aftermath

Excerpted from the prologue to Voyage of the Calico Tigress, to appear in Volume Six of The Adventures of Meteor Mags and Patches.

It was a dark and stormy night on Ceres. Though four and a half billion years had passed since its violent formation, the planetoid had never hosted such a monumental downpour. Compared to the rampaging whirlwinds of Jupiter, this tempest was a small and transient affair, certainly not the boiling cauldrons that churned for centuries on the gas giants. But for Ceres, tonight’s symphony of destruction had set the bar for darkness and storminess to an all-time high.

The monstrous tornado had destroyed much more than the landing zone and administrative buildings of von Zach Division. Relentlessly advancing beyond the warehousing district, it encountered the Ceresian water-processing facilities.

The asteroid’s once-icy surface and the frozen reserves below its mantle had become the single greatest source of water for human consumption in the Belt. The water also served as radiation shielding and propellant for spacecraft, making it one of Ceres’ chief exports and a centerpiece of the extraterrestrial economy.

But no more. The mega-cyclone pulled the processing stations apart. Their contents spewed into its savage funnels and past the upper atmosphere where, once again, the water crystallized into the solid form it had enjoyed for a million centuries before humanity’s interference. Within a few days, Ceres’ artificial gravity would draw the ice crystals into rings like those of Saturn, peppered here and there with human remains.

The carnage encircling the planet from above paled in comparison to the suffering below. In the driving rain, thousands of Ceresian citizens clambered through the wreckage of their homes, their possessions, and their lives. Once-orderly streets became paths of ragged rubble filled with cries of loss and mourning once the tornado had exhausted its fury and ebbed into mere turbulence.

Despite the fresh devastation scarring its stony hide, Ceres maintained a cool detachment well-suited to its unimaginably long existence. If Ceres felt anything as it observed the affliction and geologic catastrophe the tornado created, it was a kinship with the tiny cat who had just left the asteroid—a calico who, like Ceres, was destined to outlive every other being who had survived that night.

Immortals, after all, so rarely cross paths.

think tank

Excerpted from Voyage of the Calico Tigress, to appear in Volume Six of the Adventures of Meteor Mags and Patches.

Within the caverns of an uncharted asteroid, an inhuman mind meditated upon the nature of time, the fates of stars, and all it had learned in the past two months. To assign an identity to this mind would be problematic indeed, for it was composed of hundreds of beings, each with eight neuron-filled tentacles.

The group mind of Mags’ mutant octopuses included the mind of their mother, who had merged with them. And the mother’s consciousness had been expanded to include the scientists who created her, plus all she had learned in her union with Mags and Patches.

In the cool water filling the cavern swarmed a synthesis of all these minds. Food concerned it on a basic, biological level, but the goddesses had promised more food, and the mind believed this promise with a faith both animal and religious. Direct communion with the goddesses left no room for doubt.

But the cephalopodic group mind was not so simple as to petition its goddesses with prayer. Those who lived beyond the water had their own agendas. They required no worship. They only loved with all their hearts, and it was joy enough for this mind to bask in that love’s radiant beauty—and return it.

In honor of the star-covered object of their love and her calico companion, the meditating octopuses began what could only be called a song. Instead of vocalizing, they sang in silent, electric impulses flashing between their synapses.

For structure, they plundered Mags’ vast musical memory. The raga and tala of India’s classical music formed the basis for drone, melody, and rhythm. From Patches’ memories, the octopuses took bird songs, buzzing insects, and the whispered symphonies the wind writes with leaves and the water lapping at the riverbank.

At will, the group mind could summon any sound it had ever known, and shape it. Saxophones and jet engines wove through a tapestry of human voices—from Mags’ first cries as a baby, to the Latvian women’s choir. Mags’ awareness of twelve-tone composition informed the singing as much as her mastery of James Maxwell’s equations. To the octopuses, knowledge existed all at once and everywhere, without conceptual boundaries.

