(Imperial Robots by Mike Brunton (White Dwarf 104))

IMPERIAL ROBOTS

The command bunker had been under fire for more than three hours. Each time a shell exploded overhead a fine layer of dust fell from the ceiling and drifted through the bob-map. It interfered with the mechanism, and the picture flickered continuously. Chavez sighed. He had long since decided that the situation was critical. He grinned at the Adeptus Mechanicus technician huddled behind a stack of ammunition boxes.

"Not like the training rituals, is it?"

Another shell burst overhead, and the lights went out. The shoulder light in Chavez's armour came on automatically.

"Damn. That was close." Chavez turned the holo-map on again. The Orks were closer than ever. Eight-to-one odds were the stuff of Chapter history, unless you had to face them.

"Where's our support? Anything?"

The Brother-Sergeant at the commnet terminal shook his head. "Three Dreadnoughts a moment ago, but they stopped transmitting. No telemetry. They're dead, Brother-Captain."

"Time to leave. Up to the ridge. Set the destruct charges, Brother. We leave nothing for those Orks. You..." Chavez pointed at the adept. "You come with me. We'll see what those damn machines can do..."

The technician scrambled to his feet and followed Chavez up the access tunnel. They came out in a small copse at the base of the hill. Four large machines stood just inside the tree-line.

The comninet in Chavez's ear was a constant chatter of reports and casualty lists. Chavez checked his bolter and slapped home afresh magazine. "I don't like using machines to do a Marine's job, but I'm down to less than a demi-company. Get them punched, or programmed or whatever mumbo-jumbo you use. Pray if you must."

"Sir. Lord. Captain. The Rite of Battleprep is a delicate ceremony. I must have time to offer the libations and the sweetmeats. I must cast the runes of Robotics. I must-glmpfff! The adept fell silent as Chavez placed a bolt pistol under his chin.

"You must... understand what is about to happen. Either I will kill you, the Orks will kill you slowly, or your damned Robots will kill the Orks. Am I making sense?"

"Yes." The adept was already working on his precious machines. "Yes."

"Good. Five from now I want those things in supporting positions." Chavez was running up towards the ridge. The Brother-Sergeant followed him. A circle of smoke and dust popped out of the tunnel and rolled across the valley, keeping its shape all the way. The bunker's demolition charges had done their work.

As Chavez reached the ridge the first Robot began the same climb. The explosions rocked the hill and showered earth on the Marine positions, but help was coming...

THE LEGIO CYBERNETICA

The Adeptus Mechanicus is divided into many sub-branches and divisions. Each specialises in one of the myriad areas of the technical arcana. The Legio Cybernetica is one of the oldest parts of the Adeptus Mechanicus. Its records stretch back almost unbroken to the very first days of the Imperium and, it's assumed, to the times before the Imperium. The Legio has a long history, and its members regard themselves as an elite.

The Legio is responsible for the care and construction of all Robots throughout the Imperium. Robots may be used by all kinds of Army and Marine forces, but they are always under the Legio's final control. Indeed, many of the Adepts of the Legio have been killed while taking part in military operations. The Legio continues to serve, aware of its value as a fighting force, even in the face of 90% plus casualties.

The Legio is organised into several thousand cohorts, although only a percentage of these is ever active at any one time. Each cohort is in turn organised into maniples of three, four or five Robots plus a Legion tech-adept. The number of maniples in a cohort varies, but is rarely more than 100. However, a cohort is usually spread across an entire Marine force of several Chapters or a single Army. Battles involving more than 4 or 5 maniples are rare. This is not to say that they have never occurred - during the Horus Heresy in particular large numbers of Robots were committed by both sides in an effort to minimise human casualties until a decisive final battle could be fought.

Each maniple is virtually a self-contained unit. The (typically) four units are managed on the battlefield by a single tech-adept. He has little more to do than give the Robot's their final programs and then monitor their progress. He is, however, also charged with making sure that a damaged Robot (which could be dangerous to its own side) is destroyed as quickly as possible. Each Robot carries a self-destruct system which can be detonated by remote control should its programming fail in some way. Although rarely present on the battlefield (if they can help it) there are also a number of other, lesser tech-adepts who perform all maintenance and repair functions for the maniple. Their services are also highly sought after for other purposes. It is said that a tech-adept of the Legio is worth his weight in spares and can repair virtually any item of Imperial equipment.

Legio cohorts are occasionally attached to campaigning Marine Chapters, such as during Operation Carthage (the Second Pacification of Isstvan V). When the Desert Lions Chapter took the planet's defence forts they were preceded by a complete Legio Cohort of Robots. The Robots had been programmed to advance in an apparently mindless fashion, and proved easy targets for the defenders. However, the Desert Lions used the opportunity to map out the defenders' fire-plans and blind spots. In the Lions' ensuing assault only seven Marines were lost.

