Storm Surge

Part 5

Dar was glad enough to sleep in, spending most of the morning working off some of the mail overload that had built up in her inbox over the past few days.  She was sprawled in the desk chair in her sleep shirt, the remnants of her breakfast tray nearby and a pot of coffee still handy.

It felt good to just relax for a few hours. The trip had been very frenetic so far, and Dar appreciated the chance to sit back and get her act together before she had to meet with their new clients again. They had meeting scheduled most of the afternoon, and then Alastair had arranged to host a dinner someplace in London for all of them.

Thursday, they’d meet with the local folks, hopefully all day to keep her mind occupied and off the fact that she’d be suffering the nine or ten hours of Kerry in the air and unreachable while she flew from Michigan through Chicago and then onward to London.

Of course, Dar realized she herself had been in the same state just the other day, but ever since Kerry’s near miss in the storm, she’d found herself a nervous wreck whenever her partner flew.  Kerry, on the other hand, had put the event in the past and didn’t mind the travel and didn’t seem to stress over when Dar flew either.

When they flew together, naturally, it didn’t bother her.  Dar decided not to think too much about why that was, and went back to her inbox instead.   She clicked on a note from Mark, and opened it.

Hey boss!

Practice went good today. I think we’ll do okay, so long as we don’t have to do stuff like hit or catch baseballs. So far, we’re really good at wearing funny looking pants, and tripping on cleats.

We miss you guys. How’s it going?


Dar grimaced a little.   She clicked on the little video embedded in the mail and waited for it to spool up, then watched as she got a Mark’s eye view of two of her employees crashing full into each other and bouncing back at least four feet. “Nice.”

She shook her head. “At least Ker and I won’t be the worst ones out there. “ She clicked on reply.

Hey Mark. 

I hope the team can at least not knock each other over by the time Ker and I get back because if that’s what’s gonna happen we’ll be laughing so hard we might as well just forfeit and go get drunk.

Meetings are going well – be ready to start this one up running because these people are skeptics. I hope that damn hub’s going to come online soon because if there’s one customer who’s likely to push our SLA’s to the limit it’s this guy.

Throws decent meals though. We had prime rib of some creature or other for dinner and unlimited bottles of grog.


She went on to the next mail, glancing down at her news ticker poddling along at the bottom of her screen. “Slow morning.” She flipped over to the network monitoring screen that always, from habit ran in the background and she viewed the gauges she seldom saw at this hour of the Miami morning.

Nine AM here, four AM at home, and she rested her chin on her fist, observing the traffic patterns.  She could see the heavy usage fluttering across their internal networks both in Miami, and in the big data center in Houston.  Backups, probably, unending streams of data being copied to their storage arrays, mirrored to make even that precaution redundant.

Dar respected that. She knew her team took the need to cover her ass very seriously, and she knew her peers in the company depended on that to make sure if something inevitably did happen, that they could recover from it with no harm done.

A blinking blue light caught her attention, and she shifted her gaze to the Houston links, watching the big routers there chewing over a healthy size chunk of traffic, which she realized was the government financial datastream going through it’s nightly reconciliation. 

Between the offices, the parallel tie lines were quiet. They didn’t share much data, since Miami was the commercial hub and Houston the governmental one, but traffic like payroll and mail, corporate shares and intranet servers were quietly replicated so that the IT operation to most people was pretty much invisible.

Just how Dar liked it.

Just then, her messenger software popped up. Dar blinked at in surprise, half expecting it to be Kerry.  It wasn’t.

Ms. Roberts? Sorry to bother you.

Dar recognized one of their night net operators.  No problem.  She typed back.  What’s up?

We’re having a little problem with the Niagara 3 node.  We were going to call Mark but we saw you come online.

Dar cocked her head, marveling in the fact that the ops crew felt they could approach her now in so casual a manner. Respectful, but casual.   She accessed a secure shell session and navigated through the net to the node in question, one of the three that surrounded the New York area to handle the stupendous amount of traffic there.   Yeah? What’s the problem?

We’re seeing routes being injected and then squelched. We think it’s a circuit issue but the LEC up there swears NTF.

LECS lie like fish.  Dar informed him.  Let me take a look.

Node 3 was her newest, an interlink to Canada that had only been online a few weeks. She poked around in the router, pecking away happily at the device as she went through its configuration. She checked the logs, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, and then she went through all the interfaces one by one.  Ah hah.


Found it.  Dar typed back. Give me a sec.   She reviewed the flapping interface, a little surprised to find a timing mismatch coming in from one of their major service providers.  She watched the errors for a minute, and then she experimentally changed a setting, watched, and then changed a second. The interface settled down and stopped its gyrations and after another minute the data commenced flowing normally.

It looks great now ma’am!

Dar smirked, then she cut and pasted the circuit information into her notepad and got out of the router.  Anytime.  She typed back. Now I have to go find out why the damn vendor changed his clocking without telling us.

So it wasn’t the LEC?

Not this time.  Dar confirmed.  Service provider.

Well ma’am, sorry about that but you just won me a bet here and now Chuck has to go out and get me Dunkin Doughnuts so thanks!

Dar laughed out loud.  She pasted the information into a new message, and addressed it to the vendor with a couple of snitty pecks and sent it on its way. Have a Boston Crème for me.  Later.

Thanks again, Ms. Roberts. Have a great day.

Well, she’d certainly do her best.  Dar glanced up as an incoming mail binged softly. She was very surprised to see it was from the provider she’d just yelled at. She opened it.

Ms. Roberts –

We were about to contact you about this issue. We had a service interrupt out of the 140 West Street facility in Manhattan that resulted in a non scheduled recycle of the switch servicing your account.

Dar translated that without difficulty. “So. Someone rebooted the thing accidentally. Sucks to be you.”

There was a configuration anomaly that was under review.

“Uh huh, and someone forgot to write the memory before you rebooted it too.”

However, the issue seemed to self-correct, so no further action was taken.

Dar hit reply.  The issue didn’t self correct. I went into our router and matched your timing change. I don’t mind leaving it that way, but get your god damned procedures straightened out and tell your operations people to get their heads out of their asses and follow the rules next time.

She reviewed the note and hit send with a satisfied little grunt.   “Nitwads.” She lifted her cooling cup of coffee and sipped from it, then set it back down.   With a touch of curiousness, she clicked back to the network map and went into the graphical view of the node again, reviewing the traffic, then checking the other two nodes in the area.

Tons of data, even at this hour. What was it they always said? New York never slept? Watching this she could believe it.   With a shake of her head, she closed the monitoring tool and went back to her mail, realizing there was one there from Kerry she’d somehow managed to miss. “Hey!”

She clicked on it.

Dar –

Ah, business. Dar knew a moment of disappointment, but immediately chastised herself and read on.  Even using the corporate mail system, Kerry often sent short personal notes to her, and those were always addressed as something other than her name, so seeing one addressed with it made her aware it was probably either a problem or a solution to one.

Reviewing the growth chart, I found a hole here, in the mid Atlantic interchange.

Dar’s eyes widened. “Oo!” She said out loud. “Checking up on me, Kerrison? You little scoundrel!”

With the new backhaul contract for the cellular consortium I think we’re going to run out of space within six to twelve if the curve maintains.  What do you think?

“What do I think?" Dar propped her chin on her fist and reviewed the graphs Kerry had inserted in her email.   Her brow creased as she studied the bandwidth usage, then she quickly hunted something up on her hard drive and looked at it, switching between the document and Kerry’s mail with rapid-fire flicks of her eyes.

