Stoney Vander sighed as he gazed out over the towers of the aging
Municiplex. It was an unusually clear day and he was not only able to see the massive
foundations on which Skyview Tower and its neighbors had been built almost
three centuries ago, but far in the distance, a hint of the green wild beyond, where
civilization ended and unsupervised nature began.

What was out
there? Stoney wondered.

According to
the Board of Supervisors, there was nothing but a wilderness of tangled vines
and creepers, thick forests of trees whose branches swept the ground and
whipped their leaves in the wind, swamps of disease-ridden water, and matted
grasslands woven with ground-crawling thorns and infested with biting, stinging

Just the
thought of it sent shivers down Stoney’s spine . . . shivers of anticipation,
that is. The truth was that on clear days, instead of working or studying, he often
found his attention drawn to the enormous tower’s expansive window banks. The
view never failed to send his mind wandering down paths that other citizens of
Sunshine would surely consider perverse.

But why was it perverse to think of
life outside Skyview Tower? What was wrong with feeling the wind on your bare
flesh, instead of the tower’s climate-controlled atmosphere, or breathing air
unfiltered by its ventilation systems?

yearned to feel the spring of real grass beneath his feet instead of the
artificial turf preferred by his fellow citizens. And it was with guilty
pleasure that he sometimes stood in the garage stall at home when the exit
panel lifted and the outside air rushed in. One time, years before, his mother
caught him and had restricted him to his room for a week.

But he had
always known that he was different. Unlike other children, he took no pleasure
in the games intended to prepare them for their lives as adult citizens. In
games of mathematical logic, he deliberately set out to confuse his fellow
players by reciting numbers at random, mischievously preventing the others from
concentrating on the proper equations needed to win. In others, he made moves
out of order to see what the unexpected results might be, upsetting his
playmates when events did not go as everyone knew they must.

As a young
man, he had alarmed his parents when he refused to practice the accepted
courtship rituals, and female companions carefully chosen for their
compatibility factors were sent home in tears.
In school, he was a constant challenge to his instructors with questions
that usually landed him in tutorial where he was required to memorize the 367
dicta required for orderly life in the town of Sunshine.

Behind his peers in entering the
workforce, Stoney was assigned maintenance closet #224 in Design Wing,
Employment Level IV, where he was expected to spend his career making sure the
work environment was kept clean and pleasant. Some day, if he were diligent in
his duties and a position unwanted by any reparations card-holder opened up, he
might be promoted to junior designer and help to create schematics for upgraded
food preparation units, the chief manufactured export of Sunshine.

So here he
stood at the window banks on Employment Level IV trying to catch a glimpse of
the green wild that more and more represented the one thing not provided in
Sunshine, or anywhere else in Skyview Tower: escape. Disappointed, he saw that
a mist was drifting across the large lake on whose shores the Municiplex stood.
Once again, it would obscure the bases of the towers, and the green wild would
vanish from sight. The view would shrink until all that remained were the upper
levels of the towers thrusting out of the mist like lonely peaks.

again, Stoney Vander?" asked a voice from over his shoulder.

turned quickly, dropping the vaporizer that he had been using to clean the
window banks. Like other Tower residents he was so used to the cracks in the
glass that he barely even noticed them.

"The time of prayer to the Prophet is
over," Mehmed Trumbel pointed out.

"I am sorry,
supervisor Trumbel," replied Stoney. "I had not noticed."

"You must
learn to take notice of such things, Stoney Vander," Trumbel admonished, not
unkindly. "You know that as a citizen of European descent, you bear much of the
guilt for past evils perpetrated against non-European peoples. It is incumbent
upon you to be especially sensitive to the feelings of Sunshine’s colored

"I do understand that," Stoney said,
with an appropriate tone of humility.

