking the worker’s hand.
“So, what do you think of this, huh?” Barry asked. “Four planes in one day, huh?”
“Four?” Jarod asked, suddenly more interested in the worker.
“You didn’t hear?” Jarod shook his head. “Two other planes crashed earlier this morning. One went into the Pentagon, and the other crashed in Pennsylvania.”
More planes crashed . . . more planes . . . crashed . . . Pentagon . . . Jarod went visibly pale even under the ash and soot. Four planes in one day . . . this couldn't be an accident. It had to be an attack; that was the only possible explanation. And as his stomach collapsed in a sickening echo of the tragedy around him, Jarod knew beyond a doubt that it was all his fault - that these attacks would not have been possible if he hadn't essentially orchestrated them in his own mind.
So many innocent people, injured, lost . . . dead. So much blood, and all on his own hands, mixing with the soot and ash, as surely as if he'd brought those buildings down with his own strength. As the impact burned into his soul, Jarod could hardly stand. Barry peered at him, concerned.
“Hey, Jarod, you don’t look good. You need an ambulance?”
Jarod shook his head as he backtracked, leaving the site, making his way up the street. He felt like he wanted to throw up as he removed his gloves and mask and tossed them aside. Thousands of people had been hurt and killed because of him . . . Samantha was missing, scared, maybe hurt . . . and it was all his fault.
“Hey, mister, you want a necklace?” Jarod looked toward the sound of the voice and saw a man coming over to him. He was about Jarod’s age, dressed in jeans, a denim shirt, and working boots. His clothes were somewhat sooty.
“What?” Jarod asked, still in a daze and not completely sure what the man had just said.
The man pulled a gold chain out of his pocket and showed it to Jarod. “I need to sell this really quickly. I’ll let you have it for twenty bucks.”
Jarod frowned, disgusted that the person was trying to make money at a time like this. He was about to shout at him for being so insensitive when he glanced at the necklace. In that instance, his blood ran cold. In that moment, the Pretender felt nothing but anger and saw nothing but red. In one swift movement, he yanked the necklace from the man’s hand then swiftly punched him. The man went flying backwards to the ground, raising up a bit of dust as he fell.
“Where did you get this?!” Jarod screamed as he hoisted the man to his feet.
“It was . . . in the rubble,” the man wheezed, scared of what else Jarod might do to him. “It was just . . . laying there.”
“I don’t believe you,” Jarod replied. He pulled back his fist, intending to hit the man again, but someone grabbed his arm and yanked him away.
“Jarod, don’t,” he said. Jarod glanced over his shoulder and saw Barry holding him back. Jarod glanced down at the necklace in his hand, then jerked free of Barry’s grasp and ran down the street, past the man he had punched and the crowd that had started to form.
The Pretender ran and ran, clutching the necklace tightly, until he saw an empty alley. He ran in it, gasping, but it wasn’t from exertion. He fell to his knees in the middle of the alley, among the litter and debris, but he didn’t care. All he cared about was that necklace he was holding. Though he had already seen it when the man showed it to him, and he knew what he had seen, he forced his shaking hand open. He had to make sure.
The gold chain was delicate and simple. The clasp was broken, and Jarod took a ragged breath as he tenderly held the tiny charm that was attached to it. It was a genuine gold and ivory bald eagle inlaid over an authentic ruby, sapphire, and diamond American flag. He carefully turned the charm over and looked at the engraving. Even though it was partially melted and covered with dried blood, Jarod could still make out the words: “btfssff/atctta.” His eyes welled up with tears as his thoughts drifted to when he had given that necklace and charm to Samantha the day before, when he had explained the meaning of those very letters to her.
- - - -
“Oh, Jarod, it’s beautiful!” Samantha said after opening the small jewelry box he had just given her. He had left while she unpacked her things in their hotel room, coming back with lunch and a little something extra special for her.
Samantha fingered the charm, touched by the gift, and turned it over. There was a small engraving on it that didn’t make sense to her. She looked at Jarod. “Btfssff/atctta?” she asked.
Jarod looked a little sheepish. “I couldn’t fit it all on there, so I had to abbreviate.”
“What does it mean?”
“‘Because the flag still stands for freedom,’” Jarod answered. “‘And they can’t take that away.’ I heard it in a song.”
Samantha’s eyes misted. “Oh, Jarod, you shouldn’t have.”
“I wanted to.” Jarod took the necklace from the box and carefully put it around her neck as Samantha looked in a nearby mirror. The gold from the eagle and the rubies, sapphires, and diamonds in the flag sparkled as the sunlight streaming in through the window shone on it. He put his hands on her shoulders. “No matter what we have to do, Sam, no matter what we have to sacrifice, they can’t take the freedom to be who we are. You’re still free to be yourself around me.” He squeezed her shoulders gently. “I want you to always remember that, okay?”
Samantha nodded then turned around and hugged him. “I’ll never take it off, Jarod. I promise.”
- - - -
Jarod could still hear her voice in his head as he played and replayed the conversation in his mind. He shook his head as curled his hand back around the necklace, threw his head back, and let out a yell. After a few moments he bowed his head and began weeping. The tears stung his eyes, but he didn’t care. He had failed her. He had rescued her from the Centre, but he had failed to keep her safe. His entire body shuddered, his breath came in ragged gasps as he clutched the necklace in his hand - like his life depended on it - and he just knelt on the dusty concrete, crying.
- - - -
Samantha could feel her heart breaking as she and Kevin arrived at the rubble site. There were overturned cars, rescue workers climbing over steel beams and digging through debris. They grabbed hard hats, gloves, and masks from a worker handing them out and put them on before going in.
As Samantha climbed over a girder, her heart became heavier. On her way over with Kevin she had prepared herself for the amount of destruction she knew she was going to see, but she couldn’t prepare herself for this. She had to lean against some debris and catch her breath.
“You sure you want to do this?” Kevin asked.
“I have to,” Samantha replied slowly. “He’s my friend.” She took a deep breath and walked through the rubble. Kevin was slowly behind her. Silently, the two picked through the rubble, moved debris, and looked for any signs of survivors. With each piece of rubble moved, Samantha’s heart got heavier and heavier, like her soul was collapsing, but she managed to keep her composure. If Jarod was somewhere in there, she was going to find him.
After minutes of searching, Samantha looked up when someone shouted they found someone, alive. She hurried over as a couple of firefighters gingerly pulled out a person, a man. Her heart skipped at the possibility of it being Jarod, but as she got closer, she saw it wasn’t him, and her heart grew weary again. Nevertheless, she offered her assistance.
“Please,” the man whispered as Samantha began assessing his injuries while someone fetched some paramedics. “Help me.”
“You’re going to be just fine, sir,” Samantha assured him, taking his bruised and bloodied hand. In that instant, she felt the fear and terror that man was feeling; every broken bone, every bruise, every pain that man felt Samantha could feel it as if it were her in that position . Jarod had told her that was what being a Pretender was all about - to be able to become anyone - but it had been a long time since the young woman had experienced something like that, and it startled her. She almost pulled her hand away to stop the pain that was flowing inside her, but she stopped herself; she had to be strong for this person. She held his hand as he was carried down to the street, where the paramedics were waiting. It was only after he was being wheeled away did she let go.
“What was that all about?” Kevin asked as he came walking up behind her.
“What are you talking about?”
“Your face contorted as you took that man’s hand,” Kevin said.
“It hurt seeing him like that,” Samantha answered. She knew that Kevin would misconstrue what she said, but she didn’t feel like explaining the truth to anyone at that point.
“Okay, that’s it,” Kevin replied. “You’re not working here anymore.”
“What?!” Samantha shouted as she glared at him.
“You’re getting too emotional for this,” Kevin replied angrily. “As hard as it is, you gotta keep your emotions in check, especially at a time like this. That sounds harsh, but if you don’t, you won’t be doing yourself or anyone else here a bit of good. Now, go back to the triage and wait for me. I’ll come by later to check on you.”
“Like hell I’m going,” Samantha replied. “My friend is missing, and I’m not going to be sitting around, doing nothing, when I should be here finding him.”
“You know, you’re not the only one who lost someone, okay? I’m sorry you can’t find your friend, but there are other people here who lost friends as well, not to mention family members. And speaking of family, don’t you think you oughta find yours, let them know you’re alright? Don’t you think that family is more important that any friend?”
“I don’t have a family, okay?” Samantha replied. “Ever since my parents died right before I graduated high school, I’ve been on my own. I spent four years alone, without anyone, until Jarod came into my life. In fact, I wouldn’t have had a life if it wasn’t for him; he saved me from something I wouldn’t have been able to save myself from. He risked his life for a stranger because it was the right thing to do, and it’s time that I repaid that favor by finding him. So, in answer to your question, Kevin, no. Jarod may be a friend, but he is just as important to me as any of my family could ever be.”
Samantha watched as Kevin’s demeanor changed during her little outburst. But she didn’t give him a chance to respond as she turned to leave the site, deciding to try on the other side to look for Jarod. She climbed down from the rubble and started walking around when she spotted something that made her stop short.
Hanging from a steel beam nearby was a familiar looking leather jacket. Please, God, no, she thought as she slowly made her way over to it. She tenderly removed it and examined it. It was torn, and parts of it were soaked with blood. She looked at the tag, hoping against hope she wouldn’t find what she was looking for, but she saw the letters as plain as day written in black marker on the tag: Jarod.
Samantha remembered how she had gotten her own jacket about a week after Jarod rescued her, but it looked so much like his that they kept getting them confused. So, Jarod had put their names on the tags. Samantha’s was back at the hotel room, the day being too warm for her to wear it, but she remembered Jarod had been wearing his, and she knew that he would never have taken it off.
Frantically, she began searching the area, looking for Jarod. She called his name, moved rubble, but she couldn’t find him. She tried to lift the steel beam the jacket was hanging on, but she couldn’t budge it. Her strength exhausted, she slid to the ground, the jacket still in her hands, as her composure finally broke.
Clutching the jacket like a life preserver, she cried, not caring who saw or heard her. Her thoughts were only on Jarod, the one person in this world who had cared so much for her and asked for nothing in return. The young woman’s body shook as she tuned the whole world out. She didn’t even notice Kevin as he sat beside her. He didn’t speak a word as he put an arm around her shoulders and let her cry.
- - - -
From his space inside the Centre Angelo lay curled up on his bed, shaking as he cried softly into his pillow. He could still see the images in front of him: the people running for their lives, the explosions, the buildings falling . . . they kept coming and coming. Then he saw the necklace, felt the anger, and then the pain. It was too much for him to bear, and the Empath’s voice could be heard echoing in the small room.
“Jarod . . . sad,” he whimpered as tears fell down his face. “Death . . . pain . . . everybody gone . . . hate . . . guilt . . . Jarod sad . . . ” He suddenly leapt from his bed, yelling, as he started going berserk. He ripped the sheets off his bed and threw them aside before picking up his bed frame and turning it over. Sheets of paper were shredded and thrown, pencils and pens were scattered.
A couple of Sweepers guarding the room looked in when they heard the commotion. They were a little startled by the Empath’s outburst as one turned to the other. “Get Mr. Raines,” he said.
“He’s busy,” the other Sweeper replied. “He said he wasn’t to be disturbed under any circumstances.”
“Well, get *somebody*!” the first Sweeper retorted. The second Sweeper nodded, then hurried down the corridor to the elevator.
- - - -
Angelo didn’t notice the door to his space opening and Sydney and Miss Parker walking in. They were both taken aback by the condition of the room and the current state of the Empath.
“He’s gone stark raving mad,” Parker replied bluntly.
