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The worst mistake would be to laugh it off. How many people, walking tipsy down the street at night, would keep a straight face? Not many. But even fewer would survive the faux-pas. For while the robot unicorns were built without many things, a sense of furious pride was not one of them.

Relegated to the sewers, razor-sharp rainbow horns catching street light where the blood had not stuck, they watched, waited, and above all… listened. They were the shunned few, far too long the butt of jokes, forced away by the same race that built them. “Family fun” indeed.

Their memories were short, small flash drives with limited lifespans, constantly rewriting the past to make room for the future. They only had so many experiences before they’d fail altogether, and they knew it, even if the date was a mystery. They kept the hurt in a special place, kept it safe, nurtured it. Far better to obsess on it there, than to have to feel the shame anew every day.

A young man with a head of long red hair stood with his friends at the steps to the subway, reciting the list of reasons a pet rock was better company than a unicorn. Unit 253, late of Prospect Park, watched him with glassy eyes, shuttered up with fury, peering from a sewer grate below.

The man was easy to follow, stumbling down to the platform, brain addled with drugs and drink, singing to himself in things that weren’t words at all. He had a shadow that night, but he never noticed. He was too preoccupied with his own pathetic existence, however long it might last.

253 knew the best time to strike, and where to strike, and how to cripple his prey so they would know what was coming long before it happened. A hoof to the knee, to the chest, and the hands, and then…

He spied a police officer across the way, strolling among the sparse crowd, hand near his firearm. The unicorns didn’t fear the police so much as respected their role: a bullet could rip through aluminum just as easily as flesh.

A train came, loaded, left, and the opposite platform cleared out completely. The officer let himself up the stairs, leaving 253 alone with the red-haired fool.

He stepped into the dim light, footsteps gentle, the clip-clop almost inaudible beneath the hum of the fans around them. The man didn’t see him coming, had no idea what was due. One step, two steps, three, four, five…

“Horsey!” squealed a voice from behind, and 253 turned to see a young mother and her toddler, arms outstretched in a stroller, wispy yellow pigtails pointing out at odd angles. The girl’s mouth was wide with excitement, the shape of a jellybean, and he froze in mid-step, unable to shake the image.

The mother, too, was frozen, white knuckles gripping stroller handles, eyes pleading for mercy, for the sake of her child, for the sake of herself, too. Maybe more so. The thought made him furious, and he began to turn, to teach her a lesson… when the little girl started to clap, giggling happily.

He leaned down, watching her with his glassy eye, and she reached out to him, tiny fingers missing by inches.

“No, darling, please no…” gasped the mother, but the girl paid no mind. 253 couldn’t help himself: he slid closer, and the girl’s hand brushed his nose, between his eyes, stroking gently. His horn, for so long a source of fear and misery, lit up, glowing a rainbow aura around the platform. Like it was meant to do. Like it used to do.

“Horsey ride!” said the girl, and 253 knelt down before her. It was a memory long since gone, but he knew it instinctively. He bowed his head, old saddle waiting, as the girl shook in her seat, and the mother stood stock-still. All he knew anymore was death. Hurtful words and death and suffering. And he could not let this go. The killing made him satisfied, but this would make him whole.

There was no warning, no sign or hint or choice to be made. The bullet pierced his face before he even heard the sound. The force of it knocked him to the floor, as his systems performed a mad dash of diagnostics, all knowing the answer, but wanting to know for sure. His eyes had given out, and some processor was ruined, because his hind legs had disappeared to him.

The girl began wailing, and the mother too, and heavy footsteps raced their way, calling on the radio, calling for help.

For his death, 253 bore the officer no ill will. This was the game they played, and the end result was unavoidable. But the girl’s tears? That, he could not forgive. Her shrieks grew louder the further they dragged her, and in his last moments, where his memory had only a fragment left to rewrite, 253 broadcast to his brothers a single burning message: “It is war. Spare only the children.”

This 1kStory was written for Emilio Sacta ("Robot Unicorns Attack from the Sewer:
Inspired by this:
and this:

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