|The Transformation Story Archive||Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...|
"Let me show you a few of the finished zoomorphs we've got in stock." Mr. Harker was a conservative dresser. What looked like authentic Levis and a reproduction Gun-and-Roses sweatshirt gave him an air of old world charm that was a welcome reassurance given the fraught nature of what we were discussing.
The barn was dimly lit and it took a moment for my eyes to adjust. The odor was sharp and complex. I commented on it. "We don't muck out all that often. It's not as if our animals are not going to catch a disease or anything and there's nothing like dirty bedding to make them confront the realities of their situation. We do try to keep the walkways between the pens clean though so you needn't worry about your shoes."
Most of the floor space of the barn was divided up into pens with black railings. The pens had bite drinkers and low feed troughs. Most of them seemed to be empty. At the far end I could see some stalls and a number of low cages, some of them occupied. Down there someone was crying.
We walked down the central path. "Here we are, a sheep". The creature in the pen looked back at us mournfully. It did indeed resemble a sheep, recently sheared. Only the head was seriously odd at a second glance, much too large although the muzzle was about right. "Sheep are easy to sell.", said the salesman, "as far as the farmer is concerned they are not significantly different from the natural product. The wool is top quality. By the way it doesn't understand what we're saying. We block an element of the brain's language recognition system."
In a stall further along something a lot like the foal a heavy horse was tethered to a wall ring by a head collar. It was eating from a wall manger with a kind of grim determination. Presumably because of it's naturally larger capacity the head appeared much less distorted than that of the "sheep". "You can see this one has a lot of mass to put on."
Harker turned and parked his backside on one of the rails. "I can't show you anything in household pets today". He said apologetically. "These animals are for sale whereas the house pet jobs are usually conversions on existing slaves and the owners take them straight home as a rule, usually they like to watch them change. We don't have many animals in today anyway, we sent most of our stock to market a couple of days back."
I moved along to look at the source of the crying. A young man, naked and filthy, was sitting in one of the cages. He was staring at his arms which ended in trotters rather than hands. His feet were in the same state and his chest had begun to narrow and push forward. He looked up at us. He spoke in a strange, thin voice, as if he had to drive abnormally large amounts of air out in order to be audible "Please, I've changed my mind, stop it, stop the change. I'll pay the sale cost myself." I was embarrassed but Harker led me skillfully away. "Pay no attention." He said "he understood that it was a random choice and now he knows he's going to be a meat animal he wants to back out, he's afraid". His contempt was clear. "His voice will be gone fairly soon, which, I must say, will be something of a relief."
"Do people get used to that; being slaughtered I mean." I was surprised by the steadiness of my voice. Somewhere inside part of me was shaking like a leaf.
He grinned "Not people," he corrected, "for the duration of the contract they're not people, but to answer your question some get used to it, for others it is worse every time."
"I've never understood why there is a profit in it. I mean anyone can make meat which is molecule for molecule identical to what you get that way. I understand that the zoomorphs put on quite a bit of weight between conversion and slaughter but surely it would be cheaper to produce the carcass directly."
"Don't ask me. There's no logical reason why there should still be a meat industry at all. It's partly the conspicuous consumption thing I guess. Those that go in for it say flesh that's been 'lived in', so to speak, tastes better but as far as I can see it has to be psychological. With zoomorphs there's the titillation of skirting around the cannibalism taboo .. you wouldn't believe the prices. I guess it's a good thing, really. If people were more logical about it the farm animal species would be verging on extinction by now and I think that would be a shame. Of course it would also ruin this business."
We went back to the office. He called up a document on the computer. "As you can see, this is essentially a standard slave contract with some extra options and agreements from us. There are several options to chose, for example you can specify the species or leave it random. I won't ask you for a decision here and now. I'll post a copy to your filestore. Call me when you decide or if you have any further questions.
I skimmed briefly through the thing "I don't suppose that clause four is optional."
"Sorry, not a chance. Exclusion from cruelty to animal legislation gives our product an important competitive edge."
"But doesn't it reduce your supply?"
"Who can say? Still, I suspect it has less impact than you might think." He gave me a predatory grin. "It's not going to stop you for one."
I drove home, I suppose rather badly. Pulling up on the driveway I instructed the car to destroy itself and entered the house. I then called up the contract on the lounge screen. It all seemed legal, straightforward and scary. Of course there had to be a slave contract. Zoomorphia Ltd. couldn't legally do what it did to a person and in any case a zoomorph clearly needed an owner. I had fantasized before this about slavery but I had never found anyone to put that kind of trust in. Now I was seriously contemplating something more that slavery to an unknown owner. So much for logic.
