Dan opened his eyes. The familiar sight startled and disturbed his already confused head. He lay now in his own bed, in the barracks at the orphanage. An interminably long room of white walls, white floors, white ceilings one’s eyes couldn’t find the end of.
“I’m back?” Dan said to himself. The city lights were pouring in through the handful of barracks windows, which the metallic bed frames threw into Dan’s eyes, causing him to squint. “What hour is it? What day?” he thought to himself.
Instinctively, he reached for where he thought his head hit. Nothing there; no bandage, no wound, not even a scratch. “What’s going on here!” Dan uttered, sitting up in bed, and not a little irked at not having any evidence of his fall.
“Oh, you finally woke up! Good fellow, sleepyhead,” came a voice from an adjacent bed. Dan started, but soon relaxed to remember to whom the voice belonged. Smith, John Smith, otherwise known as slapstick Jonny, who would always go about the orphanage falling down deliberately in imitation of the handicap ward. Dastardly cruel and heartless young man, Dan always thought, but harmless as a weasel.
“Oh, it is you, Jonny. Hello. What’s the time of day,” said Dan.
“Time of night, you mean. Its darn near waking call. You sure did have a nice holiday, sleeping about here instead of going to classes at your hoity-toity military school,” Jonny said, slipping out of bed and putting on his slippers and stood by his bed.
“When did I arrive to go to sleep, Jonny?” Dan asked.
“Afternoon. Some officials in their hoity-toity uniforms came carrying you in here. Said you had an accident at Green Grove and needed to sleep it all off. I saw one shoot you with something in your arm, probably a tranky, but I guess you would know,” Jonny said, now sitting on his bed after performing his morning mandatory stretches.
“No, I wouldn’t know. And I don’t know what accident they were referring to, either. I, well, I…” Dan was about to say more, about the extraordinary events of the past day, but felt a feeling inside himself holding his words back, which was intensified and substantiated by the way Jonny was looking at him, as if by the way his eyes peered at him, Jonny was fishing for information. “I mean, I wouldn’t know precisely the nature of the accident, as I am not a science guy, you know. It did make me tired, so I think I will close my eyes until I hear waking call, if you don’t mind,” and with that Dan lay down and appeared to close his eyes. From his half-opened slits he could see Jonny slipping off down the long hall of beds, beyond sight.
Dan awoke at Waking Call, a hideously tedious chiming alarm, the melody of which––if it could be described as a melody and not a cacophony of metric tick-toking––pierced Dan’s ears and stirred him out of bed. Sleep had visited him since his encounter with Jonny earlier that morning, and not memory or understanding of the previous fifteen hours.
Routine was routine, and Dan, programmed from birth, could get bathed, his uniform donned, and fed within an hour. And, though the past days adventures and mysteries weighed upon his mind, Dan’s body was moving like clockwork to the rhythms of the morning, and soon he was back in a railcar, speeding away from the orphanage to the Academy for another day of classes.
The entrance to the Academy was of solid blue glass one hundred stories high and the same distance across and deep. A gigantic cube. Dan had looked upon its form a thousand times before, but never really appreciated how ugly it was, or how apparently at odds it was with its supposed purpose and mission being the military training center, being a shaped like a gigantic ice cube and all, representing the Dome. Though, on either side as one entered ten foot high doors, themselves of glass, of course, were statues of ancient viceroys: Bartholo the Just, and Arge the Merciful. Their forms, by contrast, were grand and strikingly beautiful, such that Dan felt uplifted and spurred on by their noble countenances. Each wielded in one hand scrolling tablets, and in the other light swords carved in glinting stone. Dan never noticed before these either.
The morning summer air was dry and hot, but inside the Academy, the air was cool and temperately humid. The ceiling just inside the entrance shot up to the full height of the building, and inside the building was yet another building of rooms and compartments and corridors of a labyrinthine elaboration that one was very much obliged to avail oneself of the maps posted every fifty feet on the walls. Dan knew exactly where all his classes were (at least for this semester) and knew where the restrooms and dining hall was, and gymnasium was. What else the Cube housed Dan did not know, but figured there must be more to it than merely classrooms.
“Take seats, take seats. Order now,” were the directions of the headmaster, Mrs. Moonsfield, trying in her most masculine voice to bring order to a rather disorderly room. “It’s almost time for the MC2, and you know what that means. But first, let’s begin…” at this the class of students arose like clockwork figurines and started chanting in unison, “Dome is home, mother, father, brother, sister, friend: Dome is life. Dome is death. Dome is all. Dome is One. Dome is God,” as Mrs. Moonsfield looked on, with beaming approvingly from ear to ear.
