Published: November 21, 2017
A lot of people ask me "Todd, how's the pay up on the Woodstock? I mean, is it one of those minimum wage situations or what?" Well, to answer that, they pay all of us in credits. Ten for each Earth hour-long show. Credits are used extensively in various activities on the Woodstock but, like a Dave & Buster's token, they're useless elsewhere. Fortunately that's what the currency exchange machines over by the drop-off bay are for. One credit roughly translates to two US dollars. By the end of my second month, I earned enough money to pay off the rent to my Gramercy apartment. But that's not what I came to tell you about...
One day in the rec room, Otho was fixing himself a cup of decaf, I was next in line. Numar had the TV tuned to the documentary channel (The Monterey had at least 4 streams running at once and this was one of them). She let out a deep sigh, and I impulsively looked at what she was watching. Looked like a NOVA-type show on Spirit and Opportunity, the Mars robot rover-things.
"Numar," I began, "I think I might already know the answer to this, but what's got you bummed out?"
"It's those stupid robots," said Numar, "They spent almost twenty years looking for life on Mars, and found nothing! Look at me--I'm living proof, and they missed me somehow!"
Just as I thought. Numar burst into tears, and rested her head on my shoulder. My hair started to stick to her yellow round puffy things that covered her ears and softened incoming raw noises, so I pushed her away from that position. Immediately afterward, I pulled her back in, so that her face was nuzzling the top of my t-shirt, and gave her a hug. This was the first time I ever pacified a crying alien.
And here I was once again on a mission to help a friend. I figured they best way to get to the bottom of Numar's rover problem was to go straight to the source. Unfortunately, NASA is one of those institutions that has too high of an uptight security; not the type that would give away their contact information willy nilly.
A silver lining in an otherwise grey Earth cloud came to me later that day. I was walking out of the studio with my shift finished, and I stuck around the green room to listen in on Muskadi's show. She spoke in her native Floran tongue, which was picked up and translated into English by my headset. Later, Muskadi opened the phone lines for her listeners to call in and ask a question or request a song. That's when one my ears wiggled as if somebody just said something important. One of the callers' voices sounded loud, official--almost monotonous maybe--but point being, it sounded like someone important.
"This is the US Air Force," said the voice on the phone, "We don't know who you are, bogey, but you've got ten minutes to go away before we launch our missiles at you."
I wasn't the kind of guy who would go about interrupting somebody else's show, but if I didn't take any action right then and there, spit would be hitting the fan. I stood up and walked into the studio (the ON THE AIR light still on above the doorway). Then I sat down next to Muskadi and put on a set of (wired) headphones.
"Todd!" said Muskadi, "What are you doing here?"
"Relax, I got this," I said.
Then into a secondary microphone, I spoke to the representative of the Air Force. I told them we were the Woodstock, that "radio space station" they helped to build. The representative apologized, and ordered the missiles to hold their fire.
"Way to go, Todd," said Muskadi.
"I know, right?" I said back, "PHEW!"
I stood up to leave, but then an idea hit, and I sat down again.
"Are we still on the line with him?" I asked.
And back into the phone line to the Air Force rep, "Hey listen, do you happen to know the phone number for NASA? It's for a friend."
"Certainly, Mr. Zeppelin, I'll email it to you."
I got the contact information I asked for a few hours later on my phone...at least, I thought it was a few hours later: I was looking at the wrong clock when I got the email. I wrote down the phone number listed in the email onto a piece of scrap paper I found lying around the green room. Otho stood behind me, looking at the scrap of paper with his large black eyes.
"Otho would get rid of that as soon as possible," he said monotonously.
"I figured you would say that," I said back, "That's why I wrote it down on easy-to-loose scrap paper."
I held the paper up to a light. Other markings began to show, presumably from the other side of the scrap.
Otho looked surprised, but I couldn't tell right away: the expression on his face didn't move an inch.
"That's from the magazine Otho was reading!" said Otho: that was all I needed to know.
I kept the phone number in my pocket for safe keeping. I pulled it out the next time I bumped into Numar, which was a few days later in the bedroom hallway.
"Look what I got! The phone number for guys in charge of the Mars rover project!" I said, handing the paper scrap to Numar.
Numar looked at the scrap and smiled. She gave me a hug, jumping up so her arms could reach my shoulders. Her yellow round noise-cushioning things stuck to my hair again, and, upon realizing this, Numar moved her head away from mine.
"You're a life saver, Todd!" said Numar. I felt like I've been getting that a lot lately.
"Well, glad I could help."
Numar went on the air the following day. Bibble took the week off to celebrate Ad Libitum (a Paxan holiday no doubt) with his family, allowing her to go on right before me. I stood off to the side as I watched Numar pick up the studio phone and dial the number I gave her. On the Woodstock, you wouldn't believe how many digits you have to dial on a phone just to reach out and touch somebody.
"Hmm let's see now...galaxy code, then planet code, country code, area code...oh yeah, and dial 1 first. 1-6455-3173-011-321-555-6277."
That's all I was able to watch before I stepped out to use the bathroom. When I came back, it was time for my show already. Numar was clearing her stuff off the console desk. Amongst the stuff were a couple of flat boards with several burnt candlewicks attached to them. I've seen those before: that how Martians play their music. Each track on the album has its own wick, you just light it and the song begins.
Numar waited in the green room for my show to end. I was out the minute the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus" faded into nothingness...and then the time-and-temperature signals went out to the local affiliate stations. With a large pile of LPs in my hands, and a moderate set of candlewick boards in Numar's, we joined each other on the couch that sat in front of the many clocks.
"So what did they say?" I asked.
"Well first of all," Numar began, "They whole-heartedly apologized more times than necessary, and then they said that the hypothesis going around the office as to why the rovers missed us is that ACK ACK ACK ACK ACK ACK ACK ACK ACK ACK ACK ACK ACK!"
Drat! Of all the possible times today, my translator headset batteries chose that time to go dead. I made a break for the front desk area on the opposite side of the ship, to the battery vending machine. DURACELL AAA, 1 credit each. I inserted the right amount for two, and four came out--Must be one of those days. I replaced the headset batteries and chucked the old ones down the trash compactor chute, then made my way back to the green room.
"Now what were you saying?" I asked Numar.
"What?" she said.
"The Mars rovers. You were telling me why they missed you."
Oh great. Now her headset is out of juice. I gave Numar the other two batteries I got from the machine. She replaced the batteries in her headset, and put it back on again.
"Is that better?" I asked.
"Yes," she said, "Thanks for that, Todd."
"So what did the NASA people say?" I asked her once more.
"Right," said Numar, "The Mars rovers missed my people because