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Pitch black, to the point he wasn't sure if he had opened his eyes. He couldn't even see his hand right in front of his face. Slowly he could start making out the tiny lights on the control panels, the buttons and switches, the screens coming alive with static once more. His breathing had remained steady throughout the entire ordeal, and yet he let go a sigh of relief, knowing now that they had survived, and that the equipment seemed to be working properly. He turned to his right, and almost hidden in the darkness of the small compartment, he could see the silhouette of his commander. Oz. Oscar. Sergeant Garza. He was sitting snuggly, arms folded, tucking a compact shotgun closely to his chest. There was no easy way of knowing whether he was awake or not, as he was still wearing his helmet, covering his whole face. Three screens at the front of the compartment suddenly lit up, blinding him for an instant. The feed on the screens was hazy at first and quickly cleared up.
"They work!", John cried out in excitement. "Someone up above is watching over us".
"You better hope you're wrong", Oscar said.
The sergeant pressed a button on the side of his helmet, and the visor swept back automatically, revealing a face half covered by a rebreather mask. His brown eyes gave away his weary state, his cheeks and forehead were covered in soot, and strands of black hair poured out under the helmet. Sitting front and center as the driver, Corporal John Knight turned around to face his commander. As did the other two crewmen, John also wore a rebreather, the only thing allowing them to breathe the nitrogen-rich atmosphere of Titan.
"Boss, I think if anything were up there, it would have found us by now, and we wouldn't be sitting here wondering about it. My guess is the EM blast-".
"Hang on a second, John, I'm thinking", Oscar said, raising a hand to stop his driver. "The EM blast is masking us from anything that might be in orbit. It's got to be pretty much impossible to pick out anything in all this crap".
"You took the words right out of my mouth, boss".
Oscar turned to his left, facing his gunner. "New guy, what's your take on all this?".
"Well sir - I mean, Sarge - I've got to agree on that", Mick said. "Don't know much about these Tharsis destroyers, but if they're anything like Arcadia tanks, then this baby doesn't give out much of a signature. Especially with all the neutron scattering in the atmosphere right now. Orbital sensors must be going crazy if anyone is watching".
"Excellent, then we're all in agreement", he said as he lowered his visor. "I'm going to take a look outside and breathe in the fresh air".
He stood up and opened the hatch at the top of the turret. He switched the visor to low light visibility and looked up towards the sky. Titan was a cold, dark rock. Before reaching the surface, 90% of sunlight is absorbed by its dense atmosphere. Dark was an understatement. The flat terrain around the tank destroyer was littered with the wreckages of knocked out vehicles and downed ships, surrounding a still smoking crater that hadn't been there ten hours ago. And looming overhead, barely visible through the methane clouds and nitrogen smog, was the eternal presence of Saturn and her rings, dwarfing it's largest moon.
There was a sense of pride in holding the title of Titanean. Mick had been born on a freighter ship in transit, a man with no place to call home, but the same could not be said for John or Oscar. They were Titaneans, and wore the name like a badge of honor. It spoke of the great hardships their people had endured since the first pioneers arrived on that cruel and unforgiving rock. Decades living in the harsh alien environment had hardened the inhabitants of Titan. The unbreathable air, the extreme cold, the low gravity... None of it had stopped them. There had been accidents in the past, of course. Mistakes had been made. But they persevered, and even though they might never truly tame this land, they had certainly adapted to it. And that was a feat all in itself.
Oscar looked beyond the battlefield, scanning the horizon in search of a sign. As the commander of this tank destroyer, he had a duty to his crew and their machine. Take them home, he thought. But where was home, when everything you fought for was gone? Yes, they had survived the battle, but that hardly counted as a victory. Certainly not for his faction. They had been wiped off the face of that rock, the only three-man crew remaining of the once proud Titan Colonial Militia. Now they were fugitives, wanted men, for the mere fact that they had been on the losing side. Better they had died with the rest of them.
No, I'm going to get them home, wherever home may be. We'll find a new one if necessary.
"What's the plan, boss?", John asked, opening the hatch to his compartment.
"Depends", said Oscar. He switched on his wrist pad and after pressing a few commands, one of John's screens lit up. The driver sat to take a look, and couldn't help but smile. "Can we make it there?", Oscar finally asked.
"If we scrounge as much fuel as we can find 'round here, I reckon we can. It'll take us a while to get there, though".
"We've got all the time in the world".
"Where are we going?", Mick asked, peeking out of his hatch.
"Ever hear of a place called Shangri-La?"