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 Brian Hartman
 Brian Hartman
by Brian Hartman  FollowFollow
Brian is pushing 40 (or, more accurately, being pushed inexorably towards 40), and currently does database searching part-time and writing for...read more Demand Studios, also part time. The rest of the time, he's just some handicapped schmuck in a wheelchair, looking for full-time work and to hopefully make a literary name for himself in some small way, someday.
More work by Brian Hartman:
Issue 29 · fiction

7:25 AM

Dave paced nervously in his chair, glancing at his watch. He wasn't late yet, but he'd called the cab 20 minutes ago. All-American was usually pretty quick with his pickup, so he was wondering what the holdup was. Probably, Jeff hadn't gotten in yet. Doug, the dispatcher, always gave Dave's ride to Jeff. Dave shifted the weight of the laptop bag on his lap, and adjusted the strap around his neck.

Summer's ending. Dammit.

It wasn't exactly “chilly”, but Dave couldn't feel the same warmth he'd felt yesterday. A few more degrees, and he'd need a jacket. The thing he hated most about this time of year was the variability. In the morning, he'd need a jacket. In the evening, when he was being picked up, it'd be warm enough that he'd look like an idiot wearing a jacket. And his jacket couldn't fit in his bag.


He checked his wallet. $25. Just enough to get him to work.

The cab finally pulled up at 7:50. He opened the door on the passenger side and climbed in.

“Hey, Jeff.”

Jeff got out of the cab and took Dave's chair, folding it up.

“Hey, Dave! How ya doin', buddy?”

“Not bad. Any day above ground's a good day, y'know?”

“Yeah, I hear that. Sure's hell beats the alternative, huh?”

Jeff put Dave's chair in the trunk and got back in, starting the car and driving. He pulled a CD case out of the glove compartment.

“Here ya go, buddy. The new CD from Nonetheless.”

“Oh, cool. Thanks.”

Dave handed Jeff ten dollars.

“Thanks, man.”

“No problem. Lemme know what you think. Ryan and his friends worked hard on this.”

“Sure. I'll let you know. You must be proud.”

“Yeah, I'm a proud papa. What can I say? He busts his ass for that band.”

Dave didn't say anything.

“Thanks, Man. I'll see ya tomorrow.”

“No problem, buddy. Take care.”

The cab pulled up to the building's entrance. Dave got his ID ready and slipped the CD into his laptop bag, opening the door. Jeff pulled the chair out of the trunk and rolled it up to the car door.

Dave rolled up to the door, clicking the automatic door button, and the door creaked open. He rolled in, slapping his ID against the card reader, opening the inner door. He rolled down the ramp, across the lobby to the elevator, anxious to get to his seat.

At the entrance to the office, he used his ID again, and rolled into the library. No one was there yet, so he had to use his key to open the door to the office. He rolled to his seat and unpacked his laptop, clicking it into the docking station.

Opening his e-mail, he didn't see anything unusual. Just the normal crosstalk he'd gotten used to being cc'd on. The agenda for today's site meeting was also there. He saved it to his C drive.

Looking at his work queue, there were a few things that were due today. Most of them were done, but he just wanted to look them over. He hated handing in search results before they were due. He never felt like they were done done. He didn't want to hand anything in before he'd assured himself he was incapable of finding anything else. He was still kind of new to Dialog searching. Not “new” as in he'd never done it before this job, but “new” as in not confident enough that he'd submit something as “finished” without wondering a hundred times if he'd screwed up the search and would get fired for it.

Being paid for searching was a nerve-wracking business. There wasn't really any way to know you'd found everything. Even Bonnie, his mentor in his group, had told him that. You just did the best you could with the deadline you had. If you missed some PDE5 inhibitor, you missed it. Sometimes it hasn't hit the databases yet. Sometimes, there's a typo in the article, and you'd never get it, no matter how many correctly-spelled synonyms you put in. It happens. The thing that Dave always feared was not knowing something because he screwed something up.

Work didn't start for another few minutes, so he checked on his tech forum posts to see if anyone'd answered them. No one had, so he started to work on his Word macros.

Right now, the problem was the looping. The way the macro worked, it made one change at a time to each alert. First bolding titles, then italicizing the journal names, and so on, on down the line. It wasn't the quickest way to do things, but it was modular. If anyone wanted the formatting changed, all he had to do was change one part of one macro, or in the worst case, add one macro. He didn't have to scour through thousands of lines of code. But right now, he had to figure out the looping. The macro was going through the document too many times. It was only supposed to go through the document once for each function, then stop. Instead, it was going through five, sometimes ten times, depending on how long the document was.

Dave fired up Google. Unfortunately, most of what Google offered up didn't make a lot of sense, at first. They all talked about for loops in VBA, but he already knew how to do that. What he needed was a way to loop through sections of a document. Then, he got it.

He needed to count by paragraphs.

For Each Paragraph in ActiveDocument.Paragraphs.Count...

