They had spoken on the shuttle. Just a little at first. It had been a short flight from the Xenocide to the King of Kings; no more than an hour; but the two had come to a decision.
The Storm Son emerged onto the Arvus lighter's first, helm in place, his manner martial. The Gatebreaker, similarly helmed, stalked after him. Two files of Naval armsmen came smartly to attention as Greysight's feet hit the deck. The Naval officer stepped out, her salute faltering as it became clear that neither of the Astartes intended to stop.
To her credit, the officer barely hesitated. For a moment, Yeng thought he was going to attempt to bar Greysight's way, but she instead turned to fall into step with the Storm Son – at least briefly. Her swift steps failed to match the Space Marine's, and within half a dozen paces Yeng found her instead at his side.
Judging by the clamminess of her portly face, she was putting a brave face on things. Her voice gave no sign of wavering or any breathlessness.
"My Lords; you are expected."
Yeng greeted this with a grunt. "My brother knows the layout of this vessel. The Fleet-Captain is aboard." It was a statement, not a query.
"Indeed. I have orders to escort you to the... to the strategium, sir."
"If such is your commander's will, so be it," the Gatebreaker replied with a shrug. "Keep up."
Within thirty paces, the officer and the armsmen were marching at the double. Within a hundred, they were running.
The approach to the Strategium was ornate; even beautiful. A long, low corridor, with recessed statuary depicting officers of the Sector fleet. A carpet – much repaired and more brown than the scarlet Greysight suspected it had been – ran along the centre of the gently curving hall.
Across the vox, Greysight and Yeng discussed the ease of defense. Despite their belligerent appearance, the two were in high spirits; pleased to be aboard ship once more. "If the world below offered such easy channels and firing lines, there would be little need of the fleet," Greysight murmured. The Gatebreaker tapped his vox in agreement.
Neither he nor the Storm Son lingered on the aesthetics. They were alone now. Yeng mused on whether the officer would be reprimanded; whether she had decided to save face by halting; where they were. He dismissed the thought as the Strategium revealed itself. At the end of the corridor, a small group of Naval armsmen snapped to attention. The large doors were open, revealing a still larger room, at the centre of which stood a raised dais with a hololith.
Armed and armoured identically as the honour guard, an officer's voice barked out,
The voidsailors here moved to bar the Astartes way, raising boarding shotguns and slug-throwers. Still a little way back, the two Astartes glanced at one another. Not breaking pace, their hands moved pointedly to their weapons – though neither touched them.
The Armsmen stood staunchly as the Astartes closed the distance. "I said halt," repeated the officer; and this time the Astartes drew to a stop. Yeng stood favouring his right hip; Greysight besides him. Up-close, the officer revealed himself to be an old man. Thin to the point of gauntness, his narrow shoulders were nevertheless set firmly. A nasty ragged scar ran from his defiant chin, across his jawline, and up over the space an ear had presumably once sat. His eyes were clear – and furious.
"Whatever your rank, Astartes, whatever your customs; let me make this clear. While on this sovereign vessel, you will obey its rules and its laws."
Yeng leaned down to look more closely at the officer. There was a pause before he straightened.
A single word rumbled out of the Gatebreaker's helm, "Agreed."
To his credit, the officer made no immediate response. After a tense moment, Greysight spoke; his voice equally shrouded by vox-distortion.
"Take us to Captain Locke. Quickly."
"Sub-Lieutenant Schmole has already made me aware of your haste, Astartes," replied the officer, chewing the word as though it were a wasp, "and the Fleet-Captain awaits within." Masking his scowl badly, the officer stepped back, making a curt gesture through the door.
The gathered Naval officers made up a panoply of uniforms and brocade as complex as any Space Marine Chapter, though any colours were lost in the glow of the hololith. Sailors from a dozen or more regions crowded round the table-plotter, their faces made antiseptic and stony in its cold light. They turned to face the Astartes as they approached, showing a mix of respect, half-masked eagerness, and fear.
Without waiting, Greysight demanded a report. Hushed, the faces turned to Fleet-Captain Locke. Tall and lean, wearing the stiff-necked collar of the Naval Battlefleet, her greying hair sat atop a face which, if not severe, was certainly . She gave a measured half-bow, which was picked up by the gathered officers. Her eyes take in the armoured forms of Greysight and Yeng.
“I am honoured by your presence,” she said, her formal tones masking any irritation.
"And we yours," said Yeng, "but speed is of the essence, Captain."
"Then I suggest you allow us to continue to plan our defence, sir." There was a pause. "If you have anything to add, then..."
