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Crows

A technical writer and photographer by trade, Caw Miller is dabbling in speculative fiction until his starship comes in. This is his second story for Daily Science Fiction. In addition to some published poems, Caw has had stories in anthologies and online places. The map-filled fantasy novel General Drummer Boy is available via Amazon. cawmiller.com.
Fleet Commander Yazle picked her way through the debris of a destroyed city on the planet Unlivil. Beside her walked the High Grasper, the leader of the largest hive on the planet. Commander Yazle wondered why she had been invited to go on this perambulation with the pale, octopus-like being. She had expected hatred, possibly a murder attempt; not grateful politeness.
The High Grasper flashed three tentacles at a small winged scavenger, which took flight. The High Grasper picked up the mostly eaten carcass of a hexipod and placed it in a pouch.
"If you are hungry I can give you a protein bar," Commander Yazle said.
"Thank-you, but no. I will suffer, like my people. You have done so much for us already by chasing away the Vuverits. They nearly obliterated the entire planet. It will be a century before we recover."
"Chased them away?" Commander Yazle said.
"Oh yes. We've composed heroic ballads to your feats."
The High Grapser put half of its tentacles around its head in an odd pattern that Commander Yazle guessed was a singing or speechmaking pose.
"The Vuverits fleet came, destroyed our defenses in a day and then began raping the planet of precious metals and rare radioactives," the octopus-like being pronounced. "Billions died as a byproduct of their resource stealing. Billions more will die in the next months due to ruined infrastructure, and billions after that until the ecosystems recover. The Vuverits might have continued to steal, but our saviors' ships appeared at the edge of the solar system. The Vuverits began to withdraw equipment. By the time the Human fleet reached the second moon, the Vuverits fled. The generous Humans landed and quickly got our computer systems and our libraries and universities operating. The saviors even rebuilt our smelting and machining plants. The glorious Humans chopped decades off of our recovery timeframe."
Commander Yazle kept her expression bland. "Times do vary."
"You've followed the Vuverits before?"
"For decades."
"Oh?" Pink gas puffed from the from creature's accent tube.
Commander Yazle sighed. Now she had to tell the story. She did not assume a speechmaking pose, though. "I was on the far side of the solar system when the Vuverits attacked Earth, my home planet. By the time I arrived with a small fleet, the Vuverits had left. Seeing the destruction of our culture and our planet, we vowed vengeance and set off in pursuit. Our interstellar ships were too slow and we arrived at the next planet decades after the Vuverits had departed. No intelligent species remained on that devastated planet. We picked through the debris, found some technology that allowed us to travel faster and safer, and after improving our fleet, set off after the Vuverits."
"You almost caught them this time," the High Grasper said, becoming slightly blue in color.
"Yes." Commander Yazle cleared her throat. "And that's what we've done ever since--every planet getting closer and closer to the Vuverits. I admit we are no match for them, yet. We've moved up through the scavenger ranks, though."
"Oh?" The High Grasper turned pink.
Having given this speech dozens of times, Commander Yazle knew what to say, although it pained her to say it to sentient beings that appeared to be peaceful. "On this planet of yours," Yazle began, "after an alpha predator makes a kill and eats its fill, then smaller animals pick over the carcass eating the bits left behind, right?"
"Yes. I just chased away a firster to get the snack that I placed in my pouch." A tentacle patted the bulging pouch.
"Firster is the name for that flying creature?"
"Yes. Due to their ability to fly they are the first scavenger to the carrion after the predator leaves."
"Exactly," Commander Yazle said. "On my home planet we call them crows."
The High Grasper's color darkened.
Commander Yazle waited for the creature to speak, but the High Grasper's vocal tube remained closed.
"We Humans are crows," Commander Yazle said.
The High Grasper flushed crimson. "You're not saviors?"
Commander Yazle shook her head. "We follow the Vuverits and when they've finished taking the largest deposits of resources, we arrive and pick over what's left."
"You didn't chase the Vuverits away?"
"They were leaving anyway."
"But you restored our government and libraries, our smelting plants_" The High Grasper expelled pink gas from its accent tube. "You're stealing our technology to improve your ships!"
Commander Yazle blushed, echoing the emotional color changes of her host, which made her uncomfortable. In a different situation Humans and Unlivilians might have been allies. "We don't have the technology to conquer planets, yet, but soon we might. Until then we search the technology of each conquered planet to improve ourselves."
The commander shifted her weight from foot to foot while the High Grasper stared at the horizon. The creature might attack her, but she hoped that the psychological profile was correct and the being would deflate in defeat.
"What will become of us?" the High Grasper asked, its color now nearly black, but splotched with crimson.
"You might survive us, though we're thorough scavengers. We'll chase down the smaller veins of heavy metals in the top three miles of your crust." Commander Yazle smiled, hoping the translator would interpret the expression to be reassuring. "It's not personal. We need to keep improving our fleet and our technology. We mean you no direct harm, but it's a tough galaxy. There are predators out there that will eat us unless we can defend ourselves."
"Better to be the prey than the predator, I think." Red gas puffed from the High Grasper's accent tube. "We could recover from the Vuverits, although we would be diminished. Will we survive you crows?"
Commander Yazle used her boot to push through the debris until she found a metaphor.
"Your civilization may survive us crows, depending on how resourceful you are." Commander Yazle held out her hand, upon which a small worm wriggled.
The High Grasper sat, expelling black gas. "After the firsters come the seconders and the thirders until the carcass is completely consumed."
Commander Yazle nodded. Feeling like a giant maggot she picked her way across the debris, leaving the High Grasper squatting in the ruins of its capitol on its doomed world. Yazle preferred when the inhabitants fought back and raged at her. The violence distracted her from the wrenching of her soul. She consoled herself with the hope that although humans might never become strong enough to destroy the Vuverits, maybe in the next century or so, Humans would have enough technology and resources to help the victims, thus becoming human, again, something better than crows.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, August 12th, 2016


A poorly written nature documentary inspired the original story idea. The first drafts of the story were set on Earth after the arrival of the second aliens, but always ended in the destruction of all humans and the Earth. Although reevaluated periodically, the story sat for years. Shifting the story to another planet with humans as the villains helped the story, but still had an unsatisfying ending. A look into an alternate animal for the title (which was not used) gave the final inspiration and finished the story.

- Caw Miller

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