GlitterShip

Episode #76: “Of Clockwork Hearts and Metal Iguanodons” by Jennifer Lee Rossman

June 24, 2019

Of Clockwork Hearts and Metal Iguanodons

By Jennifer Lee Rossman

 

They weren't real, but they still took my breath away.

The model dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasties lived on and swam in the waters around three islands in Hyde Park. Enormous things, so big that I'd heard their designer had hosted a dinner party inside one, and so lifelike! If I stared long enough, I was sure I'd see one blink.

I turned to Samira and found her twirling her parasol, an act purposely designed to bely the rage burning in her eyes. She would never let it show, her pleasant smile practically painted on, but I'd spent enough time with her to recognize that fury boiling just beneath the surface.

Befuddled, I looked back at the dinosaurs, this time flipping down my telescopic goggles. The craftsmanship was immaculate, the color consistent all along the plesiosaur's corkscrew neck, and the pudgy, horned iguanodons looked structurally sound, what with their bellies dragging on the ground.

Dinosaurs were Samira's everything; how could seeing them practically coming to life not give her joy?

 

[Full story after the cut.]

 

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip episode 76 for June 24, 2019. This is your host, Keffy, and I’m super excited to be sharing this story with you. Today we have a GlitterShip original, which is available in the Autumn 2018 issue that you can pick up at GlitterShip.com/buy, on Gumroad at gum.co/gship08, or on Amazon, Nook, Kobo, and other ebook retailers.

If you’ve been waiting to pick up your copy of the Tiptree Award Honor Listed book, GlitterShip Year Two, there’s a great deal going on for Pride over at StoryBundle. GlitterShip Year Two is part of a Pride month LGBTQ fantasy fiction bundle. StoryBundle is a pay-what-you-want bundle site. For $5 or more, you can get four great books, and for $15 or more, you’ll get an additional five books, including GlitterShip Year Two, and a story game. That comes to as little as $1.50 per book or game. The StoryBundle also offers an option to give 10% of your purchase amount to charity. The charity for this bundle is Rainbow Railroad, a charity that helps queer folks get to a safe place if their country is no longer safe for them.

This is a great deal, so if you want to take advantage of it, go to Storybundle.com/pride soon! The deal only runs through June 27th, depending on your time zone.

 


 

Today’s story is “Of Clockwork Hearts and Metal Iguanodons” by Jennfer Lee Rossman, but first our poem, “Shortcake” by Jade Homa.

 

Jade Homa is an intersectional feminist, sapphic poet, lgbtq sensitivity reader, member of The Rainbow Alliance, and editor-in-chief of Blue Literary Magazine. Her poetry has been published in over 7 literary magazines, including BlazeVOX, A Tired Heroine, The Ocotillo Review, and Sinister Wisdom (in print). Jade’s work will be featured in an exhibit via Pen and Brush, a New York City based non profit that showcases emerging female artists, later this year, along with being featured in a special edition of Rattle which highlights dynamic Instagram poets. In her free time, Jade loves petting dogs, eating pasta, and daydreaming about girls.

 


 

Shortcake by Jade Homa

you called me your strawberry girl / and I wondered if it was / the wolf inside
my jaw / or the red stained across my cheeks / or the way I said fuck / or that
time I yanked your / hair / or every moment / you swallowed me whole

 


 

And now “Of Clockwork Hearts and Metal Iguanodons” by Jennifer Lee Rossman, read by April Grant.

 

Jennifer Lee Rossman is that autistic nerd who complains about inaccurate depictions of dinosaurs. Along with Jaylee James, she is the co-editor of Love & Bubbles, a queer anthology of underwater romance. Her debut novel, Jack Jetstark's Intergalactic Freakshow, was published by World Weaver Press in 2018. She tweets about dinosaurs @JenLRossman

April Grant lives in the greater Boston area. Her backstory includes time as a sidewalk musician, real estate agent, public historian, dishwasher, and librarian. Among her hobbies are biking and singing.

 


 

Of Clockwork Hearts and Metal Iguanodons

By Jennifer Lee Rossman

 

They weren't real, but they still took my breath away.

The model dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasties lived on and swam in the waters around three islands in Hyde Park. Enormous things, so big that I'd heard their designer had hosted a dinner party inside one, and so lifelike! If I stared long enough, I was sure I'd see one blink.

I turned to Samira and found her twirling her parasol, an act purposely designed to bely the rage burning in her eyes. She would never let it show, her pleasant smile practically painted on, but I'd spent enough time with her to recognize that fury boiling just beneath the surface.

