Meteor Mags: The Battle of Vesta 4 – now in paperback and ebook!

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Four Action-Packed Stories Full of Anarchy, Asteroids, and Excessive Ammunition Continue The Adventures of Meteor Mags and PatchesHoist the Jolly Roger and Get Ready to Rock!

Available on Amazon in paperback (224 pages) and Kindle. Also available on iTunes and at Barnes & Noble for Nook Book.

Rings of Ceres: A hell-raising space pirate and her indestructible calico cat return to a decimated asteroid civilization to rescue friends and kick ass, but they get caught up in violent riots between the desperate citizens of Ceres and the mercenary security forces guarding the mining corporations.

Jam Room: Meteor Mags leads a jam session with the teenagers who want to start a punk band called Dumpster Kittens!

The Battle of Vesta 4: Meteor Mags and her fun-loving crew throw the birthday party of a lifetime—until death rains down from the sky! Mosh at the rock’n’roll party of the century as the Psycho 78s record their new album! Flee in terror as Club Assteroid falls under the dragons’ assault from space! Discover the underground caverns of Vesta and join the resistance! Take one last hell ride aboard the Queen Anne before it all goes up in flame! Strap on your battle armor and get ready for the most brutal, barbaric, blood-soaked fight of your life: The Battle of Vesta 4!

Hunted to Extinction: Meteor Mags and Patches undertake one last hunt to exterminate the space lizards from our solar system. Their journey reveals the fate of Tarzi’s parents, a tragedy that connects our criminal crew to a powerful potential ally. Plus, Mags gets a new ship, and it’s got even more kick-ass stolen technology to help her plunder the System! Her club might have been destroyed, but Meteor Mags and her friends will never accept defeat so long as they live.

May not be suitable for children or carbon-based life.


sneak preview of Small Flowers

Small Flowers will be the twentieth episode in The Adventures of Meteor Mags and Patches, and it picks up in the aftermath of The Battle of Vesta 4Here is a preview of Part I, which takes Anton and Kaufman in a new direction after Slim’s demise. It also sets up Part II, which takes place amidst the reconstruction of Ceres. Enjoy!

Part One: Relocate

In December 2029, a month after the invasion of Vesta, Meteor Mags and Patches traveled to Below the Belt Strip Club to have a drink and chat with its new owners. The club had been closed since the death of its founder and builder: Mags’ old friend and unofficially adopted nephew, Slim.

Slim’s death left a void in Mags’ heart, and his passing left the residents of the asteroid belt without a place to get a home-cooked meal while naked beauties danced onstage. The venue’s reputation for nude performances concerned its new owner, and Mags thought a face-to-face might get him sorted. Taking a seat at the bar, she raised a pint glass filled to the brim with black rum and said, “To Slim.”

“To Slim,” said Kaufman. The formerly clean-shaven administrator had grown a beard as part of his new identity. Mags had promised he and Anton would receive new photo IDs with new names before the month was over. He touched her glass with a much smaller glass. “The best damn chef this godforsaken Belt has ever known.”

Mags purred. “That’s the truth.” She took two generous gulps while Kaufman swallowed his single shot. Sleater-Kinney’s All Hands on the Bad One played over the club’s speakers courtesy of Mags’s private music library in the one room in the back that no one else could access—not even the man she had granted ownership of the place.

Kaufman’s glass hit the bar top with a resounding smack. He sat facing Mags. Each of them occupied a leather-upholstered bar stool. Their knees occasionally touched as they talked. Kaufman pretended the effect on him went unnoticed. The rum did not help. “Did Slim leave any recipes?”

Mags’ laughter reverberated in the empty club. “Oh, K-man! You crack me up.” Her gaze drifted to the stage where she had danced countless times over the years, and she welcomed the memories of cheers and catcalls. “Let me tell you something about Slim. Cooking was second nature to him. Ever since he was a kid working in his dad’s restaurant in Chinatown, his recipes were in his head—just like all his accounting. If there was one thing Slim’s old man taught him, it was ‘never leave a paper trail’.”

Kaufman said, “The opposite of what they taught us in the Port Authority.”

Mags wet her finger with rum and ran it around the lip of her glass until a musical note shimmered from the vessel. “But you, dear, burned quite a few paper trails anyway.”

“True.” He poured himself another shot. “I’m sure you can teach me to cook grub fit for a space miner. But what really worries me is—”

A slamming door interrupted him. Anton burst from the back of the club where Slim’s private luxury apartment had been taken over by the father and his fourteen-year-old son. “Dad,” the boy shouted, “I know what we need here!”

Kaufman peeled himself from Mags’ piercing eyes. The same eyes stared from the wall behind him in the framed poster enlargement of the cover to her solo piano album, Blind Alley Blues. The poster hung beside a framed copy of the Ceres 2027 concert poster. That one had cost Kaufman a fortune and arrived on his last day in office on Mars more than a month ago.

Mags had added a few framed mementos of her own: photographs of her and Patches, several of Celina dancing and posing with her girls, and an artist’s rendering of the Psycho 78s recording HyperSonicHatred.

Kaufman loved them all. He said, “Tell me, son.”

Anton charged the bar with an enthusiasm his middle-aged father envied. “A recording studio! In one of the rooms back there!”

“In the back rooms?” Kaufman knew what purpose those rooms had served under Slim’s management, though he’d never availed himself of the opportunity. “Son, where can we get the equipment for a—”

“Mags can get it! She can get anything.” Anton knelt on the floor to pet the sleeping calico cat between the two adults.

Patches opened her eyes at his touch. She rolled onto her back to invite belly rubs.

Anton rubbed the cat’s bushy underside.

Mags said, “He’s right. That’s a great idea.”

Kaufman said, “But in the—”

Mags bulldozed Kaufman’s objection. “We can knock down a wall or two. Make a serious studio back there. We can do isolation booths. Mics out the arse. The latest soundboard.” She gripped Kaufman’s shoulder and shook it. “Tell me that wouldn’t be awesome!

Anton implored his father. “Dumpster Kittens’ first album, Dad! We could record it right here!”

A realization dawned on Kaufman. They were offering an escape from his dilemma. Instead of having back rooms full of private lap dances and sexual activity, his son’s new band could have the run of the place. Kaufman wiped his hand over his face then flung the hand open in a gesture of release. “If Mags says she can make it happen, then I believe her. Let’s do it.”

“Yeah!” Anton sprang from the floor and crushed Kaufman in a hug.

Kaufman embraced his boy and set a hand on the back of Anton’s head. “We could make Dumpster Kittens the house band. You and your friends could jam here.”

Anton pulled away. “That would be amazing!

Mags gave Kaufman a wink from behind Anton. Her eyelashes snapped shut like the petals of a Venus flytrap for the briefest part of a second before releasing him. “Hell yes, it would. You should get Tinta and Jeremy in the mix. Convert one of the rooms to a tattoo and body-mod shop. Take a cut for the house. We can turn a few rooms into living quarters for some of my girls. They’ll earn more than their rent, and you’ll have plenty of space to spare.”

