The twentieth chapter of Book Two of Alone

Twin Towers, Part 2: The Black Plume of Smoke
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Release date

July 2, 2011

Last chapter

Twin Towers, Part 1: Successor

Next chapter

Twin Towers, Part 3: The Burden of Atlas


Leah, Sierra, Neil and Keanu try to find their way back to each other after the impact to the North Tower.


Neil exited the elevator and followed the young man to the Security Command Center.

"What's going on?" Neil asked the man.

"Earlier today security at JFK International found an abandoned suitcase at the terminal for Qantas Airlines. The suitcase had no tags for identification and showed no sign that it had been through JFK airport security. Security there did a search of the suitcase and found nothing inside but a cell phone and a note with your name on it."

"Where did the suitcase come from?"


Neil's face darkened.

"Where in Australia?"

"We don't know, but the suitcase was manufactured in Alice Springs."

They arrived at a thick door and entered a room full of monitors showing security videos from around the World Trade Center. On a desk near the back of the room was a small black suitcase.

"Is this it?" Neil asked, pointing to it.

The young man nodded his head. "Yes sir."

"Alright. You can go."

"Call if you need anything." he said while leaving the room.

Neil walked across the room to the desk and stared at the suitcase. The suitcase was made of cheap, artificial black leather. It had no pockets on the outside, and only one zipper to access the inside. Neil carefully grabbed the zipper and pulled it to open the case. Inside, as the young man had said, were an old cell phone and a folded paper with "Neil Levin" written on it.

Neil grabbed the paper and unfolded it.

"At 8:45 a.m. answer the phone." it said.

Neil glanced at his silver watch. 8:43. Neil began pacing around the room, glancing at the various security cameras. Passing one, he did a double take after finding one with Leah being shown. Neil sat down at the desk and stared at the camera. An Indian woman was leading Leah away from the windows. Neil typed a command on a nearby keyboard, and the camera followed the two women as they walked away.

Leah and the other woman walked down a hallway and entered the office of a Marsh USA worker. The woman left Leah alone in the room. Neil watched the screen intently as Leah walked across the room and picked up a phone sitting on a desk in the room.

The cell phone in the suitcase rang.

Neil jumped and looked at the suitcase. He looked at his watch. 8:45. Neil's eyes jumped back to the security camera image, at Leah talking on the phone with a scared look on her face. Neil stood up from his chair and walked over to the suitcase. The cell phone continued to ring. In the pocket of his pants, he heard his own cell phone ring five times, but ignored it. Neil slowly reached his hand down and grabbed the phone in the suitcase, feeling it vibrate and ring in his hand.

Neil flipped it open and put it to his ear.

"Not that that matters now." Neil heard a voice say.

"What do you mean?" Leah's scared voice came through the cell phone.

"You've become too powerful for us to pursue. We have no reason to try to recapture you now. Hopefully your successor will be more cooperative."

The call dropped.

Neil stared in bewilderment.

"Hello?" he tried saying into the cell phone.

No response.

Neil closed the phone and put it back down in the suitcase. Mind whirling, he moved back over to the camera recording Leah. Leah had put down the phone and was staring with a look of shock out the window. Neil peered at the camera, trying to look at what was outside the windows. He moved his head away from the camera, confused when he saw Leah sprinting out of the office.

Neil looked away and picked up a walky talky.

"Security, we may have a..."

Neil stopped short as he saw what looked like a passenger plane come into view on the camera. As it collided through the windows on the screen, the camera stopped recording. The lights in the room began to flicker. A split second later, the sound of the most explosive thunder filled and shook the building to its core. Neil fell to his knees and grabbed the edge of the desk.

Up above, Neil felt a deep, rumbling sound start traveling downwards. The desk and monitors began to shake uncontrollably. Neil let go of the desk and scrambled under it, grabbing his knees and pulling himself into a ball. The sound arrived, and the shaking became so intense that it chattered his teeth and buckled his bones. It passed by him, and then traveled back up the tower again.

Neil stood up slowly from under the desk. The lights continued to flicker on and off, and the monitors around the room had lost power. Neil jolted at the sound of an explosion, this one much closer. Screaming began to emit from outside the security room. Neil's eyes flickered to the door, at the orange hue beginning to glow in the cracks.

To anyone else, the intense heat, the suffocating clouds of steam, and the burning sparks would have been lethal. But to Don Rubén and his crew, it was life. Maybe it was the quiet solace they found in their intricate art, the serenity it brought them by hiding from the outside world, or just the time they could spend together as a family that kept them in this fiery furnace for so long.

