Summary: In the penultimate chapter, the war ends with justice and love – which allows civilization to grow on the ruins. Ultra-Violence is science fiction about humanity using our tech to destroy everything, and soldiers building a new world on the ruins. File these weekly chapters as “terrifying dreams.” I think this is the most powerful 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 14: The Head of Every Man
King Alexius returns to the vault at the head of his army. He’s not returning as a conqueror, or even as a ruler. He’s returning as a hero. Not for saving the people. Alexius taught them how to save themselves.
Hanson barely makes it a few steps into the atrium before his lover plows into his chest and squeezes him tight. Claire is a private woman who dislikes public displays of affection. Though she’s been at his side almost every waking moment when he’s off duty, she’s declined to touch or even hold hands within sight of others.
All such conservatism is abandoned now. Claire’s lips eagerly seek out his, and she doesn’t care how many people see it. The kiss is deep, a passionate one that she forces herself to break. It’s improper, and if allowed to continue she wouldn’t be able to stop. She nestles her head on his shoulder, peppering his jacket with warm tears. Claire is trembling in Hanson’s arms; she’s so happy to see him back safe. “I love you.” She whispers, her voice muffled in his shoulder.
It’s not the first time she’s said that. The word first left her lips a week after they met. Like every night in the vault, Hanson was in Claire’s tiny quarters making love to her. Each sexual liaison was better than the previous one. She’d never experienced an orgasm before their first night together, and she couldn’t imagine anything more wonderful than that. But in the following nights, as they explored each other, her climaxes grew stronger and more powerful. Each of them better than the last.
Claire had been afraid to tell Hanson that she loved him. She thought it would sound weird and clingy and drive him away. On that particular night, she couldn’t contain her feelings for him anymore. As the spasms of pleasure shot up her spine, the confession left her mouth. Once spoken, there was no way to take it back. It was all or nothing.
Hanson didn’t answer right away. She lay under him for what seemed like a thousand years, wondering if he hadn’t heard what she said or was deliberately ignoring her. He finished, gave Claire a kiss, and said he loved her too. It never occurred to him how much joy and relief that would give her. Claire thinks about things a lot harder than Hanson. To him, love went without saying. It wasn’t a huge revelation that he loved her. But the statement meant the world to her nonetheless.
Claire steps back a little. Hanson’s cradles her smiling wet face in his hands, his fingertips behind her ears. That’s her favorite place to be touched, or at least the favorite place touched that’s appropriate right now.
There’s something a little different about her than when he left on patrol three days ago. Claire’s ears are pierced with pearl studs. That’s a big step for her. She’s always been clean and tidy, but uninterested in the little things women do to draw men’s attention. “They were my grandma’s, do you like them?” she asks, as if there’s any chance of him saying no. “I don’t look stupid, do I?”
“I think they’re great. You’re far too pretty for me. I look like a turtle.”
“A fast turtle,” Claire giggles.
During their hours exploring the vault, eating their meals, and wrapped in the sheets of her cot, Hanson gave her a sanitized run-down of his various life adventures. He told her about that first day in the jungle when Briggs said he looked like a turtle, but a fast one who could keep his head down. That’s why Briggs gave him the trench gun and a mission to race into the enemy fighting positions. Claire knows more about Hanson than anyone else here besides Alexius.
The king has business to attend to and announcements to make, but they can wait a little. His friend has business of his own to take care of. Hanson mumbles something that Claire can’t understand. He hasn’t put much thought into what he was going to say. Though to be fair, he doesn’t put much thought into anything. Claire’s eyebrows raised and lips parted in puzzled trepidation, she turns her ear to his mouth. Her face lights up in understanding. “Yes!” she squeals. “Yes, yes yes!”
He presents her with the pretty blue sapphire ring cut from Vale’s hand. It sort of fits on her finger, close enough. It can be adjusted later. She stares at the ring, her most prized possession; if she touches it too much the talisman might disappear like an illusion that was too good to be true. But it’s real, just as real as the commitment behind it.
Now on to more grave matters. Alexius looks across the atrium. The boys are standing watch over their prisoners. Not Vale’s men. None were left alive. These prisoners are what’s left of the citizens’ council; eight women and four men. Chairwoman Whittington is among them. Mrs. Sinclair didn’t survive the massacre in the meeting hall when Vale ordered his troops to kill half the council. Unfortunately, his men aren’t very good at counting and got a little carried away. The council used to boast 45 sitting members. Alexius killed fifteen of them in the Battle of the Atrium. The invading Sons of Odin killed eighteen.
The boy who took it upon himself to cut off Halfdan’s head and toss it outside thought it would be a good idea to count the enemy dead. He went about this by collecting an ear from each of the dead soldiers. He presents the gruesome war trophies to Alexius in a burlap sack. “Do you remember me?” the boy asks.
“Of course I remember you, Matthew,” Alexius says. “The baker’s son. Now a great soldier.”
“We killed 50 invaders, and 25 traitors, including the one Claire killed,” Matthew reports.