“I’m just worried.” The speakers played Flowers in the Basement by Mammoth Indigo. Kaufman withered. “Maybe we could discuss this another—”

“Just fucking say it, K-man. You ain’t gonna break the boy.”

“Fine. I’m worried that if we re-open—”

When we re-open.”

When we re-open, people will expect all kinds of activity that, frankly, I don’t know if I want Anton exposed to every night.”

“There it is.” Mags drained the rest of her glass and motioned to Kaufman to re-fill it. “Anton? How do you feel about living and recording in a place that has naked women parading on stage every night of the week?”

Kaufman’s palm slapped his forehead. “Jesus, Mags.”

“What? He was fine at the Assteroid! Let the boy speak!” Mags raised her eyebrows and gestured with a sweep of her open palm to invite the young man’s opinion.

“I, uh—” Anton clung to his father, but he studied the adults’ faces, first one, then the other.

In the moment Anton considered his next words, Mags pressed her hand, palm up, at Kaufman to silence the man.

Anton said, “Dad, I liked Club Assteroid. Everyone was nice to me. I made friends. Everyone was always dressing up and doing makeup and talking about hairstyles, and I—I mean it was fun, you know?”

Mags chuckled and flicked ash from the end of her cigarette. “It was good times, wasn’t it, Anton? You got along great with my girls!”

Anton’s gaze fell to the floor. He found Patches blinking at him. He thought of nights the cat had slept beside him in the hangar following the invasion. Her paws kneaded the air, and she mewed. He said, “Do you really think so?”

Mags slapped her leg. “I know so! Anton, my girls ask about you every day since you’ve been here. I admit, they just barely put up with the guys in the Psycho 78s. But they felt right at home with you. They’d love to see you again. I heard you got pretty good at helping them with their makeup.”

When the boy answered with a shy smile and averted eyes, Kaufman asked, “Anton? All that dancing and carrying on didn’t bother you?”

The young man met his father’s eyes. His multi-colored spikes had grown out to reveal their roots in the past month, and he needed to remove most of the beads Mags’ dancers wove into his hair during his first days on Vesta. He had plans for a new hairstyle once that one grew out a little more.

Mags said, “Just tell him, dear.”

Anton looked mortified.

“Go on, my little Dumpster Kitten.”

“Dad,” he said, “I like the dancing. I think it’s pretty. The dancers are pretty. But I don’t—I mean—I’m just not into girls that way.”

Mags reveled in the stunned look on Kaufman’s face. She slammed her palm on the bar. “Let’s have a round on the house!” She re-filled her glass and Kaufman’s, and she handed a third shot to Anton. “Bottoms up, little man.”

Anton took the shot and sought his father’s approval.

“Go on, Son. Cheers.”

The boy drained the shot glass. He staggered slightly but didn’t cough, and he handed it back to Mags. “Dad? You’re not mad?”

Kaufman slid off his stool and took his son in his arms. “Why would I be mad? I’m sorry if you think I could ever be mad at you, Anton.”

Mags quietly sipped her rum in the moments of silence that followed. Kaufman, she thought. I love the guy to death, but sometimes he is the last fucking person to get aboard the clue train.

“Anton,” said Kaufman, “just be you. The only thing that matters to me—and I mean the only thing—is that you are safe and happy.”

“Me too, Dad. That, and Dumpster Kittens.”

Kaufman laughed. “Yes, and Dumpster Kittens.” He patted Anton on the back.

Mags’ left tit chimed with the sound of a twentieth-century phone ring. “For fuck’s sake.” She pulled a tiny black square from her bra, touched it with her thumb print, and shouted, “What?!”

“Hey, tía. You busy?”

“Lonso! Never too busy for my favorite nephew.”

“I thought Tarzi was your favorite.”

“He’s my other favorite. How’s Plutonian?”

“You wanna talk to him? He’s trying to invent some shit to record the octopuses’ brain waves.”

Mags purred. “Let the man work. Does he seem happy?”

“He’s still broken up,” said Alonso. “Drinking way too much, even for a pirate. But if I keep him busy on projects, he seems okay. He even made friends with Karpov.”

“Karpov is such a dick.”

“No lie,” said Alonso. “Can I ask you a question, or do you want to keep gossiping about your boyfriend?”

“He isn’t my boyfriend, fucker!”

“Yeah, right. Anyway, the new band has a show coming up in a month, and we still don’t have a name. Do you got any ideas?”

“They extended my work on Mersenne Primes. How about The Mersenne Primates?”

“Too cerebral,” said Alonso. “Most people aren’t as into math as you.”

“I don’t know. How about Atheist Abortion Clinic?”

“Are you fucking high? We are on a cosmic trip, not a political one.”

“What about Blunt Force Trauma?”

“Seriously heavy, tía. But we’re all about peace and love now.”

“Damn it, Lonso! What do I know about peace and love? Let me ask someone.” Mags interrupted the conversation between Kaufman and his son. “Anton! Help me out here.”

“What do you need, Auntie?”

He had never called her that before, and the occasion elicited a thunderous purr. “I need a band name. It’s for a bunch of telepathic octopuses and these Stalinist space monkeys frying their fucking brains out with my old pal Alonso who is into ska, punk, and doom metal.” Mags grabbed her glass. “I can’t believe I just said that sentence out loud.”

Anton asked, “What kind of music do they play?”

“It’s some kind of hippie drum circle stoner rock with metal and psychedelic influences. Plus, they want to start a galaxy-wide revolution or something.”

“Oh,” said Anton, as if he heard similar descriptions every day. “You should name them after that Sonic Youth song. Small Flowers Crack Concrete.”

Mags pounded her fist on the bar so hard that the mahogany creaked under her assault. “Yes!” She held up her hand to summon silence and shouted into her phone. “Small Flowers! You are the tiny weeds that will grow in the cracks of the concrete of the solar system and break the whole fucking thing apart!”

“Oh, hell yes, tía. Small Flowers! But we’ll be big soon. Did you just think of that?”

“Nah, mate, my nephew Anton rocked it. He’s a huge Sonic Youth fiend. Just like his old man.”

“Right on, ese. Imma run it by the band and see what they think. I bet they love it. Can I call you later?”

“You can call me anytime.” Mags lifted her empty glass and eyed the massive liquor collection Slim had built on the opposite side of the bar. “I might not answer. But you can still call me.” She hung up without waiting for a reply. “Small flowers!”

Mags slid off her barstool. Her fluffy tail flicked this way and that. “He loves it!” She scooped Patches from the floor and cradled the calico in her arms, gently rubbing one ear with a thumb. “That was a stroke of genius, little man.”