Over the next few days I found it impossible to get any work done. I leapt from one unfinished project to another. I refurnished the house twice, very badly. I wandered listlessly through cyberspace, unable to get interested in anything. By the end of the week I admitted it to myself. At 130 years old I am beginning to know my own mind, even if do not have much control over it. Zoomorphia Ltd. had me firmly on the hook. I called them.
"How long will it take you to put your affairs in order?". That was simple enough. Most of my income is from various pensions and, though I sell software I had no outstanding advances. Basically I just had to tell some people I would be out of circulation and cancel the lease of the land on which my house stands. We agreed two days. He 3-wayed in a notary computer and I signed a minimum eighteen month contract. It was as simple as that.
I was careful to arrive early at the ranch. The mess I would be in if the contract came into force before I arrived scarcely bore thinking about. In the event I was half an hour early. To my surprise the place seemed to be deserted, the office was locked and no one answered my knock. There was nothing for it but to wait in the car.
The wait seemed endless. I have to admit that I was more frightened than I ever remember being. I barely remembered in time to get out of the car before the noon deadline. I should have been prepared for what happened as noon struck, yet it was a shock when it came.
The deadline was much more than a formality. When I had indicated my acceptance to the notary computer that set in motion a trail of events in that strange double of the world, at once abstract and real, where the real wealth and the real power of our society now dwells. Every computer that knows about me was notified of the contract. The computer that had built my car this morning had passed the information to the car itself. The computers that lurk inside the cells of my body waiting for the first sign of illness or injury knew of it. My bank knew of it.
At the instant of that noon everything changed. My bank accounts were frozen. My private information files were taken off line. My ephemeral possessions, including my house, began their destruct sequence. I had already put my few inert possessions into storage. Most of them were souvenirs from the earlier years of my life.
Even the computers in my body had now changed their transponder codes. That meant that all those devices that responded to human presence, from computer terminals to doors would now perceive me as a domestic animal. Not only would such devices not now operate for me, if I were neither on my owner's property or under obvious supervision they would report me as a stray and I would probably end up in the local animal shelter.
It is often forgotten that these rather draconian measures were initially designed for the protection of people who become slaves on limited contracts. My owner could not order me to hand over my money or possessions because I didn't have any for the duration. The requirement that slaves be supervised in public places makes them less exploitable for commercial purposes. The slavery law had been brought in to allow the satisfaction of the drive to submission in those in whom it was powerful. It had been drafted to prevent, as far as possible, forced consent due to economics and commercial exploitation as cheap labour thus no money could change hands between Zoomorphia Ltd. and myself. They made their money out of selling the animals.
The immediate effect of my reclassification was apparent in the possessions I had with me. The car, my watch and even my clothing where all ephemeral. Each of them disintegrated into tens of thousands of diamond spiders which scuttled off in search of the nearest molecule store. Miles away, exactly the same thing would be happening to my house. The car I had been expecting, but for more than half my life clothing had been just inert cloth and I hadn't really got into the way of thinking of clothes as sophisticated machinery. Having my shoes disintegrate unexpectedly was an upsetting experience, literally. Five seconds after noon saw me sitting naked in the mud shocked and with a pain in the butt.
The laugh was not a pleasant one. I turned to see a tall woman standing at the door of a small outbuilding I had not yet entered. She was dressed in work clothes. Had she been dressed in some kind of traditional dominatrix outfit, the whip and knife clipped to her belt would have looked like props. As it was, their combination with "sensible" clothing made them look like what they probably were, tools of the trade. Last time I had been here everyone had been polite. I'd been a person then. Today I was property.
Yet it hadn't really sunk in yet and I started to protest. "I ..." I began, not really knowing how I was going to finish the sentence. In the event I did not have to, it was ended for me with the flick of the whip against the back of my left hand. For a split second I thought it no more than a tap, then the pain began in earnest. On the back of my hand a triangular area had completely lost its epidermis and the tissue underneath was scoured with about a dozen jagged short, parallel, cuts. Blood began to flow freely. My sentence ended in a croak. "I talk to animals sometimes", said the woman conversationally, "but I don't care to listen to them."
"I'm a sadist, you know," she said, "probably some would call me a psychopath. When I can get away with it I like hurting and frightening people. Some sadists like to give pain to people who enjoy it, as a kind of kindness. Not me, I'm a genuinely evil person. Isn't it lucky for you you aren't a person. I hope you are going to make a nuisance of yourself, I really do. Now heel boy!"
