Summary: In this chapter, civilization rises after the apocalypse as strong leaders replace weak ones by violence or diplomacy. Either way, women play a key role. Ultra-Violence is military science fiction about humanity using our miracle tech to destroy everything, and soldiers building a new world on the ruins. 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 12: The Angel and the Badman.
Hanson writes down the last of the king’s demands. With Administrator O’Malley’s militia defeated, Alex, now King Alexius, is conferring with Hanson in the atrium. They’re spelling out terms of surrender for the vault’s citizens council.
Claire the librarian is curled up in the corner behind Alexius, trying to ignore the heaps of bodies all around her. Her lips are moving. Hanson thinks she’s praying again. Claire’s been doing that a lot. He can’t really blame her for it.
Alexius’s troops spread out across the complex to prevent any further thoughts of resistance. All inhabitants are confined to quarters under martial law, but Alexius has made an exception for the council to assemble in their meeting hall.
“Anything else you can think of?” Hanson asks.
“No, I believe that will suffice,” Alexius says. “Now I will go to this ‘citizens council’ and bring them to heel.”
Claire’s eyes shoot up at Hanson and she shakes her head. The librarian doesn’t think this is a good idea. Hanson feels the same way. Most of the people in this vault seem like slow learners. If Alexius loses his temper, he might kill everyone in the room.
“Perhaps it would be better if I went instead,” Hanson suggests.
“Nonsense.” Alexius dismisses the idea. “They must pay homage to their king. Anyone who declines will reconsider when I have my boot on his throat.”
Yes, they will.” Hanson says. “But you are far too important to bother with delivering a message yourself.”
“If a king does not deliver his demands, what type of official should I send instead?”
“Uh, a messenger. I’ll be the king’s messenger.”
“This is far too important for a mere messenger.”
“You could send a… a…” Hanson is trying to think up one of those fancy words his friend loves so much.
“An envoy.” Claire murmurs.
“Yes!” Hanson says. “An envoy. One of those.”
“You speak wise counsel, my friend.” Alexius’s face lights up. “I appoint you as my regent. You will represent my interests to the leaders of this subjugated nation.”
Hanson looks down at his paper. He can’t screw this up. There’s too much at stake. But it’s all very confusing, and Hanson knows he’s not a good public speaker. He hopes this citizens council is smart and listens. He wants it to be a friendly conversation without him making threats.
“You could take me with you as your hostage,” Claire speaks up. “If that pleases you, sir.”
That seems like a good idea. Hanson isn’t sure why that’s a good idea, but Claire wouldn’t say it unless she thought it was. “Yes, that’s fine.” He agrees. “I’m taking you with me.”
“Do as you see fit,” Alexius says. “You’re the regent. When you list the demands, don’t forget the consequences of disobedience. If they do not surrender, there will be a Roman Decimation.”
The regent and the hostage leave the atrium into the corridor. “There’s a cafeteria up ahead,” Claire says. “Is it alright if we stop there and review this?”
They enter the cafeteria and sit down at a table in the back. “Can I see the list?” She asks meekly.
Hanson extends the paper to her and she snatches it from his hand. Pulling a pen from her sleeve, Claire marks up the list. She’s rewording demands and crossing out others. “Hey, what are you doing?” Hanson protests.
“The council is already going to give up. They don’t have a choice. Our goal right now is to make your friend sound not like a crazy person.”
Hanson isn’t happy but Claire seems clever about this sort of thing. He lets her work without further complaint.
“If no one mentions the part about sacrificing cow livers, will he remember saying it?” She asks.
“Honestly, he’s probably already forgotten,” Hanson admits.
“Alright, I think that covers it.” She puts her pen away. “Under no circumstances say anything about the decimation.”
“But Alex said the decimation thing is really important to bring up.”
“Do you even know what that means?” Claire scolds him. “It’s when the Romans counted every tenth person and killed them.”
“Oh. We should probably leave that out then.”
“Like I said, they’re going to agree to the terms,” she says, handing the paper back. “It’s unnecessary to threaten more violence.” Claire sighs and looks up at him. “Alexius was going to kill me.” She says. “I could see it in his eyes. You stopped him. He listens to you. If we go through with this, are you going to keep doing that? Are you going to stop him from hurting people?”
“Yeah, he’s a little hot-headed but he calms down when I talk to him.”
“You need to promise me.” Claire pleas. “You have to. Please promise me you will. I won’t be able to live with myself if this ends badly.”
“I promise,” Hanson says.
“Thank you so much.” She wipes away a tear with her sleeve. “This all came from the war, didn’t it? That dreadful Polar Uprising. It got in his head, and you’ve been taking care of him all these years, haven’t you?”
“You’re a good person.” Claire sniffles. “It’s all so awful, but maybe this was supposed to happen. O’Malley was going to keep us all down here until it was too late, and no one was doing a thing about it. If we lose power, we lose the ark, we lose everything. We would have starved to death. Maybe you two showing up was God’s plan all along.”