“We’ll see,” Sydney replied calmly. He carefully walked up to Angelo and touched his shoulder. “Angelo.” Angelo instantly calmed down and turned to face the psychiatrist. His face was a combination of anger and sadness as tears streaked his cheeks. “Angelo, what’s wrong?”
“Angelo . . . mad!” Angelo shouted as he jerked away from Sydney’s touch. Angelo crumpled to the floor, weeping. Sydney knelt beside him. “Angelo . . . sad.”
“Why is Angelo sad?” Sydney asked.
“Jarod . . . sad. Jarod . . . has pain.”
“He must be feeling Jarod’s guilt over the attacks,” Parker replied.
“No, Jarod feels guilt,” Angelo said. “Jarod feels guilt . . . for Samantha.”
“Why does Jarod feel guilt for Samantha?” Sydney asked gently.
Angelo began weeping again. “Samantha . . . dead.”
Parker and Sydney both stiffened when they heard that. Sydney furrowed his eyebrows. “Are you sure, Angelo?” he asked. “Can you feel her?”
“Angelo feels nothing. Samantha . . . gone.”
“My God,” Parker whispered as she put her hand over her heart and tears welled up in her eyes, but she kept her composure. She came over and knelt beside Angelo, putting a hand on his arm as Sydney gently held him in his arms while he continued to cry.
If what Angelo had said was true, then she couldn’t even imagine what he must have been going through, the thought of knowing that the Centre had killed all of his hopes of ever having a real family. And she could only imagine what Samantha’s death must be doing to Jarod on the outside, and she wondered what he was doing to cope with it.
- - - -
3:16 PM EST
Samantha could feel something warm and wet on her hand. At first, she thought she was bleeding, but when she glanced down she saw a German Shepherd dog licking her hand. The young woman was a little startled and jumped when the dog started barking. A man dressed in a dark blue shirt, jeans, work boots, and a hard hat hurried over.
“Joshua,” he said as he gently grabbed the dog’s collar. He glanced at the young woman, slightly embarrassed. “Sorry, Miss. Didn’t mean to startle you.”
“It’s fine,” Samantha replied softly.
The handler peered closely at her. “Hey, you okay? You need an ambulance or anything?”
“No. I don’t need anything.” She clutched Jarod’s jacket. “I just . . .” She took a ragged breath and Joshua put his head in her lap. She chuckled slightly as she pet the dog’s head.
“Hey, that’s the first time I’ve seen you smile,” Kevin said as he came up and sat beside her. He had left her alone to grieve while he went searching through the rubble. “You okay?”
Samantha shrugged. “Nothing comforts like a dog,” she replied, wiping her cheeks, sniffling. “I had a dog when I was a kid. German Shepherd. Named him Toby.” She scratched Joshua behind the ears. “Looked almost like this guy here.” Almost in response, Joshua put a paw in her lap and barked.
Samantha took the paw, and frowned slightly when she felt it was warm and wet on the bottom. She looked at her hand and saw it was smeared with blood. She got down and examined all of Joshua’s paws. “His paws are bleeding,” she said.
“Yeah, all that glass and debris,” the handler replied. “All the dogs are getting their paws cut up.” He shrugged. “But there’s not much we can do about it.”
Samantha looked at Joshua then back at the rubble site. She got to her feet as she watched the rescue workers. “Perhaps not,” she said.
“What are you thinking?” Kevin asked.
“How many dogs are here already? How many more can we expect?”
“A lot,” the handler replied. “Why?”
“I’m going to need a computer with an internet connection and a telephone with long distance capabilities,” she said as she began walking away from the rubble. Kevin, the handler, and Joshua were with her. “And I’m going to need to get an estimate of how many dogs are here already and how many more we can expect.” Jarod might be dead, but there were still people trapped in the rubble, and their only hope would be the search and rescue dogs that were looking for them. But those dogs couldn’t do their job if their feet were getting injured.
Kevin hurried up to her. “What are going to do?” he asked.
“You’ll see,” Samantha answered as she trotted out of the rubble site. Kevin and the handler just looked at each other, not knowing what the young woman was planning. She glanced down at Jarod’s jacket as she heard a ringing. She stopped and pulled out Jarod’s wallet and a Lady Liberty Pez dispenser. She was a little startled and confused; she could have sworn she heard Jarod’s phone ringing. Watch it girl, you’re starting to hear things, now. You’re going to start seeing things too if you’re not careful. A lump formed in her throat as she put the stuff back in the pocket and continued walking with the two men.
“You okay?” Kevin asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Samantha replied softly.
- - - -
Sydney hung up the receiver. He knew he had gotten through to Jarod’s cell phone after numerous busy signals, and he could only imagine what the Pretender must be feeling, but it still worried him that Jarod hadn’t picked up.
Sydney looked up and saw Parker standing in his doorway. “No,” he whispered. “He’s not answering.”
“Perhaps he can’t,” Parker replied.
“Or he doesn’t want to,” Sydney added. “I just need to know he’s okay.” He sighed. “I still can’t believe it.”
“Are you sure Angelo was telling the truth?”
“Angelo wouldn’t have lied; Samantha was his sister.”
“What do you think Jarod will do now?”
Sydney leaned back. “If I understood Angelo correctly, then Jarod will try to find Samantha’s body and give her a proper burial. He won’t stop until he does, because he will feel guilty about her dying because of something he believes is his fault.”
“Which means he’ll be a sitting target if the Centre figures out he’s in New York.” Sydney looked up, surprised. “It didn’t take a genius to figure out from what you saw on the television and what Angelo said to figure out that Jarod and Samantha were in New York at the time of the attacks.”
“Have you told anyone?”
“No,” Parker replied. “There’s a time and place for everything, and now is not the time for chasing. Keep me posted if you get through to him.” She turned and left.
Sydney watched Parker walk out of the Sim Lab. Even after all these years, Parker still never ceased to surprise him with her growing sense of compassion and caring. For the first time that day, the psychiatrist managed a small, sad smile.
- - - -
Samantha’s fingers went flying as she typed on the borrowed laptop inside a tent set up near Ground Zero. She brought up all the pet supply websites she could find. After taking making calculations and getting estimates from the dog handlers she was able to get a good idea about what the costs was going to be to pull her plan off. Her heart sank at the total: almost eleven thousand dollars. There was no way she could get that kind of money, not in such a short time. She sighed as she rubbed her head.
Kevin stuck his head inside the tent. “Hey, you got a minute?”
“Sure,” Samantha mumbled.
Kevin came in and handed a phone to her. “It’s from San Diego,” he said.
“San Diego?” Samantha asked, taking the phone, putting her hand over the mouthpiece.
“Yeah,” Kevin replied. “A few of the guys out there heard about what you were doing. They thought it was an excellent idea, and they figured they’d help you out. So, they made a few calls. You would not believe how many people are willing to help.”
“So, who’s in San Diego that I’m supposed to talk to?”
“Oh, it’s the manager of the PetSmart there,” Kevin replied. “Wants to talk with you personally.”
Samantha looked a little surprised, her mouth forming a small ‘o’ as she uncovered the phone and put it to her ear. “Hello?” she asked.
“Yeah, is this the girl who’s trying to get booties for the rescue dogs at Ground Zero?” a male voice asked.
“This is she.”
“Look, we didn’t have a lot of time to get this, but we managed to pack up 500 sets of four dog booties in different sizes.” Samantha tried not to cry as she smiled. “Just need an address where we can send them.”
Samantha took in a deep breath so she wouldn’t start crying. “Um . . .,” she put her hand over the mouthpiece and looked at Kevin. “Where do I tell them to send the booties?”
Kevin said that his firehouse would be just fine; he’d call his captain to let him know. Samantha relayed the information back to the person on the phone who told her they’d try to get them to New York the next day. Samantha graciously thanked him, and hung up. She tried not to cry, but it was very difficult.
“They’re donating 500 sets of booties,” she replied softly.
“Yeah, well, they’re not the only ones,” Kevin added. “We’re getting tons of people donating booties and other stuff for the dogs.” Samantha just burst into tears, laying her head on her arms. Kevin came over and knelt beside her. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
“I never thought this would actually work,” she sobbed.
Kevin put his arms around her and hugged her gently. “It was a good idea. Of course it was going to work. Look, why don’t I take you back to one of the shelters they got set up, okay? You look like hell.”
Samantha nodded and got to her feet. The two left the tent and started walking away when Joshua and his handler came up to them. “Hey, I just heard about what you did for us,” the handler said to Samantha. “Got people saying there are people donating booties left and right from all over the country.”
“It’s the least I could do to help,” Samantha replied.
“It’s more than enough. Not too many people think about the dogs in a time like this.” He held out his hand. “Thanks again.”
Samantha shook it. “My pleasure, Mr. . . .”
“Jason McLloyd,” the handler replied. “Just call me Jason.”
“Samantha,” the young woman replied. “Call me Sam.”
“You know, I was about to ask you your name,” Kevin spoke up. He cleared his throat. “Um, I’m going to get Sam to a shelter, let her get some rest,” Kevin said to Jason. “When the booties come in, we’ll bring them by.”
“Too bad we don’t have anything now,” Jason said, looking down at Joshua. “I know his feet must be killing him.”
Samantha looked down at Joshua and furrowed her eyebrows. She glanced around the area and noticed some large pieces of burlap in a pile of rubble nearby. “I think I know a way I can protect his feet until the booties arrive, as well as the rest of the dogs.” She turned to Kevin. “Get me some twine and a sharp pair of scissors or knife.”
“What about getting some rest?” Kevin asked.
“No time right now,” Samantha replied as she headed over to get the burlap. There was still a lot she could do to help with the rescue efforts, and she wasn’t going to stop now.
- - - -
7:45 PM EST
It was just after nightfall as Jarod lay on the pavement. It had been hours since he had stopped crying and curled up on his side, losing himself in his grief and guilt over Samantha. He had zoned so far out of reality that he didn’t even notice the man standing over him. The man touched his arm, but Jarod didn’t even flinch. The man tapped his arm gently, finally stirring the Pretender from his stupor.
“Hey, Mister, you okay?”
Jarod turned slightly at the sound of the voice. His eyes adjusted to the dimness, and he found himself face to face with the man who had tried to sell Samantha’s necklace, and his rage began building again. The man, seeing this rage in Jarod’s eyes, backed off out of reach, but he didn’t run. He planted his feet firmly, although he was shaking slightly.
“Look, uh,” he said softly. “I don’t know why you want that necklace so badly. If it means that much to you, you can have it.” He cleared his throat. “I didn't steal it, if that’s what you’re thinking, I promise. I found it in the rubble on the ground. I was just going to sell it so I could get some batteries.”
Jarod slowly sat up, stiff from having been curled on dirty pavement for so long. He fixed the man with a hard gaze; he didn’t believe what he had said. “Why were you selling jewelry for batteries?”
“Mine died,” the man replied. He lifted up his hand, revealing a black barrel to Jarod. The Pretender reflexively reached around for his gun, then he saw the man wasn’t holding a gun. He was holding a flashlight, a cheap one that was probably bought at a grocery store. Jarod felt his pulse slow down. He still didn’t like this man for what he had done with Samantha’s necklace, but he allowed him to sit down next to him. “I just needed to buy some batteries so I could go find my family.”
Jarod’s head jerked up to look at him when he said that. “Your family?” he asked softly.
The man nodded. “My sister and her husband, and my nephew,” he replied. “Bill, my brother-in-law, worked in the South Tower. We were going to meet him for a late breakfast; I had to take care of some things at my business. Anton called me up around eight forty this morning and -” The man’s eyes welled up with tears. “ - and he said he was waiting outside while Delia went to go get Bill. I told him I would be on my shortly. That was the last I heard from him.”
