The Dinosaur Graveyard

artwork by James Kurella

The Dinosaur Graveyard

by Aidan Moher


The bot’s heart was beyond repair. Frustrated, I tore it free of the chassis, wire filaments snapping like old guitar strings. The heart usually pulsed with crimson light, but was now dark. Dead. I dropped it into a bowl on my workbench with a metallic ting, almost drowned out by the drum of rain on the corrugated roof. The familiar ozone scent of shorted electronics mingled with the storm’s fresh earthiness.

I picked up the hadrosaur chassis with one hand. It was the size of a kitten, with small front limbs, a duck-like beak, and slick scales the colour of moss. I flicked on the power switch; the bot’s motor whirred to life, then, with a grinding whimper, stopped.

“Mama!” Earlier in the evening, Diti had burst into my workshop, cradling Ducky against her worn t-shirt. Angry tears cut paths down her cheeks.

“Can you fix her?” she choked out between sobs. My father had built Ducky before Diti had been born, but she’d been glued to the bot since before she could walk. Just like I’d been attached to Petri, my childhood ‘dactyl bot that had never flown. The modern bots in the park were more sophisticated, but there was a gentleness to my father’s early work, a touch of love and passion that gave them something none of the others had.

“What happened?” I asked, taking Ducky.

“Rishi threw it in the pond,” Diti sobbed. “Said it could swim, ’cause it’s a duckbill.” The older bot wasn’t waterproof, so its heart had shorted immediately. Rishi had thrown it earlier in the week, too. Couldn’t keep his hands to himself. He was smart, too smart for the park. Diti was drawn to kids like him, but Rishi teased her with the casual cruelty of unchallenged children. The same way his father had teased me when we were kids, growing up in the park.

Rishi might be a little shit, but his father was doing the best he could—the best he knew how. Just like the rest of us stuck on this dying, middle-of-nowhere rock. We were a makeshift raft, clinging to each other, praying we didn’t scuttle the ship.

So, now I sat—fingers numb, eyes foggy, slipping into numbness—in the low-burning light of a flickering incandescent, repairing a thousand-times-broken bot, and praying to whatever god would listen that this wouldn’t be the time she was beyond repair.

I glanced to the corner where Diti slept, quilt thrown aside, her breathing steady. It’s hard to believe a body so gentle in sleep could hold the rage and frustration I saw when she came home with Ducky. Clutched in the bot’s customary place was a usually-ignored giraffe plushie.

She’d cried herself to sleep while I worked at my bench, slowly disassembling my father’s work. His fingerprints covered it, from the fine-toothed gears to the elegant, computerized heart. This small bot, built by human hands, was never alive, but it had soul.

I needed a replacement heart. My father’s work was not interchangeable with the newer bots’ machine-pressed gears and AI cores. I quietly got up from my workbench. The door squeaked as it opened, as it always did. I glanced over my shoulder at Diti, and saw her watching me.

I thought to tell her to go back to sleep, but there was a look in her eyes, one that reminded me of my father’s intense gaze, and instead I said, “Diti. I need your help.”

For a moment she looked so old, I barely recognized my baby. But, as she clambered groggily from the makeshift bed, clothes askew, wisps of hair stuck to her forehead, her youthfulness returned. Sleepiness sloughed away, and a glimmer returned to her eye.

“We need to find one of Grampa’s old bots. Something small.”

Diti nodded.

The light from my workshop spilled forth, catching the glinting eye of a nearby T-Rex. Its massive form, slumped and non-responsive, was surrounded by the remains of hundreds of other dead and decommissioned dinosaurs.

Beyond that, shadows.

The drumming rain drowned out our footsteps as we picked a path through the broken bodies in search of the light switch. Diti bumped the carcass of a baby hadrosaur, and its loosely-held innards fell to the floor in a melodic cascade. It was one of my father’s, similar to Ducky, but built to proper scale. Diti looked at the detritus questioningly.

“We didn’t get to that one before the damp got inside,” I told her. “It’s mostly a write-off.”

“And too big,” Diti said, her voice hoarse.

I nudged the fallen pieces to the side with my foot and we carried on. The light switch was large enough to require both hands. The halogens came to life with an audible crack, their light flooding the warehouse, brighter than midday, revealing hundreds of dead bots.

