He turned the corner and paused. Across the square, The Building, his destination that day, dominated its surroundings, dwarfing every other construction. Not only was it dramatically larger but its brutalist design, reflected in the lake that formed the centre of the square, prevented the gaze from straying elsewhere. The early morning sun, casting dramatic shadows across the face of the edifice, did nothing to soften the building’s sombre mood.
He paused on the south side of the square. He was desperately tired. He hadn’t slept that night. His mind had not permitted him to rest. He wanted to lie down on the grass and close his eyes, if only for a moment, but he dared not. Any behaviour that was deemed to constitute vagrant tendencies was proscribed & subject to severe punishment. There was no need for want, all human needs were met. Benches had been deemed unnecessary some decades ago except in allocated vacation zones. Citizens did not need to rest outside permitted non-contributing hours.
In an effort to overcome his urgent desire for sleep, he concentrated on his destination. The Building, and most of the square, had been built soon after The Authentic One had come to power following the Final Struggle. The Great Book of Truth stated that The Building had replaced an inappropriate construction, one of the symbols of the misguided decadence that had abounded before the Great Awakening. He had heard whispered that the ‘construction’ referred to had been the ceremonial home of a ‘monarchist’ family. He had never officially learnt what a monarchy was; the Great Book of Truth made no reference to the word.
He had always wondered what life would have been like with parents. His mother had died in childbirth and his father had been subject to re-training and re-settlement somewhere in Eastern Eurasia. Communications were prohibited to re-settled persons. So, like many of his own generation, he had grown up and been schooled in state institutions. All social and historical learning had been restricted to what he suspected now to have been a heavily revisionist curriculum.
The previous evening, on entering his accommodation pod, the information and enrichment system had switched on to instruct him to attend Room 150 in The Building at 07.30hrs the next day. He was so tired. His attempts to sleep that night had been a constant battle between a desperate need for sleep and an even greater need to block thoughts from his mind, any thoughts, concerning the possible reason for the instruction he had received to attend The Building.
There had been a system of ‘social credits’ introduced during the middle years of the 21st century. Initially, this system had been based upon monitoring the now obsolete internet system & social media. It supplemented reports from community leaders of any subversive activities or inappropriate comments. The system was benchmarked against the requirements for a ‘good’ citizen and provided full access to those facilities and services the state deemed necessary at the time. However, demerits were made for any unsocial activities and these became ever more restrictive as they accumulated. These restrictions were not published but were believed to progressively reduce the individual’s ability to travel, their access to housing, food allowance and healthcare and led to retraining and ultimately to re-settlement.
He had heard comment of these strictures and even noticed the disappearance of citizens from the community nourishment centre where he contributed his skills. However, with the development of telepathy replacing the internet, it was clear that the system had progressed in leaps and bounds. Quiet words had whispered of the ability of the state to monitor actual thought. He shivered, torn once more between searching for any thought that might have led to his appointment today and the need to avoid any thought that could be used against him.
It was almost time. He rose, unsteadily, to his feet and started to walk around the edge of the square. It was spring and there was bright blossom on the cherry trees that lined the lake. Once this would have provided a lift to his spirits but today it seemed to remind him only of what was at stake, what he risked losing.
Traffic was barred from the square, not that there was much in the rest of the city. Citizens were housed close to their place of skills contribution; unnecessary travel reduced efficiency. In any case, only the most trustworthy and upstanding citizens had permits to use the autonomous busses. Personal transport did not exist but senior representatives had access to vehicles, permitting them to operate more efficiently.
The building bore no name and had no official function. It was, however, infamous in the lives and minds of all citizens. It seemed that all of those who were re-settled and never heard of again, had passed through its doors.
He straightened his tunic and walked up the broad stairway.
Could there have been an error? Had he still the possibility of hope? Or was hope proscribed too?
The vast entrance loomed in front of him…