Regarding the Regretful Repercussions of Replicating Robot Reptiles

artwork by Kelsey Liggett

Regarding the Regretful Repercussions of Replicating Robot Reptiles

by Michael M. Jones

“Oh my god! I can’t believe you made me robot dinosaurs for my birthday! And they’re so cute!” I gazed down with sheer delight at the tiny mechanical marvels currently lumbering across the kitchen floor with the look one might give a basket of kittens. 

A pack of velociraptors swiped at their reflections in the shiny metal face of the refrigerator, while a brachiosaurus investigated the cat’s food bowl, much to Mr. Farnsworth’s snub-nosed disgust. A pterodactyl soared from the stove to the hanging light, where it squawked defiance at everything below. And their king, the tyrannosaurus rex himself, roared back, a sound which caused Mr. Farnsworth, tail poofed, to flee for safety and sanity. And not one of these delightful creatures was more than a foot tall, constructed from spare parts and salvaged computers.

“I remembered how much you liked the ones in that animated series you made me watch last month,” Daphne said, clearly tickled pink by my reaction. “So these meet with your approval, then, my dear Camille?”

I reached out to grab her hand, tugging her so that she fell into my lap, where I proceeded to reward her with kisses and caresses. Luckily, she was used to this; after all, she’d had plenty of practice when it came to making out in my wheelchair. “No worse than necking in the broom closet of an airship,” she’d explained chipperly, “and with less likelihood of getting a mop somewhere indelicate.”

There were benefits to having a mad scientist from an alternate timeline for a girlfriend. Sure, Daphne had a frightening disregard for the laws of physics, only a passing familiarity with ethics, and had once broken the universe while using my brain to power an interdimensional teleporter—and what did you do on your first date?—but she was a hell of a kisser, smarter than anyone else I’d ever met, and her gifts were truly unique.

By the end of the week, Mr. Farnsworth and the dinosaurs had reached a tentative truce; even the velociraptors knew better than to chase his tail after he batted the boldest of them around the room a few times. Then they bonded over a mutual impulse to chase the laser pointer, and next thing we knew, they were sharing a cat bed together. 

Encouraged by her successes, Daphne spent some time adding to the menagerie. A pair of stegosauruses. A plesiosaurus to inhabit the fish tank which had stood empty ever since her failed attempt to develop telepathic goldfish. Soon, our loft apartment was a bizarre ecosystem of tiny robot reptiles, all getting underfoot. I grew accustomed to maneuvering around the triceratops, removing the allosaurus from our bed, shooing the velociraptors out of the bathroom. And after a few weeks, Daphne moved on to another project—“Wouldn’t it be nice if the coffeemaker had drone capabilities?”—and I started a new semester of graduate school.

So it took us both some time to realize that, without any effort on our parts, the number of dinosaurs infesting the apartment was actually growing. After all, it was easy to lose count of the velociraptors—why on Earth had Daphne made so many in the first place?—so an extra one or two went unnoticed. But even we couldn’t miss the appearance of a second tyrannosaurus; they made for a cute couple together.

At first, I blamed Daphne. 

“I didn’t do it, Camille!” she protested. “Honest to Tesla, I haven’t built any in weeks.”

“Well, they’re coming from somewhere,” I grumbled. “And they’re getting downright rude. I can’t even clear off the couch without getting some serious attitude. And I thought the cat was a jerk before.”

Curious, we set up security cameras around the apartment… and that’s how we discovered that at night, the dinosaurs were cannibalizing our spare technology, of which Daphne had no shortage, to build more of their kind.  

“I suppose I might have overcompensated with the artificial intelligence?” Daphne mused, paging through one of her notebooks. “I wanted them independent, but not completely autonomous. Oh dear.” 

“I caught one trying to make off with my tablet,” I said darkly. “You don’t think they’re…”

“Trying to connect to the Internet? Oh no!” Daphne blushed furiously. “I did give them Wi-Fi capabilities, but I didn’t actually…”

So we reconfigured our wireless network to hopefully exclude our robot dinosaurs before they could discover the joys of online shopping, social media, and viral videos. 

“What are we going to do?” I asked. “I mean, is there a protocol for accidentally creating a new intelligent species?”

Daphne looked thoughtful. “Undoubtedly, but I really don’t want to involve the government. They’d ask far too many questions about where, exactly, I found an operating system capable of running self-reproducing robot dinosaurs. And you shouldn’t ask either, sweetheart.”

I wasn’t going to. Our relationship was built on amazing chemistry, great sex, and plausible deniability. I still couldn’t tell my parents the truth about how we met. “So do we put a stop to this?” I asked.

“And miss out on a unique opportunity to watch them develop? Camille, you don’t appreciate science nearlyenough.”

