We arrived in New York City after a not-so-unpleasant drive from Daytona Beach. Most of the credit for the uneventful trip goes to my resurrected Mazda Miata. The last thing I needed was to be worn out from a difficult trip because my partner and I had a mountainous journey ahead of us.
Arcon, a super intelligent machine from the other side of our galaxy, was here to do a job of the utmost importance, and he had recruited me to help him. I’m certain, however, that he did not consider me as his partner.
He, who is not really a “he,” but a highly evolved artificial intelligence packed in a portable silver sphere, didn’t have to like me. He didn’t have to consider me a friend, or an associate, or a co-worker, or anything else of that ilk. He had come to Earth to save us from a horrible fate. He had to do it quickly and efficiently. He had no use for extraneous pursuits such as cementing interstellar relationships because time was running out. In a few hours, the Earth would be reduced to fizzling cinders…unless we intervened successfully.
My name is Joseph Aleksov. I’m a writer by vocation and a Serbian by birth, not that it matters now. Metaphors tend to pop up in my oral and written communication. I use the word “mountainous” above for good reason. I have the unenviable task of transporting Arcon, undetected, to the very top of the One World Trade Center building.
One World Trade Center was built to replace the Twin Towers destroyed on 9/11. It is one of the tallest buildings in the world, measuring 1,776 feet high. It is no coincidence that the size of the building exactly matches the date of America’s independence. Many features have been incorporated into the building’s construction to prevent the tragedies that occurred in the 9/11 attacks.
Arcon has assured me that the building’s security will not be difficult to navigate. I am, to say the least, doubtful. I have no idea how many layers of security we will have to pass through to reach the top of the building without arousing suspicion. I have read that there are four hundred security cameras mounted throughout the building, all of them running the latest anti-terrorist software. There are an undisclosed number of New York City policemen patrolling the building in any number of locations. I’ve read that the lower Manhattan police force has been beefed up to six-hundred-and-seventy officers. I imagine many of them are assigned to guard One World Trade Center.
I am reasonably certain of only three things: (1) I am not a terrorist (2) I’m no security expert, and (3) Although I am trying to save the planet, there is a high probability that I will be incarcerated, and shortly afterward, the Earth will explode.
With Arcon packed in wrapping paper inside a sturdy, innocent-looking shopping bag, I walked past the soaring white arches of the Oculus, an underground transportation hub. I was fascinated to learn about an interesting feature of the structure. Incorporated into its design is a lasting reminder of the attacks of September 11, 2001. It is in alignment with the sun’s solar angles on each September 11, from 8:46 am, when the first plane struck, until 10:28 am, when the second tower collapsed. Its central skylight fits this alignment and washes the Oculus floor with a beam of light.
Past the Oculus, I caught my first glimpse of the gleaming edifice known as One World Trade Center. Seeing the building in person added profoundly to my sense of urgency. The beauty and grandeur of this project is a testament to the resiliency and creativity of the human spirit. Seven other buildings have been constructed to complement the project. To imagine that all of this might be destroyed again by a random pulsar from a distant star is incomprehensible.
To avoid waiting in lines, we arrived at the observatory entrance a few minutes after the opening time of 9:00 AM. Three soldiers in battle fatigues stood guard outside the entrance. A tag on their bulky vests identified them as members of the New York National Guard. Every inch of them, from their hats, to their pistols, to their machine guns, and down to their car-wax-shine-boots shouted: I mean business. Do not fuck with me. And, most importantly: DO NOT TRY ANYTHING STUPID.
I tried on a friendly smile and a wave. It didn’t go over well. We passed through the glass and steel doors to the security gauntlet. I call it a gauntlet because it looked more ominous than a TSA security station at an airport. I purchased an expensive express lane ticket for the observatory. To my dismay, I realized the express ticket wasn’t going to make my journey through the gauntlet any easier.
I was most concerned about the complicated scanner. It was equipped with a laser scanner and a conventional x-ray camera. It looked powerful enough to examine Arcon right down to his atoms. I didn’t see how Arcon’s disguise as a Nineteenth Century Art Deco vase was going to pass muster. Attempting to pass through this formidable security array was sheer suicide. Then again, what choice did I have? I’d surely be dead if I didn’t try.
I placed the shopping bag on the scanner’s conveyor belt. I shed the required personal belongings one normally removes before boarding an airplane, and placed them alongside the shopping bag. I walked through the metal detector, certain that I’d be surrounded by policemen at the other end.
I made it through the metal detector without hearing any alarms. A heavily armed police officer approached me. I thought: this is how it is done. Politely lead the suspected terrorist away so as not to disturb any of the other visitors.
Instead of arresting me, the officer asked me why I was bringing the vase into the building. I told him that I intended to give it to my fiancée as a gift. I ad-libbed the part about my fiancée. It sounded more believable than “my girlfriend.” He looked at me with an entirely too serious expression. I was positive he didn’t believe my story. Then, he asked me how long I planned to stay in the building. With every ounce of my being, I tried not to look relieved.
I had no idea how to answer the officer’s question. How long would it take Arcon and me to do what we had come to do? I barged ahead, ad-libbing all the way. “I’d say six hours to be on the safe side, officer. Would that be alright?”
“Let me see your driver’s licence, or some other valid ID.”
I handed over my driver’s license in mortal fear that I had said something wrong.
“Collect your items and wait for me on one of those benches over there. I’ll generate your OWTC ID card and bring it to you. You’ll need the card for all points of entry in the building. Don’t lose it. If do you lose it, report it to the nearest officer or staff member. The card will no longer be valid after six hours, so watch your time.”
Collecting Arcon and my paraphernalia, I found the nearest bench. It was a relief to sit down after the harrowing trip through security. I spoke to Arcon in our customary mode of conversation; mental telepathy.
“How did you get through that scanner without your circuitry being detected?”
Arcon answered me in my native Serbian tongue. “I converted my insides into pure energy, and then I went into hibernation mode. I have a variety of energy frequencies to choose from. I used the most effective one for the pass through the scanner.”
“You could have told me beforehand. I was worried they’d find out you weren’t really a Nineteenth Century Art Deco vase.
Arcon made no immediate reply, which was unusual for him. He always had some sort of bouncy rejoinder ready when we spoke.
“I’m sorry. It didn’t occur to me to tell you.”
I was astounded by Arcon’s reply. Was he learning to have feelings in the same way he was learning the colloquialisms of the Serbian and English languages?
Before I could say anything more, the police officer returned. He handed me my ID card and pointed to a bank of elevators twenty yards to my right.
“Take one of those elevators up to the observatory,” he said. “It’s a forty-seven second non-stop flight to the one hundredth floor.” He smiled at his clever little joke.
I smiled too. On the outside only.
To Be Continued…