Summary: This chapter looks at the time of darkness after the Fall before the next Dawn. It is time of barbarism when the seeds of the next civilization germinate and take root. Ultra-Violence is military science fiction about a day when technology takes us to the brink of extinction – and what comes afterward. File these weekly chapters as “terrifying dreams.”
See the previous chapters of Ultra-Violence, tales from Venus.
- The sins of our fathers.
- A Boy Meets a Girl.
- The Lost Generation.
- Let’s Do Something Fun.
- The Meek Shall Inherit the World.
- A Sign from God.
- The Siren’s Offer.
- The Riddle.
- Wolves Among Sheep.
- The Man Who Would Be King.
- The Angel and the Badman.
- Goliath’s Revenge.
- The Head of Every Man.
- In the Land of the Blind.
This contains violence and strong language (unfortunately, words even children commonly hear today).
Chapter Seven: A sign from God.
Hanson gets ready to go check his snares. It’s been five years since Alex and Hanson emerged from that dark mine shaft and beheld the fiery birth of a new world. The old world had no use for Alex. He was a dull ax that could not be sharpened. A broken tool no longer needed or wanted. But now, for the first time in his life, Alex was truly free.
During those five years, Alex and Hanson have destroyed everyone who strayed in their path. They are wolves among sheep. Killing machines from a past genocide civilized folks have preferred to forget. They’ve have walked into camps and killed dozens of armed people with no difficulty. If the world after The Fall is Hell, these two men are its devils.
Times have been good, but they’ve also been hard. The first few months were the hardest. The surface of Venus a scorched wasteland with black skies, food ran out. Cannibalism was no longer an indulgence, but a necessity to survive. In time the toxic clouds overhead will dissipate enough for life to spring up again from the hard clay below. There will be enough plants and animals to survive off of without the taboo sustenance of human flesh. However, by then the damage may already be done.
Hanson knows the stories from the early days of space colonization. Hungry men in isolated camps and lost ships forced to turn on and eat each other. A temporary reprieve from starvation, but at a terrible cost: insanity. Hanson fears for Alex. His mind already imbalanced, he acquired a taste for members of his own species. Hanson can only hope there will be no lasting consequences. He hopes when the time comes, Alex will return to a normal diet without complaint, and won’t plunge into a deeper state of madness.
As hard as it is to believe, even in a world without rules, Alex grows bored. He can murder and pillage however he pleases – an endless one-man genocide – but it still isn’t enough. Alex feels a calling. Like a word at the tip of his tongue, a treasure just below the horizon, or an itch on his back just out of reach, Alex can’t quite idealize what he wants.
A week ago Alex lost his Bible in a river crossing. That soured his mood further. He’s read the tattered old book a dozen times cover to cover. He can recite any passage and relate its scriptures to events in his old life. He cherished the hours he spent pouring over the Bible’s yellowed pages. Without that pleasure, he’s almost intolerable to be around. “How could God bring me to the Promised Land only to forsake me?” Alex lamented.
Hanson has tried to find his friend a new Bible. He searched the ruins of old churches, libraries, and hotels. Even Hanson’s simple mind saw the irony. The Bible is the most widely printed book in human history. Billions of people have been born, lived and died awash in a sea of Bibles.
Most of those people paid the Bible little attention. Many lived out their lives without reading a single page. But now, in the wake of the apocalypse, the remains of mankind grabbed up every copy of the ancient text as they could. How cruel it is. Comfortable people who up until now had no need for faith seized up every copy and deprived a lifelong believer.
Today Alex is in one of his moods. He doesn’t want to hunt or kill. He wants to sit in camp and stare into space, his way of communing with God, or his higher self, or whatever it is he talks to.
Hanson leaves him be to go check the snares. The snares are simple yet brutally effective. Molecular wire concealed in the foliage, they’re in principle little different than the traps used for millennia to ensnare small wildlife. Hanson first encountered them as a soldier fighting the rebellion on the South Pole. Communist guerrillas were outgunned, but clever and resourceful. They knew that wounding a soldier was almost better than killing him. Killing a soldier takes one man out of the fight. Wounding him takes his entire squad out of the fight, at least temporarily.
