Chapter 13 Setback
Chapter 13: Setback
After Thomas’s birthday, things returned to normal at the Lab. Every Test jump was set up to be a replay of the events that transpired 9/11, but there were undetermined variables that occurred as in past attempts and often lead to unforeseeable circumstances, or as Thomas called them, “failures”. These chance occurrences made each jump a different learning experience. Early on, Dr Mendel, Roth and Tsuranagi came to the unmistakable conclusion, that to try a second time upon failing the first actual jump, would introduce variables in the formula that could cancel out both the past and the future. It was a chance that dared not be taken.
There could only be one real shot at success, and it had to be calculated, coordinated and timed as precisely as a mission to Mars. The Variables in each scenario kept the entire crew on edge throughout the testing.
There was no risk of physical harm to Thomas in the simulations. He would be pulled out before being put in harms way. This was a provision that his Aunt had firmly insisted upon. Nonetheless, each mission was expensive, and from this time on, had to be dealt with as if it were the only chance, regardless of the variables.
The joy of the weeks following his birthday were marred when one such mishap occurred. It had such a grave effect upon Thomas that the project was on the verge of being scrubbed.
Thomas was sent to the proper coordinates, but arrived too late. The second plane had already impacted the second tower by at least twenty minutes. As he materialized on the scene, Thomas was greeted with the fiery spectacle that he painfully remembered viewing from his TV set. Now it was live before him.
He could feel the heat from the blaze. Helplessly he watched as tiny people leaped to their death from both towers, Should he try to catch them? What could he do? He had missed the opportunity to catch either jet. Both buildings were smoldering, the first Tower near to collapse. Thomas broke down sobbing as the Doctors were frantically calling for him to shear off the tops of the flaming towers.
“Which one?” He bravely asked through his tears.
“The first” came the reply, “It’s about to go down” Doctor Roth’s voice was cold and without emotion. As a captain at the helm, it had to be.
The smoke was thick, and choking him, Thomas turned his attention to the first building, The smoke was stinging his eyes and burning his throat as he reached out to touch the building. As soon as he placed his hand on the tower, the building started to collapse.
“No, no” He cried. The building disintegrated before him billowing up a lethal cloud of pulverized Aluminum, concrete and dust.
“Forget that one, its too late” Came the Doctors voice, “See if you can take the top off the second building, tear it off carefully, from a few floors below the jets entry point, if you are not careful the building will topple” Thomas was having a difficult time breathing, Jet fighters had been called in, and perceived him as the threat. They were firing upon him making concentration hard enough. Thomas’s body was covered with a layer of soot and hot ash. Their cannons stung. He used his inner forearm to wipe the ash from his eyes. They were tearing, making it hard to see. The intense heat and smoke was rising from the second tower, He stepped around the building, trying to start on the side not affected by the hit. The wind shifted and blew the smoke in his face, and he gagged. His eyes were tearing and he had to squint, He was crying all the time. He pushed his hand into the towers edifice, and could make out hundreds of people jumping from the gash he had just put in the towers wall. Flames jumped through the floor as he quickly withdrew his hand.
Was his Dad and Mom on the first tower, or the second, he couldn’t recall. Maybe they had just died as the first building came down. He tried to put his huge hand back where he started to rip off the upper stories. Maybe they were on the roof of this tower, He stood back, gasping for fresh air, trying to see the people on the roof. Heavily armed helicopters continued open fire on him at close range, The jet fighters swooped in, let loose their missiles and darted away.
“No! Stop” He cried in desperation.Putting his hand once more on the tower, trying to get in a better position, away from the smoke. He realized he was stepping on people and fire trucks below; nothing could be done for them. In a reflex motion, he swatted down one of the armed Helicopters, it crashed into the side of the building gashing another hole, broken glass exploded from the impact raining down on the street below. More people dove or fell from the fresh opening. He recalled his fathers cell phone message, “Hello Son, we are on the roof, and are trying to get home, be brave!” The doomed building trembled a little before it twisted and tumbled down.
Instead of collapsing upon itself, as it had during the actual attack, it was weakened on the side, and went down like a felled tree, collapsing in part onto Thomas, and then tumbling off to the side, doing much more damage to the people and structures around it as it crashed to the ground. Thomas turned away sobbing.
“Out, Out” He cried. There was nothing more to be done. The mission was scrubbed. Thomas exited the chamber as if in a trance, and did not say a word to anyone, not even at the briefings. He sat silent. The Doctors looked at one another, not knowing what to do, Leah tried to talk to him, but he turned his back on her. Thomas was driven home that evening, and did not report in the next day, nor the day after. He wasn’t talking to anyone, not even to his family.
Thomas stayed in his room for days eating little, and mostly watching television, not even bothering to get dressed. Nan questioned him, but he wouldn’t talk. She placed a worried call to the Lab, and set up an appointment with his tutor, Mr Jackson. She hoped he might shed some light on Thomas’s depression. At the Lab, all tests were halted. Thomas had chosen to stay home; He wouldn’t talk to his friends, and couldn’t talk to Nan. He even avoided Ralph.