Befuddled, I looked back at the dinosaurs, this time flipping down my telescopic goggles. The craftsmanship was immaculate, the color consistent all along the plesiosaur's corkscrew neck, and the pudgy, horned iguanodons looked structurally sound, what with their bellies dragging on the ground.

Dinosaurs were Samira's everything; how could seeing them practically coming to life not give her joy?

"What's wrong?" I asked quietly, so as not to disturb the crowds around us. Well, any more than our mere presence disturbed them by default.

(It wasn't every day they saw a girl in a mechanical chair and her butch Indian crush who wore trousers with her best jewelry, and they did not particularly care for us. We didn't particularly care what they thought, which really didn't engender ourselves to them, but luckily polite society frowned on yelling at people for being gay, disabled, and/or nonwhite, so hooray for us.)

"It's wrong."

"What is?"

She gestured emphatically at the islands, growing visibly distressed. "It! Them! Everything! Everything is wrong!"

If Samira's frustration had a pressure valve, the needle would have been edging toward the red. She needed to get out of the situation before she burst a pipe.

I knew better than to take her hand, as she didn't always appreciate physical touch the way I did, so I gently tugged at the corner of her vest as I engaged my chair. The miniature steam engine behind me activated the pistons that turned my chrome wheels, and Samira held onto my velvet-padded armrest as we left the main viewing area and took refuge by one of the fountains in the Crystal Palace.

She sat on the marble edge, letting a hand trail in the shimmery water until she felt calm enough to speak.

"They did it all wrong, Tilly. They didn't take any of my advice." She rummaged through her many pockets, finally producing a scrap of paper with a dinosaur sketched on it. "This is what iguanodon looked like."

Her drawing showed an entirely different creature than the park's statue. While theirs looked sluggish and fat, kind of like a doofy dragon, Samira's interpretation was nimble and intelligent, standing on four legs with a solid but agile tail held horizontally behind it. And its nose horn was completely absent, though it did have a large thumb spike, giving it the impression of perpetually congratulating someone on a job well done.

It certainly looked like a more realistic representation of a living creature, but these things lived, what, millions of years ago? Even someone as brilliant as Samira couldn't possibly have known what they were really like.

But I couldn't tell her that. Girlfriends are supposed to be supportive, and I needed to do everything I could to gain prospective girlfriend points before I asked her out.

"What evidence did you give them for your hypothesis?" I asked instead. "All we really have are fossils, right?"

Her face lit up at the invitation to delve into her favorite subject. "Right, and we don't even have full skeletons yet of most of them. But we have limbs. Joints. And if we compare them to skeletons of things that exist now, they don't resemble big, fat lizards that could hardly move around. That makes no biological sense, because predators could just waltz up and eat them. They had to be faster, more agile. They wouldn't have survived otherwise."

"So why wouldn't they have listened to you?" I asked, perplexed.

"Because they don't understand evolution," she said, though she didn't sound convinced. "Or they don't want to be shown up by a girl. A lesbian girl with nonconforming hair and wardrobe who dares to be from a country they pretend to own." She crossed her arms and stared at her boots. "Or both. But there's no excuse for the plesiosaurs. No creature's neck can bend like that."

I wasn't sure exactly how I was supposed to respond to that. Samira never complained about something just to commiserate; she expected answers, a solution. But I couldn't very well make them redesign the statues, no matter how happy that would have made her.

So we just sat together quietly by the fountain, fuming at the ignorant men in charge of the park, and I schemed for a way to fix things for the girl that made my eyes light up the way dinosaurs lit hers.

 

Every problem had a solution, if you tinkered hard enough.

After my accident, I took a steam engine and wheels from a horseless wagon and stuck them on a chair. My mum hadn't been amused to lose part of her dinette set, but it got me around town until I could build a proper wheelchair. (Around the flat parts of town, anyway. My latest blueprints involved extending legs that could climb stairs.)

And when Londoners complained about the airship mooring towers were ruining the skyline, who figured out a way to make them retractable? That would be me. The airship commissioner hadn't responded to my proposal yet, but it totally worked in small scale on my dollhouse.

It was just a matter of finding the solution to Samira's dinosaur problem.

I spent all night in my workshop, referring to her sketches and comparing them to promotional drawings of the park's beasts. I'd be lying if I said I didn't consider breaking in and altering the statues somehow, but the sheer amount that they had gotten wrong precluded that as a possibility. This wasn't a mere paintjob or moving an iguanodon horn; they needed a complete overhaul.