I followed her into a very plain room with a computer, a table with a few unidentifiable gadgets and a chair. The only odd feature was a patch of wall to the left of the entrance which was about the size of a door and mat black. In front of this she had me stand. Unexpectedly she shoved me backwards and the wall writhed against my skin, then stuck to it. In a moment I was immobilized, my back and limbs sunk perhaps an inch or two into the now hard surface.
The woman now produced a bowie knife from a belt sheath. The knife appeared to have a blade of pure diamond. The sharpest metal blades will sometimes part a hair blown against them. With a knife such as this the weight of the hair would be enough. "If you piss yourself or shit in here you'll lick it up." she advised. I couldn't see the knife while it was below my eye level but I felt it all right. She touched me at the top of the breastbone and drew it slowly down my breast then my clenched stomach muscles to my penis. The sting of it suggested it was leaving a bloody line but the lesson of silence had been learned. In any case the pain was insignificant compared to the fire still raging in my hand.
"Do you know what would happen to me if I, for example, disembowled you?" she asked pensively, "They would stop the cost of repairs out of my wages. Last time it cost me $50."
She showed me the knife now with drops of blood on it. She walked over to the table and flicked a drop of blood into one of the gadgets connected to the computer. She then licked the rest of the blood off the knife. "Blood sample." she explained "I thought you might be one of those people who are afraid of needles."
She worked with the computer for a while and then walked out leaving the door open. I spent the time trying to control the pain in my hand. Although I couldn't see it I thought that the nanites in my body should have stopped the bleeding by now, but they do nothing for the pain (that was tried in the early days and it made people much too careless). By dint of concentration I could distance myself from the pain, changing it into mere sensation but such concentration was difficult to maintain, especially since I was in a state approaching terror.
Because I had been told in such terms to hold my water, naturally I was starting to feel pressure in my bladder. Several eternities later she returned carrying a covered tray. She did something behind my head and my arms and head came lose. She then showed me the contents of the tray. There were eight identical objects. Each was a clear cylindrical container with a white block inside. They were about two centimeters across by one deep. On each was the cogweal and caduceus of medical nano in red. "Choose your poison" she said. I saw the point immediately. Each of these objects represented a possible zoomorph. I was choosing what kind of body I would be wearing a couple of days from now.
I reached for one of the boxes, watching her face. Did she know which was which? Her feral grin gave nothing away. I snatched another one and tore it open dropping the white block into the palm of my right hand. I shuddered, watching it dissolve into my flesh. The die was cast. How it had fallen I could expect to find out in a few hours.
The woman, whose name I never did learn, released me from the wall and led my into the malodorous barn. She opened the first empty cage we came to. It was perhaps six foot by four and about three foot high. There was chopped straw on the floor of it but it didn't appear to have been changed lately. Someone or something seemed to have vomited in there fairly recently. "In" she ordered. I looked at the filth. I looked at her whip. I dropped to hands and knees and crawled into the cage and she locked it. My sigh of relief as the lock clicked must have been audible because she laughed. Then she turned her back and walked out of the building without further comment.
The pressure in my bladder was becoming painful and it finally occurred to me there was no further point in holding back. It appeared I was going to be here some time. Peeing in the straw was embarrassing at first but when I had finished my mood underwent and abrupt shift. Along with the physical relief I felt an enormous sense of liberation. It began to penetrate that it was perfectly right and natural for me to act like an animal. The woman had called me an animal and I had taken it as an insult but I had been wrong. I was an animal, had been since noon. The physical change I was about to undergo would be no more than a kind of confirmation. Trying to assert my suspended personhood would bring nothing by misery.
I now became consciously aware of how I had been suffering from the stench of the cage. My nose was wrinkled and I had been breathing shallowly through the mouth. This wouldn't do. I told myself that smell is merely a sensation, that the implications of the stench were truths I had already accepted. There is no such thing, I told myself, as a bad smell. There are only smells with bad associations. I began to examine the smell more analytically. This was old vomit. That was my fresh urine. It worked surprisingly well. It wasn't that the smell decreased, but that I chose no longer to suffer from it. I surprised myself by laughing out loud as I made myself as comfortable as possible on the filthy straw. I noticed with surprise and pleasure that my hand had finally stopped hurting. In the space of a couple of minutes I had changed from fear to, not exactly anticipation since I knew little of what to expect, but a kind of pleasurable curiosity.
