We were all marching across the 14th Street bridge, all of us, thousands of us. Maybe even tens of thousands of us. Singing and walking across the 14th Street bridge, crossing the Potomac in our stand for freedom, solidarity.

'Solidarity.'

As if.

I mean, we couldn't even name our march without factional infighting. Some wanted to call it the Million Women March, as of old, but then immediately others said that 'Women' you know: 'Wo-MAN' was misogynistic and it should be the 'Million Womyn March' but then others objected to that term as being too radical and did we want to be exclusive and scare away our more middle of the road elements? And then others piped up and said we didn't have a million women, or 'womyn', anyway and would that bring down censure from the media about misrepresentation?

And then others said we were already under censure and therefore the march, so ...

So that's how it goes with us: women or womyn, million or not, unified under one cause, whatever it was.

But we were crossing the Potomac to march into DC, because it was the symbolic gesture, see? So, old, young, disabled in wheelchairs or earth momma in her Birkenstocks, or some took the term 'march' loosely and rode in on their American iron. Big mommas with their tattoos all over and buzz cuts and 'fuck-off' sunglasses on with their sweet little femmy bitches in their flowerprint sundresses, helmeted, arms around but not fully reaching across their wide berths. Or Big Mommas with their Big Momma butches riding on their huge Electra Glides. The motorcycles snarling along at one mile per hour when they look caged at that crawling pace, as if they wanted to break ranks, cut loose and roar down the highway, breaking laws, despoiling innocents, robbing banks, whatever these big bad mommas did when they weren't protesting for peace and equality.

And we were singing. Mostly 'Redemption song,' but there were raucous Irish ballads about Molly, the lesbian pirate on the high seas (more despoiling) and 'Give peace a chance,' and 'Imagine.' You know, all that Kumbaya shit that showed we're all in this together and why can't we all just get along?

And we were organized, too. Peaceable, and peaceful, and well-watered, with girls running waterbottles and making sure everybody was okay, because once we made it to D.C. there was to be hours of speeches and rallies planned, and no Starbucks would be left unemptied of every single coffee bean and pastry. You know, the standard protest stuff: go to DC, clap your hands and pump your fists and drink your lattes. We were Americans; we had rights and freedom and nobody could take that away from us, no matter his political or religious title.

That is, if we made into 'D.C.' from the 'Commonwealth' of 'Virginia' across the 14th Street bridge of Potomac.

Because the bridge and the river may have been the same over the years, the physical landscape may have remained the same. But the world was a very, very different place than the one our parents grew up in.

We were crossing the Potomac, not from Virginia into D.C., but from the Dominion into Atlantia.

And neither empire looked upon us with much tolerance: dykes, fags, queers, heretics.

... the reason for the wars, famine, disease, and deaths, oh, so many deaths.

So we were marching, and riding, and walking, and singing and chanting. All of us, thousands of us, resolved, proud ('gay pride'!), firm ... and with the sneaking suspicion — no: fear — that we wouldn't be marching back home afterwards.

But march we did. It was the principle of the thing. If we didn't stand up for our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, nobody would, and persecution of one sector always led to persecution of the mass of everybody. Didn't everybody know this? Didn't anybody study their history? And remember the principles of what was once this country was founded on?

Thousands of us remembered. So we marched. Peacefully. 'Unified' in our diversity, and 'organized.'

There was this one big butch bitch with a clipboard going from woman to womyn, and I could see her way off, they way she just went up to people, rudely asked them something, made a check-mark and went to the next person, as if you were a number or something. I saw her a mile off, and hated her, the officious, bureaucratic bitch.

She came up to 'us', meaning loosely, me and some other people near me and began her interrogation.

She didn't start off with a barked, 'Name, rank and serial number?' but she may as well have.

'State?' she barked to a mommy and her young daughter. The mother looked nonplussed but answered a quiet, 'Maryland,' which the big Bertha checked off curtly.

'For her, too?' Bertha asked imperiously, looking down at the girl.

The older woman answered quietly, 'yes,' her voice strained.

Bertha made another checkmark and made to leave.

'Excuse me,' the woman said.

'What?' Bertha almost shouted, impatience thrumming through her.

'We're not ...' the woman looked around, '... we're not homosexuals.' she whispered quietly.

Bertha didn't even pause to snort, she just whipped around and snarled at the woman next to me, 'State?'

The woman next to me was about my size, I guess, but she somehow appeared to be small. Smaller than anybody marching. Smaller than herself. I couldn't tell her age, she looked young, but she look very, very old at the same time, filled with wisdom and sadness.

The woman shrunk further into herself, if that were all possible.

'State?' Bertha barked sharply again.

The woman looked lost, looking around for help, but not daring to look at anybody. Finally she almost whimpered out: 'Kutthee.'

