SARCOPHAGUS CONNECTED. . .
The words imposed themselves over Vercingetorix's eyes, a vulgar green light interrupting the gentle blackness of sleep. He tried to rub his eyes but found his arms were immobile. A voice cut through the confusion.
Are you awake, my companion? I am We once more.
. . .
AUTOSENSES ENGAGING. . .
The green script had changed, but around Vercingetorix's head, all was darkness. He felt warm and wet and his muscles were relaxed.
I issued a mild stimulant to combat the disorientation. Amniotic fluid concentrations: Anti-inflammatory 2 parts per thousand. Stimulant 5 parts per million. Muscle relaxant 3 parts per million. Nutrient solute 5 parts per thousand. Flesh preservative 10 parts per thousand. Remaining volume saline amniofluid. Are you awake, my companion?
. . .
. . .
The audiovox was the first sense to respond. Vercingetorix heard the clatter of feet and the rumble of promethium combustion engines around him. Beneath the commotion was the subtle hum of a gellar field.
Are you awake, my companion?
His ocular interface was next. Cables relayed data from the visor of his sarcophagus to his sightless eyes, which translated raw color into coherent shapes.
"I am awake, Spirit. Do my brothers need me?"
It must be so, my companion, for I am We again.
Air scoops took in samples of the surrounding atmosphere. Promethium fumes in abundance. Machine oil. The sacred incense of the Martian cult. Human respiration and perspiration. All the characteristic smells of the Strike Cruiser that had been his home for the last three months, though he had slept through that time without stirring.
CONNECTING MOTIVE SYSTEMS...
A crane hoisted the Dreadnought hull from the ground as the Techmarines' servo-arms lifted the bulky metal legs to their mounting brackets.
"Where are we, Spirit?"
We are aboard Strike Cruiser Spear of Lucifer, my companion. Warp transit time 93 days, 15 hours, 44 minutes standard. We are now approaching Imperial world Pacem.
Tactile senses were always the last to arrive. The sarcophagus was ill-equipped to translate the crushing power of a huge fist or the recoil of autocannons as they spat vengeance into the foe. The only reliable tactile sensations were those felt by the pilot interred in the sarcophagus. The gentle currents of amniotic fluid, the flow of electrons through connective cables and electronic interfaces... and of course, the pain.
"Spirit, my hearts ache."
Understood, my companion. Adjusting anti-inflammatory dosage. Concentration now 5 parts per thousand.
A cool, soothing sensation washed over Vercingetorix's shattered body. There was very little flesh left, but the meat that still clung to his frame was fragile and tender. Pain was a constant companion to Vercingetorix, a reminder of his weakness.
CALIBRATING FIBRE BUNDLE TENSION. ENGAGING AMBULATORY TEST. . .
A HUD appeared before Vercingetorix's eyes, displaying informational readouts about hull integrity, motive function, autosense relays, and other vital operating statistics. He concentrated, and the HUD faded to 90% translucency.
Vercingetorix felt the Dreadnought's weight shift as he tested his legs' motive functions. Servomotors whined and fibre bundles sang with tension at frequencies too high for normal human ears. Not for the augmented senses of the adamantine sarcophagus.
Your left leg is not sensitive enough, my companion. It will slow you in battle. Correcting fibre bundle tension 2% positive.
The warrior swung his legs again, content with the responsiveness of his body. He sensed the Machine Spirit's pleasure as he was lowered to the ground.
"It is good to have a body once more. These interminable hours of uselessness irk me."
I concur, my companion. Your absence is unpleasant. It brings much good that you are again We.
. . .
. . .
MOTIVE SYSTEMS OPERATIONAL. . .
SELECT ARMAMENTS. . .
After a few moments of thought, the spoke, his vox projecting a rumbling bass that cut through the noise of the hangar in which he stood.
"Give me my hands, Brothers. I wish to feel the life draining from my foes. I wish to know the joy the Primarch knew when he crushed his enemies."
The lead techmarine attending him motioned to two others, who used their mechanical harnesses to lift first one massive limb, and then the other, to the sides of the Dreadnought. Across the hangar from Vercingetorix, another Dreadnought was being outfitted with a pair of linked autocannons. He recognized the body as belonging to Revenant Eudorus. Eudorus was the youngest Dreadnought in the strike force, having spent a mere forty years entombed. Vercingetorix was glad that the two would not be dropping side by side. He questioned the younger warrior's wisdom in battle.
. . .
. . .
CONNECTING ARMS TO FRAME. . .
. . .
. . .
ARMS CONNECTED. . .
Vercingetorix strove to clench his fists, but his machine did not move. He felt an odd sensation as he tried to flex muscles that would not respond.
"I cannot feel my arms, spirit."
I understand, my companion.
