Sinerian Renaissance – Episode 6

Alarak sat inside Vance’s command vehicle, listening to the general propose minor battle adjustments to Lokus. The plan had already been discussed and agreed upon, so the navigator had little interest in the final logistical details. He turned his attention instead to the cycling picter feed being displaying on a screen next to him. It showed various Imperial Guard sharpshooters as they took their positions inside the top floor of buildings neighboring the Capital Building. If the Gamorans noticed anything, they were giving no sign. Through the snipers’ picters, Alarak could just make out the main body of the Imperial and Sinerian infantry marching toward the foe, filling the streets in their thousands. Too few vehicles were functional to carry the entire force and there had been no time to have Phi Rho cleanse others of the AI’s influence one by one. It had been a slow advance and the Gamorans would certainly know what was coming for them.

The thought pleased Alarak. Let them squirm, he thought. But to their credit, the Gamorans had not scattered or gone into hiding. They were prepared to fight for their cause. Or at least, Alarak mused, the ones with the guns are.

“Main force is in position,” came a disembodied officer’s voice over the command loop. Vance cut off his conversation with Lokus.

“All vehicles, commence operations,” the general commanded.

Alarak felt the Chimera accelerate as it roared passed the foot soldiers. Within moments, the APC shuddered as its weapons unleashed a barrage against the fence encircling the Capital Building. He watched Nero grin as he fired the hull-mounted heavy bolter. An instant later, the vehicle exploded through what little remained of the protective fencing. Alarak glanced at the positioning readouts and saw that the target was already surrounded.

The Gamorans came alive, unleashing a deluge of light and heavy weapons fire. Lasgun blasts, exploding bolts, solid projectiles, grenades and rockets descended upon the armoured transports. The Imperial and Sinerian infantry fell into place, using the vehicles as cover and tightening the noose around the Gamorans’ collective neck.  

“What happened to demanding their surrender before opening fire?” Alarak shouted over the noise.

Nero continued firing gleefully, ignoring him.

“Too late for that,” Phi Rho 81’s voice came across the vox. The tech-priest had preferred to man the guns aboard a Mars-made Chimera, rather than joining his companions in the secondary command vehicle. The APC made to look like the primary command vehicle was merely a decoy, a precaution that the seneschal had insisted upon.  

Lokus shrugged and added, “now we grind them into paste.”

Alarak frowned but did not argue. The punishment continued for several minutes, until the rate of fire from inside the building began to dwindle. Lokus ordered a cease fire and took to his vehicle’s public address system.

“Attention Gamorran scum. This is your one chance to surrender. Exit the building in a peaceful and orderly fashion or face total obliteration. You have five minutes to comply.”

The battle field was still for a minute, everyone seeming to be holding their breath. Then a stream of people abruptly burst from the building, evacuating it with their hands above their heads.

Alarak watched Lokus quietly relaying orders to take them to the unarmed transports in the rear, outside the combat zone. Anyone wearing a Gamoran combat uniform was to be executed immediately but discreetly, out of sight.

The battle seemed all but won. Alarak glanced casually at the auspex readout, but frowned as he noticed a large number of blips. An alarmed voice suddenly shouted a warning across the vox.

“Shinfuken hover drones closing on our position from all sides!”

Alarak exchanged a look of confusion with Nero, but he saw recognition in General Vance’s eyes.

“Hover drones?” the navigator asked.

“During the war of compliance,” Vance answered quickly, “the Shinfuken forces deployed hordes of those drones to resist the Imperium. I thought I had seen the last of them.”

“This is Tetsuwan’s doing,” Alarak said into the vox as he watched the cloud of blips tightening the noose around them. His recent words advocating for dealing with the Gamorans, before trying to finish the AI, came to his mind. Had he been wrong to postpone dealing with the larger threat? Had he subconsciously sought to avoid the necessary destruction of that unique technology?

Deep down, he was still the navigator from the Omnissiah’s Vision, that rogue Mechanicum vessel where he had first met Phi Rho 81. Remembering his past now was like remembering a dream. No research had been taboo, no technology deemed heretical. Had their starfaring refuge not been obliterated by the Eldar, the Vision’s adepts would certainly have developed their own version of Tetsuwan Atomu eventually. A true AI, Alarak marvelled, not for the first time. What was it really like?

“Holy Enterprise,” Alarak heard Phi Rho’s voice. “Target Tetsuwan’s primary facility coordinates and fire the Titanforge lance.”

“Acknowledged, targeting,” came Hundred Eyes’ reply over the vox.

“Get everyone into the building,” Lokus ordered. “We abandon the vehicles and hole up in there.”

The seneschal climbed down from the Chimera and headed off, the other personnel close behind. Alarak followed, struggling to get his bulk moving quickly. Nero hung back with him, even as the Imperial troops rushed past. The sound of weapons fire erupted from inside the building and Alarak knew that a brutal close quarters massacre was under way, as the Imperials eliminated the Gamoran hold outs still inside.