Jarod listened with tears in his eyes at this man’s story, feeling overwhelming sorrow for this man, knowing it was because of him that this man’s family was lost in the rubble. That, combined with the guilt of attacking him earlier and noticing the huge bruise on the man’s face where he hit him, made Jarod feel much worse. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered.
The man gave a sad, grateful smile. He glanced down at the Pretender’s clenched fist, seeing part of the gold chain intertwined with his fingers. “Is she your wife?” he asked. “Is that why you wanted it back so bad?”
“Huh?” Jarod asked in a daze. The man nodded to Jarod’s hand. He looked down at his fist and opened it, exposing the necklace. “No,” he replied softly. “She isn’t my wife. She’s . . . my friend.” He took a ragged breath.
“Do you want to talk?” the man asked. “It might help.”
Jarod glanced up. He swallowed and nodded, trying to collect his thoughts. “I . . . met her a couple of weeks ago. She . . . she was in some trouble . . . some people wanted to hurt her . . .”
“And you rescued her?” the man asked.
Jarod nodded. “And in order to keep her safe, we had to constantly move around . . . and it was hard on her, even though she never admitted it. She wanted to be brave for me, but she was scared; I could see it in her eyes.” He took a ragged breath. “I was able to save her from those people . . . but I couldn’t protect her from this . . .”
“You can’t blame yourself,” the man replied. “This wasn’t your fault.”
“But it was,” Jarod said forcefully as his eyes filled with tears. “It was my fault she was taken in the first place . . . they wanted me, but when they couldn’t get me they took her.” He took another breath. “She had never traveled anywhere, and I wanted to get what had happened to her off her mind for a while, so I brought her here.” He fingered the necklace. “I gave this to her yesterday after we arrived. I told her that . . . no matter what happened, those people - even though they took her life - could never take away who she was.” He clutched it tightly in his fist, holding it to his chest, as he breathed deeply, trying not to cry.
The man listened intently and carefully put a hand on Jarod’s shoulder. He had tears in his eyes as Jarod finished his story, seeing this man, who could probably have almost anyone be scared of him, being totally open and vulnerable with a complete stranger about someone who was very important to him.
“Who are these people?” the man asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” Jarod replied bitterly. He sighed. “All that matters is finding her and giving her a proper burial. It’s the least I could after everything she’d been through.”
“You don’t think she’s still alive?”
Jarod shook his head. “This necklace meant a lot to her. She would never have parted with it.” He slowly got to his feet, still stiff. The man got up beside him. “I’ll even help you find your family.”
“You don’t have to, Mr. . . .”
“Jarod,” the Pretender replied automatically.
“Miles,” the man said. He cleared his throat. “Look, Jarod, you don’t have to.”
“No, it’s the least I could do,” Jarod replied.
Miles shrugged and gingerly touched his face where the bruise was. “I’ll be okay, Jarod. I would have done the same thing if our positions had been reversed.”
“Well, I am sorry for that too,” Jarod replied.
“What do you mean ‘too?’” Miles asked.
Jarod opened his mouth, but quickly decided not to answer the question. It would have put Miles at risk, and Jarod had already had enough blood on his hands that day. “Never mind,” the Pretender said softly. “I have some money. Let’s go get you some batteries.”
Miles looked at him curiously, but he didn’t broach the subject further, nor did he open his mouth to protest Jarod helping him, knowing it would have been useless. Together, the two walked silently out of the alley.
- - - -
8:10 PM EST
Samantha gingerly tied some twine around the burlap that covered the back left paw of a Golden Retriever, then she sighed, smiling tiredly. “There you go, boy,” she replied as she scratched the dog behind the ears.
“Thank you so much,” the dog’s handler said from under her mask before leaving with her dog.
Samantha carefully stood and walked over to a nearby chair and all but collapsed in it, removing her mask, letting it dangle around her neck. She glanced around the sparse tent, furnished only with a few tables littered with scraps of burlap, pieces of twine, and a pair of scissors. Jarod’s jacket was on the table nearest her. The addition of a few flood lamps earlier while she was working with the dogs told her that night had fallen already, but she didn’t know what time it was. She glanced at her wristwatch, surprised it was still working after everything and surprised to see how late it was.
“You look like crap.”
Samantha glanced up and saw Kevin coming into the tent. She smiled slightly at his smile, present even underneath his mask, as she yawned. “Thanks. You too.”
“Thanks,” Kevin replied. He sighed. “Look, why don’t I take you to one of the shelters? You’ve done more than enough.”
“I have to find Jarod,” Samantha replied, getting to her feet. She tried to leave the tent, but Kevin stopped her.
“You need to get some rest,” he said firmly. “Like I said earlier, you look awful.”
“I’m fine,” Samantha replied firmly. She perked up as his walkie talkie crackled.
“Yeah?” Kevin answered it.
“Kevin, you talked to your family yet?” a voice asked.
“I’ve been a little busy, Todd,” Kevin replied. “Everyone has.”
“Well, just a got a message about your old man,” Todd said.
Kevin paled, looking concerned. “What’s wrong? Is he okay?”
“He’s been trying to find you all day; he’s worried sick about you.”
Kevin sighed and shook his head, looking a little pale. He cursed softly. “Thanks. Know of a phone line open anywhere?”
“There’s a shelter set up over St. Paul’s Chapel for rescue workers and volunteers. They have some open phone lines set up just so family members can be contacted.”
“Thanks,” Kevin replied. He put his walkie talkie away and glanced at Samantha. “Come on, we’re going.”
“How far is it?” Samantha asked.
“Not far,” Kevin replied. He nodded at her mask. “Don’t forget to put your mask on.” Samantha put her mask on, grabbed Jarod’s jacket, and the two left the tent. Night had fallen, and Samantha glanced back at Ground Zero, now illuminated in numerous floodlights. Dust was still prominent, hanging thickly in the air like morning fog. Still, she could see the American flag in the rubble site, and her thoughts drifted back to earlier that afternoon when she had watch three firefighters hang it from a tilted flagpole; it reminded her so much of the statue of the American soldiers at Iwo Jima.
Kevin and Samantha made their way through the streets. Even as they left the area, the rubble and dust was still prominent on the streets. As they walked, Samantha glanced around her, watching the workers and firefighters and police officers. She furrowed her eyebrows as her heart wrenched with each person she saw: it was almost like she was becoming each person, knowing what each person was feeling and thinking. She shook her head, trying to refocus her thoughts, but the emotions still lingered.
St. Paul’s Chapel really wasn’t far from Ground Zero at all. In only a few minutes, the two arrived to the building, located at the corner of Broadway and Fulton. The building itself was very beautiful, and Samantha immediately recognized it from pictures she had seen from a book of New York she read as a child, that building having been the place of worship for George Washington.
The streets outside the building were littered with tons of debris and dust, located only a block from the rubble site, as was the churchyard cemetery, the headstones sticking up through mounds of debris and dust; it almost looked like the aftereffects of a nuclear winter. A wrought-iron fence surrounded the ancient brick building. The whole place, though supposed to be a place of worship, reminded Samantha of something out of a Poe gothic story. The whole building was still intact, save for a few broken windows, and a broken tree in the churchyard.
Kevin and Samantha walked up to the building, seeing the building had indeed become a relief area for the rescue workers, firefighters and National Guard. Make shift signs were taped near the entrance to the fence into the churchyard, advertising food and comfort for volunteers. The two walked into the churchyard and up to the porch. Tables were lined up, each holding food and drinks being served to rescue workers by volunteers. Most of the workers were sitting on the ground, eating their food. Some were talking, but others just seemed to keep to themselves.
“You hungry?” Kevin asked. Samantha shrugged a little. “Look, why don’t you get us some food while I go find a phone to call my pop, okay?” Samantha nodded and went to one of the tables as Kevin went inside the chapel.
“Hi,” a volunteer smiled at her. “Hungry?”
“Yeah, can I get two plates, please?” Samantha asked.
“Sure,” the volunteer replied. She quickly put together two plates of barbeque, which made Samantha’s mouth water, despite everything that had happened.
“Thank you,” she replied as she was handed the plates. She maneuvered her way into the chapel, trying to locate Kevin. She saw him in a small office, a phone cradled on his shoulder. He acknowledged her and nodded.
“Yeah . . . I’m fine . . . no, really.” He grimaced slightly. “I’m sorry, Pop, I didn’t mean to worry you, honestly.” He smiled. “Yeah, I’ll be sure to do that. Tell Ma I love her . . . you too . . . bye.” He hung up the phone and joined Samantha outside.
“Everything okay?” Samantha asked as she handed him a plate.
“Yeah, my pop was worried about me.” Kevin chuckled. “He was about ready to come down and sift through the rubble if I hadn’t called.”
Samantha smiled sadly. “Sounds like he really cares about you.”
“He does.” He sighed. “So, what were your parents like?”
Samantha looked distant for a moment. “They were great people who loved me more than life itself . . . and who had the patience of saints to deal with me.”
Kevin smiled. “You don’t look like you would have been a troublemaker.”
Samantha snorted. “Appearances can be deceiving; believe me.” She blushed when her stomach growled - loudly.
Kevin chuckled. “Come on, I think you might need both of these plates the way you’re sounding.” The two walked down a small corridor that led to the chapel area. There was a small mirror on the wall they passed, and Samantha reflexively glanced in it. She stopped and just stared at her reflections, seeing just how haggard she looked. Suddenly, her eyes her eyes widened.
“Oh, God, no,” she whispered, her hand going up to her neck. “No please.” She dropped her plate on the floor, the food splattering everywhere as she felt her neck.
“What’s wrong?” Kevin asked, concerned when he saw her pale. He set his food on a nearby table as Samantha slowly backed away. When she didn’t answer him, he gently grabbed her shoulders. “Sam?”
“It’s gone,” she replied, looking at him, tears in her eyes.
“My necklace. It was a pendant of the American flag, with an ivory eagle on it, and some letters engraved on the back; it was on a single gold chain.” She glanced back at the entrance. “Maybe it’s at the rubble site.” She tried to leave the chapel, but Kevin held her firmly.
“Whoa, you’re not going back there,” he said.
“I have to,” Samantha replied, struggling to break free, but Kevin wasn’t letting go. “I have to find that necklace.”
“Why? Can’t you get another one?”
“No, I can’t,” Samantha looked almost angry for him even thinking that. “That necklace was a gift - from Jarod. He gave it to me yesterday . . . I promised him I’d never take it off . . .” Her voice wavered and her knees wobbled. Kevin barely managed to support her as she sank to the ground, sobbing. “I promised him . . .”
Kevin hugged her gently as she put her head against his shoulder, crying into his shirt. He didn’t know what to say to her, so he just let her cry, gently stroking her hair with his hand, doing the only thing he knew of to comfort her.
After a few minutes, he gently helped her to her feet, supporting her, and led her to one of the fellowship halls, where some cots had been lined up against one wall. Some people were already in there, and Kevin gently maneuvered them through the crowd to the far corner, where a couple of empty cots were. He sat her down on the cot closest the wall and knelt in front of her. A few workers who were resting nearby watched, and a couple even offered their assistance, but Kevin gently declined, focusing his attention back on the young woman.
“I’ll be right back,” he said softly. “I promise.” He got to his feet and walked over to another part of the room, where a bunch of workers had gathered to talk. He glanced briefly at Samantha, clutching Jarod’s jacket to her chest, tears streaming down her dusty cheeks, and sighed. He turned back to the workers and started asking them if any jewelry had been found, giving them the description Samantha had given him, explaining the situation. The group listened, but no one seemed to recognize it. Still they promised to keep an eye out for it and ask others. Kevin thanked them and left, going to other people around the room.
