Chapter 31 - Final Stronghold

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21st September 2311 12:18 EST - The first steps onto the rocky surface of Loki had initially felt uneasy for Jason. A huge part of him felt like the ground would cave in under him, making him plummet to the floor below. Yet it never happened.

Even the flight to the spaceport was without incident, the descent from the USM Athena direct to the planet's surface was smooth, a far cry from the perilous descent he experienced on his last visit to the planet.

Travelling throughout the rocky wasteland to the F.O.B had been uncomfortable. The dense, almost suffocating clouds made travel via the air impossible, therefore, transportation was through old fashioned armoured personnel carriers, or Beetles as the soldiers named them due to their hardened, round plated exterior.

Despite their impressive robust suspension, the Beetles could not make the ride across Loki's perilous surface comfortably. Each bump rocked the inside of the Beetle, causing groans from the usually sturdy Ravens.

It was at this time that Jason realised how much he enjoyed the comfort of urban environments and the home that he had left behind in Europa. The realisation of how the adventures that he sought as a young man now seemed to drain him of the enthusiasm that fuelled his decisions as a teenager. He was foolish then, yet even now, as he sat like a strapped in ragdoll, his levels of wisdom were far from what he sought them to be.

This conspiracy, the politics, the manipulation, all of it was disconcerting and frustrating. The more Donnelly and Jason had delved into it, the deeper the chasm appeared to go, and as they were both being dragged further in, the less likely it appeared they would see the light at the end of it.

Remembering the smoke billowing from the Kremlin and the complete silence from his godfather, Vladimir Proviski, had left a deep scar in Jason's mind. Proviski was untouchable, or so Jason had thought, but just like his father, Proviski had been removed from the game board. Yet, unlike his father, Proviski's removal was brazen and rash, in broad daylight with news crews and civilians within a mile radius of the attack.

The forces of General Richard von Striken had little regard for their enemy, they were strong, they were forceful and they were winning. Yet now they were becoming arrogant, confident that victory would be within their grasp.

Confidence or arrogance, which was it? There was a thin line between the two, something Jason's father had often said, and it was only determined by success or failure.

Jason's masked helmet flicked its focus to the armoured soldier next to him. He couldn't see her face, but he knew it was Donnelly who sat almost lifeless at his side.

After completing her psyche evaluation, she looked even more devoid of life than before the events that took place just a week or so ago. On officially receiving her orders to assist with the advance on Loki, she was convinced that it was a death sentence, and nothing Jason could say or do would convince her otherwise.

He knew, as well as Colonel El Hadji, as he placed the orders in her hand, that there was no way she was fit for active duty. Donnelly was a risk to herself and her unit, and the smile that El Hadji maliciously swang in her direction meant he had complete awareness of the fact.

The more Jason evaluated the situation, the more he realised that General von Striken was steering towards confidence, not arrogance. He was winning and now he cared little for collateral damage or for anyone that was potentially in his way.

The Beetle came to an abrupt halt, encouraging the Blue Ravens to look towards the exit ramp as it slowly descended from the body of the vehicle.

As always, Loki's surface and the dense cloud hovering effortlessly in the air produced an unusual light throughout the canyons and mountains that the team found themselves near. Jason's visor adjusted to the light difference, causing it to darken at first, before gradually returning to the natural light allowing his eyes to embrace the new surroundings.

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