‘You’ll need to sign this.’
The woman pushed a piece of paper across the counter to him. Art looked at his brand-new paws, held them up to her in mute confusion.
‘Just use the ink pad,’ she said. ‘It’s legal.’ She paused. ‘You won’t be able to read it, of course, but it summarises what we discussed before the procedure. That you agreed to the Transference of your own free will. That you were offered the option of relocating to the HD Towers and chose Transference instead. That your species was selected without duress.’
Art pressed his paw into the ink pad and onto the page.
‘If you’re feeling quite well…?’ Art indicated he was. ‘Then take that corridor down to the end, turn left and you’ll be at the loading dock. Serge will see you into the carrier for transport to your new habitat.’ The woman inserted the sheet of paper into a file and closed her laptop. ‘Thank you for Transferring with HabiNow, we appreciate your patronage,’ she said.
The house was packed, most of what they owned given away or split into its component parts for reuse or recycling. Lally looked over the three remaining boxes. None of the furniture would come with them – the HD Towers were designed on Passivhaus principles and pre-furnished in that cunning, Swedish way, with everything sliding into everything else and all the things you didn’t need vanishing at the touch of a button. The wall garden included a super-tensile hammock, a place to nestle among the ferns and epiphytes, misted in sweet-smelling water, breathing in the aroma of deep forest. Everything else was in the common rooms: a place for guests to stay, a vegetable garden, dining rooms with chef kitchens you could rent by the hour if you were having friends over for dinner, sheds and workshops, a music studio. And the library. All her books were gone now, to other people, to other libraries. She’d kept only two, talismans. And there was the Tower library – that would be enough for her now. She would learn to share.
Lally called Art again. He didn’t answer. Perhaps she could pack the Smart4Two and pick him up from the office on the way.
She sat on the couch they’d bought on their tenth wedding anniversary, earmarked now for a doctor’s waiting room, and watched the demolition crews working in the next street, dismantling houses and trucking away the reusable materials, landscaping plots and planting native trees and grasses. Theirs was the last cul-de-sac to go, the last street in the suburb to get its Ultimatum.
The phone went to voicemail again. ‘It’s me sweetie,’ she said, unable to keep the edge of exasperation out of her voice. ‘Let me know if you want a lift, otherwise I’ll see you at the Towers. 3302, Tower 17. In case you forgot. Love you.’
She got into the car.
The sun had barely dragged itself free of the horizon when Art had his first real lesson in being a kangaroo. A dog, a heeler, probably from the neighbouring suburb, launched itself over the hill and in among their little mob, tearing a gash in the leg of some youngster before leaving it to bleed out on the ground. Art struggled to his feet and felt the surge of bodies around him as the rest of the mob fled, felt his own haunches tense and spring, and wondered at the power that propelled him across the grassland. He was terrified and he was thrilled and for the first time since he’d come here he didn’t miss his wife or his job and he didn’t wonder if he’d made a terrible mistake. For now he just was.
For the first time since he’d come here he didn’t miss his wife or his job and he didn’t wonder if he’d made a terrible mistake. For now he just was.
The roos regrouped on a native grassland meadow to the west of the city and filled their bellies with grass. Art felt his muscles flex and tighten. He licked his paws over and over, felt the soft breeze lift the heat away from him. One of the babies of the mob, natural-born, tugged grass around his feet then slumped down to sleep.
He looked at the newly planted sclerophyll woodland, eucalypt leaves shimmering in the light summer breeze. He saw the bulldozers on the horizon demolishing the edges of his city’s suburban sprawl, shrinking it further and further. He nibbled the native grasses and knew that finally he was where he was supposed to be.
Lally woke as soon as the light hit the windows of her new home. She pulled her phone towards her. He hadn’t called. She rang him again, got voicemail. She scrolled through the news: nothing about an accident, a fire, a suicide. Kaniya Kardashian had moved into a luxe HD Tower in New Mexico, her Taos mansion disassembled to make way for javelinas. The Secretary-General declared the ‘Half the World for Habitat’ targets were on track. A Mumbai vox pop showed citizen after citizen praising the restoration of the ghats and the return of the monsoon. No news of an accident. No news of a fire. No news of a suicide.
A suicide? Why would he have suicided? He wouldn’t.
A protestor in Maribyrnong had chained himself to the bulldozer outside his neo-Georgian, a banner across the lawn reading, ‘How about human habitat?’ A gif from Q&A showed Pauline Hanson shouting over and over and over, ‘Brumbies need this land as much as bandicoots. Hating brumbies is unAustralian.’