Humans have often said music is the universal language. But to the swirling mass of mental power in the asteroid cavern, music was the very substance of the universe. The octopuses sang, and they waited without hurry or expectation, creating an object of unparalleled wonder for their feline goddesses of creation and destruction.

Then they felt one growing nearer.

patches’ first memory

Excerpted from “Patches the Immortal”, one of ten short stories collected in Meteor Mags: Red Metal at Dawn and Other Tales of Interplanetary Piracy.

Earth, 2026.

Patches pulled herself from the mangled wreckage. The train burst into flame behind the tiny kitten. The heat singed her fur. Embers fell all around her, charring the grass. She coughed weakly between mews, but no one heard.

The sounds of human screams and the shriek of metal ripping and falling apart meant nothing to her young ears but noise. Noise and hurt. She crawled through the grass to the dark edge of the forest without knowing why. She only knew its cool shelter in contrast to the excruciating noise and the bright, bright burning.

In the gnarled roots of a tree, Patches curled into a trembling ball. For how many hours the screams and the burning lasted, she did not know. Eventually they quieted down, but other sounds and lights arrived in waves. At some point, those also stopped.

Too weak to mew any longer, Patches shivered until she fell asleep. She dreamed she saw the skull of another cat. The skull faded into sight from the pure black night. It grew until it filled the sky, and the moon sat in place of an eye. Little Patches had no word for death, but she understood the magnitude of what she saw.

The skull cat looked down from the sky at the disaster in the pale moonlight. Its lower jaw dropped open. From the train’s wreckage, the ghosts of dead cats soared up, up, up into the open mouth. Patches wondered if she knew any of them. From here, she could not tell.

Patches dreamed her own ghost tried to pull free from her body. She struggled to hold onto it. She twisted and shuddered in her sleep. Her limbs struck out wildly. She growled at the monstrous cat skull, and its single lunar eye focused on her.

As the eye of death examined her, Patches shook as if she had been thrown into arctic water. She growled her refusal to relinquish her spirit to this icy, grinning horror. She growled for all she was worth.

The eye of death winked at her. Patches heard a low, rumbling purr, and a raspy tongue combed the side of her face once, then again.

When she woke up alone, she killed and ate the first bug she saw. Ten minutes later, she made a breakfast of a small lizard. Finches in the bushes chirped loudly. Patches did not catch a bird that day. But she would.

She would not give up easily.

dr. p tells a tale

Excerpted from The Lost Crew of the Volya IX, Volume Four of the Adventures of Meteor Mags and Patches.

“Humans,” muttered Meteor Mags. “How I hate them.” She exhaled a plume of smoke and stared out the window on the bridge of The Queen Anne’s Revenge.

“Gee, thanks,” said Plutonian.

“Relax, dear. I didn’t mean you.”

“Did you have any particular humans in mind?” He held out his hand.

Mags passed him the cigarette. “I sure did. Those sons of bitches who—”

The ship’s alarm interrupted with a jingle Plutonian had not heard in decades.

“Bollocks,” said Mags. “Cosmic rays. We need to hit the storm shelter.” She plopped into her command chair and began tapping her fingers on one of its touch screens.

“The alarm for cosmic rays is the Windows 95 start-up music?”

“Can you think of a better way to announce things are getting completely FUBAR? This won’t take a second, dear. Go get in my bed.”

Plutonian furrowed his eyebrows. “Do what now?”

“Don’t be shy, Dr. P. It’s a cozy place to curl up for a storm, and it’s where the shielding is strongest.” As Mags explained, Plutonian heard the rushing water filling up the reservoirs between the inner and outer walls of the hull.

Silicate-based insulation in a standard ship’s hull kept out normal radiation. But for stripping the high-energy protons off a cosmic ray storm, nothing worked like water. Modern ship design included a storm shelter protected by reservoirs, reducing the need to shield the entire vessel.

“We rotate the ship so one side faces the storm,” said Mags, “and then we wait it out.”

Patches lifted her head and watched Plutonian walk past. She mewed softly.

“Shouldn’t we get her on the bed, too?”

