Alonso & Kaufman: excerpt from The Battle of Vesta 4

This is a sneak preview of the second scene from our next adventure, The Battle of Vesta 4. Did you read the first scene? You’ve met Alonso, Kaufman, and Patches many times by now, but they’ve never all been in the same place at the same time, and they have a few unresolved things to talk about. 

If you haven’t joined our merry band of interplanetary outlaws yet, pick up the Meteor Mags Omnibus Edition and Rings of Ceres .

***

Aboard Kaufman’s recently christened stealth ship, the Calico Tigress, three outlaws listened to a pirate radio broadcast on their way to Meteor Mags’ party.

Patches, for whom Kaufman had named the tiny spaceship, curled up in Alonso’s lap and purred beneath the hand he rested on her invincible fluff. Her tri-colored tail covered her soft pink nose, and the tip waved imperceptibly in time with the music. She listened to the men’s discussion but, since both felons lacked Mags’ ability to understand her feline speech, the cat did not bother to chime in.

Alonso talked about his current project. “I figure once we get the freighter fully converted, me and the space monkeys will load all the octopuses on board into the aquarium, and then we hit the road! It’ll be the best tour since the old days with the Sterile Skins. And if anybody gets in our way this time, BAM BAM BAM! We got Mags with us to take out the opposition. Know what I’m sayin’, K-man?”

Kaufman leaned back in his seat. The auto-pilot would steer them to Vesta, so he only needed to monitor the radar and make sure no trouble blocked their course. “I do. She seems quite capable in that regard.”

Alonso laughed and gave Patches a scratch behind her ears. “Capable ain’t the word for it, homie. She’ll straight-up bring the noise. She always did.”

Kaufman lacked Alonso’s memories of Mags as a rock band’s tour manager in the days before the Musical Freedoms Act. But he had seen her in action. “She does have quite the reputation for violence. If there’s anyone I’d be more scared of than Mags, it’s Patches.”

“What? This little ball of love right here?”

“That little ball of love,” said Kaufman, “dove headfirst into a tornado to save me. Then she slaughtered a pack of rogues who attacked us. I have no doubt they are cursing her name right now in whatever hell she sent them to.”

Alonso pursed his lips and appraised the man beside him. “She did? How many?”

“Five,” Kaufman recounted. “Patches tore four of them to pieces. They were all heavily armed. I beat the last one’s brains into the dirt with a rock.”

“Word.” Alonso tried to imagine the well-spoken but thoroughly bruised Kaufman and the chunky furball in his lap doing such a thing. But they were Mags’ friends, and he had survived that same tornado.

Kaufman said, “It’s why I asked Mags if I could bring her to Svoboda 9 to pick you up. I’d rather have Patches at my side than a whole platoon of Port Authority soldiers. That cat is a weapon. A living weapon. I feel sorry for anyone who gets in her way.”

Patches declined to acknowledge the compliment. Praise was, after all, her rightful due. A simple matter of course.

“Alright,” said Alonso. “That much I can believe. But what really gets me is how you, the Chief Administrator of the whole damn Port Authority on Mars, is now playing chauffeur to a guy who was just a wage slave in your empire! What gives?”

Kaufman pulled a pack of stolen Turkish cigarettes from his breast pocket and flipped open the cardboard lid. He held out the pack to Alonso. “Shall we?”

“Fuckin’ A, my man.” Alonso snatched an oval-shaped, unfiltered cigarette.

Kaufman presented a lighter. “Just don’t tell my son. I don’t want him to start.”

The tip of Alonso’s cigarette glowed a menacing red like a dying sun. He puffed and released a plume of grey-blue smoke into the ship’s cabin. Ventilators quickly pulled it upward. “Who’s your boy?”

“Anton.” Kaufman lit one for himself. “You’ll know him by the new hairstyle Mags’ girls gave him: multi-colored spikes with skull beads tied on the ends.”