I ran my fingers through my hair in frustration.

The day they announced that they were building realistic, life sized dinosaurs in Crystal Park was the day I fell for Samira.

I'd always thought she was pretty—tall, brilliant smile, didn't conform to society's expectations for women—but the pure joy radiating from her... It was like she'd turned on a giant electromagnet inside her, and the clockwork the doctors had installed to keep my heart beating was powerless against her magnetic field.

So I listened to her gush about the park, about how the statues would make everyone else see the amazing lost world she saw when she looked at a fossil. I didn't understand a lot of it, but I understood her passion.

The grand opening was supposed to be the day I finally asked her out, but now it would have to be when I presented her with my grand gesture of grandness...

Whatever it was.

 

I woke abruptly to the chimes of my upcycled church organ doorbell and found a sprocket embedded in my face.

Groaning, I pushed myself off my worktable and into a sitting position. "Did you let me sleep out here all night?" I said into the mouthpiece of the two-way vibration communicator prototype that fed through the wall and into the kitchen.

A moment later, my mum picked up her end. "'Mum,'" she said, imitating my voice, "'I'm a professional tinkerer and nearly an adult. I can't be having a bedtime!'"

"Point taken. Have I missed breakfast?"

The door in the wall opened to reveal a plate of pancakes.

"Thanks!" I tore a bite out of one as I wheeled over to the door. My crooked spine ached from sitting up all night.

Activating the pneumatic door opener, I found George about to ring the bell again.

George, my former boyfriend and current best friend. Chubby, handsome, super gay. We'd tried the whole hetero thing for two whole days before we realized it wasn't for us, then pretended for another six months to keep his father from trying to matchmake him with one of the Clearwater sisters.

I wouldn't have minded being with a man, necessarily, but ladies really sent my heart a-ticking, so it was no great loss when George told me he was a horticultural lad.

(You know, a pansy. A daisy. A... erm. Bougainvillea? I must confess, flowers didn't excite me unless they were made of scrap metal.)

George raised an eyebrow. "I take it the declaration of love went well, then?" When I only frowned in confusion, he pointed to my face. "The sprocket-shaped dent in your cheek would suggest you spent the night with a woman."

"Samira isn't an automaton, George."

"No, but she's got the..." He mimed having a large chest. "And the, um... Scaffolding."

"Do you think women's undergarments are made of clockwork?" I asked, amused. I mean, mine were, but that was just so I could tighten the laces behind my back without assistance when I wore a corset.

Which wasn't often. My favorite dresses were the color of grease stains and had a lot of pockets, so it should come as no surprise that I didn't go anywhere fancy on a regular basis.

George blushed. "So... it did not go well, then?"

He came in and tinkered with me over pancakes while I told him about my predicament, making sympathetic noises at the appropriate times.

When I was done with my story, he sat quietly for a moment, thinking while he adjusted the spring mechanism in an old cuckoo clock. "And you can't just go over with flowers and say, 'Hey, gorgeous, wanna gay together?' because...?"

"Have you met me? I don't do romance. I make things for romantic people." I gestured to the wind-up music boxes, mechanical roses that opened to reveal a love note, and clockwork pendants scattered about my workshop. All commissions from people who were better at love than I was.

"Then pretend you're a clueless client like Reverend Paul. Remember what you did for him?"

The reverend had come in wanting to woo Widow Trefauny but didn't know a thing about her except that she liked dogs and made his heart smile. I thought my solution was ingenious.

"I built a steam-powered puppy."

George held his hands out, prompting. "So..."

Suddenly, it all clicked into place, like the last cog in a clock mechanism that makes everything tick.

"I need to build a steam-powered dinosaur for Samira."

 

Dinosaurs, as it turned out, were huge. I mean, they looked big on the islands, sure, but that was so far away that I only truly got a sense of scale when I started measuring in my workshop.

Samira's notes put iguanodon, my dino of choice, at around ten meters in length. Since a measuring tape required more free hands than I had, I tied a string around one of the spokes of my chair's wheels, which had a one-point-eight meter circumference, and measured five and a half revolutions...

Which took me out of my cramped shop and into the street, forcing horses and their mechanical counterparts to divert around me.

"Don't suppose it would do to detour traffic for a couple weeks, eh?" I asked a tophatted hansom cabbie, who had stopped his horseless machine to watch me in amusement.

"Reckon not, Miss Tilly," he said with a laugh, stepping down from his perch at the front of the carriage. He pulled a lever, and the cab door opened with a hiss to reveal a pile of gleaming metal parts.

