“Oh no, you don’t, sunshine. Stop right there!”
At the sound of the night-watchman’s voice, the slender figure in black raised its hands. The beam of light from the night-watchman’s torch danced around the scene. At first glance, everything seemed to be intact – then how had the bugger got in?
High above the intruder’s head, a skylight was ajar, letting in the chilly night air. A rope ladder dangled like a broken pendulum.
“Don’t you bloody move!” the night-watchman threatened. He sidled to a nearby control board, twisted a key and pressed a red button until it turned green. The skylight whirred and clanked into place. “Right, sunshine,” the night-watchman shone the full beam of his flashlight into the intruder’s face. Only the eyes, blue and squinting, were visible; the rest was covered by the coarse wool of a balaclava. “What the hell do you think you’re playing at?”
“Three guesses, grandad.”
A young woman’s voice. The night-watchman chuckled. “You’re from the university, aren’t you?”
“You kids and your idealistic nonsense. Animal liberation, is it?”
The intruder didn’t reply.
“Look, love, you’re barking – up the wrong tree, I mean.”
“I’m not your love!”
“You should be so lucky!” the night-watchman laughed. The young woman gasped, aghast. “What I’m saying is, you’ve got it wrong. There are no animals here. Not even a mouse. This is a strictly controlled environment. Air quality, temperature, light – well, it was until you forced your way in.”
The young woman jutted her chin in defiance. “Don’t feed me your lies, grandad.”
“Now you’re being ageist!” the night-watchman interjected with a look of faux offence.
“I’m sorry,” the intruder faltered. “But I don’t believe you. Everyone knows what goes on in here.”
“Are you sure about that, lo – I mean, are you?”
“Well, it’s wrong, isn’t it? Everybody knows that.”
“Wrong? Wanting to feed people is wrong? I may only be a part-time security bloke but even I know there’s a food crisis going on. I don’t claim to know all the science behind it but it seems to me the boffins here are heroes.”
“Bah!” the intruder crossed her arms.
“No, hear me out. They’ve come up with a way to provide meat for everyone on the planet. Healthy, sustainable meat that doesn’t decimate the rainforests and – this is for all you bleeding hearts – doesn’t involve the harming of a single living creature. Now, you tell me what’s wrong with that?”
The young woman opened her mouth, stretching the fabric of her disguise, but she couldn’t reply.
“That there,” the night-watchman directed his torchlight at her boots, “That tank you’re standing on fills this entire enclosure. It’s the width and breadth and depth of a swimming pool and it’s full of ethical protein – or will be, when it finishes growing.”
The young woman looked down. She was standing on one of the narrow metal walkways that crisscrossed the tank. A pink substance, glowing faintly, pulsated beneath the clouded Perspex.
“It’s wrong!” she persisted. “It’s Frankenstein food!”
“Think of it, love! World hunger solved! Deforestation halted! Factory farming a thing of the past!”
The young woman put a hand to her brow and shook her head.
“Come on, love,” the night-watchman held out his hand. “In the spirit of compassion, I’m going to let you go. I’ll take you to the way out and no harm done, eh?”
“I –” the young woman’s knees buckled. The night-watchman rushed to catch her. He steadied her on her feet and helped her along the walkway.
“You’re bleeding,” he observed, as red drops landed on his hand. “Must have cut yourself when you forced that skylight.”
“I’m – sorry –” the young woman sounded dazed.
“You just be sure to tell your friends at that university not to trouble us again, OK? You can do that for me, can’t you? And let that be an end to it.”
The young woman nodded weakly. The night-watchman took her through an airlock and the car park beyond.
“Releasing you back into the wild, love,” he laughed. “Off you go!”
“Sorry,” the young girl was downcast. She shuffled away. When she was some distance from the compound, she straightened and laughed to herself. Job done!
The night-watchman returned to his office and put the kettle on. Kids, eh? They mean well but they should do their homework first.
On the bottom right screen of a bank of monitors, unnoticed by the security guard, the intruder’s blood seeped through a tiny crack in the Perspex. Beneath the lid, the pink mass darkened and trembled.
And an appetite for human blood was born.