The Day of Thunder
The sun had set on one more day of a dwindling week in which Tulu commissioned Dan to save as many as he could. To heed his call to abandon the false religion of the infiltrated Dome was not enough. Those who claimed fidelity to the true religion were obliged to pay homage to the source of that religion, a little tree, obscured even more so by the machinations of the Dome officials following the evil council, by which Green Gove was established to overshadow the relic of the sacred Tree by planting hundreds of others more exotic and alluring to the eye.
After supper, the band of followers of the Academy renegade-turned-prophet came into Green Grove to where the ancient Tree was planted.
“Not long now,” Dan said to the eleven who walked behind him. Eliot would be along shortly, so he said, after he settled the bill at Green Grove and took care of some business, before heading over to the park. The sky was ominously dark, Dan thought, like the night he first began this quest by Marie’s introduction into his life again––oh! Marie, must he remember! Dan’s heart became even heavier now upon recalling that bittersweet few days reunited with his wife, then witnessing her stolen away. He was still answering questions all the while during supper and on the walk over to Green Grove, but now Dan grew noticeably taciturn and inwardly turned.
“Is something the matter, sir?” Mr. Pete asked in his kind and respectful way, who was walking beside Dan the whole time.
“Oh, it’s more than I can put into words now, Pete. But look, here we are now!” The group came up on the Tree, standing humble and out of the way. A tall mysterious looking tree towered over it, with broad beautiful leaves, not a handful of yards distant. Overhead a railcar quickly approached, stopped on the platform for a second or so, then quickly sped ahead on its course at a speed. Dan noticed, but didn’t say a word.
“What a beautiful tree!” one of the group said, a young man, dark facial hair barely visible. “It is taller than I thought!”
“No, John. That isn’t it. That was planted by the Dome officials to eclipse the humbler source of our salvation. Look you, here,” Dan corrected, and motioned for John to look below where the real Tree was.
“Oh, well, that is nice, too,” John said with an awkward smile then slunk in the back of the party out of view of their leader. The group now stood around the tree in a semi-circle, with Dan standing in the middle beside the Tree, and he started to address them.
“Wood from this Tree!” he began in his oratorical fashion which became him very well indeed, tapping the bark, “was hewn to make a fire of the Lord of Light-World, Lu the Illuminating! Lu was burned like a log in a stove! The Fallen ones, the Dark ones did this!” but as Dan spoke, the little crowd had grown so weary of lack of sleep and full bellies of barbecue chicken and pork-chops, they had reclined on the turf and started to doze. Dan continued for those who would try to stay alert. “The Dark ones offered Lu to their master, Ferater, as a burnt offering, not conceiving the scope of what they did. Through the Caduclui’s malefactions, the world was cleansed of the stain of blood and odor of decay, reborn into Light by all those who would swear allegiance and fealty to the Lord of Light, instead of to the Lord of Darkness. The Dome was created to facilitate this allegiance, and to promulgate the decrees and directives of the Lord of Light. Ferater’s influence was for a good while checked by the powerful stronghold of the Dome and its officials who worked the will of Lu! But time passed and a people grew weary of the traditions and truths of the Dome, and wanted change,” but as Dan spoke, he saw that only John and Mr. Pete remained awake, all the others having fallen asleep or nearly so on the soft grassy spot surrounding the sacred Tree.
Dan let out a sigh, and, turning to Mr. Pete, he addressed him, “I suppose it’s my preaching that done it, no?”
“Oh, well, now, I think it was a stirring speech, sir, stirring!”
“The finest of its kind,” said John, now not so sheepish. ‘The finest, Mr. Dan.”
“Thank you both. I suppose you should probably get some rest, too, before we have to rouse the others, and start heading toward Mt. Olé.” Dan took a seat on the ground apart from the rest, and nearest the Tree. He sat in a slightly dewy earth which started to form as the warm evening air condensed on the cool blades of grass. Mr. Pete had slipped off to bed now, too, on a park bench not far from Dan, but John did not move from his spot at the back of the group. He looked at Dan intently, then at the Tree, then back at Dan. Dan was mumbling to himself.
