We pick our way past the rubble of the community, it’s ornate entrance and expansive domiciles still and silent. We no longer note the open yards, empty and overrun from neglect, silent in the cool spring sun. Often had we stepped through the winding paths, the weed torn streets, the weathered fences and walls now lost to decay. While once we had noticed the spread of each residence, the wide swath of lawn now succumbed to weed and wear, we long ago shed any wonder of the sight. Each step was now more like the retracing of rocks along a long jetty extended into the crashing waves, progressively less important than the burgeoning sea with its fury.
We regularly cross through development after development, little aware of, or concerned with, the history through which we trace. Not that anything of significance had occurred in these communities, regardless of our notice. These were the developments without fame from which sprang the people of tomorrow’s today.
For that is what we are, we who are known as William 7436, now striding along seldom traveled paths. Ours is an unusual route which traverses the monuments of the self-centered past from which our people have grown. While we consciously chose this path, it was without any hint of superiority or disdain. In fact, this route was chosen solely for its directness toward our destination: the local Office of Human Understanding.
As we approach The Office, we greet several others leaving the building. Each nod in our direction. We nod in return, mindful of the humility with which we are greeted.
The long, well lit halls of The Office were a place we’d seldom visited. In fact, it was unusual for any of our brethren to have made more than a few visits to such a place. A visit was nearly always instigated through contact from The Office itself, so few had the occasion to even think of it. We received such a call a few days prior, shortly before attending to our work at the mill. The call itself was efficient and cordial, as one would expect of The Office. “You’ve been invited to speak with a counselor two days from this at 8:30 a.m.. Please arrive promptly. You need bring nothing with you. The meeting will take only one half hour.” We hardly even needed to respond.
Carl 7436, one of our neighbors, had taken the call initially, retrieving us just as we prepared to leave. Carl 7436 stood by as we took the receiver, curious as to the content. “Seems we’ve been invited to speak to a counselor at The Office,” we said through a half smile as we returned the receiver to its cradle.
“Must be preparing to make the rounds again. It’s been quite some time. They’re sure to get to each of us before long,” was Carl 7436’s response.
“You’re probably right,” we said, not thinking much of it.
Awaiting our turn, we looked around at the faces passing to and from the meeting rooms lining the long halls. As was the case with all official buildings, The Office was constructed in the shape of an exploding star, with halls stretching out in all directions. The main entrance always entered into a hive of bustling activity as all traffic passed from and to each of the halls. Our meeting would take place in one of these halls, though there was no telling which one.
A young woman approached us within the first five minutes. Her light brown hair was pulled back tightly against her head, indicating that she was an official representative. “William 7436, please follow me,” she said through a pleasant smile. We made their way through the shuffling crowd toward one of the halls.
“Is it always this busy,” we asked.
“Why yes it is,” she responded, never breaking stride, “The study and management of human understanding is an ever flowing river of activity.” She stopped before an empty room and waved us in. As she closed the door behind her, she continued, “We’re continually striving to broaden our understanding as a means of improving the human condition. I’m sure you can appreciate the complexity of that task.”
“Yes, we certainly can,” we responded, finding a seat on the other side of the table.
She extended her hand across the table, “Forgive us, William 7436. Our name is Sharon 2668. You may refer to us as Counselor. We endeavor to remain somewhat formal here at The Office, as our role is intended more as advisory and observational. We hope you’ll understand.”
We nodded our understanding.
“As we said,” she continued, “we strive to improve the human condition. As such, we monitor activity of the general populace looking for trends in attitudes, changes in sensibilities, anomalous behavior or thought. Our hope is to address concerns before they become more than that. Additionally, and most importantly, our efforts are meant to incorporate any improvements that will advance the whole of our collective experience.”
“So you’ve begun another round of surveys?” we asked.
Counselor Sharon 2668 tilted her head slightly, as though processing the question. “Oh, we see. No, unlike methods of the past, we no longer perform such activities. We found them less effective than simply exploring anomalous behavior when encountered.”
For the first time, we felt something we had not experienced in a long time: fear. we didn’t recognize it, the flush skin, an imagined closing of the walls around us, the thickness in our chest. We started to take in the sparseness of the room; the walls barren, seamless. Light spilled from every inch of the ceiling. The table before us was without a single blemish. The Counselor sitting before us now seemed to be watching us closely. “Have we done something?” we asked, not certain that it was our voice filling the room.
Counselor Sharon 2668 smiled. “You’ve done nothing to be concerned about, William 7436. This is a preliminary contact to inform you that we’ve detected some subtle tendencies in your behavior which warrant observation. While somewhat unusual, these tendencies are hardly unheard of. We’ve met with at least a half dozen other brethren exhibiting similar behavior over the last few months. Each is now engaged in a counseling effort aimed at both improving the understanding of the whole as well as addressing the condition of each of these members.”
