WARNING:  Please note that this story revolves around the horrific events of September 11th.  Many find comfort in reading these stories in hopes of  finding a light in these dark times.  The opposite is also true, many  find these plots very disturbing and disheartening.  Others have voiced that they feel such material is inappropriate at this time.  The choice as always is yours.  Wanting to be sensitive to everyone's feeling I asked Catherine Riley's permission to post this warning and she readily agreed.   ~ Diane

HOPE
by Catherine Riley


"Vincent!" Mouse said breathlessly. "Thought of it last night. Can make the water wheel better. Just need little thingies. Cheap. No problem." The water wheel far Below in the river generated just enough electricity for the hospital chamber.

"I am pleased to hear it, Mouse. Have you made a sketch of your idea?"

"Better than that. Made a model. In my chamber. Come see it right after breakfast?"

Vincent shook his head. "We will have to do it later. I promised to teach the mathematics lesson for Cullen this morning.

Catherine smiled at Mouseís crestfallen expression. "Vincent, if it isnít anything tougher than long division, I could do it."

"Fractions?"

"I can handle that."

Mouse was elated and began to beg Vincent to hurry up and eat.

So, for Vincent, it began in Mouseís chamber. Sudden paralyzing agony. The agony of other people. He reached across the bond for Catherine and their children. Safe, calm. What was this?

Barely able to function, he excused himself to Mouse and started slowly to his chamber. The initial agony had faded but he still felt deep pain, fear, and loss. What was this? Who was feeling this? Twenty minutes later, it happened again. His hands gripping the chair arm added fresh claw marks to the wood.

For the rest of the community, it began as a deep rumbling boom that literally shook their home. The pipes went wild. "What was that?" "Mouse, did you do that?" "Please check that no candles or lanterns have fallen over, we must avoid fire." "George are you ok?" "Anyone hurt?"

Catherine had finished the lesson and was drinking tea with Mary. The boom and a piercing pain in her head sent her flying in a panicked search for Vincent. She found him on his knees, clutching his head, every line of his body knotted with pain. He was gasping, eyes unfocused, sinking as if unbearable weight were on his shoulders. Brooke came running. "Joseph says his Daddy is hurt."

Catherine shook her head, trying to sort through the sensations reaching her through their bond. "No," she said slowly. "Someone else is hurt, I think."

She knelt next to him, taking the great golden head to her breast. "Vincent," she called softly.

"So many," he whispered. "Such sorrow."

At the onset of the second great boom, he cried out and lost consciousness.

The next three days were an exhausting blur. Several helpers had sent messages Below and soon the community were in shocked morning with the rest of the world. They knew now that the dreadful crashes that had rocked the community were the collapse of the two World Trade Center towers. They knew now that great evil had been done that day. But they had little time to mourn. The collapse had destroyed an enormous section of Tunnels Ė far, it was true, from the communityís home, but they had to ensure that any tunnels near the collapsed buildings were adequately sealed off or their world risked discovery. Vincent recovered with frightening rapidity and began directing the communityís effort to protect itself. Catherine went Above just long enough to collect Jacob and Caroline from school and then returned to check on Vincent.

Father conducted a prayer service and counseled any who needed it, and many did. His voice became hoarser with each day.

On Wednesday, certain that Vincent was recovered and their three children would be well cared for, Catherine went Above. The Chandler Foundation ran 23 soup kitchens in the city of NewYork. Surely they could help the rescue workers. She also had a large circle of friends Above, and an enormous acquaintance. She needed to know whether they were safe. As she climbed the ladder into the brownstone that she shared with Vincent and their children, she heard the phone ring and the click of the answering machine. Her message played and then a desperate voice spoke. "God, Radcliffe, Cathy, Vincent - you gotta call me. Let me know youíre okay. Please."

She sprinted across the kitchen. "Joe, itís me. I just came Above."

"Yeah, I was hoping that, but - hell. You seen the TV coverage yet?"

"Not yet."

"Itís unbelievable, Cathy. And a lot of people are missing. Jim Tylerís going nuts. He hasnít heard from Skye." Jim was blind, and he and Skye had three little children.

"Has he checked the hospitals?"