“Say, what are you doing, Mr. Dan?” John asked, walking up to where Dan had reclined himself on the ground.
“You don’t have to call me mister, John,” Dan said, looking up at John. “I’m practically your age, you know.”
“You and I both know that isn’t quite right, is it?” John said, taking a seat next to Dan. “You’re old enough to be my granddaddy, though you don’t look a year older than me. So what were you doing, Dan?”
“I was praying, John. Praying for the courage to do the will of Tulu,” Dan said, picking a dandelion and smashing its petals between his fingers.
“What is the will of Tulu, you suppose, Dan?” John asked.
“I don’t know. But I think I may be in serious dangers, if not death soon. I don’t know if I will be able to make it with you all to Mt. Olé,” and tossed the weed a few feet from where he and John reclined in the grass. Mr. Pete looked asleep, but was overhearing Dan and John talk from where he lay on the bench. Presently he spoke.
“If by my life I can prevent that, sir, count on me!” Mr. Pete said, sitting up on his bench and looking affectionately at Dan.
“If it is the will of Tulu, it can’t be prevented, nor would I will it so, Mr. Pete. But I thank you for your courage,” Dan said, and lay down and rested himself on the wet grass a little while.
Not long after, a commotion was heard far off at the front of the park entrance, which made Dan stir from his silent prayers. He observed that John and Mr. Pete had followed the group in falling asleep, too. Lights were seen coming down the path to where they were, many lights. Soon the tumult of loud talking and boots stomping across the ground was more and more visible. It was Dome officials, weapons drawn, and Oscar Eliot at the front of the troop! Dan sat motionless and watched their approach. Finally Mr. Pete awoke, as well as the others. John woke, too, but stood off from the group behind the Tree.
“Here, here he is,” Eliot said, walking up to the group of rebels, and pointing to Dan sitting on the ground. “Here’s your man,” and as he said so, two soldiers in Dome uniforms stepped forward, light blasters out, lights blinking and humming, but Mr. Pete popped up from the bench and sped over to stand in front of them and between Dan.
“You’ll have to take me out of the way, before you can have him!” Mr. Pete said, now no longer soft and gentle, and stood before the armed officials like an indomitable mountainside.
“Stand aside, old man!” one of the officials said, “Or you’ll join him on the pyre!” But Pete was resolved not to budge. A tense moment ensued, with the troop of soldiers looking about helplessly at the old man in the way of their catch, and Mr. Pete staring back at them with bright, youthful and fierce eyes. The rest of the Dan’s followers had stood aside and made way for the soldiers to pass through. John had seemingly run away at the first sight of blasters, but was but a few trees down out of sight. Dan spoke.
“Stand down, Pete. It is Tulu’s will. Stand down,” in somber tones. Pete hesitated, but slowly moved aside to all the soldiers to pass by. They grabbed Dan and hoisted him up by his collar of his shirt which was dimly sparkling in the park lights.
“Now’s our hour, glitter boy,” one of the soldiers said, and beat Dan over the head with the stock of his blaster pistol. Dan let out a faint groan, then fell fast into unconsciousness.
Dan awoke to a bucket of big ice chunks and water thrown into his face, which pelted violently against his skull.
“Wakey, wakey, mister fakey!” came a voice so cruel and familiar to Dan, that he tried to look up, but disbelief mixed with horror prevented his doing so immediately. He was also still recovering from the ice chunks. “It’s time to have that chat, now, glitter-boy!” and another dowse of ice water fell on his head. Dan looked up but didn’t lift his head. He was in the mirror room, again. His hands and feet were restrained behind him and to the metal chair. He couldn’t move even if he wanted to.
Looking up a little more, he perceived the identity of his assailant: Johnny Smith! “Impossible!” Dan thought. But there he was, John Smith, standing before him with an empty bucket in one hand and something like a rod of metal in the other, standing over Dan with a sickening grin on his face. The room was reflecting his impossible image to infinity, as Dan’s head dropped down, and he closed his eyes again, but spoke.
“You’re a dream. You’re not real. You’re dead,” Dan said, in a cold, realist tone. “My wife killed you.”
