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NEWS:   (June 03, 2007)  more...

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Chapter 10: September 11, 2001 - The Half Life of Surprise - Episode 2

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[Note to readers: Chapter 10 is about 9/11/2001. The story is told through contrasts and you may prefer to read it as a complete chapter rather than as a series of daily episodes. If you want to read the whole chapter at once, you will find it in pdf form here. Endnotes detailing what is fiction and what I think is fact in this chapter are posted here on Fractals of Change.]

The hackoff people have arranged to meet at 7:45 in the lobby in front of the security desk on the ground floor of the World Trade Center’s south tower. Larry arrives first, a few minutes early; Dom arrives precisely at 7:45.

"Okay," Larry says but nothing beyond that.

"Okay, what?" asks Dom with an edge.

"Okay, you’re here.”

"Where did you think I’d be?"

"Who the fuck knows?" says Larry. "It’s hard to figure out where you are or where you’re headed these days.”

"Get off my ass, Lazard.”

"Or what?”

Dom doesn’t answer. The men stand silently. Larry looks at Dom but Dom avoids Larry eyes. Donna arrives at 7:52.

Larry, Donna, and Dom check in with the security desk. The bankers have sent down only Larry’s and Donna’s names and there is a few minutes of confusion while phone calls are made to the bankers’ offices on the 60th floor. At first the lobby guard gets only voice mail and seems content to wait for a callback before allowing the hackoff contingent to proceed. As Larry growls, Donna calls the head banker on her cell phone and arranges a clearing call back to the lobby desk.

Properly identified by badges that more or less stick to their clothes, Larry, Donna, and Dom head for the elevator.

"You gonna be alright in the elevator?" Donna asks Dom gently.

"Yeah," says Dom. "Yeah, thanks. It’s a long ride but it’s a pretty big elevator and lots of light. I’m getting the claustrophobia thing under control.”

"Pills?" asks Donna. "No,"Dom says quietly and talking away from Larry, "no pills. Role playing.” "Who are you when you’re not being afraid of tight spaces?" asks Donna.

"Too dumb to talk about," says Dom. "It’s a character from one of the first games I wrote.” "Stupid games," mutters Larry, who evidently did hear.

Dom is very quiet on the way up.

The elevator opens directly into the lobby of the bankers' offices since their firm occupies the whole acre of the 60th floor. The suite is opulent, richly carpeted in grey and blue swirl pattern. There are no cubicles visible here, only private offices, some with frosted glass so the light from the windows can reach the interior. Furniture is a rich maple in a matching pattern. The imposing receptionist desk is also maple. The imposing receptionist is jet black; six feet tall; wears heels; and is proportioned exquisitely. She leads them to a maple conference room with a view of the north tower, the Hudson River and uptown Manhattan.

The room is already supplied with silver pots of decaf and regular coffee, hot water, a maple box of tea bags as well as varieties of designer water, Snapple, and various sodas. There is, however, nothing solid to eat. A large conference table with hookups for computers and pickup mikes for a conference phone is parallel to the window. It’s maple, of course, but discordantly lighter than all the rest of the maple in view.

At 7:59 AM while Larry and Donna are admiring the view and Dom is looking for electronic bugs with a small box of his own design, American 11 takes off from Boston. It has eighty-one passengers aboard and eleven crew members. The Boeing 767 carries a full load of 24 thousand gallons of fuel for the trip to the West Coast. The al-Shehri brothers are in first class. Atta, al-Suqami, and al-Amari are in the business cabin as is Daniel Lewin who had previously served in an elite unit of the Israeli army and who is currently CTO of Akamai, a firm which provides a technical service known as caching to e commerce companies. Larry and Dom know Daniel from industry conferences. In fact, Akamai and hackoff have many of the same customers.

At 8:05 four bankers and the CEO, CFO, and CTO of antihack enter the conference room. The antihack and hackoff people know each other and shake hands warily. The bankers introduce themselves to the hackoff contingent and pass out their business cards. There is one Vice President and two directors. The hackoff people do not hand back business cards. This is a piece of calculated rudeness employed by Larry when he thinks the occasion warrants.

"Quite a view," says antihack CEO George Wrobly. No one from hackoff answers.

"Has everybody gotten whatever they want to drink?" asks the most junior banker.

The antihack people say they have.

"Are we having a meeting or standing around looking out the window?" asks Larry.

"Good point," says the banker Vice President, H. Fredrick Walsh affably. "If everybody’ll take a seat, we can get started."

Everybody does take a seat. The bankers cluster at one end of the table. The hackoff people sit with their backs to the window; the antihack people sit across from them looking towards the window. "I guess we all know why we’re here…"H. Fredrick "Call-me-Fred" Walsh begins.

"I must say," interrupts George Wrobly, "it is a real pleasure to finally…”

"We’re not ‘finally’ anything," Larry interrupts the interruption. "I’m not even sure why we even came. What do you bankers think is going to happen?" He leans toward H. Fredrick and stares at him intently.