We split up. My father’s smaller bots were rare nowadays, most long-scavenged or lost. I picked my way through heaped dinos. Their titanium bones glinted in the harsh light, a stark contrast to the pebbled skin of the older models, and the brilliant feathers of the modern bots. The park had relaunched a decade ago, trying to shed the image of dinosaurs popularized in the late twentieth century, and had been dying a slow death ever since. A postcard from Entropy.

“What about this one?” Diti called after a quarter hour of searching.

She was digging through an ancient pile that’d I’d written off as unsalvageable years ago. My heart skipped when she lifted a ‘dactyl, barely larger than her palms held together. It had a familiar broken wing and crumpled beak. Childhood memories came rushing back. My father’s tongue sticking out the side of his mouth as he worked on that ‘dactyl late at night, while I slept on the same bench as Diti had cried herself to sleep on.

“That’s Petri,” I said. “Grampa built him. God. I haven’t seen him in years. He used to come everywhere with me. I… thought he was gone.”

When I was maybe ten, not much older than Diti, my father had taken Petri from me. “You’re too old for this—this… toy,” he snarled. His eyes were bruised by lack of sleep, frustration. Anger. He’d smashed Petri against the wall, and burst into tears, fleeing the room. I never saw Petri again. The next day my father told me my apprenticeship was beginning. Neither of us mentioned the incident.

“Grampa built him? Can he fly?” Diti asked, turning Petri over in her hands, admiring the crimson feathers. She flicked him on, and the bot came to life.

“No,” I said. My father had never solved that puzzle.

“Can you use it to fix Ducky?”

“I—” I almost said no. My father’s final years were unkind to both of us, but Petri represented something else—a memory of more hopeful days. But the look on Diti’s face and the gentleness of her fingers as she examined the bot caught me off guard. I said yes past a lump of regret in my throat. “I think we can.”

Diti’s face didn’t show childhood wonder or playfulness, but a pure, deep curiosity. My father’s soul lived in his work, and I knew what he would say to Diti if he were in my place.

We turned off the halogens, returning the dinosaur graveyard to darkness. The workshop door creaked as it opened. “You should oil that,” Diti said. I nodded, mussing her hair.

Diti put Petri on my desk next to Ducky. She hesitated when I motioned for her to sit in my chair. “You’ll need those.” I pointed to a pair of kitchen tweezers.

Diti sat.

I turned Petri off, then spread his delicate pycnofiber fur to reveal a seam. “Open it here.” Diti used the tweezers to pull back synthetic skin, exposing the bot’s innards. “You see that small spheroid? That’s the heart. No. The one to the right, glowing red. Yep. That one there. Remove it. Gently.”

As I whispered a quiet goodbye to my childhood friend, Diti extracted the working heart with shaking fingers, pulling it free of wires that clung like spider silk.

I moved Petri out of the way, and put Ducky in his place. “It goes right here,” I said, pointing to the hollow in Ducky’s chassis.

Diti gently placed the new heart inside Ducky.

“Now what?” she said.

I described the next step, and with my father’s hand to guide us, we returned life to a broken, beloved friend.

© 2018 by Aidan Moher
1,400 words
August 24th, 2018

Aidan Moher is the Hugo Award-winning founder of A Dribble of Ink, author of “Youngblood,” “On the Phone with Goblins,” and “The Penelope Qingdom,” and a regular contributor to and the Barnes & Noble SF&F Blog. He lives on Vancouver Island with his wife and kids, but you can most easily find him on Twitter (@adribbleofink) or his website (


Illustration is by James Kurella! (This is a wood block print, designed and pulled by the artist and scanned in for digital upload.)

“I’m an oil painter living in Columbus Ohio, making my way in one of the brightest and most creative cities in the country. I’ve run a figure painting group that meets weekly where we paint, draw, and sculpt from a live model and discuss technique, style, and process. This has been an eye opening experience for me as it allows me to share my knowledge, learn from my fellow artists, and both give and get constructive feedback on the work. I also help run a group of Printmakers in Columbus that meets monthly to work, critique, and learn new techniques. I’ve been showing my work for the past 4 years, and have recently begun to explore watercolors. You can see more of my work at, or on Twitter @jameskurella.”

Dinosaur scene break icons are by Kelsey Liggett!