Anton dragged a hand through his hair, pushing it back. “Dad should get the credit. He played me all the Sonic Youth albums.”

Mags poured Patches out of her arms and onto the bar. “You gonna make some racket like that on stage here?”

“I hope so.”

“I know so. You get Sarah and Jinx up there with you, and this shit will be jumping off.” Mags discovered Kaufman’s befuddled look at her easy rapport with his son. “Anton,” she said, “your dad’s pretty awesome.” She wrapped her arm around Kaufman’s shoulders. “You’re lucky to have him.”

Mags thought of her mother and the love they had shared, pure and unconditional. Mags had, at some points in her century-long life, stopped believing she would ever see that kind of love again. But she saw it between Anton and his father. She let Kaufman go and dropped her face so her wild locks of hair fell over her cheeks and hid the mist in her eyes. She went behind the bar and examined the liquor bottles with more attention to detail than they deserved.

Later, outside the club with Patches in her arms, Mags considered the stars. She rubbed her face into her cat’s voluminous fluff, and the two of them purred in unison. Mags whispered a prayer. “Great-gramma, thank you for Anton. That kid did more to solve my problems than I could alone.”

The silver band on her left ring-finger glowed with a warmth that comforted the pirate until her tail stopped flicking and only the tip switched back and forth in the desolate quiet of the infinite glitter around her. “We can keep the dancing in the main bar, but have the kids recording and bunking in the back of the house. Jeremy and Tinta have a place to live and work if they want it. All of which keeps the money flowing.”

Mags opened the door to the Bêlit and set Patches on the deck. “Goddess. When did I get so old that I started worrying more about cash flow than rocking out and killing everyone who gets in my way?”

Patches scratched the side of her face with a rear paw and gave Mags her opinion.

“Screw you too, baby kitty!” Mags laughed and laughed. “Maybe you’re right.” She took her seat in the captain’s chair. “Maybe it’s time for us to stop worrying about business and get back to raising almighty hell.”

The ship powered up and lifted into the limitless black of space where an array of glowing fires lived only to light the darkness. Mags tuned the radio to her favorite station.

A familiar voice announced, “That was Betty Blowtorch with Hell on Wheels. And a smokin’ Joan Jett cover of Pretty Vacant. Next up, Delta Alba Plex by Unida. This is the Puma Broadcasting Network. Long live the resistance.”

“Oh, hell yeah.” Mags swished her tail and turned up the volume. “Then again,” she said, “we’ve got business to take care of before the Ceres concert. First stop: Mars. And then…”

While Mags explained the plan for the next month, Patches curled into a half moon with her front legs around a stuffed seahorse on her favorite corner of Tarzi’s new bunk. The young man’s familiar scent comforted her. The plush toy between her paws comforted her. Mags’ constant monologue when no one else was around comforted her.

The invincible kitten purred herself to sleep.

From the Diary of Meteor Mags. January 2030.

I won’t lie to you about the reconstruction of Ceres, but I won’t tell you the whole truth, either. What I’d like you to remember is that my girls were on the frontlines, up to their elbows in blood trying to heal the wounded, feed the hungry, and piece together a broken civilization.

Early in November, Earth committed resources to the rebuilding. But when intercontinental war broke out on my one hundred and sixth birthday, those resources vanished into thin air. Earth’s influence was limited to mercenary forces the corporations sent to protect their mining facilities.

Patches and I took care of most of them. I didn’t live this long letting a few merc squads stand in my way, and Patches couldn’t give half a wet fuck about any of them.

I called in a few favors, spent an ungodly amount of money, and after about three weeks of Patches and me killing every corporate goon we could get our paws on, the Ceresians got the help they needed. Ships from Mars landed safely. They set up food distribution and medical facilities, and I didn’t have to break but two or three skulls before peeps on the ground understood the shit was going down in an orderly fashion.

Because let me tell you, some people were in desperate circumstances. So were me and my girls, and some of us had been on Ceres when the shit hit the fan. When that tornado touched down, me and Patches and a bunch of our crew were caught in it, and so were Tinta and Jeremy, and Jinxy. Once our story got out to the Ceresians, they realized we were on the same team.

But I knew we’d get it sorted. The Psycho 78s concert on Ceres back in ’27 was the fuckin’ bomb. Anyone not at the show was rioting in the streets. This asteroid—sorry, this dwarf planet—belonged to the revolution, pure and simple. All we needed was a chance to wipe the scum off it so the people could do their thing.

And that tornado, and the war on Earth, and all those dick-holes attacking my club? It was horrible. All of it. Except the parts where me and Patches were killing those fucks. Those parts were awesome. I mean the other parts.

Anyway. What I’m trying to say is this: despite everything we lost, we had an opportunity to build something new.

And that’s exactly what we did.

Virtually Yours: A Meteor Mags Memoir

The updated and expanded edition of Virtually Yours is now available exclusively for Kindle at

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Virtually Yours describes how exploring a virtual world inspired artistic creation in the real world. While other books about Second Life present themselves as academic studies of virtual history and sociology, this one focuses on the uniquely personal dimension.

Virtually Yours delves into questions of gender, identity, romance, and friendship in a virtual world. Part fantasy, part emotion, part head-first dive into the creative process, Virtually Yours gives a first-person account of the way digital universes hold the potential to inspire creativity and help deal with personal tragedies through expressing ideals about ourselves and the world.

Part I tells the story of how the author’s experiences in a virtual reality inspired and shaped the fiction series, The Adventures of Meteor Mags and Patches. The essays in Part II give an authorial perspective on the series’ characters, influences, content, and intent.

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Jam Room is the crew’s last jam session before the life-changing events at Mags’ birthday party, and it shows how “the new girl” from Rings of Ceres makes friends with her eventual bandmates in Dumpster Kittens.


 9 November 2029: Vesta 4.

The day before her 106th birthday, Meteor Mags showed off her drum set to the new girl, Jinx. The two convened in the jam room Mags set up so Sarah and Anton could practice and work on songwriting.

Patches stretched out with her eyes closed, resting her fuzzy face on one outstretched limb atop a tube head on an Orange amplifier.

“It’s a beautiful kit,” said Jinx.

“Bird’s-eye maple,” said Mags. “Custom-built on Mars. But if I had it to do over, I’d go with mahogany. Not as pretty, but a heavier sound that could kick a god in the balls.”

“Can I play it?”

“Anytime you want, dear. But if you fuck it up, you’re paying to fix it. Deal?” Mags held out her hand, enclosed in a fingerless biker glove.

Jinx slapped her hand into the older woman’s leathered grip. “Deal.”

Mags’ eyes twinkled like stars in a telescope’s glass. “Check out this bass pedal. I keep tweaking the action on it, but I think I got the right tension now.”

