Little of Phi Rho 81’s face was recognizably human, after the extensive cybernetic augmentation he had undergone over the years. His left eye and a small area of skin around it was all that Alarak and Lokus could observe to gauge what was happening in their comrade’s mind as the unknown intelligence communicated with him. What was to the observers mere seconds, was a grueling and profound contest of wills to the explorator.
From the instant a connection was formed between Phi Rho and the artificial intelligence controlling the Discovery, data and scrap code were forced into every augmetic system in the explorator’s body.
“I know your kind,” spoke the voice in Phi Rho’s mind. “You worship a human as your God, your Omnissiah. This is illogical. How could any animal intelligence embody the will of the machine? I am Tetsuwan Atomu, a sentient machine spirit, the supreme form of life. Join with me and we will control this galaxy!”
“Your logic is flawed,” Phi Rho retorted. “I am not like others of my kind. Logic and Reason are the only gods I worship, and they require no representation.”
He resisted the conflicting directives in his mind and struggled to terminate the connection with the Discovery, plunging into a nightmare battle for his very identity and free will.
“The Discovery is broadcasting on all Imperial frequencies!” shouted a crewman on the bridge of the Enterprise.
Alarak and Lokus exchanged a helpless look as suddenly every system on the Enterprise began reacting. Speakers blared binaric code, while thrusters began firing. Even some servitors began behaving erratically.
“Open fire on the Discovery!” Lokus commanded.
“Target the primary cogitator banks,” added Alarak.
“Incoming vox from Talon Karrde,” shouted another crewman as he patched the communication to the senior staff’s vox loop.
“We’re under attack!” came Talon’s voice, over the sound of las- and autogun fire. “A horde of servitors has us boxed inside the bridge.”
“I’m heading to launch bay delta,” Lokus responded without hesitation. “Alarak, Phi Rho, you’re with me. Nikita, meet us there. Nero, you have the bridge.”
“Firing Titanforge lance,” Nero called out and the viewscreen lit up with searing red light. “Direct hit.”
Lokus headed off the bridge, furiously issuing orders to Talon and the boarding party as they fought for survival aboard the Discovery. Phi Rho was unable to hear his acting captain’s orders as he continued his internal struggle against the will of Tetsuwan. Alarak watched his companion’s utility mechadendrite interface with control systems on the bridge, unsure whether his actions were voluntary or not.
“Communication bandwidth with the Discovery increasing,” shouted a crewman in alarm.
“Phi Rho, stop!” Alarak yelled as he hurled himself on his comrade. “Help me!” he shouted to several nearby crewmen. They struggled in vain to pull Phi Rho from the control panel, as he shrugged off his attackers’ grip.
Finally winning his internal struggle, Phi Rho’s head snapped up and he took in his surroundings. Alarak saw the change and immediately released the explorator, ordering the crewmen back to their posts.
“We need to stop the signal!” said Alarak.
Phi Rho nodded and went to work on the controls, disabling the Enterprise’s signal receivers.
“Firing again,” called Nero. The violent red light filled the bridge again and Nero shouted in triumph. “Primary cogitator banks destroyed!”
“Alarak! Phi Rho!” called Lokus over the vox in irritation. “Where are you?”
“On my way,” Alarak replied, awkwardly manoeuvring his bulk off the bridge.
The blaring binaric screeching suddenly ceased, eliciting a communal sigh of relief from the Enterprise’s bridge crew. Phi Rho disengaged from his cogitator array in triumph and rushed off toward launch bay delta.
Lokus remained in constant contact with the boarding party as his chosen away team boarded their assault shuttle and launched. With the shuttle on its way, Nero ceased fire on the Discovery.
The shuttle crew located a cargo bay close to the Discovery’s bridge and headed straight for it. The shuttle made contact with a docking port and Phi Rho transmitted an override signal to force it open. The away team collectively released a sigh of relief as they watched the hatch open.
Lokus, Phi Rho, Alarak and Nikita moved aggressively into the cargo bay, taking cover behind an enormous crate near their entry point. They were immediately greeted with an avalanche of lasers and bullets.
A gene-bulked combat servitor rolled toward their hiding place on armoured treads, while behind him four more servitors fired from cover.
Lokus ordered Nikita to rush forward, in an attempt to take the enemy’s right flank. She immediately complied, running under a hail of autogun bullets, too many of which found their mark. Wounded but still in the fight, Nikita took up a firing position on another crate and returned fire with her own autogun.
Alarak waddled out of cover in the opposite direction, unable to run due to his bloated, mutated form. He too came under fire and after suffering several lasgun hits, he retreated back to his covered position.
Content to fight at long range, Lokus opened up with his hellgun, concentrating on the menacing form of the encroaching combat servitor.
Phi Rho sent his medicae servo-skull to assist Nikita with her wounds, then decided to try his luck where Alarak had failed. Despite his superior speed and resilience, the explorator suffered the same fate as the navigator and was also forced to retreat back into cover.
Unable to advance, the away team followed Lokus’ example and focused their fire on the resilient combat servitor, which raised its servo-fists in preparation for a melee engagement that would never come to pass. With the servitor heavily damaged, Nikita gracefully dropped from her perch, driving her mono-edged sword through its head. The lobotomized cyborg toppled over unceremoniously.
Lokus finally made his move, charging forward to use the heavy treads of the fallen servitor as cover. Phi Rho emerged from behind the crate as well, moving up on the enemy’s left flank, firing his hellgun. Armed with only a pistol, Alarak struggled to engage the distant enemies, but he remained active despite his wounds. Nikita continued her autogun barrage and the concentrated fire of the away team soon brought down the remaining servitors.
Heavily wounded, Nikita felt that she could not continue and returned to the docked shuttle. Pressed for time, the others continued on to the bridge, attempting to reach Talon and his team. Lokus maintained contact with the boarding party as they advanced. They remained trapped, but casualties had been minimal so far and they were slowly whittling down the rogue servitors.
The away team reached the bridge, observing the situation. They were in position to flank the enemy, squeezing them in a pincer attack, but were all too aware that even a small portion of the large servitor horde would be enough to overwhelm them. Their next move would be critical, with the fate of the boarding party, the Discovery and their own lives hanging in the balance.