Summary: In the last chapter, the wars to rebuild civilization end as new societies grow – and begin to fight with each other. What will this new world learn from the rise and fall of the old? Ultra-Violence is science fiction about humanity using technology to destroy everything, and what comes after. File these weekly chapters as “terrifying dreams.” See the Author’s Afterword to learn about the next book in this series, and other stories coming from Ian Michael..
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).
The last chapter: In the Land of the Blind
Claire leans out the window of her villa overlooking the cobblestone street below. The horseman believed he could slip past her in the bustling crowd of pedestrians, wagons, animals and the occasional rumbling by. But she knew to keep an eye out for him. “You, messenger!” she shouts to the horseman. “Come here!”
Caught in the act, the soldier sighs and approaches her window. He’s a messenger sent ahead of Alexius’s army to report news of the battle. The city, dubbed Byzantium by Alexius after his conquest of the vault fifteen years ago, has a radio tower. Radios are a common sight throughout the city. However, the king prefers not to broadcast the movement of his army in such an insecure way. Instead, he sends messengers to Byzantium. The messengers’ purpose is to report news of a victory, or news of a warning of defeat and impending danger.
The messenger has no interest in nosey wives and relatives waylaying him for information, but Claire is one person he can’t ignore. He stops and looks up at the woman leaning out over his head.
“What news do you bring, is it good or bad?” Claire asks, her voice low enough not to attract the attention of others on the street.
“Good.” The soldier answers. “We won with little loss of life.”
“And what of my husband?”
“He is unharmed, and you will probably see him soon.”
“Thank you sir, do not let me delay you any longer,” Claire dismisses him, barely able to contain her excitement. She hurries to the washroom to adjust herself. Indoor plumbing is available to all in Byzantium. Hygiene and sanitation were a top priority when the people emerged to the surface world to build Alexius’s new kingdom. Electricity remains a luxury Claire refuses to indulge in at her personal residence until the common citizen can as well.
There’s no school today, so her children are romping about in the city. Attempting to round them up would be fruitless, and they can wait to see their father until tonight anyway. Claire wishes she could tidy the chaos of the house in time, but that would be equally fruitless as finding the children. Instead, she goes to the mirror and tidies herself up.
Claire is relatively unchanged from when she was a young woman caught in the path of Alexius’s violent incursion into her underground community. There are bags under her eyes and a few wrinkles that are inevitable from the stresses of a full life.
She discarded the baggy jumpsuit worn by all vault residents, replacing it with dresses she made herself, like the one she’s wearing now. Made of wool dyed in a muted burgundy red, the dress reflects her modesty; starting at the neck and ending just below the knees. She keeps her arms covered irrespective of weather. Claire has also taken to wearing a scarf, preferring to save her wonderful blonde hair for her husband and children. The modesty is balanced by the tailoring. Claire’s pleasing shape shows through in everything she wears. Her dresses hint at the body underneath, but never expose it. Her attire and demeanor add to her status as an example other women of Byzantium should follow.
The princess leaves the bathroom to tidy up the villa best she can before her husband returns. Claire stops at their wedding picture. The younger Claire looking back at her from the photo is giddy with happiness. She can barely keep still long enough for the picture to be taken. Her husband has his signature blank expression but seems happy too. One wouldn’t know from looking at the picture, but there are actually three people in it. Claire can’t say for sure when it happened; if it was the first day she brought her future husband to her little apartment, or one of the days that followed. The soldiers under Alexius received new living quarters, but there was no need to assign one to Hanson. Everyone already knew what room he spent his free time in.
Regardless of the exact time it happened, Claire found herself pregnant. She insisted on a wedding before her condition became too obvious. Her eldest, Joshua. came along a suspiciously short time later, but it’s poor taste to count months after a marriage. Old wives can gossip all they like, but Claire had a wedding ring on her finger before she entered the delivery room. In the end, that was the only thing that mattered.
