The question brought Stoney up short. What did he

"I … don’t know," he said, shaking his head. "But something
is missing. I’m tired of living on the sunless side of Skyview Tower. I’m tired
of cleaning window banks and human waste depositories. I know my contributions
can be more substantial if only I have the opportunity."

"But you will have
the opportunity, son. You must simply be more patient, work with your
supervisors, and in ten or twenty years, you too may be promoted to junior

"Ten or 20 years!" spat Stoney. "Pfah! Why should anyone with
genuine ability wait so long while others far less qualified are given top

"But it is their right as citizens of color . . ." Immomia began.

"I don’t want to hear that!" shouted Stoney, getting up abruptly.
"In fact, I don’t want to continue this conversation at all."

He stormed from the room and into the private lift that
whisked him up to the stall where the family kept its air car. There, Stoney
walked purposefully to the control panel, waved a hand over the instruments,
and watched as the plasti-steel door slid silently into the wall above.
Instantly, he felt the pressure of the outside air against him as it whipped
his hair about his head. Moving around the air car, he approached the edge of
the stall where it fell away, the half-mile or so to the ground below, hidden
by drifting clouds.

Often when he was younger and feeling the same frustrations,
he would come here alone, raise the door, and stand as close to the edge of the
stall as he dared, feeling the wind that whooshed inward from outside. On it,
he thought he smelled the exotic scents of trees and flowers and soft, moist
earth. Occasionally, an insect would be carried into the stall with the breeze
and he would entertain himself by capturing it and studying its strange ways.

Today, however, he felt none of that. Instead, he seemed to
be held in the grip of emotions that compelled him closer to the edge than he
had ever dared before. Looking down at the cloud layer moving slowly past the
towers, it seemed as though he stood on the deck of a ship as it cut its way
across some vast and trackless ocean; an ocean that called to him, that urged
him to step out and lose himself in its comforting quiet.

Suddenly, an insect carried by the wind struck Stoney in the
face, startling him out of his reverie. Stepping back from the brink, he made a
decision. Turning, he approached the family air car and waved the door open.
With a hiss, it rose upward and he slid into the conductor’s seat. Unbidden,
the door fell shut and the turbine-powered fans began to turn in standby mode.
Unlike most other families in Skyview Tower, the Vanders took pride in
maintaining their air car, and though it was seldom used, Stoney had no qualms
about taking it out on a moment’s notice.

Stoney released the fans from standby, and the car
immediately rose on a cushion of air only a few inches off the floor. With
directional compressors engaged, he began moving the air car out of the stall
and outside the building. Minding the high winds that wound about Skyview
Tower, he was careful to keep the car under tight control, moving slowly.

As he brought the car around, the glassy smoothness of
Skyview Tower loomed on his left, and he was momentarily surprised at the
number of cracked and broken window banks in the cylindrical structure, which
extended upward for many more thousands of feet. The town of Sunshine was well
named, as its position placed it well above the clouds in near perpetual
sunlight. Craning his neck, Stoney noticed for the first time that a new town
being constructed at the top of the tower seemed to have gone unfinished for
some time, judging by the great blotches of rust on the exposed ironwork and
the lengths of empty window banks.

Stoney veered away from Skyview Tower and moved toward an
inviting open area amid the man-made forest of towers that made up the Municiplex.
Slowly, he began to descend into the cloud layer and in seconds found himself
surrounded by a gray haze that would have been cause for concern if not for the
car’s sensor instruments. Gradually, the clouds began to break up until he had
clearly fallen below them into the drab, rainy world of the lower levels where
the manufacturing and transportation towns were located. As he continued to
descend, the old, largely disused surface roads connecting the towers became
visible, and he was made aware somewhat of the ancient beginnings of the Municiplex.
Now able to see a good distance ahead, Stoney allowed himself more speed and,
weaving among the towers, soon found himself outside the limits of the Municiplex,
where concrete and crumbling tarmac gave way to ground cover of a more
vegetative nature.

The green wild rose up in the distance with much finer detail
than Stoney had ever seen before. His pulse began to quicken in anticipation of
discovery … or was it something else? Though he was only dimly aware of it, Stoney
was escaping from the oppressive confines of Skyview Tower in a desperate
search for what he would have called "freedom" if such a term could have occurred
to him. All he knew was that the band of green stretching darkly along the
horizon lured him on, and in some part of his mind where dreams were left
unexpressed he imagined that beyond it he would find whatever he was looking

As he swooped closer to the ground–closer than he had ever
been in his life–he noticed that there were few roadways, and those were
crumbling and buckled with trees and other plants. Snaking into the dark
interior of the green wild, they were swallowed up as if they had never been. Where
had they once led? To other towers? Other prisons that suppressed creativity
and rewarded failure and called it social justice? With one eye on his power
gauge, Stoney continued on toward a line of low hills even as the terrain
beneath him merged into a single expanse of trackless forest. Suddenly, he
spied a large swath of open grassland and, on impulse, decided to set the air
car down.

Angling the directional compressors forward, he slowed the
turbine fans and brought the air car hovering within a few feet of the ground.
Gently, he lowered the vehicle the rest of the way and cut the power. As the
whir of the fans died away, Stoney engaged the door lift and, in another
second, he was breathing the pollen-laden air of the green wild. Not without
some trepidation, he stepped from the conductor’s seat and, for the first time,
felt the ground beneath his feet. All around him, tall grasses lay flattened
from the force of his landing. Beyond that small circle, the plants stood as
high as his waist. In the distance, he could see where the forest began with a
few tall trees acting as outriders.

Now that he was down, Stoney was faced with the question of
what to do next. Although he was in no mood yet to return home, he really had
not thought out his actions when he exited Skyview Tower. Should he stay put or
venture forward? Presently, the sound of insects chirping from the tall grass
and of birds swooping over the distant trees decided the issue for him, and he
chose to explore a short distance within the tree line. Passing through the tall
grass was easier than he expected, and so it was with an emboldened spirit that
he found the vague remnants of road and passed beneath the thick canopy of

He had been walking for some distance, marveling at the
myriad sounds of nature, when he noticed how dark it was getting. Looking up,
he was surprised to find that the setting sun had become almost completely
hidden from view behind not only a thick tangle of branches but also under a
kind of netting that hung upon the upper terraces of the forest. Looking more
closely, Stoney decided that the netting was not natural and that over the
years it had become worn, with great rents in its fabric that here and there
permitted a stray shaft of sunlight to penetrate to the forest floor. Who had
placed the netting like that, and why?

Just then, his thoughts were interrupted by a sound that
stood out by its unnatural regularity. Warily, Stoney left the old road to hide
behind the thick bole of an ancient conifer and watched.

At last, a small, two-person ground car hovered into view.
Not unrelieved at the sight, Stoney stepped out from hiding and into the old
road, waving a friendly hand at the silver-haired driver who slowed the vehicle
to a halt.

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