Caihong Juji

artwork © 2020 by Kosmic Arts

Caihong Juji

by D.A. Xiaolin Spires

I met Shi on Lala Online Meet&Chat. She outwitted me with her fast talk.  Her profile showed her long, black hair cascading over her shoulders and a wide smile, so different from my short, spiky hair and thin lips. Unlike many of the other cosmopolitan bachelorettes on Lala, she didn’t cake her face over with layers of makeup. In a lot of her photos, she wore jeans and permutations of dinosaur shirts. I thought she looked “counterculture” to my “unstylish,” and “down-to-earth” to my “aloof,” and was surprised when she pinged me.

Three months of messages and video chatting and she was pinging me again, flooding me with a series of emoticons: Christmas trees, presents, Santa Claus faces, and stegosauruses dressed up as elves. We promised to exchange couple gifts and she also sent me a box of apples last night on Christmas Eve, one of these new customs for the holiday, a play on words of Ping’an Ye (Christmas Eve) where the ping is homophonous to apple. I really felt like a couple, like we were really dating, not simply virtual dating. When I mentioned that, she laughed and assured me we were, as I long as I was okay with it.

I was.

Today, Christmas Day, she sent me another present.

SHI: C’mon, open it.

PENG: I can’t. I’m too nervous. My hands are shaking and sweating all at once.

SHI: Don’t make me come over and open it for you.

PENG: Could you, really?

SHI: Get on a plane right now from Shanghai to Hebei? I wish.

PENG: I’m pulling off the ribbon… Oh, wow, it’s a… bird!

SHI: Not a bird, it’s Caihong Juji.

PENG: The Rainbow Dinosaur…

SHI: Yes, and with moving parts.

PENG: Oh, very cool! I should’ve guessed. [T-Rex emoji]

PENG: [Sent “Photo of the opened bot-toy in my hand”]

PENG: It’s got a battery pack.

SHI: Flash batt-charge it, will you? I don’t think they prep it in the warehouse.

I flashed the FillRay at the battery and it fully charged in seconds. I stuck the battery in the compartment under Caihong’s clawed feet and it came to life. Its crimson, lime, yellow and azure blue quills shone in radiance as the LEDs switched on, accentuating the plumage that gave the creature its “rainbow” name. It moved pretty smoothly for a toy that size, flapping its wings and tail.

“It’s perfect,” I typed back. I felt my heart ache, thinking of Shi, choosing Caihong for me.

I felt a nudge at my fingers. The Caihong robot, flashing its emblem of colors, was trying to crawl towards my scrolling orb. I moved the dinosaur toy to the top of my head, where it started stomping, messing up my hair.

Shi knew that my parents named me Jingwei, the mythological bird that arose from a drowned daughter and dropped twigs into the sea. I thought that was a bit too tragic, and called myself Peng, for the fabulous creature that turned from fish to bird, even if it was a guy’s name. I thought it was a better upgrade, all about transformation and being reborn, jettisoning the seas for the skies.

SHI: You know, I always thought a Caihong was a better fit for you than Peng. Though, obviously you call yourself whatever you want and I respect that.

PENG: Why do you think Caihong’s better?

SHI: Well, the rainbow dinosaur iridescent feathers on its neck and chest. You always have a bit of garish flair to you.

PENG: I guess…? I hope that’s a good thing.

SHI: Don’t worry, I love it. All those tie-dyed bandanas?

I laughed.

SHI: Plus, she’s from Hebei.

PENG: She?

PENG: [Sent “Caihong climbing up my screen” video]

SHI: Caihong. Yeah, she’s totally into you, too. I can see it from the way she’s fussing with your hair, the way I’d do if I were there. She’s deep learning fast. Making all those connections in her black box.

I coaxed Shi to open my gift. 

SHI: An open ticket to Hebei.

PENG: It’s not very subtle.

SHI: I’d definitely visit. Once things start slowing down over here.

PENG: Do they ever slow down in Shanghai?

SHI: Well, maybe not, but I’ll make the time off, I promise…

We wished each other Merry Christmas, whispered sweet nothings. Shi texted a narrated account of a short striptease, which made me laugh, and we signed off.

That night the Lala app disappeared and with it, so did all her contact info that I never moved off the app.

It was like magic, one day Shi was there, an entity in my life, meaning in my existence, and the next, not. Shut down without a trace. Her profile, my own, along with five million other users—not to mention all our history. Poof.

I frantically searched for her. I even talked to Caihong Juji.

“Come on, Cai, did you at least grab a screenshot of her phone number or something?”

