The Fastest Dinosaur
Nathaniel has never been asked this before. He thinks for a moment. “One trillion!” he finally exclaims.
“Oh, that’s the highest number so far,” the psittacosaur says, “You said one trillion, he said 100,003, I said 24, and he said 11,” he reports of Nathaniel, the prosauropod, himself, and the iguanodont, respectively.
“I like three!” Haticat says, holding up a three-fingered hand.
“I like five!” a small, wavy-striped, orange-and-black Gruezhling squeaks.
“I like two-and-a-half,” another Gruezhling says, this one poodle-like and colored gold, silver, and copper.
“I like two-and-a-half, too,” says a white, bear-like Gruezhling with rainbow circles, riding on the back of the iguanodont.
“That’s not your favorite,” the psittacosaur says, “You like fifteen.”
“I changed my mind!” the white Gruezhling yells back.
“Everybody line up in order of your favorite number!” the prosauropod says.
“Okay,” the psittacosaur says. They all line up, including the fourth Gruezhling who likes the number eight and the fifth Gruezhling who likes the number nine. The poodle-Gruezhling and the bear-Gruezhling argue over who should stand at the end of the line and who likes two-and-a-half more, while pushing each other out of place.
“I’m going to write all this down when I get home!” Nathaniel says excitedly.
“We’re recording everyone’s favorite and worst-favorite foods,” Haticat mentions.
“That’s a good idea,” the psittacosaur says.
For the next hour, they chase and catch dragonflies, some of them in excess of sixty-five centimeters long. Nathaniel eats some. They are crunchy, juicy, and mildly spicy. “On Earth, food is given on plates. On Lectipas, it flies through the air,” Nathaniel notes. The other dinosaurs are all plant-eaters.
The psittacosaur jumps up to catch a dragonfly and misses, his hands clapping together in an odd way and making an odd sound. He stops pursuing insects and experiments with his hands, trying to duplicate the sound. “Hey, I invented a new way to clap that is much louder,” he announces.
The others all come to observe. “How do you do that?” the iguanodont asks.
“I cup my hands like this, trapping air inside, so only the edges of my hands touch,” the psittacosaur says, “I made a new invention; I call it…the clope!”
“I like that name,” Nathaniel says, practicing clapping and cloping himself.
All the dinosaurs and Gruezhlings try it. The prosauropod has trouble cupping his front feet, due to his different anatomy. The Gruezhlings have varying degrees of success, depending on the softness or firmness of their hands. “I invented the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich,” Nathaniel announces, “And cinnamon-butter toast.”
“Oh, those sound good,” the iguanodont says.
“I don’t like cinnamon,” the prosauropod says.
“Well, you can just have butter and sugar on your toast. I saw that on Earth,” Nathaniel says.
“I went to Earth before,” the psittacosaur says, “I ate really weird salad at a restaurant. I didn’t like it.”
“There are mostly humans there, right?” the iguanodont asks.
“Yes, but there are dromaeosaurs and robots, too,” Nathaniel answers.
“I invented something, too,” the prosauropod announces, “A different way to talk that lets you talk quieter. I call it whispering.”
“What’s that?” Nathaniel asks.
“It’s when you talk like this,” the prosauropod whispers.
“We do it so adults can’t hear what we’re planning,” the psittacosaur whispers. Nathaniel and Haticat practice whispering. It takes them a while to get the hang of it.
Over the next week or so, Nathaniel and the others return to the same field to play every day. The couch-unit stops going after making Nathaniel promise not to leave the field. The other parents only show up sporadically. The dinosaurs record each other’s favorite foods, numbers, letters, and colors, making ranked lists and picking out patterns. They compete with each other to see who is the strongest, the smartest, the most creative, the most daring, who has the best aim, and who has the best stamina. They each keep records of all this. They have races to see who is the fastest. Nathaniel always wins. “I’m the fastest dinosaur!” he proclaims.