Once a technological marvel, molecular wire became a commonplace industrial tool. The former factory workers of the revolution discovered they had an almost infinite supply of a terrible weapon. They trimmed the strands inappropriate lengths with their diamond-tipped wire cutters. The guerrillas scattered their molecular wire snares across the jungle, stalling whole battalions of government soldiers. With one careless step, a trooper would find his leg cut to the bone.
The snares were invisible to metal detectors – the only way to avoid falling victim to one was an extremely light step, and a keen eye for the subtle signs rebels left for each other. To avoid falling victim to their own traps, guerrillas made tiny markers to warn their friends. A stack of rocks. A discrete strip of spray paint. An alert soldier might see these clues and save his team from calamity. The guerrillas changed their marking methods frequently or left no markers at all. The psychological impact of snare warfare became almost as nerve-wracking as the traps themselves.
Diamond is the only known substance strong enough to sever the molecular wire, and it took months for the high command to finally start issuing diamond cutters to their ground forces. Without the cutters, amputation was often the only solution. Screaming boys with bloody stumps that were once legs became a routine reality of every foot patrol.
With casualties so high from the snares and other deadly traps, soldiers of the Venusian Defense Corps developed a macabre custom. The average life expectancy of a fresh recruit was one week. For that first week, there was no point in anyone learning his name. It was better to not learn the name of a man who might be dead on his first patrol. Upon receiving a “virgin” recruit, the veterans of his squad would conjure a derogatory nickname for him; usually a creative combination of ethnic, sexual and religious slurs and making fun of his personal appearance. For example, one of the many second-generation Irish conscripts might be called Bog Trotter Microdick, or Bog Dick for short. Another popular nickname was Potato Faggernuts, Tater Fag for short. When a recruit made the mistake of listing Catholic as his religious preference on his dog tags, he might be called Mick Boy.
If no appropriately offensive nickname could be agreed upon, the veterans would call him Fucknuts. If there was already a Fucknuts still alive in the squad, the new one would be Fucknuts 2, Fucknuts 3, and so on. No matter how he distinguished himself, a recruit only earned his name back after living longer than a week. A soldier’s name became a badge of honor more precious than any medal or ribbon could ever be.
In a ruinous moment of naivety, Alex learned someone’s name. The name of someone he was about to kill. Hannah. That was a mistake Hanson would give anything to undo.
There’s some noise up ahead. Hanson sees one of his markers: a strip of orange plastic fluttering from a tree branch. He prefers obvious markers. Civilians don’t know what they mean, and Hanson prefers to reduce the risk of falling victim to his own snares. He sneaks close enough to see who he caught. There are two figures by the marked tree. A man and a woman. They look in their 30s. He knows the look. They’re a fashionable upper-middle-class couple from before The Fall. The type of educated people who lived in a safe suburban house with a white picket fence and a garden in the back. They did everything right. They built a life together and planned a family. It never happened and now they’re out of their element. It’s unlikely they’ve been in the outdoors for anything beyond a camping trip. They’re in a world they don’t understand and have no chance of surviving in.
Hanson is impressed they made it this far. He deduces they planned for the worst during the arms race and built a panic room under their house, filling it with enough provisions to last years. But any stockpile, no matter how large, will run out eventually. The fashionable young couple had to leave their shelter, and things didn’t work out well for them.
The man is somewhat thin chested, but not weak. He has the look of an intellectual. A member of the intelligentsia. He probably wasn’t terribly important but nonetheless a respected member of the community with great potential.
His companion is what one would expect. Even in her emaciated state of weeks with little food, she has a pleasing shape. She’s beautiful and athletic. She probably jogged and did yoga. While her husband was at work, whatever that was, she kept the home in order. She socialized and networked. Her heart-shaped face radiates charm and sharp wit of a perfect hostess. She has the demeanor to listen to the ladies’ gossip but abstains from spreading malicious rumors herself. She has the intelligence to keep up with the conversations of the men, even ones she finds boring. She’s a wonderful ally for the man who married her.
