Stoney Vander sighed heavily as he gazed outside over the municiplex. It was an unusually clear day and for that reason, he was able to see the foundations upon which Skyview Tower had been built and in the distance, between neighboring towers, the hint at the green wild beyond the point where civilization ended and unsupervised nature began.

What was out there? Wondered Stoney Vander.

According to the Board of Supervisors, there was nothing but unsupervised nature, 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 insects of every kind.

Just the thought of it all sent shivers down Stoney Vander’s spine… shivers of anticipation, that is. The truth was, he often found himself like this; instead of working or studying, his attention was drawn to the ’s expansive window banks and the green wild when it was visible on clear days. The view never failed to send his mind wandering down paths other citizens of the town of Sunshine would surely consider perverse. But why was it perversion 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 to breath air unfiltered by its ventilation systems?

Editor’s note: today’s fiction from the archive is published because of a request from a contributor in the Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance. This story was originally published at Liberty Island on April 21, 2014

Against all tradition and common sense, Stoney Vander 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. He remembered one time years before, when his mother caught him doing just that and horrified, restricted him to his room for a week.

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

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

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

And so, here he stood at the window banks he had gazed longingly out of since his arrival 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 Skyview Tower for that matter: release. Disappointed, he saw that a mist was drifting across the large lake on whose shores the municiplex was located. Once again, it would obscure the base of the towers and the green wild would vanish from sight. The view outdoors would shrink until all that remained were the upper levels of the towers that dotted the municiplex.

“Daydreaming again Stoney Vander?” asked a voice from over his shoulder.

Stoney Vander turned quickly, dropping onto the floor the vaporizer which he had been using to clean the cracked window banks.

“The time of prayer to the Prophet is over,” pointed out design wing supervisor Mehmed Trumbel.

“I am sorry design wing supervisor Mehmed Trumbel,” replied Stoney Vander. “I had not noticed.”

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

“I understand that, design wing supervisor Mehmed Trumbel,” said Stoney Vander with appropriate humility.

In order to redress past injustices, the municiplex had instituted a reparations card system based on the gender or gradation of a citizen’s skin pigmentation. The darker a citizen’s skin color or if the citizen were a woman, the more credit points that person was entitled to. Thus, 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 on the selection of spouses, and many other benefits. Lighter skinned citizens receiving less credit might only need to work part time or pay only a portion of his rent. Credit could also be used to pro-rate test scores in school, improve employment evaluations on the job, or entitle the bearer to promotion regardless of skill level or competence. Of course, as a citizen of European descent, Stoney Vander did not possess any credit at all but was required to turn over 83 percent of his income in taxes to subsidize the reparations card system.

“The city depends on all of its citizens to perform their assigned duties to the best of their abilities,” said design wing supervisor Mehmed Trumbel who was himself a citizen of color. “Today we’re working on the latest improvements to Sunshine’s food preparation units, one of our specialties and important to the economy of the city. Your work, though seemingly insignificant, is actually 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, design wing supervisor Mehmed Trumbel,” replied Stoney Vander, who had been trained as a designer himself and graduated in the same form as the design wing supervisor.

“The city of Cloudscape in Thunder Tower has already pre-ordered 3,000 units and expects delivery and installation by the end of the quarter,” design wing superintendent Mehmed Trumbel continued. “Do I need to say any more?”

“No, design wing supervisor Mehmed Trumbel,” replied a chastised Stoney Vander despite his knowledge that the level of quality of the product designed by Sunshine employees would be obsolete even before it left for Cloudscape due largely to a lack of incentive on the part of its workers; a fact that citizens were strictly forbidden to discuss or even consider. “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,” said design wing supervisor Mehmed Trumbel not unkindly. “You may continue working.”

As design wing supervisor Mehmed Trumbel walked away, hands clasped behind his back, Stoney Vander picked up his dropped vaporizer and looked over the vast room that housed design wing, employment Level IV. In all directions, rows of desks radiated away from his position by the window banks, most occupied by employees of color and all now busy at their tasks: some hunched over drafting boards, some milling about on errands delivering completed work or picking up new assignments, and still others conferring with one another no doubt seeking advice on some technical problem or other. Over all was the same glow of even light radiated from ceiling panels and in the distance, rows of design wing supervisors’ offices lined the wall that faced inward toward the central hub of the town of Sunshine.

The central hub extended through the heart of Sunshine to other towns both above and below Skyview Tower. According to what Stoney Vander had learned in history class when he was in school, Skyview and the other towers of the municiplex had once been the headquarters of global corporations that had governed the world many years before. While no one was really certain how it happened, the corporations evolved into a new form of civic organization that stratified their different functions into separate departments in their tower headquarters. Over time, functions such as management, manufacturing, sales, design, product development, transportation, and customer support, grew increasingly independent until they separated from one another and incorporated themselves into towns and cities depending on how many levels they occupied.

Sunshine had been the corporation’s design department and occupying only a dozen levels near the top of the tower, became a town with a permanent population of 15,679. With limited room and resources, a strict social regimen evolved over the years until covering every facet of municipal life and such were the benefits bestowed on its citizens that there was less and less need for venturing beyond its limits. Except for the occasional flight by air car to neighboring towers for business, a citizen could spend his whole life in Sunshine and never leave.

Which did not prevent Stoney Vander from daydreaming about doing that very thing. Once when very young, he used to suggest to his friends that they play imaginary games where they would leave Skyview Tower and have adventures outside the municiplex but as he grew older, he became aware of how uncomfortable his ideas were to others. 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 of the municiplex for that matter. Later, it occurred to him that although life in the other towers was probably much the same as in his own, how radically different it must be 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 for continuing to wonder long after his peers had moved on to thoughts of taking their places in the ordered society of Sunshine.

Stoney Vander was jolted from his reverie by the blare of the shift klaxon sounding the end of the employment day. Relieved, he carefully replaced his work satchel in maintenance closet #224 and began his rounds activating the dust shields over the designers’ drawing boards. Finished, he extinguished the lights and joined his co-workers as they continued to crowd the central hub.

Stoney Vander, aware of the great weight that always seemed to lift from him following an interminable day spent at the dull routine of work, emerged onto the promenade of the design wing, employment Level IV and mingled with the thousands of other workers from other wings including planning, administration, and maintenance. Passing the myriad shops, compu-newsstands, and cafeterias, he ignored the slow moving escalators that served pedestrian traffic between levels and headed directly to the bank of high speed lifts that afforded transportation directly to the residential levels above.