I couldn’t believe after all this time, I had not a scrap of info about Shi. The packaging of the box just showed the same P.O. Box address in Shanghai. That P.O. Box came up with nothing in the searches. It still bothered me that I didn’t save anything, but why would’ve I done that? We kept everything on their server, why would we even bother when it was so easily accessible?

I felt numb. Our lines were cut. Nothing, not even messaging history to reminisce with.

For days, I sat around before the New Year, calling off from work, dazed and dejected, watching Caihong learn on her own. I was supposed to help her. Teach her tricks and such. But, even watching her fetch a stick, that she had learned on her own, made me dejected. It reminded me of the name I left behind, Jingwei, relegated to tossing twigs into the sea.

On New Year’s Eve, Caihong walked into the room in her usual strut. I saw her mechanical legs leap from the windowsill and she would flap, flap, flap in wild movements until she tumbled onto the ground.

“Cai, you’re not meant to fly. You’re 161 million years old, with wings too rudimentary to work. Like your ancestral counterpart, your toy self isn’t made to get airborne.”

Cai bounced onto the floor again. She came over to my feet and nudged me with her paravian theropod snout, made of chrome. She bit my pants sleeve and tugged.

“What? What? I’m busy.” I continued to lie on the ground, staring at the ceiling. Something in my peripheral vision caught my eye. Her iridescent quills flashed in alarming patterns of light, zipping through the ROYGBIV spectrum and back. This was urgent.

I’d never seen her do that before.

I got up and she hopped away, perching on her claws every few hops to make sure I was following.

She led me to a line for a bus. It was one of those commercial ones, heading a bit further than the regular city bus.

I asked one of the bus passengers where we were heading, before paying the fare. Cai crawled into my bandana, camouflaging with the tie-dye.

“Why, the special exhibition at dinosaur egg museum of course,” said the old lady, giving me a strange look of surprise.

The landscape unfolded before us in the expanse of the mountainside. It did remind me a bit of Jurassic Park, Shi’s favorite movie.

I thought of her and I wanted to crawl back into bed. Did she even try to get in touch with me?

Cai hopped excitedly on my collarbone under my bandana. I shushed her. They led us into the craggy facility and down winding steps that led us to a dark room, lit only dimly in the center. It revealed a landscape like a giant chocolate bar spread out before me with oversized peanuts, ovoid forms trapped in petrified dirt.

“These dinosaur eggs are 80 million years old,” the tour guide said into the mic. The museumgoers oohed, stepping closer to the rail.

I didn’t know if the echo of that broadcasted voice bothered her, but Cai went into a frenzy, scratching me with her claws, until I loosened my bandana, cursing under my breath. She alighted, using her feathers to slow her fall and jumped into the pit. 

“No,” I yelled. She leaped onto eggs, just sitting there, as if trying to incubate them.

“Caihong?” A familiar voice made my heart thump. It was so soft I didn’t dare believe… did I imagine it?

The voice continued. “Wait, if Caihong’s here, then… that means… Peng? Are you here, Peng?”

I turned around. In the darkness of the building, I hadn’t seen her. But here she was. Shi. Wearing professional clothes, with her hair tied in a bun.

We embraced. I held onto her, smelling lilac.

“What are you doing here?”

“I applied to intern here. They were looking for someone in Hebei. I snatched the opportunity, worrying you would slip away from me. It was right after I got your ticket.”

“I couldn’t find you because of—”

“Yeah, the app went down. That’s why I had to come here. I had to find you. I searched day and night and couldn’t get a clue from you. I posted a lot of messages on forums, hoping to catch your eye.”

“I’ve been… not in the best of moods.” I smiled at her. “But it’s getting better.”

We leaned against the rail and Caihong must have decided to give up on incubation. She flew up towards where we stood above the artifacts.

“I can’t believe she can do that,” said Shi.

“Light up?”

“No, fly! It’s not in her specs.”

“Neither is combing the forums. Who knew she could hook up with the internet like that?”

Shi grinned, giving me a sly look, as if to say, Maybe I did.

Cai landed on my hand and nudged me, then Shi.

I put my hand over Shi’s, feeling her warmth and said, “Specs don’t define her.”

“Or me and you,” said Shi, her voice soft. “No matter what those standard dating algorithms say. We transcend our specs, our out-of-the-box state.”

Shi squeezed my hand as Cai took off again, leaving a ghost trail of bright hues.