Bronze cymbals glowed in the jam room’s light. They perched atop polished chrome stands and hardware. The bass head bore a ring of skulls. Mags sat on the drum stool. Her ample backside and swishing, fluffy tail enveloped it.

Jinx said, “I thought you’d play with a double kick.”

Mags scoffed. “Batalla plays a double kick for the 78s, but I prefer the old-school approach. One foot for the bass, and one for the high-hat.” She gave the high-hat an expressive flourish, demonstrating its glistening sound closed, open, and a half-dozen states in-between. “All about that high-hat.”

Corrugated foam panels lined the walls to reduce the ambient, reflected noise of the kit and the stacks of amplifiers around it. A hint of jasmine piped through the air vents to mask the stale scent of recycled air. Tattered couches and love seats along the walls sat so close to the array of instruments that ear damage was practically guaranteed, but they gave the close quarters a lived-in, homey feeling.

On one couch, Tarzi reclined with his feet on an armrest and his head smushed against a pillow on the other. He had arrived a few hours earlier after spending his morning in a spacecraft with Ryder. The older man’s conversation left him with a need to immerse himself in George Orwell’s book, Homage to Catalonia. He lifted an eyebrow to gaze over the top of the memoir. “John Bonham didn’t need two kick drums.”

Mags pointed a drumstick at the adolescent she affectionately called her nephew. “Right on, T-man. All in the wrists? All in the ankle, too. Speed, precision, lightness, power.” Mags pounded the bass pedal with her right foot and made it fire as rapidly as a machine gun.

Jinx took note. “How do you get it to go so fast but still keep time?”

“Come here and watch.”

Jinx stepped behind the kit and observed.

Mags blasted another staccato bass burst. Then she rested her sticks on the snare head. “Stay loose. You can’t tense up. But you need to stay firm, too. Don’t get all flabby. When you find that balance, you can do anything. I don’t just mean with a drum. I mean anything in life.”

Jinx did her best to absorb this advice. “When my ankle gets better, I’ll be all over it.”

“That’s the spirit.” Mags twirled the drumsticks in a blur. “Sarah and Anton could use a drummer, and you seem like you have the right attitude. Why don’t you show me what you got, but without the footwork?” Mags held out the sticks.

Jinx grabbed them. As soon as Mags slipped off the stool, Jinx filled it. She adjusted the tilt of the ride and crash cymbals, brought the high-hat a little closer, and executed a brief roll across the three rack toms from smallest to largest, ending with the floor tom. “You’re taller than me,” she said. “But I can work with this.”

Tarzi called out, “Drum solo!”

Jinx twirled her sticks with almost as much panache as Mags, tossed one into the air, and caught it. “You’re on.”

Mags lit a stolen cigarette and appraised the girl’s technique and timing. Jinx blasted into a speedy 4/4 punk beat then stretched it out into a flurry of syncopated, off-beat fills—not with the facility of a seasoned New Orleans drummer, but showing solid ideas and spontaneity.

A knowing smile crept across the smuggler’s face. Jinx was not yet a percussion expert, but she would be just what Sarah and Anton needed to jam out their tunes and kick some arse: straight-ahead rock beats, with a generous amount of creativity to help their songwriting and improvisation. Mags made a mental note to thank Tinta for the introduction.

Sarah ran into the room, dragging Anton behind her as she had nearly every hour of every day since the boy’s father brought him to Vesta. His embarrassed expression of the first few days had disappeared, and a newfound contentedness shone on the face of the boy who had so recently lived under the threat of terror on Mars.

Mags said, “Now this jam session can officially start.” No one heard her over Jinx’s drumming.

Jinx saw the founding members of Dumpster Kittens and stopped playing. She didn’t smile, but she lifted her head in a gesture of recognition.

Sarah said, “That would be a cool beat for Agents of Cruelty! Are you feeling better?”

“Fever’s gone,” said Jinx. “Ankle is damned useless right now, but at least it isn’t throbbing.”

Mags introduced Anton to Tarzi, and a comfortable chatter filled the room.

Ryder showed up to see what all the racket was about, and another round of introductions followed.

Mags said, “This is the guy who planned the Yeltsin job.”

“I’m retired,” Ryder lied. “Now I’m just a chauffeur to Mags’ teenage sidekicks.” He plopped down on the edge of Tarzi’s couch.

The young man held out a hand and received a hearty slap on his open palm. “Thanks for the lift.”

Mags asked, “Are you two friends now?”

Tarzi said, “You were right about his having shite taste in music but awesome stories.”

“Dude,” said Ryder, “I played you the good stuff.”

“Sweet bleeding fuck,” said Tarzi. “It was like eight hours of Ted Nugent.”

“That reminds me,” said Mags. “Drum fills! Some of the all-time greatest are in Stranglehold. We need to add that to our list.”

Tarzi said, “I am not putting that right-wing jackass on our list.”

“Then I am,” said Mags. She took the sticks from Jinx and settled again on her drum stool.

Anton piped up. “We could do a jam on it. The riff is pretty easy.” He lifted a Gibson SG from its stand and tuned it.

Tarzi returned to reading. “All hope is lost.”

Sarah said, “I don’t know the words.”

“I got you covered.” Ryder snatched up a pencil and paper. He recited the words as he wrote, until he came to the second verse. “The road I travel’s a—” He raised his head. “Mags?”


“She’s just a little girl. Are you sure you want her singing this?”

“Because it says bitch? Jesus, Ryder, you’re getting soft in your old age. This girl’s seen some shit you don’t even know about. Sarah, what’s a bitch?”

A pair of sweet, angelic eyes met Mags’. “A female dog. Or, in prison, a person who performs sexual favors for protection from gang violence.”

Mags pointed a drumstick at Ryder. “See?”

“Oookay. Bitch it is.” He completed the line on the paper. “And if your house gets in my way, baby—”

Tarzi barely lifted his eyes from the pages. “We’ll get sued for this, you know. Quoting song lyric without permission.”

Mags laughed. “The Nuge was assassinated when he ran for President in 2020. Nobody’s suing us over Stranglehold. And if they do, I’ll kick their arse.”

Sarah asked, “What’s the melody?”

Ryder sang a few lines for her.

Celina appeared in the doorway. “For fuck’s sake, Ryder. Sing it in the right key!”

“Celina!” He descended on her like a storm and crushed her in a hug, sloshing her drink over her hand. “Goddamn, is it good to see you again!”

Celina slapped his bum. “You too, you lousy felon. Now let go, before I suffocate.”

He released her, but his eyes were held captive, and his smile faded not one bit. “What’s a key?”

Celina rolled her eyes and wiped her wet hand on her jeans. “Let me do this.”

Sarah listened intently to the older woman’s singing. “I can do that.” She stepped up to the mic. “Who starts?”

Mags aimed a drumstick at Kaufman’s boy. “Anton. I’ll count it off.” She smacked the sticks together crisply four times, establishing the tempo.