Joining a group of other citizens, Stoney Vander entered the lift designated for Level VII and was immediately whisked upward past the levels dedicated to public recreation and administration to the residential level. A few seconds later, he stepped out into the central hub for Level VII where the atmosphere was much more subdued than it had been on employment Level IV. With fewer citizens moving about and walls covered in sound deadening materials, an air of peace and tranquility more suitable to rest and retreat from the busy working day was created. As a maintenance worker, Stoney Vander never failed to notice the lack of attention paid to areas of the city other than the design wing upon which Sunshine’s livelihood depended. Annoyed without quite understanding why, he looked with disapproval at the shabby nature of Level VII where there was little to attract a citizen’s attention. Certainly not the drab and run down nature of the central hub where many of the automated devices intended for banking and food dispensing had broken down for lack of repair, floors were dull and dirty for lack of regular cleaning, and plants had withered and dead for lack of watering. It was all unfortunate but understandable. If so much of a citizen’s income was taken in taxes, why should he exert more effort than was required to do his job? With little in the central hub to draw his attention, Stoney Vander made his way to residential unit #491 where a swipe of his palm over a hidden sensor caused the door panel to move aside giving him entry.

“Good afternoon, son,” called his father Aris Vander from another part of the residence.

“Good afternoon, father,” replied Stoney Vander stepping into the foyer and shrugging out of his vestsmock. “Is mother home yet?”

“No, but she communicated a little while ago by earphone to say that she would be in time for dinner,” said Aris Vander appearing from the general direction of the kitchen. “How does old style baked potatoes sound for dinner? The food processors at Cirrus Tower have perfected them such that I can’t see how anyone can improve on the taste.”

“Wonderful!” said Stoney Vander; old style baked potatoes were his favorite. “What is the occasion?”

“Your sister has some good news for us,” said Aris Vander. “She plans to tell us all about it over dinner.”

With a vague sense of depression, Stoney Vander suspected what the news would be and was not at all sure why he should not be as happy to hear it as he ought to have been.

Throwing himself into an old plush chair in the living room, Stoney Vander sighed heavily before undoing the shirt stud at his throat. He snapped his fingers to activate the wall viewer and settled back to receive the news of the day but when his father finally called him to the table, he realized he had not heard a word of the report.

“Good afternoon, dear,” said his mother Vivy Vander-Hool in a voice filled with laughter. Stoney Vander figured that she also must have guessed what the news would be from his sister. “How is work treating you?”

“No change,” said Stoney Vander as he took his accustomed place at the dinner table. “Design wing is working on a new component of the Mark IX food preparation unit, the latest model being marketed by Sunshine. I am told that it will completely supercede all previous models.”

“What is wrong with the current model?” Aris Vander wanted to know. “It has 508 different settings, holds food preparation data in its memory for 10,000 items, and misfunctions hardly at all.”

“Nevertheless, I am told that the maintenance department will begin replacing the old units in the residence levels in a few months,” said Stoney Vander. “It would not do to market a new model while the town itself does not use it in its own residences.”

“Well I just hope my new living unit in Clearsky will have all the latest conveniences,” declared Immomia Vander.

Stoney Vander looked at his sister as did his parents and asked, “What is this about Clearsky? Have you been assigned a living unit already?”

Immomia Vander smiled broadly, delighted in her not so secret news.

“Mother, father,” Immomia Vander began. “I have the pleasure of informing you that I will soon be wed to a Clearsky male and have already been assigned living unit #112…on the east side!”

Immediately, Vivy Vander-Hool burst into tears and threw her arms around her daughter, who was a few years older than Stoney Vander. Aris Vander merely beamed in pride and the anticipation of the expected grandchildren.

“Will your partner be a citizen of color?” asked Stoney Vander.

“Unfortunately, no,” said Immomia Vander momentarily crestfallen.

Clearsky was the next town below Sunshine and was the home of many of Stoney Vander’s first cousins. Administration made sure that second cousins married citizens from the next town downwards or upwards and so on until the family lost touch with succeeding generations who continued to wed partners farther up or down along the tower’s height. It was only unfortunate that Immomia Vander was a brunette, if she had been a blonde, for sure she would have been requested by a person of color which would have immediately lifted her to an improved living status. As it was, as a couple of European descent, the living unit she and her husband had been assigned would not command the best view from the tower and would probably be located near a noisy central service duct or high speed lift.

“Congratulations, sister,” mustered Stoney Vander. “Do you know who the lucky male is yet?”

“No, but I am told he is my own age and praised by his supervisors as one of the town’s most savvy marketers,” replied Immomia Vander. “As a result, he has earned early promotion. In fact, I think one or two of his ideas have contributed greatly to the upcoming advertising campaign for the Mark IX.”

“Is that so?” said Stoney Vander not without a twinge of jealousy. “And have you previewed living unit #112?”

“Oh, yes!” said Immomia Vander. “As soon as administration informed me that my husband had been chosen, I asked if a living unit had been arranged…you know that sometimes there is a delay between the announcement of matings and the assignment of a living unit? But I was lucky. One was immediately available and even more fortunate, it was located on the east side so that not only will we be away from the lifts, but we will also have as many as two bedrooms.”

“You are so lucky, Immomia,” said Vivy Vander-Hool. “Aris and I had to wait almost 23 years before we were able to move into this living unit with its three bedrooms and view outside.”

“Has a date been fixed for the wedding?” Aris Vander wanted to know as he tucked a napkin in front of his shirt.

“Next month, and administration has arranged for it to take place in the rooftop chapel gardens,” said Immomia Vander.

“How thrilling!” said Vivy Vander-Hool already making plans in her head.

“Well, it seems that Immomia Vander’s news will definitely eclipse my own,” said Aris Vander with a twinkle in his eye.

“What do you mean, husband?” asked Vivy Vander-Hool suddenly quiet.

“I have been promoted from first design team to junior planner,” announced Aris Vander.

“Oh, that’s wonderful!” beamed Vivy Vander-Hool. “That is a position you have been aiming for since before we were wed. I still remember the day I arrived in Sunshine from Moonglow up above and moved into our first living unit to get it ready for our marriage day.”

“I remember that,” admitted Aris Vander. “I was only a maintenance worker then, like Stoney Vander here. But I worked hard, impressed my supervisors, and suggested improvements in some of the designs the men were working on as often as I could. My efforts paid off when my supervisors were promoted on the basis of my suggestions and to keep me around, managed to have me named to the design team. The increases in salary were what enabled us to move from the north side to the unit we currently occupy. With this promotion, I will have to do less design work and more actual planning. I will be out of the design wing more often, moving among the different towns of Skyview Tower interfacing with our representatives in manufacturing and sales. Of course, it will also mean that I will have less time for my chores here in the living unit.”