Mags shrugged. “She’ll get up if she wants to. After all the stuff she survived this year, I don’t think a radiation storm will upset her.”

As if in agreement, Patches rolled over, licked her paw, and shut her eyes.

“She’s fearless,” he said.

“Indeed.” Mags knelt down to scratch Patches behind the ears and then dropped herself unceremoniously on the bed beside Plutonian.

“So which sons of bitches did you mean?”

“Oh, right.” From a drawer under her mattress, she drew out a miniature, wooden treasure chest with a Jolly Roger carved into the lid. With a frown, she turned its contents into something to smoke. “Those sodding Soviet space monkeys just reminded me what horrible shite people did to get into space. Did you know the Russians sent up a dog into orbit? Before they sent primates?”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “The first animal to orbit the Earth, and it wasn’t even one of us.”

“Exactly. And you know what they did to her? How they honored her contribution to science?”

Plutonian shook his head, but he knew.

“Murdered her. Sent her right up there into space and then murdered her. Can you fucking imagine?” A tear rolled down Mags’ cheek. “Ungrateful bloody savages.” She wiped her eye. “Up there all alone, absolutely terrified, not even understanding why or what. Just abandoned. Like garbage. Like some unfeeling thing, not even an animal.” Her voice trailed off.

“Thus rewarded are our toils. But Mags, I didn’t think you even liked dogs.”

“I don’t! But that doesn’t mean I want them to suffer. They may be stupid, stinky sods, but their feelings still matter. They feel as much as you, or me, or Patches.” She licked the paper, running a finger along the seam. “Fuck,” she said. “This must be the saddest spliff ever rolled.”

“If it makes you feel any better,” he said, picking up the lighter, “they didn’t murder that dog. She died from overheating.”

“How awful. Cooked alive instead of euthanized.”

“That’s not much better, is it? Sorry.” He held a flame up to her.

Mags puffed. “Damn! Slim showed me his operation, and I still can’t believe the quality he’s getting out of it. Here. Be careful!”

Plutonian accepted, puffing leisurely. “You’re right, though. About humans. We do some pretty awful things. I think about stuff I did before I got out, and it makes me sad.”

“Got out of what?”

He waved his hand in the air. “The whole fucking system, Mags. The war. The lies. Everything. Oh, nevermind. There are probably things you shouldn’t know about me.”

“It’s okay if you want to tell me.” She covered his hand with hers. “Everybody’s got a sad story.”

“It won’t make you think any better of humans.”

“Hey!” She squeezed his shoulder. “Some of my best friends are humans.”

Plutonian chuckled. “Alright, then.” He leaned back, resting against a pillow. “I was in Afghanistan. It must have been about fifteen or sixteen years ago now, just before asteroid mining really took off. Right about the time Tarzi was born, I guess. We’d been sent into the middle of a conflict with more factions, splinter groups, and proxies than anybody could keep track of.

“You’d think in a war you’d know who your enemy is. But it wasn’t like that at all. You’d go through these villages in the middle of nowhere. They didn’t know why we were there. Hell, they didn’t even know who we were! They thought we were the goddamn Russians. They wouldn’t even know who their own government was if we didn’t tell them.

“Of course, we weren’t the Russians. So why the hell were we there? And we’d tell them about the Twin Towers attacks, and they wouldn’t even believe us. How is it even possible for a building made out of glass and steel to be that tall? They’d never heard of such a thing, much less a pair of them being taken out by airplanes. It just wasn’t part of their reality. We’d show them pictures and videos, and they just couldn’t believe it.

“They certainly weren’t the evil enemy we’d been sent to fight. I’m not even sure that enemy existed. These people were just farmers living simple lives, minding their own business until a truckload of men with guns would arrive. Us, the Russians, some warlord, whoever.

“Did they ever fight us? Did they ever attack us? Sure they did. Someone else would come along, give them guns, and tell them unless they attacked us, their whole family would die.

