"So, where's the man in charge, eh?"
The Cerberus didn't move, his expression hidden behind a gleaming visor.
"I'm sorry sir, but our orders are to wait here until further notice."
The other man shifted on his feet, annoyed with the tardiness of the one who asked for him.
"Really? We've been here for two and a half hours: it's cold and it's boring. I don't mind working with Corpus, but this is absurd."
The Cerberus simply eyed the bearded man before him, not saying a word.
It was a bleak and dreary day, even by the standards of the sector. The vista was grey, lifeless, no sunlight pierced the clouds, with snow falling at a light but steady pace. Life trudged on, however, as evidenced by the activity of various factions throughout the sector. The Commander saw as such as his lone Sphinx flew just below the clouds: Verkraft, The Sentinels, Ironstrike, and more all bustling about in their pockets of paradise.
"Sir, ETA is ten minutes," the pilot called over his shoulder.
The Commander nodded, shifting his focus from the external cameras to a single screen, which showed an annoyed looking bearded man. This camera was relaying the view of Captain Ecarro, the Cerberus leader of the advance force sent to greet a man who has made a name for himself over the past few months.
"I think you've succeeded in testing the man's patience, he looks ready to leave."
"But he hasn't," The Commander turned, facing the four Sentries who acted as his personal guard.
"Was this really necessary?" One of the Sentries, a woman by the name of Amanda, continued, "I know you were never particularly fond of mercenary soldiers, but why did you have him wait for so long?"
"As a mercenary, his loyalty is questionable at best. I simply wanted to see how skittish he is."
A voice from the cockpit, "ETA five minutes."
It started with a low rumble, growing steadily louder until it seemed as if some primal creature had descended from the sky. The Sphinx landed in a clearing with two Phalanxes arranged in a defensive perimeter, backed by scattered Spartans. The engines shut off with a whine, and the main door opened, revealing a black clad man flanked by Sentries on either side. The Commander quickly strode to the two men waiting for him, giving the mercenary a quick once over, his expression unmoving.
"About time you showed up, I was thinking about leaving."
The Commander clasped his hands behind his back, "I am glad you decided to stay," he had no desire to open himself to further questions from the mercenary, some things were better left unsaid.
"You are aware of why I called you here, yes?"
The other man shrugged, "What I heard is that you wanted a demonstration, figured I'd level an ironstrike base for you, and you'd hire me."
"More or less, though your target is a Verkraft instillation: a mine located a few hundred meters underground." The Commander withdrew a datapad from his coat, handing it to the other man. On the datapad were the coordinates of a transponder which had been quietly placed in the mine the previous day.
"It should be no trouble for someone with access to such potent equipment," The Commander stood still and straight, eyeing the other man for any sign of weakness.
"Shouldn't be a problem, though I've only ever hit surface targets."
Satisfied with the apparent commitment of the mercenary, The Commander turned to address those under his direct command.
"Hey, I'm Quinton, by the way, don't know if you were ever gonna ask."
"Not until after your demonstration. I see no reason to learn the name of anyone who is of no use to me or my people." Indeed, The Commander had considered simply killing the man and taking his equipment to be analyzed and reverse engineered, but had decided against it in case there were any quirks which could only be dealt with by the owner of the vehicle.
The Commander tapped a symbol on his arm mounted computer, sending an sleek, automated drone flying out of the Sphinx's cargo hold. The drone hovered above his shoulder, waiting for a command from it's master.
All assembled men and women looked to him, awaiting their orders. "About half an hour to our west is an old, abandoned mining complex which happens to have a mostly untapped vein of thorium running under it. Kruger and his forces were the first ones to notice this, and took control of the area. Our job is to clear any surface based defenses and seal all entrances to the mine." The Commander tipped his head towards Quinton, "He'll deal with the rest of the mine. Now move out."
The convoy was small and mobile: appearing to be composed of two Phalanxes and a strange looking truck that looked to have a satellite dish on it. Overhead flew the Sphinx, in a perfect position to provide air support if needed. The Commander rode in the Sphinx, keeping an eye out for any hostile activity on a radar screen.
"We are five minutes out, sir. Additional air support is on standby if needed," the pilot consulted a screen, "I see a few buildings off to the side of the main compound, maybe we could set up--."
"Incoming fire, right side!" One of the gunners yelled. The airship shuddered with the impact of flak rounds. The Commander switched to external cameras, seeing three Tempests reveal themselves from behind what appeared to be a cloaking field.
"Ecarro, go with your squad and silence those guns. Everyone else remain in formation."