“It all sounds so exciting doesn’t it, son?” asked Vivy Vander-Hool, not at all concerned that her husband would likely not be home to welcome her after a hard day working on office Level III.

“Very,” agreed Stoney Vander, trying to sound encouraging.

The truth was, the very thought of spending endless years giving his ideas away to designers and supervisors unqualified for their positions in hopes that their resulting success would carry him along did not appeal to him in the slightest.

“You sound underwhelmed, son,” noted Aris Vander.

“No, I’m happy for you father,” said Stoney Vander.

“But there is something else.”

“Well…well it seems to me this success should have happened far sooner.”

“How so?”

“Since many of the ideas that helped your supervisors advance were your own, wouldn’t it make more sense for you to be the one to have benefited?” blurted Stoney Vander to gasps from Vivy and Immomia Vander. “Why should less qualified employees be promoted ahead of you simply because of the color of their skin?”

There was silence for quite a few minutes following Stoney Vander’s intemperate question. Such things were not mentioned in polite company.

“Son, I don’t have to remind you of the past evils visited upon our citizens of color by those of us of European descent…” began Aris Vander.

“But no one alive today, or for the last 250 years for that matter, has ever suffered or even witnessed such evils,” pointed out Stoney Vander. “Why should they continue to benefit from the misfortunes of their long dead ancestors?”

Even Aris Vander was taken somewhat aback by such a statement so baldly put. Unconsciously, he looked about as if checking to make sure no one outside the family was listening, leaned forward, and whispered “Son, the sentiments you’ve expressed can be very dangerous if overheard and could cost our family its position in the community, not to mention my impending promotion. Now, you have always been a bit out of step with your friends and all, but you should be mature enough now to understand the ways of the city…”

“All I understand is the seeming injustice of it all,” insisted Stoney Vander.

“It’s injustice that the laws of the municiplex have been created to redress,” said Immomia Vander dutifully. “Certainly, our family is not of the upper echelons, and I regret not being assigned a citizen of color to wed, but some day our fortunes will change and we can begin the process of full integration.”

“Of course, son,” soothed Vivy Vander-Hool, resting her hand gently on Stoney Vander’s. “Soon, it will be your turn to be assigned a female to wed and there is every possibility that she will be a citizen of color…”

“That is not my point,” insisted Stoney Vander, taking his hand away. “I simply demand that promotion on the employment levels be based on merit and not on some antiquated system of pigmentation!”

“I think that is quite enough of that, son,” said Aris Vander, his voice assuming its accustomed air of command. “The city provides us with all our wants and a means of moving up and bettering ourselves…”

“At the expense of losing our identities?” asked Stoney Vander. “At the expense of pandering to unqualified superiors? If that’s the case, then I’m not interested in what the city can provide me!”

“What more do you want then?”

The question brought Stoney Vander up short. What did he want?

“I don’t know…but something is missing. I’m tired of living on the sunless side of Skyview Tower; I’m tired of cleaning the window banks and human waste depositories. I know my contributions to the life of Sunshine can be more substantial if only I had the opportunity.”

“But you will have the opportunity, son. You simply must be more patient, work with your supervisors, and in 10 or 20 years, you should be promoted to junior designer…”

“Ten or twenty years!” spat Stoney Vander. “Pfah! Why should anyone with genuine ability wait so long while others with far less qualifications are given the top positions?”

“But it is their right as citizens of color…” began Immomia Vander.

“I don’t want to hear that!” shouted Stoney Vander getting up from the table. “In fact, I don’t want to continue this conversation at all.”

With that, 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 Vander walked purposely to the control panel, waved a hand over the instruments and watched as the plasti-steel door rose into the wall above. Instantly, he felt the pressure of the outside air press 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 hidden somewhere below by drifting clouds.

Often when he was younger and feeling the same kind of frustrations he was feeling now, he would come here alone, raise the door, stand as close to the edge of the stall as he dared, and stand in the wind that whooshed inward from the outside. On it, he thought he smelled the exotic scents of the distant green wild: 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 of the stall than he had ever dared before. Looking down and seeing the cloud layer slowly moving past the towers of the municiplex, it seemed to him that he stood on the deck of a moving 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 Vander in the face, startling him out of the reverie that had seemed to possess him. Stepping back from the brink, he made a decision. Turning inward, 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 automatically began to turn in standby mode. Unlike most other families in Skyview Tower, the Vanders took pride in maintaining their air car and though seldom used, it was in such condition that Stoney Vander had no qualms about taking it out on a moment’s notice.

With all systems showing green, Stoney Vander released the fans from standby and the air 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 there were in the cylindrical structure whose height he could only guess at but which continued to extend upward for many more thousands of feet above the levels assigned to Sunshine. The town was well named as its position in the tower placed it well above the clouds and in near perpetual sunlight. Craning his neck, Stoney Vander 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 iron work and the lengths of empty window banks.

Turning back to his flying, Stoney Vander veered the air car away from Skyview Tower and toward an inviting open area amid the man-made forest of towers that made up the municiplex. Slowly, he began to descend straight down into the cloud layer and in seconds found himself surrounded by a gray haze that if not for the ‘car’s sensor instruments, would have been cause for concern. But 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 roadways 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 Vander 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.

Once seen only at a distance, the green wild rose up in the distance with much finer detail than Stoney Vander had ever noticed before. At once, his pulse began to quicken in anticipation of discovery…or was it something else? Stoney Vander was not so foolish as not to realize that what he was doing was escaping from the oppressive confines of Skyview Tower in a desperate search for what he would have called “freedom” if such a term had occurred to him. Nevertheless, at the moment, the band of green that stretched darkly along the growing 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 it was that he was looking for.

As he swooped closer to the ground, the closest he had ever been in his life, he noticed that there were few roadways and the ones there were, were crumbling and buckled with trees and other plants. They snaked into the dark interior of the green wild where they were swallowed up as if they had never been. Where had they once led?Stoney Vander wondered. To other towers? Other prisons that suppressed creativity and rewarded failure and called it justice? Watching his power gauge, Stoney Vander continued on toward a line of low hills even as the terrain beneath him merged into a single, trackless expanse of forest. Suddenly, however, he spied a patch of open grassland amid the tangle 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 to the turbines. As the whir of the fans died away, Stoney Vander 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 and beyond the few feet surrounding the air car, the plants stood as high as his waist. In the distance, he could see in the late afternoon sunlight where the forest began with a few tall trees acting as outriders.

But now that he was down, Stoney Vander 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 out on foot? 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 simpler 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 trees that formed the green wild.

