By the time we were ready to leave Mars, we were well versed in using the fighting suits. We could fight in them, run in them and build in them. We had finished off the base—adding several hundred square feet of floor space to it. We were now ready to be shipped out. Our transport was a converted "cattle wagon" that had been used to transport colonists, plants and animals to various planets. But don't let that fool you into thinking we had lots of room. With all the ordinance, spare suits, craft used to transport us to plant surfaces and all the food and water needed for what was an indefinite stay in space, our quarters were cramped. The officer's mess was a room ten foot by ten foot square with one couch, a chair and a coffee machine that spit out tar like coffee. The enlisted personnel mess was half that size, with two chairs bolted to the walls outside.
Morale was low though. We had another two casualties—Edith Stern from the second squad and Joe Fitzroy from the third squad. Josef Muller from first squad was released from duty on psychiatric grounds after he had lost both legs in an accident. Chances were he would be on Mars for the rest of his life. He would have been better off dead.
Lieutenant James wasn't doing much in the way of commanding unless it was something serious. Sergeant Mumbega made most of the decisions- from allowing cookie to set up his still to the sleeping arrangements. He had brought back in the sleeping arrangements from our training. We could bunk with whoever we wanted. We knew why he was doing it. Morale needed boosting. Margaret and I bunked together, as did Eddie and Emily. The squad's interchanged partners, but for the six weeks it took us to reach the collapsar, we four stayed with our "partners." We explained it as a lesson to the Sergeant Mumbega that the squads needed consistency outside our daily drills, but in truth, none of the four of us were comfortable sleeping with someone there was a slim chance we might have to order to their deaths.
After five weeks cooped up in the tin can they called a space ship, the commanding officer, Captain Harris, an air force officer, came over the com.
"Sorry folks. Looks like we have hit the collapsar earlier than intended. All crew and squads report to the Life Support Pods."
While Lieutenant James may have been our commanding officer in theory, Captain Mulligan was the real commander. Liutenant James would only be commanding us while on the ground. So we took off running the minute the Captain gave the order. We ran to the LSP's and began to strip to make it all the easier to connect the 'waste removal tubes.' I know what you're thinking- all these guys and girls together naked. Yeah. Trust me, when you have done it a hundred times before, and you are racing for your life, THOSE thoughts don't come- especially when you are trying to put a tube in a very sensitive area. Well, those thoughts don't come to everyone. Petrov was looking embarrassed.
We clambered into the pods, which resembled human shaped clam shells, as the warning bell rang. The shells closed, and lowered into a large tank. Gel flooded the inside while thick foam flooded the tank, and I spent the next two weeks entertaining myself by trying to remember and spell my name.
I came to my senses as my pod opened and the gel fell away. By the looks of it, I was one of the first to awake. Margaret and Eddie were already out of their shells and pulling on clothes. Eddie had a large welt running from his left shoulder down to his navel, which could only mean he hadn't been properly positioned in his shell.
I staggered out and pulled on my coveralls- after I had removed the tubes, of course. Over the course of the next twenty minutes, the other squads woke up, and we formed ranks as Lieutenant James cam striding in, followed by Sergeant Mumbega.
"Listen up people. We are thirteen hours away from our target."
We had a target? Wow. The probability of hitting an enemy planet so soon out of a jump were heavily staked in favour of been unlikely.
"Our scans," Lieutenant James continued, "indicate, as best they can, that a small force is on the surface of a planetoid with an atmosphere similar to Earth. We believe that they are a force placed here to guard the portal. W will land about ten miles from the surface structures. Our orders are to clear the planet and capture one of the aliens alive. At current cruising speed, our ship to surface craft will be ready to use in eleven hours. Be prepared."
With that, he marched out. The first conflict of the war was about the occur.