Illustration by Broek Steadman
How differently would people act if they could experience their actions as others do?
The story I want to tell you now is the oldest story in the book. Its the defining story of humanity, and it goes like this: A new tool comes along. Men see it in the world or in their minds. They strive to reach it, attain it, hold it aloft for a moments wonder. Then they wield it wisely or wantonly, and in so doing they transform a societya tribe, village, city, corporation, nation-state, or global institution, spreading the effects on up the evolutionary ladder of civilization.
Its a familiar story, yes. But to date, no tool has transformed human society as drastically as deep-projection technology. Not the first spark flinted for a fire, not the first ink put to page, not the first night lit by electricity, not the first atom split inside a bomb. None of those shocks were as transformative as Transdimensional Extended Projection technology, a.k.a. deep-projection.
How can I be sure of this?
Im sure because deep-projection allows the impacts of those famous shocks of the past to be directly re-experiencedby allowing the past to be directly revisited from the present by qualified volunteers, a group that included myself from the very start. Yes, I was there, at the Institute for Advanced Study in New Jersey back in 2030, when the pilot test was performed. I was there, and I witnessed an opening being made for the very first time into unseen dimensions that stitch together the universal fabric of reality. I watched the very first volunteer, a dear friend of mine, project across the unseen frames of reference that surround and suffuse our reality; with my own eyes I saw her enter a dimensional plane that shared its reality with a precisely targeted moment in the past. You may or may not know that she was killed the following year, in riots at the Institute.
Whatever you may think of her, and whatever you may have heard of our early efforts, do not be misinformed about our technology. Deep-projection was not "time travel" as anyone had foreseen it. It was more like stepping into a virtual-reality display of the past, a past that we cannot affect in any way. . . . At least, we believed that at the start. And for the most part its perfectly true: we cannot affect the past in any way that can change whats already happened.
Its also perfectly true that some of my fellow volunteers made the mistake of targeting moments in history that proved explosive to cultures founded upon those misunderstood moments. Still more explosive were news stories about the projection volunteers who returned from the past suffering strange side effects, consumed by poisonous thoughts and emotions long put to rest, feelings they rereleased into our present-day world.
Those news stories were true too, though I myself never experienced anything so negative during projection. In fact, my own experience was so much the opposite I felt compelled to join whats being called New Spiritualism, a movement among deep-projection users that focuses on "weak interactions" with the past. Before long, I was an outspoken leader of this movement.
And that is why I was called on to testify at international hearings on the global crisis that deep-projection technology had triggered, hearings convened at the Hague in the fall of 2033. By that time, a worldwide ban on the use of the technology had been decreed, and most deep-projection centers were already shut down. Many had been ransacked by mobs, and in some countries, projection facilities had been burned to the ground, the staff and volunteers that made it out of the fires alive arrested or worse. . . . I was one of the lucky ones. Lucky enough to avoid being lynched, and lucky enough to be asked to present the first case-study on our technology at the international hearings.
Even the World Court was curious to hear about my one-of-a-kind case studyrumors had been circulating for months about an unusual group of Americans whod approached me, seeking assistance for the innovative application of deep-projection theyd come up with. The court saw my story as a potential antidote to all the media horror stories concerning what scientists had seen or experienced in the remote past.
When I walked to the podium in that great court, I began by stating emphatically that deep-projection was not a dangerous technology in and of itself. It was not, after all, a weapon. It was merely a kind of transportation device. So whether it was used for good or for ill depended on us.
Then I shared with the members of the World Court what Im about to share with you: the case of a voluntary projection made by an inmate of Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania.
What follows is adapted from the inmates deposition. . . .
Raed was in his thirtieth year of incarceration at Lewisburg when they made him the offer to participate.
It happened on the day of his annual psych review, and the instant he entered the review room Raed knew something big was up. The faces on the penitentiarys psych panel changed slowly over the decades. A few more wrinkles, an occasional fresh new face to replace a retiree; but few new emotions. Yet three new faces were visible on the panel. And Lews balding senior psychologist looked guarded, even confused.
Plus there were a couple of lawyers present in the room, which was very odd indeed. Raed hadnt even seen a lawyer since 2014. . . .
"Please sit down."
A guard ushered Raed to the lone chair facing the table of psychologists. He lowered himself onto the chair, feeling small, even though he was taller than anyone on the five-man panel; he could see right over their heads to the mirrored observation-pane in the wall behind them. Raed was careful not to look directly into the mirrored pane, not because he was afraid of being watchedafter thirty years at Lew, hed feel out of sorts if he wasnt watchedbut because he didnt want to see how much hed aged in Lew. There were no mirrors back in his cell, of course.
"Something different on the agenda today, Raed," Lews senior psychologist said, managing to sound both weary and impatient. "Id like to start by informing you of an assessment made by our medical staff." The old man held up a slate plugged into the table, read from it: "Raed, you were twenty-four years old when given over to the supervision of this penitentiary. With the supplements we feed you and with the fitness routine youve elected to maintain, the prognosis is youll have another fifty years with us here at Lew."
That simple assessment slammed into Raed. He blinked at the senior psychologist, feeling disoriented, drawn out of the "safe-houses" the man claimed Raed had in his head. Fifty more years!
He hardly heard what the two sharply dressed lawyers were trying to tell him.
". . . which is why were your court-appointed representation. Were here to tell you about a petition made by a group of interested citizens."
What were these men going on about?
"Concerning an experimental rehab program," one of them continued, "that might be looked upon favorably by the Federal Board later, if you agree to undergo it."
Raed suddenly laughed, something he did so rarely it hurt his throat a little. "To what end?" he asked them. "Reducing one of my life-sentences?"
Raed was serving two thousand back-to-back life-terms. Convicted of being an accomplice to "one of the most heinous crimes in recorded history," hed received the longest prison sentence ever handed out by a United States courtpartially because hed been a naturalized American citizen, but mostly because hed been fully aware of the outcome of the crime. So Raed was never going to be released, reintroduced to society.
Extending him an offer of rehab was a ridiculous gesture.
"See this program through, and who can say whats possible?" The lawyer shrugged. "For now, two things are directly on the table. One: an opportunity to see your daughter."
Again Raed blinked at them, feeling his face reddening, stunned into apoplectic silence. When hed entered Lew, hed left a wife and a three-year-old daughter behind. And the last time lawyers had come to see him was back in Raeds thirteenth year here, when hed been served divorce papers from Haifa and papers disowning him as a parent from Basma, his daughter. Basma would have just been old enough to sign those papers, that year. Had she changed her mind, now that she was in her thirties?
"Also," the lawyer went on, "an opportunity to enter the world beyond your prison, in a limited andwell, unusual way." The lawyer said this as though he didnt quite believe it.
Certainly Raed couldnt quite believe it. He hadnt seen the outside since his trial ended. The thought unnerved him, for he had no idea what the world was like anymore. "Who made the offer?" Raed managed to ask.
Now the second lawyer spoke up. "A group of citizens who have a certain relationship with you, but do not wish to be identified."
"Ah." Raed knew just what group the lawyer was referring to. He sighed, "I need to think about it."
After the review was over and the guards took him back to his home in Lew Cell #1, Raed found he couldnt stop thinking about the astonishing offer made to him. Raed knew the group that had petitioned for the offer pretty well: an Arab-American Rights group that checked in on him over the years, to ensure he wasnt abused in the penitentiary simply because of the notoriety of his conviction. In the occasional letter hed received from the group every couple of years, they emphasized Raed must not advertise their low-level connection with him. They threatened to stop making inquiries on his behalf to the Lew administration if he failed to maintain their privacy.
Raed understood the group wasnt actually "making inquiries on his behalf" because they were concerned about him, per se. Their concernespecially during the early yearswas that Raed might take his own life in prison and become a martyr to his old cause.
Raed had no pent-up desire to become a martyr, and he was not considered a serious candidate for suicidealthough, due to his uniquely lengthy sentence, he was permanently assigned to the suicide-watch list at Lew. If ever there was a prisoner who had nothing to looking forward to, it was surely Raed.
But now he could be a research volunteer for a new one-of-a-kind rehab program.
He would get to see his daughter, theyd told him.
He would get to walk the outside world for short stretches.
And for long stretches he would get to leave Cell #1, the largest and most expensive cell in the penitentiary, where Raed resided alone under constant guard and camera surveillance.
After thirty years, the cell was a home to him. Raed had taped up a picture of soaring desert dunes on one wall, a vista of the Moon over the ocean on another. Hed nursed a dozen plants up round the tiny window overlooking the courtyard that Raed could see out of, but no one could see in through. Hed even built up a modest bookshelf, though none of the books dated from this century. And there were no newspapers allowed in here, there was no television. Raeds media exposure was censored from the start of his incarceration "in order to prevent continued political inflammation of the prisoner."
Nevertheless, in the early years Raed protested this political censorship of news by cutting himself off from all news, all knowledge of outside events. Hed withdrawn from modern civilization completely the day he set foot in Cell #1. And why not? Raed had lost everything. So he restricted himself to reading older texts, like the Alif Layla Wa Layla, the Thousand and One Nights. Shaherazade, it turned out, provided a soothing escape for a man sentenced to spend ten thousand and one nights in a single room. At his own insistence, none of the books on Raeds shelf were published after the day of infamy hed been convicted of participating in: the day the Lew staff still referred to as "9/11."
In the early years, Raeds psychologists hadnt been bothered by his self-censorship. But after the first decade, they changed their minds, complaining that he was retreating too far from reality. Thats when the psychologists began to talk about "safe-rooms" in his mind, about a "labyrinth of rooms" he was building to escape not just from imprisonment but from himself. Raed snorted when he first heard this metaphorbut even then hed suspected the description was all too apt.
An internal labyrinth. A long chain of rooms within rooms to hide in at the back of his mind.
For years hed been building them, extending himself into new selves, splinter-selves that left his memories of life on the outside stored in some distant mental "room." In the decades since Raed arrived at Lew, the administration had constructed four new versions of Cell #1 just for him, each room a little more livable, more "humane" than the last. Over the same period, Raed probably constructed forty new rooms inside his head, just to block away the portions of his mind he didnt need anymore. The first to go was his entire twenty-four-year-old "outside-self," long lost now, dropped down some dusty crevice of the labyrinth Raed built to divide and conquer himself. During the ensuing years hed wound his way deeper into the labyrinth, until hed found a room strong enough to withstand eternal confinement and isolation.
After three very long and sleepless nights spent reflecting on his positionsomething Raed hardly ever didhe broke down and asked what was involved in the experimental program. He was told it involved a new technology, but much of the program itself would be left up to him.
A month later, Raed was taken out of Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary for the first time since hed been brought into it. He was taken out just after dusk in an armored van without windows, and driven through the mountains toward a destination unknown.
By the sound of it, the armored van had a police escort, and the escort led the way for about an hour, about as far as Reading, Pennsylvania might be, Raed guessed. Then the van stopped, and he heard the driver talking with security guards. Raed heard something else too, a muffled sound familiar from his trial: the sound of protestors shouting at the van. He was astonished to think the public had found out he was being brought here, had gotten up in the middle of the night to come here themselvesbut Raed wasnt surprised that people still harbored so much hate for him. On the rare occasions he gave interviews, Raed saw the wariness in the journalists eyes, caught them looking at him like a kind of living ghoul out of the pages of history.
The van parked in a loading dock. Raed was unloaded under guard, then brought to an empty conference room, wearing a monitoring restraint-collar that would sedate him instantly if he tried anything. Moments later, the same trio of young psychologists whod sat through his review in Lewisburg entered the room, followed by a pair of middle-aged men introduced to him as "senior researchers." The two researchers began outlining their experimental program, describing the new technology Raed would be required to use. . . .
Raed listened to them, briefly astounded, then disappointed. "Projection" through a "dimensional fold" to a "targeted moment in the past"? Raeds mind began doing backflips trying to guess what was really going on here. Had the legal climate in the United States changed? Had new forces declared Raed should be put through some punishment alternative to confinement?
He told the researchers flat out he did not believe them. Traveling to the past was impossible, he didnt care how many decades had gone by since hed been in the outside world.
So they took him down to the main "projection" floor, brought him into a room dominated by a big spherical cagework. There had to be a hundred different bars to the cage, not all of them completely encircling it. And hanging in the cages center was a body harness. Raed examined it suspiciously, wondering what exactly these men were trying to trick him into. . . . All the cages arcing yellow bars were studded with cones that pointed inward, toward the harness suspended by a dozen blue coil-cables.
"Questions, Raed?" one of the psychologists asked him.
"What are the curtains for?"
The long back wall of the "projection" room was concealedto hide a viewing gallery?
But then one of the guards whod accompanied Raed from Lew drew back the curtains, revealing a long pane of Plexiglas that separated the room with the cage from
A much larger room with a hundred identical cages that were occupied by suspended people.
At least, the suspended occupants appeared to be people. Raed stepped up to the Plexiglas pane, pressed his face against it, uncertain whether he was seeing an image televised across the pane or a real room on the other side of the pane.
The arena-sized room was real.
The hundred-odd yellow cages seemed real.
But all the suspended people looked blurry, far-off, fake, like projected images. Most of the image-people were moving, some running in their cages, a few leaping and rolling in midair.
"Those people arent real," Raed said over his shoulder, unable to turn from the pane. He was mesmerized. . . . Abruptly, one of the closer cages flashed with light, and the false floating image-person inside was instantly transformed into a clear-as-can-be jumpsuit-wearing woman, a real-as-can-be woman who stepped out of the yellow cage, a little shaky on her feet, but otherwise not visibly worse for the experience. She began conferring with a three-man team clustered round display-desks adjacent to her big yellow cage.
"Youre telling me that woman was deep-projecting into the past?" Raed asked, noticing now there was a separate team for each harnessed and hanging "time traveler." If this was all a hoax, it was an elaborate one.
"Volunteers like her call it ghosting," someone behind him said. "Youll see why if you decide to follow our program, and volunteer to try it for yourself."
The "volunteers" in the cages beyond the Plexiglas pane were not other prisoners, according to the researchers. The volunteers were mostly historians and cultural anthropologists, a handful of students, and others who routinely "ghosted back to the past" from this facility round-the-clock. Raeds researcher-guides claimed the yellow projection cages allowed people to experience the physical reality of the past without fully being part of it.
