"Good day to you, citizen," said Stoney, when the whir of the
vehicle’s fans had subsided.

"Hello yourself, stranger," replied the man.

"My name is Stoney Vander, a resident of the town of Sunshine
in Skyview Tower."

"Thought you might be from the ‘plex," said the man. "Your
clothes tell the whole story. But I didn’t think there was anyone of European
descent left there."

"Oh, there are quite a few," said Stoney unselfconsciously.
"But fewer all the time. Within another fifty years or so it’s projected that
every citizen of Skyview Tower will be a person of color in one grade or

"So they’re still judging one another by their skin color,
are they?"

"I wouldn’t go so far as to say that," insisted Stoney,
surprised to find himself defending the practices that had driven him from
Skyview Tower that very day. "There are a great many past wrongs that need to
be corrected."

"Hmm. I’m not in the mood to go into that old argument right
now," said the man. "I’m Stu Daidin, by the way. I work a farm outside

"A farm?"

"Yeah. I guess you couldn’t know much about raising crops,"
mused Stu. "I suppose they still got those automated food dispensers working up
there? Hard to believe after this long. Anyway, out here, we grow our food
naturally from the soil, the way our ancestors did. One of the reasons for the

"The war?" Stoney was becoming confused. Apparently there
were gaps in the education he had received in Sunshine.

"Don’t they teach you anything up in those fancy towers?"
asked Stu. "The people who lived in the big cities wanted farmers to stop
raising animals, and the big corporations tried to take over all the farms so
they could grow their engineered crops. No way was any of that going to happen.
But it was only one reason for the war. There were plenty of others. Anyway, that’s
ancient history by now. But that don’t mean we’ve stopped keeping a lookout.
That’s why I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to come with me. It’ll be up
to the town council to decide what to do with you: either let you go or hand
you over to the feds."

"So, I’m to regard myself as your prisoner?" asked Stoney.

"Prisoner sounds like too strong a word," said Stu. "What say
we call you a guest? You can stay at my place until the council makes its

Stoney hesitated. By that time, the sun had touched the
horizon and was sinking fast. It would be dark soon, and his absence would be
noticed at home. What would his parents say? Thoughts of his home and family
impressed upon him for the first time the strangeness of his situation. Why did
he leave Skyview Tower? The green wild was like an alien world to him,
uninviting and apart. Suddenly, he felt a great urge to return to the familiar
surroundings of Sunshine, even to the comfortable sameness of his job.

"I don’t think I want to go with you," ventured Stoney at

"Sorry, son, but you don’t have a choice," replied Stu,
touching what appeared to be a firearm strapped to his hip. Stoney, alarmed,
had not noticed it before. "It’s likely not going to be for long anyway. Just a
few days. And life on my farm isn’t so bad. I promise."

"Well, since it appears I don’t really have a choice . . . "

Stoney climbed into the ground car and sat in the seat next
to Stu, who revved up the turbines and spun the vehicle around in the direction
from which he had come.

Presently, Stoney forgot about his earlier objections and
began once again to enjoy his little adventure. As the ground car moved farther
into the green wild, the roadway over which it hovered improved and he settled
back to watch the changing landscape.

"Stu Daidin," he said at last. "What did you mean by a war?
Was it actually fought between citizens of the Municiplex and those outside the
tower communities?"

"Like I said, you city folks, or your ancestors at least,
wanted everyone to live the way they
wanted," Stu explained. "They didn’t just want to tell farmers how to raise
their crops; they wanted to tell everyone what to eat and how to live. It began
when they got ahold of the medical insurance system. Once they got the
government to take it over, individual choice began to disappear. First it was
which doctor to visit, then it was telling people what to eat and not eat to
stay healthy. Then, when people went to see their own doctors outside the
government system, they began to arrest both doctors and patients. Anyone who
operated outside the approved system was considered out of their minds, so they
were declared insane and forced into camps. Only they called them re-education
centers. Next, it was decided that having more than a couple of babies was
unhealthy for the mothers, so abortion became mandatory after a second child. Finally,
they began to take children away from their parents because practically
everything a parent did was considered unhealthy."

Stoney said nothing,
reflecting on similar laws enforced in the Municiplex.

"Of course, that was only one small part of the problem,"
continued Stu. "There was the whole reparations movement that bankrupted the
country and the wholesale reassignment of jobs, placement in schools, and first
claim on rationed goods to women and persons of color."

"And there were some who objected to the new enlightened order?"