RUNNING DIAGNOSTICS . . .
. . .
"I had a dream, Spirit."
During Our absence?
"Yes. In my dream, I was of flesh, and I partook of fleshy pleasures. I ate heartily, and drank my fill. I breathed air once more."
I cannot conceive your words, my companion. I do not know of fleshy things.
ERROR LOCATED. NEURO-LINK INTERFACE CONNECTOR XVII NOT FOUND. SUMMONING SERVITOR. . .
"I abhor the weaknesses of the flesh, and yet I must confess I felt joy in my dream. Joy in eating, in breathing, and in all the frailties that flesh is heir to. Joy even in the peace of a field unknown to soldiers' boots." The spirit was silent. The background hum of the Gellar field faded, to be replaced with the tactile rumble of realspace engines. A vox-announcer blared three minutes to target.
SERVITOR HAS ARRIVED. REPLACING CONNECTOR. . .
. . .
. . .
It sounds horrible, my companion. To be idle when there is so much killing yet to do.
"Ah, but without peace, spirit, how would we know the joys of war? Without peace we would be no better than greenskins, who fight only for the sake of fighting. No, we fight so that we might know peace with the Emperor and the Omnissiah. We go to war that we might end all wars."
But, my companion, war is our calling. There can be no peace. How can you dream of things that are not?
RUNNING ARM DIAGNOSTICS. . .
. . .
LEFT ARM. . .
. . .
RIGHT ARM. . .
. . .
The HUD imposed itself once more over Vercingetorix's autosight. The diagnostic relayed instructions, and he tested his arm systems one by one, powering up the energy fields around his fists, heating up the magnetic containment coils of his plasma guns, and tilting the deflection plates on his shoulders.
"It is the gift of mankind, and the curse. We see things that are not, and we wish them to be. It is what drives us to reach beyond the furthest stars, and what makes us grasp for that which we should not have. Things which are not are the very substance of dreams."
This thing "dream" is strange to We. To see without autosight. To think when I am not We. You bear a terrible burden, my companion. I rejoice that I can assist We. I rejoice that I may join We in the fires of war.
PROCEED TO DEPLOYMENT BAY. POD 3. FIRST WAVE...
Vercingetorix strode to the deployment bay amidst several other Dreadnoughts and twoscore of his battle-brothers. The floor beneath them trembled at their passing. The rest of the Battle Company was en route to the drop zone in Thunderhawks already, but the drop pods would form the first wave of the assault. Beneath his massive metal feet, Vercingetorix felt the deck rumble as the Spear of Lucifer unleashed the might of its bombardment cannons on the enemy below. A serf with a flag directed Vercingetorix to his pod. Once he was on board several servitors scrambled to secure his inertia harness. His Machine Spirit communed with that of the Drop Pod. Over the vox network, the Steel Father chanted the Litany of Steel, and fifty voices joined him in supplication to the Emperor. The Machine Spirit raised a tactical map onto his HUD. Vercingetorix considered the distribution of forces, the lay of the land, and ambient conditions. He plotted the target points of his strike force and reported them to the Astartes Tactical Grid, and then relayed his destination to the Drop Pod's Inertial Guidance Engine.
"Now, Spirit, we return to the war that never ends."
There was a thump as his Drop Pod fired, and then Vercingetorix was falling.
Vercingetorix fell through the atmosphere, ensconced in the blackness of his drop pod. The hull glowed with the heat of atmospheric entry. Inside the craft, the only noise was the low hum of power fields and the oscillating noise of plasma guns warming up.
"Spirit, what is the output of the plasma coils? HUD indicates an excessive magnetic flux."
The coils are operating at 110% of normal capacity, my companion. We thought it prudent to build excess charge that we may fire uninterrupted upon landing. We will compensate for excess heat that it does not endanger the flesh of We.
SIXTY SECONDS UNTIL PLANETARY IMPACT. . .
The drop pod hurtled toward the ground at speeds upward of 150 meters per second. The violence of its passing tore a hole in the clouds and dim sunlight poured through the hole, casting a circle of light on the ground. In the sky around his vessel, dozens of other pods shredded the air as they passed, shattering the sky. Vercingetorix's massive body strained against the harness that held it in place. He flexed his massive metal hands and dimly remembered the sensation of skin against skin. That was another time, another life. Now his life was only war.
FORTY-FIVE SECONDS UNTIL PLANETARY IMPACT...
My companion, topography indicates high ground three hundred meters from designated landing zone, heading two-nine-six.
Vercingetorix consulted his HUD map.
"Confirmed. Adjust course."
It shall be so, my companion. This pod's spirit concurs with We. Updating Astartes Tactical Grid layout and transmitting new coordinates to Pod formation.
