This story available on Dec 19, 2020
The Unicorn and the Univac
by: Thomas E. Fuller
adapted by: Brad Strickland
One day, perhaps in the time before the earth became ordinary, a unicorn walked gracefully through the woods, on her way to the meadow.
She always visited the meadow in the morning. She loved a cool, clear stream that paused to pool itself , a still surface in which she could look at herself. Oh, she was worth looking at, a most beautiful animal, a mystical alabaster dream, something to be sensed rather than seen. She was, to put it simply, the Unicorn.
On this one day, a fine day (as all days were fine then, with clear blue skies, warm bright sunshine, and air as heady as wine), a Raven screamed at her as he darted through the trees: “Flee! Flee while there’s still time! Escape while you can! Danger!”
And the Unicorn asked, “Flee from what, friend Raven? What need is there to flee in the quiet woods?”
The Raven shrieked at her: “A Monster is in the meadow! Flee for your life! Monster! Monster!”
The Unicorn, curious but not afraid, for as far as she knew, fear had not yet been invented, asked, “A Monster? What’s it like?”
The Raven answered, “Monstrous!” And he flew away, his screams fading as he flapped and dwindled to a small black speck against the blue sky.
The Unicorn thought, “How very strange.” And she trotted off towards the Meadow, for after all, she had never seen a Monster.
The Unicorn stepped through dappled shade and over sweet tall green grass until she stood at the edge of the meadow. There before her sat the square black bulk of . . . the Monster. It was like ebony but shiny, and it looked more a curious boulder than it did anything living.
The Monster said in a monotonous dull voice, “Wind out of the northwest at 3.59 miles per hour. Barometric pressure 30.2 and falling. Chance of rain in the next 24 hours 65 pe cent and rising. Possibility of earthquakes, .001 percent.”
The Unicorn gasped at that voice, like a living voice but sounding more dead than alive, and exclaimed, “Monstrous!”
The Monster paid no attention but droned on: “William the Conqueror defeated Harold Fair-Hair at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S Grant in the village of Appomattox Court House, Virginia, in 1865. Adolf Hitler was inordinately fond of rose water.”
The puzzled Unicorn took two timid steps toward the thing and softly asked, “Excuse me?”
As if she had not spoken at all, the Monster continued: “Paper burns at the temperature of 451 degrees Fahrenheit. Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Charlemagne fathered three sons, Lothair, Louis, and Charles the Bald.”
A growing impatience made the Unicorn speak more forcefully: “I do beg your pardon!”
As far as she could tell, the Monster ignored her. “An outside extra-ego disturbance, manifested in vocalizations, has appeared. Scanning and compiling information. Switching to recording mode in two seconds.”
The Unicorn, grown grumpy and totally out of her normal sweet mood, became sarcastic: “Don’t let me bother you. Do nothing special on my account.”
The Monster said, “Interlocked external scan and data compilation now operating. When the red light flashes you will have ten seconds to ask your question. The flashing begins . . . now.”
The Unicorn could think of only one question: “Who are you?”
Immediately the Monster replied, “I am the Univac 2100 BoLo Computer, serial number 111-235-547-QWER-TY26. Having answered your question, I will now pose a query to the extra-ego entity to clarify my data.”
The Unicorn couldn’t make head nor tail of this. “I’m afraid you’ve lost me.”
The Monster said, “Information is requested. Speak into the grid on my side for all communication. Your cooperation is requested.”
And the Unicorn said, “I’m a unicorn.”
And the Monster thought for a few seconds and said, “Clarify.”
Shaking her silky shining mane, the Unicorn replied, “I don’t understand that.”
In that same unwavering drone, the Monster said, “Explain. Expand. Elucidate. Elaborate on your appearance.”
The Unicorn, like all of her kind, was vain, and she responded immediately: “I am a Unicorn, creature of the dawn and the mist. I am the most beautiful of animals. My coat is white as a summer cloud, my hooves are silver and tinkle like bells when I run. My horn is purest gold. No hunter or hound can capture me. Only a virgin may stroke my mane or ride on my back.”
The Monster pondered for a time, and then said, “Inquiry. The term ‘virgin’” applies to a female human being of adolescent age?”
The Unicorn blinked. “Yes. Usually.”
The Monster asked, “Is there more?”
Thinking of her reflection in the little pool in the meadow where the brook ran slow and cold and clear as a mirror, the Unicorn said, “No, that’s about all.”
The Monster made a whirring sound. “Compiling new data. Reviewing data. Reconciling data with established facts. Complete. You may take the print-out in the second hopper on my left.”