She was interrupted by Greysight. "It is less what we have to add to your plan, as what we have to suggest of our own." He leaned over the hololith, both hands flat on the surface. Tiny motes of light flickered and resolved around his massive gauntlets.
Showing no sign of irritation, Locke demurred gracefully. "As I say; I am happy to hear the advice of the Astartes. Make no mistake, however," she went on, her hard gaze flicking between the Space Marines. "I regard the Xenocide as an honoured – and very welcome – ally; not our commander. I will not allow the Navy's prerogative and duties to be interfered with in this sphere."
Yeng outlined the Astartes plan – outlining a strategy of harrying and drawing away smaller ships – with occasional clarifications from Greysight. Helmed, armoured and massive, the two presented a united front; and as they continued, their experience as void-warriors and sub-fleet commanders – each with their own Chapter's hard-won experienced – became clear. Interjections from the naval officers were few, and though Locke's arms remained folded, her tilted head indicated a guarded interest in the Astartes' plan.
As Yeng came to a close, Greysightleaned in. "We cannot kill them all; but we can thin them out. Breaking the herd apart will divide their attention and slow their deployment."
"It is a plan that will spare our forces." remarked Captain Utomo of the Thricebound. His tone was as neutral as his commander's.
"...and place the planet at greater risk," objected Commodore Zheng of Saint Orestes. He avoided Greysight's glowering faceplate, addressing his words to Locke. "Whether they land together or apart is of little benefit if they can simply gather in the plains – and unless we can re-establish orbital dominance, we cannot support the Guard by breaking them up. I maintain, Fleet-Captain, that keeping the xenos in the void is the clearest route to victory. The fewer xenos make landfall, the better the planet's chances."
"Perhaps," said Yeng, removing his helm at last. His tone was conciliatory; his face open. The officers looked at him, curious despite themselves. Astartes were exotic. "No-one is in doubt of your prowess or courage. Navy is a strong wall. But as the Odes put it, when the tide rises, better to run than stand. "
Locke narrowed her eyes. "Proverbs are all very well, sir; but you and your colleague know as well as any here that the Tyranids are not mindless, whatever the ranks are told. Nor – " and here she shot a hard look at a squat officer opposite, who bridled wordlessly, "– are they numberless."
Greysight folded his arms. "We cannot prevent planetstrike; but can attempt to direct and control where. More than that: pulling the enemy fleet apart lets us identify the prime-vessels and target them. Disruption of the xenos' command and control weakens the whole. If we can unveil the kingship, we stand a chance of ending effective invasion at a stroke." His whole being bristled with agitation and suppressed threat; as though he longed to be moving and fighting.
Locke continued, addressing the group as a whole. "The Astartes are correct in this: that however many they are, they cannot fill the void. Their strategy of winnowing and shepherding the oncoming tyranids may succeed in directing them into planetary gunlanes and strongholds; but Zheng is right. It also spares us at the expense of the planet. Holding back our blows to strike at a target that may never be revealed may doom the defenders below."
Yeng's collar clicked at a vox-nudge from Greysight – undetectible to the humans, but Yeng replaced his helm; his conciliatory expression being replaced by the war-mask of his plate.
Locke want on, "The enemy fleet outmatches us. By what margin, we do not know; but we can be sure that they have finite resources, and that they can be beaten. I will not sacrifice what few vessels we have for glory; but nor will I shy from my duty to protect this world." She addressed the Astartes once more. "I respect your advice, but the Imperial Navy is not an Astartes fleet. I must seek victory in the time-honoured manner of the Navy itself."
Along with the naval staff, the two Astartes straightened, as the Fleet-captain withdrew to consider. A tense twenty minutes passed, during which time the two Astartes stood, as umoving as statuary. The officers formed tense knots of whispered discussion; both they and the crew darting occasional glances at the Deathwatch marines.
Locke's briefing, when she emerged, was short. The plan she outlined took elements of Greysight and Yeng's plan; synthesising it with her own. The navy vessels would present a mobile strongpoint; creating a moving and ever-reducing spiral from the mandeville point to the planet. In this way, the Fleet-Captain hoped to bait the tyranids towards the planetary capital while maximising the fleet's full broadsides against vanguard hiveships. Once planetfall was inevitable, the spiral would use their unfired planetside broadside to disrupt landing ships before expanding, drawing away the chaff-hiveships to expose the greater threat of whatever bulk-lander equivalents the aliens possessed to the planetside guns.
Dispersing across the battlespace in this way, the Navy aimed to regroup at the equator, cycle back to the mandeville point and enfilade the remaining mass of tyranids.
Edited by Apologist, 22 March 2019 - 12:39 PM.