Ten years ago today, I wrote this story as a reaction to the terrible events of that day.
In the days and weeks that followed, I wrote a number of stories about the events, as part of my attempt to deal with the enormity of it all. The stories are collected in Martian Knights & Other Tales in both print and e-book form, and in e-book (with no other stories) as Ghosts of 9/11. Those books are available on both Amazon and Smashwords — but today does not seem an appropriate day for commercial links. You can find them on your own, if you like.
I dedicate this to those who lost their lives 10 years ago, to their families, and loved ones.
We will never forget.
THE LAST TERRORIST
The master terrorist sat in his posh room and sipped his bottled water. Wine was forbidden to him by religious faith, so he disdained it. Murder, too was prohibited by his religion, but the master terrorist ignored that commandment; it stood between him and his goals.
It had been a good day, a good month, a good year. Images of the burning, crumbling towers—still fresh in his mind—brought a smile to his lips. It had all been so perfect, like a movie script, a script endlessly rehearsed by his operatives and flawlessly performed, a script in which thousands of unwitting “extras” had died on cue. A script that he, himself, had written.
The master terrorist chuckled and took another sip of Perrier. The response, of course, had come quickly. But the terrorist was nothing if not a master of misdirection. Even now, US forces battered a city miles from where he sat drinking. They were destroying a set of buildings he had long since abandoned. Come dawn, they would discover their victory hollow—again. He had beaten them once more, though the victory had its price.
He frowned. The endless shell game of eluding the authorities tired him. The result, though, was worth it. Headlines and pictures flashed all round the globe, showing the Americans for the fools that they were. The choices of airlines had been symbolic, of course: United, American. The fools should count themselves lucky there was no “States” airline. Symbolic airplanes, symbolic towers, symbolic deaths—symbolic of the weakness of the Great Satan.
How he had showed them! Showed them that missiles weren’t needed to strike at the heart of America. Showed them that billions spent on high-tech space weapons couldn’t foil low-tech terrorism. Showed them that even the mighty could be brought low by a man prepared to do anything to achieve his cause.
The cause. In his mind, he gave lip service to the service he had done it. In his cruel heart, though, he knew what his cause had become—chaos, destruction, death. His own glory. That was enough in itself, now. It made no matter that other people died at his behest, people on both sides, caught in the crossfire between two superpowers—the US, and the terrorist.
He smiled again, feeling the warmth bubble up inside him as the water fizzled down his throat. The Americans were fools. They attacked the wrong target. They were weak and would never catch him. Soon, he would strike again.
The explosion caught the master terrorist by surprise. He dropped the bottled water. It splashed across the expensive Persian carpet at his feet. The lights in the overhead chandeliers flickered. In the distance, he heard shouting and the sound of alarms. Gunfire followed.
The terrorist’s pleasure melted as fear stabbed his icy heart. The room shook again, and gray smoke began to leak from beneath the door on the far side of the room. The master terrorist glanced around, frantically.
Where were his bodyguards—the people who kept him safe? Someone should have responded by now. His men should have arrived at the first sign of trouble. He walked toward the door, but the gray snakes of smoke brought him up short. Beyond the door, more shouts and gunfire.
He couldn’t go that way. Where were his weapons? He looked to the antique desk nearby. A few quick steps brought him the right drawer. He opened it and pulled out the automatic pistol secreted inside.
Another explosion; the building shuddered once more. The lights went out, and the terrorist groped in the darkness.
The other exit—where was it hidden in this safe house? He tried to remember, but the many hideaways he used clogged his mind. He had used the hidden exit here before, but then there had been aides to guide him. His mind ran through the hundreds of hiding places, hundreds of exits he had used over the years.
Behind the tapestry?
Behind the bookcase.
The shouts and gunfire grew louder. The smoke grew thicker. Why didn’t the emergency lights come on? His heart pounding, he groped his way to the bookcase and pulled the books from the shelves until he found the hidden button. He pressed the button and stepped back as the secret door slid open.
Smoke leaked through. Smoke . . . and light!