Vercingetorix could feel the machine spirit's agitation. It stimulated an increase in his adrenaline production. His mind stirred restlessly and his massive metal body shifted in response.
THIRTY SECONDS UNTIL PLANETARY IMPACT...
We feel the war song, my companion. We hear its words in your head. It is good for We. It is why We are.
Vercingetorix tuned his vox unit to the command frequency for the drop pod battlegroup. "Revenants Diocles and Horovus, prioritize Hammerhead-class hovertank, then select opportunity targets at will. Tactical Squad Gamedes, secure the bunker at battlegrid coordinate VIII Sigma-6. Tactical Squad Androi, relieve the PDF platoon marked on the ATG." Vercingetorix paused, consulting his map again.
FIFTEEN SECONDS UNTIL PLANETARY IMPACT. . .
"Devastator Squad Filos, you will secure Saint's Ridge and deploy long-range firepower to cover Androi's withdrawal to VIII Sigma-6. The Emperor protects." DEPLOYING RETRO THRUSTERS. FIVE SECONDS. . .
Vercingetorix felt the hammer-blow of the massive rockets beneath him as they strove to tear his vehicle free from the clutches of gravity. Restraints in his sarcophagus embraced his frail flesh, protecting him from the worst of the buffeting.
Revere the Omnissiah, my companion.
"The Omnissiah guides us all, Spirit."
THREE. . .
. . .
TWO. . .
. . .
The pod smashed into the earth with a hellacious roar, crushing an unfortunate fire warrior beneath it. The doors exploded outward, flattening two more troopers who were not fast enough. Vercingetorix felt the tremors that shook the ground as his brethren landed amid the Tau lines.
"YOUR DEATH IS UPON YOU, ALIENS. TREMBLE BEFORE THE MIGHT OF THE EMPEROR!"
Vercingetorix strode down the ramp of his drop pod, fists crackling with distorting energy and the magnetic coils on his plasma guns glowing with barely-contained energy. He felt a surge of joy as the Machine Spirit awoke to its full fury.
Come, my companion. There is much death for We to bring!
As soon as he was clear of the drop pod, Vercingetorix unleashed the energy stored in his plasma guns. Four miniature sunbursts erupted from beneath his fists. Three of the plasma bursts hit squarely on target, reducing fire warriors to bubbling piles of molten flesh and cracked bone. The fourth burst collided with a drone and dissipated harmlessly on its shield. Behind him, Vercingetorix could hear the storm bolter mounted on his drop pod firing rapidly. The distinctive boom-whoosh of the bolts' two-stage ignition was punctuated by dull crack of their explosive warheads detonating. More drop pods roared in overhead, crashing into the ground or being detonated in midair by the Tau anti-air defenses, which were now targeting the incoming pods.
"Spirit, we must silence those anti-air batteries. Relay their locations to the Spear of Lucifer and order a bombardment."
It shall be so, my companion.
Mere seconds after the first wave of drop pods, a second salvo from the strike cruiser's bombardment cannon pummeled the Tau lines. Explosive shockwaves knocked fire warriors off their feet and sent the light skimmers of the Tau force spinning out of control. Vercingetorix advanced on the nearest knot of Tau infantry, plasma guns blazing.
My companion, a transmission is inbound from a Commander Rogan of Pacem PDF.
"Open a channel, Spirit." The Tau had begun to rally to one of their Shas'O. The squad was huddled for cover behind a Hammerhead. They fired at Vercingetorix's hull, their shots glancing harmlessly off of his armour. He retaliated with gouts of plasma, vaporising several of their number and melting a hole in the hull of the crashed craft.
A timid tenor spoke over the Imperial vox network. "Space Marine forces, I am Defense Commander Irwin Mogue." Vercingetorix picked up speed, bearing down on the fire warriors. To their credit, they faced him without flinching. "Our situation is dire. Tau sappers infiltrated and destroyed several ammo dumps early in the invasion. Our ammunition reserves are nearly empty. They have driven us back on all fronts."
Vercingetorix interrupted the commander. "I have heard enough, Commander. You will muster all available forces. When Crusade-Captain Aleksos makes landfall, he will dispense further orders. I trust we can rely on your cooperation?" Without awaiting a reply, he closed the vox link. The Fire Warriors began hurling their photon grenades at him. The tiny globes burst with intense phosphorescent light. His visual inputs struggled to filter the sudden brightness, but the world had become a blur. His massive metal form blundered forward, but he was nearly blinded by the grenades. "Spirit! Guide my aim!" He surrendered control of his body to the Machine Spirit, trusting it to safeguard him, and turned his attention to the Astartes Tactical Grid map. "Battlegroup Vercingetorix, report."