"Damn right there were!" said Stu somewhat emphatically.
"Mostly they were religious folk, but there were plenty of others who agreed that
the government was in violation of the Old Constitution. By that time, though,
there weren’t many of the religious folk left. They had no power, no influence.
The government and the city folk had long since outlawed most of their
practices, declaring them the cause of most of the bad things that had happened
in history. Some religions they allowed, because it was felt they were more
genuine, not being part of European culture and all. They finally got around to
closing all the churches when pastors questioned the laws legalizing certain
kinds of behavior . . . that came after the arrests of doctors and scientists
who questioned the same things or dared to speak out against what they called
in those days ‘global warming.’"

"Anyway, there was a lot more, but the main thing is,
ordinary people finally got sick and tired of it all: the hypocrisy, the
nonsense, the policies that flew in the face of common sense," said Stu. "They
began to organize, and took out the guns that the government and the city folk
were never able to take away from them. Battle lines were drawn that ended up
dividing the cities from the countryside, and later, just the big cities. Both
sides purged themselves of elements that disagreed with the majority. It was an
ugly time and a lot of what happened no one could take pride in on either side.
But they were things that had to be done to secure each society. Luckily for
us, the military, what was left of it, turned out to be on our side. That left
the government helpless to force its will on us. But instead of going in for
total war, we decided to fight a war of attrition. We isolated those cities
that refused to give up and they became what you call the Municiplex–self-sufficient
communities run under the old laws that prevent personal enterprise and favor
one group of people over another. That’s why over the last hundred years or so,
they’ve been slowly dying."

That was news to Stoney, who now considered for the first
time the rundown condition of Sunshine, the faulty manufactures of Skyview
Tower, the lack of initiative on the part of its citizenry.

"We get a few people every now and then trying to escape the
‘plex, but not many," observed Stu. "Guess they still keep a pretty tight lid
on things over there, huh?"

"The idea never occurred to me, but maybe they do," replied
Stoney, who had never given the matter much thought. If there were rules
against leaving the Municiplex, surely someone would have attempted to stop him
from taking the air car from the family stall?

There was silence for some minutes before the ground car
topped a rise. The landscape beyond was spread out like a multi-hued carpet for
miles in every direction. Stoney marveled at the sight, which seemed much less
wild due to a network of roadways that crisscrossed the valley, connecting
small clusters of buildings that huddled amid carefully kept fields and
pastures. In the distance, at the head of the valley, was what looked like a
miniature Municiplex with modest towers reaching well above the treetops.

"That’s Vigilanceville," said Stu, pointing at the distant town.
"That’s where the council meets. About forty-five miles beyond is the state
capital, where the feds have offices."

"The state capital?"

"Of Wisconsin. Well, new capital anyway. Madison was isolated
during the war and I hear there are still some holdouts up there. Anyway, over
there’s my farm."

Stoney looked where Stu pointed and saw one of the small
clusters of buildings he had noticed. Looking closer, he could see fenced-off
areas with what might have been domesticated animals moving about them. Further
away, there were squared pastures of varying hues of green and brown.

Stu drove the ground car farther along the road until it
dipped into the valley, headed in the direction of his farm. Soon, they were
below the ridgeline of the hills and back amid the trees of the forest. But now
Stoney could see open fields between their branches. Many were covered with
plants arranged in long rows that seemed to stretch on forever.

“Do those plants grow that way naturally?”

Stu laughed shortly. “Of course not; they have to be planted.
We grow corn on the south side of the farm, mostly for feed. But in these
pastures I like to diversify by growing squash, beets, and potatoes.”

“Potatoes!” exclaimed Stoney, recalling his last meal . . . which
now seemed a long time ago.

“You’ve had potatoes before, haven’t you?” asked Stu, not
sure what people ate in the ‘plex.

“Of course, but they’re served through a kitchen food
dispenser,” said Stoney, at once feeling stupid. Of course he had learned in
school how food was grown and processed. But the reality of it still came as a

“A dispenser, you say?” mused Stu. “But where did they come
from before they got into the dispenser?”

“Hydroponic production methods,” said Stoney. “Although I’m
not sure how the process actually works, growing plants not being one of the
activities of Skyview Tower.”

“Then you might be in for a number of surprises,” warned Stu,
as he pulled through a gate and drove up before a neat-looking cottage close by
a barn and other buildings that obviously housed the various animals Stoney had
seen from the hilltop.

Trained as a designer, Stoney was struck by the simple lines
of the two-story home. A wide porch encircled the front and one side, with
flowering plants hanging from hooks along the roof edge. The windows betrayed a
feminine touch, with curtains indoors and shutters outside. With the sun now
well behind the trees, it was quickly growing dark and a light over the front
door had already been turned on.

“You’ll stay here for a few days until I can get in to
Vigilanceville and speak to the council,” Stu was saying. “We’ve got a spare
room . . . “

But Stu never finished his sentence as the front door flew
open and out stepped a young woman whose attractive features immediately caught
Stoney’s attention.

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