On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was at work sitting in front of a pair of powerful computers. A co-worker walked up to me and said, "Did you hear that a plane hit the World Trade Center?" No, I hadn't.
I surfed to the CNN website. Apparently, millions more around the world were attempting to fetch CNN's home page. The load on the server was tremendous; only a select few users were able to retrieve the site's front-page. After a number of repeated attempts, to no avail, I surfed to Yahoo and MSN. I was able to get a synopsis of the situation: a plane had smashed into one of the twin towers and a fire was raging.
Not long after, I was able to retrieve the CNN home page: a second plane had hit the other tower. My stomach dropped. I knew we were at war. A photo showed that both buildings were burning.
After a while, someone in the technology department had hooked up a live CNN satellite feed to a streaming, multicast video server. We were able to watch CNN on our machines. The entire floor of the building was silent. We were in a high-rise. How many other planes were out there?
Rumors were flying. Someone mentioned that the Pentagon had been hit. Another told an assembled group that a plane had gone down on the mall near the White House. How many other planes were out there?
We watched live -- in utter horror -- as one tower collapsed, a cacaphony of twisted steel and burning jet fuel, snuffing out thousands of lives in an eye-blink. Could the video feed be correct? How could a tower have... just disappeared? Almost as an answer, the next tower collapsed, giving out under the strain of melting structural supports.
I knew that we had just watched thousands die on American soil: the worst single enemy attack in our history. I mentioned to a co-worker -- former Air Force -- that it was most likely Bin Laden's handiwork. UBL was a household name even then.
For anyone working in a high rise, there was an unstated fear. Silly as it may sound, folks kept looking out the windows, half-expecting to see the silhouette of a jet. But there was nothing out there. Nothing.
A war had begun in earnest.