Hanson pushes a napkin dispenser across the table. Claire takes a couple and wipes her eyes. “Don’t be talking like that around Alex,” Hanson warns. “Then he’ll think he’s a god too.”
“Oh, he would, wouldn’t he!” She giggles through the napkin.
“I have a question.” He says.
“What’s a regent?”
“A regent is someone who rules and makes decisions for a king in his absence.” Claire smiles. “Don’t feel bad for not knowing. It isn’t a normal word people use. Alexius talks like that a lot, huh?”
“It didn’t used to be this bad,” Hanson despairs. “Then he got on this ‘king’ business. I don’t know what he’s going on about half the fucking time.”
“Well, from now on he says a weird word, just ask me what it means when he’s not around.” Hanson and Claire sit up from the table leave to continue their mission. “And please don’t swear.” She adds. “It upsets me. Besides, if you’re going to be regent, it’s not fit language for you to use.”
They walk to the council chamber, passing some of Alexius’s men along the way. They’ve barricaded several chokepoints and put the armory under heavy guard. Most of the guns were issued to the militia, who are already dead. The handful of pistols signed out to private citizens, like the one Claire had, are recorded in a logbook at the armory. Armed with this information, the soldiers had no difficulty seizing every firearm in the vault. Any attempt at rebellion now would be hopeless.
Claire stops outside the meeting hall. She wrings her hands until her knuckles turn white.
“Are you okay?” Hanson asks.
“I’m fine,” Claire says.
“You don’t look fine.”
“Alex, or ‘Alexius’ I should say, killed O’Malley and the guards who knew I was helping you. But there’s no hiding it now. This is my family. Everyone I grew up with. I’m betraying them all.”
“You don’t have to go,” Hanson says.
“Yes, I do. There’s something else you should know before we go in there, too.”
“What’s that?” He asks.
“The militia – its officers were all men from the citizens’ council.”
“So that means…”
“Yup.” She says.
The meeting hall for the citizens’ council is a circular room with several levels of tables, seating about thirty members in total. There are some conspicuously empty chairs. O’Malley’s chair is empty of course. He’s dead in his office. The other empty spots were occupied by officers in the militia. There’s a lot of them. More than three-quarters of the surviving council members are women.
Chairwoman Margaret Whittington, a grandmother and the oldest person in the vault, welcomes the two envoys as they enter. “Good morning Mr. Hanson.” Whittington greets him. “Your ‘king’ said you would be coming. And I see Claire is with you today.”
“We thought it best to bring a hostage in case you try any funny business,” Hanson tells her, trying to sound as threatening as possible.
“Yes, she does appear to be in grave danger,” Whittington says. “The poor girl must be terrified. We’ll take that into consideration.”
Hanson feels like a fish out of water. He knows nothing about politics. He decides to pretend he’s giving marching orders to his men while he reads off Alexius’s terms. Claire edited them to sound almost like something a sane person might say, but there are angry murmurs after every point on the list. “And lastly, this ‘citizens council’ and all other existing government entities of the vault will be dissolved, effective immediately upon acknowledgment of these terms of surrender,” Hanson says.
Howls of anger break out across the room. The council is enraged at the thought of being dethroned. Ironically, that wasn’t one of Alexius’s terms. Dissolving the vault’s government hadn’t crossed his mind at all. It was a line Claire added. She didn’t think the king and these people attempting to cooperate with each other would end well.
Infuriated people start to object, but Whittington raises a hand, silencing them. “How can we possibly accept such humiliating terms, Mr. Hanson?”
“King Alexius is being perfectly reasonable.” He answers. “There will be no further hostility.”
“He murdered our husbands, brothers, and sons,” Whittington says. “He even executed the wounded and people trying to surrender. Then he went and beat Administrator O’Malley to death. And you say we should accept this lunatic as a ‘king,’ as he calls himself?”
“It’s over now, there doesn’t need to be any more bloodshed.” Claire pipes up.
“Oh, the ‘hostage’ speaks.” Whittington laughs. “But you’re right, dear. It is over. Alexius is in complete control. Thanks to you.”
“I did what I had to do,” Claire says. “Even without me, it would have happened. But our men didn’t have to die. That was Administrator O’Malley’s doing.”
“How dare you speak ill of him.” Whittington stands up from her seat in a rage. “I know your parents. I watched you grow up. I loved you like one of my own children. You were such a promising young woman. Now you’re siding with this gang of bandits against your own family. I’m ashamed of you.”
Claire’s hands are shaking. Hanson wishes he didn’t bring her. This must be terrible for her.
“Our own flesh and blood, men sworn into the militia,” Whittington preaches on.
The girl’s face is turning hot red, but not with shame or embarrassment this time. Claire is losing her cool. Hanson feels like there’s something else going on here she didn’t mention to him.