As he talked with others, he would occasionally glance over at the young woman, who was sobbing, lost in her own grief. In all his years of being a firefighter, he had seen so much pain and sorrow associated with his work, but he had never seen it to this degree, especially with someone so young. She appeared so vulnerable and lost, turning in on herself as she just sat, rocking slightly on the edge of the cot, and it made him wonder what was going to happen to her after everything was said and done - if she had anyone to go to, or if she was truly alone in the world as she said she was.
When the level of noise in the room changed slightly, he glanced at the entrance and saw others coming in. When he had come in earlier, he had seen a sign-in sheet, so people would know who was where in case anyone was looking for someone. Kevin knew that neither he nor Samantha were signed in for the night, so he left the room and walked back toward the front. He stood in line for a few moments, then quickly scribbled his and Samantha’s names on the sheet.
As he was walking back, a sound nearby caught his attention, and he glanced up, as did everyone else. The room got still as people stopped what they were doing and just stared at the source. Kevin knew that Samantha should be there, and he gently pushed through the group, making his way back to the fellowship room where Samantha was still sitting on her cot.
- - - -
Samantha was so absorbed in her own despair that she didn’t see or sense the man approaching; she jumped reflexively when she felt his hand on her wrist. She slowly looked up, through a curtain of tears and matted blonde hair; she could have found herself staring into the face of Lyle and she wouldn’t have cared. Without Jarod, nothing seemed to matter anymore. Instead, she found her new friend looking down at her, an odd light in his eyes. When he started to tug lightly at her wrist, she resisted; she’d suddenly determined that she would never move from that spot again. She was just too . . . tired to go on thinking, feeling, breathing, living.
But Kevin had other ideas, and physics was on his side: when his will to move her met her near absence of will to do anything, he found that the positive will was stronger. The immovable object was victim to its own inertia, and there were some forces irresistible enough to change that inertia.
He gently but firmly pulled her to her feet, slipped an arm around her shoulders, and guided her through the fellowship hall and into the foyer of the church, where people were already clustering around a central point-a 13” color TV that someone had set up on top of one of the ornate tract racks. Kevin directed Samantha's attention to the screen, and she obeyed numbly. As she listened to the sound of pain in a calm voice, she absently fingered the missing necklace. She could still feel its weight, its warmth; like an amputated limb, its absence was a physical pain, a rejection of reality, a phantom presence. As one man addressed a nation wounded, she could almost imagine that others were feeling the same way about their missing loved ones.
“Good evening. Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were in airplanes, or in their offices; secretaries, businessmen and women, military and federal workers; moms and dads, friends and neighbors. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror.”
And all around the wreckage, the city, the world, thousands upon thousands of other lives went on, through the tears and the grief and the rage and the pain, because there was work to be done, because there were wounds to heal and livelihoods to rebuild, because . . . because giving up simply wasn't an option. To give up would be to concede that they had been broken like a cheap toy, and the force of human nature commanded some people to fight till their last breaths rather than to allow evil to win.
Two of those people were re-entering the world of chaos, both still grieving but living. Jarod and Miles walked together in silence that needed no filling, one driven by the need to find his family, the other driven by the loss of his own. They picked their way through crowds and debris, intent on reaching Ground Zero. Miles kept a death grip on the high-power flashlight Jarod had appropriated for him from an overturned fire engine; Jarod absently fingered the delicate necklace that had survived a tragedy its owner had not. And with each step, he visualized Samantha fingering the necklace, face upturned in a kind of odd determination that the vision did not explain.
As the two men reached the second perimeter, about a block from the Tower site, they started to notice the unusual stillness. Looking around for the source, Jarod touched Miles’ arm and led him over to a cluster of people outside a Radio Shack emergency tent. Someone had plugged in one of the smaller stereo systems, hooked up some extra speakers, and rigged the whole set-up on a cart outside the entrance to the tent. The voice emerging from the speakers had the people captivated.
“The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing, have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed; our country is strong.”
On the edge of the Tower Two site, a lone figure in a suit and gray overcoat picked his way over some of the smaller rubble, eyes constantly scanning the ground from behind tinted goggles. His jaw was set and his face frozen in a mask of anger and determination; some who had thought to offer to help him search for his loved ones changed their minds after seeing his expression. That was fine with him; he didn’t have the patience to find a way around explaining that he wasn’t looking for family, but rather for someone he’d been hired to find. He’d become very good at not drawing attention to himself - his gray coat and the dust from the collapsed towers worked together to make him blend in with the other rescue workers.
He was about to go to another area to search when a faint noise reached his ears. He recognized the penny-whistle tones of a cell phone ringing, even as he heard those tones fade from loss of power. The sound had come from the ground, near his left foot, so he started hunting. A few moments later he stood up with a slightly battered black cell phone in hand. He flipped it open and found it to be an advanced model. He also found that he could not unlock the keys without a pass code, which he thought unusual. He slipped the phone into his coat pocket and started walking toward the other end of the site. As he did, he listened as, from a distance, a worker with a personal radio turned up the President’s address.
“A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”
On his small personal boat on the now-still, dust-coated water off the coast of Manhattan, Reverend Christopher McMahon nodded and gave a hastily chosen all-clear signal to the official Coast Guard trawler as he passed through the final of the now-familiar set of checkpoints on the way back to the Manhattan shipyards. He’d spent the day making runs from Long Island and New Jersey to Manhattan and back, carrying refugees, relief workers, and essential supplies. His boat had been searched so many times today that he’d lost count, but he'd submit to whatever was necessary in order to continue his work here - for by the minds and hearts and hands of those people he'd carried into the chaos, a city would be reborn.
While haggard dock workers unloaded the new supplies, McMahon stood solemnly on deck, gazing at the flame on Lady Liberty’s torch as his old Sony boom box belted out the weighted tones of dignified anger.
“America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.”
At a Red Cross walk-in clinic at the far edge of Queens, volunteers and patients (many of whom had served as volunteers that day themselves) continued to give and take blood and to treat minor wounds while half-watching the televisions set on high brackets throughout the clinic. At the affirmation issued by the commander-in-chief, they spared tight smiles, but they did not stop to congratulate themselves - long after the rest of the city slept, they would still have work to do.
“Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature. And we responded with the best of America - with the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could.”
An unnatural quiet had fallen over the massive expanse of LaGuardia International Airport. The planes were docked, the runways eerily still. The men and women of the National Guard munched absently on a constant supply of pizza, sandwiches, and coffee as they maintained their ceaseless watch.
The guards on break and those manning the command station gathered around a large inset wall television in the pilots’ lounge. The set was tuned to CNN, and the guards in the lounge stood almost at attention as they watched the President's broadcast.
“Immediately following the first attack, I implemented our government’s emergency response plans. Our military is powerful, and it’s prepared. Our emergency teams are working in New York City and Washington, D.C. to help with local rescue efforts.
“Our first priority is to get help to those who have been injured, and to take every precaution to protect our citizens at home and around the world from further attacks.”
Deep in the confines of the National Broadcasting Corporation headquarters, a woman with long silvery-red hair and haunted eyes stopped in the hallway halfway between the copy room and the sound stage. She knew that her boss would be expecting his updated news copy right away - Tom Brokaw could hardly expect less from a personal assistant. But just now she didn’t care.
She was there because she’d unearthed evidence of a massive operation that involved drug, gun, and slave running, all under a massive cover-up that amounted to yellow journalism. She simply couldn’t take every case of injustice that came her way; this one got her attention because the racket was being funded obliquely by an unnamed private entity in New England. She was determined to find out if those who had stolen freedom from her family were doing the same thing to the half-dead teenage boys shipped into U.S. harbors every week like so many clock radios. She couldn’t let that happen again - she simply could not stand by and allow more families to be destroyed by those who saw human beings as commodities.
She unconsciously held her breath as she watched a man with pain in his eyes address a nation with pain in its heart. She’d known a few truly strong men in her lifetime, men who did their best to fight every day for truth, and whether or not she agreed with their opinions, she would always admire their determination. The one man she would never hesitate to call her hero was the man she’d married. He’d fought along side her, with her, and for her, and she knew that he would fight for their family till the end, wherever he was. She was also fondly aware that if he knew about half of the dangerous things she’d gotten herself into in her quest for justice, he’d kill her himself out of sheer angry concern. But this was a simple, temporary, safe job. She was the personal assistant to a news anchor - there couldn’t possibly be any danger in that. So, as she listened to the President’s words, she pulled her sweater around her and felt not safe, but at least sheltered.
“The functions of our government continue without interruption. Federal agencies in Washington which had to be evacuated today are reopening for essential personnel tonight, and will be open for business tomorrow. Our financial institutions remain strong, and the American economy will be open for business, as well.”
In the depths of the Centre shadows, Raines sat at his desk. All the personnel had left hours ago, but Raines had stayed behind. He wanted to keep a constant vigil on the events in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C., despite what Sydney had said earlier about Jarod keeping Samantha away from the chaos. Raines knew that it was only a matter of time before Jarod realized the attacks were the result of a simulation he had done years ago, and he knew that Jarod would go there to help, regardless. If there was a chance of seeing him in the midst of the rescue operations, Raines was willing to take it to bring both Jarod and Samantha back to the Centre.
Still, despite hours of watching the television Willie had brought in, there was no sign that Jarod was at any of the sites. He was about to leave when the President began speaking. Raines sat and watched, smug at the illusion of sincerity and comfort that he was trying to portray. However, as the speech continued, Raines felt his smugness slowly dissipate as the message and the power that that one man was conveying emanated through the screen. By the way he was staring into the screen, the tone in his voice, and how he held himself, it was almost as if the President was talking directly to him, giving him a very clear warning.
“The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts. I’ve directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”
The campus was unusually hushed as nearly every cadet, officer, and staff member filed into the main auditorium. Blue and brown mixed with smatterings of red; by tacit agreement, the entire crowd stood at near-attention as they faced the projection screen.
Life at the RCMP’s Depot in Regina all but stopped when the President of the United States of America slipped behind the podium and, in five minutes, answered the threat and challenged evil. All of them knew, and most of them agreed, that before this was over they might be backing his challenge. America had faced Canada’s hidden strength once before and had learned to respect it; now, with Canada standing firm beside the USA, the rest of the world would have a chance to learn that respect as well.
“I appreciate so very much the members of Congress who have joined me in strongly condemning these attacks. And on behalf of the American people, I thank the many world leaders who have called to offer their condolences and assistance.”
He found it ironic that someone had taken the time to purchase a large, white banner with a silver dove and the word "PEACE" printed in royal blue. The banner now stretched across the rafters over the pulpit in the chapel at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, a mute contrast to the charged atmosphere of a campus suddenly thrust into war.
Silver head tilted and one ear (as always) open for danger, Charles took in the banner and every other detail of the chapel’s auditorium. He knew that he had only to step outside to see breathtaking colors from the stained glass glowing against the dark face of the mountain. But what mattered to him wasn’t outside in the dark. It - they - were inside, safe, and he fully intended to keep them that way.
Out of long habit, Charles scanned the faces of the people milling around in the chapel. He noticed for the first time that, though he still reflexively looked for Jarod and Margaret, his first priorities had changed.
One of those priorities had spent the day lugging boxes, running messages, and generally trying to sweet-talk as much information as she could out of the men and women at the academy; Charles chuckled - his Emily, always the investigator.
The boy, whom he’d dubbed JJ, wasn’t in sight. Charles had discovered that this youngest child had something of a mischievous streak, a fact which had caused a fair amount of trouble between them. Charles didn’t like not knowing where his son was in any case, but he was a little concerned that the boy might be causing a problem, whether he meant to or not. Sighing, Charles set off on the hunt.