And so in the name of science, we spent the next week studying the rapidly replicating reptiles. Poor Mr. Farnsworth, now traumatized by the number of things trying to chase his tail, retreated to the highest point in the closet to unhappily shed all over our clothes. 

Even Daphne had to admit we’d reached a breaking point when the tyrannosaurus family, now five strong including two adorable babies, boldly dragged the television into the spare workroom one night. “This might have been a bad idea,” she told me. 

“You think?” I demanded. “They stole my favorite vibrator!”

“Not Ada Lovelace!” Daphne exclaimed in horror. “Oh sweetheart, I’m so sorry!”

“You should be. By the time I discovered what had happened, she’d been used to build more of those little feathered things… the comp-a-whatevers.”


“Yes, that.” I scowled. “I hate to say it, but it’s time to put an end to this, one way or another. And right now, my vote is to go all asteroid on these jerks and re-extinct them.”

“But—but they’re amazing! We can’t wipe out the dinosaurs again! It would be wrong!” she protested, in a manner I always found irresistibly endearing. Damn those big blue eyes, and those lips…

“So what do you suggest we do?”

“I did have one thought…”

Several days later, we stood in the middle of a field way out past the city limits, and watched a small rocket lift off into space. On board: every single robot dinosaur from our apartment, along with a sizable selection of spare parts, and a database containing everything they’d need to know in order to survive and flourish wherever they wound up. 

Once the rocket was well out of sight and on its way towards the asteroid belt, I looked at Daphne.  “I think for Christmas, I’d be happy with a gift certificate and some flowers…”

“Too late, you’re going to love what I have in the works.”

Of that, I was sure.

At least it wouldn’t be dull.

© 2020 by Michael M. Jones
1,200 words
April 17th, 2020

Michael M. Jones lives in Southwest Virginia with too many books, just enough cats, and a wife who prefers plush dinosaurs to robot ones. His stories have appeared in Constellary Tales, Mad Scientist Journal, and the Future Fire. He’s also the editor of the anthologies Scheherazade’s Facade, and Schoolbooks & Sorcery. Camille Delacroix and Daphne Watson can also be found in “Saturday Night Science” (Broadswords and Blasters Issue 1, April 2017) and “Observations and Oversights on the Opportunistic Occupation of Octopuses in the Office” (Mad Scientist Journal, Winter 2020). ( For more, visit him at

Alien Invader or Assistive Device?

illustrations by Kelsey Liggett

Alien Invader or Assistive Device?

by John Wiswell

Probe was more of an anthropologist than a celestial object. It hit the planet’s atmosphere, coming out of sleep mode as friction tried and failed to burn it up. Probe had come too far to go that easily. After breaching the atmosphere, planetfall was easy. Mostly, you just fell.

It landed on the north side of a marsh, with as quiet a splash as it could make. Mud still got everywhere in its smart metal fibers. Probe shifted its metal body into sundry shapes, strenuously trying to shake off the filth. Getting messy was the worst part of arrivals. 

Hopefully nobody had seen that.

Utah’s snout followed the funny rain’s descent until it landed in the mire. The utahraptor blinked and sniffed in its direction, until whatever it was glinted metallic. Metal tasted terrible and always broke their teeth. Utah had to get back to hunting. 

Swishing their long, feathered tail, Utah wavered for balance on their injured left leg. The chunk Alpha had bitten from it was not healing right. If they didn’t eat soon, it’d fall off like their right arm had.

Further up the hill, a brown hippodraco munched on low cedar branches, ignorant of the utahraptor pack surrounding it from cover. It had clearly eaten well. The pack could feast on a thing that size for days.

Utah lowered their snout close to the earth and pushed a chunk of stone up. They had used stones to trick so manyof their prey over the years. They turned, readying their tail for the swing, when their leg wound opened further and their entire body seized. They squawked despite themselves, and gave their position away.

It was the first call for empathy Probe had ever heard. Probe wanted to oblige. It dissembled its nanites into a pool of metal to come up with the friendliest shape. This was Probe’s first first contact, and it would not mess it up.

Before Probe could reshape, the giant herbivore bucked from its dinner of bushes and made for the foothills. Three more carnivores like the disabled one sprang up to chase, but too late.

This was Probe’s chance to blend in with a whole family of locals. It tried to speed up its transformation.

Utah collapsed onto a thorny bush, struggling to push themselves up on their one arm. Their thigh felt like fire that wanted to burn itself off.

The other utahraptors prowled near, lead by Alpha. Alpha grunted twice, padded up with their teal feathers standing on end. They still had some of Utah’s thigh stuck in their teeth from Utah’s previous mistake.

Utah fought their injuries, heaving up just to bow their head and show remorse. Their throat clicked softly in pain, ready to hunt all night to feed the pack. 

Alpha darted in, jaws sinking around Utah’s left hip. The fire burned white hot. Utah’s severed leg fell down the slope. They fell a moment later.