“Right on,” said Alonso. “I love that retro shit.” He took another drag and lazily exhaled.

“First off,” said Kaufman, “I’m no longer the Chief Administrator. Maybe you haven’t seen the news, hiding out with that asteroid menagerie of yours, but I’m a criminal now. Same as you. I thought I had covered my tracks, but it appears the Port Authority is so rife with spies that little goes undetected. The general consensus is that citizens may shoot me on sight.”

“Damn. I feel ya, dawg. It was like that for me when the Skins were shut down.”

“I imagine it was. Second, I am a huge fan of the Sterile Skins, and have been for many years. I want you to know I regret what my Youth Committee did to bring your band’s music to the attention of the people who passed the Musical Freedoms Act.”

Alonso furrowed his eyebrows. He flicked his ash on the floor. “You got me outlawed, ese?”

“Not me personally, no.” Kaufman sank into his seat and rubbed his face. “2018 was a fucked-up year. You either sided with the new wave of fascism, or you were destroyed by it. I simply chose a side. I often regret that choice. What happened to the Skins, and many bands like them, was unconscionable. I don’t doubt I deserve to die for my part in it.”

Alonso took a drag. “You know my boys got killed in the raids that went down in 2019, right?”

All color drained from Kaufman’s face. He slumped forward and hid his head in his hands. “Yes.”

“That was some fucked-up shit, Holmes.”

“Yes.” A long silence fell in the cabin. Kaufman puffed on his cigarette with a languid French inhale. The nicotine revived him. “Then I met Mags. I realized if anyone could undo the horrible things happening on Earth and in the space colonies, it was her. She had such determination. Such fearlessness. Such reckless disregard for the law. I thought maybe if I helped her, it could make things right.”

Alonso leaned toward him. “Did it?”

Kaufman released smoky tendrils from his lungs. “I don’t know. Nothing can undo the sins of the past.”

“Then I’d say all we’ve got is the future.”

Kaufman met Alonso’s eyes. “I will drink to that.” He rose from his seat and went to the wall of lockers along one side of the cabin. He produced a bottle of Kraken rum and two rocks glasses. “To the future.”

“Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about.” A lesser man would have considered Kaufman’s confession an insult, or extracted vengeance for the blood of his fallen comrades. But Alonso had been a criminal long enough to understand that sometimes alliances shifted, and sometimes collecting on outdated debts served no purpose. “Did you really help tía?”

“Mags?” Kaufman filled the glasses with the spicy black liquid. “Indeed. I gave her information on Port Authority shipments and facilities, which she used to build her club. We’ve done business a long time now.”

Alonso accepted a glass from the traitor. “Any friend of Mags is a friend of mine.” He hoisted his glass, and Kaufman’s clinked against it.

Vivan las anarquistas.” Kaufman drained half his glass in a single gulp.

Exactemente.”

Patches raised her head and plaintively mewed.

Alonso said, “I’d almost swear she understands us.”

Kaufman refilled their glasses then took his seat. “I guarantee you that cat understands every word we say.”

“No bullshit?”

“No bullshit, Lonso. She’s texted me. What’s more, Mags tells me Patches now understands any language Mags can speak. Something to do with the octopuses.”

“Right on.” Alonso took another sip. “I think she’ll like this.” Line by line, with an eloquence his rough treatment of English never suggested, the former drummer of the Sterile Skins recited Oda al Gato by the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda.

Kaufman knew little about poetry, but fluency in Spanish and several other languages was part of his diplomatic background. He relaxed and let the rhythm, expression, and imagery wash over him.

Patches climbed from her balled-up position to lie against Alonso’s chest and purr in his face. She rubbed her cheeks against him—first one, then the other, and back again.

At the end, Kaufman said, “I did not know you were a poet.”

Alonso shrugged. “Poet. Musician. Artist. What’s the difference? We see a world we’re in love with but doesn’t exist. Then we work to make it real. To bring it to life.”