This stopped Bertha in her tracks. She looked at the girl. She looked at her clipboard.

'There, no State named 'cuddy'! State?' Bertha demanded.

The girl looked terrified, and repeated, 'Kutthee,' helplessly.

Bertha was incensed. You know how some people are just like, they have to scream what they just said, as if screaming would help anything and make you understand? Those kinds of people?

Bertha was one of those kinds of people.

"WHAT. STATE. DO. YOU. COME. FROM!" Bertha screamed right in her face.

The woman looked panicked, and everybody around her was, like ...

Everybody around her was like sheep: scared to death of Bertha With Her Clipboard.

Fucking authority.

I was incensed, but I went up by the girl, and said, calmingly, 'Hey, hey, it's okay,' to Bertha, 'I don't think she understands.'

I said quietly to the girl. "Look, Bertha, here,' pointing with my chin.

'It's Ellen.' said Bertha, icily.

I looked at Bertha contemptuously. 'Ellen,' I corrected myself frostily.

Two could play the icy-cool game.

'... just wants to know what State you're from, right? For numbers and tracking, right?' I waved over the Potomac back toward the Dominion. 'I'm from Virginia, what State are you from?' I asked the girl politely.

The girl looked over the river in confusion, and looked back at me.

'Kutthee' she said quietly.

I could not believe it. English was the State language for both the Dominion and Atlantia. It was a crime punishable by death to speak anything else. I could not believe this girl did not know one word of English. She was a fugitive in worse trouble than any of us.

Bertha, I mean, Ellen, was almost trembling with fury, 'Look, ...' she began.

'No,' I snapped, 'you look!'

Ber-... Ellen turned on me and snarled, 'WHAT?'

'I said,' with all the courage my 120 pounds could muster against this three hundred pound behemoth, 'you look. You're not going to get anything out of Kutthee here,'

'Kutthee' the girl corrected me firmly. Saying it exactly how I pronounced it ... or maybe there was almost a silent 't' at the end? I wasn't sure.

I looked at the girl, and turned back to Ellen, 'Yeah, her,' I said. 'by shouting at her.' I waved at the long, long line of women behind me in the march.

'Why don't you,' I suggested, 'go to all of them, huh?'

Ellen looked put out. 'I have to get the State of origin from every person on the march! That's what I have to do!'

To do what with that information, I wondered, and then I grinned at the thought of her shoving that clipboard up her ass. That's what she could do with that information, I thought evilly.

But I tried to remain diplomatic. "That's what I'm saying. Go collect your info from all of them, first, and then come back for Kutthee, here.'

"Kutthee," the girl corrected me.

"Yeah, her," I said easily.

"How do I know she won't jump off the bridge and kill herself first while I'm gone?" Ellen asked suspiciously.

I rolled my eyes. Oh, please! I barely muttered. I waved at the mass of women/womyn. "People, waiting to be counted..." I hinted.

"Fine, whatever!" Ellen snarled, looking at me with contempt, then hissed a: "Fuck off, fag!" and stomped off.

"State?" she barked to the next woman.

I gave Ellen the middle-finger salute and murmurred a "Fuck off, fag!" to her back.

Kutthee looked at her retreating back fearfully.

"Don't worry, sweetie," I said soothingly, patting her shoulder, ...

Kutthee shrank away from my touch. I persevered: "That mean old Bertha won't bother you anymore."

"ELLEN!" I heard an incensed shout further back in the crowd.

I snickered.

"It's okay," I told Kutthee, and dared to hold her hand.

Kutthee looked down at my hand, and then smiled, uncertainly, at me, and looked forward, continuing the walk across the bridge.

Holding my hand.

I smiled back at her.

'But, mommy,' a young piping girl's voice asked, 'isn't homosexuality a sin?'

I could almost hear the repressed hissing from the crowd around us, and my felt the hair on me, everywhere, electrify.

Tolerance, tolerance, I chanted to myself before lashing out at the girl.

"Yes, it is, honey," the older woman said quietly.

I was losing the battle for tolerance. Big time. I bristled.

The little girl asked, "But, so ... why are we marching with them?"

"Because..." the older woman paused thoughtfully, "... it's a worse sin to hate and hurt a person, any person. And once you do that to one person, a child of God, you allow that against all persons, and we have to love all persons, sweetie, and defend their rights, too. Or else we lose ours, too."

I felt the warmth of affection suffuse me for that woman. See? She gets it. All our rhetoric was not for naught.

The little girl considered.

"Even if they're sinning?" she finally asked.

The woman looked a bit embarrassed. "Well, we have to pray they repent and reform their lives, right, sweetie?"

"Right!" the girl answered firmly, smiling triumphantly.

I sighed.

But now we were across the bridge, and into D.C., that is The Empire of Altantia.