But Raed knew that it was all a trick of some kind. If those volunteers were experiencing any sort of "projection," it was the sort of computer-fabricated reality the outside world used to callwhat was the word? Oh yes: a simulation.
That was the only thing "projection" could be, the only thing Raed could bring himself to believe. . . .
His rehab programmers seemed prepared for Raeds disbelief.
For the rest of the night, they cloistered Raed and his two Lew guards in the otherwise-empty conference room, so that Raed could browse through "holeos"interactive 3-D training videos. The holeos began with a list of weird implications of "classical quantum theory": how subatomic particles appeared out of nowhere and then disappeared, how such particles could exist in many places at once, the development of a mathematics that suggested particles were boring between dimensions.
Apparently Raeds rehab programmers knew hed been exposed to such strange concepts before, while studying for his certificate in electronics.
Of course they knew. Raeds electronics training came out at the trial because his certificate got him a position with the airline, a low-level job that allowed him to scrutinize airport security. . . . Anyway, one of Raeds electronics courses had touched on quantum theorymainly for the students continuing on into cell-phone or computer technology. Raed hadnt understood the half-day "quantum overview" his college course included.
According to the holeos, Raed wasnt the only one who hadnt understood. Most physicists chose to treat the theory simply as a convenient way to calculate and predict the positions of particles, rather than believe the world could really be riddled by multiple dimensions. The holeo invited Raed to imagine Copernicus and Galileo choosing to ignore the overall implication of their new way of calculating and predicting the positions of the planetsand refusing to believe the Sun could really be the center of the solar system.
Raed didnt see why it was important for him to know or imagine any of this. But he didnt want anyone to think he was backing out of the program. He didnt want to be driven back to Lew, not just yet. And he was an expert at biding his time. Patience and playing the game were the essential survival skills of a long-term prisoner.
So Raed patiently sat through a tedious holeo-guided history of quantum-in-the-large, which elevated the theory from the subatomic realm up to far larger scales. He listened patiently to young scientists attacking the notion that "multiple dimensions collapsed into a single dimension" whenever a human observer happened alonghow could a theory of matter seriously include human consciousness in a central role? He patiently examined 3-D renderings of the first machines built to scan "N-space," a theoretical realm that surrounded and suffused the visible Universe with all manner of strange dimensions.
But when the holeos moved on to the topic of "forces experienced during projection into N-space," Raed must have groaned aloud, because his researcher-hosts came in and turned off the holeos. They didnt seem disappointed; perhaps theyd thought hed give up on their theoretical material much sooner.
Next they let Raed watch an old pre-millennium black-and-white movie that was supposed to give him an idea of what it would be like to be "projected" to a city he could do little but wander through.
The setting was Berlin, and the city was revealed through the eyes of two angels wandering among the livingangels who resembled two somber German men in stylish dark greatcoats. The citizens of Berlin couldnt see them, but the two forlorn-looking angels could see and hear people talking in the world around them. They could even hear the thoughts of people, although in those parts of the film the soundtrack reverted to German, so he didnt get to hear what the citizens were thinking. All he could tell from the tone of their untranslated thoughts was whether they were sad or happy, angry or afraid. . . .
After it was over, one researcher sat down with him, described the projection experience as a lot like being a ghost lurking in an otherwise real world. Projection volunteers could see the physical environment of the past perfectly, but could not be seen by people in that past.
"Because," the researcher laboriously explained, "light is so low in mass that it merely has one-way transdimensionality. Volunteers can see light from the past, but past-states can never receive light from farther along Times dimension."
Raed nodded dutifully, wondering what all the researchers here were really up to, and why they would try so hard to make him believe in an impossibility. . . .
An hour before dawn, he was hustled back to the armored van waiting in the loading dock, handed printed materials to review if he wanted to, then whisked out through the unseen but audible protestors and returned to Lew to spend the day resting in his cell. Which was fine by him. Stepping back through the door of Cell #1 felt like waking from a dream. He didnt feel so out of sorts here, so confused and vulnerable.
But he couldnt sleep. The thought that hed just been beyond the penitentiarys walls had opened up a crack inside his thinking. He still didnt know what to make of his night out. So much scientific argument just to convince him of something untrue?
Eventually he gave up on sleep altogether, and began looking over the strange explanations in the support material theyd given him, looking for loopholes, looking for the truth behind their lies. Raed used to be an imaginative man. But imagination was not a good thing to have in prison and he felt very rusty. Long-forgotten thoughts stirred up faded memories of his teenage struggle to master challenging Western conceptsan education paid for by the organization, the money funneled to Raed through his cousins Nazir and Sayf, both of whom died back on 9/11.
The truth about "deep-projection" finally dawned on Raed. Now he saw through the rehab programmers game, and saw how to get what he wanted: a chance to see his daughter Basma, whom Raed hadnt seen since she was three years old.
With that reward firmly in mind, Raed finally fell asleep.
The next night, he was again driven out of the Appalachians to the deep-projection complex. And again he heard protesters out in force as the van went through the complexs gates, although the vans walls muffled whatever was being shouted at him. . . .
Waiting for him in the same conference room as before were the three psychologists and the two so-called senior researchershis "projection parole board," for all intents and purposes. These five men could approve his participation in the program or send him packing for the rest of his life.
He held up the printed materials hed brought back with him. "Is it really necessary for me to know any of this before I can project?" Raed already knew the answer, but was curious to see how theyd try to rationalize it to him.
A compact researcher with close-cropped gray bristles instead of hair took the printouts back from Raed. "You reviewed all this?"
"Well then, lets see where last nights holeo-lessons broke off. . . ." He flipped to the final pages. "Ah, yes: N-space forces and the role mass plays in them. Complex stuffbut crucial to understanding what youll encounter during projection, how you can move around, and so on."
An evasive answer that simply pressed ahead with the logic crafted to convince him. Indeed, that was the ultimate purpose of all this preparatory theory:
To make Raed believe "projection" would show him the real past, so that the psychological benefits of the rehab program could take effect.
The science was all part of the rehab, part of the game these psychologists were playing with him. He recognized their bag of tricks well enough.
But Raed could play the game better than anyone. After all, hed lived in America for seven years and played the game of being one of the ordinary people on his Brooklyn street without anyone suspecting his deep-seated separateness. So he would play along with tonights game, stay on the move inside his head, hop from room to room through the labyrinth until he came out as the winner. . . .
This time, the compact senior researcher with the bristle-hair remained behind when the others left. The man introduced himself as Francis Drummond, a volunteer himself during the earliest test-projections. He seemed committed to helping Raed understand the hard stuff.
"Get through an hour with me, and youll get to project for the rest of the night," Francis promised as he began summoning images onto the conference tables display-surface: the Moon; a mountain; a building; a metal barricade. According to Francis, each of the displayed objects was massive enough to exert force "into many N-space dimensions." But people who projected through N-space into the past could apparently thrust their ghostly hands right through a foam mattressor even through a pane of glass, if they were patient enough.
Raed nodded, knowing all this information was being trotted out to explain away the defects of the simulation hed be projecting into. "Will I be able to walk through walls, like the two German angels in that black-and-white movie?" he asked, getting into the spirit of the game.
"If its the wall of a tent, sure. Theres a kind of tingly give when you step through thin structures. But you cant step through ordinary walls of concrete or steel, no. It all comes back to mass and massive structure. . . ."
Over the course of two hours with Francis, Raed struggled to keep on top of the complex concepts paraded before him. Francis even told him about the big surprise from the earliest test-projections: "We discovered that life-forms of sufficient mass exert some kind of energy into a few dimensions; we call these biomass signatures. Volunteers pick up these signatures when animals of a certain size wander close to them."
How did they simulate that, Raed wondered. "That include people?"
Francis nodded. "Conscious animals exert the strongest signatures. Please dont interpret this as something psychic; individual thoughts are far too fleeting to be sensed. They essentially have no weight. But strong emotions can last a long time in the forebrain, fill the hindbrain, contort the face, change the way we walk, permeate our muscle-tissues. Massive, you might say."
Francis seemed to be trying to reawaken Raeds mind as much as teach him about projection. And that was all right with Raed. Because if he was going to go through their rehab program, and notice all the things theyd want him to notice, and win the reward theyd promised him, hed need to be on the ball. . . .
"Well, that about covers it," Francis finally announced, shutting off the conference table. "Any last questions?"
Raed sensed this was a test he must pass. "You said gravity has two-way transdimensionality?"
"Yes." Francis seemed pleased. "Its a strong-weak interaction. Gravity from the past is exerted strongly onto the N-space fold youll be in, and your own mass exerts itself weakly onto the past"
"Doesnt adding my mass to the past change the past? I thought paradoxes were outlawed by quantum-in-the-large." Raeds rusty brain was beginning to work again. He wanted to show this clever man hed been listening and he would catch flaws in his logic, if Francis wasnt careful.
"Paradoxes are ruled out. Our technology wouldnt work at all if it were possible to project into the future, for instance. And according to quantum-in-the-large, people who project through N-Space to the past already visited that past the first time around, so to speak. So their mass was accounted for, and their presence wont change anything. They can only go back and weakly interact because they were there all along."
"I understand you perfectly."
"Excellent." Francis stood up. "Ill send in a medic wholl take you downstairs, get you hooked up to the cage."
The man strode out of the room.
And Raed waited, feeling out of his element, out of his cell, completely out of sorts. He glanced at the guards watching him from their shadowy corner of the room. He glanced at a bookshelf against the conference room wall, took down a text, looked at the cover: Creating Transient N-space Intersections with Past Time.
A book about a false bunch of theories? The books spine was cracked worse than Raeds copy of Shaherazade, as though it had been thumbed through many times.
The crack deep inside his thinking hadnt gone away; it was still down there, wedged wider by all the information theyd fed him. And now a hint of fear was seeping up through that crack. . . . Because Raed knew what his rehab programmers were up to, he could guess their "precisely targeted-destination," oh yes.
They intended to project him back to 9/11.
A burly male medic arrived, and led Raed and his two guards down to the same curtained chamber off the main projection arena, where the guards removed his restraint-collar. The medic explained that the chambers projection cage was the only one isolated in the facility, set up just for Raed. Then he helped Raed don the harness, which was worn under his clothes, against his body so the trodes could record biofeedback. After strapping it on, Raed got into a magnetic jumpsuit. The medic told him he could put his clothes on over the top of the jumpsuit.
So he did, fingers trembling as he re-buttoned his shirt. . . .
The pair of lawyers whod first appeared at his review back in Lew suddenly reappeared with a slate for him to sign. They informed Raed about the protests being held outside the facility. The protests were not about him, they said; no one outside knew he was in here.
"What are they protesting?"
Apparently the people outside felt projection technology was too dangerous to be used. The lawyers assured Raed no volunteer whod undergone projection had been physically harmed by the process itself; it was emotional damage, that was the real risk. The potent "biomass signatures" people gave off in the past could be quite corrosive.
"Thats the only danger?"
One of the lawyers told him, "Theres a movement called New Spiritualism that contends the transdimensional interaction can be positive. Some New Spiritualists are sponsoring your rehab program, by the way. . . ."
But Raed was hardly listening, seeing more of the truth peeking out from behind their lies. The protestors outside were opposed to the simulations this technology produced. And now Raed had been brought herebecause if they could convince him the simulations were real and use them to help him rehabilitate, wouldnt that be a big coup for a beleaguered technology?
Raed signed the slate held out to him. Then the lawyers asked the medic to strap a special "ripcord" over Raeds clothing, reiterated that he could back out at any time, and as they left the chamber, his personal projection team came in. An Asian senior researcher, a boyish-looking controls operator, and finally a woman psychologista Muslim psychologist, no less, wearing a black cotton burqa that kept her hidden and proper. Didnt they realize Raed was no longer a devout?
As Raed was introduced by his guards, the womans wide-set black eyes looked coldly over the burqa-veil at him. No doubt shed been sent by the Arab-American Rights group whod petitioned to get him into this crazy rehab program.
The team quickly took their positions, the medic helping Raed through the yellow bars into the cage, then pulling down the blue coil-cables and magnetically latching them to anchor spots on the jumpsuit beneath Raeds clothes. The moment the medic stepped out of the cage, the operators powered up the blue cables, which recoiled, hoisting Raed comfortably into midair. He tried to calm his breathing, and listened to the chatter around him.
"Got five hours."
"Time for, say, ten projections?"
"Aim for ten, minimum."
"Curtains open or closed?"
Raed realized this was addressed to him. "Open." He didnt care if anyone looked in; he wanted to look out. So the curtains were drawn aside, and Raed peered at the hundred-odd cages across the main floor, which were again all occupied by volunteers, some in jumpsuits, some in tracksuits, some in regular clothes. Presumably this facility was packed day and night. He heard something below him, and realized the Muslim psychologist had stepped into the cage.
"Your program for tonight involves a number of projections, all of them focused on a primary time-locus"
"I know where youre sending me," he told her. "Back to the day I was convicted of being a party to. As punishment," he added.
The psychologist shook her veiled head. "Its up to you what you get out of the projection experience. If you want the offer made to you upheld, youll have to stick the program out. On the other hand, if you decide you no longer want to continue" She indicated the ripcord round his waist. "Pull this, youll instantly shut down the cage-frame and return to the present."
Raed had been advised by the lawyers that any ripcord shutdowns would be treated as a withdrawal from the program. "Im not afraid," he said to her.
He was curious, though. Raed hadnt thought much about 9/11 in nearly two decades. All by itself the mind sprouted rooms within rooms to tuck away what was destructive. And tucked a hundred rooms away from the Raed of today was the twenty-four-year-old Raed whod aided and abetted his cousins Nazir and Sayf. He no longer had any connection to that Raed, but he was curious to know how history now looked on the events of that day. . . . The medic was now strapping a lightweight breather-mask round Raeds neck. Would it secrete some kind of hallucinatory gas?
"In case we project you to the wrong coordinates," the woman psychologist explained, still standing below him. "Youd pass out in certain environments, but theres little chance of real physical harm. Anyway, you can use the microphone on the breather to call out to us during projection. Well hear you. The people of the past wont hear you, remember. Sound can only travel one way across the dimensional fold, just like light. Now brace yourself," she warned him. "The world of the pasts going to feel both startlingly real and surreal."
