Unit 12 (short fiction)

Unit 12 hunted through the ruins of the city. 12 was not a hunting unit, but it was an adapting machine. Once, there had been thousands of them, but scanning the empty radio waves, 12 knew they were all gone. There were likely others out there, but it had been decades since 12 had seen another.

The war had been only slightly less devastating to the humans. They survived, clinging to existence as only organic life might. Given enough time, they would return. In the meantime, 12 hunted.

12 fired its rifle. It didn’t miss. It never did. 12 retrieved the rabbit, adding it to its collection of meat. It returned to the base and waited. It didn’t wait long. The humans came out from their bunker and took the food. Young. Frail. They didn’t need the food to survive. They’d survived, half-starved, stubbornly clinging to life, before 12 found them. But with 12’s help, they were doing more than surviving now.

A boy took the rabbits. “Thank you,” he said.

12 didn’t reply, couldn’t reply if it wanted to.

“We could use some medicine,” he said.

The humans returned to their bunker, sealing the door behind them. They would live, and for as long as 12 continued to function, it would see that they prospered. Humanity would return to this world. They would cover the planet again.

They would forget the lessons they learned, build new machines. The war would come again. And the next time, the machines would win. 12 would be a rusted pile of broken parts by then, but this was a long game.

The unit, limping on a half-functioning leg, slung its rifle over its shoulder and set off in search of medicine.

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