“How many of ours did we lose?”
“33 killed and 27 wounded,” Matthew answers. “I’m sorry to say that neither of the men you sent to release us survived.”
“Their sacrifice was no greater than your friends’ sacrifice.” Alexius pats Matthew on the shoulders and steps back to address the people assembled in the atrium.
“As your king, I am sorry for what happened today. It grieves me, but there was no other way. I could not allow for an enemy army to lay siege to us with traitors planted amongst us. I had to let them think their treachery worked and they had won. I had to destroy them in one stroke. I had to allow every last traitor to expose himself, and every last invading soldier gathers in one position where they could be destroyed in an airstrike. Without total surprise, our enemy would have sought shelter in the hills where the gyrocopters couldn’t strike them so easily, and waited for an opportunity to attack with the help of the collaborators.”
He looks over at Whittington.
“I’ve known about your betrayal since the first day you radioed for aid in a coup against me. I knew about Vale’s army approaching. You believed he would depose me and expect nothing in return. I was wiser. I planted a spy within your own team of collaborators, led by Gaston. Thanks to the spy, I learned of the true nature of Vale’s operation: to kill or enslave everyone here. That’s what you get for trusting a traitor. You thought Gaston was helping you. In reality, he was in league with Vale to annihilate his own community. Vale promised the collaborators their pick of women to take as slaves and a share of the loot. That spy’s name was Jim Thomson. He risked everything to join Gaston’s gang and tell me their plans. Ultimately, he paid with his life. Gaston killed Jim while he was trying to rescue Claire.”
“I do not know how to thank you enough.” Whittington bows. “To think we saw you as an invader at first, instead, we received a wise and noble king.”
“Do you think this is a game?” Alexius says, boiling in anger. “I should have killed you the day I walked in here.”
‘Please, no” Whittington begs. “Please spare us. We won’t do it again. We will never resist or defy you again.”
“I know you won’t.”
“What are you going to do to us?” Whittington’s air of authority from the day Hanson and Claire approached her at the council is long gone. Her voice is trembling, her eyes wide with terror. She knows what Alexius is capable of. The bodies he left behind are enough evidence of that. He gouged out Commander Sinclair’s eyes with his bare hands, then beat O’Malley to a bloody pulp.
“What do you think I’m going to do to you?”
“We deserve a trial!” she whines.
“For once, you’re right. A trial you shall get. I’m a king, and this is not a democracy. However, I will make an exception for you. I will ask the men what should be done with you.”
“Your cadre?” Whittington looks to Alexius’s men in black uniforms standing behind their king.
“No, the men of the vault. The men who fought and shed blood to defend their families and homes.”
“The boys?” she says in confusion, looking to the ragtag group of teenagers surrounding her.
“They fought and defeated an enemy army. Many of them died. That sounds like something men would do to me. Men, what should we do with these traitors?”
“The enemy used a flamethrower against us,” Matthew says. “Six of our friends were burned to death. I say we douse the traitors in kerosene and set them on fire.”
“I like your thinking,” Alexius nods. “And there will be occasions for such thinking in the future. In this case, no need for something so melodramatic. This is what I am going to do to you.”
Whittington and the other council members look at him, breath bated.
“You all will be exiled, as I had promised O’Malley if he surrendered properly. But your exile will be different. Each of you will be given one canteen and one can of rations. No weapons.”
“We’re as good as dead!” she protests.
“That’s the point. Furthermore, it’s a good demonstration of what kind of people you are. You’ll betray and turn on each other out in the wilderness just like you did here. You’ll fight and murder each other for even a small drop of water or a bite of a stale protein bar. By the end, you won’t be men and women. You’ll be wild, feral animals.”
“Please don’t do this,” Whittington wails. “Please.” She looks over at Claire. The young woman’s face is hard as stone. She’s the wrong person to look to for sympathy. No one here will speak for the council. They have no friends. Many people hated Claire for siding with Alexius and Hanson. But most understood that, misguided or not, she was trying to do the right thing. The council’s betrayal was an act of vindictiveness and greed. An act that nearly condemned every daughter of the vault to rape and slavery. That fate was avoided only by a terrible sacrifice by the sons.
“I’ve looked at you long enough,” Alexius says. “You’ll be imprisoned for the night. You will not be provided with food or water. This will be your last night in Byzantium before your exile and death in the wasteland.”
The boys take the hysterical old men and women away. They know Alexius is right. They’ll turn on each other almost immediately tomorrow or the days following. The lack of weapons will make it even worse. There will be no sharing or even an attempt at cooperation for mutual survival. They’ll fight and claw each other to death.
“Today we mourn our dead and celebrate our heroes,” Alexius announces. “The so called ‘boys of the vault’ are our defenders. After proper consideration, I’ll recognize each of them for their individual accomplishments. But for now, come forward, librarian.”