“Wrong again, bucko!” and cracked Dan up side the head with the empty metal bucket, which sent him to the floor with a crash, his hands and feet still tightly bound. He must have lost consciousness again, because the next thing he knew he was sitting again chair upright, and Johnny was not in the mirror room anymore.
Dan looked around. Just another interrogation room, empty except for himself. He looked at himself. Blood was all on one side of his face, flowing freely from where Jonny, or his imposter, had hit him. “Thy will be done, Tulu, thy will,” Dan mumbled, and then dropped his chin on his chest and closed his eyes again.
Presently the glass door cracked open, revealing the form of a man Dan would have been equally startled to see as he was Johnny: it was the Commander from Central City, whom Dan knew to be Rutherford from his dream-vision, standing now before him.
“Hello, Cadet Daniel Goodman. I trust we are meeting your expectations as an up and coming prophet for our times!” Rutherford said with a chuckle. Dan opened his eyes and looked up. It was Rutherford all right. The hat with the double SS and I, the sandy gray hair, and those black eyes glaring down at him.
“No, you are not. I thought I’d be dead by now,” Dan said, as cold as before.
“Oh, no, no. You are not going to get away that easy. No, we here at the Dome have something very special in store for you! We wouldn’t want to start the barbecue without you perfectly conscious, and able to feel every last skin cell on your body sizzle and burn to a crisp!” Rutherford said with snarl, and bent down to Dan’s ear as he did so to articulate every heinous syllable. “That is, of course, if you insist upon this business of spreading lies and falsehoods about the Dome and the Viceroy!” and put his hand on Dan’s shoulder. “Otherwise, it might go more pleasantly for you if you cease and desist,” and gently patted Dan on where he was holding and leaned back up, but still loomed over him.
“Why aren’t you dead, Rutherford! I killed you!” Dan said, now shooting a look up into Rutherford’s face.
“I am, and Metro City knows it! That is why my coming back will be so winning for our cause! Dome Official slain in the line of duty miraculously raised from the dead by Viceroy Guth! The headline will run, I think,” and gave out another menacing chuckle.
“You’re dead and I know that!” Dan shouted up at Rutherford, bound as ever.
“Easy, now, easy! We wouldn’t want anyone else to hear you say that, would we? I was dead. That’s all you know, kid!” but as he spoke, Dan was loosening his bonds without him noticing, and was very soon free at his hands. The Commander from Central City went on. “We need a miracle or two at present, and the Dome will see it done. We also need a burnt offering, and you fit the bill, buddy boy!” and poked at Dan with his index finger in chest, which Dan with a rush of force grabbed, along with Rutherford’s hand as well, and twisted violently such that the Commander fell to his knees in whimpering pain before Dan, who was still tied to the chair at his legs.
“Tell me, now, Commander! Who are you! I know you’re not Rutherford. I cracked his skull on the concrete. You’re an imposter!” and torqued more so, that Rutherford, or whoever he was, cried out in agony, but spoke nothing. “Very well, then say good bye to a working right arm!,” and was about to wring it to the point of snapping, when all of a sudden the glass door cracked open and Johnny, or someone who looked and sounded identical to that old villain, rushed in and bashed Dan’s head with the metal rod he wielded earlier, which sent Dan to the floor again, and made him lose consciousness.
When Dan awoke, this time he was standing on a trailer hitched to a glider, which hovered silently above the desert floor just outside of Metro City. A multitude of citizens, Dome Academy instructors, students, and parents, and many Officials in black uniform were in attendance. Dan was stupefied at the size of the crowd. It appeared as though three-quarters of the city’s population was present. Looking about himself Dan beheld that he was tightly tied to a pole of some kind. He looked up, it was six feet above his head, and below him he stood upon a great many bundles of kindling.
“Dome Officials, Academy Personnel, Men, Women, Children!” rang out voice from another platform hitched to another glider. It was Rutherford’s voice. “It is with great gratitude that I have here today the beneficent father and benefactor of my miraculous revitalization. His Humility and Grace, Viceroy Guth!” and Dan heard an outpouring of fanfare he’d never heard of in his life. The full ceremonial guard had quite escaped his observation before. As it rang out, he saw processing down Metro City street toward the edge of town Viceroy Guth, or whom Dan thought to be so, all in a golden-rose vestment of dazzling beauty, and an elaborately decorated head device that made his person appear eight feet tall, all in gold interwoven in floral pattern.