He had been walking for some distance, marveling at the myriad sounds of nature, when he noticed how dark it had become in the forest. 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 a kind of netting that hung upon the upper terraces of the forest. Looking more closely, Stoney Vander 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 from those made by insects or the wind by its unnatural regularity. Wary, Stoney Vander left the old road to hide behind the thick bole of an ancient conifer and watched as the sounds very definitely indicated that they were being made by some mechanical device.

At last, a small, two person ground car hovered into view. Not unrelieved at the sight, Stoney Vander 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.

“Good day to you citizen,” said Stoney Vander 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 by this time there was anyone of European descent left in the ‘plex.”

“Oh, there are quite a few,” said Stoney Vander 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 another.”

“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 Vander, surprised at finding himself defending the very practices that had driven him from Skyview Tower earlier in the day. “There is a great deal of past wrongs perpetrated on our citizens of color 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 Vigilanceville.”

“A farm?”

“Yeah. I guess you couldn’t know much about raising crops being a citizen of the ‘plex and all,” mused Stu Daidin. “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 always did. One of the reasons for the war.”

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

“Don’t they teach you anything up there in those fancy towers?” asked Stu Daidin. “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, it’s been years since the fighting ended but that don’t mean we’ve stopped keeping a lookout for the enemy. 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 in Vigilanceville 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 Vander with some trepidation.

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

Stoney Vander 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? Thought 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 in design wing, employment Level IV.

“I don’t think I want to go with you,” ventured Stoney Vander at last.

“Sorry son, but you don’t have a choice,” replied Stu Daidin touching what appeared to be a firearm strapped to his hip. Stoney Vander, 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 Vander climbed into the ground car and sat in the seat alongside Stu Daidin who revved up the turbines and spun the vehicle around to face the direction from which he had come.

Presently, as the forest grew darker with the setting of the sun, Stoney Vander 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 them to,” explained Stu Daidin. “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 to 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 were considered out of their minds so they were declared insane and forced into camps, only they didn’t call them camps, they called them re-education centers, to change the way they thought. Next, it was decided that having more than a couple babies was unhealthy for the mothers, abortion became mandatory after a second child and finally, they began to take children away from their parents because practically everything a parent did was considered unhealthy for their children.”

Stoney Vander said nothing; reflecting on similar laws enforced in the municiplex.

“Of course, that was only one small part of the problem,” continued Stu Daidin. “Then 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 order?”

“Damn right there were!” said Stu Daidin 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, declared them the cause of most of the bad things that had happened in the history of the world and forced them to keep their faith to themselves. Some religions they allowed, which didn’t make any sense, but then, not much they favored did. They favored some because it was felt that 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 who dared to speak out against what they called in those days ‘global warming.’

“Anyway, there was a lot more but the main thing is people, 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 Daidin. “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 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 100 years or so, they’ve been slowly dying. The way they do things flies in the face of common sense.”

That was news to Stoney Vander…who now considered for the first time the run down 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 Daidin. “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 Vander, 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 between the two men for some minutes before the ground car topped a rise and the landscape beyond was spread out like a multi-hued carpet for miles in every direction. Stoney Vander marveled at sight of the green wild which seemed much less wild at the moment 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 tree tops.

“That’s Vigilanceville over there,” said Stu Daidin pointing at the distant municiplex. “That’s where the council meets. About 45 miles beyond is the state capitol where the feds have offices.”

“The state capitol?”

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

Stoney Vander looked where Stu Daidin was pointing 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 from the buildings, there were squared pastures of varying hues of green and brown.

Without further word, Stu Daidin drove the ground car further 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 amid the trees of the forest again but now Stoney Vander could see open fields between their branches and many of them were covered with plants arranged in long rows that seemed to stretch on forever.

“Do those plants grow that way naturally?”

Stu Daidin 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 growing squash, beets, and potatoes.”

“Potatoes!” exclaimed Stoney Vander, recalling his last meal that had consisted of old style baked potatoes…that now seemed a long time ago.

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

“Of course, but they’re served through a kitchen food dispenser,” said Stoney Vander, 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 surprise.

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

“Hydroponic production methods,” said Stoney Vander. “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 before long,” warned Stu Daidin as he pulled the ground car 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 Vander had seen from the hill top.

Trained as a designer, Stoney Vander was struck at 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 enclosing them indoors and shutters flanking them on the outside. With the sun now well behind the trees, it was growing dark quickly 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 Daidin was saying. “We’ve got a spare room…”

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

“Dad! So you’re finally home! I thought you weren’t going to make it for supper…” The young woman stopped speaking suddenly when she noticed that Stu Daidin 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 Daidin. “Stoney Vander, this is my daughter, Merrybelle Daidin.”

“How do you do?” Stoney Vander 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 Daidin. “I don’t recognize you. You’re not from around here are you?”

“I’ve come from the municiplex,” replied Stoney Vander. “Specifically, I’m 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…”

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

“Will he be staying until we get word from the council?”

“Yeah, so I was thinking he might be able to use some of your brothers’ clothes for a couple days if he needs them.”

“I’ll get some sets of shirts and trousers from the cupboard,” said Merrybelle Daidin.

“That’s very kind of you, Stu Daidin,” said Stoney Vander 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 placed in a neat pile at the foot of the bed, Stoney Vander followed his hosts downstairs to the kitchen where pleasant smells met his nostrils. Despite his having eaten supper with his own family some hours before, he found he was hungry again and eager to eat whatever was offered. That, however, was before he discovered what was on the menu.

“Meat!” he declared, dropping his eating utensils with a clatter.

Unfortunately, the discovery was made only after he had cut and eaten a number of morsels from the steaming portion that Merrybelle Daidin had laid in his plate. Assuming it was some kind of vegetable with which he was unfamiliar, he had cut pieces from it and eaten them, not without some pleasure at the taste. Merrybelle Daidin, it seemed, was a very good cook.

“Hmmm, this is quite good,” he had commented. “What is it?”

“Pork,” said Merrybelle Daidin as she daintily placed a small bit of her own portion into her mouth.

“And you say you prepared it yourself…over an open flame?”

“Well, I wouldn’t call it an ‘open flame!’” laughed Merrybelle Daidin. “I sautéed it in a pan on the stove top. Most people use microwave ranges these days, but my mother preferred cooking over a real fire, she claimed it gave her better control over the cooking process, 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?”

“What do you mean by 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 Vander. “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 caring for the home and preparing 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 Vander. “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 labor?”

“Mostly, but they have every opportunity for promotion if no woman or citizen of color desires a particular position,” said Stoney Vander. “My father, for instance, has recently been promoted to junior planner after only 23 years.”