With a twirl of black cotton, she quickly slipped out of the cage. And within seconds the inward-angled cones on all the arcing yellow bars began to focus shimmering beams on him, opening a "transient N-space fold" around him. Raed blinked through the bars, met the hard eyes of the young Muslim psychologist, still refusing to believeuntil the woman began to blur, and shift, and slide off to one side, and everything around Raed swirled into a tunnel of light
A light thump, and the tunnel of light focused into a tubular space. Raeds eyes adjusted, recognized an oh-so-familiar interior: he was inside a large, mostly empty 767 passenger jet sitting on a runway.
Raed had dropped down into one of the rearmost seats from midair, as the "gravity" of the simulation took hold of him. It was a simulation, wasnt it? He blinked at his surroundings, seeing every detail of the seat-back ahead of him and the belts and buckles lying on the empty seats beside him, the empty row across the aisle, the magazines and folded-up meal tables all perfectly visible, his surroundings absolutely real no matter which way he looked. Light has a strong multidimensionality, Francis had said, but such negligible mass it can only cross one-way, from the past to the present. . . .
But then Raed noticed he was sinking right through the padded seat-cushion beneath himhe could feel himself bumping down against the hard steel frame inside the seat itself. Flaws in the simulation, just as hed suspected! He let out a sigh of relief, and watched his body rebound slightly, settling into place almost on the surface of the seat cushion visible between his legs. It was a strange sensation, but Raed was sure it was controlled by the coiled harness cables back in the "projection" cage he had to be still hanging in. . . . From a great distance away, too far off and far too soft to be real, the whining sound of jet engines powering up. More like a whisper, when the sound should have been screamingly loud in his earsanother flaw! Raed felt he was hearing a faulty soundtrack in a movie theater too big for the speakers.
But then he recalled the materials hed been given to study: sounds would be strange, nothing would be loud enough to make out unless Raed was standing close to the source.
Slowly the 767 went through a 30-degree turn on the runway, and the quality of light spilling through windows across the aisle made it clear to Raed this was an early morning flight. His heart began to beat faster. He leaned over the seat beside him, peered out the oval window. His plane appeared to be taxiing toward a main runway, and the airport was
Logan International, Boston.
No doubt this was supposed to be the fateful day. Raed struggled to get up, wanting to see if he could see Nazir or Sayf seated in the rows ahead, biding their time until the 767 had taken off. But no, something was wrongthe weird far-off whining of the engines was powering down, shutting off altogether. Raed tried to get to his feet, struggling with the distorted friction of this simulation-world, all the while clinging to the fact that he was really attached to a harness in the air somewhere. In the seat ahead of him, a passenger was sleeping, one arm thrown across his lap, digital wristwatch visible: 9:13 am.
An hour after the time they should have been in the air, if this was one of those infamous flights. No wonder the plane was at a standstill! Plopping back down in the empty window seat, Raed pressed his face to the strangely rubbery glass of the window, caught sight of other motionless planes lined up on another runway. . . . On the morning of 9/11, all flights in the country had been grounded shortly after 9 am.
Theyd projected him back aboard the wrong plane! Raed released a breath he hadnt realized hed been holding.
But if it was all just a simulation, under the control of the two projection operators, then shouldnt this be one of the planes that had left Boston an hour earlier?
He moved back to the aisle seat, saw a stewardess walking towards him from the front of the plane, looking distraught, touching the passengers she passed on the shoulder, and speaking soundlessly to them. Raed heard nothing at all until she was quite close, then he heard the stewardess speaking four words to the passengers in the rows ahead of him: "Never forget this day."
Her voice sounded too loud, and more than a little hoarse, as though she was on the edge of tears. "Never forget this day," she boomed again, leaning in to touch the passenger in the seat directly ahead on the shoulder. She passed Raed by without looking at him, but her knee brushed his hand, resting on the hard plastic aisle-arm
FEAR-ANGUISH-DISBELIEF! All three emotions flooded out of the passing stewardess and into Raed, the potency of his brief physical contact with her a kind of pain hed never experienced before. He recoiled from the aisle, clutching his hand as though hed been burned, and feeling certain in every fiber of his body that the stewardess had just been informed about the planes striking their New York targets.
For an instant, just one instant, Raed was clutched by the fear that he was not in a simulation. . . .
Murmurs were rising from the surrounding seats:
"Whatd she mean?"
"Why arent we taking off? Know whats going on?"
Raed rubbed at his hand, wondering whether stewardesses had actually acted this way on the real day of infamy. Two rows ahead and across the aisle, a man was listening to his cell phone, a shocked look dawning on his face. And in the aisle seat three rows ahead, a woman was standing, turning, walking slowly toward the back, moving as though she had arthritis even though she was only in her thirties. She looked directly at Raed when she came alongside him, leaned over him and repeated the same four words: "Never forget this day." Then she reached down to Raeds shoulder, but before she could touch him, the womans arm elongated, slid away, there was a whirl of light and
Raed was back in the deep-projection facility, hanging in the center of the projection cage, groggy and disoriented and fighting a desire to remove the harness, exit the cage, and ask to be returned to his cell in Lew. The veiled psychologist stepped through the bars beside him, gave him a thumbs-up to show his bioreadings were acceptable, wanted a thumbs-up in returnRaed was supposed to signal if he was up to continuing, ready for the next part of the program.
He didnt give her a thumbs-up. Instead he lifted his breather, gasped to her, "I thought you said the people of the past couldnt see me?"
"They cant," she agreed, tapping a note onto the slate she was holding.
The projection cage operators called out that the target-coordinates were recalibrated, and the cage was ready for a second "folding." Was Raed ready for a second "ghosting"?
"They cant see you," she repeated, covering her veiled mouth with her hand to remind Raed to refit his breather. "And dont worry," she assured him, "youll get used to ghosting after another few tries." She slipped sideways out between the bars again, before turning back and adding, "You wont be harmed, Raed."
Who did she think he was? Raed wasnt afraid of a computer simulation. His hand still tingled from his brushed contact with the stewardess, but it was all a trick of the trodes lining his harness straps, all just a trick of the mind. Hed been conned into overreacting by all the holeo material theyd made him study, thats all. He was playing the game so well he was beginning to con himself.
But they could not send him into the past.
And he was not ready to give up. The thought of being driven back to Lew was deeply comfortingCell #1 was the only place Raed felt safe, felt under his own control. But Cell #1 was also a cage more frightening than this cage, and after leaving it two nights in a row, Raed knew the crack inside him was yawning wider. He sensed the new need pouring through, throwing the balance of his desire in the direction of continuing these trips out of Lew, no matter what simulation they put him through.
The psychologist gave him the thumbs-up again, and in response Raed balled up the hand that had touched the stewardess into a defiant fist, and said into his breather-microphone, "I am ready."
And said to himself only a simulation as the universe around him shifted, slid, swirled into the tunnel of light
which widened to become a vast, impossibly wounded sky. It was the sky of some inhuman world wreathed in shadow, pierced only by shafts of weird blue light, and threatened by thunderclouds that coiled not with water, but with ash that rained down on a dead land.
Another bump as Raed fell back onto a patch of ground littered with jagged concrete shrapnel and twisted piping, which did not cut him; he barely sensed any sharp edges. Pushing himself up off this rubble was extremely difficult. Raed struggled to stay on his feet, see where he was. All round him lay a spaghetti-panorama of tangled wiring, twisted metal braces, giant steel girders scattered like logs, sections of shattered furnitureand paper. Crests and swirls of scattered pages, documents jammed between wiring, sticking out from shards of concrete. Suddenly a nearby swell of paper shot skyward as steam vented from the unsteady, uneven landscape. Raed had "projected" to a place where some war had been going on forever, by the littered looks of thingsa place worse than any hed seen before coming to America as a teen. Far worse than any part of Beirut, where hed lived for a time as a small boy.
Unfortunately, Raed knew the name of this impossible place.
"Ground Zero," theyd called it.
He appeared to be standing on the island of Manhattan, on the spot where the Twin Towers had stoodand stood not long before hed arrived, if the roiling sky was rendered accurately. This time he seemed to have missed 9/11 not by an hour, but by twenty-four hours. Smoke still hugged the rubble-strewn ground like patches of fog; distant figures drifted in and out of this fog, mostly firemen and policemen; a few were using search-dogs, trying to sniff out victims trapped under the rubble.
Raed himself smelled nothing. Not the smoke, not the scent of jet fuel that should have filled the air. Not even the singed-cinder aroma from the ongoing fires in the distance. Thirty years, and they still cant program smells properly in computer simulations, he told himself, but that was just his mind trying to deny what he was seeing: an inconceivably detailed landscape of devastation that extended for blocks in every direction, and a too-huge-to-fake sky above, drawing Raeds eyes up through bluish curls of smoke to the heavens. Out under the sky!
His soul had yearned for open sky for three long decades, but now that he seemed to be standing beneath one, he felt it was too awesome, too exposed, too heavy, too terrible to bear.
So he turned his eyes down to the tangled ground, and began to pick his way over to the only source of noise close enough to hear: a soft hissing emanating from the mist-shrouded bank of rubble directly behind him. Clambering back over a filing cabinet that might have fallen from the Moonit was flattened like a stomped soda canRaed started slowly across the damp ground toward this soft sibilant sound, presumably a very loud sound "in reality." Keeping his balance was complicated by the fact that he kept plunging through an insubstantial blanket of papers and paper ash, soot and concrete dust, getting his feet stuck in crevices beneath this visible surface-blanket, yet leaving no footprints in it, disturbing nothing he fell against, moving nothing he grabbed onto for support. At one point, he blinked down at a pair of eyeglasses, both lenses starred, crushed underfoot
But not by him. Whoever had worn them was not his victim, no. Raed could sense the old defense almost rising to his lips, could almost hear himself saying it in a courtroom long ago. America puffed itself too high in those two towers. Anyone trapped inside them had been trapped there by America alone, so they werent my victims. The old defense, the denial hed dropped somewhere along the way, abandoned in an outer room of the labyrinth in Raeds mind, rooms away from the middle-aged man he was now. It all seemed so long ago, too long ago to feel clear on the subject.
Nothing seemed clear about 9/11, especially not here, not now.
But then a breeze he couldnt feel began clearing the mists ahead, revealing a looming shape just a few feet from him: the side of a huge fire truck, its designation ash-smeared but still visible. Tower Pumper No. 146.
Raed maneuvered round the front of the pumper truck, and dragged himself onto an adjacent mound of debris to get a better view of things. He was now level with the top of the trucks cab, and he could see the mist was coming from a hose being aimed from the crows nest atop the pumper. A giant fireman in a soot-stained yellow coat stood in the center of the crows nest like an indomitable statue, soaking down a fire inside a half-collapsed structure sixty or seventy feet away. A second fireman lay face-down further down the roof of the pumper, obviously exhausted.
Only two firemen for a truck this size?
It had to be less than twenty-four hours after 9/11; otherwise Ground Zero would be swarming with volunteer firefighters from out of state, even out of the country, if Raed recalled correctly. From his debris-hilltop, Raed turned and surveyed the entire scene, which was opening up as the imperceptible breeze cleared more spray and smoke and steam away.
The scene before him might have been some imaginary rendering of the end of the world. Smoldering multi-story sections of both towers lay strewn about like so many titanic accordions, while in the distance, Manhattans financial canyons were on fire in a hundred spots. Closer at hand, the ground was draped with stretches of outer tower-walling, glittering and ribbed, resembling enormous metallic matsor magic carpets used by giants from the Alif Layla Wa Layla, Jinnis that had vanished back into the sky, leaving behind explosive plumes of blue smoke. It was a vista more fantastical than any Shaherazade ever imagined. . . .
Yet this unreality was far harder to pass off as a simulation than the contained commonplace-reality of a passenger plane stranded on a runway. The interior of a 767 was a plausible space to model. But the exterior of New York, under an open sky? Around him the ground was seething, and crews of firemen and rescue workers were materializing from beyond veils of vapor swinging grappling hooks and pick-axes, each figure perfect and alive and real. Many of them disappeared into the gray-white crater in the center of this vast dead zone in time and in place.
The dead past.
Not rendered, not simulated.
Legs turning watery, going out from under him. Raed dropped helplessly onto the blackened husk of what might once have been a fine office couch.
Could his cousins Nazir and Sayf really have brought this about?
Could he really be here?
Real or unreal, Raed wanted this re-visitation to end. He was more than ready to return to the present. And if the first projection back to the grounded plane was anything to go by, he wouldnt have to sit here long before they brought him out of all this. So Raed waited, watching the fireman atop the pumper truck hose down flames licking out of a crushed-accordion section of one of the fallen towers, and wondering whether he was seeing something that might be real, might be true: had the two men on Tower Pumper Truck No. 146 been working here through the night, fighting fires since the World Trade Center collapsed?
For an instant, the huge man working the hose lost his grip on it. A cloud of spray swept over Raed, and he swung his hand through the moisture without feeling a drop. Not massive enough, he thought, the science theyd fed him regurgitating an explanation for this flaw in the visual reality. Things will appear both startlingly real and surreal, the Muslim psychologist had warned him.
Suddenly the hose shut off altogether, and the weary fireman stumbled out of the crows nest, tore off his goggles, wiped tears from his eyesno doubt hed lost many firemen-friends when the towers came downthen the man collapsed on the pumpers roof right beside his prone coworker. Thats when Raed became aware of a prickling sensation, a cloud of something uncomfortably tingly swimming over him. . . .
Heat! Heat was able to "span the dimensional divide" that purportedly separated Raed from this past. Heat was cumulatively massive, Francis had told himit had sufficient structure to transmit a force across N-space. Whatever the case, he was definitely sensing a radiation from the burning accordion-floors not far awayan itchy, uneasy chill. A cold and ticklish pressure, unlike any cold hed ever felt.
So this was heat in the land of the dead, three decades back!
Raed shivered, on the verge of believing again, wondering if those two firemen really were lying only a dozen feet from him, unaware of his ghostly presence. He rubbed the edge of his left hand, where it had made that fiery contact with the stewardess. Human contact was one that did feel hot in these projectionstoo hot too handle, which was why Raed was being careful not to get too close to anyone this time around. He would not touch any of the people he encountered at Ground Zero, and he would not be touched by them. He was not responsible. He was not the twenty-four-year-old whod helped two cousins bring the Twin Towers down. That boy was long gone, locked down in the dustiest, most unreachable part of the labyrinth of Raeds mind, the key to his pre-prison self thrown away ages ago.
So how could it possibly help him to see all this again?
