Chapter 9 - First Contact

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Date and time unknown - The last few steps through the canyon into a deep crater where the outpost sat high above the clouds were painful but rewarding.

The 223rd had spent the last few hours running up the mountain. Despite the stims that were being pumped into their system, the thinner oxygen was causing breathing to become much harder and aches and pains started to make their legs and arms feel increasingly heavy.

Their training had prepared them for this. Everyone had the fitness to make it up the mountain even with the two stasis pods housing critically injured soldiers.

Only five hundred metres remaining.

As the battered archaic outpost came into view, all aches and pains appeared to disappear and each soldier found a new lease of life causing them to all sprint along the crater floor.

Jason thumped himself into the door with Westwood collapsing into it just after him. They both struggled initially to inhale any air, but as their lungs acclimatised, their breathing gradually slowed, giving them the energy to prise open the outpost door.

As the doors groaned open the soldiers all collapsed just inside its darkened entrance, using the opportunity to regain their energy and oxygen levels.

Lying on the floor Jason knew that this was the easiest part of the next few hours. With approximately one hundred Ceti's a few hours behind them he needed to make sure that what was left of the 223rd was capable of holding them off for as long as possible.

There was much urgency and turmoil in his mind, but Jason knew to push the troops to the limit now would likely make them an incapable fighting force when it mattered.

He stood to his feet, a sharp pain throbbed in his side. With all the adrenaline and stims coursing through his veins, he had forgotten about his broken rib. Another reminder of why a few minutes of rest would be crucial.

"10 minutes break," Jason ordered.

It was painful to say it but seeing the relief from his fellow comrades provided him with a small amount of satisfaction.

Now he needed to do a situation report (sitrep) of their current circumstances and establish what needed to be accomplished before the enemy arrived on their doorstep.

With no power, it would mean no radio. He had ten physically capable soldiers, with one hundred enemy combatants on their way. Two medical pods had to be monitored at regular intervals and only a finite amount of ammunition for the up and coming battle.

Jason looked up to the sky. It was dark as nighttime gloomed the horizon, but the stars could be seen clearly. He had no idea what constellations he was looking at but they were glamorous. He wondered if any of those stars were actually ships. If he could reach even one of those ships it wouldn't matter if he had to deal with a hundred or a thousand Ceti's. Orbital bombardment from USM forces would be deadly to the onrushing army. The radio was therefore the most important asset in this entire facility, and with the outpost being high above the clouds, it would be easy to make contact.

'Let's just hope that the radio isn't too badly damaged' he thought to himself.

As soon as the 10 minutes were up he got everyone up and focused. They were tired and battered but now eager and willing to do what was required.

Private Schuldermann was the best electronics engineer in the regiment. Jason had followed him into the facility to find its generator and, despite its age, it hadn't taken Schuldermann long to get it activated. As it whirred into life and the lights flickered on they could both hear a cheer from the other soldiers currently awaiting their next instructions. A good sign that morale hadn't been too severely battered.

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