Now they’re both in a horrible world due to events far beyond their control. The woman is in pain. The snare caught her around the ankle. Her husband fastened a tourniquet on her leg to stop the bleeding. But her leg is ruined. Her Achilles Tendon is snapped. Only a skilled surgeon could repair it, and there is no such surgeon out here. The man has a penknife, but he’s long since realized it won’t cut the wire and trying only makes things worse for his wife. To her credit, she isn’t crying. She knows noise would draw danger, so endures the agony in stoic silence.
Under normal circumstances, Hanson would kill them both and scavenge what he could from their bodies. If there wasn’t anything seriously wrong with them, he would carve up the bodies for food. He’s done it dozens of times before. Not out of prejudice or ill will, it’s just what he and Alex do. These people are nothing more than prey. But not this time. Hanson has a sudden idea that just might work.
“Hello there,” he says. The couple looks over at him in alarm. The man reaches for something in the backpack at his side. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Hanson warns, glancing at the sawed-off shotgun in his hands.
“What do you want?” The man asks, realizing he has no option except compliance.
“This is the only tool that can cut her loose,” Hanson replies, pulling the diamond tool from his satchel. “I need something. If you can give it to me, I’ll let you two live.”
The man and woman glance at each other. They’ve been together long enough they don’t need words to communicate. She gives him a nod. “We don’t have much, but we’ll give it to you.” The man says.
“I don’t need supplies, I’m looking for something else,” Hanson says. “I need a Bible.”
“A Bible?” The man repeats.
“Yes, a Bible. It’s for my friend. He lost his and won’t shut the fuck up about it. If you give me a Bible or tell me where I can get one, I’ll let you go.”
The man looks back at his wife. They’re baffled by Hanson’s demand, scrambling their brains to give him what he wants. “Have you – have you tried a library?” The woman asks faintly.
Hanson isn’t bright enough to tell if she’s serious or mocking him. Either way, it makes him angry. “Do you think I’m stupid? Of course, I looked in libraries. I looked in hotels, schools, and churches too. Others got to them first.”
“No, no not at all, we don’t think you’re stupid.” The man tries to placate Hanson. “We’re just trying to help.” Before the Fall, this man and his wife were the type of people Hanson performed menial labor for. He trimmed their lawns. He parked their cars. He catered their dinners and mopped the floor after. People like this were polite to him and might even give him a tip for his troubles. But he knew they looked down on him. They didn’t know about the horrors he witnessed and endured in the uprising. They didn’t know how hard he struggled to care for Alex as his mental health worsened. They didn’t know Hanson’s story and didn’t care to learn it.
In a way, people like that reminded Hanson of his fellow soldiers in the jungle not bothering to call the recruits by their names. But there was a key difference. The soldiers did what they did out of courtesy to the recruits and to themselves. Learning names in that situation was cruel. It was better not to. After a recruit lived long enough, his teammates always called him by name, and remembered it even if he fell in battle or disease later. The rich people Hanson worked for, on the other hand, sometimes asked what his name was, but soon forgot it. It was an empty courtesy and nothing more.
Hanson realizes he’s wasting his time. The man and his wife don’t have a Bible. These people aren’t Christians, though they probably wouldn’t admit it amidst the patriotic hysteria of the old world. They’re closet atheists who look down on people who believe in God and angels. They’ve read the Bible as children in grade school, maybe even had one for show on their bookshelf. But they wouldn’t consider it important enough to take on the road. He doesn’t judge them for it. Hanson couldn’t care less about the Bible either. It’s a long boring book. Hanson only wants a Bible now because it’s important to Alex. “Well, if you don’t have one that’s alright.” Hanson shrugs, lifting his gun.
“No, wait!” The man cries. “May I?” Hanson lets the man carefully open his bag and pull out a book. “I taught at university.” The man says. “We both like to read but we had to pack light. So we agreed on one book.” He offers it to Hanson. “Back in the old American West on Earth, settlers didn’t have much. But every home had two books: The Bible, and Plutarch’s Lives. If your friend likes the Bible, he’ll probably enjoy Plutarch’s Lives too.”
