Epilogue: Twenty Years Later

15:30 Saturday, September 11th, 2021

James Russo, now seventy-eight and requiring a cane for long walks stood there listening to the rushing water of the World Trade Center memorial pools that were built into what had once been the foundations of the Twin Towers. The Memorial Park stood in the shadow of the new World Trade Center compound; seven buildings which towered over the rest of the city, gleaming in the sunlight. Each one was nicknamed a synonym to freedom; with Tower One itself called Freedom Tower. Tower Six or Liberty Tower in particular, which had previously not been in the plans, seemed to be a true testament to the American character of rising stronger from a tragedy. It stood at one hundred and seventy floors, surpassing the Burj Khalifa in Dubai by seven, only to be dwarfed by a two hundred story building in Hong Kong two years later.

The post-9/11 era had been one of the most challenging times in American history, James thought as he took a seat on one of the park benches. Immediately after the attacks, President Bush declared that retaliation was imminent. Everyone knew bin Laden was responsible and Bush demanded that the Taliban hand him over. It was common knowledge at the time that al-Qaeda had several bases in Afghanistan and that the Taliban were in cahoots with them. They refused to comply and that refusal had led to one of the longest global conflicts in history: the War on Terror.

It started with Afghanistan in which Coalition Forces had ousted the Taliban, destroyed the al-Qaeda bases and training camps, and had killed or captured several important al-Qaeda leaders including the 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. James' son, Paul had joined the Army right out of high school with an infantry MOS, serving two tours in Afghanistan. Indeed, the Armed Forces had seen a record-breaking number of volunteers in the wake of the attacks. Things seemed to be going smoothly until 2003.

The unity felt by the American populace had taken a dramatic divide with the impending Iraq War. In fact, that had been a source of much uproar throughout the world but in the US, it was a division into two camps. There were those who believed Saddam Hussein to pose a legitimate threat to the country and be a sponsor of al-Qaeda. Then there were those who saw no reason for Coalition Forces to go in at all. In the days leading up to the invasion to the early years of the Iraq War, the former had a bigger following. The disagreements had been so severe that the former was seen as warmongers while the latter was seen as deluded at best and traitors at worst. James regretted being on the side that supported the war, which he soon found out had no reason whatsoever. Nearly five thousand Americans, hundreds of Coalition troops, and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis killed because of faulty intelligence.

Things took a turn for the worse from there. Years of war combined with excessive government spending, and recklessness of corporations and banks had caused the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Yes, in addition to troops being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the global economy was in shambles. All the government did was blame each other, coming up with no solutions.

In 2008, Barack Obama was elected President to end the War in Iraq and focus on Afghanistan. He did not deliver on that promise until 2011. 2011, James mused, had seemed to be a year of justice being served. That year had seen the deaths of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda lieutenant Anwar al-Awlaki, Libyan President Muammar Gadhafi, and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Il. Hearing of the SEALs raiding his compound and shooting him gave James a grim sense of satisfaction, though he heartily disagreed with the Obama Administration about not showing his body.

2012 onward had seen nothing but reaffirmation of just how slimy the government was. Sure, there was the Patriot Act and the NSA's wiretapping the phones but bills such as SOPA and others like it that would censor and police the internet, giving the government authority to arrest people who would so much as be a member of a site using copyrighted material had triggered nation-wide opposition. James' son in law, Sean, now a chef is a high-end resort in Florida brought up those bills angrily during a birthday visit. He used copyrighted music on his cooking show on YouTube. However, what really pissed him off was that "copyright infringement" was really just an excuse for stomping out more Constitutional rights. Luckily, the American public had caught on and many of those bills were shelved.

However they had passed NDAA, a bill that would allow the government to arrest anyone, including American citizens indefinitely and without trial under the suspicion of being terrorists. That was the final straw for James. He along with his fellow vets that he still had contacts with all protested it but to no avail. However, there were no cases of any Americans being detained despite the damage already being done to their credibility.

