by Amanda Jones
full fat milk
It was impossible to forget that day. Or was it? She stared out of the window waiting for the clunk of the milk being delivered. Times had turned from a childhood of whirring milk vans to a second childhood of whirring milk vans. Electric vehicles were now normal. Her car silently charged from the cable which ran across the shared driveway. Her view took in the street stretching out with a prevalence of cords forming snakes from each house.
Brian waved frantically at Sue who tripped over the wire leading to the door. Sue didn’t have a charging point yet; they were still being rolled out but with the impetus of a Smart Meter with Coronavirus.
Suddenly appearing next door Helen tinkled the milk like little bells whilst her dead-silent milk cart blended into the garden. It was pulled along with another cable with the bonus of electric energy; not much effort was needed.
In the next street she could hear Tom turning up his flying Mini. It of course made no natural sound but had the optional extra of simulated revs. How they cursed him. How he cursed them.
The front gardens were all minimalist with astro-grass and plastic hedges; this was consistent through the town. Amy met Helen on her path and tucked in a stray rose head. Red still faded first, they were working on that.
‘Shame it’s due to rain tomorrow,’ said Helen.
‘Yes, it’s so unnecessary now, a complete waste,’ Amy agreed.
Having honed the extraction of water from Mars, the oceans, the clouds and the ground, rain was particularly frowned upon. It meant that the cloud preventers had failed an extraction somewhere and would no doubt be in the headlines.
Indeed, most days were sunny and warm. The ozone layer was constantly monitored and sealed. Environment Controllers took good care of managing everything.
Due to the nets on the trees which expanded as they grew birds were not permitted in towns. You could find them in the parks and the Wilderness. That was enough.
‘What are you doing later?’ asked Amy.
‘Might go to the House on the Hill,’ said Helen.
Yes, see you there?’
And that was that. Amy took her milk to pour over her cereal.
The House on the Hill was where everyone went. It was full of fun. The hill was very insignificant and Amy enjoyed the short walk out of town and along the lane.
Above the hedge lines the flying cars passed orderly. Each boundary on every road was set up for two-way traffic. The real hedges were suppressed with growth-restrictive hormones to avoid extra trimming and the flying cars hovered a clear metre above them. It had made the infrastructure sound and left the lanes and roads and paths and even motorway surfaces clear and safe. Amy watched the vehicles flying past to each side and hungered for one of her own.
Helen was a good friend. She had been at school with Amy years ago. They were both in their forties and Amy relished her memories of that time.
‘Do you know why everyone loves milk?’ asked Helen.
‘No. But you should if you deliver it!’ Amy replied.
‘Well, I’ve been doing some digging. Fancy an adventure?’
With that, they set off, Helen leading Amy to the back of the house. Inside everyone was partying. It wasn’t an ordinary house. It had at least nine floors and multi-coloured lights shone as dancing, laughing and drinking flowed.
In the garden there was an old bunker. It looked like a ROC post and upon closer inspection Amy determined that it was one. Helen lifted the hatch and they climbed down the steep, metal ladder. The house was on the edge of the Wilderness and as they reached the bottom of the bunker Amy saw that the underground chambers stretched in that direction.
Rather than one room and a toilet the bunker was extended beyond anything they could see.
‘Remember when Coronavirus hit?’
‘How could I forget it?’
‘Well, that’s why we drink milk.’
Amy had always wondered what had happened to the cows.
‘There was the Dissolution of the Dairies after Covid19. You have to understand why the world is like it is now. Drugs are added to the milk containing both a suppressant and stimulant. To get us to be resistant but happy.’
Helen led Amy into the tunnel which stretched before them. It was quiet down here, a secret entrance.
‘There was a vegan uprising as climate change protests became so severe. It was all kept away from us here, not reported in the news or anywhere. Everything was suppressed.’