“I never thought of it like that.” Kaufman held out an ashtray for the musician to stub out the cigarette, then extinguished his own.

“That’s why you ended up in administration,” said Alonso. “All brains and no heart.”

Kaufman accepted the condemnation.

Alonso held out his glass for more. “Don’t take it so hard, ese. There’s hope for you yet. Patches likes you.” He gave Kaufman a smile. “Did I ever tell you about the time Mags killed a roomful of neo-Nazis in the Ukraine with nothing but a plastic fork? Oh, shit, you will love this story!”

Alonso regaled his new friend with adventures from the old days until Vesta came into sight.

In the distance rose the crater Rheasilvia, and in its center at the south pole, the tallest mountain peak in the solar system. Along the crater’s rim, in circular formation around Club Assteroid, waited a formidable arsenal of rail guns.

Kaufman knew them well. He had given Mags the information she needed to steal them, and he led her suicidal mission to Ceres to obtain them. Between the guns sat Mags’ personal anti-aircraft weapons. Like the larger rail guns, they were staffed by a few of her closest friends and people Slim enlisted for the party’s defense.

Other than Celina, no one had known Meteor Mags as long as Slim. She entrusted him with staffing the shooters for the evening. He also provided the club’s security that night, a gift for the smuggler who had made him rich, and whom he had made even richer.

As Kaufman brought the Calico Tigress closer to the asteroid’s surface, Alonso was unconcerned. “Look at all these goons!” He laughed. “Mags has this shit on lockdown like she’s la policia tonight.”

“Invitation only,” said Kaufman. “Enforced at gunpoint. Fortunately, I have clearance to land anywhere on this rock. I’ll drop you off at the front door.”

Alonso raised his glass and drained the last drop of rum. “Man, just look at all them rough motherfuckers down there.”

As the ship approached the landing zone on Vesta, Kaufman observed some rough motherfuckers indeed. Though they were too far away for him to clearly see their faces, he would have recognized many from his files: murderous rogues with extensive documentation covering years of thievery, butchery, and black-market activity.

Like Alonso, they were his new crew.

He flew over the landing zone and its growing collection of ships. Mags had built the parking lot out of sight of the club, so Club Assteroid would never be threatened by disgruntled patrons with weapons. She also possessed the foresight to build the lot at a lower elevation than her club, for the pirate always preferred to have the high ground.

Her decisions determined the landing zone for the crater Rheasilvia. A road joined the lot to the club, curving up and around the crater and carved into the sloping surface. The club only came into sight once guests boarded the shuttle buses and rode to their destination.

Kaufman bypassed all this activity. Pausing only to identify himself via radio, he brought the Calico Tigress to rest outside the main entrance of the club. He lowered the door on the ship’s rear, and Patches bounded out.

She bolted to the club to rejoin Mags. Ignoring the quartet of guards posted outside, she batted at the bullet-proof glass door. Her claws dug little grooves into it. One of the sentries opened the door to let her in. Without expressing gratitude, Patches scampered down the hall.

Lonso said, “Imma say hi to some old friends.” He gripped Kaufman’s hand. “See you inside, buddy.”

Kaufman closed his hand around Alonso’s. “See you there.”

World War Whatever: excerpt from The Battle of Vesta 4

This is the opening scene to our next adventure, The Battle of Vesta 4. If you haven’t joined our merry band of interplanetary outlaws yet, pick up the Meteor Mags Omnibus Edition and Rings of Ceres .

***

10 November 2029: Vesta 4.

“China’s our new best friend,” said Meteor Mags. She pressed the cherry of her cigarette into the globe until the word China blackened. It grew tendrils of smoke that curled around her glossy black nails and drifted along her pale fingers in her club’s private lounge. The speakers in the room purred with the psychedelic rock riffs of Hell Camino’s debut album.

“When you’re done playing pyromaniac,” Celina said, “maybe you could send them a thank-you note.”

“Dear China,” said Fuzzlow. “Thank you for declaring war on basically everything, so we can throw a party. P.S. Fuck your fascist government.”