The convoy had come to a halt, one Phalanx peeling off to engage the enemy, the other placing itself in between Quinton's vehicle and the danger. Both were firing from mounted turrets, supported by omnidirectional fire from the Sphinx. As powerful as the flak storm was, the Corpus airship held up well, and all three hostile units were lacerated within minutes.
"Seems we've been noticed," Quinton's cheerful voice piped up. The Commander ignored him for now: the battle had begun.
Soon, they were upon the Verkraft compound, which didn't look like much to the casual observer. To a more practiced eye, however, one would see subtle gun emplacements and places from which infantry and armour could storm any attackers. The defenses were centered around a large building: a recommissioned freight elevator which led to the mine below.
"Eradicate all defenses and destroy the lift," The Commander's orders sounded through the comms of every soldier under his command, "leave no survivors."
Both Phalanxes surged forth, turrets blazing, with the Sphinx close behind. The air was soon alight with bullets, grenades, even tank shells from a group of Warhorses which had moved out of warehouses to join the fray. Far above the action flew The Commander's drone: quiet, cloaked, and untargetable. From it, he had a birds eye view of the battleground, and was relaying orders to his forces on the ground. The reactors of the compound were the first to fall: torn asunder by fire from the swift moving APC's. Turrets around the base could no longer function at peak efficiency, and the storm which had greeted The Commander's forces lessened to that of rain on a summer's eve. With the turrets nigh inoperable, both Phalanxes put cover between them and the group of Warhorses, and stopped cold. The ramps on both slammed down, and out stormed Spartans and Drakons, weapons up and firing. Grenade and plasma fire cut through any armour: Tempests and Warhorses were shredded by the explosive onslaught, emplacements were silenced for good.
Throughout all of this, The Commander's Sphinx had drifted above, providing supporting fire for the ground force. Now it landed among fray, still firing at the dwindling enemy defenders. From the landing ramp came four Sentries, followed closely by their charge, who had his own rifle up and ready. Strings of orange lightning flitted between The Commander's bodyguards, their armour serving as conduits for the power which flowed from their backs. They moved in a tight knit group towards the central building, cutting down all who stood in their path.
Within a minute, they were upon it.
Within two, an eerie silence had fallen upon the compound.
"Destroy the building," The Commander spoke these words as the match to light the blaze of grenade, plasma, and machine gun fire which roared from all of his forces. Within moments, the building was reduced to smoldering rubble. The only way in or out of the mine was no more.
"So, how does this work, exactly?" The Commander stood next to Quinton, overlooking the smoldering Verkraft compound from a kilometer away.
"I don't know the specifics, just kinda point at something and it disappears." The vehicle Quinton called his own was a rather bizarre spectacle to behold: too long to be properly maneuverable, lightly armoured, and it's only offensive measure appeared to be a radio dish mounted to the top.
Before the main battle had begun, The Commander had told Quinton to set up in a position where his weapon would be most effective, and assigned Ecarro to him as a guard. Quinton had indeed found a spot he liked, and his vehicle now sat close to a cliff's edge quite some distance away from the compound.
"Well, by all means, proceed with the demonstration." Quinton cracked his knuckles in a dramatic fashion, then hopped to the top of his truck, and disappeared down a hatch into the thing itself. The Commander gazed at the vehicle, and saw the markings "V2" etched onto a small plate on the side of the radio dish. He didn't mull over what that meant much, for the dish began to move. Various antenna poked out from hidden compartments on the top of the truck, and the dish itself began to rise on a tower connected to a hinge near the back of the vehicle. In roughly half a minute, all was still and quiet, save for blinking red lights and a consistent chirping of transmitters.
Everyone was watching: all soldiers had their eyes on the compound in the distance, watching and waiting. Silence reigned supreme, and no one moved.
First it came as a low whirr, rising to a scream as a rocket descended upon the vulnerable compound. It had seemingly been sent by the heavens themselves, and was no model The Commander recognized. The rocket hit a spot between buildings, but didn't detonate. Rather, the moment before it hit the ground, a set of secondary boosters activated, sending the rocket roaring through the ground.
Several seconds passed: no one dared say a word nor twitch a muscle, all eyes were focused upon the impact site.
No one could stop staring when the world seemed to tear itself apart.
The ground cracked, tore, then blew outwards in all directions, propelled by a pillar of light purple fire. The Verkraft compound was obliterated in the explosion, the surrounding land engulfed by the result of explosives and raw thorium. The purple flames created a ring around a massive crater, in which was even more devastation.
"So, whaddaya think?" Quinton hopped from the truck to the ground, smiling. The Commander turned to face him, tearing his gaze from the now dying flames.
"I would be honored to have you fight by my side." Quinton laughed, and slapped The Commander on his back.
"Ha! See, I told you you'd like it!"
Progress in the name of a better future.