“Does anyone have the faintest idea what’s going on here?”, Tiberius demanded when they stopped a little way away. Nobody had answers. “A working theory?”, their leader tried.
“A lucky guess?”
He turned to Vox.
“A crazy assumption?”
Vox gave a little laugh from under his helmet.
“Actually yes”, he said. “But I need a bit more information. Tell me about artificial intelligences, please.”
“They are strictly forbidden on pain of death by the treaty of Mars dating eight-hundred thirtieth millennium”, Tiberius recounted stiffly.
“What about servitors?”, Vox inquired.
“They require a biological part.”
“So, as long as a machine spirit has a human part, it may become as powerful as it likes, right?”
“Opinions may differ there”, Tiberius said flatly. “What are you getting at?”
“Servitor!”, Hyron warned. They retreated but it kept coming until Tiberius lost patience and shot it down. It exploded nevertheless.
“There are machine spirits that tend to ships, right?”, Vox wanted to know as if the interruption had never happened. Casually, he let go of Nostromo, whom he had shielded from shrapnel.
“Yes”, Tiberius resumed their conversation as well.
“Alright”, the younger son of Sanguinius said. “Supposing, what we have here is a machine spirit that has tended to this ship. It is quite intelligent. On its own it would rank as an artificial intelligence but let’s assume it has an organic part. Are you with me so far?”
“Yes”, Tiberius replied.
“I see where you’re going, little brother”, Titus cut in with his calm, resonant voice. “It must have extended its efforts to the other ships. Lacking other raw materials it has built Ork servitors to serve its purpose.”
“Oh, right. That too”, Vox said in a friendly fashion. “However, I was just thinking about that servitor back on the ‘Hammer’. The one you translated. It said it wanted a new brain. Maybe the human part has gone insane.”
“Orks!”, Vyron called out. Preceded by their noise, the xenos botched their chance for a surprise attack.
It was a quick and dirty fight in the narrow corridor. Titus and Dankwart did most of the work in close combat. The others meanwhile watched with the alert calmness of the true warrior.
“It would certainly explain why the servitors try to warn us before they explode”, Titus mused when they had added another layer of Ork blood to the varnish of their armour. “The machine and the brain are wrestling for control.”
“So, we have an insane machine spirit?”, Vyron asked.
“No”, Tiberius corrected. “On the contrary! If Vox is right, the machine spirit is healthy, the human part has gone nuts.”
“Why? Maybe it’s the other way around”, Hyron noted.
“Because we found only one central room where all the cables lead”, Tiberius explained. “A machine spirit gone wild, would start to multiply and inhabit more than one place. Also, the machine demands a new brain. It must still be bound to its programming.”
“Maybe it’s cunning and wants to break free while we switch the old brain off”, Vyron mused with a nonchalant shrug.
“It will now”, Hyron said flatly.
“There is definitely one hostile entity here”, Tiberius said, tapping the snout of his aquila helmet thoughtfully. “If there are only two altogether, it should be the brain, not the machine spirit. Otherwise, there are more factors than we have found so far.”
Kalin Ruhr had been quiet all the time. Now, he raised his scratchy, mechanical voice.
“My lords, I have finished my calculations and think your surmise is correct. All factors we have discovered can be explained satisfactorily by two entities causing them. Thus, I humbly ask your assistance. In the Machine God’s name and to his eternal glory, please help me to replace the insane brain!”
“With what?”, Hyron asked. Everyone turned to him.
“Oh”, he said when understanding dawned after a second. “You mean yourself.”
“Indeed”, Ruhr confirmed.
Tiberius glanced around for a moment.
“Servitors!”, Titus interrupted.
There were more than two dozen and all of them were beeping the established warning. This time, they left the work to their heavy weapon specialists. Since the servitors exploded in their own ranks when they were shot, the encounter was over very quickly.
“Objections?”, Tiberius wanted to know again.
They had none.
“I’m sure, the brain will be in the central chamber”, Tiberius said and led them back the way they had come. To prevent the hostile brain from listening in, he and Kalin Ruhr talked their plan through over a closed line. On their arrival, their leader unfolded the details to his comrades in a like manner. He spoke at length about the glorious measures they were about to undertake, but stopped at some point. Staring into the blank helmets and faces before him, he changed his mind and dismissed details.
“We’ll overwrite the defences, gain entrance and replace the brain. You stand guard!”
Nothing happened for five hours.
When Tiberius came out of the central chamber, ending their stoic if slightly pointless guard, he had removed his helmet and victory glinted in his eyes. The others were less happy. Not even a single Ork had had the decency to fall prey to them.
“My friends”, their techmarine called, standing to proud attention with the helmet under his arm. “It is a glorious day that shines a new light on the union between the Imperium of Mankind and the Disciples of Mars. Hail the Emperor and the Omnissiah alike! It is done. We have removed the poisonous brain of an insane individual and replaced it with Kalin Ruhr, who is now as one with the machine spirit of the ‘Anima Profundis’.”
“And I shall be known as…”, a mechanical voice echoed throughout the ship.
“No, you shall not!”, Tiberius interrupted him testily. “We had this discussion!”
“You don’t know what I was about to say”, the voice said accusingly.
“What about the ‘Guardian Spirit’?”, Vox suggested smoothly while the Space Wolves sniggered in the background.
“Yes!”, Tiberius said.
“You can’t tell me what I’m to call myself!”, the voice protested.
“The ‘Guardian Spirit’ is perfect for the guiding mind of the ‘Anima Profundis’”, Tiberius said firmly. “It’s poetic and accurate. You can’t deny this logic. Unless you want me to fetch the next replacement for you that is…”
“Please have mercy on us, Guardian Spirit”, Vox pleaded. “We’ll all die of boredom if he has to do that!”
“You will all die of servitors if he tries to do that”, the Guardian Spirit corrected. “The programming clearly leaves room for self defence. The last brain only faced restrictions due to being marked insane.”
“Let’s not go there over a name, yes?”, Titus asked politely.
“Yes”, the former tech-priest gave in.
“Wonderful”, Nostromo said. “Now, that is settled: Let’s get us out of the warp.”
“Gladly”, the Guardian Spirit replied. “Enter!”
Nostromo went into the control room.
To Aegis’ general relief this operation was a lot quicker to accomplish than the episode of omnissian warfare before.
The change was mainly marked by Vox saying: “Nicely done! When are we?”
This far from the ‘Hammer’, sorting things out took a while. They had come out close to the mining world of Oertha and their date check delivered that only a year had passed in the real world since they had last entered the warp. It was an incredibly accurate outcome. Having been derailed in the warp might as well have caused them to emerge thousands of years too early.
After long discussions, it was decided that the whole Fleet of Destiny would stay with the Space Hulk, while Aegis and Solomon travelled on. Luckily, there was a watch fortress on Oertha. Vox and Solomon both knew the ranking captain personally. They were sure that he would provide them with transport and participate in the purge of the Hulk. Since this was a communication Vox refused to undertake from here, Aegis made ready to return. Nostromo decided to stay in the control room for now. With the help of the Guardian Spirit, they had been able to map the quickest route between the ships. Provisions and supporting personnel for the navigator were already on their way when the kill team left.