Brother-Sergeant Filos was the first to respond. "Saint's Hill is ours, Lord Revenant. Minor resistance encountered. Brother Meten has a wound that should be tended by the Apothecaries, but we are all fit to fight." Vercingetorix heard his plasma guns firing blast after blast as the Machine Spirit guided his body.
Brother-Lieutenant Gamedes spoke next. "Squads Gamedes and Androi have regrouped at the designated bunker. Brother Kurtin is dead and Sergeant Androi removed his helmet and was blinded by a photon grenade. The Tau have been driven back. We inflicted twenty-four confirmed casualties. We have forty-three survivors of the PDF with us. They have no ammunition, and have not eaten for days. I question their battle-readiness, Lord Vercingetorix." His body had waded into the midst of the Tau cadre and was now laying waste to the Fire Warriors around him.
Revenant Diocles delivered his report in a ponderous baritone. "Lord Revenant, the Hammerhead is destroyed. We also accounted for seven Pirahna-class and two Devilfish-class skimmers. Revenant Horovus has suffered damage to his primary motive systems and is immobile and my assault cannon's ammunition is depleted. Crusade-Captain Aleksos will be here in two minutes thirty, and the Steel Priests will see to Horovus when they touch down. Until then, requesting permission to protect watch over him."
While Diocles delivered his report, the Machine Spirit picked up two Tau soldiers and began to squeeze. Vercingetorix felt, with a sense of detachment, the armor of the Tau soldiers as it warped beneath the power fields in his hands. There was a moment of tension, a crack, and their armor caved in. Their flesh put up little resistance as fibre-bundle muscles crushed the life from their bodies.
"So be it, Diocles. I will alert you if I have need of you."
My companion, I have filtered the aliens' light frequencies from We's ocular senses. You should be able to see once more, if you wish to take control of the body of We.
Vercingetorix felt sensation rushing through his limbs as he reassumed command over his body. He dropped the corpses of the fire warriors the Machine Spirit had crushed and spoke through his external vox-unit. "Come, alien scum! Hurl yourselves at me. Show me your strength!" The remaining firewarriors lost their nerve, broke, and ran. Vercingetorix paused to watch as seven beams lanced down from the sky. He counted the explosions from the ground - all anti-air batteries accounted for. "Strike Cruiser, targets confirmed destroyed. Landing zone is cleared for Thunderhawk insertion."
Caution, my companion! Behind We! The Machine Spirit's warning was urgent. It was also too late.
Something slammed into the Dreadnought's back, and it stumbled forward. Vercingetorix fought to control his body. Behind him, he felt another impact. His remains were jostled about inside his sarcophagus. Servomotors strained against the momentum of the Dreadnought's own mass. He managed to turn his unarmoured rear away from the attacker. A third blow slammed into his left shoulder. The power field in his left hand crackled and died. The Machine Spirit's pain tore through the warrior's mortal form, which shuddered in sympathetic agony. Around him, the amniofluid of Vercingetorix's sarcophagus churned violently.
With cry of effort, Vercingetorix finally regained control of the Dreadnought and spun to face his enemy. A Tau Crisis Suit launched another salvo of missiles and then blasted into the sky away from the Dreadnought. Unlike the first set of missiles, the second barrage was rushed, and the pilot's aim was poor. Two flew harmlessly by, and the final shot detonated without effect on Vercingetorix's powerful frontal armour. Vercingetorix returned fire, but by then his foe was out of range. Four Thunderhawks flew through the shredded remnants of the clouds and landed in the open field behind the newly-captured bunker.
LEFT ARM POWER CABLE II-A SEVERED. HYDRAULIC CONDUITS 1, 3, 4, 6, 10 DAMAGED...
REARWARD AUSPEX ARRAY DAMAGED...
REPAIR ESTIMATE THIRTY MINUTES...
I am sorry, my companion. I am sorry. I failed We. I was not vigilant.
"No apologies are needed, Spirit. I, too, allowed my awareness to lapse. It shall not happen again. A priest will see to our arm. And then we will take bloody vengeance."
Crusade-Captain Aleksos's voice interrupted the conversation between man and machine spirit. "Lord Revenant, I seek your wisdom. Please meet me in my Thunderhawk. We have a planet to liberate."
"I will be there presently, Captain," said Vercingetorix. "There is much to discuss."
Vercingetorix was the last to arrive at the makeshift war council. A large wooden table had been set up in the entry hall of the bunker, which was the only area large enough to accommodate a Dreadnought. All of the corpses had been removed from the room, but the sarcophagus's sensitive air scoops still detected lingering traces of propellent, plasma burns, and blood. Too much blood. He was surrounded by warm, swirling liquid. For a moment, the withered husk inside the Dreadnought heaved, its empty stomach reacting with instinctive disgust.