Stoney Vander did not understand the meaning of his words until he saw the look of consternation on the face of Merrybelle Daidin. It was then that he suddenly realized that it might seem to her that he was defending Sunshine’s way of life. The irony of the situation was that it was one that he had opposed most vociferously only a few hours before at his parents’ dinner table.

“I didn’t mean to sound as if I approved of the way things are done in the municiplex,” confessed Stoney Vander. “In fact, it is something that 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 Vander truthfully. “It seemed the injustices I perceived in Sunshine grew too great for me to contain without making some outburst that would have brought trouble upon me. In truth, I may have upset my parents with some of the things I said and if that were ever discovered outside the family, I could be required to attend a round of sensitivity training.”

“Sensitivity training?” asked Merrybelle Daidin.

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

“Brainwashing?” said Merrybelle Daidin not without some horror.

“Hardly!” said Stoney Vander. “There are ways that citizens in an ordered society are expected to behave. Surely you don’t condone anti-social behavior for instance? Or damaging another’s self esteem? Or hurting someone’s feelings?”

“Not necessarily, but when a person is forced to alter their thoughts to conform to non- criminal behavior, I call that brainwashing.”

“Oh, I hardly think so,” said Stoney Vander, still wondering why he found himself 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 Vander, half choking on his food. “You’re joking, right?”

“Of course not,” said Merrybelle Daidin. “Why should I joke about it?”

“Eating the meat of animals is disrespectful of other living creatures with whom humans share the Earth,” explained Stoney Vander, 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 Daidin, surprised.

“I’m afraid he does, Merrybelle,” said Stu Daidin, his patience finally worn out by the nonsense having been spouted by their guest.

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

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

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

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

“We understand,” said Stu Daidin. “You’ve lived your entire life in a single isolated community with its own set of peculiar beliefs. The same beliefs that the rest of us outside the ‘plex rejected years ago. We can’t expect you to drop them in only the few hours you’ve been with us.”

Stoney Vander 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 anti-social behavior and cannibalism!

Luckily for him, his hosts were just as reluctant to reopen 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 in Sunshine. Were they even now looking outside, wondering what had become of him? Placing himself in their position had the effect of bringing home to Stoney Vander the utter strangeness of the world outside the walls of Skyview Tower and the ordered society of the municiplex. 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.

By the next morning, the sound of insects was replaced with the pleasant music of birds chirping happily in a nearby orchard and Stoney Vander arose in a better mood than he had felt the evening before. Dressing in the clothes Merrybelle Daidin had laid out for him, he descended to the building’s first floor only to discover that Stu Daidin had already risen. He wanted an early start on the day’s work before going in to Vigilanceville to report to the council.

“Good morning,” Merrybelle Daidin said in a manner that left Stoney Vander feeling unaccountably thrilled.

“Good morning,” he replied moving to a place at the table already set with an empty plate and clean utensils.

“I have breakfast all ready,” said Merrybelle Daidin scooping something from a pan that rested over an open flame on the stove. “And don’t worry, it’s not meat.”

Stoney Vander shivered involuntarily. “Thank you for your consideration.”

Sooner than he had expected, Stoney Vander had completely devoured the meal Merrybelle Daidin had placed in front of him and leaned back in his chair, satisfied.

“That was fast!” exclaimed Merrybelle Daidin who was only part way through her own flapjacks.

“They were very good, especially with that peculiar tasting syrup over them,” said Stoney Vander around a gulp of coffee.

“It’s made from maple gathered from our own trees,” said Merrybelle Daidin not without some pride. “Almost everything we eat on the farm we raise or grow ourselves.”

“That’s a most interesting observation,” said Stoney Vander.

“After breakfast, you can come with me while I do my chores and I’ll show you the farm,” suggested Merrybelle Daidin.

“I would enjoy that very much.”

Not long afterward, the two young people stepped out the back door of the house onto a porch where Merrybelle Daidin pointed out a small garden through which a path led to a barn and a pair of long, low buildings from which the strangest squawking sounds emanated.

“This is my kitchen garden,” Merrybelle Daidin was saying. “I tend these plants myself. Most of the farm is dedicated to cereals like corn and wheat with some potatoes and squashes but the rest of the vegetables we need, I grow here.”

Moving among the various plants, Merrybelle Daidin lifted leaves to give her guest a better view of the fruit growing beneath and other times picked those vegetables that were ripe and deposited them in a basket she allowed Stoney Vander to hold. Soon, the basket was full and after leaving it on the porch, the two followed the well worn path in the direction of the barn.

There, Stoney Vander’s senses were assaulted in a number of ways one of which came from a foul odor that he soon learned belonged to the cows that stood in specially constructed stalls which allowed workers in the employ of Stu Daidin to retrieve the “milk” from a score of bovines at the same time. The process itself came as a shock to Stoney Vander who had to control his stomach when he learned that the white substance being removed from the cows was intended for human consumption and that in fact, he himself had drunk some of it at the meals he had shared with his hosts.

It was with relief that they moved from the barn to one of the longer, low lying buildings behind it. There, Stoney Vander was no less surprised to find them filled with hundreds of chickens all clucking and screaming at the same time so that he could hardly understand it when Merrybelle Daidin explained to him that the birds were kept for their eggs which were boxed and sold to markets in cities and towns across the state.

“You actually eat these creatures’ unborn offspring?” asked Stoney Vander surprised at his continued capacity to be shocked.

“Of course,” replied Merrybelle Daidin, who had come to expect her guest’s objections to anything that had to do with the consumption of anything other than plant based foodstuffs. “You do realize that for a healthy diet, a human being must eat balanced meals?”

“Naturally, but we in the municiplex have long had available insta-foods manufactured from hydroponically grown sorghum and soy products that can be fashioned into any number of nutritious variations. There are a number of cities in other towers than Skyview that specialize in their production.”

“So you eat no real meat or dairy products such as milk, eggs, or cheese?”

Stoney Vander made a face. “Certainly not! Of course, there are artificial substitutes that can serve just as well.”

“That may be, but I’m sure they don’t provide you with all the proper vitamins a human being needs to remain healthy,” replied Merrybelle Daidin eyeing her guest’s anemic looking physiognomy. “Perhaps that explains your pale complexion and underweight appearance…maybe even your height; you do seem shorter than most of the men I’ve seen.”

Unsure if he should have been insulted or not, Stoney Vander unconsciously straightened. “My appearance is not any different than most citizens of Sunshine. We rarely suffer from malnutrition or any kind of disease.”

“I’m sure,” said Merrybelle Daidin, smiling. “Anyway, I have a project that will keep you busy for a few hours while I return to the house and get some of the farm’s accounting done.”

