Summary: In this chapter, warlords fight to rebuild civilization. Some believe that the best weapons rule. Winners know that wars are won by people, ideas, and hardware – in that order. 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.” This is my favorite chapter.
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 13: Goliath’s Revenge
Jim races down the maze of corridors. Each intersection has signs and markers. Colored-coded stripes on the floor lead to important sections of the vault, such as the dining facility and the medical bay. The 17-year-old boy has no need of them. He grew up in this place. He knows it by heart.
There is a lot of resentment, with good reason, against Alexius’s forceful occupation of the vault a month ago. Jim is one of the chosen few who can be trusted to perform important tasks for the new regime. Now he is carrying out the most important task of all. He arrives at his destination and enters without knocking. “Claire, it’s time to leave.” He pants, trying to catch his breath.
“Keep your voice down,” Claire replies. “What about my parents?”
“They’re safe. You must leave now; we’ve waited too long already.”
“To leave earlier would arouse suspicion,” Claire says. “I won’t put my safety above others’. But you’re right, we’ll go at once.”
Jim cries and staggers forward, blood gushing down his back. Claire catches him as he falls. “No!” She gasps in horror. Jim can’t answer, there’s too much blood in his mouth. He looks up at Claire and dies in her arms.
A man holding a knife steps into the doorway. “Crummy little traitor had it coming.” The man says, wiping his knife clean.
“Gaston?” Claire sniffs, the dead boy’s blood on her cheek.
“Hello, Claire.” Gaston smiles.
Gaston is a strong and beautiful man, a perfect blend of French and Persian blood. He was born with gifts that most people can’t achieve with any amount of work. Gaston is tall and broad-shouldered with a mass of soft, jet-black curls on top of his head. He’s a regular at the gym, but even if he lounged in bed, he would still have muscles most men can only dream of having.
Claire and Gaston know each other well. A little too well. Gaston is one of her most recent suitors. When the vault sealed seven years ago, parents raced to match their sons and daughters before all the desirable partners were taken. Gaston is the most desirable of men. While other men married early on, Gaston stayed a bachelor. He enjoyed the parade of increasingly desperate young women competing for him. He bedded a great number of these women and gave them nothing in return. Yet they kept coming. Every girl just as confident as her predecessors that she was the one who would win his heart. Naturally, Gaston would let her believe this fantasy until he had what he wanted, then discard her with all the rest.
When Claire’s mother introduced her to Gaston, he thought little of it. He’d seen and heard of the boring plain girl in the library but hadn’t talked to her before. He found the situation amusing. Claire’s parents knew their daughter wasn’t very pretty and were upset that she continued to defy their attempts to find her a suitable husband. The girl’s mother was acting out of desperation, and foolish for believing that Gaston would have any interest in marrying Claire.
But Gaston was bored that evening. Normally he wouldn’t bother with Claire, but she was being offered up to him on a plate. She was there in front of him, so why not take her? She would be an easy conquest, and Gaston would have another notch on his bedpost.
Gaston knew Claire had rejected men lesser than him before. Some of the women he bedded claimed that she was gay, but he knew better than to believe such a foolish rumor. Claire wasn’t gay. She was just a smug religious girl. She wore her chastity on her sleeve and thought she was better than everyone else for it. Gaston seducing and deflowering her would be an entertaining way to spend a slow Tuesday night.
The meeting didn’t go how Gaston thought it would. Claire is a kind and gentle person. She has always rejected boys with a disarming, tactful grace to spare their feelings. They could leave still feeling desirable and attractive, knowing they would one day have a wife, just not her. There was no such grace in her rejection of Gaston. He disgusted her. Everything about him disgusted her; his lack of sincerity, his arrogant dominance over other men, and of course, his cruel manipulation of women. Claire found even a conversation with Gaston revolting, and made that perfectly clear to him.
Gaston had no way to see this coming. Men and women alike have always given him whatever he wanted. It’s been so long since he’s been told “no” about anything he’d almost forgotten what the word means. If people’s attractiveness was rated on a scale, Gaston would be a “perfect ten,” and Claire would be, at best, a five. Gaston is first among men, and Claire is painfully average. A young woman stuck in the middle. Not ugly, but not pretty either. He couldn’t understand how this could happen. Claire might as well have told Gaston the world is flat, or gravity doesn’t exist, and that would have made more sense than her not wanting him. He bullied and humiliated other men, and women swooned at the sight of it.
Gaston’s displays of dominance had the opposite effect on Claire. She thought it was cruel and heartless. She also had better judgment than the other women. Many women find hot-tempered men desirable. Those women find it romantic when he threatens a man who slighted her, or he perceived to slight her. Claire knows better. A husband who’s quick to inflict violence against other men will, sooner or later, become violent with his wife as well.
This man is a hunter by heart, and Claire is the one who got away. Gaston is Captain Ahab, and she’s the fish who eluded him. Though he continued to take women far more beautiful than her, they weren’t on his mind. The only woman he wanted was Claire. What started as a fancy grew into an obsession.
Then Alex and Hanson came to the vault. By good fortune, Gaston was not among the men killed in the Atrium. He was standing guard elsewhere and had the sense to lay down arms when the battle was lost. The defeat angered Gaston, but then he heard news that infuriated him more. Someone else conquered Claire. Like a blushing schoolgirl, she led Hanson to her room. Until now, Gaston had gotten everything he wanted. He had never fought a battle he didn’t win or laid siege to a fortress he didn’t take. But now Hanson, a balding, ugly, slow-witted moron, beat Gaston the Apollo to his prize.
Now Gaston is standing in Claire’s room, the boy he just murdered laying in her lap.
“You killed him,” she sobs.
“That’s ironic, coming from you. Did you cry for the men Alexius slaughtered in the Atrium?”
“It’s a shame you weren’t there,” Claire hisses.
“Well, I’m here now.” Gaston snatches Claire by the arm and pulls her into the hallway. She’s a fraction of his size so resisting him would be pointless.