Art had cried the first time they’d heard about the Rollback, the Ultimatum. Lally had thought he was scared, sad to lose the house where they’d spent nearly twenty years, scared to move to the city where they’d be packed in with every other human. But he wasn’t.
‘To be on the right side of history, Lally. For once,’ he told her. ‘To have a chance to do something just. The weight of it all finally gone.’ He slumped into their anniversary couch (which, she remembered, he’d insisted on buying though the old one was still fine), wiping his tears away. She’d never seen him smile like that. ‘Thank God.’
They’d donated to WWF every month. They voted for Species Justice Party and Lally worked in their campaign office, volunteering her legal skills to help draft ‘Half the World for Habitat’ policies. In her youth, Lally had even spent some time up on a tree platform in Gippsland. She’d been vegan for years. She wasn’t really sure what he was on about. She’d thought they were on the right side. Still, it had been good to see him happy.
But where the fuck was he now?
Art had been getting their messages for months. Watching them from the front verandah as they picked their way across the sports’ oval opposite, heard their conversations, heard their plans.
Lester, their leader: Art had seen the way he moved, had known in his heart the things he’d said. Lester had said it was time to rise up. He’d said that for them, for the mob, the Rollback would never be enough. None of it would ever be enough until the spread of bitumen was ended. Lock them in their towering castles, Lester had said. Keep them closed inside their walls. Stop their spread.
From his verandah, Art could hear them, their plans for another night on the slick, shining streets. He’d looked out the window of their Smart4Two as he and Lally drove boxes of possessions to be recycled, seen their bodies sprawled across the tarmac.
The government people came to Art’s door, Ultimatum in hand. Towers or Transference, they said? No rush, sir; Take your time, sir. A representative will be back in three weeks to register your preference. Room already set aside in the Towers sir, so no rush. He’d signed right then: Transference. Selected his species: Macropus giganteus.
And when Lally got home from the shops he’d passed her form over to her and hadn’t said a word. ‘Towers then, darling?’ she’d said. ‘Towers: of course,’ and she’d filled in the form and asked if he’d done his and he said that he’d already passed it over to the representative knowing already what her answer would be.
Which he had.
And now here Art was and there was Lester. He bounded his way to the front of the mob to introduce himself.
She’d filled in the form and asked if he’d done his and he said that he’d already passed it over to the representative knowing already what her answer would be.
Lally took Art’s favourite glasses, his precious Bohemian crystal, and packed them gently into a shoebox, nestled them in the tissue paper still left from unpacking. She put on her hiking boots, set the box on the floor, rested one foot on its fragile cardboard top and then balanced her full weight. The edge of the box crumpled and she slipped slightly to one side; suddenly the glass gave beneath her thick vegan leather boots and she heard its satisfying waterfall of crushing cracks. Rocking back and forth she ground the glasses into dust. She picked up the collapsed, torn box, careful not to cut her hands, and dropped it into the rubbish chute. She vomited into the sink, rinsed her mouth and slid the kitchen bench from its slot.
‘Is there someone there I can talk to about Transference?’ she asked the technician who popped up on her laptop when she Skyped HabiNow.
‘If you’re considering Transference, ma’am,’ the boy said, ‘I can put you through to our customer management officer?’
‘It’s about my husband,’ she said. ‘I want to find out if he Transferred.’ She ran the tap to wash the last of the vomit from her new sink’s chrome.
‘As I’m sure you’ll understand, ma’am, there are privacy issues.’
‘Of course there are privacy issues,’ she said. ‘You think I thought I could just call and you’d tell me if my husband had Transferred? Do you think I’m an idiot?’
‘He’s disappeared and he’s not in hospital and he’s not dead and he’s not in jail. It’s been two weeks since they executed our Ultimatum and here I am in the Towers and here he isn’t. I know you Transferred him and I know you can’t tell me that you did and you’re certainly not going to tell me what he is or where you put him, but I just want you to know I know. Okay?’
There was a sliver of glass in her finger, under her nail. She grasped it between finger and thumb and gently pulled it free. A drop of blood beaded there and she streaked it across the concerned face of the technician on her laptop screen.
‘Okay?’ she repeated.
‘Okay.’ She hung up.
‘What do you fuckers want from me?’ she muttered at the pod of whales streaming across her apartment wall, the tinkling windchime accompanying the projection lurching to a crescendo as a baby humpback breached and leapt from the blue-grey waves.
‘The new humans did not eat from us,’ Lester told him. ‘The new humans took the land and made it smaller and smaller and turned it into walls and roads and speeding metal and we could not leap.’