The creature hurtled toward Probe, screeching in what sounded more like agony than the joy of discovery. Probe’s nanites were still too loose to catch it, and the creature plunged head-first into a flooded trench. 

None of the creature’s family came to help when they coughed. The family departed northwest, following the herbivore.

The disabled creature bled enthusiastically, getting Probe terribly dirty. And still they squirmed, clawing at the slope of the hill, trying to follow their kin. They kept pushing the joint of their lost leg against Probe’s metal form, as though willing themselves to stand again.

Probe obliged. 

It unraveled two thousand semi-metallic fiber clusters from its bank, plugging every tissue fissure it found. It duped nerve clusters to mimic instinctive walking patterns. There wasn’t any flesh that Probe’s smart-metal couldn’t plagiarize.

Probe worked quickly, eager to finish and clean the gore off itself. It was so sticky.

Utah bit the stupid metal thing. Their teeth shattered, and worse, then the metal got in their mouth and started replacing their broken teeth. 

At least the metal teeth let Utah bite the metal thing easier.

They tried to run away from their new leg, but it was part of their gait now. Utah tore up the slope, the leg helping the whole time. It was a funny, thin leg. It didn’t even have a claw.

Probe rewrote the foot and sprouted the sharpest blade this planet would ever see. Utah could shave neurons with it if they wanted.

This was fun work! The Second Law was to help out a host culture, ever since one planet had turned an exploratory probe into a chair. That probe revolutionized recreation for its culture and set the standard for anthropology. No decent probe wouldn’t want to be sat on.

Probe was elated when Utah manually tapped their new claw on the ground. They’d been bonded for seconds, but Probe could feel Utah’s desire to test it out. 

It also felt Utah about to swoon.

Utah staggered, nearly toppling down the slope. The blood loss and infections were taking everything. Hunger gnawed at their belly, and the chill of sickness made even their veins feel ravenous.

Their olfactory senses had been defective since infancy. When they sniffed this time, metal poked into their snout, whispering new senses to them. They sensed things northwest – things that immediately made Utah salivate. Soon they ran for the hunt on an alien leg.

Probe barely had to tailor its design given how rapidly Utah adapted to it. Together they cut through woodlands, and stalked below the bush line of a grove, feathers close to their skin. As far as Probe knew, Utah had hunted in the same pack for a year and a half. It expected they’d struggle to hunt alone.

Before them was a field of gastonias, herbivores with spiny shelled backs. Bulky parents sheltered plump young as they grazed on grasses. Probe experienced a lifetime of Utah’s memories of how gastonias tasted, and the relief of gorging on them after long fasts. Probe almost felt hungry itself.

On the opposite side of the herd, hunched in a ditch, were three more utahraptors. They all had teal feathers, and one had Utah’s blood on their mouth. 

Probe sensed them. It pinged Utah.

Utah squinted.

They checked the gastonias, and then their former pack, all artlessly clustered in the same ditch.

Utah nosed a chunk of granite away from the bushes. They didn’t need the metal for this. They set up the rock, swung their tail, and batted the granite high over the bushes, sailing over two baby gastonias. 

The granite thudded against a cedar near the ditch, and the three utahraptors startled upright. Two of them squawked, and while chips of granite pattered to the ground, the gastonias all stared at their predators. They honked, shielding their young and whipping up into a stampede in the opposite direction.

Utah’s bushes were in the opposite direction. 

Utah arched low until a gastonia calf strayed too close. Their new claw worked perfectly.

Utah’s pack approached, with Alpha coming closest. Their nostrils quivered, sniffing at Utah as though disbelieving it was truly them. Utah turned their body away and continued feasting. Probe was impressionable, but still approved the snub.

Alpha shimmied their hips and raised their hind-feathers up in fan patterns. They were more than impressed. They shuffled and turned to one side in an invitation to mate.

That’s when Probe learned two things about its host:

  • They were asexual.
  • They were vengeful.

Utah spun around, flashing their mechanical foot blade. 

Then Probe was dirty again. Alpha’s fluids got everywhere, even between Probe’s micro-fibers. It was going to be a chore cleansing itself. 

It began the cleansing process, only to be interrupted by Utah’s tongue. They licked the metal knee clean, then got the thigh. Their own scales and feathers, Utah left a mess. It was like they intuited Probe’s wants and had given it a gift.

Probe responded in an equation that wouldn’t make sense to any native life. 

It was going to love being a leg on this planet.

© 2020 by John Wiswell
1,400 words
April 3rd, 2020

John (@wiswell) is a writer who lives where New York keeps all its trees. His stories have appeared at Fireside Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, Nature, and Podcastle. He has a lifelong dream of being eaten by a T-Rex, and would settle for a robot one if you have affordable rates.

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

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.”


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 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 Her written works can be found at She pings as @bittybittyzap on Instagram and Twitter.