In the Centre of the Galaxy by Clark Darlton

The dome hall became the galaxy.

The present sank into the sea of time.

* * * *

A fleet of 10 spherical ships was forging toward the centre of the Milky Way. Their path backward led to a spiral arm that reached deep into intergalactic space in which there was a scarcity of stars, lonely worlds in lonely space.

The scale changed as the yellow sun—in the time projection, a bit brighter—moved to the centre and details became clearer. The planet became visible. It revolved around its mother star in the orbit it was following to this day. The continents had not changed but the surface was without a sign of animal life. It was covered with broad steppes and huge forests. In the few oceans swam sea mammals that had not yet made the attempt to crawl onto land.

The fleet of 10 ships steered toward the planet, circled it and finally landed on a rocky plateau. At this point Harno explained to his audience:

“Radio communication of the expedition fleet with its home base had long been broken but it was an independent and self-contained system. After landing, the ships were dismantled so that the first shelters could be built. The old home base was overpopulated, the new planet uninhabited and capable of development—exactly what the Galacteers had been looking for.”

“Galacteers?” Pucky interrupted.

“They called themselves something else but the name suits me. Besides, it fits in every respect. Now see what happened next.”

Harno had become a sphere with a diameter of 10 meters. He rotated slowly like a planet so the entire surface could be seen. On it, in accelerated time, the first changes were depicted. In a few minutes, years and centuries went by.

The huge forests disappeared, making room for large cities and highways. Fields were planted and the civilization of the Galacteers entered an agricultural stage. The many rivers made irrigation of the broad steppes possible and soon all kinds of fruits were growing and supplementing the initial scarcity of food.

“It’s not unusual for space-roaming races to forget their origins after colonizing a new planet. The new surroundings, the influence of strange cosmic rays and the striving of all intelligent beings to look to the future rather than to the past contributed to the trend. No wonder, then, that after a few thousand years the Galacteers no longer knew that they had come from another world. They lived in a sphere of suns. In their various legends, though, there was a world on which the sun sank and it grew dark. Here it was light practically all the time. Darkness could be created only artificially. And so, after a time, the Galacteers discovered again the benefits of darkness. They retreated below the surface of their world.”

The cities above ground remained but they did not grow. What did grow were powerful factories that gradually crowded out both nature and cultivated fields. An unimaginable industry arose until the first robots were created.

“It was only a re-discovery; the remembrance of machines that could relieve men of work existed deep in the consciousness of the Galacteers. So far the intensified radiation from the conglobulation of suns exerted a beneficial effect on their brains. They were still profiting from their favourable position in the middle of the Milky Way. Effortless production of synthetic foods made agriculture superfluous. The last fields gave way to factories. The first robot crews were installed.”

The position of the stars had not changed but again many centuries had passed. The rhythm of life of the Galacteers had changed. At night they withdrew underground to their dark housing while the robots continued to work in the bright light of the eternal stars. They produced the necessary food, arranged for amusements and even took care of their proper distribution to the various administrative districts. Robot stations relayed the appropriate orders. Still, these stations were run by the Galacteers.

“Again thousands of years went by. Out in the galaxy, ever more planets were settled. The original race of the Galacteers spread out but they lost contact with each other. On one planet, far from the original home base, a colony of Akons was established; from them the Arkonides developed later on. Nearer the edge of the spiral arm, where all traditions had long been forgotten, a wild man climbed out of the trees and swung a cudgel for the first time again. It was his first step towards civilization. And on the planet of the Galacteers, the planet of the yellow sun, development reached its absolute peak.”

Homunk and Pucky did not interrupt Harno’s soundless explanation. In the dome hall, silence reigned. No sound reached them from the outside and the sun must have set long ago. Time had lost its meaning for before the eyes of the two on-lookers passed thousands of years.

Now Galacteers were only seldom seen above ground. The surface was ruled by robots. They still served their masters, the humanoids, but a few groups began to dissent. At the beginning of this movement, they were rousted out by the robot police and destroyed. All of this happened without any Galacteer having to move a finger or even giving any orders. It happened automatically.

The cities of the surface crumbled away for they no longer served any purpose. Only one of the most modem settlements at the foothills of a mountain range withstood the natural decay. Perhaps because of the material, perhaps because of other reasons. In any case, one thing was certain: it was the city in which they now found themselves—the only city still in existence on this planet.

Until this moment the Galacteers had been only shadows without personality. But now the scales of the plastic time-projection changed again. The magnification was such that single Galacteers became recognizable. Harno recalled from the past what seemed to be a family.

“I’m now going to show you the decisive moment that spelled the doom of the Galacteers—not in a day but during the course of the next 2,000 years. The man there is the leader of an administrative district. His assignment is to give orders to the robots through the relay brain. He does it every day and it is the only assignment he has to carry out. But he is sick of it for it’s monotonous and there’s no room for initiative. The Galacteer—all Galacteers—is actually satisfied with this. He doesn’t want to work any more. Even thinking seems difficult and is an effort. He is glad that the robots relieve him of all work. But even giving orders is work—much too much work. And so it was inevitable that one day an idea would come to him. And not only to him.”

Homunk and Pucky looked into a dimly lit room. On a wide and sumptuously upholstered couch there lay a woman. She wore light clothing and was looking at a screen that had been affixed to the ceiling above her. Two children were tended to by robots. Though they fought against it, they were put to bed in an adjoining room.

The Galacteer looked like the man whom the robots had worshipped on the screen today. His widow’s peak reached deep onto his forehead and ended between his eyebrows. He was sitting at his control desk in his underground living quarters. A small screen serviced the control. On it appeared command impulses to be relayed to the robots on the surface.

The room blurred, became indistinct.

Harno explained: “The robots got the order to continue their present assignments if there were no special orders. The guardians of the brains were given the task to make any necessary decisions without checking back, as long as they were to the advantage of the Galacteers. At the same time, the order was given to reactivate the factories that had long been standing still, to produce new work robots. That was the beginning of the end.”

Homunk and Pucky saw it for themselves.

Most of the Galacteers had not worked for a long time and the responsible ones at most half an hour a day. Their brains, no longer necessary, deteriorated faster than their bodies. After a thousand years the Galacteers had lost the ability to move at all. They lay motionless on their beds and let their robot servants feed and care for them. Soon the birth rate declined and the race was on its way toward extinction.

On the surface, things went on as usual. The production of commodities and food ran at high gear. In the factories, new robots were built every day while the old models were sorted out and discarded. Growth was greater than attrition. The planet was threatened with over-population because of the too-diligent robots.

The robots started by forgetting their real masters who had disappeared into the converters long ago. They were no more. And when one day an exploration expedition of robots penetrated to an underground city, they found only deactivated robot servants which they transported to the surface and there destroyed.

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