“…Or at least we did, until this Alexius you speak so highly of killed them.” Whittington says. “With your help. Thanks to you, they’re dead. Many of the members of this council are dead with them. Commander Sinclair himself is dead.”
“At least Alexius and his men didn’t rape anyone,” Claire says.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard that correctly.” Whittington furrows her brow. “What are you saying?”
“You know damn well what I’m saying.” Claire hisses through her teeth.
“You wretched little whore!” A large woman cries from the back row.
“Be silent and never utter your vile lies and obscene gossip again.” Whittington rebukes Claire. “They died for us. They died protecting us.”
“They protected us?” Claire screams. “How about Vanessa? Jenny? Lisa? Corinne? Sabra? Rachel? Do they feel protected? Let’s ask them! Silencing the victims of a crime is just as abominable in the eyes of God as the crime itself.”
“Commander Sinclair, my husband, commanded our militia in defense of our community.” The large woman yells. “How dare you slander him in front of his widow! He was my beloved!”
“Then burn in hell with him,” Claire says.
The whole assembly erupts into a shouting match of dozens of voices all at once. This is no longer a meeting, it’s a mob. It’s a screeching racket that makes Hanson’s ears ring. It sounds like someone tossed a coyote into a henhouse. It’s thirty to one against Claire, and she’s louder than all of them.
“Shut your filthy mouth, you, you, you, pale, butter-faced little slut!” Mrs. Sinclair shouts.
“Burn in hell with the rapist you shared your marital bed with!” Claire screeches, her words almost unintelligible. “God damn you! God damn you to hell!”
The handful of men in the council remain silent. They prefer not to take a side. They would prefer not to be here at all.
“Alexius claims to respect us, but sends this foul, backstabbing cunt to insult us?” Mrs. Sinclair proclaims to the council. “While you were on your knees sucking these savages’ cocks, my husband led our militia in our defense. He fought to the death side by side with his comrades.”
“Really?” Claire smirks, crossing her arms. “I was there, and that’s not how I remember it. I wasn’t on my knees, but your beloved rapist husband was. He tried to run away but got caught. He betrayed the few men he had left to spare his own life for a few minutes. I asked him to confess his sins to me so I could pray for his soul; he was too much a coward to even do that. Then he died, kneeling at Alexius’s feet, begging for mercy.”
The large woman lifts a heavy book from her table to hurl at Claire’s head.
“Enough! Shut the fuck up!”
The squabbling mob of women goes silent. Hanson can hear the tail-end of his own echo bouncing back at him. Maybe this is like giving marching orders to his troops after all. “Begging your pardon my language,” he adds.
Claire gives him a knowing glance.
“This is childish,” Hanson says. “There’s no need for it. All of you are going to sit and listen to what Claire has to say. She’s read lots of books and is very clever. Far cleverer than me, and most of you too I’d wager. Then once she spoke her piece, you fine folks can discuss it all civil like.” He turns to Claire. “Now Claire, say you’re sorry to the chairwoman for your outburst.”
All her life here Claire has talked endlessly of God’s authority and shown little regard for anyone else’s. Challenging her beliefs only makes the girl dig her heels in deeper. Whittington wonders how she’ll react now.
“Ma’am, I apologize for speaking out of turn,” Claire says. “I should have stayed with the topic at hand. Please forgive me.”
Of course Claire did as she was told. The chairwoman feels foolish for expecting any other outcome. “You’re forgiven,” Whittington says with a tone of resignation.
Mrs. Sinclair is grinning. Hanson points to her. “You’re leaving. Claire is a fine Christian lady. There’s no place for calling her vulgar names, or anyone else for that matter.”
“I will do no such thing.” Mrs. Sinclair scoffs. “I am a member of this council. I have the right to be here.”
“Yes, well see, I’m the king’s regent. A regent is someone who acts on the king’s behalf in his absence. That means I can do what I please. Leave on your own two legs or be thrown out.”
“You wouldn’t dare lay a hand on me!”
“No, I wouldn’t. My boys outside will. Now it may take three or four of them to lift a personage of your stature, but reinforcements can be summoned if the need arises.”
Mrs. Sinclair huffs and puffs out of the room, stomping her feet as she descends from her seat. She leaves and slams the door behind her.
“It has come to my attention that there are unresolved matters of criminal justice in this kingdom,” Hanson says. “I will discuss this with King Alexius, and he will make it a top priority to establish a proper code of law. This will not be a den of criminals. All citizens must be able to go about their business without fear of molestation. Past incidents we have no control over but will investigate the best we can. From this day forward, all alleged crimes will be looked into fairly.”
He said that well, in proper English. Claire is so proud of him. This makes her argument a little stronger.
“Now Claire, continue,” Hanson says.
“Even if none of this happened, even if Alexius never showed up, we would have the same problem,” Claire says. “The vault is dying. If we don’t move to the surface soon, it’ll be too late. We’ll lose the ark. We’ll lose everything. We know how bad things are outside. We’ve heard the radio traffic. If you think Alexius is bad, there are men out there a lot worse than him. People are eating each other! Then there’s this ‘Garrison’ we keep hearing about. Raiding settlements, kidnapping people and doing God knows what to them. How long do you think we’ll last up there on our own?”