© 2020 by D.A. Xiaolin Spires
1,700 words
March 27th, 2020


D.A. Xiaolin Spires steps into portals and reappears in sites such as Hawai’i, NY, various parts of Asia and elsewhere, with her keyboard appendage attached. Her work appears or is forthcoming in publications such as Clarkesworld, Analog, Nature, Terraform, Grievous Angel, Fireside, Galaxy’s Edge, StarShipSofa, Andromeda Spaceways (Year’s Best Issue), Diabolical Plots, Factor Four, Pantheon, Outlook Springs, ROBOT DINOSAURS, Mithila Review, LONTAR, Reckoning, Issues in Earth Science, Liminality, Star*Line, Polu Texni, Argot, Eye to the Telescope, Liquid Imagination, Gathering Storm Magazine, Little Blue Marble, Story Seed Vault, and anthologies of the strange and beautiful: Ride the Star Wind, Sharp and Sugar Tooth, Future Visions, Deep Signal, Battling in All Her Finery, and Broad Knowledge. She can be found on Twitter @spireswriter and on her website at daxiaolinspires.wordpress.com.


This story’s illustration is by Kosmic Arts!

The Tail of Genji

artwork © 2020 by Lars Weiler

The Tail of Genji

by Aidan Doyle

            It’s not easy to rent an apartment in Tokyo if you’re a giant robot lizard.

            “We don’t have anything that meets your needs,” the rental agents would say.

            Genji had similar luck when it came to getting a job. They tried contacting an organization that worked with the visually impaired. “I want to be a seeing-eye lizard.”

            “I’m sorry, but we don’t have any vacancies,” the woman explained.

            “I won’t destroy any major landmarks,” they pleaded. “I only want to help.”

            “I’m sorry,” the woman repeated.

            A train company in Wakayama had made a cat their station master, but none of the Tokyo train companies wanted anything to do with a giant robot lizard. Genji tried to get a job as a pusher—one of the attendants who try to get as many people into crowded trains as possible—but it was difficult to fight against the negative media stereotypes.

            They eventually found a job as a bouncer at a club in Roppongi. It was the last kind of work they wanted to do, but at least they only had to look threatening and didn’t need to hurt anyone. They could also sleep in the undercover parking lot during the day.

            Their creator sighed when Genji called to tell him about their new job. “Come home, Genji. There’s always work here.”

            Their creator owned a hotel in Okinawa. Genji wanted to make their creator proud, but wanted to do it on their own terms. When Genji had moved to Tokyo they had an image of a machete engraved on their tail. They were going to cut their own path. “I’ll find another job,” Genji told their creator.

            After their afternoon nap, they would go walk for a walk across the Tokyo Gate Bridge and admire the view. Of course they didn’t want anyone to get hurt, but secretly part of them hoped someone would get in trouble so that Genji could rescue them.

            Genji’s presence on the bridge made people uncomfortable though. Eventually one of the security staff told them to leave. “If I see you here again, I’ll call in a terrorism alert.”

            Genji slunk away.

            To expand their social network, Genji signed up for tea ceremony classes, but was asked to leave after their tail knocked over other students’ teapots.

            They tried not to let their lack of success get them down. Once people got to know them, they would see Genji for the caring mechalizard they really were. They continued to go for walks near the Tokyo Gate Bridge, but stayed off the bridge itself.

            One afternoon, they encountered a crying man near the bridge. “Is everything all right?” Genji asked.

            The man stared up at him. “Maybe you can help me.”

            Genji’s central processing unit leaped in excitement. This was their chance. “Of course.”

            “I was posing a teddy bear for a photo and it fell over the side of the bridge and got stuck in the railing. Could you climb down and get it?”

            Genji stared at the bridge. What if they called in a terrorism alert and the self-defence force arrived? It wasn’t worth risking their life for a toy. “I’m not allowed on the bridge.”

            “I own a teddy bear travel agency,” the man explained. “People from all over the world send me their stuffed animals and I photograph them enjoying the sights of Tokyo. My client would be devastated if I lost her bear.”

            Genji didn’t want anyone to be devastated. Maybe the security guard who had warned them to stay away wouldn’t be working today. “I’ll help you.”

            Genji followed the man onto the bridge, nervously watching for the presence of security staff.

            A man in uniform stepped forward.

            Genji was ready to turn and flee, but the man intervened. “This robot lizard is with me,” he announced.

            The security guard scowled, but didn’t say anything.

            “I come here a lot,” the man explained. He showed Genji where the bear had fallen.

            Genji peered over the edge. Even for them, it looked a long drop to the water. They took a moment to allocate more memory to their Calm and Tranquility Unit. They could do this.

            They clambered over the railing. Someone shouted out, but Genji kept going. Hopefully, no one had reported a terrorist incident.

