Six years ago..Los Angeles, CA.

I wonder what would have happened if I had stopped for that latte? I had
skipped stopping at my coffee place on the way to work that morning, trying to
get to office so that I could get to the file on my computer I'd forgot to
download so that I could make an important call when I heard the gunshots. I
didn't duck immediately, or even really break stride, but then neither did
anyone else on that crowded plaza in Century City. I don't think any of us
really believed someone was shooting, it wasn't like we were in Compton or

I'm not sure which convinced me first, the explosion in front of me or the guys
who suddenly appeared with guns blazing. The little bits of metal which the
swept back and forth looked just like the ones you see in movies and suddenly
it was though time slowed. I swear every head on the plaza turned in unison,
and stared for a full second. Then bedlam.

Some nights I can still feel one or two of the folks I knocked over,  the hand
under my shoe as I ran and ran and ran. I can still hear the screams on the
plaza, and the bullets as they whiz past, wondering how they missed me.
Sometimes my legs will start a running motion in my sleep.

Across the plaza, my heart hammering in my chest, the next explosion
happened to a car in front of me and I swerved to miss it. The buildings floated
past as raced down the sidewalk, my labored breathing telling me the I would
soon be a standing target and lying waiting to die like one or two of the bodies
I ran past.

It is a promise that if I ever meet the guy again, I will give him every thing I
have. He was climbing onto a motorcycle when I clipped him, swinging my
metal briefcase to a resounding clang against his helmet that in my mind for a
second drowned out every noise on the street. He flipped forward over the
handlebars and disappeared as far as I was concerned. I straddled the bike,
and unable to pry my fingers from my own briefcase, awkwardly gripped the
handlebars and pulled away from the curb, gaining speed and distance with
each passing second.

I was at home forty five minutes later, threading my way through traffic as my
adrenaline ebbed away until at the house I had the presence of mind to pull
the bike up into the garage so that my neighbors wouldn't know I'd stolen a
motorcycle. I walked into the house, set the briefcase down and made myself a
drink and slumped into a chair to breathe. I turned on the television after a few
minutes to see what was happening, to see when the police or swat or the
army would step into handle the situation.

The blonde news reporter who was trying to be right in the thick of action died
in front of forty million viewers, her blood leaking onto the hot pavement, her
face more surprise than pained as the camera man followed her down. A few
seconds later as his common sense kicked in we watched the camera jerk
down the street before the thunder of bullets killed the remote link. As the
screen flickered until the studio feed picked up, I got up and started moving.

By the time the anchor had finished throwing up and had regained his
composure, I had changed and was stuffing a back sack. In went some
clothes, a few small mementos, my laptop and some food. As after thought, I
pushed in the smallest frying pan in my house, then closed it shut.

As I pulled onto the street, the engine throbbing, I could see the smoke rising
over the city. I picked a direction northward and rode away. I really liked that

Two years ago...New York City.

Handleman stepped up to the podium, an imposing figure in black that
dominated the stage ringed with dignitaries.  With the stoic look that was his
personal trademark, he announced to the world that he white, male, Aryan,
deserving of their loyalty and gay. And that he was proud of it.

It took all of five seconds for his first assistant Calley to step forward and shoot
him in the back of the head. I don't think Handleman was expecting to die, not
from the expression on his face as the cold steel of Calley's pistol hit the skin
of his balding scalp, not from how his face looked right before his forehead
exploded. One would have expected him to close his eyes and wait for it, with
a certain calm.

I'd seen coming outs before, and though I was certain that the Gay And
Lesbian Alliance would have been rejoicing for those few moments before
Handleman's tenure ended, the last ten seconds of the satellite feed from the
Aryan Republic in what used to be northern Idaho would serve no purpose to
anyone. At least not anyone I could think of.

The fall of Southern California which I had seen from ground zero had
precipitated the rise of other fractional movements, one of which was the
Aryan Republic. Although rich and powerful, the movement suffered from
succession problems, and my own article a year ago had on that very subject
had been well received, even in the Republic itself. But not even my wildest
theories, one in which I had even figured out a plausible way for Calley's
secretary's husband to assume power,  had I envisioned the pandemonium on
the stage now.

Calley stepped forward to the podium to assume the throne, looking as though
he hadn't done what we'd just seen him do, a genial grin on face. Even as the
camera focused on his face, Handlemann's personal security force rushed
him, and they were rushed by some other men in those funny cut dark suits
the Aryan's favored. The stage turned into an ugly scuffle, the body of the
Great Man trampled underneath the boots of his former followers. Shots went
off just as someone somewhere realized they were still broadcasting and cut
the uplink.

I turned off the channel and flipped over to a 24 news network to get a replay,
and maybe the basis for a new article, but after the commercial the anchor
ignored the whole event, going off into sports. I watched it through, but it was
obvious they weren't coming back to it anytime soon. Using my notes and the
net for updates, I cranked out a story by midnight that made the front page of
the Times Special section on the matter. Conservatives thought it was a bit

Two weeks ago...Philadelphia

As the train pulled into the station, I marked the page of the book I was
reading with an old business card, and then checked to make sure I hadn't
been robbed. Most of the west coast refugees still hadn't acclimated to east
coast or Midwestern living, and current estimates indicated five years or more
before the economy would be able to reabsorb us all. As a result, the
homeless and a lot of  criminals were people who were formerly middle class
who had fled the Mexican 'Reclamation', the Second Big Quake, the Civil Wars
of the Aryan Republic or the last big battle that had blown a hole in the
Rockies. The guy next to me was wearing a vintage San Diego Padres jacket,
and we accidentally looked at each other so I tried to crack a smile hoping the
guy just owned an old coat, and really wasn't from the bay that used to be
Southern California. I let the crowd clear out and waited until the platform was
nearly empty before heading out.

Why it didn't immediately strike I don't know, but I guess I was expecting an
explosion, gunfire or at least excitement. But there wasn't, just the sound of my
feet on the concrete as I made my way through the station and started looking
for a cab to to take me downtown. Most of my clients had moved to the
suburbs north of the city proper ages ago, but this client was a good sized
piece of my business and I'd caught the morning train in. I hit the curb as it hit

There were quite a few cabs waiting, but no one was moving towards them,
and as I hustled over to one I realized that myself and one other guy were the
only folks moving with any speed. We both came to a slow stop and looked at
each other, then looked at the stricken crowds around us. Some people had
sat down, some had made it to posts, I saw one lady lie on the ground and the
man slowly reaching for her, his face confusion as to why he wasn't moving
faster before he sprawled next to her.
The only other guy on the curb started running and I'll be damned if I didn't
follow, the sound of our shoes clattering as we raced down the sidewalk, then
the street, then through wherever.

My side was splitting and my feet were burning when we finally made it to a
side street where a couple of people and few drivers gave us an odd look as
we dashed, now both wheezing as we made our way. We paused at a street
sign and let the our lungs catch up to the rest of us. Then we started laughing,
at our good luck or whatever and stumbled up the street like old buddies until
we found a bar just opening.

After my first I called the police just in case, but the lines were jammed so I
figured they must have known by now. After a few more we called our offices,
but my client refused to re-schedule. Thinking that business must truly go on, I
hailed a cab and skittered downtown making it with plenty of time to spare.
That was probably my mistake.

In the middle of meeting with company's head of PR, we were interrupted by
the city's emergency services troops after one of the more paranoid
secretaries called in that I'd somehow walked off the train platform unharmed.
The office quarantine and the shots we all had to take in the chest really put a
damper on my presentation.

Today. Somewhere in South Carolina