“I’m glad you have such a high opinion of us, Claire.” Whittington scoffs.
“I’ve known Alexius for a long time.” Hanson comes to Claire’s defense. “Yes, in a fight he gets a little carried away.”
“That’s putting it mildly.” Whittington frowns.
“But he has what he wants now. He’ll be happy as a king. Farming and building bore him, so he won’t meddle in it. He won’t bother you fine people none.”
“And if he does?”
“He listens to me.”
“Well, that’s some comfort I suppose,” Whittington replies. “You got Claire to listen, and that’s a miracle in of itself. Her mother and I could never figure out what kind of man we could get her to pay the slightest mind to. At least that question has been answered.”
“I had only good intentions but won’t deny what I did,” Claire says, tears in her eyes. “I accept full responsibility for it. I’m guilty. If you wish to punish me, I’ll accept it without complaint.”
“Let’s not pretend your new – friend – would allow us to do anything at all to you, dear.”
“Please think about what this means for us.” Claire implores the group. “We can go outside. We’ll have shelter. We’ll have crops and livestock. Other survivors will come and join our community. The soldiers listen to Alexius and won’t cause any more trouble. They’ll protect us. They’ll train our men how to fight. Our children will be safe. We’ll have a future.”
Claire is genuine and speaking from the heart. “Please accept Alexius’s terms. I’ve seen too much blood. Please, no more fighting.”
Whittington takes a while to answer. Whispers break out among the other council members. “We will discuss this further and hold a vote.” Whittington declares. “We will send a messenger to Alexius with our answer by 1800 hours. Thank you for your efforts in mediating this matter, Claire.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Claire answers, departing the room with Hanson. The citizens’ council will accept Alexius’s terms. They have no alternative. But now at least they can do it with some semblance of dignity, and an assurance there’s a hopeful way forward.
“So, what now?” Claire asks. “Am I still your prisoner?”
“The fighting’s over, so I guess not,” Hanson says. It’s an odd question to him. He stopped considering Claire an enemy quite a while ago.
“I can’t go back to the atrium. I can’t do any of this anymore. I just want to go home.”
“That’s fine.” He says.
“Can you come with me? I don’t want to be alone right now.”
Alexius probably hasn’t moved, still rambling to his new friends about all his big ideas. That’s been Hanson’s burden for a lifetime. It’s good he can take a break from it for a little while. “What room are you in?” Hanson asks.
“637.” She answers, unsure why he needs to know.
He passes this information to the soldiers on duty outside the meeting hall. Any response from the citizens’ council must be directed to Hanson first. He isn’t impressed by these peoples’ common sense so far. If they send a disrespectfully worded message back to Alexius, he might react unpleasantly.
Claire leads Hanson to the women’s quarters. There are only a few soldiers here. Most of the troopers not guarding the armory are at the men’s quarters. That’s where Alexius assumes a revolt is most likely to start.
“I’m going to room 637,” Hanson tells a sergeant.
“Alright, I’ll pass it on.” The sergeant snickers. “Have fun.”
“Is it necessary for you to tell everyone you’re going to my room?” Claire complains. “They might get the wrong idea. I’m not that kind of girl.”
“I’m second in command. They have to know where to find me if something happens.”
Claire grumbles but accepts his answer. Hanson is leaving out a more important reason. He would dislike getting accidentally murdered by his own team. The soldiers guarding the women and family units aren’t meant to prevent a revolt. They’re here to carry out the consequences of one. That isn’t information Claire needs to be burdened with.
Her little apartment lies deep in the bowels of the vault. It’s obnoxiously hot from the heat from a thousand people crammed in a box with no external ventilation. Claire’s tiny space is crammed with furniture; a table, a little writing desk, and a bunk. The bunk is designed for two mattresses. Claire must have removed the top portion.
“You can sit down if you’d like,” she says.
Hanson takes a seat at the table crammed into the kitchenette. He watches Claire shake off her boots and unzip her jumpsuit, dropping it into a laundry hamper. All she has underneath is a t-shirt and a pair of tiny gym shorts. She trusts Hanson enough to be in a state of undress in front of him behind closed doors. A sincere compliment from a woman who carried a pistol everywhere she went until today.
Claire’s lips are flat and her nose a little too big. She doesn’t curl her hair or paint her face like the whores Hanson’s old squad brought back to the barracks on payday. But God blessed her in other ways. Claire puts her arms up to wrap her hair into a ponytail. She pretends not to notice Hanson’s eyes straying to her chest. Now that’s she’s in a safe place, Claire can’t contain her feelings anymore.
“Everyone hates me now,” she says.
“They don’t hate you, they’re just scared, that’s all,” Hanson assures her.
