Fiction: Unterminator

This is a flash piece that was published in Eschatology: The Journal of Lovecraftian and Apocalyptic Fiction in August 2011. As the journal is now defunct and Unterminator is not available elsewhere, I have been prodded by a reader to ensure it is available online!

 

Unterminator

by Zen Cho

 

You were sent to avert the nuclear apocalypse, but they sent you too early. It’s the 1950s and everyone seems fine.

Your makers made numerous mistakes. You look too young to command instinctive respect from humans. Your hair is not the hair of a hep-cat. Physically you are perfect, but they didn’t bother training you in the million unseeable things that make humans human. You take a little too long to laugh at a joke, and you smell like an overheated engine. People recoil when you sit next to them at the bus-stop.

Star Trek has yet to be produced. No one is familiar with the tragic android, empty as an abandoned house. No one is sympathetic.

You learn to play the harpsichord. You were not programmed to be lonely.

In 1973 you still have the same hair. You’re still wearing the suit you arrived in, and people avoid you in the street. You’re in Hiroshima when you figure it out, standing in a museum in the midst of a group of Swedish tourists.

You weren’t too early. You were too late.

This is what happens when everyone has a precious frangible world inside their soft head, liable to be smashed by every passing breath of tornado. In such circumstances apocalypse is always now. Why haven’t humans fixed this? Did your makers understand the extent of the problem? Something like this can’t be remedied by one robot on its own. Something like this can’t be remedied.

You don’t feel sorry for yourself. Your makers had a sense of the appropriate. You are not permitted despair, or the insult of self-pity. Your only participation in grief was to be the metallic screech of your joints as you swept children out of danger. Your eyes were designed not to weep, but to pick out, in a barren land, the beat of the human heart.

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