After a few minutes I realized I was thirsty and looked around the cage. There was a bite drinker as well as a feeding bowl set into the back of the cage. Between the two a white block hung from a string which passed through a hole in its centre. I crawled over to the drinker and put my mouth over the pipe. Closing my teeth on it caused a jet of water to spurt into my mouth. It was lukewarm but I drank deeply and with pleasure.
Crawling back towards the deepest part of the straw I noticed that my fingers seemed to be stuck together. I looked at my hands, fascinated. Even in the gloom of the barn I could see that a web of skin joined the fingers as far as the knuckles. The webbing was growing almost visibly towards the finger tips. I held my fingers straight and tightly together thinking it might speed things up. On a sudden thought I looked at my feet. Unsurprisingly I no longer had separate toes.
Of course I understood the general principle of what was happening. The white object had been tens of millions of nanomachines of a variety of types each holding its neighbours to form a very special type of crystal. When these machines had sensed my skin they would have streamed into the pores and then squeezed between the cells into the blood stream. The biggest of them would be smaller than a bacteria. Within minutes they would have been all over my body. There would be enough for at least one to enter every cell.
They would be operating in two general ways. Some would operate directly, constructing and destroying material a few atoms at a time. They would use the chemical energy and the materials of my own body. Others would operate by taking control of the genetic expression within my cells. This enabled the creation of new cells of any required type. That was the basics. Of course the complexity of the total process was far beyond the capacity of the human mind to encompass. The fact was that no one knew in detail how such things worked. They were developed using a form of evolutionary process in computer simulation.
It occurred to me that the process was going to use up quite a bit of energy and that I had eaten nothing since breakfast. By the time the energy loss was translated into hunger I might be incapable of eating. I crawled back to the feeding bowl. It was full of brownish grey pellets which resembled nothing so much as rat droppings. Since my hands were of no use now I buried my face in it and ate as well as I could. I don't know what rat droppings taste like but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the visual resemblance extends to flavor. At least the pellets were too big to go up my nostrils. Presumably I would have a snout of some sort in the near future. I felt that it couldn't come too soon.
I ate until I felt full and then drank again at length. I then lay on my side and looked at my hands again. The webbing between the fingers had thickened from the base to to point that only the tips of the fingers were still distinct structures. My thumbs had completely merged with the base of the index finger and seemed to be losing bulk, as were the outer two fingers. My hands and wrists seemed to be becoming more round than oval in section. I tried to feel the shape of my face but my hands were so strange to me that I couldn't work out if it had changed as well. I also discovered, in doing this, that I could no longer turn my wrists or bend the last two joints of my fingers. I decided that it was time to stop thinking of them as hands. Judging by the way the nails of the middle two fingers to be thickening they were going to be hooves of some sort. The fact that only the central two fingers were developing that way reduced the options. It suggested I was going to be an even-toed ungulant which ruled out pigs and horses.
My meditations were interrupted at this point by the arrival of our lady of the whip with another naked man. Whip wounds on both shoulders suggested a slow learner and this was confirmed when he balked at entering the next cage to my own. I was squeamish enough to avert my eyes from what followed.
He had, at least, learned enough to keep quite until she had left the barn. Then he swore at length and quite inventively. I laughed, and was startled by the strange tone my laughter seemed to have taken on. It made me wonder if I would still be able to speak.
He turned to look at me and shuddered "Great, That's all I need; a gargoyle with a sense of humor."
"Sorry," I managed to get out around an uncooperative tongue. "I'm just admiring your vocabulary. Impressive, isn't she? And very good at her job. She scares the shit out of me but I'm kind of grateful to her."
"Grateful?! She's a sadistic monster. How do you mean, 'good at her job'?"
"A little necessary rubbing of our snouts in the shit, of course. This morning we were people, stymate, now we are livestock. Soon we'll graduate from animals to dumb animals. We've got some unpleasant adapting to do. There's no turning back from that, the quicker we go through it the quicker we're out the other side. There is light at the other end of the tunnel, I have got just about far enough along to see it."
He groaned, trying to find a fairly clean patch of bedding to stretch out on. "Now a philosophical gargoyle. And don't call me 'stymate' My name is Peter."
"Actually you are wrong, stymate. You don't have a name. Neither of us have names or anything else for that matter. Not even our bodies are our own." Then I had another thought "Talking of bodies how's my snout coming along. Since you call me 'gargoyle' I suppose that means I've got one."
"You face looks like some kind of ape. And your neck is about a foot long."
"Thanks, for the information. I wish I had a mirror. But that's wrong of me isn't it? Animals don't wish. Animals live in the real present not in the worlds of 'if only'. I may not have hands any more but I've still got some letting go to do."
