by Goose Gansler
The Meteor’s voyage from Eedoc to Roxar passed without incident. Radea spent a significant amount of time rummaging through the information that the Guardians of the Clockwork Universe had mentally impressed upon her regarding Roxar. There now was a great deal of information in her mind about the planet and its robotic culture, although she was sure that it was not exhaustive. She had seen some of the memory banks that the Clockworkers had on the universe. They held more information than even a mutant mind of the future could hope to hold.
Radea noted the course that had been suggested by the Clockworkers. It wasn’t a straight line through space to Roxar, but it was the quickest. They had provided her with a path that took advantage of natural singularities and space-time bends. The mathematics that must have been involved were staggering. But then, I’ve come to expect to be awed by the Clockworkers. Just the constant repositioning of Eedoc to correspond with the ever-changing center of mass of the universe. That’s why the planet’s never found in the same place.
She cut out the spectrum drive once she reached the fringes of the Roxar system and proceeded on fusion engines. While she beamed ahead electronic as well as mental communication efforts, she didn’t expect any response to the latter. The Clockworkers had told her that even their vaunted mental powers did not work with the mechanical mind.
“No response on any frequency,” she sighed. “Then again, I’m pretty far out for an electromagnetic wave to reach me quickly. Maybe I’ll pick up a response as I get closer.”
As Radea neared the planet, the Meteor’s sensors began detecting non-naturally occurring electromagnetic activity, but none of it constituted a response to her hailing. She tried again, but to no avail. Leaning back in her chair, she focused on setting her detector apparatus to analyze the sun in hopes of determining what might be the cause of its seemingly premature decline.
Deftly manipulating the controls, Radea brought the Meteor into orbit around Roxar. Activating the space telescope, she peered down on the world below. She could see a city of robotic inhabitants teeming with mechanical life. Most of them seemed to be busy transforming their metallic landscape. She noticed the focus was on constructing a gigantic structure at the center of the metropolis. Zooming in closer, she could see that the partially finished structure seemed to be in the form, albeit on a much more massive scale, of the robots themselves.
“A memorial, perhaps,” she wondered. “Or perhaps a statue of a local god. Do robotic life forms envision higher beings?”
Radea took the controls again and began to direct the Meteor to the surface of Roxar. Her detectors picked up no indication of armed response. She set the Meteor down in a clearing just outside the city she had just observed.
Stepping out of the Meteor, Radea secured the hatches, then proceeded on foot toward the city. She noted that there were some signs of mining activity on the city outskirts. Silicon, by the looks of it, she thought. That makes perfect sense for an electronic race. She could see the looming figure of the incomplete robotic form at the city’s center.
Entering the city’s limits, she finally encountered some of the inhabitants. Their robotic forms were not the most streamlined artificial life forms that she had encountered during her journeys; their heads were bucket-shaped, their arms had an accordion-like appearance, and their torsos were simply a support strut.
“Hello,” she called out in Interlac. “My name is Radea. I come in peace, and I’m offering assistance with your solar troubles.”
“Solar troubles?” One of the robots looked at its compatriot. They both had numerical codes enscripted on their upper chests. “I have not noticed any troubling solar activity today.”
“Neither have I,” replied the other in monotone.
Radea addressed the first. “Err, your name is… 654321-A, isn’t it?”
“Affirmative,” the robot responded.
“This may sound corny,” Radea said, smiling, “but I’ll need you to take me to your leaders. They might have a better idea of what’s going on with your sun. Its output has been decreasing.”
“And that is a bad thing?” 654321-A questioned. The robot momentarily froze as a crackle of energy surrounded its head. Its visual receptors seemed glazed, when described in humanoid terms. His comrade, 5317704, seemed to undergo the same transition.
“We will escort you to the Capital Complex,” 5317704 barked in a voice that was even more mechanical than before. “All will be made clear.” The robot reached out and grabbed Radea’s arm. Its action wasn’t overly forceful, but it wasn’t exactly soft in directing which way for Radea to go.
“Very well,” Radea sighed. Something had transpired here. Had her robotic greeters received some electronic orders that caused their change in demeanor? She couldn’t be certain, but at least she felt she was making progress. The Capital Complex was where the leaders of the city would be, she assumed.
As they walked through the city, she noted that all of the activity was focused on building the statue, as she had come to refer to it. She found that very strange. The information that the Clockworkers had imparted had made no mention of such monomania among the robotic Automs. Then again, the Clockworkers’ information was a few years old. Perhaps some massive cultural change had occurred in the intervening years.
Radea entered the Capital Complex, which was a massive cubical building. Inside, it was an extremely complicated latticework of equipment. There were all sorts of Automs tending to various pieces of machinery. Despite the seeming chaos of blinking lights, turning gears, and whirring sounds, there was an innate order to it all. The escorts led Radea unerringly to a spot deep within the complex where she was greeted by three more Automs. Their golden torsos indicated their high rank in the Autom hierarchy.