Dan began the chant as usual, heartily and earnestly, yet, also as usual, without comprehending what he was saying. Yet, his voice started to trail off at Dome is death and suddenly started to think about the morning before, as like when a dream’s recollected, parts and pieces of characters and scenes only slowly become clear, so now Dan was remembering Green Grove with Marie, and the gliders, and the path up the mountain to the cave, but all jumbled up like a jigsaw puzzle incomplete.
By the time everyone got to Dome is God, Dan was full silent and now staring in the face Mrs. Moonsfield, who was watching him intently. Just then, the MC2 sounded, and, since there then arose such an uproar of trite platitudes and limp handshakes, Dan was able to escape her gaze and attention.
“Now, now, settle yourself and be seated. We have a very special and surprise speaker today,” at this the class reseated themselves and pretended to be interested. “His name is Commander Vince Rutherford, but you all may call him ‘sir’,” Mrs. Moonsfield said, feeling herself quite important and powerful enforcing Academy etiquette. Moonsfield was common among the courses instructors and classroom officials. Middle aged, leaning toward elderly, unmarried, or if married, practically so by all appearances, and unwomanly. In fact, it was a rare occurrence to see a male instructor at the Academy, unless one were attending an upperclass weapons handling course or martial exercises training session. This breed of instructors was decidedly unmilitary, which struck Dan now as rather odd, since it was a military training academy and all.
“Commander Rutherford is coming down from Central City. A great honor to be sure. He is one of the right hands of Viceroy Guth himself, all hail his goodheartedness. He should be here now at any moment. He comes to establish a new squad of elite students he will hand pick to send to Central City’s Academy to gain invaluable training, and more advanced than anything here we may offer. Viceroy Guth has been amassing many such squads all throughout the world,” Mrs. Moonsfield said with much studied formality, and went on, “I do hope one of you will be considered worthy to be selected. So be on your best, and answer Commander’s questions smartly,” and then sat down at her desk at the side of the room.
Whispers and little voices began to fill the room as the students speculated among themselves about who they thought would be picked.
“Ken, Ken for sure! He’s got the highest score in lightning ball to date!” said one, obviously concerned with high sports scores.
“Don’t be such a jock! Lis is the one. She’s memorized more bodily systems model parameters than ought to be allowed. I vote Lis,” said another.
“Darren’s for the squad for sure. He’s at the top of the class in athletic score values and charting. No doubt, it’s Darren,” said a third, and the speculation swirled around Dan like a hurricane for five more minutes. All the while he sat motionless and silent in his seat, almost oblivious to the announcement of the Commander Rutherford and Viceroy Guth’s Youth Squads and the rest. His mind and focused was on trying to recall every particular of the previous day, and strove to with great effort.
“Surely there’s more. There must be. It doesn’t make sense!” he thought to himself. Before he could begin to put the few puzzle pieces he did hold together, a tall, distinguished man entered the room, and finally broke his concentration.
“Class!” announced Mrs. Moonsfield, and just like that the whole population of the room arose, saluted their new guest with a pat on their breast, and said all as one, “Greetings, sir,” and just like that fell back into their seats and awaited the man’s response.
“Thank you, thank you,” came a hard, cold as steal voice from the figure. Dan noticed that his uniform bore slightly different insignia than the military instructors. There was the black uniform with white stripes down the sides, and a black cap, as the others. But his cap and breast pocket bore a sign Dan had never seen before, or at least he thought. It was two white SS, laying on their sides, with a shaft of white like a capital I between them. “I am Commander Vince Rutherford of Central City Command. I am here on an important and exciting assignment, to select one of you to come with me to Central City Academy to be trained in Viceroy Guth’s Youth Task Force,” Rutherford said, and with such a formality of tone that it made Moonsfield’s speech sound silly.
“We are honored and pleased you have come, please do, do come in and be seated, sir,” said Mrs. Moonsfield, fawningly, and motioned for Rutherford to sit in the prepared desk at the front of the room.
“Thank you. That won’t be necessary. We have made our selection already, and will be on our way once the selectee has been notified and assents to the selection,” he said, brushing off the motion to sit down.
At this the young men and women stirred again in their seats, with whisperings across the aisles who the selectee was thought to be.
Without a moments delay, Rutherford surveyed the field of wide-eyed pupils, a sea of white uniforms squirming about like white wave crests on a blue polished floor. The room was over a hundred heads full, and each was looking up at the Commander from Central City in dire anticipation. Finally he spoke.