After that, it was just a matter of looking for the right things in each paragraph, and changing them. Done.

Bonnie came in next. She was older, probably in her sixties, although Dave never asked. She was his work hero. She'd been with the company something like 40 years, most of that time doing searches. That's really what Dave wanted: To be in the same job, doing the same thing, for many years. It made no difference to him if it was the same thing day after day. He worked to live, not the other way around.

“Hey, Dave. Good morning.”

“Hey, Bonnie.”

“How ya doing?”

Dave smiled. “Can't complain. Any day your keycard work's a good day.”

Bonnie laughed. “Hey, I like that. Hopefully, we won't have any reorgs for a while.”

“Yeah. I kinda like it here.”

“Yeah. It's a good group.”

Bonnie walked into her doorless office.

Now that Bonnie was here, Dave could go get something to eat. Bonnie could handle any researchers that happened to wander in looking for something.

He rolled down the hallway to the cafeteria, just to get something from the vending machine. It was an almost straight shot, with only one turn, but he still wasn't used to it. His sense of direction still sucked, even at thirty.

He fed the change to the vending machine and got some fat-free chips. Not really a breakfast, but it'll do. He pumped his wheels on the way back to his desk. He hadn't been working at Johnson & Johnson for too long, and he didn't want to be late. That looks bad – even after 9 months.

As he rolled to his desk and started opening the chips, Rose walked in. She hadn't gotten two steps into the office before she announced the news.

“A plane just hit the Twin Towers. It was on the radio.”

Dave looked up from his booting computer. “It's gotta be a Cessna or something. I read once that a plane hit the Empire State Building during World War II. It's gotta be something like that.”

As Rose docked her laptop, she said, “I don't think so. They're saying it was a jet. A big plane.”

“But that's not possible. How could that happen? No passenger jet pilot's going to hit the World Trade Center in broad daylight, on a perfect day. How could that happen? You think he passed out'r something?”

“I don't know. But they're saying it's a big plane.”

Dave went to the CNN website. Nothing was there yet, though. They must be updating it. It's gotta be a Cessna, though. What else could it be?

He forgot to get something to drink, so Dave went down to the cafeteria again. As he passed him, a guy said, “Another plane just hit. They're calling it a terrorist attack.”

“Is that real, or just a rumor?”

“I don't know. That's what I heard.”

“The one that's a confirmed hit. Is it a Cessna, or a passenger jet?”

“No, it's a passenger jet. United or American. I'm not sure which.”

Dave made it back to his desk and refreshed CNN. Sure enough, there it was: Two planes. Both towers smoking. What the fuck?!

And just like that, America was under attack.

What in the hell does it mean? Somewhere in his brain, Dave could hear bombs falling, could see the office on fire. It was clear as day. He could see the start of World War III.

There was still work to be done, though. Nobody else was reacting yet. We all had lives. Jobs. Rents. Mortgages.

Great. World War III just started, and I'm in a fucking office....

It was still a work day.

There was a site meeting planned, so Dave did his best to get ready for it. He started reading the agenda that'd been e-mailed. Halfway through, Mary Jane, his supervisor, walked up to his desk.

“John decided to cancel the site meeting, because of what's going on. Sit tight. I'll let you know if I hear anything.”

The only person Dave knew who'd be coming to the site meeting was Bianca, so he e-mailed her.

Hey, Bianca.

The site meeting's canceled because of what's going on. Stay safe!!


Dave went through CNN, The NY Times, and any other website he could think of to get information. At this point, work would have to wait. But it didn't matter, because no one had any information. Two planes'd hit, and there might be as many as six still in the air. That's all anyone knew.

He read it first on CNN. The South Tower fell. What?! How does the South Tower just “fall”? They bombed the damn thing in '93 and it stayed up. How did it fall now?

Minutes later came the announcement from his supervisor. Her voice was implacably calm – almost casual. Dave guessed it must've come from years of managing people in small-scale business crises.

“They're evacuating the building. They're afraid terrorists will attack here. Do you have a ride?”

“I can call someone.”

Dave got his laptop, stuffed it in his bag, along with the power cable, and made for the elevator.

Only, once he was outside, he realized he couldn't call anyone. No one could. All the lines were down. He couldn't call his mother. He couldn't call his driver. Oh, God. What did they hit?? Why is everything down? World War III...

Another colleague from work, Inga, offered him a ride home. He didn't want to take it, because he didn't want to impose on anyone, on a day like today, but there wasn't any choice. It was World War III, and he was still in an office building.

Dave waited for Inga's SUV in the circle outside the office's entrance. She pulled up, and he opened the door and lifted himself in, grabbing the seat cushion in his chair and putting it under his seat.

Inga looked down at the chair.

“How do I fold this?”

“Fold up the footrests”, Dave pointed, “then pull up on the middle of the seat.”  He patted the middle of his seat.