Then, Amy saw them. Rows and rows of see-through, rectangular chambers with two cows in each one. Pipes, much like the cables above ground, led from udders and bottoms. Each one feeding up into the concrete ceiling and disappearing.
‘So, you see this is where the cows are,’ said Helen.
It made Amy cry. They were like battery hens. Row upon row of them. Hardly able to move. Pumped up with drugs, the drugs which went into the milk, which they drunk. The light was red and subtle meaning the cows were in semi-darkness.
‘What are the pipes on the bottoms for?!’ Amy exclaimed.
‘For the methane harvesting. They also collect gas from the air in the chambers. It’s fed into the whole country once the fragrancy neutraliser has treated it and it fuels our homes. They use the old telephone network channels.’
‘But I didn’t know!’
‘Why would you, we just go about our lives.’
After they had walked along the corridor between the chambers for about ten minutes Helen reached a turn and they went into the darkness ahead. She released another entrance; this one was at ground level and the tunnel had gently risen to it. Blinking as the sunlight hit her sharply Amy realised that she was in a wooded area, in the Wilderness.
‘I have always wanted to come here. It reminds me of when we were little. But I didn’t know you could get out!’
‘Nobody is interested. They’re all too busy with their lives and high on milk!’ said Helen.
Onwards they went, the sun starting to set and trees casting shadows. It was truly beautiful here.
‘I want you to meet the Anti-lacs.’
They spent the night in a tent! This was very exciting for Amy and the warm, summer night made it ideal. When the sun rose, Helen took Amy to a small stream where they washed, relishing the natural world. Birds sung in the trees.
Slowly a group of people approached. They were dressed in walking, outdoor gear. Clean, tidy and looking on purpose, they strode into the nearby, small glade and sat on logs.
‘Hi Amy, Helen thought you would like to meet us,’ said a tall man.
‘This is Bobby,’ said Helen, ‘He is this section’s leader and lives in the Beyondness with his tribe.’
‘You look so calm and happy. I’m used to the buzz from the town,’ Amy said.
‘It’s all to do with the milk. We won’t touch it. We’re hoping you’ll join us,’ Bobby replied.
Amy never returned home. She joined Helen, who also stayed, and was taken to Bobby’s patch. This was an old wartime airfield full of interconnecting tunnels, a handy control tower, several large hangars and was all tucked away in the middle of an ancient woodland. Surrounded by trees but with solid, concrete tracks which were once runways, it was perfect.
Day by day they worked on clearing the tracks, making them roadworthy and kitting out the hangars. Bobby went on missions into town disguised as a clerk and working in a solicitor’s office. Here, he accessed files he needed, kept an eye on cases necessary and stole information. They were getting ready.
‘Obviously they won’t fit through the hatch so it will be the side entrance used,’ said Tom.
‘We’re widening the doorway already,’ George replied.
‘Yes, it’s nearly there,’
‘But they’ll be so weak,’ Helen said.
‘We know, we think they’ll be OK until they’re outside. It will be a shock, so it’s paramount that the vehicles are ready for loading,’ Bobby reassured them.
And so, the vehicles were prepared, the space was ready, research had been completed and food, water and fresh air awaited them.
This was more than a peaceful act of freedom seeking. It would send a clear message to government. They were to all enter through the hatch. In this bunker there were about three hundred cows and thirty of them. One by one they disappeared down the ladder and crept up to the chambers. George cut off the alarm system, Tom guided each team of two along the tunnel and soon they were all stationed, ready for freedom.
Sealing each pipe with instant Gorilla glue each team worked on the chambers. First the methane tube was disconnected and made safe, then the milking pipes. The cows were sleepy and static. Muscle stimulation was provided under the floor but it wasn’t to the degree of walking. But they knew they could do it and gradually, each cow was led along the tunnel towards the side door. Wobbling and teetering from side to side they leant on their human saviours and were smoothly loaded into the trucks.
Bobby counted everyone in. Then the convoy set off, through the trees, winding their way towards the airfield, lights off, torches shining and steadily achieving their aim. Straw and fresh food welcomed the cows as they stepped into the hangars.