He found him standing alone in a dark room, facing a cluster of four TV monitors. Three of them were broadcasting the president’s address, but the fourth, slaved to a mini-disc containing a loop feed from a camera that had been filming that morning in New York, was running the images of the tragedy over and over again. Charles strode up behind the boy, intending to ask him why he wasn’t out there helping the cadets and officers; when he reached his son’s side, Charles’ world tilted slightly. His youngest son, still using pretense and precocity to hide from life, still so afraid of expressing any sort of genuine emotion, was weeping silently, unable to tear himself from the horror on one screen and the echo of his own thoughts on the other three.
"America and our friends and allies join with all those who want peace and security in the world, and we stand together to win the war against terrorism. Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened."
Using an old defense mechanism, Charles had made himself so busy all day that he hadn’t had time to think about the pain of the situation - or about his children and what they must be feeling. He said a silent prayer for Jarod and for his wife, hoping to God that they were far away from all of this; then, all of his directives and control forgotten, feeling as helpless as this teenager by his side, he slipped an arm around his son’s thin shoulders. He somehow wasn’t surprised when he felt a nudge and Emily crept up under his other arm and leaned her head against his shoulder. She, too, was crying, and as he held his children close, he felt his own tears forming. He’d spent his life traveling the world to create justice, yet here, in this place, in this church, he was powerless. All he could do was to pray, and to be a safe harbor when his children needed refuge.
"And I pray they will be comforted by a power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23: ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.’"
All around the country and the world, these words were being spoken through television sets and radios; a President whom some had ridiculed months earlier was now the one person that everyone in America was looking to for guidance and for answers. And while he didn’t have all the answers he knew his people were looking for, the words he spoke did offer a reassurance that everyone - including himself - needed in this time of tragedy.
And back in New York, despite the pain that each was feeling over the loss of someone very special, both Jarod and Samantha realized that it wasn’t as hopeless as they thought it was. To give up was to concede defeat, and neither one of them would allow that to happen; it wasn’t who they were.
They would grieve, as would the others who had lost loved ones, but they would continue their fight, knowing it was the best way to show the people responsible that they had not won. Jarod gave a small, sad smile as he clutched Samantha’s necklace in his hand. And half a block away in the small chapel, Samantha held Jarod’s jacket with a new sense of determination.
“This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day. Yet, we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”
“Thank you. Good night, and God bless America.”
- - - -
Not a word was spoken as Jarod and Miles walked into the make-shift shelter of the chapel. There were many things on each of their minds, but they were just too exhausted to say anything. The aroma of the barbeque on the table they passed at the entrance was very inviting to their stomachs. However, their exhaustion was more powerful than their hunger, and they headed inside the chapel.
Inside was quiet and organized, a far cry from the chaos that both men expected. The lone office was occupied by a man talking on the phone, writing things down on some paper. The halls and the worship area had been set up with as many cots as possible; even the pews were occupied by exhausted volunteer and rescue workers. A small table with a clipboard was near the entrance; it had a piece of paper taped to it saying ‘Sign In Sheet’ in big, black letters. Jarod and Miles signed in then began looking for two empty cots or spaces where they could rest. Finding the worship area filled, they searched the halls. Finally, they saw two empty cots pushed up against a wall in the hallway. They made their way over to claim them. As they sat down, Jarod took notice of the surrounding area.
On his left, past Miles, he noticed a young man sleeping on cot. He had a yellow firefighter’s jacket draped over him, and he was asleep. Beside him was another cot pushed against the wall, on which a young woman in a black top and jeans lay. Her back was to him, so he couldn’t see her face, but he still cocked his head. While he figured that the man and woman were together, he could easily feel the invisible barrier that the woman had put up around herself, almost as if she was trying to block out the entire world.
Jarod wanted to go and comfort her, but he forced himself to remain on his cot. He glanced over at Miles and saw that he was already asleep on his cot. Jarod sighed as he put Samantha’s necklace in his pants pocket for safe keeping and slowly lay back, wincing as he felt the soreness of his muscles. Still, despite all the pain, he managed to close his eyes as his head hit the pillow, his thoughts still a whirl even as he fell asleep.
- - - -
Wednesday, September 12
Feeling somewhat rested from the previous night’s sleep, and more determined to continue with the duties she had taken on the day before, Samantha sat on the floor of the station house where Kevin worked. The firefighter had dropped her off before going to see what was happening at Ground Zero, leaving the young woman to sort through the dog booties that had arrived earlier that morning. She had finished the last group, adding up the total number in her head. A small smile spread across her face for the first time since the attacks as she boxed up the booties. She glanced up as she saw Kevin walk in, and her smile faded when she saw he had been crying.
“Kevin, what’s wrong?” she asked as she walked over to him.
“They pulled a body this morning from the rubble,” Kevin said softly. “It was one of our guys.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” Samantha wrapped her arms around him as he started crying. She started crying herself, but she bit her tongue and kept silent, even as she felt tears on her cheeks. Why am I crying? she thought. She wasn’t trying to sound cold, but it seemed as though she was crying every time she saw someone else cry, or feeling sad for no reason. She racked her brain, knowing there had to be something more to her emotions than just being sympathetic, but she couldn’t answer her own question.
Kevin pulled back after a few moments and wiped his eyes. He looked down at Samantha, who was looking at him with great concern. Without warning, he leaned over and kissed her. Samantha was a bit startled, but she regained her senses quickly and shoved Kevin away, knocking him to the ground. All traces of concern vanished as she glared down at him.
“What is the matter with you?” she all but shouted.
Kevin scrambled to his feet as the realization of what he did hit him. He looked absolutely mortified. “Sam, I’m sorry.” He walked towards her, but she held up both hands in a defensive posture.
“Back off, Kevin,” she said. Kevin stopped. “Look, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but we’re in the middle of a tragedy. My friend is dead and so is yours. How could you even think of doing something like that?”
“I know, I know. It was stupid. I’m really -”
Samantha held up a hand. “Save it.” She picked up the box of booties. “Look, just leave me alone, okay? I can find my way to Ground Zero without your help.” She brushed past Kevin and left the station house. Kevin sighed angrily and mentally kicked himself as he walked over to his locker.
- - - -
Jarod adjusted his hard hat as he and Miles sifted through the rubble. They had arrived around eight-thirty that morning, after eating a small breakfast at the chapel. Now, rested with food in their stomachs, they had picked up where they left off from the previous day. Armed with a few tools, they picked apart the debris, hoping that they would find survivors, namely one person they each cared about the most.
A bark and yelp nearby caught the two men’s attention. They turned to their left and saw a German Shepherd pawing at some rubble. Its handler hurried over, as did a few other workers. Working silently they cleared an area, and a couple of men climbed inside the hole. Jarod and Miles watched silently, hoping and praying. Unfortunately, a few moments later, a lifeless body was lifted up and put on a gurney. Jarod fought back the tears as he turned away, his heart wrenching as another lost life was added to the mounting list, wondering if that’s how he was going to find Samantha.
Miles noticed his friend’s demeanor and put a hand on his shoulder. “You want to go take a break?” he asked softly.
“No,” Jarod said quietly. “I can’t . . . I have to look. I owe her.” He took a ragged breath. “And I promised you I’d help you.”
“Jarod, I - ” Miles paused, trying to keep his composure as his chin wavered and tears filled his eyes. “Jarod, as much as I don’t want to give up, I . . . have to prepare myself for the possibility that I may never find my sister, my brother-in-law, or my nephew.” He sighed. “And I know you don’t want to hear this, but you have to face the possibility you may never find your friend.”
“I know,” Jarod replied softly, taking Samantha’s necklace out of his pocket and fingering it. He had been trying to prepare himself for exactly that, but no matter how many times he said it, he couldn’t make himself give up on the young woman, that as long as he believed she was still alive, she couldn’t be dead.
Jarod glanced up as the German Shepherd and its trainer came down the rubble. He cocked his head to the side as he noticed the makeshift burlap covers over the dog’s paws, and it intrigued him. He had worked with search and rescue dogs before, and knew they were usually provided special booties for occasions such as this. Carefully, he made his way over to the trainer.
“Excuse me,” he said. The trainer stopped and turned around. “I’m sorry to disturb you, but I couldn’t help but notice your dog’s paws aren’t properly protected for this type of rescue work.”
“Yeah, well, no offense to the rescue operations, but everyone was so wrapped up in everything else that nobody thought to remember the dogs’ needs. Well, almost nobody.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, a woman managed to get five hundred sets donated yesterday and delivered today.” He gave a small smile. “Nice to know that the dogs haven’t totally been forgotten.”
“Yes, it is,” Jarod agreed. He watched the handler and his dog leave, then he turned back to Miles with a new sense of determination. Miles immediately saw it, and gave a small smile, understanding what the Pretender was conveying. Wordlessly, the two men went back up into the rubble.
- - - -
Samantha just finished securing the last of the five hundred sets of booties onto Joshua’s paws. “There you go, boy,“ she said as she scratched his ears. Joshua gave her a doggie smile, and Jason smiled as well.
“You’re doing a terrific job,“ he said as she got to her feet and stretched. She glanced at the rubble site as construction equipment and workers carefully cleared debris.
“So, how’s the outlook on any survivors being found?” she asked.
“Not so good,” Jason replied somberly. He patted Samantha’s shoulder when he noticed her sullen expression. “But we’re not giving up; miracles have been known to happen.”
The young woman smiled sadly and gratefully as Jason and Joshua walked away to continue searching. She knew that Jason was just trying to make her feel better, but there was still a part of her that was hopeful Jarod had survived this tragedy, and that she was going to find him. However, as each minute passed without him showing up, that hope was quickly diminishing.
A movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention, and she craned her neck to the side. Her breath caught in her throat, and she blinked repeatedly when she saw the small, dusty form picking his way through some debris. Thinking the person needed help she left her spot and hurried over, and it was only when she reached his side that she realized the person was a small child.
Samantha crouched in front of the child, looking him over with her eyes. What she beheld was a young boy whose age she couldn’t determine. He had wiry curls matted with blood and dust; she couldn’t tell what color his hair was, or even what ethnic group he belonged to. What she could determine was that he had been wearing sneakers, cargo jeans, and a t-shirt with what was left of some decal on the front. He was covered in grime and dried blood; the only part of the boy that stood out in her inspection was his eyes - a vivid deep green with gold flecks.
Right now those eyes were full of pain and confusion. Samantha did a frantic check to make sure that none of the blood was his; while she was running her hands over him to check for wounds, she *felt* that other than some scrapes and bruises, he was physically fine. What troubled him went much deeper and would be much harder to heal.
“Hey,” she said softly. She knew it sounded dumb, but she didn’t know what else to say. “My name is Sam. What’s yours?” He just stared at her, dazed and confused. Samantha took a deep breath, knowing that the boy needed to be away from the chaos, but she knew getting him away wouldn’t be easy. She smiled slightly, trying not to show how tired and exhausted she was starting to feel again. “Come on, why don’t we get you cleaned up, okay?” She stood up and held out her hand. The boy just stared at it for a few moments, then slowly slipped his hand in hers. She gently lead him away from the rubble to the tent she had used the previous night.
Once inside, she got him seated in a folding chair and then found a somewhat clean towel on a table nearby. Proceeding gently she carefully wiped the dust and blood from his face, which revealed a complexion that was pale from fright and fatigue.
“Sam?” a familiar voice crackled on the walkie talkie attached to her pants. Samantha glanced at it, trying not to frown, then looked back up at the boy. She smiled.
“Wait here for a moment and be really quiet for me, okay?” She patted his hands as she got to her feet and crossed the tent to another corner. Facing it, she grabbed her walkie talkie. “What?” she hissed softly so as not to upset the boy.
“I want to talk to you,” Kevin’s voice said.