But Raed had never seen Ground Zero the first time around, of course; he hadnt dared venture anywhere near it in the aftermath of 9/11.
A minute after the first fireman shut off the hose and slumped down on the pumpers roof, his resting companion slowly got up, climbed into the crows nest, and started the hose up again.
Fifteen minutes later, this shorter, stockier fireman began to tire too, stepped out, dropped onto his back in exhaustion. Then the larger of the two men rose again, and took his place back behind the hose.
Raed was left to imagine how many hours their tenacious routine had been going on. . . . After two more edge-of-exhaustion exchanges of duty in the crows nest, someone else appeared atop the pumper, a track-suited citizen just visible climbing up the ladder at the far end of the truck. A journalist, Raed thought, or some lost local too distraught to go home. Someone foolish enough to show up without a filter over her mouth, at any rate. The woman stepped right up onto the pumper, reached the fireman lying prone on the roof before her and was so overcome she crouched down beside the man, and abruptly embraced him. An emotional show of gratitude for his efforts to extinguish what was left of the angry fire from the jets. . . .
Or maybe she was hugging the spent fireman just because he looked like he needed it.
Raed didnt have to wonder whether this sort of thing had actually happened after 9/11hed seen it happen, in the streets of Brooklyn just hours after the towers came down. Hed seen strangers walk straight up to a weeping member of New Yorks Finest, and spontaneously embrace the policeman. New Yorkers had reached out to each other in ways that had surprised Raed that day. . . . Again falling spray clouded his view of what was going on, Ground Zero became a swirling gray, began sliding away, and
He was back, praise be, he was back.
Pulling off the breather-mask, Raed gasped in mouthfuls of air and blinked out through the bars of his cage at the hundred-odd other projectors beyond the pane of Plexiglas, writhing and walking in their suspended states, ghosting back to other places and other times, if all this was to be believed.
No, no, no, he would not believe. Turning back to the team assisting him, he saw the veiled psychologist saying something to him from outside the cage, and again offering him a questioning thumbs-up, wanting to know if he was okay.
Raed gave her a thumbs-down.
She entered the cage immediately, her eyes alight behind the burqawith concern? With contempt? "Are you unable to continue?" she asked him, fingers poised over her slate to make another note.
"Cant you project me somewhere else?"
"Perhaps." She tapped in her note, glanced back at the researchers manning the controls, shrugged, then said to Raed, "Im obliged to remind you: you can withdraw from our program at any time, if you dont feel up for it."
She made it sound as though quitting was the obvious choice. Maybe she expected him to give up, go back to his cell in Lew and simply rot away for the rest of his days. . . . But the crack that had opened deep within Raed was wider now. It was swallowing the walls hed built to hold the outside world outhis minds labyrinthine safe-house was losing whole rooms to that yawning insidious divide-inside. So he didnt know if he could just give up and go back. It was surely not so easy as this wide-eyed woman made it sound.
Anyway, he was not about to give up.
"Send me where you will," he told the woman, waving her dismissively out of the cage, all the while thinking please let it be just a simulation! Bracing himself again as the beams shimmered on and the rift reopened, twirling the cages bars away, tunneling him back to
A living-room in someones house.
Raed dropped softly onto a pine floor in front of an antique cabinet, bounced once, fell forward onto hands and knees, and looked around at the spindly legs of furniture handcrafted from some dark wood. He got to his feet easily, but saw no one down the hall of the houses ground floor. Was he in some suburb of New York? Raed peered out a shaded front window onto a lawn gleaming in the Sun. The street at the end of the lawn looked broad and sleepy under large trees; there was no traffic, and the houses across the street were widely separated.
He doubted he was in New York.
The cage-operators must have heard the request hed made to "project somewhere else" through his breather-microphone. . . . That, or theyd really missed the target this time.
No, its just a simulation.
Again, the light filtering through the trees onto the lawn suggested it was early morning; so did the dew still gleaming on the grass. Perhaps there were people still upstairs, getting ready for work. Raed cautiously made his way up to the second floor, and peeked even more cautiously into each of the floors rooms: guest bedroom, master bedroom, a spacious bathroom, a small office. The house appeared to be empty.
A window at the back of the office was partially open, so Raed slipped inside the room, glanced through the window over a side lawn at a neighbors clapboard house, then tried to put his arm out beneath the window. He had to push his hand right through the mesh-screen meant to keep the bugs out; he felt only a little gluey resistance. He got his arm completely out, but that was allthe window, presumably left open for air, wasnt open enough for him to squeeze his head or chest out. And as hard as Raed pushed on the window-frame itself, he couldnt budge it wider. He couldnt move things in this world.
So leaving the office, he looked in again at the windows of the guest bedroom and the bathroom, found them all closed. The master bedroom at the back of the house had a big window, but it was closed too, and curtained for privacy. . . . Lying on a big bed beneath the window was a cream-colored blouse, a black skirt folded neatly, a frilly pink bathrobe. The sight of the clothing reminded Raed powerfully of Haifa, his wife. His eyes went helplessly to the framed photo on the bedside table, which showed a couple hugging on a beach. The woman was laughing. The man was bent to kiss her neck. Almost certainly a photo of the couple whose bedroom Raed was standing inand placed on that table, he guessed, by the woman, as a proud memento of her happiness.
No such photos of Raed and Haifa existed, not even in his memory. What Raed remembered most when he thought of Haifa was her fear of him. He hadnt treated her well, especially in the final years, when his cousin Nazirs beliefs took a stronger and stronger hold over him. Turning away from this thought, Raed caught a shaft of sunlight streaming through a partly-open door in a corner of the bedroom. Stepping over to it, he discovered a bright bathroom, the morning Sun pouring gloriously down through a big skylight. After ensuring the bathroom was empty, he eased round the door into the Sun-filled spaceonly to find more womans things arranged on the long counter. Skin creams, make-up, hair clips, a big brush with fine black strands wrapped about its bristles. . . .
To his surprise, Raed found himself in the grip of an unbearably lonely longing hed thought hed gotten rid of ages agoas though hed just eased round a partially-open door into a room in his head hed thought hed lost the key to. Mixed in with the longing was an intense sense of lost opportunity. For Haifa had edged more and more toward moderation in America, whereas Raed had arrived a moderate and only became a devout in those last few years before the towers came down, under Nazirs tutelage. And after the towers fell, after his fear grew and his family was taken from him, Raed gradually lost his devotion altogether.
So it was unpleasant now to recall how hed fought to keep Haifa under his thumb, forcing her to accept a fundamentalism he hadnt believed in when theyd married as teenagers. The innocent boy hed been became a kind of monster, a fanatic to be feared during those final years of freedom, before hed melted down into something else entirely during the first decade of imprisonment.
Melted down into what, though?
Raed had been careful not to step in front of the bathrooms long mirror. Now he took a look, and saw
No reflection of himself.
It was the eeriest thing, as though he was . . . what did they call it? A vampire. Raed was a kind of vampire in this past.
But if he was supposed to be back in September of 2001 again, wouldnt he then look young again? Raeds hands were still veined, mottled with middle age. He ran one hand through his hair, tracing the receding hairline, then ran the hand back down over his bony brow and over the breather-mask to his chin and throat. Clean-shaven, as hed been back in 2001, to attract less attention in America. For a while, hed grown a proper beard in prison. But a few years later, Lew started handing the new shaving gels out to prisonersoffering the prospect of a wipe-on, wash-off mirrorless shaveso Raed went back to clean-shaven again. Hed grown too used to the routine, during the years leading up to 9/11. Routine was the key to staying sane in prison.
Routines like avoiding mirrors.
Raed was glad he cast no reflection; he hated to think what he looked like now. A ghost of the young man hed been for sure, his thick dark hair turned thin, his strong face turned gaunt, the high cheekbones of his people sticking out too much now. . . . But his fear of mirrors wasnt really about becoming old, was it?
Another surprising memory breaking free from a locked storeroom in his mind: Raed realized hed started avoiding mirrors before he went to prison. Hed avoided them immediately after 9/11 because hed looked so awful. Hed looked twisted, like a monster even to himself
Raed wriggled out of the narrow bathroom door and fled the bedroom, almost tumbled back down the stairs, forgetting how tricky walking was on an intangible carpet covering soft slippery wood beneath. When he reached the bottomand got back to his feethe began looking for a way out, wandering through the handful of rooms; living room, dining room, the long hall with its open coat-filled closet, a downstairs bathroom, a cozy den with a fireplace. Each of the rooms exhibited a down-to-the-last-detail visual authenticity, and each was a living space that made a mockery of the concrete cell he called home. None of the rooms, however, offered him a way to get outside.
Raed felt the wholly believable reality of this American home closing in on him, reducing the number of rooms for him to hide in in his mind.
The last room on the ground floor he managed to squeeze into was a blindingly bright back kitchen. One whole wall of the kitchen was floor-to-ceiling windows, letting in the sun and letting Raed look out over a patio and a long yard. Raed walked right up to the windowsone was actually a glass patio-doorand gasped at the vista before him: beyond a picket fence at the end of the yard, the land dropped through rolling green hills down to a small steepled village about a mile away. The village stood on the edge of a sunlit ocean, the waves sparkling off to a distant horizon.
Nothing Raed had seen in thirty years looked more like home!
It was not the home hed been born into, a small village that had stood near waves of desert sand. No, this was the American ideal of home: a peaceful village with quaint clapboard houses and colonial buildings, like something out of a story booka story Raed had lived for a time. Hed been a preteen when hed arrived in America, and had lived all the years of his adulthood on American soil, so he knew its stories, knew its dreams. . . .
The dream-house he was in now looked like it might be on the shores of Rhode Island. He and Haifa had driven along that shoreline after Raed finished a bit of "security reconnaissance" at the airport in Boston. During their seaside drive, Raed had derided the storybook villages theyd passed through. Now he could not remember why the sightseeing had left him so unimpressed, or why had hed been so eager to obey the organization ordering him to Boston in the first place. He must have been hiding in rooms in his head even before hed reached prison. Hiding from the reality hed lived in, hiding in a seventh-century corner of his mind and ignoring the twenty-first-century America around him. . . . But that was another Raed, not the middle-aged ghost from the future standing in this kitchen, looking with longing on the village down below, a wholly magical place Raed was ready to believe in.
He felt his throat tightening with emotion. He wanted to be back in this past, simulation or no simulation. He wanted to break free of the harness holding him to 2033 and wander down into that peaceful perfect village, buy a coffee in a shop, sit and listen to people talk, and never look back.
Theyd said if he participated in their program he would get to see "the outside world again, in a way." Is this what theyd meant? If so, the psychologists had cheated him. The scene before him was so pristine it was heartbreaking to look upon. And Raed couldnt so much as step out to the backyard.
Then he remembered what the researcher Francis told him about volunteers sticking their hands through glass. So he began to try, pushing hard against the glass of the patio-door, and gradually feeling his fingers sink into a surface like glue that had almost hardened. But after several minutes, hed only managed to get the tips of two forefingers to peek through the other side of the glass. And he did not want to be stuck here if people arrived, came into the kitchen, and brushed up against him.
As he stood drawing his fingers back out, Raed glanced around the kitchen, and saw a calendar facing him from the nearest wall. It was open to September 2001, and on the week of September 11 the words TOM IN L.A. were marked across several days. The calendar could not tell him what day this was, of course; but Raed knew, oh, he knew. He turned back to the glass door, focused on freeing his fingers. Thats when he noticed the reverse-reflection of the digital clock on the stove at the back of the kitchen behind him. He turned completely around to see if he was reading it right.
One minute to go on the last pristine morning of the world. One minute before the first of the four planes would hit its target. Raed drank in the view beyond the glass door for another few seconds, wishing this last moment could last forever, bracing himself for . . . 8:46 am.
Nothing happened. Naturally, New York was far from Rhode Island. His fingers finally popped free, and he stood there flexing his hand before realizing he was hearing a soft buzzing from somewhere. The front doorbell? No, it had be something close, in the kitchen. Raed walked around the room, and ended up beside the phone, which was ringing really loudly when he was right beside it. The ringing stopped, and an answering machine adjacent to the phone clicked on. A womans voice announced, "Were not here, but you can leave us a message." Then the caller began to speak:
"Angie, Im . . . its Tom," a male voice said, and Raeds eyes shot to the calendar. TOM IN L.A.
"My flights been hijacked," Tom continued all too calmly. "Ill try to call again, but dont know if therell be time. Whatever happens, Angie, know that I love"
Raed leapt away before he heard the end of the message, knowing the sound would drop off faster than it shouldand it did, the rest of Toms words to Angie unable to reach across a foot more of kitchen floor. He backed all way into the patio door, disturbed and disbelieving. How could a man caught on any of those planes have been so calm?
It was a question Raed had asked himself over and over the day before 9/11. That was the day hed driven his cousins across the state border into Connecticut and booked them into a motel on the Massachusetts border for the final night of their lives. Chipmunk-cheeked Nazir. And thin-faced Sayf, always skeletally thin, more than a little obsessed-looking. But Sayf and Nazir had both been calm and controlled during that afternoon drive through the Connecticut countryside, mentally preparing to sacrifice themselves when the morning came. Theyd met with their cell-leader less than an hour before the long drive began, and had been let in on the target of their mission a little early because their leader trusted them. Nevertheless, Nazir broke down and let Raed in on their terrible secret before they reached the motel because Raed was kin, the last member of their family who would see Nazir and Sayf alive. After his cousins booked into the motel under assumed namesthe names later published under their photos in the papersRaed stayed in their room with them for a few hours before driving back home to Brooklyn alone, wondering all the way how his cousins could have been so calm.
Raed saw the light on the answering machine start to blink. He walked toward it slowlywanting to be sure it was finished recordingthen stared down at the damned machine, hoping the cage-operators didnt make him wait in this house until Angie came home and listened to what was on it. But at least, he thought, as the kitchen began to slide sideways away from him, at least Tom had said what needed to be said to his wife
Back, back in the present, and breathing hard.
Raed shook his head, wanting to rid himself of the sad end to such a beautiful dream, a beautiful simulation. He gazed blearily through the yellow bars, saw the hundred other spherical cages beyond the Plexiglas, scattered across the main projection arena. A hundred other volunteers were hanging in their harnesses, looking strangely blurred, squirming and swaying in midair. Folding back across N-space to a hundred lost moments in history?
It cant be.
"Feeling all right, Raed?"
The woman psychologist was already in the cage below him again, waving a hand before his eyes to get his attention.