Nathaniel and Haticat also finish reading all of their books. While Nathaniel is interested in magnetism, elasticity, and astrophysics, he is still most interested in biology. He learns about sea slugs that eat anemones and pass the stinging cells undigested into their skin to give them the same protection. He learns about frogs that turn their stomachs inside out, spitting them out of their mouths and wiping them off with their hands anytime they accidentally eat anything toxic, such as wasps. He learns about snakes that move across loose sands of the desert by “sidewinding.” He learns about spiders that prick the edges of other spiders’ webs, mimicking the vibrations flies would make if caught. When the other spider comes out to investigate, the first spider eats it. He learns about corn stalks that release a chemical that attracts wasps whenever the corn is being eaten by caterpillars. The wasps then paralyze the caterpillars and lay eggs in them. He learns about fish with split eyes, half seeing above the water and half seeing below. He learns about fish with no eyes, but with retinas buried inside the head and giant, transparent foreheads that act as lenses. He and Haticat are eager to return to Earth for more books. Nathaniel is also eager to eat something other than dragonflies and kitchen-jelly. Still, they have a lot of fun on Lectipas and are never bored.
They see many dinosaur species. One day, they observe a group of pachycephalosaurs run around smashing their heads into everything. Pachycephalosaurs aren’t very bright. They don’t even seem to be aware of being watched. In stark contrast, the saurornithosaurs of the planet are very bright. All have large eyes and large brains and all are scientists. They also see many non-dinosaur reptile species, including pelycosaurs such as Dimetrodon (many of which are historians), giant crocodiles, giant turtles, and giant monitor lizards. Most days, they watch the saucer-shaped spaceships go up and down, exiting and entering the surrounding jungle, covered with spinning lights.
“Do you like volcanoes?” the iguanodont suddenly asks one afternoon.
“I love volcanoes,” Nathaniel says, “I went to a volcano planet on my first day, but it exploded into smaller pieces.”
“I saw the really thin volcano on the moon. It shot lava way up in an arc and it landed on another mountain,” the iguanodont says.
“Me too,” the psittacosaur says.
“Which moon?” Nathaniel asks.
“Cretaceous, silly,” the iguanodont answers.
“Are you new?” the psittacosaur asks.
“Yes,” Nathaniel answers.
“Ah!” the psittacosaur grunts. “It’s the one that looks biggest from here because it’s closer,” he says, pointing up at two moons in the sky. One is clearly bigger.
“Oh,” Nathaniel says.
“The other one is Jurassic, and Triassic is on the other side of the planet right now,” the psittacosaur says.
“When all three line up, they get really big tides at the ocean. I went to the ocean once,” the prosauropod says.
“My parents take me to the ocean every summer for three days,” the psittacosaur reports, “We catch crabs and ammonites and trilobites.”
“I caught crabs at an ocean before,” Nathaniel responds.
“I like crabs,” one of the Gruezhlings says.
“Did you know that there’s a type of crab that sticks seaweed to itself as a disguise?” the iguanodont asks.
“Yeah, they’re called decorator crabs,” the psittacosaur says.
“I’m a crab!” another Gruezhling suddenly interrupts, running around and making threatening pinching gestures.
“Me too!” says another Gruezhling, doing the same. Everyone else in the group spontaneously joins in. They chase each other while running sideways. Nathaniel never gets caught.
“I’m the fastest again!” he proclaims.
One day, Nathaniel follows the other dinosaurs to the edge of the field. They keep going. “Hey, leaving the field is against the rules,” Nathaniel says.
“Who said that?” the psittacosaur says.
“The Mama-And-Daddy,” Nathaniel answers.
“Well, our adults let us go into other fields,” the psittacosaur says, “It’s not against the rules for us.”
“So the rules can be different for different people?” Nathaniel asks. This is a new concept.
“Yes. Different adults sometimes give different rules,” the psittacosaur says.
“Oh, that’s weird,” Nathaniel says. “We should call it the theory of rule-relativity,” he says, smiling.
“Hey, that’s clever,” the psittacosaur says.
“I like it,” the prosauropod says, “We’re scientists today.”
“Rule-relativity!” the iguanadont chants, walking away. The other dinosaurs follow him into the woods. Nathaniel and Haticat stay put.
“Are you coming or not?” the psittacosaur calls back. Nathaniel thinks for a moment. If different adults give different rules, he is able to pick and choose. He decides. He runs after them. Haticat gleefully follows.
Always making sure to be back by sunset, Nathaniel spends the next several days exploring Lectipas with his friends. They find several small secluded fields wherein they often practice running in circles. They turn over stones and catch earwigs, some in excess of thirteen centimeters long. One day, they find a pond and compete in throwing ginkgo seeds into it, seeing who can throw the farthest. Another day, they find a grove of rotting trees. They practice pushing them over, timing their thrusts to resonate with the rocking of the trees. The iguanodont and prosauropod push down large ones, while Nathaniel and the psittacosaur push down small ones. The Gruezhlings dance and climb, riding the trees down as they fall.