We lay in silence for a while. Something was happening to my vision; it seemed to be getting cruder, less detailed and what color vision was afforded by the dim lighting was fading. I closed my eyes and let my consciousness explore my body. I was trying for a contemplative state but I kept been startled into a analytical mode by discovered changes. My pelvis was gradually folding itself. I could feel the change in the angle of it against the bedding. My shoulder blades were moving forwards. All over my body flesh and bone were on the move. I kept having to look for new comfortable positions but there was no pain, only a strange crawling sensation. It was very disturbing though, as though you were to watch, say, your hand act on its own volition.
My companion suddenly cried out and I lifted my head to see him staring at his right hand. My vision had deteriorated now to the point where I could not see clearly what had shocked him but I tried to distract him with some funny remark. No sound emerged. evidently I had lost that capability. I looked at what had been my own right hand and arm but was now clearly a foreleg. Despite my poor vision the proportions were clear enough to make out what kind of foreleg. The foreleg of a calf. Some part of me screamed in protest. I took a deep breath and told that part not to be childish. In my mind I tried the identification "I am a calf, when I grow I will be a bullock." The thought was at once strange and comfortable. Like trying on some outlandish costume and finding that it was a perfect fit.
I realized now that Peter had been speaking for some seconds. I concentrated. I caught at a few words "... hands .... fool ... why ..." but they slipped through the fingers of my mind like mercury and, despite my best attempts at concentration I could make nothing of what he was saying. It was clear, though, that he was very agitated, at least in part at my unresponsiveness. But I could think of no way in which I could respond. I decided that I could be of no use to him and might as well ignore him. I had my own concerns. Suddenly I was nauseous. Was something going wrong? This was supposed to be a safe process but I was a little too old to have the faith of the last couple of generations in evolutionary engineering.
Throwing up was almost an exercise in nostalgia. It was not something people did any more. But although I hadn't done it in over 30 years I did remember that you had to drink water afterwards to wash the acid out of your gullet. Getting over to the drinker was far more difficult than last time. The cage seemed to be more suited to a human than a calf. I drank and then felt a sudden desire for salt, so I licked the block for some time. I remember reading somewhere, years ago, that humans are the only terrestrial animals that don't know how much salt they need. Apparently I had joined the majority.
Now, with relief, I realized what the problem must be. The food I had eaten earlier in anticipation of the energy drain would have been in the way of the changes to my stomach which were obviously necessary. It seemed almost like a just punishment. Write fifty times in longhand "I am an animal. Animals do not plan." Zen advises "When hungry eat. When tired sleep." I was trying, damn it, but it's a lot harder than it sounds.
My legs seemed very long, and did not fold well in the confined headroom of the cage but when I lay back on my side it struck me how extraordinarily comfortable I felt. The human body is one of evolution's most recent ideas and it seems to me that it has not yet had time to reach any sensible accommodation with gravity. The head sticks out too far in front, yet not far enough sideways or to the rear. The feet are just absurd. To be able to lie on a horizontal surface with my neck almost straight and the side of my head resting on the same surface suddenly struck me as wonderful. I had not really been this comfortable since the last time I had been in free fall long enough to get used to it. I didn't really notice that I was falling asleep.
Sharp hunger woke me in total darkness. "OK Zen masters." I thought with amusement. "Time to obey." but after nearly half an hour of increasingly frustrating struggle I was unable to get my muzzle into the feed bowl. I just couldn't get the right angle because the gap between the bowl and the top of the cage was too narrow. The hunger grew slowly but implacably. I was becoming desperate enough to wonder if some of the straw bedding might fill the void but my body said no.
From amongst the ranks of the barn's many smells the aroma of hay took one pace forward and saluted. The cage, which had been a refuge yesterday, now felt like a death trap. I kicked the door in futile desperation. It didn't even rattle. There was nothing I could do at all. I couldn't even make a noise that would be audible beyond the barn.
Dawn took subjective years to come. Long after I knew it was physically impossible my attempts on the food bowl continued. I tried to get a hoof into it to knock some food out. I tried to break it away from the wall. The only result was a collection of bruises. I have never been more pleased to see anyone in my life than I was to see Our Lady in the first light of dawn. She was the last human I wanted to see but any human would have done at that point.