He dragged the breather down again.
"I feel. . . ."
"What?" She waited, one hand poised over her slate.
Lost, he wanted to say. Full of lost opportunities. Raed had heard passengers had contacted their loved ones from those doomed planes, but . . . he hadnt ever contacted Haifa to tell her his own feelingsbecause he hadnt realized how strong his love for her really was until too many years had passed, and it was much too late. So the acid dose of heartbreak filling him now was as much for himself as for the man whod left that bittersweet message.
Raed peered down at the psychologist, knowing he was already losing tonights game badly. "You cant make me believe," he said to her, no longer wanting to play any more games. "You cant convince me Im really seeing the past, I dont care what you show me."
The woman nodded, tapping away at the slate. "What you believe is entirely up to you. And what you do where we send youthats up to you too."
"What is there to do," Raed retorted, "when Im just as cooped up back there as I am in Lewisburg?"
"You really want to find out?"
Raed let out a long shuddering breath, unsure whether this veiled and proper young woman sounded hopeful for the first timeor whether she was trying to warn him about what was coming next. But he was sure of the answer to her question. Some part of him did want to find out. Something was stirring down in the crack through the core of his being: an ashen yearning to go back there and confront whatever they would show him.
"Yes," he sighed. "Send me again."
The look in the psychologists wide black eyes subtly changed. Surprise? She whirled, exited the cage, and conferred with the two operators sitting at their consoles. And Raed closed his eyes, knowing it didnt really matter where they projected him to this time, because what hed told the psychologist was the truth: he wouldnt, couldnt bring himself to believe that he was folding through "N-space" back to
New York City, an empty sidewalk.
Raed dropped onto the walk as it appeared before him, caught his balance, steadied himself on his feet, and looked around. He was not in Manhattan, not in any of the busier parts of the city. And he was finally outdoors! No walls to hold him back, no mounds of rubble to block his progress. Free to go where he pleased.
Raed started up the quiet side-street he was on, heading for a larger cross-street so he could figure out where he was. He passed the steep steps of a row of four-story walkups. One of the boroughs, for sure. This was the New York he remembered, glad to have an image of it to replace the desolation of Ground Zero. . . . Blue skies above, a breeze rippling the leaves of a haggard tree on the corner. An autumn morning, for sure. Back in that morning once more? Before the attacks occurred? After?
The signs at the end of the street told him he was back in Brooklyn, on a corner several miles from where hed lived; a vaguely familiar corner. Raed spun around, orienting himself. The East River had to be just behind the row-houses that were blocking his view of the World Trade Center. He couldnt see whether the Twin Towers were still standingbut if they were, he could walk around the block and head down to the riverside, maybe just in time to watch the planes striking their targets.
Was that what the projection operators wanted Raed to do?
Surely it would do him no good whatsoever to witness the destruction of the towers all over again. Hed seen those images a hundred times on TV, along with everyone else. Surely it would be senseless to waste this precious chance to walk the world hed lost by going down to the river to gawk. The Twin Towers were not his victims anywaythey were the Wests victims, Americas victims. . . . Raed started walking west, keeping the Trade Centers location behind his back. His eyes kept turning to the perfectly clear skies, searching for low-flying passenger jets. He prayed he wouldnt see any. Stopping at another cross-street to let a yellow taxi roll by, he felt certain he knew this neighborhood. Only a few people were out on the streets, and those that were hurried along as though late for work. The Sun looked too high to be early in the morning. What time was it? What day was it?
A New York Post box coming up on his left. When he reached it, Raed hunkered down on his haunches, and saw something on the cover page about "Ban on Cell-Phone Use While Driving."
But the date on the newspaper was 9/11, all right.
He walked on, hurrying now, spying a tiny park across the street not much farther ahead. Not much more than a grotto, really, but Raed began jogging toward it, feeling sure the visually stunning simulation of a New York morning he was moving through was about to change. All he wanted was a few moments of peace sitting beneath those trees before this blissful reality was yanked out from under him.
And then it hit him: he was near Basmas Islamic daycare and prayer school, a small building at the other end of the little grotto park. No wonder all this looked so familiar.
Raed broke into a run, remembering the promise made to himthat he might get to see his daughter again. Was this what the rehab programmers meant? Then theyd tricked himtheyd known perfectly well hed hoped to see Basma all grown up. Raed ran for the school all the same, wanting to see his little daughter in this all-too-perfect recreation, suddenly wanting it very badly. Wanting to know once and for all.
As he ran up the block, something happened to the sky. A cloud of confetti appeared from over the four-story walkups on his left. Snowflake-sized particles were fluttering down onto the sidewalk ahead of him, some larger pieces of paper floating down too. . . . Documents! Memos and letters and receipts from all the way across the East River, fallout from Twin Tower offices. The paper cloud began to litter the tops of trees in the grotto-park as he passed it.
Just ahead loomed the Islamic prayer preschool, all the toddler-students dressed in their jackets and milling about on a fenced-in patch of tarmac alongside the schools front steps. Half of them were roped together.
What was going on?
Raed reached the wrought-iron fence, and found the schools entrance-gate closed. He struggled to get over the tall black bars but kept slipping down, unable to get any purchase with his shoes. There was no room for him on the crowded tarmac beyond anyway, so he strode impatiently around the fence, hearing the chaos of chattering and squealing, trying to spot Basma among the children. In the midst of the preschoolers stood a teenage girl dressed in salwar and kameez, gaping up at the sky in astonishment; a more resourceful Muslim girl was untying the rope tethering several kids together. Of course! The young teachers had been caught preparing the children for their eleven oclock walk through the park. No TV was allowed inside the conservative classrooms, so neither the children nor the adults looking after them had any idea what was going on yet.
But where was his Basma?
The thickening confetti-rain was making it harder to see who was who. Unleashed four-year-olds danced through the downfall, turned their tiny faces upward, and grabbed at papers. . . . At last Raed spotted a child smaller than the rest, squatting with tiny hands on knees in a familiar blue raincoat, her head turned to the ground, looking curiously at the scraps of paper lying there.
Heart in mouth, Raed knelt outside the bars, as close to her as he couldbut the girl scrambled away into the center of the crowd, vanished for a moment, and reappeared duck-walking toward him with an ever-so-Haifa-like look of concentration, creased brow, mouth drawn tight, sucking her teeth exactly as Basma so often did during the three years hed been father to her.
God and the Prophet within, what am I seeing?
The child stopped just a few feet from him, crouched just as before, reaching now for a big file-folder that had just landed, its edge smoldering.
"Dont!" he cried out. But the Basma before him did not pause, did not hear him, could not see him. Raed thrust an arm through the bars, and tried to snatch her tiny fingers awaytoo late: shed grasped the burning edge and immediately let go. She began to cry, lower lip shooting out exactly as it had on the day Raed was taken away from her forever. He had not seen Basma since his trial, not until this very moment. . . .
For Raed knew in his heart of hearts he was actually seeing his daughter now.
His mind reeling, the world whirling, Basma blurring as she drew back, plopped onto her bottom
"Please," he gasped into the microphone of the breather-mask, "I believe, dont bring me back. . . ." But it was only his own tears blurring things. Raed was still there, still clutching the iron fence in September of 2001, inches from his real daughter.
Another teacher burst through the schools side-door, teary-eyed herself, shouting something to the teenage girls standing among the childrensomething about parents coming early to take their children back, the city under attack!
Basmas wailing finally drew one of the teens to her side. The girl scooped his daughter up, and Raed leapt to his feet, reached as far he could over the fence, Basma sobbing over the young teachers shoulder right in front of his eyes, his hand almost touching her hurt little fingers, almost. . . .
"We put a bandage on that?" the teacher asked, and little Basma nodded through her sobs.
Raed watched the pair disappear through the schools side-entrance while the other two teens rounded the rest of the children back inside, out of the paper rain. "I believe," he moaned again, tugging his arm from between the bars, sinking to the paper-littered ground. "Now I believe." Raed had not allowed any cameras in his house during those last paranoid years of freedom; hed certainly forbidden any video footage to be recorded of himself or his family in those years. And the Islamic daycare and prayer school could not afford any video equipment . . . so no one could possibly simulate the Basma hed just seen.
Raed knew he was actually kneeling outside her school.
"Be mercifullet me stay," he prayed aloud, hoping the projection operators would hear his words in the future. "Let me wait here and see her again." But the wrought-iron bars of the fence were already sliding out of his hands. The school building was beginning to swirl into the confetti-sky, and he was starting to tunnel back
To the present.
Hanging in midair in the yellow cage, his breath still hitching with emotion. Had Basmas hand been bandaged when Raed picked her up from the pre-school that day? He couldnt recall, and he doubted he would have noticed. That day Raed had been too busy worrying about being tracked down, accused, arrested. Hed spent the entire day wondering how to ensure he didnt end up getting burned by the backlash to the World Trade Center attacks to notice whether Basma had already been burnt or not.
Not his victims?
Surely little Basma was his victim, if anyone wasand a couple of bandaged fingers was of little consequence compared to the inevitable consequence of losing her father. . . .
"Here." The veiled psychologist was standing in the cage below him again, holding a cup of water up to Raed. "Drink this," she said.
He tugged down his breather-mask, a little embarrassed as he wiped back his tears, recalling how the fireman at Ground Zero had looked when hed pulled off his goggles to wipe away tears. Raed had been therehed actually been to Ground Zero!
And now, like that fireman, he just wanted to get out of the harness and throw himself down on the ground. "I wanted to stay," he complained to the psychologist, more than a little embarrassed by his earlier profession of disbelief to her. "Whyd you have to bring me back so soon?"
"Because youve more to see tonight, more to do. Here," she said again, "youve got to be thirsty"
He knocked her hand and the cup aside. "I dont need water, I just need to go back" He broke off, seeing her reaction, the flash of intensity in her wide-set black eyes. Because Raeds fingers had briefly brushed hers?
"Youll feel thirsty, where youre going next," she warned him. Picking up the cup, she slipped out through the bars.
And Raed slumped back in the harness, acceptance sweeping through him. For the first time tonight he did not want to be here, where he was middle-aged in a spherical cage. Better to be a ghost lurking in that past again.
Outside the yellow bars the psychologista grown Muslim woman whose hand hed reached out and touched, just in casewatched him watching her, then she tapped something into her slate and turned away, slid away, vanished around an impossible bend in space that opened into
A deep canyonlike street.
Downtown Manhattan, on the same bright sunny morning hed ghosted to the last timeonly this time Raed could hear an unearthly rumbling and he could see people running away from him, fleeing for their lives before his eyes. He whirled. High in the sky above him were the Twin Towers. The South Tower, only a block away, was erupting from the top down.
Raed staggered backwards, gaping at the giant cloud of dust and debris surging forth from the building his cousins had crashed into, like a storm being injected into the blue sky at tremendous speed. He swung around, and a man sprinting by bumped against him
TERROR-ADRENALINE-ANIMAL URGE TO RUN!
Raed obeyed the fiery emotions transmitted by the mans touch, hurtling himself across the street and around the corner of a nearby building. At the end of the road hed turned onto, people were throwing themselves over the railings into the Hudson Riverhoping for safety in the water? Raed veered in another direction, down a narrow lane and out onto a broader side street, the rumbling behind him swelling along with his fear. To his amazement, he saw a crowd of people standing in the distance, all their faces turned up like sunflowers in the instant before they, too, began to run.
And then, all at once, everything Raed could see vanishedthe distant crowd, the canyon-walls of the high rises and the street itself, all swallowed in dust and darkness that felt like the end of the world.
This time hed ghosted back to the world hed lost at the very moment it was lost!
It was so dark on the street he could only make out shapes a few feet in front of him. It seemed impossible that just seconds ago it had been a clear blue-skied morning. . . . Fumbling his way along a building-front in the direction he thought hed been heading, hearing a tinkling soundglass shards falling out of the sky? Windowpanes shattering in the storefronts around him? Either way, the sound had to be much louder and closer than it seemed. He caught glimpses of big debris-chunks crashing onto the pavement to his left, and burnt paper and concrete dust swirled thick as sleet.
The darkness began to yield to a wintry dimnesslike a strangely dry snow squall in Manhattanand Raed reached the next cross-street corner just in time to witness a hail of burning shrapnel striking a car-filled parking lot across the street. Cars began bursting into flame.
He dove under a parapet protecting a building front-door, reminding himself the projection-team claimed he couldnt be harmed. But Raed knew he could feel forces in this past, and he didnt want the force of any of that shrapnel striking him. So he sat under the parapet watching cars ignite, one after another. Incredible! As though missiles were being launched from the burning windows of the surrounding high-rises. . . . Suddenly a large oblong shape loomed out of the dust-mist hanging over the streeta fire truck loaded with men who leapt off, rushed into the parking lot, fighting back shadows and smoke as they searched for people trapped in burning vehicles. Those firemen were crazy to charge in there!
Looking for a safe escape route, Raed noticed a lane leading from his parapet-covered patch of sidewalk back into a plaza behind him. He ducked through, rounded another corner, and felt his way along the lee of another wall. A set of double doors just ahead of him burst open, the light from inside the doors revealing men in overcoats stepping forth, rifles at the ready. The armed mennot police, possibly FBIformed a ring outside the open doors and peered into the murk, as though looking for whoever was to blame. Looking for Raed, who was holding his breath, flattened against a window-well just feet from them. You already caught me, he thought. Ive already served thirty years.
Now more people were piling out through the doors into the armed cordon. Older officials wearing suits, fire hats, air-filtersnot chiefs, possibly fire commissionersall of them lucky to be alive in a command post this close to the Twin Towers. And all of them alternately shouting into hand-held radios, then listening for a response, shouting, then listening, throwing off waves of voices Raed could hear without making out individual words. In the light streaming through the open doors, he saw the despair contorting their faces. The commissioners werent getting any responses from the fire crews in the collapsed South Tower.
Then a familiar long-faced man in wire-rim glasses strode into the crowd of stunned city officials, issuing commands, arguing with the armed detectives who seemed to want the cordon to stay put. But the long-faced man sent the party off across the dust-clouded plaza in the direction, Raed suspected, of the Trade Center.
Raed suddenly knew exactly who that man was.
The Mayor of New York City.
Heading to Ground Zero only minutes after that nightmarish zone had formed? Or steered to safety by his armed protectors? Raed took off in the opposite direction, rounded another corner, found his path blocked by a steaming shape taking up the sidewalk and half the road in front of an abandoned fast-food outlet: a jet-engine turbine.