Don Rubén glanced up from his work at the beaten TV hanging in a corner of the shop. Behind the dust-covered glass, it showed a man in an expensive suit standing in front of a counter. Over a system of loudspeakers they had installed the previous year, the TV droned.

To consolidate your credit card or other debts,". At the sound of just another meaningless commercial, Don Rubén's head dropped back down to his work.

"Just log on..."

Don Rubén's head rose again at the unexpected break in the commercial. His eyes widened in shock. On the screen showed one of the Towers of the World Trade Center; thick, black smoke billowing from a large rip in its face. The bottom of the screen read.



A woman's voice came on from the TV.

"This just in. You are looking at obviously a very disturbing live shot there. That is the World Trade Center, and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center."

"Rodrigo, Matías!" Don Rubén called.

A few seconds later Don Rubén's second son came through the door. Another moment brought Rubén's right hand mechanic, Matías.

"¿Qué?" Rodrigo asked.

Don Rubén pointed at the TV.

"That is once again, a picture of one of the towers of the World Trade Center."

"Rodrigo, llama a Rubén. Pregúntale si él sabe lo que ha ocurrido y lo que su estación está planeando hacer. Entonces llama a tu tío Humberto y averigua si él y los niños están bien." Don Ruben ordered.

"Rodrigo, call Ruben. Ask if he knows what has happened and what his Ladder planning to do. Then call Humberto and ask if he and the children are okay."

Rodrigo only nodded and left for the office, where he began furiously punching in numbers on a corded phone.

Sierra glanced at her watch. 8:44 a.m. Her eyes flickered to the door for what seemed like the millionth time that morning. Still no sign of her father. Although she already knew, she checked her watch again. Hubert noticed her growing distress.

"I'm sure he's on his way." Hubert reassured.

Sierra bit her lip in response, her eyes still glued to the door.

"Do you want me to call him?" Hubert offered.

Sierra nodded. Hubert stood up from the stairs and walked over to his concierge desk. He picked up a corded phone and held with his shoulder while he punched numbers in. The phone rang. Again. And again. After the fifth ring, Hubert put down the phone in defeat. Sierra looked at Hubert, who only shrugged.

Hubert walked over to Sierra and sat down beside her again.

"I'm sure he's just stuck in the Tower somewhere. The elevators can get pretty clogged in the mornings." Hubert tried.

Sierra only sighed.

"Don't be mad at him for being late. Just be happy that he'll be here!" Hubert encouraged.

"How do you know?" Sierra bitterly said.

Outside, they heard a sound like thunder resonate over them. Hubert and Sierra's heads turned to the door, to the throngs of people outside stopping in their tracks and staring upward in panic.


The eldest son of Don Rúben stared up in awe at the burning building above him. Ahead of him, dressed likewise in almost a hundred pounds of fire equipment, were the other members of Ladder 10. The small group trudged into the Austin Tobin plaza. Papers fluttering down from the Tower and pieces of stone littered the plaza floor. In the background, music from the loudspeakers echoed in the empty plaza, oblivious to the ongoing tragedy a thousand feet above them.

The Ladder captain walked over to a large piece of rubble and stood atop it.

"Alright men. We're gonna take this slow. Ten floors, take a breather, ten floors, so on. We ready to go?"

The Ladder company was silent.

"Alright. Let's move." the captain ordered, hopping off the rubble and leading the company to the lobby of the North Tower.

Hubert and Sierra moved out of the lobby and out onto the street, mingling with the crowd of people outside. Hubert walked over to a random citizen and tapped his shoulder.

"Hey, what's going on?" Hubert asked.

"I don't know. They're saying that a plane's crashed into one of the Towers."

Hubert's jaw dropped. Sierra put a hand to her mouth, closing her eyes as the tears began to build up.

"A jet plane?"

"Yeah, you could hear it go in from here."

"Thanks." Hubert replied distractedly. He pulled Sierra by the hand back to the door of the Marriott. Hubert noticed the tears streaming down her face and wiped them away.

"Sierra?" Hubert tried.

Sierra began to sob, collapsing into Hubert's arms. Hubert grimaced and pulled Sierra back up, holding her by the shoulders.

"Sierra, calm down and listen to me. Where is Leah?"

Sierra breathed deeply and began to shake. "She left earlier this morning. She wanted to see the sunrise." she managed to say before crying again.