Are you well, my companion? Do you require an adjustment to your amniofluid? "No, Spirit. I am well. The scent of blood awoke a shadow of the past. There was a time when I, too, could bleed. But no longer." It is good that We cannot bleed. This metal body is not subject to such weakness.
The ancient warrior recognized many of those at the table. Aleksos stood at the head wearing his Terminator armour. He loomed over the other men at the table. To the Captain's right was Xaphanes, dressed in the blue power armour of the Librarium; to his left was the Techmarine known as the Steel Father, his Mechanicus-red armour and silver bionics gleaming in the light and his servo-arms weaving languidly about like serpents. There were other Battle-Brothers at the table as well. Chaplain Staphanos in his jet-black armour and bone-white skull mask. Brother-Sergeants Lothos and Gamedes. Brother-Lieutenant Orax from the armoured auxiliaries. Opposite the table from Aleksos sat a grizzled old man in the uniform of a General of the Imperial Guard. He was flanked by haggard-looking senior officers in ragged uniforms and a Commissar in an immaculate dress uniform and greatcoat. Aleksos was speaking to the assembled PDF officers. Vercingetorix lumbered to the table and stood behind Aleksos, casting his shadow over the whole table. The Captain removed his helmet. His face was relatively unblemished by his many years of war, clean-shaven, though stubble had already begun to grow, and his hair was cut short and severe. When he spoke, his voice was deep and smooth and confident. "Due to the dire circumstances precipitating our arrival, and due to the overwhelming number of aliens now on this planet, I will be assuming the position of commander-in-chief of all military operations on Pacem for the duration of this emergency. Lord General Kneal, I expect your staff to make available full reports regarding the location, status, and disposition of all remaining PDF forces within two hours."
Vercingetorix spoke to Aleksos over a private vox-link. "I expect trouble from the Commissar. Tread with caution." If the Captain had heard the warning, he gave no sign of it. The General glanced sidelong at his staff, who all nodded. "Very well, Crusade-Captain. We graciously accept your offer of assistance and await your orders." The Commissar leaped to his feet. He was a short, broad-shouldered man with a scraggly brown beard and a thin voice. He wore a monocle over his left eye and a Commissar-General's stars on his shoulders. "This is a blatant usurpation of Imperial authority, General, and if you will not stand against it, then I shall! I cannot allow you to command these men, Captain. Imperial doctrine is quite clear on this point. No chapter of the Adeptus Astartes shall ever assume direct control of any of the Imperium's regular military forces. That includes," he said, pulling a thick black book from his pocket, "any Planetary Defense Regiment of a sovereign world." He opened the book, flipping pages for a few moments, "Aha! Any PDF forces of a sovereign Imperial world shall herein, according to Adeptus Administratum dictates provided under the provisions of the Martial Independence Doctrine, be considered, in the absence of an Imperial Guard chain of command, an autonomous Imperial Guard unit provided that there are within its ranks at least one General Staff officer," he pointed to the Lord General, "At least three Senior officers," and he waved a hand vaguely in the direction of the officers flanking the General, "And at least one senior Commissariat agent who are of sound mind and body. Dictatus Aegis Imperialis, Article V, Section M, Paragraph 331." The Commissar punctuated his words by jabbing the paper with stubby fingers. Aleksos leaned against the table and spread his fingers. The wood groaned under the weight. "Bring me the book, please, Commissar... I'm afraid I don't know your name."
"Commissar-General Zoal Helem," said the Commissar, emphasizing his rank. He walked around the table, impervious to the glares of the marines as he passed them. He handed the book to Captain Aleksos, who read it impassively. When he had finished, he closed the book with a snap and addressed Helem once more. "I see. The book does seem quite clear on the matter. It appears they wished to prevent another Horus, or another Tyrant of Badab. Well, the good Lord General is here. I count five senior officers. And you, Commissar-General. You are the planet's permanent Commissariat representative?" "That is correct. I am the mandatory Commissarial senior officer, as outlined in Article III --" "That will do, Commissar," Aleksos interupted. "Sergeant Lothos!" "Sir!" Lothos grunted and came to the Captain's side, where he knelt. The sergeant was an ugly man with more scars on his face than teeth in his mouth, and his head was shaved bald. A flamer hung from a strap across his chest and his armour sported a dozen purity seals. The two golden service studs in his forehead denoted one hundred years of service to the Steel Revenants. "Recite the Mandate of Duty from the Codex Astartes, if you will."