And what an imperial reception awaited us.

Imperial security forces, in full riot gear, shielded, lined the streets.

And the crowds.

Thousands. Ten thousands. Hundreds of thousands of ... 'people'? More like an angry mob were shouting, and screaming, and the things the were saying.

"Whore!" "Bitch!" "Faggot!" "Queer!" "Fucking dykes!" "Go home!" "You killed my family!" "Whore!" "Sinners!" "Heretics!" "Infidels!"

It was a wall of noise. Of hate. Directed toward us.

It was terrifying.

But before we could even cross over the border, a back mercedes, 700 series, sleek, fast, powerful, sped toward us, right at us as if to run us all down, and it looked like it could. But it veered off the head of the line, which stood firm, God bless their courage (which I doubt I would have had), and sped along the line of us, screeching to a halt, right next to us.

A man got out, older, short, but dressed perfectly, reeking power and money, just like his car, and he shouted across the line, hollering angrily above the noise of the crowd.

I couldn't understand one word of it, but I could understand the emotion behind it, and I knew the target of his anger.

Katthi? Kutthee? Kuttheet? tried to shrink behind me. But then the man pointed right at her, shouting some more, in their native language, I guess, and pointed right in front of him.

Kutthee let go of my hand, and started walking toward him.

I grabbed her arm. "No, Kutthee," I shouted above the din. "This is America! You have rights. You're free to choose who you want to be, don't you see? This is America!"

And other girls took up my rallying cry. "Yeah!" "This is America!" "You don't need no man to tell you what to do!" And other shouts of encouragement.

Kutthee looked at me sadly and smiled and patted my cheek affectionately and said resignedly, "Kutthee," correcting me one last time.

Then walked up to the man, standing before him, head bowed, shoulders hunched, shrinking, as he poured out his rage and hate on her, in front of thousands of women on one side of the road, and him, his mercedes and Kutthee on the other side.

He grabbed her elbow, opened the passenger door for her and shoved her into the car and then sped off.

The last I saw of her was her obediently putting on her seatbelt as the man gripped the steering wheel in white-knuckled rage and I saw them veer off toward the Dominion.

I sighed, sad, as we walked toward our destination.

There was a rally going on. A huge screen dominated the Smithsonian Mall and the Emperor himself, the head of the Church of the People was making a speech of how we would rebuild the Empire to its former glory and wipe away the vermin of filth and heresy and we would be purified before God and worthy of our greatness. And all the people shouted as one, "Amen, Amen!"

And we marched right into that, chanting, "What if God were one of us?"

There was a moment of silence. But not a respectful one. We had caught the Emperor's attention.

"See?" he screamed. "See what filth has infected and polluted our great Nation? See why we have suffered for our sins? See what heresy is before us?"

"Yeah," the people began, uncertainly, but then with mounting anger and outrage. "Yeah! YEAH!"

Stephenie Lords, our guide in all of this, began, "We are not here to fight, we simply wish to ..."

BANG-BANG-BANG!

BR-55, Short-Stroke Gas-Operated Rotating-Bolt, 3 round burst, 44 clip, fully automatic. I recognize that sound anywhere. It's the standard security arms issue.

Stephenie looked shocked, then fell forward, her top half falling lazily, hitting the ground; she was severed at the stomach.

There was a shocked silence. Then a scream of "Kill them all!"

The Emperor, frothing at them mouth, goaded the crowd: "Rid the world of this stain! Cleanse us of this heresy, my God-fearing people!"

And they were on us, with tree branches, and rocks, and fists, and knives.

And I saw panic, and the mob, take over, and I saw people dying, and I saw people killing, and running, and screaming. Some women tried to flee, but then I saw what the imperial guard was for: not to keep the peace, but to follow their Emperor's orders, and they cut them down, mercilessly, women and children, and the crowd cheered and jeered, exulted.

And WHAM I felt the whole earth tilt on it side, and I saw a stone fall by me, covered in blood, and I put my hand by my temple, and it came away wet. And I fell to the ground, and I saw through the crowd three teenagers, two boys and a girl, punching and kicking Ellen, and her crying 'please, stop,' and I saw them laughing, and one boy kicked in her face and the girl kicked her stomach and I saw Ellen shake and her eyes go dim.

And I dragged myself up, and was knocked over by the crowd and was trampled by somebody but then picked up by somebody else, and we were running ...

... right into the security forces. And I saw one of them. A boy. A boy about my age, raise his BR-55, recoilless, noise-suppressed, fully automatic rifled carbine, and point it right at me, and I heard three thunderclaps.

PFBANG-PFBANG-PFBANG!

And I felt ...

I felt funny.

And the ground rushed up and hit me.

And I ... felt the darkness squeeze into my eyes. It felt heavy.

And I felt cold. Then nothing