Announcing new ROBOT DINOSAURS! story selections

RAWR! Thank you to all the wonderful authors who submitted stories to us during the open window! We had a total of 205 submissions during the open reading period; Editorsaurus Merc Rustad sent out 35 hold notices, and accepted 6 stories in total for the anthology. It was a joy to read all your awesomesaurus words. <3

Now that submissions have closed and final selections have been made, we are thrilled to share the final selections for the ebook/print version of ROBOT DINOSAURS!


  • D.A. Xiaolin Spires “Caihong Juji”
  • Izzy Wasserstein “A Dinosaur Without Feathers Is No Dinosaur at All”
  • Aidan Doyle “The Tail of Genji”
  • Micheal M. Jones “Regarding the Regretful Repercussions of Replicating Robot Reptiles”
  • Jennifer Lee Rossman “The Mistakes of the White-Coats”
  • Beth Cato “Friends Who Roar Together”

About the Authors


Aidan Doyle
Aidan Doyle is an Australian writer and computer programmer. His short stories have been published in places such as Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, and Fireside. He has been shortlisted for the Aurealis, Ditmar, and XYZZY awards. He has visited more than 100 countries and his experiences include teaching English in Japan, interviewing ninjas in Bolivia, and going ten-pin bowling in North Korea.
Twitter: @aidan_doyle

Beth Cato
Nebula-nominated Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger duology and the new Blood of Earth Trilogy from Harper Voyager. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cats. Follow her at and on Twitter at @BethCato.

D.A. Xiaolin Spires
D.A. Xiaolin Spires bridles and saddles her electronic dino before rushing to the grocery store. Besides ROBOT DINOSAURS, her work appears or is forthcoming in various publications such as ClarkesworldAnalogTerraformNature: Futures, Fireside, Grievous AngelReckoningGalaxy’s EdgeLONTARAndromeda Spaceways (selected for the Year’s Best issue), Mithila ReviewIssues in Earth Science, Factor Four, StarShipSofa, Liquid ImaginationStar*LineLiminalityEye to the TelescopeAtlas PoeticaOutlook SpringsGathering Storm Magazine, Little Blue Marble, Polu Texni and Story Seed Vault. Her fiction also appears in other anthologies of the strange and delightful, such as Deep Signal, Future VisionsSharp & Sugar ToothBroad KnowledgeBattling in All Her Finery and Ride the Star Wind. You can find her on her website: or on Twitter: @spireswriter.

Izzy Wasserstein
Izzy Wasserstein is a writer of poetry and fiction. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming from Clarkesworld, Apex, and Fireside Magazine, among others. Her most recent poetry collection is When Creation Falls (Meadowlark Books, 2018). She shares a home with the writer Nora E. Derrington and a variety of fury companions. Reports that she is, in fact, a cyborg fox remain unconfirmed.
Twitter: @wasserst

Jennifer Lee Rossman
Jennifer Lee Rossman is an incurable dinosaur nerd. Jurassic Park has been her favorite movie since she was four, and she was that annoying child who complained to waiters about the scientific inaccuracies on the dinosaur placemats. Her debut novel, Jack Jetstark’s Intergalactic Freakshow, will be published by World Weaver Press in December. Alas, there are no dinosaurs in it.
Twitter: @JenLRossman

Michael M. Jones
Michael M. Jones lives in southwest Virginia with too many books, just enough cats, and a wife who prefers her mad science to be of the social varieties. His stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, such as Clockwork Phoenix 3, Utter Fabrication, and E is for Evil. Daphne and Camille first appeared in “Saturday Night Science,” in the first issue of Broadswords & Blasters. Michael also edited the anthologies Scheherazade’s Facade, and Schoolbooks & Sorcery. For more, visit him at
Twitter: @oneminutemonkey

What now?

The rest of the online-scheduled fiction will be published as planned! We’ve commissioned artwork for all the new hatchling stories, and the plan is to send the ebook/print book of ROBOT DINOSAURS! to the printers by October 1st, 2018. This means you should be getting your claws on the finished product by December—just in time for gift-giving and curling up in a warm nest to read on the snowy days to come!

How about 2019?

Editor Merc Rustad has this to say:

“Yes, there will be a volume 2 of ROBOT DINOSAURS! Plans are in the works. This has just been so much fun, and I loved so many stories I saw in the slush—I couldn’t say yes to all of them right now, but let’s just say I have asked to hold on to several stories for next year’s season of robot dinosaur fiction! And yes, there will be another open submissions period early next year, and I will be soliciting more authors for the second volume. RAWR!”