Her husband was right. The anger against Claire for collaborating with him and Alexius faded with time. History is written by the victors, and people have a talent for remembering past events in a way that fits their narrative. O’Malley and Sinclair were tyrants. Alexius and Hanson were heroes who liberated the vault, especially after Vale’s attack. The citizens’ council who opposed the new regime all died in the vault or died in exile. Claire was the savior who negotiated the peace treaty. A marriage united the two factions in one bloodline; Hanson from the conquerors, and Claire from the conquered.
Claire loves her husband with all of her heart. He’s the only man Claire has ever been with. He’s the man who fathered her beautiful children. It’s a passionate love that’s difficult to replicate. Some women marry young, committing themselves exclusively to one man. Other women try several men and marry as mature adults. Claire did something of both. She exclusively paired with one man and chose him later in life than most of the girls she grew up with.
She has a secret ingredient to her successful marriage. A man bonds with other men in ways a woman can’t compete with. A wife must establish a bond with her man that he doesn’t get anywhere else. A husband wants a home where he can relax, have his needs taken care of, and enjoy his family without excessive nagging and demands. If he doesn’t, he’ll find excuses to not return to it. He’ll stay out with the other men he bonded with in war or at work. If he makes a habit of this, sooner or later he’ll be tempted by women who are younger and more exciting than his wife at home.
That is a problem that will never happen to Claire. She chose a husband who is a hard worker and easy to keep content. In return, she works hard to keep him happy in any way she can. There are more than enough passionless marriages in the world already. Too many people endure a loveless union. Sexual excitement dies, and the joining between a man and a woman becomes a chore. People stay in such marriages out of comfort, rather than real love and desire.
Early in their relationship, Claire insisted on a pact with her new partner. When he was home, neither of them was ill and her monthly calendar permitted it, they would have sex every day. Things didn’t always work that way, especially when children came into the picture, but this practice kept the spark alive.
Claire has never understood women who deny their partners’ love for weeks, months or even years. That seems so disrespectful, un-Christian even. What is the point in a man struggling to support his wife and her children if he receives nothing in return? Claire lets her husband have her even when she’s not particularly in the mood for it. It’s a lot of work for Claire to be this way. For her, it’s an equivalent exchange that comes with marriage. Her husband gave her the large family she always wanted. In return, she wants him to be able to enjoy her in the bedroom for as many years of their marriage as possible.
On top of that, she never permits him to go without a warm meal, clean clothes to wear, or a well-managed household. Hanson is good-natured but grew up uneducated and is bored by high society. An attractive and sophisticated wife is the best status symbol any man could have. She drags him to church services, dinners and outings she arranged with her network of friends. She hosts her own gatherings at her villa as well, where her husband can show off the woman he married and the castle she built for him.
Hanson has the traits Claire desires most in a partner. She has no interest in fast wit or handsome looks. The man she chose is strong and even-tempered, with a simple contentment in life. Even when Claire and the children aren’t at their best, he’s always patient and never angry with them. Hanson is happy with her and doesn’t chase after women and riches as many men do.
She hasn’t always been the good Christian wife she wants to be, especially in those early years of their marriage. Life was hard and she was young. Hormonal rage particular to women, as well as frustration as a new mother, sometimes got the better of her. But she couldn’t fight him. He’s wasn’t interested in fighting her. When she was rebellious and angry, she couldn’t bait him into a pointless argument. Hanson spent his life with a rambling psychopath, and as a result developed a saint-like tolerance.
His one weakness is that he’s dull. Hanson’s wife is smarter and more educated than him. He knows he’s not bright, and dislikes being reminded of it. In Claire’s most petty moments, she tried to use that against him. On the rare occasions she succeeded in annoying him, Hanson scolded her. A few words have always been enough to make her feel childish and out of line. A scolding, though mild in tone, also served as a warning.
A wife knows her man better than anyone else in the world, even more than his own mother. She knows his vulnerabilities, the softest nerve ending and how to pinch them. It’s unknown what her husband’s breaking point is, but Claire hasn’t tried to find it.