"So she's in the World Trade Center?"

Sierra nodded.

"Do you know what floor?"

"No, I haven't talked to her all day."

Hubert hid a sigh, breathing deeply to hide his worry from a shaken Sierra.

"Alright. Listen to me. I need you to calm down, and get out of here."

Sierra began to panic. "What about Leah? And my dad?"

"I'm going to go find them. Rúben's probably been sent inside. I'll meet up with him and go find them."

"No, I wanna go with you!" Sierra begged, tears streaming like rivers down her face.

"No, you need to get to safety. We're gonna go back into the Marriott and call you a cab. I want you away from the World Trade Center, you understand?"

"But Hubert.."

"No Sierra."

Sierra only sighed, crying softer now.

"Alright. Let's go in, okay?"

Sierra sniffled. "Okay."

The two walked through the revolving doors and were confronted by a fireman standing in the lobby.

"Sorry sir, we're evacuating the building. No one's allowed inside."

"But sir, I trying to get her to safety. I need to call my father so he can come and get her." Hubert pleaded.

"Get who?"

Hubert turned around. No Sierra. Hubert bit his lip and held back a swear word.

"I'll be right back." Hubert assured the fireman.

Hubert rushed through the revolving doors and searched the streets.

"Sierra!" he called. No response. His eyes searched the packed streets, but to no avail.

Neil's eyes opened to pitch blackness. The air was scorching hot and smelt of burnt plastic and smoke. Neil opened and closed his eyes to try to adjust, but with the same results. Darkness. He tried to move, but his left leg and arm was pinned beneath something metal. His right side was free, but with some movement he found that he was entrapped within something.

"Hello!" he called.

No response.

He tried again. Still no response. Neil sighed and began to take air within his lungs to blow out. Then a thought occurred to him.

This might be my only breathing air.

Neil blew the air in his lungs out slowly and took small breaths, calling out every few minutes, but still no one called back.

Keanu landed on the helicopter tarmac on the roof of the North Tower. He stood there for a moment, staring into the thick, black cloud billowing around the roof and into the sky. A tingling, burning feeling began to radiate from Keanu's shoes. He looked down and brought one foot up so he could see the sole. The bottom was burnt. Keanu looked at the other shoe, seeing the same thing.

He ran to the stairs into the building and jumped down them three at a time. He came to the door. Locked. Keanu stood back and sent a precise air blade, breaking the lock into pieces. He moved back to the door and rushed into the mechanical room, still working surprisingly. Keanu ran through the room and into the stairwell. He rushed down the stairs, taking them two at a time.

Down and down he went, passing floor after floor as he got closer and closer to the impact zone. As he turned a corner in the stairwell, he bumped into someone. Keanu fell on his backside and collided against the wall.

"Keanu!" the man said.

Keanu looked up at the man. He was dressed in business attire, though it was filthy from soot and sweat. The man's head was covered in dust.

"Jon!" Keanu responded.

Jon reached out a hand and helped Keanu out.

"Do you know what's happened?" Keanu asked.

"I don't know. I was just walking to my office on the 102nd floor, and I heard this enormous explosion. Now there's smoke seeping through all the vents and there's no way past the 99th floor."

"You mean the stairways are gone?"

"All three."

Keanu sighed. "Alright. Have you seen Leah or Neil?"

"I saw them both on the 99th floor..."

"Gotcha!" Keanu yelled, starting down the stairs again.

"But there's no way down there!"

"That's not a problem!" Keanu called.

"What should I do?"

"Find Neil!"

Step after step. Floor after floor. Up and up. One foot after the other. Keep breathing. It was an endless cycle. Rúben Jr. kept climbing in the line of firefighters slowly making their way up the North Tower. They climbed in a single file line keeping to the right, while to the left a long line of workers made their way to the bottom to evacuate.

Still they climbed, continually going up. They reached the 10th floor, and their captain called for a stop. The men of Ladder 10 hunched over, breathing heavily with their 100-pound packs dragging them down. A call echoed through the cement stairway.


The heads of all the men turned to Rúben. Rúben walked to the edge of the stairway and waited for another call. Within seconds it came, and Rúben put a name to the voice.

"Sierra?" asked a skeptic Rúben.

"Rúben!" Sierra called back.

Rúben sighed heavily. "I'll be right back." he said to his company. He started making his way back down the stairs, pushing past the evacuees. After seven floors, he reached her.