The young man began the riff, looking to Mags to make sure he had it right.

She gave him a wink and a smile and four extra bars to get settled. Over the blaring guitar amplifier and its crackling distortion, she shouted to Sarah. “Ready?”

Sarah closed her eyes. Anton’s riff was a warm liquid, a comforting bed of fuzz, a sound as soothing as a city being bombed off the map.

On Anton’s eighth time through the riff, Mags exploded a drum fill on snare and bass. It shook the room so hard the building seemed in danger of falling off the asteroid into space. The precise, sharp sting of her snare made Ryder jump. He’d almost forgotten what a musician his partner in crime was.

The twelve-year-old Sarah launched into the first line. She didn’t really know how a dog in heat felt, but she was pretty sure it felt like kicking arse, the freedom to say anything, and a desire for something immediate and personal.

Celina sipped Kraken black rum, nonplussed by the wave of sonic annihilation rolling over her. She tapped her foot as if the ear-splitting racket from the speakers was the most natural thing in the world. With cool detachment, she noticed the new girl’s eyes never left Mags.

As Sarah’s vocal chords ripped into the verse about bitches and houses burning, Celina considered Jinx. Many of the young women the Australian had worked with in the club over the past few years were basically nice girls who had survived terrible events. But this newcomer had a good helping of the antagonistic, punk-rock attitude Mags exuded. It was a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand, it showed an inner anger and strength. On the other, it might be a guard against a deeper, overwhelming sadness. Rage was a wall, a barrier, and Celina wondered what unspoken torments Jinx carried with her. Would they destroy the young woman, or was she strong enough to conquer them? Celina decided to keep a watchful eye on her, lest inner turmoil lead Jinx and her new friends to destruction.

A woman who had dealt with immeasurable sadness for too many years, Celina relegated all these thoughts to a space she held inside her. She returned to the joy of the moment. It was time for the guitar solo.

Mags backed off her assault on the drum heads and let the band bring it down. Anton was no Ted Nugent, but he took a credible turn at a solo. His father’s illegal Sonic Youth records had influenced him, so he eschewed Nugent’s shred style for an atmospheric, textural romp. He set the headstock of his guitar against the amp. A wailing cascade of feedback poured out like a lake from a broken dam.

The raucous, flowing noise excited Patches. She leapt down from her perch on Anton’s amplifier and shoved her face between the speaker’s tweed cover and the microphone in front of it. With her ears pressed flat against her tri-colored head and her whiskers shimmering in the soundwaves, she howled into the crisscross pattern of the microphone’s metal head.

The guitar solo gave way to a caterwaul that nearly paralyzed Patches’ friends. The criminal calico filled the room with noises that spoke of her prehistoric ancestors: the fury of a smilodon sinking its teeth into a cave bear; the iron flavor of a mastodon’s blood in her mouth; the despair of watching spear-wielding primates rob a continent of its massive, mammalian fauna.

No one in the jam room would forget that cry, but only Mags understood it on a primal, genetic level. The smuggler shut her eyes and saw in Patches’ song a place of bestial beauty and torment. A place of perfect belonging and never-ending loneliness. It smelled like Earth and rain and matted fur.

Mags’ drumsticks smashed into the tom heads like they called out for war. She attacked the crash cymbal repeatedly and released a forlorn, unearthly wail in duet with her kitten.

Again, Mags backed off the percussive assault to let in the band. Sometimes, she thought, you gotta start low.

Sarah sang the pirate’s thought, and her voice led the group to the finale.

patches on turntables - draft - Copy

July Ebook Giveaway!

From now through July 31, you can get the following ebooks absolutely free on Smashwords:

Meteor Mags: The Battle of Vesta 4 and Other Tales

Meteor Mags: Omnibus Edition

Never See the Night

The Baby and the Crystal Cube

Three Years Dreaming: A Memoir

Anything Sounds Like a Symphony: Poetry at Maximum Volume

Animal Inside You: Poems of Chaos and Euphoria

Whipping Boy

Meteor Mags: Whipping Boy. © 2015 Matthew Howard. All Rights Reserved.

Description: In the third episode of The Adventures of Meteor Mags and Patches, a hell-raising space pirate and the guys in her rock band embark on a harrowing mission of vengeance that will require them to shoot pool, drink cheap liquor, and avoid public restrooms. But before the night is over, they will cross paths with their biggest fan, and forever change his life.

4,400 words. Appears in the Meteor Mags: Omnibus Edition in paperback, KindleiBook, and Nook Book.


Whipping Boy

Life’s not worth living if somebody thinks he’s in authority over you.

—Robert E. Howard; Letter to Farnsworth Wright, 1931.


February 2029: Ceres.

Jeremy jabbed the needle into his arm until the ink ran out. He had wrapped a sewing needle in thread and jammed it into a pencil eraser. The night before, he had used this tool to finish the outline of a five-pointed star. Now, taking his only shift break to sit on the concrete steps behind the bar, he did what he could to fill it in. He dipped the needle into a tiny bottle of India ink. The wind blew a cloud of regolith down the alley and through the stink rising from the garbage dumpster near Jeremy’s side. The billowing asteroid dust obscured the stars from the sky, but Jeremy only cared about one star right now.

Behind him stretched the grimy wall of Red Hot Rod’s Bar & Grill. Red Hots served terrible food to terrible people, mostly asteroid miners the industry was in the process of chewing up and spitting out, along with the peddlers, whores, and drug dealers who eked out a living from their suffering. The well-off corporate types who ran the mining businesses never came to this part of town. The neighborhood was not the very worst on Ceres, but it was trying its hardest to win that reputation.

An artificial gravity field held everything to the rock, including a breathable atmosphere. But sometimes Jeremy wished the GravGens would fail and all of it would just go floating into space. Poverty held Jeremy to the rock with its own kind of gravity. At age fourteen, he worked every single day, and still he could not afford to leave. He could barely afford his slotbox at the neighborhood motel, the coffin-sized enclosure where he slept and hardly had enough room to sit up straight.

Most nights after his double shift, he simply sat outside, working on his star tattoos and listening to recordings of Meteor Mags and her band, the Psycho 78s. He could not afford a tablet on his wages, but he had a small file player, with ear buds, he had found in a dumpster. He wore it clipped to his shirt. It now held the first album from the Psycho 78s and a dozen bootlegged concerts from their tour with Mags as the singer. Jeremy listened to nothing but these recordings, over and over, day in and day out.

He wore his Meteor Mags t-shirt every day, too. The front of the black shirt showed Mags silkscreened in white. In cracked and faded letters, the text below her read, “Рок спасет мир!” Mags danced on a stripper pole, naked except for star-covered socks, her skin adorned with more than a hundred black star tattoos. The stars ran up and down her arms and legs, across her belly, over her left breast, around her neck, and down her back. The word ANARCHY adorned her chest.