From Flight 175? From Nazir and Sayfs plane?
The turbine was so dust-whitened it looked like the engine of some ghost-plane. Tingling waves of cold heat were coming off it, so Raed gave it a wide berth and hurried on, only to be slowed by more dust-and-ash-cloaked obstacles as he fled out of the south end of Manhattan. Twisted stick-shapes that had to be melted office chairs, an overturned desk in the middle of a sidewalk, a huge tire, all made visible by the fires sprouting in nearby buildings, offering Raed a weird torch-light to light his way. . . . Incredible. Hed seen TV images of Manhattan after 9/11, but they failed to capture the scope of the devastation. In his wildest dreams, Raed never thought his cousins could cause so much damage to the city.
And in his wildest dreams hed never imagined he might "time travel" back to see it with his own eyes! This time hed ghosted back to before his visit to Basmas school. Perhaps as much as an hour before, if he remembered correctly. Somewhere in the unseen sky high above him, a file folder from the South Tower was being carried by air currents over the East River, drifting down toward the little prayer school tarmac. Basma hadnt burnt her fingers yet. She wasnt a victim yet.
But Raed was stepping over victims wherever he went, shrouded forms that seemed to be sleeping in the middle of the streetsforms he didnt want to think about. Nazirs victims, Sayfs victims. Not his victims.
After almost falling onto one of those shrouded figures, Raed scrambled up an embankment onto a higher boulevard. Disoriented, he tramped along the boulevard in a direction that seemed a little less dusty. But within minutes, smoke from the spreading fires behind him descended on the boulevard, thickening the dust-haze. Raed passed an EMS triage team working on a wounded woman already partly buried beneath the paper-ash fallout; the rescue workers were trying to revive the woman and keep themselves from passing out at the same time, handing a single oxygen mask back and forth.
He gave the team as wide a berth as hed given the jet engine, wanting to avoid more physical-contact discharges from distraught New Yorkers. It was traumatic enough just trying to escape the shrapnel-fires. . . . He wasnt the only one trying to escape, of course. After hopping out of the way of a beaconless ambulanceits roof littered with paper and its wipers rapidly swishingRaed noticed a few other ghost-shapes trudging along through the haze. People with grime-covered faces, holding pieces torn from their own clothing over their mouths, coughing soundlessly.
Raed felt like coughing too, even though he wasnt breathing any dust in. Most of it was falling right through him, only the largest paper-flakes hovering on his clothes for a few seconds before slipping off. The "masslessness" of the falling dust made it easy for Raed to avoid and quickly out-pace the real downtown-refugees he encounteredbecause they were forced to slosh slowly through the paper and ash pooling on the street, which was already several inches deep. Raed hurried on, undeterred by the debris build-up, always drawn in the brightest direction, even though the sources of brightness turned out to be shops and services with their doors thrown open. Each open doorway offered a consoling peek into an interior of clarity and detaila reminder that the New York Raed had seen for a few seconds at the very start of this projection still existed, hidden behind all the hazy detritus.
In the beaming entrance to a footwear store, he saw a man handing out free running shoes to women wandering by in stocking feet, unable to walk through miles of fallout in their high heels.
In the rear door of a restaurant-supply firm, he saw a teenage boy passing out wet towels to everyone who stepped up for one, so people had better air-filters to breath through.
In the arched portal of an old church, he saw women pouring cups of water and lemonade for passers-by. The church was getting crowded because the people coming up for drinks were stepping inside it, kneeling down in pews, bowing their heads. Raed paused across the street from this softly-glowing scene, watching the parade of dust-whitened ghosts gratefully downing lemonade and water, and reaching up to his own throat. Hed felt thirsty from the first moment the debris-cloud enveloped him, and his thirst had grown worse with every passing block. It wasnt just the exertion of a long walk. It was the look of ash-laden air all around him, the sight of coughing, choking civilians stumbling through the streets. The psychological dryness was getting to him.
But what was really getting to him was the fact that he was actually experiencing what it had been like to make an escape from lower Manhattan the morning of 9/11. Because he was actually here, witnessing all this just as it had happenedor rather, as it was happening. A cement-mixing truck rolled slowly by, a dozen dust-coated Wall Street suits clinging to its sides. Raed followed it for a bit, then turned onto an empty side street he thought might take him in the direction of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Thats when he spotted the strange pair of New Yorkers sitting on the stone steps.
What was strange about them grew more and more obvious as Raed walked toward them: one was a man so thickly coated in dust and ash he resembled a statue huddled against the railing of the stepshe was clearly in serious trouble, gasping for air, mouth hanging wide open and taking in more dust. The other was a woman whod clearly just come out of the building the steps led up toshe had only a bit of dust on her, and she was holding the dying man, her head tucked onto his shoulder as though he was an old friend shed found collapsed outside her door.
The strange thing was she wasnt helping him inside.
"Get him off the street," Raed suggested as he passed the pair, knowing he wouldnt be heard. But he thought he saw the womans eyes move up from her companion. He thought he saw her eyes following him up the narrow street.
Raed halted. Turned back. It was hard to seehe had to squint into the driving dust. Was she really looking over at him?
He approached the steps cautiously, still unwilling to be touched by these people, but getting close enough to see the dying mans eyes were rimmed completely red, bloody coals in his ash-whitened face. And he was close enough to see the womans NYU sweatshirt, a red ribbon pinned to her collar. She had her eyes closed now, head tucked back on her companions shoulder again.
He must have been seeing things. "Dont you know your friend is dying?" Raed muttered, surprised to find himself thinking another death would be needless. . . . The woman shielded her eyes against the falling dust, and peered up at Raed.
He lurched back in shock. "You can see me, cant you?"
But just then an accumulation of dust slid off the ledge above the steps, engulfing the pair in a swirl of white that transformed into a blurred tunnel, pulling Raed back to
The yellow projection cage.
Raed peered out through the bars at the two Lew guards in one corner, the two cage-operators behind their consoles, the medic looking over the operators shoulders . . . and the Muslim psychologist slipping in through the bars to speak with him, again bringing him a cup of water.
This time Raed accepted the cup, lifted it to lips that felt parched, his throat dry as bone. After gulping the water down, he told the psychologist, "Someone saw me that time." Then he described the woman hed seen sitting on the steps.
"Sure she wasnt looking up at the ledge-dust about to drop on her friend?" The psychologist removed her slate from a pocket, tapped in something about Raeds claim.
"Are you sure people cant see me in the past?"
"I studied the same materials you did," she replied. "Light only has one-way transdimensionality, so it only flows out of the past into an N-space fold, but"
"Doesnt flow back out of the fold, yes, yes," he said, wondering if hed been mistaken about where the woman in the NYU shirt was actually looking. It had been pretty hazy back there. And pretty scary at moments.
"There are two-way interactions," the psychologist added, pocketing her slate again. "But all are mass-related, I think. And light doesnt have much mass. . . ."
That reminded Raed: those big chunks of mass falling from the sky at him. "And no volunteer has been injured by two-way forcesnot even gravity?"
"Two-way interactions are weak-strong, so Im told. Weak from you onto the past"
"And strong from the past onto me," Raed finished, raising his eyebrows at her. Thats precisely what bothered him. He handed back the cup, accidentally touching the psychologists fingers againand wishing he could receive some contact-discharge from her so hed understand what she was feeling. She was, after all, about his daughters age.
"Strong or weak," the psychologist told him, "the worst any projected force can do is render you unconscious, which will immediately pop you back here. So theres nothing to fear. Keep that in mind," she advised him, "your next ghostings going to be a lot more challenging."
Again he said, "Send me where you must," trying to sound dismissive to hide how apprehensive he was. But after the psychologist exited the cage, Raed took a deep breath, wondering what part of 9/11 he was about to experience now, watching the yellow bars blur as the fold formed about him, and N-space wrapped him back to
A darkened stairwell strewn with chunks of drywall and concrete, a smoky haze in the air.
Raed lost his footing as he dropped onto the steps, slid down onto a landing, and ended up sprawled before a steel door in the landings opposite wall. The red glare of emergency bulbs illuminated words printed across the door:
Raed was high up in the South Tower some time after Flight 175 had crashed into it!
The door to Floor 82 burst open. Two men shoved through, forcing Raed to scramble back to avoid being bowled over. The men hurried onto the shadowy flight of steps leading below. And Raed fell in behind them, wondering how much time was left before this building came down. He was fairly sure it had collapsed about an hour after the crash . . . which meant he had less than an hour to get down eighty floors.
But he kept falling in the stairwell. Where the masslessness of paper and dust had played in his favor on the streets, here the low friction of his shoes on the darkened steps and the more tangible clutter of concrete shards made it difficult to stay on his feet. Raed had a hard time catching up to the two men, and only managed to keep them in sight at all by hanging onto the railing, sliding himself along walls that were crawling with a chilly tingly pressure. The pressure grew worse and worse, the air of the stairwell swimming with a tingling cold-fire as Raed reached Floor 78. He was afraid that floors fire-door might melt as he ran by it.
But he had to be passing the floors Flight 175 had actually crashed intoand the fact that the fire hadnt yet spread into the stairwell suggested it couldnt be too long after the crash. He might have as much as fifty minutes to get down and out.
Hed been told hed come to no harm. Did that mean the projection team intended to extract him from the building before it collapsed? Raed had been in danger from the hail of burning shrapnel during the last ghosting, and his team seemed to expect him to rescue himself . . . Its up to you what you do back in the past, the psychologist told him.
Perhaps it was up to Raed to find a way out before the forces in this world crushed him.
The landing of Floor 70 had working lights, and so did the stairs below it. A brighter passage and clearer air helped Raed move right down behind the two men he was following, close enough to hear their conversation as he looked for an opportunity to pass them. The injured man was Garth, and he kept thanking Peter for pulling him to safety after the explosion. How long ago, Raed wanted to know, wishing the men would walk single file instead of one gripping the other. Peter kept insisting hed done nothing special, switching back to his worries about coworkers whod headed up to the roof instead of trying to get below the fire.
"Your coworkers are lost," Raed snapped in frustration, "and youll be lost too, if you dont move faster!" These men were too calmhe had to get past them. At the next landing, he tried to shove himself between them
Raed crumpled to the floor, unable to withstand the tremendous emotional discharge. Peter and Garth werent calm at all! They were barely keeping their fear in check. What had they seen before entering this stairwell?
By the time he got back to his feet and caught up to them, Raed saw that more people were blocking the stairwell below Peter and Garth. There was some kind of pile-up on the next landing down, a crowd gathered round a burn victim. The delay was far more frightening for Raed than for the people surrounding himbecause he knew the building was going to collapse soon. Was this projection meant as punishment for his foreknowledge of the Flight 175 crash?
The Muslim psychologist back in 2033 suggested it was up to Raed whether the projection was punishment orwhat?
What was he supposed to do here?
He passed more burn victims outside the door to Floor 67; men with most of their clothes burned away, their skin turned gray or even black, patches of flesh peeling from their limbs. The people staying to look after them had torn off shirts to make tourniquets. Others were cloaking the shivering gray figures in suit jackets. The next landing held another group huddled about badly injured people, and so did the next, and the next, forcing Garth, then Peter, and then Raed to file slowly past. Only Raed knew those groups were all doomed, but it wouldnt have made much of a difference if he could have communicated that knowledge, at least not to the burn victimsthey didnt look as though theyd live long enough to make it to a hospital.
It was the people staying behind to console themit was all the comforters that bothered Raed. There was so many of them! Why didnt some of them just head down to safety?
Because they werent aware of the imminent collapse, as Raed was.
"Come on, move on!" he growled at Garth and Peter. Winding down through the suffering was taking too long, leaving too much time for Raed to wonder what all this was for. Surely there was more to his rehab than sharing in the harrowing experiences of 9/11 victims. There had to be more to it. But what more could he do in this past?
You really want to find out?
The psychologists question nagged at him, and Raed tried to recall the theory theyd given him. Strong-weak two-way interactions . . . the past cannot be changed . . . because projection volunteers had always been part of the moments they time-traveled back to . . . so Raed had always been herewas here nowfollowing down behind Peter, who had his arm wrapped round Garths shoulder, guiding the injured man down.
But didor wouldPeter and Garth get out before the building fell?
No way for Raed to get past them nowthere were too many people crowding the stairwell directly below the pair. Others were coming down behind Raed, sandwiching him in the stairwell, occasionally forcing him to bump into Peter or Garthand to suffer another shock of PITY-ANXIETY-DREAD-DISTRESS, emotions that almost knocked him down. The discharges astounded him. I can actually sense how these two men are feeling! He remembered the black-and-white movie about the two angels in Berlin who could hear what people were saying, but whenever they listened to peoples thoughts, the soundtrack reverted to German, leaving Raed only with a sense of the emotional-tone underlying thoughts. . . .
By the time they reached Floor 60, Raed was in a panic. Peter and Garth had to do a lot better than a floor a minute to get out in timeand to let Raed get out in time! This was a lot more nerve-wracking than the last projection.
But it seemed most of the injured had been already been passed, and below Floor 60, the stream of escapees began moving much faster. Peter and Garth slipped by slower people who were resting on the steps, and waving everyone coming down from above on past. Raed began to count off his own breaths, timing the pace between floors. He thought they navigated three flights in about a minute, timed it again and got the same result for the next three. They might just make it!
There was no panic in the stairwell, and no more injuries to pass until Floor 44, where a security guard and some others were trying to assist a man whose head was bleeding profusely. The people comforting the man looked up as Peter, Garth and Raed reached the floor; one of them asked Peter if he would send help from below. Peter agreed without slowing, guiding Garth on down the next flight with Raed right on their heels.
On Floor 40, they eased by a man in a foot cast being carried down by four coworkers who switched him between pairs at the landing, sharing the exhausting load. A compassionate act indeed. But would any of them make it out of the South Tower alive?
On Floor 33, there was an even more miraculous sight. People carrying a woman and her wheelchair down! The acts of selflessness Raed was witnessing inside the building he helped to destroy were wearing him down. He wanted to scream at everyone to drop their burdens and runrun so he could run too, down to the bottom and out onto the street before it was too late. Because it was impossible to believe he was not in the danger they were in, no matter how many assurances hed been given that no projection volunteer had ever come to harm before. How could the force of the South Tower falling not harm him?