“I already told you to leave me alone.” She switched her radio off and hooked it back onto her pants. She sighed as she turned around. “Sorry about that. I -” She stopped short when she saw the folding chair was empty. The boy was no where in sight.
Samantha quickly ran out of the tent and looked around. She was upset that the lingering dust in the air reduced her visual acuity as she scanned the area, trying to spot a small form among the many people, debris, and construction equipment. It took a few moments, but she spotted him making his way, unnoticed by the rescue workers, back to Ground Zero. Sighing with relief, she hurried over to him and stopped him, kneeling in front of him.
Not caring for a moment if she scared the boy or not, she pulled him close, hugging him tightly. She was so relieved that he was okay that she nearly started crying, but she managed to keep the tears inside this time. She pulled back and looked up at him again as her relief started giving way to anger - an anger from him worrying her.
“Now, you listen to me,” she said in a low, serious tone, “and you listen good - you aren’t my kid; if you were, I’d put you over my knee. But whoever you belong to, someone is out there looking for you and worrying about you already. You are a little boy in a very big city in a very bad situation. I am the adult here. It’s my job to take care of you, to make sure you’re alright. So, I know you don’t know me, but I’m in charge, and we’re in a dangerous place, so when I tell you to do something, you don’t argue, don’t ask questions, and you *don’t* run away - you just do it, you hear?”
The boy was startled by her outburst, and scared as he pulled back and seemed to shrink slightly in on himself. Samantha’s countenance softened a bit, but she didn’t waver. She sighed as she got to her feet and picked him up, carrying him back to the tent. She knew that he knew she was angry at him as she walked into the tent and plopped him in the chair.
“Stay put,” she growled to him. Satisfied that he wouldn’t move, she went over to a nearby table where there was some burlap scraps leftover from last night scattered on it. She replayed what she’d done for the rescue dogs, the routine work and the reward, and it calmed her nerves. After a few minutes, she sighed as she turned again to face the boy. Seeing him trying hard not to let her know he was crying, her heart went out to him, and she walked over and crouched in front of him.
“Look, I’m sorry for scaring you. When I couldn’t find you, I got worried. It’s not safe out there; there are a lot of ways you could get hurt, and I don’t want that to happen. So I really need you to stay here with me while we work on finding out where you belong, okay?” He looked at her with shimmering green eyes and nodded.
Samantha patted his knee and smiled. “Good, I’m glad I can talk to you about this. Now, do you think maybe you’re ready to talk to me, to tell me your name?” The boy looked like he wanted to talk but was too insecure. Samantha sighed and patted the back of one small, grimy hand. “Okay, I’m not going to rush you. You talk to me whenever you’re ready, okay?” The boy nodded, relief brightening his eyes.
Samantha stood up and looked around the tent, searching for the next step. She didn’t know what to do to make him feel safe, but she knew that she had to get his mind off of the chaos outside and her outburst. Just as she was about to give up, a large dog wandered into the tent.
Samantha watched as the boy shrank in his chair for a moment. The German Shepherd walked straight to him and sniffed his hand as if inspecting the troops. After a moment, the boy got the idea that the dog wasn’t going to hurt him, and he slowly raised a trembling hand. The dog sat and allowed the child to stroke his head. Samantha’s eyes lit up as she hit upon the perfect solution.
“Hey, honey,” she said softly, “I’ve been making booties - little protective shoes - for the rescue dogs, and I sure could use another pair of hands. Would you be willing to help me for a few minutes?” The boy looked up at her, and as he registered what she’d said, he nodded. “Great!” Samantha smiled at him, then gathered some supplies from the table and started teaching him her newest craft.
- - - -
Samantha looked over at the young boy and saw him sitting at the table she had placed him at over half an hour ago. She had given him the task of drawing bootie patterns for her while she cut, because she wouldn’t allow him to use anything sharp. She watched him curiously as he took four fingers of one of his hands and squeezed them just a little, so that his index and pinkie fingers moved in toward each other. Then he rested that thumb against his two middle fingers, moved his thumb up to where it was level with his index finger, and then stared at his hand from the back. She then realized what he was doing: the shape vaguely resembled a dog’s paw, which he used to trace on the burlap. That in itself made her smile, but the fact that he was working so intently, his tongue sticking out of his mouth as he drew, also made her feel somewhat better.
She glanced over toward the entrance as Kevin came storming in. From what she saw he looked very angry and worried at the same time. Still, her own anger was seething at this time, almost boiling, and she slammed her cutting knife down on the table and got up, meeting him at the center.
“I thought I told you to leave me alone,” she hissed at him.
“Yeah, but that’s no excuse for turning off your radio,” he growled back.
“I’ve got nothing to say to you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to find some more burlap.” She tried to brush past him, but he grabbed her upper arms, holding her tightly. She tried to jerk free, but he wasn’t letting go.
“Look at me.” She didn’t and squirmed more. “Look at *me*.” Samantha slowly stopped squirming and looked at him. He sighed, his anger softening slightly. “We need to talk.”
Samantha gasped softly as his green eyes captured her attention. What she saw in them astounded her - anger, exhaustion, and . . . worry. For her. Even after their fight, after all that had happened and what she’d said to him, he was worried for her. That alone was enough to get her attention. Once Kevin saw that he had it, he softened a bit more, still angry and still steely in his resolve, but ready to communicate with her.
He took a deep breath. “Look, I know you’re angry with me over what happened,” he said. “And you have every right to be. What I did was wrong. I was hurting, and -”
“And you thought that kissing me would just take all the hurt away?” Samantha interrupted.
“Well, at the time . . . yeah.”
Samantha opened her mouth, but no words came out. She closed her mouth and contemplated what was just said to her. He was honest, and that was enough to allow her to calm down before she started lambasting him. “And afterwards?” she asked softly.
“It was stupid and idiotic.” He sighed. “I just . . . after everything that’s happened, I just wanted . . .”
“You wanted some solace,” Samantha finished. “A refuge from all this chaos.” Kevin’s expression told her she’d hit the mark. She sighed, her anger giving way to understanding. “Kevin, I understand. And I’m really flattered, but . . . it just wouldn’t work out between us. I mean, for starters . . . for starters, relationships based on traumatic experiences rarely work out.” Kevin raised an eyebrow at her, causing her to smile. “I was a psych major in college.”
“Ah,” the fireman replied. He shrugged. “Well, what if . . . what if things were different?”
“If things were different, then we wouldn’t have even met.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know.” Samantha sighed. “If things had been different . . . I don’t think even then.” Kevin looked slightly wounded. “But it wouldn’t be because of you. You’re a great guy, Kevin. It’s me.”
“What do you mean, it’s you?”
Samantha sighed, trying to figure out what to say to him. She knew he deserved an answer, but she wasn’t going to tell him the truth. There was a lot of stuff about her life that he didn’t need to know. “I - I can’t explain right now. Just know that I’m not someone you need to be involved with.”
He wasn’t going to be satisfied with that. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Still in his grasp, she looked to the dirt at her feet for words. “Look, all I can tell you is this: You specialize in putting out fires; if you try to get close to me, you’re gonna get burned.” She knew that sounded incredibly lame, and she kept her tone under control so that he wouldn’t think she made a business of playing with men’s hearts. It was the best she could come up with under the circumstances; she wasn’t willing to tell him anything that would put him in danger. She’d rather know she’d lost his friendship because of her own actions than to lose a friend to the actions of the Centre.
Kevin sighed, frustrated. He didn’t know what was going on with Samantha and why she was avoiding him and his questions, but he knew he had to make a few things clear to her. He gripped her arms firmly. “Sam, look at me.” She glanced up, meeting his eyes. “I don’t know why you’re not being honest with me, but I’m going to give it to you straight: we are in a very dangerous situation right now, and we have no idea what’s going to happen, or if this thing is over. You don’t want to talk to me, that’s fine - for now. But let me make something very clear. You can't just disappear; I at least need to know that you’re safe. Meaning” he reached around and turned her radio back on “you keep this thing on. Are we clear on that?”
Stunned, Sam nodded. She shivered slightly under his gaze, but she found that she wasn’t afraid of Kevin - she was impressed, both by his protectiveness and by his ability to convince her that he was perfectly capable of enforcing his demands. Samantha had never reacted well to authority, so part of her had to wonder why this guy’s assertion of power didn’t bother her. However, she couldn’t take the time to puzzle it out; right now her energy was precious, and she had more pressing matters to tend.
Thinking about those more pressing matters, Samantha turned to her little helper, intending to introduce him to Kevin and wondering if the child could speak or even hear. He was obviously smart because he’d been doing great with the makeshift booties, and she was hoping to slip him some paper and see if he’d write down his name so that she’d know what to -
Kevin saw Sam suddenly go pale, her eyes widening. Alarmed, he turned to look at her, calling to her, demanding that she tell him what was wrong. He ran his gaze over her, looking for wounds or something to indicate what was wrong. Finding nothing, he looked at her face again, then slowly followed her gaze.
Someone had set up a long card table against one wall of the tent; on it were two stacks of burlap pieces, a couple of Sharpie markers, and a ball of twine. He could see grimy fingerprints on the surface of the table, and pushed slightly back from the little work center sat a single metal folding chair. Samantha was focused on the chair, and from the corner of his eye he saw her start to move.
Kevin gripped her arms tighter, though he knew he was not hurting her. “Sam, what is going on? Talk to me.”
Samantha turned to him, and she had a determination in her eyes that hadn’t been there a moment ago. “I may have lost Jarod, but I’m not going to lose him too. You want to help me, fine. If not, get out of my way.” She jerked free from his grasp and marched out of the tent.
Kevin was startled only for a moment, but he took a deep breath and hurried out after her. He caught up with her, grabbing her wrist and whirling her around before she could so much as yelp. He looked down at her with a fierce determination. “Look, I admire your determination and all, if you don’t tell me what’s going on, and I mean *now*, the only place you’ll be going is back to the shelter where I can keep an eye on you!”
The young woman sighed with frustration. She appreciated his concern and protectiveness, but she didn’t have time to stand around and argue with him. Still, she knew he wouldn’t let her out of his sight, and time was running out for her. “Fine, I’ll tell you. There is a little boy lost out there somewhere, and I intend to find him - with or without your help.”
Kevin just looked at her, not sure at first if she was telling the truth. Her face was set, firm and determined, and he knew she wasn’t kidding. He sucked in his breath through his teeth, knowing how dangerous that area was for the experienced adults. “What does he look like?”
“Small, covered in soot and dust,” she replied. “His eyes were green, I know that.” He gave her a look, and she sighed, frustrated. “Kevin, I didn’t get a good look at him, okay, so don’t even go there.”
Kevin bit his tongue, knowing both of their tempers were on the short side. “Okay, so let’s get going.” He almost smiled at the surprised expression on the young woman’s face. “Well, we’re not going to find him standing around here, right?”
“Right,” Samantha said slowly. The two headed toward the rubble site.
“So, when we find him, what do you plan on doing with him?” Kevin asked after a few moments of silence.
“I’m going to kill him,” she said. “Then I’m going to put him back together and hug him.” Kevin didn’t say anything, but he raised his eyebrows as they continued down the street. She caught Kevin’s expression out of the corner of her eyes. “What?”
“Nothing,” Kevin said, trying hard not to smile.
Samantha stopped him and looked right at him. “No, you’re not going to evade my question. Now what are you trying not to smile about?”
“Just . . .” He chuckled, more as a release of tension than for humor. “This whole thing.”
Samantha couldn’t argue. “Yeah, it’s been a trip.”
Kevin cleared his throat as he rubbed the back of his neck. “Um, look, about what happened at the station -”
“Don’t,” Samantha interrupted. She took a deep breath. “Look, I know you’re sorry. I’m sorry too, for blowing up at you.”
