In the Centre of the Galaxy by Clark Darlton

“My paws should be no concern of yours,” he shrilled back and flashed his one incisor. No mousebeaver had more than one tooth.

Wullewull had not yet finished speaking when he was already pasted to the ceiling of the great common cabin. Ooch held him there through telekinesis. Since Wullewull was also genetically endowed with telekinetic powers, the contest promised to prove interesting.

For this, Pucky decided, there was no time, however. “Stop it!” he hollered at Ooch, who shrank back immediately.

Wullewull fell from the ceiling and landed safely on all fours. Luckily just beside Biggy. As if nothing had happened, he took up the activity that Ooch had so cruelly interrupted. Biggy began to purr contentedly.

“The major has reported another Silver Arrow,” Pucky continued. “That must mean we’re getting closer to the home base of the aliens—which we want to find. We know their race only through their ships and their robots. Remember what you promised me before we started out and don’t forget it. You all came on board with me of your own free will. Ooch, you haven’t forgotten that, I hope?”

Ooch rolled up his eyes and tried to look innocent.

“Good,” Pucky grinned and nodded to Iltu. “I’m going to central control now. Iltu will stay with you. If there’s the least sign of mischief, she’ll only have to send a thought-impulse and I will come. And then… understand?”

Majestically drawing himself up to his full height, Pucky marched to the door, opened it telekinetically and strolled out onto the hallway. Behind him, the door closed upon itself again.

Ooch sighed. His incisor gleamed. “He’s gone… As for you, Wullewull!”

Iltu and Wullewull acted at the same time. Their telekinetic thought streams gripped the infuriated lover and chained him to the bed. The other mousebeavers howled with glee and danced through the cabin.

Only Biggy went up to the ignominiously defeated one, sat herself beside him and took his hand. “You’re not jealous, are you?” she inquired innocently.

Ooch turned up his eyes before he closed them to give the impression of sleep.

Many problems, he thought to himself, are best solved in just this way.

* * * *

On the way to central control, Pucky reviewed again recent events in his mind. How had it all happened?

In the past hundred years the ships of Terra in their ever-wider interstellar roamings in space had always been reporting, on their way back to Earth, sightings of curious flying objects. These they had met in the deeps of space. They were slender, spindle-like craft with linear propulsion—or at least with a propulsion that enabled them to fly millions of times the speed of light. They avoided every attempt to contact them. But they did not attack, either. They simply swept away from their pursuers and vanished into the crowd of stars, mostly in the centre of the Milky Way.

No wonder, then, that the Terranians thought their home planet was in this region of the galaxy they’d always before steered clear of.

First signs pointed to mysterious vessels manned by robots. They must have had orders to avoid every contact with another race otherwise their constant flight would have been inexplicable.

One day, some time during the 24th century, a Terranian explorer cruiser was destroyed by one such Silver Arrow, as they called the unidentified ships.

At least, so it had to be assumed.

The cruiser had sent a hyperradio message, reporting that it was pursuing a Silver Arrow. Then the connection was suddenly cut off. The explorer never returned to Earth and was presumed lost.

Terra’s ships were all equipped with good protective shields and so were practically unassailable. They were also equipped with conversion cannons, the most fearsome weapons ever devised. The question was: how could a Silver Arrow possibly destroy the exploration vessel?

When matters had reached this stage, mousebeaver Pucky teleported himself from his country cottage on the shores of the Goshun sea to Rhodan’s office in Terrania. He materialized on top of his desk, discreetly cleared his throat and said: “Perry, there’s no trouble around here now and I’d like to go on a vacation.”

Administrator Perry Rhodan, the most powerful man on Earth and perhaps throughout the known universe, smiled indulgently. He laid aside the document he’d just been working on. In his grey eyes shone understanding for his little friend who had more than once rescued him from a hopeless situation.

“You’ve chosen the right moment, little one. Where do you want to go? To the tellers of tall tales? Are you going to take Iltu, along?”

“To tell the truth, Perry, I haven’t even thought about telling tall tales. Iltu will come along, that’s for sure. After all, she’s my wife. But, besides her, I’d like to take along 10 more mousebeavers from Mars.”

