Posts Tagged ‘dinosaurs’

Escape Pod 561: The Android’s Prehistoric Menagerie

The Android’s Prehistoric Menagerie

By A. Merc Rustad

The world explodes.

Unit EX-702 comes back online when UV wavelengths activate its solar plating. Its optics are crusted with red dust; a low-powered system scan concludes that though its left arm is missing and there is excessive oxidation damage along its chassis and helmet, as well as a web spun from several arachnids (Nephila clavipes) now embedded in its servo stump, EX-702 is functional. Its operational protocols are intact.

This unit is programmed for the support of life and sapience.

Its databanks are semi-corrupted beyond basic functions and archived footage and base knowledge dumps. Attempts to access the ‘Net and reboot from a mobile hub fail with a repeated NO CONNECTION AVAILABLE alert. EX-702 lifts its remaining arm and scrapes dust away from its optics.

Operational Function 413: this unit will maintain self-preservation operations, including but not limited to the access of immediately available data to determine procedure, when it does not conflict with the preservation of homo sapiens’ survival.

EX-702 sits in the crater of what had been Newtonian Genetech Incorporated laboratories and HQ facility. Debris from the lab cakes the thick concrete and rusted iron walls. Its scanner matrix glitches with static-filled readouts and partially deteriorated unprocessed updates from microseconds before it was shut down.

Scientist voices agitated and unmodulated without appropriate safety masks. [STATIC] “—find survivors! Protect yourself!” [SHUT DOWN]

Something crackles against EX-702’s knee joints. Fibers, synthetic and organic—old HAZMAT suits shredded and woven around broken plywood and stripped copper wiring—shaped in a non-geometric design. Inside the structure sit three maroon and heather-brown eggs thirteen centimeters in length and six in diameter.

Processing… (Continue Reading…)

EP277: Rejiggering the Thingamajig

By: Eric James Stone
Read by: Kij Johnson
Originally published in Analog, 2010
Discuss on our forums.
All stories by Eric James Stone
All stories read by Kij Johnson
Rated PG: For violence.

Show Notes:

  • Feedback for Episode 269: Élan Vital
  • Next week… Linguistics… in space.

Rejiggering the Thingamajig
by Eric James Stone

The teleport terminal had not been built with tyrannosaurus sapiens in mind.

Resisting the urge to knock human-sized chairs about with her tail, Bokeerk squatted on the tile floor, folded the claws of her forelimbs together, and concentrated on her breathing. Meditation would calm her nerves. What should have been a two-minute waystop as she switched to a different teleport line had stretched to three hours, and being the only passenger in the terminal creeped her out.

The cheerful voice of the customer service AI roused Bokeerk from her trance. “It is my pleasure to inform you that the cause of the technical difficulties in the galactic teleport network has been found.”

Bokeerk perked up and rose on her hind legs, remembering just in time to duck her head so it wouldn’t bang the ceiling lamps. “Please send me to Krawlak,” she said. It was unlikely that any of her eggs would hatch for another few days yet, but she was anxious to get home.

“It is with the utmost regret that I must tell you that will not be possible at this time,” said the AI, with a tone of such abysmal sorrow that Bokeerk’s eyes could not help but moisten with sympathetic tears. “I require assistance in repairing the problem.”

Bokeerk lowered herself into a squat again. “When will help get here?” She looked at the time display on the digital assistant strapped to her left forelimb. She had now been stranded for three hours and fifty-two minutes.

“I estimate a spaceship carrying a repair crew could be here within twelve years,” said the AI. Its voice seemed to have lost the customer service aspect.

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Sauropod Dinosaurs Had Weird Feet

As a science fiction writer, one of my hobbies is comparative anatomy. It is important for me to know how various organisms on Earth have solved the problems of moving, eating, seeing, and so on in order to build plausible aliens (or modifications for human beings). Evolution is constantly throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, and that churn produces some really interesting solutions to mundane-seeming problems.

Take walking, for example. Most of our familiar walking creatures (except bugs) are based on the tetrapod body plan. Four limbs, two on a pelvis and two up near a head. As evolutionary pressures drive a species to be bigger and bigger, their limbs become more robust to support the extra weight. Evolution is not an intelligent process, and so every solution is quick and dirty, thrown together from preexisting parts and driven as much by chance as by natural selection. Thus, animals with superficially similar body plans may, on closer examination, have wildly different anatomies.

Everyone’s favorite cuddly megafauna, the elephant, walks on its toes. Its weight is carried on an enormous shock absorber made of fat and connective tissue that sits behind its toes. This system works so well for the elephant that they can move almost silently. From a human point of view, elephant feet look right. They bend in the right places, and the idea of walking along on one’s splayed fingertips isn’t too alien.

It’s easy to assume that elephantine dinosaurs had feet like elephants, especially when they are so often illustrated that way. The first clue that this isn’t the case is in the tracks: some sauropods leave crescent-shaped tracks. Next, there’s the skeleton. Except for the thumb, the toes of Eusauropoda are blunt, clawless nubs. These multi-ton dinosaurs walked on the ends of their metacarpal bones — the bones which, in humans, form the back of the hand.

How strange this must have looked! As a writer, imagining the motion of such an animal and then translating that movement onto the page is a glorious challenge. I can look at reconstructions, or I can press my hands into odd shapes and imagine what it would be like to walk on a column of hand-bones. Where the animal’s wrist would be, and how it would bend… All the things I must keep in mind if I write such a creature into a story.

For more detailed information and pictures, see the Tetrapod Zoologist. I highly recommend that blog as a resource for cool animal facts and analysis.

For further examples of strange creatures that have lived on our planet at one time or another, see Mark Witton’s Flickr gallery.