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Muerte en Marte

“¡Cuidado, Soledad!” Bellona’s warning reverberates inside my AR headset.

I duck, and the zombie’s blow grazes me, missing me by an inch, so close I can feel its fist brush my shoulder. Before it can shapeshift, I aim my ray gun at the center of its head. I need both hands to pull the trigger. The beam blasts its left eye, half its face liquefies, and bits of brain splatter my goggles. The monster lurches a few steps before it collapses in the red Martian dirt. I fire at its heart to make sure it won’t rise again.

“¡Bien hecho!” Bellona runs over and offers me her fist to bump. Her steps are light and agile despite her Martian bulk. Though her green skin appears gray under Mars’s sky, her smile is bright white. I hesitate a moment before touching my fist against hers.

A wave of nausea replaces the adrenaline rush, sending my head spinning. I slip my gun into the holster at my waist and grab my knees to steady myself. Despite years of terraforming, the air is thin on Mars, and my mind is blurry from the lack of oxygen.

“¡Ya estoy harta!” I cry out in disgust. Straightening, I push my headset to my forehead. I hold my breath against the stench of the viscera even as I ache for water. The sun isn’t as bright here, but in the outskirts without solar shielding, it’s hot enough.

I met Bellona a few days after arriving on Mars, following my very first zombie attack. As I sat on the edge of the ambulance stretcher, she draped a blanket over my shoulders and handed me a mug of hot cocoa. When I looked up, I couldn’t tell if I was more mystified by her smile or her green skin. Green skin, the exact shade of tamales verdes, protects Martians from cosmic radiation exposure.

Noticing my Tex-Mex flavored English, she peppered her speech with Spanish, and code-switching served as an icebreaker. In hindsight, it was our meet-cute.

Bellona didn’t strike me as queer, more like someone who was up for anything, but that didn’t stop me from making romantic overtures. True to my name, which means solitude, I’d always kept to myself when I lived on Earth, but this hellhole made me desperate for connection.

“¿Qué tienes, Soledad?” Bellona peers into my goggles, and I wince as the triumph on her face turns to worry.

“Nada, Bellona,” I say before a brief pause. “I’m happy with you, but this isn’t what I bargained for.” I gesture at the broad, red, barren landscape.

Bellona seems taken aback. Even offended. Born to two Earthlings of Mexican descent on Mars, she hasn’t lived anywhere else. Her namesake is the goddess of war and sister-wife of Mars, after all. But life is hard here. The first time I saw a zombie roaming the terraformed streets, I prayed for a quick death. The first time I saw one change its face to resemble the soldier it had killed, I got sick for days. Even now, my hands shake whenever the siren roars.

“It’s either survive or die trying here,” I say. Alas, going back to the radiation-ravaged Earth isn’t a viable option.

Bellona remains silent. Hurt clouds her expression, and I look away. I’m too much of a coward to face her.

“Vámonos a casa,” I say, breaking the awkward silence. We hop into our rover and head toward our apartment.

When we step into the foyer, I toss my weapon on the hall table and follow Bellona into the kitchen. The household AI turns on the jukebox, and Lola Beltrán wails a ranchera ballad about lost love and longing.

“Ximena, play something more upbeat,” I say to the AI. Caifanes’s rock anthem comes on, and the crunch of guitar riffs fills the room.

“It’s date night,” I say, like everything is fine. Like I didn’t screw up. Again. “¿Quieres que salgamos a cenar?”

“No.” Bellona shakes her head. “Let’s stay home.”

“Okay,” I say. I sound as sad as she looks.

Bellona is the first to the shower. When I hear the water running, I stick my head in the fridge to find something for dinner. Tofu steaks. Genetically composed cabbage. A small container of oil. I shut the fridge door with a sigh and lean my head against the cold stainless steel.

Bellona returns in a cream vest and slacks. I shuffle by her with an unintelligible mumble, and I turn red as a bead of water rolls down her neck.

In the shower, I turn the nozzle and let the stream hit my face. Water use is regulated by the state, so long showers are a thing of the past, but it’s better than nothing. No, it’s pretty euphoric. Being clean here is a hard ask. The red dust gets everywhere. I’m always digging it out from under my nails.

Lost in thought, I’m startled when Bellona opens the shower door and steps inside.

I gaze at her, into her soft eyes, and I’m swallowing over tears. 