“I’d sign that letter.” Mags held the hot end of the cigarette to the globe a moment longer and enjoyed how the surface burned and the coating peeled away in plastic fear from the heat. “May the goddess have mercy on sweet mother Africa.” She discarded the butt and pulled a fresh pack from her bra.

“That country’s gonna get royally fucked,” Donny offered. “Can’t we help?”

“First of all,” said Mags, “Africa isn’t a bloody country. Second of all, where the hell is Batalla?”

“He’s on the way,” said Fuzzlow. “He’s—I don’t know what he’s doing. You know how he is.” Fuzzlow met Mags in 2026 through her ad on darkweb for a sound engineer for her solo piano album. The two of them agreed on music and gave each other hell about everything else ever since.

Celina sank deeper into the padded sofa and rested her head on Fuzzlow’s shoulder. As he kissed the top of her head and pressed his face into her long, dark waves of hair, she said, “It isn’t your usual war, Donny. Not nation against nation. China’s after one thing and one thing only. A bloke in your line of work shouldn’t need to think too hard about what that is.”

Donny used to sell drugs to supplement his income as an asteroid miner. He and his sorry excuse for a crew sold anything Meteor Mags could steal for them to redistribute to miners in the Belt, until one night when his guys said something mean about cats, and Mags killed most of them in retaliation.

Donny was one of only three of his crew to survive. The debacle cost him his mining job plus a few months’ recovery from getting shot. Since he made peace with Mags and joined her merry band of criminals, his life became a mix of interplanetary piracy and rock’n’roll rebellion as the baritone saxophonist of the Psycho 78s. “My line of work is raising hell and killing as many people as Mags can line up for target practice.” He took a deep draught from his bottle. “But if you mean my previous line of work, I totally get what China’s after. Mining.”

“Damn right,” said Mags. “The only thing they’re missing is resources. China’s become Earth’s manufacturing powerhouse over the past 50 years, but you know what? Making stuff takes raw materials. Who has more untapped mineral wealth on Earth than Africa?”

“I’ll tell you who,” said Fuzzlow. “The multinationals who control the rights to exploiting the entire continent.”

Mags blew a smoke ring through another smoke ring. “The same corporations who came in with a promise to end civil wars, and instead solved their problems with massacre.”

“Genocide,” said Celina. Not a soul in the solar system knew Mags longer than her best friend from Australia. If Mags considered anyone indispensable to her happiness in 2029, it was her cat Patches and the woman she’d known since 1938.

“Aye,” said Mags. “Here’s what will happen. China moves against the multinationals. The governments of Earth take sides and sort who to sell weapons to, and millions of people get murdered until the dust settles. Then everyone declares a winner.”

“Sounds lovely.” Donny passed a freshly rolled joint to Celina. “So why is China our new best friend? You’re just down with the mass-murdering sickness or what?”

Mags arched a brow and met Donny’s eyes. “Listen, dear. You humans have—”

“Oh, here we go,” Celina interrupted. She released a plume of smoke. “Now you’re making it about species.”

Mags turned her palms upward. “What other species is killing bazillions of its own each year?” The tip of her tail snapped sharply back and forth.

Fuzzlow coughed and passed her the joint. “I think you were making a point once.”

Mags puffed on it twice. Anyone who knew her at all understood she objected to the wars and suffering perpetuated on Earth for all 106 years of her life. She did not lack empathy.

She only knew Earth’s events were beyond her control. They predated her, and they were entrenched. Mags held no more hope for the planet of her birth, but she had high hopes for the Belt. On that morning of her 106th birthday, she believed her free-energy system could change the future. “My point was: all fuck is about to break loose on Earth, and the governments and mega-corps will have such a shit-storm on their hands they’ll be too busy to fuck with us. Which means—”

Celina hoisted a glass. “We can party like there’s no tomorrow!”

