This is an homage to Ray Bradbury's 'There Will Come Soft Rains', one of my favorite short stories.
Down on the Farm
By S.A. McKenzie
Farmer Brown’s farm wakes before dawn. As the lights come on in the milking shed, the farm hands spring out from their charging cradles, one, two, three!
“Wake up, wake up,” they sing to the herd dogs. “It’s 6 o’clock, time to get to work!”
Red-lit eyes glow in the darkness of the kennels. The herd dogs roll out, tails twirling. Down the track to the paddocks they go, automatic gates sliding open at their approach.
“Wake up cows,” they call in their soft furry voices. “Come on Maisie! Come on Daisy! Off to the milking shed!”
The lead herd dog lights up his tail for the cows to follow and speeds off, and the cows plod after him, kept in line with gentle nudges from the rear herd dog’s padded nose.
A river of black and white pours into the milking shed, each cow ambling to her favorite stall. Warm jets of water wash their udders clean, and automatic suction cups clamp on. From the speakers above comes Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Cow tails swing in time with the violins, occasionally raising for a squirt of manure.
The farm hands hum back and forth, putting feed in the troughs, adjusting suction cups and hosing away the manure. Now Herd no. 1 is done, and the herd dogs lead them back to their paddock and fetch up the next group.
“Come on Bessie! Hurry up Jessie! Keep on moving, you silly moos,” they chant to the cows.
Farm Hand Kashu-AX2281 (colloquial designation: “Alfie”) supervises, signaling to the herd dogs, directing the other farm hands, and matching cow RFID tags with milk production, all four arms in constant motion. As the last cow leaves the shed, Alfie activates the automatic cleaning cycle for the milking equipment.
The sun is up now and drones launch themselves from the shed roof, three, four, and five! Time to scan the pastures, time to inspect the pivot irrigators. The drones send their reports to Alfie. The irrigator in paddock three is misfiring again. Alfie stumps down to the paddock on three sturdy legs and clears the blockage.
Herd dog no. 7 whines and turns in circles in the yard, disorientated.
“AYAMARI!” it barks. “Ayamari. Ayamari. Ayamariayamariaya—”
Alfie snatches it up with one extensible arm, flips open the back plate and reboots it. The herd dog yips three ascending notes as it restarts, and balance restored, rolls back to the kennels, tail flashing green.
“Look out!” the main gate sensors cry. Here’s a vehicle turning down the road to the farm.
“Thursday is grocery delivery day for Mr and Mrs Brown,” sings the delivery van. “Fresh soft bread and red rosy apples, tender juicy steak. Here are your groceries, Mrs Brown! Be careful with the eggs.”
The door to the farmhouse remains closed. Alfie takes five bags of groceries from the delivery van and places them by the front door under the veranda. Mrs Brown does not permit robots in the house, oh no!
“See you next Thursday, Mrs Brown,” the van calls and whirs away.
An hour later there is another dust cloud on the road. Another visitor! Here comes the milk tanker, stainless steel flashing in the sunshine. Alfie connects the pipes from the milking shed tank to the tanker, and adds three vials to the testing rack. The tanker transmits a receipt, and then it is off to another farm. Goodbye, creamy white milk!
On patrol in the paddocks, herd dog no. 3 (colloquial designation: “Buster”) sends Alfie an image of an injured cow. She has caught her flank on a protruding fence wire, and is bleeding.
Transfer stock unit 7218 to main holding pen, sends Alfie. A message is sent to Farmer Brown’s screen, and to the vet. Later that afternoon, the vet’s truck pauses at the front gate scanners and transmits an id. The gates swing open.
“Welcome,” they sing. “Welcome to Farmer Brown’s farm, Doctor Patterson. Please drive carefully.”
Alfie is waiting in the yard, bowing awkwardly as the vet gets out of the truck.
“Good afternoon, Doctor Patterson,” Alfie says. The herd dogs poke their noses out of their kennels, red eyes flashing.
The vet eyes the robot.
“Great. Robots,” she mutters. “Okay. Command: Direct me to the injured animal.”
“This way, Doctor Patterson,” Alfie says, leading her to the holding pen.
The vet cleans and bandages the cow’s injury, and gives her a shot.
“This is a minor injury,” she says. “The farmer could have treated it himself.”
“Beg pardon! Unable to parse sentence. Please rephrase,” Alfie says.
“Disregard,” the vet says, sighing.
On the way back to her truck, she stops and counts the grocery bags on the front porch. Twenty two! There are twenty two bags.
“Query: Where is Mrs Brown?” she asks.
“Mrs Brown has gone to town,” sings Alfie. “Current location unknown.”
The vet frowns.
“Query: Where is Farmer Brown?”
“Farmer Brown is in Pump Shed no. 9. Farmer Brown does not wish to be disturbed.”
“Query: How long has he been there?”
“Beg pardon! Unable to parse sentence. Please rephrase.”
“Query: When did Farmer Brown enter Pump Shed no. 9?”
“Farmer Brown entered Pump Shed no. 9 on Monday, April 22nd, at 2.33 p.m.” Alfie says promptly.
The vet rubs her face. “Bloody hell,” she says faintly.
“Beg pardon! Unable to parse sentence. Please rephrase.”
© Copyright S.A. McKenzie 2018
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