“It made what happened even worse. There was no sense to it. No evil empire to destroy. No one you could punch in the face and make it all stop. There were just these poor fuckin’ people trying to live.”

He puffed and passed.

“Anyway. One evening my patrol is coming back through this village. We’d been there many times, and the people were friendly to us. The kids would come out, and we’d give them little treats like soda and candies. We’d transported our doctors and medicine out there and treated some of the worst cases at the base. We knew these people about as well as two strangers with no business knowing each other really can.

“But this night, we’re rolling through town. Right down the main street, which is pretty much a dirt road with ragged little houses on either side. I’m in the back of the utility vehicle, supposedly manning the gun we’ve got mounted there but really just having a smoke and watching the sunset. It could get so peaceful there. Sunsets were just gorgeous. A man could almost forget he was in a war.

“That’s when the gunfire started. All of a sudden, these kids come running out from both sides of the street. It’s the kids we see every day. Only they’ve got semi-automatic rifles. And I mean like every kid in the village, all at once. They fill the road in front of us. The driver slams on the brakes. Not even seconds have passed, and the transport is getting riddled with bullets.

“I guess I just got scared. Guys like to talk tough, but when you’re getting shot at, you find out real fast that anyone can get scared. I didn’t even think. There wasn’t time to. I just reacted. I shot back.” He hung his head.

“Now, you don’t want to fuck with an MK48. And there was this moment. Couldn’t have been more than a second or two. But time just sort of slowed down. And I was watching these kids, kids I’d seen the day before, the kid I gave a candy bar to, their bodies—”

For a moment, he saw every detail frozen in time, the way the candy bar kid turned into shreds and scraps of things he was not about to describe.

“It didn’t last long. When the driver heard my MK48, he launched that fucking vehicle. It didn’t matter who was in front of him or who got under the wheels. He got us the hell out of there.

“I collapsed on the floor in the back, and I looked up at the sky, and I thought, what in the fuck did I just do.

“Not long after that, after the adrenaline had worn off and we were a safe distance away, I knew I had to get the hell out of there. It wasn’t right. None of it was right. Not that I’d ever been a big flag-waver before going over there. But like a lot of us at the time, I thought we had something important to accomplish. I thought we could do something about it. Find the bad guys. Help the good guys.

“But there weren’t any of either. It was just endless war, chewing up anything decent in its path.”

“There are no sides in war,” said Mags. “Just the people it destroys.”

“And the people it makes rich.”

“That’s right.”

“Anyway, I didn’t leave that night. We made sure our wounded got back to base and got treated. We had paperwork to do. Always paperwork. People ask me what I think happens when we die, and I tell them paperwork. But I’d made my decision.

“Three days later, I went on a courier assignment and never came back. It wasn’t easy getting out of that country, but it wasn’t impossible if you knew who to bribe. I got far, far away. Got myself a new name. Got good and fucking drunk for two or three years.

“Then I realized it wasn’t making things any better. So, I hooked up with the right kind of people if you want to do the wrong kind of things. And that was that.”

“You sound like such a pacifist sometimes,” she said, but softly. “Done with the war, and all that. It’s hard to believe the first time I met you, you were blasting those MFA losers with buckshot!”

Fuck the MFA.”

“Aye. But what I have in mind for them won’t be a war. It’ll be a bloody retribution.”

“Mags, you can count me in.”

the execution of william fly

Excerpted from Hang My Body on the Pier, to appear in Volume Six of The Adventures of Meteor Mags and Patches.

Boston, 1726. From Great-Gramma Magdalena’s Journals.

When I was thirteen years old, my father said, “Remember what I told you, son.”

I did remember. Keep absolutely quiet. Simple instructions, but well-advised.

I will call him my father from here on in this memoir, for we lived as father and son for nearly a decade to the outside world. I knew my gender was a deception, and that our survival depended on this deception, and it troubled me not at all. The seas will be unkind to anyone suffering from an unfortunate compulsion to always tell the truth.