Lights flash and sirens go off. The vault entrance is open and enemy soldiers are flooding into every level. They’re savage and intimidating. Each of them clad in hand-stitched wool trousers and tunics, shoulders wrapped in fur, feet covered in moccasins, and an iron helmet on his head. The invaders’ weapons are standardized to the extent possible in a post-apocalyptic economy. There’s a mix of rifles, shotguns, and pistols in their group. Every man has a hatchet or knife on his belt.
Reaching the end of the corridor, Gaston takes Claire into an empty classroom for the children.
A few minutes later, soldiers enter the room, their general following behind them. He’s dressed the same as the others but has an aura of authority that makes his status unquestionable. Under his helmet, his black hair is grown out and braided. He’s cleanshaven, presumably because a weak beard wouldn’t match the rest of his intimidating appearance.
“We did as you asked,” Gaston says to him.
“Yes you did, everything went to our satisfaction,” the leader says, turning his eyes to Claire. “And I see you wasted no time seizing your reward for it.”
“And what about Alexius?” Gaston asks.
“Outside with his entire force chasing my skirmishers like a fool. We met no resistance when we stormed this place.”
“Who are you?” Claire demands.
“I apologize ma’am, it was rude of me not to introduce myself,” the leader says. “I am Vale, son of Odin, and commander of this army.”
“Odin? You work for a guy who thinks he’s a Norse god?”
“Well, not really. You seem like an intelligent woman, so I won’t bother doing the charade with you. Odin isn’t literally a god. I’m not his son either. It’s a branding thing, if you will. Similar to how your ‘Alexius’ chose to model himself after a Byzantine emperor.”
“But how did you get in?” Claire says in disbelief. “The vault was sealed.”
“Every vault has an emergency override code,” Vale says, pointing to a box hanging from his neck. “Some people here were kind enough to provide me with the code to this one.”
“Enjoy it while you can. Alexius will be back.”
“Yes, he will.” Vale nods. “And I’ll be waiting for him. I’m enjoying this conversation with you, and I’m sure we will have more later, under friendlier circumstances. But there is other business to attend to. Your ‘citizens council’ is now in session.”
“The citizens’ council?”
“Of course. Who do you think betrayed you? Now please excuse me, I need to get going.”
“Must I have this leech attached to me?” Claire gestures to Gaston gripping her arm. “I promise I won’t give you any trouble.”
“No, you’re right,” Vale agrees. “That is unnecessary. Gaston, let her go.”
“But you promised…” Gaston starts to object.
“That wasn’t a request.”
Gaston releases her. Claire rubs her arm and scowls up at him. He’s not used to being bossed around and doesn’t appreciate it happening in front of Claire. “You said I could have a gun,” Gaston says, trying to save face. “I want it now.”
“I suppose I did.” Vale sighs, tired of being delayed. “Claire looks very formidable and might overpower you in my absence. Give our ally a gun.”
One of the soldiers un-holsters his service pistol. “I only said give him a gun.” Vale stops the soldier. “I didn’t say give him a good gun.” The soldiers confer among themselves for a moment, then agree to a single-action revolver. It’s a replica of the old Smith & Wessons from the late 19th Century. Before the Fall it was a novelty gun for cowboy enthusiasts. Now it’s an impractical, heavy and slow-firing weapon that’s only helpful if nothing better is available.
Vale takes the revolver and opens the loading gate, scrolling through the cartridges inside. Satisfied that it’s loaded, Vale points the gun at Gaston’s head and cocks the hammer. Gaston looks at him and doesn’t flinch. “Just kidding.” Vale grins, pushing the gun into Gaston’s arms. “Behave while I’m gone. If I come back and find you’ve touched her, I’ll cut your balls off.”
“Why are you disrespecting me like this?” Gaston blusters. “This isn’t what we agreed to.”
“I’ll treat you however I please,” Vale says. “And lately you’ve developed this habit of making me explain myself. That’s not good for your health.” Vale stops at the door, reconsidering the wisdom of his orders. “Two of you stay.” He says to the soldiers. “If our friend gets handsy, cut his balls off for me.” A pair of soldiers remain with Claire and Gaston in the classroom while the rest follow their commander out into the corridor.
“Why don’t we just kill Gaston now?” one of them asks Vale. “The girl is the only one we need.”
“Yes, Claire is of vital importance,” Vale says. “Gaston is useless now, but I need to keep him alive and happy for a bit longer. He’s the ringleader of the group who helped us take the vault. I don’t want any of them causing grief until the battle is won.”
The citizens’ council breaks into applause as Vale and his guards triumphantly enter the meeting hall. “You have our eternal gratitude,” Chairwoman Whittington smiles. “When we called for help, we didn’t expect anyone to answer our broadcast.”
“Odin is a generous leader,” Vale says. “No call for help goes unanswered.”
“Did Alexius and his men give you any trouble?”
“None at all. I left a large camp, as if all my soldiers were there. Alexius took the bait and hurried to do battle. When he gets there, all he’ll find are a handful of my skirmishers, who will retreat and draw him as far away as possible.”
“How did you come up with such a brilliant tactic?” Whittington asks.
“Luring the enemy from their stronghold is an old trick done many times before. Nothing particularly brilliant about it.”
“What will you do when he returns? Will you ambush him as he enters the vault?”
“Your own security force was wiped out, and you advise me to do the same thing they did?” Vale shakes his head. “How interesting. No, I will not ambush him in the vault. The narrow confines of this place negate my superior numbers.”
“What will you do instead?”
“Alexius himself did most of the work for me,” Vale says. “He cleared away all those trees and set up earthworks around the vault. His soldiers are superhuman and could defeat my own force in an equal battle. But in such a strong defensive position with four hundred men, I will be able to cut Alexius’s troops down before they get close.”