"Sierra, what are you doing here!" Rúben yelled.

"Leah and my father were in the Tower when the plane hit. I need to find them!" Sierra said desperately.

"Are you insane!"

"I need to find them!"

Rúben sighed, trying to calm himself down. "Where is Humberto?"

"He was going to call your dad to come and get me. I left him at the Marriott."

"I need you to go back to him and get away from here."

"What?" Sierra whimpered.

"Sierra, you have no idea how dangerous this is. If I could take a guess, I'd say this building is eventually gonna come down with all of us in it. You need to get out of here now."

"Just let me come with you to find my dad. When we find him, then he can get me out of here and I'll leave with your dad. I promise!"

Rúben battled himself for a moment, then relented.

"Keep up and stay where I can see you!"

Sierra nodded, and the two started up the stairs.

Hubert ran into the almost deserted lobby of the North Tower. His eyes scanned the room, the elevators, the lines of people coming from the stairwell. No sign of Sierra. Hubert cursed under his breath and ran to an elevator. He looked around him for any observers. Seeing none, his put his hands on the metal doors and melted through them. He continued the motion to create a large hole in the doors.

Hubert climbed into the elevator shaft and looked up. Nothing but pitch blackness and a few cables that continued up forever. Hubert thrust his arms above him and slowly moved them down towards his feet. When his hands were near his waist, he thrust them downwards, two large jets of fire firing from his tight fists. Hubert soared upwards through the shaft, passing floor after floor as he quickly ascended.

Floor after floor he passed as he jet forwards. He looked to his side at the numbers flying past him. He was somewhere around the fortieth floor. He looked up and stopped just in time to avoid colliding with a stuck elevator. He looked around, but found no way to pass it to continue going up. Hubert backtracked a floor, arriving at the doors for the forty-fifth floor. Pressing his hands to the door, he made a hole in it like before and passed through it.

The hallway was deserted. Hubert looked around and spotted the doors for the stairwell. He ran towards them and entered the stairwell, crashing into a large train of people making their way down. Hubert pushed his way through them and started climbing up the stairs. After climbing a flight, he walked through the door and emerged on the forty-sixth floor.

Hubert ran to the elevator doors and made another hole. He looked through the hole for trapped workers, but the elevator was empty. Hubert launched a fire blast at the ceiling of the elevator and passed through it, entering the shaft again. Using the same motion, he made the jets of fire again and continued ascending.


Rodrigo sat down wearily at his father's desk, holding a phone to his shoulder. The dial tone droned on and on, with no response on the other side. Don Rúben looked at Rodrigo, who only sighed at him, putting down the phone.

"I can't get through to either of them." Rodrigo said, standing up slowly.

Don Rúben sighed. A moment passed in silence, but was disturbed by the sudden ringing of the phone. Rodrigo hurried to pick up the phone.

"Hello?...Humberto!...What's going on?...Yes....But...Alright....Call me when you get them....We're on our way...bye."

Rodrigo put down the phone and turned to his father.

"Humberto is okay. Neil and Leah were in the Tower when the plane hit. Rúben's gone in to find them. Sierra was with Humberto, but she ran away to find Leah. Humberto wants us to get down there to get Leah and Sierra to safety."

Don Rúben stood for a moment in silence.

"Matias!" he called.

A second later he arrived.


"Start the car."

Neil pushed vainly against whatever was keeping him buried, but to no avail.

"Hello!" he called for what seemed like the millionth time. Still silence. He banged his hand against the walls of his "tomb", hurting his hand but producing a loud sound. He hit the walls again and again until finally he heard something.

"Is someone there?" he faintly heard.

"Yes! I'm buried!" Neil yelled at the top of his lungs.

More sound came from the outside; rubble being moved aside, "Push!" and "Pull!" screamed over and over. Within moments, light seeped into Neil's pocket, and a hand reached down inside. Neil grabbed it and felt himself being pulled out. Neil looked around at the room that was now a bomb site; soot covered everything in the burnt out area. He stared in awe into the eyes of his rescuer, then in fury at who accompanied him.

"Sierra! What are you doing here!" he screamed.

"Saving you!" she responded, smiling widely.

Neil looked at his rescuer, whom he recognized as Don Rúben's son.

"What is she doing here!" he yelled.

"I tried to get her to leave, but she wouldn't have it. She promised me that when we found you she would go. If you would be so kind as to get her out of here, it would be very appreciated." Rúben calmly stated.