“What’s it about?” Hanson asks.
“It’s… it’s stories about great Greek and Roman heroes.” The man explains, careful to not sound condescending. “Renowned generals, kings and emperors.”
Hanson accepts the book and flips through it. It has leather covers and is full of old-timey words like the Bible. Maybe the man is right. Alex likes history stuff. Maybe this will take his mind off things for a while. He gives the man the diamond cutters. He thanks Hanson and returns to his wife, cutting the wire. She gasps in pain, but at least she’s free. He pulls a field dressing from his kit. So prepared. This young couple really are trying their best. They truly deserve to live. But the recruits did too. That’s not how the world works.
“Take mine,” Hanson says. “You’ll need your bandages later when you redress her ankle.”
“Thank you, thank you so much.” The wife says in genuine gratitude. The man returns with the diamond cutters. Hanson gives him some dressings.
Hanson isn’t sure where his generosity is coming from. Maybe it’s appropriate since these people helped him help Alex. Or maybe it’s because these two had at least a few years of a happy married life that Hanson wishes he could have had. “She’s not going to get better.” Hanson whispers. “She won’t ever walk again.” The bandages are a pretense. Hanson has something else to give. Two suicide tablets. Back in the Polar Uprising such things were commonplace on both sides. Just in case they needed them to avoid a slow death. Hanson acquired a couple for Alex and himself for the same reason.
The man doesn’t respond but knows where this is going. Hanson slips the pills into the man’s palm under his roll of bandages. “She doesn’t need to know, but that’s up to you,” Hanson says. “Make her warm and comfortable. Don’t let her suffer more than she needs to. I gave you two of these because I assume you’ll want to stay with her. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
The man nods. He understands. His expression is grim, not sad or pleading. He has the right attitude.
Hanson doesn’t believe in a higher power like Alex does, but maybe it’s fate this happened. It was better for these nice people’s journey to end this way, rather than starve or be caught by bandits. Alex and Hanson only kill. Others are not so kind. They would have raped that poor woman to death. They would have forced her husband to watch before killing him too.
The man returns to his wife and takes care of her leg. Hanson can’t hear what they’re saying, but she smiles and laughs. Despite Hanson’s suggestion, he’ll be honest with her. She’ll take the news gracefully and comfort him. They’ll make camp somewhere close by and talk. They’ll reminisce about how they met and felt that hot tension of mutual lust. They’ll laugh about various misadventures early in their relationship and the moments he thought she didn’t like him anymore. They’ll remember the night her glistening body trembled in pleasure under his, and she moaned in his ear that she loved him. They’ll look back at the day he asked her to be his wife, and all the other things they did after. They’ll look into each other’s eyes and take those death pills. She’ll curl up in his arms like she did that first moonlit night he made love to her. And then they’ll die. Together.
Hanson leaves. He doesn’t know their names. It’s better not to. Book in hand, Hanson returns to camp. Alex doesn’t look at him. He recognizes the footfalls as his friend’s. “Did you have fun?” Alex asks. “Did you kill anyone?”
“No,” Hanson answers, sort of telling the truth. “I found something for you. A book.”
“Is it a Bible?”
“Then I don’t want it.” Alex cuts him off.
Hanson is frustrated. He went through all that trouble. He’ll be damned if it was for nothing. “I think you’ll really like it though. “Hanson tries to reason with him. “It’s a really old book. A bunch of stories about Greeks and Romans and stuff.”
“Yes! Plutarch’s Lives!” Hanson answers.
“I’ve read it five times already. Throw it away.”
There’s no use. Alex can’t be reasoned with. Hanson shakes his head in disappointment.
“Wait, give it here,” Alex says. His eyes are still locked forward but extending his arm in Hanson’s direction. Hanson hands him the book. Alex pours through it, deep in thought. “I’m such a fool.” Alex laughs. “The truth was in front of me all along. I was too blind to see it.” He jumps to his feet with a giddiness Hanson hasn’t seen from him in too long. “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away,” Alex says. “This is no coincidence. This is a gift. A sign from God. It’s a miracle, Hanson!”
