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by Lilliana Rose

part 1

Dave scanned the flat dusty horizon. The early morning sun warmed his back as he stood in the paddock. The added heat sent small bursts of electricity firing to his computerised brain and he moved his shoulders as if trying to shake away the unwanted heat.

Another hot day, a scorcher, and he had the hard work of shearing without overheating his electronics. It wasn’t going to be easy.

He looked out at the paddocks that surrounded him. His eyes, telescopic implants zoomed in and out, systematically gathering data and sending it to his brain for processing. A thousand shades of brown surrounded him. And silence.

Too hot for most. It’s why Dave had the job and why he had been manufactured. His maker, RG Ross of Woollen Dale Farming Technologies Pty Ltd, wanted to spend his time in the city away from dust, flies and heat. Away from the emptiness. Even though Adelaide city was only a two-hour drive south, or ten minutes by SuperCraft.

RG Ross preferred the lights and parties. And he’d promised to keep the family farm in the family. A threat of disinheritance, which equated to millions, ensured RG Ross complied. Twentieth generation farmer — that’s what Dave was looking out for. Dave didn’t care about that. As iFarmer 2089 he did as he was programmed.

Questioning RG Ross wasn’t part of his constitution, but looking for sheep was, and rounding them up and shearing them. He could also help birth lambs; complete the tailing, crutching, and keep track of genetics. He knew which ewes weren’t good mothers, which sires actually produced lambs, and he could be a butcher and carve a carcass into chops and roasts in under ten minutes, to send back to RG Ross on request.

Dave could also care for cattle, horses, pigs, chooks, and Alpacas too. He was a real stockman of the future.

A light flashed in the top right corner of his vision. He stopped scanning and focused closer. Bluey whined, a metallic groan that had been programmed for authenticity. iWorking dogs needed to behave like real dogs. Bluey was keen to get working, to round up the mob of ewes, as he was programmed to do.

RG Ross had gotten carried away with the new technologies he was trialling. Driven by money and what inventions he could sell, he hadn’t just created an iFarmer, but an iWorking dog too, which were popular in the city as toys, an unexpected bonus for RG Ross.

Dave rested his hand on Bluey’s head, and the whining stopped. Bluey kept looking to the horizon, his tail twitching and gears revving in readiness.

‘Hold,’ spoke Dave. Local farmers didn’t like the option of getting a robot to run their farms, but RG Ross wasn’t going to give up trying to make a robot farmer. And that was why Dave was standing with a robot dog in the middle of the paddock.

There, in the distance, brown color #49 moved. Dave smiled, as he had been programmed to do when he achieved something. He pointed to where the sheep were. ‘Bring ’em back.’

Without wasting a second, Bluey raced away, four legs coordinated in a technological advance that could never have been achieved if RG Ross hadn’t had millions to spend, or if he hadn’t detested farming.

Dave waited, watching as Bluey raced around the sheep. The dog’s movement scared the ewes into action. They protested by kicking their hooves and bleating, but they yielded, bolting towards Dave.

Dave didn’t have to do anything but wait. He licked his lips — an action added to make him seem more real. His sensors detected salt on the air. The Spencer Gulf was 30 kilometers away, but the sea breeze travelled far over the flat land.

It took Bluey ten minutes to bring the mob within easy sight.

‘Slow down,’ growled Dave. The sheep were moving too quickly, and he had detected some of their hearts were beating dangerously fast. He was not to stress out the animals. RG Ross had embedded the instruction firmly in his system. But it wasn’t an easy instruction to follow for the iFarmer 2089. Even though he looked human, animals always reacted to him. Their hearts beat faster, and they oozed the acidic scent of fear. They would stare at him, frozen, as if they somehow knew he wasn’t alive — or not alive as they were.

RG Ross had tried to give Dave a human scent, but a ram had ended up lodging its horn in his gut and costing thousands of dollars in repairs. Dave didn’t remember it, of course. RG Ross changed the program enough to ensure the 2089th version was more sensitive to the reactions of animals. RG Ross saw this as progress.

