“Do you hear that?”
“Hear what?” The man asked. He tilted his head almost imperceptibly, as if that would somehow amplify the echoes in the room, and straightened his collar with a practiced ease. His dark eyes flitted from side to side, watching warily for nothing in particular.
“It’s always there,” his friend continued, a small man who seemed to crumple inwards with every breath he took. “You can’t really hear it, anymore, unless you listen real hard. But it’s still there.” One more slow ragged breath and he paused, his thin frame trembling. “That buzz.”
The man narrowed his eyes. “Well, yes,” he said, hesitating. “I do hear it.”
A low humming sounded in the room, droning softly and hypnotically, incessantly. It came from the whirring of the computers; the shifting of gears, turning and spinning, the clicks of the keys. He’d asked about them – the computers – when he was a kid. What are they? What’s that sound?
His father had called it “progress.” To be sure, that was the general consensus. The computers had appeared only seventy or so years ago, evolving from metal bricks to sleek, modernized machines within a mere decade. Their speed improved tenfold every year. Their memory capacity grew exponentially. Eventually, they took over most people’s jobs. Human error was eradicated, mathematicians became three times as efficient, and national security became incredibly secure. After all, with computers, people could be monitored 24/7: video surveillance in every room, robot police watching every square foot in the world. It was revolutionary.
He shook his head, and looked at his friend. “But it’s just the computers. They’re here to protect us.”
“God, I know. Protect, protect, serve, serve. And all the while, that damned buzz still ringing in my ears. How long has it been since you’ve heard silence?” He stopped, looking appraisingly at the ground. “You can’t be more than twenty years old. You’ve probably never heard it, ever.”
The man didn’t know what to say to that. “It’s just silence. There’s nothing special about it…”
“Bah!” his friend grimaced, and spat at the ground. “Silence wasn’t anything special when we could get it, no problem. But we need it. I need it. I think I’m going crazy. All day, every day – the chattering of voices, the clicking of the computers, car honks, the buzz, the whir, the glass clinking, teeth grinding, scratching, sliding, the sound of sound, and to no end, no pause, just on and on and on and on.” He started shivering, pacing anxiously around the room, eyeing the sleek machines working in the corners. “For God’s sake, I haven’t been calm in three decades!”
He turned around wildly, coat billowing behind him. “You don’t understand. You’re looking at me like I’m a madman. I suppose I am. No one thinks it’s strange, having all these computers around. Not anymore.”
The computers continued to hum.
“I get it. You know, it’s progress. But it used to be that you could walk for ten minutes and read a book or something in complete, utter serenity. Total quiet. There’s nothing like it. But there’s no alone time now, not in these days.”
The man tilted his head. “What do you mean? We’re alone right now.”
“No,” his friend said bitterly. “We’re never alone. The computers are always with us. Watching us, listening to us… can’t do anything without them knowing about it.” He fidgeted, casting nervous glances at the machinery around them, and whispered in a dry, raspy breath, “Sometimes I think they’re actually sentient. Like they’re plotting for total human destruction.”
Was it just him, or did the humming become louder?
His friend looked away, blinking furiously, and sat down. He brought one pale hand to his pasty forehead, rubbing it awkwardly. “God, I feel a migraine coming on.”
No one spoke for several minutes.
The computers kept humming.
The man pulled his coat tighter around his body. He opened his mouth to speak, paused. “I-”
He was interrupted by an angry, miserable cry, followed by a loud crash that shook the floor. His friend had swept everything off the desk. Laptops and stationary lay strewn across the ground in pathetic, broken pieces.
“What are you doing?” the man gasped.
His friend merely snarled. “To hell with it all!” He picked up the printer, and threw it at one of the machines pumping steadily in the corner. A tremendous bang sounded, and the computer shattered, electric circuits sputtering.
His friend had gone insane.
Again and again, computers were thrown against the wall mercilessly – glass cracked, hardware demolished. He could only watch in horror as the room was completely destroyed.
Crash. Smash. Boom. Crash. Smash. Boom. Crash.
A thin layer of dust and plastic settled over the wreckage. He heard his friend cough once, twice, before croaking out one word that seemed to hold impossible amounts of both suffering and triumph: “Finally.”
And then he realized.
The humming had stopped.
This was the sound of silence.