“You are indeed a great strategist,” Mrs. Sinclair chimes in from the back. “My very own husband led our defense force. As you know, Alexius murdered them down to a man. You have avenged us against our oppressor. I am pleased you suffered no losses in doing so.”
“Well yes, that’s because I’m not an incompetent moron like your husband,” Vale says.
Mrs. Sinclair stops talking.
“We are forever in your debt.” Whittington tries to shift the conversation in a more positive direction.
“Yes, you are very much in my debt,” Vale agrees. “That is what I am going to discuss next. This was by no means an easy campaign. Your vault is outside our sphere of influence. We had no outposts close to you. It cost Odin a great sum of money to send such a large force such a long distance. Along the way we had to deal with bandits and cannibals. To add to the risk, I had to divide up my men to avoid detection by these Garrison gyrocopters prowling the capitol ruins. I have rockets in my supply train, but if I were caught on open ground, it would have been a disaster.”
“Our community does not have much, but we will compensate you the best we can,” Whittington replies with a concerned tone.
“I disagree, Chairwoman. You have a lot, and all of it useful. Odin gave your vault to me, and appointed me with the task of conquering the region around it.”
“Perhaps we’re getting off on the wrong foot here,” Whittington says.
“Why does everyone in this place feel like they can interrupt me as they please?” Vale raises his voice. There’s a growing cloud of anxiety in the meeting hall. More than a few of the people here wonder if they’ve made a mistake inviting Vale here. “Now before we go any further, why don’t we recap on what’s happened to date?” Vale says, his voice more pleasant than it was. “Start from the beginning.”
“Alexius came to our vault, and we welcomed him.” Whittington answers. “But he attacked instead.”
“No, before that,” Vale cuts her off. “Your vault was ruled by Administrator O’Malley, and Mr. Sinclair commanded his militia, correct? But there were problems?”
“That is correct,” Whittington says. “O’Malley had good intentions, but in time his policies would have led to the death of our vault.”
“But you did nothing to stop him. So that means you agreed with his policies. Now that he’s safely dead, you speak ill of him. You didn’t even try to avenge O’Malley’s death, and groveled at Alexius’s feet. Then you betrayed him as well at the first opportunity. I’m seeing a pattern here.”
“You misunderstand us,” Whittington protests.
“Oh no, I think I understand you perfectly. You’re all sniveling, back-stabbing cowards who can’t be trusted.” The room is silent. Vale could hear a pin drop. He has the council’s full attention. “Let’s get back to the question of payment.”
Whittington’s eyes follow him as he paces in front of her, but she doesn’t dare speak.
“All of your young women will be raped, by ten soldiers each. Even the proudest, most stubborn girl will be broken when the last soldier is done with her. After that, they will be sold into sexual slavery. They’ll be loyal slaves who live only to please their masters and want nothing else. As for your boys, I’ll force them into my army. After some training, they’ll enjoy being soldiers as much as the girls enjoy being slaves. They’ll be shock troops at the front of our assaults. They’ll eagerly die for the banner of Odin. The boys who survive long enough will be rewarded with a mass rape of their own.”
Vale looks around the room, basking in the terror he just inflicted. Several of the old women are in tears, but no one tries to object. Their cowardice disgusts him.
“The rest of you will be used as forced labor to construct a suitable fortification. Once completed, this will be my base for future expeditions against nearby settlements. Any laborers still living by then will also be sold into slavery. Your civilization will be effectively annihilated. Your sons as cannon fodder, your daughters as sex slaves scattered across the land, none of them will even remember their old lives here. After seeing what I did to you, no settlement will try to fight me. All will surrender rather than risk sharing your fate.”
He turns to exit the room. He stops by a guard standing watch at the door. “Kill half of them.”
Alexius assembles his troops in the empty camp. As expected, they met almost no resistance. The few enemies guarding the place have retreated into the hills. “Are they all safe?” He asks one of the soldiers.
“So far, yes.” The soldier answers.
Early this morning some people left the vault for a site survey of the city they’re planning to build. That was only a pretense. In reality, Alexius chose them to leave the vault and avoid the impending enemy attack. Claire’s family was among them, but not Claire herself. Too large a group would arouse suspicion. Claire and a few others were to find various excuses to leave on their own.
“What about Claire?” Hanson says. “Did she make it?”
“She hasn’t checked in.” Samson shakes his head. “She must not have gotten out in time.”
“We have to go back!”
“Not yet, my friend,” Alexius says. “The enemy is just now approaching the vault entrance.”
“We can’t leave her in there,” Hanson insists.
“After all the miracles we have seen; the vampire’s barge, the oracle, the taking of the vault, do you still have so little faith? It’ll work out.”
“Fuck your miracles. I’m sick of hearing about them. That’s all you ever talk about. They’re not going to do shit for her.”
Alexius grabs Hanson’s arm before he can take another step. “I know you wanted a wife and a family,” Alexius tells him. “But you never could, not with me around. I’ve always been a burden on you. I ruined your life. You made up excuses about why you didn’t stay in the Defense Corps, and I knew it was because of me. I hated myself for it. These last few weeks, after you met her, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen you happy. It made me rejoice. I believe, I know, with all my heart, that after everything you’ve sacrificed, God wouldn’t give you a woman you care about just to take her away.”
“We can’t just sit here and do nothing.”
“If you can’t trust in God, trust in her. The librarian can take care of herself.”
“But she’s all alone in there,” Hanson says.
“No, she’s not. She has her guardian angels.”
Claire sits on the floor of the classroom, sulking and not speaking to anyone. Gaston sits on the teacher’s desk with his gun by his hip. He can’t touch Claire, but he always hovers close by, as if that’s going to have any positive effect on her.
There’s a crackle of gunfire. It’s distant, probably on a different level many rooms away. The guards look up at it but remain at their post. The gunfire persists and gets closer. The two soldiers grow concerned. They don’t want to abandon their assignment, but don’t want to leave their friends unsupported either. They also don’t want to split up. After some whispered debate, they decided to leave. Both of them run out the door.
