Starlings Will Inherit the Universe


Howard Knight
© 1996



I was an avid bird watcher in the '90s and I was disturbed by the number of Common Starlings in San Diego, especially in the beach area where I lived. Every year, their numbers seem to increase and I was genuinely concerned with their impact on the indigenous birds in the area. If that wasn't enough, these damn birds made homes in a couple of palm trees next to where I lived. I not only had to put up with their squawking and squealing, but they also were constantly shitting on my car! My hatred for these birds manifested itself into this short sci-fi story. I guess it was my way of venting.

You will have to forgive my use of "hemp" in the story. Even though hemp is a variety of cannabis used for fiber, back then it was used more generically to mean pot or weed, the way "cannabis" is used nowadays.

Over the last two and a half decades since I wrote this story, the starling populations have declined across the globe. In North America, this is good news since they are an invasive species and never should have been here in the first place. I still see them once in a while in San Diego, but they no longer make me cringe. My latest bird peeve is the Eurasian Collared-Dove. Back when I wrote this story, I had never even heard of these birds. Now their numbers have exploded in the San Diego area and they are quickly displacing the indigenous Mourning Doves. Grrr. Maybe, one day, I'll write a story about them.

— Howard (2022)


Some time in the near future after World War III:

As if a nuclear holocaust, global warming, ozone depletion, water, land, and air pollution weren't enough, the earth was further assaulted by being slammed with an asteroid that was at least ten kilometers in diameter. Millions of tons of dust and debris from the impact were ejected into the atmosphere, adding to the already existing smoke left over by the nuclear bombs. The asteroid caused fires that raged around the globe for weeks, adding even more smoke and soot to the disgustingly dark and stinking atmosphere. For nearly a year, the earth was dark and freezing cold with an atmosphere saturated with dust, smoke, and radioactivity. Thousands of species went extinct (including Homo sapiens). Even after the sky cleared, the ultraviolet radiation from the sun snuffed out even more of the surviving species of flora and fauna. More than 95 percent of the species on planet Earth became extinct.

The devastation to the terrestrial plants and animals was much worse than that of the ocean. Practically all terrestrial plants became extinct. Once the sky cleared, only scattered patches of crabgrass, bermuda grass, and dandelions sprouted. Except for a few rodent species, mammals were completely wiped out. Reptiles faired no better; A couple of species of lizards survived (kept warm by the decaying biomass). Some species of crocodiles survived. (Oddly, they always manage to survive these things.) Most insect species were wiped out too, however, cockroaches, ants, and termites proliferated. Not one single species of amphibian survived. Cyprinis carpio (carp) was the only surviving fresh water fish species left. And when it came to the birds, only a single species survived: The European (or Common) Starling (Sturnus vulgaris).

At first, starlings managed to survive by eating worms and bugs as they normally did. But, because of toxic rain and severe cold, their natural diet of worms, grubs, etc., went extinct. Oddly enough, the starlings weren't affected by the toxic rain and soil. Presumably, they were protected by already being adapted to the fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides from golf course and park lawns. However, many starlings died of starvation; their carcasses were quickly gobbled up by eager cockroaches and ants.

Not surprisingly, some starlings adapted to eating cockroaches. Others, with longer and tougher tongues, adapted to eating ants and termites. The bounty of cockroaches and ants allowed starling populations to again increase and even explode!

Eventually starlings began feeding on other types of animals. Some starlings ate carp fry. Others ganged up on small rodents, pecked them to death and ate them.

A few decades passed and the earth's ozone began to recover. Also, the toxins and radioactive goo began to leach out of the water and top soil. At about that same time, the seals in Zip-Loc baggies began to fail allowing dormant hemp seeds to sprout. Soon, the hemp thrived and proliferated. Some starlings nibbled on the hemp for extra fiber and the intoxicating effect. A few starlings had tougher digestive enzymes and bacteria in their gut and began eating more and more of the hemp.

In as little as 100 years, starlings began to divide into separate races. Incredibly, by 500 years, separate starling species had emerged. (The rapid rate of starling evolution was probably due to mutations caused by the toxic radioactive muck that was still left in the water and soil.)

Thousands of years passed. Rain forests emerged with thousands of plant species all of which descended from hemp. Grasslands also emerged covered in hemp grass and hemp trees and shrubs. Mountains were covered with forests of majestic hemp evergreens. Hemp cactus eked out a meager existence in the deserts. Wetlands too, were rich in plant species that were all descendants of hemp.

