The roads were becoming narrower and dirtier. He was leading them rapidly through so many side lanes and gullies it was becoming difficult to keep track. They were now fully at his mercy. No way would they be able to return to the hole without his help.
Soon they were in a ramshackle hut that looked like it would collapse any moment.
"Where have you brought us?" asked Ramya.
He did not reply. He just pointed towards something that must have once been a door but now looked more like a termite nest. Ajay shifted his feet nervously. Where had this fellow brought them? In their disappointment at not getting the information they sought, they had followed this stranger and now they were hopelessly lost in the shadiest by lanes of this land. If this had been back on their land, they were good as dead. Or worse. But hopefully these magic worlds were kinder. Anyways they had come all this way. Now only way was to go through with it.
They gingerly stepped in. They were hardly prepared for the sight that greeted them. Computers! Computers! Computers everywhere! The place looked like a grave yard of discarded computers. There were models from various times. There was even something that looked like the one that used punching cards that they had studied about in history of computer science at school. There were wires running criss cross across the room connecting the various machines. The place was so cramped - there was hardly room to move their feet.
"What brings you to the humble abode of omnius?" They were startled to suddenly hear a mechanical humming voice out of nowhere. They looked around for the source of sound and their eyes fell on a large rectangular machine that stood in the middle of the room like a little tower with six rectangular lights glowing on top.
"We.. we..," Vinod stammered. Having seen so many strange lands, a talking computer was not something that should have surprised them. But there was this strange uncanny feeling about this whole thing.
"Omnius shall not be kept waiting. Please answer."
They looked around for their guide. But he was nowhere to be seen. "We.. we wanted information."
"What illegal information do you seek that official channels can't provide that you come seeking Omnius."
"We wanted to know how to get our friend Smelly back to the land of odors."
"That is an answer you seek - not information. Computers are not Gods or seers."
"You can't help us then?"
"Did I say so? I said computers are not Gods or Seers. But I am no computer. I am Omnius."
"Please tell us how we can get him back?"
"And what will I get if I do?"
"We have only thirty thousand credits with us."
"What need does a God have for useless mortal currency?"
"We can share information about our world?"
"Ha Ha Ha!" The computer seemed to vibrate violently. The four children huddled close together.
"You puny creatures presume to have information that Omnius does not have? I am Omnius, the omniscient and omnipotent. There is nothing I do not know."
"Then what do you want?"
"Gods want nothing. But only things puny humans can offer is their worship. For their own good. Wisdom has value only if truly earned. Will you be the devotees and promise to proffer unfaltering service?"
"We will," said Ramya hastily before the computer could finish.
"For the next twenty years. For twenty years, you shall be mine and shall run errands like old Rattus here."
The shady man who had lead them had returned.
"Your have new companions, Rattus. Take them with you and explain their duties to them."
"Omnius entertains no Ifs and Buts. Complete your service and return to me. You shall have your answer."
The man motioned them to follow him.
"What do we do now?" he whispered as they emerged out of hut.
"Let us run"
"But can we find our way?"
"Doesn't matter if we can't. We will get somewhere. Things can't get worse than they are."
That was true. Ajay could not imagine too many things worse than being stuck in a weird land, running errands for a megalomaniac machine."
"When I say go, run like crazy. But take care to stick together. If we are separated, we are doomed," whispered Vinod.
As soon as they had taken a few steps, "Go" yelled Vinod.
The Magical Cave I: A Cave in the Hills <<<< The Magical Cave XI: The Land of Knowledge >>>> The Magical Cave XIII: A stranger and an escape plant