- Foreword: Writing Rochester's Futures
- "Interesting Times"
- "Culinary Capital, 2034"
- "Night Bells"
- "Hollow Lives"
- "The Naked Girl"
- "Time Enough for Love"
- "Day of the Bicentennial"
- "One City at a Time"
- "Want Not"
- "The Costs of Survival"
- "Getting Wet"
- "Top 10 Headlines, Rochester, NY, 2034"
- "North Star Pipeline"
- "The 2034 Lilac Festival"
- "Scotch and Sizzlenuts on the Resolute Bay"
- "Fads (or Why Jerry Loathes the Aliens)" [FULL TEXT, AVAILABLE ONLINE ONLY]
Steel won’t burn. Not like aluminum does. But when I saw the trucks moving into the center of Rochester loaded with tons of aluminum sheeting, I thought the Pure Sons of God were building shelters for the poor folks they’d burned out of their homes. So I hung around. It was October 21, 2034, a bright sunny day, back when dates still had their old names. Of course I’d been shooting at the Sons the week before, but I didn’t think they’d know me.
I watched those trucks go by, headed up East Main Street, and then one of the guys in gray, riding shotgun, pointed at me as he went by. I turned and ran, straight east along the back streets to Rena’s, a mile and a half, and I pounded on her back door.
“Rena, they spotted me.” She hadn’t opened the door yet, just looked at me through the door window. “Rena, let me in. Come on.”
“I warned you not to come back here again.” She didn’t open the door.
“Then I’ve got to get out. I won’t be able to come here any more.” I looked back. A loud whisper of wind, like two hoverjobs were coming, fast.
Rena looked at me, and for a second her face softened, as if she was thinking of all the nights I’d loved her over the last five years, and how happy we’d been when Wilma, that’s my Willie, was born. And then that hard look came back, and Rena’s eyes turned pale blue, and she was remembering how I’d gotten high and drunk and run off a year earlier without a word. I’d stayed away for six months.
I looked down, and then up at her. “Come on, Rena, you’ve got to help me.”
She shook that long wavy brown hair of hers, and my heart leaped up. But she said, “Not this time, Bill.”
It was almost a mile back to my lean-to and my car. I ran through bushes, between collapsed houses, and past wrecked cars and trucks jammed across the side streets. The whine of motors got loud.
That spring, the State of New York had finally said the hell with it, and the last bits of money had stopped trickling out the way the clean water had five years before that, and the Sons had gotten bold. They came down out of Watertown, took over Utica, and Syracuse, and marched west through Rochester, and people either opened their doors to them and said, “Praise God!” or they packed what they could and ran. By the fall of 2032, the Sons of God were knocking on the door to Buffalo.
I got to my car, and my breath was gone, and I just lay in the back on the floor under a blanket and half passed out. The hovers went by two or three times, but I kept still, and then I just waited until dark. About three hours after sunset came this huge explosion, like a bomb, and then a bunch of heavy guns opened up. I didn’t know what the hell it was—nobody but the Sons had any big weapons.
I started up my car in the racket and headed south across town, all my lights unplugged, until I got up on Mount Hope where I could coast lights-out down through the cemetery sniper zone, with more bangs and booms going off behind me. I coasted and drove south, all the way down to Rush, down where old 390 first shows you the city when you come north, and I finally looked back.
With all that aluminum and some armor-piercing explosives, the Pure Sons of God had set the tall buildings burning. I stood at the crest of a hill and watched big Xerox Square and Chase Marine Bank and that unfinished Fuji Kodak Tower stand like red and white torches fifteen miles off in the night under tall columns of flame. The lit-up smoke went straight up until it reached a wind layer and stretched northeast across the October late-night stars like black blood.
All I had in the car was a few books, and some little shitty tools, and my winter clothes, and two pop bottles full of scummy city water, and the cans of super-hot chili and mushrooms I’d had in the cupboard. No opener. No Rena. And no Willie. I wanted to cry, so I got back in the car and just drove.
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