The Time Exchange
Chapter 1

The silver blue sky delivering this winter's dawn from the vast galactic night began separating the brown silhouette of scrubby gums picketing the sleepy hills nearby while I was still out wandering around. I spent the night walking the country lanes around my rented cow farm cottage, ironing crumples off my fright, resting my emotions in the smooth velvet mood of bodily fatigue, and rehearsing my memory of this dear but shabby tale.

I was still a kilometre from home when the thought of a cup of cheap instant coffee and a round of toast roused my gait, and inspired a wistful melody based on the progression of a minor chord through the resolving cycle of thirds and fifths. As if anticipating my return to sleep in a darkened inner room I cast my mind at an angle several light seconds off the east horizon where my emotions could bathe in that tranquil stillness, and the dim brown warmth of the returning solar haze. The melody playing in my mind blended seamlessly with the radiance I could feel passing through me at a phenomenal rate, and I drew comfort from my confidence in the constant presence of this electromagnetic source. Even at night when I suffered the delirium of a somewhat conflicted psychedelic perception I only had to remember that once I was a member of this intricate solar being, and that I could bathe in my memory of its ever present vibrations.

Behind me to the west the galactic centre was setting beyond the western hills and to the north, some two million light years from here, the Andromeda galaxy was just beginning to absorb our vaguely forgotten Pleistocene memories. Were it possible for such distant observers to take an interest in the feeble remnant of light arriving on their shores they may have cared about our ancestors' trepidation. They may have seen that long ago our ancestors trembled in the cold as the mythical children of a Genesis story which remains with us to this day. They may have seen how they suffered a change in the weather, and how they suspected that their domination of other members of the Pleistocene may have been a contributing factor. They may also have seen how our ancestors were horrified by the realization that their evil could have such monumental consequences, and how they found a way to remind future generations of their potentially catastrophic powers. Not much remains of the electromagnetic signal now passing through this galaxy, but if inhabitants of such far away worlds happened to have an open mind then their dreams would be filled with an endless performance of high drama.

Beyond the Andromeda galaxy time and space proceed forever, and everywhere space resonates with the memories of so many creatures who occupy different scales of existence. We are all radiant beings who will shine now and forever, and who live in such troubled times that some find it comforting to remember that our warbling reflections go on and on indefinitely as if a day had never passed.

While some may wish that their misery would end, and pray for the End of Days, alas it is simply not the case that time will ever end. It happens to be convenient for some people to believe that we will eventually die, both as individuals and as members of the groups of those who are dear to us, but time only seems to end because of the peculiar way we look at it. The truth is that our sense of these dimensions is a domestic convenience organising our lives, and if we chose to look at them differently then we could see that it all just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Our little bubble of perception may begin on a scale which seems for a moment to be relatively small, but we continue to expand without ever ending because, after all, we are just a lot of electromagnetic radiation.

I've seen members of my family luxuriate in their innocence of the emptiness out there as they sat down to their Sunday lunch, and ate one of those relatively insignificant ones who look out there in the late afternoon on their last day on Earth. I'm a city boy living on a farm and I made the mistake of getting emotionally involved with the livestock, which is typical of my kind. I got to know some of the cows pretty well during my stay here, and I've seen the look in the eyes of those sad ones who know they are being taken off to slaughter. It's not fear I've seen there, but sadness. When you look out into the warmth of eternity it's not fear you feel but an overwhelming sorrow when you realise that you will have to give up something which you've loved very dearly. All of time and space awaits you out there beyond the horizon, but saying good bye, feeling the love and gratitude you owe to those who brought you into this world, and who cared for you. Well, it's very difficult for those insignificant ones to be constructive with such emotions.

And it's difficult for the ones left behind in the paddock. They weep for days, until their voices are a whisper, and until they've exhausted every fibre of their being grieving for the ones they've lost, before they turn from their sorrow and get on with their lives. They return to their grazing hoping to soothe the biting pain, not knowing when they will have to grieve again, but looking out there into the emptiness with longing because they know that sooner or later it will probably be them.

