The Day Before 9/11
A story exploring time travel and societal issues. This is chapter 1.
Out of nowhere, a middle aged man with luggage appeared on the sidewalk in front of a large worn duplex. One moment there was an empty space on a quiet night, the next moment there was a pop and a whoosh and the man was standing there, looking around slowly. Thomas Barabos was his name. He had arrived to the spot by extraordinary means, and was pleased to find no one nearby to witness his sudden materialization.
Proceeding to the second floor apartment, pulling a heavy suitcase up the stairs, Thomas saw the lights on and knocked on the door. This was it, he thought. Shrugging, he took a deep breath. A stylish young woman opened the door. "Yeah?" she said.
"Sorry to bother you, August," said Thomas. "I've come to talk with Thomas."
August studied him, then looked more closely. "You're related," she said.
"Yes, I'll explain everything," said Thomas. "I've brought you gifts and groceries."
"Thomas!" called August over her shoulder.
The younger Thomas soon appeared. Confronted with a much older version of himself, he grinned. "What's this?" he asked. "Who are you?"
"I'd like a chance to explain," said the elder Thomas.
"You're not staying here," said August, seeing the luggage.
"I do realize this is last minute," said old Thomas. "But we're family and it's important that we speak tonight. I have things to share, and to show you. Underneath it all I have a family business proposal for Thomas. My name is Thomas, as well. How should we deal with that?"
"You're Old Thomas," said August. "You're just Thomas."
"A family business proposal?" said Thomas.
"That's right," said Old Thomas. "I need someone I can trust like family. Someone bright, and too young to be set in their ways. I think that person might be you."
"Well you do look almost exactly like my uncle Donny," said Thomas. "But we've got other plans tonight."
"Getting stoned and drinking too much, I know," said Old Thomas, smiling. "Cancel your plans and I'll supply the weed here, while we talk. I'll even give you five hundred dollars for your trouble."
Thomas looked at August. "Fine!" she said. "But no weird stuff or we'll kick you out, hard."
They went inside and Old Thomas set his bags in the living room. Looking around the apartment, he was briefly overcome with nostalgia. The room was just a futon couch and a small television. Proceeding to the dining room, Old Thomas sat down and began removing items from his backpack while Thomas and August talked privately in hushed tones nearby. "I have a picture to show you," he said when they moved to join him. "On my mobile device."
"It's you and uncle Donny," said Thomas, inspecting the picture on the phone. "He looks older, though."
"That's a crazy camera," said August, studying the phone.
"State of the art," said Old Thomas.
"So you're what, a second cousin or something?" asked Thomas.
"Long lost," said Old Thomas, handing his younger self a jar of quality herb. "All of my other family is in a different country, and Donny couldn't help me, so I found you."
Thomas passed a pipe around and they explored Old Thomas' phone and a laptop he set up. Thomas suggested that they get some beer and Old Thomas objected. "One of my only rules if you want to be involved with me is no drinking," he said. "And trust me, with our family history, it's better just to avoid it."
The thought of five hundred dollars convinced Thomas to acquiesce.
"By the way, I brought you a coffee maker if anyone wants coffee," said Old Thomas. "And there's a bag of groceries in my big suitcase as well."
"You didn't have to do that," said August. "God, you two really do look alike. I mean, really, down to the pattern of blemishes on your skin. How is that even possible?"
"Are you sure you're ready for the answer to that question?" asked Old Thomas.
"Wait a minute," said Thomas, catching on. "What is this?"
"Promise you won't freak out?" asked Old Thomas.
"That depends," said Thomas.
"Alright, I'm you, from the future," said Old Thomas. "I came back in time from the mid 2020s to try and give you better choices than I had, and to maybe give this world a better future. But I can't do it alone. I need your help. I just arrived in your era and I don't even have a valid ID."
"No fucking way," said Thomas, contemplating the revelation. "No way! Are you telling me I just smoked weed from the future?"
"Indeed you have," said Old Thomas. "And I have things to tell you about everything. But there is one matter of concern immediately. There will be a terrorist attack tomorrow, on 9/11, and it's going to change everything."
"You're from the future and you want us to help you stop a terrorist attack," said August, trying to process the moment. "That's it. I'm not calling you Old Thomas. I'm calling you T2."
"For sure!" said Thomas. "You're totally T2."
"Fine, but it's too late to stop the attack," said T2. "Tomorrow morning, when you wake up to news of commercial airplanes hitting the World Trade Center and Pentagon in New York and Washington, you'll have confirmed the quality of my information."
"If the attack is so bad, why not go back further, in time to stop it?" asked Thomas.
"The logistics of that were untenable," said T2. "Events of such magnitude are products of massive social momentum. And my resources have always been limited."
"So what happens?" asked Thomas.
"Hijackers, mostly Saudis, with support from elements within Saudi Arabia's government, crash three planes and kill three thousand people," said T2. "The official story is full of holes, like a supposed hijacker who later turned up alive and well and evidence that some of the hijackers actually trained at US military bases . Society takes a dark turn after that. I've prepared a series of briefing documents for you about it. Would you like me to pull up the overview? It's on this laptop, here. Oh, there's something else."
"He moves just like you," said August to Thomas while T2 fished something out of a bag. It was an old, slightly yellowed copy of the New York Times , dated September 12, 2001. Handing this to August, T2 proceeded to pull a small espresso machine and a bag of food from his large suitcase. Bringing these to the kitchen, he set about making coffee while leaving the couple to pour over his newspaper from the future. "Do feel free to begin exploring the files on that laptop," he called from the kitchen. "That machine is a gift for you, so you may as well start learning how to use it."
"No way!" said Thomas a few minutes later. "Am I reading this right? 500 gigs of storage?"
"That's actually not very much," said T2, carrying three small coffees back to the dining room. "Wait until you see my terrabyte drives."
"Umm, I gave up coffee," said Thomas. "I'm just doing yerba mate right now."
"Because of the headaches, right?" said T2. "Well, I can assure you that coffee is better for those than that tea you've been drinking. But we'll talk about the headaches soon. It's not just migraines that you're dealing with. The truth is a harder thing than that. I'm here to help, but it'll still be hard."
"What do you mean?" asked August, worried.
"I have health problems that caused me no end of trouble over the years," said T2. "I didn't even really get a handle on it until I was in my thirties. Part of why I went to all the trouble of coming back here was to spare Thomas here some of the difficulties I experienced."
"I want to know what happens after the terror attack tomorrow," said Thomas. "Assuming it happens like you say it will."
"Honestly, everything goes to shit, but slowly," said T2. "The CIA sets up an international network of torture prisons with help from the American Psychological Association. There are wars, financial crises, and disaster profiteers. Half of the world's insects are killed by new pesticides. Eventually, a virus called covid-19 starts spreading. There's a global pandemic that kills one million Americans. There's civil unrest. Martial law in some places. And it just keeps getting worse from there."
"So that's the big thing you came to stop?" said Thomas.
"I'm not sure the virus can be stopped," said T2. "But society's response to the virus was abysmal. It screwed everything up beyond repair. People started seriously losing it on a massive scale. A hundred thousand people a year were dying from drug overdoses alone in the US. The global economy had a seizure. It's this horrid response to the pandemic that I'd like to try and improve."