After all, honest men decorated the piers of the so-called New World. Their bodies hung in cages to attract the carrion-birds and remind all who saw them, as their skin rotted in the sun and scavengers consumed their organs, that to be a pyrate was to sign your own execution order. But before serving as the government’s instruments of terror against hard-working people, many of the hanged men insisted on telling the truth.

On that day in my early adolescence, I heard much truth, and little of it came from the officiators of the murder, on account of pyracy and mutiny, of one William Fly. Against the wishes of the judges and Jesuits who had instructed him in the procedure of being executed by the state, he spoke truth that day.

I knew it was truth because my father and I had served with Fly. Was he quick to murder? Most assuredly. Did the captains he tossed into the sea deserve to die for what they had to done to my former shipmates? Undoubtedly. I would as soon again murder in the company of that man as I would draw my next breath, for I would know with certainty the actions were just and served the interests of the crew.

Fly was to speak that day of the moral necessity of avoiding the sins of a pyrate’s life; of escaping the trap which so justifiably claimed his life now; and the need to eschew taking wealth not rightfully yours to squander on stiff drink and loose women.

Instead, he told the crowd the reasons his former captain deserved to die. Father’s grip on my shoulder reminded me we knew these reasons all too well. The beatings. The starvation. The mutilations. Men speak of hell as if it waits for us after death. But I knew by that age that hell was a merchant ship, and its satanic scourge was a man called the captain.

As the hangman draped the rope around his neck, William Fly sang. The renegade sang before his spine snapped and his abandoned flesh hung in an iron cage for ravens to pluck its tearless eyes and voiceless lips. I shall not soon forget that song.

According to my father’s wishes, I kept silent until we entered what passed for a pub in the colonies of those days and claimed a table in a darkened corner. He fetched us two pints of ale from the bar. Other witnesses to the afternoon’s spectacle wandered in, and their noise formed a cocoon of privacy for our conversation.

“Maggie,” he said, abandoning the pretense I was his son, “that’s the fate awaits us now. If not on this shore, then the shore of someone who sees we’ve wronged them.”

I accepted the ale and drank it heartily, for it vexed me to see one of the few people I admired turned into a scrap of jerky for the gulls. Life with my adopted father had taught me many things, including that its otherwise appalling aspects became tolerable with generous rations of ale and spirits. “That’s if we’re not lucky enough to die at sea, first.”

Father swallowed his ale. I judged him. I did. He was prone to drunkenness, but I was usually too drunk to mind. Except when he struck me.

He had secured profitable employment for us on a year’s voyage, and we had lived in semi-retirement for a year on the spoils. Then the money ran out, and we signed aboard a privateer. Our departure was two days hence, and today’s hanging amounted to Father’s idea of schooling.

I judged him against other men I had known in our travels. He was rough-spoken, though I had helped him with his literacy. We had met a few scholars at sea, and I knew Father was not a man of their intellectual caliber. But he could work rigging and sails with a skill I had seen educated men die attempting to equal.

I sometimes think that with more education, Father would have been one of the pioneers who created the compass, or the steam engine, or calculus. But he did have a taste for drink, and I recall he finished his first ale before the foam had entirely vanished from mine.

“Yer a cold one, Maggie. It’s kept ya alive. We’ll be privateers now. But a letter of marque makes us no less thieves. We take what is not ours, and make it ours.”

I offered my glass in salute, and all the old man clinked against it was froth. Instead of drinking, he softly sang in his gruff, grey-whiskered voice the words William Fly had sung that very day on the gallows.

Hang my body on the pier
From a chain and shed no tear
Pyrate life is short but free
Now my heart returns to sea

Hang my body on the pier
Hang my body on the pier

The sentiment rang true, and not a drop of my ale remained. “But I have different plans,” I told the besotted sailor who raised me. “And I’ll see a thousand frocks die before I see another one of my mates hang like a rooster in a cage.”

“Ha! What do ya plan, little Maggie? Start yer own colony, perhaps?”

“That,” I said, handing over my glass, “is exactly what I plan to do.”