“Cadet Goodman, Daniel Goodman?” was all he said. A sea of eyes turned toward and crashed upon Dan in gapes of incredulity. Dan’s stomach almost imploded. His throat instantly became parched. He tried to responded at first, but coughed.
“Present, sssssir.” There were quiet chuckles and audible snickering from among the crowd, but Dan didn’t notice. His eyes now were fixed on Commander Rutherford from Central City Command who was fixing his eyes now on him.
“Arise, cadet. Arise young man,” said Rutherford. “Do you accept this prestigious assignment and chance to serve the Viceroy?” Dan’s heart began to beat wildly within his chest. He started to feel that same feeling he had with Jonny that morning at the orphanage, but such external pressure and the present situation made him almost humanly incapable of heeding or yielding to its warning.
“Yes, sir, yes I, um, I do, sir,” he got out, and immediately felt a strange remorse in doing so.
“Then come at once with me. I have transport awaiting. Don’t worry about a thing, we know your needs. A travel bag has already been prepared. You are ready to depart immediately,” and motioned for Dan to arise and follow him out the door. He saluted the class, and nodded to Mrs. Moonsfield, and just as fast as he had arrived, Commander Rutherford was gone, with Cadet Daniel Goodman in his custody.
“The air field is not far off, now. Have you been this far, Cadet Goodman?” Commander Rutherford asked, the two now seated side by side on a railcar which was whizzing down the the industrial line which ran much faster than the municipal ones.
“Ah, no, sir, not this far,” Dan managed to get out through his stomach ache cramps. He was going to add, “Nor this fast, but thought better of it.
“I see. I see,” was all Rutherford replied, and returned looking out the railcar window, and watched the outskirts of Metro City fly by. Mostly manufacturers and merchant warehouses for foreign trade, the outskirts of the city were notoriously ghastly and unwelcoming. The dirt and grime caked walks, building facades, and people’s faces, all of whom inhabited here were manual laborers in plants and factories.
Dan was regaining his composure, not feeling quite as motion sick, which enabled him to look out the window with the Commander. Dan noticed a break in the scene: a vast black mass of stone slab, at least a mile square, and radiating the desert heat of the day.
“That,” began the Commander, “is Air Field South.”
“Oh, it is very big,” said Dan.
“I came into Metro City this morning by way of it. Say, does the name Marie mean anything to you?” Rutherford asked, with a strange change in tone, and now looked down toward Dan, who did not respond directly, but stopped looking out the window and began staring at the floor of the railcar. After a few moments, the railcar began to slow down and make its approach to the air field platform.
“I seem to recall I met a young lady by that name a day or so ago on a railcar, but nothing much more than that,” said Dan.
“Nothing much more than that, you say,” the Commander inquired.
“No, nothing much more that I can recall. My memory of the past two days has been very foggy to say the least. I must have bumped my head or something, because I can’t account for my own whereabouts for the past day or so,” Dan said.
“I see. I see,” the Commander from Central City replied, as coldly as when Dan first heard his voice. The railcar had now come to a complete stop, the destination chimes having already sounded. Dan awaited Rutherford to arise and let him out into the aisle and depart the railcar. An awkward pause ensued for half a minute. Dan couldn’t take it.
“Sir, I know you just arrived, and may not know, but these railcars don’t wait for anyone,” Dan said, with a great deal of mustered courtesy and respect.
“They’ll wait for me!” said Commander Rutherford, this time his powerful hands clenched the seat’s arm rest, and he turned toward Dan with a stare as hard as metal. Dan noticed his sandy grey and blond hair neatly combed back underneath his black cap with the strange insignia of the I and double SS on it. His clean shaven chin as chiseled as rock. And the throbbing neck veins about his collar. This was a man not to be trifled with. Dan thought, and feared, the Commander could, and might, snap him in half like a stick. What frightened Dan the most about the Commander was not his bodily stature, as imposing and dominating as it was, but rather the subtle blackness of the Commander’s eyes. Were one not so close, perhaps they could be mistaken for dark brown, but, no, Dan knew better. He was a foot from them, and they were pitch black, with Rutherford’s pupils distinguished only by their being a shade or so more an impossible black.
“Tell me. What do you think of the Dome? What is your belief?” Rutherford asked, though with a tone not as hard as before.
“I, um, I believe what I ought,” Dan replied, glancing out at the platform, and marking the utter stillness of the railcar.