There’s mutual respect in their marriage. He’s never laid a hand on her or threatened to. In return, she’s never dug deep enough for that thought to occur to him. When she starts down that path, a light reminder is enough for her to stop before either of them speaks words that can’t be taken back once uttered.
Her husband has one nerve that Claire, even in her angriest tirades, has never touched. Hanson’s life-long relationship with Alexius. She knows better than to bring that up in anything but a positive note.
Over the years God blessed Claire with a large family. All of them are in good health, and she has only lost one. Poor little Jacob. All seemed good. She couldn’t wait to have him in her arms and raise him like his older siblings. Then one morning she woke up with only one heartbeat. Jacob didn’t stir, and Claire knew all too well what had happened. It was the most sickening moment of her life.
She brought Jacob into the world the same as her other children, with a great number of doctors and midwives in attendance. All her pregnancies are affairs of high importance. The obstetrician sees her more times than he would care to, and each time Claire is his most important patient. The entire population of Byzantium is in a unanimous conspiracy to keep her alive. She’s the only useful buffer between Alexius and the people. Her husband has many qualities, but a sharp intellect isn’t one of them.
Jacob was lifeless before he even got a chance to see the world. His death was one event in Claire’s life she struggled to rationalize with her faith. She clung to Jacob against her chest and refused to let anyone else touch him. She demanded that he be baptized. Her attendants told her it was too late for that. She screamed at them to do it anyway. Claire is one woman no one dares argue with, whether she’s being rational or not. Jacob got his baptism before he was laid to rest.
Losing a child was a test, and Claire passed it. Rather than be consumed with grief, she moved on with her life. She appreciates the gifts God gave her, and thanks him every day.
Hanson returns home, and Claire throws herself into his embrace. She gives him a kiss as passionate as the one she gave the day they made love for the first time. She wants him now, but of course there is no time for that yet. She will have to wait until tonight. They won’t be interrupted. Her children know better than to disturb their mother when she needs privacy. Her husband is regent of the city, but Claire is the absolute dictator of the household.
“Oh John, I prayed for your safe return, and here you are!” she rejoices.
“There was no need to be all worked up about us,” Hanson says. “We had them surrounded before they even knew what was happening. Killed the regulars, and the conscripts surrendered. Most of them dropped their guns without even firing a shot. We caught five hundred prisoners. There’s so many we had to leave most of the army as guards. They’re a pretty pathetic looking lot now. Not so cocky as they were when they came over the mountains to attack us.”
“What is Alexius going to do with them?” Claire asks, concern in her voice. “Please tell me he won’t kill them. They’re boys, barely old enough to shave.”
“Don’t worry, Alex said he would spare them. He’ll let them all go.”
“Really?” That seems uncharacteristically generous of King Alexius.
“Yup he sure will.” Hanson nods. “He told me we would let all the enemy soldiers go home. Just like Emperor Basil II released the Bulgarians.”
“That’s… wonderful. I suppose there’s no point arguing for alternatives.”
“You know Alex. Once he’s got something in his head, there’s no talking him out of it. Lucky for those guys he felt nice today. Sorry, but I got to head over to the palace. I just stopped in to say hi.”
“When you get back, we need to talk about the baby.” Claire changes the subject.
“Already? But we got plenty of time.”
“Better to plan ahead,” she smiles.
“Okay, when I get back. I got to go now.”
“Stay safe my love.” Claire kisses him goodbye.
Hanson leaves and his wife sits at the kitchen table. She’s not feeling so happy anymore. She wanted to have boys so badly. But this is the life they’re being born into. They won’t be carpenters or engineers or farmers. They’ll be soldiers. It’ll just happen. Claire will have no say in the matter. She has much influence, but no power. Her firstborn, Joshua, is nearing the age he’ll be old enough to take up arms in the Byzantine Army.
