Mars Needs Men!
But the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron will have to do. At least one of them self-identifies as male. He tucks proudly, and fuck you very much if you don’t like it.
By night, they work at clubs with names like Diamond Lil’s, the Lil’ Diamond, and Exclusively Lime Green. Every Thursday afternoon, they bowl. In-between, when they’re not bowling, or dancing, or singing on stage, they kick ass harder than you’ve seen ass kicked before. And they do it all in silver lamé and high heels.
This is Bunny, their leader, born Phillip Howard Craft the Third. At the moment, she is up in the recruiter’s face, waving a poster of Uncle Sam under the aforementioned tagline, a floating head against a backdrop of Martian red. Her nails are manicured perfection, each painted a different metallic shade, all the colors of the rainbow, and then some. Her hair is piled in a frosted bouffant so high it barely fit through the recruiter’s door. Despite the anger written in every line of her body, she doesn’t raise her voice.
“Your sign says you need volunteers. We’re volunteering, and since I don’t see your waiting room clogged with other candidates, dare I suggest: We’re all you’ve got.”
“I can’t…I won’t…” The recruiter turns bright red. He takes a deep breath, faces Bunny, and almost, but not quite, manages to look her in the eye.
“I can’t just let a bunch of…”
Bunny’s eyes, tinted violet today, shine cold steel. They stop the words in the recruiter’s throat, hard enough that he looks like he might actually choke. Her tone matches her eyes.
“Think carefully, General. If the next word out of your mouth is anything but ‘civilians’ I will dismember you myself. You won’t live long enough to worry about an invasion from Mars.”
The General’s jaw tightens. A vein in his forehead bulges.
“The Glitter Squadron’s record speaks for itself, General.”
Bunny’s voice is level. She places the poster on his desk.
“Cleaner than yours, I’ll dare say. And,” Bunny smirks, and points to the General’s medals, “our bling is better.”
Rage twists the General’s features, but his shoulders slump all the same.
“Fine,” he says. “The damned mission is yours. Add a little more red to the planet, if you want it so badly.”
Bunny smiles, teeth gleaming diamond bright. “I promise you, General, the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron is more than up to the task.”
They are loaded into the rocket by clean-cut scientists with white coats and strong values, men and women who believe glitter is for little girls’ birthday cards as long as they’re under six years old, and leather is for wallets and briefcases.
“Some people have no imagination,” Starlight stage-whispers as they climb the gangplank. Starlight was born Walter Adams Kennett. Her mirror-ball inspired outfit forces the good, moral scientists to look away as light breaks against her and scatters throughout the room.
Starlight pauses at the airlock door, looking up at the floodlit rocket, all sleek length, studded with rounded windows, and tipped at the base in fins. “Well, maybe not no imagination.” And she climbs aboard.
Bunny reads over a brief as they hurtle between the stars.
“Imagine the outfit I could make from one of those,” Starlight whispers, pointing to the stars pricking the vast dark.
“Hush.” Esmerelda, born Christine Joanne Layton elbows her.
“Our target is Doctor Blood,” Bunny says, rolling her eyes.
She flips a page in the neatly-stapled file, scans, while the twelve other bodies crammed into the rocket lean forward in anticipation.
“They least they could have done was give us champagne. We are off to save the world, after all. And this seating…”
No one answers Starlight this time.
For this mission, they’ve chosen strictly retro-future, which means skin-tight silver, boots that come nearer to the knee than their skirts, bubble-barreled ray-guns, frosted white lipstick and, of course, big hair. CeCe the Velvet Underground Drag King called in sick with the flu, so it’s lamé all the way.
Each member of the Squadron has added their own touch, as usual. Starlight’s peek-a-boo cutout dress, which is really more skin than fabric, is studded with mirrors. Esmerelda wears a wide belt, studded with faux gems, green to match her name. Bunny is wearing her namesake animal’s ears, peeking out from her enormous coif.
M is the only exception to all the brightness and dazzle. M wears leather, head-to-toe. Think Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman – erratic, angry stitches joining found leather so close to the body there’s no chance for the flesh underneath to breathe. Only it isn’t like that at all. There is a whip hanging from M’s hip though, and plenty of other toys beside. Only eyes and lips show through M’s mask, and their gender is indeterminate. No one knows M’s birth name, and it will stay that way.
