Mars Calls for WAR!

 

“Weather report calls for dust, dirt and grit. Clean your speakers mija. Everybody out there, all the humans who words can’t describe. Knock the grime off your setup. It’s time.
This is Dio Ray, back at it another night, broadcasting on these ancient waves we found in the skies. Can’t take ‘em away. I’m sure you heard the newest show the old man put out, the stupid one about gooses. Don’t worry, no bragging from me about being everywhere the light can go, or whatever he says.”
She looked across the bunker, past stacks of books, film reels and old cassette tapes, at the cement walls. It’s where she imagined the windows would be.
“You know what the deal is, and so do I. This show floats to you through the clouds of trash we inherited. I can look out and see it flying. Clings to us. Nos sofocamos, but we work anyway.”
Her face glowed red under the On-Air sign. Every time she flicked its switch she got a surge, a kind of goosebump parade. Gecko told her that meant she should check the wiring.
“This is the night, your night. Make it whatever you want. And if you want to spend it with me, gracias. Muchas gracias. To all the cine-monsters who aren’t one-hundred-percent free, we see you.
It’s Friday Night Outta’ Sight.”
The word “Tro” was scratched into the console’s faceplate. It was next to the button she loved, a perfect square lit from beneath, a shade of green she couldn’t see anywhere else, not anymore. It clacked when pressed, a feeling more than a sound.
The show’s intro played.
When it ended she pointed her button-pushing finger straight into the air, at her cement sky. Her lips touched the microphone’s metal mesh.
“Welcome to the night! Intro courtesy of EL-RADAR, also known as Reseptore. If you want the song let me know. Download codes are free.
If this is your first Outta’ Sight, bienvenidos and let me set the stage. Each Friday Night Outta’ Sight is a plunge into the lost world of a sonic yesterday. You will see a movie develop in the center of your existence, right where your mind rests.
All through sound.”
Dio Ray stretched her legs out and propped them on the corner of the console.
“I help the images along every once in a while, but don’t expect a running commentary. You’re going to make this movie, imagine it to be what you want. And tonight it’s a classic.
Part one of Mars Calls for WAR!—got an exclamation point right in the title. Directed by Findley O’brien, written by Juanita Dallas, with a soundtrack by Mags and Comatto. Shot and presented in unforgettable, only imaginable Dio-Scope, it’s a tale of dehumanization, war profiteering, and cool-ass spider mechs.
Imagine this.”
Another button clack brought her projector to life. Its blue-white light joined the red. A widescreen blackness appeared on the wall, barely there two seconds before bright red letters stabbed into the dark. They were skinny and tall, pointed like some kind of iron fence surrounding a fortress.
A rolling timpani crescendoed, crowned with cymbals that sounded more like legions of birds taking flight. They might have put them in the mix even.
“The coolest title screen ever. Imagine blood red letters, spiky and sharp. Imagine your veins cut free from your body and arranged on the darkness to spell out your worst fears.
The planet you adore is going to war.”
Darkness seemed to move and bubble around the letters, climbing their jagged edges until all the red was consumed.
Opening credits appeared and disappeared for almost three full minutes, all while the score’s percussion raged on.
Gecko leapt off a stack of paperback novels, onto the top of the console and then onto Dio Ray’s legs. Its tail flicked once, then settled. Each pad of its back feet were like warm match heads, heating her through her sweatpants. It crossed its front arms and stood to watch the movie.
She checked her mic light was off, then said, “I love your grump stance.”
“Shhh. Look. It’s Mars.” It twitched an eye slightly toward her, whispered, “I’m comfy standing like this.”
Mars hung in the middle of the screen, nestled in space, with one moon visible.
Dio Ray tapped her microphone on.
“The red planet.”
A surge in the score, triumphant melody announcing it was time. The wires running from the projector to her soundboard were like rivers inside their bunker, like the canals humans used to imagine Mars held, but never did.
“Down, down, down we go until we pass through the clouds and sky. Mars’s surface is right under us now. Red sand everywhere. There are brown rivers of dust, rusty mountains, flaky rocks.”
A rising hiss of cymbals, with some kind of ratcheting instrument.
“But wait! What? We drop, closer and closer to the dirt, and finally…” She gasped.
Instead of stopping at the ground the camera dropped more. It moved down into the red sand and dust. It looked more like sizzling water, or static on a very old television than it looked like dirt. Red blotches popped and floated up, heading toward what seemed like solid ground from above.
Dio Ray saw Gecko smiling at the projection.