Seeing his opportunity, Gaston scoots to the side of the desk closest to Claire. “I know things didn’t turn out the way you wanted them to.” He says. “But it’s not so bad. I’ll be very important around here, Vale promised as much. I’ll take good care of you.”
“You will?” She asks, rising to her feet and sits beside him. “We can get married and, uh, fulfill our marital vows?”
“If that’s what you’d like,” Gaston nods.
Vale promised Gaston he could take Claire as his slave. But for now, he’ll tell her whatever she wants to hear. It seems to be working. She’s receptive to his advances. “We could raise a family, and you could father my children.”
“I wouldn’t mind that.” He winks. “Father a whole bunch for you, if you’d like.”
Claire leans over and blows into his ear. That’s a trick she’s gotten very good at. “You’re a little late,” she whispers. “I already have a family.”
Gaston backs up. “What? How can that be? The implants, everyone is supposed to get one.”
“I took mine out ages ago,” Claire shrugs.
He slaps her across and she tumbles off the desk. Gaston always was quick to anger. “No matter,” he sneers. “It’s nothing that can’t be fixed in the medical bay. You’d want to start fresh, right?”
There’s another burst of gunfire and screaming. That sounded really close.
“In a few minutes, all of Vale’s soldiers in here will be dead,” Claire says, wiping blood off her lip. “All of your little buddies who helped them, also dead.”
Gaston goes for his weapon on the desk. It’s gone. “Are you looking for this?” Claire pulls the revolver underneath her. “Maybe you should’ve kept your eyes on your gun instead of my chest.”
“You ugly little bitch,” Gaston snarls, shaking with fury.
“A minute ago you were going to marry me, now I’m ugly? But never mind that. Look, it’s over. Give yourself up, and I won’t let any of Alexius’s men harm you. They’ll listen to me.”
“Is that so?” Gaston laughs. “And your boyfriend will, just, let me walk out of here? Please.”
“Yes, he will. I promise. Everyone will.”
Gaston laughs and gets up from the desk. Claire backs away, pointing the large revolver at him. She’s not even holding it right. Her hands are shaking. She’s terrified, and it’s obvious.
“Come on,” he says. “We both know you’re not going to shoot. Give me the gun.”
Claire closes her eyes and pulls down on the trigger. The muzzle bursts in a deafening explosion and almost blows the pistol out of her hands. Gaston falls backward, knocking the desk over with him. She opens her eyes. Gaston isn’t dead. He gets back up. The bullet glanced off his collarbone, splintering it. He’s alive, but in pain. Not only did the gunshot fail to destroy Gaston, it left him a dangerous, wounded animal.
“You really were going to kill me,” Gaston marvels. “I didn’t think you had it in you.”
She yanks on the trigger again. Nothing happens. She looks down in confusion. “I guess none of your books taught you how guns work.” He grins.
Claire realizes she has to cock the revolver to fire again. She puts both thumbs on the hammer spur, but her soft little hands aren’t strong enough. It won’t budge. Gaston towers over the small woman, rage in his eyes. He’s going to kill her.
He attacks, batting children’s desks aside in an avalanche of cracking wood warped metal. Claire stumbles backward crying in desperation, her face in tears, her knees wobbling, her hands shaking, her thumbs locked in a futile wrestling match with the revolver. She’s had several brushes with death recently, but this is scarier than all of them. Claire really is going to die this time.
“No, please no, no, no, no, no,” she sobs. Claire is the first person in existence to say no to Gaston, and will be the last one.
She runs out of floor to escape on, her back hitting the wall. Gaston grabs Claire by the neck and lifts her off her feet. His steel grip crushes against her windpipe. His other hand wraps around the gun barrel, ready to toss it aside. His huge arm easily bends her elbows inward. Claire was right earlier when she said it’s over. It is over. This is the end.
Then, in that darkest moment, a miracle happens. Not an undeserved miracle, and nothing supernatural about it. It’s a miracle of her own making. Claire refuses to give up. She fights to the last breath, and it’s that last breath that counts. As the enemy closes around her throat, the tables are turned.
Gaston pushes the gun in, and that’s the tiny mistake that tips the balance. With the revolver a few inches from her stomach, Claire’s muscles are at their strongest. She feels the hammer crack open. Armed with newfound strength, her hands stop shaking. They’re united in purpose by the fiery, courageous soul behind them. She wins the fight and the hammer gives way. She has conquered her worst enemy. The hammer is no longer an obstacle, it’s a tool; an arming mechanism to the powerful cannon in her grip.
They both hear it. A little sound that wouldn’t even be heard more than a few steps away, but louder than the roar of the gunshot she fired less than a minute ago. The click of the hammer. The cylinder turns. A fresh cartridge rolls into battery. The limp trigger under Claire’s fingers tenses up. The massive revolver is ready to fire. The hunted becomes the hunter, and the hunter becomes the hunted. Gaston’s eyes widen. Claire is the first person to ever say no to him. Now she’s the first person to make him feel fear, and the last one.
Claire jerks the trigger and the gun explodes again, tearing into Gaston and blasting a gaping hole through his back. The human Adonis looks into the eyes of the person who killed him. Whether she’s beautiful, ugly, or somewhere in between, Claire is the last sight Gaston will ever see. Then he dies. She collapses on top of him, coughing for air. Claire drops the revolver. Her hands are burned from the scorching heat escaping from the gun’s cylinder. She’s numb and doesn’t feel it. Claire has seen people die, but has never killed a person herself, until now.
Halfdan sees Vale approach him outside the armory and snaps to attention. A senior captain in Vale’s army, Halfdan is a human tank with dark crimson dreadlocks and arms as thick as tree trunks. He’s more than a captain, he’s the most formidable warrior under Vale’s command.
“Where do we stand?” Vale asks.
