The Sound of Silence
The hustle and bustle of Earth, seat of the United Federation of Planets, was hardly more evident than among the noisy spires of New York City, soaring over Long Island, New York. It was different from the 21st century, had grown far taller since World War Three had devastated several American coastline cities. The original Statue of Liberty had been all but destroyed in the Third World War, and a new one stood in its place—another gift from France. Several other landmarks remained from those days amid towers of transparent aluminum, glass and metal—the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings, Times Square, Grand Central Station, Central Park. But of all of these, one of the city's most important landmarks still stood, perfectly preserved after hundreds of years. A predecessor to Wolf 359 and the Southern Scar, predating World War III.
The memorial footprints of One and Two World Trade Center (the "Twin Towers") lay open, rushing endless artificial waterfalls into the square cavities in the city's skyline. Around the "footprints" commemorating where two ancient skyscrapers had once stood, thousands of names lay etched in black granite. Firefighters. Police. Paramedics. Too many civilians from a day long gone, still legible even hundreds of years after the events that had so shaken the United Earth nation-state that was still known as the United States.
It was here that Admiral Franklin Craig of Starfleet MACO strode, on his way to a memorial service with his first officer, Captain Abigail Winston. He had made sure to groom well after getting up that morning. His thin beard was trimmed and neat, his graying copper brown hair had been combed into its customary combover, and his navy blue MACO fleet officer's uniform was spotless. The Odyssey-type uniform tunic's shoulders shone pure white in the rising sun with a line of gold on the flap angling up his right side, then left at his shoulder to his collar, where four Admiral's bars glinted. The command red stripe around his collarbone level and on the over-the-shoulder decorative fastener were embroidered in gold trim and gleamed as well—flag rank did have its privileges. His dress cap was perched atop his head; deep blue and black with gold trim, the MACO shark-emblem delta arrow gleaming gold above the leaf-embroidered brim. He sighed. The bustle of the Big Apple—chattering crowds, the whine and roar of overhead shuttlecraft and groundcars, the occasional wail of emergency vehicles—all that seemed distant over the low roar of rushing water from the massive pools. He slowed as they neared the South Tower's giant footprint, turning to Abigail. "You mind giving me a moment, Abbs?"
The blond-haired woman gave him a smile and a nod in reply, the light of the morning sun glinting off the Borg implant around her left eye, which was in actuality a masterful cybernetic replacement. The original had been lost during her short-lived assimilation. Smile lines were starting to bracket her mouth and eyes, but she was aging quite gracefully in her early forties. "Of course sir. Just remember we need to be backstage by 0930."
"I won't be long."
He left her standing there and removed his hat reverently as he approached the rushing memorial falls, tucking it under one arm. Taking a breath, he placed a hand on the etched names of so many, lost so long ago, and bowed his head, sending a wordless prayer into the heavens as his eyes closed. This place was ancient beyond words, and to the part of him that was a soldier honed by 10 years fighting the Borg and other foes on the front lines, it held an incredible sense of sorrow and solemnity. It lingered above the rushing water, in the air around him, long after all who had witnessed the events in person had turned to dust in the earth. He had toured the onsite museum beneath his feet as a boy, had seen the footage, heard last words, seen the wreckage and artifacts preserved behind glass and forcefields—even chroniton fields in some cases, like the ash-covered clothing displays from an old storefront, or the ancient FDNY fire engine—Ladder 3—that had been damaged by falling debris.
Earth History had made a point of highlighting the events of September 11th 2001 as a day that had rocked the entire planet to its core. So soon after the end of the Eugenics Wars, the events following that day had eventually cascaded into World War 3 after decades of strife and international bickering. The specific identities of those who had carried out the attacks were long lost, though records he had studied in the Academy indicated it was a mix of religious extremism and government inaction and corruption that had led to the tragedy.
