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By Pamela Love

A time drone exited the Cretaceous forest and rose to a cruising height of fifty meters, flying toward a herd of hadrosaurs. Some of the dinosaurs slurped water from a river splashing over a series of rocks, while others munched on fresh-scented, juicy ferns. All soaked up the summer sunshine.

The drone arrowed downwards. The hadrosaurs jerked their heads with alarm toward its powerful buzzing as it circled the herd just over their heads. Was this shiny thing a new kind of predator?

Here and there, a small gray head peeked out from the hadrosaurs’ fluffy orange plumage, keeping a wary eye on the mysterious metal object. Their black noses twitched with curiosity.

The time drone’s control panel noise seemed harsher to Leo than usual. Is something wrong with its battery? he wondered, leaning forward to examine the panel. There’s almost a whine to it—oh. That’s Hanover’s whining. You’d think I’d recognize it by now. “Is there a problem, sir?”

“Are you sure those things are dinosaurs?” his boss asked, nose wrinkling.

“Yes, sir. They’re hadrosaurs—formerly known as duck-billed dinosaurs.”

“Ha! I knew it, with those feathers and that mouth.” Hanover’s own mouth twisted. “They look stupid.”

Swallowing a sigh, Leo wished he had an aspirin to go with it. “It’s now believed that most if not all dinosaurs had feathers, probably to keep warm. You’ve seen footage from other time drones showing—”

“What’s the thing on that hadrosaur’s back?” Hanover squinted as he pointed to the screen. “Is that a weasel?”

Leo’s eyes widened. “I-I’m not sure.” Pulse accelerating, he angled the drone’s flight path downward for a closer look. “Good eye, sir! It does look like a mammal. Some primitive ones resembled weasels.”

“Why doesn’t the hadrosaur use its tail to knock it off?”

“Well, they might have a symbiotic relationship.” At Hanover’s blank stare, Leo went on, “Um, today, the oxpecker eats insects off the backs of rhinos. The bird gets a meal and the rhino gets relief from pests.” Piloting the drone over the hadrosaur, Leo tried to get as close as possible without over-agitating either creature.

Hanover sniffed. “Meh. Move on.”

Leo tightened his grip on the joystick and looked up, pleading. “Mr. Hadrosaur—I mean, Mr. Hanover—I promise you, what we’ve found here—I mean, what you have discovered—is a very big deal. Please, can we stay a few minutes more? Scientists had no idea that dinosaurs and mammals cooperated. This footage is going to rewrite the textbooks.”

“Move on, I said. This is for today’s media, watched by the general public, not a few geeks. I promise you, normal people don’t care about some bug-eating weasel on a flea-bitten dinosaur. We want excitement!”

“Sir, I’d be failing in my duty not just to science but to you as well if I didn’t insist on keeping the drone here for at least five minutes more. People do care about different species of animals being friends. Pictures of wolf pups and lion cubs playing together at nature reserves are all over social media! And there’s that baby hippo and giant tortoise—”

Hanover rolled his eyes. “Oh, all right.”

Leo answered, “Thank you, sir. You won’t regret it—oh!” He gasped as Hanover held up a smartphone showing a $5,000 donation to Leo’s bank account. “Oh, sir! You don’t know what that means to me!”

Hanover snorted. “I know exactly what that means to you—paying off your student loan debt sooner. Now will you do what I say?”

Leo obediently steered Hanover’s time drone away from the hadrosaurs, in search of his benefactor’s desire: a more interesting dinosaur story. Time was running out before the drone self-destructed and they lost any chance of filming another dinosaur.

Not five minutes after the mysterious object disappeared from the air, a Tyrannosaurus Rex strode out of the woods on powerful legs. Turning, the hadrosaurs fled, heads and tails stretched out, feet pounding across the ground. The oldest of the herd was soon outdistanced by the others. The predator’s eyes glinted. He sped up. The T. Rex lunged toward her, jaws wide. Three of the hadrosaur’s passengers sprang onto his face. Two bit and slashed at his eyes while the third tore gashes in his nose. Howling with pain, the T. Rex staggered backward.

Frantically, he bowed his head, trying to swipe the furious mammals off his face with his forelegs. The creatures easily dodged his claws, inflicting more damage with their own. Writhing with pain, tail lashing, the T. Rex forgot his original prey. At last, the predator stumbled off, bleeding from the nose and half-blinded. Just as he turned, the mammals leaped back onto the hadrosaur, who sauntered after the rest of her herd.

By the time their hadrosaur had rejoined her herd, Hanover’s “weasels” had resumed their former locations on her back. Tiny squeaks let them know their kits were hungry for their own breakfast.

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Pamela Love was born in New Jersey, and worked as a teacher and in marketing before becoming a writer. Her work has appeared in Havok, Page & Spine, and Luna Station Quarterly. She is the 2020 winner of the Magazine Merit Fiction Award for her story “The Fog Test”, which appeared in Cricket. She and her family live in Maryland.

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