“Everything has been done as you ordered,” Halfdan answers. “The boys and girls have been gathered in the North and South storage bays, respectively. The adults are under guard in the atrium. Our radios don’t work down here, so we have to rely on the vault’s internal communication system. As a precaution, we disabled the entry door. This vault can’t be sealed again without extensive repairs.”
“Did you open the armory?”
“No.” Halfdan shakes his head. “Alexius changed the entry codes before he left. We’ll have to drill through.”
“That can wait until later. Any trouble from the collaborators?”
“None whatsoever. Gaston promised his friends their pick of women and riches. One of them had a change of heart at the last minute, but Gaston killed him. There were no other issues.”
“Good,” Vale says. “I’m leaving you with fifty troops while I deal with Alexius on the surface. In the meantime, the vault is your responsibility.”
“Vale, it is an honor!”
Halfdan collects the disposition of his forces. Five men at the vault entrance. Ten in the Atrium. Twenty with him outside the armory. Ten more split into pairs on patrol in the corridors. Two men with the girls, and three with the boys. There’s also a couple of dozen collaborators that Vale has permitted to be armed, though with inferior weapons. Halfdan decides there aren’t enough soldiers guarding the boys, and orders a squad of five men to leave the atrium and head to the North bay.
The reinforcements cautiously head toward their new position. All hallways are empty. All women over 25 years of age and all men over 18 have been herded into the atrium. Anyone caught outside the containment areas are to be killed on sight. Reaching the North bay, the squad leader pounds three times on the bay entry hatch. It swings open and he steps in. He hears a noise and turns around; the last two men in his stack are already dead, knifed from behind.
“Look out!” the squad leader yells, raising his rifle. The guard behind him leaps through the door and spins around, ready to fire. The third guard isn’t quite fast enough. A hand grabs him from behind and he screams. His teammates open fire, riddling him with holes. A muzzle flashes behind the human shield, another man drops.
Surviving guards retreat from the open hatch, spraying it with bullets. The squad leader has to warn Halfdan that the North bay is under attack. He retreats from the firefight. There’s a telephone by the wall lockers. He only needs a few seconds to sound the alarm. He reaches the phone snatches the receiver. His fingers punch in the extension to the armory. There’s no dial tone. The comm system is disconnected. He slams his fist on the panic button mounted by the phone. That’s dead too.
A hand closes around his leg. Then his arm. All his limbs and his back too. The guard is taken off his feet, kicking and struggling. Hands rip his gun away and claw at his face. Fingers wrap around the hilt of his knife and pulls it free of its sheath. The knife comes crashing down into his chest over and over again. He can’t hear himself scream. He can’t hear anything. The hands drop him to the concrete. Dying, the squad leader stares up at the boys’ faces, then everything goes dark.
Two of Alexius’s men enter the bay. All the boys are here. Hundreds of young faces look back at the soldiers. The lead trooper looks over at the boys by the telephone, and the guard they just killed. “Your sisters are in the South bay, and your parents are in the atrium.” He says. “You can sit here and do nothing, or you can follow us and rescue them.”
“There’s too many of them,” one of the boys says. “There’s a whole army out there.”
“Not anymore. Most of them left the vault. If we hurry, we can take it back before the rest of them figure out what’s happening.”
“How large a force did King Alexius send with you?”
“You’re looking at it, bud,” the soldier answers. “Everyone fourteen and up gets to the front.”
The boys sort themselves out by age. They’re familiar with drills like this and respond quickly. Alexius frequently took them outside for digging trenches, filling sandbags, and other equally pointless exercises. On one of these exercises last week, Alexius emptied the entire watermelon crop. He claimed this was the boys’ field rations for the day.
Of course, the vault elders disliked Alexius’s strange boy scout program, but could do nothing about it. Parents tried to ply information from their sons, but the boys held a cult-like secrecy about what they were doing on these trips.
“Who here has marksman badges?” Some hands go up. “Take the guards’ weapons and make sure you know how to use them. The rest of you stay close behind. We’ll be getting more guns shortly.”
Halfdan has a serious problem. The vault’s communication system is severed. His forces are scattered across the complex and he has no way to contact them. He can hear gunfire echoing down the corridors. There are at least several fights breaking out.
“We should send scouts to the bays,” a team leader says.
“And divide our forces even further?” another voice objects.
“Shut up, both of you!” Halfdan barks. Something has gone terribly wrong. He can’t be sure who’s alive and who’s dead. The armory is the most important location in the vault, and he can’t do anything without leaving it unprotected. He has twenty soldiers and ten collaborators here. Halfdan is confident he can hold it. For now at least.
A man staggers into the corridor. Guards raise their rifles toward the intruder. “Don’t shoot,” the injured man groans. He’s one of Halfdan’s troops.
“What happened?” Halfdan demands of him. “Report!”
“Alexius left soldiers in the vault. They attacked the atrium and the vault entrance. We need help, bad.”
“I don’t know.”
“What the fuck do you mean you don’t know?” Halfdan says.
“We just don’t. They came so fast, and from all sides.”
“Does Vale know?”
“And what’s he doing about it?”
“He… he set up a machinegun outside,” the soldier stutters. “He’s shooting anyone who comes out.”
Vale will not risk a battle on two fronts. He also won’t risk survivors fleeing out the entrance and demoralizing the rest of his army. He’s sending a clear message. There will be no retreat, no surrender. Vale will not tolerate it. Halfdan is on his own. He has to win or not come back at all.
“The atrium needs our help,” the messenger insists.
“No, we should stay here.” The team leader says. “This is a good position, we can hold it.”
“Are you kidding? This is an awful position. There’s barely any cover and open to attack from all sides.”
“I said shut the fuck up!” Halfdan yells at the quarreling men.
The shooting gets louder. Everyone is getting nervous, especially the collaborators. They’re not trained soldiers. They’re thugs who turned on their own community for a promise of women and money. Halfdan feels sick. He’s doomed. This is unwinnable. The Ultra-violence is coming. It’s probably killing all of his other men, and he’s next. Survival is no longer possible, so Halfdan’s mind turns to something else. Revenge. “Get ready, we’re moving,” Halfdan orders.