Bunny clears her throat. “Doctor Blood, born Richard Carnacki Utley, is a brilliant scientist. He was working on splicing human and animal DNA as a way to cure cancer, or building better rocket fuel using radioactive spiders and black holes. Blah, blah, blah, the usual. We’ve all seen the movies, right?”
Esmerelda giggles approval. Bunny goes on.
“He caught his wife cheating with his lab partner, or his brother, or his best friend. He tried to burn them to death, or blow them up, or turn them into evil monkey robots, and horribly disfigured himself in the process. So he did the only sensible thing, and shot himself into space where he built a gigantic impenetrable fortress on Mars. Now, he’s threatening to invade earth, or shoot it to pieces with a space laser if the United Nations doesn’t surrender all of earth’s gold.”
“Can they do that?” Esmerelda asks.
Starlight mutters, “No imagination at all,” and shakes her head, sending bits of light whirling around the rocket.
“That’s where we come in,” Bunny says. “We take down Doctor Blood, easy peasy lemon squeezy, and we’re home in time for tea.”
“Ooh, make mine with brandy!” Starlight says.
Bunny rolls her eyes again. “Look sharp, we’re almost there.”
Penny is the weapons expert. Born Penelope Jean Hartraub, she is the only member of the Glitter Squadron who has actually seen war. Her mini dress has a faint coppery sheen, befitting her name. She stands at the bottom of the gangplank, distributing extra ammo and back-up weapons as twelve pairs of chunky heels kick up the red dirt of Mars.
She keeps the best gun for herself, not just a laser pistol, but an honest to goodness Big Fucking Gun. It has rings that light up and it makes a woo-woo sound when it’s fired and everything. Fashion-wise, it may be so last year, but it’ll get the job done. As they leave the rocket behind, heading towards the ridiculously over-sized fortress, all done up in phallic towers and bubble domes, Penny takes the lead.
They encounter guards, dressed oh-so-predictably in uniforms purchased from the discount bin at Nazis-R-Us.
“Boring.” Starlight buffs her nails to a high shine against a rare patch of fabric on her dress.
She delivers a high kick, catching the first guard in the throat with the bruising force of her extra-chunky, mirror-studded heel, not even bothering to draw her gun. Esmerelda uses her belt instead of the gun hanging from it, because it’s more fun. She wraps it around the second guard’s throat and neatly throttles him, before returning it to her waist.
The second wave of guards approaches with more caution. Penny singles out a man with a nasty grin, the one most likely to cause trouble. He reaches for her. She surprises him with her speed, and uses his momentum to bring him crashing down. He springs up.
“I won’t make this easy on you, girly,” he says, or something equally cliché.
Penny ignores him and goes in for a blow to the ribs. But it doesn’t land. This time he’s the one to surprise her with his speed. He catches her and spins her around, pinning her. She swears he tries to cop a feel, and his breath stinks of alcohol when he speaks close to her ear.
“You like that? You want a real man to show you how it’s done?”
No imagination, she imagines Starlight saying, and smashes her head back against his, hoping it will break his nose. At very least it breaks his concentration. She slips free. The BFG is too good for this one.
He comes at her fast and hard, excitement clear in his eyes. She can see from their shine just what he thinks he’ll do to her when he bests her, how he thinks he’ll make her beg, and how he thinks she’ll like it. She sweeps his legs out from under him; there’s a satisfying crack as his head hits the floor. Even dazed, he grins up at her, blood between his teeth as she stands over him. She knows exactly what he’s thinking: So, you like it rough, girly? Me, too. I like a girl who knows how to play.
Fashion be damned. She pulls out a battered old 9mm pistol.
“Fetishize this, asshole.” And she puts a single bullet in his brain.
There are gorilla men – of course there are – all spliced DNA, dragging knuckles and swinging hairy arms. Bunny makes short work of them. There are radioactive zombies, slavering, pawing, glowing green and dropping chunks of unnamable rot in their wake.
Esmerelda handles them with grace and aplomb. There are even spiders, which sends Starlight into a fit of giggling, before she takes them out, singing Bowie at the top of her lungs.
There are two female guards in the whole sprawling expanse of the base, both wearing bikinis, chests heaving before they’ve even thought to pick a fight.
“Oh, how progressive!” Starlight claps her hands in mock rapture.
“I suppose there’s a mud pit just behind that door?”
The girls in bikinis exchange glances; this is outside of their training.
“Look, honey. Honeys. Let me explain something to you. Super-villains pay crap. And there’s no such thing as an Evil League of Evil healthcare plan.”