“Do you! Tell me, what are the tenets of the Profession of Belief? If I am to have you on board with the Viceroy’s secret task force, I must know I have one of us,” said the Commander.
“I believe in One Humanity under the Skies and destined for the Skies. I believe in One World, the All Seen. I believe in One Truth, that which Humanity Means…” Dan would have went on in the perfunctory recitation of the whole, but was interrupted by an impatient Commander.
“Yes, yes, but do you believe, Goodman? Do you Daniel believe what it is you say?” the Commander’s voice was not hard in the slightest now, but almost pleading. Dan just sat there and struggled to understand what the Commander was asking him, or why. And as he did so, he could perceive a small voice or gentle tug on his consciousness and heart, and realized that he believed in the Profession of Belief about as much as he believed in the use or good of a call to Meditation, Care and Cooperation. He also recollected, in this tiny space of time in which to make his reply to the overbearing Viceroy’s Commander, the puzzle pieces lately scattered about the room of his brain, which he had been neglecting to pick up and put together.
He began quickly to put them together, even now as the Commander impatiently awaited his reply. Dan recalled how he shared an evening with the young, beauty named Marie, from the coast accompanied him to Green Grove. How they strolled through the park walks. How she showed him an old tree…
“Hang on a bit!” Dan said aloud, which visibly affected the Commander, who had been holding in custody a timid, docile and malleable youth this whole while. But these abrupt words were nothing of the kind. Dan continued without a breathing. “What is going on here! How did I get here? Last time I checked, I was half dying of thirst with a cracked cranium on the side of a mountain. Where’s Marie? Did you do something to her! Tell me!” Dan was carrying on in a frenzy, and would have continued to do so, but for the fact that the Commander had soon recollected himself, and was presently pulling a syringe gun from his breast pocket and about to administer to Dan another dose of the amnesia-inducing drug, when Dan caught sight of it, and sprung up, knocking the Commander’s cap onto the railcar floor.
“What are you going to do, boy? You can’t escape. We are nowhere. Besides, you fly, and I’ll have a hoard of gliders on your tail in no time!” Rutherford spurted out furiously, almost frothing at the mouth, “You fool! You’re ours! You’ve always been!” Dan contemplated his position. The manual door release was four feet away. A lunge and dart, and he would have been free, at least from the Commander for the present. Dan baited the beast on.
“Who? Me? Yours? Ha! Drug a kid and tell him what he wants to hear. That’s your way. Coward! As for me and my head, well, that’s mine, not yours. You can have my body as you please. Much good it will do you. I’m free, coward. Which is more than I can say for you!” and with that Dan lunged at the door release, punched it, and landed out onto the platform. Before the Commander could jump up from his seat and retrieve his hat, Dan leaped over the edge of the platform and slid down a coolant piping that ran down the side of the rail line structure. His feet on the ground, he looked up. A hundred feet to the platform he slid down. His hands and inner thighs were burning from the friction, but his head was as cool and clear as an autumn day. He looked out onto the Air Field tarmac, a veritable sea of black, which reflected nigh nothing of the desert sunlight, but all of its heat.
“I’ll burn up if I try to run out there,” Dan said aloud. Panting from the arduous descent, taking a brief refuge underneath the rail line structure, Dan put his hands on his knees and breathed deeply, trying to find a solution to this apparently unsolvable problem.
Just then, he noticed a glare approaching from out of the west. A fast approaching glider!
“Oh, Commander doesn’t waste any time, does he!” shouted Dan and began running toward the opposite direction. Though Dan was fit for a chase against any animal body, having excelled in marathon racing and sprint lanes, he was no match for a glider. He was soon overtaken after two minutes, and Dan gave up the chase, and stood stout and proud ready for hand to hand combat with whoever exited the vehicle to apprehend him. He looked about him. No handy rocks, only pebbles, debris from the tarmac.
The steal blue sky overhead contrasted brightly with the emerald green and metallic gleaming sides of the glider, which had come to a full stop, and hovered over the ground, the soundless engines pulsating off the desert floor, evidenced by Dan’s white but dusty and grimy pant legs flapping in their exhaust. Presently the hatch of the canopy was heard to release with a shot of decompressing air and steam shooting up into the blue. Dan made ready for battle, clenching his teeth and fists.
Finally a fair form with long black hair and a friendly face emerged from the glider.
“Marie!” shouted Dan in full-on amazement and disbelief. “Oh, Marie!” And she hurriedly motioned him to get into the glider, and off they darted toward the western range at a sickening speed.