"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.
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. Our 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. Two teams of 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."