The falling trees stir up many small animals, including lizards. The poodle-Gruezhling finds a long, thin, black-and-white striped lizard. Haticat finds a fat, white lizard with opposing blue and red triangles down its back. The prosauropod finds a lizard whose front-left quarter is bright red, whose front-right quarter is bright blue, whose rear-right quarter is bright purple, and whose rear-left quarter is bright green. Thin yellow stripes separate the quadrants and the lizard has a yellow tongue. Later, the prosauropod finds another lizard, this one with a bright blue head, a bright orange torso and front legs, a bright green abdomen and back legs, and a bright yellow tail. The psittacosaur, who knows about these things, warns everyone that the lizard has poison skin and to wash their hands in the brook so not to spread it. There are also many more lizards and insects that Nathaniel and Haticat don’t get a good look at. Nathaniel likes lizards. He begins to keep a journal of every day’s events. Lectipas is an interesting planet.
Once the children exit the grove, they are startled by shadows from above. Looking up, they see thousands of migrating, brown pterosaurs. Their wings are slightly translucent and glow orange when they pass in front of the sun. “Nice,” the psittacosaur says.
“Wow,” Haticat comments.
It takes the pterosaurs three hours to move through the area. The kids climb up onto a hill to better watch them coming and going. The line of flying reptiles stretches all the way to the horizon in both directions. The line undulates slowly, once passing over the hill within reach of the children. The prosauropod gently inserts his tail into the stream, letting the pterosaurs slide past it. The pterosaurs don’t seem to notice and steadily fly through. This is a very good day.
The next day, they find a hill good for rolling down. “Hey, what are you doing? Get off my land!” says a strange-looking, flying creature. It is a giant, beaver-like, aracial being with what looks like a giant, glowing red, compound eye protruding from its belly. It flies slowly after the dinosaurs, yelling and firing mild heat-rays from its belly-eye. The children run until out of breath.
Once at a safe distance, Nathaniel asks, “What does he mean his land? How do you own land?” He rubs his back where a heat ray has hit him. It hurts, but there is no damage.
“It’s something adults do,” the psittacosaur explains, “They have imaginary lines all across the planet that only they can see dividing the land into parts. They each claim a part as belonging to them.”
“Well, if everything is claimed, where are we supposed to play – or even exist? We can’t live in space,” Nathaniel says.
“I think they claim space too,” the psittacosaur says.
“Most adults don’t care or watch us closely and those that do sometimes put up fences so you know to stay out – but not all the time,” the iguanodont says.
“That’s stupid,” Nathaniel grunts.
“I know,” the psittacosaur says.
“Don’t they know that we have to be somewhere? If we leave one land area, we just go on somebody else’s?” Nathaniel asks.
“No, adults don’t think things all the way through to conclusions. They’re kind of like pachycephalosaurs or turtles, but stupider,” the psittacosaur says.
“How do they not think of the conclusion? When I think at all, the conclusion pops into my mind. It’s part of the thinking; I can’t help it,” Nathaniel asks.
“I don’t know; they’re just weird,” the psittacosaur says.
“One day, I’m going to get my own planet and then you can all play there,” the iguanodont claims.
“Yeah!” the prosauropod comments enthusiastically.
“Yeah, me too,” the white, bear-like Gruezhling adds.
“We can all have one and play on each other’s planets!” Haticat says.
“Good idea,” the psittacosaur says.
The next day, they explore some more. They avoid the beaver’s hill from then on, but still play everywhere else they can find. They find a field of boulders and decide to jump from one to the other. The psittacosaur dares the others to match his feats. “I’m the most daring dinosaur of the day,” he declares. They have fun for several minutes. Then the iguanodont fails to make a particularly difficult jump and by freak accident stubs his rear right foot on a cypress root.
“Aaah!” the iguanodont says and then starts to sob.
Instantly, an adult styracosaur gallops up swiftly, seeming to appear from nowhere. “Hey! I saw that! You’re in trouble!” the adult says, yelling directly at the psittacosaur.
“I didn’t do anything!” the psittacosaur says, more out of fear and surprise than defiance.
“Don’t argue with me! You’re being punished!” the styracosaur says.
“For what?” the psittacosaur says argumentatively, now regaining his composure.
“You hurt him,” the styracosaur says, pointing at the iguanodont with his horn. The styracosaur then proceeds to spank the psittacosaur with his tail.
“Hey, you don’t even know what happened. You didn’t even listen to his side of the story,” Nathaniel pipes up, defending the psittacosaur. The styracosaur stops.