“And leave the armory?” someone says.
“Yes, we’re leaving the fucking armory. We’re going to South bay.”
“South bay? But that’s where the girls are.”
“I know that’s where the girls are,” he growls. Gaston’s turncoats look at Halfdan, afraid to ask why he wants to go see the girls. “You.” He points to them. “You all are going first.”
“Why do we have to go first?” a collaborator asks.
Halfdan shoots him in the head. “Anyone else have a fucking problem? Get in line!” Following the terrified turncoats, Halfdan and his soldiers file down the hallway, going South. The gunfire is more sporadic now. Halfdan’s other positions are down to a few pockets of survivors now. He can hear footsteps. There are enemies shadowing his force down the maze of corridors.
This is a one-way trip. Halfdan will not leave this place alive. But he doesn’t have to. All he has to do is make it to the South bay door. He doesn’t even have to go in. The girls will all still be in there. It’s the safest place for them. Evacuating them would be risky, as they might run into soldiers who haven’t been killed yet. So the South bay will still be full. Halfdan would bet his life on it. He is betting his life on it.
Grenades are a precious commodity, and Halfdan’s platoon only has one. It’s on his chest rig. It’s a plasma grenade with a ten-meter kill radius. That’s the only thing on his mind now. Activate his grenade and toss it right in the middle of the crowd of women and girls huddling in that storage bay. He’ll kill or maim dozens, maybe more. It’ll be a bloody, screaming mass of humanity, their clothes, hair and skin burning, trampling each other to escape the pain. Even the girls who survive will be a testimony of Halfdan’s achievement. Their young bodies will be scorched to the bone. No amount of prosthetics will ever be able to hide their missing legs, arms, breasts, jawbones, eyes, and faces. For the rest of their lives they’ll be a reminder to everyone of what Halfdan did to them.
Gunfire erupts, ricocheting off the concrete walls. It’s not coming from in front of the column. It’s coming from behind. Two of Halfdan’s men fall, one of them clutching at his leg and screaming his head off. Muzzle flashes ignite from the intersections. Another man collapses. A metal pineapple drops out of the ventilation vent and rolls between Halfdan’s feet. “Grenade!” He shouts, grabbing a turncoat by the back of the collar and throwing him on top of it. The screaming traitor’s body mostly stops the explosion, but still showers Halfdan and several other soldiers with shrapnel. He feels scorching pain shoot up his leg, but there’s no time to think about that.
He takes aim and shoots one of the enemies, it’s a male in a jump suit. These aren’t Alexius’s soldiers. They’re other vault dwellers. But who? They’re fast and nimble. These aren’t professional soldiers, they’re clumsy and inexperienced. But they make up for it with superior numbers and courage.
Halfdan’s men are excellent marksmen, but it’s a losing battle. They can’t stay here. They have to keep moving, but the collaborators are in the way. Only a few of them have died. They’re clustered together in the corridor, most of them not even shooting back. Halfdan realizes what’s happening. The enemy is using his own numbers against him. He can’t move forward with the turncoats in the way. “Kill them!” Halfdan screams, shooting the collaborator in front of him. The rest of Halfdan’s troops swing their rifles and gun down the confused, crying traitors. “Forward!”
In well-drilled movements, Halfdan’s team surges down the gauntlet of fire. He only has twelve men left, but he’s more determined than ever to reach his goal. Whatever small victory these enemies think they’ll get here pales in comparison to the victory Halfdan’s grenade will achieve when he throws it into that crowd of girls.
Halfdan shoots an enemy fighter straight in front of him. It’s a little crumpled body. A boy. Now it makes sense. Only a couple of real soldiers are here. They’re the leaders. The rest are boys from North bay.
There’s a barricade ahead. The enemy is channeling him into a kill zone. That’s fine. Halfdan has a weapon they don’t know about yet. He’s going to set a trap of his own. He takes his team left into a food court. It’s surrounded by wood barriers and glass panes. The enemy will be able to hit him from three sides. That’s their trap. But they’re setting themselves up for Halfdan’s trap. The food court has better lighting and will let his men pick their targets better. This is also the perfect spot for his secret weapon.
“Find the soldiers and shoot them!” Halfdan barks. “The rest are a bunch of fucking kids! They’ll run away!”
His men hold back, concentrating on looking rather than shooting. Several of them die. But they find their target. A man in black leans out to fire. Halfdan’s soldiers see him and unload a volley straight into his chest. He collapses.
Ultra-violence is both a gift and a curse. These men are the leaders, they should be hanging back. But they can’t. They have to lead from the front. Halfdan just needs to find and kill them. There’s only one other Defense Corps soldier here. He’s behind a concrete barrier to the right. No one can quite get a bead on him. Now it’s time for the surprise weapon.
One of his men opens his pack and pulls out the nozzle. It’s a heavy weapon, and it’s lucky the man carrying it hasn’t died already. It’s the edge Halfdan needs to turn this battle into a rout. The flamethrower ignites and sends a stream of naphtha over the concrete barrier.
The uniformed man leaps out, screaming as he’s burned alive. Halfdan shoots him dead. The flamethrower does its magic, spraying a wall of blazing death around the food court. Some of the boys are caught in its path as well.
Halfdan and his men jump up as one and charge, gunning down several more boys in their path. As his team leaves the food court, it runs into a second line of boys in the corridor. The flamethrower carrier gets hit and falls. Halfdan doesn’t care. The weapon has served its purpose. He fights through the second line of boys and keeps going. The South bay is only a few hundred meters away, and the enemy boys are leaderless. They’ll scatter like roaches.