“Mrs. Sinclair, that lady in the council chamber you sent away – I understand why she’s upset. She lost her husband. He was a wicked man, but still, I’m helping the people who killed him. I deserve her anger. But how does that make me a whore? Because I’m a woman who did something they don’t like? Even if I was having sex, what does that have to do with anything?”
“Don’t let them get to you,” Hanson says. “You’re someone they can blame for their problems because they don’t want to own up to it. O’Malley was running this place straight into the ground, and not one of those old farts was doing a damn thing to stop him. They’ll get over it.”
“No, they won’t. No one will ever forgive me for the part I had in all this.”
“Those hens all can bicker and hold grudges in this little underground bubble, but it doesn’t work that way in the real world. People might be pissed at you for the time being, but they’ll have much bigger things to worry about not too long from now.”
“But all those men died,” she cries.
“And if it weren’t for you, everyone would have died. You’re the only person with any sense around here. When you are all settled down on the surface and scraping by a living, your friends will look back and realize it was all because of you. Like you said, staying down here would have killed everyone.”
Hanson looks around the room. It’s clean but cluttered; the organized chaos of a creative mind. There are a dozen half-finished projects strewn on almost every flat surface, each of them abandoned in frustration. The products of a person with a lot of dreams, but lacking focus and self-confidence. “Nice place you got,” Hanson says, getting Claire’s mind off things best he can. “You have it all to yourself?”
“I used to have a roommate. She got married a couple of years ago.”
“And they didn’t move anyone else in?” Hanson asks.
“No need to.” Claire shakes her head. “Pregnancy is against the rules, so no new people needing more space.”
She rolls up her sleeve, baring her shoulder.
“All the girls have to get the implants.” Claire points to a small white circle on her skin. “Every six months. Even if we aren’t having sex. I didn’t want one but no there are no exceptions. They all say it’s not a sin, but it still feels wrong to me. But at least there’s no overcrowding. Besides, I kind of like having a room to myself.”
“You know, if you don’t like the implant, you can remove it,” Hanson tells her. “We all got them too back in the war, except ours was for malaria. They made a lot of us sick from the side effects so some of us threw ours away.”
“Really?” Claire says. “I… did not know that.”
“Yeah, you can do it yourself and it doesn’t hurt none either.” Hanson starts to get up. “I can show you real quick.”
“Thanks, but I’m fine.”
“Don’t worry, the implants dissolve so when you’re due for another one they won’t even know you did it. Do you have a magnet and tweezers around here?”
“No, that’s quite alright,” she insists. “Perhaps some other time.”
Hanson shrugs and sits back down. “But this place has a nursery,” he says. “I saw it on your map. There must be some new children.”
“Yes, that’s true,” Claire admits. “I mentioned the ark earlier. You know what that is? Of course you do. That’s probably why you came here.” Every vault has its own ark, an archive of plant and animal species to establish a new ecosystem. The ark is the treasure Alexius wants. People are useful, but the ark will be what makes Alexius more powerful than any warlord on the surface.
“But our ark has something you probably didn’t know about,” she says. “It has people. Thousands of little babies, just a few cells each and sex undefined. When we start a colony, that’ll help increase diversity and prevent inbreeding. They’re meant for after we leave this place, but we’ve used some already. There are deaths once in a while. Illnesses, accidents, suicides and the like. When people die, a few married women who want children and are fit for it are chosen by lottery.”
People died today. A lot of them. The wives, at least the ones Alexius didn’t widow a few hours ago, may not need a lottery this time.
“So, people get married around here, are you going to?” Hanson asks.
“No, not for now,” Claire says. “A thousand people sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. If I ever marry a man, I would want one from the outside. Someone different than us.”
“Well, new guys will show up when everyone is settled on the surface.” Hanson nods.
“Yeah, I guess.” Claire comes over to the table. “Would you like some coffee?” she asks.
“It’s too hot in here for coffee, isn’t it?” Hanson says.
“No silly, iced coffee. Would you like some?”
“Thanks, that would be nice.”
Claire flutters to the cabinets, grabs two cups and sets to work. Her bare legs aren’t like the ones the girls had in the dirty magazines passed around by bored soldiers in Hanson’s platoon. Those girls’ legs were long, and further elongated by the lens distortion of the camera. Claire is short to begin with, and her legs are a little too stubby to match the proportions of the “ideal” woman. But their shape is as pleasing as the rest of her. She doesn’t strain to move provocatively like the women Hanson is used to, but there’s a natural swish to her hips as she walks. She’s probably innocent of the effect it has on men. Maybe.
“Everyone calls you Hanson,” Claire says. “That’s your last name, isn’t it? What’s your first name?”
“How old are you, John?”
It takes a minute for Hanson to remember. The years blur together. “35. And you?”
“I’m 23. I was 16 when I came here. I try not to dwell too much on what the world was like before that. It’s too sad to think about what was lost.”
