. . . and now, Ronald McDonald makes his final descent, past the frozen moon of Phobos, entering the atmosphere of the red planet. In a few minutes Oak Brook will give the final okay, and the McMars Probe, after a three month journey, will reach the surface. . .
“You’re missing it!”
“He’s ready to land, son!”
“I’m coming, I’m coming!” cried eight-year old Ronnie, struggling to pull on his yellow clown pants. Mightily he yanked away, inching the trousers higher, before snapping the too-tight elastic waistband around his bulging stomach. Panting from the effort, he ran as fast as he could from his room, to the entertainment pod at the end of the hall.
The entire McRyan family was there, gathered around the 360-degree cycloramic telescreen and its larger than life image of the McMars probe framed against the stars. Ronnie sat on the floor beside twin sister Ronnetta, while Mr. McRyan and old Gramps watched from their ergonomic viewing chairs, each reinforced with titanium alloy to support their obese, pear-shaped bodies. Across the room, swaddled in her conditioning crib lay baby Ronina, a pale, rapidly-fattening grubworm of ten months, her nubby little fingers clawing at the french fry mobile dangling overhead.
“Boy, she really wants those fries!” observed Mr. McRyan, “Look at her go!”
“She’s learning,” said his wife, entering the room, parking herself beside the crib. “But shouldn’t we lower it? To make it easier?”
“Don’t be silly,” said Mr. McRyan. “If the fries were any closer she wouldn’t develop right. She’s got to crave them, Ronna.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” said Mrs. McRyan, pulling a clear plastic garbage bag from her apron and slivering it open. “Well,” she said, approaching the communal eating trough, “I think I’ll clean up a bit.” She worked quickly, and as she scraped the pickle-slop, rancid burger meat and other refuse out of the stainless steel hopper a tangy putrescence filled the air, but the stench–as natural to the McRyans as it was to any other family in the sector–went unnoticed.
“I want a Filet O’Fish.”
“More fries! And a vanilla shake!”
“But you haven’t eaten your McMars Meals yet,” Mrs. McRyan said, sidestepping the six-wheeled Ronald McDonald Martian Rovermobile, McMars Helioponic Potato Farm, McProbe Rocket, and the host of other meal-toys her children had scattered over the tile. “Finish those first.”
“Now Ronna,” scolded Mr. McRyan, “you know the rules.”
“You’re right, honey,” Mrs. McRyan sighed. Since 2093 it had been illegal for any parent to refuse a child a second helping, a policy which was strictly enforced. “Don’t worry, kids,” she said, slinging a trash bag over her shoulder, “you’ll have your food as soon as I’m done with the garbage.”
On-screen, the bun-shaped McProbe fired its retro-rockets. Red dust-clouds streaked by and a hush fell over the room as a veil of ice crystals obscured it from view. The McRyans held their breath, watching, but a second later the tension abated when the yellow M emblazoned on the craft’s fuselage reemerged. The state announcer continued:
Each time the McProbe enters the ionosphere friction increases, which is crucial to attain the desired approach angle of 18.5 degrees. If the trajectory is off by even half a degree, the probe could bounce off the atmosphere and fly into space, where recovery would be impossible. . . but don’t worry, folks, command space-clown Ronald McDonald knows exactly what he’s doing!
“Dad?” said Ronnie, tugging at his father’s pant leg, “is Grimace going to Mars, too?”
“He’s too big, son. There wasn’t enough room.”
“I remember,” sputtered old Gramps, between sips of pureed Big Mac, “when all they owned was the moon.”
“You mean He,” said Mr. McRyan.
“He, they. . . baaaah!” said Gramps. At forty-one the eldest McRyan had defied the doctors, living well past longevity projections despite a life-long intake of over five hundred grams of saturated fat per day. He sat pinched into his chair, his triple-chinned head set atop an Everest of sagging, multi-tiered flab.
“Grimace. . . on the moon! Ha-ha!” he said, “ha-ha-haaa!”