By the 2014 legislative elections, the American populace had had just about enough of the Democrats and Republicans, thus sending a record number of independents into office. The Republicans had retained a small majority in the House and had gained a smaller one in the Senate. Even several career politicians had lost their offices. A year afterwards, after much debate and legislation, a four-term limit was placed on both Houses of Congress.

The War in Afghanistan had also ended in 2014, with the capture of bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Both he and Khalid Sheikh Muhammad were tried in a federal court (much to the anger of many) and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in ADX Florence, where they would spend twenty-three hours a day in solitary confinement for the rest of their lives. The judge who had presided over the al-Zawahiri case later stated in an interview that he did not want him to become a martyr for future extremists by having him executed. People suspected the same reason for KSM's incarceration.

With the wars over and several reforms put into place, the economy began its gradual recovery. In 2015, disgruntled former moderate Democrats and Republicans had formed the Unity Party whose candidate got thirty percent of the vote in the 2016 Presidential election plus a good number of seats in Congress, thus effectively ending the two-party system. That year had also seen the end of the Electoral College. In 2020 after a bitter campaign, the new party's candidate, a woman named Elaine Hunter had narrowly defeated the Republican incumbent and Democratic challenger to become the first woman to be elected President.

Now in 2021, the American economy once again flourishing and the wars over, James could honestly say that the country, the world, and even he and his own family had come a very long way. In the past twenty years, he and his wife had become the grandparents of eight and great grandparents of three from Sophia and Jim Jr. combined. Paul was content with being the happy single uncle having no interest in marriage or children of his own. James and Gina were now retired and living comfortably in an apartment in Florida. Not sustaining any lasting injuries, he had been released from the hospital in a week's time.

The trauma of the attacks, however, had taken much longer to recover from. He began suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder as he had decades before in the years following his release from Vietnam only worse because in this case, it literally hit home. After four years of therapy and heavy medications, James had finally recovered. There were still nightmares but he had moved on with his life. He guessed that part of that was due to the birth of Sophia and Sean's first child and Paul's finishing of his military service.

A voice muttering something in Arabic had brought James out of his reverie. A tall Middle-Eastern man with a dark blue suit stood by the pool where the North Tower had once stood. Realizing that James noticed him, the younger man commented in lightly accented English, "Still hard to believe it really happened, didn't it?"

"Tell me about it," said James, grimacing. "I used to work right there," he nodded at the South Tower pool, "I was right at the bottom of the impact zone."

"Well, thank God you're here today."

"Mashallah," James responded in a very poor accent.

The other man chuckled. "Mash'Allah," he said. "Well, have a good day." With that, he made his way into one of the buildings. James stood back up and hobbled on his cane away from the World Trade Center and back to life.

A/N: Info dump? Probably. But every 9/11 anniversary, I think of how far the country has come since then. Yes, that Middle-Eastern man was Hassan.

Okay….now a little bit of what happened to the other characters.

Alejandro: He fulfilled his community service duties by helping clean up Ground Zero. After graduating high school, he joined the Marines and served three combat tours. After leaving the Marines, he went to Columbia University, graduated with a degree in secondary education and a minor in history, and then returned to the Marines as an engineering officer. In that time, he got married and had three children. He now holds the rank of Major and serves as the executive officer of the Second Tank Battalion in Camp Lejeune, NC. He had plans to remain the Corps until retirement. His sister Monica went on to become an English teacher in a high school. She now lived with her fiance in Manhattan. Their father Carmelo sadly died in 2018 as result of a drunk driver striking his car on the way home from work one night.

Hassan: After the attacks, he was depressed for months upon learning that his brother had been part of the plot. In 2005, he and his family moved to the US when he found a job in an American branch of the oil company for which he worked. Throughout the War on Terror, he kept silent whenever the subject came up among fellow Muslims. He believed that he had no right to express an opinion on the matter. Later, he started a yacht rental firm, making a lot of money in process, which he donated regularly to charity. He now works in the Freedom Tower where his business is headquartered.

In memory of the nearly 3000 victims of the 9/11 Attacks