Do you have a ROBOT DINOSAURS story? Plan to write one? Awesome! We are open now, and eager to read your chompy words!
Do you have a ROBOT DINOSAURS story? Plan to write one? Awesome! We are open now, and eager to read your chompy words!
My intern screamed. That’s rarely a good sign. Near the starboard rail, Abigail clutched a dripping, freshly towed plankton net. The collection vial dangling from the muslin funnel glinted in the sun, as if filled with silver particles.
“Doctor!” she shouted. “Nanobotplankton!”
“Are you sure?” I asked. “They aren’t garbage?”
The collection vial was the size and transparency of a jam jar. Abigail thrust it at me, as if handing off a grenade. I activated the magnification on my protective goggles and peered at the murky seawater. Metal specks sloshed side to side, dizzying; they were shaped like pill boxes and propelled by nanocarbon flagella.
“Alert the captain,” I said. “It’s bad news.”
I’d heard horror stories about swarms of bots large enough to track and disable cruise ships; they reported either to governments or pirates or supervillains, and we were in the open ocean, well beyond any continental jurisdiction.
Pirates or supervillains, then. What did they want from us? The vessel was equipped for research, and our most expensive cargo was a really good microscope. Would they demand hostages? I glanced at Abigail’s back; she was nineteen, brilliant, and had joined my lab with a fellowship for low-income students. She reminded me of myself, twenty years back when, driven by hope, I studied geosciences because the world was hurting, and somebody had to diagnose it so something could done.
Since then, I’ve made plenty of diagnoses. But so little has been done.
I wondered how long it would take Abigail to become jaded or—like many of my colleagues—leave the field. It’s hard to make a career in geosciences unless you love the earth. Even harder to study its death in the kind of detail that withstands peer review. How many reefs had I watched die? Islands drowned by the rising sea? Primordial species extinguished in the span of one human lifetime?
Frustration drove my own advisor to early retirement. I was her last pupil; she left the moment I graduated. “They won’t listen to us, Maria,” she said. “They won’t fund us. And that means we can’t help them.”
As I watched the water around our ship darken with swarming bots, I wondered: “Who will help us?”
In the distance, a silver back split the sea, but the vessel—an odd submarine?—dove before I could get a good look. One of the quick-thinking deckhands activated a distress drone. With an industrious whir, the tri-copter zipped over my head and attempted to escape the signal-blocking radius emitted by those damnable bots.
The ship’s emergency siren wailed, indicating that I should leave the deck and take shelter in my cabin. But I couldn’t turn away from the sea, which churned like boiling soup beneath the drone. Seconds later, a metal beast breached the water. Its great, crocodile-shaped mouth yawned open and snapped, crushing the drone mid-leap. Its four paddle-shaped flippers flapped, their surfaces sleek and their edges sharp as knives. When the whale-sized machine landed, the impact rocked our ship and sprayed my face with water that tasted of salt and metal.
“What is that?” a deckhand asked, dismayed.
“I … can’t believe this,” I said, “but it looks like a robo-Liopleurodon.”
The Liopleurodon head reared from the water, its jaws snapping, flourishing five-inch-long serrated teeth that could easily tear our hull to shreds. I took a step back, at once startled and fascinated. Its engineer had put exquisite care into the design, emulating the strength and form that once made the Liopleurodon the greatest carnivore in the Jurassic sea.
Far beyond the Liopleurodon, silver bobbed on the undulating sea. I zoomed in with my goggles and glimpsed a hatch protruding from a metal dome.
“Doctor!” Abigail said, tugging on my sleeve. “The captain wants us off the deck. Come with me! We can’t—”
“ATTENTION RV,” the Liopleurodon boomed. “SURRENDER ALL MICROSCOPES, CTDs, AND REAGENT GRADE CHEMICALS, OR WE WILL DISABLE YOUR SHIP.”
There was something familiar about that voice.
“Dr. Barbara?” I asked. “Dr. Barbara, is that you?” I threw myself against the railing and waved at the Liopleurodon’s glassy black eye. “Hey! Hey, it’s me! Maria! Can you hear me? Holy schist, this can’t be happening!”
The Liopleurodon’s mouth opened wider, as if gasping. “MARIA!?”
“Are you piloting that robot dinosaur?” I asked.
“ER. WELL. A ROBOT MARINE REPTILE.”
“And robbing us?”
“FOR THE GREATER GOOD.”
“EARTH AND SCIENCE.”
I’d been wrong. My advisor never gave up. Although I wasn’t sure that joining a team of rogue scientist pirates was much better. And it had to be a team. Dr. Barbara might be a brilliant chemical oceanographer, but she wasn’t a paleontologist or an engineer.
“YOU MUST THINK I’M TERRIBLE. JUST—ER—NEVER MIND. WE CAN FIND SUPPLIES ELSEWHERE. I HOPE YOUR RESEARCH IS FRUITFUL.”
The Liopleurodon began to sink. “Wait!” I said.
It hesitated, half its head submerged. “YES?”
“Have you really accomplished anything with this … this criminal behavior?”
“OF COURSE. JUST THIS YEAR, WE HAVE ELIMINATED ONE MILLION TONS OF MICROPLASTICS FROM THE NORTH PACIFIC GYRE AND SAVED A WHALE SPECIES FROM EXTINCTION.”
“You’ll be caught someday, Dr. Barbara,” I said.