Fuzzlow and Donny clinked their drinks against hers and Mags’. With a stream of profanities, they blessed the solar system’s most nefarious smuggler with a long and happy life—and one hell of a party.

“Now.” Mags peered over the rims of her tinted glasses at her crew, and her eyes smoldered like green embers. “The only question is: how many more people need to die for me to have my little soirée?”

Celina settled back in place against her boyfriend. “As many as it takes.”

“Maybe,” Fuzzlow added, “a few more, just to be sure.”

“I know it’s a bit early to be doing prezzies,” said Celina, “but there’s something the girls want to show you before everyone gets here tonight.”

Mags refilled her glass. “Do I finally get to see this big secret of yours? You haven’t let me in the concert hall for days.”

“That’s right.” Celina swept her hand to indicate the men. “And not these loudmouths, either.” She wagged a finger at the smuggler. “And Patches better not have told you anything, or I will spank her fuzzy little butt.”

Mags scoffed. “The last person who tried to spank Patches is now missing an arm. But you’ll be glad to know I couldn’t get a peep out of her. I’m thinking you bribed her with treats.”

“Do you want to get her? Where is she?”

“I sent her with Kaufman to pick up Lonso. Couldn’t send him without some backup.” To Donny and Fuzzlow, she said, “Come on, mates. You might as well see what all the hush-hush is about. Bring the weed.”

Celina called Kala from her tablet on the way to the concert hall. Fuzzlow and Donny followed behind, making off-color jokes, laughing and punching each other like a couple of kids. They fell behind for a minute when Fuzzlow put Donny in a headlock.

Mags said, “You know, Celina, I don’t have a clue how you keep this madhouse under control when I’m gone. But I can’t thank you enough.”

Celina swept back a lock of hair. “No, wagtail, you really can’t. But you don’t need to. This was our dream, remember?”

“Goddess, do I ever. From building our own ships to get away from Earth, to stealing all the shit we needed to build this place. Then our first round of hiring staff. And helping Slim get his club off the ground. Can you believe I sometimes thought it would never work?”

“Yet here we are.”

“Yet here we are,” Mags shouted. “World class and kickin’ arse!” She raised her arms above her head in a triumphant gesture, drawing power from the building itself and her friends.

“If you think you love this place now, wait until you see what Kala and her crew made you.”

They stopped at an intersection in the hallway to let a stampede of young women run across their path. Someone shouted, “Don’t let her in yet!”

Celina held out her arms in front of the band, like a gate. “Orders are orders,” she said. “They all want to be there.”

Mags rolled her eyes and sighed, but with a smile. “Can’t even walk around my own bloody club.” She snapped her fingers twice at Fuzzlow.

The four friends smoked a joint in the hallway as stragglers caught up and ran past them. A few minutes later, Celina’s tablet chimed with a message saying the coast was clear. She led the way to the concert hall.

Inside, a huge curtain hid an entire wall. The young women of Club Assteroid gathered in two groups, one on each side of the curtain. Mags raised an outstretched arm and wrapped her hand into a fist. “What it is!”

The girls pumped the air with their fists in return and shouted, “Mags!” All of them but Kala, who stood at one side of the curtain, gripping Hyo-Sonn’s hand. In her other hand, she held a notecard.

Mags read Kala’s body language. Before the smuggler could say a word, Celina nudged her and said, “Kala has a few words she prepared.”

Hyo-Sonn squeezed Kala’s hand and whispered in her ear, then let her go.

Kala took a step forward and pushed a strand of her long, back hair behind one ear. “Mags, all of us want to wish you the happiest of birthdays. We wanted to give you something that would do more than express how much we love you. We wanted to give you something that speaks about all the things you love, too. None of us would be here if not for you and Celina. And Patches. Most of us wouldn’t even be alive. Words can’t say how much we owe you, or how awesome we think you are. So, we decided to say it with images.” She pulled a braided rope.

