All around the world, people live with the specter of terrorism everyday. It was just a part of life, something to be aware of, dealt with and moved past. Recent years had seen a lull in IRA activities, no such piece was to be found between Israel and Palestine, or for many other places in the Middle East or South/Central America.
In the United States, most citizens still seemed to hold onto a certain innocence in regards to such things. Of course, the Unabomber, the Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center bombings and finally the catastrophic 9/11 attacks did open many eyes to the possibility of a strike occurring on US soil again. But somehow, when such an attack did happen still seemed… impossible.
No one thought it would happen to them.
And why should they? Was with the police, military and countless government alphabet agencies were for. The men and women in those professions were the ones tasked with protecting the citizenry en mass.
Unfortunately, it was not so easily done, especially when those agencies often found themselves to be targets.
At 10:49 unclear Monday morning, it was a day like any other. Special Agent Peter Burke was crossing the white-collar bullpen, calling out, “Jones, have you seen Diana or Neal?”
Looking up from his desk, Clinton Jones shook his head. “I think they were heading to the old….”
He was cut off as the building shook, lights flicker off as a roar seemed to come from everywhere. People standing were knocked to the ground, some even dumped from their chairs. Shouts rang out, mingling with the ominous rumble and the oddly loud cracking of glass.
As the emergency lights flared to life, Peter picked himself up, certain he would have a bruise where his hip had hit a desk. Most of the agents around him were behaving in a manner befitting their training, wide-eyed, a little scared, but calm.
Emerging from his office, ignoring the blood flowing freely from his brow, Reese Hughes ordered, “Okay people, evacuate in a timely, orderly manner. This is what all those drills were for.”
Everyone makes the stairwells, knowing the elevators wouldn’t be in service. Peter fell in step aside his superior, asking, “Any word on what happened?”
Reese looked grim. “An explosion of some sort. Big.”
That wasn’t good. The stairwell smells of smoke and burnt steal, but the acrid cloud wasn’t dangerously thick yet. At this hour, on a weekday, 26 Federal Plaza was densely populated with agents, local LEO’s and civilian employees, maybe even a tour group or two.
There was no way the casualty count was going to be a low one.
Neal’s mind swam back to awareness and he immediately wished he were still unconscious. It felt like someone was stabbing him in the temple with an ice pick, then following up that love tap with a cast-iron skillet to the back of the skull.
Reflexively, he rolled on his side as his stomach emptied itself. As he gagged, he mused darkly, that at least the vomit clean the feel chalk out of his mouth.
Why do you chalk dust in his mouth? Cracking open an eye, his first thought was that he’d gone blind. Then, as his eyes adjusted, he realized he was merely someplace very, very dark. He could hear the sound of someone moving around, someone sniffling, a distant rumble….
What the hell had been?
The last thing he remembered was smiling at the girl who signed him into the archives. She was young, wore cute little glasses and had pinked up adorably at the attention, causing Diana to grin and give him a teasing poke. He knew she wouldn’t say anything until they were out of the girl’s earshot.
“Diana?” he croaked out, struggling to sit up and biting back a groan pain and the sensation of vertigo.
Diana’s voice sounded strained, but she was close by, feet slipping on gravel… why was there gravel inside? “What happened?” he asked, hissing when on her hands landed on his hair.
He felt her crouch beside him, closer than she would have under normal circumstances, but the lack of light made physical contact more important. “Some sort of an explosion,” she told him grimly. “You’ve been out for several minutes.”
Being knocked unconscious was never a good thing.
“Are we… we were in the archives, right?” he fought to reorganize his thoughts, to make sense of the jumbled memories and impressions.
“Still are,” she said, still sounding very clipped. “Some balls and girders came down. Haven’t found a way out yet.”
Things were getting better and better.
From short distance away, a thin beam of light lanced out, the source hidden by a large slab of concrete. Neal searched his mind and dredged up a name. “Emma… you all right over there?”
“Yes.” The reply was a little shaky, but the sniffles had dried up. “You two okay?”
“Never been better,” he replied lightly, touching Diana’s knee in the dark. “You, Diana?”
Again, too terse a reply and something clicked, prompting him to ask, “Claustrophobic?”
He felt her tense. “A bit.”
Well, that explained that.
From the other side of the concrete, Emma said, “The elevator shaft and stairwell are both over past you guys.” There was a small grunt and a hand holding the flashlight appeared just below the ceiling. Soon, the rest of the archivist crawled over and landed with a thump.
The damage was even more unsettling when it could be seen. It appeared that the ceiling was being held up by a mix of support beams and luckily fallen hunks of building materials. The air was full of dust and the floor littered with debris.
Diana was coated with a fine layer of gray dust, a few scrapes and abrasions here and there, her previously neat suit torn and ruined.
Ugh, Neal didn’t even want to think about the damage his own suit had taken.
Emma played the light around a small area and it was eerie, like something out of a disaster movie. No door was immediately visible and Neal let out a sigh. Things could never just be easy, could they?
Another rumble shook the room and chunks of concrete and other building materials fell from what was left of the ceiling. Diana let out an unhappy noise while Emma cried out softly, tucking the light safely against her stomach and pressing close to the pair of them.
Not good, Neal thought, hoping the tenuous braces would continue to hold up the rubble above them.
At least until they could get out… or Peter and the others came to get them.