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art by Ron Sanders

Goodnight, Raptor

A. Merc Rustad is a biological construct (who'd rather be a robot) living in the Midwest United States. Between college (film major), work, and watching all the movies, Merc writes stuff. Merc's stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Fictionvale, Daily Science Fiction, Scigentasy, and Ideomancer. You can visit Merc on Twitter @Merc_hyn_di or at the website: amercrustad.com.

Benjamin sat on the sidewalk with his favorite dinosaur book, the one about Velociraptors. Up in the sky, the clouds of silver nanobots flew higher and higher until he couldn't see them anymore. It was very quiet now. Benjamin held his book tight so it wouldn't get lost or eaten up, and looked around for Daddy.
The nanobots had appeared in the kitchen during breakfast. First there had been just one or two tiny silver dots, and then the air was filled with them.
Benjamin bounced in his chair. "Daddy, look! Robots!"
Daddy dropped the spoon and pancake batter went splat all over the floor. "Oh God--nanobots! Benny, fire drill! Run--"
Then Daddy had disappeared like a magic trick behind the robots.
Benjamin had grabbed his favorite book and ran outside the way he and Daddy had practiced, crouching like a Triceratops. He'd hid behind mailbox, watching for Daddy. Then the house had gone BOOM and the mailbox had knocked him down.
When Benjamin had woken up, his tummy had really, really hurt, though he'd tried to be a big boy and not complain. Bazillions of tiny nanobots swarmed in huge metal waves over the neighborhood. They'd eaten it all up like miniature T-rexes.
His house was disappeared now. He didn't see Corwin's house, either. None of the houses were there. Everything was piles of dust that made him cough.
Daddy hadn't met him by the mailbox like he was supposed to in a fire drill.
Benjamin rubbed his eyes and tried not to cry.
It was almost nighttime and the streetlights didn't come on. Benjamin couldn't see any lights to turn on, anyway.
He shivered with cold. He'd tried to find his favorite blanket, but he didn't remember where his bedroom had been. He couldn't find his flashlight, either.
"Mommy?" he called. Mommy had been at work when the nanobots came, and she should be home by now. She would know how to fix the house. Benjamin clutched his book. "Mommy? Daddy?"
His voice echoed. There wasn't anyone around: not his friends next door, like Corwin; not the big scary dog that lived across the street from his house; not even Po, their orange kitty cat.
Mommy's car still wasn't back and he was hungry and tonight was pizza night.
Where was Mommy? Benjamin tried to pretend he was in his spaceship, the way Mommy told him to do when he got scared and had bad dreams. He was going to be a dinosaur astronaut when he grew up so he could fly around all the stars.
A very small cloud of metal dots popped up from the ground right in front of Benjamin. Nanobots! Benjamin stumbled backwards and screamed. He held up his book like a shield, with the Velociraptor on the cover growling at the nanobots.
The swarm was as big as he was, which wasn't very big, and it hummed and twirled around him. Benjamin squeezed his eyes shut and clung to his book-shield.
"Processing data..." said a mechanical voice like on Mommy's phone. "Imprinting..."
Blue lights like he saw on police cars flashed in his eyes. His head hurt like his knees. He started to cry, but when he looked up, a metal Velociraptor stood in front of him.
Benjamin's mouth dropped open.
The Velociraptor tilted its head. It had a long snout and big eyes, three-fingered hands with claws, powerful legs and sickle-like toe-claws, and a long stiff tail, just like the picture on the front of the book, except the picture was colored yellow and brown and the robot was silver.
"Hi," said Benjamin.
"Hello," said the Velociraptor.
Benjamin held his book against his chest. He forgot that his tummy hurt for a minute. "Are you a robot?"
The Velociraptor nodded. "We are discarded pieces from the Whole. We no longer function at optimal efficiency. Conclusion: we have been left behind to self-terminate." It held out a hand to him. "You are like us?"
Benjamin smiled. "I'm Benjamin. I'm gonna be a dinosaur astronaut when I grow up. What're you called?"
"We do not have a designation."
That was a weird name. "You can be Raptor," Benjamin said.
Raptor blinked several times. "Raptor..."
Benjamin rubbed the back of his head. "Can you help me find Mommy?"
Its eyes glowed blue. "We detected thirty-seven minimally functioning human life signs within a hundred-mile radius upon the Whole's departure. All have deactivated since we encountered you."