In order to redress past injustices,
the Municiplex had instituted a reparations card system based on the citizens’
gender or skin pigmentation. The darker a citizen’s color, or if the citizen
was female, the more credit points that person was entitled to. At the extreme
end, reparations cards could be issued to some citizens that freed them of
labor and entitled them to a free education, free housing, first choice in the
selection of spouses, and many other benefits. Lighter-skinned citizens might
only need to work part-time, or pay a portion of their rent. Citizens could
also use discrimination credits to prorate test scores, improve evaluations on
the job, or obtain promotions regardless of skill or competence. Of course, as
a citizen of European descent, Stoney did not possess any credits at all, but
was instead required to turn over eighty-three percent of his income in taxes
to subsidize the system.

"The city
depends on all its citizens to perform their assigned duties to the best of
their ability," said Trumbel, who was himself a citizen of color. "Today we’re
working on the latest improvements to Sunshine’s food preparation units. Your
work, though seemingly insignificant, is integral to creating the proper
atmosphere for our designers to do their work. You do realize the importance of
completing the drawings for the transverse microwave frequency modulators, one
of the most crucial elements of the Mark IX automated food processing unit?"

"Of course,
supervisor Trumbel," Stoney replied. He had been trained as a designer himself
and had graduated in the same form as the supervisor himself.

"The city of
Cloudscape in Thunder Tower has already pre-ordered three thousand units, and
expects delivery and installation by the end of the quarter," Trumbel
continued. "Do I need to say more?"

replied a chastened Stoney Vander, despite his knowledge that the quality level
of the product would be obsolete even before it left for Cloudscape. Due to a
lack of incentive on the part of its designers, the new modulator scarcely
improved on the old one. But this was a fact that citizens were strictly
forbidden to discuss or even think about.
"I realize the importance of my role in the production schedule, and
will perform my duties with the proper diligence."

"That is
good, Stoney Vander. You may continue."

As Trumbel
walked away, hands clasped behind his back, Stoney picked up his dropped
vaporizer and looked over the vast room that housed the design wing of Employment
Level IV. In all directions, rows of desks radiated away from the window banks,
most occupied by employees of color, all busy at their tasks: some hunched over
drafting boards, some delivering completed work or picking up new assignments,
still others conferring with one another, seeking advice on some technical
problem. Over all, the glow of even light radiated from the ceiling panels and,
in the distance, rows of supervisors’ offices lined the wall that faced inward
toward the town’s central hub.

The massive hub
extended vertically through the heart of Sunshine to other towns both above and
below in Skyview Tower. According to what Stoney had learned in school, Skyview
and the other towers had once been the headquarters of global corporations that
governed the world years before. While no one was certain how it happened, the
corporations gradually stratified their functions into separate departments such
as management, manufacturing, sales, design, product development,
transportation, and customer support. Over time, these departments grew
increasingly independent until they incorporated themselves into separate towns
and cities, depending on how many levels they occupied.

Sunshine had
been the original corporation’s design department and, occupying only a dozen
levels near the top of the tower, it became a town with a permanent population
of 15,679. With limited room and resources, the town developed a strict regimen
over the years that covered every facet of municipal life. And such were the
benefits bestowed on its citizens that there came to be less and less need to venture
beyond its limits. Except for the occasional air car flight to neighboring
towers, a citizen could spend his whole life here and never leave.

Which did
not prevent Stoney from daydreaming about doing that very thing. As a child, he
used to suggest imaginary games where he and his friends would leave Skyview
Tower and have adventures outside the Municiplex. But as he grew older, he
became aware of how uncomfortable his ideas made others feel. By the time he
became a teenager, he had learned to keep such fantasies to himself.
Nevertheless, he continued to entertain them, wondering what life was like in
towns lower down in Skyview Tower, or in other towers. Later, it occurred to
him that, although life in the other towers was probably much the same, it must
be very different in the green wild where no one had ventured for almost two
centuries. Just the same, he kept such musings to himself, half convinced that
there was something wrong with him.

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Elder care takes a dark turn.

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