Writing Prompt #001 – “A Letter”

It must be fate that led to this being written. In efforts to stop procrastinating and start writing in earnest again I bought a book – “642 Things To Write About”, published by the 826 Valencia writing school. The book is pitched to younger writers than I, but it has an interesting mixture of genres in its prompts, including a lot of surreal or speculative choices which appeal to me.

I bought the book, opened it at a random page, and received:

“If you had to make a robot, what would it do? How would it help you?”

My daughter, if this is in your possession then you have found this laboratory, and I am sorry that that should be the case. I hid it not because I needed to keep it a secret from any prying eyes or enemies but because I genuinely hoped it would never be needed again, that my cowardice would be rewarded with God, or whoever judges after death, punishing me as I deserved with an I told you so.

Years ago, you may remember, I was a soldier. I told you a great many things about what I did, about my time spent travelling on great warships before I met your mother. About the good friends I made, about what daily life under the constant fear of death was like, and how we found every means possible to make it bearable. I never told you what I saw, and you never asked. Years ago, before you were born, mankind fought a terrible war that the history books still choose not to go into great detail about. Perhaps you at some point put two and two together and realised that I was one of the men who nearly witnessed the extinction of the human race. If so, you never asked, and I appreciate that because I would not have had the words to tell you.

I fear that if you have discovered this place, and this letter, history is about to repeat itself. And you will need to know some things I fear mankind has forgotten. What you will doubtless be called upon to fight – for this is the kind of war that one cannot hide from, or equivocate about – is not an enemy that can be reasoned with, not some empire that will see sense when it makes little progress. It is, to the best of my understanding, a force of nature. A disaster, which must be weathered, sat out like a hurricane. I would hope in the years that have passed we have learned something about these things, about why, at least, they do what they must apparently do. Maybe if humanity has learned anything from what my comrades and I did we can bring this occurrence to its conclusion more quickly, with less loss of life.

I know a letter of science and theory will not make up for the birthdays I have missed and will miss. I doubt that the data on these computers will save the world, but nevertheless I would ask you send it to the Institute.

I know I left you after your mother died and it must have been hard to bear. I realised far too late in my life – and there was little left of it after I did walk out – it was cowardice, and now all I have left to offer you is what you can see. I do not have a good answer for why I ran, only that something was eating at me that I did not want to let affect us, and that I did not think – even at the end – you would be able to help me. I do not deserve to be forgiven.

When the war ended, I was left with little except the love of a great woman and the accumulated experiences of years of fighting for survival. I squandered the former at the expense of the latter, and this will be my legacy. Before you is a machine that was never finished at the time of the war’s end, which I burned out my life trying to fix because I was never able to feel safe. Years of fighting against an enemy I never understood, putting my faith in untested science, saw it end in a fashion that it is small wonder the historians ignore, because it was inexplicable. I had seen so much death, fought so hard to make it through every day, I could not simply walk away. I lived – and it was this that drove me distant – with the fear that one day I would be needed to fight again. When I realised I was long past being in a fit state to fight I chose – wrongly, cruelly, pathetically – to simply diminish. And so I sealed this place up, and keyed it only to reopen should certain trigger-phrases cross the attention of its always-watching computer.

You would not be reading this if what I feared every day of my life had not occurred, so I must – in my absence, in your confusion, in shame – impose upon you unacceptably. Take this machine, and this data. Learn how to pilot it. Steel yourself to fight for the sake of everyone who lives. Make sure that once again, no matter how impossible it might seem, there is a future for mankind. I built this to be a symbol of hope, something that would encourage us to stand bravely in the face of the unexplained and the terrifying and tell it not one step further. I only hope I was right.

I am sorry. As much as it means anything, as much as it will do anything as I lay dead, miles away in an unknown graveyard, as much as a written apology and a machine standing unmanned as a symbol of my own destruction can make up for years of loneliness. It is all I have. I am sorry.


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