Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Entombed IV

[Now that the formatting nightmare has been fixed, here's the post. For real this time.]

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.

"Yes, Spirit. It is good."

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 the captain 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. His voice was like the snarl of a feral dog. "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 clapped his hands. Sergeant Lothos ignited the pilot light of his flamer. Without a word, he sprayed the tome with burning promethium. 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."

The Commissar-General's flush had spread to his neck. "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!" Helem was shaking with fury. The rest of the council remained motionless, the space marines watching calmly, the PDF commanders glancing nervously at one another.

"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 would hear your thoughts."

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