"Dad! So you’re finally home! I thought you weren’t going to
make it for supper. . . ."

The young woman stopped suddenly when she noticed that Stu
was not alone. "Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you brought company home."

"Merrybelle, this here’s Stoney Vander. Found him in the
woods over in the hills toward the ‘plex," reported Stu. "Stoney, this is my
daughter, Merrybelle."

"How do you do?" Stoney managed, not sure if he should extend
his hand in greeting. He decided such a gesture might be too familiar and
simply nodded his head instead.

"Fine, thank you," replied Merrybelle. "I don’t recognize
you. You’re not from around here, are you?"

"I’ve come from the Municiplex," Stoney replied. "I am a
citizen of Skyview Tower. I was taking a ride in my air car and landed on the
other side of those hills there when your father came along … "

"You can get all the details inside while we have supper,
Merrybelle," said Stu, mounting the steps and heading for the door. "Just let
me show our guest which room he can use."

"Will he be staying long?"

"Just until we get word from the council. I was thinking he
might be able to use some of your brothers’ clothes for a couple days."

"I’ll get some shirts and trousers from the cupboard," said

"That’s very kind of you, Stu," said Stoney, stepping into a
large sitting room just inside the door.

"No problem. My boys are away engaged in upper learning these
days, so they won’t be needing them."

After he had been shown his room on the second floor and the
clothes had been placed in a neat pile at the foot of the bed, Stoney followed
his hosts downstairs to the kitchen, where pleasant smells met his nostrils.
Despite having eaten supper with his own family some hours before, he found he
was hungry again and eager to try what was offered. That, however, was before
he discovered what was on the menu.

Merrybelle placed a steaming portion of an unfamiliar looking
vegetable on his plate. He cut and ate a few pieces, not without some pleasure
at the taste. Merrybelle Daidin, it seemed, was an excellent cook.

"Hmmm, this is quite good," he commented. "What is it?"

"Pork," said Merrybelle as she daintily placed a small bite
into her mouth.

"Never heard of it,"
he replied. "And you say you prepared it yourself . . . over an open flame?"

"Well, I wouldn’t call it an ‘open flame’!" laughed
Merrybelle. "Most people use microwaves these days, but my mother preferred
cooking over a real fire, so our stove is an older model gas range."

"And you don’t mind taking the time to cook yourself, even
after coming home from work?"

"I work here on the farm, so I arrange my own schedule. It’s
not like having a regular job. Is it different in the ‘plex?"

"In Skyview Tower, all women are entitled to employment
outside the residences," replied Stoney. "They would consider it an insult to
be confined to domestic chores. Often, for those men still waiting for employment
slots in positions of greater responsibility, it falls to them to care for the
home and prepare meals. But meals are much easier to prepare as the process is
completely automated."

"So women don’t help with the domestic chores?"

"They have no time," said Stoney. "They hold many of the
upper employment slots due to their having been exploited in the times before
the establishment of the Municiplex. Men, on the other hand, who have given up
the preferred employment slots to more deserving women and citizens of color,
suffer from much less stress as a result and are expected to maintain the
family’s living unit and create a comfortable home life for their
harder-working spouses and daughters."

"Do you mean to tell me that men are employed only in menial

"Mostly, but they have every opportunity for promotion if no
woman or citizen of color desires a particular position," said Stoney. "My
father, for instance, has recently been promoted to junior planner after only
twenty-three years."

When Stoney saw the look of consternation on Merrybelle’s
face, he suddenly realized that it might seem he was defending Sunshine’s way
of life. The irony was that this very way of life was one he had vociferously attacked
only a few hours before.

"I didn’t mean to sound as if I approved of the way things
are done in the Municiplex," confessed Stoney. "In fact, it is something I have
often struggled with."

"Is that what you were doing outside the ‘plex when my father
found you?"

"As a matter of fact, it was," said Stoney. "The injustices I
perceived in Sunshine had grown too great for me to abide without making some
outburst that would have brought trouble on me or my family. In truth, I may
have upset my parents with some of the things I said. If that were discovered,
I could be required to attend a round of sensitivity training."

"Sensitivity training?" asked Merrybelle.

"A program intended to point out to offenders the error in
their way of thinking and to redirect their thoughts into correct channels."

"Brainwashing?" asked Merrybelle, not without some horror.

"Not at all!" said Stoney. "There are certain ways that
citizens in an ordered society are expected to behave. Surely you don’t condone
antisocial behavior? Or damaging another’s self esteem? Or hurting someone’s

"Not necessarily. But when a person is forced to alter their
thoughts to conform to expected behavior, I call that brainwashing."

"Oh, I hardly think so," said Stoney, still wondering why he kept
defending things that he had so recently criticized. Seeking to change the
subject, he asked about the food he was eating. "You called this pork? I don’t
think I’ve ever had any before. What kind of vegetable is it?"

"It’s not a vegetable, silly, it’s meat."

"Meat!" cried Stoney, half choking on his food. "You’re
joking, right?"

"Of course not," said Merrybelle. "Why should I joke about

"Eating the meat of animals is disrespectful to other living
creatures with whom humans share the Earth," explained Stoney, disgusted at the
thought that a fellow being had been callously slaughtered simply for food.
Unbidden, he felt his gorge begin to rise. "One might as well eat other human
beings as other animals."

"You don’t mean that, do you?" said Merrybelle, surprised.

"I’m afraid he does, Merrybelle," said Stu, his patience
finally worn out by the nonsense being spouted by their guest.

"But an animal . . . is only an animal," said Merrybelle,
trying to understand. "Are you saying there is no difference in status between
an animal and a human being?"

"Certainly!" retorted Stoney, pushing his plate away.
"Animals have as much right to live out their lives in happiness and security
as we humans do. To hunt and eat them is barbaric!"

In the silence that followed, Stoney was suddenly aware that
his outburst may have caused insult to his hosts, and worse, hurt their
self-esteem. Quickly, he sought to reassure them that he did not hold them
responsible for their backward beliefs.

"I apologize if my intemperate words offended you," Stoney
said. "I did not mean to do so. It was just the shock of finding out that I had
been eating meat . . . "

"We understand," said Stu. "You’ve lived your entire life in
a single isolated community with its own set of peculiar beliefs, beliefs the
rest of us rejected years ago. We can’t expect you to drop them in the few hours
you’ve been with us."

Stoney said nothing, but inwardly he began to seriously
question his rebellious nature, and wondered if he might have been wrong after
all. It was one thing to question the fairness of Sunshine’s system of employment,
quite another to be asked to accept such outrageous practices as
institutionalized antisocial behavior and cannibalism!

Luckily, his hosts were just as reluctant to reopen the conversation
as he was, and presently, he was able to excuse himself and retire to his room
for the night. There he disrobed and lay atop the coverings, the back of his
head cupped in his hands as he gazed at the stars outside the window, the same
stars he used to see outside the window banks of his parents’ living unit. Were
they even now looking out, wondering what had become of him?

Placing himself in their position had the effect of bringing
home to him the utter strangeness of the world outside Skyview Tower and its rationally
ordered society. If he were not allowed to return home, could he ever adjust to
life in the green wild? As much as he disliked how some things were done in
Sunshine, was it any worse than the topsy-turvy beliefs of Stu and Merrybelle
Daidin? Such thoughts turned over and over in his mind until he finally fell
asleep to the unaccustomed sounds of nocturnal insects.

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