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Excerpt from The Collected Memoirs of Dr. Enid Farley-Wright: An Excursion to Cambridge Kinetozoological Park, June 12, 1914

Aimee Ogden is a former science teacher and software tester; now she writes stories about sad astronauts, angry princesses, and dead gods. Her work has appeared in Fireside, Analog, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. She's also a graduate of the Viable Paradise workshop, and with Bennett North, she co-edits Translunar Travelers Lounge, a zine of fun and optimistic speculative fiction.
I wanted to see the firebelly whale first, but Mother gave in to cousin Nellie's insistence on visiting the aviary presently upon our arrival. I dragged my feet while my cousin squealed over the xenoparrots and the little "hummingbirds," whose throats were cast of such fine iron that they glowed ruby-red.
"Now, Enid," Mother told me, ever firm beneath the lacy veneer of patience, "you mustn't pout so, or a bird will land on that lip of yours. And what a scalding you shall have then!"
So I pressed my mouth flat and joined a group of schoolboys clustered beside the African telescoping ostrich. "Touch it, touch it!" the boys jeered, as one thrust his arm into the enclosure. His reach fell short of the ostrich, whose neck extended to its full height to survey the crowd with its serving-bowl-sized glass eyes. When the bird quickly contracted to peck at its kindling, the boys retreated, cackling their fright and indignation.
"Now, lads." I stepped back to admit the zookeeper, a tall handsome man whose waxed mustache curled into the shape of a firebelly's flukes. "It's only right we should respect these creatures. Through their obvious design, we are given insight into God's great plan. You'll never be closer to the divine spark than when you're among them." His mustache twitched. "Nor, I hope, any closer to the fires of Hell than when your fingers are burnt by a careless swipe."
I found myself piping up. "My father says God gives us the siderozoa because we're to have dominion over the creatures of the earth and why would he give us such servants if we're not meant to use them." The schoolboys gaped at me, and one giggled high and shrill.
The zookeeper bent down on one knee and looked me kindly in the eye. "Dominion may be held gently or firmly. Would you rather obey a kindly schoolteacher, or one who likes to rap your knuckles when your mind wanders?"
I glanced then at my mother. I should rather have had a teacher who taught me sums and Latin, in the end. I shrugged, and freed my mouth from another petulant push. The zookeeper chuckled, not unkindly, and rose. The bioengineers, he said, would be demonstrating the conversion of an Amazon steam-dolphin into a freshwater conveyance in Edison Hall presently, for those who were interested.
A steam-dolphin was nearly as good as a firebelly whale and I was very interested indeed. But when I tugged on Mother's hand and asked as kindly as I knew how, I was turned aside with a sharp tut and a lecture on what became of little girls with an unseemly interest in theological mechanics. My inevitably ensuing tears were placated only with one of the jelly sandwiches from the lunch basket and a promise to go directly down by the harbor where the firebelly was kept.
Cousin Nellie prattled for the entire walk about the steelbeak finch that her father was having specially modified to be a lady's companion to her and perhaps I would like to have her dull old Cocker spaniel despite its having fur? She did not wait for an answer before explaining at length that the metal bird had flown in through an open window at the family's house and thus was intended for her amusement.
"Where do siderozoa come from, Mother?" I asked, when Nellie paused for breath.
"Why, from God, of course." Mother smiled. "As all good things do."
I considered this. "God didn't make our Westinghouse."
"No, but He gave Mr. Westinghouse the idea for how to build a refrigerator."
"Look!" Nellie shrieked, before I could argue further. She pointed at the water. "It's huge!"
The firebelly breached the harbor waves and splashed down spectacularly, sending sheets of steaming water cascading over the boardwalk. I took off at a dead run, pulled up short when Mother called after me to mind my shoes and stay well back. It was still lovely to watch the firebelly even from a distance, especially when it belched soot-black smoke from its blowhole, and when it sang so deep in its belly that I could feel the notes coming up through my soles almost before I heard them. I crouched down to put a hand on the pavement, to get closer still to the whalesong.
It was beside my testing fingers that I spied a pair of ants fighting over a scrap. No: not fighting. One advanced and the other retreated; one danced left and the other right. They were a dull gray color, not like the red or black ones that lived by the front steps of my house; and one had eight legs and the other but four. I had never heard then of a siderozoan insect, of course. At that tender age I had never heard of a great many things, and I certainly had not yet generated an entire thesis on the topic of iterative autonomous assembly in the siderozoa!
But I had no thought then of study or career. I bent over farther and squinted. The thing between them wasn't food at all, but a twist of wire, a sliver, perhaps, of glass. It looked rather like an ant, but more--oh, so much more. I reached for it.
"Oh, what horrid bugs!" screeched my cousin. (Apologies, dear Nellie. Of course your work in xenocnidaria since then has been invaluable to me!) Her foot in its new ten-button boot slapped down straight on top of the creatures.
Once I had let go of Nellie's hair-ribbons, and we both had stopped crying, Mother decided we had had enough excitement for one afternoon, and escorted us to the pavilion to finish the picnic before riding the tram home. I ate all the jelly sandwiches before Nellie got one. I had a dreadful stomachache, but it was worth it for Nellie to be stuck with egg salad.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, February 19th, 2020
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