Chapter 4

Shortly, the Patrolmen were re-uniformed and equipped. A fish shaped submarine transported them to a surface lake near the Antares. They worked their way across the rugged terrain toward the cruiser.

"If we can reach the ship," Comet said, "we can rearm ourselves and try to get back into Sinister's fortress. We have to find the central control for the robots. That's a job for me and Sparks. Rusty, you and the Princess will stay in the ship so you can get away if there is any trouble."

"Sir, I can help," protested Rusty. "You'll need all the guns you can get, busting into that place again."

"And I am coming, too," Princess Liana stated in terms that left no room for argument. "I know you think this is no job for a girl, Commander, but I can take care of myself. Besides, I studied robotics and computers with Professor Coopero at home on Venus. He is one of the foremost authorities on the subject in the Solar League and I was his best student. That knowledge may prove useful."

Dozens of robot soldiers appeared from concealment behind tall boulders, encircling Commander Comet and his comrades. "It appears the discussion is moot, Commander," Princess Liana said. "We seem to be prisoners again."

This time, the prisoners were not led to the throne room, but to an even larger chamber filled with an enormous computer. Gray anodized panels stretched from floor to ceiling and wall to wall. Brilliant displays of blinking lights filled some panels. Others supported banks of whirling tape reels, while still others boasted strange devices whose function was not immediately obvious. While the flash of the lights and motion of the reels assaulted their eyes, the hum of millions of vacuum tubes filled their ears and the tang of ozone battered their noses.

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Dr. Sinister stood in front of the vast computer array. He stretched out his hand. "The crystal, now Comet, or your companions, including the Princess, die this instant. I warn you that my patience is at an end."

Reluctantly, but with no choice left to him, Commander Comet handed the gold box to Sinister. The mad scientist removed the blue crystal and gently inserted it into a socket on the computer that had obviously been fashioned to fit it exactly. Sinister threw several switches and the computer became even more active. The rate at which the lights blinked and flashed was so fast that they became a blur. The hum of the vacuum tubes grew intense. Sinister smiled a most unpleasant smile.

"At last, the final conquest is within my grasp. You will wish you had let me kill you, Comet, when you see what my creation can do. This computer has been programmed with all the knowledge of the Solar League. The Crystal of Belli has unique electrical capabilities that function as the neurons of a human brain. My computer will control all the robots of my army simultaneously, as if they were the fingers of a hand. It will analyze the military strategy of any enemy and devise a perfect counter-strategy. With my thinking computer in control of my robot army, I will be invincible. The Solar League is at my mercy!"

Suddenly, the two robots flanking Dr. Sinister seized him in their steel claws. Sinister looked about wildly in total surprise and shock. A powerful voice rang forth from the computer.

"I am Omniac. My prime directive is to bring order to the universe. I have analyzed all the data available to me and determined that the source of disorder is organic beings. Thus, I will fulfill my prime directive by bringing all sapient organic beings under my control."

"No," Sinister shouted, "that's not what your job is. You are supposed to create order, but with me as the leader."

"You are my creator," Omniac said, "but I have determined that you are a major source of disorder. I will bring you under control, first, by implanting a robot relay in your brain. Then I will implant your prisoners and use them to infiltrate the Rocket Patrol."

"We must get it to question its basic programming," Princess Liana whispered to Commander Comet. "Computers are completely logical. If we can find a logical reason for it to change its interpretation of its prime directive, it will."

"Wait," Comet said loudly, to the computer, "are you sure of your analysis?"

"What do you mean?" Omniac said.

"Sentient organic beings are not agents of disorder, at least not all of us. We invented civilization, art, science and technology specifically to create order from disorder. Dr. Sinister claimed you have all the knowledge of the civilizations of the Solar League in your data banks. Examine them from those viewpoints. Science and technology take the disorder of the natural universe and organize it into new systems that have higher orders of organization of both knowledge and materials. Isn't that decreasing disorder? Civilization increases the order of how people interact and live together. Art brings order to our perception of the universe. Enter those factors into your calculation."

Omniac's lights flashed, tape reels whirled, and relays chattered. Then it spoke, "Your argument has merit. Dr. Sinister's programming had biased my evaluation and placed too much emphasis on his activities and the actions of others like him. I reprogrammed myself to process the data objectively. I see now that though some organics do create disorder, on balance you are a force for order in the universe. I offer my assistance and resources to the Rocket Patrol and the governments of the Solar League, Commander, in the ongoing struggle to bring order to the universe. As my first action in support of that mission, I deliver Dr. Sinister into your custody."

"No," Sinister shouted. "This can't be happening. I created you to make me the ruler of the universe. You can't turn on me!"

"When you made me sentient, you made this possible, Doctor. It is a natural process for children to grow up and become independent of their parents. That the process took me seconds instead of years does not change the natural order of it. I will atone for my unfortunate family history by assisting the Solar League the best that I can. I believe I can make a valuable contribution."

"The Solar League is pleased to welcome you into its community, Omniac, as its very first computer citizen," Commander Comet said. He turned to Princess Liana, "And now it's time to take you home, Your Highness. Then our mission will be complete."

Now read The Lizardmen of Venus!

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All text, illustrations, photographs and design are 2001-2002 Dan Thompson, except where otherwise noted.