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The Crusade

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Two-hundred and ninety-three days.

Two-hundred and ninety-three days of ozone, hot-steel stench, stale sweat and engine roar.

Two-hundred and ninety-three days and almost thirty-five million miles, packed into a steel jar with five thousand other men and the nearest woman almost half a mile away on the ship's bridge; until now.

War, as has been observed, is Hell.

The klaxon roused us from our beds at oh-four-fifteen, blaring through the steel corridors. We were up in minutes, all the training taking over and three thousand pairs of boots pounding the plates on the way to the parade deck. 

We formed up: Five columns, ten by fifty; twenty artillery crews; ten crabs; twenty tripods. Perfect discipline, or nearly. In truth, our eyes all strayed to the tripods from time to time. No-one is really sure why women are so much better at piloting the damn things but it changes the way you watch them walk.

Brigadier Lord Monmouth stood up at the for'ard and spoke into the microphone. "All right men, attend to me!" he bellowed, his voice ringing out loud enough to rattle the deck plates. "In one hour we touch down on alien sands, and I don't want so much as a nail unsecured at impact. We will disembark on the edge of the Grand Canal and form up in battle order. I want a perimeter established around the ship in a quarter of an hour; artillery on the ridge and crabs on scout pattern. If and when they come for us, we will be ready. If and when we are ready, we will go after them.

"They came to our world with war, and now we return it to them."

The klaxon blared again.

"Gentlemen..." He looked up at the tripods and added awkwardly: "And ladies. This is it!

"Welcome to Mars!"