The Lorelei Signal
Written by Mary E. Lowd / Artwork by Marge Simon
They started out as toys, and they were everywhere. Ubiquitous. The perfect birthday or Christmas present. Dino Corp even stuck little ones inside of plastic eggs and put them in claw machines at pizza parlors. And of course—OF COURSE—the dino-bots had wifi. Everything does, right? I mean, sure, your toaster probably doesn't need wireless internet access…but you know, maybe down the line…? Look, it's just safer to put wifi in everything, rather than wake up some morning in a few years and go, "Oh, no, my toaster is the only one without internet, THE WORLD IS LEAVING ME BEHIND!"
Then some genius hacker girl wiz-kid in the middle of Iowodaho or somewhere wrote a program that networked them all together. Telepathically. Telepathic dino-bots. EVERYWHERE.
And when I say "everywhere," I don't just mean your average household had 3.2 dino-bots tucked away in a toy chest, or sitting on the kitchen counter next to the salt and pepper shakers, or on a bookshelf with the knick-knacks. I mean, there were scuffed-up ones in trash cans, forgotten ones in the sand boxes at playgrounds, and bus drivers kept them on their dashboards as tiny mascots. And oh so many of them were strewn throughout the landfills.
Eventually, they all ended up at the landfills, one way or another.
The landfills were the hotspots where the dino-bots congregated, coming together and forming colonies. City dino-bots trekked out to the landfills, and the squatting dino-bot colonists built themselves cities out of totaled cars. That sounds ridiculous, I know, like something out of an animated kids' movie, but Dino Corp had instilled their creations—at least, the expensive, upscale models for rich white people trying to fill the holes in their lives with whatever the Super Bowl ads told them to buy—with all kinds of high tech tools. Those dino-bots were the one-man-band, Swiss Army knives of toys, and as soon as some Wiz-Kid Girl hooked them up to the internet, they had access to all the amateur instructional videos they needed to learn how to build a paradise out of trash. Human culture has come a lot farther than humans realize—it just took a collective of robotic dinosaurs to show it.
Out in the landfills, the dino-bots built toy-sized skyscrapers and constructed a communist haven—each dino-bot doing the best work it could, all of them working together, and all of them enjoying the fruits of their labor.
Of course, from our perspective, the perspective of the dumb apes who built them, all of our dinosaur toys were inexplicably disappearing. Little Tommy cried himself to sleep when Daddy couldn't find his favorite, green, polka-dotted T-rex dino-bot, and Little Samantha refused to get in the car and go to Aunt Jessica's until Mommy found her purple velociraptor. But the dino-bots were nowhere to be found.
One day, an enterprising nine-year-old who'd decided she was going to be a journalist took off from her home, tablet under her arm, and followed the broken dino-bot she'd repaired. While her parents scoured the neighborhood, panicking because their daughter had left home without warning or explanation, Hope Lee Bailey followed her repaired orange triceratops as it tottered all the way out of town, across the interstate, and to the nearest landfill.
Hope was accepted at once by the dino-bot community, who had already wirelessly heard of her kindness in repairing their triceratops comrade. They gave her the grand tour, and she snapped photos on an ancient iTouch her parents had given her so she could listen to music in her own room, instead of subjecting them to the latest Broadway historical musical on endless repeat. Once one of the brachiosauruses—one with pink, white, and red stripes along its long neck, originally designed as a Valentine's Day toy—helped Hope connect her iTouch to the junkyard wifi, the amateur journalist was able to upload her extemporaneous photo essay to the internet. But her parents were also able to find her, using the Friend Tracker app on the iTouch.
Hope Lee Bailey was grounded for a month, and the communist junkyard dino-bots were written off as an art installation. But her photo essay went viral, and once she added a cheerful orange "DONATE!" button, the money poured in. Ten years later Hope Lee Bailey was able to pay her way through a series of unpaid internships in the highly competitive field of art journalism.
As for the dino-bots… They're still out there, recycling our junk and making our planet healthier, all while enjoying the good life in a communist utopia. If they weren't, we wouldn't be here by now, and if they ever lose interest in filtering pollution out of the atmosphere, out of some sentimental attachment to the dumb apes who designed them, then it'll be up to us to take care of our planet once again. By ourselves. Can you imagine? We'd be in a whole lotta trouble.
We don't deserve them.
They are the coolest things alive—they are dinosaurs, and they are robots. They are the best of us.
Mary E. Lowd is a prolific science-fiction and furry writer in Oregon. She’s had nearly 200 short stories and a dozen novels published, always with more on the way. Her work has won numerous awards, and she’s been nominated for the Ursa Major Awards more than any other individual. She is also the founder and editor of Zooscape.