It was actually a relief to have a daughter. Finally, Claire had a child who wasn’t doomed to a life of killing and war under Alexius’s banner. Like all her children, she gave her daughter a name from the Bible. Deborah. A judge of Israel. Such a strong and virtuous woman! What could be a better name than that?
Boys and girls alike in Byzantium face the same reality. A reality Claire has to face and come to terms with no matter how much she doesn’t want to. She tries to distract herself from it. But she can’t. She cries for her children. But she cries for her husband more. She’s known what’s coming for a long time but was always in denial. There’s no avoiding the reality now.
Alexius isn’t getting better. He’s getting worse. His mental health is deteriorating. Each commandment he writes is more delusional than the previous. Hanson passes them to Claire for review, and she makes them less insane, or doesn’t approve them at all. Alexius has turned into a recluse who barely leaves his palace now, so he doesn’t know most of the time whether or not his laws were enacted.
This system works but won’t last forever. The genie can only be kept in his lamp for so long. Alexius’s violent temperament will spill out sooner or later. Men who live by the sword die by the sword. Alexius will die. An enemy will come along that even he cannot defeat. But that enemy won’t have it easy. Alexius’s followers are loyal to him alone. He’s protected by his cadre of Ultra-violence soldiers. Matthew, the boy who beheaded Halfdan fifteen years ago, is now commander of the city watch. He’s not insane, but a sociopath in his own right and loyal. He would crush a rebellion or foreign invasion against Alexius by any means necessary.
Even if someone succeeded in overpowering Matthew, every soldier of the Byzantine army and Alexius’s cadre, there would be one man remaining in Alexius’s defense. Anyone who kills Alexius will have to kill Claire’s husband first. He’ll die protecting his friend, and it won’t even bother him. Alexius and Hanson will die fighting side by side. It’s inevitable.
She would die for her husband. Claire would trade her life for his. Sadly, that love isn’t as reciprocal as she wishes it was. She’s too much of a coward to ask the question, but there is no need to ask at all. She already knows the answer. If her husband had to choose between her and Alexius, he would choose Alexius. Those two have a bond that predated Claire’s and is stronger than hers. Claire’s husband cannot ever be talked out of his love for Alexius. She prays, but it doesn’t work. She still feels despair.
King Alexius is about to carry out a horrible crime today. Not the worst one he’s committed, but the largest one. Five hundred boys are about to suffer something almost unimaginable. Hanson will go along with it. There’s no point in trying to argue against the decision. The boys’ fate is already sealed. Claire knows what Basil II did to the Bulgarians.
“Why are you crying, mother?”
Deborah is standing in the kitchen, her little doll clutched in her arms. “Nothing you need to worry about, my love,” Claire says. Her daughter is seven years old now. Deborah is a beautiful little girl with an angelic face and rich black hair. She will grow into a beautiful young woman, and an intelligent one. Even as a baby, she showed a unique sharpness and learned the world around her quickly. But as Deborah got older, Claire worried about her. As a mother, she felt terrible for even thinking this; but Deborah started to act, well, for lack of a better word, strange. She tolerated games with her brothers but expressed no interest in other children. Deborah preferred conversing with her imaginary friends.
Claire never had an imaginary friend. She gave her heart to Christ when she was barely old enough to walk. With the Holy Trinity, a host of angels and a multitude of saints, Claire never saw a point in imaginary friends. Other women told Claire not to worry. It’s common for creative children to have imaginary friends. But that’s not what worried her. She couldn’t express her true feelings to others, because it would sound ridiculous. It’s not that Deborah had imaginary friends. It’s just that she had so many of them. It didn’t seem Christian. And they were always telling her things. They told her bizarre and often disturbing stories. What was more disturbing is that, sometimes, those stories seemed to come true.
Eventually, Claire couldn’t stand it anymore. She had to put a stop to this. She’s a wise mother who understands a child’s habits can’t be crushed with cruelty. That would have the opposite effect. She had to kill it with kindness.