"He says he canít get through on the phones and he needs to stay with the kids."

"Maybe I can help, Joe."

"Would you? Iíve gotta get to the mayorís office in 40 minutes. Jenny volunteered to visit hospitals, but I donít think she should."

Considering Jenny was six months pregnant, Catherine didnít think so, either. "Are you home? Can I talk to her?" It was always a great pleasure to talk to Jenny, but this time her friendís tear-filled voice merely spoke of loss.

Forever after when Catherine recalled the next three days, she seemed to see them through a dreadful gray haze of dust and misery. She spent the morning on the phone. In the end, she had a crew of 26 offering to help feed the rescuers. She had navigated the bureaucracy she needed to get the food to the people who needed it and she had a list of fourteen people to search for Ė including two helpers.

Like most of the rest of New Yorkís bereaved, she began with the hospitals, St. Vincentís, Bellevue, and the others. Simply getting from one to another was an exhausting challenge. Then came the waiting in line to ask if the names were on the lists of the injured. She did it again and again and again. When she had finished, night was approaching and she had found no one and nothing. She called Jim one last time and dragged herself Below to see her children and seek comfort in them. But there was no real solace for her. She felt simultaneously hollow and filled with sorrow. Vincent arrived, grimy and weary, and very quiet. When she touched the Bond it seemed heavy with sadness. They fell asleep in each otherís arms, but barely spoke.

The next day was largely the same. More juggling of volunteers, more bureaucracy, and more sorrow. She made no progress in finding any of her friends. Like many, she had now added the effort to find someone who may have seen one of them in that last rush to evacuate the buildings, but she found no one. Sometime during the day she found herself bringing groceries to Jim and his children. He blessed her for her strength and compassion. Yet, when she left, she heard not the blessing but seven-year old Madisonís soft voice, "I didnít know anything this bad could happen." Catherine stood outside, weeping, trying to reach past the hollow space for the strength that Jim had thanked her for.

When she got Below, Vincent was still directing the tunnel repairs. He did not return until after she and the children slept.

On Friday, she worked three hours in the Chandler Foundation offices, spent two hours serving soup to exhausted, disheartened fire fighters, and visited hospitals. While waiting in line she found someone who had seen Ada Lockwood, a friend from the corporate law days. Ada was the stereotypical New York businesswoman Ė loud, aggressive, fashionably brittle. But when last seen she had been helping a client - slow, arthritic Mrs. Schottenheimer - down the 75 flights of stairs between them and safety. She called Adaís daughter in Dallas who wept and then thanked her. "At least now I know." There was no news of Skye.

On Saturday, she met once again with failure. No news of the Helpers, of her other friends, or of Skye. Wearily, she called Jenny to report and found her weeping. "Cathy, here I am forty-five and pregnant and I keep thinking that I canít bring a baby into a world like this. What right have I to do this?"

Catherine answered with a passion that surprised herself. "Jenny, you listen to me. There has always been evil in the world. That has not changed. But it has always failed and it always will as long as the good people like you keep going on." It was what Jenny needed to hear. Catherine was amazed that she had had the wit and strength to say it. Inside, she felt hollow, sad, and sick. At one point during the day, she had looked up at New Yorkís violated skyline and felt as if her own heart had been ripped out along with the missing towers.

She finished her calls to the families of the missing and went Below to spend the evening with the children. The community Below had done their best to protect the children. The youngest knew that something sad had happened, but the details had been kept as vague as possible. The older children knew the basics of the hijackings and the collapse of the towers, but the enormous loss of life had been obscured. Even Jacob and Caroline, who had been Above at school and had been full of wide-eyed questions, were able to play with 8-year-old abandon. Joseph, at three, seemed unaffected by the subdued manners of the adults. He seemed intent only on the block tower that he and Seth were building. When it tumbled, Catherine thought suddenly of the other tumbling towers Above and looked away. Joseph crawled into her lap and brought his bright blue eyes and flattened, furry little nose to within inches of her face. He patted her cheek with one tiny clawed hand. "Daddy is so sad, too," he said matter-of-factly. "I think you should hug him when he comes home. Maybe that will make you feel better."

