Title: Our Dried Voices
Author: Greg Hickey
Publisher: Scribe Publishing Company
Publication Date: November 4, 2014
Genre: Dystopian / Science Fiction
Format: Paperback, eBook (.mobi / Kindle), PDF
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In 2153, cancer was cured. In 2189, AIDS. And in 2235, the last members of the human race traveled to a far distant planet called Pearl to begin the next chapter of humanity. Several hundred years after their arrival, the remainder of humanity lives in a utopian colony in which every want is satisfied automatically, and there is no need for human labor, struggle or thought. But when the machines that regulate the colony begin to malfunction, the colonists are faced with a test for the first time in their existence. With the lives of the colonists at stake, it is left to a young man named Samuel to repair these breakdowns and save the colony. Aided by his friend Penny, Samuel rises to meet each challenge. But he soon discovers a mysterious group of people behind each of these problems, and he must somehow find and defeat these saboteurs in order to rescue his colony.
The sound of the bells echoed across the colony. They sounded five times, and by the end of the fifth peal everyone had stopped what they were doing and started to walk toward the nearest source of the noise. The bells had a tinny, hollow sound to them. To be sure, it was unmistakably the sound of bells, but it lacked that rich, thunderous, rolling swell once heard in passing by an old church at the top of the hour. Instead, it was as though the sound of real bells had been recorded and re-recorded ad infinitum until only bell-like sounds now remained.
The bells called the people to the midday meal. All across the lush meadow, the colonists fell into a kind of reverie. Moments earlier, they had been romping through the meadow or splashing in the river with the joyful abandon of children, while others napped blissfully at the base of a modest hill or fornicated with some momentary lover in the shade of a spreading tree. But now their innocent laughter, their hushed excited voices, their intermittent shrieks of pleasure all ceased for an instant as they moved as one toward the sound of the bells. As soon as the fifth toll had faded in the air, the human noise resumed as though it had never been silenced. The colonists walked eagerly but unhurriedly, small, hairless, brown-skinned people, all barefooted and dressed in simple, cream-colored smocks.
The bell sounds came from the seven meal halls spread throughout the colony—long, tall, rectangular buildings erected from the black, craggy rock characteristic of the mountains of Pearl, now smoothed down and cut into bricks and painted a soothing off-white. Another smaller building abutted one end of each meal hall. Their wan stone façades matched those of the larger halls and there were no discernible entryways in their solid exteriors.
As the colonists entered each meal hall, they lined up along the right-hand wall to wait for their food. The walls were painted a pale sky blue, and on the far wall was a small square hole. One by one, each diner stepped forward in line, a small, red light above the hole flashed, a short clicking and whirring noise sounded and then a round, firm, dark brown cake appeared at the edge of the opening. One by one, each colonist took the proffered meal cake and carried it over to one of the many wooden tables or out into the meadow.
Near the front of the line at one hall, a male colonist turned to face the man behind him.
“Hellohoweryou?” said the first man.
“Goodthankshoweryou?” replied the second man.
The two men stared blankly at each other for a moment. Then the first man blinked and said “Goodweathertoday.”
The second bobbed his head and grinned. “Betterenyesterday.”
They continued to gaze at each other with vapid expressions until the first man turned around and stepped forward in line. The two men were right. It was Tuesday. It rained on Mondays. And thanks to the colony’s weather modification system, it had rained every Monday, and only on Monday, for hundreds of years.
When about half the colonists at this particular meal hall had received their food, an adult woman moved to the front of the line. A young boy, no taller than her waist, stood behind her. The woman stepped up to the wall, the red light above the hole flashed… and nothing happened. There was no clicking, no whirring, and no meal cake emerged from the hole in the milky blue wall. Some people a few places behind the first woman, by now so accustomed to the regular pace of the line, stepped forward in anticipation of her taking the food and continuing on. When the line did not move, they bumped awkwardly into the colonists in front of them, very much surprised that there should be a fleshy, breathing, human body in their path instead of empty space. Those closest to the front of the line fell silent when they saw the woman had not yet received her meal, and then the silence spread evenly and rhythmically down the line, like a row of pillowed dominoes falling to the floor. Yet all the colonists continued to wear the same insipid half-grin on their faces as they waited patiently for the food to be dispensed and the line to creep forward once more.
A long, loud, whining shriek from the young boy waiting with his mother at the front of the line broke through the stillness, and it was this sound, not the actual interruption of the food service, which seemed to have the greatest effect on those in the hall. The boy did not cry. He shed no tears, and the sound which emerged from his mouth was not a breathless and choked sobbing, or even the petulant howl of a child’s tantrum. It was a primal, animal moan that rose from the depths of his unfilled stomach, rushed up his throat with a cold and persistent ferocity and forced its way over his teeth, throwing his head back as it broke from his lips. No one tried to comfort the boy. His mother did not even turn around to look at him. Her weak smile faded, but she continued to stare at the dark hole in the wall, still waiting for her meal to appear. Then a child some dozen places back in the line picked up the boy’s howl, and then a woman farther behind did the same. Soon the entire line was wailing loudly.
Those colonists who had already received their meals hunkered over their cakes and stuffed their last bites into their mouths. One of them stood up, bumping hard into his table. The rest followed. They walked hurriedly to the door, brushing past the onlookers from outside who had gathered to see what all the noise was about. Those still in line stared dazedly at the others around them, at the now half-empty hall, an incipient question forming somewhere deep in their skulls.
A man in the middle of the line broke their unsteady ranks first. He ran, stumbling over tables and chairs bolted to the floor in his maddened dash toward the doorway. The rest of the line scattered in his wake. Out through the door they went, cracking bony limbs on the wooden furniture in their paths, pushing and trampling one another as they all tried to force their way through the doorway at once, like blood cells pumped through a clotted artery.
Those who had already finished their meals stood outside in a loose ring several meters away from the entrance of the food hall, and as the wild runners pushed their way through the door, they began to run as well, picking up the wail of the unfed as they went. They ran in no particular direction, a single mass exodus from the hall, teeming out across the gay green meadows, up and over the soft, undulating hills, and their cries rippled throughout the once-peaceful fields to fill the void left by the cessation of the bells with a sound far more vibrant than those stale chimes which had just called them to their uneaten meal.
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About The Author
Greg Hickey was born in Evanston, Illinois in 1985. After graduating from Pomona College in 2008, he played and coached baseball in Sweden and South Africa. He is now a forensic scientist, endurance athlete and award-winning writer. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Lindsay.
You can visit Greg’s website at www.greghickeywrites.com.
Connect with Greg:
Author Website: www.greghickeywrites.com
Author Blog: http://kinesophy.blogspot.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/greghickey5 Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8421481.Greg_Hickey