"And where are you going?"

"I'm going on to find Leah. Do you know where she is?"

"She was on the 99th floor when the plane hit."

"Thank you." And with that, Rúben left them and rejoined his Ladder company. Neil looked down at his smiling daughter, covered in dust and soot.

"When we get out of this, you are in so much trouble." Neil affirmed.

Sierra only smiled wider and hugged Neil. Neil sighed and hugged his daughter.

"Now come on, let's get out of here." Neil said. He took his daughter's hand and led her to the stairwell.

Leah awoke groggily, pain radiating from what felt like every nerve in her body. Her senses slowly came back to life. Soot and dust filled her mouth. Her lower body was buried in something. The air stank of smoke and was overwhelmingly hot. Leah sat up with her upper body and bent the sheetrock and rubble off of her.

Leah stood up slowly, the pain a thousand times more intense than before. When she had gained her footing, she looked around. The floor, or what was left of it, was an absolute wreck. The ceiling had caved in, rubble covered the floor, and pockets of fire burnt everywhere. Leah carefully made her way through the mess and arrived at a window facing the south.

She placed her palm on the hot glass and shattered it. Looking down for a short moment, she jumped, falling down for only a few seconds before landing on the pavement. The crowd around the World Trade Center didn't notice her. Leah wondered why, until she saw the bodies scattered around the base of the Tower.

Leah bent over and tried to hold her stomach in. It felt as if a sword had carved out her stomach.

"I'm sorry." Leah whispered.

Leah raised her head and saw a fleet of ambulances and fire trucks waiting nearby. Deciding it wouldn't do any good to wait here, she walked over to them. Leah walked carefully, taking care not to step on a body, and made her way to the plaza. There, to her surprise, she saw Neil and Sierra. When Sierra spotted Leah, she ran towards her.

"Leah!" she screamed, throwing her arms around her.

"Hey Sierra." Leah panted.

"I'm so glad you're okay!" Sierra lamented, hugging Leah tighter.

Sierra's hug flattened her bruised nerves and sent her into waves of pain.

"Sierra, I hurt all over." Leah begged.

"Oh, sorry." Sierra let go.

"What happened?" Leah asked Neil.

Neil walked up to them. "A plane crashed into the North Tower. I saw it on a security camera that was watching you talk on the phone. Speaking of which, who was it?"

"It was the Leader."

"What?" Neil asked incredulously.

"I'm not kidding."

"What he'd say?"

Leah pried Sierra off her before speaking. "He told me the same thing that he told Joel before he died."

"Then he intended to kill you."

"And he certainly got close." Leah replied, looking up at the burning Tower.

Neil nodded, looking as well at the North Tower.

"This isn't over." Neil said slowly.

"What do you mean?" Sierra asked.

"This wasn't just to get you, he's after the colony too."

"What else could happen?" Leah asked, worry dawning on her face.

"I don't know." Neil said, staring off into space. "We need to get everyone out of both Towers."

"Where is everybody else?" Leah asked.

"I haven't seen Keanu. Rúben's in the North Tower with his Ladder company. Sierra was with Hubert, but we don't know where he is now." Neil replied.

The group looked at the people around them, pointing into the sky. Everything was still for a moment. Leah, Sierra, and Neil looked up at the whistling sound above them, gradually growing louder. And at that moment, the second plane hit the South Tower.

Production Notes

See more

For the collective works of the author, go here.

Book One: Glass
The Message - Leah - The Glow - BDA - Gone - Uluru - Revealed - The Colonies - Brethren - The Survivors - Joel's Old Friend - Alice Springs - School - Sierra - Discovery - Bracken - Visiting the Past - Goodbyes - Escape Part 1: Shards of Glass - Escape Part 2: Confrontation
Book Two: Smoke
The Outside - Questions - Flight - The Rogues - Forewarned - Keith - The Exiles - Forfeit - Choice - Consequence - Legacy Part 1: Avatar Joel - Legacy Part 2: Avatar Aang - Open Arms - Father - Learning to Fly, Part 1: The Apprentice - Learning to Fly, Part 2: The Master - A Leap of Faith - Negotiations - Twin Towers, Part 1: Successor - Twin Towers, Part 2: The Black Plume of Smoke - Twin Towers, Part 3: The Burden of Atlas
Book Three: Storm
His Dark Materials - Wounds - Rest in Peace - Somewhere Only We Know - The Mistress - Smoke and Mirrors

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