Viceroy Guth processed up to where Commander Rutherford was aloft a speaking platform, and, with the help of a Dome official, arose to it with a step and bowed to Rutherford. Rutherford fell to his knees, and payed homage to the Viceroy, and then arose to his feet and bowed again and addressed the crowd.
“This is, indeed, a day on which Metro City is honored beyond its ability to be justly thankful. Viceroy Guth, Lord of the World, has come here upon hearing of my suffering death at the hands of this, this…” here Rutherford looked with disgust at his supposed murderer and went on, “This fiend from Hell! This blood-bathed devil! To work a wondrous thing! To save me from the empty oblivion that awaits us all! I’ve seen it, and there is nothing, I tell you, more after this life!” at this the crowd gave out a collective shutter, and Rutherford went on. “It is true! Believe it! That’s why we must offer this murderer in atonement for our ailments,” and the people looked about themselves, then back at Rutherford with a puzzlement openly on their faces.
Dan was watching and listening, while also trying to loosen the rope that bound him to the wooden pole, but it wouldn’t budge. Rutherford went on.
“A body dies if a cancerous tissue is left to fester and devour the remaining healthy flesh! All we have is this body! There is nothing else! Daniel Goodman is a cancer, and he must be cut out! No, he must be burned out! Or we all perish by his deceptions and curses against the Dome and everything it stands for, and against!” at this the crowd seem to be swayed by the medical metaphor, and became sympathetic to the the executioner’s deranged religion. “Life must go on! Even if we don’t! Metro City must go on! Humanity must go on! Even if Daniel Goodman doesn’t!” The crowd burst into a thunderclap of applause, but soon Rutherford motioned for them to quiet and let him speak again. “I want to ask the good Viceroy Guth to speak to you a few words,” and bowed low and handed the Viceroy the megaphone-like device he was speaking into.
Viceroy Guth shimmered in the evening sun, pale pink like his own garb. Looking out over the enormous crowd, he spoke, not in a voice Dan exactly expected, if he even knew what to expect from an imposter Viceroy’s oration.
“Friends! I’ve come down from Central City because my friend was killed by an Academy cadet and Metro City was in need of mercy and justice. It was a mercy that I raised my friend, Commander Rutherford from the grave. And it is justice that now I preside over his killer’s execution,” here the crowd clapped and hooted, but then became silent again for the Viceroy to speak. “There is an ancient practice, so long since it was employed, of burning at the stake. Such a punishment was exacted only for the most dire crimes, one such being an attack on the Viceroy or his personnel. As you are aware, Rutherford was my right hand man, and had come to Metro City to seek out and apprehend an especially dangerous enemy agent. He was successful in completing his mission with the termination of the enemy agent, but was brutally killed in the line of duty doing so by this young man before you, former Cadet Daniel Goodman,” and pointed his finger at Dan who was looking and listening attentively at his speech. “Therefore, it is my grave duty that I pronounce judgement against this Daniel Goodman as guilty of murder of a Dome official, and I sentence him to be burned at the stake until he is ash and is no more!” The crowd thundered again with deafening applause.
As it happened, Mr. Pete and John were in attendance, though they kept a low profile. John wanted to shout out, “What about a fair trial!” or “It ain’t murder if the man lives!” but Mr. Pete, half guessing his thoughts, held him back and motioned to keep quiet. The others were gone. Eliot Oscar was also in attendance, but only looked on without feeling a thing. Dan had no idea. He thought he was alone, and looked about for anyone to come to his aid to refute the falsehoods, unveil the deceptive wool over everyone’s eyes, and cut him free from the fire wood at his back. No one came. He looked again at the hitched-up speaking platform from which Viceroy Guth and Commander Rutherford spoke. For the first time he noticed who it was who would be in the driver seat of glider that would pull his trailer: Johnny Smith! “I should have known,” Dan said to himself with a huff, and watched the sun silently sink down behind the mountain range.