After a long moment of silence, she snorted again. “Well, I’ll be damned.” She said. “What in the hell are those people doing? They’re overshooting their per connection bandwidth by fifty percent.”   She flipped through the original proposal, wondering if she’d made a wrong calculation somewhere.

“Did they sign up a billion new users or something?” She puzzled over the numbers. “What the hell did I do wrong here?”  She went to her browser and clicked on it, calling up one of the consortium web pages. After a moment’s studying, her expression cleared. “Ah.”  She came close to slapping her own head. “Data. Pictures. No wonder.” 

She clicked over to Kerry’s note, and hit reply.

Kerry –

Nice catch.  I’ll add bandwidth.  Looks like they put in new services right after they signed the contract – maybe they figured they could get away with it.

Good work.


Then she added two small GIFS, one of a sheep, and one of a rock, and clicked send.   Then she got up and stretched, leaving the laptop behind as she roamed over to the window and looked out.

Today, it was reasonably sunny outside, and the streets were full of walkers. Dar suddenly had the urge to be outside as well, and she put that plan immediately into motion, closing down her laptop and heading for the shower.

There was shopping to be had, and cute trinkets for Kerry to be bought, and she thought she saw a couple of street food vendors just off in the distance.

Just the thing to start the day off right.


Kerry lay flat on her back on her bed, her hands behind her head as the early morning sun poured into her window.  After a moment’s rest, she continued her crunches, counting under her breath as she worked through her last set, ending up grimacing on the last few but getting through them.

“Ugh.” She spread her arms out and stretched them, waiting for the burn to fade in her midsection.  Then she rolled over and got up, twisting her torso and making shadowboxing motions to shake her muscles out as she went to the dresser.

Her laptop was seated on it, whirring through its screen saver placidly until she touched the track pad and it presented her login screen.  She rattled in her password and unlocked it, opening her mail program and watching the screen fill with dark lines.

“Aha!” She pounced on the one from Dar immediately, clicking it as the rest of the mail downloaded. She leaned on the counter and scanned the words, a relieved and happy grin appearing a moment later. “Yes!” She pumped her fist in the air.  “Score!”

Finding Dar in a mistake was so rare that when it did happen, she spent hours and hours going over the data just to make sure she just wasn’t looking at it from the right point of view until she felt secure enough to mention it.

Dar never seemed to get pissed off about it. Kerry suspected if she approached her in public with the issue, her beloved partner wouldn’t appreciate it but she never did, and Dar’s reaction either was an explanation of why whatever it was happened to be that way, or else, like this time, a cheerful admission of guilt and an action plan to fix it.

Awesome.  Kerry stepped away from the desk and went to the window, peering out through the teak wood slats at what was going to be a gorgeous day.   Though just seven, it was already light outside and she could see a beautiful, almost cloudless sky through the tree branches.

Great day to go out on the lake. She sighed. “Oh well, next time.” She turned and went back to the dresser, picking up her laptop and carrying it back to the bed with her. She sat down cross-legged, and studied her mail.

Relatively uneventful. She clicked over and opened her morning report from operations, scanning it lightly until she came across an entry for the northeast sector and saw the outage notation. One eyebrow lifted. “And I didn’t get a page, why?” She clicked the report. “Oh, that’s why.”

Opportunistic of her night admins. Kerry couldn’t really argue with the logic of contacting her apparently available boss, but really, there was a process for that sort of thing.  She blinked as a small box popped up next to her cursor.


Ah. Speaking of the devil. Hey cowboy. What’s up?


Kerry smiled. I saw the outage report from this morning.

Ah. Dar seemed to reflect on that. I sent a nasty gram to the vendor. I copied you. Looks like someone tripped over a power cable at their NY CO or something.

Where are you?  Kerry asked.

Just about to leave the hotel for the client site.  Dar said. I just got back from walking around outside. It’s gorgeous here today.

Kerry smiled again.  Here too. I wish I could go out sailing instead of to mom’s brunch. Oh well. Are you doing anything tonight?

The sun winked in the window and striped across the bed, warming Kerry’s bare legs.  She wiggled her toes in it, and wished very briefly and pointlessly that she was having this conversation in person.

Waiting for you.

So apparently the feeling was mutual.  I’m not leaving until tomorrow morning, sweetie. I have to get through the day at moms then I talked Angie into going down to the shops near the lake so I can get goofy trinkets for everyone.  She paused.  Wish I were at the airport taking off right now though.


Kerry cocked her head at the screen.  What’s so funny?

Tell you when I see you. I have to head out. Tell your crazy family I say hi and try to have a good time, okay?

Okay.  Kerry typed.  Have a good meeting. Love you.

Love you too, later. DD

Kerry chuckled and closed the window, and then she ran her eye over her mail. Not finding anything really urgent, she closed the program and got up to put the laptop back on the dresser. 

“Hey, you up?” Angie stuck her head in the door, blinking in surprised to find her older sister in a pair of shorts and a sports bra apparently wide awake. “Boy, you have become an early bird haven’t you?”

Kerry chuckled. “I have.” She admitted. “I was doing my traveling exercise routine and then chatting with Dar for a bit. C’mon in.”

Angie entered, still in her nightgown.  “What’s a traveling exercise routine?”  She asked. “Is that what you do every morning?”

“No.” Kerry turned and leaned against the dresser. “At home, Dar and I usually either go for a run in the morning, or if it’s too hot and sticky which is a lot, we go to the island gym or to the pool.” She replied. “I just have a few things I do when I am out of town like some sit-ups and push-ups and stuff.”

“You’re nuts.” Angie informed her.

“I am.” Her sister cheerfully agreed. “But it makes me feel good to do it so who cares?” She spread her arms out. “Hey, I even joined a baseball team. Our company’s doing a league.”

“Oh my god.” Angie rolled her eyes. “You always wanted to do that.  You used to bitch about it all the time I remember.”

Kerry grinned. “Yeah, I know. But this was something that just came up. It should be fun though.” She folded her arms over her chest. “Hey, want to go roust Mike up?”

Angie grinned back. “Actually, I was going to suggest we do that, then we go out and grab some breakfast somewhere. I gave my cook the morning off because she had a dental appointment.”

“I’m all for that.” Kerry agreed instantly. “Let’s go for it.” She headed for the door. “We can get some ice cubes to get Mike awake.”


“Hm?” Kerry paused at the door, with her hand on the knob.

“You going to go wake him up like that?” Angie asked, pointing at her sister’s lack of real clothing.

Kerry glanced down at herself, and then she shrugged. “This is what I go out jogging in.” She said. “C’mon. You can’t tell me Mike’s more conservative than the ghost of Commodore Vanderbilt.”

Angie followed her out, shaking her head. “Guess we’ll find out in a minute.”


Dar resisted the urge to stick her hands in the pockets of her dress slacks as she entered the big dining room along with the rest of their team and Sir Melthon’s people.  There was a huge sideboard set up, and everyone was definitely in a much better mood today.

Deal was done. Papers were signed. Now they were partners, and as partners, they were no longer the bad guys so everyone was chilled out and a lot friendlier.

“Hello, Ms. Roberts.” The man who had been pounding her mercilessly with questions yesterday was now all smiles. “John Status, by the way.” He held a hand out. “No hard feelings, I hope?” He had a distinct, rolling accent that was almost musical.

“Not at all.” Dar amiably gripped his hand and released it. “I like hard questions. People who don’t ask them either aren’t serious about dealing with us, or don’t know what they’re doing.”