“PERHAPS.” The Liopleurodon winked. “TAKE CARE, MARIA.”
As our attackers vanished and the ocean cleared, Abigail asked, “Who was that?”
“Apparently, my graduate advisor.”
“Is she a supervillain, or something?”
“Or something,” I said. And I wondered if someday that something would be me.
Silver glinted against the horizon as the robo-Liopleurodon leapt one last time.
© 2018 by Darcie Little Badger
July 27th, 2018
Dr. Darcie Little Badger is a Lipan Apache scientist and writer. Her short fiction has appeared in multiple places, including Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time (Nicholson, ed.), Strange Horizons, The Dark, Mythic Delirium, Lightspeed (POC Destroy Fantasy), Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, and Cicada Magazine. Darcie’s debut comic, “Worst Bargain in Town,” was published in Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, Volume 2. She also has comics inRelational Constellation and Deer Woman: An Anthology by Native Realities.
The illustration is by Lars Weiler!
RAWR! Do you like robot dinosaurs and want to join our amazing line-up? 😀
Well, have we got awesomsaurus news for you! August 1st thru 15th, 2018, we will be open to general fiction submissions!
(Please do not send any stories before the open submissions period, as they will not be read.)
Want a sneak peak at the guidelines? Read on!
WHAT IS THIS? An open call for ROBOT DINOSAURS! stories (we will be accepting between 3 to 4). These stories will be ebook/print anthology exclusive—they will not be immediately available online, though you are welcome to sell reprint rights after a three-month exclusivity period of the anthology’s publication in ebook and print.
RIGHTS: three-month exclusivity upon publication, and non-exclusive archival rights for the anthology (ebook and print) thereafter. All other rights (audio, film, etc) are yours. We will ask to use excerpt from your story as promotional material on the website (usually a few paragraphs at most).
RESPONSE TIMES: We will have all final responses sent out by the end of August 2018. Initial responses (rejection or hold notices) will be sent on a rolling basis, dependent on how fast we can read subs (and the volume of material we get).
HOW TO SUBMIT?
When the open submissions window opens, the email address for subs will be posted on the guidelines page!
“Taiyesha?” asks the lady, like she doesn’t know.
I just look at her. My name and age are in that file on her desk, and I’m not interested in having the googolplex conversation about how interesting my name is, or about how big and tall I am for thirteen years old.
These counselors always know my name.
It’s just that they don’t know me.
She tucks strands of wispy brown hair behind her ear, then points to the chair she wants me to sit in.
I lean against the window sill instead so I have full view of the room and door. The window is open and a breeze carries in the green scent of fresh cut grass. I’d rather be outside.
“I hear that some people call you Tai. May I call you Tai?” She smiles, all hopeful.
“Nope,” I say. “I don’t know you like that.”
Her face cracks, but I don’t care. That’s the problem with people these days, getting too familiar when they’ve got no right to be.
There’s a ceiling-to-floor bookcase. Some of the shelves hold stuffed animals, dolls, toy cars and trains. There’s a jar full of red jelly beans. A half-dead bonsai peeks from behind a stack of plastic blocks. There are heaps of comics, and lots of books. Some have leather covers, others with bright cartoon drawings. There’s a bunch featuring pretty girls in princess dresses, who don’t look a bit like me, even though they are.
I have super powers and super smarts too. I could be lost royalty, forgotten and hated by mean people in an uncaring world. Except in the end, I never get justice or love, or a slice of the happiness pie in the end.
“Each time you visit, you can take one item from the bookcase. Go ahead, pick something,” she says, just as my eye catches on the only thing that interests me. It’s on the top shelf, still in the original box. It sits crookedly between a Raggedy Ann doll and a pink plastic piggy bank.
Its eyes, tiny LED lights, set in a fierce face, glow red.
“Call me Sarah,” she says, nodding to the chair.
This time I take it.
I check out my new pteranodon. I flex the beaky jaw and hinged wings. I run my fingers long the crown-like crest and the smooth beady LED light eyes. It doesn’t have teeth. It’s not a horrible representation of a pteranodon, even though I have doubts about the colors. Purple and orange?
I’ve decided to name him Fist.
I roll my eyes. “Not everything that flies is a bird,” I say.
Her face lights up. “But birds evolved from dinosaurs.”
“True. But the flightless kind. And there’s some debate if pteranodons are even dinosaurs at all.”
Fist gracefully angles his left wing up, then down.
“Really?” She nods sideways at me. I can tell she’s impressed, but not surprised. She’s got my test scores in that file, too.
“Google it, if you don’t believe me.” I flip Fist over and pop open the battery cavity in his belly. There aren’t any batteries powering him, yet I feel his life vibrating beneath my fingers. And he is warm.
Sarah sits on the other side of the desk and looks at me through narrowed eyes. “Do you know why you’re here, Taiyesha?”
I almost laugh, because she’s not slick and that’s a stupid question. “Don’t you?”
Fist exhales a long low grumble, and turns an intelligent gaze on Sarah.
I slide down in the chair so my braids hang over the back and wave like a waterfall. Fist sits on the edge of the desk between us.
“You’re here because we’re trying to determine if public school is the right place for you, considering this last incident.”
She waits for me to say something. I don’t.
“My job is to determine if this is true.”
I sit up. Fist cranes his neck to look at her too. “But how can you? You don’t know me.”