“What do you want me to do?” asked Stoney Vander, happy to be of assistance.

Handing him a piece of paper with a number code written on it, Merrybelle Daidin pointed to a ground car outfitted as a work vehicle and instructed him to take it to the barn and tell the workers there that he was to load it with meal for the chickens. After he had the car loaded, he was to go to the chicken coops and fill all the feeders there with the meal.

“That should keep you busy until lunch time,” said Merrybelle Daidin with amusement. “Think you can handle it?”

“No problem,” said Stoney Vander. He watched as the girl turned and walked back up the path to the house and for the first time noticed how more fully formed she appeared in comparison to the women of Sunshine. She was well rounded in all the right places while her body moved in such a manner that he found himself becoming more and more enchanted with her. Shaking off the feeling with some difficulty, he managed to put Merrybelle Daidin out of his mind long enough to make his way to the ground car, punch in the access code into the ignition panel, and conduct it to the barn. The balance of the morning was taken up with his assigned duties which he completed with less disgust than he had anticipated. In fact, the repetitive nature of the work freed his mind and allowed his training as a designer to come up with a number of improvements that could be made to the building and the manner in which the chickens were fed that he intended to suggest to Stu Daidin when he saw him next.

When he saw Merrybelle Daidin again at lunch time, it was not without the realization that he had missed her presence after she had left him that morning. Having been attracted to other young women in Sunshine, he recognized the symptoms and realized that he had become attracted to the lovely outsider.

“Well you must have built up an appetite after all that work,” Merrybelle Daidin was saying.

“I did,” replied Stoney Vander seating himself at the table, noticing that the meal Merrybelle Daidin had prepared did not include any meat or poultry products; a fact not unappreciated by her guest.

“After lunch I thought we’d take a ride into town,” said Merrybelle Daidin taking her place at the table. “I have some errands to run.”

“I’d be happy to go.”

With their meal over and the dishes safely in the automated dishwasher, the two young people stepped outside and into a waiting ground car that Stoney Vander judged to be Merrybelle Daidin’s personal vehicle due to a number of feminine touches made to its interior. In another few minutes the vehicle had cleared the main gate and reached a road running through the surrounding woodland.

Such was the ground car’s speed, that soon, Merrybelle Daidin was obliged to slow as she approached the main highway that led directly to Vigilanceville. Turning onto the highway, the girl picked up speed and soon, Stoney Vander was treated to a passing view of the neighboring countryside which was dotted with farmsteads similar to that of his hosts and surrounded by a patchwork of fields covered in various kinds of crops. Despite his discomfort with many of their odd practices, the panorama that unfolded before his eyes was admired by Stoney Vander for the initiative it represented on the part of the local citizens. An initiative that he found lacking in his own people back in Sunshine.

With the speed of the ground car, it was not long before they pulled within the city limits of Vigilanceville. Stoney Vander was struck by how the homes in what Merrybelle Daidin called the suburbs were spread out with much wasted open land between them.

“Is something wrong, Stoney Vander?” asked Merrybelle Daidin.

“I’m simply struck by the amount of space that is wasted in your city,” Stoney Vander said. “What is the use of all that open ground covered in nothing by grass?”

“People want their privacy,” explained the girl. “They don’t want to live cheek by jowl with their neighbors. Also, good sized yard space enables some to retain a connection to the land. See? Many have smaller versions of my kitchen garden in the back.”

“It’s just disconcerting to see citizens living horizontally instead of vertically,” said Stoney Vander. “Such isolation one from the other would make me lonely.”

“It’s something you’ll have to get used to if the council decides you can’t go back,” said Merrybelle Daidin, not without some concern in her voice. “Really, it’s not so bad living outside the ‘plex. If you end up staying, you’ll see what I mean.”

Stoney Vander kept his thoughts to himself, doubting that he could ever get used to such a confusing lifestyle. He appreciated the girl’s thoughts however and wondered if they could mean anything more when his musings were interrupted by the sight of an unusual looking structure.

“What kind of building is that?” Stoney Vander asked, pointing.

“Where? Oh, that’s a church.”

“Really? Are there many worshippers of the Prophet on the outside?”

“Prophet? What are you talking about? A church is where Christians meet.”

“Christians! You mean to tell me that there are enough Christians to fill such a building?”

“Of course, and many more. There are many churches in Vigilanceville used by different sects of the religion.” Merrybelle Daidin chanced a look away from her driving to Stoney Vander. “Don’t tell me there are no Christians in the ‘plex?”

“Oh, I’m sure there are,” replied Stoney Vander. “It’s just that I’ve never met any. I’m told there are a few who practice their faith but if so, they don’t advertise the fact.”

“Why not?”

“Like citizens of European descent, the Christian religion was responsible for much suffering in the world and for that reason has long since been removed from society and those who continue to cling to it have been marginalized,” said Stoney Vander matter of factly. “I suppose it still has its believers but today, worship of the Prophet is the sanctioned religion.”

“So as far as you’re aware, there are no Christians in the ‘plex?” asked Merrybelle Daidin, clearly disturbed.

“No. That’s why I’m surprised to hear you say there are enough on the outside to demand the use of so many church buildings. You mean to tell me that the Christian religion is still practiced here?”

“Of course! The Christian religion is a beautiful faith directed by a desire for peace and love for all. Why should anyone want to remove such a thing from society?”

“On the face of it, I’ll admit your definition sounds attractive, but religion has been responsible for more bloodshed throughout history than any other factor,” said Stoney Vander.

“So your society has chosen to embrace the evil men have done in the name of religion instead of the peaceful intent of the religion itself?” commented Merrybelle Daidin. “And certainly, the twentieth century regimes of Germany, Russia, China alone far surpassed in bloodshed anything that could be laid at the doorstep of religion? The slaughter engendered by those political entities was not done for religious reasons but for those of the state…the same kind of state that currently rules in the ‘plex. How many citizens have lost their lives or who have never been permitted to be born because of the laws of the towers limiting population growth? How many millions over the centuries since the war?”

For once Stoney Vander had no reply. It had never occurred to him to look at the situation in quite that way. Due to the finite nature of its resources, the administration of Sunshine did indeed control the number of births in town and, more in the early years of the municiplex than currently, put to death thousands of people in order to bring population levels down to numbers that could be managed in the closed environment of the towers. For the first time, Stoney Vander sensed if only dimly, the vast crime perpetuated by the administration of the towers on its citizens.

Recoiling from such notions as he would from the edge of a deep pit, Stoney Vander quickly chose to change the subject.

“Do you belong to any of these churches?” he asked.