Status grinned. “Now there’s a good solid saying.” He took a seat next to Dar at the table.  “I’m the lucky man who gets to be in charge of our company net.”

Dar was mutely delighted to be sitting next to another nerd. She left Alastair on her other side discussing grouse hunting with two of the other men.  “Gets to be, or is?”  She was aware of the servers moving around them and the smell of something roasting.

“Is.” John said. “Am. Whatever.” He clarified.  “I’ve been here for about a year, and the first thing I was asked to do is hook us up with a global network provider.” He glanced around. “From this side of the Atlantic.”

“Ah.” Dar nodded. “We’d heard that.” She gave the server a nod as he filled her glass with something that smelled like apples and cinnamon. “It’s been tough for us to grow here because of the bias.”

“Eh.” John lifted his hands.

“I understand the bias. If the positions were reversed, it would be the same on our side.” Dar said. “No one wants to work with people who are different and hard to understand. Our business methods are very polar.”

The man sat back. “You know though, most Americans don’t understand that.” He observed. “They just come over here, and try to ride over people with high pressure sales jobs. They never come in and say, well, here’s what we do. You interested?”

Dar smiled.

“Now, understand, it helps that His nib’s godson came in like a raving loony about you.” John said. “We were all saying, if Hans has his knickers in that kind of an uproar, must be something to it.”

“Hey, Dar, your admin people in yet?” Alastair interrupted them. 

Dar checked her watch. “Quarter to nine? Sure. Mine is anyway. What do you need?”

“Can you get one of the big portfolios headed this way?” Her boss asked. “The one that shows all the lines of business?”

“Sure.” Dar opened her phone and dialed her office number. “Excuse me.” She apologized to John.

“No problem.” John turned to his plate, which had just been delivered, complete with a selection from the sideboard. “Ahh… now that’s the thing.”

“Hey, Maria.” Dar heard her admin answer. “Good morning.”

“Ah, good morning Jefa.”  Maria replied. “How are you? How is the England?”

“So far, very interesting and successful.”  Dar said. “Need a favor.”

“Of course.”

Dar paused, as her PDA buzzed. “Hang on a second.” She opened it and glanced at the screen.  “Hm. Hey, Maria, can you ask Mark to check out what’s going on over near Boston?  One of the supplemental links just came up and they’re using some unusual bandwidth for the links.”

“Surely.” Maria said. “Is that all, Dar? How is Kerrisita? Is she having a good time with her familia?

Dar closed the PDA. “She’s fine, and her speech went great.” She told her assistant. “Alastair needs one of the circus tent displays sent over here, can you get that in the works?”

“I will call over to the Sales right away, Dar.” Maria said. “Oh, and Senora Mariana has delivered some packages to the office here for you and Kerrisita. I think they are your baseball costumes.”

“What color are they?” Dar chuckled. “Please don’t tell me they’re either yellow or purple.”

“No no, it is a pretty blue.” Maria said. “And the pants, are white. Mayte was showing me hers last night, and they are very very cute.” She paused. “The shoes were very strange. They had nails in the bottom? Is that right, Dar?”

Her boss chuckled, and then glanced down as her PDA buzzed again. She opened it, and after a minute, her brows creased.  “What the hell?”


“Maria, can you conference Mark on? I’m getting pages that aren’t making any sense. I think the monitor’s gone whacky again.” Dar paged through the messages.

“Surely. Hold on for one moment, Dar.” Maria put her on hold.

“Something wrong?” John asked.

“Ah.” Dar shook her head a little. “I think its just..”

Maria came back on the phone. “I have Mark, Dar, but…”

“Hey! Boss!” Mark’s voice echoed through the phone, sharp with excitement. “Holy crap!”

Dar felt a surge of adrenaline, but she wasn’t entirely sure why. “What’s up?”

“A freaking plane just hit the side of the freaking World Trade Center!”

“Jesu!” Maria gasped.  “Madre di Dios!”

Dar absorbed that in silence for a minute. “What?” She finally said. “How in the hell did that happen? Someone get lost looking for LaGuardia?”

“I have no friggen clue.” Mark said. “But they just put it up on CNN and it’s crazy! Smoke all over the place! People freaking out!” He said.  “There’s a hole in the side of that thing the size of the space shuttle!”

Dar pressed the mute button, and leaned over, touching Alastair on the sleeve. “Alastair.”

Her boss turned and looked at her, his gaze sharpening immediately when he saw her expression. “What’s up?”

“We need to find a television. Something’s going on in New York.”


Kerry strolled through the big atrium and paused, looking around and remembering the last time she’d spent time in this space.  Her father’s funeral reception.  It was much quieter now; even the echoes of that tumultuous time were gone along with his presence.

She suppressed a smile, and continued on into the formal dining room where the rest of her family were gathered, getting ready to sit down to the promised brunch.

Kerry regarded the trays of salad and light sandwiches with a benignly polite interest, since their early morning breakfast escapade had resulted in a visit to Pumpernickels, and an English Scramble that both satisfied her salute to where her partner was, and adequately satisfied her appetite before their visit.

“Well, Kerrison, I hear your speech went very well.”  Her mother took her customary seat, and the rest of them joined her.  “Did you enjoy yourself?”

Kerry picked up her glass of orange juice and sipped it, her brows hiking as she realized there was champagne in the mix. “Mimosas, mother?” She put the glass down. “I had a lot more fun at the pub afterward, but I think it went well.”

“Well, I thought it would be festive.” Her mother said. “After all, it’s a lovely occasion, having all of you here. “ She took a sip of her own beverage. “It seemed to me to be a good chance for a little celebration.” She added. “Even at nine am.”

Kerry had to smile. She set her glass down, and then almost jumped as her cell phone buzzed against her side. “Yow.” She unclipped it and glanced at the caller ID, her smile broadening. “Excuse me a minute.” She answered the phone. “Hey hon.”

Unintended, but she could almost imagine the grimace her mother was hiding. 

“Where are you?” Dar’s tone, however, wasn’t what she’d expected.

“My mothers.” Kerry said. “What’s up?”

“She acting like something’s going on?”

Kerry’s brow creased, and she looked across at her mother, who peered back at her with a puzzled expression. “No. Is there something?”

“A jet flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.”  Dar said. “There’s a lot of confusion going on, and I’ve got some traffic alerts on our net up there.”

“Oh no.” Kerry gasped. “That’s horrible! Did it lose an engine, or..” She glanced up, finding her family now quiet, and listening to her. “There’s been an accident in New York.” She explained. “A plane hit the World Trade Center.”

“Dear God!” Her mother straightened, her eyes widening. “How incredible!”

The doors opened, and one of her aides rushed in. “Senator.” He got out. “Come quickly. Please.”  He indicated the door.  Visibly confused, Cynthia stood and started towards him.

Instinctively Kerry got up, her body reacting to the sudden tension in the room and the edge in Dar’s voice.  She followed her mother as they crowded through the double doors and into the media room, where a large screen television was on.  “Oh, wow.”

“Are you watching it now?” Dar asked. “We’re all here at the client site. Alastiar’s trying to get hold of Bob.”

“Our guy in Manhattan?” Kerry asked, her eyes studying the horror on the screen. “My god, Dar. Look at that hole!”

“He was supposed to be at a client meeting there at eight thirty.”

“Good heavens.” Cynthia Stuart finally spluttered. “How on earth could they have allowed a plane to hit that building?  What was the pilot thinking? Why didn’t they stop it?”