"Sir!" Lothos closed his eyes and his brow creased. "The strength of the Adeptus Astartes lies not only in the bolter and the chainsword. It lies also in the faith, conviction, and dedication that each space marine must daily exercise in the performance of his duties. Just as this book serves as a check on the ambitions of the Astartes, so too do the Astartes serve to check the ambitions of the Imperium's commanders. Except in cases where a Chapter Master has given such an order, or when the High Lords of Terra have issued a decree, no chapter, nor any battle-brother therein, of the Adeptus Astartes shall be beholden to any dictates of the Adeptus Administratum, Departmento Munitorum, Inquisition, or Ecclesiarchy, nor to any organization, officer, or branch of such an organization, if such a subjection would interfere with the due execution of the chapter's duties." Aleksos nodded. "Well done, Lothos." Lothos stood up. The Captain turned to face Helem again. "The words of Roboute Guilliman himself. And unless I am sorely mistaken, that passage has made your book," Aleksos threw the Commissar's book contemptuously to the ground at Lothos's feet., "completely worthless." Aleksos snapped his fingers. Sergeant Lothos ignited the pilot light of his flamer. Without a word, he sprayed the tome with burning promethium. Commissar Helem jumped back from the flames, which crackled and disintegrated under the Promethium's touch.
"What is the meaning of this?" Commissar Helem's face turned bright red. "Have you gone utterly mad? In all my sixty years of service, never has a man been so foolish as to address me in this way!" "Your perfect record does you credit, Commissar. Sixty years is an impressive career. It is high time you retired." The Captain's voice was still calm, almost casual. Vercingetorix addressed Aleksos again over a private channel. "You play a dangerous game, Crusade Captain. See that you do not lose." "I shall do no such thing. I'll have you drawn up on charges! I'll have you dragged before the Inquisition! The High Lords themselves will scrub your name from existence!" Commissar Helem was shaking with fury. The rest of the council remained motionless, the space marines watching calmly, the PDF commanders nervous and agitated.
"Sergeant Lothos! Give this man his honourable discharge." The Commissar's hand reached for his pistol, but it never got there. Faster than Helem could hope to react, Lothos's knife lashed out and severed the smaller man's arm at the elbow. The Helem gasped in pain. "Brother-Sergeant, bring the good Commissar to the Apothecaries. It appears he was wounded in combat, and will be unable to return to action." Aleksos appeared to think for a moment, then addressed the assembled PDF officers. "Oh, my. It appears your senior Commissariat officer is no longer able to discharge his duties. According to the Doctrinus Aegis Imperialis, you are no longer considered an Imperial Guard unit. As such, I have no choice but to assume the position of Commander-In-Chief of the defense of Pacem. Full reports to me in two hours, gentlemen." Aleksos replaced his helmet and spoke to Vercingetorix over their secure vox link. "Walk with me, Lord Revenant. I seek your wisdom."
"That was boldly done, Crusade-Captain. It may not have been wise." Vercingetorix and Aleksos stood atop Saint's Hill, surveying the wreckage of the morning's battle.
The dreadnought's voice rolled down the hill like miniature thunder. On Vercingetorix's left side, a techmarine was directing servitors in the repairs of his damaged arm.
"I did what was necessary, Lord Revenant. The Commissar's incompetence may have already cost us this planet. He had formal charges written up for every officer at that table for dress uniform violations. By the Throne, there's a war on and he's worried about torn sleeves and tarnished medals. I did the planet a service."
"That may be, but the Commissariat is unlikely to agree with your assessment. Zoal Helem was a ranking commissar. His agency has close ties to the Inquisition, and there are those among the Ordos who have not forgotten the events of Akeldama."
"Let them hold their grudges. We have the might of Mars at our backs, and our brothers within the Dragons Rampant and the Knights of Glory. They can puff and protest all they like. They will not risk an open confrontation."
"An open confrontation? Perhaps not. But the Inquisition has ways of removing their foes with subtlety. Or have you forgotten the lesson learned by the Celestial Lions?"
Aleksos grunted, then spoke reluctantly. "We shall give the Commissar-General an augmetic arm to replace the one he lost in battle, with the understanding that when he dies it returns to us. Should he so desire, I suppose we can find an estate for him on Ptolomea. I will personally make restitution for him. But only after this planet is won. And if we lose thanks to his foolishness..." Aleksos left the threat to hang, unspoken, in the air.
"It is good to see you show some humility, Crusade-Captain. There are times when your supreme confidence borders on hubris."
Aleksos smirked. "It is easy to forget the frailties of humanity, Lord Revenant, as I am sure you know full well. Once again, your immortal wisdom has saved my poor, mortal hide."
Vercingetorix felt a sharp jab of pain as one of the servitors repairing his arm crossed a pair of charged wires. The cables tying his mortal form to the sarcophagus stung him, and the machine spirit stirred in response.
My companion, instruct these barbarians to be more gentle. Their clumsy fingers poke and pry where they do not belong.