"Ooh!" I clapped my hands. "Are those for me?"

He nodded and began unloading them. My iguanodon was going to be much taller than me, and even though George had promised his assistance, I needed to make extendy arms to hold the heavy parts. "Is there somewhere else you could build him?"

I supposed this wouldn't exactly be stealthy. I could stop Samira from going in my shop, but it would have been substantially more difficult to stop her from going down an entire street.

But where?

 

I got my answer a few days later, when the twice weekly zeppelin to Devon lifted off without Samira on board. She was usually the first in line, going not for the luxury holiday destinations that drew in an upper-class clientele, but for the fossils.

The coast of Devon was absolutely lousy with fossils. The concept of extinction had been proven there, Mary Anning herself found her first ichthyosaur there, and all the best scientists fought for the right to have their automata scan the coast with ground-penetrating radar.

Samira's life revolved around trips to Devon and the buckets of new specimens she brought home every week.

"Why aren't you on that zeppelin?" I asked as we sat in her room, sorting her fossilized ammonites. She'd originally had the little spiral-shelled mollusks organized by size, but now thought it more logical to sort by age. Me, I thought size was a fine method, but I didn't know a thing about fossils and was happy to do it however she wanted.

She didn't answer me, just kind of shrugged and ran her thumb over the spiral impression in the rock.

"Is it because you're upset that they didn't take your advice on the dinosaurs?" I knew it was, but I had to hear her say it.

"I don't see the point of it if no one will care about what I find." She sounded so utterly despondent. Joyless. The one thing that gave her life purpose had been taken away by careless men.

They probably only cared about whether the park was profitable, not if it was accurate.

I couldn't make them change their statues, and I couldn't make the public care that they were wrong. But I had to fix it for my best girl, because there was nothing sadder than seeing her like that.

"Can I hold your hand for a second?" I asked quietly. She gave the slightest of nods and I took her hand gently in mine, my clockwork heart ticking at double speed. "You've got a gift, Samira. Scientists have to study these bones for months just to make bad guesses about the animals they came from, but you can look at an ankle joint and figure that it was a quadruped or a biped, if it ate meat or plants, and what color its skin was."

She gave me a look.

"Okay, I'm exaggerating, but only a little. I don't agree with the way they're portrayed, but this world is going to love dinosaurs because of the ones at Crystal Palace. People are going to dig for fossils even more, and they're going to need someone amazing like you to teach them about the new things they unearth." I tried to refrain from intertwining our fingers; just touching was a big enough step. "I need you to promise me something."

Samira pulled away, and I had to remind myself that this didn't necessarily mean anything more than her just being done holding hands. "What is it?"

"A week from today, be on the zeppelin to the coast." The coast, with its ample space and no chance of Samira discovering my project before it was ready.

She made a face. "I don't know."

"Please?" I begged. "For me?"

After a long moment's consideration, she nodded. "For you."

 

George and I caught the midweek zeppelin. Lucky for us, most tourists went down for the weekend, so all of our metal parts didn't weigh us down too much. We did share the cabin with a few fancy ladies, who stared in wordless shock at Iggy's scrapmetal skull sitting on the chair beside us.

I'd named him Iggy. His head was almost a meter long. Mostly bronze and copper, but I'd done a few tin accents around the eyes to really make 'em pop.

When we arrived at the shore, we had to fight a couple paleontologists for space on the rocky coastline. Not physically fight, fun as that might have been. Once they realized we weren't trying to steal their dig sites, they happily moved their little chugging machines to give us a flat stretch of beach.

Which just left us with three days to assemble Iggy, whose hundreds of parts I had not thought to label beforehand.

Another thing I neglected to do: inform George of the scope of this project.

"Matilda, I adore you and will always help you with anything you need," he said, dragging a tail segment across the rocks with a horrific scraping. "But for future reference, the next time you invite me to Devon to build a life-sized steam-powered iguanodon? You might mention how abysmally enormous iguanodon were."

"That sounds like a you problem," I teased, my voice echoing metallically as I welded the neck together from the inside. I'd actually gotten out of my chair and lay down in the metal shell, figuring it would be easier to attach all the pneumatics and hydraulics that way.

I should have brought a pillow.

At night, because we were too poor to afford one of the fancy hotels in town, we slept on the beach beneath a blanket of stars, Iggy's half-finished shape silhouetted against the sky.