“Oh no.” Kerry exhaled. “Hope he’s okay…” She stopped speaking.

Everyone stopped speaking.  There was a shocked moment of silence before Mike grabbed the back of a chair and leaned forward. “Holy shit!” He said. “There’s another one!”

“Fuck.” Dar’s voice echoed softly down the line. “That’s no accident.”

Kerry was stunned. She was watching the screen. She’d seen a second plane appear, and crash into the other tower. Her mind was unable to grasp what she was seeing, however, as she struggled to make sense of the smoke, and the fire, and the sound of screaming and sirens coming from the television’s speakers.

“Oh my god.” She finally said.  She could hear exclamations in strange accents from Dar’s end of the conversation and it reminded her suddenly of where her partner was. “I don’t think we’re going to see the Alps, Dar.”

Dar exhaled. “Not this week. No.”

“Oh my god.” Kerry repeated. “Dar we’ve got people all over that area.” She finally forced her mind into a different gear. “What are we going to do?”

“I don’t know.” Dar answered. “I’ve got to call my parents.”

“I’ll get my laptop. I’ll call you back.” Kerry said. “I’ll call you back in ten minutes. “

“Okay.” Dar said. “No, let me call my dad, and then I’ll call you back. See if you can get on net.” She said.

“Talk to you in a few.” Kerry said. “Tell mom and dad I love them.” 

“I will.” Dar’s voice said. “I don’t know where this is going, Ker. It could get worse.” She said. “Talk to you in a few.” She hung up.

Worse?  Kerry folded her phone shut, only to have it ring again immediately, the caller ID showing the distinctive number at her operations desk.  “Mother, do you have an internet connection in the house/”

Her mother turned, her eyes wide and staring. “W.. what?” She said.  “What do you mean?”

Kerry shook her head. “Never mind, I’ll find it.” She turned and started out of the room, as she answered the phone.  “Stuart.” She paused as she passed Angie. “I’m going to get my briefcase.”

“Okay.” Her sister answered softly. “Kerry, what’s going on? What’s happening there?”

Kerry looked at her. “People are flying airplanes into buildings, Angie.” She said. “On purpose.”  She eased past her sister and headed for the door, putting the phone back to her ear. “Go on.”

Angie watched her go, then turned around to look at the television again. “Why?” She asked. “Why would anyone want to do that?”


Dar held one hand over her free ear as she waited for the line to be answered. Behind her, the room was raucous with all the consternation over what they were watching; only Alastair wasn’t joining in as he was still, as was Dar, on the phone.

The line picked up. “Hello?”

“Mom?” Dar said.

“Well. That’s one checkbox off my list.”  Ceci sighed in relief. “By the Goddess, this world has gone completely insane.”

For once, Dar found herself in complete and total agreement with her mother. “How’s dad?”

“Freaking out.” Ceci said succinctly.  “So am I. Did you see those poor people jumping?”

“Yeah.” Dar said. “It’s horrible. I was on the phone with Kerry when the second plane hit.” She glanced up as Alastair approached, one hand over the mouthpiece of his cell phone. “Did you get Bob?”

“No.” Her boss said. “But John Carmichael just got through to me and he says they think there’s more.” His face was set and grim. “We need to start getting our people under cover.”

“Right.” Dar turned back to the phone.

“I heard.” Ceci said. “Dar, please be careful. You’re the only child I have and believe me, there aren’t going to be any more.”

The moment of macabre humor set her back a step, but Dar smiled anyway. “You guys be careful too. Glad none of us is anywhere near New York.”  She said. “I’ll call back in a while.  Stay put, that condo’s built like a bunker.”

“So your father said. Talk to you later, Dar.”  Ceci hung up.

Dar closed her phone, and looked up as John approached, his face ashen.  “What a way to ruin a lunch. Huh?”

“Is there anything we can do?” John asked. “We’ve already sent word to our people in upper Manhattan to get out of town, but I know you probably have a much bigger presence there.”

“We do.” Dar said. “I need net access. Can I get it here?”  She looked over at Alastair. “I’m going to activate global meetingplace.”

“Absolutely, just come with me.” John led her out of the room and through a wide, oak door. They emerged into a smaller room, with several desks positioned around its edges. John indicated one of them. “There, and give me a minute and I’ll get a line run.”

Dar put her briefcase down and got her laptop out, sitting it on the desk and opening the top. She started it booting, while she removed her power plug and added the adapter that would allow it to connect to the UK power strip fastened neatly to one leg.

It was all mechanical.  Her mind was going seventeen ways to Sunday in every possible direction, a brain cell overload that wasn’t really helped when John flipped on the television in the corner on his way back over with an Ethernet cable.

She sat down and took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. 

John glanced at the screen, shaking his head. “Here you go.” He handed over the end of the cable. “You have an office in one of those?”

Dar plugged the cable in and waited for her logon screen.  “No.” She said. “I had a three week long screaming argument with the New York office when I refused to rent space there and put them in Rockefeller Center instead.”

“Bet they’re thanking you now.” John remarked.

“Bet they are.” Dar said. “But we have probably two dozen clients in the towers, and a lot more in that area.”


Alastair entered the room. “There you are.” He said. “I can’t reach anyone in the Northeast.” He said. “Damn cell system says all lines are busy.”

“I bet.” Dar entered her password and watched her desktop appear.  She triggered the VPN tunnel to the office, and watched as the authentication system ran it’s routine.

Alastair perched on the edge of the desk, watching the television. John sat down in a nearby chair, doing the same. 

After a moment, Sir Melthon entered, his face grave.  “McLean, how about you and your lot moving here until this is sorted out. We’ve got space, and better facilities than the damn hotel.”   He glanced at Dar. “Who knows where this mess is going to end at.”

Alastair looked at Dar, who nodded. “Sounds good. Thanks, Sir Melthon.” He said quietly. “We’ve got things there.”

“Right. I’ll send a man over for them.” The magnate left, all his air of country squire completely vanished. “Things can spread. We’re closing the gates.”

Dar felt a headache coming on. She rested her chin on her fist as her work desktop appeared, and there, in the corner, a violently blinking box. 

Global Meeting has been initiated. Please sign in immediately.  “Someone beat me to it.” Dar logged in. “Damn I hoped we’d never have to use this.”  She said, as Alastair came around the corner and sat down in a chair next to her. “Here we go.”

“Here we go.” Alastair murmured. “Damn it.”


Kerry shouldered the door to her father’s inner office open, flipping the overhead light on and scanning the walls as she crossed the carpet over to the wooden desk.  Her mind was so packed with dealing with the situation she felt no emotional charge on entering, focusing intently on finding a connection instead.

No wall jacks. She went to the desk and dropped her laptop on it, pulling the chair back and dropping to her knees to investigate the space underneath.  Seeing nothing, she frowned, and started to get up again. “Guess it’s the cell card. Damn.”

Halfway up, she paused, suddenly aware of a soft humming sound. She thought it was her laptop, but as she moved away from the back of the desk it got softer instead of louder. She looked around the top of the desk, but saw nothing mechanical.

Puzzled, she got back down on the floor and turned over to lay flat on her back, inching forward so she could look between the desk and the wall to see if perhaps that was where either the elusive sound or the equally elusive connection might be.

There wasn’t much space, but she managed to get an eye into position to look up and she immediately blinked at a box with blinking lights and a familiar logo.  “Huh.” Kerry reached up and freed an Ethernet cable already connected and coiled neatly, and brought it back with her as she wriggled back into the light. 