“I do,” replied Merrybelle Daidin without elaboration. There was silence then and he knew that he had upset her with the conversation regarding Christianity. And though try as he might to get her to speak again, she refused and it was not until the ground car had come to rest in a lot containing many other similar vehicles that she deigned to speak to him again. “We’ll leave the car here while we do our errands. First the bank.”

The balance of the afternoon was spent checking on the Daidin account at the bank, shopping in the local food store for items not available on the farm, and simply walking about with Merrybelle Daidin showing Stoney Vander the sights.

In viewing the city, Stoney Vander was struck by the ease with which those of European descent and other citizens of color moved among each other. Just as surprising was the fact that there seemed to be many more of European descent than citizens of color and that both groups held positions of employment at all levels regardless of the pigmentation of their skin.

“How are citizens assigned employment in Vigilanceville?” Stoney Vander asked.

“No one is assigned employment,” replied Merrybelle Daidin. “Employers own their own businesses and hire whom they please. If they wish to succeed, they make sure to hire the best person suited to the job.”

“And does this system apply as well to mating?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do citizens choose their own mates as they choose their own employees?”

“Of course, silly!” replied Merrybelle Daidin.

“That would explain why so many couples are made up of people of the same skin color,” said Stoney Vander, thinking aloud. “Are citizens then forbidden from choosing  mates of different skin color?”

“No,” said Merrybelle Daidin. “Like I said, people are free to choose whomever they want to be with. Look, there’s a mixed couple there.”

The contradictions of the society he found himself in continued to pile up, giving Stoney Vander a headache. Would he ever figure out how such a chaotic community could possible remain healthy and viable?

But the question was one he soon abandoned as he began to feel more comfortable in the presence of Merrybelle Daidin who, by the end of the afternoon, had slipped her arm into his and holding him close. Stoney Vander found the contact more thrilling than any he had ever experienced. Certainly there had been young women in Sunshine that he had known but contact with them was usually within the strict rules governing the activities of unmated individuals. Rarely…no, never, had he felt the kind of pleasurable sensations he was feeling now with Merrybelle Daidin, who proved to be a free spirited young woman.

Thus it was that by the time they had returned to the farm, Stoney Vander was quite taken by the vivacious Merrybelle Daidin, a fact he had some time to ponder over as she turned him out of doors while she prepared the evening meal.

Outside, he wandered through the kitchen garden and out to the edge of the corn fields where he walked quietly along the rows of stalks toward the sunset. Unbidden, memories of the life he had left in Sunshine paraded through his mind and he was seized by a sudden longing to return home and the familiar routine of work and home life. He thought of his parents and sister and how they must be worried about him and he was struck by the strangeness of life outdoors. Suddenly the open sky overhead made him nervous and the feel of the wind on his skin carried with it a sense of vulnerability. Sounds from the chicken coops and barn underscored the air of unnaturalness and from somewhere deep inside of him, the feeling grew of wanting to run, to get away from these odd people, back to his air car, and to go home where all was normal and sane.

But the panic that had been welling within him dissipated with the sound of Merrybelle Daidin’s voice calling him from the house. The evening meal was ready; Stu Daidin would be there with news of the council and for the first time, Stoney Vander was not sure what he wanted that to be.

Inside, he was relieved to find that once again, Merrybelle Daidin had prepared a meal for him that did not include meat or dairy products. The food before him was pleasing in its variety of greens and yellows and a big bowl of fresh fruit sat at the center of the table.

“Is this what you call a meal for a hungry man?” demanded Stu Daidin half-jokingly.

“In deference to our guest, I prepared supper without any meat,” replied Merrybelle Daidin sweetly, looking at Stoney Vander out of the corners of her eyes.

The smile he saw on her face chased all of his doubts of the last hour away and Stoney Vander knew only the desire to remain in her company as long as possible.

“I appreciate the effort,” he said, smiling himself.

“Hmmm,” was all Stu Daidin could muster, looking at a bunch of lettuce leaves where he had them stuck on the end of his utensil.

After a few minutes of silence while they ate, Stoney Vander ventured the question that all of them knew was coming.

“So, did the council decide what is to be done with me?”

“No,” replied Stu Daidin picking an apple from the fruit bowl. “They spent all morning and part of the afternoon arguing about the situation until finally deciding to pass the problem on to the feds at the capital. It seems that it’s been longer than I thought since the last time someone from the ‘plex wandered outside. No one really knows if any of the old rules about what to do with such people still apply. It seemed pretty harsh to simply shoot you like they did in the days immediately after the war.”

“I’m happy to hear that!”

“Me too!” said Merrybelle Daidin with such emphasis that it caused Stoney Vander’s heart to leap.

Stoney Vander finished his second night on the outside watching some televised programming on the family’s entertainment center and listening as Merrybelle Daidin played an old fashioned upright piano in the living room. She was very good, at least judged by Stoney Vander’s limited experience but he decided that simply being with Merrybelle Daidin was pleasant enough.

After he had retired for the evening and was alone with his thoughts, Stoney Vander had to admit that he was conflicted. He recalled the electric thrill he had had whenever Merrybelle Daidin held his arm or came into contact with him for any reason and the empty feeling he had whenever he was away from her. Admitting a growing affection for the girl, one that he felt strongly was reciprocated, he found the situation unsettling. Being raised outside the municiplex, placed Merrybelle Daidin at odds with his own beliefs which, despite her arguments, failed to weaken. It was for that reason he felt that whatever relationship he might consider entering with the girl, was doomed to failure. In fact, whenever he felt the possibility of things becoming serious between them, he grew conflicted, fearful, and wary of giving up his beliefs and way of life for hers, which he still considered alien and unreal. Twisted up inside over his growing desire for the company of Merrybelle Daidin and his yearning to return to the comforting familiarity of Sunshine, it was a long time before he finally was able to fall asleep.

And so the nights passed, sleepless mostly for Stoney Vander as he wrestled with the possibility, growing more real with each passing day, that he would have to make a choice between staying on the outside with Merrybelle Daidin or returning to Sunshine where increasingly, he felt he belonged. Each night he fell asleep wanting nothing more than to forget the girl and go home and each morning he would descend to breakfast, lay eyes on her, and immediately forget all of his arguments of the evening before desiring nothing more than to be with her.

