In the Centre of the Galaxy by Clark Darlton

Pucky resumed his original position. A peaceful smile spread over his features. He was grinning in satisfaction.

“That’ll suit me fine, Homunk. Hopefully I won’t sleep for a couple of thousand years like the robots here below.”

“I’ll wake you at the right time,” Homunk promised and left the room. He closed the door carefully and activated his supplementary sense of orientation that from now on would mark his every step and record it in his memory bank. Whatever happened, he could find his way back again.

He met the robot in the next room and ordered him not to stir from the spot and to stop anyone who might want to go into the living room. The robot confirmed the order.

Homunk experienced no special surprises.

The underground world was just as it must have been during the lifetime of the Galacteers. Everywhere he met robot servants who, when he drew close, automatically woke from their ‘sleep’ and humbly wanted to know what he wanted.

He went from apartment to apartment, passed by huge energy stations, control stations and now-abandoned amusement stations. There was even an artificially laid out park with meadows, ponds and small mountains. The Galacteers had known how to live here, underground. And yet they were extinct.

Perhaps because they had lived too well.

As Homunk was on the point of turning back again, he noticed a massive door, far heavier than those which had opened before him automatically until now. In front of this one stood two robots. They too were different from the servants. They carried weapons.

They looked at him with expressionless features and frozen eyes.

“What’s behind the door?” Homunk asked with the help of the symbol screen that was to be found in every room.

“The other world,” was the answer.


The robots did not move.

“Entrance is forbidden.”

“Who told you that?”

“All the order stations, master.”

Hm, Homunk thought, they still call me 4 master”. By ‘order stations’ they must surely mean the robot brains to whom the extinct Galacteers had given too much freedom. So much freedom as to let them become independent—and to let them lock up the Galacteers in their underground world.

That was it!

In a second, everything was plain to Homunk. He now knew why the Galacteers had become extinct. He knew the cause. It wasn’t only the decadence, not only the laziness that stemmed from too much comfort, it was the robots who had played their part in the destruction. Perhaps intentionally.

They had locked up the Galacteers in their underworld living quarters and had hermetically sealed them off from the upper world. Possibly the robot brains had even given false reports to the Galacteers as to what was happening on the surface.

At the same time it was equally certain that the two guards in front of the door did not know what was really happening. Just like the servants, they had looked to their duty without noticing that changes had taken place.

“Open the door,” Homunk ordered determinedly. “Other orders don’t count any more.”

The robots finally moved but only to raise their weapons. Their barrels now pointed at Homunk.

That was their answer. The screens remained dark.

Homunk had to know what lay beyond the door. Perhaps only the way to the surface, perhaps something else. The two guards did not represent much of an obstacle. He could always unplug them.

He paid no more attention to them and went forward until he had reached a bend in the hallway. He stopped, under cover, and drew his tiny laser pistol from his combination pockets. It was a most effective weapon, for even at a hundred meters its beam was so concentrated as to have a diameter of no more than a pencil point.

For a moment he considered whether it would not be better to fetch Pucky but then he decided to let the mousebeaver sleep. Pucky badly needed rest.

The robots had lowered their weapons as they saw that he was withdrawing.

He aimed at the first one and shot. Even before the effect could be ascertained, he aimed at the other one and bored a hole through its head with his energy beam. With that, he disturbed the electronic nerve centre and disabled it.

When he again approached them, they did not react. They stood motionless. Homunk went past them to the door. It was secured by a complicated magnetic lock that could only be opened by force. With a beam of his laser gun Homunk simply burned out a hole in the door and climbed through it.

In front of him was a tunnel.

Above, there was light. A fresh breath of air indicated a gangway to the surface. Guide rails pointed to freight elevators. At regular intervals there were corridors leading away from the tunnel.

From below came noises.

Homunk drew back far enough to be hidden in the shadows of the small platform separating the door from the shaft. And not a second too soon, for a square-shaped cubicle came floating aloft. It was remote-controlled, for no robots were to be seen, but the cubicle was filled with shining metal blocks that seemed freshly moulded. One could tell by the shimmering seams.

Slowly Homunk nodded to himself. He had surmised a long time ago that the robots were hauling their raw materials out of the deeps of the planet. Apparently they had already been doing it when the Galacteers were still alive and they had made certain that no one would disturb this particular arrangement.

Homunk himself was a robot of sorts and he could not but wonder with what care and finesse the Metalix had made themselves the masters of this world. They had succeeded in eliminating the Galacteers without bloodshed. It had been a peaceful revolution for a change in the power structure. Machines had driven their creators from the surface of their world and the human beings had thought it was their own idea.

Behind it all were the robot brains, the guiding lights.

They had to be put out of action to avoid this storm in the Milky Way.

Homunk watched one mine car after another sliding to the top and empty ones disappearing into the depths. There, in eternal darkness, robots were working. Perhaps there were robots who had never seen the sun of their own world, perhaps did not even know what had happened during the preceding thousands of years.

Carefully Homunk stepped onto the narrow strips that led to the elevators.

As the next empty mine care swept by him, he jumped inside.

He had to know what was happening down below.

* * * *

When Pucky awoke, he instinctively looked at his watch.

He had slept for 10 hours and felt refreshed. The remains of his meal still stood on the table. Since he did not trust himself to call the robot servant, he busied himself over the remains and polished off everything that was left. He emptied a second bottle, belched in satisfaction and began to hope that Homunk would soon come back.

The android had been gone for 10 hours. A very long time to look around a couple of apartments. Hopefully, nothing had happened to him.

Pucky remembered the radio transmitter and receiver built into his spacesuit. He turned it on and called Homunk. There was no answer. There was no interference but it could well be that the massive rock walls let no radio waves penetrate. Besides which, Homunk could be heaven-knows-where.

“Certainly he’s somewhere,” Pucky grunted indecisively. “Too bad positronic brains don’t send thought impulses.”

He was startled when the door opened and the robot servant entered the room. But then it occurred to him that after all nothing much could happen to him. If the situation grew too ticklish, he could simply teleport himself to another spot.

With a waddling gait, the robot approached and stopped in front of him. On the screen, the colour symbols appeared but Pucky could make nothing of them. These Galacteers must have been even too lazy to speak toward the end, otherwise they would never have invented these crazy speech symbols.

“But my dear fellow,” Pucky piped up condescendingly. “You don’t by any chance know where my friend is? Do turn off your flicker box! I don’t understand any of it.”

“Our little master prefers a sound language?”

It was as if Pucky had received an electric shock. The words were loud and distinct, if a bit distorted. Not even the universal language but an ancient Arkonide dialect.

“Wha—”? Pucky said and sat down. He was so surprised that his short legs could no longer support him. He simply stared at the robot.

The robot did not move from the spot.

“Your command, master?”

Pucky began to slowly reconcile himself to the fact that the robot was capable of speech. Why he hadn’t spoken before this remained a mystery. There could be a thousand reasons. There was also no reason why he addressed Pucky as ‘master’.

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