One of the women takes a questioning step forward. Starlight holds up a hand.
“I won’t make some grandiose speech about the fate of the world, or doing it for the children you’ll probably never have, but I will say this – killing bad guys is a heck of a lot of fun. And we pay overtime.”
And the forces of might and justice and looking damned fine in knee-high high heels swells to fifteen.
M is the one to find Doctor Blood, deep in his underground lair.
He stands at a curved control panel, raised on a catwalk above an artificial canal, which more likely than not is filled with genetically enhanced Martian piranhas.
He screams profanities, his voice just as high-pitched with mania as you might imagine. He’s wearing a lab coat, shredded and scorched, as though he has just this moment stepped out of the fire that destroyed his sanity and nearly ended his life. To his credit, the scars covering half his face are pink and shiny, stretched tight, weeping clear fluid tinged pale red when he screams. His finger hovers over a big red button, the kind that ends the world.
M approaches with measured steps. The profanities roll off the leather; the imprecation and threats don’t penetrate between the thick, jagged stitches. Doctor Blood runs out of words and breath. He looks at M, wild-eyed, and meets only curiosity in the leather-framed stare. Oddly, he can’t tell what color the eyes looking back at him are. They might be every color at once, or just one color that no one has though up a name for yet.
His voice turns harsh, broken, raw. The weeping sores are joined by real tears – salt in the wound.
“I’ll make you pay. All of you. Nobody ever believed in me. I’ll show them all. They’ll love me now. Everyone will.”
It comes out as one long barely distinguished string of words.
M puts a hand on the sobbing scientist’s shoulder. M understands pain, every kind there is. M understands when someone needs to be hurt, to be pushed to the very edge before they can come out on the other side of whatever darkness they’ve blundered into. And M knows when someone has had enough, too. When there’s no pain in the world greater than simply living inside their own skin, and all the hurting in the world won’t bring them anything.
Doctor Blood’s words trail off, incoherent for the sobs. “Daddy never…I’m sorry mommy…”
“I know,” M says softly. “Shh, I know.”
And M does an unexpected thing, a thing M has never done before. M steps close and folds the doctor in leather clad arms, patting his back and letting him cry.
Sixteen bodies crowd the rocket ship hurtling back toward earth – just like Bunny promised, home in time for tea.
Starlight fogs the window with her breath, looking out at all that glittering black. Esmerelda discusses wardrobe options with the women in bikinis.
The others talk among themselves, comparing notes, telling stories of battles won, the tales growing with each new telling. Ruby and Sapphire, the twins who aren’t twins and couldn’t look more opposite if they tried, single-handedly took down an entire legion of Martian Lizardmen, to hear them tell the tale. Mistress Minerva knocked out a guard with her clever killer perfume spray and rescued a bevy of Martian Princes who couldn’t wait to express their gratitude. Empress Zatar, who was born for this mission and didn’t even get a single moment of screen time, fought off three Grons and a Torlac with nothing more than a hairpin.
And so the stories go.
Penny cleans her guns and her blades, humming softly to herself as she does, an old military tune.
Bunny uses an honest to goodness pen, and makes notes in a real paper journal.
Doctor Blood’s head is bowed. His shoulders hitch every now and then.
M sits straight and silent, staring ahead with leather framed eyes, and holds Doctor Blood’s hand.
All together, they tumble through the fabulous, glittering dark.
They are heading back home to claim their hero’s welcome, even though every one of them knows this moment, right here, surrounded by so many glorious stars it hurts, is all the thanks they will ever get for saving the world. Again.
A.C. Wise was born and raised in Montreal and currently lives in the Philadelphia area. Her fiction has appeared in publications such as Clarkesworld, Apex, Ideomancer, and The Best Horror of the Year Vol. 4, among others. In addition to her writing, she co-edits The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, an online magazine of fiction and art about bugs. You can find her online at www.acwise.net and on twitter as @ac_wise. She says:
Operation: Annihilate Mars was originally inspired by a call for submissions that I only noticed the day before the deadline. It was feverishly written and edited in a few hours, and sent off just under the wire. While it wasn’t accepted for the anthology, I was still very happy with the way the story turned out. It’s my attempt to pay homage to cheesy B movies and pulp story lines, but turned slightly sideways. After all, who wants the world saved by a boring old square-jawed hero when an ultra fabulous glitter squadron of drag queens is available?
Illustration by Walter Crane is Neptuns Pferde (1893) and is in the public domain.