But they don’t. They keep coming. Resistance isn’t weakening as Halfdan gets closer to the girls, it’s getting stronger. The opposition isn’t running out of bodies, and they aren’t running out of guns either. Halfdan left the armory and the boys emptied it behind him, bringing an uninterrupted flow of new guns into battle. How is this possible? Could Halfdan have missed a soldier in the food court? No, they all would have been there. Ultra-violence is an uncontrollable instinct. No soldier under its control could have stayed away. They died. The boys are all that’s left, but they keep fighting. Why? Halfdan can’t understand. It’s a nightmare.
Up ahead the boys are setting up a make-shift barricade of sheet metal and furniture. It won’t stop Halfdan. Nothing will. What’s left of his team charges the obstacle, guns blazing. Boys behind the wall shoot back, knocking two of Halfdan’s men down. Halfdan himself gets hit. The bullets pass through him and he doesn’t slow down. His wounds aren’t survivable. He only has a few minutes left, but that’s all he needs. Halfdan fires his last bullet into a defender’s face and smashes through the barricade like a battering ram. The boys behind it scatter like bowling pins.
The last of Halfdan’s men collapses behind him. He’s all that’s left. He’s been hit more times than he can count but keeps staggering forward. The door is so close. He can see it. Halfdan gets hit again. And again. And again. He falls and keeps inching forward on his belly. The human tank is slowing down. He’s so riddled with holes he barely move. Halfdan takes out the grenade and stretches it in front of him, as if that will magically keep him going
A boot comes down on Halfdan’s wrist. He looks up. It’s a boy; not a day over 16 and small for his age. Far too young to be anywhere near a battle, yet here he is. His face is dirty, his jumpsuit blackened, and his arm burned. He was in the food court when the flamethrower hit. He’s pointing a carbine at Halfdan’s nose. The boy’s face isn’t sad or angry. It’s a flat, unforgiving neutral.
“You killed our friends,” the boy says. He steps down on Halfdan’s hand, rolling the grenade out from under it. “What were you going to do with that?” He follows Halfdan’s gaze down the corridor at the girls’ bay. “I see.” More boys step up around the downed giant. “Hold him.”
Four sets of hands lift Halfdan to his knees and keep him in place. The boy sets down his carbine and pulls out a knife. It’s not just any knife. The knife’s hilt bears the seal of Odin. This is a weapon given to a warrior who has particularly distinguished himself. Like the squad leader Halfdan sent to the North bay scarcely an hour ago. This is the squad leader’s knife in the hand of the boy who killed him.
As the boy saws off his head, Halfdan wishes the squad leader kept his knife sharper.
Vale and his two escorts meet Alexius and Hanson under a flag of truce a kilometer outside the vault. Alexius’s men lay prone in shallow ditches hastily dug with entrenching tools. Vale’s much larger army is occupying the maze of trenchworks outside the vault entrance. They have machine guns with interlocking fields of fire and men with rifles at the ready. It would be impossible for even the fastest soldier in Alexius’s group to get anywhere near the trenches without being cut down.
“I have to congratulate you, I am impressed,” Vale says. “Pretending to fall for my trick, then recapturing the vault behind me, that was ingenious. I didn’t even realize what was happening until all the guards I left inside were destroyed. But I must know, how did you do it? My scouts counted fifty men with you.”
“Some of the troopers who came with me were vault boys in disguise,” Alexius replies.
“Very well done. However, this maneuver has not helped your position any. You’ve only succeeded in dividing your force. After I am done dealing with you, I can retake the vault.”
“You seem awfully confident.”
“There is no reason for me not to be,” Vale smiles. “But that’s not the topic I wish to discuss with you. I could not care less about this vault, or the people in it. When their leaders cried to Odin begging him for help, he had no interest in them. This vault is far away and difficult to support. But then this chairwoman, I’ve forgotten her name already, spoke of you. That got Odin’s attention. You’re the reason I am here.”
“I’m flattered, but what is the point?” Alexius asks.
“The point is that you’re too dangerous to be left to your own devices. In time, you could become a serious threat. But to kill you and your soldiers would be a crime, such a senseless waste. Odin would much prefer you to join us. And the woman your friend here has taken a liking to, she can come with you.”
“Claire is alright?” Hanson blurts out.
“Of course she’s alright. I’m not an idiot. I found Claire myself, and left soldiers to protect her. Now that you’ve retaken the vault, I assume she’s already safely back with your own men.”
Hanson breathes a sigh of relief.
“I told you she could take care of herself,” Alexius says.
“Now with the knowledge she hasn’t been harmed, will you consider Odin’s offer?”
“I’m listening,” Alexius shrugs.
“This is the proposal,” Vale says. “You fight for Odin and carry his banner like I do. After you’ve earned his trust and won some battles, Odin will give you a kingdom of your own. A much better kingdom than this one. As you’ve probably noticed, we take names of Viking Gods. However, if ‘Alexius’ is the name that pleases you, it will not matter to Odin.”
“Why does he think I would have any interest in doing that? I’m already a king. The city of Byzantium belongs to me.”
“Is that what you’ve taken to calling this place?” Vale laughs. “The Byzantines were a strong and courageous people who ruled for a thousand years. I cannot say the same for the people of this vault. I think you and I are very similar. I don’t know about you, but when I went in there, I was not impressed. These people are cowardly and weak. Your talents are wasted on them. They’re only fit to be slaves, and barely that even.”
“You underestimate them. Yes, their leaders are cowardly and weak, but not the people. They just didn’t realize how strong they were. It was not my men who defeated the guards you left in there. The battle was fought and won by the boys of the vault.”
“How ironic,” Vale laughs. “I was going to train the boys as shock troops, but you beat me to it. You know what they did to my poor captain I left in there? They cut off his head and tossed it out the front door like a football. This whole time I thought it was your men who did that, but it was the boys.”
“For the record, I did not tell them to do that. But I should have. I like it.”
“You turned them into little monsters. And you did it in less than a month. You’re even more dangerous than Odin thought. How did you accomplish that?”