Bellona strips naked, and I rest my palm on the scar that zigzags down her chest.

“A badge of honor,” she says with a smile. “The bastards almost got me.”

I run my fingers along the scar. I linger on her breasts, and her nipples harden.

Bellona’s figure is erect, and she holds herself with a soldier’s bearing—well suited for survival in the extreme conditions on Mars. Her physique makes me feel inadequate. I could go through Martianization myself to be more like her, but I can’t quite see Mars as my home yet.

We leave the bathroom with steam swirling around us. I sit on the bed with my back against the wall. Bellona sits beside me.

“Apologies don’t come easy to me,” I say.

“You don’t have to apologize.”

I swallow my rebuttal. I try again.

“Te amo, Bellona. I never want you to think otherwise.”

“I love you too, Soledad.”

She gently strokes her thumb across my cheek and brushes a strand of hair out of my eyes. I cup her cheek and inhale the sweet scent of her lavender shampoo.

When she leans closer, some of the guilt washes away.

We kiss. Her lips meet mine, and I gasp when they find my throat. My eyes slide shut, and she moves her hand up, and—

A shrill siren ricochets through the night, heralding another impending zombie attack. We stop. I pull away and straighten up.

“Excuse me,” I say, covering my mouth. A wave of nausea roils through me. Scooting out of bed, I barely make it to the bathroom before dropping to my knees.

“Soledad, mi vida.” Bellona joins me and drapes my bathrobe over my naked shoulders. “I know this is a far cry from Earth, but…” She rubs my back while I empty my stomach.

I wipe my mouth and try to breathe.

“Put on your gear.” Bellona sighs. “We have to get going.”

“This has turned out to be our typical date night.” I sniff and stand. I pick up my gun on the way out.

A panic-stricken voice hisses through my AR headset. “The research base is under siege…” Screams fill my ears. I shudder.

“They need us for backup.” Bellona bites her lower lip and nods. “Vámonos.”

We hurry toward the research base outside the residential area. The streets are empty except for a few overturned vehicles, and I can only hope the civilians have taken refuge in the bunkers. When we arrive at our destination, the building stands in eerie silence as if nothing has happened.

“Let’s split up and search inside,” Bellona says. We hug, and I never want the embrace to end.

We enter the base through different doors. I creep along the gloomy hallway as dim fluorescent lights flicker above. The floor is littered with severed limbs and tangled corpses, and I fight to suppress the vomit rising in my throat.

First reanimated by Martian president Eloise Minsk to serve as cheap labor, the zombies now run amok across Mars. The undead monsters usually crawl on all fours and bark like dogs, but they enjoy changing forms to deceive humans.

There’s a crash around the corner, and then a howl. I raise my gun as two zombies lunge toward me. I empty my magazine. Blood and bits of brain spatter the walls.

“Two down,” I say, informing Bellona over the headset.

“Ten cuidado, Soledad,” Bellona cautions, tense and alert.

“Yes, ma’am.” I snap a half-mock salute.

I creep through the labyrinth of dim hallways. Each passing minute intensifies a sense of futility. Even so, there’s nothing I won’t do for Bellona.

Footsteps drum behind me. I whip around and level my gun.

“Bellona?” My heart pounds in my ears.

She turns the corner, and I lower my gun with an ironic smile.

“Maybe Mars isn’t so bad,” I say, starting toward her. “And maybe zombie guts aren’t so bad either. The smell leaves something to be desired, though.”

I laugh, but Bellona doesn’t.

“No, it’s not me, Soledad!” Bellona’s cries echo in my headset. “Shoot, damn it! Shoot!”

I lift my gun, but my hands tremble with every shot. The bullets ricochet off the walls, missing their target by varying degrees. When the Bellona-looking zombie pounces on me, a foul stench of death assaults my nose. I can’t escape. My stomach rolls and twists. All I can do is scream.

Through my headset, Bellona sings to me in Spanish like how Mamá used to lull me to sleep. Her voice wavers and cracks, and blood-stained tears wet my cheeks, but the earthly lullaby flows; even now, I don’t know if I deserve it.

As everything goes dark, Bellona takes me home.

Toshiya Kamei

Toshiya Kamei takes inspiration from fairy tales, folklore, and mythology. They attempt to reimagine the past, present, and future while shifting between various perspectives and points of view. Many of their characters are outsiders living on the margins of society.

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