            They used their claws and tail to keep a tight grip and worked their way down the side of the bridge. Their terror buffer was near maximum capacity.

            They spotted a blue teddy bear caught in the railing. They wrapped their tail around a pylon and leaned forward to grasp the bear. They had it!

            They held the bear carefully, making sure not to damage it, and scrambled back over the safety barrier. They handed the bear to the man.

            He bowed repeatedly. “Thank you. Thank you.” 

            The security guard shouted at Genji for doing something so dangerous, but eventually let them go.

            The man thanked them again.

            “Would you would have any work for a giant robot lizard?” Genji asked.

            The man smiled. “Yes.”

            Genji had to allocate more memory to their Happiness Processor. 

            Genji spent the next week traveling around Tokyo accompanied by a dozen toy companions. They took an average of 542.4 photos a day. Giant robot lizard holding a bear in front of Tokyo Sky Tree. Giant robot lizard posing with a panda at Asakusa Shrine.

            They waited to see how the job turned out before telling their creator. The feedback from customers was unanimous. They wanted to see more of the giant robot lizard in their photos.

            “Playing with soft toys?” their creator scoffed when Genji called. “I wish you would do something more important.”

            “I want to read you an email we received yesterday from France,” Genji said.

            My eleven-year-old daughter loves anime so much. It’s her dream to visit Japan, but because of the cost of traveling with her illness, we haven’t been able to make it there yet. She wanted me to tell you how much the photos of her favorite bear enjoying Tokyo mean to her. She hopes she gets to meet Genji when she visits Japan. Thank you.

            Genji’s creator cleared his throat. “I’m proud of you, Genji.”


© 2020 by Aidan Doyle
1,100 words
March 20th, 2020


Aidan Doyle is an Australian writer and editor. He is the co-editor of the World Fantasy Award-nominated Sword and Sonnet and the author of The Writer’s Book of Doubt. His short stories have been published in places like Lightspeed, Strange Horizons and Fireside. 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


Illustration by Lars Weiler.

A Dinosaur Without Feathers Is No Dinosaur at All

artwork © 2020 by Rekka Jay

A Dinosaur Without Feathers Is No Dinosaur at All

by Izzy Wasserstein

The Mei long was nearly complete before Grace worked up the nerve to ask Samantha about the feathers. Grace had started on the dinosaur after she’d been diagnosed with the Canine Flu, and it had taken most of the loneliest year of her life, but now the gears and wires were in place, the casing all but finished. She had held off on the cortex, feeling that the tiny, wide-eyed dinosaur shouldn’t wake until it was complete. Dinosaurs had feathers. The Mei long had feathers. She had no choice but to talk to Samantha.

Samantha spent almost every afternoon either at home with her dogs (the thought made Grace’s chest tighten horribly) or in the school’s craft room. That day she’d chosen the latter, her long fingers deftly working the soldering iron. Students were supposed to be supervised while in the craft room, but no one hassled Samantha about it. She was 14, like Grace, and better with tools than the shop teacher, and Grace suspected that adults thought it best she be given her space. Grace sat down beside her and watched her work, sealing the ends off small, delicate tubes of metal.

Samantha unhurriedly finished the work, turned off the iron, and lifted her goggles.

 “What do you want?” she said. Not unkind, but flat.

“Hey, Samantha,” Grace said. “I’m working on a project, and I can’t finish it on my own.”

Samantha studied her face, and Grace forced herself not to look away. It has been a year since Samantha had transitioned, and Grace knew from the whispers and derisive words of their fellow students that most of them still refused to see Samantha as a girl. Grace had different problems.

  “Show me,” Samantha said at last.

  Grace carefully pulled Mei from her pack. She wasn’t heavy, but still heavier than the actual dinosaur would have been. Grace could only work with the materials she had.

  “Wow,” Samantha said. “This is…wow.”

   “She’s almost ready,” Grace said. “But she needs feathers.”

  Samantha blinked. “Feathers?”

“Yeah,” Grace said, defensive. “On the edges of her forelimbs, and down her spine. The Mei long was a feathered dinosaur, and it has to be right.”

   Samantha nodded. “I get that. Show me where they fit.”

Grace insisted on helping with the feathers. She didn’t like not being able to do it herself, and Samantha’s instructions helped fill the silences. Once those silences had been companionable, but the last year had transformed them. The girls clipped fine lengths of wire, cut the feathered shapes, soldered them together.