She got to her knees and plugged the end of the cable into her laptop, hoping she wasn’t about to expose her equipment to anything. ‘For someone who said they didn’t trust technology.. “ She got up and pulled the rolling chair back over, seating herself in it and starting to log in. “Pretty strange to find a router nailed to the back of your desk.”

The door swung open and Angie appeared. “There you are.” She approached, a nervous expression on her face. “Oh my god, Kerry. They threw me an Mike out of mom’s office.”  She looked around. “Is it okay to turn the TV on? You look so weird in here.”

Mike burst in. “Stupid assholes.”

Kerry glanced up from typing in her password. She found her brain completely unable to process this multiplicity of inputs and went back to the screen instead.

Mike went over and put the TV on, then dropped into the leather couch against one wall. “These people suck.” He said. “Freaking government secrets? The big secret is the government has no clue what’s going on.”

“Mike.” Angie sat down and twisted her hands. “This is really serious.”

Kerry checked the IP settings her laptop had received, and then started up her secure VPN session to the office. It wasn’t completely safe. She really didn’t know whose router that was, or who controlled it, but the line in the back was an Internet circuit and she didn’t have a lot of other options.

She hoped her Dar designed firewall was up to snuff. 

“See?” Mike said, pointing at the screen.  “No one’s sure what’s going on, look at those news guys.”

“Give them a break, Mike.” Kerry started up her profile and watched as her desktop appeared. “There are planes crashing into skyscrapers that doesn’t happen every day.”  The background of her profile was a picture of sunset from their cabin, and for a split second, the familiar sight made her feel better.

Only for a split second.   She signed into her management console as she got a barrage of network popups, the little boxes multiplying like hamsters across one side of her screen. 


Kerry glanced up, to see a fresh plume of smoke issuing from one of the towers, and then a ground shot of people running amidst showering debris.  She jerked her attention back to her screen and ignored the popups, calling up the administrator access that allowed her control of their various systems and processes.

Selecting the Global Meetingplace application, she activated it, clicking three times on the “Are you really sure?” warning boxes then sending it on it’s way.

Simple act, complex program.  Kerry then turned and selected Mark’s box from the popups. “Hey.”

Poqueto Boss!

Kerry smiled grimly. I just triggered the disaster plan. You better assemble your team in the conference room and get the situation stuff on the screens.


For a moment, Kerry just watched the disaster program assemble itself on her screen, opening up tabbed layers that broke the company down into regions and offices, placing a bare bones chat area in the background, and presenting her with a box asking for her corporate identification, location, status, and role in the process.

“Kerry Stuart, Saugatuck Michigan, safe, moderator.” Kerry muttered, as she answered the questions.

“What was that, Ker?” Angie asked. “They shut the airports down. Isn’t that like locking the barn after the horse left?”

“What if there’s more planes out there?” Mike asked.

“Oh no.” Angie gasped.

Kerry’s cell phone and PDA beeped, and she opened her phone first, seeing an SMS message on the screen that echoed the request on her desktop. She then checked her PDA, and found a copy of it there. “Okay.” She said. “So we know the SMS and email alerts are working.”

A soft crackle alerted her in the background, and she reached into her briefcase for a small headset in a back pocket she’d never had to use before. She settled the buds in her ears, clipped the microphone on her shirt collar and plugged it in.

Already, information was flowing across the screen. She could see the senior management dashboard, icons lighting as their scattered main offices logged in to the system.  A box opened, with Mariana’s icon flashing, the system reporting her status on the header bar and very different from the normal net pops. Hey. Kerry typed in the box.

Hey.  Mariana answered. Have you contacted Dar?

She was the one who called me and told me what was going on.  Kerry typed back, aware of the chaos on the television across the room.  She’s fine; she’s at the client site in England.  Alastair’s fine too.

Do you know if he got hold of the people in the NY office?

Kerry took a slow breath. No.

In her ear, she heard a soft chime. “Virtual conferencing coming online.”   She typed quickly. I’m going on the conference bridge, you joining? I don’t’ really know what’s going on but it’s a good excuse to try the system out isn’t it?

Mari’s answer was wry even in written form.  I’d rather be doing shredder comparisons again.

“What the hell was the point of this?” Mike asked. “How are they going to put those fires out anyway, drag hoses up a hundred floors?”

“I guess.” Angie said. “I don’t think there’s ladders that reach that far.”

“Okay.” Kerry said, into her microphone. “I’m opening the bridge, this is Kerry Stuart. “

Cracklings and murmurs answered her. “Houston ops here.”  “Lansing.” “Charlotte.”  “Los Angeles Earth Station.”

Slowly, a map built in front of her, stretching out from one side of the screen to the other, an outline of the world with the United States in the center and circles of light that indicated all their major offices, installations, infrastructure and service centers.

“Kuala Lumpur calling in.” The acknowledgements continued. “Dubai.” “Sydney’s on.”

“Miami Ops on.” Mark’s voice echoed softly. “Kerry, I’m inserting the news crawler into the global desktop.”

“Thanks.” Kerry saw the ticker appear.

“Oh, there’s the president.” Angie said. “Kerry, look!”

Kerry glanced up at the television. The destruction had been replaced by their president, with several aides, standing in what appeared to her to be a schoolroom. “Where in the hell is he?”

“Florida.” Mike said. “Some school.”

“Great.” Kerry muttered. “Like the air traffic isn’t screwed up enough.”  She said. “Every time he visits I end up sitting at some gate for six hours.”

“Kerry!” Angie turned. “Maybe we’ll find out what’s going on.”

“CNN”s got the prez on.” Mark commented. “See if the feed updates.”

“Miami exec?”

Kerry turned back to the screen. “Kerry here.”

“This is Danny Chambers, at the Joint Chief’s office.” A man’s voice said, sounding stressed. “Ma’am, it’s crazy here.”

“I bet.” Kerry murmured. “I’m sure everyone’s upset.”

“No ma’am, that’s not it.” Chambers said. “They think there’s more out there. More hijacked planes! There are folks running up and down the hallways around here no one knows where the planes are.”

There was a moment of dead silence. Kerry stared at the blinking status lights in front of her, and then she looked over her screen to the television, where the president was talking.

“Hello? This is Sherren, from the Manhattan office! IS anyone there?” A voice broke in. “Is anyone there? I can’t find half our people, and there’s sirens and smoke everywhere! They closed the bridges and tunnels and they’re saying to evacuate Manhattan!”

Voices now burst in, startled and afraid.  Kerry took a few deep breaths, and then she spoke up.  “Okay, okay, people, please settle down.” She said. “Let’s not panic. I know it’s really confusing out there, but a lot of things are getting said and we don’t have all the facts.”

“This is Michael Talmadge up at the air hub.” A new voice spoke up. “Kerry, I have a landslide of requests for more voice and video bandwidth for the FAA and essential services. “

“You got it.” Kerry said at once. “Whatever you need up to link speed up there.”

“This is Houston ops.” Another voice said. “We’re getting reports of cell failures on the East Coast, the government support team here says they’re seeing a lot of dropped calls.”

“Everyone’s using their phones.” Mark said. “Can’t handle it, probably what’s going on in NY. I can’t reach any of the staff there, only Sherren’s on the VOIP conf.”

“That’s right.” Sherren agreed immediately. “Most everyone who’s here is outside, or up on the roof trying to see what’s going on. Sirens are going off like crazy.”

Kerry thought fast. “Mark, send an SMS blast to everyone in the New York node and tell them to evacuate north.  I don’t’ know what’s going on there either, but I think it’s too dangerous where they are.”