"Well," says H. Frederick, "well, we have a unique opportunity to implement a strategic merger which we believe is sure to capture the interest of the Street. Hackoff and antihack have done well on their own at establishing their businesses. Unfortunately, the Street doesn’t see it that way. All the Street sees is large losses, write-downs, continued cash burn, customer failures and, of course, falling stock prices. All in the context of a general loss of faith in so-called Internet stocks and a price decline which is both the consequence and the cause of that loss of faith.”

"It’s not all that bleak," George Wrobly interrupts again.

"It sure as hell is," says Larry. "And it’s worse for antihack than it is for hackoff because you don’t have shit for technology. So, George, why don’t you shut the fuck up and let H. Freddy here tell us what’s on his mind?”

"I don’t think…"says George.

"We’ve run some numbers," says H. Fredrick. "We’d like to show you the PowerPoint in a few minutes. But the bottom line is that if the two companies were combined and appropriate synergies were identified and acted on…”

"Meaning if we get rid of redundant people?" Donna asks.

"Basically, yes. And of course there is the extra overhead of two public corporations, all the filings that have to be done, legal bills that have to be paid, and that is all getting worse with the new legislation. And there is duplicate marketing expense, also, I’m sure, although we would like to see an aggressive marketing campaign both to sell product and to sell the Street on Newco.

"The Street likes a company with significant market power. Of course, we never use a word like ‘dominance’ ... there are no lawyers here, are there... We never use a word like ‘dominance’ but Newco would certainly have, let’s say, significant market power with approximately seventy percent market share of the relevant segment.

"This is a stock market that is focused on results, and we believe the combined company would be able to deliver the kind of results — positive EBITDA, positive cash flow — that the Street is looking for. Right now, the Street is marking down hackoff because it competes with antihack and is marking down antihack because it competes with hackoff. Obviously, if they were one company…”

"What share of the combined company are you crooks proposing to offer hackoff holders?" asks Larry.


At 8:13 AM Wail al-Shehri in window seat 2A calls a stewardess. She comes back from the forward galley and leans over to see what he wants. As she does, Whalid al-Shehri in aisle seat 2B stabs her in the chest. The other stewardess in the forward galley turns when the stabbed stewardess screams.

Whalid leaps up and grabs her. He twists her arm behind her back, holds the bloody box cutter to her throat, and orders her to give him her cockpit keys. Although her training is to cooperate with hijackers, she doesn’t. She, too, is stabbed although not fatally and brother Wail retrieves her keys and uses them to open the cockpit door.

Daniel Lewin is in a window seat. He unfastens his seatbelt and tries to climb past the portly man blocking his access to the aisle. One row ahead of him, Atta and al-Amari are pushing out of their seats to go forward and join the fight for the now opened cockpit.

"Hey, what are you doing?" asks his seatmate.

"Let me out. Those are hijackers.”

"Don’t interfere with them. We’ll be killed. It’s best just to do what they say. No one ever gets killed that way.”

Lewin vaults over the outstretched legs without replying and lunges forward to tackle Atta. His fingers only graze Atta’s shoulder. Before Lewin can resume the pursuit, al-Suqami, who had been seated a row behind him, reaches around Lewin’s shoulder and cuts his throat. He dies almost instantly. No one else resists.

The fight for the cockpit is fierce and bloody but short since the captain and copilot are attacked from behind while still seated and are, of course, unarmed. They are soon dead and Atta is seated at the controls. He has had flight training in small planes and has familiarized himself to some extent with the 767 cockpit by running commercially available simulation games on his PC. Atta switches off the transponder to make it harder for air traffic control to track the flight. Although the plane still shows up on radar, it is fainter and harder to identify in crowded airspace. Also, without the transponder, Air Traffic Control doesn’t get altitude information on the flight.

At 8:19 Stewardess Betty Ong in coach uses a seatback phone to call the American Airlines Southwest Reservation Center. She will remain on the phone for the next twenty-five minutes reporting events aboard the plane calmly and professionally.

"The cockpit is not answering (she means that she can’t get through on the crew phone), somebody’s stabbed in business class — and I think there’s Mace —that we can’t breathe — I don’t know, I think we’re being hijacked." She goes on to report the stabbing of the two first class stewardesses. American Airlines operations tries to raise the cockpit but cannot.

The hijackers tell the first and business class passengers that they have a bomb but that everyone will be okay if they just stay calm and do not resist. No one resists.

Coach passengers are told that there is a medical emergency in the forward cabin. To support this fiction — or, rather, partial truth — a doctor is paged and, when one identifies himself, he is allowed to attend to the stabbed stewardesses. Others who try to come forward including crew are Maced as Betty Ong reports.

Atta’s navigation skills are not good but he has studied maps and, on this beautiful clear morning, he quickly picks up the Hudson River and turns left to follow it towards New York City. Whalid tells him that there is still turmoil in the cabin so Atta decides to make an announcement to the passengers. However, he keys the wrong mike.

Boston Air Traffic Control, which has also repeatedly been trying to contact the flight since it stopped acknowledging instructions and departed from its flight path, hears Atta say: "Nobody move. Everything will be okay. If you try to make any moves, you’ll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet."

The passengers don’t hear this transmission. Boston Center alerts other air traffic control centers that American Flight 11 has been hijacked. This is at 8:25. It will be another twelve minutes before the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is alerted. The nation does not yet know it is at war.

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