The robots surrounded him and marched past the robot brain to a second exit. The door opened but instead of an avenue under the open sky Homunk saw an endless, brightly lit tunnel that was barely 3 meters high. The floor was smooth but electronic guide rails were clearly visible. A closed car was waiting.
Homunk climbed in and sat down. He wondered about the hard seats that offered no comfort. It was as if only robots rode in these wagons, nobody else. Without any jerk, the vehicle finally started moving while the door to the dome structure glided shut. Four robots stayed behind. The other 5 had taken their places in the wagon. Homunk sat in the middle and tried to read their eyes.
What he found was neither comforting nor particularly alarming: the robots seemed to feel a certain awe paired with a determined fanaticism.
The puzzle did not grow less but more.
It was nearly unsolvable.
After two hours of rapid driving, the vehicle stopped. Homunk estimated that they were now more than 200 kilometres from the spaceport. He began to be worried about Pucky. How would the mousebeaver find him again? Maybe he should have left a distinct trail behind him, some recognizable signs. But now it was too late for that.
The 5 robots accompanied Homunk through a corridor into a round hall that was so like the first one that the android at first assumed that they had driven in a circle and had returned to it. Then various details told him that this robot brain was different from the one the commander had used to communicate with his superiors.
The oval screen was activated and as the colour patterns flitted over the convex disk, as the orders came and answers were sent, even Homunk began to doubt his own mind.
“I see,” said the machine to the robots, “that you acted quickly and properly. Now we have evidence that we were right. Everyone will find out about it before the nonbelievers can act. They are stronger than we are but we are in the right. And we have him. He will help us.”
“Where should we take him?”
“Into the temple of the holy city. That will convince everybody.”
“It will be done, master.”
Homunk could not translate all the ideas exactly. For many, there were only related concepts to help. One signal that had to do with him was entirely untranslatable. Also ‘temple’ and ‘holy’ were only vague substitutions for what they meant. In any case, it was clear from the short communication that there were two groups in fierce combat here. The believers and the non-believers.
But it wasn’t only the robots that faced each other in hostility but also their creators and masters. It appeared to be a quarrel that did not concern power or wealth but an outlook on life. That was something so inconceivable that Homunk would rather have thought this all to be a delusion but the counter-indications were unmistakable. Above all, he had as yet no notion of having been selected as the decisive force in this conflict.
At any rate, he had no desire to be handed back and forth between these hostile parties. He could not negotiate with the robots for there was no possibility of any communication with them; but he could perhaps speak with the aliens themselves.
But no, there was a way to talk directly with the robots, too!
Of course—the patterns on the oval screen! He could understand the symbols that served as means of communication between the robots and their masters. He could plug himself in and so establish contact with the robots. He could then at last ask to be taken to the real rulers of this peculiar world.
The screen had gone out. Before Homunk could move, he was again taken into the car. He was treated with the highest respect but they also gave him no opportunity to say anything even about this treatment. The courtesy of the robots was downright disarming.
When the wagon started moving, Homunk decided that he would escape at the first opportunity.
He wanted to ferret out the aliens from their hiding place on his own and so finally to put an end to all this uncertainty.
4/ ELEVATION TO GODHOOD
For Pucky, things were substantially more difficult despite his nearly unlimited mobility. He could not let himself be seen without risking immediate capture and execution by the robots. He could also not communicate with them and had no idea that there existed a robot brain with an oval screen on which colour patterns were to be seen.
When he saw Homunk and the commander disappear into the dome structure, he waited for nearly half an hour. He floated above the ground at an altitude of two kilometres and had long since opened his space helmet for the air was fine and breathable. It was warm and he didn’t have to turn on his heating system.
Below him lay the building complexes. They reached all the way to the horizon. There were enough signs to point to the fact that these were factories and other installations for the production of spaceships. A brief leap into one of these sheds confirmed his supposition. The production was fully automated. A single robot patrolled the assembly lines and the automatic presses, controlled the switchboards and checked the various stages of the production process.
When half an hour had passed and neither Homunk nor the robot appeared again, Pucky teleported himself into the dome structure. He could see that he was too late. Two robots lay motionless in front of a huge monster of a machine. It was quite obvious that they had met with violence. The one showed evident traces of Homunk’s laser. The other exhibited much damage to his head.
Pucky had no idea that he was being observed by the robot brain. He knew nothing about the hidden cameras or the oval screen. He was looking for Homunk, that was all. But he found no trace of which direction Homunk had gone.
In any case, Homunk had not come out of the dome structure again, so there had to be a second exit. The door would not open but when Pucky worked on the hidden lock telekinetically, it slid aside. Behind it lay the tunnel with the guide rails.
“That’s why I didn’t see anything,” murmured the mousebeaver furiously. “They’ve taken him away. Now I’ll have the devil of a time finding him again. That’s really…”
He broke off his thought as behind him he heard a rustling. About two dozen robots streamed into the dome structure and swarmed out in all directions. Pucky did the only sensible thing and teleported himself onto the robot brain. Here he had the best view and was covered from all sides, Directly below him the oval screen was flashing its commands. It ordered the robots to capture the little alien alive.
It was Pucky’s misfortune that he was counting on rayguns rather than on paralysing rays whose beams could be reflected from the dome’s ceiling without harm to anything. He saw a few robots draw small weapons and aim them in his direction. He ducked down and waited. If they wanted to wipe him out, they would have to take the upper structure of their robot brain along with him. Just for fun, he hurled two of his adversaries against the wall and listened with satisfaction as metal clanged against metal. The robots didn’t know what was happening to them as they were suddenly lifted into the air by invisible forces. They were facing something they did not understand.
Then Pucky suddenly saw the pale light beams race against the ceiling—and from there down towards him. Paralysis took hold of him so fast that he could not take any protective steps against it. He did not lose consciousness but did lose all parapsychic abilities. His eyes remained open though he couldn’t move. He lay there and waited. Remembrance of the past was dimmed in part, while certain parts of his brain were completely paralysed.
One of the robots climbed on the machine and brought the captive down. He put him on the floor harshly and Pucky decided he’d make a special note of this particular fellow even though that was just about impossible. They all looked alike and bore no distinguishing marks.
The screen gave its orders.
Pucky could see the abstract colour pictures but they didn’t mean anything to him. All at once Pucky felt himself being lifted up and carried away. While they were placing him on the floor of a vehicle, he felt the paralysis slowly lifting from him.
Not much longer and the robots would get the surprise of their lives, enough to make them believe in miracles. But Pucky had no idea that miracles were exactly what they could use least of all.
When the car, which had been driving through the tunnel, came out of the concrete shaft, it was night. The only planet of the yellow sun had no moon but there was no need for one. The night was brighter than day. An even luminosity shone in from all sides and precluded all shadows. The entire sky from horizon to horizon resembled a radiant dome with millions of tiny lights. All the stars were equidistant from each other and so there was nothing that could be called a constellation.