There was a blast of confused noise, overwhelming the call.

“What in the hell.. “ Mark said. “Kerry I got that and we’re working it but half the damn… oh, crap! The secure Virginia nodes just went down!”

“Danny?” Kerry asked. “Danny, you still there?”


“Oh wow!” Angie exclaimed. “Now they think a bomb went off in the capital!”

Kerry felt her breathing getting faster. She could see on her network grid that there were flashing yellow and red lines now where she was used to seeing sedate greens and blues, and they were centered around the three nodes they had that ringed the Pentagon military complex.

“Yeah look! What? Oh.. crap!” Mike half stood. “I think.. did it go off at the White House? Is that what they said?”

“Pentagon.” Kerry corrected him. “I think something happened there. “ She keyed her mic back on. “Okay, Mark, get those SMS messages out to New York, and also to anyone in the area of DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Tell everyone to get the hell out of there and get under cover.”

“Kerry.” Mari’s voice broke in. “They’re telling us to evacuate here.”

“There?” Kerry leaned closer to the screen. “Why?”

“Oh my god! They just said another plane is heading here!” Sherren screamed. “Oh my god!”

“They think… they’re afraid there’s more targets.” Mari blurted out. “We’re a tall building, in the glide path… the building management just called they got a call from Metro Dade and they told them to get out. They’re evacuating a lot of the buildings behind us.”

Too many inputs. “Sherren, why don’t you go ahead and log off, go home, and then either text us or login from there if you can, okay?” Kerry suggested.  “Mark, did you get those texts off?”

“Done, boss.”

“Okay, I’m getting out of this office.” Sherren said. “How do I text? Oh, no, wait, I see here in my phone, it’s the first address, right? At least I can use this for something! I can’t get a line to no one!”

“Kerry, I just heard from one of our techs. A plane plowed into the Pentagon.” Mark said. “He’s texting me like a crazy person. The damn thing came in almost at ground level and smacked into one side, he says it’s on fire there, and walls about to come down.”

“Okay.” Kerry considered. “Houston Ops, are you there?”

“Here, ma’am.”

“Can you take all the monitoring from Miami ops?”

“We’re setting up consoles now.”

“Mari, go ahead and tell everyone to leave the building.” Kerry said. “I honestly don’t think Miami’s a target but who the hell knows and it’s better not to take a chance.”

“You got it.”

“Mark, see if the tech can find Danny.” Kerry said. “Get a text blast out and see if we can get a count of people out there.”

“Working it.”

“This is Sufir in Dubai.” A voice very quietly broke in. “I know there is not much that we can do, but we are all thinking about all of you there and wishing with all our hearts the danger stops quickly.”

“Miami Financial.” Duks voice broke in. “Houston, please stand by we’re syncing the accounting systems.”

“Standing by.” The Houston Ops tech said.

Kerry looked up at the television, aware that her sister and brother were half listening to it, and half to her as pictures continued to roll along the screen, more smoke, more screaming people, more destruction.

Where would it end?

What if it didn’t?



Dar glanced up from her screen to find a sever there, standing with a tray of steaming cups.  “Thank you.” She accepted one, and set it down, nodding as the server placed a small dish with four sugar cubes next to it, and a container of cream. 

Alastair was still sitting next to her, one hand cupped over his ear, the other pressed against his cell phone.  The television was on and Hans, John, and Francois were seated at the nearby desks watching the screen with expressions of bewildered disbelief.

“All right, thanks.” Alastair closed his phone and turned back to Dar. “So where are we?” He picked up a set of ear buds connected to the second jack on Dar’s laptop and inserted one in his ear. “Kerry’s doing a hell of a job.”

Dar nodded.

“Never seen her work before. Very impressive.”

Dar nodded again.


She looked up at him. “Sorry.” She murmured. “Aside from all our people, I’m worried about my friend Gerry Easton.”

Alastair’s face tensed. “Ah. That’s right. He works at the Pentagon, doesn’t he?”  He studied the screen. “What a god damned mess.”

Dar reached over to drop three of the cubes into her coffee cup, stirring the liquid with the provided spoon before she added cream to it. “So many damn people unaccounted for.”

Alastair sighed. “What do we have down in that area?”

“Mostly commercial.” Dar said. “Closest net node is near Penn Station.”  She leaned closer to the screen, listening as voices now echoed again.

“Hello? Hello? This is Sherren again.”

Kerry’s voice answered. “Sherren? Did you get out of the office? Where are you?”

“I did.. but you can’t get anywhere.” Sherren said. “I’m near Central Park though, at a Starbucks.”

“Miami ops.” Mark’s voice sounded. “Kerry, I’ve gotten the blasts out to DC and NY.” He said. “I’m only getting about fifty percent positives.”

Everyone went quiet, and Alastair briefly closed his eyes.

“Well.” Kerry said. “You know the cell systems’ pretty overloaded, Mark. Let’s wait and see what happens before we assume anything.”

“Oh!” Sherren suddenly said. “Hey, it’s Larry. Larry! Over here! I’m online!”

Dar studied the traffic patterns on the network screen behind all the chatter. She could see the bare bones chat window filled with lines of talk, the employees online who were not participating in the conference bridge sharing with each other in this remarkable time.

“Network looks pretty stable.” Alastair commented. “But that shouldn’t surprise anyone.”

Dar glanced at the keyboard, then turned her head and looked at him, one eyebrow lifted.

“Well, I have seen you work before.” Her boss said. “So what’s our plan here? Can we send help out to Virginia and New York? I know it’s early yet..”


Both of them jerked upright as though they’d been shot, and turned back to the screen.

“Good lord!” John blurted. “Look!”

“It’s falling!  Oh my god! Oh my god!” Sherren was yelling at the top of her lungs. “Oh my god! The whole tower! It’s falling down!”

Dar’s heart rate shot up as she found herself unsure of where to look first. The television screen showed a scene of unreal destruction, hundreds of stories of the World Trade Center collapsing in on itself as though taken down by an expert demolition team.

People were running.

People were screaming.

The air was full of thick, choking gray dust filled with debris that flowed and rushed over everything, leaving a landscape behind that must have been what Pompeii had been like just before the end.

Lunar. Horrifying

She stood up behind the desk, staring at the screen, unable to imagine actually being there and realizing she had been, the cross streets now covered in debris places she’d walked on her last visit.  “Damn.”

“Son of a bitch.” Alastair added, standing at her shoulder.

Hans covered his eyes, and then shook his head, opening his fingers to look at the screen again. “Mein Gott.” He said. “Die ganzen Leute hinein.”

Dar remembered, then, suddenly, the moment after the explosion in the hospital when she’d been on the floor, lying in something like that same gray dust, in a completely different world. 

Slowly she sat down and rested her elbows on her knees, and after a moment, Alastair perched on the edge of the desk, gazing quietly down at his shoes.

“Miami ops.” Mark said. “Kerry, we’re almost evacuated here.”

“Miami ops, this is Houston ops.” The Houston group broke in. “We are showing large scale outages now in lower New York.”

“Miami exec, this is Herndon.” Another voice. “We’ve had a request to activate the emergency circuits for Cheyenne, and add seventy two more channels to the tie lines.”

It took a second, and then Kerry answered. “Ah.” She said. “Sorry. Herndon, go ahead. Take standby circuits 2105 through 2110 and shut down the failover.”

“Miami HR.” Mari’s voice. “Sorry to break in, but we’re out of the building except for a few people.”