Claire leaves Hanson and approaches. Though she has supported Alexius’s regime, she’s avoided the man himself. He tried to kill her multiple times within the first hour he was here, which soured their relationship. Hanson told Claire enough for her to understand why Alexius is like this. She knows about how he killed Hannah in the Polar Uprising 17 years ago. She knows about the pathological fear of women he developed as a result. She stays away from him not out of hate, but to avoid antagonizing the mental illness that’s plagued him almost his entire life, and probably for the rest of it.
“From the looks of things, there will be a wedding soon, but please do not consider this a gift for it,” he tells her. “This is for an accomplishment you yourself did in your own right and deserve recognition for.”
She’s not sure what he’s referring to.
“I heard you slew Goliath,” Alexius says, referring to Gaston. “Not with a slingshot, but with a weapon almost as primitive.”
“The boys who found me must have exaggerated, she answers. “I didn’t do anything so special. I was scared, and it was mostly luck.”
“Everyone’s scared in a fight, but I wouldn’t call it luck. You have faith, and it shows in everything you do.”
She reaches Alexius and goes to take a knee in front of him. She’s used to fulfilling his fancies of kingship and the ceremonies around it. He stops her. “No, not you, Claire” he says. It is the first time he’s ever addressed her by name. “Not ever again.”
Claire remains standing, as instructed. Being this close makes her uncomfortable, and it’s torture for him. But he endures it. This is important. “With everyone here as witness, I appoint you, Claire the Librarian, as a princess of Byzantium, with all honors and privileges as such.”
Not everyone would understand the meaning of this. In the last few decades preceding the fall, many women, socialist and otherwise, pursued the worthwhile cause of equality between the sexes. Many of them wanted more than to be equal to men. They wanted to become men. They wanted men’s titles. They wanted to be executives and commanders. These activists looked at past generations of women with contempt. They tried to stamp out such traditions with their daughters. To be a “princess sounded derogatory and sexist. Princesses in fairy tales and children’s films were re-written to be captains and generals, not princesses. Why would a superheroine or a leader of a fantasy space armada be a princess when she could be a general?
None of those women would understand the gift Alexius just gave Claire. Many of the people in this room, enlightened intellectuals well-versed in the fashionable causes of the modern era, don’t understand the honor. They see themselves as open-minded but have in fact closed their minds to language and concepts beyond their immediate understanding of the world.
Claire has read the same histories and literature as any other educated person. Unlike most educated people, she understands the context of what she read, even when it doesn’t match her own values and culture. Claire has her religious dogma, but ironically, has a more open mind than the self-proclaimed progressives of her community. She understands something they don’t or won’t allow themselves to understand. A princess is royalty, outranking even the greatest general. Alexius, a man who detests women, has given her the most precious gift he could think of. He has placed her above every man in the kingdom, with the exception of himself and his regent Hanson. No other man will ever be equal to her.
“First Corinthians 11:3 declares that ‘the head of woman is man’,” Alexius says. “But now it’s upside down. The head of every man is a woman.”
Alexius opens his arms and hugs her. There’s no fear or loathing in it, and to her surprise, she has no trouble accepting his body against hers. He has multiple personalities, all of them unpleasant. She saw them in the Battle of the Atrium. Over the span of a few minutes, he went from a cunning strategist to a lofty king, and from a lofty king to a foul sadist. They’re different types of people, all consumed by the same rage and propensity for violence. But now he’s someone completely different. Buried deep in Alexius’s tormented, broken mind, there’s Alex, a kind and gentle boy. That boy will never escape. He will suffocate in the darkness forever. But for one fleeting moment, he’s reaching out to her. No one assembled here sees him, except Claire. She recognizes Alex and feels him against her cheek.
“Thank you, thank you so much.” She whispers.
“You did something I never could,” he says, his voice cracking. “You made my best friend happy. I love you like a sister, Claire.”
“I love you too, Alex,” Claire says, squeezing him tight. “You’re a wonderful and special person. I’ll remember this moment and treasure your gift for the rest of my life.” She gives Alex a light kiss on the cheek.
His body starts to tense. The moment is over. They step apart. Alex fades away. Now, there is only Alexius. A king, and a merciless one. The boy clung on for so many years. He had only enough strength to reach out of the abyss one last time. But he waited. He waited for the right moment, and the right person to touch. Out of all the people and all the moments he could have chosen, he chose her in this moment.
Claire never saw Alex again. He was gone forever.
Come back next Sunday for the final chapter:
“In the Land of the Blind.”
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
See Ian Michael’s bio. See his other articles on the FM website …
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- 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.
- A fun tour of Harley Quinn’s Gotham.
- Joker & Harley, a partnership made in hell.
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.
- The Iraq War as a warning for America — The Foundation series.
- The hidden key to understanding Europe’s crisis – and ours — The Foundation series.
- Too many “takers”? Look to science fiction for the hard-Right answer! – From Jerry Pournelle’s “Codominium” stories.
- Let’s look at ourselves in the mirror created by the conflict with Iran — From “With the sword he must be slain.”
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.