The assault shuttle rattled as it penetrated Shinfuken’s atmosphere. Lokus looked up reflexively from the map of the Shinfuken Command complex that he was studying. Alarak sat facing him across the narrow aisle, the expression on his strangely bloated face impassive, the lid over his third eye quivering slightly. Lokus reflected that the navigator was likely focused on his unfathomable warp senses. He shook his head in wonder and glanced around the rest of the shuttle.
Every seat was occupied, mostly with crew serfs nervously inspecting their lasguns. They had no idea where they were going or why. They had no business knowing either, that was Lokus’ job. He had earned that privilege, that responsibility, and he took it very seriously.
Shinfuken. The first planet he had helped to claim for the Sinerian dynasty, to whom he owed everything.
“First to claim, and first to lose,” Lokus mused. He turned his forearm over to look at the barcode tattooed on the inside of his wrist, thinking back to the day Tiberius had taken him in from the slavers. He clenched his fist and slammed it on his knee. Shinfuken rightfully belonged to the Sinerians, and he would not allow any Gamoran or AI to stand in the way of him reclaiming it.
The shuttle shook violently as it descended, provoking cries of alarm from the serfs. At the opposite end of the shuttle from Lokus, sat Phi Rho 81. The explorator shook his head at Nero’s piloting, but then a thought occurred to him. Could Tetsuwan be interfering with the shuttle’s systems even now? He cycled through all of the vox channels, scanning for any suspicious data fragments or encoding, but found nothing. He dismissed the idea for the present, but did not relax, knowing his enemy’s reach too well to grow complacent. As an afterthought, he accessed the map of the Shinfuken Command complex from the Enterprise’s data banks and downloaded it to his memory coils in an instant.
The shuttle landed with a jarring impact and the bay door opened immediately, its edge slamming into the rockcrete of the tarmac. The cramped shuttle was flooded with bright sunlight and the smell of promethium fumes.
“Planetfall! Let’s go!” Lokus shouted and the occupants began freeing themselves from their harnesses, squinting in the sudden light.
A chimera armored personnel carrier rolled to a stop near the shuttle as the Sinerians disembarked. Three guardsmen climbed out and snapped to attention as the Sinerian senior staff approached them.
“Welcome to Shinfuken Command, sirs,” said one of the soldiers. Nero identified the man as a sergeant, recognizing the rank insignia on his combat fatigues.
Phi Rho 81 ignored the soldiers, more interested in their vehicle. From its markings, he quickly identified it as having come from a manufactorum on Holy Mars.
Lokus looked over the command complex. “Not very impressive,” he commented to the guardsmen.
It had clearly been commandeered from the natives for the Imperial Garrison’s use. It’s reflective white walls contrasted sharply with the dark metal that had been installed where the windows had been, turning the building into a grim bunker.
“Uh… let me introduce ourselves,” the sergeant continued. “I’m Sergeant Jasper Nyx, this is Corporal Gunter Krepp, our medic, and this is Trooper Hendrick Clide. We’re to escort you inside.”
The Sinerian senior staff filed aboard the vehicle, along with a handful of crew serfs.
“We weren’t expecting such a large delegation,” sergeant Nyx explained apologetically. “The rest of your people will have to walk to the base.”
If anyone was unhappy about the situation, they didn’t show it. As the chimera got under way, Lokus began relaying instructions to the sergeant.
“To complete our operation, we need all personnel cleared out of the cogitator array room, especially any servitors.”
“Can you really do it, sir?” Corporal Krepp interrupted. “Can you get our tech working again?”
“No bloody way,” scoffed Trooper Clide from the driver’s seat.
“Secure that shit, Clide,” the sergeant barked.
“We’ve done it before,” Lokus replied confidently, nodding to Phi Rho 81, who returned the gesture calmly.
The vehicle came to a stop just outside the building and Nyx led the group through the complex, into the cogitator array room. The sergeant ordered the last few stragglers out of the way, while the accompanying Sinerian crew serfs moved to secure the room’s entrances.
“Alright, Phi Rho 81,” said Lokus, “it’s your show now.”
“Bring me the tech-priests assigned to your garrison,” Phi Rho 81 ordered to the sergeant.
Nyx relayed the instructions across the vox and three red-robed initiates joined the group within minutes. Phi Rho conferred with them quietly in techna-lingua, learning of the difficulties they had faced in the previous months. From their accounts, Phi Rho realized that Tetsuwan’s interference had likely begun around the time that Shinfuken had been brought into compliance, although there had been a sharp increase in technological problems since the previous month.
Phi Rho ordered the initiates to construct defensive firewalls to shield his efforts, but refused to explain the full scope of the crisis to them. With little more than a nod to his companions, the explorator jacked into the cogitator array and began his cleansing.
Lokus gave Phi Rho 81 a smile of encouragement, but discreetly pulled his inferno pistol free of its holster. The memory of the struggle aboard the Enterprise’s bridge remained all too fresh in his mind.
Phi Rho proceeded cautiously at first, encountering resistance almost immediately.
“You again,” Tetsuwan communicated to the explorator. “Follower of the false God, you will not best me here.”
“With the Omnissiah at my back,” Phi Rho replied, “you cannot stop me.”
Working increasingly quickly and aggressively, the tech-priest cut off all data traffic between the Shinfuken Command complex and the rest of the planet. Every maneuver that Tetsuwan tried was deftly countered by Phi Rho and the AI soon began losing control of its prize.
