TERRIBLE LIZARDS • by Fred Coppersmith

Dinosaurs are smarter than you might think. Too smart, maybe, for their own good.

“I simply do not believe in time travel,” says the T-Rex. It roars emphatically, blood from its fresh kill still glistening on its angry fangs. “While travel along the time-stream is theoretically possible, modern science has demonstrated that the expenditure of energy required would be astronomical and moreover inimical to continued life.”

I scoff. “You’re one to talk. ‘Inimical to continued life’.”

“What, this?” the great lizard says, shaking loose a shred of furry, mangled flesh from its massive jaws. “Why, was it a friend of yours?”

I shrug. Distant ancestor maybe, I think, from the look of it. I’m not a strong believer in the butterfly effect, and they don’t pay me enough to worry over little changes and permutations in the time-stream, but I’ll admit I cringe a little every time one of these monsters makes a meal from the ancient mammalian gene pool. You don’t have to listen hard to hear the sound of thunder sometimes.

“How do you explain my presence here, then?” I ask the dinosaur. “Or the fact that we’re communicating?” I point at the telepathic rig that I’m forced by contract to wear around my head, its crown more awkward than uncomfortable, which translates my thirty-fourth-century dialect into mid-Cretaceous, and vice versa. “Surely you don’t stop to chat with every brand new species that pops up on your morning constitutional.”

“Stop to eat them, more like,” the dinosaur says, as if genuinely amused. “But I think you know quite well that you could easily be a visual and auditory hallucination. I devoured some very dodgy-looking mushrooms only yesterday.”

I shoot the giant meat-eater a quizzical look.

“On accident,” it assures me. “The ankylosaur I was hunting decided to cower behind a large rotted conifer. Easiest solution I could devise in the moment was to gobble up it and the tree both.”

“Whatever,” I say. “So you don’t believe I’m from the future?”

“Your story of a giant asteroid on its way to Earth does lack a certain credibility,” the tyrannosaurs says. “I think our own scientists would have noticed if something of that nature was afoot.” It waves its small hands in a gesture I can’t read but which might very well be a shrug. “I myself hold several advanced degrees in astrophysics, you know.”

“That’s what that pterodactyl flock said when they dropped me off here,” I tell it. “It’s why I wanted to talk, to warn you. My employers thought if anyone was more likely to listen—”

Actually, I’m pretty sure my employers are altogether clueless about whatever passes for prehistoric higher education, but I don’t expect this learned theropod to call my bluff.

“And you say you have… what was the word you used again?” the lizard asks. “An ark?” It rumbles what, telepathy or not, I can only interpret as a yawn.

“Well it’s not a big one,” I say. “Just your average chrono-hauler.” The company I temp for is a small-time operation, more or less dedicated to the retro-conservation of extinct species but perpetually under-funded. The thinness of my own salary is a testament to that. “But the ship can easily fit one or maybe even two of most species.”

“I see…” says the dinosaur. “So what you’re saying, then—” It leans over and peers at me with its giant yellow eyes, that streak of smug reptilian intelligence that nobody at the company thought it was wise to warn me about — “is that there will be food there.”

The giant beast seems to grin, though it’s hard to tell, and then the dinosaur says to me, “All right then, little human. Tell me more about this so-called ‘extinction event.’ I must admit I’m suddenly hungry to learn more.”

I sigh, but at least it’s a start.

Fred Coppersmith lives in New York, where he tries writing things from time to time. His fiction has appeared in Mythic Delirium, Perihelion, and Andromeda Spaceways, among others. He also edits the quarterly online zine Kaleidotrope.

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