“Miami exec, Miami ops.” Mark’s voice. “I’m staying.”

Sir Melthon entered, his eyes wide. “Did you see that?” He pointed at the screen. “Never in my life have I seen the like of it..” He turned. “Got your things from the hotel, and they’re settled here. Anything else we can do?”

Alastair sat back down in the chair and rested his elbow on the arm of it, propping his head up on his fingertips. “Got any good Scotch?’

Melthon snorted with wry understanding. “Of course we do. What do you think this is, America?” He snapped his fingers at one of the servers.  “Bring me a bottle of the Talisker and a couple of dirty glasses.”

“Sir.” The man inclined his head, and scooted off.

Dar turned back to the screen, and settled the bud more firmly in her ear as she heard her partner’s voice, sounding more than a little stressed.

“Miami ops, Miami exec. Mark, please shut down the center and leave.” Kerry said. “The last person we need something to happen to is you. Work from home.”

“Miami exec, you’re not here, and you can’t make me leave.” Mark said, in a firm voice.

Dar keyed her mic for the first time. “I can.” She said. “Get your ass out of there before I have my father drive over and smack you over the head and drag you out.”

Totally against protocol. However, Dar figured the two people involved would know who was speaking without her announcing who and where she was and given that the apocalypse was showing on television at the moment who really cared anyway?

There was a moment of somewhat shocked silence.  Then Kerry sighed audibly. “Boy, is it ever good to hear your voice.” She said, in an achingly sincere tone.

Alastair chuckled softly under his breath as Dar’s face tensed into a mildly embarrassed half grin.

“Uh.. okay, boss, I’m leaving.” Mark responded meekly. “I don’t want your pop thumping me.”  He said. “Or you thumping me.”

Dar cleared her throat. “Good job, Kerry.’ She said, mindful of the global audience. “Everyone please just stay as calm as you can, and follow the plans we’ve laid out as best you can.  This is horrific.” She paused and exhaled. “This is unprecedented, and there are a lot people out there both in the company and our clients that are going to need our help.”

“Miami exec, this is Herndon.” The voice almost sounded apologetic. “Excuse me, Ms. Roberts, but I have one of the folks at the Pentagon on a land line and he said part of that building just collapsed. They’re going to need infrastructure support there.”

What next? Dar rubbed her temples.

“Let’s get some mobile units assembled.” Kerry said. “Lansing, are you on?”

“Lansing here.” A voice answered. “We have four vans.”

“Lansing, this is Houston ops.” The Houston office stepped up. “We have portable sat units here. Miami exec, can we roll them east?”

“Going to need those in New York too, I’m afraid.” Alastair murmured.

“Miami exec? This is Halifax.”  A crisp male voice broke in. “We have heard all the inbound international flights are going to end up diverting to Canadian airports and they’re worried about the phone and data backhaul.”

“Houston go ahead and roll the units towards Virginia right now.” Kerry said. “Halifax – Dar, do we have any spare capacity in that area to shift?”

Kerry could, Dar knew, have looked it up in the painfully detailed dynamic utilization chart she designed but she knew that Kerry knew that she would know off the top of her head and in fact she did. “Well.” Dar said. “I’ve got spare capacity right now in the Niagara node. I’m getting pretty much nothing from New York.”

A small silence.

“We can land the net traffic, the phone backhaul’s going to depend on how much damage the interchanges took.” Dar went on. “There’s a three carrier interchange that holds most of the big international circuits that sits right under 2 World Trade.”

Another silence. Then Mark cleared his throat. “I guess that’s why we’re seeing red across the board up there.”

Alastair clicked his mic on. “Ah, Houston?” He said. “Let’s get the community support teams rounded up and headed out.  Not sure they’ll let anyone near Manhattan but we can get to DC.” He paused, and then added. “This is Alastair. I realize I’m probably not as instantly recognizable as some other people.”

“Houston ops, we copy sir.”

A loud crackle, and everyone jumped. “Hello? Anyone there?” A breathless voice came through. “Oh Hell. This is Danny at the Pentagon. What a mess. We need some help. I just managed to get my cell connected but they took out one whole side of the building and they’re evacuating.”

“Danny, do they need a trunk for backup?” Kerry asked. “I’m glad you’re all right.”

“Well.” The tech sighed. “I’ve got a broken arm or something. We got lucky though the side they plowed into was the side they just finished the reno on and we were just pulling cable. Not many people were there.”

Dar closed her eyes and rubbed the back of her neck, feeling a little relieved.

“But they say there’s more planes out there so everyone’s scrambling.” Danny concluded. “I don’t know if they’re thinking about backup. I’ll find out and let you know.”

“Just text us, Danny.” Dar broke in. “You’ll probably lose cell.”

A crackle, and there was no answer.

“Miami, this is New York.” A new voice spoke up. “It seems we’ve moved the office to the Central Park Starbucks, but there’s ten of us here now. We can’t get cell to pick up, even for SMS. Can we get someone to log is in okay?”

“New York, this is Miami HR – go head.” Mariana answered. “Glad to hear from you.”

Alastair clicked off his mic. “What the hell’s going to happen next? This is nuts!”

Dar merely nodded, and then shook her head.


Kerry sucked slowly at a cup of tea, her throat already a touch sore from talking.  There seem to be a slight lull for the moment, or else everyone was just a little shell-shocked and holding their breaths that nothing else bad happened.

She was resisting the urge to ask Dar to explain something esoteric, like node density, just to hear her voice.


Kerry looked up over the edge of her laptop screen at her sister. “Hey.”

Angie took a seat in one of the leather chairs on the other side of the desk and leaned forward. “What are you doing?” 

“My job.” Kerry said. “We’re on a… I guess you could call it a big conference call, sort of.” She explained. “But it’s on the computer. We can all talk, and text messages to each other and we try to make sure everyone knows what’s going on.”

Angie got up and came around the desk. “Is it okay for me to watch?” She asked. “I can’t look at that television any more.”

“Where’s’ Mike?” Kerry eased over. “You can watch, sure.”

“Getting some food. I think he’s getting some for us too.” Angie settled down next to her sister and peered at the screen. “Wow. That’s a lot of stuff.”

“It’s what we call our Global Desktop.” Kerry found herself glad to be just talking about something that wasn’t a catastrophe.  “That’s a chat room in the back, those are people all around just talking to each other over the computer.”

“Uh huh.”

“These folders are all the offices we have, and those dots are the people in them.” Kerry indicated the other side of the screen. “These three over here are for our New York and Washington staff, and the people at the Pentagon.”

Angie peered at her. “People at the Pentagon?” She asked, in a puzzled tone. “Why do you have people there? Is your company part of the military?”

Kerry heard people starting to talk again on the conference bridge. She keyed the external speakers so Angie could hear also.  “The Pentagon is really just a humongous office building.” She said. “We do their IT. Just like we do the IT for lots of other companies. We have about two hundred people there.”


“Yeah.” Kerry rested her head on her hand. “We can only find about half of them.”


“Miami exec, Houston ops.” A new voice came on. “This is Harold, I’m taking over for this shift.”

“Go ahead, Houston. This is Miami exec.” Kerry answered. She leaned back and tried to ease the stiffness in her back.

“Ma’am, the satellite trucks are ready to roll.” Harold said. “We dug up enough gear for six.”

“Good work.” Kerry said. “Get them on the road, and please send at least three people in each one so they can spell each other driving and get rest.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Harold said. “We’ve got a lot of volunteers. Everyone wants to help.”

