In the Centre of the Galaxy by Clark Darlton

The robots reacted immediately. Without any expression of feeling, they turned around and left the dome hall. In an hour, the first of them would already be marching. The metallic army would grow and start east toward the capital city and the spaceports. An army of robots that was determined it would be allowed to serve again.

Homunk stood motionless until the last had disappeared, then he looked up toward the ceiling. Harno, a great, shimmering sphere, floated slowly downwards. Just above the floor, he stopped.

The robot priest had withdrawn. Though it was precisely he who ministered to the belief in gods, promoted and defended them, deep inside he was convinced that there were neither gods nor miracles.

And now one was happening right before his eyes.

The weightless, weirdly shimmering sphere could not be understood through logic. Something emanated from it that could not be explained by normal scientific laws.

The priest drew back and, since no one stopped him, he disappeared in the back rooms of the temple for another thorough search of his memory banks to see whether the extinct creators had ever appeared together with such a sphere.

Pucky received Harno’s signal and teleported back into the dome hall.

“Well, you’ve told them a pretty story,” he said to Homunk and grinned in the direction of the symbol screen. “That’s using reason properly, if you ask me. In my opinion, we shouldn’t mess with this whole affair. The purpose of the expedition was to find out the origins of the mysterious Silver Arrows. We’ve done that. Whether the robots here believe in ghosts, gods or lubricating oil can’t make any difference to us.”

“But no,” Homunk countered. “With the bare discovery of their home base nothing has been accomplished. This really unique civilization of intuitively behaving and yet logically thinking robots means great danger for all of us. If the so-called ‘nonbelievers’ should win the upper hand, their Silver Arrows will soon overrun the entire Milky Way. Don’t forget that the natural resources of this planet are inexhaustible. Haven’t you thought about why, on a planet at the centre of the galaxy and pulled by unimaginable centrifugal forces, there should be a quite normal gravity? I will tell you, Pucky: because the entire planet consists of a solid metal core whose weight and gravitational fields compensate for these centrifugal forces. If the Earth were on this spot, it would have broken apart long ago. Only such a massive planet as this one could withstand the strain. The crust is only a few meters thick, then there are rocks; and at a depth of 500 meters there is the massive core. Out of it, a million spacefleets can be built.”

“How do you know all this?” Pucky asked in disbelief.

“From Harno,” said Homunk.

“Oh, well, if it’s really so… what now? Without the EX-238, we’re finished, particularly me. I can’t even let myself be seen by these crazy robots. They think I’m the devil or something. Frankly, Homunk, with me you’ll win no religious wars.”

“You’re just not built like a god,” Homunk smiled.

In the meantime, the robot priest had seriously deliberated trying to find a way out of the personal dilemma into which he was in danger of falling. There was only one possibility of restoring his prestige and even of increasing it: he had to prove that the so-called representative of the masters was a fraud. If he could manage that, there would be no one to fight him for pre-eminence any more.

Carefully he stepped to a wall in his private quarters, shoved aside a few newly installed panels and pressed various buttons. More panels slid aside and a screen became visible.

It was a multi-purpose screen.

After a few landscapes and technical installations, the inside of the dome hall appeared on the screen. The priest did not wince as he saw the mousebeaver standing next to Homunk and Harno. He knew right away it was the being who had escaped twice already by inexplicable means. It must be an organic being.

That could easily be proved.

With a few motions the priest changed the functioning of the screen. The hidden cameras were no longer sensitive to visible light waves in sending images to the screen but concentrated only on heat waves produced by living organisms.

The screen had become dark.

As the priest pressed appropriate buttons, the contours of the mousebeaver appeared on the screen. Otherwise there was nothing else.

The priest stared at the screen in disbelief.

Where was the representative of the masters? Only the little furry being had appeared. It threw off heat waves and was therefore organic.

And the emissary?

Neither he nor the sphere were visible.

The emissary was a robot!

The realization hit the priest like a bolt of lightning, though he, too, was a robot. Quite by accident he had been able to expose the new god as an impostor. He had managed to uncover fraud. A fraud that was greater and far graver than the one perpetrated by him and to which he owed his present position.

The voice projection reproduced the conversation of the impostors but it was an unknown and therefore an incomprehensible language. It would only take a short while to decipher it, though. The priest plugged in supplementary equipment. He had to have evidence to destroy his hated rival for good. Perhaps, even, they were special constructions of the non-believers, and the capture in the ship, the flight and sudden appearance near the holy city was nothing but a clever trick in the strategy of their enemy.

The priest was triumphant.

He was smarter than the others.

Much smarter.

They would be surprised.

They would even be very surprised.

* * * *

All over the planet the mighty robot armies rolled toward the great cities where the robot brains stood. They soon met the first opposition, initially weak, disorganized and easily overcome. Already five hours after Homunk’s call to arms, three robot brains were in the hands of the rebels.

Harno had left Homunk and Pucky to their own devices and after a few suggestions and advice had disappeared, not without having promised to return at the appropriate time.

Pucky had taken Homunk by the arm and teleported in the direction of the city. They hid in the topmost dome of a tall building close to the spaceport and awaited further developments in the events they had gotten under way.

It was an empty hall with abandoned machines and work benches. A few fully constructed robots stood lifeless on long shelves, waiting to be activated. The dust told them that the robots had waited for decades already, if not for centuries.

From the windows, Homunk and Pucky had a good overview.

“More ships have landed,” Pucky reported while Homunk was searching the cupboards. “Those guys have gathered together a handsome fleet. It’s swarming with soldiers and officers. But they all look alike. I would sure like to find the bat who wanted to throw me into the converter.”

“Find the Silver Arrow in which we came and you’ll have your rat,” Homunk corrected dryly.

Pucky looked at him.

“The ships all look alike, too. What’s in the cupboards? Anything to eat? I’m beginning to be bored with these stupid pills. There must be something to eat on this crazy planet!”

“What would robots eat?” Homunk asked. “Do you have any appetite for the finest of lubricating oils or graphite? In the main, though, my-hm-my colleagues nourish themselves on atomic energy. How would that be?”

“Since you became the founder of a religion, you talk nothing but nonsense,” Pucky said decisively. “No wonder your mechanical comrades are fighting each other because of you.” He sighed. “I would bet a hundredweight of carrots against Reggie’s stubbly hair that we’d find something to eat if we tried. And you know where? No? Then I’ll tell you: in the former dwellings of the noble gods.”

“Gods? You mean the creators of the robots?”

“Good guess, my friend.” Pucky looked out the window again. “Something’s happening outside but until the arrival of the EX-238 we have plenty of time. If Harno’s right, the ship won’t land before tomorrow noon.”

“That’ll be in about 30 hours, for the sun will go down soon. We can leave the robots to themselves. The spark has taken hold; we can’t do any more. Let’s hope the spaceport is in the hands of the believers when Lan Koster arrives. Until then, as far as I’m concerned, we might as well go carrot hunting.”

Pucky grinned.

“I’m afraid they wouldn’t have lasted these thousands of years but maybe we’ll find other things in the refrigerators and the storerooms of the… what did Harno call them?”

“The Galacteers.”

“Right, the Galacteers. Let’s go see. Teleportation is a fine thing.”

“It compensates you for your organic body which otherwise consists of practically nothing but handicaps,” smiled Homunk and took Pucky’s paw.

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Categories: Clark Darlton