Art realised he hadn’t been concentrating, that he’d missed some of Lester’s gist. He’d been wondering how it was he could hear what Lester was telling him when, for the most part, the whickers and grunts of the kangaroos around him were just that: whickers and grunts.
‘We could not bound,’ Lester was saying. ‘We could not jump. We could not fly.’
‘Are you nature-born?’ Art asked, but Lester was on a roll now.
‘You are one among us! You are welcome among us! You have chosen the shining path, you have made yourself righteous.’
He mustn’t be, Art thought. He must be a Transferee.
‘You are one among us! You are welcome among us! You have chosen the shining path, you have made yourself righteous.’
‘You were Transferred?’ Art asked him. ‘Me too!’ Though of course Lester knew that. That was what he’d just been saying, wasn’t it: he’d been congratulating Art on his decision. ‘What made you choose Transference?’ Art asked, and then realised Lester was still talking.
‘You will meet the metal. You will take a journey strong and beautiful. You will leap and you will bound, and when you meet the metal your stride will take you over the highest fence and onto the greenest grass where there are no roads and no buildings and nothing but open land as far as the eye can see.’
‘Meet the metal?’ Art asked.
‘You are one of us,’ Lester replied. ‘You are welcome among us. This dusk you will eat the sweetest grass and tomorrow, you will meet the metal. We thank you,’ he went on. ‘The mob thanks you.’
Lally had been driving illegally when she hit the kangaroo. She had no reason to be travelling across town – no family member to visit, no wellness initiative she needed to attend. Nothing she couldn’t do from home or by light rail. No way to justify the petrol she was burning. But she was angry, and she loved driving angry.
So when it happened she didn’t call road services for help. She bundled the creature – so small, maybe it’s a wallaby and not a kangaroo, she thought – into the hatch of her Smart4Two and tried not to think about whether the blood would ever come off. The rest of the mob had scattered to a safe distance and watched as she fastened her seat belt and accelerated at a very modest pace.
Yen opened the gate so Lally could drive up to the Sanctuary’s office. Lally parked and popped the hatch.
‘Nasty,’ Yen said and ran her hands over the roo’s body.
‘There isn’t anything…?’
‘He would have died instantly,’ Yen said. ‘You found him, right? On the side of the road?’
Yen talked over the top of her. ‘You found him.’
Lally started again. ‘I was angry, I…’
‘We need your work here,’ Yen said. ‘Species Justice needs you. Ambleside & Duray need you – where would those animals be without you? So I’m not writing this up. You’re not getting Transferred. Let’s take him in.’
They carried the little body up to the Tasmanian Devil enclosure where seven or eight of the stocky, scrambling creatures were recovering from facial cancer. Lally stroked the soft fur of the roo’s head, said she was sorry and shed a few tears. Yen recited the Apology to Nature, and they hefted the body over the fence to be torn apart.
‘Cup of tea, Lal?’ Yen said. ‘You should probably wait a while before you drive home.’
Lally stared out the window at a recuperating ring-tail and listened as the kettle came to a boil while Yen wiped down her car’s front fender. She couldn’t keep waiting for Art to show up. He’d decided what he’d decided, for whatever reasons. He should have talked to her first – they’d been married twenty years, for God’s sake. But he hadn’t, and he’d gone, and Lally was buggered if she was going to sit around the apartment moping. The world was fixing itself and she wanted to be a part of it.
Back at the Towers there was mail waiting for her. A package from the firm, Ambleside & Duray, where she was partner: petitions from displaced animals seeking asylum whose cases she’d be representing. And a letter on the stationery of HabiNow Transference Inc. She looked at the postmark – twenty days ago, bloody Australia Post.
She poured wine into a bamboo tumbler, momentarily regretted crushing the Bohemian crystal, and opened the letter. It was from Art, written before he was taken in to surgery.
‘Dearest Lally,’ it said. ‘By the time you read this I will probably be missing you horribly. I won’t be able to see you or talk to you; I won’t be able to write. I’ve decided to Transfer. I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you about it, but I know you had your heart set on the Towers. I didn’t want to upset you. I just couldn’t bear being the bad guy any more, Lally. I’m tired of the weight of being human, of always making things worse. I want to be part of nature. I just want to be innocent. I love you always, Art.’
‘You wimp, Art.’ Lally chucked the letter on the coffee table, opened the depositions from Ambleside & Duray, and got down to work.
An earlier version of this story was published as ‘The right side of history’ in the anthology Ecopunk! Speculative tales of radical futures.