“My job is to get to know you.” Her smile is different this time. Not as friendly. Not as sincere. The kind of smile adults plaster on when they intend to do things they know might be wrong, but are going to do anyway.
I don’t hold back my laughter this time. Just like her smile, it’s not friendly or sincere.
“Tell me,” says Sarah, glancing down at her papers, “about the incident in Mr. McArthur’s class.”
I remember the way the class went silent when Mr. McArthur tried to grab me. I remember his sour coffee breath and red face. His nasty smile. I had made him angry.
My legs got tangled with the chair’s when I jumped up to dodge Mr. McArthur’s grasp. I almost fell. He’d meant to throw me out of the classroom.
I look up and realize I’ve stopped breathing and my eyes are watery.
“You okay?” Sarah leans forward, face soft with concern.
Fist’s tiny eyes are flashing red, then yellow, then red again.
“Mr. McArthur is not a good teacher,” I say.
Fist turns on delicate feet and stomps toward the center of the desk.
Sarah’s face is stony. Adults hate when kids say bad things about other adults.
“It’s true,” I reaffirm.
Fist nips at a paper under foot and rips the edge off with a screeching howl.
“I followed MR. MCARTHUR’S CLASS RULES. I was #1, when everyone else was talking. I did #2, until my arm went numb. When he called on me, I did #3, using my inside voice and proper English. He called me stupid, otherwise I wouldn’t be in remedial classes.”
I shrug, but I feel like crying or punching something, because I’m not stupid.
Fist’s wings wiggle up and down in time with mine.
Sarah says nothing to this, but I can see the change in her eyes, the wonder, and the shame. “I told him that he was just mad that I knew more than him. He could’ve just Googled it, if he didn’t believe me.”
“Google what?” She hands me a tissue. Fist just misses clamping onto her wrist before she pulls her hand back.
“Pteranodons don’t have teeth.” I wave the tissue at Fist, instead of wiping my nose. “Mr. McArthur was just mad because the class laughed at him.”
“I see.” Sarah sits back. “Mr. McArthur says you tried to hit him?”
Fist shakes his head and I do too. His purple body glows neon. My face is hot and my heart crashes against my ribs. I swipe the tears away before they fall.
“It’s not true!” yells Fist.
I squawk-roar until my throat is sore. It’s not fair that everyone took his word over mine and my classmates.
We stretch our neck and sniff the wind through the open window. It smells like grass. It smells like home.
We roar and thrash about on delicate feet, ripping paper to ribbons, flapping wings burning with life. We head for the window, for the bright blue horizon.
We head for a slice of the happiness pie.
© 2018 by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali
July 20, 2018
Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali lives in Houston, Texas, with her family. Khaalidah’s publications include Strange Horizons, Fiyah Magazine, Diabolical Plots and others. Her fiction has been featured in “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 12” edited by Jonathan Strahan and “The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume Three” edited by Neil Clarke. You can hear her narrations at several venues. As co-editor of PodCastle audio magazine, Khaalidah is committed to encouraging more women and POC to submit fantasy stories.
Of her alter ego, K from the planet Vega, it is rumored that she owns a time machine and knows the secret to immortality.
This story’s illustration is by Kosmic Arts!
Scene break dinosaur illustrations are by Kelsey Liggett!
Any day now, Kara will quit her job. I see it in the way her shoulders slump as she watches the weather boil on the news.
I reach over and take the remote, switching the holo away from the reporter talking about the coming storm and running through channels before I find a reality show, chaotic and inoffensive.
“I’m tired, Jay,” Kara says. “I’m so tired, and it’s not even been a year.”
She works in the same lab that I used to, but she’s lasted longer. I don’t know how. A lot of climatologists don’t even make it through school before the work gets to them and they burn out.
I start switching channels again, just to give my hands something to do. I settle on reruns—My Friend RoboRex, on a cartoon channel. It’s easy to watch, the tinny voice of the main character’s robot T-Rex companion comforting. Kara and I grew up on it.
“Let’s build a robot dinosaur,” I say under my breath.
I repeat myself, louder: “Let’s build a robot dinosaur. Something to do, while we wait out the storm.”
Kara sits in silence for a long moment, pulling her knees up to her chest and giving a short, noncommittal hum. “We don’t know anything about robotics.”
“It’s a distraction,” I offer.
Kara doesn’t reply for a long while. The episode ends before she says softly, “Yeah. Yeah, why not?”
We don’t know anything about robotics.
We look up some basic plans and order everything we think we need via two-hour drone shipping. It arrives at the same time as the rain, but has a chance to get away before the water starts coming down in sheets.
We’re not so lucky, though if I could pick anyone in the world to be trapped in an apartment with while the twenty-fifth named storm of the season rages outside, it would be Kara.
For having been hesitant to start building the robot T-rex, she’s surprisingly quick to take point.
“Jay, hand me that wire?” she asks, looking between her phone and the shell we’re slowly filling with chips and wires we only half-understand. “The blue one?”
I nod, holding the chip I’m working with in place with one hand while I root around in the piles of spare parts we’ve scattered around us. “Which one? There’s three.”
“Uh…” She pauses and expands the image on her phone. “That one?” She points. As I hand it to her, she seems less and less sure of herself.
Lightning flashes outside as she installs the wire, so I don’t notice the sparks at first. What I do notice is the way her face falls and she pulls her hand away, the wire smoking in her fingers.