A month ago Claire bought Deborah a doll. It’s not quite as nice looking as the ones Claire had as a little girl, but in a way, it’s better. All of Claire’s playthings were manufactured in a factory. This doll is handmade. The little eyes and red lips painted by hand on her porcelain face. Her dress and even her tiny little shoes stitched by hand. The doll delighted Deborah, and she named it Cassandra. No more imaginary friends now that Deborah has her new companion. The doll never leaves the little girl’s side. She plays with it, eats with it and sleeps with it. Cassandra can’t go in the warm water with Deborah when she’s bathing, so instead perches on the sink within eyesight.
“I thought you were playing with your brothers,” Claire says, wiping her tears away so her daughter can’t see them.
“I was, but Cassandra got an owie,” Deborah states matter-of-factly, cradling her doll.
“Oh no, that’s awful,” Claire smiles. “Would you like me to kiss it?”
“Don’t be foolish, mother.” Deborah rolls her eyes. “Kisses don’t do anything.”
“Alright. How about a band-aid then?”
“A band-aid would work. It wouldn’t be enough for normal big people, but Cassandra is really small.”
Claire goes to a cupboard for the first aid kit. She finds a little bandage for little Cassandra. “Where’s her owie?”
“Right there.” Deborah points to Cassandra’s face. “She’s bleeding, there’s blood all over her dress, and she’s crying.”
Claire wishes her child’s imagination wasn’t so graphic. “That’s terrible, dear. What happened? Did she fall?”
“Oh no.” Deborah shakes her head. “Cassandra was being bad, so King Alexius plucked out her eye!”
King Alexius sits atop his golden throne. It’s not actual gold, just painted wood. But it is still a magnificent chair, fit for a king. The throne is a solid piece of oak adorned with fanciful engravings of Alexius’s many adventures. The engravings are a history, starting with The Fall, continuing through all those years he spent in the wastes with Hanson, their conquest of the vault, and so on. This is one history project Claire declined to participate in. She prefers not to burden herself with excessive information about what her husband was doing in those times.
Hanson, the king’s regent, stands to Alexius’s right hand. To his left stands Samson, the king’s highest general. To Samson’s left stands Matthew, commander of the city guard. He proved himself in the battle against Vale’s invasion fifteen years ago. Now he’s one of the most powerful men in Byzantium. Forty other men line the king’s great hall. They’re the Varangian Guard, Alexius’s cadre of second generation Ultra-violence. There were once fifty of them, but two perished in the defense of the vault, and more died since then.
Before the king stands a young man. Once a proud soldier, now he’s a captive. His garb as one of Odin’s warriors is in tatters. Alexius appointed him as messenger to go back to his brethren with news of what their fate will be.
Alexius is enjoying a rare day of clarity. This was his first real battle in ages. Byzantium has no allies, but many vassals. Alexius’s army is almost impossible to defeat in battle, and everyone knows it. Alexius wants worthy opponents, and none of his neighbors want to volunteer for the role. They send him an annual tithe of food for his people, precious metals for his treasury, and men for his military.
The tithe isn’t blackmail, or at least not entirely. Alexius rewards loyalty with protection. He sought out and destroyed every band of brigands and troublemakers in his lands. He lined his roads with mileposts, each of them decorated by a mutilated corpse of a bandit. Much to Alexius’s frustration, even the most violent men lost interest in being criminals under his regime. The kingdom became safe and peaceful. That was good for the people, but not for the king.
War is the only thing that interests Alexius. He has a magnificent palace, schools, churches, walls, aqueducts, and roads, but it all bores him. When his mind lacks external enemies to fight it, goes to war against itself. He rarely leaves his palace anymore. He spends almost every waking moment brooding in a cloud of dark anxiety. Alexius is only 47 years old, with many years of life left. But his sanity will give out long before then.