“Just go,” Alarak wheezed.

“I’m not leaving you behind,” Nero replied, in a tone that brooked no argument.

The last of the Imperial troops were inside before Alarak and Nero reached the door, and the first of the Sinerian crew were catching up. The navigator looked behind as he entered the building and watched in horror for a moment as the hover drone swarm opened fire into the mass fleeing before them. Huge beams of energy coalesced and cut through human flesh without resistance. The first to die were the Gamoran prisoners, hoarded unknowingly into the path of the drones and abandoned to their fate. Sinerian crewmen were next, shredded as they attempted to reach the designated fallback position.

Alarak turned away from the massacre and headed further into the building. All around him, Imperial soldiers were taking up the firing positions taken from the Gamorans and retaliating against the encroaching robots. The navigator peered over a guardsman’s shoulder and saw the drones closing in. They were precisely spaced, creating a formation that looked like an enormous web. One row at a time, they hovered higher, slowly enveloping the building.

“Commencing bombardment,” Hundred Eyes communicated from orbit.

Alarak saw a bright glow in the distance, of what could only be the lance strike. He watched the drones, hoping to see an immediate impact. Instead of ceasing their attack, they continued firing in unison at regular intervals, energy beams sweeping across windows, accompanied by the screams of dying defenders. Every time a drone was destroyed, a replacement quickly filled its spot and the envelopment continued.

“We can’t hold here,” Alarak puffed into his micro-bead, still recovering from his rush into the building.

“The probability of this position being overrun is high,” Phi Rho 81 agreed.

“We need another way out,” Alarak continued.

“Searching…” replied the tech-priest. “Subterranean tunnels used for servicing building utility lines. Basement access.”

“Alright, everybody to the basement,” Lokus ordered. “Vance, have your people cover our retreat.”

Taking a deep breath, the navigator headed off again.

“I hate stairs,” he muttered as he descended and was passed by the surviving Sinerian serfs.

As he finally reached the bottom level, he saw Phi Rho and a pair of tech adepts, attached to the Imperial guard, setting charges against a hatch.

“Hatch controls are no longer responding,” Phi Rho explained as he ushered everyone out of the blast radius.

The explosion was small and contained, destroying only the hinges and seal. The tech-adepts waved in some Sinerian serfs who heaved the hatch lid out of the way.

“Into the tunnels!” Lokus commanded, taking a moment to address the room. “We retreat from the jaws of the enemy, but only to better strike at its heart!”

The rank and file around him seemed bolstered by his words and readied their weapons with relish. General Vance nodded in approval

Phi Rho 81 led the way into the tunnel, with Nero and Lokus close behind. Alarak headed for the ladder, but glanced over his shoulder as he heard lasguns firing from the top of the stairs. The navigator turned to Vance in concern.

“We’ll hold them for as long as we can,” the general replied, his face grim.

Alarak nodded mutely and descended, the surviving Sinerian serfs following him closely, eager to get away from the drones.

The Sinerian senior staff lead from the front, quick marching through the tunnels, weapons at the ready. They encountered no resistance and reached a hatch a kilometer from the Capital Building. After a brief discussion, the Sinerian senior staff agreed to leave the tunnel. They opened the hatch carefully and Alarak immediately signaled to the Holy Enterprise in orbit.

“Enterprise, do you read? We need shuttles at our current position,” he said.

“Acknowledged,” Hundred Eyes replied calmly, “shuttles inbound.”

They climbed through the hatch and found themselves in an abandoned parking lot. A loud humming sound reached them from the horde of drones in the distance. A moment after stepping out of the tunnel, the group noticed a change in sound. The Sinerian senior staff had just enough time to exchange knowing looks before the first of a splinter group of drones reached them.

The humans opened fire with their pistols and rifles, but the drones fired back, their searing beams slicing through clothing and tissue with ease, inflicting horrific wounds. The serfs emerged from the tunnel as the battle developed, contributing little effective damage and being torn apart.

The Sinerians dodged wildly in every direction, pumping out rounds as fast as possible. More and more drones were shot down. Happily, as their numbers dwindled, their beams lost most of their potency. The last few blasts did little more than warm the surface of the Sinerian staff’s armour.

With the last drone sparking and twitching on the hot pavement, the survivors assessed their wounds and separated the living from the dead. Alarak completed a rough head count and realized that nearly half of the serfs brought down to the surface had already perished.

A few minutes later, the shuttles landed in the parking lot and everyone rushed aboard without waiting for orders. Alarak followed Phi Rho 81. The tech-priest relayed the coordinates into the shuttles’ cogitators and they were away.

“We should reach the site in eleven minutes,” the explorator announced into the vox.

“And then what?” Alarak asked. “Our orbital bombardment didn’t seem to have much effect. What is down there?”

“The ruins of a Shinfuken artificial intelligence research facility,” Phi Rho replied.

“The question was rhetorical,” Alarak sighed. “We have no idea what we’re getting ourselves into.”

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