Hanson sees a wood crucifix above her desk. It piques his curiosity. Alex rambles constantly about his bizarre opinions of the divine, but Hanson hasn’t discussed such things much with anyone else. “You said you believe in God, right?” he asks.
“Yes, my family’s Catholic. It wasn’t easy for us though. My parents tell me they could practice freely on Terra. We emigrated when I was a baby, so I don’t remember. On Venus people thought Catholics weren’t ‘real’ Christians. We attended mass, but I couldn’t mention my faith at school. I couldn’t worship the way I wanted to. If you didn’t pray the same as everyone else, they’d hit you with a ruler.”
She opens her icebox and drops some cubes into the cups. “After the world ended everyone stopped caring about distinctions like Catholic or Protestant. I guess that’s one small blessing.”
Following instructions never bothered Hanson. It didn’t bother him at home, and it didn’t bother him in grade school before he dropped out and enlisted at 17. Military life is easy when arbitrary rules don’t bother you.
Near the crucifix there’s a canvas painting perched on Claire’s nightstand. It’s an old painting of a young woman. It looks like the kind of thing Alex would love to have, if it didn’t have a woman on it.
“That a relative of yours?” Hanson asks, pointing to it.
“Oh no,” Claire laughs. “That’s Catherine of Alexandria. She was a saint martyred for her beliefs. Catherine went to the emperor of Rome to rebuke him for his persecution of Christians. He sent fifty of his best scholars to argue against her, and she beat them all. Some of the scholars even accepted Christ. The emperor didn’t like that too much, so he tried to torture her to death several times. None of it worked. He even tried to seduce her into marrying him. She refused, so he had her beheaded. Catherine didn’t fear death, so ordered the execution to commence herself.”
“That sounds like what you did today,” Hanson says. “Arguing with the scholars and the emperor, I mean. Not the torture and beheading stuff.”
“I wouldn’t compare myself to her. But I did pray for her guidance today.”
“But I thought you only could pray to God.”
“Well yes, it’s not quite the same thing,” Claire answers, trying to explain it in a way Hanson will understand. “The saints live in heaven with God. You can ask them for help for yourself, or someone you love. It can even be for the soul of someone who’s already dead. That’s what I promised Sinclair I would do. I haven’t yet, but I will. He’s not going anywhere in the place he’s at. He’ll still be there when I get to it.”
Hanson wonders why Claire would pray for someone she hated so much. She must be a really good person.
“Are you religious at all, John?”
“Not really, but Alex is,” Hanson blurts out. “He talks about God and the Bible all the time.”
“Yes, I noticed.” She says quietly. “Good for him I suppose.”
It occurs to Hanson that Alexius sharing Claire’s faith wasn’t information she appreciates being reminded of.
“I meant what I said in the cafeteria,” Claire says. “If we lost the ark, we would have died. Even if we went to the surface, we would have had nothing to eat. Moving can’t be done overnight. The ark would take months, maybe years, to deploy. O’Malley would have waited until it was too late. It’s already too late for all those little babies. There are thousands of them. Even if we started now it would take too long to get them all out of the ark. They need mothers and food. We don’t have enough of either.”
Claire comes back and gives Hanson his mug, sitting down with hers across from him.
“I prayed for us to be saved, and God answered my prayers. Not in the way I expected, but he did.” She watches as Hanson tries his coffee. It tastes like mud and he regrets taking such a large gulp. Not wanting to hurt her feelings, he forces it down best he can.
“Do you like it?” She asks.
“It’s good.” He lies, fighting through the bitter aftertaste.
Claire takes a sip and her face wrinkles. “Maybe later,” she says, pushing her mug away. “Mom made me a sandwich yesterday. Would you like to have it?”
“Okay, that would be nice.”
She goes to the fridge and returns with the sandwich on a plate. Hanson munches away. Claire is staring at him, and it makes him feel a little awkward.
“Your mom and dad, have you checked on them?” Hanson says.
“Do you think I want to look my parents in the eye right now, after what I did?”
“Any brothers or sisters?” He finds it unusual for a Catholic girl like her to be an only child.
“Back on Terra I had a brother, his name was Isaac.” Claire sighs. “But he was stillborn. Mom couldn’t have any more after him.”
Even in a space age civilization, so little of the technological wonders enjoyed by Terra’s oligarchs in their sky cities trickled down to the fifteen billion inhabitants below them.
“We were persecuted here on Venus, but our lives were so much better. It wasn’t so overcrowded, and we never went hungry. How about you? What were things like for your family?”
“My old man died in a mining accident.” Hanson shrugs. “Mom left me at an orphanage.”
Claire realizes she isn’t going to get much else about his life out of him. Hanson finishes his meal and his hostess takes the plate back to her sink. “You’re right about getting married,” Claire says as she runs water over the plate. “It is weird for a girl in this vault to not to be married already at my age.”
“Why would anyone care?”