Starlings evolved to exploit every niche of the environment. Due to the lack of predators, most starling species were by then flightless. All shapes and sizes of starling species thrived: large hemp grazing starlings; packs of hunting starlings who fed on the hemp grazers; water loving starlings who swam and dove to find their favorite type of carp (which also had diverged into separate species); burrowing starlings that fed on cockroaches; starlings that fed on tasty termites by using their long bills and super long sticky tongues. And the list went on and on. Starlings could no longer be considered birds and could be placed in their own class: Vulgaria

Naturally, species of vulgarians resided at the top of the food chain in all land (and many water) habitats. One species of vulgarian in particular, Turpis afarenis, inhabited the grasslands. T. afarenis had a special adaptation for surviving in its environment: it walked upright.

T. afarenis soon evolved into more advanced species. Brain size increased and body feathers decreased. These more advanced species used stone tools and communicated with each other using a primitive language that consisted of squeaks, raspy whines, and chirps. The species Molestus habilis was born. M. habilis quickly evolved into M. erectus which in turn, evolved into the big brained Vulgan (Molestus sapiens).

Later, the Vulgans invented written language, art, and culture; advanced civilization followed. Advancing technology, science, and industry soon pushed the Vulgans into their space age. They invented airplanes, radio, television, computers, fast-food restaurants, and mini-malls. Soon, rockets were taking Vulgans into lower orbit. After that, Vulgans were buzzing around the solar system in spaceships looking for planets to colonize. Unfortunately, there were no planets in the solar system that would sustain life and the Vulgans were too lazy to terraform any of them.

Then it happened, the Vulgans discovered a small planet orbiting our third closest star, Rigel Kentaurius (Alpha Centauri). Years of study revealed that the little planet had a nitrogen rich atmosphere with enough oxygen and carbon dioxide to sustain modern earth life. A no-holds-barred/money-is-no-object project was put into place to build a really fast starship to travel to the little planet.

Soon, the starship was finished, and a crew of about 80 Vulgans started its journey to Rigel Kentaurius. A few decades later, the ship coasted into orbit around the new little planet. The planet was quickly scanned. Analysis revealed a species of sentient beings called Sialians. Sialian civilization was in the beginnings of its own space age.

The Vulgans sent scout ships to the surface to collect a few of the Sialians for study. To abduct the Sialians, the scouts blasted them with a paralyzing ray and then beamed them aboard their ship. The scouts collected Sialians from all walks of Sialian life (but especially from the uneducated in rural areas). The Vulgans performed medical tests. In some cases they removed eggs and sperm and forced the subjects to perform sexual acts. The Sialian test subjects were re-deposited to the exact location where they were found. Then, the Vulgans erased the memory of the abduction from the Sialian's brain. The research showed that the Sialians would be a push over. Also, their mating techniques were hilarious!

The Vulgans decided to make their presence known to the Sialians and to talk to their leaders. They sent a message over all of the planet's TV and radio stations, "Uh, people of this little planet, our ship is, like, broken and we can't go back to earth. Can we hang with you people? We have hemp." The shrill, squeaky, raspy, whiny sound of the Vulgan's voice made the Sialians clutch their ears and tremble with fear. After weeks of negotiation and despite the horrible sound of the Vulgan's voices and their drunken rowdy nature, the Sialians agreed to let the Vulgans live with them.

The Vulgans conveniently forgot to tell the Sialians about the incredible rate at which they reproduced, also, that they reached adulthood at about three years of age! Using the money they made from interviews, lectures, and TV talk shows appearances, the Vulgans invested heavily in real-estate. The obnoxious Vulgans began bullying and irritating the poor Sialians away from their neighborhoods which in turn, drove real-estate prices down. That allowed Vulgans to buy more properties for their exploding number of offspring. Within a few decades, the Vulgans controlled virtually all of the planet's commerce and industry. Within a century, the Sialians were irritated and bullied into extinction.

In the mean time, the Vulgans had discovered another little planet orbiting another nearby star. They sent a starship to that planet. Then another planet was discovered, and another starship was sent. More and more planets were discovered, and more and more starships were sent to colonize them.

Within 20,000 years, one percent of the inhabitable planets in our arm of the galaxy had been taken over by Vulgans. In 40,000 years, ten percent of the planets were taken over. In 60,000 years, all the planets in the arm were taken over. In 100,000 years, a quarter of all the planets in the Milky Way galaxy were black with Vulgans. By 200,000 years, all the inhabitable planets in the galaxy were overrun.

And then one day, as if guided by some magical means of communication, millions of intergalactic spaceships from millions of little Vulgan worlds took off in unison. The giant parasitic black cloud of ships traveled away from the galaxy and then beyond.

To be continued...