“Oh, I deserved it.”
“Yeah, probably,” Samantha nodded. “But it was understandable, given the circumstances.” She smiled slightly and patted his shoulder. “Now, let’s just put that behind us and go find the boy, okay?” Kevin smiled in return, and the two walked over to the rubble site. They looked around.
“So, where do you want to start?” Kevin asked. “He shouldn’t be that hard to find; he’s just a little kid.”
“Ah, I don’t think it’s wise to underestimate him,” Samantha said. She narrowed her eyes as she scanned the site, still heavily thickened by dust and soot, trying to find anything. Her gaze fell on one of the more sparse areas of Ground Zero. “There,” she nodded.
“Why there?” Kevin asked as they made their way into the rubble.
“Just trust me,” Samantha answered as they started climbing over the debris. As they started searching the area the young woman felt a tingle on the back of her neck. She stopped short and rubbed the spot, trying to get the sensation to stop.
“What’s wrong?” Kevin asked, noticing her expression.
“Nothing,” Samantha replied slowly as she looked around. She saw workers in the debris, lifting girders and moving other objects. She thought it was unusual that one of the workers was off by himself, picking through the debris alone. His back was to her, so she couldn’t see any of his features, but she could see he was wearing a long coat and no hard hat. She shook her head and went back to her search with Kevin. “Come on, we got work to do.” The two started working with something moving caught their attention. They both looked and saw the small boy, walking slowly away from them.
“Sam, is that -”
“That’s him,” Samantha interrupted. Both of them started making their way over to them as fast as they could. Kevin was a little more agile than Samantha, so he was a couple feet ahead of her. She just climbed over a steel girder when she heard a familiar penny-toned ring - strong and loud - that made her stop dead in her tracks and turn around.
- - - -
Coming around the corner, Miles took stock of the situation - and froze. As what he was seeing began to register in his exhausted mind, he blinked and rubbed his eyes, as did the vision before him. When he’d done his best to clear his eyes, Miles looked again and found that what he was seeing must be real. The thought took his breath away.
“Uncle Miles…?” The young boy rubbed his eyes with his fists, rearranging the dirt on his face; he gave the man a hopeful, hurting look. His chin trembled, and his deep green eyes said that he desperately wanted what he was seeing to be real, but that he wasn’t counting on it. In that moment, Miles thought the child looked so young and yet so painfully old.
“Anton!” Miles let out a cry of relief and found himself in motion, cutting through the thirty feet of space between them; Anton did the same, running as fast as his exhausted legs would carry him. He was already sobbing as he reached Miles, and his knees gave out; his uncle leaned down and caught the boy, lifting him onto his shoulder. Miles wrapped his arms tighter and tighter around the small form, as if he couldn’t get enough of the child into his grasp.
Miles buried his face in Anton’s matted hair for a moment, then turned his head slightly to take a breath and said, “Oh, I’m so glad you’re safe. I’ve been looking everywhere for you! Are you okay?” He felt Anton start to cry harder, his reserve and shock shattering like crystal. His small body trembled like a ship about to come apart, and for a few minutes he couldn’t speak, had to struggle to breathe. Miles could only hold him and murmur over and over that it was all right, that Anton was safe now and that he could relax and just cry it out.
After a few minutes of torrential grief, Anton managed to moan something, something that shocked his uncle, who was expecting fear or anger. Miles turned his head toward his nephew. “What did you say?”
Anton sniffled. “I’m sorry, Uncle Miles, I’m so sorry.”
Miles’ eyes widened. “What could you have to be sorry for, Anton? You don’t think this is your fault, do you? You can’t possibly think that you caused any of this. What -”
Anton was shaking his head, and he drew a wheezy breath and sobbed, “I couldn’t find them Uncle Miles I looked and I looked and I couldn’t find them I don’t know where they are I tried I tried so hard and I was so tired and I tried anyway and I couldn’t find them I just couldn’t find them where are they are they mad at me are they okay I’m so sorry I looked and I couldn’t find them and I . . .” He hiccupped and couldn’t catch his breath.
Miles’ reserve broke, his eyes and voice flooding with tears of anguish. “Oh, baby, that’s not your job! It’s not your responsibility to find your parents; there are people who are trained to do that. They’re looking for your parents right now. No one expects you to go into such a scary place to find them; no one blames you for not knowing where they are. And your mom and daddy are not going to be mad at you! I’m not mad at you! Baby, I’m so glad you’re okay - I’ve been looking for you since this started! It’s okay now, you’re safe now.” His tone got softer and softer until he was almost whispering. “Baby, I know you miss your parents, and that’s okay, but they love you, and now I’m with you. You don’t need to worry about anything - I love you, and I’ll stay with you and take care of you as long as you need me. Okay? Have we got a deal?”
After a few moments, Anton slowly nodded. He buried his head in his uncle’s shoulder, still hiccupping and sniffling and whimpering, but much quieter and calmer. Miles rubbed his back and cried silently into the small shoulder, so unsure of how to help the child cope with something he himself couldn’t comprehend and yet so sure of one thing - that no matter what happened, the two of them were family, and that meant everything. Nothing would tear his nephew from his arms. Nothing. They were family, and that was all that mattered.
- - - -
Jarod had been walking to Miles side and slightly behind him as they made their way to another part of the rubble site. When Miles had spotted Anton and vice versa, Jarod backed himself up, letting the two have their reunion without him getting in the way. From his spot Jarod looked down and found himself having mixed emotions as his eyes started tearing up . He was extremely happy for Miles to have found his nephew, glad that something good came out of this tragedy, but at the same time he felt his heart breaking, trying to picture Samantha and himself in that position, but knowing that it was probably never going to happen.
He sighed to himself and looked away, trying to figure out where he could go to help when he saw something that made his heart stop. He sucked in his breath and just stared off into the distance, trying to register what he was seeing. As he headed off to what he was looking at it felt like he couldn’t get there fast enough, like he was walking through water, as he headed off toward the rubble.
- - - -
Samantha had been listening to the conversation of the little boy - Anton, she had heard his name being said - and was glad to know at least he had found who he was supposed to be with, but she was also distracted by what she heard - what she thought she heard - and was looking for the source, keeping the reunion in her peripheral vision. She soon realized that it had all been her imagination, that it hadn’t been Jarod’s phone she heard. She sighed and wondered if she was starting to go crazy. She was ready to turn back and go check on Anton and Kevin when she felt two hands on her shoulders. She could see Kevin out of the corner of her eye, about twenty-five feet away, so she knew it couldn’t be his touch; she stiffened reflexively. Slowly, she turned around and looked up.
At first she thought she was hallucinating, that she had finally cracked. She couldn’t and wouldn’t believe that she was seeing Jarod - albeit dirty, dusty, and exhausted - standing in front of her. She went as far as to just close her eyes and shake her head in frustration, dismissing his presence as she started to push past him, but then he gently grabbed her arms, stopping her dead in her tracks. She glanced back at him, seeing the familiar brown eyes - dulled slightly from fatigue - looking down at her with relief as he tried not to cry. She slowly reached up with one hand and touched his ashen cheek, looking into his eyes the same way she had the first time they met weeks ago, and she knew in that moment he was real - that he was there and he was alive.
“Jarod,” she whispered as tears welled up in her eyes.
“Hi,” he replied, his voice wavering.
The two stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity before Samantha all but threw herself at her friend, crying into his shoulder as she wrapped her arms around his neck. Jarod enveloped her in his arms, tears falling down his cheeks as he rested his head on her shoulder, rubbing her hair with one of his hands, scared that if he let go she’d disappear.
“I thought you were dead,” she sobbed.
“Shh, shh,” he whispered, rubbing her back. He had to take a deep breath to not break down in front of her. He had to be strong for her, especially now. “It’s okay, honey. You’re safe now, you’re safe.” He pulled back slightly and looked down at her, cupping her ash-covered face in his hands. He noticed the large bandage on her forehead for the first time, that it was falling off. He carefully removed the bandage and saw the twelve stitches above her left eye. “What happened? Are you okay?”
Samantha shrugged. “I’m fine, Jarod. Really.” She took a ragged breath, tears welling up in her eyes. “I was so scared.”
Jarod pulled her close and held her, rubbing her back. “So was I,” he replied, his voice shaking as fresh tears fell from his eyes. “So was I.” He pulled back and cupped her face in his hands, looking right at her and brushing the tears from her dirty cheeks. “But you’re safe now. We’re together again, and nothing else matters.”
“Sam?” The Pretenders looked over and saw Kevin walking at a fast pace towards them. Jarod’s features hardened, and he protectively got between Samantha and the approaching man. Kevin stopped within ten feet and tried to look around the tall man standing in front of the young woman. His features hardened too. “Sir, I would advise you to step aside,” he said.
Jarod stood tall, his fists clenched. His nerves were shot, and he had just gotten his Samantha back; nothing was going to take her away from him now. “No,” he replied, his voice low and steady. “I would advise *you* to back off - right now.”
“Kevin, it’s okay,” Samantha said, stepping in between the two men.
“You know him?” Jarod asked.
Samantha nodded. “He saved my life yesterday - twice. He’s a firefighter for New York. His name is Kevin.” She glanced at Kevin. “Kevin, this is Jarod.”
Kevin furrowed his eyebrows at the young woman, then looked back at Jarod. His eyebrows raised slightly. “You’re not dead,” he simply said.
“No,” Jarod replied slowly. “Far from it, actually.” He looked down at Samantha. “What are you doing out here?”
“Well, I was in the process of trying to make more dog booties for the search and rescue dogs when -”
“Wait, are you the young woman that everyone’s been talking about?”
“What do you mean?”
“Everyone’s been talking about a young woman who managed to get dog booties for the rescue dogs.”
Samantha gave a small smile and seemed slightly embarrassed. “Yeah, that’s me. Just doing something to help out.”
Jarod smiled proudly at her before putting an arm around her shoulder, pulling her into a one-armed hug, kissing her forehead. He turned to Kevin and held out his hand. “Thank you for keeping an eye on her.”
Kevin shook it, nodding. “It was no trouble at all,” he said. He smiled at the young woman. “She’s got a good heart.” He cleared his throat. “Um, look, why don’t you two get out of here, okay? Go get some rest.”
“But what about the dogs?” Samantha asked.
“I’ll take care of them,” Kevin answered. “Now, as a member of the New York City Fire Department, I have authority over you both, and I’m ordering you two to leave these premises before I drag you away. Got it?” He may have sounded serious, but he was smiling, though Samantha knew better than to call his bluff.
Smiling, Samantha walked over and wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“No, thank you,” he replied softly, hugging her back. They pulled away, and Samantha could see tears in his eyes. “You take care of yourself, okay?”
“You too,” she replied before kissing his cheek. She gave a small wave before she left with Jarod, and Kevin watched as the two headed away from Ground Zero, Jarod’s arm around the young woman’s shoulders. They had only taken a few steps when Jarod stopped.
“We can’t leave yet,” he said, turning around. “There’s something I have to do first.” Holding Samantha’s hand, he led her back from where they came from, and saw Miles still holding Anton, both of them crying softly. He stopped short, not wanting to disturb the reunion, but he didn’t want to leave without letting Miles know he was safe.
Jarod was trying to figure out what to do when Miles opened his eyes and looked at him. He saw the Pretender holding the hand of a young woman, and he knew immediately who she was. Through his tears, he smiled at Jarod and gave a small wave. Jarod smiled back and gave a wave of his own. Then he and Samantha turned and walked away.