“Well, they just do. They want as many couples as possible for after we leave. I guess if you wait too long, all the ‘good’ ones are taken already. Mom and Dad push all these boys at me and get annoyed that I’m not interested in any of them. I learned about God from my parents. I learned my faith from them. But then they’re upset that I take my faith too seriously. So what if I don’t get married? Isn’t that my choice?”
Claire returns to the table. “There’s this vile rumor going around about me. Some people gossip that I’m gay. They think that’s why I don’t get married. I tried to pay it no mind. Then one time Mom and I were arguing about something stupid and she called me a lesbian. I know she didn’t mean it, but it still hurt that my own mother would call me that.”
“Well even if you were, that’s your business,” Hanson says. “Loads of people are gay.”
“It’s a sin. A woman cannot lie with another woman as she would a man.”
“I guess.” Hanson shrugs. He’s not interested in a theological debate with her.
“Come over here, I want to show you something,” she says.
Claire opens a drawer at her desk and pulls out a binder crammed with paper. She plops down on the bed with the binder on her lap. “It’s kind of dumb, but you can’t laugh.” She pats the mattress, inviting him to join her. Hanson sits down. Claire scoots closer to him. “When I was little, I had a diary,” she explains. “After I came here, I decided I should think bigger than that.”
She opens the binder. Some of it is organized in hole-punched paper printed from a word processor. Some of it is handwritten. The rest is a jumble of mismatched paper from whatever she had laying around at the time. “It’s the history of everything that’s happened here since the doors shut. This is from the past year. The rest I typed and organized properly at my workstation in the library. O’Malley didn’t like me scrutinizing the things happening around here, but figured I was harmless.”
“So that’s part of your job as the librarian?”
“No. I do it because no one else does. I mean, all the departments make reports and stuff. But that’s not the same thing, is it? I wanted this to be a history book.”
“Why would you do that?” Hanson asks.
“We forget things.” She says. “When we’re all dead, people need to know what happened. What we did. The things we did right. The things we did wrong.”
“Why though?” Hanson never read much, especially something boring and confusing like history.
“Well, would you want people to forget about the uprising, or The Fall?”
“I guess not, I wouldn’t.” Hanson agrees.
“When I have the stomach for it, I’ll write about today,” Claire says. “The arrival of King Alexius. The Battle of the Atrium. I never thought any of the things I write about would involve me. That I would be a part of something important.”
Claire sets her binder down and inches closer to him. Their legs are touching. Her breast is pushed against his sleeve. Hanson feels something he hasn’t in a long time. She leans over and gives him a clumsy kiss. He wraps Claire in his arms; he can feel her shaking with excitement. Her kisses aren’t shy or awkward anymore. Claire seeks out his lips with the same desperation a prophet would a canteen after forty days of fasting.
A moan escapes her mouth into his. She kissed a couple of boys back in her school days, but they were quick, daring little pecks on the lips. Nothing like what she’s experiencing now. She can’t imagine anything that would feel better than his.
Hanson slides a hand under her shirt; Claire’s heart is pounding like it’s going to burst from her chest and bounce across the floor. She doesn’t know what to do but wants something to happen.
Claire feels like a soft, delicate bundle of energy. She isn’t like the whores Hanson’s been with. They were hard women with senses dulled to numbness by years of loveless sex and drugs. Foreplay was meaningless minutes on the clock; they didn’t even feel it. Claire is unsullied and sensitive. Her nerve endings go wild at the slightest touch.
If Hanson is too fast or too rough, he would hurt her. He isn’t fucking Claire. He’s making love to her. Hanson isn’t very good at that but tries his best. He undresses her as tenderly as possible and trails kisses down her neck. He touches her in places she’s never been touched before. When she’s ready, he eases her down on her back. They’re past the point of no return now. It’s not a question of Claire stopping Hanson. She can’t stop herself.
Claire closes her eyes and opens her legs. She has no idea what this will be like. It hurts at first and it scares her. But the pain gives way to a world of sensation more wonderful than anything Claire has ever felt before. She squeezes Hanson tighter and gasps with each stroke. She’s warm, wet and eager to please him.
It isn’t enough. Hanson has spent his whole adult life detached from everything. Separated from what’s happening, like he’s watching a movie of himself. It’s a coping mechanism that saved him from going mad from the Ultra-violence. Hanson escaped the horror that consumed Alex and turned him into the psychopath he is today. Hanson can’t feel bad but can’t feel good either. He can’t enjoy anything. Not even Claire’s virginity, a gift she’s saved since the day she became a woman.
His blood drains from where it was supposed to go, leaving him limp. It’s not a new problem for Hanson. It’s not an illness either. It’s a control mechanism of the Ultra-violence.
The barrier isn’t insurmountable. The whores figured out how to work around it. They wanted the soldiers’ money. Soldiers made a decent wage; more than most men available to the common streetwalker. The women of the oldest profession set to work. They studied the Ultra-violence through trial and error. Whores learned how to give soldiers satisfaction worth their money. They learned to identify soldiers like Hanson who were amicable. They learned to avoid soldiers like Alex who were too dangerous.