That night Amy and Helen snuggled up together in the old, underground fuel storage tank. This was their home and they were happy.
Sirens blasted and tannoys announced ‘High alert! Serious theft! Dangerous rogues!’ over the town which resonated into the Beyondness. Bobby had organised reinforcements around their camp and the old, barbed wire, tunnel system and buildings were strong and safe. They would be suspected immediately. They were not invisible and their breakout group had been wanted for some time. But, the peaceful, organised nature of their act was not anticipated. So, they all hunkered down and waited.
There was an eerie wind blowing through the trees as Maxine watched from the control tower. Then, she saw them. About a hundred of the flying MOD four-by-fours approaching from the west. Terrified she spoke into the communication system: ‘About two hundred metres, due west, approaching fast’.
These vehicles were particularly problematic as their capability was to drive on the ground as well as fly. As the first crossed the intersection before the airfield buildings an explosion of fire and gas boomed, forming a cloud of smoke. The second hit the next one and the third, fourth, fifth until the convoy stopped.
Bobby had positioned the weapons strategically and there was no way in. Stalemate.
The next day revealed hundreds more. They were surrounded. But couldn’t be reached.
The authorities didn’t know about their secure network for food and supplies. There was no knowledge of the number of members. People from the city joined them by traversing the tunnels, relieved to be home and no longer in disguise within their roles. Their position was strong.
Ultimately they yearned for peace. They didn’t want to fight, kill, injure but they would be murdered without hesitation by the authorities.
As the days turned into weeks their accosters were dismayed that they could not proceed. Then a curious thing happened. They started to build a wall around the airfield.
To what purpose this satisfied was an amusement. They could still see them, they could still circumnavigate underground, it just seemed to serve as a statement of power which wasn’t very powerful. That night as the bricks kept coming, they all huddled around for shared dinner and chuckled to themselves. The cows were happy, many had survived and were enjoying real life and the next stage it seemed, would be easy.
As they worked, they dug linking tunnels to existing tunnels which led further away into open countryside and fields. Nobody was concentrating on this area except them.
Amy and Helen ran through the grass as the seeds scattered, brushing against their legs. Freedom was beautiful.
‘So, we’ll bring the cows here?’ she asked Bobby.
‘Yes, it’s within an easy walk back to the hangars when we need to bring them in.’
As dusk fell a steady stream of cows emerged from the tunnels. They were led into an open barn for shelter overnight and the Anti-Lacs settled in with them. It was going to be a long, restless sleep.
As the last of the cows reached the new pastures a low humming noise could be heard. Everyone looked up at the sky. Was it the government? Were they discovered?
The droning became louder and louder. Darkness held its secret, everyone was on edge. Then a single beam of light shone on one cow. She glowed mysteriously as it focused and the ground gave a sudden shudder as something touched the grass.
Still lighting up the cow, the beam was stronger and brighter, until a voice resonated: ‘We mean you no harm, we’ve come to take you out of here’.
‘Who are you?’ Bobby asked.
‘The Outers. We’ve been watching you. You’re very brave and just what we need.’
The flying transporter was smooth, invisible and fast, extremely fast. It took them a week to get to Mars. Everyone went, including the cows.
Mars was more than it had seemed on the News. Breathable atmosphere, water and houses all made up a community of resourcefulness. The Outers had established family and were building a new Earth. Here, cables didn’t stretch everywhere. They were built into the infrastructure which glistened with new space and thoughtful planning. Immediately they felt at home.
Amy gazed out of the window, her eyes were vacant and face solemn.
‘Mum, how are you today?’ Helen said from her side.
She didn’t respond. She hardly ever spoke these days having advanced dementia.
‘The cows are all lying down, it must mean rain is coming.’
It was a pleasant outlook over the field and Amy seemed content just to look. Who knows what was going on in her mind?
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