The curtain parted. It revealed a massive, wall-sized mural—a painting orchestrated by Kala and executed by everyone who lived at the club.

Mags beheld three generations of her female ancestors and their cats, and herself and Patches, all come to life as if drawn straight from the pages of her memories. Her great-grandmother stood at the wheel of a pirate ship on a tempestuous ocean. Her grandmother bent over a billiards table, poised to conquer a challenging shot. Her mother rode a stallion which reared on its hind legs and kicked the air. Mags’ portrait wielded a shotgun, while a painted Patches bristled and showed her teeth.

In silence, Mags approached the gigantic work of art. She held out a hand and ran her fingertips over the mural’s colorful brushstrokes. Every ridge in the acrylic paint felt like a signature, a record of her girls’ efforts, a time capsule.

Kala suppressed the urge to ask if Mags liked it. Even Donny and Fuzzlow stopped their shenanigans and held their tongues.

Mags stepped back from the mural like she was resisting a magnetic pull from its surface. “Holy shit!” She wrapped her arms around Kala. “This is bloody beautiful! You are so amazing.” She sunk her face into Kala’s hair and purred. “You! You are fucking amazing!

A moment later, Mags released her. “Girls,” said the pirate, “this is the most awesome thing I could ever hope for. You didn’t just do it. You nailed it! Give yourself a hand.” Mags clapped, and the group erupted into applause. Mags shouted over the noise, “Someone get my girls a drink!”

Celina was happy to oblige, but Mags stopped her on the way to the bar. “I got this.” The pirate slammed down shot glasses on the mahogany bar top, one after the other. “Curse me for a papist. Do we even have enough?” Her friends lined the bar, two and three bodies deep, as Mags set up four dozen glasses.

Club Assteroid had neither a top shelf nor a bottom shelf for rum. It stocked exactly one brand: Mags’ favorite, Kraken spiced black rum. She filled glasses to their rims and cracked open a fresh bottle when the first ran out. With a wave of her fingers, Mags beckoned Kala for the first shot. Once the young woman had her glass, Mags shouted, “Come and get it!” She drank from the bottle as Suzi, Hyo-Sonn, and many more snatched their share from the bar.

But when Sarah and Anton stepped up, Mags wagged her finger. “Just one, now, you little Dumpster Kittens. Or maybe two.” She leaned over the bar and said, “Anton, is being an honorary member of my girl gang driving you crazy yet?”

“Nah,” he said. He cast his glance to the floor, then met her eyes. “I like it here.”

Mags held out a fist to him. “Good.”

He gave her a gentle bump with his fist.

Mags poured a few more until everyone had their hands full. She raised her shot and said, “To the best friends in the System. Vivan las anarquistas!”

A unanimous cheer answered her. Mags slammed the bottle down with a resounding smack. “The bar is now open! Help yourselves. I need to keep a couple appointments before the party. Bring your earplugs.”

On her way out, Mags paused before the mural. Again, she touched her fingers to the portraits of each of her ancestors. In a low voice no one could hear, she said, “Goddess be with me.”

Then she was gone.

Meteor Mags: Jam Room

This vignette is a postscript to our sixteenth adventure, Rings of Ceres

Meteor Mags: Jam Room

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 in 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 up on an armrest and his head smushed against a pillow on the other. He had arrived a few hours ago 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 at them, 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.”

“What.”

“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 in exchange 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 2016. 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, causing her drink to slosh 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 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 a bit. 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 microphone and the speaker’s tweed cover. 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 her 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 the band in. Sometimes, she thought, you gotta start low.

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

Meteor Mags: Rings of Ceres – now in paperback and Kindle

rings of ceres kindle cover

In 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.

This sixteenth short story in The Adventures of Meteor Mags and Patches picks up immediately after the final scene in the Meteor Mags: Omnibus Edition.

Get Rings of Ceres on your Kindle now for only $2.99! Free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers! Also available in paperback! On iTunes and Nook Book.