“The moon was only the beginning,” said Mr. McRyan, his pupils dancing with the red and gold pixels of the screen. “If Ronald can establish a base on Mars, he’ll be able to reach the outer planets. Jupiter, Saturn, maybe even Pluto.”
“Pluto!” remarked Mrs. McRyan, wobbling into the room with a tray-load of steaming cheeseburgers, “My goodness! Will he ever stop?”
“Never,” whispered Mr. McRyan, “. . . never.”
His wife dumped the burgers into the trough and straightened up. “Well, I think it’s too much,” she said, “I mean, enough is enough.”
All conversation stopped. No one moved, and for a long, awkward moment the only sound was the hissing of static from the telescreen. Her comment emphasized by the silence, Mrs. McRyan stood tottering on her heels, her eyes flitting nervously around.
“Watch it,” said her husband, “talk like that could get you–”
“I-uh, just meant that Ronald should be. . . satisfied with what he has. I mean, he’s. . . done so much,” she stammered, quickly reshaping her words into a pro-Ronald statement. The Ronald McDonald Youth Organization was rumored to listen in through the intercom system linking each home to its mother restaurant, and for any anti-McDonald’s utterance they heard, no matter how trivial, the punishments were severe, ranging from hot-oil scarrings to outright excommunication.
The McProbe’s speed has dropped below twelve thousand as Ronald plunges deeper into Martian air-space. While the McProbe leaves its mother ship behind and the ROTECH guidance system searches for a landing site, let’s go to our special on-board camera to see the mission from inside the probe. . .
The screen flickered, skipping into a jumble of horizontal lines as the video feed switched transponders. Gradually, the lines reshaped themselves, bending around until the picture snapped into view and the McRyans were overwhelmed with the lurid, full-screen image of Ronald McDonald.
Greetings, McEarth! Ready for Mars?
At the sight of him the McRyans burst into cheer. Ronnie and Ronnetta jumped up and down, shocked into activity, while Mr. McRyan made the sign of the M with his fingers. (Ingrained behavior from his days in the R.M.Y.O.) Ronna nodded her approval, while old Gramps raised a pudgy hand, waving at the clown-tyrant he had worshipped since birth.
Ha-hee! Isn’t space travel fun? said Ronald, looming over an on-board table of nuggets and other deep-fried treats. But gee, you can sure get hungry exploring the solar system! Why, I think I’ll have a little snack–
Before he could utter another word, the McRyans made a mad dash to the eating trough, plunging their arms into the hopper and scrambling after the half-eaten burgers, chicken nuggets, and other fast food items Mrs. McRyan had stocked it with. Ronnetta, being the smallest at a nimble 183 pounds, got their first, snagging a Quarter Pounder with cheese, while her brother grabbed the top half of a Big Mac and a handful of fries. Their parents dove in next, searching for leftovers, as old Gramps watched from the shadows, his shake of five liquefied Big Macs more than enough to satisfy his comparatively meager appetite.
. . .so try my new McMars burger, with a taste that’s out of this world! Topped with a tangy red space sauce, it’s deeee-licious! And don’t forget the fries! In a special McMars Mission Commemorative Box! Collect all three, yours with any McMars meal . . . .
T-minus five hundred, interrupted Oak Brook, Initiate landing sequence!
Uh-oh, gang, gotta go! See you on Mars!
The McRyan’s watched as the image cut from Ronald back to a wide shot of the McProbe.
“Almost there,” said Mr. McRyan. “Soon he’ll be on the surface.”
“Today is a great day,” offered Ronna, making amends for her previous anti-Ronald comment, “You’ll remember this as long as you live, kids.”
She was right. It was a monumental day, for Mars was the first world other than Earth to be conquered by the fast-food giant, whose new restaurants opening every six hours had long ago subdued that planet. The transformation happened slowly, surreptitiously, through expert marketing and public relations techniques. With a friendly clown as a spokesperson and a saliva-inducing menu it had been easy, and over the years the restaurants accumulated, spreading across the globe, orming a corporate empire far more powerful than any nation or sovereign state. Nothing could stop its expansion; it kept on, unabated, until the entire planet had become one vast, intercom-linked McHive.