Suddenly, the restaurant’s back door slammed open. It smacked Jeremy’s arm, driving the needle a half-inch deep. He cried out then jerked the needle free.

“Germs? What the hell are you doing out here?” It was McAllister, the head waiter. “Cutting yourself again, ya little freak?”

Jeremy shook his head at the ground. He knew it was pointless to argue with the head waiter.

“Yeah? Well, guess what. That screeching hooker you’re in love with is here.”

He raised his eyes. “Meteor Mags?”

“That’s the slag.”

Jeremy grabbed his ink bottle and jumped to his feet. “No way!” But as soon as he tried to get in the door, McAllister yanked it shut from inside. The lock clicked shut. “Hey,” he shouted. He rattled the door handle in vain. “Hey, come on, Mick!” He pounded on the door. “It’s not funny! Let me in!”

Then McAllister flung the door open. It struck Jeremy. He staggered backwards, lost his footing on the concrete steps, and fell to the ground in the alley. His ink bottle shattered beside him on the dirty pavement. Jeremy groaned, trying to get to his feet.

McAllister stood in the doorway and laughed. “Jeez, don’t cry over it, ya little fuckin’ baby.” He slammed the door shut.

Wincing, Jeremy made his way back inside. He still had a few minutes left on his break. He walked through the food prep and storage area. To his left lay the dish station where he worked. To his right was the line cooks’ area with its grill and fryers. Several cooks clattered plates and pans below the ventilation hood which never worked quite right. They laughed at obscene jokes, chattering loudly about nothing. Ahead of Jeremy, through an open doorframe, sat the wait station where McAllister and another waiter gave dishes their final preparation before taking them out to the restaurant. But as Jeremy stepped up, his boss stormed through, bumping into the young man.

“Hey,” Rodrigo shouted at him. “No, no, no. You get back to work, dish-dog. Back. Back!”

“But, Rod, I still have five min—”

“Break time’s over, Germy. Get back to work!” Rodrigo grabbed the boy’s shoulder, turned him around, and pushed him back to the dish station.


“Now!” Red Hot Rod tromped off to his office to snort two more rails of cocaine.

Jeremy slumped. He shuffled to the dish station, a large sink where he rinsed dishes before loading them into the mechanical dishwasher. Just then, McAllister came around the corner. He tossed a stack of dirty plates into the sink. Filthy water splashed all over Jeremy’s shirt, splattering his face and soaking his music player.

“Look alive, freak!” McAllister walked back through the wait station and out to the restaurant. The door separating the wait station from the main floor flapped noisily behind him, back and forth, until it settled.

“Hot pan coming through!” A cook shoved a scalding-hot skillet into the dish water. A rancid cloud of steam rose from the sink. It filled Jeremy’s nose and made him cough. “Oops,” shouted the cook. “Sorry, Germs! Ahahahahaha!”

Jeremy grabbed a towel and wiped his face. His ear buds dangled around his neck, but now they made no sound. His sopping wet music player would never work again.

“I don’t know why they’re so hard on you, kid.” The second waiter stood in the open doorway. He leaned against the frame, crossing his arms. “Hey.” He looked up and down the cook’s line and craned his head toward the back. “You can totally see Meteor Mags from our station. Come take a peak. I’ll cover for you for a minute.”

“Really?” Jeremy looked up hopefully.

“Yeah, but make it quick! Okay?”

“I will. Thanks, man.”

He walked through the wait station. The door out to the main floor had a plastic window, so the waiters would not run into each other coming and going. Jeremy stepped up to the window and peered out. His eyes scanned the smoky, dimly lit restaurant though the plastic. And there, at the end of the bar, standing at a pool table with her back to him, was Meteor Mags. Jeremy recognized the two men with her: Donny and Fuzzlow from the Psycho 78s. Jeremy’s heart nearly burst in his chest. He held a hand to the window.

The door swung in and smacked him in the face.


McAllister’s head popped up on the other side of the window, laughing.

Laughter came from behind, too. “Hahaha! We got you good, Germs! What a sucker.”

Rodrigo strode into the wait station. “What in the hell are you doing, Germy? Didn’t I tell you to get back to work? Quit fucking around!” He waved his hands angrily in the air. “Move it, dish-dog! Move!”

Jeremy wiped his nose. It left a bloody streak along the back of his hand. He shuffled back to his dish station, looking only at the ground. Once he got there, he scraped dirty dishes into a trash can, and he cried.

“Are you sure we got the right place?”

“Mhm.” Meteor Mags eyed the layout of the billiards balls on the table. Donny had broken the first rack of nine balls, but none had sunk. “Red Hot Rod’s. Owned by one Rodrigo Galipollas. A real scumbag. He’s definitely our man.”

“The only thing red hot about this place,” said Donny, “is the scorching case of scabies you’ll get from the toilet seats.”

“I’d rather piss in the bloody alley,” said Mags.

“From the looks of this neighborhood, you ain’t the only one.”

Mags took a drag from her cigarette. She set it in an ashtray on the high-top table beside her. “Just get ready to pay for the next round of rum, Donny. Nine off the one for the win. Corner pocket.”

He smirked. “Uh-huh. From all the way across the table, with seven balls in the way? Why don’t you just call it a foul and hand Fuzz the cue?”

“Why don’t you shut the fuck up while I shoot?” Mags thoroughly chalked the cue tip then made a bridge with her right hand. With her left, she raised the butt of her cue at a forty-five-degree angle. In one powerful stroke, she drove the cue tip into the cue ball like she was trying to pound it through the table. The cue ball leapt into the air, jumped the length of the table, bounced off the back rail, and kicked into the one ball. The one ball rolled obligingly into the nine ball, which dropped into the corner pocket.

“What in the actual fuck?”

“Donny,” said Fuzzlow, “don’t ever leave the nine ball near a pocket when you play against her. It’s pure suicide.”

Mags laughed and laughed. “Don’t you know who my gramma was? Best damn billiards player in all of history. We’ll be having that shot of rum now, Captain Clueless!”

“It’s gonna be a long night,” said Donny, fishing a few bills from his pocket.

When he returned from the bar, Donny set three shots on the high-top table. Mags raised her glass. “To sweet revenge,” she said, and they all clinked their glasses together.

“Cheers, mates.”

“Bottoms up.”

Mags gulped. “Holy shit-fire, Donny. What kind of swill did you order?”

“Tastes like sodding petrol filtered through a dirty sock,” said Fuzzlow.

“Give me a break, you two. I asked for top shelf!”

“They must keep their cleaning chemicals on the top shelf. Let’s try the bottom shelf next time!”

“Living dangerously,” muttered Fuzzlow. “So, how do you know this Galipollas is our guy?”