Rhodan frowned. It was clear he regarded Pucky’s request as odd.

“Ten more mousebeavers? You’ve always said that they were safely tucked away on Mars and thus would not get into mischief.”

“That holds even today but where I want to go they could do us all a great favour with their ‘mischief’. They are good telekinetics, Perry. So are Iltu and 1. That would make a total of 12 telekinetics. Don’t you think that with common effort we could intercept a craft in mid-flight and direct it anywhere?”

Rhodan shook his head. “You speak in riddles, little one. Do you what to invent a new sport for the mutants?”

“Hee-hee, not a bad idea,” Pucky snickered, amused. He moved a little closer to Rhodan. “But the matter is more serious. I want to spend my vacation doing mankind a favour.”

“Well, well,” said Rhodan, nodding in acknowledgment. “May I ask what kind of a favour you’re referring to? To stop spaceships in flight and then direct them…”

“Just one ship and a specific one at that. I want to capture a Silver Arrow.”

Rhodan’s face suddenly took on a quite serious mien. He leaned back in his chair and stared at Pucky. The little mousebeaver shrank a little under the searching gaze of his great friend but he stood up to it. His back fur raised a little but that was not necessarily a sign of anger or embarrassment.

“So you want to capture a Silver Arrow? And how do you propose to do that?”

Pucky moved even closer to Rhodan “Very simple. Give me an exploration ship—not a large one, just a cruiser. Add a capable commander and the usual crew. Ten mousebeavers for building a telekinetic block—and maybe Homunk, if you can spare him. And a real robot, in case we run into telepathy. In addition…”

“…in addition a few hundredweight of frozen carrots to regale your mousebeavers at a proper party, I suppose.”

“Wouldn’t be a bad idea,” Pucky nodded, all seriousness. “And as commander, try to pick an officer who understands a joke. Not a fried-up strategist without a sense of humour or a sense of nonsense… well, you know what I mean.”

“I,” Rhodan said slowly, “would not care to be that commander.”

Pucky grinned. Then he seemed suddenly to listen inwardly. “Bell’s coming. Do we tell him anything?”

Rhodan shrugged. “He’ll find out sooner or later—why not now? Besides, he can be helpful to you.”

Reginald Bell, Rhodan’s closest friend and deputy, walked into the room. He was heavyset and still had his red stubbly hair. Since he was also wearing a cell activator, he had not changed for the past centuries.

When he saw Pucky, he exclaimed in surprise: “Good heavens! I thought you were going to take your vacation at the Goshun Lake.”

Pucky suppressed a sharp reply and smiled amiably. “My friend,” he began unctuously, “we have something of considerable importance to convey to you. We hope that you will contribute your unconditional support to our undertaking and…”

“When did you start talking so high-falutin’?” Bell interrupted and sat down in a chair next to the table. “Why are you talking in the plural? After all, that’s only done by…”

“By ‘we’ I mean Perry and I,” explained Pucky. “But you, considering your fatuous dimensions, should always refer to yourself in the plural, seeing as how you weight twice what normal people…”

“And how about being twice as smart?” countered Bell, secretly smiling at the mousebeaver’s misconception of the word ‘fatuous’.

“Hm,” grunted Pucky and again suppressed a suitable remark. He was obviously having difficulties in containing himself. “Let’s not discuss things that are undiscussable. Anyway, listen…”

In a few words, he explained his plan. Bell listened, caught a glance from Rhodan, nodded slowly and said: “The EX-238 is on the moon. She’s been overhauled. Her commander is Maj. Koster, a very capable officer with imagination and initiative…”

“Hopefully not too much initiative,” grumbled Pucky. “Every once in a while I’d like to give a couple of orders, too. After all, it’s my expedition, in case you’d forgotten.

“Koster’s the right man, believe me. And Homunk will be enthralled at the prospect of flying to the centre of the galaxy. I’m just asking myself how you propose to handle 10 mousebeavers; together. You know the little rascals from Mars. It’s difficult enough to deal with one mousebeaver—but 10 together…!”

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Categories: Clark Darlton