In 3323, Bellona 5 was invaded by Rifters, cat-like humanoids capable of traveling through dimensional rifts. They made intentions their clear: they were going to obliterate every Earth colonist on the planet. At first, it looked like the Rifters were going to do exactly that; the colonists were not equipped to fight them, and were slaughtered like lambs. Then they began to learn about the invaders, and they were able to fight back. Over fifty long years, the Rifters threw their greatest warriors at the settlements, and the colonies faced them with hero after hero.
Now, the Rifter armies are depleted, but not destroyed. Packs still thrive in the wastelands and ghost towns of settlements long since abandoned as the colonies try rebuild their civilization. The surviving Rifters capitalize on the disorganization, raiding settlements for food and driving the colonists out. That’s why the Rogue Squadrons stepped in. The Rogues travel the outer settlements, fighting the Rifter packs to bring a lasting peace. The war is over, but the battles continue, and their people still die for freedom.
The dust started to settle around the recently abandoned New Baltimore. The twelve surviving members of Rogue Squadron 3 reloaded their sidearms as the eyed the deserted horizon. They didn’t bother to ask if another attack would come. It wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when.
Marlene “Mars” Anderson quickly brushed the black strands that had escaped her ponytail out of her face. Her face was covered with sweat and dirt, and she was breathing heavily, but she wasn’t thinking about herself. She turned her brown eyes to RS3, quickly counting heads. She sighed in relief when she spotted the head she was the most concerned about, the head of Jason Wilder, pulling Jaimee Bennett out of the dirt. Jason and Jaimee quickly dusted themselves off, taking a quick stock of the situation. Jason, designated leader of RS3, did his own head count before stepping forward.
“The Rifters will be back. We’ll regroup in the abandoned militia compound,” he said, jerking his thumb in the compound’s direction. “Collect our fallen comrades, resupply, and rest a bit before they come back.”
The squad nodded their affirmation and obeyed his orders without complaint. Mars kept her eyes on the horizon, watching for the tell-tale shimmer of a dimensional rift. Jason jogged up to her after a few minutes, and they kept watch together silently for a moment.
“That was one of our rougher skirmishes,” Mars said, breaking the silence and looking over at him. “I’m glad you made it alive.”
He grinned and quirked an eyebrow at her. “Getting soft on me, Mars?”
She snorted derisively. “Showing concern for a comrade is getting soft? I thought it was being human.”
He laughed and squeezed her shoulder. “Of course it is. I’m glad you’re still alive, too. Alive and beautiful, like always. But we should get inside. I don’t like leaving my men exposed—especially when some of my men are women.” He stepped away from her and jogged toward the compound.
Mars took a final, wary look at the horizon before following. Jason had to be one of the last gentlemen on Bellona 5. Despite having three fully capable female fighters on his squad, he always took time to compliment them, help them, and generally look out for them. At first, it had irritated Mars, but then it had grown on her—just like he had. In a time of war and uncertainty, it was nice to be reminded that she was a woman, and to be treated like it. Mars had fallen in love with Jason, and she knew it.
It was dark inside the compound. Donovan O’Malley, their engineer, quickly got the lights working as the squad positioned themselves around the room. Mars found herself a perch on top a pyramid of crates where she could see the entire room. What made the position better was Jason sitting at the pyramid’s base, wrapping the gash on Jaimee’s arm. Not only could Mars see everything in the room, but she could hear Jason’s quiet voice as he made easy conversation with Jaimee.
He made small talk at first, telling jokes from the ancient days on Earth, just like he did with everybody. Then he asked Jaimee about her family and asked about her childhood memories. Mars listened with a smile as they shared memories of playing with other children and being happy, despite the carnage of the war raging around them. It was a conversation much like the ones Mars had with Jason on occasion, which is why it surprised her when Jason suddenly asked, “Do you think—a-after this war is finally over, that is—do you think we could start a life together?”
Mars’s heart almost stopped when Jaimee smiled and answered, “Nothing would make me happier.”
A bashful smile creased Jason’s face, nearly ripping Mars’s heart from her chest. She quickly scrambled down from her perch, jumping over the new couple.