By the time he returned with a second round, he had forgotten my assertion. It took six more years to make good on my promise. By that time, Father was a feeble man.

The sea is cruel to sailors, and it turns many of them into cruel men. I will not deny he was, at times, cruel with me. But a child at sea learns to expect a certain amount of cruelty as part of any normal day; and she herself becomes cruel.

When I had years to reflect on it, I would judge him again. I would find him, on the whole, the best thing that could have happened to me after my parents’ deaths.

I later felt remorse for treating him as roughly as I did.

violence and the state

Excerpted from the upcoming Voyage of the Calico Tigress, volume six of The Adventures of Meteor Mags and Patches.

ASTEROID UNDERGROUND GUEST COLUMN
METEOR MAGS: VIOLENCE AND THE STATE, 2027

The state must maintain its monopoly on violence, else it fails to be a state and will shrivel and die. This monopoly on violence is not a thing to be considered apart from the state, for it is indistinguishable from the state and is the very essence of it. Any violence on the part of individual citizens or non-state groups is antithetical to the monopoly, and thereby constitutes treason in its simplest form.

This does not mean all traitors share a common goal or even common values. All violence is treason, but the treasonous are not unified, and often commit violence upon other traitors. They are only unified in the eyes of the state, which is less concerned with the sociological origins of violence, and even less so its merits and flaws. The state is only concerned with maintaining its monopoly, and it will use violence to keep it.

All unsanctioned outbursts of aggression threaten the state’s monopoly. The child who kicks over the rubbish bin commits treason, as the burglar commits treason, and the barroom brawler commits treason. All must be suppressed though conditioning, punishment, and the channeling of aggression into state-sanctioned outlets.

This constant threat to the monopoly creates a pressure which the state must sometimes crush and other times release through tightly controlled channels. All which is fully controlled exists fully within the state’s monopoly and is part and parcel of the state. The state seeks integration of all uncontrolled non-state reality. Anything outside the state’s control, it will eventually seek to control.

Such control is the opposite of liberty to anyone but the state itself, which has full liberty, which is a pure liberty to do absolutely anything in the pursuit of its own perpetuation. Thus the traitor must stand for something, for she surely stands against the entire might of the state. History will be the final judge of her character, though the state may well prove to be her executioner.

Unify and organize now.

Meteor Mags

now in print: Red Metal at Dawn and Other Tales of Interplanetary Piracy

Ahoy! You can now find the buried treasure of our first ten stories in a 400-page illustrated book: Red Metal at Dawn and Other Tales of Interplanetary Piracy, available in paperback and Kindle editions. You can also find it for iBooks, Nook Books, and other ebook formats.

The paperback is big, beautiful, and banned in the Asteroid Belt. Pick up a copy today!

Meteor_Mags_Red_Metal_Cover_for_Web

Meet Meteor Mags. She’s a space pirate, tobacco smuggler, pole dancer, and rock’n’roll rebel. Meteor Mags blazes through the Solar System in a series of anarchist adventures with her foul-mouthed nephew, Tarzi, and her adorably indestructible cat, Patches. Join Meteor Mags, her best friend Celina, and her band The Psycho 78s on the asteroid mining frontier of the near future, where mayhem abounds and the heroes aren’t always good!

By 2027, gravity control has made asteroid mining a major industry. Meteor Mags and her crew rock the Belt, raging against the forces of law and order, hijacking cargo ships, and selling illegal music—until they come face-to-face with an alien invasion!

Join Mags as she confronts a telepathic kraken in an asteroid laboratory! Struggle for your life against a robotic Mags! Travel back in time to witness the life-changing events of her childhood! And turn up the volume, because Mags is ready to rock!

The ten short stories collected in Red Metal at Dawn blend historical fiction with the wild energy of Jack Kirby-style comic books and pulp science fiction. Read it in Paperback or Kindle and see why Meteor Mags has been banned in the Asteroid Belt since 2029!

Also Available on iTunes as an iBook, and at Barnes & Noble in Paperback and Nook Book!