They listened to the radio on the way to his apartment. It was all just eyewitness speculation. No one knew any more than anyone else. The only ones who knew a damn thing'd just slammed themselves (and God knows how many other people) into two buildings that used to be the World Trade Center.

Neither of them spoke. Dave just kept thinking about death. On the radio, they were comparing the number of casualties in the collapse to Antietam. They were saying that there were as many as 50,000 people in there. And now, they were almost certainly dead. 50,000 people! More than Antietam, they were saying. More than the Civil War battle that killed 23,000 people in twelve hours. Jesus....

Being handicapped, Dave had thought about death a lot. At least once in the hospital, he'd been given a 50/50 chance of survival. That time, it was septicemia. One of his earliest memories (whether it was real or not, he couldn't say) was a priest giving him the last rites before a shunt surgery. The Church apparently called it “extreme unction” now, but regardless, if you're receiving it, things aren't looking good for you.

He'd asked his father once, when he was about five, what death was like. He'd said it was just like falling asleep, only you never woke up again. He'd lie awake at night, not wanting to sleep, crying because he didn't want to die. And now, twenty-five years later, there were 50,000 people dead in two buildings, and in a short while, he might join them.

Not that he was surprised. He'd always expected to die way before now. He never thought he'd make it to eighteen. Then twenty-one. He was shocked he'd made it to thirty last November. He figured something should've killed him by now, whether it was shunt problems or surgeries, or just falling down a flight of steps because he didn't see it in time. Something.

But now, his number looked like it was up. After all, this was World War III. How many wheelchair people do you see in post-apocalyptic movies? None. None at all.

He thought about the people in the towers. He knew some of those people were in wheelchairs, and if they were anywhere other than the first few floors, their chances were almost nil. In a fire, all elevators go out. And who's gonna stop to help someone in a wheelchair get carried down? Not many people. Back in college, Dave had been assigned to the second floor of his dorm for one semester. The brilliant solution, in case of fire: “Go by the window and wave your arms so the firemen see you.” In other words, “Bend over and kiss your crippled ass goodbye.” In the Twin Towers, he was sure the best the wheelchair employees could hope for was someone handing them a parachute and wishing them luck.

Dave thanked Inga for the ride, rolled into his apartment, and turned on the TV.

Dave was home. Safe. (Well, as safe as he was going to be.)

He went to his study and picked up the phone. Busy signals, to everyone he called.

His mother.
His stepfather.
His brother.

Luckily, the Internet was still working for him. He fired up his Comcast e-mail.


I'm fine. I just got home. Are you okay? Let me know asap.



He CC'd everyone.

Dave didn't have his father's e-mail address, so that'd have to wait.


He hadn't talked with her since grad school, more than a year ago. The meeting hadn't gone well. She resented that he wanted to pay for their lunch. A couple goddamn pieces of pizza. It was trivial, really. He really wanted to call, given the circumstances, but he didn't have her number.

He dialed her parents' old number, but got their answering machine.

“Hi, it's Dave. Dave Riggler. I hope you're okay. I'm just calling to make sure Cindy's alright. Crazy day here. Please let'r know I called. 908-555-2864. Thanks. Hope you and Steve are okay”.

Steve was Cindy's little brother. Dave's clearest memory of him was Steve snapping Cindy's bra strap and blaming it on him. Still, he was just a kid. Maybe ten, at the time.

Dave rolled into the living room to turn on the TV.

Static. Nearly every channel was static. What else, where else, had they hit?

On CNN, he found out. The Pentagon. How the hell did they get the Pentagon? Don't they have anti-aircraft missiles, or at least guys in black suits on the roof with Stingers? How in the hell does this happen?

When he heard about the plane in Pennsylvania, it didn't come as a surprise. Well, at least we got the bastards once. It's not much, but it's something. Probably shot the bastards out of the sky. Still, all those families..dead...

Just another step in World War III.

The reporter said that the government was grounding all flights. Like almost everything else that day, that'd never happened before.

Dave tried to call his mother., but still couldn't get through. He sat there, watching CNN. People milled around caked in dust, like a nuclear winter. It seemed like every car alarm in New York was going off. It was almost like crickets chirping in the evening – if the crickets were in Hell, and the fires of Hell were reduced to a smoldering pit of ash.

He wondered how Bush'd react. Someone needed to be bombed into the Stone Age for this. It was time to come out swinging. No more firing warning shots with cruise missiles.

Dave wondered what this day would be called. All you had to say to someone was “Pearl Harbor”, and they knew the event you were talking about. Antietam. Gettysburg. He was too young to remember the Kennedy assassination, but it'd always struck him that the day wasn't really remembered. Then again, how many people remember the date that Lincoln was shot? Still, he was sure of it. This day would have to be remembered. What could possibly be the same, after this? But what would it be called? It happened in the whole country, and it was just some random Tuesday.

Just then, he heard a plane flying overhead.

Also by Brian Hartman



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