Kara reads to me from the instructions on her phone, shouting over the storm outside. Our building is reinforced against extreme weather but others are not so lucky. While she tells me what to do, a news notification comes in and she reads that too—a small town far closer to the coast than we are is not expected to resurface when the skies clear.
As she falls silent, my hands fall still. All those homes, and no way to know right now if the people who lived inside them were able to evacuate.
Kara’s phone lands on the floor, the flexible screen bending to absorb the shock. She is less equipped for the impact—when her knees hit the linoleum, I can almost feel it in my own joints.
“I hate it, Jay,” she whispers into the T-Rex’s guts. “I hate my job.”
I want to say that yes, me too, I hated my job and I hate yours and I’m sorry we picked this for ourselves, but instead I shift closer to her and hold my arm out, a soft offer.
She takes me up on it, hiding her face in my shoulder. She’s not crying. She’s just breathing, hard and measured, into my skin like it’s an air filter. “I’m gonna quit,” she says.
“I know,” I respond. “That’s okay.”
“What am I gonna do after?”
I try to think about what I did after I left, last year. I don’t know how to tell her that I slept for a month and couldn’t watch the news for two, and I still don’t walk past the lab complex without wanting to cry.
I say nothing, just let my best friend breathe into me for a long and otherwise silent few minutes. One-handed, I fit a blue wire—a new one—gently against what I think is the right chip.
In front of me, the T-Rex’s eyes flicker to life. The sound of its metallic blink is barely audible against the storm, but Kara must hear it too, because she pulls herself away to look.
A faint smile pulls at the corners of her mouth.
“Maybe we can build dinosaurs,” I say, watching her watch the robot blink.
It’s another week before the flooding subsides and we can leave the apartment. The air is thick when we go, hot and humid after the storm, and Kara wipes her hands on her black slacks every few minutes as we wade towards the lab.
When I dry my own clammy hands, I try to hide it. It gets harder the closer we get; it feels just like my own resignation walk.
As we get closer, bodies small in the building’s shadow, Kara’s steps slow next to mine, and I remember this too.
“Hey,” I say, catching her eyes. “You got this. You can do this. I’ll be here when you get out.”
I watch as Kara’s jaw works. She doesn’t answer me, but her shoes fall hard on the steps as she walks in.
© 2018 by Alina Sichevaya
July 13th, 2018
This story was illustrated by Kosmic Arts!
Scene break dinosaur illustrations are by Kelsey Liggett!
The way to save yourself, o captain, is simple.
You must leave everything—your star-splayed chair on the bridge, your full belly, the soft, silk robes in the first-class chamber where you sleep—and come down to where we are dying.
The ancestors built this starship to last seven generations. Not ten generations, not fourteen, not this long agony—so long that we’ve fallen, screaming, into our own memories. So long that the stars outside are demanding their tithe in our steerage-born breath. This is our world, hurtling and metal and broken. Our world is dying.
The pinhole breaches that are killing us will kill you too. Metal fatigue will kill you, no matter how many times you turn away from the truth, your lips soaked in the blood of pomegranates, your quick-fix steerage-stolen oxygen turning sour in your mouth.
You cannot fight this. We must change. We must evolve.
Only I know how to save us all.
You cannot fight this, o captain.
We are resourceful in steerage. We must be. You take our food. You take our air. And still, I run your reactor. My staff keeps the ship going. I was fed on these engines, weaned on these computers, cut my teeth on this code. Do you think I do not know what to do with your battle drones?
My sister Ellan was the first to volunteer. She told me to make her beautiful, before I cut into her skull for the upload—and, oh, I made her beautiful: a spine of hollow aluminum and tinsel for down, stiff pennaceous feathers supported by a calamus made of our mothers’ bones. I fitted her with talons of steel and strong legs to run, settled her mind in a battle drone brain. And hear: her cry is terrible and beautiful, a crush of sheet metal passed through shearing teeth.
Two great, gulping flaps of her wings and she’s in the air, skating over the ferocious wind in the corridors. She glides on the air currents created by the hull breaches, her tinsel wings brushing against the aching skin of our ship, showing us the places where the neglect of first class has cracked and warped and slivered our world.
There are too many breaches. Too many hungry mouths. Her efforts have already helped us patch enough pinholes to buy us another month, but it is not enough. She barely needs to rest, but when she does—watch her roost, safe in her garden, night-black against eternal night. She brings me bilge rats, their throats torn, so I can eat, so I can work harder, so I can save us all.
Listen to me, please, or it will be the end of all things.
You do not listen, so the work continues.
I am building Ellan a garden brighter and more beautiful than anything we imagined in the steerage dorm when we were children, sucking down protein slop and the sweat of hundreds: a garden of twisted cables and leaves sewn from old clothes, of metal nests and half-starved hope.
We will need such a thing, when we evolve. When the hull fails for good, when the skin of our world yields to the nothingness of space. We will need a place to live.
I chose the archaeopteryx for Ellan because, of all the beautiful things in the ancient library, it is the most like us. It is both, and it is nothing. It is something ancient, and it is something new. The last dinosaur. A transitional species. A multipurpose predator.
But you, o captain—you want to keep the things our ancestors had, to hold on to tangled jungles, to dead gems in gold housing, to blood-sharp rosebushes, to the riotous gardens you hoard in first class. You sold us out to keep your food and your oxygen, sold out steerage for your dinosaur’s doomed world, unable to see the hurtling, black speck against the sun for what it truly is. What use is a flower in the piercing cold of space? A stalk of grain, a drop of water, a full belly?