When I Was Made

artwork by Jennifer Rossman

When I Was Made

by Kathryn Kania


When I was made they gave the ability to teach. This was difficult, from what I have heard. Not only did they have to code into me adaptation to different stimulus but the ability to teach what I had learned to smaller, clumsier, slower versions of me that didn’t think quite as well. They, after all, would not have a computer for a brain. They would be prone to impulses and emotions. I was not to have emotions, just something close.

I am a Pseudosaur in the model Oviraptor blue. I am specially made for zoos to give to orphaned clutches of eggs and be dismantled at the end of the growth cycle. There aren’t many like me; oviraptors are notoriously hard to keep in captivity, so my model is bespoke. The zoo that received me was able to pick and choose features they wanted.

The young ones around me are small, but they do learn quickly. I show them how to pick out the weaker lizards, to not stomp on the tail but the body. To eat quickly, lest their clever siblings steal the kill. I reward the ones that do manage to steal the kill as well. Hunting and learning takes all forms.

When I was made they also gave me the urge to nurture. This was close to love. I have looked it up. I am supposed to want to keep the little versions of me safe. To keep them fed, to keep them happy, to make sure they grow up smart and strong. I don’t know that I was supposed to develop the ability to care for them. To actually care, I mean. I was supposed to assess danger and keep them out of it. But was I supposed to learn how to observe them when they are sleeping? I’m not sure. I have not examined my code to find out.

But I have checked them while they sleep. I am solar powered. At night, I got into low power mode but I can still see, can still process. They sleep well, sometimes kicking. I wonder why they do that so I query. It is called dreaming. I wonder what my young ones dream of.

When I was made they gave me intelligence. I had to know what the little ones could eat; what they’d want to eat versus what they’d like to eat. I had to know how to teach them to play. Playing is good for their teeth, their hunting skills, and their social adaptation. Was I supposed to play with them? To let them catch me, nip at me, and stomp on my frame? Was I programmed to let out fake moans of distress when they did so and then get up suddenly to chase after them again? You’d have to ask the ones who made me.

The Oviraptor hatchlings are getting bigger, now. Their stomps actually dent my form. I have to be careful, quick. But they delight in this, letting out squeaks of enjoyment when I change directions suddenly. They are learning that I do not heal like them, and they are gentler with me now.

When I was made they gave me skin, scales, and feathers. It was proven that if I felt and looked like what an actual parent might, the young ones would take to me easier. They’d grow to care about me as I did them. They would develop the urge to follow me, to learn from me. It would be easier this way. I do think my creators might have underestimated the bond that would grow. Were the hatchlings supposed to nuzzle into that skin? To seek out comfort underneath me when it rained?

I am missing feathers now but they don’t seem to mind. It is too late for those who made me to turn off the love they have built for me. It is too late for me to not care for my own. My babies. My grown babies. They are as big as me now.

When I was made they gave me an expiration date. My little ones grow quickly. Maybe six months in total was all the time they needed to learn what I could teach. But that was all the time I needed, too. I do not want to leave my little ones alone. My purpose is over, my not-so-little ones know how to hunt. However, they also know how to protect.

The ones who made me have put a sign on the exhibit. It says that I am a Pseudosaur in the model Oviraptor blue. One of the humans will sometimes stand in front of our home and tell my story. They hold up their hand, minus a finger, and laugh about how they had tried to come dismantle me.

But I was made too well.

© 2018 by Kathryn Kania
800 words
August 17th, 2018

photo courtesy of Kathryn KaniaKathryn Kania is a writer and teen librarian living in New England with a partner and a cat. They enjoy swing dancing, food, and storytelling of all stripes. They once saw a T-rex strip on stage and it’s all been downhill from there. You can find them on twitter @KatyKania or on Goodreads.


The illustration is by Jennifer Lee Rossman!

Rexotron 3000, Private Eye

artwork by Rekka Jay

Rexotron 3000, Private Eye

 by Mina Li


Arden heard a car door slam and her heart thumped in her chest, but when she looked over her shoulder, the street was empty. This late at night, she was supposed to be tucked in bed and fast asleep. Instead, she stood in front of the big Rexotron 3000 statue on the park playground, his steel teeth gleaming under the street lamps in an ear-to-ear grin.

Maybe she’d get lucky and Mom and Dad would be too worried about her missing twin brother Simon to go check on her. Still, she wanted to get this done as soon as she could, because the autumn chill made her shiver through her thin jacket and pajamas.