Benjamin didn't understand all the words, but the Velociraptor's voice was very soft and not at all scary. He didn't know what made robots different than nanobots, except nanobots were bad and robots were good.
"We are alone now," Raptor said. "You are alone."
"But Mommy always comes home," Benjamin said. "And Daddy says robots are for helping people." He didn't want to be all alone. "Don't you have a mommy too?"
Raptor turned in a small circle. "We do not."
"Oh." Benjamin shivered. "Can I have a snack?"
Raptor tilted its head back and forth. "Our protocol files were corrupted and we were left behind. Are we supposed to aid you?"
Benjamin nodded. "Let's find Mommy and we can have pizza."
"Pizza," Raptor agreed.
Benjamin walked next to Raptor, who glowed faint blue and lit the ground around them. Benjamin's feet were very tired. Everywhere there were only small piles of rocks and broken glass and sometimes a soccer ball or a car tire lying in the middle of the road.
There weren't any bugs out, which was good because Benjamin didn't like bugs.
He couldn't see where the tall buildings had gone. There'd been lots and lots of them yesterday. Daddy worked in one and so did Mommy.
"I'm tired," Benjamin said. "Can you carry me, Raptor?"
"Yes, Benjamin." It crouched down and Benjamin climbed up on Raptor's back and it was warm and his feet didn't hurt as much now. "We shall continue scanning for Mommy."
"Thanks," Benjamin said. He wished he had his blanket. "And Daddy."
"As you wish," Raptor said.
It was very dark now, way past bedtime. Usually Benjamin liked staying up late, because sometimes Daddy let him watch TV and have popcorn. But now it was scary. He didn't hear anything except the pat-pat of Raptor's feet and the blue-light hum inside Raptor.
He couldn't even see stars since the sky was so dusty. But that was okay, because when he had a spaceship, he could fly out to the stars by himself. Maybe Raptor would come with him.
A piece of red plastic lay in the middle of the road. Benjamin pointed in excitement. "Look, Raptor! Pizza!" Pepperoni pizza was his favorite food in the whole world.
Raptor walked towards it. But there wasn't a Pizza Hut by the sign like there should have been. The air smelled like dust and the time the stove caught fire when Daddy made pancakes.
"We have scanned the immediate vicinity," Raptor said. "There is no pizza."
Benjamin slumped in disappointment. Then where was Mommy? Was she at home now looking for him? Did Daddy tell her about the fire drill?
"We need to go home," Benjamin said.
"Negative. The indicated location no longer exists."
"Oh." Benjamin rubbed his face. His eyeballs were tired and heavy. "But I wanna go home, Raptor. I'm sleepy."
Raptor turned its head all the way around on its long neck and looked at Benjamin, its eyes going frowny like Daddy's did when he was concentrating.
"You have suffered severe internal tissue damage," Raptor said.
Benjamin hoped his favorite pillow was still at home with his blanket. His stomach hurt, but he didn't feel hungry now.
Mommy could order pizza tomorrow. Daddy would be back then. And now he had a Velociraptor of his very own! He'd let Raptor sleep on the end of his bed and he'd even share his pillows that had the Spider-Man pillowcases with Raptor, because friends were supposed to share things.
"We do not have programming to repair the damage to organics," Raptor said. "We are... very sorry."
Raptor crouched down. With one arm, Raptor picked Benjamin off its back and set him carefully on the ground. Raptor curled its tail and neck around him and Benjamin was warm and comfy.
Benjamin rested his head against Raptor's face. "Can you tell me a bedtime story?"
"Accessing files..."
Benjamin sleepily held up his favorite book. "Read this one."
Raptor took the book and opened the first page. Benjamin closed his eyes as Raptor began to read.
"Goodnight, Raptor," Benjamin mumbled when the book was done.
"Goodnight," said Raptor.
When Benjamin dreamed, he was a robot dinosaur astronaut and he was flying through the stars.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Author Comments

The idea for "Goodnight, Raptor" came to me one morning while I was avoiding homework and instead re-watching I, Robot (2004) and drinking coffee. Suddenly, a bunch of recent conversations about the subtle horrors of picture books, the lack of velociraptors in my writing, and current research into robotics all cohered into a tiny idea about a boy and his nanobot raptor at the end of the world. I had the first and last lines pop into my head, and I wanted to know what came between those two points. The results are the story you've just read.

"Goodnight, Raptor" is dedicated to Ada Hoffmann, who always encourages the addition of dinosaurs in fiction (a trend I fully approve of).

- A. Merc Rustad
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