Chapter 8– Martians Test Our Mettle
The next morning I arose at sunup and went up to the roof of our building to watch the sunrise. As I peered out over the landscape to the south, I noticed movement through the trees. It appeared to be a large number of people. I called to the man on guard duty and asked him what he made of it.
“Well, Colonel,” he said, “It looks like them fellers out thar are totin’ some weapons and mean to do us some mischief.”
“I agree,” said I, “ let’s go down and roust up a couple of platoons and greet these fellows properly.”
“It’s about time we had a little excitement around here.”, Private Guy Babcock said.
With that we went downstairs and sounded the alarm. I called for the first and second platoons along with one of the new Colt machineguns to be readied for action. The barracks became alive with action. Lieutenants Ballard and Coleman arrived from the Officer’s quarters and asked about the situation.
I said, “It appears that a sizeable force of Martian warriors are forming up to the south, gentlemen. I plan on going out with some force to determine their intentions. Prepare your platoons with the magazine rifles. We’ll exit the barracks in ten minutes and form up outside.”
“Yes sir!”, was their reply as they went off shouting orders. With great rapidity, the men were issued rifles and ammunition. They then gathered near the exits.
Before we exited, I addressed the men, “The results of this encounter will set the tenor for the remainder of our stay on this planet. If we fare well, we will put fear into the population and our stay will be easier. If we are bested, we can only expect constant strife until we are driven off of Mars or destroyed. I know that each of you will do your utmost to uphold the honor of the regiment, the U.S.A., and the world. Now, let’s go out and show them what we are made of!”
With a cheer, we marched out and formed our line behind our compound, facing to the south. The ground near our compound was clear, however, it was soon broken up by groves of trees, peculiar round shrubs, and patches of scrub. It was my plan to advance to the edge of this broken ground and set up our firing line. This would allow us to rapidly retreat if necessary while denying ease of movement to our foe.
The groups to the left and right were made up of infantry. The group to our left were armed with spears and bows, while those on our right had swords and rifles. I believe that their plan was to pin us down with the infantry, then finish us with the mounted men while we were engaged.
The units on the right were greatly hampered by the terrain while those on the left fared better and engaged our first platoon. The first to emerge was a group of spearmen, disordered after moving through a grove of trees. Upon their emergence, Lt. Ballard ordered up a volley that smashed into the phalanx as it tried to get into battle formation. The Colt machinegun then swung around and cut the spearmen to ribbons. This group was utterly destroyed before it ever got close to our lines.
Seeing their men on the left handled so roughly, the mounted soldiers could wait no longer and advanced straight up the middle. I believe they were hoping to divide our line and defeat us piecemeal. However, this attack, if anything, fared worse that the fragmented assault tried on the left. As the mounted troops moved up the center, they were slowed by rough terrain. This made them easy targets for the plucky little Colt as well as our riflemen. Our combined firepower made short work of this ill-advised charge.
At this time, the infantry on the right finally began to make headway. On the far right swordsmen came crashing out of the trees and at the center right, the Martian riflemen advanced quickly. The riflemen’s advance was checked by a most peculiar event. They were crossing an area of scrub dotted with yellow mushrooms when suddenly there was a loud explosion that hurled soil and Martians into the air. Later, I was told that the Martians must have entered a field of Kuvu Letupan. This is a type of mushroom that has a large membrane containing spores and gases under high pressure. It the mushroom at the surface is disturbed, the gas bag erupts violently, dispersing the spores and anything else in the immediate area.
The riflemen recovered somewhat, then continued their advance. As our rifles had the superior range, we were able to hit them first. Our volley was telling, but the Martians managed to stagger forward and deliver a ragged volley. One man in our second platoon was injured. Our second round of fire drove the remainder of their riflemen away.
By this time the Martian attack was thoroughly broken and a few more shots were all that was required to send the Martians back from whence they came. The ground was strewn with Martian dead and wounded. I ordered our own wounded taken into the compound for medical assistance. We then collected the Martian wounded and helped them as best we could with our limited resources. I hoped that this gesture would at least improve our image with the local population. Once the wounded were attended to, I gathered Professor Edgren and a bodyguard and headed to Reytik’s office to get some answers.