All the surviving Robots were inducted into the Chapter as honorary members as a mark of respect.

The Inquisition has also put Cohorts of the Legio to good use. Robots are, by their very natures, utterly incorruptible. Their preprogrammed, non-biological natures make them the perfect troops to use against mutants and other contaminated populations. The terror value of Robots when used against unprepared and underarmed troops has not gone unnoticed by the Inquisition. This, combined with their unflagging loyalty, has made them valued additions to the Inquisition's armoury. Cohorts attached to the Inquisition are usually staffed by technician-Inquisitors rather than Legio Adepts. Robots may be pure and incorruptible; men are not.

This was proven during the Horus Heresy, when many Legio Cohorts rebelled under the leadership of Warmaster Horns. The Cohorts had been placed under the Warmaster's command in preparation for a new crusade. When Horus commanded his forces to move against the Emperor, the Legio Cohorts at his disposal were among those to obey. In the subsequent fighting many more of the Adeptus Mechanicus joined Horus and his rebels, but this did not alter the fact that parts of the Legio had been the first to declare for the Warmaster. Following the defeat of the Heresy and the banishment of the Traitor Legions, the dishonoured Legio Cohorts also fled into the Eye of Terror, where they remain to this day.

Since the defeat of Horus the Legio Cybernetica has pledged itself anew to the Imperium. Its members now take binding oaths of loyalty more terrible than any Marine Chapter oaths. Over the millennia they have regained the respect and admiration of the rest of the Adeptus Mechanicus, the Imperial Guard, and the Adeptus Astartes.

Legio maniples require less transport space than standard military units (Robots can be carried in open space without harm), less life support and food (Robots neither eat nor drink) and less battlefield support (Robots usually carry their own heavy weapons). Many Robots use standard armaments, reducing the need for specialised supplies, and can interchange parts with Dreadnoughts. All this makes them extremely popular with practical military commanders.

Some of the older Cybernetica cohorts claim that their Robotic troops date, in part at least, back to the First Crusade of the Imperium and earlier. These claims may have some validity, as Robots are often cannibalised to provide parts for their damaged brethren. Given the lifespans of Imperial technologies when maintained, such claims become reasonable. It is indeed possible that one Robot's leg, or Power Field or cortex has been in almost constant use for more than ten thousand years.

Like a Dreadnought, a Robot is the product of the many advanced technologies which have produced its armoured shell, its artificial muscle and nerve bundles, its cortex, power plant, weapons control systems, equipment interfaces and cortex. The Mechanicus Weapon-shops turn out many Robots to the age-old designs held in the memory banks. Castellan and Crusader pattern Robots, for example, are known to have fought on both sides during the Horns Heresy. The designs have remained virtually unchanged since that time, with perhaps only minor cosmetic variations.

Many Robot components are identical (or nearly so) to Dreadnought parts. This compatibility simplifies many supply and repair problems. Legio cohorts have, for example, been cannibalised out of existence to provide spares for Dreadnought suits! In return Legio Cybernetica adepts have not been averse to dismantling Dreadnought suits - sometimes even killing the pilot in the process - when making battlefield repairs.

What makes a Robot different from an unoccupied Dreadnought suit is its cortex. This is an artificial brain of sorts, which is constructed from artificial proteins and enzymes. This cortex is imprinted with simple maintenance and movement routines - a rudimentary 'mind'. These enable the Robot to obey simple instructions ("Open the Weapon Bay Door, Please... Move Ahead to the Holding Area" etc) when away from the battlefield. These 'firmware' routines (so called because they are 'wired in' software) are often patterned after living creatures, and a Robot may develop a dog-like devotion to its technician-master.

Before a battle the firmware routines are overlaid and replaced by the Robot's combat wetware (ie the software of a protein computer). This new cortex program, which can be changed for every battle, defines, for example, how and when the Robot is to fire its weapons or detonate its self-destruct charges.

Each piece of wetware is held in a small slice of bioplastic, about the same size as a credit card. Many warriors take these from 'dead' robots, believing that them to hold the soul and courage of the robot. When kept in a medicine pouch some of the robot's bravery passes into the warrior; even some Marine Chapters have been known to follow this tradition.

Without its cortex a Robot is as helpless as a bolter without a Marine. It can do nothing other than take whatever punishment is meted out to it. With its cortex fully programmed, however, a Robot can prove itself the equal of many other creatures on the battlefield.