"Iím sure it will, Joey. Thank you. But, you know, you can make me feel better, too." He grinned proudly and hugged her neck. Catherine reveled in the strength of his small arms squeezing so tightly. It was the first joyful moment since Tuesday morning.

"Mom?" Caroline dove under the quilts and turned a green-eyed look on her mother.

"What, love?"

"How did you get to be so good?"

Catherine turned an astonished look on her only daughter. "What do you mean?"

Jacob answered for his sister. "You werenít here today and I was kinda mad about it, but Grandfather said you were out doing good and we needed to be patient because the world needs lots of good right now."

Caroline spoke up again. "He said, ĎIn my experience, no woman on Earth has more capacity or resolve for doing good than your mother.í Whatís resolve?"

Catherine shook her head tearfully and hugged them both. It was the second moment of joy. The hollow place felt smaller.

She sat in their chamber brushing her hair in the candlelight. She watched Vincent as he dried his hair after his bath. She had always taken pleasure in the ripple of muscles across his back as he brushed, but this time she could not help but think he had washed away the dust of evil. The work to seal off their Tunnels from the disaster Above was a grim and grimy job.

"Is there much more to do tomorrow?" she asked sympathetically, trying to sound like a normal wife.

"No, not much more. We will need to inspect the new walls to make sure they look convincing, but we should not need to build any more." He paused, "Are you going back Above tomorrow?"

"No," she said, still striving for normal tones. "The Foundationís efforts will go on without me so I donít think thereís much point."

He looked at her quizzically.

"I mean," Catherine went on softly. "I mean itís probably better to face the truth. If they havenít been found yet, then they are dead, arenít they? If I go Above, Iíll be pretending that thereís hope. And there isnít any." Her voice cracked with repressed tears.

Vincent came to kneel before her. He took her face in his two hands. "Hope that the missing are yet alive? No, I fear not. But hope for those who survive? Yes, there is great hope." His love for her seemed suddenly to rush through the bond, nearly filling the hollow hopeless place within her.

Catherine took a deep breath. How remarkable that he found the only words that could comfort her.

"Vincent, when it happened Ė what did you feel?" Somehow, this was the first chance she really had had to ask him.

He stood and, lifting her into his arms, sat down in his great chair with her in his lap. He held her closely, took a shuddering breath and then answered. "Catherine, I felt the touch of evil, a moment of jubilant wickedness. Something I had not truly felt since Paracelsus died. Then nearly instantly I felt the deaths and suffering of hundreds of people. I knew something had happened above, but I tried to go on." He kissed the top of her head. When he went on, she heard the tears roughening his voice. "Then I felt it again. I did not know what to think, so I went to our chamber, trying to understand the sensations."

Catherine, weeping now, reached up to touch his face. It was wet. "When we felt the first crash, I felt thousands of people die, Catherine. I could not bear it. Then the second crash, and again, thousands." His voice had faded to a whisper. They held each other as they wept for the souls who had died and those who had lived and would never forget.

At last the tears stopped. They sat motionless in long silence. Catherine, with her head against his heart, felt once again the harmony of the bond. She lifted her face and he looked down at her.

"Vincent, everyone says we must keep going, or the terrorists will have won. I have said it. I said it today to Jenny, because she needed to hear it."

He nodded. "I think that it is true."

"But how can people go on? Some have lost their livelihoods or their friends or their families. After what you felt, how did you manage to go on?"

"I didnít lose those things. I had you, Catherine, and the children and all our family here Below. I had work that had to be done." His arms tightened around her. His voice held a note of awe. "But there is something else. Something that perhaps can bring solace to even the most bereaved. After the towers crashed, I thought that I myself would die. Then I begin to sense something else. It came, Catherine, in waves, steady, ceaseless, like ocean waves. I was stunned and heartened. Catherine," he looked directly at her, his blue eyes intense. "Catherine, everywhere in the city people wanted to help, to stand up for righteousness, to declare themselves on the side of good. The city Ė in the midst of its greatest sorrow Ė this city became a city of hope. And so, I have hope."

And, the hollow place within her was hollow no more. It was filled with love and hope and the resolve to stand up for good.