Personally, I've sworn not to eat meat again, and I sympathise with the vegetables I eat when they sacrifice their unimaginable lives so that I may enjoy the nutrients I wish I could otherwise avoid. I'll eat meat if my host puts it before me, however. I'll not offend her by refusing to partake in her culinary effort if she happens to be a meat eater. But I will make an effort to draw her attention to the plight of those noble beings who sacrifice their lives so that she may endure with her own. She may be a good and honest human, but I believe it is too easy for her to ignore the suffering of those farm animals whose existence seems otherwise insignificant to her.

I lived on a farm once before. I was a nineteen year old graphics student at a regional college and I was too distracted by my studies, and other things, to notice that I was surrounded by tragedy. Even at the age of forty one when I came to live with my present companions it never occurred to me that I would be challenged by the emergence of a life changing conflict of interest. It never occurred to me that the farmer and his family had developed an enduring resilience to the plight of those insignificant ones they were, after all, farming. I was still developing my telepathic skills and the cows provided me with a unique opportunity to hone my skills, and prove, once and for all, that developing a telepathic rapport with others was possible.

Any author of tragedies would have worn a wry smile when he or she saw my arrival at the farm. It would have been fairly obvious to the teller of such tales that the day would eventually come when I would be put in a position where I had to choose where my loyalties lay. I got cosy with the cows at the first opportunity and distractedly ignored the occasional absence of the young ones when they were taken off to slaughter. But Hoppy made a point of befriending me. She saw a potential ally to her cause and made it clear to me that she had a special claim on one little one whom I later came to know as Brown Star. When Brown Star was taken she was furious, but I'm getting ahead of my story here. Let me take you back several months to the time when I was just getting to know young Brown Star.

When I got back to the gate I found my young friend waiting there to greet me. It was just a coincidence, of course. We had a telepathic rapport, but I doubt that he saw me coming and made a special effort to meet me. He would have been grazing there by chance as the herd made its way around the tasty grasses scattered indiscriminately throughout this particular paddock. I glanced over to where a bunch of cows were sitting in the early morning light chewing the cud as cows do when they are in repose, and sure enough Brown Star's mother Hoppy was nearby keeping a watchful eye over her precious yearling.

During the nine months I had been living here I had gotten to know Brown Star quite well, and during this time I gradually came to suspect that he was a calf who suffered the burden of a fairly subtle grieving. It was not, however, our telepathic rapport that drew my attention to his plight. It was because I could see it in his eyes as I'm sure other members of the herd could just as easily. A careful study of his demeanour would show that there was a very deep and personal conflict in his life which persisted throughout every waking moment, and it quite likely never left him when he was asleep and dreaming. Brown Star's problem was that his mother never let him out of her sight for more than just a moment. She was a dominating mother with a very sore broken leg which had never healed properly, and she required poor Brown Star to remain in her presence where ever her personal whim happened to take her.

I stopped by the fence to share a moment with him.

"Hi Brown Star," I thought after locating his feeling in my mind.

He didn't say anything, but he looked briefly in my direction and without raising his head from his grazing he began to move towards me. He was usually a bit sullen, and always very shy, but since I had learned his true name, the name by which he is known among members of the herd, he had become much more responsive to me. It was not until quite recently that I learned his true name. Prior to this welcome development in our relationship I thought of him as "Hoppy's little fella", and this was the name I used to address him in our social relations. But I later realized that he found this title demeaning since it only served to make clear in his mind how easy it was for someone to recognise that he had a particularly submissive relationship with her.

It may be a curious coincidence but I happened to suffer from a similar conflict in my own life. After a lot of soul searching and a determination to wrestle with some of the most urgent ecological issues which cast doubt on our ability to even survive on this planet, I made a decision many years ago to extricate myself from entanglement in relations with my family. I had arrived at the conclusion that human numbers were ultimately responsible for our environmental dilemma, and that the family would be involved in any attempt to adapt to urgent environmental practicalities. Unfortunately an unforseen consequence of my ecologically adaptive behaviour was my mother's evident determination not to let one of her precious children get away from her. While I could physically remove myself from her presence I found that I could not remove myself from her mental obsession with me. For many years I suffered from her continual intrusion into my most inner mental sanctum. I learned a lot about the potential for telepathic relations between animals from my conflict with her, and today I enjoy the fruit of this painful but informative experience with all the interesting creatures I encounter.