“…we move down into the planet. Turns out we weren’t ever seeing the real mars. All that red, it’s just something floating up, rising like steam, but heavier. It settles up there, like foam on a filthy pond. We’re moving through it. I wonder why it’s there though? Why does the planet work that way?”
The camera continued to descend, more and more. A synthesizer melody wiggled on the soundtrack. Mags and Comatto gave it a tone to evoke a tilted head and raised eyebrows.
Finally, something other than the rising red particles appeared.
Black lines, so black they looked like gaps in reality.
“We see black rods. Our eyes don’t believe how dark they are. We float closer to one, and it feels like we’re heading into a hole. We rotate around the blackness which is when we see the red particles flowing out. That helps us see the end of the rod too.
A few seconds to watch the red fuzzy foam floating away. Then down, down, down.”
Findley O’brien used a dissolve of several shots on the descent to make sure the audience knew how far down they were going. The score began building when huge black spots appeared beneath, crowded by what were initially the thick black lines of these rods. Now those rods seemed small.
“Down there. What are those? Are they holes? Are we being sucked into holes inside some hidden Mars? They’re massive. All the rods we just floated by, like pipes rising to the ceiling of a building, they lead down to those holes.”
Gecko shuffled against her leg. It unfolded its arms. For a second they hung at its sides, but when the camera slid past the huge, black trunk of this Martian tree, Gecko put both hands on its head. After watching, now completely still, finally it turned and mouthed “I love this part so much.”
Dio Ray smiled.
“Do you see them? The Martian trees? They’re so tall, so empty of light when we spin around them they seem flat. But because we saw them from above we know they’re round.
So are you ready to meet Mars, down wh—”
She cut her mic cut off. The soundtrack continued on, an eerie wail pulled out of an instrument she couldn’t name. Gecko didn’t move.
“You ready?” She asked.
“What if we just played it all for them.” Gecko said it to the block of cement showing Mars unroll across the horizon.
“We can keep watching.” Dio Ray readjusted the microphone, hoping it was in Gecko’s peripheral vision. “After, though.”
Gecko turned and nodded.
“Okay,” it said.
She switched the mic on and twisted her head away, staring at the corner behind her.
“—no I said, I won’t cut yet,” she yelled at the walls.
“Get up, we have no idea how close they are, I’m not arguing again, either come—” Gecko whispered, its lips pressed directly onto the mic’s barrel.
Yelling, still projecting her voice away, Dio Ray said “If you’re not arguing then go!” She winked at Gecko, who gave a tiny thumbs up.
Dio Ray turned back to the mic, she pressed the edges of her voice into sounding wobbled.
“We are down, down where the trees begin. It is...snowy? And those trees, they aren’t alone.”
The movie showed a massive hill disappearing beneath the camera, snow-capped but with patches of dirt dotting its crown. On the other side was a ravine, a deep trough of dirt and ice. Two objects were moving down there.
“Something stirs,” Dio Ray said. “Two things are moving. From this height they look like sharp and shining ice blocks sliding along the ground. Closer and closer though, and we see.
First their tops. Slick metal. We move down—they’ll have to blow our damn door down before I’ll stop, okay?!” She yelled back at the wall, a fury she could pull up at will. Gecko asked her to teach it, and they worked on it every other night.
Back to the movie now, she said, “…and we rotate to the side of the objects. There’s a slick metal cap on top, a dome resting in a base of metal. A ring of metal. All around the base, clacking and shifting, are metal legs. Spider legs!”
Dio Ray stood up. She jabbed her button-pushing hand into the air again, fingers spread out. A high-five to the cine-monsters that none of them would ever see or return.
“Spider mechs!”
Gecko whispered into the mic, “You have to run, they’ve almost traced our signal.”
“These mechs crawl forward, heading somewhere slowly and as quietly as they can. Doesn’t matter though, they still click and tick and rattle. We move around them and see…”
Now the biggest smile from Gecko, his role at the mic completely forgotten.
“…humans in the cockpits. Not Martians at all. We’re on Mars, in these cool-ass spider mechs. It’s us.”
One last time she turned away from the mic and yelled.
“I’m never stop—”
And she flipped the switch that was sometimes more pleasing than the intro. If she did it just right, timed it perfectly, the sudden silence would fill up her bones and bloom in her chest. It happened to her now.
The story had sailed on, out and around.
The Kill Switch chopped off their entire signal. Everyone listening heard static now.
“Still want to keep watching?” She asked.
Gecko said, “Oh hell yeah.”


 

Written by Austin Wilson

Illustration by Luca Vassallo