She strolled down the barn at a leisurely pace that seemed like slow motion photography to me. She took an unhurried look into each cage in turn. I had forgotten about Peter. Peter was now a pig. All I could think about was that his shorter head would have no trouble with the feed bowl. She laughed easily and said something, it was just a noise to me this morning, not a single word came across. Probably just as well. She walked out of the barn for a moment and returned with a double handful of long stalked hay. As she approached, tauntingly slowly, the smell of it pulled my head up hard against the bars as if it had been a magnet. Obviously she was aware of my predicament. How could she not be? I was scarcely the first. If my vision had been better I would surely have read her intent from the look on her face. As it was I was stunned when she dropped the hay just outside the cage and left.
She had calculated the distance to a nicety. By jamming my muzzle painfully between the bars I could just get my tongue to the nearest stalks. I actually managed to catch a few but, in doing so, pushed most of it further away. My only reward was a taste that redoubled my hunger. Had I been able to stand upright I might have been able to put a hoof between the bars and drag it towards me. What did I say about animals and wishes?
She returned when the light had noticeably increased, eating an apple. A tangle of straps and chains hung from her left hand. On the basis of no rational evidence I was immediately certain that she had just taken a leisurely and hearty breakfast. She finished the apple and threw the core into my cage, and for a few moments that apple core had the whole of my attention as I twisted awkwardly to get to it. It was delicious but so small. I didn't even notice for a moment that she has opened the cage door.
In a shot I was half way out of the cage. Half way because that was far enough to get to the small pile of hay. The thought of freedom never entered my head at all. Good food rewards in proportion to the attention paid to it. I've paid huge sums for gourmet meals that pale into insignificance beside the taste of that hay. I was dimly aware that she was putting some kind of head collar onto me but the only significance of this at the time was that it interfered a little with my eating.
I was still very hungry, and their were a few wisps of hay left when she spoke a sharp word and pulled on the lead rope. Yet the edge of my hunger was blunted and I was no longer totally beyond reason so I obeyed the pull. I wriggled out of the cage and, for the first time, stood properly on four legs. I followed her demurely out of the barn, concentrating on keeping the right amount of slack in the lead rope. Strangely enough my desire to be on best behavior wasn't just from fear of her. I was actually grateful for the hay. I wanted her to be pleased with me.
There were a number of crush pens of various sizes behind the barn. I knew what they were but I made no fuss about being put into one. The sides of the crush pressed against my sides and a chain behind me pushed my neck into the yoke so that I could move only my feet a little. The thing had foot blocks and a belly strap as well but she didn't bother with them. Instead she attached three chains with snap hooks to the head collar's nose strap so that I could not move my muzzle more than a couple of inches in any direction. There she left me for a moment, fighting with my fear.
From her pocket she took a small packet which she opened. She showed me a bright, open ring, perhaps between two and three centimeters across. As she brought it to my nose I concentrated on holding perfectly still. The pain was agonizing but brief. Obviously it was some kind of smart material which closed and probably welded itself on some cue. She turned it in my nose, checking it was free to move. That produced only a slight burning feeling until I inadvertently moved my head. From then on I was very careful to keep still.
Her next action surprised me. I had expected her to use the ring to lead me but instead she just draped the lead rope over my neck and released me from the crush. It seemed I had passed a test. For the first time since we had met she seemed almost kindly. She ruffled the hair on the back of my neck and said a few words in a friendly way. Feeling the need for some reciprocal gesture I licked one of her hands. She laughed and walked back into the barn without even visibly checking that I was following. I was, of course, where else would I go?.
She chose a stall about half way along the barn and tethered me by clipping one of the chains that formed the gate to my collar. To my complete astonishment she then fetched a wheelbarrow and fork and cheerfully mucked out, put down fresh straw and filled the manger. I was seeing a totally different side of her personality. But after all why should a person that takes pleasure in inflicting suffering not also take pleasure in being nice? There was a tethering ring by the manger and I thought I would be tethered like the horse I had seen on my first visit but instead she took off the head collar and steered me into the stall by pulling on one of my ears. I needed no second invitation. The stall was about three meters long by about half that in width. It was well ventilated without being drafty. To me it seemed palatial. I turned and, as she was fastening the two chains across the entrance, licked her hand again to express my thanks. Then I turned back to the manger and got down to business. The part of me that still tried to cling to my dignity told me that I was reaping the rewards of selling out but its voice was weakened and desperate.