Bluey held back. But the mob of ewes kept up their stampeding pace and skirted around Dave, leaving a 500-meter gap as they ran past him towards the shearing shed.

Dave followed, running behind the sheep, but not far enough to keep out of the cloud of dust that they were creating. He was going to have to oil himself well later. His computerised brain programmed in a time: 2:00 pm. That’s how long it was going to take him to finish shearing this mob of five hundred sheep.

Dave monitored his speed to ensure he would not overheat. Bluey was well programmed; he directed the sheep up the ramp and into the shed. Dave closed the gate and patted Bluey on the head. The ewes puffed and huffed and pissed themselves as they waited.

He went through the chipboard door, to the other side where there were floorboards instead of grating, making it easier to do the shearing on a flat, smooth surface. Bluey followed him.

Dave switched on the shearing machine. The cradle, a metallic-looking exoskeleton with an insect-like shape, expanded and contracted with a series of hydraulics before pushing through a small flap door in the chipboard wall. Dave heard the sound of hooves as ewes scrambled to get away — but there wasn’t any room for them to move, and one was easily caught in the cradle and dragged out, feet dangling, encased in black metal. Extended claws under her belly kept her from escaping.

The ewe bleated in protest, and the cradle jerked to a stop, right in front of Dave. He pressed the green flashing button on the chipboard wall. The cradle whined as the hydraulics worked to turn the cradle over so the ewe was upside down, the metal exoskeleton supporting her. Her legs kicked in panic, as if she was an insect stuck on her back.

Her belly exposed, Dave began plucking the wool, not too dissimilar to plucking feathers when butchering a chook, but the ewe was alive, so Dave was gentle, just as he had been programmed to be.

All the sheep owned by RG Ross had been implanted with a chemical chip, and Dave had initiated the release of keratin-breaking chemicals a week ago from the comfort of the homestead. The wool came away easily, leaving a centimetre of pure white wool, not yet exposed to the harshness of the Australian climate.

His robotic hands worked the same as a human’s, with one exception. David didn’t flinch from the three-corner jacks and other prickles, and he didn’t care if the wool was wet from piss or shit.

He worked at his medium-speed setting, to ensure he didn’t overheat.

Dave dumped the belly wool, wet, smelling of sweat and the ewe’s waste, full of prickles, at his feet. The iBroom Sweeper92, scurried to gather the inferior quality wool, and with its sharp vision and precision pinchers — all 30 — plucked away the prickles, increasing the wool’s value by 20%.

An inbuilt heater fanned hot air over the wool to evaporate any dampness. The other impurities took too much energy and time to remove immediately. The iBroom Sweeper92 collected the wool and sent it down a chute to be bailed and ready for delivery to the SuperCraft shipping docks next week, when shearing had been completed.

The iBroom Sweeper92 was finishing this work just as Dave hit the blue button, and the ewe was returned upright. She bleated, weakly. Dave smiled.

He pushed the black button, and the cradle opened a little so he could pluck the wool from the sides of sheep. Four claws extended out at the same time, and held each leg of the ewe.

Dave began phase two. The final stage. This wool was high-grade, AAA, and he had to ensure that the fleece came off as one unwoven blanket, not in a thousand tiny pieces. Despite this handicap, Dave worked quickly. The wool broke away easily, leaving a white-skinned sheep. The oval-shaped iBroom Sweeper92 beeped out of his way.

Dave took a lock of wool and held it in his closed hand. Tiny sensors tested the wool and, on the back of his hand, the letters AAA glowed in green. Dave took the fleece to the AAA chute and dumped it in.

The ewe shivered when he came back to her. He went to pat her on the head but stopped as the program reminded him that this wasn’t what he did with sheep — only with Bluey.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2015 by Lilliana Rose

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