"Honorable Haphasetes," Vercingetorix said, "you must supervise your servitors more carefully. Their blunt hands offend the machine spirit. We cannot afford to rouse its ire here."
The Techmarine responded in a buzzing, artificial monotone. "I shall be more watchful, Lord Revenant. Convey my apologies to the revered spirit." Vercingetorix recognized Haphastes as a Priest Metallicus of the Chapter Cult, one of those responsible for the rites of the Omnissiah.
You overstate We's discomfort, my companion. It is unnecessary.
"Nonsense, Spirit. Were it not for the threat of your wrath, these apes would poke and pry at our hide with impunity. I... distort the truth so that we both might suffer less for it." The spirit said nothing, but he felt a sense of warmth that was the machine's way of expressing pleasure. Vercingetorix reactivated his external speakers and addressed the Crusade-Captain. "You did not bring me here to discuss matters of dignity, Aleksos. Share your mind with me."
Aleksos nodded, then donned his helmet. It hissed as it formed an airtight seal with the rest of his Terminator armour. When he next spoke, his voice had the subtle static undertones of a vox-caster. "I uploaded the latest intelligence reports onto the ATG. The situation is dire even without the Commissar's meddling. The majority of the southern continent is wholly Tau-controlled, though small resistance cells are still operating in the cities. The northern continent is still ours, but reinforcements from the Fleet Pacificus are a week out, and the PDF is stretched thin as it is. Generous estimates place their remaining numbers at two hundred thousand combat-ready troops, including two mechanized companies and one armoured. All are low on ammunition, fuel, and food. The supply ships we brought will help to a degree, but a week is a long time to hold out against such an overwhelming foe. If this were your command, what would you do?"
Vercingetorix brought his HUD up to 80% opacity so that it dominated his vision. "Spirit, topographical, road, and city data please. Start at meridian line 30 north."
Yes, my companion.
PROCESSING REQUEST... ... ... MAP RENDERED.
Vercingetorix surveyed the topographical map.
My companion, look upon these three cities. they form a barrier between the southern and northern continents. It is a good place for defense. "I see it, my companion." Vercingetorix highlighted three sections of the map in red and transmitted the image to Aleksos.
"I would split our efforts into three groups. The bulk of our armoured forces, along with a complement of mechanized PDF, should go here, into the mountains, and harass the enemy supply lines and reserves, blunting the follow-through of an enemy assault. The Devastators, the Revenants, and the scions of Mars should concentrate their efforts into these three cities. They form a cordon between the two continents, and will withstand the brunt of the enemy's attack. Judging by the disposition of enemy forces, I would estimate their command center to be located in the abandoned Southern capital. The scouts should infitrate in the guise of the enemy and assassinate any members of the Ethereal caste. With their leaders slain, these aliens will topple like a house of cards."
Aleksos nodded. "Your plan is sound, Lord Revenant. I shall lead the armoured column myself. I would delegate the defensive cordon to you. I will ask Brother-Sergeant Lothos which of the neophytes are best suited to a seek and destroy mission." Haphastes interrupted the Captain. "Lord Revenant, your arm is repaired. When you find yourself with idle hours, you should come to the consecrated ring where we can properly bless your chassis and pay tribute to your Machine Spirit." He left the two standing on the hilltop, his servitors following him like trained dogs. "If we are done here, Crusade-Captain, I shall go to the circle. It would not be proper to neglect the spirit." Vercingetorix turned to leave. "Tomorrow at sunrise, I shall brief our brothers and the Planetary Defense Force officers. Rest well, Lord Revenant. There are trying days ahead."
"That one worries me, Spirit." Vercingetorix lumbered back toward the bunker. The ground trembled slightly with each step. We are stronger than he, my companion. He is no threat to We. "His strength is not in his muscles. It is in those he commands. Aleksos well-loved by our brothers, and holds much sway with the Chapter Council. He balks under the leadership of Master Dolor. Were he to invoke the Right of Challenge, he might win."
Who is this Dolor to We? Masters come and go. He is no greater than his predecessor. "I respect Dolor as I respected Akefia before him, and Thalonikos, and all those who came before. But my concern is not to keep Dolor in power, but to keep Aleksos out of it. He is rash, impetuous, and proud. His skill on the battlefield may surpass Master Dolor, but you have borne witness to what he calls diplomacy. Master Akefia had reasons for arranging the succession as he did." I will never understand your politics, my companion. I thank the Omnissiah he did not design We for such a task. "Spirit, I wish to review the Tactical Grid. Bring us back to the bunker, if you please?" Of course, my companion. I will be We again when you command. One by one, the Machine Spirit took over primary control of the sensor arrays. Vercingetorix allowed the auspex array to dim, the world blurring and finally fading before his eyes. His audiovox faded as well, and he was left in a black silence not unlike his sus-an sleep. Untethered from the senses of the Dreadnought, the ancient warrior was left with only the scant feelings remaining in his mortal frame. The pain that had dulled when he was in control of the Dreadnought emerged with renewed intensity. Wherever his harness touched living flesh it seared his nerves. His brain pounded with pulsing waves of pain. His body stirred and twitched as agony flowed through him.