Over the next four days I saw five new zoomorphs made including another of my own kind. The pattern of treatment began to come clear. Everyone was tested with indignity and then suffering. The hyperactive ones were subjected to tight physical constraint. Some brooded, biding their time. These were provoked into active resistance and then taught its futility. Occasionally one would attempt to bite a member of staff. On these occasions we saw the black side of the lady in full force. Poor Peter tried to bite her as he was driven into a smaller cage. She taped his snout and then hung him by his back legs using hooks, as if in a butcher's shop, whipped about a third of the hide off him, and left him hanging until the following morning. Droplets of blood ran down his body and dripped from his snout. Watching it left me shuddering and sickened. Perhaps the worst of it was his silence in circumstances where any natural creature would have been screaming. It seemed like the pain, having no outlet, must churn around inside him for ever. When she took him down he dragged himself with his front legs into the small cage without being told.
Each of us had a part that tried to cling to our dignity, our sense of personhood. It refused to allow you to enjoy the simple, animal pleasures. Of course, since we had chosen this experience we had decided to live without that part for the duration, yet no part of the mind goes down without a fight. I had required relatively little help to break that part. Some of the others required more drastic measures. You could see it come and go in them. The staff clearly saw it too. Once they felt it had finally died in you they treated you in a humane but businesslike way. They would tolerate no nonsense but as long as you behaved yourself there was no deliberate cruelty. Of course when you got down to it there was little or no scope for misbehavior anyway. There was nothing much in reach we were capable of harming except ourselves.
Over the same period we had nine visits from potential converts. If that was representative it suggested a pretty high take up rate. Some of them were shaky, some defiant. Some petted me, some recoiled in horror. Of the nine only two were women.
Then a day came were the activity was very different. Several of us were taken out and actually washed and brushed, a new and very enjoyable experience for me. I was unsurprised to see the truck. It was clearly market day. I fought with a tendency to indulge in wild speculation: The fight was more or less a draw.
The truck, of course, was made for this specific trip and so had the right number of stalls for each type of zoomorph. We were each put in a stall with walls which pressed lightly against our bodies all the way around, a low partition touching the breast; sides and rump against the walls. It was confining and you couldn't see out but you were completely braced against the motion of the truck. There was a long wait before we moved off, then a seemingly endless trip. It got too hot and we started to stink. Every time the truck stopped for traffic reasons I was praying we had arrived. Then it stopped and there was a long wait. Finally we heard the doors being opened. After another eternity my stall opened and I burst out, stumbling down the ramp, half blinded by the daylight.
Walking down the maze of alleys between the many pens was my first encounter with natural livestock under these conditions of near equality. I suddenly realized how acute my sense of smell seemed to have become. The odor of their nervousness went straight to my hindbrain and I realized my body was afraid. I was ashamed of my fear. Many here would be dead within a few hours. Even if we were bought for immediate butchery (which was possible) the death we would experience would be only a mockery of the real thing. My thoughts were interrupted as a man used an electric prod to remind me I wasn't here to sightsee.
The other calf and I shared a pen by ourselves. This was the first time I had any real contact with him and I looked for a way to get some sort of acquaintance. We did some mutual grooming which, I think, calmed us both. Meanwhile a succession of people came and looked us over. I studied them as intently. There was no need for lowered eyes or anything like that. The symbology of subservience was redundant here. I had been expecting some kind of display ring but actually the auction came to us. There were maybe five bidders, about eight hangers on and the auctioneer. It was all disappointingly matter of fact. We were both bought by a small, harried looking man in overalls and a skullcap. Having secured the sale he walked on with the auctioneer to the next lot without even glancing at us.
The sun moved some way across the sky while we stood in the barren concrete pen. The bars were actually steel so it was likely that these pens had been here for a hundred years or more. How many animals had passed through here? Had stood waiting where I now stood? How many had walked from this pen straight to their deaths? And yet their deaths did not outweigh the innate value of their lives. It struck me that any time now pastoral farming might become a thing of the past. Species that have had a part, yes been members, of our civilization since its beginnings reduced to a handful of zoo animals and pets. Redundancy would mean extermination. It was a thought so horrible it temporarily washed away my personal fears.
I think that it was at that point that another of my defenses started to crumble. I had seen my position as bathetic. In effect I had been taking pride in my humility, a form of pride I find particularly offensive in others. I began instead to feel pride in being what I was, a calf. I think if we'd gone straight to slaughter at that point I would almost have wanted to meet the real death that way out of a kind of solidarity.
But instead we were loaded along with perhaps a dozen natural calves into a box van and had a long, jolting ride to a small farm. Where it was I have no idea to this day. I did try to find out later, I would like to talk to the people there, in fact to thank them, but I can see why anonymity in that direction should be a part of the contract.
