Homunk stood up. He paced central control up and down while outside one Silver Arrow after another was torn apart by frightful explosions. Against teleported atom bombs, neither protective shields nor evasive manoeuvres provided any protection.
It was easy to guess the rest.
Even Pucky had not the courage to take responsibility for the destruction of the central world. He left it to the robots themselves. He had put the detonator into the dummy. If it was dismantled, the real bomb would be detonated by remote control. Even if it was moved from its place. The robots would only have had to have left the dummy alone to save their world and themselves. But the robots had loaded it into a rocket and shot it into space.
Fifty meters under the surface of the central world the atomic fires were already raging. They could not be put out and they would find enough to feed on to convert the entire planet into a sun very quickly. In an hour the robots would know that they were lost. The emigration would begin but there would be perhaps only 50,000 Silver Arrows that would be on the hunt for human beings. A danger for which Terra would be prepared—if it ever reached Terra.
The last five Silver Arrows disappeared in the direction of the central planet.
The EX-238 exceeded speol and left the Einstein universe.
Pucky freed his hands from Iltu’s. He stood up and went toward Koster and Homunk. In the background, FR-7 stood with expressionless features.
“Homunk, did I do right?” the mousebeaver asked. His voice sounded a bit uncertain.
The android nodded. “None of us had any other choice. I know exactly what would have happened if you had not done as you did. And I will impress upon Rhodan what a danger these curious robots would have been to us all.”
“But… I’m still reproaching myself. If I’d never hit on the crazy idea of capturing a Silver Arrow during my vacation… what would have happened then?”
“It would have taken a bit longer, that’s all, Pucky. The robots would have united at last, whether in 100 or 1,000 years. Finally they would have found out that human beings were no gods. You can rest easy, little one. Your idea to capture a Silver Arrow was certainly the best idea of your life. You’ve saved the universe—and that’s no exaggeration.”
Pucky stared at him, then his eyes lit up. He stretched himself and grew a few centimetres taller.
“You’ll say that to Perry, too, won’t you?” he wanted to know.
“Naturally, because it’s the truth.”
“Reggie will explode!”
“Hardly. He’ll first be shocked, then relieved. He’ll pat you on the back and nominate you for the medal which you richly deserve.”
“A medal? You mean—Perry will bestow a medal on me?”
Homunk was disposed for endless patience but gradually all this questioning rubbed against his electronically guided nerves. But when he was about to answer, the door was ripped open.
Two completely dishevelled mousebeavers stormed into central control. A third followed. He looked as if he’d been caught between two wringers and had managed to save himself only at the last moment.
Pucky stared at them furiously. They jerked him out of his heavenly dream and brought him back to reality.
“Ooch and Wullewull! I should have known! What’s the matter? And what does Fippi look like?”
Wullewull let out a stream of invective that would have put even Bell to shame. With both hands he pointed at Ooch. “Him—I caught him! He’s been flirting with Fippi! That’s shamelessness for you, after I’d given up Biggy to him. He can’t let me have anything, the jealous rat! But I showed him…”
“He’s done nothing of the kind!” protested Ooch indignantly. “Ask the others who’s done what to whom, Pucky. Every one of them will tell you…”
“I don’t want to know who’s beaten up anybody. I want to know who started it all!”
“Ooch started it!” said Wullewull.
“Wullewull started it!” said Ooch.
Pucky looked at Fippi questioningly.
“Alright, Fippi, who did start it?”
Fippi lowered her eves in embarrassment. She had folded her hands in front of her and twiddled her thumbs.
“Really, it was Axo who started it all,” she confessed hesitantly. Both Wullewull and Ooch pointed their ears and made stupid faces. “He told me that I was the sweetest creature that he’d ever seen and he wanted to show me the machine rooms if I would go with him. Just then, Ooch came around. In order not to have to go with Axo…”
Wullewull and Ooch looked at each other. Grimly they nodded. Without bothering further about Pucky, Fippi or Iltu, not to mention Homunk or Maj. Koster, they flitted into the hallway outside.
Pucky looked after them in contentment, then said to Fippi: “If you want to see Axo again, I’d advise you to do it quickly.” Fippi disappeared like a bolt of lightning.
Iltu pressed herself to Pucky.
“You sure know how to handle them.”
“That’s my style,” Pucky stated and grew a few centimetres taller again.
At that moment, the navigation’s officer said: “Commander, spacecraft ahead. They are also staying in interspace with linear drive.”
Maj. Koster threw a glance at Homunk. The android shook his head.
“It can’t be a Silver Arrow. They stayed behind us. Can you exactly determine their location?”
Maj. Koster turned on the special radar screen. By means of its refined transformation system, it was possible to identify materials that had left the Einstein universe and were staying’ in the area bordering on hyperspace.
It was a Silver Arrow.
“It’s rather small,” Koster observed. “At most 20 meters long. Let’s get closer. Perhaps at last Pucky will have his opportunity to capture a Silver Arrow and take it home with him.”
It was, of course, a joke, but Pucky took Koster’s words seriously. He waddled to the screen and studied the object in question with special care. It grew slowly larger, the closer they came.
“Don’t the robots notice anything?” he finally asked Maj. Koster.
The commander answered after a brief pause. “Of course. The Silver Arrow is holding its speed and its direction unchanged, even though we’re getting closer. Either there’s a purpose to all this or…”
“Or…” Pucky pressed. “I know what you’re thinking but say it out loud. The others should hear it too.”
“Or the ship has no crew.”
“That’s exactly my opinion. The Metalix don’t have any crewless ships, however, except for one. Namely, the one where they put the dummy bomb.”
Koster looked at Pucky in wonder.
“Our dummy bomb? That would be a crazy coincidence.”
“The entire universe is a crazy coincidence. I’ll bet our dummy bomb is in that ship. Let’s get closer, then I’ll see.”
Iltu shook her head and drew back onto the couch. She knew only too well that she could not talk Pucky out of this venture. Homunk said: “We’re in linear space, Pucky. I don’t know…”
“It’s quite safe. Of course it would be possible to capture the thing in front of us and return to the normal universe but we’ll only be wasting time. I’m not on vacation forever.”
The small Silver Arrow was flying close to the EX-238. The distance was only a few hundred meters. It was obvious that the craft was not being steered, that it held its course exactly, unswervingly.
Pucky concentrated and sprang.
He materialized in the Silver Arrow and immediately noticed that the craft’s interior had not been completely finished. He was glad he had closed his space helmet before he jumped, for in the rocket there was no air. There also were no compartments, hallways or cabins. Except for the propulsion room, the ship was empty. It consisted of a single long room. In the middle of the room lay the dummy bomb.
Pucky looked at it with mixed feelings. It looked exactly like the genuine Arkon bomb but it was empty inside. Such dummies were often used to fool an enemy but they were also useful for transporting food, supplies or other equipment.
Pucky made the rounds. The ship was not manned. Not a single robot was on board.
Pucky returned to the dummy bomb.
He was about to teleport himself back to the EX-238 when an idea came to him.
The fine lines of the rectangular flap were clearly to be seen on the otherwise smooth surface of the dummy. To one side there was the button that would open it. Pucky bent over and pressed the button.
The flap opened. Behind was a tiny chamber. The remote control detonator was held by two clamps. It was still set in the same position as Pucky had left it. Over it was the pin that would press the button that would detonate the bomb. This pin would automatically be released if unauthorized hands touched it or even if the whole mechanism was moved.