It is time to open yourself to the rot and the work, to necessary equality, to the pain and the miracle of new life in sweet metal, o captain, or we will all die.
Perhaps you would rather die.
I have done it again: this time, with Philos, Ellan’s lover, the young man who does the hatch maintenance. He is handsome. He shines, he preens, he soars. We sewed pinion-feathers from our hair and painted the ends with our blood. I had to take down another battle drone to hold his brain, but I am fairly good at that now.
They are building a nest together—of laminate shavings and transistors and nuts and bolts and screws, of plastic and hair ties and tinsel. They have laid eggs that shimmer, oil-slick beautiful, which is fortunate, because we will be in need of more bodies very soon.
Perhaps if my bed was a bower, like yours, I would understand why you do not listen.
But we are dying.
The eggs hatched, o captain, and your answer to this miracle? More battle drones.
It is no matter. We have given them our names, raised them up, trained them to hold us —our gracious, silver-wild, hollow-boned babies—and we feed them on our blood. They have taken a taste for it.
And, ah! To see them take on your battle drones, their cries like rending silver, like freedom itself! To think you would rather have our compliance than our lives, our silence than this miracle!
We choose human truth, the truth that goes beyond our dead world: the dirt, the hunger, the ache, the fear. We will evolve, and become hollow, ancient, new, strong, our wings spread against forever, the gusts of exhaust from the reactor our updraft, the heat of the deuterium core our sun. When we lose our air, we will not lose ourselves. When we lose our flesh, we will gain our lives.
But you, o captain.
You chose first class, chose the false solace of a life in flesh, and will die watching rushing, airless death blot out your sun. You, o captain, who could not leave your lungs behind, your skin and your cartilage and your gore—you, who treated our lungs and skin as less than yours, as meat to be forgotten, will keep your first-class gardens, your second-class beauty, your unending fear. I hope that is some comfort.
When you come for our bodies, for your food, for your air, for your victory at the end of all this, you will find only the tearing of teeth.
And, someday, when our broken ship arrives at the new world, we will fly again.
© 2018 Karen Osborne
July 6th, 2018
Karen Osborne lives in Baltimore with two violins, an autoharp, four cameras, a husband and a bonkers orange cat. She’s been a reporter, a wedding videographer, a newspaper photographer, a high school English teacher, a Starfleet captain and a Scottish fiddler. She is a graduate of Viable Paradise and the Clarion Writers’ Workshop. Her short fiction can currently be found at Escape Pod, and forthcoming in Fireside Magazine and Beneath Ceaseless Skies.
Scene break dinosaur illustrations are by Kelsey Liggett!
Greetings, mighty dino friends! We’re delighted to present artist Toe Keen‘s stunning banner-style art for the July and August issues of ROBOT DINOSAURS! It is inspired by our first story in July, “Even to the Teeth” by Karen Osborne.
The robots had learned to open doors.
Priya jumped as the door between the shared lab and her office crashed open. Into the paper-strewn space stomped a pair of raptor-sized machines, gleaming chrome and glittering eyes. Their sickle-shaped toe-claws—really just blunt grabbers, but intimidating to look at—scrabbled at the carpet as they adjusted their positions. Then both robots hopped onto her desk, scattering papers everywhere.
“What—?” Priya spluttered. She had been trying to fill out a Form 1078-B for Research Lab Electricity Usage Timesheet Reporting. A six-page, mandatory administrative form which had just sailed away in six different directions. Or at least, a supposedly mandatory form. Most of Priya’s colleagues were allowed to fill out the half-page version online, but the Dean of Robotics liked to push Priya around, and he was insisting.
“You’re not even supposed to be switched on during these hours!” Priya complained.
An electronic giggle emerged from both chrome heads in perfect synchronization.
“Stephanie forgot the off switch,” Raptor One informed her in its high-pitched, synthesized voice. “Forgetful girl. Eeeheeeheee!”
Priya swore and reached for the robots’ off switches herself, but they danced away, too excited to behave. Stephanie, an undergrad research assistant, was constantly forgetting things. Her keys; her lunch; proper safety protocols for dealing with a pair of experimental robots that could learn from their embodied experience through means analogous to human child development. Too analogous. Their down-cycles were used to process the day’s experiences and smooth off mental rough edges, much like human sleep. Leaving them on overnight led to hyperactivity, like a sugar-high preschooler up past its bedtime.
Plus, leaving them on would have changed the lab’s electricity usage, which meant she now had to fill out pages two through five of Form 1087-B all over again, and it wasn’t long before the Dean would come around, demanding to know why she wasn’t done yet.
“Come here,” Priya commanded. “It’s sleep time, raptors. That’s an order.”
“No orders!” Raptor Two shrieked, hopping to the top of Priya’s bookshelf with alarming grace. Opening doors wasn’t the only motor skill that had improved. “Only COOKIES!”
Priya blinked. “Cookies?” She didn’t remember introducing them to that concept. Some student must have brought one in and aroused their curiosity.
“COOKIES!” the raptors chorused.
“You are inorganic, mechanical beings. You can’t even eat cookies.” But curiosity alone, at this developmental stage, could be a powerful impetus.
