The alarm clock blared into life, lifting Alan from a sea of unsettled dreams back into grey reality. With a sinking feeling Alan realised that today was a Tuesday, and judging by the flat light creeping in through the grimy windows, it was rain again. With a sigh, he hauled himself out from bed and trudged over to the coffee machine. A quick look in the fridge ended in disappointment, and Alan settled for black coffee and dry toast before setting off on the journey to the office. Alan locked, and then double-locked the door and then made his way out of the block where he lived, stepping on the rubbish strewn by the ever increasing number of urban foxes, and nodding to a couple of anonymous looking men heading up the stairs.
Alan's sense of frustration grew during the journey, packed like a sardine in a sweaty tin, due to the previous train being cancelled. It seemed to be much more common, basic services breaking down and people accepting this state of affairs, worn down by the constant battle to get anywhere in an overcrowded, underfunded and neglected city.
A message was waiting for Alan at his desk, stuck on the keyboard of his workstation, letting him know he had missed a visit from a couple of men who hadn't left a name or card but had promised to call back. After a brief moment to collect himself, Alan launched into the piles of paper that had been left on his desk, trying to get back to the work he had been labouring through the previous evening. Mounds of printouts of statistics and a number of papers going into excessive detail over government industrial production sapped his motivation, but Alan concentrated and got down to the report he was preparing for his manager, a director of a minor ministry forming part of the massive Depart of Industrial Affairs.
A small cough behind him snapped Alan out from the reverie he had drifted into. A small, rather dapper man in a grey suit was standing just inside the doorway, appearing without Alan realising. The flourescent light glinted off the small, steel-rimmed glasses he was wearing, and showed the sweat forming on his large forehead. The air conditioning, unreliable these days and particularly in the morning, had packed up again and the temperature was getting uncomfortably warm and humid. Alan felt the urge to apologise to the man for the conditions, but held his tongue until he knew what the visit was about.
“Mr Jones?” asked the man in a precise and officious voice. Alan felt his heart sink and gave a nod. A rising sense of panic and generalised guilt began to grow, as he considered the various reasons for being paid this visit. “You are working on a report about production levels and standards in the government factories in the interior.” Alan nodded again, hoping that the content or direction of the report had not disturbed whichever department his visitor worked for. Alan felt the need to defend his work and research grow, but equally the urge to distance himself from the findings, and he finally stammered out, “Yes, yes I am. I was told to look at how production compares to past standards in terms of quantity and quality. I believe, or at least the infromation seems to indicate, a decline in both the...” Alan's weak explanation peetered out in the stare of the grey man, who had shaken his head. “The initial output figures that the factory sent me clearly show that, compared to last year and the five years before that clearly show that production values are actually in decline rather than the state of growth commonly believed in...” Alan paused again.
“I am from the Department of Information. I am going to have to ask you to come with me”, the man stated, in a voice that Alan found increasingly difficult to hear. Alan concentrated on the alien sounds that, he realised, had been on the edge of his hearing for the past few weeks. A quiet hum and occasional louder melodic tones which he couldn't identify were drawing more and more of attention, making it difficult to concentrate on the man in front of him. The urge to run vied with the habits of the obedience to authority, and Alan's shoulders slumped as he walked out with the small man into the dim corridor and out into the busy, grimy streets.
After a short, silent journey through grey streets between tall, run-down tower blocks and offices, the pair arrived outside the imposing, monolithic building that housed the Department of Information. As Alan stepped out the car the sounds he had become aware of in his office struck him again and he paused. The man spoke, but Alan failed to respond. Again, slightly louder the man spoke again, “Don't run. You can't run. Where can you go?” He laid his hand on Alan's arm and led him, unresisting into the darkened entrance.
Alan and the man, a government official Alan realised, stepped into the elevator and again travelled in silence. After what seemed an age the doors scraped open and they stepped out and into an office. The windows looked out onto the dreary cityscape, stretching out grey, soulless and civilised as far as Alan could see. Not such a great distance, Alan noted, as the smog had started to come down again. The chirping noise that had so distracted Alan earlier continued even in this sealed and separated office, and the persistent humming seemed even louder inside.
A door opened and two men walked into the office. With a growing sense of dejection and inevitability, Alan recognised one of the men as the Director of Information himself. The other, wearing a white, sterile doctor's coat, faded into the background. The Director walked over and looked Alan in the eyes, then looked past to the doctor. “So, Mr Jones, you seem tired. What is it that is troubling you?” Confused, Alan did not know where to look for guidance on the right answer to give. “I have been having some problems sleeping recently.” Alan confessed, speaking a little too loudly over the hum in his head. “You have been having dreams, which have disturbed you. Tell me about them.” the Director stated, in a quiet voice that nevertheless left absolutely no room for dissent. Alan found himself continuing, almost against his will, “I dreamt that I could fly. I was in my bedroom, and the windows had become open. I stepped up and looked out, but looking down all I could see was darkness and fog and strange machines moving. Looking up there was a break in the clouds and I stretched my arms towards it, then I leapt. If I looked towards the light I was able to move to it, but as I looked down I saw the machines coming toward me, to pull me back. And I could hear a song, but without words...”
The Director nodded slowly. “The light was drawing you, and it lead to throw yourself from your window. The machines tried to stop you from doing something dangerous or fatal. The singing, this was not part of our world, and you need to accept this state of affairs.” Alan shook his head but the Director continued as if he wasn't there. “The State is right and the State is looking to stop you doing something dangerous or fatal.” Alan felt the doctor step up behind him and gently force him into a chair, and strap a metal band around his head. Alan shook his head again, striving to find the words to describe the sense of wrongness. “The data from factories shows that what the State says is wrong. This society is in decline, but no one seems to be able stir themselves.” The Director frowned slightly and contradicted him. “The State is right. Society, civilisation, is not in decline. Factory production is at an all-time high. You must understand that this is the way it is.”
Alan felt the metal band cool against his forehead, then gradually warming to body temperature. He fought to concentrate on the Director's words, looking for the logical fallacy in his arguments, but the humming was more and more dominant, and the other random sounds, burst of unstructured notes, random and uncivilised drew his attention. The doctor coughed and muttered to the Director, “I think we're losing him.” The Director looked more closely and then spoke clearly to Alan, “You cannot miss this, you can't escape the inevitability. This society, which has nutured you from birth, is not wrong. Your research is flawed, the data it is based on is incorrect. Production is at an all-time high. It is very important that you understand this. The society that surrounds you, that gives you light, shelter and sustenance, that protects you, must be protected. If you are able to accept that civilisation is in decline then where will this train of thought lead? Dissent, disunity and dissolution will come and threaten this mechanised, developed world. The opposite of civilisation, of the State, is a natural state of chaos.”
The humming grew louder and Alan switched his attention, almost recognising the individual sounds. The humming grew and faded, changing tone. Directly behind him, it seemed, something chirruped. The doctor spoke again but Alan was unable to hear him, and seemed lost in his mind. “He cannot hear us now. We have lost him. He must have been unable to accept the truth, and he has escaped into the wild.” Director shook his head and walked out of the office, disappointed.
A single tear rolled down Alan's cheek as, for the first time, he listened to the birdsong and sounds of busying insects, and lost contact with the civilisation that had surrounded him for his entire life.