Mags leaned in and lowered her voice. “Let’s just say I know a guy in the Port Authority who knows a guy who knows a guy, okay? This Rodrigo character is definitely the loser who ratted out Plutonian’s pirate radio station. And it isn’t the only one he’s done it to. He picks up the scuttlebutt from the mining crews in this joint, and then he sells the info to the pigs in the MFA.” Mags referred to the paramilitary squadrons who operated under the Musical Freedoms Act of 2019, patrolling the Belt to shut down illegal broadcasts and confiscate banned recordings. “It’s how he keeps a constant stream of blow going up his fat nose. We’ve got rock’n’roll DJs doing hard time thanks to this jackass.”

“Not after tonight,” said Donny.

“Goddamn right,” said Mags. “We’ll jump his arse when he leaves for the night, and that’ll be the end of that.” She lit a stolen cigarette. “Now rack ’em up, Fuzznuts. We might as well have a little fun in the meantime.”

An hour later, Jeremy got his opportunity to go out to the main floor of the restaurant.

“Hey, Germs,” called McAllister. “Get your mop bucket, freak. Someone just ralphed all over booth four. There’s puke everywhere! You’ll love it.”

He filled his bright yellow mop bucket a third full with steaming hot water and poured in some cleanser. He set in the wringer that squeezed out water from the mop, and then stood the mop in the bucket.

McAllister looked around the corner to the dish station. “Don’t take all day, ya little wanker!”

Jeremy grabbed some wet towels and wheeled the bucket through the wait station, steering it by the mop handle across the cheaply tiled floor. He pushed open the swinging door with the bucket. But as he made his way through the restaurant, he only had eyes for Meteor Mags. Then he bumped a customer’s chair.

“Oi! Watch where yer goin’, ya bloody fuckwit!”

“Sorry, sir.” He looked at the floor and steered his mop bucket. Then he looked up towards the pool table Mags and her bandmates occupied. They stood there laughing, clinking glasses of rum together. Jeremy heard Mags’ laughter through the din of the bar as if he had dialed it in on a radio. It was the most angelic sound he had ever heard.

Then his bucket struck a chair leg. Water sloshed all over a customer’s boot.

“Hey, fuckmuppet! What are ya tryin’ to do?”

“Sorry, sir. I was—”

The man slammed a handful of cards down on his table. He stood up. “Ya lookin’ for trouble, mate?”

One of the man’s three companions spoke up. “Hamish, will you leave the little sod alone? Look at him! Probably ’tarded. Let it go, man.”

“Shorty, don’t ya ever tell me what to do.”

“Whatever, Ham. Are you playing or passing?”

The customer sat back down and scooped up his cards. “I wouldn’t pass if yer mum was rubbin’ her tits in me face and tuggin’ at me knob!” He threw down a card. “See how ya like that!”

Jeremy steered his mop bucket over to booth four, glancing at Meteor Mags, but taking care not to bump into any more customers. When he arrived at the booth, vomit dripped from the edge of the table, covering the thinly padded seats. Thick, beige, and full of meaty chunks, it splattered into a generous puddle on the floor. The puddle, like quicksand, closed over and filled the areas where customers stepped in it as they exited the booth in a hurry. Sticky, smeared footprints led away from it.

Jeremy would have been stunned to discover the human digestive system could hold so much semi-solid material, if not for the fact that he saw this nearly every single night. With his bare hands and a wet towel, he wiped vomit from the tabletop. He was going to need a bin for the glasses and dishes, and a lot more towels.

“There he is! There’s our waiter! Hey! We need four more orders of turducken wings!”

“I’m, uh, not the—”

“Janice hurled all over our turducken wings! Now get us some more!” She slapped Jeremy in the back of the head. “We don’t have all night!”

“But I—” Then he had a realization. “Of course, ma’am. Let me get your waiter. We’ll have some fresh wings in a minute.” He wiped his hands on a clean towel, then tossed it onto the table.

“Well, hurry the fuck up!”

He stepped away from the booth with a weak smile and walked straight towards the pool table. This was his chance.

“Yo, Mags,” said Fuzzlow. “Fanboy alert. On your six.”

“Oh, here we go.” Still chalking her cue tip, she glanced over her shoulder. She peered over the rims of her tinted glasses at the approaching boy. He looked like he had been soaked in dirty dishwater. Damp filth caked his pants legs. Food stains marred his concert t-shirt, and spilled bleach added ugly fades to the white silkscreen design of Mags pole dancing. But Mags could see the adoration in his eyes. She faced him, and she smiled. “Ahoy there, little pirate. How are ya?”

He stood dazed like an escaping prisoner caught in a spotlight. His mouth moved without making a sound. Then he found his voice. “I love your music.”

“How sweet,” she said. “What’s your favorite song?”

Jeremy could scarcely believe the moment was real. “Something to Destroy. But I have bootlegs of every concert from the tour, and I love all of them, and I listen to them every day and nothing else, and they mean so much to me. I mean if not for you and the band, I don’t know what I’d do, I just—”

“Germy!” Rodrigo’s shout destroyed the boy’s gushing fountain of praise. He stormed up to the pool table, waving his hands wildly in the air. “What did I tell you about bothering customers?”

Mags looked at the man from the corner of her eye, then back to Jeremy. “That your boss?”

“Yeah.” He shrunk in shame.

“Germy, you clean up that booth right now!” Rodrigo descended on the boy, grabbing his shoulder roughly. Rodrigo shoved him away from Mags and back toward the booth. Jeremy stumbled. He looked to Mags with the saddest expression she had seen in a long, long time.

“Heya, Rod,” she said. “Why don’t you take it easy on the kid?”

“I don’t pay him to stand around and talk!”

“Is that so?” she asked. “Maybe you should, what with all that money you make ratting people out to the MFA.”

Rodrigo’s eyes went wide, and his mouth fell open. The look confirmed everything Mags had told her bandmates. He waved his hand. “I don’t have any idea what you’re—”

Mags flipped her cue stick around and brought the butt down on his forehead as hard as she could.

“Oh, shit,” said Donny.

“There goes our plan,” said Fuzzlow.

Rodrigo stumbled backwards, catching himself on the end of the bar. “Aaa,” he shouted, holding a hand to his face. “Estás muerta, puta!” He pulled out a shotgun from under the bar top.

Jeremy knew his boss kept a shotgun there, though he had never seen it used before. When he saw Rodrigo reach back there, he knew what was happening. Later, when he remembered this moment, he would never quite recall what spurred him to act so recklessly. He pulled the wringer out of his mop bucket by its handle and swung it at his boss.

As Rodrigo brought the shotgun around to Meteor Mags, the wringer caught him in the side of the head. Jeremy picked up his bright yellow bucket and doused him with searing water. Rodrigo screamed.

“Get back, kid!” Mags pounced. She yanked the shotgun from Rodrigo’s grip and clocked him in the jaw with it. He slumped to the floor.

