I was harvested three days ago. No one knew what to expect when one is harvested, because no one ever returns to earth after harvest. What we imagined was for the conditions to be deplorable, but we were wrong. Being harvested means escaping the filth that we humans dubbed the cattle yards. Those are where our invaders coral us until harvest.
Now I am kept in a small but clean, single person cell. Mine is one of thousands of cells that line the corridor. My guess is the corridor is within one of the dozens of Avian ships that orbit our planet.
My days are numbered. All through the day and night, the sound of cell doors opening and closing signal the addition and removal of humans. Most go quietly, but some scream and struggle as they are led to processing.
The Avian’s invaded four years ago, so all of humanity knows their fate by now. Wasn’t really an invasion. Their ships appeared and within minutes our militaries, ballistic missiles, power grid, and communications systems were neutralized. It was over before we knew what hit us.
Presently I stand at my cell’s door. For such an advanced race, the door is as primitive as the barred doors of Alcatraz.
I look straight ahead as an Avian guard approaches from my left. Using my periphery, I watch as it moves with that quirky gait. Every few steps it bounces a couple of times, as though frustrated with walking, its wings twitching…yearning for flight.
Fascinated, I turn my head and watch its approach. Its head swivels left, then right, looking in each cell. Fine head feathers reflect the light with a luminous glow. The colors of its feathers shifting with the creature’s movements.
Its gaze sweeps my way and its eyes lock on me. Without breaking its stride, it closes the distance between us. It’s hooked beak, previously ajar, now clamps shut, as if setting its jaw. It’s eyebrow tufts furrow.
Though my exposure to our conquerors has been limited to this point, this bird seems clearly irritated that I am watching it.
In front of me, is shuffles its three toed feet to face me. Since it is a full head taller than me, it looks down its brownish yellow beak at me. Gray eyes burn into mine, challenging me.
“What is it you want human?” It rasps, the word human coming out the way slave might have come out of a plantation owners’ mouth in the early days of America.
“You speak our language.”
“It leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I do, but your language is nothing special,” it says as it settles a little, bring its eyes level with mine.
I wonder if it is as curious about me as I am about it.
“I repeat, what do you want human?”
“I would like to live.”
It gazed into my eyes for several seconds, as though it was contemplating an appropriate response. Then it broke eye contact, looked up the corridor to its right, then left, before refocusing on me. “Your kind should have thought of that long before we arrived.”
I was perplexed by its response, “Humanity has wanted to live since the beginning of time.”
It made a sound that I judged to be laughter, “We have been watching you a long-time human.”
“Why would you be watching? I can’t imagine we were a threat to you at any point in our history.”
Another sound, then, “Space travel takes time. We found your planet via your transmissions. First radio, then what you call television.” It shook out its wings, then continued, “As we neared, we started digging into your history, using your networks to mine data.
“Humans used to be strong race. Your survival was assured.”
“We were doing fine until you came along.”
Again, that sound, this time the smell of rotting flesh washes over me, making my stomach turn, and the ice of fear courses through my veins. I am this things dinner in the very near future.
“There was a time when humans did what was necessary to survive. Then…you let feelings…compassion, get in the way.”
“The universe, like your planet is a cruel place. There is no dispensation for one’s feelings in the universe. The strong take from the weak. Those who hesitate…die.”
“That seems harsh.”
“That is what I am talking about!” It rose up, extending is thin legs and massive wings to full length, the force of its sudden movement pushing me back from the bars.
I stepped forward, resuming my place, “I am slow to understand.”
The Avian settled down, meeting me at eye level once again, but its wings still rustled as though in irritation, “Does the lion give any regard to the antelope when it hunts? Does the shark worry whether the seal has a family to support when it feeds? The answer is no.
“Did we care about your feelings human when we easily conquered you?”
“It appears not.”
“Exactly. I am talking to you out of curiosity, not for concern.”
“So, what your telling me is, if we cared less, we could have stood up to you?”
“So many of your resources went into compassion,” it put an emphasis on the last word that sounded almost as vile as its use of human, “when you should have been putting those resources towards survival. Towards advancing your species.”
“If we don’t stand up for those who cannot defend themselves, then who will.”
“No one, and no one should.”
“That makes us no better than animals.”
A strange twinkle lit within its eyes. Almost like bemusement, “Therein lies my point…human.”
It studied me for a few seconds before continuing, “Our anthropologist found this human trait going back to some of your oldest civilizations. Somewhere, you decided you were better than animals.” In a very human like gesture, it shrugged its wings. “Now, you are the captives of what your species typifies as animals.”
“You never take pity on any creature.”
“Survival says not too.”
It turned and resumed its patrol of the corridor.
“What happens to earth when we are gone?” I called after it.
It turned, and again, emulating humans, pointed two of its primary feathers at me and said, “Earth will continue as it always has, following the natural order of things.” Once again, it made that sound, like laughter, and walked on.
I watched it for a moment. As I did so, I thought back to a pair of robins who kept building a nest on my garage lights. The first time, the eggs were eaten before they could hatch. Sadly, I took that nest down. They returned later that summer and built another nest.
These chicks hatched and I took pride in watching the parents work their tails off feeding them. Then, a hawk arrived in the neighborhood. Its intentions were clear. It wanted those baby chicks. I did my best to ward that hawk off. But he always returned, perched high up in one of my pine trees, watching that nest.
One by one it snatched those chicks from the nest. I never witnessed it, but I did watch the nest population shrink from three, to two, and eventually one. That last chick vanished the next day. Afterwards I wondered why life was so cruel to end the lives of innocent robins long before they could first stretch their wings.
Where did something so young, coming to a tragic end, fit into the balance of life. They were too young for nature to display flaws. They had not yet shown whether they could or could not fly.
Was it their parents that were flawed? Was it a poor choice of nesting location? Were the adult robins not aggressive enough to protect their nest?
These were the questions that went through my head as I looked towards the empty nest in the days that followed. It was easy to mumble, “Well, that is the cycle of life.” But it didn’t make me feel better as I took that empty nest down.
What I did decide was…life was not, nor is it…fair.