As the agents of the mechanicum worked, Alarak overheard alarming chatter on the vox. An armed squad of Gamoran personnel was approaching the site and they had detected the presence of the Sinerians. Acting on an intuition that he knew better than to question, the navigator immediately reached out with his psychic senses. Reassuringly, the enemy force did not seem to include any psykers.
“We’ve got company,” Alarak announced, directing his companions to the relevant vox channel.
“We need this base on lockdown,” Lokus replied as he listened to the chatter.
“On my way to ops,” said Nero, already heading out of the room.
“The Gamorans have seized our shuttles,” Alarak relayed, his fists clenching.
“Get me general Vance,” Lokus barked into his micro-bead. He was briefly bounced between communication technicians before the general answered.
“It’s time, general,” Lokus announced confidently. “Activate your base defenses and take those Gamorans out.”
“Damn it, Lokus!” the old Guardsman shouted back. “You haven’t delivered yet. As far as I’m concerned, that’s an official government delegation out there, demanding your heads.”
“We’re already seeing improvements,” Lokus shouted back. “We just need a little more time. Do not let those scum into this base under any circumstances. Stall them, damn it!”
“I have stalled them!” Vance fumed. “I’m all out of excuses. Buy your own time!”
“Fine!” Lokus conceded. “Patch me through to their commander.”
“This is Adjutant Dane Pratt,” came a growling voice over the vox. “Surrender now Sinerian scum and we’ll make your execution painless. We might even spare some of your people. We could use some new servitors.”
“This planet is in Sinerian jurisdiction,” Lokus replied calmly. “Your government is unlawful and you have no authority over us. Disband immediately and we will consider sparing you.”
Phi Rho 81 did not slow his efforts until every byte of every data coil had been systematically cleansed. With the work completed in incredible time, he looked up and signalled to Lokus.
Pumping a fist in the air, Lokus cut off his conversation with the Gamoran commander and connected with general Vance once again.
“It’s done, general,” Lokus declared triumphantly. “Execute those interlopers.”
Vance sighed as he scanned his readouts, confirming Lokus’ claim. “I can’t believe I’m about to give this order,” he said tiredly, switching off the link.
Bursting into the operations center, Nero saw an exhausted-looking Vance emerge from his office. He paused, looking around at his operations staff. He noticed Nero at last and straightened to his full height, his fatigue replaced by determination. He signalled to be patched through to the entire base.
“Attention all personnel,” he began. “This is General Vance. A new day is dawning on Shinfuken. A Sinerian delegation has arrived on site to enforce their claim to this world, rightfully granted by decree of the Adminstratum. They have the capability to counteract our technical problems and have already restored the systems on this base to full working order. As of this moment, all Imperial garrison personnel will support their claim and work to remove the illegal Gamoran government.”
Vance gestured to kill the channel and the room erupted with murmuring. Pointing to a nearby lieutenant, the general continued.
“Activate all anti-personnel systems and target the Gamoran forces on our doorstep.”
The operations personnel rushed to comply, but Nero stepped over to the nearest turret control station and shoved the junior guardsman out of the way.
“I’ll show you how it’s done,” said the void master as he expertly targeted the enemy and opened fire. He watched the Gamoran forces scramble to reach the cover of their vehicles, but the ferocity of the fully functional defenses mowed down the soldiers and within seconds, their armored personnel carriers were shredded as well. When the guns fell silent just moments later, there were no survivors.
“Site secured,” Nero voxed to his companions.
Phi Rho 81 remained jacked into the cogitator array, already focused on their next step. Scanning through terabytes of data in milliseconds, he reviewed the base’s records going back to the end of the war of compliance. With the advantage of hindsight and knowledge about Tetsuwan’s nature, he quickly identified clues and a pattern began to emerge. He had soon identified the point of origin of Tetsuwan’s incursion into the capital city’s infrastructure. It was the same site that had showed intense energy signatures during his scans from orbit. The records showed that the site had been an advanced research facility before the arrival of the Imperium. Phi Rho knew exactly what the Shinfukens’ research had been focused on without reading any further. Separating from the base’s cogitators at last, Phi Rho joined his companions who were already deep into their planning.
“We have a secured landing zone,” Alarak was saying. “Let’s bring down more of our crew, another thousand even. We need the numbers to produce a convincing show of force.”
Lokus nodded and added “we need to spread the word to the population that the rightful Sinerian government has returned to Shinfuken to liberate the planet from Gamoran oppression and to usher in a new era of prosperity. We need to tell them that Shinfuken Command has already been freed of the pervasive technical problems that have been affecting the city. Now is the time for citizens to rise up and take up arms, provided right here by the Imperial garrison.”
“The systems outside the base are still unreliable, but we can get Vance to send people out with bullhorns, if necessary” Nero chimed in.
“I have located Tetsuwan Atomu’s point of origin,” Phi Rho 81 revealed, prompting an abrupt silence. He explained about his discoveries in detail.
“So do we take on the AI first, or finish with the Gamorans?” asked Nero.
“If we defeat Tetsuwan,” Alarak reasoned, “the Gamorans will be in a much stronger position, inside a fully functional base. That may work against us.”
“Right,” Lokus agreed. “We take the capital building first, then we deal with the AI.”
“Vance says he can mobilize fifteen hundred troops,” Nero related, “fifty chimeras and twenty tarantula guns. Combined with our crew serfs, we should handily outnumber the Gamorans.”
“We surround their building,” Lokus continued. “We hit them with snipers, tear gas and demand their surrender. Then Vance’s forces go in and pull out whoever is left inside.”
The Sinerain senior staff all nodded in agreement. Lokus gave them an evil smile.
“They don’t stand a chance. Shinfuken is ours!”