Mags pumped the shotgun and fired it into the ceiling. A buckshot round shredded the smoke-stained tiles. She pumped the shotgun again. “Guys,” she yelled to Fuzzlow and Donny, “get this creep out of here!”

A chunk of the ceiling fell out and collapsed at her feet in a cloud of dust. Customers dove to the floor. Some crawled under their booths or backed against the wall. “Listen up, motherfuckers! You can follow me outside and die, or you can stay in here where it’s nice and cozy. Enjoy some drinks on the house! It’s all the same to me.”

Mags kept the shotgun leveled, encouraging customers to step aside for Donny and Fuzzlow. The two of them dragged Rodrigo to the wait station door. Donny pushed his way through, pulling a knife and growling like an animal at McAllister and the line cooks. Having heard the shotgun blast, they offered no resistance. Fuzzlow dragged Rodrigo’s body out the back door of the restaurant.

Mags followed them closely behind. “Keep drinking, or come and die!” The swinging door flapped shut noisily behind her several times. Then it went still.

A moment later, the shotgun roared again.

Jeremy threw open the back door and dashed down the concrete stairs. He came to a sudden stop. Donny brandished a blade, and Fuzzlow held the shotgun. They relaxed at the sight of the boy.

Jeremy saw Meteor Mags dropping shut the lid on the restaurant’s garbage dumpster. A trail of glistening blood led from a spot just in front of the steps, through the dusty slime of the alley, and up the front of the dumpster. The winds of Ceres would soon bury it below a layer of regolith.

“Heya, kiddo,” she said. “You got a clean towel on you?”

Jeremy nodded quickly. He stepped up and handed her a towel.

Mags wiped her hands on it. They left bright red marks on the cloth, which she then pushed under the lid of the dumpster. She clapped her hands together. “Nice save in there, little man. You got a name?”


“Love your shirt, Jeremy. I think it’s one of our best designs.”

“I saved up for it for months.”

“Months?” Mags looked him up and down. She pulled a pack of cigarettes from her bra. She lit one up and handed it to him. Then she lit one for herself. She blew three smoke rings into the dirty asteroid air. “Tell me something, Jeremy. Do you like this job?”

Jeremy coughed. He’d never had a cigarette before. “I fucking hate this job. Everyone here treats me like shit.”

“Mhm.” Mags flicked ashes onto the ground. “Made you their little whipping boy, didn’t they?”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

“Mags,” said Fuzzlow. “We should bounce. Like right now, before it gets hot.”

She raised her hand. “We always make time for our fans, don’t we?”

Donny rolled his eyes and shook his head. He knew they would have better luck arguing with a brick wall than trying to get Mags to move before she was ready.

“Tell you what, Jeremy.” She pulled Rodrigo’s wallet from her skirt pocket. She rifled through it quickly, pulled out the thick stack of currency inside, and stuffed the rest into the dumpster. “Why don’t you get the bloody fuck out of this neighborhood forever?” She handed him the wad of cash. “And get yourself a better job while you’re at it.”

He stared in disbelief at the money, then up to Mags, then back to the money. He took it and shoved it into his pants pocket.

“Yeah, kid,” said Donny. “And stay the hell out of the mines. Take it from someone who’s been there. You don’t want to end up in those hellholes.”

Fuzzlow added, “Don’t become a musician, either!”

Mags snorted. “Yeah. Worst job ever!”

“Mags,” Jeremy stuttered. “I—”

“I know, dear.” She bent down, leaned over, and placed a single kiss on his cheek. Then she put her hand on it and looked into his eyes. “See you at the shows, Jeremy.”

He smiled like he had never smiled before.

Mags raised herself to her full height. “Fuzz? Donny? Let’s get the hell out of here!”

Jeremy watched as the three of them ran out of the alley and disappeared around the corner. Then he ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction.

A week later, he laid out his forearm on the padded armrest. “It’s just a shitty stick-and-poke. I know it’s terrible. Would you fill it in for me?”

Tinta owned her own tattoo shop. She had decorated the walls with her original flash art and posters of her favorite bands. She looked at the half-dozen star tattoos outlined on the boy’s arm, and only one of them partially filled in. “It doesn’t really look that bad. Did you free-hand all these?”

Jeremy nodded, embarrassed.

“Why didn’t you fill them in?”

“I, uh. I lost my ink. It’s a long story.”

“We can fix them up no problem,” she said. With gloved hands, she took a freshly autoclaved needle and set up her tattoo gun.

“Wow,” said Jeremy. “That looks like a nice rig.”

“Nothing but the best. Why don’t you watch me fill in a couple, and I’ll explain what I’m doing, and then you can try filling in one yourself, okay?”

His eyes lit up. “Really?”

“We don’t get many Meteor Mags fans in here. Let alone ones that do their own ink.”

“How did you know?”

Tinta laughed. “Who else would be trying to cover their body in stars?” She worked the needle over his skin. First, she tightened up the outlines. Then she set about filling in the pentagrams. She talked him through the process, giving him tips here and there, and asking questions to make sure he understood. “By the way. Did you hear the new Psycho 78s single this morning?”

“A new single?!”

“It’s all over darkweb. Here. Hold this, and I’ll put it on for us.”

Jeremy took the tattoo gun from her.

Tinta touched the screen at her station and brought up a video channel. “Check this out. It’s called Whipping Boy.”

The video began with Meteor Mags, Donny, Fuzzlow, and their drummer standing before a burning building. Mags wore a pair of .50 caliber pistols strapped in holsters at her hips. She brandished a black leather bullwhip. Other than her steel-toed boots and her star-covered socks, she wore little more than a ribbon in her long, white hair.

As she snapped the whip, Donny blew into his baritone sax. Drenched in overdrive and doubled with a bass note two octaves lower, the horn pulsated a monstrous, relentless riff.

The drums kicked in, and Fuzzlow ripped a searing lead with his distortion-soaked harmonica.

Mags wailed at the top of her lungs.

Whipping boy!
What’s your name?
Whipping boy!
A life of pain!

Maybe you should take the cash and run.
Maybe you should get yourself a gun,
Before they kill your soul. Alright!

Fuzzlow raged into his harp before she began the second verse.

“She’s something else, isn’t she?” Tinta asked over the music.

“She sure is.” Jeremy would never forget Mags’ kiss, and her kind words. He gripped the tattoo gun in his hand. He knew it was not the kind of gun Meteor Mags sang about. But it was the right one for him.

“You know, I could use an apprentice around here,” said Tinta. “Someone to help with the shop and learn the trade. I’ve got more space miners wanting tatts than I know what to do with right now! You think you’d be interested in working here?”

“That sounds like the greatest job ever,” said Jeremy. Then he filled in the rest of the stars, all by himself.



fresh ink

A couple of new illustrations for the upcoming book The Battle of Vesta 4, which should be in print by the end of the month.

mags 37 - drums - small copy

mags 36 - dances - small copy