“I don’t understand.” Hanson frowns.
“Plutarch’s Lives is a colloquialism,” Alex explains. “The proper name is Parallel Lives. You see, nothing in all of Creation is alone. All things great and small come in twos and threes and fours. Man and woman. The sun and the moon and the stars. You and me. The Bible and Plutarch’s Lives are companion books. They go together like bread and butter.” Hanson hasn’t seen Alex so happy since The Fall.
“David, Solomon, Scorpio Africanus, Caesar. History is full of great men. Powerful men. Kings and emperors. God brought me the Promised Land, but I’ve been wasting it living as a common criminal.” Alex’s hands tremble as he touches the book. “From now on, we are no longer brigands. We kill only when necessary. And some day – not now – but some day, we will build a kingdom.”
“When?” Hanson asks.
“When sky clears, and the soil is fertile again. When animals flourish and it’s safe for people to walk the land. Some foolish men are trying to build fiefdoms now, but it’s too soon. Large groups of people can’t survive. There’s too little food. We’ll bide our time.”
The sun is setting. It’s different than it was a few months ago. The black soot filling the sky tries it’s best to keep the world submerged in darkness. But every day, the sun wins a little bit more. Now the orange, hopeful ball of fire pierces the blackness enough to give a proper sunset to anyone who cares to watch. A sign from God. “One day, Hanson. One day, I’ll shape the new world in my own image.”
Come back next Sunday for Chapter 8:
“The Siren’s Offer.“
A chapter will be posted every Sunday.
Critiques are welcomed, but will be moderated.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are either works of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any matter without permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. This copyright overrides this website’s Creative Commons license.
About the author
Ian Michael served 5 years in the US Marine Corps. He did two tours patrolling in Helmand Province (Afghanistan) and one in Kuwait. He is now a Staff Sergeant in the US Army Reserve. He lives in Iowa.
Some of his other articles.
- Generals read “Ender’s Game” and see their vision of the future Marine Corps.
- Pain and misery build discipline! Or so we’re told.
- The Atheist Conservative shows why secular conservatism continues to be an irrelevant and impotent force in American politics.
- Alita, the Battle Angel, fights her feminist critics.
- Plato and Diogenes warn us about hubris – Here is a fun short story, historical fiction about one of the clashes between two of the larger-than-life people of the ancient world.
For More Information
Ideas! For some holiday shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.
Fiction echos reality. See Chet Richards’ (Colonel, USAF, retired) post about this novel, about how it illustrates many of John Boyd’s ideas in action.
Biotech that might make this story real: Potentially horrific effects of drugs and machines making people smarter & stronger.
- Fix “the button” so that a president can’t wreck the world — A warning from David Gerrold in A Matter for Men, Book 1 of The War Against the Chtorr.
- A philosopher reviews “The Phantom Menace”, a great film with hidden depths.
- How do our leaders see us? Don the shoes of the 1%. Look down on the 99%. Describe the view. – From The House of the Stag by Kage Baker.
- Robocop is not a good role model for the youth of Detroit.
- “Passengers” – see it because the critics hate it.
A classic of science fiction
By David Gerrold, author of “The Trouble with Tribbles” and other great science fiction stories.
“Never play chess with a dragon.
The winner gets to eat the loser.”
From the publisher …
“The Galactic InterChange is the greatest discovery in history. Through the InterChange, humanity gains access to the combined knowledge of all the races of the galaxy back to the early days. For librarians, scientists, doctors, teachers, and anybody interested in the spread of knowledge, it’s a field day. Just find something intriguing on the menu and request a copy – so simple, so exciting! Until the bill arrives.
“It’s the largest bill in history, and humanity has no way of paying it. No way except one – indenture, being slaves to aliens for generations until we work off our debts. Junior diplomat Yake Singh Brown has to negotiate the deal for humanity. It’s the toughest assignment he’s ever faced: playing chess with a dragon.”