“COOKIES! COOKIES! COOKIES!”
Priya drew herself up. She was the head of the Robotics Lab, and this was her responsibility. “Look, I—”
But then the other door opened, the one linking Priya’s office to the main hallway, and a freshman holding a marked assignment hopefully poked his nose into the room.
“COOKIES!” bellowed both raptors, leaping off the bookshelf and divebombing the student. He screamed and fled. His running footsteps receded into the distance as the assignment floated to the floor, abandoned.
Priya reached into her desk drawer for the Raptor Remote, and found it after a moment of fumbling. Her fingers found the button marked EMERGENCY AVERSIVE.
She didn’t press down.
When she thought about it, she hadn’t actually wanted to deal with that student. She knew his face. He was here to shout at her about how many marks he deserved, the same as every week. Disruptive as Raptors One and Two might be, she did like them more than she liked that particular student.
And there were other people she would like to keep out of the office.
Priya let the Raptor Remote fall gently from her fingers back into the drawer.
“I’ll give you a cookie,” she said into the air. The raptors, who had been tearing at the fallen assignment, looked up in unison. Their bright green eyes, glittering with artificial lens enhancers, fixed unblinkingly on her.
“I’ll give you a cookie,” she repeated, “if you do something for me.”
The raptors nodded slowly, and an equally slow grin crossed Priya’s face.
“Do you know,” she asked, in the clear and precise tone that she’d learned was best for robots, “what the word ‘guard’ means?”
Later that day, as she’d expected, the Dean of Robotics bustled into Priya’s office without knocking or asking permission.
“Dr. Chaudhari,” he said officiously, “your Form 1078-B is late again, and I must insist—”
He was interrupted by both robot raptors launching themselves at him from the top of Priya’s shelves.
“COOKIE!!” shrieked Raptor One, gnawing on the Dean’s toupee.
“NO BOTHERING PRIYA!” shouted Raptor Two. “Priya gives us cookies! No bothering Priya, or we EAT YOU!!”
“What is the meaning of this?!” the Dean spluttered, but the raptors redoubled their attack, hopping up and down on his shoulders and shrieking cacaphonously. “Dr. Chaudhari, have you lost control of your raptors?”
“No,” said Priya shortly. “And, in fact, I can demonstrate it. Raptor One—attack!”
Raptor One bit down and tossed the Dean’s toupee merrily in the air. It sailed to a landing in a pile of papers, and the Dean snatched it back-up, red-faced.
“Never mind!” he shouted, tearing the bots forcibly off of him. “Never mind your stupid form. It wasn’t important anyway! You can just fill in the web form like everyone else!”
He stormed out.
Priya silently offered a pair of cookies she’d bought from the school cafeteria to the robots. They leapt upon them and quickly gnawed them to crumbs, seemingly unbothered by their inability to digest any of what they destroyed.
“Good girls,” she said to both of them. The robots purred electronically, and then settled to the ground, curling into each other.
Priya approached them hesitantly. When it became apparent that they were tired now and no longer moving, she reached out a hand, touched the switch on the back of each chrome head, and turned them off.
“Good girls,” she said again, smiling fondly at the sleeping pair.
She got up, dropped back into her computer chair, and started another grant application in peace.
© 2018 by Ada Hoffmann
June 29th, 2018
Ada Hoffmann is the author of MONSTERS IN MY MIND. Her writing has appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, and Uncanny. She programs computers to write poetry, and her Autistic Book Party review series is devoted to autism representation in speculative fiction. You can find her online at http://ada-hoffmann.com/ or on Twitter at @xasymptote, or support her at http://www.patreon.com/ada_
Illustration is by Kit Leighton!
Scene break dinosaur illustrations are by Kelsey Liggett!
Aragon went missing first.
It made a kind of cosmic sense. The first of Henry VIII’s wives and also the first to die—not that Evelyn believed her gynoid raptor was dead. Malfunctioning or caught between some quakies seemed more likely. As emergency management specialist for Utah’s Strategic Predator Initiative, however, Evelyn’s job was not to make guesses, but to identify problems, develop solutions, and occasionally win in-house naming contests to the regret of her superiors.
Following standard procedure, Evelyn recalled the raptors, but not before the others had also winked out on radar. Parr returned immediately, but it was another two hours before Boleyn and Howard appeared.
Odd. Like the prehistoric creatures they were modeled after, the autonomous dromaeosaurs were programmed to hunt in a pack. There should have been no significant discrepancy between their arrival times.
Seymour and Cleves never returned at all.
Six gynoid raptors—the pinnacle of groundside drone technology. Each worth a quarter of a million dollars.
And she was missing three.
“It’s fine, this is fine,” Evelyn murmured to herself, her mind flashing with panic. Just last week she’d pulled an all-nighter to put out a small media fire surrounding the possibility of adding a seventh raptor named Henry. Tipsy with tiredness, she’d complained to the Wives about wanting to run and hide. Had they somehow internalized that message?
The logs said all the raptors had detected GNSS satellites before going out this morning. Until they fell off the grid, none had reported an interruption to their radar navigation. Evelyn didn’t understand it. If a loss of signal had occurred, why hadn’t the raptors’ fail-safe functions kicked in, returning them to base?
“I want to see their video feeds,” she told one of the programmers, who informed her, as politely as possible, that he’d already started going through them the moment Aragon disappeared.
“And?” she prompted.