Kevin watched them until they disappeared before heading back to his duties at the rubble site. He was sad about the young woman leaving, knowing he was probably never going to see her again, but he was glad she had found what she was looking for, and he was glad that little boy had found his family. It gave him a new sense of determination and hope that the fight at Ground Zero wasn’t over yet. Knowing that other people would benefit from hearing about what he just witnessed he took a deep breath and walked over to the nearest person - a man wearing a dusty gray coat.
- - - -
Since their new room had been rented out during the crisis to a couple of rescue workers, the only available room left was a single. Too tired to argue, the Pretenders took it. Samantha claimed the bathroom first to get cleaned up, and Jarod didn’t argue. After hearing the running water Jarod sat on the bed, his DSA case open in front of him. He spent a few minutes searching, searching for the one thing he hoped to never find, but after about fifteen minutes of searching he did. His hand shaking, he slipped the small silver disk into the slot and turned the player on. The screen showed black and white images of a fifteen-year-old Jarod sitting in a table with a large model of the Pentagon and the surrounding area of Washington DC. A younger Sydney was pacing slowly behind him. The date in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen read ‘7/22/74.’
Jarod watched and listened to the words he had repeated to Sydney after finding his discovery. He had been asked to design a plan to keep the Pentagon safe. But like his other simulations, it had been taken and twisted by the Centre, and as a result, thousands were dead and injured or missing. Many more were hurting . . . and it was all because of him. More blood on his hands . . . more pain . . . more hurting . . . more tears. Jarod could barely turn off the DSA player before he started crying softly into his hands. He tried to muffle his sobs, but the emotional floodgate had been broken, and there was no stopping it until it had all been released.
The bathroom door opened, and Samantha stepped out. She had changed into a pair of gray sweat pants and a loose-fitting t-shirt. Her hair was damp and her forehead had a fresh bandage on it. Her pale skin was more prominent now that the dirt and ashes had been rinsed away, and the other cuts and bruises on her face and hands were more prominent as well. She stopped when she saw Jarod crying into his hands. Without hesitating she hurried over and sat next to him.
She was a little hesitant as to what to do; this man had been a source of strength for her since he helped her escape the Centre. Now here he was, broken and vulnerable. Taking a deep breath she put a hand on his shoulder, then placed her other hand on the far side of his head, guiding him until he lay his head on her shoulder. She rested her head on his and just held him, comforting him like her mother used to when she was younger and scared. The emotions she felt from him - guilt, pain, shame, hate, and anger - were so powerful that they overwhelmed her, and she found herself crying with him - crying for him - as she gently rocked him, rubbing his back, comforting a man who had comforted her so many times in the past.
- - - -
Hours later, Jarod awoke to the sound of muffled crying. He saw that he was laying in bed, covered up. He slowly sat up and looked around, trying to clear his head from the fuzziness of just waking up . His DSA player was on the floor next to his bag, the curtains were drawn, and Samantha was laying on the bed, her back to him. He could hear her crying softly to herself.
Jarod quietly shifted under the covers and turned to face her. He could see her shivering slightly, and it wasn’t just from the crying; the air conditioner was going full blast, and her hair was still damp. Carefully, he took his covers and folded them over her like a giant wing. Then he then he slipped one arm under her neck; the other, still clutching the cover, he slipped over her side and down across her belly from behind. He gently pulled her to him, her head resting on his bicep. Her shaking had subsided slightly, and Jarod knew she was feeling safer than she probably had in a long time.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“For what?” Jarod asked softly.
Her voice wavered as she said, “I . . . lost it . . .”
“Lost what?” Samantha didn’t respond, but she slowly turned around, wincing from the soreness of her aching muscles, until she was facing him. Jarod could see her eyes were red and puffy from crying and tears streaked her pale cheeks. In that moment, she looked small and vulnerable as she tried to shrink in on herself, like she was scared of something.
“Sam, honey, you can tell me,” Jarod said softly. “It’s okay.”
“No, it’s not okay.” She tried to turn her head away, but wasn’t very successful. “I should have paid better attention . . . I don’t even know how I lost it.”
“Lost what?” Jarod asked. “What did you lose?”
Samantha took a shaky breath. “The necklace.” She looked up, expecting to see Jarod looking down at her in disgust or anger, but she saw nothing but compassion and warmth.
“It’s okay,” Jarod replied.
The young woman was very confused. “You’re not angry?”
“Why would I be angry?”
“Because that necklace was special. It was a gift. And I lost it.”
Jarod blinked at her, caught off-guard. “Is that what you’re worried about? That little thing? You thought I’d be mad about that? Oh, Sam, honey, don’t even think about that. I’m not upset with you for losing the necklace - I’m just so glad to have *you* back! Don’t worry about the necklace. It’s okay,” Jarod looked at her in wonder, brushing the tears from her eyes.
He took a deep breath before continuing. “Sam, the meaning behind the necklace is what’s special. As long as you remember what it stood for, it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing it around your neck” he cupped her face with one hand “or inside your heart. Remember what I said when I gave it to you?“ She nodded slowly. “I meant every word of it, but I want you to know that you don’t have to wear the necklace for that to be true.”
“Really?” she whispered.
“Really,” Jarod replied. She smiled slightly as he pulled her close and held her in his arms, letting her know she was safe and warm. The young woman closed her eyes and quickly drifted off to sleep. Jarod continued to hold her and rock her gently before he succumbed to his fatigue and was soon fast asleep as well.
- - - -
Hours later, Parker quietly closed the door to Angelo’s space, a slightly confused expression on her face as she walked down the corridor. When she arrived earlier to check on him he was sleeping peacefully, curled up in a blanket. A small, ghost of a smile was on his face, and a small piece of paper with the word 'Alive' written on it was near his feet. She had picked it up and read it, but not sure what it meant, hoping that Sydney could shed some light on the subject.
She took the elevator to the Sim Lab, where she walked down the stairs to Sydney’s office. She opened the door and saw the aged psychiatrist sitting at his desk, looking pale and shocked but relieved.
“Sydney,” she said, startling him. He looked over at her. “You okay?”
He took a ragged breath. “I just got off the phone,” he said quietly. He chuckled a bit, giving a small smile. “With Samantha.”
Parker’s eyes widened a bit, then she slowly looked at the scrap of paper from Angelo’s space. “Well, I guess I know what this means, now,” she said. She handed the paper to Sydney, who read it. “Where is she?”
“She wouldn’t say, but she said she was with Jarod, and they were both fine.”
“New York,” Parker said.
“What are you going to do?”
Parker looked at him. “What can I do, Sydney? They’re in the middle of a city that’s chaotic enough without a crisis, and by the time we get there they’ll already be long gone. We’ll get them another time.” She noticed the look Sydney was giving her. “What?”
“Is that the real reason, or is it because of something else?”
Parker took a seat across from her friend. “The Centre is responsible for what happened, Sydney. They don’t deserve to catch Jarod or Samantha right now.” She sighed. “Can you even imagine what it would do to Jarod if he ever figured it out?”
“He has,” Sydney replied solemnly. “Samantha saw him crying in front of his DSA player earlier, and it worried her. That’s why she called; she didn’t know we thought she was dead.” He sighed. “She knew it had to be something more than the emotional reaction of what happened yesterday, and asked me if I knew what.”
“What did you tell her?”
Sydney took a deep breath. “She was mortified that anyone could be capable of such atrocities.”
“She hasn’t been in the game long enough to know that’s business as usual with the Centre,” Parker replied.
“She has been in it long enough to know that Jarod tends to blame himself for things the Centre has twisted around. The last thing she said before hanging up was that she may not know what to do, but she was going to do everything in her power to help Jarod like he’s helped her.”
“You believe that?” Parker asked.
“I believe that she’s scared and unsure of what to do; Jarod’s always been the strong one for her, but now their positions are reversed. However, I have learned that it is best not to underestimate anyone until you’ve learned everything you can about them. We don’t know enough about Samantha to make an assumption about her capabilities.”
“But what’s your personal opinion?” Parker pressed.
Sydney folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. “I believe that Samantha is someone Jarod’s needed for a long time. Not anything of a romantic inclination.” He saw a look of relief wash over Parker’s eyes, and he hid a smile. “Jarod finally has someone he can relate to and talk to. That in itself is what Jarod has truly wanted and now has.” He gave a small smile. “I think they’re both going to be just fine.”
- - - -
Thirty-six hours had passed, and the morning sun was not even peeking over the horizon, though the sky over the city had a dark bluish tint to it normally associated with the time right before sunrise. Dust still lingered in a cloud over Ground Zero as crews continued to work, exhausted rescue workers leaving their shifts to get some food and rest while others, rested from sleep, took their places.
Back at the station house Kevin woke up, feeling rested and ready to continue working. He made his way out of the bedroom and to the bathroom, taking time to get cleaned up and changed. Then he made his way down to the first floor to his locker. He stopped when he saw an envelope sticking out of his locker. He pulled it out and saw that his name was scrawled on the front in an unfamiliar handwriting. He carefully opened it and pulled out a folded up piece of paper. He opened it up and saw it was a letter in the same handwriting as the envelope. He glanced at the bottom and saw it was signed ‘Samantha,’ and he sucked in his breath, going back to read the letter silently:
Wow. Can you believe this? We've known each other for only a couple of days, and already we've formed an incredible friendship. No matter where I go, I know I'm going to miss you.
I know that friends are supposed to share their lives with each other, but because I do care about you, I can't do that. All you need to know--all you really want to know--is that in this world, there are three kinds of people: those who choose to use their gifts and strengths for extraordinary good; those who choose to use their talents to harm others; and those who are neither extraordinarily good nor dangerously bad, but who only wish to survive and to try to make the world a little bit better. Jarod is one of those good people whose choices make him extraordinary; I am somewhere in the middle, a decent person just trying to survive; and those who pursue us. . . they embrace the same kind of unspeakable evil that has torn a hole in your city.
So Jarod and I will keep moving, leaving good places and good people behind. We do our best to keep those we meet from the danger that follows us, and whenever we can to help make life better for the people we meet.
You are a good man, Kevin, and you serve your city in amazing ways. Like so many other people, I owe you my life, and so much more. Never give up helping people, always remember that there's life on the other side of that fire, and whenever you have a moment in the good times, spare a thought for us. I know we will never forget you.
- - - -
This story is dedicated to:
All the rescue workers, volunteers, and firefighters who risked their lives to save strangers; they are the true heroes of this country, for they died doing what they were trained to do, and it is because of them that many people survived such an awful tragedy.
Ammo, Apollo, Cowboy, Dausen, Dorado (led his blind human seventy stories down the North Tower) Dusty, Git Ander (search and rescue dog fatally shot in unrelated incident), Guese, Gus, Hawk, Insee, Jake, Jax, Kermit, Kinsay, Marley, Marshall, Old Yeller, Porkchop, Ranger, Ricky, Roselle (guide dog who helped lead human out of one of the towers), Salty (guide dog who helped lead human out of one of the towers), Servus (injured twice during rescue operations, but made full recovery), Sirius (resident bomb-sniffing dog at the World Trade Center’s Port Authority K-9 Unit; buried alive in collapse of towers; body recovered in January, 2002), Star, Sunny Boy, Tascha, Thunder, Woody, and Warf. Their services to the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania were more valuable than anyone could have ever imagined. There’s a saying that, “A dog will look at you as if to say, ‘What do you want me to do for you? I’ll do anything for you.’ Whether a dog can in fact, do anything for you . . . is another matter. The dog is willing” (Roy Blount, Jr. Now Where Were We? 1989). I think we can all safely say that those dogs did more for all of us - rescue workers and all Americans around the country - than we ever thought possible.
To the victims and their families, as well as the survivors. “We will stand in the face of adversity, we will carry on, we will never forget, they will never be forgotten” (Jackie Galvin, September 12, 2001)