“All they needed was weapons to fight with, and a cause to fight for,” Alexius says. “What were your men fighting for?”
“They were fighting for Odin. Well, mostly for their own lives. I blocked off the exit with a machine gun. There was no retreat. They could only win or die.”
“Well, there’s your answer. Your men were fighting for their lives. The boys were fighting for something they valued more than their lives.”
“The girls,” Vale understands. “How foolish of me. You were right, this is a strong people. ‘Byzantines’ indeed. Unfortunately, that makes it all the more important for me to destroy them. Now what of Odin’s proposal to you?”
“Well, it is better to rule in hell than serve in heaven. I will have to decline your offer. What kind of king would abandon his people?”
“I understand completely,” Vale nods. “It still saddens me. At least it will be a glorious end. You deserve nothing less.”
“There is one thing you have failed to take into consideration.”
“And what would that be, King Alexius?”
“We are the first generation of Ultra-violence. We are Nephilim, half man and half god. We are the firstborn of Ultra-violence, and the most powerful. We drank from the cup of Ultra-violence until empty. The government that created us realized they’d made a mistake. They couldn’t control us. Ultra-violence was a Pandora’s box that couldn’t be shut once opened. So they scattered us to the far corners of the world, and pretended we never existed.”
“An absolute travesty, I agree,” Vale says.
“But there were more after us. The facilities that created us continued on. Second and third generations followed. They had only a taste of Ultra-violence. They could never be Nephilim like us, but still faster, stronger and better than everyone else. The rest of the world forgot us, but the other sons of Ultra-violence remember. They remember our story. They remember our battles. They remember our victories. They remember our sacrifices for a world that did not want us. The second and third generations revere us as the first.”
“It is a wonderful and tragic tale that should be remembered,” Vale agrees, his voice calm, but concealing anxiety. “However, I do not see how it is relevant. Besides the men with you now, none of these second and third generations you speak of are here to help. And even if there were more alive, you have no way to summon their help.”
“You’re right, I have a radio but it’s short range and only useful to communicate with allies already here. But you are also wrong. I do have this,” Alexius opens his bag and pulls out the distress beacon Natasha and Veronica left in their camp by the medical barge. “This broadcasts an emergency signal that can be heard a hundred nautical miles away. My boys brought it outside and activated it last night. I modified this particular beacon to send a message in Morse code. Not a long message. Just one word.”
“And what word would that be?” Vale demands.
A thunderstorm approaches from over the West. It’s a familiar sound; the roar of turbines. Six gyrocopters rise up from behind the mountains. Three attack teams, an entire squadron. That’s more firepower than needed for the task at hand, but to send any less would be insulting.
“Who did you think the Garrison was?” Alexius asks. “Who did you think flew their gyrocopters and served in their ground teams? The Garrison has their own secret mission and considers everyone else their enemies. But even they will make an exception for the firstborn. One exception only, never to be repeated. That’s all I need.”
Vale looks up at the impending apocalypse with horror, powerless to prevent it. The gyrocopters slow to a halt. Rockets arc from Vale’s battle line, but are no match for the tight formation of war machines. Every rocket is destroyed by interlocking fields of flares and defensive fire. Some of Vale’s men stand and fight. Some try to seek cover at the bottom of the trenches. Others run. It doesn’t matter which option they choose, they all are about to meet the same fate.
The line of gyrocopters unleashes a hurricane of destruction. Autocannons, missiles, rockets, and machineguns all ignite at once. They incinerate the trenches, the men, their weapons, and everything else. It’s impossible to see anything behind the massive wall of smoke, but it’s obvious enough there will be no survivors.
Witnessing the defeat of his army, Vale decides to go down fighting too. He and his guards draw their weapons. Alex and Hanson are faster, cutting down all three men before they can get a shot off.
Their enemies destroyed, the gyrocopters cease fire. Alexius faces them and raises his hand. The engines of death remain motionless. They don’t respond to his gesture, but a response is unnecessary. The gyrocopters hover above Alexius’s head, holding a vigil in his honor. Then, one by one, they peel off and fly back over the mountains.
Vale is still alive, but not for much longer. Alexius kicks the dying general’s gun away. “I’ll put you out of your misery now,” Alexius says.
“Wait,” Vale gasps, trying to raise a hand toward Alexius’s belt. He’s struggling to speak, but Alexius understands. “I’ve had this knife since I was a boy, and I’ve never let anyone else hold it before. But I like you.” Alexius hands Vale his knife. The son of Odin cuts his own neck open. A quick and honorable death. Alexius looks at the dead man’s hand. It’s adorned with beautiful rings of silver and gold, many of them set with precious stones.
“Hey look at these, Hanson. Do you see any you like?”
“His hands are too big,” Hanson says.
“Pick a small finger then.”
“The blue one is nice.”
“Excellent choice.” Alexius lops off Vale’s finger and retrieves the silver ring with a glowing blue sapphire.
Come back next Sunday for Chapter 14:
“The Head of Every Man.”
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.
Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also see other posts about forecasts, about science fiction, and especially see these posts …
- Are our wars driving us mad? — Insights from Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.
- The 1% won a counter-revolution while we played. We forgot that we are America’s crew, not passengers. — Insights from Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky.
- Debunking the myth: “An armed society is a polite society” — Libertarians take Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress too seriously.
- We are living in the crazy years AND Fahrenheit 451 — From Heinlein’s future history stories, published as The Past through Tomorrow.
- We like superheroes because we’re weak. Let’s use other myths to become strong. — About the Space Patrol in Heinlein’s Space Cadet.
- Are our film heroes leading us to the future, or signaling despair? — More about Heinlein’s Space Patrol.
Stories about future wars using the great insight
“People, ideas, and hardware – in that order!”
— The greatest insight of the late great John Boyd (Colonel, USAF).
Robert Heinlein (Annapolis class of 1929) wrote about idealized military organizations of the future founded on Boyd’s insight, long before Boyd had it.