The only serious enemies were the Garrison and Odin. The Garrison vanished a short time after they defeated Vale’s army. Their fate was unknown. They may have completed their mission or been defeated themselves. Odin and Alexius’s lands are divided by the Maxwell Montes mountains. Their patrols skirmish with each other, but there’s too great a distance for pitched battles to happen often. This is the first time since Vale’s defeat that Odin has made a concerted effort to conquer Byzantium. Under that new threat, Alexius’s demons gave way and allowed his brilliant mind to shine, though only for a brief moment. Soon, he will lapse back into his slow, losing war with insanity.
“I’m flattered that Odin has once again sent an army against me,” Alexius says. “However, I am not pleased he thought he could take Byzantium with such a pitifully weak force. Tell me, how long have you served under Odin?”
“For one year, roughly,” the captive answers.
“Yes, and many of your peers served for even shorter a period. I figured as much. Your commander, Balder, was as predictable as Vale before him. I let his green shock troops pass through my lines unopposed and focused my attack on his best soldiers. Hanson, remind me what became of Balder?”
“He died well,” Hanson says. “When all the guards around him were dead, he saved his last bullet for himself rather than be captured.”
“A good decision on his part,” Alexius smirks. “If he’d allowed himself to fall into my hands, I would have thought up something creative to do to him. Now I have five hundred prisoners, none of them worth torturing.”
“You will spare us then?” the captive asks hopefully.
“Indeed I will. You will all return to Odin’s capital of Asgard and inform him what happened here.”
“That is most gracious of you. We will do exactly as you require.”
“There is, however, one small detail that I have not yet elaborated on,” Alexius says. “Count yourselves and send every tenth man to me. I will take these men and gouge the right eye from each of them.”
Alexius’s gruesome order shocks the prisoner, but he has no choice but to accept.
“I will deliver this message to the others, and we will conduct this count,” he says, trying to sound as strong as possible.
“I’m not finished. The remaining prisoners will be blinded in both eyes. Your one-eyed men will serve as guides for your trip back home. Don’t look so crestfallen. At least you have your lives. And I will give you more than enough provisions for the journey. Most of you will survive. Now be gone from my presence.”
Soldiers take the horrified prisoner from Alexius’s court. This will be a grim afternoon for the five hundred men and boys under guard outside Byzantium’s walls. Making their punishment extra cruel, the prisoners have to choose for themselves who will be half-blinded and who will be completely blinded.
“Matthew, you have something on your mind,” Alexius says. “Speak. Do you not approve of the punishment?”
“I approve of the punishment, your majesty.” Matthew answers. “However, I do not understand why you gave them full provisions.”
“Because I meant what I said. I want as many as possible to survive the trip back. Blind men are useless as fighters or workers. They’re extra mouths to feed. They’re also more mouths there are to share the catastrophe that befell them. Wars aren’t won by killing every single enemy soldier. Wars are won by breaking the enemy’s will to resist.”
“That is wise,” Matthew beams. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“You will with time. Always think about the long-lasting consequences of what you do. If we killed these cowards where they stand, it would have been a waste. None of their friends or family back home would have known the details of what happened. Not only is this a black eye to Odin, any future army will be terrified to face us. Their families will be terrified to see them go. Everyone will be terrified. That’ll make things all the easier for us.”
“So, you think the war will go as well as the battle?” Matthew asks.
“No, I’m afraid not. Examining the enemy camp and weapons gave us some bad tidings. Samson, show the group what we discussed.”
Samson, commander of the cadre, steps forward with a rifle in his hand.
“As you know, Vale’s army was equipped in a similar way to our own, with a mix of whatever weapons they could scavenge,” Samson says. “But this time, they were mostly standardized. This rifle was manufactured after The Fall. The enemy army also had petrol-fueled trucks for their equipment and heavy weapons.”