The master terrorist brought his gun up—too late.
A sharp crack thundered in his ears and hot pain seared his wrist. Involuntarily, he dropped the gun. He looked down and saw blood streaming down his hand. “H-how dare you?” he gasped.
The figures stepping through the smoke didn’t answer. They wore fatigues and carried guns and powerful floodlights. The lights cut through the smoke, revealing the terrorist in the darkness.
A lone commando stepped out of the crowd. The terrorist turned to run, but tripped and fell to the floor. Sweat beaded on the master planner’s forehead, fear glistened in his eyes. “Do you know who I am?” he roared.
“A coward,” the commando replied.
“And you are a fool,” the terrorist said, slowly getting to his feet and regaining his composure. His arm throbbed but he ignored it; the bullet had passed cleanly through. “A fool to think you’ve caught me.”
“You are caught,” the commando said. As he spoke, a camera team in fatigues stepped from the passage behind him. He nodded and the cameras whirred to life. “You are caught before the eyes of the world.”
“It will make no difference,” the master planner said. “Put me on trial—execute me if you like. In the end, hundreds will rise to take my place.”
“That there are more rabid dogs in the world is no excuse for allowing a single rabid dog to live.”
The terrorist scowled. “Look at you, entombed in your high-tech finery, a walking advertisement for western decadence. You are a tool of a capitalist society that cares nothing for you.”
“As you care nothing for those you’ve killed,” the commando said. “As you care nothing for laws of man or God.”
The terrorist raged. “I am a man, yes! A man who will set the world free of your kind!”
“The only freedom you offer is death,” the commando said. “I offer you that same freedom.”
The master terrorist’s face went pale. His stomach knotted and sweat beaded down his nose and fell on his trembling lips.
“You don’t dare,” he said. “Your weak nation will not condone it. You must bring me back, for trial.”
The commando glanced at the camera. The red broadcast light atop it blinked.
“We’re stronger than you think,” the commando said. “And I’m not here as a representative of my government. I’m here as a man who lost brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends to your continuing acts of insanity. I am here as a free man.” He raised his pistol and pointed it at the terrorist’s head. “A free man who will end your reign of terror.”
“You cannot!” the master planner said frantically.
“I must,” said the commando. “Someone must. As you spent your money to cause terror, I’ve spent mine to end it. As you’ve trained your assassins, I’ve trained myself. As you’ve plotted revenge, so have I.”
“We are alike then!” the terrorist said, a glimmer of hope sparking in his eyes.
The commando nodded. “In some ways, we are alike. But you strike from hiding then crawl back into your plush hole. You skulk and hide, denying your actions while perpetrating the most heinous crimes. I do this now, before the eyes of the world—declaring that I alone am responsible, and I alone will bear the consequences. Where you’ve struck at innocents on purpose, I’ve targeted only you, and those who aid you.”
“Your government has killed thousands of civilians!”
“Never on purpose,” the commando replied, shaking his head wearily. His eyes glistened wetly in the darkness. “Never like you. And when we did, we wept. Where are your tears, madman?”
The terrorist blinked the sweat from his eyes. He gazed wildly at the cameramen. Cold, accusing lenses stared back at him. “Help me!” he pleaded.
“They’ve come only to observe,” the commando said quietly. “Besides, they can’t hear you. The roar of falling buildings and the screams of innocents have made them deaf.”
Slowly, deliberately, the commando pulled the trigger.
The brains that had conceived brilliant plans of fire and death filled the air with a gray and crimson haze. The body of the master terrorist crumpled backward, his blood staining the expensive carpet that cushioned his fall.
The commando turned to the cameras. “I have done what I must,” he said. “But you cannot fight violence with violence. This madman—and so many before him—have proven that. I am now his victim as well—his last victim. I will not allow his cancer to spread from me to anyone else.
“It was necessary this man should die,” the commando said. His face was sleek with sweat and mottled with green and black paint. “Now, I, too, pay the price. God save America.”
He raised his gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
Eventually, the echoes of gunfire died away.
The sounds of weeping lingered much longer.