Final Exam at the Twin Towers: A SciFi Time Travel Story
Brian Edwards stood in the entrance of his cubicle and looked around the office for the last time. It was a few minutes before 8:00 am on a Tuesday morning, and the office routine was just getting started. Over at the coffee maker, Don, Shelley, and Fred were filling their cups and chatting about yesterday’s Monday Night Football game between the Giants and the Broncos. Hard charging Alice was already at the printer waiting for a document to come out. Brian looked at them and all the other familiar faces with fondness and a little sadness in his eyes.
He had grown to really like these people over the last six months, and now he felt a twinge of sorrow that when he walked out of this building in just a few minutes, he would never see any of them again.
But that’s the way he had planned it when he took this job, and now it was time to go. He needed to be down on the street by 8:05 for the 20-minute taxi ride to his meeting at Syndexx. Brian had timed this very carefully over the past several weeks. He knew the taxi would get him to the South Tower no later than 8:30. That would give him plenty of time to walk into the building, quickly change his appearance in a rest room, and then walk back out and blend into the crowd on the street.
Brian stepped back into the cubicle to get his jacket. As he turned to leave, Kate Simms suddenly appeared in the doorway, coat and briefcase in hand.
“Roger tells me you have a meeting with Syndexx in the South Tower this morning,” she said.
“Yes, I’m on my way now,” Brian replied.
“Well my meeting in the North Tower has been rescheduled for today, so Roger said you and I could share a cab.”
Brian looked at her with a feeling of stunned dismay that he did not allow to reach his face. Kate was going to be in the North Tower today? No!
But what he said to her was, “OK. Let’s go.”
His face wore the same aloof and uninterested expression it always did whenever he dealt with Kate. But inside his gut was churning. He had planned with extreme care for every contingency he thought might possibly happen this morning. But he hadn’t planned for this.
A Fateful Taxi Ride
For the first couple of minutes in the cab, the two colleagues sat silent. But then, looking straight ahead, Kate began to speak.
“Brian, I changed my meeting from tomorrow to today because I wanted to talk with you, and I thought this taxi ride would be a good opportunity to do that.”
Now she turned to look him in the face. “Brian, why do you dislike me so much? What have I ever done to you to make you treat me with such coldness? Your attitude toward me has made working with you on this project the most stressful time of my life. Am I that repulsive to you?”
Brian looked at her and saw just a hint of tears in her eyes. The churning inside increased. What could he say? How could he tell her that the reason he tried to stay away from her was not that he hated her, but that he loved her? After a few moments, he made his decision.
“Kate, I don’t dislike you. In fact the problem is, I like you too much.” Brian hesitated a moment to gather his thoughts, then went on. “You see, I could feel myself growing more and more attracted to you every day. But I have responsibilities that would make any real friendship between us impossible. So, I thought the best thing to do was to put as much emotional distance between us as I could.”
“Is it because you’re already married”?
“Oh, no,” Brian quickly replied, “it’s nothing like that.”
“Is it because you’re black and I’m white?”
“Of course not! That wouldn’t even occur to me. It’s something I can’t explain – I don’t have the right to explain.”
Who Brian Really Was
No right to explain. He didn’t have the right to explain to her that he was not of this time; that he was a new Time Patrol officer candidate fulfilling his final requirement for graduation from the Academy. He had been sent here to the year 2001 to demonstrate that he could live on his own for six months in a time period very different from the one he had grown up in. It had been up to him to find a job and a place to live, and to blend in with the people around him, all without doing anything that might change history in the slightest way. He had planned to use the attack on the Twin Towers to cover for his disappearance when he returned to his own time. But developing a personal attachment to a native of the period had definitely not been on the agenda!
As the cab pulled up at the North Tower, Brian was in an agony of indecision. How could he let this woman, whom he now realized meant more to him than anybody on earth, get out of the cab and walk into a building that he knew would be destroyed by a terrorist-piloted airplane ten minutes from now?
And yet, the Prime Directive of his service, a code to which he had solemnly pledged himself when he first entered the Academy, was that under no circumstances, no matter what the provocation, could a Patrol officer do anything to deliberately change the past in any significant way. If Kate Simms was fated to go into that building on September 11, 2001 and die there when the plane hit, it was Brian’s duty to not interfere, and to let events play themselves out as history said they had.
But wait! Kate said that her meeting had originally been planned for tomorrow, and she had changed it to today so she could talk with him. That meant that he was responsible for her being here on this tragic day. Maybe if she had never met him, history would record that she was not in the North Tower on this Tuesday morning, and that she had gone on to live a long and happy life. Maybe by preventing her from going into the tower today, he would actually be restoring the rightful flow of history. All he had to do was to keep her in the cab for a few more minutes, and she would be saved.
But even as the hope of saving Kate rose up in his heart, Brian knew that this loophole offered no escape from his dilemma. The instructor in his Prime Directive class at the Academy had been very clear. Even if it seemed that an agent had inadvertently caused some change in history, he must not under any circumstances attempt to correct it himself. That kind of well-intentioned meddling could cause time to twist itself into paradoxes that might never be untangled.
So, Brian’s choice was clear. Would he allow Kate to die when a word from him could prevent it, or would he fulfill the oath he had taken to never deliberately interfere with events of the past?
Poll: What do you think Brian should do?
An Excruciating Decision
“Kate,” Brian started, then hesitated, overcome by his emotions. “Kate, I wish things were different. You’ll never know how much I wish that. But they are not. And they can’t be. And I can’t change it.”
Kate looked into his eyes for a long moment, then nodded. As she opened the taxi door to get out, she looked back at Brian and said, “It’s OK. I’m glad you like me a little bit.” Then she walked into the building.
With his heart dead within him, Brian carried out the rest of his plan. He knew the first plane would strike the North Tower at 8:46 am. The South Tower wouldn’t be hit until 9:03 am. By then he would be far away from the Twin Towers, and on his way to the hidden office the Patrol maintained in lower Manhattan. And by then, he couldn’t help thinking over and over, Kate would be dead.
When Brian got to the Patrol office, he went immediately to the time transporter. He was in no mood for any chitchat with the Patrol staff who manned the station. As he sat in the machine waiting to be launched back to his own era, he made up his mind. He couldn’t do this. He would resign immediately, and try to find some line of work where you didn’t have to look the people you loved in the face before you sent them off to die.
Brian Gets His Final Exam Results
Suddenly he felt the slight disorientation that always occurred during time travel. Then the door of the transporter opened, and he knew he was back home. As usual, Dr. Santos was there to greet him as he stepped out of the time machine. But there was also someone else.
“Yes, Brian, it’s me,” Kate said with that beautiful smile he had come to love so much.
Dr. Santos took over. “Come and sit down, children, and let me explain.”
In a daze, Brian sat down beside Kate, who was looking at him with laughter in her eyes.
Dr. Santos gazed benevolently on them both. Then he began to speak.
“First, Brian, congratulations on passing your final examination. But the test you passed was a little different from the one you expected. You thought it was all about being able to live in a past age without changing anything or giving yourself away. After the way you responded in training, we never had any doubts on that score.
“The real test was the one every new Time Patrol officer must pass – the same one Kate passed before you. What will you do when you are put under extreme pressure to violate the Prime Directive? Once we developed the plan for your six months stay in 21st century New York, we sent Kate ahead of you. We knew from your psychological profiles that the two of you would be very attracted to one another. So, we set it up that you, Brian, would have to choose between Kate and the Prime Directive. That was the test, and you passed it with flying colors.”
For a moment Brian didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or get extremely angry. Then he looked into Kate’s eyes. He decided to laugh.
© 2016 Ronald E. Franklin