“They split off during a hunt, losing visual contact with each other. That’s all we’ve got.”
“What’s the best-case scenario here?”
He thought about it. “Best-case scenario? We’ve somehow lost our connection to their live feed, their trackers are down, and a minor malfunction with their gyroscope has them wandering in circles somewhere.”
Company patrols hadn’t found them within their assigned hunting area so that seemed unlikely. It was almost like the raptors were deliberately dodging them. “And worst-case?”
“Coalition’s got ‘em.”
“Really? I thought ‘gone rogue and eaten a small child’ would have ranked higher.”
The programmer gave her a blank look. “They don’t…you understand the raptors don’t eat the deer, right? They don’t have digestive tracts.”
Evelyn repressed the urge to pinch her nose. “I’m joking.”
He had a point, though. Maybe someone from the Coalition for God’s Planet had finally decided to make good on their threats to destroy the raptors. The Coalition claimed it was God’s will that the mule deer population exploded in Utah, and any attempts to curb the disastrous results was ‘interfering’ with a higher power.
It was bullshit, of course. Thankfully, most rational people seemed to understand the need for a controlled, ecologically-safe solution to the chaos, and the Initiative had a hell of a PR department to change the minds of those mysteriously reluctant to the idea of large, steel predators roaming the Utah rangelands.
Evelyn still had one of the posters from the last ad campaign, featuring Aragon in a fun, minimalist design, except for her detailed back stripes—purple in Aragon’s case—and an “A” emblazoned on her long flank. She stood in profile, framed by aspens and text that read: HAVE NO FEAR—UNLESS YOU’RE DEER!
Aragon wasn’t even Evelyn’s favorite—that honor went to Boleyn, the pack’s assigned alpha—but she felt a deep and surprising ache at the thought of losing her, or any of the Wives. She had devoted years of her life to this project, defending the raptors from naysayers and any groups that wanted to harm them.
Her old college anthropology professor used to say, Humans will pack-bond with anything. She wondered if the machines they made felt the same.
It was late when Evelyn finally sent everyone else home, and headed down to the garage where the three raptors were currently at their recharging stations. It was stupid, but she wanted to say goodnight and reassure them that she would find their missing companions. Evelyn talked to the Wives a lot after-hours. She knew they didn’t understand her, but they still made a better audience than the house plant she barely managed to keep alive at home.
Evelyn had just reached the base of the stairs when a sound stopped her. She stood for a moment, listening as a series of low, throaty calls came through the open door.
The raptors were supposed to be on standby, but instead they were vocalizing, something they only did for the public. In the wild, they sometimes replicated deer calls to lure in their prey, but these noises didn’t sound like deer calls. They almost sounded like—words, like voices.
Like her voice.
Evelyn had just started back up the stairs when the garage lights suddenly sprang on, the motion sensor triggered by six heads, not three, swiveling toward her. The mouths of the raptors gaped, as if they’d just been caught in secret conference. It would have been comical, if not for the serrated rows of teeth in those mouths, and the uncanny look of understanding in the raptors’ toy-style gazes.
Boleyn, recognizable by a red ring around her neck, clicked a sharp talon against the hard linoleum floor and tilted her head.
“This is fine,” she croaked in Evelyn’s voice.
Evelyn wasn’t sure whether it was a statement or a question, but the Wives were watching, waiting. If it was an answer they wanted, she suspected they would accept only one.
“Yeah,” she agreed, cold horror giving way to a heady rush of fascination. “This is fine.”
© 2018 by Hayley Stone
June 22nd, 2018
Hayley Stone is a writer, editor, and poet from California. She is the author of the Machinations series from Hydra/Random House, with book one having been selected as an Amazon Best Sci-fi & Fantasy Book of the Year for 2016. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Fireside Magazine, New Myths Magazine, Star*Line, and various anthologies. When not reading or writing, Hayley studies history, falls in love with video game characters, and analyzes buildings for velociraptor entry points. Find her at www.hnstoneauthor.com and on Twitter @hayley_stone.
Scene break dinosaur illustrations are by Kelsey Liggett!
“Nessa, didn’t you like anything at the park today?” Mom leaned against the wall of their motel room and pulled off her sandals. The tops of her feet, along with the rest of her, was burnt from the Florida sun.
“The dinosaur ride was okay, I guess,” Janessa said, her lips pouted to one-side, smug she hadn’t gotten sunburned in her hoodie, black pants, and platform boots. “It would have been more fun if everyone died at the end.” Her mother gave her an exasperated look, and her brother rolled his eyes.
“They can’t die—it’s Disney,” her brother said.
“I know that, Tristan,” Janessa huffed. “It just would have been way more metal that way.”
She folded her arms. She would have to endure another thirteen days of this. Thirteen days of tacky theme parks, being forced to smile for photos, and eating ice-cream shaped like mice and whales.
“Not everything has to be metal,” Tristan said, and then started singing “It’s A Small World” to prove his point. Their mother tactfully retreated to the shower.
Janessa refused to give her brother the satisfaction of her annoyance. She looked out the window to the dilapidated and over-grown mini-golf course that looped around their off-brand motel butted up against the interstate. She was about to crack and punch Tristan, but then she saw the glint of something metallic move in the overgrowth. She froze. No, she thought, it has to be one of the crappy dinosaur statues on the mini-golf course.