“Who hurt him? Who’s at fault?” the styracosaur asks.
“Nobody. He hurt himself by accident,” Nathaniel says.
“Did you push him?” the styracosaur asks.
“No,” Nathaniel says.
“Somebody must have done something risky. Who broke the rules?” the styracosaur asks.
“It was only bad luck. Accidents happen,” the psittacosaur says.
Turning back to the psittacosaur, the adult styracosaur says, “You’re closest to him. Why didn’t you help him?”
“Help him what?” the psittacosaur asks.
“Did you ask if he was okay?” the styracosaur says.
“I didn’t have to. I could see he was okay,” the psittacosaur says, “Don’t you know how toe-stubbing works? It hurts for a short time and then stops, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it hurting sooner.”
“Yeah,” Nathaniel adds.
By this time, the iguanodont has stopped sobbing and an adult crested hadrosaur has arrived. The styracosaur remains silent for a second, thinking. “You’re all punished,” he finally says.
“Aaah,” the prosauropod whines, “I had nothing to do with it.”
“For what?” Nathaniel demands.
“Don’t question me!” the styracosaur yells, “Everybody is going inside!” With the hadrosaur’s help, the styracosaur marches the children and their Gruezhlings to a nearby cave, poking individuals with his horn when – in his imagination – they stray too far from the group.
The children are forced to sit still and quiet without playing for an excruciating three minutes and seventeen seconds. Finally, the adults let them out. “Don’t break the rules again,” the hadrosaur scolds. Not knowing what else to do, the children go back to the field and jump from boulder to boulder again. It is a lot of fun.
“Are all adults stupid?” Nathaniel asks.
“Yes, that’s what makes them adults,” the psittacosaur says.
“Why are adults so stupid?” Nathaniel asks.
“Nobody knows,” the psittacosaur says.
“I asked a scientist once, but he didn’t even know,” the prosauropod says.
“Why do they have so many rules?” Nathaniel asks.
“Oh, that’s easy,” the iguanodont says, “Adults create rules so that when people break them, they can punish them.”
“That’s true,” the orange-and-black Gruezhling squeaks, “Adults love to punish.”
“Sometimes they don’t even tell people the rules so they can catch them easier,” the iguanodont claims.
“Oh, The Mama-And-Daddy never tells us the rules until after,” Nathaniel says. Haticat nods.
“I think it’s like money or like play. You give somebody money if they give you things you want. You play with somebody if they play with you. Adults punish somebody if they break the rules,” the psittacosaur explains, “They need it.”
“That’s why they had to blame somebody; they don’t accept accidents. They need to punish somebody,” the prosauropod says, “All adults are like that.”
“That’s so unfair!” Nathaniel complains.
The psittacosaur suddenly smiles. “Want to know a secret?” he asks.
“Okay,” Nathaniel says.
“When the adults can’t see us, we break any rule we want,” the psittacosaur says. He laughs. The iguanodont, prosauropod, and Gruezhlings all snicker.
“Oh,” Haticat and Nathaniel both comment, “That’s a good idea.”
The next day when Nathaniel and Haticat go to meet the others in the grassy field, the prosauropod has a ball. Using heads, tails, hands, and feet, the dinosaurs and Gruezhlings toss it back and forth. “My parents bought it on the planet Ball and gave it to me this morning. They have lots of different types of balls there. They have hard ones, soft ones, heavy ones, light ones, super-elastic bouncy ones, small ones, large ones, green ones, blue ones, yellow ones, striped ones, spotted ones, and a whole bunch that I didn’t get a good look at,” the prosauropod says.
Nathaniel joins in the game. “Wow,” he comments. The dinosaurs play in the field a while. Then they migrate into the edge of the forest, trying to throw the ball at tree trunks so that it will bounce straight back. They compete who has the best aim. For a while after that, they compete to see who can make the ball bounce the most times before hitting the ground. This is very fun. Eventually, they tire of chasing after the ball as it rolls away when they miss.
“There’s too much space between these trees,” the iguanodont says.
“Let’s go inside The Mama-And-Daddy. It has really nice walls,” Nathaniel suggests.
“Yeah, okay,” the psittacosaur says. The other dinosaurs agree and follow Nathaniel and Haticat. Nathaniel’s friends are awed at the flowing ivory ridges on the walls of The Mama-And-Daddy.
“This is your house?” the psittacosaur asks.
“Yeah,” Nathaniel says.