It could have been very unpleasant. The horrors of twentieth century farming, long illegal with natural animals, they were perfectly free to use on us. Being what I now was, veal crates had been much on my mind. In the event life on the farm was amazingly good. Grazing was a revelation. It looks boring but, especially on "unimproved" pasture it is like eating an endlessly varied salad with an almost endless appetite. It is also the form of meditation which has been the most successful of all those that I have tried over the years. At night we were confined together in a barn and it was mainly in there that I learned that cattle are far more social creatures than they appear. I came to love the smell of them. The comradely nudging. The mutual grooming. I began to distinguish them as individuals.
There were, of course, bad moments. Within a few days of our arrival we were castrated and had numbers freeze branded on our rumps. Zoomorphia must have done something to our medical nano because both of these operations had a lasting effect. We were also dipped a couple of times which, even with modern pesticides, is no fun at all. But far worse were the episodes of internally generated darkness. From time to time I was reminded, usually by the way we were putting on bulk, how this idyll was scheduled to end. At those times I withdrew from the others, I didn't want to be friends because I didn't want to mourn them.
There came at last a morning when we left the barn to be herded into a pen. The truck was waiting. I think I might have made some kind of fuss at that point, for the moment I had dreaded was approaching, but suddenly the overriding consideration was not to frighten the others. >From his behavior I think my fellow zoomorph felt the same way. Thus the two of us who knew how much there was to fear acted like the calmest of the herd. I really think it worked. I think we managed to communicate that calm, false as it was. In the truck we deliberately took one end each, trying to be islands of calm. I was using every mind control trick I had ever learnt in my long life. The ride passed in a blur of concentration.
Standing in the queue for the knocking pen was the worst moment, the bars of the alley touching both my flanks and watching the first of my friends stumble down the chute, the door dropping behind him. I almost lost it then. Not that I could have got away but I could have panicked the whole group. I heard the sharp "chuff" of the pneumatic gun, the slam of the side gate, the door opened, I was shoved from behind, knocking the next one forward and suddenly I was at the front of the queue.
When the door opened again I didn't wait for the shove. I looked up at the slaughterman as the door dropped behind me. It is illegal to delegate this job to a machine; one of our weirder laws and one I support. But this guy was inattentive. Not recognizing me for what I was he put the gun on the top of my head. There was no time to cringe. The bolt was supposed to smash straight through the brain far enough to destroy the basal recticulum, now widely recognized as the seat of consciousness. In this case although I was no longer a man my brain still had the armour that we all wear these days woven into the substance of our skulls. My head was slammed downwards as the bolt failed to penetrate. The slaughterman swore with pain, his whole arm badly jolted. The bolt had deflected and gouged a path through the flesh of the top of my head. I was dizzy, in pain, and blood was pouring into my eyes but I was far from unconscious. He snarled something at me and, grabbing the dropped gun slammed it down on the nape of my neck, much harder than needed to set it off. My whole body jerked galvanically and went numb from the neck back. I fell through the side gate every bit as limply as the others would have. The only difference was, I was still conscious.
With commendable efficiency the men on the other side hoisted my onto a conveyor by the back legs and cut my throat. I could imagine the nanites in my body going into furious activity as they detected the loss of oxygen in my brain. Protect the brain, that need would override all their regular activities. From all over my body they would rush brainwards bringing gifts of oxygen and A.T.P. (which was a convenience to the meat industry since there would be no machines left elsewhere). Many of them would exhaust their energy supplies keeping the cells alive while others spun three dimensional webs of long chain molecules within and between the cells, immobilizing some molecules directly, trapping others in pockets. Carefully the biochemistry of my brain would be braked to a halt.
The subjective effect of this is that time seems to telescope, going faster and faster as the mind slows. It also means that a man is conscious a lot longer than any other animal with its throat cut would be. I got to see my blood pouring down the drains. I got to see my innards fall to the ground. I even got a final dizzying whip pan view of the hanging carcasses, one my own, others belonging to friends of mine, after they cut off my head.
I awoke, lying on my side. I didn't open my eyes at once. I wanted just to rejoice for a moment in having a side again. I thought for a moment about the real cattle I had lived with for many months. Who had been, in truth, my friends and who were dead for real. Though I follow no definite religion I offered a kind of prayer for their souls to my Self, to any who might hear such. Somehow my own suffering, pointless as it appeared, seemed to have absolved me of the need to grieve and I felt at peace.
The smells were familiar, though seemingly in a different key from before. I didn't have to open my eyes to know I was back in the barn at Zoomorphia Ltd.. I did have to open my eyes to find out what I was though. "Here we go again." I told myself. I opened my eyes.
Zoomorphia.Ltd copyright 1996 by Malcolm.
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