Unbidden, memories of the old—ancient—video footage of that September day crept into Craig's mind as he stood there, his head bowed in remembrance for those long gone. The fireball, the debris erupting from the impact site; the horrific moment when the entire planet witnessed an aircraft deliberately collide with a skyscraper. His mind rang with old, staticky audio of countless screaming sirens, remembering the shock etched on faces long dead as they watched the plumes of smoke rise from the smoldering wounds in the old twins. He shuddered, remembering footage of those who'd been trapped in those old towers stuck above the impact zones, choking on toxic smoke rising from beneath them. Some of them waving for help they knew would never come, pleading; others leaping to their deaths from hundreds of feet above unforgiving pavement. No doubt all those poor souls had perished when the towers collapsed. His heart clenched at the thought, and he could almost see, almost feel the ash clouds billowing through the canyoned streets of New York around him as first one tower, then the other collapsed, remembering the shouts and screams as people fled that monstrous cloud.
The old footage had been burned into Franklin Craig's mind ever since he had first seen portions in high school history class. More came later, in Starfleet Academy for a history dissertation. The footage had been rather grainy, nowhere near the high definition holofilms of modern day, but still crisp enough thanks to preservation efforts to make out billions of scraps of paper and debris fluttering about, drifting slowly downwards like a horrific parody of tickertape, filling the sky over what was now called "Old Manhattan."
His mind wandered as he stood listening to the roaring falls in silence, remembering the horror of the aftermath on those old film reels. Everything cloaked in a thick, muffling layer of gray—the people, the buildings, the antique cars. Ash and dust and God-knows-what-else had choked and shrouded the city for weeks, months, all those hundreds of years ago. Even in 2410, minute traces of that same dust could be found on the oldest buildings in New York, with just a cursory scan from a tricorder. He could almost sense the sorrow and disbelief as he stood here in the nonexistent shadows of two 110 story buildings, their presence and thousands of innocent lives within their steel walls lost forever to the hatred of only a few. He flinched, remembering flashes of dust caked faces caught on camera, first responders and civilians alike desolate, devastated, crying and bloodied as they stumbled out of the dust on video, their tears memorialized by film, moments held captive for eternity.
But what also stood out to Franklin Craig, even years after seeing those old videos, was the unity that manifested in the land he called his home, a precursor to what had eventually become the foundation of United Earth, and later the United Federation of Planets.
People from all walks of life, working together. Striving to look for survivors, to comfort one another, find some measure of solace in the midst of such horror. His visit to the Xindi Scar in Florida had been similarly heavy, remembering the memorial wall that stretched for miles, etched with the names of millions.
An unknown length of time later, Craig stepped back and craned his neck to look up at the building before him, mostly ignoring the clack of Abigail's dress uniform heels as she approached. At one time, the building looming above them had been One World Trade Center. Now, it was the United Earth History Museum. War wasn't something Earth took pride in, but rather acknowledged as fact. Humans had not always been as united or inclusive as they were in the 25th century. War was an part of Earth's bloody history, and it did no one good to ignore it, or try to erase the fact that it had happened. (Humanity's drive and desire to explore is unmatched,) Franklin thought as he stared up at the slender spire high atop One WTC. (But so is our ferocity and determination, if struck by those who wish to see our families and our homes destroyed. May Earth never suffer such horrific destruction again.)
Franklin blinked as Abigail put a hand on his shoulder, shaking him gently. Belatedly he felt the trails of moisture tracking down his face, across the scar under his left eye that had put a notch in his eyebrow.
Acting quickly, he dashed the silent tears away. Then he donned his cap, inhaling raggedly and collecting his wits. "I'm fine, Abbs." He went silent for a moment, noticing the faint frown of concern and sympathy that furrowed the captain's brow. It brought a faint smile to his face. She knew him so well.
"Just…lost myself in the sound of silence."
Abigail nodded, studiously examining him and clearly not buying the "fine" excuse. "Of course, sir."
Franklin squared his jaw and his shoulders. "Let's go."
They walked away in somber silence, leaving behind the ghosts of the distant past to mourn the ghosts of the present.
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, "The words of the
prophets are written on the subway walls,
And tenement halls,
And whispered in the sounds, of silence"
(lyrics by Simon and Garfunkel)
Dedicated to all who lost their lives in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania on September the Eleventh, Two Thousand and One.