In the Centre of the Galaxy by Clark Darlton

“Because of your curiosity,” Harno replied.

Homunk had also stood up. “You can’t be serious about the crusade, Harno?” he asked. “Wouldn’t it be easier to re-program the robot brains one by one? That wouldn’t be too difficult.”

“If it were easy, it would have been done long ago, Homunk. Thinking positron beings cannot be programmed. They can only be convinced. And only by presenting evidence. In our case, the only evidence we can present are miracles. Miracles expected of superbeings or gods.”

“Miracles?” Pucky stared at Harno in shock. “Miracles…?”

“Robots are coldly rational beings—at least they consider themselves such. When something happens for which they have no logical explanation, they must take it for a miracle. They don’t know telepathy, since they are not capable of it. Every memory of teleportation or telekinetics is absent, since they have never experienced them. Even man would not have known anything about these things, if they had not taken place on Earth. We know that they did exist on Earth. Even the first Utopian histories of Terra’s antiquity only related parts of the deeply buried past. Teleportation, for us a perfectly natural phenomenon, must be the work of supernatural powers.”

“Supernatural powers have nothing to do with logic,” Pucky countered anew. “That way we’ll never overpower them.”

“At least we’ll get more followers for the believers. More we may not, cannot, hope for.”

Homunk asked: “When will the EX-238 land? Is it on its way here?”

“Tomorrow or the day after. I showed Koster the way after I’d received Iltu’s call for help.”

“Good girl,” Pucky murmured with dreamy eyes.

“You’d have done better to have left the ‘good girl’ at home,” Homunk said.

“Then Harno wouldn’t be here.” Pucky bared his incisor for several seconds as he grinned. “You’d do better to appreciate my mousebeavers when they’re let loose in this world to work the necessary miracles. Woe unto the robots when they actually are let loose!”

“The road to heaven sometimes leads through hell, Harno lectured them soundlessly but insistently. Then he added: “When the robots return for the adoration of Homunk, I’ll turn on some magic. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to make use of magic but after all it’s for a good cause.”

“Hopefully there won’t be any trouble when the EX-238 lands,” Homunk added to the overall excitement.

* * * *

The next day, Homunk communicated with the robots for the first time.

To do that, he made use of the altar’s robot brain and its coloured symbols. He assured them that he was not God, only a representative of the former masters of this world. He was only the vanguard; soon the others would arrive.

“We’ve seen what’s been happening on this planet for thousands of years,” he said over the symbol screen to the silent robots. “You have done well in guarding the possessions of your masters, in furthering their work. But many of you have lost faith in the creators, the creators who gave you the ability to think. You have built spacefleets because you were able to think. But you’ve also forgotten—and that presages the doom of a civilization, decadence.”

The robot priest had watched motionlessly as Homunk took over the controls for the colour symbols with perfect assurance. It was not really the words that convinced him; it was this very sureness with which Homunk used the electric altar to carry out his purpose. At the same time, despite the conviction that this was no traitor but really one of the lords and masters who stood before him, the robot priest had doubts. Whenever the gods returned, he would become superfluous. He, who based his position of power on his imaginary contact with the beings who had long since disappeared, would be undone by their return. Thus, they were his greatest enemies.

Homunk, who had not the least idea what the robot priest was thinking, continued to speak over the symbol screen. He knew that six robot brains, controlled by this sector, were tuned into him. His colour symbols would be broadcast throughout the planet.

Just below the dome, Harno was floating invisibly. He was in telepathic connection with Homunk and was advising him. Pucky stayed hidden in one of the many unused adjoining rooms. Through Harno, he found out what was happening in the dome hall and what messages the android sent to the robots. More and more, he had to admit, the initiative was being taken from him. But he also saw that without Homunk he could have done nothing under the circumstances. His outward appearance simply did not fit in with the image that the robots had of their creators. In this world, he would always be the hunted.

“We had assumed that our return to this world would not be necessary again but we were wrong. We created you so that you could build a new civilization, not take sides and destroy each other. You are just as guilty as those who would shake off every remembrance of us. At the same time, both your groups are behaving naturally. The one group would be independent and hammer out its existence as it wished but you want to be thankful to those who created you. At the same time, for convenience sake, you were grateful, for you do not want to take the responsibility. You push it off on the gods, as you called your creators. Perhaps it was only the priests, who did that not solely because it was convenient but for many additional reasons.”

He paused for a short time, as if to make sure of the robots’ reaction, but their eyes remained expressionless.

Harno explained soundlessly:

“Don’t go too far, Homunk. These are not organic beings but are filled with cold logic. They’ll accept no gods who want to punish them. They want nothing but to serve, because for that purpose they were created. Don’t tell them they want to serve only for their own comfort because then they’ll do the opposite simply to please their gods.”

Homunk understood that he could not go beyond a certain point. Pucky and he had not entered this world just to bring the robotdom back to sanity. They’d come, at most, simply to isolate the robots. To isolate them from the universe. For if the robots should take it into their heads, for whatever reason, to attack the unprotected planets of the former Empire, it would mean catastrophe. So long as they could not agree and were divided by internal strife, it would never occur to them to send out interstellar expeditions.

He must feed the present conflict.

“Even so,” he continued, “the sympathies of the creators are on your side, on the side of true servants who have not forgotten their origins. Not only does the rule of logic guide the universe but also the rule of morality. It is a rule that applies not only to all organic living beings but also to you.”

For the first time there was a reaction. A few of the robots in the first rows made approving gestures. One of them stepped forward and bowed before Homunk; then he pointed to the altar and the controls.

Homunk understood and stepped aside.

The robot ignored the priest and for a few seconds examined the installation; then he sent his answer over the symbol screens:

“As far back as our memory banks go, we have always advocated this moral and have fought for it. But in vain. The numbers of the non-believers grew even greater, for they had the factories and assembly lines for new robots. They built spaceships and weapons. Now they’re trying to exterminate us. They want to become the masters of our world and then to conquer the universe. They want to find the gods and show them who is stronger. We know that they think the gods are weak, easily wounded beings of organic origin who can be crushed with one blow. Even if that were so, they did nevertheless create us. Is it right to want to destroy them? We say no! And that’s why we continue to fight. Now more so than ever! Beside the masters who will return.”

The robot bowed and returned to the first row.

Homunk tried to figure out what Rhodan would have said if he were in Homunk’s place here. Logically, he would hold the ‘believers’ in the right, in order to dam up the will for expansion of the robots. But was it right to interfere in the internal affairs of such a complicated civilization? Robots who were waging a religious war…!

The decision was not difficult.

“We’ll break up today in order to be in the capital city to meet the ship on time. We’ll leave the holy city to be guarded by the priests. We’ll march till it grows dark. The faithful robot brains will send us means of transportation and will provide arms for our followers. Tomorrow the capital city will be in our possession.”

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