In any case I was able to relate to Hoppy's determination not to let another of her precious offspring escape from the love which she could not help feeling for them. Brown Star was, in fact, the youngest of three calves she had born into this world. Brown Star's elder siblings had long been sold off to slaughter before he was even born, so Hoppy had already had ample opportunity to contemplate the emotional content which structured her maternal predicament. Add to this the curious circumstance in which her leg was broken, and she had a very clear picture in her mind of what the ultimate fate of her offspring would be. It was during one of her own visits to the sale yard that her leg was broken in an unfortunate accident involving a brutal truck driver about eighteen months ago. Lucky Brown Star had the doubtful honour of being the first of her calves to be born while she suffered from this very awkward limp.

The farmer told me about the incident. He could clearly remember the clear blue sky which brightened the chilly autumn morning on which she ended what proved to be a perilous cattle-yard journey. When I got to know her later on she told me what she could in her own special way. She had been herded onto the back of a fairly small cattle truck with a half dozen of her comrades the night before, and driven too many miles across the flood plains to the nearest sale yard. It was a very chilly night and by the early morning a frost had covered virtually everything in sight. She was used to ignoring the cold as cattle often do, but the slippery ramp by which she was to return to the certainty of solid ground was enough to make her stop and think about her physical abilities.

She was the last to be loaded the night before, and so she was the first to be persuaded to trust the slippery ramp. She tried to catch the driver's attention, and explain to him that it was a difficult thing for a cow to trust such a slippery ramp, but the driver only got impatient and furious. It wasn't long before the driver was in the back of the truck pushing any cow he could, and in the ruckus which ensued poor Hoppy slipped off the slippery ramp, came down heavily on her left hind leg, and heard the painful snap of what would otherwise have been a strong and healthy bone.

She tried to get back on her feet but the pain only told her to remain seated, much to the annoyance of the driver who now wanted her to follow the others into the holding pen. He tried kicking her, and yelling obscenities at anyone who'd listen, and eventually let fly with what became an interesting bit of information. It was the first time she'd heard an admission from one of her human captors about the true nature of their intentions towards them when the driver yelled "I don't know what you're whinging about, you're going to be killed anyway!"

She was horrified! There was a strong consensus among members of the herd about the nature of their captor's intentions. But a lot of what they had discussed was based on speculation which failed to provide much motive for a rebellion having any forethought or co-ordination. It was a revelation for her to hear one of her captors acknowledge his intentions with such clarity, and also with so little sympathy. She sat there for most of the day trying to remain motionless, but kicking her broken leg occasionally in an effort to relieve the pain. She observed the commotion going on around the cattle pens in the light of her newly acquired bit of information and thought about what she would tell her comrades on the farm if fate chose to give her such a chance.

As the day drew on cows were loaded back onto trucks and driven away, and before long she was alone with a small number of men who were discussing what they should do with her. She couldn't understand most of what they were saying because they all spoke so quickly, but when one of them produced a rifle their intentions quickly became perfectly clear. They were going to butcher her right then and there.

With a huge effort she struggled to her feet and stood on three legs, favouring her broken leg and ignoring the pain. This evidently changed everything for the men standing around watching her. They began to talk about getting her back onto a truck and back to some distant farmland where she could be treated by a veterinary surgeon. One of them reversed a truck to about twenty feet from where she was standing, and pulled out a long ramp which she slowly began hopping towards. With effort and a great deal of concentration she managed to negotiate the climb up the ramp and back onto the truck, and the relief she felt when she achieved this goal she evidently shared with the farmer who had volunteered to take care of her. She spent that night rocking back and forth, bumping against one of the cattle truck walls, wincing occasionally at the biting pain but grateful that she had managed to survive this intrepid ordeal.

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