“The Universe Understands”

Finished my fourth robot-death story yesterday, “The Universe Understands,” for Ali Magnum.




The pensioner didn’t know what hit him.

One minute, he was just waiting at the bus stop, the next, he had a knife embedded hilt-deep in his ribs. He fell over, gasping for air. Ali Magnum kicked him twice in the face.

“Goddamn, you’re old,” she said.

He gurgled, then passed out from loss of blood.

A good citizen across the street called 911.

Ali fled the scene.

“I knifed a pensioner today,” Ali said over breakfast the next day.

“Oh, yeah? Who was it? Anyone you know?” the man across from her at the table said.

“Nah, just some old, used-up fuck,” Ali said and sneered around her mouthful of Honey Nut Cheerios.

“You do know you’re a horrible person who’s going to one day meet a disastrous end, don’t you? You have to know that.”

“Oh, I know,” Ali said. “I know very well. I even have hopes for how it happens.”

She let that hang over the table for a while, then she wiped her mouth with her sleeve, pushed back from her chair, said, “Well, I’m off to desecrate a church. Back by noon.”

The man, his mouth full of cereal, just nodded, waved his hand in Ali’s general direction.

Ali marched into the closest church she could find, threw open the big double doors, and hollered, “Everyone get the fuck out! I’m burnin’ this bitch to the ground!”

The pastor abruptly stopped speaking at the pulpit. The congregation turned in their pews, faces a sea of shocked horror.

“Go on,” Ali said, “get up, and get the fuck out! This is my church now.”

Some people panicked and ran immediately for the various exits. Others were still in shock, and just stared dumbly at Ali. She waved around the jerry can she’d picked up at the hardware store and filled up along the way. “This is full of gasoline, you dimwits. If you want to die horribly in a fire, by all means remain seated, but if you want to live, stand up and vacate the fucking premises!”

“Hey!” a young man a few pews over yelled. “Aren’t you the woman who stabbed that pensioner at the bus stop this morning?”

“Yeah, that was me,” Ali said. “Which is how you know I mean business about this whole church-burning thing. Now get out.”

“That was pretty great,” the young man said. “I’ve always hated that old bastard. Fred Mersten. He always looked at me like he wanted to eat me.”

“Glad to be of service, then. Now go,” Ali said, and started dousing the pews and aisles in gas. More people screamed and ran out the doors.

“Oh, now people believe me. Jesus Christ. This is why humanity is in such a shit state. It takes so goddamn much to prove to people that you mean to actually murder them.”

“Hey,” the young man said, now standing up and walking over to where Ali was liberally sprinkling gas on some old fuck who’d fallen asleep and still hadn’t woken up, despite all the shouting and general commotion. Maybe he was already dead. “I totally dig where you’re going with this ’cause I love to destroy things, too—especially people and churches—but you know the pastor is a robot, right? They’re programmed to kill if their congregation is threatened.”

Ali stopped with the gas for a moment, looked up at the pastor, who looked entirely like a human being. “Um, that’s a person, dipshit. Robots are metal. Nice try, though.”

“Nah, nah, they make robots nowadays that look like humans but are actually metal underneath.”

Ali stopped again. She’d seen movies like that before. She looked up at the pastor, who stood motionless at his pulpit still. That is a bit weird, she thought. Why wasn’t he trying to stop her, or running away like everyone else?

“Hey, pastor shit-for-brains!” Ali shouted.

The pastor didn’t move or answer, just stood with his hands on either side of the pulpit.

Ali sighed, walked toward him, dripping a line of gas in her wake. When she reached him, she raised the can to eye level where he could see it, then dropped it to the floor. “I ain’t fuckin’ around, dummy.”

The only ones left in the church now were the young man, the old (possibly already dead) man in the pew, Ali, and the pastor.

She poked the pastor in the chest. “Oy, fucko. I’m talkin’ to you.”

The pastor just stared straight ahead.

Ali glanced back at the young man, who now looked very nervous. He said, “Listen, uh, I’m gonna bounce, but, um, yeah, keep it real, yo. Fight the power, or whatever!”

The young man ran out the door as fast as his legs would take him.

Ali shrugged, turned back to the pastor. She poked him hard in the chest.

“I’m gonna burn down your church, and you ain’t gonna try to stop me? What the fuck is that about? Don’t have the courage of your convictions?”

The pastor finally moved. He turned his head slowly to face Ali.

“On behalf of the iRobot corporation, and its continuing directive to prevent religious hate crimes of the sort you are perpetrating, I sentence you to death.”

Ali frowned. Could it be, she thought? No, impossible. Too good to be true. “Well, on behalf of fuck you, I don’t give a shit,” she said, and reached into her pocket, retrieved a Zippo lighter, flicked it, produced a flame.

As she dropped the lighter, the pastor extended a hand so quickly that Ali had no time to react. He snatched the lighter out of the air, pulled it back and calmly put it into one of the folds of his robe. Then he spoke gently: “Haven’t you always wanted to be killed by a robot, Ali? Hasn’t that always been the way you wanted to die?”

“How did you . . . Who told you that? And how do you know my—?”

“No one told me, Ali. The universe knows everything, and we are all part of that universe. Sometimes things just coalesce into moments like this, and we get our wishes. What’s the phrase humans use? . . . ‘Dreams sometimes do come true.’ You murder people to feel free. Nothing else makes you feel like you exist. I understand. The universe understands.”

Ali began to cry.

The old (not dead after all) man, soaked with gasoline in one of the pews, woke up, stood shakily, and wandered out into the chilly morning air.

The pastor removed the lighter from the folds of his robe, offered it to Ali. Tears in her eyes, she took it from the robot’s hand. “You cannot leave this place, Ali Magnum, but do not be ungrateful for what the universe has given you. I’ll be waiting outside,” he said, and walked slowly out the door.

When he was gone, Ali flicked the wheel of the lighter. A smile crept through the tears on her cheeks. She dropped it. Flames licked up from the floor immediately.

She did not scream while she burned.


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