INITIATING ASTARTES TACTICAL GRID UPLINK... ... TACTICAL UPLING ONLINE. INPUT AUTHORIZATION CODES NOW. "Authorization for Lord Revenant Vercingetorix, Venerable Ancient, Watcher of the Council, Fist of the Primarch, Champion of Kokytus, Initiate of Mars. Code six-four-four alpha epsilon, uplink priority one. ... AUTHORIZATION VALIDATED. WELCOME, LORD REVENANT. INTERFACING WITH MACHINE SPIRIT... ... Greetings, tier one user. How can this assist user? Vercingetorix spoke to the tactical grid's machine spirit through his neural uplink the same way he spoke to that of his dreadnought body. Compared to his companion, the intelligence guiding the Tactical Grid was dull and sluggish. "Spirit, give me auspex data, weather data within ten thousand kliks, and friendly force dispositions." Data query returns over two trillion results. Begin showing alphabetically? "No, Spirit. You misunderstand. I need data for this planet." Pacem. Imperial Civilized World. Surface Gravity 0.93. Equatorial median temperature- "That will be enough of that, Spirit." Vercingetorix's head throbbed. The pain of separating his mind from its relaxing amniofluid cradle was intensifying. The old warrior thought for a moment, then rephrased his query. "I require access to all planetary auspex web relays, meteorological data from all stations within ten thousand kilometers, and force dispositions for all Imperial forces on planet Pacem." Data accumulating, user. ... PLANETARY AUSPEX WEB APPROPRIATED. PLANETARY AUSPEX WEB NOW FULLY INTEGRATED INTO ATG... ... METEOROLOGICAL DATA APPROPRIATED. METEOROLOGICAL DATA NOW FULLY INTEGRATED INTO ATG... ... PLANETARY DEFENSE FORCE ROSTER... ... PDF ROSTER COMPILED. COMMAND BATCH PROCESSED... "Grid, interpret planetary defense forces, threat matrix Tau Alpha Upsilon. Enemy threat level unknown, presumed overwhelming. Data expand and recommend." Planetary Defense Forces Optimal planetary combat personnel: one million fighting persons, one hundred companies, ten regiments per company as per standard Planetary Defense doctrine in this region. Current operational strength: 18%. Current supply line efficiency: 10%. Current mechanized support: <1% total fighting forces. Current armoured support: <1% total fighting forces. Situation critical. Transit capacity far below acceptable parameters. Recommend immediate martial law. Recommend immediate seizure of all civilian automotive conveyances. Recommend immediate withdrawal of all forces from non-critical areas. Recommend shoot-on-sight policy for all forces. Recommend zero-tolerance desertion policy. Further relevant information: 84% of Adeptus Arbites precincts still secure. Reports of human partisans in xeno-controlled territory, confirmed. Reports of Orkoid activity, unconfirmed. Reports of Necron activity, unfounded. Reports of Ruinous Powers active among Imperial populace: unfounded. Space Marine presence: confirmed. Does user require further from this? "No, Grid. You have fulfilled my demands." Vercingetorix disconnected from the tactical grid and began reasserting control over his Dreadnought. "Awake, Spirit. I have finished communing with the Grid. Welcome back, my companion. Did your absence enlighten you? "The Grid assisted as it was able. It is strange to speak to a spirit so dim. Your presence has made me forget the cognitive sloth that assails so many of Mars's blessed creations. I value your presence greatly, Spirit." The machine spirit warmed Vercingetorix, soothing his throbbing head. He relaxed and let the gentle rocking of his body's ponderous footsteps soothe him into a state of relaxation. You are a good companion, my companion. Your dedication to duty is admirable. I do not think I will allow you to die in this engagement. As the dreadnought plodded toward the Steel Revenants' temporary command post, Vercingetorix allowed himself to drift off to sleep.
--PART 6 (some chucklefucks downvoted the archive, so here's the blog post intead)-- http://ferrusfair.blogspot.de/2011/08/entombed-vi.html
--PART 8 (Only blog from now on)-- http://ferrusfair.blogspot.de/2011/09/entombed-viii.html
--PART 10 (first half, second half never got finishd)-- http://ferrusfair.blogspot.de/2012/01/entombed-x-part-1.html
--PART 2.5 (Takes place between Part 2 and 3, different protagonist)-- http://ferrusfair.blogspot.de/2011/12/entombed-25-aleksos.html