Meteor Mags: Omnibus Edition

Get ready for asteroids, anarchy, and excessive ammunition, because Meteor Mags and Patches are back—bigger, badder, and louder than ever!

On the asteroid mining frontier of the near future, a hell-raising space pirate and her indestructible calico cat rage against the forces of law and order, “liberating” cargo and racking up a massive body count—until they come face-to-face with an alien invasion!

Join Meteor Mags and her criminal crew, the hard-rocking Psycho 78s, in fifteen tales of interplanetary piracy and total destruction. Run for your life in the tornado that wipes out Ceres! Thrill to the savage mating rituals practiced by the evil space lizards! Learn how to smuggle cigarettes and shoot pool with the solar system’s number one dancer! Witness the unearthly energies of the machine that transforms Patches the cat, and merge your mind with a telepathic space kraken!

From rescuing a pirate radio DJ in a hail of bullets to dancing naked with a tribe of Russian space monkeys, Mags and her outlaw friends rock the Belt. But how long can they survive when everyone on Earth wants them dead?

Now Available on Amazon as a 588-page paperback featuring black-and-white art plus Asteroid Underground articles and interviews with the crew. Also available in a text-only version for Kindle for $9.95, or get the Kindle for free when you buy the paperback.

Also available for iBook, and on Barnes & Noble in paperback and Nook Book. The sixth volume collects all the material from the first five volumes, plus new stories. 183,000 words.

 

Hang My Body on the Pier

This story now appears in the Meteor Mags Omnibus Edition.

ABOUT THIS STORY

The fifteenth story in the Meteor Mags series presents scenes from her Great-gramma Magdalena’s early life, from when she was found orphaned, through early days pretending to be a boy and sailing with pirates, to her eventual rise to power as a pirate queen.

Central to the tale is her relationship with the man who found her and took her to sea, a man she calls Father. Combining third-person narration with excerpts from Great-gramma’s memoirs, this tale reveals the years which shaped her relationships with death, crime, the sea, and a male-dominated world of power.

Mags was named after her great-grandmother and worships her. By this point in the series, readers have discovered amazing things about Great-gramma. Though she died before Meteor Mags was born, she visits the space pirate to give her guidance in dreams and visions, and she may be influencing events in the stories. She created the magic ring Mags wears. The ring extends Mags’ lifespan to 200 years, just as it did for Great-gramma. The story of its creation has yet to be told.

This tale includes a framing sequence in the series’ “current day” of 2029, featuring characters who will be unfamiliar to new readers, but who have been central to the past seven episodes. Mags sings a song with these new friends she’s made in the asteroid belt—a song with origins in Great-gramma’s untold past on Earth.

This story now appears in the Meteor Mags Omnibus Edition.

voyage of the calico tigress

meteor mags 32v2 - Small Copy

This story now appears in the Meteor Mags Omnibus Edition.

OUR STORY SO FAR

The smuggler Meteor Mags and her criminal crew survived their suicide mission to Ceres—but just barely. They encountered Mags’ old friend Alonso, a musician from Kaufman’s favorite band. The pirates stole the freighter he worked on and almost killed him, but Alonso was too happy to see Mags to hold a grudge.

The storm on Ceres separated the crew from Kaufman and Patches: the treasonous official and Mags’ practically indestructible calico cat. Patches rescued Kaufman, but not before he took a beating from the tornado. They escaped in his stealth spacecraft.

On Vesta 4, where Mags and Patches swore to reunite, Kaufman’s son Anton awaits his father’s return. At Mags’ request, Sarah promised to show Anton around and take care of him. They help repair damage the club suffered in the cyborg incident.

On Earth, Mags’ “nephew” Tarzi studies a book she found which may reveal the origin of their reptilian enemies. She has also inspired her friend Slim to create a new field of mathematics; and with it, help her create a system to distribute free, unlimited energy throughout the Belt.

But despite their efforts, in the vast darkness of the asteroids and beyond, forces gather which threaten them all.