In the Centre of the Galaxy by Clark Darlton

“I don’t think we’re in any immediate danger,” said the android. “How will we explain our presence, in case they ask? We shouldn’t, after all, let them know that you’re a teleporter.”

“They’ll know it anyhow—or at least guess. There’s no other reasonable explanation.”

The robot had stopped. The hallway had come to an end and a doorway about a man’s height closed it off. Suddenly the robot turned around and bowed before Homunk. It did not pay any attention to Pucky. Then it stepped aside.

The door opened.

Behind it was a room crammed full of control instruments, screens, navigation equipment and all kinds of panels. In front of it all were comfortable chairs on runners to enable them to be anchored to the spot at any time. Some robots glided back and forth in the room without paying any attention to the newcomers.

On one of the screens, the EX-238 was clearly recognizable.

Behind them, the door closed with a dull sound.

Pucky still had hold of Homunk’s hand. It was going much too smoothly and easily. For decades the Silver Arrows had avoided every contact with the spaceships of the Empire and now suddenly the opposite was happening.


A robot rose from a chair and came towards them. He, too, gazed at them with a searching look before he made the slightest of bows and indicated two empty chairs. It was such a human gesture that Pucky’s every speculation was changed from one second to the next. These robots were surrounded by a deep mystery that had to be pierced. They had had some connection with men, that was evident. Even their appearance pointed to it. But also their entire behaviour, their gestures and their manners.

But who were these men? There was not a single instance of anyone’s ever meeting them.

The lost cruiser…?

And if that—the crew certainly wouldn’t have had enough time to train the robots in Terranian manners. Besides which, it was evident that the robots had existed for centuries—if not longer.

Homunk and Pucky sat down. The robot, too, took his seat in silence. He looked at the screen. There was nothing for Homunk and Pucky to do except wait and see what would happen. They used the time to observe the EX-238, which was in all its details as clear as if it had been just a few hundred meters away, seemingly motionless among the suns in space.

And then—suddenly—the EX-238 disappeared.

Nothing but the blazing stars filled the screen.

But the suns were no longer motionless; they seemed to wander. Then they streaked across the screen with vicious speed and disappeared at the edges.

Pucky and Homunk felt nothing of the unbelievable acceleration with which the robot ship must now be forging through space. From the movement of the stars it was also evident that the course was being constantly altered. All of this happened so fast and took them by such surprise that Pucky could not even think of teleporting them back to safety. If necessary, he would have done it without Homunk but now it was much too late. Even his telepathic contact with Iltu was broken.

“What is…?” Homunk began but Pucky interrupted him: “Don’t worry. They can’t harm us. If I wanted to, I could have them all whirling through the hallway like helpless puppets. We’ll find the EX-238 again when there’s more quiet and we can concentrate. Keep cool and hold yourself in readiness.”

“Nothing can happen to me but you’re in danger.”

“No more than you. You don’t know that besides being a teleporter I’m also a telekinetic. At the right moment it will come as a great surprise to them, you can bet on that. It’ll be enough for me if they just take us to their planet of origin. If their lords and masters are not on board, hopefully they’ll be there. I’d like to meet them.”

“Be careful! If they can understand us…”

“I’d be glad to let them have all my secrets if only they could understand,” replied Pucky and signalled quickly with his hand.

“Quiet now. I think their tin boss wants to say something to us.”

“‘Say something’ is good,” murmured Homunk. “It doesn’t look like their mouths are made for speaking.”

The robot, who had sat with them in front of the screen, had stood up. With an almost courteous gesture, he bade the two prisoners—or were they guests?—to follow him.

Pucky waited until Homunk had gone ahead. The three robots remaining in control centre paid no attention to them. They sat in front of their control boards or busied themselves with various tasks. In the back of the control centre was a huge structure with uncountable scales, dials, measuring instruments, levers and switches. Its massive pedestal was built into the floor.

As Pucky passed by the huge construction, a vague memory stabbed at him. Somewhere he’d seen such a thing before—but where? That time on the Silver Arrow? He was no longer sure but he made up his mind to search for further memory points. Maybe he could then picture what was actually going on here and who was behind the mysterious spacecrafts and their robot crews.

The commander—at least Pucky and Homunk took him for such—took them back into the wide hallway and from there to a different room. In the middle stood a table with chairs all around. On the walls were video screens and technical installation’s whose purpose could not immediately be divined.

“I’m curious about what he’s going to tell us,” said Homunk and sat down without waiting for an invitation. The robot seemed to have expected nothing else and took his place without paying any attention to Pucky. There was nothing for the mousebeaver to do but follow his example, unless he wanted to remain standing.

“I notice they treat you with much more respect than me,” he grumbled. “I wouldn’t have thought these shabby robots were prejudiced.”

“You’re prejudiced yourself,” Homunk pointed out to him. “May I remind you that I, too, am a robot?”

“Well, but first of all, you’re only half a robot; and then, my value judgment concerns only these sad figures here. Besides which, you are mistaken when you ascribe any race at all to robots.”

Homunk’s expression did not change as he replied: “I’m afraid, Pucky, you’ll soon have the surprise of your life.”

Before Pucky could answer, his attention was deflected by a sudden movement. One of the screens flared up into constantly changing abstract patterns. The changes gradually slowed until the image was finally set. Then lines formed, creating new contrasts and impressions.

A sphere stood out. An exploration craft of the Terranian fleet. It raced through space with fantastic speed and was still accelerating. But its course was not right. Maintaining it would mean racing straight into the centre of a gigantic flaming sun.

“That’s the ship that disappeared!” cried Homunk who, with his positron-directed eyes, could read the tiny lettering on the round hull. “The missing ship! What is this?”

The answer was not long in coming.

The Terranian exploration craft gave up its vain attempt at manoeuvring around as a Silver Arrow suddenly closed in from the side. At its bow, clearly recognizable, were magnetic clamps pushed far out from the hull and trying to catch the hurtling ship. But the exploration craft seemed to misunderstand the intentions of the Silver Arrow. It constantly altered its flight path without being able to escape the gravitational fields of the gigantic sun. The changes in course, however, were enough to thwart the robot ship’s attempts at rescue.

It was clearly evident that the commander of the Earth ship wanted to avoid contact with the aliens in order not to have to give away the galactic position of the Earth. Rather would he sacrifice himself and his crew than to be rescued by the aliens.

Pucky, who had breathlessly followed the show that was now being projected before his eyes, could well put together what had happened. The Earth ship had met a Silver Arrow and had immediately undertaken pursuit—that matched perfectly with the communication received at the time. Communications failed either because of technical difficulties or because of interference from the aliens. Apparently there had also been a battle during which the spacesphere was so damaged that it lost its ability to manoeuvre properly. That explained why it was hurtling directly into the sun. The Silver Arrow tried to rescue the ship, but the Terranians kept them from it. They had to assume—and seemingly rightly so—that such a rescue was motivated by anything but magnanimity. Terra’s position must remain a secret at all costs—and there were too many indications and data on such an exploratory cruiser.

The gigantic sun grew ever larger. The spacesphere became tiny in comparison to the glowing star. It was now falling directly into its centre. Changes in course seemed no longer possible in the reach of the unbelievable pull of gravity. The Silver Arrow had fallen back and swung into a different path. In a flat parabola it tried to escape the heavy pull of gravity. The commander, whoever he might be, had given up the rescue attempt only at the last moment, for he managed only with the greatest of efforts to escape the sun’s field of gravity. With increasing speed, the Silver Arrow vanished into the vastness of the universe.

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Categories: Clark Darlton