“Miami exec? This is Danny in Virginia.”

“Go on Danny. How’s your arm?” Kerry responded.

“Um.. it’s okay.” The tech said. “We just heard here that another plane is heading towards us.”  He added. “Two of the guys who were off got through all the barricades and we’re going to get away from here for a little while. I think I could use a coke.”

“This is New York!” Sherren broke in. “We just heard a bomb went off at the White House!”

“Maybe that’s where the plane hit!”

Kerry drew in a breath, and then released it. She turned her mic off. “I just had the most Un-Christian thought of my entire life.” Then she clicked the mic back on. “This is Miami exec, let’s try to take in what facts we can, and not react to what we’re hearing on television or rumors until there’s some substantiation, please. “

“Miami ops here.” Mark said. “From home.” He added hastily. “I’m going to start cataloging the down circuits.”

“Miami ops, this is the air hub.” An unhappy voice interrupted. “Another plane just went down, but they’re not sure where. “

“Pentagon here.” Danny said. “At least it wasn’t us again.”

“New York here. Us either.”  Sherren sounded profoundly relieved. “I have a great view of the Empire State Building from here and that’s where everyone said it was headed.”

Kerry exhaled. “This is Miami Exec – everyone check and advise if there is any indication of an attack in your areas.” She said. “Air hub, do they think there’s more?”

“Air hub, Miami exec – they have no idea.” The voice answered. “There’s a lot of people in tears around here.  They just evacuated LAX.”


“Miami Exec, Air Hub, this is LA Earth Station.” A voice answered immediately. “Local news is saying they’re not evacuating LAX, but they are evacuating a lot of buildings in downtown and the studios.”

“LA Earth, this is Seattle Netops.” A new voice said. “We heard they were going to close down LAX and SFO also, they think that’s where the planes that hit the towers were going.”

“Seattle, this is Herndon control – that’s confirmed.” A woman responded. “American Flight 11, America flight 77, United flight 175.  Those are confirmed so far as the planes that hit.”

“LA Earth station, Miami exec.” Kerry broke in.  “Do you have transponder space for 24 channels? I have Newark Earth station on text, they’re getting overloaded.”

“Miami exec, we’ll check. Hold on one please.”

“Wow.” Angie whispered. “This is unbelievable.”

“What is?” Distracted, Kerry whispered back.

“You know more than CNN does!” Her sister said. “I’ve heard more about what’s going on in the last five minutes than I’ve heard all day on the television.”

“Well, I wish I didn’t.” Kerry replied, turning her mic off. “The only reason we know as much as we do is because we’re in the middle of it. We have a lot of government contracts, I know you remember our father complaining about that.”

Angie blinked. “Oh.” She said. “Wow. Was that what he meant?”

“Miami exec, this is LA Earth, we’re good to take 24 channels.” The LA satellite center responded. “Tell Newark to switch to our coordinates.”

Kerry turned her mic on. “La Earth Station, thanks.”  She typed into the text box open on her desktop. 

“Miami exec, Miami HR.” Mariana said. “Miami office confirmed closed, the management company has locked the doors and verified that the generator is tested and ready to go.”

“Thank you, Miami HR.” Kerry said.  “Houston ops, Miami exec. Do you see everything stable at the moment?”

“Miami exec, Houston ops. Stand by we’re verifying.”

“Macro level looks stable.” Dar’s voice broke in, deep and rich and reassuring all out of proportion to what she was saying. “The autonomic programming expanded bandwidth across the northeast and it’s doing a decent job of handling the backhaul but I can see retransmits at a very high rate from the cell services.”

Kerry smiled. “Thanks boss.”

“You’re welcome, Kerrison.”

Kerry felt like melting, just a little, at the warm affection so evident in Dar’s voice.  She knew the rest of the company could probably hear it too but heck, if they didn’t know by now about them the hell with it.  She caught a small box blinking at the corner of her screen, and she clicked on it.

I am so damned proud of you.

“Aw.” Angie said. “She’s so sweet, Ker.”

“I’m sure she wouldn’t agree with you.” Kerry typed in a response. Boy do I wish you didn’t have to be right now. But thanks, honey. I’m doing the best I can.

“Oh!” Sherren’s voice cut in. “Oh! Oh, there it goes! Oh! Oh my god! The North tower’s falling! Oh! Oh no!”

Kerry and Angie looked up at the television, and stared as the screen showed a shaking picture of the second big tower collapsing into itself, the stories just dropping down and down and down as smoke and dust went up and up and up, outlined by people running towards the camera as fast as they could being chased by a roiling, thundering cloud.

“Miami Exec, this is the Air Hub.” The Air Hub called out. “We’ve got a confirmation that the fourth plane is down, but it’s in Pennsylvania.” 

“This is Danny at the Pentagon. We’re still here. Now we heard a bomb went off at the state department and some helicopters just took off fast from the yard here.” Danny said. “I can hear fighter planes going overhead.”

“Miami, this is Seattle Netops.” Another voice. “Vancouver hub’s asking for more bandwidth. They’re taking the Pacific overseas flights.”

“Miami exec, Miami ops, Newark Earth Station just went down.” Mark said. “We just lost the international telecom links in the Northeast. Only the Miami ones are up.”

“Confirmed.” Dar’s voice said. “Everything from New York is down. I’m shifting the overseas banking through Miami.”

“This is Herndon, Miami exec.  We just got word another plane is inbound to Washington.”

“Herndon, this is the Air Hub – we heard the same thing.’

Kerry looked up again as Mike entered, carrying a big tray.  “How much more of this can we take?” She asked. “Jesus.”

He walked over and set it down, looking over his own shoulder at the television showing the collapse of the North Tower over and over and over again. “This just sucks.”

“This is New York.” Sherren said. “People are screaming all over Central Park.” She reported. “Just screaming. Screaming. Crying.”

“Miami exec, this is Mid Atlantic Operations.” A new, female voice interrupted. “We’ve gotten word they’re evacuating all of Washington DC.”

“New York too!” Sherren said. “They’ve got the bridges and tunnels closed south. Everyone’s trying to get out north. You can’t move. You can’t move. Everyone’s crying. Oh my god.”

Kerry took in a deep breath, and then released it. “Seattle, give Vancouver what they need.” She said, quietly. “Mid Atlantic, are you in a position to shift control to Lansing? Lansing, can you take that?”

“Miami exec, this is Lansing, we’re working it.” The local to her center said. “We’ve got a lot on our plates.”

“Miami exec, this is Charlotte, we can take it.” The southern center replied. “Mid Atlantic, give us five minutes and we’ll be set up.” 

A soft knock made Kerry and Angie look up at the door to find their mother there, peering back at them.

“Children.”  Cynthia Stuart said. “I don’t want you to be alarmed, but some very serious things have happened.  Everything is under control, and I don’t want you to worry, but you should plan to stay here for a few days while everything gets sorted out.”

Angie looked at her mother, then at Kerry, then at the screen in front of them.  She looked back at her mother, and then she looked at Kerry.

Kerry merely shook her head, and went back to the screen. “”Thank you, Charlotte. Herndon – have you heard any more about that last plane? Is it confirmed in Pennsylvania? Miami ops is seeing a trunk down in the west there but we don’t want to assume.”

Cynthia took a step into the room. “Whom is she talking to?” She asked Angie.

“The rest of the planet.” Angie said. “Do you think you could ask the kitchen to make some fresh coffee? I think Kerry’s going to need it.”

“I beg your pardon?”


Continued in Part 6