In the Centre of the Galaxy by Clark Darlton

Organic beings? FR-7 found no explanation for this. They could not mean Homunk, for Homunk was an android, a half-robot. And Pucky? No, they surely couldn’t mean Pucky.

Before FR-7 could say anything, a tumult arose some 100 meters away. Ray beams whooshed over the heads of some robots but then the two parties seemed suddenly to unite. A detail of half a dozen Metalix marched in step towards FR-7 and his four companions.

The explorer robot took a few steps backward to get better aim if necessary. He did not like the approaching marchers.

“Who are they?” he asked.

The four Metalix with whom he had just been speaking had followed him. They were careful to keep him in their midst.

“Religious fanatics,” explained one of them to the great puzzlement of FR-7. “They belong to a sect that believes in the return of the old gods. They come to determine whether their prophet has lied to them.”

FR-7 had a positronic brain with a memory bank whose capacity was commensurate with his importance. As far back as he could remember, he had never come across robots who believed in gods. Fanaticism was against all logic; belief had nothing to do with knowledge. And robots were capable only of knowledge.

Who were these Metalix who wanted to know whether their prophet had lied to them?

The detail had in the meanwhile reached them and had come to a halt. One of them stepped forward. On his chest a small screen began to show abstract patterns in rapid succession. One of the four robots standing next to FR-7 answered the same way.

It was not difficult for FR-7 to identify the colour patterns. They were present in his memory bank. That would indicate that the Metalix were once connected with the Arkonides or their ancestors.

“We’ve agreed to a truce,” the sectarian signalled. He did not differ in build from the defenders of the spaceport but was quite different from the retreating attackers. So there must be three groups fighting each other, FR-7 concluded. The puzzle did not grow any the less thereby. “The truce cannot be lengthened beyond the time when the other armies arrive. We want to use the interval to convince ourselves, commander.”

The robot who was addressed as ‘commander’ was on FR-7’s right.

He answered with the help of the screen: “Go ahead, convince yourselves. Do you think this primitively built robot is a god? Do you think he’s an organic being or even one of the returned lords and masters? He can barely understand our sound language but that can be explained. Reasonably and logically explained, not with belief and intuitions. Probably he was built by the crew of one of our lost ships and now he is returning. We’ll find out. But one thing is sure: he has nothing in common with the gods that caused you to fight each other. Your battle is lost, you may be certain of that.”

The six observers looked at FR-7 who was careful not to betray by any movement the fact that he understood the symbol language. He was determined not to let this trump card out of his hands.

The video-screens started talking again.

“That’s no god. Did he come from the alien ship.


“The prophet foretold his appearance. Size and form fit the description. But he also said that the gods would come with him. We don’t see any gods.”

“So he lied.”

“We don’t know yet who else might be in the ship, commander. We are not convinced. May we go into the ship?”

“No, that’s impossible. Not because we’re afraid you’d find any gods there but because it would be against the law. Also against all reason. No one may go near an alien ship before its appearance is explained. You have interrupted our conversation with its representative. Return to your army and keep the truce.”

The six Metalix looked at FR-7 once more with penetrating glances, then turned around and marched away. Their movements betrayed uncertainty and doubt.

The explorer robot’s brain was working feverishly. The given data, his banked memories and superior logic created a first picture of the present circumstances. With a 90% certainty, they must mean Homunk when they said prophet.

If that were the case, then Homunk had designated the crew of the EX-238 as gods. FR-7 was reminded of the human figure that the robots carried in front of the army. Under no circumstances could Homunk have driven the robots insane in so short a time. Conclusion: the robots were already insane when Homunk had appeared. He had simply made use of an existing situation. He had foretold the arrival of the EX-238. And when he promised that the EX-238 would contain gods, he must have meant the Terranians.

The connections were becoming ever more clear. The one group of robots denied the existence of gods—or humanoids—while the others were prepared to fight for their belief in gods.

FR-7 recalled the huge masses of robots sweeping toward the city. He recalled the rebellion in the camp of the defenders, their uncertainty before they caught sight of him.

He could figure clearly what would happen if Maj. Koster and 10 officers left the EX-238 and stepped down onto the spaceport. Their appearance alone would, at the moment, decide the state of affairs in this world to their advantage.

Nearly half of the robots on this planet believed in gods.

If the gods really came, everybody would know.

With that, he made his decision.

FR-7 made it a few hours too late.

* * * *

The army of the holy city had reached the edge of the factory city.

The robot brain that was stationed here had been taken by the believers through surprise attack and had been re-programmed. It kept functioning independently but now on the side of the religious fanatics.

Then two things happened almost simultaneously. On all screens of the relay stations and the robot brains there appeared an announcement that originated from the priest of the holy city. It said with shocking clarity that the prophet had been a false one. The analytic screen showed that the supposed emissary was not an organic being but a robot. Therefore a fraud. Unfortunately, the little companion of the ‘prophet’ was organic but he did not resemble the gods in the least.

The announcement came like a bolt of lightning.

Within seconds the whole war had become meaningless. The opposition would become so strong in the next few hours that a further forging ahead of the armies would have amounted to intentional self-destruction. If not…

And if the priest’s announcement was wrong!

Even while the appropriate inquiries were begun, the second incident took place. A detail of the believers had got the chance to look over the alien who had arrived in the spherical ship. They confirmed that it was a robot and therefore no god.

With that, the cause of the believing robots was lost. Their anger now turned from the ruling robot brains and their servants to the robot who was built deceptively like the vanished gods. He had not only lied to them and given them false hopes, he had gotten them into this war and thereby had put them in a fatal position. If the gods had really appeared, there would have been no opposition any more. This way, they’d lose all their following.

It was Homunk’s misfortune that at precisely this moment he materialized holding onto Pucky’s paw in the middle of the army of the believers. His sudden and inexplicable appearance generated some kind of superstitious awe in the robots but they were determined not to be duped.

Steel fists reached out and separated Homunk from Pucky, who understood the situation immediately, but who did not want to teleport to safety by himself. Besides which, there was sure to be a misunderstanding here.

Homunk was of the same opinion. There wasn’t any explanation for this sudden change in the behaviour of the Metalix but surely he would soon find out what the cause of it was. For a moment he saw the face of the priest of the holy city but Homunk did not grasp what that had to do with it all.

Homunk dispensed with the long-winded symbol language. From Pucky he had found out that the robots could also speak a sound language and used an old Arkonidian dialect.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he demanded of the Metalix who held him fast as if they wanted to make sure that he wouldn’t disappear again without a trace. “The gods will surely punish you for this when they arrive.”

“The gods have arrived but they are as false as you. One of the robots stood straddle-legged in front of Homunk, his fist raised as if to hit him. “They are robots like us. And you.”

“The ship has landed? The great spherical ship?” Homunk did not in the least hide his joy, for if Koster had arrived with the EX-238, then what he had foretold had come to pass. Even if the believers had found out that he was not human but half-robot. “Take me to it.”

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Categories: Clark Darlton