Jason straightened in concern when he saw her rush pass. “Hey, Mars, is everything all right?”
She threw a forced smile back at him. “Yeah, just feeling a little sick to my stomach. I’ll be okay.”
Mars raced into the bathroom and staggered over to the sink, gasping for air. She didn’t want to think about what just happened. Thinking about it was admitting it had happened and wasn’t a nightmare. She gripped the sink angrily, taking deep breaths as she tried to quell her raging thoughts and emotions. She didn’t understand what had just happened. Why did he prefer Jaimee over her? She and Jaimee were both beautiful, tough, skilled, and they each had saved his life on occasion, so what made her better? Why hadn’t he picked her? That last question drove Mars over the edge. She slammed her fists into the porcelain sink screaming, “Why not me? Why not me?” She then whipped out her sidearm and fired twice at the already cracked mirror.
A few minutes later, Jason and Jaimee rushed in, their own weapons cocked and ready to fire. Mars lowered her weapon and looked at them calmly. They frowned when they saw her alone, and they hesitantly relaxed their guard.
“We heard screaming and shots fired,” Jason said.
Mars shrugged. “Yeah?”
He looked at the shattered mirror and then at her. His frown deepened. “You’re crying.”
She touched her cheek, feeling the wet of tears on her fingertips. “Am I? That’s stupid.” She holstered her weapon and made for the door.
Jason grabbed her arm as she passed. “What’s wrong?”
She smiled and pried his hand off her arm. “Nothing. Stupid girl emotions. You know the drill.”
She pushed past them, and they looked at each other in confusion. Jaimee shrugged and followed her out. Jason took a look back at the mirror, his brow furrowing thoughtfully, but then he turned and followed the girls out.
Suddenly an urgent cry reached the trio: “Rifters!”
Instantly, the three drew their weapons and charged into the main room. The rest of the squad had already open-fired on the intruders, and the Rifters were jumping in and out of their rifts to attack their foes. Jaimee, Mars, and Jason instantly ducked behind the nearest stack of crates and began firing at the aliens. Jaimee started inching out of the barricade, trying to get a better shot at the Rifter attacking Donovan. Mars caught sight of a rift opening behind the other woman and shouted a warning. Jaimee turned in time to get her weapon knocked out of her hands. The Rifter grabbed her and threw her against the crates, knocking the wind out of her. Jason instantly turned his sights on the alien, but the Rifter grabbed Jaimee, using her as a shield. That didn’t stop Mars. She holstered her own weapon and tackled the Rifter. The Rifter released Jaimee and grabbed at Mars, clawing at her as they fell to the floor. Jaimee grabbed her weapon the instant she was freed, but neither she nor Jason could get a clean shot as Mars and the Rifter grappled with each other. Mars finally managed free her sidearm, and she blasted him. Jason and Jaimee rushed over to her as the squad polished off the rest of the pack. Mars pushed the corpse off her and started to stand. Donovan and the others rappelled down to them as she suddenly staggered. Jason caught her, his brow furrowing with concern as he felt a wetness spread across her side.
“No,” he said, gently lowering her back to the floor. “There aren’t any medic kits left. You did not just get yourself killed on me!”
Mars laughed painfully. “Sorry. Looks like I did.”
“You should have known better. Shooting a mirror is bad luck.” He brushed back her hair gently, forcing himself to smile down at her.
“I know. But it—” she inhaled sharply and then finished, “it needed to be shot.”
He glanced at Jaimee and then back down at Mars. Something seemed to click in his mind, and his eyes widened. “You didn’t have to do that,” he whispered.
She looked at him, her head lolling to one side as she smiled. “Yes I did. Yes I did.” She took another deep breath, and Jason blinked back tears as he watched her brown eyes begin to cloud. She grabbed his hand weakly and looked over his shoulder at Jaimee. “T-take care of him,” she gasped.
Jaimee knelt beside him, placed her hand on his shoulder, and took Mars’s hand. “I will.”
Mars blinked once, and then the cloud covered her eyes completely. Her grip lost its strength, and her head fell back. Jason closed her eyes and wept as he cradled her in his arms. Mars was dead.