"Samira's a fancy lady," I said to George as we lay in the sand. "She doesn't wear them, but she has expensive dresses. All lacy and no stains. Her family has a lot of money. Could she ever really want to be with someone like me?"

He rolled over to face me. "What do you mean, someone like you?"

"Poor mechanic who can't go up stairs, whose heart is being kept alive with the insides of a pocket watch that could stop at any time."

I didn't try to think about it a lot, but the fact was that the doctors had never done an operation like mine before. It ticked all right for now, but no one knew if my body would keep it wound or if I would just... stop one day.

The fear tried to stop me from doing things, tried to take away what little life I might have had left, but I couldn't let it. I had to grab on as hard as I could and never let go. In an ideal world, Samira would be part of that.

But the world wasn't ideal. Far from it.

Was I too much to put up with? Would she rather date someone who didn't have to take the long way around because the back door didn't have steps? Someone who could give her jewels and... fine cheeses and pet monkeys and whatever else rich people gave their girlfriends?

Someone she knew would be around to grow old with her?

Maybe that's why I'd put off asking her to be my gal, because even though we got along better than the Queen's guards and ridiculous hats, even though we both fancied ladies and wanted to marry one someday, I couldn't stand to know she didn't see me that way. I cherished her as a friend and didn't see romance as being somehow more than friendship, but she smelled like cookies and I just really wanted to be in love with her.

"Hey," George said softly, pulling me closer to him. "She loves you. You realize that, don't you?"

"I guess," I said into his shoulder. He smelled like grease. A nice, comforting smell, but too much like my own. At the end of the day, I wanted to curl up with someone like Samira.

"You guess. You've held her hand, Tilly. She's made eye contact with you. That's big for her. You don't need a big gesture like this, but I know she's going to love it because she loves you."

I hoped he was right.

 

I saw the weekend zeppelin from London come in, lowering over the city where it was scheduled to moor. Samira would be here soon.

And Iggy wasn't finished.

He towered over the beach, his metal skin gleaming in the sun, but something was wrong on the inside. The steam engine in his belly, which was supposed to puff steam out of his nose and make him turn his head, wouldn't start up.

George saw me check my pocket watch for the umpteenth time and removed the wrench from my hand. "I'll look into it. Go."

I didn't need to be told twice.

My wheels skidded on the sand and rocks, but I reached the mooring station just as the passengers were disembarking. The sight of Samira standing there in her trademark trousers and parasol combo made my clockwork heart tick audibly. She came. I didn't really doubt that she would, but still.

She flashed me a quick smile. "I don't want to fossil hunt," she said in lieu of a greeting.

"That's not why we're here," I promised. "But I do want to show you something on the beach, if that's okay."

She slipped a hand around my armrest and walked with me. When Iggy's head poked up over the rocks, she broke into a run, forcing me to go full speed to keep up.

Laughing, she went right up to Iggy and ran her hands over his massive legs. "He's so biologically accurate!"

But did he work? I looked to George, who gave his head a quick shake.

Blast.

Samira didn't seem to mind, though, marveling at every detail of the dinosaur's posture and shape. "And the thumb spikes that aren't horns!" she exclaimed, her hands flapping in excitement.

And she wasn't the only one who appreciated our work. A small group of pith-helmeted paleontologists had abandoned their digging and scanning in order to come and admire Iggy.

"It really is magnificent," one scientist said. "The anatomy is nothing like what we've been assuming they looked like, and yet..."

"It's so logical," his colleague agreed. "Why should they be fat and slow? Look at elephants—heavy, but sturdy and not so sluggish as their size would suggest. There's no reason these terrible lizards couldn't have been similar."

A third paleontologist turned to George. "My good man, might we pick your brain on the neck of the plesiosaur?"

George held up his hands. "I just did some riveting—the real geniuses are Matilda and her girlfriend Samira."

"Mostly Samira," I added, glancing at her. "And I'm not sure if she's my girlfriend or not, but I'd like her to be."

She beamed at me. "I would also like that." To the men, she said, "I have a lot of thoughts on plesiosaur neck anatomy. I can show you my sketches, and I saw a layer of strata that could bear fossils over here..."

She led them away, chattering about prehistoric life with that pure joy that made her so amazing.

That girl took my breath away.

 

END

 

“Of Clockwork Hearts and Metal Iguanodons" is copyright Jennifer Lee Rossman 2019.

"Shortcake" is copyright Jade Homa 2019.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

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Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back soon with a reprint of “The Quiet Realm of the Dark Queen” by Jenny Blackford.