Arden knelt, shrugging off her pink backpack and yanking the zipper open. If you wanted Rexotron’s help, you had to give him things that were super special to you, so Arden had thrown in her allowance, her favorite dinner, and a can of Coke. She hoped Mom would be okay with her taking two cans when she only could have one each day. In addition, she put a chocolate cupcake she’d saved from her birthday two days ago in front of Rexotron, along with a can of WD-40 from the garage

It was a lot, more than what the other kids gave Rexotron. But what Arden was asking for a lot, and as everyone knew, he always said, “What’s in it for me? Lubricant don’t come cheap, y’know!”

Rexotron was good at finding things for the right price, but what about a person? She’d heard Danny Walters gave Rexotron his lunch for finding his stolen bike, and it’d been a really good lunch, with chocolate chip cookies and a Capri Sun. She hoped what she had was enough to Rexotron to take the case.

Arden looked over her offerings for a few seconds. She hoped he’d like it—pork belly wasn’t Stego-Steak (Rexotron’s favorite!), but they didn’t sell Stegosaurus meat at the store. And she didn’t know where to get electron soda, so the Coke would have to do.

Arden put her hands together and bowed three times, just like she’d done with Mom when she visited her great-grandmother’s grave.

“Rexotron 3000, please bring Simon home,” she prayed. She sat back on her heels, holding in a breath, to see if Rexotron 3000 might tell her it was okay or if he’d make that “Okay!” sign with his claws, but she had to get back in bed before Mom or Dad checked on her. They didn’t need to have both her and Simon gone.

Later, when Arden had just begun to warm up under the covers, she heard a faint tp-tp-tp at her window. She rolled over, trying to shut the noise out so she could fall asleep. Maybe it was the crabapple tree tapping its branches in the nighttime breeze.

The tp-tp-tp soon became a tk!-tk!-tk!, followed by a whispered, “Hey, kid! Get outta bed already!”

Arden shot upright. That voice…it couldn’t be! She got out of bed and tiptoed to the window. Then she immediately jerked back, tripping over herself in shock over what she saw.

Right in front of the crabapple tree was Rexotron himself, all seven tons of him, neon blue eyes glowing in the darkness. His teeth looked even sharper than on TV, as if they could slice a building like butter, and his red Hawaiian shirt made him look like a giant circus tent.

“C’mon! We ain’t got all night!” yelled Rexotron.

Arden rushed to the window, pushing it open. “Shh! Mom and Dad are sleeping,” she whispered.

Rexotron’s claw landed against his mouth with a soft clang. “Sorry,” he said, lowering his voice. “Look, I got your message. Your brother’s gone?”

She could smell chocolate on his breath. “You got the food! Can you find him?” she asked hopefully. “He was supposed to come home with me from school yesterday, but he didn’t show up, and the police haven’t found anything—”

“All right, all right, I gotcha,” said Rexotron, laser eyes flashing red with impatience. “I’m the best private eye in Jurassic City. I’ve seen so many missing kid cases I could write a book about ‘em! Finding your brother’s gonna be a cinch.”

“Oh, thank you!” Arden’s eyes prickled with tears. “Thank you, thank you—”

“One thing, though.” Rexotron’s arm extended with a soft whirring sound, his claws encircling Arden in a gentle but secure grip. “I need you to help me.”

Arden yelped as he lifted her off the floor. “But Mom and Dad, they’re gonna find out! I can’t be gone too!”

“That’s why we need to hurry,” said Rexotron. “We gotta go now, and then we can have both you and your brother in bed before morning. Mom and Dad don’t have to know a thing.”

“I guess you’re right,” Arden said. The night breeze made her shiver as Rexotron pulled her out through the window. “Will it be safe?” she asked.

One of Rexotron’s eyes flicked off before switching back to his usual electric blue, his version of a wink. “’Course it will,” he said. “Clients are my number one priority! Hard to get these days.”

That was the line he always said on TV. It calmed Arden down a bit.

“Okay,” she whispered, holding onto Rexotron’s claws, “let’s go!”

The air around them charged for a brief second as Rexotron’s cloaking device switched on, covering them in a transparent shield. “There we go,” he said, and both of them were off, each stride at least two blocks long, faster than any car.

Hold on, Simon, Arden thought. We’re coming for you.