“Yup,” Haticat says.
“I like it,” the psittacosaur says.
Inside the enclosed space of The Mama-And-Daddy, the ball always comes right back. The floor is hard, rather than mossy, and allows the dinosaurs to keep the ball bouncing longer. They easily break their earlier records, the psittacosaur once bouncing it twelve times! They even try to catch the ball on each other’s turns to keep it from bouncing. It is extremely fun, the most fun Nathaniel has ever had.
“Hey! Don’t play inside!” Daddy suddenly yells, eyes glowing purple.
“Balls are for outside only!” Mama and Daddy yell. Disappointed, the children grudgingly shuffle back outside.
“Hey, hey, the rules, the rules, the rules. I’m gonna punish you,” the psittacosaur says, doing an obvious impression of Daddy, distorting his voice to sound goofy. The dinosaurs snicker. Nathaniel and Haticat laugh too.
“Playing is for outside. Punishments are for inside,” the psittacosaur continues mocking.
The dinosaur children return to the field and resign to just kick the ball back and forth. They compete to see who can kick the highest. The prosauropod wins. Using his front legs, he tries to beat his record. The ball arcs high up into the air and finally comes down on some very pointy conifers, getting caught and deflating before falling out of the tree. “Oh!” the iguanodont says.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get a new one,” the prosauropod says. He picks up the ball in his mouth and carries it to his home just past the first grove of trees. The others follow. His home is not much more than a lean-to of uprooted pine trees. Getting the attention of his parents who are sipping a nasty-smelling tea, he drops the ball from his mouth and says, “I need a new ball; this one is broken.”
“What did you do to it?” one parent asks angrily.
“It landed in a pointy tree; it was an accident,” the prosauropod explains.
“You shouldn’t play with your ball so rough. We’re not buying you a new one!” the parent yells.
“We weren’t rough! The tree broke it!” the prosauropod whines.
“Show us where this tree is,” his other parent says.
The prosauropod boy leads his parents to the tree. Seeing it after arriving, they stop and look around. Then they swiftly walk over to a nearby mound and slap it with their tails. Seconds later, emerging from a burrow the children had not noticed before, flies the beaver-being. Nathaniel wonders for a moment if they are all going to be punished by heat rays for breaking the ball.
“What do you want?” the beaver-being asks gruffly.
“Your tree broke our son’s ball,” the first parent explains, “You owe us three-point-three-four money-dollars.”
“They shouldn’t be on my property!” the beaver-being yells.
“They were playing in the common field next to your tree, but it doesn’t matter; you are responsible for everything broken on your land, no matter who does it,” the first parent counters.
Nathaniel does not understand what is going on. “It’s not his fault; it’s just an accident,” he tries to explain.
“Keep quiet!” both prosauropod parents yell at him.
The beaver-being starts growling angrily and flies back into his burrow. He returns seconds later carrying some coins in his right paw. The prosauropod’s first parent takes the coins in his mouth and they walk home, leaving the children behind. “Stay off my land!” the beaver-being yells at the kids before retreating inside once again.
“I think I know now why adults don’t want us on their land,” Nathaniel says.
“They get into trouble if anything breaks,” the psittacosaur says.
“It’s not fair! We can’t spend all our time in the common field. It doesn’t have any ponds to throw seeds into or boulders to jump off of,” Nathaniel complains.
“That’s why we go anywhere we want,” the psittacosaur whispers, lowering his voice.
“Oh,” Nathaniel responds. All the boys snicker.
The next morning, when Nathaniel and Haticat arrive at the field, all the dinosaur children, their Gruezhlings, and their parents all sit in a large circle. The adults discuss incredibly boring subjects while the kids silently take turns holding (but not playing with) the ball. Nathaniel is weirded-out.
“Sit down. Take turns holding the ball,” one of the psittacosaur parents beckons.
“I know how much kids enjoy balls, so I bought another one,” one of the prosauropod parents says.
None of the kids look happy and all the Gruezhlings have passed out. The kids also look to be in danger of passing out. The iguanodont yawns. The adults seem completely oblivious. “Isn’t this fun?” one of the iguanodont parents asks, smiling maniacally. Haticat starts to feel tired. So does Nathaniel. When will he be able to play with the ball? That is what balls are for, isn’t it? Is he being punished? For what? The adults continue to debate the best way to drink tea and whether a small, nearby stone is more pointy or more smooth when Nathaniel can clearly see it is right in the middle. It is a very long day.