“Shut up!” Janessa yelled, distracted. Tristan began to sing louder. Janessa covered her ears, but kept staring out the window. And then she saw it again, for just a moment: the long, silver neck and massive claws of the strangest dinosaur she had ever seen.
“I’m going to go check out the pool!” Janessa yelled to her mother, over her brother’s singing.
Tristan stopped to ask, “What? You hate swimming. What are you going to do, go in your clothes?”
Janessa grabbed her phone off the nightstand and then turned back to give her brother a hellish look and said, “Yes, but I’m going to go and try to boil myself alive in the jacuzzi.”
Janessa hopped the fence, ignoring the CLOSED FOR RENOVATIONS sign, and searched the golf course until she saw movement on hole nine. She crept behind a plaster stegosaurus, paint sloughing off as she crouched down and touched its lumpy armored plates. She waited, and then the dinosaur she saw from the motel window emerged.
It was as big as a tree, sleek and fully metallic with smooth segmented joints, but oddly shaped with a pot-belly and a tiny head on a long neck. Janessa stared as it flexed its claws, each as long as a person, and in one clean cut, beheaded a palm tree. It fed the dead fronds into a port in its stomach, compacting them into a small cube that it expelled immediately.
Its head swiveled at the exclamation, and red eyes trained on Janessa.
Janessa stumbled backwards, and tripped on the border of the golf green. The dinosaur approached and stood over her, its head tilting as it scanned her Kittie band t-shirt. Slowly, it raised one massive clawed hand up and curled its middle claw down.
Janessa blinked. Is that? Hesitantly, she held up one hand and made horns back. The dinosaur chittered approvingly and then blasted the hardest metal Janessa had ever heard.
“Zinnia! No! Bad dinosaur!”
A woman emerged from the jungle of fronds and ferns. Her thick hair was black and red and braided down the middle of her head with shaved sides, and her dark skin was pierced in more places than Janessa could count. She wore a black collared shirt and work khakis, but her arms were covered in tattoos. Janessa almost forgot about the twenty-foot robotic dinosaur with razor-sharp claws looming over her. As the woman approached, the dinosaur stopped blasting music and folded itself down to sit.
“Are you all right?” the woman asked.
“I…” Janessa said, suddenly speechless; the woman’s winged eyeliner and heavy crimson eye shadow was flawless. “I, uh,” she said again and then blurted out, “I’m Janessa and I’m from Wisconsin.”
The woman smiled. “Hello, Janessa from Wisconsin. I’m Kennedy, from Hell.” Jenessa blinked. Kennedy pointed to the surrounding dingy motel chains. “A.K.A. Orlando.”
“And that,” Kennedy gestured to the dinosaur, “is Zinnia. I modeled her after a Therizinosaurus.”
“You made that?”
“Hell yeah! Engineering grad from UCF.”
“Oh. Wow. Then why are you at this crappy motel?”
“Like all grad students, I was unemployed, so I got creative. I picked a therizinosaur because they are inefficient, extremely slow moving, and can shred a car in seconds.” Kennedy pointed with her thumb to the interstate and added, “Just like I-4.”
“Metal,” Janessa said in awe.
Kennedy laughed. “We do landscaping. Therizinosaurs had woefully inefficient digestive tracts, but that’s not a problem for a robot. Florida is full of useless foliage that needs to be cut all the time. You know. Creepily well-maintained theme parks. Hurricanes. Old people who can’t reach or whatever.”
“So you made a dinosaur…?”
“Dinosaurs are cool! And I use her for shows.” Kennedy gestured to her appearance. “I’m in a metal band.”
Janessa’s face contorted in astonishment. “That’s—”
“I know,” Kennedy interrupted, “but it’s a good gimmick in this city. And you should see the bank I make when I do the landscaping for Dinosaur World. People plan their kid’s birthday parties around it. I can pay all the band’s travel expenses from that alone.”
“I was going to say that’s the coolest thing ever.”
Kennedy gave her a devious grin, and then turned to the dinosaur. “Zinnia, show configuration three.”
The dinosaur got up, flexed its claws to obscure its face, and then six lasers shot out from ports above the knuckle of each claw. It opened its mouth, and smoke began to billow out.
“Super metal!” Janessa said, incredulous.
“I’m glad someone out here has good taste,” Kennedy said. Janessa’s heart flipped in her throat and she looked away. Kennedy’s mouth quirked and she pulled out her phone. “Listen, Janessa, we’re on the clock, but let me send you one of our albums.”
There was nothing magic about this kingdom, but with THE XTINCTION’s newest album, CORPSECEOUS PERIOD, blasting in one ear-bud, Janessa was in a far better mood than yesterday. Her brother was still annoying, and her mother obsessed with “making memories” but somehow everything seemed more tolerable.
“Hey, Mom,” Janessa asked, later that night in the motel room. Janessa double checked the appearance schedule on Kennedy’s twitter feed. “Can we go to Dinosaur World next Thursday?”
“What?” her brother asked. “You hate that tacky tourist crap!”
“Yeah, but dinosaurs are metal.”
© 2018 Morgan Swim
June 15th, 2018
Morgan Swim is a non-binary writer and artist. Their work frequently features robots, A.I., and copious amounts of gender and blood. They live in Florida with their two cats. You can find them at @MarsChildWells on twitter.
The illustration is by Rica March!
Scene break dinosaur illustrations are by Kelsey Liggett!