Ironically, the whores understood Ultra-violence better than the world’s top psychiatrists. If a psychiatrist failed to read soldiers correctly, he published an inconclusive research paper. If a whore failed, like the one in Alex’s motel room, she quickly regretted it.
Poor Claire, on the other hand, is powerless. She doesn’t have the whores’ intimate knowledge of men’s minds and anatomy. She feels Hanson’s desire waning and doesn’t know how to stop it. “Am I doing something wrong?” She asks in a small, sad voice.
“No, it’s not you,” Hanson says. How can she believe him?
They separate. Claire sits up and slides her shorts on her wide hips. She’s crushed. Bringing a man to her room has been a guilty fantasy of hers since she was a teenager. She’s thought it out more than she’d ever dare to admit. This isn’t how it was supposed to go. The fantasy is ruined.
“Is there anything I can get you?” she asks.
“Do you have cigarettes?” Hanson remembers enjoying those after the whores. More than the whores themselves.
“I’m sorry, I don’t smoke,” Claire apologizes.
Hanson can’t think of anything else he would want right now.
“I’m sorry I’m so boring.” She apologizes again.
“You say ‘sorry’ a lot.”
“I’m sorry.” She catches herself too late. Claire remembers the tingling, growing excitement she felt when she let him in here. When she undressed in front of him. When she caught him looking at her body. When they kissed. When he was inside her. Now she feels embarrassed and ashamed. She always wanted to save herself for marriage. She thought abstinence would become easier when the overwhelming hormones of her youth subsided. It didn’t. Waiting became harder as she got older. All of it for nothing. She threw herself at a man she barely knows, and he didn’t even want her.
“You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to,” Claire says. She’s determined not to cry until he’s gone.
Hanson doesn’t want this. He doesn’t want Claire to feel bad. But it’s more than that. He doesn’t want to lose her. He remembers when he reenlisted all those years ago. He wanted a nice girl to marry and raise a family while he rose through the ranks. Then Alex completely lost his mind and Hanson had to give up everything. It’s not fair. It’s not fair to Hanson and it’s not fair to Claire.
It doesn’t have to be like this. Not anymore at least. If Alex can have a kingdom, Hanson can have a family. If he’s going to take a wife, why can’t it be Claire? She’s sweet and nice to him. She would be a good wife and a good mother. Hanson isn’t a difficult man to please.
“I like you.” He says, touching her cheek.
“You’re just saying that.” Claire pushes his hand away.
“I mean it. I like you a lot.”
“What do you like about me?” she asks.
The wheels turn in Hanson’s brain. Slowly. He wishes he was better at this. What does a woman like to hear? That she’s pretty? That she’s smart? No. It’s too superficial. She won’t believe it. Claire knows she isn’t very pretty, or particularly smart. In the end, Hanson isn’t clever enough to come up with a line. He decides to be honest. “I think you’re very brave,” Hanson says.
“Really?” Claire laughs. That’s not an answer she was expecting. “Why do you think I’m brave?”
“You’re the first person I’ve met who had the balls to stand up to Alex on one of his rampages.”
“Yeah but you saved me,” she says. “Like the previous times. Even though he always thinks it’s angels.”
“But you didn’t know someone was going to save you and did it anyway. Then you stood up to those nasty old women and told them something they didn’t want to hear. You spoke for the girls the militia assaulted. No one else had the balls to do it. You believe in God and stick to what you think is right, even when it’s not popular. That’s brave.”
Claire lightens up. She never considered herself brave. Why would she? Not even Claire’s parents considered her useful for anything besides getting married and rocking a cradle. No one has called her brave before. Not once in her life.
Her elders dismissed Claire’s passions as childish hobbies. They didn’t understand why she chose to be a spinster absorbed in spinning her silly history project rather than finding a husband. Claire’s family brought her suitors, but none of them interested her. Perhaps it was for the best. More than a few of those suitors are among the dead being dragged out of the atrium. Hanson is right and everyone else is wrong. Claire is brave. She can make a difference in the world.
“I like you too, John.” She says, laying her head on Hanson’s shoulder. She blows into his ear. It tickles in a good way. Claire is a fast learner. “Teach me how to please you, John.” She coos.
Come back next Sunday for Chapter 13:
A chapter will be posted every Sunday.
Critiques 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.
- Will the Taliban Give us a Taste of Armageddon? — More insights from Star Trek.
- Let’s look at ourselves in the mirror created by the conflict with Iran — More from “A Taste of Armageddon.”
- Our future will be Jupiter Ascending, unless we make it Star Trek.
- The neocons captured the Star Trek universe, as they’ve captured America.
- Star Trek reboots to give us simple stories, the cartoons we like.
Stories about beginning civilization on a new world
The film adaptation When Worlds Collide (1951) is well worth watching! Great acting and cinematography; the special effects look good even today.