Garth and Peter finally got past the wheelchair crew, only to find the stairwell below the Floor 31 landing completely clogged with firefighters. At least a dozen of them were hoisting themselves up the steps in their heavy gear, blocking the route downdoomed men, the most doomed of all that Raed had seen . . . because they were trying to climb up.
As people bunched onto the landingand Raed crushed himself into a corner to avoid unbearable contact-dischargesPeter moved over to the fire-door leading into the floor itself, and opened it.
"Lets try for the elevators," he said to Garth.
And Raed didnt hesitate, knowing there was no time to lose waiting on this landing. He followed the pair through the door, which closed behind him. Moments later he stood close behind Peter as the man tried the elevator buttons.
Try another stairwell, Raed prayed, realizing he was now trapped on this floorinvisible or not, he couldnt walk back out through a steel door or wall.
"Hey, theres some phones in here," Garth said, peering into a room off the hall they were in. "I want to call home."
But both men were stepping through into the room, and the door was almost closed. . . .
Raed dove through just as it shut, afraid of getting stranded in the hall if there was another way out of that room. Sure enough, a door in the opposite wall of the conference room theyd entered had a stairwell exit-sign above it.
Peter and Garth sat on the edge of the rooms long central table, dialing up loved ones on the phones.
"No time! Theres no time," Raed shouted at them, "weve got thirty more floors to go!"
It was no use. Raed stood close enough to the receiver Peter was holding to hear the anxious tones of the mans wifebut Peter couldnt hear Raed screaming right in his ear. "Put the phone down and go! Please go!" He pounded a fist on the phone-unit sitting on the table, trying to hang the damn thing up, when Peter suddenly hung up himself. But then the man began dialing another number, telling Garth he was calling in the EMS request hed promised for the injured man up on Floor 44.
Peter was on hold with EMS for several minutes that had Raed howling around the conference room, both hands wrapped around the ripcord on his belt that was supposed to instantly return him to the projection-cage, eyes focused on the ceiling that might come down at any second. . . .
If Raed ripcorded back now, hed be out of the program, his fear would have won and hed live out the next fifty years in Lew Cell #1, knowing hed been unable to face what these two men had faced.
But they had no idea what was about to happen!
Finally Peter got through, made his EMS request, and got off the phone. Raed ran to the door with the stairwell sign as the two men started toward it, opened it, then stepped through, leaving Raed just enough room to follow. The stairwell beyond was empty, and the only thing that slowed them as they hurried down was a pipe that spontaneously burst from the wall. A sign the collapse was about to happen? How many seconds left?
Water from other exploded pipes and from sprinkler-systems on the higher floors seemed to be collecting in this stairwell, making it difficult once more for Raed to keep up to Peter and Garth. . . .
And then, before he knew it, all three of them were at the bottom, hurrying through an underground plaza toward an outside street. A cop halted the two men before they crossed the street, warning about debris dropping from above
Raed just ran for it, leaving his companions for the first time since Floor 82.
Hed made it!
He put a block between himself and the South Tower before looking back to see if it was coming down yet. Smoke billowed out of the hole two-thirds of the way up. He had to get farther.
But Garth and Peter were running over, and for some reason Raed waited for them, watching the sky overhead just to be sure. When they caught up to him, Raed began following the pair again, curious to know whether theyd get far enough away to survive. More than curious: he wanted them to survive. He cared about these two American strangers, having shared in their ordeal and overheard their exchange of friendship. Was that the whole point of this projection? Or was there more to it, something hed failed to do?
As the two men continued north along the rubble-strewn blocks, Raed felt a weird echo of the relief they were professing to each other. Garth again thanked Peter for saving his life, Peter again dismissed the notion. Little did he know! A clock on a big electronic billboard read 9:59 am. Theyd made it down and out with only seconds to spare. Were they far enough away?
Garth stopped in front of a church, and asked his friend whether he wanted to go in. Peter nodded, then they both turned for one last look at the South Tower. It was visibly shuddering.
"That building could come down," Raed heard Garth say.
Peter dismissed that notion too. "Its a steel structure, theres no way"
The building began to implode before their eyes.
Peter and Garth dashed around the side of the church for protection, and Raed did too. After a few minutes, the rumbling stopped, but the dust and debris kept coming, thicker and heavier, churning into the all-enveloping gloom. The two men beside him closed their eyes against the dust-fall, and for a few seconds, Raed did too. All those people, he thought, his minds eye recalling faces seen high in the stairwell, people he was sure didnt make it out. He may have been aware of the outcome of Nazir and Sayfs attack back when he was twenty-four, but only now did Raed understand that outcome. Only now did he appreciate the sort of selfless, courageous people whod ended up caught in the aftermath of his cousins actions. . . . Nazir had told Raed theyd be bringing down America along with those two buildings. But all theyd brought down was
All those people, he thought again, horrified by the outcome for the first time in his life. Then he heard Peter say it too: "All those people," the big man croaked, shaking his head. Beside him Garth was weeping.
But they, at least, had lived. Peter and Garth had lived! And as the two men began to swirl away, Raed had just enough time to regret parting company with them before their faces vanished into the tunnel of history, and he found himself back
In 2033, back in the present.
Back in his cage, blinking at the bars, and thinking of Peter and Garth. Did they still live, in the present?
"Anyone see you that time, Raed?"
It was the veiled psychologist, entering the cage again.
"No," he answered. "I meanI dont know." Some of the people comforting the burn victims in the stairwell had looked up as hed passed by. Raed had thought they were looking at him at first, before realizing theyd been looking at Peter or Garth or at someone else behind Raed. . . . Perhaps the same was true of that woman hed seen in the previous projection, the one in the NYU sweatshirt with the red ribbonperhaps shed also been looking at someone passing behind Raed. Who could say?
He was still too horrified by his latest experience of 9/11 to think clearly.
But a feeling of horror wasnt enough. Raed saw that in the eyes of the psychologist standing below him, tapping away at her slate. He had not faced whatever he must face, had not done whatever he must do. What could he do, without changing the past?
"That was your longest projection so far," the psychologist told him, "almost an hour. So weve only time for a few more. Theyll be short and to the point. And for the next one, Raed," she said, "remember what your lawyers told you."
"Just send me," he groaned.
But she stayed for another second or two, holding Raeds eyes, her own wide eyes filled withforeboding? After she slid out between the yellow bars, Raed closed his eyes and clenched his teeth, preparing to ghost once again back to 9/11. So many projections to the same target-time! He thought of the two firemen at Ground Zero whod taken turns climbing into the crows nest of their pumper truck, returning to the fire time and again, refusing to give up even though hope was already gone. If theyd been able to face it over and over, well then, so could Raed.
But when he opened his eyes, he was surprised to find that
He was back in a stairwell in the South Tower, standing on the landing of Floor 54, no one in sight. And right in front of him a zipper-rip was forming in the outer wall.
The whole stairwell seemed to pitch. Raed lurched for a railing of the flight leading down, barely able to keep his feet. What had the lawyers told him? Emotional harm was the only real danger during a projectionand if he used the ripcord before the cage operators brought him back, hed be automatically disqualified from the program. . . .
Raed scrambled onto the flight leading below only to stop short halfway down, seeing some people appear at the bottom climbing up. Firemen! The same doomed men hed seen around Floor 30 during his last ghosting. They were all panting, far more exhausted now.
And even if he could get down past them, he would never make it out in time, not this time. Short and to the point, the psychologist had promised.
The building rocked again, and Raed sprawled onto the steps, one hand gripping the railing to keep him from sliding into the firemen below, who were all hanging from the same railing and staring at each other, clearly wondering whether they should continue.
"Go down!" Raed wailed at them, pulling himself back upright.
And the firemen reacted, but not to Raeds yellsomeone trapped a few floors higher was screaming for help. En masse they began to climb, aware of the danger of collapse but not of its imminent certainty.
Raed flattened himself against the stairwell wall, wrapping both arms around the railingand then the firemen were crushing up through him. He could feel their huge souls, giant lionhearts swelling with FEAR-FURY-DEFIANCE-DETERMINATION. And during the endless seconds it took for them to climb by, Raed believed that nothing could kill such men. . . . After the last of them had passed, Raed slumped to the stairs, and lay there in a heap as the building rocked and rippled. The firemen were forced to stop just above him, all of them bracing themselves against the walls.
"Feel that just now?" gasped a man two steps above Raed.
Another nodded. "Somethings telling me were not gonna get out of here."
Had they sensed Raeds thoughts as they pushed by him? But no, individual thoughts could not be exchanged. Biomass could only produce "strong-weak" interactions: strong from these firemen onto him, too weak from him onto them to change their minds about anything.
And any further words the firemen above him might have said were abruptly drowned out by loud snappings and splittings that sounded to Raed like the fabric of the Universe tearing. The sounds snowballed into a terrific roaring, and Raed moved one hand off the vibrating railing onto his belt, fingered the ripcord, and looked up in anticipationto his astonishment, some civilians who had made it down from the landing above were squeezing between the firemen. Then the stairwell walls seemed to give out, the people above clutched onto their would-be rescuers, Raed instinctively grabbed the railing with both hands, and God in Heaven dropped the world of 9/11 down on top of him, using the building Raed helped bring down to smite him once and for all
A sharp smell roused him. Raed opened his eyes, unsure of where he was. Two figures swam into view: the burqa-veiled psychologist and the burly male medic, who was holding smelling salts.
Raed took in a painful breath, raised both hands to his chest, and checked for broken ribs.
"Its just sympathetic pain," the psychologist assured him, "all in your mind."
"Youre okay," the medic agreed. "Its just the shock of being blown out of the fold."
"Why" Raed broke off, sucked in air, still psychologically winded. "Wasnt I crushed? Gravity of the past . . . pulled everything down on uson me."
The medic pointed to the inward-pointing cones studding the cages arcing bars. "The particles they focus on you only open a transient fold. Any strong force exerted on the exteriorthe force of a wall falling on you, a bullet fired at youand the folds sphere spontaneously pops, blowing you right back here. Bit of a shock," he repeated, "but you get used to it."
"Youve faced. . . ." Raed wasnt sure what to call it.
"A mortal force in the past?" The medic rolled up a sleeve, revealing a tattoo of the Statue of Liberty on one big bicep. "I was born in France," he said, "so I ghosted back to the Revolution, and got hit by a cannonball fired into a crowd outside the BastilleI was standing too close to some of my ancestors." The big man folded his arms, frowned up at Raed. "Gotta tell you, facing death during a ghostings not the hard part. Its not easybut its not the hard part."
"What," Raed wheezed back at him, "is the hard part?"
The medic looked over the psychologists shoulder, and read something on the slate she was accessing again. "I believe you already know," he said, then nodded at Raed and left the cage.
Raed met the psychologists wary eyes.
"Can you?" she asked him, a hint of pleading in her voice. Had she expected him to ripcord out before the South Tower collapsed? Had she hoped hed stick it out with those firemen?
The thought that the psychologist held out a faint hope for him gave Raed a little strength. "I think . . . I can," he breathed, then began breathing easier.
After all, he knew now shed been telling the truth. He couldnt come to harm. And after she exited the cage, Raed watched the psychologist and the others outside the bars begin to slide away, knowing the next projection couldnt get any worse, it could only get
Raed dropped to the floor of an elevator with its double-doors partially open. Beyond the gap in the doors a debris-littered lobby kept rising, then plunging, then rising again, as though the elevator was a yo-yo on a string about to snap. The steel walls around him were visibly vibrating, so he knew he didnt have much time. But he waited until the lobby outside fell from above his shoulders to a foot below the level of the elevator
Raed threw himself out, landing flat on his chest on the cluttered lobby carpeting. A sign fallen from a shuddering wall told him this was Floor 104 of the South Tower. And there was a man propped against a smoldering reception desk nearby, his legs trapped under a huge twist of black metal that had stabbed down through the ceiling.
The trapped man wasnt alone.
Raed got to his feet, staggered closer, and stared at a woman kneeling beside the trapped man, her arm round his shoulder. She stared back at Raed, following him with her eyes.
"You cant see me," he insisted, and then fled from the pair, down a hall, and around a corner, not wanting to be seen by a victim about to meet her end. Not wanting to sit idly by as two more people met their doom, unable to do a thing about them or himself.
Not understanding what he was supposed to do here!
Ceiling panels crashed down in a hall he turned into, and an electrical panel exploded. Raed was driven back, his time probably almost up again. Short and to the point.
The point being to meet more of the people hed help trap in this tower? I didnt trap them, I wasnt on that plane. It was Nazir, Sayf, and their comrades! But no matter how he tried to rationalize, how he tried to escape, Raed was blocked at every turn. There was just no way out. Corridors came down in a rain of rubble, passageways filled with a tingling pressure before bursting into flame, and doorway after doorway was barricaded by debris. All the rooms within rooms closed off to him now, all his mental defenses collapsing, forcing him back to. . . .
The central lobby and the elevators, where he hated to go but had to, andin the endwanted to, so he wouldnt have to face the end alone. As he stumbled into the lobby, Raed saw the trapped man now had two companions consoling him instead of one, both comforters wearing red ribbons on their collars but neither looking at Raed. Their eyes were squeezed tightly shut, knowing the collapse was upon them, hearing the roar and hugging the arms of the trapped man, one on either side, their faces agonized.
Yet the man propped between them seemed unaware of his two steadfast friends, his hands clasped together in prayer, face somehow calmer, eyes turned up toward his own version of Heaven. We do this to Americans because they are godless, Nazir had told Raed repeatedly.
And that was not true.
And feeling horror for this trapped trio was not enough.
Raed threw himself down on the shuddering floor before them. He knew what the hard part was now. "I dont have the strength," was all he had time to say before the world descended on them all again
Sharp reviving odors.
Opening his eyes, squinting at yellow bars, then down at the big medic, and the small Muslim psychologist.
"Was seenagain," Raed managed to say when hed caught his breath. "Were two of them. Two . . . shouldnt have been there."
"What do you mean?" The psychologist was tapping it all into her slate.
"Both wearing ribbons," Raed said, less winded this time. "Pinned to sweatshirts," he went on, "like the other one who saw mewhen I turned up that side street."
She surprised him by replying, "Youve gotten a long way into our program tonight Raed, and youre nearly there."
"Understandthe programs spiraling you toward the core-event you were convicted of being an accomplice to. Time to take you in for a close-up."