As they awaited word from the feds about what to do about Stoney Vander, he and Merrybelle Daidin filled their days with chores on the farm, jaunts into Vigilanceville, long walks beneath the green bowers of the forest, and warm evenings talking on the front porch or laughing at the actors in the latest televised dramas. All the while, Stoney Vander was certain, Merrybelle Daidin was as cognizant as he was that depending on the kind of news that finally came from the feds, a decision would have to be made, a very serious decision that would effect them for the rest of their lives. At night, alone in his room, Stoney Vander sometimes trembled at the thought of making that decision; the position in which he found himself, doing nothing to discourage the belief by Merrybelle Daidin that he wanted nothing more than to stay with her, made it more difficult all the time to refute her affections and return to Sunshine. So much did he dread that moment, that he grew more and more nervous to the point where his heart pounded and his hands shook. Finally, the waiting became too much. Admitting to himself that he was a coward, and hating himself for it, Stoney Daidin decided to escape the outside and return to Sunshine before the others discovered his absence.

And so, late one night, some weeks after his arrival, Stoney Vander, dressed in the clothes with which he had first left home, slipped quietly from his second floor room and left the house. Behind him, on the dresser, he had placed the portable message screen given him by the Daidins and preserved on it a note explaining the reasons for his leaving, all of them lies. Ashamed and relieved at the same time, he engaged the near silent turbines of Merrybelle Daidin’s ground car and as it rose on a cushion of air, pushed it from the front yard to the gate at the entrance of the farm. Looking back, he wondered if he was making a mistake; brushing the thought aside, he entered the ground car. Punching Merrybelle Daidin’s personal code into the ignition pad, something he had seen her do many times, he brought the fans up to full power and with a dull whine impossible for anyone to hear from the house, he directed the vehicle up the road to the crest of the hill over which Stu Daidin had first brought him to the farm.

Dawn was brightening the eastern sky when he passed beneath the ragged remnants of the camouflage netting and entered upon the portion of the old road that had been abandoned to the encroaching forest. Leaving instructions in the ground car’s nav-system, he jumped out and watched as it spun on its axis, picked up speed, and headed back to the farm. Turning, he continued walking along the pitted and cracked roadway until it emerged onto the grassy dell where he had landed his air car weeks before.

Catching sight of the air car among the tall grasses, its familiar lines brought back to him all the comfortable feelings of home and suddenly, he was more eager than ever to leave the green wild and return to the family and friends whom he had abandoned so precipitously. How they must have worried when he did not return! Anxiously, he waved the door of the ‘car open and as the vehicle rose on a cushion of air, he took the conductor’s seat and coded the ignition pad. Instantly, all systems showed green and as the fans increased their rotation to full flight mode, he cast a last look at the distant tree line, engaged the directional compressors, and moved quickly to gain altitude.

Immediately, he saw the green wild spread out beneath him to the line of hills over which he knew lay the world of Merrybelle Daidin. For a moment, he felt a pang of regret at not having had the courage to remain, but he ignored it and determined to make the most of life in Skyview Tower. A few minutes later, the hills had disappeared beneath the horizon and the misty towers of the municiplex began to make themselves apparent in the distance. Gradually, they resolved themselves into gleaming cylinders that pierced the thin clouds of vapor that presaged the coming of a storm front over the great lake on whose shores the municiplex had been located.

Soon, Stoney Vander found himself reducing the air car’s speed as he found himself among the towers of the municiplex. Presently, Skyview Tower came into view and an automated beacon from the air car signaled the door to the family’s stall to open. The next moment, within the stall, he felt the air car settle onto its accustomed markings as its power wound down. Gradually, quiet returned to the stall as first the outer door closed shut and then the turbines stopped in the air car. Alerted that the stall door had been activated, Aris Vander appeared at the lift entrance, relief expressed on his face as he saw his son exiting from the vehicle. Behind him, he was joined by Vivy Vander-Hool who could not contain her happiness at seeing her missing son return.

No less happy to see them again, Stoney Vander embraced his mother and shook his father’s hand. Together, they all returned to the living unit where Vivy Vander-Hool prepared a quick meal which, to Stoney Vander’s relief, did not include the flesh of animals. After he had eaten and the family had settled in the living room, Stoney Vander told them of his adventures.

“I have been to the outside and discovered many things different from what we learn in our history books,” Stoney Vander began. When he had finished, his parents had many questions, most of them tinged with horror at the lives of those desperate remnants of a war fought hundreds of years before.

“My heart goes out to those poor creatures,” said Vivy Vander-Hool, her hand held delicately over her breast. “To be ruled by the superstitions of religion, to feast on the flesh of fellow beings, to submit themselves to the uncertainty of random pairings…brrrr”

“It does all seem quite incredible,” agreed Aris Vander from where he sat at the end of the sofa. “And you say this Stu Daidin grew his own foodstuffs from the ground beneath an open sky and not hydroponically?”

“I found it hard to believe myself until I saw it with my own eyes,” replied Stoney Vander who had played down his relationship with Merrybelle Daidin.

That night, alone in his own room at last, Stoney Vander had time to think and what he found was that he missed the exciting presence of Merrybelle Daidin. He missed the softness of her touch, the sound of her carefree laughter, even the times when she ignored him through some slight he hardly knew he had caused. At the same time, he feared what remaining with her would have done to him. Would his own personality have been subsumed in a new relationship with her? Would he come to forget his life in Sunshine or would he live to regret every day his decision to remain with her? Angry at not knowing, he worried that the regret at a possible opportunity lost would hound him the rest of his life.

And so the weeks and months passed until some years following his impetuous excursion to the outside, he found himself promoted to entry level designer and assigned a new mate. In this he was luckier than his sister Immomia Vander-Skit in that he had been paired with a citizen of color enabling he and his partner to occupy a choice living unit with a view out the west side of Skyview Tower. Less fortunate for Stoney Vander’s conscience however, was that on exceedingly clear days the view was unobstructed such that he could see the dark line of trees that marked the edge of the green wild. On those days, he could not keep his thoughts from drifting to Merrybelle Daidin and the life that could have been his but for his lack of courage. Ashamed and frustrated, he would turn from the window banks and watch his partner take up her prayer mat and prepare to leave for her office in Sunshine’s administrative level. By the door he would see the hated vestsmock he wore as an entry level designer and be reminded how it was often his ideas that allowed unqualified superiors to advance. It was in those times that he would suddenly be overcome by the now familiar urge to flee; to find an air car still in operating condition and escape from the municiplex as he had done before and return to Merrybelle Daidin to beg her forgiveness. Then, a moment later, the initial panic would subside, and only a vague emptiness would remain. Instinctively, he would don his vestsmock, leave the living unit, and join the line of his fellow citizens as they headed for the employment levels. And as he squeezed in to the lift that would take him down to design wing, employment Level IV, he knew that despite the 367 dictums needed for an orderly life in the town of Sunshine, he was not simply headed for another day of work, but descending into a personal hell of lost opportunity and regret.




Photo by jo.sau