It had been three long, hot days since Softlove had been rescued. He was now in the unenviable position of commanding of a rag tag column of soldiers and civilians that he and his men had rescued along the way to New Victoria. A column that consisted of regulars and friendly Martians, as well as settlers and civilian officials, a column that was low on food, water, ammunition and most anything else they needed.
The previous day a light scout ship had landed after spotting the column and its captain; Lt A A Milne RN, had spoken to Softlove. Lt. Milne explained that the Martian attack was much more widespread than was initially thought, with many of the smaller settlements coming under attack at the same time as the city. He and his crew were picking up as many people as they could, and dropping supplies where necessary; especially to the die-hard settlers were refusing to give up their farmsteads. Milne had also reported that a bad sandstorm was approaching and suggested Softlove lead his column to a nearby abandoned farm so they could let it pass. In the meantime he would take back the most seriously wounded and arrange for one or more of the larger aeroneffs to rendezvous with the column at the farm and take it back to the safety of New Victoria.
The sandstorm had been truly awful; the worst Softlove had ever experience on Mars. He had just managed to get the column to the farm when it hit, throwing everything into disarray; the few pack animals they had were lost and it was impossible to post sentries for fear of losing them. The column had just hunkered down where it stood, making use of the little protection afforded by the farm buildings.
The storm raged throughout the night and it was dawn before the column was able to get any respite from the bighting winds and stinging sand; but while dawn may have brought respite from the storm, it brought with it an even greater danger, Martians!
Ruffbrute had been awake for most of the night, he and Cpl. Bloward had been struggling with the wagon covers that protected what little remaining rations and water they had from the storm. Now, as he and Blowhard sat atop the wagon sharing some sausage, he caught sight of a Martian warband moving rapidly towards the farmstead. He turned to Bloward calmly telling him, “OK lad, get your bugle and sound the alarm, ‘ere we go again.”
Medical orderly William Tickel tends to Private Partts