In the Centre of the Galaxy by Clark Darlton

The robots had become, without wishing it, the lords of their world. They didn’t know what to do with all this power and perhaps there would have been an unimaginable catastrophe if at this moment the robot brains had not taken the initiative. They had always existed just to relay the orders of the Galacteers. Why should it not continue this way? Outwardly, nothing was changed as the three or four dozen machines took control.

The production of new robots was immediately stopped, whereupon a kind of civilization whose like had never before been seen in the Milky Way had its start. It was a civilization with no desires for conquest; instead, it wanted to remain entirely isolated. But their independence led to the robot brains’ learning to think. And with thought, they also learned to forget.

So the Galacteers became just figures in maxims, nothing more.

Here Harno came in again.

“Both the robots and the ruling robot brains disagreed as to whom they had to thank for their original creation. It was obvious they were not organic beings but had been created by a higher intelligence. Since they could discover only arrangements useful for robots on the planet’s surface, they could only assume that this world had always belonged to them.”

“They never had been servants, only masters.”

“At this point, the split developed.”

In their zeal to discover the truth about themselves the robots developed a philosophy, as crazy as this might sound. There were few scientific pointers for real knowledge, for the Galacteers had left no records behind them. The robots did not know what to do with the ever-running films. They were destroyed. Under normal circumstances the never-failing memory banks of their positronic brains now exhibited many symptoms of decline that could not be explained. Harno pointed out that stellar radiation intensified a million times, and in their inimitable combination, were responsible. Practically, on the centre of the galaxy were concentrated the collected cosmic rays of the entire Milky Way, and no place stood closer to all suns.

As further developments could not be followed on the projection screen, Harno took over the account:

“The ruling robot brains were in communication with one another and were aware of their great responsibility. They knew that the rule would end whenever men would rediscover the Central Planet, as they called it. On the other hand, the robots were anxious to be building spaceships in order to seek their masters.”

“A compromise was reached.”

“The brains realized that in the, long run they could not hold out against the wishes of several million robots. Without any previous experience, factories for Silver Arrows were constructed and put into operation. The robot brains created space travel from theory, from scratch, using only logic. The first ships completed successful experimental flights and production of a mighty fleet was begun.”

“In every ship there was a small commanding brain programmed by the mother brain. Whatever any commander might do, whatever might happen to him, he would have to make sure never to establish contact with alien spaceships. If a Silver Arrow would nevertheless actually meet an alien ship and contact it, a disaster prevention mechanism would simply destroy the Silver Arrow.”

And so the unending chase of the robots began, the chase that had to be senseless from its very beginning. They forged deep into the galaxy, found inhabited and uninhabited systems, landed on many planets and contacted their inhabitants. But never did they find a world of humanoids. When, in the deeps of space, they did meet an alien craft, they avoided contact. From time to time, a commander, despite all contrary orders from the brain on board, would try to establish contact with some alien ship but then the Silver Arrow either had to become independent and fly in the opposite direction from that given or it would self-destruct.

“And so it happened that the robots never did find their gods.”

“To the advantage of the robot brains, whose power grew ever greater and whose hunger for more power became more and more unimaginable.”

Harno was silent.

His magnified projection showed the city that would be called ‘holy’ by one group of robots. An underground shaft to the now empty living quarters of the Galacteers opened up. Three robots came up. They were carrying a huge rectangular thing that they handled with the utmost of care. They carried it to the dome hall and took off the drapery. It was the figure of the Galacteer that had appeared on the screen.

“The altar was actually one of the ruling robot brains,” Harno explained. “The 3 robots loosened some contacts and broke communication with the other robot brains. They removed the external controls so that no one could tamper with them. They took over the brain. When they had finally de-programmed it and were sure that they would not be betrayed, they restored a one-sided communication with the other robot brains and began their propaganda campaign.”

“Then there arose the two groups that are still in existence today, bitterly opposed to each other. One thought that the Galacteers would return one day to demand a reckoning, while the other group held fast to the theory that they had been created to rule over both this and other worlds. While the first group deemed the human beings to be their gods, the other regarded them as their servants. These striking differences finally led to war.”

Harno became a projection of the planet again as he reported further:

“The robots who thought of themselves as the lords of creation naturally outnumbered the others. They were also in possession of most of the factories. Thus they had the advantage. But the others felt they were more in the right. Their 5 or 6 robot brains incited them to religious fanaticism that would make them fight to the point of self-destruction.”

“The Silver Arrows shot out into space and gave gruesome battle during which more than one ship was incapacitated. Those were the craft the Terranians had often met. The war finally ended without result, without conquerors and without conquered.”

“The ‘believers’ had accomplished what they wanted. Unhindered, they could claim the ‘holy’ city and here they could await the second coming of their gods. In their imaginations, the Galacteers had been transformed into gods who could work miracles.”

“In this group of robots, mostly examples of the original construction, there still slumbered the memory of a bygone service. They simply wanted to, had to, serve someone; but there was no one to be served. So, someone must be found. Life—if these robots had life!—seemed purposeless without having someone to serve. No wonder, then, that they took the appearance of Homunk as the fulfilment of an old prophecy, In their eyes, the Galacteers had at last returned—the creators, the gods, the masters. The servitude of the robots was at an end. The hour of freedom was near—whereby they meant the freedom to serve. As man was born free and experienced freedom, so the robots were created for service and could only look on service as the highest good. In reality there has developed a paradoxical situation in which the ‘believing’ robots behave quite normally, think and feel as they should, while the group that thinks soberly and realistically should be called quite abnormal. That’s why we have to convert the non-believers.”

“With a crusade?” Pucky shook his head and watched as Harno grew smaller and congealed once more into a black sphere. “No, count me out! What do these crazy robots matter to me? All I wanted to know is what was behind the Silver Arrows. I wanted to know who was leading them and why they avoided contact with us. Now I know. And I don’t care whether the robots are converted or not.”

“That’s not the point, Pucky. The fanatics have gained a great following since the appearance of Homunk. What was mere belief before this has suddenly become concrete. The gods are not dead after all; they live. The purpose for the existence of the robots has been moved towards the understandable: they can be servants again. If the believers lose, the victorious robot brains will change the programming of their ships. A huge fleet of automatically steered Silver Arrows will descend on men and worlds inhabited by humanoids until a battle unto death will take place. A whole swarm of deadly missiles will transform one planet after another into suns and no one will be able to hold them back. Not even the Solar Empire.”

“And all this because Homunk happened to come here?”


Pucky stood up and stared at the image of the Galacteer.

“If only I’d spent my vacation with the tall-talers! I could have spent all day in my cabin by the sea and have been with Iltu. My friends would have spoiled me and would have woven the most lovely tales for me. I could have eaten as many carrots as I wanted… no one would have bothered me. And instead of all that, I’m here to play a reformist. How could I have deserved it?”

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Categories: Clark Darlton