Our mind raced, searching for some unusual actions we might have committed. We could feel our heart pounding in our chest as the room seemed to swim around us. We could muster no response to her statement.
“We realize you are a little confused,” she continued, “but we want to repeat that you have done nothing to be concerned about.”
We walked away from The Office of Human Understanding still clinging to that feeling with which he’d spent most of the meeting. People walking around us seemed so distant, so unreal, that we wondered if they even existed. We felt alone, trapped in a foam bubble from which we couldn’t escape. Our mind continued to search for the things we did or said which might have triggered an investigation. Counselor Sharon 2668’s repeated attempts to calm us had failed if only because she tried so hard to ease our concerns. Surely The Office didn’t bother with good citizens. Surely we must have done something quite serious. Still, nothing came to our mind.
Our shift at the mill dragged by. We were several times pressed for slowing the line and our work suffered. We felt a little guilty for letting down our work mates, but we couldn’t help but puzzle over our visit to The Office.
That night, alone in our apartment, we went over and over the last few weeks, still uncertain about how we’d raised the interest of The Office. We considered ourselves a conscientious citizen, always trying to help our brethren. We worked hard at the mill and dutifully attended our regular community programs, often attending extra when time permitted.
“You really haven’t done anything specific, William 7436,” said Counselor Sharon 2668, “We wish we could convince you of that. These are precautions we take with all citizens. Please don’t worry yourself about it.”
We called The Office several times since our visit, each time being given the same reassurance by Counselor Sharon 2668. It hadn’t helped us sleep or concentrate at work.
The next meeting at The Office was scheduled for a week later. We hoped the time would be enough to recognize our behavior and how we might be more correct. We chatted with our colleagues, trying to find hints to what might have been The Community’s concern. We inquired at the market, at the gymnasium, and after devotionals. Our questions sometimes sparked concern from our brethren which made us even more concerned; It was very unusual for any member of the community to question others in this way.
We spent several nights reviewing our actions from before the visit to The Office. Nothing seemed to stand out. No words seemed out of place. No actions seemed worthy of note.
On the day of the next appointment, we made our way through the same crumbling monuments to life before The Community. This time, we hardly noticed the ruins. We could think of little else but the actions which caused concern.
Counselor Sharon 2668 took us to a bank of elevators and we entered with her. The doors closed behind us and the mechanism started without request. From what we could see, there was nothing for Counselor Sharon 2668 to have done to initiate the moving compartment. We could not tell how far we traveled, though it was likely to be beyond the second floor. Each second passing brought more weight to our thoughts.
Counselor Sharon 2668 led us from the elevator down one of the several halls. There was nothing indicating the hall or any of the rooms. While this was customary in official Community buildings, the fact pressed further on us. We stopped at a door some distance down the hall, perhaps halfway, and entered.
The room contained a number of cushioned benches lining each of the walls. Counselor Sharon 2668 gestured toward one of the benches for us to sit. As we sat, she turned and left, closing the door behind her. The room was just as unadorned as the one we’d been in on the first floor. Lights emitted from every inch of the ceiling. No windows provided us with a view.
We sat quietly for some time. On a few occasions, We considered getting up and pacing, though thought better of it. No, we would show them that we were not aberrant in any way by quietly waiting for someone to return.
When the door finally did open, nearly an hour had passed. We were startled by the soft sound of the door. From behind it peered Counselor Sharon 2668. “Ready to go,” she asked.
We stood up and followed her out of the room. The door shut quietly behind us as we moved back down the hall toward the elevators. As we approached, one of the sets of doors opened, allowing us in. Once again, without command, the doors closed and the mechanism started. Before long, the doors opened to the bustling main lobby.
As we exited the elevator, Counselor Sharon 2668 turned toward us. “It was a pleasure to see you again, brother. Same time next week,” she said. We nodded and turned toward the exit, eager to do as was expected.
Counselor Sharon 2668 would have several more such meetings with us, each with similar results. While we weren’t certain, we believed that we never visited the same floor or hallway and certainly not the same room. Our only wish was that we hadn’t bothered to notice this at all.
With each successive visit, our anxiety diminished. We no longer wondered what it was that inspired the first interview. Our home and work life returned to normal. We returned to being a productive and conscientious member of The Community. Over time, Counselor Sharon 2668 stopped letting us know about the next visit, leaving the scheduling of that event for a phone call to our building. As a result, visits dropped in frequency from biweekly to monthly and, eventually, to not at all.