© 2018 by Mina Li
1,000 words
August 17th, 2018

Mina Li hails from the hinterlands known as Michigan, and remembers crying her eyes out while watching The Land Before Time in kindergarten when Littlefoot’s mom died. When she’s not thinking of stories to write, she likes to try out new recipes, knit everything from socks to blankets, and take long spring and summer walks in her neighborhood.

Rekka Jay is an American graphic designer, illustrator, and seamster who is passionate about wellness, books, and dinosaurs. She illustrates using traditional mediums, most often pen and marker, as well as digital. Each day she wakes at sunrise to write SFF under her pen name, R J Theodore. Her art and design work can be found at Her written portfolio can be found at She pings as @bittybittyzap on Instagram and Twitter.

Sphexa, Start Dinosaur

artwork by Vincent Konrad

“Sphexa, Start Dinosaur”

by Nibedita Sen


Asha—Ash to friends—wedges the maintenance door open wide enough to slip into the darkened interior of the abandoned ride. Inside smells like rust and stale water and plastic fused with metal.

“Sphexa,” he says. “Light.”

The small robot bobbing behind him clicks, casting a circle of illumination on the concrete floor. He made Sphexa in shop class at school, patching together an old Echo, a frame salvaged from a drone, a rolling toy robot, and a few other things, because if you’re going to be that stereotype of the Indian kid good at engineering, you might as well lean all the way in.

“Reminder,” Sphexa says as they make their way down the narrow walkway lining the tunnel. “Event upcoming in two hours: Pick Mei up for prom.”

“I’m working on it, Sphexa.”

“Would you like a list of car rental agencies in the area that take last-minute bookings?” Disapproval is not something he programmed into the bot, but it’s definitely pulling some attitude right now.

“I’m good, Sphexa, thanks.”

They’re walking alongside a long, low channel that still holds a few inches of scummy water. The flat-bottomed boats that used to rock and splosh slowly along the artificial river are long gone, of course. Journey Through the Jurassic was shut down a year ago, eclipsed by other, showier rides in the park.

It was his and Mei’s favourite, before that. They rode it every hot, sticky summer, multiple times if they could, huddled together in the boats with their backpacks full of issues of National Geographic and Meccano dinosaurs they’d built together. Over the years, they went from staring awestruck at the animatronic saurians craning over them, to playing spot-the-anatomical-inaccuracies. Ash still remembers, though, that first time, when they were younger—though they’d ridden it so many times already by then—when they rounded the corner where the T-Rex lifted its metal head and roared in the low reddish light, and Mei grabbed his hand, their smaller, warmer fingers tightening in his.

Mei. His heart jolts, as it always does, at the thought of their heart-shaped face. The way their hair is always falling into their eyes when they get excited about something, and how they dash it away impatiently with the backs of their hands as they keep talking, their voice going high and jumpy with their infectious joy.

They had their first kiss on this ride too, in the back of a boat in middle school, somewhere just past the T-rex but before the raptors.

Ash clambers through a thicket of fake Jurassic ferns and a nest of baby Maiasura, led by Sphexa’s overhead beam. It’s hot in here. His rented tux is a little too small for him, uncomfortably tight against his chest, over the binder.

The corsage he got for Mei sits carefully in an inner pocket. He figured he should keep at least one thing traditional if he was going to flip double middle fingers at all the rest.

He’s almost all the way to the mouth of the exit when the irregular silhouette of a Stegosaurus rises ahead out of the gloom. Ash grins. Bingo. Stegosaurus, Mei’s second-favourite dinosaur (their first is Psittacosaurus, but Journey Through the Jurassic doesn’t have one).

“Sphexa, raise lights to seven.”

Ash carefully lowers his backpack to the now-brighter floor and start pulling things from it: pliers, loops of cable, wire cutters, microcontrollers; mostly from his own workshop, a few ‘borrowed’ from his dad’s. His hopes are confirmed as he starts carefully severing the plastic encasing the animatronic’s upper forward leg joint. The T-connectors and needle valves he needs are mostly already there, articulated and ready to go, if dusty from disuse since the ride shut down and the Stego stopped making its plodding way back to and from the waterhole.

All he has to do is feed wires into the right places, sealing them in places with dabs of insulated putty, winding them up towards the dinosaur’s knobby head.

“Message from Mei,” Sphexa reports archly. “It’s okay if you’ve changed your mind.