 “They need to be as light as possible,” Samantha said. “Heavy, clunky feathers would be all wrong.” Grace was so glad she understood. Together, they scoured junkyards and unattended construction sites for what they needed.

Within two weeks, they had the rough cuts of the feathers assembled. Each was a tiny, dull object, but Samantha assured Grace they’d look elegant when they were finished.

“This is so cool, Samantha,” Grace said, momentarily forgetting her embarrassment. “Thank you for making my dino dreams come true.”

Samantha smiled broadly, and Grace felt her cheeks flush.

Samantha’s text arrived a few days later: Can you come over tonight?

She hadn’t messaged Grace in almost a year, even though they’d once hung out almost every day, tearing apart old drones and reassembling them, expanding the massive fort in the woods behind Grace’s house, or scrawling elaborate scenes in chalk on the weed-infested basketball court nearby. The message made Grace’s heart race. Then she remembered.

 Can’t, she wrote. Dogs.

Oh, came the response. I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I’ll come to you.

She arrived an hour later, lugging a suitcase full of supplies. Grace was waiting for her in the garage.

“I’m sorry,” Samantha said without preamble. “I didn’t know you’d caught it. And you and Rex…” She sniffled.

Grace didn’t think. She just hugged. The two girls stood there, crying in one another’s arms.

“You couldn’t have known,” Grace sniffled. “I couldn’t…couldn’t talk about it.”

People called it the Canine Flu, but that was a misnomer. The virus was asymptomatic in most people, but in some, like Grace, it manifested as an acute allergic reaction to dogs. A year ago, Grace had Rex, and been best friends with Samantha, and then she’d caught it. Rex was sent to a new home, and Grace lost her dog and her best friend.

“I should have told you,” Grace said, wiping at her eyes. “But I didn’t want to think–to think about not seeing your dogs again.”

“Let’s get your dinosaur working,” Samantha said, firmly.

She’d cut the details in the feathers, the notches and the fine lines that transformed them from blank strips of metal to something that was clearly a feather. Together they worked at shining each feather until it gleamed.

“Have you thought about its color?” Samantha asked, and when Grace shook her head she grinned. “I have some ideas.”

Mei darted through the undergrowth, happily pecking at the ground in search of grubs or small animals. She never managed to catch anything, which was just as well, since she had no digestive tract.

Her head darted up, dark eyes scanning back and forth, then she made a series of excited click-clicks with her jaws and darted up the forested hillside, a blur of gold and crimson, to meet Samantha.

Grace couldn’t keep up with an excited dinosaur, and by the time she was halfway up the hill, Samantha had already scooped Mei up into her arms.

“She adores you,” Grace said, trying to catch her breath. Mei stuck out her metal tongue and began licking Samantha’s cheek.

“She imprinted on the two faces that were there when we booted her up,” Samantha said.

“Her moms,” Grace said, and both girls blushed. Grace stared at her feet.

They walked in silence back down the hill to their old fort. Mei darted off to resume hunting, and they sat side-by-side against the corrugated wall.

“I’m glad we’re hanging out again,” Samantha said.

“Me too.”

“I…um…thought maybe you didn’t want to hang out. Once you learned I was a girl.”

Grace’s eyes widened. “No!” She shook her head fiercely. The dinosaur looked up, then returned to its scavenging. “It wasn’t that, Samantha.”

“Then…why?”

Grace thought she’d never stop blushing. “First I got the Canine Flu, and then,” she hesitated. “Then I was too shy to tell you… that I had a crush on you,” 

“Oh.” Samantha blinked repeatedly. “Oh!” A slow smile spread across her face. “I wish you’d said something sooner.” She leaned in and pressed her lips to Grace’s cheek. Now both girls were smiling and shifting their weight.

“Me too,” Grace said, sheepish, thinking of the last, lost year.

Samantha took her hand. “But then we wouldn’t have Mei.”

The small dinosaur ran around, clucking with interest, her metal feathers gleaming.


© 2020 by Izzy Wasserstein
1,200 words
March 27th, 2020


Izzy Wasserstein is a queer, trans writer of fiction and poetry. Her work has been widely published in places like ClarkesworldFireside, and Transcendent 4: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction. She believes in the power of hope and of community. You can find her work at izzywasserstein.com. She’s on Twitter at @izzyxen.


Rekka Jay is a graphic designer, illustrator, and writer from New England who is passionate about kindness and dinosaurs. She illustrates using traditional and digital mediums. She writes SFF under her pen name, R J Theodore. Her art and design work can be found at rekkajay.com. Her written works can be found at rjtheodore.com. She pings as @bittybittyzap on Instagram and Twitter.