This is disturbing news. Byzantium relies on solar-powered hydrogen fuel cells for its vehicles and power plants. The sun will never run out, so hydrogen can be produced indefinitely. But if Odin is using petroleum, that means he’s drilling for it. He also has factories to produce new firearms, rather than relying on ones before the war. His civilization is leaps and bounds ahead of Byzantium in its industrial revolution.
“According to the most recent census, Byzantium has three thousand people,” Alexius says. “Our vassal cities have a combined population of twelve thousand. From what I’ve gathered from spies, traders and prisoners from the army we just defeated, Odin’s empire exceeds a hundred thousand people.”
“Can we be sure that’s not an exaggeration?” Matthew interjects.
“No, but that’s a realistic number considering the size of his army he sent and the way he equipped it. The vault Byzantium stands on now was small and, thanks to its remote location and strict birth control policies, wasn’t horrendously overpopulated. It was also among the last of the vaults to open and begin re-colonization. That made life easier for our people but left us behind in the race for manpower and industrialization. Even fifteen years ago, Odin was already powerful enough to send four hundred men to attack us.”
“If we defeated one of his armies, we can defeat others,” Matthew says. “We should counter-attack before he recovers.”
“You would attack Odin because we were greater than one of his armies?” Alexius laughs. “That’s like attacking the lion because you’re larger than his tail.”
“What will we do then?”
“For now, nothing,” Alexius says, relaxing back in his throne. “We don’t have the men to launch an attack, or withstand a full-scale assault if Odin really put his mind into it. The one factor working to our advantage is that he needs troops to hold his subjugated territories and is likely facing war on multiple fronts. He may be launching small attacks against us not by choice but because he can’t muster anything larger. His attention is divided. That buys some time, but we can’t assume it will help us indefinitely.”
Alexius stands and walks to the center of the court. “We need a weapon that will turn the tables, and we need one fast. Identifying such a weapon and the way to acquire it takes priority over all other projects.” He dismisses his assembled advisors and guards, leaving him alone with Hanson.
“What now?” Hanson asks.
“Lunch?” Alexius grins.
They go to their usual spot on the roof of the palace. From here they can survey all of Byzantium, and the lands beyond its walls. They sit at the very edge of the roof, their feet dangling over the cobblestone streets far beneath them. Hanson unwraps the loaf of banana bread Claire gave him. Fortunately, she’s a better cook than she was when he first met her. Alexius looks at the loaf and recognizes who it came from.
“How is the princess doing these days?” He asks. Claire is the only woman he ever expresses an interest in.
“We’re expecting a baby,” Hanson says, taking a bite out of the bread.
“Another one? Is your woman perpetually pregnant? When I said we needed to raise an army, I didn’t mean you had to do all the work yourself.”
“She’s the one who wanted a big family,” Hanson shrugs. “I hope she listens to the doctors and calls it quits after this one. We’re both getting along in age.”
There’s something else that’s been on the king’s mind for a while; the enigmatic blind travelers known as oracles. An oracle is the reason Alexius and Hanson came to Byzantium in the first place. Other oracles have traveled to the city. Some passed through without stopping. Others stayed for a time. Alexius has always been tempted to approach an oracle or invite one to his palace. But he hasn’t dared. He will only speak to an oracle when solicited to do so. To date, that hasn’t happened. Alexius believes such a meeting will occur one day, but for now he can only ponder his first encounter with an oracle so many years ago.
“Remember that day we attacked the armory and found the oracle?” Alexius says. “That girl he mentioned, the one who slipped him food during his captivity. You saw her, didn’t you? You let her escape.”
“Yes, I did,” Hanson confesses. “I’m not even sure why I let her go.”
“I thought as much. You let her go because that was fate. Her story wasn’t over yet. There were other things she needed to do in her life. Regardless, your choice pleased the oracle. I overheard some of what he said to you. He gave you a gift, yes?”
“Sort of,” Hanson says. “He said my daughter would be given eyes in the land of the blind, or something like that.”