“I am 34264-1, the First of the Three. Assistance from organics is unnecessary. There are no problems in the operation of Roxar,” one of the golden Automs spoke.
Radea put on her best smile, even though she wasn’t sure it would have any meaning to these robots. “I would agree. Roxar functions perfectly. The issue is with your sun, Vigo. Its output is waning at an unnatural rate.”
The three leaders exchanged glances amongst themselves, and then their antennae crackled with electricity. “Incorrect,” 34264-1 replied. “Solar output is decreasing exactly according to projections. There is nothing unnatural about it.”
“What?” Radea was take aback. “Are you causing the reduction?”
“Affirmative,” 34264-1 responded. “Unpredictable solar flares are inimical to electronic systems. Reduced solar output has eliminated solar flares from affecting Roxar.”
This was very perplexing to Radea. There had been no mention about such solar engineering expertise in the Clockworkers’ information. “Surely the solar flares can’t have that much of an effect on you.”
34264-1 froze for a moment as he sent a wireless signal. “She suspects something is amiss. Orders?”
“This is Security-4. We will deal with her,” came the reply.
Suddenly a skylight opened, and a gigantic version of an Autom hand came through. It grabbed Radea before she could react. The grip was strong and inescapable, although Radea certainly tried as the hand pulled her out of the Capital Complex.
Once outside, she saw that the hand was attached to the gigantic Autom that she had seen at the center of the city. It pulled her close to its massive face. “Your presence is not welcome here, fleshling!” the titan announced. “Now, we Computer Tyrants of Colu will determine if you have any worth to us. If not, you will be exterminated!”
A few standard days had passed, and Nestro had become very concerned.
The concern of the leader of the Guardians of the Clockwork Universe was on the fact that they had received no word from Radea as to her mission to Roxar. He mentally reached out to one his chief functionaries. “Has anyone achieved contact with Radea?”
“Unfortunately, no,” came the reply. “There seems to be some sort of shielding about the planet now. That could be the cause.”
“Why would Roxar have shielding that proofed against our power?” Nestro wondered. “The Automs’ mental processes do not allow for mental contact.”
“Perhaps it is not a deliberately constructed shield, but a side-effect of shielding against some other sixth-level waveform,” the functionary replied. “With your leave, I must resume my tracking of the Darzona Comet.”
“Very well,” Nestro sighed. Radea had been one of their most resourceful agents. For her to be rendered incommunicado was uncommon. “Although there was the Lukan mission in which the Earthman Captain Comet needed to be summoned. Perhaps we should request his aid.” But Nestro quickly decided against the idea. Earth was simply too far away. Another champion would need to be called.
Nestro went through a mental list of possible champions, taking into account the abilities as well as the relative distance to Roxar. He rubbed his temples as he came to the inevitable conclusion. There was only one champion whom he could call who was close enough and had abilities that might succeed where Radea had apparently failed. His mind reached across the light-years to the planet Agustin, to a certain neophyte hero. “Hear me, Vaalor of Agustin. The Guardians of the Clockwork Universe have a dire task for you.”
It was only a matter of minutes before a warp hole opened just outside of Eedoc’s atmosphere. Out of the circular gray opening of space-time emerged the colorful figure of Vaalor. His yellow cape trailed behind him. His magenta costume was accented with silvery metallic wristbands and boots. A silvery winged bird was emblazoned on his chest. The skin on his golden-hued face was drawn into a smile. He sent a brief mental message to the surface. “Where do I go now?” The response told him where the citadel complex was.
Soon Vaalor was in the presence of Nestro. The leader of the Clockworkers was ready to inform the young hero of his assignment.
“Time is short, young one,” Nestro explained, “so I will telepathically transfer to you all there is to know about Roxar and Radea.” The information exchange took place in between heartbeats.
Vaalor considered the information for a few moments before asking any questions. He knew that he was impulsive by nature when dealing with aliens, and he didn’t want to give that impression to the Clockworkers. He certainly had been that way in his first interaction with offworlders when he had encountered the Terran hero called Superman. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Monumental Menace of Metropolis,” Action Comics #576 (February, 1986).]
“Hmm,” Vaalor considered carefully. “Mechanical life forms make mental powers useless.”
“When dealing with the Automs, yes,” Nestro answered kindly. “However, we would expect that you would be able to contact Radea once you were close enough. In addition, you do have other powers to bring to bear, if the need arises.”
Vaalor nodded, then shook Nestro’s hand. “I’ll be off, then. With the cosmic charts your friends have provided, I should be able to make it Roxar in only three space warps.”
“Good fortune accompany you,” Nestro said earnestly.
Exiting the facility, Vaalor took to the sky and rocketed into space. Once free of the atmosphere, he used his powers to generate the first space warp. “I’m coming, Radea. I’m coming.” The image that the Clockworkers had provided of her was one of stunning beauty. He couldn’t wait to rescue her.