“Mommy, can I have an apple pie?” said Ronnetta.
“Wait till he lands, sweetie.”
“But I’m still hungry!”
“Eat what’s in the snack-trough, kids,” said Mr. McRyan, “We’ll have dinner in a minute.”
“I want dessert.”
“Look,” said Mr. McRyan, perturbed at having to turn his attention from the screen, “after Ronald lands we’ll have every dessert on the menu. Now be quiet!”
“Damn kids is spoiled,” muttered Gramps. Tendrils of orange special sauce dribbled out of the corners of his mouth as he babbled on. “When I was a boy you got dessert after supper. Now it’s three, four times a–”
The chutes are open! We’re at T-minus fifty seconds! Get your red McMars shakes ready people, we’ll be toasting Ronald McDonald in sixty seconds!
“Oh my God!” shrieked Mrs. McRyan, “THE SHAKES!”
Panicked, she leapt from her chair, dodged Ronnie and Ronnetta, and ran to the kitchen, where she stood over the food preparation counter and barked an order into the intercom. The Voice-Activated Skinner Unit flashed on, whirring and gurgling, and a second later six frosty red McMars shakes splatted out of the beverage hose into their waiting cups.
T-minus thirty seconds! Twenty-nine! Twenty-eight! Twenty. . .
“Hurry! He’s about to land!”
“I’m coming, I’m coming! Darn this dispenser. . . oh, come on, you stupid hose!”
Finally, after half-filling the last two cups, Mrs. McRyan balanced the six shakes on her tray and walked as fast as she could to the entertainment pod, where she handed out the drinks and took her place beside her husband. The probe was at minus-five thousand now, and the magnitude of the event, finally, had sunk in.
So then, let us watch, all of us, every man, woman and child. . . let us watch, together as one world, as our leader, Ronald McDonald, descends upon another. . .
Mrs. McRyan clutched her husband’s hand in a knuckle-white grip. Mr. McRyan gasped. Even Ronnie and Ronnetta paid attention now, forgoing their toys, as the image of the McProbe surrounded them in a womb-like embrace.
T-minus ten. Nine. Eight. . .
Hydraulic landing pads unfolded. Retro-rockets ignited, shrouding the probe in a nimbus of rising dust as it drifted lower and lower, nearing the surface.
Four. Three. Two. One. . . annnnnd. . . TOUCHDOWN! RONALD McDONALD HAS LANDED ON MARS!
There was a communal shout, and Mr. and Mrs. McRyan embraced, watching the screen with shiny, tear-heavy eyes. Ronnie and Ronnetta chased each other around the eating chairs, shrieking with joy, while old Gramps nodded his approval. Even baby Ronina sensed that something epic had happened, and unleashed a shrill, celebratory wail from her crib as the landing ramp thudded onto the sand.
Here he comes, lord of all McDonaldland. . . Ronald MccccDonald!
A figure wearing a canary yellow space suit and massive red clown shoes emerged from the McProbe and clomped triumphantly down the ramp. He lingered at the end of the platform, waved, and with one boldly-planted foot, stepped onto the surface.
That’s one small step for a clown, one giant leap for Mickey D’s!
Mr. McRyan, his cheeks glistening with tears, raised his shake. “To Ronald McDonald,” he toasted, his voice quivering with emotion, “May he conquer the universe. And more.”
“To Ronald McDonald!”
Five waxed drinking cups clashed in mid-air and the McRyans slurped down their shakes.
“Well, kids? Anyone hungry?”
As the McRyans waddled off to the food receiving area, the camera scanned around, searching the terrain, before finding and focusing on one final, majestic image: the imprint, wide and paddle-like, of Ronald McDonald’s size fourteen clown shoe, stamped irrevocably into the red Martian sand.
Construction on the first Martian McDonald’s begins immediately and will be completed in time for the first settlers who are due to arri. . .