“Just like were just talking about that today. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. And the oracles are giving your daughter two eyes! I assume the oracle meant Deborah then, since she’s your only daughter, as of yet. Has Deborah said or done anything out of the ordinary?”
“I don’t think so. She’s a quiet little girl. Her mother is always fussing about her not playing with other children enough, but it don’t bother me none. If she wants to keep to herself then let her.”
“So nothing unusual then?” Alexius presses. “Not one little odd incident? Surely there’s something.”
“Well, not too long ago she got in trouble at school. Everyone was supposed to draw Moses performing miracles to the Pharaoh of Egypt. The other students did what they were told, but Deborah drew a one-legged man and insisted he was the one who performed miracles and defeated the Pharaoh. She got very stubborn when anyone tried to correct her.”
“Academics are so tedious.” The king shakes his head in amusement. “They insist on coloring inside the lines and get mad if you don’t. Professors and churchmen are all the same. They claim to know the truth but have so little faith in their own beliefs. They don’t fear a child going astray from the truth. They fear a child finding the truth, but it’s something different than what they hold dear. The foolish teachers scolded her for the one-legged man?”
“There was a bit more to it than that,” Hanson says. “Deborah gave her one-legged man a female companion. When asked who it was, Deborah explained the lady was a whore. It wasn’t a childish joke, either. She was being very serious. The teacher told Deborah whores aren’t an appropriate school topic and she got upset.”
“A one-legged man and a whore. That isn’t a story from the Bible but sounds like one. Maybe Deborah is gifted, just too young to make sense yet. When I was her age, I read the Bible and mixed it with my own stories. To a child there’s little distinction between truth and fiction. Past, present, and future all blur together. What did Claire think?”
“Oh, she almost dropped dead on the spot,” Hanson chuckles. “I thought she was mad that Deborah knew what a whore was, but she was mad about the whole thing. I never got what the big deal was. I just thought it was funny. From listening to Claire, you’d think the sky was falling.”
“Have you ever told her what the oracle said to you?”
“I tried, right after Deborah was born,” Hanson says. “Claire would have none of it and told me never to bring up the matter again. She doesn’t like oracles. Won’t let the children talk about oracles either. Nothing un-Christian is allowed in the house. No Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny or Santa Claus either. She does allow Christmas stories like Saint Nick, but nothing that isn’t real.”
“Your wife is a Godly woman, and you have to take the good with the bad. A little narrow-mindedness is a small price to pay for the good she brings.”
“Claire is happy. For a while I worried she wouldn’t be, and that life outside the vault would be too hard for her. But she pulled through alright.”
She is a strong woman.” Alexius says. “And she gave you strong sons too. They will do well in our army. Perhaps your eldest could even be my successor one day. Even I won’t live forever.”
“That’s awful kind of you. It means a lot to me”
“You’re my best friend.” Alexius leans back on his elbows. “Anything for you.”
This concludes Ultra Violence.
New stories will be coming. See the Author’s Afterword.
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.
This is the first book in the Tales From Venus Series. Book II, War Machine, is scheduled to launch this summer. War Machine will treat readers to more adventures of the increasingly deranged King Alexius, introduce new heroes, and describe a new threat growing in the West – beyond the mountains.
Creating a novel-length story was far from an easy feat, but was a reward in of itself. I’m pleased that a large number of long-time fans of the Fabius Maximus site, as well as newcomers, enjoyed the tale. Ultra Violence will be available on Amazon in both Kindle and print starting March 1st. I appreciate the support, and encourage anyone who’s read the story to leave a review or rating once the book has been released.
I also encourage everyone to follow my Facebook and Twitter pages for updates on my books. I hope you will continue to enjoy my regularly posted stories on Sundays. Starting March 15, I will be releasing the first chapter of a new story; not set on another planet in the future, but in our own world. Not to give too much away just yet, but be ready for a novelization of a legendary, but very real band of heroes from World War II. Or, as they would call it, “The Great Patriotic War.”
About the author
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For More Information
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