Mei had nearly cried with happiness when he’d asked them to prom, but had flip-flopped between anxiety and despair ever since, making lists of everything that could go wrong. They’d never exactly fit in, the two of them, the trans kid and the immigrant. Especially not since Mei had come out. Ash could guess what some of the stuff on Mei’s lists was: the glances in the hallway, the jackasses trying to flip up their skirt, being shoved at the water fountain. He got his fair share of it too. The Sphero that went into making Sphexa had been his before someone kicked it down the hallway, snapping it in half.

Sphexa, reply. Send link to playlist, ‘Cretaceous Rock.’”

“Message sent. Reply from Mei: ‘Hah, hah.’”

Sphexa hovers overhead as he works, the minutes ticking by. As he suspected, the Stego’s skull is mostly empty, its mechanics concentrated in the joints. Ash pulls himself up onto the dinosaur’s back, brushing cobwebs from between its raised plates—a staggered line of them, not paired, totally inaccurate for S. Ungulatus. At least it makes it easy to find a seat.

“Okay, Sphexa,” he says. “Get in there.”

Tablet in hand, he makes minute course corrections on the touchscreen as the robot levers itself into the hollow skull, clicking free of its drone frame. Ash leans forward to plug the final jacks into the ports on Sphexa’s back. Rotors click and valves piston as the connections light up one by one, a whirring hum he can feel through the automaton’s thick plastic hide. The Stegosaurus shifts, lifting one huge foot and then another, testing its restored—and expanded—mobility. Elation warms his chest.

“GPS active,” Sphexa says. “Add destination.”

“Mei’s place.”

“Would you like to add another stop? Suggestion based on calendar: school.”

“Not yet.” Ash pats the dinosaur’s neck. “Let’s go get Mei. Then we’ll see where they want to go.”

He twists his earbuds up into place, tucking them in firmly, and taps the tablet. “Oh, and Sphexa? Play ‘Walk the Dinosaur.’”

© 2018 by Nibedita Sen
August 3rd, 2018
1,000 words

Nibedita Sen is a 2015 graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. She accumulated a number of English degrees of varying usefulness in India before deciding she wanted another in creative writing, and that she was going to move halfway across the world for it. These days, she does grad student things while consuming copious amounts of coffee and videogames, and making far too many lists. She enjoys the company of puns and potatoes, and her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Anathema, Nightmare and Fireside.

The illustration is by Vincent Konrad!


artwork by Lars Weiler


by Darcie Little Badger


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—”


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.


“And robbing us?”


“Greater good?”


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.


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?”


“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
900 words
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!

Taiyesha’s Fist

artwork by Kosmic Arts

Taiyesha’s Fist

by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali


“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.


“Cool dino-bird.”


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.


Fist squawk-growls.


“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
1,200 words
July 20, 2018


photo courtesy of Khaalidah Muhammad-AliKhaalidah 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!

Twenty-Fifth Named Storm

illustration by Kosmic Arts

Twenty-Fifth Named Storm

by D. A. Vorobyov


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 D. A. Vorobyov
980 words
July 13th, 2018

D.A. Vorobyov is a student and writer based in North Carolina. Their work has previously appeared in Strange Horizons and is forthcoming from Glittership, and they were a finalist for the 2017 Dell Magazines Award. They are a graduate of the 2016 and 2017 Alpha Workshop for Young Writers.

This story was illustrated by Kosmic Arts!

Scene break dinosaur illustrations are by Kelsey Liggett!

Even to the Teeth

Artwork by R.S.
artwork by Rhiannon R-S

Even to the Teeth

by Karen Osborne


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
1,150 words
July 6th, 2018

photo courtesy of Karen Osborne

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.

A queer illustrator and writer, Rhiannon R-S works with juxtaposition and layering, especially comparing and contrasting humanity with elements of monstrosity and phantasm. Find their work at and @charibdys on Twitter.

Scene break dinosaur illustrations are by Kelsey Liggett!

Research Lab Electricity Usage Timesheet Reporting

artwork by Kit Leighton

Research Lab Electricity Usage Timesheet Reporting

by Ada Hoffmann


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.


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.

Not yet.

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
1,000 words
June 29th, 2018

Ada Hoffmann is the author of MONSTERS IN MY MIND. Her writing has appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, and UncannyShe 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 or on Twitter at @xasymptoteor support her at

Illustration is by Kit Leighton!

Scene break dinosaur illustrations are by Kelsey Liggett!