“Please dear, tell me what happened” She recognized his behavior as similar to the way he acted when he found out about his parents deaths. Not even Ralph could break Thomas’s mood. He stayed in his room, not coming down for dinner. Nan was at wits end, and demanded that Dr Mendel explain to her what happened. She listened to the explanation silently, understanding the trauma that Thomas had been through, but not knowing what to do about it. Maybe his councilor Leah would be able to make headway. Child psychology was her specialty, but more then that, Leah seemed to have a bond with Thomas. She was indeed everyone’s last hope.
Leah Mendel met Nan at the front entrance, Nan pointed the door to Thomas’s room, and went back into the kitchen with a worried look. She knew not to interfere. Leah knocked first, no response. She knocked again, the door was not locked, and she could hear the television was on. She then quietly opened the door to Thomas’s room. He was sitting on his bed in his underwear, staring blankly at some mindless cartoon on the small television on his dresser. The shades were drawn, and the room was near dark.
”You must be feeling terrible.” Thomas just stared ahead, then he put his eyes down, ignoring her. His eyes went back to the cartoon. Thomas was in fact, somewhat surprised to find Leah, here at his house, and now in his room.
“Thomas you have to talk” She was not reaching him. She found the remote on the bed stand, and turned off the TV. Thomas continued staring at the blank screen.
”You can tell me about it Thomas, what happened?”
Thomas looked at her sitting on the chair next to his bed, both were silhouetted in the dim gloom. It was not the time to joke, but Leah needed to reach him.
“Would you like to draw a picture?” Thomas swallowed hard, started to say something, and then clammed up again.
“Thomas, you have to talk, otherwise this thing will eat away at you, won’t you tell me in your words what happened” He sat silently, looked at her, then looked away.
”What happened?” He whispered incredulously shaking his head, and then he repeated it again louder. He raised his voice in anguish.
”The building blew up in my face is what happened!” Leah took a breath of relief, a flood channel had just been opened.
“I couldn’t do anything,” He stammered, “I couldn’t save anyone, It was my fault, that’s what happened!” He broke down for the first time since the incident; tears welled up in his eyes.
”What did they want me to do? Why did they show me that?” The tears now streaming down his cheek.
”What did they want me to do?” He repeated in a broken cry, “My Mom and Dad were killed in front of me again” He broke off bawling.
“It’s OK dear” Leah comforted, “Let it out” Thomas cried for a minute, and rubbed his eyes, Leah handed him a tissue, then she did the smart thing, she listened silently. Thomas stopped crying and said in a low voice,
”I couldn’t save them, I couldn’t save anyone. It was like I was making them die, I saw them jumping, I couldn’t breath, and I was letting them all die. And they were shooting me, like I caused it” He cried quietly again, as Leah said,
”Oh Thomas,” She moved over to sit on his bed next to him. She put her arm around his shoulder,
”Everyone at the Lab knows, and you know, it was not your fault. They screwed up, Big time! There was nothing you could have done to save the buildings, from the time you got there. They were all just as desperate as you, at that late stage,” She repeated, “You could not have saved the buildings” She paused, then continued, “The machine may come up with screw ups, but I know you Thomas, and there will be nothing that could prevent you from saving those buildings; If we can get you there in time as planned. You have shown us that we only need to give you half a fighting chance. You didn’t have it this time.” Thomas leaned into her shoulder, hearing her words, and needing a hug.
”We are here because you can change it, prevent it from happening, you didn’t have a chance in that test, it was unfair, everyone agrees.” His body quaked, as she hugged him, “And another thing, you are the bravest young man I’ve ever met. Everyone who knows you, knows its true.”
The words touched Thomas, he reached back over to his nightstand and grabbed another tissue,
“You have a mission Thomas, We know that you can do it, but you have to be brave, and let this horrible mishap get behind you. You have to do what that song says, “pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and start over again.” Thomas blew his nose, and nodded. She asked carefully,
”So, you’ll tidy up and return to the testing tomorrow?” Thomas remembered how great he felt, on his birthday, he was going to save the buildings, he still had the chance. He nodded.
“Good” She said, “Now why don’t you shower up, and go down, Nan is worried sick about you, see if you can cheer her up, OK?” Thomas nodded again.
”Now I want you to listen to me, seriously, the next time there is a screw up and you find yourself in a out of control situation, I want you to laugh at it. OK?” Thomas forced a brave smile,
”I’m serious” She emphasized holding both his shoulders and staring directly into his eyes, “The next test we screw up, laugh at us; Curse us out, be angry with us, and above all, don’t worry, you are not to blame.” She released his shoulders, “Now, let me hear you laugh.” Thomas smiled weakly, sniffled, blew his nose, and replied,
”I will laugh, next time.”
”Very good then, now give me another hug.” Thomas hugged her deep and long. He noticed how nice her hair smelled, like the meadows and the fields. As she was leaving his room Thomas called her, awkwardly he said,
”Leah, would you, um, go on a date with me?” Leah smiled warmly back, and left the room with a, “We’ll see” twinkle in her glance.
Nan was standing nervously by the stairs as Leah came down,
“He’s going to be all right, he’s going to shower and will be right down.” Nan was much relieved.
“We will talk later over coffee” Leah said, as she walked to the door.