Sheets of paper—though the Unicorn had never seen paper and did not know what to call it—glided into a tray with a sound like someone whispering evil thoughts.
But though the Unicorn had never seen paper, she had heard about human scribes and books, and she understood enough to say with a laugh, “That won’t do me any good. Unicorns don’t read!”
Whirring once more, the Monster said, “Communication will be verbalized and dispensed audibly. Information inputted is not acceptable. The Unicorn is a mythical animal. Mythical animals do not exist. Therefore you cannot be a Unicorn.”
Somehow, who could say how, grey clouds had begun to dim the day. A little out of patience, the Unicorn snorted. “That’s ridiculous. Of course I’m a Unicorn. I’ve always been a Unicorn. Ask anyone. Ask the Raven. Why, if I’m not a Unicorn, what am I?”
In a flat but not malicious tone, the Monster told her: “Records show that the myth of the Unicorn accreted around word-of-mouth descriptions of an animal viewed by Bronze Age Greeks who visited ancient Africa. That information proves that you are a Rhinoceros.”
Now the Unicorn grew indignant. “A Rhinoceros! Ridiculous. Rhinoceroses—"
The Monster admonished, “The preferred plural of Rhinoceros is Rhinoceri, encompassing the perissodactyl mammals making up the family Rhinocerotidae.”
And the Unicorn, because she was a Unicorn, said politely, “Thank you. But Rhinoceri are huge ugly beasts with wrinkled, dull-grey skin and they have big clumsy feet and tiny squinting eyes.”
The Monster placidly said, “The species is the basis for the romantic myth of the Unicorn. A sub-species of Rhinoceros, the White Rhinoceros, still exists in plentiful numbers in East Africa. However, all species of Rhinoceros have suffered greatly from being hunted and killed by poachers.”
A low rumble of thunder rolled from the gathering clouds above the meadow. Stamping nervously, the Unicorn said, “Ridiculous! I run with the wind. No poacher, no predator can catch me! My horn is gold! My coat is soft and lustrous, not the wrinkly dull skin of a Rhinoceros!” She broke off with a gasp that sounded almost like a sob, though no Unicorn had ever in all the history of the world been known to weep.
The Monster continued in its implacable way: “Scientists have clocked the Rhinoceros as faster than a horse over short distances. The horn of the Rhinoceros, ground into a powder, is prized as an alleged aphrodisiac. The Chinese name for powdered Rhinoceros horn translates to ‘gold dust.’”
The Unicorn discovered that Unicorns could grow angry. “I am beauty, I tell you! I am the Unicorn! Just look at me and see for yourself!”
The Monster’s reply rang cold. “You insist you are a Unicorn, but logic does not bear that out. Unicorns are myths. Further, I cannot, and indeed should not, see for myself. My console lacks any device to view my surroundings in the visible spectrum. That is good, for appearances deceive.”
Not even noticing the gusts of wind that stirred the grass and rustled the trees, the Unicorn drooped. Distraught, for the first time, not only for herself, but for all her kind, the Unicorn began to weep.
The Monster showed no pity. “No one can defeat logic. You are a Rhinoceros. You have gone through life under the mistaken impression that you were a mythical animal.”
Then the Unicorn became aware that the polished metal sides of the Monster reflected her image even more clearly than the calm waters of the brook in the meadow.
She moaned as she saw her beautiful white image flow, melt, become shorter, fat and squat and bleary-eyed. The graceful legs became barrel-like, the golden horn shortened to a thick brutality. Her coat became hairless, pebbly, grey and wrinkled. The Unicorn did not scream or cry or lament her lost beauty. She stared. And sad beyond despair, the ungainly Rhinoceros turned and lumbered ponderously away, slowly vanishing into the woods.
Impassive, the Monster sat within the grassy clearing. After a time of silence, it said definitely, “There is no such thing as a Unicorn. Never was, never will be. Next question?”
Softly, as if in the clouds someone was weeping, it started to rain.
Thomas E. Fuller was a co-founder and the guiding spirit of the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company. He was born on October 8th, 1948, in Jasper, Alabama. He attended the University of Georgia and graduated with his MFA in drama in 1973. He moved to Atlanta and became active in the theater scene there, eventually writing over a dozen stage plays and well more than a hundred audio dramas. He became the first writer admitted as a member by the Science Fiction Writers of America whose credentials were dramatic works rather than stories or novels.
Brad Strickland is the Head Writer of ARTC. Born in New Holland, GA, Brad received his Ph.D. in English from the University of Georgia and recently retired as a full Professor of English from the University of North Georgia.
Interview available on Dec 29, 2020