He nodded. The hard part still remained. "Go ahead," he said, no longer caring. . . . There were no rooms left to hide himself inside anyway. Raeds own core had been drawn out now, and he was ready for anything, ready for the truth.
Again the psychologist hesitated before leaving, and again her lingering gaze gave him strength. She wants me to see it through.
Raed realized he wanted to see it through, too.
Seconds later the cage-bars began to blur, then bend away, and before he knew it he was
Back in the South Tower, and for the first time, hed arrived before it was hit. . . . The floor around him was filled with people, a dozen desks visible in an open area near some tall windows, a few of the desks still occupied by people making phone-calls, although most looked upset. Most others had left their desks and were standing at the windows, looking out at the North Tower, which had a smoking hole a number of floors higher up its side.
What floor was he on in this building? Raed turned and hurried around to the elevators, darting in and out of groups of people, and in the central lobby discovered he was on Floor 78.
The point-of-impact for the South Tower.
Raed kept right on running through the floor, around to the towers opposite outer wall. Finding another open area past a row of offices, he peered out through some windows facing south. A gleaming speck was just visible against the blue sky in the southeast, slowly arcing around to get into position.
Raed had often wondered about Nazir and Sayfs last moment in that cockpit. In the early years, hed even tried to picture it: opening their shirts and exposing their hearts to God, praying for entrance to Heaven. Madmen, and Raed had sensed it even then. But hed been a little mad himself, in that period. . . . And now that he was in a position to glimpse the expression on their faces as they plunged into the side of this building, Raed found he had no interest in glimpsing any such thing. He turned his back to the windows.
Four of the dozen desks arrayed before him had knots of people standing around them. And sprinkled in among the business attire worn by most of those peoplenone of them currently looking out the windows to the souththere were a handful of standouts in casual clothes, sweats, even one in an all-blue jumpsuit. All the casual-dressed people had their hands on the shoulders or backs of one or another of the victims-to-be.
Raed moved over to the nearest occupied desk, where a young blond-haired man in a crisp mauve shirt and black tie sat facing the outer windows, too busy talking on the phone to notice the speck growing in the sky beyond the windows. Standing directly behind this young businessman was another older blond-haired man, in his mid-forties perhaps, approaching middle-age, yet dressed in silvery track pants and a Columbia University pullover. He had both hands on the shoulders of the desks occupant and was crouched over him, head bent low, eyes closed and concentrating, to all appearances eavesdropping on the seated mans phone call.
Neither the seated man nor anyone else in the area seemed to take any notice of this peculiar eavesdropper.
Except for Raed.
"Who are you?" he asked the man in silver track pants.
The man frowned up at Raed, his concentration broken. Raed immediately saw that the eavesdropper and the businessman below him might have been twins, but for the ten-year age difference between them. And now the red ribbon pinned to the eavesdroppers collar was plainly visible . . . Below him, the seated man continued reassuring whoever he was talking to on the phone that he was all right, that it was the other tower that was hitbut his eyes were finally widening, focusing on something behind Raed, beyond the windows. The eavesdropper bowed over the seated man again, concentrating harder, tightening his grip on his younger twins shoulders.
Out of the corner of his eye, Raed caught other people reacting to something in the sky beyond the south windows. And now, somehow, there were twice as many people in sweats and casual clothes in the open areathough Raed had seen no one enter the area. All the newcomers had their heads bowed, holding tightly to some shocked-looking businessman or woman.
"Who are all of you?" Raed yelled across the open space.
He got no answer. The casual-dressers were too focused on the task at hand: remaining in physical contact with people who were beginning to scramble away in disbelief
A loud clattering drew Raeds eyes back to the desk he was standing in front of.
"Oh God, oh my God." The young blond businessman had dropped the phone receiver and was on his feet, gaping at the windows behind Raed. A womans voice squeaked out of the receiver inches from Raeds hip: "Steve? You still there, Steve?"
The older man in silver track pants clung onto Steve, his face pained
Then everyone was breaking free from their casually-dressed companions and fleeing, falling over chairs and furniture in desperate attempts to escape. And all the ribbon-wearing clingers left behind turned toward Raed.
"Why did you bring me here?" he cried as he backed right up against the windows, wanting this to be over quickly. A shadow fell across the area of desks
Revived again, safely back in his cage in 2033.
Raed focused blearily past the bars and across the main projection arena, where a hundred other volunteers hung suspended in cages too, most of them mere image-people, half here, half there, still currently ghosting somewhere. In some of the closer cages, volunteers appeared to be crouched over something in the past, or clutching onto someone. Those in the closest cages seemed to be in some kind of pain.
But a number of volunteers were no longer glowing images. Their projections had just ended, just like Raeds. In one or two cages, he could see people being revived with smelling salts. . . .
In his own cage, the Muslim psychologist was again consulting with the big medic, both standing just below him. Raed waited until the medic slipped back out before he summoned to will to say to the psychologist, "I need to ask something."
He gestured toward the cages filling the main arena. "Those people are all ghosting back to 9/11, arent they? Theyve been accompanying me. . . ."
"They have their own business in that target-time," she told him.
Tackling what Ive been avoiding, Raed thought. The hard part.
"But yes," the psychologist went on, "they are accompanying you, in a waytheyre projecting through folds oriented identically to your own." Behind the burqa-veil, the womans eyes seemed disappointed. "Is that your question?"
He would not disappoint her. He said, "Theyre the group of interested citizens, yes? The ones who petitioned to get me into this program."
She nodded. "Is that your question?"
"Who are they?" Raed asked. That was the question.
"The grown children of your victims, mostly," she told him. "Plus a few victims nieces, nephews, friends, one or two of the surviving spouses."
Raed swallowed, a soft clicking deep in his throat. "And you?"
"Yes," she answered without hesitation, her liquid-black eyes swallowing his question. "Im also the child of one of your victims." She adjusted the folds of her burqa to show him the red ribbon she was wearing. The same ribbons worn by the out-of-place clingers and companions in the pastthe people in the cages beyond the Plexiglas.
Raed bowed his head. If the woman below him was his daughter, then Haifa, his wife, was surely another of Raeds victims. And if the woman below him was his daughter, surely it was no surprise shed become a psychologistnot with a father like Raed to try to comprehend.
She said to him: "I was one of those curious to see if you were capable of making it through this program." A beeping drew her eyes to her slate. She turned, nodded to the projection operators at their consoles, and glanced up at Raed again. "Looks like we have time for just one more."
"Just one more," he agreed, even though he felt wearier than hed ever imagined he could feelweary down in his soul.
But there was one more place left to face, wasnt there? Raed watched the psychologist step out through the bars, then watched the world of 2033 slide away as the cage tunneled him back to
That oh-so-familiar tubular space. He was back where his night of projection began, back in a seat on board a large passenger jet.
This jet, however, was airborne.
Flight 175, Boston to Los Angeles. Raed was sitting in a window-seat about halfway up the plane. The oval portal beside him offered a good view of the Atlantic beyond the wing, and the Eastern seaboard. The plane was already well off its flight path, well on its way to its doomed target. But the familiar Manhattan skyline was not in sight yet; there was still a little time left.
Raed shifted out to the empty aisle seat, saw that the back half of the plane behind him was crammed with passengers. There were even people crouching in the aisle. Directly across the aisle, in the same row as Raed, a sturdy-looking man in his late thirties was dialing someone on a cell phone. After a few seconds the man began to speak. Raed instinctively drew back, then forced himself to listen: ". . . flights been hijacked," the man was saying. "Ill try to call again, but dont know if therell be time."
You must be Tom, Raed thought, recognizing the voice and recalling a bright kitchen with an answering machine in a warm Rhode Island home.
"Whatever happens, Angie, know that I love you," Tom went on, maintaining his unearthly calm. "That Im thinking of you now, and the kids too. . . ." He let out a breath. "Theyll be fine with you as their mom," he said. "So dont let them be sad for too long."
Raed stared across the aisle, humbled by Toms ability to pass beyond denial of his dire situation into an acceptance of it. This man was neither hysterical nor paralyzed by terrorhe was just terribly lonely.
"Ill always be with the three of you. And Angie," Tom finished, "in my heart I know well meet again." He shut off his phone, and turned to stare out the window.
Thats when Raed caught a glimpse of someone seated on the far side of Tom, tucked up against him. Raed pulled himself to his feet, stepped into the aisle, and saw a sixty-something woman with her hands wrapped round Toms arm, her head on his shoulder, her face drawn tight, concentrating.
She wasnt wearing a seatbelt because she didnt need one, of course.
Raed wanted to ask the woman her name, but sensed it wouldnt be appropriate. Besides, he knew who she had to be: "Angie"Angela or AngelicaToms spouse. An old woman now, yet still strong enough to ghost back to her lost husbands side, strong enough to withstand the discharge of his dread long enough to add a little of her own calm to his. Angie was comforting Tom on the way to that greater comfort the man clearly had faith in.
The plane rolled, awkwardly changing direction, tossing Raed off balance. Through the windows of the forward seats he spotted distant skyscrapers, including the towers of the World Trade Center. Up in the cockpit his cousins and their pilot friends were beginning the approach to the South Tower, intent on bringing it down. And because Raed had known their intentions before his cousins and their comrades ever boarded this plane, he was just as responsible as they were. He could no longer deny it, now that he was actually on board with them. Hed always been on board with them, in some sense or other. . . .
So the thought of walking up to the cockpit door and eavesdropping on Nazir and Sayfs final words held no interest for Raed. His cousins hold over him disintegrated long ago, in the awful period after the Twin Towers came down.
Raed turned his back to the cockpit, and began to walk down the aisle, looking over the people filling the rear of the planehis cousins victims, his victims too. He knew thered only been sixty-five passengers on Flight 175, but he could see closer to a hundred crowded into the rear rows. Before him a sad and beautiful truth was playing out. . . . The plane banked again and Raed reeled on his feet, but not because of the deficiencies of the pilot. What he was seeing was almost too overpowering to witness.
The back of the plane was packed with lonely people, many of them being comforted by their own ghost-childrenmostly full-grown forty-somethings now, adults strong enough to come back to this unthinkable moment, to tackle the hard part and take on the two-way interaction "biomass" unleashed: strong emotions flooding from the passengers into these ghost-descendants.
And weak emotions seeping from the ghosts back into their long-lost loved ones.
Whatever weak effect we have on the past, the researcher Francis told Raed, it was made the first time around, if you get my meaning. So nothing can be changed!
Cause and effect aside, every row Raed passed held an anguished-looking adult in track pants or jumpsuit, a red ribbon pinned to their collar. The ghosts were squeezed in behind the seats of some passengers, leaning over headrests, arms draped down around the shoulders of a mother, or an aunt, or a family friend theyd come back to comfort. A few were even kneeling in the aisle, their heads tucked onto the laps of passengers. All these agonizing visitors were soaking up the frenzied emotions of the passengers, while oozing an ounce of serenity back the other way, an ounce of certainty that their loved ones were with them, in spirit.
It was all they could do. Raed understood that now, and he understood what the projection-team was putting him through. He saw the method underlying their rehab program, ghosting him back to see things that should help him know what to do, like those two firemen taking turns in the crows nest of their pumper truck, falling out exhausted, then climbing back in again to help douse the raging fires.
Thats just what Raed was witnessing in the rear of Flight 175, as some ghost-comforters overcome with emotion simply vanished, others immediately appearing to take their place. The volunteers from his own time were projecting in, in wave after wave, taking turns taking on the pain of relatives and friends in their moment of greatest need.
The plane dropped lower, and a cry rose up from several passengers on Raeds left. Through the oval windows he saw the smoke-trail from the North Tower, both buildings drawing inexorably closer.
Time to face the hard part himself.
In the second-to-last row, a woman was curled up with a tiny, tired-looking child, a girl the age of the Basma hed lost. A middle-aged man in coveralls stood behind the womans seat, his head bowed, his arms draped down over the womans shoulders, while her own arm was wrapped tightly round the shoulders of the child in the aisle seat.
Raed lowered himself to his knees, falling into a prayer-position in the aisle beside the child, a victim of the pitiless madness of Raeds own youth. But pitying her now, he placed his arm across her, received the awesome discharge of her emotions, concentrated, and tried hard to push his own feelings and his fatigue back onto her: FORGIVE ME-FIND PEACE IN YOUR MOTHERS ARMS-ADD MY WEARINESS TO YOURS. . . . The childs drooping eyes finally closed, Raed felt her fall unconscious as the plane accelerated down, saw some of the fear ease from her face in the last second of his embrace
END OF FIRST
Many more cases and depositions were presented to the World Court over the course of the hearings on deep-projection technology. Some were further examples of New Spiritualist experiments, like the program designed for the inmate Raed. These positive-result cases sparked far greater interest among the worldwide audience following the hearings than the overstated cases claiming negative consequences. So by end of the hearings the court made its controversial decision, lifting the ban on deep-projection "for limited use"such use to be governed by a duly-appointed body that would oversee and approve projection programs.
I, Francis Drummond, am the head of that governing body.
The Hague hearings dramatically boosted the number of New Spiritualist volunteers, as it became apparent to the public that emotions transcend time in some miraculous way, and in a two-way direction. . . . From that day to this, our movement has spread into every culture, changing the nature of the mid-twenty-first century entirely. Projection arenas have been reopened or built anew in thousands of cities, and now hundreds of thousands of volunteers ghost back to the past, participating in programs designed to open their eyes to the universality of tragedy in cultures other than their own.
The result has been a wider recognition of our present as the precious, precarious climax to all our ancient pasts. After millennia of struggle and strife, back-breaking labor and bad luck, madness and sadness and small successes piled one atop the next, most societies are making that final leap up the ladder of progress toward a transcendent, tolerant civilization.
The goal of New Spiritualism is a reawakening to the truth of what has gone before us, what it has taken all of us to get here. And though the controversy rages on, today that goal is being achieved. Waves of volunteers are returning to comfort their own ancestorsor comfort mere strangers caught in the tragic forces of world historyas a way of thanking the generations whose sufferings helped bring about a world they feel fortunate to live in. The target-times these volunteers revisit are mostly old and familiar turning points of the past, key moments in the histories of many cultures. The oldest stories in the book, you might say, and each one defined by a truth that volunteers of all cultures report witnessing: down through the ages the greatest humanity is always to be found in the midst of tragedy and catastrophe, as the living cling to loved ones lost with hearts unbound.